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Monday, May 7, 2012

Beating the Army: Coteaz

Something I'm sure you've all been eagerly awaiting, the last installment of the GK versions of Beating the Army.

Let's not beat around the bush: Coteaz is fantastic. For a mere 100pts, you not only get a selection of some of the best psychic powers in the GK book (Santuary, Hammerhand- really, you're only missing Shrouding and Might), a Daemonhammer, rerolls on Seize the Initiative, Deep Strike defense (since you probably won't have many Strike Squads around) and oh yeah, he also gives you super-flexible troop options.

100pts? Seriously? Yeah, Coteaz is a beast.

He is still, however, only a single model, and the army he enables is good, but certainly not without its weaknesses. So let's dive right in and take a look at them.

The Ups
The biggest advantage of Coteaz plays off the biggest disadvantage of normal Grey Knights: he lets you bring cheap squads to the table when practically everything else is expensive. I made a point of this in my other Beating the Army article, but Grey Knights, while they have awesome gear, die just like any other Marine and cost 25-50% more; that means fewer bodies in the army, fewer guns, and more vulnerability to enemy shooting.

Coteaz brings a solution to this problem: dirt-cheap henchmen squads. If you want, you can bring three naked Acolytes in a Psybolt Razorback for 62pts and have a scoring unit that spits out S6 firepower. Or, for a bit more, you can add Meltaguns to them- or bodies and Storm Bolters, or Death Cult for melee prowess, or Crusaders for a tarpit, or Psykers to threaten a large blast, or many, many other things. Nearly all of the henchmen are extremely points-efficient for what they do, and as scoring units they can form a solid body of an army in the model of IG.

Being able to bring a half-dozen cheap Troop units leaves you a lot of other points to spend on things, most commonly Psyflemen in the HS slots and Purifiers in the EL slots. The ability to take Chimera transports, which can carry Terminator models, is also a big boon- it lets you field a Librarian or Grand Master and keep him mobile with the rest of the army, bringing additional levels of utility.

In short, a Coteaz-based list has innumerable options by virtue of flexible Troop choices and being (comparatively) cheap, saving points for other toys.

The Downs
As with many other things in life, however, the phrase "you get what you pay for" is eminently applicable here. Henchmen are pretty universally T3, 5+ save, and Ld8; this makes them incredibly vulnerable when not embarked in a transport and something of glass hammers. Bolters and other stock-standard weapons that Marines can shrug off almost without a second thought will do a serious number on them, and if you are caught out of cover you will almost certainly be annihilated in short order. Now, transports are good protection in 5th Ed, but EVERYONE brings guns to kill them these days, so you shouldn't be surprised to see yours getting cut out from under you, because they will. And once that occurs, what happens next will not be pretty; an Explosion result is likely to kill about half of your squad, and the Pinning/Morale checks that result from either Destroyed result are not trivial for henchmen the way they are for Marines. You have a rather high failure rate there and you don't auto-regroup, nor can you regroup under 50% or act the turn you do so. In short, you are going to have to actually deal with the Morale/Leadership rules, unlike many of the armies in the game that get to bypass them.

MSU Marine armies are normally dangerous because, while you can use your Melta/whatever to disembark them, that doesn't actually solve the problem- you then have to face down the unit itself and whatever firepower the enemy has nearby, and since you probably had to hop out of your own ride to use your Melta, that isn't a great situation. Against Coteaz, however, it's much different- when you laser those henchmen out of their transport, you have very nearly solved the problem right there; some cursory shooting might be necessary to finish the job, but as often as not that unit is, in effect, dead the moment its ride dies.

