Death Guard were the second codex of 8th edition and thumbing through the book, it certainly feels like it. Many of their rules have the mark of early 8th edition writing style to them, with a glut of characters whose abilities are barely notable and a set of repeated units from Codex: Chaos Space Marines that, for baffling reasons, lack the Disgustingly Resilient rule that marks other Death Guard units. They also lack significantly in the stratagem and relics departments, with a paltry 14 stratagems and 6 relics. In short, the Death Guard codex is a full army book that essentially has the same amount of content as some of the space marine codex supplements. The end result is that while Death Guard have some great units, they typically still need the support of other factions to succeed, whether that’s Chaos Daemons for strength buffs or Chaos Space Marines for access to the Warptime psychic power.
The good news is that with War of the Spider, Death Guard are receiving a massive update that adds new subfactions and stratagems to the army. We’ve already seen the Thousand Sons get a huge boost from Ritual of the Damned; does this book do the same for Mortarion’s sons? Let’s dive in to find out.
There’s a ton of content for Death Guard in this book. The faction gets updated rules, new relics, new stratagems, and 7 subfactions called Plague Companies. Plague Companies don’t give you any passive rules boosts, but they give you access to an extra Warlord Trait, a relic, and two stratagems.
Having been previously shafted in their own Codex, the Death Guard get a whopping twenty one new stratagems to play with, and that’s before you count the 14 that are given to the Plague Companies. These generally fall into three groups:
Plague Marine Buffs
There are several stratagems that buff units of Plague Marine specifically, and these can combine to create some nasty stacked effects. There’s one for shooting – Virulent Rounds (1 CP) turns a squad’s bolt weapons into Plague Weapons and turns their attacks into AP-4 when they roll unmodified 6s to wound. Putrid Fecundity works when your opponent shoots a unit of Plague Marines, and gives them +1 to their Disgustingly Resilient rolls for a phase. It’s expensive – 2 CP for 10 or fewer models, 3 for more – but it’s a huge boost in suvivability for the unit. Trench Fighters (1 CP) and Miasmal Afflictions (2 CP) both work in the Fight phase, with the former giving the models +1 extra attack with their plague knives (which, remember, they just have one of by default) and the latter giving an enemy unit within 1″ -1 to its Toughness as long as it isn’t already affected by Mortarion’s aura with the same effect.
Much like Ritual of the Damned did for Rubrics, these are a major boost for Plague Marines, giving them extra longevity on par with the Thousand Sons’ +1 to invulnerable saves, a way to massively up their ranged output, which they can further boost with two of the generic faction stratagems (below), and a lot more versatility in melee combat, where they can weaken enemy units in melee considerably with Miasmal Afflictions. Note that Miasmal Afflictions works on Vehicles just fine, and while it’s expensive to do, a unit of Plague Marines could easily combine Miasmal Afflictions with Veterans of the Long War and Trench Fighters to wound a T8 target on 4+ or any T4 target on a 2+, jamming in extra attacks with knives. Pricey at 3 CP, it gives you a hell of a punch against targets that previously you just weren’t likely to do much damage to.
The one thing that’s missing here for Plague Marines is a delivery mechanism; while Rubric marines got Risen Rubricae to deploy Rubrics in forward positions, Plague Marines don’t have access to a similar Stratagem and that’s a shame because one of their biggest problems is being incredibly slow. So while Plague marines have become more potent and versatile, their big challenge will still be getting to the objectives you want them on. This may be solved in 9th edition by the ability to outflank units, though what that looks like remains to be seen. It’s still a clear blind spot for the faction but potentially one also solved by Terrax Pattern Termite Assault Drills or even Rhinos.
Finally, it is worth noting one very important thing: Miasmal Afflications, Putrid Fecundity, Trench-Fighters, and Virulent Rounds all key off the PLAGUE MARINES keyword and do not make the distinction that their targets must be DEATH GUARD, meaning that if you have a Death Guard detachment, you can use these freely on say, Alpha Legion Plague Marines, in the same way you could use the Thousand Sons stratagem on Alpha Legion Rubrics. I choose to believe this was intentional, even though I know in my heart of hearts it wasn’t. This is an immediate and large power boost, where suddenly Alpha Legion Plague Marines are very, very good. Though probably not as good as Rubrics.
