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Friday, August 12, 2011

Armies in 5th: Space Wolves Part 1: Not Better Marines - Different Marines

The argument over Space Wolves being down-right better than Vanilla Marines cropped up the first time 15 point Grey Hunters were spotted. Whilst Space Wolves may be better than Vanilla Marines overall, the difference is marginal and each army ultimately works differently. This is where arguments saying Space Wolves are better Vanilla Marines can often come un-stuck - apples and oranges are difficult to compare and determine which is 'the best.' Let's look at the basic units for each codex and look at why.

Grey Hunters are cheaper, better in combat, can take two special weapons and have more upgrade options (generally combat focused such as Wolf Standard, Mark of the Wulfen, combat weapon, etc.). Tacticals are more expensive, come with Ld9 Sergeants standard, can only take a special and heavy at 10-strong squads, have combat tactics, combat squads and suck in combat. On the face of things very, very different and within each army, they do a very nice job. Grey Hunters have a lot more flexibility since they can access upgrades on 5-strong units. Tacticals are shoe-horned into running inefficient 5-strong units without special/heavy weapons or need to run full squads to get these benefits. Add in that Grey Hunters are much better in close ranged firefights with two special weapons, two close combat weapons and counter-attack and you can see why they and Space Wolves in general, are considered far superior to Tacticals and Vanilla Marines.

However, this fits the style of play Space Wolves generally encourage. It's much more aggressive with increased combat ability across the army and what Grey Hunters lack, heavy weapons, combat tactics, Ld9, is what make Tacticals good. If Grey Hunters want Ld9 they have to lose an Elite slot and their second special weapon for a one-shot combi weapon. On MSU squads this is fine as you aren't looking for that second special weapon regardless but for larger squads and overall army design, this is a mild limitation. You of course don't need to go for Ld9 but the 10% difference in pass/fail can be pretty significant and will come up often enough. Back to having heavy weapon options along with their boltguns, they play a much more midfield shooting role and combat tactics supports this. Sure in comparison to Grey Hunters they suck in combat but they are more capable of avoiding it and impacting the battlefield from afar. This is a premise Space Marines need to work their lists around and is very different from Space Wolves.

Put it this way. Grey Hunters as multiple squads across the whole army cannot engage in ranged firefights. Yes you can use a plasma gun special weapon, 24" rapid fire range, Rune Priests and Wolf Guard with Cyclone Missile launchers but that becomes very inefficient and very expensive. In the end, Grey Hunters excel in your opponent's face. Not only are they decent in combat but that's where their primary shooting firepower is. Tacticals on the other hand have that ranged weapon option. It's one gun sure but they back that up with a reliable and solid scoring presence in midfield along with the boltguns. They are much worse in combat than Grey Hunters but are less likely to be in your opponent's face because they do not belong there. These two very different roles are often what define the two different armies and how they operate on the tabletop.

So after that lengthy topic... Space Wolves play very differently from Space Marines. You can go  back and forth on Grey Hunters and Tacticals all day long and not convince anyone that one is better than the other but they both fulfill an important role within each army. If we then look at the unique Space Wolves choices such as Thunderwulf Cavarly, Long Fangs, Wolf Scouts, Wolf Guard, HQs, etc. and what they don't have compared to Vanilla Marines, their HQs, Sternguard and TH/SS Terminators at an appropriate cost, and we can see fully how Space Wolves are very different from Vanilla Marines. If you find yourself using a Space Wolves codex but not using their unique choices you'll often find your army will do better as a Vanilla Marine list. Sure you can get the same amount of stuff in the Space Wolves list, and often more with their improved ability to MSU and cheaper Grey Hunters but the Vanilla Marines bonuses work better towards a shooting list whilst Space Wolves are a more aggressive army.

This is where the Space Wolves unique choices come in. By having cheap access to firepower (Long Fangs) and disruption units (Wolf Scouts) a core army of Grey Hunters and supporting combat units (TWC, Wolf Lords, Wolf Guard, Lone Wolves, etc.) becomes a lot scarier. Certainly there are weaknesses to the army which will be explored later but if you are simply taking Vanilla choices such as MM/HF Speeders, Dakka Preds and Rifledreads, the core of your army is being aggressive all by it's lonesome or playing second fiddle to Tacticals as bunkers. And this is where Space Wolves are different. They may be better but if so, they are better at different things such as MSU, foot (Loganwing) and aggressive Hybrid lists. Vanilla Marines on the other hand do a much a better pure Mech list and I'd like to see Space Wolves match the fast, reliable melta of a Vulkan list or Biker list. When making your Space Wolves list build on these strengths rather than trying to make a 'better' Vanilla list.

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