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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

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tyranids in 6th Part 1: Something Different, Something Changed

So Tyranids and Sixth Edition. A lot of people are very vehement about all sorts of things on the subject; some think that 'Nids are completely screwed, others think it will be a godsend. Some think all-flyers are the way to go, others insist that this is the new dawn of the Tyranid Warrior. Some think that the army stays exactly like it was. Some of them seem to think that we are now living in Bizarro World and that bringing fifty models to the table makes you a horde army.

Most of these people are idiots. I don't claim not to be an idiot, but I am at least an idiot who is going to explain his idiocy out for you in detail so you can decide for yourself exactly why it is I'm dumb and wrong about things and clearly you have the better answer.

The two biggest shifts in how Tyranids need to look at list-building come straight out of the new rules, and the first of them is the alterations to Fearless. Now, there is a small downside here: you can't go to ground with those Termagants on an objective anymore and laugh at the enemy with your 2++ save, awwww. You still have ridiculous numbers of troops (even more so than before, as we'll soon see), so it's not really a huge loss. What you gained instead is almost impossible to understate: No Retreat is gone. Completely gone, with no replacement at all; Fearless means you simply don't care what the combat result was and you keep on fighting no matter what.

At first glance this isn't that big, but the truth is it's absolutely enormous. Our little bugs are now twice as effective at jumping into the enemy lines and delaying them- seriously, you are taking half as many casualties as you would have before. Killing twenty Gargoyles went from "eh, it'll take a little bit" to "well, I guess I'll be here for the rest of the game" for most units. You can charge monstrous creatures into fights with your little guys with impunity now as well, as multiple combats are no longer absurdly punishing to you. For horde armies, Fearless is simply amazing now and cannot be underestimated.

The second prong of this major shift are the changes to vehicles; undoubtedly anyone reading this article is fully aware of how omnipresent vehicles were in 5E and the problems this caused Tyranids, but 6E represents a major shift to this. That's not to say that vehicles will go away; certainly they are still going to be a big part of the game, but they aren't going to be the absolute pinnacle of all lists nor are they nearly as invulnerable as they were before. Hull points are one big part of this- they make it so that repeated glancing hits will cause significant damage and eventually kill a tank, and combined with hitting even the fastest of vehicles on a 3+ in combat it means anything that can get S4 in numbers becomes a real threat to vehicles of any kind.

Vehicles also lost a lot of utility in terms of what they can do for people, which can only benefit Tyranids; they can't contest points anymore and disembarking from them is much more limiting, both in terms of how you do so (no driving 12" and jumping out to blast something) and what you can do (if you disembark you aren't participating in the next assault phase.) Between these changes and those to vehicle survivability, you are likely to see a lot more hybrid and foot armies, against which Tyranids are much more comfortable fighting.

Trailing behind the big two somewhat but still rather important are the new psychic powers and defenses. Tyranids benefited doubly on this front: they gained access to a wide variety of powers that surpass their codex ones in most cases and their psychic defenses went from being extremely middling to one of the best. The 6+ chance to shut down their powers is obviously annoying, but since Hoods had been doing so on a 5+ virtually all the time before, this is really more of a boon than a nerf. Most armies (bar Eldar/SW) being unable to shut down our buff powers is a very big deal and contributes greatly to the strength of the Biomancy discipline. (I covered the Tyranid power selections in more detail in an earlier article and thus won't be discussing them much in this series.) With access to more psykers than any other army in the game, Tyranids are poised to take excellent advantage of the new rules and the flexibility they offer you in changing your powers game-to-game.

