I've spent the last month or so coming out of my cocoon of 6th edition and out into the big bright world of 7th, and a lot has changed. As such, I've been trying out a variety of Chaos lists from variations on the goofy curveball raider list that did so well for me in 6th, to ripping off a gentleman from Belarus. In the end, I think I've settled on stealing from the Belarussians with a few tweaks, which I cannot go into detail of right now for a number of reasons.
Instead, I'd quite like to talk about Obliterators, and how they fit in the modern game of 40k. If you disagree with any of the points made here, I'm more than happy to discuss them in the comments section, and if you just think that I'm a flat out dipshit with less game knowledge than a 12 year old in a hobby store, I'm more than happy to compare our credentials (/snobbery).
I have always been an advocate of one particular style of play since getting into Chaos Marines, and that is board control. If I am able to dictate where you are on the board throughout the game through my threat ranges then I can essentially dictate which objectives you can get to, and if I can dictate which objectives you can get to I can take necessary steps to prevent you from claiming them and take the ones out of your reach to close out the game. With my old Land Raider list it was essentially possible to win a game without either player losing a single model. Very few want to get near to them, and if you only have 4 Lascannons et al I'm just going to dance around the board's terrain and laugh, pushing you into a corner all the while, because my threat range is as long as my arm. Of course there are match ups which completely shut this down, but that is the case with most things.
In 7th I believe this theory of board control to be even more important, and this is simply due to the fact that it is much harder to contest objectives now. With only Eldar and Necrons able to do it to a consistent 'turn 5 jumping' level. But lets break this down to a very core level. 5/6 missions are based around capturing objectives, so lets use this as a base win conditions. So the 2 ways to win a game of 40k are to 1) hold more objectives than your opponent, or 2) wipe them from the table (a very crude breakdown but lets roll with it for a second).
Of course, you can kick the crap out of your opponent in order to claim more objectives, it's a perfectly viable strategy because you're obtaining board control via removing your opponent from the table, but the point remains that you can essentially substitute 'hold more objectives' with 'have better board control'. This is precisely why objectives need to be 12" apart, these missions are literally designed to test board control. Even if you are jumping the objectives with jetbikes turn 5, and the game ends for you to win after hiding in the corner for 4 turns, the point still stands. Your opponent was not able to bubblewrap the objectives properly, and you were able to capitalise on it, in short, you were able to control the board better because you were able to exploit the parts of it that you needed to.
So lets come back to our win conditions, 1) Control the board better than your opponent 2) Wipe them from the table. Now how do Obliterators fare in terms of helping you fulfill those win conditions?
Obliterators have always been a solid individual unit within the Chaos Codex. They're versatile, they're pretty tanky, and generally produce something that the Codex lacks in terms of a viable shooting unit. If you're looking for a rundown of Obliterators at the start of 6th edition, by a 19 year old that was still getting embarrassed at small events and Throne of Skulls, you can find it here (http://wargamingrampage.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/chaos-marine-analysis-obliterators.html) I sucked. However, 2 years down the line with a crap load more experience at a top level and a few things in my trophy cabinet, do I still think that there is a place for them in competitive lists with reasonable expectations of winning games? I'm going to jump the gun here and say no, and here's why:
(Wednesday) Lets start from the ground up here. I spent last night drafting out a list centred purely around Obliterators, and making them as efficient as possible. I'm not going to go into full detail with it because I need to be at work in 45 minutes. Essentially you're going to start with 3 units of 3 Obliterators with Mark of Nurgle, taken in a primary detachment of Crimson Slaughter for the Divination psykers and whatnot. So 2 Sorcerers on bikes, then in 2 units of Spawn to provide peel for the Obliterators, you don't really want them getting charged because - although proficient in close combat - they are still not fabulous especially with the lack of Fearless, and every turn you spend in assault is a turn you're not shooting.
Then you probably want to take a brick of Tzeentch Heralds. They can go in a Horror unit they're fine you don't really need them in anything faster so you'll save points on discs and an extra squad there. Then just use the remaining points on a few mandatory scoring pieces, some more peel or more flashy upgrades. Then sit as a brick, daemons in the centre, then Oblits, then Spawn. Cast up Cursed Earth every turn to give the Obliterators a 4++ save and then spend the rest of your dice spawning. Then move up into the centre of the board and take it. You can then spread if you need to but essentially you have a 24" threat range from the edge of your circle, so approximately a threat 60" in diameter.
