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Dark Angels Review: Stratagems, Warlord Traits, Relics & Psychics

19 Minute Read
Dec 12 2017

The Sons of the Lion are roaring back onto the stage of the 40k universe. Read on to learn what they’ve got to offer.

The Dark Angels are here hot on the heels of the Blood Angels and where they are furious assault embodied, the Dark Angels are very much a more well-rounded army that plays in every phase of the game well, but does not dominate any of them (although they can be great in any area you choose to focus on). This is a tactically minded general’s army that provides a diverse toolbox and lots of fun, potent combos in there. Per usual, there is a focus on not only the basic Dark Angels marines but also the traditional Deathwing and Ravenwing portions of the First Legion. Also, SPOILER ALERT: in the back of the book they do mention that the Lion is alive in stasis on the Rock and that his arch-nemesis Luther has escaped! Very cool stuff.

Rating System

  • Competitive: This is a codex entry (unit, stratagem, item, etc.) that has a place in essentially any competitive list built with this faction regardless of unit choices or is the source of a significant force multiplication effect for other units.
  • Efficient: This is a codex entry that can stand on its own merit in a matched play list but works best when combo’d up with other units or in specific situations to become very powerful but may not always be seen.
  • Situational: This is a codex entry that may not pass as competitive on its own merits but can be made effective in a creative list, as a meta-buster, or in a specific combo or scenario where it ratchets up in power to potentially very high strength but otherwise will not be seen very often.

Special Rules

There’s a reason why we always begin these reviews with the back of the book rules, as in 8th ed 40k, these are largely what will define your army list strategy. It is also where the real power of a book comes from in most cases. Let’s dive in to see what the Dark Angels have:

  • Defenders of Humanity: This is your standard Objective Secured rule and applies to their troops choices in a Battle-forged, Dark Angels army. Competitive.
  • Grim Resolve: You can re-roll hit rolls of 1 when shooting so long as you didn’t move in the prior Movement phase. Additionally, you never lose more than one model for failed Morale tests. Efficient.

These are both very solid army wide bonuses but when taken in the context of the Dark Angels as a whole, they don’t always kick in as frequently as some others do. As such, Grim Resolve gets the efficient rating. When either half of this rule kicks in, it’s awesome, but often neither of them will kick in as you are either on the move, already re-roll 1’s, or wouldn’t lose more than one model (or are already fearless) in a unit.


Per usual in 8th ed, this is where the real power of a Codex often lays. Dark Angels have been gifted with some very effective stratagems and many that are by now familiar to all Adeptus Astartes players.

  • Relics of the Rock: 1/3CP,  Your standard “extra Relics” stratagem. This has been available to every Codex we’ve seen so far and it is only as good as the Relics it gives you access to.
    • Well, thankfully for Dark Angels players, they have excellent Relics available to them. I rarely found myself playing Dark Angels without taking 1 extra Relic. I didn’t often take 2, but I always assumed I was playing the game with -1 CP as they have so many awesome choices which we will cover below. Competitive.
  • Linebreaker Bombardment: 1 CP, used in the shooting phase if a Dark Angels Vindicator is within 6″ of at least two other Vindicators. Instead of firing normally, they pick a point within 24″ of all three tanks and every unit within 3″ of that point takes 3D3 Mortal Wounds on a 4+ adding +1 if they contain 10 or more models and subtracting 1 if they are a character.
    • Much like the Killshot strat, this is potentially devastating but hard to actually pull off in many cases as having all 3 tanks within 24″ of the same spot is fairly limiting and shutting one of the tanks down is easy to do by engaging them in melee, simply destroying them with shooting, etc. And, much like the strat above, if you want to use it, I recommend taking 4+ Vindicators to buy a little insurance in case you lose one early or get it wrapped up in combat. However, if you play it right and keep them screened, this can seriously nuke your opponent’s army hard. Situational.

