Start Competing: Chaos Space Marines Tactics

Credit: Robert "TheChirurgeon" Jones

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 lack many of the tricks that Space Marine armies have, with none of the benefits of Doctrines nor the 2-wound resilience and they tend to have less range and shooting prowess. As a faction, Chaos Space Marines have access to some of the best melee units in the game, including Possessed, Berserkers, and Daemon Princes, and access to some great psychic powers, but tend to fall short when it comes to options for mobility and shooting options and look a lot like glass cannons when it comes to their infantry.

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 often see play in Chaos Soup armies, and we’ll be covering some of those cases as well.

As always, a guide like this represents a time and place. This was most recently updated in August, 2021, shortly before the release of the 9th edition Codex: Thousand Sons.

 

Army Strengths

  • Psychic Powers. Chaos Space Marines have some of the game’s best psychic powers in the Dark Hereticus discipline (though these aren’t quite as good following the June FAQ changes to Prescience and Warptime). As a result, Chaos Sorcerers are some very solid units, and they can take Jump Packs.
  • Old Re-rolls and no CORE units. Chaos Space Marines haven’t been updated yet, so they don’t have any CORE keywords to worry about and all their character re-rolls just apply to any unit in the army. Pretty great, right?
  • Melee Combat. Chaos Space Marines are generally pretty good when it comes to melee combat. Berserkers are one of the game’s best melee units, and Possessed can be absolutely insane with the buffs you can give them. Lords Discordant are absolutely blenders, and Chaos Space Marine daemon vehicles and Helbrutes are also pretty good in this area. It’s very easy to build a Chaos Space Marine army that can wreak absolute havoc once it reaches the enemy.
  • Great HQ/Character Options. Chaos Space Marines have access to some great character options in the form of Daemon Princes, Lords Discordant, Chaos Lords, and Sorcerers, to name a few. There’s a ton of versatility at the top of any Chaos Space Marines list.
  • Cheap Troops. Thanks to recent point adjustments, Chaos Cultists are back down to a more sensible 5 points per model, giving CSM armies the ability to fill out troop slots with cheap, action-capable bodies for only 50 points. Chaos space marines are also pretty cheap at 14 points per model, giving you a 70-point option with better saves and guns, albeit with only half the wounds.
  • Cross-Faction Synergies. Because of the DAEMON and <MARK OF CHAOS> keywords, Chaos Space Marines have a lot of interactions with Chaos Daemons, with auras and abilities that can benefit units in both armies. Likewise, they share HERETIC ASTARTES with Thousand Sons and Death Guard, though recent changes via FAQ have reigned some of these in, most notably Warptime and Prescience. This can lead to some powerful combinations in soup armies, and tends to make up the backbone of strong competitive Chaos lists.

Army Weaknesses

  • Durability. Your average Chaos Space Marine has Toughness 4, 1 wound, and a 3+ save. That’s just not great, and it means that many of your hard-hitting units such as Berserkers and Noise Marines are also pretty fragile. In most games your biggest challenge will be figuring out how you’re going to protect and deliver these units to key objectives and targets and how to keep them alive once they arrive. Strategic Reserves may be a big part of that strategy.
  • Lack of Characters in the Elites slot. Chaos Space Marines have a lot of powerful character options, but they’re all in the HQ force organization slot. That means they chafe pretty hard against 9th edition’s army construction rules, which tends to strongly limit the number of HQ choices you can bring. 
  • Shooting. Chaos Space Marine shooting is generally not great; most CSM guns top out at 24″ or 36″ range and most of the army’s core units rely on AP 0 weapons, which isn’t great. While Chaos Space Marines certainly have some better shooting options, such as Noise Marines and Obliterators, there aren’t a ton of these, and they tend to take some work to ensure you’re getting value out of them.
  • AP and Damage. Because of when the codex was published (and re-published) and the weapon options Chaos Space Marines have, you’ll notice they have a pretty rough lack of 2+ damage or high AP shooting, and this is something that extends to their Troop melee options as well. The result is that competitive Chaos Space Marine armies tend to be built around the few units that either have access to multi-damage weapons with some AP or can, through sheer volume of attacks, making up for these shortcomings.
  • Subfaction Traits. The updated stratagems and traits in The Book of Fire (originally introduced in Faith and Fury) are a huge help to Chaos Space Marines armies, which needed a boost to its subfactions. But even with new stratagems, some issues remain: The CSM subfaction traits don’t apply to Cultists or non-Helbrute vehicles, and many of them are just underwhelming to begin with (the Word Bearers’ ability is particularly heinous). As a result only a couple of these even matter, and the real play is in the stratagems you get from a legion.
  • CP Thirsty. A lot of the best Chaos Space Marine strategies rely on copious use of stratagems, particularly those from the Book of Fire. This means that Chaos Space Marine armies can end up blowing through a ton of CP pretty quickly, and so you’ll need to have a plan for how to use your CP when you build your game plan.

 

What Changed in 9th edition?

9th Edition changed a number of things for Chaos Space Marines, from the way armies are built to the strategies they can put into play. In particular, note the following changes:

  • Specialist Detachments are gone. Perhaps the biggest change in 9th however is that competitive play rules no longer allow the use of Specialist Detachments. These rules, though marginal for many other factions, were a major crux of c. 9th edition’s emphasis on holding objectives and controlling the table put a premium on melee units (good for CSM) and durability (not so good). 
  • Mission priorities. Changes to army construction mean that generally Chaos Space Marines have to make some tough decisions about how and when to add detachments and soup with Chaos Daemons.
  • Secondary Objectives. Changes to mission secondary objectives have had major impacts on army building, particularly for armies that want to bring psykers or lots of characters. Players will need to be mindful of how they’re exposing themselves to secondary objectives when building armies.
  • Modifier caps. Caps on modifiers to hit and wound of +/-1 mean that stacking modifiers to wound to cause abilities like Death to the False Emperor to go off on a 4+ is no longer feasible, killing some strategies. 
  • Command Re-rolls changed. CP re-rolls now affect significantly fewer rolls, making many abilities much riskier – you can no longer CP re-roll a daemon weapon’s bonus, for example – and making charges out of deep strike more difficult.

 

Competitive Rating: Medium-Low

With 9th edition, Chaos Space Marines are in a weird spot. While melee is more important than ever, it’s not necessarily stronger, and in particular many of the best CSM units for melee do not particularly work well when the focus of melee combat is removing an enemy from an objective and holding it afterward. Chaos Space Marines can still get there when combined with Daemons, but ultimately they don’t have nearly the breadth of strategies to work with that 8th edition afforded and there isn’t as much going for them. Things aren’t awful, but they’re not as good as they were in early 2020, either. You’ll still occasionally see a Chaos Marines list finish in the top 4 of an event but never win – the top lists tend to exclusively run Emperor’s Children and they just can’t compete with the new Codexes that have been coming out in 2021. Recent lists have begun to mix in some Death Guard units – Plagueburst Crawlers, specifically – for some added punch, to decent effect. They’re an army that’s regularly capable of competing in a post-Drukhari and Admech world, but not necessarily winning, larger GT events.

 

Chaos Space Marines Rules

Slaanesh Aligned Chaos Warband
Slaanesh Aligned Chaos Warband. Credit: That Gobbo

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, and powers available to all Chaos Space Marines, and then we’ll finish off with a look at each of the traitor legion options, their subfaction-specific rules, powers, Stratagems, and relics, and how they stack up against each other.

Where to Find The Rules

Chaos Space Marines require more books to play competitively than any other faction, even loyalist marines. If you’re going to play seriously, you probably need all of the following, and that’s before you start souping in Daemons, Thousand Sons, or Death Guard:

  • Codex: Chaos Space Marines v.2 – Is the second publication of the faction Codex (it has a white skull with a “II” on its cover) and has all of the basic faction’s rules and datasheets. You will know you have the right book if it has the datasheet for the Lord Discordant and prayers for Dark Apostles.
  • Imperial Armour Compendium – has the rules and datasheets for Forge World units like the Dreadclaw Drop Pod, Terrax Termite Pattern Assault Drill, and the Decimator.
  • Charadon Act II: The Book fo Fire – This campaign book replaces Vigilus Ablaze and Psychic Awakening: Faith & Fury, and updates the rules from both with FAQ adjustments and some new wording around a few stratagems. This is where you’ll find rules for Daemon Weapons, plus Stratagems, Relics, and Warlord Traits for each of the Black Legion, Red Corsairs, Renegade Chapters, Emperor’s Children, Alpha Legion, Night Lords, World Eaters, Word Bearers, Creations of Bile, and Iron Warriors.
  • The Shadowspear Chaos Codex Booklet – is the only place you can find the Psyker-specific Warlord Traits for Chaos Space Marines.
  • You will also need the following FAQs:
    • Codex: Chaos Space Marines

If you want to soup in other Chaos factions, you’ll want to have the following:

  • Codex: Thousand Sons for Thousand Sons.
  • Codex: Death Guard for Death Guard.

Codex: Chaos Daemons and Psychic Awakening: Engine War for Chaos Daemons

 

Chaos Space Marines Obliterators
Chaos Space Marines Obliterators. Credits: That Gobbo

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.

Legion Traits

Chaos Space Marine armies have access to a large variety of subfactions, each with their own special rules called Legion Traits. To 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). If every unit in a detachment has the same Legion keyword, then Legion Traits apply to all INFANTRY (excluding Cultists), BIKERS, HELBRUTES, and CHARACTERS in that detachment.

In addition to having special rules for each legion’s units, each legion also has access to its own Warlord Traits, Relics, and Stratagems, and some have access to their own special characters.

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, which will be updated soon.

Death to the False Emperor

When fighting an IMPERIUM unit in melee, a hit roll of a 6+ gives the attacker an additional attack with the same weapon. This is solid when it’s on and worthless when it’s not. The upside is that Space Marines are everywhere so now you can at least count on it being active for about half your games. This is also not dependent on unmodified rolls of a 6, so you have several tricks to make it fire off more often, though it also means that Thunder Hammers and Power Fists won’t really get to use it.

Hateful Assault

Units with this rule — basically everything except for Cultists — get +1 Attack in any turn in which they charge, were charged, or heroically intervened. This is a really good boost for your melee units, and will do wonders on large squads of Possessed or Berserkers.

Malicious Volleys (formerly Bolter Discipline)

When a unit with this ability stays stationary during the Movement phase (or is a TERMINATOR, BIKER, or HELBRUTE) fires a Rapid Fire bolter weapon, it can make double the number of attacks. A solid update to all Chaos Space Marines that showed up in January last year and was reprinted in Faith & Fury, this mostly helps Bikers and Terminators live up to their full potential by giving you four shots per model, albeit still at S4 AP0.

Marks of Chaos

Almost every unit in the Chaos Space Marines army has the <MARK OF CHAOS> keyword, which can be replaced by one of KHORNE, TZEENTCH, NURGLE, or SLAANESH, allowing the unit to devote itself to a Chaos god. There are several powers, relics, and Stratagems which are only available to devotees of a particular Chaos god, and some Legion traits require that your whole army be devoted to a specific god. Marks also fuel the army’s ability to soup with Chaos Daemons, as they help set up some of the cross-faction synergies.

Daemonic Ritual

A rule across the Chaos factions, a Chaos Space Marines Character can opt to not move during the Movement phase and instead attempt to summon a unit of Daemons, with the restriction being that if you have a Mark of Chaos, you can only summon something that shares that keyword with the character. You roll up to 3 dice when you do this, and you can summon a unit with power level equal to or less than the result you roll. If you roll doubles, you take a mortal wound, and if you roll triples, you suffer D3 mortal wounds. The summoned unit has to be placed within 12″ of the character and more than 9″ from an enemy model. 

This is a cooler ability in theory than execution. The theoretical upside to summoning is that you can pick a unit at the moment you summon, giving you a lot of possibilities and the ability to pick a unit that will fit your current situation and opponent. In reality, it’s slow, hard to rely on, and it requires you spend points and time on a character not moving and fighting in order to put a unit on the table you still had to pay points for, and most of the time you’re better off just taking a Daemons Detachment and putting the units you want into the Warp before the game with the appropriate Stratagem. The big upsides to summoning are that you 1. Can summon Daemons without ruining your Chaos Space Marines faction bonus (they won’t lose their legion trait if the whole detachment is from the same legion and the only daemons are ones that you summon), and 2. You can summon on turn 1. Summoning isn’t that common, but it has seen a bit more play in 9th Edition because it gives you some flexibility. Now that powers and relics have to be on your army list, reserving some points to summon a cheap herald is a way to get some choice on the fly, and the cheap Daemons are all reasonably aggressively costed if you find yourself with nothing better to do with points you’ve kept. Still generally not the core of most plans, but worth thinking about in some lists.

