Tyranid Review: Genestealers in 2017

Danny from TFG Radio here to bring you one of the most iconic bugs in 40K – the Genestealer in all it’s tabletop forms.

As always, you should check out Frontline’s Tactic’s Corner and its ever growing collection of tips and tricks.

The Genestealer is the Hive Fleet Shocktrooper, a vanguard villain designed to get in, get close, and tear things up with nasty melee. Long ago, they were the most feared melee unit in the game, and they are still the Tyranid’s best melee troop choice, but we all can’t live in the apogee forever, and these bugs are starting to show their age.


Rending Claws – AP5 and Rending


Scything Talons (extra Close Combat Weapon)

Adrenal Glands – Furious Charge

Toxin Sacs– Poison 4+

May add a Broodlord:

Broodlord may take Biomorphs: Adrenal Glands, Toxin Sacs, Regeneration (4+ to regain a wound at the end your turn), Acid Blood (bonus attack when wounded in melee)

So, the mighty Genestealer has a fair bit of options here. You can add an extra CCW to give them 3 attacks base, and with Furious Charge, they are pumping out S5 rending, which on crazy dice, threatens just about any armor there is.  You can also add in a Broodlord who adds some additional combat punch with 4 attacks base at WS7 and S5. The Broodlord also comes with 3 Wounds, so you could shunt a few wounds to it to keep some Stealers alive. As detailed below, the Broodlord also brings some psychic shenanigans to the table.

In terms of upgrades, you are likely best going cheap. Scything Talons is likely the most bang for the buck as everything else starts to stack up too fast, and you really rely on Rending to get the job down here, so more attacks is better than higher quality attacks. This is sadly true for the Broodlord as well as he nearly doubles the cost of a minimum unit on its own, so unless you really want the extra Warp Charge, it is best to focus on just more Stealers.

Special Rules:

Fleet: Reroll runs and charges.

Move Through Cover: Roll 3d6 for moving through cover tests.

Infiltrate: Special deployment or Outflank from Reserves.

Bulky (Broodlord only): Counts as 2 models for transports.

Psyker (Mastery Level 1) (Broodlord only): basic psyker, but always has The Horror power.

So, the standard Genestealer, befitting its fluff as a vanguard unit, is solid at being able to deploy up the field or coming in from the sides. Fleet standard helps them make sure they can stick their charges, and as they are going to run more times than not the first turn of the game or from Outflank, being able to get just a bit more movement can be clutch. With the Broodlord, you get a tiny psyker that is forced to know one of the crappier Tyranid Powers, but he is a bit of a backdoor Synapse as thanks to the FAQ, it is clear that it gets the Primus power, so it can turn himself into a 6 inch Synapse bubble. A bonus you may notice is that Stealers do not have Instinctive Behavior, so they never have to worry about them not doing what you want. They do lack Fearless though, so they can be swept in combat if not within Synapse range. As a Troops choice, you also get Objective Secured easy enough, and Obsec Outflanking units can be game-winning.

Using Genestealers

So, how do we use what was once the premier melee unit in the game? Well, the first and most obvious choice is as a first wave melee threat. With rending base and 3 attacks on the charge at WS6 and I6, these bad bugs have the chance to kill just about anything they hit, and they will hit before just about any other unit save for Harlequins and a few characters. They can be taken in a unit of up to 20, so you can get a huge unit that infiltrates up the board and forces your opponent to start raining shots into them as otherwise, they are going to get charges off Turn 2 unless playing Hammer and Anvil. With the usual Tyranid buffs like a Venomthrope or even Catalyst for Feel No Pain, 20 Genestealers can require a great deal of fire power to neutralize, so while your opponent has to focus fire on the big unit of death coming at them, the rest of your army has a chance to start bridging forward. Against a lot of the crazy psychic Deathstars out there, most which lack a lot of shooting, a big unit of Genestealers isn’t a terrible tarpit (assuming they are in Synapse) as they get to hit first and with rending, they have the chance to start wracking up wounds and damage before being killed. With WS6 native, they also hit most other things on 3+, getting you more chances for those 6s to wound. You could also Outflank a big unit too, forcing your opponent to deal with 20 Obsec, mean, melee bugs in their backfield. You can also use the Broodlord’s Hunting Pack formation to get Preferred Enemy against a unit as well as better infiltrate within buildings and ruins, but this does get pricey, and if you bring a large squad, it can be hard to get them all inside of a single Ruin terrain. They also lose Obsec this way.

