How to play Genestealer Cults

It’s been weeks since the Genestealer Cults (GSC) codex came out, after a long analisis I can say that I mostly got how to play them and as expected, they are extremely tricky. The first thing I would say about the army, is that the codex is kind of a mess, it’s possible to feel that it was develop in a rush. It often happen that the way you play an army is very different from the original design, some units are always stronger than other in W40k, Genestealer Cults are just the perfect example, some models like Methamorphs, Purestrains and all the vehicles are basically unplayable, specifically in the current meta of the game. It’s another book that invite the player to play in the wrong way, fun on paper, wrecked on the table. Due to his rushed development and the innate complexity of the army, we can expect substantial changes (mostly buffs) to the army, simply changing the Gene-sects rule with a more rounded "all units get the buff" (now vehicles and GENESTEALERS donnot) will slap half the codex back in the game. That said, even if I don’t appreciate the codex for its lack of freedom, when it comes to play the army, I can happily say that Genestealer Cults are one of the strongest army in the game, meta-defining and one of the first challenge to prepare for as you write the list for your non-cult army. They are strong. Strong in that particular way that, or the opponents "know what’s coming next" or you are going to win so hard it’s not even going to be fun. This is weird, considering that it’s nearly impossible to find a video of a GSC army winning on any youtube channel, you need to know how to play them.

I'm using some old Steel Legion as Brood Brothers!
Mental Onslaught

The first strength of the army is pretty straight forward, this psychic power on itself is just the next version of smite, nothing too particular, your spyker have a series of discipline challenge with an enemy model, they suffer a mortal wound until they win. I have seen this power being neglected and even labelled as bad. The strength of this power tough, is not in its effect, but in the way you can transform a fair challenge into an unfair one by messing with the Discipline values. Let’s say (based on a true story) that you manifest the power with a Patriarch, with his Discipline of 10, the general trait that gives him +1D (one of the 3 traits of the rulebook) and a clamavus for a total of D12. Targeting a Knight affected by The Horror and a Locus (placed at 3 inches with Lying in Wait) with D7, at that point only by rolling a 1 and the opponent rolling a 6 the sequence will stop (1/36 chances); the Knight is gone. This is not even the full extent of this power. Is true that it can be blocked or something can go wrong, but at the same time, its very simple to build your army to include this combo and the sacrifices are minimal considering the benefits it can bring, do not consider it in black and white, it work or it doesn’t, but rather, every turn, consider how you can maximize the damage of this psychic power.


The ambush is the key of the army, obviously. Seeing manies getting this wrong, remember first of all that you can deploy half the army in blips AND half the army underground. One of the challenge of organizing a GSC army is to decide who go underground and if you can send them underground by complying with the 2 main limitations: half the units of the army have to be on the ground, these units have to cost more than half of the point total of the army. For example: in a 2000 points game, with 20 units, you can play 10 underground and 10 in blips, the blipped units have to cost 1001 or more points. Ok, how do we mess with this? The stratagem "They Came From Below" allow for 3 blips to be put underground, as confirmed by FAQ, in the example above this means that you can now set up 13 units underground and 7 on the ground. This mess even with the point limitation, as you can blip and then send underground the 3 most expensive units in you army, for example 10 abberrants, one Abominant and the Patriarch, for 510 points, this means that the 7 units on the ground have to cost only 491 points. This can be messed even more and rather easily by using "Return to Shadows" on a character, a Magus or Primus that is hiding on the field for one turn, to reduce even more the points you have to set on the ground and increase the units in ambush. So, when organizing a GSC army, the first thing to do is picking the 8 (I would call them "slot free") units to deploy in deep strike, of the remaining units on the ground, try to field as many units while spending as few points as possible to reach the required limit, every unit on the ground is a "slot" for a unit in deep strike. Now, the hard part is actually picking the units to deploy on the field...

