The first balance dataslate of 40k’s 10th edition comes screaming down from the Games Workshop Strike Cruiser and unloads a drop pod full of rules updates, accompanied by version 1.3 of the Munitorum Field Manual which incorporates a broad sweep of points changes across all of the game’s factions. In this article, the Goonhammer team takes a look at the changes and what they mean for Chaos. For our thoughts on how this affects the core game you can click here; for other factions, check out our articles on Imperium and Xenos respectively.
If you’ve been playing Thousand Sons over the last few months, and to some extent Chaos Daemons and Chaos Space Marines, you probably thought that Chaos had done really well out of 10th edition. On the other hand, if you were more into Death Guard or World Eaters as your traitors of choice, you were probably wondering why exactly “less lethal” was applied to you specifically and didn’t seem to have impacted anyone else. Let’s take a look at what the changes mean for you, and whether the strugglers have been brought up to a more respectable level.
Overall rating: Neutral, with both things to appreciate and things to worry about
- Almost all Battleline units getting 10-15% points decreases, with even Nurglings getting a points drop
- Most Slaanesh units got points cuts, with Fiends down 20 to 130 for 3, Syll’Esske 20 points to 120, and Chariots and Seekers going very slightly down
- Burning Chariots down 15 points to 115
- Soul Grinders down 10 points to 200
- Great Unclean Ones and Rotigus down 30 and 25 points, respectively, to 250 and 260
- Be’lakor up 25 points to 350
- Shalaxi up 50 points to 450
- Lords of Change up 30 points to 260
- Flamers up 15 to 80 points for 3
- The Changeling going up 15 to 90 points
Daemons have more playable units than they did before this dataslate. If you’re a long-time Daemons collector, that is a great thing. Nurgle and Slaanesh in particular both became more viable as mono-God armies. You can take your Screamers (-10), and Burning Chariots (-15), and Fiends (-20) off of the shelf and feel much better about them. A few fun Leader combinations like Syll’Esske (-20) leading a unit of Daemonettes (-20) or Skulltaker leading a unit of Bloodletters (-20) became much more viable.
They’re also winners in terms of the overall meta. Huge Custodes bricks fighting first were a real issue for Daemons, as well as Wraithknights blowing up their Greater Daemons. Nerfs to some factions above them will give Daemons more breathing room. The Overwatch nerf is also great for Daemons, as we were never the ones firing Overwatch indirectly or from Toweing units but took heavy damage from those situations.
But the nerfs to some of their best units are very significant, and that might hold Daemons back from reaching their full potential. The issue with mildly cutting points on unplayed units and raising points on our best units is that at the top end, we are now slightly worse off. The units that got points cuts almost all moved from bad to decent, not from bad to great, while some units that got nerfed moved from great to decent. For some units like Bloodletters, the points cut might not even have been enough to move them up from decent. And Flamers (+15) going up to 80 points will hurt both monster mash lists and “small stuff” focused lists.
If the goal was to make Be’lakor (+25) no longer an auto-include, this balance update failed. Daemons players will just cut 25 points elsewhere and continue starting all of their lists with Be’lakor. Be’lakor just has too many unique mechanics that are necessary for a competitive list tied up in his datasheet, which is a choice that will unfortunately impact list variety until we get a codex. Shalaxi (+50) might also be in a similar situation. She is just so much more deadly and versatile than every other unit that if you’re in a vehicle and/or monster heavy meta, you’re likely to close your eyes and pay the points for Shalaxi anyway. And honestly, the Changeling (+15) is in the same situation too. You’re likely to consider The Blue Scribes or The Masque instead for your Lone Operative needs, but will usually settle on The Changeling if you can afford the points in your list.
Chaos Space Marines
Overall rating: Slight Winner
Nothing really rules-wise here, though it’s worth noting that the Chaos Space Marines have a larger number of Battle Tactic Stratagems which can still be hit with Agents of Vect-like effects. On the points side, a few choice units got small drops which helps the faction overall.
