One of the most common questions I got asked when the new Chaos Space Marines codex dropped was, “Mike, what Legion are you going to write a guide for first?” That was a really great question that deserved some deep thought.
This was too important a decision to make with anything besides pure logic. I wanted to avoid any possible bias in my decision making. I had to develop a truly objective metric, and then let the cold, hard data make the decision for me.
I decided to rank every Legion on a scale of 1-10 by whether they could take Noise Marines as Troops. This seems like a fair metric. I felt confident that this selection process was truly random. After running the analysis, here were the final Legion rankings:
- Emperor’s Children (10/10–a perfect score)
- Iron Warriors, Word Bearers, World Eaters, Night Lords, Black Legion, Death Guard, Thousand Sons, Alpha Legion (0/10)
It shocked me to my personal favorite Legion get first place in my completely unbiased ranking system. I re-ran the calculations a few times, but every time I got the same result. Emperor’s Children were mathematically proven to be perfect by my advanced metric. Once the data was settled, I immediately sat down and started writing this article.
So today, we’re going to put on our shiniest power armour and do a deep dive into playing Emperor’s Children. By the end of this guide, you’re going to be playing your Emperor’s Children flawlessly–just as Slaanesh intended.
Before we get started, I want to make one quick note.
I picked Emperor’s Children for the first Legion guide because I’m a huge personal fan of them, but I love every Legion in this codex. I’m extremely excited to play all of them competitively, and already have tons of lists and advice just waiting to be shared.
Which Legions get guides written soon will be entirely decided by the voting of Warphammer Patrons. Have a personal favorite Legion you want to see a guide for? This means now is the best time to support Warphammer on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/Warphammer! Not only can you get personalized list advice and coaching from a very successful tournament player who loves your faction as much as you do, but you also support the growth of quality 40K written content.
I can’t wait to chat 1-on-1 with you. Now without any further wait, let’s dive right into today’s guide to playing Emperor’s Children!
Emperor’s Children are an extremely strong melee “control” army. Your gameplan is going to be to shut down the opponent’s ability to interact with you in the Fight phase, and then you’ll figure everything else out from there. Emperor’s Children play similarly to Space Wolves, but without the deep shame that comes from admitting that you play Space Wolves.
I’m going to say this right now: Emperor’s Children are the “best” Legion, but they are not the “strongest” Legion. Word Bearers, Iron Warriors, and Black Legion each have much stronger offensive, defensive, and mission playing combos than the Emperor’s Children. If someone isn’t very good with fight phase movement and trading units for points, then Emperor’s Children are going to underperform for them. Realistically that describes the vast majority of 40K players, so Emperor’s Children are likely going to underperform in terms of winrate. I expect Black Legion to appear to be the dominant Legion once data starts coming in. And that will be well-deserved, because Black Legion are really, really, really good. But in terms of highest possible skill cap? There are going to be few armies in the game deadlier than an Emperor’s Children army played well.
Slaanesh demands perfection.
The key to winning with Emperor’s Children is understanding how to get the most value out of these abilities:
- The stratagem Soporific Gaze lets your Characters make one enemy unit Fight Last every Fight Phase
- Lucius makes another unit Fight Last for free every Fight Phase
- All of your Characters can heroically intervene 6″ with Incessant Disdain
- All of your non-Characters can heroically intervene 3″ with Incessant Disdain
- All of your Characters and Core units have Fights First from the Mark Of Slaanesh
- Death Ecstasy lets an Infantry unit fight on death
- Honour The Prince adds consistency to movement and charges
- Dark Apostles handing out Advance and Charge to any Core or Character units
These are all incredibly powerful Fight Phase control tools. Add them all up, and playing as Emperor’s Children means you’re going to set the tone in melee all game.
You’re also going to notice that nothing in the above section mentions shooting. That’s intentional. That doesn’t mean Emperor’s Children shooting is bad. The Legion trait helps them nail down hard-to-hit opponents like Eldar and Aircraft, and random AP increases on 6’s to wound adds some real value.
But don’t get tricked into playing your opponent on their terms, and playing a game that they play better. You’re generally not going to outshoot your opponent even if you bring plenty of shooting units, so don’t go too far down that path. Get up close and personal, just the way Slaanesh intends for you to play with your opponent.
