Tyranid Codex Review: Elites: Zoanthropes

Hello everyone, Danny from TFG Radio here again, and today we look at the big brain bug who is often ignored, but not for long (hopefully).  As always, boost your brain with more articles from Frontline’s Tactics Corner. 


The Zoanthrope is a mix of a psychic gun platform and synapse support creature, and thanks to a lovely supplement, they have a lot more moves that make them particularly effective at solving some common Tyranid problems.





In codex, they have no upgrades at all other than adding 2 more to create a unit of 3 at most.

In the Leviathan supplement, Zoans get a bit more love with an increased unit size to a max of 6, and with the Neurothrope upgrade.  For half the cost of a Zoan, you get an upgraded leader-bug that automatically comes with an additional power for the unit, Spirit Leech, which is another version of Psychic Scream that also generates extra warp charge for the unit to use to cast Warp Blast.

This is huge actually as the codex version of Zoans is pretty weak, but Leviathan makes them far stronger by increasing their unit size as well as giving them a great power that offers a lot of answers to some common bug problems.


Special Rules:

Brotherhood of Psykers (Mastery Level 2): The unit counts as a psyker, only one model perils, and the whole unit is counted as one psykyer for Warp Charge points.

Shadow in the Warp: -3 Leadership to all enemy psykers within 12.

Synapse Creature: Fearless and ignore Instinctive Behavior tests for all friendly Tyranids within 12.

Very Bulky: Count as 3 models for transport purposes.

Psychic Brood: When the unit uses Warp Blast, they fire a number of shots equal to the number of the Zoans in the unit.

Warp Field: a 3++ invulnerable save.

Wow, so there are a lot of good rules here, and it is important to note that Zoans are one of the only bugs with an invulnerable save, and it is the best one in the army.  A 3++ is no joke. Psychic Brood also makes Warp Blast much more reliable with a unit as now you are getting 3 or even 6 shots instead of 1, so there are more chances of success, and even putting out 3 S5 AP3 small blasts can be crucial for an army that lacks a lot of ranged AP3.    Very Bulky is more or less irrelevant as the max unit size is 6, which still fits in a Tyrannocyte.


Ok, so what do we do with these little leader bugs? Well, you have options now thanks to Leviathan.  The first and most common usage, if you see these little guys at all, is as backfield synapse beacons and warp charge batteries.  They are good at this.  They are just about the cheapest level 2 psyker you can get if you just take 1, and with their smaller profile, you can hide them out of Line of Sight pretty easily. With a 3++ save, it is not easy to snipe them out as you have to dedicate some firepower to it, and so they make excellent MSU style backfield campers to keep everything in Synapse and fuel any psychic shenanigans.   With Genestealer Cult and their access to Biomancy and Telepathy, Zoanthropes make excellent WC batteries to help fuel either a First Curse Deathstar with several Patriarchs or a Psychic Scream spam list. I’ve had some success with a list that uses Zoans and Patriarchs to just spam a lot of Psychic Scream/Spirit Leech.

You can also use them as suicide squads with a Tyrannocyte.  This is especially true with a Neurothrope as Spirit Leech is a great answer to Tau and Wraithknights.  This also helps with Daemons or Daemon Princes as suddenly you are dropping their leadership by -3 if in range of Synapse, and then you hit them with Spirit Leech.  Warp Blast is also important because it is the Tyranids’ only access to S10 AP2, and while one shot at WC2 is hard, having 3 or 4 shots is actually quite nice, especially against Knights as the attack takes place in the psychic phase, so before the Knight can readjust their shield.   A full brood of 6 can lay down some devastating firepower in the psychic phase, and thanks to Brotherhood of Psykers, you can be more aggressive with throwing a lot of dice since losing one doesn’t alter the WC generation.

You could try and take a full squad of 6 and march them up the board as with their 3++, they are relatively resilient, and the chance to fire off 6 S10 AP2 or S5 AP3 small blasts is pretty tempting.  Zoans actually really help Tyranids deal with Battle-Company and other builds that have a lot of light vehicles as the Zoans can pop the vehicles in the psychic phase and then the Flyrants can take out the passengers with important weapons or keep popping other vehicles.   You can also load all six up into a Tyrannocyte and put a relatively resilient unit with some threat right where you need them.


So why aren’t these guys everywhere? Well, they have a bad reputation, primarily because most people wrote off Levianthan.  In their codex form, they are pretty terrible, but with the update in Levianthan, they are actually solid, but they have weaknesses.  They are slow.  They are standard infantry without Move Through Cover, so they can easily get bogged down in terrain.  They are also pretty terrible in close combat, so if something gets to them, they can easily get taken out by volume of attacks. The 3++ makes them pretty safe from a few high quality hits, but at only T4, a lot of small arms will hurt them.  They are also easily killed by S8 since they are only T4 with 2 wounds, and while the 3++ helps, you can still fail them and then lose a whole Zoan.    They also take up an elite slot, and well, you have to justify them over a Lictor, which often changes the dynamic of the army.

They also get expensive, especially if you are adding in a Tyrannocyte, so you will need them to do work, and if they don’t, well, that’s a lot of points for not much else.  While they are relatively flexible, especially with a Neurothrope, you are again spending a lot of points that can easily be tied up in close combat by just about anything.   It also is a bit of a sore point that you don’t gain any Mastery Levels for increasing their unit size, which would have been nice.

