13 Dec 2013

Tactica Space Marines - Heavy Support Part One

Hey there everyone, my name is Learn2Eel and today I want to talk about the toys everyone wants, the Space Marine Heavy Support units! Space Marines have an unparalleled selection of diverse units in the Heavy Support slot, giving them far more options in the simple game of shooting than any other codex out there. I hope you enjoy this article!

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 first article in a series of four concerning Heavy Support choices.

Devastator Squad

Overview - Devastators bring dedicated heavy firepower to an army based mostly upon utilitarian choices with mostly mixed weapon options. Whereas Tacticals will always have mostly bolters with a few specialist guns, Devastators can bring the pain with up to four heavy weapons. This is their defining trait, as well as their synergy with Imperial Fist and Ultramarines Chapter Tactics, that separates them from being Tacticals in the Heavy Support slot. With the option for lascannons, missile launchers, plasma cannons and more, Devastators can give your army list strong shooting to counter any high value threat you need taken care of. Want to blast Terminators apart? Plasma cannons are your answer. Want to annihilate tanks from across the board? Lascannons want a word. Want to dice up some Termagants? Heavy Bolters and Missile Launchers say "season's greetings!" and all that implies. While Predators and Centurion Devastators encroach on the little guys in this role, regular Devastators are still all stars that have a few unique advantages over those other units. They are the cheapest source of heavy anti-tank firepower at long ranges on an infantry model in the codex, while they can receive absolutely irrational benefits from Imperial Fist Chapter Tactics due to Tank Hunters' crazy application with lascannons. This truly is what defines Devastators, and sets them apart from 'bolter brothers'. Aside from this, Devastators have all that you would expect from a typical Space Marine; a minimum squad size of five and a maximum of ten, frag and krak grenades to make Genestealers envious, bolters - or heavy weapons - and bolt pistols, that awesome stat line of fours, as well as power armour to boot. Space Marines are cheaper than ever, even if their power armour is no longer as valuable as it used to be what with Heldrakes and other cheap sources of cover-ignoring AP3 shooting cropping up almost everywhere. Still, unlike Tacticals, Devastators enjoy the advantage of being able to stay out of the thick of objective clashes and merely shoot down their targets from up to 48" away. There is always room in an army list for a unit of Devastators.

How to Equip Them - I'll set this straight; unless you take three to four heavy weapons in the unit, there is very little point in taking Devastators. Why? Because Devastators without heavy weapons are effectively Tactical Marines that aren't scoring and take up a precious Heavy Support slot, home to some of the best units in the codex. Take heavy weapons! I've found with the drastically changed points costs for the heavy weapons, lascannons tend to be the best choice for Devastators for providing the codex with solid and reliable long range anti-tank and monster hunting firepower. This gels incredibly well with the Imperial Fist tactics, leading to the most cost effective anti-tank unit in the codex. Conversely, heavy bolter units are effectively stepping on the toes of Thunderfire Cannons and even the standard Troops choices; Devastators can bring what much of the codex can't, and that is massed vehicular-destroying weapons from ranges greater than 24". However, they are certainly decent if, again, you use them as Imperial Fists for re-rolls to hit of a one combined with re-rolling failed armour penetration rolls.

Missile Launchers have the distinction of being 'versatile', but I've found that they don't compare favourably at all to lascannons. This is because the missile launcher pays for two firing modes; the small blast is mediocre at best and easily countered through the 2" unit coherency rules, allowing at best two or three hits, and; the single shot, especially at AP3, just doesn't damage to vehicles or penetrate them regularly enough. This isn't to say it is a bad weapon, just that the price of 'versatility' is efficiency. The flakk missile upgrades are over-costed and generally not worthwhile, but when given Tank Hunters from Imperial Fists and allowing the Sergeant to man a Quad Gun, it actually leads to a more than decent anti-air unit that should destroy even a Stormraven in one volley.

