Genestealer Cults: Codex Review: Part 3: Relics, Warlord Traits, Formations and Tactica


Hey, everyone. Chandler back again with Part 3 of my Genestealer Cults Codex review. For more reviews, analysis, and battle reports check out the Tactics Corner.

So far I’ve discussed the special rules, wargear, and infantry units for Genestealer Cults, (see Part 1 and Part 2) and in this final wrap-up review I’m going to discuss what this means on the table top. First I’ll discuss the Relics and Warlord Traits, some of the better Formations and the new Cult Insurrection Detachment, and some tactica for how I feel the army is best suited to run.

First up the Sacred Relics of the Cult:

  • Icon of the Cult Ascendant: 30 points. Can only be taken by an Acolyte Iconward and replaces his sacred cult banner.Friendly GSC units within 12″ have Furious Charge and can re-roll failed Morale, Pinning and Fear tests. In addition models in the same unit as the Icon bearer have +1 Attack while he is still alive.
  • Dagger of Swift Sacrifice: 15 points. When making close combat attacks, a model with this relic can choose to instead make a single attack with the following profile: S User AP- Melee, Instant Death, Poisoned (2+)
  • Scourge of Distant Stars: 15 points. If the bearer is involved in a challenge, the opponent must pass a Toughness test before any attacks are made. If failed, the model loses a wound with no saves of any kind and suffers -1 to Initiative and Attacks until the end of the phase.  It has no effect on vehicles.
  • Staff of the Subterran Master: 20 points. Can only be taken by a Magus. Instead of shooting normally, the bearer can make a shooting attack with the following profile:  Range 18″ S2 AP- Assault 10, Ignores Cover, Rending
  • Sword of the Void’s Eye: 15 points. Can only be taken by a Primus. Melee weapon with the following profile: S+1 AP3 Melee, Bio-sentience, Life Drain Bio-sentience: The bearer can re-roll all To Hit and To Wound rolls of 1.  Life Drain: Any To Wound roll of 6 made with this weapon causes Instant Death
  • The Crouchling: 20 points. Can only be taken by a Magus. In close combat a model accompanied by The Crouchling makes two additional Str 4 AP- attacks with the Rending special rule. In addition, the bearer can generate one additional psychic power at the start of the game.


The relics here are good, but not terribly over powered as we’ve seen with other Codex relics.  The Crouchling is nice as it lets the Magus get an extra psychic power, although it doesn’t give him any extra warp charge.   Sword of the Void’s Eye is a solid upgrade especially because of the increase in Strength making it a little easier to wound enemy models especially with the re-rolls.  For the price of a power sword, it’s worth the points I think.  Scourge of Distant Stars is also a nice add here. Dropping wounds on characters in a challenge is handy especially against low initiative models or single wound models.  It is a solid 15 point upgrade.  All of the relics are useful, but not game breakers.

The Warlord Traits are quite useful as well:

  1. Warlord has Stealth
  2. Friendly GSC units within 12″ of the warlord have Counter-attack
  3. Warlord has Move Through Cover and his unit doesn’t suffer the initiative penalty for charging through terrain
  4. Warlord has It Will Not Die
  5. All models in your Warlord’s Detachment can use his leadership instead of their own
  6. When using Cult Ambush with your Warlord or his unit, you choose a result to apply from the table.

Most of these are good, but the ones that really stand out are 3, 5, and 6.  Getting a 6 on your Patriarch with a squad of Purestrain Genestealers or Aberrants is insanely good obviously allowing you to pick option 6 every time, should you choose.  This will allow a Turn 1 charge and every other turn they arrive after using Return to the Shadows.


Now, let’s take a look at the Cult Insurrection Detachment and some of the Formations that make it the beastly force it is on the table.


What really makes this army tick on the table is the Cult Insurrection Detachment.  It comes with the standard “reroll the warlord trait” command benefit that we’ve all come to see in these detachments.  The thing that makes Cult Insurrection so amazing, however, is An Uprising Generations in the Making which gives all non-vehicle units the Infiltrate special rule and units that already have the Infiltrate special rule (HQs and Purestrain Genestealers) gain Shrouded during the first game turn.  On top of that, you get to add 1 to your Reserve rolls while forcing your opponent to take a -1 penalty from theirs.  That’s amazing!  Finally we have the Numbers Beyond Counting special rule which allows you to return d6 models to a unit that arrives from Ongoing Reserves.

