Top 10 Tyranid Units, a Competitive Review

Hey everyone, Danny here from TFG Radio, and now that my codex reviews are done, there is still plenty to talk about when it comes to the Bugs, and the Hive Mind knows I spend probably too much time pondering them.  Today, we are going to look back and examine my take on the Top 10 units from the Codex.  Of course, you should also totally check out the Tactics Corner for more tricks and tips.

Methodology: What does Top Ten even mean? Well, for me, these are my top 10 picks in terms of building viable, competitive Tyranid armies that aren’t just going to get stomped into the ground.  Does such a thing exist? Well, maybe? Yes, I am looking at this more from a competitive edge because if it was just purely what I loved or what I like playing, things would be a bit different here. If y’all ask nice, maybe I’ll do that piece later. This does also include some thought towards the recent April FAQ, but I’ll have a whole separate article for that. I took into account things like sheer kill, resilience, board control, and tactical flexibility. Ok, here we go!


1 – Hive Guard

The best that we have for a variety of reasons. First, they provide something that Bugs really struggle with in general: high-quality, accurate firepower.  BS 3+ innate is big, and S8 AP-2 Dmg D3 is just a beast of a weapon.  Throw in that they ignore cover and do not need LoS to reach out and touch things at 36”, they really can slot into just about any build.  Have 290 spare points? 6 Hive Guard.  Anytime I experiment with a list that doesn’t include them, I definitely feel their absence when I play.  While they are expensive and can be CP hungry since you really want to factor in 2 CP a turn for Single-Minded Annihilation to get them to double-tap, they just provide so much value that it is all worth it and then some.  Against just about anything other than a unit with -2 or more to hit penalty, they will do some big damage. Don’t forget that defensively, they aren’t slouches either. With a 4+ (likely a 3+ in cover since you should be hiding them in a ruin), T5, and 3 wounds a piece, a lot of other ignore LoS shooting will actually struggle to bring them down.   Unless you allow a deep-striker or fast element to flank you, they should live until the very late game, and as hardy as they are, if you can rush them out to take a mid-table objective, they are hard to bring down.  Overall, from my experience, they are just a must-have unit for any competitive list.

2 – Genestealers

Hard not to imagine the Genestealers in the top 3, and trust me, they are a tentacle’s hook shy of taking the first spot.  Genestealers are amazing for a variety of reasons. First, they are little running blenders with up to 4 attacks each and the chance to go to AP-3 on a wound roll of a 6.  They are easy to buff up to WS 2+, so you can get some insane accuracy out of them.  They are fast beyond all belief with a native 8” move that can advance and charge in the same turn, so even without Kraken, they are going 11.5 inches on average a turn and threaten without any buffs, 18.5 inches.  They are also our most resilient swarmed infantry with T4 and a 5++.  Genestealers will kill just about anything they hit that isn’t a Super Heavy, and they work with so many of our stratagems that they have an insane tactical flexibility.  Don’t forget that they are also Troops so Objective Secured, which means even just a few of them left out of a horde can help you win games by snaking objectives.  Yes, they are pricey at 12 points per model, but even without a Swarmlord or Kraken, they can pull weight in surprising ways.  That said, Kraken is definitely ideal for them.  They are the first Troop choice I reach for just because of the combination of power, speed, resilience, and objective secured/battalion building.

3 – Termagants

The humble Termagant, our little loves.  Why would I rate them so high? Well, first and foremost, they are only 4 points a model. What does that get you? A basic trooper statline with a 12 inch S4 shot.  Not impressive, but it can be.  Remember, 30 of these little bugs is only 120 points for 30 models that with all of our synergies up can have Feel No Pain, a -1 to hit at range, and a 5+ save in cover, oh, and are fearless. I think Leviathan Termies are insane as having 100+ models with a 6+ FnP and -1 to hit can be frustrating for your opponent to chew through, and this really isn’t all that expensive either. Throw in that they reroll 1s to wound for shooting if 20 or more models, and they have access to an underused stratagem that gives them +1 to wound in Scorch Bugs, they can actually do a fair bit of damage.  Do they get charged and die? Pop Acid Blood and do 5 mortal wounds back on average.  They are amazing chaff, and you can easily fill the board with them.  Quantity is a quality all of its own.   And don’t forget, if you want offense, give them Devourers and a ride, and watch them blitz through any other infantry with 90 S4 shots (or 180 if you are saucy).  The Termgant is an unsung hero, and while they aren’t powerhouses, they provide so much board control for such a low cost that they should never be overlooked.  Especially if you stack any sort of defensive buff on them, they become truly frustrating to remove.

