Unit Focus: Chaos Space Marine Leaders

In this article series we’re taking a look at the leader options available to each faction, looking at what units they pair with, and talking about the combos available to those units as well as tips for running them solo. You can find our Competitive Faction Focus article on Chaos Space Marines here.

The Chaos Space Marines have one of the largest datasheet pools in the game, behind only space marines in terms of sheer volume of what they have available, and that’s before you start factoring in things like Daemons and allied units like chaos knights. Many of those datasheets also pack a ton of power, especially once you start factoring in the faction rules for making Dark Pacts. These units can be further boosted in a variety of ways by the faction’s Leader units, several of which are must-includes in competitive lists. How and where you apply these characters is very important, but the good news is that by the end of this article you’ll have a pretty good idea of how to do just that.

Let’s start by looking at the faction’s character options and where they can be added:

Click on the image for a larger view. There are a lot of units.

As with other marine factions, there’s a distinction here between power armor and terminator armor characters, plus a few extra wrinkles for things like Possessed and Chaos Cultists of different flavors. Note that if you take the allied cut units – Plague Marines, Berzerkers, or Rubrics – you won’t be able to attach a leader to them, largely forcing them to act in a standalone capacity as you can’t take their respective leaders. The same is not true for daemons, however. Finally, note that Cypher, Daemon Princes, and Lords Discordant cannot lead units, so they won’t really be the focus here (we’ll talk about them in a separate article).


What Makes a Useful Chaos Space Marines Leader?

Before we dive in, let’s talk about what makes a good leader unit for CSM. If you pick up nothing else, this is worth taking a look at because it will help you evaluate units on your own. Generally speaking we want units who either 1. have a massive positive impact on a unit we’d already want to play, such as boosting Accursed Cultists or Chosen, or 2. Have Devastating Wounds on their attacks, making them powerful fighters who can use the Profane Zeal Stratagem to fish for Devastating Wounds on their attacks. Units which can do both of these are going to make for the most attractive leaders in the army.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Abaddon the Despoiler

The Grand Warmaster of Chaos and leader of the Black Legion, Abaddon remains one of the game’s most powerful single characters, though . tThe most recent dataslate increased his price to the point where he’s now far from an auto-include in a Chaos Space Marine army (and in fact, seldom shows up in successful lists), but he’s still a centerpiece you can build around.

Abaddon comes with a terminator profile – 5″ Movement, T5, and a 2+/4++ save, but with 9 wounds and Ld 5+. He can join either a unit of Legionaries or Terminators, but tragically is unable to join a unit of Chosen where his skills might have been put to particularly brutal use.

Abaddon’s great as a leader but none of his abilities actually rely on him leading a unit, nor do they apply just to the unit he leads. His Dark Destiny ability gives him the ability to generate extra CP every time you pass a Dark Pact on a 2+, which is a solid bonus. His Warmaster ability on the other hand gives you a choice of three Aura abilities, chosen in your Command phase (note that this may make the Invulnerable ability less useful than it initially seems as you won’t have it during your opponent’s first turn if you go second). These abilities are:

  • Paragon of Hatred – Friendly Heretic Astartes units within 6″ re-roll hit rolls on attacks.
  • Mark of Chaos Ascendant – Friendly Heretic Astartes Infantry or Mounted units within 6″ have a 4+ Invulnerable save.
  • Lor of the Traitor Legions – Friendly Heretic Astartes units within 6″ of this model can re-roll Leadership and Battle-shock tests.

Of these, Paragon of Hatred is by far the most useful, giving you an insanely strong re-roll hits bubble that can apply to Forgefiends, Obliterators, Predators, Land Raiders, or whatever else, without having to commit to taking the Mark of Chaos Undivided or using the Profane Zeal Stratagem. Don’t forget that this applies to Overwatch too! A Forgefiend with full hit re-rolls and Sustained Hits is a vicious Overwatch threat, and having Abaddon nearby means it’s dangerous for your opponent to even move near your castle.

