9th Edition Faction Focus: Death Guard

An article by    Competitive Play Gaming Tactics Warhammer 40k        0

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 Death Guard.

First off, a special thanks to noted Death Guard Chaos Lord Don Hooson for helping with this article and providing feedback and commentary, as well as the brutal list he provided (jump to lists, below).

Death Guard never really got a chance to enjoy their new treats in 8th edition. War of the Spider came out less than a month ago during a time when no one was playing any games, and 9th will be out before anyone had a chance to really open things up with the new rules in a competitive environment. Which leaves us with the double task of having to evaluate how Death Guard will play with the new edition, new points, and rules from War of the Spider. There’s a lot going on and a lot of changes to manage.

7/27 Edit: Changes from the War of the Spider FAQ have been included here.

 

The Points Update

In case you missed our points overview of the changes in the Munitorum Field Guide, you can find those here. We rated Death Guard “Moderate winners.” I saw some people who were confused and upset about this rating. But here’s the thing: Everything went up and a lot of Death Guard units – particularly many of those that just received major boosts in War of the Spider – either got marginal increases or went up by rate. Plague Marines went up only 2 points per model, Blightlord Terminators went up 2 points per model (+1 for the model, +1 for the gun), Blight Haulers got cheaper, and none of the various HQ and Elite characters save the Winged Daemon Prince went up by more than 10 points. Mortarion also got off light, with only a 20 point increase. Possessed went up 3 points per model and while Death Guard Possessed lack a lot of the support that Chaos Space Marine Possessed get, they come with a 5+ invulnerable save and can use Cloud of Flies to prevent units from shooting them and Miasma of Pestilence to further reduce incoming fire. Yeah, Poxwalkers and Cultists are expensive now but they went up at rate and Poxwalkers haven’t been played much since the ability to go above starting models was nerfed. Death Guard have needed to focus on their Astartes elements for a while and War of the Spider didn’t do much to stop that transition.

Credit: TheChirurgeon

I’ve said this already but what keeps Death Guard from being the biggest winners are the hits to Plagueburst Crawlers – they go up 30 points per model base, and Plaguespitters go up another 3 points per model. The latter is offset by Heavy sluggers now being free, but it still hurts. Entropy cannons now look like a slightly more effective option, but a lot of their potential value in our War of the Spider review was predicated on the notion that you’d have 6 turns to shoot them over. So far my game experiences with Death Guard in 9th have suggested that PBCs still aren’t accurate enough to make entropy cannons work. The downside is that now at their cost there’s a much more serious question on whether PBCs are worth it now that you can use Contaminated Monstrosity to create other insanely strong units.

The other big hit is to the Hellforged Leviathan Dreadnought, which didn’t need to cost as much as the superior Relic loyalist version but thanks to being bumped up in points and sharing a weapon option with the also-nerfed Hellforged Deredeo, is now stupid expensive in its shootiest configuration. So we’ll want to look elsewhere for gun platforms. The good news there is that with the ability to move and shoot heavy weapons without penalty and the ability to bless our resin lads with Disgustingly Resilient, we have more options than ever. A particular option worth exploring now is the Chaos Decimator, which only went up 10 points and can take a pair of Butcher Cannons, which went up 10 points each, bringing the model to 170 total points. However unlike other daemon engines it has BS 3+ and comes with a 5+ invulnerable save before you apply Contaminated Monstrosity for 1 CP.

Deathshroud Terminators also got a major points hike (+7ppm) for what appears to be no reason, as did Foetid Bloat-Drones (+16), which is a shame because I think Mortarion is a bit more playable now on the smaller tables and it’s probably an oversight that Deathshrouds went up so much, but it’s not the end of the world to have him eschew the protection of a few ablative wounds for 150 points.

With the new points it feels like a lot of list building will be focused on raw unit costs but the real jam is how we can build around the units whose points increases were marginal enough to make them a steal. Let’s look at those:

Potential Bargains After the Update

Let’s do this by FOC slot. I’m not going to list everything, but I’ll cover off some notable adjustments that I think can be capitalized on.

