Tacticool 101: Deathwatch Tactics for Kill Team

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Deathwatch Kill Teams

With access to a wide variety of equipment, units, and customization options, Deathwatch may be the faction that Kill Team was made for. The whole thought of a team of elite Marines taking on covert missions far from the main battlefields with the fate of the galaxy at stake – it’s like Mission: Impossible mixed with Warhammer 40,000 and we are incredibly here for it. For an army that encourages you to name every lovingly-painted model, Kill Team is just perfect. But the number of options available to players can also make building a Deathwatch Kill Team daunting. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of building a Deathwatch kill team for Kill Team – good ways to build, strategies to take, and things to watch out for.

On that note, if you’re looking for tips and tactics for playing Deathwatch in Warhammer 40,000, check out our Start Competing: Deathwatch article that just came out.

Strengths

  • Customization: Deathwatch get access to most of the good weapons available to their non-Inquisitorially-curious cousins, with a few extras besides. Their unique wargear alternates between flexible choices that have an option for every engagement and all-in specialist weapons that do one thing, but do it with style. 
  • Access to Units: You can poach several good choices from Adeptus Astartes lists, including Intercessors, Reivers, Terminators, and jump pack Veterans, and the Deathwatch Kill Team box is an excellent modelling project.
  • Flexibility: Even the (relatively) humble Deathwatch Veteran has a few tricks up his sleeve that let him adapt on the fly to changing conditions. The foremost among these is Special Issue Ammunition, a rule that allows you to choose from one of four modifiers to any shot you take with a bolt weapon.
  • Price Point: The Deathwatch Kill Team box that GW sells is a self-contained Kill Team in a box, and allows you to build a characterful and powerful 5-man kill team that will, with a little planning, clock in at just around 100 points. As a bonus, any models you build for Kill Team will be playable in full 40k (though this doesn’t necessarily hold true the other way around – more on that in a second). If you want to play a fun game with a varied list for minimum financial outlay, you could do worse than Deathwatch.
  • Mission Tactics: Really hate those Stealth Suits your opponent keeps bringing to your weekly game night? Want to punish your friend for picking Harlequins? Deathwatch Kill Teams gained the Mission Tactics rule in Kill Team: Elites, which allows you to choose a datasheet in your opponent’s list, and then re-roll 1s to wound against all models on that datasheet, including gunners, fighters, and other such units. Then, once you’ve cleared the board of the object of your disgust, you can spend 1CP to switch to a new datasheet at the top of the next round and do it all over again.

Weaknesses

  • Missing Loadouts: A few of the most common loadouts in full 40k just aren’t options here. The biggest loss here is the “breacher” Marine – a Deathwatch Veteran with storm bolter and storm shield. Not only is the storm bolter just not on the Deathwatch Veteran’s wargear options list, you also can’t take any ranged weapon with a storm shield. This isn’t a huge deal – you’ve got some excellent other choices to play with – but if you’ve got Deathwatch that you built for 40k, make sure your loadouts work before fielding them.
  • Points Cost: This is the big one. Deathwatch Veterans start at 14 points – 2 more than a “standard” Tactical Marine – and Intercessors pay a hefty 4-point premium for the privilege of wearing a shiny silver pauldron and the Special Issue Ammunition that comes with it.
  • Less Useful Tactics: While Deathwatch models have the ADEPTUS ASTARTES keyword, it is not a faction keyword, which means that they don’t have access to the extremely powerful tactics available to other Marines lists. The biggest problem here is the lack of Death Denied, a faction-defining tactic for Adeptus Astartes lists and one of the most powerful tactics in the game.
  • Mission Tactics: As powerful as it can be against some lists, this trait is much less useful when Deathwatch run up against lists that have a wide variety of datasheets to pull from. When playing against other Astartes, Asuryani, Orks, Nids, or Genestealer Cults, you may find that you have to spend CP nearly every round switching your Mission Tactics around to get mileage out of your Trait, which isn’t ideal.

 

Deathwatch Units

Credit: TheChirurgeon

Deathwatch Veterans

The core of any Deathwatch list, you can build your Deathwatch Veterans in any number of ways to suit your taste. We won’t go through every option here, but instead we’ll go through the unique options they have to help you get a feel for how you might use them. Keep in mind that any Deathwatch Veteran can take a power sword or power maul together with their ranged weapon unless they take a frag cannon, Infernus heavy bolter, or shotgun. Most of your Veterans are stronger at range, but with 2 attacks with good weapons, your opponent won’t be able to short-cut the game by rushing you.