More importantly, this lets you get away with committing a smaller commitment to Chaos Undivided, as your units no longer need the mark to get re-roll 1s to hit and can go heavier on Nurgle and Tzeentch. If you add a Helbrute to get both Sustained and Lethal Hits on nearby units, Abaddon’s rerolls mean CSM can build arguably the hardest hitting shooting castle in the entire game. The castle won’t be very mobile if it has to hang around Abaddon and a Helbrute so its not the most competitive option, but this style of CSM list is absolutely vicious on light terrain tables. You also might choose not to do this because Chaos Space Marines like to spread out around the board. Chosen would just as soon take the free re-rolls to wound from a Chaos Lord dropping Profane Zeal every round, and will range away from Abaddon besides. Note as well that this ability is not so great if you have Abaddon leading Terminators – they’ll get to re-roll hits anyways every time they perform a Dark Pact, and will just always be doing a pact since they have Abaddon.

On that front, let’s talk about one of the best parts of Abaddon: His Marks. Abaddon comes with all five marks of Chaos, and as a result any unit he joins counts as having all five marks as well. Meaning that in the Slaves to Darkness Detachment, each time they perform a Dark Pact, they receive all five bonuses. Usually only two of these will matter – but getting both Sustained hits 5+ and Lethal Hits 5+ with full re-rolls to hit is huge, plus your unit gains access to the upgraded versions of each Stratagem, which means your Abaddon-led Terminator brick can regenerate models, Advance or fall back and shoot/charge, become untargetable, fight on death semi-reliably, and get full re-rolls to wound. These are all amazing abilities to have for what is one the army’s best units.

As a fighter, Abaddon brings a ton to the table by himself, with two melee weapons which come with the Devastating Wounds ability, and either 8 attacks at S14, Ap-4, 3 damage or 14 attacks at S7 AP-3 1 damage. Again, these combo with his pact abilities to become a buttload of wounds  and allow you to fish for devastating wounds to take out big targets.

So with all of this, why doesn’t Abaddon show up in top lists anymore? The short answer is “cost” – the most recent dataslate upped his points cost to 310 points, and that’s just a little too much for a unit you want to pair with a 390-point unit of Chaos Terminators who only move 5″, even if they can Advance and charge. 700 points is just too hefty an investment in one big, slow unit, and while they’re pretty durable, they can go down quicker than you’d like if they have to sit through a volley of ANTI-INFANTRY firepower from another source or devastating wounds from an enemy Forgefiend or unit of Wraithguard. The fact that CSM’s Armour Of Contempt equivalent costs 2CP really holds back the Abaddon + Terminator brick more than any other unit. The Chaos Space Marine strategy has mostly left this style of ponderous, hold-the-middle style of play behind in favor of a more “go wide, board control” strategy with Accursed Cultists and Chosen in Rhinos.

That said, Abaddon still has lots of value without a unit to lead – he’s a fairly tough unit on his own and pretty easy to hide, and you can protect him with Dark Obscuration as you need. He can easily be a back- or midfield unit buffing forgefiends or teleport in with Obliterators and while this isn’t the strongest list you can field, it’s pretty nasty and Abaddon will still surprise opponents who aren’t ready for him.

Credit: Dan “Swiftblade” Richardson

Chaos Lord

The humble Chaos Lord is one of the faction’s most interesting units and currently one of its two most-used leaders. He comes with a plasma pistol and Daemon Hammer, and you want the Daemon Hammer with its 5 Attacks which can deal Devastating Wounds. This combos very well with his Chance for Glory ability which gives him a once-per-game Fight phase upgrade of +1 to each of his attacks’ Strength, Attacks, AP, and Damage, turning him into a nasty little melee blender if you’re also re-rolling all your hit and wound rolls with Profane Zeal, and it’s those full wound re-rolls which really take his Devastating Wounds output to the next level. That’s one of several reasons to give him the Mark of Chaos Undivided.

The Chaos Lord can join a unit of Legionaries or Chosen and you’ll pretty much always want him running with Chosen – the current meta pick is to run a Chaos Lord with a unit of five Chosen, giving them a pair of accursed weapons, a plasma gun, and a pair of combi-weapons, plus the mark of Chaos Undivided. Chosen are already incredibly tough, versatile units but when you pair them with a Chaos Lord you can use his Lord of Chaos ability to pop a once-per-round free Stratagem on the unit, even if another unit has already used the Stratagem this turn. This is typically going to be Profane Zeal, which suddenly turns your unit of six models into a very nasty melee blender which can fish for extra hits and devastating wounds from the Chaos Lord (note: Only one Chaos Lord per round can do this).

