Oldgrue on Tyranids
The Oldgrue goes bugnuts!
There are a multitude of opinions on how to field Tyranids. Almost all of them are passionate statements from players with a love of all the hive fleet’s hopping, slithering, crawling, flapping and burrowing creatures. These are mine. Let the reader beware.
Headquarters are probably the most difficult decision a player is going to make. The opportunities to deliver staggering firepower and melee carnage in equal measure mean this decision may well define the tempo of your force. The point investment will likely be more extreme than any other army and the return on investment may not be as obvious as other armies so some flexibility for personal taste is available.
Hive Tyrants are the heart and soul of an army. This is not a choice that should define a theme to your army. The Tyrant can be used to deliver force in a surprisingly durable and flexible package.
They are also a fire magnet. Their Toughness 6 means they will be on the receiving end of inordinate amounts of special and heavy weapons fire able to ignore their already respectable 3+ armor save. Common wisdom suggests this should be mitigated with the 35 point Warp Field power. I respectfully disagree. Another 10 points provides a single Tyrant Guard. I like to call them ablative wounds. Tyrant guard turn the Tyrant into a squad upgrade – stripping off its greatest weaknesses: the inability to take advantage of cover and the ability to be picked out as an individual target. A 2+/6+ save is nice, but the Tyrant Guard allow such things as cover saves from the potential swarms of infantry between it and the enemy. I suggest bringing three and thinking of them as a large angry retinue.
As for biomorphs – the infinitely popular toxin sacs (+12 points for S6) is rightfully popular for melee tyrants, and arguably overrated for ranged use. Flesh hooks are an underrated choice to increase mobility and a lifesaver for those players who use Cities of Death regularly. Enhanced Senses are deceptive in its utility : increasing the tyrant BS to 4 isn’t as consistently useful because of the ubiquity of twin linked weapons and especially Living Ammunition. Symbiote Rippers, Implant Attack, Acid Maw, and both flavors of Adrenal Glands range from completely useless to wasteful indulgence as Weapon Skill and Initiative simply do not change enough to impact high end Special Characters, or the outlandish initiative of Dark Eldar. This means that in no way should you field the combination of Adrenal Glands, Toxic Miasma, and Lash Whips – you will never run into enough 2 attack WS 3 opponents. Stay lean and go with no more than three total. We’ll touch on the value of Winged tyrants a bit later because they are a special case.
Weapon choices for the Tyrant should be geared to being as flexible as possible. A Devourer requires the Toxin Sacs biomorph, so you might want to look at the Warp Blast power as a cost effective alternative. Venom Cannons are too unreliable as a character hunter due to their laughable AP, and at a peak STR 8 its only a threat to armor 12 half the time. Leave vehicles to the Warp Blast. Twin linked Devourers and Scything Talons are then the second most flexible choice providing enough volume of fire to eliminate light vehicles at STR 6, and 4 attacks. Better is two sets of Scything Talons, toxin sacs, and Warp Blast at 115 points. Add a minimum of 2 Tyrant Guard, and watch sparks fly. The Lash Whip/ Bone Sword combination is best used if the Tyrant is accompanying or leading an assault push.
Broodlords are bizarre. Starting 5 points less than a Tyrant, there’s no real excuse to not to get Toxin Sacs, Flesh Hooks, and Feeder Tendrils for the grand total of 86 points. If you’re bringing the Broodlord, don’t skimp on his retinue. 11 Genestealers, Flesh Hooks, and Toxin Sacs for another 220 deliver the most bang for your infiltrating buck. I think this is a waste of points when I can deliver a second Tyrant and Guard, but a stealer heavy army might apply this effectively.
Tyranid Warriors should be the most versatile entry in the army. As a HQ, Elite, or Fast Attack choice these should be one of the things that keep Nob mobs up at night. These are the nicest looking also ran models in some time. Under half of the biomorphs are useful for them in general, and a few specialized combinations make the best of a mediocre situation. These biomorphs are the cause of why the Warriors are so mediocre – the weapons can be mixed and matched, but not the biomorphs themselves unlike in comparable units.
Devourers require Toxin Sacs to attempt to keep up with Orks and Marine armies. Scything Talons are at that point mandatory. Rending is well….useless. Deathspitters are probably the best choice available for a shooting unit at 26 points. Lobbing blast templates downrange is likely to be as efficient as possible given the warrior BS. If you decide to take warriors, learn to compensate for the inevitable drift of those blasts as these strength 5 attacks will take an inevitable toll.
