Space Marines have always been the codex with the most options, and in few places is this more apparent than in the Heavy Support slot. Each choice has been given a range of buffs over the new edition, making for a diverse and competitive line-up that will likely guzzle up your points quickly - but the choice of how is very difficult indeed! There are just so many options to choose from here. For infantry-hunting artillery, you have the cheap Whirlwind and ridiculous Thunderfire Cannon. For punishing aerial defence, the Hunter and Stalker are inexpensive and dangerous choices. For transportation capabilities you have a flying gunship in the form of the Stromraven and flexible 'battle fortresses' with the three Land Raider variants. For destruction of vehicles and monsters alike, Devastators and their Centurion contingents raise their hand with great zest. The Vindicator provides a multi-purpose siege breaker, while Predators are the "every-man" unit with multiple configurations for dealing with wildly different targets. If there are any holes in a Space Marine army, the Heavy Support slot is usually the first - and best - place to look for aid.
A note here that this is the second in a series of four articles concerning Heavy Support choices, the first of which can be viewed here.
Overview - Contrary to popular opinion, when I think of a Predator, I see a highly efficient tank that does whatever you need it to. Why anyone thinks of an ugly, masked aberration instead is beyond me, but each to their own. Predators operate on a more armoured variant of the Rhino chassis, with front AV13 to show for it with otherwise unchanged defensive stats. The boost to its front armour alone is enough though, what with the massed Strength 7 firepower bouncing off of it for the most part, while even Strength 8 and 9 weapons are no guarantee to penetrate or glance it. The key then to keeping a Predator alive is to block line of sight to its side and rear armour or at the very least count as hull down; AV11 and AV10 crumble quicker than ever in today's meta with so much high rate of fire Strength 7 or greater shooting around. While this makes positioning it rather difficult, particularly after deployment when mobile skimmers such as Wave Serpents can more easily get at its flank from afar, it doesn't erode the sheer value of the Predator overall. This is a tank that balances good firepower, good durability, standard mobility as it is needed and the sheer flexibility of choice into one cheap package. In fact, many have forsworn their Devastators in favour of Predator Annihilators simply because they are cheap and almost entirely immune to small arms fire. On that note, while Predators won't scare an opponent as much as a Vindicator, they are certainly far more reliable on the damage output front. They come only with a single autocannon which can be upgraded to a twin-linked lascannon, while the Predator can also take either sponson heavy bolters or sponson lascannons. Each of the options is naturally suited to a given role and allows a player to be flexible from game to game if they magnetize the weapons, especially as either variant is still quite cheap despite a leap in points for taking lascannons.
As a tank hunter, the Predator is above average as far as the Space Marine codex is concerned, simply because it fears most weapons far less than Devastators, it can redeploy far more rapidly, and it is cheaper to boot. The armour, particularly the front, makes a huge difference as basic Troops such as Fire Warriors boosted to Ballistic Skill 5 can't just drown a Predator in shots, unlike Devastators who place a lot of emphasis on keeping each heavy weapon alive. With deployment on a flank or somewhere that the side armour values won't be exposed too much, such as next to one unit and a piece of terrain, the Predator Annihilator (three lascannons, or two lascannons and one autocannon) should have free reign to choose its targets with each weapon having a 48" range. There is usually little reason to move a Predator until units that can expose it through krak grenades or penetrate it with melta weapons get close, so even a single Predator should reliably get off two or three rounds of shooting before it is either destroyed or forced to retreat. It is just a nifty answer to some of the issues that Devastators possess. The other version of the Predator, the Destructor, is significantly cheaper but finds itself less worthwhile simply because bolters can be easily found everywhere else. Basic Space Marines don't struggle against other infantry - with some exceptions, of course - so where they need assistance usually is dealing with vehicles at long range where there krak grenades can't help them. This is where Devastators armed with lascannons and Predator Annihilators come in, filling the Heavy Support slots and performing a pivotal role in the army. The Destructor, on the other hand, is mostly just a beefed up version of a Tactical Squad in terms of sheer anti-infantry shooting; it provides less shots, but they hit much harder and can threaten light vehicles in a pinch. It is versatile and it can mow down Tyranid Warriors and light infantry with ease, but you often get the most valuable anti-tank units out of the Heavy Support slots for Space Marines. Still, regardless of which variant you choose, Predators work so well because they are efficient; they are very cheap for what they do, even if they don't quite reach Annihilation Barge levels of points costing.