Multi-meltas don't really favour Devastators that well, and the reason for that is the 24" range. Devastators want to be out of small arms fire range, where basic Troops such as Fire Warriors and Tactical Marines can shoot at and pick off a few members at a time. This reduces their firepower very quickly, and even then, you almost never want Devastators within 'melta' range of a vehicle as that usually means they are going to be in the viable assault range of other units, or that vehicles' cargo. You may as well just take missile launchers instead of multi meltas at that point as doubling the range will lead to less frustration during deployment and trying to survive enemy shooting. The one exception to the rule with multi-meltas could be Ultramarines with the one turn of Relentless it provides, but the silly part is that this doesn't work when the Devastators jump out of a transport. Plasma Cannons suffer from the same issue as missile launchers in that small blast templates generally don't hit too much to really be worthwhile, and the plasma cannons even come with the added issue of Gets Hot. However, Strength 7 and AP2 means that they are an ok, if very mediocre, light vehicle hunter, while providing a more than decent threat to heavy infantry and monstrous creatures. Ultimately, the choice of weapon usually boils down to whether or not you are running Imperial Fists. Lascannons are easily the best weapon choice for them, and probably my pick for other Chapter Tactics as well. However, the other weapon options should prove useful provided you don't forget what they should be targeting; keep the missile launchers shooting at Crisis Teams and Tervigons, while the heavy bolters should be gunning for Fire Warriors and Eldar Aspect Warriors with a 4+ armour save. Other wargear on Devastators is almost completely unnecessary, as the Sergeant can't really take any ranged weapons that gel with the long range firepower on offer here.

Where to Put Them - Devastators might be Space Marines, but as 6th Edition continues to prove, there are more and easier methods to kill those Toughness 4, power armoured bodies than ever. Massed small arms fire is enough to kill a few very valuable Devastators in each shooting phase, while cover-ignoring template and blast weapons will be a massive threat to them at nearly any range. Still, battle cannons and many other AP3 or AP2 weapons usually don't ignore cover, so the ideal place to deploy Devastators is as far away from the enemy as possible while staying in range with your guns, and keeping to cover. You need to take any defence you can; 30" is generally the cap of guns carried by basic troopers, while cover saves - particularly 4+ ones provided by defence lines and ruins - will save more models than you could count with so much low AP shooting in the game. You will want to deploy Devastators close to the back of your deployment zone - though certain deployment types, such as the diagonal or small table edge one, can allow you to deploy forward in cover as well - and in the best piece of cover available. Spread them out to reduce their vulnerability to large blasts and templates, and make sure to put your 'ablative wound' Devastators up the front to protect the heavy weapons.

Because Devastators are not Relentless, I almost never recommend putting them in a Drop Pod or transport. However, using the Ultramarines Chapter Tactics in a Drop Pod list actually favours Devastators quite well. The key there is to purchase Drop Pods as necessary for the Devastators to get the 'odd number' going, but drop them empty. Start the Devastators in reserve if possible - just be aware that only one unit of Devastators can do so if the rest of your army is in Drop Pods - and use the Devastator Doctrine to give them Relentless on the turn they arrive. It isn't the best tactic all the time, but it is certainly a handy option to have if your opponent has the first turn and you have mostly reserves or otherwise believe the Devastators are vulnerable. Additionally, purchasing Razorbacks for Devastators is hardly a bad idea; you can split the squad up using Combat Squads, of course, and put ablative bodies into Razorbacks to contribute to a mechanized target saturation list filled with Rhinos and Razorbacks. Otherwise, you could just leave the Razorbacks empty and keep the 'ablative wound' models in the squad, and use the tank as extra fire support. One thing to note is that positioning against reserve-heavy lists, such as Drop Pod Assaults, where your Devastators are obvious and logical targets isn't that difficult provided you purchased extra bodies to protect the heavy weapons. Centre the heavy weapons, have the other models form a 'ring' around them, and use line of sight blocking terrain to further condense the amount of bodies blocking certain angles.

Best Uses - Devastators should really be used as your primary sources of long ranged anti-tank if your army list does not feature Predator Annihilator variants (or the autocannon/lascannons variant), simply because Bikes, Tacticals, Thunderfires and Whirlwinds are generally far superior or cheaper for taking on infantry. As such, lascannons are my favourite weapon choice for them, not just because of how cost effective they are - particularly with Imperial Fists Chapter Tactics - but because they are the best at performing the role Devastators are best suited to fill in a typical Space Marine army list. I prefer to use two units equipped the same with at least three extra Marines on opposite ends of my deployment zone either in ruins or 'safe' (i.e. not random) area terrain. This allows me to cover pretty much the entirety of a typical 6x4 board with strong lascannon fire, devastating most vehicles and using both redundancy and cost to my advantage. Their best targets are vehicles in the AV13 and lower range, simply because plasma guns and your other heavy or special weapons should deal well enough with AV12 and lower vehicles. Lascannons aren't terrible against AV14, and might even be your only way to deal with such vehicles, but just remember that only one out of nine lascannon shots will penetrate an AV14 vehicle, though of course glancing such a vehicle is often enough as well. Adding Tank Hunters to the mix from Imperial Fists gives Devastators such an irrational boost against all vehicles that it is simply too good not to take for them if you can manage it, especially for dealing with Land Raiders, Leman Russes and the like.

