In Space Wolf circles, there are often posts asking how to defeat particular armies, and more often than not players seek strategies and tactics for defeating Necrons. Necrons are a tough customer for every army in Warhammer 40k, even more so at present since the current game meta favors their “shooty” combat style. They’re not quite as ‘shooty’ as the Tau, nor do they gun line like the Imperial Guard, but their steadily advancing fire is powerful and effective.
So the question is, how do you combat them? In examining how to combat any foe with your force, you must examine both parties. What works between Army A and Army B may not apply between Army A and Army C.
Today we’re just concerned with two armies though – Necrons vs. Space Wolves. Both are formidable forces and we will layout tactics and guidelines below, but it will come down to your generalship and dice rolling to seal the deal.
Let’s look at things from a strategic overview before we get into units and tactic specifics. As a Space Marine chapter, albeit a non-codex one, your units have a great deal of flexibility. This is not the same with Necrons which have more specialized units. On that note, let’s start with troops. The Necron warrior has a range equal to your bolter, but with that nasty auto-glance on a “6”. The only alternative is an Immortal with a weapon with 24″ range and AP- on a Tesla, or their Gauss Blaster. The tradeoff with the Tesla is a high volume of shots; useful for dealing with low armor mobs, but more of an annoyance to power armored troops. What the rank and file troops lack is the special and heavy weapons found on Space Marine squads. What this means is that while the Necron warriors are dangerous at mid-range shooting, they lack reach beyond it. Every round you can fire on an enemy and he cannot bring a weapon to bear on you is just free abuse of your opponent.
Necron forces do have heavier weapons on their Destroyers and bigger units, but the rank and file troops are largely on their own. What’s more, it’s their relatively cheap and plentiful Gauss shots that have your mechanized units terrified; the other units, while dangerous, are not nearly so intimidating.
So what do we do here?
We dictate the range of engagement. Long Fangs with long range weapons, Razorbacks with Twin-linked Lascannons, and other platforms for long range shots are a solid add. Necron vehicles have few long ranged weapons and will often rely on you to foolishly enter their sweet-spot range (12″-24″) where they’re one of the most dangerous sets of shooters in the game. Use mobility and reach from afar to place shots and ideally, whittle them down. I try to target any transports like the Arks that may be on the table as they not only move the warriors quickly up the field, they also have some nasty mid-range firepower of their own.
This brings us to the other extreme – melee combat. Contrary to what you may have heard, Necrons are not completely inept in melee combat (they’re not Tau…), but most of their units suffer from poor initiative. Conversely, you have one of the better non-HQ melee choices in the game, the Thunderwolf Cavalry. I know a lot of people feel them “unfashionable”, but they’re an excellent hitter. Given current Necron troop choices and most of their elites, it’s an easy match up; three Thunderwolves with the right loadout can wipe out an entire squad of warriors in a single round without taking a single counter-attack from their victims.
Sounds easy, what’s the catch?
Wraiths. Stat-wise Wraiths are just about on par with Thunderwolves and they will give you a really hard time in melee combat. It’s a fight you’ll eventually grind out and win most of the time, but they’ll tie you up rounds after round; time you could otherwise use slaughtering the rest of their forces. Even worse, with the new detachments, Necrons can augment their saves to a very annoying degree! We’ll talk about that more below in tactics.
There’s one last area where Space Wolves have the advantage – the air. Other than sheer volume of fire (and a broadside from a loaded Ark *will* bring you down), the Necrons currently lack dedicated AA outside of Forge World .
Most Necron forces you face will rely on aircraft to provide anti-aircraft firepower. While Necron aircraft is on par with a Storm Talon or other light aircraft, their units are no match for the more expensive Stormfang and Stormwolf, not to mention a Fire Raptor, which can engage and kill multiple Necron fliers at the same time.
While you should expect to see the Necrons bring their aircraft to any confrontation above 1500 points, their aircraft are not particularly tough to kill; something your Long Fangs and Stormfangs will be useful for. Stripping away the enemy air cover lets you hit him from above with very little they can do in response unless you get close to his Arks. Even then, if you can get your opponent throwing his big volume of dice on a low percentage shot instead of a more certain shot, you’re at least diluting the effectiveness of his shooting.
