This is a companion article to our larger Start Competing: Chaos Space Marines article. In this article, we’re looking specifically at the Alpha Legion traitor legion and how to manage their custom rules and strategies.
The breakout all-stars of the 8th edition codex, Alpha Legion had a long and pretty solid time in the sun before the Faith and Fury update supercharged them with a set of stratagems, warlord traits, and relics that were the envy of many factions and other legions. Since 9th edition they’ve lost a bit of steam however, owing to their focus on being hard to hit at a distance and tactical flexibility and having less support for melee-focused strategies (particularly now that Specialist Detachments are no longer available). Still, they have some nasty tricks and a strong legion trait to work with, and that’s more than enough to build a competitive army around in 9th edition, although the best options may involve souping with other legions or factions.
The Alpha Legion were one of the more appealing factions in the Chaos Space Marine codex thanks to their strong legion trait and further improved following Faith and Fury. That said, in 9th edition their fortunes have waned, in part because of the caps on hit modifiers and in part because their specific bag of tricks just aren’t as useful in an edition that favors melee armies that can control areas of the board.
- Strong Legion Trait: The Alpha Legion trait is still a good one, and while there aren’t that many units to stick it on, it does add value to a few choices from the roster.
- Great Stratagems: A powerful suite of tools to both let you move around the board and interfere when your opponent does the same, both hugely valuable things in 9th Edition’s missions.
- Extra Warlord Trait: Until CSM get the new Codex treatment, Alpha Legion sit alongside the Black Legion as one of the places where you can get access to an additional trait.
- Weak Relics: The Alpha Legion are kind of missing that “must-take” option that many other chapters got.
- CP Hungry: Your tricks are powerful, but they’ll burn through your reserves very quickly, which is especially painful if you do decide to soup.
- Concentrated Buffs: A lot of the units you want to use are vying for the same key buff (Conceal) so you can’t really go wide with them.
- No real melee support: The Alpha Legion bring very little to the table for melee units, something which is far from ideal in 9th edition.
The Alpha Legion are masters of stealth and guerilla warfare, typically relying on covert ops to get the job done and sending forward operatives to lead cultist uprisings to destabilize planets ahead of their arrival. They’re historically been one of the strongest choices among Chaos legions rules-wise thanks to a great set of stratagems and hands-down the best legion trait. 9th Edition has taken them down a bit in estimation because of the death of the Possessed Bomb as a key Chaos strategy, the loss of the HELBRUTE keyword from Forge World dreadnoughts and the general rise of Daemon Engines as some of the strongest options for the army. Even with all that, there’s still quite a bit to work with here.
Legion Trait: Hidden in Plain Sight
Units shooting at units with this trait more than 12″ away get -1 to their To Hit rolls. Simple, powerful, though as with all of them you’re slightly limited in the number of things it applies to. It’s really good on Lords Discordant, and makes any sort of elite infantry a substantially easier sell in this Legion than some others, especially once you factor in Conceal as well.
Alpha Legion have access to some very solid Warlord Traits. Clandestine and Master of Diversion are particularly useful, while I Am Alpharius just isn’t what it used to be.
- I Am Alpharius. When you pick this, you randomly generate another trait from uh, Codex: Chaos Space Marines. If that model is destroyed, you can immediately pick another Alpha Legion character from your army to get this trait and another one. You can keep doing this until all models are destroyed. This has always been funny and flavorful, but now that you have five better options it looks a lot worse, especially as losing your warlord is only really a problem if it can happen turn one these days. Also, poor wording on it means that you’re stuck with the pretty mediocre options from the original Codex instead of the cool new legion-specific traits. C
- Clandestine. When resolving an Attack made against this Warlord, subtract 1 from the hit roll. This has, sadly, gone down a tonne in value from 8th because it no longer stacks with the legion trait most of the time, and hit modifiers in melee tend to be way less worth it. B
- Headhunter. This Warlord can ignore the Look Out Sir rule. In addition, when you make a ranged attack, an unmodified hit roll of 6 does 1 mortal wound to the target in addition to other damage. This is also pretty good, but hampered by the lack of high-volume shooting on Chaos Warlord options. Your best bet is, again, a Lord Discordant, where the autocannon gives you two long-range, AP-1, 2-damage shots to play with. Alternatively a Terminator Lord with a Combi Bolter upgraded to the Viper’s Bite can put out a pretty good volume of shots, and might be worth considering for this. B