One Lord with a unit of 10 Chosen also works very well, and in either case you want to protect your power-armored units from indirect and small arms fire with a transport, typically a Rhino. The Chaos Lord combines the two best character traits for CSM leaders: He makes an already great unit (Chosen) better, and he’s a capable melee fighter with Devastating Wounds on his hammer. The typical play is to go Undivided with him, but you can also pair him with a unit of Khorne Chosen and give him the Talisman of Burning Blood if you want to push your chosen more in the direction of a melee threat, though this isn’t really the strongest way to use them.

The Chaos Lord is one of the strongest units in the Chaos Space Marines army, and he’s so good he basically pushes out all of the other options for leading a unit of Chosen.

Chaos Lord in Terminator Armor. Credit: Swiftblade

Chaos Lord in Terminator Armour

The bulkier, slower, much less useful variant of the Chaos Lord thanks to having significantly worse melee options. The Chaos Lord in Terminator Armour comes with the same Lord of Chaos ability as his power-armoured counterpart, giving you the free once-per-game Stratagem (good), but trades out the daemon hammer and Chance for Glory ability for Formidably Resilient, which halves incoming damage (not great). Even as a potential buff for Chaos Terminators the Chaos Lord may not be the best option, and it really hurts that he doesn’t have any unique weapon options and instead must choose between a chainfist and a power fist.

What this adds up to is a unit which is best suited to being a solo operative, where his 2+/4++ save, T5, 6W profile with half damage and the ability to deep strike can be oddly compelling at 95 points, but he’s a pretty slow unit and Chaos has access to much better, cheaper options, including Lone Operatives like the Changeling. If you do opt to go with this option, make him Slaanesh with the Elixir enhancement. A 2+/4++/5+++ profile is even more of a headache for your opponent to deal with.

Credit: TheChirurgeon

Dark Apostle

The spiritual leader of the Chaos Space Marines, the Dark Apostle comes with a 4+ invulnerable save, a 2-damage melee weapon, and a 5+ Leadership characteristic (!), plus a whopping three abilities: Dark Zealotry gives the unit he leads +1 to its Wound rolls on melee attacks, while Demagogue gives him a once-per-game ability to turn off Battle-shock on a friendly Heretic Astartes within 9″ at the start of any phase. And Malign Sacrifice lets you kill the Apostle’s Dark Disciples for a shot at doing mortal wounds to an enemy unit within Engagement Range at the start of the fight phase.

This is a very interesting trio of abilities, and +1 to wound is particularly noteworthy on things like power fists in a Chosen unit or the melee attacks of Torments in an Accursed Cultists unit. The 5+ Leadership also ensures his units will rarely, if ever, be battle-shocked or taking damage from a failed Pact. Unfortunately he’s not a particularly strong fighter because AP1 won’t push enough damage through against tough targets. The option to use a free Stratagem is just much better in Chosen so he’s not going to beat out the Chaos Lord for inclusion with one of those units, so let’s look at the alternatives.

The Dark Apostle is one of two characters who can join a unit of Cultists or Accursed Cultists. The former are really more of a throwaway unit you use to sticky objectives before dying, but Accursed Cultists are incredibly, stupid good for their costs and the Apostle can bring some real value to them… it’s just not as much as a Dark Commune, however. And ultimately that’s what keeps this guy off the table – he’s not a strong enough buff to beat out Chaos Lords or Dark Communes on their units, and you don’t really want to put a leader on a unit of Legionaries or regular Cultists, which is a tough break for a model that has some interesting upside.

The other issue with the Dark Apostle is his unit counts as 3 models in transports, which makes it nearly impossible to fit him into a Transport if you attach him to a large unit like 10 Legionaries. You can choose to take fewer than 10 models in an Attached unit if you pay for 10 models to fit the 3 Dark Apostle models into a Transport with 12 slots, but paying points to leave models at home is more trouble than its worth.

