In this article, I will explain how I approach playing Deathwing army, both on the table and in list building. Deathwing sounds like a very one note army (just spam terminators) but there are actually a lot of way to play it. There are lists built around Deathwing Assault, footslogging with all storm shields, mechanized in Land Raiders, and many variations in between. For my part, I use a mix of the styles. However, that will come just a bit later.
First of all, let me establish that I know what I'm talking about. That sounds egotistical, but there are numerous tacticas out there (in general, not just Deathwing) from players that do not have good success. For my part, I have reached 'Ard Boyz Finals twice with Deathwing, have won multiple local tournaments, and have maintained well above an 80% win to loss ratio in tournaments. The majority of those wins were by massacre or tabling.
Now I do not mean to say that my way of playing Deathwing is the only way to do so. Each style can be successfully utilized. It all comes down to how well the strategy used matches the playstyle of the player behind the army. So for all you guys starting Deathwing, experiment and try out a lot of different builds. Eventually you'll settle into what works for you. This article is to give you some things to think about and tactics to try.
That being said, let's get to it. The first consideration made when playing an army is determining how you'll use it. Is it a scap el to slice the enemy up piece by piece? Or is a hammer to crush the enemy where they are strong? Maybe it's a rock, shrugging off the blows of the enemy and remaining immovable. When playing the BCS way, the answer is yes to all of the above.
Seriously though, all these strategies are valuable in different situations. If I was to make an analogy for how it plays overall, it's an obsidian blade. It is incredibly sharp and deadly as long as the force is directed properly. Use it wrong, and it shatters. Those small pieces remain individually deadly, but lose the power of the whole. On the table, each unit must work together. Your numbers are small, so each unit must be used effectively. In addition to the obsidian blade, Deathwing must work like a pack of hunting animals; do not fight fair fights. A fair fight means you'll lose models you dont have the luxury to lose. Instead, you must overwhelm the enemy and limit return damage. So now that we are in the proper mindset, let's move to list building.
Deathwing armies have a surprising amount of variety in their units and vehicles. It can be tempting to focus on one or two choices to the detriment of the others, but we want to make sure we have all roles and possibilities covered, meaning we're going to want to use a variety of options.
First, the HQ section. Belial is a must for Deathwing lists (literally). In terms of equipment, there's a bit of a split here. The power sword and bolter are worthless. Leave that option at home. However, both the Lightning Claws (LCs) and the Storm Shield and Thunderhammer (TH/SS) have their benefits. LCs make use of Belial's Initiative 5 while also giving him a surprising amount of attacks when combined with a banner. It also gives you a chance to cut down powerfists before they can swing. My personal choice for his equipment is TH/SS. Belial lacks the 4++ of a captain, meaning with the LCs you are relying on a 5++ save. With only 3 wounds, he won't last long when going up against any serious threat. With the TH/SS combo you get that ever so nice 3++. Belial becomes quite survivable with this, and this opens the optional of allocating plasma shots or Rending hit to him instead of a terminator.
Belial also comes with the option of upgrading 2 terminator models in a unit. These upgrades are completely worth it. 30 points for Feel No Pain on terminators is a steal. If it works even once, it paid for itself. The banner increases the units attack output greatly, and helps make a Death Stars (a strong combat unit that is not easily dealt with). In the current meta, a Death Stars is almost required, if only to counter other Death Stars.
The other HQ choices available are an Interrogator-Chaplain in terminator armor, or a Librarian in terminator armor (or a special character if you're willing to get away from pure Deathwing). I have used an Interrogator-Chaplain in the past and he makes Belial's unit a monster. If you regularly face up against Death Star II units (nerd joke, the Death Star II was more powerful than the first) than a Interrogator-Chaplain comes very much in handy. Not only does he give you rerolls on the charge, he has a good number of attacks (especially with that banner), and gives you another multi-wound model to allocate non-Instant Death wounds too. He will also force at least 1 enemy model to attack him and not the squad, protecting the ever important banner bearer and Apothecary longer. Lastly, any model attached to Belial's unit gains the benefit of the Apothecary and the banner, increasing their value.
For your other option, you have a Librarian in Terminator armor. I've seen this option touted before, but I don't find him very useful. His psychic powers are substandard, and while a table-wide psychic hood is nice, being Leadership 9 means he rarely stops powers. Instead what I advocate is taking Ezekiel for you librarian needs. For only 25 points more, you pick up a master-crafted weapon, a better statline, keep the 2+, and most importantly he's Leadership 10 for his hood. I used to not advocate taking him, but with the meta shift he's incredibly handy against Grey Knights, Blood Angels, and Space Wolves. When I take him, I rarely run him with Belial's unit. He doesn't have the survivability to get stuck in with a Death Star, and you want to protect him for that hood. Instead, I'll run him with a second Terminator squad to add bite in close combat, or add him to a shooting squad to soak up plasma hits with his psychic save power.