- Master of Diversion. At the start of the first battle round, before the first turn, pick up to 3 other friendly Alpha Legion units on the battlefield. Remove them and set them up again following the usual rules for deployment and mission. If you redeploy a transport, the models inside move with it. This is a good ability wherever it turns up, and another one that’s really good when you’re able to add it as a second trait. It’s not quite as good as the Emperor’s Children version (Tactical Perfection), since it can’t be used to drop a unit into Strategic Reserves, but redeploying 3 units is huge. This essentially allows you to deploy aggressively, then redeploy if you don’t get first turn. A
- Cult Leader. When you roll a 6 to wound with Alpha Legion Cultist units within 6” of this warlord, you improve their AP by 1. A neat way to potentially make Cultist shooting valuable, marred by the fact that Cultists have been nerfed to the point where it isn’t worth it to take large blobs of them unless you’re using Abaddon to make them Fearless (and even then, they want to be Black Legion so they get the re-rolls). C+
- Faceless Commander. Once per battle, at the end of your Movement phase, you can pick up this warlord and set them back down within 3” of an Alpha Legion Infantry unit and more than 9” away from any enemy models. This is a fun little ability and useful for zipping a daemon prince around the table or just helping support specific objectives. B
Alpha Legion also have some of the better Stratagems that Chaos Space Marines can take, helping protect key units and deploy them forward to close the distance they need to travel to get off turn 1 charges. It’s a strong bunch of tricks that work well with a variety of units.
- Forward Operatives (1 CP). Use when you set up an Alpha Legion infantry unit during deployment. At the start of the first battle round you can move them up to 9”, and cannot end up within 9” of any enemy models. Even nerfed from its original version, this stratagem is a solid way to establish early board control and get key units further up the board and in position to make a turn 1 charge. A
- Conceal (2 CP). Use at the start of your opponent’s Shooting phase. Pick an Alpha Legion Infantry unit in your army. Until the end of the phase, it can’t be shot at unless it’s the closest visible target. This is another hilarious way to screw with your opponent, and in 9th gives you the extra utility of being able to give a CHARACTER who has ended up out of position the old-style character targeting rules for a turn. Does feel a bit less good now you aren’t as likely to be protecting Possessed, but still great for keeping Havocs, Terminators, or Obliterators alive. A
- Sabotaged Armory (1 CP). Use when an enemy vehicle is destroyed. If you have any Alpha Legion units on the table, your opponent adds 3 to one of the D6 rolled for the explosion roll, and they can’t re-roll the results. This is a hilarious way to punish your opponent for castling, particularly with Forge World units that like to do D6 mortal wounds when they explode. Situational, but hilarious and potentially huge when it happens. If you’ve ever had a vehicle blow up in your backline and completely destroy your whole army on turn 1, you know how big a deal this can be. B
Don: This stratagem was a great “castle buster” stratagem for the end of 8th and the pre-codex 9th. A fair number of armies liked to put their characters near vehicles for their aura effects and this stratagem could make them think twice about it. This was especially true for 8th ed primaris vehicles as they all exploded for D6 mortals. There are some armies and builds that this will not be useful against. It can, however, turn the battle drastically.
- Scrambled Coordinates (1 CP). Use in your opponent’s Movement phase, when they’re setting up a unit arriving as reinforcements, but before it’s placed on the table. That unit has to be set up more than 12” away from any Alpha Legion units in your army rather than 9”. A neat way to turn all your Alpha Legion units into Infiltrators for a turn, and helpful for preventing charges you don’t want. It’s particularly spicy because it happens after your opponent is committed to putting the unit down, which means that you get to choose which one’s day you’re going to viciously ruin. Even better in 9th Edition thanks to the increased number of units that will be coming in using Strategic Reserves. Do note that unlike Infiltrators’ ability, it only affects a single unit, and so things like Genestealer Cults will just be able to power past you with multiple units, or use Perfect Ambush after dropping. It also won’t work against Da Jump or similar because it’s the wrong phase. Still an A
- Renascent Infiltration (1 CP). Use at the end of your Movement phase. Pick an Alpha Legion Infantry unit from your army that is more than 1” away from any enemy models and didn’t arrive as reinforcements this turn. Remove that unit from the battlefield. Set it up again at the end of your next movement phase, more than 9” away from any enemy models. Any models that can’t be set up when this happens are destroyed, and if it doesn’t come back before the battle ends, it’s destroyed. This is another cool re-positioning ability that allows you to potentially protect a unit for a full turn, then drop it onto an objective one turn later. It’s potentially good for protecting Cultists late-game before you drop them on an objective you couldn’t reach otherwise, but less so for units that want to shoot things. You can also use it to effectively do a turn 2 Deep Strike with any INFANTRY unit, setting up out of line of sight and then using this to deliver a key unit into proper position to strike or to use Scrambled Coordinates to mess up an opponent’s plans. It’s even stronger than it used to be in 9th because it’s helpful for picking up a tick of Deploy Scramblers. B+
