9th Edition 40k has taken a strong shift from the supremacy of the shooting army to the rise of the melee army.
From tough Novok Necrons to fast White Scars some of the most powerful army builds in the game come in the form of a strong melee threat that can put pressure on the objectives all over the battlefield. This shift in focus has come about mainly due to the 9th Edition Grand Tournament Mission’s focus on holding objectives for both the Primary and some important Secondary Objectives. It is no longer a viable strategy in 9th Edition to Move Move Move a cheap Guardsmen squad onto an objective when scoring doesn’t happen until the next Command Phase. In the current meta an excellent objective grabbing unit is one that can clear a contested objective and live until its next Command Phase.
Unfortunately, this shift in the timing of scored objectives is not a good one for the Genestealer Cults. The ultimate glass cannon army in the game wants nothing to do with holding objectives throughout an entire enemy Psychic, Shooting and then Close Combat Phase. In an army that is mobile and hard hitting it can be surprisingly tough to score the Primary points while playing GSC. Thankfully, GSC do have some tricks up their tattered sleeves to score those all important Primary points during a game of 40k.
Acolytes are the GSC’s saving grace currently. A large unit of Rock Saw toting Acolytes is an excellent tool to charge into an enemy held objective. While things like Transhuman Physiology, Reanimation Protocols, and Death Guard damage reduction are strong in the game right now the GSC Codex can provide some excellent buffs to your Acolytes to make clearing those objectives a real possibility.
The Codex has the tools to deliver Acolyte Squads all over the table. A Perfect Ambush, while expensive at 3CP, can reliably deliver one unit of Acolytes into safe charging range. Just be sure to understand if your opponent can fire at units being set up on the table from Reserves such as Space Marines, Eldar and Admech. If this is the case find a spot where your Acolytes can safely deploy out of line of sight. A Perfect Ambush requires the GSC player to place the unit as normal 9 inches away from enemy models and THEN move them D6 inches, so once the unit is down on the table your opponents chance to intercept them has passed.
Another buff comes in the form of a character that should be in virtually every GSC army; the double buffing Primus. Giving out +1 to hit AND re-rolling 1s to wound against a specific unit (pick the one you are charging that’s holding the objective) is excellent. With the sheer number of attacks an Acolyte squad puts out, the Primus buffs can make this unit threaten even a Transhumaned squad of Primarus Marines. Remember, you don’t need to kill everything on the objective (although that would be awesome), you just need to kill enough so there are more Acolytes then enemy models after they hit back. Heck, if the other unit isn’t OpSec you just need ANY Acolytes to survive!
Big units of Acolytes aren’t the only way this unit makes it into many GSC lists. A unit of 5 bare clawed Acolytes comes in at 40pts. These little dudes will die to anything in the game ranging from Lasguns to any kind of Bolter, but these small, cheap, squads are extremely useful in playing the mission. With the various ways GSC have to manipulate their reserves a small unit of Acolytes can be perfect for droping down on objectives cleared out from the shooting of Ridgerunners, but the most effective way to use these small squads is in denying the enemy their own Primary points.
By using the stratagem Lying in Wait a small 40 point investment of Acolytes can drop down outside of 3 inches of any enemy models. Generally, there is space around an objective to drop outside of 3 inches of enemies, but still within 3 inches of the objective. These models will be a huge inconvenience for your opponent by not only taking away Primary points, but also by making them commit assets of their army to deal with a 40 point unit clogging up their objectives.
Now for the bad news for the loyal Cult members. Playing 9th Edition 40k this way is extremely risky and requires much more skill then marching 60 Novok Necron Warriors up the board to hold objectives. Yes, Acolytes still pack a big melee punch, but they sure can’t take ANYTHING remotely resembling a punch back. In a perfect scenario for a GSC army an Acolyte squad makes the charge onto an objective, clears the enemy around it, and holds the objective for a single turn before being easily destroyed by your opponents random shooting that they may not even bother shooting most games. Worst case, you fail that re-rollable charge with double ones on both dice. Enjoy shooting Autopistols with those Acolytes.
If you were the kind of player that was scared off by the downside though you probably wouldn’t be playing GSC. 40K is a lot like chess in that it is a game of trading pieces. Just remember that in this chess game your pieces are going to get contemptuously murdered by religious zealots of some form after you take an enemies pieces to score some Primary points. Always have a plan to get back onto the objectives. This secondary objective holding force in many of my lists is Neopytes with Patriarch support, or it could come in the form of Ridgerunners, Trucks, or other vehicles. Assuming those Acolytes who come in and put in the good work of the Four Armed Emperor are gone after your opponents next turn is always a safe bet.