Friday, September 10, 2010

Tyranid Army List Building

I have had a bunch of people ask me to do a write up on how to create a competitive Tyranid list, so now that my wedding is done, I figured I could hunker down and write something up.

I find the Nid army, more-so then any other army out there, very difficult for new people to get the hang of. It is such a drastically different play style then everything out there since we have no tanks, and everything is pretty easy to kill, and you are ALWAYS the aggressor. I find the first thing any Nid player needs to do when starting out is get into the right mind set, and that is “I *know* I am going to lose at least 80% of my army, and that is fine with me”. It is VERY common for me to lose at least 80% of my army by the end of the game and still win. The main thing is if you can’t get into that mind set, then I promise you, you will never have fun playing Tyranids.

With that out of the way, I going to do a quick overview of the Force Organization Chart then I will go into more detail on how to make everything work together. I am also going to create some sample army lists and focus on the overall focus of each list.


Hive Tyrant: This is the main HQ for the army, and is also the #1 area where I find people make mistakes. There are just so many places to waste points it isn’t even funny. I am just going to break down each section with what I feel are really the only options.

Psychic Powers:
This is an easy one. He has two AWESOME powers (Paroxysm and Leech Essence) and two HORRENDOUS powers (Psychic Scream and The Horror…or whatever that stupid fear power is). Paroxysm is the one you will use 99% of the time though as you make a unit within 12” WS/BS 1 for your turn and theirs. I can’t stress just how incredible that is.

Ranged Weapons: This I find is one of the main areas where the Tyrant tricks you. What I mean by that is the Hive Tyrant has a huge selection of ranged weapons and all but one…maybe 2, are freaking horrible. I ran a Heavy Venom Cannon on both Tyrants for about 20 games and they did nothing. Their only function is to make you THINK you can actually kill something at range (you can’t btw) and to keep you from doing the one thing your Tyrant is quite good at, and that is close combat. In my opinion the only option worth anything is the Twin Linked Brain Leech Devourers. They have a short(ish) range, so you will keep your big guy running and they have a huge volume of shots, are twin linked and are str 6, so you can pen Rhinos. I typically only take one set since all your psychic powers are “ranged weapons” and, as a MC you can only fire 2 weapons per turn, and trust me, Paroxysm is better than any gun a Tyrant has.

Close Combat Weapons: The main way I arm my Tyrant is just his basic set up, Scything Talons and a Lash whip, Bonesword. You make everything Init 1 in base to base, you re-roll all 1’s in combat (and since you hit virtually everything in the game on 3’s, its handy) and you have a chance to instant kill things with the Bonesword.

Special Abilities: I love Hive Commander and for me personally, it is the main reason I take a Hive Tyrant at all. I personally just love the flexibility of deployment options with this ability, and it fits my play style perfectly. Old Adversary is also an amazing ability. It gives you a 6” bubble of preferred enemy. Both of these abilities have an awesome use, depending on what type of army you are running. The last 25pts ability is “Indescribable Horror” which is Robin Cruddace literally slapping all of us Nid players in the face. It is hands down the biggest waste of points in any codex, period. I had this ability on my Hive Tyrants for free for 12 years (it was a standard ability Hive Tyrants used to get) and I never had it work…ever.

Upgrades: All of them are useless and a waste of points. The only two I *might* consider is adrenal glands and wings, even then, probably not since your Tyrant already has an awesome init (or lash whips) and having wings make it so you can’t take Tyrant Guard. This is 100% my personal opinion though.

Here are some examples of Tyrant set ups:

1) Bare Bones Tyrant – Scything Talons, Lash Whip, Bonesword, Hive Commander – 195pts. This is how I run my Tyrants. Cheap, focused to do the one thing they are good at and it helps my army out with Hive Commander

2) Utility Tyrant – Scything Talons, Twin Linked MC Devs (1 set), Hive Commander or Old Adversary depending on what type of army you are running – 210pts. If you have a reserve army, then you will want Hive Commander (so Stealers, things in pods, etc.). If you have an army filled with lots of small bugs, then Old Adversary is quite good, and if you take Old Adversary, take a Bonesword/Lash Whips instead of the Scything Talons as the Talons will do nothing if you are already re-rolling your “to hits” anyways because of Preferred Enemy.

