Tuesday 18 July 2017

Caledonian Revolution 2017- Deathwatch Army Review

As is customary for each of the tournaments that I attend, I will take a look at the army I selected for the event, identify which units worked well and which units struggled, and try to learn some lessons from my games at Caledonian Revolution 2017. 

First off, I won two games and lost three games at the event, gaining a final listing of around 66th out of 100. This is easily my worst result at any of the tournaments that I have attended in recent years. It is a little disappointing, but is mitigated slightly by the fact that 8th edition was only 2 weeks old when I attended, so I had little time for fully playtesting the army and going up against a range of armies to see how the Deathwatch performed against them. This was more than made up for by getting a nomination for Best Painted Army at the event (see, I told you I was going to keep mentioning it!). 

Now that the excuses are out of the way, let's take a look at the army that I took to the event. My army consisted of:

Battalion Detachment
Watch Master- Guardian Spear 
Watch Captain- Jump Pack, Xenophase Blade, Bolt Pistol
Kill Team 1- Sergeant with Power Sword, Black Shield with Power Sword, 3 Veterans, 2 Frag Cannons, Vanguard Veteran with Pair Lightning Claws, Deathwatch Biker with Teleport Homer
Kill Team 2- 5 Veterans with 2 Frag Cannons and 2 Shotguns
Kill Team 3- 5 Veterans with Meltagun, 3 Combi-meltas
Kill Team 4- 5 Veterans with 5 Stalker Pattern Boltguns
Kill Team 5- 5 Veterans, Terminator with Power Fist, Storm Bolter and Cyclone Missile Launcher
Rhino- Storm Bolter
Rhino- Storm Bolter
5 Vanguard Veterans- 2 pairs Lightning Claws, 2 Heavy Thunder Hammers
4 Bikers- Teleport Homer, Power Axe, Power Maul, 2 Power Swords
4 Bikers- Teleport Homer, Power Maul, 3 Power Swords
Corvus Blackstar- Twin Assault Cannon, 2 Stormstrike Missiles, Hurricane Bolter, Auspex Array

When I built the army, I thought it would function as quite a nice, generic, take all comers list. With the little playtesting that I did, I had to add the Meltagun squad, as I had a serious lack of anti-armour firepower in the force.

I will now break down each unit and see what worked well on them.

Watch Master
The Watch Master is a solid addition to the army, I feel. One of the best aspects is the 6" re-roll buff that he provides to nearby units. This is great for either the Meltaguns on one of my Kill Teams or for the Bolters or Combat attacks from other Kill team members.

In combat, he is no slouch. With 4 attacks, hitting on a re-rollable 2+, you can generally rely on getting four hits each turn. His Guardian Spear gives him S5, -3AP and D3 damage, so he should be able to take on other characters or take on Marine equivalents with ease. I find that he does struggle against vehicles or tough monstrous creatures, as you can't always rely on rolling those 5's to wound.

He is also pretty tough, with 6 wounds, a 2+ armour save and 4+ invulnerable. In my five games, he died in 3 of them, but most of the time I threw him after tough units, or he faced most of the enemy firepower on his own.

The only issue with him is one faced by most of the Deathwatch characters- mobility. The Watch Master can only be taken on foot, so really needs a Rhino or Corvus Blackstar if you want to get him into combat. I didn't consider keeping him with a backfield unit such as the Stalker Marines or Cyclone Missile Launcher. His re-rolls would have been incredibly handy there, but I'm not sure this would have been an efficient use of points.

I would probably take him in the force again.

Watch Captain
The Watch Captain is one of the few Deathwatch Characters that can get around the mobility issue, as you can equip him with a jump pack. This allows him to "deep strike" and gives him much better mobility once he is on the board.

He also has a nice re-roll of 1's to hit buff that can help nearby units. Most of the time, I sent him in with the Vanguard Veterans to try and get the Heavy Thunder Hammers to hit, but they were useless most of the time even with him.

I armed him with a Xenophase Blade. This is essentially a power sword that forces your opponent to re-roll successful invulnerable saves. This only really came into effect once in the tournament when he was attacking the War Walker in game 1. The biggest problem I had was in getting him to wound. He hits with 4 attacks on a 2+ re-rollable, but generally wounds most things on a 4+. Even then, I was struggling to do many wounds with him.

I would probably take him again, but think I would arm him with a pair of Lightning Claws to help him to wound, as well as giving +1 attack. The loss of the pistol is not really a big deal. This way, he could possibly do a lot more damage to enemy units in combat, as I would be hitting with 5 attacks most of the time and wounding more often thanks to the re-rolls.

