Deathwatch Codex Review: Stratagems


Hi everyone, Michael here with a review of the stratagems in the new Deathwatch codex. For more reviews and analyses, check out the Tactics Corner.

Rating system

Here is the rating systems I will be using in the review:

  • Competitive: This is a codex entry (unit, stratagem, item, etc.) that has a place in essentially any competitive list built with this faction regardless of unit choices or is the source of a significant force multiplication effect for other units.
  • EfficientThis is a codex entry that can stand on its own merit in a matched play list but works best when combined up with other units or in specific situations to become very powerful but may not always be seen.
  • SituationalThis is a codex entry that may not pass as competitive on its own merits but can be made effective in a creative list, as a meta-buster, or in a specific combo or scenario where it ratchets up in power to potentially very high strength but otherwise will not be seen very often.


  • Armour of Contempt (1CP)– Use when a Deathwatch vehicle suffers a mortal wound. On a 5+, it ignores that mortal wound and any further mortal wounds suffered for the rest of the phase.

Situational. One that probably won’t be used all that often, but could come in useful every once in a while. I can see it being of use to the Corvus Blackstar. This vehicle is more likely to range ahead of the army, so will be the target of Smite attacks more often than other vehicles. If your opponent has a lot of smite or other mortal-wound dealing psychic powers, I can see this being a nice way to help the Corvus survive for a bit longer in a game. Also could be useful for deep striking Dreadnoughts to keep them safe from psychic powers.


  • Auxpex Scan (2CP)– Use when an enemy unit arrives from reserve within 12″ of a Deathwatch Infantry unit. The unit may shoot as if it was the shooting phase, but at -1 to hit.

Competitive. This is a powerful stratagem, giving you the ability to damage enemy units that arrive from reserve before they get a chance to do damage to your army. It  gets even better when you factor in Special Issue Ammunition and Mission Tactics. A Deathwatch unit using Auspex Scan can do serious damage to a range of enemy units, as they can wound most models (excluding vehicles) on a 2+ and get to re-roll 1’s to wound with Mission Tactics. I think more useful with the Beta reserves rules for turn 2 onwards, when your screening units may find themselves out of position or eliminated, making your valuable units more vulnerable to enemy reserves.


  • Armoury of the Watch Fortress (1CP/3CP)– Allows you to take one additional Relic (1CP) or two additional Relics (3CP).

Efficient. The standard stratagem allowing you to take extra Relics. I think this one could be quite useful to taking one extra Relic. The Deathwatch have access to a number of useful Relics, the Tome of Ectoclades being one of the best amongst them. While I don’t see it getting used too often, it can come in handy if you want to equip the Watch Master with the Doombolts, in addition to taking the Tome.

  • Hellfire Shells (1CP)– When firing a Heavy Bolter or Infernus Heavy Bolter, make a single to hit roll. If it hits, the target suffers D3 mortal wounds.

Competitive. A strong stratagem that I use a lot in my Space Marine and Dark Angels army. This is great for going after tough enemy units or putting mortal wounds on a big vehicle or monster. It may not see much use in the Deathwatch, as there is little need for much anti-infantry Heavy Weapons thanks to Special Issue Ammunition, so it is rare to see a Heavy Bolter or Infernus Heavy Bolter in the army, with most players sticking with Frag Cannons. Good for dealing mortal wounds to vehicles though.


  • Orbital Bombardment (3CP)– Once per game, if your warlord didn’t move in the preceding movement phase, you can use this shooting attack. Pick a point on the battlefield. All units within D6″ suffer D3 mortal wounds on a roll of a 4+ (5+ if they are a character).

Situational. An almost useless stratagem for me. Way too expensive at 3 command points, and there are so many failure points in using this. First, you could roll low for the D6 roll and only affect a single unit, or none at all. Then, you need to roll a 4+ for the unit, then you hope to roll well on the D3 mortal wounds. This stratagem could easily eat up more command points just so that it is not wasted. Every once in a while it may be useful if you have the command points spare and really need to finish off an enemy unit, without having access to any other way to deal mortal wounds.


  • Empyric Channeling (1CP)– Use on one Deathwatch Psyker who is within 6″ of at least 2 other Deathwatch Psykers. The can manifest one additional psychic power and add 2 to the psychic test.