So lets go back to our win conditions, and to be realistic, Chaos Marines should not be wiping people from the board very often. In terms of damage output we're pretty weak. Obliterators are our only ok shooting unit (they're pretty expensive for their output per turn really when compared to other factions, a perfectly reasonable comparison because that is what you are going to be attempting to outshoot), and once you've fully loaded yourself on those there's nothing else to add. Shooty CSM does not really work. Assault wise, possibly, but if you are smashing someone based on assault they have not taken the tools to protect their big hitters which will help to clear you or kite you around the board, and they should revise their list. At the top tables, you are not going to be able to table someone via assault either.
So then you come back to board control. Taking the example list above, you are having an effect over a large section of the board, but how great is the effect? Spawn are exceptionally good at tying things up and wiping squishier units but it's not a unit that makes you crap yourself in terror. Obliterators are a similar story. Sure if you have all 9 pump their fire into something then you will probably kill it, but damn that's a lot of commitment. As I mentioned earlier, the damage output per Obliterator per turn is not that great.
Now you can head down to your local gaming club, play a guy with a nicely painted Space Marine army, beat him by taking the middle and claim that it works. But that isn't evidence for working in tournament play. So lets compare it against the last 9 lists that I played against in tournament play (the last 2 events) and see how it would do:
1) FMC daemons. Come down, spawn tie up 2 DPs, the rest charge the Obliterators and kill them. They don't care about your threat, you don't have enough protection and your Oblits are unlikely to kill a flying DP in a turn even with Prescience.
2) Centurion Marines. You might do ok here. Really depends on the first turn.
3) Shunt Grey Knights. Again, can just jump forward, they had enough force weapons to deal with the spawn followed by the 3 Dreadknights eating the Obliterators. You might kill 1 before it gets in but if he commits fully you are in trouble.
4) Wraithwing. The real problem here is that he doesn't care about your spawn.
5) (at work on my phone) Dark Eldar. He didn't really spam lances or poisoned so really the list would be fine here.
6) Wave Serpents and Lance. He doesn't really care about your damage or your potential to tie him up so he can dictate the board much better. Until he catches up with and kills you.
7) Wave Serpents and Wraithknights. Slightly bette as you can now try and tie him down. But then he'll probably spend the first couple of turns clearing a few spawn before going for it an doing exactly the same thing.
8) horde nids. You can't tie everything down so he'll lock down your spawn with his bigger stuff, the oblits with gaunts and then have free reign of the board with the rest of his stuff.
9) weird ass summony ork/chaos list. Similar problem except he is more able to kick your teeth in with his DP.
So how's the list performing? Not particularly well. The main problem really here is that you don't have enough clear and your strength of board presence in terms of your threat because of this just isn't enough to deal with most. In short, an obliteration centric CSM list does not work.
So would they work as a support stor file role? I think the question you always have to ask yourself when building a list is 'why?' Why am I taking this unit? What does it bring to my army that nothing else does as well. I've use mutilators at tournaments in the past, not because I wanted to be that guy that used weird ass models, but because they were better suited to a role than anything else. Therefore, it doesn't matter if a unit is considered universally solid, if it doesn't fit the role you're looking for taking it is like pouring points down the drain.
If your list structure is 'I have some choppy units, now I need some snooty units' then to be honest you may struggle. When building your list ask how you are going to win games. Thus, you can generate an overall play style, and if a unit doesn't fit with that, leave it out.
10pm Christmas Eve. Still at work. On the toilet. The problem then is, even if you have a list maxed out on Obliterators. They don't provide any threat over the boar due to their relatively lacklustre point for point damage output, and despite the fact that they're tanky they don't have the speed to really tie anything up unless your opponent is exceptionally careless. Meaning that for their points cost they neither threaten a large enough area of the board efficiently enough for what they do (spawn do it better) and are not really able to clear most units well.
Tl;dr. Obliterators are an expensive unit that provide very little in terms of achieving the win conditions of 40k.