23 Feb 2014

Tactica Tyranids - Shrikes

Hey guys, my name is Learn2Eel, and today I'm going to be bringing you another article in the Tyranid Tactica series! Shrikes are, literally, flying Warriors that trade durability for mobility in what proves to be a more interesting unit than their walking kin. Though they are still without an official model from Games Workshop, requiring both the basic Warrior models and conversion packs from Forge World, Shrikes are nonetheless an option to consider for many a Tyranid general. This is because they are one of the quickest Synapse units, able to easily keep up with Hormagaunts, Gargoyles and - to a lesser extent - Harpies and Crones. I hope you enjoy this article!

Tyranid Shrikes


The comparisons between Shrikes and Warriors are probably justified, though I do feel they are a bit unfair. Both units were made to fit different roles in the army, even if both roles are mechanically identical. They belong in different kinds of lists, and as such you should always think about which one fits your list better rather than which one is better as a stand-alone unit. But first, let's have a look at what makes Shrikes tick. The first obvious similarity to Warriors comes in their stats with there being only one exception to what would otherwise be identical. Shrikes are Strength and Toughness 4 with three wounds a piece, making them as tough as a Space Marine that can take their 3+ armour save even if the Shrikes themselves cannot. They are not immune to instant death, of course, and their Toughness 4 makes them prone to such an effect from Strength 8 and higher weapons. This unfortunately ties directly into the incredible firepower of a Riptide armed with an Ion Accelerator and buffed with supporting markerlights or a Tau Commander, a unit that is so common as to be something you should prepare for in almost any game. This aside, Warriors do have some pretty good stats. Three Strength 4 attacks each before melee weapons and other upgrades are taken into account is more than decent, especially with Weapon Skill 5 and an average Initiative 4 to back them up. While they do lack assault grenades to fully capitalize on being swifter than Ork and Necron assault units, they can purchase Flesh Hooks to make up for this deficiency while providing a light ranged attack.

They are a decent but uninspiring ranged unit, with Ballistic Skill 3 and a standard three-shot weapon at Strength 4 and AP- being mediocre at best. Three shots per model might sound high, but not when you consider that two Tactical Marines for the cost of a single Shrike put out an extra shot at a mere 6" less range when rapid-firing, and can shoot two shots at 24" rather than being capped at 18". When you consider their high cost per model and fragility, as well as the high expense of most upgrades, Shrikes - and Warriors - are not very efficient in terms of damage output. Like any Tyranid unit, you want them to join up with other friendly assault units if you really need to be rid of a given enemy squad. This is where their support abilities serve to make them more valuable than they would initially appear. Each Shrike not only has three wounds per model, good stats and decent damage output, but they also act as Synapse generators that prevent your other forces from collapsing as a result of Instinctive Behaviour. The new Instinctive Behaviour charts are even more of a penalty than ever, with one result leading to a unit destroying itself and another to a unit fleeing out of the blue. These are actions that go beyond a Tyranid players' control, ones that take the element of choice and tactics away from them and serve as harsh punishments for failing to keep your Synapse units alive and in range of those units that require control. This is the role of Shrikes, identical mechanically to Warriors; they are generalists that are unimpressive alone, but are made inherently worthwhile by the weaknesses of the rest of the army, downfalls that they can negate entirely.

But the mechanical similarity of role actually proves to be very distinct in practice. There are four noticeable differences between Shrikes and Warriors, with three of them proving to be major in all or most scenarios. Firstly, Shrikes have a weaker armour save than Warriors, trading a 4+ armour save for an inferior 5+ armour save. Shrikes are thus significantly less survivable against most small arms fire, suffering wounds automatically - assuming no cover - from AP5 weapons, as opposed to having a 50% chance to save each wound. Considering that Tau Fire Warriors, Eldar Guardians, Dark Eldar Kabalite Warriors, Space Marines of all kinds, Necron Warriors, Adepta Sororitas Battle Sisters, Chaos Daemon Pink Horrors and even Tyranid Termagants all carry AP5 or better weapons as stock, this means that Shrikes are incredibly vulnerable to the most basic shooting of all but two armies in the game. This means that they are significantly less survivable than Warriors, and are thus almost entirely reliant on cover - whether through intervening Gargoyles or terrain - to survive. While Warriors do need to attain cover saves to avoid the ranged attacks that can and will kill them instantly, they suffer no such limitation against small arms fire - except in the case of Eldar Bladestorm shooting and Pink Horrors with Flickering Fire. The main trade-off here is that Shrikes have double the mobility of Warriors effectively, changing their unit type from regular Infantry to Jump Infantry. While Warriors can survive a significant amount of small arms fire when compared to Shrikes, they will take roughly twice the length of time to actually reach a given position. With Tyranids having easily accessed cover saves through cheap horde units and the large amount of terrain that should be inherent to every 6th Edition gaming table, this serves to make Shrikes the more ideal assault unit of the two. Warriors are more naturally suited as a long range unit supporting other elements with a long range, while Shrikes are better for medium ranged shooting as their 18" gun range does not become a penalty once their 12" move is factored in, giving them the rough equivalent threat range of foot-slogging units wielding weapons with a 24" range.

