25 Jan 2014

Tactica Tyranids - Hive Tyrants (Flying)

Hey guys, my name is Learn2Eel, and today I'm going to be bringing you another article in the Tyranid Tactica series! Hive Tyrants are the commanders of the swarms, the lynchpin that connects a Tyranid ground invasion force to its brood-mother, the Norn Queen, in the orbiting Hive Fleet. These are the most important creatures in a standard Tyranid army, and great care must be taken so that they survive. For this reason, Hive Tyrants that stalk the earth are protected either through specially engineered protectors, the Tyrant Guard, or adapted wings to allow them to soar above a battlefield and freely prey on the foes they choose. In this article, I will be covering the latter Hive Tyrant variety. I hope you enjoy this article!

Hive Tyrant (Flying)

How to Equip Them

The first obvious step to taking a flying Hive Tyrant is to give it wings; this is a significantly cheaper upgrade than it used to be in the 5th Edition codex even when factoring in the massive advantages it brings with 6th Edition. It is also slightly cheaper than the equivalent upgrade for other monstrous creatures, such as Daemon Princes, which is certainly nice. Realistically, this is probably the best upgrade you could ever take for a Hive Tyrant, as it not only gives them incredible mobility which in turn makes their Synapse and psychic powers far more effective, but the capability to take on enemy fliers. Outside of Crones and monsters armed with a pair of brain-leech devourers, Tyranids don't really have any effective anti-air units. Throwing a Hive Tyrant with wings and a pair of brain-leech devourers into any army list will give them a unit that can annihilate any flyer in the game in one or two salvos if it goes for the more vulnerable side or rear armour. That is also now Ballistic Skill four just makes it a far better deal than it used to be, especially as such a build ends up being much less expensive, with psychic mastery level two thrown in to seal the deal.

Wings make purely assault Hive Tyrants more viable due to the significant mobility boost, even if they can't really work with Tyrant Guard - though you can still take a unit of them to run as a separate melee unit. Being a flying unit gives them a lot more overall survivability, and they should be launching assaults by turn two at the latest. As such, taking a pair of Scything Talons in addition to a Lash Whip and Bonesword will give you a relatively cheap and very dangerous melee Hive Tyrant that is its own delivery system. Throw Adrenal Glands and maybe Toxin Sacs into the mix, and you will have a Hive Tyrant with Fleet on top of its wings, six Strength 7 AP2 attacks on the charge at Initiative 8 - if it doesn't charge into terrain - and instant death on to wound rolls of a 6. This is at a comparable cost to Old One Eye, and certainly is a more viable choice because of how quick and durable it is against most ground weaponry. Unlike ground Hive Tyrants, you can choose your battles most of the time with a flying Hive Tyrant due to the 24" normal and 2D6" Run moves, followed by Fleet charges. Unless you are grounded in a precarious position, you should almost never get into combats you don't want to - say, against a Screamerstar. If you want to go a melee flying Hive Tyrant, this is definitely what I would recommend; the lash whip and bonesword, maybe the Maw Claws of Thyrax - if not, just a stock set of Scything Talons - and Adrenal Glands. Toxin Sacs are good value, but optional, as Fleet is what you really want for a dedicated assault unit. Such a Hive Tyrant will want Paroxysm in particular; against a pesky Wraithknight, for example, lowering its Weapon Skill even by one will force it to hit the Hive Tyrant on 5s in close combat!

