The Dark Fortress

Deathwing: An Overview

4th 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.

Written by: DV8, a Deathwing commander

Deathwing overview

The Deathwing are one of the visible differences in organization that set the Dark Angels apart from their Adeptus Astartes brethren. Although a subject of much debate, what is important to know is that the Angel progeny of Lion el'Jonson are equipped with great numbers of Tactical Dreadnought suits, more commonly know as Terminator armour. This has allowed the 1st Company of the Dark Angels to take to the field of battle entirely in Terminator armour, a tradition that has been maintained through the harsh millennia.

To field a Deathwing army is to have at your command the most elite units in the game. Terminator squads are capable of shrugging off the most grievous of blows and dealing death to even the toughest enemies. Backed up by mighty Dreadnoughts — great warriors of the past — and supported by lumbering Land Raiders, a Deathwing army arrayed for battle is a sight to behold!

Like any other army, the heart and soul of the Deathwing are its Terminators, and an interesting, if not challenging, variant style of play is to field only Terminators on foot, without the support of Dreadnoughts or Land Raiders. However, where any other army would be found lacking were they to restrict themselves in such a way, the Deathwing are more than capable of holding their own. Terminator squads are a truly versatile unit, with the armour to withstand all but the most deadly of salvos, and the weaponry to take on any foe, mighty or numerous.

This is what this Tactica deals with.

Deathwing principles

Limited resources

Not only are you limited in your choice of units (a grand total of two, barring characters), you are also limited by the number of those units you will have at your disposal. This means optimisation on your part, selecting the proper units and weapons to balance out your army, and to utilise target selection with extreme prejudice. Understand that as a Deathwing player, you will be outnumbered and outmaneuvered by virtually every other army in the game.

Mobility and reach

Without transports or drop pods, you will be unable to outmaneuver your more agile opponents. This means that you will think ahead and formulate a plan, creating a list of objectives you wish achieved. You must be willing to see this plan through to the end, without faltering. Every mistake you make in the movement phase is two turns wasted as you recover (one to make the mistake, and another to reposition). It is in the movement phase that the outcome of many of your games will be determined.

There is also a concept that you must grasp when you begin playing Deathwing, and that is the idea of reach. Every army has it, but most people don't think about it because it is generally the same for most other armies. Reach may change when units are mounted in transports, and may flux depending on whether a unit armed with a heavy weapon chooses to move or remain stationary. Most players tend not to think about this concept. You don't have that luxury.

Terminators always move and shoot as if stationary. They may also charge after firing (including heavy weapons). This means that you should always be on the move. Every turn you do not puts you six inches further away from your objective. This also means that your reach is considerably further than others, as you can fire to full effect on the move.

Be aggressive

A Deathwing army may lack numbers, but it is by no means a defensive force. Always play aggressively, and push the enemy. Force them to react to you, and not the other way around. Take control of the game early on and you will find it much easier to complete your objectives.

Play the odds

Always remember that while one or two guns will not be enough to by-pass your armour, twenty or thirty will. The more firepower that is thrown at you, the odds are the more saves you will fail, and every casualty will slowly add up.

For Terminator Assault squads we have a different situation. Some like to get a shooting weapon as a bit of firepower in a squad that otherwise couldn't have any. Personally I don't bother. I prefer my lightning claw squads to have as many attacks as possible for clearing infantry. I do need the occasional anti-tank/big creature attack though. Often this is achieved by adding a thunder hammer terminator to the squad, however I find it better to give the Sergeant the thunder hammer and upgrade the storm shield to a power sword (the "El Jason pattern" sergeant). This gives him the four thunder hammer attacks on the charge for vehicles/creatures but also leaves him the option of four power weapon attacks too: almost like the lightning claws!

Deep striking

Terminator squads also have the added benefit of always being able to deep strike, regardless of the mission rules being used (exceptions Cityfight missions, where a stratagem must be used). Although this grants you considerable initial mobility, remember that every turn afterwards you are like any other infantry model, moving six inches a turn.

