Warhammer Armies: Chaos Space Marine Tactics!

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Welcome to Warhammer Armies! Today, we’re going to be looking at the most iconic villains of the 41st millennium-the Chaos Space Marines, or Heretic Astartes as they’re now known. We’ll be going over their Psychic Powers, Stratagems, Warlord Traits, Relics, and a pool of recommended units to begin with. Then we’ll go over a couple sample 2000 point lists for you to try out or experiment with.

Disclaimer: Chaos Space Marines have multiple different Legions which affect how the army is played. This article will cover Chaos Space Marines in general, without allies or Legion traits and abilities. We will occasionally reference certain Legions where it is worth mentioning. For more information on a Legion, make sure to check out the Legion specific article for them.

ARMY OVERVIEW

Although the specifics of how Chaos Space Marines/Heretic Astartes (both hereafter CSM) play depends on which Legion the CSM player is playing, their general gameplan is the same. CSM are a predominantly melee focused army with powerful support pieces to tie the army together. Most of the CSM units are rather underwhelming on their own when viewed in a bubble.

However, CSM have access to a huge variety of powerful stratagems and psychic powers that allow the player to push these otherwise unremarkable units to incredible heights, and it turns the already powerful units in the codex into some of the most terrifying units in the game.

Pros:

+ CSM are a hobbyist’s dream army. They look gorgeous on the table, have a wide range of units, and the room for conversionary options is essentially limitless as the army doesn’t have a rigid structure that it must follow like many other factions
+ They have access to some of the best power armored units in the game in Khorne Berzerkers and Noise Marines
+ They have access to very cheap troop choices allowing you to play with lots of your favorite fancy models while not skimping on Command Points
+ They have access to a variety of specialized units, meaning they have a tool to handle almost every situation

Cons:

– The model range for some models is extremely old in some cases, which means players that don’t wish to do conversionary work will have to deal with some units that are badly in need of an update.
– The titular unit “Chaos Space Marines” is sadly borderline unplayable compared to Cultits
– The army is very difficult to play well, as it tends to be very CP hungry, and you only have so many psychic powers to go around. Using the right combination of Stratagems and Psychic Powers takes practice, which makes the army punishing to learn.
– Some Chaos units, mostly characters, are either use impaired or have a simply better version somewhere else in the Codex, which unfortunately makes certain units almost completely unplayable.

WARLORD TRAIT ANALYSIS

CSM have access to a grand total of 13 Warlord Traits. 7 of them are tied to a specific Legion and will be reviewed during their respective Legion’s article. For now, we’ll break down the other 6.

1. Eternal Vendetta:  Allows you to Re-roll to wound against Adeptus Astartes models. This is unfortunately not that useful of a warlord trait, as it doesn’t have the utility or downright value that other traits have, and it’s really only usable in a small handful of games. We generally don’t recommend this warlord trait.

2. Flames of Spite: This allows your warlord to generate bonus mortal wounds on wound rolls of 6+. Initially, this sounds kind of narrow, but Flames Of Spite is a great example of how Chaos operates. On its own, it doesn’t do much. But you can pair it with a Chaos Lord with duel Lightning Claws and Veterans of The Long War if you wanted to  make a warlord that just absolutely shreds any single wound infantry unit in the game. It’s definitely playable, but it needs to be a thought out decision.

3. Unholy Fortitude: This gives your warlord +1 wound, and a free 6+ to shrug off any damage he takes. This trait is really attractive on a Demon Prince, but it’s usable on any model. A 6+ to shrug off damage is a 17% damage reduction, and then you get an extra wound on top. For example, a Demon Prince with this warlord trait goes up to 9 wounds, and has effectively about 11 wounds of health in total. That’s a rather large improvement over the 8 it has baseline. Overall, it’s definitely a good go to trait.

4. Hatred Incarnate: This allows your warlord to Re-roll wound rolls of 1, which is a nice ~17% damage boost for your warlord. Generally speaking, this warlord trait is worse than Exalted Champion as far as making your warlord deal more damage goes. The exception is that if your Warlord has 7 or more attacks before warlord traits, in which case Hatred Incarnate actually wins out. At 6 attacks, it’s mathematically a tie.

5. Lord of Terror: Allows your warlord to broadcast a 6” bubble that forces enemy units in that bubble to roll 2d6 for morale and pick high. Generally, this is way too niche of a trait to consider. However, it’s downright incredible if you are playing Night Lords. We’ll talk about that in detail in the Night Lords article. Night Lords aside, we generally do not recommend this trait.

6. Exalted Champion: Gives your warlord +1 attack. This isn’t bad on a Chaos Lord, but since you’ll usually have a Demon Prince as your warlord, this will rarely be worth taking as the +1 attack isn’t as impactful as Hatred Incarnate.

A lot of the Traits available to CSM are better with certain Warlords in mind. In general we recommend taking a Demon Prince for your Warlord, in which case Hatred Incarnate and Unholy Fortitude should be considered your go to choices. If you are playing with a Chaos Lord as your warlord, then instead you should consider Flames of Spite, Unholy Fortitude, and Exalted Champion for your Warlord. The specific pick will of course depend on how your warlord is equipped and what you want them to do.

PSYCHIC POWER ANALYSIS

CSM benefit from having an impressive psychic lore consisting of a total of 9 powers. Proper use and understanding of Psychic Powers and how to use them will make or break a CSM player. Before we begin, it’s important to remember that the Chaos Familiar stratagem exists. It allows you to swap a power that you know in place of a power from the CSM codex. We’ll talk about this more in the Stratagem Analysis, but for now just keep in mind that the more conditional powers in the CSM lore are more useful than they appear since they are always available to you at the low price of 1CP.

1. Infernal Gaze: This has a warp charge value of 5, and it allows you to target an enemy unit within 18”, and then roll 3d6. Each roll of a 4+ causes a mortal wound. Gaze is effectively a weaker, targetable version of Smite. Between the fact that CSM have a variety of other powerful powers that Gaze competes with, and the fact that all Psykers already know Smite, this power is borderline useless and should not be taken or swapped into.

