Kill Team Tactics: Tyranids

Do you fantasize about devouring whole worlds? When you watch Starship Troopers, do you root for the bugs? Have you ever felt that you’d look fetching in a set of chitinous plates, wielding venomous talons as you bound across the battlefield in a chittering horde? Well then you just might be a Tyranids player at heart. In this article we’re going to cover Tyranid Kill Teams, how they play, how to build them, and what you need to know about winning with them and beating them.

Hive Fleet Kill Teams

Tyranids don’t have their own bespoke kill team yet – they’re still saddled with a Compendium entry – but they do have some fairly unique qualities and rules that cause them to stand out in Kill Team. Tyranids combine the simplicity of Necrons with some of the best ploys, equipment, and raw stats available, making them one of the better compendium teams.

Team Structure

A Hive Fleet Kill Team consists of two Fire Teams chosen from the following list:

  • Genestealer
  • Tyranid Swarm (one per kill team max)
  • Tyranid Warrior

The Tyranid Warriors come in teams of three, Genestealers teams of five, and Tyranid Swarms teams of eight, with a Group Activation of 2. This latter team provides access to Hormagaunts and Termagants, and is limited to one per Kill Team. Each of these fire teams provides access to a minimum of two Tac Ops categories, and the faction has access to all four categories.

One Tyranid Warrior or Genestealer operative can be upgraded to a Leader, and the Tyranid Warrior fire team offers the option to take either Fighters or Heavy Gunner, with a max of one of those per fire team.


  • Melee – Tyranid kill teams have access to some nasty melee operatives – Genestealers can be really nasty in melee and Tyranid Warriors have a ton of different options for carving you up.
  • Mobility – Tyranid operatives are pretty nimble, and even Warriors have 6″ movement. While Genestealers only have 2 APL, their Lightning Reflexes ability lets them perform free Dash actions, making them a bit speedier than expected.
  • Beef – Pound for pound, Tyranid kill teams may be able to run more wounds than any other team in the game. Tyranid Warriors clock in at an eye-watering 18 wounds per operative, and while they don’t have a 3+ save, their 4+ isn’t particularly bad, either. A team of 3 warriors and 8 gaunts will give an opponent 100 wounds to chew through – about 30 more than a team of Tactical Marines. On top of that, the Synapse rule will help keep you from feeling the effects of being injured.


  • Shooting – Although Tyranids have some ranged weapons options, it’s not their best trait and it’s easy to end up with a team that only has a couple of ranged weapons. That said, devourers aren’t bad at all and venom cannons can be very nasty, but devourer Termagants eat up two spots in your Swarm fire teams.


Tyranid Kill Teams have access to a single unique ability in the form of Synapse. In effect, operatives that activate within six inches of an operative with the SYNAPSE keyword – meaning Tyranid Warriors – are immune to the effects of being injured. This is a great ability, and effectively means your Tyranid Warriors always ignore injury penalties. 

Tyranids, unlike many of the other teams, have no single defining set of traits or statistics across their range of operatives other than being AP 2. 


Credit: Kevin Genson


Perhaps the Tyranid operative that feels most at home in Kill Team, these guys clock in at a slightly above-human profile with their base stats being identical to a guardsman aside from two extra wounds, which brings them up to nine. This is where the similarities end however as Genestealers are absolute melee power houses that can take either double rending talons or scything talons/rending talons. Both grant an impressive 5 attacks with a +3 hit/wound with rending claws providing a 4/5 damage, rending (surprised?), and Relentless if you have a second pair. Scything Talons have 4/6 damage and have Balanced. In most cases the double rending claws are the superior choice as Relentless is a very powerful trait, however against Guardsmen equivalent teams a case can be made for Scything Talons that can critical hit for 7 damage when used in conjunction with the Feed ploy.

Additionally Genestealers come with two special rules on their data sheets. Lightning Reflexes grants them a free Dash Action and a 5+ invulnerable save, while Hidden Horror means they are always treated as having a Conceal Order if they have been given a conceal order – basically this means that vantage points have no effect on them. 

Credit: PierreTheMime

Hormagaunts and Termagants

These swarm bugs have a Guardsman-equivalent profile with a 6+ saveand Group Activation 2. Hormagaunts are basically a weaker version of the Genestealer, although their melee capabilities are still far better than any other horde equivalent operative. They come with a straightforward 4 attacks, 4+ hit/wound, 3/5 damage, and Relentless making them more than capable of incapacitating enemy operatives. The tradeoff here is they are extremely fragile, and come with no other special traits or abilities.

The Termagant is the shooting alternative to the Hormagaunt, but is unfortunately not nearly as proficient at this role. It comes with three separate options: Spinefists, Devourers, and Fleshborers. Fleshborers have 4 attacks, +4 hit wound, 3/4 damage, and a six inch range. The Spinefist is nearly identical but trades 1 point of damage for +1 to hit. Both of these options are very weak when compared to the Devourer and its 5 attacks, 4+ Hit/Wound, 3/4 damage, and Ceaseless, but don’t get excited because Termagants with Devourers count as two operatives during fire team selection, making them potentially a worse choice from a raw damage output standpoint.

Credit: PierreTheMime

Tyranid Warriors

Here we go – we know this is what you came here for. These guys are powerhouses, clocking in at 18 wounds each with a 4+ save, 3+ to hit/wound in melee, and 4+ to hit/wound at range. The only models more durable are Heavy Intercessors and Custodians, with Tyranid Warriors being clearly superior to the former, and outnumbering the latter on a per fire team basis. Tyranid Warriors have access to a large number of melee and ranged options, however the main decision one must make is to either take them as hybrid melee/ranged threats or go exclusively melee. 

On the melee front you have the Bonesword and Lashwhip, Boneswords, Rending Claws, and Scything Talons. The latter two options are identical to their Genestealer equivalents with the exception of having one less attack, while the Bonesword and Boneswords have 4/6 damage and Lethal 5+ with the Bonesword providing one less attack than the duel option. The key difference here is when you take a singular Bonesword you also gain a Lashwhip, which is in fact a ranged weapon that also reduces the number of enemy attacks by one if they are in engagement range – a significant defensive buff in combat. This choice is the weakest of the melee options, and either serves functionally to protect your warriors in combat, or as a ranged back-up option for Warriors outfitted for melee. 

At this point it is worth mentioning that Warriors have a Fighter and Gunner (1 per Fire Team Limit) variant. Both of these types have access to identical melee options, however the ranged weapons they can access are different. Standard Warriors can choose from Deathspitters, Devourers, and Spinefists, all of which provide an impressive 5 attacks. Deathspitters hit hardest with 4/5 damage with no other special rules, while Devourers and Spinefists hit at the bolter equivalent of 3/4 with the former having Ceaseless, and the latter being +3 hit/wound with a six inch range. Cases can be made for all of these weapons, but the Deathspitter is my clear favorite as 4/5 damage makes it exceedingly deadly, especially coupled with Aggressive Biostrain

Lastly, we have the Gunner variants, who have access to the Barbed Strangler and Venom Cannon. These weapons have the same number of attacks and BS/WS than the other bio-weapons, however with the potential of being much more deadly. The Barbed Strangler is essentially the Deathspitter with the Heavy and Blast 2 traits, while the Venom Cannon comes with 5/6 damage, AP1, and Heavy. The obvious tactic here is to take the Strangler against horde opponents and the Venom Cannon against elite teams.

Tyranid Warrior
Tyranid Warrior
Credit: Pendulin


Hive Fleet Fire Teams have an excellent set of ploys – almost all of them are average to great, and NONE of them are specific to any single type of operative. At this point I feel we need to mark this as some sort of special occasion that we have arrived at a Compendium team that actually has six ploys available to them. 

Strategic Ploys


A friendly Hive Fleet operative with the Conceal Order and more than 3 inches from an enemy may perform a free Normal Move Action. Anything that grants additional movement is very powerful in Kill Team. This ploy has two main uses, the first is setting up for an early charge in conjunction with either Infiltrate in the Scouting Phase OR the Unseen Hunter ploy, and the second is simply to move an operative on to an objective in conjunction with Recon before any operatives are activated. A – An excellent ploy that has many uses. 


Until the end of the Turning Point your operatives may automatically retain two saves while in cover, instead of one, IF they either have the Conceal Order, or are Ready (meaning they have yet to be activated during that Turning Point). An excellent ploy for a team that has an average save characteristic of 5+. There is no real trick to using this ploy other than that it makes an excellent choice for Turning Point 2 as that is often when a majority of casualties occur. B


Operatives deal an extra point of damage on the first critical hit they deal in a combat. This ploy is more situational than the previous two, but can be very useful against Guardsmen equivalent teams as it allows Tyranid melee weapons to reach seven damage on their critical hits, allowing lesser operatives to incapacitated with a single strike. C Simply due to being situational.