  • Deathwatch Frag Cannon (DFC): You probably didn’t need us to tell you this, but this gun is pretty damn good. You pay for it though – at 5 points for the gun on top of 16 for the Gunner to carry it, you’re looking at 21 points in a single model, which already all but guarantees you’re fielding 5 or fewer Marines. However, if there’s a single model in your Kill Team that has the potential to make back its points with interest, this is it. Just be careful it doesn’t get picked off by a dark lance turn 1 (I’m so sorry, Jim). Otherwise, this guy will absolutely annihilate anything that comes near him.
  • Infernus Heavy Bolter: The DFC’s cheaper and extremely underrated cousin, this saucy little number combines a heavy bolter with a heavy flamer and can fire them both at once, all for less than half the price of a frag cannon. This is a solid budget option into T4, especially if you think they’re likely to get within the 8” range of the heavy flamer so you can unload with both barrels – it really comes into its own in Arena games.
  • Deathwatch Shotgun: At 1 point, this is the Toyota Camry of xenos-purging equipment: affordable, reliable, and just enough of an upgrade to convince you that you were better off shelling out for it. Use Cryptclearer rounds at long range or to attack datasheets outside your Mission Tactic focus, Xenopurge when attacking into 3+ saves or to secure a kill in close, or Wyrmsbreath to put a bunch of hits on something through cover or when firing Overwatch. A Veteran-specialist with a Shotgun can use the level 1 Tactic to get into range with Xenopurge shells turn 1 and threaten key models with some 2-damage shots.
  • Stalker Pattern Boltgun: Like the Intercessor’s stalker bolt rifle, but trading 6” range and a point of AP for an extra shot, and coming in at one fewer point. This is a trade you should be happy to make, since if you really need the range and AP back, Kraken bolts are right there.
  • Heavy Thunder Hammer: Generally not worth it – paying 5 points for a D6 damage power fist that locks you out of bringing a Storm Shield is kind of rough. If you want a melee specialist, a sword-and-board (or even better, cane-and-plane) Blackshield is a stronger choice.
  • Xenophase Blade: Only available to the Watch Sergeant, this is a power sword that costs 3 points, but comes with an interesting added rule: your opponent has to re-roll successful invulnerable saves against wounds caused by it. Against many opponents, this is just a power sword that costs an extra point, but when it matters, hoo boy is it frustrating to play against. This effect takes a 3++ save from 66.67% success rate to 44.44%, and a 4++ from 50% to 25%. Worth including one in your roster if you expect to run into Custodes or worse, Harlequins.

In addition to the 4(!) Gunners and your Watch Sergeant, you can make one of your Deathwatch Veterans into a Blackshield for 2 points. This buys him an extra attack and the ability to re-roll charges, which can make him into a serious close-range threat when combined with the Combat or Zealot specialisms. Take a power sword or power maul for him depending on the matchup, slap a storm shield on his arm, and watch him go to work.

The Deathwatch Veteran is the only Deathwatch-exclusive datasheet in Kill Team (other than the Watch Captain). On its own, it’s enough to give you plenty of room to build the Kill Team you want to play, but these aren’t your only tricks. You can also add models taken from certain Adeptus Astartes datasheets so long as you pay some additional points for any bolt weapons they have to cover their SIA, usually 2-4 points per model. Here are your options from the Core Rules:

Deathwatch Raptors Sniper with Stalker Bolt Rifle

Deathwatch Raptors Sniper with Stalker Bolt Rifle Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

Intercessors

Like Veterans, only bigger and less versatile. They give you +1 Attack and +1 Wound, plus they come with bolt rifles, which provide longer range and an extra AP -1 for your Special Issue Ammunition. Stalker bolt rifles probably aren’t worthwhile compared to the stalker pattern boltgun on Deathwatch Veterans – stick to the standard bolt rifle, and play aggressively to get the most use out of the extra wound. Getting two shots using SIA within 15” doesn’t hurt either. There’s also something to be said for the auto bolt rifle in Deathwatch lists (even though it hasn’t received the additional shot benefit that it got in 40k with the new Codex: Space Marines update) – while it’s usually a waste of a model on other Astartes lists, the extra 9” of range for the second shot with SIA could be worth considering. If in doubt, though, default to the bolt rifle – it’s just a solid gun.

