Since the release of their codex in early 8th edition, Chaos Daemons have seen a number of updates, owing in part to their unique status as the only crossover army between Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar. As releases like Wrath and Rapture have added new models to the range, we’ve seen new units and updated datasheets for the faction, but haven’t had much in the way of updated Stratagems or rules.
This has been a bit of an issue because Chaos Daemons have a difficult codex to work with. In several ways it simultaneously feels like four codexes mashed into one book, with lots of rules split doing duty for the four chaos gods, and at the same time, half a codex given how bare some of the force org sections are. If you wanted to run a mono-god detachment of Chaos Daemons, this can leave you feeling like you only have one fourth of a full codex when it comes to Relics and Stratagems.
Fortunately, Engine War is here to solve that problem, adding a host of new relics and stratagems, plus helping boost one of the faction’s biggest pain points – Greater Daemons. Today join me and Chase “Gunum” Garber as we dive into the book and talk about how these new changes affect the faction.
Daemons get the lion’s share of pages from a content standpoint in Engine War but the majority of those pages are dedicated to reprinting updated Chaos Daemons datasheets from last year’s releases to incorporate units like the new Slaanesh daemons, e.g. the Keeper of Secrets, Shalaxi Helbane, the Contorted Epitome, and updated rules for some Khorne Daemons (Bloodcrushers and Flesh Hounds). There’s nothing new or surprising to these but if you don’t have Chapter Approved 2019 you can get these in print now and if you did buy Chapter Approved 2019 you’ll be able to get by with lugging one less book to your games.
The best news about these is that the Keeper of Secrets has a fixed datasheet! No longer does its Strength degrade (something that was fixed via an FAQ for Chapter Approved 2019), and the FAQ fix wasn’t overwritten with a new book.
Correction: The updated Keeper of Secrets Datasheet lists the unit as having 12″ Movement. We really hope this gets fixed with an FAQ as soon as possible and it’s disappointing that this has happened again.
Exalted Greater Daemons
Greater Daemons have always been a kind of casualty of the 8th edition character rules, with decent statlines but a tragic ability to be shot in the face as they cross the table. While there have been some fringe builds making use of one or two, or in the case of the Keeper of Secrets running three at a time Lord Discordant-style, they’ve never quite been resilient or dangerous enough to overcome their targetability. So some of Games Workshop’s best models have gone significantly under-used in 8th edition.
The good news is that Greater Daemons get some much-needed love in Engine War with the new Exalted Greater Daemon rules. There are four Exalted Greater Daemon Stratagems, one for each god. Each costs 1 CP and upgrades a single non-named Greater Daemon for that category to EXALTED status, giving it either one exalted ability of your choice from a list of six or two if you decide to roll for them randomly. If you roll doubles, you re-roll until you have two different results. There’s no limit to how many times you can use this Stratagem, but you can only pick each exalted ability once, meaning that if you want to double up on some of the better ones, you’re going to have to take your chances rolling. There’s also technically nothing in the rule stopping you from using it to exalt the same Chaos Daemon multiple times, but this clearly well beyond what’s intended by the rule and we expect it to be errata’d immediately.
Once they’ve been elevated, Exalted Greater Daemons also have access to Exalted Artefacts, extra relics only they can use. Each Greater Daemon has access to a list of three of these.
Exalted Great Unclean Ones
Exalted Great Unclean ones have a few tricks to become even tougher, with both options for making going up to T8 (Bloated with Corruption) and access to the Death Guard’s Revoltingly Resilient, which gives the Great Unclean One +1 to its Disgustingly Resilient rolls. Of these two the bonus to DR is likely the better, functionally doubling the number of wounds a Great Unclean One has on average. OK, not actually doubling them because they already functionally had 27, but it’s still a big increase. Great Unclean Ones are still slow, but suddenly having an effective 36 wounds on a T7 model is a real pain in the ass for a lot of armies, and it can make the Great Unclean One a more reliable source of frustration for your opponent and buffs for your units.
If just living through a whole game isn’t your thing though, consider Living Plagues, which gives you an extra hit in melee each time your score a hit with a weapon whose strength is double the target’s toughness. If you’re going this route you either want to take the Bilesword to ensure your attacks are going off at S8, and you can use the Shrivelling Pox psychic power to drop the toughness of nearby enemy units by 1 to make sure you’re getting extra hits on T5 units. You can get this all the way up to doubling T8 units if you combine it with the relic Plaguesword Corruption (+2 S instead of +1) with a Poxbringer’s +1 S aura and Mortarion’s Toxic Presence aura. This is frankly, a lot of work to get 4-5 extra hits against a T8 model and in my mind, you’ll be better of with Revoltingly Resilient but it’s not asking you to go out of your way to bring bad models and most of the time you’ll be using this to scythe through T4 targets.
