27 Feb 2014

Tactica Tyranids - Raveners and the Red Terror

Hey guys, my name is Learn2Eel, and today I'm going to be bringing you another article in the Tyranid Tactica series! Raveners are snake-like predators that are created with ambush and disruption in mind, a role that doesn't really translate well to the table top. They are capable of Deep Striking as well as having innately high mobility, but their actual abilities are otherwise suited for a straight combat unit, one that isn't as effective as one would want. I hope you enjoy this article!



Much like Shrikes are compared against Warriors, so too do Raveners find themselves competing with Shrikes. Unlike the former comparison though, the latter has proper justification as both units fulfill rather similar roles and even occupy the same slot. While Shrikes are more the generalist unit, Raveners are often built for such a purpose and gain superior standard combat prowess and special rules in exchange for ranged weapons and Synapse. Before I touch on that more, though, I want to discuss what makes Raveners tick. First up, the profile. Strength and Toughness 4 with three wounds a model makes them unsurprisingly analogous to Warriors, especially once one compares the visual style of each model, though Raveners have a 5+ armour save more in keeping with Shrikes than Warriors. I've already covered the relative survivability of a Shrike and as Raveners share the same exact defensive stats, I won't bother repeating myself to that extent. I will say however that Raveners are not only afraid of missile launchers and Ion Accelerators, like Warriors, but also cannot take that much punishment from small arms fire when out of cover, like Shrikes, forcing them to stick to terrain at all times. But where Shrikes can get hurt by dangerous terrain tests, Raveners suffer no such penalties as they are Beasts instead of Jump Infantry. But what traits does a Beast have to differ from Jump Infantry? Well, Beasts always have Fleet instead of having to halve their movement to get the same effect for charging, while they even have Move Through Cover despite never being slowed by terrain. This is for Deep Striking Raveners specifically who can pop up in terrain, benefit from a near necessary cover save and not have to take Dangerous Terrain tests. Essentially, Beasts have a lot of advantages over Jump Infantry while sharing the same 12" move.

From here, Raveners continue the similarities to Shrikes with an identical Weapon Skill 5 and Ballistic Skill 3 making them good melee fighters and mediocre shooters. Each model has three attacks on their profile plus two combat weapons that can be combined with a gun - unlike Shrikes who can have one gun and one combat arm or two combat arms - giving them four attacks each, for five per model on the charge. With a higher Initiative 5 than the Shrikes' Initiative 4, this actually serves to make Raveners a better close combat unit for the most part unless a player over-spends on upgrades for the Shrikes. They can mash through most units that aren't dedicated melee units, monstrous creatures or vehicles, and they also pull off assaults much quicker. Shrikes need to purchase Adrenal Glands to be as quick as Raveners for movement and charging, an upgrade that isn't exactly cheap. Raveners can be given guns for small or large points costs, but they are generally very weak shooters with their damage output remaining inferior per model to the rough equivalent points cost in Tactical Marines. Where Raveners really start to diverge from Shrikes is that they are Leadership 6 units that suffer from Instinctive Behaviour. Now, this wouldn't be too much of an issue if it was Hunt or even Lurk, but Raveners suffer from the Feed behaviour. The reason I say I prefer Hunt and Lurk is because the worst results of those two are pretty easily mitigated. Hunt has them getting Pinned, essentially, which means all you have to do is move a Synapse creature within range of them and they get back up immediately and can move as normal. Lurk has them Falling Back, but as they Fall Back to their own table edge, this means they would thus be retreating to your midfield or backfield Synapse units anyway. Feed will see them attacking each other immediately before a Synapse unit can be moved to help them, and while the worst you will see is one Ravener dying, that is still an expensive model you need for tanking wounds against shooting flat out dying with no say on your part. Yes, you can move a Synapse unit in range of them to stop the effect like with Hunt, but by then the damage will have already been done.

