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Beautiful Violence: How to Win (Excessively) with Slaanesh

Quick. Beautiful. Lithe. Alluring. Deadly.

Slaanesh Daemons are back, and here to stay in 9th Edition.

(Artwork Credit: Fantasy Flight Games)

Slaanesh is, broadly speaking, an anti-melee melee army. That didn’t really work in 8th Edition, which revolved competitively about bringing brutal shooting and consistently holding a limited number of objectives. Now that opponents have to come contest objectives to score Primary and Secondary points, Slaanesh’s ability to overwhelm opponents can directly translate into Victory Points, and ultimately wins. This article is your guide to getting those wins with Slaanesh Daemons.

This guide is organized into four main sections: General tactics, unit analysis, discussion about stratagems/relics/Warlord traits, and finally recommended Matched Play lists for both 1,000 and 2,000 points (While 2,000 points is the main points value for competitive play, I’ve heard from international readers that tournaments in countries besides the UK/US are often held at 1,000 points so I’ll try to help those readers too). Let’s dive right in.

General Tactics

The single most important key to victory with Slaanesh is keeping opponents locked in combat with you. You cannot just stand on objectives and taking 3 or 4 full rounds of shooting, or you will get tabled. Playing Slaanesh revolves around using Fight phase movement to consistently end up in situations where large parts of your army can’t be shot at all, and then killing the unit you are locked in combat with in their turn (or your Psychic phase) and then repeating the cycle by charging other units. It is easy to make a positioning mistake and have the whole house of cards fall apart, so the most important thing you can do after reading this guide is go practice it yourself.

There are four ways a Slaanesh Daemons army can keep an opponent locked in combat:

  • Fiends of Slaanesh (opposing units cannot Fall Back from Fiends unless they have Fly)
  • The Contorted Epitome’s “Horrible Fascination” aura
  • Using the Forbidden Gem to turn off an opposing Character in the Movement phase
  • Wrapping (surrounding an opponent’s model so that they physically can’t move away)

9th Edition introduced the Desperate Breakout stratagem, which for 2 CP allows an opponent to remove a unit from a wrap. This makes it much harder in general for armies to do what Slaanesh needs to do, but Slaanesh was ironically one of the least affected armies because we have so many other ways to keep opponents in combat.

Examples of Secondaries that can work very well for a Slaanesh Daemon army are Engage On All Fronts/Domination, Mental Interrogation (we quickly run out of psychic powers worth casting and are aggressively rushing towards their Characters anyway), Grind Them Down, and Deploy Scramblers (especially if you have a cheap unit to deepstrike like Furies)

Unit Analysis

Keepers of Secrets (10/10): Keepers of Secrets are truly one of 40K’s All-Star units. The blend of high volume and high damage attacks on an extremely mobile platform makes it a threat to every army in the game, and it’s mobility and defensive tricks (such as being able to combine Bewitching Aura with Aura of Acquiescence for a unit that is -1 to Hit in combat and reduces the Attacks characteristic of nearby enemies by 2) mean Building a list around 3 Keepers and the named variant (Shalaxi Hellbane) is a legitimate strategy.

I often see people asking which loadout to use on their Keepers (they have the option of a 6″ Assault 6 S6 AP2 D2 whip, a 6+++ Feel No Pain, healing d3 Wounds after a Fight phase in which it killed any non-vehicle models, and additional MW after consolidating). I used to always take the Shining Aegis for the additional defense or Sinistrous Hand for the healing, but I’ve grown to love the Living Whip for the ranged damage. That whip is just ridiculously good at killing a wide variety of targets, and isn’t too far off from being the equivalent of adding 6 attacks to the Snapping Claws profile.

Syll’Esske (9/10): I’ll address the biggest issue with Syll’Esske right off the bat: they are expensive. While its true that you could get an entire Keeper of Secrets or block of 30 Daemonettes for the points you pay for Syll’Esske, they provide enough value to justify those points. The ability to re-roll Morale tests pairs very well with large blocks of Daemonettes with Daemonic Icons to fish for a 1 and bring d6 models back, and both the re-roll 1’s to hit aura and +1 Strength auras are excellent force multipliers. And that hasn’t even touched on Syll’Esske’s combat ability. People don’t expect this, but Syll’Esske hits almost as hard in combat versus big targets as a Keeper of Secrets (8 S8 AP3 D3 attacks vs 6 S8 AP3 D3 attacks and 4 S6 AP3 D3 attacks) while providing excellent horde clearance with an average of 16 S5 AP1 D1 attacks.

