Playing Tyranids with Synaptic Link and the Leviathan Supplement

Credit: Robert "TheChirurgeon" Jones

We recently had John Lennon weigh in on playing Tyranids with the new Octarius rules but there’s enough in the new content to give players multiple ways to build. We sat down with longtime hivemind devotee Innes Wilson, who was more than happy to talk about ways to build around the new rules.

With the release of Warzone: Octarius the Tyranids faction received a very real power boost. Notably it’s one that drives Tyranid lists away from the traditional Kraken + Kronos core by using the Hive Fleet Leviathan Supplement to provide power without doubling down on existing subfaction synergies. Leveraging the power of the supplement as well as the new Synaptic Links manages to feel similar to previous iterations of the codex’s greatest hits without being straight 1:1 upgrades.

Tyranids also greatly benefit from the new Balance Dataslate released last week, which lowered the overall power of the game without touching them, meaning their relative strength is much higher. As such, expect Tyranids to gain a decent chunk of meta presence in the coming weeks as we see where the chips have fallen.

One thing to note before we begin is that the Tyranid codex is an old codex, and in many ways both suffers from and relishes in that. The datasheets are tired and have been squeezed for every drop of playability that can be found, so don’t expect to see seismic shifts in the standard core of units that Tyranid lists have been built on since June 2017. What this is countered by however is a best-in-class suite of Stratagems that are only built on by the new offerings, which must be considered when evaluating a unit’s output and speed. Finally, the rules that came in Blood of Baal and were reprinted in the Appendix are largely unchanged, and don’t offer much in the way of new options.

Maleceptor. Credit: Rockfish
Maleceptor. Credit: Rockfish

Synaptic Link

You can find Goonhammer’s full review of the new Tyranid rules here.

First off, Synaptic Links. These are new abilities that can be purchased as upgrades for your synapse units at a cost of 15 points per (or 10 on Zoanthropes). In your Command phase, you can pick one of your units in range of an upgraded Synapse unit and until the start of your next Command phase, that unit gets the Synaptic Link bonus.

You can categorise these abilities into two classes:

  1. Good upgrades on weaker Synapse Creatures, and 
  2. Weaker upgrades on good Synapse Creatures. 

Your list can include as many of these as you like, but only 3 can be used a turn. So expect to see 3 of these in almost every list. The standouts so far have been: 

  • Bioweapon Bond (Tyranid Warriors), which hands out a +1 to hit from a Troops choice with utility
  • Focal Essence (Maleceptor), which can be used to re-roll damage and add bonus AP for increased consistency on Hive Guard
  • Mastery of the Shadows (The Broodlord), which lets you give Light, Heavy and Dense (non-Monster) to any unit
  • Unchecked Ferocity (Tyranid Prime’), which ensures that 6s to hit in melee will automatically wound

As Command phase buffs you will always be able to apply them to the most useful unit for

the situation, though the Broodlord’s Mastery of the Shadows mildly suffers from not being able to provide turn one protection if you’re going second. The Maleceptor and Tyranid Prime are two units that didn’t see much play before Warzone Octarius that are worth familiarising yourself with as a Tyranid player as they provide new and interesting options for making shooting units like Hive Guard more consistent, or allowing melee units like Hormagaunts and Genestealers to punch well above their weight.

Devourer Termagants. Credit: Rockfish
Devourer Termagants. Credit: Rockfish

Hive Fleet Leviathan

The Leviathan Supplement builds on the core of a 6+ Damage Prevention Roll/Feel No Pain subfaction trait with a range of powerful Stratagems and Warlord Traits. Being able to run Warlord Traits that aren’t embarrassing is rather new to Tyranids players who’ve been used to giving theirs up for an Adaptation for over a year, and the new options don’t disappoint. 

Specifically, the gem here is Strategic Adaptation. Redeploying units is immensely powerful, and allows much more aggressive options to shine – placing Termagants or Genestealers on the line and having the option to pull them back or place them into Strategic Reserves for free helps mitigate the speed hit you take from giving up Kraken. 

On the output side, Swarm Leader makes up for the consistency you lose by giving up re-rolling 1s to hit on your Hive Guard when you give up Hive Fleet Kronos.

The Key Stratagems to consider here are Relentless Flurry for damage output (1/2 CP to score additional hits on unmodified 6s to hit, or 2 additional hits if you have 11+ models) and Hive Mind Imperative for Objective Control (1 CP to give a unit within 12” of a Synapse unit Objective Secured or count as +1 model if they already had ObSec and shoot while performing actions), which remains as key to the Tyranid Plan as ever. 

Tyranid Warriors. Credit: Rockfish
Tyranid Warriors. Credit: Rockfish

List Building Considerations

Building Tyranid Lists now comes with a range of different problems. Due to the power of its Warlord Traits and the Relentless Flurry Stratagem, the faction gains heavily from running Leviathan. What this means is that you’re doubling down on stratagems, as the source of your output comes from both the new Leviathan options and old favourites like Single-Minded Annihilation and Voracious Appetite. This in turn makes running multiple detachments costly and difficult. Armies running more than a single patrol of a second faction will start looking at starting with less than 8 – 9 Command Points, which is difficult to justify.

