40K Competitive Play: All-Harlequin Lists in a GT!



Zyekian here with the scoop after slicing and dicing Harlequins through this weekend’s CAGBash GT.  How did the Ghosts of the Webway fare?  Read on!

And as always, don’t forget to check out Frontline Gaming‘s Tactics Corner for ways to get the most out of your game.

How Many Times Have you Heard…

“You can do it, but it’s 40k hard mode…”

“It’s not a real codex…”

“You need to ally them with Eldar…”

“Harlequins weren’t meant to be played on their own…”

“Lololol clowncopter…”

“Yeah, no…”

Well these things are completely wrong true to a large extent.  The Harlequin codex dropped a little over a year ago to much fanfare and great appreciation to their gorgeous model release.  The rules however ended up cooling much of the enthusiasm for the army as it was generally received as too one-dimensional therefore unable to be competitive in the meta.  The critics were largely correct of course, the army relies tremendously on assault and can wither under small arms fire.  While a basic Harlequin player isn’t too expensive at 15 points, she’s also no bargain and losing her bolt gun fire can be all too easy.  There’s also no skyfire and obsec isn’t a thing for them.  They do however excel in some areas and if they’re able to control the momentum in battle they’ll leave a pile of bodies in their wake.  Harlequins are exceptional in assault against a wide range of targets including MEQ, TEQ, monstrous creatures, GMCs, vehicles, even Imperial Knights will fall to their charge.

Let me add a brief description of the CAGBash GT in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The event is now in its ninth year, organized by Sean Pittman, a veteran TO for many 40k events in Southwest Ohio.  While it’s been around for a while this is the first year it’s been an official ITC event and as such drew a number of competitive players from around the Midwest.  If you live in the region it’s definitely an event to check out.  And props to Aaron Aleong for taking home his second CAGBash title in three years!


The Cast of Players…

For those of you who don’t know what a Harlequin’s Caress is, it’s a vicious weapon that converts any to-hit roll of ‘6’ into an AP2 wound. No to-wound check is made, it’s just an automatic glowing power field-wrapped clown slap to the face (see title photo).  Rolling to wound is for suckers.  Against vehicles the six is an auto-glance, again no penetration check is made.  For those non-sixes Harlequins also have furious charge and WS5, base 2A with pistol and CCW.    And Troupe Masters make five attacks on the charge.  Here’s the list I ran for the event @1849 points:

Masque Detachment (primary):

Troupe 6x w/Starweaver
– Master with Caress, Haywire Grenades (Warlord)
– 2x Caresses
– Kiss (models with a Kiss make one of their attacks at S6 AP2 instant-death on a 6)

Troupe 6x w/Starweaver
– Master with Caress
– 2x Caress

Troupe 6x w/Starweaver
– Master with Caress
– Caress

3x Skyweaver Jetbikes
– 3x Haywire Cannons
– 3x Zephyrglaives

Voidweaver w/Prism Cannon

Masque Detachment (secondary):

Troupe 6x w/Starweaver
– Master with Caress
– 2x Caress

Troupe 5x w/Starweaver
– Master with Caress, Haywire Grenades
– 3x Embrace (D3 S6 hammer of wrath hits each)

Troupe 5x w/Starweaver
– Master with Caress
– Kiss

Voidweaver w/Prism Cannon

Heroes Path Formation:

Cegorach’s Rose (a Kiss with shred and master-crafted)
– Haywire Grenades

Shadowseer, ML1
Mask of Secrets (-2 Ld to enemy units within 12″, grants fearless)
– Haywire Grenades

Death Jester

(note: Masque detachments require that a couple of the transports be listed under FA, however for easy reading purposes I’ve listed them all with Troupes)


Then the Glitter Hit the Fan…

Round One

Right off the bat I draw the worst-imaginable match-up: Dark Angel Battle Company.   The obsec Rhino-zorback parking lot… twin-linked heavy flamer Dreadnoughts coming out of Pods, full-BS overwatch… If I had to name the one list I wanted to avoid most in the tournament it would be exactly this.  My opponent finished top-25 at the LVO with this list so I knew he wasn’t going to make many mistakes.  To make matters worse we had a bit of a late start that subtracted cut out twenty minutes out of the game length, again compounding the tough match up.  The only thing worse than double battle company is double battle company in an abbreviated game.  And then he stole initiative from me.