The Contorted Epitome (10/10): Like Syll’Esske, the Contorted Epitome is a complicated and expensive bundle of rules that ends up being 100% worth it. The Epitome is both strong in combat (10 multi-damage attacks is nothing to sneeze at) and in the Psychic phase with bonuses to both casting and denying, but what elevates it to truly top-tier is it’s “Horrible Fascination” special rule. This 6″ aura, which completely prevents enemy units from Falling Back if you roll 3D6 equal to their leadership, opens up so many possibilities for trapping units in combat to keep the rest of your army safe. Always take the Phantasmagoria psychic power on your Contorted Epitome, as the -1 Leadership bubble helps proc both the Horrible Fascination rule and the Forbidden Gem relic.

The Contorted Epitome also has the <Slaanesh> <Cavalry> keywords, meaning it can use the Sinuous Undulation stratagem from Engine War to receive -1 to Hit when targetted in the enemy’s shooting phase. This stratagem, when combined with the Contorted Epitome’s innate T5 and 2+ Mortal Wound shrug, makes the Contorted Epitome extremely resilient against any enemy snipers.

Daemon Prince (3/10): Daemon Princes are a strong unit in other Chaos codices, but as Slaanesh Daemons they are made almost entirely redundant by Syll’Esske, who provides the same buff but with better combat and additional auras at only a slightly higher cost.

All Variants of Herald on Chariots (4/10): The Herald on Exalted Seeker Chariot is basically the answer to the question, “What if someone took a Lord Discordant from the Chaos Space Marines codex, and just removed every single possible reason to actually take it?”. The Heralds below 10 Wounds are decent because they can benefit from “Look Out, Sir!”, but at that point I would question why you didn’t just run a Herald on foot and use the significant amount of points saved somewhere else.

Infernal Enrapturess (5/10): Remember when we discussed Syll’Esske and the Contorted Epitome, and came to the conclusion that they were expensive and had a lot of unrelated auras but it added up to a total package that was absolutely worth bringing? The Infernal Enrapturess is unfortunately the flip side of that coin, with a lot of conflicting abilities that add up to less than the sum of her parts. Her shooting attack is underwhelming, the ability to resurrect Slaanesh models on a 6+ is unlikely to ever matter, and the aura to disrupt enemy Psykers isn’t useful often enough to be worth bringing. She’s a brilliant model, and I hope the next codex gives her datasheet a makeover so that we see more of her model on the tabletop.

The Masque (8/10): If you’re running a Daemonette heavy list, the Masque is an excellent pick. She gives all <DAEMONETTE> units within 6″ -1 to Hit combat, and gives all attacks against one enemy unit she is in combat with +1 to Hit. The Masque’s +1 to Hit buff is declared at the start of the Fight phase, so even if the enemy interrupts combat to kill The Masque, your other units will still keep the +1 to Hit buff against that enemy until the end of the phase.

Fun fact: You know who else has the <DAEMONETTE> keyword and is -1 to Hit in combat while within 6″ of The Masque? Syll’Esske, and the Contorted Epitome, and every Chariot variant.

Herald of Slaanesh (7/10): The Herald on foot isn’t a great unit, but at a mere 55 points she provides enough value to justify her cost. The main use of the Herald on foot is as a cheap holder for the Forbidden Gem relic in a mixed Gods Daemon lists or Chaos soup. The issue is that in a pure Slaanesh Daemons army, HQ slots are at such a premium that it becomes hard to fit in a Herald regardless of points cost.

Daemonettes (8/10): One of the better Troops choices in the game currently, Daemonettes are just quick and deadly enough to overwhelm the opponent in large numbers. The key thing to keep in mind is that Daemonettes can be very durable against melee attacks, but are very fragile to shooting attacks. In combat, they can be -1 to Hit from the Masque and give -1 Attack opponents through the Aura of Acquiescence. There are no equivalent buffs for Daemonettes that can be used against shooting attacks (other than Warp Surge, which becomes oppressively expensive in CP cost if you have to use it often). The key to keeping Daemonettes alive is combine them with the combat wrapping techniques mentioned in the General Tactics section above. Their large number of models are excellent for covering space and touching multiple units, which is a great way to ensure that one unlucky Horrible Fascination roll from the Contorted Epitome doesn’t expose your Daemonettes to an entire army’s worth of shooting.

