Go to the Maul, Axe a Question, Reply with the S-word

(Or: Yes, I’ll Lancer Your Questions About Power Weapon Types)

With the added options for different types of Power Weapons in the game they have become a lot more versatile, in many ways replacing the need for Fists and such due to simply being significantly cheaper. However, with an array of different choices picking one can be tough (at least for those who aren’t committed to one option due to a particular model.) However, I think there are some good guidelines for how to pick which one- and when to spring for something different- based on some general criteria.

The Power Sword
Good ol’ reliable. The Power Sword is still, most of the time, the same as it was before- 2+ saves are, for the most part, the exception on the field and many xenos armies can’t really field them at all. While you shouldn’t ignore the possibility completely, neither should it be dominating your thoughts when picking weapons, as it’s simply not something that is going to come up all that often.

The Sword will be a strong contender for weapons when your initiative is high enough for it to be relevant- if you’re less than four, don’t even bother worrying about it. 5+ is your golden number here, as it means you’re killing Marines before they can kill you, but even I4 models are at least guaranteed a chance to swing against most people. Of course, there is another caveat to that- you need to be worried about killing Marines. Some armies are; some aren’t, so it will depend on whether you have enough ways to handle heavy infantry already. Understand that this is a concern, as you are going to see more armies running significant numbers of bodies on the ground, so it’s important to be able to handle them, one way or another.

What a Sword won’t do for you is help against big targets like MCs or vehicles. While this isn’t a change from previously, the fact that there exist other options for doing so with your Power Weapon mean that you have to consider whether you’re going to need more help against them or in killing MEQs, which is a perfectly valid question, but one you need to consider.

The Power Axe
In some ways more similar to an old-style Power Weapon than the Sword is, the Axe will cleave through absolutely any kind of armor save the enemy might have. (Warning: guarantee not valid against invulnerable saves.) Not only that but you get a strength bump as well and, unlike its close relative the Power Fist, you can still benefit from having an extra CCW. Of course, like the Fist, you’ll end of striking at the bottom of the initiative order, which can sometimes be a bit punishing.

Axes are excellent when you can guarantee they’ll get their hits in, which can mean any of a couple different things. First, it can be on ICs where you have the ability to pawn off any wounds allocated to them with your LOS rolls. However, there is also a good possibility you’ll get involved in a challenge with an IC, so be sure you aren’t crippling yourself by striking at I1. The second way is by having a 2+ save yourself, which will largely ensure that no one who can punch through your armor gets to swing before you; there are of course a few rare weapons that do so and Monstrous Creatures will give you a bad day, but that was probably true anyways. Last but not least, you can simply have a horde of expendable bodies to soak up the enemy’s wounds, guaranteeing that you won’t need to even worry about making saves on the model with the Axe.

Axes, bizarrely, are probably the most flexible of the weapons and are well-suited to general use- if you’re not sure what else to take, consider taking an Axe. However, sergeants in particular should be wary of doing so lest they get challenged and die too easily. But for models like Terminators, Death Cult, etc, that all get to pick weapons, Axes are a great way to have utility against just about everything you fight.

The “just about” clause is worth remembering, though; an Axe isn’t really going to be much better than Krak Grenades against a tank and even against foes like Orks and Necrons will be wasting whatever Initiative value your model might have had. Anyone with I5+ should probably avoid Axes, as striking ahead of Marines is generally a big deal and shouldn’t be discarded casually. +1Str also means that, like the Sword, it is unlikely to do much damage to high-toughness targets like MCs unless you get lucky on the wound rolls.

The Power Maul
Sitting in an odd place in things, Power Mauls are weapons that don’t really mesh with the common assumption of a Power Weapon- that is, eliminating armored targets. Though it can punch through medium armor saves, it will do jack diddley to Marines and the like, so it’s generally pretty safe to assume that the enemy is gonna be ignoring 1/3 or more of your Power Maul hits. In compensation, however, you get a hefty +2Str and Concussive (a la the Thunder Hammer) as well as swinging at full normal initiative.

A Power Maul, then, is most useful against targets where your model’s normal Str value would be insufficient to do much damage; this generally means enemy Monstrous Creatures, against whom a Sword can generally cut through the armor but finds it difficult to actually score a wound, and against vehicles, where getting one S6 Krak Grenade attack ends up feeling a bit weak. Models with low natural strength, such as Eldar or Guardsmen, may find Mauls helpful in wounding the abundant T4 enemies, and on Marines S6 meets the Instant Death threshold for such weedy races when directing attacks back at them- and there’s something to be said for splattering a Farsser, Archon, or Company Commander in a single blow.

