Getting Started: Tyranids (9th Edition)

At Goonhammer we’ve devoted a lot of words to talking about how to compete and take your game to the next level. In “Getting Started,” we look at how to get started with an army – the basics you need to know, how to start collecting models that will leave you with a serviceable army, and what the best deals are.

Who are the Tyranids?

Credit: Rockfish

“They are coming! I feel them scratching inside my mind, scratching, screaming, running, so many – so, so many voices. They are coming for us – flesh, body and soul!”

The Great Devourer. Star Children. The Tyranids have many names. In a galaxy of inhuman dangers, the Tyranids are truly an alien race encroaching from outside of the known galaxy. Their invasions up to this point have been incredibly devastating and many researchers posit (albeit out of earshot of leadership) that what they have experienced thus far are small scouting tendrils of an overwhelming large existential threat. The name Tyranid is derived from the first planet which they were officially encountered, Tyran, which they promptly devoured.

With some minor exception individual Tyranid creatures do not have meaningful personalities or thoughts, their minds are linked across the warp to the gestalt intelligence known as the Hive Mind that utilizes their bodies with brutal efficiency. Should they ever be separated from the Hive Mind, they tend to revert to their more animalistic nature and lose any coherent organization and tactics. Synapse creatures such as the monstrous Hive Tyrant have permanent bonds to the Hive Mind and can act as a transmitter to nearby Tyranids. Some creatures, most famously Genestealers and Lictors, were specifically designed to act outside of the Tyranid fleet as a means to disrupt enemy defenses ahead of an invasion. True to their name, Genestealers can go so far as to genetically blend themselves with other sentient species and corrupt their society resulting in a cult that draws the voracious tendrils of the Tyranid near

On the tabletop Tyranids offer a variety of xenos-fueled fun and run the gamut from a horde army of hundreds of small models to “Nidzilla” that only uses the largest and most dangerous of the model range. They have a strong mix of shooting and melee, can generally ignore morale tests if properly supported by Synapse creatures, and are fast enough that they can quickly overwhelm an opponent. While unit toughness varies a good deal, the majority of your army is likely going to be either squishy or tough, and its up to you to determine how you balance your units between numerous very killable models and individual dangerous monsters. This army can be a big draw for people who enjoy the Warhammer 40,000 universe but are after something that is decidedly outside of the Imperium range.

The Tyranid faction has been on a long journey, both literal and metaphorical. For a number of editions they had been provided relatively lackluster rulesets, often having GW come back later to spruce things up with supplements and special rules. To our pleasant surprise (and the dismay of the galaxy), the Tyranid 9th edition book is incredibly strong, robust, and fun.

Army Strengths

  • Strong psychic presence with good powers and unique mechanic (Synaptic Link)
  • High level of adaptability during gameplay using Hyper-Adaptation* and Synaptic Imperatives
  • Auto-pass morale tests with Synapse
  • Powerful shooting and melee monsters
  • Many fast units and ways to appear via reserves

*Matched Play rules now force you to lock in your Hyper-Adaptation choice during army construction

Credit: PierreTheMime

Army Weaknesses

  • Army weakens outside of Synapse; relatively low Ld. scores can causes losses/failed checks
  • Targeted elimination of Synapse models can impact access to abilities
  • Mechanics that shut down Auras can affect Morale checks

As hinted at in the strengths/weaknesses above, Tyranids are sitting in a pretty solid place. Individual unit entries all range from good to great and in proper combination they can be extremely effective on the table. The only significant Achilles heel the army has at the time (aside from just repeated application of bolt rounds, lasers, etc.) is the targeted elimination of Synapse creatures to break the Synaptic Link chain and rules that force them to take leadership checks outside of the Morale phase. There aren’t too many armies that have that type of thing going on right now but those that have access and apply them appropriately can be more challenging for our heroes, the voracious horde of bugs.

The Books

As it stands the only book you will need to play Tyranids is the 9th edition Codex: Tyranids. If you intend to use some of the optional Forgeworld units, you will also need Imperial Armour Compendium.

Planning Your Army

From the outset you’ll want to have a general concept for how you want your army to function. The Tyranid faction is split amongst a number of different Hive Fleets, each of which offer a special Adaptive trait, a Warlord Trait, and a Relic. If none of those meet your expectations, there’s also the option to create a custom Hive Fleet by selecting from a pool of traits from the Lurk, Hunt, or Feed options. Note that with custom fleets you will not get specialized traits or relics (the default options are pretty serviceable). Unlike previous editions, the Hive Fleets each grant significant bonuses but aren’t necessarily going to lock you into a choice of play style.