- Ambush (2 CP). Use in your opponent’s Movement phase, after an enemy unit is set up on the battlefield as reinforcements. Pick an Alpha Legion unit within 18” of that unit to shoot at it as if it were your Shooting phase. This doesn’t have the usual -1 rider and can be very strong if you have the firepower to make an opponent pay. We keep hammering on with this, but this is yet another option that gets better in 9th – the smaller board means that a powerful shooting unit like Obliterators or Terminators can control a significant chunk of it. B+
- Feigned Retreat (1 CP). Use in the Movement phase after an Alpha Legion unit falls back. It can still shoot. This is a wonderful ability, and it’s great that one of the Chaos legions has it. A
- We Are Alpharius (1 CP). Use before the battle to give another Alpha Legion character a Warlord trait. You can’t pick the same trait twice and can only use this Stratagem once. Slightly less good than it used to be because of how much worse Clandestine got, but you can still use it to take one of the spicy Shadowspear ones on a Sorcerer and then give someone else Master of Diversion. A
The Alpha Legion relics are a weird bunch, and substantially less exciting than their stratagems. There’s a pair of swords, an armor upgrade, a couple of bolt weapons, and then two more “out there” relics. Of all of these, the Hydra’s Wail is the most interesting, giving Alpha Legion their own kind of Agents of Vect.
- Blade of the Hydra. Replaces a chainsword with one that’s S+1, AP-2, 2 damage and every time you fight, you get an extra +D3 attacks with this weapon. It’s a fine little upgrade and replacing a chainsword makes it free, but it’s probably not going to be your first relic. Fine as an add-on for a Smash Lord, just don’t think too hard about the Teeth of Terra of you’ll die of envy. B-
- Drakescale Plate. Infantry only. This model gets a 2+ save and when they take a mortal wound, roll a D6; on a 5+ you don’t lose that wound. Most useful on a Jump Pack Chaos Lord. B
- Mindveil. At the start of your Movement phase, if this relic holder is on the table, roll 3D6 and until the end of the Movement phase, their Move characteristic becomes that result. Also this model can move over other models and terrain as if they weren’t there, and in the Charge phase it can move over non-building models as if they weren’t there and it can charge in a turn in which it fell back. So kind of like a weird, variable, charge-after-falling-back Jump Pack. Most of the time you’ll be looking at 8 to 12” movement, but it’s gonna feel real bad the first time you roll a 3 or 4. Where this does add value is on a Lord Discordant running alongside infantry, as it removes a lot of the challenge with avoiding blocking your movement. Combined with Warptime, this can also let them circumvent problematic terrain that enemy forces might be trying to hide behind (note that the model’s Movement characteristic returns to normal in the Psychic phase – no 3D6″ movement – but it can move across other models and terrain as though they weren’t there). Does get a bit nerve wracking to use in 9th because you can no longer re-roll the dice with a CP, so you can get badly blown out by a low roll at the wrong time. B
- Hydra’s Wail. Once per battle at the start of a battle round, a model with this relic that’s on the table can activate it. Until the end of the battle round, when an opponent spends CP to use a Stratagem, roll a D6; on a 4+ they have to spend an extra CP to use that Stratagem or else it has no effect and the CP is lost. This is a brutal ability that can really make or break an enemy’s turn and you’ll almost always want to use it on turn 1 or 2, depending on who you’re facing. It’s a very, very good ability to have. A
- Viper’s Bite. Replaces a combi-bolter. 24” Range, Rapid Fire 2, S5, AP-2, 2 damage. Solid, and potentially very useful when combined with the Headhunter Warlord Trait. B
- Hydra’s Teeth. Model with a bolt weapon. The model’s bolt weapons get the following abilities: This weapon automatically hits its target, wounds on a 2+ unless targeting a vehicle/titanic unit, in which case it wounds on a 6+, and units don’t get the benefit of cover against this weapon’s shots. Another moderately interesting combo with Headhunter (though you won’t get the mortal wounds), but tricky to see why you’d ever take it over the bite. It does have the upside of making Daemon Shells always hit their target, however. C+
- Shadeblade. Replaces a power sword or force sword. S+1, AP-3, D3 Damage and attacks (all attacks, not just melee) against the bearer get -1 to hit. This is good clean fun as relic weapons go – it gets a character to the key break points for “meaningfully contribute to melee” (S5 and multi-damage) and has another buff too. B+
Always a fairly hellish addition to any list, Lords Discordant get the extra sweetener in Alpha Legion of being able to benefit from the Legion Trait, improving their already formidable durability. It’s sad that they can’t double stack this with Clandestine any more, but they’re still pretty much fine. They’re even better with the updates to the Death to the False Emperor rule in the November balance Dataslate, since they give themselves a +1 to hit that turns into extra hits on 5+ against every enemy unit now.