HQ

  • Lord of Contagion (+5)
  • Chaos Lord in Terminator Armour (+0)
  • Daemon Prince of Nurgle with Wings and Hellforged Sword (+15) or Talons (+20)
  • Malignant Plaguecaster (+5)
  • Sorcerers (+2) and Termiantor Sorcerers (+5)
  • Typhus (+10)
  • FW: Necrosius the Undying (+0)

TROOPS

  • Plague Marines (+2)

ELITES

  • Blightlord Terminators (+2)
  • Noxious Blightbringer (+5)
  • Foul Blightspawn (+8)
  • Plague Surgeon (+5)
  • Possessed (+3)
  • FW: Chaos Decimator (+10 base; Butcher cannons are +10 each if you want to go that route)

FAST ATTACK

  • Myphitic Blight-Haulers (-2)
  • FW: Greater Blight Drone (+11)

HEAVY SUPPORT

  • Defiler (-2 points with the Scourge instead of heavy flamers, +2 with the heavy flamers)
  • Chaos Predator (+5 before sponsons, -5 on the version with lascannon sponsons)

DEDICATED TRANSPORT

  • Terrax Termite-Pattern Assault Drill (+2)

LORD OF WAR

  • Mortarion (+20)

That’s a pretty big list of potential bargains to work with, and one of the reasons I’m bullish on Death Guard after the points update. Most of the army’s core is still there, and we’ve got good options we can work with if we want to include a Patrol of Chaos Daemons as well, since Nurglings went up 0 points and Poxbringers and Bilepipers only went up by 5 each. There’s certainly more than enough here for us to experiment with, and War of the Spider has given us a ton of new tools to play with that buff units that were previously not seeing much play. Now that we suddenly have a real use for Noxious Blightbringers and Plague Surgeons, it’s a whole different ballgame.

And on top of this, don’t sleep on the Plagueburst Crawler – yes, it’s more expensive but it’s also still really good and it was arguably undercosted before. There’s no reason to avoid taking them in the new game when they’re still a huge chore to kill and have become even more deadly thanks to the new Big Guns Never Tire, Blast, and firing in combat rules.

 

The FAQs

The original Codex FAQ didn’t do much for or to Death Guard; the faction gets a decent buff for Cloud of Flies now being formally separate from the Look Out, Sir rule, meaning that a unit protected by Cloud of Flies can no longer be shot by snipers, whose rules only allow them to ignore the Look Out, Sir protections and not those of other rules. (you can read more about the changes in our FAQ guide here).

The War of the Spider FAQ added a few wrinkles, removing the ability to use Contaminated Monstrosity on Possessed (this always seemed a little wonky, but it’s a big nerf), and fixing the rules for Plague Company Warlord Traits and Relics. Now any character can take a Plaguee Company Warlord Trait instead of one from the Codex (not just your warlord), and you can now give the Plague Company relic to a character if Mortarion is your Warlord. That’s a helpful boost that gives more reasons to take Mortarion as your warlord.

 

How They Play

Death Guard are well positioned for 9th edition in a lot of ways: Their ability to hold objectives and be difficult to dislodge with their Troops choices makes them an absolute pain to beat when they have the first turn. They have solid mid-range shooting that benefits from the new smaller table size. They also have additional buffs like the Noxious Blightbringer’s invulnerable save aura and the Plague Surgeon’s upgraded Narthecium to give them better re-rolls on Disgustingly Resilient, making them even harder to dislodge. They have the ability to mix in melee and psychic powers as well, ensuring they can play in all phases of the game and still sweep enemies off objectives and push through with their own units, though an inability to fight twice will limit this a bit. And they haven’t been historically dependent on stacking a bunch of modifiers to hit or wound, either on the offensive or defensive side, so the 9th edition caps on to hit and to wound modifiers don’t hurt them as bad as other armies.

