In this article, I endeavour to outline the 7 different Troops choices available to a Chaos Space Marine army and outline the strengths and weaknesses of each unit. 7 Troops choices? Yes, there are only 2 in the Troops section of the codex, but 5 additional units can be put into the Troops section by choosing an HQ unit to unlock them.
To rate each unit’s usefulness, I am going to use the following criteria:
Cost to value ratio: How much does the unit cost and what can it do for those points, ie your bangs for your bucks.
Resilience: How much fire can this unit take before it folds? When does it cease to become useful?
Opportunity Cost: What are the additional costs of making this unit a Troops choice? Are they worth it? Do they require additional units or investments to fulfil their potential?
Total: The sum of the above.
Please note that this article focuses on their usefulness as Troops units, so units that are taken to provide Objective Secured and to fulfil the minimum requirements for a Combined Arms Detachment, not their usefulness in general. So, without further ado, let’s start at the bottom of the pile at number 7.
The bottom of the barrel
7) Khorne Berzerkers: When fluffy bunnies attack
Cost to value ratio: The bearers of bunny ears used to be dreaded all over the galaxy for being the chief butt kickers of Chaos, murdering all other infantry with their WS, S and Ini of 5 and an ungodly number of attacks. Nowadays, they mostly spend their time in display cases or the casualty box as the times have not been kind to them. First of all, they have no ranged output beyond some bolt pistols and the option to spend a fortune on a couple of plasma pistols. This means that they have no way of reliably destroying the transports their chosen prey prefers to lurk in today. Secondly, as it is no longer possible to charge out of a stationary vehicle without the Assault Vehicle rule, they either need to footslog (or disembark from their Rhino in turn 1) or double the unit cost to get a Land Raider, neither of which really improves their cost to value ratio. Thirdly, they are decidedly middling in their melee prowess these days. Sure, they can still murder Tau Fire Warriors or even regular Marines, but they lack the tools to take on Terminators, Honour Guards, Genestealers or the other melee units that somehow have made it into this shooting-centric edition. So they either encounter units that can absorb the first charge and then grind them down as they lose all the bonuses from the Mark of Khorne in subsequent rounds of close combat or they utterly overrun their target and end up getting shot to pieces in the next round. Of course, it is possible to avoid killing weaker targets in one round by multi-charging, but then they lose all the bonuses of the Mark of Khorne and Furious Charge, so there is no point in spending the points to get them instead of regular Marines. I should probably not be so dismissive of them as I still want to sell 12 of them I got in a bulk army deal, but sorry, they are really really bad these days.
Resilience: The same as regular Marines, with only a tiny bit of extra protection against WS2(who only hit on a 5+) and WS5 opponents (who need 4s instead of 3s) in melee. They lack the additional defensive bonuses that each other Cult unit has, be it FNP or an Invulnerable save.
Opportunity Cost: Using them as Troops requires either Kharn or a Lord of Khorne. Kharn is actually not that bad, though his formidable offensive output (7 WS7 S7 AP2 attacks) is slightly offset by his weak defensive stats. But I would not really run Kharn in the unit of Berzerkers as each roll of a 1 for his attacks would take out a 20 points model. He is probably better off in a unit of Cultists where he only wastes 4 points per 1 or in a unit of Spawn where he can benefit to some extent from their higher speed and only wounds them on a 3+ instead of killing on a 2+. The other option is a Lord of Khorne with the Axe of Burning Rage on a Juggernaught with the usual defensive accoutrements, such as the Sigil of Corruption for a 4+ invulnerable), though he again benefits more from joining some Spawn than from the slower Berzerkers, especially as he cannot embark on a transport.
Total: Maybe if the rules change back to allowing units to charge out of a stationary tank or if Forgeworld gives us a cheap Assault Vehicle. Before that, I can’t think of a worse CSM Troops choice.
6) Thousand Sons: Dust in the wind
Cost to value ratio: The Thousand Sons cost a measly 23 points each, though you also have to include an Aspiring Sorcerer that costs nearly as much as a regular Sorcerer, but only has one wound and is thus most likely dead as soon as he rolls the dreaded double 6 on a psychic test. For those points, you get a Marine without bolt pistol, grenades or anything other than a boltgun. However, your boltgun comes loaded with AP3 shots and your Mark of Tzeentch and Aura of Dark Glory give you a respectable 4+ invulnerable save. They are also fearless, as they are dead and thus not really fuzzed about enemy fire.
