Hammer of Math: Diet Smite (Xenos Edition)

After taking a break to discuss Pointy-Eared Exarchs and Flying Warrior Monks with Oversized Hammers, this week Hammer of Math returns to the domain of the mind to discuss the Smite power. This article is a continuation of our discussion on the math behind psychic powers and our discussion on the Imperial smite powers.


The information below is from the previous Smite article 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.


Source: Warhammer Community

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.

Probability distribution for minimum wounds dealt by Smite power for various warp charge levels.

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.

An example comparison chart, in this case comparing Storm of the Emperor’s Wrath and Smite for various differences in quantities of targets. In this case the colored lines represent different numbers of targets. The chart shows that Storm of the Emperor’s Wrath is worse than Smite unless the target contains 15 models or more.

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).

Craftworld Eldar: Runes of Fortune

Biel Tan Farseer with Witchblade
Eldar Farseer. Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

In what would arguably be considered the most literal Smite-off imaginable, Psychic Awakening contains an option to replace the Smite power with a power from the Runes of Fortune. This discipline includes a variety of utility powers that provide re-rolls, increase melee damage for the psyker, improve mobility, enhance Deny the Witch tests, and mess with the targeting priority of the enemy. There is also Crushing Orb (WC 4), which allows the psyker to target a visible enemy CHARACTER unit within 18″ and roll 3d6. On every result of a 5+ the target takes a mortal wound.

The price you pay for the ability to selectively target character units is a power that will fail to do any damage roughly 1/3 of the time and is significantly capped with respect to its ceiling. Combined with the limited target set, Crushing Orb seems like a poor substitute for Smite (at least, until your 5th cast). While the ability to target a character is a big upside, in the post-Marines Codex meta, many of the support characters you’ll need to target have 6+ Wounds, meaning that your chances of actually taking one out with Crushing Orb are pretty low.


Craftworld Eldar: Runes of Fate

In spite of having access to a considerable number of psychic powers, there are only three Craftworld Eldar powers that deal direct damage. In addition to the milquetoast Crushing Orb we just described, the Runes of Fate provide two options. Executioner (WC 7) targets the nearest enemy unit within 18″ and deals d3 mortal wounds. If a model in the target unit dies, the power deals another d3 mortal wounds. Mind War (WC 7) targets an enemy CHARACTER (visibility not required) and forces each player to roll a d6 and add their Leadership characteristic. If the psyker’s score is higher the target suffers a number of mortal wounds equal to the difference between the two scores.

Executioner is a weird power. Since mortal wounds transfer after a model is killed the power deals more damage to units that have fewer wounds. If the target is a single model or models with more than three wounds then the power is equivalent to the third casting of Smite (without the potential d6 mortal wounds). Against units whose models have 3 or fewer wounds the power gets more interesting as it has a chance of dealing 2d3 mortal wounds. Executioner could be regarded as a complementary power to Smite, as they both have the same targeting requirements and the output potential is significant when Executioner is used against units that contain units with 2 or fewer wounds. Against unwounded units with 2-wound models, you’ll generally want to cast Smite before Executioner as your odds of doing an odd number of wounds are slightly better than 50%, ensuring that Executioner is more likely to kill a model and go off a second time.

Mind War has the potential for significant damage if the Leadership characteristic of the psyker is sufficiently higher than the target. The utility of this power is limited by the target set; in general CHARACTER units will have a high Leadership characteristic (8+). This is particularly true for the kind of high-value targets that you would want to psychically assassinate given the risk of putting your psyker within 18″ of the enemy. While better than equivalent Leadership targeting powers like Psychic Scourge, Telepathic Assault, or the incomprehensibly terrible Trephination, Mind War is still a mediocre power at best, and will do its best work on Farseers (Ld 9).


Harlequins: Phantasmancy

A Harlequins Shadowseer
A Harlequins Shadowseer. Credit: Corrode

If you have the constitution required to paint those amazing pants you can comfort yourself in the knowledge that Harlequins have access to two Smite alternatives. Mirror of Minds (WC 7) allows you to target an enemy unit within 24″ (visibility not required) and both players roll off on a d6. If the Harlequin player’s result is equal to or better than the opponent’s, the target unit takes 1 mortal wound and the process is repeated until the target is destroyed or the enemy player wins a roll-off. Shards of Light (WC 7) targets a visible enemy unit and deals 1d3 mortal wounds and gives the affected unit a -1 penalty to the Leadership characteristic, giving it some potential synergy with an Eldar player hell bent on using Mind War. Corrode: It also has great utility with the Shadowseer’s own gun, which works on opposed Leadership.

Shards of Light is equivalent to casting a third iteration of Smite, only with the cap on damage output and the ability to target any visible unit within range. Meanwhile Mirror of Minds is an absurdly terrible power which has a 65% chance of doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. The combination of absurdly high warp charge and extreme variability is a perfect example of why rolling a d6 to generate powers is such a bad idea.


