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Excellence in Pestilence: The Guide to Winning with Nurgle Daemons

“In the embrace of great Nurgle, I am no longer afraid, for with His pestilential favour I have become that which I once feared: Death”

Daemons are the army for people who decided that shooting is for cowards. Nurgle Daemons are the army for people who decided even interacting with the opposing army is for cowards. If you’re one of those brave people, then you’ve come to the right place.

When you’re playing Nurgle Daemons, three things (the blessed tri-lobe!) are certain:

  • You’re going to field some gorgeous and unique models. There are no models in 40K cuter than Nurglings, or models more interesting than Plague Drones. I know this is a competitive-focused article, but I had to first acknowledge how absolutely beautiful a full Nurgle Daemon army is on the tabletop.
  • You’re going to be facing an uphill battle in terms of damage output. The other army is going to do somewhere between “slightly more” to “a metric ton” more damage than you, and you’re not going to have the ability to just remove opposing damage dealers.
  • Every single one of your units will be very durable for their points.

Pure Nurgle Daemons was an army that really worked early in 9th, but they’ve started slipping as the edition has worn on. The proliferation of armies like Necrons, Death Guard, and Dark Angels that do Nurgle Daemons’ shtick of “Get to objectives, and be hard to remove” well while also outputting significant damage is a problem. That doesn’t mean that committing to Nurgle Daemons means you won’t win games, it just means you’ll have to really understand your army’s strengths and come into the game with a plan for how you’re going to win. Being durable and playing the mission well remains an excellent way to compete in 9th Edition, and there are still few armies that do it better than Nurgle 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

Nurgle Daemons have access to incredibly durable statlines in every single slot (well, besides their barren Heavy Support slot), which gives you general idea of their playstyle. Your challenge as a Nurgle Daemon player is finding ways to best turn that durability into board control, and eventually Victory Points.

There’s a surprising amount of depth involved in that. Nurgle Daemon lists are hard to write, due to the fact that all of the buffs you want are split across a variety of expensive HQs that provide little other value. You’re going to want to pick one or two directions and focus on those, rather than trying to include all the Nurgle Daemon units you can and end up stretched too thin. Basically, you’re going to try to identify which units you want to operate on their own, and which you’re going to invest buffs into.

You also need to make sure to think about where your damage is coming from. While it’s tempting to just think you’ll win by flooding the board, armies without any counter-punch become extremely vulnerable to armies like Blood Angels if they’re free to rush you with impunity. Great Unclean Ones can serve in this role well, as a Great Unclean One with Effluvior and a melee weapon can pretty reliably knock units like 5 Vanguard Veterans back. Large units of Beasts of Nurgle or Plague Drones can be another solution, as large volumes of 2 Damage attacks (and some steady Mortal Wound output in the case of Beasts) gives you a chance to deliver a counter punch to units that operate too confidently. Just be careful not to lean too heavily into spamming our Troops. While that gives you a chance for a dominant board control position in some matchups, in many others you’ll just find yourself over-run if you’re not removing opposing damage dealers from your lines (except in skewed situations like small point games).

You want to be extremely cognizant of chances to move block and pre-measure the opponent’s movement so you can cut it off as far back as possible. You’re often going to struggle to get momentum going the other way once the opponent has established a foothold on an objective. Units like Plague Drones are excellent for this, quickly getting up the field and blocking off alleys with their large bases. Armies that can’t Fall Back and Charge/Shoot can really struggle to contain Plague Drones, because they don’t want to waste time shooting the Drones but will also struggle to operate if they’re constantly being tagged.

Because there isn’t a ton of subtlety in the big picture strategies employed by Nurgle Daemons, let’s dive right into the Unit Analysis so you can understand how Nurgle Daemon armies come together.

Unit Analysis

Great Unclean Ones (7/10): Great Unclean Ones are in an interesting spot. A single Great Unclean One with the Revoltingly Resilient Exalted reward and the Doomsday Bell to revive fallen models, or Effluvior for damage, can be a real value add to your army. However, I’ve found that bringing more than one often leaves the second GUO without a role on the battlefield. They also don’t benefit from Obscuring terrain, which can make deployment tricky. While there may be enough space to hide a single Great Unclean One behind True Line Of Sight blocking terrain, there definitely won’t be enough for two, so bringing more than one just ensures that at least one is being shot right away or not receiving buffs.

(Artwork Credit: Helgecbalzer, check out their brilliant 40K artwork!)

