So I wanted to share my analysis of 9th edition so far and of Tyranids in particular as we explore the new edition. I think 9th has some real improvements over 8th edition and is a lot of fun. Still, nothing is perfect and there are some areas of opportunity.
: No review is complete without understanding the meta or local competition someone plays in. My meta is composed primarily of about a dozen professionals (attorneys, software engineers, business owners, etc.) in their 30s through 50s. They are fairly competitively minded, and about a third of the group has both the money and inclination to meta chase hard, routinely dropping a thousand or more in a weekend on an army or set of units when a new fotm
shows up. Because of this, even when there are few events (like right now), you can generally count on facing some pretty tuned lists and players that are good natured but smart and will utterly destroy you if given an opening.
We also have a couple high school/college age kids (the children of some of the others) who generally poorhammer it up with one or two armies with much less optimized lists and unit choices. Playing against them it is important to soften lists up a little bit so that both people have fun. They don't really impact the overall meta, but it has been interesting to see how they fare overall.
Loyalist marines dominate the group (salamanders, white scars, space wolves, blood angles, iron hands, fists) but we also have two players who run custodes sometimes, a tau player, an admech/knights player, a harlequin player and a death guard die hard.
As a group I believe we have several hundred games of 9th edition played (most of us have pretty nice tables and gaming areas set up in our homes). I specifically have played more than 40 games, mostly with tyranids, and that experience is what informs my analysis. I have also played in one local RTT
against people outside of the group.
: So first off, 9th is fun and the games are typically much closer than in 8th. Also, the focus on scoring rather than killing really changes things up in a good way. That said, at this point 9th edition feels like a solved problem. This mostly is due to the limitations in the grand tournament pack. Through many ruthless games a clear "best" strategy has emerged in my meta, and almost every game at this point is the same. The easiest secondaries to score well on are engage on all fronts/behind enemy lines and deploy scramblers.
The third secondary will change based on matchup and mission. Many mission secondaries are easy to score well on, so they will be the third choice. Some army compositions are punished by the secondary system and so if offered you can take bring it down, thin their ranks, abhor the witch etc. to take advantage of an army GW
doesn't like. Pretty quickly people started to design armies that don't give these up. Finally, if your opponent doesn't give up a specific kill secondary, and the mission secondary is not good (minimize losses?? really?) then normally the third secondary is while we stand we fight or grind them down, depending on how elite your army is.
Your typical game therefore is probably against an opponent with engage, scramblers and wwswf. With this set up you are likely to score at least 10 on all of these even in a loss, and perhaps up to 40. With an average primary score in the group of around 35 points per game, you are looking at scoring 65 (+10 paint = 75) in a loss and probably close to 90-100 in a win. Taking any other secondaries just drops your overall score in a win or a loss except in extreme situations and is probably best avoided. Also, people who take the other secondaries might snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, because if you can score upwards of 60 points while being tabled, and they crush primary and struggle on secondary, you are still going to win. Again, it feels like a solved problem.
: no discussion of the current 9th format is complete without addressing the elephant in the room, first turn. First turn is incredibly powerful and we find close to 75% of our games are now decided by who gets first turn. We have experimented with both heavy terrain and light terrain setups, and it makes very little difference.
Heavy terrain hurts armies that rely on long range shooting damage and castles. However, these sorts of armies often score very poorly to begin with and can mostly be ignored. This sort of army will have a chance at winning if getting first turn on a board with light terrain, but otherwise normally just can't score enough primaries to compete. If you find gunline castles are still doing well in your group, I would recommend adding terrain.
However, no amount of terrain really helps with the "ultimate strategy". A first turn charge to pin someone in their deployment zone. Whether this is something fast like white scars bikes, or the much more common infiltrate wars (nurglings, infiltrators, scouts, ghost keels, etc.) getting charged in your deployment zone often loses the game on the top of round 1. Because you can't fall back and shoot, or fall back and cast, your front line often gets stuck by garbage units. Do you disembark your squishy, hard hitting hand to hand troops from their transports in your own zone just to clear the weak melee threat? Even tying up a weak screen with an early charge can end the game if the screen itself took up too much board space.
