Start Competing: Genestealer Cults Tactics

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40K spends a lot of time on massive, over-the-top science fantasy narratives with genetically engineered super-soldiers facing down space elves, ancient Egyptian skeleton robots and the dark gods themselves. What if that’s not what you want out of it though? What if you just want to play a plucky band of working-class heroes coming together against impossible odds to achieve a noble* goal? What if you just want to make sure that everyone feels the warm embrace of the Four-Armed Emperor’s love, and don’t understand why people keep shouting about nuking your planet from orbit? What if you just really, really like sneaking up on people and sawing them in half**? If any of these things sound like you, then Genestealer Cults (GSC) might just be the faction you’ve been looking for. Read on to find out how to make the most of these devious insurgents and run rings around your opponents.

If you are an Imperial bootlicker looking to crush their rebellions instead it’s worth having a read too – GSC are one of the game’s most complicated factions, and knowing what they have up their sleeve is vitally important to defeating them.

* Goonhammer makes no actual value judgement about the nobility of infecting the populace with parasitic alien DNA.
** Goonhammer actively does not endorse sawing any actual people in half. Please don’t.

Special thanks to Goonhammer community members Soggy (Instagram), ThatGobbo (Instagram) and John Q. Brown for furnishing us with pictures for this article.

The Cult Arises

The Cult Arises. Credit: John Q Brown

Army Strengths

  • An unparalleled toolbox of tricks, allowing you to run rings around the unwary.
  • Exceptionally deadly melee units with good delivery options.
  • Powerful characters
  • Cheap, viable choices in every mandatory slot, so have tonnes of CP.

Army Weaknesses

  • Crumble if you let the opponent land a counterattack.
  • Weak against Space Marines
  • Weaker the better your opponent knows your army.
  • Very expensive to buy into (though they at least have a good Start Collecting box now)

Competitive Rating

Strong Oh Noooooo

Genestealer Cults spent a good portion of 2019 as arguably the best army in the game, putting up top finishes everywhere and being the boogeyman used to scare new tournament players to sleep.

They are no longer that, having precipitously plummeted to be one of the weakest armies in the game for a period, only now clawing their way back towards a Low-Medium.

‘Twas Space Marines that killed the beast. Optimised, top-end Iron Hands, Fists and Raven Guard builds were all a complete nightmare for this army to deal with, and really any Marines gave them a tough run. The firepower that the devastating artillery or plane builds could bring to bear could literally wipe GSC armies off the table in a few turns, while Centurions with Long-Ranged Marksmen were a pain too.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, CA19 brought some nerfs to key units, with Aberrants in particular getting a 60pts total hike on a full squad, dumping them in the bin. Finally, the Genestealer Cult Psychic Awakening, which appeared in The Greater Good (TGG) alongside Astra Militarum and Tau, was nowhere close to as comprehensive an update as those two factions got and is likely one of the weakest given to any faction, with probably only Drukhari coming out worse, leaving players with few new options. To put it in perspective, an army that was once top of the game put not even a single detachment into a tracked Top 4 in February 2020.

The Marine nerf, however, helps a lot. While Raven Guard are still a problem there’s a lot more counterplay against them than the lists that just pressure hosed GSC off the table, and those are mostly gone now. CA19 and TGG did, also, combine to turn Achilles Ridgerunners into a real deal, and a few brave souls managed some success with them between TGG landing and the lockdown commencing. Hopefully that’s a sign of improvement to come, but I can’t sugar coat it – it’s a tough time to be purple, especially as Grey Knights also have powerful tools against you.

Special Rules

Cult Ambush

Nexos

Nexos. Credit: Soggy

Cult Ambush is at the heart of what GSC do, and what makes them unique. This ability is common to every unit in the codex, and gives them two additional options when deploying at the start of the game.

  1. Any unit can set up underground, going into standard “Deep Strike”. This is capped by the Tactical Reserves rule as normal, so no more than half your units or points value can use it, though as we’ll see there’s a way around that.
  2. Any unit can choose to deploy in Ambush. Rather than deploying a unit on the board, you instead place an ambush marker down in your deployment zone. This doesn’t count as deploying in tactical reserves, so any number of your units can do so (and generally, all of them should).

Ambush markers are revealed either at the start of your first movement phase if you go first, or the end of your opponent’s first movement phase if you go second. If your opponent takes the first turn, none of their units can set up or end their move within 9″ of a marker, and they don’t know exactly where each of your units are going to be while moving, giving them a lot less information to work with than normal.

When ambush markers are revealed, you start by picking a marker on the board and placing a model from any of your units in ambush within 1″ of the centre of it. You then set up the rest of the squad wholly within your deployment zone and within 6″ of the first model. They also have to be >9″ away from enemy models. Thanks to a change in the wording in the FAQ, they don’t count as arriving as reinforcements, so if it’s your turn they can then act normally, and only count as having moved if they actually move (unlike normal units setting up on the battlefield), and also cannot be targeted with “intercept” abilities or anything else that keys off reinforcements (but do qualify for A Perfect Ambush). You then repeat this until you run out of units or ambush markers.

This ability is exceptionally powerful just at baseline. It means that when deploying, your opponent doesn’t really know what you’re planning, and you effectively always have the advantage of being able to adapt the positioning of your on-board presence to whatever they do, something you “normally” have to pay the choice of going first or second for in many mission packs. It also hampers the ability of aggressive, combat based armies to attack you, as they can get no closer than 9″ to where any of your units are going to be, meaning they’re always looking for at least a 9″ charge.

However, it’s the addition of various additional effects and stratagems that make this even more potent. The most important of these is They Came From Below. For one CP, just before you reveal an ambush marker, you can remove three markers from the board, and move three of your units underground, to deep strike on turns 2 or 3 as normal. This is great, because:

  • With careful placement of markers, the ability to remove three of them can often feint you away from one flank or part of the board. If your opponent has concentrated their units in one place, it can deny them targets, especially if they have melee units patiently waiting 9″ away from markers.
  • It lets you get around the tactical reserves limits. Units pulled by this aren’t counted towards that, so it allows you to end up with considerably more than half your models in deep strike.

The latter part used to be even more important, as some poor wording let you hold the deep strikers pulled with it past turn 3, but it’s still exceptional now that’s been fixed by a FAQ. Most GSC armies will contain several “bombs”, large deep striking units that often run to the 200-250pts range (usually Acolytes). You might not normally be able to get all of these plus their required support characters into deep strike under the “half your army limit”, but with this stratagem it’s trivial, and it’s very common to declare these units as setting up in Cult Ambush then move them underground. The only thing to be wary of with that is if your opponent has access to Vect or GSC’s own “counterspell” stratagem – in this case it is critical that you remember to put a Four-Armed Emperor unit down on the board prior to activating this stratagem, as that way you can counter their counter – getting this ability stopped if you’ve built your whole plan around it can easily lose you the game on the spot, with your fragile units ending up standing in the middle of nowhere looking awkward.

That strat is used by almost every GSC army in the majority of their games, but there are some ways to mess with this.

  • If you have a Nexos, he can redeploy one ambush marker anywhere in your deployment zone >12″ from the enemy after he arrives. Not all lists include one, but if yours does this can link up with removing three to further reduce the number of valid targets in a particular part of the board.
  • You can use the Scanner Decoys stratagem to place up to three additional ambush markers during deployment for 1CP (and can only do so once). This often isn’t needed, but can be good against a combat army that might try and rush you like Orks – combined with They Came from Below and a Nexos you can essentially afford to put a line of 7 markers across the front of your deployment zone that will all disappear, likely leaving your opponent with nothing to charge.
  • You can use the Meticulous Uprising stratagem to move up to three markers 12″ for one CP just before you reveal one (they have to stay within your deployment zone, and can’t go within 9″ of the enemy). Hopefully you’ve put your plan together such that you can achieve whatever shuffling you need without this, but it does provide yet another way to confound the foe, and a useful “undo button” if you survey your opponent’s first turn movement or deployment and realise you’ve messed up.

Taken all together, Cult Ambush means that your opponent is going to start the game with quite a bit less information than you, hopefully letting you keep them on the wrong foot. If you’re playing against Cult, it’s critical to be aware of the fact that most lists can make 3-4 of their blips vanish and optionally move three more – when planning movement on your first turn, you need to make sure you’ve got targeting lines on a healthy number of markers so you can start killing stuff. This is especially true in ITC, where you want to be trying to get a decent score turn one if at all possible, as they tend to dominate turns 2 and 3 but will struggle to land kills on T1.

The one big warning flag that needs to be added to this as of Marine winter 2019 is that you do need to be careful that your opponent can’t just table you on their turn 2 if they go first. With the merciful arrival of Marine nerfs the builds that could do this have mostly gone away, but the Whirlwind/Thunderfire heavy builds that were popular at one point could literally carve through 80+ cult infantry models given good dice, enough to take an army that moved too much into ambush off the board and seal a sudden death victory. This won’t come up nearly as much any more, but do eyeball your opponent’s list and make sure you aren’t looking at one that can pull this off.

Unquestioning Loyalty

Cult Heroes are Defended

Cult Heroes are Defended. Credit: ThatGobbo

This ability is common to every unit in the army other than the Patriarch and VEHICLES.

Each time you fail a saving throw for a GSC CHARACTER or they suffer a mortal wound, while they are within 3″ of a unit with this ability that is either from the same <CULT> or BROOD BROTHERS, you can roll a d6. On a 4+, a model from the unit is slain instead.

This is a very handy ability. GSC characters are very powerful but pretty squishy, with even the Patriarch going down pretty quickly to any sort of heavy attack, and as long as there are willing chumps nearby this should substantially slow down their demise. It isn’t nearly as reliable as the Tau version, and so you will sometimes see your heroes get splattered by single big attack if you’re unlucky, but it makes putting high quality attacks into your vital buff characters a bit less appealing. It’s also of growing relevance as the quality of snipers increases, peaking with the recent Raven Guard release, helping your most precious models survive. It’s also very nice that it works with BROOD BROTHERS, as lots of GSC lists fill out battalions with them and in a sniper matchup they can babysit your more back-line characters.

Brood Brothers

Cult Russ

Cult Russ. Credit: ThatGobbo

Brood Brothers refers to two things:

  • Some units in the codex have this keyword instead of a <CULT> keyword, while still having the GENESTEALER CULT and TYRANID faction keyword. They can thus be included in your detachments as normal, and also don’t break your Cult Creed. They don’t get cult bonuses and aren’t affected by some <CULT> abilities. Of these units, the most relevant one is the basic Brood Brothers Infantry Squad, which lets you fill out a troops slot for 40pts. Mortar teams are also pretty common, especially in lists filling out a Brigade.
  • For each GSC detachment your army has, you can include up to one ASTRA MILITARUM detachment, ignoring the normal Battle Brothers rule for building a battle forged army. These have the following additional restrictions:
    • All units have the BROOD BROTHERS tag instead of a regiment keyword (or MILITARUM TEMPESTUS). This gives them +1Ld and the Unquestioning Loyalty ability as their regimental trait.
    • No named characters, relics or specialist detachments.
    • Officers cannot order units with the GENESTEALER CULT faction keyword (i.e. Brood Brothers squads in your main detachments). This was added via an FAQ having initially been ruled the other way. They also can’t order units that wouldn’t normally be orderable like Ogryns.
    • Cannot contain your warlord.
    • Give you half the normal CP for the detachment.
    • Don’t gain cult ambush.
    • No Tank Aces.

