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Culexus Assassins are literally one-in-a-billion individuals; not only are they recruited from amongst that rare stock of individuals with the Pariah gene, all of whom distort the warp around them and are often said to be “soulless,” but they come only from the so-called “omega Pariahs,” those who lack even the most miniscule of connections to the Empyrean and are wholly disconnected from warp energies. Their wargear and training enhance and focus these abilities, allowing them to project blasts of negative warp space and rip the souls from their enemies with but a touch, while their own abhorrent presence fades into the background as the minds of other creatures blot out the unreality they represent. A Culexus Assassin on the job is little more than a ghostly avatar of death, slaying at will without warning or reason.
As with the other assassins, the Culexus has a pretty strong statline. Movement 7″ makes it reasonably quick on the ground, while weapon skill and ballistic skill 2+ mean that it will usually land its attacks. Strength and toughness four make a passable combatant, and four attacks is a good number overall (although weirdly it is lower than any of the other assassins, even the Vindicare.) At 85pts the Culexus is very good at what it does, though outside of that role it doesn’t have a lot to recommend it other than resilience.
Special Rules and Wargear
Like all of its type, the Culexus Assassin comes with a trio of generic special rules as well as a number of unique ones. Lightning Reflexes gives it a 4+ invulnerable save against all attacks; Independent Operative prevents it from having a warlord trait and lets it start the game in reserve; and Execution Force dictates how it can be included in detachments, but otherwise has no effect on the game.
Beyond that, the Culexus is largely defined by its abilities, even more than the others. Abomination is the one most people know- it forces all psykers within 18″ to subtract two from Psychic and Deny the Witch rolls; while this won’t be enough to stop most powers, it can make harder powers (the WC7 or WC8 ones) a lot less likely to pass and if you have a psyker of your own to Deny with it really tilts the odds in your favor- though it’s worth noting that the penalty applies to all psykers in range, not just enemy ones. The Culexus also cannot be targeted or affected by psychic powers at all, so it can shrug off Smites and the like without even a care in the world.
Etherium is the other defining thing that most people know about the Culexus- any model attacking it is treated as having WS/BS6+ for that attack, and combined with its character status this makes a Culexus incredibly difficult to actually do any damage to. They aren’t invulnerable, but they are one of the toughest models around for their cost.
Life Drain essentially substitutes for the Culexus’s melee weapon, as it doesn’t have any actual weapon. Armor saves cannot be made against its melee attacks, though invulnerable saves can; this can really hit hard on some units, as most things out there don’t have an invulnerable save at all. Psychic Assassin, the last of the abilities, allows the Culexus to target psykers even if they aren’t the closest model and to throw a grenade in addition to its other weapons.
Speaking of which, the Culexus comes with two ranged weapons. The Animus Speculum is the main one you’ll use; with 18″ S5 AP-4 Dmg1 Assault d3 it puts out some okay shots, although nothing to write home about; being within 18″ of a psyker increases it to d6 shots, but with the middling strength value and random shots it usually does little to impress and is almost an afterthought with the unit. Psyk-Out Grenades, while cute, are even less relevant; with d3 shots at S2, they will almost never manage to do anything to the enemy, especially with a 6″ range. Their only redeeming feature is that a hit roll (not wound roll) of ‘6’ against a psyker or daemon will do a mortal wound, which occasionally can knock a wound off something tough. Still, I almost never end up firing mine, either due to range or simple lack of caring.
The Culexus’s two unique stratagems are, unfortunately, easily the worst of the four assassins. Although they have some uses, their overall effect on the game is usually quite low- however, in a handful of situations they can be game-winners, so I wouldn’t discount them entirely. It also is notable for being perhaps one of the most useful choices for the “recruitment” strat that adds an assassin to your army; while the Vindicare might see more general use, a Culexus will probably be a larger swing in the matchup when added to an army, since it is such an incredibly powerful tool against the right foes.
Soul Horror is the first, and more expensive, of the Culexus’s two stratagems. For 2CP, you can force all enemy units within 3″ of the Culexus to fight last that phase; fighting last is an extremely powerful ability, as anyone who has faced up against a Vexator Mask can tell you, but in this case the tax to do it is far from trivial and the range is relatively short (even with the benefit of Heroic Intervention.) You’ll want to keep in mind that you have this one, but only on rare occasions is it actually going to be worthwhile enough to activate, as the Culexus itself simply doesn’t hit hard enough to make using it a particularly worthwhile endeavor.
Pariah’s Gaze is the other stratagem they have available, and is used before shooting with a Culexus. For 1CP, it raises the damage of the model’s weapons to d3 each, making them have a more reasonable chance of sniping out a psyker or the like. In my opinion, though, the Animus Speculum probably should already have been DmgD3, so this tax to bring it up to par is not terribly exciting. Fun fact: it raises the damage of all your ranged weapons, including your grenades as well as any other weapons you managed to gain access to via a mission or stratagem ability.
There are basically two things to use a Culexus for, as it is by far the narrowest of the assassins in scope of all of its brethren. The obvious one is, of course, combating enemy psykers, but it can also be used for its survivability- though this is something of a niche case. Even so, it can see use in this role, so if you have it available you might consider what your other plans for the unit would otherwise be, as sometimes that is enough.
