Taking Deathwatch Units in 40k

Guest author, Dennis brings us an article on using Deathwatch Space marines in games of 40k! Check the Tactics Corner for more great articles.

Deathwatch units can be fielded in one of two ways.   The first way is to take them as an ‘ally’ with one HQ and troop.  This lets you grab the character(s) of your choice and Squad Donatus.   The advantage of this is that it lets you pick and choose what you with with very little tax.   There is value to this, as some of the characters can be effective on their own.

While only the HQ deathwatch can join other units, other ICs can join the character, which open up some combos with their special rules.   If you want a cheap way to give hit and run to your iron hands chapter master, attaching him to Jetek is a good way to do it.   Edryc could be used to give shrouded and stealth to an IC until turn 2.  

The second method is to bring the Kill Team Cassius formation.   More about this formation will be discussed later in the article, as it’s benefits are best seen after we review the specific models. 


Ortan Cassius

Ortan Cassius clocks in at 95 points, where a C:SM chaplin is 90 points.   In regards to gear and stat lines, they are identical with two exceptions.

The C:SM chaplain comes with Chapter Tactics, and this is not to be overlooked, as we all well know.   Hit and Run is one of the best special rules in the game, FNP gives an extra layer of protection vs incoming damage, etc.      While some of these traits could be passed back to Cassius, such as Hit and Run, it is something to consider.

Cassius, in lieu of chapter tactics, comes with special issue ammunition with his bolt pistol.    This gives him some various options with his pistol, such as giving it one of these four options.

  • Ignores Cover
  • Poisoned (2+)   
  • 15” range
  • AP3, gets hot

By itself, this is not bad.   However, I would still rather have Chapter Tactics.

Best Feature

By and far the best thing about Ortan Cassius is that the model is breathtaking.   GW has outdone themselves on this model, if you are looking for a chaplain model to use,  this one is top notch.

Worst Feature

Losing Chapter Tactics is a blow.   While you can make it up with transferable special rules, it’s still a negative.   

In Game Use

Cassius has two abilities you would want to use him for.   Firstly is his zealot ability, which gives ‘fearless’ to a unit.   This can be used with large blob squads to ensure they do not flee at the first sign of contact.  While some ICs are better for this role, like Azrael, Cassius is only 95 points.

The second thing you could use him for would be an IC for your sternguard who has a weapon (pistol) that matches the rest of your unit.   Since some traits like ‘Hit and Run’ transfer, you could still use him with effect.   The value this would bring to your sternguard would be some more melee punch, and of course the zealot rule.


Jensus Natorian

Jensus comes in at 95 points with the same statline as a librarian.   Given that Jenus is a level two psyker, an equivalent librarian would be 90 points, meaning Jensus is 5 more points than the librarian equivalent.

He has the same gear as a stock librarian with four major differences.   Instead of a force weapon, he comes with a force sword.   This is likely done for the thematic reasons, where the character was known for a sword instead of an axe or maul — but the reality is that the sword is the worst of all three options.  

The next big difference is that Jensus can only take from the biomancy tree.   This is purely thematic in nature, as the story behind Jensus fits that power line.   In game terms, however, it greatly limits his usefulness, as biomancy is not usually your ‘go to’ for librarians.

Finally, like Cassius, he trades out his chapter tactics for a bolt pistol with sternguard-esque rounds.   In some cases this is less of a hinderance, as some traits are transferred like ‘Hit and Run’, ‘Crusader’ and ‘Adamantium Will’.   Other traits like FNP, or ‘Bolter Drill’ are not as good with Jensus as they will not transfer to him.

Best Feature

Like Cassius, the best feature is that he is a beautiful model that draw attention.   

Worst Feature

It’s a hard choice as there are many bad features.   Being forced to pick one psychic tree or losing chapter tactics both suck.   The one that takes this over the top, however, is the force sword.  While Jensus might get ‘Iron Arm’ to make that sword something dangerous, in most games it will be a near useless tool.   

In Game Use

Jensus would fit well in a squad of sternguard, bolstering their melle effectiveness with his own.   If you roll ‘endurance’ he could add ‘endurance’ to the squad, giving relentless grav cannons every round.  

