Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Fenris: Wrath of Magnus Part 3 - Formations, Special Rules & Psychic Powers (Warhammer 40,000 War Zone Review, 7th Edition)

Thus far Wrath of Magnus has been a decidedly mixed book. With a mangled story bearing a few good ideas, and a solid set of Thousand Sons rules lumbered with the single worst unit ever to be conceived, it's been half good-half bad thus far. So, it now falls to the Formations and special rules to decide whether this book is largely good or bad, and if it can finally break the curse of its predecessors. 

Many of the past codex supplements and core books have had this habit of falling into certain patterns. The same idea will be repeated over and over again, merely rehashed for a new army rather than being reworked. This cookie-cutter approach has robbed many varied and diverse armies of their individuality, limiting everything from humanoid fungi to elf vampire BDSM ninjas to a few key ideas. Even without the issue of half the game being populated by astartes, it's still an ongoing problem. 

Detachment (The Thousand Sons Grand Coven)

The detachment here is pretty much your standard fare in terms of general structure. You have 0-4 Command options, 1+ Core choices (I.E. Troops formations), and 1+ Auxiliary choices which are the usual fun varied options (I.E. usually Elites choices). There's nothing too bad about this, flexibility is always valued after all, and given that the majority of the new HQ/Lords of War options are fairly powerful options on the whole, it's nice to see there's a limitation here. That and they didn't make the mistake to let people field multiple Magnuses (Magnusi?), which would have been the death of this book.

The new rules here for the detachment are the usual mix of one vanilla choice, and one inventive one. Lord of Fallen Prospero might be the usual re-roll Warlord Traits we see in every one of these, but you also have Masters of Arcane Knowledge. This one is fairly solid actually, and while a little powerful there's nothing inherently wrong with its core ideas. The big bonus people will instantly notice is how the rule permits all psykers within the detachment to re-roll their Perils of the Warp tests, meaning those all-important spellcasters won't be exploding quite so often this time. Furthermore, it grants a bit of extra firepower by allowing those same psykers to cast an additional power beyond their Mastery Level.

This balance between insurance against exploding heads and a simple but direct way to reflect their better training is a solid but simple basis for this army. It's hardly the most dynamic design, but it's nevertheless effective, and its simplicity allows it to serve as a solid bedrock for tailored armylists or HQ choices. It does allow some of your weaker sorcerers to have a bit more bite, and when combined with a certain Warlord trait which permits you to take an extra power, it can be a deadly combination. Once you also factor in relics like the Black Staff or special abilities, there's plenty here for players to work with. On the whole, this is definitely a good detachment.

Warlord Traits

Arrogance of Aeons - With this one, the Warlord gains Adamantium Will and can reroll a single dice with Deny the Witch. There's nothing particularly remarkable about this one, but it is fairly fluff friendly and sticks to the Sons' best characteristics. Overall, not too shabby for the role of a one on this table and there are some basic benefits to it.

Undying Form - Another basic one, but this time the Warlord gains Eternal Warrior. There's sadly (or perhaps thankfully) no stacking special ability for those who already have this rule, but it is definitely beneficial in this army. Many of the Sorcerers can withstand a decent amount of punishment, but there's always the chance they might come across the wrong end of a Strength D weapon, after all.

Aetherstride - This is a much more useful one, and oddly a much more useless one as well. In effect, it allows the Warlord to overcome any difficult terrain tests they might face, and instantly pass through them. There's also no Initiative penalty should you wish to charge through difficult terrain into the enemy. On the one hand, hey, extra mobility is always welcome! On the other, with a few key exceptions, this army isn't going to be doing much in the way of assaults. Most units are built with shooting in mind and fare badly in melee compared to more dedicated forces. As such, given this is decided via a random roll, you're unlikely to get this on a unit which can truly make use of this overall.

Lord of Forbidden Lore - Warlord knows an additional psychic power. Okay, this one is actually pretty good. It's a nice bonus, meaning you don't have to try and hinge a unit on a random roll, just about any HQ choice for this army can benefit from it, and it can be adapted to any plan. This is the kind of bonus idea I personally wish Warlord Tables had more of, where they are more of a very useful general bonus than something overly specific.

Walker of the Webway - Despite the unusual title given the subject matter, this is one which makes a great deal of sense. Despite the diligence of the eldar race and the hazardous, fragmented structure of the vast network of tunnels, various Chaos forces have intruded upon the Webway. The Thousand Sons in particular have been noted to frequently do so, and one of Ahriman's most famous battles was waged before the gates of the Black Library.

So, what does this rule offer? Deep Strike as a special rule. It's nothing great in of itself, until you factor in a couple of key points. First, the likes of the Scarab Occult Terminators cannot Deep Strike themselves, and the Thousand Sons lack any hard-hitting forces which can emerge behind lines. Furthermore, if either the unit or the Warlord already has Deep Strike, they can do so without scattering. It's quite the nice option to help the Thousand Sons cover this missing base, but it's a damn shame it's only on offer via a randomly selected list.

