Wolf Lords - An In-Depth Unit Summary
Wolf Lords are the mightiest among the Sons of Russ. Their experience, cunning, and prowess in battle have set them head and shoulders above the rest as leaders of men and great champions of The Fang. The Space Wolves are comprised of thirteen Great Companies, each near equal in size to an entire Space Marine Chapter, and in command of each Great Company is a Wolf Lord who brings his own unique personality and generalship to the battlefield. Others may command small strike teams or minor invasion forces, but when a true battle is fought for the honor and survival of the Great Company, the Wolf Lord takes the reins and calls the shots.
Wolf Lords can have an incredible presence on the battlefield, and the very sight of them inspires the men under their command to greater acts of heroism and untold ferocity, and strikes fear into the heart of those who would seek to deny them a place among the halls of Russ. Their combat abilities are almost without equal among the Space Marines, and with the right equipment they can become a force your opponent may be ill equipped to deal with. How you choose to equip your Wolf Lord should depend on the role you intend him to play, but you should consider it carefully because he will likely be the most expensive model in your army, and poor equipment could mean losing him before he has a chance to really take part in the battle.
Below is a guide to equipping and fielding this most mighty of characters in your own Space Wolves army.
Equipment Options Summary
Bolt Pistol (Default) - Good for gaining an extra attack in combat if your primary weapon can benefit from it.
Close Combat Weapon (Default) - Not a weapon worthy of such an expensive character.
Boltgun - Useless on a Wolf Lord. His primary goal is combat, so he should be equipped as such.
Storm Bolter - Useless on a Wolf Lord. His primary goal is combat, so he should be equipped as such.
Combi-Weapon - Same as the Boltgun, the Wolf Lord is a close combat character and should be equipped as such. A Combi-Melta MIGHT be worth taking if you are lacking anti-tank in your list, but usually if you have put thought into your list design this will not be necessary. Most of the time you will want a Storm Shield anyway, which means you won't be able to take a Combi-Weapon, however if you take a Belt of Russ instead and your weapon is a Thunder Hammer, Power Fist, Chainfist or Wolf Claw, this might be worth it.
Power Weapon - Not worth taking when for 5 more points you can get a Wolf Claw and re-roll hits or wounds, or for 10 points more you can get a Frost Blade for +1 Strength. If you are building a Wolf Lord on the cheap, you should probably be taking a Wolf Priest anyway.
Plasma Pistol - Since it's a pistol it would be worth taking for the extra attack if your primary weapon allows hit, however it's just too expensive to justify taking when it will most likely never be fired and could potentially cause a wound if it misses. If you want the extra attack, stick with a Bolt Pistol.
Wolf Claw - An excellent weapon, and mathematically better than a Frost Blade against all toughness values except 6 (or 7 if mounted on a Thunderwolf). The ability to re-roll hits or wounds gives you a lot of versatility. These can also be taken in pairs for +1 attack and at a relatively reasonable price, especially if your Wolf Lord is in Terminator Armor, but that forces you to take a Belt of Russ in order to get an invulnerable save.
Power Fist - Not a bad option, but if you are going to take a weapon that lowers your initiative it's usually best to take a Thunder Hammer for the auto-stuns, or a Chainfist to shred vehicles. Usually though it's better to take advantage of the Wolf Lords high initiative value and equip him with a Wolf Claw or a Frost Blade.
Frost Blade - For the same cost as a Power Fist you can get a Frost Blade, granting your Wolf Lord +1 Strength and the potential of an extra attack if he has a pistol. This is not a terrible option, but as previously mentioned the Wolf Claw is a mathematically better weapon.
Thunder Hammer - The Thunder Hammer is a great weapon option if you plan on taking a weapon that lowers the Wolf Lords initiative. I generally prefer to strike at higher initiative with a Wolf Lord and leave the slow, heavy hits to those in his unit who have a lower initiative anyway, but if you take a second Wolf Lord in addition to the first you can equip one with a Wolf Claw for initiative and one with a Thunder Hammer for strength. If mounted on a Thunderwolf, the Thunder Hammer becomes strength 10, which is nothing at all to scoff at!