The fact is though, in nearly every situation, you are better off just taking a normal librarian over Jensus.    Luckily, you can, and still use the beautiful model!


Squad Donatus

This squad is best compared to a sternguard squad.   They are fairly costly, coming in at 35 points per model, they have the statline of sternguard along with a wealth of special rules.  If you like an extremely ‘character centric’ army, this is an excellent unit as there is a lot of flavor with each character.    

Vael Donatus

Has a boltgun, sternguard special issue ammo, and precision shots.    Precision shots can be useful when you want to remove that one special weapon from a unit.   While the chances of Vael getting this off are fairly slim, 30% per round of shooting in rapid fire range, it’s a nice bonus when it does happen.

Drenn Redblade

Drenn also has the sternguard boltgun and carries two CCWs.   This makes him fairly beefly in assault compared to a vanilla marine with 3 attacks instead of one.   Unfortunately that still does not say much, as a marine with 3 attacks is not that impressive.    

What Drenn brings to the table is Counter Attack, which is shared by the rest of the squad.   As long as Drenn is alive, the squad will be counter attacking with 16 attacks.

Rodricus Grytt

Rodricus truly has a great weapon slung over his plastisteel shoulder — much better than it appears at first glance   He packs a short ranged, AP3 autocannon that can move and shoot!    If that was not enough, it also doubles a dual shot heavy flamer that is rending instead of AP4.    

I cannot talk enough about how great of a tool this is.     This weapon lets you hurt light armor. It lets you take down AP3.   It deals with hordes.    I wish I could put it on every tactical squad.

Ennox Sorrlock

Ennox carries a combi-melta with his bolter.   This is a nice extra piece of anti-armor added to the unit that fits their role of ‘jack of all trades’.    Ennox also has a FNP of 6+, which means that after his combi-melta has fired, he is the one standing up front to catch the bullets for his friends.

Zameon Gydrael

Zameon carries the one weapon set that I would never bring on a sergeant, a power pistol and power sword.    They are the least cost-effective upgrades you can give a sergeant normally.

Zameon also gives the unit stubborn, which can be useful in preventing the unit from falling back.   Given that they also have ATSKNF, this has less value, but it’s still a good ability as most things that can beat you in assault can also catch you when you try and run away.

Best Feature

The unit flexibility the big appeal of this unit.   Hordes, no problem.   Need to take down a vehicle, no problem.    AP3 giving you trouble, no problem.    They are not a complete swiss army knife unit, as they can’t hurt a wraithknight reliably — but they are good multitaskers.

Worst Feature

The worst feature is the cost of the squad.   This is how I see the cost breaking down in upgrades to the squad.  

  • Deathwatch Frag Cannon – 25
  • Plasma Pistol – 15
  • Power Weapon – 15
  • Combi-Melta – 10

If you added those same upgrades to a normal squad, you would get the same cost — but noone in their right mind would ever add a plasma pistol and power weapon, so you are paying for useless upgrades.   

In Game Use

This is a catch-all squad you can add to an army to give flexibility to handle a variety of problems.   I would put them into a drop pod borrowed from the core army and let them deal with all kinds of different problems.   

I would borrow another formations drop pod to pop these guys exactly where they are best used.


Edryc Setorax

This guy is amazing in a squad–  passing on a huge number of special rules down into it.   If he was an independent character, I would see him being included in multiple lists!   Since he is not an independent character, his use is much less impressive.

Edryc comes with Stealth, and gets Shrouded until the start of the second turn.   He also gets ‘Heroic Intervention’ which means he effectively has ‘fleet’ for purposes of assault, and finally he can reroll failed “To Wound” rolls from his hammer of wrath — a nice damage boost.

He is jump infantry with two lightning claws, giving him 4 attacks on the charge (plus the shredding HoW hit), making him extremely dangerous to many units.

This is one of the prime candidates to become an ‘IC buddy’ by attaching him to an IC to give the IC stealth and shrouded until turn two.

Best Feature

The combination of special rules this guy brings make him really good.   For example, in light cover he enjoys a 2+ cover save on the first turn of the game.

