Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Honor the Codex: Back in Black // Ride the Lightning

War Zone Damocles: Kauyon
Hello and good day readers. Today's post was originally going to be centered around digging unique tricks, units, and builds out of all the Marine codices (seeings how they've all been updated!) but, by good fortune, GW saw fit to release two new Space Marine supplements as a part of Kayoun (Also known as Warzone: Damocles 2nd Edition), and these are the long rumored Raven Guard and White Scars supplements, since those highlight those former legions which sought to battle Shadowsun. They're more expansive reconstructions for these two chapter tactics than simple supplements, but recycle enough from the basic blue book that they aren't quite standalone codices. So, without further ado, let's dig in.

The first thing to remember as we dig in here is that Kayoun hasn't changed the chapter tactic for these two chapters. However, each does offer a unique warlord table, 6 unique tactical objectives, an additional relic table available to each of these chapters, and unique formation detachment, complete with unique formations which can even be used outside of their detachment. Both have a little more flavor than the standard 'free transports battle company', and offer a good mix between 'codex adherent overlap' and 'unique yet appealing specific representation'. Another dominant theme to most of the formations is 'speed', and it comes through in the form of Land Speeders, and Scouts. Evidently neither of those kits are selling well (Speeders likely not since 5th, and Scouts not outside of the 'tournament crowd' in spite of their recent QOL buff to WS/BS 4). So, if you have scouts, scout bikers, land speeders, and land speeder storms, continue on. If not, well, maybe it's time to invest in some.

With the Raven Guard already having been the 'worst' chapter in the 6th edition codex, it was surprising to myself and many others that their chapter tactics got worse in the 7th edition book, and that their 'double jump' got appropriated by the Skyhammer. While I don't know if the options offered by Kayoun are quite strong enough to have warranted a nerf in the first place, I think they do a good job of being fluffy and further distinguishing the Ravens from their other jump pack equipped loyal brethren, the Blood Angels. Let's start with their warlord traits and relics before delving into their formations and detachment.

Their traits are as follows: 1 - Once per turn, when your warlord is targeted by enemy shooting, his unit gets a free d6" consolidation, and models that end in cover get +1 to their cover save (Holy cow!). 2 - At the start of each charge phase, your units can reroll distance against one unit in your warlord's LoS (Less valuable with the double jump). 3 - Once per game, turn night fight back on for a turn (neat enough to shield a CC army in the late game). 4 - Enemy must take a ld test to fire overwatch, and take a -2 if you charged through cover (super sneaky). 5 - Add or subtract 1 when rolling variable game length (remember the 'casual first' complaint?). 6 - Once per game, charge after running (Reach out and charge). All in all, youve only got one 'loser' and two that are just okay, but there are three that seem very strong to me, at least in the context of what the army plans on doing. So, we're starting off strong. Let's hope it keeps up with the Relics!

We open with artificer armor that costs more than terminator armor. It confers stealth, or shrouded if you didn't move run or charge last turn. It's okay for build your own Shrikes, but I don't know if it's super relevant for its cost. Next, there's an assault 3 precision shot rending boltgun, which is nice for all the Raptors players out there, as is Nihilus, which is an AP3 sniper rifle with armorbane and Str 6 against vehicles. Again, good if you want to punch up some stealth scouts and get your own Telion equivalent. Then there's the Raven Skull, it's cheap and gives +1 WS and Ld, and if the bearer is slain, you leave a marker that confers Hatred and Rage in a 6" bubble. The Ld buff is a bit pointless, but it's a good enough relic for a chaplain. Maybe. From there, there's a 'free' relic jump pack that gives you +2S and Strikedown on your HoW attacks. I called it free because it costs the same as a jump pack, and gives you those rules. It's on the weak side, but for free, I won't complain. Finally, to complete the 'build your own Shrike' collection comes a set of lightning claws which let you generate additional attacks based on the hits you score, but it doesn't go forever, no blender captains! Those relics are less than amazing in some cases, but the good news is that they supplement the standard marine relics, rather than replacing them, meaning this mix and match game is all good, especially if we're playing to the casual tone of the list.

Finally, we get to the meat of the 'update', the list its self: the Talon Strike Force. Our first rule is a four piece combo of rerolls. We get to reroll our mission, our warlord trait, our choice of deployment zone, and then finally to see who goes first. The only pregame reroll not afforded us for the Talon Strike Force is Seize. Needless to say, in a casual setting, this combined with the ability to dial in variable game length can become an incredibly powerful tool for dictating the pace and specifics of the game to our opponents. Next, there's the ability to get first turn reserves, and on a 4+ no less. This is a huge part of what I liked about Grey Knights, so the ability to pull it back in is remarkable, and offers a fair amount to help us feel like we don't inherently need drop pods or a Skyhammer. Last, comes the triumphant return of the ability to fail morale tests at will. Calgar lost it, and the Ravens were clever enough to pick it back up. Anyone who played against an opponent out of the 5th Edition book when they weren't using Vulkan or Shrike knows how devastating proper management of this rule can be. If our formations work well, the tag team of first turn reserves opportunities and the ability to 'bounce' out of bad situations can be crippling.

