Tyranid Guest Tactica by Cameron


A guest editorial on Nids by Cameron.

Allow me to introduce myself: I started playing Tyranids in 2001, and have played them heavily in 3rd, 5th, and 6th editions. Until the recent Dark Angel codex came out, they were the only army that I had ever played in 40k. You could say I’m a huge fan! I’m a regular on the local tournament scene in Atlanta, and I can say that I win more tournament games than I lose.

The new edition and new meta have meant big changes for Tyranids. New rules have inspired me to go back through the codex and re-consider units that were once considered bad, and to eliminate units from my army that were considered staples in 5th edition.

Think of this article like a set of stock tips … I’ll rate units and abilities as “buy”, “sell”, or “hold”. I know that there are other units that will fall into these categories, but I’m going to restrict this article to units that I have a lot of personal experience play-testing.




While genestealers have always been a fragile finesse unit, in 5th edition they were regarded as a seriously dangerous weapon in the Tyranid arsenal. A unit of outflanking genestealers would force opponents to bunch their army in the center of the board, allowing for a more concentrated main assault. The genestealer spam list was considered to be a premier Tyranid build!

Two things in 6th edition have made genestealers much less useful. The first is the new outflank rules, which now forbid outflanking genestealers from immediately assaulting. The second is overwatch fire. It’s simply too hard to get genestealers into assault in order to justify their points cost any more. Almost no matter where you place them, a unit of genestealers is guaranteed to be vulnerable to a turn of short range shooting before they’re be able to assault, and their profile is just too fragile to make them worthwhile.

Ymgarl Genestealers

At a glance it would appear that ymgarl genestealers received a boost in 6th edition, since they are one of the only units in the game that is still able to assault on the turn that they arrive from reserve… however I’ve still found it hard to justify their points cost.

Ymgarl genestealers are great at taking out backfield units. They can pop out and wreck pretty much any weak to medium strength squad in the game, and also have a good chance at killing a light or medium vehicle. Their 4+ save makes them much more durable than regular genestealers, and their ability to go to T5 in assault can make up for their lack of assault grenades. Ymgarls are great on their first turn!

Things break down after that. Once their initial assault is over, the ymgarls drop back to T4 for the opponent’s shooting phase. At 23 points a model, they make a tempting target that can be taken out without a great deal of effort, and it is rare that a unit of ymgarls is able to survive long enough to kill two units in a game. They are also not *quite* powerful enough to threaten a real hammer/deathstar unit. At around 200 points for a brood, it is rare that a unit of ymgarls will be able to justify their points expenditure… any unit that costs that much is likely too powerful for the ymgarls to take out.

In general it is not that difficult to take out low-strength units sitting alone in the backfield. Tyranids have plenty of more cost-effective options that can fulfill this role, and there’s no need to use up a precious elites slot on an expensive unit of Ymgarls.

Warp Lance

In the era of 5th edition hive guard spam, it was considered a decent choice to swap out one unit of hive guard for 2-3 zoanthropes in a pod. After all, how else were you going to deal with a land raider?

6th edition has hit the codex-powered warp lance/warp blast zoanthrope pretty hard. Getting off a warp lance was always a little bit dicey with the amount of rolls you had to go through: After rolling a leadership test with an 8.3% chance of failure, you had to roll to hit with a 33% chance of failure. Back in 5th the chance of a zoanthrope landing a warp lance on any given turn (before armor penetration) was only 61%. Now that you add in the 1/6 deny the witch roll, the probability drops to around 50%.

Back in 5th edition, the best way to take out vehicles was to go for big penetrating hits. There were no hull points, which meant that there was no guarantee that you would be able to take out a vehicle with volume of fire. With the advent of hull points, tyranids have a lot more tools for taking out vehicles, and they don’t need the big S10 AP1 warp lance quite as badly.

Finally, allies have hit zoanthropes pretty hard. It is now really easy to ally-in eldar or space wolves for blanket psychic defense, which makes warp lance a lot less attractive as a reliable, all-comers option in your army.




