26 Jan 2014

Tactica Tyranids - Tyrant Guard

Hey guys, my name is Learn2Eel, and today I'm going to be bringing you another article in the Tyranid Tactica series! Tyrant Guard have adopted the bio traits of Space Marines, sacrificing eyes and other important facial features so as to not compromise what is a near impenetrable armoured shell. These monstrous guardians serve as the protectors of a Hive Fleets' Hive Tyrants, perhaps the most important synaptic links to a Norn Queen in a swarm. As massive as the one they protect, and adapted with weapons to crush any foe, the Tyrant Guard are a truly fearsome sight. Led by a Hive Tyrant, these simple creatures become ferocious defenders unparalleled. I hope you enjoy this article!

Tyrant Guard


Tyrant Guard stalk the line between monstrous creature and infantry more than perhaps any other model in the game, especially owing to their crazy large models. Their background depicts them as engineered solely for defending the crucial Hive Tyrants, and their stats really do reflect this. With Toughness 6, two wounds each and a 3+ armour save, they are easily the most durable unit in the codex that isn't a monstrous creature. Being wounded on 6s by bolters and 5s by pulse rifles makes a huge difference, especially as Tyrant Guard provide ablative wounds against that massed small arms fire. I stop short of saying they are the perfect bodyguards though, as the lack of Tyranid transports, inability to deep strike and no option to get wings like certain Hive Tyrant builds limits their mobility quite a bit. The lack of invulnerable saves forces them to rely on cover, as they will always be an obvious target by protecting what will likely be the Warlord creature. Still, they are worthwhile alone for the ablative wounds they provide to a Hive Tyrant, and they are absolutely mandatory for the Swarmlord, meaning they always have a place. They do manage quite well on the other side of the spectrum too, with a good Weapon Skill five, three attacks base when counting their two melee weapon sets, solid Initiative four, and a very decent Strength five. They come equipped with Rending Claws and Scything Talons, the latter of which can be swapped out for much nastier - but costly - weapon options like Crushing Claws. Even stock Tyrant Guard are quite nasty, tanking wounds in combat against Strength four and lower opponents - they can't be targeted by krak grenades, importantly - while mashing up with a good number of Rending attacks each that also double as AP5 non-Rending wounds. Bare Tyrant Guard are mini meat grinders against chaff and tarpit units, while they are also quite threatening to monsters, light vehicles and elite infantry due to Rending.

Tyrant Guard can become doubly effective in combat through the cheap Toxin Sacs upgrade allowing them to take on something like a C'tan that absolutely despises poison. Of course, Tyrant Guard are only Toughness 6 with no invulnerable save, so they will drop quickly to monsters if they aren't baby-sitting a nasty melee Hive Tyrant. If you can get the monster to charge into cover, or the Tyrant Guard are equipped with lash whips and boneswords and aren't suffering Initiative penalties, it could lead to some....hilarity. Get a single 6 to wound against a Wraithknight from your lash whip and bonesword equipped Tyrant Guard and laugh at how your bodyguards slew a (metaphorical) titan. The other biomorph available to them is Adrenal Glands, one that I always recommend not because it grants Furious Charge - which is invalidated by equally priced Toxin Sacs - but because it gives out Fleet. Give Adrenal Glands to a Hive Tyrant and its Tyrant Guard and you can have a big nasty mini-deathstar with Fleet. Nice! Now, provided your Hive Tyrant doesn't get sniped out or killed first by some unfathomably cruel turn of fate, your Tyrant Guard will never actually have to worry about their feeding Instinctive Behaviour. If they do however, it really isn't nice - they can eat each other! There is an upswing to this though; for the rest of the game after their leader has bit the bullet, the Tyrant Guard get both Furious Charge and Rage. As your Tyrant Guard will likely have Adrenal Glands anyway, Furious Charge isn't that big a boon, but Rage is pretty darn nasty. Without Toxin Sacs or a weapon upgrade, each Tyrant Guard would have five attacks at Strength 6 with Rending on the charge. Ouch! They thus become a pretty scary proposition for your opponent provided they are kept within Synapse range of a backup unit such as a Zoanthrope, able to maul most infantry units and non-walker vehicles. It becomes so much worse if they actually do have Toxin Sacs, Adrenal Glands, Crushing Claws or Lash Whips and Boneswords; something tells me no one wants to see mini Carnifexes with five Strength 7 AP2 Armourbane attacks each on the charge surprising them with their smaller bulk.

