Let start out by saying this is not a rant about how Helldrake is broken, how it ruins the game, or how I crapped my pants and learned to like it when I see that God Forsaken critter on the other side of the table. If you are still anywhere in stages one through four, skip this article and move on to another author who might be in one of the same stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining or Depression as yourself. Those of us here have already moved on to Acceptance and are quietly plotting the death of our enemies and ways to neutralize them.
Building an army list has always been pretty easy in 40k, get some troop choices and then some stuff to support them. Take your objectives and make sure you have enough annoying things to prevent your opponent from taking theirs. Pretty simple right? Along comes a spider, I mean – Helldrake. Now your troop choices all get Barbequed, can’t hide in cover and don’t get an armor save. Your annoying support units that go in and take the fight to your opponent to buy time for your troops holding objectives? They get Vector Struck and then Barbequed, despite the Helldrake being past them. Because, you know, firing in a 360 degree circle is cool – and Helldrake does as Helldrake pleases.
But this is an article for those of us in Stage 5, so we have already moved past all that – now we get to try and figure out what to do next. There are a couple of ways to look at this, we can try and out armor Helldrake by tucking squads into Landraiders and challenging the Helldrakes to come get us, which they can’t, but this costs too much in points and money to try. We can try and shoot down the Helldrake but with an invulnerable save and wound regeneration, it’s going to take a metric crap ton of fire to bring him down. Another idea is to out spam the Helldrake, but with Helldrakes magic eraser wiping out 4-7 MEQ per turn, even spamming MSU won’t help for more than a couple turns. You can try an Aegis, but at most you are going to get two shots off and then you are dead as Helldrake ignores cover, again – Helldrake does as Helldrake pleases.
After ticking through the list I arrived at my own conclusion for the ‘Helldrake Conundrum’; Rhino’s to buy time for small scoring units, one Landraider to hold a counter assault / scoring unit and some Stormtalons. With the new ‘Skies of Death’ the Stormtalons came down in price and are quite affordable, with the Skyhammer Missiles also dropping in price you can get an Assault Cannon / Skyhammer wielding flyer on the board for 125 Points. This gives you 3 strength 7 shots from the Skyhammer and another 4 shots at strength 6 with rending and twin linked from the assault cannons. While not overwhelming at first glance the humble Stormtalon makes up for quality with sheer quantity. With a front and side armor of 12 the Helldrake won’t go down easy with a frontal assault, but remember the assault cannon is turret mounted and can fire behind the Stormtalon – perfect for flying over the Helldrake and getting shots on the rear armor of 10.
Now, here’s the real rub. Not ever army you are going to play is Chaos Space Marines. You are going to have to play plenty of other armies at the local game store and tournaments. So if you tailor a list to mitigating Helldrakes you risk opening yourself up to other armies – Helldrakes have really pushed the ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ in 40k all the way to 11. How will a list that can deal with Helldrakes now turn around and take on a Tyraind Psychic Choir or an Ork Speed Freaks list?
That’s the real problem with Helldrakes – It’s not that they are game breaking by themselves, it’s that they push the median way outside of the bell curve and force the entire curve to move to meet them. It’s like in University when you ran into that one teacher who graded on a curve in the elective basket weaving class and you just happened to be in that class with the one kid who really really really wanted to be a basket weaving artist and wrecked the curve. Here is the Warhammer 40,000 bell curve in the period we will refer to as ‘pre-Helldrake FAQ’ and then the ‘post-Helldrake FAQ’:
If you think of the curve as the types of armies that are effective with a large majority of armies being effective in the middle, you can then see the negative skew that the Helldrake imposed on other armies after its release. This effect only really became apparent after the release of the FAQ that allows the Helldrake to fire anywhere within 360 degrees of its base. Prior to this ruling you could run straight at the Helldrake and mitigate its barbeque ability because of its minimum movement carrying it past you. Now this no longer works, as it can simply fire behind itself, and there are literally no places safe from the Helldrake on the table.
A similar, if much less dramatic, shift occurred during the release of Grey Knights. Paladin units swept all that stood before them and people spent months trying to figure out how to bring enough weapons, and the right type of weapons, to bear that could neutralize this new scourge. The shift was minor and within a few months most people had devised ways in which to neutralize this new threat. The one thing that prevented Paladins from ruling the 40k megaverse was their high points cost. Ultimately this high cost limited their numbers on the table top and made them easier to deal with, additionally they are infantry – and as such move much slower and are much more predictable.
Because Helldrake suffers none of the limitations of high points cost or limited maneuverability their effect on the game has been even more dramatic. This decreased cost along with increased capabilities has lead to the seismic shift in tournament armies that we are seeing now. Of course players will learn to adapt and the era of the ‘Helldrake FAQ’ will come to an end eventually. But looking across the board at armies currently in service it is difficult to see where that hard counter will come from. Perhaps Tau will have an answer with their access to skyfire units.
Bringing us back to where we started, the difficulty in the Helldrake is not just devising counters to the Helldrake, but devising counters that don’t leave you defenseless against other armies that you will be facing in a tournament setting as well. Land Raiders are an obvious choice as the Helldrake simply cannot hurt them. It almost goes without saying that you need your infantry in vehicles to provide protection and mobility, but those vehicles are extremely vulnerable to vector strike and then barbeque of the juicy bits. All of this and you need to remember that you are going to have to play other guys with completely different armies that are probably also trying to figure out how to get past the inevitable Helldrake list.
Take two of these and call me in the morning: