Saga of the Beast Review: Space Wolves

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Despite being one of the most popular armies in Warhammer 40k, Space Wolves have had a rough go of things in 8th edition. After some stellar support at the end of 7th, they waited longer than almost any other faction for a Codex in 8th, and now have found themselves being one of the final loyalist chapters to receive an update in Psychic Awakening. And now, that update is finally here. But does it live up to the hopes of Space Wolves players? Does it once again return the Wolves to respectability? In this article, we’re reviewing the new book (which the awesome folks at Games Workshop have sent us a copy of) to find out.

Special Rules

Haldor Icepelt Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

Haldor Icepelt Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

Space Wolves occupy an interesting place from an army rules standpoint. They’ve ostensibly been positioned as a melee-focused faction of Space Marines in 8th edition, with a heavy emphasis on fighting thanks to their Chapter Tactic and aura effects from Wulfen. But this potential upside has been outweighed by two significant factors: the first being a lack of ways to help units actually make it into combat quickly, and the second being that, outside of Wulfen, Thunderwolf Cavalry and Smash Captains, most Space Marine melee units were actually pretty bad. And while Space Wolves got access to Shock Assault and Bolter Discipline when Space Marines did, they’ve been waiting to receive the Combat Doctrines that really push the faction to new heights. So the first thing is that, yes, Space Wolves now have the Angels of Death rule and with it, access to Combat Doctrines. Note that the rules printed in Saga of the Beast are the old “roll over whenever you want” rules that pre-date the current FAQ, but these will likely be fixed quickly and, even if they aren’t, the Space Wolves’ Chapter Doctrine and other rules suggest that you’ll want to move to Tactical and Assault Doctrine with them as quickly as possible anyways.

Speaking of which, the Space Wolves’ Chapter Doctrine is Savage Fury, which gives you additional hits when you roll an unmodified 6 to hit with a melee weapon while the Assault Doctrine is active.

Credit: Games Workshop

As Chapter Doctrines go, this one is just OK. It certainly looks better than others comparatively now that we’re post-FAQ, since it’s likely to be active for a greater proportion of the game. But as a boost in effectiveness, it’s rather small and unreliable unless you’re throwing a lot of attacks at an enemy. Still, there are a number of units that it will work well on, such as Wulfen, Veteran Intercessors, Wolf Guard, and Blood Claws, where the volume of attacks will mean generating a significant extra boost. And as we’ll see, there are a couple of other ways to get the most out of this. On a more humorous note, it makes the Black Templars’ Chapter Doctrine look like total trash. I don’t know what Black Templars player hurt the authors of Faith and Fury, but I’m not sure they deserved this much scorn.

This ability pushes Space Wolves further into a melee-focus, but it’s also not so strong that you can’t just ignore it to soup Space Wolves with other marines. Given how well Space Wolves ironically soup with Dark Angels and the ability to boost a pair of characters in each with the Wolf and the Lion Stratagem, I suspect there’s a competitive DA/SW army waiting to happen out there.

Wings Note: The “break even” point for this compared to just getting an additional attack is 4A when you’re hitting on 3s and 5A when you’re hitting on 2s. That tends to mean this is a little bit worse than the Blood Angels one on regular infantry but is substantially better on units that have a tonne of attacks like Ragnar, and is pretty much equivalent for Wulfen, who are what we really care about!

Also, note that the Space Wolves’ Chapter Trait, Hunters Unleashed, has been updated to affect all units, not just infantry, bikers, and dreadnoughts.

 

Datasheets

There are a bunch of datasheets for Space Wolves in this book, but it’s a bit of a good news/bad news situation. The good news is that there are updated datasheets for Ragnar Blackmane, Wolf Priests of all varieties, and all of the new Primaris space marine units that were missing from the Space Wolves’ roster choices. The bad news is that there’s no updated datasheet for Ulrik the Slayer, meaning that until he gets errata saying otherwise, he can’t chant any Litanies of Battle.