Deathwatch Lamenter Reiver

Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

Reivers

Unfortunately, Reivers are a bit of a miss in Kill Team (and uh, not in Kill Team), being either 3-attack close combat specialists without any AP, or paying an extra point over an Intercessor for a re-skinned auto bolt rifle. Grapnel launchers and grav-chutes can be cute, but when you’re already paying 18-20 points per model depending on loadout due to the SIA tax, you’ll find you’re rapidly running out of room in your list. Terror Troops doesn’t make up the difference, as it doesn’t stack and you don’t have enough other Ld bomb tricks to make it worthwhile. A Reiver sergeant with bolt carbine and combat knife could be worth considering as a Combat or Zealot specialist, as 5 attacks is nothing to sneeze at, even at AP0. However, you can probably find a better investment for 19 points.

 

 

Elites

With the release of Kill Team Elites, Deathwatch get access to Vanguard Veterans, Terminators, and some new Commander options that give them some additional flexibility and punch. They miss out on the Phobos-armored options and most of the new Tactics, however.

Credit: TheChirurgeon

Terminators

These are tough to justify in an already points-starved list, especially since you have to pay a full 4 points to upgrade their storm bolter if you give them a shiny silver arm. The storm bolter/cyclone missile launcher Heavy is even more deadly here than he is in a “Vanilla” Marines list, but clocks in at a whopping 38 points, more than a third of your Kill Team. It’s worth noting that assault cannon, heavy flamer, or either flavor of Assault Terminators don’t pay a premium to make the jump to Deathwatch, so they may be worth looking into. You can also deep strike them using the Adeptus Astartes Teleport Strike tactic, letting you drop one 5” away from your buddy’s favorite model without warning. Ultimately, Deathwatch Terminators are usually going to be one-off adds to a group of Kill Team Veterans.

Vanguard Veterans with Jump Pack

Nearly as customizable as the Deathwatch Veteran, but entirely focused on close-range damage, your Vanguard Veterans start at 19 points before adding on any wargear. You can build these guys with melee loadouts or, if you want to try something different, with a pair of pistols. SIA bolt pistols cost the same as plasma pistols, so for 23 points, you can mix-and match those choices to your heart’s content and having a decent chance of forcing two injury rolls on the same model. Unlike Terminators, these guys don’t get access to the relevant Adeptus Astartes tactic (Jump Pack Assault), so you probably won’t want to deploy them in reserves. That’s fine, though, as they can move 12” and ignore terrain when doing so, which will more often than not result in them being exactly where you want them anyway.

 

Commanders

Credit: RichyP

Deathwatch have access to most of the same Commander options as standard Space Marines, though they get exclusive access to Watch Masters. The other options are all pretty standard, with Librarians offering the most value without having to spend CP. Note that you’re going to want to give each of your commanders as many bolter shots as possible to take advantage of Special Issue Ammo, so look at storm bolters wherever possible when you’re kitting out characters that give you shooting options.

Watch Master

The Deathwatch’s exclusive Commander option, Watch Masters are pretty expensive compared to Primaris Captains. The upside is that the Custodian spear they get is a very solid weapon in Kill Team, giving you access to Special Issue Ammunition and a multi-damage melee weapon. The Watchmaster also gets you access to a better re-roll aura stratagem, but you pay for the boost with an extra CP. If you’re going to play Commanders in Kill Team, you may as well bring this guy.

Librarians (and Librarians in Terminator Armour)

Deathwatch Librarians get access to the same spells as Marine Librarians, namely Null Zone, Might of Heroes, and Veil of Time. You’ll get to pick two of those, plus Psybolt. All three of the powers they can choose are pretty useful, depending on your Kill Team’s strategy and who you’re up against. 

 

Deathwatch Tactics

Deathwatch had access to 4 tactics in the Kill Team core rulebook, then received 6 more in their starter box. Thankfully, their Core Rules stratagems are (mostly) pretty good.