That Gobbo

Dark Commune

The other current must-take Leader in the CSM army, the Dark Commune is not a single character but rather a squad of dudes in its own right. The Dark Commune gives you five models: 2 Blessed Blades, an Iconarch, a Mindwitch, and a Demagogue. The Blessed blades and Mindwitch have some interesting attacks but ultimately are ablative wounds for the other two, with the Iconarch giving you re-rolls on Leadership tests and the Demagogue giving you a pair of very useful abilities for the Accursed Cultists to which they’ll be attached.

While the Demagogue is alive, the unit can make use of both of its abilities. Faithful Flock gives its unit a 5+ invulnerable save. This is extremely powerful because the two units he can lead, Cultists and Accursed Cultists, only have t-shirt Armour Saves. A unit that goes from almost never having a save to always having a 5++ save gains a massive durability boost.

Dark Ritual gives the unit a once-per game ability you can fire in the Command phase to give its unit Advance and Charge and +1 to Hit and Wound rolls for the rest of the turn. Both halves of Dark Ritual are extremely powerful, particularly on a unit of Accursed Cultists, where the added mobility and damage output can turn them into a surprise charge threat with an insane amount of damage output. This is particularly true once you start factoring in their Dark Pact bonuses and Marks (most of the time you’ll run them as Undivided, but if you have three units it may make sense to have one be Nurgle). Is your opponent not scared of Accursed Cultists? Understandable. Give them +1 to Hit, +1 to Wound, full Hit rerolls, and full Wound rerolls, and suddenly those unthreatening gribblies are forcing the opponent to take a terrifying amount of saves.

It’s worth noting that of these models, only the Demagogue has the CHARACTER keyword, meaning you can use your other goobers – especially the blades and iconward – as ablative units for the Accursed Cultists if you find yourself in danger of losing the entire unit and being unable to bring back dead models in the following Command phase.

A lot of the power of Accursed Cultists is derived from being able to pair them with a Dark Commune, and the two combine to make one of the most casually devastating and durable units in the game, a. They’re able to shrug off a ton of different attacks, regenerate back from it, and then close surprisingly large distances to deliver nasty blows. You shouldn’t take a unit of Accursed Cultists without a Dark Commune, and vice versa.

If you’re very tight on points you can add your Dark Commune to a max-sized unit of generic Cultists, but that’s so much worse that you’re always better off springing for Accursed Cultists over normal Cultists if you want either a hammer or an anvil.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Exalted Champion

The Exalted Champion is a relatively cheap power-armored hero who can join a unit of either Chosen or Legionaries, and has the benefit of being an add-on Leader in that he can join a unit which already has another Leader in it, as long as that other leader isn’t also an Exalted Champion. That’s a big boost to his utility, though as we’ll see that’s somewhat limited based on what he actually brings to the table.

The Exalted Champion comes with two abilities: Dark Champion gives his unit +1 to hit, and Aspire to Glory gives him specifically +D3 Strength on his weapons whenever his unit makes a Dark Pact. That first one is pretty good, though ultimately less useful on units which already rely on a Chaos Lord throwing out a free Profane Zeal to push through tons of damage (the improvement from 3+ re-rolling to 2+ re-rolling is marginal), but if you don’t have a Chaos Lord, your unit of guys hitting on 2+ re-rolling 1s with the Mark of Chaos Undivided will be pretty accurate.

It’s that other ability which highlights the Exalted Champion’s shortcomings, however – while he comes equipped with a combi-weapon (good), he’s hamstrung by having just an OK melee weapon to work with – a S5 AP-2, 2-damage exalted weapon isn’t doing him many favors, particularly when you’re likely to use him as a replacement for a Chaos Lord. Yeah it’ll get +D3 strength when you pact, but this is where you’d have just preferred a power fist, as his +1 to hit would have naturally boosted it to a WS 2+ profile. It might have been interesting to give him the Talisman Of Burning Blood to stack +d3 Strength with +d3 Strength from the Exalted Champion’s datasheet ability, but that is just way too much investment to get +2d3 Strength on 5 AP-2 2D attacks.

