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Monday, October 3, 2011

Beating the Army: Draigowing

You know what I am really tired of hearing? "Army XXX is unbeatable/too strong! It has no weaknesses and is good at everything and my army can't do anything to it waaaaaaaaah!" Perhaps this comes off as hypocrisy coming from someone who wrote a whole article complaining about Grey Knights when they came out, but I'm standing behind that. Anyways.

There are very few "autolose" matchups in this game- with rare exceptions, your battles may be harder or easier, but they will never be impossible. They will never, in fact, be bad enough that you should just give up- even nightmares like Tyranids vs Night Shields DE or JotWW spam can go your way with the right tactics, albeit not nearly as often as you'd like. More importantly, there are NO "autowin" armies. None. Not a one. If there was a clear-cut best army that had superior win percentages against everything, you can bet your ass that a lot more people would be playing it. And guess what? Grey Knights saw the same surge in popularity that every codex gets when it's released along with the "we're a marine book" kicker. They aren't a superior army. They can be beaten.

Oh, but Draigowing! I'll tell you what, boys and girls: f*** Draigowing. It is, in most of its incarnations, a bad army with a bad plan, usually piloted by bad players. (My apologies to those of you who run it and are actually good at the game, but I'm sad to say you're a distinct minority of your breed.) It is NOT unbeatable. It is, in fact, extremely beatable, like an ugly six year old redhead. Starting today with this army, I'm going to pick apart of a bunch of "overpowered" armies and try and show you the hows and whys of defeating them.

Laying the Foundations

First of all, let's be clear about what we're talking about when we mean Draigowing. Obviously we mean a Paladin-based army that uses Draigo and the GK codex, but there are actually a few ways to do this. What we are going to be looking at is actually one of the worst of them, a poorly-designed and noncohesive force that relies on some stupid tricks to get by. They're effective tricks, but stupid ones. It usually looks something like this.
2000 Grey Knights
1 Draigo (275)
1 Librarian (Staff, Quicksilver, Might, Sanctuary, Shrouding) (205)
1 Techmarine (Rad, Psycho) (115)
10 Paladins (4 MC Psycannon, Banner, mix of CC weapons) (645)
10 GKSS (2 Psycannon, Rhino) (280)
1 Land Raider Redeemer (245)
1 Psyfleman (135)
1 Psyfleman (135)
There are lots of variants to the list, and I'm sure this is not the "best" version, but it will suffice for our purposes, as it clearly illustrates what we want to show. The various augmentations with Assassins, Terminators for troops, no Raider, splitting the Paladins up more, etc, don't really change the fundamental nature of the army.

What is this nature? It's a rock. Hell, it's probably the King of Rocks, as very few things in the game can go toe-to-toe with Paladins and come out feeling good about it. TH/SS in large numbers, maybe, but even that is a potentially ugly matchup. Kirby has told us some things about playing against rocks, and the number one rule remains the same here:


This unit has a purpose. Its purpose is to get in your face and charge your models and kill them. When you throw your units at it and go toe-to-toe with them, you are playing directly into their game plan. It's like trying to beat DE on speed or Tyranids on model count- you aren't going to do it. You can't. It's what they're best at, and Grey Knights are no different- they are THE elite army in the game, and if you try to match up with them in this regard, YOU WILL LOSE.


I cannot overemphasize this enough, because every time Draigowing comes up in a discussion there's some guy telling everyone about how Vindicators and Medusae and blah blah blah are so good against them. NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT. Do NOT do this, because again, you are trying to beat them at their own game. You are trying to beat a pig in a mud-wrestling contest. You are letting them dictate how they want to play the game and mentally setting out those parameters as the limits of what you are allowing yourself as options, and as soon as you do that- against any army, not just Draigowing- you have already lost. You MUST, especially when fighting a Rock, fight them in ways that they are poorly-equipped to handle.

Hit Weak Point For Massive Damage

What's the first thing you notice about that list up there? Probably the fact it only fields 27 models at 2000pts, which... yeah, okay, that's not a lot. But just as importantly, look at which models it has- 600 of those points are concentrated into three ICs with a total of eight wounds between them. The list is AMAZINGLY top-heavy, and not in the "sexy lady lady with a nice chestakamammical region" kind of way, in the "damnit why do we have nine Vice Presidents and only one guy doing programming?" kind of way. More than that, it effectively has 2-4 squads (plus two tanks and two Dreads) as total units, depending on how it splits itself up with Combat Squads.

