Playing Death Guard with the New Codex

We’re just excited as can be about the new Death Guard Codex, especially Don Hooson and Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones, who today are talking about their thoughts on playing the army with the new book and some thoughts on building armies using the new book in 9th edition. 

We reviewed the new Codex: Death Guard last Saturday (check out the review here if you haven’t seen it) and our heads are still buzzing with all of the possibilities (and also plague flies, probably) that the new book offers. As a follow-up to our review last Saturday, we thought we’d run through some of our thoughts and impressions from the new book and our test games with it.


What do players need to know about playing Death Guard now?

Don: The first thing you need to know is that Death Guard are not a gunline army. You can get close to an armored company with The Inexorable Plague Company, though we are definitely more in line with being an ever-advancing tide of fury that will inexorably take over the game and push our opponents off their objectives. Never forget that we have excellent troops as well. Plague Marines and Poxwalkers are excellent at going where they want to go and not being pushed off. The Contagions of Nurgle make it so we want to be close to our enemies, which the 9th edition missions are set up to encourage. Embrace the feel of the Death Guard. Be Inexorable.

Rob: From my games with the new book, I’m so wonderfully pleased with the new Mortarion. I’m so used to having to hide him or figure out how to get him across the table quickly and now he’s so (disgustingly) resilient that I can just let him drift up the table. You still want him to survive past turn 2, but once you get Miasma of Pestilence up on him it’s really tough to chip wounds off him short of having multiple Eradicator squads going at it. Even when he does take damage, his profile only degrades on Movement and Attacks now. I’ve played multiple games now against Eradicator- and Gladiator-equipped marines that threw every heavy weapon they had at the Daemon Primarch, only to watch him survive until the game’s end as they ran out of gas and Mortarion fell into their ranks. He’s an absolute monster now and feels exactly like a 490-point Daemon Primarch should. I’m actually not sure how some armies can deal with Mortarion without overcommitting to taking him down in the list-building stage. That said I haven’t come up against Sisters yet, and I’m dreading the day I have to deal with Retributors.

Something players definitely need to be aware of is that while I think there are opportunities to build soup armies that combine Death Guard and Chaos Daemons or other flavors of Heretic Astartes, is that, with the rules as they are currently written, summoning will break your army-wide bonus. While it doesn’t break your Detachment special rules, summoning a unit will turn off your Contagions of Nurgle powers. So think carefully before you sit down to draw that summoning circle and bring Epidemius onto the field.

Don: After our game last night, I’m more convinced than ever that lists going wide on bog-standard Plague Marines can work.

Rob: I agree – they are certainly very deadly when paired with a Biologus Putrifier. I think you were right to be high on him as well. The one thing I’ll suggest there is that Plague Marines really need Rhino support to get around the table. Even with Inexorable Advance they’re not very fast. The upside here though is that Rhinos have the BUBONIC ASTARTES keyword, which helps with all kinds of shenanigans.

Credit: TheChirurgeon

What are some tips and tricks for playing the new smelly lads?

Don: Keep to the basics. Troops and HQs will carry you far. After that, you can look in to the daemon engines, elite characters,  and terminators. Basics will take you far, though. The more flash you make a list the harder luck will swing both ways

Rob: I’ll second the “Stick to the basics” – Plague Marines are still going to be the beating heart of your force and you’ll want to run more than one. Having a couple of good-sized squads supported by the Elites characters is a very strong play. I’m also a fan of Death Guard Rhinos to transport them, but you’ll need to be careful about how you move them and support Mortarion. On the subject of Mortarion, the ability to trap an entire army with the Droning by putting Mortarion in the middle of the table early on is incredibly nasty, and you can use Mortarion to trap most Infantry units in melee if you can get to them (and touch them in base-to-base contact) while they’re in Difficult Terrain – A unit that drops to 3″ Movement and then takes another -2″ for Difficult Terrain suddenly can’t get out of Engagement Range.