Chapter Tactics - Devastators get the most benefits from Imperial Fists, as Tank Hunters makes them an incredible anti-tank unit with lascannons or missile launchers, even so far as making flakk missiles somewhat viable for anti-air duties! They also get the very nifty usage of the Devastator and Tactical Doctrines from the Ultramarines, giving them Relentless and re-rolls of a one to hit in shooting, respectively. If they get tied up in combat, the White Scars' Hit and Run can be a big help, while Feel No Pain (6+) is always a nifty boost from Iron Hands.

Centurion Devastator Squad

Overview - Centurions have proved one of the most controversial additions to any 6th Edition codex so far for numerous reasons, not least of which are their background implications and the hotly contested quality of their models. Now, while Centurion Assault Squads really aren't that viable of a unit overall, Centurion Devastators seem to continue the trend of a ranged unit being 'superior' than its assault-oriented equivalent. Though they aren't really effective sources of bolter fire, they do match up surprisingly well to Devastators when armed with lascannons and optional missile launchers for sniping tanks and monsters from afar. While I still prefer regular Devastators and, by extension, Predators in this role, Centurion Devastators at least have a role that they can fulfill and do so quite well, albeit with the stipulation that the enemy doesn't have an abundance of Strength 7 AP2 shooting that the other units fear far less. However, the new grav cannons that can only be taken by Centurion Devastators - a clever choice indeed - have drawn understandable attention from all circles with their horrendous damage output against all but the 'weakest' of enemies, ironically. They obliterate Wraithknights, Wave Serpents, Riptides, Hammerheads, Bloodthirsters, Daemon Princes with armour saves, Land Raiders, Monoliths and all other manner of high value targets in but a single volley from three models, statistically. This insane damage output does come with costs, notably that they lack the range to engage such units from a safe distance.

To be fair to Centurions though, they certainly are quite tough. Each Centurion has two wounds at Toughness 5 with a 2+ armour save, making them even tougher than a pair of Terminators. However, where they are lacking is that they have no invulnerable save and no easily accessed special rule or psychic power to provide them, making them incredibly vulnerable to the wealth of AP2 shooting out there from Eldar shuriken weapons to plasma weapons. This is a unit that, ironically, would have probably been better suited to 5th Edition where there was more Strength 8 AP3 shooting instead, and where the basic Troops of a faction couldn't 'rend'. Paired up with this is the lack of any kind of close combat weapons; as much as the models may indicate otherwise, Centurion Devastators do not have power fists and, with only one attack each in combat, are hilariously vulnerable to an unfavourable assault result against even basic melee units. Granted, And They Shall Know No Fear saves them from ever being swept, but the simple fact remains that any ten-strong Termagant unit with a nearby Tervigon can tie up a Centurion Devastator unit consisting of three models for at least four player turns. That is just ridiculous and, alongside their inability to Overwatch, makes Centurion Devastators a very risky unit to employ.

Indeed, Centurions also have the Slow and Purposeful special rule, meaning they cannot Run, they can't sweep enemies and, again, they can't use Overwatch to defend themselves from those basic melee or ranged units that can tie them up for half of the game. This is where transports become almost mandatory for Centurion Devastators, but as they only have access - and can fit in - Land Raider variants or Stormravens, it makes taking any kind of Centurion unit with grav cannons a huge investment if you want them to survive to shoot each game. While it is less important against some enemies, such as Tyranids (this was written before the new codex!), it is necessary if they want to even get close to enemies such as Eldar and Tau with their Wraithknights and Riptides that make natural targets for the Centurions. The Stormraven, from extensive play-testing with Centurions, seems to be the best fit for them due to its generally lower cost compared to Land Raiders, as well as the usually much safer delivery option through Skies of Blood. Despite this and the damage they deal, though, Centurion Devastators are an expensive unit with a slew of weaknesses, particularly to massed AP2 shooting and fast assault units, that they can't simply be thrown into any army list and expected to do a job. You need to build the list around their usage, whether it be a transport paired up to Scouts equipped with locator beacons, or multiple characters to give them the defensive and mobility boosts they sorely need to be a viable 'all-comers' unit. They can be an incredibly strong unit, especially if your opponents lacks AP2 shooting or melee attacks, as well as cheap and fast assault units, but they are expensive enough that you really need to plan for their usage. If you can deliver the amazing grav cannons into range without a hitch, you will have yourself untold destruction.

How to Equip Them - This is easily one of the most interesting topics regarding Centurion Devastators, and one that I feel will continue to be debated for some time. Grav Cannons are easily the most devastating weapon option available to them, making mince meat of nearly anything with a 4+ or better armour save - meaning it is incredibly damaging against all but Chaos Daemons for the most part. The issue here is the medium range of 24" and the attention they generate; any smart opponent will want to annihilate the Centurion Devastators before they can get close and, unfortunately, that isn't too difficult for many competitive armies in 6th Edition. The twin-linked lascannon is certainly a great weapon, and Centurions armed with these compare surprisingly well to regular Devastators with the same kit - provided the Devastators are doing the smart thing and taking extra models for ablative wounds. Missile Launchers are, again, a decent but ultimately ineffective - compared to lascannons - weapon that is a decently costed upgrade for a Centurion Devastator and can be combined with either the twin-linked lascannon or Grav Cannon, though it isn't twin-linked. If you want to keep the Centurions bare, they do come stock with hurricane bolters and twin-linked heavy bolters, the former which can be switched for the missile launcher, and the latter for the lascannon and Grav Cannon.

My personal opinion is that Centurion Devastators are an interesting unit with key differences to regular Devastators, such as dramatically increased durability per model, but they are still somewhat analogous to them in terms of raw firepower and their basic role. What is important to note here is that 2+ and 3+ armour saves have been made naturally less valuable simply because armies such as Tau and Eldar bring insane amounts of armour-ignoring weaponry. While Strength 10 guns still aren't that common, the Wraithknight is a fixture in many competitive Eldar army lists and can reliably kill one or two Centurions a turn at long range. Couple this with the changes to monstrous creatures allowing any of them to get Strength 10 attacks in melee, and Centurions certainly aren't infallible - especially as they lack a self-generated invulnerable save. Losing such high value models so easily - only three plasma gun shots are needed to kill a single Centurion without cover - is a by-product of 6th Editions' heavy focus on massed low AP shooting. So how does this relate to their weapon options? It is quite simple; like anything else in the game, try to keep them as cheap as possible. Space Marines are amazingly valuable, but still die just as easily to a Heldrake as Cultists, losing more points per 'shot'. This isn't to say I think you should keep the stock equipment on Centurions though; if you want to spend that many points for taking on infantry almost exclusively, just run two Thunderfire Cannons and enjoy far, far better results. If you want them to sit at a range where even a Wraithknight will have to take a turn or two to be able to shoot them, and keep them away from pesky plasma weapons, you can opt either for just lascannons, or both lascannons and missile launchers. The latter is 'devastating', but brings the cost of each model up to just shy of the century mark.

Where I think the real value for Centurion Devastators comes from is in the Grav Cannons that only they can take in the entire codex. Make no mistake; despite the medium or short range, depending on what army you play, three Grav Cannons will statistically kill a Wraithknight without cover or invulnerable saves in a single round. Yep, those three 'mini-Dreadnoughts' can slaughter arguably the toughest monstrous creature in the game in one volley, and with only one weapon upgrade. How many singular units of that points bracket can claim to do the same outside of using instant death weaponry? Very few, if any. That is before even mentioning how ridiculous they are against any unit you can find that doesn't have a 5+ or worse armour save when you give them Tank Hunters, Ignores Cover and re-rolls to hit from a friendly Tau Commander. The biggest problem with the Grav Cannons is not how valuable they are, but their range; Centurions can only be housed in expensive transports to get them close, and even then, there is no guarantee that they will be dropped off or unloaded (from an explosion) near a viable target. Mind you, even three Grav Cannons can slaughter almost an entire Tactical Squad on average, but Centurion Devastators are best used against the 'big' targets the rest of your army doesn't handle so well; units such as Riptides and Wave Serpents. This is where my favourite deployment option for the unit comes in; the Stormraven. This is because the Skies of Fury special rule allows the unit to drop out when the Stormraven arrives from reserves during the movement phase, with the risk of a mishap. However, locator beacons from Scouts, Scout Bikers and Drop Pods making a Drop Pod Assault on the first turn can remedy this issue. Regardless, it allows you to drop the Centurions near the enemy and get the first strike going, unless they have Interceptor weapons. But then, even the nastiest Interceptor weapons you could find won't make too much of a dent in the unit. Such a unit doesn't require the missile launchers and thus should just keep the hurricane bolters.

