Friday, 15 September 2017

North West Open 2017: Deathwatch Army and Tournament Review

I recently attended Bunker War 3 and the North West Open 2017 with my Deathwatch army. This post will take a look at the army that I took to the tournament and review how it performed during my games. I will also be reviewing the tournament itself, as well as the ITC missions, as this was the first time that I was playing them.

Army Review
As a reminder, my army consisted of:

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, 2 Missile Launchers, 3 Stalker Boltguns
Kill Team 3- 5 Veterans, 2 Missile Launchers, 3 Stalker Boltguns
Kill Team 4- 5 Veterans, Meltagun, 3 combi-Meltas
Kill Team 5- 5 Veterans, 2 Frag Cannons
Drop Pod- Storm Bolter
6 Vanguard Veterans- 2 Pairs Lightning Claws, Power Sword and Bolt Pistol, 3 with Bolt Pistols and Chainswords 
3 Deathwatch Bikers- Power Axe, Power Sword
3 Deathwatch Bikers- two Power Swords 
Corvus Blackstar- Auspex Array, Hurricane Bolter, Twin Assault Cannons, 2 Blackstar Rocket Launchers
Vindicare Assassin

6 Command Points

I am finding the Deathwatch army quite a struggle in 8th edition at the moment. They are a small, elite army, but lack the durability of other elite armies such as Grey Knights or Harlequins (not the toughest, but that invulnerable save goes a long way). Their firepower output can be high, but you need to get to close range to make the most of the Frag Cannons, leaving the Kill Teams very vulnerable to counter-assault and being wiped out. 

I'll now take a look at the individual units and see how they performed. 

Watch Master
The Watch Master is a solid addition to the army. His biggest benefit is the full re-roll to hit bubble that he provides for the army. This is great for providing a lot of firepower with selected units in the game.
He is also a solid combat character thanks to the Guardian Spear, able to take on a variety of opponents and cause a lot of damage. He even managed to hold his own against an Imperial Knight for a couple of turns.

In all my games, he went in the Drop Pod with the Meltagun Kill Team. My plan was to drop in on the biggest threat and use the re-rolls to ensure that I got maximum damage out of the Meltaguns. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake. Given the nature of the Meltagun Kill Team, they tend to be eliminated the turn after they arrive. With the Watch Master in such close proximity, he tended to get targeted very quickly as well. I think a better move may have been to put him with the Missile Launcher Kill Teams. This would force me to deploy both those Kill Teams together to get maximum effect from the re-rolls, but I think having the re-rolls on the Missile Launchers and Stalker Bolters might have been a better use of his abilities, as I was more likely to get more shots from these squads than from the Meltagun Kill Team (where I could always use a Command Point to try and get more hits or wounds).

Though saying that, the Watch Master did provide a useful distraction in many of my games, forcing my opponent to devote time and firepower to hunt him down in many of my games. He was also able to threaten units in the back line. I'm not sure about where to put him in lists, he is incredibly valuable to boost a number of units, so I think he will work anywhere in the list.

I would definitely take the Watch Master in a list again.

Watch Captain
Previously, I had been taking the Watch Captain with a Xenophase Blade and Jump Pack. This time, I took him with a pair of Lightning Claws along with the Jump Pack. This was a much better option, as the re-rolls to wound and additional attack were a big boost to his combat effectiveness.

With the Claws, he gets 5 attacks that are pretty much all hitting (2+ re-rollable) and has very good odds of wounding with the re-rolls. He was very effective, able to take on the toughest of threats and do some real damage in combat.

He also provides a nice re-roll bubble for nearby units. I normally put him in the Corvus Blackstar with the Kill Team. I think this was a good place for him, as it generally allowed him to make charges more reliably than if he arrived from deep strike reserve.

I think he was a useful addition to the list and wound definitely take him again.

Kill Team 1
This Kill Team consisted of three Frag Cannons, a Storm Shield and a Vanguard Veteran with a pair of Lightning Claws.
This unit was solid. The three Frag Cannons make a mess of most units I came up against. The Vanguard Veteran also adds some combat punch, as well as allowing the unit to fall back from combat and still shoot. The squad went in the Corvus Blackstar to get them into optimal position quickly, but once deployed, they were generally stuck on foot after that and slow to respond to enemy threats.
The Storm Shield was a nice, cheap addition that can provide some useful protection for the squad to help them out.

The Kill Team suffers from the issue with most of the Kill Team. They do a lot of damage on the turn they arrive, but are very quickly targeted and wiped out by the enemy army (5-6 Marines are not that difficult to kill in 8th edition).

Kill Team 2 and 3
These squads contained two Missile Launchers and three Stalker Boltguns. These were part of my anti-tank firepower. Given some of my luck in the games, the Missile Lauchers were ok, missing a lot of the times and failing to wound even more of the time. They may have benefited from the Watch Master re-roll bubble to be more effective in their damage output.

