Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How do I kill a flyer?

As I get ready to bring my IG into the arena of battle, I've asked myself this question over and over.  It's a commonly-held belief that flyers have completely changed the meta for 40k, and may have even ruined any hope of balance in the game.  I'm not one to disagree, but then again, I get caught up in the sensationalism like anyone else.  So let's take a more rational approach...

First off, flyers have certainly changed the meta.  After all, Forgeworld rules used to be the only way to bring aircraft into the game.  Worse, the rules for flyers from FW were ridiculous and made them a heinous opponent to have to face.  I once was crushed in a massive game way back in 2002 just because my opponent fielded a Marauder Destroyer bomber (on top of a couple of Baneblades).  I watched as the useless Marneus Calgar was effortlessly killed by a model I couldn't take down.  It was terrible.  Luckily, flyers were too expensive, the books were even more expensive, and the tournament scene didn't allow FW.  But that's changed.

Now GW has incorporated flyers into the core rules and released models for half the armies on the tabletop right now.  Thankfully, the old rules are out and the 'core' rules make flyers easier to handle.  In 5th edition, flyers were simply overblown skimmers, but 6th edition made flyers real and now they need to be answered.  The meta for the game has proven that flyer-spam is the new thing and anyone not ready to handle it will find a less-than-satisfying game.  Hell, the ranking of the newest spam-lists has gone from 1. Chimera-vets, 2. Long Fang missiles, 3... to 1. Necron Night(insert name here), 2. Heldrakes, 3...  Yeah, it's become that obvious.  But there's always an answer, even if that answer is not 'guaranteed.'  Let's look at what those could be.

What do flyers do?
  • Well, they are models that are FORCED to stay in reserve.  This does NOT count against the reserve limit because the main rules require that the model not be deployed at the beginning of the game.  That means that an opponent will always lose at least one turn of shooting against the things.  This is an overlooked advantage.
  • They usually 'zoom,' which means they MUST move in a straight line of either 18"(combat speed) or 36"(cruising speed).  Notice the straight line thing?  This is important as many a player has been caught fiddling with the movement to get just the right angle that they wouldn't have been able to achieve otherwise.
  • They are hard to maneuvre, allowed only a single turn UP TO 90 degrees.  Again, this is something many a player has been caught fiddling with and should be watched.  That prohibitive nature of turning can lead to a flyer being flown clear off the table, or simply flying behind the enemy lines and being ineffective for a turn.  
  • They are difficult to attack.  Flyers may never be assaulted, and any shooting at them requires 6's to hit (unless the firing unit has the 'skyfire' special rule).  Better yet, because of this rule, flyers may NEVER be targetted by template or blast weapons.  This is the roughest part for most players.
  • Flyers can fire up to four weapons while 'zooming,' of which they must choose whether they are firing in the 'skyfire' mode or standard 'strafing' mode (not to be confused with the special rule, 'strafing run').  In addition, missiles count as weapons as well, are one-shot, and can only be fired two-at-a-time.  This would be helpful, if most missiles weren't as powerful as missiles should be.  But it's a still a rule.
  • If they suffer a glancing or penetrating hit, the flyer may take a 'jink' save, meaning it gains a 5+ invulnerable save for the rest of the turn.  However, it may only fire its weapons as 'snap fire,' which means any blast weapons are useless.  If the model suffers an immobilized result, it has a 'locked velocity' effect, meaning it CANNOT change speed, evade (take that 'jink' save), or move flat out.  This happens for the rest of the game.
  • If a flyer zooms off the table, it enters 'ongoing reserves,' which means it will arrive immediately on the controlling player's next turn.  Sometimes this is the best option, and sometimes it's not an option at all.
  • Finally, some flyers have the 'hover' special rule, meaning it can choose to become a skimmer at the beginning of the shooting phase.  This completely negates all the special invulnerabilities that flyers gain, but it also gives them a chance to forgo the restrictive movement rules.
Getting all this down will help a player better deal with flyers.  Knowing these basic rules can allow a player to plan for and address this issue.  There are more rules, but these are the ones the enemy needs to know.  KNOW THINE ENEMY, anyone?

What do I do to mitigate flyers?

