There is a brilliant scene in the Horus Heresy novel Know No Fear, where a Word Bearer tells an Ultramarine about the nature of betrayal:
“There is power in treachery. If an ally suddenly turns on an ally, that’s one level, but if a trusted friend turned on a friend, that was the purest kind of power. There is an entirely other kind of warfare, one that extends beyond all practical techniques. One that defies and eclipses all martial law codified by the Ultramarines and recognized by the Imperium. A form of ritual warfare. A form of Daemonic warfare”.
Today at Warphammer, we’re going to be committing exactly that kind of betrayal. While this website is obviously written from a competitive Chaos perspective, I’m now going to be using that perspective to teach Imperium, Xenos, and Chaos players how to beat other Chaos armies.
And like last time, just because this article is aimed at competitive gameplay doesn’t mean we can’t have some fluffy fun. Every matchup will accompanied by a quote that fits how the matchup goes.
Let’s dive right in, starting with one of the hottest factions in 40K and one that is near and dear to my heart: Daemons.
“The minds of gods are not for mortals to know or to judge. Accept that Tzeentch has a place for all of us in his grand scheme, and be happy in the part you have to play.“
-Magnus The Red
Daemons, especially Slaanesh focused Daemons, are a tough army to counter. With their truly massive threat ranges (Keepers of Secrets move at least 14″ and can advance and charge, and have several ways to increase that further), they need to be screened.
Where it gets tricky is that Daemons love to use screening units as launch pads to move forward or onto objectives in the Charge phase, and as safe havens to trap in combat and avoid being shot in your turn. If you see Fiends, Contorted Epitomes, or large horde units in the Daemons player’s list, that is likely their plan. It’s best to screen with units that can leave combat without having to Fall Back. Examples of great screens in the Daemons matchup are Aircraft, Stealth Suits with Wall of Mirrors, Ruststalkers, etc. While Keepers can move “through” Aircraft in 9th Edition, they still have to end out of Engagement range of your base. An Aircraft parked in front of your army can keep you unchangeable, as long as you don’t leave enough space behind it for the Keeper’s base to fit.
Daemons really suffer when they have to take Mortal Wounds, ironically. The “unkillable” Lord of Change setup you’re likely to face (3++ invuln/-1 Damage/healing 6+++ Feel No Pain) crumbles rather quickly to Mortal Wounds. Units like Sterylizors with Wrath of Mars, Mepherit Deathmarks with Talent for Annihilation, Magnus, etc will be your go-to units. Failing that, large volumes of firepower will consistently chip off wounds on the Lord of Change. He’s also much more ignorable than people generally think. Just be aware of Infernal Gateway (which does d3 or d6 Mortal Wounds to the closest unit, and every other unit within 3″ of the closest model) to avoid giving the Lord of Change a chance to spike hot on damage output.
If facing a Troops heavy list, you’ll want to be cognizant of how many models are left in their units. They receive bonuses for having 20 or more models in a unit, which is especially important for Plaguebearers as they receive -1 to Hit. If your opponent has units of around 20 Troops, it’s a good idea to put random bolter shots into them to get them below the 20 model mark.
I also want to address one thing I constantly see Space Marine players discussing as a counter to Daemons: Null Zone. I’ll say it clearly, every competitive Daemons player I know finds it really overrated. It just doesn’t really work in practice due to the short range. Every point you’re spending on Librarians to try to set up a telegraphed and easily-screened Null Zone play are points I am genuinely glad you haven’t spent on Vanguard Veterans. If you somehow get in the perfect spot: We’re denying at +2 from the Lord of Change. And say you somehow get past the deny: We can just turn a nearby character and their auras off for a phase with the Forbidden Gem. Stick to your gameplan, and don’t count on Null Zone to ever do more than scare your opponent.
Chaos Space Marines
“When the traitor’s hand strikes, it strikes with the strength of a legion.“
Chaos Space Marines are tough to write about, since they’re so varied. To do them justice without turning this article into an entire novel, we’re going to quickly go Legion by Legion (on a related note, calling your friend’s loyalist Marine army a “Legion” instead of a “Chapter” is a great way to make their eye twitch). I’m going to start with a personal favorite army, World Eaters.