How to Equip Them - Unlike the other two tanks in this article, the Predator actually has distinct weapon options. There are two main builds for a Predator, both specialized either for anti-infantry or anti-vehicle duties. The former employs sponson heavy bolters and a turret autocannon to devastate 4+ armoured or worse infantry at a very low cost, while it also doubles as a light vehicle hunter. The latter instead opts for sponson lascannons and a choice of the turret autocannon and twin-linked lascannon, based usually on points limits, and provides Space Marines with one of their most efficient sources of vehicular destruction at long range. While it probably isn't as cost-effective as Imperial Fist Devastators with lascannons, a Predator is a lot more durable in some cases. Additionally, not all Space Marine armies are Imperial Fists, of course, and thus a Predator still has a place in many army lists in such a role - it saves points, it is durable and in a pinch it can be a lot more mobile as well. Considering that the bulk of Space Marine units are generally geared to killing other infantry with their bolt weaponry, I've found that Heavy Support slots are where your primary tank-killing units will come from. For this reason, I prefer the 'Annihilator' Predators; those with sponson lascannons.
The choice between the autocannon and the twin-linked lascannon is tough; the latter is quite a bit more expensive, but is actually a threat against heavy vehicles and, by being identical to the sponson weapons, further unifies the Predators' shooting. If you are trying to cut back on points and can accept one of your weapons not being able to do too much to AV13 and AV14 vehicles, then the autocannon is fine for your needs; if you do have the points though, I recommend the twin-linked lascannon. As far as the Predator 'Destructor' is concerned, it isn't a bad choice at all when compared to other such units in the army. The issue it faces is that so many other units in the army can perform the same role and be scoring units, while Predators can be one of the few true effective sources of anti tank at ranges over 24". For vehicle upgrades, you usually don't want Predators moving too much as, with three weapons usually, moving even 1" means that two of those three will be forced to snap-fire. As such, dozer blades really aren't necessary here, at least not as much as for Vindicators and transports. I again don't recommend a Hunter Killer, but if there is one tank that might make use of it, the Annihilator Predator could use that extra Strength 8 shot - it isn't like the tank will actually be moving for the most part anyway! I would avoid the storm bolter for similar reasons to the dozer blade; not only do you not want to move much, but the long range of all the Predator's weapons means it doesn't really want to get too close either. Extra Armour is unnecessary, but it can be useful in case you have been stunned at close range and need to get away from - for example - melta weapons carried by Fire Dragons in a hurry.
Where to Put Them - I often treat Predators as "long-range Vindicators" in the sense that you really want to cover up their very fragile side armour as much as possible, especially as - compared to Rhinos - relatively high value vehicles. However, the range of their guns allows Predators to stay out of the heat of battle for longer than Vindicators, pressuring them much less for the most part where even Serpent Shields struggle to pierce their AV13 front. Hugging a board edge and angling the tank slightly in parallel with that edge will force the vast majority of shooting to target its front armour. Predators don't really need to be used in the middle, nor do they require support as much as a Vindicator would, simply because it has long-range guns galore and, in a pinch, can just move away up to 18" a turn. An Annihilator has the range to not really worry too much about where it deploys, save against Skyrays; though they don't actually have a range advantage, the Markerlights are what you need to watch out for, especially from other units. Make sure to keep moving back - or simply dealing with them - from other units with Markerlights if necessary so they can't call a salvo down on the Predator. Of course, seeker missiles aren't that scary for Predators against the front armour, but I digress. Much of the above applies to short-range anti-tank units; the long range is nice, and not having to bunch up can save you losing two tanks to a Nova-Charged Ion Accelerator, but you still need to be aware of what can target you up close once they move into range.
Chapter Tactics - While Predators only get benefits from the Iron Hands Chapter Tactics, they are naturally suited more to gunline and mixed-mechanized lists for target saturation and their long range firepower. This suits typical Imperial Fist armies, Rhino-rush Raven Guard lists, and the usual mixed-arms approach of Ultramarine army lists more than others. If you have lots of tanks, Iron Hands are usually the best bet though, especially as the front AV13 of the Predator means it is more likely to actually benefit from It Will Not Die.