Unfortunately, being dead also means that you are rather slow to respond, so they cannot run and, more importantly, they are unable to fire overwatch when charged. In fact, should they end up in combat, they only have one attack each as they had to hand in their swords and pistols and even though they hate Imperial Space Marines, they are still likely to end up being overrun by any horde unit that charges them. Furthermore, they have no meaningful way of interacting with tanks, as they have no access to S5+ shots beyond the Sorcerer’s psychic powers and do not even have grenades to krak open tanks. As 7th edition is shaping up to be a return to the old Rhino armies, this is a serious flaw, as you need another unit to first open up the transport before they can annihilate the passengers with their boltguns (and then the passengers still have a cover save from the smoking wreck to shrug off some of the fire). But the final nail in the coffin in my opinion is that their boltguns are not actually that great to begin with, on account of being, well, boltguns. Sure, denying armour saves is nice, but you first need to hit on a 3+ and then wound Marines on a 4+, so only 1 in 3 shots is going to count, and that’s not taking cover into account.
Resilience: They are as tough as a Marine against small arms fire, but twice as tough against AP3 or better weapons. Of course, given how common cover is nowadays, their resilience does not count as much against shooting, but it is nice to see power weapons or monsters bounce off their Aura. However, for every AP3+ weapon there is, there are lots of small arms, so on the whole, they are only slightly tougher than regular Marines, but at a huge mark-up, even without the Sorcerer tax. So yes, if you count on facing lots of monsters or armour-piercing guns, they are decent, but they will suffer against hordes.
Opportunity Cost: In order to become a Troops choice, you either need to buy Ahriman or a regular Sorcerer with the Mark of Tzeentch. Ahriman is still an overcosted magic artillery piece whose main trick is rolling up the Telepathy Primary power to unleash it three times in a single psychic phase to really ruin a low Ld-unit’s day. However, this comes at the price of a Land Raider Redeemer and I would much rather have the Redeemer I guess. If he had a Force Axe or a Sigil of Corruption, I would consider him, but with ‘only’ a 4+ Invulnerable and an AP4 Force Stave, he is not my cup of tea. He does have the best Warlord Trait in the CSM book, but beyond that, I am not seeing him. Which is a shame as the model is really nice and I like my paintjob for once. The alternative is a Tzeentch sorcerer who might actually be better as he can get a 3+ Invulnerable and a Force Axe to go with it, as well as being 70 odd points less than Ahriman. The good thing about either of these options is that they can actually share a Rhino with the Thousand Sons, so they won’t require any additional units as some of the other ‘unlockers’ do. They also need a Rhino, but who doesn’t?
Total: I love this unit from a fluff perspective and Tzeentch is still my favourite Chaos God, but there are so many drawbacks that I find it very hard to justify the point cost this unit has.
5) Noise Marines: Rock out with your … out!
Cost to value ratio: A unit with a tremendous output of fire thanks to their Noise weapons, they can clean out hordes by sheer weight of fire and even drop Marines with their cover-ignoring Blast Masters. With Initiative 5, they can even survive assaults and being fearless means you never have to worry about them leaving their objectives. In addition, they have the option to get Feel No Pain via an Icon of Excess and Icons have become much better given that all characters have lost Precision Shots, thus reducing the odds of the Icon Bearer being sniped out of the unit. There is also the possibility of running them as Fearless close combat unit with FNP and Initiative 5 to strike before Marines, as well as having access to an AP3 flamer on the Noise Champion.
As you might have guessed, this is the place where I tell you why I don’t think this is worth it. First of all, the shooty version of the unit is suffering from having Salvo weapons but not being Slow and Purposeful or Relentless. This means that should you get first turn, your Noise Marines cannot fire as their weapons are either 24″ and thus out of range if they remain standing or 12″ and definitely out of range if they advance. This becomes even more of a problem as they are Troops and thus expected to move around to hold objectives, which again is going to cost you shots, shots that you paid a premium to get. You could of course just add a couple of Blast Masters and stick to the bolters for the rest of the unit, but that still costs you nearly the price of a Rhino per gun for something that is a 2-shot Heavy Bolter on the move. Like the Thousand Sons, they are also not that well-equipped to kill transports, though they at least bring krak grenades to do so.
The melee version of the unit is decent at 18 points per model with bolter, pistol and chainsword or 17 without bolter, but then you need to add the costs of the Icon, the Champion’s equipment and you end up with almost 250 points for ten footsloggers. So you also need a transport and this either means a Rhino, that is in essence only a 6″ movement bonus on turn 1, as you need to disembark as soon as possible to be able to charge the turn after, or a Land Raider, which nearly doubles the cost of the unit without adding much in terms of offensive power, as it lacks Power of the Machine Spirit and can therefore only shoot one Lascannon at full BS as soon as it moves.
Resilience: As tough as Marines, but with the option of gaining Feel No Pain, so they can absorb small arms fire fairly well and only need to worry about S8+ shooting.