Tyranid Hormagaunts
Tyranid Hormagaunts
Credit: Pendulin

Tactical Ploys

Unseen Hunter

At the start or end of any activation you may change the order of any operative as long as it has not made a Shoot Action during that Turning Point. A great ploy, especially for Genestealers, that will keep your opponent on their toes. This can be used to your advantage during the first Turning Point by allowing you to start with more operatives in Conceal, and in later Turning Points you can use it to return an operative to Conceal that might be otherwise left vulnerable to shooting after a combat. B

Will of the Hive Mind

If an operative is within six inches of an operative with Synapse (Tyranid Warrior) add 1 to its APL. A fantastic ploy, as mentioned in previous articles APL modification is one of the most powerful abilities in Kill Team, and this is one of the better examples available to a team. It is important to note that Hive Fleet teams have no method of performing Shoot or Fight Actions more than once during an activation, however this ploy can still be incredibly useful, particularly on Tyranid Warriors armed with both melee and ranged options.  A

Aggressive Biostrain

If a shooting attack fails to cause any wounds you may repeat that attack. An incredibly handy ability for a team that has a 4+ to hit on most ranged attacks. Having this ploy in your pocket can be very useful, the most obvious reason being that sometimes you just roll poorly, but the second is that many of the ranged weapons available to Hive Fleets have the potential to spike incredibly high on their damage. This means your opponent may choose to not retain a cover save or re-roll a failed save if it means denying you the chance to attack again. B

haha Tyranid gun go shlorp shlorp


While none of the Hive Fleet equipment options are as powerful as their ploys, they can all be described as useful to some degree, something that can not be said for a majority of the compendium equipment lists. 

Flesh Hooks and Acid Maw [2 EP]

These two pieces of equipment are very similar in that they are roughly highly accurate short range bolters. They’re clearly meant to be used on operatives such as Genestealers or Hormagaunts who don’t have access to ranged weapons. Both weapons provide 4 attacks with a +2 to hit/wound with Flesh Hooks at 3/4 damage, Lethal 5+, and 3 inch range, while the Acid Maw is slightly weaker at 3/3 damage, six inch range, and Splash 1. Which of these are better is largely a matter of preference and playstyle, however I personally lean towards Acid Maw simply due to it having double the range. C

Extended Chitin [2 EP/3 EP for Tyranid Warriors]

Allows a single defense die to be re-rolled whenever the bearer is the target of a shooting attack. This is simply fantastic when compared to something like the Space Marine Purity Seal that allows a once per game reroll. Combined with cover this means your Tyranid Warriors are almost always going to be making two out of three saves, which is a lot when you consider they’re 18 wounds and never count as being injured. B

Feeder Tendrils [2 EP]

Whenever the bearer incapacitates an enemy operative in combat they regain D3 wounds. Very straightforward, kill enemies, eat them, heal yourself. That being said there are better things you can spend your EP on, and this is easily the weakest choice available to Hive Fleets. C

Toxin Sacs [2 EP]

If you retain any critical hits in combat you may retain one failed hit as a normal success. These are kind of in the same category as Feeder Tendrils; it isn’t bad by definition, and better than some of the equipment available to other teams, but Tyranid melee is already powerful with a lot of melee options having access to Relentless or other forms of re-rolling making this item rather redundant. C

Adrenal Glands [2 EP]

Adds one inch to the operative’s movement characteristic. Can we say it again? Speed Kills! A great piece for a team that already sports movement shenanigans. A

Purestrain Genestealers
Purestrain Genestealers: Who’s ready for razor hugs?
Credit: Pendulin

Tac Ops

Hive Fleet Kill Teams have access to all 4 Tac Ops categories with Seek and Destroy being available to every Fire Team. For once we seem to have a situation where Tac Ops categories seem to pair rather well with the Fire Teams they have been assigned with: Infiltration going to Genestealers and Recon going to Tyranid Swarms. Additionally, Security is available to both Warrior and Swarm Fire Teams. 

What to take?

