Thursday, 5 April 2018

Devastator squads - overview and tactica

Hi all,

Following on from my tactical squad and lieutenant articles, I wanted to write about devastators. The humble devastator squad first caught my attention way back when I read my first white dwarf battle report and some blood angel devastators held an objective against thousand sons in Epic. One reason I wanted to talk about them is the changes in 8th edition that have made them a lot more popular than they were previously. I include them in most of my lists these days. What I will do is talk about their merits, weaponry and perks from chapter tactics, stratagems and characters. What I won't do is try to compare them to predators, helblasters and the like. All the standard chapters get access to them even if they don't always fit the background. Space Wolves are an exception to this in that they field long fangs but I will talk about them more later. (I won't cover Grey Knights or Deathwatch or anything 30k).   

As before, devastators fill a heavy support slot and thus are only mandatory for consideration in either a spearhead or brigade. This will depend on how many points you are playing and your play style. For a gunline army (i.e sit back and shoot) or a hammer and anvil army (half static, half taking the fight to them) I would always consider at least one unit. Reasons for this are mulitple, as they can pack 4 heavy weapons (plus a combi if you so wish) for a base cost of 5 bodies, plus they get unique access to the armorium cherub and signum. There are 3 things in 8th which make them shine:

1. All units can split fire now
2. The damage characteristic of heavy weapons.
3. Modifiers being more forgiving for sitting in cover or moving.

Later on I will look at weapons, Characters and Chapters, but for now let's look at a couple of things that are standard for all: build and deployment. I always equip 4 heavy weapons per squad and leave the sergeant bare. This is usually a mix and match approach to heavy weapon selection, unlike the previous edition which favoured mono-weapon selelction. I mostly include an armorium cherub and always include at least one 'ablative' marine wound (who we shall refer to as 'Johnny bolter') to protect your heavy weapon investment. Some people prefer to take a couple of squads and equip them with less than the total heavy weapons, which I agree can have merit if you need to fill slots and you will benefit from auto ablative wounds and more than one signum. However, you will need to pay for a minimum of 10 marines for multiple units. 

The signum is a great piece of wargear that adds 1 to the BS of one shooting model. This is great for either your tank-busters or hellfire/flakk users, but more on that later. Unlike previously, the sergeant does not forgo shooting for this. As mentioned, I don't generally equip my Sergeants as it 's better to keep them cheap in case they are ablative plus you want them to stay out of effective shooting or charge range anyway - use the upgrade points on their screen. The cherub is also a great little 5 point investment, which at best allows your lascannon a one-off extra shot or at worst provides a cheap ablative wound. Speaking of which, the way you should be removing models is Johnny bolter first, then either the cherub/sergeant or your heavy bolter marines depending on what you are facing. (i.e you might prioritise maximising effectiveness of a lascannon to kill a vehicle by keeping the sergeant/cherub alive over the heavy bolters) Before we totally go away from wargear, I want to cover each of the weapons available to the devastators (and indeed their tactical cousins) in more detail. 

Heavy bolter - cheap, reliable and, most of all, compatible with the hellfire stratagem. Always include one unless you're going mono-weapon (see Dark Angels) as an ablative wound and access to hellfire. 

Plasma cannon - marine killer pure and simple. Avoid overcharge unless near a source of re-rolls or your squad will soon thin out. It's pricey for a single point of damage but can be worth it if used correctly. 

Missile launcher - the age old debate, missile vs las, is even more complex now they're the same points. Missile launchers have a few advantages over las and that is the alternate fire mode if there are no suitable big targets, plus the access to flakk missiles, which is the main reason I will always include one somewhere in my army. 

Lascannon - a point better strength and AP that the krak missiles, this is your go-to anti-tank weapon. Try to have a source of re-rolls nearby to make sure it does the job and so you can save the command re-roll for the damage. 

Multi-melta - range of 24", S8 but the best AP at -4, meaning all but the heaviest armour won't get a save. you need to be within 12" to get the benefit of picking the highest of 2D6 for damage though. Not a weapon I tend to use with devastators, finding it better suited to tactical squads or vehicles. 