A Special Note on Codex Traits

Note that, unlike with Space Marines, not all legion rules are fully faction-locked. You need a full detachment of a legion to unlock Legion traits and the Legion stratagems from the Book of Fire (which replaces Faith and Fury), but the relics and warlord traits from The Book of Fire plus the single stratagem for each legion that from the main codex only require you to have a Chaos Space Marine detachment (or a Chaos Space Marine warlord for the relics), so you can give a World Eaters Warlord the Slaughterborn warlord trait in a mixed detachment, or use the In Midnight Clad Stratagem (from the Codex) on a Night Lords unit in a mixed detachment. There aren’t a ton of reasons you’d want to mix detachments, particularly now that you’ll want access to a legion’s Stratagems, but there are a few use cases for doing this, such as having an extra detachment with characters from several legions if you just want to get specific things for them.

Despoilers of the Galaxy

In a Battleforged army, all Troops in Chaos Space Marines detachments gain this ability, which gives them Objective Secured. It’s often overlooked but it’s an important rule for helping capture contested objectives, and gives real value to Cultists, who can mitigate their squishiness with massive blobs that are tough to dislodge from objectives.

 

Psychic Powers

Credit: TheChirurgeon

For Chaos Space Marines, you have access to two disciplines: The Dark Hereticus discipline and the Malefic discipline. The Dark Hereticus discipline is the stronger of the two and available to most of your psykers, while the Malefic discipline is only available to Masters of Possession.

The Dark Hereticus Discipline

Most Chaos Space Marine psykers have access to the Dark Hereticus discipline, one of the strongest psychic disciplines in the game. The only downside to it is that a lot of the powers are on the higher end of Warp Charge casting requirements, and Chaos Sorcerers don’t have a ton of ways to make them easier to cast. The big upside however is that, even after a nerf to these powers making them affect only <LEGION> units, they’re still pretty strong effects. Because of this, the powers you can pull off here make a Chaos Sorcerer a strong play in almost any Chaos Space Marines army.

N.B. Some of these ratings may seem off if you’re used to playing against Thousand Sons, who can also use these. The value changes for them because of their range and cast boosts, plus the sheer number of slots they need to fill. These ratings reflect the use of these powers in Chaos Space Marine detachments.

  • Infernal Gaze (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. It’s not a lot, but you could do a lot worse. You’re rarely going to be taking enough psykers to make use of this, and you’ll often rather have casting redundancies than spending a slot on this. C
  • Death Hex (WC 8). Pick a visible enemy unit within 12”. Until your next psychic phase, that unit can’t take invulnerable saves. This is very good, particularly when paired with strong long-range shooting. Unfortunately, Chaos Space Marines don’t really have a lot of that, but it’s still a strong power to have for when you need to pop over and shut down the invuln on something. The biggest downside of Death Hex is that it’s WC 8, and you also shouldn’t be afraid not to take it, or to discard it with Chaos Familiar if there are no targets for it or you kill all of them. A
  • Gift of Chaos (WC 6). Pick a visible enemy unit within 6” and roll a D6. If you roll higher than the target’s Toughness, that unit takes D3+3 mortal wounds. If you kill a character this way, you can add a Chaos Spawn to your army. Against most targets you’re looking at failing this two thirds of the time. And when it does succeed and you kill a character, you won’t get to add the spawn because you didn’t pay reinforcement points for it. Skip this one. D
  • Prescience (WC 7). Pick a <LEGION> unit within 18”. They get +1 to all hit rolls until your next psychic phase. This power is very good, especially now that modifiers are capped at +/-1. Great on big squads, great on big WS/BS 4+ Daemon Engines, great for targeting flyers. Your first psyker will almost always have this and Warptime. The recent FAQ changes have made this locked to your sorcerer’s Legion, which is a bit of a shame since it can’t help World Eaters or Death Guard units. A
  • Diabolic Strength (WC 6). Pick a <LEGION> model within 12” of the psyker. Until the start of your next psychic phase, that model gets +2 Strength and +1 Attack. This is very good for pumping up your Winged Daemon princes before they charge into battle, or helping Huron, Helbrutes, Maulerfiends, or Venomcrawlers tack on some extra attacks and beat strength thresholds with their weapons. B+
  • Warptime (WC 6). Pick a <LEGION> unit within 3”. That unit can immediately move as if it were the Movement phase. Note that units arriving as Reinforcements can’t make a Normal/Fall Back/Advance move or Remain Stationary, so this won’t do much for them, but even with that limitation this is still one of the strongest powers in the game. It’s incredibly useful for double-timing key units around the table, capturing objectives and setting up first-turn charges. You will want to have this on somebody in almost every game. On a Sorcerer with a jump pack, you can have this reliably within 3″ of any unit you need it for all game long. Also note that the June FAQ changes have locked this to <LEGION> units, meaning you can’t use it to throw Mortarion across the table anymore, or even help out World Eaters. 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.

  • Tzeentch: Weaver of Fates (WC 6). Pick a visible TZEENTCH Heretic Astartes unit within 18″. Until the start of your next psychic phase, improve its invulnerable save by 1 to a maximum of 3+, and if it didn’t have an invulnerable save, it gets a 5+. This is a great way for helping protect valuable units, and helpful on everything from Terminators and Obliterators to Daemon Engines and Vehicles you’d want to protect. Caps out at a 3++, but stacks with other abilities to help you get there. The only downside is that the Mark of Tzeentch is less useful than some of the others on many units. A
  • Nurgle: Miasma of Pestilence (WC 6). Pick a visible NURGLE Heretic Astartes 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, but diminished in power in 9th edition since modifiers to hit no longer stack past -1. Still, as marine BS and re-roll auras have become a bit more limited, “merely” giving something -1 to hit is a little better. B
  • Slaanesh: Delightful Agonies (WC 6). Pick a visible 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. Another strong buff, great for improving the longevity of units that are likely targets since the result is effectively a 50% increase in the wounds. Wonderful for large blobs of Cultists who otherwise don’t really have a save at all. A

The Malefic Discipline

On the other side of things, Masters of Possession have access to the Malefic discipline, which is mostly buffs for Legion DAEMON units. These are particularly good if you’re running armies that are heavy on Possessed or Daemon Engines, but are very skippable if not. The big drawback to them is that the Master of Possession himself is unable to take a jump pack or teleport in, so these powers are severely limited by how far you can move the caster. They’re all also locked to the caster’s <LEGION>, meaning they can’t affect other Chaos Factions’ units, and aren’t suitable for mixing legions.

  • Incursion (WC 7). When cast, you can immediately attempt to summon a unit of DAEMONS to the battlefield using the Daemonic Ritual ability as if it were the Movement phase and when you do so, you roll 4 dice instead of 3 and can’t summon any mortal wounds as a result of doubles or triples. This is already much better than the regular Daemonic Ritual, in part because it doesn’t lock you into standing still, but it’s even more hoops to jump through to do something that just isn’t all that helpful to most game plans. Still, there are some uses for this, and some truly annoying units you can summon if given a chance. C
  • Sacrifice (WC 4). Pick a model within 2″; it takes a mortal wound. Then you pick a friendly <LEGION> DAEMON model within 18″ to regain D3 lost wounds. Also if the target is a Daemon Engine and the wound was put on a friendly <LEGION> Warpsmith, you gain 3 lost wounds instead. This is a pretty marginal power – doing 1 mortal wound instead of D3 when you could be Smiting an enemy within 2″ isn’t the best deal even if you get D3 back, and there just aren’t enough reasons to jump through the hoops to get the full 3 by hurting your Warpsmith, especially because he can already be healing daemon engines himself. D
  • Mutated Invigoration (WC 7). Pick a friendly Chaos Spawn, <LEGION> Possessed, or <LEGION> Cult of Destruction (obliterators/mutilators) within 18″. Until your next Psychic phase, that unit gets to re-roll for Mutated Beyond Reason if it’s a Chaos Spawn (the bonus it gets to its attacks, rolled on a D3), it can re-roll the number of Attacks it gets if it’s a Possessed unit, and it can re-roll one of the dice when determining the Strength, AP, or Damage of a Cult of Destruction’s attacks. This is best suited to making sure Possessed end up with 2+ Attacks per model, which dramatically increases their melee output. The Obliterator and Mutilator re-rolls are theoretically useful, but both of those units are usually teleporting in and will be far away from a footbound Master of Possession. It’s solid insurance on Possessed, though. B+
  • Possession (WC 5). Until the start of your next Psychic phase, the AP on the Psyker’s melee weapons improves by 2 and each time he destroys an INFANTRY Character in the Fight phase, you can add a Chaos Spawn model to your army, or a Greater Possessed if the model killed was an ADEPTUS ASTARTES or HERETIC ASTARTES. If he kills a vehicle, it automatically explodes – no roll is made and the psyker is immune to the explosion results. You only get the Possessed or Spawn if you can pay the reinforcement points for it, making this not particularly useful for anything other than buffing your Master of Possession in melee, where having an AP-3 Force Stave isn’t so bad, but you aren’t liable to kill too many things with it. C
  • Cursed Earth (WC 7). Improve the Invulnerable save of friendly <LEGION> Daemon units by 1 (to a max of 3+) while they’re within 6″ of this psyker until your next Psychic Phase. This is a huge buff, turning most of those 5+ auras into 4+ and stacking with Weaver of Fates to get to that 3+. The fact that it’s an aura means that you’ll need to keep your Master of Possession with the units he’s buffing, but it also means you can boost multiple units or Daemon engines at the same time. This and Infernal Power are where the real money is at for the Malefic Discipline. A

Infernal Power (WC 6). Until the next Psychic Phase, re-roll hit and wound rolls of 1 for friendly <LEGION> Daemon units within 6″ of the Psyker. In 8th edition this was a big money power for Possessed bombs, but without the support of the Specialist Detachment, those don’t really get over the top any more, making this more likely to be something you’d use on Daemon Engines, especially since re-rolling wounds in the shooting phase is tough for Chaos Marines to get. B+

 

Prayers to the Dark Gods

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Since the release of Vigilus Ablaze, Chaos Space Marines have had access to Prayers to the Dark Gods, a series of buffs and debuffs that they can call upon during games. Every Dark Apostle knows the Dark Zealotry prayer by default (though there’s frustratingly no card in the faction’s Datacards for this), plus one chosen from the list of 6 prayers, plus an additional god-specific one if they have a Mark of Chaos.

Most Prayers to the Dark Gods affect a single target unit, which allows units to move away from the Dark Apostle as needed after receiving a buff (though they’ll be out of position the following turn if this happens). Unlike Space Marines’ litanies, prayers happen at the start of the Battle Round, which is great for Benediction of Darkness but also means they’re generally going to be a pain to remember. Like litanies, prayers succeed on a 3+, but this can be improved to a 2+ by spending 10 points on a couple of Dark Disciples, something you’re always going to want to do. Like all the new powers, Prayers are locked into only affecting the <LEGION> of the Dark Apostle chanting them.

  • Dark Zealotry – Re-roll hit rolls in the Fight phase for attacks made by friendly <LEGION> units within 6″ of this priest. This is a fine ability, but will usually play second fiddle to everything else you want to do, since a lot of the other prayers do things that you can’t really get anywhere else in the Chaos Space Marines army. That’s OK though, because it’s literally free. The downside is that you are going to forget it exists because there’s no card for it. It’s also not as good for Dark Apostles as it is for Space Marines due to a significant lack of mobility options – Apostles get neither bikes nor jump packs. B-
  • Benediction of Darkness – Pick a friendly <LEGION> unit within 6″ and until the start of the next battle round, subtract 1 from hit rolls made for attacks with ranged weapons that target that unit. This is a great way to boost a unit’s longevity, and works on anything in your army with the <LEGION> keyword, making it great for making things like daemon engines and large squads of Possessed more survivable. The only downside is the range, which makes it really easy to “outkick your coverage” with a unit that will get the prayer bonus, then be out of range to get it again next turn. A
  • Litany of Despair – Your opponent has to roll 2D6 and drop the lowest when they take a morale test for a unit within 6″ of this priest. This is easily the least exciting prayer and will rarely be more useful than well, any of the others. C-
  • Omen of Potency – The priest gets +3 Attacks and his melee weapons become AP-4. Dark Apostles aren’t exactly big melee fighters, what with their 3 Attacks at S5. Upping them to 7 attacks on the charge with AP-4 is a significant improvement, but it’s not giving you enough that it’s worth taking this over buffing nearby units. C+
  • Warp-Sight Plea – Pick a friendly <LEGION> unit within 6″. Add 1 to hit rolls for attacks made by ranged weapons for models in that unit. A great way to boost the shooting efficiency of a unit, and a good supplement/redundancy to Prescience on a Sorcerer. Shame it doesn’t affect melee attacks though, since it would have been wonderful to get another +1 to trigger some of the abilities that CSM have in the Fight phase. A
  • Soultearer Portent – Pick a friendly <LEGION> 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 extremely good with Nurgle flavoured Possessed bombs. The downside is that it requires you moving up and getting in with your Dark Apostle, which is a lot tougher than hanging back and dropping Warp-Sight Plea and Benediction of Darkness. A
  • Illusory Supplication – Friendly <LEGION> models within 6″ have a 5+ invulnerable save. This is a really solid ability for when your Priest is going to be babysitting units like large blobs of Cultists on an objective, where the lack of a decent armor save makes them easy to kill and a 5+ invulnerable save (plus a 5+ feel no pain from the Delightful Agonies psychic power, ideally), can really give them staying power. On the other hand, most of the units you’re going to bring with you are either already rocking a 5+ invulnerable save, or are too fast for the Apostle to keep up, really limiting the usefulness of this prayer in a Chaos Space Marines army. B

God-Specific Prayers

You get these free if your Apostle has a mark. All four of them boost the Dark Apostle chanting them, and mostly they’re helpful in a pinch as a “back-up strategy for when your Apostle is getting into combat and wouldn’t be better off firing off his main chosen power or Dark Zealotry.

