Death Guard first received a Codex in 8th edition when they became a standalone army for the first time. Since then they’ve carved out a niche for themselves as the durable but slow army, trudging across the field as they lay down bolter fire until they close the gap while opponents break upon them and wither. In 10th edition they’re poised to continue that trend, with new rules that showcase the army’s ability to bring down targets big and small while shrugging off firepower that would kill other, lesser armies. In this article we’ll look at the new rules in Index: Death Guard, the units, and how they’ll play on the table.
Before we begin we’d like to thank Games Workshop for providing us with a review copy of the Index.
Army Rule: Nurgle’s Gift (Aura)
Long-time Death Guard fans will recognize this rule, which replaces the Contagion rules from 9th edition. If your Army Faction is DEATH GUARD, then while an enemy is within Contagion Range of one of your Death Guard units, they get -1 Toughness. Contagion Range is an aura of your Death Guard units which is 3” in the first battle round, 6” in the second, and 9” in the third and subsequent rounds. This is a welcome return and the improved range makes it much more useful earlier in the game, and it’s great against units with T3, 4, 5, or 6.
If there’s a downside to this rule, it’s that -1 Toughness is no longer the powerhouse rule it used to be – the new Toughness scaling for monsters and vehicles means that you’ll now have many more targets for which Toughness -1 just won’t matter because going from T12 to T11 doesn’t make a difference to your S4 and S5 attacks. It’s also a bit of a “nonbo” with effects like Lethal Hits and Anti-Infantry, since those bypass the target’s toughness.
It’ll still be dynamite against infantry, and there are plenty of bigger targets where it’ll be a factor as you go from wounding on 6s to 5s. And anyways against those bigger targets you’ll likely be leaning on your plague weapons to do the work anyways. Speaking of which…
Secondary Army Rule: Plague Weapons
This isn’t explicitly listed as an army rule for the faction, but it’s clear from looking at the datasheets for the Death Guard that there’s a secondary theme going on which is that most Death Guard plague weapons have the LETHAL HITS ability, which means that critical hits with these weapons automatically wound their target. That’s potentially a huge upside for an army which otherwise may struggle with taking down bigger targets. It’s also worth noting that the army’s bolters have been replaced with plague bolters and plague combi-bolters, so you can get a lot more value out of boltgun plague marines and Bligthtlord terminators using high volumes of firepower to take down bigger targets.
Detachment Rule: Plague Company
Detachment Ability: Spread the Sickness
If you control an objective marker at the end of your Command phase and a DEATH GUARD unit from your army is within range of that objective marker, that marker is said to be infected and remains under your control even if you have no models within range of it, until your opponent controls it at the start or end of any turn. In addition, while an objective marker is infected it has the Nurgle’s Gift ability as if it were a unit from your army.
This is a great ability for the Death Guard since they’re both slow and an elite army of heavier infantry. It makes it very easy to walk off your home objective, and if you overcommit early to an objective that you’re shot off of you can potentially hold it for a bit longer until your other units catch up, or you can use it to extend contagion range for your units. It’s great for letting you play a little more aggressively without having to worry about drawing a secondary objective that asks you to go back and grab an objective you walked off of last turn and can’t afford to double back to. There are definitely stronger detachment abilities out there, but this one’s pretty decent and thematic and there are other rules that key off having enemy units within Contagion Range that make it better than it looks.
The Death Guard Stratagems give the army a solid mix of offensive and defensive buffs and most of them have a bonus rider if you’re either within range of an Infected objective marker or attacking an enemy unit in range of one. Ferric Blight, Sanguous Flux, Gifts of Decay, and Cloud of Flies are the stand-outs here.
- Ferric Blight (1 CP) is used in the Shooting or Fight phase to improve the AP of one Death Guard unit in your army by 1. If your target is within Contagion Range of an objective marker you control, then Critical Wounds improve their AP by 2. This is solid even without the bonus rider as taking a bunch of bolter shots from AP 0 to -1 is a huge improvement and will often be worth 1 CP. It’s also great for pushing bubotic weapons to AP-3.
- Sanguous Flux (1 CP) is used in the Fight phase to give a unit of Death Guard [SUSTAINED HITS 1] until the phase, or [SUSTAINED HITS 2] if they’re within range of an Infected objective marker you control. Again, this is great on units with a high volume of attacks – your terminators in particular.