Grav-cannon and amp - an interesting weapon and marginally most expensive. Same range as the multi-melta and best volume of shots of all the heavy weapons with a fixed 4. However, S5 and Ap-3 is unremarkable compared to other options. Unless that is you are targeting power armour or better, which most armies and their vehicles have. In which case the damage output becomes d3 rather than just 1. Ideal for cracking open terminators or, at a push, tanks through volume of fire. Come up against Daemons or infantry guard though and they're much less use.   

Heavy Flamer - only available to Blood Angel devastators. Not great for gunlines (see below) or for podding in due to the 8" range. 

With deployment, aim to deploy at the centre back of your forces, so that they are bubble-wrapped from charges or smite. Higher ground with a good field of view is ideal and obviously within 6" of any nearby character buffs. They should get preferential pick of cover as they will be a high priority target and, as you generally don't want to move them, might be good to sit on an objective also. (note, this will only make them a higher priority target and thus there is merit to putting a tactical squad on a nearby objective instead to force your opponent to choose) Again, taking 2+ devastator squads (or helblasters) also has the benefit of making your opponent have to prioritise which one to kill. I generally avoid transports with devastators aside from Blood Angel heavy flamers and so won't cover them. 

On to talking about characters now. I won't cover special character perks in any detail but I will go over the standard characters available to marine armies. Captains/Chapter Masters are great to have nearby for a few reasons. Firstly, rerolling to hit is maximising the potential for your devastators to do the damage their name suggests. Not to mention that overcharging plasma you will want to be able to reroll those 1s. Secondly, even a bare bones character can be formiddable when you factor in cheap upgrades and relics - handy to have in your backfield to defend your devastators. We will also talk about the ideal warlord trait for them to have later.

Lieutenants are also useful to have nearby as there's nothing more frustrating than hitting with all your heavy weapons than to roll plenty of 1s to wound. Bear in mind that you can only use one command point as a reroll per phase and you may want that for you damage roll. Chaplains provide a morale boost but that's about it (hardly useful in small squads of marines anyway) Librarians and techmarines also bring very little to the party. When we move into the elites section, however, things get a bit more interesting. 

Apothecaries can potentially bring back one of your models on a 4+ during the movement phase. This is great but is only 50:50 to work plus I'd always leave the most valuable member of the unit to die last - if there's no unit left you can't revive anyone. The Astartes banner carried by the Ancient is a really nice feature. As well as the borderline useless morale boost, you get the chance to shoot as if the shooting phase on a 4+ every time a model dies. Much more useful than the apothecary and can be used as many times as you like. 

Let's talk a bit about warlord traits and relics. There is one warlord trait that would be very useful for a vanilla Astartes warlord babysitting devastators and that is storm of fire. This means that every unit in 6" that rolls a 6 to wound in the shooting phase gets an extra -1 to their AP value. Excellent for weapons that are already at least -1. The standard of the Emperor ascendant can be added to the Ancient above to make the slain models get off one last shot on a 3+ rather than 4+ which is great if you haven't invested in a relic elsewhere or have the command points to spare to buy an extra one. 

Now, how about we talk stratagems. There are a few that stand out to me as being great for devastators. Individual chapter stratagems are covered below. Hellfire shells and flakk missiles make heavy bolters and missile launchers auto-include in my army, especially on devastators. the ability to put d3 mortal wounds on anything (especially good against daemon Primarchs) is amazing, especially in conjunction with the signum and any re-rolls. Wisdom of the ancients can turn a nearby dreadnought into a mock-captain for re-rolling to hit rolls of 1 - useful if you have no other access to re-rolls and have a shooty dreadnought in your backfield. Lastly, any fool who wants to deep strike within 12" of your devastators is about to have a really bad day if you play auspex scan - especially if you are in a re-roll bubble. I'm going to branch off now and talk about each of the 10 chapters in detail. This will cover any directly relevant chapter tactics, stratagems, Warlord traits and relics. 

Black Templars - you shouldn't really have any devastators as you have the excellent crusader squads and should be marching towards the enemy anyway! But still, the stratagem can help to protect you from mortal wounds should your heavy weapons be the nearest for smite or be the target of a mortal wound dealing psychic power.