Worst Feature

Edryc cannot make friends outside his buddies in deathwatch.   If he was an independent character, and not just a character, he would be amazing.   Instead he has to be drafted by other ICs.

In Game Use

Edryc is best used as a harassment unit.   At 35 points, he is not a big investment but can easily hide and grab things like ‘linebreaker’ for you.      As a harassment unit, he can also be used to hit soft targets like 10 cultists sitting on an objective. 


Antor Delassio

Antor is a bad version of Edryc.     Where Edryc has the proper weapons to be a threat in antor is just an assault marine with furious charge and ‘charge fleet’    He should cost 20 points instead of 35.

Antor has a hand flamer, a chainsword, and comes with Furious Charge and ‘Heroic Intervention’.  Like Edryc, he is a jump infantry character.

Best Feature

His hand flamer.   His rapid movement combined with the hand flamer could let you get in some nice flames before he assaults and dies.

Worst Feature

Hand flamers and chainswords don’t cut it in the grim world of 40k.     He has no offensive punch worth of note.

In Game Use

Like Edryc, this guy is a harassment unit.   I would use him to harass small backfield units, grab objectives, and get secondaries like ‘linebreaker’.


Garran Branatar

This guy is 20 more points than a normal terminator, clocking in at 60 points.    For that cost, he brings a lot to the table, with a few solid uses.

He comes with a heavy flamer, master crafted meltagun and master crafted power fist.   All three of those are excellent weapons on a fairly cheap platform.   Master crafted on a WS4 STR 8 melee weapon is quite good, as you are much more likey to wiff the 4+ to hit than you will on the 2+ to wound.

He also gets ‘Flamecraft’, giving him chapter tactics of the salamanders.    Rerolling ‘To wound’ results with his heavy flamer means he goes from wounding pesky eldar ⅚ of the time to 35/36 of the time.    With Garran, if you are shooting at a vehicle, you want to be using his melta gun and not his heavy flamer.

Best Feature

It’s a close call.  His master crafted melta gun edges out on it’s ability to deliver a powerful strike to an armored target, as it’s hitting 8/9 of the time instead of ⅔ of the time, making it pretty darn reliable.   

Worst Feature

The lack of sweeping advances is his biggest weakness, like any unit in terminator armor must deal with.

In Game Use

This guy is also a harassment unit, like a lone wolf who can deep strike.   Pop him down near the enemy and go to town.   With is master crafted melta gun and power fist, he is a threat to armor, and his heavy flamer can cause problems for objective holder deck chair units.

Overall, this guy is a good value at 60 points.


Jetek Suberei

When looking at these deathwatch units, it appears that GW missed the ball on point value balance again.    This guy is an amazing value, clocking in at 40 points and bringing a long list of special rules

  • HoW
  • Hit and Run
  • Jink
  • Relentless
  • Split Fire
  • Skilled Rider
  • Born in the Saddle

He also has a teleporter homer, which allows him to help you deep strike any terminators you might want to drop.     This has a lot of strategic use, as it’s very easy to hide a 40 point model behind cover.

He has a power sword, which is normally a 15 point upgrade on a biker, combined with two base attacks — a value normally reserved for vet sergeants.   He comes with special weapon ammunition, giving him a variety weapon options.  

Best Feature

This guy’s point value is his best feature.    He gets so many options and special rules for 40 points, I see him as an auto-include for nearly any army using deathwatch.

Worst Feature

He only has one wound.   Yes, I know I’m nit-picking here.  

In Game Use

Zetek is an excellent harassment unit.   With his special issue ammunition, his speed, his ability to hit enemies in assault, he can cause a lot of problems to backfield units.

Zetek can also be used to be a cheap delivery system for terminators via a teleporter homer.    The fact that he is one model is extremely helpful for this purpose, allowing him to easily hide.


Kill Team Cassius

This formation is more complex than it appears at first.   The first thing you probably have when looking at the formation is sticker shock.   The point cost is exceptionally high, and is the biggest weakness of the formation.    However, there are some other things that deserve a second look.

Special Rules

You might have noticed that there were a number of characters with special rules that did not make much sense.  For example, what good is it to allow a single model to have ‘Heroic Intervention’ to assault multiple squads?    Why does Jetek have split fire?

