This week we’re wrapping up Smitechat by covering the Ruinous Powers… just in time for Psychic Awakening 2 to drop in a week or two. This article is a continuation of our discussion on the math behind psychic powers and our series on the Imperial and xenos smite powers.
The information below is from the previous Smite articles and is re-printed here for your convenience. If you’re already familiar with the Smite power and the probability distribution you can skip down right to the powers.
Nearly every psychic discipline includes at least one and usually several powers which are designed to deal mortal wounds under a variety of conditions. The vast, vast majority of these powers are highly situational and extremely random. Since every Psyker has access to the Smite power, which is guaranteed to deal at least 1d3 mortal wounds to the nearest enemy target if power is successfully manifested, it is possible to compare the damage distribution of Smite to these powers and determine which of these, if any, are worth taking and using instead of Smite, and in what circumstances they’ll be useful. Note that, because most tournaments allow psykers to choose their powers at the start of the game (and not during list creation), we’re operating under the assumption that you’ll at least be aware of the army your opponent is playing when determining what psychic powers to take, if not their entire list.
As a review, the Smite power is a universally known ability which will deal either 1d3 or 1d6 mortal wounds to the closest visible target depending on the result of the Psyker test. It can only target the nearest enemy model, and is currently the only power that can be manifested multiple times in each Psychic phase. Every subsequent attempt at manifesting Smite increases the warp charge required to cast by 1 (starting at 5 and capping out at 11), and like all powers each Psyker can only attempt Smite once per turn. Within each discipline are often several powers which have a functionality similar to Smite (dealing mortal wounds), but often the means and probability of dealing those wounds is drastically different. What this article intends to do is provide you with the tools to determine which powers stack up to Smite and when, and for those whose effects are conditional, when to use them. Remember that many psykers in 40k know more powers than they can cast per turn, and many events allow you to pick powers at the start of each game, so knowing which enemies are good targets for each power can make a big difference.
How to Use These Charts
This article contains a series of charts similar to the one below. The colored lines show the probability of dealing a minimum number of wounds to a target for a given power and conditions (in this case, the number of models in the target unit). The shaded regions represent a comparison; the probability distribution of subsequent castings of the Smite power. To read the chart, look at what shaded region a particular curve fits within. This will tell you whether or not the power being compared is equivalent to the 1st, 2nd, or later casting of the Smite power in terms of mortal wounds dealt.
In the chart above we see a comparison between Storm of the Emperor’s Wrath and Smite. Storm of the Emperor’s Wrath is a power from the Indomitus Discipline that requires the caster to roll 1d6 for each model in the target unit; for every value of 6, the target unit suffers a mortal wound. As a result the efficacy of the power is heavily dependent on the number of targets. In the chart above we can see that the blue line (5 models) and red line (10 models) fall well below the curve associated with the first Smite power. In other words the Smite power has a better chance of dealing more damage than Storm of the Emperor’s Wrath against smaller units. When the target unit has 15 or more models we see the curve break out of the shaded region, indicating it has a higher probability of dealing more wounds than castings of Smite. By using this chart we can make informed decisions about which powers are worth taking depending on the target and situation. In this case, we’d conclude that you want to use Storm of the Emperor’s Wrath over Smite against units of 15+ models (and especially 20+), and against 10+ model units instead of casting a 4th Smith (at +3 WC to cast).
Chaos Daemons: Nurgle
Papa Nurgle is not opposed to slinging around some psychic energy, and while the majority of the powers he bestows upon his children are either boons or targeted degradation, there are two powers that inflict mortal wounds. Stream of Corruption (WC 5) targets the closest visible enemy unit within 7″ and deals either 1d3 mortal wounds if they have fewer than 10 models, or 1d6 mortal wounds if they are 10 or more. Nurgle’s Rot (WC 7) requires you to roll 1d6 for every unit (except NURLGE units) within 7″, and on a 4+ that unit takes 1d3 mortal wounds.
Stream of Corruption is basically Smite with a shorter range and a chance of doing a lot more damage against bigger targets. For a melee-oriented caster that expects to be surrounded by enemies it’s worth a look.
Nurgle’s Rot has the potential to deal a lot of damage, especially against clumped up masses like castles. The difficulty is getting within the center of that mass so that you can address everything within 7″, particularly since Nurgle followers aren’t exactly known for their agility. If your strategy gets the caster into a large mass of enemies then Nurgles Rot has the potential to significantly outperform Smite.