Let's start off with knowing the rules I listed above.  This is important as it'll allow you to plan it out.  For example, knowing that a flyer must move at least 18" and can only make a turn of up to 90 degrees can allow some tricks to be executed in the movement phase.  Here's the piece of advice there:
 -move UNDER the flyer, or at least closer than 18".  Unlike a falling tree, don't run to the side of it, run under it!  And unlike a normal vehicle, getting closer is actually beneficial.  Now, if you're playing a horde army, there's another great piece of advice here:
 -spread out!  A flyer may not finish its move within 1" of enemy models, just like any other unit in the game, so covering the field can make flyers HAVE TO fly off the board.  Anyone that played against Daemons in 5th edition understand this strategy already.  

But what if you're not playing a horde army?  Not a problem, there's something for you as well (hopefully):
 -bring heavy armour!!!  Very few flyers are packing weapons higher than Str 7, and vehicles that have an AV13 or higher can really become a concern.  In fact, Land Raiders are a bane to flyer-heavy armies, with other transports giving the infantry some hope.  Some armies don't have heavy armour, but hey, it happens.  For all those common Space Marine Players- bring your Phobos/Crusader/Redeemer out to play.  

What do I have in the toolbox to fight flyers?

Aha!  This is where we get to have a bit of fun.  There's alot of options here, and even more now that the Game Designers have figured out that the flyer-meta has taken over.  So what does a normal player get?

To begin with, the newest codices seem to have a good deal of 'Flakk' missile upgrades for the units.  CSM have them in Havocs, and Dark Angels have them everywhere there's a missile launcher option.  If you're not a Marine player (or MEQ), then you're Daemons and have the Soulgrinder with 'skyfire' upgrade available, or you're Tau and have the 'skyfire' on Broadsides and the Skyray tank (they finally returned it to its former glory; thanks GW!).  So look to your new book and see what you have.  It's not going to be cheap, in most cases, but it's there.  And as more and more books get released, we'll see more stuff.  In fact, I venture that the flyer-spam will disappear by the end of the year just because of the options available.  

In addition, alot of armies have 'Flying Monstrous Creatures.'  And by alot, I really mean two of them- Daemons and Tyranids.  If nothing else, the Heldrake should almost be considered here as well, since it's nothing more than a FMC with vehicle stats (sorta).  But these monsters can be used to 'Vector Strike' a flyer.  Here's how that works (for actual FMC):
 -In 'Swooping' mode, the model moves between 12" and 24", acting like a flyer in almost all ways.
 -During its movement, the model may move over enemy models.  It may choose one enemy unit moved over in this way and immediately inflicts d3+1 automatic hits at base Strength, AP 3 (so no additional effect there), and against side armour (most flyers are side armour 11, maybe even 10)
 -During the shooting phase, it may then fire one more weapon, since Monsters can only fire two weapons and 'Vector Strike' counts as firing one weapon.
Otherwise, the FMC acts in all ways similar to a flyer with 'Hard to Hit' and flying off the board to enter 'Ongoing Reserves.'  I should note here that the Heldrake is still a flyer, but uses the FMC 'Vector Strike' rule.

And there's a great option that I have to mention- FLYERS!  Flyers kill flyers.  Bring them.  Some aren't so great at it, but some are fantastic!  The worst one I hear about is the Dark Angel's Nephilim Fighter.  But it seems that everyone seems to forget that it can take a twin-linked Lascannon on top of the other weapons (missiles), which can reliably kill a low-armoured vehicle- even in the air!  But this point should be obvious- FIGHT FLYER WITH FLYER, anyone?

Now for some toys that one would have to purchase...
If you are a 40k player and you don't own an Aegis Defense Line by now, you should quit the hobby (I jest, of course).  Even the Tau players in my group have been diligently working to make custom versions just for their xenos-needs.  And with that Aegis comes the option to purchase a gun emplacement- a Quad-gun (two twin-linked Autocannons) or an Icarus Cannon (a Lascannon) with the 'Skyfire' and 'Interceptor' rules.  As long as these guns are manned by a model with a respectable BS, these guns can fire and potentially shoot down flyers rather easily.  In addition, they should be hidden behind the Aegis Line so that they receive the 4+ cover save against anyone smart enough to target them first.  I'm still trying to decide which weapon I want to take.  The Quad-gun is obvious, but the Icarus sure does mean business and is cheaper.  Looks like some trial-and-error are in order here.

Forgeworld also produces some great anti-air units.  My game group decided to allow FW a while ago (we're in it to have fun, not win, and owning badass FW models sure is fun), and IG are great benefactors of that.  But we'll get to them in a moment.  Space Marines get the Hyperion, Eldar get the Firestorm, and other armies have some toys as well (the Tau Skyray came from FW).  Grab the Imperial Armour Aeronautica book, or even the Imperial Armour Apocalypse books, and see what your army gets.