- Disgustingly Resilient (2 CP) is used in the Fight phase when your Death Guard unit is targeted by an enemy unit. Until the end of the phase, subtract 1 from the damage characteristic of attacks allocated to models in that unit. If you were upset about losing -1 damage armywide well, this is as good as we’re going to get as a consolation prize. It’s not great but it’s very useful in the right situations, i.e. when you’re about to take a bunch of 2- or 3-damage attacks and you need to tank them. I just wish it was usable in the Shooting phase as well. Also, the fact that it costs us 2 CP and Dark Angels 1 is just stupid, but given they did the same thing to Chaos Space Marines with their version of Armour of Contempt, maybe the conspiracy is real.
- Gifts of Decay (1 CP) is used in the Command phase to let one Death Guard unit in your army regain D3 lost wounds, or 3 if you’re within Contagion Range of an infected objective marker you control. This is particularly useful on Mortarion and Daemon Princes, where the wounds you recover go a bit further, but it’ll be solid on vehicles as well from time to time.
- Boilblight (1 CP) is used in your Shooting phase on a Death Guard unit in your army and a unit within Contagion Range of that unit. For the rest of the phase, each time your Death Guard unit targets that enemy, its attacks gain [HEAVY] and [IGNORES COVER]. This is something you’ll have to plan to use as you’ll want to use it when you’re remaining stationary so you can get the +1 to hit. That makes this one fairly situational, since it requires you be in contagion range of your target so it can’t be used on long-range platforms that would be more comfortable standing still. It’s probably the only dud of the bunch, and it’s best use may be on a unit with Pistols who can use it to get +1 to hit shooting their opponents in the face in Engagement Range.
- Cloud of Flies (1 CP) is used in your opponent’s Shooting phase after an enemy unit picks targets to give one of your Death Guard units the Stealth ability. This gives it -1 to be hit. This is a solid defensive buff and the fact that it can be used on Mortarion and other big targets is pretty helpful.
Death Guard have four enhancements to work with. The value of these depends a bit on points cost, but the winner of the bunch is Shamblerot, which gives your unit a powerful defensive buff and makes them near-impossible to charge out of deep strike.Beyond that, Living Plague and Deadly Pathogen both have play, while the Droning is neat but doesn’t synergize enough with the army’s rules to have serious play.
- Living Plague adds 3” to the range of the bearer’s Aura abilities. This can be particularly funny if you combine it with Mortarion, who can improve the Contagion Range of nearby units by 3”, allowing you to get up to 15” on round 3.
- The Droning (Aura) punishes enemy units in Contagion Range for failing Battle-shock tests by doing mortal wounds to them; 1 on a D6 roll of 2-5 and D3 on a 6. To get the most out of this you need ways to force more battle-shock tests, and while PBCs can do that, you also need to be close to the PBC’s targets, which is a bit taller order. Might be playable on a Lord of Virulence, though.
- Deadly Pathogen adds 1 to the Strength and Attacks characteristics of the bearer’s melee weapons unless they’re within range of an Infected objective marker you control, in which case you add 2 to those characteristics instead.
- Shamblerot gives enemy units -2 to their Charge rolls when targeting the bearer’s unit.
For veteran players of the faction, most of this will be pretty familiar. Yes, Disgustingly Resilient is gone, but the army will largely play the same as before, and will get more armor saves thanks to 10th edition reducing the AP on most of the game’s weapons.
Let’s start by talking about Mortarion, who I’m happy to say lives up to the hype of his prior iteration in terms of durability. The big guy is a bit slower – only a 10” move, but sports 12 Toughness, 16 wounds, and Feel No Pain 5+, effectively giving him around 24 wounds before you bring some of those back with Gifts of Decay. And before you rush in to tell me that’s two fewer wounds and he’s missing the damage reduction, I’m going to let you in on two big changes: The first is that Mortarion now has a 2+ armor save, and the second is that Mortarion does not have the TOWERING keyword, which means he can now hide behind ruins – possibly the greatest gift in durability you can give a model!
