Arks of Omen Faction Focus: Chaos Space Marines

With a new batch of rules updates comes the need to revisit the strategies and tactics of each faction. Today Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones is looking at the traitor legions and how the changes to the points, dataslate, and army construction rules affect them.

Welcome to a new year and a new system as both 2023 and Arks of Omen are upon us! Following in the footsteps of last year’s WarZone: Nephilim, the new Arks of Omen mission pack again brings dramatic changes to the 40k metagame with new army construction rules and mission secondary updates. Along with Arks of Omens, the simultaneous release of the 2023 Munitorum Field Manual and 2023 Q1 Dataslate adds further complexity to the rapidly evolving landscape. To help make sense of it all our team has been working hard on a new series of Faction Focus articles.

In this article Robert “TheChirurgeon Jones will talk about what’s new and what it means for the Chaos Space Marine legions.

Note: We’ll be covering Emperor’s Children separately in a future Faction Focus article, so stay tuned for that later this week. Additionally, World Eaters are no longer part of the Codex: Chaos Space Marines family, and as such will not be covered here either.

The Competitive Context

Chaos Space Marines have one of the largest books of 9th edition, and its subfactions offer a wide spread of options that cover the entire competitive spectrum. On the upper end you have the Emperor’s Children and Creations of Bile, who can consistently put up top 4 results and have a good shot at winning events, and on the other end you have the Alpha Legion, who try their very best. Because of this, it makes evaluating the faction and its outlook a challenge – there is a pretty wide range of strategies you could employ. That said, there are several common units that make up the faction’s competitive core, and pretty much every faction has been affected by the changes. On the whole it’s not clear that Chaos Space Marines needed the kind of massive nerfs they ate, and outside of the adjustments made to Creations of Bile and Flamers of Tzeentch the other changes were a mix of unnecessary and off the mark.

The faction still has some play, but as we’ll see, pretty much got worse across the board.

What Changed

There are a few major changes that implement CSM directly in Arks and a large number of smaller changes that affect everyone which also have notable impacts on the faction.

Arks of Omen

  • Force organization changes mean that players can trivially drop Troops from their lists altogether
  • Chaos players can now double up on Daemon Princes and Chaos Lords for 1 CP, a much better deal than before
  • The loss of the Supreme Command Detachment means Abaddon will eat an HQ slot (and a Chaos Lord slot) in an Arks of Omen Detachment. Note that thanks to the recent FAQ, he has a special carve-out to ensure he can be taken in non-Black Legion detachments
  • Changes to the ally rules prevent taking more than a Patrol of Chaos Daemons
  • Taking an allied detachment now costs 0 CP, making it much less painful to bring along daemons or chaos knights
  • Strategic reserves do not cost CP
  • You can include a Lord of War in your main detachment, meaning that you can now easily field a single Lord of Skulls or Kytan with legion traits. Depending on your trait, that’s a very solid improvement.

General Secondaries

  • Assassination, Grind Them Down, and Behind Enemy Lines now grant a bonus CP for completing the secondary with a Troops unit involved, which is fantastic news for Noise Marines in EC armies, but less great for Cultists.
  • Psychic Interrogation increased cast value by one (to 5). In addition, the interrogating psyker must be visible from an opponent’s character, making it a bit more difficult to get
  • Behind Enemy Lines now scores 3 VP for one unit
  • Engage on All Fronts no longer has a center of battlefield restriction and now scores all four table quarters if a unit is more than 3” from another table quarter (instead of 6”).

Chaos Space Marines Secondaries

  • Alpha Legion: The action for Infiltrate and Subvert now finishes at the end of the turn, making it suddenly a very useful secondary that is difficult to stop.
  • Black Legion: The action for Despoil Dominions now finishes at the end of the turn, also making it a secondary worth looking at.
  • Emperor’s Children: You now score points for getting any kills with Emperor’s Children units, making this secondary a straight fire pick for the legion.
  • Iron Warriors: This secondary improved but still sucks.
  • Red Corsairs: This action also finishes at the end of your turn now, making it easier to score.
  • Night Lords, Word Bearers, and Creations of Bile: These secondaries didn’t change.
  • World Eaters – These secondaries appear to be aligned with the upcoming Codex: World Eaters, and as a result only two are playable. That said, what we do have isn’t bad.