Ynnari: Revenant

Yvraine, the Herald of Ynnead
Yvraine, the Herald of Ynnead. Credit: Corrode

Unsurprisingly for a faction whose entire shtick is death, the Revenant discipline includes several powers that do direct damage. Gaze of Ynnead (WC 6) targets a visible enemy unit and requires the player to roll a d6 to determine how much potential damage is dealt, ranging from 1 mortal would to d6. Storm of Whispers (WC 6) is an area power based on proximity to the psyker; each enemy unit within 6″ will take a mortal wound on a d6 roll of 6.

Surprisingly enough Gaze of Ynnead is the rare Smite-equivalent power that does not target the closest enemy unit. The wound curve falls in between the second and third casting of Smite, and like Smite the probability of doing more than 3 wounds is low enough that you shouldn’t count on it happening. In this case, we also have the rare example of a power where the tradeoff of targetability probably makes up for the drop in effectiveness.

As is usually the case, an area effect power like Storm of Whispers isn’t really worth taking since it needs a huge number of targets to be effective. Unless you plan on facing opponents deploying in tight clumps of units you’re wasting your time with Storm of Whispers.


Orks: Power of the WAAAGH!

I miss the days of the Foot of Gork. The current powers are okay, but I’d love a persistent power featuring a massive foot that walks across the battlefield and stomps on everything. Oh well. What the Orks have are two direct damage powers. ‘Eadbanger (WC 8) is an interesting power in that if you roll higher than the Toughness characteristic of the closest enemy model it slays the unit outright. Da Krunch (WC 8) is a mass damage spell where you roll a d6 for each model in the unit and on a roll of 6 the unit takes 1 mortal wound. In addition you follow up with 2d6 and, on a 10+, you roll another d6 for each model for a second opportunity to deal a mortal wound on a roll of 6. Why Games Workshop chose some of the most absurdly convoluted powers for the Orks is beyond me; clearly there are some expectations of Cunning Brutality.

Or was it Brutal Cunning?

Ork powers are tricky to model because Weirdboyz can easily get significant bonuses to their powers through the proximity of other Orks. 30 Boyz will give a +3 bonus to the Psychic test and provide a considerable improvement in probability of manifestation. We can see that in the chart above. Note that I added curves so that the range of Smite went from WC 2 (first cast, +3 bonus) to the maximum of WC 11 (last cast, no bonus). The problem is that ‘Eadbanger uses the exact same targeting requirements as Smite, and if the power fails then it does no damage. ‘Eadbanger is a perfect example of the kind of high-variability trash power that you should avoid. 

Here we see the spectrum of options available for Da Krunch, ranging from no bonus (WC 8) to a +3 bonus (WC effectively 5). As with other powers based on the model count the amount of damage dealt to the target unit is heavily dependent on having a sufficiently large target, but the extremely high warp charge value requires support. In fact no Ork power has a charge value of less than 6, and most are 8. Compare that to the (still middling) Librarius discipline where no power has a WC greater than 7 in the new Marines Codex, or the Geokinesis discipline where no power has a WC greater than 6 and some are as low as 4. Ork powers require the player to surround their psykers with friendly models in order to be as effective as other factions, which is a requirement that no other army has to accommodate. The upside is that this is easy for Ork armies to do, and they want to do it anyways. That said, assuming the Weirdboy is properly supported, Da Krunch is extremely powerful against targets of 15 or more models.


Tyranid: Hive Mind

Tyranids have access to a single power which deals mortal wounds. Psychic Scream (WC 5) will deal 1d3 mortal wounds to the nearest enemy unit. What makes this power so interesting is that, in addition to being nearly identical to Smite in terms of warp charge and damage output, if used against a PSYKER the power has a chance to permanently erase a psychic power if a 2d6 roll beats the target’s Leadership characteristic.

Given the similarity in damage to the initial casting of Smite and the ability to potentially strip away a psychic power, Psychic Scream is a very potent power that’s definitely worth considering for units that get close to the enemy. You lose the D6 upside but it’s better most of the time than a second Smite casting.

Another area worth investigating is the Zoanthrope unit, which has the Warp Blast ability. Zoanthropes have a range of 24″ when they case Smite, and the amount of damage dealt by the power is dependent on the unit size. A unit of 3 Zoanthropes can manifest one psychic power per phase and Smite deals the regular damage. A unit of 4-5 Zoanthropes can manifest two psychic powers per phase and when they Smite, it deals an additional 1d3 mortal wounds. A unit of 6 Zoanthropes can manifest two psychic powers and when they Smite, it deals an additional flat 3 mortal wounds. This opens up two questions. First, what is the optimal configuration of Zoanthropes and at what point should we expect diminishing returns? Second, at what point are we better off casting Psychic Scream instead of another casting of the upgraded Smite power?