The Stalker Bolters were useful for targeting a range of units. The additional range they get allows them to sit back on objectives and still maintain a good rate of fire.

Kill Team 4
This squad has a Meltagun and three combi-meltas. The squad deployed in a Drop Pod. This squad were reasonably effective, having significant damage output thanks to the re-rolls of the Watch Master.
As with Kill Team 1, they arrived, caused a fair amount of damage and then were easily wiped out in reply. It is a pretty expensive unit to lose in one shot, but they generally made their worth back before they were destroyed.

I think the squad may be better in a Razorback or Rhino. This would allow them to get into Melta range easier (for the odds of getting increased damage output), but the Drop Pod does provide a bit better protection for the squad (no shooting at them until they arrive). Dropping a couple of Meltaguns from the squad might be useful for some spare points, but will probably halve their damage potential.

Kill Team 5
This squad has two Frag Cannons. Frag Cannons are awesome in 8th edition, able to put out a lot of firepower at short range. The squad was embarked in a Rhino, providing some useful protection and able to get them to the enemy army quickly. This squad generally performed quite well, but again, didn't get too many shots before they were wiped out once out in the open.

Vanguard Veterans
This squad came armed with three pairs of Lightning Claws and a Power Sword. This squad is able to do a lot of damage in combat (if they get there). The Lightning Claws are a useful weapon, able to deal damage to a range of opponents.
They cost an extra 3 points compared to Space Marine Vanguard Veterans, all for special issue ammunition. I don't think this is worth the cost, especially on a unit that is unlikely to be doing much shooting. I would like to see them get a points drop at some stage.

I think if I was taking this unit again, I would go for all Lightning Claws on the squad. The only reason I didn't was that I didn't have the models available. A couple with Thunder Hammers and Storm Shields may be useful for taking on vehicle threats if they get the reduced cost of the wargear. For me, the Heavy Thunder Hammer is simply not worth it. Thirty points for two attacks that hit on a 4+ and still wound most on a 3+ is simply not a good investment. The Thunder Hammers are cheaper and do more reliable damage output with each successful wound.

Deathwatch Bikers
Again, a great unit with lots of mobility and potent firepower, but simply too expensive for their durability. These units are very quickly targeted by my opponent and are generally wiped out very quickly, as 6 wounds on Marines are pretty easy to take out with most of the armies that I faced.

This unit costs 36 points per model. This is essentially an extra 9 points on a standard Space Marine Biker for an extra attack and special issue ammunition. The special issue ammunition is great on the volume of Bolter shots they get, but is still a very expensive unit. The extra attack is nice, but 6-7 attacks on a squad of 3 is not going to do much damage and you don't want them tied up in combat, losing their firepower.

A decent unit, and I love Biker armies, but simply not worth the cost for how little they do before they die.

Corvus Blackstar
A good transport vehicle and a firepower magnet for the enemy army. As such, it is rare to see it survive past a few turns.
It can put out a lot of firepower, but the lack of strafing run or Power of the Machine Spirit seriously hampers its firepower output. It was also be brilliant if it could take two hurricane bolters instead of just one, as this would seriously boost its damage output against infantry.

I took the Missile pods, which I think are the better option. I would probably keep it in my list, as it does save the rest of the army from the firepower of the enemy army. However, I would probably go for the Infernum Halo launcher now over the Auspex array. It's firepower output is not great on the move, so I think the chance to re-roll saving throws of 1 is a better option to keep it alive for longer, giving it great durability against weapons with no AP value.

Another lesson I learned in this tournament is that flyers don't need to go into "hover" mode for passengers to disembark. This may have helped it out in a few of my games, taking less damage from enemy firepower on the turn the Kill Team disembarked.

Vindicare Assassin
I am torn on this one. In some games he performed amazingly, taking out enemy warlords and even flyers. In other games, he struggled to do any damage at all. The D3 wounds does hurt him a little, as it is going to take at least 2-3 turns to take out even basic characters unless he rolls a 6 to wound.

Some advice I was given, that I think is valid, is that if you want to take a Vindicare, you need to take two. With two Assassins, you get much more reliable firepower and the chance of actually taking out enemy characters in a single turn.

I have been really disheartened with the performance of the Deathwatch army in 8th edition. I think they are simply too expensive at the moment to compete in the game, even in a casual environment.

Annoyingly, they have been responsible for some of my worst tournament performances in any edition of the game. I don't think it is due to poor playing on my part for the most, the army is just small, elite and fragile.

Most tournament armies in 8th edition have no problem killing off 30 Marines and a few Bikers. I have some decent firepower boost with the Special Issue Ammunition, but don't have the volume of shots to make it count against most armies. I think that the Space Marine Sternguard squad (the equivalent in the Space Marine codex) is a better option. Their guns are always AP-2 at full range and get even better with their Stratagem factored in.