For a more balanced Hive Tyrant that splits melee and ranged power, the lash whip and bonesword - or Maw Claws - replacement for one of the Scything Talon sets is mandatory if you want to get any kind of boost to its melee power. Just one set of Scything Talons will do absolutely nothing for a Hive Tyrant, so paying a decent amount of points to take a Lash Whip and Bonesword really isn't a bad idea. From there, with one ranged weapon in mind, the Miasma Cannon is a good bet for its nasty Poisoned (2+) AP4 template in particular on a flying monster, while Thorax Biomorphs - particularly the Shreddershard Beetles - are pretty darn nasty and cheap. The Heavy Venom Cannon is a very nice all-rounder choice, able to put a dent in any vehicle with a bit of luck, while the Stranglethorn Cannon is absolutely brutal against light to medium infantry. Each of the weapon options are nice, so I would base them off what you need more of; lacking Exocrines and Hive Guard, I would be more inclined to take the Heavy Venom Cannon. If Biovores and Harpies aren't present, then a Stranglethorn Cannon could be more useful. The Miasma Cannon is definitely a specialist infantry killer with variable ranges, but one that I would include even with Biovores and Harpies present, just because the AP4 means it will murder Fire Warriors, Dire Avengers and Necron Warriors which are some of the most common infantry around.

When trying to build a purely ranged Hive Tyrant, the best overall build tends to be a pair of twin-linked brain leech devourers just because they are so darn cheap for what they do. That they cost the same for a Ballistic Skill three, non-Skyfire Carnifex as they do for a Ballistic Skill four, Skyfire Hive Tyrant is just crazy good, especially as they are a fantastic deal even on Carnifexes! Putting out twelve Strength 6 shots that hit on 3s with re-rolls to hit will, on average, wreck a three hull point, AV11 vehicle. This includes Rhinos, Stormtalons, Dark Talons, Ravagers that have not Jinked and especially more lightly armoured vehicles like Land Speeders and Venoms. It will also strip off one or two hull points from an AV12 vehicle each time they are fired, which is definitely nothing to sneeze at when facing down Stormravens or Wave Serpents. Use the fantastic mobility of Hive Tyrants to get to the rear armour of Heldrakes, Vendettas and Wave Serpents to destroy them with ease. Though that is the best generalist build, one that also puts so many wounds on monsters and infantry alike, mixing one of the heavy cannons with a thorax biomorph is also something to consider. With a Stranglethorn Cannon and a Miasma Cannon, a Hive Tyrant can fly around from long range, being a pest as it drops a Strength 6 AP5 Pinning Large Blast in addition to a Poisoned (2+) Small Blast, all at 36". A nice alternative at short range would be to take a Miasma Cannon and a Thorax Swarm, preferably with Sheddershard Beetles, to drop first a Poisoned (2+) AP4 template, then a Strength 3 Rending template with re-rolls to wound. No cover saves for you, infantry blobs! This build is nice, but you do need to be aware that strictly short ranged Hive Tyrants can be neutered by a proliferation of Skyfire or even a single infantry unit camping on an objective with the random Skyfire benefit. Getting in rapid fire range of one or more units significantly increases the odds of taking grounding tests, so I do recommend the brain-leech devourers - even over melee and other ranged builds - to be a medium ranged threat that gets in range on turn one and does the most damage.

The Bio-Artefacts share most of the same qualities on a walking Hive Tyrant, save that they are generally a bit more valuable to a flying Hive Tyrant as their mobility means they are more likely to get the most use out of them. The Miasma Cannon, for example, is far nastier as a template weapon than a small blast, so a flying Hive Tyrant really wants it. The Maw Claws are exponentially better for a flying Hive Tyrant as it can reliably get that Preferred Enemy bonus by turn two, and they are a worthwhile replacement for a set of (useless) Scything Talons. The Norn Crown may be more useful here than for a walking Hive Tyrant simply because a flying Hive Tyrant is more likely to be out of range of friendly units even with Dominion thrown in, though I still believe it is unnecessary - just take more Zoanthropes instead! I'm not a fan of the Ymgarl Factor, but the more assault phases you can get, the better, so it probably is a handier addition for this Hive Tyrant. The Reaper of Obliterax is in a similar boat, not really being a worthwhile use of the points especially as a few upgrades around a lash whip and bonesword will do the same or better, but it is undeniably stronger on a faster model. 

