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Tyranids Tactics: Devouring the Marine-Meta

11 Minute Read
Mar 17 2020
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Space Marines are dominating the meta, but the Hive Mind has evolved some new tricks of its own.Danny from TFG Radio here. There’s no bones about it, Space Marines are dominating the meta, and it can feel real frustrating to play them, especially since some of our more common tricks don’t work too well against them, so what do you do? Well, GW just helped us out with a nice little nerf, but even then, Space Marines are still preeeeeeeety good, so what do you do? Thankfully, the Hive Mind has given us some tricks to use.
Nothing like going to a friendly tournament and playing 3 flavors of marines, yah? Well, they are the most popular army since just about anybody playing this game for longer than an edition has a few marines somewhere, so how do you handle it? Well, Hive Mind, we do have some answers.

1: Hive Guard with Impaler Cannons

These are dyed in the wool Marine killers.  With strength 8, you are wounding infantry on 2s and Thunderfires on 3s.  With AP-2 that ignores cover, they save on 5s (or 4s at best). With damage d3, you are killing a Primaris body 67% of the time with a single hit.  Throw in that Impaler Cannons also ignore LoS, and you can safely keep HG in a building or behind a wall and put down the pain.   Hive Guard are also insanely accurate for Tyranids at a natural BS 3+ but also ideal in Kronos for the reroll 1s to hit, and with Symbiostorm? That’s a lot of dead marines. Defensively, at T5 with 3 wounds, Hive Guard are also pretty resilient to Marine out of LoS shooting.  Throw in either double cover or most effective, ignore AP-1/-2 thanks to Adaptive Physiology, and Eliminators and Thunderfires are going to have a hard time putting down the HG before the HG put them to bed.  If you can, putting Catalyst on them for a 5+++ Feel No Pain pretty much makes them impossible to dig out from their bunker, at least effectively. Plus, HG can fire twice a turn, so you can easily pick up 2 threats at once.  The only downside is that Thunderfires out range HG, so you need to be a bit aggressive with your deployment, so you need a good screening element to keep the HG from getting wrapped in combat.

2: Exocrines

The Exocrine has a pretty solid gun for killing Marines.  At AP-3 and D2, you are going to flat our murder Primaris infantry.  Exocrines are also the most accurate big bug shooting we have at BS 3+ and rerolling 1s in Kronos, and with 12 shots a turn, that is more than enough heat to take out a 5 man squad, cripple a 10 man, or even put a hurt on a vehicle.  The Exocrine also has decent range, so you can skirt the edges and avoid some of the stronger shorter range shooting.  Throw on Symbiostorm and you are starting to get some real heat that will just above favorable dice can absolutely shred a large squad of Primaris.  Don’t forget about Symbiotic Devastation which ensures that you can get that sweet +1 to hit and double tap. With AP-3, Exocrines also make great Centurion killers. At T8 and a 3+ save, Exocrines are not easy to kill for 155 points. Trust me, marines can absolutely murder an Exocrine, but can they do it cheaply? Not really, especially once you start factoring in our own buffs like a Maleceptor’s -1 Strength aura and a Malanthrope.  With the Exocrine strat, you can also deploy behind LoS blocking terrain and move out to shoot without suffering any loss in effectiveness.  Taking multiple is probably good for redundancy, but you can get away with 1 if you are cagey about deployment.  Be wary of getting into melee though as an Exocrine is definitely not hard to murder for a lot of marine characters.

3: Zoanthropes

Our little brain bugs have a great weapon for killing all variety of marines, mortal wounds.  With a 24″ range smite, you can reach out and touch them on turn 1, and doing 2d3 mortal wounds is generally effective at killing just about anything (if you have 4 or more).  If you really commit to 3×3+ squads, their bespoke stratagem is amazing at carving out a marine castle. A fun strategy is a Jormungandr Vanguard detachment with a Neuro, 3×3 Zoans, and a Mawloc. Spend 3 CP and suddenly, you can have all the Zoans pop out within 9″ of the enemy and you can blast away with the stratagem, and there is not much your opponent can do besides not castle up, which means you can start to pick off the edges and they are not all within the layered buffs, really lowering their overall power. With a 3++, Zoans are risky targets to hit. They have 3 wounds with a stormshield, so especially Stalker Bolt Rifles will not have a great time taking them down.  Thunderfires will do some work on them to be sure, but even then, with a 3++, that is in the probability band where a little bit of skew your way makes the unit unbearably annoying to kill.  If you go Leviathan, a 6+++ Feel No Pain is also just more defense, and this doesn’t include if they are within range of our other usual defensive buffs. Zoans are not great at clearing a lot of models, but they excel at taking good sized bites out of hard targets, but remember that since they rely on smite, they are limited in their targeting, so you have to plan their attack vectors several turns in advance.

