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 third in a series of four articles concerning Heavy Support choices, Part One of which can be viewed here, and Part Two of which can be viewed here.
Overview - Hunters, as dedicated anti-air units, have a bit of a stigma to deal with that has permeated through 6th Edition. The hard truth is that most dedicated anti-flyer units in the standard codices have been rather sub-par, from the Nephilim Jetfighter to Flakk-missile users. These options have generally had one fatal flaw; inefficiency at their stated role, forcing you to adopt other solutions to deal with aerial threats at a competitive or sub-competitive level. Where the Nephilim and Flakk missiles have all been over-costed quite harshly, the Hunter and Stalker have the big advantage of being very cheap. They come on a durable platform with weapons that are actually very much effective against flyers, and they even have good usage against skimmers - to which Skyfire also applies. The Hunter is an AV 12/12/10 tank with three hull points, giving it identical durability to a Dreadnought. While a Dreadnought can of course defend itself in combat, a Hunter has the advantage of mobility - it can move up to eighteen inches in a single turn without firing if it needs to reposition or avoid melee attackers that can strike its vulnerable rear armour. Given some cover, the Hunter is a pretty durable tank when it comes down to it, especially for how cheap it is.
As to how it actually performs on the damage front, the Hunter is rather....adept for taking on the heavier flyers and skimmers. It fires a single Strength 7 AP2 Armourbane shot at a whopping 60" range, giving a Space Marine player aerial control from anywhere on the board. With a 66% chance to hit, an incredibly high chance of a penetrating hit against any current flyer, and a startling 50% chance to get a glancing hit against a Monolith, the Hunter is quite capable of annihilating vehicles in one shot, especially with the AP2 modifier. It is also handy for trying to ground a flying monstrous creature, most of which will be wounded on a 2+ or 3+ with no armour saves allowed. Where a Stalker might be more efficient against light skimmers and lower armoured monsters such as Harpies, the Hunter is the more impressive - and slightly cheaper - variation that excels even in games without fliers as a cheap AV 12/12/10 tank that can target skimmers and flying monstrous creatures with reckless abandon. Though you might want to feel at least two of your Heavy Support slots with anti-tank shooting that can target other ground vehicles, taking even a single Hunter should provide a good scare for any skimmers or flyers your opponent employs.
How to Equip Them - I'll be right to the point here; aside from maybe a storm bolter, don't bother with the vehicle upgrades. A 60" range on the Skyspear Missile Launcher means that it really shouldn't need to move much at all, and I only mention the storm bolter so that your opponent has a chance of destroying it instead of your valuable anti-air gun.
Where to Put Them - Hunters have a few nifty advantages over Razorbacks that many players often forget, the first of which is their boosted armour values on the front and side. While having the same durability as a Dreadnought might not seem that great judging from my earlier review of said unit, on a tank with an incredible 60" range that also has zero reasons to ever get close, it is actually quite a bit more likely to survive. Hunters will draw attention against enemies with Skimmers or Flyers, or both, while a Dreadnought is likely to bother most depending on how it is used. A handy side-effect of the Hunter and Stalker being dedicated anti-air tanks is that many forget their utility against other units and just how hard they hit. If there are no targets that it can use its gun against without snap-firing, use the Hunter as a 'blocker' and play Flat Out and movement shenanigans with it to block line of sight to your units after they have fired. Use it as a speedbump so that enemy assault units have to go through it or around it to get at your transports and infantry units. The reality is, with AV 12/12/10 and three hull points, not being able to shoot effectively at all against some opponents lets you go crazy with them.
Of course, if there are targets for the Hunter to shoot, then stick it near some cover, behind cover - fliers have a hard time getting cover saves if they aren't Evading, and you can also use the first two turns to reposition from behind cover into open sight of a flyer anyway - and either in the middle or a corner. Those 60" on the gun give you quite a range to deploy in, so that as long as your rear armour is facing towards your deployment zone as it should be, the Hunter should be good to go. As always, don't ever put one of these out by themselves on a flank; you still need to support them with another unit, vehicular or not, so that they aren't easy target practice for whatever deploys opposite them.
