Codex Genestealer Cults – The Goonhammer Review

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Intro

Something sinister arises in the small corner of the 41st Millennium that holds the Goonhammer offices. Codex Genestealer Cults (GSC) is finally here, its occupants ready to overthrow/devour their opposition on gaming tables across the galaxy.

These ones definitely prefer the “devour” option

Whether you’ve heard the call of the star children and would like to wield the might of the four-armed emperor (best emperor), or want to desperately try and contain this insidious menace, you’ll want to know what dark powers the new book has concealed within it, and fear not – shortly before we are all messily consumed, Goonhammer brings you this important transmission to tell you just that!

Thanks to goonhammer community members John Q. Brown, Lupercalcalcal, RichyP and also my friend Harry for pictures in this article.

The Army

Summary

If you’ve been paying attention to the internet over the last few weeks, you’re probably already aware that this book has some very powerful tools in it, and might even already have a pretty clear idea of what some its strengths are. I’ve tried to avoid reading/watching any other “full reviews” because I like to go in fresh to write these, but even I’ve not been able to avoid a certain amount of  alarmed posting regarding hand flamers and the concentration thereof (thanks Geoff). The book is certainly a good one, and should be a blast for people using it, but like any army alongside its strengths it has some weaknesses as well. Having now digested what’s on offer, this is what I think these are:

StrengthsWeaknesses
Unparalleled set of deployment tricks and mind games.Hard to use anti-tank options.
Fantastic charactersFew resilient units.
Highly effective anti-horde choicesVulnerable to skilled counterplay.

I fully expect that, for the next few weeks until people are used to playing against them, GSC are going to absolutely ruin people – a lot of their units are glass cannons, but if not properly screened against or planned for they are outrageously deadly ones, and will leave unprepared opponents staring at the board by the end of turn 2 wondering what happened to their army. However, plenty of the units are only at their best when, to a lesser or greater extent, their opponent lets them be, and there are some targets (especially heavy vehicles such as metagame darlings Imperial Knights) that they’ll struggle to take out as long as their opponent plays carefully and doesn’t blink first.

A lot of the learning experience for both playing and fighting GSC is going to centre around their special rules, so lets start by going through these.

Core Rules

Cult Ambush

Uh oh.

This is the big one, so big that for the first time in this edition, all versions of this codex come with accessories in the form of a pop-out sheet of  “blip” counters.

This rule is present on every datasheet in the codex, and gives you two additional options for setting a unit up. If they’re an INFANTRY or BIKER unit, you can set them up underground, which works like a normal deep strike (though GSC have a number of tools to mess with this not available to other armies – see later), and is subject to the normal cap of only up to half of your army being set up in reserves.

So far so standard, but the special trick unique to GSC is the second option – setting your forces up in ambush. For each unit that you choose to do this with (and realistically, there’s almost no reason why you wouldn’t) when deploying, you can set up a “blip” token instead. If you go first, at the start of your first movement phase, you pick one blip at a time and set up one of your ambushing units near it, then move them as normal. If you go second, this instead happens at the end of your opponent’s first movement phase. To ensure they can’t stop you setting up, opposing units aren’t allowed to end their move within 9″ of a blip marker.

This is one of the most complicated and powerful army wide abilities we’ve seen. The first thing to say about it is to note that GW have already explicitly clarified that setting up a unit as a blip marker doesn’t count as setting up a unit in reserves for the “half your army” limit, meaning you can go wild and set up your whole army as blips if you so choose. The second is that I think GW deserve praise for how “clean” the implementation of this is – while it’s still a complex ability, the rules have clearly been thoroughly work-shopped to find an implementation that’s as easy to understand as possible while maintaining the theme and flavour, and they’ve avoided doing anything with it that would make it outright broken – while there are abilities and strategems that interact with blips, there’s nothing that gets them out of your deployment zone (and the rules for deploying from one keep you in your zone as well), and nothing that lets you keep one on the board after turn 1. Blips are clearly meant to be a tricksy deployment option, and thanks to a carefully crafted set of restrictions, that’s what it works out as, rather than opening up any outrageous tricks that let you break the game.

Today is a bad day to be a dire avenger.

That’s not to say this ability isn’t powerful – as anyone who’s played with or against the Craftworlds “Phantasm” strategem, updating your deployment in response to how your opponent has set up is great, and this lets you go even further and do so after their first movement phase. It also provides a powerful element of board control against some armies – units like double-moving Kraken Genestealers could normally comfortably expect to close to within 9″ of you in their first turn to set up an easy charge, but they’re simply not allowed to do that with blips. The one drawback of the “basic” version of this compared to Phantasm is that you do still have to put a unit down on every marker, so you might find yourself having to “sacrifice” some units on inconveniently placed ones. However, thanks to a variety of powerful options for interacting with these, that should almost never come up. Notable among these are:

  • Strategem – Scanner Decoys: For 1CP, you can set up three additional blip markers when you place one. When deploying, you then just remove the last three markers left on the board.
  • Strategem – They Came From Below: For 1CP, at the point you reveal markers you can change up to three eligible units to be underground, then remove the leftovers as above.
  • Strategem – Meticulous Uprising: For 1 CP you can move up to 3 markers up to 12″ (staying within your deployment zone) before you reveal them
  • Unit – Nexos : You can move redeploy one marker (within your deployment zone, 12″ from enemy models) before you reveal them

Combining all of these should mean that the skilled player almost never finds themselves placing a unit in a place that they don’t want to. My experience with Phantasm has been that the best way to use it is to deploy in such a way that redeploying three units lets you switch between an “aggressive” and “defensive” deployment depending on if you get first turn. With that in mind, my initial take on this is that I’d probably expect to use the extra blips strategem most of the time to allow me to set up a clutch of aggressively positioned blips at the front of my deployment zone, then use these as my set up point if I go first and there are good uses for them, and use blips positioned further back defensively if not. That gives me both flexibility and the board control of having a wall of blips at the front of my deployment zone for a very reasonable cost. I also expect the extra blips strategem to be used a lot if smaller GSC detachments are brought into Tyranid armies, because it gives them access to the board control element without needing that many units.