The flamer Dreads targeted my open-topped Starweaver transports, cooking several embarked Harlies, however I made sure to deploy them far enough apart so that he could only target one unit at a time.  All transports themselves held strong against his turn one shooting though as Mirage Launchers flared against his TL lascannons.  He failed to get first blood on me which was a surprise after he stole initiative.  Knowing it would be a short match he moved most of his fleet rapidly toward objectives, allowing me to escape relatively intact turn one.  Most objectives were swarmed with obsec vehicles that I just didn’t have time to peel off.

The Harlequins quickly took first blood, wrecking a Rhino with shuriken fire, spreading out over the course of the game to wantonly slaughter disembarked marines and flip as many vehicles as possible.  After a disappointing game length of only three rounds I also picked up linebreaker, denied it to him, and tied Maelstrom.  I really feel like all-things considered I did as well as I could of given the severity of the match-up.  My only hope was to concede objectives, win Maelstrom, and beat him on secondaries.  And I was an inch away from doing it.

Final Score: Dark Angels: 5, Harlequins 2.


Round Two

So here comes the Eldar kin:

2x Farseers on Jetbikes
4×4 Scatbikes
Aspect Host of 3x units of Dark Reapers nested in elevated ruins
Aspect Host of 3x units of Warp Spiders
Warp Hunter
Sathkatch Wraithknight

I knew my only hope was to get up-close and personal on turn one for a turn-two assault and winning the initiative roll me a clear path to do so. My opponent deployed deep in his vanguard corner, hoping to take me out from afar.  And once again I was snakebitten as my opponent stole initiative. That’s the second time in two games and at this point I feel the Laughing God is laughing at me and not with me…

The opening barrage wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, as night fighting jinks minimized what could have been a very bad first turn.  Two Troupes were dismounted though, fortunately with no explosions.  Maelstrom caused him to move a unit of Scatbikes forward as he rushed the Sathkatch.

On my turn I rushed my Troupes flat-out in their transports deep into his deployment zone as Skyweaver jetbike haywire cannons wrecked his Warp Hunter… and a unit of Scatbikes fled off the map.  A troupe made a long assault to the unit of scatbikes holding his objective in a forward location, wiping them instantly.  The two remaining packs of scatbikes were snap firing and one Warp Spider unit was cut in half, alleviating much of the pressure on my army.  His turn two shooting wasn’t sufficient to stop me, highlighted by the Sathkatch’s shooting killing nothing.  Wounding off initiative and then allowing invulnerable saves meant the giant had a poor match-up against my army.

The latter part of the match saw the Solitaire and a Troupe tearing through his deployment zone ruins, ripping out the trio of Dark Reaper units who were dug in like a pack of ticks.  In a single turn my Harlies managed to assault five of his Aspect Host units, instantly wiping every one.  Being able to move, fleet run, and assault was crucial in this match as it allowed me to reach his Reapers a full turn sooner than I’d have otherwise been able to.

Final Score: Harlequins 11, Eldar 1


Round Three:

Demons.  Infernal Tetrad. Blobs of Nurglings, Plaguebearers, and a Herald backing it up.

Being a brand-new formation so I’d never seen it before.  His Tzeench Demon Warlord rolled the +1 invulnerable Warlord power meaning all four Princes got it.  And somehow his Princes all had +1 toughness (?).  I knew it would be difficult for me to fight him once he took flight so I sought to play the objective game.  I tripled him in unit count and fortunately he lacked obsec units as well.  He rolled first turn, however my warlord power gave me +4 to steal initiative so the Harlies finally went first.

All six Troupes and the Solitaire rushed while I had to hang back with my Skyweaver jetbikes for anti-Scouring purposes. The Khorne Prince was caught on the ground but was unbelievably tough to bring down, needing three turns with the Solitaire and two troupes to vanquish him.  In the mean time I made a mistake, multi-assaulting Nurglings with too-few Players, then failing a hit-and-run roll with my Warlord to get out of trouble (ugh…).  What a bad way to go…

The solitaire and a fresh pair of Troupes then sliced into the Plaguebearers, remaining Nurglings, and summoned garbage, clearing everything off the ground with ease while casualties in return.  While I couldn’t get him to fail a grounding check, his princes were unable to land for fear of being cut to ribbons, giving me the win.

Final Score: Harlequins 10, Demons 3, qualifying me for day two (!)