On top of that Mortarion’s got a solid melee profile with a strike/sweep profile, a pair of solid ranged weapons (Rotwind is a D6+3 shot S7 AP-2 1-damage Psychic attack with Lethal Hits, Blast, and Devastating Wounds), and some solid abilities. His Lord of the Death Guard aura lets friendly Death Guard units within 6” ignore any modifiers to characteristics, rolls, or tests (excepting saving throws), meaning he ignores his own bracketing modifier and prevents enemies from slowing you down. His Host of Plagues lets you choose one of three auras for him to have every round – Miasma of Pestilence gives friendly Death Guard units within 6” the Benefit of Cover (including Mortarion), Diseased Influence lets you re-roll wound rolls of 1 for friendly Death Guard units within 6”, and Toxic Presence gives Death Guard units within 12” an extra +3” to their Contagion Ranges.
Mortarion’s a solid beater and a decent force multiplier and the ability to hide him coupled with his increased hiding-based durability and higher toughness are going to make him a much more attractive option on the table in 10th edition. Being able to shrug off hit and wound modifiers alone has a ton of value and each of his aura abilities has solid value.
Thanks to the new Leader rules and the removal of force org charts, Death Guard have a much larger set of viable HQ choices to work with. There’s too much to cover here in a single article so I’m going to cover these guys in a bulleted list and point out the most noteworthy things about them.
- Typhus no longer combines the benefits of a Chaos Lord and a Sorcerer, but he is one of the few Death Guard Terminators which can move 5”. He comes with the Destroyer Hive, which gives his unit -1 to be hit in melee, and the Eater Plague, which lets you pick a visible enemy unit within 18” and roll a D6. On a 1 you take D3 mortals, on a 2-5, the enemy takes D6, and on a 6 they take D3+3. Pretty nasty. Typhus can lead Terminators or Poxwalkers and if he leads Poxwalkers, kills from the Eater Plague count for their “get models back” ability, which is a nice touch.
- Death Guard Daemon Princes come in two varieties: With and Without Wings. Both now have a Plague Spewer, a S5 AP-1 D6-shot weapon with Ignores Cover, Torrent, and Anti-Infantry 2+. But while the winged prince gains bonuses for charging enemy units – forcing battle-shock tests and gaining Devastating Wounds, the walking variant gives friendly Death Guard units within Contagion Range the Feel No Pain 6+ ability, which is markedly better. Why he gets this and not the plague surgeon I have no idea.
- The Lord of Virulence is the most exciting HQ option of the bunch thanks to his Blight Bombardment ability – Each time a friendly Death Guard model makes an attack with a Blast Weapon that targets a unit visible to your LoV, that attack gets +1 to hit and has [IGNORES COVER]. This basically negates the indirect penalty but if you’re shooting directly it’s even better. It’s great for PBCs but also combos with Defilers, Havoc Launchers, and Mortarion’s Rotwind ability. Also the units he leads re-roll wound rolls on ranged attacks, which is amazing. You want this guy leading a unit of Deathshrouds or Blightlords every game.
- The Lord of Contagion on the other hand is more for melee support. He can also lead Terminators and his unit can re-roll hit rolls in melee, which means you’re more likely o want him on Blightlords (who hit on 3+). His Abundance of Sickness ability can do mortals whenever he loses wounds but isn’t amazing.
- Malignant Plaguecasters bring a lot of psychic power to the table – Plague Wind is a nasty psychic attack with Torrent that does D3 damage and if an enemy INFANTRY unit takes wounds from it they get -2 to their Move characteristic and Advance and Charge rolls until your next turn (Pestilential Fallout). Meanwhile Gift of Contagion does mortals and gives an enemy unit -1 to its wound rolls in melee. This guy can join a unit of Plague Marines but really you want him riding around in a rhino, poking his head out to shoot mind bullets at anything coming near (though note that the Fallout effect won’t trigger in a Rhino). Plaguecasters can join Plague Marines.
- The Death Guard Sorcerer in Terminator Armour may now have more play as a unit which can join Terminator units. He has one psychic attack – Curse of the Leper – which does S6 1-damage shots, and two abilities. Putrescent Vitality lets you pick a visible enemy unit within 18” and roll a D6; on a 1 you take D3 mortals but on a 2+ that unit gets -1 damage on attacks against the psyker’s unit, giving you a kind of pseudo-Disgustingly Resilient. His Familiar ability lets you improve your Strength and Damage on psychic attacks by 2 once per battle.
