There’s a new codex in our claws, so it’s time for me to rise out of the shadows for a deep dive into the new book! John Lennon here, and today we are talking about the Xenos uprising that will surely find root in a tournament near you. I may have meta-chased many armies, but this time I assure you that Genestealer Cults are my favorite army and were long before this codex was announced. Games Workshop have delivered an absolute gem to all of us four-armed fanatics in the community, and I’m here to unpack what the new book means for the competitive cultists among us. This article isn’t designed as a comprehensive review; if you’re looking for that I would recommend checking out Goonhammer’s review of the book. Instead, I’m going to focus on my first takes of the codex and where I’ll be starting with GSC as a competitive army.
Genestealer Cults have always been a difficult army to balance; as a flimsy but hard-hitting army full of tricks and underhanded tactics they’ve often alternated between being over- and under-tuned. Lately they’ve been at the bottom of the power rankings. So how much have their fortunes changed with this new book?
The answer is “quite significantly.”
I’m going to gush a little bit before we dive in, as a lover of everything Hive Mind. I think that GW have outdone themselves here and delivered a wonderfully crafted codex—this may be the best codex of 9th edition. It lacks the obvious power of the worst offenders of the past year but has wonderful internal balance at every level and incredibly unique and synergistic mechanics. The army feels tricky—as Genestealers should—but in a manner that will be more friendly to opponents. It hits hard, but requires set-up and planning. There’s a lot of great combinations and power, but tied to weaknesses that should prevent the army from dominating the competitive scene. Every 9th edition book so far has done a good job of making the army play how it “feels” it should, but I crammed three games in on Saturday and couldn’t be happier with how the book feels on the table.
With that out of the way let’s dive in.
The codex comes with six unique named cults, plus the standard ability to create your own cult by choosing traits. Of the six main cults, the internal balance here is fantastic. Every single cult has at least one defining feature that could merit a competitive build, and each lends itself to different playstyles that benefit datasheets in different, viable, ways. I struggled quite a bit with choosing a favorite here. The Cult of the Four-Armed Emperor has myriad ways of affecting command points, and the stratagem section makes you hunger for more. Hivecult seems to benefit a shooting <core> list that never stops performing actions or blasting. Bladed Cog feels like a real all-rounder that provides a good buff for vehicles and infantry alike, while Rusted Claw gives you some much needed speed and a great spell for buffing your shooting up. Ultimately, I decided that I liked the last two cults the most, Pauper Princes and Twisted Helix.
The Pauper Princes provide a single outstanding rule to build around: The best relic in the book. They have a very solid trait, as this is the only place you’ll find +1 to hit in melee, and the ability is very valuable in an army that can only reroll 1s otherwise. But let’s be honest, the Reliquary of Saint Tendaric is what really stands out here. A 6” aura giving a 5+ invulnerables save to all core units is the kind of rule that even power-armored armies would kill for, and is even better on the flak-armored Princes. Three of the four core units in the book have a 5+ armor, and switching to an invulnerable save will do amazing things for their durability in a codex relatively lacking in defense. This is even better when you combine it with the multiple ways the Genestealer Cults have to grow models back, and having just one model survive thanks to a save can lead to massive problems for the opponent.
Twisted Helix stakes its claim here based on a phenomenal cult trait for the army. +1 to the Strength and Move characteristics is very powerful, and brings with it another great defensive buff. Remember when Black Templars got the baby Transhuman Physiology, where wound rolls of a 1 or 2 always fail? That ability is a nice-to-have on marines but is even better on T3 Neophytes running around in almost every list. Couple in some useful relics, warlord traits, and a psychic power, and I am completely willing to overlook the poor Strategem in this cult.
So who wins the tiebreaker? It’s a tough call. I’m more drawn to the Pauper Princes, but I’ll admit I just love them from the old book, and I enjoy talking about Saint Tendys. I think Twisted Helix will end up as the default option, but there should be plenty of competitive builds that spam core blocks and lean into that sweet, sweet 5+ invulnerable save.
I also have to take a moment here to wax on about the custom cult options in the book. For the first time, there’s a tiered point system for building your cult. Instead of selecting any two choices, you have four points to spend and can buy any number of sub traits, with each option costing between 1 and 4 points. The real stand-outs here are all of the various one-cost traits. Being able to take baby transhuman for only 1 point is mind boggling, as is the ability to ignore penalties on Industrial weapons, which are the most common weapons in the book. I love the concept of this system, and really hope to see it show up again in the future. For now, I love the custom cults but have started testing the named ones first as I think they will end up being just slightly more useful in list building.
