18 Mar 2014

Tactica Tyranids - Carnifexes

Hey guys, my name is Learn2Eel, and today I'm going to be bringing you another article in the Tyranid Tactica series! Carnifexes are the brutish living tanks of the Tyranid Hive Fleets, created to batter down walls and ram through gates with brutal efficiency. As siege monsters, Carnifexes are the bulkiest of the Tyranid monstrous creatures, sacrificing both raw size and agility for incredible strength and a thickly armoured carapace. These are the oldest and most common war engines of the Tyranids, and the famous monsters have finally been restored to their former glory. I hope you enjoy this article!



What is the name of that popular Drowning Pool song? Let the bodies hit the floor? There's no denying how well that song meshes with violence of any kind, but watching monstrous Carnifexes tear all manner of enemies to pieces in record time is perhaps the most satisfying event to play the song to. These are the "troopers" of the Tyranid monstrous creatures, with a good analogy that Carnifexes are as Tactical Marines while Trygons and Tyrannofexes are as Vanguard Veterans and Sternguard Veterans, respectively. They have a pretty standard profile for a Tyranid monster, though they are only of only two to have a mere four wounds alongside the Hive Tyrant. Paired up with the almost obligatory Toughness 6 and 3+ armour save, the Carnifex is one of the least durable Tyranid monsters, particularly once psychic powers and the like are thrown into the mix where the Hive Tyrant does edge ahead. However, the Carnifex is also the cheapest of the Tyranid monstrous creatures, clocking in at almost half the cost of a stock Trygon Prime. For points per Toughness 6 3+ armoured wound, Carnifexes are the second lowest - though there is a sizable gap between them and the impressive Mawloc. This actually makes them one of the more durable units per point in the Tyranid army even despite their middling Weapon Skill and general lack of wounds compared to other Tyranid monsters.

With all that said, how do they do in terms of offensive output? Carnifexes remain the "generic" generalist monstrous creature that is decent at everything but not great at anything, save destroying tanks which is something they do better than any other Tyranid. This is due to their incredible base Strength 9 that often means they don't even need to Smash for Strength 10 and re-rolling failed armour penetration rolls to destroy vehicles, while also allowing them to inflict instant death on Toughness 4 models without halving their attacks. On that note, Carnifexes have had their base attack value reduced by one to three which makes them functionally identical when Smashing - you round up statistics in Warhammer 40000 - while variations that combine a ranged weapon with a melee weapon or a second ranged weapon have one less attack than before. However, a higher Initiative value of two gives them some leeway when engaging units armed with Unwieldy high Strength weapons such as power fists and thunder hammers, meaning they don't need to rely on a combination of assault grenades and a successful charge to strike before such weapons. Speaking of their Living Battering Ram special rule, it has been changed from an Initiative bonus on the charge to making their Hammer of Wrath inflict D3 automatic hits instead of just one. While this may seem like a down-grade at first, when one considers that a Carnifex is Strength 9, potentially inflicting three automatic Strength 9 hits per Carnifex can be devastating. Medium to Light Vehicles can be easily destroyed just through Hammer of Wrath from a Carnifex, with the special rule giving them a massive boost against Walkers that would typically inflict a lot of damage on a Carnifex before it could strike.

Their melee weapons, however, have seen a decrease in usefulness. Scything Talons no longer affect Tyranid monstrous creatures at all save when used to provide an extra attack by having two pairs of melee weapons, while Crushing Claws no longer provide an extra D3 attacks and instead provide a Strength bonus plus Armourbane. While Crushing Claws did drop in points, gaining potentially three extra Strength 9 AP2 attacks was generally preferable, especially when combined with Smash. The way to go for melee Carnifexes now is to give them the resurgent Adrenal Glands, an upgrade that now provides Fleet at a slight increase in points over its previous incarnation. Leave them stock with the two pairs of Scything Talons so that they have four attacks per model as before, while adding Fleet and Furious Charge in and all at a lower total cost than a stock Carnifex in the previous codex. Interestingly, despite many Tyranid characters and monsters losing access to some of the now defunct Biomorphs, Carnifexes have actually gained one new option and lost none with Acid Blood thrown into the mix. Sadly, neither this nor Regeneration are worth the points for these lumbering brutes, even though both have arguably improved over their previous versions. Toxin Sacs, of course, have benefited most from the edition switch rather than the new codex, unlike Adrenal Glands, with the changes to Poison rules actually giving them a reason to exist as an option for Tyranid monstrous creatures. A Strength 9 model will wound 99% of the models in the game on a 2+ and gain re-rolls to boot in close combat, an upgrade that helps to make up for the loss of free re-rolls to hit from Scything Talons.

