Shadows in the Meta: Playing Post-Octarius Tyranids

Welcome, dear readers to another article on the developing meta! I’m John Lennon from the Art of War, and today I’m here to talk to you about Tyranids. Many people don’t know this but I’ve totally, actually been a big fan of ‘nids this whole time – I’m not just talking about them now because they’re good. So today I’m going to talk about the emerging Tyranid threat and what you – the loyal servants of the Hive Mind – need to know about playing with the new Tyranids rules.

Tyranids received two major updates in the latest campaign book, Octarius Book 2: Critical Mass, with a Codex supplement and the new Synaptic Links rules – and if you aren’t up to speed on the changes you can find goonhammer’s summary of the rules here. I’m here to work out the best way to put everything together and adapt to the current meta. 

Let’s start off with a quick summary of where Tyranids are right now. This is a lot easier than exploring a new codex, as Tyranids didn’t lose any rules and didn’t have a ton of variety in lists leading up to Octarius. At best a mid-tier army, Tyranids were previously locked into Kraken and Kronos with the Swarmlord, genestealers and Hive Guard being key mainstays in successful lists. Even with this update, Tyranids still are operating with the same datasheets they received four years ago, but mixing in new tricks and combos will give new life to old models and elevate their existing staples. Speaking of which, ask anyone in competitive social groups which staple unit got the most juice here and the answer will be a resounding “Hive Guard!” 

Hive Guard. Credit: Rockfish
Hive Guard. Credit: Rockfish

Hive Guard are already turning into an internet boogeyman. Apparently, people were already being shot from 36” away by organic, indirect fire for the past few months and didn’t like it. Who knew? Still, they’ve been ramped up with the new rules – Tyranids now have a Chapter Master-like ability to buff them and a new stratagem for exploding 6s. This sounds terrifying, but a stationary Hive Guard unit with these buffs is only averaging about 1.66 more hits per activation than the old Kronos Hive Guard, while costing a command point more in exchange for not requiring a spell. It’s not a bad exchange, and it’s certainly worth including, but I am not exactly sold on this being such a wide margin that it catapults Tyranids into the next tier up all by itself. For now, I’m content to take the same single squad as before and let it be a little better. 

Where then, do we find the gold? If you’re going to be a fragile army with high damage output, there are several things you have to do:

  • First, don’t swing and miss. Tyranids in the open die faster than Dark Eldar in flamer range, and cost more for the privilege. 
  • Second, don’t get hit first! Just about every competitive Tyranid list is switching from Kraken to Leviathan, trading the bigger Advances for ignoring wounds on a 6. Players doing this will need to get used to the speed decrease that comes with rolling a 1 on 16% of your advance rolls. 

You’re going to need to squeeze every drop of damage out of this army to make it work, and so I’m going to introduce you to the most heinous damage output you can squeeze into a list. 

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

Meet the Devilgant

The devourer gant was already great with recent points decreases (that were needed), but add in Relentless Fury and full hit re-rolls and you start to crank things into another dimension. It has been a while since good old fashioned weight-of-dice has felt this strong. Take the same buffs that we were using on Hive Guard above, and suddenly the humble termagant throws down a 125% hit rate and enough dice to make an Ork blush. We’ll explore synaptic links more later, but if a Maleceptor is feeling charitable you can even give them extra ap on a six to wound. I’ll let the hammer of math crew put the graphs down, but the first volley of devilgants has an expected value of more than 18 damage to a Redemptor chassis, or anything else with a 3+ save and a toughness between 5 and 7. Going after lower save units, like Ork buggies? Go ahead and take +1 to hit over that AP boost and comfortably scoop up two Scrapjets per activation with wounds to spare. I’ve mentioned that Tyranids have a good old double shoot stratagem, right? 