Overview - I've always found Whirlwinds to be quite rare, mostly because of their natural competition with Thunderfire Cannons than any fault of their own. Though that is something to consider, allow me to judge the Whirlwind on its own merits. First off, it uses the Rhino-chassis and thus has three hull points, AV11/11/10 in addition to accessible vehicle upgrades. It is a fragile tank, but unlike a Razorback for example, it is able to hide while still firing. What gives the tank its' name is the multiple missile launcher mounted atop the hull. This fires one of two shells each turn, either a Strength 5 AP4 large blast, or a Strength 4 AP5 large blast with Ignores Cover. Both also share the Barrage and Ordnance special rules, allowing the former to stand a decent chance of getting a damage result against the side armour of vehicles such as Chimeras. For each shell though, the Barrage rule allows it to not only stay out of sight, particularly with a hefty 48" range, but to 'snipe' important models out of squads and deny them cover saves from intervening units or terrain. This is why the Strength 5 AP4 shell still has some utility even against lighter infantry, as if they aren't placed inside of area terrain or ruins, then it will work even better than the other shell would. It is a dedicated infantry killer specializing more against medium and light units, and it can also be used on a situational basis against light vehicles if it has no other viable targets. Despite being fragile - not that it will usually matter too much - the Whirlwind is very cheap, coming close to the base cost of a Razorback. This is why taking even just one as the 'odd' Heavy Support choice is hardly a bad idea, simply because it takes up so little real estate and it gets great mileage when used against most army lists.
Of course, though, the comparisons will come thick and fast between the Whirlwind and a Thunderfire Cannon. Both fire Barrage blasts, with the Whirlwind firing a single large blast as opposed to the Thunderfire's four small blasts. With the multiple barrage rules, the Thunderfire is a bit less forgiving with a 'total miss', but when it hits, it should hit a lot of enemies. The strict damage output of either generally comes down to hits, as each has two or more analogous ammo types, and the Thunderfire is likely to get more hits. That it has four different ammunition types as opposed to the Whirlwind's two, as well as providing all the nifty benefits that are associated with a Techmarine, usually seals its place in most army lists. However, the Whirlwind is a cheaper option, and its' cover-ignoring template does have AP5 to boast of, which works wonders for clearing out massed Kabalite Warriors and their ilk. While the Thunderfire Cannon probably is the superior option, that doesn't make the Whirlwind a bad choice. It is hilariously inexpensive, it is quite effective as anti-infantry artillery pieces go and it is very easily hidden. I rate them well, but for top end competitive users, Thunderfire Cannons will probably be more to your liking.
How to Equip Them - Given that a Whirlwind really should be hiding out of sight or behind cover, I would really avoid any weapon options on them. A Hunter Killer missile doesn't even gel well with the Whirlwind's weapons, and is a rather wasteful use of the points really. I recommend just leaving the Whirlwind stock as it simply doesn't - or rather, shouldn't - need any upgrades.
Where to Put Them - With a Barrage weapon as their only real tool of destruction, and very fragile Rhino-class armour and chassis, having the Whirlwind sit deep into your deployment zone and out of sight of enemies is ideal. This is usually accomplished by using the open part of a ruin or other large block of terrain, such as a wall. Whirlwinds don't need line of sight to fire - though it does help - but the real issue is their AV 11/11/10 and three hull points makes them so fragile, so much so that a single salvo from a mobile Crisis Team with dual missile pods should destroy one in a single salvo. You need to keep them out of harm and live with the fact that they provide very long ranged, inaccurate artillery bombardments that specialize in devastating infantry. That is their role, and they do it quite well when hidden, and not so well without.
Best Uses - The sole job of a Whirlwind is to devastate light and medium infantry with armour values preferably in the 4+ to 6+ range. It does this with two firing modes on its titular missile launcher, the first of which - S4 AP5 Ignores Cover - is best used against horde units like Cultists, Hormagaunts, Genestealers and so on, while the latter - S5 AP4 - prefers to target Tyranid Warriors, Space Marines and other somewhat heavier targets. The Whirlwind is obviously suited for slowing such units down rather than outright destroying them in one go, such as a Vindicator, and with a 48" range that is easily justifiable. The Whirlwind can use its Strength 5 shells to target vehicles that, with Ordnance and Barrage, actually stand a decent chance of at least glancing the side armour of a number of vehicles. However, I must stress that such use of a Whirlwind is almost universally ineffective and a waste of their horde-slaying potential.
Chapter Tactics - Whirlwinds, as hidden barrage weapons, can work well in most army lists, even drop lists if you can guarantee some line of sight blocking terrain to hopefully guarantee it can't be attacked on turn one. However, I do prefer lists that can support it by finishing off the units it weakens, such as Bike-heavy White Scars, or lists that can protect it from incoming attacks, as your a-typical Imperial Fists gunline would be able to do. It bears mentioning that while Iron Hands are the only Chapter Tactics to give Whirlwinds an actual buff, their armour is less than impressive and they will crumble easily under pressure.
