The Thousand Sons are a traitor chapter of Space Marines. Through a series of unfortunate events, their chapter is extremely diminished in personnel. The majority of their Marines have been reduced to glorified Roombas, suits of armor animated by the spirits of their owners, while the suits themselves are filled with nothing but piles of dust. The remaining Psykers within their ranks lead these dust machines into combat. Also accompanying these Marines are packs of Angry Goat birdmen (because in true Tzeentchy fashion, even goats have beaks). If you’ve ever wanted to kill things with mind bullets, but preferred blue armor to gray, or if you’ve ever secretly wanted to hollow out your friends and replace them with soulless automatons, then take note – the Thousand Sons are for you!
Now that you understand where they come from (Oh yeah, that is a desert planet too by the way, so feel free to queue up Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” while you read), I’ll get into why we are here. I am going to talk about strategies and tactics for playing the Thousand Sons (Tsons). I’m going to be talking primarily about playing them in a competitive, tournament setting, mostly highlighting the new 125pt meta, but as with other Kill Team Tactics, we’ll also cover Commanders.
- Roster Versatility: Tsons are able to field different styles of lists: They can spam cheapish bodies, they can run a hyper elite list, or fall somewhere in the middle.
- Damage Efficiency: Tsons are able to deal damage in every phase, they have units with good melee capabilities, good shooting, and access to up to 2 psybolts in the Psychic phase.
- Durability: Tsons are surprisingly durable, every model has an invulnerable save and T4. All your Roombas (Non Sorcerer Rubrics/Scarabs) get +1 to their armor save (not invulnerable) if the weapon attacking them has a damage profile of 1. This greatly increases their durability vs many weapons in the game (both shooting and melee.)
- Army Tactics: The Tsons tactics have some very strong tactics, some of which that can reduce the variance of their offense.
- Unit Versatility: Tsons units individually are not very versatile generally. Goats are terrible at best in shooting but great in melee, Rubrics are great with shooting but terrible in melee. The Sorcerers are always good with using Psybolt, but getting them into combat is always a gamble. Scarabs are the only true unit that is slightly versatile, they are great with shooting, and ok in melee.
- Easy to make mistakes: The way that psybolts work in targeting the closest visible, you can hurt your gameplan easily. You can end up killing an enemy model that is combat with you (and protecting you from being shot) or killing the only model that your gunner can see. Using psybolts smartly is part of learning to play this team.
- Slow: Besides the Goats and Aspiring Sorcerer, the team moves a bit slow.
All is Dust: Thousand Sons models with this ability add +1 to their armour saves (not invulnerable saves) against 1 damage weapons. This is a handy ability to have, and will help you weather small arms fire and attacks from hordes pretty well. But you’ll still eat it when someone levels a plasma gun your way. Additionally, models with this ability ignore the -1 penalty to hit for moving and firing Heavy Weapons.
Brotherhood of Psykers: Two models can Manifest Psybolt each round and the range of Pysbolt is increased by 3″. This basically ensures that you’ll want to have a Scarab Occult Aspiring Sorcerer on your big roster at least, since the Aspiring Sorcerers are your only non-Commander sources of Psybolt in the faction.
Transhuman Phsyiology: Thousand Sons models with this ability ignore hit penalties from the first flesh wound. Because this relies on having a flesh-and-blood body apparently, only your Aspiring Sorcerers and Commanders have access to it. This makes it even less useful/reliable than what Marines normally get, since it won’t help you avoid penalties on your flesh-wounded dust-filled suits of armor.
Death to the False Emperor: On 6+ to hit in the Fight phase vs Imperium, generate another hit roll. Goats don’t have this rule, but the rest do.
Favored of Tzeentch: 5+ Invulnerable save on Rubrics.
Aura of Dark Glory: 5+ Invulnerable save on Goats, the only save they’ll ever really take.
Thousand Sons Weapons
Inferno Boltgun: Rubric Marines’ standard weapon. Like a normal bolter in that it’s Rapid Fire 1 Strength 4 1 damage, but significantly better in the AP department since it is AP-2. It’ll absolutely shred units without invulnerable saves.
Warp Flamer: Any Rubric Marine has the option to take one of these instead of an Inferno Boltgun. These are functionally flamers, but with AP-2, again making them much more deadly.
Soul Reaper Cannon: Your lone Rubric Gunner can replace their Inferno Boltgun with this, a 24″ heavy bolter on ‘roids. The soulreaper has 4 shots at AP-3. (Are you seeing a theme with bonus AP yet?)