The swarmlord is very similar to 5th edition. It still murders almost anything in close combat, it’s still slow and easy to avoid, it’s still relatively easy to take out with long-range heavy weaponry, and it’s still really expensive. The advent of rulebook psychic powers has added some flexibility to the swarmlord, and the swarmlord has been a huge beneficiary of the challenge rules, but I’m going to list it as a “hold” … it still fulfills a similar roll, and it still has the same weaknesses.


Tervigons have gained a few things in 6th edition: smash attacks make them a much more viable anti-tank threat, especially with the addition of bonus smash attacks from crushing claws. Iron arm and warp speed can make them a much more viable close combat threat. The spawned gaunts are still amazing, and the tervigon’s 6 wounds at T6 3+ are incredible for its points cost.

I’ll list the tervigon as a “hold”, because even without these benefits, the Tervigon was still nearly an auto-take unit in 5th edition. Most players were only held back for most of the edition by the lack of a model.

Hive Guard

Back in 5th edition, hive guard were the tyranids one saving grace in a codex that seriously lacked options for taking out vehicles. You would find a minimum of three in almost all lists, and some lists fielded a full nine.

Hive guard are virtually identical in this edition, with the one bonus that they have the ability to ignore the new “jink” cover saves that are so common now. On the flip side, they aren’t quite as vital to taking out armor with the new rules for vehicle assaults, smash, and hull points.


Gargoyles are an absolute steal in the tyranid codex. At 6 points (and only 8 points fully upgraded), they are a threat that the opponent always has to deal with immediately. There is almost no reason not to take them. The only thing holding a player back from fielding a maximum complement of gargoyles is deployment space, which really becomes a problem at around 60 gargoyles. The new jump infantry rules have made gargoyles even better!

You can take gargoyles as small units of 10 which serve as mobile cover saves and annoying units that distract fire, or you can max them out at 30 and buff them with venomthrope auras, feel no pain, preferred enemy, adrenal glands, and toxin sacs to make them absolutely terrifying.


Tyranid Prime

The new wound allocation and majority toughness rules didn’t affect tyranids too much, since most tyranid units are pretty homogenous. They did, however, make the tyranid prime (aka “the body shield”) a much more useful unit.

Throw a naked 80-point tyranid prime in front of your dakkafex unit: you’ve just purchased three more T6 3+ wounds for 80 points! Maybe throw some regeneration on there too. You can also rotate which model is in front for extra survivability.

Thinking of purchasing a unit of tyrant guard for your swarmlord? A tyranid prime provides T6 3+ wounds at a cheaper price! (A Prime can’t join a Monstrous Creature that can’t come in a unit already -ed)

Throw a tyranid prime in front of a single venomthrope: you’ve just made that venomthrope a LOT harder to kill. Sure, a really devoted player could take out 3 T5 3+ wounds (5+) cover if they really concentrated on it, but do they really want to spend that much effort on a 135 point unit that won’t be near assault until turn 4? By my interpretation of the rules (“The venomthrope unit and any friendly units within 6” of the unit, can claim a 5+ cover save”), the tyranid prime also extends the aura of the venomthrope’s cover save. A venomthrope costs 55 points, so by taking a prime for only 25 points more you can get what is effectively a second venomthrope that upgrades the unit to T5 3+. This trick alone turns venomthropes into a much more viable choice for building your army around!

I’m sure there are even more tricks for using tyranid primes that I haven’t thought of yet!


As mentioned above, venomthropes have become much more survivable in 6th edition due to tyranid primes and the rule changes for wound allocation. Proper positioning and model trailing can extend the venomthrope’s 5+ save to the majority of your army.

Tired of your big bugs getting blasted apart on turn 1 by heavy weapons? A venomthrope’s cover saves will make them quite a bit more durable.

Also, remember the new night fight rules! If you roll night fight at the start (which is 50% of your games in standard missions), the shrouded and stealth rules will add to the venomthrope’s cover save, increasing it to 4+ or 3+! It’s a great feeling to start taking 3+ marine-style saves on gaunts and gargoyles.