Round Four:

Day two began by facing a member of Team Zero Comp running Stormwing (5 Storm Talons infiltrating with strafing run),  a Gallant Lance formation of three Imperial Knights, and a tiny unit of Cassius and marines hiding behind BLOS cover.  And it was a kill point mission.  Yeah…

There’s not much to write here as my army wasn’t at all equipped to deal with such an extreme list of only superheavies and flyers.  To make matters worse I failed three out of four Ld 10 pinning checks, causing half my army to stall out in the middle of the map and foiling my long-shot attempt at playing the objectives game.  At this point I’m pretty shaken, as I hadn’t been beaten this badly in a 40k match in a long time.  I needed to have a solid game to finish out or this article was going to be hard to write…

Final Score: Space Marines 11, Harlequins 0


Round Five:

The final matchup looked good, in fact it looked like a it was built to tackle my previous opponent’s list: modified Centstar Ultramarines with Calgar, Tiggy and a Librarian (both with invisibility), a Culexis Assassin, two grav cent units with drop pods, a couple units of scouts, and four drop pods with melta-heavy Tac Marines.   I gave him first turn and lucked out with the grav on my vehicles, Mirage Launcher 4++ saves deflecting everything other than a few scattered glances from long-range bolt guns.  None of his turn-one pod marines were bold enough to drop within assault range of my army which meant no rapid-fire S4 against my transports.

On my turn all six transports, the Solitaire, and my Skyweaver jetbikes vaulted right through the Space Marine line, surrounding their core, one Troupe disembarking to cut down his relic-controlling scouts.  The Death Jester finally showed up, using his Death is Not Enough power push a melta squad so far away that it would take two turns to become relevant again.  The Ultramarine turn two shooting consisted mostly of firing grav cannons harmlessly at the Solitaire with no armor.  While this may sound like a questionable move, my opponent was actually making a wise decision, as the half-dozen transports had already arrived.  The vehicles themselves weren’t the threat.

The Harlequin turn two was epic as all eight of my assault units struck.  The Solitaire, three Troupes, and the trio of Skyweaver Jetbikes, reached his invisible Centstar and in the blink of an eye it was gone.  The other invisible Cent squad and Tactical squads withered under assaults as well.  The Ultramarines were slaughtered down to the last man in a heartbeat, conceding after turn three.  This is how I envisioned my army working from the start and it was terrific.

Final Score: Harlequins 11, Space Marines 1


The Last Laugh…

Was it possible to successfully run a pure Harlequin list in competitively in GT play?  Clearly yes, as I reached the second day and finished a respectable 6th overall.  Had I managed one more maelstrom point in the first game I’d have had a chance to crack the top three.  Other than the Thunderdome list finishing first, the other top lists were Eldar similar to the one I tabled round two.

This tournament experience demonstrated that pure Harlies had a number of advantages in the meta:

  1. Assault units that can put the hurt on infantry, MCs, GMCs, vehicles, superheavies, and just about everything are really useful.
  2. After turn one Troupes can move+run+assault, plus fleet.  With the transport’s movement that’s a thirty inch assault threat bubble, which is no joke.  Harlies also ignore terrain for the purposes of moving and assaulting so not much slows them down.
  3. Harlequins weren’t as vulnerable to Eldar as I imagined.  Yes scatbikes are tough but with 4++ saves on transports (or 3+ jinks during night fighting), they can weather a bit of attention.  Ever-popular Warp Spider wound off initiative. They’re effectively firing 12″ S3 lasguns against Harlies and they need to get deep into assault range to even fire.  And of course the I10 Solitaire is way too fabulous for anything wounding off initiative.
  4. Centstar was an excellent match for Harlequins; Caresses and Embraces largely bypass invisibility.
  5. While running a fast MSU list gives opponents easy access to kill points, it also allowed me to reach maelstrom objectives with ease.  Most importantly it assures that if a couple units go down on turn one that I still have plenty of points on the board to carry out my attack.

And there were some clear struggles:

  1. No obsec was the primary one.  I found myself wishing for obsec in every game.  In fact, if I had just one or two obsec units on the board in round one I could have denied the Dark Angel battle company a maelstrom and maybe pulled off an upset win.  Fishing for sixes on shuriken cannons to clear free drop pods off objectives wasn’t pretty.
  2. I had little hope in round four against the extreme list of just Knights and Flyers.  Mono-Harlequins are an extreme list themselves and when someone brings a big fat rock to your scissors the results are predictable.  I’d say not having skyfire was an obstacle, however it wouldn’t have made a difference either way.
  3. Multiple deep striking units with flamers grilling Harlies inside their transports.  When the wounds randomly fall on models with caresses it hurts.

