The Dark Fortress

Deathwing Assault

5th Edition

Note: This tactica is now old and needs an update. Many facts will not be correct for current game. However the general gist is pitched right.

This was the new item in the Deathwing toolbox. The initial impression was that it's shiny and game-winning. However it's not as cut-and-dry a first turn victory method as was originally thought. Let's have a closer look under the hood.

Deep striking is always a risk. Every time you roll for scatter you are taking a risk. There are less risky ways to get your Deathwing squads into action but maybe not as fast nor as effective and certainly not as cheaply. Even if you prefer your Deathwing mechanised or footslogging because you have more control then that's fine as Deathwing Assault (DWA) is always an option you can choose before deployment. It's another way to wrong foot an opponent. But, just to point out that in 5th Edition you must now declare if your squads and characters are going to remain in reserve, and state which characters are joining which squads.

So what is it?

DWA is a unique deployment method that allows 50% of your DW terminator squads held in reserve (rounding up) to enter play via deep strike at the start of your first turn without rolling for entry. The other DW squads remain in reserve and must role for entry as per normal reserve rules.

That's it in a nutshell.

The Pros

Deathwing Assault is free.

  • Gets multiple squads into play quickly and cheaply — no transports required — and if used correctly it can successfully overwhelm a flank/unit and wrest the initiative away from your opponent. In fact it can be a game winner. It is particularly useful when you consider that most terminator ballistic weapons are only 24" range so it enables you to get them deployed and firing from your turn one.
  • There is also the useful bonus of being able to attach ANY terminator-armoured ICs to your termy squad(s) before they deep strike rather than rolling for their reserve entry separately.
  • It should be noted that Dark Angel terminator-armoured models do not themselves possess the Deathwing Assault special rule, not even Belial. They must attach to a Deathwing squad to enter play using this method.

The Cons

  • To work well it needs Ravenwing bike squadron(s) equipped with teleport homers in order to gain precise placement otherwise you are subjected to scatter. To work fantastically well you need to get first turn to avoid the bikes getting shot up, but this isn't an issue with the DWA itself more its application. And beware, DWA-ing in a small number of squads can be a bit of a suicide mission.
  • Heavy terrain tables will hamper the 'safe' landing zones available to use. Similarly playing Imperial Guard, Orks or Nids can cause problems with finding suitable space to plop down into. Experienced enemy players can with a little thought position units to cover possible landing areas, or, just castle up themselves giving away one side of the table and let you get on with it — forcing you to face much of their army with not very much of yours.
  • Like everything associated deep strikimg there is an unpredictability to it all. The only thing you can say with any certainty is what squads/characters will be entering play on your first turn.

Tactical considerations

So before you start leaping in with your termy squads and hoping for a first turn victory there are a few things to carefully consider.

Like it or not the DA Codex is geared towards a multiwing DW/RW setup. The synergy is both fluffy and gameplay-efficient.

With Ravenwing bikes

Bikes with their teleport homers are pretty much mandatory here and that leads to all sorts of complications with list-building and what to do with them once they have homered-in the termies. That aside you need to get the bikes into an advantageous position to start with — I'd say with Ravenwing present you are better going first. Scout the bikes forward and bring in the Deathwing squads.

Bikes have other immediate uses too. You can use them as LOS blockers or to tie up key enemy units in assault. Plus, multiple bike and attack bike units scouting forwards will keep your opponent guessing as to the exact placement of your incoming units and that has got to be a good thing.

Remember, Ravenwing bikes and Deathwing squads can induce a degree of panic in your opponent. For a start with more than one squadron on the table he doesn't really know which squadron is going to be used as the homer site.

No Ravenwing bikes

Of course if you don't use bikes then you can opt to put trust in the scatter dice and see how you fare, but for me that removes a layer of control that is critical to terminator squad placement and success. It is the difference of being in the firing line of just one enemy unit or many which could be disastrous, or being able to assault a unit next turn or not. In this situation it is better to go second. Force your opponent to make the running and create more space for you to drop into.

In a 'pure' Deathwing army scatter is unavoidable so get used to the idea of it happening.

How many squads to use

Consideration must be made to how many DW squads to bring in. As you can bring in 50% of your reserve squads rounding up, the following options are open to you:

1 squad in reserve - 1 squad available to DWA (100%)
2 squads in reserve - 1 squad available to DWA (50%)
3 squads in reserve - 2 squads available to DWA (66%)
4 squads in reserve - 2 squads available to DWA (50%)
5 squads in reserve - 3 squads available to DWA (60%)
6 squads in reserve - 3 squads available to DWA (50%)
7 squads in reserve - 4 squads available to DWA (57.1%)
etc etc.

You can see the sweet points are odd-numbered DW squads held in reserve with 1, 3 and 5 squads being suited to the scale of most 1500-1850 sized armies. With these squad totals you leave less of your units hanging around before entering play.