Specifically I’m most excited for drops to Haarken (-30), Raptors (-5/-10), and Warp Talons (-30/60), as these suddenly make small units of jump infantry incredibly attractive as options for both doing secondary missions and harassing key enemy units in melee. 180 points for Haarken + 5 Raptors is a very good deal, and their abilities are a bit better after the changes to Insane Bravery. Warp Talons still cannot have a Leader, but at 100 points for 5 they’re not a terrible option as a one-off unit capable of hiding and moving around the table. Full wound rerolls and the ability to make falling back for opponents a dangerous proposition means they are capable of harassing a variety of different units. On that note, Bikers also come down 5/10 points, making them a little more attractive as fast, small units that can leave the board and come back to score Secondaries.
The Lord Discordant also dropped a hefty 30 points. Even at this cost I’m not sure if he’s viable – he just doesn’t have the damage output a model his size needs and his abilities are incredibly lackluster, relying on getting too close to enemy vehicles. He’s also still the kind of juicy big target you want to aim Devastating Wounds at. That said, at 190 points he’s at least closer to the realm of “hey let me test out some lists with this guy” than he was. Vashtorr (-35) got a sizable points cut, which makes him more viable for casual games.
Helbrutes also come down to 140, and on the troops side Chosen (-5/-10), Possessed (-5/-10), and Legionaries (-10/-20) all come down, helping with a little bit of space from the point increases. Chosen are a very underrated unit right now, both fairly durable (especially near Abaddon) and capable of putting out some nasty damage. They’re likely to continue to get more play, while Legionaries might crack lists now. And with Desolators largely out of the picture, Cultist Mobs will likely see a resurgence as the backfield objective holders for CSM and Accursed Cultists are much less likely to just get blown off of the board.
A few choice units went up in price for the Chaos Space Marines, though not many and not by so much that the faction can’t recover. The three you’d most expect to go up did – namely Abaddon (+30), Forgefiends (+15), and Obliterators (+10/+20). That’s pretty reasonable, all things considered, and the army still picks up a few points elsewhere to make up the difference.
While the net is only slightly positive points-wise for Chaos Space Marines, on the whole they come out ahead when you consider the other factions ahead of them catching bigger nerfs. This is an area where I think the points changes are pretty much right on the money, making the best stuff a little more expensive while lowering things to encourage list-building diversity with units like Raptors, Warp Talons, Bikers, and Helbrutes. Chaos Space Marines were either near the top of the tier 3 armies or at the bottom of the tier 2 armies, depending on whether you put Eldar on a separate tier before this dataslate, and they’ll figure to be among the game’s strongest armies moving forward.
Overall rating: Hard to tell, but probably about even
Both melee specialists, the Rampager and the Karnivore, caught some price decreases. The change to Insane Bravery also is huge for Chaos Knights in that our army mechanic may be relevant once or twice a game now. To be clear it’s still not great, but it’s definitely better than it was. Lastly, the Towering change is a pure buff in my opinion. You can now hide your bigs and not lose 500 points before you take your first turn. With Knights of Shade you can also go through whatever cover you were hiding behind for a devastating turn with some set up. That’s, unfortunately, about where the good news ends.
Ok it’s not great here. All the War Dogs outside the Karnivore have gone up. I guess Games Workshop decided that the all dogs list was too oppressive (it wasn’t) and that they should incentivize taking more bigs (they didn’t). My 13 dogs + daemons list I ran at NOVA went up 145 points, which means I lost an entire dog. This kinda blows, not gonna lie.
We’re gonna see more mixed big and small lists instead of dog spam. The best build right now is probably a Rampager, 6 Brigands (yes, even still) and some Karnivores. The list leverages the point drops, and the entire army hits on 2s which is pretty cool. It’s worth noting that the change to Brigands specifically impacts other factions too since they were a popular ally. Speaking of factions that loved brigands…
Overall rating: Massive winner, possibly the biggest of the dataslate. I mean, seriously it’s just party times in the streets right now if you are a fan of the stinky boys.