Opportunity Cost: A Lord of Slaanesh or Lucius the Eternal. Lucius is without a doubt the worst special character in the CSM codex and a strong contender for worst special character overall. He is supposed to be a master duellist, but he has no way of reliably harming toughness 5+ characters or those with a 2+ armour save. His defensive equipment is also inferior to that of a regular Lord with nothing but power armour and a 5+. If he gained some defensive bonuses for being in melee or at least rending attacks, he might be worth it, but the way he is, he is best kept in the miniatures cabinet. A regular Lord is more flexible, but always has to choose between his high initiative and gaining AP2 to take on Space Marines with Artificer armour. The build with Lightning Claw and Power Fist is still good, but I hate paying points for an Initiative upgrade that I can’t use half the time. He also suffers from having only slightly better defensive equipment than Lucius unless you run him with a Daemonheart from Codex: Crimson Slaughter. I guess you could put him on a Steed of Slaanesh aka boobworm or a Bike and run him with some Bikers or Spawn. But overall, I am not feeling him.
Total: I guess it depends on how you wish to run them, either as a close combat unit or as a shooting unit. Nevertheless, I feel that both units are costed too high for what they do.
4) Chosen of Chaos: The bling ring
Cost to value ratio: Chosen cost 5 points more than regular Marines. For that cost, they gain an additional attack, a free Chainsword and the option to take up to 5 Special weapons. They are also as tough as regular CSM, but have another point of Leadership, so they are less likely to run away when the shit hits the fan. As CSM in general are not the greatest close combat troops in the game, only slightly above average, and given that their only way of getting into combat swiftly is an expensive and not very good Chaos Land Raider, the close combat route might not be the way to use them. You could run a melta- or plasma-heavy unit in a Rhino to unleash a brickload of fire that will surely annihilate your target, but the question is if a unit of Havocs in a Rhino is not just as useful in that role and significantly cheaper to boot.
Resilience: As tough as a regular Space Marine. The amount of special weapons in the unit also means that you will either have to field a full ten-strong unit or start losing expensive models soon. As they are however quite expensive to start with, this might lead to a lose-lose situation. In addition, a Rhino full of Special weapons is going to attract fire like nobody’s business and go down rather fast.
Opportunity Cost: And this is why I rate this unit so low as a Troops choice. The only way to make them a Troops choice is by getting Abbadon the Despoiler, kicker of behinds, destroyer of worlds, eater of hams. And big Abe clocks in at slightly more than a (regular and useful Marine, not the crappy Chaos) Land Raider himself. As he is wearing a Terminator armour, he himself can only unlock his full awesomeness by either deep-striking (without any codex-internal way of manipulating reserve rolls or avoiding scatter rolls) with some (costly) Terminators or by buying him a Land Raider, which as I might have said before, is not really that good for its price.
Note: If you ran them in a Black Legion list, they become Troops without needing Abbadon. In that case, I would rate them the third best troops choice. Unfortunately, the Black Legion list is not that great as it requires you to pay the upgrade cost for Veterans of the Long War for each unit and character that can have it and those points start adding up quickly.
Total: A unit that unfortunately costs more to do the same thing other units in the codex can do at a lower price. If they still had Infiltrate or Outflank (or even a random table with Veteran skills), they would be much better, as they could ride in from a flank, drop out of their Rhino and melta or plasma someone to death before inevitably dying. They are definitely useful as suicide units, but as Troops are primarily meant to take and hold objectives, they might not be your best buy.
3) Chaos Space Marines: The regular ones
Cost to value ratio: They are often maligned due to the fact that they actually have to take Leadership tests unlike their Cult brethren or Imperial Space Marines (yes, they have to take tests, but ATSKNF is actually better than Fearless in my opinion). They also need to either pay a premium to get a chainsword to go with their gun and pistol whereas it was free in the last codex or have to swap their boltgun for it. Add to this that you have to pay the champion tax and people got pissed off. And rightly so, to some extent. Nevertheless, a small unit of CSM with a meltagun or a plasmagun and a Champion with a Combi-version of that gun is not too expensive, even with an added Rhino that unit won’t break the bank. Getting two special weapons for a moderate price lets them hop from objective to objective in Maelstrom missions or take a quick potshot at something in Eternal War missions before occupying an objective, all without taking away much of your budget. Yes, you could also run a 20-strong horde with swords and guns, drop a Powerfist or Sword on the Champion and add some Special weapons, but then you reach the point where their Leadership can become a liability and you have spend a fourth of your points on what is in essence a large mob of Marines with all the vulnerabilities of Marines and the added lack of ATSKNF. So in conclusion, keep them small and mobile, don’t expect them to do much more than sitting on objectives and racking up mission points and you wont be disappointed. On the other hand, add a lot of options to them and they can end up costing you the game, so you have been warned.