  • Khorne: Wrathful Entreaty – The priest gets +2 Strength. Lets you swing at S7, which is a strong upside against vehicles, and less useful against other targets since you were already S5. C+
  • Tzeentch: Mutating Invocation – The priest regains D3 lost wounds. Priests don’t have a ton of wounds to begin with, so chances are once you’ve started losing them, you’re going to die, but if you’re holding on it’s got some utility. C+
  • Nurgle: Feculent Beseechment – The Priest gets +2 Toughness. More useful overall than +2 Strength or regaining D3 wounds as it helps you avoid losing them in the first place pretty well and stops you from being wounded on a 2+ by most attackers. Helpful when you’re facing down a pretty nasty opponent and you just need to survive one extra round to hold them up. B-

Slaanesh: Blissful Devotion – The priest can Advance and Charge in the same turn. This is the least exciting buff, but lowkey the most useful, since it helps your Apostle stay in lockstep with some of the units you’ll likely want to be buffing if you want his aura buffing units that are going to be getting stuck in for melee combat. Note that you won’t need it if you’re running Red Corsairs, but in most other cases, this is a strong backup to have. A-

 

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

 

Stratagems

  • Chaos Space Marines have access to an OK number of Stratagems through their Codex, and access to a significantly larger number through The Book of Fire, though those are gated/specific to certain subfactions so we’ll cover those separately as we cover the Chaos Legions in their own articles.
    • Beseech the Chaos Gods (1 CP). Use at the start of your turn to give a unit that didn’t dedicate itself to a Chaos God a Mark for the rest of the game. In theory this allows you to be very versatile, making game-time decisions on what buffs you want to have for a unit. In practice, it’s very clunky and the number of cases where it is useful is small enough that you’re better off marking the unit during list building and saving the CP. If you really want to go this route, the Black Legion have a better version. C-
    • Blasphemous Machines (1 CP). Use when a Heretic Astartes vehicle shoots in the Shooting phase. Until the end of the phase you can ignore penalties for moving and shooting heavy weapons or advancing and firing assault weapons. This does almost nothing for you in 9th edition now that vehicles can move and fire heavy weapons without penalty thanks to the Big Guns Never Tire rule. D
    • Chaos Boon (1 CP). Use at the end of a Fight phase after one of your non-Daemon characters kills an enemy Character, Vehicle, or Monster. Roll 2D6 and you get a random buff. On the low end, this can turn you into a Chaos Spawn (2) and on the high end you can become a Daemon Prince (12), though note that this result may be worse than what you had if the unit rolling was a special character. The rest are OK, and most of the time you’ll get to choose which non-spawn or non-daemon prince buff you want because a 7 lets you do that. On the other hand, it’s a hard feat to pull off, the risk is too high, and most of the buffs don’t matter that much if they happen that late in the game. To make matters worse, this thing takes up the space of four Stratagems, robbing Chaos Space Marines of 3 other strats and reducing the total number the faction has access to. That alone is enough to make this Stratagem detestable. D
    • Chaos Familiar (1 CP). Use at the start of your Psychic phase to replace a power on any Heretic Astartes Psyker with one from the Dark Hereticus discipline. Helpful if you need to quickly pivot to a different power mid-battle, or if you want to get cute you can use it to get Dark Hereticus powers on a Master of Possession. Neither is particularly strong. C+
    • Daemonforge (1 CP). Use in the Shooting or Fight phase when a Daemon Vehicle is chosen to attack. You can re-roll failed hit and wound rolls for that model for the rest of the phase. This is also very, very good. Many of the faction’s best units are Daemon Engines and so being able to quickly and cheaply tap into free re-rolls for them makes things like the Lord of Skulls and the Venomcrawler all the more deadly. A
    • Daemon Shell (1 CP). Use just before a Heretic Astartes character fires a bolt pistol, boltgun, combi-bolter, or a bolter in a combi weapon. You only get to make a single hit roll which you can’t re-roll and if you hit, the target takes D3 mortal wounds, but if you miss, you take D3 mortal wounds. This can be helpful in a pinch but it’s a Stratagem that never sees use because you’re using your CP for everything else. C
    • Endless Cacophony (2 CP). Use at the end of your Shooting phase and pick a SLAANESH Infantry or Biker unit. It gets to immediately shoot again. This is one of the faction’s best tricks, and the reason you’ll often want your shooting units marked as Slaanesh. Works wonderfully on Obliterators, Bikers, Terminators, and Havocs. A+
    • Fire Frenzy (1 CP). Use in the Shooting phase, before a Helbrute shoots. If it didn’t move in the Movement phase, you can fire all of its weapons twice at the nearest visible enemy unit. Note that this only works on Codex Helbrutes (and not Forge World Chaos Dreadnoughts). This had some real play on sonic dreadnoughts, but now that those are gone it may be useful in a pinch on a shooty dreadnought, but that closest target restriction is a real blow. C+
    • Flakk Missile (1 CP). Use when an infantry model fires off a missile launcher at a unit that can FLY. You only make a single hit roll this phase, but you add 1 to the hit roll and if you hit the target takes D3 mortal wounds. This is a situational tactic in the best of times, and often won’t be something you’re seriously considering. You also will rarely if ever even have missile launchers in your army to begin with. C
    • Fury of Khorne (3 CP). Use at the end of the Fight phase. Pick a KHORNE Infantry or Biker unit and it can immediately fight again. Very powerful, though a bit less useful in 9th edition where charging multiple units is much more difficult. It’s really great for making an extra pile in move and finishing off a unit you couldn’t quite take down. B
    • Grandfather’s Blessings (2 CP). Use at the end of your Movement phase on a Heretic Astartes NURGLE Infantry or Biker unit. A model in that unit heals D3 wounds or, if no models have missing wounds, then you can return a single dead model back to the unit. This is going to give you the most bang for your buck when combined with units that have expensive multi-wound models. The most notable of these being Obliterators, where being able to potentially return one is a huge points boost. Otherwise, it’s situationally OK on Possessed or Bikes, and you’ll usually want to spend your CP elsewhere. C+
    • Killshot (1 CP). If you have 3 <LEGION> Chaos Predators within 6″ of each other in the Shooting phase, you can pop this to give them +1 to wound rolls and damage rolls against MONSTERS and VEHICLES for the phase. This is a decent buff, and predators are potentially cheap enough to see some play but keeping three on the table is a tall ask. C+
    • Linebreaker Bombardment (1 CP). If you have 3 <LEGION> Chaos Vindicators within 6″ of each other, you can, instead of shooting with any of them, pick a point on the battlefield within 24″ of all three and roll a D6 for each unit within 3″ of that point, adding 1 if the unit has 10+ models and subtracting 1 if it’s a character. On a 4+ the unit takes 3D3 mortal wounds. This is a holdover from early edition design and while Marines had these types of Stratagems removed, Chaos Space Marines are stuck with theirs. This is a good attack that will wreak havoc on a lot of tougher units like Bladeguard Veterans but it’s risky – lose one Vindicator and your strategy is dead in the water. On some terrain layouts and maps it may be safer to run this but it’s a risky strategy and Vindicators aren’t quite good enough to be worth it if you aren’t getting Linebreaker with them. Also giving up all three tanks’ worth of shooting really stinks. C+
    • The Great Sorcerer (1 CP). Use at the end of the Psychic phase to allow one of your TZEENTCH Heretic Astartes Psykers to manifest one more psychic power this turn. This is a solid way to make sure you’re getting the most out of your Sorcerers, though Tzeentch casters are pretty rare because it’s usually better just to take them as Thousand Sons. B
    • Tide of Traitors (2 CP). Once per game you can use at the end of your Movement phase to pick up a unit of Chaos Cultists (take them off the battlefield) and set it up again wholly within 6″ of a battlefield edge and more than 9″ away from any enemy models. You can only use this once per game. This is a powerful effect for moving a large squad of Cultists to a key position and it used to be very strong but now that Cultists have been nerfed into irrelevance it’s no longer something you build around. A-

    Veterans of the Long War (1 CP). Use when a Heretic Astartes infantry or biker that isn’t from a Renegade Chapter shoots or fights. Add 1 to wound rolls for that unit until the end of the phase. This is one of the core abilities of the Chaos Space Marines army, and an amazingly powerful build-around Stratagem. Being able to up the wound output of a large unit of Bikers, Obliterators, Havocs, Berserkers, or Possessed makes them an incredibly lethal force, and it’s amazing when combined with Stratagems that let you shoot or fight twice, so you can double your return on CP investment. One of the faction’s best Stratagems. A+

 

Warlord Traits

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Chaos Space Marines warlords have access to 6 generic traits in the codex, plus a set specific to legions that were reprinted in the Book of Fire along with new legion-specific traits, so we’ll talk about those later on. The Codex Warlord Traits are, overall, fine but not amazing-but Vigilus and Faith & Fury – now recollected in Charadon Act II: The Book of Fire – add some real gems (which we’ll cover in the legion sections). Shadowspear also added 6 additional traits exclusive to psykers that have inexplicably not been reprinted anywhere but are very solid, particularly if you’re playing a Black Legion or Alpha Legion army, each of which is able to take multiple warlord traits.

Codex Warlord Traits

With the Book of Fire Traits, the Codex traits really aren’t worth much – they’re mostly pretty bland and you’ll almost always want to have one of the Legion traits instead.

  • Eternal Vendetta. Re-roll failed wound rolls in the Fight phase against ADEPTUS ASTARTES targets. Cool against Marines but completely worthless at all other times. F
  • Flames of Spite. If you roll a 6+ to wound with a melee attack made by your warlord, the target takes 1 mortal wound in addition to any other damage. This can be really nasty when paired with a Dark Apostle or Veterans of the Long War, allowing you to knock out mortal wounds on rolls of a 5+ (though less powerful in 9th where these two don’t stack). It’s also pretty solid on a Warlord who can put out a ton of attacks, most notably a Lord Discordant. B-
  • Unholy Fortitude. Your Warlord gets +1 Wound and ignores incoming damage on a 6+++. Won’t make your warlord any better in combat, but will help keep them alive and can be particularly helpful on a larger target like the Lord Discordant. B-
  • Hatred Incarnate. Re-roll wound rolls of 1 for attacks made by your Warlord. This is solid, particularly if you aren’t going to have an Exalted Champion around – which is most of the time. It’s not amazing, but it’s among the better Codex options. C
  • Lord of Terror. When enemy units take morale tests within 6” of your warlord, they roll 2D6 and take the highest result. This will rarely matter, though it can potentially be a little bit more valuable if you’re rocking a lot of Night Lords morale debuffs. It’s also a little bit better now that marines don’t get to flat re-roll Morale tests. Still not worth taking over your other options, though. C
  • Exalted Champion. You get +1 Attack. If there’s a less flashy trait than this, I’m not sure what it is. Still, it may not be flashy, but it’s solid and Chaos Warlords will take all the attacks they can get. B

Shadowspear Warlord Traits

If a Psyker Character is your Warlord, you can generate a trait for him from this table instead of the of the one in Codex: Chaos Space Marines. These are solid but haven’t been printed anywhere else, and can be kind of a chore to find. These are particularly useful for Black Legion armies using the Council of Traitors Stratagem to get warlord traits on a Dark Apostle and a Sorcerer.

