Alright, OST here to talk about my beloved CSM and the improved ability of Noise Marines to take Blast Masters in a minimum squad. For those of you who don't know the recent FAQ changes changed the ruling on Blast Master from one per ten Noise Marines to one in a five man, two available for a 10 man squad. This has led to tons of rejoicing in the online community praising the 5 Man Noise Marine squad as the best troop choice for Chaos, but is this true?
The Marine and his weapon
Let's take a look at the blast master. The weapon runs us 30 points and gives us basically a two shot heavy bolter on the move OR if we stand still, a 8/3 small blast that ignores cover. Ignoring cover and smoking the almighty 3+ armor is nothing to ignore, this weapon furthermore takes care of vehicles with its S8 and of course can hurt the horde units as well.
Now let's add in the Noise Marine. He is fearless and I5. Yes, Noise Marines can hurt an equal sized space marine squad, but they are not CC specialists, in fact I don't want a small squad in CC at all. Fearless is good because they will remain scoring until you kill the last one. In exchange they can't go to ground, so when something can bring low AP fire to them, they had better already be in some good cover. All in all though, not a bad profile.
Trends so far
So far, I have seen folks putting 6 squads into lists at 1850 or above. In this, I am seeing a trend of three different kinds of units:
1. 5-6 man bare Noise Marines with a blast master. For 125 points, you get 4 fearless I5 bolter guys and the blast master. Pretty cheap.
2. 5-6 man Noise Marines with sonic weapons and a Blast Master. The five man version runs 137 points and throws out more firepower than a ten man bolter squad at +12" AND kills any pesky xenos or guard scum pretty handily. Still Cheap, more dakka, all of the benefits listed above, though if you are moving, your average guns are practically useless.
3. Either one of the squads above with a Rhino, usually with a Havok Launcher. Add the points to the units above and well ... it's starting to get a little expensive for a five man squad, but you gain a good first turn push, some survivability vs things like Heldrakes and high volume small arms fire. If standing still, you still get to shoot the blast master out of the top as a template and to top it off, you also get the Havok launcher's blast as well ... but we all know the survivability of rhinos and the amount of dakka that is out there that can deal with them, so there is risk and reward here.
Is it effective?
That's the real question isn't it? On our facebook group, somebody quoted Blackmoor as saying "nobody should base an army around small blast templates" ... I can see where that comes from. We have a two thirds chance to scatter and a two thirds chance to deviate (though the shorter end of that deviation isn't really that bad and even then, it is highly situational as to whether the result is bad at all). Furthermore, in my experience, if I run a bunch of small blasts, my opponent tends to lay down a tac template and space his models exactly 2" apart, making it so that a direct hit will only net me 1 model and forcing a lucking scatter to really just take two. That won't protect his vehicles, but killing one ork boy or even tac marine at a time with a blast master (when you do hit the unit) can be pretty frustrating.
Let's add to that the cost of a Slaaneshi Lord and the hidden limitations. The Slaaneshi Lord alone isn't super terrible. He gets access to many of the same options as the other lords and even can take a mount with an outflanking mechanic. He also has access to the mighty Brand of Skallathrax, which I hear the dark forgeworlds have been turning out in record numbers, meaning that he can add to the AP3 ignore cover party! He is a good semi-shooty/combat support character or can even just be a cheap set of wounds for a squad ... but he has no option to be anything but T4, which is one of the reasons Nurgle Lords (who unlock the other decent Troops choice in the book) or the Khorne Lord on Juggernaught who are nearly immune to insta-death, which I think is often times blown out of proportion, but I also shirk at the idea of a powerfist sgt popping my lord!
One of my big questions when I see the netlists with 6 MSU blast master squads is "Who is running for the objectives?" It seems like five man squads can die pretty quickly and when the move the blast master really loses the thing that makes it shine most. I think this is a critical vulnerability.
Finally, the unit doesn't exist in a bubble. The codex has a variety of units, particularly ones that excel at delivering AP3 cover denial (like the Heldrake, who is even better at it with the FAQ) and the Brand, which any HQ can use to add to the BBQ action. We all know the codex does lack mass small arms dakka (for horde control and saturation fire for tough units) and sources of AP2 (just for killing termies without rolling all those dice) on good units - unless we take allies that compliment those goals (looking at you Guard and Crons). In my opinion, this doesn't make the blast master superfluous, but it does make me look at what I am exchanging to take it - namely my choice of Lord or other units that run special weapons.
Well, I don't really have one yet. Something feels wrong to me about the auto-include storm of MSU units for Noise Marines and the reliance on small blasts to do anything (remember Murphy lives on the tabletop), but I am not willing to discount the fact that this is a fantastic unit and I recognize that the 5-6 man approach allows you to choose more targets. I think I need to grab some experience with this to really cast judgement and I also think it may call for a change to the paradigms we have seen in 6th edition Chaos Space Marine Lists. Do we need a ton of autocannon havoks in a Noise Marine MSU list? Can we re-purpose them with special weapons? Do we lean more into the expensive Oblits? Do we need 2-3 heldrakes? How do we compliment the abilities of the troops while making the list as a whole still function with the tools we need?
That's all I have for right now. I plan to gain some experience with various builds around this concept and see how it goes. In the mean time. I would love to hear your thoughts, opinions, ideas and testimony (if you have it yet). I think we can all gain perspective from other the ideas and experience of others.