Hello, 40K fans! I’m back for another look at the Blood Angels in 9th edition. This is a very rudimentary initial review of the content that’s been previewed and released since pre-orders went live yesterday, so take it with a grain of salt until I can go more deeply into the reeds with the book in my hand instead of looking over someone’s shoulder on the internet. Normally I’d wait, but frankly, I’m too excited about the book to not talk about it! Also, check the Tactics Corner for more great articles on gaming in 40K!
If I’m being honest, and I always try to be, if fellow Blood Angels players are hoping for this book to break the power structure of the game with the Angels on top, then they’ll be pretty disappointed. That’s a good thing in my opinion though because what being on top really means is that you have a short period of time on top before everything you enjoy about playing with that ends up getting nerfed, removed, or adjusted. I much prefer where we are at now because I think it has enough strength to be considered but not enough strength to make a lot of changes necessary for the good of the game. That does, however, make us very vulnerable to power creep. If things after this release climb in power then we’ll quickly get left behind. Hopefully, GW maintains the sweet spot for this book and the ones to come.
Things I like
I think the changes in this book represent an overall win because the changes replace the tired 8th edition playstyle and have some very narrative-based stratagems, relics, and unique features that are nuanced and situationally useful. Gone is the classic “Smash Captain” as he was known. With The Angel’s Wing gone for good, we no longer have reliable overwatch denial. This means we either tank it and hope for the best, or we bring Suppressors (not ideal). Gift of Foresight is also changed, and no longer offers the enhanced FNP (but the trade allows for free re-rolls on other things). He’ll probably still rock the thunder hammer and storm shield (or a relic blade) but the way he’s built may vary depending on who you want him to support and on whether or not you want Death Company.
I think this may be the most BA lore-friendly book that’s come out. While hyper-competitive players may scoff at that, the lore is several layers down at the foundation of competitive strength as it forms the design ethos that the rules are trying to execute on the table. That relationship between lore and table is where many of us find the “fun” in our favorite factions. Yes, the lore is full of us always winning no matter what faction we play, but we do want our armies to play to the style we imagine our armies fighting on the table. The Blood Angels book does this well. The special “death visions” rules are really fun and thematic. The ways that DC characters have been altered means that there are some subtle combinations that will take a serious sit-down to piece together. Good BA players will capitalize on the Assault Doctrine using the buffs from the Sanguinary Priests to add the early pressure. Canny players still have the tools they need to pull off wins and create engaging gaming experiences, but you’ll have to work for it. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Rest In Peace, Old Friends…
So far as the changes that hurt the old playstyle the most, BA players lost a lot of the utility of our mobility stratagems. Descent of Angels is gone for good, so our units have rolled their last 3D6 charge. Wings of Fire has changed fundamentally so it’s less of an offensive strategem and more of a defensive one offering delayed repositioning in the early game instead of an offensive redeploy. Forlorn Fury for the Death Company is slightly changed as well, but it is not changed to a degree that greatly hinders its effectiveness. This can still be used offensively or defensively, and the 9″ bubble that you have to maintain away from the enemy matters a little more. You can get zoned out by good players, but there will always still be an enemy within reach. I think the smaller board size and the +1 to charges make the death of the old movement tools a net wash but will require a different movement strategy. They are forcing a change, and personally, I’m glad to not feel like the same old characters and list staples aren’t the auto-includes they used to be.
A Matter of Direction
The challenge of BA players will be list focus. The codex puts a lot of emphasis on Death Company, but DC can’t do everything. It’s thematically appropriate that they can’t perform actions, but strategically it is very costly in terms of competitive gameplay. I like cost/benefit tradeoffs in games because it makes your choices mean something. The cost/benefit ratio will depend on what your goals for the game you play are, and how much winning matters to you.
I anticipate lists to focus on two philosophies (an opinion I’ve had from the start of the edition). The first will be held by people who want to embrace the Death Company love and go all-in on them and their support characters, hoping to kill enough enemies to prevent enemy scoring. Unfortunately for this playstyle, the game’s matched play missions reward scoring and survivability more than killing power. I think the competitive player will likely pass over DC in favor of a scoring, durable unit like Vanguard Veterans with Storm Shields to fill that role. Vanguard Veterans fill a good competitive niche now in BA lists. The extra wound and the capacity for a similar number of attacks make for “a best of both worlds” situation. I will be interested in seeing how the distribution and loadouts fall on the DC versus VV question.
That doesn’t mean though that Sanguinary Guard are out of the picture. On paper, it almost looks like they got overlooked in the rules because so many of their stratagems are gone from the list. Instead, many of those stratagems have been incorporated into their rules, which is what I think should have been in the beginning. Couple that with a good armor save, deadly weapons, and great character combos, the SG are still champions. The support characters for SG are almost mutually exclusive with DC since DC and DC characters exclusively work together for the most part. Limited HQ slots mean that we can’t have our character cakes and eat them too.
The Biggest Weakness
It’s hard to say that a book that builds off of the colossal Space Marine Codex is lacking anything new in terms of releases, but this book doesn’t have anything particularly new for Blood Angel hobbyists that sets it apart from its Astartes cousins. No new characters, character rules, unique models, or updated sculpts accompanied this book. This is disappointing since Death Company Intercessors do not come with any Death Company bits, which are still in the old (and recently price-increased) Death Company boxed set. You could buy the Primaris Death Company box and paint it red and it’d be the same as the old (and now out of print) Blood Angel Intercessor set, just with half the models.
If this release is weak on anything (and truthfully it’s hard to gripe with how much this book wins overall) it’s that there’s not a whole lot of interesting, unique model releases to accompany it. Primaris Sanguinary Guard? A unique vehicle or flyer? An updated or meaningful change to a character like Dante or his model? The fanbase is craving progression, and Primaris need to become more distinct and unique to their Chapters.
The Real Way To Win
How do you win at 40K? You enjoy playing the way that is the most fun. In that sense, I think that the most fun will be had by the people who don’t care as much about being competitive. There is just a lot – and I mean a LOT – of lore-based narrative tools in the book that make it one of the most engaging BA books they’ve ever written. Crusade players who miss the old 3rd edition roll-offs on death company generation will go nuts for the crusade Black Rage management rules. I think I’m more excited about this book for those reasons than I was for any of the others since 5th edition. 5th edition was the wild west (flying land raiders) but it was at the very least very interesting and had a lot of power. I think this book as a whole is probably the best Blood Angels book release that hits the most targets (matched, narrative, and casual play) with the highest average strength and commitment to the theme and the faction’s design ethos. Time will tell if this initial impression holds up.
An Ongoing Conversation
What do you think? Is my initial take wrong? Let me know in the comments below!
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