Hey everybody, it’s Andrew “Puppy Pants” Whittaker here with some tactics and list consideration on the great and might Sky Hammer formation. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a new addition at FTN as a contributing articles writer and guest-host on the FTN Podcast. I’m told I sound like Adam Abramoskljhasdjasfadjitz so if you can’t tell us apart, I do apologize. You can also catch me on the Monday night live webcast alongside TPM and TroopSmash.
*Warning: Lots of sarcasm in here please adjust how easily you’re offended accordingly*
How many times have you walked up to a table at a tournament and looked across the table to see some bro pull two drop pods off his tray and think, “He’s playing Sky Hammer”? He shakes your hand, introduces himself and then proceeds to transfer a few jump pack marines and a hand full of walking marines with big guns onto the table before handing you his list. As you peruse what he believes to be a masterpiece you should notice, much to your delight, that he’s not actually playing Sky Hammer.
Sure, he’s got 10 devs and 10 JP marines, but what he’s really playing are his other models. Maybe he’s got a knight and a libby conclave to make it invisible, along with a smattering of troops. Maybe he’s got a chapter master of pimp-juice with a grav-gun command squad and has allied in a bunch of Skittarii (hereinafter refered to as “Robots”). Maybe, he’s got Grav Centurions (hereinafter refers to as “Teletubbies” or “Tubs”) along with some allied Imperial Guard. Maybe he’s got a Thunderwolf star that’s, “Gonna assault all your guys after the Sky Hammer kills a bunch of stuff!”
It could be any of these things or any of a thousand more Imperial combinations. But whatever it is, it’s abundantly apparent that the Sky Hammer is the helper. The Sky Hammer is the complement. It’s the formation added to the list that is intended to make the other stuff better. This guy’s Sky Hammer is the French Fries to whatever Burger he brought in his list. I think that as soon as you see this you should be smiling because he’s missed the point. His list could be so much better and this game could be way worse for you. But it’s not. It’s not, because he didn’t realize Sky Hammer should be the burger. Sky Hammer is not the French fries.
Now if that little story time with Andrew, wasn’t entirely clear to you, don’t sweat it – I’m not that good of a writer – allow me to try to elaborate.
I believe Sky Hammer is one of the most underutilized and incredibly powerful formations in the game. It has the capacity to be truly meta breaking and it can, and should, be near the top tables at every major tournament. Assault out of reserves? Yep. Heavy weapons shooting on the move? Yep. High mobility? Yep. Crazy morale penalties pass or fail? Got it! Extra Drop Pods on turn 1? You know it! Oh what’s that, you want to say JK and do it all on turn 2 instead? Yessir!!
It’s an incredible value with all sorts of special rules that can combine with certain chapter tactics to force-multiply like a Matt Ward wet dream. So why isn’t it kicking people’s teeth in all the time? Why is it that we aren’t seeing Sky Hammer do very well across the panoply of national GT’s and why is it little more than a nuisance at most RTT’s?
Well I believe the answer to that is two-fold. First, I think Sky Hammer is a power gamer’s tool. It’s the kind of formation that can be stretched and min/maxed to death by the WAC guys to be an incredible powerhouse. And to that end, the kind of players who do that, are busy playing Eldar and War Convocation. That wasn’t a punch line…. That’s the truth. Space Marines are what gets people into the game but the real power gamers move past them fairly quickly. Marines are perceived as fairly vanilla and the really top end players are far more interested in the fancy stuff. Don’t believe me? Check the top brackets at major GT’s and the beat stick guys in your local meta. I’d be willing to bet they’re playing Eldar, Demons, Tau, and Robots. (If you are one of the people that believes it is the Codex that wins and not the player, go ahead and stop reading now because no amount of podcasts or wisdom packed blog articles are going to save your from your own Tina-ness). What does this mean in a broader scope? It means that the best, most experienced list builders aren’t playing Marines at all, much less Sky Hammer.
This first issue I’ve identified causes and compounds the second thing; The rest of us have been doing Sky Hammer wrong. I’ve come to the conclusion that in our attempt to utilize all of the tricks and tools Space Marines have (and Marines have Justin Troop’s backside worth), we’ve watered them down. We’ve thought, “Golly, wouldn’t it be great to have a Gladius, a Sky Hammer, and a ‘Tub-Drop’ in the same 2000 points?!” In so doing, I think a lot of space marine players have missed a real opportunity to put our Vanilla Marines on the same playing field as those fancy pants armies and we’ve done that by mixing up what should be a burger and what should be fries. Marine players have been building Sky Hammer lists without Sky Hammer being the center piece. It should be the main thing in a competitive list. It is what the other half of the list should be designed to support and help. It should be the main course in the meal, Sky Hammer should not be your fries.
So we’ve come full circle to my examples from the beginning and I hope you have a good feeling for what I mean. If you’re gonna make a list that includes a Sky Hammer, make it a big one. The formation should never have fewer than 30 marines and should almost always have 40. The Dev and Assault squads should be full, and they should often be combat squaded in order to create the maximum number of units that can use all of the special rules. Too often I see marine players min-size squad the Sky Hammer and end up paying a 180 point Assault squad tax in order to get relentless Grav Devs in drop pods. I know you guys know what I’m talking about. But consider for just one second how foolish that is.