- The Death Guard Chaos Lord is also back and surprisingly playable. The foot version can join a unit of plague marines and gives his unit re-roll 1s to hit, plus he has an aura to do D3 mortal wounds to every unit within contagion range at the end of each turn on a 4+. The Terminator Variant has the same abilities but can join Terminator units, which is also great.
The Foetid Virion
There’s no HQ/Elites category any more but I wanted to break these guys out separately since they’re all 4 wounds with no invulnerable save and tend to have more focused effects. They also
Have the ability to be attached to a unit of Plague Marines even if another Leader has already been attached to it, so these are like secondary Leaders, in a sense.
- The Noxious Blightbringer still boosts movement, but now he’s limited to re-rolling Advance and Charge rolls for the unit he leads. Re-rolling charges for free is pretty solid, making this guy an OK melee pickup. His Bell Tolls Aura gives enemy units in Contagion Range -2 to their Battleshock tests. If you’re trying to go with the subtheme of forcing battleshock tests, you’ll want this guy but I’m not sure there’s enough support to make it work.
- The Foul Blightspawn on the other hand is an absolute beast. He comes with his usual sewer cannon and while that’s been dropped to 12” range, it’s S7 AP-2 2 damage with Ignores Cover and Anti-Infantry 2+, making it brutally effective at killing heavier infantry. His Putrefying Stink ability gives the unit of Plague Marines he joins Fights First, making him the real must-have for a melee unit (though you can attach him and the Blightbringer if you want).
- The Biologus Putrifier comes with a 3-damage injector pistol and Hyper Blight Grenades, plus the ability to use the Grenade strat for free once per battle. The Hyper Blight Grenades are interesting – they’re 12” range with D6 Assault, Blast, Lethal Hits attacks which hit at S5 AP-1 and 2 damage (and can be directed by the Lord of Virulence to hit on 2s and ignore cover). His Foul Infusion ability gives weapons in his unit [LETHAL HITS], which isn’t completely worthless since it buffs meltaguns and plasma guns, and makes their crits proc on 5+ instead of 6+, which is pretty solid. He’s a good shooting unit leader.
- The Tallyman returns as a must-take unit. He can lead Plague Marines, and he gives his unit a flat +1 to hit, which is extremely good. On top of that his seven-fold chant has you roll 2D6 in your Command Phase – on a 7+, you gain 1 CP. And while we don’t get the effect twice per round any more, there’s a solid case to make for taking two of these guys and having two shots per turn at the effect anyways.
- The Plague Surgeon FINALLY gets the ability to bring back dead models – but only in the Plague Marines unit he’s leading. Every Command Phase he can bring back one dead model, and at the end of your Movement Phase he can heal a friendly Death Guard Infantry Character within 3” for up to 3 wounds. As an added bonus, his Balesword is now 2 damage.
- The newcomer to the group is the Death Guard Icon Bearer, who used to just be a regular guy in squads. He gives the units he joins +1 OC (which means 3 OC Plague Marines – pretty solid!), and once per battle at the end of your Movement phase you can activate his Seed the Disease ability to up his unit’s Contagion Range to 12” until the start of your next Command Phase.
- Plague Marines remain the mainstay of the army and are the lone Battleline option. They have the same 5” Movement, T5, 3+ save and 2 wounds as before, with OC 2 and Ld 6+. Their boltguns gained the “plague” moniker and the [LETHAL HITS] ability while their melee weapon options have been greatly condensed here. Plague Marine melee weapons now come in three flavors – knives, which are 3A WS4+, S4 with Lethal Hits, Bubotic Weapons, which do 4A at WS3+ S5 AP-2 1 damage, and Heavy Plague Weapons, which do 3A at WS4+ S8 AP-2 2 damage. This cuts down dramatically on the drama of which is which, and for every 5 models you can have 2 bubotic and 2 heavy weapons. Likewise for every 5 models you can get 1 special and 1 heavy ranged weapon. This means units will still mix a ton, but with 10th edition Overwatch rules we’re much more likely to see units of 10 models sporting 4 plague flamers.
Other Infantry and Beasts
- Poxwalkers return with their improvised weapons, only now they hit on a 5+ in melee but they come with [LETHAL HITS] and a 5+ Feel No Pain to compensate. They’re no longer immune to morale and have a pretty gross Ld 8+ to work with (and only OC 1), but every time they kill an enemy model you can get back a destroyed poxwalker.