That said, there are very few effective combinations for a warrior even in a swarm army. Their purpose is not as an attack unit like one would expect of an investment like this, rather as a method to maintain synapse coverage and as bait. Even one round of fire from heavier units will help deliver other units to deliver a killing stroke. Accepting warriors are at best a bait unit is the start to effective use.
The best combinations remain Scything Talons,Deathspitters, Devourers, Fleshborers(oddly), and Spinefists. While writing this, the audience seems to echo with questions. Scything Talons are relatively cheap. Devourers in tandem with Toxin Sacs take advantage of a beautiful rate of fire, and the increased opportunity to wound. Deathspitters hit hard enough at twice the range of the marginally superior Fleshborer. Taking the benefits of a reasonable rate of fire, and Living Ammunition’s increased opportunity to wound, the Fleshborer may well be the best all around weapon available to the Tyranid army with Spinefists, Scything Talons, and Leaping being an interesting possibility as well.
Lictors are overpriced and limit their own utility. Having to Deep Strike into terrain is a liability, and Fearless is unforgiving to models with a low armor save. Points are better spent elsewhere.
Genestealers are the unofficial poster child of the Tyranid armies. At a base of 16 points it takes a thorough examination of the tasks they are to perform before fielding them. I prefer the scuttler and flesh hooks biomorphs to keep them at 20 points unless they will be screened by Termagants, where Scything Talons, Toxin Sacs, and Feeder Tendrils are a reasonable expense.
Termagaunts are the JELLO of this army. There should always be room for termagants (or Hormagaunts). While the points cost of a termagant with a fleshborer simply can’t compete with an ork boy, they are at least worth the cost to screen Genestealers etc. Unless Without Number is critical to your battle plan consider swamping your foes with larger units than ten models. Test drive the several hundred points of a full 32 termagants if you have the opportunity – its unforgettable for you, and your foes.
Hormagaunt broods are however a mixed bag. Their potential 24 inch assaulting move (running, fleet, Beast)beats jump troops for speed. Toxin Sacs and Flesh Hooks are the only biomorphs that have a significant impact on performance for hormagaunts due to their already reasonable initiative, weapon skill, and negligible armor save. As the first wave of an attack I suggest the virtue of quantity over quality due to their cost. Support hormagaunts with an application of The Catalyst power where possible as a means to maximize the return on investment.
Ripper Swarms were a darling idea as they were not as fragile as the 5e change to Swarms and targeting. Removal of target priority crippled this unit’s utility. While a carpet of gnashing teeth is thematically interesting, their earlier tasks are now filled by the Hormagaunt or Termagaunt and their cost is prohibitive.
Raveners have a much longer entry in the Tyranid book than they really need in this edition. Two sets of Scything Talons are really the only option worth having. If you have the available points, Devourers are the preferred ranged weapon in this case due to the living ammunition rule offsetting the reduced strength. Due to their inability to assault after a deep strike, these are a more thematic unit rather than a significant tactical impact. They are wonderfully suited to be a second wave to Hormagaunts due to the number of attacks they can each deliver. The greatest drawback for them is their cost per model since a full unit will cost the same or more than a unit and change of Termagants, or a full unit of Genestealers.
Gargoyles fit very well in some applications of a Tyranid army while being a general waste of space in your army box. While they are useful to a primarily winged army, they are in general better served by investing in another unit type. The Bio-Plasma attack is a concession to their general lack of customizability rather than a tangible benefit to the unit given their relatively low strength.
Spore Mine Clusters are points filler presuming you have extra points and no other models available. The small numbers they represent, relative fragility, and high cost for single use weapons should make this choice a non issue.
Zoanthropes are quite possibly the most underappreciated unit available to the Tyranid army. Each model costs the same as the psychic power they are equipped with standard, two wounds, and role flexibility. Field none or a full unit of three. Warp Blast or Synapse Creature should be considered for the position of the mandatory powers with others being tailored to a player’s particular tastes. If you are running a large number of models consider them over Warriors to extend your synapse area rather than warriors to allow for more units.
Biovores drain resources unnecessarily. Inherently inaccurate due to 5e rules regarding blast templates (a comparatively small template at that!) the Biovore has to purchase its own ammunition and almost double the cost of one to be tactically flexible. The Biovore’s range is unmatched in the Tyranid army , and yet delivers a subpar performance overall despite the Spore Mines being resolved as a barrage.
Carnifex are hands down the shining star of the Tyranid army. With superior application in both the Elite and Heavy sections of the army, the Carnifex is flexible in an unparalleled manner. Its phenomenal strength it makes Tyranid blast weapons viable without biomorphs, and delivers instant death attacks to character models foolish enough to tackle it in melee. Its flexibility is the sole reason the ‘nidzilla’ lists are so popular.
