Start Competing: Chaos Space Marines Tactics (Updated 12/30/2022)

Do you like playing the bad guys? Do you think that Imperial space marines are kind of lame? Do you generally feel OK about cavorting with daemons and making dark pacts with the ruinous powers that will pit you against each others’ pawns in a never ending game with the entire galaxy at stake? Then grab your eight-pointed star and strap in because Chaos Space Marines may be the army for you! In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about the army, the units, the relics and powers, and how to play them in 9th edition.

Table of Contents

Army Overview

Chaos Space Marines look like Marines, but don’t let that fool you: They have a very different feel and play style to standard Space Marines, with a much more aggressive melee-focused approach to the game. As a faction, Chaos Space Marines have access to some of the best melee units in the game, including Possessed, Chosen, Lords Discordant, and Berserkers, as well as access to some solid psychic powers. They tend to lack some of the long-ranged shooting options of other factions but make up for that with the ability to hit hard quickly.

As with the rest of these articles, the idea is not to give an exhaustive review of every unit and option. Instead, we’ll cover each section with a general discussion of the good units, relics and stratagems, point out any traps, and then discuss how these pieces fit into a competitive army. This is primarily a review of the units and options that are specific to Chaos Space Marines, but Chaos Space Marines can be combined with Daemons and Chaos Knights in interesting ways, and we’ll talk about those as well.

As always, a guide like this represents a time and place. This was written in December 2022, after the release of Codex: Chaos Space Marines for 9th edition.

Army Strengths

  • Melee Combat. Chaos Space Marines have some of the game’s best melee threats – Possessed, Abaddon, Chaos Space Marines, Lords Discordant, Masters of Executions, and Chosen are all absolutely nasty threats, and you can make most of them even better with relics, warlord traits, and upgrades.
  • Cheap Troops. Chaos Space Marines still have access to cheap troops in the form of Cultists and Traitor Guard. This allows them to farm out the loathsome work of holding rear objectives to cheaper units and spend their precious points elsewhere. Note that unlike in their brethren’s Death Guard and Thousand Sons codices, Cultists in the CSM codex have ObSec. 
  • Psychic Powers. Chaos Space Marines have a solid psychic game, even if it’s not on the level of Thousand Sons. The Master of Possession is one of the game’s best psyker units, and Chaos Legionnaire units can take a psyker as well for additional versatility and the ability to toss out mortal wounds.
  • Great HQ/Character Options. Chaos Space Marines have access to some great character options in the form of Daemon Princes, Lords Discordant, Dark Apostles, and Sorcerers, to name a few. There’s a ton of versatility at the top of any Chaos Space Marines list.
  • Durability. Chaos Marines have become much more durable in their 9th edition codex, with several ways to improve that durability such as the Black Rune of Damnation and the Mark of Nurgle. Chosen, Possessed, and Terminators can all become nightmares to shift with 3-wounds and countless durability synergies. 

Army Weaknesses

  • Shooting. Chaos Marines have some OK ranged units, but generally speaking they do their best work up close and in melee. They lack the kind of serious ranged threats needed to hit enemies from more than 24” away, and a lot of their bigger guns are affixed to expensive platforms you might not want to take. There are definitely some exceptions, such as Noise Marines, and you can supplement their shooting with units from other codexes if you wish.
  • Secondary Objectives. The Secondary Objectives available to Chaos Space Marines are not particularly good. Outside of Creations of Bile and Word Bearers, you’re mostly going to end up taking standard secondaries, and even those present challenges. This means that against armies which have an easier time scoring, you’ll be racing against the clock to wipe them out before they can put a game out of reach.
  • Lack of Characters in the Elites slot. The Master of Executions is a great unit but generally CSM have a lot of great options crowding the HQ slot, meaning it’s difficult to fit everything you want/need to take in a single detachment. This is particularly a challenge when it comes to your Psyker characters: You’ll typically want a Master of Possession, but will seldom want to waste his casts on doing Psychic Interrogation, forcing you to find a way to fit another psyker character into the army – and that has to be an HQ choice.
  • Lack of CP. Chaos Space Marines want to spend CP on upgrading their Characters pre-game more than any other army in the game, and have lots of 1 and 2 CP stratagems they want to use in-game. You’ll have a hard time doing some things you would want to do, like bring a second detachment to bring more HQs, and will have to very carefully manage your CP expenditure during the game. 

World Eaters Killteam. Credit: Jack Hunter

 Chaos Space Marines Rules

In this section we’ll cover the main rules for the army, starting with the faction’s army-wide special rules, then diving into the Stratagems, Warlord Traits, Relics, Secondary Objectives, and Psychic Powers available to all Chaos Space Marines. 

Faction Special Rules

There are a few army-wide special rules that Chaos Space Marines have access to regardless of which legion they hail from, or which god they’ve devoted themselves to.


One of the new additions to the faction is the TRAITORIS ASTARTES keyword, which helps differentiate the more standard Chaos Space Marines from the likes of the Death Guard (Bubonic Astartes) and Thousand Sons (Arcana Astartes). This is separate from the HERETIC ASTARTES keyword in that it denotes the faction. Note that Cultists have the TRAITORIS ASTARTES keyword to mark them as of the same faction, but no longer have HERETIC ASTARTES, so they don’t get Armour of Contempt. 

Champions of Chaos

You can only include one CHAOS LORD, one DAEMON PRINCE, and one DARK COMMUNE in each Chaos Space Marines detachment in your army. This will not be a problem for you, generally speaking – there are a very limited number of HQ slots for you to work with and you’ll rarely want to double up on these units. Where you’ll want to watch out for this is with the faction’s special characters, many of whom have the CHAOS LORD keyword. This means that you can’t take Abaddon and Haarken in the same detachment, hilariously.

Mere Mortals

You can’t have more Cultists units in your army’s Chaos Space Marines Detachments than Traitoris Astartes CORE INFANTRY, and a Cultists character can’t be your warlord if your army contains any HERETIC ASTARTES CHARACTER models. This baffling rule prevents you from overdoing it on Cultists, a thing no one is worried about. It makes even less sense with a Cultist HQ, as it seems like an all-cultist army should be possible.

Legion Traits

Chaos Space Marine armies have access to a large variety of subfactions, each with their own special rules called Legion Traits. All TRAITORIS ASTARTES units (excluding CULTISTS, SLAVES TO DARKNESS, and AGENTS OF CHAOS) with this ability gain a Legion Trait, provided every unit in your army is from the same Legion. Note that Abaddon, despite being an Agent Of Chaos, has an exception to still gain the Black Legion trait when included in a pure Black Legion army. Which trait a unit get depends on which legion they’re from. When you pick a legion, you replace your <LEGION> keyword with a Legion of your choice (it can’t be Death Guard or Thousand Sons, who have their own rules).

The Legion Trait rules apply to all of your units (with the exceptions listed above), not just your INFANTRY, HELBRUTES, and BIKERS, as used to be the case. In addition to giving you special rules, Legions also give you access to Stratagems, Warlord Traits, Relics, and Secondary Objectives. 

Note that we’ve split this article up, and are now covering the major Chaos legions in separate articles. We suggest you read this article first, and you can find specific information on the other legions in these articles:

Note that there are two Chaos Legions that have their own Codexes and aren’t subfactions of the Chaos Space Marines. You can find information on how to play them in their own Start Competing articles:

World Eaters are the odd men out here, currently working off a White Dwarf article, but they’ll move over to the “own Codex” group when their Codex releases in the future.

Note that you cannot replace the <LEGION> keyword with DEATH GUARD or THOUSAND SONS unless you’re working with Forge World units from Imperial Armour Compendium.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones


Slaves to Darkness

Chaos Space Marine armies have long included specialty cult units like Berzerkers and their Codex has rules for including those in your army.

  • You can include KHORNE BERZERKERS units in a CSM Detachment, using their datasheet from Codex: World Eaters (or, at the time of this writing, White Dwarf #477), in which case they are always Elites. Their faction keywords become CHAOS, KHORNE, HERETIC ASTARTES, TRAITORIS ASTARTES, and <LEGION>. If you do this they get Let the Galaxy Burn, have to be upgraded to have the Mark of Khorne, and never get a Legion Trait. Note that as of the time of this writing, Khorne Berzerkers come with the Mark Of Khorne and have it baked into their points cost, so you don’t need to pay additional points for their Mark Of Khorne. 
  • You can include RUBRIC MARINES units in a CSM Detachment, using their datasheet from Codex: Thousand Sons, in which case they are always Elites, their faction keywords become CHAOS, TZEENTCH, HERETIC ASTARTES, TRAITORIS ASTARTES, and <LEGION>. If you do this they get Let the Galaxy Burn, have to be upgraded to have the Mark of Tzeentch, and never get a Legion Trait.
  • You can include PLAGUE MARINES units in a CSM Detachment, using their datasheet from Codex: Death Guard, in which case their faction keywords become CHAOS, NURGLE, HERETIC ASTARTES, TRAITORIS ASTARTES, and <LEGION>. If you do this they get Let the Galaxy Burn, have to be upgraded to have the Mark of Nurgle, and never get a Legion Trait.
  • You can include NOISE MARINES units in a CSM Detachment, using their datasheet from Codex: Chaos Space Marines, in which case they can only gain a Legion Trait if every unit in their Detachment (excluding AGENTS OF CHAOS and UNALIGNED units) is from the EMPEROR’S CHILDREN Legion (also, they become Troops in an Emperor’s Children Detachment). Note that Noise Marines come with the Mark of Slaanesh built into their points cost, so you don’t need to pay additional points for their mark.

We’ll talk more about these units in their respective sections. Suffice to say, there are reasons to include these units in your armies, and each of them plays differently outside of their parent legions in ways that affect how they play.

Daemon Engine

Some of the Chaos Space Marines’ vehicles are Daemon Engines, meaning they’ve had powerful daemons bound within them, imbuing them with supernatural abilities. These models have a 5+ invulnerable save and regain 1 lost wound in your Command phase.

Malicious Volleys

This ability replaces and upgrades the usual rules for firing Rapid Fire weapons, such as Bolters. When a unit with this ability Remains stationary during the Movement phase (or is a TERMINATOR or  BIKER) fires a Rapid Fire bolt weapon, it can make double the number of attacks. This mostly helps Bikers and Terminators live up to their full potential by giving you four shots per model with their Rapid Fire 2 guns, albeit still at S4 AP0.

Warp Strike

Units with this ability can be set up in blasphemous reserves instead of on the battlefield. If you do so, they can arrive in the Reinforcements step anywhere on the battlefield more than 9” away from any enemy models.

Credit: Summer

Let the Galaxy Burn

The monofaction bonus for Chaos Space Marines, if every unit from your army has the TRAITORIS ASTARTES keyword (excluding AGENT OF CHAOS and UNALIGNED models), and every <LEGION> unit from your army is from the same Legion (except for Abaddon), then you get these rules:

  • During the first battle round, your army (and all its units) are engaged in Wanton Destruction, and each time they make an attack with a Heavy, Rapid Fire, or Grenade weapon, an unmodified hit roll of 6 scores 1 additional hit. 
  • During the second battle round, your army (and all its units) is engaged in Wanton Massacre, and each time they make an attack with a Rapid Fire, Assault, or Pistol weapon, an unmodified hit roll of 6 scores 1 additional hit. 
  • At the start of the third battle round, you can choose to either remain in Wanton Massacre or be engaged in Wanton Slaughter.
  • During the fourth and subsequent battle rounds, your army (and all its units) is engaged in Wanton Slaughter,  and each time they make an attack with an Assault, Pistol, or melee weapon, an unmodified hit roll of 6 scores 1 additional hit. 

On top of this whenever a unit with this rule shoots with a flame weapon, when you determine how many attacks are made with the weapon you add 2 to the result. Note that this includes weapons such as Baleflamers on a Lord Discordant, or Warpflamers on a Rubric Marine.

This is a very good ability to have, and helps dramatically improve your damage output by helping you score additional hits. There are a few ways to move things around and pick your current mode, which you’ll typically use to get into Wanton Slaughter early but may occasionally help you get more shots off with your bigger shooting units. The boost to flame weapons is also particularly good, and is reason alone to consider adding Rubric Marines to your army, since having a unit of Warpflamers that can pop off 10d6+20 shots at AP-2 is very nasty.

Credit: TheChirurgeon

Marks of Chaos

Marks represent the benefits units get for devoting themselves to the Chaos powers. Non-Cultist UNDIVIDED CORE or CHARACTER units in CHAOS SPACE MARINES detachments can be upgraded to have a Mark of Chaos, and every DAEMON PRINCE model must be upgraded. When you upgrade a unit, you increase its cost by 15 points and 1 PL, and it loses the CHAOS UNDIVIDED keyword and gains the relevant MARK OF CHAOS keyword, i.e. KHORNE, TZEENTCH, NURGLE, or SLAANESH. Note that Psykers can’t have the Mark of Khorne.

Each mark confers certain abilities on the unit, based on the mark and their equipment. You can find more on the math behind the marks and how they affect play in our Hammer of Math article on the topic.

Note that not every unit that can take a mark can take an icon, and that dramatically affects how useful some of these are. There are also stratagems locked to each mark. In addition, Psykers who take a mark get a free power related to the mark – and those powers are pretty good.

Mark of Khorne

  • Each time a model in this unit makes a melee attack, if the model’s unit made a charge move, was charged, or performed a Heroic Intervention this turn, add 1 to the Strength characteristic of that attack.
  • If this unit has the ICON keyword, each time a model in this unit makes a melee attack, improve its AP by 1.

This is a strong bonus for getting your guys easier wound rolls, and combines with the icon bonus to give Berzerkers S6 and AP-3 attacks when they charge or get charged. It’s also solid on Raptors, who enjoy having S5 attacks, though you’ll find most of the units you really want it on can’t take icons. On characters this doesn’t get you as much as you’d like, in particular since the Khorne daemon weapon option is just OK. This is still a Mark you’re going to want to have access to in most lists, because it’s Chaos Space Marines’ only access to a Stratagem to Deny the Witch, though Abaddon will be most lists’ backdoor way into getting access to that.

Mark of Nurgle

  • Each time an attack is made against this unit, if the Strength characteristic of that attack either equals or is at last double the Toughness characteristic of this unit, subtract 1 from that attack’s wound roll. 
  • If this unit has the ICON keyword, each time a model in this unit makes a ranged attack, an unmodified hit roll of 6 automatically wounds the target.

This is a solid durability boost, and having the mark essentially means that the unit can only be wounded on either a 5+ or a 3+, depending on the strength of the attack. On Plague Marines this makes them even tougher than they are in Death Guard, as S5 guns will only wound them on a 5+, though they lose Inexorable Advance for their trouble and can’t currently gain the ICON keyword.

Ideally you’d put this mark on Terminators, but its benefits do not stack with the Black Rune of Damnation (since wound roll mods cap out at -1), and Terminators can’t take an icon to help improve their large volume of S4 shooting. As a result, the Mark of Nurgle really doesn’t see much play outside of characters, where it can give you access to an incredibly powerful daemon weapon option for bigger melee threats. It also gives you access to the Chaos Space Marine version of Transhuman Physiology, which can make your Characters much more durable in a pinch. 

Mark of Tzeentch

  • Once per turn, the first time a saving throw is failed for this unit, the Damage characteristic of that attack is changed to 0.
  • If this unit has the ICON keyword, each time a model in this unit makes a ranged attack, improve the AP of that attack by 1.

Being able to just tank your first failed save is a very solid trick on models with a 2+ save and Armour of Contempt for protection, and being able to give your melee attacks the ability to ignore saves isn’t bad. It’s also a solid upgrade on casters, where it gives you access to both Skeins of Fate (4+ invulnerable save) and stratagems to improve casting (The Great Sorcerer lets you cast an additional power or action and cast), and shoot units arriving from deep strike. Being able to psychic action and still cast one power is pretty solid, and that makes this a decent pick for psykers who need to cast Psychic Interrogation.

Mark of Slaanesh

  • If this unit starts the Fight phase within Engagement Range of any enemy units, it fights first that phase.
  • If this unit has the ICON keyword, each time a model in this unit makes a melee attack, add 1 to that attack’s hit roll.