When facing the all powerful early charge heavy terrain becomes a huge problem because there are fewer movement paths, and if you didn't invest heavily in fly you can get bogged down with no path out of your deployment zone. To be clear early charges are not devastating because they kill stuff, that is very rare. They are powerful because of their ability to pin an enemy in their own area, unable to break out and get onto objectives until later turns. One of my worst defeats was my tyranids against a blood angles player. He used forlorn fury and upon wings of fire to throw two units into my lines turn 1, and then every turn after that he just kept throwing waves into the meat grinder. I badly killed his army (the end of the game he had 150 points left on the board and I had more than 1200), but by sacrificing his whole army to keep me pinned I wasn't able to really get out of my own deployment zone till turn 4, so only scored primaries on turn 5. Killing doesn't matter, scoring matters. Tabling an opponent and not scoring does nothing.
A lot of the strategies, therefore, that have developed revolve around ensuring that first turn pinning charge or defending against it.
Focus on scoring
: It is almost a meme in our group at this point that the person who killed more lost the game. Killing to impact scoring is all that matters, and normally the person who focuses more on killing tends to let a scoring opportunity slip. This has led to some crazy meta evolutions. For example, our tau player started off running triptide with shield drones. These days he has crazy things in his list like two dirt cheap FSE commanders in a patrol just to move super fast and control space/engage, stealth suits and a ghost keel to charge his opponents turn 1 and keep them pinned, and a bunch of transports filled with obsec and drones to take objectives. He normally kills very little, but by changing his list to scoring he can be a very difficult matchup. But his list today is almost the opposite of what he ran in 8th under ITC.
- the things that didn't work: So there are a few meta builds I tried early that each did not work. As you might imagine getting to my current list was a long process of trial and error.
The least effective was gaunt carpet. I routinely run against lists rocking 12 aggressors, and they just hard counter this kind of list. If my meta had less volume of fire I could see this working, and it can still catch a lot of less skilled players by surprise with just how few run to morale even when you leave synapse. Also this kind of list just bleeds thin their ranks, so you basically start 15 points down. The giant blobs are vulnerable to taking up too much space (so if you get charged in your own dz now your whole army can't move) and even with heavy use of metabolic overdrive marines, which are most of my meta, just eat this kind of army for lunch.
The next one that didn't work was nidzilla, carnifex spam. They are cheap for the statline, and it can be fun to take 9+ of these boys and a few hive tyrants. However, this list bleeds bring it down, and eradicators are a thing. This list is actually quite a bit squishier than gaunt carpet, and can be vulnerable to both heavy shooting and also dedicated hth
armies. I just couldn't make it work.
The final one I'm on the edge of because it almost worked, and a better player than me might be able to take it over the edge. That is swarmlord plus heavy genestealers. This does have the advantage of the first turn charge, however in my games it just never had the toughness to hold the opponent up for enough turns, and it was so many points that I often didn't have enough left to score. This list was also exceptionally weak if going second in my experience. Also, the stupid barrel of monkeys arms on the stealers makes getting within half an inch of half an inch a real pain, and it is tough and time consuming to try and position the unit correctly and in coherency to even get most of your attacks. I think this list might still have legs, but I couldn't make it work. Like the gaunt carpet I really struggled with someone rocking a large number of aggressors with this list, and right now most of my meta feels like gravis marines.
: (I've done very, very well with the below list)
BATTALION - leviathan - 9 starting cp
Broodlord - resonance barb, catalyst
neurothrope - psychic scream, warlord
5x warriors, deathspitters, lash whip and bone sword, 1 vc
, adaptive - enhanced resistance
5x zoanthropes - onslaught
5x zoanthropes - horror
PATROL - kronos
neurothrope - symbiostorm
6x hive guard
exocrine, adaptive - dermic symbiosis
Note on strats
- the MOST IMPORTANT STRAT in the entire tyranid book is metabolic overdrive in my experience. I routinely am using it 4 turns in a 5 turn game, and it is super important to control scoring. Firing twice is fun, going in strategic reserve as needed, counting exocrines as standing still, a psychic reroll, all of these are good. But the strat I encourage you to consider every single turn is matabolic overdrive.
Overall this as a list is really doing quite well against the hordes of marines. I'll go through each choice.
- This unit is only OK, but the main reason to include him is so that I can take wwswf and still throw away the mawlocs (same points cost). By including the broodlord I can take him and two exocrines for wwswf when that secondary makes sense as I evaluate the matchup. Normally this guy hangs back with the main force as a counter charge threat and pretty reliably casts smite with +1 to cast and normally reroll 1s from the neurothrope. If wwswf wasn't such a clutch secondary in some matchups I would drop him down for a third neurothrope. I also tried a malanthrope in this spot, but with lots of dense terrain and needing as many spells as I could get I found the malanthrope had much less of an impact on the list than it did in 8th.
