Friday, May 24, 2013

Space Marines and Flyer Defense

Flyers are a major part of 6th Edition, and any army that wants to be competitive on the tabletop needs to be able to deal with them. The newer codices have some options for Skyfire, but Space Marines will likely have to wait a few months before we get the treatment. In the meantime, we still have to deal with enemy flyers.

While many players have said that they can just be ignored due to their limited ability to damage infantry or that they can be outmaneuvered by simply quickly advancing into your opponents deployment zone, this is only partly true. First, the Heldrake and Flying Monstrous Creatures both have a great ability to shred Marines. While FMCs can be dealt with in assault once they land, not many choices in our codex can fight them in assault. Only Assault Terminators have a really good chance of taking down a flying Hive Tyrant or a Bloodthirster, and the Terminators' slow speed relative to the extremely fast flyers means that the Terminators will have a difficult time reaching their targets.

As far as pressing your army into the enemy deployment zone, this works if you're facing an army composed almost entirely of flyers, where you can run into their deployment zone relatively uncontested. I've faced relatively few flyer heavy armies that don't have some hard hitting units on the table to start off with. For example, Necron flyer armies generally have a lot of Wraiths which will happily assault any Marines trying to reach the safety of the Necron table edge. To make things worse, the Heldrake doesn't care if you're hugging its table edge; it's 360 degree fire arc means it can still happily target you.

No, if you really want to do well against flyer heavy armies, you have to engage them and take them out. Here are a couple ways I've thought of doing this, as well as how I would go about it.

1. Fortifications

The most popular way to deal with flyers is to bring either an Aegis Defense Line or a Bastion with a Quad Gun (which is massively superior to the Icarus Lascannon in just about every circumstance I can think of). The Aegis Defense Line has the advantage of protecting your squads if you run an infantry heavy army like me, while the Bastion adds another AV14 vehicle to your army if you're playing mechanized. Both are relatively inexpensive points wise and easy to fit into most armies.

There is one major downside to this route: one Skyfire, Interceptor gun does not make for a real flyer defense. Sure, it'll see off a single Stormtalon or Nightscythe, but it's woefully unprepared to deal with any real air power. That said, it's a good start.

In our codex, the best model to use the gun seems to be Telion. He can fit in most lists, has a very respectable BS6, can use the gun to snipe enemy characters when no flyers are present, and can fire his Stalker Bolter during turns where he already used Interceptor to fire the Quad Gun. All in all a good choice. The second best option I see is Sicarius; he can give a Tactical squad Tank Hunters, then join the squad so that he gets to combine his BS5 with Tank Hunters. Beyond that, any Captain level character can bring BS5, but they generally have better things to do than fire a heavy weapon and won't be bringing any special rules to help.

2. Flyers

Fighting fire with fire is always a good choice, and Space Marines have recently been blessed with two solid flyers: the Stormraven and Stormtalon gunships. You've already seen my thoughts on these in the units reviews; suffice it to say that they are decent but will have to be present in decent numbers in order to fight off waves of enemy flyers. The Stormtalon packs almost as much firepower as the Stormraven at a budget price, but is severely lacking in durability, which the Stormraven has in spades. 

I would suggest taking at least one Stormraven to act as a survivable fire platform and keep your enemy worried. Add a squad of Assault Terminators inside, and the enemy won't be able to ignore it. Stormtalons bring budget firepower and should operate around their larger cousin, who will hopefully distract some of the enemy firepower away from their fragile craft. Always try to go second when playing against other armies with flyers; this will allow you to try and shoot down the enemy's first wave of flyers without reprisal. If you go first, make sure to Flat-Out your flyer when it comes on. This will give it a better Jink save and hopefully allow it to reach your enemy's deployment zone, minimizing the shots that their flyers can take against it.

3. Forgeworld

Space Marines have access to one very viable air defense option through Forgeworld: the Hyperios Air Defense Battery. Each platform mounts a twin-linked, Skyfire, Interceptor krak missile launcher on an artillery piece for the cost of a Rhino. The Defense Battery takes up a Fast Attack choice, which is normally pretty available. These are a great option, if you can afford them; they cost almost a dollar per point.

4. Allies

Several allied choices allow us to add Skyfire to our armies. These are the most difficult to add, as an allied detachment can take up a lot of points and really cut into your army. On the other hand, you can likely bring other useful units along with your flyer defense. Since we're Imperials, we're spoiled for choice when it comes to Battle-Brothers, so let's concentrate our search there.

First off, we have Dark Angels. I think they're the least appealing option, as they have to pay a pretty large sum of points to get Skyfire on their missile launchers. In addition, they're another Marine army so they don't add much to our force that we can't get already. Take this option if you're in love with one of the DA only units, but leave it if you're just after efficiency.

My Hydra at the moment.
Next up is Imperial Guard. Despite being an older codex, the IG have a couple good units for dealing with flyers. The first is the Hydra, essentially a Chimera mounting a Quad Gun. While it's ability to deal with ground targets is limited since it has Skyfire but not Interceptor, the Hydra really only good at flyer defense, but it's really good at it and is pretty cheap to boot. Taken in squadrons of three, it will really threaten any enemy flyers. Make sure to keep it in reserve though, so flyers can't destroy it before it has a chance to fire. The second option with IG is to take a Vendetta; with 3 twin-linked lascannons, the Vendetta is probably the most efficient flyer for shooting down other flyers. The same rules apply to it as when adding Space Marine flyers. However, note that you can take Vendettas in squadrons; while one Vendetta doesn't have much of a chance of shooting a Heldrake down in one turn of shooting, 2 will likely do the job.

The nice thing about taking IG allies is that many people are already doing it for other reasons. The Infantry Platoon adds a lot of cheap, scoring bodies to an army, something that Marines can really use. This means that the Troop and HQ units you have to take to fill out the Allies FOC will still add something to your army.

The final option, and the freshest, is Tau Empire. Inexplicably Battle-Brothers to Codex: Space Marines, the Tau codex is being touted as the codex to end flyer domination. Skyfire is available to any of the battlesuits for a reasonable cost, but my personal favorite is the Broadside with twin-linked high yield missile pods and twin-linked smart missile systems. Once again, oddly enough, this is essentially a Quad gun, but mounted on a 2+ save model with 2 wounds and access to shield drones. You can also take missile drones, which still add wounds to the unit as well as a super cheap missile pod; it won't have Skyfire, but for the points, who cares? The best thing about this set-up is that, unlike the aforementioned Hydras, the Broadsides are still terrifying against ground targets. Able to turn Skyfire on and off at will and packing 8 shots each, they're a substantial threat to light vehicles and infantry as well. If you're looking for a more bargain option, the Skyray can't be beat. With stock Skyfire, networked marker lights, and a substantial stock of seeker missiles, the Skyray can provide early superiority over flyers. Unlike the Broadsides, it does have the downside that it will run out of missiles, but it's a great option if you want to keep your allied detachment cheap.


There you have my best ideas for dealing with the flyers running rampant over 40K tables lately. I plan to incorporate all the options (except Forgeworld) into my Executioners over the coming months, so I will keep you posted. Also, I'll finally be whole-heartedly adopting the ally system, so look for a series of articles with my thoughts on how best to incorporate them into your army.


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