Should you wish to deep strike, think carefully about where you want your squads to enter play, and keep in mind that your units can and will turn up randomly, more often than not arriving piecemeal. For an all-infantry Deathwing army, I highly recommend walking onto the field, rather than deep striking (although there are the rare exceptions where it will be beneficial to deep strike).


The pre-game is incredibly important, both as a time to formulate a game plan, and to size up your opponent. The deployment phase is critical for a Deathwing player, because once the game begins, you are committed; you will not have the opportunity to redeploy. There are several things you want to keep in mind, and what follows is a short list to get you started on what you want to be thinking about:

  • What are the mission objectives?
  • Is the layout of the table beneficial or detrimental to you completing those objectives?
  • What kind of cover is there?
  • Are there visible or invisible lanes of fire, or perhaps chokepoints?

Because you can move and fire to full effect, deployment behind terrain is a good thing. Should you lose first turn, you will be able to avoid the initial volley of incoming fire. Be careful to position your units so that you can move out blazing on your turn.


Always, always, ALWAYS move. This cannot be said enough. If you are not moving, then you are doing something wrong. Stick to your game plan, and always be thinking several steps ahead. You must capitalize on your opponent's mistakes, as they will capitalize on yours (and you will not be able to recover as quickly as they can).

Be especially wary of potential enemy assault units. One thing you want to avoid is unnecessary assaults, especially those that catch you early on in the game. Every unit tied up in an assault is a unit that is not shooting the enemy.


Unit cohesion is absolutely critical. With so few units to coordinate their firepower, efficiency is the name of the game. Remember your objectives and carefully select your targets accordingly. Pressure the enemy and if you can take out whole units, do so. Each enemy unit completely eliminated is one less unit that you have to worry about dealing with later on. Avoid over-extending yourself as well. If you don't think you can afford to waste fire at a unit, then don't try. Never let your units handle more than they are capable of, and never gamble with units.


Never engage in an assault unless you are sure of the outcome. Once you find yourself in a melee, never let yourself become bogged down. You cannot afford to lose a turn of shooting by having a unit or two tied up for several turns, and a war of attrition is one that you can neither afford nor win.

Deathwing list-building

Weaponry and wargear for characters

What follows is an outline of weaponry and wargear suitable for your character(s). When kitting out your characters, remember always never to over-spend. Keep it cheap and simple, as it will allow some measure of flexibility elsewhere with your list.

Storm bolter

A fantastic mainstay weapon, and a great way to get in some more shots without spending too many points. Great for a Chaplain or a Master, but I wouldn't recommend it for a Librarian as half the time you will want to be using your psychic powers.


An expensive way to get a one-shot weapon you wouldn't normally be able to take in Terminator squads. Not highly recommended as the points are better spent elsewhere.

Pair of lightning claws

Great weapon for a Master, as you get a bonus attack and the ability to re-roll your to-wound rolls. Also a good choice for a Chaplain because of the Litanies of Hatred, but then you will have paid extra points for his Crozius Arcanum, which he can no longer use. Not recommended for a Librarian (you want to take full advantage of that Force Weapon).

Power weapon

Respectable choice for a Master. Cheap, yet effective. Also an option for a Librarian or Chaplain bestowing an extra attack, but, at a price.

Power fists and thunder hammers

Why bother? Leave these for the sergeants to tote around.

Storm shield

Great if you want to boost your invulnerable save in close combat.

Sword of Secrets

Fun in a box. Essentially an uber-power Weapon, but at almost triple the points-cost. A good way to turn your Master into a combat monster. For the record, the Sword of Secrets is NOT a relic.


Terminator armour

A mandatory choice, so I'll just give some pointers. Don't forget that because you are using the latest stats in Codex: Space Marines, you are back to paying the full cost for Terminator armour, and that includes Terminator Honors for the bonus attack. Also keep in mind that you can never Sweeping Advance.

Iron Halo

If you absolutely must have that invulnerable save, then go right ahead. But if you really want a relic, your points are better spent on an Adamantine Mantle.

Adamantine Mantle

Great way for your Librarian to run in, soak up hits from the combat monsters out there (like Daemon Princes), and then strike back with the force weapon. Also a decent choice for either a Chaplain or Master.

Weaponry for Sergeants

What follows is an outline of weaponry suitable for your squad sergeants. Again, remember always never to over-spend.