Where to Put Them

There are a few rule clarifications regarding flying monstrous creatures that many players continue to forget, even almost a full year and a half since 6th Edition released. The first is that wings on a monster do not count towards line of sight, which means that the small body of a Hive Tyrant can be easily hidden behind a decently sized ruin despite its comparatively massive wings. The second is that flying monsters use the exact same cover rules as ground monstrous creatures, with the additional option to Evade, granting it the Jink rule at the cost of snap firing its guns. Even when swooping, a flying monstrous creature with its base touching or in terrain will benefit from any applicable cover save provided by that piece of terrain. That a swooping flying monstrous creature never takes dangerous terrain tests, is never slowed by terrain, and benefits from terrain the same as any other monster, there is literally no reason not to finish their moves in cover. Even when arriving from reserve, or moving closer to an enemy unit, unless you want to charge a unit in that turn, finishing in cover is always recommended. That you have a 24" move distance and a possible 2D6" run just makes it easier to get into terrain, while the 12" minimum move should help you get into more clustered terrain pieces. As Hive Tyrants lack invulnerable saves, keeping to cover is essential as many Skyfire weapons will ignore their 3+ armour save. It goes without saying that Vector Strikes will offer you no defence, so try to plan for this by staying about 32" away from an opponents' board edge in the case of a Heldrake - it has to fly over you to Vector Strike with only a 36" move - which does suck. For other flying monstrous creatures, abuse their 90 degree maximum turn for Swooping and taking off and fly behind them; a Hive Tyrant equipped with two ranged weapons, unlike most flying monstrous creatures, won't care too much if it can't vector strike!

A common mistake made when using flying monstrous creatures is over-aggressiveness with them due to snap-shots from ground units being a requirement to hit them, as well as their 24" move and 2D6" run move. Once a Hive Tyrant is the target of focused shooting, it will have to take a grounding test for - on average - any unit that can put out six or more shots at it. Fire Warriors with their 15" rapid fire guns, a Land Raider Crusader, a small unit of Dire Avengers, an Annihilation Barge and so on will all statistically force a grounding test with an effective range of 24" to 30" when their own movement is taken into account. A failed grounding test is an almost guaranteed wound for a Toughness 6 model lacking an invulnerable save, and from there, potent anti tank or massed high Strength shooting - missile launchers, missile pods, lascannons, plasma guns, Bio-Plasmic Cannons and so on - will put the Hive Tyrant down very quickly. This ties into keeping to cover as much as possible; even though most weapons that do hit you will probably just be small arms fire, you want to be in cover for that inevitable failed grounding test. While cover saves are not allowed against that particular wound, they are against most shots that will subsequently target the Hive Tyrant. This can and will save your Hive Tyrant, so never go without terrain unless you have no choice. Even with the Evade rule, I still recommend sticking to terrain as you will likely want to get back in the sky and thus shoot your opponent, so minimizing the necessity of Evading is always handy - it is a last resort. To avoid getting shot at by an unnecessarily high amount of units, try to block line of sight wherever possible through the use of terrain. Don't always move 24" on the first turn unless you can get behind sight blocking terrain; even moving 12" should get your 18" brain-leech devourers in range, or heck, your 36" range guns can shoot regardless. Don't move flat out forward unless you are preparing for a fast assault and putting pressure on an opponents' heavy hitters, like Broadsides and Devastators, alongside other flyers such as Crones.

