TheChirurgeon’s Road to NoVA, Part 5: Do Practice Games Against Count?

Holy shit does time fly fast. We’re now entering the final month before NoVA, where realistically my army has to be done by the 28th of August so I can drive down to DC to get my games in. That means that by my estimate, I have roughly 60 or so hobby hours of time left before it’s too late to do more work. That’s… not a lot. The good news is that I’m making good progress! The bad news is, I may have more work to do than I thought.

First off, let’s review the major things I needed to finish:

The Kytan

My Large Adult Plastic/Resin Hybrid Son

I’m making good progress on this guy. I’ve laid down some basecoats and shading for the black, plus I’ve got a lot of gold trim work done on him as well, and I’ve laid out the red spots, which give him a great pop of color that ties him in to my other Hounds of Abaddon. I feel good about having this guy done by the end of the week.

The Lord Discordant

Not great. He’s just primed, and I know he’s gonna be a pain in the ass to paint. The good news is, I’m pretty set on taking the Kytan instead of going with Chaos Knights, so that’ll cement my plans to make him a Black Legion Lord Discordant instead of a Red Corsairs one.

The Dark Apostle and His Two Yabbos

These guys have been primed, but they should paint up relatively quickly.

A Wad of Cultists

I have about 30 autogun cultists, which is great. I need closer to 50, which is not great. The upside is that if I don’t paint all 50, I can at least run them as pistol/CCW cultists, which isn’t ideal, but at that point they’re more a CP battery than actual on-the-table value. Though I may also just want to cut them entirely. More on that in a moment.

The Extra Stuff

Here’s where things get real dicey. I have enough points left over in my list to accommodate one special unit in the area of 250 points. Up to this point, I’ve been filling that space with a Rhino full of Berserkers, a standby from my army last year. The Berserkers are an easy choice for me right now because I have a bunch of them painted, including 5 that I recently modeled and painted using the new Shadowspear marines.

My beautiful 32mm based boys

They’re great, but the major problem is that a Rhino full of Berserkers is… well, just OK mostly. They’re beasts in close combat, but they need to get there and that means bringing a Rhino. Still, I don’t hate them, and they work as well with Abaddon as most of the army. That said, after my practice games, I’m concerned about where my plans have left me, and am considering some alternatives, such as dropping 15 cultists to swap the Berserkers out for a trio of Obliterators, or looking at Terminators instead.

Also, if I do go with the Berserkers, I’d have to either convert five more or put base extenders on five of my older small ones. It’s faster to do the latter, but I’d want to do the former. They’re less work than almost any other option I’d take, but there’s still some work to do if I go with them. We’re rapidly approaching the point where the work I’ve already done will dictate what models I bring to NoVA, rather than the optimal list or configuration.


Practicing With the Army

Painting all these fuckos is only half the battle. I quickly learned last year that if I wanted to make a good showing this year, I’d need to practice with the army to acquaint myself with how to play it and use it (it took me two games last year to figure out that Abaddon needs to be walking with the Cultists, for example). The downside to practice games is that playing them takes away from valuable hobby hours that I’ve budgeted. Fortunately for me, I was able to get in some games over my vacation.

Every year, my group of friends and I get together and rent a house somewhere for a trip we’ve started calling “Crewcation.” This year we rented a sizable house in upstate Pennsylvania for a week of home-cooked family-style meals, drinking, whitewater rafting, drinking, board games, and drinking. Fellow goons and 40k players and SD47 are also regular attendees, which meant some opportunities to test out my list against another list tuned for the GT.

OK, so you may already have read about how those games turned out. But hopefully I can recap some of that from a different angle and provide some more context.

For reference, here’s the list I was running:

Red Corsairs Battalion (420 Points, +8 CP)
HQ: Huron Blackheart (105)
HQ: Sorcerer w/Jump Pack (120)
Troops: 5x CSMs (65)
Troops: 5x CSMs (65)
Troops: 5x CSMs (65)

Black Legion Battalion (818 Points, +7 CP)
HQ: Abaddon (Warlord, 240)
HQ: Sorcerer (98)
Troops: 24x Cultists (120)
Troops: 10x Cultists (50)
Troops: 10x Cultists (50)
Elites: 10x Berserkers w/Chainaxe and Icon (190)
Transport: Chaos Rhino (70)

Black Legion Supreme Command Detachment (760 Points, 0 CP)
Soulforged Pack (-1 CP)
HQ: Lord Discordant on Helstalker (180)
HQ: Dark Apostle w/2x Disciples (110)
HQ: Warpsmith (60)
LoW: Kytan Ravager (410)

