Friday, June 20, 2014

Null Deployment, 7th Edition

In 5th Edition, as null deployment first descended upon 40K as a concept,I cleaned house.  In all I took four of the first five tournaments using Tau, yes the lowly Tau Empire.  The technique was so bizarre and counter intuitive to the players who came up through the ranks of the first four editions that they scarcely knew what to think of the mad man before them.

For those who don't know, null deployment is where you essentially only deploy enough forces  not to auto-lose in turn one.  You let the opponent go first.  This became known as null deployment over time but at first it was called by another name:  insane.

Even as 5th Edition aged and progressed, there were probably only a handful of Generals I ever saw utilize the method.  Unlike most of the buzz words in 40K, null deployment lacked a name for a pretty long time.  "Null Star" doesn't exactly inspire fear or notoriety in the minds of those reading those words, now does it?

Nevertheless, I have discovered over time a few kindred spirits on disparate forums such as the infamous Egorey (AKA The Duck, AKA Felixcat) from The Dark City who appreciated the technique and it at least gained some recognition, if not applause, as the Edition wore on.

Then as if to mock me, 6th Edition obliterated the ability to do it!  I was understandably upset, and my cheese moved, forcing me to go find new cheese.  Nevertheless, the principles of null deployment did not leave me and I have employed the concept in as good a rendition of it as the new rules allowed to continues success in 6th Edition.

Now we are in 7th Edition and Null deployment is back, baby!

Null deployment has extremely positive strategic value for several reasons:
  • Going second ensures your units show up that much later and they are therefore targets that much less.
  • The enemy must commit to a strategy before you do.
  • You have the maximum amount of time possible to see what the enemy wants to do and FORESEEING what he WILL do becomes easier.  A more novice General greatly benefits from this while a better one positively feasts on the intel.
  • The clock forces the enemy to eventually do SOMETHING.  Making mistakes is one of those somethings.
  • The Clock allows you to make less mistakes
In Warhammer 40K, the essential truth is, you only have about six rounds to do what you're going to do.  Six rounds to get where you need to get and secure what you must secure.  That is an infinitely profound statement if you really grasp it.  Time is a weapon.  It is it's own perfect STR 10 AP 1 weapon.  No special rule in Warhammer can ever lengthen the game beyond 7 rounds and the fact of that must be taken into account by the Generals.

When properly executed, null deployment forces should look something like this:

  • Two hearty high damage output units (preferably with very good range) spread to the corners, or far apart enough to force the enemy out of its blob or gun line formation if the enemy wishes to pursue them.  The damage your two corner units deal must be enough to worry the enemy into realizing that shooting the targets may not kill them faster than the corner units can cause inordinant amounts of damage, thus either forcing the enemy into accepting the inevitable losses or pursuing the units physically (moving to kill or silence them).  Consider them the "Lures".

  • Units capable of being at any part of the board, on command.  This means a likely concentration of Outflankers, Deep Strikers and long range normal reserve units.  Special Rules, Wargear, Psyker powers, Warlord Traits and the like that support or insure such movement are prized.  Things like Aegis Defense Lines and Autarchs are prized for their usefulness in insuring reserves come when you wish.  Webway Portals and Positional Relays may be prized for their ability to bring your units where they wish.  These are just examples.  These units are called the Hunters.

  • Finally you will have mobile reserves that can take objectives when necessary and preferably with long range weaponry.  Eldar Jetbikes, outflanking Chimeras, Slaanesh Lords on Steeds accompanied by Slaanesh bodyguards can all accomplish this task.  Fire Warriors with their long ranges can make admirable units this way also from normal reserve.

Null Deployment has a basic goal: wait for the enemy to divide itself, and give them motivation to do so.  This could be to send units at the Lures.  This could be to take objectives.  This could be to accomplish Secondary Objectives and this could be to avoid what the think you will do next.

For example since the enemy deployed first and gets to choose to go first or not, it is likely that he will, given the seemingly insignificant resistance before him.  Knocking you out early seems a reasonable thought for a General to have.  If he does, you have him where you want him.  He will possibly over commit to the two disparate corners of the board to silence you if you've hidden them well.  Lest he give you a lot of free damage, he wont trust his shooting to end the hearty unit on it's own.  He will send his own Hunters for you.  The more he splits off the better.

If he chooses to make you go first, sensing a trap, you oblige him.  The Lures start whacking tanks or high value high cost targets.  He realizes that letting you go first will now potentially allow you three rounds of this kind of sniping.  He will get impatient and move to you in order to silence you.  This is good.  If he waits too long, this is better.  Either way he's breaking formation AND has allowed you to pump damage into him.

