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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kirby's Tyranid Thoughts

So there’s been quite a bit of discussion, again, on Tyranids lately. I thought I’d put my thoughts down not for the sake of argument but rather clarification (and any discussion which results from this is good). My Armies in 5th articles cover how Tyranids operate in 5th and AbusePuppy's review covers the ins and outs of their book. This article looks at niether but rather focuses on some key issues in terms of competitiveness and competitive options. First, my broad stance. Tyranids are a good army in 5th edition and their codex has quite a few viable options and very few so-so or down right bad choices. I think in general most people outside of forums agree with this but where we disagree is how this executed so I will explore this issue some more. Whilst I believe Tyranids are a competitive army in 5th with their current book (even post FAQ), in terms of actual codex wide options I think they (alongside Space Marines) are the weakest 5th ed codex. Note: this is not in terms of competitive balance as both Vanilla Marines and Tyranids are competitive but rather in terms of flexibility. For example the Vanilla codex lists don’t really scale too well and have limited options in Heavy Support. So let’s take a look at the Tyranids codex with this understanding in mind.

There is one major issue in terms of army design. Nothing to do with internal balance or ability to deal with tanks, etc. Rather, the general army style is always going to be quite similar because Tyranids only have the option for Foot. Whilst some Tyranid armies are going to be faster than others (I.e. using Raveners, Shrikes, Flyrants, Spores or Harpies, etc.) the general theme of a competitive army is pretty similar in that it is nearly always foot. There are reserve options but this list can be quite weak against certain lists and was nerfed by the FAQ. This is the only codex that has this issue because there are no mech options in that no other unit is effectively carrying another unit to battle and thus protecting it. Every other Imperial or Xenos army is capable of fielding mech, hybrid and foot lists which opens up a lot more build options. This is paramount to the perceived weakness of the Tyranid codex as it limits army-wide flexibility.

However, is this a weakness? Yes and no. You obviously have less overall army options simply because you don’t have the ability to start lists with really diverse pre-conceptions. Rather than picking a concept and then potentially having multiple completely different army styles with which to run with said idea, Tyranids for the most part, have one broad style. Within this style there are a lot of options, just like within a mech style of list there are a lot of options, but whilst other books are quite capable of fielding three distinct styles and using a lot of units in all of those styles, Tyranids have just the one. This is a disadvantage in terms how many army variants you can field but isn’t necessarily equate on the battlefield. Look at Tau and Witchunters who both can run very effective mono-builds and do quite well and Tyranids are not a mono-build by any stretch of the word.

Which brings us to this next point. There are a couple of units which are simple stand-outs for Tyranids in Hive Guard and Tervigons. Both of these units are fantastic value and a lot of people feel they are auto-includes for any army and an army without them isn’t a good army because these units provide so well within 5th edition. Basically, Hive Guard shut down mech and in particular light mech spam and Tervigons produce a lot of scoring and bodies. I disagree with this. Whilst these units are fantastic they create a very particular type of list which generally moves across the board and aims to dominate midfield. This can obviously be changed with pumping a lot of points into your Fast Attack but isn’t necessarily better or a completely different army. Remember, the majority of Tyranid anti-tank is about suppression rather than destruction. Whilst weight of fire will eventually drag tanks down, the lack of mech defenses and mobility means Tyranids need to slow enemy mech down which their firepower is generally quite good at. You’ll look at most of their anti-tank and other than Zoans or HVC, everything is multiple shots and units put out many more than just two.

What this essentially means is when you don’t run Hive Guard, your overall anti-tank is more reliant on your MC statlines and other firepower which is where other issues come for certain individuals, I.e. where is this other firepower? Nothing else in the codex provides the rate of fire and strength Hive Guard do which makes them such a brilliant choice (beyond being price effective and their special rules and their statline…) so when you don’t run them, you aren’t looking for something to replace them but rather a different list. For example, running Zoans and Fexstars gives you a large amount of S10AP1 shots and a lot of twin-linked S6 shots but the army is much more in your face. Here powers like Onslaught or choices like Raveners come to the fore as they increase the threat range of the army and work well within it (these options are of course viable in other lists as well).

This brings us to the Tervigon which in essence, isn’t replacable either (we are only gong to look at it from a Troop perspective as I think that‘s everyone‘s main issue?). I mean, it’s a scoring MC for crying out loud… However, without MC saturation or target priority issues (MC + Warriors/Raveners/Shrikes to overwhelm ample targets for S8+ guns), that MC scoring status isn’t too flash. This generally isn’t an issue because nearly every army includes 4+ MC at 1500+ or some kind of target priority issues but again, this delivers the Tyranids to a certain type of build. Again, Tervigons excel in midfield and want to maintain close-knit cohesion with the rest of the force so they can be buffed by Tyrants and buff their little bubs + cast powers. So we know this guy is irreplaceable if we are looking for a midfield buffing unit…what if we don’t want that? Rather we want Hormagants to support our Raveners or Genestealers to disrupt our opponent and rather than the midfield supremacy of T6’R’Us let’s go for the aggressive and scary combat nature of Warriors. Backed up by Hive Guard and T-Fexes and either out flanking Genestealers or faster Raveners/Hormagants, these guys (and a potential Hive Tyrant or Primes or Fexstars rather than T-Fexes) are just plain scary in midfield and beyond. Rather than looking to feed layers of minions to the enemy and eventually overwhelm them or drag MC statlines into the mix (which to me BTW, is really fluffy…), this type of army would be based around shock assault units and destroying whatever the suppression fire pops out of transports.

Both of these styles of lists are quite viable IMO and whilst I prefer the Hive Guard/T-Fex/Tervigon style of army (I <3 my midfield armies), it is not the only option for Tyranid commanders. Both HGs and Tervigons (and T-Fexes) bring something to the table which isn't really found elsewhere in the Tyranid book. However, units like Raveners, Harpies, Fexstars, Venomthropes, Zoans, Warriors, etc. all have these options which are quite unique to them and don't see significant play within the type of list I run (which has many spin-offs). Fexstar based armies for example are great for old Nidzilla players who have a bunch of Dakkafexes and Warriors are actually a usable and capable combat unit. The Tyranid book is all about opportunity cost and whilst Hive Guard and Tervigons have rather easy to identify strengths (and therefore steep opportunity costs), armies are certainly viable without both of them in there. Now taking a list without both of these options? I think the FAQ really killed that. The above list with no Hive Guard (I.e. zoans + fexstars) needs the movement boost of Onslaught and the reserve army with spores was a great non-Tervigon option here but not being able to drop Primes in or have a 2+ (which was expected really…) reserve roll was annoying and turned a lot of people away from the list. I don’t think it was too flash to begin with as you still had some anti-tank issues and were relying on single Fexes or Trygons to suppress, survive and then kill in combat.

I love the Tyranid codex in its current incarnation. I love the balance one can get between little gribblies, medium buggers and big nasty monsters; it just feels right to me and the way I've always envisioned Tyranid armies. This doesn't mean it's right (or wrong) in terms of fluff but in terms of feel; there are people out there who like it. In terms of gameplay, yes I agree it's not the best 5th edition book out there. Whilst I think this is in part due to Tyranids only having a foot option, GW further compounded the problem with their FAQ. This doesn't make them unplayable or poor competitors though and whilst in terms of overall awesomeness it falls short of other 5th ed books, it doesn't on the tabletop and it doesn't always require two units to be utilised extensively to do so.

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