Lord of Flux - This one is another very useful option for the Sons, especially when it comes to countering close combat orientated forces. In effect, the 12" area surrounding the Warlord is counted as difficult terrain. Better yet, anything rushing in to take him down via Run, Turbo-boost, Flat out or even just charging into combat, counts that same area as Dangerous Terrain. So, with a few unlucky roles you could fall short of the distance you need, or even end up with a few models down before combat begins.

While this certainly could have benefited from a slightly longer range, it's still a welcome bonus for a force. 


War Cabal - This is one which pushes some of the tropes surrounding formations I personally hate the most, but oddly enough it manages to make it work. Despite being a Core choice, it consists of Ahriman, a Daemon Prince of Tzeentch, a Exalted/Sorcerer, with an additional 1-3 Exalted/Sorcerers leading an equal number of Rubric Marines, and 1-3 units of  Scarab Occult Terminators. It's a very HQ focused list, small in scale and backed by some hard hitting choices, and comes with a few very fun basic bonuses.

The big bad rule behind this one is that when a psyker successfully manifests a power, he and the unit he is part of can re-roll all 1s for the following turn. Yes, not just for sorcery, but everything involving this. So, those Terminators? They can re-roll all basic saves for that turn. On the one hand, this makes certain key units almost impossible to kill and the basic saves of their units vastly more effective against basic gunfire. This would normally make them broken in my eyes, but given the constant problem Rubric units have faced in being overpriced and the widespread presence of high damage weapons, it's not an entirely bad one. Given how expensive the general formation is and how costly any loss would be, this makes it a very tough but brittle force with a few noted weaknesses to be exploited. 

I could actually see this being fun in larger scale games and a good choice for Apocalypse scale engagements. So, while it might be on the cusp of being overpowered, it's decent enough to forgive at the end of the day.

War Coven - In comparison to the one outlined above, the War Coven ditches all troops and goes for the all-spellcaster option. As a single Auxiliary choice, it consists of a single Sorcerer or Daemon Prince of Tzeentch leading 3-9 other Sorcerers of the standard or Exalted variety. This makes it very costly and very open to being a victory points farm for the enemy, but it can have a truly massive damage output to offset that. 

This formation's rule is that the player picks a single Discipline at the start of the game, out of any these units can select. Then, from there on, any Sorcerer in this list using a spell from that Discipline can manifest Warp Charges on the roll of a 3+. This naturally makes the formation a little spam-heavy when it comes to a single set of spells, but it doesn't completely limit them to a single role. Okay, it means you have a ten man Doombolt artillery barrage, but you can choose to have a few other spells to give it a bit of variety.

This one is understandably much more of a Death Star unit here, with a truly staggering damage output and possibility for various upgrades. For example, it's possible to outfit all basic Sorcerers in Terminator armour to give them some serious durability, and then give them the Seer's Bane and the Astral Grimoire to zoom about the board, then smash people about in combat. That's, of course, assuming you don't give them all discs to give a flying psychic death squadron to your side. Unlike the previous example though, I personally think this one is a bit too overpowered on the whole. It might be easier to kill for sure, but the sheer output of psychic powers by comparison is unsettling to be sure. Anything with a defense against them tends to be quickly overrun unless built to counter them, and this list even blitzkrieg'd its way through a couple of infamously broken Tau Empire lists. The core idea is certainly good, but I think it could have been reworked somewhat to even things out a little.

Tzangor Warherd - The Tzangors were easily the weakest unit added into this game, and oddly sat in a place which meant they were far from useful as fodder or frontline troops. While hardly completely fixing things, this formation does at least make fielding them somewhat more viable, and gives them a few slight edges to make up for their oddly overpriced nature.

The formation is an Auxiliary force which consists of a single Exalted/Sorceror at its head, 3-9 units of Tzangors and even an option for Chaos Spawn (No, I am not joining in with that joke.) The bonus here is that all the units gain Fleet, may run and then charge on the same turn, and if you manage to roll a nine whilst charging, they gain +1 Strength and Initiative for that turn. This makes them somewhat more useful as a force to help take locations or even contest them, preventing an enemy unit from gaining an outright victory. Rather than cannon fodder it also means they're more of an interception unit, charging into and bogging down bigger squads who could cause serious problems later on down the line. Obviously, the big problem is that they still die a little too easily for their cost, so you have to be careful on how you use them.

Overall, it's a somewhat effective fix for a problematic unit, but it hardly perfect them. It's also sad to think it takes a whole formation to fix a unit's shortcomings rather than actually reworking them at the start.

