Monday, March 17, 2014

The Wolves of Fenris

Hey there everyone, and welcome to Rites of Battle.  Today's article actually comes from a request from T.J. Hubbard asking if I could look into one of his favorite armies in 40k, The Space Wolves.  While the topic itself if fairly broad, I've decided to hone in on a few basic elements which make up the army, and go from there.  For me this is an interesting chance to review the army in a broad sense, as it has been one of those armies I really wish I played for a variety of reasons, but just never have, and more or less probably never will.  For a while they were everywhere, and I just didn't care to be another one of the wolfen ranks for variety's sake, but even now that those days are past I already have a marine army, and there are several other armies I'd want before the old pups.

That said, the Wolves have all but disappeared from the 40k scene, and I really can't understand why.  Given the current state of the game, to me these guys are a perfect fit for the direction the game seems to have gone, and have honestly held up in their age far better than most of their Astartes Brethren had before their updates.  But, lets get into some of the finer points that make up the Lupine Sons of Russ.

Having a history almost as far reaching as 40k itself, this army is brimming with stories and tales.  From the far reaches of the Pre-Heresy era of the Legions, to the many tales of their exploits during the Horus Heresy, and subsequently many long years of survival as one of the less adherent "Chapters" in the 41st millennium, this army has some of the most wide-spread and diverse fluff of any Space Marine army.  While I myself am not invested in the fluff, I know that there are a fair few number of stories which include the Space Wolves.  With several novels including Space Wolf, Ragnar's Claw, Sons of Fenris, Wolf's Honor, a pair of Omnibuses, and more, this army has several tales to ingrain players into their lore, and their way of thinking.  It's also in a rare position to be portrayed not only as the honorable warriors, but as the brutal antagonists in Black Library's Prospero Burns.  To me it's a rare chance to see not only the Legion's Primarch, but sheds some dark light on this chapter; something not often seen when it comes to the Astartes whom are usually portrayed as the protagonists, or at the very least saviors to the protagonists.

Even in their codex, they have several great stories in their history and "fluff" section.  Not only in the generic sense that the writing is well done, but also because it is a singular direction and unique history for their chapter as far as the Space Marines are concerned.  One of the benefits of being on of the oldest established armies for the Space Marines is that they have had the time and attention to be well established and given a very unique spin.  From the ability to still enjoy the sensation of hard liquor, to the "flaw" in their Gene seed, this army really has some features which can make for some excellent narrative creation, or just enjoyment of their presence on the tabletop.

This army was last revised just around the time Games Workshop was really getting their footing on the advancement of model detailing, and it still shows.  Even though some of their new kits have a little bit of issue with the spaces between details, the actual quality of the sculpts are still superb.  On release they were given a beautiful power armor kit as well as a terminator kit, both of which still hold up as being what I feel are some of the nicest marine kits out there.  Filled with a slew of bitz, these boxes form a great core of the army, and allow for the mix and match of several elements, making sure no two models need to look the same.  The pelts are nicely detailed, and offer a unique canvas for each model, allowing for a nice juxtaposition between the rough fur, and smooth armor plates.

At the head of the army are several nicely sculpted independent characters.  Though some of these models like Ulric and the Rune Priest with plasma Pistol stem from the realm of 3rd edition, so gorgeous were the sculpts that they still hold up to today's standard of model detail.  Added to this line were the impressive new model for Njal, Canis, and Arjac, as well as the later released Wolf Lord on Cyberpuppy.  These models, along with the ability to kit bash from the previously mentioned boxes to create a build your own leader makes these models a huge selling point for the line up.  Now, that's not to say there aren't some relic models from a time long ago that could do with an update.  Ragnar and The Great Wolf Logan Grimnar himself are both desperately in need of new sculpts.  Though this does present an option for folks to have some fun with build your own conversions.

