Q3 2024 40K Balance Update – Chaos

This week Games Workshop dropped the largest single update we’ve ever seen to Warhammer 40,000 outside of an edition change. Through a number of FAQs and Errata, points changes, a new Dataslate, and a massive update to the Core Rules, they’ve overhauled the entire game, bringing us to what we at Goonhammer are calling “10.5 Edition.” There is a ton here to talk about and even more to take in, and we’ve split the content across a number of articles to make it easier to find what you’re looking for.

This is one of three articles covering the Q3 Balance Dataslate and Munitorum Field Manual – What changed, how each army was affected, and what that means for your games. Some armies got massive updates while others only saw some small tweaks. We’re just going to cover the high-level overview here, talking about lists of changes, winners, and losers.

This article is covering Chaos factions. You can find the others, plus our review of the Core Rules changes and Pariah Tournament Companion, at the following links:

For those armies which changed substantially, like Adeptus Mechanicus, Tyranids, or Chaos Daemons, we’ll also be updating their Faction and Detachment Focuses over the next few weeks.

It’s worth highlighting that a few units now have differently scaled costs depending on how large the squad is, usually where being able to take a single model was particularly handy for whatever reason, or if larger units scale differently in power.

Finally, before we dive in, we’d like to thank Games Workshop for providing us with a preview copy of these changes for review purposes.

Chaos Daemons

Status: Big Winner

Chaos Daemons are one of the big winners of the July Dataslate pass. While they don’t get as comprehensive a rewrite as the Adeptus Mechanicus, there are quite a few big changes here, coupled with some tasty point drops.

Mike P: Everything’s coming up Daemons. With points drops and rules buffs, Daemons will have both a power boost and increased diversity in lists.

The most important change is now that all Greater Daemons give 6” auras of Shadows Of Chaos/Warp Rifts to units from their respective Gods. This is huge. Keeping Shadows Of Chaos up was extremely unreliable unless you brought Be’lakor, and you could potentially lose access to important synergies at key times (like not having access to Shadows in the midfield when setting up your deepstriking units). This now gives you access to 6” deepstrike charges and all of the Shadow synergies in potentially way more places on the board, and your whole gameplan won’t fall apart if Be’lakor gets destroyed. It also means that you don’t lose access to the “drop pod” mechanic (setting up a Greater Daemon and then setting up another unit nearby for a 6” charge) in mono-God lists without Be’lakor. Khorne Daemons in particular get a wild power boost from this rules change. A Bloodthirster bringing in Skarbrand 6” away is going to be a brutal 1-2 punch. Don’t forget that always being in Shadow means that all Greater Daemons can now use the advance and charge stratagem at all times, and will always have the potential to heal when taking Battleshock tests.

Wings: In addition to this, it means that if you take Daemon enhancements on Greater Daemons, they’re always going to get the Shadow-buffed version, which is especially good with the Everstave and Endless Gift.

Let’s talk about the points changes now. They’re not huge, but there are some nice quality of life boosts. Be’lakor goes down 25 to 325, Bloodthirsters go down 15 to 305, Daemon Princes go down 10 and 15 points to 190 for the walking variant and 180 for the winged variant, Daemonettes go down 10 to 100, Fateskimmers go down 10 to 95, Fiends go down 15 to 105, Plague Drones go down 10 to 110, Skull Cannons go down 10 to 95, and Soul Grinders go down 10 to 180. Nurglings get a small discount for large unit sizes, staying at 40 points for 3 but going down to 70 and 105 points for 6 and 9 model units.

These are all boosts to fun and interesting units. Every Chaos God gets in on the buffs, and every Daemons player will have something to celebrate. Skull Cannons are just great value at 95, and Fiends and Daemonettes going down makes Slaanesh lists a lot more viable. Bloodthirsters, Daemon Princes with Wings, and Soul Grinders going down lets Daemons fit some more punch into their lists.

In terms of overall changes to the game, there are several things that Daemon players will love. The change to pivoting (pivoting costs 2”, and you can pivot unlimited times) will save Greater Daemons quite a lot of movement in some situations, giving them a noticeable speed boost. The nerfs to Grenades and Tank Shock will also help keep Greater Daemons on the board, as units like Lords of Change, Be’lakor, and Bloodthirsters are extremely vulnerable to those. Soul Grinder Tank Shock gets a lot worse, but that’s a fair price to pay since most Daemons players don’t run Soul Grinders anyway. Daemons also had a big issue versus armies that had units like Callidus Assassins that could increase the cost of Battle Tactics by 1CP, as their key stratagem Realms of Chaos is a Battle Tactic. The fact that all CP cost increases only work within 12” of the model with the ability means Daemons will be much less likely to have to pay 2CP for Realms of Chaos, which will help them use other valuable stratagems more easily.

