Chaos Space Marines Review: Troops: Chaos Cultists

Hey, everyone. Chandler here with a review on everyone’s favorite troops choice you love to hate; Chaos Cultists.  For more reviews, tactics and strategy articles check out the Tactics Corner.

The Chaos Cultist has become a mainstay in Chaos Space Marines armies for a few years now and for good reason.  Traditionally they have been cheap objective campers that your opponent will tend to ignore to focus on more damaging threats.  And while that probably still holds to be mostly true, there are ways to get a lot of mileage out of those Cultists beyond simply sitting in a ruin on an objective (although that is certainly a decent way to use them.)  It all boils down to a few character buffs and some stratagems to take Chaos Cultists from being cowering objective huggers to capable threats on the table top.



Chaos Cultists occupy the Troops slot in a Chaos Space Marines army.  It’s worth noting that when taken in a Chaos Space Marines detachment, i.e. one in which all units share some <Legion> keyword in the detachment, Chaos Cultists gain the Despoilers of the Galaxy special rule.  This rule allows your Cultists to score an objective regardless of the number of models within 3″ that your opponent has, unless he too has a similar special rule.

Additionally they come with the <Legion> keyword allowing you to bring them in any of the Legions covered in the codex, as well as the <Mark of Chaos> keyword which allows you to dedicate them to one of the Chaos gods. Sadly, this unit’s morale is terrible though, coming in at Leadership 6 with their Champion. There are a few ways to mitigate that awful leadership, which I will touch upon later in the article. The unit can be taken in groups ranging from 10-40 models providing excellent screen potential as well.  They have a BS and WS of 4+ making them average shooters and assault units.


Chaos Cultists come armed with the standard autogun, which is a Rapid Fire 1 weapon with 24″ range, STR 3 AP 0 and 1 Damage.  Not exactly a weapon to strike fear in the heart of your opponent. That said, getting a blob of 30-40 of these guys within 12″ of your opponent, along with a re-roll aura can be pretty deadly.  Instead of going for the autogun you can give them an autopistol and a brutal assault weapon.  The brutal assault weapon, only user STR 3 AP 0 and 1 Damage isn’t that scary, but it’s abilities let you make 1 extra attack with it.  So suddenly Cultists get 2 attacks and 3 on the Champion. Combined with some Stratagems and Re-roll auras they can lay down some good damage for their points. Sadly their save is awful coming in at a 6+, which being only Toughness 3, makes them fairly easy to kill.


Chaos Cultists on their own are not that scary of a unit in truth. There are various ways to use them in 8th edition and get a lot out of them with some Legion Traits, character buffs and stratagems, however.  Let’s take the good old Black Legion for starters.  Just by being Black Legion, the Cultists get a nice +1 leadership bump which can come in handy on those morale tests.  With Abaddon nearby you are safe to bring massive  blobs of them as well, as they can auto pass morale tests within his aura which is huge! That makes this unit go from just meh to something your opponent now has to plan for.  A blob of 40 cultists with autoguns, who autopass morale, and can advance and shoot up to 40 shots is pretty impressive.  With Abaddon nearby the unit is hitting on 5s (or 4s if they didn’t advance) re-rolling 1-3s to hit.  You can also throw down the Veterans of the Long War stratagem to allow them to add 1 to their wound rolls in shooting or the fight phase.  Suddenly the unit is cranking out between 40-80 shots, re-rolling to hit and wounding most infantry units on 4+.

Another trick is to use Fabius Bile to enhance one of these units. You’re looking at giving the unit +1 STR or Toughness or Attack, all solid options for a giant Cultist blob. Start advancing this unit to put pressure on the opponent to deal with them. Once the unit is whittled down, after auto-passing your morale test, on your next turn throw out 2 Command Points for Tide of Traitors.  Pull the Cultists, now buffed by Bile’s rule for the entire game, return them back to starting unit strength, and come in off a battlefield edge in your opponent’s zone to threaten him.

If you can get these guys engaged in combat at full strength they can potentially wipe many units out. 80 attacks, re-rolling with a buff character nearby of if you’re Black Legion using the Let the Galaxy Burn stratagem, throw on Veterans of the Long War, as mentioned above, and add 1 to the wound rolls. Suddenly things start to go down fast.  Having a deep striking Sorcerer come in to cast Prescience on them is another great tactic to buff them.  Even better if you are World Eaters with Mark of Khorne! Then you could potentially sling 120 attacks on the charge after using Tide of Traitors.

Aside from using these sorts of tactics, Cultists also make good screen units for things such as Smite spam or to deny deep strikers in your deployment zone.  Take a blob of 30-40 and line them around your deployment zone for area denial.  This is an even better tactic when you run Alpha Legion and use Forward Operatives, especially if your plan is to go second. Suddenly you can have a string of cultists for area denial all over the mid-field.  They can make an excellent speed bump unit to allow your heavy hitters like Demon Princes and Berzerkers to get a charge off.

Then again there is the tried and true method of letting Cultists cling onto backfield objectives. It has always been an effective strategy, but there is so much more you can do with them now.