Kill Team 1
This kill team was embarked in the Corvus and consisted of Sergeant with Power Sword, Black Shield with Power Sword, 3 Veterans, 2 Frag Cannons, Vanguard Veteran with Pair Lightning Claws, Deathwatch Biker with Teleport Homer.

This kill team was pretty effective during my games, but rarely survived past turn 2. As they were the first unit to go after the enemy in most cases, they were quickly targeted and eliminated.

The Frag Cannons were a good addition to the unit, helping me to take out some tough targets in the army. I think I need more than 2 in the unit though. It might have just been my poor rolling, but I really struggled to roll about a 10 on 4D6 for the shots when I used them in most of my games.

The solid rounds are useful, but even the extra strength shot is still only damage two. Assuming all four shots hit and wound, that is still only a maximum of 8 wounds against a vehicle target. I think that weapons doing D6 wounds, such as the Missile Launcher are more effective against vehicle or monstrous creatures.

I think if I was to take this unit again, I would drop the Biker and the Power Weapons and take an additional Frag Cannon or two. I would probably keep the Vanguard Veteran, as this gives me the option to flee from combat and still shoot the Frag Cannons. I never got to use this ability, as they were generally shot to death. This ability would have been really useful against the Genestealers in game 5, where I had 2 Frag Cannons and the Vanguard survive the combat. However, a truly awful Morale test (a double 6!) put paid to that.

Kill Team 2
This team had 5 Veterans with 2 Frag Cannons and 2 Shotguns. Most of what was said above applies to this unit too. Two Frag Cannons are nice, but can be a bit unreliable (especially with my rolling), so upping the number of Cannons would be good if I had the points. The Shotguns were an afterthought as I liked the model, but weren't too effective. I rarely got into range to use the auto-hit rounds, and generally forgot about the other rounds.

Kill Team 3
This kill team had 5 Veterans with Meltagun and 3 Combi-meltas. This unit was my main source of anti-tank firepower in the army. I was generally firing them above half range, so rarely got to use the Melta effect on the weapons.
This unit was great for taking on enemy tanks, but I need to focus fire with them when I do. Whenever I split the fire of the unit between two targets, I generally either miss with one half entirely, then simply wound the other. Firing all four at one target is overkill, but helps ensure that you kill the vehicle fully. The combi-weapons were useful, but I never fired them both at the same time as I really wanted to ensure that the Meltaguns hit. This unit worked very well in combination with the Watch Master, allowing them to re-roll failed misses. I think in the future I would put the Watch Master in the Rhino with this unit in all my games, as he really didn't do much for the Corvus Kill Team.

I would definitely take this unit again. I would maybe even consider putting this unit in a Drop Pod to ensure they got a turn 1 shot at their target. As it was, it generally took me to turn 2 or 3 to get a shot at an enemy unit, which is a bit of a waste of their firepower. Having them in a pod in may have helped in game 2, where they could have landed next to the Shadowsword and put a serious dent in it on turn 1, rather than being forced to go after Conscripts. Also, in game 5, they could have gone after an Exocrine or Hive Tyrant on turn 1.

Kill Team 4
This unit consisted of 5 Marines with 5 Stalker Pattern Bolters. This was a useful unit for holding backfield objectives.

The Stalker bolters gave them a range of up to 36" and two shots each turn, regardless of range. This unit was quite useful for some long range shooting while holding an objective. Given they only get 10 shots for the unit, you are not going to do a whole lot of damage each turn, but they should knock a couple of wounds off a unit each turn.

There were only a couple of times that I moved the unit to get them into range or to secure an objective. The -1 to hit is not too bad when you are using a volume of shots. I would probably take this unit again to another tournament.

Kill Team 5
This unit consisted of 5 Marines with Bolters and a Deathwatch Terminator with Power Fist, Storm Bolter and Cyclone Missile Launcher.

Oh dear. The Terminator in this unit gets the honour of being one of the worst use of points in this list. After playtesting showed that I needed more anti-tank firepower, the Terminator with Cyclone Missile Launcher was added to the roster. Coming in at 102 pts for the Terminator alone, he was a pretty hefty addition.

This probably is not true, but my recollection of his performance in my games was failing to hit with his two shots over 50% of the time and generally failing to wound on a 3+ if he did hit. As one of the few sources of long range firepower in my army, I was hopeful that he would help cripple or destroy enemy tanks and monsters. He most certainly did not do this. An utter waste of points and a kill team.

