So people are pretty interested in learning about Imperial Assassins huh?
Last week we went over strategies and guidelines for how to pick the right Assassin for your matchups when using “Operative Requisition Sanctioned” to bring one in at the start of the game. Obviously this only really helps Imperium players, and some of the themes that arose from discussions around the article were:
- People are (rightly, in my opinion) very scared/excited by assassins, largely on a sliding scale of how often they play “Imperium”.
- Non-Imperium players are interested in learning how to play against these newly souped up killers.
Luckily for them, I’m only too happy to have an excuse to put my (large, jewel encrusted, worryingly shoot-able) Xenos hat back on and talk about strategies to thwart the latest pathetic machinations of the Corpse-Emperor’s minions. We’ll talk about some general things you can do to prepare for an assassin meta, and then some things to consider for playing against each specific type. Assassins are extremely potent, and sometimes they’re going to ruin their day, but by following these tips you can maximise your chances of success when they come for you.
Long before the battle even starts, while you’re still squirrelled away in your Xenos/Chaotic lair (delete as applicable) with your codices, you can prepare your army to better deal with Assassins. Obviously some of this is going to differ faction to faction, but we think it can be broadly boiled down to a three step process, best done once your list is starting to come together .
- Identify glaring weaknesses to each assassin types.
- Consider substitutions to reduce those weaknesses.
- Look for mitigations where substitutions aren’t appropriate.
Go through the units in your army that are key to your strategy and work out if you think one of the four assassin types is especially good against them, or at thwarting your overall game plan. If you read last week’s article you’ll have a pretty good idea what each kind of assassin is good against, but we’ve included a quick run-down of what each is well placed against in this article too.
You don’t have to consider every single unit in your list – most lists have some less important models that are there to take up slots and provide CP. What we’re worried about here are units where:
- Your plan completely falls apart without them.
- They provide an easy way for the assassin to “pay for themselves” by vastly out-killing their own cost very reliably.
You also need to take your units together and make sure your overall plan doesn’t have a glaring hole in it one of the assassins can exploit
Some good examples of problems to identify could be:
- An Eldar “Guardian Bomb” being very vulnerable to a counterpunch from an Eversor.
- A Supreme Command of mixed Space Marine Librarians being easy prey for a Vindicare.
- A Thousand Sons army having very limited ranged output against an army where a Culexus is dancing the Floss 6” in front of the rest of the forces.
- An experimental (and extremely inadvisable) version of the Ork Loota Star list where the CP reserves aren’t big enough to do the full combo if a Callidus rolls well.
Any specific weakness is worth considering options in the next two steps to deal with, but you have the biggest problem if you’ve got multiple weaknesses to one type of Assassin. That both makes it very likely your opponents will pick the “right” one against you, and means that the assassin in question has an easy run to totally ruining your day when they do. If you’ve got mild weaknesses to all of them you can probably just shrug and roll with it.
The first step to addressing your weaknesses largely looks at the units themselves. If you think a unit is a weakness, is there a way you can swap it out for something that accomplishes the same goal but isn’t as weak to the kind of assassin your worried about.
Following on from our earlier examples of the Space Marine Librarians getting shot in the head, if you definitely need access to the powers they’re bringing to the table, look at whether you can find the points to put them either in Terminator Armour (giving an extra wound, a 5+ against the rifle and the option of deploying via teleport strike) or, even better, on a Bike. The latter swap gives the same extra wound, but also buffs the model to T5 and takes away the INFANTRY keyword, which the Vindicare’s special rules prey on. Suddenly the Vindicare only wounds them on a 4+, and the chances of them taking the Librarian clean out drops precipitously towards only happening on the kind of high roll you just have to shrug and move on from (somewhere in the 10% region).
Model for model swaps are the obvious things to look for here, but you can also look at using combinations of units that better deal with the threats. In the current iteration of my own beloved mech Eldar list I’ve found the points to swap the full Guardian bomb out for a unit of ten Guardians in a Wave Serpent. When I reviewed my list prior to Battlefield Birmingham I found the vulnerability of that unit to an Eversor stood out as a glaring weak spot for a savvy opponent and decided that the cost of fixing it was one worth paying.
