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Deathwatch Index: Second Go at First Impressions

12 Minute Read
Aug 15 2017

Today hear my second impressions of the Deathwatch army in 8th ed.

For more reviews, analyses and battle reports, check out the Tactics Corner.

Michael here. a couple of months ago, I wrote an article on my first impressions of the Deathwatch in 8th edition. This article was simply based on having read the core rules and index for the Deathwatch and without having played a single game of 8th edition 40k. A few weeks later, I have been getting a lot of games in with my Deathwatch, including taking them to a major event. Here are some of my initial impressions of the Deathwatch army and some of the specific units that I have used.

Small and Elite

Much like its background, I have found the Deathwatch army to be a small and elite force on the tabletop. The army does not have much in the way of variety of units, and I find that the bulk of my army is composed of Kill Teams, with just a few support options from other units in the army. In my typical 2000 pts tournament army, I can have 8 or 9 deployment drops based on which transports my characters will go in (if any). This means that I am generally going first in all the games that I play, in fact, the only times that I have not gone first with the Deathwatch in 8th edition are the games where my opponent has seized the initiative.

This is really important, as I think the Deathwatch really do have to have the first turn in their games. The army simply doesn’t have the staying power to weather the shooting phase of a full gunline army for many turns.

Special Issue Ammunition

Special Issue Ammunition is great in 8th edition and is one of the key areas that make the Deathwatch a viable army on the tabletop. The four types of special issue ammunition are:

  • Dragonfire- +1 to hit when shooting at a unit in cover.
  • Hellfire- Wounds on a 2+, except against vehicles
  • Kraken- Additional 6″ range on a Bolter and improve AP by 1.
  • Vengeance- Lose 6″ on a Bolter and improve AP by 2.

Each time you fire a Bolt Pistol, Boltgun, twin Boltgun, Stalker Boltgun or Guardian Spear, you can select which ammunition to use.

Based on my own games, Hellfire and Vengeance are the rounds that I use most often. Being able to wound almost anything on a 2+ is great; perfect for taking on monstrous creatures or tougher units such as Bikes. The Vengeance rounds are also fantastic for taking on other Marines, where their save is generally limited to a 5+, or you can remove the save of many units in the game.

The Kraken rounds are also great. Getting an extra 6” on your boltgun range is pretty effective, meaning that you are rapid firing within 15”. This is great when you find yourself just out of rapid fire range, but still want those extra shots. It also works really well when combined with Stalker Pattern Bolters, meaning that you have now just increased their range to 36”. This is brilliant for backfield objective holding units, as they are still able to be an effective threat to most areas of the battlefield.

The only shells I don’t use that often are the Dragonfire rounds. I often find that the +1 to hit is negated by the increased cover save of enemy units, so I’m not really sure what the purpose of this weapon will be. Maybe it will be useful if you are firing at a unit in cover that already has a 2+ save, so the extra hits will be more worthwhile. Even then, I would probably still go for the Hellfire rounds for increased odds of wounding.


One area where I have found that my Deathwatch army really struggles is against vehicles.

The Frag Cannon used to be an awesome weapon, capable of taking out hordes of infantry or killing vehicles in a single volley. However, the change to vehicle rules and increase in the number of wounds means that I find the Frag Cannon now struggles to put much of dent on vehicles. Imagine you have four Frag Cannons firing at a standard vehicle (T7, 3+ save). On average, you are looking at just under 3 wounds for the solid shells (assuming you are at short range), meaning 6 damage against the vehicle. Six wounds in not going to worry a lot of vehicles at full strength and is not much investment for a unit costing over 200 points (which will most likely be eliminated in the following turn). Most of the time, I will just end up firing the Frag rounds at the vehicle, as the automatic hits are great. On average, four frag cannons are putting around 5 wounds on a vehicle when firing the frag shells, even more if you roll above average for the number of shots. I actually think the Frag Cannon has gotten worse in 8th edition, despite a 5 pts increase in cost. You can no longer fire the Frag rounds from deploying from a Drop Pod, meaning one of the most effective tactics in 7th edition has now been neutered. In addition, you are generally getting fewer shots on average from the Frag Cannon. If the short range Solid shell had an increased damage of 3-4, or even D6, it would be a much more effective tool. Since it is only 2 damage, it does struggle quite a bit against vehicles.


This means the Deathwatch are forced to look elsewhere for their vehicle killing power.