Credit; Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Q1 2023 Dataslate

  • Aircraft now start the game in reserve and cannot drop bombs in a turn they fly off the board. You already weren’t taking Heldrakes, which were the kind of unit that wanted to start on the table, but now you definitely won’t be taking them. The upside is that Harpies and Sunsharks are less effective than they were.
  • Armor of Contempt has been removed in all instances. This is insanely bad for the faction, which relaunched with the benefits of AoC already in place and at its heights wasn’t dominating the meta, particularly without Flamers in the mix (another unit which was nerfed). The loss hurts CSM quite a bit and makes some of the more durable units way more vulnerable to small arms fire.
  • Imperial Guard no longer ignore the Indirect Fire weapon modifiers. So we got that going for us, I guess. Not going to matter much when Kasrkin pump you full of mortal wounds, though.
  • Harlequins and Tyranids got nerfs that make them easier to deal with.
  • Space Marines and Adeptus Mechanicus got major buffs that make them much harder to deal with.

Chaos Space Marines

  • Creations of Bile now only fight on death on a 4+, making them less of a nightmare to fight against. Of the changes to Chaos Space Marines, this was the lone necessary adjustment. Creations of Bile were a bit too overtuned and needed to be brought into something that was still very good, but not insane.

2023 Munitorum Field Manual (MFM)

  • Abaddon the Despoiler +50 points
  • Mark of Slaanesh +5 points (to 20 points)
  • Chaos Terminators +3 points per model
  • Plague Marines went down to 19 points per model (-2)
  • Defilers and Tanks get free wargear options
  • Every wargear option on Legionaries has been made free except for the Balefire Tome, meaning you can freely kit out your basic troops.
  • Helbrutes had all of their wargear except the Twin Lascannon (+10) made free, reducing the cost of pretty much any build you’d take.

What It Means – Army Construction and Secondaries

If there’s a silver lining in this mess, it’s that the faction’s secondaries improved on the whole, making them a bit better at scoring than they used to be and giving them options that allow them to step out form under the shadow of Banners, while the changes to some Secondaries to provide extra CP are a big help to armies relying on Troops, particularly Emperor’s Children. And for the other legions, Legionary upgrades became free outside the Balefire Tome, making them a bit more attractive as a Troops option, though the better news there is that you don’t have to take them any more.

The rest of it, though? Well it’s not great. Generally all of your options are more vulnerable than they were, and units that could previously hold ground reliably at midtable will struggle a lot more when they can be laid low by AP-1 firepower. This struggle is particularly real for Chaos Terminators, who in addition to losing Armour of Contempt now cost 3 points more per model for the trouble and will dock you an extra 20 points on top of that for the Mark of Slaanesh you wanted to give them. This is what we generally refer to in my neighborhood as “a shit deal.” Here’s the thing, though: These are still the most durable infantry in your army and so you’re kind of stuck taking them if you want a unit to occupy that role. They’re still useful, but you’ll likely find that now they rely a little bit more on Illusory Supplication than they did. You’re still going to take them.

The changes are less brutal on Possessed and Warp Talons, who become more vulnerable to AP-1 and AP-2 firepower but having a 3+ save with a 5+ invulnerable save means that attacks hitting with AP-3 and better are functionally the same deal as before, putting you on that 5++. Possessed are still very nasty and having AP-2 weapons is better than it used to be so you’re still going to take them too.

Rubrics are still as good as they were in the army but at 19ppm (pre-mark), Plague Marines now look like a better option in the Traitor Legions, coming in with some incredibly nasty melee output and some real durability at T5 with the Mark of Nurgle. That said, depending on your legion Chosen may still just be a better option.