2. Death Hex: This has a warp charge value of 8, and a low range of 12”. This makes this power already a rather difficult and somewhat inconsistent power to work with. However, if you successfully manifest it, you can strip an enemy unit of its ability to take Invulnerable Saves, which can be insanely powerful against units with high invulnerable saves. We generally don’t recommend taking this power, but it’s an incredibly important power to remember, because you can easily swap into it with Chaos Familiar for the games that you need it.

3. Gift of Chaos: This has a warp charge value of 6. It allows you to target an enemy model within 6”, and roll a d6. If you roll over their toughness, they take 3+d3 mortal wounds. Killing a character this way lets you set up a Chaos Spawn near the dead Character, assuming you have the points for it. This power, much like Infernal Gaze, competes with many of the powerful  Psychic abilities available, and Smite. There may be an extremely fringe scenario where it allows you to kill a low toughness, high priority character out of nowhere, so it’s not quite worth forgetting. However, it’s definitely not worth taking in general.

4. Prescience: This has a warp charge value of 7. If successful, it allows you to buff a nearby CSM unit by giving them +1 to hit for all of their attacks. Although 7 is a little high and will often require a CP re-roll, the damage boost you receive from Prescience can’t be overstated. On a BS/WS3+ target, it’s a 25% damage boost. On BS/WS4+, it’s a whopping 33% damage boost. In addition, it has no line of sight requirement, and a very workable range of 18”. Prescience is an absolute mainstay of a power, and should be taken in every Chaos List unless you play World Eaters, in which case Psychic Powers are not available.

5. Diabolic Strength: This has a warp charge value of 6, and a range of 12”. If successful, you get to buff a CSM model and give it +2 Strength and +1 attack. At first glance, this power is too narrow to be helpful as it only improves a single model. This is not the case, as there is a small select pool of models and combinations where this power becomes an important combo piece. We will be discussing those combo pieces as they come up with their respective units. If you don’t take a model that combos well with this power, we generally do not recommend it. If you do, then this power is borderline mandatory.

6. Warptime: Warptime has a warp charge value of 6, and an incredibly small 3” range. If manifested, it allows you to pick a CSM unit in range, and immediately move that unit again. Although Warptime was indirectly nerfed recently from an updated FAQ to the main rulebook, it is still hands down the best power in the CSM codex in the hands of the right player. The amount of utility this power brings to CSM is really only limited by the skill of the player. It should be considered mandatory to bring along, unless playing World Eaters in which case Psychic Powers are not available.

7. Mark of Slaanesh: Delightful Agonies: This casts on a 6, has a range of 18” and has the bonus requirement of requiring the Psyker to have the SLAANESH keyword. If manifested, it allows you to buff a Slaanesh CSM unit by giving it the ability to shrug off damage on a 5+. This is effectively a 33% damage reduction, which is a massive boost to a unit’s durability. In general, it will require your opponent to put an extra 50% more damage onto a unit to kill it. For example, a Maulerfiend has 12 Wounds. If he took 18 Damage, he would shrug off 6, and lose 12 which is exactly his health pool. 18 is 150% of 12, and that’s where the 50% more damage comes from despite it being a 33% reduction. If you are playing a heavily Slaanesh themed army, this power should be considered mandatory as the damage reduction it brings is very high. Its only caveat is that it can underperform on single wound Infantry, as multiple Damage weapons will usually beat this power out. However, that requires your opponent to shoot multi-damage weapons at your single wound Infantry, which is generally not efficient in the first place.

8. Mark of Nurgle: Miasma of Pestilence:  This casts on a 6, has a range of 18”, and has the bonus requirement of requiring the Psyker to have the NURGLE keyword. If manifested, it allows you to buff a NURGLE CSM unit by giving it a static -1 to be hit. The value of a static -1 fluctuates based on how accurate your opponent is. The less accurate your opponent is, the more impactful a -1 to hit is, and vice versa. Against WS/BS 3+, a -1 is a 25% reduction to damage. Against  WS/BS 4+, it’s a 33% reduction to damage. So, although in general this power won’t be as effective in terms of raw damage reduction as Delightful Agonies, it is far more helpful on regular infantry, and it has the added benefit of messing with abilities that activate on hit rolls of 6+, or rolls of a 1, as the -1 makes the 6+ impossible to proc, and rolls of 1 and 2 will count as rolls of 1.

9. Mark of Tzeentch: Weaver of Fates: This casts on a 6, has a range of 18”, and has the bonus requirement of requiring the Psyker to have the TZEENTCH keyword. If manifested, it allows you to buff a TZEENTCH CSM unit by giving it a 5+ Invulnerable Save, or if it already had an Invulnerable Save, it instead improves it by 1. This power is slightly more conditional than the other 2 defensive powers available to CSM. On Vehicles for example, it’s usually only around a 20% damage drop, unless it’s AP-4 or better in which case it jumps to 33%. However, this power shines with a few units in particular, like Rubrics, or Chaos Lords. This power is the only way to get a 2+ Armor, 3+ Invulnerable Chaos Lord, which can end up being remarkably hard to shift with the Unholy Fortitude trait.

Overall, CSM have a sort of (Un)Holy Trinity of powers that they should always bring: Prescience, Warptime, and whichever defensive power that best aligns with the choice of Mark for most of the army. If your army isn’t tied to one Mark, you can consider splitting up your Marks on your Psykers and units to get a second defensive, which can be very powerful. To facilitate ensuring you have full access to your Psychic Powers, we recommend as a minimum set of HQ choices taking 1 Demon Prince and 1 Sorcerer. This gives you a total of 3 Powers, which covers the most important 3. If you find yourself needing an extra power, you can swap one with Chaos Famliar, or bring an extra Sorcerer.

RELIC ANALYSIS

CSM have a total of 14 Relics. Much like their Warlord Traits, 7 of them are locked to a Legion. We will be looking at those Relics during their respective Legion Article. For now, we will go over the remaining 7.