I’d love to come here and type that Tyranids, as a result of this book, are running a host of different units to before but that’s not the path that the designers chose for this ruleset. Genestealers are primed to come off the shelf with the additional damage output of Synaptic Links and Relentless Flurry, and we may see the new Synaptic Links push a couple more units into consideration. However if you’re a long time player of the faction you’ll be happy to know that your Devilgaunts, Hive Guard, and Swarmlord are as core as ever to the faction and even better than before.

Tyranids have also not been blessed with a Faction-specific secondary objective, so be sure to consider your generic options when designing lists.Tyranids have great scoring options with fast Objective Secured units and the ability to move twice with Metabolic Overdrive and the Swarmlord’s ability. Leveraging these will win you just as many games as the extra “scoring options” that creatures made from lesser biomass have access to.

Tyranid Hive Guard
Tyranid Hive Guard. Credit: That Gobbo


Putting it all together – Innes’s Lists

When you start building your list for Tyranids, I’d suggest deciding on your secondary detachment preferences at the outset, as these will inform how you build your primary Leviathan Detachment. The main options I like for this are either a Genestealer Cults detachment to provide Ambush Markers for turn 1 protection, which promotes a more defensive “castle” playstyle and offers Lying in Wait for objective plays and A Plan Generations in the Making for disruption; or a second Tyranids Detachment for the consistency of newly unmodified 6s Symbiostorm on a squad of Hive Guard, likely with a Synaptic Link Tyranid Warriors squad to support. This option allows a second very consistent squad of Hive Guard and some psyker disruption. This does risk splitting your defensive buffs and synaptic links, which don’t cross the <Hive Fleet> keyword.

From there, the Leviathan Detachment will contain your board control elements, in the form of troops like Hormagaunts and small units like Lictors or Raveners, your character suite, and your heavy hitters like Devourer Gaunts, Genestealers and a squad of Hive Guard to make use of Swarm Leader. 

Following these principles, the list I ended up on was as follows:


+++ Tyranids Leviathan Battalion Detachment (-2 CP, 795 Points) +++

Hive Fleet Adaptation: Synaptic Imperative

HQ: The Swarmlord [14PL, 240pts] Psyker – Catalyst, Onslaught
HQ: Malanthrope [8PL, 150pts] Warlord – Swarm Leader, Alpha Leader-Beast – Strategic Adaptation (-1CP), Relic – Adaptive Neural Lobe

TR: 30 Termagant [9PL, 210pts] 30 Devourer
TR: 16 Genestealer [16PL, 208pts] 16 Scything Talon, 4 Acid Maw
TR: 3 Tyranid Warrior [5PL, 75pts] 3 Lash Whip and Bonesword, 3 Pair of Scything Talon, Synaptic Link – Bioweapon Bond
TR: 3 Tyranid Warrior [5PL, 75pts] 3 Lash Whip and Bonesword, 3 Pair of Scything Talon, Synaptic Link – Bioweapon Bond
TR: 10 Hormagaunt [3PL, 60pts] TR: 10 Hormagaunt [3PL, 60pts]

EL: 6 Hive Guard [12PL, 270pts] 6 Impaler Cannon, Progeny of the Hive – Enhanced Resistance (-1CP)
EL: 5 Hive Guard [12PL, 225pts] 5 Impaler Cannon
EL: Lictor [2PL, 37pts] EL: Maleceptor [10PL, 185pts] Synaptic Link – Focal Essense, Psyker – Onslaught

+++ Genestealer Cults Patrol Detachment (2 CP, 205 Points) +++

Cult of the Four-Armed Emperor
Cult Creed: Subterranean Ambushers

HQ: Magus [5PL, 85pts] Psyker – Mind Control, Mass Hypnosis

TR: 5 Acolyte Hybrid [3PL, 40pts] TR: 5 Acolyte Hybrid [3PL, 40pts] TR: 5 Acolyte Hybrid [3PL, 40pts]


This list gives you a solid mix of fast elements like Hormagaunts, as well as Acolytes and the Lictor to play primary denial with and score secondaries like Stranglehold, Retrieve Octarius Data, or Raise the Banners High. A strong defensive core of Malanthrope + Maleceptor gives your opponents -1 to hit and reduces the strength of incoming attacks by 1 to protect a shooting bastion of 11 Hive Guard. This opens up To The Last as a secondary option as you can play a tower defense game with your Hive Guard as the juicy center.

Ambush Markers and Lash Whip and Bonesword warriors allow us to control where we can take damage in the early game, whether by blocking physical movement or preventing units from gaining sight lines. This gives us the most value for our points and CP investment from the Hive Guard to break parity on the game. Staring with 8 CP as well as regeneration from the Adaptive Neural Lobe (and occasionally Feeder Tendrils if the Genestealers are able to kill a character) allows the list to fuel itself for a good few turns with careful spending.

