9th Edition Codex Death Guard: The Goonhammer Review

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It’s been a long road to get here but Death Guard players can finally rejoice and enjoy the long-awaited gifts of Grandfather Nurgle because Codex: Death Guard is nearly upon us! Games Workshop have been teasing us with some incredibly nasty rules over the last four weeks and thanks to the wonderful folks over there we were finally able to sit down with a copy of the new book and dive into the rules.

Joining us for this review is relatively new Goonhammer author Don “The Mastodon” Hooson, a player renowned for his mad genius when it comes to Death Guard and Chaos Space Marines lists. Don and I are very excited to talk about this book – there’s a lot here and Chaos players of all stripes should be extremely pleased with these rules. 

As with our other reviews, we’re not going to exhaustively cover every detail in the book – we’ll talk about the major things, what’s good and what’s bad, and talk about the broader implications of the rules. We’ll be following this up with more content next week – Starting with a Death Guard-focused Hammer of Math on Monday, a review of the book’s Crusade rules on Tuesday, and a look at building competitive lists from these new rules on Wednesday.

Finally, thanks to Games Workshop for providing us with a preview copy of the book.

OK, let’s get into it.

Why Play Death Guard?

Death Guard are, with this book in hand, one of the most durable armies in the whole game. Your Plague Marines, Terminators and Daemon Engines can soak up absurd levels of punishment as they creep inexorably closer to the enemy, and when they arrive they can do spectacular damage, crushing all resistance in their path. If you like playing a powerful, tanky force the Death Guard might be for you, but that’s not all they have going for them. The new Contagion rules give you access to a unique battlefield control tool, and will reward you for clever positioning and use of stratagems to spread the sickness. In a similar vein, you have a whole laundry list of attractively priced buff characters that give you more ways to confound the enemy while also enhancing your own troops. Finally, looming over it all, you get Mortarion, who is now one of the game’s most powerful Lords of War, a nigh-unstoppable killing machine who can rip through almost any opposition. Death Guard will give you a powerful, elite force that can act as both a hammer and an anvil, taking whatever is thrown at them and hitting back in kind.

The Five Coolest Things About This Book

  • Contagions: The Plague Company rules give you seven plagues to spread, and the book provides you a bunch of tools to manipulate them and unleash them where it matters most.
  • Terminators: Both flavours of Terminators are now some of the nastiest in the game, and should be incredibly satisfying to use on the table.
  • Buff Characters: Inventive re-writes for a whole lot of the various Foetid Virion units plus rules that reward you for having characters about mean that almost all of these have a real role in lists.
  • Durability: The army-wide durability here is like almost nothing we’ve seen before, with only Custodes coming close to rivalling it. In particular, Plague Marines are finally going to feel as resilient as they always should have.
  • Mortarion: He’s just so good, and is going to be one of the most enjoyable models in the game to throw down with.

Army Rules

Over the last two months we’ve seen a steady drip-feed of rules previews for Death Guard via Warhammer Community and most of the army-wide rules have been covered already. There are a few things we haven’t seen yet, though, and we’re covering them all here.

Credit: Macathu

Detachment Rules

Death Guard have a lot of Detachment rules now. More than I think I’ve seen for any other army. If your army is Battle-forged, your Death Guard Detachments gain the Diseased Missions, Infernal Jealousy, and Foetid Virion rules, plus your BUBONIC ASTARTES units gain the Inexorable Advance rule and Plague Marines and Poxwalkers in Death Guard detachments gain the Objective Secured rule. There is a ton to unpack here.

Diseased Minions and Infernal Jealousy essentially limit your army building for Death Guard detachments. Diseased Minions prevents you from taking more PLAGUE FOLLOWER units (Cultists) than BUBONIC ASTARTES CORE infantry units in your Detachment, and applies the same restriction for Poxwalkers, so a given Detachment can only have a maximum of one Poxwalker and one Cultist unit per Plague Marine, Blightlord or Deathshroud unit. This really only matters for Poxwalkers because well, you’re never going to take Death Guard Cultists again. Infernal Jealously limits you to one LORD OF THE DEATH GUARD unit per Detachment. What’s a Lord of the Death Guard, you ask? Well, the short answer is “any HQ that isn’t a Malignant Plaguecaster or a Sorcerer in Terminator Armour.” So if you want to take a Battalion Detachment or any Detachment requiring 2+ HQs, it will have to include a Psyker. 

On the other, equally diseased hand, Foetid Virion is a neat rule that opens up some list building opportunities for you, allowing you to take up to 3 FOETID VIRION units in a single Elites slot as long as they all have different datasheets. The Foetid Virion are all of the Death Guard Elites Character choices like the Tallyman and the Foul Blightspawn. This lets you essentially run as many as you want in a single Detachment, which is pretty great.

Rob: Infernal Jealousy is the only rule I don’t love here, and only because the Death Guard don’t have a non-Psyker Death Guard HQ. This rule is going to work a lot better in Codex: Chaos Space Marines, where you have a dozen different HQ options that aren’t Chaos Lords or Daemon Princes.

Don: I actually like Infernal Jealousy and wish they made it one Daemon Prince per army. I am in the camp of loving the Malignant Plaguecaster though. I can not remember putting more than one Lord of the Death Guard per Detachment anyways. It should make lists more interesting, I think.

Inexorable Advance is basically the updated Death Guard legion trait, and it’s pretty solid. Units with this rule count as Stationary if they didn’t Advance or Fall Back in the previous Movement phase, Vehicles with the rule don’t get a penalty for firing Heavy Weapons at units within Engagement range, and INFANTRY with this ability ignore any/all modifiers to its Move characteristic and Advance and Charge rolls. This is a wonderful upgrade from the previous (now mostly broken) iteration, giving Plague Marines the ability to Rapid Fire (via the returning Malicious Volleys rule) at 24” on the move, and dramatically improving the army’s mobility overall.