Pair of lightning claws

A nice little way to give your sergeant a little more edge in combat, but remember that you are giving up both a power weapon and your storm bolter. I'd recommend against this, taking instead:

Thunder hammer

A fantastic weapon for Sergeants, as they can't be picked out, and they can still take full advantage of their Storm Bolter. A nice, if somewhat pricey, addition to a Terminator squad.


Same points as listed above, but because they're cheaper for sergeants, they are worth a second look. Combi-flamers are a nice touch for crowd control if you find yourself lacking in that department.


Personal experience and preference, along with the game size, will dictate the optimal number of characters. I personally recommend one and only one regardless of game size, for the very reason that it saves points, and allows you to field more Terminators.

The Grand Master of the Deathwing

He is no longer a mandatory choice, and thank the Emperor for that. Not of much use here, because of Stubborn. Paying the extra points per model means that your army will not gain much from the Rites of Battle. However, taking a Grand Master of the Deathwing is the only way to gain access to the Sword of Secrets, so if you want to use that most potent of weapons, than the Grand Master is for you.

The Chaplain

The cheapest character available, because he does not have to pay for Stubborn, [note: this is NOT officially endorsed by Games Workshop] and he already has a free Power Weapon and the Rosarius. He is the optimal character to choose if you feel your army needs that combat edge. He also has the added benefit of extending Litanies of Hatred to whichever squad he chooses, which is great for helping swing the tide of combat in your favor.

The choice between the Reclusiarch and the Master of Sanctity is one of personal preference. The Leadership bonus means nothing as he is already fearless, so if you feel you would need that extra wound, then take the Master of Sanctity.

The Librarian

The Epistolary is the only choice worth taking in the category of psykers. His Leadership 10 gives you the edge you need to both cast and stop psychic powers with ease. Librarians, however, have the great negative of being enormous points sinks should you choose to deck them out.

Storm of the Emperor's Wrath

This is great for knocking out nearby deep-striking units, or for heavily armored models. It's free too.

Fury of the Ancients
A fantastic choice, as it allows you to pin enemy units and help to minimize incoming fire. It also has the added benefit of virtually unlimited range, letting you extend your reach just that much further.

Fear of the Darkness

A nifty little power, but won't always work considering just how high every other army's Leadership is. Or they tend to have ways to work around it. A neat little surprise if you want to fit it into your list, but not one I would recommend as a mainstay power.

Might of Heroes

Incredibly potent, making your Librarian a combat monster. Also great as support because it can boost models around him; perhaps the thunder hammer toting sergeant, for when something absolutely, positively must die.

Veil of Time

Has its ups and downs. It will make him much more potent in combat, but not by much, as he shouldn't be taking any hits in combat at all.

Vortex of Doom

Basically Storm of the Emperor's Wrath on crack. I would suggest sticking with Storm as Vortex of Doom just isn't worth the points in an already expensive army, for an already expensive model.

Keep in mind that you cannot use both a psychic power, and attempt to instant-kill with your Force Weapon in the same turn, though you can still continue to use the Force Weapon as a Power Weapon. You also cannot take a Familiar as you are equipped with Terminator armour.

The Terminator squads

Because you do not have the mobility of Land Raider transports, the only squad you should take is the Terminator squad. Terminator Assault squads have the unfortunate luck of being equipped with no ranged weapons at all, and in an expensive army that needs all the shots it can get leaves the Terminator Assault squad coming up short.

Unless you plan to free-roam your character around, give your character a Command squad. This gives him the option of Deep Striking with the rest of the army, should you so choose. It also makes him much harder to take down should any enemy reach you in combat. It is also a great way of giving your characters access to Veteran skills (more on that later).

The optimal squad size is six. With five man squads, you only need take three casualties to be below half-strength. With six man squads, you need to take four. Any larger and your squads start becoming too unwieldy and expensive.