  • Deathwing Assault: 2/3 CP, used after a unit of Deathwing Terminators deep strikes on to the table. They immediately shoot as if it were the shooting phase. The 3 CP cost kicks in if the unit contains more than 5 models.
    • A very strong stratagem although I am sure Dark Angels players will wonder why their version costs 3 CP for a full unit when Chaos do not pay the extra tax for full strength units. However, in the context of the Dark Angels suite of tools, it is a very effective stratagem to use on the turn you bring in a max unit of Deathwing. In the 8th ed meta, Storm Bolters are exceptionally good and putting out 80 strength 4 shots (most likely re-rolling misses and 1’s to wound thanks to support characters) that is a significant amount of firepower. I prefer Cataphractii with a Lightening Claw and Storm Bolter but you can also go whole hog and take standard Termies with dual Cyclone for maximum firepower. Competitive.
  • Satsis Shell: 1 CP: When a Ravenwing model in your army attacks a Character with a Ravenwing Grenade Launcher add 1 to the hit roll, instead of normal damage they deal D3 Mortal Wounds.
    • Not going to come up all the time but when it does, it is quite useful, particularly for taking on tough models that can give Adeptus Astartes armies trouble such as Magnus or Mortarion. Situational.
  • Hellfire Shells: 1 CP, used when firing an Infantry model’s Heavy Bolter. Instead of firing normally, on a successful hit you deal D3 Mortal Wounds to the target.
    • This is a great strat and one I use all the dang time. Because of it, you should always have at least a single Heavy Bolter on an Infantry model to take advantage of those long ranged Mortal Wounds. Efficient.
  • Orbital Bombardment: 3 CP, this stratagem is used once per battle, if your Warlord doesn’t move or fire their weapon normally, they may select a point on the battlefield visible to him. Every enemy unit within D6″ of that points takes D3 Mortal Wounds on the roll of a 4+. Characters are hit on a 5+.
    • This is a stratagem that can be very useful and is used quite often in Adeptus Astartes armies. As you will always have a Warlord, it will always be an option. It’s good when it is good, but isn’t always the right call. Efficient.
  • Wisdom of the Ancients: 1 CP, gives a Dark Angels Dreadnought a re-roll 1’s to hit aura for that phase.
    • This one is good when it’s needed but won’t be needed that frequently. Not bad at all and can be a real life saver in the right situation, but will not be used in most lists that frequently. Situational.

  • Tactical Flexibility: 1 CP, allows you to Combat Squad a unit of 10 Dark Angels that have the rule, splitting them up in to two 5 man units.
    • This is obviously very situational. Frequently to get those lovely Command Points you will be running low model count units anyway, and when you do take large units it is typically to leverage a psychic power, stratagem, etc. and as such you won’t want to break them up. However, if you are in a situation where you need to grab two objectives or something similar, and have a unit able to split it could win you the game. Situational.
  • Armour of Contempt: 1 CP, gives a vehicle a 5+ save vs Mortal Wounds for a phase, used right before a vehicle would take a Mortal Wound.
    • This is actually a super useful strat. With all of the Smite spam, and various other Mortal Wound shenanigans in the game, the need for a defense against them comes up frequently. Efficient.
  • Only in Death Does Duty End: 2 CP, use this strat when a Character in your army dies, before removing the model they can either shoot as if it were the shooting phase or fight as if it were the fight phase.
    • This is another gem. Once you get a really choppy character into melee with your opponent, you are essentially assured to fight twice if you need to. Once normally, and the second time either thanks to this strat or Honour the Chapter. It means a kitted out melee Character can almost be assured to destroy many units in the game you would not otherwise be able to. Alternatively, can you use it to shoot again as well but this will largely only come in to play in limited circumstances as most Characters don’t have nearly as powerful shooting and if they do, it is typically short ranged. Competitive.