I think in the future, I would lose the Terminator and simply add four missile launchers to the Kill Team unit. This would have the bonus of costing less (only 2 pts, but still), getting me double the number of shots and maybe actually give me a chance of doing some damage with the unit.

This unit could utilise the Teleport Homers to move around my deployment zone. In 5 games, I think I used it once, so it won't really be a loss to not have the Terminator in the unit. Losing the Terminator would also make the unit more susceptible to Morale, but in 5-man squads, Morale is not really an issue for Marines. In 5 games, I think I only had to make one or two morale tests, failing one after a horrendous roll (rolled a 6 for my test and then another 6 for my ATSKNF re-roll).

If I took the Kill Team with 4 Missile Launchers, I might even consider putting the Watch Master next to them to benefit from his re-rolls, hopefully getting me four shots hitting each turn and possibly three wounds from them. This should ensure that 2 shots get through the armour on average and give me a good chance of taking a number of wounds off a vehicle/monster.

These vehicles are a lot tougher in 8th edition and a great way to transport units into battle. This worked well for my Meltagun team and Frag Cannon team, who have short ranged weapons and need a reliable way to get up the table.

They can be easily destroyed if targeted by units like the Fire Dragons or Dark Reapers, but are generally pretty durable to small arms fire. One thing I forgot about for the whole tournament was their auto-repair roll, where they can regain a wound on a 6 at the start of each of your turns. Unlikely to come up, but may have been useful every once in a while.

Vanguard Veterans
This unit consisted of 5 Vanguard Veterans, two with a pair of Lightning Claws, two with Heavy Thunder Hammers and one with Bolt Pistol and Chainsword.

Ah, the Heavy Thunder Hammers. Worst waste of 60 pts in an army list. Right up there with the Terminator for biggest waste of points in my army. That -1 to hit may not seem like a lot, but it seems to come up more often than not for me. I had four attacks with the two Veterans and I was lucky if one of them managed to hit in each combat. Over the course of 5 games, they managed to put a few wounds on enemy vehicles and units, but were not really worth it in the end.

The Lightning Claws were much better. The extra attack and re-rolls to wound were great for taking one enemy units and some vehicles. In addition, they were generally benefiting from the re-rolls to hit of 1, thanks to the Watch Captain.

Also, getting to deploy the unit where and when I want it a great new mechanic. They were able to grab objectives or go after threatening enemy units in each of my games (though with varying degrees of success). Their worst performance was game 4 against the Dark Reapers. I charged in (lost 2 to overwatch fire) and did multiple wounds on the unit, only for Jonathan to make almost all his armour saves. The unit was easily butchered after killing only a single Dark Reaper.

If I was to take this unit again, I would probably go for a unit of 5, all with Lightning Claws. I like the Heavy Thunder Hammers for damage output, but they would be better suited in the Corvus Kill Team, where they are more likely to benefit from re-rolls to hit thanks to the Watch Master.

Deathwatch Bikers
A great unit on paper, but I struggled to get much out of them in my games thanks to how much of a threat they were perceived as being.

Four shots each at 12" with special issue ammunition can be pretty potent. These guys could put out a lot of firepower when they got into range. However, they were generally targeted for elimination very quickly in all of my games, rarely surviving past turn 2 or 3. I think I was pretty reckless with them, throwing them at the enemy army quickly, but I needed to get in range to get the most from the unit. At T5 and 2 wounds each, they are reasonably durable, but most of my opponents had little problem in eliminating them.

I think that three units of 3 might have been more useful for grabbing objectives, but that would give me an extra drop in my army.

The Teleport Homers were not really worth taking in the end, but they didn't cost any points, so there was no reason not to take them. I would probably not take Power Weapons on the squad any more, as there is really not much use for them. I might even drop down to two units of 3 to save some points. I could go with several units of individual Bikers for objective grabbing and annoyance value, but this would have increased by number of deployments and meant I would go second in most of my games (a killer for an elite army such as this) and given up easy kill points.

I would probably keep the Bikers, as they add some much needed mobility to my army.

Corvus Blackstar
I'm really not sold on the Corvus Blackstar. I know that Flyers are the new hotness in 8th edition, but I don't know if it adds too much to my list. Space Marine flyers are apparently really great, but I think the Corvus is subpar compared to them.

