Kill Team Shadowvaults: Necron Hierotek Circles Rules Review

Games Workshop introduced us all to the Gallowdark with the release of Kill Team: Into the Dark last month and they’ve now continued their stretch of adventures in the depths of space hulks with Kill team: Shadowvaults, a new release that brings us a pair of new teams: The Astra Militarum Kasrkin and Necron Hierotek Circles. In this review we’ll be looking at the rules for the new Hierotek Circles kill teams, with an eye toward matched play.

Before we dig in, we’d like to thank Games Workshop for providing us with a preview copy of the Kill Team Shadowvaults boxed set for review purposes.

Hierotek Circle Kill Teams

Hierotek Circle teams are groups of elite Necron warriors led by a Cryptek, scouring the Gallowdark for powerful ancient technology. These teams consist of a single Cryptek operative to act as the team leader, plus a series of additional elite operatives, for a total of 8 operatives, of which 2 will be Plasmacytes. As a team they have the Recon and Security archetypes. Here’s the rundown:

  • 1 Cryptek, with your choice of either a Chronomancer, Psychomancer, or Technomancer
  • 1 Plasmacyte Accelerator
  • 1 Plasmacyte Reanimator
  • 5 Hierotek Circle operatives, picked from the following list:
    • Apprentek
    • Deathmark
    • Immortal Despotek
    • Immortal Guardian

You can only include non-Deathmark and Immortal Guardian operatives in your team once.


Hierotek teams have two abilities to work with: Living Metal and Reanimation Protocols.

Living Metal

This ability is mostly unchanged from the Compendium; at the Ready step of each Initiative phase, an operative with this ability regains up to 2 lost wounds, or 1 lost wound if it is a Plasmacyte. This is a pretty solid ability that can keep you off injured status and punish your opponent for not finishing off an operative. Coupled with Reanimation Protocols it can be downright nasty. I say “Mostly” unchanged here because as we’ll see in Reanimation Protocols, you no longer get to regain your wounds after standing back up.

Reanimation Protocols

Hierotek teams lose out on the Reanimation Protocols Tactical Ploy from the Compendium in favor of a team ability. Some rules allow operatives on the team to attempt reanimate an operative the first time it has been incapacitated. This happens after Living Metal (so you don’t reanimate and then heal), and you roll a D6 for each operative you’re trying to reanimate. On a 3+, that operative stands back up with D3 wounds remaining and whatever order they went down with. This is very good and there are a few ways to trigger it, including a Tactical Ploy that can just be used on any of your operatives in a pinch. You’ll pretty much want to keep that one in your back pocket at all times.


Hierotek Kill Teams are a bit similar to Warpcoven teams, in that you have some really varied options at the top of the list for how you want to kit out your leader. You get a choice of three Crypteks: The Chronomancer, the Psychomancer, and the Technomancer. Notably missing from the group is the Plasmancer, ostensibly because he’s only available in a collection of models from the Indomitus boxed set, but he’d likely have been a good inclusion here as just “a Cryptek who’s good at shooting things.”

Every Cryptek is loaded up with special abilities and they all come with 3O movement, 11 Wounds, a 3+ save, and 3 APL – this will be important later. They all have the Command (1AP) action, which lets them give a nearby Immortal/Deathmark operative an additional free action. When you add a Cryptek to your roster or dataslate, you also pick two Cryptek Actions for it to gain. These are special actions the Cryptek can perform. Many of them are very powerful and this is pretty much the reason Crypteks have 3 APL as they’d be near-useless otherwise. Finally, every Cryptek has FLY, making them great for non-Gallowdark missions.

Chronomancer. Credit: Wings


The Chronomancer specializes in messing with time and is the only Cryptek that gives you a choice of weapons, though the Entropic Lance is pretty much the superior pick. While the Aeonstave gives you one more shot at range and has blast, Lethal 5+, and Stun, the Entropic Lance just does a crapload more damage, with AP1 and 3 mortal wounds on a crit when shooting and a 3/6 damage profile to the Aeonstave’s 3/3. This is basically a slightly worse meltagun compared to the large shot volume of the Aeonstave, which admittedly can have real upside against a horde team.