Wings: Eh – I think the Alpha Legion are not as interested in these as they are Rubrics, especially as bringing a Death Guard detachment is substantially more of a tax than bringing a Thousand Sons one is. Still cute.
TheChirurgeon: It’s a different build, that’s for sure. I think in 8th the “tax” isn’t as bad as it sounds because you can take a Spearhead with three PBCs but who knows how it’ll play out in 9th.
General Army Buffs
There are a number of stratagems that affect DEATH GUARD units generally. Plaguechosen lets you give extra warlord traits to characters in your army; there isn’t a ton in the new traits you’ll use this for but being able to take multiple Winged Daemon Princes with Revoltingly Resilient, Rotten Constitution, and Hulking Physique is pretty solid, and if you’re running Mortarion’s Chosen Sons, Crawling Pustulance is also decent.
Wings: Why can’t they make up their minds if these are once per battle or not?!? Is there some sort of secret pattern? I also like the Inexorable’s trait Ferric Blight quite a bit with this for what it’s worth.
Beyond the warlord traits, the real stand-outs are Relentless Volleys and Creeping Blight. Endless Volleys works in the Shooting phase and turns the type profile a unit’s boltguns and combi-bolter boltgun halves into Rapid Fire 2 and its Combi-Bolters into Rapid Fire 3. This is a huge boost for Plague Marines and Blightlord Terminators, doubling the output of the former and increasing the latter’s output by 50%. At 1 CP for a 5-model unit and 2 CP for 6+ models however, it’s not cheap and likely to do its best work on a 5-model unit of Blightlords, though it’ll also work well combined with Virulent Rounds on Plague Marines. Creeping Blight (1 CP) is used in the Fight phase to give a unit +1 to damage rolls for its melee weapons and have unmodified wound rolls of 6 become AP-4 attacks for the rest of the phase. What keeps this from being amazing is that “damage roll” wording – Death Guard have very few variable damage melee weapons to work with (Blightlorsd can’t even take power fists), and that severely limits its utility. The units I do see this having value for are Deathshrouds, whose manreapers do D3 damage and Defilers, whose claws do D6 damage. Though it’s worth pointing out that it’s not terrible on a unit of Plague Marines, particularly with a Champion armed with a power fist. The AP-4 bonus on wounds is solid and combined with Trench-Fighters and the extra damage you’ll get on the Power Fist, it can help get you over a lot of tougher units.
Overwhelming Generosity (1 CP) is another very strong Stratagem that’s used in the shooting phase to add 6″ to the range of non-melee Plague weapons in a unit. This is a strong ability, but it’s difficult to squeeze extra value out of it; most units can’t have more than 1-2 ranged plague weapons, though it’s helpful on a Plagueburst Crawler using either plaguespitters or Entropy Cannons affected by Accelerated Entropy (see below). Ultimately its best use is probably on the Foul Blightspawn, who can use the extra 6″ range to wreak absolute havoc on unprepared targets with his 3-damage Plague Sprayer and combine it with Foulgush for maximum impact (see below).
Wings: the combo the internet has been going mad about with this is combining it with a unit of Plague Marines, a Biologus Putrifier and Blight Bombardment to set up that oft theorycrafted but rarely practical combo at 12″ range. Since that can now be set up by a unit coming out of a Terrax drill, there’s a reasonable chance this actually works this time.
TheChirurgeon: Reader Chris Maski pointed out that this combines with Virulent Rounds on Plague Marines to get 30″ range on the bolters, which can be really handy if you’re holding still and want to get the Malicious Volleys bonus.
Also worth noting is the Contaminated Monstrosity Stratagem, which is used before the battle to give the Disgustingly Resilient ability to a non-Cultist, non-Titanic Death Guard unit in the army. This costs 1 CP if the model has 12 or fewer wounds and 2 if it costs 13+ and opens up all kinds of possibilities. For one, it lets you correct some of the more embarrassing oversights in the Death Guard Codex, like Rhinos not having the ability, and second, it allows you to create some truly brutal Helforged Leviathans. Remember that statistically, a 5+ Disgustingly Resilient roll averages out to 50% more wounds, meaning that you are functionally creating 15W Rhinos and 21W Leviathans. We’ll talk more about the Leviathans later.
