Monday, September 26, 2011

Swiftclaw Tactica Part 1 by Ted Nagel

The article I present here was originally a post in the Space Wolf forum section of the Bolter and Chainsword. After being asked to post it on the Space Wolf Blog (which was a great thrill and honor, I must say), I thought this a great opportunity to update the Article a bit as some of my thoughts have changed somewhat since then. I have left the majority of this article intact for those who want to read the original content as written, and I have placed my new thoughts on some matters in italics and in red so the changes are easy to find for those who are familiar with the article and want to check out the changes.

Recently I have received quite a few questions about one of my favorite units, The Swift Claw Biker Pack, this has been at the game shop I hang out at, Tournaments, and via PM and Email. Of course this made for some very good discussion and also prompted me to do a little more research.

After reading several Space Wolf Tactica articles it dawned on me that very few recommend the use of this unit. In fact many simply state that they are a waste of points and that the points are better spent else where.

My hope with this discussion is to shed some light on the uses and composition of the Swift Claws Biker pack and maybe even entice a few Wolf Lords to give them a try, or at the very least invoke some discussion on the matter about this under-used and frequently under-estimated unit.

I am a long time fan of my BloodClaws on bikes, and they have been a main stay in my army for several years. The most recent edition of the Space Wolves Codex only made me want to take more bikes as I feel they have improved over the last Codex that we had.
1. They dropped in points cost
2. They gained an additional weapon, giving them an additional attack in close combat.
3. They can now add an Attack bike at a minimal points cost
4. They now come with Frag Grenades.

Now, add in the fact that the 5th edition of the game is "The Mech Age" and you have a unit that is not only faster than mechanised units, but also reduces the effectiveness of much of the enemy's anti-tank fire power, especially with good use of the "Turbo-boost" rule.

1st lets look at the slot they take up, and how many units to take.
In a 1500 points game I typically take just one unit of Swift Claws though the unit will be slightly larger than if I were going to take 2 units, supported by my HQ on a Bike (usually a WGBL). I should note that other than campaign play, I rarely play games at 1500 points, when I do my Wolf Guard Battle Leader is equipped as follows: WGBL on a bike with a Frost Blade and Melta-bombs this comes in at a cheap 135 points. A Wolf Priest on a bike would probably be a better choice for tournament play, but since I only play at this point level in campaign situations, the Battle Leader is a better choice for storyline purposes.

Once I hit the 1750-1850 point mark, I typically take 2 units of Swift Claw Bikers, and upgrade the IC to my "Standard" Wolf Lord. After last years Mechanicon I began rethinking my list a bit, and have since added a second HQ to my “Standard” 1850 Tournament list. A Wolf Priest on a bike is the new staple here in addition to my Wolf Lord Thorgrimm. The Wolf Priest not only Makes the unit fearless, but I am finding that the preferred enemy he gives the pack is a huge bonus.
Wolf Lord Thorgrimms load out is as follows: Wolf Lord on a Bike with Runic Armor, Thunder Hammer, Storm Shield, Saga of the Bear (if I have the spare points I take a Wolf tail talisman).

At 2000+ I take a second HQ on a bike. Originally I was using two Wolf Lords on bikes at this points level, but having since started using the Wolf Priest, I have been taking my 2nd Lord on a Thunder Wolf. The combination of the Bikers hitting followed up by the Thunder Wolves has proven to be devastating. Also and perhaps more importantly the Thunder Wolf adds to the survivability of my Warrior Born Lord. All too often he was being felled by a lucky Power fist hit, the T5 of the Thunder Wolf helps mitigate this weakness.

Of course the above is a guideline, and I occasionally vary this depending on mood, and trying new builds.

You can see that in a typical size game for my Gaming Group and in Tournament play I typically go for 2 units, why is this? Well, the tactics that my army uses relies on speed, 1 unit is good, but I find that if that unit goes down I am struggling, and fighting an up hill battle. These guys truly set the pace of the battle (more on how I accomplish this later), it has often been said in my group that if you want to beat me, you need to get rid of the Bikers quickly.

I am trying to figure out an even more biker heavy build, but that is more of a themed list and less balanced for the purposes I am trying to demonstrate here.

Now lets talk about the units composition. In my "typical" army list I use the following: Three Bikers, one with a Melta-gun, and one with a Power-fist, Plus an Attack bike with a Heavy Bolter. All of them are upgraded with Melta-bombs and are led by a Wolfguard with a Power-fist. I have recently added a combi-melta to the Wolf Guard on the bike, this has proven to be a very valuable addition.

This gives me a unit of 5 models (6 or 7 if they have an IC or two attached).
2 of these units gives me 10 bikers plus any ICs I have mounted. I could take larger units but I find they become unwieldy, being more difficult to get into position, and or take cover (more on this later as well). As people are getting accustomed to my play style and learning what is important to target, I am re-thinking the numbers a bit. I think I can add one or two bikers per pack, and maintain the maneuverability of the units while slightly increasing their size. I will write more on this after I get the models painted and run a few games with it.