- super important, super cheap. The reroll 1s in psychic is clutch especially when you are casting 8+ powers a turn, and drastically reduces your chances of getting a perils. Once in a blue moon I'll also heal a zoanthrope, but I find I often forget the rule in the heat of battle.
- these are fantastic troop choices. I often deepstrike all three units I have in the list, but if I think the matchup won't favor that strategy they can still be used to screen. They won't kill anything, it's christmas if they do a wound. But they are a good number of wounds per point, so clearing them takes more effort than any opponent wants to throw at them.
- these are very good with enhanced resistance and the -1 damage strat. I've experimented a lot with warriors, trying a unit of 9, two units of 9, two units of 5, and where I landed on was 1 unit of 5. Their big weakness in large numbers is distressingly common.... high ap
d3 shot weapons. Plasma cannons, thermal spears, neutron lasers, etc. these things start getting max shots and just blowing through the warriors too fast. A bunch of deathspitter shots helps to clear screens, with onslaught they can advance and charge, and having some medium tough obsec you can slingshot around is clutch. They won't survive a focused attack, but they are another unit that takes more effort than your opponent wants to spend to remove. Also, I tried boneswords for the extra attack and lashwips for fight when they die, and I found lashwhips to make a difference in a game more often. Any time I free up points elsewhere in the list one of the first thing I'm looking to add is more warriors.
- the absolute best unit in my list. Two lictors basically makes deploy scramblers impossible for my opponent to defend against, so this seventy-ish points of love is worth 10 vp
out of 90 to be earned. That is return on investment folks. In addition, they are very likely to ALSO be scoring you extra points for engage/behind enemy lines. Two lictors alone might easily score you 15+ points in a game. I found one could sometimes be neutralized, and 3 was overkill as I couldn't increase my scoring enough with the third one. Its hard to get so much score out of so few points for most armies. Bonus points if you don't need the second, and you can throw it in denying overwatch to a key enemy shooting unit, but most games they don't get to do anything fun, they just score my points.
- this is a very good unit, and works especially well against the more elite armies I find myself facing. They seem expensive for not many toughness 4 wounds with basically no shooting or hth
ability, and only kicking out about 4 mortal wounds a turn each. And yet, and yet, these guys are all-stars all the time. The 6+++ from leviathan means that it takes normally 3 unsaved 3 damage attacks just to kill 2. They are very tanky, and can hold up to a lot of dedicated charges if needed (ever had a unit of thunderhammer termies or vanguard vets just bounce off your screen? It can happen with these guys). They are an interesting rock/paper/scissors with marines as they hard counter eradicators, but are themselves hard countered by aggressors. So there is a real positioning/screening game you engage in with your marine enemies as soon as these guys hit the field against gravis spam that is so common.
In other non-marine matchups they are better, as without volume of fire they rarely die. They are key to my army basically hard-countering harlequins (I ignore haywire and he just can't hold up under the mortal wound output) and early in 9th I had lots of fun smiting down riptides. Our tau player no longer even takes riptides.
These guys are weak to mass low strength fire and to getting tied up as they can't fall back and cast. That said, they can advance and cast just fine, and are often a key metabolic overdrive target to get them in position and take an objective.
- these guys are are second in importance only to the lictors.... the lictors normally score more points and can perform actions. The ability to reverse the field on an opponent, challenge a key backfield objective, etc. makes these guys golden. Let's be honest right upfront, a mawloc is not going to kill anything, basically ever. And they don't hold up against any dedicated fire.... but your opponent may have to waste fire they don't want to to deal with them.
But mawlocs SCORE. They are almost impossible to screen out. I find it very common that somewhere, maybe two places on the field will be held by single units.... a transport, a plagueburst crawler, an invictor warsuit, something the opponent doesn't need in the midboard at the moment. If you can come up on an objective and take your opponent from holding 2/holding more (for 15 points) down to just holding 1 for 5 points, that's a 10 point swing for a measly 100 points and change investment. Run them cheap. In addition, say they drop in with a lictor, and you are likely easily getting your engage/linebreaker even if pinned in your own deployment zone.