Wings: You can also just use this to power up your basic Terminator Lords or Terminator Sorcerors, and you often should.
TheChirurgeon: True, but that’s much more boooooring.
Wings: Boring but effective is part of my brand thank you very much.
Buffs for Other Specific Units
Finally there are a few other buffs that only affect specific units that are not Plague Marines. These tend to vary in utility based on how good the unit they’re modifying was to begin with. So let’s start with the best ones.
Accelerated Entropy (1 CP) is a pre-battle upgrade for a Plagueburst Crawler that makes its Entropy Cannons and those of other Plagueburst Crawlers within 7″ Plague Weapons that count damage rolls of 1 and 2 as 3 for the rest of the battle. This is a huge output boost for a unit that immediately makes all three of your PBCs better and if you crave redundancy, feel free to use it twice. On the other side of the Daemon Engine spectrum is the Myphitic Blight Haulers, which got the Parasitic Fumes Stratagem, which improves the AP of allies’ attacks against enemy models within 7″ by 1. This is a huge boost and a powerful reason to make full use of your Blight Haulers’ Movement attribute and ability to move and shoot heavy weapons with no penalty.
Wings: Accelerated Entropy is so good holy crap.
Foulgush (1 CP) makes the Foul Blightspawn even better by letting him roll an extra D6 for shots and weapon strength and drop the lowest result. This ups his average number of shots from 3.5 to 4.5 and the average strength from 7 to 8.5. Both of these are significant increases and help smooth the one downside to the Foul Blightspawn: Variance. These are wonderful for when you need to shoot down a pesky Eldar flyer with a firehouse of raw sewage.
Harbinger of Nurgle helps shore up the Lord of Contagion’s biggest weakness by giving him a Chaos Lord aura to re-roll hit rolls of 1. This is particularly noteworthy because Typhus happens to have the LORD OF CONTAGION keyword, meaning he can be chosen as the target of this Stratagem as well. It’s good on either model, and helpful if your strategy is to run Typhus with a horde of Poxwalkers, since they benefit greatly from the accuracy boost.
Death Guard helbrutes also get a huge boost from the Fire Fever Stratagem, which gives a HELBRUTE with two guns that chooses to fire them both at the same target the ability to re-roll hit rolls for a phase. This is notable for being keyword HELBRUTE, which means that this works on Helforged Leviathans and Helforged Contemptors, and note that because it does not specify which two guns, you can use this on say, a Helbrute with one gun arm and say, a combi-bolter embedded in a close combat weapon.
Next, Soul Harvest grants +3 attacks to a Death Guard Daemon Prince using the axe or sword option in exchange for only being able to attack INFANTRY. This does give you a bit more of a reason to consider a Prince with a weapon other than dual talons, as it means their drop-off against hordes is much smaller and they’re extremely deadly against INFANTRY characters.
Finally, Plague Surgeons were recently a finalist in Innes’ “Worst Units in 40k” series and with good reason, and while having more reasons to take Plague Marines makes them better, you’d still need persuading to take one. Luckily, Hypertoxic Tinctures goes a long way towards managing that, giving them an aura that lets nearby plague weapons re-roll wounds of 1 and 2, which as we’ll see later is seriously worth considering with one of the Companies.
The Death Guard get a new page of Relics, bringing their total up to 13 and helping give players some options beyond the Suppurating plate. These are all pretty damn good, and unlike the Warlord Traits, they’re in stiff competition with the extra relics from plague companies. Most Death Guard armies are going to want to take a second relic to take advantage of these.
The Ague Stone is a Lord of Contagion-only relic that reduces the Strength of enemy models within 3″ by 1. This is a really strong ability normally but it’s only OK on Death Guard, where having toughness 5 means that S4 models dropping to S3 doesn’t matter so against marines you won’t see much impact, and neither does S8 dropping to S7, so against Knight stomps nothing changes. The real benefit here is dropping S3 models to S2 so they suddenly need 6+ to wound, but there aren’t a ton of places that’s going to be relevant. So it’s neat, but tempered by the army’s natural strengths.