  • Cluster Mines: 1 CP, used when a Scout Biker unit falls back from combat. On a 2+, they deal D3 Mortal Wounds to a unit within 1″ before they leave combat.
    • A solid stratagem when you can use it. Obviously, it only applies if you have Scout Bikers in your army, and further then they are withdrawing from combat. As someone who loves Scout Bikers and uses them all the time, I can say it is a really fun one to use when it is applicable. However, this is not a stratagem you will be using in every game. Situational.
  • Flakk Missile: 1 CP, used when a Dark Angels Infantry model with a Missile Launcher fires at an enemy unit with the Fly keyword. Add +1 to the hit roll, and if the target is hit, you deal D3 Mortal Wounds instead of the normal damage.
    • Another great utility strat and just like Hellfire Shells, the reason I pretty much always include at least one Missile Launcher on an Infantry model. FOr tough targets like Magnus, or Mortarion, this is an effective tool to reliably deal damage to them and help wear them down. Efficient.
  • Auspex Scan: 2 CP, Similar to other Adeptus Astartes, this stratagem allows you to fire on an enemy unit within 12″ of one of your Infantry units when it is set up on the battlefield with a -1 to hit.
    • This is a really useful stratagem and one I use often when facing enemy deep-strikers/out-flankers/etc. It won’t come up in every game but when it does it is extremely useful, particularly if you have a solid shooting unit to use it on like Sternguard or Devastators, etc. I find it often pushes your opponent’s deep-striking units back beyond 12″ to avoid it and thus reducing the amount of damage they can typically deal to you.  Efficient.
  • Never Forgive, Never Forget! 1 CP, used in the Fight phase when one of your units fights. For each hit roll of a 6+, you generate one additional attack. If fighting against Fallen units, you generate additional attacks on a 4+.
    • A useful strat for your melee units, particularly those that can put out a lot of attacks and works very well with the excellent Righteous Repugnance power. You will use this one not as often as you may think, but when it is needed, it is incredibly good. And if your opponent is Fallen, well, lol, sucks for them. Efficient.
  • The Lion and the Wolf: 1 CP, used before the battle if your includes any Space Wolves Infantry units. Choose one Dark Angels and one Space Wolves Infantry units, roll a D6 for each model in the units, on a 4+ they suffer a Mortal Wound. Each model that survives increases their Strength, Attacks, Weapon Skill and Leadership characteristics by 1.
    • This is a very cool, very fun strat that while it doesn’t kick in every often, is pretty bad ass if you build for it. You can make two of your characters (that are Infantry) significantly better, or if you are feeling risky, some of your one wound infantry models! Situational.

  • Hunt the Fallen: 1 CP, used at the start of the battle. Select an enemy Infantry Character in your opponent’s army. That model gains 1 attack, but re-roll failed hit rolls for Dark Angels that target it in the Fight phase. Additionally, Deathwing and Ravenwing re-roll failed charge rolls against this model.
    • Another fun and characterful stratagem that will come in handy in some games. If you don’t mind buffing an enemy character a bit to get a big buff against it, then it is a worthwhile strat to use. I find it is best used defensively if you have a character you know is coming at you like Celestine. As she is assuredly attacking, might as well get a nice boost for my models that will have to fight her. Situational.
  • Datalink Telemetery: 1 CP, this stratagem is used when a Whirlwind fires on an enemy target within 12″ of one of your Land Speeders. The Whirlwind’s attacks automatically hit the target.
    • This is another stratagem that is cool if you build the ability to use it in to your list. Whirlwinds are an underrated unit and with the ability to automatically hit their target via this strat, they remove one variable from their damage equation. This combo is not likely to appear in top lists but if you have the models and want to use them, this is a stratagem you will enjoy quite a bit. Situational.