We won’t go into all the options each Hive Fleet is capable of, but let’s review each of the main fleets and their general traits and abilities:


  • +1S while charging/charged/Heroic Intervention-ing
  • Re-rolls charges
  • Warlord Trait can inflict additional mortal wounds on 6s to hit
  • Psychic power adds +1 to wound for a unit
  • Relic that adds 1 damage to melee weapons
  • A stratagem that allows slain infantry that has not activated to attack before being removed

Summary: This fleet emphasizes aggression, rewarding charges and increasing the capability of lesser units to wound tougher targets. Behemoth benefits all types of lists, but is a potential powerhouse for hordes.


  • +1AP while charging
  • Advance rolls are 3+d3″ instead of d6″
  • Warlord Trait recovers 1CP for any stratagem used by an opponent on a 5+
  • Psychic power allows units to reroll charges against a targeted enemy unit
  • Relic that reduces hit rolls by -1 and disallows re-rolls of hit
  • A stratagem that allows a unit to advance 8″ and ignore hit roll penalty for advancing

Summary: Kraken improves the overall speed of the army while offering up some survivability/utility. The +1AP is a fantastic off-set to the Armour of Contempt bonus that has made so many enemy factions more survivable.


  • Wound rolls of 1-3 fails on Synapse units, wound rolls of 1-2 fail on non-Synapse units in Synapse range
  • Units may re-roll one hit roll in the shooting and fight phase
  • Warlord Trait to re-roll one of the following: hit, wound, damage, advance, psychic test, saving throw
  • Psychic power allows one CORE unit to benefit from an inactive Synaptic Imperative
  • Relic allows one CORE or Character unit to fire on an enemy unit appearing from reserves
  • A stratagem that adds +1AP to attacks on an enemy unit that is engaged with two or more Leviathan units

Summary: Leviathan offers incredible durability for Synapse models that were already pretty tough, and the natural reroll can assist units that have a small number of high-powered shoots (venom cannons). The innate benefits of this fleet are great, but its trait/relic/strat are a bit iffy and aren’t all that useful.


  • Units attacking non-VEHICLE/TITANIC always wound targets on a 4+ (shooting or melee)
  • Units can re-roll one wound roll in the shooting and fight phase
  • Warlord Trait can inflict mortal wounds to nearby enemy units
  • Psychic power that causes 6s to wound in melee to inflict an additional mortal wound (up to 6)
  • Relic adds +1T and doubles wounds for the purpose of bracketing
  • A stratagem that causes TOXIN SACS models to automatically wound on 5+ to hit

Summary: Gorgon is a poison fleet and it really shows in their bonuses, as it can tear down monsters and tough infantry in a sea of toxic talons. This is another fleet that really benefits large numbers of infantry and where Devourers might actually find some use (probably not).


  • Non-MONSTER units 12″+ away and MONSTER units 18″+ away are treated as in Dense cover
  • Halve the model count for determining Blast weapon hits (11+ for minimum 3 hits, 21+ for minimum 6)
  • Warlord Trait grants the ability to ignore the benefits of cover to a unit in Synaptic Link range
  • Psychic power that adds +1AP to melee attacks against a target
  • Relic that denies the ability to perform actions if it beats the targets Ld. score on 3d6
  • A stratagem to place any non-TITANIC unit in “deep strike” reserve

Summary: A hive fleet capable of waiting out the enemy at range while setting up for the strike, Jormungandr offers up some solid survivability and utility for when its time to strike.


  • +4″ range to any shooting attacks
  • +1AP to shooting attacks within half range
  • Warlord Trait that forces a Perils of the Warp on any doubles on enemy psychic tests
  • Psychic power improves the strength of shooting attacks by 1
  • Relic causes one enemy unit within Synaptic Link range to not re-roll hits/wounds or psychic tests
  • A stratagem that causes a failed psychic tests to inflict d3 mortal wounds until the end of the phase

Summary: If you like shooting the enemy at range, Kronos is your friend. There’s not too much synergy between the shooting and anti-psyker aspects of the fleet, but it does potentially force psychic armies to be more cautious which in turn causes them to get shot more.


  • Units that outnumber the enemy models in the fight phase get +1 to hit
  • +1″ to unit movement and +3″ to consolidation in the fight phase
  • Warlord Trait that allows the Warlord to regenerate d3 wounds per turn
  • Psychic power inflicts a mortal wound for every 5+ rolled based on how many models are near enemy unit
  • Relic that offers full re-rolls to wound for ranged attacks
  • A stratagem that adds +1 to wound if the attacking units models outnumbers the enemy units models

Summary: This is the poster-fleet if you’re looking to field a ravening horde of gribblies. Extra speed and multiple roll modifiers when outnumbering your opponent is a great advantage when you’re fielding dozens of Termagants/Hormagaunts/Gargoyles. Depending on the opposing army, even large-ish units of Warriors can get in the action, and their improved hits/wounds will be far more devastating.