  • Arch-Sorcerer. Your Warlord knows an extra psychic power from any discipline they have access to. A great way to get that third power you often need if you want the extra versatility on your sorcerer, so you can have Warptime, Prescience, and either Death Hex or the god-specific power. A
  • Devourer of Magic. Your Warlord can attempt to deny an extra power each phase, and when they do they regain 1 lost wound each time they successfully deny. The extra deny is a pretty nice bonus here, and regaining wounds is just icing on the cake. B
  • Reader of Fate. Once per battle, you can re-roll a failed Psychic test or Deny the Witch attempt. In addition, each time your warlord manifests a psychic power, roll a D6 and on a 6 you gain 1 CP. This is also a neat way to help push through powers and save CP, and is one of a very few means that Chaos Space Marines have to regain CP (the other being the Trusted War-Leader Warlord Trait). B
  • Infernal Gaze. Increases the range on Smite to 24″ for your Warlord. Neat, but Thousand Sons just get this as their legion trait and taking a patrol of those is still an option. B-
  • Warp Lord. You can re-roll rolls of 1 when taking a Psychic test for your warlord. One of the few dependable ways to help improve your casting odds that Chaos Space Marines have access to, and a great way to help avoid getting Perils of the Warp. Extremely helpful for ensuring that you get off Prescience when you need it. A

Daemon-Bound Power. Add 1 to your Warlord’s Strength and you can re-roll damage rolls for their force weapon. This is really only going to matter on Sorcerers and Masters of Possession (Daemon Princes can still take this but all they get is +1 Strength, though that’s not nothing), and most of the time you won’t want to focus on making those better at melee when they could be better at casting. C

 

Relics

Terminator Sorcerer. Credits: That Gobbo

Chaos Space Marines have access to a variety of relics; there are those in their codex, which include a set of god-specific relics and a set of legion-specific relics, plus another set of legion-specific relics in The Book of Fire. Note that legion relics are not locked to legion detachments — even those in the Book of Fire can be taken for a <LEGION> character as long as the Warlord is a Chaos Space Marines character (you don’t need a legion detachment). Overall the Chaos Space Marine relics are pretty damn good – there’s something for every build here, and almost every legion has at least one stand-out relic.

  • Talisman of Burning Blood – KHORNE model only. You can advance and charge in the same turn, and you can re-roll failed charges. Great relic, great boost for a Khorne character, and a great way to make sure you are keeping up with a unit holding an Icon of Wrath. A
  • Eye of Tzeentch – TZEENTCH model only. Get +1 to your Psychic tests when attempting to manifest Smite. Just kind of a “meh” bonus, especially when there are other options out there. C
  • Intoxicating Elixir – SLAANESH model only. The model gets +1 to its Strength and Attacks. Straight upgrade to any character you slap it on, especially Daemon Princes, Lord Discordants and Smash Lords, and it’s relevant on all three. Lords Discordant in particular enjoy having 9 Strength on the Charge and 8 afterward, and the extra Attack is especially meaningful when it can also proc additional attacks thanks to the Flawless Host legion and Warlord traits. A
  • Puscleaver – NURGLE model only. Replaces a power sword with a relic that’s S User, AP-2, D3 Damage but it wounds on a 2+ if the target isn’t a VEHICLE. Cute, but dropping to AP-2 hurts it and most of the time the Murder Sword is a better option. C
  • Axe of Blind Fury – KHORNE model only. Replaces a power axe with one that is S+3, AP-3, D3 damage and gives the bearer Kharn’s ability, i.e. you can’t re-roll hit rolls of 1 for attacks with the Axe of Blind Fury and instead 1s are allocated to a friendly unit within 1″ if there is one. This just isn’t a big enough buff for that downside, and it suffers from only being D3 damage. If this was flat 3 damage, we’d be talking. C
  • The Murder Sword – Replaces a power sword. S +1 AP-4, 1 Damage. But at the start of the game you nominate one enemy CHARACTER to be the sword’s target and whenever you hit that character, you do a mortal wound instead of the normal damage. That’s hilariously strong but having a sword that only works on one character and is terrible everywhere else just isn’t a great strategy. Theoretically it’s funny against something like knights, where it will be near-impossible for your opponent to hide their character, but on the other hand, you aren’t going to do 24 mortal wounds to it before it stomps you to death. C

Daemon Weapons

Faith and Fury introduced a new set of relics for every legion to access in Daemon Weapons, and they’ve been reprinted in the Book of Fire. Daemon Weapons are a set of five relics that can be taken by Characters in any Chaos Space Marines army; four are dedicated to a specific Chaos god (and keyword-locked), and the fifth is open to Chaos undivided. Daemon Weapons are basically Relic weapons except they have the Daemon Weapon rule, which has you roll a D6 the first time you choose a model to fight each Fight phase. On a 1, you take a mortal wound and can’t use the weapon in the phase. On a 2+ you fight as normal. Basically, what Abaddon has with Drach’nyen, and like with Drach’nyen, many of the Daemon Weapons have abilities that key off the roll. Several of these also have replacement options for Daemon Princes as well, so they aren’t just for Chaos Lords. Now that Tzeentch Winged Daemon Princes will cost you more, the vanilla codex crew are worth a bit more consideration.

  • Q’D’AK, The Boundless – Replaces a Power Sword/Hellforged Sword/Force Sword on a Tzeentch model. S User, AP -3 and D3 damage seems pretty meh compared to other relics. However it has the party trick of: “When resolving an attack made with this weapon, invulnerable saves cannot be made,” which can make it good for character hunting or dealing with storm shielded targets, provided you’re swinging first. B
  • Thaa’ris and Rhi’ol, The Rapacious Talons – Replaces a Slaanesh model’s lightning claws/malefic talons. S User, AP -2, D2. Re-roll the wound roll and add the result of your daemon weapon roll (provided it wasn’t a 1) to your model’s Attacks characteristic this phase. Replacing lightning claws, this is merely neat. The talons combine well with the Flawless Host’s Renegade Trait, Death to Imperfect and the Ultimate Confidence Warlord Trait. Doing 5+D6 attacks on the charge, causing two extra hits on a 6 and one on a 5 creates a fun-to-use blender. In all, you want these when you know you’ll be going up against infantry, and that means they’re good against marines, particularly since they’re 2 damage They aren’t quite as much of a relative boost thanks to the buff to lightning claws, but they’re more useful given how the meta has shifted. A
  • Zaall, the Wrathful – Replaces a Khorne model’s Power Sword or Hellforged Sword. S User, AP -5, 2 Damage, and each round you add your roll for the Daemon weapon to the model’s strength. AP-5 is spicy but on the whole this comes off as a less reliable burning blade. The big upside is that it’s relatively low-cost from a points standpoint, and much better on a Winged Daemon Prince where your starting strength is already high. It’s very good for cutting through heavy infantry. B+
  • G’Holl’Ax, Fist of Decay – Replaces a Nurgle model’s Power Fist. Sx2, AP -3, 3 Damage, and gives you -1 to your hit roll, which means it’s going to kill your Death to the False Emperor ability, but it always wounds on an unmodified 2+. Cheaper than a Thunder Hammer with most of the upside and much better at wounding knights and other large targets with T6+. Strong enough to be worth looking at. B

Ul’’O’Cca, The Black Axe – Replaces a Power/Force/Demonic Axe with one that has a profile of S User, Ap 0, D1, but it causes a mortal wound in addition to your other damage every time you roll an unmodified 4+ on your wound rolls. This is a weird option – throwing out mortal wounds is pretty good, but your damage ceiling is basically the number of attacks you make, and more often than not you’re just doing half your attacks as mortal wounds with this guy because the base attacks on this are awful. If you want something for cracking powerful characters there are going to be better options – even against stuff that’s in the sweet spot of “has an invulnerable save” and “has few enough wounds to be threatened by this” you’re probably better off just throwing out a ton of 2- and 3-damage attacks for them to save against. C

 

The Legions of Chaos

Space Marines have Chapters, Chaos Space Marines have Legions. There are 9 original traitor legions, two of which – Death Guard and Thousand Sons – have their own codexes (and their own Start Competing articles). The remaining 7 are covered in Codex: Chaos Space Marines, along with the Book of Fire, which also has rules for another six Renegade chapters and the deranged group of genetically modified madmen that follow Fabius Bile called The 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. Check out the Legion Traits section above for links to those.

 

Units

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, having already covered them in their relevant legion section above. 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.

HQ

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.

Chaos Lord

Black Legion Chaos Space Marines / Servants of the Abyss for Blackstone Fortress by Crab-stuffed Mushrooms

The bog standard leaders of the Chaos Space Marine army, Chaos Lords are a versatile tool in your arsenal. They’ve got a solid melee profile, sporting 4 attacks base and the ability to wield a variety of wargear. Also comes with an aura that lets nearby <LEGION> units re-roll hit rolls of 1. Chaos lords are relatively cheap (80 points) and can be outfitted a variety of ways, making them good “Swiss army knife” style HQs, able to fit a variety of needs:

  • In their base format, they work as backline support, lending auras to shooting units. This isn’t the ideal use for them, but there are worse things you could do with an HQ slot. If you’re going this route, keep them cheap – upgrade to a Chainaxe if you want, but don’t waste points on someone who won’t really be in combat except to counter-charge.
  • With the ability to take Jump Packs and Thunder hammers, plus a variety of other weapon options, Chaos Lords can be potent melee units, and take on the “Smash Lord” configuration, maximizing their damage output with a thunder hammer and chainsword, or with a suitably brutal relic like Ghorisvex’s Teeth, the Forgemaster’s Axe or The Ashen Axe to turn them into a real beater capable of dropping multiple multi-damage strikes. They do especially well as Emperor’s Children or Night Lords, who have ways of making their charges more reliable out of deep strike. Since the Chaos Lord on Bike is now a Legends option, if you want a Chaos Lord who can keep up with a squad of bikes, this is basically your primary option.

He’s a separate datasheet, but the Chaos Lord in Terminator Armour brings some extra punch to the table, giving you a Lord who can teleport in and is a bit more durable than the jump pack option, with an extra wound and a 2+ armor save, though Chaos Lords already get a 4+ invulnerable save so the added 5+ from terminator armor doesn’t matter. Otherwise, they aren’t bringing much more to the table, though some stratagems key off the TERMINATOR keyword. There isn’t a ton of reason to take one outside those, but they aren’t a bad upgrade if you have the points free.

 

Daemon Prince

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

One of two serious combat monsters that Chaos Space Marines have access to in the HQ slot (along with Lords Discordant), Daemon Princes – almost always taken with wings – are combat blenders that combine a great statline – S7, T6, and a 3+ save – with 8 wounds, meaning they can sit comfortably behind other units and out of harm’s way until you need them to jump over both screens and tear something up. Daemon Princes of Khorne come with an extra attack (meh), while the other three flavors are Psykers that know Smite and a single other power, making them versatile weapons who can boost their combat prowess or cast an extra warptime in a pinch. Finally note that Daemon Princes also have a re-roll 1s to hit aura like Chaos Lords, but it also works on all DAEMONS with the same mark, so it works cross-faction. Their only major downside is that they only have 4 base attacks, but they benefit from both Hateful Assault and the ability to take a pair of Malefic Talons, which is the way you’ll want to run them most of the time and gives them +3 attacks. The Book of Fire gives you a few ways to upgrade them, giving them relics that can replace either talons (like the Rapacious Talons) or a Hellforged Sword/Daemonic Axe. All Daemon Princes count as being the same unit for the Rule of Three, but with 9th’s list-building rules you aren’t that likely to run into that as a blocker. They also really work well with the armor relics that confer a 2+ save (the ones that aren’t infantry-only, anyways).

In battle, Daemon Princes are best kept protected until they’re needed, advancing behind a steady line of infantry, ready to jump over and decimate opponents that get too close, or to make important counter-charges.

One more thing to note is that Daemon Princes can take a ranged weapon (there’s no model for this) – the Warp Bolter. This doesn’t replace anything (it’s an add-on you pay 5 points for) and it gives the Daemon Prince a 24″ Assault 2, S4, AP-1, 2 Damage gun that’s a handy add-on to an already formidable melee profile. It’s worth taking most of the time you can spare the points for it.

 

Sorcerer

Credit: TheChirurgeon

One of the most important units in the Chaos Space Marine army, Sorcerers are Psykers with access to Smite and two powers from the Dark Hereticus Discipline. This makes them invaluable support units for casting Warptime on a key melee unit, or a buff like Prescience or Delightful Agonies. It’s rare to see a Chaos Space Marines list (or even a Chaos list) not packing a Sorcerer or two, though as a unit they’ve lost some utility thanks to the changes to psychic powers making them only affect <LEGION> units – so their value in soup lists is extremely limited.