Sekhmet Conclave - This is the second of the Core choices, and it's definitely the more points heavy option. As before, it's led by a spellcaster, either an Exalted/Sorceror or Ahriman, a Daemon Prince or Magnus the Red himself, and it's backed by 3-9 units of Scarab Occult Terminators. Naturally there's a much more obvious emphasis upon power here, and that's only further backed by its special rule, which means any unit within 6" of up to two other units from this formation gain +1 Toughness. Yes, this includes Magnus.

While it lacks the near basic invincibility offered by the War Cabal, this one comes with a big bonus in terms of simply shrugging off basic gunfire. Better yet, if you put the primarch himself up front, the big red bullet magnetus becomes utterly immune to bolter fire and can shrug off most railgun rounds thanks to now having Toughness 8. That high pitched whistle you just heard was likely every hobbyist screaming in terror at the thought. I think that really speaks for itself, as to the key problems with this formation, and the issue of including Magnus with any buffing rules. He simply becomes unstoppable.

Ahriman’s Exiles - This is an odd one to be sure, especially given how the story effectively brushed Ahriman's whole exile under the rug. Beyond that there's not much to say on the whole matter, as it's effectively a vastly more powerful version of the War Coven which hinges on Ahriman himself. Rather than being limited to a single Discipline this time, any model within 18" of the prodigal son may manifest any of his abilities on a 3+. So, that's now 3-9 Sorcerors of the generic or Exalted variety who can hit you with damn near anything they want with extreme ease. While this does make them more vulnerable to a pie-plate of doom via a Baneblade, the fact they can take all the same upgrades and benefits outlined above pushes hem into the "are you bloody kidding me!?" territory of formations.

So, they're expensive to be sure, but they're likely to completely bulldoze their way through anything you throw at them short of sheer overwhelming firepower. Yeah, this was too much in terms of buffing the army, even if it was along the right lines.

Rehati War Sect - Just as Ahriman's Exiles were a step above the War Cabal we have this atop of Ahriman's Exiles. Honestly, for all the times it seems to have sidestepped replicating the formations of other armies thus far, the company instead apparently opted to just repeat the same damn idea three times over. Oh, and this one really takes the cake in terms of sheer unrelenting bullshittery.

So, you have the choice of Magnus the Red at their head, backed by 3-9 units of either Daemon Princes of Tzeentch or Exalted Sorcerers; also the 3+ manifesting rule when units are within range of the big red man, but there's an even more insane one atop of that. Simply put, anyone in this formation completely and utterly ignores ignore Line of Sight when it comes to lobbing their spells. So, even if your all-important unit has three buildings and a sheer cliff face between you and this unit, you can still end up with half of them being turned into Chaos Spawn before you know what's hit you. Or, given how this is worded and the presence of Magnus, perhaps even target units inside their transports for some truly demented acts of violence. 

This is officially the Command choice from hell itself, and anyone thinking of fielding it deserves to get a Warlord Titan to the face. Literally and metaphorically.

Lord of the Legion - There's little to say about this one as it basically just mashes together the core figures of the Thousand Sons. You have Magnus the Red, Ahriman, or a Sorcerer, Exalted Sorcerer, or Daemon Prince of Tzeentch all in one place, just without the trimmings of the Sekhmet Conclave or War Coven. Really, there's not much to this one at all, and even if you're looking for a small scale version to limit points, the presence of Magnus defeats that very role. 

Brimstone Conflagration - Well, this is unexpected. It managed to take a horrific unit and make things vastly, vastly worse. This formation consists of a single Exalted Flamer and between 3-9 mobs of Brimstone midget murderers. They keep all the benefits of the standard ones, albeit being a little easier to kill off without the need to get through their Pink or Blue brethren first, but they also gain the ability to explode. Yes, these are suicide bombers. If for some reason you feel the need to hurl these guys into battle just to die, you can have them detonate with D3 S4 AP4 hits per unit. Given that these guys come at three points a pop, that means if you can drop all of them on a single location, have them detonate, and potentially throw out a company's worth of bolter strength wounds into a unit at once. Oh sweet Emperor, I am getting a Revenant Titan to deal with these damn pests now.

Omniscient Oracles - In contrast to the above option this is the big head honcho choice for the army, allowing you to place Fateweaver and 1-3 Lords of Change onto the board. For its overall price and effectiveness, this one actually isn't all that bad. It repeats many of the strengths of the War Coven once again, as you can reroll ones on hits, wounds and psychic tests; yet it also grants you the option to reroll reserves and seize the initiative tests.

It's more akin to offering someone a different flavour of the Coven, with more of a HQ focus and daemons over mortals, but the core rules fit into Tzeentch's personality quirks quite nicely. You have the heightened effectiveness of spells, the ability to create more exact plans and even have tactics hinge on exact timing. There's nothing inherently wrong with this choice, and while powerful that's more down to the units over the rules themselves. As a formation here, it's not a bad one at all really.