Mycetic Spores

Mycetic Spores have recently benefited from a shift in meta, 6th edition rules changes, and an FAQ.

Meta-wise, armies are tending towards larger amounts of infantry, which makes the weapons that you can mount on a mycetic spore more useful. The ripper tentacles on a mycetic spore create annoying threat bubbles in the middle of the board, and if you spring for an upgraded weapon (especially a blast weapon that doesn’t depend as much on ballistic skill), you can really do some cheap damage against infantry. A cluster spine upgrade for 10 points is a bargain, even if it has to shoot at the closest unit.

Mycetic spores are denial units in 6th edition, so they are a great way of contesting objectives and getting linebreaker. They are also monstrous creatures, which means that they can fire two weapons and smash. In 5th edition vehicles used to be able to tank shock mycetic spores to death with few repercussions, but in 6th edition a mycetic spore can now take a S10 AP2 death or glory attack that re-rolls armor penetration. Mycetic spores are also incredibly annoying to assault, since they have a fairly nasty overwatch and lash whips that make the opponent go at initiative 1. The pod will almost always get off a couple of AP2 smash attacks before it goes down.

Finally, mycetic spores got a big boost from the recent FAQ that allows units to disembark 6” from the pod. Now, if you’re deploying a larger unit via spore, they are no longer vulnerable to blasts and templates due to the 2” deployment distance. The 6” disembarkation also allows you to “correct” for scatters by deploying the unit back into your army’s auras.

Doom of Malantai

The two big recent changes to the Doom are the recent meta-shift towards infantry (which is great news for the Doom), a shift away from S8 and above shooting attacks, and rulebook psychic powers. I’ve found swapping out cataclysm for psychic shriek to be a great way to build on the Doom’s anti-infantry power. You can also go for the home run and attempt to roll Iron Arm, which gives the Doom eternal warrior and makes it absolutely unstoppable!

It’s rare that the Doom of Malantai doesn’t kill a handful of models and cause some chaos in your opponent’s army, and it has the potential to completely win the game for you.


Devilgaunts are still relatively similar to the how they were in 5th, but they have benefited from 6th edition in a lot of small ways.

The new viability of venomthropes has made it easier to field devilgaunts as large walking units that deploy behind the front lines. A 5+ cover save and the easy availability of feel no pain makes devilgaunts much more survivable.

The new deployment FAQ for mycetic spores also makes it easier to take devilgaunt units in pods. Now that you can spread the devilgaunts out 6” from the pod, you don’t need to worry as much about devilgaunts ending up out of synapse or being bunched up and vulnerable to blast and template weapons.

Devilgaunts have benefited quite a bit from the introduction of hull points. Many vehicles have facings with AV10, which means that devilgaunts have a fairly easy time glancing them to death with massed fire.

Finally, with the overall meta shift towards volume of fire, devilgaunts provide a very useful tool for taking out large amounts of infantry.

Armored Shell/Old Adversary

Much of the buzz in 6th edition has been towards flying hive tyrants with twin-linked devourers, but these other 2 hive tyrant upgrades have also gotten a significant boost and should not be overlooked.

With the movement of a lot of close combat weapons to AP3 and the reduction in AP1 and AP2 ranged shooting, the armored shell upgrade has become a lot more valuable. People have a lot of problems killing 4 T6 2+ wounds, especially if they are augmented with iron arm, cover saves, or feel no pain.

Additionally, with the changed preferred enemy rules, old adversary has become a lot better. If you take lots of shooty tyranid units, such as devilgaunts, gargoyles, hive guard, dakkafexes, or biovores, old adversary can become a serious force multiplier!


Biovores have gained two huge upgrades from recent rule and meta shifts.

The obvious change is the new 6th edition barrage rules. A well-placed large blast marker can now easily snipe out special weapons in squads, and it also can cause some pain to characters by forcing them to make a lot of look out sir rolls. Barrage wound allocation also makes biovores a great tool for taking out units behind aegis defense lines.

