Eric S. brings us his take on getting the most out of GSC in 9th ed 40k.
Sometimes it can feel like the Genestealer Cult have seen their time in the sun come and go. It even feels like it happened in the distant past. The days of muscle beach double Abberant bomb lists, or Bladed Cog/Hive Cult 9 Ridgerunner lists, creating big a splash in the tournament scene feels like it happened 10 years ago when, in fact, it was just last ITC season! Currently, GSC are being utilized as an ally for Forces of the Hive Mind lists, but are not seeing much play as a stand alone faction. If you are looking to play pure GSC and not utilize the help of their alien overlords you are going to have to play at a higher level then if you were to simply grab 50 Intercessors, call them White Scars (even though you know, and I know, they were Iron Hands a few months ago), and throw them at your opponent. All is not lost if you want to stay loyal to the Four Armed Emperor, but you will have to keep some general things in mind playing GSC in 9th Edition.
First, GSC is not the melee powerhouse it once was. The sooner you (and I) accept this, the better. A fully loaded squad of Abberents comes in at 360pts. In the era of White Scars with Transhuman Physiology 360pts of Abberents is laughable. They become even more laughable when you spend extra resources on them in game like Warlord Traits or Relics to watch your elite unit of close combat monsters fail to kill 10 Intercessors and get smacked around in return. Capable melee threats are extremely useful in 9th Edition, and the GSC codex still has some answers in this area of the game. Acolytes have always been a staple of many GSC lists, and this shouldn’t change in 9th Edition. A large squad of Acolytes coming in from ambush can still put a serious hurt on anything in the game, and if you utilize synergies like the Primus’ Cult Demogauge and Meticulous Planner abilities an Acolyte squad is hitting on 2’s and re-rolling 1’s to wound against a chosen target. Since you will very likely be wounding those Space Marines you just charged on 4+’s these aura buffs are extremely important to getting the maximum around of wounds through.
This brings us to our next unit that was once amazing for GSC players. The Ridgerunner was an excellent counter to a lot of the things in the meta during the end of last year, but currently 9th Edition is skewing toward more MSU style builds, or builds with more infantry, that makes a waste of the Ridgerunner’s Mining Lasers. Unlike the Abberents, the Ridgerunner’s still have a role to play in current GSC army lists. Ridgerunner’s still put out an incredible amount of firepower, are surprisingly durable, and, most importantly, take up a ton of space on the board. They are extremely fast which allows them to block avenues of approach your opponent may have been counting on to get onto your backfield objectives. As an added bonus the Riderunners won’t die to a stiff breeze like the rest of the GSC army. Ridgerunner’s can be used to “fix and flank” your opponents dangerous melee units that are coming toward center objectives as well. By holding them up for one or two turns you will have the perfect opportunity to do what the GSC codex does best and shape the battlefield to become more advantageous to your army. These advantages may come in the form of holding a dangerous melee unit in place for a turn with Ridgerunners so your own dangerous melee unit guarantees a charge and first attack, or it may come in the form of blocking paths to objectives and piling your loyal objective secured cultists around them to score more primary points. Remember, the game is two turns shorter in regards to scoring primary points. Holding up your opponents units in areas of the battlefield with no strategic value, even for 1 turn, can be the difference in getting 15 or 5 primary points.
Now for the good news, 9th Edition, more then any other edition, is about holding objectives to get those primary and secondary points. GSC have some of the best stratagems in the game to allow their objective secured units to jump around the board at a pace no other army in the game can match. With the ability to drop in 3 inches away from your opponent’s models, move closer after setting a unit up 9 inches away from reserves, and cycling units into reserve throughout the entire game a GSC player should not have an issue getting their models where they are needed on the battlefield. With the points changes of 9th Edition many armies are at a noticeably smaller model count, and this translates into taking up less physical space on the table. GSC players can make excellent use of this new meta development with all of the codex’s reserve manipulation stratagems. The key to exploiting GSC’s powerful maneuverability is in understanding the army is also extremely fragile to go along with it’s maneuverability. Scoring happens at the beginning of the Command Phase, so your opponent will always have a chance to react to your primary scoring, so a GSC player cannot simply drop a unit of Neophytes on an objective from reserve and hope they survive. Using terrain, blocking units (like those Riderunners and blocks of Acolytes), and abilities that increase the durability of fragile units is key to keeping something alive on an objective to actually benefit from scoring points for holding it. One underutilized ability comes in to form of the Warlord Trait Focus of Adoration which allows Keyword Cult Infantry and Biker units within 6 inches of a character to perform Heroic Interventions. While performing Heroic Interventions with Neophytes may not sound exciting it gives a GSC player even more control over the objectives on the battlefield. Make sure your opponent knows when they place some models around an objective to gain control of it they better also plan on charging you. If your opponent puts models within 3 inches of an objective your GSC models can Heroically Intervene creating all kinds of extra movement for your loyal Cult units.
While GSC may not have the big new shiny hammer units (come ooooonnnn GSC codex) that other armies currently enjoy, the Cult can be the best mobile army in the game. This, combined with the proven effectiveness of horde armies in this Edition, still allows GSC to compete at any level. You are just going to have to work a little harder at it the some other armies.