The three exalted artifacts are… alright. The best (or at least, the funniest) among them is likely the Endless Gift, which heals its bearer for 1 wound at the end of any phase in which it lost a wound. Combined with Revoltingly Resilient, this makes an already difficult to kill unit even more of a pain. Effluvior replaces a plague flail with one that’s S+1 and Assault 6, which is a big upgrade considering damage spills over. The Tome of a Thousand Poxes gives the Great Unclean One an extra power and its powers can’t be denied when you roll a 7 to manifest them. This is OK as well, and solid for getting through the aforementioned Shrivelling Pox power as well as Virulent Blessing.
Gunum Thought: When I was starting this season, I was really excited about playing a Mono Nurgle list and I used a Great Unclean One with his mighty sword for his durability, to a much lesser effect of what were are getting with this update. I am currently in love with Endless Gift and Effluvior. I usually start my GUO in reserve since he is just, such a huge target. Being able to hide him for a turn can really go a long way and with these buffs could actually make him pretty playable in soup armies, if not in mono-faction.
OK let’s talk about the real winners of this update.
First off, Exalted Bloodthirsters have a few ways to become even nastier in melee combat. The Slaughterborn ability gives them +1 S and +1 A in the fight phase after they charge, get charged, or perform a Heroic Intervention, and this stacks with Unstoppable Ferocity, allowing it to go to S9 and 8 Attacks on the charge. The extra attack is a big boost generally but the strength bonus is gonna do real work on the Bloodthirster of Insensate Rage, which can suddenly drop S8 sweeping blow attacks, giving it 16 S9 AP-2, 1-damage attacks or getting you to the overkill setting of 8 S18, AP-4, D6 damage attacks. Arch-murderer gives you +1 damage on your melee attacks.
But the real eye-opener here is Blood-Blessed, which prevents a Bloodthirster from taking more than 8 wounds in any given phase. Sure, this is much more than say, Ghazghkull’s new ability and it means you can bracket a Bloodthirster. But on the other hand, it means that a Bloodthirster with it is almost always going to survive to fight in combat at least once and unlike Ghaz, Bloodthirsters are really fast and can FLY over screens. When you combine that with the new exalted relic, The Blood-Drinker Talisman, which heals its bearer for 1 wound per model killed in the fight phase (up to 8) each turn, you suddenly have a melee monster who can prove incredibly difficult to kill.
The other potential sleeper hit here is Unrivalled Battle-Lust, which gives an Exalted Bloodthirster +2 to its charge rolls and the ability to Heroically Intervene from 6” away. Bloodthirsters can use the Denizens of the Warp Stratagem same as any other Daemon unit (albeit for 2 CP thanks to their Power Level) and dropping out of the warp to make a 7” charge can be very nasty and not being on the table is even better protection than capping out your damage at 8 wounds. If you combine this with the Locus of Rage benefit from going mono-Khorne, you’ve suddenly got a Bloodthirster who is very likely to make his charges the turn he drops.
The other Artefacts of Blood are interesting as well. The relic axe, G’rmakht the Destroyer, replaces an Axe of Khorne with one that’s got a damage floor of 3 (rolls of 1-2 count as 3), but has the added benefit that when the Bloodthirster dies, you roll a D6 and on a 4+ it gets back up at the end of the phase with D6 wounds left and no Exalted abilities, relics, or warlord traits (your warlord counts as destroyed). It instead gains the Rage Unchained exalted ability, which lets it count as double the number of wounds remaining for its degrading profile. The extra bonus of getting back up is neat but the damage floor on the axe is pretty solid on its own.
Unlike the other greater daemons, Bloodthirsters don’t have a single datasheet but three different options (Wrath of Khorne, Unfettered Fury, Insensate Rage), giving them more options to choose from. This could have the side effect of creating the possibility of 4+ Exalted Bloodthirster armies. And while the incredibly fluffy 8-Thirster list isn’t likely, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to imagine a 6-thirster list that spams these insane killing monsters and uses rolls to ensure they get several Blood-Blessed ones.
