Tyranid Codex Review – Heavy Support: Thornbacks

Hey everyone, Danny from TFG Radio here, and today, we talk about the last flavor of Carnifex available in our codex, the Thornback! If you want more awesome reviews, tactica, and assorted learning materials, you should definitely check out the Tactics Corner!

Equipment and Biomorphs:

  • Monstrous Scything Talons – S6 AP -3 Dmg 3 melee weapons that reroll 1s to hit. With two pairs, +1 attack.
  • Double Devourer with Brainleech worms – Range 18″ Assault 12 S6 AP0 D1 gun.
  • Double Deathspitter with Slimer Maggots – Range 24″ Assault 6 S7 AP -1 D1 gun.
  • Stranglethorn Cannon – Range 36+ Assault D6 S7 AP -1 D2 gun. +1 to hit when targeting a unit with 10 or more models.
  • Spine Banks – Range 6″ Assault 4 S5 AP0 D1 gun.
  • Thresher Scythe – S4 AP -1 D1 melee weapon that makes D3 additional bonus attacks.
  • Toxin Sacs – On a melee wound roll of 6+, deal 1 additional damage.
  • Adrenal Glands – +1 to advance/charge.
  • Enhanced Senses – +1 BS

Special Rules:

  • Instinctive Behavior: Unless within 24 inches of a HIVE FLEET synapse creature, -1 to hit for shooting attacks against any target that is not the closest, and -2 to charge a unit unless it is the closest.
  • Thorned Battering Ram: After charging, on a 4+, one enemy unit within 1 takes a mortal wound. INFANTRY units take d3 mortal wounds. In addition, +1 to hit in the Fight Phase.
  • Monstrous Brood: Can take a unit of up to 3, and when they deploy, they drop as one but act as separate units from there on.
  • Chitin Thorns: At end of fight phase, roll a D6 for enemy unit within 1. On a 6+, that unit suffers a mortal wound.
  • Vicious Hunter: Thornbacks ignore cover when targeting INFANTRY.

So take all of these upgrades together, and you got yourself a Carnifex that likes to shoot and has some specific advantages against enemy infantry. The Thornback trades in a lot of customization for some dedicated firepower.  At 103 stock, it comes with a mix of firepower and melee, which does add a certain level of tactical nuance to it.   Having the ability to threaten at range and still not be dead weight in melee in a good thing, and it means that at any stage of the game, your Thornback can do work.  You can also just go full shooting by swapping out the talons for a Stranglethorn cannon, and if you want to play with the Strangethorn, the Thornback is a good option as it inherently ignores cover and can take Enhanced Senses to get to BS 3+ (or 2+ in some cases), and that definitely gets the most mileage out of a D6 weapon.  You lose out on just about any melee punch, but between the Devourers (or Deathspitters) and the Stranglethorn Cannon, that is a decent amount of fire power.  Especially since Tyranids do not have a lot of ranged high AP weaponry, being able to ignore cover helps ensure that the volume of fire converts to volume of collected biomass.  Thorned Battering Ram is interesting for the chance to do d3 mortal wounds to an infantry unit, which is actually more ideal for taking out Infantry melee characters.  This is actually my preferred way to run Thornbacks: just stock and in my mid field to engage any pesky melee characters like Smashcaps. Between the Thorned Battering Ram, 4 attacks at WS 4+, +1 to hit, and rerolling 1s, I just need one attack to sneak through to reliably kill most melee characters.  D3 mortal wounds isn’t really scary to most infantry units the same way it is to characters, so while the Thornback is designed to deal with hordes, it really does not excel at it.  That said, being able to do D3 mortal wounds to say an Eversor that just ate a gaunt squad isn’t a bad thing at all.

Again, Hive Fleet is going to matter on how you want to run the Thornback.  If you want to truly dedicate to shooting, Kronos is good for the reroll 1s if you stand still, and with Deathspitters and a Stranglethorn, you have the range to do that.  Jormungandr is solid as well for the 2+ save against shooting, and Leviathan can work if you dedicate a synapse babysitter for the 6+ Feel No Pain.  For melee, Kraken is always tops for the speed and flexibility, but Gorgon is often underutilized as rerolling 1s to wound helps increase the mileage of your melee.  Hydra is not meant for Monsters, so that’s a no-go.  Typically, if you are trying a Carnifex gunline, Jormungandr is the way to go as a +2 save is just about the best defense our Carnifexes can get, and as always, a Venomthrope should be nearby to help as well.

The downside to the Thornback is that it is very limited in what it can do, and the reality is that of all of the big hitters, the Stranglethorn is just not points efficient. Chapter Approved 2018 certainly helped by bringing the points down a bit on the Stranglethorn, but the math is still not in its favor.  A Dakka-Fex (4 devourers) is just superior both in cost and damage dealt. Just to math it out a bit, a standard Dakka-Fex with Enhanced Senses is 105 points while a Thornback with Stranglethorn, Devourers, and Enhanced Senses is 113 points. Against a chaff unit (T3 5+ save), a dakka-fex is going to kill 8.67 and a Thornback kills 6.05 on average.  Against the standard space marine stat line, this changes to 3.44 for the Dakka-Fex and 2.46 for the Thornback.   Against a hard target, T8 with a 3+ save, the Dakka-Fex sneaks in 1.7 wounds and the Thornback sneaks in 1.62 wounds.  Yes, because of damage 2 on the Stranglethorn, a Thornback can spike to do much more damage, but over the course of games, a Dakka-Fex is just much more consistent and is cheaper.  A Devil-Gant (Devourer Termagants) squad is much more expensive but deals far, far more wounds to chaff, so as a infantry killer, Devil-Gants do it better in shooting and Genestealers do it better in melee, plus both don’t just get obliterated by a Castellan either.

You also lose out on a lot of optimal customization here. If a Thornback could take quad Devourers, it would be a good option as ignoring cover with an AP0 weapon really helps keep power armor units from having a 2+ save.  A Venon Cannon option would have been nice as well as ignoring cover with it definitely increases the mileage.  A Thornback also cannot take Spore Cysts, so you are going to need to dedicate points to Venomthropes to keep it safe as in the world of Castellans, any Carnifex stat-line beast has almost no chance of surviving without that -1 to hit.   The best part of the Thornback is the ability to do D3 mortal wounds to an Infantry character, but that is a lot of points spent that may not matter at all or may never get to do what it wants to do.  Much like with others, there are much more efficient options in the codex.

52/100.  Sadly, not passing, mostly due to the fact that as an Anti-Infantry weapon, the Thornback just does not pull its weight. It can still pull off some fun tricks thanks to the D3 mortal wounds, but that is a bit corner case and relies on your opponent positioning poorly.  Thanks as always for reading, and hey, if you are local to SoCal or just want to enjoy the beautiful late April weather, check out The Battle for Los Angeles!

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About Danny Ruiz

Long-long time 40K player, part of the triumvirate of head 40K judges at LVO, writer, educator, tyranid-enthusiast, disciple of Angron, man about town.

2 Responses to “Tyranid Codex Review – Heavy Support: Thornbacks”

  1. Víctor Yanguas March 3, 2019 2:20 am #

    Its a shame that many units are considerably mediocre and without a clearly defined role. This, IMO, doesnt seem a good idea for GW, because these models Will surely have a very poor sales rate

    • N.I.B. March 3, 2019 3:07 am #

      Not really applicable for the Thornback or Screamer-Killer. You just build them as custom-Carnifexes.

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