The Mark of Slaanesh is just really, really good. Being able to fight first with multiple units in your army can really throw a wrench into an opponent’s plans, though note that “at the start of the Fight phase” rider – you won’t fight first if a unit gets into Engagement Range with a pile in or consolidate move. Otherwise, this is generally the mark of choice for Terminators and Chosen since getting to S6 with the Mark of Khorne isn’t as useful as getting to fight first. On top of that, the Mark of Slaanesh gives you the Murderous Perfection Stratagem, letting you change a die roll for a hit/wound/damage to a 6 in the Shooting or Fight phase, while Excessive Cruelty lets you punish enemy units attempting to Fall Back by consolidating 3” or shooting the unit leaving. Both of these are solid abilities to have and contribute to making this the mark of choice in competitive lists. Also, the power that Slaanesh psykers pick up – Delightful Agonies – is very, very good and helps make your most durable units even harder to remove.

Word Bearers Esoterist / Diabolist – Credit: RichyP

Psychic Powers

For Chaos Space Marines, you have access to two disciplines: The Dark Hereticus discipline and the Malefic discipline. The Malefic discipline is the clear winner of the two from a power level standpoint, but there are some gems in the Dark Hereticus Discipline you’ll want to consider. Only Masters of Possession get access to the Malefic Discipline. In addition to these there are three god-aligned psychic powers you’ll get if your psyker has the appropriate mark. They’re all solid and free once you’ve paid the points/Power Level to upgrade that psyker with the relevant Mark.

The Dark Hereticus Discipline

Most Chaos Space Marine psykers have access to the Dark Hereticus discipline, which has declined in power with the new codex. The upside to this is that more units in your army now have access to this Discipline, thanks to Malefic Tomes in squads of Legionaires. Note that a unit with the CULTISTS or LEGIONAIRES keyword can only take the first three powers in this list, which will typically means you’re taking a single unit with Prescience to get access to that power.

  1. Infernal Gaze (Witchfire, WC 5). Pick a visible enemy unit within 18” and roll 3D6. For each 4+ you roll, that unit takes a mortal wound. Easy to cast, targeted mortal wounds. If you roll a 10+ to cast, roll 6D6 instead. This is neat as a targeted way to Smite, and the 10+ cast rider makes it a little bit better, but it’s not really what you’re buying a tome for and you usually won’t have enough casters to justify this when you get Smite for free. C
  2. Prescience (Blessing, WC 7). Pick a <LEGION> unit within 18”. They get +1 to all hit rolls until your next psychic phase. Still a very good power, though the WC 7 requirement does make it a bit of a crap shoot compared to other powers. The +1 rider is great on a lot of units and the 18” range without line of sight means your Legionaries holding a backfield objective can toss this out on a large number of units that benefit from it. Most of the time you take a Balefire Tome, this is the power you’re taking. A
  3. Diabolic Strength (Blessing, WC 6). Pick a <LEGION> INFANTRY or CHAOS SPAWN model within 12” of the psyker. Until the start of your next psychic phase, that model gets +2 Strength and Attacks. Note that this only affects a single model. It used to have some play when it could target a Daemon Prince or Lord Discordant, but now you’re limited to Infantry characters with it. Note that some named Characters like Lucius and Abaddon enjoy getting powered up by this spell in their specific Legions, and it’s sometimes useful for making one model with an upgraded melee weapon like a Chainfist or Heavy Chainaxe hit extra hard. C-
  4. Death Hex (Malediction, WC 8). Pick an enemy unit within 12” and it can’t use any invulnerable saves until your next Psychic phase. This is a powerful effect on the surface, but the power is both difficult to cast and also not as good as you’d think in a post-Armour of Contempt world: You really don’t have the weapons to put most threats on a 6+ or worse save, making this something where you’ll often find that the target’s 5+ armour save is just as bad as their invuln would have been. This also does nothing against daemons, and armies like Harlequins that rely on invulns are generally a bunch of small units that you’re often killing anyway when you focus on them. It looks scarier than it is. C+
  5. Gift of Chaos (Witchfire, WC 7). The closest visible enemy unit takes D3 mortal wounds, then you roll a D6 for every other enemy unit within 6” of that unit takes a mortal wound on a 4+. This is a pretty good way to get splash damage, though at WC 7 it’s a bit trickier to cast. Still, 6” is a good range, and this can combo well with something like Infernal Gaze where you can use the effects to get up to 4 mortal wounds on a target that might otherwise be untargetable. C+
  6. Warptime (Blessing, WC 6). Pick a <LEGION> INFANTRY or CHAOS SPAWN unit within 6”. That unit can immediately make a Normal Move as if it were the Movement phase, but can’t charge this turn. This has declined a lot since its initial iteration, and this latest version is even worse. Though even in this form, it’s still pretty good. It’s great for getting shooting units or objective holders into position, and is particularly strong on Rubric Marines armed with Warpflamers. Oh, and it just happens to be a power they can take – and will. A-

God-Specific Powers

There are also three additional powers you can access if your Psyker has the Mark of Tzeentch, Nurgle, or Slaanesh. All three of these are good and they’re free, so you aren’t really forced to choose between them and anything else. All of them increase your durability in different ways, but Delightful Agonies is the best of the bunch.

  • Tzeentch: Skeins of Fate (Blessing, WC 7). Pick a <LEGION> TZEENTCH unit within 18″. Until the start of your next psychic phase, that unit has a 4+ invulnerable save. This is harder to cast than it used to be and a little worse, but still good. It’s great on Chosen and Biker units who don’t get an invuln innately unlike Terminators and Possessed, and likewise solid on big characters who need to tank a few more hits. B
  • Nurgle: Miasma of Pestilence (Blessing, WC 6). Pick a <LEGION> NURGLE unit within 18″. Until your next Psychic phase, your opponent must subtract 1 from all hit rolls that target that unit. This is a helpful ability for protecting a key Nurgle unit, and stacks well with the mark’s defensive buff to make some very durable targets. The big downside here is that hit modifiers cap at -1, so you may find this just doesn’t matter in some situations or against armies that ignore modifiers or can stack multiple buffs to hit. B
  • Slaanesh: Delightful Agonies (Blessing, WC 6). Pick a <LEGION> SLAANESH Heretic Astartes unit within 18″. Until the start of your next Psychic phase, roll a D6 each time a model in that unit loses a wound; on a 5+ it doesn’t lose that wound. This is great, and being WC 6 makes it easy to cast. It can go on any unit, but does its best work on big blobs of Terminators or Bikers (or Obliterators and Possessed in Emperor’s Children), where just having it makes the unit completely undesirable as a target. A+

Night Lords Master of Possession – Credit: RichyP

The Malefic Discipline

On the other side of things, Masters of Possession have access to the Malefic discipline, which is mostly buffs for Legion DAEMONKIN units. Once an also-ran to the Dark Hereticus Discipline, these are now the money powers for Chaos, and there are several here that you’ll want to include in every army you field.

  1. Warp Marked (Malediction, WC 7). Pick an enemy unit within 18”. Until your next Psychic phase, each time a friendly <LEGION> DAEMONKIN or DAEMON ENGINE unit makes an attack against that unit, it gets +1 to wound. This is just a solid buff and helpful for taking out really tough targets like Knights or other CSM Terminators without having to spend 2 CP on Veterans of the Long War. B+
  2. Pact of Flesh (Blessing, WC 5). Pick a <LEGION> CORE, DAEMONKIN, or CHARACTER unit within 18”. One model in that unit regains D3 lost wounds, and if you picked a CORE or DAEMONKIN unit that isn’t at its starting strength, you can immediately return a destroyed model to the unit at full wounds. This is bonkers good – it’s easy to cast and incredibly useful for keeping Terminators, Possessed, or Obliterators on the board, or just healing back wounds on a durable Character and making your opponent throw up their hands in exasperation. Also great for healing the damage you’ve done with the Master of Possession’s Sacrificial Tagger ability. This power has a place in every competitive list. A+
  3. Cursed Earth (Blessing, Aura, WC 7). Until the start of your next Psychic phase, while a friendly <LEGION> DAEMONKIN or DAEMON ENGINE is within 6” of the caster they get a 4+ invulnerable save and when an enemy unit finishes a charge move in engagement range of them, you roll a D6; on a 2=4 they take 1 mortal wound and on a 5-6 they take D3. This is another very solid power, great for protecting your daemon units as they hold objectives. This pairs well with the Mark of Tzeentch to give you two 4+ invulnerable saves to hand out per turn, but chances are you won’t need Skeins if you have this. Note that, per the FAQ, the Liber Hereticus relic will not increase the range of this aura. B+
  4. Possession (Witchfire, WC 6). Pick one visible enemy unit within 9” of the caster. Roll one D6, adding 1 to the result if the psychic test was an unmodified 10+. If you beat the unit’s toughness, one model in the unit is destroyed. Then if the unit has not been destroyed, they take D3 mortal wounds. Generally speaking, this isn’t bad. The “beat their toughness” rider isn’t amazing but if you think about this as just a targeted D3 mortal wounds for WC 6, that’s pretty solid just on its own. Add in the ability to outright kill a T4 model 50% of the time on top of that and it’s got some power. This isn’t as generally useful as most powers in this discipline, but you’ll feel amazing if you ever make an opponent just remove their low Toughness Character from the board. B-
  5. Infernal Power (Blessing, WC 6). Pick a friendly <LEGION> DAEMONKIN or DAEMON ENGINE within 18”. Until the next Psychic Phase, when that unit makes a melee attack, unmodified hit rolls of 6 automatically wound the target and these auto-wounds are considered to have been made by unmodified wound rolls of 6, so they’ll trigger rules that rely on rolling 6s to wound. This is solid for taking down big targets, but you’ve got other ways to do that and very limited spell slots to work with. B
  6. Mutated Invigoration (Blessing, WC 6). Pick a friendly <LEGION> unit within 18”. Until your next Psychic phase, that unit gets either +1 Strength or +1 Toughness. If you rolled a 10+ for the test and you picked a DAEMONKIN or DAEMON ENGINE unit, it gets +1 to both characteristics. This one is another banger, and has a ton of uses, in part because it can just go on anything in your army. Giving Terminators T5 is great, and giving a Land Raider T10 is hilarious. Giving +1 Toughness is going to do the most work for you on T4 models, but you can also pair this with something like Berzerkers to give them Strength 7 on the charge, helping them hack up vehicles. A

Generally speaking, competitive armies tend to take a Master of Possession stocking two of the three best options – Pact of Flesh, Cursed Earth, and Mutated Invigoration. If they can fit a second psyker character in it’s usually a Daemon Prince, who will spend his cast opportunities on Psychic Interrogation. Armies leaning very heavily into Daemonkin or Daemon Engines might even want to consider running 2 Masters Of Possession for access to more of these powers.

Credit: Gerald Miller

Prayers to the Dark Gods

If psychic powers aren’t your thing, what about praying to the dark gods for help? PRIEST models in your army know the Dark Zealotry prayer and may know a number of others. These may be chanted in your Command phase and will activate/be heard on a D6 roll of a 3+, though note that Dark Apostles will be heard on a 2+ while their acolytes are around. There are six Prayers to the Dark Gods you can choose from in addition to Dark Zealotry, plus four more for the Chaos Gods which your PRIEST unit will know for free if they have the appropriate mark. Note that CULTIST units can only know the first three prayers on the list, i.e. Benediction of Darkness, Litany of Despair, and Omen of Potency. Once heard, prayers stay in effect until the start of your next Command phase.

Generally speaking, the effectiveness of most prayers is blunted by the fact that Dark Apostles are slow – unlike their loyalist chaplain counterparts, they get neither bikes nor jump packs, and so auras abilities they may get are much less useful given how likely it is that their beneficiaries will quickly outpace them running toward key targets and objectives. 

  • Dark Zealotry (Aura) – Re-roll hit rolls for melee attacks made by friendly <LEGION> CORE, CULTISTS, or CHARACTER units within 6″ of this priest. This is a fine ability, and will let you fish for 6s while Wanton Slaughter is active. That said, it may not often be what you want out of your Dark Apostle. That’s OK though, because it’s literally free. A

The Prayers

  1. Benediction of Darkness (Aura) – While a friendly <LEGION> CORE, CHARACTER, or CULTISTS unit wholly within 6″ of this PRIEST, each time a ranged attack is made against that unit, that unit is treated as having the benefits of Light Cover. This can be a solid defensive buff and stacks well with Armour of Contempt. It’s good for units that need to hold objectives in the open, like your 10-model terminator brick that’s already loading up at the buff-et. The main use for this is for giving Light Cover to qualifying units like Lord Discordants, Contemptors, or Helbrutes that are Vehicles and don’t normally get Light Cover from terrain. B
  2. Litany of Despair – Pick one enemy unit within 12” and roll 3D6. If you beat the leadership of that enemy unit, then pick one: Either that unit can’t perform actions and any actions it was doing immediately fail, or it can’t fire Overwatch or Set to Defend, and fights last in the Fight phase. This effect is very good and very versatile. It’s great for making multi-charges safer and the 12” range is really good when you consider most fights last abilities require you to get within 3”. The actions rider is a nice addition, though most of the actions people actually do these days finish at the end of their turn, so you’ll seldom use the first part unless it’s to prevent an action from being started the following turn. The big issue with this prayer is having to do this in the Command Phase (unless you use a stratagem to pray in another phase), so good players generally avoid leaving good targets visible and within range of the Priest. B
  3. Omen of Potency – The priest gets +3 Attacks and you improve the AP of his melee weapons by 2. Dark Apostles aren’t exactly big melee fighters, though having 8 attacks now that hit at S6 and AP3 is pretty solid. This pairs exceptionally well with the Black Mace, where suddenly you’re hitting at AP-4 and 3 damage, with wounds spilling over. Though you can probably find better units to give the mace to. B
  4. Warp-Sight Plea – Pick a friendly <LEGION> CORE, CULTISTS, or CHARACTER unit within 6″. Each time a model in that unit makes a ranged attack, re-roll a hit roll of 1 and the target does not receive the benefits of cover against that attack. This is pretty solid, moreso than the +1 to hit it used to be, and it pairs very well with the Black Legion’s Legion Trait, which gives +1 to hit when shooting the closest eligible target. Getting extra opportunities to proc 6s with Let the Galaxy Burn is an added bonus. B+
  5. Soultearer Portent – Pick a friendly <LEGION> CORE, CULTISTS, or CHARACTER unit within 6″. Add 1 to wound rolls for attacks made with melee weapons by models in that unit. Another great buff, and one that you can use instead of Veterans of the Long War to ensure that you’re wounding your targets on a 2+/3+ with multiple units in your army on the same turn. It’s an ability you can get multiple ways, but always useful to have. B
  6. Illusory Supplication – Pick a friendly <LEGION> CORE, CULTISTS, or CHARACTER unit within 6″. Each time an attack is made against that unit an unmodified 1-3 on the hit roll automatically fails, irrespective of any abilities that weapon or model may have, and the attack’s hit roll can’t be re-rolled. Forget Benediction of Darkness, which has a very difficult “wholly within” rider, this is what you want for durability boosts. It’s great for Terminators and Possessed, and particularly good against elite armies like Custodes that rely on having BS/WS 2+ and re-rolls to hit. Considering basically every army gets rerolls to hit or hits on 2’s or 3’s with their dangerous units, this prayer is a near auto-include for most lists. A+

God-Specific Prayers

You get these free if your Apostle has a mark. They’ve all got their uses, and do more than just buffing your Dark Apostle these days.