Where to Put Them - This is a question based solely on load-out more than anything else for Centurion Devastators. If you equip them either for defensive anti-infantry firepower by leaving them stock, they can pretty comfortably advance beside or behind your transports to provide a slow but hardy fire-base against light units. For long range anti-tank purposes with twin-linked lascannons and missile launchers - though the latter isn't necessary - you don't need to worry too much about how far forward you deploy them simply because they are crazily durable against small arms fire. The most important part here is the cover save to make up for their lack of an invulnerable save; they are, after all, a natural fire magnet for plasma weaponry. However, you do need to keep very aware of fast assault units such as Flesh Hounds and Screamers that can shred Centurions with ease and even potentially assault them on the first game turn. The inability to fire Overwatch requires the use of friendly counter-assault units such as Assault Marines and Vanguard Veterans, as even if you are confident in their shooting, they can't really deal with those cheap and quick Termagant broods spawned by Tervigons for example. Like Devastators, Centurions really want 4+ or better cover saves if possible rather than the standard 5+, simply because they will be the focus of more AP2 shooting than almost any other unit in your army.

Where the deployment really starts to spice up for Centurion Devastators is when you arm them with grav cannons. The other squad types really don't need an expensive transport, but the short range and devastating firepower on offer from the grav cannons really requires such a unit to ferry the Centurions. They are incredibly deadly and your opponent will doubtless know it well, leaving the Centurions as a giant, slow fire magnet. This wouldn't be such an issue if it weren't for the fact that Centurions are Slow and Purposeful, meaning they can't Run and gain a few extra important inches each turn, or even Overwatch to save themselves from fast assault units that they can't really deal with. A tip here is to avoid Daemon assault units such as Flesh Hounds at all costs that simply laugh at your grav cannons; you really need other units supporting the Centurions to deal with them, or to be able to avoid them through the use of a transport. Now, as to the transport itself, you have two - technically four - options; Land Raiders and Stormravens. Land Raiders are relatively safe and rather simple in application; pick a direction and valuable enemy unit. Move forward. Job done!

The issue is their cost, and the fact that a standard Land Raider can only fit three Centurions in a unit, while a Crusader can barely fit five. This creates an obvious issue though; an expensive transport that is still quite vulnerable depending on the opponent (Hammerhead and Riptide-heavy Tau, Wraithknight-heavy Eldar, Imperial Guard, Imperial Fists, etc) paired up with an expensive unit that is hardly guaranteed to do the job. This is where the generally risky transport option, the Stormraven, comes into play. It is a durable flyer, for sure, but the key here is that despite all the Skyfire and Interceptor weapons going around, the Skies of Fury rule on the Stormraven allows the Centurions to 'deep strike' out of the Stormraven on the turn it arrives anywhere along a potential 36" move. This is done before Interceptor weaponry is fired, and as most Interceptor weaponry is better geared to taking on a Stormraven than 2+ armoured Centurions, it is very much to your advantage. It is much more of a guarantee of the Centurions getting in range without taking any fire, and it even forces an opponent with Interceptor weapons to choose between a nasty Stormraven or the destructive Centurion Devastators. Combine this with the generally significantly lower cost of a Stormraven compared to a Land Raider, and the Stormraven is very much my preferred transport option for grav cannon-armed Centurions.

Best Uses - Centurion Devastators are surprisingly (or not) analogous to regular Devastators despite their significantly higher cost per model, as when armed with both missile launchers and twin-linked lascannons they do put out more 'cost effective' firepower than similarly-costed Devastator units. The issue here is that you can take two units of seven Devastators with four lascannons each for not too much more than three such Centurion Devastators, while providing more defence against Strength 7 and higher AP2 weapons, as well as many more wounds to spread around before losing shots. I've found that I prefer regular Devastators for these reasons, though I must say it wouldn't be nearly as much of an issue if it weren't for Devastators getting more buffs from Chapter Tactics. This includes the Devastator doctrine for Ultramarines, and even Hit and Run to get out of a combat where they don't get wiped out to shoot again. Additionally, the ability to Overwatch is a big advantage, not to mention that having two units of Devastators at a similar points level to one unit of Centurions makes them less vulnerable to being tied up in combat. 'Bolter' Centurions really aren't worth it next to Bike Squads, especially as the latter unit can take three models for roughly the same price as a single Centurion and are far more mobile.

