Maximum Threat Overload and Chaos

overwhelming force

Yo dily, doodily doo, neighbors! Reecius here from Frontline Gaming to discuss a tried and true strategy and explore how it applies to Chaos in 40K.

Maximum Threat Overload (MTO), a term coined by my friend Jy2, describes the strategy of presenting too many overwhelming threats for your opponent to deal with. It functions somewhat like MSU in that you are using the principal of forcing your opponent to make difficult target priority decisions to confound his ability to deal with your army. However, a primary difference here is that you are going one step further and choosing which units he will target for him.

It sounds simple, and is nothing ground breaking. Everyone knows that if one thing is good, more of it are better. However, this strategy goes beyond simply spamming (although it can incorporate spamming in list building). MTO revolves around identifying units that can reliably apply enough pressure to a wide enough variety of builds to be considered universal threats that will rise to target priority number 1 for your opponent, allowing you to dictate where and when combat happens on the table top. This has a twofold benefit: you are imposing your will on your opponent, and it allows you to skimp in other areas of your list, namely the troops section (although that isn’t always necessarily the case).

What I mean by this specifically is that if you present your opponent with a large number of threats he cannot ignore, he will not have the resources to take your most vital units out: troops. Therefore, you can funnel more of your points into damage dealing units.


So, what kind of units fall into these categories? Obviously, they have to have a high damage output. They must also be fairly mobile, or a fast enemy will just dance away from them, reducing their threat. They must also be fairly durable to survive going second against an army with a lot of firepower. If they have a weakness to a certain type of unit, you must have the ability to overlap that weakness to avoid having your entire list strategy fall flat. Lastly, they must be reliable, meaning that they should usually be fearless or close to it. You can’t have the wheels fall off the bus with a flubbed leadership test.

Jy2 came up with the idea when he used a Necron list in 5th which contained 3 units of 6 Wraiths, 2 Overlords in Command Barges, 2 Annihilation Barges, and 4 minimum sized units of Warriors with Lanceteks in them to fill points and for scoring units (we typically play 1750 here).

Now, at first glance, you look at that list and think, the troops are too vulnerable. Kill the troops and the Necorn player can’t win. True, but when you have 3 units of Wraiths, 2 Overlords and 2 Anni barges bearing down on you full force, you MUST deal with them or be assaulted and destroyed turn 2.

What we found is that the troops were almost universally ignored by everyone as they had their hands full dealing with fast, hard hitting, fearless (largely), durable units hitting their lines full bore. If you were facing an opponent with units that could handle your hammer units and still threaten your backfield scoring units, you could simply reserve them to keep them off board and out of danger.

I feel that that list was a bit too one dimensional as if you had an army that could handle the Wraiths (Dark Eldar Venom Spam, for example) you could find your list facing a hard counter, which is why I think a bit of diversity would improve the overall versatility of the list.

In 6th, Jy2 now mixes in some Fliers to create a list that is even more dangerous and has done quite well with it, winning the first GT of 6th: The Golden Throne.

Tyranids as played by most competitive players in 6th also really illustrate these qualities. Taking 2 Flyrants, multiple deep striking units such as the Doom, Zoeys and Ymgarls (technically not deepstriking, but you all know what I mean), and fast moving units you can apply so much pressure to your opponent so fast that they simply cannot afford to target your scoring units (typically Tervigons). You are forcing your opponent to play the game you want to play.

Now how does this apply to Chaos, you may be asking yourself? I get emails frequently from folks asking how to make Chaos work. I have made no secret of the fact that I have been pretty disappointed with the Chaos book. I think it is solid from an internal balance perspective in general, but some of the units are just awful, while some are so incredibly good (Helldrake, anyone?) that they feel like auto-include choices.


After many hours of brainstorming and trying to make certain lists work I have come to a conclusion about Chaos: their troops are subpar, IMO. I am not saying it is impossible to make a Chaos troops good, just that they fall short of other books’ troops on a points efficiency basis.

