In a similar vein to my dissection of the Annihilation Barge, I’m going to talk about another of the ‘odder’ choices in my army. Not many Necron players (that I know) think much of the Deathmarks. They are certainly a strange unit, as many people will look at their short-ranged sniper rifles and ability to Deep Strike in the opponent’s turn (leaving you very vulnerable to attack and unable to spread out) and wonder why these things are in any way ‘good’. I mean, Deep Striking during the opponent’s turn certainly has novelty value, but the inability to separate the unit or fire before the opponent’s shooting phase is almost inviting the opponent to kill them immediately. The Rapid Fire rule added to the sniper rifles is cool, but it requires you to be within 12” of the target and no sniper should be that close if he wants to be in any way alive during the next turn.
However, it’s my belief that both of these strange-sounding aspects of the unit can be used to great (and often surprising) effect during the game. Of course, my experience of this is only based on a few games, so take it for what it is (probably woefully inadequate). One of the best things about the Deep Strike special rule is that it helps to take away the reliability problem with reserve rolls. Admittedly it does sort of rely on your opponent rolling well (or, indeed, having reserves in the first place), but the important thing to bear in mind is that there is no limit to the number of Deathmark Squads that can ‘piggyback’ onto an opponent’s reserve roll. If they get one unit onto the board in turn2, then you can get every Deathmark squad in your army down then as well. Having that level of control over when your units can arrive opens up many tactical options for co-ordinated attacks and distractions. It also brings the psychological advantage of disrupting your opponent’s plans for his movement phase. Usually in a game, you will have decided on what you’re going to do in the movement phase before the opponent’s turn has ended (and, if not, you should have!) and having a couple of units appear out of nowhere can put unexpected pressure on you, increasing the chance of making mistakes. This is only a good thing. Sometimes it’s worth the destruction of the entire squad purely for the disruption they can cause to the opponent’s plans just by turning up.
Next up is the Rapid Firing Sniper Rifle. Again, this is one of those things that can cause people to raise an eyebrow. Firing two shots per guy is great, but you need to get uncomfortably close to do so and the maximum range on their guns is (like so much else in the Codex) only 24”. Clearly too short to use then in the traditional sniper nests. And that’s a common trap I feel gets fallen into when people dismiss then as being unworthy of serious consideration. They’re crap as sniper, because they’re not really snipers. When you stop using them as you would a Pathfinder or a Sniper Scout, and just start using them as Immortals with different guns, these guys become an entirely different animal. They’re pretty much the most resilient sniper(ish) unit out there (with the possible exception of the Vindicare Assassin) and aren’t tied to cover for their survival. They can march alongside (or ahead, if you want) the rest of your army, levelling a lot of Pinning and Rending shots at anything foolish enough to wander with 12” of them.
Then there is the big draw of the unit; the Marking ability. Basically, whenever a Deathmark unit deploys you may pick one opposing unit on the field (even in a transport) and, for the rest of the game, any Deathmark shooting will wound them on a 2+ rather than a 4+. This is kind of a big deal for any gun with the Sniper trait. Especially nice when deployed against Monstrous Creatures and command choices to rack up as many extra wounds as possible and force pinning tests. Lovely. It also adds another psychological trick to the unit. Against an opponent not used to Deathmarks, it makes them very paranoid about the unit. It’s one of the additional reasons that they disrupt enemy movements when they Deep Strike out of turn. Most of my opponents have wanted them dead the moment they turn up. This marking ability is also one of the reasons why I field Deathmarks in small squads. The marking ability applies to all Deathmark shooting, not just the squad that marked the unit. This means that the effectiveness of marking increases exponentially with each unit you deploy and also, even if one of the units get killed the moment it turns up, the marking is still valid for the other unit(s) for the rest of the game.
As you may have noticed, a lot of the things I’ve been saying about these guys involve them getting killed in one way or another. This is another reason why I tend to field them in small squads. I also add a Harbinger of the Storm in with each squad as a nice complement to the squad (a decent Assault 4 weapon with 12” range and haywire gives them a little extra bite for suppression and distraction) but even that only bumps the squad up to 120 points. By keeping them this low, it allows me to be bolder with Deep Striking them, using them as speedbumps or distractions without risking too many points in the process. Even at the low level I use them, they’re still capable of churning out a nice amount of quality firepower with a great deal of flexibility, although this admittedly lacks range. I find the marking adds a nice additional tactical element to the game and enjoy deploying the psychological tricks that they can bring to bear.
So; there you have the Deathmarks. Better than they look on paper.
Well, I think so…