The Death Guard get one of the largest buffs of any faction through an addendum to the Spread the Sickness Detachment rule. Specifically, during the Declare Battle Formations step of the game (i.e. before each game, not during army creation), you choose one additional ability to add to the Nurgle’s Gift rule for units in your army from the following list:
- Skullsquirm Blight (Aura): While an enemy unit is within Contagion Range of this unit, worsen the BS and WS of weapons equipped by models in that enemy unit by 1.
- Rattlejoint Ague (Aura): While an enemy unit is within Contagion Range of this unit, worsen the Save characteristic of models in that enemy unit by 1.
- Scabrous Soulrot (Aura): While an enemy unit is within Contagion Range of this unit, worsen the Leadership and Objective Control characteristics of models in that enemy unit by 1 (to a minimum of 1).
This is in addition to the Toughness characteristic modification and holy shit this is very, very good. Specifically Rattlejoint Ague – while I think dropping WS and BS or Ld and OC are fine, they’re going to be situational at best compared to the sheer power of improving the AP on all of your weapons by 1 when attacking units in Contagion Range. This makes your melee units more viable pretty much immediately but also gives Death Guard Helbrutes a massive boost as they’re able to drop Contagion on any unit they hit until your next turn. I expect to see 1-2 Heavy Bolter Helbrutes show up in a lot of lists now as they make for an excellent 1-2 punch of “tag an enemy, then wipe it with Entropy Cannons/Blight Launchers/Plague Sprayers.”
If there’s a downside here it’s that this won’t work on units protected by auras like Trajann’s or Mortarion’s, as the modifier here is to the save characteristic and not the saving throw. That said, it also doesn’t depend on shooting or attacking with a Death Guard model, so it works just fine on say, Chaos Knight War Dogs you want to include in your army as allies. This makes including 2-3 Brigands in a Death Guard army an incredibly strong proposition, as firing off 12 AP-3 shots with their chaincannon (at the closest target) is very nasty. This can also make multi-melta shots hit at AP-5, which is great for wiping heavier targets off the table. Even allied Nurgle Soul Grinders are a surprisingly spicy option when you add +1AP to their attacks.
On top of this wonderful buff, the Death Guard also received a massive set of point drops, the likes of which will force players to re-evaluate every unit in the army. On average a 2,000-point Death Guard army gains something like 250 points, giving the army a ton of extra beef to work with. My favorite drops are:
- Mortarion now at 325 points (down 45 points!!)
- Foetid Bloat-Drones at 100 (down 35)
- Plague Marines at 16ppm (down 4)
- Blightlord Terminators at 31ppm (down 2)
- Deathshroud Terminators at 125/250 points (down 15/30)
- Death Guard Helbrutes at 140 (down 15)
- Poxwalkers back to 5ppm
- Death Guard Land Raider to 240 (down 10)
Pretty much everything in the army except for Plague Surgeons and Predator Annihilators came down at least a few points, and on the whole I think this opens up a ton of options for the Death Guard moving forward. Another stealth buff: Nurglings came down 5 points.
(Note from Mike P: My Death Guard list dropped 350 points from what it would have been before the dataslate. Our Grandfather is so kind to us!)
None. Zero nerfs. This update is all upside for the Death Guard and the game-wide nerfs listed in the core rules changes just don’t really affect Death Guard, who weren’t sitting on ways to do free Stratagems or double up anyways.
It’s an exciting time to be a Death Guard player and I think a ton of new avenues have opened up to the army. The likely decline in Wraithknight lists and a lessening of mortal wounds opens things up more for big squads and also drops the pressure on armies to try and overload enemy shooting activations that led to character-heavy builds being the only way to play into some matchups. The new slate opens things way up for more Death Guard armies that take a midrange shooting approach, and hitting at AP-3 makes Deathshroud and Blightlord Terminators much more dangerous in melee.
