Devastator Squad - Even with all the numerous additions to the Space Marine Heavy Support slot and the rapid influx of AP3 Ignores Cover weaponry since the birth of 6th Edition, Devastators still manage to be a competitive unit that has its own unique place in some of the most powerful formations that any codex can access. Whether as the terrifying death-dealers of a Skyhammer Annihilation Force or as a small portion of the fantastic Battle Company, Devastators populate competitive lists in decent numbers because they still provide easily the most efficient source of raw heavy firepower to Space Marine players. If you aren't too concerned with crucial factors like mobility, durability or even flexibility, Devastators rank as your greatest damage-dealers relative to their points cost. Perhaps the biggest change they received in the new codex that keeps them relevant regardless of associated formations is the addition of Grav Cannons with Grav Amps to their already impressive arsenal, allowing you to either use the much cheaper but specialized Devastators of the past or a very costly new alternative that can obliterate darn near anything - even Super Heavy Vehicles and Gargantuan Creatures! Their place in a Skyhammer Annihilation Force almost mandates the use of that formation in many competitive lists given the ridiculous nature of being able to enforce Pinning with the otherwise "useless" bolter-armed Devastators while the Grav Cannon wielding warriors can sow destruction without having to waste precious turns moving into position before-hand.
As it stands, if you wish to use Devastators outside of a particular formation then you need to always consider that they are still essentially Tactical Marines; they aren't particularly mobile on their own accord - and truthfully they rarely want to move at all - and are very easy to kill despite their high cost, which is why the fact that they have such awesome damage-dealing capabilities is oft seen as being outweighed by their fragility in a competitive environment. The other issue is that without Grav Cannons they tend not to fit into standard Space Marine lists that well given the generally mobile nature of the army in a 7th Edition context, meaning they can often be left without support and thus easily made prey to charges or incoming shooting attacks from fast assault units or reserves. This is why I simply cannot understate the usefulness of widely available Grav Cannons enough; they can fire at half effect on the move rather than being forced to Snap Fire, completely unlike any other heavy weapon option that Devastators have access to. This allows you to pack a squad in a transport and use them to pressure opponents in much the same way as the rest of a typical Space Marine army, claiming objectives and providing a nasty moving fire-base that has great synergy with the Rhino in particular. If nothing else, the latest codex has given Devastators some of that flexibility they sorely needed with the addition of one tremendously powerful but appropriately priced weapon upgrade, while the other kinds can still work in a Skyhammer (Multi-Meltas love that formation) or as a static unit in a more unique gun-line type of list.
Centurion Devastator Squad - Crikey. While I'm glad to see that my initial predictions of this units' competitive worth rung true, I wasn't quite expecting the overall impact that Centurion Devastators would have on the competitive meta as is often the case with death-stars. Heck, I didn't expect 7th Edition to come around and allow these nasty super-soldiers to legally pack into Drop Pods and thus cheaply solve their main issue of safely getting into range to rain the Emperors' holy devastation upon heretics and xenos alike. As it stands, this unit is even more incredible than it already was as they now also gain even more benefits from their Chapter Tactics than was previously possible. A key weakness of Centurion Devastators has always been their vulnerability to getting tied up in a prolonged combat if they lack attached characters to stymie their lack of effective melee prowess; enter the White Scars Chapter Tactics that now grant them Hit and Run just like everyone else, almost like that particular Chapter wasn't already good enough as it was. Interestingly enough, the rules designers saw fit to make all but one of the Centurion Devastator load-outs cheaper points-wise in an effort to diversify the wargear usage by players; as expected, the one build that remained unchanged - Grav Cannons - is still by far the best one and the main reason to use this unit.
While some might argue that Centurions lost a lot of their luster due to the now widely available Grav Cannons that even Tactical Squads can make use of, ultimately they are the toughest unit that can use them by far and they are the most properly suited to psychic support due to being able to fire on the move at full effect, a feat only Devastators in a Skyhammer Annihilation Force can match. The fact that you can now Drop Pod them in means you no longer have to invest tonnes of resources into their safe delivery to where you need them, while most Interceptor weapons will struggle to put a real dent in the 2+ armored, Toughness 5 models that possess two wounds apiece. Depending on what you face and particularly when combined with the Devastator Combat Doctrine, this is a unit that will almost always make their points back in one salvo or at least provide a guaranteed kill on whatever you need to destroy during any particular turn, and for that reason they are still just as strong a unit as they used to be. I see the severe changes to list-building and far more diverse competitive army lists as a godsend for Space Marines overall that doesn't really lessen how useful this unit is, but rather I understand that they are no longer quite as "necessary" as they were in the past; Space Marines now have far more tools to deal with Gargantuan Creatures particularly than they used to.
