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40K: Codex: Death Guard Deep Dive

12 Minute Read
Sep 12 2017

We’ve been studying Codex: Death Guard and here is what we think.

Codex: Death Guard is in our studio and we’ve putting it through it’s paces. We’ve hit the book hard and have been trying to decipher what crazy Nurgle Goodies are in the book as well as getting games in with it on our Twitch Channel. We’ve been pretty pleased with the results so far! It’s got some gimmicks and combos – but more importantly, it’s got a good solid core. It plays unlike other armies in the game which is a good thing. This isn’t just CSM with Toughness 5 – this is Death Guard!

New Units

Games Workshop said there would be a total of 9 new units in the book – let’s go over each one briefly:

Mortarion – The Daemon Primarch of the Death Guard. He’s a Lord of War Choice with some bonkers abilities. He’s kind of a big deal – we’ll go over him in more details later.

Foul Blightspawn –  The Foul Blightspawn is a new Elite unit. He’s got a deadly “flamer” type weapon but his really disgusting ability is his Aura that forces opponents to attack as if they AREN’T charging…because he smells so bad!


Biologus Putrifier – This is another new Elite and he’s a mean buffing unit. He makes a lot of the “Combos” in the army work that involve Grenades. If you see this guy close by, kill him because “duck-and-cover” isn’t going to help. He is the lynch-pin for their Blight Grenade attacks doing Mortal Wounds!

Plague Surgeon – An OG Apothecary, the Surgeon allows you to re-roll 1s on your Disgustingly Resilient rolls on units within 3″. He’s also better against marines in close combat on account of his Gene-seed Thief ability. I think he’s a great support character that can jump out and take on Marine Characters in a pinch.

Tallyman – I really liked this model and his ability is “statistically” important. The reason you keep the Tallyman around is that every time you spend a command point you’ve got a 16.67% chance at rolling exactly a 7 – it’s the most common number to roll on two dice. If you’re feeling lucky, spend those command points and get them back. If you’re feeling REALLY lucky – head to Las Vegas and hope Nurgle is on your side at the craps table.


Deathshroud Terminators – The Ultimate Bodyguard unit. They are expensive but they hit hard, are tough as nails, and look cool doing it! The reason they are so good is that they actually take the HIT from a character that is close enough to benefit, unlike other units that only take the WOUND after the damage is rolled – that means you get to use their amazing saves (along with Disgusting Resilient).

Blightlord Terminators – As we noted, “standard” CSM Terminators are not an option in the Death Guard book. But that’s okay by us because the Blightlord Terminators have all the chaos-y options you could ever hope for but with a Nurgley twist! They are a pricey, elite-type unit. You’ll pay in points, but they should be one tough cookie on the tabletop.

Myphitic Blight-Haulers – We’ve actually covered this one in even greater detail HERE. But the short version is that it’s a “The Little Daemon Engine That Could.” It can move and fire it’s heavy weapons so it’s a great support vehicle to move up the battlefield with.

Plagueburst Crawler – The main gun is a mortar that has a minimum range of 12″. But it’s other weapons are the “9 Range Plaguespitter. It’s definitely creeping death and a good replacement for the missing Chaos Vindicator – but it’s just an odd array of weapons. (You can upgrade the Plaguespitters to a longer range weapon if you want to stand back and shoot).

Mortarion Analysis


Games Workshop also provided a quick look at his stat-line too:


There’s not much else to say on that front, is there? He’s got a 3+ armor save, an invulnerable save, and Digustingly Resilient on top of those 18 Wounds. It’s a LOT to chew through. That said, he’s not invincible – we’ve seen him go down to Helblasters backed-up by Lascannons (it was some HOT rolling and then some COLD rolling…but still). Even still, he’s capable of soaking a lot of shooting and can tear though just about any type of unit you throw at him in close combat.


We’ve speculated on what his Scythe can do and now we know. It’s got two different attack profiles. The first one allows you to get 3 attacks for the price of 1 attack at AP -2. If you’re doing the math, that’s 18 swings! Or you can go with a concentrated swing that is Strength x2, AP -4 and each wound does D6 damage! He’s got the tools to get the job done.