Overview - Do you want the biggest gun available in the Space Marine codex? Do you want to see opponents visibly disgruntled by the sight of such a huge weapon of war? Then give praise to the Vindicator, as it fulfills all your solo-gun vehicular needs. But seriously, that really big gun it has packs quite the punch; all of Strength 10, AP2 and Ordnance, in fact. A Vindicator shell eats through anything from Ghost Arks to Paladins with ease, and it can even instantly kill models such as Tyranid Warriors, Centurions and Daemon Princes with a bit of luck. While it doesn't ignore cover and its range is limited to 24", the sheer power of it means that no opponent will ever treat it lightly, regardless of how many ways they can counter it. Whether or not it actually does damage is often irrelevant simply because a Vindicator will draw a lot of attention away from the rest of your army; it acts as a natural fire magnet, and a rather inexpensive one at that. So just how good is the gun in practice? In 6th Edition, cover is so easy to find and so easy to boost that heavy weapons without high rate of fire such as Demolisher Cannons aren't as great as they used to be, though that of course comes with the balancing act provided by any part of the 'template' acting at full Strength. Unlike 5th Edition where you relied on the centre of the hole hitting a vehicle to achieve maximum damage, any part of the large blast marker can so much as clip a vehicle and it will be hit at full effect. When you combine that highest of Strength values with Ordnance, you are looking at a glance at the very least on average against Land Raiders, while any penetrating hit benefits from AP2 to force through more catastrophic results.
While it devastates vehicles pretty capably and actively forces your opponent not to bunker up - and if anyone is foolish enough to bunch up against a Vindicator, be sure to teach them a lesson for their heinous crime - cover saves do reduce its uses, especially against infantry. While most vehicles tend to have a harder time finding cover, infantry get it just by having a lone tree in the way. When you factor in scatter, a maximum of 2" unit coherency and those cover saves, the damage you deal against light infantry in particular isn't that much to write home about, simply because they don't care about the S10 or AP2. Where the Vindicator really starts to shine is against Terminators, Space Marines and other elite units that will have their pants scared off by a Demolisher Cannon. A single shell can sunder an entire Terminator Squad with a bit of luck, and any smart opponent will know it well. And heck, even if there aren't any great targets to shoot at, your opponent is still likely to spread their forces out that tiny bit more than they would normally do, allowing you greater flexibility and opportunities to single out and destroy unsupported units. As far as accuracy is concerned, a Ballistic Skill 4 large blast is decent enough and should usually hit your target vehicle or three models from the unit of choice. The primary issue with the Demolisher Cannon is its range of 24". While this is hardly minimal, and it gels well with most other Space Marine units, it nonetheless means that you will usually have to spend the first turn getting into position and hoping your opponent doesn't destroy it, in whichever order is applicable. Unless it is a shorter deployment or a 4x4 gaming board, Vindicators will often have to wait until turn two to fire, what with a potential 12" regular move and 6" flat out move. Be very aware of this against opponents that love to bunker up at the rear of their deployment zone, including many Tau, Eldar and Imperial Guard builds.
In any case, the gun is great, no matter how you slice it really. But coupled with the range, how does it fare otherwise in terms of actually getting to shoot that gun? Thankfully, Vindicators are quite durable in a sense, but they need baby-sitting on one or both of their flanks so as to not expose their weak side armour. Front AV13 gives Vindicators a lot of breathing space against most anti-tank weapons dominating the meta, particularly missile pods and Serpent Shields, but it obviously is not infallible, particularly with Imperial Fist Devastators armed with lascannons becoming increasingly popular. It survives well enough provided you take more than one, but the issue comes from side AV11 and rear AV10. If a Wave Serpent or two can move around to the sides of their deployment zone, their 60" range guns will be able to strike and likely destroy the vulnerable armour facings of a Vindicator, regardless of whether you deployed it on a flank or in the centre. This is why deployment is key to using Vindicators well, as is target saturation. Vindicators are obvious, scary targets, but they can survive if you present lots of Rhinos, Land Raiders, Predators and other frightening targets to your opponent on the first two turns. They just provide so much to an army list in terms of target saturation that even if the gun itself doesn't do much, a Vindicator should prove worthwhile. On that note, take Vindicators in pairs if you can; a solo Vindicator is just begging to be shot at regardless of what else is in your list, while three Vindicators is just overkill and could leave you quite vulnerable to a flyer-heavy list where the Vindicators become mostly useless.