Also even if you’re only taking a Terminator Lord/Lord of Contagion/Lord of Virulence, look out for opportunities to use the Break Their Spirits Stratagem. Dropping an easy -4 Ld on a unit taking a loss of 1+ models can be devastating against marines and other elite armies, where suddenly you’re adding another 1-2 model deaths on top of your damage or just as good, forcing your opponent to spend 2 CP for your 1 – that’s a good trade.

Finally, the Daemon Engines are so, so good. I think Plagueburst Crawlers may be even more of a “must-take” unit in the army now – the improvement to BS and Entropy Cannons completely changes their dynamic. You can absolutely still rush them forward spitting out plague spit and holding objectives, but equally now they’re a shooting threat, and able to hunt down enemy tanks. Practically, this means that you now have a unit that can reliably outrange marine threats like Eradicators, and use Disgusting Force to remove high-damage output threats from the board before they can cause you trouble. The Fleshmower Bloat-Drone is also great now – the improved damage output (12 attacks!) combines with the ability to Heroically Intervene 6″ with Dark Cravings and regain wounds after kills with Daemonic Gluttony can make them a real pain and wonderful forward plague-spreaders to fly alongside Mortarion and punish opponents for throwing too much attention on the Primarch.

Credit: RichyP

How do you pick secondary objectives for the army now?

Don: My one “go-to” objective is Grind Them Down. Depending on your build, I do like Despoiled Ground. If you are running lots of infantry, Spread the Sickness is great for 9-12 points. I would not fixate on trying to get 15 points per secondary, during your picks. 8-12 is extremely respectable and will likely win you most games.

Rob: I’ve found that Despoiled Ground is a pretty reliable way to score points, particularly when your opponent is spending so much of their ranged capital trying to take down Mortarion. Though the big thing to watch out for there is making sure you have enough BUBONIC ASTARTES units to actually score multiple parts of it – Poxwalkers and Daemon Engines like the Plagueburst Crawler don’t have this keyword, so you need to make sure you’re bringing units that do (Rhinos are my go-to for this).

I’ve been less impressed by Spread the Sickness – Poxwalkers are the ideal unit for it but they’re really slow and don’t benefit from Inexorable Advance and so getting more than 9 points off the objective will likely require having a forward unit of plague marines or something else to throw away a turn of shooting injuring themselves and that’s not ideal. In my games so far Spread the Sickness has felt like a bit “win-more” to me so I likely won’t plan for it. Outside of that, I agree with Don that Grind Them Down is pretty solid, though it’ll depend on the opponent – Death Guard have some great units but getting T1 kills or reliably finishing off units may be trickier against some armies, and I think While We Stand, We Fight has a lot more play in some lists, particularly those running Mortarion and a pair of Plagueburst Crawlers, where I think you can reliably net 10 points with it. After that I’m probably looking at kill secondaries or the mission-specific option. It’s also good if you’re taking a kitted-out Daemon Prince, since those will easily top a PBC in total cost if you give them wings.

Credit: Zuul the Cat



Let’s Talk About Some Lists

Rob’s List

I’ve been building around Mortarion. I’ve gotten a couple of games in against marines so far – Iron Hands and Ultramarines, specifically – and here’s where I’m currently netting out. I’ve found that having Morty and Blightlords is pretty impractical, so I’ve opted for a less elite list with more Daemon Engine support.

Death Guard Supreme Command Deatchment (0 CP, 490 Points)

LoW: Mortarion, WARLORD, The Droning, Powers: Miasma of Pestilence, Curse of the Leper, Gift of Plagues

Death Guard Patrol Detachment (-2 CP, 1,509 Points)

Plague Company: Mortarion’s Anvil

HQ: Daemon Prince with Wings, Hellforged Sword, Malefic Talon, Plague-Chosen (-1 CP), WL Trait: Rotten Constitution (+1 Toughness, AP -1/-2 counted as 0), Relic: Suppurating Plate, Power: Gift of Contagion (190)