Originally, when you could bring in Officers to order the Brood Brother squads that your main army probably contained, this was pretty attractive. Now it’s very rarely used. When it does turn up in a competitive context, it’s almost exclusively to bring in Guard Tank Commanders, but even that’s paled into insignificance now Ridge Runners are good and punishers caught a nerf. Including anything without cult ambush heavily reduces your ability to fully flummox the opponent early game, and thus needs a serious draw to make it worth it, which just doesn’t really exist right now. Tragically, with the loss of Aberrants as a cost-efficient choice the only unit I’d really wonder about would be Bullgryn – I can imagine a list where having a squad of these, buffed up by Astropaths, acted as an anvil while the rest of the army formed the hammer.

Mostly, however, this is a cute and fluffy option that doesn’t bring that much to the table in actual, practical terms.

Gene-Sect

Each CHARACTER datasheet can only be included once per detachment. This makes it slightly harder to spam certain units, but between the fact that GSC have cheap fillers for almost every slot, often want multiple different <CULT> detachments in the same army with access to various auras, and have an actual good summon ability that can fetch additional characters, it doesn’t hold you back that much. Just make sure you don’t accidentally submit an illegal list.

Broodfather

If your army contains any Patriarchs, and a GSC character is your warlord, it has to be one of the Patriarchs. This is absolutely fine because this is pretty much always the right choice anyway – if a Patriarch is your warlord you can use the Broodcoven stratagem to hand a warlord trait to a Primus and a Magus as well. More warlord traits is good, and they don’t even have to be the same <CULT>!

Specialist Detachments

Broodsurge

Broodsurge. Credit: ThatGobbo

GSC have two of these, one of which is good.

Deliverance Broodsurge

  • Includes:
    • Iconwards
    • Acolytes
    • Neophytes
    • Goliath Trucks
  • Stratagem 1 – The First to Draw Blood – 1CP: +1 to wound for a Broodsurge unit that charged. Incredible. A.
  • Stratagem 2 – Reckless Manoeuvre – 1CP: Lets you disembark after moving, at a risk of taking mortal wounds and >9″ away from the enemy. Far too many restrictions to make taking a transport worth it. D
  • Relic – Vial of the Grandsire’s Blood: Lets you give a single model +2S and +2A for a turn once per game. In Twisted Helix this does actually let you load up a Patriarch that has a shot at taking out a Knight in a turn, but in general because the only think you can take this on is an Iconward, you rarely pick it over the Icon of the Cult Ascendant. C
  • Warlord Trait – Augur of the Insurgent: Re-roll charges in a 6″ aura for Broodsurge units. Top tier. A

The Deliverance Broodsurge brings two incredibly powerful effects to the table for Acolytes, which are one of the game’s best Troop choices. A re-roll charge aura makes them way more reliable out of deep strike, especially as 4AE, while +1 to wound either lets a bit squad kill damn near anything or a smaller squad punch up for a turn. Not complicated but extremely potent, and seen in most lists, and definitely worth buying Field Commander on.

Anointed Throng

  • Includes:
    • Abominants
    • Aberrants
  • Stratagem 1 – Devotion Till Death – 2CP: At the start of the fight phase, pick an Aberrant unit. If they die, they get to pile in and fight before they do. Great if your opponent has some sort of bigger fish that actually threatens these in melee, or you get hit by the Vexator Mask or something, but Aberrants being bad now weakens this a lot. C
  • Strategem 2 – Fight for the Anointed One! – 1CP: An Abominant can grant re-roll 1s to wound to an Aberrant unit. As previous, this is a good ability but won’t really see competitive play any more. C
  • Relic – Really Big Blessed Sledgehammer: A relic hammer for the Abominant without the -1 to hit and a bonus point of Ap. Fine, but you aren’t taking it over the real goods. C+
  • Warlord Trait – Insidious Mindwyrm:  +1 charges for Anointed Throng units in a 6″ aura. A very powerful effect, meaning that if you are still trying to make Aberrants work you probably want this. B

This used to be slightly weaker than the Broodsurge, but still seen in a lot of lists. With the Aberrant nerf, this has basically vanished. If you’re still using them then by all means take it, but for most people this is on the bench until they get a buff.

Psychic Powers

    • Mass Hypnosis – WC7: Make an enemy unit suffer a -1 penalty to hit, not be able to fire overwatch and fight last until your next psychic phase. All nice debuffs, and great for softening up a target like a Knight before your Patriarch goes in. Often somewhat overshadowed by the Amulet of the Voidwyrm relic, but still a great choice. B+
    • Mind Control – WC7: Pick an enemy model within 12″ and roll 3D6. If you equal or beat their leadership, you can immediately have it shoot at a single target enemy unit, or make a single melee attack if it’s within 1″ of another enemy unit. This is obviously fantastic against things like Knights or Eldar planes – 3D6 beats every unmodified leadership in the game on average, and getting to make use of one of your enemy’s best models for a turn can be devastating. Be aware – if your opponent is savvy they can mitigate this by keeping units within 1″ of each other, at which point you can only use the vastly less impressive “single melee attack” mode. Be careful not to pick a unit that’s affected by this. Still very much an A.
    • Psionic Blast – WC5: Pick an enemy within 18″ and roll 2d6. Deal 1MW if you roll less than or equal to their LD, or d3 if you roll more. A worse smite, even a target-able one, is not what this army is looking for. D
    • Mental Onslaught – WC6: Pick a unit within 18 and roll off, adding your psykers leadership and the target adding theirs. If you win, deal 1MW and repeat until you lose, draw, or they roll a 6. Oh how the mighty have fallen. As we predicted in our codex review this turned out to be a bit much (it originally didn’t stop on them rolling a 6) and a FAQ nerf has substantially put this in its place. It’s still not terrible but not having an infinite ceiling makes it not worth investing in boosting your LD, and in turn that makes it unreliable and not much up to snuff. C
    • Psychic Stimulus – WC6: Pick a GSC unit within 18″. That unit can charge if it advanced, and always fights first (following the standard rules for this). Cool, but obviously only useful once you’re out on the board. Getting a substantial boost to mobility post-alpha strike can be very helpful though, and it’s especially good on Atalan Jackals, who are on the up at the moment. B
    • Might From Beyond – WC7: Give a GSCunit +1 attacks and strength for a turn. An absurdly great force multiplier on one of the best units in the book (Acolytes) and used in most lists. A

Might from Beyond and Mind Control are picked a lot, with Mass Hyponosis and Psychic Stimulus sometimes being worth it. There are also now come specific psychic powers for each of the named cults, which we’ll talk about in a moment.

Cult Creeds

An Esotetic Kelermorph

An Esoteric Kelermorph. Credit: ThatGobbo

Cult Creeds are the GSC flavour of subfaction traits, and grant an ability to INFANTRY and BIKER units in detachments that share a <Cult> keyword, excluding GENESTEALER models. That excludes Patriarchs (which are still absurd and used in almost every list) and Purestrain Genestealers (which are sadly almost totally irrelevant), but for competitive purposes they do what they need to, applying to the three of the four core units that most GSC armies rotate around – Neophyte Hybrids, Acolyte Hybrids and Atalan Jackals, with only Ridgerunners being left out. However, the stratagems, traits and relics are also very powerful, and plenty of these grant effects that can spill over onto units that don’t get the Creed itself.

There are six of these and, terrifyingly, they all have plausible competitive applications. Part of the reason they’re good is that they tend to have one niche that they strongly reward, and for that reason (along with the general low price on models and ability to fill out detachments with Brood Brothers) it’s extremely common to the point of being near universal for tournament-level GSC armies to contain detachments from multiple cults. Even beyond that, it’s quite common for them to include at least one mixed detachment where a hodgepodge of characters is tagged appropriately to gain access to powerful relics or stratagems. Probably the most common configuration overall is for an army to contain two pure detachments and one mixed grab bag.

That can make lining up all your auras and abilities (which are generally <CULT> locked) a pretty steep learning curve, and an important skill with GSC is both making sure that the hilarious keyword rainbow that is your army list has the right support characters in it, and keeping them with the right units on the board.

Cult Creeds got two changes in PA:TGG – the addition of cult-specific psychic powers (which can be taken by any PSYKER from the cult in place of one of their normal slots) and custom cult options. The former provide some decent new tools but the latter, bluntly, was a near complete miss, offering one of the worst sets of traits of any faction that’s received this. We’ll cover them quickly at the end, but given that such a high proportion of the power of the named cults is in their non-Creed options these needed to be great to break into lists, and they barely even scrape the edge of OK.

Cult of the Four Armed Emperor

  • Cult Creed – Subterranean Ambushers: In the first battle round, units with this get +1 to advance and charge rolls. After that, units that set up on the board get +1 to advances (which isn’t really relevant) and charges (which very much is) until the end of that turn.
  • Warlord Trait – Inscrutable Cunning: One re-roll per battle that you can use on a hit, wound or saving roll for a FOUR ARMED EMPEROR unit. In addition, gain d3 extra command points at the start of the game.
  • Relic – Sword of the Four-Armed Emperor: Replaced a bonesword or Locus blades. AP -3 and you can make four additional attacks each time the wielder fights.
  • Stratagem – A Plan Generations in the Making – 3CP: Once per battle, when an opponent activates a stratagem, roll a d6. Nothing happens on a 1, the enemy stratagem is cancelled, the CP refunded and can’t be used again in the phase on a 2-5, and cancelled without a refund on a 6.
  • Power – Undermine – WC8: Pick an enemy INFANTRY unit within 18″ of the caster. Halve their move, advance and charages until your next psychic phase.

Cult of the Four-Armed Emperor (or 4AE as it’s often abbreviated on army lists) could theoretically be argued to be the “best” cult in the sense that the vast majority of army lists include at least some units tagged with it, although as ever with GSC things aren’t quite what they seem.

The popularity is for two main reasons:

  1. Cult live and die on their charges landing on crucial turns, so the +1 bonus to that coming out of deep strike is a much bigger deal than it might first appear.
  2. The stratagem is absurdly good and something all cult players want access to.

Anyone who’s played with or against Agents of Vect will know how powerful cancelling a stratagem is, but it’s arguably even more valuable to Genestealer Cult, because there are a few things that can absolutely ruin them that are almost “mandatory” to stop. This is most notably true against opponents that have an intercept stratagem that can actually just straight up delete an incoming Acolyte unit, or those that have access to Vect or 4AE themselves, where blocking a key Lying in Wait, Perfect Ambush or They Came From Below could ruin your plans in an instant.

The other thing that’s pretty handy here is the warlord trait. Via the Broodcoven stratagem cult can hand out extra warlord traits to a Magus and a Primus, and this is a great one to put on a random Magus for some extra CP if you have nothing better to use it on.

The relic is irrelevant compared to other, better options.

The psychic power is a powerful ability but it has a high WC and a hefty target restriction. It’s a good enough effect that you can’t write it off entirely, especially as you can get cast bonuses on a Patriarch, and against armies running INFANTRY hordes, or something like White Scars who depend on Advance manipulation to get their Centurions around, it could be worth a look. It could easily have been WC7 though, 8 was a bit mean.

While 4AE is technically the most common cult, unlike some other factions it’s very rare to see a “pure” army of it. Some armies literally bring just the one unit to unlock the strat and leave out anything else, and Bladed Cog are now a more popular choice for an infantry core for armies that aren’t going deep on Acolytes.

Acolytes are still great however, so detachments of them using this cult remain relevant. As a general rule, you’re reasonably likely to see a 4AE battalion using the Deliverance Broodsurge detachment with an Iconward, a Primus and sometimes a Patriarch leading lots of rocksaw Acolytes into battle out of deep strike in lists, but it’s by no means a permanent fixture. It’s a very comfortable starting point if you’re getting used to the faction, as extra charge distance will make the key turns more forgiving, but as you get more experienced don’t feel locked in to it.