Chaos Daemons: Slaanesh
Slaanesh provides two powers that deal mortal wounds. The first is Cacophonic Choir (WC 6); it targets the closest enemy unit within 18″ and forces a 2d6 roll versus their highest Leadership characteristic. The roll receives a +2 bonus if the Psychic test is greater than 10, and the power deals 1 mortal wound for every point the total exceeds the Leadership characteristic. The other power is Pavane of Slaanesh (WC 6), which is a mass-target spell against a visible unit within 18″. The player rolls 1d6 for every model in the unit and the unit suffers a mortal wound for every result of 6.
While Slaanesh does have several options to reduce Leadership, you still have a high probability of doing nothing even against a target with a Leadership characteristic of 5. That, combined with the targeting requirements that put it in direct competition with Smite, is exactly why Cacophonic Choir is a perfect example of a junk power that should never be taken.
As with most powers that are based on unit size, Pavane of Slaanesh is only really effective against units of 15 or more models.
Chaos Daemons: Tzeentch
The Lord of Change provides two powers that deal mortal wounds. Bolt of Change (WC 8) targets a visible enemy unit within 18″ and deal 1d3 mortal wounds to it. If the target is a CHARACTER and is slain, then you get a “free” Chaos Spawn. Note that in matched play you must pay reinforcement points to get that Chaos Spawn, which means you will never take this power. Infernal Gateway (WC 8) targets the nearest visible enemy model within 12″. That model’s unit, and every unit (friend or foe) within 3″, takes 1d3 mortal wounds. If the result of the Psychic test to manifest Infernal Gateway is 12 or greater then the damage is 1d6 mortal wounds. Note that several Tzeentch Daemons get a +2 or +1 bonus to Psychic tests and there is an option for a Tzeentch warlord to have a further +1 to manifest powers. In general these bonuses provide a massive improvement to Smite, which deals d6 mortal wounds when the result of the Psychic test is greater than ten. The charts below do not show that bonus unless otherwise specified, but in general if it’s not worth doing with no bonus then it’s not worth doing when there is one. It’s also worth noting that sometimes the units casting these will be from the Thousand Sons, which changes the maths on the drop-off from Smite – go take a look at the Thousand Sons section below to see how that impacts the curve.
If you have a high enough bonus then your chances of getting of Bolt of Change are good, and if you degrade the target before using this power you can probably turn something into a Chaos Spawn. Bolt of Change is only worth considering outside of matched play due to the requirement to pay for reinforcements, and even then the considerable bonus that many Tzeentch Daemon psykers get to casting makes Smite more and more appealing.
Infernal Gateway is a potentially devastating power. With as few as two targets in range Infernal Gateway is a viable Smite alternative, and as soon as you incorporate the impact of bonuses or face a castling opponent it quickly becomes game changing. In the right circumstances this can be one of the most effective psychic powers in the game.
Chaos Daemons: Khorne
Heretic Astartes: Dark Hereticus
If your favorite chant involves death and false Emperors then you have access to two powers that deal mortal wounds. Infernal Gaze (WC 5) targets a visible enemy unit within 18″ and requires you to roll three dice. Every result of a 4+ is a mortal wound. Gift of Chaos (WC 6) is a potentially devastating power against a visible enemy model within 6″ of the psyker. After successfully manifesting the power you roll 1d6 and compare it to the Toughness characteristic of the model. If the result is greater than the Toughness characteristic than the model takes 1d3+3 mortal wounds. If the target is a CHARACTER and it dies then a Chaos Spawn is added to the army. As with the Tzeentch version you must pay reinforcement points to get the Chaos Spawn in matched play.
Infernal Gaze is a viable Smite alternative, especially since it can target any visible enemy unit in range. While it lacks the guaranteed damage of Smite, and at best you will get 3 mortal wounds, it’s worth considering for finishing off damaged targets or as a second power after Smite.
I want to like this power. I really do. It’s cool, it’s flavorful, it can turn a heroic character into a gibbering monstrosity. But even against a T3 target the chances of success are only 35%, and on top of that you need to practically be in close combat for this power to have a chance. Between that and the requirement that you provide reinforcement points for a model that you may never actually use Gift of Chaos is a power that’s fun for narrative games but has no business being considered for matched play.
Wings Note: This power doesn’t tear up the tournament tables but there are a few things worth considering with it. Firstly, against T3 targets, holding a CP re-roll can make this a lot more reliable, and the payoff of managing to one-shot a character can be substantial. Secondly, Magnus/Mortarion lists are pretty popular right now, and combining Mortarion’s -1T aura with Magnus’s substantial bonuses to cast makes this a lot easier to pull off. It probably still doesn’t start on any of your casters, but keep it in mind as an option for swapping too with a stratagem if the circumstances are right.
