Detachment Focus: Chaos Cult

In this series of articles, we take a deep dive into a specific detachment for a faction, covering the faction’s rules and upgrades and discussing how to build around that faction for competitive play. In this article, we’re covering the Chaos Cult Detachment for the Chaos Space Marines.

The Tenth Edition release of Codex: Chaos Space Marines gives the faction access to a whopping eight detachments, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. These can dramatically change how the army plays, as each one tends to push players to build differently. In this series, we’re diving deep into each Detachment and talking about its rules and how to play it.

Detachment Overview

The Chaos Cult allows us to play Chaos Space Marines in a way we haven’t really seen since Codex: Eye of Terror back in 2003, giving us an army primarily made of cultists and renegade guard, with an optional small number of Chaos Marine leaders. This Detachment paints a picture of a melee army made up of Toughness 3 and Toughness 4 models who, using a variety of buffs, become heavy hitters that can threaten more elite armies. Unfortunately, this power comes with heavy thematic costs – the army rule will have you repeatedly testing against your leadership, as the Stratagems and the detachment rule force extra leadership tests when you make pacts with the Dark Gods. And make no mistake, this Detachment is all about making desperate pleas to the Dark Gods at the cost of your life force. Let’s get into it.

Detachment Rule: Desperate Devotion

Each time a Damned unit from your army with the Dark Pacts ability is selected to make a Normal or Advance move or declare a charge (excluding units that arrived from Reserves this turn), it can make a Desperate Pact. If it does, until the end of the phase, add 2″ to the Move characteristic of models in that unit and 2 to Charge rolls made for that unit.

What is a Desperate Pact? It’s a different type of Dark Pact roll. Each time a unit makes a Desperate Pact, it must first take a Leadership test; if it does, until the end of the phase, add 2″ to the Move characteristic of models in that unit and 2 to Charge rolls made for that unit.

Is this rule any good? If we look at units like Accursed Cultists, it’s fantastic to see. Who doesn’t want to have an extra +2 for their movement and added to their charge rolls? And maybe Fellgors as well, who can use the ability to charge out of Strategic Reserves. But outside of those edge cases, without proper leaders for your Cultist squads the odds are high you’ll be taking D3 mortal wounds from this ability, and that’s before you add on the standard Dark Pact once you reach combat – this means you’ll be taking a ton of damage before you even swing for the first time. 

Chaos Cults are a very thematic army and will be fun to build and model, but they’re without a doubt the worst army in the book. One of the key rules for the Detachment, in addition to Desperate Devotion is that Traitor Guardsmen gain the BATTLELINE keyword in this Detachment. Just in case you wanted to really lean into Traitor Guardsmen. That’s what you wanted, right? Great.

It’s worth doing a quick recap here of which units are DAMNED units in the new book. Specifically, here are your DAMNED datasheets:

  • Traitor Enforcer
  • Dark Commune
  • Cultist Firebrand
  • Cultist Mob
  • Accursed Cultists
  • Traitor Guardsmen Squad
  • Fellgor Beastmen

That gives you some options but on the whole those are not what you’d consider powerful datasheets. Let’s look at how you can improve them.

Traitor Enforcer. Credit: Fowler


Let’s take a look at the Enhancements. These all share a quirk in that they can go on a Dark Apostle, though three can go on DAMNED units. As a reminder, your DAMNED characters list is the Traitor Enforcer, Dark Commune, and the Cultist Firebrand.

  • Cultist’s Brand (20 points)– Dark Apostle or Damned model only. So long as every other model in the bearer’s unit (Excluding Dark Disciples) is Damned, you can re-roll Advance and Charge rolls made for the bearer’s unit.
  • Amulet of Tainted Vigour (20 points) – Dark Apostle model only. In your Command phase, you can return up to D3 destroyed Damned models (excluding Characters) to the bearer’s unit.
  • Incendiary Goad (15 points) – Dark Apostle or Damned model only. While the bearer’s unit is below its Starting Strength, add 1 to the Strength of the unit’s melee weapons. While they’re below half-strength, add 1 to their melee Attacks as well.
  • Warped Foresight (10 points) – Dark Apostle or Damned model only. The bearer has the Scouts 6″ ability. You basically need this on a character you’re attaching to Accursed Cultists in order to allow them to Scout with the character in tow.

When I look at these, the only one I genuinely like is bringing back models, followed closely by the Scout move. Dark Apostles are the units which are going to make this army run, so it’s good to see that they are supported with enhancements. Warped Foresight is also going to be necessary if your plan is to actually scout with a unit of Accursed Cultists attached to a character.

Fellgor Ravagers. Credit: Fowler


The Stratagems here tend to focus on making desperate pacts or additional pact rolls to succeed, meaning they’re going to cost you dearly, especially if you don’t have an attached character to boost your Leadership.