How to Equip Them - There are two main options for a Vindicator to consider; either taking a Dozer Blade or a Siege Shield. This should really come down to how many spare points you have, as I would say that one of them is mandatory because the Vindicator needs to be mobile with its 24" range. If you have 5 points spare, take a Dozer Blade; if you have 10 points spare, take a Siege Shield. The reality is that the chances of failing a dangerous terrain test twice in a row are incredibly slim - without help from enemies that force failed tests on a 5+ or worse. Taking a storm bolter is really unnecessary as the Space Marine Vindicator already has a Storm Bolter to hopefully 'soak up' Weapon Destroyed results. Remember also that if you fire the Demolisher Cannon, other weapons can only snap-fire and so taking another storm bolter really isn't worth the time. I strictly avoid Hunter Killer missiles simply because they are double the cost of a storm bolter and even though a Vindicator will take a turn or two to get in range, I would usually prefer to be moving Flat Out or at least 12" a turn to get in range on a standard game board. Besides, Hunter Killers are unreliable and I've never found them to really be worth much. Extra Armour does help a Vindicator out a lot simply because it will usually be at short range anyway, and thus still being able to move is more likely to save its' bacon than a longer range vehicle such as a Predator.
Where to Put Them - Vindicators have a good front armour, but they are hindered by their short range, their fragile side armour, and the obvious target painted on them by the Demolisher Cannon. This usually leads me into deploying them one of two ways; the first is next to another less valuable tank, such as a Rhino, to protect one of its' side facings by obscuring it completely. This should be accomplished by keeping the Rhino about 1" or 2" away, as the way majority facing works if you move the two tanks up in unison should have most getting the front armour, and the others unable to see the side armour. By having a Rhino 'baby-sitting' next to the Vindicator instead of another Vindicator, you are less worried about Ordnance Large Blasts from units such as Riptides and Soul Grinders. The other side facing of the Vindicator should be covered by terrain if possible, forcing enemies to shoot at the durable AV13 front. Deploying Vindicators up the middle certainly works if you have lots of target saturation, especially as you are more likely to get in range by turn two.
However, deploying on the flank is also an option; Vindicators are a terror weapon first and foremost as even statistics to the contrary don't stop people being scared to death of them, and using that to your advantage to split your opponents' fire is necessary to their effective use. Having them dedicate their shooting to one flank can open up your centre and other flank to move forward unless pressure to get into that midfield area where Space Marines naturally excel. As well, deploying in the flank makes it far less likely you will get shot on one of your side facings, meaning you only really have to worry about hiding one side facing. Vindicators are a threat to pretty much any unit in the game, so deploying them opposite a death-star - such as Paladins - is sure to draw the ire of your opponent very early on. Vindicators are a relatively cheap tool of panic that often doesn't do that much damage either because they have a few inaccurate rounds or are focused on early before they can fire. Deploying them opposite nearly any unit is a pretty safe bet!
Best Uses - I've found that as 6th Edition has progressed, Vindicators are becoming less of a 'squad-eater' and more in tune with just being downright terrifying. Easily accessed cover saves for infantry, a plethora of skimmers and "Daemonic Invulnerability" really aren't that fussed about the gun, especially if they are cheap horde units that die just as quickly to an assault cannon or battle cannon. It does pretty well against tanks and skimmers without Holo Fields or over cover-save boosting wargear, while elite infantry like Terminators and Toughness 5 or lower multiple wound units such as Centurions really do have the fear of God put into them. Used in pairs with either dozer blades or siege shields, Vindicators have invisible "shoot me" signs plastered all over them; they are cheap for what they do in that many opponents will dedicate much of their early shooting to at least disabling them, allowing your transports to get into the thick of it. Point them at the nastiest, hardiest unit your opponent has, whether it be a Paladin death-star or a large unit of Shrikes and send them running.
Chapter Tactics - Vindicators are really best suited to mechanized lists that provide lots of target saturation and mobility so that the Vindicators can either have only minimal firepower allocated to them, or act as 'beacons' for the shooting of your opponent, allowing your transports to get closer and hopefully unhindered. Again, this is best for shorter-ranged armies, such as Raven Guard, White Scars and Black Templars, though really any army can benefit from a really big gun! And yes, like the broken record I am, I have to mention Iron Hands. I mean, why not? Iron Hands do mechanized-spam army lists better than anyone else in the codex, and Vindicators fit really well into that.
Thanks for reading this article! Did you find it an entertaining or insightful read? Let us know in the comments section below, or continue the discussion with me and other members of the community over on +Bell of Lost Souls. Have a great day! Eel out.
"So ask me not to justify the Raven Guard's ways.
The carrion worlds in our wake should make a statement eloquent enough."
- Corax, Primarch of the Raven Guard