Friends, countrymen, and wolfmen – lend me your ears, for I am Matt Root from Art of War and I have quite the tale for you!
It’s here! Saga of the Beast. Much to my pleasant surprise, the Space Wolves got a lot of teeth in this new book. I expected something mundane, but with only a few small changes, GW has proved that Space Wolves do have a bite that is worse than their bark. Today, in this article, I will go through the book piecemeal and discuss what is good, what is bad, and what to expect on the tabletop.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
To start things off, GW has provided Spaces Wolves with the same as all other chapters thus far: Doctrines! This alone amps up the space wolves, although maybe not as much as the other chapters. Space Wolves were never really a shooty army. Their strength was always in brutally devastating characters and close combat tactics. Adding the extra AP to your heavy weapons and assault/rapid fire weapons is all well and good, but other armies just do shooting better (see: Ravenguard, Iron Hands). Still, this is nothing but a positive. What is most crucial about this is that it allows you to ally Space Wolves to your other marine armies without losing the doctrine buffs, which IMMEDIATELY makes the army 10x better. Space Wolves make EXCELLENT allies for certain Space Marines builds, which I will go into in a short bit.
A pure SW army also gets access to Savage Fury, which is the chapter-specific doctrine. On any turn when the assault doctrine is active, when you roll a 6 in combat, you get one additional hit (not attack). A nice bonus, but not nearly as devastating as some of the other chapter’s specific doctrines, as most games are usually decided by turn 3 – which is why armies like Imperial Fists and Iron Hands were so ridiculously good.
To start things off, we have Ragnar Blackmane. At first glance, he may not seem too impressive – a walking T4 character with a 3+ armor isn’t exactly hard to kill – but you are missing the point. Ragnar is a brutal character with incredible close combat potential. In fact, he makes the rest of the new primaris marine characters (Khan, Ferrios, Marneus, etc) look like utter chumps.
Why? Well, this is because of a combination of his new rules and his new stratagems. First of all, Ragnar is cheap- 120 points is CHUMP change as far as his points go, and if you get him into combat, there is highly unlikely he will not be able to get his points back. He is a force multiplier with his ability to reroll charges, and the aura he emits which allows Space Wolves units near him to consolidate 6″ is no joke because, as the ladies always know, an extra 3″ is a lot. Much like other captains, he also allows for rerolls of 1.
What makes Ragnar so devastating is his close combat potential. He has an incredible 10 (!) attacks on the charge at AP -4 and Str 6 with 2 Dmg a pop. This will smoke most things. Primaris marines? Dead. Ork boys? Dead. Centurions? Dead. In fact, the only thing Ragnar DOESN’T do well against is stuff with high toughness (>7) and an invul save. This is limited to certain vehicles and characters, but that list is short. Expect to see him in a LOT of Space Wolves lists.
Next up, we have the Wolf Priests, the Space Wolves version of the Chaplain. They are similar in many ways to the other Space Marine chaplains, with a few notable exceptions. First, they also serve as the Apothecaries of the chapter, allowing a 6+++ along with some resurrection abilities. This is icing on the cake because, as we all know, Litanies are already incredibly useful. Most crucially for the Space Wolves is the Canticle of Hate. The issue with Space Wolves has ALWAYS been delivery – getting them into close combat has been their main limitation. The extra 2″ allotted from this litany is huge for this army and makes outflanking via stratagems much more palatable with a 7″ (often-re-rollable) charge. In addition, the Space Wolves also got their chapter-specific litany with a long name. In short, it adds 1 dmg to your CC weapons against a monster or vehicle unit. Useful, but not ground-breaking. All priests know it by default, so it’s nothing but a plus.
Finally, SW got access to all of the other primaris units the other chapters had access to. A few, in particular, are nice for the Space Wolves army. Invictor Warsuits are a nice addition that allows the Space Wolves to start right in your face turn 1, which is exactly where they want to be. This is only further augmented by the new ITC rules, which allow you to KNOW if you are going first or second before deployment. That makes the Warsuits even better because you aren’t in danger of getting seized on. The other notable unit is Impulsors. Again, delivery has been an issue for Space Wolves previously, and this makes the delivery of units like Ragnar more palatable.
Most of the new stratagems are copy and paste from the SM codex – however, that does NOT mean they aren’t useful. A few in particular are especially lovely for the space puppies. Hero of the Chapter is a good start. It allows a second character to take a warlord trait, which is especially good for Space Wolves armies (we will come to why in a bit). Gene-wrought Might deviates slightly from the Space Marine version in that it actually specifies that the extra attacks you get from Savage Fury also automatically wound. Useful for 1 cp. The real winner is Transhuman Physiology, for one particular reason: Wulfen. I’ll explain why in a bit, but just remember that it is there.