Heralds Anarchic - And now we return to the realms of unrelenting sheer terror. You know how the Horrors can generate a metric ton of Warp Charge tokens without breaking a sweat? Yeah, someone apparently looked at that and decided to make it infinitely worse. This formation consists of 3-9 Heralds of Tzeentch, and you can generate one additional token per model in this formation per turn. Atop of their basic stuff and some of the bonuses you can add on, that can almost double with some careful planning.

The Tzeentch daemon army was already very spell focused, but this just takes things way too far. On its own this might have been somewhat reasonable, but combined with the Horrors it means that Thousand Sons or Tzeentch armies are just swimming in Warp Charge tokens. It might as well be a full on in-game cheat code for all the damage it can help inflict, and this one just further emphasizes how over-stocked the army is of what should be a somewhat limited resource.

Lorestealer Host - So here's the last one - Tzeentch's anti-psyker brigade! Consisting of Blue Scribes and 3-9 Blue Horrors, this Core choice is effectively built to hunt down and destroy those who use sorcery against the Architect of Fate's servants. This actually isn't a bad idea in concept given the potential behind it, from perhaps draining an enemy side of its Warp Charge tokens to increasing the chances of screwing up spells. The execution, however, is a bit problematic. With one special rule which effectively amounts to Preferred Enemy: Psykers, and a second which adds +1 Strength to Witchfires if you're within 9" of an enemy spellcaster, it's limited on its own but can easily be combined with a few things to produce some truly horrendous results. The Locus of Conjuration would further boost the strength of each shot, and the very fuzzy details surrounding the rule (remember, they just have to be within 9", they don't actually need to target him) means you can easily unleash hell with a careful Deep Strike or two.

On the whole, this is difficult to say how it will fare in the long run. It can seem useless at first, but there is the potential to produce something utterly bloody insane with little real effort. Overall, it seems very dependent upon the army list in question.

Psychic Disciplines

They've done it again. Yes, really, these are the same rehashed bunch of concepts we have seen more than a few times now, the ones identical to those introduced in Codex: Angels of Death. Sinistrum Discipline, Heretech Discipline, Ectomancy Discipline, and the Geomortis Discipline all make up this book's psychic section, and there's been little to no change since last time. A damnable shame for sure as the Thousand Sons of all people should have featured some of the most unique and varied abilities of any psyker. 

Okay, the Eldar should certainly have a few more when it comes to bending fate to their will, and the Blood Angels might have an edge, but these guys? We're talking about a force who has been driven by little besides the constant path to uncover knowledge, master the Warp and bend reality to their will. They at least deserve another damn table here tailored to their skills, or even reflecting the lost teachings of Prospero. Giving them such basic abilities, ones copied from others, just seems so wrong.

Now, please keep in mind, it's not that the powers themselves are inherently bad. As discussed when this problem first arose, the actual individual abilities are fun, are inventive and are creatively wonderful. Yet, they're just slightly re-written versions of something given to what's supposed to be this army's equal and opposite force. The closest we really get to anything new is an updated Discipline of Tzeentch, which has a few general improvements but it's nothing truly spectacular. There are a couple of basic tweaks and an ability unique to Magnus himself, but nothing which helps make the Sons stand out. Overall, it's a disappointment for what should be this book's high point.


Yeah, this one takes a couple of steps forwards, but several backwards. To the credit of the designers they are avoiding many of the old mistakes here and overcoming many of the past issues we have seen all too often. However, the new ones they make here drags down the quality and manages to either be overpowered or underwhelming, with very little in the way of middle-ground. As such, it's unfortunately the death knell for this book, and the deciding factor in denying it any recommendation.

While there are good points for sure here, almost all of them have been transferred over to Codex: Traitor Legions, which is not only half the price, but cuts out most of the crap. With that in mind, if you're a Thousand Sons fan, that's probably going to be the book for you. Wrath of Magnus really just proves to be another slight improvement on GW's part, but they still have a long way to go before we get a proper Apocalypse War Zone book worthy of its price.

1 comment:

  1. The more I see of the formations the more I become convinced that Forgeworld did it right with their "Rites of War" and GW's doing it wrong for regular 40k.

    They just feel really cookie-cutter at this point, and I've never been a fan of the idea that they're building your army for you (especially when they offer you blatantly overpowered rules like that one you mentioned where you don't need LoS).

    I'm also iffy on the Psychic Powers/Sorcery that the Sons should get, on the one hand yeah it would be nice for them to get their own power list, on the other hand the Sons are supposed to have gathered all sorts of knowledge, limiting them to just one table doesn't seem right. Maybe it would be better if they were allowed to buy specific abilities rather than randomly determine them?

    Now that the Imperial Agents book is out though, I can see a lot of people buying Culexus Assassins just to deal with most of the Daemon stuff we can find in this book, at least it would cancel out a few of those formations.