Ritual of the Damned Review, Part 3: The Thousand Sons

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As we covered in our Start Competing: Thousand Sons article late last year, while the Thousand Sons are an early codex, with all the design quirks that represents, they’ve actually stayed pretty powerful, leading to a few nerfs to key units in the book, with Chapter Approved 2019 increasing the points values of Tzaangors and others. While the Thousand Sons army has been powerful, it has also been incomplete – the faction’s viable units were mostly limited to HQs and Tzaangors, with the signature Rubric Marines and Scarab Occult Terminators rarely featuring. If you were a Thousand Sons fan, you might have been dismayed to find out that the only way to play your army competitively was to take Ahriman and a couple of Daemon Princes alongside an army of Chaos Daemons.

Well good news, Thousand Sons fans! Games Workshop have been kind enough to send us a copy of Ritual of the Damned, and we can tell you that it brings a massive improvement for Thousand Sons armies. Even better, the focus is on the factions long-overlooked Rubric Marines and non-Daemon Prince/non-named Character HQ choices, vastly increasing the array of options available to all you scheming sorcerors.

So join us, dear reader, as we dive into the wonderful new Arcana of the Thousand Sons in Ritual of the Damned. And if you haven’t seen the other two parts of the review, you can find Dark Angels here and Grey Knights here.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Nine Cults

In a unique twist, Ritual of the Damned gives the Thousand Sons subfactions called Cults of the Legion. There are nine of these in total. Any Thousand Sons Detachment in a Battle-Forged army can be assigned a Cult of the Legion at no charge. Once upgraded, all non-CULTIST, non-TZAANGOR, non-named Character THOUSAND SONS units in the detachment get the relevant <CULT> keyword and a few very nice perks.

The first of these is that they get the psychic power from their cult for free. Yeah, you read that right. Every Psyker in the detachment gets an extra power free. All the Aspiring Sorcerers, all the Scarab Occult Terminator Sorcerers, all the Daemon Princes, all the HQ Sorcerers. A free extra power, and most of them are really good. In addition to the free power, each cult has access to an additional Warlord Trait and Relic. These powers, traits, and Arcana range in power from “that’s neat” to “obscenely good” and generally we think that they’re good enough to encourage players to take two detachments of Thousand Sons just to get access to two cults. More on that later, though. Let’s talk about the Cults.

Cult of Prophecy

I’m hesitant to start with the Cult of Prophecy because they’re the clear winner among the Cults in terms of raw power level. Dedicated to divining the future, the Cult of Prophecy has some pretty mean tricks. Their psychic power gives them roll and store a single Fate dice to use until the start of their next Psychic Phase, letting you replace a dice rolled for a Cult of Prophecy unit with the value on the Fate die. Their relic, the Pythic Brazier, gives all friendly units within 6” the ability to re-roll one hit, wound, or damage roll each time they shoot or fight. This isn’t faction-locked in any way, making it so insanely powerful (particularly in concert with Chaos Knights) that we expect it to be erratad as soon as an FAQ drops.

Wings Note: I’ve got these third in my rankings rather than top, but make no mistake they’re extremely good. Even if the Pythic Brazier does catch a nerf there are some decent things you can combo it with, C-beam Contemptors being the most obvious source of a small number of high-powered shots. For as long as it remains non-faction locked, it sits very well alongside Purge versions of those too. 

Cult of Time

The Cult of Time specialize in time magicks and turning time into a weapon. In game terms this means regenerating wounds and models. Their special power is Time Flux, which has a Warp Charge of 5 and if successfully manifested, can return a dead model in a unit of CULT OF TIME INFANTRY to life with full wounds remaining and, on a 9+ to manifest, can return D3 models. The Cult’s Relic allows a destroyed model to stand back up at the end of the phasethe first time they’re killed.

Wings Note: Worth saying that the relic has no dice roll or anything – it just works, which is very neat.

Cult of Mutation

The Cult of Mutation specialize in the warping powers of Tzeentch, improving the strength and toughness of their units. The Cult of Mutation’s Relic and Warlord Trait both improve the combat prowess of their bearer but the real gem for them is their Warp Reality psychic power (WC 6). If manifested, the psyker chooses a terrain feature within 18” and an enemy unit within 3” of that terrain feature. Until the caster’s next Psychic Phase, that unit halves its movement and subtracts 1 from its Advance and Charge rolls, giving the Cult an easy way to get the powerful after effect of Doom Bolt without having to manifest a WC 9 power. 

Cult of Scheming

The Cult of Scheming specialize in convoluted plots and plans that anticipate their foes’ moves several steps ahead. In game terms, this means some devious tricks, like a psychic power that lets a unit fall back and still shoot and charge, and a warlord trait that affects morale. The Cult’s Relic, the Cha’Qi’Thl’s Theorem, allows the controlling player to, once per game, reduce the command point cost of a stratagem you use to 0 for a single phase (although you have to choose the stratagem at the start of the phase). An interesting ability but ultimately one that’s only going to be worthwhile most of the time if you can find a way to spend 2+ CP on it, and that essentially means you’re using it to throw out a Coruscating Beam or to use Counter-Assault for free.