I was exposed to many of the book’s datasheets before reading the Stratagems section and at the time I commented to a teammate that the Genestealer Cults would need “S-Tier Stratagems to make everything work.” And oooooh buddy did they deliver! There is an insanely high rate of good stratagems in these four pages, with a host of 1-cost strats to use and abuse that buff your army in every way you could ask for. Re-rolls to wound? Done. +1 damage in shooting? Easy. Fight Last? Don’t mind if I do. Ignore Overwatch? I’ll take two!
There’s an insane amount of value here, and Genestealer Cults armies are going to continue to be an army that thrives on their CP management. The main difference now is that these strats all feel like great bonuses instead of being mandatory to the army running. In the 8th edition Codex there was a feeling that your game ended if you ran out of CP early, and that doesn’t quite feel the case anymore. There’s a wonderful mix of situational stratagems and go-tos that you’ll use in every game. I really expect most balanced genestealer cult lists to stick to one battalion to absolutely maximize the CP they have to spend.
One of the best changes to the army is in this section, where you can purchase pre-game upgrades for points. These range from character bonuses to unit buffs and delivery. This is another real source of strength in the codex, and you’ll be sorely tempted by every single one. There are solid fundamental upgrades like knowing an extra psychic power, or unique abilities such as being able to arrive from reserves on turn 1. There’s a few real standouts here that I think are the real good stuff, though. Alchemist Supreme on a Biophagus is just 15 points to give one unit the ability to ignore damage on a 5+ (feel no pain), which is rock solid. A Trap Sprung grants you the ability to roll 3D6 and drop the lowest die when charging after arriving from reserves. I don’t actually know how to do “take the highest” math, but I know that a 7” rerollable charge is about an 83% chance of success. I’m going to assume that making this a 3d6 take the highest is 17% better and that I will never fail a charge again.
Rob: Jumping in here for a quick stats update. Going from 2D6 to 3D6 dropping the lowest increases your odds of making a 9” charge from 28% to 52% before a re-roll, and with a CP re-roll your odds jump to 77%. Genestealer Cults can arrive 8″ away, and that probability is much better – 42% on 2D6, or 68% on 3D6 dropping the lowest. With a CP re-roll your odds increase to about 90%. So I don’t know about “never fail a charge again” but it’s reliable enough to expect success.
My personal favorite of the bunch is Excavate, which lets you pick a piece of terrain
In the pre-battle abilities step and have it lose Light Cover, Heavy Cover, Defensible, and Inspiring and gain Difficult Ground. Because stripping light cover off of a terrain piece after your opponent deploys onto it is straight up diabolical. Wracks behind a wall? Make it difficult so they move through it slower. Nasty overwatch unit? Take away defensible before using one of your twenty ways to ignore Overwatch anyways. I’m not using it below, but “They Came From Below” puts an extra normal move on any infantry unit Purestrains. This one goes on Purestrains. Remember the Swarmlord? I’m just gonna pay 10 points instead.
Alright, one last section before I write a list. Genestealer Cults now have 22 datasheets, and 13 of them are characters. Despite that, I think 11 of your walking Assassination points are legitimately good, with the Patriarch standing out as the nexus of the army. Do not confuse him with the Nexos, who is also essential. In addition to packing the only command point regeneration in the codex via relic, the Nexos lets your command phase buffs range across the whole map, which is absolutely essential in an army that really wants to fight a decentralized battle while utilizing characters.
All four of the <CORE> datasheets in this book are amazing, which makes up for the fact that there are only four. Acolytes and Neophytes pack serious weapons on a cheap troops platform, while Metamorphs finally have a real job with much-buffed weapons and a fight on death mechanic baked-in. The humble Rock Saw has gone from the best to worst of their weapon options without changing at all, which should speak volumes to the buffs that other weapons have undergone. I think that the Rock Drill will be the best staple weapon, but if you have any + to hit in combat, the Rock Cutter gains some real merit. Perhaps when the meta grows out of its -1 Damage phase, the rock saw will return.
I’ve had some serious results with Neophytes so far when buffed with Seismic Weapons. Spend one CP after performing your Crossfire shenanigans and humble S4 AP -1 can kill anything with +1 to hit, wound and damage. I have also been pleasantly surprised by how much damage grenade launchers will do with all of the supporting buffs, and I expect these units to be a mainstay of my future archetypes.