  • Weapons from the Dark Age: 1 CP, used before a Dark Angels units shoots Plasma weapons in the shooting phase. Add 1 to the damage characteristic of these weapons in that phase.
    • This is the money maker stratagem for Dark Angels. You can put out absolutely fearsome firepower with this bad boy and the benefits to it are multiple. For one, you can fire Plasma weapons on their lower setting to avoid overheating against armies with a -1 to hit, but still get double damage. Alternatively, you can ramp up already powerful overcharged Plasma weapons to an 11 if you really need something dead. Obviously, to maximize this strat, you want a unit with as many Plasma weapons as you can fit, and that is often going to be Black Knights, Devastators Squads or Hellblasters. Competitive.
  • Intractable: 2 CP, used after a Dark Angels units has fallen back. That unit can still shoot in the shooting phase.
    • It’s a bit pricey at 2 CP, but it is really good. The ability to leave combat and fire at full effect is very powerful, particularly for units like Land Raiders who can easily get shut down, or Hellblasters or Black Knights who you count on to do a lot of the damage dealing in your list. Competitive.
  • Empyric Channeling: 1 CP, used at the start of the psychic phase if a Dark Angels Psyker is within 6″ of at least 2 other Dark Angels Psykers. The Psyker can immediately attempt to manifest one additional power and when he does so, adds +2 to the test.
    • This like many stratagems, is really powerful when you can use it. However, it is not often you will have 3 Psykers on the table as most Space Marines armies don’t field that many Librarians, and Dark Angels are no exception to that in general terms. If you do want to use it and are in position to do so, it can be nasty for trying to get the full powered smite, or for getting some of your powerful, high warp charge powers off and a Dark Angels list built for 3+ psykers can string together some really brutal combos. Situational.
  • Speed of the Raven: 1 CP, A Ravenwing unit in your army may advance and still shoot and charge.
    • A very powerful Strat, particularly when used with a maxed out unit of Black Knights who can deliver a lethal blow from much further away than your opponent may have suspected was possible, buffed up with several of your strats and psychic powers. Competitive.
  • Secret Agenda: 1 CP, used before the battle in missions that use Tactical Objectives. If so, you can keep your objectives secret the entire game, revealing them only if they are achieved.
    • Very powerful if you are playing Maelstrom missions. Obviously not useful otherwise. Situational.
  • Honour the Chapter: 3 CP, Select a Dark Angels Infantry of Biker unit to fight for a second time at the end of the Fight phase.
    • A great strat for Dark Angels. You will use this one frequently, being limited only by your CP reserves. Deathwing Knights absolutely devastate things in combat with this and Black Knights make great use of it, aslo. Competitive.

  • Fortress of Shields: 1 CP, used in the Fight phase. Select a unit of Deathwing that contains at least 3 models with Storm Shields. Your opponent must subtract 1 from all wound rolls made against that unit until the end of the phase.
    • A very, very strong strat. Once you get your Deathwing Knights stuck in to melee, this allows them to dramatically reduce the wounds they take and thus casualties. It gets even more powerful when combined with the Mind Wipe or Aversion power to make particularly tough models much more manageable. Competitive.
  • Killshot: 1 CP, use this stratagem in the shooting phase if a Predator is within 6″ two other Predators. Add 1 to the wound rolls and damage of all of the attacks of each Predator if they target a Vehicle or Monster.
    • This is a fun and potentially extremely powerful stratagem but also one that is easily shut down by losing one of the vehicles or getting stuck in combat. For best effect, I recommend taking 4+ Predators with a variety of weapon load-outs to not pigeonhole yourself into all Las Cannons and end up playing a horde. Personally, I think the dakka Predator is the best choice as you use them to clear out infantry and light vehicles and if you find yourself facing some heavier targets, the strat makes them much more effective at dealing with them for a single CP. Even if you take some casualties, you can still leverage it but you aren’t completely reliant on it. Have a Lieutenant and Captain nearby (or even better, Azrael) and go to town. Situational.

