40K Tactics: Astra Militarum – Manticores and Deathstrikes
Today we talk about the BIG Guns – The Astra Militarum’s Deathstrike and Manticore Launchers.
Hello there everybody and welcome to the final article in this ridiculously long series known as my Astra Militarum Tactica, a wealth of articles intended to aid you – the players and hobbyists – in making the most of your units and heroes. I can think of no more amusing way to end this lengthy exercise than by reviewing two of the most devastating artillery pieces ever conceived in the Imperium’s forces, the Manticore and Deathstrike Missile Launcher. Where the former destroys entire swathes of the enemy army at a time with a split payload causing a huge spread of damage, the latter fires possibly the closest Warhammer 40,000 equivalent to a nuclear warhead – obliterating anything and everything it touches. These two are sadly not as useful in 7th Edition due to a few key rule changes or innate limitations, though they nonetheless provide an Astra Militarum army with some of the most terrifying weapons of war ever seen in Games Workshop’s popular science fiction universe.
Of all the various artillery tanks employed by the Astra Militarum, none are as fearsome or devastating as the aptly named Manticore and Deathstrike. Each of these not only packs the heaviest firepower available to any tank in the codex, but they are also the most survivable of the many artillery units using the Chimera chassis. This is because both tanks effectively come standard with the Enclosed Crew Compartment upgrade meaning they are not Open Topped and thus are less susceptible to immensely debilitating damage results from penetrating hits – though obviously the Deathstrike ignores most of those anyway! While the Manticore shares its armour values with all other standard Chimera-chassis vehicles, being AV 12/10/10, the Deathstrike actually has defences more in tune with a Hellhound seeing as it has AV 12/12/10 instead. Not being Open Topped can be a life-saver for these as it obviously means they are immune to Explodes results from weapons that are AP3 or worse, though on the flip side it reduces the chance of a Crew Stunned or Crew Shaken result being “upgraded” to a Weapon Destroyed or Immobilized result – something which neither vehicle cares about particularly. Both the Manticore and Deathstrike do share numerous traits with the other vehicles in the same class as you would expect, however, with each having a hull heavy bolter, searchlight, smoke launchers and that mediocre Ballistic Skill 3 in addition to their unique primary weapons.
Speaking of those primary weapons, I’m sad to say that the Manticore is definitely not the show-stopper it used to be in 6th Edition, even if the change wasn’t immediately obvious when 7th Edition was released. This isn’t to say the Manticore does little damage, as that couldn’t be further from the truth. Each of its’ four individual Storm Eagle rockets – with only one ever being fired per turn, no matter how you try to spin it with Power of the Machine Spirit from an Enginseer – fires D3 Strength 10 AP4 shots that are resolved with the large blast template, using the Ordnance and Barrage special rules. This means that while the Manticore only has four Storm Eagle rockets and can fire just one per turn, over the course of four turns it can potentially shoot 12 shots with them because each missile splits into between one and three shots. Being Strength 10 not only means they wound pretty much everything in the game on 2s as well inflicting Instant Death on Toughness 5 or lower models, but throw in Ordnance and they also roll 2D6 choosing the highest for armour penetration – that is an incredibly high chance of penetrating hits against any armour value short of the super rare AV15! The Barrage special rule is the cherry on top with wounds being resolved from the centre of the first large blast marker, meaning a good hit can potentially “snipe” crucial models out of a unit while also ignoring cover saves provided by intervening models or terrain. The other important element to consider from Barrage is that it always strikes the side armour of a vehicle, dramatically increasing the chances to land penetrating hits against many a tank or skimmer such as Leman Russes or Space Marine Predators. That each individual missile can split into three large blasts can lead to some incredible damage output from just one Manticore, destroying entire squads of infantry at a time or stripping all three (the average number) hull points off of a vehicle in one shot.
Unfortunately, there is a severe handicap the Manticore suffers from that has been arbitrarily introduced in the latest codex for no truly discernible reason other than to limit it to much larger games and table sizes, much like the Basilisk. While I can somewhat understand the idea behind this, I and many others are still left wanting with the aftermath of the change – the Manticore has quickly fallen from a guaranteed spot in almost any competitive Astra Militarum list to a surprisingly limited yet still arguably useful choice. The main issue is that the Manticore can never fire directly in regards to its Barrage rules; while many thought at first that this just meant it would merely never benefit from its Ballistic Skill for scatter, the tendrils of stupidity run far deeper. As each of the Manticore’s Storm Eagle rockets have a minimum range of 24″ and the tank can never fire directly, the Manticore cannot fire at any target that moves within 24″ of it per the Barrage rules in the 7th Edition rulebook. While the Basilisk may have a much larger minimum range, at the very least it can still fire directly at those targets on smaller boards so that it can still remain useful once the bulk of your opponents’ forces closes with you. A 24″ minimum range and an incapability to fire at targets within that radius ensures that any smart opponent will not only go for the objectives just as with any regular game, but they will also move within that minimum range incredibly quickly to avoid the Manticore’s predations.