So overall, Raveners are a bit iffy for their cost. They are fragile, their damage output in melee is great but their shooting capabilities are below par and there is a good chance they won't reach combat in the first place despite being one of the fastest ground units in the game. If it weren't for Ignores Cover becoming so darn prominent in 6th Edition with Tau, Eldar, Space Marines, Daemons - who just charge you instead - with their Skull Cannons, Imperial Guard Artillery and so on, it wouldn't be as much of an issue. But combine all that with an Instinctive Behaviour result that will make the unit completely redundant half the time and you have a unit with diminishing returns the more you take of them. Ultimately though, they aren't a bad unit, just one that is one of many Tyranid glass cannon equivalents. But where the issues arise are when one compares them to Shrikes. Again, I don't really like comparing units, but in this case it is somewhat justified. Raveners can't operate independently for risk of flailing about doing nothing due to Instinctive Behaviour, and Leadership 6 does them no favours. Raveners are a quicker assault unit than Shrikes, but as Shrikes can actually take assault grenades, this advantage is mitigated - particularly the Raveners' Initiative 5.

Raveners can take guns alongside their combat weapons, preserving an extra attack, but Shrikes get those expensive guns (on Raveners) for free, effectively losing a close combat Strength 4 attack but gaining three Strength 4 attacks at 18" with no additional cost. They also get cheap Deathspitters and free Spinefists, making them a superior ranged unit and one that doesn't pay for combat oriented abilities straight up. The thing to remember is that Raveners are the same cost as Shrikes because they have Fleet, because they completely ignore terrain for movement and because they have Initiative 5. As it is, Shrikes don't have these options included in their basic cost and are thus more tailorable as a result. You can build Shrikes for shooting and not feel like you are wasting their abilities, unlike Raveners that lose out on Synapse and Shadow in the Warp just so they have an easier time of making it to combat. Shrikes can perform the same Deep Strike disruption tactics as Raveners, albeit cheaper and better as they don't pay for the same guns Raveners do and have Synapse to boot so they can function independently. In the old codex, this balance was struck by having Shrikes at a slightly higher cost per model than Raveners. Now, at the same cost per model with Shrikes dropping to the Raveners' price, I feel that Raveners have decreased in value by a large degree, especially as Synapse is even more valuable in the 6th Edition codex than it was in the 5th Edition codex. That Shrikes have a lot more options available to them for you to kit them out to your needs is almost the last straw, and brings me close to saying "Shrikes over Raveners". I feel that if Synapse was going to be made more important and Shrikes dropped in points, Raveners really should have as well. I mean, aside from being a faster combat unit that is slightly more effective against certain enemies, what do Raveners really have over Shrikes? What do they have that could possibly replace a 12" moving Synapse generator? This is one of the bigger missteps with this codex and something I hope is addressed in the next iteration. As it is, Raveners are fine as a unit, but the codex seems to want you to avoid them in favour of Shrikes which I feel is a really disappointing outcome.

How to Equip Them

Where Shrikes get the choice of a free Devourer or extra Scything Talon, Raveners begin with the latter but must pay a small price to upgrade to the former. But where Shrikes can only take one or the other, Raveners uniquely get both with their thorax-mounted weaponry in addition to two close combat themed pairs of arms. With innate Deep Strike despite being Beasts and ignoring Dangerous Terrain tests of all kinds due to their unit type conferring Move Through Cover, Raveners make for neat little ranged disruption units while being primarily assault oriented. Unfortunately, Raveners are quite expensive for what they do and compare rather ill favourably to Shrikes, sharing their fragility even against small arms fire but lacking the independent capabilities. In the old codex, Raveners could be used as incredibly fast distraction units to rush enemy Devastator and Pathfinder equivalents due Instinctive Behaviour having no real draw back for them. Now, however, with a 50% chance to stop performing any action whatsoever for a game turn, Raveners cannot afford to be out of Synapse range and thus demand support from Shrikes or Flying Hive Tyrants, the only Synapse creatures that can reliably keep up with them. When one factors all this in, Raveners become a very expensive proposition and one with diminishing returns the more upgrades you slap on them.