Inferno Combi-bolter: Two Inferno boltguns strapped together. Twice the shots. Very nasty.
Heavy Warp Flamer: Remember the Warp flamer? This is just a heavy flamer, but AP-2. Still great.
Hellfyre Missile Rack: A worse version of the Cyclone Missile Launcher, with only 24″ range and D3 damage, but still S8 AP-2, and an add-on weapon to other options.
Auto Pistol: S3 with no AP, only available on the lesser punchy Goats.
Inferno Bolt Pistol: I think you may have figured out that this is a bolt pistol with AP-2.
Warpflame Pistol: A flamer pistol with D6 shots, S3, AP-2. Like a flamer, it automatically hits, with a 6″ range.
Tzaangor Blades: AP-1 and a bonus attack (so, better than a chainsword).
Chainsword: Gives a bonus attack, no AP.
Power Sword: Same as other factions, Strength: User, AP -3. Against marines you’ll almost certainly be constantly reminded that these are S: User, because they’ll continually fail to wound.
Force Stave: A weapon that gives +2S, AP-1, D3 Damage. Your sorcerers carry these. They are scary.
Thousand Sons Units
Tzaangors (Angry Goats)
Tzaangors come in two varieties equipment wise: Either dual Tzaangor blades (do this) or auto pistol and chainsword (not this). Tzaangors are able to be Zealot, Combat, Medic, and Veteran specialists. One Tzaangor can bring a sweet horn, which adds 1 to advance and charge rolls within 6″ and is able to be a comms specialist. So you can bring a horn blower to DOOT DOOT your gunners to victory.
The Twistbray is a Sergeant equivalent that boasts an extra attack and can be a Leader. Because you will typically want to keep your Sorcerers moving forward, having a Twistbray Leader on your roster is usually going to be the smart play.
Rubric Marines (Death Roomba and Mind Bullets Part 1)
Here is your first source of Psychic domination. The Aspiring Sorcerer comes with Transhuman Physiology, because he is actually alive. The Aspiring Sorcerer can also be a leader. Though note that because your Sorcerer is one of your only two sources of Psybolt casting (the other being the other Sorcerer option), you’ll want to be moving this guy forward during the game so he can position himself to kill things with Psybolt. This usually means that your preferred leader is a Twistbray, who is cheaper and more easily hidden free of consequence. (Or a Scarab Sorcerer, because he is twice as durable.)
Next you have Rubric Marines and Rubric Marine Gunners. Rubric Marines can sport either an inferno bolter or a warpflamer, and one can take an Icon of Flame (beginning of Psychic phase, roll 1 D6, on a 6, nearest enemy within 12″ regardless of LoS takes 1 mortal wound, TROLOLOLOLOL). Rubric Marines can be Combat, Demolitions, and Veteran Specialists. Gunners can be Heavy, but we’ll talk on that now.
Rubric Gunners can take a Soul Reaper Cannon. Because of the All is Dust rule you already ignore the moving and shooting heavy penalty, so you’re going to naturally get less out of making one of these a Heavy Specialist, so consider making one a Demolitions specialist instead. You lose the ability to give them a 5th shot with Extra Bullets, but gain the +1 to Wound against obscured models and the ability to give the gun an additional +1 to wound, ensuring that you’ll be wounding almost anything you point the gun at on a 2+.
Scarab Occult Terminators (Death Roomba and Mind Bullets Part 2)
The Terminators went ahead and brought a live one, so there is a Scarab Occult Sorcerer (also with Transhuman Physiology) that is helping power his Terminator Roomba buddies. The Sorcerer can be a leader, comes stock with an Inferno Combi-bolter and force stave. Kind of a bad ass. You can take a non-gunner Scarab Occult Terminator, but there is no reason to really, unless you want to take a Hellfyre rack on a non-gunner for some reason (you won’t). Gunners can swap their combi-bolter for either a Heavy Warpflamer or Soul Reaper Cannon. Basically doing this turns it into a DAKKA machine, and two guns basically means having the potential for 2 injury rolls. Scarab Terminator Gunners and non-Gunners both come stock with a power sword, for those moments when your opponent wants you to stop shooting. (Side note: Some of the community at large considers these overpriced for their value, and at 100pt games they are probably right, but at 125, oh boy are these good). Scarabs can be Combat, Demolitions, and Veteran Specialists. Gunners can be Heavy, and if they have a Soul Reaper Cannon and Hellfyre Rack, you should probably make them heavy (exactly counter to what we said for Rubric Gunners) because with More Bullets, both guns get an extra shot.
