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40K: List Building 101 – Part 3: Support & Damaging Units

7 Minute Read
Apr 26 2010

40K: List building 101
by Reece Robbins

This article is intended to help new players build effective army lists in 40K, over the course of a 4 part series.  This is the third part part covering support and damage-dealing units.  You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.  Lets forge ahead.

Support Units

These are the units that make the rest of your army perform at a higher level and are often referred to as force multipliers. Every army has them to varying degrees, and often these units are what take a list from good to great. However, they must be wisely chosen as often it is better to take more units than to make the units you have, better. In most cases simply doing a points analysis (comparing how much your unit is improved by the support unit for its points cost versus what you get by simply taking another unit) will often tell you which is better, but not in all cases. Experience will be your best guide.

The most obvious example of this type of unit is the Eldar Farseer. A Farseer is not very intimidating on his own, but will greatly increase the effectiveness of units in an Eldar Army. You in effect get more than the unit’s points worth when they are affected by a Farseer buff or when an enemy unit is made easier to destroy. Many other armies have similar units such as an Ork Mekboy with a Kustom Force Field, a Space Marine Techmarine, Space Marine Chaplain, Tau Markerlights, Necron Lords, Tyranid Venomthropes, Tyranid Hive Tyrants, etc.

The key to selecting these units is to find those whose abilities mesh with your overall list archetype. If you are creating an assault list, then chose support units that will enhance this aspect of your army. For example, if you are creating an assault oriented Eldar foot list, two characters that will dramatically enhance your ability to perform this function are a Farseer and an Avatar. The Avatar is a potent assault unit on his own, but he also makes your units near him fearless. The Farseer then adds to this by being able to enhance your units or weaken your opponent’s. Either of these two makes for a great force multiplier but the two combined elevates all of the units near them to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Look for these combinations in your codex such as the Space Wolves’ Ragnar Blackmane who gives any unit he is attached to an enormous boost in assault (Furious assault and +D3 attacks to himself and his squad). Attaching him to a squad will make them deadly plus he is a powerful damage dealing unit himself. Read the special rules for all of your units and see how they will enhance what you are trying to accomplish with your overall strategy then choose those support units that will fulfill this role best. This can be as simple as a distraction unit or a screening/tar pitting unit for some lists (such as shooty lists who need to buy all the time they can against assault armies), or as little as a fast unit capable of reaching out and contesting an objective for others.

Some examples of this are using an Ork Mekboy with a Kustom Force Field to make an Ork horde far more resilient than it would otherwise be. It is tempting to take a Warboss for sheer kill power, but when you consider that a cleverly placed Mekboy can give literally hundreds of Orks 33% better durability, he is suddenly an amazing addition to a list. Another example is using Imperial Guard officers to bolster the effectiveness of a shooty Imperial Guard list or using a Psyker Battle Squad to lower a target unit’s leadership to 2, then shooting that unit with pinning weapons. Now those are fairly obvious examples, but no less effective for being obvious. What they do is give you more bang for your buck with the units they are able to enhance.

The best support units to take in many lists, especially shooty lists, are units that increase the durability of your scoring units such as those that improve your units’ leadership abilities or make them harder to kill such as a Space Marine Techmarine or Master of the Forge. Also, those units that improve your shooting such as Tau Pathfinders (or any marker light equipped unit), Imperial Guard Officers, Eldar Farseers, etc.

Support units that give you defense against outflanking or deepstriking are also very useful as many armies, particularly shooty armies, are very vulnerable to these types of attacks. Units such as Daemonhunter Inquisitors with Mystics, Imperial Guard Officers of the Fleet, etc. fill this role well.


Conversely, amazing support units for nearly any army are units that have the ability to outflank, deep strike, infiltrate or scout. These types of units can cause huge amounts of disruption for the opponent. By forcing them to be wary of a unit coming in from a flank or behind their lines, you disrupt their battle plans. Examples of these types of units are Imperial Guard Vendettas, Eldar Striking Scorpions (and remember, a dedicated transport can outflank with its squad), Eldar War Walkers, Ork Kommandos (particularly with Snikrot), Space Marine Drop Pods, Tyranid Spores, etc. All of these units enable you to disrupt your enemy’s plans and to put your units where you need them at a critical point in the game.