- Death Guard Cultists get Nurgle’s Gift but otherwise there isn’t a ton to recommend about them. They’re a vanilla unit who act as cheap screening bodies and objective holders. Also they move a blistering 6” per turn in the Movement phase.
- Blightlord Terminators got a Toughness boost – going to 6 – but lost an inch of Movement, kneecapping them utterly. The good news is that Land Raiders are perfectly playable now. Blightlords also re-roll 1s to wound when making ranged attacks against the closest eligible enemy unit.
- Deathshroud Terminators also got hit with the +1T, -1” movement tweaks, but thankfully also come with an extra defensive buff – while a character is leading them, attacks against the unit are -1 to Wound if their strength is higher than your toughness. They still have strikes and sweeps and their snot pistols have IGNORES COVER and ANTI-INFANTRY 4+.
- Chaos Spawn are back, and now they have an 8” move, making them the fastest little guys in your army. They have D6+2 attacks which still hit on 4s to disappoint you at S5 AP-1 and 2 damage. Their ability lets them heal D3 lost wounds in each player’s Command phase. As a profile that’s relatively lackluster but if they’re cheap enough they have a lot of play as a fast, semi-durable unit which can run ahead and infect objectives before the rest of your army shows up. They’re also likely more durable backfield holders than Poxwalkers.
- Death Guard Helbrutes clock in with 6” movement, T9, 8 wounds, and, surprisingly, a 2+ save. They have the weapon loadouts you’d expect, though in a fun twist they can take Twin Plague Heavy Bolters, which add LETHAL HITS to the mix. Generally speaking while a twin-lascannon on them is an option you might feel more compelled to take the Helbrute Fists with Plague Combi-bolters on them for a couple of reasons. The first is that it gives you TWIN-LINKED on their melee attacks, and the second is their Infused with the Blessings of Nurgle rule – each time this model shoots or fights, you can pick one enemy unit which was hit by one or more of its attacks and that unit counts as being in Contagion Range of a unit in your army until your next turn. That’s potentially a huge benefit to soften up targets at a distance before you unload into them. The Helbrute’s other ability is Enraged Impact, which can do up to D3 mortals on the charge.
- The Death Guard Land Raider is here. It’s boring but incredibly functional. Its Soulshatter Lascannons are notably *not* twin-linked, and still get two shots each, and it comes with a twin Plague heavy bolter for extra anti-vehicle stopping power, which is a nice touch. The reason you take this tank however – and it’s a durable beast with t12, 16W and a 2+ save – is that it holds 6 terminators and has the Assault Ramp ability, allowing them to charge after disembarking. That’s a much better deal for your 4” Movement guys than just trudging across the table. It’s not too shabby for a 10-model unit of Plague Marines with two characters, either.
- The Predator Annihilator on the other hand doesn’t bring much to the table. Its twin lascannon is twin-linked, so at most you’ve got three lascannon shots coming off this guy and while it re-rolls damage rolls of 1, it’s nothing special. 10” Movement, T10, 3+ save, 11 wounds. The Predator Destructor may actually have more play since its Rapid Fire 2 Predator Autocannon throws out 4 shots at S9 AP-1 3 damage, making it a more versatile (and reliable) option. It gets +1 AP against INFANTRY targets to boot, making it a nasty gun to point at Terminators.
- The Death Guard Rhino is an indispensable part of the army. This little 12” movement, T10, 10-wound box can carry up to 12 Infantry models (no terminators, poxwalkers, or cultists) and has Firing Deck 2, making it perfect for hosting your Malignant Plaguecaster as he pops his head out and fires off Hazardous blasts of warp energy.
- Myphitic Blight-Haulers continue to be fun little guys. They still come in units of 1-3 and have 10” movement. Now they’re T9 with 10 wounds each and OC 3. Their Multi-Meltas still throw out 2 shots, now at S9 AP-4 with Melta 2, and their Krak missiles are still one shot, albeit at S9 now. What helps their efficiency now is the Tank Hunters rule, which gives them +1 to wound with ranged attacks against vehicle units. They’re probably the best anti-armor unit in the book.