The points hike to Abaddon is also a big blow – Abaddon’s one of the strongest single units in the game and while a points hike wasn’t a massive surprise it also hits Black Legion armies particularly hard without doing nearly as much to Emperor’s Children and Creations of Bile, armies that could more easily stand on their own two feet without him.

On the whole Chaos Marine armies don’t figure to look much different in Arks; they may be more likely to take Daemon allies now that the CP cost is lower, and they’re more likely to rely on 1-2 cultist units with no Legionary units, but the general units the army relies on – Terminators, Possessed, Lords Discordant, Daemon Princes, and Masters of Possession – haven’t changed.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Matchups

The matchups for CSM have changed quite a bit and there only ones which have improved are the ones against the armies that just got wrecked by the update. That said, it’s not all that hopeless for the Chaos Space Marines – they were a powerful faction before, and while they aren’t top tier, they aren’t in the dregs, either.

The Positive

  • Going up against Tyranids and Harlequins is much easier. Both armies ate massive nerfs and neither one is better off than they were before, and both are likely to be worse off on the balance than Chaos Space Marines. The downside is that I don’t think you’ll see nearly as many of these armies.

The Negative

  • Nearly every other matchup got worse, even against the armies which also lost Armour of Contempt. Heavy shooting armies are much more capable of just shooting Chaos Space Marines off the table, and Orks and Adeptus Mechanicus armies both represent bit, but different, problems for the army to overcome.
  • The Astra Militarum are probably the biggest issue here since they combine insanely good shooting with the ability to screen out deep strikers and fast melee units and a nasty melee counterpunch. If they’re taking mortars they can also easily pick cultists off backfield objectives and force you to hold those objectives with more important units.
  • World Eaters are going to be a terrible matchup for melee-focused CSM armies. They’re just plain better at melee in most respects, their cultists can trade up into some of your basic units, and they’re not afraid of your shooting.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Some Lists

It’s rough for Chaos Space Marines out there and arguably Word Bearers are now the best option outside of Emperor’s Children for competitive play, owing to a strong legion trait, inbuilt defense against mortal wounds, and a secondary objective that’s relatively easy to score. Creations of Bile also still have play, since the inbuilt boost to Movement and Strength coupled with an advance-and-charge Stratagem are a potent combo.

Michael McConkey’s Word Bearers List

Michael piloted this list to a 1st place, 5-0 finish at the Bastion Games Ulster Warlords event in Northern Ireland, notching a win over Genestealer Cults in the finals. Michael’s list appears to have an error – he is not paying points for the icons on the Possessed. However the list can likely do without either them or a pair of power fists on the Terminators (the icons do have value for the Word Bearers’ secondary objective, though scoring it with Possessed isn’t likely to be something you do most games).

++ Arks of Omen Detachment (Chaos – Chaos Space Marines) [80 PL, 1,555pts, ] ++

Arks of Omen Compulsory Type: Elite
Legion: Word Bearers

+ HQ [34 PL, 610pts, -5CP] +

Daemon Prince with Wings [11 PL, 180pts, -1CP]: Gift of Chaos: G’holl’ax, the Decayed (Hellforged sword [10pts]), Malefic talons, Mark of Nurgle [1 PL, 15pts], Wings [2 PL, 35pts], Psychic Powers: Prescience, Putrid Miasma, Smite

Dark Apostle [6 PL, 115pts, -1CP]: Relic: Epistle of Lorgar, Mark of Slaanesh [1 PL, 20pts], Soultearer Portent, Illusory Supplication, Blissful Devotion, Accursed crozius, Bolt pistol, Frag & Krak grenades [WARLORD]

2x Dark Disciple: 2x Close combat weapon

Lord Discordant on Helstalker [10 PL, 190pts, -2CP]: Aspiring Lord: Flames of Spite, Baleflamer, Bladed limbs, Bolt pistol, Frag & Krak grenades, Gifts of Chaos: Gorget of Eternal Hate, Impaler chainglaive, Mark of Tzeentch [1 PL, 15pts], Mechatendrils, Techno-virus injector