Talisman of Burning Blood: Requires the KHORNE keyword. It allows the character to Advance and Charge, and Re-Roll failed Charges. This is a very straightforward but very useful relic. It’s of course great on a Demon Prince with Wings, but it does have surprising utility with any Character you plan on dropping in from reserves. Most KHORNE units will have an Icon of Wrath to re-roll their charge, but that doesn’t affect a character coming in with them. The Talisman lets this character stand a good chance of making it in himself. All in all, not a bad relic choice, and definitely worth taking.

Eye of Tzeentch: Requires a TZEENTCH PSYKER. This gives the Psyker +1 to manifest Smite. Quite simply, you have way too many other powerful Psychic Powers to be casting Smite most of the time. It’s definitely not worth a relic slot for a simple +1 to cast on a power that you usually won’t be casting. We generally don’t recommend this relic.

Intoxicating Elixir: Requires the SLAANESH keyword. This gives the model +1 Strength and +1 attack. The Elixir is basically Diabolic Strength on a Stick, and it’s a very good relic that combos with many unit and weapon setups. We recommend a Demon Prince with two Malefic talons. You’ll get a total of 8 Str8 ap-2 D2 attacks with this set up, which is a very nasty damage output for a 180 point model.

Puscleaver: Requires the NURGLE keyword. Puscleaver is an upgraded power sword, swinging at Strength user, Ap-2, D3 damage. However, it always wounds on a 2+, unless the target is a Vehicle. Definitely not a bad weapon, although it competes with The Black Mace. Still, auto wounding most targets in the game on 2+ without taking a -1 to hit is nothing to sneeze at.

Axe of Blind Fury: Requires the KHORNE keyword. The Axe is a upgraded Power Axe, swinging at Strength +3, ap-3, D3 damage.  The problem with the Axe is that you can’t re-roll or modify hit rolls of 1, and instead have to hit a friendly unit within 1”. This ends up making the weapon significantly worse than a Power Fist or The Black Mace because the bearer is always within 1” of himself meaning he can hit and kill himself. At a glance, the line about discarding hits if there are no friendly targets within 1” would suggest that the bearer can’t himself. Unfortunately, it’s important to remember that attacks are technically resolved one at a time, which means that it’s possible for you to kill yourself while still making your attacks, hence the inclusion of what to do with the extra 1’s. Overall there are very similar weapons available that don’t kill their bearer. We generally don’t recommend this relic for that reason.

The Black Mace: The Mace is an upgraded Power Maul, with an impressive profile of Strength +3, Ap-2, 2 Damage. CSM actually have a hard time significant chunks of damage melee, as their main heavy weapon is a Powerfist which has accuracy issues. The Black Mace does not, and it also lets you roll a dice for every model you slay with it. Every roll of a 6+ is a further mortal wound o the unit at the end of the phase. Overall, the Mace is a consistent and accurate weapon that does acceptable damage at a very cheap price point while having no MARK requirement. This makes it a very attractive relic, and a great go-to for any player regardless of Legion or God alignment.

The Murder Sword: This is an upgraded Power Sword, with a Strength+1, Ap-4, 1 Damage profile. While nothing to shout home about, what’s great about The Murder Sword is that it also lets you nominate an enemy Character. Hits against that character immediately become mortal wounds. There are many ways to improve the number of attacks that a model makes in Chaos, and if you give the bearer the KHORNE keyword they gain access to a stratagem that lets them fight a second time. It’s very practical to make somewhere in the range of 10-12 attacks this way, which against a targeted enemy character all become Mortal Wounds. Probably not worth taking as your main relic, but it’s great to include a power sword on a KHORNE character and simply spend 1CP to gain The Murder Sword as a second relic in response to a troublesome character across the table.

Overall, we generally recommend The Talisman of Burning Blood, the Intoxicating Elixir, Puscleaver, and The Black Mace. This looks like a large list, but remember that most of these relics are locked to a specific MARK, which makes the list much smaller as you probably won’t have this many gods represented in your list.

STRATAGEM ANALYSIS

​CSM have a rather small pool of stratagems available to them. At first glance, they have 24. However, 7 of these are Legion locked, 4 more are locked to a specific MARK, and many of the remaining 13 are tied to certain unit or equipment load outs. This means that when constructing your list, you need to consider what stratagems are available with certain unit, MARK, or equipment load outs. For now, we’ll be setting aside the 7 Legion locked stratagems, as they will be discussed with their respective Legion. For now, we’ll go over the remaining 17.

Daemon Shell (1CP): This allows you to shoot a special bolter round out of any bolt weapon, as long as the firer is a Character. The shot can’t be re-rolled, but if it hits it inflicts D3 Mortal Wounds. If it misses, the firer takes D3 mortal wounds. This is actually a rather deceptively useful stratagem. Whenever possible, consider keeping some kind of Bolt weapon on a Chaos Lord in your army. He hits on a 2+, and the ability to have effectively a targetable, undeniable Smite at an improved range for 1 CP is actually rather useful. Don’t use it all the time, but don’t forget it exists.

Gifts Of Chaos (1/3CP): This is just your generic bonus Relic stratagem. A good amount of the time, you’ll actually have a use for a second relic, as many of the Legion locked relics are powerful, and a decent chunk of the generic Relics are also powerful. However, CSM are very CP hungry, so the 3CP should never be used, and it’s perfectly acceptable to take no bonus relics to save every bit of CP that you get.

Beseech The Chaos Gods (1CP): This allows you to give a unit that has the <MARK> keyword that did not dedicate itself to a God a dedication of your choice. Beseech is literally less than useless and is hands down the worst stratagem in the game. It theoretically provides you with a very minor amount of utility to select a MARK that is helpful for you in the current game. However, proper list construction and simple familiarity with the army will remove what little value that utility has, making it worthless. On top of that, it does cost 1CP, which means it’s a Command Re-roll, Chaos Familiar, or Veterans Of The Long War that you can no longer use since you spent the CP to give a unit a Mark that you could have given it for free, which makes Beseech actively detrimental. Never use this.