Let’s talk about one thing that’s pretty cool: All Emperor’s Children units get the Slaanesh keyword, even if they can’t get the Mark Of Slaanesh which confers Fights First.
The Dark Apostle’s prayer to advance and charge is locked to units that can get the Mark Of Slaanesh, but there is plenty of synergy for other Slaanesh units available.
The most obvious synergy is Delightful Agonies. The default spell that all Slaanesh Psykers know can be cast on any Slaanesh unit, not just Core and Characters. Don’t do this because it’s not actually that good, but a single EC Master Of Possession can make a Land Raider Toughness 10 and give it a 5+++ Feel-No-Pain. As far as bad plays go, that’s pretty good.
There are also two core CSM stratagems for Slaanesh units that work pretty well for Emperor’s Children. The first one is Excessive Cruelty. This stratagem is basically a knock-off version of an equivalent Harlequins stratagem, allowing your unit to shoot or consolidate 3″ after an opponent falls back. This is actually pretty cool on a unit of Warp Talons, which have a roll-off to prevent opponents from falling back. Fail your first roll-off? Consolidate 3″ into something else so you still can’t be shot.
If you play casually you can ignore the next couple paragraphs, because I promise you 95% of opponents are going to make huge mistakes against this stratagem and let you easily win games. But let’s break down the interactions around this stratagem if you and your opponent play at a higher level.
The counterplay for your opponent to Excessive Cruelty is to move units in the right order. If they move another unit within 3+1″ of your unit and then fall back, they’re screwed because you’ll consolidate into that second unit. But if they fall back before there are any other units nearby, you won’t have any safe targets to consolidate into. And once your window to use the stratagem has passed, they can move other units nearby and shoot you.
As the Slaanesh player, you still have some counterplay to their counterplay. One play is to tag multiple units. When one enemy unit falls back, you can consolidate 3″ and wrap a model in the second unit so they can’t fall back.
Your other counterplay to their counterplay is to tag an enemy model in Difficult Ground terrain. Let’s say your Noise Marine tags an Intercessor in Difficult Ground in base-to-base contact. Instead of moving 6″ normally, that Intercessor only moves 4″ in Difficult Ground. Because you were exactly 0″ apart when they were selected to Fall Back, they are exactly 4″ away after moving. Engagement Range is defined as “within 1 inch”. “Within” is defined in the core rules as “not more than the specified distance”. So if you move 3″ after they move 4″, you are within 1″ and thus within Engagement Range again. So if you’ve tagged a 6″ moving model in Difficult Ground, it is literally impossible for you to be shot next turn if you choose to spend the CP.
When people were asking me how I won so many games with the old Emperor’s Children or nonsense armies like Alpha Legion pre-codex, a lot of it came down to understanding little interactions like this. I know 40K as a game gets a lot of (usually justified flak), but there’s actually a lot of really interesting interactions if you come into it with open eyes.
The other really cool Slaanesh stratagem is Murderous Perfection. You use this stratagem when a unit is selected to shoot or fight. Once when that unit is activated, you can turn a single hit, wound, or damage roll into a 6.
A lot of people dismiss this stratagem because the timing is awkward. You get the most value out of turning a 1 or 2 on damage into a 6, but you don’t know if you’re going to low roll damage until after you’ve done the hit, wound, and save rolls. Let’s say you shoot a unit of 4 Havoc Lascannons. You roll 3 out of 4 Hits. You don’t want to turn that hit into a 6, because you want to save your auto-6 for damage later. All 3 of your hits wound successfully. But then they pass 2 out of 3 invulns, and the only damage roll you make is already a 5. What a waste of a 1CP stratagem to change a single 5 damage to a 6. Once you’ve completed your damage rolls, I bet you wish you had just auto-6’d that failed hit roll earlier instead!
The trick to making this stratagem super valuable is use it on a low volume of shots, and slow-roll the attacks one at a time. If you have 4 Lascannons and pop the stratagem, roll your first hit. Then roll your first wound. They fail their save. You roll a 5 on your d6 damage, so you don’t waste your stratagem. But then maybe you get to your 4th Lascannon and haven’t auto-6’s anything yet, and fail your hit roll. Now you have no reason to save it, and can safely turn that miss into an auto-hit.