Fiends (9/10): Fiends play a key role in a Slaanesh army, as they are our most reliable way to trap opponents in combat. Unlike the Contorted Epitome which has to roll to keep opponents in combat, Fiends are guaranteed to trap an opposing unit in combat unless it has <Fly>. Fiends are rather expensive and quite fragile, so you have to use all of your Fight phase tricks to keep them alive, such as charging your Fiends into one end of a line of units and charging another unit into the middle of that line of models so they can’t pile in towards your Fiend and only one enemy model can fight your Fiends.

While Fiends require finesse to use, the upside is so, so high (complete immunity from shooting for large parts of your army) that they have to be rated as one of the army’s strongest units. Many competitive Slaanesh lists simply couldn’t function without Fiends.

Furies (4/10): The humble Fury is the Daemon codex’s best option for performing actions, since they are 12″ moving Infantry with Fly. The reason I rate them so low as Slaanesh is that Slaanesh armies are generally not taking Secondaries that require Infantry actions. Furies are a solid unit for 9th Edition and will be rated much higher in my Nurgle and Tzeentch faction overviews.

Hellflayer (5/10): The combination of D6 attacks on the main weapon and points cost (80 points is simply too much for 6 T5 Wounds with no defensive buffs and limited offense) sinks what could potentially be an interesting unit. The fact that the Bladed Axle is now S9 instead of S10 near a Herald, and thus wounding all the common T5 units in the game these days on 3’s instead of 2’s, is the final nail in its coffin.

Seekers (6/10): My main issue with Seekers is that Fiends have made them rather redundant in most lists. Fiends move just as fast (slightly slower since they can’t take an Instrument of Chaos, to be fair), do roughly equal damage to everything besides hordes, but also come with the no-Fall Back rule that is one of the most valuable in the game.

In addition, Fiends have the <Beast> keyword and can go through ruins, while Seekers are <Cavalry> and have to go around every terrain piece. This means that Seekers can underperform in terms of quickness if there are some large terrain pieces in the middle of the board. Seekers are definitely solid, but every time I spent points on Seekers, I end up wishing I had brought more Fiends or Daemonettes instead.

Exalted Seeker Chariot (7/10): The Exalted Seeker Chariot is quietly an excellent anti-horde option, hitting on a 2+ with a large volume of attacks (and a stratagem to get additional hits on unmodified 6’s to Hit), and is surprisingly durable for the points. Clocking in at 12 T5 Wounds for only 80 points (the same cost as a Hellflayer with 6 T5 Wounds), the Exalted Seeker Chariot actually functions excellently to soak overwatch for your more valuable units or screening out wherever is needed. I wish it had more AP or damage on its attacks, but the Exalted Seeker Chariot is a perfectly fine option for Slaanesh players… just watch out for all of its spikes and bits overhanging the edge of the base, which make it rather impractical to use in many situations.

Seeker Chariot (3/10): It’s not the worst option in the game, but there is just no reason to use Seeker Chariots when the Exalted Seeker Chariot exists. The Scything Impact rule (each enemy model within 1″ take a Mortal Wound on a 6+ after the Seeker Chariot completes its charge) seems interesting on paper but just doesn’t work in reality. If the opponent has their models in a straight line, or really any shape besides a concave U-shape with the opening facing towards you, you’re never going to get more than 3 or 4 models in range, which means you’re doing on average only around half a Mortal Wound. I’d love to see this rule re-written in the next codex to actually mean something (maybe d3 Mortal Wounds to an enemy unit you charged on a 2+?), but in the meantime Seeker Chariots can be safely ignored unless you just painted up the model and really want to use it.

Key Stratagems, Relics, and Warlord Traits

Rather than overwhelm the reader by going over every single stratagem and option for equipping your Characters in the codex and Psychic Awakening book, I decided to highlight the most valuable stratagems to allocate your CP towards and some recommend relics and Warlord traits.

Stratagems

  • Aura of Acquiescence (1 CP, reduce enemy Attacks within 3″ by 1): Crucial for keeping your wrapping units alive, and a game winner in matchups against hordes
  • Sinuous Undulation (1 CP, -1 to Hit in Shooting against Slaanesh Cavalry): A great durability boost that should be popped whenever your Epitome or Seekers are targetted
  • Razor Sharp Caress (1 CP, +1 AP for Daemonette Infantry attacks): Makes your Daemonettes significantly more dangerous against power armour, and generates an absurd -5 AP on a 6+ to Wound

Warlord Traits

  • Bewitching Aura (Enemy models within 6″ have -1 Attacks): Giving nearby opponents -1 or -2 Attack makes opposing melee Characters much less threatening
  • Celerity of Slaanesh (+3″ to your Movement): Simple, but very effective on models like Keepers or the Contorted Epitome that need to get where they’re going quickly.