The Pauper Princes

  • Cult Creed – Devoted Zealots: Re-roll hits for units that charged, were charged or heroically intervened this turn.
  • Warlord Trait – Beloved Grandsire: Add 2 to Unquestioning Loyalty rolls for your warlord.
  • Relic – Reliquary of Saint Tenndarc: PAUPER PRINCE units within 6″ are immune to morale, and when an INFANTRY or BIKER model dies within 6″ they can either shoot a single weapon or make a single melee attack on a 4+.
  • Stratagem – Vengeance for the Martyred 1CP: Use this if an enemy unit destroys a PAUPER PRINCES CHARACTER from your army. Your PAUPER PRINCES units add one to hit rolls against it for the rest of the battle.
  • Power – Last Gasp – WC7: Pick a PAUPER PRINCES unit within 12″. Until your next psychic phase when a model dies they can either shoot a single weapon or make a single melee attack on a 4+.

The Pauper Princes are probably the weakest cult, now that Hivecult is on the up, but when compiling the original version of this I found a list that used them on 40kstats, so in they went.

The list uses a large number of hand flamer acolytes with a Patriarch in a Broodsurge, with the combo as follows

  1. Give a Patriarch the relic and trait.
  2. Throw him and a bunch of acolytes into combat.
  3. Every time someone tries to hurt him the wounds bounce onto the acolytes, who can then fire their hand flamers at point blank range when they die half the time.

That’s…pretty hilarious. It’s fairly fringe and probably not the best thing you can be doing, but this book is so deep that stuff like this still catches you out.

As of TGG, you also have access to this effect via the psychic power, giving an alternative option to set combos like this up. That does potentially open up the option of chucking a flamer Acolyte squad into combat and wrapping something, and then daring your opponent to try and counter charge them.

This cult is merely OK outside that combo. The creed bonus is nice, but as GSC your “challenge” is making sure your units hit combat rather than killing stuff once they’re there, so you’d rather have 4AE. I did receive some feedback on the original version of this that it’s helpful with Aberrants, but obviously that no longer super matters. It does help make units like Acolytes more effective independent operators, and keeps them cheap without the need to buy a banner, but that isn’t enough of a draw to push it ahead of other options. Finally, the stratagem is theoretically cool in a few matchups, but would require you to dedicate much more of your army to this than you’re ever going to.

The Hivecult

  • Cult Creed – Disciplined Militants: Halve the number of models that flee from your units (rounding down). You can also shoot after falling back at -1 to hit.
  • Warlord Trait – Hivelord: Re-roll 1s for shooting attacks for HIVECULT units within 6″ of your warlord.
  • Relic – Vockor’s Talisman: The bearer can re-roll hits in melee against CHARACTERs. In addition, their melee attacks inflict a mortal wound on a 6+ except against VEHICLE or TITANIC units.
  • Stratagem – Chilling Efficiency – 2CP: After an enemy loses any wounds as a result of a shooting attack by a HIVECULT unit, add one to hit rolls against it for other HIVECULT units for the rest of the phase.
  • Power – Synaptic Blast – WC6: Pick a visible enemy within 18″. Roll a dice for each HIVECULT model within 3″ of it, and deal a MW for each 6.

You can’t keep a good cult down – after the realignments of TGG and CA19 the Hivecult are finally seeing play, and have even shot to being one of the most relevant. That’s overwhelmingly for one reason – their Warlord trait and stratagem are really good if you want to blast away with Achilles Ridgerunners, which are great as of the recent buffs. The most currently successful GSC lists are going deep on Ridgerunners, and being able to give them re-roll 1s to hit from the trait and sometimes +1 to hit from the stratagem (which you can tee up nicely with the Gift from Beyond on a Jackal Alphus) makes them a horrendously effective shooting unit that’s priced to move. This is good enough that it’s even breaking across into mixed Hive Mind lists as a detachment, and is one of the few lifelines towards playability that GSC currently have.

The rest of this is trash – the Cult Creed doesn’t do anything that others don’t do better, the relic is mediocre and the power is garbage. Doesn’t matter though – if you have Ridgerunners, get painting some Hivecult insignia on them.

Genestealer Cult Infantry

Genestealer Cult Infantry. Photo: RichyP

The Bladed Cog

  • Cult Creed – Cyborgised Hybrids: Models with this creed have a 6+ invulnerable save, or improve an existing invulnerable save by one. INFANTRY also ignore the move/shoot penalty for heavy weapons.
  • Warlord Trait – Single-Minded Obsession: Pick a unit at the start of the battle. You can re-roll wounds against it for BLADED COG units within 6″ of your warlord.
  • Relic – Mark of the Clawed Omnissiah: Gain a 4+ invulnerable save and deal a mortal wound to an enemy within 1″ on a 2+ after finishing a charge move.
  • Stratagem – Overthrow the Oppressors – 1CP: Use when a non-GENESTEALER unit fights. Get an extra attack on an unmodified 6 to hit, or an unmodified 5 or 6 against IMPERIUM or an unmodified 4, 5 or 6 against ADEPTUS MECHANICUS.
  • Power – Undying Vigour – WC6: Give a BLADED COG unit within 12″ a 5+++ until your next psychic phase.

The Bladed Cog surged in popularity toward the end of the GSC reign of terror last year, as a build wielded by notable GSC players Leigh Abbey and Nick Rose emerged and put up some very impressive finishes, most notably taking Nick to second place at NOVA. It also survived slightly better than a lot of builds when Marine meta arrived.

This build leans on the strong synergy between the cult creed and Neophyte Hybrid squads taking advantage of their ability to bring multiple heavy and special weapons to load up on two mining lasers and two webbers. Combining this with the warlord trait and a Jackal Alphus, you can bring a huge number of accurate lascannon shots in from nowhere and absolutely obliterate a single high-priority target like a Knight. The webbers add some almost-free (they’re a mighty one point each) charge deterrence and can be used against infantry out of deep strike thanks to their 16″ range, and the whole unit benefits from the 6++, which when combined with a cult icon to give a 6+++ means that even against mid-high AP D1 firepower you save 30% of wounding hits. This kept them at least somewhat viable through the worst of Marine meta full of AP-2 D1 shots, and if you don’t want to go in on the Ridgerunner builds they’re probably still the best bet today.

If you’re feeling spicy or if your metagame is full of Knights you can also tap one unit of Acolytes in. The stratagem will allow them to absolutely tear anything IMPERIUM to pieces, and sticking the psychic power on them can make them a bit harder to shift.

The Relic here is largely irrelevant, with the only neat trick being one reader Alexander Dattilo pointed out on the original version of this, which is that it can give a character who benefits from the Creed like an Abominant a 3++. They, sadly, aren’t worth it any more but it doesn’t really matter – the Neophyte spam build is an important part of anchoring a non-skewed GSC list, and thus very important.

The Rusted Claw

  • Cult Creed – Nomadic Survivalists: Add one to your non-invulnerable saves against AP-0 or -1 weapons. In addition, BIKERS can move/shoot heavy weapons or advance/shoot assault weapons without penalty.
  • Warlord Trait – Entropic Touch: Unmodified wound rolls of 6 made by RUSTED COG units within 6″ in the fight phase get an additional AP-1.
  • Relic – Metallophagic staff: Replaces a force stave. Gives S+2 and AP-5, damage D3, and the haywire effect (mortal on 4+, d3 mortals on 6+) against vehicles.
  • Stratagem – Drive-by Demolitions – 1CP: a RUSTED CLAW BIKER unit gets +1 to hit and wound with Grenade weapons for a phase. They can also move as if it was the movement phase after shooting, but cannot charge this turn.
  • Power – Inescapable Decay – WC6: Pick a VEHICLE unit within 18″. Until the end of the turn, attacks against it have +1AP. Note that even post FAQ this isn’t keyword locked, so works for your whole army even in mixed <CULT> or even Tyranid soup lists.

Rusted Claw have had a funny old ride. Haha. Ride. Like a bike.

We have fun here.

Anyway, out of the Codex these were one of the better Cults – their Creed was surprisingly good on the body-heavy lists that the army tended to pack, and while the Cult is focused in on Atalan Jackals, they were one of the best units in the book both as max squads in spam lists and as small squads loaded with demolition charges in mixed list to abuse the combo. The latter option was so good that practically every list contorted itself to squeeze in the squad, and Rusted Claw had a lot to offer.

The winter was not kind to them. The worst excesses of Marine meta absolutely ruined this Cult – Iron Hands spamming AP-2 assault cannons and heavy bolters completely neutered the defensive gimmick, while Imperial Fist Stalker spam went through Jackals like a hot knife, forcing players away from these and on to the Bladed Cog. Just to put the boot in more, GW noticed that the demo biker squad was too good, and hit the charges with a hefty point hike, changing the standard loadout for that unit from 75pts to 100pts, reducing the efficiency of what was very much a fire-and-forget missile, often combined with Lying in Wait.

The big Marine nerf has, however, changed their fortunes somewhat. You’re now vastly less likely to be dealing with endless volleys of AP-2 anti-horde, while the Fist SBR list is mostly dead now it can’t squat in devastator doctrine all game. Combine that with Atalans picking up a powerful strat in TGG, and suddenly Rusted Claw Jackal Spam seems to be back – of the two pure lists that have made top fours this year, that was one of them, and in my opinion the stronger of the two (we’ll take a look at it later).

The TGG power is also the best of the bunch, and combos extremely well with bike spam, helping them blow tougher targets to bits with their shotguns. It’s also great in soup builds, being a big help to Hive Guard when comboed with Tyranids.

I’ve always liked the Rusted Claw and I’m glad to see them succeeding again, and if you’ve always dreamt of an alien biker gang, give them a try.

The Twisted Helix

  • Cult Creed – Experimental Subjects: Add +1 to strength and +2 to advance rolls.
  • Warlord Trait – Bio-Alchemist: +1 damage for non-relic weapons used by your warlord.
  • Relic – Elixir of the Prime Specimen: +1A, T and W.
  • Stratagem – Monstrous Bio-Horrors 3CP: A unit of TWISTED HELIX ABERRANTS can fight again at the end of the phase. In addition, enemy units within 6″ of that unit get -1LD this turn.
  • Power – Mutagenic Deviation – WC6: Pick an enemy INFANTRY unit within 12″. Until the start of your next turn, add 1 to wound against it on TWISTED HELIX melee attacks.

The Twisted Helix are designed to smash things, ideally with Aberrants and souped up Patriarchs. Unfortunately, Aberrants got dumped head-first into the bin in this year’s CA nerfs, and that leaves this Cult without enough of a draw to bring you to it over and above other options.

That’s a little bit of a shame because the Patriarch you can build here is absolutely hilarious, while the power they picked up in TGG is at least OK. As it is, however, without Aberrants to bring players to them these aren’t seeing that much use and I don’t expect that to change until the nerf is (hopefully) reverted.

Custom Creeds

Like a lot of factions GSC gained the option of taking custom creeds in their PA book. You might think this could potentially be interesting, given that lists already tend to be mixed cult.

Unfortunately, these are awful. Like, easily the worst set any faction gets. Worse than Drukhari. Really.