Wings Thought: Blood-Blessed is quite the thing. We haven’t really had a chance to see Ghazgkhull in action, but it seemed reasonably likely that his ability would pop up elsewhere and here we are – now we’ve got bloodthirsters that literally cannot be put down in a phase, no matter how much firepower you pour into them, and that seems like it’ could be totally wild. I suspect opponents will find a way to push back against it, but there’s definitely going to be an adjustment process prior to players realizing just how devastating letting one get to their lines untouched is. The healing talisman also seems like a powerful combo with it, making it even more of a nightmare to ever actually stop. I feel like this is going to be one of the biggest winners out of a powerful set of rules.
Gunum Thought: My love for Khorne units isn’t really much of a secret and the buffs that my Angry Sons get here is just, the best. I am -all- about Unrivalled Battle-Lust, and G’rmakht the Destroyer. The irony is not lost on me that something named “Destroyer” also brings your Bloodthirster back to life. The way I see this, being able to deep strike in with a nearly guaranteed charge, delete whatever you touch, then getting murdered by the opposing armies shooting to only get back up again? Pretty great. Blood Thirsters aren’t really known for being very durable, so being able to come back from the dead is pretty huge. The Blood-Drinker Talisman is also great, but I’m not too hype on it right now. I think mixed with Blood-Blessed, it may be okay? But I’m worried that after getting your BT where it needs to go, it’s going to be taking those 8 wounds in the Psychic Phase, then the final 8 in you opponent’s Shooting phase, without ever getting to use the Talisman. Strong C+ for those for me.
Exalted Lords of Change
Lords of Change could already trade on being powerful psykers, but were usually edged out by Winged Daemon Princes, for whom untargetability and lower cost often made a big difference. Exalted Lords of Change get three big boosts to their psychic powers in their list of options, and these are the most interesting of the choices presented in Engine War. Spell Thief gives the Lord of Change a rule where each time it successfully denies a psychic power, that power can’t be used again for the rest of the battle – it’s lost. That’s insane and given that they start with +2 to deny attempts at full health. Mastery of Magic gives the Lord of Change an additional power and the ability to cast one more each psychic phase. And Lord of Flux increases the number of mortal wounds inflicted by your powers by 1.
Of these, Spell Thief is the most interesting (and powerful), turning your Exalted LoC into a terror for armies reliant on psychic powers like Eldar and Grey Knights. The big upside here is that your Exalted power isn’t chosen until you show up at the table, so you can easily shift to something more relevant if you’re up against an army with fewer psykers. Two of the abilities we haven’t mentioned make Lords of Change more difficult to kill, one with a 6+ ignore wounds “save” and the ability to heal, and the other with a -1 modifier to incoming hit rolls, but these may be overkill with the Impossible Robe.
If you want a self-healing Lord of Change, we’d instead recommend the Soul-Eater Stave relic, which lets you roll a D6 each time you destroy a model with a psychic power. On a 4+, you regain a wound, up to a maximum of 9 per turn. That’s a damn fine way to regenerate wounds for a Lord of Change and makes Lord of Flux and Mastery of Magic look all the more appealing since they can easily get you more wounds back. If you just want to kill stuff, you can also just take the Warpfire blade, an upgraded sword that’s S+2, AP-3, D6 damage with additional mortals on a 6 to wound. Hitting S8 is a big deal if you need to fight a Knight.
Overall these really help elevate a model that was almost there with regard to playability into something you could plausibly run one of. Running 2-3 Lords of Change seems unlikely, if only because you’re going to run out of psychic powers to use with them and then be losing one of their best benefits, but having one supporting your efforts with the Soul-Eater Stave seems pretty good.
Gunum Thought: Lots of people ask what can Daemons do against Grey Knights, and I think Spell Thief is what gets us there. If you’re going to be playing All-Comers Daemons, I can’t think of a reason you wouldn’t take this Lord of Change. Spell Thief, Impossible Robe, defend your front line with his deny and some screens to eat any smites that do go off, and I think your army has a real shot now. I look at the other abilities, and they are -pretty- good, but I think against any army that has casters, you can’t afford to avoid this combo.
Exalted Keepers of Secrets
The best of the Greater Daemon options before Engine War, Keepers of Secrets had already seen some competitive play in trios (or, more accurately, in pairs with Shalaxi Helbane), hoping to run them in large enough groups to overload the enemy with threats. They were still a bit too slow and fragile to shift the meta however, unable to FLY over enemy units and with only a 5+ invulnerable save to protect them (plus an Aegis).