It’s always a great time to play Daemons, and this is more true now than it has been all edition. Khorne Daemons are one of the biggest winners out of any army in the entire game, and will be a terrifying force with these updates and changes to the overall game.

Chaos Knights

Status: Small Winner

TheChirurgeon: Chaos Knights receive a number of small buffs from this update, but do they actually improve the army?

  • Knights with the Super-Heavy Walker ability can now make a Normal Move, Advance, or Fall Back through non-TITANIC models and sections of terrain that are 4” or more in height, including within Engagement Range of enemy models, as long as they doesn’t end within Engagement Range. When they move through terrain, roll a D6 after they move; on a 1, that model is Battle-shocked. This gives big knights a way to move through any of the terrain in the Games Workshop recommended layouts without always relying on the Knights of Shade Stratagem.
  • Several of the TITANIC knights available to the faction received point drops – Knight Abominant (-15), Knight Despoiler (-10), Knight Acheron (-15), Knight Atropos (-15), Knight Lancer (-15), and Knight Styrix (-35).
  • The cost of the Lord of Dread Enhancement dropped 10 points, to 25.

At first glance, you could be forgiven for mistakenly believing the faction has received a significant boost. While big knights received a number of point drops and quality-of-life improvements, these changes don’t do enough to entice a Chaos Knights player to move away from the strategy of “All War Dogs.”

Mike P: Brigands take a small nerf from the Indirect Fire nerf, as their Havoc Launchers will no longer hit on a 3+. But on the other side, it got FAQ’d that the Brigand’s extra AP procs per weapon and can be forced to proc versus a specific target from the Dread Hounds stratagem, making this ability much more reliable. In addition, the buffs to big Knights are going to make them interesting options. I agree with Rob that War Dog spam will likely be the best build, but the fact that big Knights won’t stop you from using Knights of Shade elsewhere on two War Dogs will be a big improvement. I also want to playtest some builds with 1-3 big Knights and see how they feel, which is something I haven’t really felt in 10th Edition up to this point. The one upside of having basically no stratagem support for big Knights is that we won’t mind nearly as much as Imperial Knights if we roll a 1 on the battleshock check after moving through terrain.

The Despoiler is an intriguing option, as it can shoot decently hard and the ability to do actions and still shoot means you won’t suffer from the usual issue of taking a large Knight and running out of units to do actions. Lancers are also great, as they were already appealing and the points drop means you get an enhancement for nearly free.

The Tank Shock change seems big for an army of Vehicles, but I think it’s roughly a net neutral change for the power of Chaos Knights. On the one hand, units like Lancers or Rampagers or Karnivores will roll fewer dice. On the other hand, they’re still rolling enough dice to average ~3 (War Dog) or ~4 (Big Knight) MW, and units like Brigands and Despoilers and Tyrants can get in on the Tank Shock fun.

If you got into Chaos Knights to run big Knights instead of War Dogs, then you’re going to feel a lot better running yours after this update than you did before!

Chaos Space Marines

Status: Big Loser

TheChirurgeon: Chaos Space Marines are one of the biggest losers of the update – the nerf to Warp Talons is a big blow, and it comes alongside a number of point increases, some of which are just baffling. Additionally changes to Grenades and Tank Shock do more harm than good with this army.

  • Warp Talons must now destroy one or more enemy units in the Fight phase in order to use their Warp Strike ability. Also they went up 3 points per model, to 135/270.
  • Accursed Cultists went up to 90/180
  • Chaos Predators each went up to 140
  • The Chaos Vindicator went up 10 points to 185
  • In the most baffling change, Havocs went up to 135
  • Legionaries went up to 90/180
  • Raptors went up to 90/180
  • Venomcrawler went up 10 points, to 120

This one hurts. I didn’t expect the Warp Talons’ Warp Strike to stick around unchanged, but as is customary GW have gone too far issuing the unit the double-nerf kiss of death. They’re now nearly unusable at 135 points for five models, so say goodbye to the lists running 20+. The Venomcrawler was also showing up in lists along with Predators and Defilers and although the latter two got worse in the new codex thanks to changes to Pactbound Zealots, they all caught a points hike as well. And Legionaries and Accursed Cultists caught small hikes as well, just to ensure no list would remain unadulterated.

