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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Space Wolves Codex Review - Part 2: Headquarters


One of the most unique things about Space Wolves is their ability to take up to four HQs with every army. Whilst this ability isn't often used due to the base expense of most of their HQs, it does provide some options in terms of divergent list builds (*looks at Herohammer...shudders*). Many other armies would indeed love this option (Grey Knights comes to mind with Inquisitors). Add in that Space Wolves have a lot of different HQs from which to pick and special characters and they seem to have a clear advantage over many other books in terms of choice. Unfortunately this is not the case as many of them aren't too flash though the ones which are good, are very good. As usual we'll cover the Special Characters in a different section.

Rune Priest -

This is one of those units many point to as being "straight up better" than their Vanilla counter-part. In some respects they are right and in others they are not. In terms of psychic defenses, the Rune Priest is often far better than the Librarian's psychic hood. This is only the case against equal leadership psychic powers however with the psychic hood being more effective at shutting down low leadership psychic powers. What the Rune Priest gains in shutting down HQ psychic powers, they lose against pleb psychic powers. This is really the comparative argument in a nut-shell - the Rune Priest may seem better but there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

So, what does the Rune Priest actually bring to the table? Utility, utility, utility. For 100 points you get two psychic powers (reviewed here - usually the best five are Living Lightning, Murderous Hurricane, Tempest, Stormcaller and Jaws) and psychic defense. For 110 points you get all that plus the Chooser of the Slain which can mess with your opponent's deployment whilst also improving the Rune Priest to BS5 if within line of sight. This is where most Space Wolves lists should and will start, simply for the 4+ against psychic powers. In a gaming edition where psychic powers are rather prolific, stopping 50% of all powers thrown at you within 24" of the Rune Priest is very nice.

Outside of this though, the Rune Priest doesn't do much. They are decent in combat with WS5, four attacks and a runic weapon but aren't really designed to get up close and personal. Most of their psychic powers are best used around the 18-24" range which is where the Runic Staff for nullifying psychic powers is also effective. They can be used in combat if the enemy gets too close or if they are part of a more aggressive unit (i.e. Grey Hunters) but don't throw them into combat thinking they'll do well - they won't and you're wasting valuable utility.

Beyond this not many upgrades are really worth it. Master of the Runes for two psychic powers a turn is too expensive and with many of the good powers being shooting attacks, pretty worthless. Saga of the Beastslayer can be nice combined with Living Lightning against Dreadnoughts and Monstrous Creatures but otherwise keep your Rune Priest(s) cheap and remember - they are utility.

Wolf Priest -

The other HQ 'Priest,' the Wolf Priest is very lack lustre in comparison. The Wolf Priest is essentially a Space Wolves Chaplain - they come with a 4++, provide a unit with fearless and allow re-rolls to hit in combat. The main change is how those re-rolls to hit are implemented. With a Chaplain it's on the charge whilst the Wolf Priest provides Preferred Enemy against a unit type (i.e. Bikes, Infantry, etc.). This makes it better in prolonged combats or when you are charged by the specific unit type but less applicable across the game. It's arguable which is better and in some games you'd prefer to have re-rolls on the charge and others preferred enemy but the fact of the matter is the buff isn't that good. Like the Chaplain, the Wolf Priest doesn't bring anything for the army but rather for a squad. At 100 points this is a pretty expensive squad buff and generally isn't going to be worth it - especially when there are better places to spend those points. If the buff had been a 6" aura of preferred enemy against specific unit type... well that would have been a much better buy as you can affect multiple units.

If you do go with the Wolf Priest despite all inclinations not to, sinking more points into the model is not a good idea. Like the Rune Priest they have four attacks with WS5 and a power weapon so aren't slouches in combat but with two wounds and only a 4++ to save against power weapons, they aren't super durable and can be picked out in combat. Keeping them cheap and simple is the best way to gain mileage from their abilities though sticking the Priest on a Space Marine Bike to try and keep up with Thunderwolf Cavalry (the unit which would benefit the most from re-rolls) can be a good idea though hard to pull off at times.

Wolf Lord -

The Wolf Lord is an interesting choice. 5th edition has moved away from the generic HQs with lots of upgrades and bling to make them killing machines in combat towards cheaper and more efficient HQs which provide for the army. Whilst there are some exceptions (i.e. Mephiston), they are not the norm. Wolf Lords fall into this role of being a killing machine rather than providing for the army but they do it so well, they are still a viable choice. What's great is they have a lot of choices themselves and this stems from the extensive weapon load outs they can have as well as the Space Wolves sagas. This combination along with the Thunderwolf Calvary buff is why they are useful as expensive killy HQs.