The Lantern

His pistol, The Lantern, is a crazy energy weapon. It’s got an 18″ range but also does some weird line attack. In essence, you want to target a unit that is as far away as possible. You also want to have a unit (or more) in between you. You then draw a line from the closest part of Mortarion to the closest model in the target unit. Any units that the center of that line passes over get hit. It is only one hit per unit, but it’s Str 8 AP -3 and 3 Damage…so that could really be bad for vehicles.

The Barbaran Plate


His personal armor doesn’t just give him a 3+ save he’s also got a 4+ Invulnerable save, too.


We’ve already mentioned Disgustingly Resilient, but he’s got two Auras you’ll want to take note of: Toxic Presence and Host of Plagues.

Toxic Presence – Enemy units within 7″ subtract 1 from their toughness. This is pretty huge especially because it works on everything. And we all know that because of how the wound rolls work in 8th edition, losing a toughness is kind of a big deal.

Host of Plagues – This is an ability that (as you see from the stat line above) changes as he takes wounds. But each enemy unit that is within 7″ of Mortarion at the start of the fight phase has the chance at taking D3 Mortal Wounds. Free damage from the big man!

Mortarion is also the Primarch of the Death Guard so all friendly Death Guard models within 7″ of him also re-roll hit rolls of 1. OH and one last fun ability he has is Putrid Demise. When Mortarion is killed he explodes on a +4 and causes D3 Mortal Wounds on the way out. Fun times.

One other thing we have to mention is that Mortarion hates psykers. It’s a lore thing. Now, he is a psyker now thanks to his ascension to Daemonhood. So to represent his “attitude” toward psykers, he can cast two powers a turn but can attempt to deny 3! We thought that was a nice touch.

For more Sneak Peeks come check out our video review:

Death Guard & The Meta

Our first thought is that this Codex can hang with big boys. In fact, I’d love to see this go against one of those crazy Assassin lists. Why? Because of all the ways this book has to dish out Mortal Wounds. It’s also tough enough that it can withstand a lot of the punishment the opponents can dish out. It really boils down to those two factors: Endurance and Lethality.

Going the Distance – Endurance

Just about every unit in the book has Disgustingly Resilient. On top of that, the Death Guard have ways of improving that. They have Stratagems that help them defensively that prevent units from being targeted. They also have ways to give units cover or to cause enemy shots to get a -1 to hit. Couple all that with you standard Nurgle Marine coming with a +3 save and Toughness 5. We all knew that the Death Guard were going to be tough – they are. The army has Endurance not just because they are TOUGH, it’s because the army has multiple ways to up it’s survival rates. We’ve all seen how deadly a game 8th edition has become. Now the Death Guard are showing us all what a truly resilient army looks like.

It WILL Kill your army – Lethality

We’ll talk about how down below, but this army can pump out the pain in the form of Mortal Wounds. If you’re a smaller, elite-style army, then you do NOT want to see Death Guard across the table from you. They have multiple Mortal Wound causing Auras and ways to generate those Mortal Wounds. Plague Weapons in particular are going to be nasty. They also have stratagems that can add more wounds. The Death Guard can even Kamikaze their vehicles at you and spend a command point to ensure they detonate which causes more Mortal Wounds. Nothing is safe from their tidal wave of destruction.

Common Combos

The Death Guard are a really well designed army with a unique play style we haven’t really seen before. That said, we’re going to cover three common combos we think players are going to gravitate towards. It’s clear that GW intended folks to pick-up on these pretty quick – they aren’t rocket surgery. If you’re playing Death Guard, you’re probably going to want to check these out. If you’re facing Death Guard, you’re going to want to be aware of them:

Plague Marines + Biologus Purifier + Blight Bombardment Stratagem

This one is what we think will be the Bread-and-Butter of the army. A big blob of Death Guard backed by a Biologus Putrifier. All their Grenades get better with +1 strength and damage. Plus, they can generate Mortal Wounds on a 6+. Those Grenades are also Plague weapons so they can re-roll wounds of 1. “But they can only toss out 1 Grenade, big deal.” That’s where the Blight Bombardment Stratagem comes into play. It allows everyone in the unit to throw a grenade. The max unit size for a Plague Marine Squad is 20. Each grenade is a D6 “shots” worth of attacks. Anyone want to crunch the numbers on that one? For more fun, use the Veterans of the Long War Stratagem, too. That adds another +1 to your to-wound rolls…

Deathshroud + Any Characters that matter

Do you need to make sure Typhus gets across the board? What about Mortarion? Just use Deathshroud – either deploy them on the board behind the character (or just in range) and boom – instant stunt doubles for all your damage soaking needs. Or, if you get first turn, move your characters up and teleport them on the table near the character. Who needs to walk anyways! They are a big slab of beef that will need to be killed before your character will take any wounds (hopefully). And once they get there, they are pretty deadly in their own right!