For a kill team, this means either Missile Launchers or Meltaguns. Meltaguns are great taking on vehicles, but you have the problem of getting them into range for being able to fire your shots. Missile Launchers are a great way at taking out vehicles in the army. The only issue is that a unit of four missile launchers in a kill team is expensive. Space Marine Devastators are cheaper and get more bonuses in the form of the Armorium Cherub and Signum from the Sergeant.

Vehicles can be a nice way to add some anti-vehicle firepower. Razorbacks with twin Lascannons can add some much needed firepower to the army, as well as Dreadnoughts with Lascannons.

Now, let’s take a brief look at some of the units in the Deathwatch army and what my initial thoughts are on them.

Unit Reviews

Watch Master

A fantastic choice to lead your army! The Watch Master is a pretty solid combat character, with some decent firepower. However, his main benefit to my army has been the buff that he provides to nearby units.

First off, the Watch Master is T4, 6W with a 2+ save and 4++ thanks to his Iron Halo. Add in the Tenacious Survivor warlord trait and you have a fairly durable character that is going to take some effort to put down. I’ve found the Watch Master to be fairly durable in my games, able to go toe to toe with most basic infantry and come out on top. I’ve even had him survive a few rounds in combat against an Imperial Knight. Added to the fact that characters generally can’t be targeted unless they are the closest model, you can generally rely on the Watch Master to survive the game.

In combat he is no slouch either. With four attacks base, his Guardian Spear is S5, -3AP and D3 damage. He hits on a 2+ re-rollable in combat, pretty much guaranteeing all his four attacks will land. The boost to his strength is great, meaning he is wounding a lot of units on a 3+, and can even wound the hardest of units such as the Imperial Knight or Land Raider on a 5+. The AP of the Guardian Spear means that most MEQ only get a 6+ save and many units get no armour save in combat. D3 damage for each successful wounds also means that he can threaten multi-wound models or weaker combat characters. If you are careful with how you use him, he can be a pretty potent threat in combat.


His Guardian Spear is range 24”, S4, AP-1, Rapid Fire 1. While this does not sound great, it can be combined with the Special Issue Ammunition, meaning you can potentially fire at 30” with -2 AP, or 18” with -3AP. Alternatively, you can wound on a 2+ with his shots. He hits on a 2+ re-rollable in the shooting phase as well, again, almost guaranteeing that one or both of his shots will hit.

Where the Watch Master excels is in buffing surrounding units. He provides a re-roll to all failed To Hit rolls within 6”. This is great for boosting your damage potential of your small, elite army in both the shooting phase and close combat phase. The humble Bolter can do a lot of damage when combined with Special Issue Ammunition and full re-rolls to hit.

The one drawback of the Watch Master is a lack of mobility. He does not have the option to take a Bike or Jump Pack, meaning he is generally going to need some form of transport to get into the thick of the action. Alternatively, you could sit him next to your backfield objective holding units to provide them with shooting re-rolls and have a potent counter-attack unit for them.

Watch Captain

I like the Watch Captain as he is the only HQ option in the Deathwatch that has the option to take a Jump Pack. This allows him to keep up with faster moving units such as Deathwatch Bikers or Deathwatch Vanguard Veterans, providing them with re-rolls of 1’s to Hit in shooting and combat. A unit of Deathwatch Bikers can put out a lot of firepower, especially with the re-rolls the Watch Captain provides.

I have been running my Watch Captain with a Jump Pack and a pair of Lightning Claws. This gives him 5 attacks, hitting on a 2+ re-rollable, with re-rolls to wound. This character can do a lot of damage in combat. I’ve had him take quite a few elite units, and with the re-rolls to wound, he can even cause a fair bit of damage to vehicles and monsters.

Kill Teams

These will be the meat of your Deathwatch army. The sheer variety of wargear options and squad builds is staggering, putting Tactical Marines to shame.


As with in 7th edition, each Kill Team consists of a unit of 5 Veterans, with the options to add up to 5 more models from either Veterans, Terminators, Bikers or Vanguard Veterans. What is great is that the special rules carry over between the units. For example, adding a Vanguard Veteran to a Kill Team allows the unit to Fall Back and still shoot. Adding a Biker allows the unit to Fall Back and still assault. Adding a Terminator makes the unit immune to Morale. As you can see, you can come up with many potent combinations.

The downside of adding other types of units to the Veterans in the Kill Team means that their only transport option is the Corvus Blackstar, they can no longer use Drop Pods, Rhinos or Razorbacks. This can limit the mobility of your units, but in certain situations, the addition of the new rules makes up for it.