Before we move on though this needs to be said. Whilst Wolf Lords can make great killing machines, they are also expensive so won't just fit into any list. You may find for their points running a squad of Thunderwolf Cavalry the better choice. Furthermore, there are certain required upgrades which make this a viable option. The first is obviously the Thunderwolf Mount as it makes the Wolf Lord BASE strength and toughness 5. This means S10 thunderhammers and S10 needed for instant death. Follow this up with Saga of the Warrior Born to generate a massive number of attacks (something single models often have issues with) or Saga of the Bear to avoid instant death from S10 sources, force weapons, etc. and you have a very good killing machine. Deviate much outside of this though (i.e. Space Marine Bike) and you open yourself up to more vulnerabilities (i.e. instant death from missile launchers).

With those basic upgrades aside, your Wolf Lord is looking at 180 points plus weapons and not only does it need weapons but an invulnerable save as well. Options such as the Wolf Claw (re-rolls), Frost Blade (S6 at initiative) and Thunderhammer (S10) are all good choices and it would be a very wise idea to take a storm shield for a 3++ as well. The Wolftooth Necklace ensures the Wolf Lord will always hit on 3's though with WS6 this is generally only useful against other HQs and the Fenrisian Wolves can add a couple of ablative wounds for cheap. This ends up costing well in excess of 200 points - not a light investment and whilst it can be very much worth it, consider strongly if you want to go this route. If you don't want a Thunderwolf Lord, spend your points elsewhere as they aren't very useful to your army otherwise as they just don't pack any utility.

That being said, the Wolf Lord is one of the few models capable of taking the Saga of Majesty (re-roll leadership bubble). Considering some of the issues Space Wolves players can find themselves in regarding leadership, this would seem a worthwhile investment when the other options are all special characters or the Venerable Dreadnought (which dies rather easily to AP1 weaponry considering the price tag). The issue here is leadership isn't that big an issue for Space Wolves and the main issue (Ld8 for Grey Hunters) is mitigated by Wolf Guard which are still making the unit better. The re-roll aura is also only 6" and with And They Shall Know No Fear, Space Wolves don't really need it and would rather rely on Ld8/9 across squads,multiple squads, Space Marine statlines and special abilities (such as ATSKNF) to keep them fighting trim. Whilst it's important to acknowledge the issue Space Wolves can have with leadership, there are more efficient ways of solving this issue such as Wolf Guard.

Wolf Guard Battle Leader -

Take the Wolf Lord and subtract some statistics (one wound, WS, attack and leadership) and you've got the Wolf Guard Battle Leader. At 30 points less than the Wolf Lord, one would generally think you would go with the Wolf Lord if you're going for a killing machine but if you're running tight on points, the Battle Leader is a fine option here. You can also run multiple Battle Leaders on Thunderwolf mounts more readily than multiple Wolf Lords as those extra thirty points can add up quickly.

What the Battle Leader does have over the Wolf Lord however, is access to Saga of the Hunter. This provides the all important ability stealth which thanks to the new FAQ, affects any unit the model joins. Welcome to Stealth Saga! This is great on a bunch of Wolf Guard with mixed armor, some stormshields, stormbolters and cyclone missile launchers. For a fraction of the cost compared to a Vanilla shootynator squad, you get the same output of damage and are always going to have a 3+ save at the worst with proper wound allocation management. Whilst this only buffs one squad, at 80 points + weapons it's a very good buy and can provide a lot of shooting support to the Space Wolves army outside of Long Fangs and midfield support to the Space Wolves army outside of Grey Hunters - two things which are really important and can force your opponent into tough decisions.

Again though, if you're not going for the Thunderwolf killing machine route or Stealth Saga, the Battle Leader is best left at home as he won't be durable and killy enough to satisfy his points cost and won't benefit the army.

Conclusion -

The hierarchy of Space Wolves HQs (without considering special characters) is pretty easy. Start with a Rune Priest. Stop. Consider - do you really need anything else? Consider again...harder. Okay now you can make a choice! Joking aside, the Rune Priest is a really good buy like all of the 100 points psykers for the Marine armies. Providing utility at that cost is just yummy. The Battle Leader is also a viable cheap utility option though only for a single squad - what makes this viable is that squad can provide direct ranged anti-infantry, something Space Wolves can occasionally struggle with. Otherwise if you want a Wolf Guard Battle Leader or Wolf Lord you're going to pay through the nose to stick them on a Thunderwulf mount, pay for their weapons and invulnerable save and whatever Saga of allyourbasearebelongtous you want. The Wolf Priest just stays on the shelf.

You can of course bring the Rune Priest and one of the other HQs along though this is generally quite an investment of points into just a couple of models and should only really be considered at 2000+ points. What's also nice to note about all these models is they have higher than normal leadership for Space Wolves. This can save a few points here and there (Rune Priest instead of Wolf Guard for Grey Hunters) but is very important with Thunderwolf Cavalry and attached characters.

We'll look at the Special Characters next time around which will make these choices a little less clear cut.

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