Cloud of Flies + Any Death Guard Infantry Unit

This is one of those Stratagems that really ups the Death Guard survival rate. It prevents an infantry unit from being targeted unless it is the closest unit. Do you want to get that unit of 20 Plague Marines across the board and into payload delivery range? Have some Poxwalkers screen them! Or a rhino. Or some other cheap chaff unit.

Army Weakness

The Death Guard are a really good army on paper – but they aren’t invincible. They have a couple of key weaknesses that you’re going to want to try to exploit if you’re facing them.

It’s Called “Creeping Death” for a Reason – Speed

The Death Guard army’s speed, or lack there of, is a real problem for them.  Outside of transports, Blight-Drones, and the ability to teleport, they don’t really move that fast. Sure, they can advance and still shoot assault weapons thanks to their Legion Trait Inexorable Advance – plus rapid fire weapons (including plasma) can double tap at up to 18″ which is cool. But if they are facing an army with range and mobility (looking at you Eldar) then they are going to have some issues. A Gunline army may not have the firepower to stop them in a turn or two before they reach them – but a gunline army that can stall or redeploy and buy themselves another turn or two just might be enough of a hammer to the Death Guard’s nail.

Don’t Touch That – Range

Again, if you’re army can stay away from them, you’ll be okay. If you’re going for a shoot-and-scoot strategy it would be a good idea to target their long range fire power first. Most of their infantry needs to get within 18″ to be super effective. And that “bombing run” needs to get within 6″ to really work. If you can keep them beyond arms length you should be able to whittle them down and take them down a peg.

Points Matter – Elite and Expensive

Death Guard Marines (Plague Marines) and Terminators have historically been pricey on the points side of things. With this new codex, that is still the case. An all Marine Death Guard army will tend to be smaller than say a CSM or Space Marine Counter-Part. They can counter that low model count by taking Poxwalkers or Cultists – which they probably will. If you’re playing a scenario mission keep those units in mind as killing them should help you tip the scenario scales in your favor.

Just Put Wounds On Them

Look, it’s a dice game. They are tough but you won’t win if you don’t pump damage at them. Multi-damage attacks that bypass armor are going to be important. You’re probably going to want to use shots you might typically call “anti-vehicle” attacks on units like Plague Marines. Yes, sometimes you’re going to need to fire 4 lascannons into Plague Marines. It’s not a waste when that could potentially prevent 4d6 worth of attacks the next round! Don’t get discouraged if they make saves – because they will. Just keep up the pressure and hope that things swing back into that “statistically average” sweet spot.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Codex: Death Guard is a welcome addition to Warhammer 40,000 8th edition. We’re really glad to see it and can’t wait to see what else the community does with this army. From the awesome modeling and hobby options the army represents, to the unique play-style and theme of this army, we’re loving what GW has created with the Death Guard. Seeing another one of the Chaos Gods (the other being Tzeentch) get a “dedicated release” like this is great and we hope GW has more planned in the future. That said, the Death Guard are going to shake-up the meta which is a good thing. Mortarion alone is going to cause folk to rethink things. We think this codex will have some legs in the tourney scene. At the same time it’s packed with awesome lore, artwork, and army ideas. Get ready for a wave of Death Guard to hit your local scene because we think this one is a winner!

Codex: Death Guard $40

The Death Guard are the Traitor Legion most favoured by Nurgle. Utterly devoted to spreading the Plague God’s hideous diseases across realspace, they are living plague vectors whose bloated bodies and rusted war engines boast grotesque resilience and firepower. They are a walking pestilence, a living plague of destruction and horror. Their heavy tread heralds the end of hope, and the damnation of all who oppose them. Their touch withers all, and spreads seething corruption that swallows worlds. They are the sons of Mortarion, the chosen of Nurgle; fear them , and despair.

Codex: Death Guard contains a wealth of background and rules – the definitive book for Death Guard collectors.


Codex: Death Guard hits stores this weekend!

Author: Adam Harrison
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