Sorcerers have a great set of powers to choose from but can be a little fragile, with only 4 wounds and a 3+ save and no invulnerable, they’ll die pretty quick if they’re ever caught in the open or forced to fight in melee combat. The good news is that you can mitigate this by taking a Sorcerer in Terminator Armour, which gives him the ability to teleport into battle, +1 wound, a 2+ save, and a 5+ invulnerable save, making them much more durable and giving them some better shooting options. The better play is typically to do this with a Thousand Sons Sorcerer, but a CSM one can work in a pinch, particularly when paired with Obliterators to cast Prescience on. A Terminator Armour Sorcerer can also serve as a means of casting Pierce the Veil in an opponent’s deployment zone multiple times per game (while also scoring Behind Enemy Lines) in a pinch, though this shouldn’t be your primary strategy.

 

Master of Possession

Credit: Gerald Miller

The Master of Possession is a Pysker HQ that specializes in working with DAEMON units. He’s got the same profile as a Sorcerer, but is locked into taking a force staff and instead of knowing two powers from the Dark Hereticus Discipline, knows and can cast two powers from the Malefic Discipline. With Daemon Engines and Obliterators being really priced to move in 9th Edition he’s an increasingly popular choice, and if you have a strategy that’s going in hard on either of these (or still using Possessed) you should almost always take one.

 

Dark Apostle

Credit: TheChirurgeon

Although Dark Apostles have been around for a while, they didn’t become useful until the release of the second Chaos Codex/Vigilus Ablaze, when they received an update with the ability to chant Prayers to the Dark Gods. Each Dark Apostle comes with an OK melee statline (WS 2+, 4 Wounds, 3 attacks), a 4+ invulnerable save, an accursed crozius, and an aura that lets him share his Leadership with nearby units, which can be handy for keeping cultists on the table. They also know two prayers – one of your choosing, plus the Dark Zealotry prayer, and they get a third god-specific one if you give them a mark of Chaos. Most of the prayers are very good, and give you a lot of utility. While Dark Apostles aren’t quite as good in melee combat as the more versatile Space Marine Chaplains, they make up for it by being able to take Dark Disciples, which improve their prayer odds to 2+, and make it much easier to rely on casting something like Benediction of Darkness, Warp-sight Plea, or Illusory Supplication every turn. Because they aren’t Psykers, a Dark Apostle can slot into any legion, and because their prayers are legion-locked but not infantry-locked, they’re often helpful for buffing vehicles like the Lord of Skulls. Dark Apostles are struggling a bit in 9th compared to 8th, because a combination of a lack of mobility options and having to lock prayers in on your army list makes them less flexible, but they’re still worth a look in the legions that give them some extra utility (Black Legion and Word Bearers).

Dark Disciples

Give your Dark Apostle +1 to prayer rolls and don’t take up a Detachment slot. At 10 points, they’re almost always worth taking.

 

Warpsmith

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 do 1 mortal wound to an enemy vehicle within 18″ on a 2+ (very nifty if you have PURGE units that want to activate their legion trait). plus they come with a power axe, flamer, and meltagun, making them dangerous at close range, but their primary asset is being one of the cheapest HQs in the army. Unfortunately, 9th has turned slot filling from a blessing into a terrible curse and simultaneously increased the cost on these models by a significant amount, so there’s suddenly not a massive amount of reasons to take these. RIP.

 

Lord Discordant

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Once the big, bad bogeymen of the Chaos Space Marines Codex. Lords Discordant are one of, if not the single strongestunits in the Chaos Space Marines army. They are fantastic melee combatants, capable of holding their own and mulching most targets in the game – including larger targets like knights where with the right buffs they can take one down in a single round – and they’re great force multipliers, with an aura that immediately makes all of the other daemon engines in your army much better. Although Lords Discordant saw a significant points hike in 9th edition that makes taking three not super feasible, the flip-side is that being a VEHICLE became a bit better in 9th edition, taking one is still very reasonable, and many of the daemon engines that depend on the Lord DIscordant came down in relative price and have improved. Armament-wise the Lord Discordant gives you two options: The Autocannon and the Baleflamer. This used to be a no-brainer pick for the Autocannon, but since the baleflamer came down to 20 points (from 30), it’s a much closer choice. You still probably want the Autocannon most of the time because it’s cheaper, but the Baleflamer will help you a lot more if you’re running Red Corsairs Lords Discordant who can advance and charge. It’s also a better option for shooting in combat.

If there’s a downside to this wonderful murdermachine, it’s that his 12 wounds mean that he can be immediately targeted by enemy units. That, coupled with only being T6, means that the Lord Discordant will go down very quickly without help if he doesn’t have other help or durability buffs. This makes protecting your Lord Discordant is a tough prospect, and bringing three of them is way tougher than it used to be in 8th Edition. That being said, other chunky threats and Daemon Engines look a lot better in 9th, making a single one a more defensible choice. There are also a couple of easy ways to boost their longevity that are worth looking at: Delightful Agonies and Weaver of Fates both help prevent damage, while Benediction of Darkness can make them harder to hit. It’s still worth looking at having a Lord Discordant as your warlord, but keep in mind that they’ll be difficult to protect, and potentially easy Headhunters/slay the warlord points. One final thing to note is that the Lord Discordant is a CHARACTER, so they get the Legion Traits thanks to errata, but not INFANTRY, so they can’t use some stratagems and abilities, such as Fury of Khorne.

 

Master of Executions

The other cheap HQ choice for Chaos Space Marines, the Master of Executions is a wonderful backline support character, able to hang back and quickly wade into combat for counter-charges when needed, thanks to his Warp-Sighted Butcher ability, which gives him a 6″ Heroic Intervention if he can use it to get within 1″ of an enemy character. The Master of Executions is a pretty straightforward unit otherwise, packing a solid weapon in the Axe of Dismemberment. He’s another mild victim of the 9th Edition changes in that you just aren’t as interested in someone to randomly fill an HQ slot, but as one of the cheaper choices available he might see occasional use unlocking a patrol.

 

Other Choices

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The rest of the Chaos HQ choices aren’t really worth talking about at length; we talk about the special characters in their relevant legion articles:

 

Fabius Bile

A long time staple of the Chaos roster, Fabius Bile got a new model and a big old upgrade as of War of the Spider. He sports a Chaos Lord-style statline with some decent special weapons, and brings the Enhanced Warriors ability to the table, letting him upgrade a nearby HERETIC ASTARTES INFANTRY unit at the end of your movement phase, rolling a d3 and randomly giving them +1 to S, T or A until the end of the battle (at the risk of a one in six chance of destroying a single model). The randomness used to make this a bit questionable, but as of WoTS he can bring along a Surgeon Acolyte, who lets him add or subtract one from that roll. Suddenly being able to land the ability of your choice either two thirds of the time (S or A) or always (T) makes him a way more interesting choice, held back only by there not being that many units you really want to apply this sort of buff to. T5 Terminators or T4 Cultists could be cool though.

Fabius doesn’t belong to any legion, and can be included in a Legion detachment without breaking Legion traits, but the other thing he does for you is, when he’s your warlord, is allow you to instead turn any <LEGION> units in your army into CREATIONS OF BILE, who are effectively a legion of their own with their own relics and stratagems. We’ve covered them in their own article – Creations of Bile.

Cypher

Cypher has a really cool model, and his pistols are neat. Nothing about the Fallen “works” in 40k the game however, and he doesn’t bring much to the table as a character. He can’t even be in a detachment with the rest of your Chaos Space Marines units – he lacks the HERETIC ASTARTES keyword.

 

Troops

Chaos Space Marines have two options at the Troops slot and neither is amazing. We’ll talk about the two “sometimes” Troops choices – Noise Marines and Berzerkers – in Elites.

Chaos Cultists

Chaos Cultists
Chaos Cultists. Credit: That Gobbo

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, and just when things had been re-adjusted back to moderately OK, 9th Edition put a vicious bullet in their head by hiking them to 6ppm, though now that has been corrected and they’ve been mercifully dropped back down to 5 points per model, a cost we can all live with. They’re still the cheapest troop choice if you need to fill out a patrol, and there’s still something to the idea of running a lot of them with Abaddon, gumming up the board with endless fearless bodies. That’s especially true if you bring along Illusory Supplication on a Dark Apostle to give them a 5++, at which point they’re a fairly hefty blob, and start having a better chance of surviving for a Tide of Traitors blowout. Iron Warriors and Alpha Legion both have a few other tricks that can make these useful, and you end up with a unit that’s sometimes OK, but hardly lighting up the world. They’re also perfectly capable of holding objectives and completing actions, and that means a lot to an army that has to push the rest of its units to get every ounce possible of value out of its more potent units.

Chaos Space Marines

As of the start of 9th, these have been adjusted to 14pts each, meaning a basic unit runs you 70pts. That’s slightly on the expensive side, but hits a price point where if you just want a random backfield unit to hold an objective you’ll often pick them for the job, as with power armour they’re moderately difficult to budge from cover. You’ll usually want either a Patrol or Battalion in your army and these are OK to fill the mandatory slots there (and can be worth taking in greater numbers in Alpha Legion, Creations of Bile, or Red Corsairs) but otherwise they’re functional but unexciting. They have some added utility now that they can take AP-1 Astartes chainswords, and generally even small squads will be better off taking these over boltguns, where 5-10 S4 AP0 shots won’t do much for you, but generally how useful they are will depend on the legion you’re taking them in.

 

Elites

Chaos Space Marines have a number of interesting Elites choices, most of them specializing in melee combat or mid-range shooting.

Terminators

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Terminators were a huge winner in the 9th Edition points updates and got another major boost in the January 2021 Munitorum Field Manual FAQ. They were OK mid-table board control units before and now they’re significantly better. after the January 2021 points update (they’re some of the biggest winners overall). Thanks to the points update, Chaos Terminators now clock in at 28 pts each, which includes their combi-bolter and a melee weapon – one of chainaxe, power axe, power sword, or power maul – which is 1 point more than they used to cost with chainaxes but 3 points cheaper than they used to be when armed with literally any other weapon, including the “free” options of a power axe, sword, maul, or lightning claw. Because each of those weapons is better than a chainaxe, there’s now no reason to ever take Chainaxe terminators again, and you should be looking at lightning claws almost all the time, since +1 attack and re-rolling wounds is better than the power sword’s +1 strength AP-3 effect most, if not all of the time. A power fist or chain fist will cost you +5 points and is also cheaper, and you’ll get the best savings on double lightning claw terminators, who are now 5 points cheaper. 

Your default loadout for Chaos Terminators is now a combi-bolter + lightning claw (though a power sword will work in a pinch if you’re trying to save money on conversions), which allows them to dump out 4 shots per model up to 24″ range after teleporting onto the battlefield while throwing out 4 attacks each on the charge at S4 AP-2 re-rolling wounds, and at 28 points that’s a pretty great value. Chaos Terminators are great targets for Veterans of the Long War, and often want to be Slaanesh so they can use Endless Cacophony. Many of the legions also bring strong synergies to the table for them, as you’ll see in a lot of the legion-specific articles, and one place you might want to break from running as Slaanesh is to go for Red Butchers in World Eaters. 

As far as the ranged weapons go, combi-meltas, plasmas, and flamers also got cheaper in the points update, and each will run you +5 points per model (so a lightning claw + combi-melta terminator is now 5 points cheaper), and if you’re running terminators you’ll likely want them armed with either combi-plasma or combi-melta to improve their damage output and make them a nastier short-range threat, since you’ll otherwise be struggling to get real AP. Again with the points changes, this means that you’re looking at lightning claw + combi-plasma or lightning claw + combi-melta as your ideal loadout if you’re paying ot upgrade these, and it will usually be worth doing if you’re planning to take a large squad. You also may want a pair of powerfists/chainfists to hit bigger targets with, but you can skip the heavy weapons upgrade – the heavy flamer still isn’t quite good enough and despite being AP-2 the Reaper Autocannon doesn’t do enough to justify its points cost.

Terminators are basically just good right now, and you should enjoy them as they are while excitedly anticipating their future upgrade to 3W.

Possessed

Credit: Charlie A

Possessed were the superstars of late 8th Edition Chaos lists, but the transition to 9th Edition has, sadly, torpedoed them. The triple whammy of losing Specialist Detachments, the addition of the Desperate Breakout Stratagem and the impact of Blast means that Possessed have plunged from being one of the best units in the army to a fringe choice at best. 

That’s a bit of a shame because the basic function of Possessed, which is to be a bully melee unit, is something 9th Edition tends to reward, but Possessed mostly don’t get there as-is. They’re 20pts each for a 2W, T4 3+/5++ model, have a unit-wide random attack characteristic of d3 and hit at a reasonable AP-2, but are hampered by only being D1. They also don’t really have any inbuilt delivery mechanisms, and that kind of brings us round to the problem with them – they’re not good enough without substantial investment into buffs, but a full unit ends up too vulnerable to justify that investment.

