I’ve seen a few people debate which weapon to pick out of the power weapons, so I thought I should write up a quick CSM tactica for Power Weapons, Power Fists, Lightning Claws, Chainfists, and Melta Bombs.I’d also like to apologise immediately for the inconsistencies with GW writing Chainfist as one word and Power Fist as two.
There are three main things to consider when arming your men. The unit’s role, Initiative order, and point cost, and a minor point is paying special attention to little rules, like Unwieldy, Armourbane, and especially Specialist Weapon. Are you hunting vehicles, MEQs, or TEQs? Or are you opting for maybe a bit more utility? Are you fighting Eldar with excessively good Initiative? Or are you maybe pressed for points?
As far as roles are concerned, against vehicles Melta Bombs are better than Power Fists/Chainfists per hit due to AP1, but you only get one hit with the Melta Bomb, whereas the two latter have several more, especially if paired with another Specialist Weapon. The fists also benefit from MoK in the form of Furious Charge, and while each hit is still less likely to get a penetrating hit, you should have a lot more attacks to get hits with. This works out that you’re less likely to explode vehicles due to AP2, and thus less likely to kill your own guys. On the plus side Melta Bombs are MUCH cheaper, though can’t be used against Infantry as opposed to the Chainfist. The Chainfist can also be combined with the Lightning Claw for an extra attack, allowing you to make attacks, albeit at a much higher point cost.
Now let’s take a look at the Power Weapons. The Power Axe is +1S, AP 2 and Unwieldy, so it goes at I1, same as the Power Fist, so it’s simply a weaker variant of the Power Fist. It does have a role in taking out TEQs, as the double strength you get from the fists is required if you’re already wounding on 2+. The Power Maul has +2S and Concussive, but only AP4, so unless you’re fighting IG, Orks, or wanna wade through Necron Warriors, I don’t see why you’d take it. The Power Sword is the gold standard as far as I’m concerned – Sure, no S bonus, but it has AP3. Lightning Claws are Power Swords with Shred and Specialist Weapon, so for the sake of utility, the Lightning Claw/Chain/Power fist combo isn’t bad as it gives you the option of going risky with a S8 AP2 weapon at I1, or going at I4 (5 with MoS) with S4 Shred AP3, allows you to hunt vehicles with loads of S8 AP2 Armourbane attacks, and as all have the Specialist Weapon special rule you still get +1A for fighting with two weapons.
So in summary:
Role: Vehicle busting and killing MCs.
Cons: Can’t be used against Infantry, only one attack, risk of explosions, Unwieldy.
Role: Vehicle busting, killing MCs, TEQs.
Pros: Armourbane, AP2, several attacks.
Cons: Expensive, Unwieldy, Specialist Weapon.
Role: Killing TEQs, light vehicles
Pros: Can be used to threaten characters without Eternal Warrior wielding Unwieldy weapons.
Cons: Expensive, Unwieldy, Specialist Weapon.
Role: Killing TEQs.
Pros: Cheaper than Power Fists, not a Specialist Weapon, +1 S.
Role: Killing MEQs.
Pros: Perfect for killing MEQs, +2 S.
Role: Niche vs. Necrons, potentially combined with a Power Fist in a challenge.
Pros: Concussive, AP4
Role: Partner for Power Fists and Chainfists for an extra attack and anti-MEQ utility.
Pros: Shred, AP3
Cons: Expensive, especially net when combined with a Power Fist or Chainfist.
Then we’re talking about which units should perform which roles.
Melta Bombs and Power Swords > Power Fist for Aspiring Champions every day of the week. The combination costs less and has more utility. If your Aspiring Champion is in a challenge with something in artificer armour, you’ll be dead before your Unwieldy, Specialist Weapon gets to strike anyway. You’ve got a decent shot at winning a challenge against a SM Sergeant if you’re armed with a Power Sword, especially if you go at I5 (MoS) and re-rolling missed To-Hit rolls from Hatred (SM) (VotLW). You could bring the Power Fist if your enemy is also bringing them, as if their Independent Characters don’t have Eternal Warrior you have a decent chance of killing them. Something that was pointed out to me in the comments by Castigator was taking MoN and a Power Axe. You go last, but +1T and FnP might just see you through.
Chosen… A Chosen with a Power Sword costs more than a bloody Terminator, which has TDA, can Deep Strike, and has a Power Weapon included to boot. Seriously, it’s a wonder Phil Kelly is still alive after the insane substance abuse he endured while writing the CSM codex. Disclaimer: In my own games (I try to play semi-competitively in a semi-competitive meta) I run Cypher with friends, which tend to be 10 Chosen with 2x Meltaguns, 3x Power Swords, and Melta Bombs and Power Sword on the Champion. While they rarely make their points back (roughly 500pt), Gladius Strike Forces don’t like Hit & Run at I8, Power Sword-wielding Chosen with 2+ Cover saves that once in a while become Invisible.
Terminators are too expensive, don’t have the options Loyalist Terminators have, and lack a reasonable delivery method to really be a deathstar, and have thus been competitively relegated to Termicide squads (Take with Combi-Meltas, melt something, then go into distraction-Carnifex mode). You’ll thus want them as cheap as possible, so don’t bother with upgrades. If you really wanna go tank busting you could consider Melta Bombs on the champion and Chainfists on the rest. I’m not convinced you’re getting value for points though.
Sorcerers? Maybe consider a Power Fist or Chainfist if he’s sporting TDA and Biomancy. Still better to have Melta Bombs and a Force Sword or Force Axe (Insant Death from Force) unless your S improves through Biomancy.
What about Chaos Lords then? Maybe, but what are you using him for? I’d take the Axe of Blind Fury and make him a Juggerlord. Murder Sword if you’re hunting anyone specific or want a specific enemy character to stay away from your Murder Sword-wielding maniac, and then you can take Melta Bombs as well. The Lightning Claw/Chainfist combo isn’t too bad though.
Daemon Prince? Black Mace, wings, MoN all the way, though Axe of Blind Fury ain’t bad if you go MoK.
What Power Swords wish they were
These are what I see as the most optimised ways, and Power Fists, with high costs and bad utility, are awful. There’s a reason Power Fists are cheaper in 30k, and my Alpha Legion Sergeants take Artificer Armour, Melta Bombs, a Power Fist, and a Power Dagger (Specialist Weapon for 5 pt!) for a 2+ save, 4 S8 AP2 As on the charge, possibly with Furious Charge. Last game he got sniped by SM Scouts – 6 to hit, 6 to wound though, but 30k is a story for/from another time…