As an anti-psyker tool the Culexus is second to none; the -2 penalty on casting and denying is a big swing in numbers and can really be backbreaking if you can get it in range of enemy psykers while avoiding your own; it ends up being something like a 10-20% swing in your chances to shut powers off. Against armies like Ynnari that rely heavily on putting up buff powers to get their units to function this can be really great, because it’s not just the flat -2 that will change the game for you- it’s the fact that your opponent knows they have that penalty and will have to build that into their plan for the turn. Randomness is always the bane of tournament armies and increasing that randomness (in an army that is already banking very heavily on a handful of powers going off so that they aren’t left hanging in the wind) can really force them to play a lot more conservatively.
However, a Culexus is even better against your typical Chaos army these days, who rely largely on application of Smite (and a handful of other powers) for damage output. A Culexus will simply absorb any Smites targeted their way without consequence and can often be in range to make many of the other powers (such as Doombolt or Warptime) extra-difficult to get off as well. As such armies often feature very little shooting of any kind, it is quite possible for the Culexus to eat two, three, or even more psychic phases from an enemy, as they will be hard-pressed to remove the Culexus or maneuver around it- and if you have more than one on the table, that may as well be game for them.
All of this plays into the Culexus’s other strength, namely survivability. As enemies generally only hit it on 6s, it can take quite a bit of firepower to put a dent in one- and the combination of a 4++ and character status makes this all the harder, especially as a Culexus has a pretty small profile and can generally hide from enemies with little trouble. Better yet, if the enemy has any penalties of any kind, they will simply miss the Culexus. Moved with a heavy weapon? Using a Thunder Hammer? Under the effects of a psychic power? In all of those cases, the -1 penalty will make it impossible to hit the Culexus, unless there is some kind of bonus that is also in play to cancel it out.
For this reason, and because they can go into reserves if you want, a Culexus can be an ideal unit to score positional objectives such as Behind Enemy Lines or Recon as well as claiming objectives on the field (presuming there are no enemy units around, of course.) In some games, you may find that simply dedicating a Culexus to hiding in the enemy deployment zone and scoring you an assured one victory point every round is a perfectly fine use of it, as this frees up the rest of your army to concentrate on accomplishing things elsewhere.
A Culexus can also be used to delay units that you don’t want to deal with- for example, by tying up some Wulfen in combat or holding back a portion of a mob of Boyz. This tactic usually has a fairly short lifespan, as even hitting on 6s most enemies will wear a Culexus down over a couple phases and eventually kill it, but sometimes a turn or two is all you need and there is some value in simply frustrating an opponent enough that they over-focus on killing it to the exclusion of your other models. Even Knights can find it difficult to down a Culexus in a single phase, no matter their armament; ironically, the weaker units out there (such as Conscripts, Gretchin, etc) actually have some of the best chances of doing so, as they lose so little from the Culexus’s abilities that they may as well be acting normally.
Although a Culexus can be a huge hassle to get rid of, it’s not actually as difficult as people tend to assume. As mentioned above, horde units (Ork Boyz, Conscripts, etc) are probably the best way to handle the problem- assassins in general are weak to massed attacks, and the Culexus’s defenses are especially vulnerable to this kind of strategy. With its very lackluster ability to strike back at most foes, a Culexus will generally die long before it has cleared out any significant portion of such an enemy unit, or else be forced to retreat (which is just as good a result, in many cases.)
Weapons with pluses to hit, or that hit automatically, are also the bane of the Culexus. Although the Etherium ability reduces all enemies to WS/BS6+, it does not forbid bonuses to hit- so if you can get those from some kind of source (a stratagem, an ability, wargear, psychic powers, etc) they can be a huge swing. Even just +1 to hit doubles your chances of landing a blow on the Culexus, and of course autohit weapons like Flamers are even better in this regard; a couple of Flamers can make short work of an unwary assassin. In a similar fashion, overwatch is a very dangerous time for a Culexus, as enemies can hit it just like they would any other foe- and if they are Tau Sept they are actually more accurate on overwatch. There are also a decent number of units out there that can bypass the changes to their weapon/ballistic skill- Dark Reapers and the Vindicare Assassin are both obvious candidates, but the Dakka Dakka ability on orks also qualities, as do things like Tesla that score bonus hits.
Finally, remember that a Culexus Assassin is very ill-prepared to actually do much to your army, unless you have psykers; its small handful of shots and melee attacks will struggle to clear enemies out and with its middling strength in both shooting and melee it may hit with all of its attacks, but will very often fail to wound with them. By simply providing it with more models than it can deal with- or even just a single vehicle, of virtually any type- it’s not hard to keep it occupied for most of the game unless something else intervenes.
The Culexus Assassin is a very specialized tool, but within the context of its role it is very powerful; the ability to bring it into any Imperial army that wants it will be a huge obstacle for certain lists out there and will probably result in them needing to adjust their builds in order to be sure that they have the tools to deal with one, as currently very few are prepared to do so. However, used improperly it can also be almost laughably weak, and knowing the difference between when it can turn a matchup and when another assassin will be a superior choice will be the mark of a good general.
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