4 – Swarmlord

Of course our biggest leader bug is here, and for good reason.  First and foremost, Swarmlord is a force multiplier. Thanks to Hive Commander, this bug makes just about any other unit in our codex, even ones that typically get little love, so much better by allowing them to move twice. This means that some of our largest melee bugs like Haruspexes, Toxicrenes, and even itself can fly across the board and start collecting bio-mass.  Obviously, Swarmlord also makes Kraken Genestealers the fastest damn thing on the battlefield, and while that combo is expected, it is still rightly punishing if your opponent does not know how to defend against it.  The Swarmlord also isn’t a chump on its own with some high quality attacks, a 3++ in melee, and a larger synapse aura. Don’t forget that it gets to cast 2 powers and deny 2, so you get a strong psyker on top that can do 2d3 mortal wounds in the psychic phase thanks to Smite and Psychic Scream, rush itself forward in the shooting phase, and then get some love in the fight phase.  Since the Swarm Lord knows 2 powers, you can also give it one of our support powers like Catalyst for Feel No Pain or Onslaught to allow a slower unit/beastie the chance to advance and charge. That’s a lot of utility out of a single model, even for 250 points. While the Swarmlord can be targeted, it is still a relatively small model, so you can hide it if you are savvy and playing on a table with decent terrain.  While Swarmy won’t one round any super threats, it is still a strong threat on its own, one that your opponent has to handle.

5 –Broodlords  

Thanks to Chapter Approved 2018, the Broodlord goes from zero to hero.  At 115, you get an amazing character that brings a ton of threat. With 6 S6 attacks at -3 AP and Dmg D3, that is a lot of potential kill, plus these attacks have a chance to go -6 AP and a flat 3 damage. That’s a good amount of damage from a single character.  Don’t forget that it is also a psyker, so it can throw out a smite, and it moves 8 with advance and charge.  With reroll wounds inherently, the Broodlord can even threaten T7 and above units, and with the Death Frenzy stratagem, if they die, they get one more round of fighting at full capacity.  One of my common answers to a Knight is to plink some wounds off and send in the Broodlord. It will likely die, but a single Broodlord does 8.28 wounds for 2 CPs on its own, and again, Bugs lack a real one-round threat to Knights, but plinking off wounds via Smite, Hive Guard, and even Acid Blood if the Knight charged a screen means that the Broodlord is strong enough to put the tin can down.  It is very easy for a Broodlord to abuse cover and pop out to wreck a lot of targets, all while being safe thanks to Gant-walls. It doesn’t hurt that the Broodlord also squeezes just even more awesome-sauce out of Genestealers.  The Broodlord isn’t super survivable with only T5 and a 5++, so be wary of snipers, but if you use terrain, these leader bugs are hunter-killer missiles for a great price.

6 – Old One Eye

Old One Eye got so much love in the transition from 7th to 8th and from Index to Codex. While it is 200 points, OOE is just about the strongest melee threat monster we have.  While its statline isn’t amazing, those 5 attacks quickly become more if OOE gets the charge off, generating extra attacks on a 4+ with the talons (S7 AP-3 Dmg 3) or 5+ with the big claw (S14 AP-3 Dmg 3).  At 9 wounds, OOE can hide behind Gants, and most snipers won’t find it easy meat with T7.  As OOE does not degrade, it also makes an excellent choice for Death Frenzy, and a charging OOE with Death Frenzy and Voracious Appetite (reroll wounds) is going to bring big pain to just about any target. For math’s sake, using that combo nets you 29.5 wounds to a Knight, so killing just about any Knight out there unless it has a 4++ in combat. While 3 CP and 200 points isn’t a minor investment, it is worth it if it bags you a 400+ point model in return. OOE is a great piece-trade unit that can easily sacrifice itself for a much bigger points investment.  OOE also helps turn on other Carnifexes, so it does allow you to get more mileage out of other models, especially if you really want to run Carnifex spam. While slow, we have plenty of tricks to get it where it needs to be, and overall, OOE is a great way to add some really heavy swing to an army. Just watch out for its greatest enemy: stairs.