They also take just enough to take down that they are a pain for some armies. Midboard bullies like space wolves or blood angels.... even plague marines are often too slow to afford to turn around and defend their own backfield. These units put an opponent in a bind, as they either have to keep more back than they want to on back objectives to defend.... which weakens their fight on the midboard, or they just have to basically give you their own backfield. On some mission's secondaries like priority targets a pair of mawlocs and a pair of lictors might end up scoring you close to half your points for the entire match.
I normally drop one lictor/ripper/mawloc set on turn 2 and another one on turn 3, but it of course depends on secondaries, what openings your opponent left you, etc.
The third mawloc never worked for me. They can't come up close to each other, and especially in missions with just 4 objectives you quickly run out of spots where they can score you points. I've found two to be my own personal sweet spot to control scoring, but I think a better player could probably get away with one and free up some points to be spent elsewhere. And remember, while these help immensely with the scoring, they are wasted points as far as dealing damage is concerned. You only take these units for their potential to score you some of that precious 90 potential vp
One final note on board control. The third tyranid piece in my opinion that goes in the board control column with lictors and mawlocs is the biovore. Ultimately I struggled with biovores because too many of my opponents evolved lists that were heavy on fly and just ignored them (impulsors, all harlequins, all tau, etc.) and obviously you don't take biovores for wound output. And don't even get me started on space wolf 6" heroic intervention nonsense. I found lictors and mawlocs could consistently impact the score and give me board presence, where as biovores just helped me to win harder against a weak opponent, but never let me win a game against a competent opponent.
- these guys are money, and I think you always want to include one unit. If you feed them cp
and psychic powers they are super capable at clearing off one opponent objective per turn to deny primaries. I've tried dropping the exocrines to run two units of 6, and I didn't like it as well. Much like lictors or mawlocs, more points in these units didn't get me the same level of return. Also, dropping the exocrines takes away some of my best anti-gravis shooting and makes it so I don't have the option to take wwswf against a melee army (scars, blood angles, wolves, harlies, etc.). I think one unit is about where you want to be.
Strangely as a shooting unit these guys are more and more valuable the more terrain there is. On a board with heavy terrain the hive guard might single handedly win you the game and will seriously outperform the exocrines. On a board with light terrain they will struggle, and the exocrines will do a lot better. The only time I would seriously consider running 12 again is if I knew I was going into a situation with a terrain heavy board.
- These guys are in an interesting spot. Their ability to kick out flat 2/3 damage is SUPER important to threaten certain firing arcs against marines and make them pay for going in the wrong spot. But even with one with a 5++ invuln and the other deepstriking, they can just be toast against outflanking eradicators. It is an interesting cat and mouse game because they can generally clear the eradicators if they shoot first, but will die if the eradicators shoot first.
Like many other things in the list, more was not better, and I often run with just 1 exocrine if I have something else in the list I feel comfortable marking for wwswf (maybe upgrading a neurothrope to a hive tyrant for instance, then your wwswf is a tyrant, exocrine and broodlord, and that can work out). 3 exocrines will work wonders against weaker opponents, as along with the hive guard it can be an extreme amount of anti-marine firepower you are kicking out. But that ends up being like 900+ points in your back shooting castle, and taking a list like that starts to struggle to score against better opponents. I find a third of your army is normally the absolute limit of what you want to devote to backline shooting, but ymmv
While facing marines, and especially gravis spam I think at least one exocrine is a must just for the flat 3 damage and high ap
at range. They obviously struggle against knights and will lose a duel against other t8 anti tank because of the low strength. These are elite killers and there are a lot of elites in my meta.
The other issue with exocrines is the 6" movement. On boards with heavy terrain you probably want both in strategic reserve just so that they can get on the board with decent firing arcs. I've had clever opponents mostly neutralize them just with good positioning and use of terrain. And these guys aren't scoring you points in a lot of games, mostly this is an option in the list to kill and control a lane. Also against a lot of deep striking gravis, you probably want to reserve both, have the one with the invuln come in t2 and the weak one come in t3.
: In conclusion, I find the above list to do very well against our current marine/elite overlords. It is active in every phase of the game, although a little weak at dealing damage in hth
. And even in a loss, which is thankfully rare, you are likely still posting 60-70 points on the board. Your opponent will really have to work for it, and I've had a good number of wins where I was outkilled but my opponent just couldn't find ways to score against me to pull the w in the final total. I am curious what others think of my analysis and experience, and how the rest of the hive mind is finding 9th edition.
I have gotten a lot of questions on this so put together a very simple battle report that you can read to see the list in action. You can find it here: