9th Edition Faction Focus: Chaos Space Marines

9th edition is on the way, and with it a whole raft of changes to the factions of Warhammer 40,000. With the Munitorum Field Manual out in the wild and the Faction FAQs released, now’s a good time to start taking a look at what’s changed for all of our favourite armies. Today, Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones is talking about Chaos Space Marines.

Special thanks to Innes Wilson for helping out with a list on this one, and Don Hooson again for letting me bounce list ideas off him.

This is a tough one. Thanks to a wonderful update in Faith & Fury, plus some intriguing and unexpected rules in War of the Spider, Chaos Space Marines no longer really feel like a single faction to discuss but rather 8 or 9, and that’s before you start talking about souping them with Thousand Sons, Death Guard, and Chaos Daemons. The upside is that these updates have made them a powerful faction competitively, giving nearly every major legion competitive options with some interesting builds. In today’s Faction Focus, we’re going to look at how the new rules for 9th edition – including the missions, points updates, and FAQ – change the army and affect these builds. There’s a lot to cover here and I’m sure to miss some things but rest assured that we’ll be covering the faction more in future articles on the site, such as when we eventually update Start Competing: Chaos Space Marines.

9th edition brings some massive changes to the way 40k is played and the balance between certain armies. For Chaos Space Marines, there are a ton of units and strategies affected by these changes and the new points. Let’s start with some of the 9th edition rule changes and how they affect the army.


The Rules Impact

First off, a number of rules changed and a lot of these directly impact Chaos Space Marines.

Changes to Melee Combat

I personally believe that melee combat has gotten worse overall in 9th, as the ability to trap units has been significantly reduced, charges have become more difficult thanks to the CP re-roll change, multi-charging has become much more difficult, and vehicles are able to shoot in combat, preventing us from “turning off” vehicles by touching them in combat. These changes seem to more than offset the advantages the army might have gained from a smaller table, more heinous Fall Back penalties, and the reduction in Overwatch. While I don’t think these are bad changes necessarily, they’re certainly changes that do not benefit Chaos Space Marines, for whom melee combat is one of the army’s strongest assets.

The other major change to combat is the non-active player gets to activate the first unit to fight after chargers in the Fight phase. This makes “fight first” abilities like the Emperor’s Children legion trait much more useful, since fighting with chargers now matters significantly more, though this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that multiple combats will be much more rare.


The GT mission pack has finally released today and we’ll still need to see how they change things up, but just what we know and what we’ve seen in the Eternal War missions shape play in 9th significantly. The biggest change is top-of-turn scoring for primary objectives, i.e. players score for holding objectives in their Command phases, which means that a unit has to already be on your objective holding it before your turn starts to score. Going first this means you need units that can move quickly to capture objectives and then stay alive while holding them. Going second this means you need to be highly conscious that only have four scoring turns and you need units that can whip an enemy unit off an objective while simultaneously moving onto that objective to occupy it. This can only be done easily in the Fight phase.

Vehicles and Shooting

On the other hand, the addition of the Big Guns Never Tire rule allowing vehicles to move and shoot heavy weapons with no penalty to hit and shoot weapons in combat creates some strong benefits for units that previously did not see a lot of play. It immediately makes Helbrutes and Daemon Engines better: Helbrutes can now take guns and gleefully charge into combat, where having the ability to shoot makes heavy flamers in their fists and options like the twin heavy bolter much more attractive. Meanwhile, Daemon Engines that previously suffered from having a 4+ BS are now much more viable thanks to being able to stay mobile without their accuracy becoming dire. Defilers in particular benefit from this, but we’ll discuss some of the other options as well. This is also wonderful for Heldrakes, who will greatly enjoy the ability to fire their baleflamer in combat.

Blast Weapons

On the defensive side, Blast weapons represent a huge problem for horde strategies, particularly for large units that have to walk across the table on foot. That primarily means Possessed in this instance, where the 20-model squads can get torn apart by battle cannons and night spinners. That kind of doesn’t matter however, because…

Credit: Charlie A

Specialist Detachments are Gone

The GT Missions pack removes Specialist Detachments, disallowing their use in army construction. For Chaos Space Marines, this is a brutal blow to the faction, which relied on buffs from the Daemonkin Ritualists Detachment to boost Possessed, the ability to advance and charge with Daemon Engines in a Soulforged pack, and occasionally made use of the Siegebreaker Cohort and Host Raptorial.

Strategic Reserves

While a good number of Chaos Space Marine units are perfectly capable of teleporting onto the battlefield, there were a few stragglers who lacked the ability and for them Strategic Reserves can be a real asset. Noise Marines are one option here, as a solid mid-range unit that wants to be protected until it has an opportunity to shoot, and this is an area I might look at some of the shooty daemon engines that don’t want to advance and charge, like Forgefiends or shooty Helbrutes. We’ll revisit this later.

Picking All of Your Upgrades Pre-Game

This is a bigger deal for competitive play than casual, but previously many rules such as Psychic powers, add-on Warlord Traits and Relics, and using stratagems that upgrade units were done at the start of the game, after you’d seen your opponent’s list, allowing you a chance to respond to what they were bringing. That’s not the case anymore, meaning that we have to be much more laser-focused with our pre-game strategy, and it means that a lot of traits and powers that we’d have used conditionally now just aren’t likely to make it into our lists. The upside here is that this simplifies things – it’s easier to just lock in to a single strategy or slate of abilities.

Army Construction

Army construction is now significantly different, with detachments costing CP instead of giving us CP. This has three major consequences for Chaos Space Marines:

  1. The CP costs will naturally push army building toward using fewer detachments, with a focus on only taking the detachments you need for the units you want, rather than having to pay a “tax” of specific units. This is good, because it reduces Chaos Space Marines’ reliance on Cultists – something that will be a major issue thanks to the points hike.
  2. The CP costs disincentivize taking multiple detachments, which means a disincentive to soup in other factions and use multiple traitor legions in our armies. Fortunately, we still have a few ways around this, as Chaos Space Marines have both Warlords who can give us extra CP (Abaddon, Huron), and a legion trait (Red Corsairs – Raiders from the Maelstrom).
  3. Fewer detachments also translates to fewer opportunities to use Specialist Detachments in situations where they’re still allowed. Chaos Space Marines are already very CP thirsty, in part because they are very dependent on specialist detachments for competitive power. Mixing two wasn’t super common but the changes make it considerably less valuable. Although again, we can mitigate that if one of our detachments is a Red Corsairs detachment, since you can mitigate the cost of a Patrol with one unit of Chaos Space Marines.