Biomorphs, like wargear, are primarily valued on application. Statistical analysis of each is an exercise in examining each unit as much as each biomorph for this army, and is further complicated by the pricing varying by unit.
Acid Maw’s utility is limited only due to its limitation to the first round of combat. Most logically it would be paired with Toxin Sacs to increase its application as an alpha strike weapon. If 5e didn’t reward letting melee combats last into the next melee phase (or assaulting multiple units) this would be an excellent use of resources.
Adrenal Glands for +1 WS maintained a reasonably consistent cost increase (25%) between several armies line troops without a matching return on investment. The To Hit chart (p37 AOBR) demonstrates that this cost regularly provides less than a 16.6% return on investment . Anecdotal evidence aside, the real impact of this increased cost is less models on the table. The same holds true with +1 Initiative. The army is reasonably fast on average, and can only hope to match the Eldar initiatives.
Bio Plasma, while limited in its availability, is deceptively valuable. A free additional attack at speeds Dark Eldar envy is disproportionately valuable. In some cases it can end an independent character before it can swing, and its defaulted 4+ to hit is realistically no less than what could be expected with most hand to hand combatants. This is one of the few must have biomorphs available.
Bonded Exoskeleton is available on only one model. Given the rarity of such high toughness, any Carnifex expected to see significant melee combat should find this irresistible.
Enhanced Senses also do not yield their cost in increased effectiveness. Tyranid Warriors have an abysmal BS that pouring points into is not going to make a significant enough impact. Carnifexes are better served by firing templates given their high STR.
Extended Carapace is strongly advised for the Carnifex, and advised against in all other cases. Tyranid Warriors will rarely be targeted by weapons their armor will provide adequate defense against given their toughness and wounds. Other units are not ideally suited to attempting to withstand fire excepting weight of numbers. Rely instead on the abundance of cover saves in 5e.
Feeder Tendrils are most useful in a unit that is supporting a larger melee, or a second wave of shock troops. Bury a unit with this biomorph near another unit so it can impart the ability over a foot away. A little of this biomorph goes a very long way.
Flesh Hooks are almost defined by local meta and terrain. Generally this Biomorph will pay big, or not come into play. In a Cities of Death scenario this biomorph is mandatory and unsettling. It is worth noting that the cost is in line for offensive grenades.
Implant Attack is another Tyranid alpha strike weapon. Less generally effective than Bio Plasma, implant attack also threatens to leave an assaulting unit unopposed after a round of combat due to the results being measured by wounds inflicted not models destroyed. After one round of combat models with this and Acid Maw will become much higher priority targets to the enemy. Employ liberally against Ork Biker mobs.
Leaping delivers a significant increase in the chance to deliver the whole of a unit’s attacks against a foe. Best used in a specialized force alongside Winged units.
Scythe Tail. Strike through the Mace option and forget it was ever there. If your Carnifex is engaged by more than four models, they’re likely higher initiative than it and subject to wounds from S5 weapons. Delivering additional attacks will serve far better than a single one.
Regenerate should be paired with Reinforced Chitin, or avoided.
Reinforced Chitin is another ‘must have’ biomorph. Carnifex not designed to be an Elite choice should be given that extra bit of staying power to outlast in an assault due to its low initiative
Scuttlers change the complexion of your army. Little in the Tyranid army should be done in half measures, this is another example. Small numbers of super elite scuttling troops are only going to disappoint.
Spine Banks are another weapon in the shooting phase, and assault grenades thus pointedly superior to both of the other carapace options for Carnifex in both points cost and utility. I consider this a must have biomorph for an assault centric Carnifex.
Spore Cysts risk taking a wound for a model that you do not control. Thankfully it only can harm enemy models. Thematically interesting but lacking a controlled application like Spine Banks.
Symbiote Rippers and Thornback have been rendered obsolete in 5e. Perhaps a friendly codex re-write will change that.
Toxic Miasma is about on par with the Adrenal Glands and should only be used in tandem with them if ever. Most assault troops have a WS of 4 or better making the pair necessary to have an appreciable impact for the Carnifex. The return on investment is negligible for the Hive Tyrant as it will rarely have a WS high enough to hit on 2.
Toxin Sacs would be a must have except for how they affect weapon costs. A Hive tyrant with a Barbed Strangler pays 32 points for a S5 large blast template rather than the equally inaccurate twin linked S7 blast template Deathspitter. This can quickly turn into a point sink so careful planning is a must.
