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 the Death Guard here.
While the Death Guard don’t have a lot of Datasheets, they have a lot of characters to choose from, and are one of the few armies which can “double up” on their character choices, with some characters being able to join a unit of Plague Marines even if there’s already a character leading them. This means there’s more value to some of these characters than there might otherwise be if you had to make hard decisions about only having one.
Let’s start by looking at the faction’s character options and where they can be added:
So you can immediately see there’s a distinction here between Plague Marine and Terminator options which, no surprise, is dictated by the armor worn by the Leader (with one exception – Typhus and Poxwalkers). This means that only Plague Marines have access to the characters who can double up. Finally, Mortarion and the Daemon Princes cannot join units, so they’ll be excluded from this analysis. That said, Mortarion is still one of the most powerful units the army can take, and has a ton of value in most lists.
Let’s start things off with the power-armoured characters, first among which is the Biologus Putrifier. Like most of the Foetid Virion characters, this guy comes with two abilities:
- First, he gives his unit [LETHAL HITS], or critical hits on a 5+ if they already had Lethal Hits. This is marginally useful – if you had high volumes of smaller fire this could be pretty useful, but Death Guard don’t really have those options outside of their [TORRENT] weapons, which don’t interact with this. Instead it becomes more useful on melee attacks, though Plague Marine melee isn’t quite good enough to justify this.
- Second, he can, once per game, use the Grenade Stratagem for 0 CP. This is the more useful of the abilities, giving you an average of 2 mortal wounds on a target per use. It’s not a lot, but you can pair it with a grenade thrown by the Putrifier’s unit to get 4-8 mortal wounds in a single phase.
The Putrifier doesn’t otherwise come with options and isn’t much of a fighter himself but he does have one very important aspect – he has both an [ASSAULT] weapon – Hyper Blight grenades – and a [PISTOL] weapon – his injector pistol. This means that if you attach him to a unit of Plague Marines they’ll be eligible to shoot both after advancing and while within engagement range of an enemy unit. This is huge for turning a unit of Plague Marines into an action machine, and a 5-model unit with a Putrifier capable of advancing, doing an action, and double-grenading is a solid investment.
Death Guard Chaos Lord
The Death Guard Chaos lord is one of the more interesting options in the index, lacking a proper model but paradoxically being one of the faction’s most solid options. Chaos Lords have two abilities, and both are pretty strong and very relevant:
- Chaos Lord gives the unit he joins the ability to re-roll 1s on Hit rolls. Wasted on torrent weapons, but very useful for getting more consistency out of a unit’s blight launchers and heavy plague weapons, including the lord’s on plague fist.
- Desiccation Conduit (Aura) has you roll a D6 for each enemy within Contagion Range of this model at the end of each turn. On a 4+, that enemy unit takes D3 mortal wounds. This can be very nasty, especially on later turns where you can hit 3-4 units at a time with the ability. It’s helpful for pushing through extra damage on nearby units to finish them off, and was a big part of why players would take multiple chaos lords.
From a wargear standpoint the Chaos Lord gives you options but his best loadout is probably taking a plague fist and a plague-encrusted exalted weapon. This gives him options for both bigger targets and smaller targets, and we’ve already covered in our Hammer of Math: Death Guard article when to use each. The Chaos Lord is a solid addition to the Death Guard army, and a competitive choice if you’re running Plague Marines. This makes the Death Guard Lord a triple threat: He improves his unit effectiveness, he throws out mortal wounds, and he’s a capable melee threat in his own right. This is something the best characters will have in common, and ultimately what separates the ones you’ll take from the ones you don’t.
Death Guard Icon Bearer
The Death Guard Icon Bearer can join a unit of Plague Marines and comes with two abilities, one static – giving his unit +1 to their OC characteristic, and one that can be activated once per game, extending the model’s contagion range to 12″ until the start of your next Command phase. If you’re bringing this guy, it’s primarily for that ability. While the +1 OC can be helpful against knights and say, Intercessors, you can just kill the latter and the former is just going to kill you off the objective in short order.
Activating the icon to pop off extended contagion range became a lot more powerful with the revision to Contagions in the September dataslate, and the Icon now serves as a potent early-game way to either get extra damage pushed through on distant enemy units or hamper their effectiveness. A unit of plague marines in a rhino can move 12″, pop out 3″ and then pop this to get a 27″ range on their contagions in a single turn. This range goes through walls and hits units out of line of line of sight, making it helpful for dropping the saves on units you want to hit with indirect fire form Plagueburst mortars.
Although less formidable than his older incarnation, known for killing enemy charges and shooting planes out of the sky, the Blightspawn is still very solid and playable in 10th edition, albeit a unit on the edge when it comes to cuts. The Blightspawn only comes with one ability – Putrefying Stink – but it’s a very powerful ability, giving his unit the Fights First ability. This makes them a nightmare to charge, even before you consider the Overwatch they can put out.