But wait a second, how does a Hive Tyrant - which isn't an independent character - join a Tyrant Guard unit? Why am I imposing a rhetorical question this far into the review? Firstly, Tyrant Guard have the Shieldwall special rule, allowing one Hive Tyrant - or the Swarmlord - to join the unit. Only one Hive Tyrant may be attached, no more, no less. One shall be the number that can be attached, and the number that can be attached can be one. Two cannot be attached, nor can zero, except if you can then proceed to one. Four is right out. Once the.....wait, what was I talking about? Oh, the Hive Tyrant or Swarmlord automatically pass Look Out Sirs when attached to the unit, something along those lines, eh. Not enough pins or bits for me to be interested, though I guess ignoring sniping shenanigans with barrage weapons is somewhat* nice. But secondly, it was because they told me to! But really, they make fantastic bodyguards, crystal skulls or not.

*"Somewhat" may or may not be disingenuous. Please refer to the terminology "somewhat" as "incredibly" for future reference.

How to Equip Them

With a modest points drop and no significant changes in effectiveness, Tyrant Guard have three main permutations available. The first and certainly viable option is to keep them standard; unlike those they protect, they come not with two pairs of Scything Talons, but one pair in addition to Rending Claws. This means that they still benefit from a base three attacks each and four on the charge, with AP5 melee attacks that can potentially cut through armour with AP2 or +D3 to armour penetration. With a base Strength 5, Weapon Skill 5 and Initiative 4, this makes them very decent melee combatants, even if most of their 'grunt' comes from how tough they are. With Rending Claws and Adrenal Glands, Tyrant Guard can potentially get penetrating hits on AV14 vehicles, though this of course relies on a lot of luck. I like keeping Tyrant Guard bare on the weapon front simply because you want to keep those ablative wounds cheap. From experience, you don't plan on Tyrant Guard actually surviving, especially as Tyranids now only really have randomly generated Catalyst to protect them in terms of psychic powers. You pay those points for two Toughness 6, 3+ armoured wounds per model, something that is well worth the price to protect a far more important - and deadlier - Hive Tyrant. Rending Claws allow them to cut through chaff with ease and provide a decent threat against heavier armoured enemies, allowing them to hide behind that crazy good Toughness value.

Of course, if you really want those AP2 attacks that also crunch heavy vehicles, Tyrant Guard now have access to Crushing Claws. These are Unwieldy, give the Tyrant Guard AP2 attacks, a minor Strength boost and the Armourbane special rule. With four Strength 6 Armourbane attacks on the charge at AP2 per model, even a pair of Tyrant Guard can pretty reliably get two or three damage results against a Land Raider or Monolith, with each also getting a nifty +1 roll on the damage chart. This is a pretty costly upgrade though, but one that is quite tasty; ignoring 2+ armour saves comes naturally to a Hive Tyrant, but giving it to the Tyrant Guard bodyguards can make for a Terminator-mashing unit. It does conflict with what a Hive Tyrant brings to a unit though, especially as Unwieldy means that the Tyrant Guard lose a big advantage they have against power fists and power axes. I think that while Crushing Claws are a neat upgrade, they are probably unnecessary for Tyrant Guard unless you are running them with a Hive Tyrant separate from the unit. The Hive Tyrant alone can bring you those Smash attacks and cut through vehicles, and it is also prudent to note that Rending Claws on Strength 5 bodies should be handy enough. However, a point of note in regards to Unwieldy is that Tyrant Guard, like Hive Tyrants, lack access to both Flesh Hooks and Spine Banks. This means that if the unit charges into cover, they will be striking at the Initiative one step regardless, so it does give Crushing Claws a very nice advantage over the Lash Whip and Bonesword.

Speaking of the dreaded pairing, yes, Tyrant Guard now combine the Lash Whip and Bonesword rather than being limited to only one of the two at a time. The changes to lash whips make them far less desirable than they were, as previously they mitigated the lack of assault grenades as well as evening the playing field against high Initiative opponents. They allowed Hive Tyrants to deal with Black Mace equipped Daemon Princes, even if the Hive Tyrant itself would perish. They allowed the unit to combat someone like Mephiston with some degree of success, especially with a Hive Tyrant hiding behind a 2+ armour save. Now, they merely provide a +3 Initiative bonus to the wielder, boosting Tyrant Guard up to a whopping Initiative seven. While this is really cool, it is nowhere near as ubiquitous as the old incarnation; a flat reduction to Initiative one for all enemies in base contact completely mitigated the lack of assault grenades. Now, it is useless when charging into terrain, and still not as useful for the Hive Tyrant itself against Initiative five or higher opponents. The Bonesword also saw a few big changes, the first of which is that it no longer flatly ignores armour saves, but is instead AP3. This means that Tyrant Guard can't just scythe through Terminators, which is fair enough; though of course as they keep their Rending Claws, they can still use those to cut through 2+ armour saves. The more interesting change is that 6s to wound with boneswords now inflict instant death, rather than the "one leadership test for all wounds inflicted by boneswords in that phase" which was limiting and not that great against the usual Leadership 9 and 10 characters and monsters. This makes Tyrant Guard far scarier against Wraithknights, for example, but less threatening to Riptides and Dreadknights who can hide behind their 2+ armour saves against the AP3 wounds.