You can also take a bunch of minimum squads and use them as Outflanking Obsec. With fleet, you get a better chance of not rolling a 1 or 2 on the Run, so they can shimmy up from the side of the board about 9 inches consistently, and in melee, they can threaten quite a few units. At T4, they are just about as tough as Tyranid troop choices get, and they can Go to Ground if need be to really hunker down on an objective. You can also go with the Manufactorum Genestealers Formation for better infiltrate when in ruins or a building, but you only get minimum squad size and they lack Obsec.

With Tyrannocytes, you can load up and drop a big squad of 20 (or 18 with a Broodlord) right into the heart of the enemy, and again, killing 20 models is not always easy, depending on the army build and where the Tyrannocyte falls. They still have to wait to assault, but if you are going to spend the points on a Tyrannocyte, you might as well invest in the Genestealers to drop and at least scare your opponent.

So why has the shine dimmed for these bad bugs? Well, there are some of the usual Tyranid problems. First, they are a melee unit that relies on high initiative to hit first and thus not take as much damage, but they have no assault grenades, so many times, they go last. That’s bad. With only a 5+ save, they are going to die when wounded, and while T4 is good in the Tyranid world for infantry, it is just not enough. A good drop of Bolters will really hurt this unit, let alone any Tau guns with Markerlight support.

They are also expensive as with an extra attack and Furious Charge, you are spending about 20 points per model, and that is just too much for a unit that has to walk up the board. Really, if you want to use them, you have to use them as cheaply as possible as Furious Charge is nice, but you are relying on the Rend, and 4 attacks on the charge is nice, but that’s probably the limit of upgrades. Going for Poison or Furious Charge really just makes them far too expensive for what they do. The Broodlord is not worth his points as while he does bring 3 wounds as well as S5/T5, he just doesn’t hit anywhere near hard enough. Back in the day, he used to ignore armor like a Monstrous Creature, but now, he just relies on rending, and with 2 attacks more than a Genestealer for 4 times the points, you can just buy 4 more Genestealers and get 4 more attacks for the points. If you are trying to spam Warp Charges, there are much cheaper and efficient ways to do such in Tyranids than a Broodlord.

Cult Genestealers

Let’s also talk about the xenos in the room, the Purestrain Genestealers from Genestealer Cults. There is honestly not a lot of good arguments for taking Tyranid Codex Stealers anymore as GSC Stealers (all for the same points mind you) come with Stealth, a 5++ invulnerable save, and the Cult Ambush/Return to the Shadows special rules. Again, for the exact same points, you just get so much more survivability and deployment tricks. If you really want Genestealers in your army, especially as a distinct melee threat, try the First Curse formation from GSC. The only advantage that Tyranid Stealers have is that they are Objective Secured, so if you really want to stay pure Hive Fleet, you need to think of them as small Objective campers and outflanking units, not as a major melee threat. Hopefully, Tyranids will get an update and we’ll get Stealers with even just the Stealth and invul save. That alone would make them a great addition to an army as a Troops choice.

So yes, are Genestealers competitive? Likely not, at least not Hive Fleet Genestealers. You could find some success with them as small, Obsec, Outflanking units as this can give a Flyrant list a bit more ground-game. Still, they are as iconic as iconic can be, and in friendly games, they can set up some memorable moments.