Of the new stratagems, there are only one or two real “duds”, but several are situationally useful. Pack Hunters allows your Fenrisian Wolves to reroll when near a character or infantry unit – but no one was ever taking these units in the first place, which makes this of dubious use. Crushing Assault and Death Grip Bite are 1CP strats that are both for Thunderwolves. The former allows you to do a mortal on a 2+ for every Thunderwolf model that makes it within 1″ of an enemy unit when charging. This is nice, but situational. Thunderwolves have HUGE bases, which means that you aren’t often getting that many within 1″ of the enemy model. Death Grip Bite allows your ThunderWolf cavalry to do 2 damage with their teeth and claw weapons. Bear in mind that these attacks are only Str 5, Ap -1 (without assault doctrine), so less useful than you would think. Vicious Executioners is situational, but could be good in the right situations. What makes it less useful is its limitations: it can only be used by Wolf Guard, and only against infantry. Realistically, there are few infantry units that your wolf guard weren’t ALREADY murdering in close combat, so this is somewhat unimpressive, though it could be amazing against certain units like Grey Knight Paladins. Finally, there is Storm Strike. Adding 1 to your hit, wound, and damage rolls of your Stormfang Gunships sounds cool until you realize that those things almost never make it into a competitive list.
The remainder of the new stratagems are incredibly good and will see a lot of tabletop use. Knowledge of the Foe is excellent because it’s literally a free CP every time you murder a character in close combat – which, with wolves, is a lot. Counter-charge allows a unit to heroically intervene up to 6″. This will win you games. Imagine playing a Tau army, charging a long fire warrior squad and wrapping it, and then chaining the remainder of your Space Wolves squad close to the rest of the gunline. For 1 CP, during the tau’s turn, you can use this to gain a free 6″ of movement to engage the opponent, which importantly ignores overwatch. Touch of the Wild is BANANAS good. This, combined with Savage Fury, means that your smash captains and Ragnar are going to put out an approximate assload of attacks.
Relics of the Fang
Adding new relics to an army that specialized in deadly characters is always nice, so these options are appreciated. The ones that stick out are Wrymsplitter, which is 4 damage against monsters or vehicles – although usually only at str 5. Morkai’s Teeth Bolts is one of the few “special ammunition” relics that actually has a lot of utility. Not only do you do a free mortal wound, but your entire army gets to reroll 1’s to wound in both the shooting phase and assault phase. It’s like having a free lieutenant. Finally, the other notable winner is Master Crafted Weapons. Smash captains were making regular use of this well before wolves were, but having a 4 damage thunder hammer smash wolfy lord is always nice. The remainder of the relics are situational.
Putting it All Together
Space Wolves were, and always will be, a close combat oriented army. This supplement doesn’t change that, but it DOES allow for a lot of viability that the space puppies didn’t have previously. One notable example here is Wulfen. These were always on the cusp of being good. Brutally devastating in close combat with the ability to reroll charges, they lacked two things: delivery and resilience. The Chaplain’s litany of adding 2 to charges provides an answer to the first, and transhuman physiology to the second. The combination of these two options makes Wulfen downright scary. A unit with a 3++ invul, 2 wounds, FNP, and only to be wounded on 4+ is REALLY damn hard to kill. Wulfen can also make use of the stratagem that allows them to heroically intervene, so I would not be surprised to see much more of these guys going forward.
The real strength here, though, is in the characters. The ability to heroically intervene 6″ made the Wolf Smash Lords scary, and with the new combination of buffs, relics, and stratagems, these guys are terrifying. A Wolf Smash Lord with a master-crafted thunder hammer can put out 4 damage each swing, but unlike other smash lords, he gets extra attacks on a 4+ with Touch of the Wild. This increases the deadliness of the lord by 1.5x, which is HUGE. Combine this with the other buffs the character can get access to. Increasing damage to 5 per swing with a litany and rerolling to wound with Mentor’s Guidance from the original Space Wolves book means you are killing just about any vehicle in the game. Throw in Keen Senses, and now that Smashy Wolf Lord is hitting on 2’s.
This is also what makes Ragnar so brutally devastating. He too can make use of these abilities. Allowing him to reroll wounds with exploding attacks on a 4+ means he can RELIABLY take out an entire 6x man centurion squad by himself. Add in things like the Savage Fury doctrine, and you get even more attacks on top of that.
So – what does this mean for competitive play? Well, the news is both good and bad. The bad news is that I think there is still little reason to take pure Space Wolves. Savage Fury is good, but not that good. It also does little to help supplant the Space Wolves’ lack of reliable shooting.
What it DOES mean, however, is that Space Wolves will make excellent allies. The characters are cheap, efficient at what they do, and murderous in close combat. A lot of marine armies will make use of the regular Space Marines codex for their shooting options – there is no replacing things like TFires, Centurions, and Master Artisans – but will take SW as the melee part of the list. These characters, like Ragnar and Wolfy Smash Lords, will serve as HUGE deterrents against most aggressive lists and can make the most of their ability to be characters in the meantime.
When all is said and done, SW got an extremely well-written book. It’s not broken like Iron Hands is, but it certainly is efficient and streamlines our codex-shaming friends into a viable force to be added to most imperial armies. Fluffy players and competitive players alike have something nice to be gotten from this book, so you should be expectant to see much more of our grey friends on the table going forward.
And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!