Friday, January 18, 2013

Chaos Marine Blast Masters: Great or Just a Bunch of Noise?

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. 

My Opinion

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.


  1. if you're already playing slaanesh, awesome. if like me you have no pleasure dudes in your army then you might need a good long think before venturing this route. of course as allies this might be a good idea. just because a unit is good doesn't always mean it is good for you

    1. I am posing the issue simply for competitive play. Personally, whenever I see a new, big idea, I like to test it, refine it and see if the hype is true. I think in this case people will tone back the 6 squads into something more reasonable, if they switch to the noise marines at all.

  2. I've got a game in with a friend that has a slaanesh themed army. That game i played footslogging space wolves and it was devastating. He did hit alot with the scatter that game, so a fair deal of luck, but i'd say they are pretty good.

    1. As soon as I read the FAQ I thought of Space Wolves and DA! I know a few people playing foot SW right now and the DA rules like to have tacticals clump up. Shooting gallery!

    2. Yeah with Heldrakes around so often, and Plasma Cannons the new favorite heavy for tacticals (except DA with Flakk), I find foot lists suffer HARD.

    3. I personally think the Heldrake is the reason to take rhinos. As soon as I fielded one the first time, I looked at my own suddenly exposed havoks and thought about how bad a mirror match would be.

    4. yeah, i tried out footwolves for the first time that game, boy did i learn how essential the rhino is :P

  3. I think a small blast heavy list is viable only with allied Daemons. Slaanesh Paven, the mini-lash, tempts me to build one. The Masque, Herald with Paven, 2 Units of Daemonettes, and a Flying Prine with Paven. That's 5 Pavens a turn. It adds more scoring units, and some rending combat specialist.

  4. "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."

    My reading was that this was how it should be played from the start based on the wording, but it was definitely ambiguous.

    Personally, I'm interested in adding a single slaanesh lord to one of my armies at some point, and then taking 2 of the MSU squads to camp objectives and lob templates from cover, much the way I use scouts w/ Master of Forge in my space marine list. The lord would then go in a cultist squad, as does my Nurgle lord, and then 2 squad of plague marines for aggressive objective hunting. Toss in guard allies for more vehicle saturation. We'll see, I dont have any budget for buying noise marines, so I have to see if i can find some cheap bits at my FLGS that work.

    1. Ian, thanks for the detailed feedback. It's funny, half of the FAQs that came out, I felt the same way about. It is funny how one person's perspective is different from another.

      Anyway, your appraoch is what I am personally angling toward. This article is to help get the discussion started that will A) force people to think before they auto-include and B) generate a discussion for a contemperary topic. I personally feel that players who snatch up the 6 5-man SLaaneshi MSU will curb that over time to have a more balanced approach, much like yours.

      Right now I am actually using a core based on a Nurgle Lord, two squads of agressive plague marines and cultists, so we are very similar in our approach to this. I just lack Guard allies (NECRONS!) I can easily see adding the objective camping shooters and a Slaanesh lord, though I am not sure on the layout yet. It's a pity the sorc doesn't open slots for us as I would prefer a sorceror, but we will see how it goes.

      As for bits, I would try making alternatives if the bits are hard to find. I have seen tons of good conversions that work well as noise marine weapons.

  5. Good write up. The Slaanesh Lord tax does hold them back a bit. But really all the lords are vulnerable if you over reach with them. Lucius is pretty nice for his 160 points.

    Heldrakes and deamons ARE the reason to take rhinos.


    1. Thanks BDS. I have to say that after many CSM games, that yeah, Lords are easy to overestimate and I have gotten mine in trouble quite a few times (what was I thinking fighting a Biomanced Tyrant!) I want to mess around with Huron a bit, plus I got the model and it really looks great in finecast.
      The Heldrake and deamons are funny because they will certainly make you pay for not bringing your rhinos while other armies, like Crons will make you pay for taking them. It's all part of the strange 6th Ed meta of not really having a meta. You really have to build a solid list these days and understand that no matter how hard you plan, there are just some hard counters out there for everything. I have a feeling some Raven Wing players will be getting to know the drakes and flamers and screamers pretty well at tables across the country in the coming weeks.

  6. Note that the entire small circle of the blast marker has to be over the base, but NOT centered on is easy to hit two models regardless is they keep an exact two inches between models....

  7. I use Noise marines, I think they're generally balanced. If I dared to call them "good" it'd only be by the slimmest of margins. I believe the blastmaster is the best infantry carried heavy weapon amongst potential troop choices, but you can't build an army around it. The main purpose for troops choices is mobility to take a goal or to supply wounds or other form of longevity in maintain the holding of a strategic position. So while noise marines are a potentially more shooty unit, the weapons that characterize them diminish their ability to move, and their staying power is being dictated only by fearless. They die easily giving up that much more utility.

    Since day 1 I used them as a 10 model squad in a havoc-ed rhino, but only the one squad, not the minimal spamming of multiple units. My approach, even though they're troops, has been to use them as a support unit to my other troop choices. Between Fabius Bile running a 15 model Chaos Marine squad, and a 10 man enhanced warrior squad... I have a decent number of fearless models that can deal with more varied types of threats.

  8. This is probably pretty ancient and I doubt anyone will see it, but I thought I should point this out anyway.

    If you're worried about the Slaanesh Lord only being able to be T4, you could always put him on a bike to make him T5 and give him Jink. Stick in a few Slaanesh Bikers with Icon of Excess, and your lord is suddenly T5 I5 Jink and FNP.

    I personally use my mounted Slaanesh lord as a glorified delivery system for a unit of 20 Slaanesh FNP Possessed that show up next to the enemy's back ranks, but I play a lot of high-point games.