The other abilities have their place though – the ability to move units from blips to underground is another way to avoid setting up in a vulnerable position, and is also unusual in that it (at least as currently worded) lets you get around the “half your army” limit. If a list arises that wants to absolutely spam the infantry options in this army (not implausible) then I think this’ll be a powerful tool. Moving blips is a nice fallback to have if your opponent has somehow thwarted your brilliant deployment strategy (especially the free one from the Nexos). again giving you another way to avoid having to send a unit to its doom, and against armies that have less ways of threatening you turn 1 (or who can threaten wherever you are on the board like a wall of Basilisks and Mortars) you may want to not spend the point for extra blips, and only call on this if something unexpected happens.

Moving over to the deep strike option, the basics of how this works will obviously be familiar to most players, but two key strategems let you mess with that.

  • Strategem – A Perfect Ambush: for a pricey 3CP, you can either immediately shoot after setting up, or move D6″. This is obviously great for getting an easier charge off with alpha melee units, or double shooting with a powerful character such as the Kelermorph.
  • Strategem – Lying in Wait: For 2CP you can set up a unit within 3″ rather than 9″, but they can’t charge this turn. Great with some of the shorter ranged shooting options, such as the already infamous hand-flamer neophyte bomb.

Both of these help put your opponent on “hard mode” as far as keeping their stuff safe from your deep strikers goes – exactly what you want as the GSC player. It’s also worth noting that – as currently worded anyway – “A Perfect Ambush” can be used when coming out of Cult Ambush as well, which could potentially be very useful for allowing units to shoot or get some surprise extra range, but realistically will almost always be used with a certain little character we’ll discuss a bit later.

You do have to be a bit careful with both of these when playing against armies with access to either “Agents of Vect” or other GSC armies thanks to (as we’ll see later on) them having access to the same effect. In much the same way as a Knight player getting their “Full Tilt” Vected can leave a Gallant horrendously vulnerable and out of position, losing the extra D6″ movement from perfect ambush can mess up your charge plans. This is especially dangerous with “Lying in Wait” – you use the Strategem after picking a unit to deploy, and based on the wording (plus how at least the ITC have FAQed similar rules) you still have to deploy it if it gets Vected. If your entire game plan hinges on 6″ range flamethrowers, this is obviously very bad news for you.

For the purposes of the rest of this review, you need to remember that pretty much all units are likely to be better positioned than they would be in a normal army, and any of the infantry and biker choices can and will be popping out of Deep Strike. Obviously, wherever there are specific interactions with individual units I’ll call that out.

Fanatical Devotion

Whenever one of your characters fails a save within 3″ of a unit with this ability, you can have one model of that unit be slain on a 4+ instead. This is a nice bonus for keeping your squishy characters safe, and is even good if you want to do something like charge a Patriarch into a Knight – bringing some expendable friends will help him last longer, especially as this happens after saves. Don’t rely on this though – 4+ is far from guaranteed, and your non-patriarch characters are all extremely squishy. Better to keep them safe in the first place.

Brood Brothers

Updated and depowered from the Index version, Brood Brothers lets you take one detachment of Astra Militarum per GSC detachment in your army, with the following constraints:

  • The CP benefit is halved, rounding up.
  • No Named Characters (no “Sly Marbo, but with tentacles”)
  • <Regiment> tag is replaced by Brood Brothers, which gives +1 LD.
  • No Specialist Detachments
  • No Relics
  • Can’t be your warlord.

While this is still nice to have as an option, these limitations do dial things back considerably. For competitive play, having either the Cadian or Catachan trait on basic infantry squads is effectively “priced in”, so taking these in a separate detachment with fewer command points isn’t that attractive when you can already take these squads in your main detachments (more on that later). Bringing in CP farming, as used to be the trick, is also now not that great both because of the “Tactical Restraint” rule and because GSC have access to a good version of this on their own terms.

The most likely use of this seems to be either:

  • Bringing in some artillery or Russ commanders to add some ranged Anti-Tank.
  • Bringing in a Super Heavy (probably a Shadowsword or Baneblade) to shoot at Knights
  • Bringing in officers to order Brood Brother units

The last one is something I’m not 100% sure is intended, but should work RAW – because “<Regiment>” on the officers gets replaced with “Brood Brothers”, their “Voice of Command” ability has the right keyword restrictions to target codex-native Brood Brother infantry and heavy weapon squads. This is especially nice on the infantry, because these can come in units of 20 rather than 10, so you get a lot of bang for your points out of, for example, “First Rank Fire, Second Rank Fire”. Letting GSC do guard squads better than guard does seem a little off, and I do kind of feel like if native Brood Brothers were supposed to get orders then Brood Brother officers would exist in the book. On the other hand, it’s probably not broken, and would be a really obvious interaction to have overlooked, so I suspect this is meant to work – and it’s a very nice trick.