Rob: As for Cultists losing Objective Secured – well, if GW doesn’t want me to buy any more of these ever again, sure. Whatever, I hate painting them anyways.

Don: It seems like the only reason to run Cultists in a DG army is to have really cheap units to perform actions.

Wings: That’s a good point, and means you probably will see one unit in lists here and there, as there’s not really anything else that can fulfil that role in a pure list.

 

Stinky Steeve – Credit Beanith

Disgustingly Resilient and Other Rules

This one has been known for a while: Disgustingly Resilient is now -1 to incoming damage instead of a 5+ roll to ignore a wound. This is a fine change and works well with the extra wound now added to most of the army’s profiles. But that hasn’t stopped Death Guard players from whining about it ad nauseum for the last few weeks. We covered the math behind this in a previous Hammer of Math article.

Malicious Volleys also returns, giving you double shooting on Rapid Fire bolt weapons at full range if you remain stationary in the Movement phase, which combines with Inexorable Advance to be an improvement on the old 18” Rapid fire rule. 

Remorseless is a new rule that lets units ignore modifiers when taking attrition tests. It’s a nice little add-on to have for your Plague Marine and Blightlord Terminator Units.

Wings: Since this is essentially ATSKNF, it’ll be interesting to see if it’s Death Guard only or propagates over to the rest of CSM when they get a book. I could go either way, the flavour here is quite Death Guard specific.

Plague Weapons are just as great as you remember – re-roll wound rolls of 1.

What’s Not Here

There are notably a few things missing from this book! The first is Hateful Assault. This rule was added to Death Guard in War of the Spider and has been replaced with most units just having more attacks. It’s a positive change, since having 2 attacks is better than having 1 and getting a second one conditionally. Also, Death to the False Emperor is gone, so if you’re a Death Guard player you no longer have to worry about remembering that rule.

Contagions

Another previewed rule in Warhammer Community, Contagions are rules that affect enemy models or units within a certain range, and the range expands as the game goes on. If those sound like Auras to you well, they should be but the rules explicitly state that they aren’t and are not affected by rules that affect Auras. Contagion ranges start at 1” on turn 1 and go up each turn after that, to 3” on turn 2, 6” on turn 3, and 9” on turns 4+, and some units (like Mortarion) get to treat their Contagion ranges as being turn 4+ all the time. There are multiple Contagion abilities – each Plague Company Warlord Trait is a special Contagion – and several ways to boost their range.

This is also where the Death Guard army bonus comes in. Similar to what we saw for Space Marines with Combat Doctrines, Death Guard now get a bonus for keeping the army to a single faction: If every unit in your army has the DEATH GUARD keyword, then those units gain the Nurgle’s Gift Contagion ability, which gives enemy units within contagion range -1 Toughness. 

This is a very good bonus; it’s not quite as singularly powerful as Combat Doctrines (and their Chapter Doctrine tag-alongs), and that’s a good thing. It incentivizes and rewards a mono-Death Guard army and really shines on Plague Marines and Blightlord Terminators (bubotic axes wounding space marines on a 2+ rerolling 1s is real good), but it also isn’t so strong that you’d never benefit from or consider souping Death Guard with Daemons and Chaos Space Marines. The limited range also encourages a certain type of play style (keep moving forward) and it makes transports like Rhinos much more interesting since they can be disease vectors and help their passengers out by dropping them off, then Advancing to be within range of a target enemy unit the passengers want to shoot.

Wings: Rob touched on this with the Blightlords, but if you’re staying pure this changes the maths on some strength break points for melee units. Notably, going from S4 to S5 matters less than it normally does but S6 (as per the Bubotic Axes) is considerably more of a big deal because you start wounding many elite Infantry units on 2s, while S7 compared to S8 is less of a drawback than normal for tank punching, and going from S8 to S9 is almost completely pointless.

Rob: Yes, if you are mono-DG axes are pretty much always the right play and if you are souping you should look at swords.

 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Plague Companies Return

Something we had been wondering about was how much of the Psychic Awakening rules would make it into the new Codex, and Plague Companies were the biggest part of that update. Well we’re happy to say that the Plague Companies are back, in nearly the same form – each one has its own special Contagion Warlord Trait, a Stratagem, and a Relic (so net loss of one Stratagem, but the book makes up for those losses and then some). By and large, they even more powerful than before in many ways. In order to benefit from these rules a unit needs to both be in a Death Guard Detachment and all models in that Detachment that can be from a Plague Company must be from the same one. In addition, in order to take any of the relics here your actual warlord has to be from that Plague Company, so you can only ever have one of those in a list – unless you take Mortarion, who doesn’t have a company, but lets you pick the relics for other Plague Company characters as if he did.

It’s also worth noting that many rules and auras are now Plague Company-locked rather than giving DEATH GUARD units the bonus, so as you build your lists it’s worth keeping in mind that you should avoid mixing Plague Companies unless you have a specific plan in mind.

