CSM Review: Berzerkers, Noise & Plague Marines.

SaltyJohn, and TFGRadio today bringing you the formerly red headed step children of the CSM codex, Cult Marines!

For more reviews, bat reps, tactics discussions, and analysis check out the Tactics Corner!

The Space Marines of the Traitor Legions are the most veteran “human” warriors devoted to Chaos that the gods have at their disposal. Having turned to the Dark Powers of the Immaterium 10 millennia ago many have become true devotees to one of the 4 Chaos gods or another. This long term devotion has paid dividends in their having access to warriors unrivaled in the foolish “loyal” legions. The Khorne Berzerkers, Nurgle Plague Marines, and Noise Marines of Slaanesh are phenomenal warriors whose combat style reflects the truest nature of their patron god. These Cult troops of the Chaos Space Marines are supposed to be warriors of unbridled ability, but are they that on the table top…

Prior to the release of Traitor Legions there was almost no need to consider running any of the “cult” Chaos Marines from Codex: Chaos Space Marines. In that book they are Elite choices, unless you unlock them as troops, and they’re expensive at that. The reason reviewing them as stand alone choices is important is because they each have a formation in Traitors Legion that now makes them worth taking but without understanding how they are used individually can make using them as a whole more difficult. So we’ll look at each unit individually but also comment a little on how they work in concert with their respective new Formations.

Khorne Berzerkers:

Oh boy. Khorne Berzerkers, the sons of Angron, Eaters of Worlds. Adeptus Astartes warriors whose minds have been altered with the Butchers Nails and who enter into a killing frenzy in combat that either subsides when the enemy is gone or the Berzerker has given his own blood for the Blood God. These guys are supposed to be beasts in Close Combat.


  • Power Armor
  • Bolt Pistol/Chainsword
  • Frag/Krak Grenades
  • Any model may take a Chain Axe (why…) 2 may take Plasma Pistols (hooray?)
  • Can add 15 additional Berzerkers.

Special Rules:

  • Fearless
  • Furious Charge
  • Mark of Khorne (Rage and Counter Attack)

105 points base but you’ll usually want to run them in larger packs.


Khorne Berzerkers have a lot of what they need on paper to be an above average Assault Unit. With Weapon Skill 5 they’re 2 steps ahead of Blood Claws and better because they have Fearless naturally. When discussing using Khorne Berzerkers in a CAD, like all three units in this review, we’re going to find the options of how to use them sub par. In the case of Berzerkers their lack of bonuses to movement, or resilience, due them in. If they had abilities to move faster, re-roll movement, or gain additional movement they’d be much better. Conversely if they simply had a special rule allowing them to charge out of a Rhino that’s moved they’d be instantly much better. Luckily the Khorne Berzerkers have a way to get one of those two scenarios. Their formation in Traitors Legions, the Maelstrom of Gore, along with the World Eaters detachment gives them a lot of additional movement. For more on that check out the articles on World Eaters and Maelstrom of Gore.

If you are looking to try and get them to work in a CSM CAD you have two routes. Take an HQ that will unlock them as Troops, so they’re Objective Secured and you can take more than 3 squads or keep them as Elites and run a single big block of them. Neither of those options is amazing but they’re the only two options you have if a standard CSM CAD is what you’re trying to do. A Khorne Lord, or even Kharn, in a unit of 20 Berzerkers isn’t exactly a bad unit, but without any way of getting them across the board quickly it isn’t likely there will be enough of them left to do a lot of damage when they finally hit the enemies lines.

Noise Marines:

The devotees of Slaanesh, descendants of Fulgrim, and masters of cacophonous instruments of war. The Noise Marines of the Emperors Children are among the most devastating units to Space Marines in the 41st millennium.


  • Power Armor
  • Boltgun/Bolt Pistol/Close Combat Weapon
  • Frag and Krak Grenades
  • Any model may take a Sonic Blaster (24″ range, S4, AP5, Salvo 2/3 Ignores Cover)
  • 1 model may take a Blastmaster (36″ S5, AP4 Assault 2 Ignores Cover or 48″ S8, AP3, Heavy 1, Blast, Pinning, Ignores Cover).
  • Champion may take a Doom Siren (Template, S 5, AP3)
  • Icon of Excess (All models with MoS have FNP, this Icon is even better when using the Kakophoni formation)
  • May include up to 15 additional Noise Marines

Special Rules:

  • Fearless
  • Mark of Slaanesh (+1 Initiative)