Blasphemous Machines (1CP): This allows you to ignore the move and fire penalty for Heavy weapons  or the Advance and fire penalty for Assault weapons on any CSM Vehicle. Although not an incredible stratagem, a -1 to hit on a Predator at full health is actually a 25% damage loss. Removing a 25% damage penalty on a critical volley of Predator fire, for example, is not negligible. It’s situational, but it’s worth using on an really important attack roll.

Chaos Boon (1CP): This allows you to roll on a 2d6 table whenever a CSM Character (except a Demon Prince) kills an enemy Character, Vehicle, or Monster. Most of the table is helpful, but it can also give you a useless upgrade or possibly even kill your Character if you’re unlucky. It’s a lot of fun, and great for casual games, but otherwise we generally don’t recommend this stratagem.

Veterans Of The Long War(1CP): This allows you to give any Infantry or Biker unit +1 to wound in either the shooting or fight phase. Vets is arguably one of the best stratagems in the game due to its incredible flexibility. However, it requires the CSM player to construct their list knowing they have this stratagem available to them, and to use it properly. Vets is a large part of why Noise Marines in particular are one of the best Power Armored units in the game, but it also has high synergy with Berzerkers, Obliterators, Terminators, and more.

Fury Of Khorne (3CP): This allows a KHORNE Infantry or Biker unit to fight again. You’re going to want to include at least one Khorne unit , realistically Berzerkers, in your army to really take advantage of this unless you decide to play a gunline. There’s not too much to say about it really, other than that you should remember that units that charge are eligible to fight in the Fight Phase, even if they aren’t within 1” of an enemy unit. Although this will rarely be the case, it may be worth spending 3CP on a Khorne unit that charged and wiped out its target simply to get a bonus 6” of movement that can move it into contact with enemy models, tying them up.

Grandfather’s Blessings (2CP): This allows a NURGLE model to recover D3 wounds. At 2CP, this is rarely worth using due to its high opportunity cost. However, it might be worth using if it will save your Warlord from dying.

Endless Cacophony(2CP): This allows a SLAANESH unit to shoot a second time in the same shooting phase. This stratagem naturally combos well with Veterans Of The Long War, as you can sequence your opportunity to use Endless Cacophony before Veterans Of The Long War falls off. This , much like Fury of Khorne, is one of those stratagems that you really want to be able to take advantage of if at all possible. It’s really disgusting with Terminators and Obliterators, but it has a couple other uses as well.

The Great Sorcerer(1CP): This allows a TZEENTCH PSYKER to cast one extra Psychic Power. Generally, this is going be used to cast Smite, which is simply not as good as just using Daemon Shell. However, if you’ve used Chaos Familiar to swap out Smite for another power (more on that later) you can use this to get the power that you swapped Smite out for off as well, and that can be a very powerful option. Situational, but definitely worth remembering.

Tide of Traitors(2CP): Tide used to be one of the strongest stratagems in the game, until it was nerfed to be one use only. Despite its once per game limitation, it’s an incredibly strong stratagem in any Chaos list that’s using large unit of cultists. It allows you to remove a Cultist unit from the table, restore them to full size without paying points, and then deploy them anywhere on the table outside of 9” of the enemy and within 6” of any table edge. Even on smaller units, the ability to move a unit to rob a late game objective really can’t be understated. And if you’re playing with some large units, the ability to restore 100+ points of cultists and redeploy the unit can often swing a game at the right time. Definitely a stratagem to always keep on your mind.

Linbereaker Bombardment(1CP): This allows you to take 3 Vindicators and combine their fire to make a special shot that targets a point within 24” of one of your  Vindicators. You roll a d6 for every unit within 3” of the point you chose, adding one to the roll if the unit has 10+ models, and subtracting 1 for characters. On a 4+, the unit takes 3D3 Mortal Wounds.  This stratagem has the potential to be incredibly damaging when everything lines up, but it’s very inconsistent. In addition, it requires you to take 3 Vindicators and becomes unavailable as soon as 1 Vindicator dies, which means it’s very easy for your opponent to remove your access to this stratagem. Overall, we don’t recommend this stratagem.

Killshot(1CP): This allows you to take 3 Predators, and give them all +1 to wound and +1 Damage as long as they are shooting at Monsters or Vehicles. Killshot requires you to build your list around it, but it turns Lascannons into horrifically destructive weapons. It also interacts with Havoc Launchers and Heavy Bolters, which is helpful. We recommend taking 1-2 Predators with Heavy Bolter Sponsons if you build around Killshot.

Daemonforge(1CP): Daemonforge allows you to allow a Daemon Vehicle to re-roll all missed Hits and Wounds. This stratagem is insane with Maulerfiends in particular, but it’s good on anything you can use it on really. Of course, if you don’t have a Daemon Vehicle in your army than it does nothing. But if you do, this should be one of your main stay stratagems that you use all the time.

Chaos Familiar(1CP): This power allows you to swap out a power on a CSM Psyker  with a power from the Dark Hereticus discipline, which is the CSM psychic lore. This power is conditional, but it’s also part of what makes CSM psykers as powerful as they are since you can threaten to have any power on any Psyker at any time. In addition, there’s no restrictions around which power you get rid of. This means you can actually forget Smite, since Smite is a power you know, and replace it with another power in the CSM lore. If you’re playing with a Tzeentch Psyker, you can then spend an extra command point to cast the third power he swapped in for with Smite. This is CP intensive so it’s not always worth doing, but it does allow for you to make a single Sorcerer that can cover all of your Psychic needs in a pinch.

Flakk Missle(1CP): This allows you to shoot a special missile out of a missile launcher fired by an Infantry model. It can only target a model with the FLY keyword, and if it hits, it immediately causes D3 Mortal Wounds. This is a good stratagem, if you have a unit with a missile launcher laying around. Definitely not worth using all the time, but it could be good to cause some Mortals to a really durable target with the FLY keyword, like some Custodes Jetbikes.