Thunderfire Cannons - If I didn't make it clear in past reviews or a certain comparison article discussing the relative worth of numerous artillery units, let me state it here; Thunderfire Cannons are not only one of the best units in the Space Marine codex, they are very much a part of the top echelon of artillery units in the game. However, such high praise does not come without some cautionary advice; Thunderfire Cannons are still incredibly prone to being tied up in combat or mercilessly destroyed if you aren't prepared to support them with at least one attendant unit - it doesn't have to be actively guarding them though - much like anything else that classifies as artillery, while Toughness 7, 2 Wounds, a 2+ armor save and a likely cover save given their static nature and long range doesn't make them as resistant to shooting as you might otherwise believe. Think of it this way; if plasma guns are seen as an easy counter to a Nemesis Dreadknight that has double the wounds and an actual invulnerable save that is much more difficult to ignore than a cover save, a Thunderfire Cannons is most definitely not safe from shooting. Of course, that is where the numerous strengths of the unit start coming into play; its vast range and the fact that it is perfectly fine with remaining stationary for the duration of a match means that the chances of it suffering return fire are dramatically reduced compared to something like a Nemesis Dreadknight. This is compounded by its titular weapon having the Barrage rule and thus being capable of indirect fire, allowing for incredibly inaccurate shooting that comes with the benefit of allowing the user to provide damage while hiding out of sight or even damaging units that themselves are using line-of-sight blocking terrain to their advantage. Suffice it to say that Thunderfire Cannons are at their weakest against reserve-based lists that usually have the tools to deal with them up close very easily, or against armies such as Eldar that can pack incredibly powerful long ranged weaponry.
Players often forget that forcing artillery units to fire indirectly is still handy because it means the chances of them actually damaging your units is dramatically reduced, especially with the way that multiple barrages work; if you have the firepower to worry a Thunderfire Cannon and force your opponent to deploy them out of sight, you've already gained an advantage before the game even begins. All that aside, let us look at what the actual gun itself is capable of; as I worked out in that aforementioned comparison article, the Thunderfire Cannon is absolutely fantastic in terms of raw damage efficiency for its points with some oft undervalued flexibility offered by its multiple firing modes. While all profiles fire four small blasts, the differences notably come in their Strength and AP values; the one you will normally use is Strength 6 AP5 which is the best against anything that doesn't have a good cover save or is low Toughness with a 6+ save specifically. While some players often scoff at the notion of a Thunderfire Cannon being anything more than an infantry suppression unit, that disbelief has thankfully been falling by the wayside as these gradually become even more prevalent; four Strength 6 shots that always strike the side armor of a vehicle even from a ridiculous range is very useful for hunting light vehicles and medium vehicles alike that often have weak side armor values of 11 or 10. Of course, they still are at their best when targeting infantry clusters; even Space Marines will fear that many potential hits and easy wounds from four Strength 6 small blasts, forcing so many armor saves as to quickly fell a handful of Space Marines at a time. Against hordes or weakly armored units that attempt to use cover to properly protect an objective, the second firing mode proudly steps forward; Strength 5 AP6 with Ignores Cover will reap a glorious toll on such enemies and provide additional utility against lightly armored skimmers that are often so reliant on their Jink saves. The odd duck of the varying profiles is the third one that has the weakest Strength value of 4 and lacks an AP value entirely, but instead inflicts the Strikedown penalty onto any unit it hits. Slowing enemies down can be a great deterrent against assault-based armies but often you will simply want to just kill more models instead, something that the other two shells accomplish devilishly well against a wide range of targets.