  • Khorne: Wrathful Entreaty – Pick a friendly <LEGION> KHORNE CORE or CHARACTER unit within 6”. Each time a model in that unit makes an attack, it is considered to be engaged in all three modes at once – Wanton Destruction, Massacre, and Slaughter. This is solid for upping your damage output, though really you’re just in it for Slaughter on your Khorne units. C+
  • Tzeentch: Mutating Invocation (Aura) – While a friendly <LEGION> TZEENTCH CORE or CHARACTER is within 3”, roll a D6 each time a model in that unit would lose a wound; on a 6, that wound isn’t lost. This is a solid little buff that pairs well with the failed save ability for the mark, but won’t stop you from dropping your mark’s damage zero ability on your first failed save. C+
  • Nurgle: Feculent Beseechment – Pick a friendly <LEGION> NURGLE CORE or CHARACTER unit within 6”. That unit gets +1 Toughness. This is another very solid durability buff, and can pair well with Nurgle Terminators who want the added durability. The big issue with this prayer is that if you want a durability boost, Illusory Supplication is just so much better. B
  • Slaanesh: Blissful Devotion – Select a friendly <LEGION> SLAANESH CORE or CHARACTER unit within 6”. That unit can declare a charge in a turn in which it Advanced. This is excellent. Just incredibly good. The only downside is that it doesn’t work on Possessed or Warp Talons (they are not CORE), two of the units you’d want it on most. Lords Discordant and Daemon Princes make good targets here, as do Terminators and Chosen that need to get forward and press the assault. A-

Emperor's Children Sonic Dreadnought
Emperor’s Children Sonic Dreadnought Credit: That Gobbo


Chaos Space Marines have access to a large number of Stratagems through their Codex, with each legion having their own set of Stratagems we’ll discuss in their articles.

Battle Tactic Stratagems

  • Death to the False Emperor! (1 CP). Use in the Fight phase when a TRAITORIS ASTARTES unit from your army fights. Until the end of the phase, HERETIC ASTARTES models in that unit can re–roll hit rolls for melee attacks made against ADEPTUS ASTARTES or SANCTIC ASTARTES units. As much as I hate these abilities that punish a single faction, this is pretty money, in particular because space marines are still relatively popular, and any buffs to the faction will make them more prevalent. Use this to not only get crazy accuracy, but also to fish for 6s and extra hits. A-
  • Daemonforge (1 CP/2 CP). Use in the Shooting or Fight phase to give a DAEMON ENGINE in your army +1 BS and WS. This costs 2 CP if the unit is TITANIC. This is also great, and something you’ll use frequently if you’re playing with the likes of Maulerfiends and Decimators. A
  • Fury of Khorne (1 CP). Use in the Fight phase when a TRAITORIS ASTARTES KHORNE unit is picked to fight. Until the end of the phase, each time they make a melee attack, an unmodified hit roll of 6 automatically wounds the target. This is going to do its best work on Raptors and Chosen, where you can pile up a bunch of S4 and S5 attacks that might otherwise wound on 4s or 5s. Helpful for taking down vehicles and other big targets with the likes of Berzerkers as well. B
  • Grandfather’s Blessings (1 CP/2 CP). Use in any phase when a TRAITORIS ASTARTES NURGLE unit is picked as the target of an attack. Until the end of the phase, when attacks are made against the unit, unmodified wound rolls of 1-3 always fail, irrespective of any abilities of the weapon or model making the attack. This costs 2 CP if the unit has 6+ models. Here’s the thing to remember with this: You also have the Mark of Nurgle, so you’re never getting wounded on a 2+ to begin with unless there are modifiers in play. This is basically for going up against high-volume S6+ shooting that might otherwise wound you on a 3+. There’s still some real value in being able to turn on Transhuman, particularly for a character about to get punched by a dreadnought or something big. B+
  • Hatred Eternal (2 CP). Use at the end of the Shooting or Fight phase. PIck one LEGIONARIES unit from your army; if it is the Shooting phase, that unit can shoot again; if it is the fight phase and that unit is within Engagement Range of enemy units, that LEGIONARIES unit can fight again. This is very solid, though the limitation to LEGIONARIES units means you’re not likely to use it very often, particularly outside of melee. That said, it can help you get key extra movement with another pile in and consolidate move, as well as helping you finish off a near-dead enemy unit at a choice time. Note that it will not let you bypass the restriction on being able to fight a unit you didn’t charge. B
  • Murderous Perfection (1 CP). Use in the Shooting or Fight phase when a TRAITORIS ASTARTES SLAANESH unit shoots or fights. Once during that phase, when resolving an attack made by a model in that unit, you can change the result of a single hit roll, wound roll, or damage roll to be a 6 (note that if the die is a D3 then a 6 counts as a 3). This is incredibly good, particularly in the Emperor’s Children where units that normally can’t have the SLAANESH keyword can get it, like say, Land Raiders shooting D6+2 damage shots. It’s also fantastic on Abaddon or a model with Blade of the Relentless for getting extra mortal wounds, and good on Demolishers, Defilers, Helbrutes, and Maulerfiends. A
  • Veterans of the Long War (2 CP). Use when a TRAITORIS ASTARTES INFANTRY or BIKER shoots or fights. Until the end of the phase, that unit gets +1 to its wound rolls. This continues to be a strong Stratagem, though if there’s a knock against it, it’s that there are now more ways to get +1 to wound in the army that don’t require spending 2 CP. You’ll use this sometimes to increase damage or reduce variance against a key target, but it’s a lot harder to justify given how limited CP are for CSM in general. A
  • Blasphemous Machines (1 CP/2 CP). Use in your Command phase and pick one TRAITORIS ASTARTES MACHINE SPIRIT or DAEMON ENGINE model in your army with a Wounds characteristic of 10+. Until your next Command phase it gets to act as though it’s at full health. This costs 2 CP if the model is TITANIC. This is just very solid, and the ability to affect Daemon Engines is a nice touch that helps keep some of those relevant longer. It’s also got more value when your Land Raiders are borderline playable in competitive settings. A
  • Wrath of the Chosen (1 CP). Use in your Shooting or Fight phase, when a TERMINATOR or CHOSEN unit from your army shoots or fights. Until the end of the phase, each time a model in that unit makes an attack, add 1 to that attack’s hit roll. This is helpful for pushing through more damage with either unit, and is a great effect to have in your back pocket when you go up against Harlequins or other units that give -1 to hit. Reasonably priced at 1 CP as well. A

Epic Deed Stratagems

  • Fell Prayers (2 CP). Use at the start of any of your phases other than the Command phase. Pick a PRIEST in your army that has not chanted a prayer this turn. That model can chant one prayer that hasn’t already been chanted this turn by a friendly model and it is automatically heart (do not roll). It takes effect until the beginning of your next Command phase. This is a good way to guarantee something important, or hold off on something like Dark Zealotry until you know a unit is going to make a key charge or advance. There’s an open question as to whether you can use this to chant a prayer the Priest doesn’t know; I’m of the mind that this is unintended, but some TOs allow it. B
  • Fire Frenzy (1 CP). Use in the opponent’s Shooting phase, after an enemy unit finishes making its attacks. Pick a TRAITORIS ASTARTES HELBRUTE model in your army hit by one or more of those attacks and not currently in Engagement Range of an enemy. That HELBRUTE can shoot as if it were your Shooting phase, but it has to target either the closest enemy or a unit that targeted it (the target must be eligible, so you can’t use this to pick off a CHARACTER). This is pretty solid, and helps a unit that otherwise just doesn’t have enough damage output. C
  • The Great Sorcerer (1 CP). Use at the start of your Psychic phase. Pick a TRAITORIS ASTARTES TZEENTCH PSYKER then pick one: Either they can manifest an additional power this phase, or they can do a psychic action and still manifest one psychic power this phase. This is reason enough to take the mark of Tzeentch on some units, since it helps you cast one of your key spells and do Psychic Interrogation. Also great for getting out some of those extra god powers, or occasionally throwing out a random smite after you’ve cast your buff powers to help finish a target off. A

Requisition Stratagems

  • Aspiring Lord (1 CP). You can give a Character a Warlord Trait if your Warlord is a CSM Character. Can be used twice in Strike Force games and three times in Onslaught. Helpful for getting a second trait on another character, though less common in Nephilim where you’re spending CP on your first trait and relic.
  • Gifts of Chaos (1 CP). Gets you an extra Relic for a Character if your Warlord is a CSM Character. Very useful, because we have some great relics. In a fun twist, this can be used to give your model a second relic, provided it’s replacing a weapon, so your murdermonster warlord can have two relics if one is an upgraded weapon, though note you can’t use this if the model has a Daemon Weapon, limiting its effectiveness. You can use this twice in Strike Force games and three times in Onslaught games.
  • Trophies of the Long War (1 CP). You can give a specific relic to a Champion in a TRAITORIS ASTARTES unit if your Warlord is a CSM Character. The list is pretty long: Hyper-growth bolts, Maelstrom’s Bite, the Ashen Axe, the Armour Diabolus, Viper’s Spite, Icon of the Hydra Cult, Distortion, Armour of Abhorrence, Talons of the Night Terror, Claw of the Stygian Count, Spitespitter, Axe of the Forgemaster, Loyalty’s Reward, Trophies of Slaughter, the Black Mace, the Warp’s Malice, Blade of the Relentless, and Black Rune of Damnation. You can use this twice in a Strike Force battle and three times in an Onslaught game. This is most commonly used to give a big unit of Terminators the Black Rune, but there are plenty of other choice relics in there, such as Blade of the Relentless and Claws of the Stygian Count, that might be decent plays in some lists to boost the damage output or versatility of a certain unit.

Strategic Ploy Stratagems

  • Contempt Over Caution (1 CP/2 CP). Use in the Shooting phase. Pick a <LEGION> CORE unit in your army that isn’t within Engagement Range of enemy units, then pick an enemy unit. Until the end of the phase, that unit can target the enemy even if it is within Engagement range of other <LEGION> units, and when shooting that enemy, you can’t re-roll the hit roll, plus unmodified hit rolls of 1 score hits against the friendly unit instead (you resolve these after hits to the enemy unit). This costs 1 CP if the units fighting the enemy unit are all CULTISTS. This is a fun way to tie up an enemy unit with a screen and still be able to shoot them, though it depends very much on a unit not just mulching a unit of cultists in a single go. Potentially valuable with Plague Marines as the unit tying up the enemy. B
  • Unending Destruction (2 CP). Use in your Shooting phase. Pick a non-Cultists TRAITORIS ASTARTES INFANTRY unit from your army that is performing an action – that unit can shoot this phase without failing the action. This is pretty situational, but will be helpful for those times you need to raise a banner and shoot, or shot while planting a bomb. Good for Obliterators. B
  • Relentless Devastation (1 CP). Use in your Movement phase, when a non-Cultists TRAITORIS ASTARTES INFANTRY unit makes a Normal Move or Advances. Until the end of your Shooting phase, provided that unit does not move again it is considered to have Remained stationary. This won’t let you fall back and shoot, but can be helpful for avoiding hit penalties while you’re on the move, and is very helpful for letting your Slaanesh Terminators that advanced shoot a bucket of dice downrange before charging later . B+
  • Ritual Offerings (1 CP). Use when an enemy unit is destroyed by a CULTISTS unit. Until the end of the battle those Cultists automatically pass Morale tests and they get +1 to hit in melee. Solid if you’re running lots of big Cultist blobs, which you won’t be doing. C
  • Scorn of Sorcery (1 CP). Use in the opponent’s Psychic phase, after a test is passed for an enemy PSYKER unit and after any Deny attempts are made. If the enemy psyker is within 24” of any TRAITORIS ASTARTES KHORNE units in your army, roll a D6; on a 4+ the power is denied. This is a solid strat for preventing your opponent’s psychic nonsense, and will most commonly be done with Abaddon, who bears all four marks and doesn’t mind being in the middle of the table. Also great to use on your opponent’s attempts to Interrogate. A
  • Shroud of Flies (2 CP/3 CP). Use at the start of your opponent’s Shooting phase. Pick a TRAITORIS ASTARTES NURGLE unit in your army. Until the end of the phase, each time an enemy model shoots, if that NURGLE unit is not the closest eligible target or within 12”, then until that shooting is resolved, that model can’t target that NURGLE unit. If that unit has the MONSTER, VEHICLE, TERMINATOR, or BIKER keyword, this costs 3 CP. A carryover from Death Guard, this one looks better than it is. You’ll need to keep a closer unit to avoid that “closest eligible” rider, and you’ll also have to mark a unit to even make use of this. This is one of those stratagems you’ll very rarely use, but will be happy it exists when it keeps a unit alive on a back objective in  close game. B-
  • Terrifying Phenomena (1 CP). Use at the start of your opponent’s Morale phase. PIck an enemy unit within 12” of a TRAITORIS ASTARTES CHAOS UNDIVIDED unit from your army. Until the end of the phase your opponent can’t use the Insane Bravery Stratagem on that unit, can’t re-roll morale tests for them, and if they fail a Morale test, any action they’re doing fails. This is going to get you the most play in Night Lords, where you can prevent an opponent from shrugging off your Ld debuffs by just using the strat, though they can still just roll a regular 1. C
  • Tide of Traitors (1 CP). Use in your Command phase. Pick a CULTISTS MOB unit within 6” of a battlefield edge or your deployment zone. Up to D3+3 destroyed models can be added back to that unit. These returned models can’t be set up within Engagement Range of enemy units, unless those units are already within Engagement Range of the unit. This is fine, though the positioning restrictions make it really difficult to use effectively. Useful for adding some Cultist models onto an objective in your Command Phase to score some more Primary points. B+
  • Excessive Cruelty (2 CP). Use when an enemy unit within Engagement Range of a TRAITORIS ASTARTES SLAANESH unit form your army Falls Back. After that enemy unit has finished the move, your unit can either consolidate up to 3”, or if it’s no longer within Engagement Range of any enemy units, it can shoot as if it were your Shooting phase, but only at the target falling back. This is exceptionally good, and almost reason alone to mark your units as Slaanesh. If your opponent can’t get more than 4” away from your unit – which also fights first – you can ensure you’re back in combat with them, or you can just consolidate into another enemy unit to stay safe from shooting. Or you can just eviscerate them with guns like your sonic weapons. A+
  • Vicious Descent (1 CP). Use in your Charge phase, when a JUMP PACK unit finishes a charge move. Pick an enemy unit within Engagement Range of that unit, then roll a D6 for each model in that JUMP PACk unit within Engagement range of the enemy unit. For every result that exceeds the enemy unit’s Toughness, you do 1 mortal wound. This is ultimately just not a good enough rate for T4 targets, and requires you get all of 10 models into engagement range to even produce a solid output. C
  • Warp-Born Foresight (2 CP). Use at the end of the Reinforcements step of your opponent’s Movement phase. Pick a TZEENTCH unit in your army that isn’t within Engagement Range of enemy units, then pick an enemy unit that is within 12” of that unit and was set up as reinforcements this turn. Your Tzeentch unit can shoot that unit as though it were your shooting phase, provided it is an eligible target. This is a good way to punish units coming in, but even having this depends on having Tzeentch units that have meaningful shooting. C

Wargear Stratagems

  • Daemon Shells (1 CP). Use in your Shooting phase when a unit shoots. Until the end of the phase, they get +6” range on their bolt weapons and each time a model in that unit makes a ranged attack with a bolt weapon, improve their AP by 1. This is solid, but will really only have play on Bike and Terminator units that can put out lots of firepower. It’s also rarely useful against opponents with Armour of Contempt or Void Armour, so really only has value against some of the Xenos threats out there and knights. B
  • Infernal Engine (1 CP/2 CP). Use in your opponent’s Shooting phase or the Fight phase, when a DAEMON ENGINE model is targeted for an attack. Until the end of the phase, reduce incoming damage on that target by 1. If the Daemon Engine is TITANIC, this costs 2 CP. Another solid stratagem to have in your pocket, and good for keeping the likes of Venomcrawlers on the table. A
  • Skyshrike Missile (1 CP). Use in your Shooting phase, when you shoot a missile launcher from an INFANTRY unit at an AIRCRAFT target. You can only make one attack, you get +1 to hit, and if you hit you do 2D3 mortal wounds and the attack sequence ends. This is just too situational to matter and will only even be on the table if you have missile launcher havocs. C
  • Smokescreen (1 CP). Use in your Shooting phase, when a SMOKESCREEN unit is picked as the target for an attack. Enemy units get -1 to hit for ranged attacks against that until the end of the phase. This is also very useful, particularly for keeping your super-tough Land Raider on the table. B

Chaos Lord and Chaos Space Marines. Credit: genola

Warlord Traits

Chaos Space Marines warlords have access to 6 generic traits in the codex, plus a set specific to each of the legions. We’ve lost the psyker-specific traits from Shadowspear, but what’s here is a solid set of traits.

