Warhammer 40K List Building Guide: Patrol Detachment

Do you want to know how to build an effective army? Do you want to avoid cheese traps and chasing metas? Then read on, you outrageously good-looking individuals, whether you be a fresh faced Lieutenant or grizzled general.

warhammer 40k list building guide patrol detachment tactics

There are a good number of list building guides out there, but I've found the vast majority either subscribe to meta trends or cheese lists. Whilst there is certainly value in understanding the strongest combinations of units in 40K, you'll eternally be at the mercy of rule changes and Games Workshop prices. It will be a never ending game of catch up, and the odds are you still won't have a high win-to-loss ratio.

Some list building guides are only focused on satisfying detachment minimum requirements. There is little value in that, beyond gaining the old style 7th Edition Formation buffs.They won't help you understand why taking certain units is good, or even what to do with them when they touch table top.

I come to you from a position where I teach and train new students to compete in tournaments. I witness and participate in more games of 40K than most people get to, and I can let you know the many pitfalls and errors I've made (oh so many...). The caveat, of course, is that this is a game. If you want to field a list you find fun rather than effective, then good! Hopefully I can show you how to more effectively use your fun list though... with the further caveat that people on the internet are always wrong, including teachers with blogs.

So let me share some general strategies that I've found work.

warhammer 40k list building guide patrol detachment tactics
In case you forgot the minimum requirements!

TL;DR Overview

The standard Patrol Detachment requires one HQ and one Troops choice. There is a good deal of flexibility in this, but your army composition should be somewhere around the four following units:

  • Leader acting as force multiplier
  • Troops for contesting objectives
  • Fire support to actually damage things
  • Skirmishing unit to delay and disrupt the enemy

This four unit set up will be flexible enough to deal with almost any threat, but there will always be compromises you need to make depending on the army you collect. You will also need to compromise due to the small points values of these army lists. 500 points is a usual standard, but I recommend 650 points as a giving you a slightly better army composition (and follows the current School's League rules!)

The Parts of the Patrol

The Leader

warhammer 40 list building guide patrol detachment tacticsFor a Patrol Detachment this is usually going to be one of the cheaper generic HQ choices. The role of the leader is to make the units around them fight better, particularly in smaller point value patrol lists. You'll rarely have the points for the more well-rounded and therefore more independent elite units.

Space Marine Lieutenants are ideal here, having a cheap bubble buff around them to boost the fighting of the units around them. Bubble buff leaders are good for armies that work well as a single moving whole rather than disparate parts. Primaris Space Marines exemplify this, as nearly all of their units have the same movement value.
warhammer 40 list building guide patrol detachment tactics

If, however, your army is a faster moving force you may get better value from a psyker with buffing powers. This will tend to be long ranged, meaning you can enhance a unit which is far away from you that is either engaging the enemy or taking cover. You can command across greater areas of the board with a psyker... at the risk of occasionally killing yourself. Eldar Farseers are great at this, despite being fairly costly for small point lists.

The Troops

warhammer 40 list building guide patrol detachment tacticsThe basic fighting unit has two roles: take objectives, and take the fight to the enemy.

Happily these two roles work well together, as they will advance towards objectives. Troops choices will usually get some version of the old Objective Secured rule, which means they claim objectives even if an enemy unit is already on it.

If the enemy is sitting on that objective, then you will need to fix bayonets and force them off. This even includes T'au Firewarriors. Whilst it may seem crazy to say, there is no such thing as a ranged-only Troops choice. They are there to take objectives, and the only time they will be in a position to sit and use long range weapons is if they are already sitting on one. This means that they will need to assault the enemy to drive them off objectives, regardless of their weapon set.

With that said, they do fall into two broad categories; the special weapon troops, or the rifleman troops.

warhammer 40 list building guide patrol detachment tactics
Special weapon troops have their firepower coming out of a single powerful weapon in the group.This will usually mean some special or heavy weapon like a meltagun or missile launcher, but for assault oriented units it may be a powerfist. In this set up, the majority of bodies are there as ablative wounds to the special weapon carrier.

Tactical squads are the best example of this, with four marines guarding a single heavy or special weapon. Astra Militarum also follow this philosophy, despite the lasgun being a somewhat decent weapon in 8th Edition. Xenos versions of this would be the Ork Boy mob with a power klaw nob, or Eldar Guardians with a grav platform.

The benefit of this style of squad is that the overall firepower of the unit isn't hugely diminished with the loss of troops. As long as that special weapon keeps going, it's putting out it's usual damage. The downside is that once that weapon is gone, the effectiveness of the unit is hugely reduced.

warhammer 40 list building guide patrol detachment tactics
Rifleman squads are the flip side of this, where every member of the unit has a slightly better than usual gun, or are all simply armed in the same way. Every member of the unit is a small threat, and then that threat is multiplied by having more members in the squad.