Note that if you aren’t playing with Commanders, the only way you can have a second Psybolt caster is by taking an Aspiring Sorcerer and a Scarab Terminator Sorcerer, so it’s worth having one of each on your roster for when you need to double up on mind bullets.
Thousand Sons Commanders
Thousand Sons Kill Teams have access to two commander options: Exalted Sorcerers and Tzaangor Shamans.
Starting at 81 points, the Exalted Sorcerer gives you a more elite, more expensive option to pursue. Also perfectly capable of taking the Leadership Specialism, and has the option of taking a Disc of Tzeentch instead of walking. This gives him 12″ movement and the ability to FLY, plus the Disc gives 1 extra attack. The Sorcerer’s big advantage is knowing and being able to manifest two powers per turn. He gets 2 from the Discipline of Tzeentch. This gives them access to Gaze of Fate, which you’re going to want all the time, and either Bolt of of Change or Treason of Tzeentch, both of which can be difficult to cast, but this will be the one time that you want to consider using Power of the Cabal to push out hard-to-cast powers. The Exalted Sorcerer is an expensive commander but brings a lot of utility, and given the number of missions where Commander death means a loss, he’s also a much tougher option than the Tzaangor Shaman.
This guy is about half the cost of the Exalted Sorcerer, but still has access to the Leadership keyword. He starts at 40 points for the level 1 model but only goes up to 95 tops. The Shaman comes riding a Disc of Tzeentch, which gives him 12″ Movement and a 5+ invulnerable save, helping boost his longevity. He’s also a Psyker with access to a single power (so Gaze of Fate), and worth considering in a mission that doesn’t depend on keeping your Commander alive – with only a 6+ save/5+ invulnerable, he’s likely to die very quickly once the action starts.
Thousand Sons Tactics
- Vengeance for Prospero (1 CP) – For when you need to kick a puppy. Use at the start of the Fight phase to cause Death to the False Emperor to trigger on a 4+ instead of a 6+ against Space Wolves models. Which will definitely, totally happen and not be something you forget about. D
- Veterans of the Long War (2 CP) – Use in the Shooting or Fight phase to give a Rubric Marine or Scarab +1 to wound when hitting Imperium. Potentially useful but very situational. C
- Guided by the Past (1 CP) – Here is part 1 of the sauce. Use when you shoot or fight with a model to re-roll hit rolls with a single model against enemy models that have already shot or fought this phase. A useful bonus if you’re up against a bunch of readied models, or forced to fight last. Re-rolling hits is a solid bonus and your models are tough enough to tank a few hits before responding. B+
- Guided by the Future (1 CP) – The sauce, part 2. Like guided by the Past, only even more useful because you can use it to target units that haven’t been activated in the Shooting or Fight phase yet. Even better, you can use both to get all the re-rolls you need. Remember that Scarab Occult Terminator with two guns? This is his time. A
- Sorcerous Focus (2 CP) – Use at the start of your turn in the Psychic phase on a Psyker within 2″ of at least two other models in your Kill Team. You get to add 6″ to the range of that model’s Psybolt psychic power until the end of the phase. This was marginally more useful before Brotherhood of Sorcerers became a rule but now it’s particularly unnecessary since your psybolts are already 21″. D
- Cycle of Slaughter (2 CP) – Use at the end of the Fight phase on a Tzaangor. That angry goat can immediately fight again. This is always going to be helpful to have as an option. B
- Malicious Familiar (1 CP) – Use at the end of the Movement phase to pick an enemy unit within 1″ of your Leader. Roll a D6; on a 4+, that enemy takes 1 mortal wound. Cheeky way to pull your leader out of the fire. B+
- Immovable Automaton (2 CP) – Use when a non-Sorcerer Rubric Marine or Scarab Occult Terminator from your Kill Team is taken out of action. Roll a D6; on a 4+ that model takes a flesh wound instead. a 50/50 shot to not lose a model? I’ll take that all day on something as expensive and valuable as a Terminator. A
- Hungering Warpflame (1 CP) – Use in the Shooting phase when you shoot with a warpflamer or warpflame pistol. Until the end of the phase you can roll 2D6 and drop the lowest to pick the number of attacks made. Current controversy because Tactic cards from the Scarab box includes Heavy Warpflamer as well. Technically it was replaced when Annual came out, but more than likely that’s a typo. If it matters to you, ask your TO (or opponent in non tournament play) if they are cool with it. A
- Teleportation Strike (1 CP) – Up to 3 Terminators in reserve (unlikely to be more than 1 unless you are playing more than 125pts) can pop up more than 5″ from enemy models. Great way to drop in a Heavy Warpflamer.