The Chronomancer’s Cryptek actions are a buff for a friendly operative which gives them an invulnerable save equal to their armor save, the ability to drop a nanomine that can slow an enemy, and the ability to boost a nearby operative by giving them extra movement and a 5+ roll to ignore incoming wounds.

Psychomancer. Credit: Rockfish
Psychomancer. Credit: Rockfish


Psychomancers are the weird scholars of fear among the Necrons. They come with an Abyssal Lance that has a relatively tame profile – only 2/2 damage in shooting, but it does have AP2, Blast, and Splash 1.

The Psychomancer’s Cryptek actions are a debuff that causes a visible enemy operative to count as injured for a turn, Nightmare Shroud takes away opponents’ re-rolls in the fight phase and forces them to count crits as regular hits, and Harbinger of Despair debuffs enemy operatives by making it harder for them to pick up objectives and reduces their APL.

Necron Technomancer
Necron Technomancer. Credit: Pendulin


The final Cryptek leader of the gang – and the one that comes packaged in the Shadowvaults box – is the Technomancer, outfitted with a flying Canpotek surfboard. The Technomancer has a Staff of Light, the most well rounded of the Cryptek weapons. In its shooty profile it’s 6 shots that hit on 4+ for 3/4 damage with AP1. In melee it’s a 3/5 damage weapon that has access to Lethal 5+. 

The Technomancer is the only operative with the MEDIC keyword on the team. Canoptek Repair will let you regain 2D3 lost wounds on an operatives or D3 if it was reanimated this turning point. Nanoscarab Repair Swarm makes it so your operatives can’t be injured for a Turning Point and in your next Ready Operatives step they all regain an additional wound and stand back up with +1 if they reanimated. Rites of Reanimation gives you an action (1 AP) which, after completed, once per turn, lets you reanimate a friendly operative incapacitated within 6”.

Necron Canoptek Plasmacyte
Canoptek Plasmacyte. Credit: Pendulin


Hierotek teams have two Plasmacyte operatives: A Reanimator and an Accelerator. Both have 3O movement, 5 wounds, a 5+ save, and 2 defense dice, making them pretty fragile. Their weapons are nothing to write home about, either. Each has the Scuttler ability, meaning they always count as under Conceal orders and they can fall back for one less AP (to a minimum of 0).

The value of these guys is that they make your other operatives better. The Accelerator has a unique action to give a friendly operative +1 APL. The Plasmacyte Reanimator on the other hand is your go-to operative for making your operatives more durable, as their Reanimation Beam lets you reduce its AP by 1 (note: not spend) to attempt a reanimation roll on an incapacitated operative, potentially letting you do this up to two times per Turning Point, even after you activate it. In fact, you’ll generally want to activate it early for this reason.


The Assistek to the regional manager is a mid-level manager who dreams of one day replacing the Cryptek he follows, seemingly unaware that said Cryptek is likely immortal. These guys help your Crypteks out a bit by basically spending 1 AP for a free use of a single Cryptek ability your team has access to. They’re otherwise fairly uninspiring, and only having 2 APL hamstrings them a lot usage-wise.

Credit: Merton


Deathmarks are back, now with a new and improved addon sprue. Their profiles and weapon haven’t changed from their Compendium entries and they still suffer from having no way to mitigate the fact that Synaptic Disintegrators are heavy weapons and they have no way to mitigate that disadvantage. This makes them incredibly immobile so you’re really only going to get value out of a Deathmark if you’re playing on a board that gives you access to a decent vantage point in your Drop zone. If you’re building a Hierotek team, you’re likely going to end up taking Immortals over Deathmarks.