The Points Update

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

In case you missed our points overview of the changes in the Munitorum Field Guide, you can find those here. While the Death Guard and Thousand Sons armies largely came out ahead on these changes, the same was sadly not true for Chaos Space Marines, who depended much more heavily on cultists and don’t get a ton of value out of Chaos Space Marines as a unit compared to Plague Marines for Death Guard and Rubric Marines for Thousand Sons. On the flip side, several key units in the Chaos Space Marines’ arsenal got significant points hikes, such as the Lord Discordant, Warp Talons, and Daemon Princes. Let’s dive into these.


Chaos Lords and Sorcerers went up marginally, with the latter seeing significant base points hikes but now that force weapons are free the actual impact here is marginal – Sorcerers only went up 0-2 points in their base state, depending on which force weapons you gave them, and Sorcerers with Jump Packs actually got a point or two cheaper – their base cost went up to 115 (+7), so your force weapons savings put them at -1 or -3. That’s a fantastic deal, as Sorcerers were already one of the faction’s best units. Terminator Chaos Lords also stayed put, while standard Chaos Lords went up only a small amount.

The specialty crew are a mixed bag: Warpsmiths went up 10 points net once you factor in all of their weapons – their flamer and meltagun drop 5 points – significantly reducing the value of a unit whose major purposes was “being among the cheapest HQs a Chaos Space Marine army can take.” By contrast, the Lord of Executions only goes up 5 points, firmly claiming the title, though 9th edition rules around Heroic Intervention make his Warp-Sighted Butcher ability a little bit less valuable. Dark Apostles fared very well, however – they went up just 8 points and their disciples went up 0, making them still a very strong include in the Chaos Space Marine army.

Finally, we have to address the two biggest hits: Winged Daemon Princes went up a staggering 30 points per model, plus an extra 5 if you take a pair of malefic talons. This is a monster hit to a unit that was already borderline – Winged Daemon Princes are OK for Chaos Space Marines, but nowhere near as important as good as the same options for Thousand Sons and Death Guard, and so aligning all three factions to the same cost punishes the crap out of Chaos Space Marines for no compelling reason. The other is the Lord Discordant, whose base cost increased by 30 points (to 180), while Autocannons on vehicles now cost 15 points, so a Lord Discordant on Helstalker will set you back 195 points. This isn’t good, but it’s also not the end of the world either – unlike Winged Daemon Princes, Lords Discordant are an amazing unit and were arguably undercosted. This brings them to a more reasonable (but still worth it) cost and unlike Daemon Princes, Lord Discordants got functionally better – they can now shoot while in combat, and that alone makes the Baleflamer (+0 points) a much more attractive option (OK Warp bolter Daemon Princes can do this too but who cares). There’s still a role for Lords Discordant in Chaos Marine armies, but we’ll have to make up some points elsewhere.


There’s not a lot of good news here. Chaos Cultists inexplicably went up to 6 points per model in a change everyone knew was coming and hated, while Chaos Space Marines go back up to 14 points per model. Neither unit is particularly great and worth banking on as the backbone of your army, so the real question for most armies will be: 10 Cultists at 60 points or 5 Chaos Space Marines at 70 points? This has been a dilemma for a while but what may tip it over now is that Cultists are much more vulnerable to blast weapons. Where you’ll see the most value here is in Red Corsairs, where a Red Corsairs Patrol with a single unit of Chaos Space Marines refunds half its cost and a Patrol with three gives you +1 CP to work with. We’ll come back to these guys later.

On the Cultist side, you can argue that they’ve improved a bit thanks to morale changes making a max squad breaking less likely but the blast weapon changes hurt them. However 9th’s focus on board control potentially makes it worth looking at large Cultist blobs again, and it may be the case that Abaddon and 90 Cultists is an army worth considering, especially if those cultists are Iron Warriors.


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The big winners of the points update are Chaos Terminators, who went up 1 point each with combi-bolters and got 1 point cheaper with combi-plasma. That’s a great deal on a unit that could really do some shooting damage and we’ll explore some options with Emperor’s Children for them later. Helbrutes got 10 points more expensive base but there’s now a bit more reason to take guns on them since they can shoot in combat, making scourge + gun combos or double fists with heavy flamers much more valuable. There may potentially be some play for Creations of Bile or Red Corsairs Helbrutes in a list somewhere. Maybe. Probably not.

Khorne Berzerkers did OK here, going up by only 2 points per model – they’re exactly the kind of hard-hitting, “missile” style of melee unit 9th edition may want. On the other hand, Plague Marines and Rubric Marines make out OK here, though they’re at their best in their respective factions, both as troops and because of the Stratagems they get access to. However note that many of the Ritual of the Damned and War of the Spider stratagems that affect Rubrics and Plague Marine do so without referencing a legion, so you can take a detachment of Death Guard and still use some of their stratagems on say, Alpha Legion Plague Marines. Noise Marines get a big hit here, going up 4 points per model. That hurts, but it’s probably because they’re a perfect unit for Tactical Reserves, and Blast Masters also go down a bit and gained the Blast keyword. They’re also still troops in an Emperor’s Children list, making them immediately better options than Cultists and Chaos Space Marines. We’ll explore Noise Marines more later in our listbuilding.

Between the changes to combat, the addition of Blast weapons, and the removal of Specialist Detachments, there’s a substantially smaller motivation to take large Possessed blobs now, who kind of operate like less dependable Intercessors for Chaos Space Marines, though there may be a different role we can consider for them. On the other hand, Chaos Terminators held their current costs on the base model and most relevant builds, making them a very interesting option now.