  • The Harbingers are still all about Poxwalkers and now Typhus comes with this company pre-loaded (but he can still be in other company detachments without breaking their focus). The Wrathful Dead Stratagem lets a unit of poxwalkers re-roll hit rolls and is a pretty powerful effect on top of their WS boost and Nurgle’s Gift. The Shamblerot contagion resembles Mortarion’s old ability to do mortal wounds on a 4+ to nearby units.
  • The Inexorable retain the powerful Ferric Blight as a contagion, which attacks against affected units a +1 bonus to their AP. Their Leechspore Casket relic can heal nearby vehicles every time the bearer kills a model. Ferric Blight can make even humble boltguns very nasty, and can help make Predators viable.
  • Mortarion’s Anvil have lost the Transhuman Stratagem but retained Relaptic Assault, which for 1 CP lets any unit perform a Heroic Intervention if there’s an enemy unit within 3”. They also get the insanely powerful Gloaming Bloat plague, which prevents enemy units from firing Overwatch or setting to defend and prevents them from re-rolling hit and wound rolls. Their relic, the Warp Insect Hive, gives the warlord full re-rolls to hit and wound in melee.
  • The Wretched haven’t retained their ability to summon on the move – sadly all mentions of summoning Daemons seem to have been removed from this book – but can use the Sevenfold Blessings Stratagem during army construction to give a Pysker an extra power and the ability to re-roll a Psychic test once per turn for free. 
  • The Poxmongers caught a bit of a nerf; Bilious Blood Rush returns but no longer lets a Daemon Engine shoot after Falling Back – it now lets you shoot Blast weapons at units in Engagement range and you get +1 to hit enemy units in Engagement range with ranged attacks. The Ironclot Furnace is also back, but now only gives a 4+ invulnerable to a single friendly Daemon Engine within 6”, picked during the Command phase.
  • The Ferrymen have perhaps the strongest ability in the book – their Warlord Trait/Contagion The Droning halves the Movement characteristic of enemy units in range. Their relic is the Ferryman’s Scythe, a relic manreaper that gives you triple attacks when scything. 
  • Finally Mortarion’s Chosen Sons have the Plague Brewers Stratagem, unchanged from War of the Spider, and their Nurgle’s Fruit contagion prevents a unit from getting the benefits of cover. The relic Vomitryx also returns, and is more useful now with the nerfs to the Foul Blightspawn.

Which Plague Company is the Best?

Don: All of the plague companies are great, but if I had to pick one as being the best Plague Company, I would have to go with The Ferrymen. Their stratagem is great at letting you get more coverage with those characters and their warlord trait, The Droning is the first thing I have seen out of 9th edition that I have called “broken” or “far too powerful”

Rob: The Droning is incredibly rude, but overall I think Mortarion’s Anvil gets the nod from me. The ability to Heroically Intervene with your units, even as a Stratagem, is an incredibly good trick to have in your back pocket and Gloaming Bloat is also super good. It’s probably not as busted as The Droning, but it’s equally good for use with the Flash Outbreak Stratagem.

Wings: I agree those two stand out as the best, but I do think the Poxmongers will see use still, as a full Blight Hauler unit with the Ironclot buff up is great. With Mortarion’s Anvil, I do also want to call out that the relic is an absurdly strong character buff – it just gives the bearer full hit and wound re-rolls in melee with no questions asked, which is quite the thing on a Daemon Prince with a hellforged sword.

 

Poxwalkers. Credit: Rockfish

Poxwalkers. Credit: Rockfish

Datasheets

Almost every datasheet in Codex: Death Guard has been updated. And this goes beyond just removing things like Death to the False Emperor and adding Contagions – almost every unit has statline changes and most have changes to their special rules. There are far too many to cover them all, so let’s talk about some of the major shifts and then we’ll dive into winners and losers.

General Changes

There are a few things you’ll notice looking at units in the book that apply to multiple units in different slots:

  • Toughness boosts. All of the Chaos Space Marine units with T4 now have T5 in the book, so Chaos Lords, Possessed, and Sorcerers in Terminator Armour got a nice boost to their durability.
  • Terminators. Terminators in the Death Guard are now 5” Movement, but haven’t given up their 4+ invulnerable save – they get to keep it, which is just great. Wings: Except Terminator Sorcerers, who wear cowardly clean Terminator armour.
  • Auras affect <PLAGUE COMPANY> CORE units. Most of the faction’s auras are now limited to friendly <PLAGUE COMPANY> CORE units, significantly limiting their effects.
  • Abilities that require you to roll a 7. Some Death Guard units had abilities that triggered if you rolled a 7 on 2D6 (e.g. the Tallyman), but now consistenly trigger on a 7+.
  • Daemon Engines. Daemon Engines got +1 to their WS and BS. They’re generally much better than they were at baseline, but can no longer benefit from most auras.
  • Wargear Tweaks. A lot of weapon profiles were tweaked, to the point that I’m pretty sure we’ll get an FAQ updating profiles for Thousand Sons and Chaos Space Marines and Daemons soon, which will probably not be so great for those factions. Also there are a few melee weapons that went down by 1 Strength that won’t feel it if you’re running mono-Death Guard.

The New Units

There are two new units in Codex: Death Guard – The Lord of Virulence and the Miasmic Malignifier

Lord of Virulence

Don: I would like to start off by saying the warhammer community misspoke in their introductory article for this guy. He does nothing for your daemon engines. He is, however, a front line boss/beat stick. I don’t see any reason why I would not try to field at least one. He has the twin plague spewer and a plague weapon power fist, called a Plague Claw. He is respectably durable with 6W at T5 with a 2+/4++ and Disgustingly Resilient (-1 incoming damage). He, like the rest of our Lords gained the aura of reroll hit rolls of 1 for CORE units within 6″. He also has that new aura that has unmodified 6s to Wound with ranged plague weapons increase their AP by 1 if fired by a CORE unit within 6″ of him. I could see pairing this unit with a squad of Deathshrouds and being a massive thorn in peoples’ sides. He is my favorite HQ and I can not wait to field him. S+

Wings: Fully agree with Don here, this guy rocks, just a really strong, flexible character.

Miasmic Malignifier

Rob: I have to admit I was skeptical they’d produce a fortification worth fielding competitively but the Contagions rules for this thing are solid – the Toxic Presence rule means that it always counts the current battle round as 4 for its contagions rules (so, max range), and its Putrescent Fog rule gives friendly Death Guard Infantry within 6” Light Cover or -1 to be hit if they already had light cover. Those are pretty great rules but the clincher is that you can deploy this model and its furnace buddy within 6” of each other anywhere more than 12” away from the enemy deployment zone and any enemy models, allowing you to drop these guys mid-table and control sections of the board as your units move up. They’re also a good way to score points for having objectives in contagions range for the Despoiled Ground secondary objective. B+

Don: This unit is capable of spreading Nurgle’s Gift around and is very capable of helping to keep your infantry alive against shooting. It does not affect Nurgle units when it explodes either. I am not sure how hard it is going to be to keep this fortification alive. It is relatively cheap. I think i would reserve the use of this model to being one I’d only use at an event with a lack of true terrain. B-

Wings: They’ve definitely given this a proper try and it’s clearly much more in the conversation than most foritifcations we’ve seen, combining an attractive price tag, strong durability and a potentially powerful effect. Whether it works out is probably going to come down to whether you can consistently set it up in a way that leverages the effect without its presence becoming a liability by letting your opponent get extra movement by charging into it, and maybe even waiting out a shooting phase in engagement with it.