The one area they’re going to struggle is movement – slow movement speeds mean that even going first Death Guard may struggle to push forward onto objectives set on the middle of the table and going second you’ll have to put in a lot more work to push through enemies who’ve beaten you to the punch. This is another area where Death Guard Possessed might finally see some play, since their 7″ movement is very relevant in an army that otherwise struggles to go further than 5″. This is also an area where the Terrax-Pattern Termite Assault Drill may have a chance to shine once more, having remained relatively untouched by the new points update and being more than capable of wrecking an opponent that doesn’t deal with it immediately. It’s also below the 13W threshold for Contaminated Monstrosity, if you want to give it the extra boost.

You’re also still going to struggle with heavy armor, where the lack of a lot of high-strength, high-AP shooting is going to make taking down those vehicles either a melee or weight-of-fire proposition. The smaller tables help with this a bit, but it’s still not super difficult for opponents to stay out of a Blightspawn’s range if they want to. There has never been a better time to give Blight Haulers a try, though.

Adding in Chaos Daemons

Souping is a lot more difficult than it used to be and with the changes to Plagueburst Crawlers I’m a lot less in love with the idea of bringing Heralds. 9-point Plaguebearers are fine, I guess but given that Nurglings didn’t go up at all and give you a way to be on objectives early and for free, they give you real upside regardless of whether you’re going first or second, and the Nurgling Infestation Stratagem from Engine War gives you plenty of incentives to take larger squads. I think there’s a real value in exploring a list that explores a Chaos Daemons Patrol detachment that runs a minimum group of Nurglings and Heralds to buff Daemon Engines and sit on objectives from turn 1, potentially negating any challenges you’d have had from going second if you lose the roll-off.

Credit: RichyP

Secondary Decisions

While we still don’t have access to the GT packets, we can talk about the secondary objectives in the Core Rulebook and how they benefit/apply to Death Guard.

Purge the Enemy

I don’t think Death Guard have a real hard time killing things if they put their mind to it, so these are fine except for Slay the Warlord, which I generally think is a trap in most games. You’ll probably always want one of these, tailored to whatever your opponent is bringing.

No Mercy, No Respite

Death Guard will do very well at clearing weak hordes, which can make Thin Their Ranks a good pick, though I tend to think the army is well-suited for Attrition with the right builds, since scoring Kill More is something Death Guard should reliably able to score against most armies (except for Custodes and Knights and the like). While We Stand, We Fight is another interesting one that I think you can take in certain circumstances – it’s going to primarily depend on what your three most expensive units are and how much you can protect them. If it’s going to be applied to three Plagueburst Crawlers, I don’t think it’s worth taking; if you have some Winged Daemon Princes and a large squad of Blightlords, that’s a much better proposition.

Battlefield Supremacy

These are generally much harder to score than the other categories for Death Guard, owing to your best units not being particularly fast and wanting to keep them marching together to overlap buffs and auras. Linebreaker is probably the most readily achievable of them but you aren’t going to score it on turn one, meaning you’ll need to show up turn 2 in the opponent’s deployment zone and stay there for all four turns to max it out. A drill full of Plague Marines gives you the two units you need to make this work, but a savvy opponent can screen you out, making it risky against hordes and Space Marine Infiltrators. Domination is potentially very achievable on the right map, but it’s a lot harder to score if you aren’t going first and you need to hold more than half the objectives for all five turns to max it out.

Shadow Operations

I don’t love these for Death Guard generally. Both Investigate Sites and Repair Teleport Homer require you to be in specific locations further afield; these are not ideal for Death Guard movement. The former requires you to deploy more aggressively and likely won’t be something you can do all five turns anyways and the latter requires you deep strike a unit into the enemy deployment zone, only to then not do anything. With Poxwalkers and Cultists likely to be sitting out of better Death Guard lists, actions aren’t something we really want to be using plague marines or more expensive units for, and turning off auras for a turn usually won’t be an option. Which means that we’ll likely look elsewhere, but between Purge, No Mercy, Supremacy, and the mission options, you’ll usually be able to find three very good options to work with.