On that front, the Blightspawn is also notable for his Plague Sprayer weapon, which throws out D6 TORRENT shots that hit at S7, AP-2 2 damage with IGNORES COVER and ANTI-INFANTRY 2+. It’s a nasty weapon, albeit a bit inconsistent, and in a unit with four other torrent weapons makes for a unit that can absolutely wipe infantry off the board at a 12″ range.
The reason this guy sits on the edge is that he doesn’t offer any value in melee and his gun is pretty inconsistent with only D6 shots. He’s liable to be cut if the lists needs to make room but he’s a powerful addition to a unit of Plague Marines.
The lesser of your two unnamed psyker options, the Plaguecaster comes with a pretty nasty Torrent weapon – Plague Wind does D6 shots at S4 AP-1 D3 damage in normal mode and ups that to D6+3 shots at S6 and AP-2 in hazardous mode. This is bolstered by his Pestilential Fallout ability, which gives one enemy unit hit by its attacks -2 to its move characteristic and Advance and Charge rolls. This is a pretty nasty effect and can help protect the unit from harm, though it’s worth noting that it only works in your Shooting phase, so you can’t use it to slow down a unit you hit with Overwatch.
The Plaguecaster’s other ability is the psychic Gift of Contagion, which on a 2+ gives a visible enemy within 18″ -1 to its Wound rolls until your next Shooting phase. This is pretty solid, but limited enough in its scope that it keeps the plaguecaster from being a serious addition. That said, a unit of plague marines running four plague flamers, a Plaguecaster, and a Foul Blightspawn is a pretty nasty overwatch unit to deal with.
The Plaguecaster has a decent melee attack as well, but at AP-1 it’s not good enough to be a real value add.
Forever the odd man out in the character rotation, the Blightbringer continues that role in 10th edition. He gives the units he joins the ability to re-roll advance and charge rolls, and gives enemy units within contagion range -2 to their Leadership and Battleshock tests. This can be very solid when paired with the Contagion effect that gives -1 Leadership and OC, but ultimately there just isn’t enough you can do with Leadership debuffs in Death Guard and it’s not worth building around the Droning Enhancement.
The Plague Surgeon is a model that would be a hell of a lot more useful if he could join a unit of Terminators. As-is, the ability to return a single destroyed model per Command phase just isn’t creating enough surplus value and his ability to heal nearby characters is largely only mediocre as it can’t affect Mortarion. On the upside, his balesword gives him a solid melee attack but he’s not bringing enough value to keep in the list.
The Tallyman has fallen a far distance from the heights he hit in 9th edition as a CP-generating, hit-improving machine but he’s still got a fair amount of value to bring to the table. He still lets you generate an extra CP on a 7+, though only in your Command phase, and he gives the unit he’s attached to +1 to hit, which is helpful for generating extra consistency for heavy plague weapons and plague fists.
At 45 points, he’s incredibly cheap and the likelihood of him bringing you 2-3 CP per game is pretty high (see the math on that). He’s a character who pairs well with a Chaos Lord – having 2+ to hit re-rolling 1s with your knives is pretty good – but you can also just run him completely solo, daring an opponent to waste indirect shooting on him in your backfield.
With Power Armored options out of the way it’s time to talk about the Terminator characters.
Death Guard Chaos Lord in Terminator Armour
The Terminator Chaos Lord comes with the same abilities as his power-armored counterpart – Chaos Lord for re-roll 1s to hit and Desiccation Conduit to do mortal wounds to enemy units within Contagion Range – but a better save, an extra wound, and some slightly better weapon options. He can still take a plague-encrusted exalted weapon and a plague fist, though he’s probably better off with a chainfist instead of a plague fist as it gives him a much more damaging play against vehicles.
Interestingly, the added durability makes the Terminator Chaos Lord a much more practical solo play than the power armor version. He’s a pretty tough target, tough enough that you need to put more than a single lascannon on him to hope to take him out at T6 and a 4+ invulnerable save, and his Desiccation Conduit aura and melee prowess make him a unit that still kind of demands to be dealt with. He was a bigger fixture in herohammer Death Guard lists prior to the dataslate but isn’t bringing as much to the table as Typhus, the Lord of Virulence, or the Terminator Sorcerer.
Death Guard Sorcerer in Terminator Armour
The third best of the Death Guard terminator options, the Terminator Sorcerer offers the kind of powerful combination of abilities, ranged attacks, and melee that make a character viable in the army. Let’s run through what the Sorcerer brings to the table:
- Curse of the Leper. This psychic attack comes with two modes. The low power mode does D6 shots which hit at S6 AP-1, 1 damage, while the Hazardous mode does 2D6 shots at AP-2. That’s not insanely good but it is solid enough to do real damage to some targets, especially if being supported by the -1 to saves from Rattlejoint Ague. This can be further buffed by the Pestilent Familiar, giving you a once per battle boost of +2 to strength and damage. 2D6 S8, AP-2 shots at 3 damage is really good, and with Rattlejoint Ague and Ferric Blight you can make that hit at what is functionally AP-4, just tearing through anything without a solid invulnerable save.