With that in mind, and the fact that the most likely other things you might want to bring are Russ commanders and Super heavies, I think the supreme command detachment is definitely worth a look here. A vanilla (or maybe punisher) Russ commander and two Company Commanders would be a nice complement to a force using lots of Brood Brothers or Heavy Weapon teams. If you do decide to take a Baneblade or Shadowsword, switching the Russ Commander out to a Primaris Psyker lets you shield it up with -1 to hit, which I think is practically mandatory here. While Guard superheavies are quite out of favour, a good amount of that is down to there being better options to fill the role in Imperium – they fill a bigger “hole” in this book than they do in a faction with access to knights. Clever use of blip markers also lets you do some very strong screening of your new toy, outclassing even what native Guard can manage.

Assuming the interaction remains unchanged, I’m moderately confident that officers coming in via Supreme Command to order BB squads is potentially the best choice this book has to put lots of chaff on the board, so expect to see that a reasonable amount. Once you’re doing that, tapping in a Shadowsword or Baneblade is a sufficiently obvious thing to try, especially if the native options struggle as much with killing knights as I think they’re going to, that I’m sure people will test it.

Matched Play Restrictions

In matched play, the following two restrictions are in effect:

  • If your army has any Patriarchs, one has to be your warlord. This is fine, you definitely want to be doing this anyway, see later.
  • You can only include one of each character in each detachment. This is a bit stiffer – some of the characters in this book would be very good when spammed, which is of course why this rule exists. This means that if you want to get up to your three maximum of a given datasheet, you need to include three GSC detachments. This does force you to pick between having Guard or Tyranid detachments or maxing out on characters, and is honestly probably a good (and flavourful) safety valve.

Faction Traits

Despite not having a long tradition of subfactions like Marines or Craftworlds do, GW have clearly (correctly, in my opinion) identified that subfaction traits are a great way of giving people more options to play with, and have used this Codex to roll them out to the cults. GSC players get six of these to choose from, with the standard extra options for Warlord Traits, Relics and Strategems as well.

The bonuses from the traits apply to Infantry and Biker units in your army, but sadly exclude any models with the “Genestealer” keyword (which is Purestrains and the Patriarch). Given that some of these would be absolutely horrific on Genestealers I can sort of see why this has been done, but I do think it’s a little sad that the army’s namesake doesn’t get the cool customisation (especially as Tyranid Genestealers do get hive fleet traits).

With that little note aside, lets look at our choices here:

  • Cult of the Four Armed Emperor: +1 to advance and charge on the first turn or a turn they set up from Ambush.
  • Pauper Princes: Re-roll hits in the first round of combat.
  • Hivecult: Fall back and shoot with -1, halve models lost to morale.
  • Bladed Cog: All units get a 6++. Add 1 to existing invulns, infantry move and shoot heavy weapons without penalty.
  • Rusted Claw: Add 1 to non-invuln saves against AP0 and -1. Bikers can advance and shoot Assault without penalty, and move and shoot Heavy without penalty.
  • The Twisted Helix: +1 Strength, +2 to advance rolls.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and one thing that really stands out is that quite a lot of units in your army work best with one of these. I think this is a bit of a shame, as it encourages mixed armies rather than a contiguous force, and while that’s obviously a big part of tournament play, some of the examples here are sufficiently extreme that you might feel a bit bad taking them otherwise.

The first one I think we can largely discount is the Pauper Princes. The bonus here looks great, but in practice you can often achieve equivalent effects by other means without needing to use your cult trait on it. The strategem is also cute but not that good, and the relic has an effect that’s strong in other armies but underwhelming here.

The Hivecult wants you to be doing things that this army is honestly not that great at – shooting. The morale bonus is the “worse” of two versions of this we regularly see (the other being “only ever lose 1”) and there are other options in this book for mitigating that. The only serious application I’m wondering about here revolves around a skew build abusing stacking buffs, the strategem and the warlord trait, which we’ll talk about later. For “general purpose” applications, this is a miss.

The Cult of the Four Armed Emperor will see at least some use. The effect here is a nice marginal bonus but certainly weaker than some of the other ones here. However, they get the best strategem in the book (and, until it’s inevitably errated to cost the same as Vect, the game), and their warlord trait is nice to use with a strategem we’ll talk about in a bit.

The Bladed Cog have a nice bonus here – a flat increase in survivability for your units across the board is nice, and the fact that a few characters jump to a 4++ is pretty good (and you can give one a 3++ via their relic). Being able to shrug and chuck heavy stubbers into Neophyte squads is nice, but it’s a real shame bikers are excluded here (clearly to make “Rusted Claw” more unique). The real meat here is that the combination of their strategem and warlord trait let you set up a squad of Aberrants as a brutal counter to Imperial Knights, more on that later.

The Rusted Claw get a very neat bonus – being scythed down be low AP weapons is the main danger to your squads, and this helps with that, especially if you stack it with “Prepared Positions” or getting into cover. It also helps the bikers a fair bit – their 5+ save is one of the big strikes against them, and it makes them even more mobile. This is a nice one to take if you want to run a mixture of infantry and bikers. The strategem is also very, very funny, but sadly the warlord trait and relics are hard misses.

The Twisted Helix are great if you want to set up either kinds of hybrids as melee units, or make Aberrants very powerful (which their strategem works well with). They also have a relic and warlord trait combo that lets you build the scariest Patriarch in the book.

My favourites, as you might be able to tell, are Rusted Claw and Twisted Helix, but as outlined, I think you’ll see a lot of Four Armed Emperor as well, potentially as a smaller detachment, and some experimentation with a Bladed Cog Knight Hunting detachment.

Psychic Powers

One of the biggest boosts most armies get with their codex is doubling up the number of Psychic powers they have available, and there are some good treats in here.