On that particular note, don’t forget Ferric Blight, the 1 CP Stratagem to increase the AP of a unit by 1 for a Shooting or Fight phase (or 2 for critical wounds if the target’s in range of an infected objective marker you control). Combining this with Rattlejoint Ague for AP-4 attacks is incredibly nasty, and a great way to just basically turn all of your wounds into devastating wounds.
As for the other two abilities, they might see some use, particularly where you’re up against armies that don’t bring a lot of armor to the table and where bad WS/BS characteristics against high volumes of bad attacks can make a difference. There’s potential for a board control army here which goes heavily on the WS/BS modifiers as a way to stay out of trouble and Poxwalkers with Typhus can be downright unkillable in melee when your opponent is sitting on -1 WS and -1 to hit. I don’t see a ton of use for the Ld/OC modifying plague since the OC debuff has a floor of 1 (though honestly this is fair because it would have been busted otherwise), but the Death Guard just don’t have a ton of effects to build off of this with right now. It’s cute for mortar fire causing battle-shock tests, though.
The bottom line is, if you’re a Death Guard player, it’s time to get excited. This rules. If you’re not, you should find another game to play because this one clearly doesn’t spark joy for you anymore and there’s nothing that will change that. Death Guard are very well positioned following this update and may have been catapulted from the dregs to the upper tiers of competitive power.
Overall rating: Big Loser
There’s very little to smile about here. A few point drops do go in the faction’s favor – Daemon Princes (sans Wings) drop 30 points, to 180, Defilers drop 20 points to 190, Vindicators drop 5 points (to 190), Cultists drop 5/10 points, and that’s it. None of those save the Daemon Prince change is particularly appealing, and almost everything else went up.
Pretty much everything else.
On the Core Rules side of things, the changes to modifying Stratagem costs and being able to use Stratagems a second time hit Thousand Sons directly, preventing the faction from being able to use Overwatch, Rapid Ingress, or the Grenade Stratagems multiple times per turn. The lone Thousand Sons Battle Tactic Stratagem is Devastating Sorcery, which to be fair was one you were likely to spend Cabal Points on to use for 0 CP anyways so this isn’t as bad as it could be. Ultimately I’m not going to cry over losing double/triple Overwatch and Grenades – these aren’t particularly good for the game and were part of the faction’s ability to do a depressingly silly amount of mortal wounds per turn. It’s ultimately good they’re gone.
The points changes on the other hand, go much, much farther and may gut the faction, to the point where its competitive viability is at the very least substantially lessened. Recent top 4 lists lose about 200 points from these changes, and because the Thousand sons only have a dozen or so Datasheets, it’s pretty much impossible to build an army that doesn’t lose at least 100 points as a result of these changes, while more realistically you’re looking at 150-200.
- Magnus to 440 (+30)
- Ahriman to 130 (+20), 140 on Disc (+25)
- Infernal Master to 90 (+15)
- Exalted Sorcerer to 100 (+10), 115 on Disc (+10)
- Mutalith Vortex Beast to 165 (+20)
- Rubrics to 105/210 (+2 ppm)
- Scarabs to 215/430 (+2 ppm)
- Thousand Sons Sorcerer to 95 (+10)
- Thousand Sons Sorcerer in Terminator Armour to 115 (+10)
In a hilarious note, they increased the points cost on the Maulerfiend by 15 points, presumably because they forgot which one is which. Cool, I guess.
Look how they massacred my boy. It’s as if someone looked at Thousand Sons, struggling to make T4s against Eldar, GSC, and Custodes, and decided that post-nerfs, they were clearly going to be just as dominant as the former three. And while I can certainly agree that Thousand Sons were poised to be very good following nerfs to those three, the point changes here go far above and beyond to pile on to what were already a pair of significant nerfs coming in from the core rules changes. The Devastating Wounds change is a slight nerf as well but doesn’t hurt Thousand Sons nearly as much as say, Eldar, in part because the faction just doesn’t have that many multi-damage Devastating Wound attacks, and the ones it does are 2 or 3-damage and not 2D6.