So, what goes into the Cult Insurrection Detachment and what are you likely to see when you play against it?  Like most of the new “Decurion” style builds we’ve seen this one requires a core choice and auxiliary choices as well as the optional command choices.  The two Core choices are the Brood Cycle and the Neophyte Cavalcade.  The Brood Cycle is definitely the best choice here, and probably the one you’ll see the most on the table top. With the Familial Pride special rule, all units gain 1 to Weapon Skill and Leadership while within 6″ of another unit from the Formation.  Hold the Banner High extends the bubble of the Iconward from 12″ to 24″ for Furious Charge and Feel no Pain for all units in the Brood Cycle.  That’s one hell of a bubble for those bonuses.


Typically you’ll see Acolytes in squads of 10 equipped with either Hand Flamers or some of the special melee weapons like Heavy Rock Cutters as well as a Cult Icon.  As long as they are within 6″ of another unit that means their Weapon Skill shoots up to 6 along with Furious charge bumping their Strength up to 5 with Rending Claws.  The Heavy Rock Cutters boost their Strength to 9 on the charge while in the Iconward’s massive bubble with AP2.  The Snip special rule can remove characters from play if they fail their Toughness test after taking a wound.  Considering there are 3 units of Acolyte Hybrids in the formation, your chances of getting a 6 allowing a first turn assault off of Cult Ambush is decent. You can’t always depend on that, however, so taking a squad of these guys all equipped with Hand Flamers is another good option.  Being able to get right up on an enemy troops unit with Cult Ambush and flaming them with multiple templates can be devastating. Hand Flamers are only Strength 3 but usually against cheap troops units with low toughness, which are popular in the meta right now, they will still deal out a ton of wounds.

The Neophyte Hybrids have the potential to do some pretty massive damage to the enemy as well off of Cult Ambush specifically in shooting. Two of them can take either Flamers of Webbers and another two can take either a Mining Laser or Seismic Cannon.  Webbers are a good choice here as their AP is equal to the Strength of the target model and they are blast weapons.  Throwing down a couple of Blasts at AP 3 or 4 can be nasty. The Seismic Cannon I think is the best heavy weapon option here especially at close range with up to 4 shots at Str 8 AP 3 and even better, 6’s are treated as AP 1 for both armor penetration and wounds.  They can pop those pesky transports really fast allowing your other units to get inside to the troops in assault. If you throw an HQ in with them and put them in terrain they gain Shrouded turn 1 which will help their survivability from incoming shooting. Additionally, if you roll a 5 for these guys on Cult Ambush during deployment you can make a shooting attack before the game even begins at 6″ away.


Cult Ambush is really great here during deployment because it really limits how your opponent can defensively deploy against it. It’s not easy to hide a transport in cover, for example, if a unit can get so close to it.  You can position your units here to ensure that you’re getting weak armor values on vehicles with no cover for obscurement and shoot at troops units trying to hide in terrain.

All of the Auxiliary choices are solid, but the one that really stands out is the Subterranean Uprising Formation.  The Formation grants Infiltrate to all the units (which means they’ll all gain Shrouded during turn 1).  Time to Rise Up allows them to roll 2 dice on the Cult Ambush table and pick one. Meticulous Planner allows you to roll 3 dice and choose if one of the units is joined by a Primus from the formation.  The Acolytes in this Formation will need to be within 12″ of the Iconward to get the Furious Charge bonus, however.  Rolling the extra dice for placement with Cult Ambush really increases your chances of getting the 6 on the cult ambush table, and these guys can pack quite a punch. Most of the time Acolytes from this formation will be equipped with a couple of Heavy Rock Cutters as well.


The Demolition Claw is another interesting Auxiliary choice, and while it won’t gain the benefits of cult ambush while in the vehicles, they can still cause a lot of damage. The entire formation gets Tank Hunters.  Demolition Specialists Allows Acolytes to re-roll the scatter when using Demolition Charges or the Cache of Demolition Charges from their Rockgrinders which can be a big deal. The range on the Demolition charges is short so getting the re-roll is great if one scatters back onto your units. Extra Explosives lets models replenish Demolition Charges on a 4+ as long as they are within 6″ of a Rockgrinder.  Alternatively, you could use cult ambush to deploy these guys, and although they lose the ability to re-roll, they still have Tank Hunters making them more than capable of getting up on a tank and blasting it to pieces.