Another downside of henchmen units is specialization. Grey Knights in particular are uber-generalists, able to shoot and fight with equal facility while still toting around a good save, immunity to Ld effects, and protection from psychic powers and several other abilities. Henchmen... don't get any of that stuff. Well, let's be fair: each type of henchman gets ONE of those things- choose carefully. Even then, your specialization is often so extreme that you lack many of the perks that most people take for granted- for example, DCA don't have Fleet, Assault Grenades, or Move Through Cover, so they have a limited reach in most situations and will be torn up badly if they charge into terrain. Acolytes are BS3, so even the triple-Melta squad will, reasonably often, disembark and completely fail at their task and be ready to die. It's easy to forget how many advantages Marines and similar armies have until you don't get them anymore, and henchmen are units stripped down to the very basics of functionality and nothing else.

Lastly, it's important to reiterate how fragile henchmen are. Toughness 3 is a huge increase in the damage you'll take from most weapons, and relying on 4+ cover instead of 3+ armor will have similar results- assuming you're fortunate enough to have cover, that is. Combined, the two factors leave you taking about twice as many wounds as MEQs from Bolters and similar weapons. Likewise, explosions, Flamers, and the innumerable other hazards of being an infantry unit are doubly dangerous to henchmen, as they bypass your main protection (the universal 4+ cover) and make you roll your shoddy armor. Seeing as they are your primary scoring units in most Coteaz lists, this is a major concern, as having your troops wiped off the board is likely to make most games go pretty poorly for you. You are the S-est of MSU armies, and while you gain in scoring potential and saturation of units, you have an extreme number of Kill Points to give up, which is a disadvantage of its own.

Other Things and Stuff
Of course, no Coteaz list consists entirely of henchmen, so we should consider how the other units included can mitigate or change the situation.

Psyflemen are, of course, basically an auto-include, since their combination of resilience, range, and tank-killing is almost impossible to beat in the GK list. Expect to see two or three of them every time Grey Knights are across the table and you won't be surprised. In Coteaz they don't really alter things particularly- they might be scoring (via Grand Strategy), but otherwise are just one more unit to try and demech things. They will be dealt with- or ignored- exactly as they would be in any other Grey Knights army and thus need very little additional mention here.

Purifiers are another natural choice, perhaps even a bit more so in Coteaz lists because they suffer from a dearth of Psycannons for the most part. They add a small countercharge presence to the army (often in addition to some Death Cult) and Cleansing Flame will randomly be amazing, as always. Purifiers exemplify the efficiency with which many Grey Knights units are often designed, but as an obvious target for enemy shooting they can be very short-lived and thus end up being ~150pts that doesn't see a lot of effect on things. Normal GK lists can take advantage of this by fielding lots of other bodies on foot (like their Strike Squads and Terminators), effectively negating the common issue with disembarking to shoot at things, but henchmen squads are generally less mobile (due to Heavy weapons rather than Psycannons in some squads) and like being out of their transports and exposed a lot less than Marines do, so it won't be uncommon for Purifiers to be the only disembarked unit- a dangerous situation for them.

Assassins, in particular the Vindicare, can support the basic plan of most Coteaz armies (take midfield and shoot, shoot, shoot) pretty effectively, since they bring one of the rare AP1 guns and can penetrate tough vehicles at any range, obviating the necessity for Melta units to suicide themselves against AV13/14 targets. As a general-purpose problem-solver the Vindi is a very useful choice, but it also is a large number of points wrapped up into a two-wound MEQ and thus can be very vulnerable to eating anti-infantry shots in the early game before a lot of units get disembarked. Since GK in general are less worried about buried Power Fists, etc, this side of his role is not as necessary.

Holes and Haves
I noted before that all of the henchmen have some pretty significant weaknesses that can be taken advantage of; I think it's worth going into a bit of detail there to show the relatively-simple ways that most of these units can be crippled by outside factors. None of this is meant to imply that these units aren't good, only that they are very limited in ways that don't apply to many of their seemingly-overpriced competitors.

Crusaders: Cheapest Storm Shield in the game, hands down. But still just T3 and I3 at the end of the day, meaning that they will take more wounds that a Marine would and strike after most units. Power Fists ain't no thang to them, but any kind of torrent attacks/shooting (Boltguns, Assault Marines, Berzerkers, Hormagaunts, etc) puts them in a very bad place. The Power Weapon is a nice touch, but wounding on 5s/6s with one base attack means that their damage output is not all that frightening.