Credit: Warhammer Community

Let’s start with Ragnar. You’ve probably already seen his datasheet floating around but if you haven’t, let me be the first to tell you that Ragnar is back in Primaris form and he’s an absolute monster. He clocks in at 120 points – his points value was included in the book this time – and that’s well worth it for a model that, on the charge, dishes out 10 S6 AP-4 2 damage attacks before factoring in any extras from Savage Fury. Ragnar keeps his 4+ invulnerable save, his re-roll hit rolls of 1 aura, and his War Howl aura to allow nearby Space Wolves to re-roll charge rolls, but loses his wolf companions. He trades them for the Battlelust ability, which lets friendly Space Wolves units within 6″ consolidate 6″ instead of 3″ if they aren’t already within 3″ of an enemy unit when they do so.

Ragnar is a melee monster, and his new Primaris stature means that he also has access to Gene-Wrought Might. It’s not without downsides, though: Ragnar can no longer travel in standard transports, meaning that if you want him to keep up with your other melee units, you’ll need to put him in an Impulsor (you could also outflank him using the Cunning of the Wolf Stratagem, but this is probably a worse play most of the time). Fortunately, this meshes just fine with what a lot of Space Wolves armies were already doing and he’ll work very well with units of Veteran Intercessors. With his new statline and some of the other possible buffs out there, Ragnar’s got a very strong claim on being the strongest melee INFANTRY character in 40k. He’s also a solid target for the Dark Angels’ The Lion and the Wolf stratagem, which gets him up to S7 with his melee attacks (which he also gets one more of).

Wings Note: Ragnar is a total monster. Other important cool things you can do with him include using Touch of the Wild for a tonne of extra attacks, chucking him out of the back of an Impulsor after it moved to give his charge aura to a bunch of buddies, or using Mentor’s Guidance from the main book to give him full wound re-rolls in melee (for when you need something super dead). The consolidate ability is a complete nightmare for opponents too, as it raises the very real prospect that a unit of Wulfen can smash through a screen then push through and wrap something in the next layer.

In addition to Ragnar’s new datasheet, there are updates to all of the non-Ulrik Wolf Priest datasheets (Wolf Priests, Terminator Wolf Priests, Primaris Wolf Priests) that remove their Oath of War ability and replace it with the ability to chant Litanies. There are also datasheets for all of the missing Primaris units for Space Wolves: Wolf Lords, Rune Priests, and Primaris Battle Leaders in Phobos Armour, Infiltrators, Incursors, Invictors, Suppressors, Eliminators, Repulsor Executioners, and Impulsors. Welcome to the fold, fellas. Along with the Phobos characters, the Obscuration Discipline and Vanguard Warlord Traits have also been updated and printed in here, meaning Space Wolves now have the new version of Target Priority.

It’s worth noting that the Space Wolves Intercessors datasheet has been updated as well – Intercessor Pack Leaders can now take Thunder Hammers. This is a pretty big deal and should have an immediate impact on the table.

Litanies

Space Wolves get access to Litanies! They can know litanies from the Litanies of Battle, the standard Codex: Space Marine litanies. This is a really good list! Canticle of Hate is particularly good, boosting the charge distances of nearby Space Wolves units by 2″ and increasing their consolidate move distance by 3″. The Space Wolves also have their own chapter-specific litany, Tale of the Wolf King and the Lord of the Deeps, which I am officially calling “Wolf King Litany” from here on out. This one was previewed already on Warhammer Community:

Credit: Games Workshop

This is decent, but a bit situational. The upside is that you often won’t have to pick your litanies during army selection for tournaments, giving you the ability to pivot as needed (you’ll also get this Litany as a free bonus for Wolf Priests in Space Wolf Detachments). The one sad thing here is that Wolf Priests can’t have thunder hammers or storm shields, so the best you’ll be able to do is a power fist. Still, D3+1 damage against key targets isn’t bad at all.

Wings Note: It’s situational but when it’s good it’s extremely good. By my back of the envelope maths, with a buddy Wolf Priest buffing him up with this and Mentor’s Guidance Ragnar can pop Touch of the Wild and one-round a Knight.