Troops: Plague Marines – 8x w/Bolter and Plague Knife, 1x w/Blight Launcher, Sigil of Decay, Champion: Power Fist (219)
Troops: Plague Marines – 8x w/Bolter and Plague Knife, 1x w/Blight Launcher, Sigil of Decay (209)
Troops: Poxwalkers x12 (60)

EL: Plague Surgeon
EL: Biologus Putrifier

FA: Foetid Bloat-Drone w/Fleshmower (135)
FA: Chaos Spawn x2, Grandfatherly Influence (-1 CP) (46)

HS: Plagueburst Crawler w/Entropy Cannons, Heavy Slugger (175)
HS: Plagueburst Crawler w/Entropy Cannons, Heavy Slugger (175)

DT: Chaos Rhino (80)
DT: Chaos Rhino (80)

+++ 1,999 Points, 10 CP +++

Correction: The Daemon Prince can’t have both wings and a Plague Spewer. That has been corrected.

The general idea here is that the Poxwalkers and Chaos Spawn can act as my rear-field objective holders, while the non-power fist Plague Marine squad can range around the middle of the table and hold objectives – they’re to be paired with the Plague Surgeon and placed in a Rhino. The other squad (with the power fist champion) gets paired with the Biologis Putrifier and acts as more of a forward threat, pushing up and potentially staying within Mortarion’s influence to boost their damage output. They also have the ability to readily perform an Intervention with the Mortarion’s Anvil Relaptic Assault Stratagem, but note that the Rhinos can do this too. The Daemon Prince and Fleshmower make good companions for Mortarion and the Prince is pretty tough to take down in his own right, sitting on a 2+ armor save and ignoring all incoming AP-1/AP-2 attacks. The Plagueburst Crawlers are a big part of this list’s strategy – they can act as tank hunters but more importantly can wipe out enemy Eradicators and threats to Morty early on, crippling an opponent’s chances of taking him down. My primary goal is to get Mortarion toward the enemy’s army as quickly as possible so he can use The Droning to lock the enemy army in place, preventing them from spreading out and challenging you as you move across the table with my other units.

Tweaking this list: There’s a good chance this list doesn’t need both the Bloat-Drone and the Daemon Prince, in which case it can get back some points for another Chaos Spawn by swapping the Prince out for a Lord or get back 100 points by swapping in a Malignant Plaguecaster. The list may also work better at that point as an Inexorable Plague Company list – give the Ferric Blight plague to the Putrifier to help boost the output on the forward squad. The biggest challenge this list has is reliably scoring Despoiled Ground with only 6 BUBONIC ASTARTES units, and so I might consider taking the extra points from cutting the Bloat-Drone or Daemon Prince along with the Poxwalkers and turning them into another squad of Plague Marines. That said, the Daemon Prince is also incredibly tough to deal with thanks to the combo of Suppurating Plate and Rotten Constitution, and he’ll hit just as hard if not harder than the bloat-drone, so the play may be instead to cut the bloat-drone. It also may just be the case that I need to cut both the DP and the Bloat-Drone and put in two HQs so I can take more than 3 Troops choices. The big challenge here is that the Poxwalkers are damn good backfield objective holders and they aren’t enough of a threat to cause players to go out of their way to kill them, and they’re tougher than they look. But the lack of the right keywords hurts them.

I’m also on the fence about the Fugaris’ Helm on the Plague Surgeon. In my test game it wasn’t super necessary but it would still be nice to have when multiple squads are hanging out together. Keeping the daemon prince, this list can trade out the Bloat-Drone, the Spawn, and a Poxwalker to get back 186 points. Spend 95 on a Plaguecaster and bump the Detachment to a Battalion and you’re left with 91 points to play with. Drop the two Sigils of Decay and that brings you up to 111, which will buy you a unit of 5 plague marines with 6 points left over that you can either invest back into an 11th Poxwalker or spend on a Mace of Contagion on the champion. Or swap the Plague Surgeon for a Tallyman (+10) or another Putrifier (+5) and you can open up a few more options. That’s probably the next iteration of the list I’ll be testing.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Don’s Lists