Thus in general a Maul will be your weapon of choice when you want to handle something significantly beefier than you are, no matter what race you may be. The add-on of Concussive isn’t a huge deal but will occasionally be useful, especially since it guarantees you get to swing before them again next turn. (Interesting note: If you are swinging before them with the Maul model anyways, Concussive will actually force TWO rounds of I1 swings on them, which can be relevant if other models on your side are a bit slower.)

The Maul’s big weakness is the one we brought up immediately: it doesn’t actually help you get through armor most of the time. Since that is more often than not the purpose of buying a Power Weapon, a Maul tends to be a somewhat specialist choice compared to the other two.

The Power Lance
A.K.A. the Bad One. While not completely worthless, the Lance suffers from not really doing anything particularly well and being reliant on the charge in order to get any real bonuses. When charging, it’s an upgraded version of the Sword, getting +1Str in addition to AP3. However, any other time it’s just a poor man’s Maul, lacking any bonuses except the weak AP4. In neither case does it have any special qualities, making it a rather weak contender.

For models with Hit and Run and an upgraded movement speed (like cavalry or bikes) the Lance can be a reasonable or even good alternative at times, since it allows you to get high-Str hits in at initiative and ignore most armors. However, it is still unable to penetrate Terminators even under its ideal circumstances and, lacking that specific combination of abilities- or should you roll poorly on your attacks or HnR test, it’s very possible you will be stuck in with a mediocre weapon trying to bonk enemies to death with a long stick.

When considering Power Weapons, Lances can effectively be discarded as an option except for very, very specific units. It’s probably fortunate that they have the most unusual modeling option correlated with them, as it would be fairly miserable to get stuck using one on most units.

Something Different??!?!
Of course Power Weapons aren’t the only option for most models- Marines especially have several other similar options that tend to come on the same platforms and perform similar roles, so it’s worth taking a cursory look at these as well and establishing some guidelines as to when they might make the grade over some variety of Power Weapon.

Lightning Claws are so close to Power Swords in overall functionality as to be almost identical in most circumstances. The reroll to wound is almost perfectly balanced by missing out on an attack due to being a Specialist Weapon (since they virtually always come on A2 models with an extra CCW), with only slight advantages for one or the other on and off the charge. The Sword has a slight edge in having a higher maximum damage output and can kill T3 models better, and conversely the Claws are more reliable and better against T5+ enemies. For most squad leaders they are so close as to be basically a personal preference, though on someone with three or more base attacks the Claw ends up being a little bit better.

Power Fists are essentially like Power Axes, being able to kill just about anything effectively. Tanks, MCs, characters, whatever- they inflict Instant Death on most anything they’ll fight and consistently down 1-3 guys per turn. All of the same considerations for protecting the Axe are also applied here, but a Fist has a huge boon in being able to down all but the most resilient of challengers from a single failed save, which can often double or triple their effectiveness against an enemy IC. Nowadays you will mostly want to look to using Fists on ICs of your own that can keep themselves alive with good armor and invulnerable saves (rather than sarges, who can be challenged out), but their utility can make them a good choice for just about anyone.

Meltabombs are a cheap upgrade option for many characters that give you a way to smash vehicles (and, to a lesser degree, MCs) even when equipped with a low-strength weapon. If taking a Power Sword they can be a nice little addition to give you some extra flexibility when assaulting or being Tank Shocked.

Swords, Axes, and Mauls all have their place in different armies and different units, depending on the types of units you want them to be able to handle as well as the existing offensive and defensive abilities of the unit. Overall the change has added another interesting layer of decision-making to the game, which is a good thing for players of all stripes. While it may be annoying to remodel old characters in order to give them more edition-appropriate gear, I think it’s a small price to pay for a huge boost in flexibility.

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35 responses to Go to the Maul, Axe a Question, Reply with the S-word

Perfect. I'm glad you posted this. Should this be a back to basics article?
I think you might be underplaying how awesome the power axe is. What a deal. I might be looking at this from a Guard prospective, but I can't think of a time I would rather have the sword than the axe. But again, I am swinging after Marines and Terminators anyways.
And what is with the lance?