Stratagems

Credit: Richyp

Saga of the Beast has 24 Stratagems for Space Wolves, or three pages’ worth. Of these, the majority are reprints to bring them in line with the other Codex Chapters – stratagems like Veteran Intercessors, Duty Eternal (with old wording), Target Sighted, and Hero of The Chapter all make their much-needed debuts for Space Wolves. Several others got updates to account for the Space Wolves’ chapter quirks – Fury of the First returns as Fury of Champions, buffing Space Wolves Terminators, Vengeance of the Machine Spirit affects Stormwolf and Stormfang gunships, and Gene-Wrought Might has an extra rider on it that makes it so that if you activate the Stratagem while the Savage Fury ability is active (see above), the extra hits generated also automatically wound.

Of these, the most important addition to the Space Wolves’ repertoire is Transhuman Physiology, which can be used in any phase when a non-Servitor, non-Vehicle Space Wolves unit is chosen as the target as the target for an attack to make it so that unit can’t be wounded on a roll of a 1-3. This is going to shine particularly bright on Wulfen, where being Toughness 4 and having a 4+ save is their biggest weakness. Suddenly being able to protect them from S5+ ranged attacks makes them much, much more durable, allowing them to fully take advantage of their ability to Advance and charge in the same turn and then hit with the force of a freight train. And generally I’m all for anything that can help put Wulfen back on the table.

Of the book’s Stratagems, eight are what you’d consider to be “all-new.” Some of these, like the 0 CP-cost Knowledge of the Foe and Touch of the Wild, have already been previewed. If you were looking for stratagems that support Wulfen here, sadly, there’s nothing for you outside of the aforementioned Transhuman Physiology. Instead, the big winners here are Wolf Guard and Thunderwolf Cavalry. The Wolf Guard get the Vicious Executioners Stratagem, which for 1 CP makes it so whenever a unit of Wolf Guard fighting in the Fight phase roll an unmodified 6 to hit against an Infantry target, they do 1 additional mortal wound to the target. By itself, this isn’t amazing, but coupled with the bonus from Savage Fury on an appropriately large unit, you can do some real damage. And Thunderwolf Cavalry (who also have the WOLF GUARD keyword), get Death Grip Bite to turn their mounts’ crushing teeth and claws into 2-damage weapons, and Crushing Assault to do mortal wounds to a nearby unit after they’ve charged. Perhaps my favorite of these “new” Stratagems is Storm Strike, which for 1 CP can be used in the Shooting phase to give a Stormfang Gunship +1 to hit, +1 to wound, and +1 damage with its helfrost destructor for the phase. That’s a huge boost to a gun that on its dispersed mode fires 3D3 shots at S6, AP-2, 2 damage and with the addition of Vengeance of the Machine Spirit, it’s worth a second look as a threat, even if you aren’t likely to do much with its 6-model transport capacity.

If it doesn’t seem like there’s a ton here, well there kind of isn’t. But that’s not a bad thing! Space Wolves already had some great stratagems in their codex with things like Keen Senses and Lone Wolf, and they get a huge boost from just having the new Codex: Space Marines stratagem set. Things like Veteran Intercessors immediately improve the army in significant ways, making Intercessor- and Impulsor-heavy lists like the one Jon Kilcullen had been playing with some success substantially stronger without paying any more points.

Wings Note: The other one I’d highlight is Counter-Charge, which identical to Unbridled Ardor in Blood Angels lets any SPACE WOLVES unit perform a 6″ heroic intervention for 1CP. That’s a complete nightmare for people to try and plan around, and gives your Wulfen yet another way to get into combat.

Overall I’d agree with Rob that these are a little less good across the board than some of the othe recent sets we’ve seen, but that needs to be taken in the context of the core Wolf Stratagem sheet being easily the best of any of the special Space Marine chapters, and them already having some builds that were close to viability. Just adding the new Marine staples (especially Transhuman) is a huge boost, and Touch fo the Wild, Knowledge of the Foe and Counter-Charge are all going to lift up pretty much any build.