3) Old School Dakka Tyrant – 2x Twin Linked MC Devs, Wings, Old Adversary – 285pts. This is an amazing set up if you are running the Tyrant with Gargoyles. Gargoyles are hands down the single best use for Old Adversary as any roll of “6” to hit with a Garg is an auto wound. Another nice thing about old adversary with the Devourers is he is just as good in hand to hand as a fully kitted out close combat Tyrant.

Tyrant Guard: When first looking at these guys they seem very over priced (and they are a bit). They do have two incredible uses though, but first I will just talk about set up. For me I always just take them bare bones. The reason for this is the will probably never make it to combat as they are just your Tyrants extra wounds (incredible use #1), so dumping a whole lot of points is a waste. If you DO want to upgrade them, just put lash whips on them. Avoid Boneswords as they are just a complete waste of points.

With that covered, now for the main reason to take these guys (incredible use #2). If you take 1 or more Tyrant Guard they will become the “majority” for the type of model in the unit. What this means is that if the Tyrant Guard get a cover save (being in area terrain or being behind your own units) then your Hive Tyrant will get a cover save as well (since the Tyrant Guard are in majority). It GREATLY increases the survivability of your Tyrant and after running some Tyrants without Tyrant Guard for a long time I can say I will never use a Tyrant again unless I can afford the Guard to go with them.

Tyranid Prime: If these guys could get Hive Commander I would 100% NEVER run a Hive Tyrant. I can’t stress how much I love this new HQ choice. They are almost as good as Tyrants in close combat, but they are Independent characters, so you can hide them in any unit and they cost half the points. If you take a Prime then you pretty much have to give him a bonesword of some type, whether it is dual boneswords or with a lash whip. For me the two best places for him are with a Warrior Squad (greatly increases their toughness as he can eat up the Krak Missiles since he is Toughness 5) or with a unit of Carnifex’s as he gives them Synapse and extra wounds. Some will argue putting him in with your Tyrant and Tyrant Guard to create a death star unit, but I find that condenses your Synapse too much.

The Swarmlord: Whenever you have the points, put this guy into your army. He is the truth. For 100pts more than a bare Tyrant you get: +1 To the Reserve Roll, +1 wound, WS and Init, a 4+ invuln save in combat, Instant kill with every hit in combat (as well as forcing re-rolls of any successful invuln saves), all the psychic powers and can use 2 per turn, 18” Synapse, Re-Roll for table edge for out flankers and the ability to bestow either Preferred Enemy, Furious Charge or Acute Senses to a single unit within 18”. I *love* this guy and use him every chance I get. All of his abilities work beautifully with the rest of your army and they can help save you points in other areas. For example you no longer need to give your Hormagaunts furious charge since he can bestow it to them for free. Another nice thing about the Swarmlord is his +1 Reserve roll stacks with Hive Commander giving you +2 to your rolls (so everything comes in on a 2+ on turn 2).

The Rest of the HQ: The Tervigon should *always* be taken as troops, so I will cover them there. As for the Parasite, I think he is only a “fluffy” character that you should take if you want something different to lead your Gargoyles.

Elites: The elites section is the fullest and probably the most frustrating section in the entire book. The thing that makes it frustrating is that all of the real ranged Anti Tank is in this slot, making it very hard to fit in some of the really fun options that the elites are filled with.

Zoanthropes: These guys come with the single most powerful anti tank gun in the game and are one of 3 units in the entire book that are BS4. I literally take them in every army I play as they always make their points back. I always take them in a Spore Pod since the enemy never gets a chance to shoot them before they are within range of what they want to kill. When taking a spore pod NEVER put any extra weapons on them as it is a complete waste of points (as they must shoot at the nearest target and are BS2).

Hive Guard: Best unit in the codex, maybe in any codex for the points cost. Only 50pts each with T6, a 2 shot Krak Missile, BS 4 and they don’t need line of sight to what they are shooting at and ignore cover unless you are in area terrain or are standing against a wall. What that last part means is that Vehicles almost never get their cover save against you. These guys just erase rhinos and other vehicles that are AV 12 or lower. They are the perfect complement to the Zonathropes.

