With the crisp smell of our new 6th Edition rulebooks fresh in our olfactory receptors the internet punditry is in full swing churning out observations, advice and apocalyptic predictions. Amidst the din of lamentations and gnashing of teeth about the new found dominance of flyers, skyfire, flakk missiles and interceptors a small number of astute individuals are preparing for what will be the true nightmare of 6th Edition – Psykers. Psychic defenses, except in the case of Wolves and Eldar, have been significantly diminished across the board. Psychic Hoods no longer affect huge portions of the battlefield and they have no ability to block ‘defensive’ powers (blessings) cast on enemy units. Short of an enemy psyker failing their leadership test the ability to reliably interdict enemy psychic powers is almost nonexistent in many armies, sure you can still roll a 6+ ‘Deny the Witch!’ but I would hardly refer to that as ‘reliable’. While the current status of ‘Psychic Defense’ in 6th Edition can be batted around until we are all blue in the face, what I choose to focus on is the other 80% of armies who just got a huge boost from psykers.
In Telepathy, which most marines have access to, the Primaris (default) power 'Psychic Shriek' allows you to roll 3D6 and subtract the target units leadership. The resulting number is wounds that armor and cover saves cannot be taken against, there is no roll to wound as the power has no strength characteristic. So if you don't block it you are probably loosing models, even if you have toughness 10. The Tau Broadside has a leadership of eight, Ork Boyz are a leadership of 7 and Termagants round out the pack with a leadership of 6. The ‘average roll’ on 3D6 is 10.5 with the odds of you getting at least a 10 on 3D6 at 62.5%. Here is some geek math chart with the percentages broken out:
So even if a unit has a leadership of 10 you are still going to manage a wound that doesn’t have to roll to wound and cannot be saved with armor – not bad. Squad of Thunder Hammer / Storm Shield Terminators about to wreck your face? With their leadership of 9 you just zapped two of them into oblivion, minding of course their 'Deny the Witch!' and 5+ Invulnerable save, and that’s just one example of a basic ‘offensive’ power, which also happens to be the 'default power for that category, there are plenty of other examples more powerful spells.
Defensive powers like ‘blessings’ are another beast altogether, granting units the ability to reroll misses, saves or wounds. These powers aren’t subject to being canceled by a Psychic Hood but Wolves can still knock them down on a 4+ and Eldar can still force 3 dice for them to be attempted. These ‘defensive powers’ come almost exclusively from the ‘Divination’ category where the most basic ‘Primaris’ power, that you can always default to, allows the friendly unit to reroll misses during its turn. 'Prescience' becomes incredibly powerful in a game system using hull points to wreck vehicles where you just increased your hits per turn from 3.33 hits to 4.44 hits based on a BS of 4 with 5 shots. If you are talking about a unit with 10 rapid fire shots and a BS of 4, rerolling misses takes you from 13.33 hits per turn to 17.77 hits – a 33% Increase in efficiency.
The 'Divination' Category contains all sorts of nasty things like 4+ Invulnerable saves for entire units, handy when a Vindicator rolls up on you, and forcing enemy units to re-roll successful saves. Standard Space Marines don't have assess to this psychic 'tree' but Wolves, Dark Angels, Blood Angels, Grey Knights and Eldar all do. Biomancy offers an interesting mix of both 'offensive' and 'defensive' powers with the Primaris power 'Smite' being an Assault 4, Strength 4, AP 2 witchfire - again another power aimed squarely at Terminators. In the same category of Biomancy you also see 'Endurance' which gives a target unit within 24" Feel No Pain, It Will Not Die and Relentless while still another power 'Enfeeble' subtracts -1 to both the Strength and Toughness of a target unit and makes them treat all terrain as difficult. Shooting up Space Marines with Toughness 3 instead of 4 gives you a 16% boost in your wounds right off the bat while causing them to move as if in difficult terrain will make a huge dent in their charge range - buying you valuable time to keep shooting them more!
But what does this all mean to me?!
What I think this all means, which is subject to everyone's own interpretation of course, is that the effect of psychic powers on the game is just being figured out. While everyone is extolling the virtues of the Aegis Defense Line, which still boggles my mind, you should be looking down the road at what is next. When the glow of flyers wears off psykers are still going to be hard to deal with and huge force multipliers on the battlefield. Start your planning with the primaris powers as you know you can always exchange a power to get them, then go from there. If you get a better power when you roll - cool, use it! Just build your plan around the primaris psyker powers because as a 'default' power you know you can get them. Start figuring the Psychic phase out now and you will have that much of a lead on everyone else when the brief infatuation with flyers subsides.