Wings Note: This is another effect that isn’t locked down to only Thousand Sons stratagems, so it’s a good one to use with soup (and this one I expect to stay able to do that).

Cult of Magic

The Cult of Magic are all about those mind bullets, killing things using psychic powers. They’ve got a power that can dish out mortal wounds to a unit and deal additional wounds to everything around it, and a Warlord trait that increases the amount of mortal wounds dealt by psychic powers manifested. But their relic – Arcane Focus – is particularly good, giving the bearer +1 to their psychic tests. This seems small but it’s a big boost, and it’s massive when you remember that it can be combined with the High Magister Warlord Trait, creating a sorcerer lord or Daemon Prince with +2 to casts who can suddenly toss out WC 9 powers without much difficulty. As a cult, these guys are incredibly powerful (easily one of the top 3 options), and I expect them to be wrecking house in competitive formats.

Wings Note: Yikes. These are joint top for me, being the best Cult for a Supreme Command and thus likely one of the most used, because stacking all of the boons on a Daemon Prince of Tzeentch and double tapping with the cult power and Infernal Gateway is completely wild. Both those powers “splash” onto nearby units, and the warlord trait increases this splash damage, so if you get both off you’re looking at your initial target taking an average of 6 mortals and every other unit within 3″ of them taking 5 – and Emperor help them if you get a super Infernal Gateway off. That’s the kind of damage output that levels half an army if your opponent doesn’t play around it, and forces some popular factions such as Tau to change up their whole game plan just to avoid getting demolished by your one single (character-screened) model.

Credit: TheChirurgeon

Cult of Knowledge

The big nerds, even among the Thousand Sons. These guys specialize in turning knowledge into a weapon. Their Warlord Trait lets you re-roll 1s on your psychic tests, and their power, Psychic Delve, lets you pick an enemy unit within 18” and friendly Cult units that attack it get to re-roll 1s to wound. A useful ability and while common for loyalists, re-rolling wounds, especially for shooting attacks, is rare for Chaos.

Cult of Change

The Cult of Change are all about disturbing the status quo. These are the clowns who like to stir things up at your Super Bowl party just to see what happens. Their relic, The Capricious Crest, is pretty interesting, and was already previewed on the Warhammer Community site. It’s a neat ability that lets you manipulate both your own and your opponent’s psychic tests, and we’ll be talking about it in detail in Monday’s Hammer of Math. In addition to the relic, they get a Warlord Trait that’s perfect for Winged Talon Daemon Princes, letting them re-roll charge rolls and fall back and shoot/charge and a power that debuffs an enemy unit, reducing Ld and Attacks.

Cult of Duplicity

Another very powerful entry in the list of Cults, the Cult of Duplicity specialize in being a bunch of liars. Their psychic power is basically Da Jump for Cult units, i.e. strong as hell, and their Warlord Trait, Duplicitous Tactician, lets you redeploy D3 <CULT> units before the first battle round and, similar to the Emperor’s Children Stratagem, doesn’t specify that they be redeployed according to mission deployment, potentially allowing you to drop them off the board and into Deep Strike.

Wings Note: Warhammer community and the GW Facebook page showed most of this off, and this is my pick for the most powerful cult in armies running “real” Thousands Sons, most particularly Rubrics and Scarab Occults, as the core. The Warlord trait is absurdly powerful in concert with the Risen Rubricae stratagem, which effectively lets you infiltrate a squad of these. Just like with Ultramarine Invictors, the trait takes most of the risk out of infiltrating, as if you win the roll off then great, and if you lose you can whisk them back behind cover. Rubricae come in squads of up to 20, and can now double shoot, making them a serious threat to some armies, and just the sheer amount of space you can ward off is a great counter to Space Marine armies spamming Scouts for early pressure, especially if you then move them back so they don’t fall prey to an early wrap.

Cult of Manipulation

The cult that’s all about getting you to do things you don’t wanna do. Their power messes with a model’s ability to manifest psychic powers, their warlord trait debuffs nearby units by reducing their Attacks, and their Relic, Sorthis’ Reflector, allows its wielder to duplicate the weapon of any INFANTRY model within 1” as long as that model has Ld 9 or less. You can’t re-roll hits or wounds for the attacks and they have to go on the model you copied from, but it can be a fun way to turn your opponent’s favorite toys against them, particularly if they’re tooled out for killing big targets.