World Eaters’ tactics revolve around Berzerkers, which get to activate twice every Fight phase. While they can’t fight targets they haven’t charged with the second activation, their Berzerkers are ObSec and can use their Fight phase movement to steal objectives from far away. Be cognizant of their ability to consolidate 6″ for 1CP. While it doesn’t sound that strong, it’s a great movement trick when their Berzerks can activate up to three times each Fight phase. Be very judicious with CP expenditure and save enough for 2 or 3 combat interrupts during the game, because World Eaters are all so deadly but also so fragile for their points. You’ll also want to bring some forward deploying units to stop them moving their brutal combat units 9″ forwards at the start of the first battle round.
And make sure to face them now before they get their new codex and Berzerkers go up to 2 Wounds. Once Berzerkers gain even a bit of durability and stop dropping like flies to random stubbers, they’re going to be a huge problem for many armies to deal with.
If your opponent is running Emperor’s Children, you’ll have to be meticulous with your screening. With a stratagem to get nearly guaranteed charges from deepstrike and shoot twice, Emperor’s Children will brutally punish poor screening. Noise Marines also get to shoot or fight when they die, which adds a layer of complexity to fighting them. Long range firepower is the best way to deal with Noise Marines, as you ideally want to remove them from more than 24″ away so they can’t shoot you when you die. Emperor’s Children Characters can also Heroically Intervene 6″ so you have to be careful when trying to steal objectives with Characters nearby.
Word Bearers are underrated, and live or die by their Possessed. The ability to get to 2 damage on their Possessed really ups their damage output, and their stratagem to auto-pass a psychic power ensures they will reliably get where they need to go. One key thing to keep in mind is that the stratagem to auto-pass a psychic power only prevents you from making a Deny The Witch attempt against the psychic power. It does not prevent you from using stratagems like Sisters of Battle or Black Templars to deny their Warptime on a 4+, so many factions can still deny their “unfailable” power.
Turning to our more mysterious friends, Alpha Legion have a lot of strong tricks for messing with deepstrikers. They can shoot any unit that deepstrikes within 18″, but unlike Auspex Scan it isn’t limited to Infantry–if you deepstrike near an Alpha Legion Lord of Skulls, you’re in for a world of hurt. They also have the ability to prevent a deepstriking unit from coming in anywhere within 12″ of their Alpha Legion units. If your army relies on a big deepstriking melee bomb (like a Bloodletter bomb), I would strongly consider starting them on the board and using them as a counter-punch tool instead of going on autopilot and deepstriking them.
Iron Warriors are the most straightforward to play against, as basically all of their abilities are variants of “X buff to ranged output of unit Y”. I will just say to focus on killing the Character with the Daemonsmith Warlord trait, as his exploding 6’s aura is a massive buff for Daemon Engines. This becomes especially crucial if the Iron Warriors player is running Decimators with Soulburners to shoot Mortal Wounds. The same applies to the Black Legion and Abaddon but to an even greater extent, since Abaddon is one of the best units in the entire game but has basically nothing else that makes Black Legion worth running or worrying about.
Night Lords require a lot more thought. Their Vox Scream stratagem can turn off one of your unit’s auras within 18″ of one of their units in your turn, so it’s a really good idea to deploy key Characters within a transport or in deepstrike so they aren’t able to be targeted by the strat. They also have the ability to prevent one of your units from falling back from their unit. The key fact to keep in mind is that stratagem doesn’t work on your Vehicle units (or Titanic or units with a Minimum Move characteristic), so screening with a Vehicle like a Rhino or something of that nature is a great idea to prevent them tagging it to stay safe. Night Lords also have a few buffs to deepstrike charge probabilities, so you’ll want to focus on screening them out.
“I know it now… All things change, my brother. I’m not the same as I was.”
-Magnus The Red
Thousand Sons are an army that has a few strong tricks, but really struggles to put a cohesive gameplan together. This doesn’t mean you should write them off. Their few tricks are so strong that they can easily overwhelm you if you’re not prepared.
Thousand Sons are an army carried by their centerpiece model, Magnus, so let’s start there. The most common gameplan competitive Thousand Sons players use with Magnus involves yo-yoing him back and forth, having him deliver a barrage of Mortal Wounds in the Psychic Phase before Warptime-ing him 16″ backwards behind layers of screening. This can be devastating to armies specializing in short-ranged firepower like Marines. In this matchup, it can be better to save your one-use 4+ Deny stratagems like Souls of Iron for the Warptime back on Magnus rather than denying a damage spell. This will keep Magnus close enough for your army to do serious damage to him. Magnus can be heal 2d3 Wounds every round, so if you can’t knock him out in one go then it’s probably a waste to throw chip damage into him.
