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40k: A Middle Schoolboy’s Daemonic Primer

7 Minute Read
Aug 16 2010

Greetings boys and girls, Unicorns and children of all ages!  Brent’s back, and I’m rocking my dope beats all over Daemons again.

Perhaps that’s a poor choice of words.  It does seem to conjure images of an act guaranteed to inflict shame-induced blindness.  Well, none of that now – this is a family show!  (Seriously, you in the back… that’s just gross, dude.)

So obviously this is Part the Second, which will deal with army design and balance.  I was pleasantly surprised at the warm reception my first article received.  Case in point, I received this in the post this morning:

That man is such a kidder!  Naturally, I hung it up next to my collector’s item Jawaballs snapshot so I can admire it while I write. 

(Speaking of…  Hi, Jawaballs!)

Naturally I read the comments section quite closely, wallowing in the universal adulation I expect as my due, and I couldn’t help but notice a theme popping up over and over again.  It seems some of you hate spamming units.

Spamming, of course, is taking a unit and copying it repeatedly in one or more force org slots.  So it’s not all hugs and gropings, is it?

Let’s put the topic of spamming units to bed once and for all.  Perhaps the most cogent argument I can muster is this: so what?  Exactly whose feelings am I hurting if I decided I want more than one of the same thing?  Still, if ‘go home and kick your own dog’ doesn’t suffice, let’s try this: 

Check out these guys!  Though they started as lowly Flamers of Tzeentch, I quite quickly realized the potential of Heralds of Tzeentch flying around on Chariots.  (As has been pointed out in the Big Blue Shark Tank, it was more like coming back around, but that’s a story for another day, yes?)  Still, it’s not why I’m showing you the picture.  My point is simple.

I like how they look.


In the same way Rhinos look great all lined up and crisply painted to match, I dig how my Heralds all line up, looking sharp in their going-to-Sunday-school clothes.  Daemons don’t have vehicles or matching Power Armor, so I have to get my theme and unified appearance from somewhere.

Still, if you insist spamming is the work-product of the unoriginal mind, let’s approach it from a design perspective.  Perhaps by the end I can convince you otherwise.

My game is focused on competitive tournament play.  I’m not advocating this as the best way; I’m saying this is how I enjoy the hobby.  Tournaments are my deadline for finishing my army, as well as a weekend of playing it in a structured manner.

Say I’m building a new army; my process begins by studying various builds with an eye toward the approach, the race, and the theme… and there’s a reason approach is first.  It stands for ‘approach to winning’.  Actually, I’m in this phase now, since I’m retiring my Daemons to build next year’s tournament army, but this is a conversation for another day.

The core approach to design is problem-solving a route to victory.  There are certain broad strokes applicable to any build, but it always comes down to 1) how the army destroys mech, 2) how it kills infantry, and 3) who will hold objectives.  These concepts are talked to death online, so I’m boring myself to tears here.

Okay, brew some strong coffee, wake up Real Genius, and let’s apply all this nonsense to the Daemons list I took to WarGames Con!

4x Herald of Tzeentch with Bolt, Gaze, Breath, Master of Sorcery on a Chariot
3x Fiends, full-sized with Champion
2x Horrors 5-strong with Bolt
2x Plaguebearers 5-strong
3x Daemon Prince of Tzeentch with Bolt, Gaze, and Breath


We’ll be working backwards; let’s look at the Troops units charged with holding objectives.  Plaguebearers are without doubt one of the best Troops choices in the game.  At 75 points you get a T5, Fearless model with an invulnerable save and Feel No Pain.  Due to Slow and Purposeful they’ll get nowhere fast, but it isn’t their job to race around the board.  Rather, they pick and objective and camp it, going to ground in cover if that’s possible.  Since you placed half the objectives, it should be!

Now let’s apply some critical thinking in regards to the Horrors.  They have a decent shooting attack – not something Daemons have much of – and can be upgraded with Bolt, the one thing the army absolutely must have to function.  They have a 4-up Invulnerable Save, so I reasoned exchanging Horrors for ‘Bearers on a 1-to-1 basis would be a useful change to make.