And Speaking of, that is something else this line has going for it.  Bitz and bitz and bitz.  Not only the surplus that you get from the kit's you need to build the army, but there are dozens of alternatives out there.  Forgeworld offers some very nice options for terminators shoulders, torsos, and vehicle upgrades.  On top of this, sites like Scibor have a whole "Celtic" line which really plays up that Nordic feel the line has quite nicely.  The alternative models as well as armor plates and shoulders allow you to really add some flare to your models.  And while it isn't an easy project, the old Warriors of Chaos box from the Warhammer Fantasy can be thrown in on several accounts to make for some heavily armored and sexy conversions.

The models for this army are beautiful, and even though it is rapidly becoming one of the oldest armies in the game, the hobbist in me is still giddy every time I see these models done up well.  Especially when someone really takes the time to get the heavy snow and ice effects on the bases.

So here we see how these Boys in Grey hold up on the table.  While the price of the average Grey Hunter is now a point higher than their vanilla cousins, lets take a moment to examine this.  First and foremost it should be noted that your average troop carries all three of the Space Marine's arsenal.  He gets his bolter, and dual armed weapons, with the usual frags and kraks to party with.  Considering their play style, and their very unique and great wargear system (the free second special per 10), these troops are versatile killing machines.  Now, since the vanilla codex has finally attained a sense of specialty for their chapters (i.e. unique Chapter Tactics), the army rules here are far more in keeping with that idea, rather than just being a flat better choice.

Acute Senses needs to be addressed.  It makes sense for this army to have the ability to see in the dark, and is even mentioned as such in the book itself.  I am not sure why GW has left this as is for so long since the change to 6th edition, but at the very least, it has a place.  The Wolf Scouts are in love with this hick up, as it really allows their special rule of outflanking on the enemy board edge to shine.  If you really want to take advantage of this rule, that unit can do so in spades.

The ability to Counter-Attack any oncoming unit is amazing in this new edition.  Seriously, just think about it.  Not only do you get to show up, and throw down a hail of shots at rapid-fire, but then you get to use the new overwatch ability, followed up by a pretty solid chance to gain an additional attack.  For your basic troop, or even your heavy elite units, this is a pretty solid deal.  While you don't get much from overwatch, its still the fact that unless its ever changed, these rules stack.

While we know this will change in the future codex, the point of the following is that I can't figure out why the army is missing right now.  The Psychic Powers available to this army are so absurdly good.  Not only do you get to choose which powers you want (a very common complain about psychic powers these days), and yes some can still be negated by a magic 6 for Deny the Witch, just look at these powers they can choose from.

- Thunderclap (Poor) - Best used when surrounded in assault or amidst lots of enemy infantry. however, you'll likely find that Murderous Hurricane is better in most, if not all, cases. 

- Living Lightning (Very Good) - arguably the best PP, it's high strength makes it effective against characters, monstrous creatures and - most of all - enemy transports. Combine this with its range and rate of fire and this can harm almost any unit. A Great Power. GREAT!

- Storm Caller (Average) - although a 5+ cover save is very helpful, cover is abundant in 6th ed. and a 5+ save isn't that amazing. If you really need a certain unit to stay alive, then this can be worth your time, however I find the offensive powers to be of more use.

- Tempests Wrath (Good) - This is of limited use, however what it does it does well. Being very dangerous to Chaos Daemons, Eldar, Dark Eldar and Blood Angels, this is perfect for slowing them down and leaving them at your mercy and can significantly restrict Deep Strike deployment. Once again, the more offensive powers are often a better choice however.

- Fury of the Wolf Spirits (Average) - like thunderclap, this is best used against infantry (of all types) but is largely outclassed by Hurricane. It is however particularly good against enemies with low leadership and although I wouldn't recommend it on a normal priest as other powers are better, Njal can use it when need be!

- Murderous Hurricane (Very Good) - Great against infantry of all types, terminators and particularly threatening baddies. The sheer amount of hits it can cause can negate armour and slow down threatening enemies. Almost always worth taking, particularly against enemies such as Orks or Imperial Guard where the sheer amount of str3 attacks can really take its toll.

