8th edition was, on the whole, pretty rough for Deathwatch. Lacking in unit variety, fragile, expensive, and struggling with some functions, monofaction Deathwatch were a tough army to play and play well. They had some reasonable play in soup lists, but since the second Codex: Space Marines dropped in September 2018, they’ve struggled to win games with an armory and unit pool that suddenly looks inferior to their more generalist cousins. All of that changed with the release of Codex: Space Marines however – thanks to the new codex and the Index, Deathwatch suddenly got a massive influx of new units and abilities, and that has continued with the release of their own Codex Supplement. Now folded into the broader Space Marines army, Deathwatch have access to nearly the full suite of tools that other chapters have, plus some nasty tricks of their own.
But how do these new rules stack up, and do they make the Deathwatch a compelling army? Let’s dive into the new book to find out.
Why Play Deathwatch?
Deathwatch are the elite Xenos-hunting ranks of the Adeptus Astartes, specially trained and outfitted to deal with alien threats to the Imperium, kind of like an anti-alien version of the Grey Knights. Unlike the Grey Knights, the Deathwatch isn’t a standing chapter of its own but rather pulls from chapters around the galaxy, taking elite warriors from other chapters and training them for a time in a kind of special service before they return to their chapter. They tend to operate in specialized squads called Kill Teams that mix units with different armor types and weapon loadouts, allowing them to operate with greater flexibility.
One reason to play Deathwatch is because you want to build a marine army that uses lots of different weapon loadouts and a smaller number of models. On the battlefield Deathwatch tend to operate as an elite army of specialized units, where every model is a veteran kitted out with the best custom wargear you can afford. This means armies that contain fewer models and give you more opportunities to use different interesting loadouts and kits. From storm bolters on veterans to single Infiltrators in a squad to power sword bikers, there are lots of interesting combos and ways to build your army. And if you’re a fan of wonky rules interactions and weird corner cases, the Deathwatch mixed squads and combat squads rules have plenty of silly interactions for you to play off of, even with their more streamlined versions in this update.
On the modeling side, Deathwatch are great for two reasons: First, they have the most recent (and possibly last) small marines kit ever made, and it’s fantastic – covered with lots of options and extra bits. Second, they let you combine aesthetics and conversion details from every chapter in the Imperium. Not sure what marine chapter you want to paint and model? Do all of them! Not really into painting a lot of colorful armor? Deathwatch are still mostly black armor! Deathwatch give you options at both ends of the modeling spectrum, whether you want to make each model a masterpiece or do the minimum amount of work to get an army to battle-ready standard.
What’s in the Book?
The core thing to know about this book is that it is a Codex Supplement. That means that if you’re playing Deathwatch, you’ll need this book and a copy of Codex: Space Marines, as most of the rules you’ll need for units will be in there. It also means that Deathwatch now have access to almost all of the non-chapter specific rules and units in that book, and should continue to get new units as they’re added to that book in the future. This is great news for an army that, through 8th edition, suddenly found itself not getting any of the new Phobos units. All of the flexibility and options that Deathwatch players were hoping for is now a core part of the rules.
Similar to the Codex Supplements received by other chapters in 8th Edition, this book contains the following:
- Fleshed out lore for the Deathwatch
- Army special rules for fielding a Space Marine list from this chapter
- Unique warlord traits, stratagems and relics
- A dedicated psychic discipline, handing them something they missed out on in 8th
- Rules for all of their unique units
Unlike those, this Supplement also contains:
- Crusade rules for the Deathwatch
- New Matched Play Secondary Objectives for the Deathwatch
What’s Changed from the Index?
You may recall that two weeks ago Games Workshop released an Index for Deathwatch, replacing the rules for them in their prior Codex and the White Dwarf update. This added rules for Kill Teams, Special Issue Ammunition, and the faction’s custom units but was missing warlord traits, and stratagems. Generally speaking, those missing rules have been added here, plus some new army special rules that look pretty solid and a new psychic discipline. The new kill teams shown in the Index have all returned, including Kill Team Cassius, so if you already started building armies around the Index, you hopefully shouldn’t find yourself left out to dry with this release – the Index is a pretty good preview of what we’re getting here. We’ll get into the points costs in a bit more detail later on but frustratingly, many points costs here have been tweaked, usually around +/- 5 points. So while most of the costs are unchanged, there are enough adjustments that it caused me to openly question why they’d bother giving us the wrong costs for two weeks. Seriously, what?
The Five Best Things About This Book
- The Kill Teams. First shown in the Index, the Kill Teams are back and even better here. They’re really where the Deathwatch shine, since the ability to combine models from different unit groups really lets you make some crazy combinations, especially once you add in the ability to split squads using the Combat Squads rule. This means you can end up with 5-man Eliminator Teams with Objective Secured, teams with 4 Eliminators and a Helix Adept Infiltrator to keep them healthy and alive, or even the classic storm shield Veterans, pumping out special issue ammo at close range. Kill Teams really make Deathwatch feel unique to other marine chapters and having access to four different ways to build them with the new units is a huge improvement over the prior codex.
