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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Deathstars - The Positives



Over the past months, the Internet has been putting the hard word on Deathstars. This has in part been brought on by the abundance of players flocking to Draigowing armies over the previous months. The Internet is now full of articles slamming deathstars and bringing to light their weaknesses and showing off a myriad of ways to destroy/delay/avoid them. While many of these articles have valid information they all focus on the negatives of deathstars but I'm here to let you in on a little secret. All units have their negatives, that is why codecies generally support multiple competitive builds. So whilst deathstars have negatives they also have some very obvious and some less apparent positives that are sometimes downplayed or looked over.

I have used deathstar or 'Hammer' units for a long time and have had fantastic success with them, these vary from units of death company up to the mighty Paladins, so let's look at how a general can use a death star to their advantage and what positive attributes they bring to an army.

Value -

This is where deathstars are actually born. Sure they generally consist of tough, hard hitting units however like everything in 40k it has to be correctly costed to really be of use. A deathstar is generally made up from models that are well costed if not undercosted. In general the pure resilience or firepower/combat prowess of a deathstar is above that of a group of similarly costed multiple units. In many cases this can lead to deathstars over killing units and wasting potential, but as I said everything has negatives and there are enough articles focusing on them so from here on in I will not mention them, otherwise the article we spiral into the 'you do this, so I'll just do that to counter it' talk that we see written all over forums.

Kill point missions -

I don't need to go into this too much as it is regularly stated as one of the main arguments for using deathstar units as they usually, in effect, end up reducing the kill points in an army. Kill point missions generally account for 1 in 3 missions so putting your opponent on the back foot even before deployment can allow you to dictate the flow of the battle. A handy advantage, but not one I would consider a major reason to take a deathstar unit.

Taking advantage of buffing effects -

40k is full of units that provide buffs to other units. These range from aura effects or abilities such as the as the furious charge and Feel no Pain that is granted by the Blood Angels 'Blood Chalice' to buffs that are directly placed or cast on a unit such as the Eldar psychic power 'Fortune'. Maximizing the effects of these buffs is of course a great benefit for any general. Aura effects generally only need reach a single model in a unit for its effect to take place and it is easier to keep less units within a said effect rather than trying to crowd many models/units around an effect such as 5+ razorbacks trying to claim cover a Blood Angels librarians 'Shield of Sanguinius'.

Effects that directly target a unit are also better utilized by death stars. Again take another psychic power such as guide. Using any buffing effect on a small unit such as 10 man guardian squad will net less benefits than using the same ability on a squadron of 3 war walkers. In the same way, deathstar units will generally make better use of buffing abilities as its effects are amplified by the strength of the unit. A very simple way to look at this effect mathematically would be to take something as simple as a grey knights nemesis force sword. A terminator with such a weapon will increase his invulnerable save in close combat from 5+ to 4+ making him 25% harder to kill. This is because he would normally fail on a 1,2,3 and a 4 now he only will fail on a 1,2, and a 3 which is 3/4 of the time. (If that doesn't make sense just take my word on it) Yet a grand master who takes the same upgrade would increase his save from 4+ to a 3+ which actually means he is 33% harder to wound, but not only that he has 3 wounds so that one upgrade does exponentially for him than it would a normal terminator.

This is true for most buffs, especially those that target units. Deathstars will generally gain a greater benefit as they will consist of more points than any other unit in your army, and thus are tougher or have more attacks etc etc. You can go too far and give death stars buffs when they do not need them to do the job at hand but that is a discussion for another time, and like I said, there are positives and negatives to most things, but in this article we are focusing on the positives.

Hard to pick apart -

If any enemy has a combat based army or even units that want to find themselves in combat, many times it would be beneficial for such units or armies to engage only a unit/s they can manage or comfortably beat without taking heavy losses. A unit such as a death star presents a problem for such units as by engaging a few models a consolidate move generally sees the remaining models consolidate in close enough to join the fight. This can make deathstars very difficult to engage in close combat and generally requires the opponent to pull off a charge using multiple units to even consider taking the unit on in hand to hand. Forcing the opponent to try and engage your unit with multiple of his own presents its own challenges in itself.

Multiple assaults -

Opposite to the previous points, Death stars are very good in multi assault and the unit generally has enough members to stretch over reasonable distance as well as the hitting power to take on multiple opponents at once and still come out the victor. There are many positives that can be gained from a well executed multi assault and anyone looking to seriously use a death star needs to know these rules back to front. It is the best way to maximize a deathstar's damage as well tie up enemy units.

Area denial -

Deathstars should by nature put out and be able to take more damage than the equivalent points of standard other units. Now this isn't the key to winning games however the raw numbers being in their favour has other benefits other than beating other units. Because death stars are so dangerous if incorrectly dealt with, they have a threat radius that is to be taken much more seriously than your average unit. Take Nob Bikers who have an 18" charge range. An enemy facing such a unit will no doubt try to the whittle the unit down before having to engage it head on however this means staying out of its threat radius which by itself limits opponents, forcing them to take suboptimal moves away from objectives or away from good cover. Factors like this cannot be equated by some mathematical formula however they are still a very real factor in our toy soldier hobby. Area Denial is a major factor that I use Mephiston in so many of my Blood Angel armies, it forces many opponents who can't handle him straight up to just avoid the area he 'can' occupy in his next turn, until they feel they can deal with him. Deathstars can have a similar effect to this and have had games where my combat deathstars have never even made combat but have still been very effective in securing a victory.

Compact -

There is something to be said about a compact force or unit. They have many advantages ranging from better use of cover, whether it be getting the cover save itself or avoiding difficult terrain checks. Compact units have the ability to spread out, minimizing blasts without spreading themselves so thin that they are an 18" line across the table. Deathstar based armies that are small enjoy not having weak flanks as they can keep the army tight and not have units straggling on the outside ready for a fast opponent to pounce on. I vary rarely split my force and it is extremely unlikely that an enemy can engage one part of my force without completely engaging the rest of it including any death star I've brought along.

Pressure -

Last but not least, a deathstar unit can put pressure on an enemy who is ill-equipped to deal with them head on forcing them to use more abstract tactics to deal with the unit. This puts the enemy on the back foot and though while it will most likely happen against less experienced opponents rather than your tournament pro, it still may aid you in getting a bigger win than you would have otherwise achieved or rack up some extra battle points as your fearful opponent makes mistakes as he is put on the back foot.


So there we go. This is by far not a definitive list of all the pros of a death star unit and with each pro there is certainly a weakness or case against them, however in my mind this is the same with every unit. A good general with a good grasp of list building can certainly find ways to use death stars and compliment their weaknesses with other units to create some very solid armies. I am really against the Idea that death stars are 'not competitive' as much as I am against the idea that they are the be all and end all of 40k units. However like most 'good' units in 40k they have their place, and if you learn to compliment them with the rest of your force you will find they can be very dangerous for your opponent. I have certainly enjoyed success with deathstar units as I know many others have, and whilst I recognise their weaknesses I think in many cases the pros out way the cons.

Once again I hope that you all gained just a little something from this, I will as always try to write articles that focus on less well documented parts of our game. If you have any ideas or topics you feel aren't focused on as much as they could be, feel free to leave suggestions below or email us here with a suggestion for me.

Happy gaming!


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