Death Cult Assassins: THESE guys, on the other hand... Death Cult are pure glass hammers; they hit on 3s, wound on 4s, and have three attacks even when not charging; offensively, they are probably the most damningly-efficient unit in the game. Defensively, however, they are pretty much just expensive Guardsmen, so any time you are rolling saves you are probably losing a lot of models. You can also play many of the same games against them that you can against Tyranids, daring them to try and charge into cover (and thus strike last) or sit for a turn and get shot some more. Unlike DE, GK have no easy way to give them grenades (well, not assault grenades) and accompaniment by an expensive character tends to defeat the point of having an ultra-cheap melee unit.

Servitors: BS3, Mindlock, has to sit in a Chimera (which can be suppressed, etc.) Servitors tend to be a one-off in most lists (since they aren't often running multiple Inquisitors) and provide extremely cheap Melta, but they are static, can be shut down easily, and need to be babysat by a character who would often like to be helping out somewhere else.

Jokaero: The internet went apeshit (OLOLOLOLOL!) about the Jokaero when they came out, but as usual they turned out to be... significantly less good than predicted. In fact, Jokers are a rather middling choice, all things concerned, since they encourage larger, more expensive squads (generally a bad idea with henchmen, as their main virtue is cheapness and disposability) and are themselves hardly cheap. The ability to get some long-range guns and templates in a list is nice, but BS3 makes them unreliable in that regard. In fact, "unreliable" is an excellent descriptor for the monkeys in general.

Psykers: Actually, compared to these guys Jokers are friggin' sararimen all-stars. With Ld8 and BS3, Psykers will screw up something like half the time and miss their target (unless you're shooting into a huge blob of enemies) and Psychic Hoods give them absolute fits- note that this is one of the units where the Hood is actually better than a Rune Staff. Their upside firepower can be pretty high, but many other times they will simply roll boxcars and die a horrible death.

Acolytes: These come in two main flavors, Meltagun and Storm Bolter. (Sometimes they are together, other times not.) Melta Acolytes are just another disposable suicide unit that you should be extremely familiar with already- the drive up to something, hop out, and hope to roll some 4s to blast it off the table. Since a single Storm Bolter has a pretty reasonable chance of sending the squad off the table you probably shouldn't be overly-worried about dealing with those variety. Storm Bolter Acolytes are a cheap anti-infantry unit; they put out pretty okay firepower against a lot of things and can often be found shooting out the top of a Chimera. Shutting them down is as easy as suppressing their transport, and if they disembark to hose something down, they can be killed off with only slightly more trouble than the three-man Melta team can. Note that, unlike some other units of their sort (such as Devgaunts or Bladestorm Dire Avengers) their firepower is okay, but not all that impressive due to BS3.

What to Do to Whom and When
So how does all of this come together? Well, it's not actually all that difficult; fighting a Coteaz-based GK army is simply a matter of identifying whether they have anything special they can do (often not) and then taking advantage of the standard GK weaknesses of 24" range and so forth. Cut away their support units first, like Purifiers and other MEQ targets; once these are eliminated, you should be able to play much more aggressively against their transports and aim to disembark their infantry. Now, they will have a lot these transports, but Meltaguns and similar weapons can do quite a lot of damage in short order when you can get right in their face and blast away.

This option is available to you specifically because of what henchmen fail to get due to being so cheap- they don't have melee options (except for DCA, which have weaknesses of their own) and self-disembarking on their side just makes it easier for you to murder their fragile mans, whereas you can be much more safe in hopping out in order to apply full firepower. For some armies (Guard, DE, Tau) this isn't so much an option, but these forces have strategies of their own that they can use. For most generals, however, aggressively attacking the Grey Knight components of a list and then keeping pressure on the remaining troops will serve them well.