In regards to ranged options, the Carnifex brings the same weapons to bear as always; it can take cheap twin-linked deathspitters, the amazing twin-linked brain leech devourers, or one of two 'cannons' in the form of the Stranglethorn Cannon and the Heavy Venom Cannon. While the brain leech devourers remain the best ranged weapon option available to Carnifexes, the low cost of both the Stranglethorn Cannon and Heavy Venom Cannon, as well as their boosted range over the other two guns for the purposes of wound allocation and maximum range, make them worthwhile investments. From there, the changes to Carnifexes are mostly arbitrary; their assault grenade upgrade adds a pathetic but essentially free little shooting attack, while Bio Plasma is unchanged and thus still not really worth your time. The boost to Initiative 2 bears repeating though, especially as the current Space Wolf codex still allows for the disgusting Jaws of the World Wolf to be used; instead of failing on a three or higher against this test or die power, they instead fail on a four or higher which is a decent improvement. However, the most negative change comes in the form of Instinctive Behaviour, specifically the new Feed table. Carnifexes remain the only Tyranid monstrous creature that can be taken in broods instead of just solo, and it is still arguably their defining trait. Instead of just gaining Rage and suffering no other ill effects when they fail an Instinctive Behaviour test, Carnifexes that fail and are in a unit of more than one model will actively eat each other, inflicting automatic Strength 9 hits on each other and being unable to perform any other actions! This is a horrible result and one that forces them to stay in Synapse range more than ever, though suffering from Rage otherwise still limits their shooting and gives them a charge bonus as normal.

Now, compared to the previous codex, the same problems are obviously still apparent; the Carnifex is a generalist that isn't really that great outside of one or two specific builds, and even then its mediocre profile and lack of deployment options limit its effective roles. It is still a slow monster that is vulnerable to Blind tests and Unwieldy high Strength weapons, and has gained nothing to make it more durable against heavy weapons firepower - the loss of guaranteed Catalyst does hurt, even if the power itself improved. But here is the catch, and something that makes Carnifexes one of the stars of the new codex and rightfully so. They have seen a massive points decrease per model, with a stock Carnifex dropping a whopping 25% of their previous points total. With upgrades either getting cheaper or remaining virtually identical to before, the Carnifex has seen a massive improvement based not on stat changes or equipment changes like some other units - like the new Greater Daemons, for example - but instead through a necessary cost decrease that sees them at the price point they always should have been.

Put simply, you can take a single Carnifex for every four naked Tyranid Warriors in your army, giving you one of the cheapest monstrous creatures in the game that further distinguishes itself through number of upgrades and diversity of roles through equipment. That you can now field three stock Carnifexes for less than what you would have paid for two "Dakkafexes" (Carnifexes armed with two twin-linked brain leech devourers) in the old codex is simply astonishing and, with the increased defensive benefits provided by Venomthropes and general points drops across the codex, sees the resurgence of these great beasts. While I do feel the Tyrannofex is the star of the Heavy Support section and the codex, the Carnifex is a close contender; it mashes vehicles like no other, it is incredibly cheap and cost effective and can be adapted as a combat monster or as a devastating gun platform. I'm so glad that these iconic walking tanks have returned to the fore and to the army lists of Tyranid players everywhere; hopefully this is a reminder to Games Workshop of what writing good rules for all units, especially the iconic ones, can do for everyone's morale.

