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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Space Wolves Codex Review - Part 3: Special Characters


Special Characters are usually the biggest hit and miss area of any codex - even in the day of the great and generally internally balanced armies of 5th edition. You generally have a pool of seven+ characters from which to choose and a couple are generally very good with a couple of extras being some-what usable. The rest are generally terrible. Space Wolves are no different with eight specials, two really good picks and the rest...well not so good. We're going to split this into two parts so you're not overwhelmed by a wall of text in one post. Let's dive in...

Njal Stormcaller - 

We'll start with the Rune Priest special character of course! The Rune Priest is the go to choice for many Space Wolves lists because of the utility he brings at a price that is just right. Njal doubles that price and more without any real increased durability but brings a bucket load more utility. First, like all special psykers, he has access to every psychic power in the book. This means taking Njal gives you ultimate flexibility in which powers you'd like to use each turn. He can also cast two a turn and since he has access to every power Space Wolves have available, this is a nice option to have. You can bang off a shooting power and cast Tempest or Stormcaller for defensive purposes. He comes standard with a Chooser of the Slain which is nice for disruption and ensuring his shooting attacks hit with the added bonus of some extra damage in close combat; though this is generally negligible.

That's not the reason one goes for Njal however. He has two extra abilities which make him very much worth his hefty cost. Firstly, he stops psychic powers on a 3+ within 24". Alongside Runes of Warding (less reliable in stopping but causes more damage), this is the best psychic defense in the game. It's got decent range and is equal to a psychic hood in stopping Ld9.8 psychic powers and far, far better at stopping Ld10. Secondly, Njal has an ability which activates each turn with a different effect. This effect depends upon the Game Turn + a D3. This is the main reason you take Njal though unfortunately, it took a bit of a nerf early game with the FAQ. No longer do Driving Gale (-1 BS to enemy models within 24") or Living Hurricane (all terrain is difficult for enemy models within 24") work when going second which is a pretty nasty whack to Njal in early turns when going second. Otherwise however, as the game goes on, Njal basically hands out D6 S8 hits to any units within 12" at the end of his shooting phase. This can really take its toll on mech armies but at least won't be starting until Turn 4 at the earliest (Turn 5 on average). His abilities before this are also quite decent with Howling Cyclone forcing all units with 18" to take a morale check whilst Tornado can single out a model within 18" and do D3 S9 hits - very nice for sniping or dealing with pesky tanks as they are hit on the side armor.

Njal is also capable of taking Runic Terminator armor for 25 points to up his durability. This really isn't needed though and stops him from riding in Rhinos (which can greatly enhance all his aura effects since it is measured from the vehicle's hull). It does give him an invulnerable save though which he lacks otherwise but this is really only going to help against Perils in the Warp (and still, 25% success rate). He's only a two wound character, so even with a 4++, he isn't going to live long in combat. Rather, keep him out of combat as much as possible but where his auras will affect the battlefield the most. To add to this further...he comes with Saga of Majesty so all units within 6" of him can re-roll failed morale checks. This is great in an army which can suffer a little bit on the leadership front.

The question becomes - is he worth 245 points? Yes and no. His utility is amazing - he's basically an aura machine. Being able to stop psychic powers on a 3+, having all the Space Wolves psychic powers available to him, stopping infiltrators within a certain radius and throwing out D6 S8 shots en masse late game is quite simply staggering. The issue is - he is so much better when his army is going first and well worth his points cost. If the army doesn't go first though...your opponent doesn't really have to deal with his special ability for several turns which can allow them to find a way to kill him (and with Space Wolves generally being an aggressive midfield's not like he's always going to be held back and if he does, the army loses some of his buffs). Furthermore, some of his utility isn't always needed. Against an army without infiltrators or psychic powers and going first against the Space Wolves nullifies more than half of what Njal can do - you've then got a very expensive Rune Priest who if he survives to Turn 4 and beyond, can start chucking out S8 shots. Doesn't seem worth the points from that perspective...

All in all he's a good buy but not a must buy with the FAQ nerf. Serious thought needs to go into including Njal and generally doing so means you're not grabbing any other HQs (not unusual). Considering the plethora of psychic powers out there currently, Njal's 3+ defenses here are going to be very useful and over the course of a tournament, more often than not, Njal is going to have some significant utility to impart upon multiple games. When he doesn't though, he can feel like a bit of a dead weight.

Ulrik the Slayer - 

The special Wolf Priest - this puts Ulrik on the back foot already since the Wolf Priest isn't fantastic. Ulrik gets a stat boost but stays with two wounds and is pretty pricey at 180 points for such a statline (though there are more expensive two wound models...Njal!). Oddly though, Ulrik doesn't have the defining feature of the Wolf Priest where his unit gains preferred enemy against a particular unit type. Rather, he and any squad he joins may re-roll to hit and wound rolls against anything with Toughness 5 or greater. This can really up the damage ouput against these units. However, such units are unfortunately rare and generally something you don't want to be engaging in close combat regardless.

Other than this, Ulrik can also make one non-unique model in the army operate at +1 WS. This would be useful on a Wolf Lord to ensure he hits most HQs on 3's but you can buy a Wolf Tooth Necklace for 10 points instead. Otherwise someone with a Powerfist (i.e. TWC, Wolf Guard) would love WS5 to hit most models on 3's but it's an expensive upgrade when you factor in Ulrik's cost. If he could do it for multiple models though or a whole unit...well everyone would love WS5 Wolf Guard right?