- Webway Infiltration (2 CP) – Use at the end of the Movement models to take up to 3 units from your kill team in Reserves and put them anywhere on the battlefield more than 5” away from enemies and within 2” of each other. This is an immensely useful ability to have, basically giving you additional Teleport Strike for non-Terminator models. This is money for dropping multiple important units where you need them. A
- Ritual Slaughter (1 CP) – Use in the shooting/fight phase, if exactly 9 enemy models have been taken out of action during the battle. You get to re-roll failed wound rolls for your team for the rest of the phase. Very powerful, but this is never going to come up, and when it does, you’ll have already wiped out 9 models on your opponent’s kill team so this won’t matter in the slightest. F
- Power of the Cabal (2 CP) – Use when you’re about to attempt a psychic test to get +1 for each unshaken friendly model within 3”. 2 CP is a lot to get use out of this. More helpful for Commanders who have access to the Discipline of Tzeentch, but otherwise it could be useful for pushing out boosted Psybolts. B
- Boon of Tzeentch (1 CP) – Used in the psychic phase when you roll a 9 for a psychic test with your Commander. You get to manifest an additional power. This will rarely come up, and it’s only active in games where you have a Commander. C
- Soul Flare (2 CP) – Use when a Commander Psyker from your kill team eats it. Before they go, roll a D6 for each enemy unit within 9” of them. On a 6, the model you roll for suffers a mortal wound. Pretty big radius to spite your enemies with, but again only useful in Commander, where you’ve usually lost when your commander dies. C
- Empyric Translocation (1 CP) – An Exalted Sorcerer (Commander) tactic that allows you to teleport models on the battlefield to within 3″ of your Exalted Sorcerer’s Location. It’s a very handy trick to have, and when combined with Teleport Strike and Webway Infiltration really changes the way Thousand Sons play. A
- Architect of Fate (3 CP) – Another Exalted Sorcerer (Commander) tactic that allows you to un-ready all enemy models within 9″ at the start of the Shooting phase. Very expensive but insanely powerful against the right circumstances, and if you’ve readied appropriately, can lead to some blowout turns. B+
- Bestial Prophet (1 CP) – A Tzaangor Shaman (Commander) tactic that gives him an aura that gives Tzaangors +1 to hit rolls. It’s a huge bonus if you’re running Tzaangor-heavy teams with a Shaman Commander. A
Thousand Sons Commanders have access to the Discipline of Tzeentch, which has three powers. All three of them are pretty good, but Treason of Tzeentch and Bolt of Change can both be tricky to cast reliably. Fortunately, you have access to Power of the Cabal and this is really the one time it’ll be worth using.
- Gaze of Fate (WC 6) – Re-roll a single Advance roll, charge roll, Psychic Test, Deny the Witch test, hit roll, wound roll, saving throw, Injury roll, or Nerve test before your next psychic phase. Basically gives you a free CP re-roll, which is going to be incredibly useful almost all the time. A
- Treason of Tzeentch (WC 8) – Pick a visible enemy model within 12″ and roll 2D6. If you beat their Ld value, you can treat them as a model from your kill team in the following Shooting and Fight phases. This is a lot of hoops to jump through, and you’ll fail more often than not against elite teams, but it can be just devastating when it works. B+
- Bolt of Change (WC 9) – The closest visible enemy model within 12″ takes D3 mortal wounds. This is one also has a big cost to use, but gives you a second way to toss out mortal wounds, meaning that with this and Psybolt castings, you can end up doing a lot of damage. B
Playing Thousand Sons
Thousand Sons is a fairly malleable team as I said before, because you have the fairly cheap Goats and super durable Roombas. This allows you to create a Horde style team with mostly Goats, a hyper elite team with Roombas, or a combination of the two. Personally I find running a combination generally the best overall.
I know I said this at the beginning, but the key mechanic that truly needs to be mastered for any Tsons player, is lining up your Psybolt(s). Since these happen right after all moves are done, you can really mess up your opponents plans (or yours for that matter). For example, if your leader is safe in combat (because your opponent has a bunch of guns that could shoot him otherwise) and your Psybolt target happens to be the one model your leader is in combat with, and you happen to kill that enemy model with that Psybolt, guess whose leader is about to have a bad day? On the other side of that, is when you opponent throws a nasty melee threat into your line, if you can position your Sorcerer(s) to make that melee threat the closest visible, there is a good chance you kill that model before you make it to the fight phase.