Fire Frenzy(1CP): This allows you to pick a Helbrute that did not move in the movement phase, and shoot with it twice in a single shooting phase, as long as both sets of attacks target the closest visible enemy unit. This power can be a little awkward since you lose the ability to target what you want, but in the right situations a double firing Helbrute can be surprisingly damaging.

And that wraps up the 17 stratagems available to all CSM players. To recap, let’s look at a list of strats you should be looking to use actively alongside a list of more situational strats.

Active Use:
Veterans Of The Long War
Tide Of Traitors (Big units of cultists)

Situational use:
Chaos Familiar
Tide Of Traitors (Small units of cultists)
Daemonshell
Gifts of Chaos (1CP only)

If this looks like a rather small list, you would be correct. This is because when constructing a Chaos list, you have to consider the other stratagems Chaos have available that are tied to units you want to include, and build around it. For example, if I included 2 Maulerfiends and 3 Predators in a list, I would definitely add Killshot and Daemonforge to my list of Active Use stratagems. Properly recognizing which stratagems you should include for your list and using them properly is a large part of why CSM can be a deceptively difficult army to play. This is to say nothing of the difficulty of properly combining psychic powers and stratagems together, and when to do so.

RECOMMENDED UNIT ANALYSIS/TACTICS

CSM have a variety of units available to them, and most of these units have a high degree of customization. We’ll be going through each Battlefield Role, providing a list of recommended units in that role, and then go over each unit one at a time. When discussing a recommended unit, we will make sure to cover all recommend loadouts that you can create with a unit, and because of the heavily combo-centric aspect of CSM, we will also cover important combos you can create with certain powers and stratagems. As a reminder, this list will generally be true for all Legions. Units that are very good with a specific Legion will be covered under that Legion’s article, along with updated versions of entries here when necessary.

HQ: Daemon Prince, Chaos Lord, Sorcerer

Daemon Prince: Demon Princes (here after simply DP) are easily the strongest generic HQ choice available to most CSM players. They provide a static 6” aura of Re-rolling 1’s to any models from their legion and Daemons with the same allegiance, which helps if you are allying with some Daemons. Weaponry wise, they have the choice between taking a second talon, a sword, or an axe. The sword is downright outclassed by the second Talon in general, as the price and damage output is the same, but the Talon spreads it over more attacks which helps when fighting infantry. For heavy lifting, you can take an Axe. The Axe has an increased AP and Damage, but suffers an accuracy penalty. Also, don’t forget your Warp Bolter. It’s only 3 points, but it has the potential to chip a couple of wounds off of an enemy Vehicle or Monster. We recommend taking Wings for increased mobility, and simply giving the DP whichever Mark most closely represents the alignment for your army. He’s also a psyker, which means he can easily take whichever defensive power that lines up with his Mark. Overall, they bring high damage, acceptable durability, and solid utility at a good price point making them an integral inclusion for any CSM list.

Important Combos: KHORNE DP’s in particular will actually get far more mileage out of a Sword or Axe then they will Talons, because of the bonus attack that they get in place of a psychic power. For SLAANESH DP’s, they heavily benefit from taking the Intoxicating Elixir, as the bonus strength makes them significantly more damaging against Toughness 4 and 7, and the bonus attack amps their damage up to very high levels. You can consider a Sword in this case, as the bonus attack with the sword removes the damage advantage from the double Talon loadout, but the difference is minor which means it’s mostly personal preference.

Chaos Lord: Chaos Lords are your go to generic HQ choice. They can be equipped in a variety of ways, and they’re great for providing extra auras for Re-rolling 1’s to hit. If you have a strong ranged element in your list, consider a Chaos Lord with a Bolter/Chainsword, possibly a power weapon if you feel like splurging a bit, to make your ranged component more accurate while your Demon Prince runs off to do his thing. Alternatively, load him up with a Powerfist and Combi-Plasma if you want him fighting on the front lines. A Bike is a great movement option for him, but really you should feel free to load him out as you please. Overall, Chaos Lords are highly flexible units that are great for including to help fill out an extra detachment while providing a little utility and extra damage output.
Important Combos: Chaos Lords have an almost limitless number of combos available to them, mostly depending on which Legion you are playing. We will be going over each Legion’s combos in their respective article. For now, just consider making your Chaos Lord KHORNE if he’s up on the front lines so he can take advantage of the Fury of Khorne stratagem in a pinch.

Sorcerer: Sorcerers are narrowly behind DP’s for “Best CSM HQ”. They don’t provide too much of a punch in melee, but they know 2 powers plus Smite, and they are able to cast two powers as well. This means that 1 Sorcerer and 1 DP gives you a total of 3 powers, which covers the 3 primary powers that you need. As far as equipment goes, at a minimum you should take a Jump Pack. This allows your Sorcerer to get where he needs to go at a moment’s notice. If you have the points, take the Index Option of placing him on a Bike. This gives him an extra wound while maintaining his mobility. The extra wound is important because it means you are far more likely to survive things like Snipers, Shieldbreaker Missiles, or Perils of The Warp. We do not recommend Terminator armor, as it drastically lowers your overall mobility, even though the extra wound and invulnerable save it provides does increase your durability significantly.
Important Combos: We touched on it before, but optimally your Sorcerer will have the TZEENTCH keyword. This allows you to spend 1CP to get an extra power. At a minimum, this allows you to cast your primary two powers and Smite. In addition, you can swap out Smite for an additional power if necessary and then use The Great Sorcerer to cast all 3 of your powers. This is CP intensive, but a very strong option.