Warpcraft

A good Death Guard army is always going to have Psykers so Abhor the Witch is out and I’m just not convinced you can afford to train a Malignant Plaguecater or Sorcerer’s time on doing Psychic Actions instead of casting a much-needed buff. Maaaaaaaybe Psychic Ritual could work here on a well-protected Herald of Nurgle since you’ve already got Miasma of Pestilence on Death Guard psykers. You still need to get him up the table to make it work but if you’re running Daemons, there’s no way you aren’t running one of the Nurgle heralds.

 

Credit: Zuul the Cat

Let’s Talk Lists

So what does this look like when we’ve applied it and used it to start building lists? There are a number of different ways we can go with this army right now, so we’ll explore several different avenues, looking at both monofaction and soup lists.

Don Hooson’s List

I asked noted Death Guard player Don Hooson what he was thinking for Death Guard in the new edition and what kind of lists he was testing. Don’s known for innovative lists and what he’s come up with this time was no exception.

Death Guard Supreme Command Detachment (0 CP)
LoW: Mortarion (warlord) – 490

Death Guard Spearhead Detachment (-3 CP)
Plague Company:The Inexorable
HQ: Daemon Prince of Nurgle with Wings, Hellforged Sword – 195
FA: Foetid Bloat Drone, Heavy Blight Launcher, Plague Probe – 140
FA: Foetid Bloat Drone, Heavy Blight Launcher, Plague Probe – 140
HS: Defiler, Defiler Claws, Battle Cannon, Reaper Autocannon, Defiler Scourge – 140
HS: Defiler, Defiler Claws, Battle Cannon, Reaper autocannon, Defiler Scourge – 140
HS: Defiler, Defiler Claws, Battle Cannon, Reaper autocannon, Defiler Scourge – 140
HS: Plagueburst Crawler, Plagueburst Mortar, Heavy Slugger, 2x Plaguespitters – 170
HS: Plagueburst Crawler, Plagueburst Mortar, Heavy Slugger, 2x Plaguespitters – 170
HS: Plagueburst Crawler, Plagueburst Mortar, Heavy Slugger, 2x Plaguespitters – 170

Total: 1,895 points – Reinforcement Points: 105

There’s a lot going on in this list, so let’s break it down. At its core, it’s all about threat saturation, and putting too much on the table for an opponent to be able to effectively deal with it all. Death Guard made out just fine in 9th with the points changes, and so while this list takes advantage of some of the relatively untouched units (winged DP, Mortarion, Defilers), it’s also not afraid to lean in on the units that are still great even after the increase – namely, the Plagueburst Crawlers.

This list starts by spending 3 CP on detachments, then another 6 CP on Contaminated Monstrosity for its three Defilers turn them into insanely tough murdermonsters, leaving the list with 3 CP to work with before the game starts. Although you won’t know if you’re going first until after deployment, if the opponent’s army looks like it can wipe Mortarion off the board turn 1, then the remaining 3 CP can be spent to put Mortarion into Strategic Rerserves, ensuring he’ll be able to survive and show up on turn 2.

This doesn’t leave the list with a lot of CP to operate with, but the idea is that it doesn’t really need it; it’s not banking hard on Plague Company stratagems or even those in the Death Guard or War of the Spider books and the change to the Command Re-roll Stratagem makes reserving CP for re-rolls much less valuable. Plus, the army will still generate an extra 5 CP to use over the course of the game to work with.