The Command choices are solid as well, letting you supplement your forces with Magus, Primus, and Patriarch options.  The First Curse is an interesting choice here as it requires 20 Purestrain Genestealers and a Patriarch.  Strange Mutations has some pretty awesome bonuses which can apply for the entire game, the most important of these is the ability to ignore the initiative penalty for charging through terrain. If you roll a 6 you can pick your mutation as well, increasing the odds a little further of getting it.  Either way, none of the mutations are bad at all.  Of course, having the Patriarch attached gives the unit Furious Charge and with Stealth and Shrouded from the Detachment they have a 4+ cover save out in the open.  While the initiative penalty is a big one for this unit, they can overcome it through the course of the game by proper model placement and positioning.



Genestealer Cults relies heavily on infantry units moving all around the board.  Although vehicles are available in the Codex in the form of  Goliaths, Rockgrinders, Chimeras, Sentinels and Leman Russ tanks, you won’t see them very much in a competitive GSC army.  Everything is about the Cult Ambush.  Because every infantry unit gains Infiltrate from Cult Insurrection, you get the ability to deploy your army based on how your opponent has set up, regardless of who is going first.  Obviously if you win the roll to go first, you’re going to try and place units where they can do the most damage on turn one.  That said, you need a 6 to gain the first turn charge.  The units most likely to get that are the Acolytes in the Subterranean Uprising formation, so those will usually be kitted out primarily for combat.

Neophytes make great choices here because they get the most benefit from Cult Ambush with their heavy short ranged shooting.  Throwing a couple of Seismic Cannons on a tank, or moving into position to throw down a couple of flamers or webbers on infantry on turn 1 is pretty strong.  The nice thing about deploying via Cult Ambush is that you get to fire those Heavy weapons at full BS as long as you don’t move in your movement phase.  Generally, you should be able to do this with the Neophytes unless you roll a 1 or 2 on the cult ambush table.

With Genestealers you obviously want to be able to charge turn one with them, but that most likely won’t be possible.  Cling these guys into terrain on turn one so they can benefit from a 2+ cover bonus.  It’s best to position them so that the target unit they will eventually go after is not in terrain.  The Patriarch is really capable of taking on any character in the game and either killing him or tying him up for the game. With Unquestioning Loyalty he can dump off wounds in a challenge onto Genestealers with a 5++ and potentially Feel No Pain if within range of the Iconward.


I’d suggest running at least two Magus and a Patriarch for some decent psychic control. That’s 6 warp dice per turn if you bump up the Mastery Levels and the Broodmind tree can really ramp up the power of the army. The Primaris power being able to knock down Weapon Skill, Attacks, and Initiative can be a pretty big deal when your Acolytes charge in. Putting Relentless on your heavy weapon Neophytes lets them move and shoot those Seismic Cannons without having to snap fire.  Might from Beyond can work wonders for buffing up Genestealers and Acolytes with +1 Str and Rage.

Also consider rolling with Biomancy for the Patriarch. Endurance is a great power to throw on Genestealers in a Brood Cycle with a Patriarch attached. Suddenly the unit has a 3+ Feel No Pain when within 24″ of the Iconward and at T4 they will get more use out of the buffed Feel No Pain than a unit of Acolytes in the same role. Aberrants also become much more useful with Endurance as they gain Eternal Warrior meaning Strength 8 won’t double out their wounds. Iron Arm is also a great way to buff your Patriarch making him Str 9 and T8.


The thing that makes GSC so great in this set-up is their ability to interact with objectives when they need to. They don’t have obsec, but being able to get up close and personal with the enemy they don’t really need it as they will likely be able to kill squads sitting on them.  Return to the Shadows is an amazing ability, but you need to manage it well to get the most benefit from it. If a unit is down a few models and not within 6″ of an enemy, pull them back and when they return, add d6 models back to the unit.  The key here is ensuring no enemies are within 6″ at the start of your turn on units you want to pull off the table.  This can be challenging and a skilled player will do anything he can to make sure you don’t get to do that.