I feel the trick to Raveners is to leave the guns at home simply because they add to a units cost very quickly and won't really do much damage anyway - losing an attack also reduces the value of Spinefists from the previous incarnation - while the Raveners really need to be in combat to survive as it is. Toughness 4 and a 5+ armour save won't get them anywhere fast, even with three wounds per model. Just abuse their 12" move and Move Through Cover with Fleet re-rolls to Run and Random Charge Length distances to get into combat as quickly as possible. If you feel a gun is in order though, I do recommend the Spinefist as the twin-linking on a Ballistic Skill 3 unit and AP5 is better than just three straight Strength 4 shots. There's no point to taking a higher Strength gun if it will miss half the time. Where Shrikes can get away with sitting at range, Raveners have to pay to get those useful guns and are less effective a ranged unit because of it. Besides, Raveners are more naturally suited to combat anyway with Initiative 5, five attacks per model on the charge regardless of whether a ranged weapon is taken and innate Fleet. I just feel that the unique traits of Raveners compared to Shrikes naturally favours an assault approach rather than a ranged approach. Unfortunately, with no assault grenades and mostly short-ranged Synapse, pulling off an assault with these guys is incredibly difficult especially once Overwatch is factored in. It leaves them in a tight spot, but ultimately I'm just not a fan of paying those points per model to get 18" Devourers or the 12" Spinefists - the latter may as well just have you charging instead!

Avoid the Deathspitters at all costs, you don't ever want to be paying Terminator prices for Raveners. Besides, if you really want a ranged weapon, the Devourer will do the job just fine for half the points cost. Deathspitters - and Devourers by extension - are there for foot-slogging Raveners, but at that point, why not just keep using your re-rollable Run move? Spinefists with a 12" range are better for Deep Striking purposes as they are cheaper and the shorter range won't make a difference for the most part when arriving from reserves. Rending Claws are a useful upgrade as always, especially as Raveners still get the benefit of an extra attack due to the second set of Scything Talons they always have. Five Rending attacks per model on the charge, six if they succumb to Rage and don't eat each other, is pretty darn nasty after all. I recommend taking more than the one in three for Warriors and Shrikes though as Raveners are probably more likely to be in combat, and as they lack support abilities, you may as well make the most of their attributes.

Where to Put Them

This is a tricky one as there are merits to either Deep Striking or running up the field. Deep Striking of course relies on luck, mandates Spinefists as an upgrade at the very least and always runs the risk of those expensive Ravener models not arriving when you need them to. On the other hand, slogging it up the field will see much more firepower directed at the fragile Raveners, and there is little guarantee of them even getting close enough to an opponent to shoot, let alone charge. I recommend doing it based on how you built your Raveners. Spinefists? Deep Strike them and target smaller, more fragile infantry units and act purely as a cheap distraction. Devourers? You can probably get away with advancing behind or near a fast Synapse node such as a flying Hive Tyrant; use Gargoyles as cover if necessary. If the Raveners are faced with overwhelming firepower, it might be prudent to be more aggressive than usual. The ridiculous speed of Raveners - and assuming there is suitable line of sight blocking terrain - should see turn two or three charges at the absolute latest, with the former being more the norm. If you can manage to hide the Raveners from most firepower while advancing, that is the way to go, even if it means sacrificing a turn in combat. Raveners are pitifully easy to kill for any kind of army list, so don't throw your opponent a bone unnecessarily or you will find yourself in the red early on.

Keep to cover; with Move Through Cover and Fleet, there is literally no reason for Raveners to ever be outside of terrain, especially with that puny 5+ armour save. Even Shrikes who don't ignore Dangerous Terrain should still be in cover, so don't give your opponents' Whirlwind Scorpius free First Blood because those long poppy trees don't seem inviting enough. Raveners can mash most enemy units in combat pretty easily as long as they don't suffer too many casualties from shooting; their high stats and plentiful attacks with potential Rending - if you took the cheap Rending Claws upgrade - allow them to slaughter light to medium infantry pretty capably. Avoid dedicated melee units that will typically pack power weapons or lots of attacks, as either is death to Raveners with their Toughness 4 and 5+ armour save. Always be in Synapse range, usually from Shrikes or a flying Hive Tyrant due to the Raveners' sheer mobility, as you can't afford to risk them standing around eating each other. A deep striking Trygon Prime is also a good option as it should usually pop up near the same units Raveners can bully. The only exception to the "stick to Synapse" rule would be if the Red Terror is leading the unit, in which case its high Leadership 8 does significantly reduce the chances of a failed Instinctive Behaviour test. I would only ever risk this once in a game in that tricky spot when the Raveners are likely to be out of Synapse range on the second or third turn as they prepare a charge in the assault phase, as Leadership 8 is just barely above the average roll on 2D6.

