Dealing with Genestealer Cults

October 11, 2016 ·

It has been a very long time since I've posted. I've been very busy with RL and I haven't even played any 40k since the tournament I posted about. With the new Genestealer Cult release and a tournament likely to happen next month in my area, I'm musing on what to do about them.

What's Different About Genestealer Cults?

From a Tau perspective, they aren't all that different to us than armies we've already seen and destroyed. Statwise, they look like a combination of Chaos Renegades and Chaos Daemons. However, they have two major rule differences: Cult Ambush & Return to the Shadows. These rules allows them to dominate the deployment phase of the game and give them incredible board control for the rest of it. They have several other things that make them very good counters to our traditional Tau lists but more than any other army they rely on shock & awe to put their opponent on the back foot so they can keep striking from unexpected angles.

Return to the Shadows

Essentially, this allows infantry cult models to jump into ongoing reserves and replenish D6 models when they come back using the Cult Ambush rule. They can't come on and then jump off again, and they can't jump off when enemies are within 6", but it still gives them insane board control and makes them surprisingly difficult to erradicate. No objective is safe when they can just pop up anywhere. It also forces you to completely destroy units, lest they come back on with 6 extra guys and get a lucky roll on the Cult Ambush table. If they took the Cult Insurrection detachment (always) they get 2D6 models back so it is even more important that you kill them off completely when you target them.

Cult Ambush

Non-vehicle cult models can do this. If they have Infiltrate then they can do it during Setup instead of coming on from Reserves. If they come on from reserves our Interceptor fire can do a lot of damage, so I will focus more on armies built around Infiltrating in this manner during Deployment. Here is the table:
  1. walk on from deployment zone edge
  2. outflank
  3. infiltrate but closer than normal
  4. infiltrate like normal but closer than normal
  5. Infiltrate and get an automatic free shooting phase (or free Run)
  6. Infiltrate within 3" and are allowed to charge!
5 can be bad but we can take shooting better than we can take combat. 6 is the one that Tau need to worry about the most.
At 3" multi-charges are incredibly easy, especially if we're talking about a 20+model unit. If this happens during deployment, we don't even get a chance to fire interceptor. You could easily have your Stormsurge and/or Riptides charged on the first turn of the game before you ever get to shoot. If it is by purestrain Genestealers, under some Psychic buffs and banner buffs, the Stormsurge will die, probably a Riptide as well.

But it's only 1/6 of the time right?

Wrong. The Warlord can get a trait that allows him to pick the result for his unit, and he can get a re-roll in the special detachment, so he'll likely get this trait 1/3 of the time. If they fail to get the 6 result they can hide in a corner while some other throwaway units pop up in your face and they can try again later.
If he gets first turn it is the worst-case scenario. So 1/6 of the time the stars will align for him and you'll get charged before ever getting to shoot. Not extremely likely, but likely enough to plan for. If he gets second turn, he will probably put as much as he dares into Reserves since ordinarily it is better to get hit with Interceptor fire.

Psychic Shenanigans

Here are the powers we are up against:
  1. Primaris: 24" debuff to enemy WS, BS, I, and A
  2. 24" relentless, fleet, and can run+charge
  3. 24" S5 AP3 small blast
  4. Rage & +1 Strength
  5. 2 warp charges. Roll off between psyker and target. take auto wounds equal to difference
  6. 2 warp charges. 24" make enemy model shoot as if it was yours
  7. 2-3 warp charges. Summon more models (3 charges summons twice as many)
Dang. All are good, though the blast one isn't the greatest. Genestealers can also roll on Telepathy and Biomancy so they could aim for Invisibility or some Strength/Toughness shenanigans as well.
#2 and #4 are huge buffs to their units and will turn regular units into nightmares. #5 could kill a Riptide or Stormsurge pretty easily so it is something to watch out for. #7 is a problem but less so if you have lots of Interceptor. #6 is incredibly scary if you have any Stormsurges (or, heaven forbid, a Ta'unar). If they get this power they will almost certainly try to use it. The risk of losing their psyker to perils is nothing to getting to use your own Gargantuan against you.

What's a Tau to do?