I've found the best use of Centurion Devastators ties in with my personal favourite load-out, grav cannons and hurricane bolters - missile launchers are, again, unnecessary points to spend on them. When you use them as a 'death star' with Tigurius, an attached Tau Commander and/or other characters, you need to be aware that such a unit is incredibly expensive, ridiculously vulnerable and weak in combat, and probably doesn't have similar returns to the equivalent points in Riptides, Broadsides and other highly valuable ranged units. I prefer to use Centurions in Stormravens to deep strike them out during the movement phase while keeping them mostly safe, and proceed to nuke a unit such as a Land Raider, Wraithknight, Riptide, Bloodthirster, and so on. This leads to your opponent focusing undue attention either on them or the Stormraven, and most lists generally can't deal with both fully in the same turn. Keep the squad sizes for Centurion Devastators at three unless you are confident in a 'death star' build, as three grav cannons are easily enough to annihilate any unit you point them at.

Chapter Tactics - Much like their smaller counter-parts, Centurion Devastators get the biggest buffs when taking Imperial Fist Chapter Tactics; any of their guns, save the hurricane bolters, benefit tremendously from this upgrade. Few of the other Chapter Tactics give them any real boosts due to certain restrictions and rules - such as Slow and Purposeful - they share, but giving a Toughness 5, Wound 2, 2+ armoured guy Feel No Pain, even if it is only a 6+, is pretty darn valuable.

Thunderfire Cannon

Overview - A piece of Artillery manned by a Techmarine gunner, a Thunderfire Cannon is a nasty and crazily cheap source of long range infantry punishment that also provides a few extra support abilities. The gun itself has three firing modes, helped by a decent Ballistic Skill 4 for accuracy, though this isn't always necessary as each firing mode uses the 'Barrage' special rule and thus can be fired without need of line of sight. What is also important to note is that each fires four small blasts that, using the multiple barrage rules, can either be laughably inaccurate or hit far more models than one would otherwise expect with the 2" unit coherency rules. The first is Strength 6 and AP5 that, with the Barrage rules, is the best for 'sniping' out characters, as well as hitting 'hidden' vehicles and units sitting behind, but not in, cover - Dark Eldar often use such tactics with their Venoms and Raiders when deploying second. The second is Strength 5 and AP6, but with the added bonus of Ignores Cover; this is hilariously strong against units such as Plaguebearers, Nurglings, Pathfinders, 6+ armoured Orks, Tyranid hordes and Dark Eldar infantry. The third and final ammo type is Strength 4 with no AP and is thus the least likely to actually put wounds on units or situationally damage vehicles. However, it also has the Tremor special rule that slows down enemy units and forces vehicles to take dangerous terrain tests; it is more of an annoyance for enemies to slow assault units and objective-grabbers down, or force your opponent to risk immobilizing their transports or, better yet, scare them into leaving those vehicles immobile! While the firepower isn't 'outstanding' by any means, it nonetheless puts so many wounds on all kinds of infantry and makes the Thunderfire Cannon a true 'toolbox' unit, able to handle all kinds of scoring units effectively.

Where the Thunderfire starts to distinguish itself further from a Whirlwind is that the Techmarine himself still provides those nifty unique bonuses such as Bolster Defences, giving you a good defensive boost just for including an already invaluable artillery piece. This is handy not only for a Thunderfire Cannon itself, but for nearly any other unit that would benefit from such cover saves; vehicles obscuring themselves from view, Devastators, home-sitting Tacticals, and so on. As well, a Thunderfire Cannon, as Artillery, is Toughness 7 with two wounds and a 2+ armour save courtesy of the Techmarine. This makes it quite durable, though the lack of extra crewmen means you need to be very wary of exposing it to return fire. It also is handy in the sense that the Techmarine can choose not to fire the cannon, and instead try to repair a vehicle if, for example, there are no viable targets on the battlefield - this is usually the case if each unit is an AV12 or higher transport. The Techmarine also still keeps his servo arm that, while only having one attack, is still handy just for defending himself if need be. The Thunderfire Cannon is just such a versatile little unit that is small and easy to hide, especially now that it fires Barrage shots, and is great for sniping out characters, harassing light vehicles, slowing enemy formations down or just dicing up light infantry. It is an incredibly valuable unit and one of the top choices in a very crowded slot, as even with all the bolters carried by your Troops, the option for sniping out characters and taking out hidden enemies is more than worth it.