- The Foetid Bloat-Drone comes as a single model unit and can pick between fleshmower, heavy blight launcher, or a pair of plaguespitters. The unit itself is 10” movement with FLY, T9 and 10 wounds and has the ability to shoot and charge after falling back. The Fleshmower gives it 10 melee attacks at S7 AP-1 2 damage while the heavy blight launcher lets it dish out 6 shots at 36”, S8 AP-2 2 damage – pretty much on par with before and not bat at all. The double plaguespitter option turns it into an Overwatch machine, giving it 2D6 S6 AP-1 1 damage shots with TORRENT, IGNORES COVER, and ANTI-INFANTRY 2+.
- The Plagueburst Crawler continues to be an extremely attractive unit, with a T10 12-wound chassis and now upgraded with a 2+ save and 10” movement. Their Entropy Cannons are still great anti-tank weapons, but are considerably shorter range (24”), with S10, AP-3 and doing D6+1 damage (but with Lethal hits). More notably their Plagueburst Mortars are now significantly better – They’ve picked up Lethal Hits and do D6+3 shots hitting at S8 AP-1, 2 damage and, thanks to their Spore-Laced Schock Waves ability, whenever they hit an INFANTRY target, that unit has to take a Battle-shock test. What makes these even more viable is the ability to improve their shooting to BS2+ and ignores cover with a Lord of Virulence as a spotter, and taking 2-3 seems very viable.
- Speaking of viable, I’m forced to admit that the Death Guard Defiler may have some play in a Lord of Virulence list. This big crab walker is still slow – 8” (but with the WALKER keyword and the ability to walk over friendly Monsters, vehicles, and terrain which are 4” or less in height as if they weren’t there), plus it picked up SMOKE and has a solid body with T10 and 14 wounds. Its Defiler Cannon throws out D6+3 S10 AP-1 3-damage shots with BLAST, meaning it can also benefit from a Lord of Virulence, and you can further improve that by giving it a Havoc Launcher instead of a Defiler Scourge. It still hits decently (but not amazingly) hard in melee, with 5 attacks coming in at S16, AP-3, D6+1 damage. If you take the Scourge you can add 3 more S12 2-damage attacks onto that but if you go for a shootier loadout you can have a twin lascannon instead of a reaper autocannon, and that seems like the play to me.
The Miasmic Malignifier
- Finally there’s the lone Death Guard fortification. It’s got T10 and 12 wounds and the Infiltrators ability, meaning it can deploy anywhere more than 9” from enemy models and the enemy Deployment Zone. It comes with Nurgle’s Gift to radiate contagion and its Putrescent Fog aura gives friendly Death Guard units wholly within 6” -1 to be hit. Its Diseased Cover rule gives cover to any Death Guard units which are not fully visible because of the Malignifier. It’s alright but I don’t currently see it making lists.
The Five Coolest Units
- Mortarion. The man, the myth, the legend. He’s back and I’m excited to play with him in this edition. He’s got some nasty attacks and some very solid abilities and is appropriately durable.
- Tallyman. The Tallyman retains his Seven-fold chant ability – it’s been fixed a bit to only go off in your Command Phase – but it means he remains a near must-take for the army.
- Lord of Virulence. GW FINALLY delivered on their promise for this unit back in the 9th edition codex previews – the Lord of Virulence now acts as a potent spotter for your army’s [BLAST] weapons, making PBCs much better at shooting their indirect targets. Also buffs the Defiler, if you’re into that (I am).
- Death Guard Helbrute. Any time this guy hits an enemy unit in the Shooting or Fight phases it can infect them and they count as being within Contagion Range of a unit from your army until the start of your next turn. This means you can tag an enemy unit with this guy’s plague combi-bolter and then give them -1 Toughness as the rest of your army tears into them. Very solid.
- Foul Blightspawn. This guy is also back, and he gives his unit Fights First, making them insanely difficult to take on since they can just hit anyone charging them in the face before they get hit themselves. He also comes with a pretty nasty ranged weapon, as usual.
The Five Biggest changes from 9th
- Disgustingly Resilient is gone. Make your peace with it, because it’s not coming back as an army ability. You can still reduce damage on melee attacks if you have the CP, but for the most part you’re taking full damage from attacks. You’ll get more saves than before, but you’re going to feel a sting the first time you lose a model to a single 2-damage attack. And possibly the tenth time.