  • Inner Circle: 1 CP, used before the battle. Select a Dark Angels Master, Dreadnought or Land Raider. That model then gains the Deathwing Keyword and Inner Circle rule.
    • This strat enables you to have an all Deathwing army, and to gain Deathwing benefits on models that would otherwise not be able to do so. However, these benefits are relatively limited and as such, so is this strat. Situational.

Warlord Traits

  • Fury of the Lion: If you Warlord charged, was charged or heroically intervened then Dark Angels within 6″ of him add 1 to their strength characteristic.
    • Not bad all, as this is a very strong buff, it just won’t kick in that often. Efficient.
  • Courage of the First Lion: Your Warlord has a fearless aura out to 12″.
    • Would be amazing if not for the fact that they already have Grim Resolve and Inner Circle for morale mitigation. Situational.

  • Brilliant Strategist: Once per battle, your Warlord gets a free re-roll and you get a CP back each time you use a strat on a 5+.
    • This will be the go to Warlord Trait for most players and as the cherry on top, Azrael comes with it. As he already really wants to be your Warlord and is amazingly good, this pretty much seals it. Competitive.
  • Huntsman: Your Warlord can fire their Pistol, Assault, Rapid Fire and Grenade weapons at enemy Characters even if they are not the closest enemy model. In addition, whenever your Warlord Herocially intervenes, they can move towards the closest enemy Character instead of the closest enemy model.
    • A fun Warlord Trait and potentially quite strong on a character built to take advantage of it with say, a Jump Pack and Combi-Melta where they can easily get into striking distance to blast enemy support characters. Efficient.
  • Master of Manoeuvre: You can re-roll the dice used to determine how far Dark Angels units advance and charge if they are within 6″ of your Warlord.
    • Not bad on it’s own but when compared to the other options and when considered from the perspective that this army isn’t built to take full advantage of it, it really only comes in to play in specific Dark Angels builds such as with deep striking Deathwing units looking for increased odds of charging after coming in. Situational.
  • Stubborn Tenacity: Your Warlord gains a 6+ FnP style save, with a +1 if they didn’t move.
    • Again, not at all bad, but simply doesn’t compete with the other options. However, if you did want to use it, a characters sits back and buffs your shooting units is the obvious choice, here. Situational.

Relics of Caliban

The Dark Angels have some very strong relic options. As stated above, I almost always burned at least 1 CP to get an additional relic as they provide some significant bonuses.

  • Heavenfall Blade: replaces a model’s Power Sword or Master-crafted Power Sword. Strength +2, AP-3, D3 damage. The bearer gains an additional attack in the fight phase.
    • A great melee relic and one that will be chosen quite often. Competitive.
  • Foe-Smiter: Replaces a storm bolter, strength 4, AP-1, 2 Damage, Rapid Fire 2.
    • These “super bolter” style weapons are better than you’d think they would be in practice. Still, not a top level optimal choice but fun to use and will do some notable damage. Efficient.
  • Shroud of Heroes: Subtract 1 from all hit rolls that target the bearers.
    • This will be the most commonly chosen relic as it is extremely good. Any character that will be going in to combat or exposed to danger on a regular basis will love this. Competitive.
  • Mace of Redemption: Replaces a model’s Power Maul, strength +3, AP-3, D3 damage. Re-roll failed wound rolls when targeting Heretic Astartes units.
    • A very powerful melee weapon even without the bonus to attacking Heretic Astartes. Generally, the Heavenfall Blade is superior, but this is a good one to choose on the fly by burning a CP if you find yourself facing Chaos Space Marines. Competitive.

  • The Lion’s Roar: replaces a model’s Combi-plasma and has the above profile.
    • This weapon gives you better firepower out to 18″ than a standard Combi-plasma, but is otherwise not remarkable. Situational.
  • The Eye of the Unseen: Enemy units within 3″ of the bearer have -1 leadership. Additionally, enemy Characters attack last in melee, even if they charged or have a rule allowing them to fight first.
    • This little piece of kit is seriously strong if you find yourself going in to melee with enemy characters, which you often will. Particularly in prolonged melees with big, tough Characters like Magnus or against  fast Characters who will often be charging you like Celestine. This gives you a very large edge and helps to allow your melee units to win the day. It also combos well with many of the Dark Angels psychic powers. However, this is not a relic I’d take every game as against some armies it doesn’t offer much. But when it is useful, it is VERY useful. Situational.