Ymgarl Genestealers: These guys can be very effective. I love the fact that they can act normally the turn they become available. They can really add to the Psychological warfare that Nids are so good at.

The Death Leaper: Even though I don’t use him that much anymore I would have to say he is maybe the most fun unit to use in the entire book. The biggest thing with using this guy is patience. He will pay off huge as long as you don’t throw him away at the start of the game trying to force him into places where he will just get shot. The best uses for him are taking out pesky devastator squads or long fangs as marines need a 5+ to hit him in hand to hand combat since he is WS9 or things like Whirlwinds. If you do use him really read through ALL his abilities as he has so many really useful ones.

Venomthropes: These guys get a bad rep by pretty much everywhere I have seen on the internet. I on the other hand have had nothing but success with these guys. I love giving all my gaunts an actual chance to survive when running across the field. Another REALLY nice thing about them is anyone that charges a Tyranid unit within 6” of them must take a Dangerous Terrain test (killed 5 khorne bezerkers in one shot before) and gives the Tyranid unit Defensive grenades. Combine that with the Tervigon’s Counter Charge ability for the gaunts and you have yourself a deadly combo. The big thing with these guys is making sure they live past the first turn by overloading the enemy with Target Saturation or just plain hiding them for the first turn or two. Once your army gets going people just tend to forget that the Venomthropes are even there.

The Rest: The Doom is a fun option, but since the FAQ it has been nerfed into oblivion there really isn’t much point in taking him anymore. Pyrovores are the worst unit in any codex with the regular lictors close on their tails.

Troops: This is actually one of the best sections in the whole book. Pretty much every unit except for Rippers is really good as long as you can avoid the pitfalls.

Termagants: Bare bones with no upgrades are how I go and they perform amazingly. They have two purposes and they are 1) Provide mobile cover for the rest of your army and 2) Protect your big creatures from getting charged by Thunder Hammer Terminators or other death star units. I have never tried running them with devourers, although a unit of 20 gets 60 str 4 shots at 18” a turn, which is pretty sweet. You can make this unit substantially better with the addition of the:

Tervigon: I personally hate this model for the sole reasons of you pretty much HAVE to take it since it is so much better than almost everything else. When you combine these guys with large units of Termagants and Venomthropes you have a large, cheap screen that is actually quite scary in hand to hand combat.

When arming these guys the only upgrades I would do are Toxin Sacs and Catalyst. The reason you take Toxin Sacs is it gives it to any unit of Gants within 6”. So for 10 pts you can upgrade 20+ Gants with toxin sacs…great bargain. The reason I never take Adrenal Glands (which you would also transfer to your Gants) is because I never charge with my Termagants since it puts them out of range from my Tervigon so they won’t benefit from any of her buffs.

With the Tervigon and Venomthropes these are the buffs my 30 Termagant Squad receives: Feel No Pain, Toxin Sacs (always wound on a 4+), Counter Charge on LD 10, Defensive Grenades and Dangerous Terrain Checks for anyone charging them and a 5+ cover save. As you can guess it is a poor choice to charge this squad and you can see why I would never charge myself.

Hormagaunts: These, along with the Zoanthropes are the two units that are in every last list I make. For me the only upgrade these guys NEED is Toxin Sacs as it allows them to wound any model with a Toughness in the game on a 4+. Watching someone charges a Wraithlord into this squad in hopes of holding them up, then having you’re Hormagaunts do 16 wounds is priceless.

Like most units in the Nid book they have a couple of main uses. First off, they are your “hammer” unit, the one that will do serious damage. They are the nids counter to Thunder Hammer Terminators or Thunder Wolf Calvary. I almost always save my Hormagaunts as my mega counter assault unit. I lure the enemy in with a juicy target (like Zoans or my Termagants) then counter assault. The other use is as your vanguard assault unit due to their speed, but I generally don’t do this since it normally leaves them out of Synapse range and it can be quite risky.

