Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thoughts on Salamanders

Off the WFB kick I had for about a month there- there aren't enough WFB players here in Fort Collins to actually play much, and 40k is by far my favorite of the two.

I just finished playing in a 40k campaign with my World Eaters (and ended up winning!), which is great because I can actually play with some of my other armies finally. The other day I brought my Salamanders to the shop, and played a little bit against a Slannesh-themed demon army w/ 3 Demon Princes, 2 Keepers of Secrets, 6 fiends, and 30 Daemonettes.

It isn't the most competitive army I've faced before, and he really kitted out his Demon Princes (for 250 points a pop) but I found my Salamanders hurting quite a bit, and in the end I was very lucky to simply tie (in an objectives game). Here's a summary of what I took:

2 Tac Squads w/ Las Cannon/melta/combi-flamer/fist
2 MM attack bikes
Captain w/ combi-flamer/relic blade/digital weapons
Command Squad w/ Storm Sheilds/3 Thunder Hammers/2 Melta/2 Flamers
3 Dreadnoughts w/ Heavy Flamer/Multi-melta/Drop Pod
2 Razorbacks w/ Heavy Bolters for Tac Squads to combat squad
1 Rhino for Command Squad

It's a list designed to have a little bit of everything, playing to the obvious strengths of the army (lots of melta/flamers). It's a list that is fun, but not really that competitive.

The thing is, I'm a competitive player, and though I like to play 'fun' games from time to time, I much prefer having a solid list that gives me the tools to actually win, assuming I play correctly. Thus, these are my thoughts on competitive Salamander play.

The 'Power Build'

The way I see Salamanders played a lot at the tournaments I've been to, and a lot of battle reports I've read, has been simply this:

2 Land Raiders (Crusaders or Redeemers)
2 big squads of TH/SS Termies
2 or 3 small troop squads
whatever other flamer/melta things they can fit in

I've always had an aversion to this style of play, simply because if someone can kill your Raiders before you're on top of them, you're in for a rough game. In fact, you can't really win against a canny opponent who understands how your list works and has taken a well-balanced list with the tools to reliably stop you. Granted, you'll play against a lot of lists that you'll just stomp to the ground, but in a competitive tournament, you're likely in a world of hurt either game 2 or 3. I personally never bring a list to a tournament that can't deal with 2, or even 3 Land Raiders reliably. After all, if you can't beat AV14, you can't win tournaments.

The 'Standard Build'

This list is something like this:

1 Land Raider
TH/SS Termies
2 Big Tactical Squads
A smattering of Heavy Flamers/Melta Weapons

Again, the centerpiece of the army is a Land Raider, but this time only one. If someone kills (or even immobilizes) your Raider early on, you've most likely lost the game. Whereas the 'power build' relied on your inability to deal with 2 Land Raiders quickly, the 'standard build' only has one AV14 you have to deal with. It's a huge, 500-point (or more if it's carrying Vulkan too) non-scoring unit that your army ENTIRELY depends on. If it's stuck in the back field, 1/3 of the army will do jack squat, and the other 2/3 will lose, somewhat quickly since they won't have the support of the hard-hitters, or even close to the same durability.

Still, the other options involved at least give the list more of a REAL army feel, instead of a 'I'm going to pound you to dust' feel. I prefer this list to the 'Power Build' simply because it's more fun to play. The other list would get boring FAST.

The 'Hybrid Build'

This list usually involves two special characters that have a unique sort of synergy (i.e. Pedro Kantor w/ Vulkan, since Sternguard can have combi-flamers/meltas and Pedro still makes them scoring and gives everyone an extra attack). I've seen them work really well, and I've seen them fall on their face, usually the latter.

I remember one game at BoLS Con I played against a Shrike/Lysander player who got the first-turn charge w/ Shrike/Termies and a deepstrike w/ Lysander/8 sternguard/techmarine. He landed, killed a few of my rhinos with fleeting termies, shot most of my Death Company, and then died to the multi-charging units who didn't die. If it had worked, I'd have essentially lost the game turn 1, but it wasn't quite enough, and he lost that game HARD.

That's what my experience with hybrid lists are: either they work great against a certain opponent, or they come up WAY short. I really haven't seen many take-all-comers lists with two special characters. They just cost too many points, and try to do too many things, instead of specializing with one single character. Vulkan + Pedro can work, but it takes a very special build, and very specific type of player to succeed with it.