Well, that wraps up these bugs, and tune back in as I keep moving through the Troops section, and of course, check out TFG Radio.  Be sure to say hi to us if you happen to be at LVO.


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  • Karru

    Genestealers are in a very bad state thanks to the current 7th edition favouritism of shooting and utter loathing of melee. I remember these guys being terrifying in 5th edition, having the ability to Outflank really made me think where to place my units, so that I wouldn’t get completely annihilated by these. These days, I just cry when I see them. Out of pity that is, because our group only has one ‘Nid player and he likes his Broodlord and Genestealers. It just makes me sad to see them die in a few volleys of bolter fire.

    Part of me wishes that GW realises their massive unbalancing of shooting vs melee and fixes it in the next edition. Currently there is almost no downside to shooting while there is a massive risk to melee. Since there is no debuffs from moving most of the time for ranged weapons, they immediately replace all assault units. Since Transports are pretty unreliably or they force the melee unit to sit out in the open for a turn so they can get shot before they even have a chance to move, it’s just painful to use them.

    All that aside, Genestealers suffer greatly from their high price vs what they can do. Since they don’t have Assault Grenades, they hit last more often than not. They lack delivery options that “guarantees” a charge before they die. Overall, they are just Tyranids. Not Big Bugs that can fly so they are bad.

    • Commissar Molotov

      You raised a good point about melee-heavy armies having a rough time in 7th. Adding the additional threat of Overwatch to a system that makes melee risky (you’re not just dishing out damage like in the shooting phase – you have to take it, too!) really made it hard on melee-centric armies like ‘Nids and Orks.

      • Karru

        Yeah, they just made melee extremely risky with barely any reward unless the unit is a unkillable, super fast deathstar.

        Problems with melee units:

        – They have to get to their targets in order to do damage.
        – They have to sustain damage until they get there.
        – They have to successfully charge to even have a shot at dealing damage
        – They have to take a volley of Overwatch shots before they can even deal damage.

        Meanwhile ranged units can just sit in a building and shoot every turn. By the time a melee unit gets to them, the chances are they won’t even be able to kill the unit. It just doesn’t make sense why GW would make an entire aspect of their game redundant. Then again, the design team isn’t exactly the most professional team out there right now.

        • stinkoman

          i think just making them cheaper will make all the difference. in the case of Genestealers, maybe drop them to 12 pts or something. melee units that rely on their own feet and need to sustain damage requires numbers for survivability. but no one wants to paint 40 genestealers or even buy them.

          • Karru

            The core of the problem isn’t the price. Assault units currently are useless, unless they can get into CC in the same turn they are deployed OR they are a deathstar.

            Even if Assault units get a massive price drop it won’t change anything, unless the rules also change. Melee units most of the time are currently a waste of points. Only Orks can still pull off some mass Assaulting due to their Open-topped Transports, but that’s about it.

            Heavy favouritism of the shooting caused this. Make shooting less effective and bring back all the benefits assault units used to enjoy and we’ll be in business. Then the price of the Genestealers isn’t as bad.

          • Dennis J. Pechavar

            Unless you’ve been playing since 2nd and have bought so many sets of stealers that you already have 40. Sad that they can’t stay on the board long enough to earn their points back.

    • Zakading

      I feel you. The state melee is in right now is absolutely atrocious. I’m neither a ‘Nid or Ork player, so I’m not THAT screwed, but I play Black Templars and we’re really not that much better off.

      The only way to ever even get my dudes into melee is usually by using some Alpha Strike formation that immediately lets me charge, but those rely entirely on Assault squads, meaning my Crusaders remain utterly useless. Add to that the fact that my “big advantage” of getting ObSec Land Raiders is also just taken care of by even basic 130 point units and it’s near impossible to really play my dudes the way they’re supposed to work.