Bring one as your Warlord in most pure Nurgle Daemon armies, but be careful not to over-invest in these large rolling balls of pestilence.

Daemon Prince (5/10): Daemon Princes are expensive in general and just way overpriced in Nurgle Daemon armies. Just bring Mamon Transfigured instead if you really want a re-rolling 1’s aura. Speaking of which…

Mamon Transfigured (9/10): I love, love, love Mamon. An absolute bargain at 130 points, he combines solid ranged and melee damage with an incredibly durable chassis (+1 T and +1 W over a Daemon Prince). If you’re running Nurgle Daemons and want Hit re-rolls, Mamon is the way to go.

Epidemius (3/10 in mono-Nurgle Daemons, 8/10 in Chaos soup): Epidemius is one of the coolest datasheets in the game, providing escalating buffs based on the number of enemy units destroyed by Nurgle Daemons. The key breakpoint is 5 enemy units destroyed, at which point every single Nurgle Daemon in your army gets +1 Toughness. This doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, but it’s actually really hard to get to 5 units killed with pure Nurgle Daemons in time for the buff to have an impact. He pairs best with Daemon Engines such as Plagueburst Crawlers, Chaos Space Marine Daemons like Possessed, or even Mortarion if you’re feeling especially audacious.

Horticulus Slimux (7/10): Horticulus Slimux is a great unitt, but was really hurt by the FAQ changing While We Stand We Fight to units, not models. His buffs to Beasts of Nurgle (+1 to Hit and charge rerolls) are solid and he is extremely durable, but he was much easier to justify in lists when he could be easily selected to give you 5 free While We Stand We Fight points.

There are two little tricks for maximizing the value you get from Slimux. The first is that since he is Cavalry, not a Monster, he actually benefits from a Feculent Gnarlmaw’s cover aura, giving him a 2+ Save within 7″. The second is that while you have to make one attack with Mulch’s Acidic Maw profile, there is nothing stopping you from making all attacks with that profile, giving you 5 WS2+ S7 AP4 flat 3 Damage attacks.

Poxbringer (6/10): A Herald’s +1 Strength aura isn’t as important to Nurgle Daemons as it is to other Gods due to all our Wound re-rolls, but a cast of Miasma Of Pestilence or Virulent Blessing slots in nicely to all Nurgle Daemon armies.

Sloppity Bilepiper (7/10): The Morale reroll is nice, but not as essential now that massive swarms of Plaguebearers have fallen out of style. Consider bringing him if you’re running a Great Unclean One for the additional attack and advance and charge, which combined with the morale re-roll to other units will provide enough value from your Sloppity Bilepiper over the course of the game.

Spoilpox Scrivener (5/10): The Scrivener has some solid buffs, but suffers from being a very expensive buffing HQ for an expensive Troops choice. Do note that his +1 to Hit/Exploding 6’s aura affecting <Plaguebearer> units also affects Plague Drones, making him an intriguing option for lists going heavy on Plague Drones.

Corbax Utterblight (7/10): Corbax is solid for what he does, being basically a budget Great Unclean One, but his lack of synergy with other units or possible buffs to himself makes him tough to justify. He really isn’t bad for the points, and it’s a perfectly justifiable choice to run him if own the model, I just have a hard time ever finding a spot for him in my lists.

Nurglings (8/10): Nurglings were one of the best units in the game early in 9th Edition, and bringing 3-6 units of Nurglings was a great way to start any Chaos list. After a 22% points increase in the January FAQ, you have to be cautious of over-investing in them these days. While they have a trio of traits that are excellent in 9th Edition–durable, ObSec, and forward deploying–they have an increasing amount of bad matchups too.

You still absolutely have to invest in at least several units of Nurglings if you’re leaning hard into Nurgle Daemons. The ability to forward deploy is just so crucial in many matchups for blunting alpha strikes, or stopping opposing pre-game shenanigans.

(Artwork Credit: Sam Flegal)

With Nurglings, the best play is often to forward deploy them somewhere out of Line Of Sight unless you just need them to screen a certain part of the board, so you’re prepared to grab objectives early. Don’t just throw them away if your opponent wins first turn, they’re too valuable (and pricey) to lose unless you’re gaining Victory Points or controlling important areas of the board.