Vrox, from the Bolter and Chainsword had asked me a question as to the reasons for the change of my standard Swift Claw Biker load outs. Below is my response, a bit of history involving the how and why of the changes I have made.

"Well Vrox, to be honest, I have tried quite a few load outs. My current load out (as described above) is the result of trying out several configurations."

I don't want to get off topic by starting to ramble on about the "Old Codex" but I will take some time to talk about it to explain the progression of my use of ICs on bikes and the use of Blood Claw Biker Packs (Swift Claws) (at Vrox's request).

Towards the end of our last Codex I was running one Large Blood Claw Biker pack with 2x Powerfists and a Wolfguard Pack leader with a 3rd (or a pair of LCs). This was led by a Wolfguard Battle leader on a Bike with a Boltpistol, Frag, and a Frost Weapon, this IC only cost me 117 points! Now, I also ran a Grey Hunters Attackbike Pack with Heavy Bolters this was also led by a Wolfguard Battle Leader on a Bike with Boltpistol, Frag, and a Frost Weapon.

This worked well at the time for a few reasons:
The larger pack was needed because each BloodClaw had few Attacks
The lack of Frag needed to be compensated for with numbers when attacking into cover
I was still running 2 Biker Packs with the potential to split into 4 different units
The Attackbikes were better as a support unit, especially given their higher BS

With the new Codex, I was forced to immediately make some adjustments. 1st off, I only had one fist in a Pack this reduced the high Str hitting potential, but the addition of the extra weapon added some power by increasing the overall attacks. The addition of Frag grenades, allows me to strike units in cover at initiative, this is a huge bonus. I lost Attackbike packs but gained the ability to take them in a Swift Claws pack. I should note here that while I love the addition of the attack bike to the Blood Claw Biker Packs, I do still miss my Grey Hunter Attack Bikes. My First Configuration with the "new" Codex was just as I am running the packs now, and my current Packs are more effective than they have ever been.

Where I really needed to tweak things was in the ICs. My first attempt saw me running them just as I had before. But, I had to alter some Wargear to make them different with the new rules for our HQs.
So, I took one Battle Leader with a Bike, Frost Blade, and Wolf Tail Talisman, and the Other without the Talisman. The hardest thing for me to swallow here, is that I was paying more points for fewer attacks! Also, in the last edition of the Codex, the Battle Leaders would frequently break from their respective packs and join together to hit hard units. I found that with my new configuration I didn't do this as often and this reduced the effectiveness of the 2 characters.

After a few games, I felt the Sagas calling me, these new rules were too cool not to try. 1st I tried giving Warrior Born to a Battle Leader, but he was to fragile. (I now reserve Warrior Born for my TWC Lord)
So, I upgraded him to a Lord and gave him a Belt of Russ. Still I found that the random Power Fist could spell his doom before he really got rolling.
So, Saga of the Bear it was.

At first I was sticking with the Frost Blade, but then I found with such durability I could tackle Big Nasty stuff, so I switched to the Thunder Hammer, nothing could kill him in one blow anyway.

At that point the Belt of Russ, while good was kinda silly especially since my Bolt Pistol now didn't give me an extra attack, so in comes the Storm Shield.
I played with this Lord for quite some time, and it was only after a couple of Tournaments, that I noticed that the difference between a 3+ save and a 2+ would be huge, I am already spending so many points on my Lord that I figured whats a few more. So in came the Runic armor. I haven't looked back since...

My second IC leading the other pack has changed little. I still run the Wolfguard Battle leader quite frequently. For his points I could run a Wolf Priest on a Bike, and that is certainly a model I am working on and will be using in the near future.

Sorry for the rambling but I really wanted to set the scene and give you guys some insight into my thought process whilst building a list based around Swiftclaws. In the next part of this article I will explain the tactics I employ when using Swift Claws.

Thanks for reading

Ted Nagel AKA (Littlebitz)


Dos said...
September 26, 2011 at 8:58 PM

Just wanted to add an observation as another admirer of the Swiftclaws. In my packs, I give the meltagun and the powerfist to the same biker. While this increases my chances of losing special weapons from wound allocation, it adds attacks overall since only one model loses his CCWs.
Anyone else play with that little trick?

Chuck LeJeune said...
September 26, 2011 at 9:50 PM

Can you give a breakdown of your typical squad of bikers? while your article is helpful, I would like a more in depth explanation of how you run them.

Wolfen said...
September 26, 2011 at 9:59 PM


I don´t see the italic and reds!!

Good article brother

T-Jay said...
September 26, 2011 at 10:29 PM

As I play a big pack of bikes my own I can't wait for the next part of your artikel. Swiftclaws rocks and are a good option for anyone who want's to have some Bloodclaws in his army for fluff reasons =)

Ted Nagel said...
September 27, 2011 at 12:27 AM

@Chuck LeJeune:

If I field a Wolf Lord on a bike he is equipped with Runic Armor, Storm Shield, Thunder Hammer, and Saga of the Bear

My Wolf Priest is typically bare bones just on the bike (Melta bombs, if I have the extra points)

The Pack itself is typically 4 strong, one is an Attack bike with Heavy Bolter, one has a Melta gun, one has a Power Fist, and the entire pack has Melta bombs.