Credit: Charlie A.

Credit: Charlie A

HQ

Every HQ choice except for the Malignant Blightcaster and the Sorcerer in Terminator Armour now has the LORD OF THE DEATH GUARD keyword, preventing you from taking more than one in a detachment. Most of these got better – Chaos Lords now have T5 and they all have more attacks. The Lord of Contagion gets a change to his Aura; he now gets +3” to his Contagion ranges rather than having an aura that does Mortal Wounds. Typhus gets an update as well, gaining the HARBINGERS keyword but a rule that lets him moonlight in other Plague Company detachments without messing anything up. Daemon Princes get some changes – malefic talons become free, but only give you +2A when you have a pair rather than +3, and are only AP-1 now. Luckily for Daemon Prince fans, they’ve gone to 6A base (so +2 rather than the +1 for most things) and the hellforged sword and axe have been treated as if they’re power weapons, so go up a point of S each. That means the sword build in particular is massively better here – you get 6 S8 AP-3 D3 attacks (plus one with your default talon), and your opponent is going to be at -1T.

 

Credit: PierreTheMime

Troops

The three options return. Cultists have dropped to 5 points but lost ObSec so are functionally worthless except for Deploying Scramblers. Poxwalkers on the other hand, are much improved: They’re now WS 4+ and T4, and they’ve kept the ability to ignore wounds, albeit on a 6+ instead of a 5+. This comes with a drop to 5 points per model, making them significantly better than their prior incarnations, and now get to be in a PLAGUE COMPANY by default, so can benefit from more rules than just the Harbingers one. Of note is that they can’t perform actions except for Spread the Sickness. More on that later. Plague Marines return and at 21ppm they’re straight fire. They’ve got 2W and 2A each on their profiles now, plus Remorseless. Something to note is that the unit now hews much closer to the box contents and many special weapon options are now limited to one per 5 models, instead of just being “two models.” So sadly, no more 5-man Plague Marine squads sporting three plasma guns. 

Wings: This applies to melee options too, which means you can’t double stack on flails in a five model squad, and the flail has also received a downgrade, no longer spilling over its excess damage. Here that’s offset by you now getting +1A with the flail, because the rule giving extra attacks if you have multiple weapons now works with any of them, and the model keeps a plague knife. The unit also now caps at 10 models rather than 20.

Finally, Daemons are no longer in the book. That never made sense anyways. Good riddance.

 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Elites

Holy crap there’s so much in this section. All your favorite characters return, and they’re all better than ever.

  • The Plague Surgeon now gives friendly BUBONIC ASTARTES infantry units within 3” a 6+ roll to ignore wounds, and can heal a friendly model for up to D3 wounds. He’s an amazing target for the Fugaris Helm, and both Don and I think a Fugaris Plague Surgeon looks to be an auto-include in future lists.
  • The Noxious Blightbringer has been completely reworked and received huge boosts; it now gives enemy units within 6” -1 to their combat attrition tests (which combos well with Break Their Spirits to make for some incredibly nasty consequences for big units), gives friendly units +1 movement when not Falling Back, and gives nearby psykers -1 to their tests. It’s a massive improvement.
  • The Foul Blightspawn is potentially the only loser of the bunch, having received a major nerf to his plague sprayer damage – it’s now only damage 2 and is locked in at S7 – and a big nerf to his “fight last” aura, which now only affects one unit within 3”, but has been improved to include the “not eligible” language that turns off “fight first” abilities. He’s still worth bringing, but you don’t need to start lists penciling in 3 of them any more. There’s also more reason to take the Vomitryx relic now.
    Wings: The first of these stays pretty strong because you pretty much always pay 10pts for the Viscous Death Deadly Pathogen, making them S8 and giving them re-rolls on the shots.
  • The Biologus Putrifier got several tweaks as well. His pistol now does mortal wounds instead of having D6 damage, his Blight Racks improve the AP and Damage of nearby blight grenades by 1, and his new Foul Infusion rule lets you pick one nearby PLAGUE COMPANY CORE unit per turn and until your next turn any time they roll an unmodified 6 to hit in melee with a plague weapon they do a mortal wound to the target. Don’s going to rave about these below.
  • Last but certainly not least, the Tallyman has gotten major improvements as well. He now gets you 1 CP per turn on a roll of 7+ instead of an exact 7 on 2D6, ensuring he’ll reliably get you 2-3 CP per game. And his new Malicious Calculation ability lets him choose one Core unit within 6” each turn to get +1 to their attack rolls until your next turn. That’s insanely good, particularly on Blightlord Terminators.

Speaking of which, Blightlord Terminators and Deathshrouds got way better. They all get a jump to 5” movement, +1 attack, and 3W but get to keep their T5 and their 4+ invulnerable saves. Despite all this, Blightlords still get to sit at a very attractive 40ppm. Meanwhile Deathshrouds get updated Manreaper Scythes that now have a second profile for scything (double the attacks, 1 damage per), and a more power fist-like cleaving attack, plus they can take Chimes of Contagion to up their Contagion ranges by 3” (to a max of 12”). At only 10ppm more than Blightlords, they’re also priced to move. They can’t protect Mortarion any more with their Bodyguard rule, but he kind of doesn’t need it now anyways.