Master of Possession [7 PL, 125pts, -1CP]: Aspiring Lord: Daemonic Whispers, Bolt pistol, Staff of Possession, Frag & Krak grenades, Mark of Slaanesh [1 PL, 20pts], Psychic Powers: Mutated Invigoration, Pact of Flesh, Smite, Delightful Agonies

+ Troops [2 PL, 50pts] +

Cultists Mob [2 PL, 50pts] 9x Chaos Cultist w/ cultist firearm [45pts]: 9x Cultist firearm, 9x Frag & Krak grenades . Cultist Champion [5pts]: Frag & Krak grenades

+ Elites [37 PL, 765pts, -1CP] +

Chaos Terminator Squad [19 PL, 420pts, -1CP]: Mark of Slaanesh [1 PL, 20pts]
1x Terminator Champion [41pts, -1CP]: Trophies of the Long War: Black Rune of Damnation, Chainfist [5pts], Combi-bolter
1x Chaos Terminator [41pts]: Chainfist [5pts], Combi-bolter
6x Chaos Terminator [41pts]: Combi-bolter, Power fist [5pts]
2x Chaos Terminator [36pts]: Accursed weapon, Combi-bolter

Master of Executions [4 PL, 65pts]: Axe of dismemberment, Bolt pistol, Chaos Undivided, Frag & Krak grenades

Possessed [7 PL, 140pts]: Chaos Icon, 4x Possessed [112pts]: 4x Hideous mutations . Possessed Champion [28pts]: Hideous mutations

Possessed [7 PL, 140pts]: Chaos Icon, 4x Possessed [112pts]: 4x Hideous mutations . Possessed Champion [28pts]: Hideous mutations

+ Fast Attack [7 PL, 130pts] +

Chaos Spawn [1 PL, 25pts] Hideous mutations

Venomcrawler [6 PL, 105pts]: 2x Excruciator cannon, Soulflayer tendrils and claws

++ Patrol Detachment 0CP (Chaos – Daemons) [21 PL, 445pts] ++

Chaos Allegiance: Tzeentch

+ HQ [9 PL, 175pts] +

Daemon Prince of Chaos with wings [9 PL, 175pts] 2x Malefic talons, Wings [2PL, 35pts], Daemonic Allegiance: Tzeentch, Psychic Powers: Bolt of Change, Infernal Flames, Smite

+ Troops [3 PL, 70pts] +

Blue Horrors [3 PL, 70pts] 10x Blue Horror: 10x Coruscating flames

+ Elites [9 PL, 200pts] +

Flamers [6 PL, 125pts] 4x Flamer [100pts]: 4x Flickering flames . Pyrocaster [25pts]: Flickering flames

Flamers [3 PL, 75pts] 2x Flamer [50pts]: 4x Flickering flames . Pyrocaster [25pts]: Flickering flames

++ Total: [101 PL, 0 CP 2,000pts] ++

Michael’s list is still running Flamers post-nerf and it’s not hard to see why – the unit still has value even if it needs to roll to it, being a fast, durable unit that can still put out a nasty number of shots while getting buffs from the Daemon Prince. On the mortal side of things, the list runs the standard pair of Possessed units and the block of 10 Slaanesh Terminators with the Black Rune, ready to be given Delightful Agonies and Illusory Supplication and healed via Pact of Flesh. The Terminators cost more and die a little faster but they’re still a nasty unit to deal with, and if you come at them and miss you’re going to pay for it dearly.