  • Mass Hypnosis: Make an enemy unit suffer a -1 penalty to hit, not be able to fire overwatch, and fight last. All nice debuffs, and great for softening up a target like a knight before your Patriarch goes in. Be aware that (unless there’s an FAQ I’m not aware of) fight last effects don’t stop your opponent from interrupting via strategem, so make sure to till pick your best unit first.
  • Mind Control: Pick an enemy model within 12″ and roll 3D6. If you equal or beat their leadership, you can immediately have it shoot at a single target enemy unit, or make a single CC attack. This is obviously fantastic against things like knights – 3D6 beats every unmodified leadership in the game on average, and getting to make use of one of your enemy’s best models for a turn can be game winning. Do bear in mind that it has to target everything against a single target – so you can’t split fire across multiple units. If you do live the dream and hit this on a Castellan, make sure to use a shieldbreaker missile and overcharge that plasma cannon for maximum depletion of your opponent’s resources!
  • Psionic Blast: Worse smite but you can pick your target. I think there are enough “wins” in this list that this probably won’t ever get picked.
  • Psychic Stimulus: Pick a Cult unit within 18″. That unit can charge if it advanced, and always fights first (following the standard rules for this). This is a very nice ability – it lets Hybrid and Aberrants pretend to be real boys hideous claw monsters for a turn, and obviously makes an excellent combo with Twisted Helix’s boost to advance rolls.
  • Might From Beyond: Give a Cult unit +1 attacks and strength for a turn. Another great combo with Aberrants, and also tasty on some Hybrid loadouts. Paradoxically this is less good with twisted Helix, because +1S on top of their inbuilt bonus doesn’t, as far as I can see, get them to any critical “break points” (which are mostly 5, 8 and 9) on relevant units. The only exception I can see is that if you go all in on this, Twisted Helix, a Biophagus and an Iconward with the Relic you can push Power Pick Aberrants to S9, at which point they’ll total pretty much anything. That’s certainly not irrelevant, and it makes use of abilities you’re already inclined to stack on them, so is a bonus when it works.

Last, but certainly not least, the second thing in this book (after the cost of the Vect equivalent) that I’m pretty confident won’t survive a few round of FAQs:

  • Mental Onslaught: Pick a unit within 18 and roll off, adding your psykers leadership and the target adding theirs. If you win, deal 1MW and repeat until you lose or draw.

This looks innocuous on first pass, as it’s pretty similar to existing powers like Mind War and Mirror of Minds, but it’s anything but. Psychic Onslaught is a nightmare hybrid of Mirror of Minds, Mind War and Death Grip without any of the targeting restrictions that apply to some or all of those, and once deployed on a LD10 Patriarch, is a spectacularly broken power. The key thing here is the lack of targeting restrictions (Mind War can only hit characters), and the fact that if you set up a massive leadership differential, it can keep going indefinitely. Just from this book, the Locus can give enemies -1 LD and the Clamavus can give your Patriarch +1. Apply both of these and a guard tank only breaks out of the lock on them rolling a 6 and you rolling a 1, i.e. a 1/36 chance that you can trivially stave off with a CP unless you get outrageously unlucky. An Imperial knight, thus modified, only breaks out of the lock 1/6 of the time.

It does, to be fair, look like it’s trying to kill a tank with its mind.

The problem is, that’s only the worst thing you can do within this book. Both Tyranid and Guard have ways of applying further leadership debuffs to the enemy, and you can, with a bit of shuffling, set up a situation where this guaranteed insta-kills a knight if it goes off. As an Eldar player, I’m aware that setting up combos like this isn’t always as good as it looks on paper, but the ceiling here is so spectacular that it’s at least worth considering. I suspect that people who try it out will probably only use the guard component – bringing a primaris psyker in with your Company Commanders seems fine, and with that plus the character buffs you can set up a differential of 5, which gets you to the 35/36 chance of winning each roll against a Knight.

I expect this to get toned down in FAQ, probably to you automatically losing on a roll of 1. Until then, make sure you have your denies ready!

The Units

With that last look at the army-wide rules, it’s time to dig into the units in the codex.

For each section of the codex, I’m going to do one-line thoughts about each unit, then digress into anything I feel needs more explanation. Wherever there’s a relic or strategem that works especially well with a specific unit, I’ll bring it up here, then we’ll go through some of the other ones that are relevant at the end.

HQ

  • Patriarch: Deadly in both the psychic and fight phases, moderately tough, cost effective, enables Brood Coven – you should take one. Probably at least one familiar too – the extra cast is good early game, and soaking up one heavy hit later on is powerful.
  • Magus: Very squishy, but a nice buff caster (and user of the very good summon strat, more later), and can pick up a utility warlord trait via Brood Coven. You definitely want a familiar here, as this model’s datasheet does sort of feel like it’s missing a second cast. Also gives you a wall of denies, which is a nice bonus, and enables summoning, as we’ll discuss later.
  • Primus: Strictly a buff character to bring in alongside something good, but good at that. Can be made a damage dealer via the powerful Sword of the Void’s eye relic.
  • Iconward: a fairly cheap buff to the resilience of your infantry via a 6+ FNP for the cult keyword, but probably not quite worth it on its own. However, the relic Icon of the Cult Ascendant is very good for bringing up the strength of units, and the Vial of the Grandsire’s Blood from the Deliverance Broodsurge specialist detachment lets you set up some absolutely filthy alpha turns. Include this if you plan to take one of those, with the Broodsurge option being good enough to make it (and thus this) almost an auto-take.
  • Abominant: A chunky melee killer who pushes up the already high power of the Aberrants. You probably want to take one, but be aware of his poor accuracy, and try and pop him up near your Primus for +1 to hit. Can get a neat relic from the Annointed Throng specialist detachment, but I think this option is outclassed by some of the others avaialble.
  • Jackal Alphus: A long ranged Sniper who can buff nearby shooting. Doesn’t get there for me in most lists, as the Sanctus does a better job as a sniper. Might have some combo uses in certain skew configurations.