My Corvus came with Twin Assault Cannon, 2 Stormstrike Missiles, a Hurricane Bolter and Auspex array.
At two of the weapons are heavy (the Assault Cannon and Missiles), they were generally hitting on 4's. The Auspex array mitigates this to some regard (allowing me to re-roll ones to hit if the target unit does not Fly). I think my issue may have been target priority. I tried to fire the Stormstrike and Assault Cannon at enemy vehicles or Monsters. Generally the Assault Cannon did nothing, while the Stormstrike generally only hit and wounded once (if at all) and only did 3 wounds when it hit.

I think the Blackstar rockets may be a better choice. This would then give me 2D6 shots as opposed to only 2 shots for the missiles. Even with my rolling, I would have a better chance to getting some shots in (either S6 or S4), plus bonuses for hitting units in cover or that can fly. I'm honestly not sure why I didn't go for the rockets. I think I maybe thought that I was only getting D6 shots, as opposed to 2D6 shots each turn. If this flyer had Power of the Machine Spirit (to ignore the penalty for firing Heavy Weapons when moving), it would be far better.

I used the bomb a couple of times, but failed to do any damage with it both times.

I still think the Auspex array is the better choice for the flyer. The Infernum Halo-launcher can be a bit situational (only affects enemy units that Fly) and you need to be supersonic for it to have an effect. Why you can't take both, I don't know- they are both not exactly overpowered.

The Coruvs also worked well as a transport vehicle. It is pretty much the only way to transport mixed kill teams, as it can carry Jump Packs and Bikers.

The Corvus Blackstar is pretty tough, but most opponents were able to destroy it in a turn or two. Even though it is -1 to hit and has 14 wounds, when you are being targeted by 10 Meltaguns or two units of Dark Reapers, it is going to be pretty easy to take down.

I'm torn on whether to include the Corvus again. I think I'd give it a couple of more games using the Rocket pods to see if the extra shots make a big difference.

My performance with the Deathwatch army was not as good as I would have hoped for at Caledonian Revolution 2017. Some units were good, but others performed terribly. I think the problem is that each Veteran is very expensive for what they can do. At 19 pts per model, the loss of each Marine is felt quite heavily in the army. To put it in perspective, Primaris Marines cost 20 pts each, come with an extra wound and have a very similar gun to the Kraken Bolts. I think having almost double the number of wounds in my army for the same cost would make a big difference to its performance.

Based on my experiences, a revised army list could possibly be:
Battalion Detachment
Watch Master
Watch Captain- Jump Pack, Pair Lightning Claws
Kill Team 1- 5 Veterans, Vanguard Veteran with Pair Lightning Claws, 3 Frag Cannons, Storm Shield.
Kill Team 2- 5 Veterans, 4 Missile Launchers
Kill Team 3- 5 Veterans, 5 Stalker Boltguns
Kill Team 4- 5 Veterans, Meltagun, 3 combi-Meltas
Kill Team 5- 5 Veterans, 2 Frag Cannons
Drop Pod- Deathwind Missile Launcher
5 Vanguard Veterans- 5 Pairs Lightning Claws
3 Deathwatch Bikers- Power Axe
3 Deathwatch Bikers
Corvus Blackstar- Auspex Array, Hurricane Bolter, Twin Assault Cannons, 2 Blackstar Rocket Launchers
Vindicare Assassin

The Vindicare Assassin is an addition that I think may be useful to the army. This will allow me target enemy characters with his shots and hopefully remove a lot of the buffs to the enemy army. This would have been very useful in many of my tournament games, especially game 2 against the Astra Militarum. Taking out Yarrick would have made the Conscript blob crumble very quickly against the rest of my shooting and combat attacks.

So those are my thoughts on the Deathwatch army. What do you think of the revised army list? Any changes or suggestions to make?


  1. Interesting, and a great time to look at list reviews!

    I'm not sure about drop pods now, I'm testing a couple this week so should hopefully know a bit more about them soon, but one thing I can confirm is that razorbacks are awesome! Big enough to transport your kill teams, just as robust as a rhino (albeit without the auto repair) but boasting some serious kick-ass weapons - a pair could easily solve most of your anti tank issues with twin lascannons. The twin assault cannons variant is really nice too, enough shots to justify hitting on 4's. You could probably get 2-3 for the price of the Blackstar.

    1. I've yet to try drop pods in 8th. Will need to see how they get on.

  2. I think the Machine Spirit is a big part of the reason Storm Ravens are kicking ass all over the place right now. -1 to Hit, whether for Heavies on the move or "Unwieldy" CCWs, actually is a pretty big deal, especially since it usually tends to apply to things with relatively few shots/attacks.

