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Posted 18/08/2017

Tactical Toolbox – Aura Abilities

In the new edition of Warhammer 40,000, aura abilities are key to victory. A player that makes proper use of aura abilities can turn even the humblest of units into a deadly powerhouse. Warhammer masterminds Dean and Matthijs are back with a guide on how to win your games with this versatile new mechanic. Matthijs and Dean hail from the Netherlands and met during a heated game of Shadow War: Armageddon. After Dean lured Matthijs into a devastating kill-box, they were destined to become the bestest of buddies. Dean often helps Matthijs with his blog, aos-tactics.com, where they try to enthuse others to see a defeat, not as a setback, but as a chance to learn and to get better:


Matthijs: Every army stands and falls with the prowess of its commanders. In Warhammer 40,000 this is no different. The grandeur and skill of your commanders are represented by abilities that improve their combat efficiency or that of their fellow soldiers. Some of these abilities affect all friendly models or units within a certain range. We call these ‘aura abilities’ and can be a great source of strength and synergy for your army.

In this article, we will discuss what aura abilities are, how you can optimise their efficiency and how you can deal with enemy commanders that use them.

Aura Abilities

In Warhammer 40,000, a lot of units have aura abilities that support nearby allies. These abilities usually only affect units with a specific keyword. In some cases, this is a faction keyword like “Imperium”, while in other cases the keyword will be more specific. For example, a Raven Guard Captain only allows friendly Raven Guard units within 6″ to re-roll hit rolls of 1.

There are a lot of different aura abilities throughout the various factions, ranging from re-rolls to a flat increase in stats. In most cases, aura abilities come from characters, stopping enemies from targeting them in the Shooting phase unless they are the closest model. Building your army around specific aura abilities will allow you to create a strong synergy-based army.

Optimising Aura Abilities

Most aura abilities are not super strong on their own but become very powerful when used in the right way. There are two things to consider when optimising your aura abilities: what units do you support, and how does that relate to your play style?

Units to Support

When you are building a synergy-heavy army, choosing the right targets for your auras is key to your success. For example, allowing plasma weapons to re-roll hit rolls of 1 has a much bigger impact than it would have on regular bolters.

When looking for the right unit to support with your aura, you should always look at the impact it might have and the role you need it to play. When you notice that your Chaos Cultists units keep getting shot down by bolter fire, it might be a good idea to replace them with Poxwalkers supported by Typhus – his ability “Host of the Destroyer Hive” will increase the Strength and Toughness of all your Poxwalker units within 7″ by 1.

When investing points into an aura ability, you should always try to have as many units that can benefit from it as possible. If your army consists of more Tzeentch Daemons than Death Guard, it might be a better idea to take Blue Horrors supported by the Changeling. This way, all other Tzeentch Daemons in range can benefit from its -1 to hit aura, and it still has a use after the Blue Horrors die.

Even though synergies make your army more efficient, they also make your army dependent upon individual units. Dependency in wargaming is almost always a weakness. When you are building your army around the aura abilities of a few units, you should always consider what will happen if those units die, because they will definitely be targets.

The strength of my Hellblasters’ plasma incinerators comes from their ability to overcharge, increasing their damage output. When my Captain dies, I will not be able to overcharge without likely losing some of my expensive Hellblasters. The power of my army is based on one single model, and I decided to stick him in the front because it looked cool. Silly me…

There should be no obvious weaknesses that, if taken advantage of, render your army useless. Building a synergistic army goes way beyond increasing damage output. It is about building a machine, of which all parts work together, making the whole stronger than each individual element.

Play Style

Once you have found your aura abilities and the units you want them to support, it is time to figure out how they relate to each other on the battlefield. Since most auras have a limited range, it forces you to keep your units close together. It is important to note that there is a big difference between “all units” and “all models”. If you have an ability that affects all units, only one model of a unit needs to be within range of the ability. This means that even though 6″ is not a whole lot, you can potentially have a huge number of models benefit from the aura ability through smart positioning.