Typically the two major types of Tyranid army lists you’re going to see are either a mixed balance of Monsters and smaller infantry units or what is known as Nidzilla (a term that has dated back decades at this point), which is the best combination of giant monsters you can smash onto the tabletop. Some players will also opt for a horde, swathes of smaller models led by a few leader-beasts, but there’s two limitations to this–it’s slightly more difficult to play and its FAR more expensive monetarily due to the number of models you’ll need to buy. It’s certainly a fun time on its own, but its the least common build for sure.

Carnifexes. Credit: Rockfish
Carnifexes. Credit: Rockfish

So to break it down:
Hybrid – A mix of units for each role, adaptive to each faction with different applications of those units
Nidzilla – Relatively low model count with very tough/strong models, strong but can be overwhelmed
Horde – High model count, good at bullying opponents off objectives/scoring secondaries

At this point, the Tyranid have a great range of models to choose from, each one potentially filling a role within your army. While you can lean entirely melee, psychic, or shooting, its typically going to be best to elect for a mix that can take on all-comers. If you’re just looking to put cool-looking models on the table, almost any choice is going to be “fine”, but if the aim is to be competitive it’s best to focus on units that will accomplish your goals. There’s a bit of an analysis for each unit in the codex review, but we’ll leave a complete discussion on the topic to the forthcoming Start Competing article.

Collecting Your Army

Right now, the primary set to start off with is Combat Patrol: Tyranids. At £90/$150 this box provides a hefty savings of £23/$75 versus buying the individual model kits and gives you a good mix of troops and a powerful HQ to start. This gives you either a Hive Tyrant or Swarmlord model, 30 Termagants, 3 Tyranid Warriors, and 3 Ripper Swarms. Everything except the Ripper Swarms would not be out of place in good lists and Tyranid Warriors are a must these days, as their powerful weapons and lasting durability make them a key troop choice. If you’re just starting into Tyranids now, this is hands-down the best buy. If you’re looking to field a horde of Termagants, consider multiple boxes and either use the additional models in your list or consider selling them off toward other kits. Players that intend to go a different route will probably only need one.

Credit: Games Workshop

Unfortunately outside of seasonal and quick-selling special sets, Tyranids do not have any other bundled deals. Depending on how you plan on collecting, there is always the option of picking up lots of models second-hand on eBay or other sites. This process can be hit-or-miss but might be worth investigating if you don’t mind models preassembled and possibly painted strangely. We’ve certainly found some great deals over the years, and there are some instances where models (such as Neurothropes) might be much cheaper this way since you’d have to buy a box of three Zoanthropes to field the single model otherwise.

When planning your collection, it’s going to be worthwhile building out lists that you think will play to your style and then fashion a shopping list accordingly. Unless you’re planning on dropping a ton of cash at once, we’d recommend you shoot for 500pts to start, play around with your style, and then start slow-growing things from there. This type of play allows you to learn your units and get more confident with your command of the army as you go. For this reason, it also pairs very well with starting a Crusade campaign with your friends or players at a local game store.

Something that is tricky when collecting Tyranids: A number of units do not exist outside of larger boxes. There’s some history as to why, but the Tyranid Prime and Neurothrope HQ units are just modelling options in their base Tyranid Warrior and Zoanthrope plastic kits, respectively. If you model one of the three models in the box to match your HQ, the remaining models will not be a legal unit (they are minimum three per unit). This could potentially lead you to either buying them individually second-hand or fielding the HQ and the resulting unit as an addition to another box. While it’s not the end of the world if you exceed it, 9th edition has made 5-model units a sweet spot to avoid Blast type weapons and five Warriors or five Zoanthropes is just fine as a unit of their own.

Painting Your Army

Once you’ve got all the miniatures you want, you should start thinking about a paint scheme for them. If you’re looking for inspiration and examples, you should check out our painting article on tyranids:

How to Paint Everything: Tyranids

Sample Lists

So let’s takes a look at a few lists that we can grow out of the initial Combat Patrol box and the real-world costs to put them on the table. Bear in mind that many of these will not be hyper-competitive, as its more about getting familiar with the army and building up to a meaningful collection. Aside from using these examples to cover the basics, there’s something to be said about not just putting down the best “net list” you can find and annihilating your soon-to-be-not friend on turn one.

