Chaos Cultists Review – The Cannon Fodder of the Dark Gods

I absolutely love the mortal followers of the Primordial Annihilator (that’s Chaos to the layman), either as the cannon fodder of the Word Bearers or Iron Warriors, or as the mortal operatives of the Alpha Legion. The Chaos Cultists.

For most of 7th, Cultists were resigned to being the mandatory Troop tax in a CAD, purely due to their price being 2/3rds of the CSMs, then moved on to being the mandatory Troop tax in a Chaos Warband once we started getting decurion-style formations.

I, personally, eventually moved to Forge World’s Siege of Vraks’ Unending Host Formation to be able to use the models effectively.

How do they fare in 8th?

Chaos Cultists Rules and Options

The natural comparison for Cultists are the Imperial Guard platoons. Prior to the Codex, the Imperial Guard platoons were obviously superior – 20% cheaper than Cultists, can be given orders, have considerably better LD mitigation through Commissars, better statline and armour save, and better weapon options.

With their newest point reduction, I still think the Imperial Guard are better, as shown by all of the aforementioned reasons bar the point cost, especially because of Commissars. Commissars execute a single Guardsman, but the equally priced Chaos Cultists disappear in droves. However, the Cultists can be taken in squads of up to 40, which gives them some other options the Guard doesn’t have. There is something to be said for quantity as well!

As far as their loadout goes, flamers are absolutely solid. Due to odd mechanics of weapons that automatically hit the target, these can now be used to take down flyers to a certain degree.

Heavy stubbers, now reduced in cost from last edition, are a solid choice if you want to sit back with the unit, and the same with autoguns. The autopistol and brutal assault weapon aren’t a bad combo either, and enough attacks can do something against most targets. However, I would caution against going overboard with how good you think 40 Cultists with brutal assault weapons are going to be. You will never have 40 of them striking, never mind getting 40 into close combat. The shotgun is a good choice for any close combat-oriented Cultist Champion; an assault 2 weapon that goes to S4 at < 6″ range isn’t too shabby! Just make sure he’s up front with the flamers and leading by example!

Role

Cultists vs Necrons
In action against the Necrons

So, has their role changed? Are they just a Troop tax? Or do they have a darker purpose?

Their possible roles are:

  • Troop tax for sweet CPs
  • Deep Strike blockers
  • Backfield Objective camper
  • Close combat unit
  • Cultist bomb

All of these are, to a degree, viable roles for the humble and deluded Cultist, and can be combined. They come dirt cheap, at 40 points for 10, so you can get a Battalion detachment (not counting understrength units) for 120 points + 2 HQs. For my tentative competitive list, I have a Battalion consisting of exactly that. It is also worth considering taking them in squads of 15, as it ensures they won’t run away quite as quickly.

These units will, in my list, be deployed to minimise pesky deep striking units get anywhere near my Predators and holding any backfield Objectives. You can deploy them in an 18″ box around whatever’s valuable force your opponent to deploy them 27″ away from them.

As an Alpha Legion player, I also take a single 40-man squad of Chaos Cultists with brutal, pointy sticks and Infiltrate them into the midfield, preferably 18″ away from my units. I conga-line them from table edge to table edge (more or less), using my smaller units to make it impossible to get near my Deployment Zone, and my opponent may be forced to Deep Strike into his own Deployment Zone.

This forces my opponent to focus fire on them and kill at least 23 to guarantee the rest running away, but he still risks me auto passing morale with a stratagem, then recycling the entire unit with Tide of Traitors, then Outflanking into his Deployment Zone T1.

A word of warning: Only consider doing this is if you really see a massive opportunity. It’s a massive CP outlay (1 for Infiltrate, 2 for auto passing Morale, and another 2 for recyling).

Tide of TraitorsWe’ll be back…

The Cultist bomb is a tactic I’ll go into in the next section. It’s 40 autogun-toting Slaaneshi Cultists where you sink CPs into Veterans of the Long War, Infiltrate, Endless Cacophony, Prescience, re-rolling 1st to hit from a Chaos Lord, Delightful Agony etc.

