I’m going to start this article with a counter-intuitive point:
Khorne Daemons are a finesse army.
This fact may anger Skarbrand, but it’s true. There are armies in the game that can deploy without much worry, take a beating, and deliver a strong counter-punch. Khorne is not one of those armies. You will have to minimize losses when possible, and then use clever Charge and Fight phase movement to maximize your scoring potential while delivering strong melee blows.
I don’t want to sugarcoat it. While Khorne is definitely underrated and has a place in 9th Edition, they’re the weakest of the four Chaos Gods on the tabletop. Khorne Daemons, as a mono-faction, lack certain things that are generally required to consistently win games of 40K. If you’re expecting to find the secret to winning LVO with your fluffy Khorne Daemons list in this article, I’ve got some bad news for you.
Now let me tell you something else: Despite their limitations, Khorne can be very strong in 9th Edition. If you build a well-designed list and come in with a game plan, you can win often.
The biggest misconception many players have is that Khorne is an aggressive army. Their threat ranges are too short to rush an enemy that wants to stay out of combat. Where Khorne thrives is in a counter-charge role. You want to create situations where the Victory Points of the default game state are in your favor, and require the opponent to come towards you. Nurglings are the ultimate tool for this, but pure Khorne armies still have some units like Furies and Flesh Hounds that are useful for grabbing early Victory Point leads in Primaries or Secondaries.
What Khorne does best is deliver one of the strongest units in the entire game, Bloodletters, directly to your opponent’s front lines. Khorne has a surprisingly deep roster with some hidden gems, but your key strategy is going to revolve around answering a single question:
How can I put my Bloodletters in a position to succeed?
You’re going to rely on your Bloodletters for three main purposes:
- Denying opponents Primary points
- Wrapping your opponent’s units to avoid being shot
- Reaping skulls and shedding blood
While Bloodletters’ killing power is the main thing they’re known for, it’s the fact that they can reliably charge out of deepstrike with ObSec to steal objectives that provides their biggest value in 9th Edition.
One thing that always catches the eye of both new and experienced players is the stratagem Frenetic Bloodlust that lets you fight twice with any Khorne Daemon, including Bloodthirsters. You should almost never be using Frenetic Bloodlust for extra damage. Instead, view it as an opportunity to get some extra movement, using careful positioning to pull yourself towards objectives and tagging your opponent’s shooting units. You will only have the CP to use Frenetic Bloodlust once or twice per game, but a well-timed Frenetic Bloodlust can provide a 10 or 15 VP swing. You need to strongly resist the urge to use Frenetic Bloodlust in situations that aren’t mission critical.
All competitive Khorne Daemon lists are extremely CP hungry pre-game (Exalting a few Bloodthirsters, buying a few Banner of Blood upgrades, and deepstriking some units quickly adds up), so the only structure you’re going to want to use is a single Battalion, or a Battalion + Patrol at the very worst if you really want some extra HQ slots.
You also want to fully take advantage of the fact every Khorne Daemon unit can be hidden by Obscuring terrain. If your opponent is shooting a Bloodthirster on their first turn besides ones protected by Blood-Blessed, you’ve made a mistake in your deployment. You cannot win the game with a turn 1 charge against any decent opponent. You can easily lose a game with a turn 1 charge. It’s much, much better to deploy your Bloodthirster deep in your deployment zone behind Obscuring terrain and spend your first turn hopping it forward to another piece of Obscuring terrain, than it is to deploy it on the line and lose it. I won a game against a tough Space Wolves opponent at a tournament where my Bloodthirster didn’t see combat until turn 4. Be patient, and take objectives like Raise the Banners High and Deploy Scramblers that you can score without committing a lot of your force and encourage the opponent to come to you. A trick for holding objectives safely is you can stick a character onto an objective while being within 3″ of a unit that is out of line of sight, and thus protected by “Look Out, Sir!”