The 'Pod Build'

This build generally involves EVERY unit in the Salamanders army drop podding. I've seen this army a couple times, and here's what it looks like:

Master of the Forge
3 Dreadnoughts
2/3 Tactical Squads
3 Dreadnoughts/Sterguard Squads
Random Speeder thrown in
Maybe a scout squad w/ locater beacon
8+ drop pods

I don't really think this list is super weak, except that it's ALL drop pods. An experienced player will hold everything in reserve against you, and destroy you as he walks on the board. If the guy you're playing against sets his army up ON the board, you have a reasonable chance of success. If they hold it in reserve, you're letting HIM choose the site and tempo of the battle, and sadly, your troops are NOT very mobile. He'll hit a flank and you'll be boned.

The 'Weird Build'

I suppose this is what my current list would fall under. The 'Weird build' tries to accomplish something that other armies do better, and really doesn't optimize their strengths. In my case, I'm trying to make an 'uber-unit' out of a Command Squad that I paid out of my ass for, and have to pay for a Captain who I also have to pay out of my ass for to make him good.

The problem with my list, is it doesn't have a TON of shooting, because of those points sinks, but falls flat on its face when playing against a dedicated close combat army. Heck, even Guard can assault better and still have more shooting than my style of list.

Overall, the 'Weird build' isn't great because it isn't nearly as efficient as it could be. It's similar to shooty Tyranids- it can be alright, and in the hands of a good player, it can win games, but it isn't anywhere as efficient as the Nidzilla/Genestealer spam out today. Then again, neither of those builds are that great anymore...

So what build IS good?

Well, to be honest, I don't really know for sure. I mean, the 'Power Build' has the ability to win a lot of games, and all the others can win if you have the right general. Here's the thing: you see a lot of people complaining about the 'Vulkan power armies' all the time, but I haven't ever once seen a Salamanders army win a tournament. I saw ONE salamanders team win best general at a tournament, and thats the best I've seen.

I've played with a lot of builds for this army, and none of them have really done the army credit. The Command Squad is just too much of a points sink. Rhino rush doesn't work with this army either, really. So here's the latest build I thought up:

2 Tactical Squads w/ Melta/Multi-melta/Combi-flamer/fist/Rhino
3 Dreadnoughts w/ MM/HF/Locator Beacon Drop pod
3x2 Land Speeders w/ MM/HF (thats 3 squads of 2)
3 Predators w/ Auto Cannons/Heavy Bolters
5 Scouts w/ Tellion

What this is (obviously) is a shooting-intensive army, that only gets better as you get closer. Within 36", I only have the predators and scouts that can shoot. Within 24", I have a HUGE amount of multi-meltas to add. Within 12" I add rapid-firing tactical squads/melta guns, and inside that I have a HUGE amount of flamers/heavy flamers, and dreadnoughts/vulkan/fists that can at least do counter-attacks.

The thing is, the list has a LOT of options. Dreadnoughts can either pod on, or walk on. From there, the speeders can either deep strike using the Locator Beacons on the pods, or walk on, turbo-boosting. The predators can provide cover to the rhinos for a turn, if I need to go grab objectives, and the troops really can put some pain on enemy squads, though I'm considering adding a Techmarine instead of the scouts, to ride in a rhino with my tacticals.

It can be played as a gunline with reasonable counter-charge abilities, or it can be used as an 'in your face' list with a ton of other options. Way too many things to shoot in one turn, and the 9 deep-striking Multi-meltas are going to do a HUGE number to enemy tanks. If it's an all-footslogging army, even better, since I also have 9 Heavy Flamers.

As a side-note, I took two speeders for each squadron because it's much more reliable to kill a tank w/ 2 meltas, and also two heavy flamers ENSURES the enemy will have to take armor saves on their power fist/special weapons. Another thought is, that if I walk my dreadnoughts on, I can still put the pods on the field where I want them, and deepstrike my speeders off of them.

The Predators are there to provide a LOT of reasonable AP4 shooting, and get in the way. I figure for 85 points, they're somewhat of a steal. Heck, they can even pop rhinos/ork trukks :P And one of them can simply move 12" ahead of my two rhinos, forcing the enemy to destroy my AV13 before having much chance at killing the rhinos.

Well, what do you think? Can this list work? Can you think of a better list?