The changes to cover saves have been a major point of discussion, but they aren't as clear-cut as they're sometimes portrayed; yes, generic cover is 5+ now, not 4+, but that neglects the fact that a LOT of types of cover still give the old 4+ save. Ruins, walls, wreckage, hills, buildings, and most types of "artificial" cover are all still 4+ cover, including the Aegis lines you can purchase. You will still be seeing a lot of 4+ saves being thrown around in your games, you just will also be seeing other numbers sometimes as well. Model-by-model cover is a weird one and certainly is painful to Tyranids, who (with their big units and mixed small critters/big bugs) were one of the best at taking advantage of the old cover rules to get saves absolutely everywhere. However, the reduction to the durability of enemies that likewise rely on cover saves works quite well for our many torrent guns like the Devourer, which can inflict pretty brutal casualties these days. To be honest, the cover changes are not really a big deal for Tyranids compared to many of the other factors, so at the end of the day I wouldn't worry too much about them, at least not in the list-building phase of things.

Related to that are the changes when moving through terrain itself. It hasn't been widely discussed, but not only is dangerous terrain a lot less dangerous now (you get your armor save) but Move Through Cover, which is plentiful in the Tyranid army, now completely ignores tests for Dangerous Terrain in addition to giving you the improved bonus for Difficult. (It should be noted, however, that it does NOT make you any faster when charging into cover, which is incredibly annoying. However, Dangerous Terrain alone does not change your initiative when going into cover, so it is entirely possible to cheat past your lack of grenades in that way with jump troops.)

Speaking of assaults, did anyone else notice that assault distances are- oh. Oh, I guess you did. Every single one of you. So yeah, assaults potentially have a very long reach these days, but at the cost of reliability in-close. (This article has a very good set of tables for determining what your numbers look like for making various charges, ignoring whatever casualties you might pull from Overwatch, and it includes the numbers for Fleet and such, although it doesn't have Difficult Terrain included.) While many people lament the loss of the guaranteed 6" charge, Tyranids are so used to having to run into cover that it barely even matters for them- much more relevant is the chance to declare charges a turn earlier and try for long shots because the upside potential (lock a unit in combat) is so much higher than the downside (take a casualty or two on your expendable guys from Overwatch.) Now, don't get me wrong- Overwatch can be very painful... sometimes. But rolling for sixes is an incredibly unreliable thing and most of the time you'll escape effectively unharmed. Remember you can station a character at the front of the unit and use them to LOS away any incoming wounds to ensure that a random casualty doesn't put you out of your charge range.

Pulling casualties works into the issue with charges and such in that removing from the front will sometimes push you back enough to lose an opportunity; however, Tyranids are excellent for bringing large numbers of models to the table and covering huge sections of board, so more often than not you will have plenty of guys to pull from the front rank before you're losing much distance. It does make the shoot -> charge combo harder against bad players, but you probably didn't need the help there anyways, so it's not a problem. Since Tyranids have some (okay, one) barrage weapons, they can also use the model-removal rules for those to their advantage, trying to snipe out special weapons and such.

With vehicles significantly downgraded, Monstrous Creatures are looking a lot more viable, although they do still suffer from some problems. Smash replacing 2d6 penetrations is largely a wash- yes, your 2d6 was better for killing vehicles, but since you hit vehicles so much more often now and auto-pen most all of them if you do choose to Smash, things work out quite well. Remember that you can Smash Attack against any target, not just vehicles, so if facing a multiwound character, seriously consider making use of it. Easier cover (only needing 25% coverage rather than 50% and always getting it from area terrain) makes many of them- especially the Trygon and Tervigon- a lot tougher as well. Hammer of Wrath and Fear are both straight-up buffs, but neither of them is particularly big; HoW will almost always be one more wound, but since it doesn't cut through armor most anything that matters will shrug it off, though it is amusing against tanks. Fear... well, basically everything in the game is either immune to it or so weak in a fight it's irrelevant.

However, one strike against MCs is the new uses of grenades; with virtually every MEQ army in the game getting Krak Grenades for free, individual troopers are now a genuine threat to your MCs, as they get to "swing" at S6 rather than S4 now and often attack ahead of you; the fact that they only get one attack is irrelevant, as most guys only get one attack anyways. Meltabombs are actually less of a threat because they strike last and can usually only be gotten on a single model- that single model will consistently get a wound on you, but that's hardly any different from the buried Power Fists we've dealt with for years now.