4: Termagants

Our sweet little baby bugs are easy to malign, but at 4 points, they present a problem with a lot of marine builds: can you kill 120 of these?  A standard Termagant is not going to hurt Marines, but you don’t win 40K by just killing models.  In the ITC, you win by playing the mission (and killing models).  A Termagant is all about taking up real estate, camping objectives and keeping your opponent from being able to score the bonus.  Again, there is no real offense here, but that’s not the point. It is all about the defensive buffs you can layer on a 4 point model. A Maleceptor is great at making bolters wound on 4s, not 3s, and trust me, 16% more live-gants adds up with a squad of 30.  A -1 to hit from a Malanthrope/Venomthrope also adds up.  A 6++ from a custom hive fleet or 6+++ from Leviathan also adds up.  To put it in perspective, let’s take a Thunderfire Cannon: on average with the usual BS 2+, reroll 1s to hit/wound, against a naked Termagant, it will kill 6 Gants on average dice. That’s already only 24 points of return.  Now let’s see what happens when you get a Custom Gant with a 6++ in range of a Malanthrope: That’s 4 dead Gants, 33% increase in Gants alive, and again, 3 Tfire cannons with one double shooting is only killing 16 gants…64 points. Now, let’s try with something designed to kill Termagants, 10 Primaris Intercessors with standard Bolt Rifles within Rapid Fire range: They only kill 5 Gants if you have the 6++, -1 to hit, and -1 strength.   Now, Assault Centurions with Hurricane Bolters are gonna hurt, but they often do not roll deep in the castle with all the buffs, so without a Captain/LT, they only kill 17 little bugs with all our buffs in place.  Long story short, the Termagant is the champion of Tyranid board control, so invest.   They also synergize nicely with a lot of other stronger entries by providing screening.

5: Biovores

The little Biovore doesn’t get big numbers, but it brings consistency.  On average, factoring in misses, fails to wound, and the big d3 mortal wounds on a 6, one biovore does about 1 mortal wound all told.  This means for 80 points, you are killing a Primaris body a turn.  That’s not a lot, but it is consistent, and when you do miss, you get to throw down a Spore Mine and gum up their movement.  Taking a few squads of 2 or 3 is consistent damage that is great at chipping away at Eliminators, 5 man squads hiding, and even putting wounds on Thunderfires.  The trick here is that Biovores ignore Line of Sight just like Hive Guard, so they can stay out of the worst of the fray and just consistently put out damage that after 6 turns is actually pretty meaningful.  Again, taking on average, 1 biovore equals 1 mortal wound, 6 biovores is doing 6 mortal wounds a turn, and if you keep them alive for 5 turns, that’s 30 mortal wounds.  That isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it is consistent damage, and that can be the difference between winning and losing.  Biovores reward a patient player, and really, Tyranids beat Marines on Turn 6, not Turn 2. Defensively, they are chonky bugs with 4 Wounds at T4 and a 4+ save (all easy to remember), so they are not super easy meat, especially if you can get them to toe-in into a Maleceptor’s aura. Since they ignore LoS, they are going to hide in cover, so there’s a lot of safety in that.  Finally, and most crucially, they are 48″ range, so they can sit out of range of some threats like Eliminators and are much harder to out range by anything else.  This lets you play them more defensively while still maintaining full pressure.

Honorable Mention:  Broodlord

The Broodlord won Chapter Approved 2019, coming in at a fit and fighting 115 point cost, and with it, you get a lot of great threat that is pretty damn solid at killing Marines. At S5 rerolling to wound with AP -3 base and damage D3 with 6 attacks, a Broodlord is going to eat most Marine bodies alive without much issue.  The Broodlord also comes with a smite for some extra offense, and the Broodlord can fight on death, so they make excellent little suicide machines that can advance and charge into combat, murder some marines, and when a slashcap/smashcap comes calling, they can take them out in a blaze of glory for the Hive Mind.  Broodlords make great Linebackers for a Gant wall as they can pick their angles and hit where they need to hit, and there are some pretty fun combos like Hydra’s Death Shriek power to make killing Gants painful for your opponent or even Gorgon’s power for an extra -1 AP on Gants or Hormies. At T5 with a 4+ save/5++ against standard Marine melee attacks, Broodlords won’t die easy to basic attacks, so they can reasonably eat a squad, and well, with an invulnerable save, you can just get lucky and tank a Thunderhammer although I wouldn’t rely on it. Broodlords are easier meat for Eliminators, so you need to hang back a bit, but then a Broodlord’s job is to do damage and then die gloriously, so lean into that.

