Sunday, October 6, 2013

Plasma vs. Grav Tech: The Showdown

General greetings, and welcome to the second installment of The Showdown.  With the Space Marine codex hot off the presses, the masses of the internet have begun to sift through its pages in search of the ever popular "optimized net-list."  While my feels on the codex vary, it looks like a solid codex with several good choices.  That said, it does feel some options can be much more useful than others with very little effort.  But that is not the point of this article.  This showdown stems from the grav-weaponry introduced to the Marine players as a genuinely new trick they have to bring to the table.  But given it's use, and it's fairly direct competition from plasma weapons based on point cost, stats, and who it is that can bring these weapons, it is this comparison with plasma that strikes most when it comes to the question, "How viable are the new Grav weapons?"  So lets take a look and find out.

WARNING: the following is based completely on my views as a player, and I recognize bias is ever an issue with opinion/observation-based articles.  As such, take all that you read with a colossal size grain of that naturally occurring, flavor enhancing crystal.

Stat Line
This is the most immediate thought on a weapon when you think of what it is, and what it can and will do on the table.  Most of the time when you think of the weapon, it's a rattling off of Strength, AP Value, and the Type category.  In this respect, the plasma gun is more or less a winner.  Not only because of the impressive numbers it boasts, but because it isn't plagued with over-wordiness.

The plasma gun boasts a solid S7 combined with AP2, granting the knowledge that no one is claiming a fancy armor save against this beast.  The Rapid Fire type is a nice solid rounder which became much, much more valuable with the coming of 6th.  Before hand it was more or less a worthless weapon type; these days, however, it is the bread and butter weapon type for a reason.

The grav weapons, while not complicated once you get to know them, are a mouthful of rules and wordings.  It has S * which means it's given to you by a rule, and the same AP2.  Again, its nice to know that what you wound isn't getting their armor save, but its rule does present some limitations on which targets are worth targeting.

In this respect the plasma gun wins out.  It's simple, non-discriminant in it's targeting, and hosts some decent stats for dealing with just about any type of Infantry, most Monsterous Creatures, and even some Light Mech hunting.  The grav weapon is capable of most of these, but sadly becomes a bit choosy when selecting less powerful targets, which can often be weak little troops holding a point.

It is fair to note that they both lose points for paying a hefty sum of 15 point when being fired on weak infantry.  They both more or less want to hunt heavy infantry, but the plasma gun takes this category on sheer numbers.

Plasma:       8/10
Grav Tech:   5/10

Special Rules
There is literally no contest in this category, plasma looses hard, and there is nothing else to it.  Possessing only the Gets Hot special rule, this weapon carries with it a pretty hefty risk.  Generally this is offset a little by the relative safety of the power armor's 3+ save... but failing it only means your expensive space marine, with his expensive weapon upgrade... just cooked himself.  Considering that's about 29 points on average down the drain, and reduces your squad's numbers, a loss that marine armies suffer harder that most... it's not a good rule at all.  Your basically banking on good rolls, or hoping you get the board environment that removes the Gets Hot rule... but then you're just as likely to get the environment where Gets Hot happens on 1's and 2's there... so not pulling to hard for that perk.

Grav weapons have a unique rule that makes them a bit finicky when shooting at infantry, and pretty decent when firing at vehicles if you have the number of shots you need.  In either case, tactical squads don't much care for either it's special rule or it's salvo weapon type as it does not gel well with their play style.  However, the Gravitron rule is great when used with high volume of shots, and even without, the rule still offers some decent potential by itself.

Again... there is just no contest here.  With both weapons, you're paying 15 points, and the Gets Hot rule just puts that all on the line with a risk of losing it with every shot you take.  Gravitron rule puts some limitations on you, but offers some excellent rewards should it work out.  While yes, plasma can utterly wreck a vehicle in one go, and nets the bonus on the vehicle damage table, that doesn't save it from a poor roll of a 1 turning into a 2, which is all the same.  Against infantry it is less restrictive, but always that nag of "will my guy kill himself shooting" is ever present.  So... while it loses points for some limitations, the Gravitron rule simply demolishes plasma's Get Hot rule.

Plasma:       1/10
Grav Tech:   7/10

Who has Access to Each?
If you get the reference, well done.
This category was close, but was given to grav tech by sheer virtue of where it can be taken.  Considering that the tactical squad can take both, but is not really keen on the salvo rule, plasma takes that unit pretty easily in a direct comparison.  However, Space Marine bikes have become quite potent in the new codex, and one thing bikes can do well is salvo weapons.  Because they possess the Relentless USR, these units can snag the full number of shots at the maximum range, yielding an impressive amount of fire and gaining an extra 2 shots in total over the plasma weapons in this squad.  At this number of shots, the Gravitron rule starts to become more or less relevant.

