Welcome to Horus Heresy Tactica, our series that provides a deep dive in a specific mechanic, interaction or aspect of play in Warhammer: the Horus Heresy.
In this week’s final instalment of our list building mini series we look at skew lists: what they are, how they work, why they’re a problem and how to deal with them.
So what is a skew list? In our last instalment we looked at the different roles units play, and in particular we looked at different kinds of offense. We categorised weaponry into anti-infantry, anti-tank and and anti-heavy. Each of these needs different specific attributes to be efficient at tackling that kind of unit, and so we need a decent spread of these kinds of attacks in our forces to be able to confidently take on different kinds of threat. We talked about how it’s reasonable to expect 3-5 units of heavies and 3-5 units of vehicles, and you need to plan accordingly.
So what happens if we run into lists that don’t have that kind of range? Well, that’s where the trouble starts creeping in and that’s what a skew list fundamentally is.
If I bring an army to the table that is entirely heavies (like a Fury of the Ancients rite of war list composed entirely of dreadnoughts) then this causes two issues for my opponent. The first is just one of efficiency and threat – are you going to be able to output enough attacks of the right kind (anti-heavy) to take on that army convincingly? The second though is that you see the flip side of this: what do I do with all the rest of my attacks. If you have assigned a proportion of my army to fighting a particular kind of target and then I present only that kind of target, the rest of your army is now rendered useless or at least considerably less useful than it should be.
In effect I am fighting with my entire dreadnought-specific army, while you are fighting with the units you brought to tackle heavy units (either directly doing damage, tar pitting them, etc) and little else. That means that, in short, I’m playing with a lot more usable points than you are.
You can have a skew list of lots of different kinds of units (jetbike skew lists are a favourite of the White Scars for example, but comparatively niche for everyone else) but in general it’s one of three things:
- Infantry Skew: so many infantry bodies clearing them all is impossible with weaponry focused for anti-heavy and anti-vehicle use
- Heavy Skew: so many heavies that a chunk of enemy attacks are functionally useless and take such volume of fire they’re never going to wear you down
- Vehicle Skew: so many vehicles that a lot of enemy attacks just can’t hurt your units
This is the least common skew list for a couple of reasons. Firstly it’s just expensive in money and time to get to the table – running 200 tactical marines requires you to buy, build and paint 200 tactical marines. It’s also the least effective because while shooting tactical marines with lascannons is inefficient it’s not ineffective. You can generally cope with a lot more skew towards infantry than you can towards the other two options.
The real star of Infantry Skew is Auxilia: you can easily run a list with 300+ stubborn leadership 10 infantry on the table. Sure they have T3 and 4+ saves – do you have enough shots it matters? And they can still bring 1000pts of an ally that does more serious damage, or just their own armoured units. This isn’t a kind of army we’re seeing on tables much yet (because, again, you have to buy, build and paint 300 auxilia) but it’ll happen sooner or later.
The most oppressive and common kind of skew list you’ll see on the table, there are three major players when it comes to these:
- Fury of the Ancients (just bring a dozen dreadnoughts and some artillery and honestly you’re probably going to win)
- Pride of the Legion (stock up on an entire list of 2+ save terminators and you have a hell of a skew. Put them in AV14 Land Raiders and you have something a bit more flexible and almost as skewy – that AV14 is hard to crack)
- Custodes (Mass Custodian Guard armies have won a lot of tournaments since they released, thanks to army-wide 2+ saves and a whole lot of scary attacks)
Less common than heavy skew but still a serious factor on the tabletop, vehicle skew comes in a couple of flavours but the most common is the Armoured Spearhead rite of war. The real trick here, and what makes it less effective than heavy skew, is that vehicles are generally more vulnerable and some lucky rolls early on can clear a lot off the table in one go. They really only move into being untouchable by most things once they hit AV13+, and that significantly limits that kinds of vehicles you’ll see. This is most commonly utilised in combination with Pride the Legion, but you do also see predator spam lists that cause serious issues.
Dealing with Skew
Ultimately skew is always a problem. There are only three kinds of list that can deal with a skew list on equal terms:
- Another skew list
- A list built specifically to handle a skew list
- A list with such intense unit efficiency they don’t take that much of a knock
Other skew lists are the obvious answer, and this is honestly a really fun way to run things like Fury of the Ancients. Big robots slapping each other about is a good time and we fully endorse it. And pitching, say, an Armoured Spearhead against a Fury of the Ancients list is also a pretty good time – the dreadnoughts are likely to win just because dreadnoughts are undercosted currently, but it’s a much more interesting match up, especially if both lists are taking a mix of weaponry to try and cope with a variety of lists.
The other way to handle it is to build a list specifically to counter that skew. If I want to run a Pride of the Ancients list and I tell my opponent in advance then they can a) say they’re not cool with it and I can do something else or b) build a list chock full of lascannons and maybe a Custodes allied force or whatever in order to specifically pack their army with anti-heavy weaponry.
Finally there’s the somewhat dubious way of handling it which is to play a list that is so points efficient that you can suffer the hit to your efficacy that a skew list prompts. There are honestly not many armies that can do this with all skew, but even an all dreadnought list is going to struggle to chew through a Phalanx Warder heavy Stone Gauntlet list (unstoppable force meets unmovable object). There are some units, or some combinations of units, that are just too good in the current rules and they have a chance against most things. This is why “just take more lascannons” is reaching a memetic level of advice in the Goonhammer discord, because honestly lascannons solve most problems. Especially stacked with a techmarine with a cognis signum. But if you bring these things against a non-skew list you’re going to find people not having a good time.
Really these all boil down to: communicate with your opponent. Bring an alternative list, or talk to them in advance. Try to avoid skew lists of this kind that don’t allow for a coherent response from your opponent. The goal is fun, and this can be very unfun.
Thoughts? Comments? Criticisms? Horrible skew lists you want to share? Leave them below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.