Hammer of Math: Fighting Your Way Out of Jail

This week’s Hammer of Math takes a look at how long it takes units to escape big tarpit threats that can tie your units up in melee for multiple rounds.

Depending on the edition melee can either be a massive threat or a complete joke. I still remember the “Rhino Rush” of third edition where hordes of Blood Angels or Chaos Space Marines (or, better yet, Khorne Berzerkers), would charge out of Rhinos and slaughter anything nearby. Later editions took that away and made melee something to be avoided entirely, and it’s ebbed and flowed ever since.

Comparatively, combat in tenth edition seemed rather anemic compared to ninth early on, and while that’s still true comparatively, melee armies have become more prevalent and powerful in recent months with the rise of “Jail” lists. These lists focus on using incredibly durable threats to stuff your army in your deployment zone early in the game, locking you down and forcing you to fight your way out while they run around scoring objectives with the rest of their army.

Meganobz. Credit: Rockfish
Meganobz. Credit: Rockfish

Jail lists are more a concept than a specific list, and can be built across multiple factions using different list types. Orks even have two: Both Bully Boyz and Green Tide offer options to build on here. In today’s Hammer of Math, we’re looking at some common Jail units in the current meta and looking at how long it will take attacks of various types to break through them.

In order to explore this space we will look at four attacking units against four threats. The attacking units represent a spectrum of attacking styles, while the threats are units that have frequently popped up. We’ll see how many attacks each unit needs to make in order to inflict the appropriate number of wounds. Note that some of these units – such as Assault Intercessors – may frequently have other wargear options such as power fists, or attached characters who change the unit’s output. We’re ignoring that here as the this is more about the types of attacks being used than it is the dynamics of a specific unit.

Attacking Units

For this exercise we’ll be looking at four different types of attack, each with a different, relatively common profile.

  • Assault Intercessors making a total of 5 attacks each at WS 3+ with S4, AP -1, and 1 damage between their chainswords and pistols. They re-roll Wound rolls of 1.
  • Terminators with power fists come in with 3 attacks each at WS 3+ with S8, AP -2, and 2 damage per attack.
  • Canoptek Wraiths in a Canoptek Court have 4 attacks at WS 4+ with S6, AP -1, and 2 damage. They re-roll Hit rolls of 1.
  • Nemesis Dreadknight with a Nemesis greatsword that either inflicts 10 attacks at WS 2+, S5, AP -1, and 1 damage or 5 attacks at WS 2+, S10, AP -2, and D6 damage.

Jail Units

On the other side of things we’ll be looking at common units used in these jail concept lists.

Bully Boyz

Perhaps the strongest army in the game right now, the Ork Bully Boyz Detachment lets you call a second WAAAGH! which only affects your Nobz, Meganobz, and characters in Mega Armour. As a result, your Meganobz units get two full turns of Advance and Charge, extra attacks, and a massive durability boost in the form of a 5+ invulnerable save and a 4+ Feel No Pain. On top of that, Meganobz are already plenty durable, sporting T6, 3 wounds each, and a 2+ save.

Here we’re looking at a unit of 6 Ork Meganobz and Mega Armoured Warboss in a Bully Boyz detachment, who give us a total of 25 wounds.

If you’re coming after Meganobz, you need something that can wound them easily and kill them in a single hit. D6 damage isn’t necessarily ideal, but the Nemesis Dreadknight gives us the best odds here… though on average you’ll still need around 16 rounds of attacks from a Dreadknight to have a near-certain chance of killing a unit of Meganobz. The good news is you can reactive teleport away instead.

Green Tide

We’ve already talked about these units, which pair 20 Ork Boyz with a Warboss and Painboy in a Green Tide detachment. This unit is an absolute pain to kill, starting at T5 and gaining a 5+ invulnerable save, re-rolling save rolls of 1 as long as the unit has ten or more models, and a 5+ Feel No Pain. The Grot Orderly allows D3 destroyed Bodyguard models to be returned once per battle, and Come On Ladz! brings back D3+2 destroyed models per turn. That’s a total of 30 wounds before models are returned.

The Dreadknight still puts in good work for us here, but ultimately this is where the Assault Intercessors shine – if you have a unit of 10 you can throw at the Boyz, they have an OK shot at fighting their way out in three or four rounds of combat, provided they don’t lose any models.

Assault Intercessors

Let’s flip things around – Orks aren’t the only jail concept, and there are some sneaky good Blood Angels lists out there running something like 60 Assault Intercessors with jump packs (though sometimes they run Sanguinary Guard for 10 of those models). And while there aren’t a lot of fancy tricks here, it turns out that having a mass of bodies with T4 and a 3+ save is enough.

Shrimp Jail

On the Necron side of things, the Canoptek Court provides its own nightmare – 6 Canoptek Court Wraiths and a Technomancer are a nasty offensive threat but equally durable and capable of acting as tar pits. Each model is T6 and 4 wounds with a 3+ save, 4+ invulnerable save, and a 5+ Feel No Pain. Between Reanimation Protocols and the Technomancer the Wraiths will be healing 2D3 wounds per turn. You’re looking at a total of 28 wounds before anything is healed.

Interpreting These Results

Regardless of your profile, the outlook here isn’t great: Our results consistently show how difficult it is to eliminate these units. A single Dreadknight is likely going to spend an entire battle locked in combat with each of these units, and most of the others take a considerable amount of effort to kill. For example, it takes an average of 10 rounds of Dreadknight, 24 Terminator, 49 Assault Intercessor, and 63 Canoptek Wraith attacks to kill the unit of Ork Meganobz and the accompanying Warboss. Units with healing, such as Canoptek Wraiths and Green Tide Boyz make things even more difficult as the longer the fight goes on the more wounds need to be removed, especially when you consider how the attacking unit will be worn down as well.

Ultimately, that’s by design – these are units designed to slow you down and sap your will, forcing you to plow through difficult targets who can tank massive amounts of damage and often bring back dead units. Those Ork Meganobz functionally have 6 wounds apiece thanks to their 4+ Feel No Pain ability, and they’ll hit like a freight train with their killsaws between your rounds spent attacking them.

All this isn’t to say that facing these lists is hopeless, but the winning move is to not spend the game bogged down against them unless you have some way of removing them which bypasses a lot of these mechanisms. The point of jail lists is to trap you, and so if you can outmaneuver them early, you can avoid some of those lists’ biggest threats.

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