Where to Put Them - As Artillery that don't belong in combat, want to minimize shooting to them as much as possible with only two Toughness 7 wounds - even despite a 2+ armour save - and armed with a gun that has a 60" range, Thunderfires can and should be in terrain near the back or middle of your deployment zone. There's simply no reason to give your opponent the range to shoot at or potentially assault them, so you may as well limit it as much as possible and make the most of that crazy 60" range. Unlike Devastators or Centurion Devastators, you don't really require a ruin for the Thunderfire Cannon. This is because the Techmarine manning the Thunderfire Cannon gives you a single Bolster Defences, allowing you to boost a forest, crater or other piece of area terrain to a 4+ instead of a 5+ cover save. As well, you could even place the Thunderfire in the same ruin as another unit and give all of them an awesome 3+ cover save, or even have the Thunderfire elsewhere; they aren't as reliant on high cover saves as the usually higher cost Devastator units. Still, that doesn't mean you should be careless with them; they aren't that hard to kill, and though they are cheap for what they do, they are still costly enough that you should protect them as best you can. Remember that their small footprint should allow them to easily share a bit of terrain with other units. Of course, this assumes you want to make use of the Techmarine's Ballistic Skill; remember always that as a Barrage weapon, the Thunderfire Cannon can be easily hidden and used to drop high rate-of-fire blasts on the enemy.

Best Uses - Thunderfire Cannons have one purpose; slaughtering light to medium infantry and just being an incredible nuisance to all but heavy vehicles and tough monsters. Though they can't target the bottom levels of ruins and buildings - despite one of their firing modes using subterranean shells - they are still excellent value suppression specialists, firing four small blasts with varying profiles. Unlike missile launchers, firing four small blasts with a higher Strength and similar AP, not to mention the multiple barrage rules, the fact that they are of the barrage type for allocating wounds, one of the firing modes having Ignores Cover for dealing with Nurgle Daemons, and a movement-crippling ammunition type give the Thunderfire far better value despite the small blasts. They are punishing against masses of infantry and tightly knit formations of light vehicles and infantry, such as Fire Warrior fire-bases, 'hidden' Raiders and Venoms, Guardsmen blobs, and hordes of either Orks or Tyranids.

Barrage allows them to target those 'hidden' scoring units and light skimmers, the latter of which are mostly used by Dark Eldar. The Strength 6 blasts are the most effective against most targets, particularly light vehicles, but just remember that they aren't actually designed with such units in mind; regardless of the ammunition type, you really want to be going for infantry. The Ignores Cover blasts make a mockery of Plaguebearers, Hormagaunts and other 6+ armoured infantry units or those that lack armour altogether - such as Daemonic infantry. The 'tremor' shells are a bit more situational, simply because the assault units you see in competitive armies either ignore difficult terrain - Beasts, Jetbikes, Jump units, etc - or they are in a transport anyway. However, forcing vehicles to take dangerous terrain tests can also be handy, though I see the main use of this to try and slow down heavy units that would otherwise ignore the wounds caused by Thunderfire Cannons, such as scoring Terminators having to make a last ditch move into cover to grab an objective.

Chapter Tactics - Thunderfires don't get any really obvious benefits from the Chapter Tactics, unfortunately, though that isn't really an issue as the Thunderfires perform spectacularly regardless.

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.

"The roar of engines, the recoil of cannons. That is where the true joy of battle lies."
- Antaro Chronus of the Ultramarines 


  1. As ever a very good article - one minor quibble and I could be wrong as I don't have the codex next to me, but I don't think you can take empty drop pods.

    1. Thanks for the feedback!

      Like any other Dedicated Transport, a Drop Pod can only be purchased for a unit that is eligible to take one. However, like all other transports, there is nothing forcing you to deploy that unit inside the transport, allowing you to deep strike the Drop Pod empty!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Having just scoured CSM it would appear you're 100% correct Mr White. No idea where I got that idea from. Thunderfire Cannons with Drop Pods are now going to be a staple part of Crimson Fists :)

    4. Good stuff! Empty Drop Pods are, to some, the best kind of Drop Pods :)

    5. Also, keep calm and Vote for Pedro!