Monday, 20 June 2011

Deathwing Tactics - An Introduction

Dakka Dakka - posted so I don't have to look at Bully's DW again -Ven.
Righto Champs, 

So I've wanted to put pen to paper on this for a little while, especially now I feel reasonably at grips with the army, or certainly the doublewing aspect of it. While my juices are flowing over some various other bits of 40K, the foreseeable future I am putting Deathwing as my best foot forward, purely as I have, certainly in 5th Ed, the best experience with it - couple of tourneys and plenty of practice.

So what am I going to cover? Well I want to look at some general concepts of the army, then some more specific unit tactics, plus an overall view of missions and deployment - a bit of everything really.

So lets start off, the Basic's - what to think about with Deathwing, actually lets call it an Introduction to Deathwing and Doublewing.


So I've seen a lot of people start to play Deathwing, and in part I feel some people are going about it the wrong way - so hopefully I can help spread some light on the issue. I really feel that a good Deathwing list shouldn't be losing to MSU marines (short of nullzone with TH/SS and Vindicators backing them up!) any time soon, and anyone with non-optimised lists should have a hard time against you. And you'll stand up well against most IG gunlines. Here's a quick reminder of roughly the list I will refer to in most articles. There are variants - but I do feel this offers one of the better options without starting to move into hybrid (something I'll cover later, it is a perfectly valid setup, but more for 1750/2K)

  • Belial w/ LC
  • 5xTerminator Squads - 4xTH/SS (one with CML) 1xLC
  • 2xBike Squads (3 Bikes, 2 MG 1 Melta Bomb) 
  • 2xAttack Bikes (MMelta)

So first off, lets identify the core strengths and weaknesses of the Deathwing / Doublewing army (from above). Now this is not a comprehensive list of pro's and con's, nor is it trying to be. We will identify further weaknesses (and strengths) later as we move through the tactics, deployment and mission types. For now this is something to know, and be able to build upon.

  • Resilient (fearless and durable)
  • Duality (of your core)
  • Strong Midfield Army
  • Solid Deployment Options
  • The final die roll is always in your hands (always have a save!)
  • Army Size
  • Lack of Mobility in the troops
  • Horde Control
  • Threat Vectors
  • Psychic Defence
One thing that you'd expect me to put down is torrent of fire / weight of fire. Honestly, when is this an army specific problem? There are a few units/armies that can truly torrent you, and even then I find its more the units than the armies that are the problem. For example doom + guide bladestorming Dire Avengers are tough, or a unit of 10 Paladins toting 4 psycannons. However a typical mech guard army ("shooty") actually struggles to remove multiple models, since your constantly just allocating onto 1 or 2 guys to do a 2+

We have that covered now, we'll look to revisit these in a bit more depth in the next article. But I want some more juicy bits today - so here's an introduction, Doublewing 101 if you will.

Introduction to the Special Rules - How do they effect you?

This army really is unique, and the special rules really help with that. You do have the option of 1st turn deep strike with terminators, scouting your bikes or outflanking them. You can use a lot of your rules to leverage both strong positions for yourself, but unbalance your opponent.

Tip One: The Use of Deathwing Assault:
Its tricky most of the time to have a good Deathwing Assault. As a basic rule I'd advise people not to, as you'll find  that we rarely start with the bikes on the table (DW prefers going second, and bikes become a "easy target") and so your now risking that full 12" scatter due to lack of teleport homers.

But lets ignore that for the moment, lets look at the possibilities, then examine the problems later. We have the option to put a single unit into reserve and Deep Strike them near a objective, in say, a two objective game, which is quite nice. This can put pressure on the mission very early and help overcome your weakness - mobility.  However sometimes it doesn't quite go the way you want it. I've had some brilliant scatters (Game 4 at Brighton saw me DS my Command Unit onto a weak side of his table, allowing me to take over his objective) - however I've had some dire ones as well (Game 1 of same tourney - scatter 8" forward from my mark, right into the maw of his Chaos Lord and 10 Beskerkers - far enough away that they stand no chance of being counter charged after the consolidation). Its also not ideal - a gunline imperial guard army will essentially be fed this unit, and want to get rid of it ASAP.