Next up is almost a bit unfair, but it must be considered.  With the coming of the Devastator Centurions, there also came the Gravitron Cannon.  This beast hosts an impressive Salvo 3/5 rule... and since Centurions are Slow and Purposeful, they always get the whopping 5 shots.  It does beg the question why it's a salvo weapon when it can only be taken by an S&P unit... but perhaps we'll discover why down the road as GW continues to sell more supplements.  This is tag-teamed with the Grav-Amp, allowing their shots to re-roll failed wounds and armor penetration results. We'll talk more on these numbers later, but trust me... it's more impressive than you might think.  In any case, they have access to these potent Grav weapons, but there is no plasma.

Plasma loses out here, because the only unit that really wants it are tactical squads.  Maybe combi-plasmas on Sternguard Veterans wouldn't be too bad... but I for one believe their spacial issue ammo is good enough.  Beyond that there is little competition in most units, as they generally have the Relentless USR, which Salvo rule takes more advantage of than even Rapid Fire does.  It's close, but grav tech just has more options, and some powerful uses given the nature of who can bring them.

Plasma:       6/10
Grav Tech:   8/10

Firing at Infantry
When firing at anything that isn't mechanized in nature, one has to realize that there is a lot of variety in what it is you could be firing at.  That said, both plasma and grav weapons really want to be focusing on are those well-armored infantry units.  These take advantage of the AP2, and allows them to force those units which usually pay a hefty premium for their good armor to take cover saves or invulnerable saves, neither of which are generally as good.  Even so, both of these weapons do quite well against Space Marines or their equivalents.  Plasma has a much easier time dealing with most infantry because of it's flat S7 value, allowing it to hit anything short of a monstrous creature and soak a wound through on a 2+.  This means marines, xenos, and anything in between generally feel the pain.  Grav weapons really don't want to be used on the light infantry unless you can poor a high volume of shots in against them, which generally leaves you with the Grav-toting Centurions.

So how are those vicious centurions with their high volume of shots?  Now... if you have a unit of three, not counting the missile launcher shots, you'll net an impressive 10 hits from grav weapons.  If your target is an infantry or some non-vehicle unit, the numbers will vary based on their armor saves, but more or less you can count on somewhere in the neighborhood of about 7 to 9 wounds as long as you fire at heavy (3+ save or better) units.  It falls off a bit when firing at low armor targets (5+ save or worse) with an average of 5-6... which still isn't bad by any means.  But no matter how you slice it, Grav weapons are wasting potential when firing at poorly armored infantry.

Because neither is expressly bad, it's a slightly close call.  However, given the extreme level of possibilities when it comes to firing at infantry, plasma's method of shooting first, and asking questions later is a much more consistent form of weapon design.  This isn't to say it is better than grav at anti-heavy infantry, but it can be used against light as well with relatively similar results in either case.  The biggest catch is that grav's use is limited against high model count, light infantry units which tend to look at you and yell...

The other catch is that generally speaking, grav weapons "need" units with Relentless or Slow and Purposeful to really make the best of their salvo type and Gravitron rule, limiting them primarily to use by bikes and devastator centurions; both of which the new codex really favors, but it is more or less another limitation to consider.  So in the end, plasma gets the carrot here.  It's important to note grav isn't expressly bad at anti-infantry... but it requires volume of shots to really shine.

Plasma:       8/10
Grav Tech:   6/10

Firing at Vehicles
So here we see the tables turn a bit.  Plasma has got some really decent potential to this, but there are a few variables which crop up that tend to muddy the waters a bit.  It has S7, which is generally not bad at tackling lighter mechanized targets.  More or less, you have about a 50/50 chance of doing something to most targets out there, and at the very least a 1/3 chance against the majority of the remaining targets.  On top of that, your AP2 allows you a better shot at netting a decent result on the vehicle damage table.  However, it's not all sunshine and hydrogen-plasma fueled lollipops.  Heavy mech targets with AV 13 are glancing hits at best, and AV 14 is simply impossible.  It is also fair to mention that while the +1 to the damage table result is good, it doesn't save a poor roll from still being poor, with a 1 still being a shaken result.  It's a variable that tends to get in the way.  On top of this, we still run into the Gets Hot issue.  The volume needed to really have solid chances at hurting a tank with plasma means you'll need to throw a decent number of shots, increasing both your chances of success and of frying 29 points of marine in the process.

Grav weapons on the other hand have a pretty solid means of dealing with mech.  As long as you take what we've learned so far, and put these weapons on Relentless or S&P units, you can expect a decent chance at netting the magical 6 to flat immobilize your target.  In most cases, prohibiting a box from moving will neuter it's use on the battlefield, and force its occupants out of their transport to remain relevant in later turns.  This gives grav weapons a really solid place at ranged vehicle hunting.  It also nets a unique opportunity via it's wording to prohibit the use of cover by mechanized targets (See A Closer Look: Part V for more on that).