While the army has many strengths it has some obvious weaknesses as well.  Most of the units in the army are T3 and only have a 5+ save.  Shrouding helps quite a bit on turn 1, but after that, it gets harder to keep units alive.  Feel No Pain from the Iconward’s 24″ bubble helps a bit, but at T3 most of the army will be vulnerable to Str 6 or higher shooting attacks.  This is somewhat mitigated by being able to gain extra models back to the unit when returning from Ongoing Reserves, but most players will try and focus down a unit at a time so you don’t get to add models back on the following turns.

Another weakness of the army is it’s leadership.  The Patriarch is the only Fearless unit in the army.  Most of the other units have Leadership 8 or 9 which isn’t awful by any stretch, but if you are not careful they can be swept quite easily in combat.  Aberrants have Stubborn making them a more attractive option, but even still their price point in comparison to other units in the army makes them not as efficient in my opinion.  Overall the low toughness and poor saves of most GSC units means you’re going to lose models increasing the amount of morale checks you end up taking.


Matchups are another concern for the army.  Tau obviously comes to mind because most competitive Tau builds have tons of Interceptor all over the place. That can really put a hurting on GSC units coming back from Ongoing Reserves via Cult Ambush.  Null deploying drop pod armies are another concern, especially if you end up having to go first with nothing to shoot at or assault, but forcing your opponent to take the -1 penalty to his Reserve rolls can buy you some time to deal with the units as they drop in.   Battle Company armies can give GSC fits because of their board presence which will limit your ability to use Return to the Shadows, but since the meta is so grav heavy, especially with Battle Company, having those low armor saves across the board will help mitigate losses.  Death Stars like Cabal Star can hurt the army as well, but if you can hit them before they power up, you can make a huge impact early. Imperial Knight armies can pose a problem for them as well, because while Acolytes and Genestealers excel in close combat against infantry, they struggle a bit against high AV vehicles like Knights. Aberrants provide some degree of a counter to them with potential Str 10 AP 2 attacks with Power Hammers (factoring in Furious Charge strength bonuses and Might From Beyond), it’s still not consistent enough to bank on.

Another issue, at least in the competitive environment, is time management. The clock is a major factor in tournament play and the army requires a little bookkeeping.  You’ll need to have a way to quickly and easily identify what armies belong to what Formations for benefits such as the Iconward’s bubble.  Also, having to roll on the Cult Ambush table for each unit every time they hit the board will slow down the start of the game especially when combined with time spent on unit placement, measuring distances, etc.  With enough practice, you’ll find time will probably become less of a factor.

time management

And while the army is definitely strong, it is not infallible. Placement of units will require quite a bit of strategic consideration.  This is not going to be an easy army to play right off the bat.  Getting so close to enemy units takes serious consideration to maximize your units’ efficiency. Positioning of your Acolyte Iconward will be key so you can maximize that Feel No Pain and Furious Charge bubble. This army is all about buffing itself and debuffing the enemy through psychic powers and unit placement is critical. There is also a bit of randomness to how the army will play because of the random rolls on the Cult Ambush table. These are all important factors to consider when building and playing your GSC army.

Overall this codex is amazing. I’d put it on par, at least on paper, with any of the best codices GW has published.  The army provides a fun and unique way to play the game that we really haven’t seen before.  Time will tell how much of an impact the army will have on the meta, but I’d venture to guess it will be significant.  Make no mistake, you will see these guys on the table in major tournaments very soon.

And as always, Frontline Gaming sells Games Workshop product at up to 25% off of retail, every day!

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About Chandler

Sometimes I play 40k. Sometimes I drink beer. Oftentimes I do both. I host an annual ITC Grand Tournament, Come the Apocalypse GT, as well as a podcast called Come the Apocalypse - a Warhammer 40k Podcast which you can find on iTunes or the Google Play Music store.

20 Responses to “Genestealer Cults: Codex Review: Part 3: Relics, Warlord Traits, Formations and Tactica”

  1. Avatar
    CaptainA December 15, 2016 8:03 am #

    “I’d suggest running at least two Magus and a Patriarch for some decent psychic control”

    To get that second Magus, you’d have to run a CAD as well as you cannot have more than one Magus, Patriarch, or Primus in the detachment.