Much like Tau Hunter Cadres, Hive Fleets have enough options that they can either be an elite team or a horde team, and UNLIKE TAU, many of these options are actually good. The first thing to note is that despite what you might expect Tyranids, even at their most numerous, still fall short of the numbers that teams like Pathfinders or Veteran Guardsmen can put on the table. This is due to the Swarm Fire Team being limited to a single choice per Kill Team, leaving you with more limited options:

  • 6 Tyranid Warriors
  • 10 Genestealers
  • 3 Tyranid Warriors leading either 5 Genestealers or 8 Hormagaunts/Termagants
  • Genestealers + Swarm

The Genestealer and Swarm Team will provide the largest Kill Team available to Hive Fleets but it’s also the weakest. A team composed fully of Genestealers is the second worst choice simply due to its many limitations. While each of your operatives is very deadly in combat, having zero ranged abilities prior to purchasing equipment leaves you VERY vulnerable to stun abilities. Additionally, you lose access to both Synapse and the Will Of The Hive Mind ploy. As mentioned in previous articles, combat is by definition less versatile than shooting, and in the case of Genestealers being 2 APL they will struggle to carry out their melee duties and still perform mission actions or hold ground without the assistance of Tyranid Warriors. All these same criticisms apply to the aforementioned Genestealer/Swarm Team as well.

With the above compositions out of the way there are two serious ways in which you can run a Hive Fleet team. The first, three warriors leading either a Genestealer or Swarm team, is the more balanced of the two options. It allows you to focus your equipment choices into a strong backbone of Warriors, while using your more numerous weaker operatives to pressure your opponent and control objectives. There are two ways I would suggest running this Team, but all cases recommend giving your Warriors ranged weapons, this is simply to make up for the fact that Genestealers and Swarm Operatives have weak ranged options. 

Tyranid Warrior + Genestealers Variant

  • 1x Warrior Leader with Deathspitter and Bonesword/Lashwhip
  • 1x Warrior Fight with Deathspitter and Bonesword/Lashwhip
  • 1x Warrior Heavy Gunner with Venom Cannon and Bonesword/Lashwhip
  • 5x Genestealers with Double Rending Claws and Adrenal Glands

Here you have a straightforward combination of powerful ranged weapons, and incredibly fast melee specialists. The Lashwhips give your warriors some additional resistance to enemy melee operatives that manage to get into your lines. This 

Tyranid Warrior + Tyrand Swarm Variant

  • 1x Warrior Leader with Deathspitter, Bonesword/Lashwhip, and Extended Chitin
  • 1x Warrior Fight with Deathspitter, Bonesword/Lashwhip, and Extended Chitin
  • 1x Warrior Heavy Gunner with Barbed Strangler, Bonesword/Lashwhip , and Extended Chitin
  • 8x Hormagaunts

Not a huge change, but now the emphasis of equipment has been placed on buffing the Tyranid Warriors making them as durable as possible. The first example would be more proficient for combating Elite Teams, while the later would be more useful against Horde Teams. 

Our second, and final, option is to simply go hard and bring a team composed of a full six Tyranid Warriors. This will provide you with a team that has one of the highest combined wound totals in the entire game, coupled with ploy and equipment options that serve to keep them alive a little longer. Tyranid Warriors are by definition dangerous in melee combat, and it is almost never worth giving them two melee weapons to gain the 1 additional attack from Weaponbeast at the expense of having a ranged option. This brings us into their primary weakness, Tyranid Warriors are 2 APL models, and thus very vulnerable to stun. What weapons you decide to take on your Warriors is largely a factor of what team you find yourself against, however the following is an example of a team that would be useful in most matchups.

  • 1x Warrior Leader with Deathspitter, Boneswords, and Extended Chitin 
  • 3x Warrior Fighters with Deathspitter and Boneswords
  • 2x Warrior Gunners with Venom Cannon, Bonesword/Lashwhip, and Extended Chitin

The choice of Boneswords is simple, it makes it harder for your opponent to parry your attacks, a Tyranid Warriors 18 wounds make them very difficult for most enemies to kill in a single combat, and often your opponent will opt to try and parry their way to survival. Extended Chitin keeps your deadliest Warriors alive the longest, and may even discourage your opponent from shooting at them if it risks failing to cause damage. 

Collecting and Painting Tyranids

If you’re looking to build a Tyranid Kill Team, you’re going to need to source operatives from multiple kits – at least one box of warriors and a box of Genestealers or Termagants. You’ll probably also want a second box of warriors at some point to field another 3, and you’ll want to round things out with Hormagaunts.

If you’re looking for inspiration or advice on how to paint Tyranids, you can find our guide to painting Tyranids here.

Final Thoughts

It’s somewhat surprising Tyranids haven’t received a replacement for their Compendium team yet given they received a new 40k Codex this year, but it’s possible we’ll see something new for them in Kill Team Dark. In the meantime they’re a surprisingly powerful option as far as Compendium teams go – they’re at least not embarrassingly bad, anyways – and have the tools to get the drop on unprepared opponents.

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