Best Uses - Hunters fit best into mixed or armoured lists, as adding cheap AV 12 tanks into any Space Marine army is a lot better than it sounds. Many forget that Skyfire allows shooting at full Ballistic Skill against Skimmers of all kinds, giving the Hunter a lot more mileage than it would initially seem. Of the armies you regularly see at tournaments, Hunters will be very useful against things like Eldar Skimmer Tanks, Dark Eldar Skimmer transports and Ravagers, Heldrakes, Tau Skimmer tanks, Space Marine flyers, Necron flyers and a good amount of flying monstrous creatures too. Deploy it as part of a mechanized gun-line and watch as it swats one of those targets out of the air every two turns or so. The reality is, with Eldar so dominant nowadays, and flyer-spam builds still quite popular especially for Necrons and Chaos Space Marines, a Hunter has so much value; point it whichever of those targets is available each turn and just enjoy the fireworks. The lack of twin-linking is a bummer, but when the Skyspear Missile Launcher hits, it is usually guaranteed of a penetrating hit against anything but a Monolith - as a side note, watching a tiny little Space Marine tank annihilate a Monolith in one shot is both hilarious and decidedly rude! If no such targets are ripe for the taking, either keep the Hunter out of sight or, humorously, use it to block your other units by making Flat Out moves in front of them after they have fired - you may as well use those points for something!
Chapter Tactics - Iron Hands aside, Hunters don't really have any obvious synergies with most Space Marine lists, save that their good armour and vehicular status lend themselves well to providing more target saturation in a mechanized list. Always remember that Wave Serpents will be rather afraid of the Hunter if they use their Serpent Shields, as will other skimmers and flyers, and so they do actually make popular targets for an enemy depending on how many such units they employ.
Overview - The Stalker shares many similarities to the Hunter, including the updated Rhino chassis, giving it armour values of 12/12/10 and three hull points. For an anti-aircraft unit, the Stalker is pretty hard as they go as it doesn't rely on being a flyer - like the Nephilim - or having expensive ablative wounds, like Flakk missile units. There are but two differences between the Stalker and Hunter that actually diversify their preferred targets - even though they both are quite eager and capable to shoot down flyers for you - and the first of those is a minimal points increase on the Stalker, so tiny in fact that it should almost never be an issue if you actually want to include either of the tanks. The second is the obvious one from the model, the gun; where the Hunter specializes in destroying highly armoured targets in one or two shots, the Stalker provides damage through weight of fire. Instead of one Strength 7 AP2 Armourbane shot, the Stalker employs four Strength 7 AP4 twin-linked shots, meaning that even when snap-firing they are likely to get at least one hit.
Whereas a Hunter has the better chance to put a Stormraven or Heldrake down quickly, the Stalker wins through attrition against those targets by forcing one or two glancing hits through in each friendly shooting phase. Where the Stalker really shines though is against light skimmers and fliers, those with AV 11 or 10 on the front and side. Against these vehicles, the Armourbane really isn't necessary for Strength 7 to penetrate the armour, leading to a lot more damage results and probable wrecked results just through hull point damage each turn. Though it doesn't ignore Jink saves like Hydras, the Stalker does have a cool - though not very useful - ability to 'split-fire' at two targets, doubling its shots, losing the twin-linking and reducing its Ballistic Skill to 2. Obviously, this matters little if it is snap firing, and having Prescience or some form of re-roll on them can lead to some hilarious results. Still, I've not found it to be any more useful than just firing four twin-linked shots at one target on most occasions, so it is a more a foot-note than anything else. So thus comes the choice; do you build a Hunter, or a Stalker? The simple answer is a question; what do you face more of in your meta? If Dark Eldar, Daemons, Stormtalons, Tau fliers, Eldar fliers, Necron fliers, Dark Angels or Ork fliers are common for you, then the Stalker is probably going to be the better performer. If mechanized Eldar, Stormravens, Tyranid fliers, Imperial Guard fliers, Necron skimmers, Tau skimmers and so on are more what your opponents fancy, then I would take the Hunter. Frankly, with Eldar and Necrons being so darn popular, either of the anti-air tanks is actually a really good value purchase, even if you won't always see opponents fielding fliers.
