Thursday, 23 February 2017

Genestealer Cult - Unit Tactics

Now that I've played a few games, and been to a couple of tournaments with my Cult, I wanted to stop obsessing about lists, and set out a few thoughts on the units I've used, and how I use them.

Bear in mind, I run a pure GSC army, using the Insurrection Detachment with a Brood Cycle and 2 SubTs. So, loads of units and loads of bodies. My thoughts need to be viewed in that context. If you run a different style of GSC army, "your mileage may vary".


The Patriarch is a combat monster. WS7, T5, S6, I7, A4, W3 with AP3 claws with Shred and Rending. Add in 2 familiars for 4 more attacks (for only 10pts!!!) and he’s a beast. Better still, put him in a unit of Genestealer, and because he automatically passes look out sir saves, even in Challenges, he has a bunch of additional wounds with 5+ invulnerable saves. One point to cover. I suspect there’s a mistake in the recent  FAQ. As written it says that the familiars attack with the Patriarchs weapons skill “and attacks”. I suspect it means “and initiative”, but that’s not what it says. As things stand, the familiars use the Patriarchs attacks i.e. S6, rending attacks, giving him 9 S6 rending attacks on the charge!! The Patriarch is also a level 1 psyker, but I always upgrade him to level 2, 

The other thing to note is that, if you’re running the Patriarch in the Cult Insurrection Detachment you get to re-roll your warlord trait. The one you want all day every day, is number 6 – Ambush Leader, allowing you to choose the result on the Cult Ambush table. I always re-roll to try and get the 6, unless I roll [  ] i.e. grenades. I keep that.

I always run the Patriarch in a unit of Genestealer (I’ll talk about whether in a First Curse or not later) . Being able to automatically look out sir to 5++ saves is just too good.

As for how to use him, he’s a monster and I always throw him down my opponents throat as quickly as possible, whether via Cult Ambush, or simply infiltrating him and his unit as far forward as possible. I roll on Biomancy, hoping to get endurance to give the unit a 4+ FNP, or 3+ within 24” of the Iconward (I usually run Genestealer in the Brood Cycle). However, a Patriarch with Iron Arm or Warp Speed is a very scary thing!

So, Patriarch’s are nice and simple.


Cheap and cheerful psyker. Starts off at level 1, but I always upgrade to level 2 and add in the Crouchling for 3 rolls on (usually) the Broodmind Discipline. I usually add him into a 5 man Acolyte unit from the Brood Cycle, and position him where he can do the most good. Not much else to say, but I’ll come back to him when I discuss psychic powers.


The least useful of the IC’s I think, but compulsory in the Brood Cycle, so usually makes my army. The 12” (24” for units from the Brood Cycle) furious charge bubble is pretty good, but I always forget about the 6+ FNP bubble. TBH, the FNP bubble is only really useful when combined with endurance for a 3+ FNP, which on a big unit of Genestealer is really good.


The Primus is pretty good, especially in a SubT. While he has OK combat stats himself (3 attacks at WS5, with poisoned (4+) rending attacks, or 3 attacks at AP3, with instant death on a 6 to wound), it’s his 12” hatred bubble that makes him really useful. Combine that with allowing a unit from his SubT to roll 3 dice on the CA chart, all for 75pts, and he’s a bit of a bargain.  One point to note is that only a Primus from the units SubT allows that unit to roll 3 dice on the CA table. Before the FAQ you could attach additional Primases  from CADs allowing more than one unit to roll 3 dice on the table, but no longer.

Playing the Primus gives you a difficult choice. Do you play him aggressively, putting him in a big unit of Acolytes or a 10 man unit of Metamorphs, taking advantage of 3d6 on the table, or do you play him in a support roll, a little back from the front line, positioning him so he gives hatred to as many units as possible.