Helbrutes only reduce incoming damage by 1 and are 6” movement, but got a ton of tweaks to their weapons (Plasma cannons are now 3 damage flat, power scourges are only S+1) and a new Frenzy rule to replace the old Crazed one that gives them the ability to re-roll wound rolls of 1 if they’ve taken any damage. Possessed now have 4 Attacks (awesome), and T5 (hell yeah), but only 2 wounds apiece (boo) and still 1 damage claws, and they now count as 2 models when carried in transports – they can’t ride in Rhinos at all. This may be a kiss of death for them, but this is a subject of ongoing debate among the team as you’ll see below.

 

Foetid Bloat Drone

Credit: Rockfish

Fast Attack

The Foetid Bloat-Drone is even better now. It lost a wound but no longer has a degrading profile as a result, making it a wonderful contagion-spreader. It also got the bump to WS/BS 3+ and 4 Attacks base, which combine with the Fleshmower upgrade (only S+1 but now makes 3 hit rolls per attack so you get 12 instead of 10) to make the melee variant worth considering. Myphitic Blight-Haulers are also likewise enhanced, with better WS/BS and an improvement to 9W and 4A each. They’ve lost their Tri-lobe rule and no longer have fog to shield nearby units, but the new fortification can play that role well enough and they have the Belching Fumes Stratagem, which reduces the number of attacks models make with ranged weapons to generate an even more potent effect. They do pay for this, going to 140pts each, meaning you’re likely not spamming 9 any more. Chaos Spawn are also still here and rocking 2D3 Attacks instead of D6 and can be improved with the Grandfatherly Influence Stratagem, which gives a unit of Spawn +1T and Disgustingly Resilient.

Heavy Support

The usual suspects are all here and the Plagueburst Crawler is the star of the show again. Now sporting BS 3+ and a Plagueburst Mortar with a flat 2 damage statline, it’s priced to move at 165 points. The Entropy Cannons are only +5 points now and also strongly worth consideration, since they now do a staggering D3+3 damage. Also the Rothail Volley Gun is Rapid Fire 3. It’s a hell of a tank. Similarly, the Defiler is also very good here. While it doesn’t have Disgustingly Resilient (and has no way to get it), it does get Contagions and it benefits from the upgrade to WS/BS 3+. You pay 30 points more for it than Chaos Space Marines do theirs, but the other upside is that the Defiler Cannon is now a flat 3 damage gun.

Dedicated Transport

Rhinos get Contagions, making them very neat ways to spread your -1 Toughness around.

 

Credit: Zuul the Cat

Lord of War

I almost forgot this section because the new datasheet for Mortarion was released more than a month ago. But if you missed it, Mortarion is an absolute monster now. He’s T8 now and he gets a staggering three Warlord Traits, plus at the start of every game you get to pick one of the Plague Company Warlord Traits to give to him. The traits he gets are Arch Contaminator (re-rolls to wound on plague weapons), Revoltingly Resilient (5+ to ignore wounds), and Living Plague (enemy units within 3” can’t be affected by aura abilities from the opposing army). He’s an absolute powerhouse and I strongly believe he’s going to make an immediate splash in competitive play.

Winners:

Blightlord Terminators, Deathshroud Terminators, Tallyman, Plague Surgeon, Poxwalkers, Mortarion

Don: The Biologus Putrifier – this guy throwing out an unblockable “Blades of Putrefaction” is absolutely amazing. I do also believe the Death Guard daemon prince is a winner here. The sword and axe are buffed and so I feel that the sword/claw loadout is the way to go.

Rob: I cannot imagine building a Death Guard list now without a Fugaris Helm Plague Surgeon

Wings: The Tallyman seems incredible, as at only 70pts giving you +1 to hit on big Plague Marine or Terminator blocks while also handing you ~3CP over an average game is a great deal. I’d also tap up the Foetid Bloat Drone (especially with fleshmowers), as they got quite a lot of positive stat movement and a very powerful stratagem for the melee build without a massive price increase, while also probably being the best vector for Flash Outbreak shenanigans. Finally, I’m in Don’s camp on the Daemon Prince – the sword build whips now. Well, slices. You know.

Losers:

Cultists, Foul Blightspawn

Don: Possessed, unfortunately their transport options have been limited. They basically count as terminators for the purposes of what they are allowed to embark upon and how much space they take up in those transports. 

Rob: For my money the Daemon Prince of Nurgle is one of the losers in the book, even with some decent buffs. While he gets +2 attacks over his prior incarnation, he’s now only got 10” movement with wings, talons are AP -1 (and one attack each), and he’s lost his aura to re-roll hit rolls of 1 for friendly Nurgle Daemon units, destroying his ability to buff Daemon Engines and any cross-faction synergy with daemons (he now only gives re-rolls to <PLAGUE COMPANY> CORE units). I’m largely fine with removing bonuses for souping, but this one hurts. Combine those with the one-per-detachment restriction and an inability to field one alongside another Lord and while I still think the Death Guard daemon prince is good, he won’t be the auto-include he was.

Rob vs. Don: Are Death Guard Possessed Good?

Don: Possessed are in a weird spot. They basically count as terminators for getting in to our codex transports and I would be willing to wager a Forge World Errata to normalise this is not far off. This means that they will most frequently have to foot slog. Yes, they are a bit faster than our other infantry, but they don’t necessarily hit much harder and have practically no interaction in the shooting phase. I just try to compare a plague marine to a possessed and ask why take the possessed. I compare 2 possessed to a death shroud and still shrug. Did possessed get better with the new book? Yes, they did. Did they improve as much as everything else? No, they did not. I am sure possessed will work,  but don’t think they will do any better than points equivalent numbers of plague marines or terminators. 

Rob: Putting aside the fact that I think we’ll see errata for the Terrax drill to make it hold half the number of Possessed – and until it does I think the drill and Possessed have play in a mono DG list – I think there’s potentially a home for Death Guard Possessed, but that home is in a soup list. Without Rhinos or drills to move a unit of 10 across the table, Warptime is your next best bet for getting them where they need to be. Losing contagions for them stings a little, but opening up your arsenal to include Daemons and Chaos Space Marines gives you access to Poxbringers and psychic powers like Shrivelling Pox and Virulent Blessing as well as the Veterans of the Long War Stratagem. It’s the one area Possessed bring something to the table that Blightlords don’t, by virtue of being DAEMON units. I don’t know that Possessed are good enough with 1 damage weapons to make this worth it, but I think someone’s going to try.