The standout HQ choice here is obviously the Patriarch. It’s both an extremely powerful unit in its own right, and lets you use the Broodcoven strategem. Similar to “Alliance of Agony” out of Drukari, if your warlord is a Patriarch this lets you also give warlord traits to a Magus and a Primus in your army for just 1CP. Interestingly, in something that’s a bit of a flavour fail, these models don’t have to be in the same cult, which potentially lets you sneak some key traits in from other cults than your main one. This is most likely to see use with the Bladed Cog and Four Armed Emperor traits. The Four Armed Emperor is a nearly a copy/paste of the Prophets of Flesh one (+D3CP, one re-roll per game, although here this can be used on any Four Armed Emperor unit), which is a nice way to refund your cost if you have nothing better to do. The Bladed Cog one is interesting – you pick a single enemy unit, and you can re-roll wounds for your units within 6″ of your warlord against it. If you’re really sure you’re going to see a lot of Quaestor Mechanicus in your metagame, combining this with the bladed cog strat and a unit of Aberrants, or even saw-wielding hybrids can put some frankly terrifying damage spikes on a designated Imperial Knight.

Because of Broodcoven, I think it’s fair to assume you’ll almost always want a Patriarch, Primus and Magus. I tend to like the following warlord traits on them:

  • Patriarch: Bio-Morph adaptation or the Twisted Helix special (+1 damage to attacks). You want him to be mean.
  • Primus: Alien Majesty – his +1 hit aura is very good, you want to maximise it.
  • Magus: A good carrier of the Four-Armed emperor one or a buff aura. Otherwise, Shadow Stalker or Born Survivor boost her dismal survivability.

It cannot be stressed enough quite how dangerous Patriarchs can be, especially in the Twisted Helix – combining their warlord trait and relic on one, plus the boost from the Broodsurge relic (which unusually for a specialist detachment, isn’t limited to only working within the detachment) can give you a model that gets one turn of being S8, 9A (!), re-rolling wounds doing D3+1 or 4 damage per failed save, with attacks being a mix of -3 and -6. That’s legitimately nastier than anything else in the game (excluding FW titans) other than a Knight Gallant and even that is a close run thing. This is in addition, remember, to potentially blowing apart whole tanks in the psychic phase.

What I’m saying is that for 120pts, you get your money’s worth.

The rest of these don’t need too much discussion – you probably take an Iconward because I think the Deliverance Broodsurge option is too good not to include, and the Abominant is nice if you have Aberrants (but probably optional if you don’t). The Jackal I’m not that interested in outside of one possible detachment build I’ll discuss later.

Troops

Spot the sneaky elite choice.

  • Neophyte Hybrids: Your basic cult bodies. Come in squads of 10-20, 5PPM, can take a few special and heavy weapons, and I guess I’d stick grenade launchers and heavy stubbers on them with that. Can take a cult icon (re-roll 1s in fight phase), but this isn’t worth it here. Their main advantage over BB squads is getting the cult special ability and keyword, and being able to take more cheap heavy/special weapons.
  • Acolyte Hybrids: Your slightly more elite cult bodies specced for melee. Or at least that’s the theory, but these are also the best way to deploy the already infamous hand flamer bomb. If they get into melee or hand flamer range they’re quite murderous for their cost, but they are no tougher than basic Neophytes. I think you probably either build these as a hand flamer bomb or units with maxed out numbers of rock saws.
  • Brood Brother Infantry Squad: Guard squads, except you can add ten more models. Or at least, maybe you can – currently the unit entry and the back of the book disagree.

This is where I have to slightly hedge based on a lack of clarity in what’s printed. Assuming that you can take units of 20 BB infantry and you can take officers via Brood Brother detachments, I definitely prefer these to neophytes. If you can only take units of ten, but can take officers, it’s close. If neither of those things is intended to work, then Neophytes are probably better. Neophytes are probably also a stronger choice in Rusted Claw detachments, as getting a 4+ (or 3+ in cover or Prepared Positions) is a big boost, especially once you then layer on the Iconward that you’re almost certainly taking for a Broodsurge, as the 6+ FNP they grant needs the <Cult> keyword.

Acolyte Hybrids are their own thing. The hand flamer bomb (taking 20 of these, giving them all hand flamers, bringing them in via “Lying in Wait”) sounds scary on paper but I’m not convinced – Even being able to deploy within 3″, it’ll potentially be quite hard to bring them in with 20 models on 32mm bases within 6″ of a target, especially once people have adjusted to screening for this. They also get brutally trumped by any sort of intercept strategem from good anti-infantry – if I play against this, I certainly intend to try and bait them into dropping next to a squad of guardians with a Farseer in tow, and will thoroughly enjoy blasting 40 Shuriken shots into them. They’re probably still annoying to play against, but I don’t expect these to make massive waves.