- Kill Team Specializations. We’ll talk about this in detail in a moment, but these new rules for upgrading kill teams let you go extra hard pushing a unit into a specific role, letting you pay to give a unit bonuses to Wound rolls made against specific battlefield roles above and beyond the standard army rules.
- Crusade Rules. Deathwatch get some Crusade rules all their own! We’ll cover these in more detail in a future article but we’re big fans of having an army as flavorful as the Deathwatch get their own rules for Crusade.
- The Mission Tactics Rule. This is a great idea, suits Deathwatch well, and is probably how combat doctrines should have worked already. We’ll talk more about it below but being able to choose your active doctrine each round with limits on how many times you can select each doctrine makes much more sense than forcing a specific progression and works great for Deathwatch. It also gives you a powerful reason to take a monofaction Deathwatch army.
- The Xenopurge Discipline. After being stuck with a bad version of the Librarius Discipline for almost a year, Deathwatch have their own psychic jam now and can really go to town with some powers that are eye-poppingly good. Despite being folded into the larger marine Codex, touches like this and the expanded kill teams make them feel more like a different faction than ever before.
As an elite special tactics chapter of marines built from other chapters, Deathwatch have a host of special abilities that set them apart from the standard Adeptus Astartes.
Like standard Space Marines chapters, Deathwatch have access to Combat Doctrines, with the standard set of Devastator, Tactical, and Assault. Something that was notably missing from the White Dwarf update for Deathwatch however was the addition of a Combat Doctrine, or a special doctrine bonus that mono-chapter armies can receive. The bad news is that they still don’t have one. The good news is that it doesn’t matter because now they have a new monofaction doctrines rule of their very own: Mission Tactics.
Instead of having an extra bonus while one specific doctrine is active, monofaction Deathwatch armies are free to choose which doctrine is active each battle round, but cannot choose the same doctrine more than a set number of times (once for Devastator, twice for Tactical, and three times for Assault). This is a much more fitting bonus as it plays into the army’s tactical flexibility and gives them some interesting options, allowing you to forego Devastator completely if you are relying on Rapid Fire weapons for the bulk of your firepower or dropping into Assault Doctrine on turn 2 as your chargers arrive ready to rumble. It’s a strong rule and a powerful incentive to play Deathwatch by themselves.
Special Issue Ammunition
Special Issue Ammunition is back, and largely in the same format we saw in the Index. There are four types of Special Issue Ammo (SIA), which can be fired by weapons with the Special Issue Ammo ability. Sadly the much-diminished list of weapons that can do this in the Index remains but there are a few other ways to get access to it added here, softening that blow. One other important change is that it now appears that special issue ammunition is chosen on a per-model basis instead of a per-unit basis, meaning that multiple models in the same unit can fire different types of special issue ammunition.
- Dragonfire Bolts prevent the target from receiving the benefits of cover, which makes it extra helpful for when you’re firing at targets in Dense cover since it removes all bonuses, not just the benefits to armour saves.
- Hellfire Rounds give you +1 to wound against targets without the VEHICLE or TITANIC keywords, making them ideal against high-toughness models with a poor save (or an invulnerable save), such as as Tyranid monsters or greater daemons.
- Kraken Bolts increase the range of your weapon by 6″ and and improve the AP by 1, and this is cumulative with the AP bonus from Combat Doctrines, allowing you to turn your Deathwatch boltguns into Rapid Fire 1, 30″ S4 AP-2 monsters in the Tactical Doctrine.
- Vengeance Rounds now increase the damage of an attack by 1, making them ideal for taking down multi-wound targets like other marines.
Kill Teams represent the meat of the Deathwatch rules, and fundamentally change how they build squads compared to standard space marine chapters. There are four different types of Kill Team, and each is a Troops choice in a Deathwatch army. These are essentially made by mixing and matching marines with different armor types to create unique combinations that can handle different situations. These units can be split via the Combat Squads rule into two smaller units, which then retain the Objective Secured rule as they are still Troops choices regardless of what models they contain. In order to accommodate models with varying keywords, Toughness and armor characteristics, Deathwatch kill teams have special rules for Mixed Units, which essentially dictate that when attacking a unit, you use the Toughness value of the majority of models when rolling to wound, and determine when and how the unit will gain or lose certain keywords. To read more about Kill Teams, jump down to the Troops section below.
Kill Team Specialisms
Something that’s brand new to the codex that we hadn’t seen in the Index is Kill Team Specialisms. If your army is battle-forged and has any Deathwatch detachments, then you can upgrade your kill teams to have specialisms. You can’t use a specialism more than once unless you use the Masters of the Specialisms rules, which are Crusade rules that work in a similar fashion to Space Marine Honorifics. Specialisms cost points – most run you 25 points as an add-on cost to your unit – and there are 6 of them, which all give bonuses to a unit’s wound rolls. The Aquila specialism lets you choose a second battlefield role to re-roll wound rolls of 1 against for a squad; Venator, Malleus, Dominatus, Furor, and Purgatus give you re-rolls on wound rolls of 1 against specific battlefield roles (e.g. Furor is for Troops), and if you already had that role picked as part of your Xenos Hunters Chapter Tactic you’ll just get full wound re-rolls against that instead. You pay an extra 10pts for Furor (targeting troops) and Malleus (which hits Heavy Support, Dedicated Transport and Lord of War), reflecting the fact that these are likely to be on more of the time.