Because units only need one model in range of the aura effect, I get my entire army within range of my Captain’s re-roll aura with this setup. This is quite strong against close combat units and alternative deployments.

Once you have a few different units that can all benefit from the same auras, it is time to practice your positioning. You can do this by setting up your army and playing a few Movement phases by yourself. It might feel silly, but after a few tries, it should be pretty clear what the limiting factors of your army are. For example, if you have a few Predators that you want to keep stationary, and a unit of Hellblasters that you want to move forward, it becomes quite hard to keep them both in the range of your auras.

Once you have found these limiting factors, it is time to formulate a game plan around them to see if the units need to be replaced, or if it is workable. This is a process of trial and error.

Even after one Movement phase, the synergy in my army falls apart. I now need to figure out if it is worth it to move my heavy weapons along with my Captain to get the re-roll, but also suffer the -1 to hit penalty. Since most deployment maps allow armies to get quite close, I often only need one Movement phase to get all my weapons in range. Maybe I’ll try a different set up next time instead of ditching my Redemptor Dreadnoughts and Predator.

Dealing with enemy synergy

Dealing with strong aura-based synergies can be hard, but is far from impossible. Each synergy has two big weaknesses: the source of the aura and the need for the army to stay within its range. When you can take advantage of either of these, it can help turn the game your way.

Killing the source

When the source of an aura has more than 10 Wounds, you can shoot all your stuff at it and hope it dies quickly enough. In these cases, it’s not so hard to deal with your opponent’s synergies. In most cases though, your target will be a character with fewer than 10 Wounds, stopping you from targeting it unless it is the closest model.

When this is the case, most commanders will try to keep their key characters nice and safe, tucked in among their other units. In some situations, they will not have the model count to fully secure their position. In these scenarios, alternative deployments such as arriving from orbit can be a great way to get close enough to a character that you can shoot at it, or engage it in combat.

After the previous game, I decided to replace one of the Redemptor Dreadnoughts with another Predator for some more long ranged firepower. I also changed my setup, allowing myself one more Movement phase within my Captain’s re-roll aura. Sadly, my opponent realised that this left enough space for him to deploy a unit behind my lines…

When such deployment is not an option, you can also try to take an aura-toting character out with snipers. Even though this is a valid option, you could need about 30 sniper shots to reliably kill a 4 Wound character, so it’s far from ideal.

Divide and Conquer

The second, and much preferred, option is taking advantage of your opponent’s positioning. You can do this by either forcing them to separate or by engaging them in combat, allowing you to lock multiple units down at once. If you outrange your opponent’s units, you can try to position your forces around their army, forcing them to split up or be obliterated from range. Since their army gets their power from the aura abilities, you will greatly reduce their efficiency if you can get them to separate.

The only thing that matches the shooting range of my opponent’s Ravagers are my Predators, which are greatly outnumbered. In this scenario, my opponent only has to stay put and fire away until I can get close enough with my plasma weapons. This will take about two Movement phases.

Another way to separate your opponent’s forces is by securing multiple objectives on the board, forcing them to come towards you. You can also try to engage your opponent in close combat. This can be done with a hard-hitting unit that can consolidate more than 3″, or with larger units that can engage multiple units at once.

Remember that, unless they can fly (or use the Ultramarines Chapter Tactics), each unit you lock in combat can’t shoot the next turn.

After two turns, the two armies are a whole lot closer and all my weapons are in range to unleash hell. Even though I protected my units with a defensive line of Tactical Squads, my opponent’s Reavers still managed to engage my Hellblasters and Predator in close combat after killing most of the Tactical Marines and consolidating in the Fight phase. Even though the Reavers might not be able to attack my Hellblasters this turn, it forces me to fall back or get stuck in combat.

By locking your opponent down with expendable units, you can greatly reduce their damage output, allowing you to stay close to them. In a lot of games, it will be quite hard to get in range for a frontal assault. In these scenarios, having the ability to deploy in different ways, move quickly or use the safety of transports will be a huge help.

Good luck, and I hope these tips help you make the most of the aura abilities in your armies.

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