That ends up leaving the Word Bearers as the main place you can get some mileage out of a mid-sized unit simply because of the ability to slam the “damage 2” button whenever relevant. Pretty much anywhere else they just don’t cut it in a world where your melee units need to be able to chew through brick walls of multi-wound power armour. If you are taking them, you’ll want to consider a transport for them, and Rhinos and drills both do just fine for this.

 

Greater Possessed

Credit: MasterSlowPoke

Greater Possessed are pretty nasty in combat, but their real value is adding +1 Strength to nearby squads of Possessed or Daemon Engines. They are an elusive non-HQ CHARACTER, so if you have a plan themed around summoning they can help shore that up. The value of Greater Possessed beyond being a non-HQ Character is largely tied to the value of Possessed as a whole. So while those are still pretty bad, Greater Possessed don’t have much value.

Helbrute

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Right now Helbrutes are mostly looking over at both loyalist dreadnoughts and Forge World chaos dreads and crying their robotic eyes out at not yet getting -1 to incoming damage for free, all the time. That being said, they do still have some things to recommend them. First up, they get 8″ Movement, which is great, and helps them to make use of their strong melee options, mostly the power scourge, which gives them a healthy number of attacks. As of the recent wargear changes, they also have access to  cost-efficient shooting mounts from the multi-melta or twin heavy bolter, and taken together you can build a unit that’s pretty OK, if not lighting up the world.

They do also benefit from Legion Traits but only a few of the legion traits even matter to them, namely World Eaters (+1 Attack on the charge), Alpha Legion (-1 to be hit outside of 12″), Flawless Host (exploding 6s cause extra hits in melee), and the Red Corsairs (Advance and charge in the same turn). Many armies in 9th want something moderately durable that’s happy to chill out on a backfield objective, and there are worse things to fill than duty than one of these.

The most recent FAQ and points update in January 2021 adjusted prices on these models just a bit; they’re now 110 points base, which includes most of their weapon options, including all of their melee options, the Reaper Autocannon, Plasma Cannon, and Missile Launcher. This was a bit of an odd change; Helbrutes got a bit more expensive when rocking double fists, but otherwise got cheaper for most of their option combos – double power scourge Helbrutes are now 10 points cheaper, and Scourge + Hammer Helbrutes are 15 points cheaper. It’s not super clear that the hammer + scourge is better than fist + scourge (I personally prefer the higher hit rate and more consistent damage), but having melee ‘brutes be cheaper is a welcome benefit, especially for World Eaters or Creations of Bile Helbrutes. On the shooty side, the Multi-melta is now a 5-point upgrade and the best weapon you can take on a Helbrute, and a fist + multi-melta Helbrute costs the same as before, but is better than you might remember thanks to the second shoot and improved damage profile. Overall Helbrutes are OK but not amazing and they can be reliable, relatively inexpensive distractions for your army.

 

Mutilators

Previously blessed with terrible rules and some of the game’s ugliest models, Mutilators are still ugly as sin but now have a lot of use thanks to being dirt cheap units that are fairly durable and can teleport in, making them excellent cheap ways of scoring the Behind Enemy Lines or Engage on All Fronts secondary objectives and as INFANTRY they can Retrieve Octarius to boot, though they’re not quite as useful in a post-Deploy Scramblers environment, since getting into your opponent’s deployment zone isn’t quite as critical as it used to be. For 105 points for a squad of three, they’re essentially a steal, with the play being that you teleport them into an opponent’s deployment zone early on and use them to score secondary objective points and act as a moderately durable distraction though note that they’re pretty slow and likely to be disappointing against any dedicated melee units if you try fighting with them – don’t expect too much.

 

Khorne Berzerkers

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

These used to be one of the strongest melee units in the game, but are starting to look a little left behind by things like Bladeguard Veterans. Still, Khorne Berzerkers pack a lot of power into a relatively inexpensive, if fragile, shell. Their ability to fight twice per turn is crazy deadly, especially when each one comes with S5 and 2 Attacks base and can be kitted out with a chainaxe and chainsword to get them to 4 attacks each on the charge (although as of the Astartes Chainsword update there’s probably an argument you can save a point per model and not bother with the axe). Berzerkers are very strong but your biggest challenge is going to be getting them into combat. They can’t teleport on their own, leaving you to find other ways of delivering them to combat without losing too many models. 

This can sometimes be done with Warptime, or if you’re Red Corsairs you can use the ability to advance and charge to make those distances shorter but more than likely you’ll want to do this with a Transport. Unfortunately, almost all of the Chaos Space Marine transports are terrible. Rhinos are, at best, serviceable but the one transport you might really want to look at is the Terrax Termite Assault Drill, which can deliver your Berzerkers right to their target on turn 2 and will stick around to become a threat in its own right (especially with its new statline). The downside is the need to make a 9″ charge, but there are a few ways you can help with that (the Violent Urgency Warlord Trait, in particular), particularly if you’re running World Eaters.

On that note, Berzerkers really shine in World Eaters armies, where they can occupy Troop slots in a Detachment and benefit from an extra attack during their first fight round on the turn they charge. With Apoplectic Frenzy you can move squads up 9″ before the game starts, moving them into key mid-table terrain features like NOVA Ls to set them up for a turn 1 charge or protect them from enemy fire.

The structural change to 9th edition’s charges is ultimately what hurts Berserkers the most – only being able to fight units that you charge means they can’t use their second pile in and fight move to tear through units you didn’t charge. The upside is that this means you can get a lot more value out of fewer berserkers – a squad of five sword + axe berserkers with a lightning claw champion will put in enough work to kill most things it charges fighting twice.

Noise Marines

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Noise Marines are the Slaanesh-devoted Elite unit in the Chaos Codex, armed with Sonic Blasters that ignore cover and act as upgrades over standard marine bolters (though less so now that Bolter Discipline/Malicious Volleys exists). They can come in squads of up to 20 and can include one Blastmaster under 10 models or two at more than 10; these act as souped-up Missile Launchers, with modes that are good for big targets and small, and they’re very efficiently costed. Noise Marines have a cool ability called Music of the Apocalypse that allows them to pop off a shooting attack after they die, which is a fine bonus. Unlike with Khorne Berzerkers, there’s not really a lot of compelling reasons to take Noise Marines outside of Emperor’s Children. This is both because they can occupy a Troops slot and also because Emperor’s Children have the Excrutiating Frequencies Stratagem, which adds 1 to the damage of a squad’s sonic weapons, dramatically boosting their output and making it well worth it to have a single squad of 18-20 that can fire twice on loud mode with Endless Cacophony. They’re the best troops on offer right now in Codex: Chaos Space Marines and one of the key units that keeps CSM armies afloat competitively, powering Emperor’s Children lists. They get an additional boost from the changes to the Dreadclaw Drop Pod, as now they can be put in a pod instead of strategic reserves and dumped onto the table wherever you need them to be on turn 1. While this caps you to squads of 10 it’s a great way to protect them until they shoot and saves you 3 CP on putting them in Strategic Reserves.

That said, you can likely make a case for them in an Alpha Legion detachment, where the ability to redeploy them, move them forward pre-game, or fall back and shoot while having -1 to be hit is pretty solid. Skip giving a Doom Siren to the Champion though; give him a Sonic Blaster. Your biggest challenge with Noise Marines will be delivering them to the middle of the table safely, which will require either transports – rhinos are good for this – or placing them into Strategic Rerserves.

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 Inferno bolters and come with a Psyker who knows a baby version of Smite, but they come with a hefty price tag at 16 points per model. They’re pretty mean but they’re a little too fragile for their high points cost, and getting +1 to saving throws against D1 weapons isn’t quite good enough, especially with the ever-increasing number of D2 weapons in the field.

Normally, there isn’t a really compelling reason to take Rubric Marines in a Chaos Space Marines army; they’re not quite good enough without the crazy help you get from the new Stratagems that Thousand Sons got for them in Psychic Awakening: Ritual of the Damned.

OK, but here’s the thing: None of those fancy new Stratagems are legion-locked; instead they affect RUBRIC MARINES specifically, meaning that you can take a Supreme Command Detachment of Thousand Sons filled with Sorcerers and Daemon Princes that gives you access to Thousand Sons Stratagems, then take a squad of Thousand Sons in say, an Alpha Legion detachment (where they get the legion trait of being -1 to be hit) and then still have access to the Thousand Sons stratagems to teleport them into the battlefield (Risen Rubricae), shoot twice if they remain stationary (Infernal Fusillade), or bump up their invulnerable saves (Indomitable Foes). When combined with these Stratagems and another legion trait, Rubric Marines can be pretty nasty. Alpha Legion works best for this, but you can get up to some fun shenanigans with the Iron Warriors’ Dour Duty Stratagem, which can combine with the Bastion Warlord trait to get you to functionally ignoring AP-3 on 1 damage shooting weapons. We don’t expect these to survive the next Thousand Sons Codex release, however.

Decimator (FW)

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

One of the big winners of the Imperial Armour Compendium, the Decimator gets a number of big changes that improve it from a power standpoint while its cost decreased. The big change for Decimators is that they’ve gone from being an 8-wound model to a 12-wound one, and that means they have a degrading profile now. The bad news is that includes degrading WS and BS attributes, but the good news is that they don’t hit that first bracket drop until they’re at 6 wounds remaining, which previously would have been the point where your Decimator had 2 wounds left, and regaining one per turn means it really only matters if you’re at 5 or fewer wounds. That’s all upside compared to the prior iteration.

The Decimator has a lot of value to offer in this new, beefier iteration. It trades off access to Legion Traits (it’s not a HELBRUTE) for the upsides of being a Daemon Engine – a 5+ save, access to the Daemonforge Stratagem, and receiving buffs that target DAEMON and DAEMON ENGINE units. At 160 points with most weapons, Decimators are a little cheaper than they used to be, since almost all of their weapon options are baked into the model’s base cost now. Fundamentally there are a few ways to run Decimators:

  • The most competitive option is Double Soulburner Petards. These may be more expensive (180) but the ability to throw out 4D3 mortal wounds at 24″ is pretty nasty, and there aren’t a lot of targets in the game that won’t be relevant for. Remember it’s also fairly easy to get a Decimator to a 2+ to hit re-rolling 1s, and you’ll need to do that to make them worthwhile.
  • Double Butcher Cannons are less competitive but for 160 points, you get 8 S7 AP-2 D2 shots that hit on a 3+ with a body that has a 5+ invulnerable save and can heal, and you can get that to a 2+ with a little help. That’s about 50 points pricier than a Sonic Dreadnought was, but more resilient.
  • Double Claws. Similarly you could go full melee. The Decimator has 5 Attacks base, plus 1 if it charges, and plus one more if you give it two melee weapons, each of which will have a 2-damage Hellflamer tucked inside it. Again, at no increased cost. This gives you a 7-attack monster that hits at S14 and can tear up most targets, plus it has two Hellflamers, which give it some nasty firepower that will ignore the impacts of its degrading profile and can be fired at targets in Engagement Range.
  • Butcher Cannon + Claw may be an option to consider but you’re likely going to be better off going full shooting or melee with the Decimator.

Decimators combine the resilience of a Defiler with the smaller profile of a Helbrute and act as an interesting middle ground between the two. You’ll want to support them with a Lord Discordant and a Chaos Lord when possible.

Chaos Contemptor Dreadnought (FW)

The Chaos Contemptor initially flew under the radar after Imperial Armour Index came out but recently they’ve exploded in popularity as lower-toughness targets have become more of a meta-wide threat. One potential answer to these issues are Twin Volkite Contemptor dreadnoughts – a Contemptor armed with two twin Volkite Culverins fires 16 S6, AP0 2-damage shots per turn, and deals additional mortal wounds on wound rolls of 6. The result is a gun that’s very effective at clearing out multiwound units iwth more serious army or invulnerable saves you aren’t likely to chew through quickly. Give one a missile launcher as well to max out its damage output. There’s also potentially play for a Contemptor with a chainfist and a plasma cannon but the current flavor du jour is the Volkite Contemptor, and it’s not uncommon to see two or three of them in Chaos (or Death Guard) lists.

Chaos Deredeo Dreadnought (FW)

Chaos Leviathan Dreadnought (FW)

Chaos Space Marines now have access to the same Deredeo/Leviathan as loyalists, at the same cost. Unfortunately, the rules for them are worse because they can’t have combat doctrines and until errata gives it the HELBRUTE keyword, they can’t benefit from a legion trait, either. That’s pretty bad! The upside is that all three can still pack some pretty nasty weapons, and on the whole they’ve got some of the best shooting that Chaos Space Marines get access to. On the downside, they all have the Martial Legacy rule now, making it so that including them in a detachment increases its cost by 1 CP. They’re still OK in some builds, but probably won’t be playable until errata or new rules give them legion traits to benefit from.