Resilience: Their toughness of 4 and 3+ armour save is the benchmark for resilience in the game. So they are decidedly average. However, with Marks of Chaos and Icons, they can acquire additional layers of protection such as Toughness 5, 5+ Invulnerable saves or Feel No Pain. The question is however why you didn’t simply buy the Cult units who often get better versions of the same boosts at the same or a slightly higher price. As usual, Khorne is left out and they gain no extra protection.
Opportunity Cost: None. They benefit from having a Rhino, but so do most of the units here. You could include a Lord to make them fearless, but unless you run large units, that is not necessary.
Total: They are not great, but they get the job done at a reasonable price. Keep the number of upgrades low and use them as cheap scoring units with a couple of special weapons and you won’t go wrong.
2) Cultists: Come to Chaos!
Cost to value ratio: Decidedly bad in every possible way or at best average, Cultists have one thing in their favour: They are cheap. As such, they can provide cheap escorts for second-line characters such as Sorcerers, sacrificial pawns for Sorcerers using Malefic Daemonology (the power to summon a Herald requires you to kill a model in 6″, but doesn’t specify what model, so a cheap cultist does just as well as a Marine) or they just camp on objectives. As Chaos armies benefit from an aggressive approach, you need to invest as many points as possible in aggressive units, so you need to keep objective holders as cheap as possible and Cultists are the best value for points here at a measly 5 points each (yes, it says 4 points in the Codex, but you shouldn’t buy more than 10 which means that you need to include the champion tax).
Resilience: None. They have a below average toughness and the same armour save as an Ork. Keep them out of harm’s way and they will do fine. Put them in the open and they will buy it.
Opportunity Cost: None. They can’t even have a Transport, though they might end up borrowing one that has dropped off its passengers.
Total: They are cheap and they fill your compulsory force organisation chart slots, which is especially useful if you run two detachments as your Lord of Nurgle will only make the Plague Marines in his detachment Troops and you don’t want to run two Lords of Nurgle in normal sized games. As such, they are not sexy or good, but they are cheap as chips and do the dirty work while their betters kill the enemy and keep them too busy to worry about the Cultists.
1) Plague Marines: The Lords of the Flies
Cost to value ratio: In one word: excellent. They are the most expensive Cult unit, but probably the one that works best in small numbers, thus keeping points low after all. They are also the only Cult unit that has access to the full gamut of special weapons and even being able to buy two of them in 5-men units. Drop a cheap combi-weapon on the champion and you get 3 Meltaguns at 150 points or 3 Plasmaguns at 160. Even with the obligatory Rhino, you have a solid shooting unit that can shuttle from objective to objective if necessary and still have some impact in the shooting phase for under two hundred points. And even small units are also quite capable in close combat. Their plague knives let them ignore toughness boosts and even hurt monsters on a 4+, so they won’t fold to a single creature making it into combat. Even their champion is not the challenge bait most other Chaos champions are, due to his toughness and FNP.
Resilience: They have the same armour as regular Marines, but that is about it as far as resemblances go. In a game where most weapons are Strength 4, being Toughness 5 is great. Moreover their FNP gives them a reliable save against anything under S10, which is not that much these days given how Smash attacks were nerfed. They can shrug off small arms fire easily and even heavy weapons will not reap the same tally against them than against the other units discussed here, perhaps with the exception of Thousand Sons. In ruins, they are nigh-on impossible to shift, thus forcing your opponent to dedicate an inordinate amount of resources to kill a single unit. Of course they are also fearless and even have defensive grenades to blunt charges.
Opportunity Cost: Either Typhus or a Lord of Nurgle. Typhus actually makes your Cultists better as well, giving them FNP and Fearless to give them some semblance of survivability, as well as being a monster in combat with his Manreaper being both a Daemon and a Force weapon, but he is not really cheap and also either needs to hang out in a unit of Cultists where his potential is wasted or in a unit of Terminators that adds to the cost and might end up being delayed or scattering off target. A Lord of Nurgle is much more affordable and makes an excellent melee beatstick when mounted on a Bike. With a Toughness of 6, a 4+ Invulnerable and the option to buy defensive grenades, most charges bounce off of him, making him one of the few Chaos Space Marine character who might actually benefit from the Champions of Chaos rule. His high toughness also allows him to choose to use a Powerfist without having to worry about dying before striking, making him better against Monstrous Creatures or other high toughness opponents. He will probably not join the Plague Marines, but given that you are going to include him anyway if you run Spawn or Bikers of Nurgle, that is not a problem.
Total: Pound for pound the best Troops choice in the CSM codex, being tougher than the rest and having the option to buy more special weapons at 5 models than any other unit. Add to this their excellent Poisoned (4+) knives and the fact that they are the only unit that does not have to pay the champion tax and there is no reason why they should not be the best Troops choice Chaos has.