The much less interesting portion of the overall unit is the Techmarine gunner, a model that usually only serves to boost the cover save provided by a particular terrain piece while firing the main gun. In that sense I was honestly taken aback by the numerous buffs this particular model received in both the HQ slot and when attached to a Thunderfire Cannon. The gunner now has an extra wound to make sniping him and thus automatically removing the Thunderfire Cannon without having to deal wounds to it specifically that much more difficult, while this also has the knock-on effect of allowing the Techmarine to survive even more punishment if his gun battery is destroyed. Of course, this isn't the only stat boost he received; he now has an extra Attack and a bonus point of Leadership to make him essentially the equivalent of a standard Terminator in close combat, but by far the biggest improvement here and one that had me performing an involuntary spit-take was the increase to Ballistic Skill 5. While this obviously doesn't affect indirect fire whatsoever, it does mean that a Thunderfire Cannon firing normally is quite a bit more accurate than it was which improves its effective damage output nicely. To be fair, that was merely part of what caused the spit-take; much like every other 7th Edition codex has done to their main units, you can now field Thunderfire Cannons in squads of up to three batteries while also providing all three with Ballistic Skill 6 should you field them as a fully-sized unit. While some might say this is overkill, the fact that you can invest even more points into the awesome Heavy Support slot by nature of freeing up slots for other units is nothing but a bonus to me, especially with the greatly improved accuracy that a squad benefits from. This does also mean that anything that would have easily killed or "disabled" them before would likely have even more fun against a much more expensive unit, though amusingly this does make for a fairly hardy close combat unit due to throwing out six Strength 8 AP2 Unwieldy attacks provided all the gunners are alive and well. Honestly, the fact that an already great unit received multiple notable improvements and some added flexibility with regards to how you field it in an army list should be enough to justify its inclusion in your army if you ever need a powerful artillery unit to shore up some general suppression deficiencies; just be aware that Barrage weapons are no longer natively Pinning, a change that is perhaps the only real negative for an otherwise fantastic unit. I think this is more than made up for by combining Thunderfire Cannons with the Storm of Fire Warlord Trait - I find Telion to be a hilariously cheap way to access this - and I find this to be arguably the best use of that particular ability.
Predators - Predator here, the armored fist of Cha....oh, this isn't 2004! I'm not sure where to begin this overview other than by stating that I adore these tanks far more than most because they offer a middle-ground between the highly costly durability of Centurion Devastators and the glass cannon nature of standard Devastators; Predators are cheap, provide respectable firepower and are generally much more difficult to destroy than the latter of those two units by nature of requiring less common high Strength weapons to properly combat them. The Destructor variant - pairing the stock autocannon with sponson heavy bolters - is simply a better overall unit than a Devastator squad armed with heavy bolters as a general anti-infantry and light vehicle or monster hunting fire-base, while the triple lascannon-bearing Annihilator variant is similarly more efficient than either Devastator unit equipped with the same weaponry; it is generally tougher, can reposition itself more effectively, gains twin-linking on one of the shots and is either at a similar or much lower price point. Both builds are only ever outmatched by the Imperial Fist versions of the two Devastator units when fielding identical weaponry, and even then the Devastators lack the many unique advantages a vehicle possesses. The Annihilator is easily my favorite build for a Predator built from this codex and stands as one of the most reliable and effective sources of anti-tank firepower in the Space Marine codex, but this isn't without some downsides, most of which are more to do with the general vehicle rules than anything else.
Unlike Devastators, a single meltagun shot (for example) is capable of destroying a Predator, while reducing its effective firepower can be done in much the same way that you kill individual Devastators; forcing it to Snap Fire or destroying individual weapons can quickly neuter the unit. It also goes without saying that while Devastators will fall to standard bolter fire that Predators are conversely immune to, destroying vehicles has never been easier than it is in 7th Edition what with so many armies now having far less restricted access to high Strength weaponry. It is good then that the Predator does have two innate advantages that allow it to remain competitive; its long weapon ranges and good front armor. AV13 tends to be the sweet spot for a vehicle that wants to survive more than a turn or two in 7th Edition, though many armies will still laugh at this by either possessing weapons capable of easily puncturing that high armor or simply having easy ways to flank the Predator and expose its vulnerable side and rear armor values. Regardless, Predators are still cheap for what they provide and are a more than worthwhile alternative to Devastators; just keep in mind that they can't provide you with Graviton weapons and thus aren't quite as worthwhile in an overall army list as they used to be, as providing Grav Cannons to regular Devastators and other units has proved a truly incredible buff to Space Marines.