 

Thousand Sons Aspiring Sorcerer

Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

New Stratagems

Thanks to being released after Codex: Chaos Space Marines, Thousand Sons already had a full complement of Stratagems and with the release of Ritual of the Damned, it gets another page of them. These seven new stratagems are primarily focused on improving Rubric Marines and Scarab Occult Terminators, giving them many more options for both shooting and combat, as well as giving them a bit more mobility. Our favorites of the bunch are:

  • Infernal Fusillade (1 CP) – Use in the Shooting phase. A Thousand Sons Rubric/Scarabs unit can shoot twice with its Rapid Fire weapons if it didn’t move this turn. This is a huge ability for Thousand Sons, whose AP-2 bolters already had what the rest of Chaos was missing when it came to actually making the large volumes of fire on Scarab Occult Terminators work. Being able to pump out 4 shots with Rubrics at 24” or 8 shots with Scarab Occult Terminators can mean some truly hellacious damage and it goes a long way to making these units viable. The hard part will be overcoming the 24” range.
    Wings Note: See above re: “Cult of Duplicity” and “safely starting in range to do this”. Don’t forget to pop Veterans of the Long War! 
  • Magister (1 CP) – Choose a non-Warlord character in your army. That character gets a Warlord trait. You can only use this once per battle and you can’t double up on traits. This isn’t the flashiest new ability but holy crap is it something the Thousand Sons really needed. The Thousand Sons have some of the game’s best Warlord Traits and with the new Cult traits on top of those, you’ll likely end up using this stratagem in every game you play.
  • Indomitable Foes (1 CP) – Use when a Rubric Marines or Scarab Occult Terminators unit is chosen as the target of an attack. Improve that unit’s invulnerable save by 1 (to a max of 3+) for the rest of the phase. This jumped out to us because it’s a great way to help a unit survive the rash of high-AP shooting that marines can throw out, particularly when combined with the Weaver of Fates psychic power to get to that 3+ invulnerable save level. Having a 3++ really helps mitigate the fragility of these units and when combined with new powers and stratagems to heal models or return them to the battlefield, can make large units of Scarab Occult Terminators very scary.
    Wings Note: So, uh, I literally spitballed this on our group chat a few months back as “what Rubrics needed to be good” and that was before they got their point cut. Applying to Scarab Occults (which seem wild now) is just gravy.

 

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

What Does This All Mean?

There are some things we haven’t covered here (but will get to in more detail when we do our in-depth analysis of the book a little after its release), but the main thing is that Thousand Sons armies – specifically what players would refer to as “real” Thousand Sons armies, not a single Supreme Command detachment in Chaos soup – got a huge boost with these rules. Rubric Marines and Scarab Occult Terminators, fresh off their points drops in Chapter Approved 2019, were borderline units before that got a small push and now a major one, having many more tricks up their sleeves that allow them to close distances more readily and survive being shot at. Sorcerers also generally get a large boost, as the sheer number of powers you’ll want to cast may demand taking one or two beyond your usual Daemon Princes/Ahriman. 

It’s also very important to note that these rules don’t force Thousand Sons to go monofaction; at most, they ask for Thousand Sons to go mono-detachment, which is perfectly workable. Given that there’s still a ton of value to be had in Tzeentch daemons and Horrors even after some of the nerfs and that Daemons can fill a detachment easier than Thousand Sons, it would not surprise me to see builds that incorporate two Thousand Sons Detachments (a Battalion and a Supreme Command) and a single Daemons Battalion in order to get the benefit of two Cults while also having access to Daemons and the extra CP.

On the whole I believe this is enough to at least push pure or near-pure Thousand Sons up the competitive tiers, where AP-2 bolter fire and some resilience against AP-1 weaponry will give them a good answer to Marines, and their psychic powers give them enough really nasty tricks and mortal wounds to make up for their army’s shortcomings, particularly when paired with daemons.

Also I’ve been told that people like lists, so here’s a quick hits version of this:

Winners

  • Sorcerers in Terminator Armour
  • Rubric Marines
  • Scarab Occult Terminators
  • Exalted Sorcerers
  • Winged Daemon Princes

Almost all of the new buffs are aimed at Rubric Marines and Scarab Occult Terminators, but outside of those, Sorcerers in Terminator Armour – already regularly-seen choices in soup lists – get the best boost by being the most playable sorcerers receiving a new power. Winged Daemon Princes also get better since they get a new power, though I’m not sure if it’s enough to make up for their points hike in CA19.

Losers

  • Magnus
  • Ahriman
  • Tzaangors
  • Mutalith Vortex Beasts

Magnus, Ahriman, and Tzaangors don’t lose anything, but don’t gain anything either, so they’re the clear losers here. Ahriman is still amazing though, and you’re going to drop him into every single Thousand Sons lists you run that has “winning games” as its goal. The other loser here is the Mutalith Vortex Beast, who gets nothing from this. Would it have killed Games Workshop to give the Vortex Beast something?

Wings Note: I’m pretty comfortable that there are at least two tier-one things coming out of this – Cult of Scheming detachments going in on Rubricae and Scarabs and Cult of Magic slot-in detachments so that the Daemon Prince from hell can ruin the lives of every Tau player between Prospero and the Startide Nexus. There isn’t as much depth here as Dark Angels or Grey Knights get, but Thousand Sons needed it way less and this is pure, uncut upside, and extremely good upside at that.

All According to Plan

That wraps up our look at the Thousand Sons part of the upcoming Ritual of the Damned campaign supplement. If you’re a long-time Thousand Sons player, then this is a time to rejoice, because this really is the update you’ve been waiting for. I think the Thousand Sons are the clear winner of the Ritual of the Damned update, but I have to say I was also impressed with what the Dark Angels and Grey Knights got as well, and I’ll be surprised if this book doesn’t have a major impact on the 40k landscape.

As always, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below, or shoot us an email at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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