Theoryhammer Review: Genestealer Cults

Hey all, the crew of TFG Radio here to offer our very first Theoryhammer Codex Review!

Let’s take a second to define what we mean:

A lot of folks will review a codex and make some big statements, and sometimes, they don’t come true.  We see a lot of tempest in a teapot scenarios, so we don’t like to rush to judgment until we see a codex “in the wild” for a few months before making any real determination.   So, this review here is just Theoryhammer, so we totally accept that we may be wrong, not see the game-breaking combos, or think something is way better than we thought, so please keep that in mind. We’ll do a new review in a few months after we can see the impact of the codex on the meta.


With that said, let’s dive into Codex: Genestealer Cults


From our initial first look, this codex brings some interesting shenanigans.  There are a lot of tricks to this army, namely  that the ability to ambush and retreat is quite unique.  This opens up a huge host of possible builds, gimmicks, and surprises that may just be enough to make Eldar or Tau have to alter their lists a bit.  Breaking the normal rules of a game inherently makes something strong, and GSC like to break rules. This kind of mobility makes the GSC a big threat in the mission, and that means it has plays against most Deathstar builds.

This is an army that can play every phase of the game.  With Cult Ambush and Return to the Shadows, there is plenty of mobility to control the pace of the game in the movement phase.  With 2 cheap psykers with access to good lores, namely Telepathy and Biomancy (we’ll discuss Broodmind later), you can build a list that pumps out a respectable amount of psychic dice, and with the Magus’ aura of Adamantium Will, there is also decent defense against witchfires and maledictions here.  The Neophyte unit can bring some decent shooting with mining lasers or seismic cannons along with webbers, and Acolytes can bring plenty of Demolition Charges.  Even some Sentinels or a Leman Russ can add some ranged firepower, and seeing as how the army is Allies of Convenience with Tyranids and Astra Militarum, you get access to even more (and better) shooting units.  Finally, this army is built for melee, and Acolytes plus Purestrain Genestealers bring a lot of rending to the game with a reasonable points investment.  In short, this a codex that can actually bring real abilities to bear in each phase of the game.


Almost everything in here is cost-effective save for the Leman Russ.  You can get a lot of decent quality units for not too many points.  This makes them effective allies for Tyranids or AM as you can get a lot without sacrificing too much power, or in the inverse, it allows you to run a sizable GSC force that still has rooms for a worthwhile ally force.

The Decurion here is quite good (or maybe even auto-include if wanting to GSC to be your primary detachment) with some actually useful command abilities.  Shrouding on units with infiltrate is good; getting +1 to reserve rolls and -1 to enemy reserves is also solid; healing D6 models when most units come back from reserve is also good.  These are solid command abilities that actually help the army do what it wants to do, all within cost effective formations.



This army has almost no durability.  Genestealers and Aberrants are the most survivable units, and that doesn’t say much.  T4 with either Feel No Pain or a 5++ is not exactly spectacular, and most of the units are T3 with 5+ saves.  This army is more terrified of hurricane bolters than grav. The only survivable units would be Genestealers with Endurance up near an Iconward for a +3 FNP that is still ignored by S8 and above.   This is actually huge as any null deploy army really punches this codex hard, and well, Space Marines are still the most common army on the field, and plenty take drop pods.

This is an expensive army to effectively utilize.  Acolytes are a dollar a point.  This is not an army you can build on the cheap, and that will limit how many unique or spam builds we see as people are limited by their wallets more than anything here.  Expect to see a lot of people asking to buy half a Deathwatch Overkill box with you.

The lack of Battle Brothers allies does hurt.  We get it; there are plenty of reasons why the Cult shouldn’t be Battle Brothers with anybody, but this just means that Imperial players still get the best ally shenanigans.  A Patriarch leading conscripts plus Yarrick? Ok, a bit dumb, but not game breaking. Tyranids especially could have really used the help by gaining access to book powers.

GSC’s worst nightmare

No real obsec.  The lack of obsec in the formations, despite how many bodies there are, really hurts as this is not an army to take in a CAD, so while you will have bodies, they can be stopped from controlling an objective by a 45 point nurgling unit. Even one formation that brought Obsec would have really helped here, and again, by going CAD, you lose a lot of the bonuses from the Decurion that this army really needs. As part of this, this army is also punished by any format that has Kill Points appear constantly or any other mechanism to punish MSU.  You can’t really make an elite army here, so much like Battle Company, this codex will likely only see major play in formats that don’t penalize MSU builds every game.

Luck.  This army requires you to roll 6s.  A 6 on the Ambush table is where this army lives and dies, but that is not reliable odds at all. You need 6s to really get all those models back at a rate to replenish their losses. You need to roll 6s on the wound to get those sweet rends.  You need to roll 6s on seismic cannons to get AP1.  This list really depends on a very wonky mechanic, so more times than not, it will let you down. There are ways to mitigate this, but still, building an army off of randomness is an easy way to set yourself up for an epic fail.