Next I’ll talk about our Wombo Combo: A Scarab Terminator Gunner Heavy specialist with Soul Reaper Cannon and Hellfyre Rack, who has a Goat horn comms friend. Now this is LoS dependant, but can truly tear a hole in your opponents team. You use More Bullets and either Guided by the Future or Past, and give the gunner the comms bonus. You now have 5 Soul Reaper shots and 3 Hellfyre shots, at +1 to hit (So 2s, 3s, or 4s depending on long range and obscurity), rerolling hit rolls. Since these are 2 different weapons, you fully resolve one before the other, so you can tear up some targets with the Soul Reaper, and then either finish them off with the Hellfyre or nuke something else with it. You will take some people by surprise with this (unless they read this article I suppose).
As far as leaders are concerned, I prefer to have a Twistbray leader and a Scarab Sorcerer leader on my roster, this allows you to flex between a leader that you mostly hide (Goat) and one that is really durable (PEW PEW Mind bullets).
As I said in the Unit review, Goats with Tzaangor blades are just superior to pistol chainsword, because the -1AP is better in almost every fight. However this feeds into a “problem” with how the team plays. Rubrics are terrible in combat (Sorcerer’s excluded) but shoot well, Tzaangors end up without shooting, but are great in combat. This leaves you in a Scenario where each of your units ends up as a Scalpel unit and not a swiss army knife. This is a good thing and a bad thing. Good news is it allows you economy of actions, you know Goats need to fight and Rubrics need to shoot, so it doesn’t take much thought to make that flow. The bad news is, it also gives your opponent this information, they know to fight Rubrics in melee and shoot Goats. Scarabs tend to be the exception to the rule here, in that they are ok in melee and great at shooting. So generally if I am only going to bring a couple guns, I try to make one of them a Scarab instead, simply because your opponent generally doesn’t want to fight them in melee.
In regards to Mind Bullets, you always want to bring 1 Sorcerer in a game at a minimum. 2 Sorcerers are ideal, but sometimes not practical.
Sample Roster (125pts in mind)
- Scarab Sorcerer Leader
- Scarab Gunner Heavy w/ Soul Reaper, Hellfyre rack
- Scarab Gunner Veteran w/ Heavy Warpflamer, Hellfyre rack
- Aspiring Sorcerer w/ Inferno Bolt pistol
- Rubric Gunner Demo w/ Soul Reaper
- Rubric w/ Warpflamer
- Rubric w/ Inferno Bolter, Icon of Flame
- Twistbray Leader
- Twistbray Zealot
- Tzaangor Comms w/ horn
This is 18 of 20 of a roster, so a couple slots left for you to add in your own flavor, but this is the majority of what I run on a roster. Enough Goats to give you a mini horde if you wish, and enough Rubric/Scarab options to make an elite team, or a combined arms list. I like to run the Scarab with the Heavy Warpflamer in arena, because auto hitting in overwatch is super nice, and more than likely to be needed.
Playing Against Thousand Sons
As with Grey Knights, the Psychic phase is the big thing that sets Thousand Sons apart, and if you aren’t careful, it’ll wreck you. One key thing to remember is that Psybolt must target the closest enemy model, and it goes off before the Shooting phase (or Fight phase). That means that the Thousand Sons player will have the first chance every turn to kill something, but they can only do so with the Sorcerer and it can target a single model based on positioning. So the good news is that you have some control over that. So keep this in mind and place disposable models out front to catch those mind bullets as they come your way.
As described earlier in the playing Tsons section, Rubrics don’t want to be in melee (besides the Sorcerers), so you want to tie them up in combat if you can, and shoot Tzaangors to death. If you can line up kill shots on Sorcerers, do so if not just because it takes some of the teeth out of the Tsons player, but don’t risk your model dying to a psybolt before it can act to kill the Sorceror. Make sure you have a psybolt sponge in the way first.
Painting and modelling
We covered how to paint the Rubric Marines of the Thousand Sons in our HTPE: Thousand Sons article. Stay tuned for a future article on painting Tzaangors.
That wraps up our look at the space mummy kill teams of Warhammer 40k. Or at least, one of the two space mummy factions. Thousand Sons can be interesting and rewarding to play if you can learn the ins and outs, even if they aren’t necessarily the strongest faction (although in Kill/Hold primary format, they are looking pretty good). As always, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.