Strategically, this upgrade heavily incentivises you to take full-sized units – the cost doesn’t scale, and that gives you more bang for your buck. Furor and Malleus do look like the most attractive in that context, as they let you scythe through your enemy’s core units something fierce. An indomitor Kill Team full of Intercessors and Outriders feels like a spicy way to use Furor, while Heavy Intercessors and Eradicators would combine into a terrifying Malleus team.
In Crusade these can’t be taken initially; they’re upgrades you purchase for your units with RP, which is a cool way of upgrading them. On the whole these abilities are interesting, but having to pay points for them without knowing what you’re up against will make it a bit of a crap shoot. I’m not sure yet whether the smart play is to pay for an upgrade like Furor that you know will get used most games or to take something like Malleus to shore up a weakness in your army’s capabilities, even if that might not always be useful. There’s a lot to consider, and on that note, it will be important to have a good way of tracking these upgrades to make sure you aren’t forgetting any possible bonuses when you’re playing.
Deathwatch Stratagems are BACK! And some of them are rad as hell. The quintet of faction-specific stratagems that allow Deathwatch to get extra bonuses against Aeldari, Orks, Necrons, Tyranids, and T’au return, albeit with some minor tweaks that take into account rules changes in 9th editions – the Overkill Stratagem now gives Necrons hit by a specific set of attacks a -1 to Reanimation Protocols rolls against those attacks to reflect how that rule has changed. These are joined by a new catch-all Stratagem, which for 1 CP will give a unit of Deathwatch +1 to its attacks in the Fight phase if they’re within Engagement range of a Tyranids, Aeldari, Orks, Necrons, or T’au Empire unit.
This is all well and good if you’re up against Xenos armies – and it’s an interesting set of stratagems to be sure – but these specialized benefits do little to help a Deathwatch army in the other 90% of their games, or the 50%+ in which they’ll be up against other space marines. The good news is that the new codex outfits Deathwatch armies with a variety of stratagems to help them take on other enemies and generally plays into their strengths as being tactically flexible. The Priority Doctrine Adaptation Stratagem gives the faction a supplementary boost to the Adaptive Strategy Stratagem from Codex: Space Marines, granting a Deathwatch unit the ability to take on whatever active doctrine you want for a single turn (instead of all three) for only 1 CP, but only if your army is monofaction Deathwatch. Both have value, and the extra flexibility is helpful here. On that same note, one of the coolest new rules in the book is the Brotherhood of Veterans Stratagem, which for 2 CP allows you to change any unit’s chapter tactic from Xenos Hunters to any Chapter Tactic or Successor Tactic for a single turn, played during your Command Phase. This is huge, and gives you a ton of options. Stuck in combat? Switch to Ultramarines or White Scars so you can fall back and shoot or charge. Want to get more from your shooting? Swap to Dark Angels for +1 to hit or Imperial Fists or Crimson Fists to get exploding 6s on your Special Issue Ammo bolt attacks. Ready to get dug in for close combat? Swap to Black Templars, Blood Angels, Flesh Tearers, or Space Wolves. The ability to shift your units into Space Wolves’ Hunters Unleashed tactic, then Heroically Intervene with all your units, or at least threaten to do so, is pretty nasty. This is a wonderfully powerful and flexible Stratagem. We don’t usually do grades in these reviews any more, but I’m giving this a preemptive A+.
Players sad about the loss of Special Issue Ammo on Storm Bolters and Primaris bolt weapons will find that they have a somewhat less satisfying alternative: Special-Issue Loadout will, for 2 CP, give Special Issue Ammo to bolt weapons (excluding bolt sniper rifles) to a unit without SIA for a turn, and in doing so changes the type of the unit’s bolt weapons to Heavy 1. This is a steep cost to pay, and will almost certainly not be something you want when you’ve got a unit that can fire 3 or 4 shots – but this is something we’ll explore in more detail in a future Hammer of Math article. For obvious reasons, this Stratagem will do its best work when you’re applying it to units that already have Heavy 1 weapons, which makes Intercessors with Stalker Bolt Rifles the idea recipients, where the ability to pick which turn you’ll be in Devastator Doctrine can combine with Vengeance Rounds to produce Stalker Bolt Rifles that fire at AP-3 with 3 damage. For the same reason, Heavy Intercessors with Executor Bolt Rifles also make a great fit for these. They’re also an OK fit for Rapid Fire 1 bolt weapons like the bolt carbines and standard bolt rifles, where in the right situation you’ll get more value out of SIA than you will a second shot. This has some nasty interactions when you pair it with the Rapid Fire Stratagem from Codex: Space Marines, letting you double shoot with your special ammo and just put out some hateful amounts of 3 damage shooting. It does force you to take a “proper” Intercessor squad rather than the Kill Team keyword, but it’s a very nasty combo and might be worth it. On the “unintended consequences” side of things, this also makes your heavy bolt pistols heavy 1, letting you shoot them in addition to other guns. That one’s probably gonna be FAQ’d. It also works on Relics that replace bolt weapons.