Overall I had a blast running this list and felt like I had a chance for a top finish all the way through.  Like many armies pure Harlequins aren’t going to easily crack certain death star shenanigans (but they might…) and will struggle against battle company obsec parking lots.  They counter that though with the potential to really wallop other common lists we see.  But most of all they were a ton of fun to put on the table.  Give Harlequins a look – or a second look if you’ve dismissed them.  You just might be surprised with what the disciples of the Laughing God have to offer.

How do you rate the viability of Harlequins in competitive play?  Share your thoughts below.


And as an aside, we’ve got new F.A.T. Mats ready to purchase! Lava in 4×6′ and 4×4′ and Underforge in 4×6′.




lavamat1 underforge-mat1
  • Sebastien Bazinet

    Could you not do a CAD on the side to get ObjSec?

    • Thran

      Harlies can’t do a CAD because they have no HQ. All of their characters are Elite.

      • Emdee

        Yeah. I considered using them last year and ran into the same issue. Damn shame too, I really like how the army looks and plays. Even though they are very elitist.

      • Dennis J. Pechavar

        Exactly! I was hoping this codex would have a return of the High Avatar as a HQ choice, of course I was also hoping for a return of Mimes so what was I thinking.

  • Homeskillet

    Congrats on the wins, I’m happy to see the Clowns do well. Also, it’s nice to see assault making a comeback!

  • Shon Fowler

    Awesome to see harlies doing well at a big tournament!

  • euansmith

    That was a fun report, thanks for that.

    • ZeeLobby

      It was a really good report.

      • euansmith

        A really, really good report.

        • ZeeLobby

          I mean like, really, Really REALLY good report. Better than any report BoLS has tried to shovel up here before.

          • LordRao

            Nyah, it was okay.

          • ChubToad

            Party pooper..

        • Zyekian

          Thank you.

  • Dyemor

    Very cool, well done. Nice to see someone else rocking the all-out-assault lists 🙂

  • Farseerer

    Great to see something a bit left of field being played well and placing well at a tournament. Might have to have another look at them myself.

  • Jake Hower

    @Reece Robbins

    Wasn’t the final score in your fifth round 7-5?

    • Zyekian

      The 5th round opponent conceded in turn three while he was slightly ahead in maelstrom points – but about to be tabled. According to tournament rules concessions give maelstrom to the winning player and the score should have been 11-1, however yes the SM player was incorrectly credited with winning maelstrom. It was incorrectly recorded as 7-5 in favor of Harlequins. For the purpose of this article I think it’s best to discuss actual performace over a score recording snafu.

      • Jake Hower

        I understand. I only ask as he is a good friend of mine and mentioned he went round 5 with 7-5 in points. That’s all.

  • I love Harlequins, and I’m really glad you took the time to put this together – congrats on doing well at the event!

    I have to say that I think your performance, while most likely being due to making solid in-game choices, is not a reflection of any strength you claim the army has. I think you did well because of the nature of 40k – it’s a hobby game that draws a lot of sub-competitive players with creative and interesting armies, rather than a high percentage of extremely competitive players and finely tuned armies.

    Your games against the highly competitive armies were complete blowouts (Knights & Flyers, DA Parking Lot), which tells us that Harlequins, even when used correctly, have glaring weaknesses. The Knight and DA armies didn’t have glaring weaknesses. When you go into a competitive setting, you don’t ever want to face a matchup where you’re automatically facing an uphill battle… and sadly, that’s what the Harlequins’ weaknesses do for them – they’re often facing an uphill battle.

    When people make suggestions like “They need to be allied with another army,” it means that they also feel that the clowns face lots of uphill battles. Although I personally believe that it’s more due to the lack of diversity within the codex and not because they fail to represent a new, valid play style.

    I think perhaps some of the best changes to the codex would be:
    1) Two tiers of close combat clowns (the current Troupes would be elites and a cheaper, weaker, but larger Troupe could be the scoring units – think of Genestealers and Hormagaunts – which cost around 9 points/model.
    2) Two tiers of transports – one cheap and more disposable, the other larger and carrying firepower.
    3) Cost reductions for some of the pricier units, including characters, which are mildly overpriced.
    4) Some level of benefit for using multiple units to achieve goals (since they seem to require a level of multi-unit coordination).

    • ZeeLobby

      Thank you! Definitely the realist perspective.

      • I didn’t realize until reading the other comments that it was a Maelstrom event… which means it used strategy cards? They are probably even more polarized in that format because of the lack of obsec… but they have the potential to unexpectedly blow it out of the water with a good draw.