Normally even if slow-rolling would provide a small information benefit, I don’t bother. I’d rather save some time, especially with a clock, and avoid the headache. But a unit of Lascannon Havocs is only four shots. Slow rolling those 4 attack sequences takes 15 seconds, and helps you get your fair value out of your Murderous Perfection stratagem.
The last really cool Slaanesh synergy is with summoned Daemons. We don’t know whether summoning will stick around the next Daemons codex, but you’re welcome to experiment with it in the meantime! A 55 point Slaanesh Herald can give your Slaanesh Daemons +1 Strength, and +1 Strength is perfect for getting your Warp Talons to that Strength 5 break point. They can also cast Hysterical Frenzy to fight in the Psychic Phase if you’re engaged. Have a Lord Discordant you want to free up to go somewhere else? Summon a herald to cast Hysterical Frenzy and fight your way out of combat so you can charge that same turn. This is pretty niche and not mandatory, but it’s a cool option for dedicated Slaanesh players to explore.
Evaluating Units in an Emperor’s Children List
It’s boring to just tell you what units to run or not run. Where’s the fun in that for either of us? Besides, people love experimenting with off-meta picks… and I am 100% here for that energy. So today we’re going to go over a lot of different units from the codex and explain why they work, or don’t work well, in an Emperor’s Children list competitively.
Please also remember that this is coming from the perspective of trying to win high level competitive games. If a unit you love is in the Not Recommended section, that doesn’t mean it’s unplayable. It just means it doesn’t fit into an optimized Emperor’s Children gameplan. Almost all of those units are still perfectly viable for friendly or semi-competitive play.
Lucius The Eternal: Lucius isn’t just one of the best datasheets in the Chaos Space Marines codex, he’s one of the best datasheets in the entire game. He was solid in the 8th Edition codex, and then got an amazing glow-up at a very fair price point.The fact that he hands out a Fight Last every Fight Phase is an amazing rule (don’t forget you can also use the stratagem to make Lucius hand out 2 Fights Lasts at a time). His reroll 1’s to Hit aura is useful. He has a 2 damage flamer if you get close. He randomly hands out mortal wounds when he dies, including to units that shoot him from across the map.
And then while providing all that utility, he just randomly walks around with 8 flat 3 damage attacks in melee. If you bring Diabolic Strength, he’s one cast away from having 10 Strength 7, AP3, flat 3 Damage attacks. He’s an amazingly well-rounded unit that should be considered in any list.
Dark Apostle: Dark Apostles have two really strong prayers, with their only downside being that Emperor’s Children Dark Apostles can only chant once per turn. Knowing an advance and charge prayer is amazing, as is Illusory Supplication to make one unit into an absolute brick.
Lord Discordant: Lord Discordants shine in Emperor’s Children. The innate mobility of the Advance and Charge prayer helps them zip around the board to hand out Fights Last and eat units in melee. When loading out your Emperor’s Children Lord Discordant, focus on offensive relics and traits over defensive buffs. Look Out, Sir is the only protection they need early, and you want to focus on amplifying their damage output so they reliably kill what you need removed every turn. Your whole army will be rushing up behind them to provide them Look Out, Sir far longer than you expect. Don’t forget the core CSM stratagem for -1 Damage on Daemon Engines, which can be used on a Lord Discordant in a pinch.
Daemon Prince: Daemon Princes are great picks for the same reasons that Lord Discordants are, trading some durability and volume of attacks for more mobility and psychic powers. The main decision point is whether you want to open up Abhor The Witch or psychic Secondaries. It’s a choice dependent on your specific list.
Master Of Possession: Access to Pact Of Flesh alone makes a Master Of Possession worth it. The ability to resurrect models to get extra movement or reduce charges–including models that the Master Of Possession killed himself–is extremely valuable in an aggressive Emperor’s Children list.
Just remember that the Master Of Possession can only inflict mortal wounds on nearby units while casting spells from his unique discipline. If you want to kill your own models to resurrect them in front later, make sure you are casting Malefic Discipline spells instead of Smite or Delightful Agonies.
Cultists and Accursed Cultists: Cheap ObSec or bodies to screen the backfield are always useful. The fewer points you spend on Troops, the more points you have to spend on your heavy hitters.
Noise Marines: Noise Marines went from an apocalyptic level event in the previous codex to an aggressive scalpel in this codex. They’re still really solid, and you can build around them in an Emperor’s Children list.