At 70 points the Exalted Champion is just a bit too expensive to use. While his +1 to Hit is cute, the accuracy boost isn’t really good enough to make up for that, especially when the Chaos Lord already does the same thing via his free Profane Zeal and the unit you’re boosting can re-roll 1s to hit whenever they pact.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Fabius Bile

If you want an alternative to a Chaos Lord that trades datasheet strength for style points, Fabius Bile is your man. He gives us an interesting alternative to the Chaos Lord as a Leader option for Chosen or Legionaries. Fabius clocks in at 85 points, comes with an add-on goober model, and some weapons that are OK (but not amazing) in melee. The Rod of Torment throwing out 6 Attacks at 3 damage is spicy, but with only Strength 5 and AP1 it falls short versus tough targets.

Where Bile makes things interesting is in his Enhanced Warriors ability, which gives the unit he joins (and only those bodyguard models) +1 to its Toughness and +1 Strength to the profiles of its melee weapons. This can be pretty nasty on a unit of Chosen, making them much more durable (T5 vs T4 is a solid breakpoint) and giving them nastier melee attacks, with Accursed Weapons and Power Fists suddenly punching up more effectively versus heavier targets. As an added durability boost, the Surgeon Acolyte lets you drop the damage characteristic of one incoming attack per turn to 0 against the unit while he’s alive. Because it’s each turn, you can blank out 1 damage in your turn if you take some dangerous Overwatch, and then blank out 1 damage in your opponent’s turn when they shoot you again.

Finally, Bile himself can be a chore to take down, coming back on a 2+ the first time he’s destroyed. Abilities like this are always useful versus armies like T’au that can only really do damage in one phase per turn. Unfortunately for Bile, Syll’Esske isn’t many more points and is a much stronger option for any CSM armies looking for a unit that gets back up on a 2+.

All of Fabius Bile’s abilities combine to create a fun alternative to a Chaos Lord, but one that is likely not quite as good or competitive. Still, Bile changes the way a unit of Chosen works in interesting ways, and can be worth including if you’re looking for a different dynamic.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Haarken Worldclaimer

Abaddon’s Herald is the only character in the Index who can pair with Raptors (these are the only unit he can pair with). Haarken comes with a Chaos Lord’s body stapled to a Jump Pack with some upgraded weapons and abilities that make him worth consideration. As a standalone fighter, Haarken pulls his weight – His Helspear gives him a nasty 3-damage Assault 12″ attack with Sustained Hits D3 which can surprise opponents, and in melee the spear gives him one extra Lance Attack with the same profile. His Herald’s Talon gives him 6 Attacks hitting on a 2+ at S5, AP-2 2 damage with Precision, making him an interesting threat for head-hunting against weaker Characters.

Haarken comes with two abilities, both of which kind of buff his unit: Head Taker causes his unit to do mortal wounds on the charge – one for each 4+ you roll for each model in his unit which ends up in Engagement Range, while Herald of the Apocalypse is a 6″ Aura which forces enemy units to take Battle-shock tests if they’re below Starting Strength instead of half Strength, which combos with the Raptors’ -1 Ld Aura to make something vaguely threatening.

At 90 points, Haarken is a little expensive. If you’re taking raptors, he’s not a bad include with one unit, as his melee output is solid enough to help turn them into an actual threat for picking off weaker units. He can also be a semi-durable solo pick, as a model which can deep strike and deploy homers or investigate signals, then bounce around and harass enemy targets. Don’t forget that his Assault keyword lets him or a unit of Raptors he is attached to do secondaries like Cleanse after advancing! Unfortunately most of the time, Haarken is sitting just outside the range of playable, and ends up getting cut as tough decisions are made. That said, if you bring him solo or with 5 Raptors, you definitely aren’t handicapping yourself.

Huron Blackheart. Credit: TheChirurgeon

Huron Blackheart

The Lord of the Red Corsairs is a Chaos Lord who comes with a S6 Heavy Flamer (solid), an Exalted Weapon (a S5 power fist – meh), and the Tyrant’s Claw, a horde-clearing option that gives you a large amount of attacks but can fall short against durable targets. He can lead either a unit of Chosen or Legionaries, and comes with three abilities. The Tyrant of Badab gives his unit +1 OC. That’s pretty amazing for a unit of Chosen, who otherwise suffer from having only OC 1. It also gets a unit of 5 Legionaries + Huron up to 17OC, which is basically a guaranteed objective flip against any unit in the game. The idea of a 32 OC unit of 10 Legionaries with Huron is hilarious, but also way too much of an investment. Red Corsairs lets you pick up 3 Heretic Astartes Infantry units after deployment finishes and redeploy them, placing them into Strategic Reserves if you like. This is also good – while it’s significantly worse than some other redeploy abilities because it happens before the first turn rolloff, it still gives you good flexibility, especially when you know you’re putting extra units into reserves anyways. One example: You might have several units of Legionaries or Cultists you want to put in reserves to avoid indirect fire from an opponent’s tanks, but doing so reduces your drops and gives the opponent a deployment edge. You can now put those units on the table during deployment, forcing your opponent to show their hand, then put them back into Strategic Reserves after deployment, having gained a knowledge advantage.