The cult troops are too expensive for what you get in most cases, or just too expensive. If you focus on making solid units of troops, you have no points for long range firepower or powerful assault units (and please don’t say Berzerkers, as compared to any other premiere assault unit in the game they fall flat, and if they do their job: assaulting, they often aren’t taking objectives). Plague Marines are solid, but so pricey. Noise marines are a good choice but die like Marines at an increased price. Regular CSM are cheap but suffer from leadership issues. Running them naked as Bolter slingers and objective takers is not bad, but still, for what you get they aren’t anything to write home to mom about. Thousand Sons don’t really bear mentioning (although we have a guy locally that somehow makes them work quite well, but that is certainly an exception to the rule). Chosen can work, but they mix roles. You want to min/max them due to their point cost, but that requires that they get in the mix of things to use their special weapons, which is often not a place units survive long to subsequently take objectives.

The solution I keep coming to (as do a lot of other folks) is Cultists and Zombies. For the points, they get the job done. Now as this applies to the MTO build, it opens up a lot of options when you abandon the idea of actually having any CSMs in a CSM list, haha.


6 units of 10 cultists (or Zombies) is only 300pts. That is a very reasonable tax to have 6 scoring units running around the board. They also register very low on your opponent’s target priority list as they have such pathetic damage output capacity. Plus, they have safety in numbers. 6 targets is more than most lists can destroy in a turn if you are playing the cultists defensively (which you should be). These guys essentially run around, hide, and go for objectives. That’s it. Assume they die if anything targets them and be pleasantly surprised if they survive…and dance for joy if they every actually kill anything!

300pts is what a single tooled up Cult squad can run you. No comparison, really. That leaves all the rest of your points for pure offensive kill power. That is what Chaos does well.

So now you need to ask yourself which units to take that will provide such an overwhelming threat that your opponent will HAVE to deal with them? That is the key to keeping the heat off of your wimpy Cultists (and putting them in reserve is always a viable option, too). The answer is of course maxing out on Warp Talons and Mutilators…..hah! Just kidding.

You choose units that fulfill the requirements we laid out above: universally threatening, fast, reliable, and durable.

Chaos luckily has a number of units that fall into that category. Spawn are fantastic for this. They are fearless, fast, tough, but don’t hit too hard. This is mitigated by taking the very excellent Lords to run with them. The Juggernaut Khorne Lord is an absolute beast. He hits like a ton of bricks, is also fast, and looks like a Boss for style points. Equip him with a Fist and Claw (my favorite combo for any lord. You can swing at Initiative and shred infantry with the claw, or at I1 with more punch with the fist and you get a bonus attack as they are both specialized weapons). I stay away from Daemon Weapons as the random 1 you roll can cost you the game and thus, a tournament if it comes at the wrong time. The downside here though, is that the Spawn will have to run unmarked (MoK for them is a waste of points, IMO).


A Nurgle Lord on a bike though, can run with MoN Spawn. They slow him down slightly, but it is acceptable. You could also look at a MoS lord on a mount to outflank (less useful now that you can’t assault form reserves) or MoT Lord on Bike with Sigil for the 3++. A biker Sorcerer is also solid with Spawn as they make him Fearless, and his powers can be quite useful. They’re all good in their way, but the Jugger Lord stands out to me as universally threatening.

So, 2 units of Spawn with 2 Lords is a solid, tough, fast, fearless, multi-threatening unit that pretty much any enemy army would have to deal with. If they have units in the upper levels of buildings, you can split the Spawn off from the Lords and let them attack separate units.

Bikers are also good in this role as they are fast as can be, a Lord Makes them Fearless, and with the right mark, can really hit hard, plus they have shooting as well.

Those units can form your hard core, and now you can look to overwhelm with threats to back them up and support them. I like the idea of Maulerfiends as they are as fast as the rest of the crew and while not particularly threatening themselves (they do scrape vehicles, though) their Lasher Tendrils are a great debuffing tool to allow the Lords and Spawn to deal with more threatening units that might otherwise be too much to deal with. Reducing the attacks of target units is a great tool. Forgefiends are also solid as they put out solid firepower on the move and are still reasonably resilient with the Daemon rule, and aren’t unreasonably pricey for 8, strength 8 shots on the move.

Helldrakes (Hell Turkey!! Squawk!) is also a clearly powerful tool, but remember that with bad reserve rolls, he may not come into play until turn 4, which really undermines the basic principle of the list strategy. You can mitigate this with a Skyshield or Aegis with Comms Relay.