There’s a lot of options in there for building this unit. With +1 Initiative you may even think this unit would make a great assault choice, similar to Berzerkers above. In reality thought their special armaments make them much more useful as a gun line unit, even more so if you use their special Formation from Traitor Legions, the Kakophoni, in an Emperor’s Children detachment. Click the links for more on that. In general the Noise Marines are like the Berzerkers above, if you want to run them effectively you should look outside the confines of the CAD. But the unit has some interesting weaponry that really can help CSM players out against one of the most prolific lists in modern, 7th edition, 40k. The Space Marine Battle Company. The Sonic Blaster is a great weapon for beginning to take down MEQ units, it even wrecks Guard/Tau equivalents. the Sonic Blaster being Salvo can put large numbers of wounds on Marines, and with it’s AP5 Ignores Cover rounds will take out quite a few units that rely heavily on cover. The Doom Siren is really good at taking out Space Marines who are trying to come after an objective the Noise Marines are camped on and the Blastmaster can even force a lot of marines back using it’s s8, AP3, blast, ignores cover shot.

While the weaponry is there to make Noise Marines great we once again run into a problem with using them in a CAD which is cost prohibitive and the necessity to unlock them as troops. They are certainly more viable an option than Khorne Berzerkers but to truly shine need their additional Formation and Detachment rules.

Plague Marines:

The Plague Marines of the Death Guard are grotesque, bloated, and nigh unstoppable versions of Adeptus Astartes. Made ever more resilient through their devotion to Nurgle they march across the battlefields of the 41st millennium shrugging off massively powerful weapons and implacably laying down withering fire upon their enemies before dispatching wayward survivors with disease corrupted blades.


  • Power Armor
  • Bolter/Bolt Pistol/Plague Knife (Poisoned 4+)
  • Blight Grenades (Assault and Defensive Grenades)
  • Krak Grenades
  • Up to two marines may replace their bolter with: Flamer, Plasmagun, Meltagun.
  • Can take up to 15 additional Plague Marines.

Special Rules:

  • Fearless
  • Feel No Pain
  • Mark of Nurgle (+1 Toughness)

120 Points base, but you’re going to be taking 2 Special Weapons.


Once the most taken troops choice in Chaos Space Marine Player armies these tough SoBs have seen their stock fall of late. They’re certainly rocks of a unit. T5, Fearless, and Feel No Pain mean they aren’t going anywhere too easily, and with Poison weapons in Close Combat and Blight Grenades they have a slight edge over most other Troop choices that try to assault them. Great objective holders and able to take 2 special weapons on just the basic 5 man squad means they can put out a lot of fire compared to a CSM or Cult squad of similar size. Using squads of Plague Marines to anchor objectives, or sweep objectives of Vanilla Marines, is a great way to use them.

This is probably the only one of the “cult” units in this review that really work in a regular CSM CAD. A Nurgle Lord on a Bike with a unit of Nurgle Spawn is a solid unit, and the Lord will unlock the Plague Marines as troops. So then why isn’t this a good list? Well, a lot of it boils down to the CSM CADs are over costed for what they do. As is the case with the other two units discussed here, although admittedly to a lesser extent, if you want to run Plague Marines you’re probably going to be better of doing so as part of a Death Guard detachment using their Formation, the Plague Colony. Again, click the links for more info on those. Getting the re-roll of 1s to failed Feel No Pain rolls via the detachment rules is really good. In this edition anytime you can get a re-roll of any type you’re boosting your armies stock exponentially. The armies that can get a lot of quality re-rolls are just plain better more often than not.

On the whole the “cult” units in Codex: Chaos Space Marines are just not great choices, often being cost prohibitive compared to units of comparable ability. The new formations and detachments at our disposal in Traitor Legions really turns that old rule of thumb around, giving us viable options to once again dust off those CSM Cult troops and show them the light of day. Or the artificial light of your local FLGS more likely.


As always, share your thoughts in the comments section! And remember, Frontline Gaming sells Games Workshop product at up to 25% off, every day.

  • Djbz

    Ultimatly with noise marines I think the salvo rule’s punishing halving of their range on the move unless you get relentless on them (possible but not guaranteed) is what keeps them from being a very good unit.

    And they need new models.

  • Jaidyn

    In the traitor legion book under each legion you have rules that unlock cult troops as troop choices without needing that old “tax” of having to take a marked lord. So not sure why your saying theyre restricted in a regular CAD …

    • Malisteen

      In the traitor legion book, cult units are, for the most part, kind of obsoleted by legion rules that give the best parts of those units to regular CSM squads at a discounted price. Noise Marines you still might consider for their detachment, but….