Troops: Cultists

CSM only have 2 troops choices available to them, and the army needs Battalions or Brigades to access Command Points so they can properly function which means you need a lot of troops. This means that the question of which troop to run mostly comes down to a question of cost versus efficiency. Unfortunately for the titular unit “Chaos Space Marines”, cultists are cheaper and generally also more points efficient than Chaos Space Marines. This means your troop choices should primarily just be minimum units of Cultists, possibly taking one or two large units to benefit from  Tide of Traitors. We generally recommend Autoguns for their equipment loadout.
Important Combos: Cultists in general should either be kept at minimum squad size, or taken in full units of 40. At minimum size, no real important combos exist. At full squad sizes of 40, you should be considering either the SLAANESH keyword+ Autoguns, or the KHORNE keyword+ Brutal Close Combat Weapons. This allows them to heavily benefit from Tide of Traitors, Veterans Of The Long War, Prescience, and either Endless Cacophony or Fury of Khorne. Although it’s highly CP and Psychic Power intensive, you can make around 160 attacks, scoring ~124 hits, wounding most things in the game on 4’s because of Veterans, which scores around 60 wounds. That’s about 20 dead marines from a 160 point unit. Even against a high toughness target where you’re wounding on 5’s, you still get around 40 Wounds and 13-14 will push on a 3+ save. That’s more than enough to kill your average vehicle. You can use Warptime to help maneuver these units into position, and in the case of a SLAANESH unit, you can also cast Delightful Agonies to help keep the unit alive so you can more plausibly use Tide of Traitors on them the next turn.

Elites: Khorne Berzerkers, Noise Marines, Chaos Terminators

Khorne Berzerkers:  Many of the units in the CSM codex require some degree of assistance to become points efficient. This is not the case with Berzerkers. At 16 points per model, they make 3 attacks at Strength 5 thanks to their chainswords, which is already solid. However, they can fight twice every fight phase, meaning in many ways they really have a whopping 6 attacks, which is nuts. As if that wasn’t enough, they can replace their bolt pistol for a chainaxe. This means that they make 2 Strength 6, ap-1 attacks, and 1 Strength 5 ap0 atack.  For context, they cost the same as a regular Chaos Marine Aspiring Champion with a Power Maul and Chainsword, and they make the same number of attacks at the same profile, except Berzerkers get to fight a second time for free. You can apply Prescience and/or Veterans Of The Long War to push their damage into insane levels if you think that’s necessary. The only thing keeping Berzerkers from being totally overpowered is the fact that they need a Rhino to get up the board, as their base mobility is fairly low. Make sure you bring a Powerfist instead of a Chainaxe on your Champion to help kill high durability targets, and don’t forget an Icon of Wrath to ensure you make the charge.
Important Combos: Berzerkers have an unusual interaction with the base rules that can be thought of as a combo. Units that charge are eligible to activate, even if they don’t have an enemy unit within 1” of them. This means that if your Berzerkers charge and wipe out their opponent in the first round of combat, you can then activate them a second time and just take a free Pile In and Consolidate move to get near the enemy, possibly tying them up in melee. If you really need to clear some distance, you can use the Fury of Khorne stratagem to Fight a third time, giving you a total of 12” of movement to get next to the enemy. Just remember that a unit that charged can only attack one of its charge targets.

Noise Marines: Noise Marines are probably the most well rounded power armored unit in the game. We recommend taking as many Sonic Blasters and Blast Masters as possible. A squad of 10 with 8 Sonic Blasters and 2 Blast Masters will clock in at 222 points, which is a bit steep defensively speaking. However, this unit can engage almost anything in the game. Each model has 2 attacks baseline, which means they aren’t slouches in close combat. Your Sonic Blasters are effectively Assault 3 Bolters that ignore cover, which means you can engage most infantry units in the game in a firefight and win. Finally, your Blast Masters are effectively greatly improved and cheaper missile launchers. Wrap all of this together, and you have a very well rounded mid-range unit that is consistently effective against most armies. As a nice added bonus, Noise Marines are allowed to make an out of sequence shooting attack when they die. Just remember that their ability allows you to shoot out of close combat, but doesn’t allow you to shoot into combats, which means that if you want to shoot the unit that you’re fighting, you’re stuck shooting a bolt pistol. To close, we don’t recommend swapping out their bolters for chainswords. Although Noise Marines with Chainswords make a very respectable 3 attacks in melee, they are 2 points cheaper than Berzerkers with Chainswod/Chainaxe,  so you may as well just take berzerkers. In addition, melee Noise Marines require some form of transportation, which ranged Noise Marines do not. Once you add on the price of transportation, the ranged Noise Marines are cheaper, able to take full advantage of their shoot on death ability (since they have an actual effective ranged weapon), and they do the same damage as both units primarily make 3 Strength 4 Ap 0 attacks.
Important Combos: Although this quickly ends up as rather points, CP, and power intensive, Noise Marines can be taken in squad sizes up to 20. You can combine Prescience, Warptime, Delightful Agonies, Veterans Of The Long War, and Excessive Cacophony on a single unit of 20 to have a unit that can move 12”, or around 20” if you advance on both moves, and threaten 120 Bolter Rounds at a 24” range while being highly accurate. Assuming you don’t advance, you can remove on average ~13 wounds from an Imperial Knight as long as you have a Demon Prince or Chaos Lord nearby, and a whopping 20 from regular Vehicles. Against Infantry, you can wipe out entire hordes in one salvo this way. When your opponent goes to try to destroy your giant blob of Noise Marines, he’ll have to deal with the Delightful Agonies. You can also try to further dis-incentivize him from killing your Noise Marines by using Veterans Of The Long War on his shooting phase as well. If he kills the unit, he’s effectively giving you a third salvo off of your giant Noise Marine blob as they’ll still be at +1 to hit and wound. Just be aware that this full combo will be somewhere around a third of your total CP, and the unit clocks in around 400 points depending on specifics.

Chaos Terminators: Chaos Terminators benefit from having a high degree of customization compared to their Imperial counterparts. Their already high durability can be pushed to very respectable levels with Psychic support. Offensively speaking, they can be equipped to be effective both in melee, and at range. We primarily recommend one of two equipment loadouts for them. Either taking lots of duel Lightning Claws, or a Power Weapon of Choice and Combi Plasmas. Both loadouts are highly combo intensive, so we’ll just cover their combos now. The duel Lightning Claw loadout spits out 30 attacks. With just a simple Chaos Lord buff, you’ll get around 23 hits and you’ll still get around 11-12 wounds against most high toughness targets. You can push this higher with Prescience, Veterans Of The Long War, and/or Fury of Khorne. Fully buffed, you’ll get 60 attacks, 58 or so hits that have +1 to wound, re roll to wound, and have an ap of -2. Even against an Imperial Knight you’ll average around 20 Wounds, which is most of its health!  Alternatively, you can follow a similar path with the Combi-Plasma Terminators. Prescience makes overcharging your plasma safe, and since you’ll probably be in rapid fire range, that’s a grand total of 40 Strength 8 AP-3 D2 attacks with +1 to wound! Just be aware that both of these unit combinations are very expensive.

