Black is the New Black: A Deathwatch Codex Review

Hellllllo, I’ve missed you all so much. It’s been so long since our last chat.  Doctor Root has had you guys all to himself for the past 3 articles with his excellent series on How to Win the ITC, but now I’m back! And boy do I have a lovely codex to talk to you about. Deathwatch is actually the first Space Marine type army that actually has me excited! That said, Death watch is unfortunately not a full standalone army. I mean, legally it can be, but competitively speaking it’s missing a ton of tools to function properly (most notably screens) and that will really hold it back.

Not having screens means your 20-50 point marines will be the ones catching smites all game. Not even against just classic smite spam armies, but things like a pair of librarians or a couple farseers smiting every turn can very quickly add up for you. Furthermore, without screens you’re vulnerable to enemy deep striking units. Even if the enemy can’t deep strike turn 1, they can still very much deliver drop plasma on your door step turn 2, and without screens, I guess your 25 point guys have to be the ones to eat the rapid fire. Really, the lack of screen issue just goes on and on. I mean, there’s a reason so many imperial lists start with “Guard Battalion”


For this codex review I’m going to first go through what I think the stand out units are, and a few ways I could see using them, since the army is so naturally flexible. After that I’m going to break down some of the potential pit falls and traps I see in the codex. And in conclusion, I’ll give a sample detachment (not list) that I think would fair strongly as part of a larger army.

Watch Master- This guy is sweet, 2+/4++, 6 wounds, decent in melee, full reroll to hit aura for 130? Sign me up! I think you’re going to want to pay the premium for this guy simply because the real power of the death watch army comes from shooting, and he amplifies your shooting capability tremendously.

That brings us to the shooting units I was just talking about.


Vets- Vets have a niche role in Deathwatch. They cost about the same as a primaris marine, which makes it really hard to justify. I mean who wants to pay the same points for half as manywounds? Well they have 1 key advantage over their primaris brothers. Every vet can take a storm bolter. Coupled with the deep strike stratagem and a watch master, that’s 40 shots hitting on 3’s, rerolling, and then depending on which type of ammo and mission tactics you use, either wounding anything in the game on 2’s, rerolling 1s, or wounding tougher targets with AP-1, on 3’s/4’s rerolling 1s. That’s pretty insane really. These guys are basically what GK wish they were.

Here’s what I think an ideal vet loadout should be.

Vet Squad- 8 veterans w/ 6 storm bolter/chainswords, 2 storm bolter/storm shield, 1 termie w/ storm bolter/power fist, 1 vanguard vet w/ 2 chainswords for 236 points.

This unit comes down with 36 shots as we just talked about, then defensively it boasts a model with 2 wounds and 2+ saves to tank against enemy attrition fire power which can wear down 3+ save marines. It also boasts a pair of storm shields for tanking any really scary stuff that they may try to muscle through the termie. Finally, it has a vanguard vet so you can fall back and shoot which is very important for ensuring your opponent can’t just deal with you by driving a serpent into you. In combat it’s not too shabby either as every vet has 3 attacks each too. I could see giving a few models in the unit (like 2) lightning claws to further help combat or a couple models frag cannons (again 2), but in this case I opted for cheapness.


Intercessor units- Unlike the vets who are kind of like a bomb just waiting to go off,these guys play the long game. They benefits from 3 different kinds of ammo, to either rapid fire at 18″ at -2, just pummel something with ap -3 or do the whole wound on 2s thing with ap-1. Their range gives them a lot more flexibility and their wounds provide a lot more durability.

And here’s my ideal loadout for intercessors:

Intercessor Unit- 9 Intercessors w/ auto bolt rifles, 1 inceptor w/ assault bolters for 207 points.

This unit, much like the vet squad is just interested in taking the most cost effective model possible as many times as it can and then the minimum number of models necessary to exponentially elevate its effectiveness. This unit likes to be very flexible (unlike the vets who are a nuke waiting to be dropped) and can serve many different roles.