On the Fence:


Some may like it, but we are not too excited by the psychic potential of the codex. The Broodmind Powers are interesting but not necessarily insanely good.  The primaris is very situational, the summoning power is hard to get and cast, and the witchfire is terrible because of witchfire.  The taking control of an enemy unit to shoot is good, and so are the buffs, but in general, in most cases, it just seems better to roll on telepathy and biomancy for either Scream, Invisibility, or Endurance.   The biggest issue is that there is no way to increase the potency of the psykers, so it is hard to generate a lot of extra dice or to protect the Magus or Patriarch from blowing themselves up due to Perils.  We’ll see how this pans out though as with a Psykanna Division or Flyrants, this army may actually prove to provide some real threat in the psychic phase.  This also gives them some real plays against Tau as Riptides (or Storm Surges) shooting at their own units is pretty sweet, and Tyranids need good answers to Tau.

What we expect to see:

The First Curse formation is going to be everywhere, at least for a bit.  20 Genestealers with a Patriarch for 395 is not too spendy, and well, 20 genestealers with a Patriarch will kill almost anything in combat.  You also get 2 handy psychic dice, which never hurts especially if you roll Endurance or Invisibility.  The fact that the unit may get grenades, a 4+ save, rage, or preferred enemy is just icing on the cake, but grenades is what you really need, and well, that is at best a 33% chance.  They also get to Cult Ambush and Return to the Shadows, so there is a lot of tactical advantages here.  Is it actually competitive? We’ll see.  It may be an interesting complement to Flyrant spam or IG artillery spam. Our gut says it will find a home in the competitive scene, but it may not be as game breaking as others think.  An army like Eldar or Tau may still pump out enough shots to weaken it enough where a Wraithknight can stomp it out in combat, but we’ll see.


The Subterranean Uprising formation should also become popular.  A ton of cheap, rending units that get to mitigate some of the luck issues with the army is a good supplement to a lot of builds.  We don’t think it will have the legs to really work as the lynchpin to an army, but part of a larger Tyranid or AM force, it may prove to be that extra secret sauce.  Danny thinks it will be the standout formation from the book, allowing for a great X-factor of generalship, but we’ll see.

You’ll see the Decurion, mostly as a horde MSU army.  Healing D6 models is an interesting mechanic, and an army that has 100+ models that can easily start to heal themselves and move around the table will give a lot of smaller, more elite armies the fits. Seeing as the Acolytes and Neophytes really rely on special weapons to give them that extra punch, being able to heal them back is pretty sweet.   This build may prove to be a solid spoiler for the Deathstar meta as it can constantly re-position and keep the Deathstar from wracking up kills, and there is still enough pop in these units to threaten the individual parts if the Deathstar voltrons out to try and play the mission.

You’ll Never See…


Ok, there are a few things here that you will probably see, but you won’t see at the top tables:

The vehicles.  Sorry, the Goliath is a cool model, but it is still a vehicle that doesn’t ignore immobilized and doesn’t have armor 13 or above.  Grav still wrecks it like every other vehicle.  Melta still wrecks it. Scatterbikes and Warp spiders (and Riptides and Stormsurges and Flyrants) still wreck these things, especially because they have crappy side armor.  They are cool looking, and the Grinder has some fun rules, but they are a waste of points in a competitive sense.  Instead of spending 50 points to transport 10 dudes around, buy 10 more dudes and use Cult Ambush for better mobility.  This includes any formation that makes you take vehicles. Some people are going to fall in love with the Demolition Charge formation, but it will likely be more of a points sink than anything else.

This also includes the formation the Neophyte Cavalcade. While it is the cheapest core formation in the Decurion (but not by much), it doesn’t actually add that much.  A single Ambushing Sentinel isn’t that great and an Outflanking Leman Russ is still just a Leman Russ.  Yes, it is the cheapest (cash wise) core formation, but it just doesn’t really utilize what this army wants to do, which is dance around your enemy and put pressure on precise locations as well as swarm the board.


In the End…

This is an interesting release that has the opportunity to change the competitive meta.  First turn charges and crazy mobility means that Tau and Eldar have to be more mindful or even change builds as a canny GSC player can go into reserve on turn 1, wait for the warpsiders to drop in on turn 2, and then cult ambush back at them and maybe even get the charge off.  Another “take control and shoot” power makes Storm Surges even more of a competitive liability.  Deathstars can have a hard time with such an MSU horde list that can disengage easily, and this army mostly cares little for Grav.

Of course, this army actually really struggles against Battle Company or any other obsec spam. It will also struggle against Necrons as they are so resilient that they can force the GSC to play the attrition game, a game they’ll lose most times.  Any army that can pump out a lot of str 4 or higher shooting is going to enjoy gunning down waves of cultists, and being able to shut down their ability to contest objectives means they have to win the attrition war, and this army does not like to attrition.

Chances of success: 

Major event top-table stand-alone codex: 5%

Local RTT top-table stand-alone codex:  50% 

Major event top-table army component: 40%

Local RTT top-table army component: 75%

Have a codex that you want us to review?  Let us know! Also, we can do more of these and in fun, wacky videos with enough equipment, so maybe check out that Patreon.