Don: there are a couple fun concepts that I want to try out for list design. This list runs heavy on vehicles with The Inexorable Plague Company, and really benefits from the changes to the Bring it Down Secondary Objective. The key trick here is zooming the Hell Blades across the table on turn one, then using Flash Outbreak to give them Ferric Blight with a 3″ range, and setting it up next to one or more key targets to give the rest of your army a +1 AP boost when shooting them. Against bigger targets like the Silent King or Mortarion you can make your first attacks with the mortar on a Plagueburst Crawler then follow up with Sickly Corrosion after you score a hit, at which point you’ll get to re-roll wound rolls of 1 against that target with every other vehicle in your army. This can be a really effective way of pushing through damage with the Vindicator Laser Destroyer and Punishers, which don’t have plague weapons. The Punishers are pretty versatile and great for ranging around the table with 14″ Movement – they’re well worth the 1 CP each you pay to take them.

Death Guard Spearhead Detachment (-3 CP)

Plague Company: The Inexorable

HQ: Lord of Virulence, Warlord: Arch-Contaminator, Relic: Leechspore Casket (120)

EL: 4x Deathshroud Terminators, Additional Plaguespurt Gauntlet, Chimes of Contagion (220)
EL: Tallyman, Plague-Chosen: Ferric Blight (-1 CP) (70)

FA: Foetid Bloat Drone, Fleshmower (135)
FA: Foetid Bloat Drone, Fleshmower (135)

HS: Plagueburst Crawler,  2x Plaguespitters, Heavy Slugger (165)
HS: Chaos Vindicator Laser Destroyer (175)
HS: Chaos Sicaran Punisher (-1 CP) (175)
HS: Chaos Sicaran Punisher (-1 CP) (175)
HS: Defiler, Twin Heavy Bolter, Defiler Scourge  (185)
HS: Defiler, Twin Heavy Bolter, Defiler Scourge  (185)

FLY: Hell Blade, 2x Twin Autocannons (135)
FLY: Hell Blade, 2x Twin Autocannons (135)

+++ 2,000 points, 6 CP +++

If that doesn’t do it for you, how about Daemon Engines? What we have here is another threat overload list. It has no ObSec, but follows the philosophy that your opponent can’t control objectives if they don’t have anyone alive to hold them. This also skews the list to be practically immune to small arms fire and almost anything shy of an imperial knight going HAM with a reaper chainsword.

Death Guard Outrider Detachment (-3 CP)

Plague Company: Poxmongers

HQ: Malignant Plaguecaster, Relic: Ironclot Furnace, Plague-Chosen, WL trait Sanguous Flux, Powers: Gift of Plagues, Miasma of Pestilence (95)

FA: Foetid Bloat Drone, Fleshmower (135)
FA: Foetid Bloat Drone, Fleshmower (135)
FA: Foetid Bloat Drone, Fleshmower (135)
FA: 2x Myphitic Blight-Haulers (280)
FA: 2x Myphitic Blight-Haulers (280)
FA: 2x Myphitic Blight-Haulers (280)

HS: Plagueburst Crawler, 2x Plaguespitters,  Rothail Volleygun (165)

Death Guard Supreme Command Detachment (0CP)

LoW: Mortarion, Warlord, Powers: Curse of the Leper, Plague Wind, Miasma of Pestilence (490)

+++ 1,995 points, 9 CP +++


Tomorrow: Nick Nanavati Shares His Thoughts on Codex: Death Guard

That wraps up our look at playing the new Death Guard today but there’s a ton of value in the new book and many potential worthwhile builds. Come back tomorrow when guest author and former ITC champion Nick Nanavati will be sharing his thoughts on the new codex and how to build with it. In the meantime, if you have any questions or feedback drop us a note in the comments below or email us at