- JotWW (Very Good) - Great against monstrous creatures, Orcs, Necrons and clustered infantry. Being able to [better than] instant death anything is a huge boon, particularly against enemies with a low initiative or expensive characters that will really be missed if you get a lucky dice roll. It can also work well against massed infantry as it can potentially cause a massive amount of hits. This power is great for making the priest points-effective, removing a Carnifex for example (its best target) can more than make up the points, as can killing several low initiative enemies. Combine with a Jump Pack or Rhino and you can line up some devastating shots. Jaws can also be used to snipe enemy models; such as removing an Ork Nob with a Power Claw from a mob of Boyz. You could then charge a Dreadnought into this mob without fear.
Power reviews from Dakka Dakka.

On top of this, Njal is one of the best Psychers in the game right now.  He has access to Terminator armor, which not only allows him to use a gorgeous model, but also provides an invulnerable save, but he has all of the above powers at his disposal.  On top of all this, he has his own manifested ability he rolls for each turn for free, in addition to all of the powers he'll cast, and probably most importantly, he negates all enemy psychic powers cast within 24" of him on a 3 or better!  How can you not love that?  A 3+ to negate the power, followed by deny the witch if you fail.  Now that's great anti-psych if I've ever seen it. On top of even this, the army has access to Divination.  Seriously, you can replace a single Priest's ability to run whatever powers he wants from Fenris, and grab Prescience and a chance at perfect timing. 

There are a host of other unique leaders, which are fantastic considering the army's ability to bring up to 2 HQ choices per FOC slot.  With access to some potent wargear, Sagas, and generally good stat lines, the build your own HQ choices, ranging from combat gurus, to psychers, to chaplains, and more are resoundly good options.  They also have a slew of unique characters which can really alter and add some character to the army.  As much as I myself am not a huge fan of the proliferation of FOC swaps, I have to remain objective here and say that it is a potent option this codex excels at.  With Canis bringing in the wolves, or the Great Wolf Logan bringing his elite Wolf Guard, the army is capable of really building in a lot of directions, each capable of being unique and interesting.  And for the record, while he's pretty expensive, I think Bjorn is one of the best options, considering he's ranged Dreadnought who becomes an objective upon dying.  So it's possible to sit him back with some friends, and then cap an extra point if the enemy is able to down him.  Not to mention you get to be cool and have a dreadnought as an HQ choice.

The Space Wolves have several Astartes mainstay units in their arsenal while trading a few out for unique units.  But given how their wargear systems work, their unit selections, and the ability to shoot effectively and still hold your own in close combat makes the army incredibly efficient.  There is a broad level of synergy in how the units work together, without forcing it too heavily or punishing you for losing certain elements given the ability to have redundant answers to most any situation.

They have no real Terminator unit, without just upgrading the Wolf Guard unit with it en mass, which tends to prove overly expensive, though potent in it's options given the units ability to split off and lead other units.  However, Terminators are in a somewhat sour spot at the moment as is, and the Wolves gain what I believe to be the single best assault unit of any Space Marine army...

Thunderwolf Cavalry. While expensive, they're durable, fast, and smash down just about anything they see if given the right wargear.  A winning combination in any assault unit.  This unit is iconic, powerful, and a great delivery system for a Wolf Lord on Cyberpup.  Never underestimate how powerful this unit can be if played well, even given 6th edition's focus on shooting.  Especially if lead by a Wolf Lord with a big 'ole beat stick, and the Saga of the Bear making him The most Eternal of Warriors.

Their Long Fangs are still great given their unique split fire capability.  Not only this, but you can split off a Wolf Guard in Terminator armor with a CML and buff their fire power.

The unique opportunity of the Scouts to show up on the enemy board edge, whilst still being WS and BS 4 is pretty nice in terms of tricks.  They are however elites, so no scoring, but they do make for a crafty denial unit.

The Assault unit makes up for the Scouts being beefier by having their WS and BS lowered.  That said, I still think they have a place given the higher maximum squad count they have should you want it.  Additionally, a Wolf Priest with them can make them far better than even a similar unit (Assault Marines with a Chaplain), given the Priests ability to give preferred enemy rather than just the re-roll on the charge.

