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Summoning in 7th: How to use it, how to defeat it.

(This is a "work in progress", based on a mix of personal play experience, tournament analysis, and general contrarian tendency. I've had a mix of games in 7th, both "pre-Scatpack" and "post-Scatpack" pre-"Traitor's Hate" and not too many with Traitor Legions alas. As usual, comments/criticism is appreciated)
With 8th edition around the corner, one might question the point of writing a general summoning tactica. However, summoning has consistently been an ability shrouded in mystery, hyperbole, or trollish misinformation as to its actual power level. If nothing else, this gives an alternate perspective to the debate of how summons should work for 8th or other editions.
Because I am a pretentious git, I blatantly adapt terminology from chess. Notably, "material advantage"/"points advantage" refers to the classic "make your points back" (in itself a classic example of a fallacious benchmark for 40k performance), "positional advantage" refers to everything from locking down objectives to having amazing bubblewrap, and "zugzwang" means forcing an opponent to make a disadvantageous move" but I mostly use the term because what convoluted article isn't complete without obscure German words? I contemplated using "schwerpunkt", "weltanschauung", or "fingerspitzengefühl" but changed my mind for the sake of readability.
Finally, this article is focused specifically on summoning Daemons. Because it is army-specific, is not a guaranteed power, and the "arrival mechanics" are army-specific, this article isn't going to delve into Genestealer Cult summoning; anti-summoning tactics against GSC are anti-GSC tactics.
A History of Summoning in 7th: A recap.
When 7th edition came out, there were several notable changes. Challenges were no longer "in a vacuum", Objective Secured replaced a binary "scoring/non-scoring" mechanic, the the "Mysterious Terrain" mechanic was removed, and the "FOC+Ally" system was replaced with the Battleforged detachment system. Perhaps one of the largest changes however, was to how the Psychic System worked.
From 3rd to 6th edition, casting a Psychic Power was simply a Leadership check. From 5th edition onward, the majority of Psykers had Leadership 10 so for most intents and purposes, powers were successfully cast 11 out of 12 times, with Perils only happening 1 in 36 times. In the end, you got a linear return for a linear investment on Psykers. 7th changes the equation for Psykers, with the Warp Charge mechanic. Simply put, if a ML 1 Psyker throws one die at a ML 1 power, there's a 1 in 2 chance of success. Two dice = a 3 in 4 chance, but a 1 in 36 chance of Perils. Three dice = a 7 in 8 chance of success, but a 16 in 216 (slightly less than a 1 in 6 chance) of Perils. You got D6 "free" warp charge to play with each turn, but the end result was "Linear Investment in Psykers = Logarithmic Gain in Psychic Output".
It was into this system that "Malefic Daemology" was first introduced. "Free Units" would overflow and destroy the game forever...except that's not what actually happened. Turns out, the core power: "Summoning" took a minimum of 3 Warp Charge to succeed, meaning you needed to spend a minimum of 5 Warp Charge for coin-flip odds of the power getting off. Oh, and you would Perils on any Double unless you were a Daemon.
However, a LOT of the initial hate for Daemonology came NOT as a result of Daemon or Chaos players (though Chaos could do some shenanigans with a Crimson Slaughter Sorcerer), but from (you guessed it) Eldar Players.
You see, at the start of 7th, the Eldar were still riding high on Wave Serpent spam, moving Psychic Powers into their own phase allowed Jetbike Farseers to "move-cast-turbo", GW had not issued a FAQ limiting characters to "One Relic Only", AND they still had access to the Mantle of the Laughing God. Plus, they were resistant to the two main drawbacks of Daemonology (high Warp Charge cost, easy Perils) because one of the Eldar artifacts lowered the Warp Charge cost of powers, and Farseers could "spend a Warp Charge" to negate taking damage from Perils. The end result? Farseers, one of the most vital components of a dying race, became a glorified psychic gunship that was functionally immune to any shooting that did not Ignore Cover, while being able to reliably summon Daemonettes to jam enemy movement/bait objectives/etc while shooting the enemy to shreds. :)
Of course, the 7th edition Eldar codex came out later, removing the Mantle of the Laughing God, removing the option for Eldar to use Malefic Daemonology, and making Serpent Shields a "one-shot" weapon. In exchange, Eldar got easy access to D-weapons, and Scatter Laser Jetbikes. :)
Thus, summoning remained a curiosity for assorted armies, a "nice-to-have" tool rather than something to actually build an army around. In fact, summoning in itself really wasn't worth going heavy on for most builds, even the Daemon ones (the Daemon builds that did tend to do well in tournaments were those that used the high Warp Charge potential towards defensive buff-stacking, Screamers & Plaguedrone stars, etc, with Masque as a techpiece), and it's only really at the end of 7th that Summoning has become more than an "awesome but impractical" tool, as Chaos Daemons got new Psychic toys and Chaos Space Marines got Traitor Legions. Add in a few formations, Blue Horrors, etc, and things get kookier.