Of course, Predators did receive a cool buff in the new codex outside of rejiggered points costs on upgrades; you can field these in squadrons (totally not a surprise!) and even gain an impressive bonus when fielding a trio in a single unit, making all of their weapons benefit from both the Monster Hunter and Tank Hunter special rules. While losing this bonus can be fairly elementary and often leads to them only using the rule advantageously for a turn or two in a standard match, it is nonetheless a very sizable boost to their damage output; re-rolling failed armor penetration rolls with three Predator Annihilators will see them destroy Land Raiders assuming average rolls, no cover or invulnerable saves and that all nine(!) lascannons can fire at the same target. That's not bad at all given the 48" range of the guns allows them to stay mostly safe from return fire and potentially accomplish the feat on the first turn, while they can also put the hurt on otherwise seemingly unassailable units such as Wraithknights. I'm honestly not a major fan of this as ultimately you are spending a lot of points on vehicles that still have the same weaknesses that just one of them would have which is only exemplified by the larger investment, while the purpose of using them to take on big targets can be accomplished at a lower cost with a squad of Centurion Devastators armed with Grav Cannons that ride into battle with a Drop Pod. I do like the implications of this in a more mechanized list and for general list-building as alternatives are always nice, while being able to reliably destroy some incredibly tough targets is something that few individual Space Marine units can attest to. I'm just worried that they lack the utility of something like a squadron of Thunderfire Cannons while also definitely suffering from overkill syndrome; whereas Thunderfire Cannons can potentially hit multiple units with so many blast templates, the Predators must always shoot at the same target with their many powerful weapons.
Whirlwinds - I'll be honest in stating that I'm probably one of the only gamers in the world that actually likes the Whirlwind in gameplay terms, if only because it is fundamentally a fine unit in its stated role. The problem with the Whirlwind stems more from the fact that it is downright awful when placed next to the competition that it faces in other codices or even in its own codex; a Thunderfire Cannon provides quadruple the shots with the individual shots having higher Strength at the cost of reduced AP - the latter of which doesn't make too much of a difference in my experience - with the change from a large blast to multiple small blasts being more favorable to the Thunderfire Cannon overall. The Whirlwind is much easier to destroy given that vehicles lack an in-built save whereas a Thunderfire Cannon has Toughness 7, strong armor saves and much more freely-accessed cover saves, while the cost disparity between the two units is barely enough to be of consequence to all but the most points-strapped army lists. The gap only widened with the multiple improvements made to Thunderfire Cannons, most notable of which is their accuracy, but this doesn't mean the Whirlwind was completely ignored in that regard; having the option to field these in squadrons is nice enough, especially as their three-model-strong bonus is one of the best in the codex due to providing the highly beneficial Pinning and Shred special rules. While Pinning is not nearly as useful in Warhammer 40,000 as it would be in Horus Heresy games as an example due to the widely available Fearless special rule, the Shred bonus is downright incredible; it makes the Ignore Cover shell somewhat relatable to the Thunderfire Cannon, and the heavier firing mode becomes one heck of an infantry chewer. While this might make you wonder if taking three Whirlwinds instead of two Thunderfire Cannons for a few less points is worthwhile, ultimately you have to look at some basic stats; the Whirlwinds fire three large blasts as opposed to eight small blasts, they invariably have weaker stats on the shots themselves in most cases, they are (surprisingly) much easier to destroy or neuter and are less accurate as well. Having Pinning and Shred does make the comparison quite a bit closer than it used to be, but ultimately I find the Thunderfire Cannons still pull ahead for the most part - especially as their Strength 6 rounds can actually be really scary for many vehicles. In any case, I'm pleased to see that Whirlwinds that are specifically used in squadrons - especially when taken as part of their unique formation - are actually fairly comparable to the equivalent points spent on Thunderfire Cannons, meaning that you could perhaps include them in your army list and not feel too envious of other Space Marine players using the Techmarine-crewed big guns instead.
