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Thursday, 15 January 2015

Army List: Mechdar Tournament Retrospective


So with another tournament behind me I thought I would recap some lessons learned and consider some possible improvements to my Mechdar army list. Given that my current hobby focus is on my Astra Militarum army, I will be looking to make improvements that do not require any expansion of my current collection.

Tournament Review

The tournament I recently attended was a 1750 pts event with minimal list restrictions (no Unbound, points limit on Super Heavies). It used custom scenarios that were not particularly well-designed, and I tailored my generic Mechdar list to suit these missions. I ended up winning two games and narrowly losing one, so overall I am happy with how my list performed. I also believe that the game I lost was more due to being outplayed than any particular deficiency in my army list. That said, I still think that improvements could be made.

Round One vs. Triptide & Knight

My first game was against a very low model-count Tau/Farsight/Imperial Knights army comprising three Riptides and a Knight Errant. You can read the full army list and battle report here.


This list had a good start, going first with the three Riptides Infiltrating thanks to a Warlord Trait. They killed a Serpent before I had my first move, and if I hadn't had some really good luck in the early game (Autarch surviving close combat with the Knight, Night Spinner pinning his Crisis squad) I could have taken even greater losses. As it happened, the arrival of my Crimson Hunters—into the protective bubble of my Void Shield Generator—swung the tide of battle firmly into my favour. In the end I tabled my opponent for the win.

The Autarch was very useful in this game, with his +1 to reserve rolls getting all my flyers into play as early as possible. With 480 pts invested in three Crimson Hunters I think some sort of reserve manipulation is essential. The Autarch also ran amok in my opponent's backfield and killed Fire Warriors and Crisis Suits.

The Fire Dragon squad was also very valuable, killing the Knight Errant and a Riptide. I think these guys are definite keepers too, and I would consider bringing a second squad if I could afford it.

The Crimson Hunters brought the pain as always, but having 480 pts starting in reserve does leave me overmatched in the early game, especially when I have to go second. I want to keep running the flyer wing, but I recognise that I need to build more resilience into the units that start on the table to make my list more robust.

The Night Spinner played an important role in swinging this game, but a lot of luck was involved too. If anything is facing the chopping block it is probably this guy—not because it is bad, but because I can probably get something better using those 140 pts.

Round Two vs. Mechdar

My next game was against a more cookie-cutter Mechdar list comprising five Serpents and two Wraithknights. You can read the full army list and battle report here.


I lost this game because I started slow, falling behind in progressive VP scoring, and then did not finish strongly enough, narrowly failing to table my opponent for the win despite VP. I blame myself for this failure, rather than my list, because I deployed very poorly. I should have either deployed everything or gone for the null deployment of just the VSG and all my infantry dismounted. Instead, I deployed about half my army and suffered throughout the game as a result. Sure, luck was against me this game, but better play could have overcome bad dice.

My opponent's army list demonstrated one of the key tangible benefits of Wraithknights over Crimson Hunters that is not as apparent on paper: Wraithknights start the game on the table. Combined with going first, his supporting units acted twice before mine had even entered play.

My opponent's list also had one extra Serpent compared to my Spinner and VSG. Neither my Spinner or VSG performed well in this game—due to both bad luck and bad deployment—so I was at a firepower disadvantage all game. I ultimately lost the game due to my opponent having one Serpent left so this was a significant difference between our lists.

The Autarch and Crimson Hunters performed well again this game. The Fire Dragons flopped, but that was just really bad dice, not a problem with the unit or how I employed it. Again, I'm looking at the Night Spinner as the Least Valuable Player compared to an extra Serpent...

Round Three vs. Footdar

My final game was against a Footdar list comprising an eclectic variety of units: Dire Avengers, Shining Spears, Warp Spiders, Dark Reapers, and much more. You can read the full army list and battle report here.


I can't really draw too many conclusions about my own list from this game, since there was definitely an overmatch in my favour, and the stark differential in dice luck throughout the game made my army nigh-invincible.

However, my opponent did highlight to me the immense tactical value of small Windrider squads for stealing Objectives in the late-game. Of course, this is an 'old trick' that I have long been aware of, but I have personally never found it as effective as it is often described. But my opponent was able to use this tactic to great effect, which says to me that the problem is me: I could be benefiting from mini Windrider squads if I learned to employ them more effectively. Food for thought given that I want to build a small Saim Hann Wild Rider detachment.

Army List Improvements

So to summarise the performance of my army list in this tournament:

  • Autarch – Reserve manipulation is invaluable with three flyers, and against Eldar and Tau there were no shortage of weak infantry units for him to beat up too.
  • Fire Dragons – Super-efficient when a suitable hard target is available (e.g. Imperial Knight) but really just a more expensive Serpent-unlock in other games.
  • Wave Serpents – I need more. Four was really not enough, I need to find a way to fit in a fifth.
  • Crimson Hunters – Game-changing firepower. These guys really are the heaviest hitters in my army, but I really find myself under pressure in the early game until they arrive. They benefit from the Void Shield Generator against Interceptor fire, but the rest of the time they are generally untouchable.
  • Night Spinner – Not bad, but only mediocre at best.
  • Void Shield Generator – I can see this fortification being essential in some match-ups and mostly unnecessary in others. But if it saves me from being alpha-striked by Tau, Necrons or other Eldar then it's probably a worthwhile 100 pts tax to carry in easier match-ups.
Looking back at the thought process I applied to build my generic Mechdar list, I basically hurt myself by tailoring my list to my pre-conception of how the tournament missions would play out. While there was plenty of LOS blocking terrain as I expected, my opponent's did not really hide to a great degree, so the Night Spinner was much less valuable than I had predicted. Furthermore, a fast aggressive Autarch allowed me to kill hiders in assault rather than relying on Barrage shooting.