    In a DW Army, I mostly see Bikers used as part of a Kill Team. As you noted, as a Unit on their own, they're tough, but not tough enough to really outweigh how high they are on the target priority list.

    Nick is right about Razorbacks. They're awesome. Just never overcharge a Plasmaback unless it's a literal do or die situation ;)

    1. The only reason I don't like the mixed kill teams too much is that it hinders the mobility of the bikes or Vanguard vets and stops them being put in a transport other than the Coruvs.

      Deathwatch can't take the Plasmaback, so I guess that solves that issue!

  3. You could use the flyer to transport four individual biker units. That would mitigate the issue of losing first turn. Plus, the look on your openents face when they pop out and zoom out in four different directions would be satisfying

    1. That would be a fun tactic! Very useful for maelstrom games I imagine.

  4. Very interesting write-up. I'm taking Deathwatch to a tournament in Dunfermline next month, it'll be interesting to see how I get on (I've only managed one game of 8th so far). I haven't worked out the individual kill teams yet, but I'm taking two razorbacks with twin lascannons, a venerable dread with twin lascannon and a Corvus with much the same load-out as yours (with the infernum halo launcher instead though - I think I'll be facing a lot of stuff that can fly). I've got four bikes altogether, and I'm torn between adding them into separate kill teams, or maybe just having one unit of three and another in a kill team instead. You're right though, Deathwatch marines as a whole seem far too expensive. I'm intrigued to see what goodies they'll get in their codex whenever it turns up, but at the moment they seem at a bit of a disadvantage.

    1. I'm not sure how much the Biker added to the Kill Team. The extra shots were nice with the twin Bolter, but I could just add a couple of extra marines for the same cost. Adding the Biker or Vanguard give very useful rules, but in all honesty, if your opponent is targeting the squad, they are likely to be fully wiped out with shooting, so I didn't actually get to use their special abilities much in my games.

      I think two Lascannon Razorbacks are a sound choice. Gives some much needed anti-tank firepower to the army. I only took the Rhinos as they were the only models that I had available. I will probably be investing in a couple of Razorbacks myself.
      Is the Dread a forgeworld variant? I didn't think the Deathwatch Dreadnought could replace its close combat arm.

      Good luck with the tournament, I hope it goes well. I'm always looking for guest posts, so if you want to write up your thoughts on your list and a review of your tournament games and how it performed, I would be happy to have it!

    2. You can replace the Dreadnaught weapon with a missile launcher. Although the way you roll missiles...

  5. Cheers Michael, I'd be happy to write something up (can't guarantee the pictures from my crappy phone camera will be any good though!)

    It's just the normal Venerable Dreadnought - I hope I've got this right, but the index just says to use the standard space marine ven dread profile, and you can replace the default assault cannon with an item from the Deathwatch Dreadnought heavy weapons list, which includes a twin lascannon (so, keeping the dreadnought close combat weapon). I've got some surgery to do if not!

    1. Ah, yes, that is right. I'm still confusing terminology, when you said twin Lascannon, I thought that meant two sets of Lascannons, one on each army. You are right, you can take the twin Lascannon and combat arm.

    2. That's a relief - I'm hoping some concentrated lascannon fire can either take out or sufficiently cripple whatever my opponents' biggest threats will be from the start, then hopefully the Corvus and various kill team load-outs will be able to deal with massed infantry. I'm going to try a couple of mixed kill teams and a couple of more specialised ones - lots of list-building still to do ...

  6. Have you considered FW options (now that the most recent FAQ has opened all of them up to DW)? Given that DW are already an elite, expensive, low model count army, I think one of the best options might be the Mortis Dread with double Twin Lascannons...for 175 points that gives you the firepower of an entire Predator Annihilator, which compensates for several DW weaknesses (i.e. long-ranged fire support, anti-tank/MC, etc.). Also, the Mortis is not a Relic, so you could take multiples of them in your HS slots easily and, supported by a Watch Master or Watch Captain for rerolls to hit, you could make a potent fire base for the rest of you army with 2-3 of them (and not break the bank points-wise either).

    1. Hi Rudd, I've tended to avoid Forgeworld in the past. In previous editions, most tournaments banned their use, plus I always found them a bit expensive. Now, however, the restrictions on Forgeworld seem a bit more relaxed, so it may be worth investing in some of the options.