  1. Flames of Spite. Your warlord can re-roll wound rolls in melee. And whenever you make any attack, if your warlord rolls an unmodified wound roll of 6, the target takes an additional mortal wound. This is really, really good – re-rolling wounds is great, and this gives you the built-in ability to fish for mortals on 6s. There are a bunch of things that combo with this, and it’s great on models like the Lord Discordant who can just throw out buttloads of attacks, and combines well with daemon weapons like Ul’o’cca and Thaa’ris and Rhi’ol. Just watch out for armies like Leagues Of Votann and Iron Warriors that turn off your ability to reroll Wounds. A
  2. Unholy Fortitude. Your Warlord gets a 5+ roll to ignore incoming wounds. Won’t make your warlord any better in combat, but will help keep them alive and can be helpful on bigger units like the Lord Discordant, where it’s functionally similar to having 50% more wounds. Combos well with Pact of Flesh to get back protected wounds. B-
  3. Hatred Incarnate. Each time this Warlord fights, if it charged or made a Heroic Intervention this turn it gets +1 Strength and +1 Attack, and the Warlord can re-roll hit rolls in melee. This got a big glow-up, and is great for increasing your damage output. It’s also one of the few ways to get hit re-rolls on your characters. B+
  4. Lord of Terror (Aura). When enemy units take morale tests within 6” of your warlord, they roll 2D6 and take the highest result. Also, they count as half strength for Attrition tests. This is OK, but the number of situations where it matters are pretty small and usually you want other effects on your Warlord. C-
  5. Eternal Vendetta (Aura). At the start of the first battle round, pick an enemy unit. Until the end of the battle, whenever a friendly <LEGION> CORE or CHARACTER unit within 6” of this Warlord attacks that unit, you can re-roll the attack’s wound roll. This is solid, and one of Abaddon’s three traits. It’s a good way to take down bigger targets, or give something a reason to avoid fighting you. A
  6. Gaze of the Gods. The Warlord gets a 4+ invulnerable save and is considered to be engaged in Wanton Slaughter, Destruction, and Massacure whenever it makes an attack. This is another solid effect, with both good offensive and defensive buffs, but it doesn’t lend itself to building insane combat monsters like some of the other traits. B

Word Bearers Praetor – Credit: RichyP


Chaos Space Marines have access to a variety of relics, with a set that are available for every legion and sets that are exclusive to each legion. In addition, Chaos Space Marines have Daemon Weapons, special Relic upgrades for weapons, most of which require a specific mark of Chaos.

  • Inferno Tome – PRIEST model only, can be given to a CULTISTS model. The bearer knows an additional prayer and each time they chant, if they succeed, the closest enemy unit within 18” and visible takes D3 mortal wounds. This is a pretty nifty way to open up your options and turn your Apostle into a Smite machine, but will likely just lose out to other options. The ability to hit the closest visible enemy for mortals is a lot less useful when you can’t move before firing it off (though you can save your prayer for the Fell Prayers Stratagem in a  pinch), so the real value here is on the extra prayer. C
  • Gorget of Eternal Hate – The bearer gets +1 to their armour saving throws, has a 4+ invulnerable save, and the first time they’re destroyed, before you remove them from play, roll a D6 for each enemy unit within 3”; on a 2-5 they take D3 mortal wounds, on a 6 they take 3 mortal wounds. This is most powerful on a Lord Discordant, where your native 2+ Save becomes extra valuable and your large base makes the explosion harder to avoid. B+
  • Black Rune of Damnation – This can be given to a CULTISTS model. Each time an attack is made against the bearer’s unit, it gets -1 to the wound roll, and the unit gains an Aura that causes Psykers within 18” to peril on any doubles. This is extremely good, and the ability to give it to a squad champion with Trophies of the Long War is what really makes this a quality add. It really wants to go on a big unit of Terminators or Chosen or Possessed to help keep them on the table. Almost every competitive list runs this. A+
  • Mantle of Traitors – Once per battle, the bearer can use an Epic Deed Stratagem for 0 CP, plus they can re-roll hit rolls in melee, and at the start of the Command phase, you can pick a <LEGION> CORE unit in your army on the table to automatically be in range of one of the bearer’s abilities, if those abilities are Lord of Chaos (re-roll 1s to hit), Aspire to Glory (re-roll 1s to wound), or Demogogue (Use the model’s Leadership). This is OK, but this is really kitted out for a Dark Apostle. There are only three Epic Deed Strats in the core set, and of those the most useful is the one for Dark Apostles to auto-chant a prayer in a different phase. The one exception is in Emperor’s Children, who have an Epic Deed stratagem to make a nearby enemy unit Fight Last. C
  • Blade of the Relentless – This replaces a power sword, daemon blade, or accursed weapon with one that’s S+1, AP-4, 2 damage, and gives you +1 attack. But each time you fight with it, an unmodified hit roll of 6 does 2 mortal wounds and ends the attack sequence. This is pretty solid, and can make a fine stealth inclusion in a terminator, chosen, or raptor unit on a champion who can throw out some nastier-than-expected attacks. Pairs very nicely with full re-rolls to hit. A-
  • The Black Mace – This replaces a power maul, accursed crozius, or accursed weapon with one that’s S+2, AP-2, 3 damage and its excess damage spills over to other models. This is stealthily very good and pairs wonderfully with the Icon of Khorne to get it to AP-3. It’s a solid relic though frequently passed over on killy characters in favor of daemon weapons. Like the Black Rune Of Damnation, its best use is giving it to a non-Character’s unit leader to make a model that hits much harder than expected and comes with ablative bodies. B
  • The Warp’s Malice – This relic bolt pistol has 18” range, is Pistol 2, and S5, AP-2 2 damage, plus in Wanton Massacre or Slaughter it becomes Pistol 4. As an added bonus, whenever it rolls an unmodified hit roll of 6, it just does 2 mortal wounds and the sequence ends. Kind of like a ranged version of the Blade of the Relentless. Not bad, given how much you get, but ultimately not good enough to make your list unless you have some way to get hit re-rolls or guarantee hit rolls of 6. B-
  • Talisman of Burning Blood – KHORNE model only. The bearer can perform a 6” Heroic Intervention, gets +1 Attack, and each time the bearer destroys an enemy unit with a melee attack, they get +1 Attack for the rest of the battle. A 6” Heroic is solid, and the extra attack is a nice little bonus. There’s some value in this, but most of the time it’s going to lose out to other combat relics. B-
  • Eye of Tzeentch – TZEENTCH model only. Get +1 to your Psychic tests and each time you make a Psychic test, if you roll an unmodified 9+ to cast, the power or action can’t be denied. This is very solid; +1 to cast really helps smooth your curve, and if you stack this with a Venomcrawler you’re in a really good place. The added bonus of the 9+ cast means that about 28% of your casts will be un-deniable, which is a nice bonus, but not something you can depend on. Still, getting +1 also helps making you harder to deny, which can be money for pushing out key powers or Interrogates. A
  • Orb of Unlife – NURGLE model only.This relic is a 9” range Grenade 1 weapon that can be thrown once per battle and can’t generate extra hits when thrown. When you hit with this weapon, the target takes D3 mortal wounds. If the target has 11+ models or you’re in Wanton Destruction, they take D3+3 mortal wounds instead. Either way, after getting hit the unit gets -1 Toughness for the rest of the battle. This is pretty nasty, and can make a huge difference softening up a key enemy unit with a high toughness. The issue here is that if you’re taking a Nurgle character that wants to get close to the enemy, there are better options. C+
  • Intoxicating Elixir – SLAANESH model only. Once per battle, at the start of the Fight phase, you can chug this Elixir to get +D3 Attacks and you can’t lose more than 3 wounds in the phase. This is a very solid upgrade on your unit, and the ability to just sit there and tank a million attacks from something like a knight or the Yncarne can absolutely swing the game. It’s a very strong trick to have. A
  • Liber Hereticus – PSYKER model only. Lets you manifest one additional power per phase, and each time you manifest a power you add 6” to the effects. This won’t affect auras (per the FAQ), so Cursed Earth isn’t getting buffed, but it can give some powers incredibly long range, such as Smite, Pact of Flesh, and Warp Marked. It won’t help you on Psychic Interrogation sadly, but the extra cast is also very strong for your marked Master of Possession. A

Daemon Weapons

Daemon weapons saw a large change with the new Codex; now they upgrade weapons more generally, adding cool effects. Each one comes with the Daemon Weapon rule now, which has you roll 2D6 each time the bearer is selected to fight. Roll less than or equal to your Ld and you can fight normally. Go over and you can choose: Either take D3 mortal wounds and fight normally, or you can’t fight with the Daemon Weapon. This is an excellent tradeoff, and you’ll almost always be taking the wounds if you have to. There are some powerful effects here and a daemon weapon will make its way into almost every competitive Chaos Marines army. Daemon Weapons are Relics, and so to take one you’ll need to spend CP to get one as normal in competitive play.

  • Ul’o’cca, the Black – CHAOS UNDIVIDED model only. This upgrades a melee weapon, turning it into a Relic and Daemon Weapon. Each time an Attack is made by this daemon weapon, if the attack wounds the target, they take a mortal wound in addition to any normal damage. Look, this is really, really good. Incredibly good. Stupid good. The sheer volume of mortal wounds you can put out with this is absurd, and it’s going to do its best work when you combine it with Warlord Traits like Paragon of Hatred to get extra attacks or Flames of Spite to re-roll all wounds and get mortals on 6s to wound. This works amazingly well on a Master of Executions, who already re-rolls wounds against Characters, or the Lord Discordant, who has 6 attacks and gets +1 to wound on the charge. If there’s a downside to this, it’s that you can’t combine it with a Mark of Chaos. A
  • Zaall, the Wrathful – KHORNE model only. Upgrades a melee weapon to be a Relic and adds D3 to the weapon’s Damage characteristic. This is fine, if unexciting. Best on a Daemon Prince or Lord Discordant. B+
  • G’holl’ax, the Decayed – NURGLE model only. Upgrades a melee weapon. Each time an attack is made with this daemon weapon, if you score a hit, that weapon automatically wounds the target and enemy models can’t use any rules to ignore the wounds they lose. This is also incredibly, stupid good. Auto-wounding is very powerful, and so you want to use this on something that has solid damage and AP but otherwise mediocre strength. The Hellforged sword on the Daemon Prince is the perfect fit for this, since it’s a 3-damage, AP-3 weapon that only hits at S8 – decent, but could be better. He’s also an OK target for the Mark of Nurgle, since it means he’ll pick up the Putrid Miasma Psychic Power. A+
  • Q’o’ak, the Boundless – TZEENTCH model only. Upgrades a melee weapon. Each time an attack with that weapon is allocated to an enemy model, invulnerable saving throws can’t be made against the attack. This one is a bit weird. It’s not terrible, but to really get value out of it you need it on a weapon with at least AP-3 and ideally AP-4. Unfortunately, there just aren’t any AP-4 options for your characters, so the utility of this is limited by the fact that an AP-3 weapon swinging at a Terminator is going to drop to AP-2 with Armour of Contempt and as a result won’t even get them on their invulnerable save. Likewise, Knights often don’t have invulns in melee to begin with, so the number of targets this is really helping you against is relatively small. Its best value is going to be when you’re fighting Harlequins, but you’re better off shooting those. C+
  • Tha’aris and Rhi’ol, the Rapacious – SLAANESH model only. Upgrades two or more melee weapons, so you need something like a sword + talon or a pair of Lightning claws to use this. Anyways, take this and every time you fight, you can make D3 additional attacks with each of those weapons. This combines well with Flames of Spite to fish for more mortal wounds, and does its best work on either a Daemon Prince with sword + claw or a lightning claws Chaos Lord in Terminator Armour, though only the former is really worth taking.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Legions of Chaos

Space Marines have Chapters, Chaos Space Marines have Legions. There are 9 original traitor legions, three of which – Death Guard, Thousand Sons, and soon, World Eaters – have their own codexes (and their own Start Competing articles). The remaining 7 are covered in Codex: Chaos Space Marines, along with two additional Legions, the Red Corsairs and Creations of Bile. 

There’s a ton of ground to cover, so rather than try and put it all in one article, we’ve chosen to put each legion and subfaction into its own section. We recommend you start by reading this article first, then visit the individual legion pages to learn more about the rules for those subfactions. 

  • Alpha Legion
  • Black Legion
  • Creations of Bile
  • Emperor’s Children
  • Iron Warriors
  • Night Lords
  • Red Corsairs
  • Word Bearers
  • World Eaters

If you’re looking for the legions with their own codexes, you can find those here:

Secondary Objectives

The Warzone Nephilim GT Missions pack introduced an entirely new set of secondary objectives for the game’s factions, moving them out of codexes and into the pack and allowing players to take up to three objectives from their faction set, dramatically increasing their importance in competitive play.

That’s bad news for Chaos Space Marines, because the faction’s secondaries are, unfortunately, pretty bad. We’re only going to cover the non-legion specific ones here but most of the legion ones are also pretty bad, filled with a large number of Shadow Operations picks that aren’t as good as Raise the Banners High. 

Purge the Enemy: Rise to Glory

At the end of the battle round, score 2 VP for each Character, Monter, or Vehicle model destroyed that round by a Traitoris Astartes Character from your army. If that target had 10-19 wounds, score an extra VP, and 2 extra VP if it had 20+ wounds or was the enemy Warlord. You can score a max of 5 VP per round from this objective. Each time this happens, roll 2D6, and if you roll under the wounds characteristic of the dead model, you get +1 Command Point. 

This is probably the best of the Chaos Space Marine secondary objectives and even at its best it’s just so-so. Its value is largely tied to your characters, your ability to keep them alive, and their ability to destroy enemy units in melee. Your biggest obstacle for scoring this objective is that you have a very limited number of characters in your army to do this with – 3 HQs, possibly Abaddon, and however many Masters of Execution you’re going to take. One of those is probably a Master of Possession, and you won’t be fighting with him, which leaves at most 2-4 characters to work with. Only melee kills count, and against the armies that offer you lots of said juicy targets, you’ll often have Bring it Down or Assassination to turn to instead.

This objective works best with armies that carry Abaddon, a Daemon Prince, and a Lord Discordant and/or Master of Execution, and have several characters that can really get into combat and tear up some targets, and an opponent who has a mix of characters and vehicle/monster units, but not enough of either to make it worth taking Bring it Down or Assassination, making it likely you can pull 10+ off this. That’s pretty narrow, but that’s the only circumstance that can make this worth taking. It’s otherwise a bit too easy for an opponent to keep away from your characters to deny you VP otherwise – even though Abaddon is a beater, he’s only an infantry model with a 6” move, and a clever opponent can keep away from him, or throw their model away against a non-character target if they have to. Realistically, you almost always have other, better options than this.

No Mercy, No Respite: The Long War

At the end of your turn, score 1 VP for each enemy unit that was destroyed by a TRAITORIS ASTARTES unit from your army this turn and was within range of an objective marker at the start of this turn. Score 2 VP if you control any objective markers that were controlled by your opponent at the start of the turn and a TRAITORIS ASTARTES unit from your army is within range of any of those objective markers. You can score a maximum of 3 VP per turn from this secondary objective.

On its surface this objective seems pretty solid, but once you start playing with it you quickly realize that scoring it is contingent on letting your opponent take objectives so you can kill them off those objectives or take them. That’s not something you actually want to do most games – you want to be sitting on and controlling those objectives when your turn starts so you can score primary points. At best, this objective is solid to have if you’re playing from behind or going second, but neither of those is something you should count on.

Shadow Operations: For the Dark Gods

If you pick this, keep a Dark Gods tally and add 1 each time you do the secondary action. The action is one that an INFANTRY or BIKER unit can attempt at the end of your movement phase if it’s wholly within a table quarter that hasn’t been dedicated yet and is within 3” of the center of that table quarter. If this unit has ObSec the action completes at the end of turn, otherwise it’s completed at the start of your next Command phase. Each time you complete this action pick one of the Chaos gods to dedicate the table quarter to (if the unit is marked they have to pick their mark god). While a unit is in a table quarter dedicated to a chaos god, they get +2 Ld unless they have a god mark other than the one you picked. 