As far as my IG, I'm all about the Manticore and the Hydra.  I won't go into any more details about it, but it bears stating that these models are boss when it comes to ruining a pilot's day.  And that's what I'm trying to do, after all.

This post was a way for me to codify my thoughts and come up with ideas, but I hope it helps anyone else out there as well.  Nothing is guaranteed, but it's alot more dependable when you have a plan.  And since my game group seems to be hell-bent on bringing flyers to the table, it's time I started formulating said plan.  Now to get to work...

Happy Gaming!


  1. Skyfire and interceptor are a great combo to counter flyers. Because the plane has to move at least 18 inchs it likely got into range of a unit with these rules at the END of it's movement phase. Remember that the flyer has to call his "jink" save BEFORE you roll to pen. You have likely hurt the flyer AND reduced him to snap shoots before he can even fire back.

    And in my experiences with the Tau the flyer are nice but not game controlling. Maybe more fiddling is needed.

  2. This post is heaven (or warp) sent!!! Being a complete noob when it comes to gaming, I have been hearing snippets of banter between players in the local hobby scene about how terrifying the flying units were. But I had no idea what I should do to counter them ... though I did notice a lot of gamers building their own Aegis defense line.

    Some questions from a noob with a CSM army:
    1. Is the Aegis defense line a complete must as you mentioned in your post? Can I ever win a game without one against an army with a flying unit?
    2. Can I counter a flying unit with another flying unit? Bought a Heldrake just for that reason but if I understand your post correctly, it would then seem as if the flying units would be just flying helter-skleter around each other.

    Again, the questions above are from a complete gaming noob so my apologies if they seem silly.

    1. Hey, my pleasure! I must admit that this blog is inspired from a very similar one I read a couple of weeks ago. Then I noticed that my game group is suddenly focused on flyers and figured it would be a good time to give my advice, as well as focus myself. As far as the questions:
      1. Nope. If you don't have an Aegis and you're playing against flyers, you shouldn't 'autolose'. It gives you an extra option, for sure. But it's nothing more than another tool. I only say that every 40k player should have one because an Aegis can give so many extra tactical options. Funny enough, I forced a buddy of mine to pick up an Aegis because he NEEDED one (in my estimation). That was months ago and he still hasn't used it, and is the most winningest player in our group...
      2. Other flying units are perfect (usually) to kill flyers. The Heldrake is especially effective if you arm it with the Hades Autocannon because it gets two chances to destroy enemy aircraft- the Vector Strike and the shooting phase. Keep in mind that the Bale-flamer is a better option to kill infantry and push enemies out of cover, but the Hades is great for the flyer-hunting mission if you so choose.
      And there's no such thing as a silly question! These are perfectly good interogatives even for an experienced gamer. Lord knows, I wrote this blog just to answer my own questions about just this subject (ah, research). Keep it up! You are doing more than fine.

  3. Me and my friends are looking to do a narrative 40K campaign this summer and until I read this article I had totally forgot about aircraft and anti-air options. Now I have crazy Ideas on making a bunch of Chaos AA options to counter the inevitable Space Marine airborne attack. I appreciate that you put thought and effort into your articles, I just snap pictures and throw some words in for filler. I usually walk away with something to think about after reading your blog.

    1. Thanks, man! I appreciate that. I try, for sure...

  4. Nice work as ussual brother. But run towards the falling tree, what's that about? LOL!

    1. I see so many movies and cartoons where everyone runs directly from the falling tree, not understanding that trees are tall and they'll eventually catch you. It's a pet-peeve of mine, and you'll find me yelling at the TV- "Run to the side, idiots!" quite often...

  5. Another good way to deal with the more....lessly armoured flyers... as much as you, try and include TWIN-LINKED weapons with your units that can't take skyfire. I am speaking from experiencw, I was playing ny guard agains Necrons. My Vendetta was long blown out of the sky when his Doom Scythe turned towards my company commandwr and 2 squads of heavy weapons teams (good thithing his Death ray targetted a different squad or this probably never would have worked) My commander shouts at the two heavy weapons teams to BRING IT DOWN!!!!!!! Both squads (armed with 1 autocannon and 2 heavy bolters each) received their orders and fired at it, mostly missing except for I think 2 shots, oh but wait, bring it down makes their weapons twin-linked, so my next roll saw another 4 hits. After some more dice rolling, those guardsmen did as their commanding officer ordered, and in the end did bring it down, so yeah, another way of dealing with flyers is BRING TWIN-LINKED