This formation is the reason for those rules to be in place.   And this formation unit comes with a wealth of special rules from all the characters in the unit!   

  • Stubborn
  • Counter Attack
  • Zealot
  • Split Fire
  • Hit and Run
  • Stealth
  • Shrouded until turn 2
  • Heroic Intervention (ignore disorganized charge, fleet charge)
  • Fearless
  • Wall of Death (heavy flamer, hand flamer)
  • Automatically pass dangerous terrain tests (from skilled rider)

Some of these rules combine in odd ways, such as Jetek’s skilled rider allowing Edryc’s jump pack move to ignore dangerous terrain tests.    In other ways they combine to make no sense, like stubborn and fearless.

Formation Rules

In addition to those 11 special rules, they also get the ability to reroll any to-wound or armor penetration rolls of a 1.    

When hitting targets of equal toughness, the attack will wound 58.3% of the time instead of 50% of the time.  When hitting targets which you wound ⅔ of the time,  the chance of wounding jumps from 66.6% to 77.7%.   When hitting targets where you wound ⅚ of the time, you jump to a 97% wound rate.

As you see, the effect from this increases the greater your wound chance.   This combines very well with the hellfire rounds from bolters, the power fist, melta guns, or the combi melta.   It also combines well with low toughness targets like warp spiders.   

It means when using this formation, targets of lower toughness are better.   Of course, you still can use split fire to throw your cannon shot at another target.

Assault Capabilities

This is the breakdown of the squad’s assault capability.   They get 28 attacks normally, with another 11 on the first round of combat, given their counter-assault special rule.   They also get to reroll ‘to hit’ rolls the first round due to the zealot special rule.


Model STR AP Attacks Special
Cassius 6 4 3 Concussive
Jensus 4 3 3 Force
Vael Donatus 4 2
Drenn Redblade 4 3
Rodricus Grytt 4 2
Ennox Sorrlock 4 2
Zameon Gydrael 4 3 3
Edryc Setorax 4 3 3 Shred, HoW
Antor Delassio 4 3 Furious Charge, HoW
Garron Branatar 8 2 2 Master Crafted
Jetek Suberei 4 3 2 HoW

What will this do to most targets?   It depends on the target.   It will tear a new a-hole into a large unit of weak targets like IG blobs or gaunts.   It will wipe out squads of MEQ, or warp spiders.   It might even make a dent into a bike death star.   It will bounce off a wraithknight.

Death Star Capacity

This squad by itself is not a death star.   While it’s damage output is impressive, the durability for point investment is not.   Each model is at least 35 points with a majority of 3+ saves.

Another issue with the squad is mobility.   Since some of the unit are not infantry, they cannot fit in any of the non-forgeworld transports.    This means they are foot slogging it.

One of the better features with this squad is the price.    $165 (before FLG discount) gets you all these models, the genestealer models, and all the board game rules.    

Best Feature

The special rules are the best feature of this squad.    I expect that we will see combinations in the future where an IC joins these squad to take advantage of all the special rules.    For example, if you had a Tigurius throwing invisibility on the squad every turn they could have lots of fun smashing anything smaller than a wraithknight.    Tigurius can pretty reliability get invisibility as well!

Even by building upon the ‘superfriends’ model of thought, you could enhance this squad.  Adding 5 rune priests from a wyrdstorm brotherhood formation would make the brotherhood much stronger.   The same could be done with a C:SM Libarius Conclave.    The idea is that you add a stack of cheap ICs to the squad to take advantage of the rules and provide squad buffs.

Worst Feature

The durability of the squad is seriously lacking for the amount of points invested.   Those 13 wounds in the squad will go quickly.

While this durability issue could be addressed by throwing 5 more librarians into the squad, the overall cost of the unit at that point begins to skyrocket.

An alternate to fixing this durability is to add iron priests with 4 cyberwolves each.   Two priests added to the squad would bring 10 more bodies and two more thunderhammers.   

In Game Use

By itself, I don’t see this formation making it’s way into competitive lists due to the durability issue.

I do see this as being great for fluffy lists, narrative games, or small point games where you want to give a ‘necromunda’ feel to your army – with each character having their own unique traits.  