Runic Armor - For a relatively reasonable cost you can get a 2+ armor save and an invulnerable save against psychic powers. Runic Armor lacks the free Power Weapon, Storm Bolter and 5+ invulnerable save that Terminator Armor gives you, however it does allow the Wolf Lord to perform a Sweeping Advance at half the cost, and does not rob him of his grenades.
Terminator Armor - This upgrade gives the Wolf Lord a free Power Weapon and Storm Bolter, as well as a 5+ invulnerable save, however this comes at the cost of his frag and krak grenades as well as his ability to perform a Sweeping Advance. It also significantly reduces the cost of many of the weapon upgrades when replacing the Power Weapon, or slightly reduces them when replacing the Storm Bolter. Generally this cost reduction works out to almost the same price as if the Wolf Lord were given Runic Armor instead, and considering you should usually take a Belt of Russ or a Storm Shield for a better invulnerable save anyway, Runic Armor is probably the better option if you want a 2+ save.
Jump Pack - Never worth it if taken competitively. Wolf Guard with Jump Packs are grossly overpriced, and Skyclaws are an underwhelming unit in general. If playing non-competitively you would do better taking a Wolf Priest with a Jump Pack for the free Power Weapon and Invulnerable Save, as well as the unit bonuses.
Space Marine Bike - Also never worth it if taken competitively. Wolf Guard on Bikes, much like Jump Packs, are grossly over priced and Swiftclaws are a pretty underwhelming unit. If playing non-competitively you would do better taking a Wolf Priest with a Bike for the free Power Weapon and Invulnerable Save, as well as the unit bonuses, or a Rune Priest on a bike to provide mobile fire support via his psychic powers.
Thunderwolf Mount - Never leave home without one. This upgrade gives +1 strength, +1 toughtness, +1 attack and Rending to all attacks that do not use a special close combat weapon. It is well to note that these bonuses are true bonuses, not like Bikes or other bonuses that use your base value for purposes of Instant Death or doubling. A Wolf Lord on a Thunderwolf has a true toughness value of 5, meaning it takes a strength 10 weapon to cause Instant Death. He also has a true strength of 5, meaning Power Fist and Thunder Hammer attacks are strength 10, not strength 9. Aside from these bonuses, it give the Wolf Lord Fleet and Cavalry movement, meaning he has a 19-24" threat range for melee.
Storm Shield - Always take a Storm Shield if you can. They are expensive, but the durability they provide ensures that your already pricey character does not die to heavy weapon fire.
Meltabombs - Great if you have the extra 5 points unless you already have a Thunder Hammer, Power Fist or Chainfist. They provide some defense against Dreadnoughts and the like if you have a Wolf Claw and are otherwise unable to deal damage to a Walker.
Wolf Tooth Necklace - This might seem like a waste, but there are many creatures out there with a weapon skill higher than 6 such as Daemon Princes, Phoenix Lords, The Avatar, and many Special Characters. Taking the Necklace allows you to ensure you hit any target you run up against on a 3+, and is well worth it if you have the points.
Wolf Tail Talisman - Extra psychic defense. It should be noted that the 5+ nullify can be rolled even if you rolled to nullify a power with a Runic Weapon, as long as the power targets the Wolf Lord and/or his pack. The two rolls come from different pieces of wargear and trigger from different events, so both may be rolled. This is a useful piece if you have an extra 5 points.
Fenrisian Wolves - If your Wolf Lord is joining a pack of Thunderwolves these make for great ablative wounds. They can soak up S10 hits before any other models are called to make a save. However, if your Wolf Lord is going to be on his own, it's best to forgo these and buy a pack of Fenrisian Wolves since they are 2 points cheaper per model that way. Never take these if the Wolf Lord is on foot. They take up too many spaces in a transport.
Mark of the Wulfen - Useless. You trade 4 attacks (Or 5 on a Thunderwolf) for D6+1. Never take this upgrade.
Belt of Russ - The Belt of Russ is a slightly cheaper way to give a Wolf Lord an invulnerable save. It should only ever be taken if your Wolf Lord cannot take a Storm Shield, such as when he is equipped with a pair of Lightning Claws.