The more subtle shift has been with the rise of Xenos armies. In 5th edition, when most top armies ran with power armor and 3+ saves, the AP4 on a biovore didn’t seem that useful. Now that there are a lot more armies with lower armor saves, the AP4 on biovores can be absolutely devastating, especially to armies like necrons, tau, and elder that carry large amounts of 4+ infantry.


I hope you enjoyed this article! Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or additional thoughts.

What do you all think of Cameron’s debut article with us? I think he has a lot of great ideas that really push the boundaries of Nids and encourage us to think about them in different ways -ed


About Reecius

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

13 Responses to “Tyranid Guest Tactica by Cameron”

  1. Mike Earley March 11, 2013 5:49 am

    So, this is a great article, thanks for taking the time to really think it out. I’m hoping you’ll do a part 2 article, to talk about some other details, specifically: (1) Tyranids and dealing with flyers (beyond the ‘flying hive tyrant with lots of devourers’ answer), (2) Synapse (or, how to make sure your synapse isn’t bundled into 1 tyrant and 2 tervigons), (3) fighting the current ‘necron/chaos flyer spam meta’.

    Having played my tyranids a bunch recently in various settings (tourneys mainly), I mostly agree with what you’re saying. I love the zoanthropes, but hate warp lance, as you mention–what I love them for is relatively cheap 3++ screening. When you put them on the board, people will fire at them until they are dead, leaving your other MCs some life in the game.

    I think the devilgants are easily the best unit the tyranids have in the current meta. As you point out, they’re a huge threat at s4 against all light vehicles and pretty much anything else. I take a block of 20 and screen them with a block of 10 fleshborer gants. They killed more than anything else in all of my games.

    I think Mawlocs are a sell, personally. What I’m finding is that a lot of folks are in vehicles, and the durned things scatter and don’t do anything–then get slaughtered. With no shooting and horrible close combat, they’re just not worth the points.

    I’m interested in your opinion on some of the stuff you don’t mention, like Shrikes specifically, and the Harpy.


    • Cameron March 11, 2013 1:30 pm

      I’m glad you liked the article! I had two more articles planned, but talking about flyers is a good idea. I can write an article about that (not sure I’m going to come up with any really elegant solutions though =P)

      I intentionally limited the article to units that I have a lot of experience playing in this edition at the tournament level (I don’t like writing opinions on things that I’m not really familiar with), which is why I left off some units like trygons, mawlocs, harpies, and shrikes.

      I think trygons look great! I’m thinking about experimenting around with them a little bit, but I would need to change the whole approach of my current tournament list to fit them in.

      I know that a guy did really will at TSHFT with a list that had mawlocs and ymgarls, so I wouldn’t want to rule those out completely… but I have had similar problems to the ones you described with mawlocs.

      I tried shrikes a little bit in 5th, and I found that they died way too easily. I was better off spamming huge units of gargoyles, and if I needed synapse I could trail the gargoyles back across the board.

      There’s a guy at my local store that likes to use harpies. He’s pointed out that the heavy venom cannon harpy has become a much better vehicle-buster with the changes to the blast rules, and I’m sure that they’ve benefited a lot from the smash rule as well, but I haven’t run them myself so I can’t talk about them that intelligently.

  2. Crispy March 11, 2013 6:20 am

    I noticed your correction concerning a Prime riding along with the Swarmlord (or any Tyrant really). If you buy a Guard for the Tyrant, the Prime can then join the unit. If you break it down via point value, buying the Prime is less costly (80points for 3 wounds vs. 60 points for 2 wounds) than another Guard.

    Further more, if you get something like Iron Arm off on the Tyrant/Swarmlord, then you get a multi toughhness unit that uses the highest T value for all 3 models. For instance, you could have a T9 unit of these 3 dudes moving up the field. Get a Tervigon or Broodlord casting endurance on them, you have a crazy deathstar. Lots of points, but works well.

    Food for thought

    • Cameron March 11, 2013 12:10 pm

      Yeah, I’ve heard about this idea and had it pitched to me, but haven’t tried it in a game.