  • Hellfire Shell (1 CP) – Use when firing a shot with a heavy bolter or an Infernus heavy bolter. You only get one shot, but if you hit you do D3 mortal wounds. This can be a good way to push through some extra damage against tough targets (and commanders), but it requires you take an Infernus heavy bolter. C
  • Only in Death Does Duty End (2 CP) – It’s not Death Denied, but it’s still pretty good! Use it when a model dies to shoot or fight one more time. Without access to Death Denied, this is your go-to when you lose a model. A
  • Decapitation Doctrine (1 CP) – Use before shooting or fighting with a model to re-roll failed wound rolls when targeting an enemy Leader. Great for taking out Leaders in melee combat, especially when you’re doing Marine-on-Marine combat. B
  • Rival Chapters (1 CP) – Use in the shooting or fighting phase when you have 2 models within 2” of each other. Each gets to re-roll hit rolls of 1 until the end of the phase. This is a great way to improve your accuracy with backfield support, or get more out of a pair of melee fighters. Should encourage you to move around your Kill Team members in pairs. A
  • Priority Execution (Deathwatch Starter Box) (1 CP) – Use when fighting in the Fight phase. One model gets +1 to Wound rolls for the phase. Useful for taking on high-toughness targets, but being limited to melee hurts it. C
  • Tactical Disengagement (Deathwatch Starter Box) (1 CP) – Use when a model retreats in the Movement phase to retreat up to 6” rather than 3”, and the model that retreats can still shoot in the Shooting phase. This is an incredibly useful stratagem to have in your back pocket: 6” is a huge amount of distance to cover for a charging unit, and being able to shoot normally means you can punish the hell out of an opponent attempting to make a long charge. A
  • My Armour is Contempt (Deathwatch Starter Box) (1 CP) – Use when a model takes a mortal wound. Roll a D6 for each mortal wound suffered this phase, and on a 5+ ignore the mortal wound. Situationally useful, and mostly when you’re going up against Grey Knights or Thousand Sons. B
  • The Beheading (Deathwatch Starter Box) (2 CP) – Use at the start of the Fight phase to re-roll hits when targeting an enemy Leader for the rest of the phase. Situationally decent, but to really make it work you want to have multiple models fighting an enemy leader at the same time, which seems like a rare occurrence. C
  • Death to the Alien! (Deathwatch Starter Box) (1 CP) – Use in the fight phase to give one model an extra attack each time it rolls a to-hit roll of a 5+ against a target that doesn’t have the IMPERIUM, CHAOS, or UNALIGNED keywords. This is also situationally useful, but not particularly powerful. C
  • Unrelenting (Deathwatch Starter Box) (1 CP) – Use in the Shooting phase when a model is going to shoot. When rolling to hit with that model, it is considered to have been stationary. This one seems like it should be more useful than it is. The biggest challenge is that your only heavy weapons are the stalker bolters/bolt rifles and the heavy bolter/Infernus heavy bolter, and most of the time you play those you’re going to give them the Heavy Specialism so they ignore the move and shoot penalty anyways (and when you don’t, you’re typically focused on using the profiles that auto-hit). C
  • Teleport Strike (Elites) (1 CP) – Use at the end of the Movement phase to take up to 3 Terminator models set up in reserves and put them anywhere on the table more than 5” from an enemy model. This is an incredibly useful stratagem if you’re packing Terminators and allows you to do some incredibly rude things. A
  • Tactical Priority (Elites) (1 CP) – Choose a new datasheet to be your Mission Priority target. This is nearly faction-defining when it matters, but against some teams it’s just irrelevant. B

 

Playing Deathwatch in Kill Team

General Strategies

Deathwatch have access to some of the most dangerous weapons in the game in their unique arsenal, and can outfit every single Deathwatch Veteran with the equipment they need to be deadly at any range.

  • For your Leader, you probably want a Watch Sergeant or an Intercessor Sergeant. Both can be equipped to be able to attack from range, and SIA makes them a legitimate threat. Including at least one Watch Sergeant with a Xenophase Blade is probably worthwhile to deal with lists that have good invulnerable saves, but you may want to consider assigning him Combat or Zealot and putting Leader on an Intercessor.
  • Intercessors are an excellent frontline option that put out decent firepower and are slightly harder than average to remove from the board. You should probably have at least a handful in your roster to play for objectives – SIA will make them deadlier than your opponent probably realizes.
  • Deathwatch Veteran Gunners are your heavy firepower – most lists should include at least one. Heavy or Demolitions specialists are good fits for this role.
  • Blackshields are extremely deadly, especially when equipped with a power maul, and can reliably make charges due to their ability to reroll failed charges without having to spend CP. A Combat specialist with power maul is a great all-rounder, although a Zealot with a power sword is an interesting choice against MEQ who don’t have good invulnerable saves. In either case, a storm shield will help them stay alive if they get caught out.
  • Having a Terminator or two in your roster to deep strike and take out specific threats is a good ace to have up your sleeve. I’d recommend taking either SB/Cyclone or an Assault Cannon for this purpose. In either case, consider making them a Heavy specialist.
  • Other than that, build out for variety. A Vanguard Veteran can provide a mobile threat who can chase down priority targets and remove them from the board. Deathwatch Veterans with different loadouts can be slotted in to fill different roles: combi-plasma are great choices into MEQ, combi-meltas help guarantee kills on specific targets, and stalker-pattern boltguns are relatively reliable long-range firepower. Even if you’ve taken all the models we’ve suggested to this point, you’ve still got about 9 open slots in your roster, so experiment and find the loadouts that you like to bring.