Especially given that the mainline creeds are great and a lot of the power is baked into the relics and stratagems, you can safely give this section a miss when planning lists. For completeness, we’ll rate them anyway. Like most factions you get to pick two:

  • Hunters Instincts: During the first battle round, add 1 to your advance and charge rolls. Only being able to use this on turn one, when you can’t deep strike, makes it pretty terrible – the upshot is your opponent has to deploy an extra 2″ away on a turn where you don’t have much of your army on the board anyway. D+
  • Innate Fighters: Probably one of the closest to being OK – on the first round of combat your units re-roll hits of 1. That’s…fine but now Aberrants are dead most of your key units that benefit from Creeds can take an icon, and you’d rather pay the 50-odd points across the army and take a better choice. C+
  • Thralls of the Patriarch: Halve the number of models that flee. In an army that can trivially become fearless. The bad morale-mitigation siren is going again. F
  • Seasoned Enforcers: INFANTRY ignore the heavy weapon move/shoot. The less good half of Bladed Cog without anything near as good for the other half. C
  • Agile Outriders: BIKERS ignore move/shoot for heavy weapons, and advance/shoot penalties for assault weapons. See previous, s/Bladed Cog/Rusted Claw. C
  • Armour Piercing Ammunition: Autopistols, autoguns and heavy stubbers within half range have +1AP. Another one that’s sort of nearly there, but once again these are so narrow and while you could put this and Innate Fighters on some Neophytes, it ain’t making them enough better than Bladed Cog to make losing the defences worth it. C
  • Munitions Experts: +1S to grenades. Absurdly narrow, needing a stratagem to get any real benefit from it. D
  • Unnatural Symbiosis: If a CULT psyker within 6″ of another CULT unit takes a psychic test you can re-roll 1s. Remembering that Gene-Sect is a rule and that Patriarchs don’t get Creeds, you can have at most one model per detachment of this you take who gets any benefit at all, and it’s an incredibly mild boost. F
  • Workers Arisen: Re-roll hits with Heavy Mining Weapons (the ones Neophytes can take, so heavy stubbers, mining lasers and sesimic cannons). Since you actually can take some of these on Atalan Wolfquads too you get to affect a mighty two units, but at least the buff here is actually good. Turns out, however, that you’d rather take Neophytes in Bladed Cog and Atalans in Rusted Claw and leave this on the shelf. Still vying for the best of the bunch. C+
  • Devout Worshippers: Units within 3″ of Hybrid Metamorphs can re-roll charges. OK, cool, at least we’re being up-front about literally focusing on a single unit now. Hilariously, this isn’t completely irredeemable simply because Metamorphs are priced to move now, and a Vanguard of three units with this plus Innate Fighters is one of the more plausible detachments you can throw together out of these. Still not competitive, let’s be clear, but nearly plausible. Oh, also can’t be comboed with Hunters Instincts, which is fine because you in no way want to. C+
  • Poisoned Blades: Boneswords and Cultist Knives get an additional attack on an unmodified 6 to hit. Yeah we’re done here. D

I really, really try and see the best in everything we look at, but writing about these is a real challenge to that principle – they’re atrocious. Nothing here gets even into a B, and we’re talking about a faction where a B is about the lowest you’d rate any of the named factions, with most getting an easy A.

Sigh and move on.

Stratagems, Traits and Relics

Stratagems

GSC have an incredibly deep generic stratagem sheet, and the headache-inducing number of different ways this allows them to mess with their opponents has always been a big part of their strength, especially as two or three battalion lists are the norm, so they have plenty of points to spend. A few additional relevant options have turned up in TGG, but the main list is still definitely the focus, especially the various ways to manipulate cult ambush.

Codex

  • Clandestine Goals – 1CP: In a Maelstrom game, you can keep your cards hidden. If you’re playing Maelstrom and aren’t already playing a mission where they’re hidden for everyone, this is almost certainly worth spending a point on. B
  • Lurk in the Shadows – 2CP: At the start of your opponent’s shooting phase, pick an INFANTRY unit that’s entirely on or within a terrain feature. Your opponent can only target them with shooting when they’re the closest visible unit. Generally not super easy to set up, and the army doesn’t tend to have a single high-value long ranged infantry unit which is the kind of thing that would super benefit this. Worth remembering that you have it, but generally doesn’t come up. C
  • They Came From Below… – 1CP: Already discussed – lets you pull three units from Ambush into deep strike. Even after all its nerfs, still something you will use almost every game for many lists. A
  • Broodcoven – 1CP: Already discussed – adds warlord traits to a Magus and Primus if a Patriarch is your warlord. Extremely good, used in almost every game. A
  • Devoted Crew – 1CP: A vehicle acts on full for a turn. GSC have no vehicles you want to use, and the ones you have are ultra squish, so generally irrelevant. Revisit if Forge World ever put out a culted up Bagger 288 as a LOW choice. (and if you’re the particular generation of extremely online that means the song is now stuck in your head, I’m not sorry).
  • Monstrous Vigour – 2CP: Use at the start of your turn. Add 1 to FNPs for an Aberrant unit until your next turn. Sadly the timing on this makes it a miss – the Aberrants won’t be on the board to target at the start of the turn you bring them in, and your opponent is, shall we say, highly motivated to kill them straight away. if you manage to roll them straight into a wrap-and-trap this gets a lot better on subsequent turns, and can be worth it if they’re a clear priority target. C+
  • Meticulous Uprising – 1CP: Already discussed – move three Ambush Markers. Useful, but not something you want to burn every game. B-
  • Hyper-Metabolism – 1CP: Use at the start of your movement phase to heal a character for D3. Your characters are fragile enough that they’re usually in a binary state of “alive” or “extremely dead”. Occasionally fringe relevant if you’ve taken a perils on a Magus, or a Patriarch has clung to live, but not usually worth it.
  • Rigged to Blow – 1CP: Use when a vehicle dies to auto-explode. You aren’t taking any vehicles (and this doesn’t apply to Brood Brother detachments). It would be good with Rockgrinders if they were any good, so if they go to absurdly low costs in CA or something, remember this.  D
  • The First Curse – 1CP: Give a unit of Purestrain Genestealers a random buff. This is an abysmal stratagem – quite apart from purestrains not being good, one of the “buffs” makes them lose advance and charge in exchange for +1 to their base save. Awful, never use this even if you have purestrainsF
  • Cult Reinforcements – 1CP: Return up to D6 slain models to a Troops unit at the start of your movement phase. This is a really nice trick to have up your sleeve – because  your stuff is fearless so much of the time, if a single model lives you can use this to bring back a bunch of special weapon wielders. B
  • Detonate Concealed Explosives – 2CP: At the start of your shooting phase, as long as you have at least one GENESTEALER CULTS unit on the battlefield, pick an enemy unit and roll a D6, adding one if it has 10+ models and subtracting one if it’s a character. On a 4+ deal it d3 MWs, on a 7+ d6. Very pricey for what it does and not usually worth it, but can occasionally come up if your opponent is hiding a single surviving infantry model on an objective or something. C
  • Scanner Decoys – 1CP: Put down up to three extra ambush markers. Not usually worth it in pure GSC, but gets a lot more value if you’re souping with Tyranids, bumping up the number of “spare” markers you can put down in matchups where you want them to screen. C in pure, B in soup.
  • A Perfect Ambush – 3CP: Immediately after a unit with Cult Ambush arrives on the battlefield, it can either shoot or move d6″. This is one of the most important stratagems in the book, as it turns bringing in your top-end deep strike bombs from a somewhat risky business to (very nearly) a sure thing, especially combined with the re-rolls and boost you can get from the rest of the book. It isn’t cheap, but this is your bread and butter, and you will use it on your key alpha turn most games. It’s also good on turn one if you bring in a Sanctus from ambush, or summon in a Kelermorph. A
  • Telepathic Summons – 2CP: Gets its own section – see below.
  • Return to the Shadows – 1CP: At the end of your movement phase, an INFANTRY or BIKER unit more than 3″ away from the enemy can go back into deep strike (it can’t be one that arrived this turn). It then has to deep strike the next turn. This can be very powerful if your opponent has spread out and your alpha units have finished off whatever was in front of them and need to re-deploy, or you wrapped and trapped on your last turn, killed whatever you wrapped in their turn, and now don’t have a good charge. It might also, post the changes to They Came from Below, see use to “emulate”. If you were hoping to keep a unit back to T4 and have a good LOS blocker or magic box in a “safe” part of the board, you could plausibly bring your unit down behind that on T2, then go back into Deep Strike with this on T3, ready to attack on T4. It’s also funny to “reload” a Sanctus if he has no good targets, remembering that he can Perfect Ambush for free when he turns back up the next turn. B
  • Lying in Wait – 2CP: Already discussed – bring a unit in within 3″, but it can’t charge. Fantastic with Kelermorphs, flamer bombs and bike bombs. Do watch out though – if you declare this and it gets Vected, you still have to put the unit down normally, which can seriously cramp your plans. Either save 4AE to deal with that or make sure you have a backup plan when you use it.
  • Extra Explosives – 1CP: Already discussed – up to 10 models in a unit can throw any grenades, and five can throw demo charges. The reason the bike bomb works, and also not irrelevant just to allow a big unit of acolytes to chuck frag grenades in a pinch. A
  • Grandsire’s Gifts – 1/3CP: Extra relics. You have good ones. Use this. A
  • Telepathic Summons – 2CP: Instead of casting, one of your PSYKERS can summon a <CULT> unit of up to 3d6 PL anywhwre on the board >9″ from the enemy. Used to get its own section, but nerfs and changes to list design have made this a lot less relevant. You basically don’t want to hold back any fewer points than it costs to get a Kelermorph, but now that that costs 75, and your Psykers tend to be either Patriarchs or multi-casters, this is less attractive. It still isn’t terrible, as 75pts gets you a quite flexible list of options, but isn’t as great as it once was. B

The Greater Good

  • Prepared Ambush 1CP: A unit of Neophyte Hybrids that set up on the battlefield this battle round makes their autoguns assault 2 instead of rapid fire 1. The ceiling here is wildly low, and even in perfect circumstances with a 20 model full squad (which you don’t take) this is adding 16 BS4+ autogun shots. This needed to give rapid fire 2 instead. C
  • Annihilating Advance – 1CP: A Goliath Rockgrinder that charged deals d3 MWs to an INFANTRY unit on a 2+. If you have one in your army feel free to use this, but it’s very much in the wheelhouse of “cute trick on a bad unit” rather than something that makes them good. C
  • Integrated Vox Net – 2CP: A Jackal Alphus can, for a turn, switch their normal aura to work on friendly <CULT> models within 18″ rather than <CULT> units within 6″. The situations where this is good are extremely narrow thanks to the buffed version affecting models (and the default ability having extra range for BIKERS). With Bladed Cog lists this will occasionally come up as something worth considering, as it lets you deploy your many, many Neophyte squads more widely and still benefit, but it’s way too expensive for a narrow boost in AOE rather than actual effectiveness. C+
  • Close Range Shoot-out – 1CP: More like it. Gives an ATALAN JACKAL unit re-roll wounds for models that shoot an enemy unit within 12″ with pistols or assault weapons. Yes it’s narrow, but you can put a lot of models in these units, and especially in combination with Inescapable Decay it makes shotgun toting bikers a threat to a lot of stuff. Given that this is a unit that’s already good, making them great is a big win. A
  • Violence Unleashed – 1CP: When you choose Hybrid Metamorphs to fight, they get +1A this phase. Someone is desperate to see these guys be good and honestly – they pretty much are at this point. A unit of 10 of these with whips and rending claws and throw out 40 rending claw attacks thanks to this while being a potent charge screen, which is honestly kind of fine as a flex slot if the metagame skews towards deep strike hordes. B+
  • Commanding Amplification – 1CP: Upgrade a Clamavus pre-battle with +3″ on their advance/charge/ld aura. Fine but not really necessary – it’s usually trivial to string one model back to be in their aura when you need to. C+
  • The Gnarled Fist – 1CP: Upgrade an Abominant’s Aberrant-boosting aura to be 9″. Even more so than the above this wasn’t needed, and now it’s not even got good units to buff. C
  • Raking Fire – 1CP: A unit of Ridgerunners gets +1 to hit and wound on their heavy stubbers for a phase. You’re looking at 18 shots with these, and the price is about right here for the buff – it isn’t setting the world alight, but it will meaningfully impact your damage output when shooting at relevant targets, helping you pick up a few more models here and there, and getting considerably better if you have re-roll 1s on hits or wounds. B
  • The Cult’s Psyche – 1CP: Once per game pre-game, upgrade a Magus. They get +1 power use per turn, and +1 to their casts for each friendly <CULT> psyker within 3″. You’re mostly looking at the first part here, and that is basically good – Magi are unusual in being one-cast psykers that know two powers, so they get a benefit from this straight away, avoiding the need to buy a familiar and being more consistent throughout the game. The boost to casts almost never comes up – most lists are on one or zero magi, Patriarchs are generally elsewhere on the board, and they often aren’t the same <CULT>. Still worth using pretty much every game if you’ve brought a Magus though, and makes them a more attractive choice. B+
  • Slipping Through the Shadows -1CP: A Sanctus auto-advances 6″ and can advance/charge. Attempts to make the melee Sanctus competitive with the vastly, vastly superior ranged build. Does not succeed. Makes them less totally horrible, and maybe able to catch out an unwary opponent if they’ve moved a character towards your line T1, but entirely skippable still. C
  • Genetic Lineage – 1CP: An Acolyte Hybrid unit that advanced can charge. Sure – this is basically just good to have kicking around in the arsenal in case you don’t have a cast slot for Psychic Stimulus. Not setting the world on fire, but absolutely fine. B
  • Evasive Driving – 1CP: When a Goliath Truck or Rockgrinder is shot at, it ignores AP-1 or AP-2 for the phase. If you have one in your list it’ll help a little, but this is a marginal boost at best that doesn’t make them competitive. C
  • Overcharged Weaponry – 1CP: A <CULT> unit shooting clearance incinerators, heavy mining lasers or heavy seismic cannons gets +1 to wound. Extremely good on Ridgerunner squads with 3 HMLs, and part of the reason they’re making a big splash in lists. Doesn’t even require them to focus fire on a single unit like some similar abilities. A
  • The Heart of the Creed – 1CP: Once per game pre-game, upgrade a Primus. When they deploy, they can pick two targets for their re-roll 1 to wound aura rather than 1. This is extremely good, working well both to let your melee thrusts hit harder or to allow your HML-toting Ridgerunners go through multiple units at speed. A

