Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What is the Meta?

When I first started getting into the online and tournament communities, I had to wrap my head around the concept of Meta. It is intended to describe the gaming environment that is prevalent at a particular time, and can be general and wide ranging (aka, Meta, Tournament Meta) or fairly specific (local Meta).  It's also used as a scapegoat for explaining why a list or unit is good or bad. To some degree Meta is a strawman.

That said, the perceived definition of Meta is simply defining what is popular and powerful in a particular area. The wide ranging meta for 40k used to be fairly glacial in terms of change, and so, was fairly well defined and understood. However, with the rapid release schedules of 6th edition, that's been turned upside-down a bit.
I've mentioned it before, but I love Torrent of Fire, and part of the reason is that it provides a way to track Meta with numbers and statistics, rather than using anecdotal evidence. However, the discussions of Meta are still predominantly anecdotal, and so, it can be interesting to compare perceived meta with statistical meta.

Back in November, I decided to start taking statistical snap shots from Torrent of Fire. Now, while overall numbers and changes are fairly minor since there have been few major events, there has still been some movement, particularly in the last month, which could be seen as indicative of how the meta might be shifting from the end of the 2013 Tournament season to the beginning of the 2014 season, starting with the LVO.

There are two trends I'm interested in tracking in order to break down the meta. The first is popularity. Quite simply, what percent of the field is any one army. In the graphs in this post, I've made the decision to only include the top 10 most popular armies unless otherwise noted. This is, in part, simply to keep the charts from being too cluttered.

The second statistic I'm interested in is something I've termed WAR (Wins Above Replacement), though in reality it is simply an army's percent of wins compared to its percent of use. For example, an army that accounted for 6% of all wins listed in ToF, and 5% of all games, would have a WAR of 1.

To start, we have popularity. The points of interest are the changes in the last month. In particular, we can see a significant rise in popularity of Space Marines, while Tau, Daemons, CSM, and Grey Knights have seen slight declines. These changes are most likely from the LVO, where the most popular army was Space Marines. This could be indicative of a trend for the coming Tournament season, where Space Marines will dominate in terms of numbers.

Next is WAR. The trends are a little more general in this, with no sharp jumps. The noticeable trends though are that Eldar and Daemons have slight declines in performance, while some other armies are seeing a slight uptick. The most surprising of which are CSM and DA, who are neck and neck in WAR, both coming in around -1.5 in November and improving to -1.25 in February. While still not good, it is interesting to see the picture getting brighter for these two while popularity remains stable.

Tau also saw a slight uptick in WAR, while also seeing a decline in popularity. This indicates that they were accounting for about the same number of wins, while having fewer games.

Finally, what I find interesting is that we have a clearly defined top 4 in terms of WAR, with clear definitions between each. This statistic would indicate that there is a large gap between these top four armies and the rest of the field, who are clumped much closer together.

In general, it's not surprising that Eldar, Tau, Daemons, and Necrons are the top four armies in the current Meta. What is interesting is that while Space Marines have seen an uptick in popularity, they have not seen a noticeable improvement in WAR.

To get a bit more granular, we can look at armies with allies. For this, I'm just looking at WAR for army combinations with at least 100 Games.

First off, the above graphic shows the top 5 armies in terms of WAR with at least 100 games. The obvious standout combination is Eldar with Tau allies. Interesting, the inverse alliance with Tau Primary is a bit less successful. Also of interest is that for the moment, while Eldar with Dark Eldar allies (Seer Council or Beast Star) is rising, it's still not quite as successful as Eldar/Tau. That said, those two seem to be shifting in opposite directions, with Eldar/Tau in a decline. This could indicate the top Eldar players swapping out their ally.

Daemons have seen a bit of a decline, and are the lowest of these five, but they are also the only "pure" army to make the top 5. Eldar are contained in three of the five, and primary in two, while Tau also appear in three of five, and are primary twice.

Next, I looked at the top 10 most popular combinations and looked at how they stacked up in terms of WAR.  Interestingly, only 3 of the top 5 from above are among the most popular combinations (Daemons, Eldar/Tau, and Tau/Tau).

Overall, these armies aren't seeing any massive changes, though Grey Knights had a surprising increase in the last month. Just under Eldar/Tau are four armies in tight contention - Tau/Tau, Daemons, Daemons/CSM, and Eldar. It is interesting to note how adding allies alters the WAR of an army. For Tau and Eldar, allying can boost WAR. Tau as allies for each seem to add around a 0.2-3 bump. Meanwhile, allying in CSM to Daemons shows a pretty insignificant change.

I am very curious how these numbers will change as we get into the meat of the tournament schedule and get additional releases to shake things up like Imperial Knights or Imperial Guard.