Daemon Prince (10/10): While Daemon Princes are generally overcosted, Khorne Daemon Princes have a lot more merit than most. More specifically, a Khorne Daemon Prince with the relic axe Skullreaver has a lot more merit. Skullreaver is arguably the best combat relic in the entire game, and turns your Daemon Prince into a nuclear option versus large targets. A Skullreaver Daemon Prince is basically a Bloodthirster that can’t be targeted by your opponent’s melta. If you’re investing heavily into Khorne Daemons and not bringing a Skullreaver Daemon Prince, you should think long and hard about that choice.
Bloodthirsters (8/10): Bloodthirsters suffer from an image issue. They were considered a joke competitively for many years, so people haven’t fully adjusted their perception to the reality of Bloodthirsters in 9th Edition. The combination of Exalted traits and Obscuring terrain have elevated Bloodthirsters into legitimate competitive consideration.
Rolling for two Exalted traits is generally the strongest option, but there are two specific set-ups where I would pick a specific Exalted trait:
- Using Blood-Blessed (Bloodthirster can’t take more than 8 Wounds in any given phase) to get a guaranteed turn 1 and/or turn 2 screen for other Characters, caddying something like a Skullreaver Daemon Prince or Thousand Sons psychic battery to your opponent’s front lines
- Using Unrivalled Battle Lust (+2″ to Charge rolls and 6″ Heroic Intervention) to make deepstriking your Bloodthirster and then charging a viable option.
Bloodletters (10/10): Objective Secured units that can deepstrike reliably are very valuable in 9th Edition. Objective Secured units that can deepstrike reliably, kill everything off one objective, and use their high model count and large bases to touch other objectives are worth their weight in gold.
Skulltaker (8/10): Skulltaker is a great buffing character that works very well with a MSU Bloodletter approach, as he provides them with their 20+ model buff for free. He also hits rather hard in combat, capable of munching through heavy infantry and smaller characters. Skulltaker is a versatile HQ choice for Khorne armies going heavy on Bloodletters. Note that Skulltaker’s +1 to Hit in the Fight phase aura affects all <Bloodletter> units, not just Bloodletters. This means he also buffs your foot HQs, Skull Cannons, and Bloodcrushers.
Bloodmaster/Blood Throne (4/10): Getting Bloodletters to S6 so they wound T3 on a 2+ and T5 on a 3+ is a solid buff, but it’s hard spending an HQ slot on either Herald variant. Bloodmasters are a nice cheap option for summoning and any Skull Altar shenaningans (more discussion on that in the Skull Altar entry), but most Khorne armies are just fine without either of these units. Bloodmasters at least have some merit as the cheapest Crimsom Crown holder that you can bring.
Uraka The Warfiend (8/10): Uraka recently got an updated datasheet in the new Forgeworld rules book, and came out a clear winner. Combining 7 S9 AP3 3D melee attacks with a Daemon Prince’s chassis and reroll aura, Uraka provides a lot of value for 145 points. It’s tough to find HQ slots to bring him since his mobility is limited, but there are certainly lists where he would make a fine choice.
Skarbrand (6/10): The way to view Skarbrand is not as a combat threat, but as a buffing unit that can also handle himself in melee. Deepstriking him onto the board in turns 2 or 3 to provide his +1 Attack aura to to several units of Bloodletters is a fine play. Skarbrand is very fragile for his points if he comes down in an exposed position, so it’s often best to deepstrike him behind some Obscuring terrain. He does have an aura to prevent Falling Back, similar to the Contorted Epitome, but his aura is much less useful due to his reduced maneuverability. It doesn’t work the turn after he deepstrikes due to the fact that his aura only has an 8″ range and you have to set him up 9″ away, and he’s too fragile to start on the field and try to move into range.
Bloodcrushers (5/10): Bloodcrushers are a polarizing unit. I’ve talked to some highly regarded Chaos players that thought Bloodcrushers were one of the best units in the codex. I’ve talked to some highly regarded Chaos players that thought Bloodcrushers were downright horrible. I’ve been consistently disappointed with them in playtesting. The potential to use Brass Stampede to kill a screening unit in your charge phase, and charge the more valuable targets behind the screen, seems incredible on paper. In reality, their huge bases make it impossible to get enough models within 1″ to do Mortal Wounds to kill most screening units. Bloodcrushers need the help of other Gods to provide some Smites and whittle down screening units to a size that a Brass Stampede can kill with their Mortal Wounds.