Deathwatch in Arena

The Arena expansion brings some serious changes to the game, including shorter sightlines, doors that you can use to manage how your opponents can engage, and selectable secondary objectives. In order to win in Arena, you’ll need to adjust your play accordingly.

  • If you thought the DFC was sick and wrong in 3-D Kill Team, it’s absolutely disgusting here. The combination of shorter sightlines and the Point-Blank Overwatch tactic makes your DFC gunner into an absolute terror against chargers. The Infernus also gets a lot of use out of its heavy flamer profile for similar reasons.
  • Shorter sightlines make long range weapons less useful. They also make your Blackshield with power maul into a monster. Adjust your play accordingly.
  • You won’t have extra models to handle doors, so plan your movement carefully. On the flip side, a Gunner with a DFC or Infernus can do great work in rearguard to clog up hallways and defend against chargers while still being having the range to contribute firepower to the frontline.
  • All of your models are at least on 32mm bases, which let you do a decent job of clogging hallways to force engagements on your terms. Just remember not to leave space for an enemy to stand between your models just in case.

Arena Objectives: Play to your strengths here – you’re one of the deadlier factions around, but aren’t quite as survivable as Adeptus Astartes or Custodes, and don’t have the numbers to contest board control against a lot of lists. Focus on objectives that involve taking enemies out of action.

  • Attrition is a decent choice into most lists – most of your Kill Teams will top out at 5 models, and your ability to tailor your weapons to your opponent’s list will make sure you’re as deadly as possible. And while you may not be quite as survivable as other Marines, if you’re losing more models a round than your opponent, you’re probably going to lose anyway. Consider something else into Custodes or Marines of any flavor – although certain Chaos rosters may still favor this.
  • Cut Apart is a solid choice due to the easy availability of power weapons and the number of attacks you bring to the Fight phase – every model you’re allowed to take has at least 2 attacks, and with access to good AP any pair of models can be deadly in close.
  • Cut Off The Head and High-Profile Targets are both easy choices due to how deadly your weapons are. On several maps, a Veteran-specialist with a Deathwatch Shotgun can reliably threaten most T3 models from turn 1, and has about a 1-in-6 chance of killing a T4 model outright, so even if your opponent tries to play hide-and-seek with their Leader, you still have a decent chance of picking up 2-3 points off of its death.
  • Thin Their Ranks is worth considering into factions that bring larger lists – anyone with 10 or more models on the board is likely to be vulnerable enough that you should be able to pick up a few points off of this over the course of the game.
  • Proximity Alert can be a good choice as well – several of your core choices thrive in close combat, and the easy availability of solid melee weapons means you don’t have to be as shy about getting your models stuck in as many lists. Just be careful that you don’t over-commit and get pulled out of position chasing an extra VP.

Most of the rest of the objectives have to do with board control or positioning, aspects of the game you won’t excel at until after you’ve thinned out the hordes. Focus on objectives that reward you for what you’re doing anyway: clearing the board with overwhelming firepower.

 

Final Thoughts

For all the frustration Deathwatch might bring you in standard Warhammer 40,000, they’re a blast to play with in Kill Team, and can support a variety of different playstyles. Regardless of whether you kit out your Command Roster to take on all comers and compete in cutthroat events or just run a few guys for beer and pretzels, the important thing is that you name every single model in your kill team and write up an elaborate backstory for them, so when they die ignobly on turn 1 you can raise your fists heavenward and shout your frustrations at the uncaring gods who have cursed you thus. Have fun!

 

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