 

Relics

Finally, the book has a wealth of new relics for the Space Wolves to play with. While I mentioned that Space Wolves got a goldmine of reprinted Stratagems, it’s worth noting that there’s no “Relics of Fenris”-style stratagem to gift to a successor chapter, and a such there’s no special-issue wargear here (canonically, the Space Wolves only had one Successor Chapter, the ill-fated Wolfbrothers (who turned into a bunch of degenerate werewolves). So, in similar fashion to the other supplements, Space Wolves have access to the Adamantine Mantle, Artificer Armour (called Runic Armour here), Master-Crafted Weapons, Digital Weapons, and special bolts. More on those in a moment.

The rest of the relics are all pretty solid. The Wyrmsplitter relic axe has already been previewed; it’s a powerful option for a Primaris Battle Leader or other non-Primaris character that can do insane damage against Vehicle and Monster targets.

Credit: Games Workshop

Also notable is the Mountain-Breaker Helm, a relic for an Infantry character that, after you’ve fought in the Fight phase but before you consolidate, allows you to pick an enemy unit within 1″ and roll a D6; on a 2+ that unit takes D3 mortal wounds. Pretty nifty for pushing extra damage through but the extra kicker is that if you kill a Character this way and the relic’s bearer is your Warlord (or has a Warlord Trait), then they automatically count as having performed their Deed of Legend, boosting their Saga to its aura mode. Realistically, this extra bonus won’t matter in most games, but the added D3 mortal wounds can help finish off key units.

But if you’re looking for mortal wounds, the Talisman of Storms is going to be your new favorite relic. Each turn, after a Rune Priest with this relic resolves their first psychic power in the psychic phase, roll a D6 for each enemy for each enemy unit within 12″ of him and on a 4+ that enemy unit suffers 1 mortal wound. Paired with the Living Lightning psychic power on a Rune Priest with a Jump Pack, you can drop him right in the middle of the action and crap out a serious number of mortal wounds in a single pass. Or, if you don’t care for psychic powers, then you can take the Wolf Tail Talisman instead, which gives enemy models within 18″ -2 to their Psychic tests.

Of course, I’ve saved the best for last. Remember when I mentioned those special bolts? Most of the times we’ve seen those in supplements they’ve been, at best, mediocre. But Saga of the Beast finally breaks with tradition by giving us the Morkai’s Teeth Bolts. These special bolts are allocated to a model’s bolt weapon and can be fired instead of its normal ammunition. When you do, you only make one attack with the weapon, but if you score a hit, the target takes 1 mortal wound and becomes “marked by Morkai” until the end of the turn. When a unit attacks a unit that is marked by Morkai, it can re-roll wound rolls of 1. This is really, really good. First off, because it lasts the rest of the turn, it will continue to benefit units that attack that unit in the Fight phase, allowing you to “tag” a unit from a distance – the ideal instigators for these are Wolf Lords with master-crafted bolters that have a 24″+ range and can re-roll 1s to hit natively. Second – and this is something I expect to be removed via FAQ fairly quickly – the bonus is not “faction-locked,” meaning you could use these bolts to tag a unit, then fire upon it with Astra Militarum Basilisks, still enjoying the re-rolls.

Wings Note: Yeah so the bolts are completely wild, far better than any others we’ve seen and a great tool for a Battle Leader to carry around and effectively extend their aura to wherever it needs to be! The other cute one is the Companion’s Blade, which is a S+2 D2 power sword that also re-rolls wounds if you have another CHARACTER within 3″. The baseline buff here is pretty decent for a 4pt weapon, and it gets real good if you manage to trigger the second part.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

What It All Means

The question on the tip of every Space Wolves player’s tongue will be “Do these make the faction good?” and the answer is, “yes, but not like, Iron Hands good.” Which, depending on what you were hoping for, may be a disappointment. But overall, these changes combine to bring Space Wolves into the modern era and turn them into an army that appears to be competitive while not being dominant. They’re more fit than other chapters toward souping, thanks to a focus on melee combat and a Chapter Doctrine that’s pretty easy to leave in favor of mixing chapters or armies. The big winners here are Ragnar, Intercessors, who can go veteran and take Thunder Hammers, Wulfen, who get Transhuman Physiology, Stormfang Gunships, and Wolf Guard/Thunderwolf Cavalry/Blood Claws, who have a couple of new tricks and will enjoy the AP bonus from Combat Doctrines.

