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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tyranids in 5th - The Short and the Skinny

Tyranids the love child of all the hate on 5th edition. Out of all the 5th edition books, Tyranids and their FAQ are easily the worst of the lot. There are issues within the book, how they end up playing and specific match-ups on the tabletop. All is not lost however as they are still an excellent army - just with limitations. Do I think Tyranids can win tournaments? Absolutely. Consistently? No. Should you shelve them? No. If you have a list you like and it works well, you'll do well assuming you are a good general but know there are some match-ups where it's really tough for you to win and in a tournament setting, you are highly likely to meet those armies multiple times.

So let's look at the Tyranid codex. We'll look at some of their issues they suffer from during list building and how these issues translate to play on the tabletop. Over the coming week I'll do Army Comparisons of the major match up issues and how one can attempt to overcome these as much as possible as well as other commonly seen armies. Let's start with the List Building then.

List Building

Most everyone should know this by now so I'm not going into great detail about this. The basic concept most Tyranid lists work around is suppression fire from their shooting which will break tanks through weight of fire backed up by superior close combat ability. Their army as a whole is pretty durable with lots of T6 and gribblies at the same time. The problem is it is very hard to build outside of this concept in any form - this is the impact of the FAQ. You have minimal way to disrupt your opponent significantly and quite often it can become a game of numbers against your important units and ensuring your advance is done correctly (this is obviously a huge part of 40k but there are much less options in a 6" move foot army compared to a 12" move mech army).

Tyranids are a very synergistic army and this stems directly from synapse. You don't have enough synapse coverage and you lose control of your army. It's not as bad as it used to be as there is some level of offensive predictability with lurking and feeding creatures compared to before but controlling your army > not controlling it. Beyond this, lots of unit support each other well so you need to create an army list which does this. Unfortunately you'll find by doing so each unit has a defined role. This is great but the consequential lack of duality gives your opponents easier choices when dealing with your army.

We then have the over-chocked Elite slot. Lots of good units, finite space. This leads directly to one of the major balancing factors of the codex: ranged anti-tank. Using any Elite slots not for Hive Guard hampers your army in some way. You can not field three units of HG and still do well and have a good list but not taking Hive Guard feels like you're losing something. You have few options for good anti-tank outside of this slot and as said above, your units are quite often very specialised in what they do. Makes sense in regards to the Tyranid fluff but hurts you on the tabletop.

Whilst ranged anti-tank can be a problem, the bigger problem is actually balancing that ranged anti-tank with your combat options. Get too many units which can shoot tanks down and you're going to have mediocre combat yet combat is where Tyranids excel. Couple this with very few ranged anti-infantry options and balancing your firepower and combat ability against tanks and infantry is a very delicate balance which can easily be upset with a couple of bad choices in your list.

There are a lot of other quriks as well such as poor psychic defense which cannot affect models inside transports. The limitation of Mycetic Spores, particularly that of deploying them alone and Primes not being transported in them. Minimal assault grenades is also a huge pain in the ass, particularly with high initiative units which are good in assault. This is mitigated somewhat with lash whips but these aren't really common.

This all equates to lists being pretty predictable for your opponent with target priority that doesn't take a genius to figure out. The good lists are still solid and have the options you need but you will quite often have less tactical options on the actual tabletop compared to other armies. This doesn't really limit the army's effectiveness, if a bludgeon works, it works but if your opponent can stop that bludgeon? you have very little in ways to work around that. Here are what I would think are some quick fixes for the Nid codex:
  • get rid of the FAQ; all the dumb rulings were not needed and all the real FAQs were dumb questions
  • all units in Synapse range are Eternal Warrior
  • move through cover = strike at the same time as your opponent when assaulting through cover if your initiative is greater than theirs (thanks Purg for this idea)
  • minimum of 20 points off all MCs
Simply and easy to implement but obviously not all encompassing. So let's look at the effect of these issues during list building on the tabletop.

Tabletop Play

Many claim Tyranids cannot win consistently because their anti-tank isn't enough (yet Orks, Daemons and Chaos is? Come on BoLS). The problem itself isn't anti-tank, Tyranids as a whole can deal with tanks quite easily over the course of a game. The problem stems from balancing your level of anti-tank and your level of anti-infantry whilst also spreading your anti-tank out across multiple units. Tyranid anti-infantry is always going to be close combat based, that's what their army is about but there are very few options to deal with infantry at significant range and this gives your opponent an advantage. Do you take Biovores or HVC? Both can do the job but being blasts aren't hyper reliable and the HVC also has use against tanks, etc. Mawlocs? Very expensive for what it does and requires Hive Commander to be reliable, etc. This is just part and parcel of Tyranid list building.