When I first started playing the Cult, I usually played him aggressively, in a Metamorph unit. More often than not his was on the front line, and died quite quickly. However, more and more I’m playing him in a 5 man acolyte unit, and placing him just behind the front line so he buffs multiple units, and survives to do it a few more turns. On balance I think he’s better in that support roll, than on the front line. That’s the Patriarch’s job!


In the style of army I play, I find Neophytes completely underwhelming. With the FAQ ruling that Heavy Weapons count as moving when you come in from reserve using Cult Ambush, I really don’t think they’re worth it over Acolytes. If I didn’t need to take them in the Brood Cycle, they would stay on the shelf. 


Acolytes are great value. Forty points for 5 guys that kick out 20 S4 rending attacks on the charge, plus can roll on the Cult Ambush table and Return to the Shadows, is amazing value. I’ve lost count of the number of opponents who are shocked by their potency in assault. They have a down side of course, T3 and a 5+ save make them pretty fragile.

However, I think the biggest problem with Acolytes is that, as an assault unit, Metamorphs and Genestealers are better. The problem is their combat upgrades are too situational, too random, and too expensive. I did run Rock Saws to deal with Knights, which they do very effectively, however, at 25pts each, they were too expensive, and I found if I stacked enough rending attacks on the Knight it died anyway. For a combat unit, the Metamorph upgrades are just better. However, their one strength over Metamorphs is that you can take them in numbers. A 20 man unit of Acolytes with a Cult Icon is pretty scary, and only 170pts. However, I’ve recently started thinking about them differently, and wonder whether demo charges and hand flamers might be the way to go.

I had previously thought demo charges and hand flamers were pretty useless. You would never get to throw a demo charge coming in from Cult Ambush because, unless you roll a 6, you're always out of range. Even if you roll a 6 you’re probably better off charging. To a lesser extent, the same is true with hand flamers. However, the recent FAQ has made me think again. The key FAQ is the one that confirms you can move turn 1, even if you infiltrate using CA. So, if you roll a 3+ on the table, you can move into range to throw the demo charges and fire up the BBQ in turn 1.  

While this is in itself a good thing, it has more far reaching implications to how you play your army as a whole, something I’ll return to in a later post.


At first I thought taking a big unit of Genestealers was a waste of points that would be better invested in Acolytes or Metamorphs. However, I’ve changed my mind, and always try and fit one large unit of Genestealer in my army.

With one exception, Genestealers are the ultimate close combat unit. Weapons Skill and Initiative 6 are the crucial stats, but 3 attacks base, S4 (S5 from Furious Charge if you have a Patriarch attached, (and you should always have a Patriarch attached) with rending, and a 5++, round out the package nicely. I can’t make up my mind whether 3pts for scything talons (for +1 attack) is worth it, but probably not. The big downside of course is that they don’t have grenades, so if even one of them charges through cover (and it’s hard to avoid in a 20 man unit) they go at initiative 1. There are a couple of ways to avoid this. First you can roll on the warlord trait table, giving your Patriarch a chance to get grenades (again, you always want a Patriarch in the unit), or you can take the First Curse and roll a on the strange mutation table, which can again, give your unit grenades.

Which of course brings me to the First Curse. No doubt about it, the First Curse is better than a standard 20 man unit of ‘stealers with a Patriarch. The Strange Mutations table is great, and can give the unit a serious buff. However, If you’re taking a Brood Cycle as core in a Cult Insurrection Detachment, you must take a 5 man unit of ‘stealers, which, by itself is a bit pointless. However, you can bump the compulsory 5 man unit up to a 20 man unit and just take a Patriarch by himself, for a “sort of” First Curse. So in effect there is a “tax” in taking the First Curse, and that’s the 70pt compulsory 5 man unit of ‘stealers in the Brood Cycle. On balance, I’m not sure the Strange Mutations table is worth taking the First Curse and “wasting” 70pts on a 5 man unit of ‘stealers. An additional benefit is that the FNP bubble from the Iconward effects Brood Cycle Genestealers within 24”, and they become WS7 (!) if within 6 inches of another Brood Cycle unit (the first is much more useful, especially when combined with Endurance!). 