Right, so its situational, lets put it that way - the ability to get 5 TH/SS terminators into a strong position (near a weak flank) - and also keep the opponent guessing as its yet another element in the tool back of mixed deployment. Think of it a bit like Descent of Angels - its a tool in the box, not a rule that must be used

So again why would we deep strike a single unit "un-accurately?". Well there is some reasons - it can be handy for claiming quarters - think spearhead - where you can get your boys onto a flank where your opponent might not be able to concentrate on them (lack of mass fire / no big deathstar / lack of AP fire / no demolisher cannons). In dawn of war its a handy way to "catch up" a unit or two - if you go first (or 2nd - and they dont "block" the midfield) you can have 2xunits at the 24" mark from standard DoW deployment - and then deepstrike in another unit roughly near them (with any luck they land pretty close) and now you have 15 terminators in the opposition half.

My biggest tip / advice on this - DWA is so very situational - and I rarely use it. I think the last time I used it was Brighton Warlords Game 4 back in March! You really want a clear advantage - and not be doing it for the sake of using it. I see many people on youtube/battle reports using it, and I wonder why they deep strike a single unit into a isolated area very near 2 units of grey hunters who promptly rapid fire and then charge the left overs.

Though do remember - if you reserve more than 1 unit - and your rolling for the other units - if your bikes are on, think about where you want them for the NEXT turn - some times turbo boosting to put those terminators into a good position will be the better course of action (example, reserve 3 units in dawn of war. Deepstrike 2xunits "near" your 24" deployed units, T1 your bikes roll on and turbo 24" to midfield, T2 you might well get that last squad, who get to deploy 30" on to the table and support the rest of your force - not bad eh?)

But at the end of the day its basically a drop pod - without the free kill point. Its a great way to get your terminators places, but - this army isn't built around that. Remember our strength is durability and midfield control - DWA can often put you back into your weakness - small elite army - isolating your own units. This is a biggy - not just for DWA but in general - isolating your terminators can often cause trouble for yourself.

Tip Two: Use of Scouting: 

If I am unsure what to do, I have the simple rule of reserve/outflank bikes and deploy the terminators in a phalanx. However, if forced to go first (by your opponent) or feeling like you won't be seized (I never bank on that lol), especially in pitched battle deployment, you can scout the bikes- especially knowing you won't get seized, getting your bikes to 24" from the board edge. Now pair this with reserving a unit, or more preferably - 3 deathwing units for Death Wing Assault

With this we get a lovely little alpha strike situation going on. You have your melta now 12" into the midfield (generally good in pitched, can be great in spearhead) and 2 of your 3 reserved terminator units are going to come in accurately 6" away from the bikes - creating options to get that CML great side armour shots - plus have 10+ TH/SS terminators sat 18" into the midfield - that's quite a hefty bit of ground gain we've got there (remember a weakness is mobility after all ...) 

What does it mean to your opponent? Well typically we are only doing this if we get an advantage of throwing 10 terminators (and generally Belial with the FNP unit) and 10 wounds worth of bikers into our opponent. It also - since your deploying first - force your opponent to react - and sit his army much further back - on his own table edge in pitched, or right in the corner in spear head - think about missions where mobility is an issue for you - multiple objectives or getting to a single objective. Your now forcing your opponent to get through you - your nicely supported (10 terminators "close" - 10 about 12" or so back and the bikes, and running is not a bad idea of your melta's and CML's have a good shooting round, you can run them up behind). Its not bad. Do you do this to horde orks or beskerker loaded rhinos? But if you feel an army can't shoot you off the table due to you being close (for example, they dont have 2 units of melta/plasma vets sat next to you) or will be playing into his hands (Beskerkers getting their 1st turn charge) then its a strategy you can put in the book.

We also can look to use scout when cover is there - big line of sight blocking terrain / good board edges where you know your opponent won't be able to bring fire power to bare on the unit. For example two objective mission when he has a unit of guardians sat in a corner - then the rest of his force is there to plough forward into your objective.

Tip Three: Use of Outflank:

I don't want to go too heavy on bike use, as I will cover this in its own article. The above situation is more about getting your terminators into place or creating alpha strike situations. However, as we noted - there are survivability issues to worry about - and since often you'll choose to go 2nd - scouting isn't great. However, we have another brillaint tool in the bag, to make the opponent really thing. Outflank Its amazing to have outflanking melta - people that love to sit their big heavy shooters (hydra's, auto las predators, riflemen dreads) or objective holders on that back edge - you can come in and blow them up (2 in 3 chance of getting the edge you "need" - half the time people deploy near each corner anyway). It also forces people to think about where they want they units to sit, or even what side they want- sometimes you'll see an opponent use a 1st or 2nd turn to move and lose shooting to avoid that 2nd turn reserve, or plain avoid it in the first place, and deploy hydra's or preds in the center of the table - which paired with terrain etc.. often ruins their fields of fire.