The ability to put units into teleportarium chambers returns with the Teleportarium Stratagem, though now you are limited to the number of units that can be placed in reserves by the size of the game. The ability to change the battlefield role that’s in scope of your Chapter Tactic also returns for 2CP, but you do now have to have a Watch Master on the board to use it rather than it getting discounted. A couple of the old abilities granted to Kill Teams by specific members return as strats; there’s a stratagem to let a unit with a Black Shield Heroically Intervene, which makes a strong case for including one in a melee-outfitted Veterans unit, a Stratagem to let a unit with a biker in it charge after falling back, and one to let a unit with a Vanguard Veteran fall back and shoot. For fans of Deathwatch’s unique units, there’s also an important new Stratagem called Shroud Field that’s used in the first battle round on a Corvus Blackstar that prevents it from being shot at unless it’s the closest visible model, possibly, maybe making the transport worth taking, though it’s worth noting that a unit that costs points and CP to be viable isn’t always great.
Deathwatch can now give a Warlord two traits with the Vigil Unmatched Stratagem for 1 CP. This is particularly notable as when coupled with the Castellan of the Black Vault trait you have a ton of options for either doubling up on relics or traits with your warlord, and the ability to create some truly fearsome smash captains. On a related note, Sanction of the Black Vault lets you give a sergeant a Special-Issue wargear relic, similar to what other chapters get, i.e. Master-Crafted, Artificer Armor, special bolts.
Overall this is a good list of additional stratagems, and while the Space Wolves and other chapters may find their stratagem pool shrinking, Deathwatch on the whole have more useful stratagems than ever. No one is going to miss having six different stratagems for adding 1 to wound rolls against a units from a significant battlefield role.
Warlord Traits are back as well for the Deathwatch, giving them six options to pick from including the Vigilance Incarnate Warlord Trait that got a rewrite when it showed up in Codex: Space Marines. Castellan of the Black Vault also returns as an option, though now instead of adding 1 to the damage of a weapon held by your Warlord it allows you to give your Warlord one of the Special-Issue Wargear relics, i.e. Artificer Armour, the Adamantine Mantle, a Master-Crafted Weapon, or Digital Weapons in addition to whatever other relic they take. This is a big step up that gives more versatility while still allowing you to boost the damage on a key weapon. Pretty good for building your smash captain, and a decent way of getting a “free” extra relic. Nowhere to Hide returns as well, letting the warlord pick a target unit each turn and grant CORE units in an aura the ability to ignore the benefits of cover when attacking that unit.
The other three Warlord Traits are entirely new, and offer more interesting possibilities than their predecessors. Optimised Priority is an Aura ability that lets nearby Character and Core units perform actions and still shoot; very useful for an infantry-heavy army with fewer elite units that ordinarily can’t spare a unit’s shooting to perform an action. The Ties that Bind is an aura that gives nearby CORE units re-rolls to morale and lets you pick one to gain the Objective Secured rule, and if a model in that radius has the rule already, it counts as an extra model. This is pretty neat, and a great way to get around the smaller model counts in Deathwatch armies, especially if you’re banking on ObSec combat squads to play the objectives game.
Finally there’s the Paragon of the Chapter Warlord Trait, which allows you to take one of the Warlord Traits for any chapter listed in Codex: Space Marines. This is pretty cool, except for a flavour-driven stipulation that if the model has the heraldry of a specific chapter such as Ultramarines or Crimson Fists, they have to take the Warlord Trait for that chapter. That part’s pretty dumb for competitive play, fortunately we have plenty of alternative Chapters to inspire you. Other than that, the ability is pretty decent. The juicy ones to look at here are the Dark Angels: Brilliant Strategist, Adept of the Omnissiah for a Techmarine, Anvil of Strength or Beastslayer for a Smash Captain or Chaplain.
Likewise, relics missing from the Index have returned as well, giving Deathwatch their own set of toys on top of the ones they’ve been given access to in Codex: Space Marines. Half of these are the same style of Special-Issue Wargear that each supplement gets, giving Deathwatch access to Master-Crafting, Adamantine Mantles, and so on. Otherwise plenty of old toys return, although mostly changed. The Beacon Angelis still allows you to pull a unit on the battlefield or in Strategic Reserve and deploy them nearby, but now the bearer can’t have arrived as Reinforcements that turn themselves. Slap it on a Biker Chaplain or a Phobos leader instead. The Dominus Aegis now adds +1 to armour saves and gives all CORE/Character units within 6″ of the bearer a 5+ invulnerable save without the old rider that the bearer has to stand still. It’s a free Psychic Fortress, so expect to see a ton of these, especially as Deathwatch have other things they want to cast. The Osseus Key makes life hell for nearby VEHICLE units by inducing a hit penalty and reducing the model’s Attacks characteristic by 1. The Thief of Secrets now ignores invulnerable saves against everything and has a Damage characteristic of 2 when attacking xenos units, which is a huge upgrade. Finally the Tome of the Ectoclades allows you, once per battle, to choose a datasheet and allow all CORE units within 6″ to re-roll wound rolls against units belonging to that datasheet until your next turn. That’s exceptional, providing you the better half of the Ultramarine’s Seal of Oath effect, but much more flexibly, and even having the upside that if you’re facing down multiple units of the same datasheet it continues to work after you’ve wiped the first unit.