Fast Attack

Raptors are still awful, and thanks to a nonsensical points hike that appears to have forgotten they come with lightning claws equipped, Warp Talons are now incredibly overcosted. The good news is that with the changes to Overwatch and without the Host Raptorial, there wasn’t that big a need for them anyways. What you’re left with is Chaos Bikers, who went up 5 points each including the bike guns. The upside is that meltaguns came down 4 points, so taking two on a squad of bikes is a decent proposition (plus a combi-melta on the champion). Having a mobile firebase that can threaten vehicles in a pinch and double shoot is a solid prospect for Chaos Space Marines. You keep them cheap and cheerful on bolters and give the champ another combi-bolter.

Heavy Support

Chaos Space Marines Obliterators
Chaos Space Marines Obliterators. Credits: That Gobbo

There’s a lot to unpack in the Heavy Support slot. We’ve already talked about Defilers staying relatively cheap over in our Death Guard Faction Focus article but let’s reiterate that Defilers are still pretty cheap. You’re not going to love that they’re WS/BS 4+ even with Big Guns Never Tire but they certainly seem much better relative to their cost and with the right buffs might get there. Maybe. One thing that helps defilers is being PRETTY LARGE so they can be used to block off sections of the board. This is a double-edged sword however, as it also means they’ll be easily blocked-off by enemy units they can’t walk over, and can get bogged down by Difficult Ground.

Havocs are another interesting case. They’ve gone up 3 points per model, which is not good, but several weapon options got cheaper for Infantry, most notably the missile launcher (-5) and lascannon (-10), while the autocannon, heavy bolter, and reaper chaincannon stayed the same cost. Since Havocs can move and shoot with no penalty, this means that missile and lascannon havocs got functionally cheaper with no reduction in quality. It may be time to revisit anti-vehicle havocs as an option in the army, especially since they combine well with Endless Cacophony. 

Vindicators went up five points but still don’t provide enough firepower for their cost. Maulerfiends inexplicably went up 9 points despite becoming much worse. Obliterators went up 10 points per model which isn’t great given they were borderline before. The only other potential winner from a points standpoint in the codex heavy support choices is the Forgefiend, who went up only 5 points with a 5-point increase on Hades Autocannons and no increase on Ectoplasma cannons. Add to that the Big Guns Never Tire rule to keep him moving and shooting with no penalty and the addition of Blast to the Ectoplasma Cannon and suddenly these guys look a lot more viable, especially when flanked by a Lord Discordant.

On the Forge World side, Hellforged Deredeo and Leviathan Dreadnoughts both got massive points hikes, potentially as a result of perceived balance issues thanks to loyalist Leviathans being so good, but just as likely to be a result of last year’s Purge lists. Either way, it’s a heavy-handed blow that makes it really tough to justify taking either. The one Forge World pick I do think merits consideration here is the Hellforged Scorpius, whose Scorpius multi-launcher packs quite a punch with 3D3 S6 AP-2 D2 shots that can fire indirectly at 48″ while double-shooting if it remains stationary, plus it now has the Blast keyword to go along with it, making it a real beast against large units. It’s a powerful tool unlike anything else in our arsenal and while it went up 20 points the addition of Blast does enough to offset the increase that it’s worth looking at.


There’s really only one option here worth discussing and that’s the Heldrake. The good news is that the Heldrake got a significant boost, going up only 10 points but becoming much more deadly when armed with a Baleflamer that it can now fire in combat. The Hades Autocannon is also now a more reasonable option given that you don’t suffer a penalty for moving and shooting but I’d still stick to the baleflamer. Outside of Heldrakes, the Fire Raptor stayed at the same cost but is likely still too expensive to provide a ton of use.

Lord of War

There are two major options in the Lord of War slot for Chaos Space Marines and both of them got significantly better. The Kytan Ravager got updated rules text allowing it to walk over non-vehicle, non-monster enemy units when making a normal move, advancing, falling back, or charging, and it can now fire at enemy units it’s locked in combat with (before it could fire out but only if it was only surrounded by INFANTRY), and at only a 20-point increase, that’s a decent win for a unit that was already fairly solid. Meanwhile the Lord of Skulls went down 9 points in its base configuration with the Gorestorm Cannon, while only going up 25 with the Daemongore Cannon and 35 with the Ichor cannon. The Ichor cannon and the Skullhurler both gained the Blast keyword, giving them a little more value if you want to pay more points, and you will, because the Ichor cannon is still where it’s at. Among all the builds, ironically the one the points changes have left most intact is the triple Lord of skulls Suild, which is still plenty viable. The big downside of course is that putting three Lords of Skulls or three Kytans into a Super-Heavy Detachment is going to cost you 6 whopping CP. That leaves you with 6, assuming your next detachment’s CP is refunded due to having your warlord, and while that’s not a lot, it’s also not a lot less than you’d have been working with in 8th, either.

Dedicated Transport

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The same transports are still here, and they’re still just as bad or good as they were. The only winner of the bunch is the Terrax Pattern Termite Assault Drill, which went up only 2 points thanks to the increase to combi-bolters. It was already an underrated unit, able to deliver 12 models and stick around as a threat, and that value has only increased now that the game favors being able to hold objectives – something its T8 chassis helps support. It’s worth considering more in armies, especially if you were already thinking of bringing a Rhino.


The FAQs and GT Missions Pack

The FAQ didn’t really change much for Chaos Space Marines; you can’t cast Warptime on an Aircraft anymore but otherwise most of the changes were either things we’d already been working with or were to bring wording in line with 9th edition. Instead the biggest change came from the GT missions pack, which we outlined above: Specialist Detachments are no longer permitted in tournament play, which hurts several successful builds and hits Chaos Space Marines particularly hard.


How They Play

9th Edition changes a ton about how armies play, especially Chaos Space Marines. The ability to capture and hold objectives is much more important in 9th edition: Going first you’ll need to move quickly to take objectives and stay on them, and going second you’ll need a way to both clear an objective and capture it in the same turn and hold it through an opponent’s turn to ensure you can score. While generally the changes in rules for 9th do not favor melee-heavy armies, there’s still a valuable role for melee units, who have the potential to move onto an objective and kill everything else on it in the same phase. Board control is going to be the name of the game in 9th edition and that’s going to be tougher for Chaos Space Marines, but there are a few ways we can do this, either with large hordes that are resilient to morale or daemon engines that can shirk off larger amounts of firepower.