Now that we’ve covered a bit of strategy, let’s get down to actual tactics you can use to leverage the differences between these forces. Using speed and mobility to direct maximum force at what weaknesses the Necrons have has time and again been the best way to break up their plans and crush their forces. It’s not easy, but we’ll talk about some of the finer points to focus on here.
Given the weakness of most Necron units in melee combat and the strength of Space Wolves in this field, it’s not surprising that Thunderwolf Cavalry are a great tool against Necrons. The primary drawback isthat they are typically not great units to equip with shooting weapons versus the melee weapons they potentially could carry. Your opponent will want to grind down on them from range for as long possible and despite the Thunderwolves toughness, they can be ground down.
The best approaches for deflecting attacks are using terrain and outflanking. There’s something to be said for the gallant charge down the map, wolves at full speed, shots deflecting off your shields, a feral cry on the air but you’re playing the worst odds by giving the enemy the most shots.
You can leverage this to your advantage as a distraction force, but if so, don’t risk too much; it’s the fastest way to lose troops and our focus here is to use your Thunderwolves to their best advantage, not use them as decoys.
So let’s talk about gear. You’ll want to be built for melee against Necrons and one of the best options for Thunderwolves is the Storm Shield,however, you don’t need a shield on every single warrior, some can carry dual wolf claws instead. Generally, the only time you want all or nearly all of your Thunderwolves with shields is when you’re dealing with blasts, otherwise it’s only the wolves on the frontline who need the shields since they’re going to be absorbing the incoming shots. Since Necrons have few blast weapons, we’re going to minimize the Storm Shields and maximize the dual weapons. You’ll want at least three up front, maybe that includes a Wolf Lord or Wolf Guard Battle Leader with Runic armor attached to the unit, regardless so long as you get create a “Shield Wedge” you’ll protect the rest of your formation.
The Space Wolf Player’s Guide has a full beast-mode Wolf Lord build that’s a great tip of the spear; Wolf Lord with Runic Armor (+2 armor save), Helm of Durfast, Powerfist, Storm Shield, and Thunderwolf Mount. With Strength 10, AP2 Powerfist, a +2 armor save, and the 3++ Invulnerable save, he’s going to be hard to hurt, and a danger to most units in the game. He’s an ideal point unit even though he has one weakness = low initiative. One of your best advantages against Necrons is that they strike so low in the order, letting you tear them apart before they can even reply.
To complement the Wolf Lord you’ll need support, units that strike at initiative to clear out the light units. Since Necrons are +4 armor saves, we can get away with AP4 to cut through their troops and leave them with only their invulnerable saves to avoid being knocked off the map. Suddenly, you’ve got them down to a single save roll and that in and of itself makes Necrons a lot more “mortal”. Frost Sword or Wolf Claw with a Storm Shield will work. Alternatively, a Power Lance works as well. If you’re starved for points, you can downgrade to regular Power Swords and you’ll still be deadly to rank and file troops, but dealing with some of the tougher units makes the Frost Sword or Wolf Claw a better option all around.
Any additional Thunderwolves riding behind this lead “Wedge” can go with dual melee weapons like two wolf claws to get the bonus attack. Depending on the rest of your army size, you may want an Iron Priest on Thunderwolf with its big Thunderhammer/Servo Arm attack combo for extra punch, or another Thunderhammer rider, or some more Sword/Claw riders to clear out bodyguards or slaughter regular infantry. You’ll have to use your own judgment to scale, there are no hard and fast rules on exactly how to allocate these guys for best results once you have the core built.
Depending on the layout of the map, you may be able to tack your way up from cover to cover and then pounce; hopefully only exposing yourself to a minimum of fire. If this is the case, put the “Shield Wedge” up front or towards the most likely group of enemies to roll around your cover. You may not be able to cover all possibilities, so weigh the math; what hurts you most? What has the best odds of generating wounds for you? That’s your focus.