The use I can see for these is units packing the maximum number of Heavy Rock Saws. Stacking any source of +1S such as Might from Beyond on these, along with the Deliverance Broodsurge strategem has them wounding anything in the game on 2s. 20 of these with a cult icon, 8 rocksaws, Might from Beyond, the Deliverence strat and a Primus in tow will trivially trash a knight in a single round of combat (I realise I’m using this yardstick a lot, but that’s the metagame we live in). That’s quite decent for a unit that runs you 230pts, and you have a lot of spare bodies there to soak up wounds. I realise that’s a complicated combo, but it’s the good kind of combo in that all of the pieces are things you want individually, so you don’t feel like you’ve wasted points if the specific combo doesn’t go off. If you’re running the Broodsurge (you should be), you can also substitute in the once-per-game buff from the Iconward relic for every part of this combo except the unit itself, which if a knight is right there then you may as well.

I’d probably plan to run big blob of 20 like that, and maybe another 10 with four saws in a truck – the Broodsurge strat allowing you to disembark after moving is again very powerful here.

Elites

  • Hybrid Metamorphs: These are honestly in a bit of a weird place, but I think do theoretically have their uses, notably that as long as you can find any source of +1S (of which as you should already have picked up, there are plenty), kitting these out with two Metamorph Talons each and taking a cult icon gives you a very cost effective horde clearer – 50 S5 attacks hitting on 2s re-rolling for 120pts is no joke. Sadly, given that absolutely vanilla Acolyte Hybrids get 3A (thanks to their knife), can also get to 2s to hit via a Primus, the fact that they’re 7PPM to these being 11PPM and they fill a troops slot probably means you won’t see these much.
  • Aberrants: Big, mean killing machines. You want the Power Picks and the Heavy Improvised Weapon here, and as we’ve seen already there are a huge variety of ways you can buff these up to pretty much take on all comers. Benefit massively from effects that add attacks, because they effectively get to double dip on them. A premium unit about which my only reservation is that I’m concerned well constructed units of Acolyte Hybrids might just outclass them.
  • Purestrain Genestealers: They’re fine, but not getting cult bonuses and costing more than their Tyranid cousins (presumably to pay for the free deep strike) hurts, as does not getting to take acidmaws. You should always take the talons on them because they’re free and better against anything that is relying purely on an invuln. As with Aberrants, they’re nice but I’m worried Acolyte Hybrids might do it better.
  • Clamavus: A dedicated buff aura. The nicest thing here is the +1 charge and advance buff, which is cool, and the +1 LD enhances Mental Onslaught if he’s in the right place at the right time, but I’m not 100% convinced this is worth 55 points given his statline says “dies irrelevantly” – there are plenty of other ways to try and stick charges. Probably at its best in Four Armed Emperor, as popping up behind a unit you need to make a key charge gets them to the crucial 7 target number combined with the built in buff.
  • Locus: This guy seems like a steal for 40pts, especially in Twisted Helix, as getting to S5 lets him start threatening to gank mid tier marine characters like Librarians. He’s entirely optional, but a totally fine way to spend the points if you have them.
  • Sanctus: Oh dear (says the Eldar player). This guy is vicious, more on him in a moment. Always take the sniper rifle, the Locus does the Knife option more cost efficiently.
  • Kelermorph: the real winner from Lying in Wait, this is another unit that looks absolutely monstrous to try and play against, and I think the fact that we saw him first is probably part of the reason why the internet is so scared of this codex.
  • Nexos: this is a CP farm character, and he seems totally fine for that – 50 points is not all that much for a good chance at 3-4CP over the game. Getting to re-arrange one ambush token is a nice extra. I can definitely see this getting taken, but I can equally believe that it may turn out not to be cost effective.
  • Biophagus: stop making up words GW Meh. Cool, but even at his cheap cost I’m not convinced he’s worth when all he does is make Aberrants better then gives up a kill. You have ample other ways to make Aberrants better that are more widely applicable.

The elites section of this book is extremely extra. I think you’ll see a lot of this stuff experimented with, and some of it fall by the wayside.

In terms of the non-characters, Aberrants are extremely cool models, and in the right situation can inflict an absolute pummelling, while being a bit less paper thin than other stuff in the army. I think they’ll turn up, especially as Twisted Helix and Bladed Cog, but they will still die to any sort of massed firepower, and you may find you’re just better off with more Hybrids. They could really do with being T5, at which point I think they’d be a clearer choice.

Purestrain Genestealers, sadly, only have one trick (maul stuff in melee), and I’m pretty sure Acolyte Hybrids do it better, especially once you factor in either Twisted Helix for increased killing power or Rusted Claw for stronger defences. I’m sure people will still take them. Hybrid Metamorphs fall into the same bucket.

In terms of the characters, the Kelermorph and the Sanctus stand out. The Kelermorph is obviously a brutally dangerous drop in assassin. In many cases, he will die straight after doing his thing, but he’s cheap enough that this really doesn’t matter. If you have nothing better to use it on, the relic pistol boosts him up, but I expect you to have better choices.

The Sanctus is fine against most armies and absolutely outrageous against a few. I realise I speak as a player of the army this is designed to beat, but it feels like a bit much. I think the opportunity cost of including this in your army for a tournament is low enough that you always want to, then if you see an army with any vulnerable psykers, you add the relic rifle (+2 to wound, so does a mortal and thus triggers perils on a 4+) and enjoy giving your opponent an absolutely miserable game. There are two key tricks with him you should be aware of:

  • He can Perfect Ambush for free, and thus on turn 1, where there’s a good chance no other unit wants to use it, you often may as well trigger it on him to get a free extra shot in your movement phase. This is even funnier if your opponent went first – you can potentially appear and waste one of their psykers at the end of their movement phase, before they even get to cast.
  • If you have no good shots lined up in a turn where you didn’t already deploy on, consider using Return to the Shadows to go back into Deep Strike, because when you then re-appear the next turn you can double shoot with Perfect Ambush again.