Fast Attack: Chaos Bikers

Chaos Bikers: Chaos Bikers fill almost the exact same role that their Loyalist counterparts do, which is providing cheap mobile fire support that can plausibly dart between pieces of terrain to keep them safe before they get up close. They make for fantastic harassing units, as their mobility allows them to close in on objective holders or support pieces and take them out. We recommend keeping the squad sizes small, 3-5 max, and including 2 plasma guns and a Combi-Plasma in every unit you take. The Bikers can fire their Plasmaguns on top of their Combi-Bolters to generate a decent amount of firepower at a low price point. Don’t forget to swap out their bolt pistol for a chainsword, since that’s a free swap and the pistol is basically never as good as the chainsword. Because we recommend smaller squad sizes, we also generally do not recommend investing any powers or stratagems into bikes, as you should have more impactful ways to use your CP and powers.

Heavy Support: Havocs, Obliterators, Maulerfiends, Predators

Havocs: Havocs are your primary heavy weapon teams. Unlike their Loyalist counterparts, they don’t have any special abilities or options. Instead, they have the ability to instead take many special weapons. Although it’s very points intensive, you can load up 2 squads of Havocs with 4 Plasmaguns and a Combi Plasma on the Champion into a Rhino. This will run you around 340 points, but it’s an easy way to get a lot of Plasma where you need them to go. Definitely not the most optimal option, but it’s a lot of fun. In general, we recommend taking squads of 5-6 Havocs with Heavy Weapons of your choice. We recommend 2-3 Las Cannons, and 1 Missile Launcher to open up access to the Flakk Missile stratagem.
Because of their overall limitations around weaponry, we generally don’t recommend investing powers or CP into Havocs, so there are no important combos to mention.

Obliterators: Oblits are one of the most iconic chaos units, and they continue to pull their weight in 8th edition. They fire an almost completely random weapon profile at Assault 4 Strength 6+D3, AP D3, Damage D3, but on average you’ll get a Strength 8, Ap-2, D2 weapon. In addition, Obliterators must be taken in squads of 3, and when they generate their profile, they generate a single profile that is used for the entire unit. When you wrap this all together, Oblits are a very random unit which makes them inconsistent. Therefore, Obliterators make great supplementary anti-tank units due to their high damage potential and high average damage, but you should not use them for your only source of anti-tank to mitigate bad luck situations.
Important Combos: Making your Oblits SLAANESH gives them access to Endless Cacophany, which allows them to shoot again. What’s important here is that Obliterators generate a profile every time they are chosen to shoot. This means that if your Obliterators generated a poor profile, you have the option of shooting them twice to dig for a better profile the second time around at the end of the shooting phase. You can of course add on Prescience and/or Veterans Of The Long War to push their damage even higher.

Maulerfiends: Maulerfiends are tied with Heldrakes for the most underappreciated unit in the codex. They have two weapon options, but only one is viable. You should never take Magma Cutters, as Lasher Tendrils provide far greater flexibility in the range of targets Maulerfiends can fight, and Lasher Tendrils also interact significantly better with many psychic powers and Daemonforge. Baseline, Maulerfiends are very durable at their price point, as a 12 wound vehicle with a 5+ invulnerable save for 152 points is significantly above average for most of the other regular vehicles in the game and especially in CSM. Offensively, Maulers make 4 Strength X2 AP-3 Damage 3 attacks, and 6 Strength user AP-2  Damage 2 attacks. Their weapons are impressive, but they suffer from a mediocre WS4+, and a rather low Strength of 6, meaning their Fists are at strength 12, and their Tendrils are at 6. This makes them offensively rather lackluster baseline. Luckily for Maulerfiends, Daemonforge and Diabolic Strength exist.
Important Combos:  Baseline, on average a Maulerfiend will do about 3 Damage (3.333 specifically) with his fists and another 2 (1.333) with his tentacles. That’s only 5 (4.667) damage, which isn’t very impressive. With Diabolic Strength and Daemonforge, these values climb to 9 damage (9.115) from the fists and another 5 or so (5.333) with his tentacles. In total, that’s a jump from 5 damage to 14! If you also invest Warptime, than a Maulerfiend has a respectable 27” range, and when you absolutely must kill the enemy, you can also invest Prescience. Prescience moves the Fist damage all the way up  to 11 (10.802) and your Tendrils to 6 (6.321). That’s a grand total of 17 damage with a roughly 27” threat range off a 152 point model! Overall, Maulerfiends require significant planning around to include in a list. But, when properly prepared for and used, they’re hands down one of the most damaging anti-tank units in the game.

Predators: Predators are your generic go-to tank. In general, we recommend Lascannon sponsons over Heavy Bolters, and we always recommend the Las Cannon turret over the Auto Cannon. We also recommend taking a Havoc Launcher, as it’s a rather cheap way to get some extra anti infantry firepower on your Predators.  If you take 3 Predators for Killshot, than we recommend taking 1-2 Predators with Heavy Bolter Sponsons instead of the Las Cannons to not only drive the price of the 3 Predators down, but to also diversify what your Predators are capable of. Unfortunately, because you can’t take units of Predators, most buffs are not worth using on a Predator which means that no important combos exist for them.

Dedicated Transports: Rhinos

Rhinos provide an economical way to safely transport important units, mostly Berzerkers, across the table. We generally recommend Rhinos over Land Raiders due to the significant cost of a Land Raider compared to its effectiveness on the table, and the vulnerability that a Land Raider has of being tied up by random enemy units after it’s delivered its cargo. Your opponent can of course tie up a Rhino as well, but a Rhino is about 20% the price of a Land Raider which means it’s significantly less painful to have tied down. As far as durability goes, proper use of cover, advancing, and remembering to use Smoke Launchers while you advance should usually get your cargo where they need to go.

