Why Spam Should Stay in the Can

Have you ever sat there and wondered why Gulliman and 4 fire raptors hasn’t won a GT? What about 3 Shadowswords? And surely, if dark reapers are the menace the internet says they are, then taking 50 of them has to be a winning combo, right? Have you ever wondered why the more consistent GT winners always seem to gravitate away from armies like that? I mean when was the last time you saw Sean Nayden, Andrew Gonyo, or Tony Kopach spamming mindless bullets at you?

If you’re one of the many who lose sleep at night thinking about this, today is your lucky day, because I’m going to break down why!

There are a few fundamental issues with that style of army which will really keep them from succeeding.


  1. Linearity– The arche-types listed above all suffer from the same issue of linearity. They are the type of army that either works or doesn’t.  The path to victory is a very straight one for these types of armies. They each have their own gimmick, but they all fall under the same idea: spamming something that costs less than it should to try and leverage an advantage over the opponent by effectively playing with more points than him. While this strategy seems to make sense on paper, it falls on its face when the army runs into a tactic or a unit type which it’s inefficient or ineffective against.

Take 4 fire raptors and Guilliman for example. While this army is a total power house of efficiency due to all the under-costed bullets and full rerolls to hit and wound, certain army types are able to hard counter it by minimizing their effectiveness and captializing on their weaknesses. A real game example of this can be taken from the Hammer in the New Year GT finals which was Sean Nayden playing his janky character spam Eldar vs Kelsey Haley’s 4 fire raptors. With some effective use of terrain and clever usage of the character rules Kelsey’s army of overpowered bullets couldn’t actually shoot anything and Sean was able to table him by turn 2.


2. Lack of Diversity– An incredibly common misconception in 40k is that spamming an efficient unit is typically more competitive than diversifying and taking many different kinds of units. This is simply not the case. When you spam a unit over and over  to capitalize on its strengths, you’re also becoming more and more vulnerable to its weaknesses. Diversifying to solve issues allows you to cover up many of the weaknesses of a particular unit type.

*Caveat* Diversifying unit choices for the sake of diversification is bad. Don’t do that. Every unit choice you make needs to be grounded and have a strong reason to justify its inclusion.

To give another example, if you take an army of Guilliman and 50 devestators with missile launchers and the banner bro, you most certainly have the fire power to table anyone. But what happens when someone introduces elements like deep strike and charge into the game and your gun line gets tied up? Well you’re probably just going to lose. So you try to cover up that weakness by taking some scouts. This is a really rudimentary example, but it conveys the idea of opting to take a less effective unit to cover up a weakness.


3. Reduces the Skill Gap- Units like Dark reapers, Fire Raptors, Shadowswords, and other spammable shooty units are inherently less skill intensive than other units. This isn’t meant to call anyone who uses these units less skillful than someone who doesn’t use them. But objectively, a hard to kill unit that essentially just moves and shoots very effectively is less skill intensive than a relatively fragile unit which can operate in all phases of the game.  What this means is that a good player with a bunch of fire raptors might as well be a bad player with a bunch of fire raptors and vice versa.  The unit’s design actively works to reduce the amount of skill in the game- taking a bunch of fire raptors or shadowswords is essentially just taking a calculator for a list and trying to math your opponent off the table. There is very little room to play better or worse after you master the basic concepts.

Stronger players tend to recognize and acknowledge this concept, and they don’t feel comfortable taking an army which doesn’t give them options to leverage their play skill over their opponent. This is why you’ll see stronger Eldar players taking very dynamic units, like the guardian blob, as opposed to just more reapers. The guardian blob is a unit that grows in power with how good you are at using it, whereas 50 dark reapers in the hands of Sean Nayden is the same as 50 dark reapers in the hands of Joe Schmoe off the street. Likewise, if a strong player runs 3 shadowswords or something similar and runs into a bad match up, there’s no play to get out of that situation, regardless of the skill disparity between him and his opponent.


Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not saying all these obviously good units like fire raptors, dark reapers, plagueburst crawlers etc… are bad. That’d just be silly and contrarian.  I mean, my LVO winning list literally ran 17 dark reapers after all. These units often make great additions to an army and fulill a very useful purpose. The point I’m really trying to get at is that a successful and well-built army has lots of tools and options.  It is far more likely to win a big tournament with consistently solid play, and a list that gives you the tools to handle any situation, than it is to try and get lucky match ups with fire raptor spam all day.