Combat Patrol: Tyranids 500pt list

This shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but you can actually make a decent starting list from just the models you get out of the Combat Patrol box. This list gives you some melee strength, some anti-tank punch, and good foundation to grow your army:

Patrol detachment: 500pts, 3CP

HQ: Hive Tyrant (Lashwhip and Monstrous Bonesword, Heavy Venom Cannon) 195pts

Troop: 3x Tyranid Warrior (3x Dual Boneswords, 2x Deathspitter, 1x Venom Cannon) 95pts
20x Termagant 140pts
Troop: 10x Termagant 70pts

MRSP: £90/$150

As one might expect at the lower point values, the list is barebones but it gives you a very tough HQ (many armies will have real trouble knocking out a T8 Monster at 500pts) and enough Troops to score objectives and complete some goals. The Tyranid Warriors offer a good counter-punch to any units trying to encroach on your turf and also gives you a second option to tag an enemy unit at long range with the Shardlure stratagem, which is a trick you always want to keep in mind for more reliable charges. You could potentially spend a CP or two on a warlord trait or relic depending on what Hive Fleet you angle for; take a look at your options and consider how each choice would impact play. For example, the Shardgullet relic is an appealing option with its devastating profile but at 500pts it might be overkill.

Hive Fleet Kill Team
Hive Fleet Kill Team. Credit: Pendulin

Hybrid Expansion 1000pt list

Expanding upon the current list, you could branch out toward some further psychic might and a little more forward aggression with another monster to rampage. Adding in a Neurothrope and Zoanthropes also provides you two additional Synaptic Imperatives to work with, both of which are extremely powerful.

Battalion detachment: 1000pts, 3CP

HQ: Hive Tyrant (Lashwhip and Monstrous Bonesword, Heavy Venom Cannon) 195pts
HQ: Neurothrope 100pts

Troop: 6x Tyranid Warrior (Adrenal Glands, 6x Dual Boneswords, 4x Deathspitter, 2x Venom Cannon) 205pts
Troop: 10x Termagant 70pts
Troop: 10x Termagant 70pts
Troop: 10x Termagant 70pts

Elite: 3x Zoanthrope 150pts

Heavy Support: Screamer-Killer (Adrenal Glands) 140pts

MRSP: Previous £90/$150 + £212.50/$295

This list builds on the Combat Patrol kit with the addition of another box of Tyranid Warriors, a Carnifex, and two Zoanthrope boxes. This will give you a few spare Zoanthropes and a Carnifex/Old One Eye/Thornback/Screamer-Killer for later use. You could also opt to build a second Neurothrope, if brain-bug HQs are your thing (they are rather good). As is the theme for so many army collections, you will start accumulating spare model options to play with and adjust as you get more comfortable with play.

Hybrid “Final Form” 2000pt list

This is it, a full 2000pt list that’s been growing over time. Now we’re adding some meat to the bones, filling out some powerful shooting, a defensive boon for our Warlord Hive Tyrant, and a few new tricks.

Battalion detachment: 2000pts, 5CP

HQ: Hive Tyrant (Lashwhip and Monstrous Bonesword, Heavy Venom Cannon) 195pts
HQ: Neurothrope 100pts

Troop: 6x Tyranid Warrior (Adrenal Glands, 6x Dual Boneswords, 4x Deathspitter, 2x Venom Cannon) 205pts
Troop: 6x Tyranid Warrior (Adrenal Glands, 6x Dual Boneswords, 4x Deathspitter, 2x Venom Cannon) 205pts
Troop: 10x Termagant 70pts
Troop: 10x Termagant 70pts
Troop: 10x Termagant 70pts

Elite: 3x Zoanthrope 150pts
Elite: 3x Tyrant Guard (Adrenal Glands, Bonecleaver and Lashwhip, Rending Claws) 135pts

Fast Attack: Parasite of Mortrex (WLT: Alien Cunning [-1CP]) 80pts

Heavy Support: Exocrine (Adaptive Physiology: Dermic Symbiosis) 225pts
Heavy Support:
Screamer-Killer (Adrenal Glands) 140pts
Heavy Support: Screamer-Killer (Adrenal Glands) 140pts

Flyer: Harpy (2x Heavy Venom Cannon, Adaptive Physiology: Synaptic Enhancement) 215pts

MRSP: Previous £302.50/$445 + £239/$398

This list brings in two more boxes of Tyranid Warriors (they really are that good), a box of Tyrant Guard, the Parasite of Mortrex clamshell kit, an Exocrine box, and a Harpy box. We also bring in that second Carnifex we’ve had lying about, so now we have some screaming/killing redundancy.

With this list, we have enough powerful shooting to threaten tough targets, while the Hive Tyrant, Warriors, and Screamer-Killers are all dangerous melee threats. Anything that comes near will be tangling with lots of high damage monsters and potent psykers. Finally, the Parasite of Mortex gives you some tactical flexibility for snagging objectives using the Alien Cunning trait and just being a general nuisance/distraction. With 5CP remaining, you have some budget to sprinkle in some traits and relics as you choose. As the name implies, the hybrid list covers all types of threat–it can inflict wounds in literally every possible phase!

Credit: PierreTheMime


We hope you’re excited about starting a new Hive Fleet! Tyranids are a unique and fun faction within Warhammer 40,000 and we hope that we’ve made them at least a bit more approachable. Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.comOr if you’re a patron, head on over to our Discord and chat with us!