On the other hand, if you were looking for a reason to take a Chaos Lord in Terminator Armour in your army, Allwyther replaces a balesword with one that’s a S+1, AP-3, 2 damage Plague Weapon where enemies can’t take invulnerable saves against your attacks. Only the Chaos Lord and Plague Surgeon have access to this weapon and it’s better by far on a Chaos Lord, as while he’s not the combat monster a Daemon Prince is, it will do some insane damage against enemy characters. This is probably the best of the new relic weapon options; The Epidemicyst Blade is also very good though – it upgrades a Daemon Prince’s Hellforged Sword to be S+1 (bringing the attacks to S8) and causes unmodified hit rolls of 6 to generate additional hits. Wormspitter is also interesting as a 15″ S5 AP-2 plague weapon bolt pistol that marks the targets it hits – friendly units attacking them for the rest of the turn get the Plague Weapon ability. This is neat but there are so many other, better ways to get the Plague Weapon ability now that this really doesn’t seem like it’s worth using a relic slot on.
Wings: I guess if you’re spamming butcher cannons this starts to look interesting, but it’s still hard to set up.
Finally there are upgrades for the Noxious Blightbringer and Psykers. The Daemon’s Toll is a Noxious Blightbringer relic that gives non-cultist/poxwalker models whose units are within 7″ a 5+ invulnerable save. This is great for protecting key vehicles that don’t have an invulnerable save on turn 1. Helbrutes and transports can really use a 5+ invulnerable save to ensure they get a chance to move on turn 1 if you’re going second. It’s a big investment for a save, but the Blightbringer isn’t too expensive and he also helps boost your turn 1 Advance moves. On the other side, The Putrid Periapt gives a psyker one extra known psychic power and once per psychic phase the model can regain D3 lost wounds after it manifests a power. This is OK on sorcerers and plaguecasters but potentially OK on Winged Daemon Princes, where the extra wounds and ability to get into combat combine well with the ability to heal. It isn’t as exciting as some similar effects though, as it doesn’t give you an extra cast.
In addition to the new stratagems and relics, Death Guard now have access to subfactions! There are seven Plague Companies to choose from and while these do not have passive abilities, each one gives you access to a new Warlord Trait, an extra relic, and two additional stratagems. These are technically free real estate for your army, giving you additional options at no cost, but you’ll have to pay with a relic/warlord trait slot or CP if you want to actually take advantage. In terms of power well, the real power is in the rules we’ve already talked about. A couple of the plague companies are good, one is amazing, and the rest are neat but not particularly powerful or interesting. They all add some interesting flavor to the army however, and most of them are built around a specific unit group, so if you have a preferred play style, one specific company might jump out at you.
1st Company: The Harbingers
The Harbingers are Typhus’ crew, and if he’s in a Harbingers detachment, he gains the HARBINGERS keyword. Any Poxwalker units in the detachment also gain the HARBINGERS keyword. The Harbingers are all about Poxwalkers and buffing them. Their Warlord Trait, Shamblerot, allows the Warlord to add one model to a friendly HARBINGERS POXWALKERS unit within 7″ every time he kills an enemy unit in melee. You still have to pay reinforcement points for each model you add that takes the unit above starting strength however, making this one kind of a dud. Walking across the table with a bunch of Poxwalkers is already slow and likely to get you blown off the table, and needing melee kills to make this go mean that while it’s likely to happen after you’ve lost some models, it may also be too late.
That said, this could become much more useful when combined with From the Carrion Heaps (below) to deep strike a unit or two of Poxwalkers, or with the ability to Outflank units in 9th edition, however that ends up working. The Harbingers’ Relic is the Rotskull Bomb, which replaces a blight grenade with one that’s Grenade 2D3, S5 AP-2 2 damage, has the Plague Weapon rule, and automatically hits its target. A decent proposition if you can get within 6″ but at that range you’re going to be charging and not lobbing any grenades, making it more like a really good anti-charge deterrent if you’re going to spend the CP to Overwatch. It isn’t worth spending a relic slot on overall though.
