Tyranids in my humble opinion are an amazing army to collect, but suffer from “really cool models, not so cool rules” syndrome. There have been two back to back codex releases which have been problematic to say the least, serving to punish new and existing players alike. So, sadly, there are alot of problems, however there are bright spots in each slot so that no matter what your choices, you can build an effective list.
Now this does not mean you cannot add your favourite unit from whatever slot you desire, however realize that there are a LOT of sub optimal choices in this codex, and quite a few that are downright bad. If you’ve been playing Tyranids for quite a while you probably know much or all of this advice. However if you just picked up that getting started box and are thinking about adding that cool Maleceptor sitting dusty on the shelf, you might want to read this first.
A note about synapse: As much as possible I attempt to make synapse a non-issue with my army lists. Either make sufficient synapse coverage (half or more of your units as synapse creatures) or take units that don’t require it to function. This table can be extremely punishing and to make matters worse, once you’re rolling on it you’re already in a spot of trouble, so it’s best to make it a non-issue. Fearless while in synapse is the only benefit, which you want to have at all times.
This monstrous creature does not take a forge organization slot and can be used to transport one monstrous creature or 20 infantry. It deep strikes safely like a Drop Pod and then can float around and score objectives. Sadly it cannot charge anything, but can hold an objective well and with it’s monstrous creature status it deters charges somewhat. My go-to unit to shove into a Tyrannocyte is the Tyrannofex.
Hive tyrant, wings, electroshock grubs, two sets of devourers. This is your default HQ that you take every time, in multiples. Yes there are a lot of really cool choices, and if you want to play for fun you can throw in Deathleaper occasionally (then put him back on the shelf when you see how easily he dies), or the Swarmlord (throw him in a Tyrannocyte and hope he lives the turn he drops!), but in general you’re going to be taking at MINIMUM of two Flyrants. It’s possible with Hive Fleet Leviathan formation and a CAD to take five. Resist this. I find that three is the sweet spot where you don’t lose the ground game to dominate the skies.
With the new FAQ from Games Workshop, you can take a Tyrant Guard for ablative wounds that crucial first turn and detach from the guard to take flight. There has been many times where I’ve gotten seized on by Tau or Skyhammer and trust me, Flyrants on the ground are target priority #1 for your opponent’s alpha strike. This is a cheap upgrade for that protection, and if he doesn’t die, he gets to be a toughness six objective holder in cover once the Flyrant takes off.
Mucolid Spores are your go to troop choice. They are so cheap and useful it’s a breeze to take them as your mandatory troop choices and load up on the good stuff. Spores don’t count towards kill points, which is very useful. They also have Shrouding, and if left alone when they assault a unit blow up in a large blast S8 AP3. Also, they can charge flyers! Always deep strike them because they move at half speed so they’re too slow to do anything useful.
With the recent FAQ, Tervigon now spawn objective secured Termagants. This is pretty huge and brings the Tervigon plus 30 Termagants into the “possibility good” category for your troops slot. This is a huge amount of points for this ability however. So, the first time you spawn out of Termagants this could get you frustrated all over again. Secondary role of the Tervigon of course is a synapse anchor for your back to mid field (using dominion where necessary), and a pretty difficult to shift objective secured unit in it’s own right.
Ripper swarms are cheap (but Mucolid’s are cheaper!) and can be able to Deep Strike in (with an upgrade) to try and hold objectives with objective secured. Warning – when out of synapse they eat themselves and they can do nothing other than hold an objective.
An effective list normally does not include Hormagants, Termagants without a Tervigon, Genestealers, or Tyranid Warriors. Warriors and Genestealers are my favourite models ever. I own an unhealthy amount of them and I’d love for them to be good. With the odd lucky break now and again (to tempt me into running them consistently), they are a disappointment every time. Broodlords don’t really help matters and only serve to add more points to a fragile unit that dies to Bolters. The formations out of Leviathan are cute tricks, but unreliable and do little to mitigate the huge survivability issues with Genestealers. Tyranid warriors could be fixed with a T5 boost or eternal warrior in synapse and if the next codex brings that I’d be a happy bug!
The absolute best option comes from Forgeworld. If your area allows Forgeworld then you want a Malanthrope. Or more specifically, several of them. If you cannot run Forgeworld (or don’t want to pay the price for these models), then Venomthropes are your close second. The advantage a Malanthrope has to 2 Venomthropes (same number of wounds) is that the Malanthrope is T5, has synapse, a better armor save and is better in combat. Oh and it’s five points cheaper. The reason you want either of these units is for the spore cloud effect that gives units in 6″ Shrouded. This is vital to keeping your big guys alive. Yes I realize Tau exists, but this is still the best survivability boost for our codex against everything else.
Lictors came into the spotlight (briefly) through the infamous “Lictor shame” list run by Sean Nayden to take the Las Vegas Open that used Lictors to guide in Mawlocs – who do not scatter within 6″ of a Lictor. If you want to run Mawlocs I’d recommend Lictors, but consider taking them in the Deathleaper’s Assassin Brood. This gives you Deathleaper (who’s okay if he’s not using an HQ slot that should be a Flyrant instead!), and five independent Lictor buddies that gives a 12″ leadership debuff. This stacks with the horror psychic power, so is a side benefit, but this is the easiest way to get multiple guides for your Mawlocs without using up your Malanthrope slots…. I mean elite slots. Lictors also excel at snagging maelstrom objectives in cover as they pop up anywhere without scatter.
Fair warning, Sean Nayden is an amazing player who could take sub optimal units and make them work. Your mileage may vary on the Lictor.