If you are playing in an Eternal War mission against a static gunline army then obviously this won’t be an issue, but in Maelstrom missions you will find this flaw exposed in record time as armies vie for position at the beckoning of Tactical Objectives – the winning armies in 7th Edition are mobile, not static. In such games the minimum range can be exploited to put your own advancing forces at great risk with opponents moving in close proximity to your Guardsmen – who are vulnerable to short ranged shooting and close combat, naturally – and daring you to use your expensive Manticore to fire at them. If you don’t, you waste the Manticore, but if you do, you will potentially lose dozens of soldiers to friendly fire given how inaccurate an indirect firing artillery piece is. If you play on a 6×4 then this isn’t too big of an issue as you can simply pick a corner and sit there, but this also leaves the Manticore dangerously vulnerable to flanking attacks unless you properly support it. The small points increase definitely doesn’t help to soften that rather nasty blow, but luckily the Storm Eagle rockets are nowhere near as vulnerable to Weapon Destroyed results as you might think despite operating off of one singular weapon system. This is because only one single missile can be destroyed per Weapon Destroyed result, meaning that it is incredibly difficult to actually stop a Manticore from firing at some point in the game – that is unless you strip off its three hull points, force a Crew Shaken or Crew Stunned result on it, or just hit it with a lucky AP2 or AP1 shot. This is why Manticores need to be hidden and they need to be far away from the prying eyes of your opponent, kept safe either by solitude or by supporting elements; even getting one shot off with these can make their points back, but they are hilariously inaccurate and sadly limited despite their high cost.
As has been the case for numerous editions running now, the Deathstrike has generally been seen as the lesser sibling from the dual-kit these two units share and the reasons for these are hard to argue with. It only fires one shot, it can still potentially (and easily) miss, it is worse against vehicles than a multi-shot Storm Eagle rocket and it acts as an inert, immobile over-priced Chimera for all but one game turn in a standard match. However, with the general reduction in effectiveness of the Manticore – though it is obviously still a decent choice based on its firepower and scare factor alone – and some nice improvements to the Deathstrike, it doesn’t quite qualify as the “joke” choice it was in editions past. For one, the actual missile itself – and yes, the Deathstrike carries just one – can never be affected by Weapon Destroyed results and is completely immune to both Crew Shaken and Crew Stunned, meaning you actually have to blow up the tank to stop it from firing. The trade-off here is that each Weapon Destroyed result applies a modifier to whether it can actually fire its titular missile; unlike any other unit in the game, the Deathstrike fires based off of a random roll that is affected by various modifiers. It cannot be fired on turn one – making it a prime choice for any Drop Podding or other turn one or two reserves – while every consecutive turn it remains stationary adds a +1 modifier to whether it can fire or not, whereas a Weapon Destroyed result instead applies a -1 modifier to the roll. The actual D6 result after modifiers are accounted for needs to be a 4+ or greater – with a 6 being a success regardless of any modifiers – so that the Deathstrike can be fired; the fact that the missile itself cannot be neutered or destroyed while the “delay” chart is more forgiving makes it a far more reliable unit in terms of actually firing its main warhead.
When it comes to actually firing a Deathstrike Missile, nothing in the game quite emulates a Destroyer weapon just like a Deathstrike Missile does. Not only is it one of the only weapons in the game outside of Apocalypse, Super Heavies and the like to use an Apocalyptic Blast – that is a 10″ diameter if for some reason you have not seen one – but it is Strength 10, AP1 and Ignores Cover. Not only will anything with a Toughness value of 5 or lower be vaporized unless they have an invulnerable save, and not only will any vehicle touched have a very nervous few moments in the wait to see whether they receive an Explodes result, but the Deathstrike also shares the Barrage and Ordnance special rules. That Strength 10 shot will hit the side armour of any vehicles touched and roll 2D6 choosing the highest for armour penetration like a Manticore, but unlike its uncooperative sibling the Deathstrike can actually destroy vehicles in one shot with a roughly 33% chance to do so. Barrage makes it a terrifying weapon to use against characters attached to units, while the unlimited – yes, you read that right – range of the weapon means that unless you get within its 12″ minimum range by turn two or turn three, you can never hide from the touch of death.
Provided a Deathstrike doesn’t move on turn one, it will need a 3+ to fire on turn two which makes its’ chances of firing identical to bringing on reserves before other modifiers are considered – all but the most mobile armies will be incapable of reaching it in time provided it is well hidden and deep into your deployment zone. While the missile is capable of scattering off and hitting little if anything – as it must fire indirectly it cannot use its Ballistic Skill 3, like the Manticore – that it uses the massive 10″ blast means that it should always clip something worthwhile – infantry, bikes, jetbikes, cavalry and really any non-monstrous unit will be obliterated by this shot and should ensure the Deathstrike makes’ its points back once it fires. The problem of course is that it is just one shot which is unreliable and inaccurate meaning it could potentially prove effectively worthless, while like a Manticore it becomes an over-priced vehicle with a heavy bolter and the tank classification being its only saving graces once it fires its’ namesake missile. The luck of the dice and some help from your opponent as well as any early-game reserves can render the Deathstrike completely worthless by either delaying or destroying it before it can do anything – remember that it needs to remain stationary to get the bonuses to fire the missile – while the fact that it is priced as it is despite having just the one potentially wasted shot does reserve it as a mediocre choice at best. They aren’t exactly the “joke” choice they were but they aren’t all that much improved to compete with the many other Heavy Support choices in the codex, let alone the Forge World offerings.