 

Other Choices

Chaos Space Marines
Chosen Chaos Space Marines. That Gobbo

Chosen

Basically veteran Chaos Space Marine squads, Chosen have all the issues that CSM squads have, but cost 1 point per model more, get +1 attack and lose out on ObSec by virtue of being Elites. Their biggest value is the ability to kit them out in a ton of different ways, and of these the most useful loadout is either 5 plasma guns or 5 meltaguns and putting them in a Termite Assault drill so they can pop out and drop a bunch of surprise shooting on someone before they die horribly. They also may have a bit of utility as melee units armed with AP-1 chainswords in some armies, but ultimately losing Obsec is really what hurts these guys. Similar to Havocs, they’ve recently gotten a boost in value from the change to Dreadclaw Drop pods, and now putting a unit with Lightning Claws in a Dreadclaw is a pretty solid play for Emperor’s Children, who can guarantee a charge the turn they arrive. The notion of dealing with 5 lightning claw attacks from each model on the charge is pretty terrifying, and makes them a unit that *has* to be dealt with.

Plague Marines

Nurgle-dedicated marines filled with pus and bile, Plague Marines are tougher than normal and have some fairly nasty weapon options, but don’t particularly bring much to a Chaos Space Marines army, particularly when you can just soup with Death Guard.

Fallen

Fallen have the same issues that Cypher does in that they can’t really be fielded in a Chaos Space Marines detachment thanks to their odd keywords. They’re really just an option for fun themed armies and Narrative games.

 

Fast Attack

The Chaos Space Marine Fast Attack options are limited, but there are some good options in there, especially after the Imperial Armour Compendium update.

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 against Intercessors, Ork boyz, or other large squads of infantry they’ll do some great work. Because you almost always want them firing twice with Endless Cacophony you’ll want to give them the Mark of Slaanesh, and as there’s no reason for them to have a bolt pistol, give them an astartes chainsword  and suddenly you’ve got a capable combat unit able to throw out a host of AP-1 attacks on the move.

 

Raptors

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Raptors are the jump infantry of the Chaos Space Marines army. They don’t really have enough attacks to be great, but the recent addition of AP-1 chainswords makes them look a lot better, particularly in legions that can have them reliably charge out of deep strike, such as the Emperor’s Children or the Night Lords. They can take special weapons, but their real value is most likely as a 15-model blob sporting chainswords. They’ve got some value as World Eaters as well, where they can use Apoplectic Fury to make a 9” pregame move, then follow up with a first-turn charge. They’re also the go-to unit for Creations of Bile, where the +1 strength they get from the legion trait makes them considerably more dangerous. These guys were a decent take in some gimmicky lists prior to the January 2021 points update and now that they’ve dropped to 15 points per model, they’re actually a steal and likely to make a real splash in competitive play. Their biggest challenge is that they need support – even in Creations of Bile, a 3+ to hit with a 3+ to wound and AP-1 and 3 attacks on the charge will give you disappointing output against marines, and you should make sure you’re supporting them with Veterans of the Long War and a re-roll aura if possible.

 

Warp Talons

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Warp Talons had a brief time in the sun following the release of Faith and Fury but since the loss of Specialist Detachments haven’t had much play. They were incredibly overcosted for a time in 9th edition but the January 2021 points update has dropped them to only 23 points per model with their lightning claws, a 4ppm drop. That’s still really expensive for a 1-wound, 3+ save model, but between that and the lightning claws upgrade it makes them just dangerous enough to consider, especially in either Night Lords/Emperor’s Children or Creations of Bile. They don’t necessarily need to charge out of deep strike – the ability to turn off Overwatch when doing so isn’t particularly valuable these days – but they’re fragile enough that you will want to protect them if you’re starting with them on the table. That said, they also have play in World Eaters and Red Corsairs, where you can use Apoplectic Frenzy or the Red Corsairs’ legion trait to get them into a turn 1 charge – the ability to throw a unit of five of them at an enemy’s lines on turn 1 with 4 to 5 attacks each is pretty solid. Note that these guys can’t take an Icon of Wrath to help them make charges, but they are Daemons, and so in addition to having a 5+ invulnerable save, they also benefit from Chaos Daemons’ Herald auras, and the +1 Strength bonus in particular is great on them.

Chaos Spawn

Chaos Spawn are cheap, quick, and surprisingly resilient. Their primary function is to threaten objectives and annoy, as they’re able to be surprisingly deadly in melee with even some average rolls. That they can move through ruin walls and other BREACHABLE terrain as Beasts is a big improvement on their 8th edition lot. Taking one is a great way to spend your last points when you’re looking at 25ish points remaining.

Blood Slaughterer of Khorne (FW)

The Blood Slaughterer got an update to a newer, cheaper form in Imperial Armour Compendium and although it’s now sporting 1 less wound (with a static profile to show for it), it’s just as fast, more accurate, and nearly as deadly in melee while being 40 point cheaper.

Greater Blight Drone (FW)

The bigger, meaner cousin of the Death Guard Foetid Blight-Drone. These used to be nothing to write home about but thanks to the Imperial Armour Compendium update are suddenly worth talking about and considering. At 125 points per model and 9 Wounds with Disgustingly Resilient and a BS of 3+, these are fast, durable DAEMON ENGINES that can output a surprising amount of firepower while moving 14” (their Bile Maws are no longer pistol weapons) and they’re not terrible in melee either.

Hellforged 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 for Noise Marines, who otherwise need to spend 2-3 CP to drop into Strategic Reserves. Even after you climb out, the Dreadclaw, although a bit expensive, still has value, as it’s able to fly around and threaten enemy units and vehicles in a manner similar to the Termite Terrax Pattern drill. Since the FAQ, these have shown up in a few successful lists, sometimes as a one-off and sometimes running the full trio. They’re a great vector for Noise Marines and Havocs, allowing you to get squads of either onto the board in full health and in prime position to wreck an opponent’s day. Check out the Emperor’s Children article for more on these and how they’re being used in competitive play.

 

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.

Havocs

There was a lot of excitement around Havocs and their wonderful new models when the 2nd Codex came out for Chaos Space Marines. Then it all died down very quickly, and they weren’t heard from for a while. Now it looks as though they have some new life in 9th edition, where being a T5 unit with the amount of firepower they can put out (and not taking penalties for moving and shooting) combines with transports having more value to create something that, in the right armies, has has a lot more value. Putting two squads of Havocs into a Rhino can provide some solid value for an Iron Warriors army. Reaper Chaincannons are likely still the play here, where the volume of AP-1 shots makes them a better marine killer than heavy bolters or autocannons. They make great targets for Prescience and Warp-Sight Plea. With the Drukhari and Adeptus Mechanicus codexes flooding the environment with T7, 10-wound vehicles auotcannons have become one of the more reliable 4-of choices for the team, while the changes to the Dreadclaw Drop Pod have re-invigorated them with glorious purpose, giving you a way to reliably drop two squads in on turn 1, ready to spit out firepower wherever they’re needed, aided by Veterans of the Long War and Endless Cacophony.  

Obliterators

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Obliterators got a huge adjustment in the 2nd codex to go with their new models, beefing up in size, wounds, and firepower and in 9th edition they’re just a legitimately good unit. A unit of Teleporting 4W Infantry with 6 shots each firing Fleshmetal weapons at 24″, they can put out a lot of damage, they’re pretty tough thanks to having T5, 2+/5++ saves, and 4 wounds apiece. Obliterators almost always want to have the Mark of Slaanesh so they can double up on shooting and they also really want to be targets for Veterans of the Long War. The Iron Warriors have a few neat tricks to improve them, but they work pretty well in Alpha Legion or even Black Legion, where Abaddon’s full re-rolls aura helps them greatly. Note that you choose a target for them after you roll for their guns’ stats. Above all though, Obliterators need support. If you don’t have CP to spend on VotLW with them and you’re not getting them some kind of re-rolls, you’re gonna be disappointed in them.

Defiler

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

9th edition was a boon for Defilers, where the combination of Big Guns Never Tire, the increased importance of durable melee units, and “avoiding a points hike” all combined to make it exactly the kind of unit you want to field. Able to scuttle forward and reliably destroy enemy targets in melee – especially marines – while controlling the board and sometimes maybe hitting things with its guns, the Defiler is a nasty piece of work, even when not accompanied by a Lord Discordant. They have the option of replacing their twin heavy flamer with a defiler scourge and this is pretty much always the correct choice. Don’t worry about the guns on these – treat them like a melee threat and if they manage to hit something shooting well, that’s an added bonus.

Maulerfiend

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. Like the other melee daemon engines, it wants the support of a Lord Discordant to mitigate its terrible WS, but otherwise it’s an uncomplicated unit – point it at the things you want to kill and have it charge forward. If you’re taking them, run Lasher Tendrils – they need the extra attacks.

Venomcrawler

Credit: Triphos

Venomcrawlers have seen varying levels of competitive play off the back of their ability to run quickly and put out a solid number of attacks for its points cost. They got a bit of a boost when they came out of the 9th edition points update virtually untouched and with the ability to shoot their excrutiator cannons while in combat. The Venomcrawler doesn’t benefit from legion traits, but will enjoy the +1 attack from Hateful Assault and gets the benefit of a 5+ invulnerable save and the ability to regain wounds after killing things (in addition to regaining one per turn). As with the other daemon engines, one of the bigger downsides to these is the 4+ WS and BS, so Venomcrawlers basically need to be paired with one or more Lords Discordant. They also explode on 5s, which is great when they’re stuck in with enemy units.

Chaos Sicaran Battle Tank (FW)

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Sicaran is in a weird place. It’s tougher (2+ save and 3 more wounds), a little bit shootier (slightly better guns), and a bit more expensive than the Predator (195 with heavy bolters, 205 with lascannons), where you can get the Predator Autocannon and two heavy bolters onto an 11-wound chassis for 168 points. So the question becomes whether 3 wounds, 2+ save, and guaranteed 6 shots with an extra -1 AP are worth 20 points and 1 CP? Tough call. Possibly good enough to consider as a one-of but spending 3 CP to take a trio of them seems like a real tough sell. 

The gun variants, the Venator and the Punisher, change the tank’s role a bit but don’t add much to make them worth looking at over it.

Chaos Predator

With 9th edition’s Big Guns Never Tire rule and a relatively small points increase, the Predator manages to squeak by a s a unit that’s borderline playable in the right builds, particularly if you can get three together for the Killshot Stratagem. At 168 points for a two-heavy bolter option, they’re able to put out a decent number of shots while zipping around the table and they aren’t completely helpless if they get touched. They can be particularly nasty in Alpha Legion armies, where they can Fall Back and shoot with Feigned Retreat, or in Iron Warriors, where they can use Tank Hunters to re-roll wounds against vehicles.

Other Choices

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Forgefiend

Previously unusable thanks to BS 4+, that’s not necessarily the kiss of death any more given that the Big Guns Never Tire rule stops these from taking a -1 to hit when they move and negative to hit modifiers are capped at -1. When paired with a Lord Discordant, these can be nasty, resilient threats. Unfortunately 9th edition doesn’t really want what they’re trying to do, so even though they’re reasonably costed at 155 points with two Hades autocannons and an Ectoplasma cannon, more melee-capable daemon engines are better options.

Chaos Vindicator

Even with the updated gun profile – which helps – these aren’t good enough to be worth much consideration. The best use for them is as (relatively) cheap T8 roadblocks that can rush the opponent early on, like a kind of very poor man’s Plagueburst Crawler. Just use PBCs instead.

Land Raider

The poor Land Raider is still about 100 points too expensive to be worth using in most games, and almost everything you’d want to transport in it can just teleport into the battlefield anyways.

Hellforged Land Raiders (FW)

The Hellforged Land Raiders aren’t much better than their plastic counterparts.

Hellforged Scorpius (FW)

The Hellforged Scorpius’ Whirlwind launcher is pretty solid and it’s the only indirect fire option Chaos Space Marines get, but doesn’t carry the AP bonus its loyalist counterpart enjoyed and doesn’t do a lot to support the current melee-heavy strategies of the army. These previously had some play as a S6 AP-2 D2 damage gun that could shoot twice was worth fielding as support, but since the Imperial Armour Compendium update they’ve lost that ability and gained the Martial Legacy rule for their trouble, increasing the cost of fielding them by 1 CP. So even though they’ve come down by a whopping 60 points per model, the decrease in effectiveness is tough to swallow. At 170 points, it’s probably not bringing enough firepower to the table to be worth it.