Helbrutes are another unit where the Legion Trait pushes them up just that extra bit in value, and they also benefit from multi-meltas recently getting a lot better. A Helbrute with a multi-melta and the scourge is a mostly fine little multi-role unit. Not as exciting or flashy as some of the things you can do with Daemon Engines, but a reasonable enough choice.
Between the Legion trait, Conceal and Ambush, the Alpha Legion reward you heavily for putting down infantry units with powerful shooting capabilities, and one that’s seen success in a top list is a full squad of combi-plasma Terminators. These give you a huge hit out of Deep Strike, and you can then burn CP to allow them to really dominate the game for a turn or two. Combi-plas Terminators are kind of priced to move anyway and here they’re especially strong. Doubly so following the last two updates which give them free lightning claws and updated Death to the False Emperor rules – give them the Mark of Slaanesh so they can shoot twice and the Icon of Excess so they get extra hits on 5+.
Pretty much just “see above” – they’re another strong unit to play the board domination role with in this legion. For these, the fact that the Alpha Legion have some deployment tricks between Forward Operatives and Master of Diversion is very strong too, potentially letting you deploy them on the board for value in some matchups, and move them safely behind terrain if you miss out on the first turn.
Another entry in the “good at shooting” list, and perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of Conceal out of the lot, as they really don’t like being shot at. Currently suffer a bit from the comparison to Terminators, but could potentially be worth a look with heavy bolters, as they get the cheaper infantry price for them and they recently got buffed.
Chaos Space Marines
Your very basic five-model marine squad is a bit better than normal here, as they’re tougher to shoot to death at range and can also contribute to secondaries by teleporting across the table with Renascent Infiltration. Being able to fill troops slots and tick off this role at the same time is a nice minor boon.
They’re pretty tough under the effects of the Legion Trait, and you need something that can ride out ahead of your main forces to ensure that Conceal actually does what you want. If you want to go with pure Alpha Legion rather than souping, Bikers are definitely worth looking at in that slot, especially as the addition of astartes chainswords (which they can take as a free upgrade) leaves them as a reasonably decent all-rounder unit. They can also take an Icon of Excess, and that’s what you’ll want to do with them so that when they do close that gap, they’ll hit really hard.
Playing Alpha Legion
Successfully using the Alpha Legions tools is usually going to consist of orchestrating a situation where your most powerful threat can mow down the enemy without them being able to effectively strike back, held at bay by Conceal and Scrambled Coordinates. To pull that off, you need some options to build up mid-board presence quickly, whether by moving up with Forward Operatives or packing units with the speed to do so under their own power. You can back this up with some inexpensive ranged threats that can look after themselves at the back (in the form of Helbrutes) and you should also a few melee threats to smash into anything that can get past your defences. To fill you, there’s a good chance you want to bring a full battalion’s worth of basic Chaos Marine squads, as they’re good for holding home objectives and playing secondaries via Renascent Infiltration, and ensure you have the ground coverage to make Scrambled Coordinates operate at maximum effectiveness.
Tips and Tricks to Remember
- Pick your targets carefully: Consider whether your opponent has any tools that can push past your defences, and if they do then take those out first!
- Keep an eye out for moments to catch your opponent out: Scrambled Coordinates, Sabotaged Armoury, Ambush and Feigned Retreat all let you unpick an opponent’s plan in a hurry – keep some CP in reserve to get the most out of these when the opportunity arises.
- Remember your timings: Conceal has to be activated at the start of your opponent’s shooting phase, and Forward Operatives has to be declared when you put a unit down. Don’t forget these if they’re key to your plan!
- Think about when to use the Hydra’s Wail: Though some armies (Eldar, Tau) are likely to blitz through their CP in early turns, in some games it can be worth holding this till later, as once your opponent only has a handful of CP left their stratagem use starts becoming very risky under this.
Where to Read More
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