      Hell, even if one manages to, against all the odds, get a basic assault unit into melee, it either ends up lasting 3 turns to kill a single ranged elite squad or you kill them ASAP and are ripe for the picking in the following Shooting Phase (because it obviously makes perfect sense for a Space Marine Chapter Master or an Ork Warboss to have as much trouble hitting a freaking Gretchin as it is hitting a Space Marine)

    • J Mad

      Just play Daemons and play Daemettes and use Nids, just sub the rules as Daemons.

      It makes a better Nids book.

      • Karru

        Nah, we just did the sensible and the best solution and switched back to 5th edition altogether. We noticed a massive surge in fun games and varied lists being played.

        • J Mad

          I couldnt go back to 5th, it was terrible IMO, I love 7th, just to much power creep, but the core rules are so much better.

          We could play 4th ed Nids book in these rules and i feel it would be more balanced.

          • Karru

            We like 5th a lot. Much more balanced ruleset since both ranged and melee is in equal balance to the point where both are viable options. The books are also a lot better, as long as you ignore Grey Knights, which none of us play.

          • J Mad

            3rd CMS is better, 4th Nids is better, current Tau is better. So no not all 5th ed books are better.

            And who is we? b.c I dont like 5th and i know many others that dont either.

            Nids 5th was ok, but for sure 4th was better.

          • Karru

            I was referring to my group. Also, when I mentioned that 5th edition books were better, I meant they were better than the unbalanced garbage we now have. 6th/7th edition brought so much bs into this game, that everything feels better in 5th.

            None of us like 7th edition. There is no set scale, the balance is all over the place and the books are horrendous for the most part.

            5th allowed for a ton of customisability and offered a great deal of strategic ideas. That’s the issue with 7th right now, it’s just Alpha Strike or Deathstart, no other tactic will work unless you have blacklisted half of the units from the top armies. In 5th, every unit was useful in some way. Unless it was the Leafblower list, Alpha Strike wasn’t that viable strategy, since night fighting was a thing and ranged units suffered from lack of range if they moved since most basic weapons were rapid fire.

            I’ve been playing both 7th and 5th edition games recently and doing a lot of comparing of the systems. 5th has better rules in terms of simplicity and complexity. Organising is much better, because you have only a handful of rules in the main rulebook and everything else is in the codex. There are no rules, that give rules, that give additional rules like there are in 7th.

            Then you have the balanced rules between shooting and assaulting. Shooting has downsides, so opting to go with full gunline army has disadvantages if the opponent decides to outflank for example. Meanwhile, going full assault still means that you have to get close enough to actually hit someone.

            You don’t have nigh unkillable beings running around, that get to re-roll their 2+/2++ saves and get a FNP roll to boot. My psykers are useful and not broken or useless. Overall the game is so much more fun than 7th edition is.

            Of course, it is not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows in 5th. Vehicles are somewhat of a problem as is the wound allocation. We came up with the solution to that. When allocating wounds, you pick a model and you stick to it until all the saves are made or the model is dead. Vehicles have hullpoints, but they work differently in our version. When a vehicle suffers a glancing or penetrating hit, it loses a hullpoint. Once it “loses” all its hullpoints, it suffers additional penetrating hit. If the vehicle isn’t dead yet, it “gains” all its hullpoints back.

            This made vehicles less powerful, as rhino rushing was very scary. Of course, we didn’t want to go full 7th where heavy AT is worthless and the true king of AT combat is massed volley glancing to death, so we came up with that system.

          • J Mad

            1) Your group can play 5th then, you dont have to play 7th-8th etc.. and your groups isnt everyone

            2) 5th balance was just as bad too….. look at GK’s and then look at Tau, orcs and even Nids.

            3) 5th IMO had little to no strategy, there was 3 missions with 1-2 objectives each or just kill each other….., all of which were boring.
            Vehicles were nearly impossible to kill, ESPECIALLY skimmers, melee if they move you needed 6’s….