Vindicators - The ubiquity of cover saves, psychic powers providing invulnerable saves and so many other easily accessed means of defending ones-self against AP2 weaponry coupled with the general inaccuracy and unreliability of a single Strength 10 AP2 Large Blast has led to Vindicators heavily dropping out of favor for multiple editions running. One shot per turn that is highly prone to missing completely or only clipping a few models at a time that - again - lacks any means of bypassing cover or invulnerable saves leads to a unit that seemingly has a really powerful gun but ultimately doesn't do that much damage against a player that knows how to properly space their models apart and use terrain to their advantage. It doesn't help that vehicles are far more vulnerable than ever and the Vindicator is rendered virtually useless for either a turn or much of the game from almost all of the vehicle damage chart results, while their own tank-hunting potential is inferior than it was in previous core rule-sets because a single Ordnance AP2 shot has a miniscule chance of destroying a vehicle in one shot. Mind you, I still love Vindicators as they are a cool unit that can do a lot of damage with some luck and poor positioning on the part of the opponent, but their limited range and easy ways to restrict their effective damage output ensure that they just aren't that great of a unit nowadays. They aren't necessarily awful but you are far better served with putting your faith in other Heavy Support choices and looking towards Graviton weapons if you really need your major anti-AP2 fix. Of course, you've heard all of this before; how does the new codex affect them you may ask? Like any other standard vehicle, you can now field Vindicators in squadrons and gain a significant benefit for utilizing a full three-strong unit, with Vindicators receiving one of the most hilarious buffs.
As long as all three Vindicators are capable of firing, one of them can be nominated to fire a Linebreaker Bombardment by sacrificing the squadrons' normal shots; this is a single Strength 10 AP2 Apocalyptic Blast (the 7" template) with the awesome Ignores Cover special rule; it might be weaker against vehicles than three AP2 Large Blasts but it is far better against the much more common non-vehicle units. Basically, this is the equivalent of a moving Typhon Heavy Siege Tank for 10 points more before upgrades and exchanging AP1 for AP2. While this is really cool given that you needn't field a Lord of War to get this kind of amazing firepower which fully solves the Vindicators' problems with enemies claiming cover saves, the problems are more evident here than normal. The wording of the rule is that the Vindicators all need to be able to fire their demolisher cannons and can shoot the Linebreaker Bombardment instead of firing normally, meaning that if any single of them is incapable of shooting their Demolisher Cannon for any reason - whether it be it suffered a Crew Shaken, Crew Stunned or Weapon Destroyed result, or perhaps even got destroyed - the unit is incapable of using this improved profile. Seeing as it isn't that difficult to wreck vehicles or force even one of those vehicle damage chart results on a single Vindicator, it is far too easy to neuter this squadron benefit, especially as they are still limited by a 24" range - though thankfully only the firer needs to actually be in range to use the Linebreaker Bombardment rather than the whole squadron, meaning you can technically "string" an Immobilized Vindicator along with good positioning to maintain your full firing efficiency. It's a very cool benefit that can help Vindicators remain relevant in the current meta, but unless you play in heavily modified rules, Invisibility will still render them useless against most death-stars and thus limit a lot of their competitive uses while most other armies have easy means of neutering or outright destroying the squadron before it can really utilize the bonus. Of minor note, the base cost of the Vindicator dropped but the previously mandatory Storm Bolter is now optional to justify the difference; I do consider them a good upgrade purely for Weapon Destroyed results, but skipping them to squeeze points in elsewhere throughout a list is often advisable.