If you are taking Sky Hammer for Grav Devs, just take Tubs in a drop pod instead. Tub-Drop is superior in almost every single way and way cheaper than paying the Assault Squad tax. Tubs have higher toughness, better armor, more wounds than a 5 man dev squad, Hurricane Bolters, Split fire, and are cheaper than a Sky Hammer Dev squad with the Tax. The only thing the Hammer Devs have is the pinning bonus. But what unit are you shooting at that CAN be pinned after you’ve shot 20 re-rollable grav shots at it? By just about any metric, if you’re only using Sky Hammer for the Devs…. Well, you’re just doing it wrong by spending too many points and you’re building a not-great list.
So what can be done? How do we make it as mean and efficient as Whittaker claims it can be? My answer is to pour points into it. Make the Sky Hammer as big and bad as you possibly can and then custom cater the remaining 750-800 points to optimize what the formation does best. In order to optimize the best attributes, we have to identify them. In my opinion All Sky Hammer lists should aim at making the most of (1) target saturation, (2) assault from reserve, (3) deployment flexibility. Before discussing this, allow me to set up my hypothetical Sky Hammer list which I will use to illustrate my points.
*Disclaimer: This is not the greatest list of all time, but I think it will be useful to show how designing your army around Sky Hammer multiplies its power and durability. I picked Black Templar for my CAD because they’re the only Marines that hate Eldar in the fluff as much as I do in real life.*
Sky Hammer Annihilation Force – Ultramarine Chapter Tactics
Dev Squad A: 10 marines, x4 Grav Cannon/amps,
Dev Squad B: 10 Marines, x2 Multi Melta, x2 Grav Cannon/amps, Combi-Melta on SGT
Assault Squad Y: 10 marines, x2 Flamers, Veteran SGT w/Melta Bomb and Power Sword
Assault Squad Z: 10 Marines, x2 Flamers, Veteran SGT w/Melta Bomb and Power Sword
Combined Arms Detachment – Black Templar Chapter Tactics
Chapter Master – Terminator Armor, Storm Shield, Chain Fist
X2 Tac Squad: 5 Marines, Drop Pod
X2 Iron Clad Dreadnought: Drop Pod
Scout Bikes: 3 Scouts, Locator Beacon
Drop Pod: Empty
Let this sink in for just a second – you’ve got a Bangin’ HQ, 50 marines, 7 drop pods, a couple dreadnoughts, and scout bikers. Not to mention Power Swords… Power Swords!!! If that’s not the definition of fluffy marine army I don’t know what is. This is a list that’s going to be fun to play and also be a monster for your opponents to deal with. For this analysis we’ll compare how this would play against the two big boogy men on the block; Eldar and stupid, idiotic, ridiculously moronic, rules broken, intercepting Tau.
- Target Saturation
Having more dangerous things within threat range than your opponent can effectively kill is a massive advantage. It forces them into uncomfortable decision points and makes target prioritization the most important thing in their game. Those two facts should not be over looked because clutch decision making and target priority are things that most players suck at. The Sky Hammer is amazing at this when coupled with complementary list additions.
By way of example, consider what my list will have coming in one turn one if I am going first. A total of 5 drop pods, and 20 Assault marines that have combat squaded into 4 units. The chapter master comes out of a Pod with a small tac squad, the Iron Clads drop in as close as can be and then the combat squaded Devs land somewhere within their effective range. That places 11, distinct units on your opponents door step turn one. Every single one of these units is quite capable of causing serious harm.
What is a Tau Player supposed to intercept? Does it shoot at the AV13 iron clads that are about to drop heavy flamer templates on his pathfinders? Does he intercept the beat stick chapter master with his 2+/3+ and essentially 9 wounds? Or should he try to intercept one of the 4 assault squad units primed to lock him up in CC? Maybe he thinks all the Grav Devs are the dangerous ones… but unfortunately they too are broken into 4 distinct squads each one being able to inflict serious harm and cause pinning checks. Alas, if he flushes the tubes and tries his best to intercept as best he can he will undoubtedly overkill any of the small 5 man squads and that will leave him woefully unable to shoot anything the following turn. Oh no, he thinks, if I don’t kill the assault marines, the 4 flamers will cook more guys and they’ll lock me in combat! And you’re just there thinking that 2 grav cannons will effectively remove a Broadside squad per turn, and the Orbital Bombardment is coming in too.
If you just read that and said to yourself as the tau player, “well it depends one where they’re all positioned, how I deployed, how many units I have that can intercept, whether I can shoot through the AV13 dreads, and how all these things work with the mission.” Then you’ve proved my point as much as your own. The point here is to force your opponent into making tough choices at every stage of the game and nothing does that better than a ton of threatening targets. . A Fully kitted Sky Hammer is full of threatening targets – more so than almost anything else a vanilla marine army can bring. Every decision point is a place where your opponent can make a mistake, and if he does make those mistakes, you have the advantage. If he shoots one wrong thing on intercept, that can be the game. A Sky Hammer forces him to play mistake free 40K – easier said than done.