Tusked is a must have for an assault centered Carnifex. More attacks is always better.
Winged will have a section all its own due to applications.
Tyranid Weapons tend to err towards medium range and softening up a unit before an assault. Several weapons take similar roles further muddying the value of their six ranged weapons. All of the weapons have a miserable AP which couples with their generally low BS to make an army that can become dependent on a volume of fire and templates.
The Barbed Strangler tends to fill a role similar to the Battle Cannon and hoping to anchor units with pinning. Its range allows it to deliver a high strength template to a reasonably large section of the field. Hive Tyrants and Tyranid Warriors are not efficient at delivering this template due to its reduction to the strength of the firing creature. Combine this with the ability to field Carnifex as elite units and we can see why the ‘Nidzilla lists are so popular.
Venom Cannons are the logical counterpart to the Barbed Strangler. Their high rate of fire, respectable strength (minimum 6, maximum 10), and range are offset by cost compared to other armies’ heavy weapons, availability, and inability to deliver its strength against vehicles effectively (can only glance most vehicles). The Hive Tyrant can more efficiently deliver firepower in other manners, the Carnifex already has an incredible strength, and the Tyranid Warriors can only field one per brood. Steer clear of this weapon.
Deathspitters were once the signature weapon of the Tyranid army. Templates, moderate strength, moderate range, and a reasonable cost make them a solid go-to weapon for Tyranid Warriors that intend to shoot. Flexibility and Wound Allocation make this no longer the case.
Devourers are the weapon of choice for ranged combat for Tyranid Warriors and Hive Tyrants. Despite the reduction in Strength for ranged attacks the volume of fire provided by Devourers and the Living Ammunition (reroll failed wounds) rules offset this nicely. Couple this with the Toxin Sac biomorph and it goes from a good weapon to a superior weapon. This weapon transitions nicely in the hands of Termagaunts as well but requires Toxin Sacs to make it effective and raises the cost of the unit significantly.
Fleshborers are a diamond in the rough. Cheap, hard hitting, and bolstered by the Living Ammunition rule offsets the short range of the weapon. Basic Termagaunts with fleshborers can threaten higher toughness targets, and are still cheap enough to give Scuttlers or Toxin Sacs to.
Spinefists shine in places where you need to have a multitasking unit. Termagants become a low cost screen with a minor bite. Tyranid Warriors sorely need twin linked, can soften a unit for their assault, and manipulate wound allocation with them. Hive Tyrants should steer clear of this weapon. The related Spine Banks is a ‘Must Have’ for many Carnifex.
Hive Mind Powers tend to hone a force’s application rather than significantly change how it fights. They do deliver significant firepower into the hands of a Tyrant or Zoanthrope but are often better applied to enhance the army as a whole rather than as a weapon themselves.
Catalyst is an excellent method to deliver additional force to a high initiative target – especially the Carnifex swamped by enemy elite assault troops. Its low cost and significant range make it useful on any unit unfortunate to have to assault into cover allowing the cost of flesh hooks to be recycled into more units.
The Horror might require a LD check to assault, but it does not require a LD check to shoot at it. LD values of 7 or more are so common as to make this power more of filler than substance. With several models overlapping the Psychic Scream this power becomes an assault deterrent.
Psychic Scream needs to be purchased for multiple models with overlapping radii to be effective for the same reason. If reducing the enemy LD is part of your strategy then take as many as you can.
Shadow in the Warp is useful against armies dependent on Psykers despite taking away the 1:18 chance of psykers harming themselves. To really make it effective it has to be combined with The Horror and Psychic Scream thus incurring some expense. Caveat Emptor.
Synapse Creature is a must have for swarming. Every little bit of overlap of the Hive Mind is useful. Zoanthropes being held in reserve will still be able to act as a safety net for units that revert to instinctive behavior.
Warp Blast is the Tyranid version of an anti-tank gun. Hive Tyrants can live without this, but Zoanthropes should keep this in serious consideration.
Warp Field on a Hive Tyrant has a lot going for it – an invulnerable save is seriously lacking in the Tyranid army. The Tyranid army also is very friendly to ablative wounds. More targets taking hits for the Tyrant is usually better than the tyrant taking them.
Effective Tyranid strategies are diversified by local metagame and the flexibility of the army. A terror in Austin, TX may not be in Washington, DC or Toronto, CAN. The most common styles: Winged, Swarm/Shock, and ‘Nidzilla, have developed around the changes from 4e to 5e. Each have peculiarities, and each are prone to borrow from one another.