Blood Angels - as noted above, they are the only chapter to get the benefit of heavy flamers, which aren't very useful as a gunline but can be devastating (no pun intended) as an advancing unit or counter-charge. Keep them in a razorback with 4 heavy flamers and a combi-flamer then unleash them (ideally into cover and on an objective) against your opponent. Then dare them to charge you next turn! Although a pre-disposition towards jump packs and charging (red thirst) doesn't really make devastators a thing for Blood Angels, I always include a unit. Having said that, at least you get the bonus to your wound rolls if you do get charged. Veritas vitae and the standard of sacrifice can indirectly benefit them with extra command points or a 5+ feel no pain (as well as the usual standard benefits) respectively. 

Dark Angels - having head several games with these chaps recently, I'm content to say that their devastators are pretty damn terrifying. Along with Blood Angels heavy flamers, these are the only chaps I tend to run with a single weapon load-out. Namely plasma. Before I go any further I will just mention that they have a few other tricks up their sleeve. The chapter banner bearer with sacred standard allows the usual one-last-attack shenanigans, but on a 2+. They also have a Warlord trait which benefits devastators, granting a once per battle reroll plus regaining command points on a 5+ (Azrael's).

But that's not all. They have two specific stratagems which work excellently with devastators as well as a chapter tactic and Warlord made for gunline filth. Grim resolve is the 'chapter tactic', which means they can re-roll 1s whenever you stay still and shoot (including for overwatch) as well as  never losing more than 1 model for morale checks. Effectively, you don't need to worry about having a Captain nearby. Of the stratagems, one allows you to still shoot despite having fallen back this turn, which is excellent if you do end up getting charged. The second is where the magic really happens though. Weapons from the dark age allow you to increase the damage characteristic of your plasma weapon by 1. Before I go on to demonstrate the effectiveness of this, I should mention that placing Azrael in the centre of your gunline allows rerolls to everything to hit as well as providing you with a 4++ invulnerable save!

Now, imagine this. You have a devastator squad which needs to kill a big nasty dead, sitting near Azrael and his Lt. You fire all 4 of your plasma cannons, overcharging as you go and using weapons from the dark age. For the sake of it you use your cherub too. The signum increased your chance to hit for 1 of them and Azrael allows you to reroll all your to hit rolls. The Lt is allowing you to reroll to wound rolls of 1 also. Which means that a fair few of your S8 Ap-3 shots will be getting through. Bear in mind that the maximum damage from this shot is 45. For the sake of 1 command point. Which Azrael gets back on a 5+. It is absolutely devastating. I have almost single handedly taken down both Magnus and a Tessaract Vault on turn 1 using this (with a little help from snipers, flakk and hellfire in my tactical/scout squads) 

Imperial Fists - designed for devastators! Well, not quite. Ignoring cover saves is all well and good except that mostly you will be targeting big nasties or vehicles which rarely get to benefit from them. I'm yet to come up against a fortification in 8th, but if so you can re-roll to wound against it. Their warlord trait can be beneficial against AP values of -1, granting you extra cover modifiers. The bolter drill stratagem would be of minor use on the heavy bolters as you'd mainly be using hellfire.

Iron Hands - while neither their stratagem nor relic or warlord trait are helpful, gaining a 6+ feel no pain on every infantry model does benefit your devastators also.

Raven Guard - now here's an interesting thing. Though Raven guard are more associated with stealth and jump packs, they do get a lot of benefits to their backfield infantry units such as devastators due to the -1 to hit chapter tactic. With careful deployment, you can sit in cover with impunity, getting +1 to save and -1 to hit. Alternatively, you can get very close for some Multi-melta fun with strike from the shadows, but this would be a waste of assets and better suited to a few suicide company vets with melta guns.

Salamanders - you don't get any benefit from their stratagem (as for some Emperor-forsaken reason they can't take heavy flamers) and their Chapter tactic, while brilliant for the most part, will only really benefit you if you don't have a re-roll bubble already, as you can't re-roll a re-roll. However, if your re-rolls are only that of 1s you can always save your Salamander re-roll for the dreaded 2's.

Space Wolves - the only chapter with no tactics as of yet and not even devastators as such. Long Fangs have no access to Cherubs nor do they come with a signum. They do have a 5-7 unit size, 5 heavy weapon capacity and the ability to have a Wolf Guard terminator (great for ablative wounds!) leading the pack. In addition, their special rule allows you to single out an enemy unit per turn and re-roll 1s to hit for the squad. This discourages split fire - ironic as in previous editions they were the only heavy weapons squads that could do it! 