What then of the formations? We have access to a new core choice for starters. In addition to the standard demi-company, with all of its objective secured goodness, we can elect to bring a Pinion Battle Demi-Company, which compels a captain, an assault and devastator squad, as well as 1-5 scout (or scout bike) squads and three tactical squads. Note that this assortment does not offer access to a dreadnought (I guess having no knees hurts your stealth score). The scouts are quite special here, in that their sergeants can spot for other squads withing 9" granting them ignores cover. It's valuable for the devastators, but what about for the rest of the army? Well, any scout which outflanks may bring another unit on with it, and they confer stealth to the escorted unit for the turn they come on, so long as the 'follow unit' stays within 9" of the scouts. That's a potent way to have scout bikes make friends and get a one up on positioning against the enemy.

There's a few other odds and ends, but the real diamond in the rough is the Shadowstrike Kill Team, which is an eligible auxiliary choice for us, to fulfill our FoC minimums. It consists of 2-4 Scout squads and 1-3 Vanguard Vet squads. For starters, the Vanguard get to choose whether they pass or fail their roll to arrive from reserves, and second, Vanguard can charge the turn they arrive, and if you can 'triangulate' their position by placing the first model within 9" of at least two scout squads from the formation, they will not scatter. So, just so we're clear, if you load scouts into storms, you can infiltrate, then scout move, and end up with two speeders butted up next to each other at just 12" away from the enemy. Then, deep strike 8-9" in front of them, and get to use your jump packs to charge what's left of the 3-5" gap between your position and theirs. And, since you can roll for reserves first turn, you can do this first turn. That's incredibly potent, even without tapping into something like a Skyhammer. It doesn't rectify the list's big holes of low volume anti - 'anti big stuff' firepower, but if you're able to wedge a Skyhammer in addition to a Talon Strike Force composed of a Pinion and a Shadowstrike, and you'd end up with something remarkable. It take some finesse, but the key is shooting down what you can, and tying up the rest to try to shield your exposed devastators.

In the end though, it's a shame that one of the biggest boons of the formation detachment is getting to reroll on the mission table, if only because it highlights or underscores that this detachment, though interesting or otherwise compelling, is designed to be casual first, and competitive second. I wouldn't say I'd never take it to an event, but it would require me to invest far more into scouts and storms than I have at present. For the RG diehards, or people looking to for something significantly divergent from normal Space Marines, I'd expect to see this played, and I think it's 'good enough' in that it offers enough strengths in a balanced fashion, so as to not be pointless, worthless, or unplayable. At the very least, in terms of my rating scale from previous HtC posts, I'd at least log RG as Okay, if not Great under the right circumstances, and that's a huge step up from where they were. I'd even go so far as to say that RG now eclipse Blood Angels as the premiere jump pack army, which is in its own way unfortunate.

Next, we come to White Scars, and they've been on a bit of a wild ride these past few years. 6th edition gave them more than a little nudge, as far as their core concept of 'marines on bikes', and the 6th Edition Marine codex proper dialed them to 11, bringing them well and truly above the Dark Angels. But, as fate would have it, their tricks have been handed out part and parcel to other chapters, what with Grav going to both Angels, and Ravenwing being promoted to 'best on bikes' between their formation, black knights, and special rules. Where's that leave a founding legion with a penchant for bikes? Well, let's dive in, but remember, our chapter tactics haven't changed, our relics are mix and match, and we never have to roll on our warlord table.

Our warlord table reads as follows: 1 - +1 to his jink saves if he has a bike, or treat as 'result 2' if he doesn't (2+ jink? With the 3++ TSE? Leading strong!). 2 - add or subtract 1 from reserve rolls (solid, if underwhelming). 3 - Monster Hunter and Tank Hunter (Somebody order a buff commander? Crazy!). 4 - d3 hammer of wrath instead of 1 (About the same as getting a 2, good but not great). 5 - +1 S and attacks in a challenge, and rerolls to hit if challenging the enemy warlord (mandatory space marine challenge warlord trait, but the boost to S10 and 4-5 base attacks is big). 6 - Reroll sweeping advances within 12" of your warlord (Better than 2 and 4, less good than 1 or 3, but still respectable). That's, on the whole, in my opinion, better than most other tables. I'd roll on it, and quite willingly. Especially knowing my warlord is likely to capitalize on most, if not all, of those results.