Substitution can be an effective tool for countering assassins at the list stage, but sometimes it’s not going to be possible – some units are irreplaceable, especially when looking at the assassin’s favoured prey of characters. In that case you might instead need to look for ways to…
Plenty of armies have options or customisations they can use alongside their key units that can reduce the threat assassins pose. Most common are going to be:
- Transports/Deep Strike – none of the assassins can do much to a character/unit that’s hiding in a tank, or put into Deep Strike via equipment/stratagem. Sadly not all factions have great options for this, but for those that do this is the easiest mitigation to deploy.
- Relics/Traits – for protecting characters, quite a few factions have relics or warlord traits that will add a “Feel no pain” or an extra wound. This is most obviously relevant against a Vindicare, whose chance of a quick kill starts falling off precipitously with every wound the target has after their third.
- “Bodyguard” units – not all factions have these, but models like the Ultramarine Victrix Guard or Tau Drones that can absorb wounds for key models can save the day.
- Intercept stratagems – while these do respect “character targeting”, assassins may well drop in closer to your lines than most deep striking characters, so having units that can use these effectively (especially the really good ones like “Forewarned” and “<space wolf>”) can make it much more difficult for your opponent to safely drop an assassin in.
You don’t have to just think defensively either – having a plan to take assassins out before they can cause too many problems is also viable. Consider our Thousand Sons conundrum from earlier – the army tends to do a decent amount of its ranged damage via psychic, and the “default” ranged options outside that might struggle to push through a Culexus even if it is positioned out front to block smites and can thus be shot. A unit of Tzaangor Enlightened (which are already good enough to sometimes show up in lists) could potentially be a great counter to this – with “Prescience” and a Shaman you can buff them so their auto-hit/wound goes off on a roll of 4+, which means a unit of 9 gets within a hair’s breadth of killing a Culexus in a single volley on average dice. In the grim darkness of the far future, “more efficient murder” can be the trump card in a lot of situations.
The time has come – you’re at a tournament, it’s the first round and there’s an Imperium player across the table whoser list seems to mysteriously only add up to 1,915 points.
Hopefully if you’ve reviewed your list with the tips from the previous section in mind you’re a little better prepared than you might have been otherwise, but it’s quite likely that there are still ways that a highly-trained killer can spoil your day and boot you into the desolate wasteland that is the 0-1 bracket. Your next step to avoiding this is to be smart in deployment.
Because you’ve followed our advice and assessed your list for weaknesses, you should know which units you need to worry about being targeted. This is most pressingly relevant against a possible Vindicare assassin, as they’re the most likely to actually deploy on the board. If that’s the one you’re most worried about, choose a deployment zone with decent access to LOS blocking terrain (if you win that roll off) and put the units you don’t want killed behind it!
Outside of dealing with a Vindicare, when placing your vulnerable units you need to be planning ahead. You know that you’re going to have either one or two movement phases before the threat of deep-striking assassins goes “live” so think ahead: How are you going to move those units to keep them protected? If your character is currently cowering behind a wall, is there another wall that they might be able to zip behind turn 1? If you’re trying to shield an infantry unit from an eversor, is there a solid piece of impassable terrain that can shield one direction for you while you screen the other ones?
Given that you know which of your units might be vulnerable, consider holding them till later in deployment to put down, especially if you have more drops than your opponent. As the “Operative Requisition Sanctioned” stratagem is currently worded (though honestly this needs a FAQ), your opponent can choose to hold off using it till you’ve deployed everything even when you have more drops, but at least if they do you’ll get the +1 on the roll off where you otherwise might not have done in formats using that deployment style. This also simply might not occur to opponents who are getting their strategies and hot takes from inferior outlets.
Don’t forget to use any mitigations you did decide to put in your list too – there’s no point adding bodyguards if they’re not standing next to the right models!
While deploying and playing defensively is important, make sure you don’t go so far that you do the assassin’s job for them – if you keep key units in the backfield all game such that they don’t fulfill their purpose you might not lose them, but you’ve effectively let the assassin take them out of the game and kill something else.