Thousand Sons: Discipline of Change
Reader, as you may recall this series of articles is about comparing mortal wound dealing powers to subsequent castings of Smite. It allows you to decide if casting a power is better than casting Smite a second or third time. Well Thousand Sons completely ignore that thanks to their Brotherhood of Sorcerers ability; any psyker in a Thousand Sons detachment can cast Smite without penalty (and get a 6″ range boost). So Smite Away, Almighty Smiters. Of course if you want a bit of variety in your life you can also cast some other powers that deal mortal wounds. Tzeentch’s Firestorm (WC7) targets a visible enemy unit within 18″ and requires you roll nine dice. Every result of 6 is a mortal wound. The other option is Doombolt (WC9) which deals 1d3 mortal wounds to a visible enemy unit within 18″ and also halves their Movement characteristic and prevent Advancing.
If you want a targetable Smite then Thousand Sons players are better off using Infernal Gaze from the Dark Hereticus discipline. That at least has a 70% chance of doing anything compared to the 48% change here, so on its own merits Tzeentch’s Firestorm would be too expensive and too random to be worth taking. However, because Thousand Sons armies almost always have a massive number of casts this usually has a place in there. Targetable Smites also get better the more of them you have, as it lets you pick apart key units with impunity or threaten to snipe characters.
I genuinely had to double check to verify that Doombolt had a warp charge value of nine. That’s insane. That means the power is only going to succeed 28% of the time. There is only one other power in the entire game with a warp charge value that’s higher, and it’s a Forgeworld special from Renegades and Heretics called Unholy Vigor (WC 10) that at least affects every friendly unit within 6″ and has a major bonus (re-roll all failed charges, hits, and wounds at the expense of 1d3 mortal wounds in the Morale phase). This just… deals 1d3 mortal wounds and slows the enemy down. Every Space Marine army in the game can do that for warp charge 6. Doombolt is possibly the worst psychic power in the game.
Wings Note: As with Firestorm above – yes this isn’t very good, but Thousand Sons need to fill a lot of slots and it again helps add critical mass of targeted powers. This is often seen in the wild on Ahriman or a High Magister Daemon Prince.
Death Guard: Contagion Discipline
Papa Nurgle’s blessings extend to the followers of Mortarian with a pair of powers that inflict mortal wounds. Plague Wind (WC 5) targets a visible unit within 18″ and has you roll a die for each model in that unit; every roll of 6 is a mortal wound. Curse of the Leper (WC 7) targets the closest visible unit within 14″. The player rolls 7 dice and every result that exceeds the target’s Toughness characteristic is a mortal wound.
Plague Wind is a great power for taking out units of 15 or more, and is even viably effective against units of 10 models. It has a fantastic warp charge value and no onerous targeting requirements. Highly recommended against horde armies.
Unless you plan on casting Smite three times in a phase and are facing units with a Toughness characteristic of three you’re better off skipping this one. The combination of reduced range, restrictive targeting requirements, and high variability makes this a flavorful but mediocre power. It should be noted that Mortarion does have an aura to induce a -1 Toughness penalty, so he’s a bit more amicable to this power than others.
Renegades and Heretics: Renegades and Heretics
Yes, the discipline has the same name as the faction.
Did you know that there’s an option for Astra Militarum forces to abandon their faith in the Emperor and worship the Ruinous Powers? Turns out it’s on page 80 of Imperial Armour Index: Forces of the Astra Militarum. And they even get three powers, including Warp Flux (WC 7) which targets an enemy unit within 12″ and deals 1d6 mortal wounds to VEHICLE units and 1d3 mortal wounds to everything else.
The high warp charge doesn’t do this power any favors, especially since positioning a model to take out a vehicle within 12″ is not terribly difficult. Against personnel this power is worse than a third casting of Smite and is likely one to avoid. The combination of limited range and constrained target set limit Warp Flux to an afterthought.
I hope this series has been useful. I started this series because I felt that, for the most part, the Smite alternatives were trap powers better left avoided. And it seems that I was mostly right. The various disciplines are clogged with a myriad of terrible, useless powers which might have been a good idea in a narrative campaign (assuming you can even cast them) but are generally a waste when compared to a very effective universal power. Chaos seems to suffer just as much as most, particularly in the older books which have some of the most expensive powers in the game. With the second book of Psychic Awakening right around the corner it’s possible that this may change, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Until such a time as the Chaos Gods/GW Rules writers choose to gift us some new powers, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop a note in the comments below, or email us at email@example.com — we’re always looking for new things to analyze in Hammer of Math.