Daemon allies are what jump out at me, personally. Taking a large unit of troops and a single herald of the same type to join them means the entire unit automatically comes in turn 1 with no preferred wave roll needed (as I read the rule). That means you can drop a huge threat into the enemy backfield as well as have 7-9 high threat units rushing up-field  Against many opponents that will overwhelm their ability to deal with the threats, ensuring you are hitting them turn 2 with a ton of force. Also, particularly if you go first, if you are playing an Airforce army you have good odds of tabling them before the Fliers arrive.

And remember, you don’t have to destroy your enemy, either. So long as it isn’t Purge the Alien, you don’t even care if your entire attack force gets decimated. All they are there to do is to tie up your opponent long enough to allow your flimsy troops to get into position to win you the game by holding at least 1 more objective than he does.

The unit choices I presented above are just suggestions, too. Those were the first that came to my mind and with some further exploration of the concept, I am sure all of you out there could come up with a lot of variations on the idea. The only thing that bums me out about this list is that it has 2 actual Chaos Space Marines: the two Lords. But, I think that it would be a fun way to play Chaos: very aggressive and in character for the fluff. It also would be a tough match for many armies, but would struggle against high mobility, high firepower armies such as certain Dark Eldar builds (they are such a good spoiler army, but you don’t see them that often at events).

That’s it for now, I hope you all enjoyed reading this concept and take something away from it with you!


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

17 Responses to “Maximum Threat Overload and Chaos”

  1. Grizzly Adams February 13, 2013 5:15 am #

    I have recently come to this conclusion as well, as the last few weeks I have been building and play testing lists with very much the same setup, multiple forward threats. I have had some success with it and will prolly keep tooling around with this tactic.

    i have been using winged dp’s, bike lords, maulerfiends, and bike squads for the achieved effect, backed up by Oblits, twin trogdors, and a couple deep striking 3 man termie squads with combi meltas for vehicle poppin and some more forward pressure.

    So I can definitely concur with your findings Dr. Reecius!

    • Reecius February 13, 2013 1:01 pm #

      I am always glad to hear that other people are finding the same thing in their play-testing. The more data we have the better.

      If I were to take this list up above 1750, Deep Striking termies would definitely be my choice, too!

  2. JGrand February 13, 2013 10:31 am #

    As a fan of MTO type lists, I’ve wanted to try:

    160 Nurgle Biker Lord-Claw, Fist, Aura, Blight Nades

    180 5 Nurgle Spawn
    170 Helldrake
    170 Helldrake

    90 20 Cultists
    90 20 Cultists
    50 10 Cultists

    76 Nurgle Obliterator
    76 Nurgle Obliterator

    130 Bike Warboss-Claw
    315 5 Nob Bikers-2 Claws, 1 Painboy, 2 Choppas
    215 30 Boyz-Nob with Claw
    78 3 Kannons, 6 Additional Models

    50 Aegis Defense Line


    I think that it would be loads of hard-hitting fun!

    • Reecius February 13, 2013 1:02 pm #

      I had not thought about using Orks, too. That is a really good idea, actually. I like your list!

      • JGrand February 13, 2013 3:43 pm #

        I actually think CSM and Orks is a great match. Let’s face it, CSM troops are mediocre at best. Ork Boyz on the other hand are amazing. Plus, in the above list, the Nobs are scoring too.

        In terms of MTO, I think it’s better than CSM/Daemons in many ways.

        • Reecius February 13, 2013 3:53 pm #

          Yeah, and you can avoid the entire rules dispute about whether or not a single unit of Daemons roles to come in, etc. You just start on the table.

          I would consider dropping the extra cultists, taking only the 2 minimum, and then buying more Oblits.

  3. Alex Yuen February 13, 2013 11:21 am #

    I love the term MTO. I think that a great name for this strategy. Have u play against yourself with MTO? like playing chess against urself take both sides and play against urself with 2 of your tournament list. I am looking forward to reading the next part of MTO. I can only wish i write my ideas down as well as u did.

    • Reecius February 13, 2013 12:42 pm #

      Thanks, Alex! It is a really good concept, and a lot of the guys on the team plays this style of list on our team. I usually do not (I typically gravitate towards reactionary armies) but they are really good and the concepts behind them are sound.

      • Alex Yuen February 13, 2013 9:06 pm #

        I just love the name and the way that u wrote about the strategy. I use that concept too just you are much better at it in putting into words.

  4. 6thStreetAlan February 13, 2013 11:42 am #

    This really is all subject to change with the new Daemon book on the way but nice article.