I expect there to be one of these in every GSC list. I do not expect to enjoy this. It also, frankly, makes me slightly dread the upcoming Imperial Assassins reboot, because if they’re working off this as a baseline for what an assassin character can do, they’re potentially going to be very tasty

Fast Attack

  • Achilles Ridgerunner: There’s a weird tension here between all their weapons being heavy and being very fast. The main thing this has going for it is that it can be two Lascannon shots (effectively) at quite a cheap price with the <cult> tag, which allows buffing them up. This could plausibly lead to some skew combos being worth trying, which we’ll discuss in a second.
  • Atalan Jackals: Fast, very cheap bikes. I think the best way to run these is to go deep on just how cheap they are – run them with knives and shotguns and they’re only 10PPM, which is pretty good once you add in the extra survivability from Rusted Claw (on top of their inbuilt -1 to hit). Throw in some grenade launchers and a wolf-quad with a heavy Stubber and you have a perfectly serviceable harassment unit at a knock-down price. Alternatively, if you are Rusted Claw, the Drive By Demolitions stratagem combined with “Extra Explosives” does let you pull a very silly round of shooting once per battle that can put serious hurt on pretty much anything. Do bear in mind with that trick that if the unit has arrived from reinforcements and uses Lying in Wait or Perfect Ambush to get in range for this, they won’t be able to use the free move to get away because of the rulebook FAQ.
  • Armoured Sentinels: lol.
  • Scout Sentinels: no.

I’ve heard people are quite down on the bikes but I think they’re fine because of just how cheap they are – people aren’t used to evaluating a unit with this statline at quite so low a cost. While I’ve mostly talked about the Demo Charge option in Rusted Claw, a unit of 10 of these using the same strategem with their frag grenade equivalents will actually make a mess of a lot of things, and they’re a good unit to have about.

Achilles Ridgerunners I’m less convinced are genrally useful, but I’d be interested in trying a skew build. Stacking 9of these (they come in squadrons) with Heavy Mining Lasers, a Jackal Alphus to give them +1 to hit, and a Primus packing the re-roll 1s to hit warlord trait from Hivecult is actually worth thinking about – combining the Jackal and the Primus’s ability to designate one target to ruin the day of (giving re-roll 1s to wound) lets you tag an average of effectively 11-12 Lascannon wounds onto a chosen T8 target. This can get even better with the Hivecult Strategem – if you get some wounds through on the first unit you can add an additional +1 to hit for the others, worth probably another wound on that earlier total. Alternatively, this is the one place where taking the relic sniper rifle on the Jackal makes sense – tagging a mortal wound on a 4+ gives her a good chance of teeing off the strategem.

That’s not cheap (including the Primus you’re looking at about 900pts) but that’s some severe firepower – you’re looking at taking >half the wounds off a fully Ioned up Dominus at that point. Ridgerunners are also relatively good at receiving fire from a Castellan – thanks to the 6+ FNP from the flare launcher, they’re extremely unlikely to die to the first Volcano lance hit, which means the second is probably largely wasted totalling the one that just tanked the first.

I’m not certain if this is worth doing, but genuinely thing that it might actually be quite good – it can badly hurt a fully rotated Dominus, and actually creeps over the line of averaging outright killing a Questoris on a 4++. It’s also the only “native” way this book has to throw out serious long-range firepower. The biggest strike against it is that these things are horrendously vulnerable to the ever-popular “Endless Fury” – they are ideally statted to get blown away by it, with it averaging killing between 1 and 2 of them each time it first. If you do play against knights, maybe kill that one first.

Heavy Support

Reving up and ready to roll

  • Goliath Rockgrinder: Has received some nice buffs, most notably that it’s now WS4+, meaning that it’s one gimmick, killing things with a drill, now has some chance of success. Suffers badly from all its ranged weapons being heavy and having to take one that costs at least 20 pts. I probably like the Heavy Seismic the best for that reason. That plus the cache of demo charges gives you a 110pt model, which is like, OK, but could probably have borne being a bit cheaper. It also suffers from there not being much in this book that I want to run in squads small enough to ride in it.
  • Cult Russ: Vanilla Russes without keyword bonuses don’t cut it these days. Pass. Bring in command Russes in a BB supreme if you want them.
  • Brood Brothers Heavy Weapon Squad: Brigades are an option in this book, and these with mortars are as good at filling them out as ever.

Not much more to say here – the Rockgrinder is probably fine but nothing here is lighting up the game.

Dedicated Transport

  • Goliath Truck: Considerably more interested in these than the Rockgrinder, as squads of ten I can work with. Even putting just a basic squad of Neophytes in one of these can boost their mobility and survivability, and can work extremely well with the Deliverence Broodsurge strategem to deliver squads of either hand flamer or rock drill hybrids where they need to go. Do wish it had 12 seats so you could bring a character though.
  • Cult Chimera: Hard pass as it only carries Brood Brother infantry.

Fortifications

  • Tectonic Fragdrill: Reasonably sure this isn’t good because it can only go off once per battle. Could be OK as a place to setup a Sniper Sanctus, as he can then sit on it cranking the drill and blowing away targets for the rest of the battle. Probably still not worth it.

Strategems, Traits and Relics

Strategems

We’ve touched on most of the strategems which I think are really relevant, but there’s a couple more that I think will come up

  • A Plan Generations in the Making (Four armed emperor): It’s Vect. It’s good. Headlines at 11.
  • Cult Reinforcements: Restore D6 slain models to a troops choice at the start of your movement phase. I’m keen on Acolyte Hybrids, and it’s very good on these.