Best Uses

When adding up the low survivability of Raveners and their very impressive combat prowess, I'm led to the conclusion that they should operate in medium sized broods. Ideally, a close combat unit wants to stick in combat for two players turns - including the turn they charged in - with the same unit so that they break free from the enemy in their turn and are free to charge another unit without getting shot at. For Raveners in particular, this is almost a mandatory tactic but one that is surprisingly difficult to pull off. The problem lies in the fact that three-strong Ravener broods - unless they are Deep Striking - will be ousted in one turn against any decent shooting army if they have nowhere to hide, so you really need those extra bodies. However, with each Ravener having five Strength 4 attacks at Weapon Skill 5 on the charge, they are prone to wiping out a large number of units in the first round of combat.

Against a team of 12 Fire Warriors for example, factoring in Overwatch, a brood of six Raveners will be cut down to five - even with no proper shooting accounted for. From there, assuming the Raveners did not charge through or into terrain, they will strike first with a whopping 25 Strength 4 attacks hitting on 3s, wounding on 3s and forcing a 4+ armour save. If we round up each number, that is 9 misses, 5 failed wounds for a total of 11 wounds inflicted, leading to about 6 failed armour saves. The Fire Warriors hit back with 6 attacks, hitting on 5s and wounding on 5s, leading to two hits and maybe one unsaved wound total. Just like that, the Fire Warriors have lost by five or six and, on base Leadership 7, are incredibly likely to run away unless affected by the Stubborn bubble of an Ethereal - which would be counter-intuitive for the Tau player in this situation. Against a ten-strong Space Marine Tactical Squad, a similar result occurs, though we will throw in Rending Claws on each Ravener to make up the sizable points difference between the two test subject squads. We get Overwatch, and that sixth Ravener survives due to Strength 4 and not Strength 5 shooting directed at it. From there, again assuming no terrain in the charge, the Raveners strike first with 30 attacks this time, hitting on 3s and wounding on 4s with 6s leading to Rending wounds. This is about 20 hits, 10 wounds - roughly three of which are Rending - for seven armour saves on a 3+. That should be about two failed, for five dead Tactical Marines. The other five strike back with five attacks - assuming no Veteran Sergeant - for three hits, one or two wounds for a dead Ravener. Bam, the Tacticals lose by 4 or 3, reducing them to Leadership 4 or 5 respectively. Another combat where the Space Marines are likely to flee, but unlike the Fire Warriors which the Raveners could at least wipe out through Sweeping Advance, the Tacticals with And They Shall Know No Fear will automatically regroup and proceed to blast the Raveners to bits even without friendly support.

Granted, these combats are against painfully mediocre or sub-par units in close combat, but these are the basic Troops of enemy armies, the kind of units Raveners are designed to punish - much like how Assault Squads are really built for hunting scoring units. Raveners don't have the survivability or stats to really take on most dedicated combat units without getting annihilated in turn, and the cost of upgrading each Ravener to have Rending Claws alone is expensive enough as it is. But you absolutely can't afford to take just three Raveners as they are too darn easy to kill. It's a hard balance to strike, and one that I think leads me to prefer Deep Striking units. Yes, Interceptor shooting can murder them, but at least it can force the shooting unit to focus on a cheap ~100 point units instead of your more valuable Synapse units and Troops. Three with Spinefists put out 9 twin-linked Strength 3 shots when they arrive, enough to be a nuisance against your typical Pathfinder unit and kill a few. From there, your opponent can either go for the cheap Ravener unit and not your Synapse lynchpins, or they can ignore them - or put light resistance against them - and watch as that small Ravener unit carves up light infantry squads with ease. Ultimately, this is the use of Raveners I feel makes the most sense; the 12" range of Spinefists is equivalent to their possible Deep Strike scatter, and the shooting is light enough that you won't worry too much if they can't fire when they arrive. A small unit is still very capable of tearing through medium sized typical scoring units, while they can tie up all manner of enemies for at least a few turns - once they are in combat, they probably won't be losing it and thus won't even be bothered by a lack of Synapse. But that's just the problem, isn't it? This plan can be ruined if you don't manage to get a Synapse unit near them the turn after they arrive, as Instinctive Behaviour on Leadership 6 will likely see them gaining the Stupidity special rule - oh, wrong game! At that point, as it would be turn three minimum when this would occur, your flying Hive Tyrants and Trygon Primes - if any - should be nearby at this point. Of course, it would be awesome if they could be left to their own devices, but ah well.

Recommended Builds

These are a few example builds for the unit that I feel can fit into a number of competitive Tyranid lists. I'll list some thoughts on each build and what kind of lists they fit better in.

Raveners (5) - Devourers - This is a decently costed unit that pops in at under 200 points, can tear units apart in combat and offers some decent shooting. This is your typical "well rounded" Ravener unit that can be used to ground flying monstrous creatures and generally just be a nuisance. Usually, you will lose at least two Raveners before they make it to combat, and only three Raveners should shouldn't be wiping enemy units in one turn.

Raveners (3) w/ Spinefists - This is your cheap little annoyance unit that Deep Strikes and clocks in at one point under 100. They shoot light infantry and cause a bit of a stir by forcing opponents to deal with them and are surprisingly cheap to boot. If they survive, they can attempt to charge a unit and should do very well for themselves with five Strength 4 attacks per model. Instinctive Behaviour is an issue, but by turn three there is a good chance your other Synapse units will be nearby anyway.

The Red Terror

It has been far too long since this glorious little snake abomination has graced our codex, and while not a spectacularly triumphant return as we all hoped for, the Red Terror is still a very decent unit. The first thing to notice is that despite being an upgrade to a single Ravener unit, the Red Terror comes off as a discount Tyranid Prime. The stats are surprisingly similar, the Red Terror is superior in terms of close combat capabilities unless the Prime spends a huge amount of points on upgrades, and the lack of Synapse for the unique Ravener is made up by a significantly lower cost. Besides, the Ravener is twice as fast as a Prime and has access to Deep Strike, two options a Prime apparently couldn't be bothered trying to evolve. In any case, the Ravener is a rather costly upgrade to one Ravener brood in your army with its points cost just shy of three basic Raveners. Like any discussion of a character that is designed for damage output rather than support abilities, you are probably asking - why not just take the three Raveners instead? It is a valid criticism and one that I don't think the Red Terror actually makes up for, but its abilities are unique and strong enough to justify its inclusion regardless, I feel. The Red Terror has a whopping six Strength 5 attacks on the charge - without Rending, unfortunately - at AP6 that combined with Weapon Skill and Initiative 5 make it, like Karanak, a devilishly impressive combat model even without armour-ignoring attacks of any significance. Combat characters are generally falling out of favour in most codices - save for a few notable exceptions such as the Laughing Autarch or the Eternal Chapter Master - with a focus instead on support or force multiplying abilities. Fateweaver, Farseers, Ethereals, Dark Angel Librarians and the like are the more common and competitive options because they buff units around them to ridiculous degrees, or are just plain cost effective beyond all others. It is with this in mind that models like the Red Terror become more valuable and their lack of armour ignoring attacks less of an issue; these models are fragile and will be mashed by massed Strength 5 attacks anyway.

But is bullying non-combat oriented characters the Red Terror's sole purpose? Well, like Raveners, that many attacks is sure to hurt most things, especially at Strength 5, so the Red Terror only adds to the speed at which they scythe through infantry. As I explained earlier, this is generally a bad thing as you want to stick in combat for more than one round, but it can be used to your advantage. The Red Terror brings Toughness 5 and a 4+ armour save to the unit that, while the former mechanically won't have much function when majority Toughness 4 kicks in, can save you a lot of hassle. The Red Terror can actually take AP5 shooting, can soak up Strength 8 wounds one at a time instead of dying instantly, and isn't as frightened of power weapons in a challenge due to Toughness 5. Additionally, the Red Terror confers Leadership 8 on the unit, replacing their sub-par Leadership 6 and giving them a good chance of passing Instinctive Behaviour tests. This actually allows Raveners to operate as they did in the old codex somewhat; as independent combat beat-sticks looking to quickly tie up Devastator equivalents or even try and get a surround and wreck result on a light transport. Even with Leadership 8, I still recommend trying to keep in Synapse range as the Feed result can be pretty terrible for the already fragile Raveners that are so dependent on constantly moving. They need to be in combat and anything that prevents them from getting there absolutely must be avoided.

So is the Red Terror worth those extra points? I tend to lean towards a "no" because three extra Raveners will win out on survivability while Synapse remains a near necessity, but that is before remembering its completely unique Swallow Whole special rule reminiscent of its introduction back in 3rd Edition. I still recall the Red Terror as the model that caught my eye and the one the Games Workshop Sydney staff of over 10 years ago kept talking about. It was this big important model that could lead a Swarm - coincidentally, the starter set at the time was the Battle for Macragge - and everyone was talking about it. The model was awesome and I remember reading its fluff section in the Tyranid codex; reading how it could eat Space Marines in one gulp, filling me with dread. Thankfully, this rule returns in all its splendor and gives the Red Terror a reason to exist even if it isn't as cost-effective an inclusion as its cost in Raveners would be. If the Red Terror manages to hit with four out of its six attacks, it can choose to forgo rolling to wound and instead remove a single enemy model in base contact from play - provided it fails an invulnerable save if it has any. This works on anything that isn't Very Bulky or Extremely Bulky, so potential targets are (with potential unit specific exclusions) infantry, jump infantry, jetpack infantry, beasts and cavalry. When you strike against a commander model, even one such as a Space Marine Chapter Master or Commander Farsight, the Red Terror can remove them from play - ignoring Eternal Warrior and all that jazz. With six attacks on the charge, this isn't as unlikely as you would think, especially when combined with Paroxysm against Weapon Skill 5 opponents. Against Weapon Skill 4 or lower enemies, the Red Terror averages four hits on the charge, allowing you to use the Swallow Whole attack. While many enemies will probably get killed by regular attacks anyway, using it to finish off a Master of the Forge hiding behind pesky 2+ armour saves is quite neat, as well as not having to slog through four wounds on a Tau Commander. It isn't some game-breaking special rule, but it is nice and makes the Red Terror a real threat to enemy HQ models.

So overall, the Red Terror is a decent but unnecessary upgrade to a Ravener brood. The Leadership boost is nice but is mitigated by Synapse which you should probably have anyway - failing and eating each other is still an uncomfortably likely occurrence - while the extra Strength 5 attacks will probably serve only to see the Raveners get out of combat a turn earlier than they want to. The Swallow Whole rule is cool for killing off an otherwise very tanky character, but it isn't all that reliable and won't be that worthwhile against most opponents. The survivability boost the Red Terror has do help out somewhat, but as Raveners are mostly prone to death through shooting, their majority Toughness 4 cancels out half of the Red Terrors' defensive boosts. A 4+ armour save does allow it to tank AP5 shooting, but you don't want it to be taking that many saves as a 4+ still isn't that great anyway. The real value there lies in being able to take a krak missile to the face and not explode in a pile of gore, but those three shots it can tank - again - would be the same as losing three Raveners that are the same rough cost as the Red Terror. And those three Raveners can survive a heck of a lot more small arms fire, regardless of the 5+ armour save - remember, cover is your friend! Truth be told, the Red Terror is still cool and has the element of cheapness compared to a Tyranid Prime in its favour, but it really isn't an ideal use of points when the equivalent amount of models in the unit are a better investment. It is a nice addition to a unit that isn't what I would call terrible, but if you have the rule of cool second, then I would leave the Red Terror at home where you - and it - can reminisce about the good old days.

Subterranean Lurkers

Often mistaken as snake-like adaptations of the Warrior genus that have mutated a slithering tail and gait instead of legs, Raveners are a unique mash-up of the roles shared by Lictors and Trygons. They are stalkers and ambushers first, striking from beneath the ground without warning or defence against their attacks. To the horror of enemies, though, Raveners are not just mere predators but true front-line combatants, wreaking havoc on enemy lines with their ferocious speed and bulk. As a Mawloc devours one from below, so too does a Ravener shred its prey unseen - leaving only mangled corpses behind as a sign of their involvement.

Thank you for reading this article! Please, share your thoughts on the article and the changes I am experimenting with for this series. I am open to any and all feedback! And remember, for any and all discussion on Tyranids and Games Workshop stuff, head on over to +Bell of Lost Souls. Thanks again! Eel out. 

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