WIngs: So, I’d expect the Veterans interaction to catch a nerf, because this book essentially has 2CP Veterans, and I’d be surprised to see that particular cross-book synergy stand. However, I do think there’s one place Possessed could do something in pure Death Guard, because surprisingly enough (for tentacle monsters) they do have the CORE keyword. That makes them the perfect combo with the Biologus Putrifier, and way more cost-efficient for getting volume of attacks down than Plague Marines now that only one model in five can swap to a free second plague knife. 

 

Plagueburst Crawler

Plagueburst Crawler. Credit: Raf Cordero

Stratagems

A far cry from the original book’s list, the Death Guard now have four glorious pages of stratagems, though not as much of the War of the Spider list has made it into this book – several of those abilities were rolled into specific units and others have just vanished and the returning ones tend to have small adjustments. Here are some highlights from the list of returning stratagems.

  • Trench Fighters and Creeping Blight both came back, though Creeping Blight lost its +1 to damage rolls bonus. Mutant Strain also returns, same as before, and Virulent Rounds is back, but now can affect Death Guard CORE units instead of just Plague Marines, which is a welcome plus for Blightlords. Overwhelming Generosity also returned unchanged.
  • Putrid Detonation is back, but now has a variable cost.
  • Fire Fever is back, but now it gives the Helbrute +1 to hit and wound. 
  • Cloud of Flies is back, but costs 2 CP base and 4 CP if used on Terminators.

Ok, let’s talk about the new ones. Here are my votes for the seven best new Death Guard stratagems:

  • Flash Outbreak (2 CP) is potentially the most busted Stratagem in the book. You use it in the Command phase to give a single <Plague Company> unit in your army all of the contagion abilities that other <Plague Company> units have until you next Command phase, and also until then your army counts the battle round as 1 higher for your Contagion abilities. This means you can take a Miasmic Malignifier or Hellblade in an army of Ferrymen, then use this to give them The Droning for a turn with a bonus to their range. On a Hellblade this means you can shoot the unit into the enemy deployment zone, then halve the Movement of all enemy units within 3” for a turn. Just insanely good, potentially going to lead to errata excluding AIRCRAFT from being targets (as they only come from Forge World and may not have been considered).
  • Break Their Spirits (1 CP) is used in the Fight phase when you destroy a model with a Terminator model in an Infantry, Beasts, or Swarm unit. That unit gets -4 to its Ld until the end of the turn. This is a super nasty modifier to drop on a unit and killing a single model with blightlords isn’t terribly difficult. It also combines wonderfully with the auras on the Noxious Blightbringer.
  • Grandfatherly Influence (1 CP/2 CP) upgrades a unit of Chaos Spawn to get +1 Toughness and gain Disgustingly Resilient, and costs 2 CP if the unit has 4+ models. I really like Spawn in 9th edition and the rate here of 1 CP per 3 models improved is pretty solid. They’re hyper efficient with this buff, and you’ll probably see most armies that use them take exactly one squad with this.
  • Belching Fumes (1 CP/2 CP) is used at the start of your opponent’s Shooting phase on a unit of Myphitic Blight-Haulers. Every time an enemy unit attacks the unit of blight haulers with a ranged weapon, reduce the number of attacks that weapon makes by 1, to a minimum of 1. This costs 1 CP if you have 2 or fewer models. This is a fun way to completely shrug off multi-meltas pointed at your blight-haulers. Wings: This is appalling powerful, and means having one unit of Haulers trundling around is going to be extremely tough to stop. You probably do consider taking a 2-model unit to keep this cheap, as you want to be able to pop it almost every turn.
  • Vermid Whispers (1 CP) is used in the Shooting or Fight phase to give a unit of Terminators +1 to its hit rolls. Simple but incredibly powerful.
  • Disgusting Force (1 CP) powers up a Plagueburst Crawler’s shooting, making its mortar 3 damage and causing every unit within 3” of the unit hit by the mortar to take mortal wounds on a 4+. 
  • Dark Cravings (1 CP) lets Foetid-Bloat Drones Heroically Intervene and move 6” when doing so.

There are a ton more here worth talking about but we’ll be diving into them more deeply in future articles. I legitimately believe there isn’t a bad Stratagem among them and there’s a ton of power in the list.

Wings: As well as the one’s called out above, you get the now-standard extra Warlord Trait and Relic strats, and for the latter there’s a separate strat letting you give a sub-set of the relics to unit Champions, Marine supplement style. The extra trait and relic strats both have the new wording requiring your actual Warlord to be Death Guard to use them, so you can’t dip into the traits and relics here without a reasonable commitement to the Plague Legions. The other two new ones that caught my eye were:

  • Haze of Corruption (2CP) gives all weapons in a DEATH GUARD CORE the old flail of corruption effect, allowing them to spill over excess damage to the next model. Now that melee-specced plague marines are going to be obliged to load up with maces of corruption and (maybe) great plague cleavers. This will let them absolutely detonate a horde, and as a keen user of Necron Warriors, that makes me extremely nervous.
  • The Blightening (1CP) is a kind of replacement for the old blight grenade combos. Rather than letting a whole unit throw grenades, it lets you pick three models in your army to have their grenades become Pistol 6 for a phase, and automatically hit in melee. While it no longer gives you the incredible turbo combo potential, this is extraordinarily efficient when you have a Biologus Putrifier following some melee Plague Marines around, giving them a powerful short ranged shooting spike that can clear out a screen and, more subtly, allow you to burst your way out of engagement with an enemy that’s bully charged you in your shooting phase, then charge into something else later in the turn.This is deceptively great, and priced to move.