Here's a real example.  A Chaos Space Marine takes two units of two Nurgle Obliterators, puts them in Ruins 70" inches apart from each other after his opponent has deployed.  Nothing else.  Just them.  What will the enemy do, his massive forces arrayed against just four models.  Think he'll give you first turn or will he attempt to wipe you out and end the game turn 1?  Oh I think he can't turn down that opportunity can he?

Understanding that the two Obliterator units are too far apart to fire everything the enemy has at just one group of them, the enemy dispatches a Rhino or a Wave Serpent maybe, full of angry killers, to start the journey to both table corners in turn 1.  He splits his rear fire groups up and moves them to get shots at the two targets if not already able to.  What do you have now?  Four groups of enemies with dead Obliterators on their mind.  Possibly more groups if some stay centered.  The Obliterators fire and kill/silence a central tank apiece with  Las Cannons, ignoring the Rhinos, because side arcs from the table edges aren't hard to get and the Multimelta will be more useful at closer range.  Forward arcs aren't as big as some wish they were!  The second round comes and the enemy surges to the corners again, firing at the ones they can see, still in four groups, now farther apart from each other.  Again the Obliterators fire, killing the two rhinos/Wave Serpents/Whatever, only now the Aegis line gets used to hold off most of the friendly reserves, and preparing for the tidal wave in round 3.  The best case scenario...and I mean best...  Would be that the Rhinos survive and disgorge their occupants.  Enter the tidal wave on round 3 and 4, isolating the weakest enemy groupings and then swarming their objectives and positions.

The fracturing of the enemy force and its lack of direction (for where else could it go but blob up and cower in the middle perhaps while the Obliterators take there toll?), coupled with your ability to strike the weakest piece (or ignore it if its horribly out of place) means every model this Chaos player has is killing its fill and taking almost inconsequential losses in return fire.  With all the intel in the world as to what the enemy is doing and where he/she wants to go, it is a simple matter of simply putting the best unit for the job on point and attacking it relentlessly.  the army has to look more like a tool bag and less like a D-bag army to pull this strategy off.

Clever use of terrain and vehicle wreckage means the beginning of an Exchange game the enemy cannot win.  The Obliterators?  Their life or death is irrelevant.  Consider them acceptable losses.

I did this same thing with single Broadsides and two Shield Drones.  You can do it with Necron  Doomsday Arcs.  The longer range and the tougher they are, the better.  Regardless of the tool you end up using, the principle is the same.

Only actual games will teach you how to employ your particular army this way.  Nonetheless, the concept is there and ready for you to use.  7th edition has brought back this excellent strategic approach.  Each match up will probably determine if it is the right way to go, but it is one of the few strategies I know of that can equalize what would otherwise be a pretty unfair match up and even the odds quite a bit.  Feel Free to ask questions about it below.

Other Tactical articles:  Stuff that's tactical. Click here!

33 comments:

  1. This is an approach I've been slowly moving towards with my own armies (Corsairs, DE, Eldar and lately; Tau). I've only been playing in earnest during sixth, so missed the opportunities for this play style in fifth, and was very happy when I read 7th and realised I could deploy even less than I was used to. My question is, what would your approach be if you came up against another army employing null deployment with your own null force? Would you simply hope for second turn and try and force their reserves to come on before yours? Would you re-think your strategy to come on earliest in the backfield and try for an early game table? I suppose you'll probably say it depends on the player and the army, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
    Incidentally, love the blog, very much a fan of your writings.

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    1. This question reminds me of the hilarious scene dealing with the "Trace buster buster" in the movie THE BIG HIT. If you haven't seen that movie yet 9and are of suffidient age to do so) go rent it tonight!

      As for my answer: Naturally, enemy Generals will now have the option, when they deploy first, to make YOU go first. Null Deployment does not REQUIRE you to go second to employ it. It is just better executed that way.

      If you are forced to go first as you posit, and must act in the vacuum, knowing that the enemy can get the jump on you, there are a few things to think about. First, they deployed first. You already know they are Null Deploying in this situation. Now the first question you have to ask then is DOES your army have the ability and firepower to get a GOOD enough angle on THEIR Lures to guarantee that kill. If you aren't 100% sure, then you must play the mid field. The counter to this is to stay central and midfield and use the terrain to limit WHERE the enemy can actually get at you. For example large terrain pieces that funnel units can also obscure them. High ruins can be worth climbing in order to limit who can get to you. Given two rounds to move and run, Heavy Weapons teams can get into MUCH better firing positions. Also, make sure you know where the enemy 19" line is. If you go past it you're walking into their rapid fire ranges. By being at 19", they come on and must content themselves with BOTH the prospect of less shots AND the fact that their aggression will get them charged potentially (assuming you own units that do indeed threaten this.