Warlord Traits

Patriarch

Genestealer Cults Patriarch. Credit: Corrode

  • Focus of Adoration: <CULT> Infantry or Biker units within 6″ can heroic. Potentially a very nasty surprise, and can give a lot of mobility to move your units around at a surprising time. Doesn’t see a tonne of use though. C+
  • Shadow Stalker: -1 to hit your warlord. If your warlord is being directly attacked, this isn’t likely to help enough. C
  • Biomorph Adaptation: +1S, +1A. Great on a Patriarch. B+
  • Born Survivor: Reduce multi-damage attacks on your warlord by 1. In a bucket with Shadow Stalker – won’t help enough if your opponent has lined up a shot. C
  • Alien Majesty: +3″ aura radius. Deceptively great, and a very common pick on a Patriarch or Primus. A
  • Preternatural Speed: Always fights first. Always a bad ability unless it’s near army- wide, because your opponent’s first charger still gets to go. D

Alien Majesty is a big winner of the “generic” ones, with Biomorph Adaptation also being a good choice. Beyond that, you’re generally better looking at the cult-specific ones, especially Bladed Cog, Twisted Helix and 4AE.

Relics

Acolyte Iconward

Genetealer Cults Acolyte Iconward. Credit: Corrode

  • Icon of the Cult Ascendant: 6″ +1S aura banner. Yes. This. A+
  • Sword of the Void’s Eye: A turbo-powered Bonesword that’s S+2, AP-2, d3 damage and re-rolls hits and wounds. Actually makes a Primus a threat, but you still won’t take it most of the time because you’re not buying them for their combat prowess. Can be fun in smaller games where you want every unit to do as much as it can. C+
  • Amulet of the Voidwyrm: +1 to saves against ranged weapons (including invulns) and ignore overwatch. Overwatch suppression is obviously great in this army, and this is a very common pick. B+
  • Scourge of Distant Stars: Add one to your hit rolls, and deal enemies that attack you in melee a MW on an unmodified 1 to hit. Weird. Bad. D
  • Oppressors Bane: Upgrades one Kelemorph gun (or an autopistol, but you’re taking it on a Kelermorph) to be 3 shots, AP-2 and re-roll wounds against CHARACTERS. A hefty buff, and even better than it used to be thanks to getting the Keler over the line of being a real threat to most Marine characters. B+
  • Dagger of Swift Sacrifice: Relic Cultist Knife of Sanctus Dagger that stabmurders characters real good. This has a lot of words on it and is even quite powerful in the abstract, but the three things that can wield it are a melee Sanctus (which you aren’t taking), a kelermorph (who you don’t want in melee and would buy the gun first) or a Magus (who you really don’t want in melee). Because of that, it’s bad. D
Familiars

Genestealer Cults Familiars. Credit: Corrode

  • The Crouchling: A relic familiar for a Patriarch or Magus (side note – is this the only relic that can actually be killed?). Acts as a normal familiar, and lets the owner know an additional power and adds +1 to all their casts. This is really good – I, an Eldar player, would commit a not inconsiderable number of crimes to be allowed to give my Farseer one of these. Generally taken on a Patriarch to help with landing key psychic powers on an alpha turn, and very good there. A
  • The Gift from Beyond: Relic sniper rifle for a Sanctus or Jackal Alphus that adds +2 to wound against non-VEHICLE targets. Extremely brutal on a Sanctus if your opponent has psykers, and decent on the Jackal if you want to tee up the Hivecult stratagem. B+ 

GSC get more than enough to work with here. The Icon turns up in many lists, with a second relic usually being from among the Amulet, Gift, Bane or Crouching depending on the exact list and matchup.

Units

Done with the preliminaries, on to the units. Genestealer Cult have lots. A lot of them, especially the characters, are pretty great, but a lot are kind of trash too. Lets find out which is which.

HQ

Patriarch

The Patriarch

The Patriarch. Credit: John Q Brown

Big daddy Genestealer himself is quite the bargain at 125pts, and you’ll want to include at least one in almost all of your armies, both because he gives you access to Broodcoven and because he’s just good. With T5, 6W and a 4+/5++ he’s the toughest character in the book (although still far from indestructible) and is an absolute blender in combat. He has 6A at S6, re-rolls all wounds, does d3 damage and resolves any wound rolls of 6+ at -6 and damage 3. Various traits, powers and relics can amp this up even further, and while you won’t ever quite get him to the point of reliably gutting a Knight in a single round of combat (unless you bring the Vial of the Grandsire’s Blood from the Broodsurge detachment because apparently drinking his own blood makes him mad), but you can prop him up to S7/8, give him more attacks and boost his damage, at which point anything smaller than a Lord of War is in terminal trouble. He can also advance and charge, helping get him where he needs to be in the first place.

All of that’s pretty cool, and you’d potentially buy these just as deep striking murder machines at the cost, but the extremely key thing they have on top of that is a 6″ aura within which all <CULT> and BROOD BROTHERS units auto-pass morale. This helps make large Acolyte units even better than they already are, since you often want to take them in large numbers and they’re individually fragile. Most armies aim to include a Patriarch tagged with whatever CULT their Acolyte bombs are for this reason, and it’s also vital if you’re running a bike spam build.

He’s a one-cast psyker that knows two powers, and is effective at delivering Mind Control or Mass Hypnosis. He can also buy up to two familiars. Each of these let him cast an additional power at the end of the psychic phase once per game, and is also a model that forms a unit with the Patriarch. This is actually super handy, because if the Patriarch is out by themself and takes a lascannon hit, you can just shrug and assign it to a familiar, removing the risk of an instant-kill high-roll. Do remember that you have to choose to do this before you roll a save. Purchasing one familiar is pretty common, especially as one can be upgraded to the powerful Crouchling relic.

Finally, he adds +1 to hit rolls for <CULT> GENESTEALER units within 6″. Sadly, Purestrain Genestealers are totally irrelevant competitively, so this only accomplishes allowing him to ignore the first -1 he gets tagged with (if that comes up) and boosting any familiars up so they hit on twos.

Patriarchs are extremely good. Definitely take one and aim to take two, especially if you have large units from two different CULTs.

Magus

Magos

Genestealer Cults Magos. Credit: Corrode

The “classic” GSC psyker is a lot less impressive than the Patriarch and is actually fairly steeply priced for what they are (a one-cast psyker that can buy familiars to boost to two with naff combat stats). However, at least one still turns up in most lists. The only unique thing on their datasheet is that they grant all cult units within 6″ a deny in your opponent’s psychic phase – nice against some armies, but often not super impressive. Why do they show up so often then? Well, they’ve got a good few uses:

  • They’re one of the two characters that can pick up a trait from Broodcoven, and the only one that’s reliably planning to start on the board. That means that if you want to set up some combos with something like the Bladed Cog trait, they’re a good choice to bring in early alongside a Jackal Alphus.
  • They’re one of the better choices to bring in as a “lone” 4AE unit to get stratagem access in a mixed detachment. GSC powers aren’t CULT locked so they still contribute, and the 4AE trait is a nice one to stick on via Broodcoven.
  • They can activate Telepathic Summons for you, and you’re more willing to have them about on the board turn 1 to do so than you are a Patriarch.
  • As of TGG, you can upgrade one with The Cult’s Psyche to give them an additonal cast.

Unlike a lot of stuff in this book the rate on these is pretty steep for what they do, but the flexibility having one around offers you sometimes turns out to be enough that they’re still worth it, especially now you can upgrade the first one in your list. Worth having access to.

Primus

Cult Primus

Cult Primus. Credit: Corrode

The Primus is the third member of the Broodcoven and a much more focused tool – he has one job, and it’s popping up alongside whatever matching <CULT> units are about to alpha strike and making them do it a tonne better. You are 100% buying this guy for his auras and whatever relics or warlord traits you’ve decided to pack in with him (often just Alien Majesty to up his aura size), as he’s pretty terrible in a fight, being an extremely mediocre attacker and dying to a stiff breeze.

His auras are hot stuff though – first up he adds +1 to hit rolls for nearby <CULT> units. This is fantastic, as most of your best units are WS3+ at base, and can often get re-roll 1s by buying a banner, taking their accuracy as high as it will go once you add this in. If that wasn’t enough, when he sets up on the battlefield you can pick one enemy unit, and friendly <CULT> units within 6″ can also re-roll 1s to wound against it. Given that you’ll often be rolling in with S10 rocksaws that have +1 to wound via a stratagem, this combines with the first ability to mean that whatever gets hit first by the units this guy comes in with tends to just melt, with really only the toughest stuff in the entire game having even the slightest chance of living through it.

Now that TGG has buffed Ridgerunners to new heights, he’s also pretty good with them, helping wound-boosted HMLs to blow apart enemy armour. TGG also adds the option to upgrade one to pick two targets via The Heart of the Creed, which can be especially good if you’re planning to sit him with a Bladed Cog or Hivecult firebase, keeping your firebase blasting at full power for longer.

Given that this army relies on its big alpha strikes landing, this guy is fantastic, and you’ll see at least one in every list, often more than one if there are melee alpha units from more than one CULT. He also turns up in the Bladed Cog Neophyte spam build, often carrying the Single Minded Obsession trait, as his wound re-rolls aren’t melee only, so you can nominate one big target with Single Minded Obsession and another with his built-in ability, upping your efficiency against both.