Before we go too far down the Devilgant rabbit hole let’s take a moment to cool our enthusiasm and recognize the weaknesses of our new pet unit. The first is range: This unit has an 18” gun, needs line of sight, and moves 6”. I’ve found myself spending extra CP on Hyper Adaptation just to get them in range turn 1, and you need to pass Onslaught to ignore that penalty. Also, two of these buffs are conveniently in the command phase, meaning they lose a lot of value if you put the unit into Reserves and don’t exactly want to deploy and take unnecessary shots. Attrition is also an issue – lose some gants to random bolters and the math quickly degrades. 

So what’s a bug to do? Let’s revisit my mention above of getting the first shot in. Another huge selling point for Leviathan is the ability to redeploy thanks to a clutch new warlord trait, Strategic Adaptation, which lets you move two units or place them in reserves after rolling off to determine which player goes first.

Credit: PierreTheMime

Building a List

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of having new 9th edition rules stapled onto an 8th edition book (or pair of books in the case of Tyranids), but I don’t think that Tyranids are going to be such a powerhouse that I can just spam damage and roll my way to victory. My beloved bugs are still difficult to play, made of paper, and lend themselves to control much more than outright tablings. In a world filled with enemies sporting indirect, fast-moving transports and devastating aircraft, Tyranids have to look to their defenses as well. An ally conveniently sorts this out, with Genestealer Cults bringing along blips to stop a kustomwazdakkaboomblastasnaggawagon from driving up on your key pieces turn 1. Then, fold in a few defensive auras from a Malanthrope and Maleceptor and you just might be able to make it out of the meta alive! Let’s throw down a list real quick before I finish up, shall we?

+++ Hive Fleet Leviathan Battalion Detachment (1,834 points, 0 CP) +++


The Swarmlord (Paroxysm, Catalyst) 240

Malanthrope (Warlord, Alpha Leader Beast, Swarm Leader, Strategic Adaptation, Adaptive Neural Lobe) 150


16x genestealers 208

16x genestealers 208

30x Termagants (Devourers) 210

30x Termagants (Devourers) 210

3x Tyranid Warriors (Synaptic Link, Adrenal Glands, 1x Lashwhip Bonesword, 5x Scything Talons) 71


6x Hive Guard 270

Maleceptor (Onslaught, Synaptic Link) 185

Lictor 37

++Fast Attack++

Sky Slasher Swarms 45

+++ Cult of the Four Armed Emperor Patrol Detachment (-2 CP, 165 points) +++


Magus (Mass Hypnosis, Mind Control) 85


5x Acolytes 40

5x Acolytes 40


Pretty standard, right? I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel here, and I ended up using a lot of elements that were already present in the classic Tyranid archetype. But, the synaptic links were enough motivation to make me buy and paint a Maleceptor, and actually put Tyranid Warriors on the table for the first time in a decade. I kept myself to only two links, because of the unfortunate tax of having to actually buy the model you put it on. Games Workshop really wants me to play a Tervigon, but I won’t be tricked so easily! Both links work great on either of my main shooting units, so I won’t be missing out by changing things up each round based on my targets. And, in a pinch, giving +1 to hit to genestealers is not exactly a bad deal. 

A lot of these tricks are used on larger units than I’m used to, so I tried to mix in a few more cheap units from ObSec Acolytes to the fearsome sky slasher swarm. It’s a ripper that flies.But this time, it’s also ObSec! Hive Mind Imperative really made me want fast trash to score points, and obscure forge world units are one of my favorite things. This leaves us with a relatively well balanced army that can go hyper aggressive or defensive, access almost any secondary and punch a lot of armies in the face while dictating engagements. 

I’ve already submitted the above list to Warzone Atlanta after two practice games, which should be the trial by fire that I need to see if there’s finally an 8th edition book that can really hang with the best 9th edition has to offer. Tyranids were the first army I ever bought a model for, and it feels good to pick up some of my favorite bugs for the first time in far too long. Get ready for mass consumption!

You can find more content from John Lennon and his teammates on the Art of War website.