For both vets and Intercessors, any squad size is good, but taking them in max sized units will, as always, allow you to make more effective use of strats and such. It also further reduces the need for you to include other types of models such as inceptors, vanguard vets, or termies.


Now that I’ve covered the all-star units in the codex, allow me to go over the pitfalls of deathwatch, because boy are there many.

First and foremost, don’t get lost in flexibility. Just because you have the ultimate tool box doesn’t mean you need to use every tool you have! How many of you guys have a multi-tool? How many of you use the same 2-3 bits of your multi-tool over and over, and rarely if ever use the other 8 features it has? Same idea with deatchwatch. Just because you can take a unit of 6 different model types that can do 13 different things does not make it good. You’re going to end up unfocussed and all over the place.

To be specific- a common thing I’ve seen people doing is taking a perfectly good unit like my example intercessor unit above and adding in a pair of aggressors with flamers to deter people from charging them with their powerful overwatch. While you are accomplishing that goal, you’re also spending 80 points to deter people from overwatch. What if you’re playing against Tau, or a BA captain with angels wing, or smite spam TS etc…? Those are just wasted points.


The type of flexibility you attain by mixing in “useful” things like that are not free, and will typically not be helpful. Instead of approaching the book with care free optimism and thinking of all the creative uses you can come up with for having a random bike in your unit of vets or adding a reiver to your intercessors, be objective about it, and think of all the not-so-corner-case scenarios where you’re going to wish you just had another normal dude in its place.

There are tons of ways to build these squads, and I don’t want to go through all of them, but keep this advice in mind: keep it simple and effective.

Moving on from that, I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed by options and take a billion heavy weapons in your vets, things like frag storm cannons and inferno heavy bolters sound cool for sure. But, think about the strengths of deathwatch and the rules you have (special ammo most notably) and think of how you’re not making use of that. I’m not saying that heavy weapons for deathwatch are pointless, but keep in mind other codices can get you access to heavy weapons (for cheaper too) and don’t detract from making use of the things that make your death watch cool.

So, I’ve covered the strengths of death watch and what really makes them tick, now allow me to give a sample detachment for you.

Deathwatch Battalion
Watch Master 130
Librarian with Jump pack 120
Vets- 4 Vets w/ Strom bolter/chain sword, 2 vets with storm bolter/storm shield, 2 vets with frag cannons, 1 termie w/ storm bolter fist, 1 vanguard vet w/ 2 chain swords 278
Vets- 4 Vets w/ Strom bolter/chain sword, 2 vets with storm bolter/storm shield, 2 vets with frag cannons, 1 termie w/ storm bolter fist, 1 vanguard vet w/ 2 chain swords 278
Intercessors- 9 Intercessors, 1 inceptor 207

That detachment totals to 1013, so you can be DW primary for all you ITC faction hunters.

You can deep strike both vet units, the libby, and the watch master. Turn 1 you can hang back with intercessors in cover and enjoy lovely 2+ save 2 wound models. As the game progresses you can bring in the vet bombs, and potentially even teleport the intercessors around the board with the beacon angels. The librarian also provides a bit of psychic defense and potential anti-smite in the form of psychic fortress.

Deathwatch is certainly powerful, and will definitely splash into competitive lists very well. Just be weary of going overboard with your deathwatch squads, and try to be open to the idea of allies.

Stay tuned for Thursday’s article, and always stay in school and don’t do drugs.



2 Comments on “Black is the New Black: A Deathwatch Codex Review

  1. Isn’t that intercessor squad 225? Once you pay for the auto boltrifles?

  2. Just to point out, that Intercessor unit would come to about 224. Also, anyone should put a Chainsword on that Sarge since its free. Can’t get enough of free.

    Been toying with a similar makeup as your auto boltrifle Intercessors, only this one is about 65 points more expensive – replace 4 Intercessors with bolter Aggressors instead. You give up 4 Intercessors worth of SIA, but you get to advance without issue and the unit is T5 now. Double shooting Aggressors are awesome, and this makeup gives them some really durable ablative wounds to give them the chance to make use of it.

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