The chart above shows the minimum wound distribution for various unit sizes of Zoanthropes manifesting the Smite power. Note that units of 1-3 Zoanthropes can only manifest one power, so at the very least it’s a good idea to add one more Zoanthrope to enhance the unit’s utility. The benefit of maximizing out the Zoanthrope unit translates to at least 5 mortal wounds being dealt to the target 50% of the time; a unit of 4-5 Zoanthropes will average at least 4 mortal wounds 50% of the time. Looking at the main body of the curves we see that increasing the Zoanthrope unit size from 4 to 6 models is a 50% increase in cost for a 25% increase in lethality. Given that Zoanthropes are extremely fragile models (T4, 3W, 3++) that premium may not be worth it in the context of Smite. Where it could be worth it is in the context of the Psychic Barrage (1 CP) Stratagem, which requires 3 units of 3 Zoanthropes in order to function. Remember that Smite can only be attempted once per psyker per turn.

The second question was whether or not there was a scenario in which it would be better to use the Smite alternative Psychic Scream instead of the “nth” Smite. Looking at the chart we can immediately see the challenge; the upper limit on Psychic Scream is capped at three mortal wounds while a boosted Zoanthrope unit has the (admittedly slim) potential to deal 9 mortal wounds. Because Neurothropes are commonly seen around Zoanthropes (allowing nearby Zoanthropes to re-roll 1s on the Psychic phase) it seemed appropriate to also add a chart showing the distribution of powers when a Neurothrope’s effect is active. Looking at the data it seems that Psychic Scream is only worth considering for Zoanthropes after the third Smite casting, or after the fourth in the presence of a Neurothrope. This does mean that fielding three units of Zoanthropes is subject to diminishing returns, but this may be offset by the increased resilience offered by having more bodies to withstand incoming fire and Perils of the Warp.

Genestealer Cults: Broodmind


The Patriarch
The Patriarch. Credit: John Q Brown

Easily the most shenanigan-filled army in 40K, Genestealer Cults also get access to a few direct damage powers in the Broodmind discipline. Psionic Blast (WC 5) targets the enemy Leadership characteristic of a visible enemy unit; if a 2d6 roll is less than their Leadership characteristic the target takes 1 mortal wound, otherwise they take 1d3 mortal wounds. Mental Onslaught (WC 6) is a roll-off power. Both players roll a d6 and add their Leadership characteristic. If the attacking player rolls higher, and the defending player does not roll a 6, then the target unit takes a mortal wound and the process repeats. Note that the rules in the printed book did not stop the cycle if the defending player rolled a 6. That was added in the FAQ to prevent an unstoppable cycle which could kill anything with a sufficiently high difference in Leadership characteristics.

The good news about Psionic Blast is that it’s guaranteed to deal at least 1 mortal wound, which sets it apart against the other (vastly more terrible) powers like Trephination which can do no damage even if they are manifested. The problem is that Psionic Blast is almost certain to only cause 1 mortal wound, even against targets with low Leadership characteristics. There are other, far better powers available.

Mental Onslaught is one of those powers which has a significant potential but suffers from the combination of being nerfed by Games Workshop and requiring a lot of pieces to execute well. Units like the Clamavus (+1 Ld to <CULT> units within 6+) and Locus (-1 Ld to enemy units within 6+) can significantly alter the results, and the Patriarch has a Leadership characteristic of 10 which is a significant benefit, given that many characters have Ld 8 or 9. Tyranid and Brood Brother detachments also include options which can further reduce the Leadership of the target. That said even with a +5 difference in the favor of the caster, the output of the power is capped by nerf from the FAQ. Mental Onslaught doesn’t seem worth the effort required to make the power truly successful, but with a couple of boosts, it can be better than a second or third Smite.


Genestealer Cults Magos. Credit: Corrode

As with the Imperial powers, the Smite alternatives available to the Xenos factions range from the potentially useful (Gaze of Ynnead) to the unquestionably awful (“Mirror of Minds” might as well be called “Poop of Butts”). Having looked over every psychic power in Warhammer 40,000, I feel like a massive number of these powers exist not to provide the player with effective options but to fill out discipline lists so that players have the (terrible) option to randomly pick a power using a roll of a d6. This is particularly true of powers that have the same targeting restriction as Smite but simply don’t do an equivalent amount of damage. While not the most egregious issue in the game, it would be nice if GW revisited this policy in the future and considers a different method of distributing powers (perhaps giving them points values like wargear) or puts in more effort to ensure that each of the six powers is actually worth taking.

In a future article we’ll wrap up Smitechat with the forces of Chaos. Until then, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop a note in the comments below, or email us at contact@goonhammer.com — we’re always looking for new things to analyze in Hammer of Math.