So, the maligned Zoanthrope is far better than often recognized, but is it competitive? I actually say yes if you are building a psychic skew army, especially with Genestealer Cult.  In the standard Flyrant build, they are a bit too slow and don’t do enough on their own to really be better than a Lictor.  In a fun game, you can do lots of crazy things with Zoanthropes, and I think they are one of the most under-used entries in the codex.   Thanks as always for reading, and stay tuned as I go through this rather large codex, and check out TFG Radio.


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About Danny Ruiz

Long-long time 40K player, one of the original triumvirate of head 40K judges at LVO, writer, educator, tyranid-enthusiast, disciple of Angron, man about town, afflicted with faction ADD.

10 Responses to “Tyranid Codex Review: Elites: Zoanthropes”

  1. Avatar
    Davis Centis March 20, 2017 5:26 am #

    Good article, and very good points! They are extremely efficient “batteries” for sure, and every time I’ve seen a unit of 6 hit the table they’ve laid down the pain. If the Tyranid psychic discipline was a bit better or if they had access to more of it, then I think it’d be easier to justify taking them.

    • Reecius
      Reecius March 20, 2017 7:16 am #

      Yeah, good points. If only there weren’t so many failure points with some of the powers like Warp Blast. They used to be quite scary.

      • Avatar
        Threllen March 20, 2017 1:14 pm #

        This. I was a huge fan of Zoanthropes back when I played ‘Nids in 5th edition with some converted mycetic spore pods. Back then you had a 33/36 chance of passing a psychic test and everyone could take one. None of this warp dice business where only half your psykers are allowed to use their powers while the other have just sit there as “batteries.”

        Psychic shooting attacks back then were basically just shooting attacks with a tiny bit higher chance of failure and a chance to perils. But the newer edition has drastically raised the failure point (especially for WC2 spells), raised the perils point, and lowered the number of units who can cast their full complement of powers. Not a good state for the poor little Zoanthrope…

        • Avatar
          abusepuppy March 20, 2017 7:16 pm #

          >tiny bit higher chance of failure

          OK now, let’s not look at this thing through rose-tinted glasses. 5th Edition was the edition of Psychic Hoods, because EVERYONE had some kind of psychic defense- so yeah, you only had a 1/12 chance to fail you initial psychic test, but remember that you had to make that test for every member of the squad who wanted to cast. Then you had to get through that psychic hood (or other defense), which was typically around a 40% chance to stop you. Then you had to roll to hit, roll to penetrate, and roll to damage- and that was a LOT less forgiving than it is now.

          So sure, it’s harder to successfully cast a power now- but it’s easier to get that power to actually do something, and it’s a lot harder to negate that power. Zoanthropes were pretty mediocre back in 5E, whereas in 7E they’re a reasonably-strong unit.

    • Danny Ruiz
      Danny Ruiz March 20, 2017 10:51 am #

      I’ve actually had fun and success with them as Psychic Shriek/Scream cannons. I take 3, upgrade to a Neurothrope, and then give them a Tyrannocyte. Backed up by two CADs of GSC with Patriarchs on Telepathy, I roll a lot of dice, and it works out pretty well. The Leviathan supplement made them so much better.

  2. Avatar
    Jural March 20, 2017 11:57 am #

    I always thought that ~30 Zoanthropes (individual units) with 2 flying HT supporting would be a pretty nasty unbound list. It only gets better with various Tyrannocyte and Neurothrope options out there.

    Not practical or legal in the ITC, but I think it would be fun!

    In a more serious discussion. Zoanthropes are modeled in such as way as to be great cover for Monstrous creatures or other troops, and having a wall of 3++ is an interesting tactic to use, especially on some maps.

    • Avatar
      abusepuppy March 20, 2017 12:04 pm #

      The big problem with relying on their survivability is that while a 3++ with two wounds is great against some weapons, it’s not very good against weapons that just put a bunch of wounds on you. Scatter Lasers, Missile Pods, etc, can drag Zoanthropes down in pretty short order, but just as much of a problem are things like Bolters- you don’t want to be losing a 50pt model to someone’s random Drop Pod shots, but it is a pretty plausible thing to happen.

      • Avatar
        Jural March 20, 2017 12:46 pm #

        Yeah, volume of fire is a real issue as this edition has worn on. And unlike Wraiths who can maneuver and get into CC, Zoanthropes are slow and lose once they get into close combat.

        Still, 30+ WC and a bunch of individual 3++ 2 wound models… It would have been fun!

        • Avatar
          abusepuppy March 20, 2017 7:22 pm #

          I still remember when things first shifted over to 6E and Zoanthropes were each their own individual psyker, with their own individual power. Run 3×3 of them and roll up your eighteen separate Telepathy or Biomancy powers every game then try to track which models have which powers, woo!

  3. Avatar
    Deviousdonut March 20, 2017 12:37 pm #

    I used zoanthropes pretty frequently in my tournament list ~1 year ago. As stated spirit leech is an answer for most things tyranids find otherwise unkillable (wraithknights and riptides) 2 Units of 3 with neurothrope and a deathleaper assasin brood for ld modifiers worked pretty well. Ended up getting a Greater Unclean One to ld4 before spirit leech killed it in a single blow. Sadly 175 points for a single psychic power just doesn’t compare to any other competitive options in the game right now

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