While there are lots of great ways to use Chaos Cultists now, they do have some drawbacks. For starters, their leadership, as mentioned above, is terrible. That means without spending Command Points or Abaddon nearby, they can most assuredly be wiped out in one turn due to morale.  They also hit on a 4+ which, while not terrible of course, can really hurt if you’re facing an enemy with a -1 to hit buff on them.  They have the potential to do lots of damage if utilized properly,  but often that comes in the form of buffs and using lots of stratagems to support them. Stratagems you might find to be more useful on units such as Khorne Berzerkers, for example.  That said, Tide of Traitors is well worth holding off those extra command points to use, if for nothing more than late game objective grabbing.

Overall, Chaos Cultists are a pretty amazing unit now in Chaos Space Marines. There are lots of different ways to utilize them which makes them easily the best Troops unit in the codex. A shame for power armor fans, as yet again, the best way to fill out those troops slots in Chaos Space Marines are via the good ol’ Chaos Cultists.  Expect to see these guys a lot in competitive Chaos Space Marines armies.


And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!



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.

25 Responses to “Chaos Space Marines Review: Troops: Chaos Cultists”

  1. Avatar
    abusepuppy September 28, 2017 1:16 am #

    Iron Warriors get some of the very best Cultists around thanks to their warlord trait that lets you ignore morale- since it comes on a significantly cheaper platform than Abaddon, I feel it’s a stronger choice.

    Cultists also have excellent synergy with an Exalted Champion, who gives them rerolls to wound in melee. Since their mediocre Strength is the main limiting factor on their output, the reroll brings them up to a 55% chance to wound most infantry- which is pretty acceptable with two attacks. A Dark Apostle (or Chaos Lord) nearby can make them even scarier.

    Really, though, the biggest value for Cultists is the same role they’ve always had- objective campers and bubblewrap. Being able to deny your opponent large areas of the field from reserves, to screen against assaults, and absorb Smites/protect characters is a huge deal all other stats aside. Filling out a battalion or brigade on the cheap ain’t bad, either.

    • Avatar
      Threllen September 28, 2017 5:55 am #

      I wonder if GW really saw the impact of the IW warlord trait coming… I imagine lore-wise they were going after the fact that Iron Warriors marines are unyielding troops. Instead it just prioritizes taking blobs of fearless Cultists which I don’t think really fits the fluff of Iron Warriors. I don’t really see them as a Cultist-loving legion.

      • Avatar
        Beau September 28, 2017 7:18 am #

        They are known to use them a bit as operation meat shield. You know Iron Warriors aren’t going to be digging those trenches they so love. It’s the Cultist Slaves! In the Storm of Iron IW books, the cultists are first mostly depleted by Guard while the actual Marines win that. Then the guard are taken and converted into cultists through brutal whippings, and forced to march into their own imperium gun lines just to test their weapon defenses. They do it too because they just want to die after all the torture they endured.

        One of the reason I love CSM cultists so much. Comissars make obedience through fear of death. CSM make obedience through fear of life.

    • Avatar
      Chandler September 28, 2017 6:46 am #

      Certainly the Iron Warriors warlord trait is amazing to use with Cultists. But the range is only 6″, Abaddon is 12″ and doesn’t take a warlord trait at all. And applies to Heretic Astartes of any legion. Not to mention the Black Legion stratagems and legion traits are simply better to me than Iron Warriors. That said, having an Iron Warriors detachment with just a chaos lord and cultists is really good.

      Also having an Exalted Champion nearby is incredibly difficult to do when you use Tide of Traitors (their best means of getting mass bodies into assault) as the Exalted Champ has no way to get to them quickly as he cannot take a jump pack or terminator armor. If you can get one nearby when they come off a board edge en masse to threaten a charge then yes by all means it is amazing. You’re better off running the Exalted Champion with Berzerkers in a rhino however as his buff with them will be much easier to pull off than trying to get him in range of cultists.

      And of course I lauded their ability to screen and fill out the board and objective camp, which is definitely the simplest way to use them, and yes it is effective.

      • Avatar
        Beau September 28, 2017 7:12 am #

        Iron Warriors DP with fleshmetal exoskeleton and fearless aura surrounded by cultists. LoL.

  2. Avatar
    Peter de Florio September 28, 2017 4:08 am #

    They also work well when combined with death guard as you can add them to a poxwalker unit, then come back at full strength.

    • Avatar
      Chandler September 28, 2017 6:41 am #

      Indeed, but this was specifically a review on the Chaos Space Marines versions. I imagine a review on the Death Guard version of Cultists will be coming soon.

      Edit: More importantly a review on Death Guard poxwalkers which would really discuss how best to use that strategy.

  3. Avatar
    Peter de Florio September 28, 2017 4:08 am #

    They also work well when combined with death guard as you can add them to a poxwalker unit, then come back at full strength.

  4. Avatar
    Beau September 28, 2017 7:27 am #

    Thousand Sons can use them giving them that Invulnerable save of 5+ for a bit of survivability right? Another player back in 7th (40kwarmaster blog I think) ran a bunch of math and realized that cultists become one of the most efficient and dangerous units when fully supported. You mentioned prescience and such in the article, but what happens when you are also screening your flying DP with the cultists and using warp time and diabolic strength on them too.