Situational. Pretty useful in the right circumstances, but you are unlikely to field three Librarians at once. I just don’t think the Librarius Discipline is good enough to justify fielding more than one Librarian, so don’t see this stratagem being used much.


  • Teleportarium (1-3CP)– Use during deployment. Up to 3 Deathwatch Infantry or Dreadnought units (1CP per unit) can be place in the Teleportarium. This allows them to be set up at the end of any movement phase and can be placed anywhere on the board at least 9″ from an enemy unit.

Competitive. This is a very strong stratagem for the Deathwatch and gives them back the ability to deep strike that they had in 7th edition. I think this is the stratagem that will give the Deathwatch their competitive edge. With the new Beta reserves rules, it does limit what units can go in reserve and where they can deploy on turn 1, but it is still a very strong stratagem for your kill teams.

This is fantastic for getting your Primaris Kill Teams or units into position on turn 2, without having to rely on expensive transport options. You can use this to put a squad of Hellblasters into rapid fire range on turn 2 in relative safety. Also good for putting a Dreadnought next to your opponent’s lines in turn 2. While Dreadnoughts are not the best units in 8th edition, most armies will not be able to ignore one rampaging in their front line.

I’m not sure how this interacts with Bikers in Kill Teams, and whether they can still use the stratagem. Hopefully, an FAQ will deal with this issue.

Thanks to the extra range given with Special Issue Ammunition or Primaris weapons, you can deploy out of the 12″ range that allows most enemy stratagems to target them, and still get two shots from rapid firing their Bolters.

  • Death to the Alien! (1CP)– In the fight phase, each roll of a 6+ to hit gives an additional attack with that weapon. Has no effect on units with Imperium, Chaos or Unaligned keywords.

Situational. I wasn’t that impressed with this in Chapter Approved and my opinion hasn’t really changed. If this was in the shooting phase, it would be great, but you don’t really want your Deathwatch units in combat. Could be handy every once in a while, maybe for Vanguard Veterans in combat, or for when you really need to finish off an enemy unit.


  • Only in Death Does Duty End (2CP)– Allows a slain character to shoot as if it were the shooting phase or fight as if it were the Fight phase.

Competitive. Another strong Space Marine stratagem that should be just as useful for the Deathwatch. Would allow your slain Watch Master or Watch Captain to strike back and possible harm or kill an enemy unit. This gives a nice parting blow to an enemy unit when your character is slain.


  • Honour Your Brothers (3CP)– Allows a Deathwatch Infantry or Biker unit to attack again at the end of the Fight phase.

Efficient. Another strong stratagem, but expensive at 3CP. Very useful on a unit tooled up for combat that didn’t quite finish off an enemy unit, or the chance to take out an enemy vehicle or monster in combat with your attacks. Most Deathwatch units are not that great in combat, with the exception of some of the characters. Could be useful every once in a while, but not something I would count on winning you the game.


  • Wisdom of the Ancients (1CP)– Use on a Dreadnought. All Deathwatch units within 6″ can re-rolls 1’s to hit.

Efficient. A nice stratagem if you have a Dreadnought in your army. This is useful for the Deathwatch in a number of ways. Good for backfield units to improve their accuracy without needing a Watch Master or Watch Captain with them. Also, due to the ability to “deep strike” Dreadnoughts in the army, it can be used to improve the accuracy of Kill Teams arriving from the Teleportarium if they are also supported by a Dreadnought.


  • Flakk Missile (1CP)– Used when a Missile Launcher targets an enemy unit with the Fly keyword. Make one to hit roll at +1 to hit. If hit, the shot does D3 mortal wounds.

Situational. A nice stratagem for taking on enemy flyers or doing damage to units with the Fly keyword that are not at -1 to hit. If you are taking Missile Launchers in your army to use as your source of anti-tank firepower, this could come in very useful to the army.

  • Adaptive Tactics (2CP)– Allows you to change your current Mission Tactics to another one. Only costs 1CP if you have a Watch Master as your warlord.

