Part 1: Troops
We hear it and see it everywhere: "Mech is king." And why not? Transports are cheap, easy to use and add considerably to the survivability of your troops. They also aid in their reliability - making sure those troops get where you need them to be. It's hardly surprising this is where the meta-game is leaning these days (though recent armies like the Blood Angels, Tyranids, and yes - Space Wolves are moving away from that trend.)
So when I unpack my 1850 pts list at my FLGS every Thursday, it's understandable that my opponent says something akin to, "huh, no transports, eh? ... well, good luck." After all, troops outside of transports must be easy pickings, right? Well, not so with the Space Wolves, and here are the reasons why:
The myth of transports as cure-alls:
Let's take a look at some of the conventional wisdom of mech and how it applies (or doesn't) specifically to the Space Wolves.
Purchasing a transport is not a huge points investment and does offer some means of protection for the squad. After all you have to kill the rhino before you can kill the squad. But a rhino is really not that hard to kill, sure you might get cover or pop your smoke screen, but it won't take much to make that AV11 crumple. In my experience usually 2 or 3 turns. Then, once your troops are out of their rhino, they've either made it to their destination (yay!) or been forced to dive out of it - probably out in the open as well (boo).
If they've been forced to disembark - that's very bad, as it means they're either in a lot of danger (perhaps the enemy planned to pop your rhino and now has a lot of AP3 guns to send your way) or they are now equal to footslogging troops (except minus the points used for the rhino).
If they made it to their target intact, then they must either disembark to assault or fire at full strength or they can sit in their tin can until such time as they have to run from it because it's been reduced to molten scrap.
So basically, you pay some points for a chance to have a footslogging squad deploy outside of your zone after 2 or 3 turns of the game. But why did you need to do this? If it's objectives then your troops should be holding your own while more sacrificial units make the charge against an enemy's objectives. And if it's kill points, well, you've just given them a rhino and a squad on a silver platter. This leads me to something I've noticed about 40k in general:
Most armies (or players) will come at you.
There are few armies that will simply sit back and not even try to move at you (obviously, IG and Tau will, but we'll get to them later). So instead of trying to throw squads at targets in their rhinos, what happens when we let our targets come to us?
First, we can stop paying for rhinos and thus free up enough points for some nice goodies elsewhere in the list. Secondly, we can start getting the most out of the awesome basic troop we have in the form of the grey-hunter. They have a 3+ save (like any marine) but also counter-attack, uber-grit (close-combat weapon, pistol and bolter), the ability to take two special weapons and the ability to have a sergeant attached to them (raising their squad numbers to 11 if you're not confined to a rhino's 10 transport capacity). This set-up is a unique mix in troops that people simply don't anticipate. Consider the following squad:
10 Grey Hunters, 2 plasma guns, 1 wolf standard
with attached Wolfguard, terminator armor, combi-plasma, wolf-claw
213pts (only 8pts more than comparable squad with rhino and no wolfguard)
They deploy in cover (preferably in ruins) near a home objective. Because they're stationary they can fire out to their full 24" (getting the most out of their plasma's extra range over a melta or flamer). To get assaulted, the attackers must make their difficult terrain rolls, and weather a turn or two of plasma and bolter fire and when they get there they face 33 attacks going at initiative 4 (possibly first if the assaulters lack frag grenades). If needed, the squad can also pop it's standard and re-roll any 1's that phase. This set up is certainly a far cry from the vulnerable disembarked troops sitting in the middle of the field.
Now, it's important to note that I'm not saying all transports are worthless. IG vet squads would be nearly helpless without their chimeras, and specialized transports like land raiders, wave serpents and falcons can be key to an army's strategy. I suppose my larger point is this: next time you go to reach for that rhino, ask yourself, "Do I really need this?"