Arks of Omen Faction Focus: Deathwatch

With a new batch of rules updates comes the need to revisit the strategies and tactics of each faction. Today we’re once again joined by Jack Harpster from the Art of War, and he’ll be talking about Deathwatch.

Welcome to a new year and a new system as both 2023 and Arks of Omen are upon us! Following in the footsteps of last year’s WarZone: Nephilim, the new Arks of Omen mission pack again brings dramatic changes to the 40k metagame with new army construction rules and mission secondary updates. Along with Arks of Omen, the simultaneous release of the 2023 Munitorum Field Manual and 2023 Q1 Dataslate adds further complexity to the rapidly evolving landscape. This series of faction focus articles is designed to help you make sense of the changes and understand how armies will play in the new meta.

The Deathwatch have had an up-and-down time since their codex release in early 9th edition. Though rarely a top contender, they enjoyed some limited success on the back of the Kill Team Strike Force Army of Renown. The new changes shake things up quite a bit, so let’s take a look at where the faction sits in Arks.

What Changed

Let’s start with a quick rundown of what changed and what it means for the army. Generally speaking, here are the major points we’ll cover:

  • Armour of Contempt is gone
  • Sticky Objectives
  • Loss of Army of Renown
  • Doctrine non-changes
  • Points Drops
  • Free Wargear
  • Secondary Changes
  • Changing Meta

Armor of Contempt is Gone

As a faction, Space Marines relied on Armor of Contempt to survive in an increasingly deadly meta. While it was a fairly ham-fisted adjustment to the faction as far as balance changes go, it did make Marines significantly more durable than other, comparable units and help shore them up as a semi-elite force. Armor of Contempt did not benefit armies equally though: If you weren’t Blood Angels, Thousand Sons, or Sisters of Battle, your reduced damage into other Armour of Contempt armies somewhat offset the power you gained from the increased survivability. Now that’s not to say that Deathwatch don’t care about losing Armor of Contempt – far from it – it simply means that the role that Marines in general play has changed drastically. Don’t believe the fluff, Marines are now glass cannons. Cheaper units and wargear means you can put a crazy amount of Marines on the table but they drop like flies to incoming damage. It remains to be seen whether this is a net buff or nerf, and it may vary from chapter to chapter.

Points Changes

Space Marines units in general got significantly cheaper in exchange for losing durability.  Let’s focus on the units that Deathwatch armies make best use of.

Most Troops and HQs dropped points, with the Troops in particular making the Kill Teams significantly less punishing to build.

Gravis Armor Marines are at bargain bin prices with the Aggressors coming down 10-15 points per model depending on the variant and Inceptors getting their Plasma Incinerators for free. These both make the Indomitor Kill Team cost significantly less to build, coming in at a cheap 315 points for five Objective Secured Plasma Inceptors and five Heavy Intercessors.

Outriders at the same cost of Veteran Bikers might make Fortis Kill Teams worth it just for Objective Secured jerks on bikes running around to deny primary but I personally doubt it.

Cheaper Phobos Marines makes the Spectrus Kill Team attractive as cheaper ways to spread the Infiltrators’ deep strike denial around or to take larger units of Eliminators with Las Fusils.

The Proteus Kill Team is where the most complicated wargear choices are as well as the most options. Now Deathwatch Veterans have a very large list of “free” wargear that they pay for through their increased base cost of 27 points. That makes it very hard to do anything too crazy with them as that free Frag Cannon or Missile Launcher you were not paying for beforehand did not truly become free, it just went from 15 to 7 points.  That is a sizable decrease but essentially puts the Veterans in the role of Devastator Marines as taking anything other than the most valuable upgrades would result in the unit having gotten worse in the update. It’s worth noting is that Black Shields only went up 2 points and have free weapons as well, making them a lot more enticing. An eight man Proteus Kill Team with a Combi-Weapon, Lightning Claw, Combat Shield, four Frag Cannons or Missile Launchers and three Terminators with Cyclone Missile Launchers, Thunder Hammers and Storm Shields runs you 270 points and is quite valuable at that price point.

Terminators with a Storm Shield effectively still have Armor of Contempt and can shield the unit from harm as it lays down firepower while still being able to deal damage in combat. The full ten-man squad would probably involve a Black Shield and Vanguard Veteran for increased melee punch and access to fall back and shoot, but is probably not worth it over keeping the squad as “cheap” as possible. I expect the eight man Proteus Kill Team will be a staple of Deathwatch lists as it provides good fire support as well as durable Objective Secured that Space Marines in general are lacking.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Combat Doctrines

The Balance Dataslate had a change for Marines more impactful than points drops: The ability to stay in Devastator Doctrine from turns one through turn five. For some armies staying in Tactical Doctrine is a buff but the most degenerate armies want to stay in Devastator Doctrine and start blasting (and scoring those sweet Codex Warfare VP). For Iron Hands, it’s a return to the firepower but not the general brokenness of the overtuned 8th edition supplement while newer supplements like Dark Angels who clearly weren’t designed with permanent Devastator Doctrine in mind are having their rules break in new and exciting ways. Unfortunately this is a change that Deathwatch does not get to participate in as their special rules state that they replace the way Doctrines normally work and as such what was once a helpful tool for them has become a hinderance. While every other chapter is dusting off their heavy weapons and insane corresponding secondary, Deathwatch must still pick their one turn of Devastator Doctrine carefully. I’m shocked this didn’t get FAQed day one of the Dataslate and Deathwatch players may need to brace for the possibility it never will. I hope that doesn’t happen but it might.