Hunters - Though I've not seen many chat about this particular anti-air tank given that it has generally been regarded as the weaker of the pair from the time of release in conjunction with the lack of a solid place for dedicated anti-air tanks in most lists if they lack Interceptor, the Hunter did receive some notable changes with the new codex. The first of these is a bit of a horizontal change to its Skyspear Missile Launcher; rather than only locking on to Flyers and Flying Monstrous Creatures, it now has the same effect for Skimmers and Jetbikes. However, this buff is offset by the removal of the counter system in lieu of a more standardized way of working out how it follows targets; what this basically means is that the "counters" no longer stay on a unit until they finally hit, meaning that if the shot misses and you don't roll a 5+ on the subsequent turn, you can't keep rolling to see if that one shot will eventually hit the target. Honestly I'm more in favor of calling it a buff seeing as the two unit types it exclusively affected before could easily remove the counters by leaving combat airpsace for a turn plus the fact that the chances of successfully getting it to work more than once on a given target were very low, so gaining the ability to "chase" both skimmers and jetbikes outweighs this negative. Otherwise, the Hunter too was the recipient of vehicle squadron capabilities and a three-in-one bonus; it allows all of the Hunters to re-roll the dice to see if their Savant Lock rule actually result in a subsequent hit on the target, though again it requires all three models in the unit to survive at the time of using the rule. I think it is a cool little extra as it leads to a high chance of all three shots from a unit making successful impact and all of them being Strength 7 AP2 with Armorbane can make even Monoliths blush. Of course, that only further emphasizes the problems with Hunters; the Space Marines' dedicated anti-air tanks generally aren't favored because they lack Interceptor and thus cannot be used to counter the alpha strike potential of flyers, while the chances of destroying a flier in a single shot are incredibly slim - as is the theme with 7th Edition vehicle hunting, a mass of high Strength shots is always better than a few with a good AP value. It should come as no surprise then that not only is the Stalker the better of the kit-siblings here, the Hunter on its' own is decidedly mediocre; against skimmers and fliers that can get a 4+ or superior Jink save, being able to ignore half of the successful penetration rolls made by Hunters makes them decidedly poor in their stated role. The thing in the Hunters' favor is that it is cheap, but honestly, it's just not worth taking over a Stalker unless you live in bizarro land where AV14 skimmers incapable of Jinking are the norm (i.e. Monoliths). As an aside, the new Savant Lock rule is pretty darned amusing against Necron skimmers due to always hitting their exposed rear armor as well as the combination of AP2 and (usually) Open Topped.
Stalkers - The superior one of the two Space Marine anti-air tanks, the Stalker shares many of the same issues with its kit sibling; mediocre durability (though I would say it is decent for its cost in this regard) and the fact that it too gets outperformed either by (ironically) flyers - like the Stormtalon - or superior ground anti-air vehicles - like the Deredeo Dreadnought - with regards to its role. In any case, the Icarus Stormcannon Array is a far superior weapon generally compared to the Skyspear Missile Launcher, and by golly is this clear as day in the new codex given the incredible buffs the Stalker received. Firstly, the Stalker actually has Interceptor meaning it is instantly superior to other Imperial anti-air tanks such as the Hunter and Hydra as it can potentially cripple a flyer before it is able to unload upon your army - even forcing it to Jink is enough - which is undeniably a godsend given the powerful weaponry many fliers are packing nowadays. While it did lose a shot, the other newly acquired benefits more than make up for this; the Stalker still maintains its ability to shoot at one target or two targets, gaining Twin-Linked on the former and....well....shooting at more than one unit with the latter. Unlike previously, you no longer resolve this pseudo Split Fire at Ballistic Skill 2 but instead fire at the normal Ballistic Skill 4, meaning the one less shot per target is canceled out by the greatly improved accuracy. The really crazy thing about this is that the Stalker can resolve this dual-fire at two separate targets even when it is using the Interceptor special rule, meaning it can shoot at two different flyer targets or other reserves that arrive on a given turn!
Seeing as three Strength 7 AP4 shots that normally hit on 3s are more than enough to worry your average flyer and potentially force it to Jink or even get a Crew Shaken result on it, neutering its damage output before it gets to do anything, this is most definitely an incredible buff to a unit that - even despite being superior to the Hunter - was rarely seen in competitive gaming. Another consideration is that if you are facing an army list built heavily around light skimmers - usually Dark Eldar, a certain new Tau build perhaps - then firing at two targets with an individual Stalker with so many Strength 7 AP4 shots can be an absolute nightmare for those kinds of lists, especially if you go all-out and field these in a squadron. Surprise, surprise, you can take these in a unit and get a downright scary bonus; all Icarus Stormcannon Arrays in a full squadron of Stalkers gain the incredible Ignores Cover special rule! As if Dark Eldar players didn't have enough pain, this turns Stalkers into the slayers of all three unit-types that Skyfire affects; many flying monstrous creatures get torn apart by these, as do any kind of light flier. Against the heavier targets such as Stormravens, three Stalkers firing at full effect against the one target average roughly eight hits and two to three damage results which is just enough to outright destroy one of the toughest fliers in the game - and again, this can be before it does anything due to the Stalkers' possessing the Interceptor special rule. It decimates the majority of fliers in the game and can hard-counter many of the more recent flier-oriented formations that consist of AV11-AV10 fliers that are usually heavily reliant on Jink saves. All of this aside, I don't think the Stalker is going to start populating competitive Space Marine lists - and so far that seems to be the case - simply because the age of requiring dedicated anti-air units is long past, the meta gradually shifting away from flier dominance by the day. While fliers, flying monstrous creatures and skimmers are all still fairly common in the sense that you should expect to see at least one in a given match, spending quite a lot of points on a unit that is only useful at killing them specifically is often not worth it. The buffs for having a squadron are massive but it begs the question of whether such a unit with a minimum points cost of over 220 points that can't really do anything to most ground targets is worth the investment, especially as units like Wave Serpents are nowhere near as popular as they used to be. I think this is a good unit but one that is essentially unnecessary at the moment, but if you regularly come up against fliers then this is your best bet in the codex without relying on a flier yourself.
