Secret Agendas: What to do with the new Dark Angels codex

John Lennon, Art of War coach and humble servant of the Emperor, joins us to talk about the brand new Dark Angels codex! To see him in action with these new rules, be sure to check out our games on YouTube and in the War Room!

It feels like we were just writing a new codex review, right? The meta and list writers all over are still reeling from a Death Guard codex that has all the appearances of a competitive book, but is still untested on the tournament scene. Well, Games Workshop has teleported a new codex into our midst, the mighty Dark Angels! In the lore, the First Legion was the template that all other legions were copied from, and sure enough, I expect to see a lot of chapters played with Dark Angel rules soon! The sons of the Lion have been quickly heralded as one of the mightiest Space Marine chapters, and perhaps one of the best armies in the game. Is this the overreaction of the internet, or are DA already the new army to beat?

Let’s start by diving into exactly what makes the Dark Angels so good. Unlike the Death Guard, we are working off of a very known quantity in the core of the army, with a Space Marine codex that is highly regarded in the competitive scene, and many of these rules were featured in the Dark Angels index previously. As far as I can tell, none of the datasheets or special rules changed from the index to this codex, but the power of Inner circle and Jink are worth repeating. First off, Inner circle is a built in transhuman that gives morale immunity and the potential to not fall back if you roll over your leadership on 2d6. We know exactly how strong this is, and it has been extended to all units from the generic codex that have the Deathwing keyword. Your Bladeguard Veterans, vanilla terminators and any captain that you upgrade to Deathwing are going to hang on for a very long time!

Jink is similarly unchanged, giving a 5+ invulnerable against shooting to any Ravenwing unit that did not remain stationary in the previous movement phase. Advancing will give you a tasty 4++! Similar to Inner Circle, this has been extended to any of the generic Space Marine units that have the Ravenwing keyword, which is a huge boon for outriders, attack bikes, and normal bikers. Another increase to the durability of this army really can’t be overlooked!

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As per usual, there’s a host of stratagems in this new book, with several new inclusions that are going to be fundamental to how the army plays. First up is Intractable, allowing a unit to fall back and still make shooting attacks (and not make a roll for inner circle). With some of the buffs coming to shooting units, this really can’t be undervalued! Next up is line unbreakable, which in the fight phase means that only enemy models actually within one inch can swing, and preventing enemies within half an inch of a friend from fighting! This may be situational but against a large unit of orks, daemons, or any thinly spread unit this is going to be a backbreaker.

Need more defense? For 1cp, toss a 4++ onto a Ravenwing vehicle when it gets targeted by a ranged attack! While many of the Space Marine vehicles have fallen out of favor, this is a great way to add a lot of defense to some otherwise unpopular units. Sensing a theme yet? I promise there’s some offense coming too! Tap 2cp in and a deathwing knight unit will improve their wound rolls and ap by one when punching a vehicle or monster! I think this is a little redundant with the Deathwing doctrine buff that we will discuss later, but it’s not bad if you end up taking the knights.

Dark Angels Review: Flyers: Ravenwing Dark Talon | Frontline Gaming
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We absolutely have to take a second and talk about a throwback to 8th edition, weapons from the Dark Age. And yes, this one is going to get its own paragraph. The premise is simple, 2cp gives +1 damage to all plasma weapons in a unit. There are a lot of plasma weapons in the space marine arsenal, from Helblasters to Repulsors, but you’re going to get the most bang from your buck with a large quantity of shots, which makes me really want to use this stratagem on a large infantry unit, or perhaps biker unit. 10 Helblasters with the Assault Plasma Incinerator put out a very respectable 30 shots, but at the cost of 330 you are looking at identical points for 6 inceptors. With near identical threat ranges, an inceptor squad has a variable 12d3 shots, which will average 24 or blast to 36. Speed is king, I think, and the one higher strength is a bonus, but the hellblasters are actually shockingly close in output when you do a bit of math. This strat is going to be extremely popular to build around for budding new Dark Angel players!

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I do want to focus on a few more key strats that will provide some good trickery when needed. A simple 1cp puts a Dark Angel unit near your warlord into any doctrine, great value with the various options for the Dark Angel super doctrine, which we will discuss below. Stasis shells let a grenade launcher trap a unit in combat and prevent it from falling back for a healthy 2cp, while Swift Strike will let you disengage a cheeky charging Ravenwing unit after it has fought, preventing your opponent from attacking back! There of course more stratagems in this book, and frankly none of them are useless, but these are the ones I will see myself using the most I think.

