The Armchair General by Mike Foulks

4 Dec

Failure is the foundation of success, and the means by which it is achieved (Lao Tzu)


Bad matchups.  They happen to us all.  Some armies are more prone to them than others but even the commander of the most balanced “put forward” style force approaches the list at the start of each round of a tournament with some trepidation, knowing that they might walk into something horific.

Usually over the past few months it has been Grey Knight lists that make most of us squirm with their frighteningly efficient Psyflemen dreadnoughts, cheap as chips scoring accolyte / Psyback combos and devastating hammer units like Paladins and Death Cultists.  At the Onslaught tournament in Bristol fully 1/3 of the pack was Grey Knights and for anyone hoping not to see too many of them that was upsetting!  This over population has however led to the development of a new breed: the armies designed to hunt Grey Knight.  More power to you if you can do this succesfully.  My best attempt was the list I detailed last blog with 10 lascannon shots to try and shut the dreadnoughts down turn 1 and a plan of sitting 2 land raiders in the corners of my deployment zone to minimise return fire from psycannons.  It kinda worked, though at Onslaught all the Grey Knights that I faced were of the “FLYSTORMRAVENSINYOURFACEFULLOFDEATHCULTASSASINSBOOMHEADSHOTLOLSUCKSTOBEYOU” variety.


I exaggerate a little for comic effect, my opponents were gentlemen about it but the mobility of the storm raven and the choppy choppy of the death cultists all backed up by those damned Psyflemen (seriously, someone in Mars made a killing when they took out the patent on psybolt + autocannon = win) convinced me it was time to try something different for a bit.


With my Chaos Space Marine dual lash list I used to ask myself 3 questions to determine if it was a good matchup or not.

1)      Will I be able to avoid any psycic defence my opponent might have?

2)      Are there big expensive units that I can lash together and pound with plasma cannons?

3)      Will I be able to avoid taking lascannon shots or high volumes of strength 8 shots against my obliterators?


If the answers to at least 2/3 of these questions were yes then I knew it was game on!  Unfortunately even if Grey Knights haven’t got a Librarian or he is out of position they still have aegis and improved aegis on their dreads to counter the lash.  With accolyte spam so prevalent and paladins boasting a second wound it is hard to take out big groups of expensive things with plasma cannons.  Finally, Dreadnoughts are simply death to Obliterators and Plague Marines.  These expensive models lose all of their defences with a failed armour save vs strength 8 shots and the torrents of fire that Psyflemen put out ensure that you will be taking a lot of saves.


So a couple of weeks ago I bullied a few friends into painting up their armies so that we could descend en-mass on Warfare in Reading.  Looking down the list of entrants I saw just 2 names that I recognised: the Reddy brothers were in town.  Now I know they are Blood Angel players so my brain logically started asking: will they have avoidable psycic defence – yes, Mephiston doesn’t scare me too much as he has a severe allergy to plasma guns and tends to run off on his own to bully stuff.  Are there big expensive units that I can crush – yes, those assault terminators will be easy kills and I have lots of lascannons and multimeltas to scare off land raiders.  Will I be able to avoid taking lascannon shots or high volumes of strength 8 shots – yes, they will be bringing some razorbacks, predators and perhaps a godhammer but that’s not too big a deal.


The night before the tournament I realised my mistake.  And it was a biggie…  I have recently changed my primary army.  Clearly I could have gone for a shiney new codex where a bult order of boltgun metal would be the order of the day but where would be the fun in that?  My new army is Dark Angels and I’m running a Deathwing list.  At 1500 points it contained:



5x Deathwing Terminator Squads (3 with cyclones, 2 with assault cannons, a couple of chain fists in there)

2x Ravenwing Land Speeders (with typhoons and heavy bolters)


(at 1750+ I get Ezekiel in by hook or by crook but he just had to go at 1500)


Yeah.  You’ve probably seen the problem straight away.  Land Raiders, Furious Charging terminators and Mephiston are massive problems for my list.  Oh well I thought, what with all the people there I probably won’t even see a Blood Angel.  It’ll be fine, I can deal with lots of other matchups well.  Grey Knights aren’t quite such a problem as they were for my Chaos Space Marines now that I don’t need to worry about psycic defence, prefered enemy daemons, psyc out grenades, and strength 8 shots.  I have 5 scoring units which is a considerable improvement on my 2 MSU scoring units hiding in static Land Raiders.  It is also a killpoint denial list with just 8 on the board most of whom have 2+ armour saves.


Over the course of the weekend I drew both Reddy brothers and another Blood Angel to boot now I think about it.  Both games against the Reddys were kill points.  Between them they run 3 Land Raiders, 2 Assault Terminator squads with priests and 2 Mephistons.   I held Sharan to a 3-3 draw because of a lucky missile shot immobilising his land raider on turn 2 preventing a massacre charge but I couldn’t touch Kiran at all and he cruised to a 3-1 victory.  His list had less kill points than mine and whilst one landraider is a problem, 2 is game over.  I learned from this tournament that melta matters, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!


Although I’m still very new to the Deathwing list I am evolving some new key questions to determine if the matchup will favour me:

1)      Will I be able to avoid either taking AP2 / power weapon hits or taking serious torrents of fire?

2)      Can my missile launchers take out the enemy heavy armour?

3)      Will an unlimited range psycic hood and the potential of a deathwing assault mess with my opponent?


Is there any great tactical value to asking yourself questions like this?  Perhaps not, but if you are going to blame defeats on bad matchups or credit victories to good ones, it’s probably not a bad idea to do some analysis of what makes a matchup good or bad!  Truly balanced armies can probably ignore this whole train of thought but for those of us who like to overwhelm an opponent in one way or another (AV12 spam, strength 8 shots spam, 2+ armour spam, melta spam, assault troop spam, poison shot spam, entrophic strike spam etc) we need to consider what we can overwhelm and what will counter us.  If the number of counters you come across outnumber the armies that you can overwhelm 2 to 1 then take your beating and consider going back to the drawing board with what makes your army fearsome.


As usual, any thoughts or comments are very welcome.  What do you ask yourself at the start of a game?  What matchups do you relish and what do you fear?



2 Responses to “The Armchair General by Mike Foulks”

  1. Beatstick December 8, 2011 at 00:17 #

    Really great article Mike, I haven’t yet been to a tournament myself, but it seems that a real balance is needed to cope with all the different armies that you can face. Perhaps where bad matchups exist is if that balance hasn’t been achieved?

    • Mike December 9, 2011 at 18:58 #

      Balance can make a good list but so can imbalance. If your opponent can’t cope with what you bring to the table more often than they can then you are on to a winner. Of course that’s just one school of thought and I invite everyone to try balanced and imbalances lists to see what works for them.

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