If you're already I3 or less, it's typically a no-brainer to take the Axe, as you're swinging last against most enemies anyway. Especially in a big blob, 5 sergeants and a commissar with axes, protected by 45 bodies is MEAN.

(Crusaders in Inq. Henchmen squads also love them.)

A fist is still much better than the Axe, but if you can't take one, it's probably the best power weapon for <I4 dudes.

moreover, you can take advantage of the new pile in rule to be sure that you always have a thick wall of guardsmen in base to base with your enemies, to allow your sarges to hit but not be hit.

This seems obvious to an expert player but it may take a couple of stupid errors for a new player, like me.

What about Thunder Hammers. And Lightning Claw plus Power Fist? PF + LC on a 2+ save Marine IC on a bike feels pretty strong and flexible. Thoughts?

It's not bad, but it's a lot of points. Question as always is, can those points be spent more effectively elsewhere?

Just wanted to throw out that the Lance does have a special home for units that have 2 power weapons, like Death Cult Assassins, as you can make one the power lance for charging, and the other a weapon of choice for when you're stuck in. Of course, you might still skip the lance in favor of more general versatility, but it's something to keep in mind.

A lance/mace combo would be pretty nice, get some hurt on the charge vs MEQ and do more wounds once stuck in. It would look awkward as balls though.

I'd like your opinions on something guys. I'm a Tau player and as allies I'm trying out Chaos. I got a unit of 6 Noise Marines and 10 Slaaneshi Marines (therefore both at I5). My question is, what should I give the Aspiring Champions. I had originally thought of a Power fist for some nice S8 AP2 goodness, but now I'm doubting my decision. Should I go for a Power Sword or a Lightning Claw to take advantage of the I5, perhaps?

I think that would be a superior option, yes. Striking at I5 isn't something you want to throw away and while Fists are great and all, you have other places you can get them in your army.

Hmm…question is, whether to take the PSword or the LClaw. The Aspiring Champion has 2 Attacks, 3 on the charge with a LClaw. With his/her bolt pistol that would mean 3 Attacks, 4 on the charge with a PSword…

The main thing we need to see is whether 3/4 Attacks is better than 2/3 Attacks with re-roll to wound. Not sure what's the better option for a Champion who is always going to be in challenges, as I suck at Mathhammer…

So, I ran some numbers through a dicerolling app on my mobile and I found that when you're fighting MEQ and you've got S4, a Lightning Claw is ever so marginally better but at S5 the Sword is marginally better.

To summarise, if you wound on 3+ you're better off with a PSword, but wounding on anything 4+ or worse a Lightning Claw is better. Using that info I think that Lightning Claws are ever so slightly better in my local community with people playing all flavours of MEQ, with only a handful of people playing T3 (Guard and Xenos).

On the charge, the Claw is slightly better. Off the charge, the Sword is slightly better. (Assuming T4 on the enemy.)

As I said in the article, the difference is so marginal you may as well just pick whichever one you like more; they're effectively the same.

It's worth noting though, that most things that are T3 are pretty easy to handle in CC anyways, so it's probably better to be equipped to deal with T5+.

That said, power axe plus power sword seems like a good combination for Death Cultists. Swords and initiative 6 gives you the ability to eat MEQs, while axes mean you can take down TEQs and threaten monstrous creatures, although you'll probably be sacrificing the unit to do so.

I'm thinking that a biker captain with axe and artificer armour would be a good replacement for the old relic blade captain. Same cost, one less strength and initiative 1, but AP2 and an extra attack, and the 2+ save with toughness 5 makes you fairly resilient.

As weird as it seems, Lance/Axe may be one of the better setups for DCA (though mixing one or two Swords in would probably be a good idea. Hitting and wounding on 3s on the charge should destroy most things and the Axes give you functionality against terminators.

I'm not sure on the Captain- one of the major strengths of the Relic Blade was that it swung at initiative. Losing that for an Axe is a pretty major change, as is going from 3++ to 4++. I think the old setup is still viable, it just isn't a "win every fight" kind of deal anymore.

Can someone explain how to handle 2 weapons with different rules? For example, a model with a Power Fist and a Lightning Claw?

There is a rule in the BGB called "more than one weapon" pg 51.
If you have more than one weapon, you choose one to use for both melee and shooting.