    • Reecius
      Reecius December 15, 2016 5:12 pm #

      You could run another formation with the characters if you like.

      • Avatar
        Chandler December 15, 2016 5:52 pm #

        Exactly. Such as a Broodcoven taken outside of the Insurrection Detachment. Or a CAD.

    • Avatar
      jexinator December 16, 2016 3:36 pm #

      What about the last faq about IC and formation rules benfits ?

  2. Avatar
    Vercingatorix December 15, 2016 9:54 am #

    A quick mention is that the subterranean assault says that you roll 3d6 if ANY primus is attached. Not just the one from the formation.

    • Avatar
      Hugz December 15, 2016 12:12 pm #

      Yup, and forunately a CAD is an easy addition to the army, as Acolyte squads are dirt cheap, and it allows an extra Primus and Magus, which are big force multipliers.

      • Avatar
        Chandler December 15, 2016 12:41 pm #

        Indeed I should have pointed that out. You need the CAD to supplement the Insurrection Detachment to get the extra Magus and Primus, but an investment that is well worth it in my opinion.

        • Avatar
          Vercingatorix December 16, 2016 5:56 am #

          I think a really beefy cad will be really great for the ITC missions as well. Basically trying to throw an obsec unit on any objective not covered by an enemy unit is really strong.

    • Avatar
      Glocknall December 16, 2016 5:02 am #

      Unfortunately attached characters from outside of a formation cannot benefit from command benefits, so attaching another Primus nullifies the Sub Uprising benefit.

      • Avatar
        Vercingatorix December 16, 2016 5:53 am #

        I don’t think that’s the case here. This isn’t skyhammer assault from reserves rules here. This is literally following the RAW. Is the squad in the sub assault? Does it have a primus attached? If the answer is yes to both than it’s 3d6. Especially considering the doting throng formation specifies “The magus from THIS detachment”. It seems like for whatever reason they wanted any primus to get this ability.

        • Avatar
          Glocknall December 16, 2016 7:18 am #

          The wording is unclear because you can include a Primus in the formation and the rule could just be referring to that selection. It’s perilous to try and read RAW when interpreting GWs intent regarding “units” because it has a shifting definition the way GW uses it. I would take the more consertive interpertation until GW FAQS it.

          • Avatar
            WestRider December 16, 2016 2:32 pm

            I’d file this one under “more specific takes precedence”. In general, they would cancel out, and it would if you Joined a Magus or a Patriarch, but they tell you specifically what happens when you Join a Primus to one of the Units.

          • Avatar
            Jeff Poole December 16, 2016 3:53 pm

            Yeah I think this needs clarification. I think an outside Primus could join and then the unit could roll 3d6. But I also think a Patriarch, Magus, or Iconward could join the unit and still roll 2d6 or 3d6.

            Perhaps an easier question would be if the Primus from the formation is attached to a unit from the formation and then you attach another IC from outside the formation(either CAD or something else) to the unit, can the unit still roll 3d6 when using Cult Ambush? I think the answer should be yes. However, I see the opposite argument for saying that then a character from another detachment would be “benefiting” from the formation’s rules.

  3. Reecius
    Reecius December 15, 2016 11:27 am #

    Thanks for the article, Chandler!

    • Avatar
      Chandler December 16, 2016 9:33 am #

      Thanks, brother. Looking forward to seeing these guys on the table top soon!

  4. Avatar
    engelshaeubchen December 15, 2016 11:55 am #

    Metamorphs Hybrids with Claws are one of the best melee counters against Imperial Knights. Every 6 on a penetrating roll means a hull point less. 10 guys just cost 120 points, peanuts I guess, compared with IK:

  5. Avatar
    Blight December 15, 2016 1:19 pm #

    No model may have more than one relic(or equivalent) according to the FAQ.

    • Avatar
      Chandler December 15, 2016 1:21 pm #

      Yeah I’ll need to edit that. This article was actually written before the GW FAQ went final. Been in the queue for publishing for a bit.

  6. Avatar
    CaptainA December 16, 2016 9:03 am #

    Good article BTW. Lots of good info!

    • Avatar
      Chandler December 16, 2016 9:34 am #

      Thank you, sir. I think GSC can be a fun army to play and play against. Their army works differently than anything we’ve seen so far and I’m anxious to see how they play out on the table.

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