Of the three weapon choices that your squads have, assault cannons and cyclone missile Launchers are prime choices. A recommended ratio is 2:1. For every two squads armed with assault cannons, one squad will have cyclone missile Launchers. Although overall, assault cannons are better in every way, cyclones have the added benefit of range, extending your reach further, and allowing you a first-strike weapon to knock out armour, or to wound a monstrous creature, early on in the game. They also allow you the potential of great crowd control as you can fire both the storm bolter and the cyclone in the same turn, on the move.

Your squads also have the option of equipping models with chainfists. Although not absolutely necessary, they are a great way to fill up points, and to individualise squads.

Veteran skills

The following applies to both characters and squads.

Furious Charge

A good skill for characters and their retinues. Librarians get a little edge to knock out enemy characters first, or to start thinning out enemy numbers. Sergeants also benefit as they are armed with power weapons, and will strike at the same time as most other characters. Terminators sporting power fists will still go last, but will get a strength bonus against armor, or the ultra-tough monsters (Wraithlords, Toughness 7 Carnifexes, the Nightbringer, etc).

Tank Hunters

Great skill for squads armed with cyclone missile launchers, making them effectively walking lascannons against enemy armor. Also usable against light armor, as your storm bolters become Str5, allowing you to take out medium tanks.

How I put my Deathwing list together

With all that in mind, I began drafting up my list. I had never used a Librarian before, and with the new psychic powers, I couldn't wait to try one out. So that was on my list of must-haves. An Epistolary, with his superior Leadership and three wounds, would serve me well.

I had initially thought Fear of the Darkness a fun power, and had been keen on trying it out. But after careful consideration, it just wasn't effective, and my Deathwing needed all the edge they could get. On the note of Deathwing, I had also opted to field an army based around the Ultramarines 1st Company at the Battle for Macragge, dubbing them the Ultrawing (although I'm sure that term's been used before).'

In regards to gear, I didn't give him any additional wargear other than mandatory Terminator armour, as I still wanted him to remain relatively inexpensive. I turned towards the psychic powers, and began some crafty calculations. I took for my first power Might of Heroes, and Fury of the Ancients as my second. This way, it only cost me 14 points, as opposed to the 18 it would've cost me had I taken them the other way around. Might would give me the edge to deal with big squads, and Fury would allow my Librarian to cause some damage as I closed with the enemy.

I decided to give my Epistolary a Command squad, so that I could Deep Strike him if necessary, and to act as his bodyguard in-game. After some quick calculations, I allotted four Terminators for this duty. I knew that I would be seeing some combat against big nasty monsters, so I gave both my Librarian and his retinue Furious Charge, to boost their combat prowess. Two Assault Cannons completed the squad.

As I was aiming for 1000 points, I didn't have much else choice. All I could take was two Terminator squads.

First I took a five-man squad, armed with cyclone missile launchers, to be my first strike weapons against enemy armour. I also gave them Tank Hunters to increase their potency.

Second was a six-man squad, armed with two assault cannons. I had six points left, and since I couldn't afford to give the last squad a Veteran skill, I opted for a chainfist instead, to give them some edge against heavy armor in combat.

So I give you:



Epistolary Bastiaan [162 points]
Force Weapon, Psychic Hood, Terminator Armour
Might of Heroes, Fury of the Ancients
Stubborn with Furious Charge.

Terminator Command Squad [232 points]
Sergeant w/ Power Weapon, Storm Bolter
3 w/ Power Fists, 1 Storm Bolter, 2 Assault Cannons
Stubborn and with Furious Charge.


6-man Terminator Squad [315 points]
Sergeant w/ Power Weapon, Storm Bolter
5 w/ Power Fists, 1 Chainfist, 3 Storm Bolters, 2 Assault Cannons

5-man Terminator Squad [290 points]
Sergeant w/ Power Weapon, Storm Bolter
4 w/ Power Fists, 2 Storm Bolters, 2 Cyclone Missile Launchers
all Stubborn and with Tank Hunters.

999 points with 16 Terminators in 3 point-scoring units.


And so I end this article, and I hope those who have read it through from beginning to end will have gleaned some wisdom from my somewhat wordy drivel. The most important thing to remember is that these are not set rules. This Tactica is merely a guideline, and everyone needs to find a style of play that suits them best. The most this article (and others like it) can do is point you in a suitable direction. The journey is for you to make.



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