      As long as you're 19" away from the sides and enemy Deployment and you are doing what you can in the first two rounds not to take the bait or split yourself up too early, you can weather this storm. But it takes discipline to do it. It might mean NOT firing or getting out to rapid fire the Lures to death. After all thats what they want: you exposed as much as possible trying to kill a unit that is as unimportant to them as possible right? They want to lure you out of the Land Raider. They want you to feel safe attacking those lures. You must resist.

      Also remember that the Obliterator example I gave assumes the enemy has vehicles to hit. when someone null deploys against your null deployment, remember: they're not actually doing the round after round damage that would force a normal commander to take action. You can hide as well as he can when this cat and mouse game is going on am I right? So in some ways all he's done is even the playing field and forced you to play him honestly. And that isn't such a bad thing. Sometimes tactics have a counter and when you run up against it, embrace what Ive said in previous blogs: Make sure Plan B is ALMOST as good as plan A.

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    2. Thanks for the comprehensive reply. My Plan B still needs a bit of development I think...

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    3. Tell me what you're working with now and maybe those here can provide you ideas, or maybe I can.

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    1. When you like it, share it! Thank you for the encouragement. I'm very appreciative of those who read my blog.

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  3. I love this post! I used to
    Play an all outflank IG list in 5th. What would use as lures from the imperial guard codex?

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    1. Astra Militarum can go with a pair of Manticores, which are absolute winners for this role. Easier to hide than a pair of Wyverns, and being able to obscure or hide the Lures is important if you have to use ARMORED lures. With Tau Broadsides, the 2+ armor and the Shield Drones provide a lot in the way of survivability and even a Buffmander can assist. In the cases of armored lures, hiding them is important. The reason why a pair of Wyverns in each corner could have a slight edge is if you wanted top work on the assumption that you just wont be ableto hide them. If you assume that in your planning then the ablative ability of a second Wyvern pays dividends that go beyond its simple damage output. Regardless of which way you go, it's about the same number of points. Another point for the Wyvern is that the enemy will suffer 16 small blasts every round those lures live. They may view that with more alarm and perhaps commit more to killing it since its two hulls instead of one.

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  4. To pose a question: if your opponent fields the tactic against you, how do you react? Great theory, fun read, will link from my blog, cheers.

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    1. Whoops, just read the comments!

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    2. Yup, it's a question I've gotten to test against a few times, of course, and it used to get asked a lot in 5th Edition when I was doing it. =) I preach Plan B a lot as you read through previous posts. Being intentional about THAT is important also.

      I certainly do appreciate the link and thanks for the question.

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  5. Keep up the great articles. Always enjoy reading them in work on my break.

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    1. Will do and thanks. anything you'd like to see articles on?

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    2. Well actually using your blueprint in the article above I was thinking of making my Red Scorpions based on a drop of list with feel no pain tactical marines and maybe a iron clad dreadnaught or two. Put some heavy hitters in the back field like a predator annihilatior and two squads of devastators. Think it could work?

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    3. Yes but I think that's more lures than you need. If you're able to use Devastator Protocols, then I would hide the Annihilators, let him go first, trundle them out to fire, and the Devastators can come from reserves. If you cant use Devastator Protocols, then have one Annihilator and one Dev squad out, and reserve the other annihilator. Go with a max squad size on the Devs in that case. They must hold the line and continue to force the enemy to deal w them.

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  6. I have been thinking about null deployment a lot

    Duke 150
    3x 4 Truborn (4 blasters), Venom (dual sc) 468
    2x 5 kabbies (blaster), Raider (dissie, grisly trophies) 250
    2x 5 Wyches (haywire), Venom (dual sc) 250
    Autarch (mantle, fusion gun, laser lance, mask, jetbike) 150
    2x 5 Dire Avengers, Wave Serpent (scatter laser, holofields) 200
    Crimsin Hunter Exarch (starcannons) 180

    wave serpents in corners ... autarch hiding

    The Duck

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    1. The Duck needs to log in! lol. Anyways, the Wave Serpents i think aren't strong enough. i think you need a Prism in each corner or one of the more deadly tank/monster killers. Heck your beloved WraithKnights would actually work Exceedingly well. More expensive than most lures, but also more defensible than most so it's doubly as demanding of the enemy if he wants to silence them.

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  7. Wave serpents will take a lot of heat before going down J. They are quite duarble - example 20+DL shots to take out even one. The prefered method of taking down serpents are cc units which I actually want my opponent to attempt. Also they are back up AA. I thought about prisms but I can only field one unless I go dual CAD. I try and keep lists Primary - Allies. - Duck

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    1. Try a Falcon or a WraithKnight. Both can do it. Falcons aren't seen a lot and I understand the argument. But as usual, we are talking about ROLEs and who best fits the strategy, not the other way around. So both could be good.