Competitive. A solid stratagem giving you some great tactical flexibility in the army. Mission Tactics is a really strong rule for boosting the damage output of the Deathwatch army, so getting the most out of it during a game is key to doing well with the Deathwatch. Another great reason to field the Watch Master as your walord is that it gets you this for only a single command point.


  • Stem the Green Tide (2CP)– Use to fire at a charging Ork unit. For each model in the enemy unit slain by overwatch fire, your opponent must subtract 1 from the charge distance.

Competitive, but only against Orks obviously. A really powerful stratagem for potentially shutting down an Ork charge. This will give real pause when charging a unit with a Frag Cannon or other auto-hit weapons that have the potential to do a lot of damage. Even only a couple of Bolter casualties can make a big difference to charge distances and possible result in a failed charge.


  • Targeting Scrambler (1CP)– Use immediately after a Deathwatch unit is hit by one or more Markerlights. Remove all Markerlight counters from the unit.

Efficient. Could be a useful stratagem when facing T’au. Must be used immediately, so your opponent could always put more markerlights on the unit, or you could wait to see if they do and risk not being able to use it, making it slightly less competitive.


  • Intercepting Volley (2CP)– Use when an Aeldari unit with fly moves in your opponent’s movement phase. A Deathwatch unit within 12″ can immediately shoot as if it was the shooting phase, but at -1 to hit.

Competitive. Another form of Auspex Scan that can be used against Aeldari units with Fly. Could be useful against weaker units such as Jetbikers, Scourges, etc. Could be useful against the powerful Flyers, but you will probably be hitting on a 5+ in such cases, so may not get many hits.


  • Synaptic Severance (2CP)– A Deathwatch unit can fire at a Synaptic Character, even if it is not the closest unit.

Competitive. Incredibly powerful against Tyranids. This allows you to target key enemy units such as the Swarmlord, Broodlord or Malenthrope, ignoring the effects of the character rule. Given the high toughness of many of these creatures, using the Hellfire rounds will help you do a lot of damage to such units. I think this is one of the strongest of the “enemy-specific” stratagems.

  • Overkill (1CP)– Used on a Necron unit within 12″ of a Deathwatch unit. The Necron unit must subtract 1 from Reanimation Protocol rolls.

Competitive. Reanimation Protocols is a very strong ability for the Necrons, so any chance to reduce it’s effectiveness is great. Requires you to be close to the enemy army, but that is something you are probably going to be doing with Deathwatch anyway. Useful for when you don’t quite wipe out a Necron unit with your attacks to prevent many of the unit from returning.


  • Doctrines (2CP)– There are various doctrines, but each has roughly the same effect. You pick a unit type (Troops, HQ, etc). A selected Deathwatch unit gets to add one to their wound rolls against an enemy unit with the battlefield role you selected.

Competitive. This is a strong stratagem, really boosting the damage output for one of your units against an enemy unit type. It’s expensive at 2CP each, so you could easily burn through your command points quite quickly using these Doctrines. Combined with the corresponding Mission Tactics to re-roll 1’s to wound and it is a very strong combination to cause a lot of damage to enemy units.

I can see it being very useful against enemy vehicles. You can go up to wounding on a 4+ against most enemy tanks with your Bolters, while also using your special issue ammunition to get -2AP on Veterans. Also useful for Hellblasters, who could wound most enemy vehicles or Monsters on a 2+ when overcharging. It could also make Frag Cannons a potent weapon for taking out enemy flyers, wounding most of them on a 4+ with this Doctrine (or even a 3+ in some cases).

As with Mission Tactics, there is no option to target Dedicated Transports though.


  • Optimised Salvo (1CP)– Allows a single Deathwatch unit to use different kinds of Special Issue Ammunition in the shooting phase.

Situational. This may be occasionally useful if you need to target different unit types with one squad, but I don’t see it being used all that often. Could be handy in selected situations though.

  • Clavis (1CP)– Allows a Watch Master to attack an enemy vehicle within 1″. On a 2+, the vehicle suffers D3 mortal wounds.

Efficient. A nice bonus for the Watch Master. Doesn’t replace or negate his attacks, just does bonus damage to the enemy vehicle on a 2+. Would be useful in combination with The Osseus Key Relic, allowing you to do up to 2D3 mortal wounds on an enemy vehicle in the Fight phase. Most of the time though, you are not wanting to waste your Watch Master with taking on enemy vehicles in combat.