"That just means it's low on Kill Points, even more unfair!" No, it doesn't. Everyone knows what MSU means? Yes, you probably do. Why is MSU good? Because it lets you do lots of things at once. When you're shooting with twenty units each turn, you waste very little firepower. When the enemy destroys one of them you don't care because you didn't lose much. When it comes time to take objectives, you have a plethora of choices. In all these cases, the opposite is also true- an army like Draigowing, that invests heavily in a few small, powerful units is greatly limited when it comes to shooting, assaults, and movement. There are armies that can field enough units that this army literally cannot kill them all. As in "flat out impossible because there are not enough turns in the game to do it."

More realistically, however, the effect is still incredibly limiting. How many tanks can this army hurt each turn? Five or six, depending on how the Paladins split themselves up. I bet most of you have seen more than five tanks on the field before- yeah, I thought so. And if one of those units rolls poorly- oops, all eight Psycannon shots missed/failed to pen/passed cover, like will happen reasonably often- that is 20% of their shooting for the turn wasted. The MSU army just shrugs and aims another set of guns at the target, but the Draigowing army has to seriously thingk whether it can afford to use up another one-fifth of its force against a single target. All of the same logic applies with charges and melee as well- five Paladins is great when you're running them into some Orks or Space Marines, but against Guardsmen or Tau? It's pure overkill. In fact, against most squads in the game five Paladins is gross overkill, nevermind if they're being babysat by a character or two. If you can throw a sacrificial squad or transport in the way, you can drastically hurt them by denying them an assault phase against your important units, and with an army like Draigowing time is at a premium.

Why so? Because that end-of-game timer is ticking down, and when it hits zero, you had better be sitting on some objectives (two-thirds of the time, anyways.) Draigo can pass out scoring status to the Dreads to mitigate this somewhat, but the army is still looking at a very limited pool of scoring units, and two of them (the Paladins) are tasked with pulling the weight of the army and thus can't be relied on to always be hanging out near objectives. Of the others, the GKSS are an obvious target, being one of the few support units and an easy place to dump any shots that aren't S8+/AP2-. The Psyflemen will likewise find themselves targeted often, as they tend to be annoying for many of the armies out there.

Oh yes, and those Psyflemen- they're the list's only "reach" potential. Everything else works only at 24" or less; while that's certainly not insignificant range, it does mean that the first 1-2 turns of the game, none of those units are contributing very much, so if you're looking at Spearhead deployment, you suddenly realize that until T3, the only thing the GK player can really do to you is growl menacingly, and even that doesn't work if you brought your mp3 player.

Morale can also be a thing, especially if the opponent is hilarious and doesn't split up his Paladin squad any. Paladins are not Fearless, and while Ld10 and ATSKNF can be tough to break, they are not impossible- 9% of rolls will fail. If you can force a large number of Pinning or Morale checks, such as with Tank Shocks, you may be able to cripple him without really hurting his models any, and in the latter case you might just be able to escort him right off the board- in which case you should really take a picture so you can live in infamy alongside Kroot Wall Guy. Don't forget those checks when they come up and never assume anything; sometimes, the dice will come through for you.

In short, this army's only real strategy is "drive forward, get into assault, WINNING." That's what we call a Rock army. That's why it isn't good, or flexible, or probably going to win most tournaments. It will steamroller bad lists and generals, but good ones will be able to play around it and play to the maxims of beating Rock lists- avoid rock fights, play to the mission, use their weaknesses against them.

(One last aside: the above list is 2000pts, which is a fairly big game, though more common here in the States. As soon as you drop below this number, Draigowing gets steadily worse. If you see someone playing it at 1500, pity them. If you see someone playing it at 1000pts, you are legally allowed to point and laugh at them. I just wanted to emphasize that.)

Beating a Dark Horse

So what do you do with all of the above? How do you turn it into a winning strategy? There are a number of ways, and the specifics will vary from army to army, but we'll get into that later- for now let's just talk about the generalities.

First of all, play to the mission. Kirby emphasized this in his article, and I'd go over it more here except this is basic advice for ANY army you play against, not just Draigowing. Always be thinking about the mission and what it tells you will win you the game, because Draigowing wants to play "you can't win if you have no models left" instead. If you can avoid that, if you can stick to the mission, you are at an immediate advantage.