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  8. I utilize this tactic with two Hammerheads and two Riptides on the board, usually a unit of Broadsides as well. Tanks are tougher than 6E, Riptides with stims are tough as hell to kill, and the Broadsides aren't easy to knock off either if they are in cover. Then my deep striking Crsis suits, Razorsharks, and outflanking Fire Warriors (with Darkstrider) eliminate threats and take objectives.

    As a Tau player, you have to watch out for alpha striking bike armies and outflanking Sisters/etc.Melta and Grav wrecks Tau.

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    1. I as a tau player use a Broadside with two shield Dronesi n each corner and have sometimes included a third dead smack in the middle for further fracturing effect at 2K.

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  9. Great article. I usually do null with DE but reading this i've wondered how would it be to create a list for CSM that goes for null deployment and deepstrike/outflank heavy!
    -Archon Rixec-

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  10. This is a cool approach. I'm pretty new to 40k, and so far, just have a Space Wolves army. If you were to try this with Wolves, what units would you be using?

    I guess the approach I'm thinking of is lure with a couple of predators and/or rune priests, with drops pods bringing in dreadnoughts and termies as the hunters, or possibly some mix of flankers + flyers as hunters. I'm not sure what mobile reserve with long range weaponry would be though - possibly Razorbacks w/ TL LC + 6 grey hunters.

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    1. I have not laid eyes o nthe new codex, but Lascannon Predators might work very well as the bait. They dish out enough damage that the enemy can't continue to let them do it. they have good enough range that it forces theenemy forward or forces them to accept their losses. So Predators might be a good call there. I will have to get my hands on a copy of that codex to see how it would be done NOW, as far as the other choices. I will point out that Thunderwolf Cavalry were ridiculously good in the old codex and i smashed many many faces with them before relinquishing them back to their owner. So any army I'd make now would include those beasts if the rumors are true.

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    2. Yes, TWC got even better, is the general concensus - 20% cheaper, slightly increased leadership (due to being Wolf Guard members effectively, on wolves), and otherwise still great. Hopefully that's vague enough, statswise, that GW wouldn't be upset.

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    3. Yaya! I had so much fun playing those tghe brief time i was ableto borrow an army from a friend. Really good times. Sounds like they will be even more devastating.

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  11. How do you handle T1 drop pods ? Isn't that a hard counter to null deployment ?

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    1. Legitimate question. Let’s run through the scenario.
      If he is deploying first, he’s already told you how many pods he has in reserve. So the first thing to note is, you won’t be unprepared for this.
      It is BECAUSE the enemy might do this that you have to choose very hearty units for Null deployment lures. Not just any unit will do. But lets keep in mind that even if they pod in, they must ACTUALLY kill you. Not figuratively. That’s no given. You’ll know its coming if they deployed and go first.
      So if they have two pods, you’ll need a third unit for the Null deploy, probably one that’s easy to hide. This effectively does a couple things. One, null deployment has now succeeded in dividing up the enemy force even FASTER than hoped. Second, if they fail in their drop mission, they have to do it again. That’s two of their turns standing in completely unsupportable corners. That’s really okay.
      Now in the other scenario is when you are deploying and with the CHOICE to go first. Here again you have the advantage because you know exactly how many of his pods are coming in and where don’t you? You need do nothing different and your forces will be on the enemies disparate units that much faster. I’ve advised that an Aegis line to help you regulate when reserves come in is quite handy.
      If the enemy had THREE drop pods coming in turn 1, and only two targets then you’re really no worse off. You just need a third red herring. And you’ll know that before you deploy.
      Null Deployment isn’t a skeleton key to 40K. It isn’t used EVERY game to solve every problem. It’s just HIGHLY effective when it’s necessary. I think getting good at using the tactic will make you a better general and using it for a few games will help you see which opponents its better to use it against.

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    2. What I have seen is that people drop 2-3 drop pods with grav cannon units inside and at that point, kinda hard to survive if you have high armour save

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    3. To be fair, as aforementioned, You null deploy when you know you can. it isn't an obligation. it's an option. Not everyne has that ability but you're not wrong per se... On the other hand, suckering them into that position might work perfectly if you eploy 6+ armor type units there. So it is of course wise to understand your opponents list before deployment and I think that goes without much saying.

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  12. What's your take on null deployment with the maelstrom missions? Do you deploy objectives so that your lures can hold them? I recon you should make sure to able to reliably take three objektives first turn so you can score ascendancy if you are lucky enough to draw it. Has the maelstrom missions changed your null deployment strategies in any way?

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    1. Maelstrom is a whole other issue. Part of a winning strategy in Maelstrom is not just taking the objectives your cards dictate but actually PRE-emptively denying those the enemy can take. So a strategy of null deployment changes focus and becomes more one of flank denial. I probably need to do a blog on that actually. Most of the units used for null deployment happen to work great in Maelstrom but the strategy really is different.

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