Heldrake Review and Tactics (Chaos Space Marines)
With the release of the first 6th edition army codex, Chaos Space Marines players now have a host of new models and tactics to employ. One of the most exciting releases is the Heldrake, our first Flyer unit for the chaos army. The Heldrake is not just a simple airplane flying around and shooting missiles or dropping bombs; it's a daemonically possessed fighter jet with a host of new weapons and new rules to accompany it. I've been using the Heldrake in my Warhammer 40k battles since the rules have been released, and before I even received the new model (hello, proxy)! It's been a very successful unit and has easily been the star in many battles.
In this article, I will review the Heldrake's special rules, the model, and its combat effectiveness. Also, I will provide a few combat tactics that I've learned through playing; what are its advantages on the battlefield and what dangers to avoid. As with all my articles, please leave comments or questions at the bottom of the article. I always reply and readers have always contributed great insight!
"It's a bird . . . it's a plane . . . it's a mechanical daemon-dragon spraying our troops with helfire!"
Let me be honest here; I am not in love with the Heldrake model. When I first saw it, my thoughts were "Wow! Ummm... Hmmm.. Cool? Er... Odd?" There are parts of the model that immediately jumped out at me and that I really liked, but there are other parts that still make me wince. Nobody wants their expensive model to be the butt of an opponent's joke, and there are more than a few jokes to go around. However, I will say that the model has grown on me, and that with some planned-conversion, it will be an amazing centerpiece to any chaos force.
What I like:
- The dragon face with weapons in the mouth.
- The ironwork detail on its wings.
- It's combination of metal and flesh; it's organic nature.
What I dislike:
- The downward slant of its wings (it looks like it's flapping, not diving or zooming).
- The missing back half (It's lack of dragon tail makes it looked like a plucked bird).
- The engine exhaust on its butt.
The good news is that the model is physically impressive. It's huge and the detail really stands out when you see it with your own eyes. I would like to try to reposition the wings a little bit to make them stretch horizontally more, and I'm planning on adding some detail to the back half. My conversion article will be up as soon as its done! Even without my minor conversions, I think it's a model that players can be proud of once it's fully painted and killing Space Marines with every breath.
Now, let's see what goodies this guy comes with in the new Chaos Space Marines Codex!
There are a lot of new rules included in the new Chaos Space Marines Codex, and the Heldrake actually includes its fair share of them! Let's take a look at its profile.
- BS 3
- Front/Side Armor 12, Rear Armor 10
- Hull Points 3
- Flyer and Hover
- Armory: Hades Autocannon or Baleflamer
- Daemonic Possession, Daemon, Daemonforge, It Will Not Die
- Meteoric Descent
That's a lot of rules, so let's go through them one at a time.
Ballistic Skill of 3. This does suck a little bit, but it can be mitigated; more on that later. It's Armor of 12/12/10 is actually pretty good for a Flyer. It basically means that only dedicated heavy weapons or high strength special weapons (plasma, melta) or going to touch it. If you keep the Heldrake zooming then it can only be hit on a 6. It's not likely that a tactical squad of Space Marines is going to waste their whole turn to try to hit it with a single krak missile or plasma gun shot if they are counting on a 6 to hit.
However, any dedicated anti-air weapons (anything with the Skyfire rule) is capable of blowing it out of the sky. If your opponents are bringing any Fortifications with that quad gun, you will have to be careful. Having 3 Hull Points helps and, thankfully, we have a whole bunch of defensive rules with this thing, which keeps it alive a lot better than every other Flyer out there. We will get to that soon.
Flyer and Hover. The Flyer rule lets us do amazing things. We can zoom around the battlefield between 18" and 36" in a single turn, with one 90-degree pivot at the start of the move. You can literally hit both flanks of the battlefield in two turns, and your opponent will never be sure where you are going target.
Your best bet is to come straight onto the board on one of your flanks and target something on your opponent's flank. Next turn, you pivot 90-degress towards the other flank and head 18" or more down your opponent's battle line. On the next turn, you can either head off the table edge, or pivot 90-degrees again to hit another target. You should get between 2 and 3 turns with the Heldrake on the battlefield before you run out of room and have to head off the board.