- Bolters are a bigger part of your game plan. In late 9th edition Death Guard became a much more melee-focused army, using plague marines as heavy-hitting melee units thanks to cleavers and flails. They can still scrap in melee pretty well but now they get a lot more mileage out of bolters with LETHAL HITS – and that will also be a key part of their anti-vehicle strategy.
- Mortarion is playable. The ability to hide Mortarion behind ruins, coupled with his solid abilities and high toughness, makes him much more playable in tenth edition. Expect to see him in a lot of lists.
- The Lord of Virulence is worth building around. As a spotter for PBCs, Defilers, and Havoc Launchers, the Lord of Virulence brings a ton to the table and that’s before you add in his value as a fighter and leader on his own Terminator unit.
- The army is slower than it was. The loss of Death Guard Possessed is emblematic of the larger issue here. I think it was possible to see this one coming, what with no “Death Guard Possessed” kit but it’s still a bit disappointing to lose the army’s one semi-fast power-armored melee threat, not to mention it’s disappointing from a flavor standpoint. I think the army will be fine without them but anyone who converted them is going to be (rightfully) upset about it, especially given that Nurgle-marked Possessed in CSM aren’t particularly good, and the army as a whole got slower and only has one Mortarion-sized way to deal with effects which reduce speed. something which will be devastating for a bunch of 4″- and 5″-movement units.
On the whole there are a lot of interesting pieces here, but it’s harder to get a picture of how they fit together into something cohesive. 10th edition is shaping up to be more of a shooting game and in that respect the army has a number of solid, if slow, midrange units which can scrap over objectives pretty effectively, with some OK shooting and the ability to close the game with some OK melee. While they aren’t fast enough to range quickly, a mix of transports and tricks like Rapid Insertion can help them get around and being able to “set and forget” objectives they’ve contaminated will help them mitigate low speed in the primary and secondary game, while the push in the missions toward holding objectives in No Man’s Land means opponents will be forced to come out and face them in the streets – exactly the place they want to engage.
If you’ve been looking at this and wondering “what does a good Death Guard army look like” well, I think that’s an open (and difficult) question. There are a few routes you can potentially go here, but if you’ve been looking at Space Marines and Tyranids and the other factions and thinking that Death Guard don’t look great well, I don’t blame you. The amount of ANTI-INFANTRY shooting and greater variation in Toughness values I think very much renders the T5/6 nature of Death Guard infantry much less useful, and the same is true when considering the toughness debuffs from Gift of Nurgle.
Based on this, I’m beginning to suspect that the best-case scenario for Death Guard right now is an army that leans heavily on daemon engines and vehicles, using the Lord of Virulence as a spotter for some nasty BLAST weapon shooting from PBCs and Defilers. There’s probably a place for Morty in that list too, but a lot of his value will depend on the point costs of everything. Ultimately I’m just not convinced that plague marines and terminators can “get there” with the options available to them compared to other factions – they have neither the melee punch nor the raw volume of shooting firepower to build an entire army around.
On the whole I think Death Guard are on the lower end of the competitive power spectrum for this slate of Indices. They have lots of interesting pieces, but not enough of it combos together well enough to produce the kinds of results other factions can put out at the moment. There’s a mix of different themes going on – LETHAL HITS, the ability to force Battle-shock tests and punish failures, ANTI-INFANTRY TORRENT shooting, artillery – but not enough mechanical support for any one theme to really make it all work. It’s also pretty clear that their abilities – while solid – lack some of the raw power of other factions we’ve seen and so they may struggle against faster factions which can outmaneuver them and still hit with force. If you were looking for a reason that GW’s insistence on only having one army rule per faction in 10th is a bad thing, here’s a good example – Death Guard probably needed another 1-2 rules for their army on top of Contagions to really make things work.
That said, I do believe there’s a playable Death Guard army or two in the mix that focuses on either daemon engines and artillery or mid-table, mid-range shooting with high volumes of LETHAL HITS firepower to handle different types of targets while holding objectives and not having to double back. There are a few angles to test here and I think they’re worth pursuing – at the very least, I’m excited to test out a few concepts with this army and see if I can make them work in a competitive setting. At the very least I’m excited that both Land Raiders and Defilers may have a place on the table again.
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