  • Chosen for Glory (Battle Tactic, 1 CP) – Your unit can make a Desperate Pact in the Shooting or Fight phase. For making the Pact, they get to re-roll all hits for the phase; for passing the Pact, they also get to re-roll wounds. This is a super good Stratagem. It allows more play for when you get your cultists into the melee, and it’s where you want to have your best Leadership values. It’s great for a unit attached to a Dark Apostle, both because it gives them Leadership 5+ and because it works well with his +1 to wound rolls. 
  • Selfless Demise (Strategic Ploy, 1 CP) – Whenever a model is removed from your Damned unit during a melee combat, roll a D6; on a 6, the opposing unit takes a single mortal wound. This is pretty cool when you’re running your 20 blocks of cultists, and you’re getting cleaved in half by Death Company.
  • Infernal Sacrifice (Battle Tactic, 1 CP) – Pick a unit that hasn’t fought yet. That unit can make a Desperate Pact. If they do, then no matter what you roll, they take D3 mortal wounds – that’s on top of the D3 they take if you fail the test. Then, the unit gets +1 to its melee Attacks and if you passed the Pact test they also get +1 Strength to its melee weapons. It’s a very thematic strategy but extremely dangerous. I’d stick to using this on Accursed Cultists, where going to 3 and D6+3 attacks will get you the most value. This is going to be one of your primary melee weapons for pushing into units which are stronger or more durable than your own.
  • Crazed Focus (Battle Tactic, 1 CP) – Used in your Shooting phase. Pick a DAMNED unit that hasn’t shot and they can make a Desperate Pact. If they do, until the end of the phase, improve the AP of their attacks by 1. If they passed the Leadership test, they also get +1 Strength on those attacks. Your big issue here is just that your shooting on Damned units just isn’t very good, especially since Cultist Mobs can’t take grenade launchers, flamers, or autoguns any more. Your best options here are the Cultist Firebrand and the Traitor Guardsmen Squad, and spending CP on their shooting is pretty rough.
  • Reckless Hate (Strategic Ploy, 1 CP) – One DAMNED unit can Charge even if it Advanced this turn. Relatively simple; used in the Command phase. Always useful, always great.
  • Mortal Thralls (Strategic Ploy, 1 CP) – Used during your opponent’s Shooting phase, just after an enemy unit has selected the targets of attacks. You need one HERETIC ASTARTES unit picked as the target of the attacks and one DAMNED unit within 3″ of your unit and visible to the attacking unit. Until the end of the phase, each time your opponent makes a wound roll for an attack on your ASTARTES unit, if the DAMNED unit is visible to the attacking model and eligible for that attack, no roll is made and the DAMNED unit instead takes a number of mortal wounds equal to the Damage characteristic of the attack.

    To talk about this more plainly: My opponent shoots my rhino with a Las Cannon. I respond by spending a command point and pointing at the block of 20 cultists next to the rhino. My opponent shoots their Lascannon. Hits my Rhino. Then, it does not make a wound roll but instead rolls for damage. They roll a 5, and I lose 5 cultists. This strategy is a pretty exciting way to give units more wounds to our units that matter, and will be my primary use for 20-man cultist squads. Note as well that your Cultist units are also HERETIC ASTARTES units so you can use one DAMNED unit to take the shots for another, letting your Cultist Mob screen for your Accursed Cultists. 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Playing This Detachment

Any list you build for this Detachment is going to focus heavily around making Desperate Pacts to get those movement boosts. +2″ of Movement and +2 to your Charges really push you toward Accursed Cultist units, and that’s where a unit with a Dark Commune using the Warped Foresight Enhancement really does work – You can pull a 6″ scout move, followed by an 8″ regular move, added to an Advance (3.5″ on average), give them the ability to Advance and Charge with Reckless Hate, and then add +2″ to your charge move with another Desperate Pact (7″ average charge distance) for an average of 26.5″ of movement on the first turn of the game. That said, it’s only one unit, and they’re not nearly as durable as they used to be, so blitzing a single Accursed unit across the table turn 1 to make a trade isn’t necessarily what you want to be doing most games. But having that unit is completely necessary – it’s a good option to have to punish opponents and being able to put them wherever you want turn 1 is valuable.

Instead, you’re going to want to set up units for counter-charges as often as possible and try and make profitable trades. You’re not going to get much profit out of being the aggressor, but you can use tanks or more durable units to hold a flank while setting up for your charges. 

Generally, you’re going to have a ton of units taking tons of Leadership checks. This Detachment leans into the aesthetic of trading life for power. Stratagems like Infernal Sacrifice, Crazed Focus, and Chosen for Glory will call on you to make as many as five Pact tests in a turn, and while those let you stack some great bonuses, they’re also going to cost you.