There’s also a Gorget of Eternal Hate Lord Discordant and a G’holl’ax Daemon Prince here, and the list is playing Herohammer pretty hard between the lot of them, getting everything it can out of the HQ slots it has. This means it has a lot of heavy hitters to throw at the enemy, and plenty of mobility with the flamers and characters which can move 12″.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Ares Lüthi’s List

Ares offers a hilarious new spin on Creations of Bile that brings Skarbrand in a Daemon patrol to lock enemies in combat with the many Possessed. This list finished 2nd at the Bembel Clash event in Hirzenhain, Germany, going 4-1.

++ Arks of Omen Detachment (Chaos – Chaos Space Marines) [82 PL, 1,530pts, ] ++

Arks of Omen Compulsory Type: Elites
Legion: Creations of Bile

+ HQ +

Daemon Prince with Wings [11 PL, 180pts, -2CP]: 5.-6. Twisted Regeneration, Death Hex, G’holl’ax, the Decayed, Hellforged sword, Mark of Nurgle, Stratagem: Relic, Stratagem: Warlord Trait, Warlord, Wings

Lord Discordant on Helstalker [9 PL, 175pts, -2CP]: 1. Flames of Spite, Aspiring Lord, Baleflamer, Chaos Undivided, Gifts of Chaos, Techno-virus injector, Ul’o’cca, the Black

Master of Possession [6 PL, 105pts]: Chaos Undivided, Mutated Invigoration, Pact of Flesh

+ Troops +

Cultists Mob [2 PL, 50pts]
. 9x Chaos Cultist w/ cultist firearm: 9x Cultist firearm, 9x Frag & Krak grenades
. Cultist Champion
. . Autopistol and brutal assault weapon

+ Elites +

Chosen [8 PL, 145pts, -1CP]: Chaos Icon, Mark of Khorne
. Chosen: Bolt pistol, Boltgun
. Chosen: Bolt pistol, Boltgun
. Chosen: Bolt pistol, Boltgun
. Chosen: Bolt pistol, Boltgun
. Chosen Champion: Bolt pistol, Boltgun, The Black Mace, Trophies of the Long War

Possessed [14 PL, 280pts, -1CP]
. 9x Possessed: 9x Hideous mutations
. Possessed Champion: Black Rune of Damnation, Trophies of the Long War

Possessed [7 PL, 140pts]: Possessed Champion
. 4x Possessed: 4x Hideous mutations

Possessed [7 PL, 140pts]: Possessed Champion
. 4x Possessed: 4x Hideous mutations

+ Fast Attack +

Raptors [6 PL, 105pts]: Chaos Undivided
. 4x Raptor: 4x Astartes chainsword, 4x Bolt pistol, 4x Frag & Krak grenades
. Raptor Champion: Astartes chainsword, Bolt pistol

Venomcrawler [6 PL, 105pts]
Venomcrawler [6 PL, 105pts]

++ Patrol Detachment 0CP (Chaos – Daemons) [24 PL, 470pts] ++

Chaos Allegiance: Chaos Undivided

+ HQ +

Skarbrand [17 PL, 330pts]

+ Troops +

Pink Horrors [7 PL, 140pts]
. 9x Pink Horror: 9x Coruscating flames

++ Total: [106 PL, 2,000pts] ++

The most immediate and noteworthy part of this list is the inclusion of Skarbrand, who helps mitigate the glass cannon nature of the list by protecting its melee threats with an aura that prevents falling back, allowing units like the Possessed to get stuck in without less chance of escape. There’s also plenty of speed here, with support from the Venomcrawlers and a unit of Raptors who can perform actions like retrieve data or just be a great unit to drop in and score Behind Enemy Lines.

Next Time: Emperor’s Children

On the whole things got worse for Chaos Space Marines but it’s not dire – we’ve already seen some lists rise to the occasion in the new meta, and we’re sure to see other options pop up as players figure out what works in the new meta. I don’t expect the faction to deliver regular TiWP results, but I do expect we’ll see a few each month from different legions.

That wraps up our broad look at Chaos Space Marines but join us later this week when Anthony Vanella stops by with Faction Focus: Emperor’s Children, taking a look at the Slaanesh-devoted legions of Chaos. Until then, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at