So what’s the play for Chaos Space Marines? Well, I think running monofaction Chaos Space Marines is going to be very challenging in 9th. The tables appear to have turned compared to 8th, where now Thousand Sons and Death Guard have the edge by virtue of having more durable units. There are still some good units here however, and just because something is more expensive doesn’t mean it’s unusable – Lords Discordant are still very good units, and were too cheap before anyways.

There are a few options I think we can consider based on the units we called out above:

  • Terminators
  • Havocs
  • Daemon Engines
  • Bikers
  • Berserkers
  • Large Cultist blobs

Thanks to the enduring power of the Lord Discordant, our Daemon Engine strategy probably has (many, scuttling) legs.

Additionally, a cursory examination suggests that Emperor’s Children, Alpha Legion, and Iron Warriors will have some real play this edition, with the changes to combat rules and the emphasis on board control and survivability. There may also be a role for some Night Lords units, since turning off auras is still powerful and stratagems like In Midnight Clad have use. The big challenge for us is that Berserkers and Havocs are both units with a single wound and a 3+ save, and so there’s a very real chance that they’ll only get to do their thing once before being killed. We can mitigate this some with transports and stratagems like Cannon Fodder (Iron Warriors) and Conceal (Alpha Legion), but for units that are pushed forward that won’t be an option, and opponents can find ways to single out our units as the only visible unit if we aren’t careful. So if you’re running pure Chaos Space Marines you may find that you often have to commit multiple units to holding objectives. Again, this is where I think Rhinos and Terrax-Pattern Termite Siege Drills can come in handy.

For the rest of the list, Terminators and Bikes can both offer more resilience, but we need to be mindful that in their un-upgraded states, these units can be a bit anemic – massive volumes of S4 AP 0 firepower often end up underwhelming and so we’ll want to supplement them with melta or plasma options to ensure they have a bit more bite. Of the Daemon Engines I’m inclined to like Defilers the most right now, but take that with the warning that I’ve always loved the idea of Defilers and wanted to make them work.

Night Lords Chaos Space Marines By Tyler "Coda" Moore
Night Lords Chaos Space Marines By Tyler “Coda” Moore

The HQ Problem

Something you’re going to notice when you start building lists in 9th edition is that fitting in the number of HQ choices you want is going to become a real issue. Unlike newer factions, every character choice in the Chaos Space Marines codex is an HQ, meaning that if you want to take more than three (the number of HQ slots in a Battalion), you’re going to need to get creative.

Combining Legions

Souping is a lot more difficult than it used to be in 8th and will cost us more. That said, there’s a clear upside in what we can gain from the inclusion of Thousand Sons and Death Guard, who can either bring superior psychic powers, durability, or both to the table. Admittedly the value proposition tends to move in the other direction: adding a Sorcerer to cast Warptime to a list heavy on Death Guard is likely to give you more value than adding a few units from either special legion to a Chaos Space Marines army.

Adding in Chaos Daemons

Likewise, we can still consider adding Chaos Daemons as well. There are a few reasons to do this. One is to boost combat-focused daemon engines using aura abilities from Heralds and the like, while another is to add Nurglings, who are Chaos’ best option for capturing objectives pre-game and helping mitigate the downside of going second. Daemons can also add a psychic punch, and their best use in 9th edition right now will be supporting Chaos Marines on the table. Some of the usual suspects are still good here, such as Heralds of Nurgle and Slaanesh.


Let’s Build Some Lists

Now that we’ve spent a long time talking about things that might and might not work, let’s put it into practice by building some lists and talking about how they might play. I’ve tested a couple of these but not all of them; some come from recommendations from other players and some are based on my experiences so far in my test games of 9th edition. I’m also going to try to hit on lists for several different legions so these might not all be on the same level of competitiveness, so if your response to some of these is “man why are they trying to make that legion work?” just skip ahead because that list isn’t for you.

Anyways, I’ll start with what I think are some of the more competitive concepts, then move on to trying to make certain chapters work. One more caveat for the pile: These are concepts moreso than final, fully optimized lists. One of the common issues I’ve noticed with 9th edition list building is that it’s really easy to end up with 50ish points left on your list and no good way to spend them, in part because of how points values have all been rounded up.

Triple Lord of Skulls is Still A Thing

So one of the oddest successful lists to pop up in 8th was the triple Lord of Skulls list, which is similar to running Chaos Space Marines with support from Knights, only you trade the Chaos Knights codex stratagems and warlord traits for the upside of a <LEGION> keyword and the ability to use buffs and stratagems from the codex, like the aura from a Lord Discordant. Following the new points update, the Lord of Skulls has gone up 35 points with the Ichor cannon and while you could get a cheaper loadout, you really want the ichor cannon, which has now improved thanks to the Blast keyword. Three of these bad boys will run you 1,395 points and 6 CP, so the question is how we fill the remaining 600 points, which will have to include our warlord so we don’t hemorrhage any more CP. After that, the question is which buffs you’re going to want from your remaining models. There’s not a ton of value to Alpha Legion here; instead I’d look more at Iron Warriors, who will give you better options for protecting your Troop choices and more options for the Lords of Skulls. Night Lords might also work, though I think Night Lords want more CP than this list gives.

Iron Warriors Super Heavy Detachment (-6 CP, 1,395 points)
Legion: Iron Warriors

LoW: Khorne Lord of Skulls w/Hades Gatling Cannon and Ichor Cannon
LoW: Khorne Lord of Skulls w/Hades Gatling Cannon and Ichor Cannon
LoW: Khorne Lord of Skulls w/Hades Gatling Cannon and Ichor Cannon

Iron Warriors Battalion Detachment (0 CP, 601 points)
Legion: Iron Warriors

HQ: Lord Discordant w/Baleflamer, Mark of Slaanesh, Relic: Insidium (200)
HQ: Master of Possession w/Mark of Tzeentch, Powers: Cursed Earth, Infernal Power, Warlord: Warp Lord (95)
HQ: Dark Apostle w/Mark of Slaanesh, Prayers: Benediction of Darkness, Blissful Devotion, 2 Dark Disciples (90)

Troops: Chaos Cultists x16 w/Autogun, Mark of Slaanesh (96)
Troops: Chaos Cultists x10 w/Autogun, Mark of Slaanesh (60)
Troops: Chaos Cultists x10 w/Autogun, Mark of Slaanesh (60)

This list is really about figuring out what’s going to support your Lords of Skulls and here I’ve gone with a more varied approach rather than try to fit a second Lord Discordant. The Lord Discordant is still the same threat he always was, enjoying an extra point of strength, toughness, and a wound, and helps nearby Lords of Skulls operate at BS 2+ all game. The Master of Possession and Dark Apostle help increase durability with Cursed Earth improving invulnerable saves and Benediction of Darkness making them harder to hit, respectively.