Those are the easy ones – the last is a doozy:

  • Telepathic Summons: For 2CP instead of casting any psychic powers, a psyker can summon an infantry or biker unit anywhere on the battlefield with Power Level 3D6 or less.

This might be another thing that turns out to be a bit of a mistake. The thing is, “everyone knows” summoning is bad because you have to pay points for it in matched play, but that’s not the whole story – in most places it currently exists, there’s a clear “best” option from the available choices, and thus not much reason to not just start it on the board.

Here, thanks the the very limited number of restrictions on it, there’s a gigantic variety in what you can summon in, and the huge range of potent characters available to the cult are all eligible choices. Hell there’s nothing (for now at least, I wouldn’t be surprised if this got FAQed) spending 120pts and summoning in a second Patriarch.

People will need to experiment with this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a number of points that it was a good idea to keep in reserve. The option that leaps out for me is 60 pts – this gets you any of:

  • Sanctus
  • Kelermorph
  • 10 Neophytes with 2 Heavy Stubbers and 2 Grenade launchers
  • Four min-loaded Jackals and a Wolfquad with Heavy Stubber
  • 5 Metamorphs with double Metamorph Talons.

That’s an absurd level of flexibility for 2CP – getting to pick between an additional Sanctus or Kelermorph depending on your opponent is nice at baseline, but all the other options will have situations where they’re great. The other obvious number to suggest would be 126pts – this lets you pick between:

  • a Patriarch.
  • 5 Aberrants with picks (HIW on the leader, hence the extra point).
  • big squad of some of the above infantry.
  • multiple Kelermorphs/Sanctus over two turns.

I think I marginally prefer the lower option, just on the offchance that my psykers all eat dirt fast, but I could be convinced that “surprise, it’s another Patriarch” is a good enough punch to be able to throw that the second is worth looking at.

This really feels like it’s missing a “not a character” rider, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it catch a FAQ.

Warlord Traits

We’ve pretty much covered all of these that are relevant.

Relics

We’ve touched on most of these, the remaining goodies are:

  • Amulet of the Voidwyrm: +1 to saves against ranged attacks, can’t be overwatched. Can be great on a Patriarch, but I’d rather deny overwatch some other way and give him more attacks.
  • The Crouchling: special familiar, +1 to all casts, and knows one additional power as long as the familiar survives. Very tasty.

There are a bunch of neat weapons, but you’ll mostly be looking to use your relic slots on one of the relic banners for an Iconward, probably followed by the relic sniper rifle against pskyers and the Crouchling against everything else.

Specialist Detachments

Both of the available ones have places, though I’d say that the Annointed Throng has gone down a peg now there are many, many better choices for a relic slot. Deliverence Broodsurge, on the other hand, has received a massive boost thanks to how much better Neophytes and Acolytes are. I expect to see the latter a lot, and the former sometimes.

Soup Kitchen

We’ve already talked a bit about the soup options for bringing guard into the army, but you also have the prospect of putting GSC detachments into Tyranid armies. I’m not going to explore this in detail today (this is long enough!) but I’m sure you’ll see people experimenting with it. If I had to guess, I’d say vanguard detachments featuring Kelermorphs and Sanctuses will be a popular choice, perhaps led by a Magus threatening to pop out of deep strike and mind control a knight.

The List

Based on everything above, this is what I’ve come up with as an example list. I’ve decided to stick to pure GSC, and to include my silly gimmick shooting build from above – it’s almost certainly not the best way to run this, but I’m hoping it’s at least a list no one else has thought of, and I like to try and be innovative. Here it is:

Army List - Click to Expand

Battalion – Twisted Helix – 981pts – Specialist – Deliverance Broodsurge

HQ

Patriarch, 1 familiar – 132pts – Warlord – Bio Alchemist

Acolyte Iconward – 53pts – Relic – Vial of the Grandsire’s Blood

Magus, 1 familiar – 92pts – Extra Warlord – Focus of Adoration

Troops

20 Acolyte Hybrids, 8 Rocksaws, Icon – 230

10 Acolyte Hybrids, 4 Rocksaws, Icon – 120

10 Acolyte Hybrids, 4 Rocksaws, Icon – 120

Elite

Locus – 40pts

Nexos – 50pts

Dedicated Transport

Goliath Truck – 72pts

Goliath Truck – 72pts

Battalion – Hivecult – 1018pts

HQ

Primus – 72pts – Extra Warlord – Hivelord

Jackal Alphus – 70pts – Paid relic – Gift from Beyond

Troops

3x Brood Brothers – 120pts

Fast Attack

3×3 Achilles Ridgerunners, HML, Flare Launcher, 2x Heavy Stubbers – 9 x 84pts = 756pts

Total – 1999pts, 10CP (after spend)

This list has some chaff screening, and options for attempting to engage a target like a knight either at range or in melee. The really nice thing about the Ridgerunners is that the 2 stubbers on each means they aren’t completely useless against a horde army – the Jackal can nominate a unit of Boyz or something for the +1 to hit, and they can do at least some work there.

I’ll clearly state again that there are bound to be better options in the book, this is definitely an attempt to pick out some of the less obvious stuff that I really like. Flooding the board with a load of bodies under Rusted Claw is another thing I considered, but I’ll be honest – writing this has taken a while, and I’ve run out of brain for working out a horde list without Battlescribe!

Wrap Up

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this marathon tour of the codex, and are looking forward to playing with or against GSC on the table. My next big event is in early March and the book should be legal, so I hope I’ll get to see them in the wild soon enough.

 

One Response

  1. Coda says:

    Excellent write up is excellent!

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