Plaguebearers (8/10): Plaguebearers have a perception issue. They’re far from the meta-destroying monsters they were in 8th Edition, so people have entirely written them off. In truth, they’re still very solid for what they do and feel a lot more durable without Aggressors and endless Chapter Master re-rolls in the picture. Plaguebearer spam is still a solid list archetype, and you could definitely win games in a semi-competitive environment with 90+ Plaguebearers and their supporting elements. That being said, I think the best way to run them these days is in an Undivided list as a single unit of 20 or 30 to lock up your backfield. There is still a place for Plaguebearers in a very competitive Chaos list, and I’ve been very impressed every time I’ve put them on the board recently.

Beasts of Nurgle (10/10): I don’t want to beat a dead daemonic horse, so I’ll just link to the mathhammer behind Beasts Of Nurgle here: https://warp-hammer.com/2020/09/15/beasts-of-nurgle/. Long story short, Beasts of Nurgle are incredibly hard to shift for their points.

Beyond being tough to shift, they have a few subtler advantages. Their innate ability to Heroically Intervene (with the hilarious flavour text describing them as “feeling left out of the fun”) is excellent for retaining control of objectives from any cheeky ObSec units trying to sneak a model nearby. Their stratagem Acidic Slobber also gives larger units access to a trickle of Mortal Wound output that helps get tough units like Vanguard Veterans or Custodian Guard off their backs. If you’re looking for a unit to retain control of sections of the board, there is arguably no better unit in the game than Beasts of Nurgle.

Plague Drones (7/10): Plague Drones have reentered the competitive picture after a points drop to 35 in the January FAQ. Now the same points cost as Beasts Of Nurgle, they trade 1 Wound and the ability to Heroically Intervene for 4″ extra Movement, <Fly>, and a bit more offense. I think a strong Nurgle Daemon list should have a mix of both Plague Drones and Beasts Of Nurgle, with the Plague Drones skirmishing on the flanks while the Beasts Of Nurgle receive offensive buffs in the center of the board. On a more specific note, I would almost always buy the Instrument for Plague Drones but would stick away from the Icon. You’re basically paying half the cost of an entire new Plague Drone for a very small chance to revive a Plague Drone, the Icon just isn’t worth it.

Soul Grinder (4/10): The good news is they received a points drop in January. The bad news is they’re still at least one more points drop from being good. They’re not bad per se, and running them as Nurgle is one of the best ways to get value out of them to get the 5+++ from Disgustingly Resilient, but the damage output just isn’t there.

Feculent Gnarlmaw (8/10 or 0/10): The buffs the Feculent Gnarlmaw provides are easily worth the 95 points you have to pay for it. The Advance/Charge and Fall Back/Charge auras are excellent for helping you move your durable bodies towards objectives. Remember that those auras are just “units within 7 inches”, not wholly within, so make sure to string back at least one model from large units of Plaguebearers or Beasts or Nurgle so you’ll start your next turn within 7″. The cover buff doesn’t matter much for pure Nurgle Daemons (getting a 4+/5++ save just means you’ll be using your 5++ invuln anyway most of the time), but it works great with Nurgle Astartes like Possessed who love adding 2 to Save rolls against ranged attacks.

So why don’t I just rate it an 8/10 overall? 9th Edition requires Fortifications be set up more than 3″ from all Terrain besides Hills, and on some terrain-dense boards you literally can’t place it anywhere relevant (if at all). If you’re familiar with the terrain at the event and know there are large gaps for your Gnarlmaw then bring one, otherwise it’s probably safer to leave your little slice of Nurgle’s Garden at home.

Scabeiathrax The Bloated (6/10): Scabeiathrax is interesting. He’s decent now that he’s under 500 points, and benefits from the Sloppity Bilepiper’s <Great Unclean One> buffs to Advance and Charge and get an additional Attack. He also benefits from being Titanic, so he isn’t slowed down by Difficult Ground in the center of the board like Great Unclean Ones are. There are far worse lists one could run than a main Nurgle Daemon battalion accompanied by Scabeiathrax.

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

Acidic Slobber (1 CP, your Beasts of Nurgle unit does an additional MW on unmodified 6’s to Wound): This is a great tool for helping your Beasts of Nurgle crack open armoured opponents. A unit of 5 Beasts will do roughly 2-3 MW on average, ironically doing slightly more MW to higher Toughness opponents due to re-rolling only Failed Wounds. That isn’t amazing but will contribute some steady chip damage into units like Custodian Guard that would otherwise keep your Beasts tied up all game.