The Pack Leader has a Powerfist and Combi-Melta.

Hope this helps, I'm really glad you all are enjoying the article!

Geert said...
September 27, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Nice article.

I've just finished modelling my Swiftclaws and I'll try run a pack like this:

• Wolfpriest + Meltabombs
• Wolfguard + thunderhammer + combiflamer
• 6 Bikers including Powerfist + meltagun
• attack bike + multi-melta

The combiflamer/meltagun will be swappable with a combimelta/flamer.
I'm tempted to give the wolfpriest a combiflamer too, but that's something to try out.

Vaince said...
September 27, 2011 at 9:21 AM

A little tricks :
Add saga of the hunter to your WGBL or your wolf priest biker to have a 2+ cover save with turbo-boost.

Brad M said...
September 27, 2011 at 9:29 AM

Maybe I missed something but that seemed to be more of an 'SW IC on bike' tactica.

However I also am a huge fan of Swiftclaws. Although I tend to keep them in reserve.

This is because I find they're not tough enough to start on the board due to small squad sizes. So the first few turns are usually spent hugging cover anyway. Plus they need to be close to max strength when they hit to have the best chance of making their points. Seeing as they're not a scoring unit it doesn't matter if they die as long as they make their points (or get a few KP's).

Now some people say that reserve isn't reliable enough, but coming on from reserve allows you to place the bikes exactly where they need to be when they come on. Plus the bikes turbo boost means your opponent only has one turn of shooting at best to remove them before they hit (with a 3++ of course). Or if they come on late they will probably be able to get straight into combat.

Finally coming on from reserve means they are more likely to be supporting your Grey Hunters, (maybe even digging them out of a tarpit or turning a loosing assault) then racing off and getting stranded because of their speed. Which every Bloodclaw is want to do. :D

As for IC's. Wolf Priest on bike, no upgrades (maybe c.melta if you have 10pts spare). Oath of war is gold. Especially if you have 2 P.Fists in the squad. Although WG on bike is hard to justify points wise, but handy if the priest cops it to counter headstrong.

Claws and Fists said...
September 27, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Hi Ted, nice write up, I'm in the mood to break out the Swift Claws again this week!

I'm looking forward to part 2 as I'd like to see exactly how you use your bikers. Whenever I've ran them in the past, I've been far too aggressive with them and they've not been very successful as a result. I'm now leaning towards using them more as a counter-attack unit and I like Brad's idea of putting them into reserve.

One final question - do you really need the 2 Power Fists in the unit? With the speed of the unit, you should always be getting the charge but 6 Power Fist attacks feels like a lot to me. I would be nervous about sending them into an enemy unit that needs 6 Power Fist attacks to kill since whatever it is, is going to do some serious damage in return. Against anything else it feels like overkill as it means you'll almost certainly win combat which will leave your unit at the mercy of enemy shooting without a turbo-boost save. (in the first instance, I'm thinking of something like TH/SS Terminators, in the second, something like an IG bubblewrap squad)

Anonymous said...
September 27, 2011 at 11:07 AM

Interesting points, might give me the sort of fast reacting unit I need to back up my low count troops. Would have to drop my Long Fangs assault squad though.

Wild_Spirit said...
September 27, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Sorry Vaince but youy can't really do that since the saga and bike is a forbidden combo.

Bikeninja said...
September 27, 2011 at 2:40 PM

Great Article. I have been toying with the bikes option. I am currently working on a command unit. Lord, W. Priest and 3 wolf guard. I may have to look at doing the bike unit and seeing how that runs.

My Lord and W. Priest on Bike have been money. I move them with certain units as support and they tend to crush all before them. It has been nice.

Killswitch said...
September 27, 2011 at 4:04 PM

I would like to hear your thoughts on a few things, how do you deal with Grey Knights? With so many points thrown into a bike unit, all of who have a 3+ save, I would find it rather nerve racking to face 7-8 razorbacks and 2-3 Autocannon dreads, all of which wound on a 3+ or better, pumping a plentiful amount of wounds into the unit.

I think its best to illiterate the fact that this unit is also obsolete to other choices, such as Thunderwolf cavalry who can absorb wounds with wound allocation, and get into combat quicker. Or Speeders who provide great blocking tool and quick melta or extra fire support. I think it is best to take these things into consideration when providing a Tactica. Also lets not forget to compare to other codex's. Marines do bikes better, for the simple reason of "combat tactics" and the ability to combat squad. It makes them much more reliable. Swiftclaws tend to neither fill in a combat role nor Shooting. Their WS and their inability to get across the board easily without dieing makes them a fairly weak choice in comparison to a humble Grey Hunter unit & Thunderwolves for combat. Then for shooting, their poor BS & fairly limited weapons choice makes them a very weak shooting unit.

Would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.


Bradimus Prime said...
September 28, 2011 at 10:50 AM

It looks like some of you may have not noticed the "part 1" in the title. There is more to come from Ted on swiftclaws.

Killswitch said...
September 28, 2011 at 4:15 PM

Hence the last part of my comment "would love to hear your thoughts" :) Good work so far buddy.

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