Sons of the Lion

Ok, lets talk about this doctrine, shall we? Dark Angels have a unique doctrine, where each of the three options will buff a different set of Dark Angels units, instead of one doctrine buffing every unit. Ravenwing, as appropriate, will get the most momentum on turn 1 in devastator doctrine, where they gain 3″ of movement and can advance and fire, letting them go fast and get a 4+ invulnerable save early on! In tactical, your infantry that are not Deathwing will be able to shoot into combat on a 5+, but with the DA chapter tactic can get +1 to hit for a 4+ to hit essentially. Finally, those deathwing units will be rerolling their wounds against characters and 8 wound models in combat once the assault doctrine activates! All of these buffs are pretty self explanatory on when to use, but for my money I think the Ravenwing buff will come up most. That extra speed, and access to a 4++ against shooting, is invaluable in early turns.

Relics, Warlord Traits and Psychic Powers

Oh man, now it’s getting really good in here. The Dark Angel relics are absolutely fantastic, and are going to be seen quite often. Again, I’m not going to talk about every single one, but they really do bring a lot to the table. First up, the Penant of Remembrance has changed to target one deathwing core infantry unit, and give it -1 damage. Considering that you can still have a 6+ to ignore wounds from an apothecary, this just feels too good to ignore. Any large unit of terminators with inner circle, a few storm shields, and this relic, is going to be resistant to all but the most determined attacks. The Reliquary of the Repentant has changed from being a simple -1 to enemy invulnerable saves, to making all enemy units with a 4++ or better only pass on an unmodified 5+. Ouch! Storm shields, cataphractii armor, and impossible robes all seem a lot easier to chew through when within 3″ of whoever is holding this relic. Finally, I wanted to highlight Arbiter’s Gaze, a relic that lets one Talonmaster overwatch on a 2+, always hit on a 2+, and ignore cover. That’s going to leave quite a mark! One talonmaster feels mandatory, and this seems like the best relic he can be given.

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The Warlord traits are probably the least exciting aspect of this army, but frankly they are still on par with other armies, just not the strength of the book. Azreal’s warlord trait is unchanged, essentially letting you push one unit “back” a turn into the previous doctrine, and is still quite solid. Watched, which allows you to automatically deny one enemy spell a game, is still very clutch if you can fit it, but most of these traits are not going to make the cut. With so many good traits in the generic codex, like selfless healer and rites of war, it’s hard to fit in more. The other Dark Angels one I would consider is to take Decisive Tactician, for a 6″ aura of +1 to advance and charge for all of your core units.

Alright, let’s talk about Interromancy. Honestly, this is the most complete discipline in the game. While other tables have a few stars and some duds, this table legitimately has five great powers and one that is still solid, just not as exciting as the rest of the spells here. Sorry Trephination, but a few extra mortals just aren’t as exciting as the rest of the psychic tree!

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-Let’s start in order, with Mind Worm providing an 18″ malediction to give a mortal wound and fight last effect to an enemy unit! Fighting last can be brutal, as it prevents your opponent from interrupting a charge or wanting to charge you, and this is one of my top 3 from the discipline.

-Aversion is up next, giving a -1 to hit to an enemy unit and potentially -1 attack if they are within 6″ of the caster.

-Righteous Repugnance seems like a star at first, letting one Dark Angels unit reroll hits and wounds in combat, but I actually think this will be left out because of the Assault doctrine buff to Deathwing, and the proliferation of lightning claws in many lists. Perhaps a Ravenwing based army will take this spell more seriously?

-Engulfing fear strips an enemy unit of Objective Secured, lowers their leadership, and with a high cast can even stop a unit from performing actions! Absolutely clutch, with your own Rites of War this is going to frankly bully some armies that can’t stop it.

-Mind Wipe is the final showstopper for me, an 18″ malediction with a high cost of 7 that strips one aura from an enemy unit. Think of the possibilities, removing Rites of War entirely from the enemy, or a feel no pain aura right before overcharging your plasma weapons!

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This whole codex is a winner so far, but man oh man are these secondaries going to really hammer home the point. While Martial Interdiction is thematic, targeting a single enemy unit is very risky business. The other two are golden, with Death on the Wind giving 2 points every time a ravenwing model that moved 12″ or more (or charged) kills a unit. If you build some serious mobile firepower into your list, with Talonmasters being noteworthy, you are going to be rewarded! Even better, Stubborn Defiance gives escalating points for choosing one objective and holding onto it with one unit for as long as possible! If you plop a brick of terminators onto an objective in your deployment zone, your opponent will be sorely pressed to deny you. I do also want to talk about one more stratagem, Secret Agenda. Simply put, for 1cp you can hide one of your secondaries and not reveal it to the opponent until you score points on it. This can be a trap if your chosen secondary is an obvious one, like While we Stand we fight, or scores early, like Oath of Moment. But, imagine your opponent not knowing that you have taken assassinate until the end of turn 5, when you reveal how many points you’ll be scoring! This is seriously tricky and I love it.