The third major difference comes with the Force Organization slot each unit occupies, and what benefits it gives to one unit in particular. Warriors are a Troops choice, meaning that not only can they fulfill the mandatory two Troops slots that each Warhammer 40000 army must fill - excepting Imperial Knights - but they are also a scoring unit. Warriors can fulfill your Troop "tax" similarly to how Warhammer Fantasy armies are built with a minimum Core requirement, meaning that their actual cost is almost a non-issue. Shrikes, on the other hand, cannot be a Troops choice and thus their similar cost is actually felt rather than taken in stride. The main difference here, however, is that Shrikes are only a scoring unit in one out five possible missions featuring objectives, whereas Warriors are scoring in each of those five scenarios. Warriors can capture objectives which are pivotal to winning a game; Shrikes can only deny objectives. This means that Warriors make ideal objective sitters, protecting an objective and ensuring you get any applicable victory points. Shrikes are instead an objective taking unit, one that uses their mobility and high threat range to focus down enemy scoring units and prevent them from capturing the objectives closest or inside their deployment zone.

The fourth difference, albeit a minor one, is that Shrikes pay slightly less for Adrenal Glands than Warriors do. The reasoning for this is that Shrikes can get half the benefit of Fleet if they don't use their jump infantry movement in the movement phase, electing instead to gain a re-roll to their random charge length in the assault phase. Of course, by being a jump infantry unit, Shrikes naturally get more benefit out of Adrenal Glands anyway as they are far more likely to actually make it to an assault through mobility alone. Moving 12" and still getting a re-roll to their charge range makes Shrikes strikingly similar to Raveners in terms of sheer swiftness, while gaining Strength 5 attacks on the charge is always a welcome bonus. While it isn't too large a difference, it does add up with the other three changes to lead to a unit that goes about the same role as Warriors using unique methods. As Warriors move forward into the midfield or stay back with the walking units, Shrikes are more suited to striking at the enemy directly in their territory in conjunction with other flying units. Both are built as a Synapse unit first and a damaging unit second, but they go about it entirely distinctly. This is why I advocate Shrikes in one kind of list - a highly aggressive list - and Warriors in another kind of list - a medium to long ranged gun-line hybrid list. Both have their uses, even if Shrikes are far more vulnerable against more common forms of shooting, and as such I don't see the purpose in trying to work out which unit is stronger than the other in general. It is a pointless debate as either unit can work better in any given list depending on its make-up.

How to Equip Them

Shrikes are identical to Warriors in terms of available options, though they pay slightly less for one of the upgrades. They can exchange their Devourers for Spinefists with no cost, an upgrade that I would consider even more on Shrikes than for Warriors. The 12" range and lower Strength hurt, but the addition of an AP value (five) and twin-linking make it something of an even trade. For a jump infantry unit, the shorter range isn't that much of an issue either, actually. Whether you decide to stick with devourers or take the spinefists as such should come down to preference more than anything else. The devourers can also be replaced with deathspitters as a paid upgrade, gaining an extra Strength and that AP5. These are definitely an upgrade over the devourers and are one of the few options I would take on Shrikes; if you are going to deathspitters though, don't take any melee upgrades on the same model. Spread the upgrades around to reduce the cost of a unit as well as making each Shrike in the squad a target. Shrikes can also take a single barbed strangler or venom cannon regardless of their squad size, a cheap weapon upgrade that you really have no reason not to take. I prefer the barbed strangler with devourers and spinefists to focus the unit on harassing infantry, with the venom cannon better paired up with deathspitters to put out lots of medium Strength shooting that is a legitimate threat to light vehicles.