Ultramarines - assuming you do get in engaged in combat and survive, their chapter tactic is great for falling back and hosing the enemy with retaliatory fire. The Warlord trait is indirectly beneficial, potentially giving you more command points to spend on stratagems as above. Their stratagem is useful if you don't have any other source of re-rolls to hit nearby.

Whitescars - your devastators are called attack bikes! In all seriousness there's no reason you should be falling back then charging with your devastators nor necessarily advancing. 

Well, that concludes my look at devastators. I hope this was useful for people. As always I certainly find these articles helpful for myself as I always find out something that I didn't realise before when researching them. Cheers.


  1. I'm very curious if the yet to be released Spring 2018 40k FAQ will change the Raven Guard's -1 to Hit, with -1 to Hit seeming to be going away in later codexes as 8th Ed moves on. Back in 7th Ed Imperial Fists also got to reroll on the Vehicle Damage chart, and I would love to see their chapter tactic get some bonus against vehicles again.

    One very dicey but fun and explosive way to play Devastators that goes unmentioned in this review is using them like 7th Ed style Drop Pod assassins. 4 Devastators with Multimeltas and a Cherub could potentially destroy a Knight, and is likely to drop it below half it's Hit Points. Not optimal per say but definitely a fun thing to consider.

    I've been struggling with my 8th Ed Space Marines to get more mobile while still using the Cheap means of fire power that the Devastators offer. I do after all have 4 Squads of Devastators, which are pretty good in 8th. But in general Mobility is huge and I love the CC shenanigans. Though in general I want to keep my Devastors in the back I've been considering that for some games against opponents who don't have tanks, maybe I actually use the Devastators out of the Drop Pod and use them for Screens or Charging.

    I've seen some pretty violent lists that were based around 5-6 units of Devastators, with with something like 8 Heavy Bolters, 6 Missile Launchers and the rest Lascannons. Either Raven Guard or Ultramarines with Guilliman, they'd just try to screen and shoot, not many armies can receive that much incoming fire and last, though it is an inflexible list.

    One last strategy I see with Devastators is to pair them with Lias Issodon, who allows 3 Infantry Marine units to deep strike with him, that way the Devastators are off the board and not vulnerable to being shot turn 1. I also see a lot of Razorbacks with Devastators, conveniently fitting 6 models.

    The Banner of the Emperor Ascendant: The way I see the math, a Hunter Killer Missile is 6 points and the Armonium Cherub is 5 points, so 5~6 points is the cost to fire one heavy weapon per turn. 25 points for a Lascannon, expecting 5 turns of shooting (if you're lucky/good), comes to 5 points a turn of shooting.

    A Company Ancient is ~60 points, so that should come to ~10-12 heavy weapon shots. 10 heavy weapon shots would require 20 marines dying at a 4+, or 15 marines dying for a 3+. So taking that math straight, it would be about 4 Devastator Squads (16 marines to die) for the Company Ancient to meet his price point. However what I really like about removing a Heavy Bolter or Missile Launcher from the Devastators is that you can use Flakk Missile or Hell Fire Shell stratagem then during the opponent's turn, and thus chuck mortal wounds at that time. However you can only use this mechanic for models within 6" of the Banner, which isn't a given. Banners also help with losing models on the Alpha-Strike. However it is a bit illuminating to see that the Banner really does need a lot of models around to make him points efficient.

    1. Hi Nick,
      Thanks for the reply. I think you're right about raven guard. That's a painful tactic with Issadon - hadn't considered that before. I think there is some merit to using drop pod suicide squads, but then maybe there are other units that could do it better. My issue with transports is that they cost so much now and the -1 to hit when you disembark.

      Interesting mathammer with the 5 point rule. I guess other things to take into account are that generic bolter marines and close combat will also benefit from the banner. The dark angel sacred standard pulls it off on a 2+ but costs 83 points base. Did you account for the 13 points for the marine wielder when costing the lascannon at 25 points? I understand where you are coming from with the calculations but still think the standard is worth a shot.