Keeping moving, we've got the relics, the first of which is a banner which grants a 12" bubble of fleet and furious charge. It's reasonably priced, and if you're willing to bring a command squad (who isn't?) it's worth a peek. Next comes a lance, priced on par with a thunder hammer. It's +3S AP2 on the charge, and +1S AP3 standing, while remaining master crafted at all times. It's a cheaper out to a burning blade equivalent, especially with the H&R that comes mated to white scars naturally. Next comes our most talked about relic: the hunter's eye. It grants the bearer +1 BS, and he and his unit Ignores Cover. This is good not only for grav toting command squads, but it can be handed to a librarian who's part of a conclave, who then joins, say, black knights? This will see play, with anything from devastators, to centurions, it's the marine buff commander, especially when the librarian grabs prescience. Speaking of librarians, for a few points, we can buy them Psychic Maelstrom in addition to their other powers. I think the relic is a bit pricey for what it does, but it's out there. Next, we have a poser sword that gives +1S, master crafted, and +3WS in a challenge. For the cost of a power fist, I'd skip it. Finally, we round things out with a special bike that lets us 'jump' 18" when turbo boosting. Given what out formation detachment is about to bless us with, I'd absolutely suggest skipping this, leaving our relics with a clear winner, a consideration or two, and a few clear losers. But, again, we can still mix and match with the likes of The Shield Eternal and other options from the core codex, so we didn't need everything to be amazing.

On the subject of amazing though, is the Scarblade Strike Force. This formation detachment affords rerolls to H&R (almost worth it standalone), gives your units an extra 1-2d6" when moving Flat Out or Turbo Boosting, and finally reroll to wound on HoW when charging more than 8" (not to be confused with rolling more than an 8 on the charge). How could this get better, one might ask? Let's open with two new core choices which supplement a standard demi-company: the stormlance, and the hunting force. The Sotrmlance is a Demi-company which compels a devastator squad in the 'heavy' slot, and either bikes or speeders in the 'fast' slot, while barring us from dreads, and mandating the purchase of Rhinos and Razors for all non bike units. They get to reroll to hit against enemy units which control objectives, and they get to shoot and scoot (exclusively in that order), but they can embark as part of that scoot move. That's strong. What could the Hunting Force afford us? All bikes, all the time. A captain, 2-5 bike squads, 1-3 attack bike squads, 1-3 scout bike squads, and the option for a chaplain and command squad. What does this grant us? Hunter's Prey, a rule that says we select an HQ and two other units to be primary secondary and tertiary targets. The Hunting Force gets to reroll to hit and to wound against the highest priority unit still alive. But wait, there's more! Each model generates two hammer of wrath attacks so long as the squad numbers 5 models or more. I don't know that I could have asked for anything more. Rerolling to hit, to wound, and to H&R is exceptionally potent.

Finally, we round out with the unique auxiliary choices, which, to me, underscore GW's drive to sell scouts and speeders. The Stormbringer Squadron is 1-3 of each Speeders and Scouts in Strorms, and grants the Scouts (but not the Storms) Objective Secured. Furthermore, the Storms get +1 to their Jink so long as they remain within 6" of a speeder, and Scouts can disembark so long as the speeder moves less than 12". Talk about giving your scouts some get up and go! The Speartip grants some unique anti-infantry options, but they're hardly necessary in the context of the raw volume of bolter fire and attacks in CC we'll have typically. To me though, the Scarblade seems to present with similar issues to Talon Strike Force: low volume long range firepower. We can remedy this in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the infamous Skyhammer, or we could go for the Armored Company. With the Armored Company, we lose out on our tactics, but we offer an alternative to our otherwise 'all toughness value' army. Similarly, once we fulfill our minimum core and auxiliary, we could go dip into other armies and detachments to seek long range power.

At the end of it all, I'll say that this gives the Scars a firm kick in the pants, even though the only army there were competing with at an immediate tactical level was Ravenwing, leaving them still with a Great score. Is it healthy for the two armies that Kayoun updated to get into an arms race with other, ally-able forces? Maybe not, but I think the fact that these options force your hand a little more in terms of army composition is a fair trade off for the potency of rules they grant you. Sure, the Scarblade is a little more of a blunt instrument, and the Talon is both a little more finesse-y and more casual, but they're valid, viable options: not wholly overpowered, nor wholly eclipsed by other factions, forces, or options. And I'll never complain about GW giving me more options, so long as they don't outright suck. Are these ploys to cover up the reprint of the Tau codex? I'd say. Are they marketing tools to sell speeders, and scouts? Almost certainly. But if the rules aren't for me, I don't have to buy in. And if the models aren't for me, the same is still true. In any case, GW is about at the point of granting Space Marines options faster than I can test them out, which is interesting, and it keeps me on my toes.

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