7 – Hormagaunts

The other little bugs in our pocket, Hormagaunts are a thinking-bug’s troop choice.  With movement 8 and a 6 inch pile-in/consolidate, the Hormagaunt makes tri-pointing enemy units a hell of a lot easier.  Hormagaunts are great for flying up the board as the first wave, hitting the enemy and tying up their front line and maybe even tagging a vehicle or two to force them to fall back.  With all our little tricks, Hormagaunts can be an utter nightmare for an opponent to untangle, and while they are a little pricier than Termagants, a unit or two makes for some serious board control.  Hormies are not great damage dealers, but their ability to just fly across the board in the fight phase is insane, and never underestimate the ability to move far.

8 – Neurothrope

While Chapter Approved made this bug a bit more expensive, it is still worth the cost.  For 90 points, you get 2 casts, a deny, on a model with a 3++.  That’s not all, the Neurothrope gets to reroll 1s for psychic tests, making them just a bit reliable, especially for end of phase smites.  Even a single Neurothrope in a Spearhead/Vanguard/Outrider is a great little psychic gunboat, able to cast Smite and Psychic Scream pretty well.   While 3 is not necessarily all that great, 1 or 2 is a cheap way to help fill out a battalion with an HQ choice that can take high quality shots and still contribute a bit of damage.  While a Tyranid Prime may be a better dedicated backfield baby sitter as it is able to fight off some enemies, a Neurothrope is likely just more effective in more games. Just watch out for Vindicares.

9 – Malanthrope/Venomthropes

I lumped these two together as really, I think they are both about equal in terms of usefulness in different ways.  The key point here is that an aura of -1 to hit is just essential to Tyranids.  We don’t have that many invulnerable saves. We don’t have any natural 2+ armor outside of our Bio-Titan.  We are a bit squishy really, so any Tyranid build, whether horde, reserve, monster mash, etc, benefits from a flat -1 to hit in shooting.   This is what keeps us alive long enough to do what we want to do, and we can actually become shockingly resilient if you make sure to have that sweet, sweet, -1 aura spread throughout your army.  Malanthropes are pricey with a very limited aura, but they are characters, so they are easy to hide. Venomthropes are cheaper, have a much wider aura, but they can be targeted, and they don’t protect Monsters unless you have 3 or more.  Whether you want that sweet Mala or just the standard Thropes, either way, you need to make sure to save points for that sweet, sweet aura.  So sweet.

10 – Rippers

The lowly Rips, just some bitz from other kits really, but oh Hive Mind, they know how to pull weight. Granted, they are 33 points at minimum, and they don’t threaten much, but for 33 points, you get a Troops choice that can reserve on its own.  Many a game has been won by a brave Ripper squad deepstriking into a far corner to help snag Recon every turn.  In ITC, they make great Engineers if your opponent doesn’t have any ignore LoS shooting. 99 points and 2 HQs net you 5 CPs, and we Tyranids do like our CPs. There are certainly shinier, more exciting codex entries here, but at the end of the day, the Ripper is a workhouse that allows Tyranids to build creatively and not be totally CP starved.


So to sum up, Tyranids have some great units, mostly HQs and Troops, but that can be enough. While I’d love to be able to see more of our Big Bugs belong here, we have to work with what we got, and hopefully be rewarded for that patience with a new Campaign book, but until then, if you are new to Tyranids or an old salt, don’t sleep on any of these entries.  Thanks as always for reading, and see you all out there, eating it up for the Great Devourer.

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




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.

13 Responses to “Top 10 Tyranid Units, a Competitive Review”

  1. Reecius
    Reecius May 5, 2019 8:16 am #

    Great list and I have to agree with your choices.

    I’d probably have included Biovoes in there too, but that’s just me. Watching a spore mine move block a Knight is glorious, lol.

    I hope with the meta change incoming with Castellans shifting in their role and perhaps being less meta defining, we’ll see more big bugs come back out as they were by far the most susceptible to the tyranny of ye old Castellan as they lack an invul save. Pre-Castellan, I was going very well with my Tervigon army, and I’d love to bring it back out to play!

    • Avatar
      Brakhal May 5, 2019 3:12 pm #

      I don’t think the castellan nerf will be enough to give the oxygen most monsters need. The problem for most big bugs was not just on their survivabilty, but on how much time they need to make an impact on the game, combined with a low offensive power when they reach that point.