Finally, at least consider any stratagems/other abilities your army gives you access to that permit re-deploying units after deployment is complete especially, again, against the Vindicare. You can think outside the box with this – the Alpha Legion/Raven Guard strats that let you “queue up” a 9” move for a model at the end of deployment might not normally be considered as defensive tools, but if there’s no one terrain piece that will hide your vital Librarian from every possible Vindicare sightline, consider spending a point to let him dive for cover in an appropriately action-movie esque way once the assassin is placed.
Screening and Staying Safe
If you’re playing this game competitively, you know how to screen, or at least the basics of it. Nasty mean things might appear 9” away from your stuff at any moment, so keeping a protective bubble around the squishy underbelly of your army is often good practice anyway. This is more important than ever against assassins, but they throw some extra challenges into the mix. Most notably:
- The Callidus can come in 4-8” away, depending on how they roll. This obviously means you need to condense your units in a bit more closely than normal.
- The Eversor might want to go after things you’d conventionally use for screening like large infantry hordes. They also have a 3D6” charge, so you can’t “get away” with letting something come in 11” away like you normally might in extremis.
Keep aware of these changed numbers, and remember that specifically with the Eversor, while it gets a 3D6” charge it can still only declare if the target is within 12”, so if you can keep him more than that distance away from his prey he can’t get into them straight off.
Sometimes screening effectively can just mean playing a bit more defensively in general. Especially if you go second (where the Deep Strike threat goes “live” earlier but also ends sooner), you might just need to adapt your plan to push a bit less far out of your initial deployment for the first few turns.
Finally, make sure to keep any mitigations you’ve included “live”. If you’re dastardly plan is for a Farseer to get his pet Crimson Hunter to blow an inbound assassin off the board, make sure he ends up within 6” of it after moving. If you’ve gone first and needed a character on-board to do things turn 1, can you afford for them to get back into their transport for turn 2? Is it really worth getting that Warlock out of his Wave Serpent just to cast a random Protect when there’s nothing in Jinx range?
Assassins aren’t pushovers but they’re not the toughest thing in the world either. Both Callidus and Eversor will evaporate rapidly when exposed to smite and other psychic assaults, and if you think you’re going to have one of these coming for you, picking one of the “off-brand” smites like Psychic Scream or Executioner that many factions get can be a very good choice for your pskyers, as with a bit of luck on some D3s you can take them straight out by comboing a Smite with the other power. Non-psychic sources of Mortal Wounds like the Brazen Skull stratagem from Vigilus Ablaze can also very quickly put them down. Finally, enough volume fire, especially S4 shooting like bolters, will put paid to these ones without too much trouble.
The Vindicare and Culexus are tricker beasts, the Vindicare because he’s “live” from miles away and has hit mods, and the Culexus because of his Etherium. If you get to shoot at them, positive hit modifiers are useful against both, and hit re-rolls are good against the Culexus – because he sets the firer’s BS to 6 rather than modifying the roll, you don’t fall down on “order of operations” stopping you re-rolling a 5. If you’re lucky enough to have access to them, auto-hit weapons on fast platforms like a Hemlock are great at taking out a carelessly placed Vindicare but I realise not everyone uses the perfect army. A Vindicare of your own is actually a serious consideration for a counterpick if you’re playing Imperium, have an Assassin slot and are most worried about the impact these might have on your army, as he neatly ignores the defensive nonsense of both of these.
If you can’t muster the tools to kill them, what these two are a lot more vulnerable to is simply being tied up in combat, where they’re much, much worse than either of their stabby counterparts. Pre-index, I’ve dealt with a pesky Vindicare hiding on top of a tower by just flying a Raider up there and parallel parking in his face for the rest of the game. It was hilarious, I’m not sorry and I fully intend to do it again.
That’s the overview (where inevitably we’ve talked a bit about some specifics), and hopefully takes you through the kind of things you need to consider to overcome assassins in general. To build on that, the rest of this article will scoot through each in turn, highlighting what they’re good at killing and specific things you can do against them.