There are exceptions to MC's (can shoot more than one weapon), and for tyranids (who can stack abilities from different cc-weapons).

Hmm…then, while expensive, a Noise Marine Champion with a PFist and LClaw is tactically flexible. He has 3 attacks (+1 on the charge)…2 standard and 1 for the extra ccw (as both weapons are Specialist). He can also choose which to use depending on the situation…

Lightning claws are good for models that want a power sword but also have something that isn't ccw/pistol they want to keep. The only model I can think of right now is a Sternguard Vet but that's my 2c.

Basically, this is how you power weapon;

Lightning claw if you have I4+, sword if you don't have access to lightning claw

I3 or models in 2+ armour should take a fist, or take an axe if they don't have access to a fist

For force weapons, sword if you have Strength-boosting powers or re-rolls, axe if you have 2+ armour. Amusingly, Chaos Sorcerors can drop their ranged weapon for a powerfist (or even a chainfist if in TDA), so they should probably go sword+fist (sword for nuking things with I4, fist if their opponent is faster, T5+ or in TDA).

Lances are a terrible compromise. Mauls are utter shit, Chaplains are now worthless in melee, as are Dark Apostles.

Mauls give you duality. A Chaplain can easily get S7 on the charge with 4+ attacks with rerolls to hit. That's enough to kill a 3HP tank on his own, or take out a damaged walker. A S5-6 axe won't let you do that. A Libby with a Force Maul that rolls on Biomancy can also be an ID-inflicting, dreadnought killing beast with the right powers.

Are they the best choice? Probably not. That doesn't make them "utter shit" though.

Mauls are a little situational, but they aren't as bad as I had initially thought they were. Especially for S3 guys that +2 is really nice, and getting a bunch of S6/7 wounds to put on a MC or other guy is a pretty solid deal at times.

It'd be nice to have the option for things that aren't a Maul on the Chaplain, but c'est la vie.

There are also some weird situations where, say, eldar are fighting bikers. Str 3 vs T5 is rough. In this case, a power maul and a power sword do equally well. You deal 3x more wounds, but then the 3+ armor ignores 2/3 wounds. In the mean while, it means your melee attacks can also take out light vehicles and scouts pretty easily. (My meta has a lot of vanilla marine scouts behind aegis lines with camo cloaks and Tellion. Go figure)

(in response to Anon above)
Your local meta can of course vary these considerations. If you often play terminators, you'll need many more axes/fists even if you're I4+

Same consideration can be made if you often fight against xenos and their 4+ armor save: in that meta, power mauls are in their showcase.

I was thinking of taking a power sword and a power axe for my terminator Chaos Lord. He has a high initiative and great WS so the sword seems like a no brainer for marinebusting, but I was swithering about what to give him in the second slot. I can’t really see the ranged weapon options as being that valuable (combi melta is cool, but he’s in a termie squad with those anyway). My initial thoughts were maybe a fist, but I’m wondering if giving him an axe for that extra attack might be more viable. His squad is going to have a couple of fists in it anyway, so I wonder if the loss of the attack is worth it?

If you are springing so many points for fist + claw on a lord, why not go the full course and give him the axe of blind fury? S6, AP2 and strikes at I.

Here is what I would be looking at when considering purchasing two weapons:

Can a single weapon do a better job? (A Power Fist is arguably superior to Sword + Axe when you're toting a 2+ save and will cost less; the Blinding Axe is AP2 and strikes at initiative as well as having other benefits.)

What am I getting and how many points am I spending for it? (Sword + Axe is basically just buying you the ability to kill MEQs at initiative, since you presumably take the Axe if just wielding a single weapon. Do you have other models in the squad with Swords or Claws? Is one S4 attack with the points you're spending?)

Curse my luck for missing this conversation; I wanted to bring up the idea of lances on a Chosen delivered charge from a chaos landraider. I would already recommend against tailoring your Chosen for close combat, but this idea of a Khornate charge of 25 Str 6 ap3 attacks has stuck in my mind.
For the other stragglers here, what do you think? At a minimum, it's already terribly expensive, some 400 points. But that is a landraider and a beastly charge.

S6 vs S5 isn't really worth losing all of your functionality when not charging.

Also that unit is absurdly expensive. If you really wanna do something like that, just take ten Warp Claws and be done with it.