The more melee oriented options are definitely more interesting for the much faster Shrikes than they are for Warriors, but they still ultimately come up lacking. The reason for this is that while Shrikes are more mobile than Warriors, they are even more fragile while remaining inefficient in terms of damage output for the points spent. For this reason, I tend to put any points spent on upgrades towards bio-cannons or deathspitters simply because they tend to pay higher dividends. While Shrikes will survive longest in combat, they don't need the extra damage output to stay there and there are always units Shrikes won't be able to charge - or won't want to. There are more mobile units than Shrikes, or units with short ranged weapons like flamers and meltas, that the Shrikes will typically be unable to charge without great cost. With that said, I've found the boneswords and lash whip and bonesword combination to be unnecessary for the unit. Both are very expensive and will only really serve to increase the odds of Shrikes slaughtering units of Space Marines and other infantry in a single round of combat, something that is almost always a bad thing. Assuming Shrikes charge, they will want to spend two close combat phases locked up in a melee so that they don't get shot in the opponents' turn. Shrikes are already a pretty decent melee unit with four attacks each on the charge assuming they keep their ranged weapon, not to mention that the AP3 of these weapons won't really help against true dedicated combat units with 2+ saves or invulnerable saves anyway. Besides, to make use of a lashwhip and bonesword combo effectively, each Shrike equipped with them would also have to take Flesh Hooks so as to be striking at Initiative when charging through cover. Those two upgrades for just one Shrike are almost equivalent to the cost of a second stock Shrike, and in almost all cases that extra Shrike is better to give the unit both more survivability and more presence with Synapse. I tend to avoid melee upgrades on Shrikes despite them being naturally more suited to an offensive role than Warriors - especially when their mobile Synapse capabilities are considered for units like Gargoyles - because they are still very fragile, but some of them are worthwhile.

Rending Claws on about a third of the models in a unit is a very decent usage of points, allowing the unit the capability to damage AV11 and higher vehicles, as well as getting a few AP2 wounds as necessary. While I don't advocate ever charging Shrikes into Terminator equivalents, adding those potential wounds can still mean the difference between a unit being flattened totally by a Dreadknight and one that actually weakens it somewhat for Tyranid shooting to finish it off. Shrikes, interestingly, get Adrenal Glands for a point less per model than Warriors despite actually getting greater benefits out of it. I understand that as jump infantry they can re-roll their charge distances if they don't use their jump packs in the preceding movement phase, but they are still effectively twice as fast as Warriors. Being able to move 12" and then re-roll their charge distance or run distance is of higher value here than it is as a costlier upgrade to Warriors. Strength 5 attacks on the charge is also very handy, and so I am a big proponent of Adrenal Glands for Shrikes. Toxin Sacs, again, are the better combat upgrade though, but I am still of the opinion that Adrenal Glands are a better fit because of Fleet. Where other units - like the Haruspex - need every bit of extra speed, Shrikes don't need it so much and as such I would consider Toxin Sacs for them more than most other units. That they are also far more likely to get into combat and make use of Toxin Sacs is a plus, obviously. The last available upgrade for Shrikes are Flesh Hooks, giving Shrikes an extra little shooting attack that is far inferior to any of their other ranged options. The big draw here is the assault grenades which are pivotal for any real assault unit worth their weight in points, though I'm not sure Shrikes really need it. I don't consider them an elite melee unit and they really should be bullying units that would struggle against them anyway, whether they strike at Initiative 1 or 4. They're necessary for melee-oriented Shrikes, but the cost of them plus weapon options will add up very quickly - unless of course you swap the devourer for scything talons. I don't recommend this as having guns on any unit can make a big difference - good luck catching Jetbikes, fast skimmers and flying monstrous creatures without guns! - and the extra melee attack isn't nearly as valuable as, for example, three equivalent ranged attacks.

Where to Put Them

Shrikes are rather reliant on the usage of Gargoyles to survive in such a shooting dominated meta, mostly because charging through or into cover can be a big issue for them. While three wound models shouldn't worry too much about dangerous terrain tests, with only a 5+ armour save those extra unsaved wounds can really start to add up. And besides, unless you are paying for Flesh Hooks or have widely available terrain to cover your advance, Shrikes are going to be relying on saves provided by intervening models. Gargoyles do this better than any other unit with a height comparable to a Shrike and their identical mobility. This is why even if you are on a terrain-heavy board, I still recommend taking at least one brood of Gargoyles to protect a Shrike brood - besides, the Gargoyles can actively tarpit a Wraithknight or Dreadknight, units that Shrikes fear above all else. This is a similar principle to using Hormagaunts or Termagants to bubble wrap Warriors, though with the Shrikes actually being able to outpace more units. If you are faced with barrage weapons, be sure to spread the Shrikes out with the 2" maximum unit coherency spacing and jump them from cover to cover - a single Basilisk shot that scores a direct hit on a Shrike unit outside of terrain can reduce a full unit to nothing but a bloody mess. If you can avoid going through terrain and attain cover saves through the use of Gargoyles - who themselves are cheap and expendable enough to not worry too much about going through cover - then that would be my recommendation, as Shrikes don't want to be losing wounds unnecessarily, nor do they want to strike last when charging enemy units.