In terms of new toys there’s The Blackweave Shroud which gives a boost to Toughness and ignores mortal wounds on a 4+. The Spear of the First Vigil is an upgraded option for Watch Masters. Librarians can take The Soul Fortress to optionally ignore all modifiers to a Psychic Test and increases the range of a Psychic Hood to 24″. The Banebolts of Eryxia are the Deathwatch ammunition, allowing you to fire a single shot at S6, AP -2, and deal 3 damage. There’s apparently nothing preventing you from combining the Relic ammunition with SIA, but don’t be surprised if GW drops a FAQ that says you can’t. There’s also the Vhorkan-Pattern Auspicator which makes you better at shooting units with the FLY keyword, the Artificer Bolt Cache which lets the bearer fire SIA out of any bolt weapons they have. This is particularly exciting as it’s one of the ones you can give to a sergeant via Sanction of the Black Vault, so it’s a way that you can actually upgrade something like an Aggressor or Outrider to have SIA. Finally, the Eye of Abiding which allows the bearer to ignore most modifiers related to hit and wound rolls as well as ignore invulnerable saves on an unmodified “would” roll of 6. We assume they mean wound.
Deathwatch now have access to the Xenopurge Discipline, with six new psychic powers that dramatically improve their psychic fortunes. These are pretty solid. We’ve already seen Neural Void, which reduces an enemy unit’s Attacks by 1 and forces them to charge only the closest unit. That’s pretty good, and it’s joined by a couple of other very good powers – Fortified With Contempt (WC 6) gives a friendly Infantry or Biker unit within 18″ the ability to ignore wounds taken on a 5+. Premorphic Resonance (WC 6) gives a nearby unit +1 to hit with melee attacks, allows it to hit on Overwatch on a 5+, and gives it the ability to fight first in the Fight phase, a nice trio for fending off attackers. Mantle of Shadow (WC 6) makes a nearby friendly unit untargetable by shooting attacks outside of 12″ as long as it doesn’t shoot or charge. and Severance (WC 7) does a mortal wound to an enemy character within 18″ and reduces the range of their Aura abilities by 3″ unless your psychic test roll was higher than their Leadership characteristic, in which case it turns the aura off altogether. The final slot is filled by Psychic Cleanse, which rolls for nearby enemy models with a chance to do mortals. Probably not the main draw, but it’s actually a better version of the effect it offers than some we’ve seen.
Of these, Fortified With Contempt and Severance feel especially strong, with Neural Void or Premorphic Resonance being strong flex options on top if you’ve taken a Chief Librarian and have an extra slot. Giving large, heavily tuned Kill Team or Gravis units access to a 5+ ignore wounds is exceptionally good and makes them even more of a pain to shift than they already are, while Severance gives you a strong tool to shut down your opponent’s nonsense. It’s particularly notable in the current metagame that you don’t even need a “big” cast from Severance to switch off an Apothecary’s ignore wounds aura entirely, as it only has a 3″ radius to start with! This is one of the safest tools we’ve seen for messing with auras and thus a very exciting toy in the Deathwatch arsenal.
Not content with having access to the secondaries from Codex Marines, Deathwatch get four of their own and we’re gonna level with you – one of the ones here is probably going to be the wedge that gets these excluded from competitive play till all armies have them. Like the Codex Marine ones, you can select one of these instead of a secondary from any other list, and you still have to follow the rules about not doubling up on categories (which these still have).
These start relatively innocuous, with The Long Vigil (Battlefield Supremacy) rewarding you with 5VP/turn from your second command phase onwards if your opponent has no units within 6″ of your deployment zone and you have at least one unit wholly within it. Because it’s command-phase scoring, this is incredibly easy to shut down and scores slowly enough that you are unlikely to max it against a savvy players unless you body them off the board in two turns.
Cull Order, in Purge the Enemy, is much more interesting. Your opponent picks two battlefield roles and you pick one – at the end of the battle you score 5VP for each of those roles where you’ve completely wiped out all enemy units of that type. This seems very strong, as while your opponent can pick options that make your life difficult, it gives you a kill-focused secondary that is nearly always maxable, meaning that a kill-focused army has a reliable additional tool in their arsenal.
Cripple Stronghold (Shadow Ops) flips back to being relatively innocuous – one objective marker gets designated by your opponent as their stronghold, and you have access to an Action to gradually cripple it. The Action lasts all the way through to your next command phase, the target is normally going to be in your opponent’s deployment zone and you need to hit this three times to max it – this is definitely hard mode (though maybe better in Incursion sized games).