Where to deploy

Above all else there are two fundamental measurements to remember here. One, deploy the central model about 12" away from the nearest enemy unit to ensure you can still move and assault the turn after you land. Two, make sure your terminators have 7" clear space to scatter in most directions to guarantee a safe landing. Otherwise you risk the mishap table. Now forget both these measurements bcause deep striking is all about RISK.

Tactical/terrain/mission and enemy army type all have an influence on deployment. A rule of thumb is wherever possible bring in two squads (at least) in one place to maximise your own firepower whilst splitting that of your opponent. Flanks or behind enemy lines (ideal for taking out armour) are key placement points — the idea is always to overwhelm a portion of the enemy for a massive local superiority. Yes flanks and enemy rear can be cluttered — it's a risk you must take.

Another option is to bring them in behind cover to ambush enemy units, or deploy directly onto objectives. Once on objectives termy squads can be quite hard to shift and will act as an advance guard for any follow up units to monopolise the advantage.

It should not be underestimated the psychological impact of bringing your squads in directly upon an objective really early on in a game. Termy units aren't by any means impervious to taking casualties, but they are great 'holders' whilst other units in your army follow up the advantage or give covering fire from afar.

Obviously it is critical to limit LOS to the incoming unit(s) as much as possible to avoid a piecemeal turkey-shoot. Remember that when entering play via deep strike you are very vulnerable to template/AP2/rapid firing weapons — something else to think about before deciding where to come in. Also, your small tightly bunched squad is a juicy target to assault.

Whatever, keep your relatively small units from being completely shot-up on arrival and frustrate your opponent just use your common sense and screen either with cover or intervening troops (yours or your opponents).

Arming your squads

This last point is interesting when determining how to arm the DWA squad(s). If you are bringing in just one squad then go shooty-biased with an assault cannon, traditional PW/SB sarge and one pair of lightning claws. Why? — well simply because firepower is its own defence and as the unit deep striking in can't move or assault on arrival an assault-biased squad is largely useless until it gets into cc next turn but with any luck, although it does put assaulters off coming at you. In balance though offensive firepower is always preferable.

If you are bringing in more than one squad then you can consider a more assault-biased loadout with more claws than guns in a support squad if you want. Heavy flamers are good in some situations and they ignore cover and auto hit; cyclones, well the best that can be said there is that you can mount claws on them, but really with their range these weapons need to be on the table from the off if you use them at all.

I should mention that you can upgrade one squad to include an Apothecary and Chapter Banner if Belial is in your army and these are always recommended — especially the former.

Neat tricks

There aren't many as DWA is itself a bit of a 'trick', but there are several ways to extend the usefulness of Deathwing Assault to get the most out of it:

  • Use your bikes as decoys to mask your real DWA landing zone.
  • ALWAYS attach a terminator-armoured IC to an Deathwing-Assaulting termy squad if you have one available. This could mean using Belial himself (the most obvious candidate) but a termy Librarian would suit the bill too using his Hellfire template on landing and his Force Barrier to soak up any wounds; to my experience the Chaplain is best assaulting from a Land Raider.

Back-up units

Dreadnoughts in drop pods are great for backing up teleporting termy squads and acting as screens, but they can only come in on turn two at best. The same goes for outflanking Ravenwing bike units. Any ranged heavy support platform/weapon is ideal for softening up potential landing zones, I find forward moving Land Raiders can be a great distraction to the enemy who will not know which way to point his guns. Dreadnoughts with plasma cannons and missile launchers can be very effective from range to with their two blast templates. Whatever you opt for the thing is not to let your squads flounder on their own or you will lose them for no gain.

Remember that although your first wave units go into the thick of it naked, close-support backup is ALWAYS on the way (hopefully on your second turn) by your remaining reserve squads entering play, use the same tactical care and consideration for placement of these units as you did for the first wave.


As ever it takes a steady nerve to deploy termies via deep strike and Deathwing Assault is no different in that respect. All it really means is that you get more units entering play quicker, and, in some case with a degree of accuracy. It is not always about getting close to the enemy but simply getting into a decent position before he can react. It IS about gaining the initiative and forcing to make your opponent react — sometimes rashly — rather than concentrating on his own game plan. Nothing focuses the mind better than 10 termies and 2 ICs turning up unexpectedly on turn 1. It is not the panacea for an all-conquering Deathwing/multiwing army but if used correctly and carefully can provide the basis upon which to build a victory.

DWA is very much a strength-in-depth strategy with the 'spear tip' of incoming termy squads dependent upon back up units to drill home the advantage. It is also very Dark Angels fluffy.

Well that's it for now, it's quite short as there isn't heaps to say, so the best of luck.

Hope you enjoyed this.



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