 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Psychic Powers – The Contagion Discipline

The Contagion Discipline returns, and a lot of what’s in it is going to seem pretty familiar, but there are some changes to consider. In the largely unchanged corner, Putrescent Vitality (WC7, up from WC6, +1 S/T to DEATH GUARD INFANTRY) and Miasma of Pestilence (WC6, -1 to hit against a DEATH GUARD unit) are both completely unchanged. That’s no bad thing as both are strong, so expect to continue to see them perform in lists, and both being able to go onto big Poxwalker blobs is nice. Curse of the Leper is also barely changed (roll 7d6 against closest enemy T, deal a mortal for each time you beat it), and in this case that’s less good news. It has gone up to 18” range, but in 9th with fixed power choices it’s very hard to take an option that’s going to be dead or nearly dead in some games.

Bigger chances are afoot for Plague Wind (WC6) and GIft of Contagion (WC5), both of which now have a “basic” mode and a more powerful effect that goes off on a cast that exceeds the target charge by 3 or more. Plague Wind still lets you pick an enemy unit within 18” and roll a dice for each model, dealing a mortal on each 6 or on a 5+ with the higher cast. Adding the enhanced mode makes this way more exciting, because that starts to do spectacular damage to hordes and appreciable hurt to smaller units. The buffs are probably still the more interesting thing from this discipline, but if you have spare slots you can consider it. Gift of Contagion no longer applies a random effect, instead always stripping off a point of S, and taking away an attack as well if you get an 8+ on your cast. This is fine – with most of your stuff at T5 it will strip away the capabilities of mid-tier stuff going after you, and getting a big cast will help a lot, but it’s a little risky, because you can’t rely on the A bit working, and sometimes modifying S won’t do anything.

For the final power, we have a new entrant – Blades of Putrefaction has gone off to the big plague pit in the sky, replaced with Gift of Plagues (WC6). This lets you pick a DEATH GUARD unit within 18”, and boost the range of their Contagion abilities by 6” till your next psychic phase, to a maximum of 12”. This is going to let you do some extremely stupid stuff in combination with the Plague Company Contagions and the Flash Outbreak stratagem. To put it mildly, being able to slap a 12” bubble of half movement or no re-rolls on a Bloat-Drone on turn 2 and just sort of fly it near your opponent’s entire dang army is quite the thing. This power seems very strong if you’re planning around any of the special Contagions, so expect to see it a bunch.

Warlord Traits

The Warlord Traits in the Death Guard codex have all changed but maintain their feel from the 8th edition codex. A few especially cool ones are:

  • Rotten Constitution gives a character +1 Toughness and makes AP -1 and -2 incoming attacks count as AP 0. This makes Terminator Lords even more durable. This could also combo with the Suppurating Plate on a Daemon Prince to make him a highly durable bruiser-type HQ.
  • Arch-Contaminator lets your <Plague Company> Core units within 6″ of your warlord re-roll to wound rolls for attacks made with weapons with the Plague Weapon rule. This applies to all melee attacks but now only applies to ranged weapons with the Plague Weapon rule if they are within 12″ of their target. 
  • Living Plague stops opponents benefitting from any Aura abilities while within 3” of the Warlord. Not good against every army, but going to absolutely crush some opponents, especially on Mortarion. Speaking of…

Mortarion gets three of these, so now is a good time to decide which of the remaining ones you want to consider.

Also note that the Plague Company Warlord Traits have redone as we mentioned earlier in the “Plague Companies are back” section. 

 

Credit: RichyP

Relics

The many Relics of the Death Guard Codex have undergone some changes as well. Here are a few that are worth noting:

  • Tollkeeper: this relic has changed a bit from its War of the Spider version and is locked to the Tallyman. It lets friendly <Plague Company> Core units within 6″ score an additional hit for every unmodified hit roll of 6 in the shooting phase. This is a solid damage buff to the Death Guard roster.
  • Plague Skull of Glothila: This relic is situationally awesome, but does suffer from being a bit random. Once per battle, at the end of your Movement Phase, you can use this relic to pick an enemy unit within 6″ and roll 7D6. Each roll of a 4 or a 5 inflicts 1 mortal wound and each roll of a 6 inflicts D3 mortal wounds. This relic can potentially destroy a fully-buffed primarch in one go or it can inflict some decent damage to a tough unit… or you can whiff completely. That said it can also help you take down a C’Tan or Ghazghkull, where it gives you an extra way to do damage to them in the Movement phase.
  • Fugaris Helm: This relic is identical to its 8th edition version, but is even more useful now. It extends the range of the bearer’s Aura abilities by 3”, to a maximum of 12″. It is not the most flashy relic, but increasing the range on the Noxious Blightbringer’s or Plague Surgeon’s aura effects are extremely good and allow for greater coverage. This one was very good already and is now going to be a must-take.
  • Revolting Stench Vats: This gives you back some of the old Foul Blightspawn magic, giving one of them a 6” aura that means enemies never count as having charged, and cannot benefit from any Fight First effects.

It’s a solid list, and a few of them can be given to squad champions via a Stratagem.

Deadly Pathogens

Deadly Pathogens are a new type of upgrade that you can buy for points for a plague weapon (not a relic or grenade) that’s equipped either by a Character or any model with Champion in their profile name (so squad leaders from Plague Marines and the two flavors of Terminator). When you buy this upgrade, the weapon gets +1S and also an additional effect that various based on which pathogen you pick. Similar to Cryptek Arcana in Necrons, these aren’t relics, so you can have both a relic and a pathogen on a model, but you can only take each one once.