Blastmasters are the star of the Noise Marine show. Both profiles are greatly improved, and you’re going to bring a Blastmaster in every squad that you can. Bringing either large Noise Marine squads to get max value out of Excruciating Frequencies or small squad with an Icon, Power Fist, and Blastmaster are both fine options.
Don’t forget that even on foot, you can turn 1 charge Noise Marines. You move 12″ with Honour The Prince in Movement + 3 or 4 inches of movement from killing and resurrecting from the Master Of Possesion + Honour The Prince in the Charge Phase. This isn’t something you should plan for every game, but instead a demonstration of their mobility and a tool to keep in your back pocket. You can also use Relentless Devastation to fire your Heavy profile on the Blastmaster after advancing, and always ignore the Assault penalty on everything else from your Legion trait.
Terminators: Now we’re really talking! Terminators are a great piece to build around in Emperor’s Children. They take buffs extremely well. Even though they can’t get ObSec, they can at least Heroically Intervene so they aren’t vulnerable to random Wyches or Guardsmen stealing objectives from them.
In an Emperor’s Children list, I would make sure to load up on Chainfists and Powerfists and Melta. Make sure your heavy hitter unit will hit as hard as you need them to hit. Then add the Rune Of Damnation for -1 to Wound to ensure they stay on the board long enough, and go to town.
Don’t get baited by their deepstrike ability. You should almost always be starting them on the board, they have enough mobility in Emperor’s Children. Letting your opponent choose where your deathstar unit can arrive on the board is how you lose games.
Possessed: Possessed are just a great datasheet. The fact that they can quickly get to objectives and heroically intervene if someone gets close makes them very valuable.
The best part about Possessed in an Emperor’s Children list is that they can act independently without requiring any resources. You’re going to stack your buffs on a big unit of Noise Marines or Terminators, which means other units are going to have to exist on the flanks with no support besides the strength of their datasheets. Possessed fill that roll very well.
Master Of Executions: The ability to heroically intervene 6″ for free and then hand out a Fights Last makes him an interesting piece in Emperor’s Children lists. He’s not mandatory, and can make your lists very vulnerable to Assassinate if you’re also running Abaddon, but he’s cheap enough to be a consideration in almost every list.
Venomcrawlers: While they don’t gain much benefit from being Emperor’s Children, they’re a great datasheet that can fit into any list.
Chaos Spawn: A solo Spawn to hold objectives is never a bad call. Just watch out to ensure it doesn’t work against you if you choose Adorn The Canvas Eclectic or Grind Them Down as Secondaries.
Raptors: Emperor’s Children Raptor are the kings of mobility. A base 12″ Move works extremely well with all of the mobility options Emperor’s Children have. Go either cheap for maximum bodies, or load them up with meltas and a power fist.
Warp Talons: Warp Talons love being able to Honour The Prince, and their innate wound rerolls help proc the extra AP from the Legion trait. Just watch out–even though they get the Slaanesh keyword, they aren’t Core so they can’t Advance and Charge.
Havocs: Havocs are borderline in the Recommended section, but work just well enough to consider. The main benefit of Havocs is they are really cheap. 125 points for 5 T5 Havocs with Autocannons to plink away all game is decent value. Paying 15 points for their useless Mark Of Slaanesh makes them much less efficient. If you’re bringing Havocs in an Emperor’s Children list, I would recommend going with Lascannons so you get maximum value out of Murderous Perfection.
Vindicators/Predators/Land Raiders: They’re not going to set the world on fire, but they’re honestly fine. They exist to put some fire downrange while being too durable for your opponent to bother with while also dealing with the pressure you’re applying to their front lines. The fact they can all shoot down Aircraft without penalty makes them a reasonable addition to Emperor’s Children lists.
Rhinos: The fact you can’t use Honour The Prince on a unit advancing out of a Rhino makes using Rhinos slightly awkward, but you can’t go wrong with a metal box for your Noise Marines. The extra 3″ of Movement they get from disembarking makes them worth it.
Not Recommended Units
Dark Commune: Dark Communes are honestly pretty spicy. Combining the buffs of two HQs in one slot is always interesting, and you can do cool tricks to hold objectives with a squad with lots of models and Look Out, Sir protection.