Relics

  • The Forbidden Gem (Prevent an opposing Character within 12″ from acting for a phase on a Leadership check): The Daemon’s solution for the Nightbringer, this relic has an enormous impact on how your opponent can use their Characters
  • Soulstealer (Heal one Wound every time you kill a model in combat): For Keepers of Secrets, who are killing 5 or 6 models every time they fight, this can be a literal lifesaver–especially when stacked with the Sinistrous Hand for an additional d3 Wounds healed

Sample Lists

Below are a few sample competitive Slaanesh Daemons lists which you can use for inspiration when writing your own lists, or playtest yourself. I do want to stress that there is no substitute for practice, especially for an army like Slaanesh which relies on nailing the intricacies of the Fight phase. I highly recommend getting your Slaanesh Daemons on the tabletop and playing 5-10 games before you make any judgements on the strength of your army or list, although that may not be possible for many people currently.

Keeper Monster Mash (1000 Points)

  • Keeper of Secrets: Warlord, Soulstealer, Bewitching Aura, Sinistrous Hand, Pavane of Slaanesh, Hysterical Frenzy
  • Keeper of Secrets: Forbidden Gem, Shining Aegis, Phantasmagoria, Delightful Agonies
  • Shalaxi Hellbane: Living Whip, Symphony of Pain, Hysterical Frenzy
  • 3 x 10 Daemonettes
  • 2 Fiends of Slaanesh

Daemonettes for Days (1000 Points)

  • Contorted Epitome
  • 3 x 26 Daemonettes
  • 2 x 2 Fiends of Slaanesh

Keeper Monster Mash (2000 Points, list is arranged in 3 Patrols)

  • 3 x Keeper of Secrets with Sinistrous Hand
  • Shalaxi Hellbane
  • Syll’Esske
  • Contorted Epitome: Warlord, Celerity of Slaanesh, Forbidden Gem
  • 2 x 10 Daemonettes
  • 1 x 30 Daemonettes
  • 2 x 4 Fiends

Travis Starnes’s 2nd Place San Antonio Shootout List (2000 Points)

  • Keeper of Secrets
  • Keeper of Secrets
  • Syll’Esske
  • 3 x 30 Daemonettes with Icon and Banner
  • 3 x 5 Fiends of Slaanesh

Hope you enjoyed diving deep into all the pleasures that the Dark Prince has to offer. As always, have fun, stay safe, and may the true gods bless your rolls.

15 replies on “Beautiful Violence: How to Win (Excessively) with Slaanesh”

A Little correction.

In a 1000 pti list we can have only 2 similar datasheet and the 3x keeper or 3x fiends is incorrect.

For the remaining part is an intense and guilty pleasure reading this article.

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Glad you enjoyed the article, thanks for reading!

You’re spot on about the “Rule of 2” at 1000 points. That being said, the 1000 point lists only have 2 units of Fiends, and Shalaxi Hellbane doesn’t count as a “Keeper of Secrets” for the “Rule of 2/3” since it only limits the the same datasheet (except for Daemon Princes which got FAQ’d). You can go wild and run around with 2 Keepers and Shalaxi at 1000 points, if you wish

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Very good read,

I agree with pretty much with all of your points except the Epitome and Fiends.

The epitome is an incredibly underwhelming unit and has lost me every single game I have taken it in. It is very expensive for what it gives you. Slaanesh psychic powers aren’t great in general, and being to cast 2 isn’t fantastic. This unit is basically anti GEQ and MEQ killer, which we have plenty of in our army already and it doesn’t offer any good high strength attacks. The fact that it has a 2+++ against FNP is nice, but I never get any use out of it. Any time I try to get it into combat it dies in 1-2 rounds because it is so incredibly flimsy and my opponent will just one-shot it with something like a power claw or thunder hammer.
Syl’Esske isn’t that fantastic either, but he provides that much needed 1 reroll aura and has a STR8 weapon.