Huron’s final ability is Hamadrya’s Knowledge, a Psychic ability which once per game lets Huron’s unit move D6″ after an enemy unit ends a Normal, Advance, or Fall Back move within 9″ of his unit. This is a very good ability that lets Huron’s unit avoid charges from units it doesn’t want to have to fight, and can help get them out of line of sight if the opponent gets close as well.

At 80 points, Huron is priced to move. The only question is whether he’s better than just taking another Chaos Lord on your unit of Chosen. Unfortunately, the answer there is “probably not.” That said, Huron is very good, and if you want to run him because you’re playing Red Corsairs, he’ll do just fine for you, especially if you want to put him with a unit of 10 Chosen instead of 5.


Lucius the Eternal

Lucius is the only character in the army other than Abaddon to come with a god-specific mark (Slaanesh). He will almost certainly disappear one day like Kharn, Typhus, and Ahriman before him to go join his legion when they get their own Codex, so enjoy him in CSM lists while you can. Until then, Lucius is another Chaos Lord-like model who combines excellent melee power with a solid ability for his unit. If he could join a unit of Chosen he’d be a must-include. As-is, he can only join Legionaries and Noise Marines, and he’s worth looking at occasionally as an add-on to a unit of Noise Marines if you’re going heavy on that build. On that note, if Lucius is your Warlord, Noise Marine units in your army gain Battleline, which powers a whole host of Emperor’s Children builds that run 4+ units of Noise Marines in rhinos.

Lucius gives his unit Fights First with the Duellist’s Pride ability and he’s a pretty solid fighter. His Doom Siren lets you double up on the S6 AP-1 flamers in a noise marine unit, turning them into a nasty overwatch threat, while his melee options give him 8 S5 Ap-2 2 damage attacks with Precision, making him a more effective headhunter than Haarken. If he’s attached to a unit of Legionaries to unlock Wound rerolls, then Lucius becomes an absolute Character butcher.

As a fun side note, killing Lucius causes the unit killing him to take a Leadership test – pass and the unit only takes D3 mortals, but fail and they take D6. If the unit dies from this, Lucius actually comes back with D3 wounds remaining. This is hilarious, but the resurrection will rarely trigger if the opponent is aware of the ability and uses a unit with more than D6 wounds left to kill Lucius. The upside is that this adds another layer of mind games for your opponent to deal with, and when it does happen, it’s amazing.

If you want to run lots of Noise Marines units, you definitely want to run Lucius. If you don’t, then he’ll pair best with a unit of Legionaries, or probably not make your list at all.

He just wanted to kill guys with his axe, is that too much to ask? Credit: Swiftblade

Master of Executions

The Master of Executions comes with a solid melee weapon – the axe of dismemberment drops 5 attacks at WS2+, S7, Ap-2 2 damage with Precision and Devastating Wounds – and two abilities. Warp-Sighted Butcher gives his unit re-rolls to hit against units below Starting Strength, and re-rolls to wound against units below Half-Strength. That’s pretty good, and gives you a nice 1-2 punch with a unit of Chosen who can try and snag a model with their combi-weapons before charging. Trophy-Taker is less impressive, giving you an extra CP each time the MoE kills an enemy character. It’s a nice bonus, but not something you’ll pull off super often. Trophy-Taker is also less valuable because CSM builds are often gaining a CP from discarding Tactical Objectives or Abaddon already.

Like the Exalted Champion, the Master of Executions can attach to a unit that already has a character, reducing the pressure on him to compete with a Chaos Lord as the leader for a unit of Chosen since you can just add both. That said, 80 points is a hefty price for a second Leader model, and like Haarken this guy is another very useful model who just ends up on the outside looking in when it’s time to make some cuts.