This is compounded with Tyranids then running most of their anti-tank in a few units. The problem is thus two-fold. Not only does your opponent have easy target priority and only a few units to deal with at range but you can only suppress/kill so much in a turn. Whilst each of these units is often very reliable at what they do, bad dice can turn three to four suppressed tanks plus one to two kills to nothing. Obviously I'm referring to Hive Guard here and if your opponent takes them out, most of your anti-tank shooting is gone and if you haven't disabled a lot of tanks already (and are playing against mech obviously), you're in a world of strife. You still have T-Fexes, Brainleech Devs and HVCs but you are now relying a lot more on killing tanks in combat with rending or MCs. The only MCs which are really good at this when the tanks are moving are Trygons and naked Carnifexes thanks to their re-rolls with double talons.

This rolls neatly into what I was saying before in list building, the Tyranid army becomes predictable. Again, not a death sentence but not fun. Your army for the most part wants to get close to the enemy and only certain units can effectively damage tanks as you move in. You have awesome durability as a whole so aren't going to explode in a cloud of red ichor and gore but your basic plan goes along the lines of: move forward, shooting with anti-tank units, run, assault. This is simplified to the extreme and there are tons of choices and movement options that will separate good Tyranid players from bad, deploying your Gant screen for example.

Furthermore, without extensive access to offensive grenades, the awesome combat ability the army relies on to kill infantry, is far less effective. This is especially true with high initiative but low save models such as Raveners, Genestealers, Hormagaunts, etc. Tyranids rely on their combat ability not only to pressure suppressed tanks but to clean out infantry and this can be difficult when your infantry gets chopped up before they get to attack...even though you're paying for the ability to normally strike first. Lash Whips help a great deal in this regard but aren't exactly common.

What this leads to however, is bad match-ups. This is the case where the opposing army can stop the bludgeon by removing your ranged options early and consistently and otherwise can make your durability...well not so durable. Hive Guard obviously have the advantage of being able to hide out of LoS and fire to full effect. This is where terrain plays a huge part (you mean I can only hide them 48" away from my opponent?) and the opposing match-up (how capable are they of getting around the LoS blocker). And this is where the next posts will go. I've already done Dark Eldar which I'll summarise below but we'll also look at the love childen of 5th edition, Imperial Guard and Space Wolves and the new shiny kids, Grey Knights.

Dark Eldar and Tyranids

Before we go, the summary of the Dark Eldar and Tyranid comparison. These armies match-up very well against each other. Tyranid strengths do very well against Dark Eldar whilst Dark Eldar strengths do very well against Tyranids.

Tyranids are quite capable of downing Dark Eldar mech with reliability and even HVCs become quite effective on such large chassis and no negative bonus. Both their infantry and tough units are prime targets for poisoned weaponry which can overload the Dark Eldar army and FNP is allowed (obviously important for large units). Speaking of which, no psychic defenses means Catalyst and Onslaught will be cast on Ld10 with no stopping power which really helps Nids deal with Dark Eldar firepower and mobility. Tyranids are also quick enough in combat to often beat Dark Eldar and have Lash Whips to ensure they go first. Add in their firepower works well against infantry as well as little ability for the opponent to deal with MCs in combat.

On the flip side, all the darklight weapons are very effective against MCs and in particular, don't allow T-fexes saves. No FNP either. Poisoned shots obviously help add weight against the tough units which allows for easy alpha striking. Their mobility + night shields can give Tyranids fits and access Hive Guard in hiding whilst flickerfields ensure they will always have some save against Hive Guard. Night shields aren't super common though and Onslaught can help against this. Although MCs are hard to bring down for Dark Eldar in combat, Agonisers can inflict reliable wounds and Wyches will tarpit them pretty effectively (and can hand out attacks to Gant units, etc.). Shock Prows are really important for Dark Eldar against Tyranids as well as it allows them to break bubble-wraps and launch assaults in the same turn.

Again, lots of strengths on both sides and who applies their army better will win through though hot dice on one side can quickly swing the battle in their favor.


We got here in the end. Tyranids are a great army. If your opponent cannot simply wipe 40-50+ T6 wounds off the table, they're going to have issues. The Tyranid army works in a specific way and whilst the FAQ has hurt this and options outside of this, it still does it very well. The problem without looking at specific match-ups is the general army composition and the lack of spreading anti-tank ability across the army or access to much ranged anti-infantry at all. When we look at specific match-ups which can overcome some of the Tyranid strengths, Tyranids have a hard game ahead of them. We'll look at this over the coming posts with Grey Knights, Imperial Guard and Space Wolves.

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