One of the big complaints has been that Genestealers can't assault out of reserve, which frankly I just don't get. Well, okay, I sorta do because I know that was a very popular thing to try, but honestly it was never a very good strategy- competent players could easily block one board edge of and insure you arrived 72" away from them, which was basically death for your 'Stealers, so the actual effect on play is pretty minor in that regard; it's actually much more problematic for some of the other outflanking units, like Troops (especially Tervigons) sent out through Hive Commander, who used it to act as a lone threat element supporting the main force. The loss of this option is unfortunate, but considering many other factors it's really not so much of a blow as it could've been.

One of the other less-touched on subjects is that of Independent Characters; certainly there's been lots of talk about challenges, wound allocation, etc, but it's easy to forget just how much of a shift in the survivability of ICs in combat there was. Whereas before being one was basically a sentence to death by Power Fist, now it's like a free extra save protecting you from all forms of harm so long as any member of your squad is alive. With the Tyranid Prime clocking in just over 100pts with Sword/Whip/Regen, he can be an absolute beast against enemies in melee, cutting through all armor saves (even Terminators), winning challenges like a boss and cutting through regular guys like paper. With the ability to take (and make) large squads of Termagants for him to hang out in, soaking up wounds and keeping combat resolution from getting bad and letting the enemy escape, Primes become a prime (hurr!) choice for the HQ slot.

One concern for the new Tyranid builds is enemy psychic defense- with the widespread ability to ally in SW and Eldar, both of which can give any psychic army fits, there is a very real concern that you will face up against an army where you simply can't use your main abilities (either for fear of Perils or because you're getting shut down most of the time), and that's not something you can really afford to have happening. However, looking at most of the army lists that are being posted and used, neither of those allies are really prime choices for what you want to add to a force- Eldar don't bring much to an army other than that Farseer (and he is extremely vulnerable to simply being shot down by Hive Guard or Devourers) and SW are a bit too similar to other Marines to really be a prime contender for adding in. Thus, while it's certainly possible we'll see these allies, I don't think they are going to be common choices.

However, that's not to say there aren't some major stumbling blocks for Tyranids in 6E, and I think it's important to look at the two of them very carefully, because it's quite possible they will spell the viability-or-nonviability of the army in the end. The first is fairly simple: flyers. Currently, flyers are the king of the game; if you have/can deal with flyers, you are allowed to play in the big boys league; if you don't or can't, you are at best a tier 2 army, it's as simple as that. With their immunity to assault and virtual nonpresence of skyfire in the game, the current environ basically dictates that an army without flyers of its own will be unable to handle any sort of strong flyer-based army, and unfortunately this is the situation Tyranids are in. Flying Monstrous Creatures simply can't compare- not only can the be grounded by a lucky hit (a problem flyers don't have), they are much more expensive in general (180-300pts rather than 100-200pts), and don't have the ability to deposit troop units where they are needed late-game the way flyers do. If this situation is rectified- say, if a FAQ or other new release gives widespread availability of skyfire to all armies- flyers will recede more into the space of similar specialized threats (like Land Raiders, etc) that require particular weapons to deal with and Tyranids difficulty in dealing with them will simply be one consideration of many. However, if things remain as they stand, Tyranids simply won't be able to participate in "real" competitive play.

The other big concern for the army are the deployment types and in particular Hammer and Anvil. Dawn of War is obviously familiar and not really a big deal; Vanguard Strike can be annoying but ends up being a major skill-tester, allowing for some very poor deployments when done wrong. Hammer/Anvil, however, gives shooting armies a pretty huge advantage, as it leaves them with a full 48" of board space to play around in- even shorter-range shooting forces can simply keep backing up and firing away, making full use of the extreme depth of the board. For Tyranids this is a major problem because they rely on getting close and making charges, and having to walk through 30"+ of board before even being able to affect the enemy is going to be extremely painful for them, all the more so if the enemy has first turn. Now, Night Fight mitigates this a little bit, but given how easily most shooting armies can shrug it off, you can't really rely on it to protect you.