You may have noticed that the list is holding 105 Reinforcement Points; that’s the exact cost needed to summon Epidemius. Epdemius brings a powerful tool the battlefield with his Tally of Pestilence ability, which triggers bonuses for NURGLE DAEMONS (i.e. your daemon engines) as you kill enemy units. In particular, you want this to buff your Foetid Bloat-drones by +1 Toughness (5 kills) as quickly as possible, and you’ll want Epidemius on the table turn 1. That’s where the Winged Daemon Prince comes in; he’ll spend turn 1 summoning Epidemius – roll 3 dice for this one, since taking a couple of mortal wounds is trivial and you need Epidemius on the table. This also ensures that you can out-range the Daemon Prince, since once Epidemius shows up they’ll each gain the Look Out, Sir protection (Corrode: don’t 100% bank on this one surviving an FAQ. Rob: If it doesn’t, just be sure to keep an extra model back to screen your characters post-summoning). The Toughness boost is the target, but all of the other benefits are pretty great too.

The list takes The Inexorable as its Plague Company; this gives it a solid tool box of tricks to work with – in one-off games you can give the Daemon Prince the Ferric Blight warlord trait if you don’t think you’ll need the CP to put Mortarion in reserves. The Unholy Essence and Ferric Miasma Stratagems both provide some utility, and the Leechspore Casket Relic on the Daemon Prince can help keep the faction’s vehicles around and causing problems. Some of this is meta-dependent; if the meta pushes hard toward threats that can body Mortarion turn 1, then buying the extra Warlord Trait is likely to be off the table since you’ll need to save 3 CP for pre-game decisions.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Nurgle Soup

Something I’ve been mulling over is how to approach souping in Chaos Daemons with Death Guard; I think adding Nurglings gives the army some nasty tricks with holding objectives before the game begins and there’s plenty of value in bringing Epidemius along.

Death Guard Battalion Detachment (1,580)
Plague Company: The Poxmongers

HQ: Daemon Prince of Nurgle with Wings, Hellforged Sword (195), Warlord, Relic: Ironclot Furnace
HQ: Necrosius the Undying (135)

Troops: Plague Marines x10 (180) 
Troops: Plague Marines x5 (90) 
Troops: Plague Marines x5 (90)

FA: Myphitic Blight Haulers x3 (300)

EL: Foul Blightspawn (85)
EL: Foul Blightspawn (85)

HS: Defiler, Defiler Claws, Battle Cannon, Reaper Autocannon, Defiler Scourge (140), Contaminated Monstrosity (-2 CP)
HS: Defiler, Defiler Claws, Battle Cannon, Reaper Autocannon, Defiler Scourge (140), Contaminated Monstrosity (-2 CP)
HS: Defiler, Defiler Claws, Battle Cannon, Reaper Autocannon, Defiler Scourge (140), Contaminated Monstrosity (-2 CP)

Chaos Daemons Patrol Detachment (414)

HQ: Epidemius (105)
HQ: Poxbringer (75)

Troops: Nurglings x5 (90)
Troops: Nurglings x5 (90)
Troops: Nurglings x3 (45)

Total: 1,994 points

This one’s still a work in progress and I’m testing it as I go. I like the Blight Haulers and the Defilers as “Moneyball” type options that give the list both tough threats to push up the table and threaten vehicles. Because the list retains 6 CP to start with, it can afford to play a bit more with the new War of the Spider options and the Daemons stratagems (including Engine War), which means it can use the Nurgling Infestation Stratagem to make the little blighters stupid hard to kill. Since the Daemon Prince doesn’t have to summon Epidemius, he can fly forward and stay with the Defilers, giving them a 4+ invulnerable save with the Ironclot Furnace on top of the Disgustingly Resilient and his re-roll 1s to hit aura. The Blightspawns can hang out and protect the plague marines and shoot jets out of the sky if someone is trying to make Engage on All Fronts work. The list also packs a big psychic punch with Necrosius and has ample Deny the Witch attempts to throw out, but it may be better to save the points and put in a Plaguecaster, especially if I’m going to be tweaking the list.