Objective-based missions are the easy one- just look to claim/contest the objectives in the final turns. Eliminate the Dragowing player's paltry scoring presence and you'll be at a huge advantage, as he'll be hard-pressed to have his two Paladin squads actually hold two different objectives successfully in the face of Tank Shocks, casualties, etc. In Capture/Control, he will likely press his Paladins forward into your zone while keeping his other units on his own; if you can sweep his objective clean, you are in an excellent position to claim it, as he can hardly turn around and send his guys back; contrawise, make sure you can keep him from taking your objective by means of blocking/contesting/etc. Be aware, however, that it is likely you will have to abandon it. Seize Ground (or other multi-objective missions) are easier, as they stretch his resources where they are thinnest. Here he faces a difficult decision- if he commits a large portion of forces to a single objective, he can be guaranteed of defending it, but you can likely hold all the others (due to superiority of scoring units.) On the other hand, if he spreads his units out, you will likely be able to use mobility to pounce on an isolated portion and annihilate it. Both are losing strategies for him.

Kill Points is, unsurprisingly, a bit tougher, but by no means unwinnable. The low KP count in the Draigowing army, as we discussed earlier, by extension limits his targeting options greatly. MSU armies, which tend to feature transports extensively, can easily outmaneuver the Paladins and hammer the much more fragile support elements to pull ahead in the KP game and then simply avoid engagements; with limited range and mobility, it is unlikely that Draigowing will be able to pull back ahead in such a situation. This is exactly what happened in Blackmoore's game against Neil at NOVA. Neil jumped ahead 3-0 on KP and had dropped the Psyfledreads and was therefore pretty safe on the KP side of things but then committed five KP right in front of the Paladin squad and played straight into Blackmoore's hands. Rather, he should have moved back to the board edges since Blackmoore now had to kill six units to win on KP. Neil could have then ensured he controlled the objectives/table quarters with his superior mobility.

A second major strategy springs from this very fact: while Paladins may be ridiculously tough, the other elements of the army often are not. Psyflemen, of course, can be a pain to disable, but assaults, Meltaguns, the various anti-backfield strategies that are present in many lists will work just fine against them. The non-Paladin scoring units in the list will also be easy prey, whether Strike Squads or Terminators, they will be small in number and often forced to take an isolated position in order to claim an objective or use a firing lane. Draigowing's ability to maneuver is limited by its goals and its models- not only are Land Raiders and Paladins comparatively large models, the opponent cannot easily spread them across the field to threaten large areas in the same way a MSU-style army can. Some lanes of access might be blocked off, but when the battle front is as wide as the table, it is simply not feasible for one or two squads to keep it entirely protected.

As a third point, and especially in non-Kill Point games, blocking tactics (which Kirb has written about in the past; Stelek, also, but you'll have to dig through YTTH youself to find those; yes each of those links is a new article) are very helpful against Draigowing, with its limited number of models. Against the Land Raider variants especially it is critical to use good blocking techniques to disable his movement early on to prevent an assault on your main forces and then deploy Meltaguns to destroy the Raider, effectively neutering his ability to move.

Lastly, be aware of concentrations of force. This is a specialty of Paladins (and all Rock armies), but it isn't good to simply concede it to them- for example, attacking his support units is an easy way to use concentration of force in specific areas to cripple him. However, you can do a lot more than that- if the Draigowing player allows you to mass your forces correctly and does not keep his own units properly interconnected, it may be entirely possible for you to commit to an all-out assault on one of his Rocks and destroy it, which will leave him crippled. High-mobility armies especially will be good at this, since they can threaten many areas of the board and elements of the enemy's forces simultaneously, making decisions problematic. Always remember that Paladins are tough, but not unbeatable, especially if you can catch them out of cover or otherwise exposed to the full force of your army.

Special Considerations

I may go into more detail on this section in a future article, as I originally had the beginnings of a much more extensive tactica here describing various ways the different codices could combat Draigowing here; however, such a project is even larger in scope than this lengthy article, so I thought it best to cut it down and stick with the generalities for now. However, we will touch on a couple common "problem" armies for dealing with Draigowing.

Jumpers is, to be sure, in a tight spot. With only limited S8 and a reliance on melee for anti-infantry, the abundant Power Weapons and Halberds both give this army very bad times. It very much has to hope for a good mission selection when facing Draigo down, but is still not without options. Excellent mobility means that Draigwing will often have trouble engaging BA except on their own terms, and Draigowing's shooting is utterly ineffective on BA's tough models. Obey the concentration of force when using BA- always look for openings to assault an exposed Paladin squad and wipe them off the table; 2-3 full ASM squads charging something will usually end its day quickly, unless led by a mass of characters. Nipplewing, being essentially a lesser version of Draigowing in many ways, will be critically disadvantaged in the matchup, but should you be able to get a good charge, their Power Weapons can quickly fell the enemy. In either case support by Missile Devs greatly enhances the army, as always.