At the end of the game you score 2 VP if your tally is 1, 5 if it’s 2, 9 if it’s 3, and 14 if it’s 4.

On its surface this seems like a relatively easy 5 points and on some missions it is but getting 9 seems like a best-case scenario most of the time. And that’s before you remember that oh yeah, Raise the banners is typically an easy 10+ points. There’s typically no reason to take this over Banners or even Retrieve Nephilim Data. The one exception is when you really want to take an action secondary in a matchup like Abandoned Sanctuaries against Harlequins, where none of the other actions make any sense.

Black Templars vs. Night Lords. Credit: SRM and Sam Duguin


In this section we’ll be talking about the units that make up the Chaos Space Marine army. We’ll be skipping over the special named characters, as we’ll be covering those in their relevant legion sections, with the exception of Abaddon, who we’ll mention here because he’s much more than a fixture in Black Legion armies. Also note that the goal here isn’t to provide a comprehensive listing of every unit; we’ll be glossing over those that are so terrible they don’t really merit consideration in a competitive list. Fortunately for us, there are very few Chaos Space Marine units in that category.


An area where the Chaos Space Marines army really shines is in the HQ slot, where it has a number of strong choices that can be built into real melee blenders. This is kind of a double-edged sword however, as it means Chaos Space Marines armies are light on characters in the Elites slot, and so taking more than 3 will often mean having two detachments, something you don’t want to do. The competition here is very fierce, particularly as you figure out how you’re going to fit in the psykers you need.

Abaddon the Despoiler

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Abaddon was strong enough in his 8th edition form; in 9th he’s an entirely new type of terror, an extremely difficult-to-kill murder machine that can help buff units in any Chaos army, not just large blobs of Cultists. While we’ll cover Abaddon’s impact on Black Legion armies in the legion article for them (spoiler: He’s a must-take), when Abaddon is your Warlord (and he must be if you include him), then he gains the AGENT OF CHAOS keyword, allowing you to mix him with other legions and armies in the Supreme Command Detachment. Note that due to the old wording in their codices, Death Guard and Thousand Sons lose access to their mono-faction Contagion and Cabal rules when Abaddon tags along. 

Abaddon’s got the benefit of all four marks of Chaos, plus a 4+ invulnerable save and he can’t take more than 3 wounds per phase. Add this to a 2+ save and Armour of Contempt and you’ve got a model that is stupid hard to kill. And that’s good because he’s perfectly capable of acting alone, walking across the table and murdering things with Drach’nyen, a S9, AP-4, 3-damage blade that does an extra D3 mortals every time it rolls a 6 to wound. He can kill pretty much anything in the game in melee, and if you can avoid getting shot he can be near-impossible to remove once he’s dug in, especially if you can heal him with something like Pact of Flesh.

Abaddon comes with three Warlord Traits, most of which make him nastier in melee if he’s not boosting Black Legion units, and his Despoiler aura gives nearby CHAOS CORE units +1 to charges and re-roll hit rolls of 1. This makes him an effective pair with any melee unit but also great when paired with Chaos Knights – the “Dog Walker” list is the result here, where Abaddon accompanies a large number of War Dogs, giving them re-rolls to hit and sending them off with +1 to their charge rolls.

If there’s a downside to Abaddon, it’s that he’s a single model with a 6” move, and as such isn’t particularly mobile himself, especially when compared to many of the other melee threats in the army. As a melee monster himself, he’s good but not so good that he belongs in every list – you may often find, as most Emperor’s Children and Creations of Bile players have – that he’s more superfluous. Though as far as units go, Abaddon is still one of the game’s best individual units, and worth the cost. The only question is whether your army needs him as part of its gameplan.

Chaos Lord (and Terminator Variant)

Credit: Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms

The-bog standard leaders of the Chaos Space Marine army used to be relatively versatile fighters you might consider, but have gotten crowded out by all of the options in the new codex… and he really, really suffers from the loss of the jump pack option. He comes with a Thunder Hammer and a plasma pistol by default and has no real value aside from being the cheapest possible way to get a re-roll 1s to hit aura for your <LEGION> CORE units. He’s not worth taking, and it’s a shame they managed to make the standard army leader one of the most boring models in the book. 

Daemon Prince

Nurgle Daemon Prince
Nurgle Daemon Prince – Credit: RichyP

The Daemon Prince is more of a utility piece than a beaststick. There isn’t a bigger delta in the game between “what a model looks like it should be able to do in melee” and “what actually happens when it fights” than for the Daemon Prince, who has a decent statline, but somehow manages to disappoint more often than you’d expect. In addition to having a decent statline with 6 attacks, the Daemon Prince must take a Mark of Chaos for one of the four Chaos Gods, giving him +1 Strength and attack if you Khorne or making him a Psyker if you take one of the others. 

From a durability standpoint, Daemon Princes are… OK. Toughness 6 isn’t amazing and having a 4+ invulnerable save against shooting is helpful but 5+ against melee much less so. You generally want to protect your Daemon Prince with Look Out, Sir until it’s time for him to fight.

Ultimately the Daemon Prince has two key uses in a Chaos Space Marines army:

  1. Being a melee combattant. This is typically done by giving him the Mark of Nurgle and G’Holl’Ax, the Decayed, which significantly improves his melee prowess by letting him bypass the wound roll, ensuring he’ll typically dump out 6-7 hits per combat that autowound and hit at AP-3, 3 damage each. 
  2. Being a second caster with a single cast. He’s often the perfect caster for Psychic Interrogation or Warp Ritual, as giving up his cast is a lot less of a problem than giving up two or three casts with the Master of Possession. 

These two combine to basically let the Daemon Prince pull double duty in your army, and make him an efficient add as one of your three HQ options. You’ll typically want to give him wings in order to improve his threat range and give him the ability to get around terrain and jump over screens.

Sorcerer (and Terminator Variant)

Terminator Sorcerer. Credits: That Gobbo

Sorcerers have fallen out of vogue in the 9th edition codex, in part because the Dark Hereticus discipline they draw from just doesn’t bring much to the table any more now that Warptime was nerfed. On top of that, Legionary squads being able to take psykers means they can often fill in similar gaps, and that means that Sorcerers are really only as good as your need to cast powers 4-6 from the Dark Hereticus tree. Which is to say, not very high.

Sorcerers have some value but ultimately just don’t make the cut when placed next to the far superior Master of Possession, the more versatile Daemon Prince, or the more useful Dark Apostle. The Terminator variants are a bit more durable and better at fighting thanks to being able to take a Force Axe (again, options in the new book leave much to be desired), and have a bit more casting utility thanks to the Chaos Familiar giving them a single re-roll to cast per game. 

Master of Possession

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Master of Possession is possibly the most important unit in the Chaos Space Marine army, in the short list of units that pretty much go in every single army. And that’s mostly due to the fact that the Malefic Discipline is just really, really good. Specifically, there are 4 powers that are eminently playable in the mix, with two that you want to build around – Pact of Flesh and Cursed Earth, specifically. Pact of Flesh is a reliable way to recur and heal bully units like Possessed and Black Rune Terminators, while Cursed Earth keeps your Possessed on the table and makes them harder to charge. Mutated Invigoration can also be huge for buffing T4 units to T5, and Warp Marked can help delete key units off the table. Add to this the bonus power from giving your Master a mark of chaos and you’ve got an engine for buffing units from 18” away, giving him huge reach. 

All of this combines to make the Master of Possession one of the army’s key units, and at a relatively cheap cost he’s a mainstay in most lists. He works well with pretty much all of the units you want in the army, from Terminators to Chosen to Possessed, and he’s good enough to elevate some of the army’s more borderline units, like Obliterators and Land Raiders (giving a Land Raider T10 with Mutated Invigoration is pretty funny).

As an added bonus, this model is a WARP LOCUS, so he can drop in any Daemon codex units that have tagged along a mere 6” from the enemy. Flamers and Bloodletters love getting close to the enemy, but do note he is restricted to Warp Locus-ing units from the same God if he is anything besides Undivided.

Dark Apostle

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Dark Apostles introduce a non-Psyker way to buff your units and an answer to Space Marines’ Chaplains. Each comes with a solid, if not amazing melee profile, brandishing an Accursed Crozius for 5 attacks at AP-1 and 2 damage, plus two goober attendants with Cultist profiles. Where the Apostle’s value really lies is in the ability to chant a prayer – each Command phase the Apostle can chant one prayer he knows, and will do so on a 3+, or a 2+ if one of his goobers is still alive.

By default, a Dark Apostle knows Dark Zealotry, which lets <LEGION> CORE/CULTIST/CHARACTER units within 6” re-roll hit rolls in melee. They get another prayer on top of that, plus an additional free one for their god if you give them a mark of Chaos. The god prayers are all pretty solid, though Blissful Devotion – which gives a SLAANESH CORE or CHARACTER unit within 6” the ability to advance and charge – is the clear winner of them for its ability to push units like the Lord Discordant into a turn 1 charge. On the more generic side buffs tend to be more useful than debuffs, and Benediction of Darkness and Illusory Supplication are both solid, with the latter being extremely useful for keeping your black rune Terminator brick on the table. Warp-sight Plea is also great for taking out key targets, especially if you’re going after them with AP0 weapons like the combi-bolters on bikers and terminators.

The Dark Apostle is a solid include in a number of lists, but can struggle to find a place in your lists if you’ve gone heavier on Daemonkin than Core units. They’re particularly good in Word Bearers, where the legion has more tricks and abilities to make them more worthwhile, and a secondary objective that they can accomplish.


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Warpsmiths are essentially the Techmarines of the Chaos Space Marine faction. They have a few interesting tricks, such as the ability to heal a vehicle for D3 wounds or give a <LEGION> vehicle +1 to hit on ranged attacks. The latter ability is a pretty cool plus, and can give you some real value on the likes of a Decimator, Leviathan, or Land Raider. On top of all this, the Warpsmith comes with a flamer, a melta pistol, and either a 2-damage power axe or a thunder hammer. They’re OK in melee, but not good enough to be a real threat. Unfortunately, as an HQ character there’s almost no way they see play over your other HQ options, making them a casualty of the limited number of HQ slots you can field. The one exception is in Iron Warriors, as they have some great buffs for him and are heavily incentivized to surround him with units that he can support.

Lord Discordant

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Lord Discordant has been one of the best units in the army since it was first released in late 8th edition, almost entirely on the back of being a melee monster. The Lord Discordant is an absolute blender in melee, coming with 6 attacks base that hit at S6, AP-3, 2 damage but with +1 to wound on the charge, plus another 8 attacks from the Helstalker and his tendrils. On top of that you can give him a Techn-virus injector (do this), to give him +1 damage against VEHICLE units. This volume – 10 attacks total – makes him an excellent target for the Flames of Spite Warlord Trait, and his Chainglaive is an excellent target for daemon weapons like Ul’o’cca or G’holl’ax. His 12” move gives him a ton of mobility, and as soon as you give him the ability to Advance and charge he can cover insane amounts of ground and even attempt turn 1 charges if you want to play hyper-aggressively. These days the baleflamer is the clear move for the Lord Discordant, and getting D6+2 hits is just better than anything the Helstalker autocannon has to offer. 

To the Disco Lord’s detriment, he’s no longer the force multiplier he used to be: His previous +1 to hit aura has been replaced with the ability to give a single <LEGION> VEHICLE +1 to hit in melee for a round, or alternately he can curse a vehicle, hitting an enemy vehicle for a few mortal wounds. This latter ability is pretty solid against larger vehicles where you’re more likely to get close to the 6-wound cap.

On the whole, the Lord Discordant is still one of the army’s best units, and has gotten better thanks to now being 9 wounds and protectable with Look Out, Sir. He’s great as a front line threat and able to charge in and take out key targets, punching up. There are a bunch of different ways to kit him out depending on how killy vs. durable you want him to be, and there are plenty of different ways to use him in-game. He’s really a unit you can fit into most lists.


Cypher - one of the Fallen Angels
Photo Credit – Musterkrux

Cypher is an interesting unit. He’s always got the AGENT OF CHAOS keyword, and if your army includes any CHAOS LORD models (which includes the likes of Abaddon, Lucius, Haarken, and Huron Blackheart, he can be included in a detachment without taking up a slot. On the table Cypher is not really a huge threat – he’s got a pair of pistols that combine for 9 shots, including 3 at S8 AP-3 2 damage, plus he can shoot after Advancing or Falling back. But his real value is his Agent of Discord ability, which lets you roll a D6 any time your opponent would gain extra CP or get them refunded; on a 4+ they don’t get the CP. This can throw a real wrench into your opponent’s plans, and against some armies can make a big difference. Otherwise, Psyker has a 4+ invulnerable save and can only be hit on a 4+, but his real value is just being on the table. That said he’s perfectly capable of raising banners, and that’s half his value in some of the Chaos Knights lists he showed up in alongside Abaddon.

Exalted Champion

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Based strictly on the old Aspiring Champion plastic model from the 7th edition version of the Dark Vengeance starter kit, the Exalted Champion comes with an exalted power axe, a combi-melta, and an aura to re-roll wound rolls of 1 for nearby units, making him more like the space marine Lieutenants he resembles. He’s not a particularly strong fighter in melee, and his axe, while solid at 2 damage, isn’t good enough to really make him worth it. Again, another unit that’s just OK but lacks the raw power to make your list.

Dark Commune

New to the 9th edition codex is the Dark Commune, a collection of five Cultist weirdos who act as the kind of regular human leadership in a Chaos Space Marines army. These guys come with several abilities packed into one: The Mindwitch gives them a Psyker for a single Deny/Cast attempt, the Demagogue gives them a miniature Dark Apostle, and the Iconarch gives them an aura to give Cultists the ability to re-roll hits of 1. On the whole these guys are interesting but as a T3, 6+ save unit missing Armour of Contempt they’re incredibly easy to kill if they get caught out of position. 

The main issue with the Dark Commune is that as a Cultist unit, it’s locked out of the best Prayers and Dark Hereticus powers. There’s some alternate universe where these guys are part of a Cultist-only themed army or Army of Renown and work well as combo casters/apostles, but the current rules really don’t allow for that, forcing you to have marines for every unit of Cultists. 

Other Choices

We talk about the special characters in their relevant legion articles:


Chaos Space Marines have four options at the Troops slot and they’ve all got some value, ranging largely from “utility” with Legionaries to “being dirt cheap” with Cultist Mobs.


Night Lords Chaos Space Marines – Credit: RichyP

This is your option for bog-standard Chaos Space Marines, though thanks to Kill Team: Nachmund, they now have a ton of options and ways to be kitted out that make Legionaries useful includes in a Chaos Space Marines army.  While they’re not the most efficient units in the codex, they definitely have some real play depending on your Legion and playstyle.

Legionaries come in units of 5 models and come with bolt pistol and boltgun, plus 3 attacks and yes, 2 wounds. You’ll almost always want to swap their bolters for chainswords, since having 4 attacks at AP-1 is significantly better than having an AP0 bolter against most of the game’s targets. From there you have a number of options for the unit, mostly based on the kill team upgrade options. The unit can have a heavy weapon or special weapon for every five models, though this typically won’t be worth the cost outside of the odd meltagun here and there. Instead the upgrades you’ll want to focus on are the heavy chainaxe, which gives you a nasty heavy hitter (basically an AP-4 power fist), and the balefire tome, which turns the unit into a PSYKER, with the ability to cast Smite and one of the first three powers in the Dark Hereticus Discipline – Prescience is the best pick of those. If you happen to mark the unit, you can also get the god-themed power for the unit as well. While your Legionary unit can’t Psychic Interrogate or Warp Ritual, this does give you an extra cast and some mortal wounds to throw out on the move, and that can add a lot of casting utility to your army, plus you get an extra deny attempt. 