Another fantastic support unit in nearly any list is something fast to reach out and contest enemy objectives. Unless your army is able to incapacitate your opponent in the first three to four turns of a game and then move onto objectives in the final turns, or advances towards the enemy en masse, you need to be able to reach out and contest. The best units for this are fast movers such as skimmers, bikes, out flankers and deep strikers. Typically you will want to keep these types of units off board for as long as possible so that they will not be destroyed before they can fulfill their mission.

The skill of using support units comes in knowing when they will benefit your list enough to be worth their points cost and when you would be better off with simply taking more units of another type.

Damage Dealing Units

These are typically the fun units in a codex and exist to do the hard work of actively engaging and destroying the enemy. It is easy to get carried away with these units and just pack in all of those that you like as opposed to those that will compliment your list best. That is why I always choose my scoring and support units first as these are the units that will win you the game. With the points left over you should then choose your damage dealing units. Remember, a lot rides on these units and they must compliment your list’s overall strategy. All kill power and no scoring ability is fine in Kill Points but a serious liability in 66.6% of your other games.

If you have an assault list most often your damage dealing units will fill the role of adding a super unit to be the backbreaker in assault, or as a long range damage dealer to cover your units as they move to engage. Look at your list and think about where the gaps are. If you have no way of dealing with monstrous creatures or heavy tanks at range, then it may be prudent to take several damage dealing units that are capable of taking on these types of units. If your scoring units also double as damage dealers but have no way of taking on super units, then you may want to take a super unit of your own, or a support tar pit unit to take that Deathstar threat out of the game. For example, if you have a Space Wolf Army built around a core of Grey Hunters, who can take on most units in assault with no problem, but see that you have no way of dealing with the most powerful assault units, taking Thunderwolf Calvary will be a good way to compliment your Grey Hunters. In a Daemon list, if you have units that can shred all types of infantry and monstrous creatures, but has trouble with heavy tanks and transports, take units capable of engaging those units such as Screamers or Soul Grinders to fill that gap.

A shooty list will often have its teeth in its damage dealing units. This is where a shooty list needs to pack in the kill power and must address the question of whether or not to include counter assault capability at the expense of more firepower. This is a double edged sword though as every point spent on a counter assault unit is a point not spent on more firepower. You will be glad you have them when facing an assault army but they will be a liability in most cases against a shooty or hybrid list. If you have a cheap counter assault unit available to you, such as Imperial guard Rough Riders, or Tau Kroot (who are basically a necessity in most Tau lists), or a unit that can reliably get into combat such as fast moving out flankers, then they can be a good choice in certain builds.


You should take units which also compliment the shooting of your scoring units. If your scoring units excel at destroying infantry, take damage dealing units which can destroy monstrous creatures, heavy tanks and super units. Determine which units provide the most firepower for you and take multiples of them to ensure that those guns are firing all game. For example, if you have a Witch Hunter list built around a core of Battle Sister Squads and see that you have a lack of long range anti tank punch, taking two or three Exorcists allows you to fill that gap in your list.

A hybrid list will often supplement their scoring units with a blend of shooting and assault units here. Typically if your scoring units are better at one aspect of the game than another, your damage dealing units will fill the other role. For example, if you play Grey Knights who are effective at both shooting and assault, but poor against Heavy Tanks, you should look to take some ranged tank killing units such as Land Raiders and Las Cannon, Missile Launcher Dreadnoughts.

As always, look to compliment the weaknesses left by your other units and be mindful of the five things a good list must be able to do. Review your list and see where you fall short and rearrange your units to make sure that you have no glaring weaknesses

Look for the final installment next week, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the series so far and your philosophy on list building.

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