There are 46 models hidden in this picture
Hide and seek

With three quarters of the army in deep strike, we are left with an army too weak to do everything. Arguably, with the number of units and models in reserves, their value in game exceed their value in point, but the rest of the army is not to be thrown away for no good reason. Playing this understrength army at its best for the first turns can lay down the victory for the overwhelming deep strike attack that is coming. So, who should start the game on the field? I identified three way to start the game:
1) I like to call this strategy "Hide and Seek", basically CHARACTERS are going to be the most viable units, because they cannot be targeted by most of the enemy army. Because of the current characters rules, by hiding some (non characters) models on the field the opponent will not be able to see them and will not be able to target characters. The army will stay hidden until the second turn, when it’s free to come out. Psychers like Magus or Neurothrope are a good pick for this strategy, as they can then run back in the fight and still cast their powers while they do so. The Sanctus with the sniper works perfectly here. Brood Brothers Mortar Teams are probably the best unit for this strategy (and for any other strategy that involve more than half of the army in deep strike), they can be hidden, deny enemy deep strike while still firing at your opponent, killing their units that are denying deep strike. Other good picks are reaper swarms because they hide even more easily to than control points, 5 Tyranids Genestealers 60 points to hide 5 models and then kill enemy deep strike or reinforce turn 4 or 5 for the rest of the army. Biovores are easy to hide with indirect damage but unfortunately kinda expensive for the amount of damage they do. Hive guards with impaler cannons are viable as they can fire indirectly, but they are hard to hide and expensive for the purpose of creating deep strike slots for the rest of the army. The Tyranids stratagem to hide 6 spore mines everywhere on the field is a good pick here, with 3 CP you can reduce the price of the army of 60 points and hide 2 small units on the field. Any unit that can be hidden and still fight is welcomed. The problem with this strategy is that it can be too passive, if this is the selection of units with the highest survivability, I find out it’s not the one that can produce the most damage, it’s better to lose some models to enemy fire while killing some of the opponent screen in the process. This lead me to the second tactic that I actually prefer.
2) Similar to the first one, Characters and Mortar teams are accompanied by infantry, as many models as possible with as many variations in the equipment as possible. No model with Resistance 5 or more, so that all the heavy firepower of the opponents is going to be wasted on infantry. For instance I’m currently thinking to deploy 3 units of 10 brood brothers with grenade launcher and some heavy weapon. They are easily going to die soon against ranged armies, but they can also be a distraction to the opponent, that now has to kill them while preparing the screen for the rest of the army. a good pick are Rusted Claw Neophytes, in cover they can reach an impressive 3+ save against anti infantry weapons, making them particularly hard to kill, while the seismic cannons and mining laser are versatile enough to mess with the opponent, jackals are also viable, with the support of 2 maguses they can assault and charge first turn, with some Kraken Genestealers and some summoned acolytes to engage the opponent on the first turn. It’s easy to build up many units sloots with many small infantry units.
3) The third strategy is basically the reverse of the second, rather than playing all infantry, the army is composed primarily by monsters and vehicles. All models that are able to ignore anti infantry firepower are welcomed, possibly R6 or more, R5 is still vulnerable to Tau. For instance, GSC can field Goliaths , Rockgrinders, Armored Sentinels and Leman Russes, while the Tyranids have all the monsters: The Swarmlord with Old One Eye, Hive Tyrants with wings and Dakkafexes. The problem with this composition is that it requires more points and build fewer units slots, but it’s probably the one that it’s able to cause more damage to the opponent. Mixing some mortar teams and characters is completely fine even here.


With this little 500ish point army on the field and the rest in deep strike, the first turn are going to be in obvious disadvantage, but the rest of the game is all way down. The strongest and biggest and most notable and fascinating (I’m overhyping it, yes) aspect of this army, is that it’s ok to let the opponent start the game, I’ll even exaggerate by saying that is better to take second turn with this army, it’s easier to hide the army by choosing the side, zones shapes and deploying after the opponent. With the 10 and more units you are going to be able to deepstrike, very few army can hold. If the opponents splits the army, a good strategy against a single heavy unit in deep strike, it’s going to do a favour as you have enough units to fight multiple little armies. Deep strike denial do not really work, the first screen is possibly killed by the units you field first turn (it’s their only job mostly), a second screen can be eliminated by playing enough units to kill the screen while delaying the big ambush in the third turn, with the result that the opponent just feeded you half his army just to take time. Considering the additional reach of "A Perfect Ambush", it’s possible to extend some units (maybe some problematic Abberrants) to the big chunk of the enemy army.
After all this talking of deep striking, what units should go in reserves? Well, this is the longest post I did on my blog, so I’m going to do a separate blog about GSC units, considering both the Ambush and Underground versions. Personally, I like to play Abberrants, somehow their "higher than it should" point value goes along well with the willing to play the 3 most expensive units (for me, Abberrants, Abominant and a Patriarch for 510 points) from the Ambush to Underground. I like to play an Hive Tyrant with wings too, that is a weird one. But to close, the thing I appreciate the most about this way of playing GSC is that it makes both neophytes and Brood Brothers viable, loving the models I’m really happy to be able to play them and see the opponent worrying about a sea of autoguns and lasguns appearing from nowhere. (Unfortunately the super cool Achilles Ridgerunner looks to be one of the worst pick in the codex T_T )