Genestealers: When I first started playing 5th ed I was very underwhelmed by these guys. I felt they lost a lot of their punch from last edition. Then I tried them with a Broodlord and he completely changes their dynamic. He takes extra hits for them and he can also take characters out of combat due to transfixing gaze. Great stuff. When arming these guys the only upgrade I would consider is Toxin Sacs as their str will equal Space Marines toughness therefore giving you a re-roll to wound and doubling the chance for rending. I also keep these squads in sizes from 10-12. Anything smaller means you will probably get wiped out before you hit combat and anything larger makes them too much a threat (although my friend Nathan kicked the crap out of a marine army I was playing with a 20 man strong unit of stealers with Catalyst aka feel no pain).

Tyranid Warriors: Like the Hive Tyrant people make a lot of mistakes when arming these guys. With warriors you have to go one of two routes and fully commit to the route you have chosen. The two routes are:

1) Shooty Warriors – Scything Talons, Deathspitters (35pts per model) with a Tyranid Prime (to make them BS 4). When doing this option you need to have them in a really large squad (normally 7+) to create the volume of fire you will need to do damage. I ran this route for a while and found it to be incredibly ineffective since Deathspitters are shell of their former selves.

2) Hand to Hand Warriors – Bonesword, Lashwhip, Toxin Sacs (50pts pre model) normally in squads of 4+. Now we are talking. With this set up you have a squad that can kill almost anything in the game effortlessly. This squad erases anything it touches and is (in my opinion of course) the only way to run Tyranid Warriors.

Fast Attack: There are really only two main options in this section and they are both GREATLY improved over last edition.

This is one amazing unit. If you take Gargoyles you HAVE to take toxin sacs and adrenal glands as they are only 1pt per upgrade, per model. So, for 8pts per model you get something that moves 12”, has a bolt pistol, toxin sacs, furious charge and auto wounds on a 6+ to hit.

Raveners: Like the Venomthropes these guys get a bad rep, which, after using them for a long time I don’t really understand. When taking them the only upgrade you should take is Rending Claws. NEVER take ranged weapons on these guys as they are a complete waste. They should always be running, and always trying to get into hand to hand. These guys are the ultimate Vanguard assault squad in this army. They have a minimum charge range of 19” with a max of 24”. People are always shocked at just have fast these guys move. When I take Raveners I always take them in squads of 6. It gives them 18 wounds and enough attacks to do some real damage when they get there. Another nice thing about these guys is that nobody ever shoots at them since they never seem like a threat, so bonus for us!

The Rest: Just like troops we get a Ripper unit which is not even worth looking at. The other “awesome” choice in this section is the lack luster Harpy. It costs the same as a Tervigon but only has a Toughness of 5, 4 wounds and a 4+ save and is also a Monstrous Creature so has a hell of a time getting a cover save. The only thing going for it is its main weapon is twin linked (either Stranglethorn cannon or a heavy venom cannon). If you DO take a Harpy I would suggest doing the Stranglethorn cannon as that potentially gives you 5 Large Blast templates in one shooting phase which is pretty sweet.

Heavy Support: Ah…finally, my single favorite section in the entire book, filled with massive creatures that will wreck havoc on their enemies.

Trygon: Amazing in pretty much every way. One of the nicest model kits GW produces and has some of the sickest rules for any creature in the Nid Codex and a complete steal at only 200pts. There are a couple of small pointers when using these guys. First off, their Tunnel is a complete waste of time. NEVER plan on using it as a strategy; it is only there as an extreme back up measure when everything else has failed. Which brings me to point two; I almost never deep strike these guys. Since they have fleet of foot they can normally get into hand to hand faster when running across the board then when deep striking. As far as upgrades go the only one I ever take is Adrenal Glands as it gives them Furious Charge which allows them to attack at Init 5. That makes them perfect dreadnought hunters (as they won’t take any damage in return). The only reason to take the Prime Upgrade is if you are super short on Synapse that is it. The extra 6 shots really don’t do a lot as you will be fleeting most of the time anyways.

Mawloc: My other favorite model in this section, possibly the book. These guys are incredibly fun to use. The main function of these guys isn’t to do damage (although, they can do quite a bit when the pop up out of the ground). Their main function is as a disruption force. You bust out a couple of these guys in the enemy deployment on turn 2 and the rest of your army won’t be getting shot at. When using Mawlocs the main thing to remember is they automatically come up the turn after the burrow, so never use reserve rolls. So if they tunnel on turn 1, they automatically come up turn 2. The last really nice thing about these guys is the fact that they have hit and run. So, you can draw people in, and then run at the end of their combat putting you beside juicy targets like vehicles. Or, you can just re-borrow and pop up next turn. One of these guys is okay but they do work way better once you get at least 2 (which is what I run). Combine 2 of these guys with a Deep Striking Trygon and some podding zoanthropes you give your opponent too much to handle.