            4) yes they made Vehicles less powerful b.c 5th ed they were almost unkillable. IMO they are ALOT better now. WHY!!! again WHY!!! Should a 35pt model (Rhino) be scary? IT SHOULDNT ITS 35 POINTS, the entire point of it is to move your guys a turn or 2 and be safer. Not to be an Unstoppable force ffs……

          • Karru

            Ooookay? I’m not sure what happened here, as I just said that it was our group that found 5th edition fun but I never said anything about everyone needing to enjoy it as well.

            But with that out of the way, let’s argue about a couple of things here.

            First of all, the balance. Grey Knights were they only army that totally broke the game. Before they were released, the game was somewhat balanced to the point where almost all armies had a chance. Of course we had the “top tier” armies as well back then, but it isn’t nearly as bad as it right now.

            Currently, if someone plays any of the top tier armies, they have no real trouble winning against the mid- to low-tier armies, as long as they utilise all the tools at their disposal and have the skills to play the army. This was not the case in 5th. Even against Grey Knights, armies like Orks or Dark Eldar could pull off a victory through skill.

            Yes, the missions were lacking, but have you actually taken a moment to look at the current missions outside the Maelstrom ones? They are basically just the basic “grab the objective” missions, with very little variance. One of them, the Emperor’s Will, is won by the person who got the first turn as all you need is to get the First Blood point and you just won.

            Maelstrom missions on the other hand are something I never enjoyed. Too much RNG and no strategy is not my idea of fun.

            Next up, vehicles. Yes, vehicles were threatening in the old edition, but you could still deal with them if you knew how to build a list. Take some heavier AT if you wanted to “assure” that the enemy vehicles died. The chances are that you didn’t lose that unit on your first turn because the enemy nuked it.

            7th is currently the most hated out of all editions, this is very clear. The reasons for that are in abundance. Massive favouritism of certain factions while others are left to rot, Alpha Strike/Deathstars is the core of the game, Assaulting is dead, Apocalypse Lite for some and normal 40k for others mixed into one mess. Then you have the massive rulesbloat.

            40k is currently littered with rules that add rules for no apparent reason. It is a complicated mess that is extremely difficult to teach in the long run and even harder to market when you have to mention the price of your average army.

            The final nail in the coffin is the lovely free stuff some armies have. I’m sure you find it way more balanced that some armies just get free stuff because they got lucky compared to one upgrade that could be taken 3 times in an army. Yep, Psybolt Ammunition for 3 Dreadnoughts is WAY worse than free transports or free upgrades.

          • J Mad

            Just going to say one more thing…

            You cant say 7th is the most hated, just b.c there is a vocal group on the internet doesnt mean it is the most hated.

            If you are going by profit, then 2016 made MORE than 2009 (5th ed).

          • Karru

            Considering how much tweaking, from both tournament scenes and just normal gaming groups, the game has received I’d dare to say that it is the most disliked at the very least.

            Also, profits does not equal popularity. The quality of products has increased and since GW has pulled out so much dumb moves like the free stuff for some armies and extremely cheap super heavies, there is bound to be a lot of profit to be done there as players are forced to buy larger armies in order to play properly.

    • stinkoman

      melee only units should definitely take a points drop in the future. no way should a melee only unit with a 5+ cost 20pts/model . it’s insane. i’m not a nids player, but back in 2nd edition i was. it was more fun when i could bring 60 termigaunts to my opponents one tactical squad. and genestealers could bore holes through leman russes like they were giant cakes.

  • Bayne MacGregor

    Genestealers must have given someone at GW repeated nighjtmares during 1st and/or 2nd ed because they have been nerfed and nerfed and nerfed.. long past the point of deserving any and still it continued… till the return of the cult boosted them back a tiny amount. But they still aren’t nearly like they were back in the day.

    • memitchell

      I still have nightmares of Second Edition Genestealers pouring out of a psychic Warp Gate. The only counter was to toss a Blind Grenade on the Warp Gate.