What they’re good against
- Characters with 4W or less
- Elite infantry
- Add transports
- Add bodyguards
- Add relics/traits that increase wounds
- Substitute non-infantry equivalents
- Deploy key characters last and behind LOS blockers.
- Use vehicles to make your own LOS blockers in emergencies.
- Look for routes to tie the Vindicare up in melee.
- Don’t get put too hard on the defensive – he won’t go away unless you solve him.
The Vindicare is the assassin most people are most scared of (at least if the Reddit comments admonishing me for suggesting any of the others might be as good in some matchups are anything to go by) and it’s arguably for good reason – of all of them, if you don’t plan around him he’s the most likely to just take you to pieces.
You don’t have to let him though. He’s probably the easiest to counteract via list substitutions or mitigations, and switches off the second you can tag him in melee. If you end up playing on planet bowling green there might not be a huge amount you can do about him, but with the advent of good, cheap MDF terrain the vast majority of tournaments pack a decent amount of LOS blocking terrain on their tables – certainly enough to hide a few characters.
In some ways, while you want to be careful of him the key thing is not to let the threat he represents mind trick you into not even playing. We went through some of his maths last time, and unless you’re letting him shoot multiple premium targets per turn his fail case is higher than you might think. As long as what he’s shooting at has “done its job” by the time he pops it, losing it might not be the end of the world – if you’re playing Orks, getting off the first “Da Jump” with a Weirdboy is the really important one, not the ones on subsequent turns. If things are going OK, sometimes you just have to be bold and take the risk.
What they’re good against
- Stratagem-heavy armies
- T3 invuln-dependent characters
- Bring more CP supplying detachments.
- Reduce your dependencies on early combos.
- Bring more screening chaff.
- Bring things you can do if you have to play defensively for a few turns.
- Take it slow – give them the first turn and wait her out.
- Weigh your stratagems carefully – still do your key combos, but be a bit harsher about re-rolls and incremental value options.
The Callidus is definitely up there with the Vindicare in terms of inflicting mind games on you, but there’s a big difference – you can actually wait her out. Letting a Vindicare put you too much on the defensive can be absolutely fatal, because slowing down just gives them more time to do their wicked work.
Especially if you go second, sometimes just playing a bit more cautiously for a few turns is the way to deal with the Callidus. She has no real defensive options out of Deep Strike, so outside of the CP drain, she’s very reliant on killing something worthwhile the turn she appears to make her points back before getting merced. Screening for a 4” drop is a pain, but far from impossible, especially if you’ve brought plenty of screening chaff (which conveniently also often ends up giving you more CP). As long as you’ve brought some options with range, a slow, rolling advance out of your deployment zone can still keep your best things safe from her. If your army doesn’t really do range (i.e. Daemons, some Ork lists) you should hopefully at least have the bodies to absolutely saturate the board out a decent distance in front of your prime targets.
Other than that, be mindful of the risk from her Stratagem tax. Don’t let it stop you doing your key combos/setting up critical protection – if you’re playing Loota Star, you still need to do your thing turn 1, and if nasty uncle Hemlock has come to mess with your Knight Crusader, you still want to Rotate Ion Shields, but maybe hold off on “nice to haves” that offer incremental advantage like “Skyreaper Protocols” or “Solar Pulse”.
What they’re good against
- Infantry Hordes
- Artillery Car Parks
- Put infantry in transports.
- Bring screening for artillery.
- Swap out units for their mechanized options (which they’re least good against).
- Consider screening your infantry with flying vehicles/transports.
- Understand the Eversor’s tricks.
- Layer your units carefully.
Eversors can put the hurt on pretty much everything, but they definitely have their favoured types of prey. Valuable horde infantry like Ork Boyz or tooled-up units of Acolyte Hybrids are their favourite, but their very reliable charge out of deep strike means that getting amongst artillery pieces or heavy weapon teams is also a threat from them.
You need to make sure they can’t do that. Either bring some cheaper chaff that you don’t mind screening further out with and sacrificing, or flip things on their head and see if you can just screen with your vehicles. This comes more naturally to me because plane-related shenanigans and sacrificial Wave Serpents are the bread and butter of the kind of lists I like to play, but if your opponent isn’t packing heavy smite output then pushing out a bubble around some key infantry using vehicles is a non-ridiculous prospect (especially if they’re actual fliers).