Then there’s the Cultists. The Cultists give you a bit of flexibility; they’re added objective holders that you’ll happily use to eat firepower that doesn’t go into a Lord of Skulls, and able to perform actions that you wouldn’t waste the big guys on. The larger squad will want to stay with the Dark Apostle to use his leadership, and in a pinch you can use Dour Duty to help keep them alive. For the most part though, you’ll want to save that and other stratagems like Iron Within, Iron Without and Unholy Vigor to keep your titans around, and Tank Hunters and Daemonforge to boost their output.

You could also consider swapping the Lords of Skulls for Kytan Ravagers; this will save you about 100 points and you’ll trade off one gun on each of the models and 6 wounds for increased mobility and the ability to step over enemy units and a degrading profile that’s worse. The upside is that another 100 points will let you fit a second Lord Discordant in to the list, but that may just not be what you want. It’s also worth considering a Chaos Lord in place of the Dark Apostle, where the ability to re-roll hit rolls of 1 may prove more useful than the -1 to hit. If you’re not running the Master of Possession or don’t feel like he needs to be Tzeentch, you can also make the battalion a Nurgle detachment, and put in some Nurglings to sit on objectives from the start of the game.

If you’re looking for an alternative take, here’s a list I tested earlier this week that did OK against Space Marines:

Iron Warriors Super-Heavy Detachment (-6 CP, 1,290 points)

LoW: Kytan Ravager (430)
LoW: Kytan Ravager (430)
LoW: Kytan Ravager (430)

Nurgle Battalion Detachment (0 CP, 706 Points)

HQ: Lord Discordant on Helstalker w/MoN, Baleflamer (200), Iron Warriors, Warlord: Siege Master, Relic: Insidium
HQ: Lord Discordant on Helstaker w/MoN, Baleflamer (200)

Troops: Nurglings x5 (90)
Troops: Nurglings x5 (90)
Troops: Nurglings x4 (72)
Troops: Nurglings x3 (54)

This totals 1,996 points and while I think it’s weaker than the Lord of Skulls list, conceptually what it’s doing is using the Nurglings to sit on/threaten objectives from the jump (and mitigate going second), while the Kytans trade some firepower and durability for movement. They’ll need to push more aggressively than the Lords of Skulls and take advantage of the ability to move over units. The Nurglings played well in my test game, but the list may be better with fewer of them and a Dark Apostle or Chaos Lord for additional support instead of one unit of Nurglings.

Emperor’s Children Noise Marines. Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Emperor’s Children

This list, proposed by Innes Wilson, focuses on what Emperor’s Children can bring to the table now that Possessed aren’t the threat they were. Specifically, leaning hard on Noise Marines as troops and the ability to outflank a large squad of them with Strategic Reserves, and the legion’s insanely good stratagems.

Emperors Children Battalion Detachment (-1 CP, 1,999 points)
Legion: Emperor’s Children

HQ: Sorcerer in Terminator Armour w/chainaxe, force stave (106), Powers: Prescience, Delightful Agonies
HQ: Winged Daemon Prince w/Malefic Talons (200), Warlord: Loathsome Grace, Power: Warptime, Relic: Armour of Abhorrence (-1 CP)
HQ: Dark Apostle w/2x Dark Disciples (90), Prayer: Illusory Supplication, Relic: Remnant of the Maraviglia

Troops: Noise Marines x15 w/Sonic Blasters, 2x Blastmasters (325)
Troops: Noise Marines x9 w/Sonic Blasters, Blastmaster (194)
Troops: Noise Marines x9 w/Sonic Blasters, Blastmaster (194)

Elites: Terminators x10 w/Combi-Plasma, 7x w/Chainaxe, 3x w/Chainfist (367)
Elites: Terminators x10 w/Combi-Melta, 7x w/Chainaxe, 3x w/Chainfist (367)

DT: Chaos Rhino w/Combi-bolter (78)
DT: Chaos Rhino w/Combi-bolter (78)

Innes: The idea to me is you only Teleport/Deep Strike the most relevant squad of Terminators (depending on the match-up), and use Warptime to move the others around to threaten specific parts of the board. They give you your on-board threat to stop people rushing objectives on you, allowing you to control the flow of the game. Most of the time that will be the combi-melta
Terminators getting the teleport nod since combi-plasmas have more range. This also means that you’ll want to chuck Combat Elixirs on the Plasma squad to give them T5 and boost their survivability.
The large squad of Noise Marines (15 models) is going to be placed in Strategic Reserves most games, where the unit is PL 14 at its current cost, allowing you to do so for only 2 CP (you could go up to 20 models and you’d only be 19 PL, or in a different list, do 15 + a chaos lord if you wanted character support). The other two squads sit in Rhinos, where the Dark Apostle can protect them by using Illusory Supplication to give them a 5+ invulnerable save until they need to jump out and do their thing. He can also pop the Remnant of the Maraviglia, which packs a nasty punch and lasts for a full battle round, giving you some extra oomph when firing off shots before death with the Music of the Apocalypse ability if your opponent is on the play.
Rob: We mentioned earlier that Noise Marines are an ideal choice for outflanking and this list really takes that to heart, putting a large squad in waiting and ready to pop in on turn 2 with Excruciating Frequencies and Endless Cacophony to do some real damage. There are a lot of units here that want the shooting buffs this list can spit out, but you don’t have to stack all of them on the same unit at once (though Endless Cacophony will usually want to pair with something) – look for when it makes sense to split them to maximize your damage output.