On that note, where this list needs some work – I’m not sure on the Plague Marine allocations, and it almost certainly has too many Nurglings; I originally started with two units of 6 and that feels more correct, but then I found myself with 20 points left over and 3 Nurglings felt better than two blight launchers as options. As I play this, I’ll evaluate the Plague Marines and Nurglings and figure out if they really need to be there, and if the Poxbringer is the right option as well, though I like him to do Psychic Actions in a pinch as I mentioned earlier.

 

Credit: TheChirurgeon

Plague Marines

War of the Spider gave us a ton of great new tricks for Plague Marines and with only a +2 point per model increase in the points update, it’s worth looking at a build that can max out the effectiveness of Plague Marines and really go hard on what they can do. I think this list is worth testing, but it’ll need a lot of tweaks.

Death Guard Supreme Command (490)

LoW: Mortarion (490), Warlord

Death Guard Battalion ()
Plague Company: Mortarion’s Chosen Sons

HQ: Daemon Prince of Nurgle with Wings, Hellforged Sword (195), Warlord
HQ: Chaos Lord w/chainsword, Combi-bolter (103)

Troops: Plague Marines x9 w/Bolter (162)
Troops: Plague Marines x9 w/Bolter (162)
Troops: Plague Marines x5 w/Bolter (90)

EL: Plague Surgeon w/Balesword, (65) Alchemical Narthecium (-1 CP), Hypertoxic Tinctures (-1 CP)
EL: Foul Blightspawn (85)

HS: Plagueburst Crawler w/Plagueburst Mortar, Heavy Slugger, 2x Plaguespitters (170)
HS: Plagueburst Crawler w/Plagueburst Mortar, Heavy Slugger, 2x Plaguespitters (170)
HS: Plagueburst Crawler w/Plagueburst Mortar, Heavy Slugger, 2x Plaguespitters (170)

DT: Terrax Pattern Termite Assault Drill (136), Contaminated Monstrosity (-1 CP)

The list starts with 9 CP and that’s plenty to play with; dump one of the 9-model squads into the drill with the Chaos Lord, Plague Surgeon, and Blightspawn so they can pop up wherever you need them and immediately jump out and plug something completely full of lead with an assist from the Veterans of the Long WarRelentless VolleysVirulent Rounds, and Overwhelming Generosity as needed to delete anything. You probably don’t need all of them at once, so mix and match as needed.

Beyond that, the Plagueburst Crawlers power up the table aided by the Daemon Prince and the rest of your plague marines can move to objectives. Mortarion can either start on the table if it looks like he’ll survive or be put into Strategic Reserves.

This list also needs a lot of work and testing; I’m not entire sure what the right mix of Marines is and whether it should be just one big squad and 2-3 smaller ones or having two big squads is fine. It’s also just as likely that I should be taking more plasma guns so I have better AP options and adding a second Foul Blightspawn to help deal with flyers and other threats. A lot of this will depend on how the meta falls out; I’m not nearly as confident with this list as I am the Nurgle Soup one because going second the Plague Marines on foot will struggle to reach objectives. On the other hand, I like the chances of just rushing up with the PBCs and the Drill squad will be an absolute menace with their ability to pour buffs into their bolters.

 

Outlook: Strong

Overall Death Guard are very well-situated to handle the transition to 9th. I actually disagreed with Wings on his “moderate winners” assessment–I’m much more bullish on the faction and I believe that they’ll be an absolute menace with their ability to hang on to objectives and control a much smaller board. They got off very light after the points update and have a ton of new tricks, plus a host of competitive options thanks to the ability to meaningfully soup in Daemons without giving up much.

That wraps up our Death Guard Faction Focus — but stay tuned as we have more to come over the next two weeks – we’ll be trying to cover every major faction with multiple authors weighing in. If you missed one, check out our 9th edition Warhammer 40k landing page (use the link on the nav bar on the right side of the screen), 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 and want to talk lists and specifics, hop on our Discord and give us a shout!

 

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