I personally prefer keeping Tyrant Guard stock with weapon options as, again, they are there to "die" rather than actually fight. If they make it into combat, master present or not, then that is merely a bonus. Besides, each put outs four Strength 5 Rending attacks at Initiative four with Weapon Skill five anyway. That's generally enough to beat down Tactical Marines who, laughably, cannot use their krak grenades against the Toughness 6 mini monsters, and most other infantry. If you do want to upgrade them, I tend to prefer Crushing Claws as when the cards are down and terrain is prevalent, the claws give Tyrant Guard the biggest offensive boost overall with guaranteed AP2, +1 Strength and Armourbane. Lash Whips and Boneswords are certainly nasty for 3+ armoured bodies, characters and monsters, but once you negate the lash whip bonus, I don't think they are as valuable. Again, four Strength 6 AP2 attacks rolling 2D6 for armour penetration can deal with almost all conventional units, vehicular or not, which is far better for using a lord-less unit of Tyrant Guard. If you want the best bodyguards, keep them cheap with their stock equipment. If you want a stand-alone unit, take Crushing Claws as it will make your Tyrant Guard a viable threat against any unit lacking lots of high Strength AP3 or AP2 attacks. The Lash Whip and Bonesword have their uses if you want to keep the Tyrant Guard with a Hive Tyrant, but I would still prefer the Crushing Claws if you want to spend those points to upgrade the Tyrant Guard.

The two other options available to Tyrant Guard that fit regardless of your weapon choices are Adrenal Glands and Toxin Sacs. In the previous codex, Tyrant Guard couldn't even take either of these biomorphs due to the lacking options for the model. Now generally speaking, Toxin Sacs give you the best offensive output; permanently having Poisoned (4+) attacks, especially with a good Strength of five, is always preferable to one round of Strength 6 attacks. Tyrant Guard using their Rending Claws, for example, will wound a Wraithknight on 4s with 6s ignoring its armour, while they would only wound on 6s - as well as ignoring armour - if they took Adrenal Glands. Similarly, they would wound on 2s against Space Marines with the Adrenal Glands for one round, but the Toxin Sacs would let them wound on 3s with re-rolls in every round. It's a wash, really, but it misses the true point of Adrenal Glands for the new codex. Now that they confer Fleet, Adrenal Glands have sky-rocketed into usefulness, giving a much needed speed boost for any Tyranid ground unit that lacks the special rule innately. For a unit entirely lacking ranged weapons - aside from potentially the Hive Tyrant - Adrenal Glands are almost a must-buy for Tyrant Guard, not so much that they reach combat, but to guarantee the Hive Tyrant does. Each model in a unit has to have Fleet for the unit to reap the benefits, so paying a small tax to give two or three Tyrant Guard as well as a Hive Tyrant Fleet is well worth your time. Neither upgrade is strictly necessary, but both are very useful; Toxin Sacs suffer a bit because, again, Tyrant Guard aren't really there for their damage output. Adrenal Glands, on the other hand, are always useful no matter the opponent. Just remember that giving Adrenal Glands to Tyrant Guard protecting the Swarmlord isn't really worthwhile as the Swarmlord itself lacks both Fleet and the option to take Adrenal Glands.

Where to Put Them

As any Tyranid player will tell you, terrain is your friend. I must sound like a broken record only four unit reviews into the Tactica series, but it really needs to be said. Tyrant Guard lack Move Through Cover, which can be very annoying when you are trying to move from cover to cover to make up for their lack of invulnerable saves. Handily, this is only an issue when their leader beast is detached or dead, so it isn't something to worry about; Move Through Cover applies if only one model in the unit has it, and as Hive Tyrants do, your Tyrant Guard and their quarry can move through terrain without issue. On top of rolling 3D6 choose the highest for movement and ignoring any kind of dangerous terrain test, giving Adrenal Glands to the Tyrant Guard and Hive Tyrant for Fleet will lead to a pretty mobile unit, one that will lose about 3" on your very fast Hormagaunt broods each turn. This all boils down to three short and simple words that you must live by to be a successful Hive Lord; keep to cover! Don't be a dolt, abuse line of sight blocking terrain and actually move into terrain at all costs. Lacking invulnerable saves means you can't get away with plonking up the field or deep striking anywhere you please much like Riptides or Legion of the Damned, and no 2+ armour on any model in the unit against shooting is a downer that really forces you to hide and slow down. Assuming you play on a standard game board, this won't be an issue. If you play against an Imperial Guard or Tau player who insists they should have all the terrain in their deployment zone to make the game "cinematic", shake their hand and slap them twice - once for their lack of ingenuity, twice for thinking a massacre is any sort of fun for both players.