Also remember - you don't need to come in aggressive - you can come in and help out on "home" objectives, more defensively. Aggressive mech will present rear and side armour to outflankers

Outflank is generally best for pitched. Dawn of War it has its place. Spear head - pretty much always will be straight up reserve - as your going to be 24" from his deployment / center of midfield etc...

Tip Four: Fearless:

Some people abhor Fearlessness - but I honestly think its one of the best things about Deathwing - with such a small, but resilient model count - you want to have that one guy sticking around - the fact that your bikers might get shot to hell, but still have that 1 meltagun left at the end which won't run, or your terminators are down to 1 guy after a blitz of shooting - it creates situations where your opponent is forced to shoot at "un-optimal" targets - knowing that they still present a threat (I.E send in the hi-power gun against that lone TH/SS terminator near an objective before he runs off and hides).

But likewise, its something to be aware of. It makes bikers vulnerable in combat. They are good tarpits (throw them into a combat you shouldn't lose, but won't necessarily win - E.G a 5 man unit with no PW - 5's to wound helps - this slows down the opposing unit to allow a "sling shot" for your deathwing ... remember lack of mobility!). However, when they do lose - fearless wounds on a 3+ leaves them likely to die, especially since you've only got 3 guys to start with.

Terminators not so much with the fearless wounds. I've once or twice lost guys to fearless wounds, and only once lost the squad because of it. But be aware, it does have its con's - but in this army it makes it tick at times. No Fear of Darkness shenanigans. No weaken resolve tomfoolery!

Tip Five: Assessing the Opposition:Ok so this one is a bit more of an abstract tip - as really its hard to cover this. But its very important as Deathwing to get down and look at each army - you don't always have the same plan. So get used to looking at their lists and working out your big threats and value that against the mission.

I also found the use for mathhammer that little bit more important with deathwing - knowing how many wounds a unit can put out on you in combat / shooting is important. A good example was game 6 at brighton when I faced a pure ork biker list - and I was stuck in a no mans land of do I charge or do I sit and hold objectives. My lack of knowledge about my oppositions ability to put shooting wounds on me and combat wounds left me apprehensive and cost me a win (I drew) - I very nearly did the same thing in game 3 at blog wars, under estimating the shooty value of a maxed out unit of Paladins early in a game.

Much more and I'll just be plain naming problem units - something I will cover at some stage - codex by codex. But a lot will come with experience in games. Some things you think will cause you problems quite often don't (demolisher cannons for example) where as really simple things like small wych squads can ...

Tip Six: Wound Allocation and cover, what cover?

So lets face it, we all know about wound allocating, but with deathwing you want to remember that you do have it, but lets just cover it for the sake of completion. At its most basic, a 5xTH/SS squad with CML should look a bit like this in allocation groups:

1xTH/SS Sergeant

So big thing is here to protect that CML - allocation 101 really. Most units you should be able to keep the 2 "non-CML" options open for a little while, short of someone pumping 10 wounds into you (yup your going to lose a couple of guys that way ..)

I like to add another element to that - a Lightning Claw. Now its not just for allocation purpose (originally it was before I realised we had the Sarge in there) but I do like that option of scaring off the likes of Grey Hunters and the likes - makes them think twice about "yeah I can just wipe you out before you strike back" (which also leads to another point, when faced with things like a charge, or a situation where your CML might be useless the rest of the game, sometimes leaving the LC's there is a good idea ...). But anyway, that LC guy throws in a 4th group for allocation - which also helps keep the plebs alive a tad bit better versus mass 2+ torrent.

The final basic allocation tip, the command squad. Now mine is 5 way unique (banner, cml, apoth, sarge, pleb) - all with TH/SS (though starting to think LC on one of the plebs might be a good idea with the banner for the extra attack) - then we have Belial. We also have FNP on this unit. Its highly survivable with 6 way wound allocation, FNP, plenty of 2+ / 3++. I also throw plasma wounds on Belial - better to take a wound on him (1 in 3 chance of saving it anyway, 1 in 2 if your in cover!) than risk losing a terminator (1 in 3 chance).

This leads me to the final point in this section - cover. Largely this army doesn't need cover, in fact famously it doesn't. I generally have 4 3++ and 1 5++ in each unit - most units (except templates) can't do more than 4 wounds with AP1/2 - and good spacing anyway will mean most templates won't hit all 5 - so you mostly don't have to worry about cover. However - sometimes - just sometimes - leave Belial cover - give him that 4++, especially late game where you can separate him off and create situations where opponents are forced to decide what to shoot at - this is something I'll talk about later - more advance uses of Belial - which I'll cover his weapon choice as well. I thought I'd throw this out there with the cover - remember that DW bring 3++ round with them at all times, objective placement out in clear sight is great for you - forces opponents to get out (especially if demech'd) and sit tight in open view - also stops you having to trudge through difficult terrain to get to objectives - again - whatever we can do to deal with that mobility issue!