The key issue with Bloodcrushers is that they can’t move through terrain because they are <Cavalry>, so when they deepstrike and set up 9″ away, then often have to move 14 or 15 inches to get to their targets. They can receive the Banner of Blood upgrade for a 3d6 charge, but even that is often not enough to deliver them when you consider the impact of terrain. If GW decided tomorrow that <Cavalry> could move through Breachable terrain like <Beasts> can, then Bloodcrushers instantly shoot up to an 7/10 or 8/10. But for the time being, they’re too slow and waste too much distance going around terrain to be considered as a legitimate option.
Furies (6/10): 12″ moving Infantry with Fly are excellent for scoring Secondaries, and 2 units of Furies to Deploy Scramblers or Raise Banners are an solid addition to most Khorne armies. They also give you a disposable unit that you’re okay throwing away to score Engage On All Fronts on a turn you don’t really want to come out of hiding.
Flesh Hounds (6/10): Flesh Hounds received beautiful new models in the Wrath and Rapture box set, and have become an intriguing option for Khorne armies competitively. Their stratagem The Scent Of Blood (giving them +2″ to charge rolls, and the ability to charge after advancing) gives them the best threat range of all Khorne Daemon units. They provide the ability to harass and threaten distant objectives or shooting units cheaply that mono-Khorne Daemon armies can otherwise lack.
The only issue with Flesh Hounds is their points, and 18 points per model is a tough sell with their fragile statline. Flesh Hounds are hard to justify in souped God armies because Seekers/Fiends/Screamers do what Flesh Hounds do ever better, but Flesh Hounds play an important roll in mono-Khorne Daemon armies.
Skull Cannon (7/10): Skull Cannons are solid–but not really for their actual shooting. Their shooting is a bit overcosted, and the combination of D6 shots and D3 damage (with no way to mitigate either of those like the Imperial Guard get) means that they’re entirely too swingy to rely on. However the actual unit is rather useful, mainly because they received a stratagem Bound In Brass And Bone in Engine War to halve incoming damage when targeted for the duration of the phase for 1 CP… which is really nice on a T7 unit with a 5++ invuln and a big base. Bringing one Skull Cannon to hold a backfield objective or screen out deepstriking opponents is an entirely fine play, but any more than that and you’ll be spending too many points for mediocre offensive output.
One cool note about Skull Cannons is that their cannon has the wording “ignores cover”, rather than the newer wording of “ignores the benefit of cover to saving throws”, which means that they also ignore the -1 to Hit penalty of shooting through Dense Cover. You can set your Skull Cannon up on a backfield objective behind some Dense Cover where it will provide a durable objective holder (-1 to Hit, T7, 3+/5++, potentially half incoming damage) while chipping in some minor but non-negligible firepower. For 90 points, that’s really not bad.
An’ggrath the Unbound (6/10): Another winner from the Forgeworld rules updates, An’ggrath is basically a flying melee Knight. He is expensive and costs 3 CP to bring in a Super Heavy Auxiliary Detachment, but provides an incredible amount of value in exchange. I just don’t think spending so many points on one model is conducive to winning with Khorne Daemons, and can’t recommend him in serious competitive lists even after his improvements. That doesn’t mean there won’t be games where he dominates for you, and I encourage you to experiment with An’ggrath yourself.
Skull Altar (7/10): Okay, here is where we get weird. The Skull Altar’s buffs are okay, but it’s main benefit is that it’s actually excellent for move-blocking lists relying on big Monsters or Vehicles. Our Bloodthirsters and Daemon Princes can fly, but most big units in the game (Knights, Dreadnoughts, mirror matches against Keepers of Secrets, etc) can’t. Leaving summoning points to produce a Skull Altar turn 1 to move block in certain matchups is a really cool play. Do note that there is currently a grey area over whether turn 1 summoning is legal, so check with your TO for their stance on that ruling before bringing a list with this strategy. The Ruleshammer expert at Goonhammer ruled turn 1 summoning is legal, as did the TOs of two events I have been to, but you should always check with your specific tournament’s TO ahead of time. The Skull Altar’s +1 Attack buff also makes MSU Bloodletters very appealing, if you can predict whether the fighting will be and place it in the correct area on the board.