Alpha Legion

I’ll be the first to admit, I find the Alpha Legion boring. Their “it is I who is really behind you” shtick got old to me half a decade ago and their legion trait of “just being harder to hit all the time” made it strong in a way that was unappealing to me, since I’m generally more in the “Hear Me Out” school of army building. So how do the Alpha Legion fare in 9th? Well, their Legion Trait is still good, even if takes a small hit from the fact that on smaller tables it’ll be a little harder to stay more than 12″ away from an enemy unit. The Alpha Legion rules and stratagems are also very INFANTRY-focused, which means they can’t take great advantage of the way Daemon Engine points netted out. However, they also have some incredible bullshit they can pull thanks to the way stratagems in Ritual of the Damned and War of the Spider have been worded. Specifically, that the stratagems referring to RUBRIC MARINES and PLAGUE MARINES do not specify THOUSAND SONS or DEATH GUARD, meaning that if we have access to them, they can be used to buff Alpha Legion Rubric Marines and Plague Marines. Both of these are good, durable units capable of holding the objectives, and both also benefit significantly from the Forward Operatives and Renascent Infiltration stratagems. So let’s build a degenerate list around that.

Alpha Legion Battalion Detachment (0 CP)

HQ: Lord Discordant on Helstalker w/Autocannon, Mark of Slaanesh (195)
HQ: Sorcerer w/Force Stave, Mark of Nurgle (90), Powers: Warptime, Prescience, WARLORD: Warp Lord, Relic: Hydra’s Wail
HQ: Dark Apostle + 2 Dark Disciples w/Mark of Slaanesh (90), Prayer: Illusory Supplication

Troops Cultists x10 w/Autogun, Mark of Nurgle (60)
Troops Cultists x10 w/Autogun, Mark of Nurgle (60)
Troops Cultists x10 w/Autogun, Mark of Nurgle (60)

EL: Plague Marines x10 w/Bolter, Plague knife, 1x Blight launcher (190)
EL: Plague Marines x10 w/Bolter, Plague knife, 1x Blight launcher (190)
EL: Plague Marines x10 w/Bolter, Plague knife, 1x Blight launcher (190)

Death Guard Spearhead Detachment (-4 CP)
Plague Company: The Poxmongers

HQ: Winged DP Nurgle w/Sword (195), Power: Miasma of Pestilence, Extra Relic: The Epidemicyst Blade (-1 CP)

EL: Foul Blightspawn w/Plague sprayer (85)
EL: Foul Blightspawn w/Plague sprayer (85)

HS: Plagueburst Crawler w/ 2x Plaguespitters (170)
HS: Plagueburst Crawler w/ 2x Plaguespitters (170)
HS: Plagueburst Crawler w/ 2x Plaguespitters (170)

Here we go. This list has a ton of nasty tricks. The Plague Marines have the full support of the Alpha Legion Trait, plus they can use Forward Operatives to move forward before the game starts and Conceal to protect themselves if you have Cultists around. They also have access to Virulent RoundsPutrid FecundityTrench-Fighters, and Miasmal Afflictions from War of the Spider, making them an absolute nightmare to deal with if the opponent gets too close or thinks they can remove them with melee threats. The Apostle comes in with Illusory Supplication to give the Plague Marines a 5+ invulnerable save, while the Sorcerer can boost their accuracy with Prescience and help push them up the board and the Foul Blightspawn shoots planes out of the sky and uses his Loathsome Stench aura to make sure charging units fight last. And if once they are in combat, they can drop back and shoot again with the Feigned Retreat Stratagem.

Don’t sleep on the Cultists here, either. They can babysit rear objectives, screen for Plague Marines, or use Renascent Infiltration to zip around the board and perform Actions. The best for these is probably raising banners, but any Cultist squad performing an action immediately demands a response from the opponent, helping draw attention away from the army’s other threats.

On the Death Guard side, the Plagueburst Crawlers push forward spraying everything and get to sit around, not dying, while the Daemon Prince can give one -1 to be hit with Miasma of Pestilence. As Poxmongers they have access to the Bilious Bloodrush Stratagem, letting one Fall Back and shoot, and in a pinch you can use The Flux Abated to heal one of them for D3 wounds. Meanwhile the Daemon Prince is a major combat threat and hits at S8 with his blade thanks to the relic.


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Daemon Engines

Daemon Engines are some of the big winners in 9th edition thanks to a combination of new rules that benefit them and relatively small points increases across the board. There are a few ways to go with this, depending on whether you want to angle towards being shootier or fightier with your choices, though I’m going to explore both here. Now that the Soulforged Pack is no longer an option for helping shove your engines forward, you’ll have to play a bit slower strategy with regard to your large possessed mechanical sons.

My Daemon Engine Is Fight

This is something I’m still mulling around about testing – Defilers feel like they have some real potential post-points increase, particularly when paired with Lords Discordant to mitigate their low WS/BS.

Iron Warriors Battalion Detachment (0 CP, 1,490 points)

HQ: Lord Discordant on Helstalker w/Autocannon, Mark of Slaanesh (195)
HQ: Lord Discordant on Helstalker w/Autocannon, Mark of Slaanesh (195)
HQ: Winged Daemon Prince w/Malefic Talons, Mark of Slaanesh (200), Warlord: Daemonsmith, Relic: Fleshmetal Exoskeleton, Power: Warptime

Troops: Cultists x10 w/MoS, Autogun (60)
Troops: Cultists x10 w/MoS, Autogun (60)
Troops: Cultists x10 w/MoS, Autogun (60)

HS: Defiler w/Defiler Scourge, Reaper Autocannon, MoS (140)
HS: Defiler w/Defiler Scourge, Reaper Autocannon, MoS (140)
HS: Defiler w/Defiler Scourge, Reaper Autocannon, MoS (140)

FLY: Heldrake w/Baleflamer (150)
FLY: Heldrake w/Baleflamer (150)

Iron Warriors Patrol Detachment (-2 CP, 510 points)