The fiends are too flimsy to be really of any use. They usually get shot off the board before they can even enter meele. And in meele they perform pretty poorly. Their point is to tie units up in combat, but once they do they can barely do anything themselves

Also, it’s a shame that our KoS pretty much have to carry our whole army. I hope next edition gives us better unit balancing, I’d love the chariots to be better

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Very good read. I’m planning to experiment with Daemonic Ritual in my Chaos Knights list and Slaanesh reinforcements seem like a fun option. It may be not working in super competitive games but being able to bring 20 Deamonetes and few Fiends or Seekers sounds fun. Tying up enemy shooting units, counter attacks or quickly denying map control are things that they should handle. If not, then at least will soak some bullets. Well, I could even try to summon KoS 😀

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Very cool article…how do you think slaanesh has been impacted with the meta being invaded by the new meltas? Seems like keepers will fall like flies.

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Thanks Fred! New melta is rough, but not a huge issue because Slaanesh has many tricks to avoid being shot and Daemons can generally screen out 12″ or bad touch opposing shooting units quite well. Just make sure to play extra cagey, and give Daemonette heavy lists more of a look

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I know it’s not been the best unit in the past, but what is your opinion on Soul Grinders in Slaanesh?

With both move-and-shoot penalties removed and the ability to fire in melee they may finally fill a role…

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Good question, Daelnoron. Soul Grinders are better than they were, but Slaanesh is sadly the God they gain the least from. The increased invuln or Disgusting Resilience/healing from Tzeentch or Nurgle would be the best way to use them. Advancing and charging as Slaanesh means they can’t shoot as their guns are Heavy (also keep in mind the main gun is Blast, and can’t be shot in combat), and Khorne has better synergies for their overall offense.

If you really want to make Soul Grinders work, I would run them in a Nurgle heavy list with a Feculent Gnarlmaw. That way you have some ability to Advance/Fall Back and still shoot, they require more firepower to put down, and you have some options to really boost their damage output. I wouldn’t be Soul Grinders in a very competitive list, but 2d6+1 damage with Virulent Blessing on wound rolls of a 6 will be pretty hilarious when you spike your rolls.

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Thanks for the assessment!

Ah, a shame. Nurgle really isn’t my aesthetic.

Guess I’ll make sure to magnetize my Soul Grinders so that I can easily switch them to Defilers for a Chaos Space Marine auxillary! Heard those have become quite a handful.

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Great article. I’m wondering about the list organizing in 3 patrols, vs 1 battalion and 1 patrol. With the CP refund if your warlord is in the battalion, you save 2 CP that way, although you’d have to drop an HQ. I’m not sure how CP-hungry that list would be, though.

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Great article. Very excited for the next installments. It’s refreshing to see Daemons in a good spot competitively speaking. Especially looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Khorne and how one might play them as a mono-faction.

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Great article. Do you have any thoughts specifically on Shalaxi Helbane?

I feel like she’s kinda underpowered now compared with exalted keepers of secrets. I like the idea of her but struggle a bit with the highly variable damage roll and general fragility. It looks to me like she’d be reasonable against another melee army but no so much against mass ranged weapons.

Other thing to note is that the contorted epitome can take the slothful claws since the engine war datasheet swapped around its melee weapons. 8 s6 ap -2(-4 on 4+) d2 attacks seems lethal to me, especially given the epitome can cast hysterical frenzy on itself with decent likelihood of success.

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Burtomordha, thanks for reading and great question. Shalaxi is definitely behind Exalted Keepers overall, but is probably better than a default Keeper if you ever really want to save a CP. That -1 to Wound in melee makes her a really tough nut to crack in some matchups.

The Claws on the Epitome are cool, the issue is the CP cost for the relics. You always want the Gem, and then it’s probably better to buy a relic for a Keeper than upgrading the Epitome’s combat, at which point it costs 2 more CP to buy the Slothful Claws as a 3rd relic. Which just isn’t worth it.

But at smaller point games, where it’s more likely the Epitome’s combat will be a big factor? The Slothful Claws are definitely worth considerng

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Hi Mike, love the article. How do you think you’d update it in 2021? I’ve heard Mono-Slaanesh has suffered in the meta recently and I’m wondering how much we have to adapt compared to 2020.

I just played Sisters, for example, and my god it was difficult!

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Hey TV, great question. I would say the biggest pivot would be bringing in an Emperor’s Children patrol. Some high volume shooting to pop Raiders completely flips the Drukhari matchup around.

The main change for Slaanesh Daemons would be running the Shining Aegis on all the Keepers. 9th Ed books have so many random ways to throw MW on you. AdMech bombers and Drukhari characters will mess up Keepers if you dont have MW protection, and that’s to say nothing of Grey Knights and Thousand Sons

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