The issue is the advance and charge prayer is too crucial for Emperor’s Children. You don’t want to downgrade from a Dark Apostle to a Dark Commune and lose your +1 to your prayer roll from the Dark Disciples. Add in the fact that the Dark Commune doesn’t know Delightful Agonies because they are Slaanesh instead of Mark Of Slaanesh, and they’re a pass in Emperor’s Children lists.
Chaos Lords: HQ slots are at a ridiculous premium in Emperor’s Children lists. Just bring a Master Of Executions instead if you want a walking beatstick. Or just pay a few more points and bring Lucius, who comes with an amazing amount of extra utility and doesn’t hog up your precious Relics or Warlord Traits.
Sorcerers: Another HQ who falls in the “fine in a vacuum, but don’t ever waste one of your precious HQ slots in an Emperor’s Children list on him”
Warpsmith: Another HQ who falls in the “fine in a vacuum, but don’t ever waste one of your precious HQ slots in an Emperor’s Children list on him”
Exalted Champion: Another HQ who falls in the “fine in a vacuum, but don’t ever waste one of your precious HQ slots in an Emperor’s Children list on him”
Legionaries: Noise Marines are just Legionaries with access to much better wargear. Legionaries got a big glow-up overall in the codex, but remain firmly outclassed by Noise Marines in an Emperor’s Children list.
Helbrute: They’re fine. They just move too slowly and don’t synergize with everything else.
The cool part is that in Emperor’s Children, you can run the Hammer on the Helbrute without worrying about the -1 to Hit penalty. That weapon also gets maximum value from Murderous Perfection.
Bikers: A solid datasheet held back by the fact Emperor’s Children don’t have the synergies to make their volume of bolter fire into anything interesting.
Obliterators: At least Obliterators in the old codex were usually bad, but sometimes they would randomly go nuclear and win you games by themselves. These new Obliterators are just consistently disappointing.
I don’t know at what points cost I would start actually running Obliterators, but it’s nowhere close to 90ppm. You can get 3 entire Possessed for a single Obliterator, and have points left to spare.
You’re going to have much better midboard options in an Emperor’s Children list than Obliterators.
Defilers: A reasonable datasheet that just has no synergy with Emperor’s Children. Leave them for Legions like Iron Warriors that can properly support them.
Forgefiends: See above, but they’re even better than Defilers.
Maulerfiends: See above, but they’re worse than Forgefiends.
Heldrakes: See above, but they’re even harder to paint in Emperor’s Children colors than anything else on this list.
Relics and Warlord Traits
We’re going to recommend some Relics and Warlord Traits for you to consider in your list. You can’t include nearly every Relic or Warlord Trait mentioned in your list, so think hard about your own list and playstyle and choose the ones that work best for you.
As a general rule of thumb, you should spend 3-4CP in pre-game upgrades in an Emperor’s Children list. Whenever I start the game with fewer than 2CP, I found myself stretched really thin whenever the game got messy turn 2. You can maybe get away with spending 5CP pre-game if you found 5 upgrades you just absolutely have to have, but don’t ever consider starting the game with 0CP.
Traitor’s Mantle: The Traitor’s Mantle is a core CSM codex relic, but it synergizes so well in Emperor’s Children that you may as well consider it an Emperor’s Children relic. Your Lord Discordant or Daemon Prince is going to spend 2CP to make a unit Fight Last at some point during every single game. Why not just bring the Traitor’s Mantle for 1CP and make that stratagem free?
The fact that the Traitor’s Mantle also gives full hit rerolls in melee makes this a no-brainer.
Black Rune Of Damnation: Another core CSM codex relic that is essential for Emperor’s Children players. You’re going to stick this on a big brick of Terminators or Possessed to give them -1 to Wound every single game, and you are never going to regret that.
Liber Hereticus: This is a very potent relic on an Emperor’s Children Master Of Possession. Being able to cast a third power means you can cast both of your Malefic Disciple powers while also casting Delightful Agonies. It’s not mandatory overall, but it’s going to a strong pick for any Emperor’s Children lists with a Master Of Possession.
Intoxicating Elixir: Giving your Character a once per game damage cap of 3 wounds that phase, this is maximum value on a 4-wound Master Of Executions. This lets him heroically intervene into something scary with impunity, dealing out damage and handing out Fights Last.