Melee armies may have a bit harder time of this, but such forces should have at least some shooting to do damage with where necessary and the generic Purifier squad (five bodies, two Psycannons, three Halberds) simply can't stand up to most "real" assault units on the charge- it causes a few casualties and is then swamped with wounds and dies. Getting the henchmen out of their rides may be a bit trickier for a melee army, but the essential strategy remains the same.

Variations on a Theme
There is, of course, more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to build an army. The Grey Knights list seems to be a favorite for gimmick armies, so it's worth taking a moment to talk about some of them here.

Land Raider/Stormraven Deathstar: Nothing new here, we've been seeing variations on this army ever since... well, since someone realized you could load something expensive into a transport and throw it in the enemy's face. Death Cult Assassins, obviously, are the henchmen of choice here, and the Crusader/Redeemer even have a rule that can give them grenades for a turn! But you're still looking at that same army strategy: take big thing, move thing towards enemy, hope to get a charge. And since this plan's entire fulcrum is based around disembarking a bunch of T3/5+ models right next to the enemy army, I think you can see where the problem lies. You can throw some transports to block them while you shoot (unless you're playing Prometheus, it seems), you can let them assault something and then murder the squad with shooting/assaults of your own, or you can just avoid them (at least for the LR version). It's a standard plan of this type that is less resistant to being killed once it's taken a swing, which shouldn't be a hard problem to deal with.

Six Minimum Henchmen: A lot of people get angry about the thought of six Psybolt Razorbacks with three Acolytes inside each of them, because it gives you a full complement of scoring units for under four hundred points. And that's nice and all, but I'd still rather have scoring units that DO something, which you may have noticed is a prominent feature of all of the good codices in 5th edition. Unless you're playing 1000pt games, there's nothing super-amazing that you can spend the remainder of your points on that will make up for the fact that all of your troop units are weaker than a pedophile's excuses and almost entirely unable to affect the game.

Some Other Knights: Occasionally you'll see an army that skips one or two henchmen units in order to bring Terminators or Strike Squads, netting some more-resilient troop units and Psycannons for itself. This isn't strictly a bad plan, but it isn't a big change, either; it's effectively just adding some more wannabe-Purifiers to the army that you'll deal with before moving on to the other troops. It necessitates a bit more caution in working to kill them off, but depending on your melee and shooting abilities it may not be particularly hard to deal with at all.

Passbacks: Assault Cannons in the place of Heavy Bolters on transports (though still with Psybolt, of course) isn't uncommon either. It's largely a preference issue (whether you think you have enough anti-tank in the list without them) and makes the transports a bit higher of a priority. Combined with a Librarian for 3+ cover and Psybacks to sit in front of them it can be somewhat annoying, but the shorter range of the gun also places some major limitations on how the army maneuvers.

Two-Bro Teamup: Somehow running both Draigo and Coteaz in the same list has become a thing, I don't even know why. Both of them encourage you to use your troop slots up very quickly (for Solodins, in Draigo's case), which puts them rather at odds when it comes to designing a list. Given that you can just buy a squad of Paladins and a Grandmaster and save points, still make it scoring when it matters AND have more total slots available for good things, there's really no point to doing this.

Final Thoughts
Coteaz is good; he's probably the best character in the GK book. The options he enables let you build some very powerful armies, but just like any other codex, these armies have weaknesses that can be exploited by a good general. Neither Coteaz lists nor Grey Knights lists have been winning tournaments at rates outside of what we would expect given their presence at tournaments. For all henchmen bring in cheapness and efficiency, they pay for it in fragility and specialization; the army is eminently defeatable by virtually every codex that can stand a reasonable chance fighting anything else.

Having written the three Grey Knights "Beating the Army" articles (finally), I'll be looking to move on to doing some other armies in the months before the new edition drops. Daemons have for all intents and purposes been covered by the Deep Strike article, but if any other requests come up I'm certainly open to taking suggestions for what folks would like to see next.

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