      Conversely, I still remember the first time in Third Edition when my Rhino Rush Blood Angels assaulted a Genestealer brood right off the table. The worm had turned.

      • Devourer

        Oh and that did turn out good for the marines? I loved my genestrealers versus every marine thanks to attacking first and ignoring all armor 😮 … back in the days when there was only “ignores all amor” or nothing

        • Bayne MacGregor

          Well in 2nd ed it was a -3 save mod from the high strength.

      • Bayne MacGregor

        Yes i once was lucky enough to draw The Gate on my Magus. I deployed my 40-odd purestrains to The Forge from Peter Millers Love Vs Gravity for that extra doom-laden atmosphere.. then drew Unstoppable Force in the 1st turn. It was a thing of beauty, but it didn’t happen much.

  • Ronin

    I really want to try a zone mortalis scenario with them where they can move through the walls.

    • memitchell

      Try the game Lost Patrol.

  • Patriarch

    And the biggest jump for GSC purestrains over Codex: Tyranids? They get +1A for free…

    • Djbz

      And a 5+ invulnerable save.
      Ignoring 1/3 of the firepower that comes their way (at least the ignores cover stuff) is massively helpful for them

  • nurglitch

    Notably for the Genestealers they lose the I1 penalty if they assault a unit that has gone to ground, or that has been locked in combat from a previous turn. That last one is important, because while Tyranids have lots of pinning weapons, they have more and better access to literal cannon-fodder that can charge the enemy and lock them down in combat.

    • Karru

      Yeah, but here’s the thing. First of all, in the current meta Pinning is basically useless. LD means very little in this game right now because of all the Fearless or re-rolls people are getting to those saves.

      Then you still have the problem of getting close enough to actually charge. Infiltrating, walking across the board and outflanking all suffer from the same problem. Even in the perfect scenario, you will have to take damage for at least one turn, if you wish to charge. Hopping from one LoS blocking terrain to another reduces your movement, giving your opponent’s ranged units more time to just back away. Since those ranged units suffer little to no actual bad things from moving, it doesn’t even hurt them.

      Once those Genestealers are even slightly visible, they are dead. Even if the opponent doesn’t have good Ignores Cover weapons, even volleys of regular bolter fire shreds these guys to bits. There is nothing they can do that would reliably get them into CC.

      Bringing a Cannon Fodder unit wouldn’t also work that well. It would just increase their already ridiculous pricing even more. Even if they manage to get into CC, they currently have a very hard time paying themselves back. Killing a unit of 10 Guardsmen or even Tactical Marines doesn’t really cost that much compared to the 10-man Genestealer unit with a Broodlord.

  • Angus MacKenzie

    This is one of the most unfortunate ways that GW has abused the 40k IP. Genestealers are “as iconic as iconic can be” and they are also unplayable and awful.

    I’m interested in learning which ‘iconic units’ are even playable anymore. Dreadnoughts, Leman Russ, Tactical Marines, Genestealers, walking Tyrants, Guardsmen, Wraithlords, Terminators, Ork Nobs, C’tan, Assault Marines, Chaos Marines, Guardians, Carnifex, Avatar of Khaine? I know I’m missing some. I suppose that some types of Aspect Warriors are not complete trash.

    So enlighten me. What units have stood the test of time? I began 40k at the end of 3rd ed. My friends and I played Marines, Nids, and Eldar and I can’t think of one model from that time from any of those armies that is the least bit competitive.

    • Dennis J. Pechavar

      Tactical Marines are still good because of Grav.

      • Karru

        They are good, but usually only reason you see them is to get the Demi-company. If playing with CAD, most people go with Bikes, since they are way better or scouts because they are cheaper.

  • Nyyppä

    There is a tl;dr; for this and it”nid stealers, just don’t”.

  • NagaBaboon

    20 genestealers are very expensive and drop like paper to bolter fire. They might be I6 but not if they charge a target in cover and when people see genestealers coming they never move forward, and always stay in cover.