The good news is that Exalted Keepers of Secrets greatly improve on the unit, offering you a few really good options for making them viable. Quicksilver Reflexes is the stand-out here, giving an Exalted Keeper of Secrets a huge boost in survivability with a 4+ invulnerable save. Realm-Racer makes them even faster, giving them +2” Movement and +1 to Advance and Charge rolls. And Blessing of the Dark Prince gives enemies shooting at the Exalted Keeper of Secrets -1 to wound, also helping boost its survivability and doing so in a way that helpfully future-proofs against the 9th edition cap on modifiers: -1 to hit is much more common a buff, while -1 to wound is not.
On the relics side, Exalted Keepers of Secrets have access to three options: If you wanted a better sword option, you can opt for the Silverstrike Relic, which has S+2, AP-3, 3 Damage and when the bearer fights, it makes 2 extra attacks, plus keeps the standard debuff of a witstealer sword. Alternatively, the Whip of Agony replaces a Living Whip with one that’s Assault 6, S6, AP-3 2 damage, can still hit units within 1”, and attacks from it automatically wound non-vehicle, non-titanic units. The best option though is likely the Jewel of Excess, which gives its bearer +1 to psychic tests (for Slaanesh powers) and deny attempts, giving you a crucial boost to cast Hysterical Frenzy with its difficult WC 8 cost. Casting bonuses are difficult to come by in Slaanesh and having a model other than a Contorted Epitome that can plausibly cast Hysterical Frenzy is a big bonus.
Overall while these buffs may be the least interesting of those available to the Exalted Greater Daemons (though Fear-Seeker is admittedly more interesting but harder to use well and less powerful), they’re plenty strong and Keepers of Secrets didn’t need a ton of help to get there. The idea of running two of them plus Shalaxi now with one on a 4+ invulnerable save and the other with -1 to be hit plus the Aegis is pretty compelling, and I could see the case to be made for Realm-Racer, where the extra boost to movement, advances, and charges combines with the Locus of Swiftness (which lets you Advance and Charge in the same turn) to Advance 16+D6+1” (average of 20.5), then charge another 2D6+1” (average 8), giving you an insane 28.5” threat range with a charge at full health.
These Exalted greater daemons are cool and all (they are very cool), but ultimately Chaos Daemons as a faction need more than just flashy new characters to play herohammer with. More good news, then: Chaos Daemons get 16 other new stratagems in Engine War, all devoted to boosting specific, non-greater daemon keywords from Codex: Chaos Daemons. While, on the surface, it looks like these only affect one unit, don’t let that fool you – they’ve been carefully keyworded and will work with Heralds and some named characters. And that’s where we are gonna find some silly value.
For Nurgle Stratagems, there’s likely some value in Rust and Decay, which lets Plaguebearers auto-hit and wound when rolling 6s to hit in the Fight phase. The other good Stratagem here is Nurgling Infestation, which you can use at the end of any non-morale phase to regenerate bases that died in that phase on a 5+, giving them a kind of Reanimation Protocols that both makes them much more annoying and also gives you an incentive to take more than 3 bases in a unit.
Wings: A few total monsters in the UK meta used to show up with armies containing 50+ Nurgling bases, and I’m sure that even now they’re rubbing their hands together in perverse glee.
Khornate Daemons also get some real boosts at the lower levels in Engine War. Rage Eternal is a 3 CP Stratagem that lets Bloodletter Infantry who die in the Fight phase fight one more time when they are destroyed if you roll a 4+, giving them a Wulfen-like ability to make you pay dearly for killing them. Brass Stampede (1 CP) affects Bloodcrushers, allowing them to do Mortal Wounds of a unit they charge – roll a D6 for each model in the unit that ends its charge within 1” of an enemy unit and on a D6 roll of 2+ you do 1 mortal wound to that enemy unit, on a 6 you do D3. This is something we’ve seen before but the kicker here is that if you kill every enemy unit within 1” with these mortal wounds, you can declare another charge. To be honest, I’m not sure how good this is – you still need to kill an entire unit with what will be, at most, 5ish mortal wounds on average. On the other hand, with some careful planning and ranged support, you can soften some units up and use this to charge a 1- or 2-model unit, kill them, and then slingshot past them, making it a great way to barrel through screens. That “unit” wording here is the tricky part – if you kill all the models within 1” but the unit survives, you’re gonna be stuck, so keep that in mind.
Gunum’s Thought: I am really into the Brass Stampede ability. If you’re using a max brick of Blood Crushers, with a Banner of Blood upgrade purchased, supported by shooting Chaos Space Marines or even the pykers of Tzeentch, this unit is going to be finishing off any screen that’s leftover then able to charge into those juicy bits in the back end.