Immortals With Tesla Carbines. Credit: Rockfish
Immortals With Tesla Carbines. Credit: Rockfish


There are two Immortals here: the Despotek and the Guardian, and they’re largely identical. At 2O movement and 2APL, they’re not the quickest on the field, but their 3 defense dice and 3+ save make them tough, at least when you factor in Living Metal. Their weapons aren’t anything to sneeze at, either, bringing either 4 dice at damage 4/5 with AP1, or 5 dice at 3/3 with Splash 1 as a critical effect. However, extra die won’t make up for the loss of damage on tesla carbines unless you trigger Splash on multiple targets, so you’ll almost always be better off with the gauss blasters, especially given how powerful AP1 is.

The Despotek brings a special ability, Demand, which lets a Deathmark or Immortal within 6” use the Command Re-roll Tactical Ploy for 0CP. There’s no downside to bringing this model, and you’re going to have to bring at least 3 other models that can benefit from this rule, so this model might as well be mandatory. Good thing it looks cool.


Strategic Ploys

  • Relentless Onslaught – Until the end of the turning point, If an operative is within 6 of an enemy operative it may re-roll a single shooting attack die. This ability does not stack with Magnification Conduit. Right out the gate we have a copy+paste ploy from the Compendium, which is not good considering how few operatives you’re working with here. 
  • Intractable March – Until the end of the turning point Immortal and Deathmark operatives gain 2 inches to their move characteristic if they have an Engage Order. This is a slight upgrade over the compendium version, Implacable March, but is still a near copy + paste. 
  • Undying Androids – Until the end of the Turning Point operatives that are not in Cover may still retain a single defense die. Finally we get a decent ploy that is basically Skulk About, but without the Conceal requirement. 
  • Dimensional Concealment – Deathmark operatives gain the Dimensional Concealment (1 AP) action, which allows them to change their order. Rounding out our strategic ploys we have our third copy+paste ploy from the Compendium but somehow made worse by the fact that you can only do it once per game? To be frank this ploy sucked before, and it sucks still. 

Tactical Ploys

  • Dimensional Translocation – It’s deep strike, with a fancy name. You use this when setting up your Kill Team to set one of your Deathmarks up “in a hyperspace dimension” instead of on the board. Then, when you activate it in the first Turning Point, you set it up with the order of your choice anywhere more than 6” from your opponent’s models or deployment zone. Perhaps the only reason you would take a Deathmark as this puts Hierotic Circles in the rarefied category of teams that have a forward deploy capabilities. Just keep in mind that using this counts as having made a Normal Move, so it won’t be able to shoot the turn it comes in.
  • Leech Power – Spend a CP to let your Cryptek steal an APL from another model in your kill team, so long as that model’s APL hasn’t been negatively modified. Need to steal a point from a space marine? Done. Want to use another one of your Cryptek actions? Just do it. There’s a ton of potential uses here, especially since the operative you steal the APL from can already have been activated, essentially giving you an extra action for the turn.
  • Cortical Subjugation – If someone wants to shoot at your Cryptek, they’d better hope you don’t have any CP, since this stratagem will let you force them to resolve that attack against another one of your models that’s within 1O, so long as the new target is visible to the Cryptek and isn’t engaged by an enemy model. Crucially, it doesn’t even have to be visible to the shooting model, so you can afford to play a little more aggressively with your Crytpek than you might usually.
  • Commence Reanimation – Spend a CP to attempt to reanimate a model the first time it’s killed. Neat. You will be saving CP for this every single turn.

Necron Psychomancer
Necron Psychomancer. Credit: Pendulin


Hierotek kill teams have a mix of new options and options that will be familiar to players who tried Tomb World kill teams. The big loss here is the Starfire Core, which means that on the whole Hierotek teams are worse at shooting than their Tomb World counterparts.