How to Equip Them - Like the Hunter, with a range of 48" on the Icarus Stormcannon Array, I've found that giving a Stalker any of the available Space Marine vehicle upgrades is mostly a waste of points. If you deploy it in a good position, it shouldn't need to move much at all, especially with the height of its guns - line of sight is measured from the guns themselves. I would only concern yourself with a storm bolter simply so that the first Weapon Destroyed result a Stalker suffers won't automatically render its anti-air weaponry useless.
Where to Put Them - I'll be frank and cheeky here (and I despise repeating myself); pretty much everything that I said about the Hunter applies to the Stalker as well, with one exception. The range of the main gun is 12" less than that on the Hunter, meaning that you need to be a bit more thoughtful about just where you place it. Make sure to give it as much of a firing lane as possible, and its raised guns should take over the rest of the work.
One of the interesting traits a Stalker has it that it can "split-fire" in a unique fashion; it doubles its shots, reduces its Ballistic Skill to 2, and can go to town on two separate units. Now, unless you are playing against flier-spam Necrons, Eldar or Dark Eldar, it is unlikely you would actually be able to do this at Ballistic Skill 2 with any sort of efficiency. Strictly speaking, it really isn't that great; eight shots sounds nice, but as you only average one hit or so against each target, you are generally better off with just the the four twin-linked shots at one target. This can be interesting when paired up with Prescience from a cheap Inquisitor though, and it can also be pretty hilarious when snap-firing against ground enemies with some lucky rolling. In any case, the Stalker is probably more useful against Necron flyer spam armies, as well as light-skimmer based forces like Dark Eldar and Vypers from Eldar. When Wave Serpents that actually use their Serpent Shields, Skyrays, Stormravens and Heldrakes come calling, the Hunter is usually the better choice. As an aside, especially with an impending release likely to increase their number exponentially, flying monstrous creatures are often a bit more vulnerable to four Strength 7 AP4 shots than one Strength 7 AP2 shot, especially when it is something like a Daemon Prince or Harpy (cough).
Chapter Tactics - Much like a Hunter, the Stalker gets benefits from Iron Hands alone, and unlike Rhinos it is quite likely to make full use of It Will Not Die due to the improved front and side armour. While the Stalker can snap-fire more effectively than a Hunter, especially with the dual-target firing mode, it usually isn't as immediate a threat as a Hunter is simply because many are quite frightened of, heck, even their Monoliths being shot down by one. Regardless, it again fits well into any Space Marine list as an anti-air unit, and is of particular use in a more vehicle-heavy list to provide more armoured targets.
Overview - Here it is, ladies and gentlemen; the big boy; the lucky lady; the swooping eagle; the flying duck; the garbage drum kid; the boil girl; the....what was I saying? In any case, Stormravens are the Warhammer 40000 equivalent of a flying Abrams Tank. Or is that the Blood Angels Land Raider? Why can't I stop with the....Stormravens are insanely durable, not just for being fliers, but being fliers with AV 12/12/12, three hull points and an immunity to the 'melta' rule. They are a brick that just refuses to crumble under the weight of a boot, while also bashing you in the face with up to eight separate guns attached. This is just about the king of tanky fliers, short only perhaps of the Heldrake, though the immunity to melta has saved my Stormravens more times than I can count admittedly. That rear armour 12 also makes a bigger difference than many realize, meaning that enemy flying monstrous creatures or ground units that would usually use Strength 5 or 6 weapons to target the rear armour 10 of most fliers will find such tactics either useless or completely inefficient against a Stormraven. This doesn't mean it is impregnable though; a team of Broadside Battlesuits armed to the teeth with missiles and Velocity Trackers can and will make short work of a Stormraven if they aren't taken out first, while Skyrays with at least four Seeker Missiles have a strong chance of destroying a Stormraven in one go. However, as far as fliers go, the Stormraven is certainly right at the top alongside one or two others for most durable vehicle in the game, and this is something that always makes it a good choice.