    Now this cultist blob of 40 has a 5+ invuln, str 5, potentially 3 attacks each, moves 12″ a turn, gets +1 to hit, and is protecting your hard hitting characters. It sounds cool, but I have not tested it in 8th yet (worked great in 7th though).

    Nightlords I guess could use the -1 to hit stratagem.. meh
    Do Word Bearers have much option for cultists?

    • Avatar
      Chandler September 28, 2017 7:45 am #

      All good points. The awesome thing about them right now is that there are so many useful ways to make them more than just a screen/objective camping unit. Although there is certainly nothing wrong with using them to that end.

      There are so many potential ways to make use of them now with various buffs and powers combined with clever use of stratagems.

    • Avatar
      Threllen September 28, 2017 9:09 am #

      -1 To Hit is actually pretty strong on Cultists when used as either screening units/bubble wrap or objective holders.

      A squad of NL Cultists in cover is not quite as annoying as equivalent Space Marines in cover (as Reece’s experience with his army showcases) but it still requires some decent firepower to move. And if you’re using Cultists as screening units, your opponent has to kill them ALL which means a squad of 20+ becomes much more difficult to kill when your high RoF guns are all suffering a -1 To Hit.

    • Avatar
      Mike September 30, 2017 12:56 pm #

      You can’t Diabolic Strength a Cultist blob, it only affects a single model.

  5. Avatar
    Reece Robbins September 28, 2017 7:31 am #

    I honestly feel Cultists are one of the best units in the game at present.

    • Avatar
      Chandler September 28, 2017 8:48 am #

      They are. Incredibly points efficient, capable of doing a lot on the table from killing to scoring, screening, etc. Point for point definitely one of the best units in the game at the moment.

      • Reecius
        Reecius September 28, 2017 9:35 am #

        I 100% concur. With MoS and double shooting+VoTL, holy crap! They kick butt.

  6. Avatar
    bogalubov September 28, 2017 11:49 am #

    Cultists was the reason I finally sold my chaos marine army. They were the best unit that I had available to me and I didn’t start playing chaos space marines because I was blown away by the lore of cultists dying in droves. That made it 3 editions in a row where the basic chaos marine wasn’t worth taking. If I want to play with a tide of crappy humans I will just play my IG army.

    • Avatar
      Chandler September 28, 2017 12:05 pm #

      I was hoping that there would be more incentive to take normal Chaos Space Marines through stratagems, etc. Sadly that is just not the case really. Once again the Cultist shines over his power armored bros.

      • Reecius
        Reecius September 28, 2017 1:13 pm #

        Yeah, for pure points efficiency I have to agree although I still stubbornly use at least some CSMs, haha!

        • Avatar
          Beau September 28, 2017 1:25 pm #

          Hah my old plague Marines got relegated to nurgle marine status. At least bolter spam can do a little work against conscript blobs. Since that is their sole job for me maybe the minor Nerf will make that outcome more viable.

  7. Avatar
    WestRider September 28, 2017 10:49 pm #

    My one problem with Culties is that I have a ton of them modeled with shotguns from back in 2nd and 3rd Ed, when that was actually a good weapon for them, and now only the Champions can take them, so I need to either break them apart, or just leave them on the shelf.

    They are an absolutely fantastic Unit, tho. Another fun trick: Leave a couple of them completely out of LoS. Your Opponent will either have to overkill them when going for the last visible ones, or risk letting them survive with just a couple and then come back with Tide of Traitors.

    I almost had a good go with them using Tide of Traitors to bring them in on a flank and then Teleporting in a Terminator Sorcerer and some shooty Termies and Warp Timing the Culties in front to screen, but the Sorcerer ended up frying himself with Perils. Gonna have to give it another try, tho. If that had worked, it would have folded up that whole flank for me.

    • Avatar
      Morollan September 29, 2017 2:13 am #

      Doesn’t matter if you leave some models out of LOS. As long as one model in the target unit is in LOS you can kill ’em all.

      2. Choose Targets
      Having chosen a shooting unit, you must pick the target unit, or units, for the attacks. In order to target an enemy unit, a model from that unit must be within the Range of the weapon being used (as listed on its profile) and be visible to the shooting model.

      3. Allocate Wound: If an attack successfully wounds the target, the player commanding the target unit allocates the wound to any model in the unit (the chosen model does not have to be within range or visible to the attacking unit).

      • Reecius
        Reecius September 29, 2017 10:46 am #

        True, but you have to kill them all in one go, or they leave one hidden and then recycle the whole unit.

  8. Avatar
    Eric April 25, 2019 1:04 pm #

    This is what I don’t like about 8th. Why can’t a unit just be good by itself. Why have to jump through all the magical buff hoops to get it to be good at something. This game is so frustrating to play.

    • Reecius
      Reecius April 25, 2019 1:10 pm #

      That’s an interesting opinion. I find the layers of combos and buffs to be the best part of the game, and what gives it depth and room to achieve mastery.

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