There are a couple of ways you could go with this from a list-building standpoint. Jon Kilcullen’s recent Impulsor-heavy lists aren’t insanely aggressive but instead trade on being durable, using Impulsors to protect his Intercessors and block out significant portions of the table, eat Overwatch, and harass enemy units with charges (and as added insult to injury, they do D6 mortal wounds if they explode).

Jon Kilcullen’s Space Wolves List

4-1, 2020 Wheat City Open

Space Wolves Battalion

HQ: Wolf Lord w/Jump Pack, Storm Shield, Thunder Hammer, Warlord: Saga of the Beastslayer
HQ: Wolf Lord w/Jump Pack, Storm Shield, Thunder Hammer, Relic: The Wulfen Stone

Troops: 5x Intercessors, Power Fist on Sgt.
Troops: 5x Intercessors, Power Fist on Sgt.
Troops: 5x Intercessors, Power Fist on Sgt.

DT: Impulsor w/Shield Dome, Ironhail heavy stubber
DT: Impulsor w/Shield Dome, Ironhail heavy stubber
DT: Impulsor w/Shield Dome, Ironhail heavy stubber

Space Wolves Battalion

HQ: Rune Priest w/Jump Pack, psychic hood, runic armour, runic staff
HQ: Wolf Guard Battle Leader w/Jump Pack, Thunder hammer, storm shield

Troops: 6x Blood Claws w/Chainsword, Wolf Guard Pack Leader w/Storm Shield
Troops: 5x Intercessors, Power Fist on Sgt.
Troops: 5x Intercessors, Power Fist on Sgt.

Elites: 10x Wolf Guard w/Jump pack, thunder hammer, storm shield
Smash Wolf Guard Battle Leader

DT: Impulsor w/Shield Dome, Ironhail heavy stubber
DT: Impulsor w/Shield Dome, Ironhail heavy stubber

 

On the other hand, if you were looking for something running more traditional Space Wolf units or uh, fewer Impulsor tanks to purchase, you could consider something like this list that noted Space Wolves player Robbie Triplett was bouncing around this week. It’s heavier on Wolf Guard and primed to take advantage of the new boosts to Stormfang gunships.

Robbie’s Wolf Guard-Heavy Test List

Battalion Detachment (+5 CP, 973 points)

HQ: Arjac Rockfist
HQ: Logan Grimnar

Troops: Blood Claws x5
Troops: Blood Claws x5
Troops: Intercessors x5 w/Stalker Bolt Rifle

Flyer: Stormfang Gunship w/2x Lascannon, 2x Twin Heavy Bolter
Flyer: Stormfang Gunship w/2x Lascannon, 2x Twin Heavy Bolter

Vanguard Detachment (+1 CP, 1,027)

HQ: Rune Priest in Terminator Armour w/ Runic staff, Saga of the Bear, Storm bolter, The Wulfen Stone, Warlord

Elites: Wolf Guard Terminators x10 w/ 8x Storm Bolter, Storm Shield, Thunder Hammer + Cyclone Missile Launcher, Wolf Pack Leader w/Storm Shield + Thunder Hammer
Elites: Wolf Guard Terminators x10 w/ 8x Storm Bolter, Storm Shield, Thunder Hammer + Cyclone Missile Launcher, Wolf Pack Leader w/Storm Shield + Thunder Hammer
Elites: Wolf Guard Terminators x9 w/ 8x Storm Bolter, Storm Shield, Wolf Pack Leader w/Storm Shield + Thunder Hammer

+++ Total: 2,000 Points +++

 

Wrap Up

Regardless of your preferred build of Space Wolves, there’s likely something for you in this new book. If you’re a competitive player, the faction now has real chops to compete at higher levels. If you’re a casual player, the faction is good, but not so good that people will hate you for your life choices and your bullshit Iron Hands army, Garrett. We’ll be talking more about the book and its other faction (Orks) today, and more about the different rules and units in it over the next week, so stay tuned. And as always, if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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