I also want to point out again that we might find some extremely broken combos into the squad at a later event.   If we one day find an IC who can add 5 point bolter henchmen to himself and whatever squad he joins, then Kill Team Cassius will go from ‘Meh’ to ‘Woah’.

What do you all think of the Deathwatch models in 40k? And as always, Frontline Gaming sells Games Workshop product at up to 25% off retail, every day!


About Reecius

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12 Responses to “Taking Deathwatch Units in 40k”

  1. fluger March 18, 2016 10:20 am

    I gotta admit, I was hoping for a lot more out of this stuff. I get why GW decided to make all these guys have unique stuff and be characters but not ICs, but they don’t feel cohesive enough as stand alone units, nor versatile enough in solo roles to ally in on their own.

    For pure fluffy fun and no competitive value whatsoever, you could do what my friend, Westrider is doing, running these formations and then the Execution Force.

  2. Lord Krungharrr March 18, 2016 11:21 am

    Hmmm I sure do like some of those models. I guess you could drop pod in some then join them by like six thunderwolfguardbattleleaders. Not sure why but possible. Or draigo and gate to wherever? Along with the six thunderleaders?

  3. Pascalnz March 18, 2016 12:44 pm

    counter attack is not conferred to the squad only to the guy that has it. Very important!
    I thought that was the case as well, I thought it made the BA term special character Captain good… sadly not to be the case. the wording is a little weird but it is absolutely clear:(

  4. tag8833 March 18, 2016 12:46 pm

    I think the Genestealer cult has more viability overall.

  5. Pascalnz March 18, 2016 12:52 pm

    a couple of other nitpicks. the frag canon is strength six ap- with rending not strength 5[the author mentioned it was a heavy flamer swapping ap4 for rending]
    Heroic intervention also has a very important rule that allows the holder and his unit to ignore the penalties for multi assaulting.

    Which is freakin badass!!!

  6. westrider March 18, 2016 12:57 pm

    Yeah, these guys are basically a “just for fun” option. Lots of coolness factor, but not much real effectiveness.

    Speaking of which, a couple of corrections:
    1) The Vanguard re-roll for Charges is worse than Fleet, because you have to re-roll both dice if you use it, instead of being able to re-roll just one if you get, say, a 1 and a 6 on an 8″ Charge.
    2) Counter-attack doesn’t benefit the whole Unit. It’s easy to misread, because it triggers if at least one Model has it, but only models with the Rule actually get the benefit.

    • tag8833 March 19, 2016 6:23 am

      I have always played Counter-attack wrong. Thanks for that.

  7. Black Blow Fly March 18, 2016 3:54 pm

    That flamer mauls xenos.

  8. Colin Sherlow March 18, 2016 4:02 pm

    I think the death watch Marines should be allowed to be permanently attached to similar units from the marine codex. Like the white scar dude should be able to join a unit of bikes or something.

  9. happy_inquisitor March 19, 2016 10:53 am

    Silver lining to the Chapter Tactics cloud is that these IC do not turn off Chapter Tactics of any unit they join. If you have a force of mixed chapters then these IC have the option to join any unit without spoiling the existing Chapter Tactics party.

    For example an Ultramarine IC would disable Chapter Tactics in any Raven Guard he joined; these guys do not and could freely jump around between such units and benefit from their Chapter Tactics.

  10. Harold Black March 21, 2016 3:38 am

    Great little motley crew to play in casual games. Definitely a lot of xenos tech that you could intimidate eldar and tau with, but due to the eclectic options each model is forced to take, you really can’t optimize range. Assault ability is hit and miss with the lack of consistent ap2 weapons in assault, so charging terminators, riptides, and specialty units seems circumstantial. I honestly believe the Genecult brings more to the table in comparison but if you don’t mind paying the points, you can definitely have fun with these guys.

  11. Dogberry1982 March 21, 2016 9:44 am

    I guess it’s cool that GW included rules to play these guys in 40k, but outside of the board game I think they will mostly be used as character models for their specific chapters. That’s not really a bad thing, since it gives white scars a new Khan model, and some cool models for other armies to sprinkle in.