The firepower of the Stormraven, as mentioned earlier, is kind of stupendous really. It comes stock with four Stormstrike Missiles, each a Strength 8 AP2 shot that can reliably put wounds on Riptides and Nemesis Dreadknights. Concussive on the Stormstrikes gives them a lot of additional usage against monsters for comboing with Jaws of the World Wolf or smashing them in melee before they can strike. Add to that a twin-linked heavy bolter and a twin-linked assault cannon, with the option for two hurricane bolter sponsons and numerous weapon swaps, the Stormraven is absolutely bristling with guns. This presents a nice "issue" to have; though a zooming flyer can shoot up to four weapons if it moves 36" or less, that does mean that the Stormraven will only be able to shoot half of its weapons at any given target, or five with Power of the Machine Spirit. As well, the diversity of the weapons on offer here is pretty ridiculous; you can potentially combine a heavy bolter with a multi-melta, each of which obviously has very distinct preferred targets. The Stormraven offers a brilliant solution to this with the godly Power of the Machine Spirit special rule, allowing it to shoot a weapon at full Ballistic Skill even if it is stunned or shaken, and even shoot one weapon at a different target to all the other guns. This allows you to field a Stormraven with an assault cannon, hurricane bolters and a multi melta and use Power of the Machine Spirit to fire the multi-melta at tanks and other fliers while the other guns suppress any infantry or monsters they can find.
How to Equip Them - Stormravens can be accurately described in their suffix, 'gunship'; they are literally bristling with guns, with it able to carry up to eight unique weapons at any given time. The question is, which ones do you need? Stormravens aren't cheap, though their firepower is far superior to that of any Land Raider variant in the codex, particularly as a flyer can shoot four weapons in each phase. This would usually lend itself well to a more generalist approach, but it might not necessarily be the most optimal way to equip them. The most "balanced" load-out is the hurricane bolter sponsons, the assault cannon and the typhoon missile launcher; this provides a lot of anti-infantry firepower, some nasty Strength 6 Rending shots, and high Strength missiles with the option for small blasts. Each weapon can target an enemy flyer or flying monstrous creature without restriction, and it generally isn't a bad way to equip a Stormraven. The problem lies in the cost; such a variant would cost over a quarter of a thousand points before any other upgrades are taken! For a flying gunship that also doubles as a transport, I generally recommend keeping it as cheap as you can simply because even as arguably the most durable flyer in any regular codex, any decent amount of Skyfire can still ruin its' day. Besides, if you want it mostly for its transport capabilities, you can likely afford to cheap out on the guns if the unit(s) you drop are even halfway decent.
The cheapest use of a Stormraven, aside from being a transport, is to have it hunt opposing flyers and heavy tanks. Switch the heavy bolters for the multi-melta, and take the lascannon over the assault cannon. Few things will stand up to that kind of anti-tank shooting, especially with the Stormraven able to shoot a few Stormstrike Missiles at the same target and the incredible mobility of a flyer. The plasma cannons, even with twin-linking, are still one of my least preferred choices simply because one small blast template often isn't enough to deal with well spaced out units; however, it has some great uses against Terminator heavy army lists. Failing that, the assault cannon is a decent option if you don't want to specialize your Stormraven for taking on any particular kind of unit. The multi-meltas are good, but only if you really want to take out tanks and other flyers first and foremost; otherwise, I would actually recommend paying for the typhoons. A pair of small blasts is strictly better for hunting all the light infantry holding objectives nowadays, and two Strength 8 shots at longer ranges provide a stronger answer to flying monstrous creatures than a multi melta.