If I was taking the army again, I would probably drop the two Bike units. They are effective, but are too easily killed off. I would probably take more Kill Teams with transport vehicles for some mobility and protection. A squad of 10 Veterans with no upgrades in a Rhino has some potent firepower if they get into range to fire, but is a very expensive unit to field for your core troops choice.

I would also consider adding a Librarian for some form of defence against Smite (which can cripple my army) as well as for some Smite attacks of my own.

The army still suffers against Vehicles, even with the Missile Launchers and Meltaguns, so adding some Lascannon Razorbacks would also be a good option for the army.

As it is, my Deathwatch army has been shelved. When they eventually get a codex for some new Stratagem options and hopefully some price reductions, I will probably give them a try again. Until then, I will likely be focusing on some of my other armies to try them out for 8th edition.

Tournament Review
The North West Open was held at Wargames in Southport. I have been to the store for another tournament previously and had a great time.

This time was no different. The tournament is run smoothly, with all games seeming to start on time, with regular reminders of the time of each round from the staff during the event. The tables are also to a very high standard. All have a nice gaming mat and fully painted terrain, with most being themed to the table. The food for the buffet at lunch each day was also fantastic, they do put on a really nice spread (especially if you like chicken). A great shop to visit and well worth a journey.

This was also the first time that I had played an ITC event using the ITC scenarios. The biggest differences here are a much shortened maelstrom deck and the fact that scoring happens at the start of your following turn.
This was a big change for me, and I think it made the maelstrom points even harder to score in some respects. The objective-based ones were tricky, as you needed to weather a turn of the enemy firepower or assault to score the point. Against most of my opponents, holding out for a turn in the open against the enemy firepower was simply not an option with the Deathwatch in most cases. This meant that I was really struggling to score in the maelstrom missions in most of my games, unusually, as maelstrom missions are a place where I normally do very well with my armies.

I'm not the biggest fan of this type of scoring, but I do understand why it is used. It gives you a chance to counter your opponent and try to stop them from scoring. My problem is that it seems to favour already strong armies. If your opponent has an army that can shoot you off the table, they will generally have no problem in stopping you from scoring maelstrom objectives in the ITC format. In regular maelstrom missions, I find that even bad match ups can be mitigated by simply going after the maelstrom points and carefully sacrificing units to achieve maximum points each turn. Using this strategy, I have been able to pull a lot of maelstrom wins out of games where my opponent has pretty much annihilated my army- by focusing on the objectives. I feel like the ITC missions didn't really give me a chance to do this. It was pointless going after a lot of the hold objective ones, as I knew I would simply be gunned down before having a chance to do this. My only hope was to try and survive long enough to do well on the eternal war missions, which didn't really help as I was almost tabled or tabled in 4 of my 5 games.

I know this is my only experience with the ITC missions, so it is hard to draw many conclusions, but I do find them a lot more difficult to play with the types of list that I bring to events, particularly the Deathwatch. I think the missions seem to favour MSU armies, something that I simply cannot do with Deathwatch to any great degree.

The scoring system was also unusual for someone used to the ETC scoring. In ITC, you score 8 points for simply winning the mission. For example, beating someone 15-0 in maelstrom scores you the same as winning 8-7. This means that a narrow loss scores almost the same as a crushing defeat, meaning it is pretty galling to loss the maelstrom mission by a point and maybe the eternal war mission by a single point and receive an 19-0 or 18-2 loss. Under the ETC scoring system, this would be mitigated slightly and you would not get such a big loss or win. However, kill points are more important in ETC, and this is an instance where I probably would have lost big in my games, so it may be mitigated in some fashion.

Overall, it was an interesting way to play. Not sure if I like it yet, it may just take some getting used to and for a better army than my Deathwatch. 


  1. Shame to hear the Death Watch are being shelved, they look fantastic out on the field of battle! I think they could be made to work a bit better, but not without whole sale changes to your list. Dropping the Bikes make sense, and replacing the Missile Launchers for Las Cannons would give them more punch against they things you struggle with, while dropping the Corvus would give you more points to spend on transports and troops (which, given the FAQ about flyers, are arguable more valuable than a single bullet magnet). That said, if I had a Corvus painted up like yours I don't think I would want to drop it either :)

    I agree about the ITC format, it definitely favours armies that alredy have the ability to table their opponents anyway. It also favours a reactive mindset rather than a proactive one, which in my opinion takes less tactical nuance and favours the 'point and click' style of play.

    Anyway, onwards and upwards Mike - get those Genestealer cult ready for the next one!

    1. Cheers Iapedus. I am loathed to shelve them as I think they look great on the field too and I put a lot of effort into them. Unfortunately, they are not winning me games at the moment. Don't worry though, they will be back, I just want to take a break from the long run of Deathwatch games to try some of my many other armies in 8th edition!