The company’s two stratagems are Life Beyond Death, which for 1 CP does D3 mortal wounds to a unit that killed the last model in a unit of Poxwalkers, and From the Carrion Heaps, a once-per-battle Stratagem that lets you upgrade Harbingers Poxwalkers before the battle (1 CP for one unit, 3 CP for two units). The units you pick aren’t set up during deployment but instead pop up at the end of a Movement phase anywhere wholly within 9″ of a battlefield edge and more than 9″ from enemy models. From the Carrion Heaps is the real value here, and something you’re going to build around in your Poxwalker-heavy army, using it to push the normally molasses-slow Poxwalkers forward and potentially teleporting key buffing units like Typhus in to support them rather than walking them.
The Harbingers are neat and they benefit Typhus in an interesting way but ultimately their value is tied to the value of Poxwalkers, which currently isn’t very high. C+
2nd Company: The Inexorable
The 2nd company are all about mechanized assaults and rolling into battle in sweet tanks. Their Warlord Trait, Ferric Blight, improves the AP of Inexorable models when they attack a VEHICLE that’s within 7″ of the warlord. The company’s relic, The Leechspore Casket, which for every model destroyed by a melee weapon by its bearer, it heals an INEXORABLE VEHICLE model within 18″ by one wound, to a maximum of 3 per turn per vehicle. Ferric Blight is a very solid ability that helps Death Guard deal with vehicles, normally a bit of a blind spot for the army with its relatively small number of anti-vehicle guns. It’s also honestly kind of just fine on a Daemon Prince that wants to whack vehicles.
The Inexorable Stratagems are Unholy Essence, which for 1 CP gives up to three vehicles in your army the Inexorable Advance ability for a Shooting phase. This ability is all but useless as we move into 9th edition and vehicles no longer suffer the penalty for moving and firing heavy weapons. The other, Ferric Miasma, gives an enemy INFANTRY unit -2 to its charge rolls for 1 CP when it charges one of your INEXORABLE units. This is pretty useful for protecting your screening units or key vehicles like a Leviathan Dreadnought from getting charged, particularly from units that can boost their post-deep strike charge with something like Canticle of Hate or the Tip of the Spear Warlord trait.
The Inexorable have a couple of interesting abilities but if you’re looking to for a vehicle-heavy strategy, there are better ways to do it, as we’ll see with the Poxmongers company below. Or with the Daemon’s Toll giving key vehicles a 5+ invulnerable save. C+
3rd Company: Mortarion’s Anvil
This Company are more defensively minded than some of the others. The Warlord Trait, Gloaming Bloat, makes its bearer harder to wound, with wound rolls of 1-3 always resulting in a failure. The Relic, Tollkeeper, is an upgrade for a Tallyman model and gives friendly models within 7″ an extra hit each time they roll an unmodified 6 to hit with a melee weapon. Gloaming Bloat is an interesting ability; Transhuman Physiology is normally a more powerful ability on T4 models where getting wounded on a 2+ or 3+ is really likely. On a T5 model or a T6 Daemon Prince, the value is much harder to come by, particularly when you can already use the Hulking Physique Warlord trait to push to T7. It’s really a question of how much S8+ you plan to deal with and whether you’re up against an army that will use +1 to wound abilities, such as Blood Angels. We’ll dive into this more in a future Hammer of Math article. Tollkeeper is OK but it doesn’t make the Tallyman worth taking.
Futility Made Flesh buffs a Terminator unit in the opponent’s Shooting phase, reducing the damage of incoming attacks by 1 for a phase. It costs 2 CP if the Terminator unit has 5 or fewer models and 3 CP otherwise. This is a wonderful boost when you’re up against knight gatling cannons or other high-volume, multi-wound firepower and combines well with Disgustingly Resilient to make a unit of Blightlords absolutely brutal to deal with. If your opponent is foolish enough to shoot at them first (allowing you to trigger it), this can also combo with the Deathshroud Terminators’ Silent Bodyguard ability if your opponent makes the mistake of targeting them at some point in the Shooting phase, since they can activate this Stratagem and following that transfer attacks to have their damage decreased. This makes protecting Mortarion from high-damage firepower much easier, and given that Deathshrouds come in smaller unit sizes, you’ll be able to avoid paying the 3 CP cost for the Stratagem. I like it for them just as much as Blightlords. It’s expensive, but a good once-per-game ability to remind your opponent how big a mistake it is to shoot at Death Guard.