So how do you want to load these guys out? Well you’ve got a few options, though you’re still probably only taking a single big unit:

  • Psychic Utility. Four guys with chainswords or bolters (it doesn’t really matter), and one with a balefire tome and Prescience. This unit is out there to provide some extra value where needed while Advancing to hold objectives and support other units. You will typically also give this unit the Mark of Slaanesh so it has access to Delightful Agonies.
  • Cheap Melee Trading. Five models with chainswords, the Mark of Khorne, and an Icon. These guys come in at S5 on the charge and AP-2 and if you’re in something like Creations of Bile they get even nastier. 
  • Double Power Fists. Two guys with chainswords, one guy with a heavy chainaxe, one guy with a balefire tome, and the champion has a power fist. This works best in something like Black Legion or Emperor’s Children where you have a way to mitigate the -1 to hit, and there’s reason to consider Diabolic Strength on the caster in a unit if you take two of these. This unit can throw out 7+ S8 2-damage swings per turn and do some real damage to an unsuspecting target.
  • Naked. Five models with bolters or chainswords. No frills, just a more durable place for 10 Obsec wounds that can hold objectives and raise banners. If your legion doesn’t have great passive buffs for Legionaries, you’re probably going this route.

Cultists Mob

Word Bearers Chaos Cultists – Credit: RichyP

Ah, the mighty Chaos Cultist. Scourge of a thousand tables. Recurring tactical nightmare of the Imperium. These guys were so powerful they had to be nerfed not one, not two, but three times over the course of 8th edition. These guys are still pretty dependable in the 9th edition codex, though how they work has fundamentally changed. Cultists come in units of 10-20 models and come with your choice of autopistol and close combat weapon or “cultist firearm,” which is basically a lasgun. 

As a unit, Cultists are fragile and they don’t shoot or fight particularly well. They have insanely low Leadership (6 with a champion), and so will likely lose models any time they take casualties. They aren’t worth spending points to upgrade, and you’ll almost never want to expose them to blast weapons by making them units of 11+. 

And yet, 2-3 units of cultists make their way into almost every Chaos Space Marines army, because at 50 points for the unit of 10, they’re some of the cheapest Objective Secured models in the game. They make wonderful backfield objective holders if they can stay out of line of sight, they raise banners just as well as more expensive units, they make wonderful screens, and they’re garbage enough that shooting them will almost certainly be a waste of bullets for your opponent. And if they survive a round of shooting and morale losses and are close to the edge of the table, you can bring back D3+3 of them with Tide of Traitors to demoralize your opponent. Good stuff.

Cultist Mobs are the perfect unit for filling out a Battalion detachment and many CSM armies run one unit of Legionaries and two units of Cultists. You don’t want these guys anywhere near melee if you can help it so give them cultist firearms instead of close combat weapons. If you really want them to be able to fight you should take Accursed Cultists instead.

Accursed Cultists

Mutant. Credit: Rockfish
Mutant. Credit: Rockfish

A new addition to the 9th edition Codex, Accursed Cultists are basically groups of possessed Cultists and Mutants who trade any kind of ranged firepower for being annoyingly good in melee. A unit of Accursed Cultists comes with 5-10 upgrade Cultist bodies – S4 T4 and 2 attacks each – plus between 3 and 6 Torment models, which are basically 3-wound, T4 Chaos Spawn, though they trade the Spawns’ new regeneration ability for a 6+ feel no pain roll. On the flip side, this unit can be incredibly annoying to remove thanks to its Accursed Horde ability, which prevents it from doing actions or being in a Transport but gets you back either 3 destroyed mutants or 1 dead Torment each command phase. 

At 75 points for the minimum size unit of 5 mutants and 3 torments, the Accursed Cultists unit is bit on the pricier side to just be “cheap slot fillers” when compared to regular cultists (and losing actions is a big blow), but they have the potential to be quite a bit more durable and can act as midtable objective holders (they still have ObSec), with the ability to trade up pretty effectively if they get the drop on someone. There isn’t really a place for them in most armies but there have been some successful lists that run 1-2 units of them when the strategy calls for a more aggressive approach, or one that’s not running Raise the Banners High. You can also run them as 10 mutants with 3 torments, giving them more ablative wounds to recur every turn – the mutants don’t count for morale when they die.

Traitor Guardsmen

Credit: genola

A unit of Traitor Guardsmen gives you 10 models at a cost of 60 points, with all but the Sergeant’s weapon options being free upgrades. These are WS/BS 4+, S/T 3 models with a 5+ save, marking them as slightly more durable than standard Cultists. They come with lasguns, but up to three models can replace theirs with a special weapon, though you can’t double up on these. Most of the time you’re going to drop a meltagun and a plasma gun in the squad, plus your preference of flamer/grenade launcher/sniper rifle on the third guardsman. You can also give one a Vox-Caster for free, in which case they count as being in range of a Traitor Enforcer (see Elites) if they’re within 24”, though again this isn’t super important. You can upgrade the Traitor Sergeant to have a plasma pistol and a power sword at a cost of +5 points for either option, neither of which you’re likely to take.

One of the most interesting aspects of Traitor Guardsmen is that they have the CULTISTS keyword, meaning they can be affected by abilities and stratagems that work on Cultists such as the auras of the Dark Apostle and Dark Commune (though note that they can’t be brought back with Tide of Traitors as they are not a CULTIST MOB). They still lack the CORE keyword.

The real value of these units is that you have another cheap ObSec option that sits between Cultists and Chaos Space Marines, with significantly more firepower and durability than the former. At 6/7 Leadership they’re also less likely to flee or kill you on Dread Tests and for 10 points more getting a unit that can actually ruin someone’s day with a meltagun and plasma gun is pretty solid. This gives Chaos Space Marines four solid Troops choices in their games, and that’s pretty cool. 


Chaos Space Marines have a number of interesting Elites choices, most of them specializing in melee combat or mid-range shooting. Similar to HQ, it’s a slot that’s jam-packed with good options and it’s not shocking to see Battalion lists that take six Elites choices.

Master of Executions

Credit: Swiftblade

There are only two characters in the Elites slot for Chaos Space Marines, and the Master of Executions is one of them. And at 65 points, this guy is an absolute steal. He comes with 6 attacks base and the Axe of dismemberment, a S7, AP-3, 2 damage weapon that does 2 mortals every time you roll a 6 to hit (and the sequence ends). On top of that he can intervene 6” and re-rolls wound rolls against characters. The Master of Executions is basically designed to be a mortal wounds machine, and pairs well with Hatred Incarnate (+1 attack/strength on the charge, re-roll hits), to let him fish for mortal wounds and get the extra attack, and also with Ul’occ’a, which lets him generate extra mortals on the hit rolls that don’t immediately become two mortal wounds. In Night Lords armies he’ll typically take Night Haunter’s Curse in order to get the free 6 to hit once per turn.

If you’re taking the Master of Executions, chances are you want him to have the Mark of Slaanesh so he can fight first after intervening. This turns him into an especially deadly counter-charge threat, as staying more than 6” away from him is a real challenge. 

Traitor Enforcer

Blackstone Fortress Chaos Ogryn by Craig “MasterSlowPoke” Sniffen

The other character option in the Elites slot for Chaos Space Marines. By himself he clocks in at 45 points and is relatively fragile, with T3, 4 wounds, and a 5+/5++ save. He comes with a power fist and a bolt pistol, and his Forward, for the Dark Gods! Ability helps nearby Traitor Guardsmen units automatically pass Combat Attrition tests, which isn’t particularly valuable given they only come in units of 10. For extra muscle you can add a Traitor Ogryn to the unit for 65 points. The Ogryn is more of a bruiser and can be a legitimate threat, with 5 attacks that hit on a 3+ and a S7, AP-1 2-damage profile, plus an additional claw attack that comes in at S6, AP-2, 3 damage. That’s not a bad profile for what you pay, and if you take an Ogryn, you use its Toughness for attacks against the unit and you have to allocate attacks and mortal wounds to the Ogryn first. 

On the whole, the Enforcer is just OK. The Ogryn’s an interesting beater, but ultimately there’s no shortage of good melee threats in the Elites slot for Chaos Space Marines. The attrition benefit is OK, but given your traitor guardsmen are 7 Ld and only come in units of 10 it’s not super likely you’ll use it in most games.

Chaos Terminator Squad

Night Lords Terminators – Credit: RichyP

Terminators were a big winner in the 9th edition codex, gaining a host of options that make them significantly better than their loyalist counterparts. At base, they offer a 3-wound, 3-attacks, LD10, 2+ save model with Armour of Contempt, but add to that an Accursed Weapon that gives them an additional S5 AP-3 attack and you’ve got a unit that even in its base configuration can do quite a bit of damage and is hard to shift.

Where the real value comes in for Terminators however is in the upgrades and synergies available to them. Specifically, the Black Rune of Damnation, a relic which can be given to the squad champion with the Trophies of the Long War Stratagem. This gives the unit -1 to be wounded by incoming attacks and essentially turns them into an incredibly tough unit capable of bullying enemies off objectives. Though they lack the Objective Secured rule that Scarabs and Blightlords/Deathshrouds get, they have a host of other buffs they can take that make up for this. Generally speaking you want to give your Terminators the Mark of Slaanesh, as the ability to fight first makes them a nightmare to charge and get stuck in with, and the Mark of Nurgle doesn’t stack with the Black Rune. Having the mark of Slaanesh also means they can be blessed with Delightful Agonies, giving them a 5+ feel no pain on top of 2+ save and -1 to wound. 

Most competitive Chaos Space Marine lists pack a single unit of ten Terminators with the Black Rune (though some opt for Chosen instead). This is a unit that can reliably hold the middle of the table with support from a Master of Possession and can brawl with most of the game’s major threats. Typically these units add a number of combi-meltas, power fists, and chainfists in order to maximize their damage output, though your mileage may vary based on how many points you have left. With the way 9th edition games are structured, you need 1-2 units that can reliably work in the middle of the table and bully enemies off objectives and for CSM, Terminators with the Black Rune are that unit. 


Possessed. Credit: Rockfish
Possessed. Credit: Rockfish

Possessed got new models with the 9th edition codex and immediately became superstars in the new book. With 9” movement, S5, T5, 3 Wounds and 5 attacks each (that hit at AP-2, 2 damage each), they’re an absolute wrecking ball of a unit. You’ll find at least one unit of Possessed (and as many as three) in nearly every competitive Chaos Space Marines list, almost always run as units of 5 (this is more than enough to trade up and prevents morale issues). They’re an absolute Nightmare in Creations of Bile, where having 10” movement and the ability to fight on death makes them a scary, mobile threat. In Red Corsairs (or Black Legion using a stratagem to act as Red Corsairs for a turn) and Emperor’s Children they can become extra mobile, with the ability to advance and charge or roll 6+d6” charges. Night Lords players can also have some fun with their extra -1 Leadership aura. 

At T5 and 3 wounds with a 5+ invulnerable save, Possessed have enough durability to weather a bit of shooting, particularly with help from Cursed Earth and Pact of Flesh, but are more valuable as forward combat units that crash into enemy lines early than as midtable objective brawlers. They’re a fast, durable unit that can put out a ton of damage and they’re almost always a problem opponents have to deal with.


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Chosen received a new kit and a massive overhaul in the 9th edition Codex, with a new datasheet that presents them as durable, versatile melee threats. Chosen come with 3 wounds and 3 attacks base, plus a boltgun and an accursed weapon. This essentially makes them the equivalent of Bladeguard Veterans for Chaos Space Marines, except they cost 10 points per model less in exchange for only doing 1 damage with their swords and not having an invuln save. We’ll take that deal every single day.

Chosen come in units of 5-10 and can be given several different weapon options, including combi-weapons and double accursed weapons, though most of the time you’ll be kitting them out for melee, giving them a couple of power fists if you upgrade them at all. If you do manage to kill an enemy unit with your Chosen they get to count as engaged in all three Wanton modes for the rest of the game, which is a fun bonus if they can shoot something to death early but most games won’t matter as they’ll be geared out for melee.

Chosen aren’t an every list type of unit since they compete with the more durable Terminators and the faster Possessed, but they’re great midtable units that have a lot of the same deadliness of terminators at a heavily discounted cost. A unit of 10 Chosen with the Black Rune is also a fine option for some armies, and a large unit of Chosen to work in tandem with a big unit of Terminators can also work very well. At 250 points a 10-model Chosen unit starts to get on the pricey side, but that’s still getting you 30 wounds that you can protect and buff with a variety of effects.


Credit: Gerald Miller

Ah the poor Helbrute. Look how they massacred my boy. Hellbrutes used to have some weird outside play when they had 8” movement as cheap, mobile melee threats but since every 9th edition Codex has dropped them back to 6” movement they’ve become slow vehicles that neither have enough attacks nor enough shooting to be good enough to see play. Their melee hits aren’t hard enough and their shooting is not good enough. They get some marginal play out of being CORE, but there’s nothing they offer that you can’t get better from Contemptors or Decimators.

Hellbrutes come with T7, 8 wounds, and 5 attacks. They come with a missile launcher and twin heavy bolter by default but you will never use this loadout; instead you’ll either opt for full shooting (twin lascannon or multimelta + missile launcher), the midrange hybrid (multimelta + power fist), or the all-melee variant (fist + scourge or double fists), putting the Helbrute at between 105 and 125 points in cost. Which isn’t bad, but it also doesn’t deliver enough for that cost.

If there’s a place Helbrutes have play, it’s in Creations of Bile, where having 7” Movement and S7 base makes them a little bit more deadly and useful, or potentially in Black Legion, where getting +1 to hit can mitigate the downsides of it being a WS/BS 3+ unit. 

The Cult Troops

There are four different units Chaos Space Marine armies can pull from the specialized legions, three of which are in other books/supplements. These are:

  • Plague Marines (Codex: Death Guard)
  • Rubric Marines (Codex: Thousand Sons)
  • Berzerkers (World Eaters, White Dwarf #477)
  • Noise Marines (Emperor’s Children, Codex: Chaos Space Marines)

In any legion but the one they foremost belong to, these units are Elites choices and can never gain a Legion Trait. However, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth taking – to the contrary and as we’ll see, these units can be very powerful in standard Chaos Space Marines armies, though some more than others.

In this section, we’ll discuss using each of these units outside of their parent legions. For more on using them in those legions, see the relevant armies in each Start Competing article on that legion.

Khorne Berzerkers

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Berzerkers used to be one of the strongest melee units in the game, but just aren’t what they used to be since their reintroduction in White Dwarf #477. Sure, they’re nothing to sneeze at – for 22 points per model you get a S5 marine with 5 attacks that hit at AP-2 – but they’re a relatively cheap melee option in an army that’s already full of them. Their big advantage is that they come with the Mark of Khorne already baked into their cost, which makes them cheaper than they look, and means they can swing at S6 on the charge with AP-3 if you give them an Icon (or, if you boost their strength with Mutated Invigoration, S7). But ultimately you have to really ask if these guys are better than Chosen, who at 3 points more hit at higher AP and come with an extra wound and get your Legion Trait.

That said, Berzerkers aren’t bad, either – just eclipsed by other units. A rhino full of berzerkers will do some serious work, and even a unit of 5 has a real chance of trading up when it throws out 26 Attacks. If you’re taking a unit, you should absolutely give them an icon, and you may as well give them plasma pistols as the only upgrade you can take on them. They really need a Rhino, Dreadclaw, or other transport to get them to the fight, but they can be properly annoying to handle and they’re great for going up against tougher units with damage reduction. 

Noise Marines

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Noise Marines are the Slaanesh-devoted Elite unit in the Chaos Codex, armed with a fun host of stellar abilities and some of the better shooting weapons in the game. Noise marines come default with a bolter but can swap that out for either a Chainsword or Sonic Blaster, and one model in the unit can take a Blastmaster instead. Sonic Blasters are decent, offering Assault 3, S4, AP-1 sonic weapons that do +1 damage at half range. But the real value is the Blastmaster, which can pick between a 48” Heavy 3 S8, AP-3 3-damage mode (which ups to 4 damage at <24”) or a 36” Assault 6 S5 Ap-2 1-damage model (which ups to 2 at 18’), either of which are very nasty. The champion can have a flamer-esque doom siren (S5 AP-3 1-damage sonic weapon) to top things off. 

Noise Marines don’t see much play outside of Emperor’s Children, where they really enjoy being Troops and getting the Legion Trait to ignore modifiers to hit which offsets their Heavy penalty. In those armies they’re typically taken as units of 5 with a Blastmaster and chainswords on the rest, or potentially a power fist on the champion. They can be solid mid-range support in other armies, though many armies may find Havocs are a better play thanks to the legion trait. That said, a unit of 5 noise marine with sonic blasters and a blastmaster isn’t a bad unit to have for mid-range fire support in more casual environments.