Generally speaking, I don't put Hurricane Bolters on my Stormravens because they are the most expensive upgrade and, unless you kept the assault cannon and heavy bolter (the latter of which I always recommend swapping out) at least one will always be shooting at whatever your other guns will want to shoot at. On such an expensive vehicle, it isn't wise to waste any of its firepower like that, so unless you really want a "dakka" Stormraven, I would leave them at home. As to the other upgrades, Searchlights are one of those "if I have a point left" kind of upgrades, especially as a Stormraven is a unit that must always start in reserves. Extra Armour is so darn useful for a flyer, especially with how cheap it is here, that if you can afford it I would always take it. Being restricted to 18" of movement and an inability to turn is murder against horde armies! Locator Beacons are there for one purpose, remembering that a Stormraven is no guarantee to arrive before other reserves; to assist any units that make a Skies of Fury drop out of it so that they do not scatter. This is perfect for Devastator Centurions in particular that will want to get just within range for their grav cannons to take effect and not be too vulnerable to counter charges.
Where to Put Them - When Stormravens arrive from reserve, you are generally best suited staying at your minimum effective range - whether it be 24" or more. A Stormraven is incredibly tough, particularly as far as flyers go, but it certainly isn't infallible and thus you should be wary of sending it into range of units containing Coteaz, or short range anti-tank weapons with twin-linking. This does depend on the load-out though; if there is a juicy target, such as another flyer, a Land Raider or other valuable armoured target, getting in range immediately with a multi-melta is wise. After all, Power of the Machine Spirit freely allows the Stormraven to use the multi-melta against one target and its other guns to target enemy infantry or even another vehicle. Having rear AV12 also makes the Stormraven immune to snap-firing small arms fire, unlike units such as Heldrakes, and thus you can afford to be a bit more lenient with its' positioning. If you are transporting a unit and don't intend to use Skies of Fury, try not too get too close as an opponent capable of destroying the Stormraven probably will sink their shots into it. Transporting units in flyers is very risky, even when it is a Stormraven doing the 'lifting', so living with potentially not launching an assault out of it immediately is well worth not losing them to automatic Strength 10 AP2 hits.
Best Uses - The Stormraven is best used as a lightly upgraded gunship specializing in taking down other flyers and vehicles with ease using weapons such as multi-meltas and lascannons. In this role, it is cheap and should reliably destroy other fliers - barring perhaps Heldrakes - in one shooting phase, while it is also a massive threat to ground vehicles ranging from Rhinos to Land Raiders. It is an indiscriminate hunter that is incredibly durable and mobile, with the only downsides being that it must start in reserve and it can be quite vulnerable to opposing anti-flier weapons. From there, it can be used to transport a valuable or dangerous close-ranged unit, though I generally recommend against it if you are playing competitively simply as almost every high tier army can deal with a Stormraven in a turn or two. Where this changes is through the use of the Skies of Fury special rule, allowing you to drop a unit out of the Stormraven before Interceptor or Skyfire weaponry even has a chance to fire at the flyer. While this does have some risks, they are generally far fewer than actually keeping the unit in the Stormraven would have, especially as a 36" move gives you a pretty gigantic range of places to drop. When you use its transport capabilities in conjunction with monster short-ranged units such as Centurion Devastators armed with grav cannons, and pair that up with its strong firepower, the Stormraven is a very valuable addition to a Space Marine army list as it can fulfill two roles for the price of one slot.
Chapter Tactics - Stormravens are, typically, incredibly difficult to destroy for many army lists, which suits Iron Hands perfectly. However, as an assault transport that is actually a viable - if not exactly my preferred option - contender to a Land Raider Crusader or Redeemer, using it in conjunction with dedicated assault units that find most value from White Scars and Black Templars is ideal. A Stormraven fits into any army list as a generalist flying fire-base, but it works better for mobile lists that are likely to be pressuring the enemy from the get-go, leaving the Stormraven to hopefully face less early Interceptor or Skyfire shots.
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.
"We follow in the footsteps of Guilliman.
As it is written in the Codex, so shall it be."
- Marneus Calgar of the Ultramarines