Acolyte Iconward

Iconward

Iconward. Credit: Soggy

Another HQ choice and another must-have in almost every army. The Iconward has a fancy flag, which gives INFANTRY and BIKER models within 6″ a 6+++. That’s generically great, especially with bikers against D2 weapons and stacked with the 6++ from Bladed Cog on hordes of Neophytes. Aberrants instead get re-roll 1s on their existing FNP. His other ability is a bit of a miss – he grants re-rolls on morale tests to CULT units within 6″, but this almost never comes up – it’s extremely likely that units you care about are either in a Patriarch’s bubble or you’re burning auto-passes (one of the few design misses in this book is that there are a bunch of ways to grant fearless or morale boosts which are all irrelevant because the Patriarch brings it for free).

That’s all OK but not exactly lighting the world up, so why is this guy everywhere? The secret is that the things that make him good aren’t on the datasheet.

The first is the Icon of the Cult Ascendant relic, which makes his banner give an aura of +1S. That’s obviously excellent, as it takes your Acolytes up to S5 on their base attacks and 10 on their saws, allowing them to murder everything, and your Patriarch up to S7, which can combine with other stuff to get him over the crucial line of S8 in some games.

The second is that he’s the only character who can be part of a Deliverance Broodsurge, a specialist detachment the wants you to combine him with Acolyte Hybrids, which as you might have picked up by now is kind of what this army planned to do anyway. He can use Field Commander to take the Augur of the Insurgent warlord trait, which grants him a re-roll charge aura for other Deliverance Broodsurge units, including those crucial Acolytes.

One you look at him as having a re-roll charge and +S aura it’s extremely obvious why this guy is so popular. A huge proportion of lists include the Broodsurge, and this guy will almost always be in them. A 4AE detachment with this guy, Acolytes and a Primus is particularly common.

Jackal Alphus

The Jackal Alphus has quietly gone up and up in people’s estimation since the codex was released, and pretty much every list now runs at least one, even more so since Ridgerunners got good.

Her basic statline is pretty meh – she’s a moderately tough mobile sniper who can make herself a bit more threatening by taking the Gift From Beyond if needed.

Her special ability is the real draw – at the start of each shooting phase she picks a visible target within 36″ and gives friendly <CULT> units within 6″ (or 12″ for BIKERS) +1 to hit. That’s a super-powerful buff, and has always been pretty good buffing up either Atalan Jackals or massed Bladed Cog Neophytes, but with Jackals getting even better out of TGG and Ridgerunners now being genuinely excellent flexible shooting she’s a must have. If any of this stuff sounds like you, get one.

The Jackal Alphus, seen here sniping from a pot of static grass. Credit: Corrode

Abominant

Abominant

Abominant. Credit: Soggy

Sadly a casualty of Aberrants getting hit hard by the nerf bat. He’s not all that on his base rate – he hits like an absolute truck when he connects, but only has three attacks hitting on 4s, which is extremely unreliable. He is pretty hefty – he has T5, 5W, reduces multi-damage attacks by 1D and has a 5+/5+++ (and also regenerates wounds) but like everything in this list will faceplant hard to a serious attempt to kill him.

That used to be offset by helping Aberrants land their charges via the Anointed Throng specialist detachment, but as they’ve vanished from lists so as he, as he’s not that many points shy of a Patriarch and way less good at anything else.

If you do decide to take one, remember that he has an aura of -1 to cast for enemies (which is nice, but you do need to remember it and tell your opponent) and that he, himself, has the Aberrant keyword, so if you need him to use his buff stratagem on himself (or double fight if he’s TWISTED HELIX) he can, though that’s very much a last resort as he usually won’t do enough with it to justify the cost.

Troops

Acolyte Hybrids

Acolyte Hybrids are one of the best units in this book and can probably make a credible claim to be one of the best Troops choices in the game. Before you buy them any upgrades at all they are extremely dangerous for their 7pt cost – they’re WS3+ and S4, and have two attacks each with rending claws (S user, -1AP or -4AP on 6+ to wound) and one with their cultist knife. They’re no tougher than the average Guardsman (unless you’re running Rusted Claw or Bladed Cog), but that’s a lot of killing power, and as GSC they can always burst from Deep Strike, and are often under the influence of powerful auras.

However, several upgrade options they have access to make them even better, and it’s these that push them into all-star status. First of all, as many models as you like can take a hand flamer for 1pt each. Well why is that so impressive, you ask? After all, they aren’t deep striking within the 6″ range for those. Are they?

Thanks to the Lying in Wait stratagem, which lets a unit appear within 3″ rather than 9″ in exchange for not being able to charge, it turns out they are, and a full squad of these with flamers can lay down a withering hail of chaff clearing shots, in a fashion that’s a complete nightmare for some armies to deal with (including being an excellent tool to have in the arsenal against other GSC armies). This strategy is referred to as the “flamer bomb”, and appears quite often in lists.

What if you just want to kill people in combat, though? Well, to start with you can (and should, if melee is your plan) buy them a Cult Icon for 10pts, letting them re-roll 1s to hit. Combining this with a Primus takes them to 2s re-rolling 1s to hit, helping their massive wave of attacks land. But are rending claws really enough? There seem to be some weapon upgrades available – maybe we could buy some of those.

Two models per five can take a demo charge or one of three industrial melee weapons. Of the latter, the heavy rock saw is the only game in town, being both the most reliable and, for some reason, the cheapest by a reasonable margin. It’s Sx2, AP-4 D2, which is a horrific profile, especially when you remember that these will often be at S5 thanks to an Iconward Banner. Finally, if you’ve made their detachment a Deliverance Broodsurge and they charged this turn, and you’re really worried that they aren’t quite going to get there, you can spend 1CP at the start of the fight phase to give them +1 to wound.

It cannot be overstated enough how absurdly reliable and deadly these are against pretty much anything other than 3++ or better invulns. In a full squad of 20 you can take up to 8 rocksaws, but most people don’t bother going beyond about six simply because there’s just nothing that will still be alive after they (plus all the rending claws from the rest) swing – with a banner and the strat the saws will be hitting on 2s re-rolling 1s and wounding on 2s against anything, so six of them carve about 18-20 wounds out of a Knight on average, leaving it easily low enough that you’ll finish it off with AP-4 claw hits (which proc on 5+ once the strat is up). Because these are spread out over a tonne of volume they’re great for clearing hordes out too – you can comfortably delete 30 Boyz using the same set of buffs.

Because of the high model count and big boosts you can get to their charges, they’re also excellent at wrapping enemies and locking them in combat. This is the best way to boost their survivability and keep them in the game for more than one turn, and because of their deadliness there’s almost no chance of your opponent turning the tables on you and keeping them in combat for your next turn. If you’re playing against these, remember they’re on 32mm bases and try and avoid leaving a gap that big in your lines so they can’t get round to wrap you so easily.

Acolyte Hybrids  are phenomenal, and almost every list will have some. They’re best as either 4AE (to increase their chance of landing a charge) or Twisted Helix (so they’re S5 without needing to faff with buffs) but are seen in other forms too. If you want to play GSC competitively, get lots.

Neophyte Hybrids

Neophyte Hybrids

Genestealer Cults Neophyte Hybrids. Credit: Corrode

Neophytes didn’t get the attention that Acolytes did initially, but as we already covered, a Bladed Cog build has emerged over time that makes them do work. While they’re 10pts more per unit at baseline than Brood Brothers, their ability to take multiple heavy weapons in the squad and benefit from <CULT> tagged abilities (notably the Jackal Alphus’s hit boost, the Iconward banner and the Bladed Cog Warlord Trait) has turned out to make spamming these with mining lasers and webbers (the latter because at 1 point why the heck not) really good. They can either pop up on the board turn one and blast something away with all their lasers if the opponent has deployed too close, or come in in a big bubble later on and take advantage of the fact that they ignore hit penalties for moving to achieve much the same thing. Bladed Cog’s 6++ combined with the icon also gives them deceptively good staying power.

This isn’t especially complicated, but results show that it’s extremely effective, and the few people sticking with Cult through the recent bad times have often used this build.

Outside Bladed Cog there isn’t a massive argument for taking these over Brood Brothers. They used to be pretty good in Rusted Claw, as the creed gave them a 4+ against anti-horde weapons a lot of the time, but Marine doctrines make that much less likely to work – you now want the 6++ Bladed Cog gives you more.

Brood Brother Infantry Squads

Brood Brothers

Brood Brothers. Credit: ThatGobbo

40pt Guard infantry squads have been good all edition, and while they aren’t quite as powerful in GSC as Guard thanks to not being able to be ordered, they’re still a fine way to flood the board with cheap bodies and fill out detachments. GSC have a tonne of good stratagems and thus thirst ceaselessly for CP, and also want to include a lot of characters, so being able to populate the Troops choices with three squads of these is a powerful and commonly used list building tool. An especially notable way people do this is, if they want a lone character from a <CULT> other than their main one, build a battalion with their main <CULT> Patriarch (who can’t get creed abilities anyway), the random character they want, and three squads of these, giving a setup that lets you bring in a differently keyworded character at very little cost while also getting CP and more bodies.

There’s not much more to say about these – outside of Bladed Cog they’re basically the “default” detachment filling troops choice for any mandatory slot that isn’t full of Acolytes, and a fixture of the vast majority of top lists.

Elites

Hybrid Metamorphs

These got some point cuts in CA19 and a new strat in TGG, and taking all of that together these are now prepostorously point-efficient. You can take 10 of these with whips and rending claws for 70pts (or 80 with an icon) and throw 41 rending claw attacks when they connect. By itself that probably wouldn’t get them over the line given how good Acolytes are, but with the whips these can become a great choice in certain metagames. The whip allows them to fight when they die before they’ve swung, so if the meta is stacked with other deep strike horde lists (Orks and other GSC) they can become a good flex call (and got into lists as tech for the mirror match when GSC were on top).

Being super cheap also makes them interesting for Telepathic Summons. If you don’t want to commit to the unit outlined above, you can keep back 75pts and summon either 10 of these or a Kelermorph as the mood takes you.

This unit is quietly very interesting, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sneak into the odd list.

Aberrants

Aberrants

Aberrants. Credit: Soggy

Current Status

Oof. These were once in serious contention with Acolytes for melee slots – they were slightly more expensive, and couldn’t take the rocksaws to go through armour, but traded off by being just absurdly flexible in what they could kill, and much tougher to take off the board. CA19, sadly, stuck a 60pt tax on a full squad of these (half on models, half on the hypermorph weapons). That basically takes these out of competitive play – the price is now way too high. We think this was a major mis-step and hope these will come down in cost again. In the meantime, we’ve kept the previous write up of their capabilities – but right now, don’t take these.

Capabilities

Much like Acolytes, these things will absolutely blender anything they hit. These come in squads of 5-10, each being equipped with power picks (the correct option) or heavy power hammers (the incorrect option). For each five models you can and should upgrade one to a Hypermorph, who can take a hammer or a heavy improvised weapon (the correct choice here) and a hypermorph tail. They’re tougher than most other things in the army, being T4, 2W, 5+/5+++, and reducing the damage of all multi-damage weapons that wound them by one, meaning they don’t just melt away if targeted by heavy burst cannons and the like. They will still go down to concentrated fire though – don’t expect these to tank if it you let aggressors unload on them.

Those are their defences, what about the offence? We’ve got 4-8 models with power picks and two with street signs. What do they do?

The power pick is S user (they are S5 base), AP-2 Dd3, which is pretty nice at baseline, but the really sweet part is that for each attack a model makes with them they get to make a rending claw attack as well. These only have two attacks base, so this helps a lot with letting them fight against enemy hordes. The heavy improvised weapon is also great for this – it’s Sx2, AP-1 D2 and straight up lets you make two hit rolls per attack, which is great with the A3 the Hypermorph has. Put together, these can comfortably crush most things you roll them into, and much like the rest of the army, there are plenty of ways you can boost them.