Best Uses

Shrikes are, obviously, very similar to Warriors in a lot of respects. Aside from a few key facets, the units are essentially identical. But where Warriors are ideally placed in the backfield as a cheap scoring Synapse unit, Shrikes are definitely your midfield aggressors and Synapse beacons. This is because Shrikes exchange a 4+ armour save for jump infantry classification, a change that - as well as being unable to score in five out of six missions - narrows them into being a more aggressive unit. If you want Shrikes that sit back and protect your medium to long ranged units, such as Exocrines and Biovores, you may as well just employ Warriors who are tougher and can score in every mission where objectives are used. Why waste the advantages of a unit to try and shoe-horn them into a role that another unit performs better in? This is why I see the main usage of Shrikes to be as a mobile Synapse unit in the same vein as a flying Hive Tyrant, providing that pivotal element of control to your Gargoyles, Raveners, Harpies and Crones. If you are using a highly mobile and aggressive force, Shrikes are the logical fit as additional Synapse units to play off of your HQ choices. Unlike Trygon Primes who are more reliant on Deep Striking in the enemy backfield and providing Synapse to units in about the turn three onwards range, Shrikes are there from the start moving up the field with your other units. They can keep the swarm in check even if your flying Hive Tyrants are killed, something that Trygon Primes can't do nearly as well if your force is mostly composed of jump infantry and beasts - or even Hormagaunts. There's no real reason to take Shrikes if you don't want them to fulfill this kind of role in a highly aggressive list, as Warriors and Zoanthropes are more than serviceable enough in the job for slower, more cautious lists. While I do prefer the latter kind of army list nowadays, the former does have its place and this is where Shrikes belong. Keep them cheap with devourers, some rending claws and a barbed strangler or venom cannon, and move them in support of your Gargoyles and Crones. Put light ranged pressure on units you wish to focus down and try to set up combo-charges with your other units, as even stock Shrikes are very nasty on the charge.

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.

Shrikes (6) - two Rending Claws, Barbed Strangler - This is a meaty unit intended for infantry hunting primarily, one that is large enough to be a large threat to your opponent if left unchecked, but also not too large to draw too much attention away from your monstrous creatures. This unit causes Pinning checks and has a few Rending Claws as "just in case" cheap weapon options for vehicles mostly.

Shrikes (5) - four Deathspitters, Venom Cannon - This is what I like to call the "Trygon broodlings" unit. Twelve Strength 5 shots at 18" and one Strength 6 small blast at 36" provides a pretty decent fire-base for the cost with a 30" effective range on the Deathspitters. Add on above average melee capabilities with four Strength 4 attacks at Weapon Skill 5 per model on the charge, and this is one of my favourite all-rounder builds for Shrikes. It can threaten most things at range decently, like a Trygon, and can mulch through regular infantry, again, like a Trygon. While the Trygon obviously has a lot of advantages and is only slightly more expensive, the Shrikes have the advantage of not taking up an incredibly contested Heavy Support slot.

Aerial Commanders

As Warriors act as synaptic links for the many hordes comprising the ground invasion force, their winged brethren take to the skies to spread the will of the Hive Mind to the aerial Tyranid organisms. Proving just how adaptable the Warrior genus is in particular, Shrikes trade extended armour plating for wings and increased responseiveness, able to traverse all manner of terrain to reach the enemy. As the elite among the Tyranid forces, Shrikes are deadly combatants that use their supreme swiftness and strength to overwhelm the foe, or remaining behind their ravening lessers and acting as unseen manipulators.

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. Very interesting; certainly gave me a few new ideas.

    Just one thing: I think don't think ork shootas are ap5, or are they? If I'm right, then that makes 2 armies (along with imperial guard lasguns) that shrikes get an armour save against!

    1. You are correct, Shootaz are AP6. Fixed! Cheers :)