One last datasheet I have to discuss is my absolute favorite in the book, the Atalan Jackal. These bike boys have received an absolutely insane amount of rules and upgrades that make them incredibly valuable members of the cult. Take two Neophytes and slap them together into a bike and you get -1 to be hit, +1 save, +1 toughness, a 14” move, a scout move, the ability to Fall Back and shoot/charge, several great Stratagems, and of course the ability to count anything within 6” as exposed for Crossfire. Damn. At the end of the day, being a 2-wound model with a 4+ will keep the Jackals from being oppressive, but this is just a cheap unit that does a ton for the army, and will go up even further in value in a few weeks when bikes can access more action secondaries.
Alright, that’s probably enough of my musings and ramblings. How does this all come together? Genestealer Cults seem very solid at scoring primary objectives right now, with lots of bodies and moving parts, plus a few targeting tricks to preserve your own score. Secondaries are a different monster, but the first two feel like a lock:
- With cheap units floating around everywhere, GSC can score Engage on All Fronts or Stranglehold with frightening reliability.
- With the new baked-in ability to deep strike 6” away from an enemy unit (at the cost of being able to charge), cheap acolyte units continue to be the best Retrieve Octarius Data (and soon Retrieve Nachmund Data) units in the game.
- That third secondary is harder to predict, as Genestealer Cults will struggle to score To The Last reliably, so I think I am content to have access to Mental Interrogation as a third if my opponent and the mission do not provide anything of interest.
The codex secondaries are impressively underwhelming at first glance, but I could see the new “Ambush” being taken as a third choice to score 8-10 every time. Just kill a few units with Crossfire tokens on them (even better if you came from reserves), and you’re in good shape.
With that in mind I sat down to write a list that leaned into the strengths of Pauper Princes with plenty of bodies, melee weapons, and CORE units that would like to have a 5+ invulnerable save. An Iconward provides plenty of spice by Summoning the Cult in your command phase, letting you replenish lost casualties, and the bikes become a genuine nuisance to deal with at this point. I absolutely adore the bikes, and I have always wanted to Mad Max some renegade cultists around the battlefield, so I am absolutely starting there.
I’ve gone a little heavy on characters, taking six here, but I expect that as I test the codex I will find which of the support pieces isn’t carrying their weight and will get traded out for a few more bodies. I really love how many older tricks still fit into a list while gaining a lot more power in the new book. I actually expect that Genestealer Cults in 9th edition will be a lot more of an army that operates on the table, rather than dropping in from reserves for endless charges, so I have tried to take a little staying power in accordance with this. Below is my first second draft with Pauper Princes.
++ Pauper Prince Battalion Detachment ++
Patriarch (Warlord, Biomorph Adaptation, Meditations in Shadow, Might from Beyond, Psychic Stimulus, Mass Hypnosis) 155
Iconward (Prowling Agitant) 75
Primus (Reliquary of Saint Tendaric, Alien Majesty, Excellent Planner) 95
20x Neophytes (4x grenades, 4x seismic cannons) 200
10x Acolytes (4x Rock Cutters, a trap sprung) 145
10x Acolytes (4x Rock Cutters) 130
5x Acolytes (2 hand flamers) 51
5x Acolytes (2 hand flamers, Excavate) 71
9x Metamorphs 108
9x Metamorphs 108
Biophagus (Alchemist Supreme, Alchemicus Familiar) 65
Nexos (Cranial Inlay) 50
Kelermorph (Wyrmtooth rounds) 80
8x Atilan Jackals, 2x Wolfquads (10x Power Weapons, Demo Charge, 2x Heavy Stubbers) 179
8x Atilan Jackals, 2x Wolfquads (2x Mining Lasers, 2x Grenade Launchers) 194
8x Atilan Jackals, 2x Wolfquads (2x Mining Lasers, 2x Grenade Launchers) 194
Goliath Truck (Cache of Demo charges) 95
++ 1,995 points ++
Preparing for Ascension Day
This book is so deep and varied that I have no doubt I have missed endless combos and tricks on the first pass, and I really think this is a codex that will evolve a lot with time and have myriad builds as the game goes on. The external balance is up in the air here, with the army feeling powerful but not oppressive initially. Still, I don’t think I have ever been this excited for the release of a codex; this book matches the lore and feel of an army so well and serves as a good apology letter to Genestealer Cults for years of neglect. The cult has risen, and it was worth the wait!
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