How to Equip Them
If these tanks aren’t hidden out of sight or behind suitable cover right at the back of the board, bubble-wrapped or otherwise protected by decently outfitted units that can stop Deep Strikers or Outflankers in a pinch, these tanks are not going to be of much use to you. They are built purely for firepower at ridiculous ranges and their slightly boosted survivability relative to the other various artillery pieces employed by the Astra Militarum is not enough to change that basic role. Camo-netting is mandatory for a standard list where you don’t expect or rely on having suitable terrain that blocks line of sight to them – of course, any regular game should feature an abundance of terrain ranging from small to large – seeing as these tanks really aren’t worth it at all unless you can get their payload delivered. While there are obviously games where using them as bait so that other more important units can advance becomes a legitimate tactic, or you have to work with their eventual destruction anyway in the early phases of the game, they are nonetheless expensive units and you really keep them as safe as possible. There’s really no reason to invest any other upgrades on to them as they should never really be moving until they have fired their salvo(s), but spending extra on units that then become overly expensive Chimeras with no transport capacity and reduced firepower just as “distractions” is a waste.
While the minimum range of the Manticore does mean you are practically forced to keep it in a corner in your deployment zone as far out of sight or range of your opponents’ forces as possible, you can afford to be a bit more free with the Deathstrike seeing as it has a mere 12″ minimum range. The unlimited range of the Deathstrike does allow you to place it anywhere on the table and expect it to fire at full effect, but given that it fires just the one missile your best bet is trying to deploy it in a space where it is unlikely to draw significant early attention from your opponent. Failing, that deploy it in sight of a crucial choke-point where an objective is placed and likely to be contested close to the centre of the board, or where it has full view of a wide open space populated by one or more objectives. I recommend using Fortifications to provide guaranteed cover saves as well as some small supporting squads if you are expecting outlier forces that can flank and destroy the artillery tanks early on while they are still firing or preparing to fire. If your local gaming area features lots of terrain on its boards then Fortifications won’t be a necessity but still receive a recommendation just so that you have some increased options for deployment and defence.
The preferred targets of the Deathstrike are undoubtedly anything with Toughness 5 and multiple wounds that lacks Eternal Warrior, open-topped vehicles that lack invulnerable saves, or really any type of squad with Toughness 5 or lower. Ogryns, Tyranid Warriors, Tactical Marines, Bike-type units of any kind, huge Hormagaunt broods, Dark Eldar Ravagers and so on are all fodder for a Deathstrike. With some lucky scatter and erroneous placement by your opponent, entire platoons’ worth of models can be destroyed with that one shot, though obviously such results are the exception rather than the norm. The ability to ignore cover saves makes it the rough equivalent of a certain incredibly powerful Baneblade variant the Imperial Guard have access to, while also giving Guardsmen a great tool to deal with Bikes and Jetbikes that have proved to be even more popular in 7th Edition than they already were in 6th Edition. As for Manticores, Imperial Knights and really any kind of Super Heavy make for surprisingly viable targets given the D3 Strength 10 Ordnance Barrage shots – they are always resolved against the side armour and roll 2D6 choosing the highest for armour penetration. Manticores strip hull points at an insanely high rate and are particularly effective against Imperial Knights in conjunction with lots of standard anti-tank shooting from your other tanks; if a Knight is forward-facing and has the shield up for that facing to protect against your massed anti-tank shooting, it will be completely vulnerable to Manticore fire that always hits the side armour, bypassing its’ shield. This mostly just forces out some tough decisions on your opponent’s end but it is nonetheless something to keep in mind; otherwise, Manticores excel against most vehicles (D3 large blasts that easily strip hull points) and any kind of unit with a 3+ or worse armour save that isn’t Toughness 6 with multiple wounds.
Thank you all so much for reading this (and hopefully many other) final article in my Astra Militarum Tactica series! It has been one heck of a long journey – in fact, it is the largest Tactica I have done to date – and I couldn’t be happier to finally be able to move on to other projects. I am glad to have spent so much time with an army as famous and iconic as the Imperial Guard, and while 7th Edition hasn’t been as kind to them as with, say, Eldar or Space Marines, they are nonetheless a strong force filled with lots of competitive options. A requested work to give a proper send-off to this series is to do a “7 Days of Glory” similar to what I did with Space Marines, though this is very much a “wait and see” kind of deal as I am definitely suffering a lot of burnout after having written so much on the one codex. I am more interested in doing a review of the various Forge World and Super Heavy units that the Astra Militarum have access to, though again I would much rather get to work on the long-awaited Ork series as quickly as possible. Whatever the case, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to you all for supporting me throughout these many months of authoring; I couldn’t have done it without you!
Have yourselves a lovely week and I hope I can keep up the good work or improve as necessary!