The Army of Renown

The second L the deathwatch Deathwatch are taking with this update is that the Deathwatch Kill Team Strike Force Army of Renown became illegal as of January 1st 2023.  The AoR relied heavily on AP1 and as such got significantly worse when Armor of Contempt first got released. I would have been interested to see the cool combos people developed with access to cheaper troops and units and the ability of the Aquila Kill Team bomb to again damage every unit in the game. Sadly that is no longer the case, hopefully GW re-releases it somehow but again I doubt it will happen.

Sticky Objectives for Troops

With the Balance Dataslate, Space Marine Troops now “sticky” objectives if they hold them in a Command phase. They can then leave and the objective remains under your control until taken away by an enemy unit. This helps regular Space Marine Troops pull double duty and control a broader swathe of objectives than other Troops however it benefits Kill Teams far more. Kill Teams are the backbone of a Deathwatch army and with them being Troops, the deathwatch army gets incredible objective control by stickying every objective in reach. Shooting armies will find having to be physically present on objectives they shoot clear deeply irritating. This is a great quality of life change for Marines and will contribute every so often to holding an objective you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Against slow armies, stickying objectives and leaving is a viable tactic to use your army at 100% efficacy while your opponent must leave units behind. Overall, quite a good change for Deathwatch.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Secondary Changes

Arks of Omen reduced each Space Marine Chapter down to just one secondary apiece and Deathwatch are no exception. The Long Vigil, Cripple Stronghold, and Suffer Not the Alien have been purged from the missions pack and now only Cull Order remains. Suffer Not the Alien was a decent pick into some armies but the other two were unreliable and I won’t particularly miss them. Oaths of Moment got buffed back to where it used to be and alongside Shock Tactics and Raise the Banners, this gives you a good generic secondary plan. If Doctrines ever get changed to match generic Space Marines, Codex Warfare becomes an amazing third choice over Banners as Deathwatch can lean into heavy weapons pretty hard. Overall, Deathwatch have a stronger suite of secondaries than before even if the selections are a bit more constricted.

The Changing Meta

The metagame is experiencing sweeping changes at the moment and while it’s impossible to 100% pin down a metagame before it’s really started it appears that this meta will be defined by vehicles and shooting armies. That’s not an amazing matchup into the kind of durable infantry spamming playstyle it seems like Deathwatch will favor but it’s still playable. I anticipate that Deathwatch will be one of the better durable infantry armies out there with a decent amount of firepower and a solid mid-tier place in the metagame with decent secondaries and objective control.

With that in mind, let’s make a list.

A Sample List

+++ Deathwatch Arks of Omen Detachment +++


Primaris Captain – Master-Crafted Power Sword, Relic Shield, Tome of Ectoclades, Warlord: Optimized Priority

Primaris Librarian – Premorphic Resonance, Fortified with Contempt, Nowhere to Hide

Primaris Chaplain on Bike – Master of Sanctity, Canticle of Hate, Recitation of Focus, The Beacon Angelis


Spectrus Kill Team

  • 5x Infiltrators – Helix Gauntlet
  • 5x Incursors

Proteus Kill Team

  • 5x Veterans – Power Fist, Storm Shield, 4x Missile Launchers
  • 3x Terminators – Thunder Hammers and Storm Shields, Cyclone Missile Launchers
  • Black Shield – Power Fist, Lightning Claw
  • Vanguard Veteran – Jump Pack, Lightning Claw, Chainsword

Proteus Kill Team

  • 5x Veterans – Power Fist, Storm Shield, 4x Missile Launchers
  • 3x Terminators – Thunder Hammers and Storm Shields, Cyclone Missile Launchers
  • Black Shield – Power Fist, Lightning Claw
  • Vanguard Veteran – Jump Pack, Lightning Claw, Chainsword

Proteus Kill Team

  • 5x Veterans – Power Fist, Storm Shield, 4x Missile Launchers
  • 3x Terminators – Thunder Hammers and Storm Shields, Cyclone Missile Launchers
  • Black Shield – Power Fist, Lightning Claw
  • Vanguard Veteran – Jump Pack, Lightning Claw, Chainsword


5x Aggressors – Auto Boltstorm Gauntlets
5x Aggressors – Auto Boltstorm Gauntlets
5x Aggressors – Auto Boltstorm Gauntlets

Primaris Apothecary – Chief Apothecary, Vhorkan-Pattern Auspicator, Selfless Healer


This list is a shooting army disguised as a durable combat army. \With access to ignore cover, reroll wounds, +1 to hit fly and +1 to hit from the chaplain this army can output some serious anti-tank and anti-infantry firepower.  Do not underestimate Aggressor shooting in Tactical Doctrine with ignores cover, that will shred basically any light to medium infantry on the board while the Proteus Kill Teams pump out a steady stream of missiles at enemy vehicles and hard targets. Up close the army leans into Thunder Hammers and Power Fists backed up by full rerolls in combat off the Chaplain’s Litany of Hate.

The damage output of this list should not be underestimated. The Proteus Kill Teams with a 5+ feel no pain are the backbone of the list, providing durability that Marines currently struggle to get elsewhere. The Spectrus Kill Team combat squads to put two different bubbles of 12” no deep strike and skirmish in mid-board. This list has a swarm of durable Objective Secured models with which to glom up the center and lock down objectives while raining missiles into the opponent. Overall, I think that Deathwatch offer a lot of cool list design space for the creative list builder and I’m excited to see what the community comes up with over the coming months

Next Time: Chaos Daemons

That wraps up our look at the Deathwatch but we’ll be back in a couple of days with more great coverage of the changes in Arks of Omen. You can see more of Jack Harpster’s armies and tactics in action by checking out the Art of War on YouTube or in the War Room, where they post regular video battle reports and stream games.

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