How To Paint Everything: Thousand Sons

In our How to Paint Everything series, we take a look at different armies of the Warhammer universe, examine their history and heraldry, and look at several different methods for painting them. Today we look at the Sons of Magnus, tragically rendered to dust by the hubris of Ahriman, the Thousand Sons.

The Thousand Sons

Who Are The Thousand Sons?

Ah, the tragic tale of the Thousand Sons. The fifteenth Legion of Space Marines, the Thousand Sons were pre-eminent warriors and scholars who claimed the world of Prospero as their own, where they built grand cities and libraries, and sought to understand the truths of the Universe.

Tizca, capital city of Prospero Credit: Games Workshop
Tizca, capital city of Prospero Credit: Games Workshop

The XV Legion was uniquely composed almost entirely of psykers and their mastery of the psychic arts was unparalleled. This was a point of friction with several other Legions who looked upon psykers with suspicion or disgust. Their unique gift also brought with it the curse of the flesh change, degenerative mutations that afflicted many in the legion and caused their numbers to dwindle rapidly until the arrival of their Primarch, Magnus the Red.

Magnus the Red Credit: Games Workshop
Magnus the Red Credit: Games Workshop

Magnus stabilized the gene-seed of his legion and for some time, it looked as though the Thousand Sons had a bright future. As part of the Great Crusade, the sons of Magnus saw great success in bringing worlds into compliance through their mastery of psychic warfare and adept diplomacy. Sadly, this would not last; the suspicion and derision of their fellow Astartes would come to a head and lead to the Council of Nikea, which resulted in the Emperor’s decree that the legions would no longer employ Psykers. While this affected most legions to some degree, it was effectively a repudiation of the entire fifteenth legion and forced them to withdraw to their homeworld.

Shortly after the Edict of Nikea, Magnus learned through the Warp of Horus’ treachery and sought to psychically warn the Emperor. This proved to be his undoing: the Emperor was furious at the clear violation of his edict and formed a sanction fleet to return Magnus to Terra and hold him to account. Horus then manipulated the Space Wolves into instead attacking and destroying the world of Prospero.

Burning of Prospero
Burning of Prospero Credit: Games Workshop


Despite the Edict of Nikea, Magnus and his legion had remained staunchly loyal up to this point. But the destruction of their homeworld turned the legion to nominally join Horus’ traitors, though they had almost no participation in the heresy itself save for joining the final battle on Terra. Retreating into the Eye of Terror, the legion embraced Tzeentch and the worship of Chaos. Magnus would be transformed into a Daemon Prince and once again the flesh-change would plague the sons of Magnus.

Magnus the Daemon Prince Credit: Robert "TheChirurgeon" Jones
Magnus the Daemon Primarch Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones


With the legion once again succumbing to mutation, its final death blow would come from within, dealt by Ahzek Ahriman, Chief Librarian of the Thousand Sons. Determined to save his brothers from the flesh-change and blinded by hubris, he wove a grand ritual known as the Rubric of Ahriman that would halt the mutations that had so long afflicted his legion. In a sense, he was successful; in one fell swoop, most of the legion was turned to dust, Space Marines transformed into dust-filled living automata encased within their now-sealed astartes armour. Only the most psychically gifted in the legion were spared from turning into Rubric Marines and it was left to them to herd their now mostly empty-minded brothers. With the rubric, the legion was effectively destroyed and scattered throughout the Eye of Terror as fragmented warbands. As for Ahriman, he was banished by Magnus and would be hunted by his brethren for millennia to come, though they’d eventually settle their differences in order to stage an assault on the Space Wolves and Fenris in the Time of the Wulfen campaign.

Ahriman Credit: Robert "TheChirurgeon" Jones
Ahriman Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones


Where To Read More

Thousand Sons are blessed by copious words written about them, and a lot of them are even good. While written largely from the perspective of a Space Wolves Skjald, Dan Abnett’s* Prospero Burns is a great look at the Thousand Sons from an outside perspective and covers one of the most important events in their history.

Even better for understanding the legion post-heresy is Chris Wraight’s War of the Fang which has Magnus invading Fenris and includes a lot of great scenes from the perspective of the few remaining Thousand Sons sorcerers and how they are dealing with the aftermath of their legion’s shattering.