How to Actually Use Summoning
First of all, don't try to use "summoning" to create a "recursive factory." Although you can theoretically summon enough models to generate enough Warp Charge to summon more models faster, an opponent worth your salt will be able to kill you faster than you can summon. Likewise, if you spend that much point & psychic investment solely on keeping the factory going, rather than fighting your enemy/attempting to go for the kill, you're focused not on winning but on "not losing." In general, as long as you can maintain a functional army to support it, 1-2 summons a turn should be "good enough" for you.
The reason summoning has the potential to be powerful is because unlike Witchfires (which generate a material advantage by destroying the enemy), buffs/debuffs (which generate a temporary positional advantage with potential material advantage), or movement spells (which are entirely positional), summoning powers innately do both. You gain a fixed amount of "additional points" for your army, and you can place them roughly in a place where they're best-prepared to cause trouble for your foe.
Incidentally, one of the most important things to remember about summoning is that you have a limited range, and you're still subject to Deep Strike Scatter. If you're up against a super-compact army, you shouldn't have too much trouble, but against an army that can carpet the board (Genestealer Cults, Barkstar builds, the odd madman running an Emperor's Shield Infantry Company, etc), then you have to be REALLY careful about how summoning works. Even against armies with minimal to no bubblewrap (Gladius, etc), be careful against foes that "space out" their forces in a manner to leave you no good territory to DS into.
Because of the high cost of Summoning Powers, you want whatever efficiency you can get. Daemons get Paradox. Space Marines get the Spell Familiar. Marines get the Librarius Conclave (though in practice, Marines do better in a no-Psyker Gladius). Even IG can do the Psykana Division, though Mech Guard is fairly lacking in firepower-for-cost while infantry-guard are crowded enough that summoning is probably more trouble than it's worth. As for "Points Per Warp Charge", the Heralds Anarchic are the absolute cheapest at 22.5 points per Warp Charge, but that's for a single model. 11 Horrors and an Anarchic Herald is 100 points, but has additional costs and too "one-trick" for my taste; personally, one of my favorite "ally detachments" is a ML 2 Herald with Paradox and Exalted Locus of Conjuration, with 11 Blue Horrors. ML 2 means I don't even need to bother rolling powers for my Herald; it just chooses Prescience and Summoning and call it a day (I like minimizing random at army creation). 175 points, 4 Warp Charge, and a fair bit of utility while being easy to ally into a Chaos Marine army. Other armies can average about 45-something points per Warp Charge. (Thousand Sons average about 80 per Warp Charge, so yeah). Honestly, as long as you can get 8+D6 WC base with some efficiency boosts, you should be fine. Just don't sacrifice the rest of your army to make Summoning work.
Because non-Daemons are more likely to suffer Perils, you want "protection" or other ways to generate extra wounds. The Psykana Division does this, while the Conclave can wing it by having different casters "rotate" summon duty. Chaos Marines are more "brute-force", but I recommend the Palanquin of Nurgle. The extra 2 wounds make all that extra difference, and if you luck out and get Fleshy Abundance then you're in business. Regardless, you must accept that Summoning is probably going to mess up your hapless Psykers, and you'll generally want to get off your safer powers first.
Most of the positional tricks that Summoning lets you pull off are the same that are the result of movement being important. Be it rolling up a flank, move-blocking, placing yourself in a hi-threat position for area denial, or simply generating an as-needed Distraction Carnifex. Sometimes the trick is in "what to summon", but you'll notice the details are fairly "textbook" here because sadly, a lot of Daemon units have very overlapping roles.
What to Actually Summon?
Generally, I recommend sticking to the Malefic Primaris, with Flesh Hounds as the "go-to" summon of choice. Other than real-life considerations (It's easy to proxy plastic Chaos Warhounds as Flesh Hounds on a budget), they have several advantages over the other summons; they're durable, compact, fast, have a large-ish number of attacks on the charge, but most importantly, they're Beasts. This critically means they have Move Through Cover, and you can Deep Strike them into Ruins without losing 1 in 9 models (or a lot more actually; Chessex dice do roll more 1s than they should). If you're running a "fast" army, be it Spawn, Maulerfiends, etc, they help put that extra "earlygame pressure" on your foe.