On the “what the hell?” side of things you have point hikes for Havocs and Raptors, two units which weren’t showing up in winning lists and needed big help from Detachment rules to be viable. Whoever thought they’d suddenly emerge as meta killers following a Warp Talon nerf missed the mark.

Ultimately these changes put a big hurt on Renegade Raiders lists, most of which were running multiple units of Warp Talons and Venomcrawlers, they kill the vehicle-heavy builds of Pactbound Zealots, and take 20-30 points from Soulforged Warpack lists running 2-3 Venomcrawlers. Those are all rough changes to be hit with, and with other factions moving up I suspect Chaos Space Marines top out at B-Tier following this update.

Mike P: Warp Talons were nearly impossible for some armies to deal with, so I don’t mind them getting a significant nerf. I’m going to disagree with Rob that Warp Talons are “nearly unusable at 135 points for 5 models”, as a brick of 10 will still have some play in the Legions (Raiders, Pactbound, Deceptors) that offer them direct support. 135 is going too far in combination with the slight rules nerf, but going up to 120 would have been too little. 125-130 feels like a sweet spot, and where I suspect they’ll end up in the next balance pass unless CSM way overperform or underperform over the next few months.

I have much more of an issue with some other nerfs, particularly the ones to Havocs and Raptors. These units were already barely making it into lists (and were entirely absent from detachments that didn’t directly support them), and it’s really baffling that either unit got nerfed. And on the flip side, I would have liked to have seen plenty of underused units get a slight points cut if they’re considering internal balance.

But CSM are still an army that can win a lot of games, and once the annoyance of these changes passes I think CSM players will end up okay with where they are. We will still let the galaxy burn, just a lot less often than before. And if you were running Soulforged and going all-in on Daemon Engines, then these nerfs are basically non-existent for you.

Death Guard

Status: Neutral

TheChirurgeon: Once again the Death Guard walk away with some minor nerfs and some minor buffs – at worst they’re slightly worse off, but largely in around the same place as before. There are some changes here which are sure to cause some bellyaching but also some solid buffs you can build on.

  • The Biologus Putrifier can no longer use the Grenades Stratagem to throw an additional Grenade in your Shooting phase but they can now use their ability to throw a free Grenade more than once per game per model. That’s not quite as good, but it’s an OK consolation prize. The downside is that they went up 10 points per model, to 60. That’s not ideal but something you can live with.
  • The Foul Blightspawn also went up 10 points, to 60. That one hurts, but again, livable.
  • Blightlord Terminators dropped to 155/310 points for 5/10
  • Myphitic Blight-haulers dropped again, to 90 points per model (from 100)
  • The Noxious Blightbringer dropped to 45 points, putting him alongside the Tallyman and Icon bearer as the cheapest models in the army.
  • The Plague Surgeon dropped to 50 points.
  • The changes to Indirect Fire hurt Mortarion and the Lord of Virulence, who could previously help Plagueburst Crawlers fire at Indirect Targets and hit on a 3+ or even 2+. There’s now less reason to take them.
  • The changes to Tank Shock are a big help to Death Guard Vehicles, where now Blight-Haulers and Bloat-Drones and Rhinos throw 9 dice and the Plagueburst Crawler throws 10.

This is one of those times where it’s important to evaluate the army as a whole – and there’s a whole lot going on. The point hikes here hurt lists running 30 Plague Marines with double characters, but not so much you can’t work around them, and you were suddenly going to have to spend 80 more points anyways as you dropped Nurglings out of the list. Myphitic Blight-Haulers coming down really helps blunt this impact, and at 90 points they make a much more compelling case than they did before, especially with a good shot of hitting three mortal wounds on a Tank Shock. Likewise, PBCs love this change but dislike the Indirect change, though they’re mostly ambivalent – if you weren’t taking Mortarion or a Lord of Virulence, this change really won’t matter in most games or situations, and coupled with the new Tank Shock change means PBCs have occasion to play more aggressively. This could easily make the double spitter PBC the superior choice.

With the other drops, it’s… well, it’s interesting. Blightlord Terminators at 155 will give Death Guard players cause to say “how cheap does a unit of five terminators with no real rules need to be before I’ll play them?” and the answer is “probably cheaper than three Deathshroud, unfortunately.” Even at 155, Blightlords just don’t do enough – having S5 AP-2 1-damage melee weapons means they’re just incapable of doing much in melee and their shooting isn’t nearly good enough to overcome that.