Rubric Marines have the ability to fire twice if they stand still for 1 CP, which can be brutal. 76 S4 AP2 shots hitting on a 2+ rerolling 1’s will put a dent into absolutely anything. They’re the rare unit that can both tear through hordes and also do an average of 25 Wounds to a Dreadnought chassis. They can also forward deploy. What does this mean for you? Do not deploy in a way that your opponent has a visible target for the forward deployed Rubrics, or they will deliver a brutal punch going first. Ideally you will have your own forward deploying units to screen them out even during deployment, but barring that wait to drop your most important units until after their forward deployed Rubrics and pre-measure to stay outside of 24″ or out of Line of Sight. Their Rubrics and Terminators both get +1 to saving throws (including invulnerable saves) vs 1 Damage weapons, with the further ability to get +1 to their invuln with a stratagem and psychic power. While rocking a 3++ invuln and a 2++ invuln against 1 Damage attacks sounds tough on their Rubric Marines, they still go down incredibly easily to Mortal Wounds and high volumes of attacks.
If your Thousand Sons opponent is running the Cult of Duplicity subfaction, they will have the ability to pick up any unit and place it back down anywhere on the board 9″ away from your units. You will have to ensure you keep screening throughout the game to avoid the threat of this. This can also be used to remove tagged units from combat and shoot without Falling Back. Rubric Marines and Scarab Occult Terminators are otherwise very vulnerable to being tagged, with no common way to Fall Back and still shoot or shoot into combat.
Thousand Sons have access to two potentially massive sources of Mortal Wounds, Infernal Gateway (discussed above) and Astral Blast. The key thing to keep in mind is that Infernal Gateway creates a d3 or d6 3″ Mortal Wound bubble for units within 3″ of the closest model, while Astral Blast does 1 MW to units within 3″ of the closest unit. Make sure to carefully measure to ensure that your screening units are not positioned to do significant damage to any important targets behind them.
Frankly, I’m mainly going to skim over Death Guard because they’ve already been way over-discussed and I haven’t been able to playtest against them enough yet. The obvious advice most people have already heard about not relying on 2 damage weapons and tarpitting/move-blocking Mortarion is true, but the most common strategies that Death Guard players will bring to the table are still up in the air.
There are a few key methods you can use to gain an edge on Death Guard in the meantime. The first is taking advantage of Movement de-buffs like Doombolt or the “Humbling Cruelty” Death Jester. Their Infantry aren’t affected, but Mortarion (especially when bracketed) and Daemon Engines will really struggle to earn their points back if being slowed down. You can also target a unit near the front of their army to slow down and use it to move block opposing units behind it.
Death Guard have also become much more vulnerable to Mortal Wounds. Chaos and Necron players may actually have an easier time killing their Characters since their Wounds didn’t go up but they lost their Feel-No-Pain. A couple of targetted Smites or C’tan powers will pick up crucial support Characters like the Foul Blightspawn.
Move blocking them to delay their Primary scoring with units like Aircraft or Nurglings or Serberys Raiders is a fine play, just keep in mind that units from the Mortarion’s Anvil sub-faction can Heroically Intervene. They do have the ability to use fast units like Hell Blades to quickly push their Movement or other de-buffs up the board using the 2 CP Flash Outbreak stratagem. Remember that you’re likely to find your front units’ Movement halved if facing a Death Guard list with fast moving units, so position your units in a way that one being slowed down won’t block everything completely behind it.
Here, have an overused joke as a thank you for reading this far through the article.
Chaos is a force on the tabletop that you need to be prepared to face. Whether you’re here as a Chaos fan horrified that I’m giving away our secrets, or as an Imperium/Xenos fan eager to learn how to beat all the crazy lists Chaos players are constantly coming up with, I appreciate you reading! Check back in later this week for a guide on souping the new Death Guard into your Chaos lists, or other Chaos factions into your Death Guard
In the meantime, as always: Stay safe, have fun, and may the Dark Gods bless your rolls.
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Published: January 27th, 2021. Last Updated: January 28th, 2021.