Interromancy Discipline

Dark Angels got some truly nasty psychic powers. Many of them are Warp Charge 7 though, so come with some risk to successfully pull off. I found that to really leverage them it was best to go for three and use the Empyric Channeling strat for the big powers and to also fire out Mortal Wounds and have some excellent psychic defense. When combo’d with Azrael to give them a 4++, you can play them quite aggressively for good results, greatly debuffing your opponent and dealing quite a bit of damage.

  • Mind Worm: WC 6, select an enemy unit within 12″ that is visible to the psyker. That unit suffers a Mortal Wound and may only be chosen to fight last in the fight phase even if they would other wise fight first.
    • A solid power for managing combats and making sure you get to swing first, particularly good when combo’d with The Eye of the Unseen to really control the flow of the fight phase. Being able to stop a really powerful model from swinging until you’ve had a chance to wail on it can dramatically change the course of a game. Efficient.
  • Aversion: WC 6, elect an enemy unit within 24″ of the psyker and visible to him. Until your next psychic phase, your opponent must subtract 1 from all hit rolls for that unit.
    • This is an extremely strong psychic power and one that can render a tough unit very manageable. It combos with Mind Wipe and the Shroud of Heroes very well, potentially making what would have been an impossible fight into a cake walk. Competitive.
  • Righteous Repugnance: WC 7, pick a friendly Dark Angels unit within 12″, this unit can re-roll failed hit and wound rolls in the fight phase until the start of your next psychic phase.
    • This is an obviously extremely powerful ability and dramatically increases the offensive output of your melee units. Deathwing Knights love it, particularly when stacked with Fortress of Shields and potentially Aversion as well but any unit will get a lot of mileage out of this. The only downside is the high casting value. Competitive.
  • Trephination: WC 7, if manifested, roll 2D6 adding 2 to the roll if the psychic test was more than 10. The closest visible enemy unit within 18″ of the psyker suffers a Mortal Wound for each point the total exceeds their highest Leadership characteristic.
    • This can be an extremely nasty damage dealing power. It can potentially deal 14 Mortal Wounds under perfect conditions (although don’t expect this to occur frequently or even ever). However, with leadership debuffs such as the Eye of the Unseen, etc. you can drop enemy units down and if you roll hot on the 2D6 check, can expect to deal a lot of damage to a unit. Back this up with a Smite and you can seriously hurt or destroy a key unit. The downside is the high casting value and chance to flub the second roll, potentially doing nothing. If you are building a list to take advantage of Empyric Channeling, this becomes a much more consistent power. Efficient.
  • Engulfing Fear: WC 6, enemy units within 6″ of your psyker roll 2D6 for morale checks and take the highest.
    • This is a power that can be very good against the right opponent but will not be appealing at all against many armies that do not care about morale so much. Situational.

  • Mind Wipe: WC 7, choose a visible enemy model within 18″ of the caster. Each player rolls a D6 and adds their Leadership characteristic to their result. If you roll higher than your opponent, that model’s Leadership, Ballistic Skill and Weapon Skill are reduced by 1 for the rest of the game.
    • Potentially devastating if you can get it off but there are multiple failure points along the way. Best used against lower leadership models that have a lot of attacks in melee or powerful shooting. Great targets are actually vehicles who tend to be Leadership 8 where the Librarians tend to be 9. Also, obviously, pairs up very well with the Eye of the Unseen, Aversion and itself as if you get it off, it is easier to hit the same target with it again. Competitive.

~ What do you think about the First Legion so far?


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Author: Pablo Martinez
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