If you do go off the table edge, don't worry. Your Heldrake enters Ongoing Reserves and enters play automatically on your table edge next turn. You don't really lose anything. However, be careful! If your Heldrake is off the table when the game ends, it counts as a casualty! This may not matter for a lot of objective-based missions, but it might!
Using Hover Mode. The Heldrake has the option at the start of its turn to switch to Hover mode, which lets it move like a Skimmer. Don't do it. It might be tempting to zoom towards an enemy unit and blast it, and then next turn convert to Hover mode and stay put to blast that unit again. Don't! Without the zooming rule in effect, units can hit you with their normal ballistic skill. You will be taking fire from every available unit on the field.
Killing In the Name Of . . .
Continuing with our rules review, let's look at what options the Heldrake has for killing things.
Meteoric Descent. With this rule, your Heldrake can Vector Strike an enemy unit that it moves over, including other Flyers. Usually this rule is reserved for Flying Monstrous Creatures, but we are a Flyer! At the end of your movement phase, nominate an unengaged enemy unit and resolve 1d3 + 1 strength 7 hits at AP3. Against vehicles, this is done against side armor (remember d3+1 hits, so you can even "glance" a vehicle to death in one pass). This is an amazing ability because it allows you to essentially target two different units in one turn: vector strike one unit on your way to blasting another.
Speaking of Blasting: Let's look at its weapon choices. The Hades Autocannon has a range of 36" is strength 8, AP 4, Heavy 4 with Pinning. That's 4 strength 8 shots! Remember that the Heldrake only has a BS of 3, though, so you will likely be hitting with 2 shots a round. That's not too bad, though! Consider that all Flyers have Skyfire, we can statistically hit another Flyer every round with 2 Str 8 hits. Most Flyers have only armor 11 or 12, so we are glancing on 3's or 4's, and many only have 2 Hull Points.
Let's look at the statistical chance of destroying a Space Marine Stormtalon (with AV11 and 2 HP). Each single shot from the Hades Autocannon has a 33% of glancing and removing a hull point, or a 25% chance of penetrating. Keep in mind that you have 4 shots and you only have to glance twice to destroy the Stormtalon. If you draw out a probability tree or do some statistics multiplication, you will find that you have a 41% chance of scoring at least 2 glancing hits on a Stormtalon in a single round of shooting.
This probability is scored against an AV 11 vehicle with 2 hull points. Versus an AV 12 or a 3 hull point vehicle, your chances for a 1 round kill are smaller. It's possible, but don't count on it happening in a single turn or without combined arms. If you consider, however, that any of these glancing shots could be a penetrating hit, then the odds go up of getting a kill. I would rate the Heldrake as medium-high threat against other Flyers.
UPDATE: The latest 40k FAQ states that the Heldrake's weapon is treated as a turret mounted weapon, measured from anywhere on the Heldrake's base. This gives it a 360-degree arc of fire! This makes for an interesting tactic: Vector Strike over a unit and then fire at that same unit with your weapon. This makes the Heldrake much better at killing Flyers as you can target it with two different attacks in the same turn, often hitting rear armor!
Also, you will rarely have to leave the field now because you can always 90-degree turn to stay on the field and then fire at any opponent in range (with your 360-degree arc of fire!). Thank you, Games Workshop for the boost!
The Baleflamer is a Str 6, AP3 template weapon with the Torrent special rule. What does Torrent do? It let's you place the narrow end of the template within 12" of your weapon mount, and the wide end anywhere that isn't closer than the narrow end. At first, I thought this was just a flamer with a little extra range; no biggie. I could not have been more wrong.
With the Torrent rule, you can place the template almost sideways. Instead of shooting the flamer straight forward, place the narrow end of the template towards the flank of a unit and then "turn" the template so that it goes down the entire length of the enemy unit. This usually means that you will hit 6+ models, even if they are spaced out. Being strength 6 and AP 3 means that you will kill many Space Marines every turn. Also, being a template weapon, the Baleflamer ignores cover. Muahaha.