- Assault From Reserve
Assault Squads suck. They’re terrible. They’re about as good on the 40K table as Mike Twitchell is at exotic dancing (pure speculation there – would love it if I was wrong). There’s a reason why we never saw them played before Sky Hammer and a reason why players think taking min squads is the right thing to do. But assaulting out of reserves changes all of that, especially when you can use the JP’s for both movement and assault.
Let’s use Eldar as the example this time because hypothetically murdering them is almost as gratifying as actually doing it. Assault squad X from my list combat squads such that the Sarg and 4 bone stock guys are in a unit. This merry band of Bad Asses precision-deep-strikes thanks to their friendly scout’s locator beacon and charges in on…idk…. 5 Scat Bikes (because they’re the devil). The math on the over watch, (assuming they even get it) is not great. Maybe 3 wounds, maybe a single dead marine given average rolls. So 4 marines make contact, that’s 4 impact hits, 2 impact wounds. Then it’s 9 attacks (potentially re-rolling hits and wounds) – we’ll call it 2 more wounds. Then the Sarg swings 4 times – without re-rolls that’s two dead bikes with the regular wounds killing at least one more. Assuming average rolls for the bikes they won’t kill any marines. Combat resolves with the bikes taking a check on leadership 5, probably running/getting swept, or best case scenario, 2 guys left alive and locked in combat. Meaning on average rolls the Marines kill them the following turn and get to assault again.
This tedious exercise in Math-Hammer is intended to show that assault marines can dispatch grossly superior infantry units very efficiently because assaulting from reserves gives them 5 free hammer of wrath hits and 16 attacks on the charge if no one dies to over watch. And even where you’re not wiping squads, it’s all about taking away your opponent’s shooting power. Have you ever seen an Eldar player turn purple with rage because his precious scat bikes are locked in combat or his Wave Serpents just died to rear armor krack grenades and a Melta Bomb? It’s delightful.
In short, assault marines aren’t bad in a SkyHammer. In fact they’re pretty good. 2 flamers, a power sword, and a melta bomb is a fantastic way to spend 30 points making them an actual threat that has to be dealt with.
- Deployment Flexibility
This is a fairly simple concept, but it is so under-appreciated by most players. For this one, let’s assume you’re playing someone with personal integrity, aka not a Tau Player. We will pick on Eldar again. In that match up the elder player knows that there will be 4 Dev units capable of putting down almost anything in his army. 2 Grav Cannons re-rolling hits and wounds can, and usually will, put a Wraith Knight in the ground depending on how the tournament is ruling cover saves for Gargantuan Creatures. (And let’s be honest, if they’re still allowing toe-in cover saves for GMC’s you shouldn’t be supporting their event anyway.) So the Eldar player certainly doesn’t want to deploy his WK’s. If he puts them on the table to get grav’d to death on turn 1 and the game is as good as won for you. So what’s he to do? Leave 700 points in reserves? Well really that’s his only good option, so he deploys conservatively and counts on being able to come onto the board out of range of the Grav once they’re already on the board. This would be a sound plan, except you can null deploy on turn one and bring the Hammer down on turn 2 – potentially after his WK’s have come on from reserve.
The capacity to manipulate your reserves makes a Hammer list so much more flexible than the average build. And it forces your opponent to potentially have a piece-meal force that is not nearly as effective as the cohesive force he designed. Is he going to deploy those Strength-D Vaul’s wrath batteries just to have them get assaulted and run down by a 5 man assault squad on turn one? Or will he leave them in reserve meaning they don’t get to shoot till turn 3 at best? Does he start rolling for scrier’s-gaze to help out his newly devised, ad-hoc reserve strategy instead of the powers his Farseers normally want? Remember that Math Hammer we did above with regard to the scat bikes? Yeah, still applicable and he doesn’t want them eating grav all alone out there either. And then what does he shoot at when he finally walks on out of reserve? Will he pop-off at the Grav Devs or at the 7 drop pods that are just sitting there milking the progressive objectives?
You are more flexible and have the fire power to back it up. He has more and more decision points which equate to more and more opportunities for him to make mistakes. His disgustingly superior codex now counts for very little.
This article is coming up on 3000 words, so if you’re still reading, your boss is probably not getting his money’s worth. But you are! Because this article was free and because it’s full of the ways and means of making Sky Hammer absolutely brutal. Get onto your favorite roster editor and play with making a fully kitted formation instead of “minning” it out and trying to make it be a complement to something else. Maybe you could plan for a turn two arrival and ally Blood Angels in for a massive Deep Strike assault force with lots of Jump Packs! Maybe you get crazy and just take 2 Sky Hammer formations and make your opponent deal with 80 marines just blasting away like war-porn in a William King novel. Maybe Dark Angels Raven Wing is your thing and you think mounted Black Knight Cavalry cutting through the enemy while hell reins down on their heads is cool. (Yeah! It’s freaking awesome!) Whatever you do, please don’t make the mistake of having Sky Hammer be the French Fries.
By Andrew Whittaker – Contributing Writer and Podcast Guest-Host