Relaptic Assault is used in the opponent’s Charge phase and lets one unit of Infantry perform a Heroic Intervention. This is also wonderful for catching an opponent off-guard, and is great with both forward-deployed Blightlords that an opponent wants to dance around and Plague Marine sitting on objectives further back.
There’s a lot to like about Mortarion’s Anvil, particularly if you’re running Terminators. Both Stratagems are very good, and if you’re in this plague company, it’s for those. B
4th Company: The Wretched
The Wretched are all about psychic powers and summoning. Their Warlord Trait, The Eater Plague, regains the Warlord a wound each time it kills a model in melee, up to 3 per phase. That’s an easy thing to do, and a nice bonus on a Warlord with Revoltingly Resilient to make any wounds lost hard to come by. The company’s relic, The Daemon’s Favour, upgrades a Malignant Plaguecaster, replacing its Pestilential Fallout ability with the Torrent of Putrefaction. This upgrades the ability to do 1 mortal wound if you manifested the power with a roll of less than 7, and D3 mortal wounds if your roll was 7+. Neither of these is particularly special. Plaguecasters’ Pestilential Fallout ability only has a 7″ range to begin with and what they really need is a way to make casting more reliable for Miasma of Pestilence. Fortunately, Sevenfold Blessings does exactly that (see below).
Sevenfold Blessings upgrades a single Wretched Psyker before the battle for 1 CP, letting them re-roll one of the dice whenever they take a psychic test. This is a tremendously good ability that makes getting off Miasma of Pestilence much more reliable as well as Putrescent Vitality (7+ on 2D6 with a single re-roll is 84% odds). The Rotted Veil (1 CP) is used at the end of the Movement phase to perform a Daemonic Ritual. It can be used even if the character has moved or arrived as reinforcements this turn (they count as stationary), and instead of the standard roll, you roll a D6 and add 7 to the result. This improves your average result significantly vs. 2D6 – you go from a 2 to 12 spread with an expected value of 7 to an 8 to 13 spread with an expected value of 10.5 – but what exactly are you going to summon with it? It’s not good enough for a Great Unclean One (PL 17), so its best use is reliably summoning one of two things:
- Poxbringers, who are PL 4 and even without Stratagems from Chaos Daemons are helpful for their Locus of Nurgle ability that gives +1 Strength to nearby NURGLE daemons. This boosts Death Guard daemon engines like the Plagueburst Crawler and Defiler, helps Possessed, and even bumps Mortarion and Daemon Princes a bit. This is also guaranteed to go off and while it’s not difficult to roll a 4+ on 2D6 normally, there’s a lot of value to the Stratagem allowing you to move or teleport in before summoning, and that makes this worth strong consideration.
- Plaguebearers. Getting a unit of 30 of these is a long shot (you need a 5+, so it’s a 33% chance), but you can roll before you summon, so if you get lower, a unit of 20 is free to summon. Dropping 20 Plague Bearers onto the table and then immediately casting Miasma of Pestilence on them is a powerful move in 8th edition, though note that it’ll disappear in 9th when hit modifiers cap out at -1 (so you won’t need to stack the spell on them). This is great for creating an instant tarpit, and it’s mostly OK without the Chaos Daemons stratagems, since investing a ton more CP into the unit to deal extra damage isn’t really the point.