- Putrescent Vitality. At the start of the Fight phase you can roll a D6. On a 1 you take D3 mortal wounds, but on a 2+ for the rest of the phase you reduce incoming damage on attacks against that unit by 1. This is a great ability to have on Deathshroud, who are incidentally the unit this character wants to hang out with the most. Very solid for weathering the nastier D2 and D3 attacks out there.
- Solid Melee. While not quite as good as the Chaos Lord, the Terminator Sorcerer still has a few very solid weapon options. He comes with a force weapon and combi-bolter, and you can swap out the bolter for a Plague-Encrusted exalted weapon or combi-weapon while the force weapon can be a chainfist, plague fist, or plague-encrusted exalted weapon. I like the force weapon and combi-weapon here the most, as the force weapon can be buffed with the once-per-game boost from the familiar in a pinch and the combi-weapon gives you a bit more shooting. The Plague-encrusted combi-weapon is more or less a sidegrade from the force weapon, trading out strength and damage for Lethal Hits and extra AP.
That’s a lot to offer, and it’s easy to see why you might take a Terminator Sorcerer to go with a unit of Deathshroud or Blightlord Terminators. They offer some solid resilience in melee with some decent shooting and a worthwhile set of melee attacks.
Lord of Contagion
The tragic also-ran in the Death Guard character list, the Lord of Contagion isn’t without merit; he gives his unit full re-rolls to hit in melee and each time he loses a wound you can do mortals back to the nearest enemy unit on a 4+. And his Plagueblade is a solid weapon with a rare 3-damage profile. But he doesn’t have any ranged attacks, re-rolling hits on melee isn’t great for Deathshroud (who hit on a 2+), and Blightlords aren’t really a monster melee unit. And his Abundance of Sickness abilty to do mortals when wounded just isn’t particularly useful since you can’t opt to take wounds on him while his unit lives. If this guy had extended contagion range he’d be a much more interesting take but as-is he’s mostly an option for a unit of melee blightlords, something you won’t likely want to take.
Lord of Virulence
One of the two big “Rock Star” character options in the Death Guard index, the Lord of Virulence brings a tremendous amount of value to the table. First off there’s his Master of Destruction ability, which gives his unit full re-rolls to Wound with ranged attacks. That’s huge for a unit of Deathshroud Terminators rocking high-volume, lower-strength attacks. Second there’s his Blight Bombardment ability, which gives friendly models targeting any unit he can see with a [BLAST] weapon +1 to hit and the [IGNORES COVER] ability, effectively removing the penalties for firing at targets out of line of sight. Combine that with Mortarion’s abilty to ignore modifiers and you can use the pair to hit mortar targets on a 2+, ignoring cover, out of line-of-sight so long as the LoV can see them.
Finally the LoV himself has a nice little combo of weapons – his twin plague spewer is a very solid anti-infantry gun with Torrent that makes him a good companion to Deathshroud terminators, while his Plague Fist is a solid melee option. The Lord of Virulence checks all the boxes and the fact that Plagueburst Crawlers are one of the faction’s best units means this guy ends up in a lot of lists.
Last – but certainly not least – we come to Typhus, the host of the Destroyer Hive. Typhus is an incredibly powerful model right now, and like the Lord of Virulence, helps your army in multiple ways. First off there’s his Destroyer Hive ability, which gives the unit he leads -1 to be hit with melee attacks. This is fantastic on a unit of Deathshroud and combines with Skullsquirm Blight to put a unit at what is effectively -2 to hit (-1 to their WS and -1 to their hit roll, bypassing the cap on roll modifiers). Second there’s The Eater Plague, a psychic ability which lets you dump D6 mortal wounds on a visible enemy target in the shooting phase (on a 1 you take D3 mortals yourself, on a 6 you deal D3+3). This is very good and makes Typhus a key part of Death guard strategies, since he can effectively drop 3-4 mortal wounds on a target most of the time he uses this.
Typhus is also a potent melee combattant, with a 3-damage melee attack on his big swings or the ability to deliver 10 AP-1 little swings. This is solid, and makes Typhus a big output boost for the melee on a unit of Deathshroud.
Finally it’s worth mentioning that Typhus can join a unit of Poxwalkers. This is also solid, and when he does this note that casualties from his Eater Plague count for bringing back dead Poxwalkers. Combine this with Skullsquirm Blight and Typhus + Poxwalkers might be the ultimate tarpit unit in 10th edition.
How to Pick Your Characters
Ultimately while you have a lot of options, you’ll have limited spots for leaders and finite points to work with. How you pick which characters ultimately comes down to which ones give you the most bang for your points. The reason Typhus, the Lord of Virulence, Chaos Lords, and Terminator Sorcerers see play is ultimately because they have 3 or more benefits and act not just as force multipliers, but capable units in their own right. In contrast, units like the Plague Surgeon really don’t give you much on their own, meaning that when cuts happen they’re on the outside looking in.
The Death Guard have some great character options and if Plague Marines become more viable in the meta they’ll continue to open up as reasons for taking more characters become more common. Currently most of them have reasons to show up in a list, particularly if you’re not fine-tuning for a GT – there are fun lists you can build around each of these options.
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