Dark Angels Codex Spotted Next For Warhammer 40,000 – OnTableTop – Home of  Beasts of War
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Collected thoughts

When you read all of the above rules, there’s a lot of power. How can there not be a winning army with all of this, right? I have to say, I’m impressed with some of the incredible defense the first can put together, but putting together a list is actually a little trickier than I expected. There are quite a few decisions to be made when writing a Dark Angels army, due to the nature of the various “wings” and how some of these rules overlap. Azreal feels like an auto take from his rules alone, but will his invulnerable save be worthwhile when your attack bikes already have Jink, and your bladeguard carry a storm shield? Once you take Bladeguard, is it worth taking the banner of Redemption with their smaller unit sizes? Once you take a giant unit of Terminators to justify the banner, that Azreal buff starts looking pretty good! I think that there are going to be quite a few good archetypes coming out of Dark Angels that have “groups” of units. I expect the ancient will only be taken with large terminator units, while Bladeguard feel better for small units running around in multiple locations. I think that while Inceptors look like a steal here, they will really only be used with Azreal in the list, while another very good army could cut both and rely on Ravenwing and Deathwing only.

The unique Dark Angel stratagems are also ones that you will actually build around, rather than simply being convenient to have. Frankly, Dark Angels are going to need a lot more command points than other chapters, especially if you take units with plasma weapons. With all of the pregame shenanigans that Dark Angels offer, they can start quite low, especially after taking a second detachment. While Azrael helps mitigate this with his two command point bonus, there is a lot to be said for sticking to a single battalion despite the new rules for Deathwing Vanguard and Ravenwing Outriders. If you take a Deathwing vanguard with Azrael as your warlord, and a patrol to put your Inceptors in, then buy rites of war, selfless healer and two more relics, you suddenly start at 8 command points before spending 1 on Secret Agenda. With 7 to start, are you going to be able to afford to supercharge that plasma often, while keeping transhuman on your inceptors and rerolling the odd failed spell? There are actually several traps tied into the power this book brings!

A Dark Angels Veteran | WARHAMMER ART
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I have constructed a list with my first take on the codex, but I imagine that armies are going to change quite a bit as we continue to learn the secrets of the Rock!

Dark Angels Patrol
Ezekiel (Mind Worm, Engulfing Fear, Mind Wipe)
Talon Master (Arbiter’s Gaze)

Talon Master

5x Infiltrators

4 Servitors 30

6x inceptors (plasma)
3x attack bikes (multi Meltas)

Dark Angels Vanguard

Azrael (Warlord)

10 Deathwing terminators (5x Hammer/Shield, 5x Claws)
Bladeguard Ancient (Rites of War, Banner of Remembrance)
Ravenwing Chief Apothecary (Selfless Healer, Reliquary of the Repentant)
Deathwing command (1 Hammer/Shield, 1 Claws)
Deathwing Command (1 Hammer/Shield, 1 Claws)

A Dark Angels Veteran | WARHAMMER ART
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While this army is low model count, it can protect its shooting units very well and has an extremely durable brick to hold back the enemy. With the Dark Angels secondaries, it can take Stubborn Defiance and While we stand, we fight for a very high potential secondary. What’s the third choice? Don’t let your opponent know until you’re getting points! You can see, however, the temptation to go overboard on amazing but expensive characters in this list. It may be harder to play than one would expect, but there is plenty of power here!

Overall, I expect Dark Angels to make a good splash on the meta without being completely broken. Several previous books have done this, being hot on release but mellowing with age as players adapt to the new shark in the pond. Many of the strongest elements of Dark Angels have existed before without being too powerful for the game, and I think that’s where they land again. I do believe that this supplement is going to outperform most of the other Chapters, however, thanks to its innate durability that will make it a forgiving army to pick up, especially for those new to the faction.

If you enjoyed this article, please let us know what you think! There’s a lot to unpack in this supplement. To see it on the table, remember to check the Art of War out on YouTube and in the War Room!


3 Responses

  1. Great article! Excited to see the DAs take on the DG.

    I am worried though – I think the DG end up bullying and tying up the best pieces of the army with Morty while the DA army doesn’t have enough tools to clear up the rest of board. That’s my prediction, happy to be proven wrong. We’ll see soon!

  2. Excellent write up, thank you! Do you think dreads, especially redemptors, have a place in a deathwing detachment? Or is the 15 point cost to initiate them to DW too costly without benefit, in your opinion.

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