Overall, there’s some good stuff here. Summoning in 40k still isn’t great, but The Rotted Veil really improves it by making it something you can do on the move and giving you certainty around what you can get, even if you’re limited to Nurgle choices. The Sevenfold Blessings upgrade is also wonderful, and worth considering on your Winged Daemon Prince. Overall, pretty good, despite a mediocre Warlord Trait and Relic. B
5th Company: The Poxmongers
The 5th company are all about Daemon Engines and this naturally makes them the strongest, because it means they’re all about the faction’s best non-Blightlord units. The company’s Warlord Trait, Sanguous Flux, improves the AP of Poxmongers models within 7″ by 1 when they hit Infantry units in melee. It’s a solid improvement, but the big winner here is the Company relic, the Ironclot Furnace, which is a generic relic that gives Poxmongers Daemon Engine units within 7″ a 4+ invulnerable save. That’s a significant boost in survivability for many units, and it’s especially notable on Plagueburst Crawlers, which were already some of the game’s hardiest units. This also works wonderfully with Myphitic Blight-Haulers and Defilers, helping these units shrug off half of their incoming attacks. For bonus points, don’t forget to give your Defiler Disgustingly Resilient as well with the Contaminated Monstrosity stratagem. Being able to move and shoot with no penalty in 9th edition boosts the utility of all daemon engines significantly and the new melee shooting rules ensure they’ll be able to turn their ability to fight and shoot into an asset rather than a liability. Imagine if you will a trio of Plagueburst Crawlers with upgraded entropy cannons protected by a 4+ invulnerable save coming from a Chaos Lord lending his re-roll 1s to hit aura just rumbling up the field. Add a Plague Surgeon bearing the Hypertonic Tinctures Stratagem upgrade. Now they re-roll wound rolls of 1 and 2 with their plague weapons (which includes the upgraded Entropy cannons).
Bilious Bloodrush lets a Poxmongers Daemon Engine shoot in the Shooting phase even if it Fell Back that turn; this is a huge benefit, though maybe not as necessary now that Plageburst Crawlers will be able to clear out surrounding units in Engagement Range with their Plaguespitters. The Flux Abated heals a Poxmongers Daemon Engine D3 lost wounds if it destroys an enemy model and given that this is both easy and your only way to heal vehicles is with plague company-specific abilities, it’s a really good ability to have in your back pocket, especially when the wounds you heal are protected by being T8, having a 4+ invulnerable save, and Disgustingly Resilient. Both cost 1 CP and both are a steal at that price.
The Poxmongers are the most powerful plague company choice and worth building around since they don’t require jumping through a ton of hoops to make mediocre units good. A
Wings: In 8th 3 Poxmonger PBCs with a Plague Surgeon and Chaos Lord would be seriously worth looking at in soup thanks to all the buffs you can stack on them. We’ll see if that’s still true in 9th.
6th Company: The Ferrymen
These guys control the plague fleets and their primary focus is on Blightlord Terminators. Their Warlord Trait, The Droning gives enemies within 12″ +2 to their morale tests, and the relic, The Ferryman’s Scythe, replaces a plaguereaper with one that’s a S+4, AP-3, 3 damage Plague Weapon that does extra mortal wounds each time you roll a 6 to wound with it. The Droning is interesting in that usually these abilities give -1 Ld or +1 to rolls instead of 2, but it’s still not very useful in 8th edition. Maybe 9th will make it more viable. The Scythe is interesting though since moving to S8 is very significant and with the help of Mortarion or the new Miasmal Afflictions Stratagem, you can ensure that almost anything you’d be attacking is something you’re wounding on a 3+. The downside is that it’s only an option for a Lord of Contagion.
The Stratagems are pretty good though: Vermid Whispers (1 CP) is used in the Shooting phase to give a unit of Blightlord Terminators +1 to their hit rolls for a phase. This is a huge boost when combined with the Relentless Volleys Stratagem and even without it, it’s worth using. Blightlords were already solid threats to drop in and wreak havoc and anything that increases their damage output is very welcome. Alternatively, Blightlords can swap out their combi-bolters for combi-plasma and do the Wolf Guard thing of dropping in and putting out an obscene number of plasma shots, albeit without the protection of another +1 to hit (this is a good place to bring in a ringer like a Sorcerer with Prescience or have a Chaos Lord or upgrade Lord of Contagion to re-roll 1s so you can still fire the bolter halves of the guns).
On Droning Wings (2 CP) is used at the start of the Movement phase to boost the aura abilities of one FERRYMEN unit by 7″ for the rest of the turn. This is decent but expensive. It’s going to do some of its best/funniest work on things like the Plague Surgeon’s Tainted Narthecium aura, where boosting that to 10″ range gives it some real kick and this combines well with the Hypertoxic Tinctures ability, allowing you to boost both auras’ ranges at once. More hilariously, you can boost the Foul Blightspawn’s Revolting Stench aura, where suddenly it makes enemy units within 14″ that charged this turn fight at the same time as non-charging units. It can also do double-duty on a Lord of Contagion who has been upgraded with the Harbinger of Nurgle ability.