There are to tricks the Eversor has up their sleeve that you need to properly understand to effectively play against them.
The first is the Sensor Array. This lets them shoot at a unit that falls back from them. We didn’t really talk about this last week both because it doesn’t affect what matchups they’re good in, and because it’s badly worded and needs a FAQ, specifically on when during the fall back the shooting happens, and if ranges apply. Consensus (but not unanimous) opinion thus far is that they do, meaning that if you fall back a vehicle from him make sure they’re more than 4” away, as otherwise you’re getting melta-bombed. Until GW issue a FAQ on this, it may be worth asking the TO at an event which way they’re ruling this so you don’t get caught out by a faint shout of “yeet” followed by your vehicle getting blown to pieces. Entirely separate to this, his pistol is every bit as nasty against infantry as his Gauntlet is, so maybe don’t fall back 5-man squads from him, they’ll just get shot apart.
The second is the Hypermetabolism Stratagem, which gives him a 4+ FNP. This doesn’t apply to Mortal Wounds, so smiting him to death is still entirely plausible (which you should probably gently point out if your opponent uses it in the Psychic phase, don’t be that guy). It also has to be used at the start of the phase. Make sure you clearly give your opponent a window to do it in before you start rolling any dice, but they definitely can’t do it after, for example, you’ve hit and wounded with a Lascannon.
Finally, remember that he melts down, so if you can kill him from a “scientific distance” (6”) make sure you do so. No one likes mortal wounds in the face. Except maybe Slaanesh. You do you Slaanesh.
What they’re good against
- Make sure you can kill one if you normally depend on psychic for ranged damage.
- Add mobility options to your psykers to avoid their bubble.
- Use modifiers to hit, they still work and they help.
- Be aware of their radius – they generally can’t screen a base the size of a Knight’s from all angles.
- Remember they penalise friendly psychic/denies too now, so layering with a cheap denier isn’t as good.
- Be aware of their aggressive threat range, their new +Damage strat makes them exceedingly dangerous to a Psyker without an invulnerable save.
The nice thing about a Culexus Assassin is that they’re a lot less likely to “come for you”. Of the four types, they’re the one that sees the most “defensive” play, usually standing near something gigantic like a Castellan and trying to protect it from handsome, sophisticated jerks casting Doom at it. It has to be on the board in order to provide this protection, and arguably at that point you can just deal with it like you would any other unit in 40k.
The specific things you need to build for are making sure you can still get off powers that you must land while it’s about, and clearing one out if you’re one of the few armies that really relies on the psychic phase for their damage output. For the former case, swapping your psykers to bike/jump pack versions (or adding mobility relics like “Faolchu’s Wing”) can help with positioning around their 18” bubble. For the latter, make sure you’re packing ways of boosting your hit rolls (or better, hitting automatically), or if all else fails, just sheer rate of fire. They’re a pain to kill, but enough bullets will take them out in the end.
As with the Eversor, you do need to be a little careful of their special tricks, in this case both their stratagems. Given that it’s -4AP and can snipe psykers, boosting their gun to damage D3 can pose a serious threat to a valuable psyker without an invuln like a librarian, so watch out for that. Doubling down on their role as a bodyguard, their other stratagem lets them force a unit that’s within 3” at the start of the fight phase to fight last. This is cool, but I’m not super convinced it’s that practical – because it happens before pile-in moves, with a bit of care a skilled player will often be able to navigate around this as long as they remember it’s there. This is especially true because the kind of things that are worth investing in a whole assassin just to bodyguard are often on quite big bases. If you’re throwing a 3D6” charging smash captain as a Knight with one of these nearby, just remember this exists and work around it and you should be OK. No one wants to get stepped on.
Hopefully you now feel a bit better equipped to face down the menacing operatives of the Officio Assassinorum, and hopefully I will be allowed back into the cool Xenos club. We hope you enjoyed reading, and will see you again soon.