      In theory, I feel it would suffer from the same problems that the existing Swarmlord has: it’s slow and easy to ignore, and it takes up too many points. Yes, it will crush things, but will it crush 400 points worth of things in a game? It probably won’t have time to justify that cost against a smart opponent.

      Rules-wise, the main rulebook says that independent characters “cannot join a unit that always consists of a single model”. The tyrant guard can join a hive tyrant “exactly as if it were an independent character”. Since a Hive Tyrant can be joined to a unit of tyrant guard, does this fulfill the requirement of not always consisting of a single model, even if the tyrant guard aren’t actually present?

      Primes joining carnifexes and venomthropes are more clear-cut because they have variable brood size. The Doom is also clear-cut because it is always alone. We would need some sort of ruling on if a prime could join an unescorted hive tyrant.

  3. Grizz March 11, 2013 7:18 am

    I am wondering, are you not running your Zoanthropes with 2 different powers from the codex? I’ve found it to be totally integral to the army and really helps them kick ass above their weight class.

    • Cameron March 11, 2013 11:50 am

      Slightly confused… they come with the two codex powers warp lance and warp blast, or they can swap both of them out for 2 powers from the main rulebook.

      Because of the problems I listed above with deny the witch, I don’t think the codex powers are that great right now, so if I ran zoanthropes I would recommend swapping them for the rulebook powers.

      Were you saying that warp lance and warp blast are totally integral to the army?

      • Grizz March 11, 2013 2:52 pm

        I prefer switching them out so I get the 6 powers, hopefully the 3 I wanted included. Zoanthropes are amazing utilipieces.

  4. jy2
    jy2 March 11, 2013 7:55 am

    What I’m finding to be Must-Takes:


    What I’m finding to be Good Units (after the Must-Takes):

    Hive Guards
    Ymgarls (yes, they are still really good)

    The rest is off my radar.

    • jy2
      jy2 March 11, 2013 7:57 am

      Oh, I forgot. Swarmy belongs under Good Units as do dakkafexes.

      And Termagants belong under Must-Takes.

      • Cameron March 11, 2013 11:57 am

        I agree the Swarmlord is good, I think the confusion lies with the rating system. This rating system tracks the differences between the editions.

        Swarmlord was good in the last edition, and it’s still good (I would argue equally so) in this edition… so I rated it as a “hold”. Its value has not changed. If I thought Swarmlord was even better in this edition, then I would rate it as a “buy”.

        I personally take Swarmlord less in 6th than I did in 5th (I found it never got into combat and took up too many points), so my personal recommendation would be “sell”… however I know lots of other people that love Swarmlord in 6th, so I chose “hold” as a compromise.

    • Cameron March 11, 2013 12:22 pm

      Here is how I think of Ymgarls:

      Let’s use a unit of 8 ymgarls as the basis for comparison. That’s a good brood size for Ymgarls, and it costs 184 points.

      I’ll compare them to other deep threats that tyranids can take:

      Trygon – 200 points … this is probably better. It’s a lot more durable against shooting, and it still rocks things in close combat. It’s better at killing vehicles and will crush units in power armor. Its alpha strike is not quite as good.

      13 devilgaunts in a pod with cluster spines – 180 points … this is also probably better. Huge damage output, 2 separate targets, and more wounds.

      Doom in a pod with cluster spines – 140 points … this is definitely a better deep threat option for your elites spot.

      4 biovores – 180 points … will still cause a ton of damage, allow you to snipe units and get behind walls, and are a lot harder to kill because they’re hiding across the board behind a rock.

      I would still take ymgarls over something like… lictors, but you can fit a ton of nastier, better-value deep threats into your list before you have to start resorting to ymgarls.

  5. manning5875 April 5, 2013 5:47 am

    how do you get a spore into close combat to use smash attack.please give me a scenario when i can use it. I always thought a sporepod should be more then a transport. love the articles by the way .

    • Reecius
      Reecius April 5, 2013 7:45 am

      Glad you like them! I can’r remember off hand if the sPod is a MC or not (no dex here) but if so, if it is assaulted, it can smash. That is the only way.