Rubric Marines

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Animated suits of armor stolen from the Thousand Sons, Rubric Marines pack a mean punch thanks to their AP-2 ranged weapons and come with a Psyker who can toss out mortal wounds. In Chaos Space Marine armies the Psyker trades out his non-smite power for something from the Dark Hereticus Discipline – this will almost always be Warptime, since the caster’s unit is the perfect target for a second move that doesn’t allow charging – plus they get the Skeins of Fate power. 

Unlike the other three cult units, Rubric Marines have real play in Chaos Space Marine lists outside of their parent legion, owing to the fact that their casting ability is decent and that they can tall take Warpflamers (with a Warpflame pistol on the champion). This means that they can benefit from Let the Galaxy Burn to get +2 shots each, giving a unit of five models 5D6+10 shots whenever they light up an enemy unit. This is pretty good, if not quite as good as say, Flamers of Tzeentch, but comes at a very reasonable points cost and on a unit that can be pretty damn durable when you factor in All is Dust and the ability to shrug off a single failed save per turn – just remember that they lose the 5+ invulnerable save. Also note that taking an Icon does not give them the ICON keyword, so they won’t get that wonderful AP boost, sadly. You’ll also have to pay the 15 points to give them the Mark of Tzeentch, but it’s worth it for the unit.

If you’re taking a unit of these, it’s for the warpflamers, either in 5 or 10, depending on how you want to use them. Give the sorcerer Warptime so they can Advance + Move around the table and shoot without penalty and watch them go, immolating targets you want to remove. This is a unit that can absolutely trade up, and loves to use Veterans of the Long War to take down bigger targets.

Plague Marines

The Nurgle-dedicated troops of the Death Guard, Plague Marines have a host of options that make them durable, but very slow, melee threats. Plague Marines come with T5 and Disgustingly Resilient, reducing the damage they take by 1. Similar to Thousand Sons, they don’t come with a mark baked-in, so you have to spend the 15 points to upgrade them, but this actually makes them (hilariously) even more resilient, making them T5 with -1 to wound on incoming attacks that are S5 or S10+. 

In a non-Death Guard army Plague Marines lose Inexorable Advance, making them susceptible to difficult terrain and movement modifiers. As a unit their best value is loading them up with melee wargear like the cleaver and flail so they can do a bunch of high-damage wounds to opponents, but this just makes them a very slow melee unit in an army that is already flush with melee options that move faster and hit harder. You can also give them more shooting options with special weapons and a blight launcher in a 5-model unit, but these are just OK and again, the unit is pretty slow and not really more durable than a unit of Chosen. 

As a result Plague Marines don’t really have a place in most competitive CSM lists. If you’re trying to make them work, consider large units as a replacement for large units of Chosen, where you trade off the extra wound for the toughness boost and damage reduction. Where they become hilarious is in an Iron Warriors list, as they can stack Dour Duty with their innate -1 Damage to have 2 sources of -1 Damage, meaning it takes two 3-damage thunder hammer wounds to kill a single Plague Marine. 

Decimator (FW)

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Decimator is a unit that’s managed to stick around in some competitive lists despite losing its access to easy re-rolls and the ability to push out tons of extra hits with modified hit rolls. The Decimator has a bunch of different weapon options but the main one  that is really worth considering for competitive play is the pair of Soulburner Petards. Each one throws out 2D3 shots and every hit generates a mortal wound on a wound roll of 2+, meaning that on average a Decimator will toss out 8 shots, score 6-8 hits depending on bonuses to hit and your Wanton, and turn those into 6ish mortal wounds. Decimators have more value when you can boost their odds of hitting, which is easier in Black Legion but can be accomplished with the Daemonforge Stratagem as well. On the whole, the ability to toss out mortal wounds at 24” is pretty solid, and Decimators offer that on a fairly durable platform.

The other fun option is giving them a pair of claws and hellflamers. Their hellflamers benefit from the Let The Galaxy Burn, meaning you’re throwing out 4+2d6 S5 AP1 D2 autohits every turn. 

Chaos Contemptor Dreadnought (FW)

Word Bearers Contemptor Dreadnought – Credit: RichyP

Chaos Contemptors have been up and down for most of 9th edition, waxing and waning as the ways to buff them have come and gone. With the 9th edition codex release they’ve become significantly more useful, owing to the fact that they have the CORE keyword and now get legion traits to take advantage of, but at the same time they see almost no use, because they’re an Elites option that doesn’t offer better shooting than the Decimator nor better melee than one of the myriad other options in the book, and that’s without costing you 1 CP to field.

Ultimately Contemptors are going to do their best work in the Black Legion, where Abaddon can give them full re-rolls to go with their +1 to hit against the closest eligible target. From a loadout standpoint they’re best equipped with double twin volkites, where you can bypass the Armour of Contempt issue by just going AP0 and fishing for mortal wounds. You also want to give one a Cyclone missile launcher if you’re taking one to maximize its output. 

Chaos Deredeo Dreadnought (FW)

The Deredeo is the shooter cousin of the Contemptor, but lacks the CORE keyword and the ability to take melee weapons. It’s more a novelty than anything you’d want to take in competitive play, in part because its weapons aren’t really worth the cost – they just don’t have enough shots nor do the shots they have hit hard enough to matter, passed by in an edition that has become increasingly deadly. If you’re taking one, the Vokite battery is probably the best pick, supplemented by an Aiolos missile launcher. 

Chaos Leviathan Dreadnought (FW)

Hellforged Leviathan Dreadnought
Hellforged Leviathan Dreadnought. Credits: That Gobbo

The mighty Leviathan offers a 2+ save over its Contemptor-bodied brethren, but still comes with the 1 CP cost and the challenge of being a unit that neither shoots nor fights well enough to be worth its cost. If you’re taking one, going double Grav with volkite chest guns is probably the play, but be warned that your dreadnought is super vulnerable to charges since it’s depending on double blast weapons. You’ll want to prevent these charges by making sure it’s got a proper screen. These are also much more powerful in Black Legion or Iron Warriors, as they really love +1 to Hit since they can’t get rerolls or access to a stratagem to fire their Blast weapons into combat. 


Fast Attack

The Chaos Space Marine Fast Attack options are limited, but there are some good options in there, especially when you factor in the Dreadclaw Drop Pod from the Imperial Armour Compendium.

Chaos Bikers

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Fast, tough, and thanks to Malicious Volleys able to push out a crazy number of bolter shots, Chaos Bikers can make a great addition to an army as a mobile fire base capable of putting out heavy volumes of mid-range, mid-strength shooting. AP 0 isn’t great, and means that you typically don’t want them trying to weight-of-fire big vehicle targets, but AP0 is often as good as AP-1 these days with Armour of Contempt in the mix. With 3 attacks and the ability to take chainswords plus the CORE keyword, Chaos Bikers are an alternative to Terminators and Chosen, albeit with more speed – and with the ability to move 14” they’re a real threat for early charges. Bikers are at their best in Creations of Bile, where being  S5 and fighting on death makes them an incredible harassment unit, but they can be relatively scary in any one of Red Corsairs/Black Legion/Creations Of Bile or with the Mark Of Slaanesh, where the ability to Advance and Charge gives them easy turn 1 charges off a 20” move. 


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Raptors are the jump infantry of the Chaos Space Marines army. They come with 3 attacks and chainswords, plus a -1 Leadership aura. As a mele threat, Raptors are OK. They can take a mark of chaos but no icon, which limits their effectiveness and means you’re either leaving them unmarked or taking Khorne/Slaanesh. Because they have no weapon options to get higher AP or more attacks, Raptors do their best work in Creations of Bile lists, where the +1 Strength and Movement gives them a lot more value, or in Black Legion lists that run Haarken, where you can get full re-rolls to hit for the unit. Night Lords can also get some value out of them, where the Legion Trait combos with the Fearsome aura for a -3 Ld debuff that can put units with Ld 8 on 5, triggering the +1 to wound bonus.

Raptors generally show up as 5-man squads in Creations of Bile when they see competitive play, showing up as small squads that can do actions and annoy opponents.

Warp Talons

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Warp Talons are daemonic versions of Raptors, boasting a pair of Warp claws (lightning claws), plus a 5+ invulnerable save and ability to trap opponents and keep them from falling back if you win a roll off (50/50 odds). At 5 attacks each (6 for the champion), Warp Talons boast damage output on par with Berzerkers but lack the ability to take a mark of chaos and instead must get by on the raw power of their datasheet. As a fast melee option they don’t hit as hard as Possessed, aren’t quite as fast and durable as bikes, and aren’t as cheap as Raptors, making them more of a finesse unit than a brawler.. In Emperor’s Children they can roll a 6+d6” charge out of deep strike, which significantly increases their effectiveness. In Creations of Bile they trade more on having S5 attacks, which lets them punch up against heavier targets where you can use Veterans of the Long War and their inbuilt re-rolls to wound to wound T6-9 targets 75% of the time.

If you’re taking Warp Talons, the ideal method is a five-model squad that starts on the board and can harass and tie up key enemy units and trade up against potentially nastier targets. They’re liable to start dying quickly when they get hit back, so make your first attack count.

Chaos Spawn

Credit: PierretheMime

Chaos Spawn are cheap, quick, and surprisingly resilient for their cost. Their primary function is to threaten objectives, screen, and annoy. Although they’ll often disappoint you in melee with their 4+ to hit, they can surprise and their big value in Codex: Chaos Space Marines is that they heal back to full health each time an enemy unit shoots or fights them but doesn’t kill them. This can make them a surprising chore for small units to deal with. Add in that they’re T5 and 4 wounds each and you’ve got a unit that’s great for dumping your last 25 points into. Units of 1 are fine but units of 3 (if you can spare the points) bring some extra value for being able to score on Engage on All Fronts. Most of the time a Spawn is an added unit that eats up your last 25 points, though.


Word Bearers Venomcrawler
Word Bearers Venomcrawler. Credit: Jeff Scarisbrick

The Venomcrawler got moved to Fast Attack in the 9th edition codex, gaining a 12” move characteristic in the process. This li’l daemon engine comes with S/T 7, 9 wounds, and 6 attacks base, and a solid damage profile, both ranged with its pair of 2-damage excruciator cannons, and in melee. It’s not amazing but it’s very solid, but the reason it makes lists so often is that extra little aura: Friendly <LEGION> PSYKER units within 9” get +1 to cast. So as long as this guy is scuttling around the field on early turns, you get a sweet little cast bonus on your Master of Possession that helps him get out key spells. The net result is a unit that’s just good enough to see play, and often will, sometimes as a 2-of or 3-of, depending on the list. They’re solid little engines, able to move up the table quickly and take on weaker targets. 

Blood Slaughterer of Khorne (FW)

The Blood Slaughterer is a moderately fast melee vehicle with moderate melee output. It doesn’t have a particularly impressive damage profile but it can be useful in Red Corsairs, where it gains the ability to Advance and charge after moving 16”. You’ve got better, cheaper options, though.

Dreadclaw Drop Pod (FW)

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The only small drop pod the Chaos Marines have access to. The Imperial Armour Compendium updated these to be 115 points and be able to arrive on the battlefield turn 1. With the most recent FAQ updates, the passengers can now get out of them the turn they arrive on the table. This is a huge upgrade in value for Dreadclaws, which now give you a relatively inexpensive way to put your units in reserves and drop them on the table turn 1. It’s particularly valuable in Emperor’s Children, where you can almost guarantee a charge out of deep strike with Honour The Prince, but there are plenty of other units you might want to put forward, like Havocs, Noise Marines, or Obliterators.

Once your unit gets out, the Dreadclaw can still be a menace in its own right. It’s not the best melee fighter, but it can do mortal wounds on the flyover and its blade struts are surprisingly nasty in melee. Unlike a regular drop pod, the Dreadclaw needs to be dealt with after it lands. 

Heavy Support

Chaos Space Marine tend to lack good long-range shooting, but they have a number of solid Heavy Support choices, both in terms of options for quality mid-range shooting and strong melee-focused daemon engines.


World Eaters Heavy Gunner. Credit: Jack Hunter

Havocs made a splash on their initial release but have struggled to find a spot in Chaos Space Marine armies, primarily because their weapon options leave a bit to be desired – Heavy Bolters, Autocannons, and Reaper Chaincannons are just all kind of meh, while Missile Launchers and Lascannons are a bit too variable to depend on. That said, there have been some successful lists that take them, in part because 4 lascannons can be enough to generate the results you need in a pinch. Havocs work best in Black Legion (+1 to hit against closest eligible target), and Iron Warriors (ignore cover), and have some play in Emperor’s Children, though in that case you’ll take Blastmasters instead. 

They’re a great target for re-rolls to hit and the Prescience Psychic power.


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Still harder to get than you’d like, Obliterators are tough, versatile fire support on units that can absolutely also dish out a beating in melee. Whether teleporting in or walking up the table, they can reliably put out some solid shots, though they’re much more effective against smaller targets where their Warp Hail firing mode (D6+9 shots) can let them casually wipe units off the table than they are when it comes to firing heavier modes, though even their focused shots throwing out D3 S9 Ap-3 4 damage shots each are nothing to sneeze at. Overall Obliterators are very good but not amazing and just don’t really make the cut in most competitive lists, particularly because you can just punch things to death and in part because they’re slow and expensive. 

If you’re taking Obliterators, they’re best used in Black Legion and Iron Warriors or Word Bearers, and they’re the platonic ideal of a target for Pact of Flesh. If you happen to have them in an Emperor’s Children list, they also get the Slaanesh keyword, and become a solid target for Delightful Agonies. They also enjoy the mortal wound protection that Word Bearers or Iron Warriors can bring.  


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The poor, unloved Defiler is yet another of the Chaos Space Marines’ many “in-between” units, vehicles that can do both shooting and melee, but aren’t quite good enough at either to be worth taking for that alone and which charge you for both in the points cost. The Defiler has some nasty melee attacks with its claws, hitting at S16 and D6 damage, but only has 5 attacks, plus another 3 with its 2-damage scourge. This means it’ll usually disappoint you in melee, and can’t reliably take out most targets unless you get pretty lucky with your hit/wound/damage rolls. On the other side it comes with a Defiler Cannon, which puts out D6 S8 AP-2 3-damage Blast shots, plus some other gun. This isn’t bad, but having a gun with Blast means that while the Defiler is in melee, a thing it is ostensibly here for, it can’t shoot. 


On the whole defilers are frustrating. They aren’t terrible, but you’re paying for them to be OK at two things and in reality you’d just prefer it if they were better at one. But if you made a Defiler much better at one of those two things for cheaper, you just end up with Forgefiends and Maulerfiends. Speaking of which…


A purely melee-focused daemon engine, the Maulerfiend offers a fast (10″ move) vehicle platform that can put out a scary number of attacks in melee when equipped with Lasher Tendrils, and its Maulerfiend fists are capable of doing real damage at S14 and D3+3 damage. Maulerfiends are fast, nasty beaters in melee that benefit from the bonus to hit that a Lord Discordant can provide, but don’t necessarily depend on it. You typically want Lasher Tendrils over Magma cutters if you run them.


Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The shooty version of the dinobot, Forgefiends aren’t quite as useful, owing to the fact that their AP-2 autocannons aren’t nearly as useful in a post-Armour of Contempt world. Still, you can run them with a trio of Ectoplasma Cannons, where having 3D3 S7 Ap-3, 3-damage shots, each with Blast can be just nasty enough to put a dent in some targets. It’s not quite enough to justify the unit cost, and so Forgefiends don’t often see competitive play, but note that it is significantly better than what a Defiler can put out with ranged attacks.

Chaos Land Raider

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Chaos Land Raider got a massive overhaul in the 9th edition codex, getting an entirely new profile that its cousins in Codex: Space Marines and even Death Guard/Thousand Sons lack. The CSM Land Raider comes with the same 2+ save, but has Toughness 9, making it considerably tougher to crack. On top of this, its lascannons have been replaced with twin soulshatter lascannons, which do D6+2 damage, making them much more consistent and useful. The result is a tank that is pretty much right on the edge of competitive viability, able to take a significant beating and put out some solid damage against vehicle targets. Its 10-model transport capacity is great for moving a unit of 10 Chosen, Plague Marines, or Rubric Marines. 