Stormraven Gunship - I remember the days of this being the short-lived king of the skies, oh how I don't miss them - seriously, those days sucked for a lot of reasons unrelated to the Stormraven. Back on topic, this is one of the biggest and most expensive fliers you can get in a standard codex which has led to the apt terminology of "flying tank"; AV12 on all sides with three hull points in addition to Ceramite Plating ensures that the Stormraven has few equals in terms of durability outside of Forge World units or Super Heavies. It doubles as both a gunship and a transport with good firepower and a large transport capacity, being able to ferry up to twelve models and a single Dreadnought regardless of type. It packs on four one-use-only missiles that are thankfully not Ordnance like the usual Imperial Hellstrike Missiles, instead being highly useful Strength 8 AP2 with the Concussive special rule. This gives them some really nice utility in the sense that you can fire one of these at a monstrous creature or vehicle target before one of your friendly units charges them so as to make the ensuing combat that much easier, but generally speaking four Strength 8 AP2 shots are more than enough to seriously worry most light vehicles, monstrous creatures and other fliers. The Stormravens' main guns are no joke either with several decent to good options, my favorites generally being the twin-linked assault cannon and twin-linked multi-melta given the high mobility of the Stormraven and the cost of each individual weapon. A Stormraven outfitted with those two weapons will usually dominate the skies, especially given that it also has the Power of the Machine Spirit special rule allowing it fire any single weapon at full Ballistic Skill, ignoring the usual restrictions on targeting and bypassing effects such as being forced to Snap Fire for whatever reason. This allows the Stormraven to fire at least one weapon at full effect even if it has been forced to Jink or suffers a Crew Shaken/Stunned result on the vehicle damage chart, while being able to target two separate units is always a nice option to have; firing the four Stormstrike missiles at one target and the twin-linked multi-melta at another can be pretty darned powerful. An alternative use for this is to take the optional Hurricane Bolter sponsons and the twin-linked plasma cannon, leaving the dedicated anti-tank gun to hunt its preferred targets while the rest unload onto infantry units. Generally speaking though the Hurricane Bolters are a fairly poor upgrade given that they don't really synergize with the rest of the weapon options, are expensive and force you to ask yourself why you would want light anti-infantry weapons on an already very costly flier.
This is also where many of the Stormravens' issues become all too clear; fliers make for poor transports with few specific exceptions such as the Night Scythe if only because the transport can be on the board on turn two at the earliest unless you use a Skyshield Landing Pad or various formations. This means that packing it with an assault unit often means they won't actually be able to jump out and try to charge something until turn three at the earliest, while instead taking a ranged unit inside is often a waste as you could always just foot-slog that unit or give them a much cheaper ground transport. Besides, flying transports often have a bad track record and side effect of killing their passengers because of the way destroyed fliers affect the unit they are transporting - if any - which can make your usually very expensive combination both a death-trap and a points-sink. The Stormraven does have a half-way answer to this with the Skies of Fury special rule allowing any embarked units to Deep Strike out of it along its movement path before Interceptor fire would be resolved, but the risks of doing so are many and obvious - this has also been made semi-redundant by the codex addition of Drop Pods being made available to all kinds of units. Also, the firepower of a Stormraven is really not as impressive as it could be given that the weapon profiles often don't line up with each other, especially with regards to the Hurricane Bolters. Strictly speaking a pair of Stormtalons armed with Skyhammer Missile Launchers and twin-linked Assault Cannons are much better overall damage-dealers than a single Stormraven for a similar points cost, especially with Strafing Run factored in. This begs the question; if you aren't using the transport capabilities of a Stormraven because a Drop Pod does it way better and is nowhere near as expensive and risky, and if its' firepower isn't as efficient as the comparatively inexpensive Stormtalon, what use the Stormraven actually serve? Honestly, its main advantage is that it is very resilient, but paying so many points for a flier based on its durability isn't really worth it considering fliers have the benefit of being able to alpha-strike their prey in most cases. By the by, the two Space Wolf fliers perform the same role as the Stormraven but are superior in almost every way; being mediocre at this kind of points level is simply not advisable nowadays, especially a single Stormraven is often all the anti-flier an army list requires.