If you’re dead-set on running a Master Of Executions (which we totally understand, because the model is awesome), the best way is giving him the Mark Of Khorne and attaching him to 10 Khorne Chosen. The ability to get full hit rerolls combos extremely well with the Khorne Pact to get Lethal Hits on a 5+. If you fish for 5’s, on average you get over a 50% Hit Rolls to Lethal Hits conversion rate. This makes the unit incredible at punching up into hard targets. This exact combo was used in a GT winning list by Colin Kay, and could be a staple in future CSM lists if Profane Zeal ever gets tweaked and makes Undivided Chosen less appealing.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Master of Possessions

The Master of Possessions is a nasty Psyker character who combines a solid ranged attack with some good abilities and a niche use that make him a must-take in certain builds. The Master of Possession comes with an Anti-Psyker 2+ force staff and a solid ranged attack – the Rite of Possession is a Precision Anti-Psyker 2+ attack which fires two shots and can do 2 damage on regular mode or 3 on focused mode with AP-3.  So those are pretty solid, especially if you’re going up against a unit of Rubrics or Wraithguard.

Where the Master of Possession really shines is in his abilities: Daemonkin gives his unit +1 to Advance and Charge rolls and a Feel No Pain 6+, while Sacrificial Dagger gives him a once-per-phase ability to do 1 mortal wound to his unit (which you may shrug off) in exchange for getting +1 to hit and +1 to wound with Psychic Attacks. That second ability is just OK but that first one is very solid, particularly on a unit of Possessed. And by the way – the Master of Possession is the only character who can join a unit of Possessed, and thankfully his 8″ Movement allows him to keep up with them pretty well.

If you’re taking Possessed, you basically want to take a Master of Possession to help them improve their mobility and consistency, and up their durability a little bit. Give them the Mark of Slaanesh for Advance and Charge and watch that +1 to both rolls do some real work for you on closing early game gaps.

Oh, and the best part of adding a Master Of Possession to a unit of Possessed? The Master Of Possession will benefit from the Posssessed’s unit rule to get Devastating Wounds on his own abilities. Remember those Anti-Psyker 2+ ranged and melee attacks the Master Of Possession has? You will now be doing Devasting Wounds on a 2+ versus any units with the PSYKER keyword, like most Thousand Sons, Grey Knights, Wraithguard, and Daemons units.

Word Bearers Esoterist / Diabolist – Credit: RichyP


The Sorcerer is a Psyker unit who can join a unit of Legionaries or Chosen. He comes with a Force Staff and a nifty ranged power, Infernal Gaze, which can toss out some Devastating Wounds in its focused mode. He comes with two abilities, one more useful than the other. Prescience is the better one in this case, giving attacks which target the Sorcerer’s unit -1 to their hit rolls, improving their durability against ranged and melee attacks. Gift of Chaos throws an added bonus effect on to the Sorcerer’s attacks – each time he shoots or fights, you pick an enemy unit that was hit by a [PSYCHIC] attack and they have to take a Leadership test. If they fail they take D3 mortal wounds. Basically, every time you make an attack with your Sorcerer with anything besides his Bolt Pistol, you’ll trigger this ability. This does include if you Overwatch with his unit, which adds a tiny (it cannot be overstated how tiny this is) amount of spice to him.

Prescience is pretty solid, and has just enough value youvalue that you might consider the Sorcerer as a Leader for a unit of Chosen. He’s not quite as good as a Chaos Lord, but at 60 points you’ll save some points and that may be the reason he makes it into your list if you’re getting tight on point space. But he’s not nearly the fighter nor the same force multiplier, so you’ll often be better off making room for a third Chaos Lord instead.