It's not all rainbows and wolfy sunshine here though.  There are some places where the book feels it's age.  The biggest example of this is that this army has no innate answer to flyers or FMC's.  While it is annoying that they can't handle it themselves, they have outlets to fortifications and allies which can do that great.  Allying in some IG is a potent combination since not only do you gain access to some cheap troop units, but you gain two very important things:  The Vendetta for anti-flyer, and the Leman Russ tanks for additional heavy fire support... as well as the cool factor of playing LEMAN RUSS tanks with your LEMAN RUSS army.

So the question for me is why aren't these guys played?  They are still a very capable and very powerful army.  They have great wargear outlets, both in the manner of obtaining it, and their unique pieces like the Wolf Tooth Necklace and the Talisman.  The point costs seem pretty fair.  Their allies matrix allows for a lot of problem solving, and with new things like Codex: Inquisitor, Codex: Legion of the Damned, and anti-air batteries like the Firestorm Redoubt from Strongpoint Assault, this army is so very capable in today's game.

So where are they?  Is there something that keeps the army from play?  Is it just their age that stops players from playing them, or like Corvus, do they have an irrevocable scar and loath them for destroying their home world, and slaughtering most of their legion?  I am not sure, but I'd love to see this army show up at a major event, and just demolish people who aren't ready for it.  Daemons get wounded on 2's by the Priests, and demolished by the force weapon activation: Eldar have their powers stopped half of the time, or more if Najl shows up, and Tau get a couple of big hungry wolves, and scores of drop podded grey hunters in their face turn one and two.  I still think this army is quite capable, and I challenge those of you with the models (those pretty pretty models) to get them out and see what you can do with the old space pups in the sixth incarnation of the grim derp!  Till next time.



  1. Swiftclaws are also worth taking
    ATSKNF, Acute Senses, Counter-attack, Headstrong and Berserk Charge

  2. Generally speaking I like most of the options in this codex. Not all of them are meta top-tier, but they're almost always worth considering. It fits a broad number of play styles, and quite well at that.

  3. I believe Heldrakes are pretty much the sole reason we don't see the wolves at competitions. Even with a quadgun and an ally for some extra AA, if the enemy has even two drakes, it is unlikely there will be any troops left to score by the time drakes are dealt with (if at all).

    That said, I strongly believe if playing a marine army already, wolves are the absolute best allies. The tricks and shenanigans they can add to a solid core will be most commanders into fits (as my list has proven: nothing like being called cheesy by a triple riptide buffmander list).

  4. But they don't have a Leman Russ tank anymore =(

  5. That's why you bring the IG with them. Not only do you net some Leman Russ tanks, but you get surfs to poor your ale after every battle!

  6. I've been running MSU wolves at UK tournaments all through 6th and still think they can compete given the right support. For me, this comes in the form of IG allies with Inquisition backup for anti-flier, cheap scoring and dirty dirty FW thudd guns and sabres (check out my blog if you want to know more!).

    I still think hunters are the best basic marine in the game, but as time has gone on I've been finding that other roles are filled better by allies. I'm not sure what the new codex will bring, but I'm hoping it will be more variation in terms of options for competitive play!



  7. Just to reiterate, in tandem with the above comment, the biggest thing to "knock over" the Dogs is the evolution of the metagamer: Guard -> Wolves -> GKs -> Necrons -> Tau -> Eldar.

    This is not to say everyone with one of these armiess owns them for the "win the meta" strength of them, but rather to indicate that wolves became prolific after loganwing thrashed guard. Those players (along with many a Razorwolf and Thunderbubble player) moved into other armies as the game "progressed".

    I'll agree wholeheartedly that they're probably still the best power armored codex out there (White scars notwithstanding), and not just in potency but in list diversity as well. The codex is much more capable in assault than Big Blue is and that opens up countless additional list opportunities, even if at the "cost" of chapter tactics. Past that, unless 2-3 players are bringing 2-3 dragons each are prevalent in your meta, prescienced longfangs are a reasonable answer to the dreaded turkey, and likewise the priests will offer a handy solution to the riptide (something else making life challenging for power armor).