Flyers: Heldrakes

Heldrakes are tied with Maulerfiends for “most underappreciated unit in the CSM codex”. Historically, Heldrakes would wipe out entire units with their flame weapon. In 8th edition, they serve a very different role. Heldrakes are the only Flyer in the game that can charge enemy ground forces. In addition, they have no minimum move, instead simply moving 30”. This allows a Heldrake to fly deep into the enemy army turn 1, use his breath weapon to remove a few screening models if need be, and then charge into the enemy army. Once a Heldrake is in the enemy army, it can be rather difficult to remove unless the enemy has a dedicated melee component since the Heldrake can tie up multiple enemy units at once with good movement. CSM are a predominantly melee focused army that don’t have many great ways to get into melee other than moving across the table. Heldrakes stun the enemy army and buy the rest of the CSM force time to get where they are going. As far as weapons are concerned, we recommend the Baleflamer. It’s only 5 points more, but it’s significantly more likely to hit than the Autocannon, which means it’s more likely your Heldrake can clear the enemy screens and charge into their backline.
Due to the rapid speed of Heldrakes, they tend to be out of position of most characters that can provide buffs, so in general no important combo’s exist with Heldrakes.

Well, that wraps everything up. Let’s look at a sample 2K point list of CSM built from our recommended units.

SAMPLE ARMY LIST

Battalion
HQ’s- 303
Demon Prince with Wings, Malefic Talons, Warp Bolter, Mark of Slaanesh, Intoxicating Elixir, Delightful Agonies, Warlord 183
Sorcerer with Jump Pack, Force Sword, Diabolic Strength, Weaver of Fates, Mark of Tzeentch 120

Troops- 120
10 Cultists 40
10 Cultists 40
10 Cultists 40

303+120=423

Battalion
HQ’s-221
Chaos Lord with Combi Plasma, Power Fist, Mark of Khorne, Talisman of Burning Blood (1CP) 101
Sorcerer with Jump Pack, Force Sword, Prescience, Warptime, Mark of Tzeentch 120

Troops- 220
35 Cultists, Mark of Slaanesh, Autoguns 140
10 Cultists 40
10 Cultists 40

Elites- 389
8 Khorne Berzerkers, 7 with Chainaxe/Chainsword, Champion has Powerfist/Chainsword, Icon of Wrath 157
10 Noise Marines, 7 with Sonic Blasters, 2 with Blast Masters, Champion has Sonic Blaster/Chainsword 232

Heavy Support- 304
Maulerfiend with Lasher Tendrils, Mark of Tzeentch 152
Maulerfiend with Lasher Tendrils, Mark of Slaanesh 152

Flyers- 370

Heldrake with Baleflamer, Mark of Tzeentch 185
Heldrake with Baleflamer, Mark of Slaanesh 185

Dedicated Transports- 72
Chaos Rhino with Combi Bolter, Mark of Slaanesh 72

221+220+389+304+370+72=1576
1576+423=1999

This list can be played with any Legion other than World Eaters or Emperor’s Children due to their extra restrictions on list construction. Otherwise, this is a fantastic list for any player looking to simply try out CSM and see what the army feels like on the table, or if they aren’t sure what Legion they want to play. Our two battalions provide us with 13 CP, and we spend 1 out the gate to improve our Chaos Lord with the Talisman of Burning Blood. Strategy wise, our Heldrakes move up the field and get ready to tie up the enemy turn one. Our Berzerkers and Chaos Lord go in the Rhino and advance up the field alongside our two Maulerfiends and our Demon Prince. Our Sorcerers and 10 Noise Marines move up behind to control midfield. Realistically, turn 1 we Warptime our Noise Marines to get them into a better position where they will control the middle of the board for the rest of the game. Turn 2, we go all out throwing psychic powers and buffs on important units and crash into the enemy with 2 Maulerfiends, our Demon Prince, and our Berzerkers where we grind our opponent into dust in the name of the Chaos Gods.

This list has access to far more Stratagems than the base recommended pool.  Let’s look at a list of recommended and situational stratagems for this list in particular. Pay attention to how much the active use set of stratagems are compared to the base list.

Active Use:
Veterans Of The Long War
Tide Of Traitors (Big units of cultists)
Gift of Chaos (1CP)
Daemonforge
Fury of Khorne
Endless Cacophony

Situational use:
Chaos Familiar
Daemonshell
The Great Sorcerer

As you can see, the amount of important stratagems you have to consider has gone up by a large margin. Many of these stratagems cost 2-3 CP, and become even stronger when tied with other 1CP stratagems. This is why CSM is a rather CP hungry army, and they can actually be rather skill intensive to optimize.

GAMEPLAY TIPS

– As an extension on CP usage, although you should be looking to actively use a wide variety of stratagems, make sure it’s impactful uses. It’s really not worth spending 3 CP to fight again with your Chaos Lord to kill a heavily injured vehicle you can just remove the next turn, for example.

– On certain deployments your Heldrakes might struggle making it to the enemy on the first turn despite their range. This is especially true if your opponent sits very far back on a deployment like Hammer and Anvil. It’s better to take your time and tie him up Turn 2, and touch base with him in melee Turn 3 safely, than it is to try to rush up board and get shot off the table.

– Against other melee armies, speedbump them and shoot them down before engaging with your core threats. You can also fly your Heldrakes clear over the enemy forces to harass and kill their support pieces or fire support.

Well, that brings us to a close for CSM. They’re a really fun army that allow the player to grow as they get better at the game and become more comfortable with the Codex.

FACTION FOCUS

As part of the Warhammer Series, we have also put together intensive looks at some of the most popular factions. If you want to build an army around any of the specific CSM factions, check out the pages below!

Alpha Legion

Black Legion

Emperor’s Children

Iron Warriors

Night Lords

Renegade Chapters

World Eaters

Word Bearers

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