There’s some cool stuff here, and if you’re running Blightlords, this is worth as much consideration as Mortarion’s Anvil. B
Wings: The +1 to hit is big money on Blightlords, because just like Wolf Guard they have the option of going deep on combi-plasmas. Combining this with Veterans of the Long War lets you melt almost anything, and it’s sufficiently good that you might actually look at this over the Anvil.
7th Company: Mortarion’s Chosen Sons
These guys are the custom, small-batch plague brewers of the Death Guard. They don’t really enjoy all of those corporate plagues and they’ve been experimenting a lot with like, berries and notes of banana in their diseases. Their Warlord Trait, Crawling Pustulance, gives models -1 to hit the Warlord with melee weapons and when enemy units without FLY try to fall back from this Warlord, you roll a D6 and on a 2+ they take D3 mortal wounds. That’s not quite as good as trapping them, but it’s a good consolation prize. Still, you’ll more likely rather have a Warlord Trait that helps you survive after they’ve Fallen Back or helps you murder them outright beforehand. The Company’s Relic, Vomitryx, upgrades a Foul Blightspawn’s Plague Sprayer with one that’s an Assault 7, S7, AP-3, 2 damage Plague weapon that automatically hits. Basically, trading the shot uncertainty for average Strength and lower damage. I don’t love this, since being 3 damage is one of the key benefits of the Plague Sprayer and now that we have access to the Foulgush Stratagem I see this as more something you give to your second Foul Blightspawn to help keep their output consistent since you can only use Foulgush once per phase.
The Alembichal Narthecium Stratagem upgrades a Plague Surgeon before the battle, giving it a special Narthecium that lets friendly Mortarion’s Chosen Sons Infantry within 3″ re-roll Disgustingly Resilient rolls of a 1 or 2. That’s neat, and as with other boosts, probably combines with Hypertoxic Tinctures to make Plague Surgeons worth consideration now. Plague Brewers (1 CP) is used in the Shooting phase to upgrade the Plague Belchers, plaguespurt gauntlets, and plague spewers of a single unit to damage 2 until the end of the phase. This is… only OK. It’s cheap, which helps, but the challenge is going to be the number of weapons you are limited to in a squad. Only two plague marines in a squad can have belchers/spewers, and likewise 1 out of every five Blightlords. Deathshrouds all get gauntlets but these S3 AP 0 weapons are kind of a waste for a damage buff. So your best option is on a squad of Plague Marines and Blightlords, and then only if you’re in range with both spewers. It’s a neat idea laid low by the reality of weapon options.
Addendum: Reddit user lansalt pointed out that thanks to the FAQ, Daemon Princes can also take a plague spewer with a hellforged sword. This can also give you a good target to use Plague Brewers on.
Wings: If you wanted to try going deep with plague marines I could maybe see this, re-rolling 1s and 2s on DR is pretty tasty, especially if you buff a big unit with Putrid Fecundity.
Mortarion’s Chosen Sons are OK. There’s not nearly as much to get excited about here as some other options and the upgrades don’t give a coherent vision of how this plague company wants to play. C+
So what does this mean for the Death Guard overall? Well, I think it’s an exciting time to be a Death Guard player. For any other Codex, I’d look at these buffs and think they were insane. The raw power of what’s here is incredible, and it’s a big shot in the arm for an ailing faction that, with 9th edition, will suddenly find itself flush with CP without having to soup in a bunch of support from Daemons and Chaos Space Marines. Will you still want to consider a CSM Sorcerer for Warptime, or Chaos Daemons for a Great Unclean One with a bell? Sure. But you definitely don’t have to do that now, and there’s a ton here that, when combined with the 9th edition rules changes, makes Death Guard significantly harder to deal with. Plague marines now occupy a real consideration space the in the army, while Blightlord Terminators and Plagueburst Crawlers suddenly look significantly better, and I can’t believe I’m saying this but I think there’s a space for Plague Surgeons as well. My janky “Myphitic Blight Haulers and Great Unclean One with a Bell” build is probably still jank, but a focused list that uses squads of Plague Marines as its troops/tough objective holders supported by PBCs and Blightlords that can teleport in and wreak havoc on an enemy’s backline now has a lot going for it.
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