The other option is outflanking via a Harold Deathwolf or similar option. You give up being on the map turn 1 and you’ll have to make that reserve roll, but in exchange, you’re going to get to start further up the map and avoid a turn of incoming fire. However, minimizing attacks on your troops is often secondary to the disruption this represents to the enemy. Every foe I’ve seen will pivot some force to try to tie up the Thunderwolves or deal with them. If you subscribe to the battle philosophy that dictating the pace and positioning of the game gives you an advantage (and Space Wolves are a good army for someone who does), this is a good way to keep your enemy on the defensive.
Since Necrons aren’t a mob army, there aren’t a lot of good ways for your opponent to tar pit your Thunderwolves, which is one of the tactics that’s very effective against them with Tyranids or Orks. As such, you shouldn’t be afraid to engage rank and file troops within charge distance of other Necron troops. Few if any Necron commanders are going to want to tie up more of their warriors getting ground to dust by the Thunderwolves if they can be used where they’re more effective instead (say, against your tanks or dreads).
Even if it comes down to a Shard, Wraith, or conveniently allied Imperial Knight (yeah, fought this cheese); you should show no fear. You’ll likely lose wolves in the exchange, but you will win the fight far more often than not. Be committed to the attack, press the foe, be confident, and you’ll see victory far more often than defeat.
- Take Storm Shields for the front of your attack group
- Load up on melee that hits at initiative
- Plan to minimize enemy shots on your approach
- Fear nothing
Death from above is a great strategy for fighting Necrons with Space Wolves. As covered above, between the light air-to-air firepower options and the lack of dedicated AA units, this is one area where you’ll want to press an advantage. One of your biggest drawbacks is that your airpower is expensive, so what you do bring will have to handle a number of roles for you and do so effectively.
Your best multi-tasker is the Fire Raptor. With the Twin-linked autocannon turrets and your avengers, you can expect to engage and kill multiple aircraft, light mechanized, and elites in a single turn. Her ability to engage the targets separately without a Power of the Machine Spirit roll is a really nice addition. Short of simply a massive, massive volume of fire from Gauss shots, the Necron player will have a hard time countering this. Don’t bother with the quad bolters since we’re not dealing with hordes and ignore his troops unless they’re targets of opportunities.
One thing the Fire Raptor won’t do consistently is kill AV14 and super units like Monoliths. Enter the Stormfang with maxed out killer load:Twin-linked Lascannons, and Twin-linked Multi-meltas on the sponsons combined with the Helfrost Destructor. You’ll have 4 shots; 3 of them Twin-linked that will devastate even the heaviest armor in the game. Given that most armor is 3 Hull points or less, this is a very effective tank killer. Add in that two of those shots are Meltas with their extra penetration roll, and you’ve got a giant slayer. Again, the drawback is price; but in 1800-2000 point games and above, this is a unit that will get a kill virtually every turn it’s on the board and that you can throw at even the toughest armor with a good expectation of a kill.
Airpower is a good way to punish high-value Necron units, but it’s always the key to my favorite way to punch the Decurion formation to bits; breaking that #$%@ing Spyder. Getting an attack in to blow through the Spyder is the key to unraveling this much talked about formation and nothing in the Space Wolves codex will mathematically reach and kill the Spyder with better odds (both for survival of the unit in question and for percentage of nailing damage down).
- Air power is High Cost / Big Punch
- Prioritize your targets, they only get so many shots
- Press your advantage
- Splat the Spyder
In conclusion, good luck, have fun, and return to the Rout victorious, Brothers and Sisters! Even in defeat, we can add glory to our sagas through honor and strength. If you’re interested in further reading, the Space Wolf guide put out by writer Adam Smith of Space Wolves is an incredible resource. Not only is the blog a great source for all things Space Wolves, but the guide they have produced should be required reading for every Blood Claw and Wolf Lord alike trying to learn this army.
As it turns out there’s a lot more to cover than can fit into a single article, so expect to see follow up articles with additional tactics I and other Wolf Lords have used to crush the Necrons (and some other foes as well!)