Carnifex: These guys got hit right in the face with the Nerf Bat. When you consider just how much better the Mawloc and Trygon is then this guy for almost the same points, it makes it almost impossible to pick one or more of these guys up. If you DO run Carnifex’s the only way to do so (again, in my opinion) is running 2 x MC Devourers. Each Carnifex now gets 12 twin linked str 6 shots per turn and you still have 4 attacks in hand to hand each. Overpriced but still very effective. I normally avoid close combat builds as they are generally to slow to catch their prey.

If the Nid codex wasn’t already 100% anti troop then these guys would be a good option. They are only 45pts each and are great for killing large squads of orks. They are definitely more of a “tailoring your army to your opponent” type unit.

Tyrannofex: There are a lot of schools of thought on this guy. A lot of people on the internet just swear by these guys. Me…I think they are one of the most overpriced pieces of crap in the entire book especially when you consider that over a 6 turn game a Tyrannofex statistically won't blow up a Land Raider. Sure they are tough, but since they don’t really do any damage at all there really isn’t any reason to shoot at them. For 265pts you can get so much more anywhere in the book (a good example is 3 Zoanthropes and 2 Hive Guard cost 15pts more for WAY more damage potential).

Old One Eye K, remember when I said the Pyrovore was the worst model in any codex? I take that back. THIS guy is the worst model in any codex...PERIOD. He is a carnifex that costs an extra 100pts and I think he is actually worse due to the standard load out for a Carnifex gives him re-rolls in combat and will hit at init 3 on the charge...this only hits at init 1 and only re-rolls one and is STILL WS3...SIIIGGGHHH lol. You can get a Swarmlord for only 20pts more and he will kill the crap out of this guy 100% of the time while enhancing every last aspect of your army.

Now that I have covered most of the entries in the book I just want to talk a bit about the does and don’ts for creating a Tyranid army.

Monstrous Creature Basics: All the MC’s in this book have a lot of upgrades, most of which are just massive points sinks where you can waste an incredible amount of points. When taking upgrades (not talking about weapons) the main one you want to avoid is Toxin Sacs with the only exception is the Tervigon since they transfer it to their Gants. The reason I say this is because most of the MC’s are Str 6, so you will pay points to make your MC’s wound on a 4+ with a re-roll instead of just wounding on a 2+. The other upgrade that I find is incredibly overrated is Regeneration. You pay so many points and unless you are incredibly lucky it will almost never do anything for you. If you give say a Tervigon and 2 Mawlocs regen that is 100pts you could have been using on 2 Hive Guard for example.

As Far as weapon options go the big one to avoid is Crushing Claws on your Carnifex's and Tervigons. You basically pay 25pts to make your model worse in the case of the carnifex and so marginally better for a Tervigon. I also find any weapon upgrade for a Tervigon a complete waste of points since for the scything talons you would need 2 full turns of combat before you get one re-roll to hit, and even then you are only hitting that re-roll 50% of the time.

Ranged Weapons: There really aren’t a lot of ranged weapons in this book that are even worth thinking about let alone taking. The biggest one to avoid is the Venom Cannon (heavy or normal). It is a horrendous gun that does nothing well. It has a penalty to the vehicle damage chart, so is awful for blowing up tanks, and it is only a small blast so it is horrible for killing hordes and it is only AP 4 so you can’t do much to marines. The Stranglethorn Cannon is *okay*. You can do some damage to ork hordes and Tyranids, so taking it against any horde army it is quite good. Another choice you have to make all the time is between the Cluster Spines or Stinger Salvo. ALWAYS take the Cluster Spines as it is a free upgrade (Cluster Spines are Str 5, Large Blast while Stinger Salvo is Str 5, AP4, and Assault 4 on BS 3 models…no contest). The one option that IS really good is the Brain Leech Devourers. You can pump out a serious amount of shots with these guns and they are really good. Always good to see a book that has 27 ranged weapon entries with only about 6 or 7 that you will use. Go Cruddace!

Building a List: The Main thing to keep in mind when creating a Tyranid List is deciding on an overall theme and focus and sticking to it. There are typically 4 main “themes” for Tyranid lists. Almost all Nid lists will be a variation/combinations of these 3 (well, from what I have seen anyways)

1) The first would be a “come from all sides” type list having a Hive Tyrant with Hive Commander, Podding units, Stealers, Mawlocs and Trygons. This Type of list typically starts in reserve and you then come in from all sides (due to deep striking and outflanking).

2) The second option is doing a horde army with large units of little bugs (like Termagants, Gargoyles and Hormagaunts, typically 20+ strong each) with a smattering of MCs here and there for anti tank. This type of army is the perfect place to have “Old Adversary” on your Hive Tyrant which is the central focus of the army.

3) Nidzilla. This is a list that has as many large creatures in it as humanly possible. Typically have a maxed out Tyrant squad (tyrant + 3 tyrant guard).

4) Midzilla. Focusing on multi wound, toughness 4 models. So lots of Warriors, Raveners, Zoanthropes, Venomthropes and Biovores with a smattering of termagants to provide mobile cover.

Sample Lists:

Tyrant Guard (2)

Zoanthropes (3) – Mycetic Spore
Hive Guard (2)

Termagants (16)
Termagants (16)
Tervigon – Cluster Spines, Toxin Sacs, Catalyst
Tervigon – Cluster Spines, Toxin Sacs, Catalyst

Heavy Support
Carnifex Brood (2) – 2 x Twin Linked MC Devourers


This list has 45 Toughness 6 wounds, all but 4 of which have a 3+ save. It has a lot of toughness and a lot of killing power. By not spending a huge amount of points on upgrades to my MC’s I was able to fit in more bodies and more monstrous creatures. Another nice thing about this army is there is so many large creatures to shoot at you overload the enemy with Target Saturation.

Swarm List:

Hive Tyrant – Bonesword, Lash Whip, Twin Linked MC Devourers, Old Adversary
Tyrant Guard (2)

Hive Guard (2)
Hive Guard (2)
Venomthropes (2)

Hormagaunts (20) – Toxin Sacs
Termagants (20)
Tervigon – Cluster Spines, Toxin Sacs, Scything Talons, Catalyst

Fast Attack

Gargoyles (20) – Toxin Sacs, Adrenal Glands


This list has a large amount of bodies with the ability to create more. The Hive Guard pop the enemy Transports while the large body of your army marches forward. You keep everything around your Hive Tyrant to make the best use of his Preferred Enemy bubble. One thing to note is the only reason I put Scything Talons on the Tervigon is because I had an extra 5pts. Typically they are complete waste of points lol.

Well, that is pretty much it for now. I hope you enjoyed my little rundown of the awesomeness that is the New Tyranid Codex. If you have any questions/comments or if you see something that I have left out please feel free to msg me here on the forums

- Ghoulio


Anonymous said...

And flying tyranid warrior? for +5 point they became flyng troppo and and lose one point of armour

Ghoulio said...

Yeah, I totally forgot to mention the Shrikes. I have never actually used them though which is the main reason i havent commented on them. I imagine they arent too bad being only 5pts more then a regular warrior. I dont understand what "troppo" means though. Are you meaning troops? If you are then sadly you are wrong as they stay Fast Attack.

Anonymous said...

Thanks alot! This is really helpful for beginners like me.

Unknown said...

Entertaining and refreshing read, thank you :)

mike said...

shrikes and hive guard are my fav. i give my shrikes devourers and scything talons. if i can ill run more than 5 in a unit for the high speed, synapse, and powerful assault capability, plus they get several shots a peice at 18" range if the dark eldar your facing move too fast for you.

My heavy support is always 2 mawlocs and a try prime.

Anonymous said...

Woah made me rethink my entire plan for an army. I enjoyed reading this and you are one of the most anylitical persons i know.

HINT:: Always Prime the trygon. Just in case the enemy is at all intellegent and targets your synapse.