Fatal Sonancy: Now we’re going into the Emperor’s Children specific relics, and we’re starting with a fun one. This relic is extremely meta dependent, because it allows you to hand out ~3 MW in the Movement phase to get around phase wound caps. If the meta becomes full of Abaddons and C’tan, then Fatal Sonancy will go way up in value. I don’t think it makes the cut currently, but keep this one in mind for future lists.
Armour Of Abhorrence: Preventing nearby units from falling back on a 4+, this relic will feel familiar to any Slaanesh players that previously relied on the Contorted Epitome. It would be an auto-include if it reliably prevented Fall Back. As is, it’s a more fringe relic that depends on your personal playstyle.
Loathsome Grace: This provides a potent cocktail of mobility buffs, combining +2″ to your Movement with rerolls to advance and charge. This becomes very intriguing when combined with the Armour Of Abhorrence to provide a mobile wrench to throw into a shooting army’s plans.
Flames Of Spite: Full wound rerolls works well with the Legion trait, and mortal wounds on 6’s help push damage through into tougher targets. This combos extremely well with Traitor’s Mantle to provide full Hit and Wound rerolls.
Stimulated By Pain: This opens up some really interesting combinations on an Infantry melee Character. Turn 1, your Master Of Possession can inflict d3 Wounds on your Character to get +d3 attacks for the rest of the game. You then get a free fight on death instead of paying 2CP for it. This isn’t amazing, but it’s a fun pick for lists that want to include a Chaos Lord.
I’m going to be entirely honest with you–my personal list is really focused on melee board control, and looks very similar the second list featured below which belongs to Anthony.
So with the list I’m using for the article, I’m going to explore something completely different. We all got into Emperor’s Children because of Noise Marines, right? So let’s explore what a list built around Noise Marines would look like.
With Prescience each big Noise Marine unit will be usually hitting on 2’s rerolling 1’s in both range and in combat when its their turn to go. They’ll unleash a massive volley at close range before charging in to deny Primary. Meanwhile, a durable Terminator brick starts to take over the midboard. We have enough random chaff to do the dirty work and let the stars of the show shine. We’ve left some reinforcement points to summon a Herald for psychic secondaries, or a solo Fiend Of Slaanesh to set up traps against shooting armies. I don’t think this is the best Emperor’s Children list, or that this will be my primary list going forward, but I think it’s strong and thematic and a great place for anyone to start.
- Emperor’s Children Battalion
- Daemon Prince: -2CP, Traitor’s Mantle, Loathsome Grace, Prescience
- Master Of Possessions: -1CP, Liber Hereticus, Pact Of Flesh, Mutated Invigoration
- Dark Apostle: Illusory Supplication
- 3 x 10 Noise Marines with Sonic Blasters, Blastmaster, Icon, and Power Fist
- 3 x 10 Cultists
- 10 Terminators with 2 Chainfists and 4 Power Fists, -1CP for the Rune
- 2 Chaos Spawn
- 55 Reinforcement Points
If you’re looking for a list which is pure melee violence, you can’t go wrong taking a page from Anthony Vanella’s book and running the Emperor’s Children list he cooked up below.
- Black Legion Supreme Command
- Abaddon: -1CP, his 3 Warlord Traits
- Emperor’s Children Battalion
- Dark Apostle: Illusory Supplication
- Lord Discordant: -2CP, Traitor’s Mantle and Flames Of Spite
- 2 x 10 Cultists
- 8 Noise Marines with Sonic Blasters and a Blastmaster
- 10 Terminators with 2 Chainfists and 4 Power Fists, -1CP for the Rune
- 2 x 5 Possessed
- 5 Raptors
- 5 Havocs with Lascannons
I know you’re going to have a great time playing your Emperor’s Children on the tabletop. They are an incredibly high skill cap army that is really going to reward the time you put in to learn how to play them well.
As we wrap up the Emperor’s Children guide, let’s look to the future. I’m not sure which Legion I’m going to write about next because it’ll be determined by Patron voting (a poll will be up later today). If you want to help get your favorite Legion featured over the coming months, hop on over to https://www.patreon.com/Warphammer and join the team. There’s tons of additional benefits available to you too.
There’s always more Chaos content in the pipeline at Warphammer, so I know I’ll see you soon. As always, have fun, stay safe, and may the Dark Gods bless your rolls.