The general idea is that the Kytan, while not a Knight, hits about as hard as one and, having the HERETIC ASTARTES and BLACK LEGION keywords, benefits from abilities, powers, and auras that affect those units. That means re-rolls from Abaddon, +1 to hit from the Lord Discordant, double Movement from Warptime — the thing has got some tricks. It can also be repaired by the Warpsmith and the Lord Discordant in a pinch, giving it a touch of extra survivability. Meanwhile, the Lord Discordant hits like a truck in his own right and the Berserker rhino can threaten hordes and other targets, usually arriving around a turn after the Kytan. The general strategy is to build a small castle around the Kytan using the Lord Discordant, the Red Corsairs Sorcerer, the Dark Apostle, and the Warpsmith. The Warpsmith heals, the Dark Apostle uses Benediction of Darkness to give the Kytan -1 to be hit with Ranged Weapons, and the Sorcerer can drop Warptime to give the Kytan a boost out of nowhere. With the Soulforged Pack specialist detachment, it can even advance and charge in the same turn, though a Warptimed Kytan already has an average threat range of 31″ before Advancing — if I want it in combat on T1, it can get there.

That said, getting there sometimes meant out-kicking my coverage. Let’s dig into the games.

Game 1

We played NoVA missions 1, 2, and 3 from 2018, using an approximation of the terrain and a stopwatch to time the games so we could try to clock in under three hours for each, and so could get a feel for what a three-hour, 2,000-point game feels like. For my secondaries, I chose Strike the Rank and File, owing to ANAmal only having 3 5-man intercessor squads as his troops, Moment of Bloodshed, counting on my ability to do multiunit kills 3-4 turns per game, and Engineers, because my Red Corsairs marines needed something to do besides look pretty and generate CP. Of course the NoVA rules and scoring for primaries and secondaries changed like a week before we played these games and neither of us knew about it until I sat down to write this article, so pretty much all of our practice re: Choosing secondaries was uh, a bit worthless. Ah well.

Game 1 uses Dawn of War Deployment, which is a good deal for me. had fewer units, so I was likely to go second each game. But with the short range of his units’ guns (30″ for the Hellblasters), he opted to go second in game 1 despite winning the roll. Which uh, was a mistake.

Game 1, right before my first turn

I dropped the Benediction on the Kytan, rushed it up the middle of the table, warptimed it to get it into’s face, and then charged his Hellblasters with it, wiping them out immediately. ANAmal was able to use his bracketed jets and the rest of his army to take out the Kytan in the following turn, but then it exploded and killed half his army. I walked up the board with the rest of the force and tabled him on turn 3. Full victory for Chaos, 36 to 8.

The big lesson I got out of this was that it’s really, really easy to run the Kytan forward and get it out of range of the various buffs I’m trying to keep on it. It’s a little faster than the Discordant and the Jump Pack Sorcerer, and much faster than the Warpsmith and Dark Apostle. Once it loses Benediction it’s pretty vulnerable and once it gets out of range of the +1 to Hit and Re-roll auras, it’s not nearly as fearsome. So I resolved to slowing things down in the following game.


Game 2

Game 2 used the Hammer and Anvil deployment, which allowed ANAmal to place his marine pile further back on the table. We had previously talked about screening units and so ANAmal opted to not put his Hellblasters in front this time. I won the roll-off to go first in Game 2, but overall it went much better for him as my slower approach took me two turns to reach his battle pile, allowing him to sweep forward with his jets and wipe out my engineers. Fun note: The Benediction of Darkness completely fucks Hellblasters by giving them a -1 to hit that also applies to Overwatch shooting, forcing them to either fire at regular charge or lose one third of their number every time they fire. In the first two games, ANAmal took more wounds from Supercharging Hellblasters than he dealt to the Kytan. In game 2, the Kytan still crashed into the pile, but couldn’t reach the Hellblasters, instead settling for Azrael and the Darkshroud. The Berserkers meanwhile took out the veterans and Intercessors before getting wiped out.

This became a familiar sight.

Overall, ANAmal’s game 2 went much better, and he was able to hold me to 28 points while putting up 8 of his own, though he still lost. After losing the Kytan and the Lord Discordant I gave up on trying to table him (I already had 1,500 points of dead Dark Angels scored), and just fell back to hold the four objectives I needed to max out my primary scoring.