Saga of the Beastslayer - Very useful against monstrous creatures or high toughness characters. The re-roll to hit means if you take a Wolf Claw you can re-roll hits and wounds. There are generally better Sagas for a Wolf Lord to take, however, unless you are equipping a second Wolf Lord.
Saga of Majesty - This one isn't bad for the cost. It lets nearby friendly units re-roll leadership tests, which is quite beneficial for an army that generally has leadership 8 across the board.
Saga of the Wolfkin - Not particularly useful unless you are taking Fenrisian Wolves. Canis Wolfborn comes with it and it would generally be better to take him as a secondary HQ in place of a Wolf Lord if you wanted this Saga.
Saga of the Warrior Born - This Saga looks far better at first glance than it actually is. Initially it looks as if your Wolf Lord will just continue to rack up extra attacks until he is throwing 20+ every turn, however on closer inspection one notices that these attacks must be used in the next assault phase, not YOUR next assault phase. If you charge a unit on your turn and wipe them out, leaving you out of combat, then your opponent would have to be foolish enough to assault YOU for the attacks to be used. By the time your next turn rolls around, the attacks will have been wasted unless you remained in combat. Wolf Lords will generally be joining combat specialist units, and unless you are fighting an extremely resilient combat specialist, they likely will not survive one round of combat with a Wolf Lord. :Leave this Saga at home.
Saga of the Bear - If you are fielding only a single Wolf Lord, you should always give him Saga of the Bear. Even if he is riding a Thunderwolf he should have this Saga. It allows him to absorb strength 10 hits from Dreadnoughts or Wraithlords, hits from Force Weapons, and from ranged weapons like Railguns, Vindicators, Manticores, etc...without fear of death should he fail a save. When attached to a pack of Thunderwolves it can save you from losing a valuable pack member. The cost is a bit high, but when you consider the number of strength 10 or instant death weapons in most of the new Codices, you can see that it is becoming much more common place, making this upgrade even more necessary.
How to equip your Wolf Lord
When taking a Wolf Lord, there is one question you should ask yourself. Is this list meant for a competitive game?
If the answer is yes, then give the Wolf Lord a Thunderwolf mount. He is just not competitive otherwise. A Wolf Lord on foot can never reach its full potential, and usually you are better off just taking a Wolf Priest if you have need of a melee commander, but when equipped with a Thunderwolf Mount and proper wargear, a Wolf Lord becomes a force to be reckoned with.
Competitive Wolf Lord Builds
Primary Wolf Lord (Thunderwolf Mount, Wolf Claw, Storm Shield, Wolf Tooth Necklace, Meltabomb, Saga of the Bear , 2x Fenrisian Wolves) - 265 points
If the Wolf Lord is joining a pack of Thunderwolves I take the pair of Fenrisian Wolves as long as I have the points. If he is on his own, I either replace them with Runic Armor, or ditch them entirely, then take a pack of Fenrisian Wolves for him to join as ablative wounds. The Thunderolf Mount, Wolf Claw, Storm Shield and Saga of the Bear are all non-negotiable upgrades. The rest can be compromised if absolutely necessary, but usually unless I can afford this build I don't take a Thunderwolf Lord.
Secondary Wolf Lord (Thunderwolf Mount, Frost Blade, Storm Shield, Wolf Tooth Necklace, Meltabomb, Saga of Majesty, 2x Fenrisian Wolves) - 250 Points
I only ever take this configuration if I already have a primary Wolf Lord. This configuration is flexible, and you can easily replace the Frost Blade with a Thunder Hammer, and/or replace Saga of Majesty with Saga of the Beastslayer depending on taste. Again, if he will be joining Thunderwolves the Fenrisian Wolves stay, but if he is joining a pack of Fenrisian Wolves I ditch them to save points or replace them with Runic Armor. The Saga can also be ditched if necessary. Sometimes if taking three Wolf Lords I will field two in this configuration, one with a Thunder Hammer and Saga of the Beastslayer, and one with a Frost Blade and Saga of majesty, but those cases are rare.