Some of the standouts here are:

  • Viscous Death (10pts): you can re-roll the number of shots fired by the weapon. Combined with the +1S, near mandatory on your first Foul Blightspawn at the price.
  • Unstable Sickness (15pts): Each time a model is destroyed by an attack made by this weapon, the model’s unit suffers a mortal wound on a 4+, to a maximum of 3 per turn. Can’t be combined with the Befouled Incubators Stratagem that basically does the same for characters, but this feels very spicy on a Deathshroud Champion, where it gets their scythe up to S8 or S6 as relevant, and lets them cleave through hordes even harder with their 5 or 10 attacks.
  • Acidic Malady (20pts): +1AP. Surprisingly great on a Malignant Plaguecaster, as pushing their staff to S8 AP-2 makes it much, much more dangerous for opponents to wander into bonk distance.

 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Secondary Objectives

Don: As with the other 9th edition codexes, the Death Guard book gives us a set of faction-specific secondary objectives to consider. There are three of these and two of them are pretty good.

Fleeing Vectors (No Mercy, No Respite): (progressive scoring) Score 3 Victory Points at the end of any battle round that an enemy unit fails a morale check and has suffered at least 1 casualty from a plague weapon that battle round. Both conditions must be met to gain these points. This secondary is one that is likely to never be taken. There’s too much you can’t control and it shares a slot with the Grind them Down secondary, which looks to be Death Guard’s bread and butter. D+

Despoiled Ground (Battlefield Supremacy): (end game scoring) This secondary gives you four conditions to score points off of at the end of the game:

  • Score 4 VP if you have at least 1 unit in each deployment zone with the Bubonic Astartes keyword. 
  • Score 4 VP if you have at least 1 Bubonic Astartes unit wholly within 3 table quarters and outside of 6 inches of the center of the table. Score 6vp if you are in all 4 instead. 
  • Score 4 VP if you control more than half of the objectives with Bubonic Astartes units. 
  • Score 4 VP if every objective marker is within the Contagion Range of Contagion abilities that units in your army possess. 

So long as you don’t get tabled, this secondary is fairly easy to score 8-15 points on, as you can use lots of the Elite helper characters to tick off the requirements. There’s also some fun interplay between this and the Miasmic Malignifier.  The only thing to say here as a negative is that you do have to start planning for this early – crucially, in missions with objectives in both deployment zones, you’re sometimes going to be giving up half the points if you can’t get at least one Bubonic Astartes unit right across the board, and need to leave one at home too. Make sure to think about how you’re going to achieve that – perhaps a Helbrute to sit in your backline and a rhino to ferry stuff up the board then threaten to score big points if your opponent doesn’t spend time killing it. A+

Spread the Sickness (Shadow Operations): Death Guard INFANTRY only, including Poxwalkers (it’s the only action Poxwalkers can perform). One unit can perform this action if they are within 3″ of an objective that is not already Contaminated and no enemy units (excluding aircraft) are within 3″ of that objective. The action is completed at the end of your turn. You can then choose either for the unit performing the action to take d3 mortal wounds, or to roll a d6. If you chose the wound option OR roll a 4+ on the d6 option, the objective is contaminated. At the end of the battle you get 3pts for each objective you have contaminated. This has a high floor (it’ll be unusual to score below 6) but a pretty low ceiling, as you can only do one per turn so maxing it out against a savvy opponent is going to be very tough. You are, also, going to pretty much have to take the wound option every time, as risking 3VP on a roll of a 4+ is just a horrible idea. Does compensate for Death Guard being unusually bad at lining up Deploy Scramblers, however. This secondary objective is also really bad on missions with fewer than 5 objective markers. B

We have a couple strong secondary picks that will see frequent play. Despoiled Ground will likely become synonym with Oath of Moment from the Marines codex, especially because it lives in a secondary category that Death Guard didn’t normally perform well in.

 

Poxwalkers by Craig “MasterSlowPoke” Sniffen

Overall Impressions

Don: This book is filled with potential and has made all of our units better. There were a couple nerfs, like the malefic talons going down to AP1. However, most of these units have other things that buffed them, like the daemon prince sword becoming str +1 ap3 3dmg. I do not know what “the list” will become because so many builds look great and viable. I do believe that Death Guard feel like they should from the lore. They will be unrelenting and will provide a lot of pressure to their opponent. I do not feel that this codex is more powerful than the Space Marines or Necrons codexes. We definitely have some stand out units/stratagems, but each codex of 9th does. I look forward to seeing what people come up with. A+

Rob: This book is straight fire. It’s so good. Almost everything about it feels unique and powerful but not overbearing. There are some complaints I have, sure – there are a few areas where the rules are clunky and the lack of cross-faction synergy with daemons isn’t great, but so much of it just works. There’s only one truly bad unit in the book and even they have a purpose, and I can already picture multiple builds with this army both as monofaction Death Guard and in soup lists. If you’re a Death Guard player you should be over the moon about this book and if you’re a Chaos player otherwise you should be psyched about this direction and level of design being applied to the other Chaos factions. S++ ULTRA GOLD

Wings: I like this book a whole lot. There’s a huge number of interesting effects, plenty of thought put into giving all the different weirdo characters they released in 8th useful roles, and should really capture the inevitable doom represented by the Death Guard on the table. The durability you get is eye-watering, but that’s tempered by there being very few mobility options, and hefty price tags capping the number of ranged threats you can afford to bring. The only thing I’m a bit worried about is The Droning – I don’t love having to pick on a single effect, but it’s just a bit too easy to slap down a massive bubble of this on turn 2 onwards, and I think there’s a reasonable chance that goes too far in bringing the opposing force down to the Death Guard’s level. I guess we’ll see how it plays out on the table, and I don’t want it to take away too much from the achievement here – this book shows that the new 9th Edition Codex magic still works for an army with a far smaller roster than either Marines or Necrons, and I can’t wait to see it on the table. Get hype, Chaos fans.

Wrap Up

We hope that’s whetted the diseased, depraved appetites of all the Chaos players out there, and we’re pretty sure that in the next few weeks we’re going to be seeing Death Guard armies slamming onto any table not quarantined by a sadly-too-real disease in force. If you’ve got any comments, questions or suggestions, drop us a message below or email contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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