Finally, the one that, yeahhh probably isn’t a great advert for putting these into the competitive mix – Suffer Not the Alien. It sits in No Mercy, No Respite and you get 1VP for each Xenos unit you destroy. That’s it. That’s the tweet. Does your Xenos opponent have 15+ units? Cruise to a maxed secondary with pretty much nothing they can do about it. Particularly brutal against GSC and Tau, factions that definitely needed taking down a peg right now, this is going to feel absurdly unfar when it’s active, and the fact that it isn’t in Purge the Enemy means that it can be stacked with Bring It Down against Tyranids too. Don’t even get us started on what it does to Tau lists that have packed a bunch of add-on drones. Imagine a boot stamping on Smug Tau’s face, forever.
As with the Index, Deathwatch have access to most of the units in Codex: Space Marines. The meat of the book are the new Kill Team options which we cover below.
The Watch Master is back and 5 points cheaper. The replacement for a Chapter Master, he has the same abilities and vigil spear as before. He’s a useful character and is the only way to change the Battlefield Role selected for the Chapter Tactic through the Adaptive Tactics Stratagem. He can also use Clavis to make life a nightmare for a VEHICLE unit if you want to charge one. You should absolutely take one of these.
Watch Captain Artemis and Chaplain Cassius went up 5 points each and are largely the same as from the Index. Artemis seems fun with his 12″ flamer that always wounds anything that’s not a VEHICLE or TITANIC on a 2+, and Cassius is a reliable means of reciting a Litany, but Codicier Natorian now has to take two powers from the Xenopurge Discipline. This makes his +1 to psychic tests when casting Witchfire powers even less useful than before given that only one new option has been added and Psychic Cleanse is heavily dependent on getting near a lot of models to be relevant.
The core of Proteus Kill Teams, Deathwatch Veterans have their own unit entry and there are a few key differences between this and kill teams. The primary one is that only Veterans can take Blackshields, which makes them the superior choice in most ways for a footslogging melee Deathwatch team which, given how good Terrax Termite Pattern Assault Drills look in the new Forge World Index, is no longer as crazy an idea as it sounds. These guys have a ton of versatility, making good heavy weapon squads with Frag Cannons or Infernus Heavy Bolters or Missile Launchers (tragically, no multi-meltas, though), or being potential beaters with lots of power swords and storm shields. Ironically it’s cheaper to give them shotguns than to keep them in the default loadout, if only because it doesn’t force you to pay for a power sword. Given that the shotgtuns can put out some pretty rude short-range firepower now, it’s not a bad consideration. Also frag cannons are 15 points now, which kind of stinks.
As before, all Kill Teams are Troops choices, and each is constructed from different types of marines, usually based on the type of armor they’re wearing. The new versions from the Index are here, meaning that Deathwatch now have four options to play with, and there are a lot of insane combinations you can make. Most of these tricks either involve giving ObSec to a unit that couldn’t have it normally, or using the Mixed Unit rule to give an entire squad T5 for the purposes of shooting, essentially turning a bunch of cheap intercessors or veterans or whatever else into ablative wounds for bigger units. For several of the new Primaris units, Kill Teams offer one of the few ways to make larger squads – such as groups of 5 Outriders. Suppressors are still the odd men out here, unable to be slotted into any Kill Teams.
Models in Kill Teams lose all of the keywords they had from their previous unit, and only gain the keywords provided in the entry. All Kill Team units have the keywords IMPERIUM, ADEPTUS ASTARTES, and DEATHWATCH. They gain additional keywords based on the type of Kill Team, and the Mixed Unit rules determine how models interact with transports, Bolter Discipline, and terrain. For example BIKER units in a Kill Team can move through terrain as if they were INFANTRY. Models in Kill Teams can be equipped with any wargear options listed on the original datasheet, so a Terminator in a Proteus Kill Team can bring along a Deathwatch teleport homer if they want.
As a reminder, unlike the previous edition of Codex: Space Marines there is no Stratagem that allows you to split a squad once deployment has started. You must choose to use Combat Squads before deployment has begun.
Proteus Kill Team
The Proteus Kill Team consists of a core of one Watch Sergeant and four Deathwatch Veterans with the option to add on any of the following:
- Deathwatch Veterans
- Deathwatch Terminators
- Veteran Bikers
- Vanguard Veterans
Note that while Blackshields are an option for a unit of Deathwatch Veterans, they are not one of the options listed for Proteus Kill Teams. Proteus Kill Teams with Vanguard Veterans gain the MELTA BOMB keyword, and units that consist only of Vanguard Veterans, Deathwatch Terminators, or Veteran Bikers gain the FLY, TERMINATOR, and BIKER keywords, respectively. These are basically the same small marine kill teams we’ve been used to through 8th edition, only some of the tricks have changed: Now you need to spend CP to fall back and charge with a bike in your unit, or to fall back and shoot if you have a model with FLY. The Terminators are the big losers here, having lost the ability to fire SIA on their storm bolters. Likewise, storm bolters have generally lost SIA so the old powerhouse of SIA storm bolters and storm shields isn’t really something you’re going to build any more (and our wallets are all thankful), but there are still lots of nasty combinations here, especially once you start thinking about how you can create strong melee squads and mid-range firepower support squads in Terrax Pattern Termite Assault Drills. Putting one Terminator with a heavy weapon in the Kill Team is still a good idea because it allows you to use the Deathwatch teleport homer to move the entire squad.