Finally Ulrik has the ultimate Sage of Majesty - any unit which can draw line of sight to him can re-roll failed leadership. This means he cannot hide in a metal bawks and make it inspiring but again, an army which can have issues with leadership is much more reliable with him around. The problem is, his other benefits really aren't that great and leadership isn't that big an issue as it stands to drop all these points for such a benefit. Add in if you're really worried about leadership there are other methods of shoring up this weakness of the army which are generally cheaper or bring more to the table besides. If Ulrik buffed more of the army (i.e. WS5 to one unit) he might have been worth it with this combination but as it stands, give him a pass.

Canis Wolfborn - 

Aka - the rich person's basic thunderwolf. Canis is a special Wolf Lord on a Thunderwolf mount. You'd think this would make a full Thunderwolf army possible but unfortunately that would probably be just a bit too silly. We can dream. Canis is relatively cheap for a Lord on a Thunderwolf mount though he doesn't have the stats to really compete with them either. He's got a lower Weapon Skill (but a Wolf Tooth Necklace - so still hitting on 3's) and importantly, Leadership 8, but the same strength, toughness, wounds and a higher attack profile. This guy is geared for one thing - close combat. He comes with two Wolf Claws which gives him an impressive six base attacks which either re-roll failed hits or wounds. Being on a Thunderwolf mount, he also has Rending so isn't a slouch against vehicles either.

Furthermore, he can replace his base attacks with however models are in base to base with him. This makes him great as a beater solo when the enemy is forced to surround him. When he's part of a squad this is less likely to be more effective than his base number of attacks so isn't that useful. Combinewith a lack of invulnerable save and running him off alone to pile up attacks can see him in dire straights against anyone with a bunch of power weapons/fists running about. With T5 though he's pretty durable and not vulnerable to instant death from your average Power Fist. This means he can run around as a Solo beater unit if needed but can take wounds in a hurry without a 3++/4++.

Beyond being a close combat machine for relatively cheap, Canis has Saga of the Wolfkin, Lord of the Wolfkin and makes Fenrisian Wolves part of the Troops Force Organisation Chart. Unfortunately, the Wolves cannot score despite being Troops but it does allow them to be taken in conjunction with three Thunderwolf squads - something regular Space Wolves armies cannot do. Saga of the Wolfkin and Lord of the Wolfkin also make the Fenrisian Wolves much better. First they become I5 (important to get hits in first) and second they are base Leadership 7 (instead of five) and can use Canis' leadership of eight if they are within 12" of him. This may not seem like much but with the re-roll to leadership provided by Thunderwolf Cavalry to Fenrisian Wolves, it makes them unlikely to run away after taking a few deaths from shooting. That initiative five is also very handy to get attacks in before they die and at a different initiative step from normal Thunderwolves (so harder to stack Rending attacks).

With this all in mind Canis isn't that bad and whilst he doesn't have the killing power of a tooled out Wolf Lord on Thunderwolf Mount, he's vastly cheaper and can allow you to run a squad or two of Fenrisian Wolves as bubble-wrap for your Thunderwolf Cavlary (whilst still running three of them as well). His main issue is a lack of invulnerable save and crappy leadership. Without some sort of Leadership aura such as Saga of Majesty elsewhere in the list, mass Thunderwolves, Fenrisian Wolves and Canis are Ld8 - not great. Whilst Wolf Guard led Grey Hunters and Long Fangs will still be Ld9, the aggressive part of your army is pretty easy for your opponent to make run away with some smart tactics. That being said however, the bubble-wrap Wolves generally aren't needed and dropping 80ish more points on Canis gets you a Wolf Lord who is much scarier. He's not a bad choice but not a fantastic one either.

Lukas the Trickster - 

I'll start this by saying this. Lukas has a piece of wargear which is utterly useless unless his whole squad dies and he remains. Woopie! Lukas is an upgrade character for a Blood Claws unit and at 140 points, is pricey. We'll cover Blood Claws later but a short summary sees them as significantly worse than Grey Hunters - Lukas doesn't really make them any better. First, any Wolf Guard attached to his unit cannot raise the Leadership above 8. Back to that leadership issue again... Second, as I mentioned initially, Lukas' Pelt of the Doppengangrel is useless unless Lukas outlives his squad. Since Lukas is not an independent character, no attacks can be allocated against him. Awesome. Otherwise his statline is okay and what you'd expect for an upgrade character. Good weapon/ballistic skill, attacks and high initiative means he'll generally damage what he aims at with his Wolf Claw (he also has a wolf tooth necklace and a plasma pistol - joy).

The only reason you'd take Lukas though is for his special Last Laugh ability. Basically when Lukas dies, if the Space Wolves player wins a dice off, everything in base to base with Lukas is removed from play. Aka a hilarious ability when it goes off and otherwise plain dumb. Opponents will look to shoot Lukas' squad to death from afar (plus they're Blood Claws anyway so you don't really want to be on the receiving end of their charges) so as not to run the risk of something really big and expensive (like a Land Raider full of Terminators) being removed from the table. In casual games or campaigns where you're not being competitive, sure why not - go for some giggles. If you even think of taking this guy in a competitive list though, well re-read the above until it sinks in. He is not worth it by any stretch of the means.


Okay part one done! We'll take a look at the remaining characters in the next post including Logan, Bjorn, Arjac and Ragnar!

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