Well, I was wrong.  Horrors can’t do the primary job of the Troops choice in a Daemons army – holding objectives – as well as Plaguebearers.  The shooting I paid for did nothing I couldn’t have achieved with another unit, so I paid 20pts more per unit for a choice which simply didn’t perform at the same level. 

There’s a theme here which is important.  Daemons simply don’t have the variety of effective choices other Codexes have.  Space Wolves can take a full-sized squad of Grey Hunters in a Rhino for a unit that can beat face before calmly shooting me the finger and grabbing objectives.  Our troops have one job; period.  This simple concept may not sound like much but makes the difference between winning and crying in the corner.

For what it’s worth, it applies to to other, older armies as well.

Moving on, now we’re getting somewhere!  It’s time to kill troops!  Yea, buddy!

Here Daemons are spoiled for choice.  Take your Codex, roll it up, and hit your opponent with it, ’cause your entire book is designed to kill meaty goodness.  Smile big for me and open it up to any page; look at all those options!

Okay, now throw on the brakes and get real; all those morsels come wrapped in steel, which some cunning Monkeigh added wheels to so it can run you over.  You may be Fearless, but it will bunch you up but good, primed and ready for a flamer or fourteen.  Since our opponent isn’t going to roll over and play dead, we’ll have to help him along by picking the best units we can.  The Codex may be chock full of anti-infantry but a few units rise to the top of the heap… and they’re all in the Elites section.  It’s important to make a considered decision here, since the units you choose, be it Blood Crushers, Flamers, or Fiends, will affect the rest of the army in ways we’ll touch on in detail in future articles.

Obviously I chose Fiends – three, full-sized units of these beasties!  Pound for pound, Fiends are the absolute best option available for Daemons.  With six Strength 5 attacks on the charge at Initiative 5, Rending no less, Fiends are the street sweeper.  The unit upgrade gives one model Strength 6, potentially allowing it to destroy a Land Raider.  (Look it up if you don’t believe me.)  Fiends are Beasts, meaning they can move 6, run 6, and assault 12 inches; their ability to get around the board is almost as important as their bucketful of attacks.


Finally we come to anti-mech.  Obviously and importantly tanks can be destroyed in close combat, but for a variety of reasons it isn’t as utilitarian as blasting tanks to bits in the shooting phase.  Take a quick glance at my tournament list and you’ll see fully half of the army is given over to the task, with Tzeentch Heralds and Daemon Princes loaded up with Bolt and Breath.  The latter we’ll leave for the future, but Bolt is what’s important here.  It’s a Strength 8, AP 1 shot that can reach out and fry a tank no problem.  It goes without saying AP1gives us a +1 on the Vehicle Damage chart, so even Glances matter.  Between the Heralds and the Princes, the army is throwing out seven per turn.

Does seven sound like a lot to you?  No?  Good, because it simply isn’t.  It’s one of the reasons I convinced myself to add Horrors to the army, for the extra two Bolts per turn.  The problem is the Horrors have a low Ballistic Skill so it didn’t really add squat!

There’s the core of the balance problem with Daemons; any change I make reduces the effectiveness of some other element of the army.  If I add more Troops, I’m losing something… you tell me what that something should be.  Fiends?  I rely on them to kill meaty things.  Heralds or Princes?  I don’t have enough anti-tank as it is!

Don’t misunderstand, there are changes available, both subtle and dramatic, and I’m quick to adopt change if it becomes necessary.  I did so during the redesign after WarGames Con.

I’ll leave you with this, which is something Evil Homer said to me yesterday, the key to competitive is consistency.  The knock Daemons take is due to their inherent inconsistency – hell, it’s built right in to their deployment!  To compete at a high level with Daemons means building an all-comers army and removing as much of the inherent instability of the Codex as possible.  It’s also the reason stacking the drops isn’t wise; in the long run, it is better to practice with an even split rather than sacrifice that for short-term gains.

Your Codex may have more options than mine; my argument is spamming Daemons is practically required for success in competitive play.  Plus it’s pretty!  So what are your thoughts?  Do some of you approach design in the same way I do?  We’ll be reviewing other options (thanks Warmaster!) in the next article, as well as beginning strategy and tactics.

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