      Kind of sad, considering that Plague Marines used to be a serious unit. Sadly, not so much anymore. Its not so much that they changed as it is that the game changed around them.

      The general lethality of the game has increased to the point that all the extra defensive traits they pay so many points for over a regular chaos marine mostly just don’t matter. Apart from maybe fearless, which, again, basic CSMs get anyway in Death Guard lists.

  • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

    This article needed a comparison of each type with normal CSM who, under their legion rules, as you can make cheaper close approximations of cult troops that way.

  • Jared McWilliams

    For plague Marines, reroll of 1s to a FnP of 5+ is similar to reroll of Harlequin invulnerable save from masque detachment, it is about a 5% increase in chance to pass. However it is worse then reroll 1s on a 5++ because FnP is cancelled by destroyer weapons, force, and anything that has ID.

    The strength of the plague colony is the stealth at 18″+ and the -1 WS and -1 Initiative. Against Marines you are striking first and hitting on 3+ to their 4+, making the plague Marines quite excellent against many standard MEQ in assault, if you run into WS 3 models, they are now WS2 and need 5s to hit you….It’s a very strong debuff.

    • Kyle

      I don’t have my book in front of me but I am fairly certain plague marines are I3 meaning combat will roll at the same time against most marines. It’s still good the WS debuff too but your won’t go first.

      • Walter Vining

        most marines are i4. so they go second

      • Jared McWilliams

        On second look you are correct, I was conflating the note in deathguard detachment that plague Marines do not suffer the -1 Initiative with them having I4, but their base profile is I3. The -1 WAS is still very good, and as it’s a debuffb to enemy models around the unit you can pull thing like having a PM unit within 7″ of enemy models, and have some other unit like a knight, spawn, defiler etc charge and still have the debuff on enemy models.

    • Brettila

      Not sure what you are thinking. DG get +1T, feel no pain, fearless and relentless. In trade they lose 1 initiative; just like Plague Marines. I feel the trade is totally worth it.

  • Honest Kairos

    I think the Traitor Legion book did a really good job of restructuring the CSM and making many previously obsolete choices, or even good choices that ate up too many points, a useful function. I mean, are plague marines still expensive? Yes, but is that offset by building a Plague Colony Formation? I’m prone to say yes. I think the same can be said for a Kakaphoni formation, though the argument can be made that the Salvo rule sorta mutes their tactical effectiveness a bit.

    • Karru

      The Traitor Legion unfortunately had an opposite effect on Cult Troops outside Noise Marines. You are much better off with regular CSM for example in a Death Guard army instead of the Plague Marines. They are a lot cheaper and have all the benefits the Plague Marines have. Relentless, Fearless, FNP and Toughness 5. All this for the mere 16pts compared to the 24pts. You are only trading off Poisoned Melee attacks and Defensive Grenades.

      Same thing happened with Berzerkers. Regular CSM squads are superior to Berzerkers right now, thanks to the price. 15pts vs 18pts is a simple choice when you realise that the only benefit ‘zerkers have over regular CSM is +1 WS. I’d much rather have more bodies on the table than that extra Weapon skill. Also, I prefer having things like Melta guns in my Assault units.

      • Honest Kairos

        Oh I definitely can’t argue that, and I certainly can’t say Traitor Legions worked out all the lingering problems for CSM players, I was only saying that, like, in the example of Plague Marines, yep, they’re still expensive, but in a Plague Colony, they do get a really nice added benefit, two actually if you’re playing larger games and max out the unit size.

      • Aezeal

        But anyone with zerks can just run them as basic Khorne marines I’d say.

  • Hagwert

    I get that competitive play is a hugely important part of this hobby and I totally respect that and as such these cults are not really the best choice . But for a fluff player like myself I love what they represent both in terms of the story and modelling and kit bash opportunities .

  • benn grimm

    Plague marines are still head and shoulders above the rest, while not-quite-plague marines bring up second place, the rest rely on you using a shopping list with attached rules (aka formation), codex only and they still suck spaceballs…

  • Sadly, once again, it is the points cost that does them in. They pay a lot in points, for marginal returns at best. Other armies generally are cheaper points-wise, thus they have a bigger footprint on the battlefield. Chaos is usually OUTNUMBERED simply because of the points. If their buffs were stronger it would be worth it- but the buffs are things that either aren’t THAT helpful or things that SM Chapters can get near anyways (Chapter Tactics) without paying the points.