Zoanthropes can have some utility as warp charge generators and somewhat survivable synapse nodes. However, warp blast is a pretty unreliable power. They aren’t a terrible choice, but are unlikely to be stars either.
If you are wanting to take Hive Guard for their fairly good shooting, I’d recommend a Tyrannocyte. This will allow them to deep strike in safely to get the arcs they need for vehicles. Their ballistic skill is their downfall and will likely frustrate you a bit.
The Haruspex is a pretty lackluster unit with a cool looking model. It’s tempting to run it, however the T6 combat monster role is better covered elsewhere.
The Maleceptor and the Pyrovore are currently in a contest to see who is the worst unit in all of Warhammer 40k. The jury is still out on who’s the winner.
For the most part you’ll completely ignore this slot unless you’re running the Skyblight Swarm or the Skytyrant Swarm. Skyblight lets you bring back a gargoyle unit on a 4+ when it’s destroyed and they have objective secured! This is a cool ability on a fast unit so can do some work. It also comes with a Flyrant (which you were taking anyways right?), and a Hive Crone and pair of Harpies. Sadly the Crone and Harpy are not very good. Other than being a flying monstrous creature, they are just not going to do the work that other better choices are. Skytyrant swarm allows you to join a flyrant to a gargoyle blob for ablative wounds. Interesting choice, but blasts/templates exist and it’s easy to get wounds on a unit that is majority toughness three!
If you have access to Forgeworld a Dimachaeron is a fairly solid choice. This is a fast melee monstrous creature with very high weapon skill, number of attacks, and can even give itself Feel No Pain if it eats models in combat. This is what the Trygon should have been! If it survives to get up the field (dicey) then it will wreck face pretty reliably in combat.
Raveners are a terrible choice and with T4 and a 5+ save are very easy to kill. Shrikes are warriors with wings, so again are a fairly bad choice. They are pretty much the same as Raveners other than they have synapse and access to weapon upgrades. It’s fast synapse, that’s about all I can say about that. Generally do not take these. Skyslasher swarms are Ripper Swarms with wings, and are frankly terrible.
Spore Mines are pretty lackluster when you can take Mucolid Spores in the troop slot with one exception: the Sporefield Formation. This allows those Spores to recycle when they die (which exploding models do a lot!), and possibly come back on the board to cause more disruption. This is a pretty cheap formation. It can cause your opponents a fair bit of headaches as they ignore them at their peril.
Carnifex are my go to choice in the heavy slot. I always, always, always equip them with double twin linked devourers. Twelve twin linked S6 shots per model is nothing to sneeze at. These come in two versions: The Distraction Carnifex (put in a Tyrannocyte and drop in the opponent’s backfield to cause mayhem!) and the brood. I normally run them in broods of 2-3 with a screen in front and Malanthrope support for shrouding. With the onslaught psychic power they now have a 25″-30″ range on their guns. They tear up light armor and infantry with ease. On the charge they do D3 S9 hammer of wrath hits, which can even threaten Imperial Knights (one of the Tyranids very bad match ups). In a brood you can move unwounded models further in front to play the wound allocation shenanigans to make them even more survivable.
If you’re looking at Forgeworld options, there is the Stone Crusher Carnifex. However, it is just a dangerous melee Carnifex with no more survivability and no guns. So, is not going to contribute until it makes combat (unlikely). Once it gets there, it’s only marginally better than a Devourer armed Carnifex for the same point cost.
Mawlocs can be a decent choice when paired with Lictors (see elites above) to have no scatter S6 AP2 large blasts targeting your enemy. I’ve never had much success with them to be honest. However, other Tyranid players swear by them, so I think they can work.
Tyrannofex with acid spray and electroshock grubs makes a deadly distraction when paired with a Tyrannocyte. Landing one of these monsters in the backfield of a Tau army causes untold havoc with it’s two flamer templates, one of which is S6 AP4 torrent. With six wounds and a 2+ save this is a very survivable option that cannot be ignored by your enemy.
The Biovore is an interesting choice with the recent FAQ. This model launches templates across the board and if it misses it’s target it creates a spore mine. With the recent FAQ a spore mine can run and charge the turn it is created by a Biovore. This may not make this unit top tier or anything, but it is an interesting choice that could do some work for you.
Toxicrenes, Exocrines and Trygons fall under the category of melee and shooting monstrous creatures that are just out-shined by the other options available. None are particularly awful per se (or maybe this is just me trying to justify those three Trygons I own), but I’ve never found them to be that effective compared to the other choices available. The prime option for Trygons is just throwing good points after bad so not worth it!
Lord of War
In most standard games you’d be looking at two options – either the Barbed or Scythed version of the Hierodule. The Barbed Hierodule is vastly superior and is really the only choice. This is expensive both point and money wise. It needs to bring a lot to the table to be actually worth it. Luckily it does.
The Barbed Hierodule is a Gargantuan Monstrous Creature so largely immune to the biggest bane of Tyranids – poison shooting. With toughness 8 it’s very difficult to wound. Also, with built in Feel No Pain is going to be a pain to remove. Pair with a Malanthrope in cover to be even more so.
The guns of the Barbed Hierodule are insane, EACH having six shots at S10 AP3. This is your Knight killer at range. Anything coming close has to deal with a very dangerous GMC that is good at combat as well. Unfortunately an Imperial Knight strikes first in combat, so deal with these at range whenever possible.
Tyranids were my first army in 40k and are still my favourite. The models are fantastic and you’re generally in for a close game. Now if you’re looking at top-tier competitive you’ll be unlikely to find the bug taking major tournies (with a few notable exceptions). However, at the local level I find that they can hold their own against tough competition so long as you make good choices at list construction.