Non-Competitive Wolf Lord builds
If taken in a non-competitive list a Wolf Lord can provide a great melee center, and/or awesome modeling opportunities. However, even though the list might not be competitive it is still important to equip him intelligently and not just give him useless Wargear.
Here is a basic non-competitive Wolf Lord build on foot:
Wolf Lord (Frost Blade, Storm Shield, Wolf Tooth Necklace, Meltabombs, Saga of the Bear) - 210 points
This configuration is flexible based on how many points you want to spend. The Frost Blade could easily be replaced by a Thunder Hammer or Wolf Claw depending on taste and the role you want him to fill, and the Storm Shield could be replaced with a Belt of Russ in order to give the Wolf Lord an extra attack. The Saga could be changed, but without a Thunderwolf Mount it's even more important to have than it was before. He could be equipped with Terminator Armor or Runic Armor should you decide you prefer that aesthetic, or if he will be accompanying a pack of his Wolf Guard in a Land Raider (A good idea since he is a melee character and cannot assault from a Rhino or Drop Pod).
General Wolf Lord Tactica
However you equip your Wolf Lord it is important to know what sort of targets he and his unit are most suited to dealing with. Target priority is a big part of playing any melee unit, and having them bogged down by a unit they are not suited to fight can mean your expensive melee powerhouse just sits around most of the game doing nothing.
Thunderwolf - If your Wolf Lord is riding a Thunderwolf and is leading a pack of Thunderwolves, then you can pretty much go after anything. They have enough rending attacks at a high enough strength to deal with almost any threat, and with a Thunder Hammer in the pack they can take on the most hideous of creatures. In fact the abundance of attacks per model means that they are well suited to fighting hordes as well, and can quickly chop through fodder to get to anything hiding within. As a general rule a Wolf Lord leading Thunderwolves should probably avoid units with a high initiative wielding Power Weapons, though if the unit has a low strength it's not as bad. They should also avoid tar-pit units like Dire Avengers that have a Power Weapon/Shimmershield and Defend in the unit, reducing their total number of attacks and granting the unit an invulnerable save. If joined by a Farseer with Fortune, this unit could hold them up for several turns. Jetlock Councils can do this even better, and wound the Thunderwolves on 2's. Stay away from melee tar-pits, but dive headfirst into weak hordes or nasty monstrous creatures at your leisure.
On Foot - If the Wolf Lord has a Thunder Hammer or Power Fist, stay away from units that throw large numbers of attacks at a high initiative. They could potentially overwhelm your Wolf Lord before he gets to attack. If the pack he is with is suited to handle such a foe then by all means dive in, but watch out that you do not engage too many models with him. With a Thunder Hammer or Power Fist he will be well suited to hunt Monsterous Creatures, especially with Saga of the Bear as he will be able to withstand their attacks without fear of death. If equipped with a Frost Blade or Wolf Claw, he would be well suited to deal with large infantry units that have a lower initiative than his. He will throw enough attacks to thin the herd so their return attack will not deal too much damage, and his unit should be able to finish them off easily. Stay away from high toughness creatures unless you have models in the unit to deal with them via Thunder Hammers or Power Fists. Choose your targets wisely, and pick them based off of your strengths. As always, avoid melee tar-pits, and don't pick fights with Power Fists unless you have Saga of the Bear and a Storm Shield.
Wolf Lords have a lot of character, and it is fun to give them a persona and build your Great Company around them. They preset many excellent opportunities to build a centerpiece model around which to design your forces, and they can provide an impetus to create a backstory for your models.
If playing competitively, it is generally not worth it to take a Wolf Lord unless he is riding a Thunderwolf. A Wolf Priest does his job in melee for a lot fewer points and with much better squad support via Oath of War. A Thunderwolf Lord, however, is one of the strongest melee characters in the game at the moment and a pair of them can form a near unstoppable Death Star.
In a non competitive setting it can be fun to take the master of your Great Company and his personal retinue of Wolf Guard to lead your forces into battle, and with a little forethought they can actually pull their weight.
Thank you very much for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!