Fortis Kill Team
Fortis Kill Teams consist of one Intercessor Sergeant and four Intercessors to which you can add up to five models from any of the following:
- Assault Intercessors
Individual Intercessors and Hellblasters can pick different weapon options from among their usual selections. Deathwatch are the only force which can take Outriders in units of 5, and they get ObSec and can move through terrain like INFANTRY for free on top of that. Unlike in the previous codex there’s no benefit towards mixing and matching forces; you’re likely going to be fielding a bunch of ObSec units that are all the same model. Fortis Kill Teams cannot use Codex: Space Marine Stratagems that are specific to keyworded units like Honour the Chapter or Rapid Fire.
Indomitor Kill Team
Indomitor Kill Teams contain a core of four Heavy Intercessors and one Heavy Intercessor Sergeant, to which you can add up to five additional models from any of the following:
- Heavy Intercessors
As with Fortis Kill Teams, models in Indomitor Kill Teams have the option to individually tailor their weapons while retaining all of the options from their original datasheets. Heavy Intercessors also benefit heavily from the Special-Issue Loadout Stratagem, as their executor bolt rifles are already Heavy 1 weapons so there’s no downside towards gaining SIA. As with the Index, Eradicators are the only one that will benefit from the Total Eradication ability, but you likely won’t want to mix a squad anyway as heavy melta rifles and heavy bolt rifles rarely want to target the same unit so using Combat Squads is a good idea.
Spectrus Kill Team
Spectrus Kill Teams contain the PHOBOS units that Deathwatch didn’t previously have access to, with a core of four Infiltrators and 1 Infiltrator Sergeant and can add up to five models from:
The Spectrus Kill Team is unique in that it is the only Kill Team that allows individual models to have their abilities affect the group as a whole: The Infiltrators’ Omni-scrambler ability works for the whole unit so long as there are any Infiltrators left, and the Reivers’ Terror Troops ability also functions so long as there’s a Reiver in the unit. Spectrus Kill Teams with Infiltrators or Incursors gain the SMOKESCREEN keyword and units that contain Reivers gain the SHOCK GRENADES keyword. It seems that the entire Spectrus Kill Team can also benefit if an Infiltrator carries a helix gauntlet or an Infiltrator comms array, so it’s entirely possible to bring a unit of 4 Eliminators and an Infiltrator with a comms array that gets ObSec and re-rolls hit and wound rolls of 1 if you have a PHOBOS Captain and Lieutenant on the board. There are also some other neat tricks you can pull here based on how you split the squad, like giving your Eliminators a Helix Adept which, in addition to allowing them to ignore the first failed save each turn, also gives them access to the Smokescreen and makes for a truly terrifying set of unkillable snipers.
Kill Team Cassius
A special kill team made up of the models from the Kill Team Cassius boxed set, or the guys you may remember from the Deathwatch: Overkill boxed game. This unit made a surprise showing in the Index along with Codicier Natorian, and returns here. The big new upgrade is that Kill Team Cassius automatically gets the Aquila Specialism, which gives you an extra battlefield role to re-roll wounds of 1 against. This upgrade is free and doesn’t count against your limit on Aquila specialisms, so it’s a pretty OK buff for a unit that otherwise doesn’t have a lot of upside of units with better loadouts. They’re also listed in the book as PL 3, which has to be a typo. Our guess is that it’s meant to be 13 given the models in the unit. This is also the only unit in the army that get the Deathwatch Twin Bolter and the Deathwatch Heavy Flamer.
The slightly less tough, vastly more invulnerable older brother of the Gravis is back at the expense of having lost Special Issue Ammunition on their storm bolters. Outside of being included in a Proteus Kill Team (which is a solid idea given the combination of a Deathwatch teleport homer and the option to bring a heavy weapon) it’s a challenge to decide if they’re worth including on their own when compared to units like Eradicators. Their extra value is mostly in the ability to take more heavy weapons per squad – you can give up to three models in the squad a heavy weapon which now includes the much improved plasma cannon. It would have been nice if they had retained the option to field meltaguns, but that is not the case.
The Deathwatch teleport homer allows you to remove a unit from the battlefield and set it up in a subsequent Movement phase during the Reinforcement step. The unit can either be wholly within your deployment zone, or anywhere within 3″ of a friendly DEATHWATCH model and more than 9″ away from any enemy models. Note that the unit has to be within 3″, meaning you’re not limited to clustering every model near a friend. The teleport homer also has no keyword restrictions, meaning a single Terminator can teleport an entire Proteus Kill Team.
Veteran Bike Squad
Outside of wanting an Attack Bike there’s little reason to take Veteran Bike Squads on their own when they can be added to a Kill Team and gain ObSec. Their bikes only have access to regular (non-Deathwatch) twin boltguns, but they can be made more lethal in melee with the addition of a power sword or power axe.