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 recommended relics and Warlord traits.
- Banner of Blood (1 CP used pre-game, a unit with a Daemonic Icon can roll a 3D6 charge once per game): The secret sauce that makes Khorne Daemons work. This makes deepstrike an extremely effective delivery mechanism for your Bloodletters and Bloodcrushers.
- Frenetic Bloodlust (3 CP, a Khorne Daemon unit can fight again at the end of the phase): Simple, but effective. As discussed in the Tactics section, you mainly want to use this to gain extra movement towards objectives or tag shooting units.
- The Scent of Blood (1 CP, a Flesh Hounds unit may charge after advancing and gains 2″ to the charge roll if any models were destroyed this turn): This gives Flesh Hounds a surprisingly long threat range or boosted charges out of deepstrike, helping their fill their harassment niche.
- Bound in Brass and Bone (1 CP, a Skull Cannon or Blood Throne halves incoming damage for a phase): Turns your Skull Cannon into a sneaky good backfield objective holder.
Oblivious To Pain (6+++ Feel No Pain, and rerolling all failed hits and wounds until your next turn after taking a wound): This goes best on a Bloodthirster of Insensate Rage, where your hit re-rolls help mitigate his degrading WS as he takes wounds, but it is a nice boost for any Bloodthirster
Rage Incarnate (Re-roll hit rolls of 1 for Khorne units that charged this turn and are within 8″ of your Warlord): The only other decent choice if you’re not taking an Oblivious To Pain Bloodthirster. This goes well with a Herald or Bloodthirster that otherwise wouldn’t have a re-roll aura.
Skullreaver: This is possibly the best combat relic in the entire game. Slap it on a Daemon Prince and watch him turn into another Bloodthirster for your army.
Crimson Crown: This is a nice force multiplier for a Daemon Prince, Bloodmaster, or Blood Throne that will be providing buffs to multiple units. This has incredible synergy with <Khorne> <Daemon> Chaos Space Marine units like Khorne Possessed, where you can use Veterans Of The Long War to add 1 to Wound rolls and generate additional attacks on Wound rolls of 5+ or boosting Khorne Lords of Skulls. . Much less useful for mono-faction Khorne Daemons than in Chaos soup.
Armour of Scorn: Giving a 4++ invuln save to a Bloodthirster is simple, but effective. The added Deny The Witch attempt takes this relic from good to great.
G’Rmakht The Destroyer: A Bloodthirster inside of a Bloodthirster? In addition to being the coolest relic in the codex, this Exalted Bloodthirster relic gives a Bloodthirster a chance to revive at the end of a phase on a 4+. Note that while you cannot use a CP to command reroll your 4+ roll, this roll is an excellent use of a Gaze of Fate reroll if you’re running Tzeentch with your Khorne.
Blood-Drinker Talisman: I think this is quite bad, but enough people are excited about it that I wanted to at least discuss it. This relic heals a wound for every model you destroy on a roll of a 5+. The math just simply doesn’t support this being valuable. In a best case scenario where this might make an impact, like a Bloodthirster of Insensate Rage making a sweep attack on middle profile into one wound targets without an invuln save, you’re only going to heal 2 or 3 Wounds on average. This really needed to go off on a 3+ or 4+ to be valuable.
- Bloodthirster of Insensate Rage, Warlord, Oblivious to Pain, Blood-Drinker Talisman, Exalted (Blood-Blessed)
- Daemon Prince of Khorne, Wings, Skullreaver
- 3 x 30 Bloodletters with the Banner of Blood, Icon, and Instrument
- 1 x 20 Bloodletters, Instrument
- 1 x 5 Furies
- 5 Flesh Hounds
- 8 Flesh Hounds