Nurgling Infestation (1 CP, at the end of a phase on a 5+ any Nurglings models destroyed that phase are returned to the unit): A great way to punish opponents for not finishing off a unit of Nurglings, especially larger units of Nurglings.

Locus of Fecundity (2 CP, reroll all Disgustingly Resilient rolls of 1 for Nurgle Daemon units within 6″ of a selected Nurgle Daemon Character): This was a stratagem I was down on at first, until I compared it to Warp Surge. If you have a Great Unclean One with Revoltingly Resilient, then this stratagem makes them 19.9% more survivable for a phase. Warp Surge makes them 25% more survivable for a phase, which really isn’t a big difference. So if you’re going to spend 2 CP to increase the durability of your Great Unclean One, why not use the stratagem that also increases the durability of all the units nearby too?

Warp Surge (2CP, add +1 to a unit’s invulnerable saves for a phase): While all Gods have access to this stratagem, it fits best in Nurgle’s playstyle. Because Nurgle requires much less CP to operate than the other Gods, Nurgle armies can afford to splurge on this much more often. Pairs particularly well with a large unit of Beasts of Nurgle, a side of Miasma of Pestilence, and a glass of your opponent’s tears.

Warlord Traits

Acidic Ichor (Opposing unit takes a Mortal Wound on a 4+ each time it inflicts a Wound to your Warlord in the Fight phase): Makes your Great Unclean One an absolute terror for opposing melee armies to deal with, inflicting an average of 9 MW as they die. I will just point out that Acidic Ichor and Disgustingly Resilient trigger at the same time in their wording, and there is a RAW argument that you can use Acidic Ichor and then roll for Disgustingly Resilient on Wounds you’ve suffered.

Virulent Touch (Add 1 to your Warlord’s Wound rolls in the Fight phase): Fits well with a Daemon Prince or GUO in a pure Nurgle Daemon detachment, as their locus means they always get +1 Damage on Wound rolls of 5+.

Relics

Effluvior (Assault 6, +1 S, AP3, 2 damage Flail upgrade which can be fired into any combat and has damage spill over): This flail upgrade is excellent, and makes your Great Unclean One into a menace in the mid-board. The damage spill over helps it efficiently kill both hordes and Marines. Nurgle Daemons have arguably the weakest collection of relics in the game, but this is the best of a bad bunch.

Horn of Nurgle’s Rot (Roll a die for each model killed by the bearer while within 7″ of a friendly Plaguebearer unit, on a 4+ add a model to that Plaguebearer unit): Nurgle Daemons Characters generally don’t have the volume of attacks to make this worth it, but it’s not bad on a Daemon Prince if you’re leaning heavily into Plaguebearer builds.

Sample Lists

Plaguebearer-Mania (1000 Points)

HQ

  • Poxbringer (Virulent Blessing)
  • Sloppity Bilepiper

Troops

  • 1 x 3 Nurglings
  • 30 Plaguebearers with Instrument and Icon
  • 28 Plaguebearers with Instrument and Icon

Elites

  • 1 Beast of Nurgle

Fast Attack

  • 1 x 5 Furies
  • 4 Plague Drones

Mono-Nurgle Daemons (2000 Points)

HQ

  • Great Unclean One (Warlord, Bell + Flail, Acidic Ichor, Effluvior, Exalted Reward Revoltingly Resilient)
  • Horticulus Slimux
  • Sloppity Bilepiper

Troops

  • 2 x 5 Nurglings
  • 1 x 3 Nurglings
  • 3 x 10 Plaguebearers

Elites

  • 2 x 4 Beasts of Nurgle
  • 1 x 9 Beasts of Nurgle

Fast Attack

  • 2 x 5 Furies
  • 4 Plague Drones with Instrument

Fortification

  • Feculent Gnarlmaw

This list is calibrated to score Engage on All Fronts/Domination, While We Stand We Fight (Great Unclean One, unit of 9 Beasts, Horticulus Slimux), and Deploy Scramblers.