      I do think the list needs some wholesale changes to make them work better as you suggest. The one downside is that my Kill Teams cannot take Lascannons, only certain vehicles can be armed with them. This makes the Missile Launcher my best long range anti-tank choice for them. I agree though, the extra strength of the Lascannon and extra AP would be brilliant, and I would definitely take them if I could.

      Again, dropping the Corvus would probably be a good call to get an extra squad or two, but it's such a damn nice model to field that I kind of want to take it. Maybe when I revisit them, I will completely change up the army and see how they perform. Go for volume of fire rather than special weapons and tricks.

      The genestealer cult is progressing nicely, tune in to Hobby Sunday this week for two brand new units! If I keep up this rate of painting, I should be able to get most of the army done before Christmas.

    2. Hey,

      Have you thought about getting a few Venerable Dreadnoughts for your army?
      I run mine with twin lascannons and either a dccw/heavy flamer or ml, depending on who I'm facing. They provide either good anti-vehicle firepower on the move (hitting as well as regular DW despite moving, and on a non-degradable profile as well...) with a solid cc punch, or sit back and pepper the enemy with high strength shots, hitting on twos.

    3. Hi Nick, thanks for commenting. I have a Venerable painted up, but haven't had a chance to use it yet. I've tried a Dreadnought a few times in my Space Marine army, but feel they can die quite quickly if targeted. Might be worth giving another go though in the future.

    4. I like doubling up on them, to (hopefully) spread out my opponents anti-tank firepower.

      Also, razorbacks are great. DW generally have small unit sizes, so the loss of transport capacity is a non-issue. Twin lascannons/twin assault cannons (with a customary storm bolter/hunter killer) have proven to be very effective.

    5. Doubling them up is probably a good shout. I might try running the army in the future with more Veterans to bulk up my numbers. I was thinking that a squad of 9 with basic Bolters accompanied by a Watch Master might provide some decent firepower from a Pod or transport vehicle.

  2. interesting review.

    hopefully when your codex drops the new stratagems will help.

    i think GW missed a trick with this. i'm not convinced codexes are the way forward as you get times when some have stratagems and some don't. they should have kept with the indexes and then released a stratagem book for all armies, then a advance psychic book with new powers for all armies and then a relics, warlord and objective book for all armies.

    at the moment my marines are rocking some great buffs with the stratagems (flakk missile being very useful)

    anyway i think you army probably needs a few more games to fully figure out what is going on but i think small elite force struggle a lot. i always thought of some of the new armies nice add ons to support marines and imp guard. a patrol of deathwatch to support/help out a battalion of marines for example.

    how do you find these "non standard rules"? i am off to event with no rule changes to missions. we are going to play 3 games and each mission will be rolled on the day before each mission starts. all 12 (eternal and maelstrom) are to be used. i think this will give far more opportunity for people to bring a really balanced force and not too spammy as not knowing the missions in advance and the large diversity of the emissions will prove difficult.

    really liked the reports and they are really helping with my army building and game playing. thank you.

    1. I agree with you, the Stratagems make a big difference and are really powerful for those armies that have codexes so far. I think that Chapter Approved later in the year will be introducing Stratagems for armies unlikely to get a codex for a while, but don't quote me on that.

      I don't mind the non-standard rules for tournament games in general. It means that there is always something you can try and score with a mix of eternal war and maelstrom missions. I've had so many tournament games where my army has been crushed, but I have been able to score big on the maelstrom objectives to secure a minor loss or even a win in some cases.

      I do prefer maelstrom missions as you can score throughout. With Eternal war, it can sometimes be difficult to survive with enough units till the end of the game to even have a chance of winning if you have a bad match up.

  3. Another great summary! Lots to chew on there with regard to my own plans for fielding Deathwatch. I'll have it much easier though since I play pick up games with friends (and damn few of those!) and don't go out for tournaments.

    You have a GREAT looking army there and we can both look forward to some encouraging changes when their number gets pulled for the codex lottery. Your painting effort has inspired me to see my own project through no matter the slog and I thank you for that!

    I second @toonboy78 by stating that your battle reports and army reviews have helped me think on the game and the 8th edition play still immensely.

    1. Cheers Dave, glad that you are finding my ramblings of some use!

  4. Seems to fit pretty well with my own observations so far.

    Razorbacks are worth considering as a Lascannon platform. There are a number of trade-offs compared to Venerable Dreads, so it's worth looking at both options. Speaking of Dreads, like the Vindicare, don't take just one. At least two, or don't even bother.

    The ITC Missions are frustrating to me. Each change more or less made sense at the time it was implemented, but by this point, they're an absolute mess of adaptations to issues from 3 different Editions, and should really be done again from the ground up.

    1. I did pick up a Razorback with Lascannons off ebay recently. Will need to get it painted up at some point.