Really good examples of this can be found in the T'au Fire Warriors, where each T'au has a very good gun and the units massed fire is something to be reckoned with. Primaris Intercessors are the flipside of the Tactical squad in this regard, where every Intercessors Bolt Rifle is better than the standard Bolter. Eldar have their Dire Avenger aspect warriors filling this role, the long range shuriken catapult and better overwatch meaning you get more value from each warrior over a Guardian.

The downside is that effectiveness of the unit falls down linearly with casualties. One Firewarrior casualty out f a 10-man unit is literally a 10% drop in effectiveness. These style units favour larger wound counts, so as not to lose firepower too much.

Fire Support

warhammer 40k list building guide patrol detachment tacticsThis is the unit that actually does the killing, and you don't expect them to make it to the end of the battle.

Whether you choose a Hellblaster squad, a Wraithlord or a tank for this role, this unit has only completed it's function by knocking out more points than it cost. Unlike Troops whose value lies in taking objectives, their primary goal is to knock out key enemy units. They are usually Heavy Support choices, but their are some alternatives.

The key enemy units these should go for are the following, and in this order:

  • Enemy units that threaten your Troops
  • Transports
  • Targets threatening themselves
  • Enemy Troops

The idea here is to remember that objectives win games rather than kills. Your Troops need to take those objectives, so your fire support teams need to be able to help them get there. They are, in effect, giving covering fire.

Transports are the next priority target, as an enemy relying on mechanised speed to enact their strategy will become a sitting duck once the transports are popped.

Once covering fire is given, and there are no transports left, the fire support team can work on saving itself. A common strategy is to send a Distraction Carnifex or Dreadnought running towards the enemy. These big and tough units soak up fire power which could be used covering Troops, and probably won't go down quickly to fire anyway. They will, however, get stuck in combat with your fire support team for a few turns, meaning their threat to your Troops in neutralised. So these distractions can be ignored whilst you win the game.

Finally, they can start attacking enemy Troops. Whilst you may be tempted to go for these first, what you can end up doing is losing your own Troops whilst you take out the enemy... which leads to an awful stalemate as tanks try to push each other off of objectives.

For Patrol Detachments this role can also be filled by Elite units with some heavy-ish firepower. Eldar Wraithguard are excellent in this role, but only if you use some Webway Strike stratagem tricks to put them in range of the enemy. For the assault oriented, you can also use elite close combat troops, but again you need to find some way of putting them within charge range as quickly as possible.

The Skirmishing Unit

This unit looks at the above plan and works out a way to disrupt it.

Usually a Fast Attack choice, the skirmishing unit will either drop in or drive quickly up to the enemy front line. Unlike the fire support units, their value is in how long they can delay or mess up an enemy advance. They will then pick vulnerable targets with the following priorities:

  • Enemy fire support units
  • Units threatening your fire support
  • Transports
  • Enemy Troops

Unsupported enemy fire support units are always great as a means to de-fang the enemy. If you manage to take them out, then there will be little else in the enemy army that can deal with you. Putting that Leman Russ tank in close combat with a small squad of Assault Marines means it can't use any of it's heavy weapons. It's effectively out of the game, unless the enemy pulls units away from advancing to protect it... in which case you've disrupted to units instead of one!

The second priority will be giving your own fire support some cover. This will usually be their only protection, so it's a very valuable role for them to fill.

Transports are next, for the exact same reason as the fire support units. Halt the enemy advance.

Enemy troops are next, supporting your own troops as they fight over objectives.

White Scars bikers are perhaps the best at this, being able to start by covering your own units in your deployment zone and then zooming across the battlefield in the first turn to harass the enemy. You can also use infiltrating infantry, such as Lictors or Reivers for the same role, but you have to be a little bit more clever about where you place them. You also have to be very confident that your main battle line can get on without them, as they will not be able to get back to support it.

Multi-role units

Sometimes you take units to fill multiple roles... avoid allowing them to fill more than two. Troops which act as Fire support will often be to expensive to go and take an objective, and a skirmishing Leader will find it difficult to buff it's army whilst disrupting enemy lines. Getting a fire support, skirmishing unit to also claim an objective at the end of the game is asking way too much, and leaves you completely hamstrung if it's removed in the first turn!


This has been about as comprehensive a guide as I can make for choosing units for a small scale Patrol Detachment. I will follow this up with a few example lists, and a generic strategy guide, but you can probably make up your own from here.

If you think I'm wrong, please let me know in the comments below. As I am responsible for teaching young players how to win in tournament settings, I'm always looking to revise and refine my ideas. If you think I'm right, and can give examples of your own thoughts that match mine, please let me know in the comments below as well! It would be nice to know I'm finally right about something!

It's worth mentioning again, this is a game. Play it how you like, and with whatever models you like. Hopefully though, the ideas presented here can help you enjoy your games a little more!

Until next time.

Thanks for reading.

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  1. Great guide keep up the good work

    1. Thanks for commenting, and I'm glad you liked it!

  2. I just sumbled upon your blog last week; and it's antes amazing read. Lookin g forward to more primaris units' analysis!

    1. Thanks for commenting, and I'm really happy you enjoy the blog! I'm just working on some more general tactics for now, but I should be able to get back to the Primaris units next week.


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