Flesh Hounds also get some love with The Scent of Blood (1 CP), which really encourages souping with Chaos Space Marines as it gives you +2 to charge rolls with Flesh Hounds if any non-vehicle enemy models have been killed this turn, making it an ideal follow-up for Flesh Hounds arriving from the Warp (via Denizens of the Warp) after your Chaos Knight or Lord of Skulls has already shot something.
Horrors don’t really need any help, but the rest of the Daemons of Tzeentch aren’t so lucky, with most being borderline at best. So it’s good news all around. Horrors get a boost with the Minions of Magic (1 CP) Stratagem which lets a unit of HORRORS INFANTRY automatically manifest a power as if a 9 had been rolled. OK here’s where things get silly — while yes, this can be used to auto-cast Smite from a unit of regular horrors, the real value is gonna be on the Horror characters. Namely The Changeling and The Changecaster, who both have the HORROR and INFANTRY keywords and can know powers above and beyond Smite (N.B if you’re wondering – no the pluralisation on HORRORS in this strat doesn’t matter, there’s an FAQ to the explicit effect that there’s no difference between singular and plural keywords). With the Changegling, this basically means automatically manifesting Infernal Gateway, bypassing its 8 WC and dumping D3 mortal wounds on the closest enemy unit and every unit within 3”.
Screamers get access to the Warp Jaws (1 CP) Stratagem, which gives them +1 to their wound rolls in the Fight phase against Monsters and Vehicles. This is a pretty solid boost to Screamers, who are a bit underrated but get 3 attacks each at S6, AP-3, 2 damage normally. This would be a lot better if it could hit Infantry, but it’s a solid boost for taking bites out of vehicles that Tzeentch Daemons didn’t really have outside of mortal wounds. Warp Portal is also interesting, letting a chariot, Fateskimmer, or Fluxmaster unit teleport for 1 CP, leaving and returning to the table more than 9” from an enemy unit.
Like their greater daemon counterparts, there’s a lot to love about the lesser daemons of Slaanesh, who don’t need a ton of help to get there, but still needed help nonetheless. They get a couple of very strong tools here. Daemonettes Infantry get the Razor-Sharp Claws (1 CP) Stratagem, which boosts their AP by 1 for a Fight phase, a huge boost for a unit relying on AP-1 claws for their attacks and something that helps bring them more in-line with their Bloodletter competitors. Sinuous Undulation (1 CP) on the other hand protects Daemonettes Cavalry units, giving enemy units -1 to hit them in the Shooting phase. It’s a fine boost to Seekers, and worth noting that this also works on the Contorted Epitome, which has the relevant keywords.
There’s a lot here and while these aren’t free upgrades like what Chaos Knights and Imperial Knights got, they are important and necessary, adding some extra utility to key units and making Greater Daemons worth a second look. They turn Chaos Daemons into a very CP-thirsty army however, and that could be a challenge with 9th edition coming and the prospect of paying 3 CP for each Battalion looms large. I don’t think these get Daemons there in 8th edition, but they’re a big help, and they certainly make your Daemon detachments more powerful than they were. I think they can probably just barely get the monofaction Slaanesh Daemons list over the top, running triple Exalted Keepers of Secrets and Shalaxi Helbane as major threats, plus hordes of Daemonettes, a pair of Epitomes, fiends, and Seekers. If you start with Asa Carlson’s list from last year and factor in these new stratagems plus the points drops in CA19 in December, that’s a hefty boost to a book that could finish in the top 4 in an Iron Hands-dominated meta. And while Grey Knights are more of a problem, you can hurt them more with Daemonettes now.
Gunum Thoughts: These are a collection of much-needed improvements for the Daemons book, as well as for the Chaos toolkit in general. Greater Daemons were just not seen enough to really support what cool centerpiece models they have become and I’m really excited to see them get some play. The stratagem support gives some reasons to bring units you may not normally see, (Hello Bloodcrushers) and that’s only good for the game. With 9th just around the corner, we’re all going to have to quickly adjust to how crazy things are going to be getting with actions like this book, and I for one, am down for anything that makes Daemon army feel like Daemons again. (GW. Please bring back Khorne Daemonkin. Please.)
The Great Game Continues
That about does it for our review of Engine War. This book is jam-packed full of rules and content to the point that covering it was pretty daunting! Regardless of whether you love or hate the rules your faction got, it’s worth noting that we’re about to see a massive rules shake-up with 9th edition, so it’s entirely plausible that, by the next time you sit down to play an in-person game with someone, everything about the Chaos Daemons army will have changed. Hopefully for the better. Til then, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.