Winged Tyranid lists tend to focus around the eponymous Winged Hive tyrant. Typically this Tyrant will also have the Warp Field , Toxin Sacs, and two Twin Linked Devourers to balance firepower with melee ability. Further Elite or HQ choices can include another matching Tyrant, or Warriors with the Wings or Leaping biomorphs. Complimented with Hormagaunts, Gargoyles, and/or Genestealers with the Scuttlers biomorph this sort of army can deliver mobility that can be difficult to counter. It will however have difficult compensating for heavy vehicles without slower units to act as support. These lists are susceptible to sustained losses due to their rather expensive biomorph requirements as the Winged biomorph can double the cost of the creatures attached to it. Winged lists do well to take advantage of the Beast trait as well making Hormagaunts and Raveners interesting compliments to provide a bit more hitting power.
‘Nidzilla lists are characterized by fielding as many Carnifex and Hive Tyrants as possible. The loss of each of these will be sorely felt by this list so it pays to make them as durable as possible which in turn exacerbates losing each one. This list style is well complimented by swarms of less threatening troops to draw the attention of an opponent an imminent threat.
Swarm/Shock lists have the twofold purpose of delivering a sheer volume of targets and attempting to outflank an opponent and dilute their firepower. Swarms are a no frills sort of list that are rewarded by a quantity over quality approach. These lists can take advantage of Tyranid Warriors’ ability to project a large area for synapse and still be cost effective but need to take care in having some antitank ability available and protected. 1500 points can deliver over 200 models (192 termagaunts with spinefists and 19 similarly equipped Tyranid warriors) with no effort making the prospect of killing enough a rather daunting task.
Taking this all into account, I posit that the Tyranid Army in 5e needs to be pared down to its most basic. Other armies might have the luxury of 5 different entries in their Elites section, or infinitely flexible troops choices. Tyranids need to have each unit designated for a task more than any other army and designate a backup unit. By maintaining an all or nothing philosophy the Tyranids should be able to get the job done consistently.
Each of the following lists attempt to capitalize on a single primary strength and maintain a competitive edge while feeling like a list that respects fluff materials. Experienced opponents may immediately see the list weaknesses, but exploiting them isn't always as simple as it seems.
- 2x 6 Tyranid Warriors: Scything Talons, Fleshborer, Flesh Hooks (24 ea) [2x 144]
- 2x 5 Tyranid Warriors: Scything Talons, Fleshborer, Flesh Hooks (24 ea) [2x 120]
- 6x 32 Termagaunt: Spinefist (5 ea) [6x160]
Upgrade to 1750 point list by removing two units of Warriors and adding heavier units to suit your preferences.
- Strengths: 214 models to kill, Inexpensive units, Single infantry unit can conceivably hold or contest multiple objectives, ability to tie up dangerous melee opponents.
- Weakness: Desperately needs some firepower to engage even the lightest of armor, relies on attrition to resolve conflicts, forces are relatively fragile, and large units can be clumsy without practice.
- Hive Tyrant: Wings, Warp Field, Catalyst, 2 Twin Linked Devourers, Toxin Sacs, Bio Plasma, Flesh Hooks (208)
- (Note: you'd think I would have paid more attention to the singular winged Tyrant. Insert command choice du jour here.)
- 2x 32 Hormagaunts (10 ea) [2x320]
- 2x 5 Raveners: 2 sets Scything Talons, Deathspitter (44 ea) [2x220]
Upgrade to 1750 by adding 2 Carnifex or Scuttling Genestealers
- Strengths: High model count, speed rivaling mechanized and bike armies
- Weaknesses: Subject to attrition losses, limited ability to engage heavily armored forces, 2 Synapse creatures.
- Hive Tyrant: Psychic Scream,Twin Linked Devourer, Lash Whip & bonesword, Extended Carapace, Toxin Sacs, Flesh Hooks, 3 Tyrant Guard: Fleshhooks (281)
- 2x 30 Termagaunts: Spine Fists (5 ea) [2x150]
- 3x Carnifex: Scything Talons, Barbed Strangler (113 ea) 
- 3x Carnifex: Bonded exoskeleton, Reinforced Chitin, Spine Banks, Tail Scythe, Tusks, Scything Talons, Crushing Claws (173 ea) 
Upgrade to 1750 by replacing troops choices to suit your tastes, or a duplicate Hive Tyrant.
- Strengths: 7 extremely difficult to kill units, 67 models, respectable assault ability, able to provide cover to a significant portion of the army.
- Weaknesses: required to be tightly packed, does not respond well to attrition, limited ability to hold objectives.