Land Raider Variants - Given how similar these all are, I'll offer some general thoughts on all of them before recommending each one for different purposes. Land Raiders are fairly iconic vehicles given that they transports for your elite units and are massively durable, but their firepower is of questionable worth. Being AV14 on all sides with four hull points makes for one heck of a fire magnet, but not being a Super Heavy means any stray AP2 or AP1 penetrating hit can end a Land Raiders' life-span in one shot; additionally, destroying these types of vehicles or at least rendering them useless is easier than ever what with Destroyer, Graviton and Haywire weapons being ever-more present in standard games of Warhammer 40,000. When you consider that Land Raiders are specifically used as assault transports to ferry highly important units around, this only further exposes those vulnerabilities; Deep Striking melta units can and will render a Land Raider worthless in the early turns well before it can deliver its passengers to their destination(s), while many of those aforementioned weapon types have a short or medium range and could be packed onto highly mobile units. It also speaks to the difference between points-sinks and death-stars; a squad of Terminators armed with Thunder Hammers and Storm Shields is a nasty unit, but purchasing a Land Raider for them leads to a unit priced like a death-star that can't actually compete with any serious death-star. However, if you aren't ferrying an important unit around, the purpose of a Land Raider in an army list quickly falls to the wayside; their firepower is inferior to a single Predator, let alone the more points-aligned option of two Predators, especially once weapon ranges are accounted for. Much like the Stormraven, this is a unit that is generally mediocre and a lot of that has to do with the "escalation" of weapons in 7th Edition; a more favorable vehicle damage chart won't stop even highly durable Land Raiders from being reduced to scrap by widely available Destroyer weapons. They aren't terrible but they generally represent too large of a points investment by themselves on top of the unit they should be transporting - remember, taking these just as fire-bases is an awful use of the points and the unit - to really be worth running.
As for specific variants, these all have varying uses; the Crusader is the best overall because its guns are fairly decent in many roles (even light flying monstrous creature hunting), it has the largest transport capacity and it packs in frag assault launchers. You also aren't as worried about moving at cruising speed and making a flat out maneuver with regards to sacrificing the ranged capabilities of the platform, much unlike both the Redeemer and standard Land Raider. The Redeemer also has frag assault launchers but a much reduced transport capacity of twelve, and while its weapons seem like the most impressive they are actually the most unwieldy of the bunch. Move 6" and you can fire the two at different targets thanks to Power of the Machine Spirit, but being templates that lack the Torrent rule on such a big model that has to move so slowly to really utilize them, you will rarely get any good damage out of them; the tiny range is a killer given how close that inevitably places the Land Raider to its many threats. Need I also mention that trying to fire those templates with any kind of good placement while also disembaring a unit is unwieldy as all heck? The standard Land Raider has the longest ranged weapons but a weak tertiary weapon by exchanging the assault cannon for a heavy bolter, all of which is again at odds with trying to close in any unleash their embarked unit. At the very least, if you don't need to move too much each turn then moving 6" and popping off individual lascannon shots at different targets isn't an awful option for light anti-tank.
Thank you all for reading this article! I know it's been well over a month since my last post and I do apologize profusely for the wait, but as I did allude to a while back this break was kind of out of my hands; too many video games to play, a lot of work to do, and even a new foray into the Horus Heresy! I'll look to get a few more articles out soon and we'll go from there. Thanks again!