HQ: Sorcerer w/Force Stave (90), Mark of Slaanesh, Powers: Prescience, Delightful Agonies
HQ: Master of Possession (80), Mark of Tzeentch, Powers: Cursed Earth, Infernal Power

Troops: Cultists x10 w/MoS, Autogun (60)

HS: Maulerfiend w/Lasher Tendrils, MoS (140)
HS: Maulerfiend w/Lasher Tendrils, MoS (140)

This list packs some heavy threat saturation with the trio of Defilers, Maulerfiends, Heldrakes, and Lord Discordants, and has ample support for them, with accuracy boosts from the Daemon Prince, Sorcerer, and Lords Discordant, resilience boosts from the Master of Possession and Sorcerer, and a speed boost as needed from the Daemon Prince as well. One of the list’s biggest issues that I’ve found in test games of 9th is that movement is going to be very tight with all these large bases – there’s a very real chance of having logjams as you try to maneuver around ruins toward the middle of the table, so that’s one area where it may be more helpful to place a Defiler in Strategic Reserves. Meanwhile, the Heldrakes can avoid that problem and give the list both a recon option and a way to deal with other flyers. Note that they can also go into Strategic Reserves, and this can be very helpful if your opponent has flyers they want to put in your deployment zone early on: If an enemy Aircraft is in your deployment zone, you can plop the Heldrake down within 1″ of your table edge and wholly within your deployment zone such that it’s closer than 9″ to the aircraft, helping you set up a 1-2 punch of baleflamer + charge to punish them for their hubris.

Otherwise, the Defilers and the Maulerfiends press forward with their supporting units and attempt to occupy the middle of the table, using a mix of Iron Within, Iron Without, Unholy Vigor, and Dour Duty to help stay alive and regain lost wounds. The list’s biggest knock is that it’s an easy pick for Bring Them Down, but has some potential play in While We Stand, We Fight, especially given how tough that Daemon Prince can end up being.

My Daemon Engine Is Shoot

Forgefiends have opened up new options for us, partly because of their mobility and partly because they went up all of 5 points base. So let’s see what a shooting Daemon Engines list might look like.

Iron Warriors Battalion Detachment (-1 CP CP, 1,535 points)

HQ: Lord Discordant on Helstalker w/Autocannon, Mark of Slaanesh (195)
HQ: Lord Discordant on Helstalker w/Baleflamer, Mark of Slaanesh (200), Warlord: Siege Master, Relic: Insidium
HQ: Chaos Lord in Terminator Armour w/Chainfist, Relic: Spitespitter

Troops: Cultists x10 w/MoS, Autogun (60)
Troops: Cultists x10 w/MoS, Autogun (60)
Troops: Cultists x10 w/MoS, Autogun (60)

HS: Forgefiend w/2x Hades Autocannon (135)
HS: Forgefiend w/2x Hades Autocannon (135)
HS: Forgefiend w/2x Hades Autocannon (135)

EL: Chaos Terminators x9 w/Combi-plasma, 3x Chainfist (333)

Iron Warriors Patrol Detachment (-2 CP, 465 points)

HQ: Sorcerer w/Force Stave (90), Mark of Slaanesh, Powers: Prescience, Delightful Agonies
HQ: Master of Possession (80), Mark of Tzeentch, Powers: Cursed Earth, Infernal Power

Troops: Cultists x10 w/MoS, Autogun (60)

HS: Hellforged Scorpius (235)

This list opts for a more shoot-first approach, using Plasma terminators to hold the middle of the board with support from Forgefiends and a Hellforged Scorpius. The Forgefiends want the help of two major buffs here: The +1 to hit from a Lord Discordant, and the re-rolls on hits and wounds from Infernal Power on the Master of Possession. The Chaos Lord here operates with the Terminators, helping occupy the middle of the table or dropping in behind the enemy depending on the match-up.


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

World Eaters

Next on our list of stops are the roided-up madmen of the Chaos legions: The World Eaters. The World Eaters have a few things going for them in this new edition. First and most importantly, they can take Berzerkers as Troops, giving them a much better option than Cultists and Chaos Space Marines. Berzerkers also bring some extra utility to the table in that while multi-charging is going to be less likely to happen thanks to new rules, the ability to fight twice helps ensure that even a small number of berzerkers can do significant damage and gives them the ability to move around enemy units and truly trap them.

World Eaters Battalion Detachment (-3 CP, 1,994 Points)

HQ: Chaos Lord w/Relic: Berserker Glaive, Chainsword (85)
HQ: Dark Apostle w/Disciples (90), Prayer: Illusory Supplication
HQ: Chaos Lord in Terminator Armor w/Combi-melta, Relic: Gorefather (106), WARLORD: Violent Urgency

Troops: Troops Berserkers x10 w/Chainaxe + Chainsword, Icon (190)
Troops: Troops Berserkers x10 w/Chainaxe + Chainsword, Icon (190)
Troops: Troops Berserkers x10 w/Chainaxe + Chainsword, Icon (190)

Elites: Terminators x10 w/Combi-melta, Chainaxe, Icon of Wraith (350), Red Butchers (-2 CP)
Elites: Helbrute w/Scourge + Fist (118)
Elites: Helbrute w/Scourge + Fist (118)
Elites: Helbrute w/Scourge + Fist (118)

Flyer: Heldrake w/Baleflamer (150)

DT: Terrax-Pattern Termite Assault Drill (136)
DT: Rhino w/Combi-bolter (78)
DT: Rhino w/Combi-bolter (78)

This list goes hard on the melee capabilities of World Eaters because that’s the whole point. You’re using Combi-melta Terminators and Berzerker-filled Rhinos for board control at mid-table and Helbrutes and a Drill filled with Berzerkers for removing enemies from objectives. The Helbrutes are real blenders, each having 10 attacks on the charge, and the Dark Apostle can help them and the Rhinos stay alive through your early turns with Illusory Supplication. If you want to deep strike the Terminators, that’s an option too and the Terminator Lord’s Violent Urgency trait will give you the best chance to close the gap on a post-teleport charge (about 66% with your icon re-roll), though it’s not so large a chance that I’d bank the game on it. This list is probably going to struggle a bit with T8 targets, and will probably need tweaking and refinement once it’s been tried out a few times.