So with that out of the way, there are two places to put Tyrant Guard. The first and most obvious is attached to a Hive Tyrant - or the Swarmlord - and slogging it up the field (though that of course is also disingenuous as they will always slog up the field with no deep striking) used as ablative wounds for an important Synapse creature. The Hive Tyrant or Swarmlord will typically want to be near the middle of the army and backed by Venomthropes and covering models such as Hormagaunts and Carnifexes to stay alive. With Venomthropes, a wall of monsters and two or more Tyrant Guard, the Hive Tyrant will be ridiculously hard to remove which is pretty much all you could want. Attaching a flying Hive Tyrant is viable as well, using the Tyrant Guard as early bodyguards and then detaching for both units to assault different targets, for example. The other use for Tyrant Guard is to detach the Hive Tyrant early on, or not join them at all. This plays on the relatively cost effective models themselves as an entirely distinct unit. A brood of two armed with Crushing Claws is not much more expensive than a Carnifex, but has almost double the damage output in melee and the same survivability - save that the damage output is halved after two wounds are suffered. All in all, they really aren't a bad deal, especially as their Toughness 6 and two wounds each mean that opponents will actually have to target them with some serious firepower to remove them. Even one Tyrant Guard can easily mop up an entire Fire Warrior team, Overwatch not withstanding. Of course, I think at that point I probably would still prefer a Carnifex, or even a Zoanthrope for the Synapse and psychic support role. I want Tyrant Guard to protect my valuable Hive Tyrant and even act as cover for Venomthropes, though using them as a separate unit can be kind of funny.

Best Uses

I'm sold on Tyrant Guard, especially with the points drop, but only when properly attached to a footslogging Hive Tyrant. A winged Hive Tyrant armed with two brain leech devourers really wants to be heading up the field early on to make use of its medium ranged weapons, while a flying Hive Tyrant with a Heavy Venom Cannon or another long ranged weapon may as well just drop the wings. I don't see the Swarmlord as being as valuable as a significantly cheap foot Hive Tyrant armed with a long ranged bio-cannon or two - such as a Stranglethorn Cannon and Miasma Cannon combo - while a melee Hive Tyrant is generally better suited to taking wings. The Tyrant Guard are there to keep the Hive Tyrant alive, not to actually kill stuff, as you always have to expect to lose models when foot-slogging - something only Tyranids know all too well, especially now that we don't have access to Gate of Infinity or Mycetic Spores. This is why I recommend keeping the Tyrant Guard stock, save for Adrenal Glands; they really don't need the extras, so make sure your Hive Tyrant also takes Adrenal Glands if you want the very handy Fleet bonus. Keep to cover, use Hormagaunts and Termagants as mobile tarpits and blockers, use other monsters to interdict and provide cover saves, and don't be afraid to move through terrain as it doesn't really slow the unit down that much.

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.

Tyrant Guard (2) - Adrenal Glands - Yes, this is simple and short. However, as bodyguards for a melee Hive Tyrant also equipped with Adrenal Glands, Tyrant Guard literally need no other upgrades. Fleet on a unit comprising of eight Toughness 6 wounds and great melee capabilities is all you need.

Tyrant Guard (2) - Crushing Claws - If you want some bodyguards for a flying Hive Tyrant early on that transition into a solo melee unit, Crushing Claws make them incredibly nasty against almost anything. They can pulverise all kinds of infantry and vehicles, and they aren't too expensive either.

Living Shields

Bound by instinct and the will of a galactic entity to protect and serve the whims of a Hive Tyrant above all else, Tyrant Guard are defenders of a different kind. They are not valiant in sacrifice or strong in courage. They are creatures purged of all thought by a single overriding purpose; to stand as a wall of flesh and bone between the Tyrant Lords of the Swarm and those foolish enough to challenge them. They do not hesitate, and they do not falter, for such actions are as alien to them as the many Tyranids sub-species are to the known galaxy. They stand vigil even as their body is wracked by a torrent of destruction, for they feel nothing and know only to guard their masters. Strong and incredibly resilient, they are a shield against any foe, fighting with an impossible ferocity that only multiplies with the fall of the Hive Tyrants they defend.

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. That was a very entertaining read. Thanks. As a new Nid player, I'm excited about the new book. I'm seeing the army as I would see them in a movie or book. A Wave of creatures of all types that are the basis of nightmares. They really seem to pasture the fluff, nicely.

    Yes,I am not a competitive gamer anymore. I collect and play for fun. Nids are definately that! Fun!

    Thanks for your articles. I've been reading your thoughts since the Tau release. Thank you for your time and effort. It's really appreciated