The much-maligned Corvus Blackstar makes a real play at legitimacy in the new codex. It stays at 180 points base cost despite a 5-PL increase, and the cost of the Infernium drops to 5 points. The new Shroud Field Stratagem will mostly guarantee it gets at least one turn, and it’s got a decent defensive profile while 180 points isn’t going to break the bank, especially when it costs you nothing to kit it out with its heaviest anti-vehicle options. I still think the drill is probably a tastier option, but the Corvus being an protectable T1 option opens up some interesting strategies, and an attempt has definitely been made to push this into viability.
Rob: Honestly? Deathwatch are straight fire now. They have a ton of useful abilities and tactical flexibility that really allows them to open some things up.
Kevin: I’m legitimately excited for Deathwatch. They’re the book I used the most in 8th edition and I’ve always appreciated the flexibility and dynamic nature of the rules, and Games Workshop took things to a new level with this book. I built a lot of fluff around a Primaris Chapter being founded using the structure of the Deathwatch for the Astradus Campaign we did years ago, and I look forward to adding Outriders and other fun options. The sheer number of options is legitimately intimidating. Deathwatch players now have access to every chapter tactic in the game, some very strong Relics, an really impressive set of psyker powers, and a huge amount of flexibility in how they put together their units. Deathwatch players haven’t had much to be excited about for awhile, and this is a welcome change. Probably the only thing I wish GW had done differently was add a Primaris Watch Master since they’re such a key unit and it would have been cool to see the Primaris develop into a leadership role.
Some of the most impressive things to me include the Dominus Aegis, which is absurdly good with a 5++ bubble, and the shenanigans that can be accommodated using The Beacon Angelis. Take a Master of Sanctity, drop Catechism of Fire and Recitation of Focus on a squad of 5 Eradicators, and then use the Beacon to pull the Eradicators forward into melta range of a target that needs to die. This can be done turn 1 via a forward deployed Phobos CHARACTER or a biker that’s made a 20″ Advance Move.
Wings: This supplement scares the living daylights out of me, because it has the always upsetting combination of a clear, powerful core with absurd levels of configurability layered on top of it. Deathwatch seem excellent, should absolutely be on the table for consideration by any Marine player wanting to build a flexible, mid-range infantry-based force, and the changes represent a huge reward for anyone who kept up the long vigil through 8th after Veterans stopped being flavour of the month. My fear with this book is that there’s going to be something that’s broken as all get-out you can do with it, and once the core of it has been found it’ll be very difficult to shut down all the angles to do something similar.
Still, I have to admit that this antipathy is partially driven by this book throwing up a middle finger to my life goal of having every competitive army configuration filed away in my head like a weird human computer, and on any realistic measure this book looks like a knockout success – it’s powerful, flavourful and should generate a tremendous amount of variety on the tabletop.
How They’ll Play
There are just so many options here that it’s impossible to nail down a single strategy. This is the kind of army that can readily adapt to a wide range of lists (especially against Xenos armies) and should be able to adapt to the shifting meta and trends. All of the options available to Marine players are here along with so much more. Players can field legions of Outriders and Eradicators, overwhelm the opponent with deep striking Terminators, or equip everyone with storm shields. Expect Deathwatch to be tough, flexible, and highly lethal.
Example Army List
HQ: Primaris Chaplain on Bike (115)
- Master of Sanctity (25)
- Relic: The Beacon Angelis
- Warlord Trait: Wise Orator
- Stratagem: A Vigil Unmatched (Vigilance Incarnate)
- Litanies: Litany of Hate, Catechism of Fire, Recitation of Focus
HQ: Primaris Captain (90)
- Relic shield (10)
- Master-crafted power sword (5)
- Relic: Dominus Aegis
- Stratagem: Hero of the Chapter (Paragon of their Chapter – Adept of the Codex)
HQ: Librarian in Phobos Armour (100)
- Powers: Premorphic Resonance, Fortified with Contempt
E: Redemptor Dreadnought (175)
- Macro Plasma Cannon
- Onslaught Gatling Cannon (5)
- Icarus Rocket Pod (5)
E: Redemptor Dreadnought (175)
- Macro Plasma Cannon
- Onslaught Gatling Cannon (5)
- Icarus Rocket Pod (5)
T: Fortis Kill Team
- 5 Intercessors (100), auto bolt rifles, Astartes chainsword
- 5 Outriders (225)
T: Fortis Kill Team
- 5 Intercessors (100), stalker bolt rifles, Astartes chainsword
- 5 Outriders (225)
T: Indomitor Kill Team
- 5 Heavy Intercessors (140), Executor Bolt Rifle
- 5 Eradicators (200), heavy melta rifle (25)
T: Spectrus Kill Team
- 5 Infiltrators (120), helix gauntlet (10)
- 1 Reiver (18)
- 4 Eliminators (120)
That wraps up our look at the new Deathwatch book. It’s a huge boost to a faction that sorely needed it, and we’re eager to see where they go from here. We’ll be taking a few weeks to see how things develop in the meta and as they do we’ll be updating our more detailed look at the faction when we do a big update to Start Competing: Deathwatch. In the meantime, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.