Given that all the equipment you’re taking effectively doubles their attack stats, they’re especially great targets for Might from Beyond, and can also be boosted up by an Abominant if you’ve put them in an Anointed Throng. The other big thing they can do that Acolytes can’t is (if they’re Twisted Helix, which they often are for this reason) fight twice, allowing them to either finish off a big target that they didn’t kill on the first swing or hit another thing if they multi-charged.

What Aberrants having going for them over Acolytes is that, while they die to concentrated firepower, a stiff breeze won’t eliminate them. If you’re confident that they’re going to hit a part of the board hard and leave your opponent reeling they can be fantastic, as it takes a bit more than just lasgun fire to start worrying them. However, there is a tradeoff for this – they’re slightly less appallingly deadly when deployed in representative full sized squads, and don’t have the sheer consistency of a fully buffed-up Acolyte unit (they can’t take a banner).

Clamavus

Clamavus

Clamavus. Credit: Soggy

One loud boi.

The Clamavus is a cheap, squishy character whose main purpose is his buff aura, which gives +1Ld and +1″ to advances and charges for <CULT> units within 6″. He also stops enemies deep striking within 12″ of him, and does a MW to enemy units within 6″ on a roll of a 6 at the start of your shooting phase. Basically though, what this guy brings is the +1″ charge aura.

Turns out that adding that extra reliability to your key charge turn is worth it, and this guy shows up in most lists. Stacking him as 4AE with a Broodsurge to give 7″ re-rollable charges out of deep strike is a particularly popular choice.

Basically, he’s very one dimensional, but worth including. The main decision you need to make is which turn to throw him down – make sure it’s either your key turn where everything has to go right or you’re very confident of wrapping and trapping a unit so he’s still around the next turn.

Sanctus

Sanctus

Sanctus. Credit: Soggy

The Sanctus is a lethal sniper against psykers, and relatively “meh” against everything else. Technically he has a melee build, but yeah don’t buy that, we’re here for the sniping. The Slipping Through the Shadows strat means you can have more fun with the melee build than you used to, but it’s still not something you really need.

His rifle is Heavy 1, S4, AP-1 Dd3, can target characters and does a MW on a 6+ to wound. So far so average (and vastly less good than an Eliminator) but against psykers he shoots up in value – if they take any damage from him (including the mortal wound) they take an immediate Perils of the Warp. He can be further improved with a relic sniper which gives him +2 to wound rolls, making that MW (and thus the perils) go off on a 4+.

That’s outrageously good against most psykers, as a lot of them have four or less wounds, and are thus at risk of dying to a single lucky shot then blowing up and dragging their nearby friends into the warp. He can also often “double tap” on the first turn. When you use the A Perfect Ambush stratagem on him (which can allow a model coming out of ambush or deep strike to immediately shoot) it costs 0CP and in your first movement phase you often have no other use for this, so may as well use it to get an extra shot from him. It’s even funnier if your opponent has the first turn – did that bike Warlock move anywhere within 36″ and LOS of one of your ambush markers? Then when your ambushers are revealed, it’s the warp for him.

Finally, he ignores cover – a nice to have against things like Librarians which might otherwise shrug off his shots once concealed.

Against psyker heavy armies this guy is an absolute weapon, and he only runs you 60 points, meaning that many people include him in their lists so he can be given the Gift from Beyond relic rifle if needed, or squat on a backline objective taking pot shots when not. He’s also another good choice for summoning with 60pts (and can use the Perfect Ambush immediately then too, because what else are you using it on in the psychic phase?

Kelermorph

Kelermorph

Kelermorph. Credit: John Q Brown

Like Aberrants, this guy caught a nerf in CA, but unlike them it was probably deserved, and he’s still seeing play at his new 75pt price tag.

This guy is something of an oddity in that he’s a close ranged sniper, only having 12″ range on his pistols but being able to do very nasty things with them. Each pistol has 2 shots (for a total of 6), he can target characters with them and for each hit he gets he can immediately make an additional attack (giving him an average of about 9 hits). The shots are S4 -1 D2, so that onslaught credibly threatens a lot of things, and will blow (for example) a Farseer off the board in a single volley. If you’re up against slightly tougher game you can upgrade one of his pistols to the Oppressor’s Bane relic, which gets an extra shot, an extra point of AP and re-rolls wounds against characters. That takes him over the line of threatening to pop even Space Marine characters in a single volley, and is a real headache for opponents to plan around. Because he’s got a high rate of fire, he’s also just fine at popping infantry, and at his price you don’t need to kill many Primaris Marines to make his points back.If he kills any models, he also gives re-roll 1s to hit for the rest of the phase to nearby friendly <CULT> models, which is usually fairly marginal as benefits go but can occasionally be set up to give a lot of value, especially combined with Rusted Claw bikes or Bladed Cog Neophytes

You do need to make sure they kill something worthwhile on the way in, as they’re extremely squishy and will die very fast when attacked.

Kelermorphs are prolific users of the Lying in Wait stratagem, and the need to screen for a potential 3″ deep strike against a single-model unit that can pop a vital character can give enemy armies absolute fits, the mere threat of this forcing them to move way more slowly than they’d like. Alternatively, if your opponent doesn’t think carefully enough about the prospect, bringing one of these in with Telepathic Summons on turn one can pop a character they forgot to screen properly (although be aware you can’t combine this with Lying in Wait, as that has been errated to specifically only work with units deploying from the underground).

After a long time being one of the hardest “new” models to find thanks to being locked in a Kill Team box, you can also now just buy one, which is nice, and you probably still should.

Nexos

The Nexos is a cheap character who gives you the ability to move an ambush marker (as discussed earlier) and CP regen – on a 6+ at baseline for both your and your opponent’s CP, improving to 5+ on yours if you also have a Primus on the board and 5+ on your opponent’s if you also have a Clamavus down. Given that GSC throw CP around like confetti, he’s usually going to be worth a good 3-4 over the game, and the marker move isn’t irrelevant, so this is a fine but non-mandatory way to spend 50pts. He’s very common if you are filling out a Brigade, and is another popular option for a lone 4AE character in a mixed detachment, being put down to sit on a back-line objective all game threatening to activate the strat.

The model is also exceedingly cool which, you know, since he is also at least fine competitively might be a strong motivator for some.

The Rest

  • Purestrain Genestealers: Because of how absurdly deadly either Aberrants or Acolytes are there’s just no role for these. They’re expensive, less good than either of those against big targets and at best on par against small targets.
  • Locus: A weird character bodyguard/assassin with a bunch of strange abilities. Doesn’t come together into a package that’s worth including in your army, but is notable for being the cheapest single model that isn’t totally trash (sorry Biophagus) so can see play on that basis if you need a relic caddy or cheap 4AE model.
  • Biophagus: The only thing this guy does is help Aberrants. They don’t really need the help, and definitely don’t need it enough to spend points to drop a free kill point near your opponent’s army. If you could guarantee they got the Toughness boost every time he might see play.

Fast Attack

Atalan Jackals

Atalan Jackals are a very good unit for two reasons. Firstly, they’re absurdly durable for their cost, having T4, 2W each and inbuilt -1 to hit, and come in at 10PPM on the stock build (shotgun and cultist knife). Combining that with how good the 6+++ from an Iconward is on 2W models and the ability to bring a 4W wolfquad along per four other models (for only 17pts with its cheapest gun) gives you an extremely fast unit that can fill a tonne of space while being an absolute nightmare to take out proportionate to how cheap it is – a min/maxed squad of these slaps 36 wounds onto the board for only 171pts. Thanks to the addition of Close-Range Shoot-Out in TGG, they can also now threaten a very broad range of targets with their shotguns.

Because of how fast they are and how much ground they cover, they’re great for harassing the enemy with bully charges and making a general nuisance of themselves. Small squads are also good objective grabbers. Big squads like this this as Rusted Claw for additional saves and mobility has seen a reasonable amount of play, and have recently gotten considerably better thanks to the Marine nerfs.

The other thing these are good for is (again as Rusted Claw) blowing stuff apart with the grenade combo – throwing five demo charges with Drive By Demolitions up is a nightmare. The bombs got a hefty point hike in CA, but people still seem to be using them despite it – that’s how good this can be. Delivered either by zooming in at an opportune moment or via Lying in Wait it can just delete your opponent’s key stuff in a very cost efficient manner. This is much more common than the full spam builds, with a lot of armies featuring 5-7 model squads of these laden with demo charges and ready to rock in and do some damage.

Jackals have always been very aggressively costed, and the metagame pendulum has currently swung to them being good. Going deep on these is the real deal.

Achilles Ridgerunners

Promoted to getting an actual entry! These, and their best gun (the heavy mining laser) got a big point cut in CA, which along with gaining access to Raking Fire and Overcharged Weaponry in TGG has finally made my long-held dreams of a Hivecult list that goes in on these a reality, with Art of War’s Alex Macdougall popularising their use in lists. There’s basically only one setup for these – full units of three with heavy mining lasers and flare launchers.

That setup puts down lascannon shots and heavy stubber shots at a very competitive price with a lot of different options to buff them up. The key ones are:

  • Primus Aura.
  • Hivecult Warlord Trait.
  • Jackal Alphus

Obviously you can have both the first two on the same mode thanks to Broodcoven, and summing all of this stuff up basically leaves you with some potent firepower that is non-trivial to remove in return. Ridgerunners aren’t the toughest, but thanks to being a unit of 8W models with a 6+ FNP your opponent has to put a decent amount of shooting in to deplete them at all, and risks losing damage to overkills when firing with multi-damage weapons.

All that comes in cheap – the full unit is only 177pts, which for 24W with the kind of firepower they’re bringing is a ludicrous bargain. The rise of the Ridgerunner is one of the small silver linings for GSC players in an otherwise tough time.

The Rest

  • Cult Armoured Sentinels: You are not even slightly interested in these.
  • Cult Scout Sentinels: Or these.

Heavy Support

Rockgrinder

Rockgrinder. Credit: Wings

Brood Brothers Heavy Weapon Squad

Cult have the units in every other slot to put together some very cost efficient Brigades, and these are both the best and cheapest Heavy Support option in the book (wielding mortars, the only competitive choice). While they’re more expensive and worse (lacking anything like Cadian re-rolls) than their Guard equivalents, adding a smattering of indirect anti-chaff is always fine, especially playing with ITC terrain rules. You mostly only take these if you need to fill the slot, but they’re perfectly serviceable in that role.

The Rest

  • Cult Russ: Admittedly these did get the same cost cut that mainline Guard Russes did, so with a demo cannon they’re an OK cheap threat – but not benefitting from any <CULT> auras and not getting access to all the new toys Guard get still stops them doing what you want them to do.
  • Goliath Rockgrinder: Sadly doesn’t get there – not terrible on rate but just not needed in the army and suffers the same problem of giving your opponent a “class” of target that they wouldn’t otherwise have. At least the drilldozer is hilarious as-of the codex, slamming these in during casual games can be a lot of fun.

Dedicated Transport

No actual units you want to take here, so straight on to “The Rest”.

  • Cult Chimera: This army kind of doesn’t really need transports, so these don’t usually get a look in. Saying that, Chimera spam Guard builds do occasionally do OK in Euro events, so if you told me that someone had come up with a galaxy brain build using these I’d probably at least check whether you were lying before dismissing it out of hand.
  • Goliath Truck: While it has a much wider array of possible passengers than the Chimera, you’d basically never rather buy these than just more infantry. This is a shame, because I for one want to live in a world where the Patriarch is driven around in his truck hurling demo charges out of the back in all directions for the great glory of the Hive Mind. The Broodsurge gives you a disembark after move stratagem for these, but you can’t do it within 9″ of the enemy, rendering it largely pointless.