  • Phase Oculars [2 EP] – A Deathmark only piece of equipment that gives the operative an action they can perform for 1 AP. Do this and when you make a shooting attack you can change a single normal hit to a critical hit (and trigger the mortal wound). This is OK but Deathmarks only have 2 APL and already struggle with movement so you can skip spending EP on this.
  • Hyperphase Blade [2 EP] – These go on Immortals and give their bayonet the Lethal 5+ special rule. An old mainstay of Tomb World teams, this is basically your best option for getting some decent melee output from our teams, even if that option isn’t amazing. This is more likely to get picked now that you don’t have access to Starfire Core.
  • Tesla Weave [2 EP] – Gives an operative the ability to do mortal wounds to enemy units after making a Charge action – roll 3D6 and each 5+ gets you a mortal wound to an enemy in Engagement Range.
  • Arcshock Projector [1 EP] – Immortal with a Tesla Carbine – ups the range of the guns’ Splash X critical hit rule, so you drop mortal wounds within 3” of the target instead of 2”.
  • Phase Shifter [3 EP] (1 Per Team) – Gives your Cryptek a 4+ invulnerable save. Helpful for keeping them around, and likely to be something you take given how important they are to your team.
  • Devourer Nanoscarabs [3 EP] – This gives your operative a one-shot ranged weapon that’s basically a boltgun with 6” range, Indirect, Lethal 5+. It’s a neat way to shoot someone through a wall in a pinch and it’s the closest thing Necrons get to grenades.
  • Quantum Reanimytes [3 EP] (1 Per Team) – The operative gains an aura that lets friendly operatives within 3” ignore mortal wounds on a roll of 4+.

Tac Ops

Necrons finally have their own Tac Ops. Unfortunately, they’re not particularly good. Hierotek teams have access to the Security and Recon tac ops otherwise and while Security is decent for them, Recon is not so great given their lack of mobility.

  • Unyielding Ancients – You must declare this Tac Op at the start of the first Turning Point. If at the end of the game you have three operatives within 6 inches of the center and/or your opponent’s drop zone, you score 1 VP. You can get a bonus VP if one of those is a Cryptek or Apprentek. This is OK on maps that push you to the center but your team is slow and not particularly good in melee. Also, the plasmacytes don’t count for this one.
  • Unearth Artifice – Reveal this Tac Op at the start of the first Turning Point and place an Artifice Token anywhere on the board more than 6 inches from your Drop Zone and not on a Terrain feature, this token is EARTHED. Friendly operatives then gain the Unearth Artifice (2 AP) action, if your operative performs this action while in control of the token it becomes UNEARTHED. If you control this token at the end of any Turning Point other than the fourth you gain 1 VP. If you control the token at the end of the battle you gain an additional VP. This is one of the better Tac Ops available to this team simply because you can place the token rather close to your Drop Zone, and if the terrain is in your favor you might be able to put it behind a piece of Heavy Terrain. 
  • Worthy of Study – You reveal his one in the first/second turn and pick two of your opponent’s operatives. Then they pick one of those to be worthy of study. If you kill that operative, put a token where it used to be. Score 1 VP for holding that token at the end of a turn with an operative within 6” of a Cryptek/Apprentek and an extra VP for holding it on later turns. Your opponent is liable to hide the operative and make your life difficult afterward. This is best against horde teams where deciding to hide an operative is a much riskier proposition.

Final Thoughts

TheChirurgeon: Ultimately while I think the new upgrade sprue is cool, this team just doesn’t seem to “get there” – I like what they’re doing with the Cryptek leader but the tradeoff from the Tomb World kill team in models and ranged power just isn’t there. This team feels like it’s going to need an adjustment in a future balance dataslate, and my guess is that one potential change will be just making Commence Reanimation 0 CP – something they already did for Tomb Worlds. There’s some really cool stuff here, but the team just doesn’t have the APL to actually make use of it. I think with a couple of tweaks, this team could get there. 

TheArmorOfContempt: This team has A LOT of cool abilities, but they are unfortunately all in the possession of the various versions of Cryptek. Almost everything else feels like it was lifted from the Compendium, which is not good. The Plasmacytes would’ve been better as a straight addition to the team total as opposed to replacements for standard operatives. As far as bespoke teams go this may be the weakest one we have seen yet.

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