Don’t be afraid of taking Traitor Guardsmen, either – their datasheet isn’t much but what they do is give you access to Melta guns, plasma guns, and grenade launchers which can threaten a myriad of targets. Remember that your army consists of units with Toughness 3 and a 6+ armor save so durability will be a problem. Using Strategic Reserves and big numbers of units can allow you to get around the table safely and challenge flanks. Also, the humble Rhino is an amazing piece of our strategy here as it can be filled with useful support units – you can put DAMNED units in it but most of the time you want those in units of 20 models, and they’re better off acting as ablative wounds with the Mortal Thralls Stratagem while something like Chosen or Legionaries pop out of the Rhino to do some real killing.

Leadership Value Reference

You’re going to be making a lot of Leadership tests, so you need to know which Leaders are available and what their values are.

  • Dark Apostle: 5+
  • Traitor Enforcer: 6+
  • Dark Commune: 6+
  • Cultist Firebrand: 6+
  • Fabius Bile: 6+

Note in addition to these Leadership values, the Dark Commune comes with a Chaos Icon, allowing you to re-roll tests made with the Dark Pacts ability. This does not apply to tests made for Desperate Pacts. And don’t sleep on Bile! His ability to join Accursed Cultists and Chosen Cultists is new, and giving a unit of Accursed Cultists +1 Strength and Toughness is pretty nifty.

Please don’t get stuck on the idea that this list can only take Cultists. Though every stratagem in this Detachment pretty much affects Damned only, we need to be sure that we’re taking units that can also kill things. Vindicators are still one of the best things we can take in this codex, and there’s a place for Forgefiends and units of Legionaries with Masters of Execution.

Credit: Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms

A Sample List

I took most of the exciting things in this Detachment and tried to lean into them when building a list. Note that this list is using the current Munitorum Points, and so may not reflect the final points on the book’s release.

There’s one primary unit here – the 16 Accursed Cultists squad led by the Dark Commune. This unit scouts forward and tries to get into position for a key counter-charge early. Keeping in mind that our army is very squishy, I also made sure to put Accursed Cultists in some Rhinos to open things up for more early positioning and movement. This is supported by a firebase of Vindicators, a Forgefiend, and a Helbrute, all acting as a slightly mobile firebase. The plan is to use the Helbrute to actively double-buff the entire time and use the tanks to de-mech my opponent and give the Cultists a squishier target to fight.

Finally, you have Cypher and the four units of Traitor Guardsmen. My game plan was to start almost all these units off the table and walk them on the board’s edges. Cypher, now having the ability to shoot back every time one of his friends gets shot within 3 inches, makes our juicy Guardsman targets less appealing as they will take retaliatory plasma and bolter fire every time they get shot. Capping things off is two units of Nurglings to Infiltrate and make sure that the Rhinos and Accursed Cultists have the space they need to Scout and push into the areas they want.

Cyphers Damned - Click to expand



Dark Commune
– Warped Foresight


Cultist Mob x20

Cultist Mob x20

Accursed Cultists x16

Accursed Cultists x8

Accursed Cultists x8

Traitor Guardsmen x10
– Meltagun
– Cultist Grenade launcher
– Plasma gun

Traitor Guardsmen x10
– Meltagun
– Cultist Grenade launcher
– Plasma gun

Traitor Guardsmen x10
– Meltagun
– Cultist Grenade launcher
– Plasma gun

Traitor Guardsmen x10
– Meltagun
– Cultist Grenade launcher
– Plasma gun


Chaos Rhino

Chaos Rhino


Chaos Vindicator

Chaos Vindicator

– Hades Autocannons
– Ectoplasma Cannon

– Plasma Cannon + Helbrute Fist




Cultists. Credit: Rockfish
Cultists. Credit: Rockfish

Final Thoughts

Look, dear readers, I am a person who thinks everything has a chance. For the low cost of three CP and five Leadership Tests, we can make one rad unit that is terrifying* – provided  we didn’t murder the entire unit in the process. Using units like Dark Apostles might make this less of a threat, but that means throwing a lot of points to buff a trash unit, and I’m not sure that’s worth the effort. This Detachment could be very cool if someone comes up with a wild spam build, and I really hope they do because I adore the flavor behind this Detachment. All the praying for power is precisely what I want to see from a Chaos Space Marines army. The bonuses given to successful Pacts in the Stratagems is something I’d have liked to see in the other Detachments (and they show up a bit in the Soulforged Warpack).

Chaos is all about going to the Chaos Gods, asking them for a gift, and sometimes not getting anything for it. While Chaos Cults may also get the usual stuff like sustained hits and lethal hits, this Detachment shows us what Chaos could be and what a correct form of their Stratagems should look like. “You want to ask us for power? Sure, but such power comes at a price.” I can’t wait to see what the community comes up with for this Detachment. Toss me some ideas for Hear Me Out, and let’s try to make this the best Detachment in the book.

*Terrifying for cultists. It’s all relative.

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