So where does all of this leave us in terms of what we want the "new" Tyranid army to look like? Well, somewhat surprisingly, it looks rather a lot like the old one. Hive Guard are still amazing; so are Tervigons. Tyranid Primes and Tyrants with Devourers are still going to be leading the forces. A lot of new contenders have broken in, though; Zoanthropes can provide some excellent buffing for a reasonable price, Stealer/Broodlord squads can get you rolls on the Biomancy or Telekinesis tables along with a reasonable melee threat. Gargoyles, Termagants, and perhaps even Hormagaunts make themselves known as excellent forward threats, able to delay and inconvenience the enemy for a very low price. Biovores are looking extremely handy, bringing a way to damage infantry at range and occasionally act as scoring units while remaining cheap and safe.

The new Tyranid army is going to be much more horde-focused than the previous iteration, I believe; whereas before spamming out T6 monsters was the only way we could realistically compete with mech armies (even if some of them did give us a bunch of little bugs to go with them), now it is much more viable to have a forward line of small critters that you throw at the enemy to create problems and break up their game. In fact, it may even be that you want to be purchasing squads of them well above the minimum sizes- squads of twenty to thirty will not all that uncommon, I think, although there will be a fine balance between getting full use out of your buff powers and avoiding having to multicharge things (and thus being worse/useless in combat.) Despite the presence of Mycetic Spores and similar abilities, Tyranids have virtually zero reason to try for any kind of reserve build; some units can benefit from being held in reserve, but for the most part doing so is merely awkward and holds little benefit.

What we'll be looking for in the next two articles covering the review of the army is a number of different features/needs for our force, including:

  • Fast threats to pressure shooting armies with, both large and small.
  • Shooting of our own to inhibit enemy firepower and break stalemate situations against other melee armies.
  • Ways to generate resilience, either by artificial cover saves, psychic powers, abilities, or other means.
  • Units to deal with diverse enemy threats, including duel characters, torrent or blast/template shooting, rock/deathstar units, mobile armies, vehicles (especially high-AV ones), and gimmicks.

I'll be discussing each of the units individually and looking at how they function, but with a strong eye towards how they fill one of the above roles in the army; some things that have good numbers in a vacuum simply don't end up being all that helpful when considered in context. Where this is true, I'll try to talk about the hows and whys, but understand that trying to list why a unit isn't good is often about as fruitful as explaining why something is impossible: in the end, it doesn't matter, because we don't care about not-good things, only good things, and if you want to join that club you've got to be able to prove yourself.

Final Thoughts
So are Tyranids strong now? Or at least viable? Will they be a real contender in 6E in a way they only were in 5E for a short time? I can't say, to be honest. The meta is in absolute chaos right now and the next several codex releases will do a lot to point the edition in a particular direction- people's expectations for 5E were drastically changed by the SM and IG book releases, after all. Certainly Tyranids have some significant strengths this time around, but they also have some major problems, and if some of the prime threats (like flyers) aren't somehow brought under control it seems unlikely that they- or any other army not running those threats in abundance- are going to stand any kind of chance.

Separating the game from the meta is hard; Meltaguns didn't change at all from 4E to 5E, but they went from being one of the most-maligned special weapons to the auto-pick, and it was because of changes to the rules and to the game that were not directly involved with them at all. Everyone is still trying to get a grasp on 6E, myself included, but I think there are some trends starting to emerge that are pointing us in the right direction, so I'm going to try and make some assessments based on those in the next couple of posts in this series as I review the specific units. Unlike my previous review, I'm not going to try and touch on specific builds at this point, as I just don't think we have enough information to do anything like that- it's hard enough to know what is good in our own book, much less other people's and the sort of threats we'll need to deal with.

That said, I'm going to do my best to try, because I think there are some broad trends we can draw from the way things look now and those are useful in creating a first version of our army. Over the next two parts I'll be looking at the units and giving them their notes on how they changed and how they function in the new edition, although it will be quite a bit shorter (hopefully) than my original Tyranid review was, with the second part covering HQs and Troops and the third finishing with Elites, Fast Attack, and Heavy Support.

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