Putting It All Together

The one problem Nids face is that it is really hard to take all of these things in the same list.  Hive Guard take up a good chunk of points to start with, and there is slightly diminishing returns if you start taking multiple squads.  In general, you won’t be able to meaningfully fit everything in a single list, but taking 3/5 and really leveraging their abilities is enough to win.  Here are just two examples of Nid lists that can generally cause some big problems for a lot of popular Marine builds.
Build-A-Bug Battalion: (Adaptive Exoskeleton and Pack Hunters)
  • Broodlord/Malanthrope/Neurothrope
  • 1×30 Termagants
  • 3×29 Termagants
  • Maleceptor
Kronos Battalion:
  • Broodlord/Neurothrope (Warlord/Resonance Barb)/Neurothrope
  • 3×3 Rippers
  • 6 Hive Guard with Impaler Cannons
  • 2×3 Biovores
  • Exocrine
So this list doesn’t lean into Zoanthropes, but it has 117 6++ Termagants that should have -1 to hit and -1 Strength.  That is a nightmare for a lot of popular marine builds.  It also has a heavy shooting component of Hive guard and 6 Biovores to stay out of Line of Sight and rain down death, ensuring that between the three squads, you should be getting at least one kill if not more a turn.  You also have a single Exocrine that can hide behind terrain and move out on Turn 1 to do some damage, but it is also somewhat of a distraction Carnifex as it will attract a lot of firepower.  It also has 2 Broodlords to rush up the field and apply pressure where needed, and of course, it still packs 6 smites (2 of them at +1 to cast).   It is a grindy list, one built on doing just enough damage to stay in there with a lot of board control.  It isn’t going to necessarily table any Marine list out there, but there are a lot of answers for just about everything.
Build-A-Bug Battalion: (Adaptive Exoskeleton and Pack Hunters)
  • Malanthrope/Neurothrope
  • 1×30 Termagants
  • 2×29 Termagants
Kronos Battalion:
  • Neurothrope/Neurothrope (Warlord/Resonance Barb)
  • 3×3 Rippers
  • 6 Hive Guard with Impaler Cannons
  • 2×3 Biovores
  • 1×2 Biovores
Jormungandr Vanguard:
  • Broodlord
  • 3×3 Zoanthropes
  • Mawloc
So this is a much more aggressive list that is really designed to carve out a Space Marine (read: Iron Hands) castle.  With only 88 Termagants, it doesn’t have the same staying power of the other list, but it is still a decent amount of bodies that can be frustrating to handle quickly.  They’ll die for sure, but if they all die on Turn 3, that’s not too bad.   The real pop of the army is the Zoanthrope bomb where you get all 3 units to appear within 9.01 of the enemy (and remember, the Mawloc can land closer, just the Zoans need to be more than 9), and you can launch off Psychic Barrage and start fishing for those 3d3 mortal wounds.   This is a great way to murder Thunderfires, characters, and small squads while also maybe doing enough heat on big threats to let the 8 Biovores and Hive Guard finish it off.  The out of LoS shooting here is what is pulling the most consistent weight in terms of damage, so as long as you keep the Marines pinned into their deployment zone, you can whittle them away turn by turn. Again, this lacks the defense and general tek of the first list, but it is a lot more fun to play as it far more dynamic.  Either way, both of these lists give you the tools to handle Space Marines, but remember, other armies exist.  With that in mind, I like the first list more, but in general, Bugs have a few solid contenders that can make a Space Marine sweat, but as I’ve said before, you need to plan to win on Turn 6.  The Hive Mind is patient.  Thanks for reading, dear bio-mass, and let us all know if you’ve found any combos or units that do surprisingly well in the era of space marine hegemony. Evolve or die!

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Author: Pablo Martinez
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