The Frag Cannon is still king in the Kill Team. You can no longer fire the Frag rounds when you deploy from a Drop Pod, but get within 8” and 2 or 3 Frag Cannons will obliterate most enemy units you will face, outside of hordes. Each Frag Cannon does 2D6 automatic hits at S6 -1AP within 8”. I normally take at least two in a squad, as some good rolling for number of hits will cause your opponent a lot of worry. They are also fantastic for overwatch fire, as any enemy unit will have to have a serious think about charging this unit, as even vehicles are wounded on a 5+. Any unit with a Frag Cannon almost cries out for an attached Vanguard Veteran to allow them to still shoot after falling back. If you are not close enough, the Frag Cannon can fire its solid shell. This is a 24” assault 2 shots at S7 -2AP D2, or S9 -3AP D2 if you are within 12”. This is a pretty potent shot. Against vehicles, however, I still like the Frag shell for volume of shots. Maybe if the short range shot went up to 3 damage it would be better, but I find that two Frag Cannons will only reliably put 4-6 wounds on a vehicle in one volley, not sufficient to drop them down a tier in most cases.

There is a huge amount of variety in Kill Teams, and I will cover more of their uses in their Index review.

Deathwatch Bikers

This is a unit that sound awesome on paper, but I have struggled with them in my games. Each Biker gets four Bolter shots at rapid fire range, using special issue ammunition. This is great for causing a lot of damage on MEQ or monsters with the special issue ammunition. Throw in some re-rolls to hit from characters and this unit can put out a lot of firepower. They can’t take Special Weapons like their Marine equivalents, which is a little unfortunate, but I guess the special issue ammunition makes up for that.

Each member of the squad can also take a Power Weapon. With two attacks base, they can put out a fair amount of damage in combat against weaker units, but I haven’t found them to be so successful in many cases.

With T5 and 2 wounds each, they can be fairly durable. However, I have found that most opponents will make these units a priority early in the game to get rid of their potent firepower. It is rare that any of my Bikers will survive the game. You could take a unit of 5 to maximise survivability, but at 180 points, I’m not sure it is worth it.


Corvus Blackstar

Again, another unit I have been pretty disappointed with on the tabletop. On paper, it sounds great.

A Twin Assault Cannon, Blackstar Rockets and Hurricane Bolters is a ton of anti-infantry firepower. However, the Corvus lacks Power of the Machine Spirit or any sort of BS boosting ability such as Strafing Run. This means that its two Heavy weapons are hitting on 4’s if you move. You can add an Auspex Array to give you re-rolls of 1 to Hit against units that don’t have Fly, but then you lose out on the Infernum Halo Launcher. I would always go for the Rocket Pods over the Stormstrike missiles, simply for the additional volume of shots. Even though they hit on a 4+, my Stormstrike Missiles rarely seem to hit, and generally fail to wound even when they do.

With T7, 14W, 3+ armour and -1 to hit when flying, it sounds pretty durable, but I have found that the Corvus Blackstar rarely survives past turn 2 in most of my games. If your opponent chooses to focus on it, they can generally bring it down pretty easily. One benefit is that it attracts a lot of firepower, potentially taking away some shots from your fragile Deathwatch units.

The Corvus Blackstar works well as a transport vehicle for mixed Kill Teams. With a transport capacity of 12, you can fit a lot of models in the flyer (Vanguard Veterans and Terminators count for 2 models, Bikes count for 3).

One useful tactic I have found is to take a Kill Team with 5 Veterans, a Vanguard Veteran and a Biker, along with a Watch Captain or Watch Master in a Corvus. If you deploy the Corvus at the edge of your deployment zone, you can disembark the unit and deploy up to 17” away. The Biker has a move of 14”, plus 3” from disembarking. The Vanguard Veteran can deploy up to 15” from the flyer, allowing you to put him behind the Biker and maintain coherency with the slower moving Kill Team. This will give you a 7” first turn charge if your opponent is on the edge of their deployment zone. Also, your Watch Master can stay by the Corvus, giving it full re-rolls to hit if it did not move.


The Deathwatch are a great looking army, but I have found they are proving difficult to use in 8th edition. The basic Troops choice is pretty expensive for just a Marine’s durability; the Deathwatch Veteran costs 1 pt less than the Primaris Marine in the Index, but has half the number of wounds. Yes, you get Special Issue Ammunition, but the basic gun on the Primaris is essentially a Kraken Bolt in a Bolter.

I hope to bring you some more indepth reviews of the units in the future to try and help you with the army. If you have any of your own tips for using the Deathwatch, please comment below!



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