The Noxious Blightbringer at 45 offers an alternative to the Tallyman in armies that need to spend 45 points but he’s a lot less useful, both as a standalone model or paired with a unit – re-rolling Advance and Charge rolls just isn’t as useful as +1 to hit, Lethal Hits, or Fights First. His better ability is the -2 to Leadership/Battle-shock tests and while that’s a solid output, it’s nowhere near reliable enough. More interesting here is the Plague Surgeon, who packs a solid melee attack with his D2 Balesword and brings back dead models (his character healing is rarely going to matter). In a 10-model unit of Plague Marines you could do worse. But again, you could also do better.

So if you’re a Death Guard player, this is fine. It’s not great – I’d have loved to see a big drop on the Lord of Virulence, for example – but 10-point increases on two characters isn’t going to sink your lists, though it will hurt if you were running 3×10 Plague Marines each with a double character. On the other hand, if you were running vehicle-heavy Death Guard, MBHs going down is a 30-point boon. The bigger deal is still the loss of Nurglings as action-doers but even that is mitigated by the fact that Investigate Signals is gone. Death Guard largely tread water in this update, and maybe end up a little bit worse off but not in any way worth getting upset over.

Mike P: Death Guard are in a solid spot, and I think this gentle set of changes reflects that well. I would have loved more buffs in exchange for the small nerfs we took, but I don’t think anything was particularly unfair. The fact that 10 Blightlords with a Lord of Contagion can now sneak in at under 400 points means they’re at least worth experimenting with. Their melee weapons still have less strength than they should, but with full hit rerolls you’ll put out enough Lethal Hits to do decent damage into almost any target. I’m not a fan of Myphitic Blighthaulers, but 90 points is reaching the point that they’ll see play even with their flaws. You can run them as solo skirmishers or a big brick and feel a lot better about them at <100 points.

Also, one funny thing to note. Now that Doombolt and Vortex Of Doom lost the ability to target Lone Ops from outside of 12”, Typhus is now the game’s best Lone Op sniper.

Thousand Sons

Status: Winners, if you think about it

TheChirurgeon: The Thousand Sons were lowkey one of the best armies in the game coming into this update – sure they hadn’t been putting up the kinds of gaudy numbers that Bully Boyz had been they’re an extremely powerful army capable of countering most threats and adapting well to a variety of missions. And while they’re more difficult to play well than some top-tier factions usually are, they were due for some nerfs coming into this update. The question is: Do those nerfs go far enough, and with nerfs to competing top factions, does the army rise or fall relative to those?

  • The Cabal of Sorcerers Army rule was changed significantly. For starters, a Thousand Sons PSYKER model can only be selected to use a Ritual once per turn. This doesn’t really turn off any of the insane combos you could do but it does making doing things more difficult – your Psyker with Lord of Forbidden Lore can’t do both Doombolts himself – you can still get around this most of the time by leaning on a unit with a Leader having two PSYKER models to use powers with.
  • Twist of Fate is now used exclusively in your Shooting phase, and improves the AP of attacks against the targeted unit by 2. This is a pretty big step down – it flat-out takes away your ability to smash through targets in melee with AP- and AP-1 Rubrics – and it hurts your ability to take down models with a 2+ save and no invulnerable protection, like Land Raiders and Centurions. That said, a lot of the tougher targets you go up against do have that Invulnerable save so there’s still plenty of value here in taking inferno bolters or Warpflamers to AP-3.
  • Doombolt can’t hit Lone Operative units from more than 12” away anymore. This was a fun loophole to exploit and while I’m sad it’s gone, it’s good for the game that you can’t use Doombolt to pick off targets from 18” away.
  • Temporal Surge can’t select the same unit more than once per phase. This means no more triple-moving with Magnus. Another change that hurts some of the more out there edge cases and combos but ultimately its removal is good for the game.
  • The Exalted Sorcerer on Disc of Tzeentch saw a change to their Binding Tendrils ability. Now in your Shooting phase you pick a non-MONSTER, non-VEHICLE unit hit by Arcane Fire. Until the start of your next turn, that enemy unit is pinned, and gets -2 to its Move Characteristic and Charge rolls. This is much worse than just picking a unit and halving their characteristics on a 2+, but it’s still pretty useful. The biggest downside is that it has to happen after Temporal Surge, so you can’t move out of cover, pop off the ability, the Surge back behind cover. Still, -2 isn’t nothing and is still plenty devastating for units with a 5” movement. But it won’t save you from jump units which you’d previously drop to 6”.
    • To go with that nerf, Exalted Sorcerers on Discs of Tzeentch dropped 10 points to 105. That’s an okay consolation prize, but it’s not enough to really consider them at the moment when you have other, better options to work with.
  • Mutalith Vortex Beasts dropped 15 points, to 150. I am just baffled as to why the Mutalith dropped again but I’m here for it. Mutaliths are very playable, and this new drop makes them even more attractive, even as a unit which doesn’t give you cabal points. They give a solid boost to your psykers and can throw out some solid mortal wound support while giving you some much-needed melee support.
  • Scarab Occult Terminators dropped another 2 points per model, to 190 for 5 and 380 for 10. These just dropped in the last update, and another drop here makes them very attractive.