Devastator Centurions specifically shine extremely well when you utilize them for anti-mech.  Again, not counting the missile launcher shots, these 15 shots net you an impressive 1.89 6's, with math saying you should get the second and even a third in there after the re-rolls.  Now considering what we've learned on how Gravitron works with the Vehicle Damage result "Immobilized" (Again see the above link to A Closer Look: Part V), you'll note that 2 hits spells doom for most vehicles in the game, and the third spells death for anything with five... yes five hull points or less.  Even so, you apply the most powerful result on a vehicle damage table short of flat out destroying it.

At the end of the day grav weapons take this category.  If not for their impressive numbers, but also by sheer fact that it comes without risk of blowing yourself up.  However, I would be amiss in my consideration of these two weapon if I didn't mention one element which does favor plasma.  With the high risk, also comes the chance of high reward.  Because grav weapons can only ever inflict multiple hull point damage and immobilize the target, it is impossible to cause a vehicle to explode, where as plasma actually takes advantage of it's AP2 against mech, giving it a 1/3 chance at blowing the target off the table entirely.  This explosion accomplishes a lot, namely more wounds it could cause from the explosion itself, as well as removing the hull from the table, giving the enemy no cover to break line of sight with as your shooting continues.  Both plasma and grav weapons will cause the same pinning test from wrecking or destroying their targets, but plasma does have that in it's favor.  It's worth the mention, but in this player's eyes, grav still takes the cake here.

Plasma:       6/10
Grav Tech:   8/10

So which is better by sheer merits of their stats, their rules, whom it is that are likely to bring these weapons, which can be used in more situations than the other, and which will be used more efficiently more frequently?  Ironically, my feelings on the matter favor the plasma weapons.  Why is this ironic?  Well grav weapons have no units they simply can't effect, unlike plasma.  As we said, it can't even touch AV 14, and it is pretty negligible against AV 13.  However, the other factors in determining this category's victor is just how efficient these two are in the broad sense of a battle.  Plasma's solid stat line allows it to be a good choice in most anything it targets.  It looses some points for it's inability to be used against the big fat tanks... and loses more still to the pesky Gets Hot fumbles, but overall it is a solid well rounded weapon that can tackle a lot of situations.

Grav on the other hand is a solid choice in most situations... but it becomes more and more inefficient as you begin to fire on those weaker units.  Even when firing at vehicles, you'll need a high volume of shots to get a reliable chance at landing a 6.  It just has so many limitations that while they don't cripple it by any stretch, grav weapons have a specific few units it really wants to hit.  It is very well suited for dealing with Biomancy Bugs, Land Raider Rush, and more or less heavily armored grunts, but outside of these examples it starts to fall of quickly.  Additionally it has nay or few uses in tactical squads, given salvo rule.

While it's not a clear victor, plasma squeaks by with a narrow win here.  Gets Hot can be very, very annoying, but you just can't argue with the impressive stats and high usability in most battlefield situations.  You can find other things to shore up plasma weakness in your army list, but you can only shore up grav's weakness by bringing a lot of it.  This can become a difficult task as the points for grav weapons begin to add up quickly, but if you do... they will serve pretty well in most situations.

Plasma:       7/10
Grav Tech:   6/10

Final Verdict
Plasma:       36/60
Grav Tech:   40/60

So it's grav weaponry by a thin margin here folks.  I for one am a fan of these new weapons.  They aren't anything to write home about, but they certainly have much more usability than I feel most give them credit for.  Not only are they great when matched with the units which the codex has introduced as being quite good (bikes and centurions), but they also offer a great weapon that cracks through heavy armor and mech without the pesky risk of killing yourself.

Beyond all of that, I could see an army that wishes to focus on the grav weapons doing pretty decent.  The real winners with them are the devastator centurions.  The sheer high volume mixed with re-rolls makes them fantastic at just about anything.  The real point I walk away from after writing this is that Grav Weapons are fantastic, so long as you don't put them in the tactical squads.  They just don't work well in there, as compared to plasma... or even meltas and flamers.  Keep them on your centurions and your bikes, and you'll be pounding your enemies into the ground in no time... literally.

I hope this was eye opening for you.  Not sure what my next Showdown comparison will be, but we'll have to see what time will bring us.  Until then...



  1. I think it really comes down to which unit. On bikes, grav is waaaay better. For tacticals, most the time I'd say Plasma is better.

    I still think Centurions are a joke. And now that I have the codex, and see that you have to start with a squad of 3, I'll never be taking them. I don't really see them as a threat sadly.

  2. I actually think they're quite good, either with cannons and the hurricane bolters, or with twin linked lascannon and missile launcher. They're durable, a good value for the points, and provide potent firepower. Attaching Tigurius or a Suit Commander for ignores cover really ups the ante too.