The Termagants and Genestealers (with Swarmlord) provide great mid-range damage output and board control with Swarm Leader, the Warriors’ Synaptic Link, and the Relentless Flurry stratagem for output. The Strategic Adaptation Warlord trait allows them to be flexed offensively, for counter punch, or in the Gaunts’ case into Strategic Reserves for later options such as Pheromone Trail from the Lictor.

I find that it’s important to build Tyranid lists in a way that doesn’t bleed secondaries. This list avoids giving up more than 13 VP on anything (No Prisoners) and generally no more than 8-10 elsewhere. No Prisoners is in the same category as common secondaries like Oath of Moment, Leap of Faith, and To The Last, which makes it a difficult pick for most armies. The lack of a strong faction secondary makes this almost a necessity, but Tyranids have the options to pull it off. 

Worth noting about this list is that I’m not sure 11 Hive Guard is the best all-rounder option, and I’d love to flex the second squad to 30 more Devourer Gaunts or 16 more Genestealers, but they provide a very strong answer to strong counter shooting lists, and indirect threats such as Rukkatrukks or Fliers when combined with the Malanthrope and Maleceptor combo. Your meta mileage may vary and we may find that in a post-Dataslate world that this changes. In the case where you play only 6, consider removing the Malanthrope and/or Maleceptor for options like the Neurothrope and Tyranid Prime.

Credit: PierreTheMime

Keeping it Single Faction

If you’re more interested in keeping yourself to a single faction, whether that’s for ITC faction purposes or just because you wouldn’t dare besmirch the Hive Mind with something so lowly as a cultist, then combining the Kronos and Leviathan Hive Fleets offers you a fair suite of options.

+++ Tyranids Leviathan Battalion Detachment (-1 CP, 1,561 Points) +++

Hive Fleet Adaptation: Synaptic Imperative

HQ: The Swarmlord [14PL, 240pts] Psyker – Catalyst, Onslaught
HQ: Tyranid Prime [6PL, 90pts] Synaptic Link – Unchecked Ferocity, Warlord – Swarm Leader, Alpha Leader-Beast – Strategic Adaptation (-1CP), Relic – Adaptive Neural Lobe

TR: 30 Termagant [9PL, 210pts] 30 Devourer
TR: 16 Genestealer [16PL, 208pts] 16 Scything Talon, 4 Acid Maw
TR: 16 Genestealer [16PL, 208pts] 16 Scything Talon, 4 Acid Maw
TR: 3 Tyranid Warrior [5PL, 75pts] 3 Lash Whip and Bonesword, 3 Pair of Scything Talon, Synaptic Link – Bioweapon Bond
TR: 21 Hormagaunt [9PL, 126pts] TR: 10 Hormagaunt [3PL, 60pts]

EL: 6 Hive Guard [12PL, 270pts] 6 Impaler Cannon
EL: Lictor [2PL, 37pts] EL: Lictor [2PL, 37pts]

+++ Tyranids Kronos Patrol Detachment (-2 CP, 437 Points) +++

Hive Fleet Adaptation: Bio-barrage

HQ: Neurothrope [5PL, 95pts] Psyker – Symbiostorm

TR: 3 Tyranid Warrior [5PL, 72pts] 2 Lash Whip and Bonesword, 4 Pair of Scything Talon, Synaptic Link – Bioweapon Bond

EL: 6 Hive Guard [12PL, 270pts] 6 Impaler Cannon


Here the game plan is to have two very buffed squads of Hive Guard. Both squads are able to have additional hits on 6s through Relentless Flurry and Symbiostorm, with Full Rerolls or 2s rerolling 1s to hit. As mentioned before, as we’re splitting our Tyranid units between <Hive Fleet> Keywords, there’s much less value in the Malanthrope or Maleceptor. As such we lean harder on the combat elements, adding a Tyranid Prime with 16 more Genestealers as well as increasing the size of a squad of Hormagaunts to allow a third cheap combat threat to apply pressure through the various buffs (and the Feral Instinct stratagem, which combines with Relentless Flurry for a 2CP combo that almost feels like Genestealers). We add some more scoring through a Lictor as this list loses the easy scoring elements. 

This list is something that I’ll be much higher on if there’s changes to the Ambush Markers coming in the December Genestealer Cult book release, so watch this space as a baseline for further development. If you really want to double down, cut the chaff and add 6 more Kronos Hive Guard and move the Warriors to the Kronos Detachment. Nobody will enjoy playing you if you do this and I’m not writing it up for fear of putting it into the world.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Closing Thoughts and Looking to the Future

This book brings a lot of power to the Tyranids faction, and with the Genestealer Cult codex on the horizon you can expect to see shifts in what else we can ally in. Potential changes to Ambush Markers could also have a major impact on the way we can choose to build lists. 

Players must respect Tyranids in list building and they’re certainly capable of winning games against the best factions. I don’t think it will be long before players are very sick of Hive Guard and we have to have a very frank conversation about how much power they should be allowed to have in the army. 

I’m very much looking forward to playing more with this rules set. It’s powerful in a way that doesn’t go far from what was good before, which will let existing players leverage their muscle memory with the faction, but also brings in some new options to keep up with the big hitters much more than before.

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