 

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 9th edition has made transports more viable, thanks to an emphasis on durability and board control. They make great transports for Berserkers but do just fine hold regular Chaos Space Marines as well. They’re more often used to hold two squads of five Berserkers or Havocs these days than a full squad of 10 models. They’re also great for holding Noise Marines if you want to save the CP that it would cost to put them into Strategic Reserves. Rhinos are simultaneously a little overpriced and underrated in 9th edition, but they add a significant amount of durability to your units and can be used for getting good positioning on objectives. Unless you’re filling one with a shooting or melee unit you need to get out (i.e. an objective holder minimum-sized unit), your best bet is to leave the passengers inside until the last possible moment. Leave the transport close to or on objectives and if it gets blown up you can drop everyone out of the vehicle onto the objective and cement your control over it.

Chaos Terrax-Pattern Termite (FW)

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

Although 180 points is steep for a transport, the Chaos Terrax-Pattern Termite makes up for it by being an absolute monster 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.

 

Flyers

Heldrake

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Notable for being a flyer that can also tear things up in melee, the Heldrake is a unit that can reliably pull off first-turn charges with its 30” Movement characteristic, disrupting enemy plans and tying up enemy units on turn 1. With Toughness 7, 12 wounds and a 5+ invulnerable save, they’re surprisingly resilient, and as non-AIRCRAFT, they’re fantastic for gumming up an opponent’s board and controlling movement, since their flying bases can’t be moved over by enemy units. They’re particularly nasty in Night Lords armies, where they can be used to activate Vox Scream for pretty much any enemy unit on the table at any time. They have the option of a Hades Autocannon or a Baleflamer but at BS 4+ and 5 points cheaper the Baleflamer is the better option. They’re also great for scoring both Behind Enemy Lines and Engage on All Fronts secondary objectives.

Other Choices

Chaos Fire Raptor

Now much cheaper thanks to the Imperial Armour Compendium update – down in cost from 450 points base to 340 before you take the quad heavy bolters or twin lascannons. No longer sporting a reaper autocannon profile, the flyer’s base Twin hellforged autocannons now fire at 48″ Heavy 4 S7 AP-1 2 damage, making them significantly better despite the reduced shots, and the upgrade to Quad Heavy bolters is worth considering. The flyer also comes with 2 twin Hellstrike launchers that have a nice Heavy 2 S8 AP-3 3 damage profile and against other AIRCRAFT they do +1 damage and D3+3 damage. The Fire Raptor also now has 2 more wounds to work with, giving it 18. The downside is that it can now degrade to a 5+ BS and it has that pesky Martial Legacy rule, but overall this is still better. It’s probably too expensive to be worth fielding competitively, but it’s at least better than it was.

Chaos Storm Eagle

The Storm Eagle is a very expensive flying transport and while it got a little tougher in the Imperial Armour Compendium, going to 18 Wounds and uh, 6 attacks for some reason, at 335 points before you give it the Multi-meltas it really needs it’s too expensive to really consider as a transport, even if it can hold 20 models. It also has the Martial Legacy rule, costing you 1 CP to field it.

Chaos Hellblade

The Hell Bladeis still around after the Imperial Armour Compendium update and it has traded its Helstorm cannons for a pair of twin autocannons. These have better range and offer 8 shots instead of 4, but trade out AP and damage and the ability to do mortal wounds. They’re S7 instead of S6 though. On the whole, it’s probably a neutral change and the Hell Blade keeps its 5+ invulnerable save while it became a bit less maneuverable. Now sitting at 135 points, it’s a more attractive option than it was before if you need a cheap unit to score Engage on All Fronts. They’re AIRCRAFT though, so they can’t help you on Behind Enemy Lines.

Chaos Hell Talon

The Hell Blade’s meatier cousin, the Hell Talon dropped to 210 points with its weapons in the Imperial Armour Compendium update, trading its Helstorm cannon for a single Autocannon. Again, mostly an OK trade. It also traded its bombs for an ability called Infernal bomb, which lets you drop bombs on a unit as you pass over them once per game for a chance to do mortal wounds. Overall the Hell Talon seems to be bringing less to the table than the Hell Blade and so there’s not much room for it even at a reduced cost.

 

Fortifications

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 fo the table grabbing objectives.

 

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. Clocking in at 465 points with a Hades Gatling Cannon and an Ichor Cannon (the proper loadout), the real cost of these is that they’re Lords of War and have to go into a Superheavy Detachment, costing you a lot of CP out of the gate. Because of this, you’ll find that armies typically want to go “all in” on the Lord of Skulls, running three of them instead of one. This is a surprisingly viable strategy, especially when you can back it up with support from obsec Nurglings. The best way to run these is as Iron Warriors, which gives them the best stratagem support, and every now and then we’ll see a list pop up running a trio of these to a 4-1 or 5-1 finish at a larger event. The big downside is that they’re KHORNE-only, meaning they don’t fit into Emperor’s Children lists.

Kytan Ravager

Credit: TheChirurgeon

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 bunch of faction synergies that Chaos Knights don’t get, such as having Benediction of Darkness cast on him by a Dark Apostle, or receiving the +1 to hit from being near a Lord Discordant. The Kytan also gets access to the Daemonforge Stratagem, and receives the same +1 Strength and re-roll charge benefits other Khorne Daemons can get from Bloodmasters. Otherwise, their loadout is solid but clocking in at 440 points they’re likely a little overcosted.

Greater Brass Scorpion of Khorne

The Greater Brass Scorpion dropped 75 points in the Imperial Armour Compendium while going up to 28 wounds.It has some nasty tricks up its sleeve, like the ability to shrug off psychic powers on a 4+ and a pair of Helcrusher claws that give it some very deadly melee options. It also has the <LEGION>, DAEMON ENGINE, and DAEMON keywords, so you can buff it with Dark Apostles, and Lords Discordant. That said, it’s still 525 points, which is too much to pay for something you can mostly replicate for 100 points cheaper with the Lord of Skulls or Kytan. There’s been some play with it recently however as a third LoW to accompany a pair of Lords of Skulls.

Hellforged 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.

 

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

You may have been able to get away with ignoring objectives in 8th, but you definitely can’t in 9th; you need a plan to take objectives and hold them for several turns and that means durable units that can survive being out in the open. It also means you need a way to clear enemies off an objective and capture it that turn – and that will typically require melee units. Make sure your army is packing enough obsec units to accomplish this, or if not, can mulch a lot of units off an objective at once.

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. This means taking fast or deep striking infantry to have ways to Retrieve Octarius Data across the board, or having a plan for scoring Behind Enemy Lines or Engage on All Fronts, or having a Psyker who you don’t mind having Pierce the Veil multiple turns per game.

Build Armies that are Difficult to Pick Secondaries Against

The mission structure in 9th rewards armies that don’t expose themselves to the kill secondaries. As you build your army, be mindful of where you might be giving your opponent “easy picks” by taking enough of one kind of unit – such as PSYKERS or VEHICLES – that they can max out the relevant secondary. While not an ironclad rule, it’s a good idea to think really hard about that third psyker or 5th vehicle.

Don’t be Afraid to Soup

Unlike their imperial counterparts, Chaos Space Marines have nothing to lose from taking armies that include Chaos Daemons or other chaos legions, including Thousand Sons and Death Guard. The Chaos factions are rife with cross-faction synergies you should consider:

  • You can’t use Chaos Daemon Stratagems on Chaos Space Marine DAEMON units, but Chaos Daemon auras and abilities that affect DAEMON units of the same god will also affect Chaos Space Marine DAEMON units. The most common examples will be Heralds, whose auras grant +1 Strength to DAEMON units within 6″ – these are ideal for buffing Chaos Possessed, Daemon Engines, and Warp Talons.
  • Although they have their own Codexes, both Death Guard and Thousand Sons have the HERETIC ASTARTES keyword, meaning that many effects that impact HERETIC ASTARTES units (and aren’t locked to a specific Legion) can also be used on those units. The most common example of this is being able to cast Prescience and Warptime on Death Guard units like Mortarion, but also extends to Stratagems – if your army includes a Chaos Space Marines detachment, you can use the Tide of Traitors Stratagem on Death Guard or Thousand Sons Cultists (who aren’t much better, but can come in squads of 40). The inverse is also true – Thousand Sons casters using Dark Hereticus powers can target HERETIC ASTARTES units from CSM detachments, and given they’re way better casters you often want to bring them along to land your crucial Warptime.
  • We’ve mentioned this above, but the Thousand Sons stratagems in Ritual of the Damned that affect RUBRIC MARINES are not locked to Thousand Sons units, so if you have a Thousand Sons Detachment and a Chaos Space Marines detachment with Rubric Marines in it, then you can use the Stratagems on those Rubric Marines, even if they’re say, Alpha Legion Rubric Marines enjoying that legion trait.
  • On that note, you’ll often want to consider how you can get more value from the other two armies – even in mixed detachments, Winged Daemon Princes, Thousand Sons Sorcerers, and Ahriman are powerful psykers capable of doing incredible damage even without the Thousand Sons legion trait or stratagems. A Thousand Sons Supreme Command detachment full of psykers is a powerful addition to Chaos Space Marines army.

Plan to Spend a Lot of CP

Chaos Space Marines are a very CP-thirsty army; many of your tricks rely on multiple stratagems, with many of those costing 2 CP. You’ll want to make sure that you have a plan for how to use your CP during games, so you don’t find yourself running on fumes on turn 3.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Daemon Engines and You

Chaos Space Marines have a number of different Daemon Engines to build around, although daemon engine-heavy armies have fallen out of vogue recently. Melee-focused daemon engines tend to require some kind of protection, either from cover or a Master of Possession, as they spend a turn getting into place. Gone are the days when you could power across the table in one turn advancing and charging with a specialist detachment and so you’ll need to make sure you actually make it into melee. On some maps that’ll be easier (Sweep and Clear), or if you’re going second, but in the latter case you’ll need to make sure they stay protected. For shooty daemon engines, you’ll want to support them just the same and typically run them as Iron Warriors for the additional marginal buffs they can get from the faction’s stratagems. Chaos Space Marine daemon engines haven’t yet received the WS/BS boost that Thousand Sons and Death Guard have, so they need a bit more support from re-roll auras and will generally be relying more on being cheaper than their counterparts in those armies.

Threat Saturation

Chaos Space Marines have some great units that are fairly fragile and in the case of the Lord Discordant, frustratingly easy to target. If you’re not working with something like an untargetable blob of Possessed, the way you’re going to get around using this problem is through redundancy and threat saturation – that is, taking multiples of your key units such that it is impossible for your opponent to deal with all of them effectively before they can disrupt your opponent’s plans. This is why you take three Lords Discordant, three Lords of Skulls, etc. 

Stack Effects With Endless Cacophony and Fury of Khorne

Fury of Khorne lets you fight again at the end of the Fight phase. Endless Cacophony lets you shoot again at the end of the Shooting phase. For both of these, any stratagems you’ve played for that phase will stay in effect through the additional round of fighting/shooting. Take advantage of this by using them when they’ll have the greatest effects, i.e. after you’ve used Veterans of the Long War, Excruciating Frequencies, Prey on the Weak, or Wild Fury (or anything similar).

Be Active in Every Phase of the Game

Psychic Powers are a potent part of your arsenal. Make sure you’ve brought Sorcerers (or ways of dealing with powers if you’re going mono-Khorne) and have a plan for how to use them. A good Chaos Space Marines army will usually be active in every phase of the game.

Don’t Forget to Pray

Dark Apostles are a powerful addition to your army, but remembering to activate prayers at the start of a battle round can be hell if you’re not used to playing with them. Set reminders for yourself and your opponent so you know to stop and activate these effects at the start of each battle round.

Grey Knights and You

Grey Knights are really good right now, and they’re even better against Daemon-heavy Chaos armies. You’re gonna be facing some rough uphill battles if you run into them, especially if you’re also running psykers and can’t use Abhor the Witch to score easy points against them. If you’re pure daemons, you’re going to have a real bad time against them, but the good news is that Grey Knights do have some limitations. They’re dependent in many ways on taking down a single unit at a time and making a strong counter- or “beta”-strike, and you can sacrifice a unit to bait them out and get them in position to strike yourself. Be careful about what targets you make available to them, be prepared to lose those targets, and you can limit the damage you’re taking and hit them when they’re vulnerable.

Also an Issue: Astra Militarum

This one’s a bit more of a surprise, but watch out for Astra Militarum lists, particularly if you’re running heavy on infantry. You’re gonna see the Vengeance for Cadia Stratagem used a lot to get full re-rolls against your units with Tank Commanders and Manticores, and that can often delete an entire unit at a time. Astra Militarum aren’t good, but they have an easier matchup against chaos space marines.

 

Sample Lists

We’ve put a load of sample lists into our legion pages, and will add more here in the coming months. Check out those pages by clicking on the links in the “Legions of Chaos” section.

 

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 me three 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 contact@goonhammer.com.