Silent but not so deadly: How the small M4A1-S nerfs have begun warping the CS:GO meta

How one adjustment to Counter-Strike's premier rifle changes everything

A soldier stands crouched firing a weapon in an open area in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Image via Valve

Over a month ago, Valve dropped a short but huge announcement for an update to CS:GO. While most fans were shocked to see the Active Duty map switch and the exit of Dust II, another huge change to the game was hidden further down in the post. 

After dominating the rifle meta for nearly all of 2022, the M4A1-S received a nerf from Valve. On paper, the nerf seemed very minuscule: a five-percent decrease of the range modifier from 0.99 to 0.94 on the M4A1-S. But now, after a month has passed on the new patch, this small tweak has actually changed so much about CS heading into 2023.

Even the patch notes from Valve are a bit deceiving when it comes to how this nerf translates in-game. Bumping the range modifier down on the M4A1-S means bullets will do less damage when crossing a certain range threshold. Right off the bat, many fans just assumed this meant really long-range exchanges would take a hit when using the M4A1-S. Think about gunfights from one side of Long A on Overpass to the other. How often do players actually engage from those distances? Very seldomly. 

In reality, this nerf to the range modifier actually massively changes the time to kill from a much closer range. In pure game terms, the nerf has changed any gunfight a player wielding an M4A1-S gets into past 500 units, as pointed out by journalist Arnav Shukla. That’s a meager distance of nine-and-a-half meters (or just over 31 feet) away. Once a player crosses that threshold, the time to kill on the M4A1-S against an armored opponent goes from four bullets to five. Visually, this means anyone getting into gunfights across a majority of sites in the Active Duty map pool with the M4A1-S is affected by the nerfs. Trading in mid on Mirage? Swinging Banana on Inferno? Peeking B stairs on Vertigo? The M4A1-S will take five shots to the body to kill an enemy.

This is the real kicker for not only casual CS:GO players but pros alike. The M4A1-S saw a previous nerf to its magazine size from Valve earlier this year to try and shift some more balance into the CT rifle meta to no avail. Pros and casuals alike still picked the M4A1-S over its A4 brother despite the smaller magazine size because the time to kill was still faster at all distances with the M4A1-S while being $200 cheaper. 

Now, the M4A4 is better at all ranges past the 31-foot mark. This includes very long distances where most CT riflers would go to a tap fire strategy. For years, most players have tried to master the “two-tap” strategy on both M4 versions of the rifle: one shot to the head, one to the body for a secured kill. From all distances on Active Duty maps, both rifles could secure a kill with that strategy. But now, with the nerf, the M4A1-S isn’t guaranteed a two-tap kill from very far distances (27 meters to be exact thanks to Shukla).

This change to the M4A1-S has an even more massive effect on the overall CT vs. T meta in CS. The old M4A1-S was so good from all ranges that it was constantly equal and sometimes outperformed the AK47. Since the weapon is silenced and doesn’t show tracers, it was amazing for spam kills and held similar damage from distance to the AK47. But now, with the M4A1-S nerfed, the T side of CS will get an overall boost, one that is desperately needed in the current state of the game.  

When combining the smaller magazine of the M4A1-S (20 rounds compared to the M4A4’s 30 rounds) with this new range nerf, there is little reason to choose it over the M4A4. Sure, comfortability and spray control mastery will keep some using the M4A1-S, but for players looking to seriously climb, it is best to use the more powerful CT rifle. Expect more and more professional CS:GO players to make the switch, with many pros already doing so in the final month of 2022.


Leo Silverman

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