The points are the big hit here, and it’s going to be difficult to make lists work as well with what is essentially two fewer units. There’s potentially still some play here for Forgefiends and it may very well be that in the new environment Thousand Sons are just good enough to stay afloat and compete in a more diverse meta. The army still has a large number of tricks, but having fewer pieces to play with can cause significant problems when it comes to board coverage – and that doesn’t consider the knock-on effect of losing 2-3 Cabal Points, making it harder to fit in those big turns. This makes Ahriman even more necessary to the army, and ensures you’ll pay the increased price for them. We may see more Cultist units and Tzaangors now, and they’re certainly better plays in what will likely become a post-Desolator world.
I don’t love these changes as a fan of the faction – I’d have preferred to see something more like 100-150 points getting dropped out of top lists on top of the core rules changes – but there’s probably still a list or two that can work here based on the army’s mobility and the ability to throw out mortal wounds and take saves away from enemy units. Ultimately I think these changes are more likely to make the Thousand Sons into a middle-of-the-road faction than a bad one, but that’ll be enough to drop them out of the running with the game’s other top factions and see their competitive representation diminish. This will in turn have interesting knock-on effects, as they were a natural predator for Necron lists.
Overall rating: Winner
It’s all points-related buffs for the World Eaters, who get drops on pretty much every unit outside of a few notable ones like Angron, the Master of Executions, and the Forgefiend. As an army World Eaters are pretty predictable and mostly suffered in 10th edition from being wildly overcosted relative to their actual melee output. WIth these drops they functionally get the “second wave” they needed – one or two more units to throw at the opponent after the first set die.
Here are the key drops:
- Eightbound now at 135/270 (down from 155/310)
- Exalted Eightbound now at 150/300 (down from 180/360)
- Jakhals now at 70/140 (down from 75/150)
- Berserkers now at 100/200 (down from 115/230)
- Kharn down to 80 (-15)
- Lord Invocatus down to 140 (-15)
- World Eaters Daemon Prince down to 200 (-20)
- Lord of Skulls down to 480 (from 525)
Hilariously, the World Eaters Forgefiend went up 20 points (to 170), presumably because someone was told “Forgefiends are too good” and didn’t bother to think about it beyond that statement. The Maulerfiend went down 20 though, so they suddenly look a lot better.
And while World Eaters Terminators technically went down 1 point per model (to 190/380), that is a hilariously insulting drop for a unit which sees almost no play, in part because it’s the only Terminator unit in the game which can’t have any Leader unit attached to it, making it much more one-dimensional compared to other options.
This is a pretty big deal. Just going off the lists we saw in our Competitive Faction Focus, the Berzerker-heavy list run by Red Powell at LSO picks up around 160 points, while World Eaters’ fanatic Dara Meehan’s list picks up 160 as well. That’s pretty much adding 1-2 extra units into the army, depending on what you bring and how you try and configure things and make some room, and that’s some solid extra hitting breathing room.
World Eaters are a tough army to balance right now; they win the majority of their games going first by jamming opponents in their deployment zone with turn 1/2 charges, and lose the majority of their games going second when they’re shot off the table before said charges can happen. That second scenario is a bit less likely to happen in the post-Devastating Wounds/post-double Wraithknight era, and changes to vehicle costs open things up a little bit for players to once again consider vehicles like the Lord of Skulls and Maulerfiend in lists. But the first may be even more likely to happen now, and that’s the big challenge – push World Eaters up too far and what is a very unfun play style to go up against becomes too powerful/inevitable. Here’s hoping that adding 1-2 extra units to the army is just the right amount – it’s certainly a good start.
That’s it for the balance dataslate – don’t forget to check out the core rules, Imperium, and Xenos articles, and as ever if you have any comments or feedback then join in the discussion below or e-mail as at firstname.lastname@example.org.