Synergies

With the Index, Huron Blackheart was the no-brainer for a massive squad of Cultists. Running somewhat contrary to the fluff, this option has been removed. Nowadays, it boils down to how many points are you willing to sink into a unit of Cultists.

As I mentioned in their rules, Leadership is a massive issue for Cultists and utterly prohibitive of large units unless you’re willing to expend a lot of CPs just to keep them in the fight. Dark Apostles mitigate the bad Leadership, but will on average save 3 Cultists per Morale Phase, which is 12 points. If you go full Word Bearer and max out two squad, parking the Dark Apostle between two squads,  it might work in casual games, and it is certainly a fluffy choice! If you’re willing to commit your Warlord to babysit Cultists, an Iron Warriors Warlord allows for autopass morale due to the Warlord Trait, which is the same as what Huron used to do. Abaddon is another solution due to units autopassing morale within 6″ of him.

Battle
13″ away from Cadians. The IG get no rapid fire if stationary, and no re-rolls if they move.

Chaos Lords and Exalted Champions are also a bit costly, and I would advise against it – these boys are better supporting two squads of Havocs, Berzerkers, or Terminators (or anything else killy).

However, then there’s the Cultist bomb.  It has been used at tournaments and is the following: Alpha Legion Cultists with Mark of Slaanesh, along with a Sorcerer and Chaos Lord, are Infiltrated. The Sorcerer casts Prescience, the Chaos Lord stays within 6″, and then you use the Veterans of the Long War Stratagem for +1 to Wound and Endless Cacophony to double your shots. You are then looking at 180 shots (if you are close enough) with 3+ to hit (re-rolling 1s) with S3 (+1 to wound). You can also go with Delightful Agonies for 5+ FnP. This is fairly CP intensive, costing 5 CPs, before any units are recycled with Tide of Traitors or autopassing morale, but you may have done enough damage that their point cost and CP expenditure was worth it.

As far as Sorcerers are concerned, using either the Tzeentch power to give the Cultists a 5++ gives them some solid durability, Prescience gives them a much needed boost, while Warptime can get them into a turn faster. Delightful Agonies is another, giving you something better than 5++. All expensive options, as far as points and, as I stated at the start, it boils down to how much you’re willing to invest, and whether the investment is better spent elsewhere.

Modelling

The Crimson Pak

While GW does have Cultists available with their wee packs, if you want the “official” shotgun, flamer, or heavy stubber option, you would have needed to get the Dark Vengeance starter set prior to 8th. Though don’t despair; many of the models are available on eBay for peanuts.

As a side note, as GW has removed almost all units without an in-production model from the Codex, it seems arbitrary that the shotgun, flamer, and heavy stubber Cultists are still in the Codex.

However, monopose models can be quite boring. Other solutions, if the models need to be GW/FW (which they tend to be if you play in a GW) are to make your own from a mix of Marauder, Catachan, and Imperial Guard miniatures.

Though there are many third party creators, my favourite third parties for bits are Mad Robot Miniatures and Victoria Miniatures.

Cultists have some fantastic modelling opportunities, from techno-barbarians to Renegade Guard to hive gangers to actual cultists. Don’t let opportunity get away!

Conclusion

Cultists are better than they were previously, but they need LD mitigation, are slightly expensive, and poor options. However, relative to the other Troop Tax, the humble Chaos Space Marine, they are a solid choice. Compared to what other armies can run, they come out quite well. they are are a much cheaper source of CPs than anything the SMs have, in addition to being able to generate them equally cheaply as the Guard.

They are very versatile; being able to deny Deep Strikers, Cultist bomb, or just be a Troop tax to generate CPs. However, for them to actually overrun the barricades,  you need some serious points, CP, and/or HQ investment.

You don’t want to build your army around Chaos Cultists (that’s what the Renegade Guard is for), but as a chaff unit with a big footprint, they’re good.

Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Good review and I agree with what you’ve said. Like most, I use them as a cheap way to fill out detachments. I never count on them for anything, so I’m never let down ;)

  • Solid run down, cheers. I am still undecided on them or Tzaangors.