I rate the Heldrake as a Very High threat against infantry - save, perhaps, for Terminators in their 2+ armor. Every game that my Heldrake has survived towards the end of the game, I have racked up model kills in the double digits.
Being a Daemon
Beyond the fact that the Heldrake is a Flyer with some nasty weapons attached to it, the Heldrake comes with a host of special rules, some of them never seen before. Let's take a look at these.
Daemon. This special rule comes from the core Warhammer 40k 6th edition rulebook. It grants the Heldrake fear (which doesn't matter because a Flyer can never be assaulted), but it also grants it an amazing 5+ invulnerable save. This is terrific and has saved the Heldrake in battle every single time that I've fielded it.
Daemonic Possession. This is what reduces the Heldrake's BS to 3, but as an advantage, it ignores Crew Shaken and Crew Stunned results on a 2+. In the old edition, these results are ignored completely, but now you have to roll for it. You honestly might forget to make this roll, but hopefully your friendly opponent will have read this article and will gently remind you.
Daemonforge. This new rule comes from the Chaos Space Marine Codex. You must activate it at the beginning of a shooting phase and can only be activated once a game. During the turn you activate it, you may re-roll all failed To Wound and all failed Armor Penetration rolls. Remember the odds of killing a Stormtalon in one round with glancing hits (41%)? The odds just went up. The downside of this rule is that, at the end of the phase, the Heldrake has to roll a die, and on a 1, it looses a hull point with no saves allowed. I don't think this rule will come up much when the Heldrake is kitted out with the Baleflamer (you're wounding on a 2+ against most models), but it does dramatically increase the one-turn effectiveness of the Hades Autocannon.
It Will Not Die. This rule again comes from the core Warhammer 40k 6th edition rulebook. It states that at the end of a friendly turn, roll a d6 if a model has less than its starting number of hull points (but is still alive on the table). On a 5+, the model regains a hull point. In an earlier game with the Heldrake, I was down to a single hull point by turn 3, but by turn 6, I was healed back to full.
With all these rules combined, the Heldrake has a remarkable survivability on the tabletop. The fact that most units can only hit it on a 6+ (being a Flyer), combined with the 5+ invulnerable save from the Daemon rule, means that you will not be losing hull points easily. When you do, they will likely grow back over the course of the game. If your opponent only brings a single unit dedicated to hunting Flyers (the Aegis defense line with a quad gun, or a Stormtalon, etc), you will likely survive that first round of Skyfire and then retaliate without mercy.
How do you plan to equip your Heldrake?
The Heldrake is a great addition to the Chaos Space Marines army. It not only gives us our first Flyer unit, but it gives us one with some amazing weapons and a host (a daemonic host!) of special rules. This might be the most survivable unit on the tabletop right now. It's not AV 14 like the Landraider or Necron Monolith, but it also is going to take far fewer shots, has a 5+ invulnerable, and can regrow lost hull points.
When loaded out with the Baleflamer, you will kill scores of power armored opponents. In my first game running the Heldrake (Chaos versus Chaos!), I killed two light tanks and more than 25 Chaos Space Marines with the new Flyer. In fact, I killed the two Vindicator tanks in a single round! I flew over one of the tanks and used Vector Strike to kill one (glancing away it's 2 remaining hull points), and then I used the Baleflamer on a group of chaos marines standing next to the other Vindicator. I killed 6 or so marines and just happened to penetrate the side armor of the Vindicator. Not too bad!
One thing is clear; if you take a Heldrake, your opponent will commit much of their energy to either A) killing the dang thing, or B) avoiding it as much as possible. They are going to suffer mobility in order to keep their infantry models spaced out as far as possible to avoid that Baleflamer template. Once your opponent's worry is attracted towards a single model, the rest of your forces will go almost unnoticed. Proxy the Heldrake and try it out for yourself, any big dragon model will do.
If you have any questions or comments about this article, please post them below. I always reply and I love the back-and-forth ideas that come with this community. Also, I have linked a couple of my other Warhammer 40k articles below, including my review of the new Chaos Space Marine Codex. Check them out!