Chaos Vindicator

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

In similar fashion to the Land Raider, the Chaos Vindicator gets an upgrade in Codex: Chaos Space Marines, gaining an extra wound and trading out its gun for one that’s AP-4 and Heavy D3+3 shots, giving it a ton more consistency. Add to that a siege shield that gives it +1 to its saves on top of Armour of Contempt and T8 and you’ve got yourself a nice little tank that can range around and put holes in bigger targets, while getting a guaranteed 6 shots against anything with 6+ models. 

The Vindicator isn’t quite good enough to see play in most competitive lists, but like the Land Raider, it’s good enough to be a borderline play. It’s not amazing but it’s just pretty good for its cost and if you wanted to run one in Black Legion or Iron Warriors well, it’s not a bad play. 

Chaos Predator Destructor/Annihilator

The Chaos Predator also got a touch-up in Codex Chaos Space Marines, receiving a T8 chassis that vastly improves the tank’s durability. It also can benefit from the Smokescreen stratagem for -1 to Hit, making it surprisingly annoying for opponents to deal with. And while the Destructor doesn’t get anything else on top of that (and its AP-1 autocannon isn’t really worth discussion), the Annihilator got a boost in the form of a twin soulshatter lascannon for its turret, giving it D6+2 damage shots up top. These combine to make the annihilator a much better tank than it was, and slightly more worthy of consideration, but still not really worth taking over a Vindicator or Land Raider. It’s faster than either and has more range than the Vindicator but doesn’t quite match the firepower either can put out, nor their durability.

Forge World Tanks

With the updates to the Codex tanks, the rest of the options look a hell of a lot worse now – the Land Raiders are T8, and the Sicaran and Predator variants are only T7, and none of them packed the firepower to be worth fielding before the new book dropped, and some – like the Whirlwind Scorpius – have gotten worse thanks to the indirect fire nerfs. What remains is a bunch of resin tanks that aren’t worth your time, despite looking very cool. We’re also still waiting on Chaos rules for the Kratos. While not a competitive option, it will be fun for aspiring Warpsmiths to be able to add one of those new tanks for their army in casual games if it gets its keywords updated. 

Dedicated Transport

Chaos Space Marines only have two Dedicated Transport options: The lowly Chaos Rhino and the Terrax Pattern Termite Assault Drill.

Chaos Rhino

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The lowly rhino is still on the expensive side but has fringe play as a transport for key units in the new Codex. Specifically, your power armor yabbos who still want to play at midfield – think Rubrics, Berzerkers, Chosen, and so on. Having a Rhino or two can provide them key protection, especially against mortal wound-heavy strategies that trigger in the movement phase. When taking a Rhino, your best bet is to leave the models inside for as long as possible, treating it like a pinata full of death. Park it on an objective and when an opponent pops it you’ve suddenly got a big unit sitting on the spot. If the opponent doesn’t take care of the transport, you can use it for move blocking, LOS blocking, and charging key units as well – don’t be afraid to get in there with it.

Chaos Terrax-Pattern Termite (FW)

Terrax-pattern Termite Assault Drill
Terrax-pattern Termite Assault Drill
-Credit: Pendulin

Although a bit expensive for a transport, the Chaos Terrax-Pattern Termite makes up for it by being a hilariously annoying target once it arrives on the table, demanding opponents deal with it as well as its deadly contents. Its 5-shot melta cutter is a significant  threat to anything it comes near, and its Termite Drill will absolutely shred enemy vehicles on top of its shooting. Its ability to deep strike and drop off 12 models is great to have, particularly for Emperor’s Children armies that can use Honour the Prince to make sure an arriving unit can immediately complete a charge. You also don’t have to put it into deep strike – it’s tough enough that if you’re taking multiples they can just roll forward against some armies and weather the damage, though how much you can get away with this will vary wildly by army.



Note that the November 2021 Balance Dataslate limits you to two Flyers in a 2,000 point army. That’s more than fine, given how unlikely it is you’ll want to take more than two of these.


Thousand Sons Heldrake
Thousand Sons Heldrake. That Gobbo

Notable for being a flyer that can also fight things with its claws, the Heldrake is a unit that will mostly disappoint you, largely because its rules just don’t seem like they were written by someone who understood what it means to make something an AIRCRAFT. The Heldrake has the choice between a Baleflamer and a Hades Autocannon and you will take the Baleflamer 100% of the time as it spits out a minimum of 4 hits every time it shoots. That’s the most reliable weapon on the model, however. Although the Heldrake can drop into Hover mode and reliably make a turn 1 charge with its 20” movement, with only 5 attacks that do 2 damage against most targets, it’s seldom going to do real damage, and because it’s an AIRCRAFT it can’t actually hold anything in combat – units can just make a normal move to get away.

The result is a unit that’s just not that great outside of being a fast way to annoy enemies and sometimes explode. Granted, it has a bit more value in the current meta, where Harpies and Sunshark Bombers are more common, but even with it hitting on 2s and doing 4 damage per swing to those targets it’s unlikely to actually kill one in a single round of combat. The Heldrake has seen some outside play in some Iron Warriors lists but trust me when I tell you that the Heldrake is just going to break your heart. 

Other Choices

There are a number of other options here that are exclusive to the Imperial Armour Compendium but none of them are worth taking. The Chaos Fire Raptor may be the best of the bunch but it still lacks the kind of firepower it needs, as do the Storm Eagle, Hellblade, and Hell Talon, and the Fire Raptor and Storm Eagle will each set you back 1 CP to field. There just isn’t much of a place for these in competitive armies – they don’t do enough for their costs and as AIRCRAFT can’t hold objectives of meaningfully block movement.


Chaos Space Marines have access to a single Fortification, The Noctilith Gate. It’s a very pretty boondoggle that suffers from the same issues that most fortifications have. Namely that it’s big, hard to deploy, and will sit in your deployment zone all game while the majority of your units want to be pushing toward the middle of the table grabbing objectives. The Crown has a 4+ invulnerable save aura which expands in range every turn, but again, the thing is only even deployable meaningfully in some tournaments and it’s not worth the effort to bring.

One cool thing to note is that the Noctilith Crown is a Warp Locus. This lets it act as a psuedo-Webway Gate for any Daemons that you have tagging along. 

Lords of War

Chaos Space Marines have access to quite a few Lords of War, two of which are surprisingly viable. Most are not. We’re not going to waste time talking about the Warhound, Reaver, and Warlord titans here.

Khorne Lord of Skulls

We’ve come a long way from this guy costing 888 points for narrative reasons. The Lord of Skulls is like a less mobile knight that trades access to Chaos Knight Stratagems and rules for the <LEGION> and DAEMON ENGINE KEYWORDS. The Lord of Skulls comes with the Khorne keyword baked in and comes with a big axe and two guns – a gorestorm cannon and a hades gatling cannon. You can swap out the gorestorm for an ichor or daemongore cannon, while the hades gatling cannon can be swapped for a skullhurler. Ultimately the base loadout is fine; the Daemongore cannon is short-ranged but great, while the Hades Gatling cannon has solid AP and enough shots to be worth looking at, though the Skullhurler is also very good as a replacement, though much less reliable. The Lord of Skulls is a fairly tough monster, sitting on T8 and a 2+ save, plus a 5+ invulnerable save and daemonic regeneration. It can get some strong synergies depending on the Legion. My favorite one is running it alongside your Word Bearers and using Hexagrammatic Ward to 0 out of the damage from a Railgun into your un-obscurable KLOS. It’s a fine include in a World Eaters army, though if you want to get it a legion trait you’ll need to take three of them, which is, uh, a lot. Alternatively you can try and pad out a detachment with cheaper options like the Kytan or the Brass Scorpion but more than likely you’re better off going Chaos Knights if you want to take that many big machines.

Kytan Ravager

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The faster, less killy brother of the Lord of Skulls, the Kytan is essentially a Khorne Chaos Knight, only it retains the HERETIC ASTARTES, DAEMON, and <LEGION> keywords and is a DAEMON ENGINE, and so can benefit from a some faction synergies that Chaos Knights don’t get, such as getting +1 to hit in melee form a Lord Discordant, or getting access to Chaos Space Marine Stratagems. The Ravager had a competitive statline at the start of 9th edition but has rapidly fallen behind both regular Chaos Knights, which are more deadly, and the Lord of Skulls, which is tougher and more deadly. It’s cheaper, but what you get isn’t quite worth it.

Greater Brass Scorpion of Khorne

The third walking Lord of War for Chaos Space Marines, the Brass Scorpion is a bit more of a melee threat than most, with a pair of hellcrusher claws that do flat 6 damage (2 on the sweep) and 6 attacks base. It also comes with a Demolisher cannon and some other midrange guns. At 100 points less than the Lord of Skulls it’s a bit more reliable and solid than the Kytan for only a few points more, and if you’re trying to fill out a Superheavy Detachment, it’s not a bad option to save points. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible, either. In a list that can get it the Iron Warriors’ Legion trait, it is going to be very tough to deal with as it pounds holes in the enemy army with its firepower. 

Kharybdis Drop Pod (FW)

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

A bigger, meaner version of the Dreadclaw, but can carry up to 20 INFANTRY models instead (or one helbrute or chaos dreadnought), and mounts the equivalent of 10 missile launchers for some reason. It also has a much more sturdy defensive profile, and an improved version of the thermal jets rule for stuff it flies over. Having to use a Lord of War slot on this is, obviously, kind of terrible, but it’s also extremely hilarious, and has been pushed hard enough cost wise to make it at least fun to use. With the recent updates to Lords of War in the GT missions pack and the FAQ allowing passengers to climb out the turn it arrives, the Kharybdis is much more playable, but still too expensive to be competitive.

Black Templars vs. Night Lords. Credit: SRM and Sam Duguin

Strategies for Playing Chaos Space Marines

There’s a lot more to Chaos Space Marines than just understanding the units; if you want to be successful you have to put them all together in a way that will work for you on the table. Before we jump into the specifics, note that there are some basic resources you should be aware of and familiar with that are helpful for every army:

OK, with that out of the way, let’s jump into some specifics.

Have a plan to score primaries

9th edition missions put a major emphasis on board control and being able to seize and hold objectives. Generally speaking, your army needs a mix of reliable backfield objective holders, typically 2-3 units who can hold objectives in or from your deployment zone, and midtable objective holders, who can contest the middle and bully enemy units off objectives – typically 1-2 units which can do this reliably. The rest of your army will be forward/push threats, which take the battle to your opponent, disrupt their plans, and ideally pin them in their deployment zone. For Chaos Space Marines, Cultists tend to be the backfield holders, Black Rune Terminators and Chosen the midtable brawlers, and everything else either support for the midtable or push threats like Possessed.

Have a plan to score secondaries

Likewise, build your army with a thought toward how it will score secondaries and which ones it will pick. Try to build an army that will reliably be able to score at least two secondaries regardless of the opponent or situation, and then make your third pick contingent. 

I’m not going to sugarcoat it; the biggest challenge Chaos Space Marines face is that their secondaries are just Not Very Good. None of the basic faction secondaries are reliable, and only two of the Legion secondaries merit consideration. Generally speaking your best bet is to be able to score one of Psychic Interrogation/Warp Ritual reliably, Raise the Banners High, and then ideally a kill secondary, though if No Prisoners/Bring it Down/Assassination aren’t good options, then you’ll have to look at either Engage on All Fronts, Rise to Glory, or The Long War. Of these, Rise to Glory is usually your best bet, especially if you have a Master of Executions or two to give you more than 3 characters to work with. The Long War can be OK, but generally is only decent if you’re going second and able to reliably score by taking an opponent off an objective.

Build Armies that are Difficult to Pick Secondaries Against

Likewise, try and build your army to make your opponent’s secondaries hard to score as well – try to avoid giving up more than 10 points on the likes of No Prisoners and Bring it Down if you can. 

Be Aggressive

Chaos Space Marines are not an army that can sit back and passively score VP while an opponent comes to them. With a slim choice of secondary objectives that mostly require interacting with your opponent, it’s on you to get out there and rip their limbs off, then beat them with said limbs. You’ll need to be aggressive early and often, and work on when and how you can crash into your opponent’s lines early. 

That said, you want to make sure your strike is considered – the last thing you want to do is feed your army to your opponent piecemeal. Keep your units grouped effectively, look for opportunities to trade up when you have to sacrifice a piece, and try to avoid outrunning your coverage or leaving your rear too exposed to deep striking threats. Your army will typically have a lot of strong melee threats but a savvy opponent can still divide and conquer those individually if you aren’t careful. 

Souping with Daemons and Chaos Knights

While there are other ways to soup, including lists that run Abaddon, Mortarion, and Magnus, the most common and popular ways to soup for Chaos Space Marines are to either include Chaos Knights in the army or a detachment of Chaos Daemons. Each has its own advantages and quirks. Note that you can generally build an army with detachments from different books, but what we’ll be talking about here are ways to build mixed-faction armies without losing access to the army-wide special rules (such as Let the Galaxy Burn) and secondary objectives. Note that Chaos Space Marine Legion traits only apply if your army is mono-faction, or bringing “allowable” allies in the form of 25% Power Level or less of Daemons or a single Dreadblade unit of Chaos Knights. For example, if you run Mortarion in a Supreme Command detachment alongside a unit of Iron Warriors, your Iron Warriors will lose their Legion trait and no longer ignore cover or turn off Wound rerolls. This is a massive blow to anyone who wanted to soup in non-traditional ways. 

War Dog - Executioner. Credit: Rockfish
War Dog – Executioner. Credit: Rockfish


Chaos Knights

A Chaos Space Marines army can include a Chaos Knights Superheavy Auxiliary Detachment of Dreadblade Chaos Knights as AGENTS OF CHAOS. Note that if you do this you’re spending the 3 CP for the Detachment; the only Faction keyword shared between detachments will be CHAOS, which doesn’t get you the refund. 

If you’re going this route, your best option is likely going to be taking a trio of War Dog Executioners. The Executioners are fast and bring something to the table that Chaos Marines generally lack: Solid long-ranged shooting. On most tables your Executioners can act as reliable backfield objective holders and still be a potent threat. Give them the Warp Vision fell bond to prevent their targets from getting Light Cover and you’re set.

While other War Dogs are potentially an option here, the melee dogs don’t really do anything for you that other units in your army can’t do, and the big knights aren’t bringing enough to the table for what it costs to include them. 

Credit: Liebot –

Chaos Daemons

A unit of Chaos Space Marines can include a Chaos Daemons (LEGIONES DAEMONICA) Detachment without losing army-wide rules if the total PL of the Daemons Detachment is not more than 25% of the army’s total PL (which will be around 100 in 2,000-point games). Note that if you’re one of the special god legions, such as World Eaters or Emperor’s Children, you can only take daemons aligned with your legion’s god.*

*This technically isn’t supported by the rules, but this is what Games Workshop enforces at their own events, and what many TOs adopt. So whether you can take Flamers in Emperor’s Children without losing army benefits will vary by event.

There’s some real value to be had in doing this, primarily the ability to just dump three units of flamers into your roster. Flamers are one of the game’s best units, and immediately make any army better. They’re fast, durable, and hit like a freight train, dumping out insane amounts of AP-2 firepower. The typical soup play is a Vanguard detachment running a Fluxmaster and three units of flamers. That said, this is typically a stronger play for Thousand Sons than it is for Chaos Space Marines, and so you tend to see fewer soup lists since the Emperor’s Children + Tzeentch Daemons loophole was largely closed.

Sample Lists

We’ve put some sample lists in the separate pages for each legion, so you can find lists for a specific legion by heading to those pages. Otherwise, you can always find the latest successful lists by visiting 40kstats.

Wrapping Things Up

Phew, that was an odyssey! If you read through the whole thing, you have this author’s eternal thanks. If you just stopped in to check on something or look for ideas on a single unit, that’s cool too. This article took weeks to write and ended up being more like a short novel in length, so there’s probably something I missed or didn’t get right. If you see something, or if you have any questions, comments, or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at