So let's take my generic Mechdar list, and have another attempt at applying the finishing touches, but this time for the more common points limit of 1850 pts:
 Autarch with Laser Lance, Fusion Gun, Jetbike and Mantle of the Laughing God [145]
 Dire Avenger Squad [65]
 Wave Serpent with Scatter Lasers, Shuriken Cannon and Holofields [145]
 Dire Avenger Squad [65]
 Wave Serpent with Scatter Lasers, Shuriken Cannon and Holofields [145]
 Dire Avenger Squad [65]
 Wave Serpent with Scatter Lasers, Shuriken Cannon and Holofields [145]
 Dire Avenger Squad [65]
 Wave Serpent with Scatter Lasers, Shuriken Cannon and Holofields [145]
 Dire Avenger Squad [65]
 Wave Serpent with Scatter Lasers, Shuriken Cannon and Holofields [145]
 Crimson Hunter [160]
 Crimson Hunter [160]
 Crimson Hunter [160]
This comes to 1675 pts, leaving me another 175 pts to play with. If I want to include the Void Shield Generator that will cut my surplus down to 75 pts. Alternatively, I could take a Skyshield Landing Pad instead for only 75 pts, since this should also protect my flyers from Interceptor fire and would also help against an Ignores Cover alpha-strike on my Serpents. I also have my eye on this model as an Eldar-style Skyshield, which would look a lot better than the Imperial-style VSG I used in this tournament.

If I took the Skyshield then I would have an even 100 pts to spend on my 1850 pts list—alternatively I have a 1750 pts list ready to go. I would love to add two Windrider squads but sadly they are 51 pts each; seriously GW, if you're going to make squads with points values not divisible by 5, then you need to make more 1/2/3 pts upgrades available to even out those points!

More Options

Before I make a final decision on how to spend those last 100 pts, I think it's worthwhile at this stage to consider some other options.


I have a couple of Warp Hunters in my collection, beautiful models that used to have really great rules too. Sadly they have been knee-jerk nerfed in the last publication of their rules, so they are basically just a Night Spinner with shorter range, AP3 instead of Rending, and a 30 pts premium. These guys were great in my last Apocalypse game, but I don't think they can earn a spot in a smaller army list.

The more I've thought about why I prefer Crimson Hunters over Wraithknights, I've realised that what I really love is the four S8 AP2 shots on a single model. And then I realised that there is an alternative means to getting that firepower—the Hornet.

The latest rules for Hornets are published in Imperial Armour Apocalypse (2013). For 80 pts you get an AV11, HP2 Fast Skimmer with two Pulse Lasers; that's basically the same firepower as a Crimson Hunter, for half the cost, starting on the table. Hornets have Scout and Acute Senses, so they could reliably Outflank for a similar effect to the Hunter's Vector Dancer, but I think that if you start Hornets off-table then you may as well have Hunters. Scout could be useful for the pre-game move but when you have fragile armour and 48" range you're probably better off hiding them rather than extending them. Hornets also have a funky rule that allows them to Snap Shot all weapons after moving Flat Out—combined with their default Star Engines this allows them to move as fast as a flyer and shoot, albeit at BS1.

The only downside with Hornets is that they are Fast Attack, and thus directly compete with Crimson Hunters for slots. I could of course take a second detachment, but that would cost me a second HQ.

Now I wouldn't consider substituting all my Hunters with Hornets, because Hunters do have Skyfire and Skyhunter, which make a big difference when you come up against AV12 Imperial/Chaos flyers. But maybe it would be worthwhile to exchange one flyer for a squadron pair of Hornets?

A New Improved List

All that said, two Hornets cost the same as one Crimson Hunter, so I still need to find a way to spend that last 100 pts! The simplest option, which should suffice until I think of something better, is to upgrade two Avenger squads to Fire Dragons.
Autarch with Laser Lance, Fusion Gun, Jetbike and Mantle of the Laughing God [145]
Fire Dragon Squad [110]
Wave Serpent with Scatter Lasers, Shuriken Cannon and Holofields [145]
Fire Dragon Squad [110]
Wave Serpent with Scatter Lasers, Shuriken Cannon and Holofields [145]
Dire Avenger Squad [65]
Wave Serpent with Scatter Lasers, Shuriken Cannon and Holofields [145]
Dire Avenger Squad [65]
Wave Serpent with Scatter Lasers, Shuriken Cannon and Holofields [145]
Dire Avenger Squad [65]
Wave Serpent with Scatter Lasers, Shuriken Cannon and Holofields [145]
Crimson Hunter [160]
Crimson Hunter [160]
Crimson Hunter [160] OR Two Hornets with Pulse Lasers [160]
Skyshield Landing Pad [75]
1840 pts
Now this looks like a pretty damn sexy Mechdar list to me. Five Serpents, two loaded with melta, plenty of supporting firepower and a fortification to ward against the alpha-strike. I just might have to buy a Skyshield and a couple of Hornets to run this beast the next time a tournament comes around.

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