    I disagree with the preferred wave roll NOT being needed. The book clearly states that you split the army list up and make two as equal as possible waves. Since you only have one unit that does not mean you only have one wave.

    You have a preferred wave which is the large unit of troops and a single herald. Then you have a wave of nothing “0 units”. Zero units does not mean that the wave does not exist

    • Reecius February 13, 2013 12:41 pm #

      I would argue that you only have a single unit now, as the IC joining them becomes a part of that unit, therefore invalidating the need to roll. Also, I would make the argument that playing it any other way creates a rather absurd situation. A wave with nothing in it, is not a wave, IMO.

    • jy2 February 13, 2013 1:06 pm #

      Alan is right and that is how I would play it. A wave of 1 unit and a wave of 0 units. So tough cookies if you don’t get your wave in. At least it won’t be an auto-loss because your CSM army will still be on the ground.

  5. jy2 February 13, 2013 1:05 pm #

    There is another aspect of MTO lists that is just as important but is often not as visible. You need to have enough threats (and preferably, fast threats) to apply a tremendous amount of pressure on your opponent. However, that is not how you win with them. How you win is through a strategy which I call Positional Dominance. Basically, it is board control. Box your opponent in and then take the objectives because they will be out of position to make a play for the objectives. That’s right. I don’t care if you kill my killy units, because even if you do, at the end of the game, you will be grossly out of position and my troops will be on the objectives. Basically, it is this strategy which allows even the assault armies to thrive in what most consider a primarily shooty game. You may not necessarily kill everything. You may even lose all your powerful, offensive units, but the aggressive play of a MTO army will prevent the opponent from going after the objectives, and that is the key to success for a MTO army.

    Now obviously some armies do this better than others. Some of the most successful armies in tournament play are guess what? Right, MTO builds. Tzeentch flamer/screamer daemons, hybrid Necron wraithwing/scarab-swarm/flyer-spam, eldar/dark eldar deathstars, ork nob bikers and tyranid semi-reserve, dual-flyrant armies are such armies. All these armies have multiple threats, very fast threats and ultra-resilient units that just excel at controlling the board. They especially need resiliency to be able to deal with the more shooty armies as well as flyer-spam.

    MTO CSM is a little more tricky, as some of the good units there aren’t really that fast, but it can still be done. Unfortunately, I’d have to agree with Reecius that a MTO CSM army will have to rely on cultists as troops. That is because it needs to allocate the majority of its points to the non-troop slots for them to be effective. I also think that the best MTO CSM army will include daemon allies as well. I am thinking this is probably what I would do for a MTO CSM list:

    Khorne Lord on Bike with the Axe of Murder
    Winged Tzeentch DP with the Black Mace

    9x Flamers

    Cultists troops (however many I can fit)

    5x Chaos Spawn
    9x Screamers

    2-3 Maulerfiends or replace 1 of the maulerfiends with some havocs

    And if there is any points remaining, go for a winged Chaos Daemon Daemon Prince.

    • Reecius February 13, 2013 2:03 pm #

      Hey Jim, thanks for chiming in.

      I did touch on your point about Positional Dominance, but not directly as you did. I agree that it doesn’t even matter if they die or not, their job is just to tie up the enemy and keep them occupied for the duration of the game.

      These lists work very well, but they aren’t my preferred style of play, actually. I like armies that move to center of table and are flexible and reactionary. I like all kinds of armies, really, hahaha, but I find myself gravitating towards those (Footdar, my Nids, TAC Marines, etc.).

      You have always loved those very aggressive, go out and kill the enemy style lists, which is cool.

  6. jy2 February 13, 2013 1:12 pm #

    Oh, and a 5x min-sized daemon troop as well.

  7. Cameron February 13, 2013 6:11 pm #

    A guy ran a single nurgle-marked deep-striking mutilator against me. It was incredibly annoying! It wasn’t really worth shooting because it was fairly durable, but if you ignore it, the single mutilator can easily pay for itself by killing a few guys, wrecking a vehicle, or taking some wounds off of a monstrous creature. They might not be totally useless.

    • Reecius February 14, 2013 12:46 pm #

      I love little weird units like that! It is a testament to player creativity when you see folks making use of that. Plus, the fact that at best he isn’t coming in until turn 2 means he is less likely to give up first blood.

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