Because they are the core of any army in fifth edition, I have decided to approach the Space Wolves troops selections first. As the only unit types that can control an objective, it goes without saying that you can't begin to have a chance of doing well in 40k with the space wolves army (or any army for that matter) without having a solid troops selection on the board. The first step begins with your troops and how you intend to use them.
My first question when I opened this codex was, "What did they do to their troops?" being that Space Wolves have always diverged a little more than other chapters both thematically and in regards to game mechanics. I had high expectations to see not only consistency with the Space Wolves' typical aggressive style, but also in seeing new or a different variety to their mechanics.
To sum it up briefly; if you missed the way Space Marines used to be, you will like the new Space Wolves army at least in respect to their troops. Gone are the combat squads and combat tactics. No more of the one special weapon and one heavy at ten. The new codex crams a lot of power into ten or fifteen guys. Losing their ability to have heavy weapons seems like a small loss when I look over these entries. Not only can I have consistency in respective firepower, but I can also (by adding the right HQ or Wolf Guard) dramatically increase the damage that both of these troop selections can do.
Now before I get started, I would like to clarify that these are just my view points on what these units can do. People will disagree and are welcome to voice their opinions on this blog as long as it is done constructively. It is my intention to perhaps give someone out there some helpful ideas on how to use these units in an interesting way.
The first thing I noticed about both troops selections, other than army special rules, was that they both had close combat weapons. This, combined with counter-attack immediately said to me that this unit was the unit that was meant to hold objectives as opposed to contesting or taking them, not that they couldn't. Using the same stat line, composition and points cost per model as Space Marines, another thing sprung out to me...no sergeant or heavy weapons options! Substituting the normal sergeant is the partitioned Wolf Guard. Much like the Eldar Warlocks of fourth edition, one must purchase a unit of Wolf Guard and then you have the option to divide them amongst a list of units. This, at first glance was a great idea but after running over various builds and testing it has done nothing but improve. Grey Hunters now gives your basic troops unit for a Space Marine army the potential of having multiple powerfists and special weapons(such as melta weapons).
It is certain that the units will be even more of a fire priority when facing this army on the table. Having the ability to stuff all this kill into such a small package makes this unit extremely flexible, both as a defensive or offensive unit in battlefield roles. Not only can the unit dish it out at range against anything that dares to get close, but it can also provide a great amount of damage in assault regardless of whether or not they are on the charge. If properly supported, this unit can be a rock wall of defense on whatever you decide to hold. Stuff these guys in your transport of choice, camp them on top of the objective and have fun watching your opponent cringe at the thought of assaulting these guys. Especially when they are going to somewhere in the area of 30 +2d6 rending or 10 power fists in the face. It goes without saying that if properly built, this basic unit is hardly basic. Properly designed you can bring a tool for any occasion.
Overall, Grey Hunters have no bad selections, although taking all of them will make the unit too costly with ten guys. More aggressive units can take smaller builds with more toys in order to squeeze out kill power.
Flamer: Is a good choice for a more aggressive build of Grey Hunters. This is combined with the fact that it's completely free and you can stack two in a unit. This option helps deal with mobs very effectively. Considering the fact that the mech armies are more mech and the swarm armies are becoming more swarm, this is an extremely useful trait to have.
Meltagun: This is my first option. It goes without saying that in fifth ed. you need to kill tanks. The more melta in your list, the better off you are at attaining that goal. When added with the possibility of having two meltas in the squad before Wolf Guard, it adds one very necessary thing....consistency.
Plasma Gun: Not my first choice because of the points, but still not a bad one when combined with a meltagun. The plasma gun makes a unit able to affect incoming light transports reliably at range.
Free Selection: I am a big fan of taking big troop units and sticking them in rhinos. As such, being able to use both fire points in the tank for melta shots is very appealing. Adding consistency to the unit and increasing its ability to handle all situations is a must factor. I can hardly imagine taking a unit size of ten if for nothing else but for the ability to have a flamer/melta or paired melta combo. (Can we tell that I like melta yet?)
Plasma pistol: Not really a requirement for the points. I can definitely see how it is useful but I would rather take other options. The instances I would take it would be if I really need the assurance of taking out transports before assaulting what's inside, or if I wanted to make another guy in the unit have a different piece of gear for allocation. Even then however, there are just better options that would not make the unit as expensive.
Power Weapon: Just like the plasma pistol there really isn't any other choice. Unless I don't have the points I am going to pass up the power weapon in favor of the power fist.
Power Fist: Absolute must. The more power fists you can stuff into a unit, the better in this case. While going at initiative 1 is not the greatest in the world there are going to be a lot of times when you are just going to need that str 8 power weapon.
Wolf Standard: Why wouldn't you? Other than generating a expensive unit, if taken with a troops selection destined for a defensive role you are going to be that much better at holding down the fort. The once-a-turn assault bonus isn't necessarily a factor, because you are more than likely going to be able to kill an entire unit on your opponent's turn leaving your Grey Hunters free to shoot at any other interlopers on your turn. Honestly, this piece of gear is worth taking if nothing else, just to ensure that your unit gets that first turn of assault in the most effective manner.
Mark of the Wulfen: When compared to the other options, this simply takes the cake. Giving the unit a rending model just makes it vicious. This option is more for the aggressive unit as opposed to the defensive one because it will just add to that overall punch of the unit, ensuring that it can come into contact with the multiple units that aggressive roles may run into. If taken with a defensive unit, I would consider taking out a powerfist for it with rending being able to hit high toughness models just to save points.