Alright, so there’s a lot here and it’s not all bad. And I’d argue even the nerfs here aren’t that bad. Let’s start with Rituals being limited to one model – yeah, this makes things more difficult, but given your units with leaders give you two PSYKER models to work with, it’s rare you won’t have two models capable of firing off the appropriate rituals when you need them. This is also something that I suspect a lot of players may have intuitively just assumed was already a rule, since it was part of the faction’s rules in Ninth Edition. The big loser here is the Daemon Prince with Lord of Forbidden Lore, who can no longer be the sole engine for your double use of Doombolt.

For the other changes, losing the double Surge hurts but not so much it really hurts the faction – you can’t yet Cultists all the way across the table in a single phase any more and that hurts them a bit – but you can still double move anything in your army and that’s enough. Likewise, Doombolt not being able to snipe Lone Operatives is a nerf but again one I’d argue is a good change for the game, and one that had a narrow enough application that you won’t feel it most games.

If you can make a case for Scarabs coming down in points, it’s the change to Twist of Fate. With the inability to use the Ritual in the Fight phase they lose a powerful tool in their arsenal, killing their ability to just cleave through a unit in melee. This hurts, but you can live without this rare trick and I’d argue that the Thousand Sons shouldn’t have melee tricks anyway – it’s not really their deal and shouldn’t be part of their mechanical identity.

So far I’ve been dismissive of these changes and while yes, they’re real nerfs that diminish the faction, they also come with a trio of point drops to important units – Scarabs at 190/380 are a very attractive alternative to another unit of Rubrics and offer an alternative way to play, giving the army much more durability. When you consider where Thousand Sons were, and the nerfs to Orks, Space Marines, Necrons, and Chaos Space Marines, I think the faction gets off very light, and as such should be considered a winner overall in this balance update.

World Eaters

Status: Neutral

TheChirurgeon: Things are pretty quiet on the World Eaters front – the faction ate some big nerfs in the Q1 dataslate and hasn’t fully recovered from losing its insanely potent Masters of Execution and Blessing of Khorne.

  • Eightbound drop 5 points for 3 models and 10 points for 6.
  • Exalted Eightbound drop 5 points for 3/10 points for 6 to 155/310.

Eightbound are a core part of the World Eaters army, and any successful list you look at is likely to feature between 12 and 18 of them. As a result, this change is likely to net competitive lists around 20 points. That’s neat, but it’s ultimately not enough to do anything with. If your list was sitting at 2,000 points on the dot, well, now you can afford the Favoured of Khorne Enhancement. Good for you. On the other hand Derek Holden’s event-winning list which came in at a hilarious 1,965 points also gained 25 points, leaving it with a whopping 60 additional points to spend… but there isn’t a single unit World Eaters can take which costs less than 65 points, so that list has to fundamentally change in order to take advantage of these drops.

As a result, these point drops seem more well intentioned than actually useful, and don’t do much to change the World Eaters’ place in the meta.

Mike P: If you’re running a lot of Eightbound and Exalted Eightbound, then you’ll feel a benefit from these points changes. Otherwise, you can continue doing exactly what you were doing, but now in a much more friendly meta to the World Eaters. The nerfs to some Thousand Sons mechanics (specifically Binding Tendrils) and Indirect Fire across the game are great things to see. World Eaters are positioned to do strong work in the Pariah season, and you should feel great about your army.

Wrap Up

Even if you’re a devoted follower of the Dark Gods you might still want to check out the rest of today’s reviews – there are big changes all over the shop that you’ll want to know about before you next hit the tournament tables.

Have any questions or feedback? Have a change you really love or hate? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.comAnd if you’d like to support the site, get access to our Patreon and other exclusive content, or just view the site ad free, support us on Patreon.