        • ZeeLobby

          Their mobility is definitely a HUGE bonus in maelstrom missions. Of course I look at any tournament that uses maelstrom missions and immediately mark it as a poor indicator of competition. Having randomized cards just adds another layer of randomness to a game already based on dice.

          • I kind of agree about the maelstrom stuff, but I also think that if the tournament environment is stable (meaning it’s a top tier competition with a real meta), then the cards should make players deal with adversity if they’re designed correctly. I’m not sure they currently serve that purpose the way they should at the moment, but I’m an outsider when it comes to the current tournament ‘setting’ on the whole.

          • ZeeLobby

            Yeah. I mean as secondary objectives I think they might at least even the playing field. The problem is that the playing field is so uneven to begin with, and no organizer actively employs maelstrom in an attempt to balance it, they just add maelstrom because it’s something else cool. Which is absolutely fine, but it does make the event less competition centered.

            For example, maelstrom favors mobility, Eldar are mobile, book missions favor objective secured and seizing/denying objectives through threat, Eldar is amazing at this. So in the end it doesn’t really help bring down the power of Eldar.

            Add to that the fact that sometimes you just get dealt a crappy hand on top of rolling badly, and it just means any army can flip-flop all over.

        • Zyekian

          Geoffrey, maelstrom in this article refers to maelstrom in the ITC mission packet, not the cards.

  • Me

    Thanks for this awesome write up!

  • ZeeLobby

    Maelstrom. There it is. I hope more tournaments pick it up, but all it really does is shift the already unbalanced system, and randomizes it to boot.

    • Crablezworth

      It’s like someone trying to convince you to add twister to 40k to make it better. Left food green.

    • ClownBabyROK

      He means Maelstrom as in ITC Mission maelstrom not strategy card maelstrom if that matters.

      • ZeeLobby

        Yeah. It’s the randomness I don’t like. I know that it’s adopted from the rulebook Maelstrom, and they don’t draw cards but roll a dice. I’ve still seen people get totally shafted based on what they or their opponent rolls. I know it’s usually not primary, but I can’t see how it really balances anything out.

        • Master Avoghai

          Here the maelstrom strategic cards are modified for ETC as far as I know.

          1st, you only have one “hold obj X” for each objective marker, rather than 3.
          2nd when the GW card states “d3VP”, it’s 2. When it states d6, it’s 4
          3rd, some of the cards are not played, such as “cast a psy power” or the card based on mysterious objective.

          I find that maelstrom balances the thing out because I remember that v5 was all about putting a gunline in the back of the field and shoot everything until you table your opponent…

          Now it forces to move or at least think : “is it better to move and lose firepower, or to shoot everything then try to move next turn?”

          It doesn’t resolve all the balance issues, but I’ve made 2 games with my DA (one with a terrible RWSS/knights list) against a sister army. Even if I won the game with the RW list, my opponent manage to hold his line and lost at the extreme game turn. He then managed to win against my RW/DW list because he did play the objective very well.

          So, though he played a sub par army, maelstrom missions helped him to have fun against a new codex. Again, it doesn’t resolve issue we can have with some eldar and tau list (as well as with the free transport SM lists) but since tournies here use missions mixing EW AND maelstrom those armies can have trouble in the EW parts due to their MSU conception

  • Chris McGuinness

    Cool report. I am one of them really old gits that was looking forward to Harlequins and was disappointed is list only. I dont play anymore much less tournys but if I did again it wouldnt be this army… as allies maybe?

    Anyhow good show! Moral champ at least!!!!

  • Shiwan8

    Nice. Next, the same with mono CSM.

  • Havik110

    From now on please refer to the caress as what rending used to be/should be

    Long live 4th

    • Zyekian

      Old school rending was different in that it was an additional D3 to the pen check on a 6. Caresses are just auto-glance on the 6.

      • Havik110

        Correct, but 4th rending was on the hit not wound…its why 4th clowns and genestealers were very scary…

  • Gunther Clone C

    Harlequins are the only reason I’d ever look at Eldar because I love their deity so much. Glad someone made them shine. If I collected any, I’d not look forward to painting them… T_T

  • Chris Huish

    Can anyone clarify the Storm Talon Formation in round 4? How did the Talons get infiltrate?

    • ClownBabyROK

      It’s a Formation that was in one of the books at one point. Extremely obscure, hence I can’t even recall which book or white dwarf it is in, lol

  • Defenestratus

    *hrumph* *mumbleeldarbsmumble*

    *looks down the nose at the author*



    • Zyekian

      *squirts plastic clown flower at you*