Game 3

Time to apply all those lessons. Game 3 uses Vanguard Strike deployment, AKA the weird diagonal corners deployment map. ANAmal likely turtled up a bit too much at the start of this one, as his jets ranged forward with nothing to back them up until I was in range to threaten with charges. Once again, the Kytan put in work, but this time had the benefit of Discordant and Apostle effects for more of the game.

Game 3, wherein the Berserkers were somehow the first into combat

Game 3 was interesting in that it was the only game where the Bersekers were the first unit into combat, owing to a Warptime that double-moved them after disembarking and putting them in position to take out some veterans, two squads of intercessors, and a Lieutenant. Unfortunately ANAmal got hot on his save rolls and they couldn’t finish off all their targets, leaving them open to fire the following turn as their quarry fell back. When the Kytan did rush in, it put a major dent in ANAmal’s forces, and the Discordant followed closely behind. Ultimately I didn’t table ANAmal, and he survived to the end of turn 6. The final score was something like 24-11 in this one, his best showing yet.

Not gonna lie, not tabling ANAmal in two out of three games seems like a bad sign, but I probably could have in game 2 if I’d pushed harder. At that point I wasn’t liable to score any more points for killing more of his units so I just backed off to avoid rolling. That seems like I’m half-assing it, but I think it’s also good for his self-esteem or something.


Lessons Learned

There’s admittedly something bittersweet about practicing against ANAmal. I can’t understate how helpful it was to get a handle on my own army and better understand where things can fall apart, what stratagems I need to be aware of, and when I need to activate certain abilities. And it was great to be able to help him out. On the flip side though, his army really doesn’t look like any of the competitive armies I expect to face and so there’s only so much value I can get out of practicing against his list. I’ll need to get in another practice game or two this month against more common armies if I want to really test the mettle of my strategy.

Otherwise, here are some other things I learned:

  • Don’t let the Kytan outrun the army.
    There’s a real danger in doing this against some armies, where if the Kytan can’t absolutely demolish the center of an enemy force by charging in, it’ll find itself out of protection and destroyed by retaliatory fire. Protecting the Kytan can be very important.
  • Engineers seem like the right call for Secondaries
    Having tested it a few times, I like taking Engineers as one of my secondaries, since it gives me something to do with two of the Red Corsairs squads. These could potentially be swapped out for Cultists if I need to redirect the Corsairs to shoot stuff, but I like the idea of being able to replace an Engineer squad in a pinch with the More Where That Came From stratagem.
  • Figure out something for Huron to do
    Huron is an efficient Chaos Lord/Psyker combo, but man does he need something to do in a given game. Against ANAmal he put in some work smiting/heavy flamering jets, but I need to be better about making sure he’s being used in real games.
  • Move the Auras and buffs first, then move their targets
    There were a couple of turns early on where I moved the Kytan before say, the Jump Pack Sorcerer or the Dark Apostle before his Disciples. This led to some rough moments where they didn’t close the gap as well as I’d have liked Advancing. So by game 3 I learned that it’s usually better to move the slowest units first, then figure out how to play around their run moves. Again, it’s really about not out-kicking my coverage here and making sure that my approach is protected and gets the appropriate assets into place at the same time.
  • The Cultists May Not Be a Great Fit for the Army
    Right now the Cultists are the one unit in the army I’m not sure about. I can use them for capturing objectives, but they’re not particularly resilient and a 30-man blob piled around Abaddon just doesn’t have the punch of a 40-man group (plus they’ve lost the +1 Ld and the ability to advance and shoot). Ultimately, they’re the one part of the army I’m really not sure about, and I’ve considered dropping them down to 3 squads of 10 or swapping some of them out for 5-man marine squads in order to add plasma shots. Alternatively, if I just run 3 squads of 10 Cultists, that frees up another 70 points to spend on something like an Exalted Champion to put with the Berserkers or I could replace them altogether with 3 Obliterators. I’m really not sure what the right move is here, so expect this to change a bit over the next few weeks.


I’m sure I’ll figure it out. Probably.

At this point, the core of the list is pretty much set. If something changes and I go insane, a Wardaddy detachment is still on the table, but I like the Kytan and how it plays for now. Now I just have to get shit painted and get in a couple more practice games with the new NoVA scoring rules. My aim is to get in games against Orks, Tau, and C’Tan spam Necrons over the next few weeks, plus an admech/knights list if I can manage. Unfortunately, Eldar are still a pretty big hole in my local group’s meta, but the upside is that I can bother Corrode and Wings over and over again with questions on how to fight them, so that helps.

Anyways, my next update will probably have a tone somewhere between “total panic” and “resigned disappointment” as it relates to my list. So check back in a couple of weeks for that fun update!