Mortarion and Nurgle Daemons (aka Sick and Morty)

Supreme Command Detachment

  • Mortarion, Warlord

Nurgle Daemon Battalion

HQ

  • GUO (Bilesword, Flail)
  • Sloppity Bilepiper
  • Mamon Transfigured

Troops

  • 3 x 3 Nurglings
  • 30 Plaguebearers
  • 20 Plaguebearers

Elites

  • 3 x 1 Beasts of Nurgle

Fast Attack

  • 2 x 5 Furies
  • 1 x 5 Plague Drones

Wallace O’Donnell’s Updated 9th Edition Scabeiathrax List

Nurgle Daemon Battalion

HQ

  • Daemon Prince (Wings, Sword), Warlord, Plaguefly Hive
  • Poxbringer, Relic: Corruption

Troops

  • 1 x 9 Nurglings
  • 2 x 3 Nurglings
  • 3 x 10 Plaguebearers

Fast Attack

  • 3 x 4 Plague Drones with Instrument

Nurgle Daemon Super Heavy Auxiliary Detachment

  • Scabeiathrax the Bloated

Final Thoughts

Nurgle Daemons are a truly unique army in 40K. Whether you’re interested in running mono-Nurgle Daemons or want to soup them into your broader Chaos list, hopefully you’ve gained a greater understanding of this faction’s gameplay.

Looking forward at Warphammer, I have two collaborations coming up: A partnership on a Daemons article with one of the most well-regarded resources for 40K content, and an episode about winning the crazy Grey Knights/Daemons matchup with Grey Knights channel One Last Blade. Additional exciting articles and content are in the works, so make sure to check back! And while you’re here, why not join our Daemons Discord channel (https://discord.gg/bbyj8ejUEJ)?

In the meantime, as always: Stay safe, have fun, and may the Dark Gods bless your rolls.

Note: If you’re interested in supporting the growth of Warphammer, feel free to check out Patreon.com/Warphammer and join the team. Additional benefits and coaching are available.

Published: February 11th, 2021. Last Updated: February 11th, 2021.

5 replies on “Excellence in Pestilence: The Guide to Winning with Nurgle Daemons”

You can set up a Gnarlmaw within 1” of terrain.

Each Feculent Gnarlmaw in this unit must be set up within 6″ of each other, and none can be set up within 1″ of any terrain feature.

Units with the Fortifications Battlefield Role are terrain features that are part of your army. Unless otherwise stated, when setting Fortifications up on the battlefield, they cannot be set up within 3″ of any other terrain feature that is not part of its own datasheet (excluding hills). If it is not possible to set up a Fortification as a result, it cannot be deployed and counts as having been destroyed. Fortifications can never be placed into Strategic Reserves.

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I see what you’re saying. It’s something I would definitely check with the TO before bringing a Gnarlmaw list to an event still, but you have a good argument that the Gnarlmaw’s more specific rule overrides the core rule about Fortifications always being 3″ from Terrain

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Love the guide. A bit off-topic, but do you have many thoughts on what an upcoming codex will bring? I know it might be a year away or more, but I feel like it’s worth thinking about, as our nurgle tactics and units might change substantially.

It’s surely a done-deal that greater daemons will be 1 per detachment, unless they do something weird like make them lords of war. Hopefully we’ll be able to have a daemon prince alongside a greater daemon, as the new death guard faq has fixed this similar issue for them.

I think surely bileswords on GUOs will increase to d3+3 damage. And probably exalted reward wiIl be pruchasable like space marine character upgrades. I also suspect they waill change virulent blessing, as atm it’s arguably too swingy on big models. Improving ap by 1 on a nurgle unit would be fantastic imo, to give us a little punch.

Also, our DPs will hopefully be brought into line with the DG ones state-wide, maybe with just the 5 attacks though. Dual talons are now terrible imo. An on this topic, will DPs in daemons detachments retain the ability to give ALL units reroll ones, or will this be nerfed to a CORE only aura? If mamon were to keep his transfigured aura (as worded), he could become greatly more valuable.

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Punkncorey, I think there’s definitely a RAI vs RAW argument to be had on that

Compare Slimux’s Acidic Maw wording to something like the Contorted Epitome’s extra claws: “When the bearer fights, it makes 2 additional attacks with this weapon and no more than 2 attacks can be made with this weapon.”. There is no “no more than X attacks can be made..” clause on Acidic Maw. It’s a weapon on the datasheet, and unless explicitly restricted any weapon in the model can be selected to make Attacks with. Most “split” melee units have a restriction about “No more than X attacks can be made”, I think as an outdated codex we slipped through the cracks. If the argument is they are separate models with different datasheets, does Horticulus Slimux count as two models on an objective or secondaries that count killed models?

I do see what you’re saying though, and if it were some game-changing thing I would caution people against using it in the interest of their opponents feel it is a fair game–but I’m fine with shrugging on this ambiguity and letting Slimux shine a bit brighter, haha

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