Hopefully here I've covered some of the core basics that you might want to know about Deathwing and Double wing. Again I'll say, its not comprehensive, or a bible, I have experience with them, but still parts I am unlocking myself as I play

So what's coming up next? I want to cover some more specifics in terms of deployment, missions and what to look at, issues the list will have etc.. so lets make a quick list then:

  • Deployment Setups
  • Mission Strategies
  • More in-depth look at Ravenwing
  • More in-depth look at Belial 
  • Know thy Enemy - Deathwing Edition!  

More to come!


  1. Fantastic post, read twice, ordered 17 thunder hammers to revamp my own...browsing sexy resin shields...damn you Bull. Fantastic read once again...

  2. I have been playing Deathwing for a while and love the new stuff. I took my Deathwing to the ATC and went 5-1. My loss was to a space wolf player who managed to jaws 14 termies in three turns. A couple of units I like that you donor mention are ven dreads and typhoon speeders. Ven dreads make great counter assault units and good tar pit units. The venerable status can keep them up and moving for quite some time. Plus once they contact a unit they are tough to kill. Also a typhoon speeder with Multimelta is only 75 points. They are fast and can also be dee struck in. Just as an aside I did use some regular termies for crowd control. A lot ofttimes they hung in cover r advanced behind the screen of TH & SS termies ( was because I didn't have enough hammer ones done but they actually did quite well)

  3. Nice swanson, post your list up mate!

    Harsh on the jaws - thats just unlucky really.

    Not mentioning the hybrid side of things in this intro as its purely doublewing and concentrating on that. Hybrid will get its own article (though a bit more basic as I don't have nearly as many games with it).

    Dark Angels speeders cant deepstrike unfortunately for us :(

    Dreads are good, I really like then - ven upgrade is pretty cheap - 145 and you got a TLAC / DCCW dread (well thats how I like to run em). Have you tried running then with dakka preds? 95 points its quite nifty - 3xdreads and 2xpreds - can use the terms to cover the preds which cover the dreads!

    I'd use speeders more if they could deepstrike - reserving is fine as they do have that 48" on krak - but not really short of that. But honestly I've always had issues with their survivability - I am quite unlucky with mech (damage chart hates me!) so AV10 for me rarely sticks around, even with cover.

  4. i should do an anti-deathwing tactica :P

    actually i can sum it up in one sentence - pick a squad, shoot it till it all dies, repeat.

  5. Thanks for taking to time to write this epic post. I look forward to reading the rest! Really nice to see you sharing your results rather than trying keep it a secret pre tourneys, much appreciated.

  6. I played a similar army (2k) in a 60 man tournament but it went bad. Lost 3 games.

    First was against SWs. A TW squad with Lord charged one terminator squad. Every round I supported them with another squad charging in. Lesson learned: stay together! One big multi assault would have turned the game.

    2nd games was against 10 hammer termis with nullzone...

    3rd game was against 2/9 lash oblit spam. Rolled bad and lost 5-10 termis every round...

  7. @crosser modelling - no worries - got plenty more coming up. A lot of it is an exercise for me as well - as I am writing it even now I realise few other reasons to why I do something, and even spot times where it would be bad etc ... good to have it up in the old noggin ;D

    @anon would love to see some of the battle reports / more details! I've got a write up coming up about each codex and their threats - you've pretty much named the 3 for the codex's you have. I am assuming that you got lash'd then plasma rapid fired?

    What was the wolfstar running? Assuming bear lord with either WC or TH then 5 wolfs with a couple of shields and a hammer or something? Harsh as on the charge the can put a lot of wounds/rending in. But you hit the nail on the head - if you have 2 or 3 squads behind they'll smash them next turn (just double out the TWC!).

  8. Venerable Brother21 June 2011 at 22:12

    How you doubling them out? natural T5...

  9. You know what I was thinking off ... demon hammers with freaking hammerhand lol. No clue why haha. Fucking GK's on the mind atm ;D (another reason why GK's are awesome!)

    But yeah TH's do make the puppies whimper - its also another reason why LC's are handy - can help put a wound or two on at same init - at least soften them up for the next bunch if they do happen to wipe your squad out on the charge.