Unit Name: Thunderwolves
Unit Type: Fast attack, 1-5 model squads of cavalry.
Construction: Using the thunderwolves pack box.
Unit Deployment: In partial cover
Unit in play: Rapid strike assault squad.
Unit is most effective against: Low initiative or horde squads.
Do you like space wolves riding wolves from space into battle? If so you’ll love thunderwolves. These guys are the secret wing of the wolf guard; nobody talks about them outside of the chapter. Only the strongest of the warriors can tame the monstrous wolves that roam the Asaheim plains, to even attempt this feat you need to be inducted into the wolf guard. Since the release of the models the number of thunderwolf lists has increased but are these monsters still a good choice in your army?
What do you get for your investment?
Thunderwolves come with power armour, bolt pistol, combat weapon, frag and krak grenades. They also come on a large beast that increases their combat efficacy by lending them the rending, fleet and hammer of wrath special rules. The cavalry come with the stat-line of a grey hunter with a few changes. An extra point in strength and toughness as well as baseline 4 attacks makes these beasts something to fear.
So how do cavalry play? They move 12” and have the fleet rule. This means that they can re-roll their run or charge distance. These beasts can cover on average 15.5” a turn and up to 24” the turn they charge. In turn two there should be very little that they cannot assault
Another change is the addition of hammer of wrath. This rule gives you an extra attack at normal strength but at initiative 10. While this isn’t as effective as the models normal attacks it does allow you a chance to soften up an enemy before they get a chance to respond.
Unfortunately there is one change that has some negative aspects; while cavalry aren’t slowed by terrain they do treat difficult terrain as dangerous. This is a bit of a problem since there should be a good spread of terrain on the board. This is a bit of a pain but for the risks involved you will not lose your initiative step due to having frag grenades.
What upgrades should be considered?
The weapons choices for the unit can be interesting. Firstly the idea of choosing mark of the wolfen is out of the question. You reduce a baseline 5 to D6+1, this averages to 4.5 attacks a turn. While the ability to get 7 attacks a turn sounds great but the truth of it is that you will also have to weather those turns you get 2 attacks. The cost of the upgrade is equal to a power weapon which negates armour to some extent while the real benefit of the upgrade is lost as you already have rending. Focus on reliability not risky pay offs.
Thunderhammers and powerfists are a solid choice for an anti-armour or monster killing. Unfortunately they are expensive and ensure you strike last. The upside is that you are almost guaranteed a penetrating hit on most vehicles but the downside is that most units will be striking ahead of you. Concussive on the thunderhammer is no longer as good as it used to be, while it does mean that anything you wound will strike at initiative 1, it no longer effects vehicles. If you are stripping wounds off of a monster with the thunderhammer then it is unlikely that you care when it hits as you’ve probably lost most of the unit anyway due to the smash rules.
Power weapons offer three different choices, sword, axe, maul and lance. This is the only unit on which the lance is not a waste of time. The strength bonus can really be brought to bear since thunderwolves have the attacks to make use of the first round benefits but unless you can wipe out the enemy in one round you are down to ap4. Power swords are the balanced power weapon, no bonuses to strength but ap 3 and striking at initiative. They can power through marine equivalents and do a decent job of killing most hq units. Mauls are great for monster hunting as they bump you up to strength 7 but hitting with ap4 really limits how effective they can be at cleaving through units. Finally the axe, I think in this squad an axe is not a good choice. The unit is already expensive so an extra few points to go from power axe to power fist is not that crazy as it give you a much better impact.
Frost blades are rather expensive and the added strength is of less impact due to the increased strength of a thunderwolf. I fail to see why it is worth ten points more than a power weapon. A frost axe on the other hand is completely superfluous as every benefit it offers is matched and/or surpassed by a power fist. Strength is lower than a fist, its ap is the same and you still strike at initiative 1. If you want to use a frost axe buy a power fist.
All in all I think you need to maximise what the unit can do, a powerfist seems to fit this better than any of the other options. The fist is a few points cheaper than a thunderhammer and while you strike last you get to ignore armour and instant kill most units that you will face. When compared to power weapons extra ten points also ensures that you are going to get more wounds from your hits, wounding on 2’s is always going to be better than 3’s or 4’s and the added ability to explode vehicles is a better investment. The fist allows you to make a much better job of an all-round assault unit.
So how would I arm the rest of the squad? Quite simply either put storm shields on the models or nothing at all. 5th edition’s wound shenanigans are gone and I am happy for it. Never again will a thuderwolf be armed with a bolter or a stray meltabomb. With the new wound allocation system you will need some stormshields in the unit but not every model needs to have one. The level of ap2 and 3 weapons that can be found in most armies these days is quite a problem for such an expensive unit. If you are not looking to have these models blasted apart by every single heavy gun the enemy has then you might be best off springing for this upgrade. Yes you will have fewer attacks in combat but the squad’s survival will be increased.
For the remainder of the options the only one worth talking about is the melta bomb. I don’t think this is a necessity but it can be useful to help power through heavy armour. While a powerfist is my pick of the weapons upgrades, this offers you a good shot at squashing monsterous creatures and terminator equivalents which I see as the two biggest dangers in the game these days.
How do thunderwolves behave on the board?
So how should you play these big puppies on the board? In truth it should be plain. These boys are shock troops, slam them across the board at anything and they should take lumps out of it. The only unit I foresee being an issue for thunderwolves is terminator equivalents. The number of attacks the unit can pump out is impressive but even they will find it difficult to cut through a 2+ save. The real power of thunderwolves is harriers, they should be able to break or wipe out any normal troop choice in a turn. The way I would play them is to cut down scoring and fire support units, take out the problem units first before moving on to the tough combat targets.
When it comes to tackling hq choices, this squad can make a great job of it. Since none of them are characters you cannot get challenged so all of the wounds have to be allocated to the opposing squad. While a challenge can limit the attacks going to a character the thunderwolves can pump out enough attacks and have a few different wound types to maximise their impact in combat. To improve the efficacy of a thuderwolf squad you could run them with a thunderwolf lord or battle leader. These models can add some serious bite to your unit. A thunderwolf unit with an attached character can seriously challenge anything on the board.
In conclusion I love these models. For a combat edge to a space wolves army thunderwolves are a great option, they are the strongest unit in the fast attack section. They are fast, hard hitting and tough. They pump out a high number of attacks, have some good upgrades and can have an invulnerable save on every model. A harder unit in combat you won’t find in the codex. If you play them right they can hammer the enemy into submission. If you hug cover while minimising line of sight and make the most of their speed they shall make you proud. When you count up the kills at the end of the battle be assured that these monsters will have taken an immense tally.