If you're going to summon Pink Horrors, chances are it's as an "auxiliary battery" so you can cast some supporting Psychic Powers in subsequent game turns alongside summons. Summon them on the first turn and call it a day. They make really good objective-campers versus shooty armies as well, plus a free Icon helps you get Flamers into position if you're into that sort of thing (I bought several Exalted Chariots before the price hike, so I could cannibalize their bitz). If nothing else, Horrors are a fairly simple mini to get your hands on/convert/etc. If you're feeling cheeky, you can attempt to summon Horrors into Ruins to hope for some casualties, just so you can get a few Blue Horrors to boot...just don't accidentally jam up your own battleline in the process!
Daemonettes are good if you're on the defensive, or if you come across the odd Eldar player that uses a Wraithknight of a non-Deathshroud configuration. If you have a Knight bearing down on your position, or are worried about a Subterranean Uprising, they make a good sacrifice. The extra models let you "string out" a larger zone of control, while their Fleet and improved run distance let them reposition themselves outside of "blasterbait" formation or correct a bad scatter. Versus Genestealer Cults, their high Initiative lets them serve as a fairly intimidating screen versus Acolytes and that's always appreciated.
Generally, you don't want to summon Plaguebearers, unless you manage to get Cursed Earth. While they're annoying when camped on an objective, Slow and Purposeful prevents them from correcting bad scatters, while leaving them exceptionally vulnerable to any cover-ignoring AOE (Flamers, Wyverns, etc). They "can" tickle any vehicle to death, but MCs don't care, nor do any vehicles with Rear Armor 10 (they were getting glanced anyway). Bloodletters are likewise in a position of being fairly niche ("summon behind my lines as a countercharge screen" maybe) but they "can" be an Icon for any Flesh Hounds so it's a wash.
What about the other summoning Powers?
Sacrifice is cute, but 30 points does limit what you can do with a Herald a fair bit. Personally, my two favorite options are a Herald of Slaanesh on Chariot (as a Hammer of Wrath vector), or a Herald of Nurgle with Greater Gift and Etherblade (as an "area denial"/bully, ala a Lictor). As for Incursion, Plague Drones are solid if you have the models for them, while Fiends can be useful for the Init malus...but truth be told, I only bother with Screamers if I get Incursion, simply because they can Sky-Slash afterwards, and because the minis were easy to make from the Burning Chariot kit; if you can turbo a Screamer unit down an extreme flank, while damaging your foe, you can force your opponent into a zugzwang where forces must be diverted to stop the Screamers from messing up the plan, letting the rest of your army advance with minimal fuss; 75 points to move a few hundred points out of position is a win.
I almost always swap out Possession for the base power, and would only bother with it were I doing a gimmick build with Blue Scribes. Get a Lord of Change I suppose (ca-caw!)
How To Handle Summoning?
First of all: Don't panic. Summoning is extremely Warp-Charge intensive and has tremendous opportunity cost in that regard. "At best", a Paradox Herald can spend 5 Warp Charge to get a 90-point unit onto the board, and most other casters will have to spend 7-something points to get similar effects (or 5, for Chaos Marine Sorcerers with Spell Familiars). By contrast, the humble Psychic Shriek can usually smoke half a tactical Squad for about 2 Warp Charge; for perspective, that Grav Cannon model alone is around half the cost of a summoned Daemonette squad.
Second, army positioning is key to negating summoning. You want to "fan out" from a table quarter as much as possible, leaving only smallish pockets of locations to Deep Strike towards. If you can afford to lose them, leading with vehicles remains one of the best ways to mess with Daemons as a whole; they can't be locked in melee, enemies can't consolidate versus them, they can "tank shock" chaff out of the way (if not squish them outright), or otherwise provide a general annoyance against most summoned stuff.
LOS-ignoring weapons remain useful, as do any AOE weapons. Leadership-debuffing effects as well as "Leadership-based attacks" (read: Psychic Shriek) are also strongly recommended, since most Daemons have "average" Leadership anyway.
Versus Daemon-primary armies (especially the non-flying ones), take Instability rules to heart, and remember multi-assaults exist; if you can pull a good one off, summoning can actually ironically work against the Daemons in particular. Remember that Daemons have almost no shooting, and thus next to no overwatch. If you can "clip" a tough unit in assault, while focusing most of the damage against weakenewly-emerged units, the combat resolution modifier can cause Instability to really rack up. Brimstone Horrors are notoriously useful for this, as their comically low toughness combined with their double wounds mean that they can set off a chain reaction of death throughout a Daemonic battleline. Not to mention that the Warp Charge spent on new Horror units is not going towards getting Forewarning or Endurance off...
Overall, Summoning is a large paper tiger that has loomed over 7th edition. In practice, it's a tool that works best in support of an army that's already doing something else effectively, and it's a tool that works best when you try to emphasize the potential for both positional and material gains at once, rather than just the material advantage (because for that same point cost and warp charge could buy more guns).
submitted by MagicJuggler to Warhammer40k [link] [comments]

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