The Ahriman trilogy by John French is a fantastic character-focused story that looks at Ahriman’s journey from exile back to pre-eminent chaos sorcerer in his quest to undo the damage wrought on his legion by his rubric spell. John French is a great writer and his take on Ahriman is interesting and well-written, giving you a main character you kind of want to root for but also hate.

Some people also like Thousand Sons by Graham McNeill. I think he’s a misogynist and bad writer so I haven’t read it but it will give you a look at the legion pre-heresy as well as the burning of Prospero from the Thousand Sons’ perspective.


Painting Thousand Sons

Bonds’ Method

When it comes to the traditional Rubric scheme, there’s basically two ways to go about this:

  1. Basecoat the model in gold and then fill in the armour panels with blue.
  2. Basecoat the model in blue and then paint the gold trim.

I’ve tried both methods and they’re equally valid (Duncan’s Warhammer TV tutorial uses method 1) but I prefer method 2. The reason for this is that it gives me the opportunity to do easier gradient work with the airbrush on the armour panels and this ultimately results in greater tonal variety and a better looking model. If you’re just gonna do basecoat and wash, then method 1 is probably easier.

So here was my approach:

Rubric Marine WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez
Rubric Marine WIP Credit: Alfredo Ramirez
  1. For assembly, I used quite a few subassemblies to make my life easier. I kept the head and backpack separate, which is typical, but also the shoulder pads since they’re quite bulky and can make arm details hard to get to that are still visible after assembly. Also, because I am focusing on Kill Team, I magnetized the guns on all my Rubrics, which would also make painting them much easier.
  2. The key to this scheme is the blue and for this I used Reaper’s Ocean Blue triad. It starts with a nice dark greenish blue and goes up to a bright aqua. It makes for a great transition and you can see my approach to creating contrast in the initial spray. It looks quite dark but comes out quite rich and bright once all is said and done.
  3. There’s not a ton more colors to do. For the white I used my typical method of VMC Light Sea Grey as a solid basecoat, mixed with white ink to strengthen the effect, and then hit with Reaper Ghost White. This gave me a nice crisp white that went on smoothly. For the yellow I wanted something quite saturated and used VMC Deep Yellow mixed with yellow ink to up the saturation. For the Gold I used the usual Scale75 stuff, mostly Necro Gold here for that worn gold look along with Dwarven Gold for the brighter spots. Then a gloss coat and pin wash with oils to line the panels.
  4. Last step is to edge highlight, which is quite simple on these guys since there’s nowhere near as many edges as on a primaris dude. I use a bright sky blue for the blue armour, a desaturated yellow for the yellow and Scale75 Citrine Alchemy for the gold. For the bases, I went with a neutral stone color that would help offset the blue of the mini.
Rubric Marine Credit: Alfredo Ramirez
Rubric Marine Credit: Alfredo Ramirez


Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones’ Method

Thousand Sons were always part of my plan to cover all nine Traitor Legions. I bought these off another goon right before the second part of “Curse of the Wulfen” campaign dropped in 7th edition, which gave me an entire Thousand Sons army to paint. This was great timing for me rules-wise, but the problem was they also released new Rubric Marines right after I finished painting my two squads! Since then I’ve added to the army in spurts, with a little here and there. My scheme predates the release of the “Thousand Sons Blue” paint color, and so is based more on the 2nd edition Chaos Codex scheme, with a deeper blue.

Rubric Marine Credit: Robert "TheChirurgeon" Jones Rubric Marine Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Prime: Black. Always Black.

The Blue: Like Bonds, I’m in a “blue first, then trim” mindset because it makes doing fades and gradients with the blue easier. I start by base coating everything with Kantor Blue, then I do several passes drybrushing progressively lighter mixes of Kantor Blue and Lothern Blue while the paint is still wet until I get something that’s closer in color to Caledor Sky. Then I edge highlight with Lothern blue.

Yellow Stripes: Basecoat with Averland Sunset, then highlight with watered-down Flash Gitz Yellow.

Gold Trim: Retributor Armour base, shade with Agrax Earthshade in multiple layers (usually 2) to dull and create shading. Edge with Runefang Steel or Ironbreaker.

Metal Parts: Basecoat with Leadbealcher, then wash with Nuln Oil, then highlight with Ironbreaker. I used Ironbreaker used for all the rivets.