So there you have it folks. The secret sauce to breaking 40k is essentially just building a well rounded, diverse army and playing it well. Now just go out there and do it!


17 Comments on “Why Spam Should Stay in the Can

  1. How would you rate a 10 Plagueburst Crawler list with Epidemus, a DP, Nurglings and 2 nurgle trees?. I completely agree with your article, and I honestly would love to see a reduction in spam for every table top game system, but at the moment, the crawler seems to have tools for dealing with almost everything

    • I definitely have a minority opinion on plagueburst crawlers, but I’m personally pretty unimpressed with them. In the current meta, my LVO eldar list, my tentative Adepticon chaos list, and Flyrant spam would all beat plagueburst crawlers pretty soundly I expect. They are the type of army where some tactical positioning for move blocking and surrounding 1-2 of them to keep yourself from getting tied up will go a very long way to victory.

  2. thanks Nick for your insights and article. What’s hilarious is that Reece, from the beginning has been saying “it’s all about balanced lists”, meanwhile, everyone has been literally trying to spam whatever the flavour of the day is, over and over and over, yet the winners do prove Reece right, despite whatever codex or unit is released.

  3. Always nice to hear that sort of advice from someone with a few wins under their belt. So I won’t try spam Scarab Occult then? 😉

    • That’s old brown, he doesn’t have the experience with strange men cornering him in hotel rooms that new brown has. Personally, I want the advice of a more experienced, more refined brown.

  4. You also have to play the mission. Dark reapers are great at killing things. Not so great at scoring line breaker or behind enemy lines for example. Equally all the Gulliman powered lascannons in the world aren’t going to help you if your opponent is ahead on points and hidden behind some line of sight blocking terrain. Thats where the diversity comes into play. Those guardians on an objective with celestial shield can be surprisingly hard to shift. Likewise the shining spears can reach out and engage the characters buffing their dark reapers or preventing your opponents shooty units from shooting. By the time you start adding these elements into your list, you are diversifying your list and no longer have a single point of failure.

  5. One takeaway from this that I think a lot of people miss is that _spam_ isn’t just the same thing as taking multiples of a unit. As Nick points out himself, his LVO list ran quite a few Dark Reapers, but it also brought a lot of other units to the table as well. Lists that tried to rely largely/entirely on Dark Reapers didn’t do well, but Nick’s list (and others like it) had the tools to deal with different kinds of problems in different ways, but still brought enough raw firepower in the form of Reapers to deal out a lot of hurt.

    “Spam” is bringing too many of something. How many, exactly, that is will depend on the unit and the meta.

    Anyways, awesome article, Nick. Definitely looking forward to more from you and the rest of the team.

    • You hit the nail on the head! Thanks for the compliments, really appreciate the feedback!

  6. “A hard to kill unit that essentially just moves and shoots very effectively is less skill intensive than a relatively fragile unit which can operate in all phases of the game.”

    What advice do you have for Tau players? This seems to describe our whole codex haha!

    • Definitely wait a week to start! I’ll be doing a Tau review when the codex drops

      • Thanks! I look forward to it!

        I still doubt we’ll be operating in the assault and psychic phases though… 😉

  7. Your example of the hammer in the new year tournament is a poor one, because first off, you admit that Sean Hayden was playing character SPAM, lol. Coupled with horrible terrain rules that ITC employs, where every first level of terrain is overly abusable, and you get something far removed from a normal game of 40k, and nowhere near reflective of the true dynamics of the game. Any army that can literally deny an opponent from shooting them, is obviously reflective of poor design of tournament rules before people even come in through the door to play.

    In one breath, you compliment Mr Nayden, for genius tactics, and in the other you admit he spams to do just the thing you’re advocating against, abusive list design to gain an advantage in one facet.

    I’ve seen time and time again spam wielded by the golden boys of 40k, you included. I remember vividly you playing Melta spam back in the day with sisters. And you have quite the reputation of spamming psychic powers, through daemons and now eldar.

    I’ve seen Nayden spam riptides (unpainted treemen with burst cannons glued to them lol) at battle for salvation. Spam is alive and well, and will continue to be in all games. It’s actually healthy for the game. Maybe boring to play against and with, I don’t play armies like that, but whatever floats your boat.

    The folks across the Atlantic laugh at the way we play 40k over here in many ways, with ITC creating a vastly different meta than what they experience without it.

    Sorry, but when someone brings as many dark reapers as you did to LVO, my ears start to bleed when you begin to lecture about spam.

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