As for how to use them – they are a hammer unit, but more importantly, they are the unit your opponent is (typically) terrified of, and just has to deal with. There is very little a 20 man unit of ‘stealers with attached Patriarch can’t handle, short of a powered up death star. Typically I ram the unit down my opponent’s throat forcing them to deal with it. Most games they die to a “man”, but not before taking a lot of incoming fire, and taking down a few units in the process. Essentially, they are the “distraction” getting all the attention while  the rest of the army wins the game.


If Genestealers are the distraction, Metamorphs are the killers. For only one point more than an Acolyte, you get the same stats and a Metamorph Talon boosting them to WS5. However, it’s the upgrades that make them so much stronger. For 2 points you can swap the talon for a Claw for +2 strength, a Whip for +3 Initiative, or a second Talon  for WS6. They can take a Cult Icon for +1 WS and a for 10pts can upgrade one to a Metamorph Leader (+1 attacks and leadership), that can take a Bonesword  for 20pts (AP3 and  Instant death on a 6), and a whip for +3 initiative. They come in units of 5-10.

I’ve agonised about how to run units of Metamorphs. I’ve run them as 5 man units, as 7 man units and as 10 man units. I’ve run them all claws, all whips and with a mixture of both. Currently my preferred load out is a 10 man unit with 5 Claws, a Cult Icon and Leader with a Bonesword and Lash Whip coming in at 142pts. I suspect this will not be a popular choice, but let me explain my thinking.

First, 10 man rather than anything less. There are a number of reasons. First, the FAQ clarified that when you roll for Cult Ambush you roll each unit individually, place that unit, then move onto the next. The problem is, if you roll a 6 on a 5 man unit, you don’t know what support it might have. Good as they are, 5 unsupported Metamorphs, wont achieve very much. A unsupported 10 man unit can achieve a lot more. Also, Metamorphs have the same problem as Acolytes – T3 with a 5+ save, so they’re a pretty fragile. I’ve found that 10 of them will survive long enough to achieve something, and have a reasonable chance of returning to the shadows and coming back with reinforcements using Numbers Beyond Counting. Finally, because they’re so fragile, a 5 man unit can be crippled by overwatch. Of course the counter argument is that you could have 2 five man units, one sucking up the overwatch and the other getting into combat. That’s fine if you can guarantee rolling 2 sixes.

Next upgrades. First I don’t think a second Talon is worth it. It’s not very often that WS6 is much better than WS5. Whips are great. Being able to limit incoming attacks by taking out units before they get to swing, makes a unit far more survivable. But for me Claws are the stand out upgrade. Metamorphs can stack hits reasonably easily (WS5 and access to Hatred via a nearby Primus) however I’ve often found that converting those hits into wounds is the problem, especially on anything T5 or higher. For Metamorphs I think +2 strength is better than +3 initiative. 

Which brings me to the Metamorph Leaders. While +2 strength is better than +3 initiative, +3 initiative is still pretty good. Combine it with an extra attack, and an AP3 Bonesword, and you have a character that takes out “low grade” characters in a challenge (unless they have  2+ save), or takes out a  couple of models before they get a chance to swing. Combine that with an extra point of leadership, and it’s almost worth the extra points. To be honest this is the bit I’m not so sure about. Might it simply be better to put in a couple of guys with Whips?

Finally, composition of the unit. I’ve gone for only 5 Claws because of how vulnerable the unit is to overwatch. I regularly lose 2 or 3 guys on the way in. Better they’re standard un-upgraded models, than guys with claws. So the plan is to put the 3 “normal” guys at the front, let them eat overwatch, challenge out a character with the Leader and/or taking out a couple of guys before they swing, and then murder the rest of the unit with Claws. So far it’s been pretty effective.


No comments:

Post a Comment