Fortifications

  • Tectonic Fragdrill: No.

Army Lists

All change in this section, as six months of metagame shifts have left our previous lists looking very out of date. Top lists for GSC are slim pickings at the moment, but we’ve got two to show off that cover very different ends of the spectrum.

  • A list going all-in on the new TGG tools with Ridgerunner and Jackal Spam
  • A streamlined version of the horde Bladed Cog/4AE lists that were popular late last year, and still present a serious threat.

Dustin Henshaw’s Ridgerunners

Army List - Click to Expand

++ Battalion Detachment +5CP (Tyranids - Genestealer Cults) [23 PL, 7CP, 391pts] ++

+ Configuration +

Battle-forged CP [3CP]

Cult Creed: The Rusted Claw

Detachment CP [5CP]

+ Stratagems +

Specialist Detachment: Deliverance Broodsurge [-1CP]

+ HQ +

Patriarch [7 PL, 125pts]

Primus [4 PL, 75pts]: Bonesword

+ Troops +

Acolyte Hybrids [6 PL, 121pts]: Cult Icon
. 5x Acolyte Hybrid
. Acolyte Hybrid (Heavy Weapon): Autopistol, Heavy Rock Saw
. Acolyte Hybrid (Heavy Weapon): Autopistol, Heavy Rock Saw
. Acolyte Hybrid (Heavy Weapon): Autopistol, Heavy Rock Saw
. Acolyte Hybrid (Heavy Weapon): Autopistol, Heavy Rock Saw
. Acolyte Leader: Cultist Knife, Hand Flamer

Acolyte Hybrids [3 PL, 35pts]
. 4x Acolyte Hybrid
. Acolyte Leader: Autopistol, Cultist Knife

Acolyte Hybrids [3 PL, 35pts]
. 4x Acolyte Hybrid
. Acolyte Leader: Autopistol, Cultist Knife

++ Battalion Detachment +5CP (Tyranids - Genestealer Cults) [59 PL, 5CP, 916pts] ++

+ Configuration +

Cult Creed: None (Mixed Detachment)

Detachment CP [5CP]

+ HQ +

Jackal Alphus [4 PL, 70pts] - Hive Cult

Patriarch [7 PL, 125pts]: Warlord, Warlord Trait: Hivelord - Hive Cult

+ Troops +

Acolyte Hybrids [3 PL, 35pts] - Four Armed Emporer
. 4x Acolyte Hybrid
. Acolyte Leader: Autopistol, Cultist Knife

Brood Brothers Infantry Squad [3 PL, 40pts]: Brood Brothers Leader
. 9x Brood Brother

Brood Brothers Infantry Squad [3 PL, 40pts]: Brood Brothers Leader
. 9x Brood Brother

+ Elites +

Kelermorph [3 PL, 75pts]: Oppressor's Bane - Hive Cult

+ Fast Attack +

Achilles Ridgerunners [12 PL, 177pts] - Hive Cult
. Achilles Ridgerunner: Flare Launcher, Heavy Mining Laser, 2x Heavy Stubber
. Achilles Ridgerunner: Flare Launcher, Heavy Mining Laser, 2x Heavy Stubber
. Achilles Ridgerunner: Flare Launcher, Heavy Mining Laser, 2x Heavy Stubber

Achilles Ridgerunners [12 PL, 177pts] - Hive Cult
. Achilles Ridgerunner: Flare Launcher, Heavy Mining Laser, 2x Heavy Stubber
. Achilles Ridgerunner: Flare Launcher, Heavy Mining Laser, 2x Heavy Stubber
. Achilles Ridgerunner: Flare Launcher, Heavy Mining Laser, 2x Heavy Stubber

Achilles Ridgerunners [12 PL, 177pts] - Rusted Claw
. Achilles Ridgerunner: Flare Launcher, Heavy Mining Laser, 2x Heavy Stubber
. Achilles Ridgerunner: Flare Launcher, Heavy Mining Laser, 2x Heavy Stubber
. Achilles Ridgerunner: Flare Launcher, Heavy Mining Laser, 2x Heavy Stubber

++ Outrider Detachment +1CP (Tyranids - Genestealer Cults) [49 PL, 1CP, 693pts] ++

+ Configuration +

Cult Creed: The Rusted Claw

Detachment CP [1CP]

+ HQ +

Jackal Alphus [4 PL, 70pts]

+ Fast Attack +

Atalan Jackals [15 PL, 251pts]
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Demolition Charge, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Demolition Charge, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Demolition Charge, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Demolition Charge, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Demolition Charge, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Leader: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Wolfquad: Mining Laser, Shotgun
. Atalan Wolfquad: Mining Laser, Shotgun
. Atalan Wolfquad: Mining Laser, Shotgun

Atalan Jackals [15 PL, 201pts]
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Leader: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Wolfquad: Mining Laser, Shotgun
. Atalan Wolfquad: Mining Laser, Shotgun
. Atalan Wolfquad: Mining Laser, Shotgun

Atalan Jackals [15 PL, 171pts]
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Jackal: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Leader: Cultist Knife, Shotgun
. Atalan Wolfquad: Heavy Stubber, Shotgun
. Atalan Wolfquad: Heavy Stubber, Shotgun
. Atalan Wolfquad: Heavy Stubber, Shotgun

++ Total: [131 PL, 13CP, 2,000pts] ++

This list, which Dustin took to 3rd place at the Barrie Bash (40kstats) goes hard on the options that recent changes have opened up.

There are two key components here – the max number of Ridgerunners, and the absolute horde of Rusted Claw bikers.

We’ll tackle the bikers first. Going deep on Jackals was popularised by Frankie Giampapa of Frontline gaming, and I can say from experience of having played against them they’re no joke. Between their built in -1 to hit and the boost to their armour from the Rusted Claw these are an absolute pain to kill with anything that isn’t AP-2 or better, and with the removal of permanent devastator doctrine that’s much less common once again. The Wolfquads add some additional fat to the units, and also provide decent defence against 3 damage weapons, as if your opponent shoots them at the squad you just drop them on the quad first, wasting some of the damage. They’re also dangerous – one squad is packing demo charges, but any of them could use Close-Range Shoot-Out and do some real damage, especially to more horde-skewed lists. They will have some issues with armies heavy on 2+ saves like Centurion spam, but these are a mobile, hard to remove threat that can claim a lot of board control early on and keep it.

Unlike in the old days, GSC do now also have access to efficient tools for downing armour at range in the form of the Ridgerunners. Dustin has made the interesting decision here to split these between two different cults, and I suspect that’s probably so he can more efficiently engage with multiple targets at once. He’s got a Jackal Alphus from both cults to provide hit boosts, and then the Hivecult warlord trait to boost two squads and a Primus for the other. If I were playing this in a metagame that was especially armour heavy I’d consider trying to find a slot for a Hivecult Primus as well and upgrade him with Heart of the Creed, allowing maximum anti-tank firepower, and freeing up the Patriarch to go roaming if you give the Hivecult trait to the Primus via Broodcoven.

Finally, as is always the case with GSC you fill to taste with a mix of things. There’s some Brood Brothers plus a solitary unit of five 4AE Acolytes in the mixed detachment (the latter to unlock the counterspell strat), then another Patriarch (who has the option of casting Inescapable Decay), a Kelermorph and a few Acolytes buffed by the Broodsurge – it says a lot about how good that detachment’s +1 wound stratagem is that it’s included here even without the Iconward.

Co-incidentally, were I changing this list an Iconward is definitely the first thing I’d want to get in – the 6+++ from the basic banner is extremely good with this many bikers around, and especially important to include if you’re playing in a metagame with lots of 2D weaponry. That’s nitpicking though – this list looks super cool, and is definitely one to try if you’ve been struggling with more conventional cult list.

Joe Maylam’s Infantry Horde

Army List - Click to Expand

Battalion Detachment 5CP (Genestealer Cult - Mixed) [27pl, 427pts]
Mixed:
-HQ-
Magus [5pl, 92pts] Familiar, Force Stave (4 armed) 
Primus [4pl, 75pts] Bonesword, Injector (4 armed)
-Troops-
Brood Brothers [3pl, 40pts] x10 
Brood Brothers [3pl, 40pts] x10 
Brood Brothers [3pl, 40pts] x10 
Brood Brothers [3pl, 40pts] x10
-Fast Attack-
Jackals [6pl, 100pts] x5, Demo Charge x5 (Rusted Claw)
 
Battalion Detachment 5CP (Genestealer Cult) [36pl, 684pts] 
Cult: Bladed Cog
-HQ-
Jackal Alphas [4pl, 70pts]
Patriarch ([7pl, 125pts] WARLORD
  -Troops-
Neophytes[4pl, 76pts] x10, Mining Laser x2, Webbers x2 
Neophytes[4pl, 76pts] x10, Mining Laser x2, Webbers x2 
Neophytes[4pl, 76pts] x10, Mining Laser x2, Webbers x2 
Neophytes[4pl, 76pts] x10, Mining Laser x2, Webbers x2
-Elites-
Kelermorph [3pl, 75pts] 
Nexos [3pl, 50pts] 
Sanctus [3pl, 60pts]
Battalion Detachment 4CP (Genestealer Cult) [46pl, 889pts] 
Cult: 4 armed
Vigilus Defiant: Deliverance Broodsurge 
-HQ-
Iconward [3pl, 53pts] 
Patriarch [7pl, 125pts]
-Troops-
Acolytes [11pl, 230pts] x20, Rocksaws x8, Cult Icon 
Acolytes [11pl, 230pts] x20, Rocksaws x8, Cult Icon 
Acolytes [11pl, 196pts] x18, Rocksaws x6, Cult Icon
-elites-
Clamavus [3pl, 55pts]

Genestealer Cults are all about survival of the fittest, and tough times have forced all but the most streamlined traditional builds out. Joe’s list, played to a 4-1 finish at the Wargaming Guild’s Winter Warfare major (pre-Marine nerf/TGG) demonstrates that a pared down core of GSC infantry and characters still has what it takes.

Effectively, the infantry in this list are in three buckets:

  • Brood Brothers, to provide some initial board presence and space control.
  • Bladed Cog Neophytes, to come in mid board, pick up the Jackal buff, blow something to bits then hold the space
  • Tonnes of 4AE Acolytes to wave in turns 2 and 3 and try to push your opponent out of the game by deleting their best units or wrapping stragglers.

Beyond that, the list is entirely characters (including the now-conventional two Patriarchs) and one unit of demo-charge bikes – even at their newly high price the threat these represent coming out of Lying in Wait and deleting something worth far more than them is considerable, and even if an opponent plays around it then it forces them to restrict their play.

This list uses all the principles and strategies we’ve talked about throughout this article to confound the opponent, and will basically take advantage of any stumble from an opponent to take them to bits.

The only real downside with it, and part of the problem GSC currently have, is that it gains very little from TGG. The Primus and Magus probably pick up their new buffs, but beyond that? Not much. Still, a drift away from devastator doctrine lists probably helps this too, and if you’ve been wondering how to use that GSC army you batch painted mid last year without spending hundreds of dollars on Ridgerunners and Bikes, this is probably the best template to start from in the current environment.

Wrap Up

What a marathon that was! GSC have one of the deepest books in the game, so there’s bound to be something we’ve missed. If you have some cool trick that we didn’t cover or just want to say hi you can reach us at contact@goonhammer.com or via our Facebook page.

 

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