Gemstones: Khorne Red as a basecoat, then I shade that with Carroburg Crimson and Nuln oil up to the corner. Put a dot of Abaddon Black and Reaper Pure White in the upper right corner, put a swirl of Mephiston Red and Evil Sunz Scarlet in the lower left. Standard GW gemstone procedure.

Tabards: Basecoat with Celestra Gray, cover and highlight with Reaper Pure White.I’ll usually add a design to this with Abaddon Black, or draw something using a .005 Micron Pen.

Bolter: Basecoat with Mephiston Red, shade with Carroburg Crimson, then edge highlight with Evil Sunz Scarlet.

Eyes: Moot Green.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones


The Two Beans’ Method


Tzeentch had always intrigued me since I started the 40k hobby. The idea of an all-powerful god pulling everyone’s strings while his followers use magic and daemons against brute force and conventional (in the 41st millennium at least) weaponry. Reading through Codex Imperialis from the 2nd Edition starter box set just drew me in, and as an Imperial Space Marine player, I knew I was missing out on something. I mean, look at this:

Rubric Marine
Kill Like An Egyptian (Credit: Games Workshop)

In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future, there is this far-out looking dude. The problem was, there was ONLY that dude. There were no other miniatures in production for the Thousand Sons. In fact, the picking for CSM at the time were very slim. For World Eaters there was a box of 10 plastics minatures that were all the same pose and a handful of metal minis in blisters, Emperor’s Children had two sculpts, Death Guard and Thousand Sons had one sculpt each. The Chaos army list was also barebones, three whole pages in Codex: Army Lists which was a small booklet only meant to get someone started in an army and to tide people over until their real Codex book was released.

Now seeing as how my options were limited, both for modeling and for list building, I just kind of admired the idea of having a Chaos army. It wasn’t until the summer of 1997 and the release of Codex: Chaos that the seeds of heresy finally take root. The army list was updated and balanced to the level of the other codex books. Each of the four Chaos Gods had their own unique marine units, with Tzeentch’s Thousand Sons having a cool gimmick of being MAGIC MUMMY MARINES. The model line also expanded, with new plastic and metal miniatures. There was one exception, however. There were no new sculpts for the Thousand Sons. There were however images in the Codex that led me down a path of thinking that this wasn’t really much of a deterrent.

Thousand Sons
Oh hey I recognize that helmet. (Credit: Games Workshop)


Chaos Conversions
Oh wait, you mean I can actually do these kind of things to models? (Credit: Games Workshop)


This opened the doors wide on starting a Thousand Sons army for me. I didn’t have a whole lot of money as a jobless bum teenager, but what I did have was a ton of older models given to me by friends in my gaming group and a growing bits box. This led me to my first squad of Thousand Sons.

Lost Sons
All is dust….and lead…carved bits of sprue…glued paper, oh yeah and this ork chainsword and also these Bretonnian horns. Mostly dust tho. (Credit: Gary “Two Beans”)

I was All In on this convert your dudes aspect. I had even replicated the conversion shown in the top left corner of the Codex image. I got a twisted pleasure in grinding down a pewter miniature just to collect its head, and an even greater pleasure in clipping the head off an older out of production lead marine captain. Sadly, no pictures survive of that guy.

There was one issue with fielding Thousand Sons as An Army. The lore of “everyone’s a sorcerer or a mummy thrall” didn’t allow for a whole lot of variety in force composition. There were no Havok or Veteran Squads in the Thousand Sons. This is where I decided to not only convert my miniatures, but also convert the lore a bit. What we call nowadays, Forging the Narrative.

Warriors of Anubis
Enter The Anubis Warriors (or The Warriors of Anubis) (Credit: Gary Two Beans)

A small contingent of Thousand Sons stranded after the Horus Heresy, fortunate enough to avoid being turned into sorcerous automatons by the Rubric of Ahriman. They sweep across the galaxy in search of their Rubricae brotheren, gathering them under their banner while seeking for the knowledge and power to reverse the Rubric of Ahriman, in addition to striking blows against the betrayal of the False Emperor and his crumbling Imperium.