The Sorcerer might have some value if you’re bringing a maximum size squad of Legionaries and want to make them more durable, but the issue is the Sorcerer costs almost as much as a Rhino which will increase the squad’s durability (as well as mobility) significantly more. If CSM points shift around in the future an other options become less attractive, you’ll be more motivated to run a Sorcerer in the list.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Sorcerer in Terminator Armour

The bulkier, more durable big brother of the Sorcerer, the Terminator variant comes with better weapons (primarily the ability to take a combi-bolter), a new pair of abilities, and a familiar who gives him a once per game “change incoming damage to 0” ability. The two abilities here are Warptime, which gives his unit the ability to re-roll Advance and Charge rolls, and Death Hex,which lets you pick a visible enemy unit within 12″ of the Psyker and roll a D6. On a 1 you take D3 mortals but on a 2+ you improve the AP of your attacks against that unit by 1 (note: only one Terminator Sorcerer can do this per turn, no matter how many you have). This is an insanely strong ability versus armies with a single centerpiece you want to focus your firepower on each turn (such as Knights), and helps you drown a tougher unit in firepower when you need to remove it from the table. Against armies that don’t rely on armour saves like Daemons or are running an MSU style list, this ability becomes much less valuable.

The Terminator Sorcerer can only join a unit of Terminators. He’s arguably a much better option than the Terminator Chaos Lord for doing that, as Death Hex can turn some otherwise lackluster melee attacks from the unit into a series of devastating AP-3 blows. On the other hand, you lose the ability to use Infernal Rites for free, which makes your Terminators extremely durable versus medium AP firepower. But here’s the thing: He’s also a much better solo option, and there’s lots of reason to consider taking one without a unit to lead. Having a 12″ range on Death Hex means he can drop in and hit a target out of Deep Strike, and that’s where he’ll combo very well with Obliterators and Forgefiends to remove something from the table. Give him the Mark of Nurgle so he can avoid ranged attacks from too far away or the Elixir enhancement to increase his durability, and you’ve got yourself a very nasty surprise threat for taking down tougher targets.

Traitor Enforcer. Credit: Fowler

Traitor Enforcer

The penultimate entry on our list of Leaders is the Traitor Enforcer, the only unit which can join a unit of Traitor Guardsmen. This unit is two models – an Enforcer and an Ogryn – and he gives his unit the free use of the Insane Bravery Stratagem at the cost of one model each time you use the ability. The Ogryn gives the Enforcer a 4+ feel no pain to uh, protect him from Precision Attacks. Traitor Guardsmen units aren’t very good and they aren’t really asking for more melee punch or higher costs so there’s very little reason to take this guy to begin with.

Basically, if you’re ever bringing a Traitor Enforcer, you’re bringing them solo as a worse version of Chaos Spawn… which is a unit that already never makes the cut in CSM units. Traitor Enforcers are a cool idea for a unit in theory, but one which falls apart in execution.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones


The Warpsmith is a decent unit that doesn’t really fit into popular CSM lists these days. His ability to heal a Vehicle and give it +1 to Hit pairs extremely well if you’re bringing centerpiece Vehicles like Land Raiders or a Khorne Lord Of Skulls. His ability to make a nearby enemy Vehicle take a Battle-shock test can be situationally useful, but not something that should really factor into your calculations. He also gains Lone Operative while within 3″ of a friendly Vehicle, meaning that if you take him, this is probably how you’re going to use him – babysitting a vehicle or pair of vehicles even, if you’re keeping your Forgefiends together.

Why is he included in this article? Because he can technically attach to Havocs, Chosen, or Legionaries. The short version: Don’t do this. Long version: He literally provides zero benefits for his attached units. He’s the only Leader that Havocs can take, which means you’ll never run Havocs with a Leader. In fact, he actually provides negative benefits when leading a unit. First of all, Lone Operative as a rule turns off when a Leader attaches to a unit, meaning your Warpsmith is now targetable by Precision attacks and can be killed with his very targetable unit. Secondly, he makes your unit of Havocs (or Chosen or Legionaries) now more vulnerable to Anti-Character weaponry, and for zero upside.

Consider bringing a Warpsmith if going heavy on Vehicles. Never consider attaching the Warpsmith that you’ve brought to a unit. There have been some competitive lists which have run a Warpsmith with a pair of Forgefiends, where +1 to hit and the ability to heal can be a fun added effect for a unit who can also do actions and largely be untargetable via Lone Operative.


Final Thoughts

That wraps up our look at the Leader options for Chaos Space Marines – it’s a solid list with more than a few options which you’ll want to consider in various builds, even beyond the Chaos Lord + Chosen and Dark Commune + Accursed Cultist looks which currently dominate competitive play. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.