Biker armies, being another "elite" force, are also in a bad position. Their mobility is a boon as ever, but low resilience against Draigowing's shooting and similar gun range puts them in a very bad position- this is probably one of the worse matchups you can expect to see. All I can say is use your extreme speed to avoid them and hope for endgame claiming of objectives.

Tyranids, bizarrely, are in a better position against Draigowing than against normal GK armies. While most forces lament trying to penetrate 3+ cover with their S8 guns, Tyranids shrug and throw voluminous shots from Hive Guard into the squads and just let the singular pips do their work for them. Lines of bubblewrap Termagants protect the shooters and bring some minor casualties of their own. MCs should be tasked with eliminating the support elements, which thankfully are in short supply for Draigowing, else the Tyranids might be as doomed as they usually are. Breaching the Land Raider will actually be the most difficult part of the equation, but often the enemy will make an assault for you or a sacrificial MC will do the job.


I said earlier that this is the worst of the Draigowing lists; hopefully I've been able to point out some reasons why in the ensuing paragraphs. However, if you get really unlucky, you might end up encountering a- gasp - smart Draigowing player who built his army well. Surprisingly, this makes the fight a lot harder for us, although our fundamental strategies are going to be similar. Let's look at some possibilities:

-Solodins: This is one of the sleeper abilities of Paladin squads and Draigo. Paladins have a minimum squad size of one and can Deep Strike; Draigo has the Psychic Communion power, which lets him get -1 to reserve rolls when he wants it, allowing a player try and keep reserves held back. Combining these, you can have 1-6 squads which DS in during the final turns of the game and try to land on an objective, and with all the usual Paladin defenses they can be a bit of a pain to shift. Also they can spit out S5 large blasts and do other silly things like instakill big models, etc. This ability to bring in resilient models in the late game can largely alleviate scoring concerns with the list, although if you have models of the own in the neighborhood it won't be terribly hard to shift them off- you just are going to have to guard EVERY objective.

-Stormravens: Replacing the Land Raider(s) of the usual list, Stormravens can also tote a Dread along with them (usually a Venerable with Multimelta or, if you're lucky, Assault Cannon/Autocannon) and are much faster than their ground-bound counterpart. The thinking here is usually "omg so fast i can get in combat turn 2!!!1" but the reality is often "shit i got immobilzed and crashed again." 3+ cover from the Librarian will be a pain, but in any kind of larger game you should be able to gun down one or both of them on the initial turns of the game. Unlike LRs, they are not immune to all the Autocannons/Multilasers/Missiles you have in your list, so these weapons instantly gain some value. Unfortunate (and also unlike the LR) they cannot be move-blocked, so you are probably going to have to deal with them straight away. Do not confuse them with the BA version, which carries some pretty scary armament thanks to main guns + missiles; the GK Stormraven can't be "turned off" like the BA one can, but its missiles are almost entirely impotent, so you really only need to think about the two decent AT guns it carries. Assuming you don't crash it right away, which you might, because seriously- AV12.

-Life Support: A good list-builder realizes that Paladins on their own are scary enough and invests points into other parts of the army instead- so you'll see Purifiers and Razorbacks for extra shooting, Interceptors for mobility, etc- units that fill the gaps that Paladins can't cover rather than strengthening an already-strong unit, probably at the expense of all those silly ICs. Here you have to take a careful look at your list and his and try to figure out how they match up with each other- are his Paladins enough of a rock that you can overcome them with proper concentration of force? Are his support elements weak enough that you can eliminate them while delaying his rock? How well do HIS elements mesh with each other, and can they provide mutual support? This, especially in combination with the Solodins strategy above, can present a genuine threat

There are lots of other ways you can change the list around, but in the end it remains essentially the same- Draigowing is generally a Rock, and it plays like a Rock and it can be beaten like any other Rock. Also like any other Rock list, luck is a huge factor- some passed (or failed) saves at critical moments can really give you a bad time of things, but the same goes for the Draigowing player, so fear not. The list just isn't as scary as the internet makes it out to be and if you're running a good list, you can really have a field day with this "powerful" army.

Since this is intended to be the first article in a series, I'll be talking about many other lists (and kinds of lists) in the future. I am specifically going to be focused on the more sub-par variants (or "internet popular"), rather than the genuinely powerful lists, because beating the latter simply isn't a matter of understanding why they fail; they don't fail, because they usually have complex or multifaceted strategies that cover their bases well. Rather, I will be focusing on Nob Bikers, Meltavet Spam, Fatecrusher, etc; one-dimensional lists that people still seem to be afraid of despite the fact that they are, in reality, actually rather fragile. If anyone has special requests, I'm happy to consider them- leave some words in the comments here.

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