Best Uses

Much like a walking Hive Tyrant, its flying counter-part is suited to pretty much any army list you can imagine, though its mere inclusion is enough to justify a "flying circus". A flying Hive Tyrant brings Synapse, two very valuable psychic powers and a decently durable warlord choice to a Tyranid force. It is incredibly fast and, depending on the amount of Skyfire weapons in an opponents force, either quite a bit less or almost as durable as a Hive Tyrant with two Tyrant Guard on foot. It can be tailored for melee and ranged warfare - or do a decent mix of both - and has great stats that make it mostly immune to psychic attacks and characteristic tests. It is a great generalist that competes very well with flying monstrous creatures from any army because of its effectiveness and cost, as well as immunity to conventional instant death. When you take a flying Hive Tyrant or two, Crones and Harpies will crow and shriek - respectively - with joy, as sending up to five rather cheap and very damaging flying monsters at any opponent is likely to unnerve them, especially when they take up just over half of a 1500 point army list! They thus make flyer-spam supported by fast assault - namely Hormagaunts, Gargoyles and Mawlocs - lists far more viable with mobile Synapse generators. They work best for any kind of fast Tyranid army as they themselves are the quickest Synapse units in the codex.

The minimum 12" movement doesn't lend itself too well to a slower, Exocrine and Hive Guard themed list even when Dominion is thrown, so those are where the foot Hive Tyrant wins out for the most part. Where the ground Hive Tyrant is the more supportive type, the flying Hive Tyrant is definitely the one for aggressive builds; used smartly with terrain and controlled aggression, a flying Hive Tyrant is a devastating generalist that counters flyers, psykers and ground vehicles better than any other in the codex. In fact, its 24" move coupled with Shadow in the Warp makes it one of the prime counters to psychic-blessing reliant builds for Tyranids, such as dual Farseer Eldar or Screamerstars. I see the best use of the flying Hive Tyrant to be equipped with two brain-leech devourers, as they are the most cost effective weapon option and the biggest threat to vehicles - particularly flyers - and being an aggressive unit that hugs cover and uses its 24" move to hide as much as possible. It is an easy source of First Blood through its twelve Strength 6 shots with an effective range of 42", and is durable enough provided it isn't moved into the line of fire of many enemy units. Try to increase its Synapse bubble through Dominion to benefit your Gargoyles and other flyers if possible, and cast psychic buffs and maledictions as necessary.

Recommended Builds

These are a few example builds for the unit that I feel can fit into a number of competitive Tyranid lists. I'll list some thoughts on each build and what kind of lists they fit better in.

Hive Tyrant - Two Twin-linked Brain Leech Devourers, Wings - This is your cookie-cutter flying Hive Tyrant, but also unarguably the best - plus an upgrade or two perhaps. They provide twelve twin-linked Strength 6 shots that hit on 4s naturally, meaning they can tear apart light vehicles, flyers, light infantry and medium armoured monstrous creatures with ease. They are still a good melee unit, especially as an incredibly mobile flying monstrous creature, while providing Synapse and great psychic powers. This is a generalist, and the best of the bunch.

Hive Tyrant - Miasma Cannon, Thorax Swarm with Shreddershard Beetles, Wings - This build isn't capable of really handling enemy flyers and flying monstrous creatures, but it sure does devastate infantry. A Strength 3 Rending template with re-rolls to wound paired up with a Poisoned (+2) AP4 template, what's not to like? It isn't too expensive either, only a handful of points more than the other, and it just annihilates infantry like few other monsters in the codex - shaded only perhaps by the Tyrannofex.

Hive Tyrant - Adrenal Glands, Lash Whip and Bonesword, Toxin Sacs, Wings - This is of course identical to the melee Hive Tyrant build I suggested for walking variations, but with wings added in. The option for Tyrant Guard as early bodyguards is cool, but unnecessary and costly. This build uses its insane speed and natural durability to pick its targets and mash them with Poisoned attacks with the potential for Instant Death at Initiative 8. Fleet on a Flying Monstrous Creature is nuts, and means it can run incredibly quickly. And with six attacks on the charge, it packs a wallop!

Thank you for reading this article! Please, share your thoughts on the article and the changes I am experimenting with for this series. I am open to any and all feedback! And remember, for any and all discussion on Tyranids and Games Workshop stuff, head on over to +Bell of Lost Souls. Thanks again! Eel out.


  1. Thank you for posting this info, its very helpful to a newly recruited Nid fan.

  2. Same new mid player who regularly uses two Flyrants with twin linked devourers!