The Lost Sons
Warriors of Anubis Credit: Gary “Two Beans”
The Lost Sons
Anubis Warriors? Credit: Gary “Two Beans”


I ended up exiting the hobby in 3rd Edition for whatever reasons, and a lot has happened with the Thousand Sons since. With model lines in 40K and Horus Heresy, there’s no shortage of Sons to build from. Returning to the hobby in 2017 after a long hiatus, I decided to build a force with similar themes to my first CSM army. Enter the Lost Sons.

The Lost Sons
The Lost Sons Credit: Gary “Two Beans”


Using army rules from Codex: Heretic Astartes and models from mostly Horus Heresy with a few models and conversions from 40k, AOS, WHFB. They will eventually be the larger part of a Tzeentch collection consisting of Daemons, Knights, and regular Thousand Sons.

Lost Sons Paint Scheme

The Model


  • Kantor Blue base
  • Nuln oil applied liberally
  • Kantor Blue drybrush
  • Thousand Sons Blue drybrush/highlight
  • Blue Horror edge highlight

Tabards/Robes/veteran colors (shoulder pads, kneepads, helmets):

  • Xereus Purple base
  • Screamer Pink highlight
  • Pink Horror edge highlight

Weapon casings/exposed cabling/limb articulation/melee weapon grips:

  • Abaddon Black base
  • Eshin Grey drybrush
  • Celestra Grey highlight
  • Administratum Grey edge highlight


  • Abaddon Black base
  • Skavenblight Dinge drybrush
  • Stormvirmin Fur highlight
  • Dawnstone edge highlight

Grey metallics/vents/cybernetics/gun metal/unpowered blades:

  • Leadbelcher base
  • Nuln Oil Gloss
  • Runefang Steel highlight or Necron Compound drybrush if larger area
  • Stormhost Silver edge highlight

Gold trim/blade hilts/gold ornamentation/:

  • Retributor Armour base
  • Reikland Fleshshade Gloss
  • Auric Armour Gold highlight
  • Liberator Gold edge highlight
  • Stormhost Silver point/corner highlight

Bronze bits (flamer nozzles/swords)

  • Warplock Bronze base
  • Screaming Bell highlight
  • Hashut Copper edge highlight
  • Sycorax Bronze edge point/corner highlight

Thousand Sons heraldry (alternating bands on armour/ornamentation/banners):


  • Thousand Sons Blue base
  • Nuln Oil recess shade (if large area)
  • Ahriman Blue highlight
  • Blue Horror edge highlight


  • Averland Sunset base
  • Yriel Yellow second base
  • Cassandora Yellow recess shade (if large area)
  • Flash Gitz Yellow edge highlight


  • Ceramite White base
  • Waywatcher Green glaze


  • Stormhost Silver or Auric Armour Gold base
  • Soulstone Blue, Waystone Green, or Spiritstone Red over metallic base

The Base

  • Zandri Dust base for large stones/bricks/rubble/ruins
  • Armageddon Dust/Armageddon Dunes/ Agrellan Badland/Agrellan Earth for the top of the base itself
  • Armageddon Dust placed in spots on top of surfaces, in corners as random small rubble and dust
  • Agrax Earthshade shade
  • Zandri Dust drybrush
  • Tyrant Skull lighter drybrush
  • Wraithbone fine drybrush
  • Cassandora Yellow shade
  • Tyrant Skull drybrush
  • Wraithbone fine drybrush
  • Skull White ultra-fine drybrush
  • Season with Mordheim Turf

Tyrant Skull drybrush over lower half of model, getting heavier as you go down. Make it look messy. Feet should be almost fully covered as if to fade into the base.

Vehicle treads/wheels/undercarrages:

  • Liberal usage of Agrax Earthshade and Typhus Corrosion
  • Zandri Dust drybrush
  • Tyrant Skull lighter drybrush
  • Wraithbone fine drybrush
  • Cassandora Yellow as a tint on flat surfaces and edges (avoid getting into recesses)
  • Tyrant Skull drybrush *Wraithbone fine drybrush
  • Skull White ultra-fine drybrush
Credit: Gary “TwoBeans”



The Thousand Sons are a tragic legion with an interesting backstory and some really great-looking models that look great on the tabletop and play just as well in most of the rule systems you’ll play with them. At some point, we will have to cover some of the real centerpieces in this army like Ahriman or Magnus, but for now, get painting some Rubrics!