  • Decapitation Doctrine (2CP)– In a shooting phase or fight phase, a selected Deathwatch unit gets to re-roll all failed to wound rolls made against the enemy warlord.

Situational. Useful for when you find the enemy warlord as the closest enemy target or are facing them in an assault. Could be useful, but most enemy warlords are Characters that cannot be targeted, so can only be used in unusual situations. However, against Tyranids, when combined with Synaptic Severance, this has the potential to be a very powerful combo attack.


  • Tactical Flexbility (1CP)– Used at the start of the movement phase, a Deathwatch unit with Combat Squads can split a 10-man unit into two units of 5, or selected units of 6 models can split into two units of 3.

Situational. Not one I think I would use all that much. The problem with this is that it occurs at the start of the movement phase. Could be useful for splitting a 10-man squad arriving from the Teleportarium into two 5-man squads. However, as it occurs at the start of the movement phase, the Kill Team would need to go a whole turn without taking any casualties for it to be of use.


  • Tempest Shells (1CP)– Used when a model with Special Issue Ammunition fires at an enemy vehicle. Make a single to hit roll, if it hits, the target suffers D3 mortal wounds.

Competitive. My Deathwatch typically suffer at taking on vehicles, so this is a nice bonus, allowing your Bolters to cause mortal wounds to an enemy vehicle. Nice and flexible, and a nice boost to the army as well, giving that it can be fired by just about any model with a Bolter.

As you can see, the Deathwatch have access to some very powerful and some quite unique stratagems for dealing with the Xenos threats. What do you think of the stratagems? Any powerful ones stand out to you?

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About Michael Corr

An avid 40k player and blogger from Scotland. I started in 3rd edition and have been playing ever since. I detail my adventures in my own blog "St Andrews Wargaming", highlighting my mediocre painting skills, regular battle reports and my occasional random ramblings.
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4 years ago

It’s kind of interesting thinking about these Stratagems under this rating system, since a lot of them are, by definition, Situational, but then you have to look at them in their appropriate context to come up with an actual rating for them.

Intercepting Volley, for instance, is useless when not playing against Aeldar, but, as noted, very strong when you are. I’d also add that it creates a smaller very dangerous zone even for Units with major to-hit penalties around DW Units with Frag Cannon. A Hemlock that wanders in too close is really not going to be happy about eating 2-8d6 S6 AP-1 auto-hits. Especially if combined with the appropriate Doctrine.

Speaking of Situational Stratagems, I unfortunately forgot about Orbital Bombardment this afternoon, since I had a situation come up where 4 Characters and 2 Units would have been hit even if I rolled a 2 for the radius, and another 2 Units were potentially in range. I also blanked on Tempest Shells, which might have helped out significantly. Probably not, tho, given how my opponent was doing on his Disgustingly Resilient rolls.

4 years ago

Not so sure about rating Intercepting volley as competitive. Most flying Eldar units can shoot from more than 12″ away, so you may find yourself never using that stratagem. The only eldar unit I can think of it can consistently be used against is shining spears

4 years ago

I tried the anti-Necron strategem. It’s useless. So I’d refer to it as situational at best and definitely not competitive. Maybe useful if you’ve killed off all their supporting characters. They have the ability to get so much bonusses to their reanimation protocols that the -1 is pretty insignificant otherwise. Would’ve been better if it woud cancel RP out entirely for 1 unit for 2 CP.

The Aeldari Strat is usefull against Drukhari, but less usefull against Craftworld. It’s got its uses, I’d go with efficient…

Other than that, nice analysis!

4 years ago
Reply to  Michael Corr

Well, that’s the reason I’d say it’s situational. No Necron player in his right mind will not take any buffs to a great rule of their army. So you need to do a lot of work before this strategem becomes something close to useful. It becomes useful at the moment you kill off the supporting characters, but at that time you probably already won…so like I said, I’d call it “situational”. Also the range is rather limited.

4 years ago

A friend of mine is very excited about using leviathan dreadnought along with the +1 to wound stratagems. A side note, I don’t think Synaptic Severance is very effective for the Swarmlords 12W profile 😛 .

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