The Black Legion

So do Abaddon and his Black Legion have a place in a 9th edition list? Probably. Though as the game’s focus has shifted toward board control, Abaddon’s value has once again shifted from “combat monster” to “able to turn hordes of cultists into annoyingly deep wound pools.”

Black Legion Battalion Detachment (+1 CP, 1,883 Points)
Council of Traitors (-1 CP)

HQ: Abaddon the Despoiler (220), Warlord: First Among Traitors
HQ: Sorcerer w/Force Stave (90), Mark of Slaanesh, Powers: Prescience, Delightful Agonies, Trait: Warp Lord
HQ: Dark Apostle w/Disciples (90), Mark of Slaanesh, Prayer: Illusory Supplication, Trait: Trusted War-Leader

TROOPS: Cultists x30 w/Mark of Slaanesh, Autogun (180)
TROOPS: Cultists x30 w/Mark of Slaanesh, Autogun (180)
TROOPS: Cultists x30 w/Mark of Khorne, Autopistol + CCW (180)

FA: Chaos Spawn x2 (46)

EL: Chaos Terminators w/Combi-plasma x10, 3x Chainfist, Mark of Slaanesh (367)
EL: Hellforged Contemptor w/Butcher Cannon, havoc launcher, Mark of Slaanesh (180)
EL: Hellforged Contemptor w/Butcher Cannon, Mark of Slaanesh (175)
EL: Hellforged Contemptor w/Butcher Cannon, Mark of Slaanesh (175)

Black Legion Auxiliary Support Detachment (-2 CP, 115 Points)

HQ: Chaos Terminator Lord w/Combi-Plasma, Mark of Nurgle, Nurgle Daemon Power Fist (115)

Cultist hordes are back, baby! Same idea as before, where Abaddon uses his 12″ morale aura to make the 90 cultists a complete slog to remove, while the Dark Apostle’s Illusory Supplication makes them more resilient and Delightful Agonies can make them even tougher and ensure that taking 30 cultists off the table in one turn (and preventing Tide of Traitors being used to bring one back) is much less likely. Meanwhile the Contemptors give the list a bit of punch against S8 and can march forward shooting without sacrificing accuracy and the benefits from Abaddon’s re-roll aura.

As with our Emperor’s Children list, the combi-plasma terminators make an appearance, ready to either deep strike behind enemy lines or make a stand mid-table, with support from our Nurgle-fisted Chaos Lord both for re-roll support and the ability to punch the crap out of heavier targets.


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Thoughts on Other Legions

Not every legion is going to have something super competitive to play with, especially if you’re rolling monofaction, but there’s probably at least a pretty good build for each legion that you can work with. Rather than work up another half a dozen lists, here are a few ideas on the remaining legions.

Word Bearers

If there’s a place where Possessed still have a place, it’s probably in a Word Bearers army. Revered Hosts lets Possessed up their damage output considerably, and there are still enough strength and to wound buffs to mulch any units you actually charge. Khorne works well for your Possessed here because of the ability to fight again but Nurgle is also a great choice, giving you access to Grandfather’s Blessings and Miasma of Pestilence as a psychic power option. It also ensures that you can summon Epidemius to boost your Possessed in ways similar to the buffs you’d get from Daemonkin Ritualists.

Night Lords

The Night Lords took a small hit with the loss of Specialist Detachments, since they were an interesting alternative to the Alpha Legion thanks to the In Midnight Clad Stratagem. There’s still a lot of value here however, particularly in the Vox Scream and We Have Come For You Stratagems, where both can be used to great effect on faster units. This is another area I think Possessed might still have some play, since a squad of 10 can trap a unit in combat and protect itself the following turn while using Prey on the Weak to get more accuracy on hit rolls. I also like the idea of testing double butcher cannon Contemptors with Night Lords, since the built-in morale modifiers will make those extra deadly when it comes to forcing morale tests on smaller and mid-size units that are normally immune thanks to their small numbers. Night Lords Havocs also have some real potential, since they can also make use of Prey on the Weak in the Shooting phase.

Red Corsairs

The ability to Advance and Charge combined with the silly amount of CP that Red Corsairs can generate means they have the ability to pull of some incredibly silly combinations, but most of it’s going to depend on combining the Red Corsairs with another legion or faction, since without Veterans of the Long War they just don’t have that much to spend their CP on, especially without the Soulforged Pack to help slingshot daemon engines across the table. I don’t think Red Corsairs Helbrutes are good enough to make this worth trying to build around, and there isn’t enough buff-wise for Red Corsairs Possessed to have a strong case. Lord Discordants who can Advance and Charge are still pretty great, however. This still seems like a battery for another army, and a Battalion running 3 MSUs of Chaos Marines and Huron as your Warlord nets you an extra relic and +4 CP, which isn’t too shabby if you can make it work with a detachment of something else – Maybe a Jump Pack Sorcerer to Warptime push Mortarion around?

Creations of Bile

The newest legion trait added to the Chaos Space Marines list, Creations of Bile are the other area you’d consider running Possessed, since upping them to 8″ movement and S6 is a decent deal and using Bile to give them +1 T or +1 A on your first turn helps maximize their value at no extra points cost. They’re also great targets for Monstrous Visages and Dermal Chitination. You’ll want to make sure you have at least a Master of Possession to support the Possessed, and will probably want a Sorcerer and Dark Apostle as well, necessitating two detachments. Helbrutes are also great here, where double-scourge Helbrutes with 9″ movement can attack at S9 with their scourges – a big improvement – and get a whopping 11 Attacks on the charge.

The Purge

Missile launcher Havocs might have some play for these guys? They also combine hilariously with Death Guard, since they can take advantage of all of the Death Guard abilities that kick in and punish enemy units within 1″ (like Miasmal Afflictions) to shoot those units using the All Life is Worthless Stratagem, which could be pretty brutal.


More to Come

That wraps up Faction Focus: Chaos Space Marines. There’s certainly more to talk about with regard to the faction and how they’ll shape up, and there’s more work to be done on our end. In the meantime, stay tuned for more Faction Focus articles and if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.comOr if you’re a Patron, head over to our Discord server and chat with us.