    • Nae bother, my pleasure! I’ve not used Tzaangors at all, but love the models! Really want to be able to summon them in as canon fodder, but I don’t think they’re summonable?

    • Chaz Sexington

      Nae bother, my pleasure! I’ve not used Tzaangors at all, but love the models! Really want to be able to summon them in as canon fodder, but I don’t think they’re summonable?

  • The Commissar nerf closed the gap between them and Conscripts further, so that’s something, at least.

    In my Iron Warriors, I don’t see it as my Warlord babysitting them. They’re screening my whole firebase, and he’s in there letting all those Havocs and Oblits and Predators re-roll 1s, so it’s easy enough to snake a few of them back to him to keep them Fearless.

    In my Alpha Legion, I mostly consider them disposable, but if there happen to be just a couple left from a big group, I will totally use Tide of Traitors on them. The pressure that can apply is just awesome.

    • Sound use of the Iron Warrior Warlord Trait!

      Tide of Traitors isn’t Alpha Legion specific, but it is very useful if you somehow only have a few left of a massive squad and there’s a tactical advantage to recycling them. The issue is my opponent’s usually force me to expend 2 CPs to autopass battleshock, which makes it 4 CPs net to recycle, which it just isn’t worth.

    • Chaz Sexington

      Sound use of the Iron Warrior Warlord Trait!

      Tide of Traitors isn’t Alpha Legion specific, so it is very useful if you somehow only have a few left of a massive squad and there’s a tactical advantage to recycling them. The issue is my opponents usually force me to expend 2 CPs to autopass battleshock, which makes it 4 CPs net to recycle, which it just isn’t worth.

      • I’ve done it once, spent the 4 CPs to pass morale and recycle, but it won me the game too, so it was well worth it. It’s a rare situation, but awesome when it works.

      • Yeah, that is the issue. If you could use it at any point to remove them, and then they came back on at the start of your next Movement Phase, it would be way better.

        It actually works better for the Iron Warriors for just that reason. They tend to have issues reaching out to grab Objectives or whatever anyhow, so a late-game Outflanker is really handy.

  • Nice read! With Death Guard, the lowly cultist unit also works for respawning more zombi…I mean Poxwalkers; the entire process can then be repeated with Tide of Traitors. Of course, there are some additional costs to this (an extra detachment to get Tide outside of Death Guard, etc.), but the base cost is really just one unit of 10-20 poxwalkers and then a blob of cultists…Both of which can easily be fit into a Brigade in order to get enough CP to keep the wall of flesh rolling down the field. I heard of a game that contained a blob of 100+ zombies that spawned out of a similar setup and was nigh to impossible to kill. Gimmicky? A bit I reckon, but it sounds like fun.

    • Aye, I’ve heard of it done at tournaments actually! If we do a Poxwalker review, it’ll definitely have to be in there!

    • Chaz Sexington

      Aye, I’ve heard of it done at tournaments actually! If we do a Poxwalker review, it’ll definitely have to be in there, as, at least in my head, is more of a use of the Poxwalker’s abilities.

  • Brooks Call

    I’ve been running 3×40 with Abaddon to auto-pass morale and re-roll hits. With veterans of the long war and endless cacaphony on a unit, that’s 40 wounds on anything! I killed two imperial knights last game with lasguns. This is especially effective because people don’t expect cultists to do work and they are incredibly deadly with these stratagems applied. Situational, but you win the rule of cool game and it makes opponents seethe.
    Also, tide of traitors combined with a jump pack sorcerer and warptime makes both an effective objective grabber and a sudden positioning nightmare for your opponent.

    • Chaz Sexington

      Solid! I’ve seen something similar run at tournaments, so I’ve updated the review to include this! I did something similar to an opponent recently – 40 Cultists Infiltrated in with a Sorcerer and a Chaos Lord, cast Prescience, then used both Endless Cacophony and Veterans of the Long War. I had drawn the CSM Objective Card that gives D3+3 VPs if you kill 6 or more Imperium units, and my opponent was running lots and lots of Cyberwolves…

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