      A new coat of rules could do the trick, for example with a special detachment with powerfull stratagems.

      But the nerf could do enough for flyrants to make a comeback. Sprayfexes get a chance too, and maybe even Exocrenes.

      • Reecius
        Reecius May 6, 2019 7:30 am #

        Yeah, I think the big bugs all need to get more wounds, personally. The lack of any kind of save vs. heavy weapons is brutal. But, pre-Castellan I was having good success with them but post Castellan, lol, I was just picking them up. We’ll see how it goes. Little bugs are still great.

        • Avatar
          Brakhal May 6, 2019 2:02 pm #

          To be honest, as long as little bugs are fine, I’m fine. I started Tyranids to play “The Swarm”, not “the kaiju”.

          Warriors are what makes me sad, tho.

          • Avatar
            WestRider May 8, 2019 7:00 pm

            Truth. The Army just doesn’t feel right to me without a big core of Warriors, but they’re stuck in a really bad place on 8th Ed battlefields, with both Anti-Infantry and Anti-Tank fire able to cut them down quite efficiently.

        • Avatar
          WestRider May 8, 2019 6:58 pm #

          Yeah. The big bugs mostly got their Wounds more or less doubled, but many of the things that are often shooting at them (Lascannon, Krak Missiles, Meltaguns, etc.) went from 1 damage to d6, almost a four-fold increase on average. So realistically, all the big bugs got about half as durable, and they weren’t particularly impressive in that regard to begin with.

          I do wish they were a bit faster, too, tho. “Nothing that big should be able to move that fast” has been a pretty common theme in Nid fluff.

          • Avatar
            abusepuppy May 8, 2019 8:47 pm

            It is worth noting that, on the math front, big bugs now get a save against most of those guns (even if it’s just a 5+ or 6+), whereas before they had nothing, and that it became harder to wound them (almost always requiring a 3+ instead of a 2+.) They don’t seem like big shifts in the math, but they actually count for a lot.

            The real issue is less Lascannons or Missile Launchers and more things like Knights, Smite spam, Custodes, and the high-RoF multidamage weapons out there.

            8″ speed, which is about standard for Nid monsters, is not unreasonably slow but isn’t fast enough in an environment like this. Then again, nothing really could be with the Castellan around. They could move 32″ and it wouldn’t matter if they’re gonna get vaporized first time that thing looks at them.

  2. Avatar
    Brakhal May 5, 2019 3:21 pm #

    I don’t think Hive Guard to be good enought to be the number 1 on the list, but sure they deserve a spot on the list, as any other broods you picked.

    I miss Zoanthropes. I really like Zoanthropes over Hive Guards.

    I think flyrants got decent again, after the castellan nerf and the fly final change. Tyrannofexes got decent too. But there’s only 10 spots, of course.

    • Reecius
      Reecius May 6, 2019 7:31 am #

      T-Fexes are indeed awesome, just wish they had a 2+ save like the old days. That goes miles to keeping them alive.

      Flyrants are awesome again, I agree. We’ve been seeing them used to excellent effect.

    • Avatar
      The Traitor May 6, 2019 8:13 am #

      Here in Spain Zoanthrope spam is actually used in many events by competitive players, which we call the “streetlights” (“farolas” in Spanish). It basically consists in 3 6-man units with Neurothrope support to dish out 3+D3 MW, and lately I’ve seen it used with multiple GSC deep strike bombs. It is true they usually do better in team tournaments, where you can choose pairings, but my point is they can be competitive, though it is true I’ve never seen this build mentioned outside of the Spanish competitive scene.

      • Avatar
        abusepuppy May 7, 2019 4:44 am #

        It’s definitely more popular in Europe, but it does show up other places- there was one American player who ran something very similar for quite a while, and some of the Australian players have experimented with it as well.

  3. Avatar
    Chris May 7, 2019 6:30 am #

    Minor typo. Genestealers are -4 on the roll of a 6, not -3.

  4. Avatar
    N.I.B. May 8, 2019 10:01 pm #

    I’ve been doing fairly well with Kraken Nidzilla in tournaments – 3 Flyrants, OOE, 5 Carnifex, a Sprayfex, a Kronos Sporocyst and some chaff for objectives. The Castellan nerf will improve the matchups. Post-faq I will swap the Sporocyst for another 2 Carnifex.

Leave a Reply