Spacing can help a lot here. Expect the worst and plan for it. You get to know your opponent's trait and whether they get first turn before setup so that is a big help too (assuming they don't Seize). If they fail to get first turn automatically and they don't get the killer warlord trait, you can probably count on having less of a nightmare on the first turn. If they get first turn and this warlord trait, you've got some hard decisions to make. However, if you identify which models you need for the counterattack you can space your models out 6" from eachother in a pattern and occupy a corner to deny your opponent large portions of the board for infiltrating. You'll be on the defensive but at least you'll have an army to hit back with.

Interceptor. This doesn't help against that first turn assault army, but it does help against any further ambushes so it shouldn't be ignored. They will be ambushing throughout the game as they relocate to cap objectives and fish for a lucky infiltrate+assault.

Culexus. I sneak him in whenever I can. Granted, the bonuses given to the cult via Psychic shenanigans are relatively tame, but they matter. It might stop the Mind Control power but it is still unclear if the model has to move to lose the curse. RAW, I wouldn't count on the Culexus to stop this power. His grenades also give a rare opportunity to snipe out an enemy psyker like the Patriarch. He can't tangle with most of the cult in close combat, but he can be very helpful in stemming the psychic onslaught.

Talisman of Arthas Moloch. Face it, we are all running Farsight Enclaves anyways. This normally isn't the greatest investment, but if you are blocking at 4+ your opponent will either throw way more dice into a Mind Control or he'll give up on it altogether. Heck, you might even block a Mind Control! If you block a Mind Control against a Stormsurge or Riptide then the TAM just earned its points.

Flamers. They are my all-time favorite battlesuit weapon. Take two on a crisis suit for less than 35 points and you can clear entire infantry squads in an instant coming on from Deepstrike. You also get the added bonus of 2D3 overwatch hits with unlimited range as long as you are within 6" of a unit being charged. Put a few of these in your list, plus maybe the promethium relay pipes to make all the flamers Torrent weapons, and your opponent will find that even a first turn charge doesn't come free. With luck, two Heatwave-D could kill a 5-man unit of purestrain genestealers with Overwatch.

Bubble Wrap. It is an old trick but it still checks out. Kroot can force the enemy to infiltrate much further from your own units: at least 10" away. This is usually enough to discourage a charge, especially if attempting the multi-charge will trigger a ton of Overwatch. Even if you lose them to shooting/assault, they are worth it if they buy you a shooting phase.
Unfortunately, they can only do so much. With 3" range, a run (with a psychic buff) and then the charge, they can still get around your Kroot or pull off a multi-charge. Still, if you NEED to protect that Stormsurge in the corner then a couple lines of Kroot will probably achieve that just fine. At least you aren't trying to block drop pods. Those are even tougher to block.

Reserves. The Cult can give you -1 to your reserve rolls, but if you are running a Retaliation Cadre you can punish your cult opponent on turn 2. Just survive one turn and then drop down to rain death on their heads. This can also work if you are spamming Crisis Monats to counter his whack-a-mole ambushes via Heatwaves.

Fish of Fury. It is a bit of a gamble, but if you have a couple devilfishes full of fire warriors, and your opponent isn't able to kill the Devilfish with shooting, you will get a free shooting phase at anything that charges you. The downside here is that in some cases your target of choice will have a really good cover save and unless you are facing a small squad or have three full firewarrior teams, you'll have trouble killing them off completely.


I think that there are going to be games when the Genestealer Cults seem OP. They'll get that lucky warlord trait and first turn; your overwatch won't be enough; he'll wipe away half your army with your own Stormsurge and you'll end up down 500 points before the game even starts for you; as you struggle just to get through combat he'll be racking up objectives and the game will end early whether you stick it out or not.
But there will also be times when they whiff on first turn and the warlord trait; You just keep clearing away his units as they come on the board and he ends up doing very little damage to your army. I think that if you space well and have lots of interceptor/overwatch that these types of games will be more common. These are the games where you need to keep an eye on the objectives even more than the ambushes. He won't be able to kill you with a zergling rush and so he knows his best bet is using ambushes to control the board and win on scenario.

Got Any Other Bright Ideas?

If you have thought up a counter to the new Genestealer Cults, I'd love to hear it. I often get tunnel-vision in my own playstyle so I miss others.


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