As with normal Space Marines, Grey Hunters have the option to take either rhinos, razorbacks, or drop pods. All three are comparable, with each leaning towards different roles on the battlefield. I see the rhino as the personal favorite, being able to exploit this unit's ability to have versatile short-mid range high str firepower for relatively inexpensive points cost. I would see myself possibly only taking the rhino, although I can see instances where dropping down two drop pods with Grey Hunters right in front of your opponent lighting his back field up, going to ground then daring him to assault you would be fun, if wasteful.
Altogether, this unit has a lot of power. It has a lot of options which makes it better to allocate wounds and more able to take on different units. Both big and small units have their place either defensively or offensively. They also have the ability to dish out an incredible amount of damage in the assault for a troop's choice. I think that this unit is the standard unit of choice out of the two and much more flexible than blood claws having no definite drawback other than not being able to multi-role or capture two objectives like combat squads of normal Space Marines. Grey Hunters play and feel like older marine builds with a little bit of 5th Ed beef. Are they broken? Not really. I think they are just a really balanced and flexible unit. Leadership 8 is a hit and they have to be focused for their role, otherwise they will get targeted and wiped not being able to offer targeting decisions by splitting up. I could see me field two of these units, one defensive and one offensive of pretty much any size or build. However, I would warn against putting too much into this unit because it would make them very expensive and sap strength from other parts of your list.
If there is a reason to gripe about the Space Wolves codex being imbalanced, this unit can give that reason. At first glance, it seems that this unit differs very little from Grey Hunters except they receive more attacks in assault, they have WS/BS of 3, and they have increased capacity. This seems relatively balanced and straightforward....if you didn't read the rest of the codex.
The simple fact of the matter is that their supposed flaws are just smoke and mirrors. Their WS and BS skill can easily be removed by attaching a wolf priest which easily removes their headstrong flaw. Their headstrong flaw could be considered a flaw if you weren't going to be assaulting the closest unit to them anyway. In short, while this unit doesn't have the fringe benefits the Grey Hunters have, like Mark of the Wulfen or the standard, they make up in sheer nastiness.
Flamer: Once again it's free and that alone is awesome. It's worth taking if you don't have the points but the berserk charge already handles most of the extra damage that you would do with it.
Meltagun: A must. Too many assault targets riding around in transports and land raiders these days. Give the unit the ability to deal with mech and other tough, hardened targets.
Plasma Gun: Honestly, if you are wanting to shoot at range with something, stick this upgrade on a unit of Grey Hunters. The points get lost with this unit as its primary strengths lie in getting up in the enemies' shit and messing people up.
Free upgrade: Unlike the Grey Hunters, it isn't necessary and wouldn't be taken with every build. If you want a big unit of blood claws however, go for broke and buy the extra guy or two. The big unit will only benefit from the extra melta shot or an additional plasma gun shot. A flamer would be extreme overkill unless you think you might be run up against something like 10 man termies with storm shields or the like. Even then, I would probably put the melta shot in there just because it makes the unit very consistent with killing tanks and hardened armor.
Plasma Pistol: Actually a good buy for them unlike the Grey Hunters, simply for allocation. Without as many options as the venerable hunters, blood claws need as many affordable weapon options on their models for allocation as they can afford.
Power Weapon: Same as with the Grey Hunters. Save the points and get the power fist.
Power Fist: Same as the Grey Hunters.
Lukas the Trickster
Usually, I would be all down for adding the potency of a basic troops unit but for his cost, Lukas doesn't really seem to add that much for my preferences. His stat line is good, but comparable to the wolf lord or priest. He has the last laugh ability which is nice for taking contested objectives and the pelt of the doppengangrel is pretty sweet but in total, he just seems like a slightly different build of a wolf lord. In the end, he adds to himself but nothing to the unit other than possibly keeping a scoring model on an objective a turn longer. This in itself is great, just not great for 140 points. I might be horribly off, but to me he just seems like a floating 3 wounds with a great defensive ability. This is not really something that adds to what I would be doing with blood claws in a given list. Needless to say, I am sure he has his place but the jury is still out on this guy, for me at least.
Much like the Grey Hunters, all three are comparable and highly dependent on play style. I think however, that the Blood Claws differ from the Grey Hunters in that a Land Raider makes a nice addition to this unit. This is simply because having fifteen fools with a purpose jump out of a big frickin tank is completely awesome and can do some damage.
Alone, Blood Claws completely blow. Add in a Wolf Guard and a special character or cheap HQ, and Blood Claws become completely broken. Pretty much, it boils down to the fact that once you add one of those things, you are paying 15 points for Space Marines that can make 4 attacks on the charge plus, like Grey Hunters, they can have multiple special weapons. Very broken indeed for a basic troop. As time goes by though, I am sure that their strength with be balanced out by other weakness of this army.
In conclusion, the Space Wolves have not only two solid troops choices, they have two great troops choices. If you are interested in flexibility or outright shock and awe, you will find that Space Wolves have the necessary tools at their disposal for troops selections. The only thing I would add as points against them is that they both have a leadership of 8 which isn't good. Like many Space Marine players, both have only the drop pod as the only quick transportation. They don't have the ability to combat squad which was a huge advantage simply because it forces your opponent to prioritize and allows a unit to capture multiple objectives. They don't have access to heavy weapons such as the missle launcher so you can't field them as a poor man's heavy support choice. In the end though, all those things are really small losses when you count how much you can cram into a unit, how big you can get a unit and generally how intimidating these "basic" troops are when viewed in respect to an entire list.