How to Equip Them

Carnifexes are one of the most customizable monstrous creatures available to Tyranids, able to be catered heavily towards either ranged or melee combat. The stock equipment for these highly mutable models is two sets of Scything Talons that, unfortunately, serve no purpose other than to provide the Carnifex with an extra attack. Their only use is to provide an extra attack when paired together or with Crushing Claws, so you can pretty freely replace them as you please. Speaking of the crab claws, these are a bit of an oddity. They give +1 Strength to make the Carnifex Strength 10 which, understandably, is pretty ridiculous. They also confer Armourbane to all of its melee attacks that, when paired with that ridiculous Strength value, will see it tear anything with an armour value to shreds in a single assault phase. The points cost is very reasonable here, especially as a Carnifex with these and Scything Talons will have five Strength 10 AP2 attacks on the charge plus D3 Strength 9 Hammer of Wrath hits, as opposed to five Strength 9 AP2 attacks. The bonus to Strength only really makes a difference against wraith constructs and Toughness 5 multiple wound models, as the Armourbane bonus kind of makes that extra point of Strength superfluous against vehicles.

This is obviously great, but the thing is, you can achieve similar effects through Smash without paying for the Crushing Claws, sacrificing an attack for four Strength 10 attacks on the charge that re-roll failed armour penetration rolls. Unless you have bad luck with dice rolls and face lots of AV14 vehicles, Smash with the re-rolls to vehicle penetration rolls are suitable enough, while losing a single attack to get Strength 10 generally isn't a bad thing with four attacks per Carnifex on the charge. Heck, the D3 Strength 9 Hammer of Wrath attacks can often destroy vehicles by themselves! Crushing Claws have the advantage of being cheap, but I think I would prefer some of the Biomorphs over them as the latter upgrades actually do bring something unique to the Carnifex, not a slight boost on something it already does well.

This is where Biomorphs such as Adrenal Glands really come into the fore for Carnifexes. Much like any other walking monstrous creature that is primarily assault based, melee Carnifexes should almost always be packing Adrenal Glands for the crucial Fleet bonus. At the same points cost as Crushing Claws, Adrenal Glands provide Fleet and one turn of Strength 10 attacks, providing some of the offensive benefits while allowing the Carnifex brood to re-roll Run and random charge length distances. For any assault-based unit, actually making it into combat is key, and Fleet is a Tyranid monstrous creature's best bet outside of wings - an option that, sadly (if for the sake of humour) Carnifexes are lacking. The seemingly minimal speed boost does make a big difference, especially when you have to make a clutch 7" or longer charge, or just simply can't afford to roll low at any given point. Failing a 5" or 4" charge is definitely not outside the realm of possibility, so having a re-roll for melee Carnifexes is most definitely pivotal.

Others such as Toxin Sacs provide more combat-oriented benefits, such as re-rolls to wound against anything in the game that hasn't been buffed to Toughness 10 through Iron Arm - the only such case outside of gargantuan creatures is the Great Unclean One. It is a cheap upgrade that maximises the combat efficiency of melee Carnifexes, though ultimately it is unnecessary. If you want to keep the Carnifexes cheap when considering the almost mandatory Adrenal Glands, you can afford to leave Toxin Sacs behind as I feel the Fleet bonus is more important here. Still, having a Carnifex with both Fleet and re-rolls to wound in close combat for fifteen points less than a Carnifex in the previous codex with no such upgrades is nothing to sniff at, certainly. I would avoid Acid Blood and Regeneration though as the former is mostly wasted points on a unit that not only gets better offensive stats out of Toxin Sacs but will also lose most of its wounds against ranged attacks, while the latter is an incredibly expensive upgrade that isn't nearly as valuable on a four wound model as it is on a six wound model. While having broods of Carnifexes can make Regeneration "safer" in the sense that you can switch their positions between phases, too many armies are capable of killing a Carnifex each turn with ease. Those points are best left for Adrenal Glands and Toxin Sacs, or saved to be spent elsewhere.

Of course, the Carnifex is not solely a melee monstrous creature but can be given a variety of ranged weapons. There are four of these in total, two of which use high rate of fire and twin-linking to put out lots of accurate high Strength shots, while the others provide large or small blasts with Pinning or a ridiculous Strength value, respectively. Remember that each of a Carnifex's Scything Talons can be exchanged for a monstrous bio cannon, meaning you can give it two ranged weapons just like a Hive Tyrant. The first and cheapest of these weapons are twin-linked deathspitters, a weapon that pales considerably to the slightly more expensive twin-linked brain leech devourers. The former brings three Strength 5 AP5 shots at 18", while the latter provides six Strength 6 AP- shots at 18". AP5 only works against units that have a weak armour save anyway, while the extra point of Strength and double the number of shots is always preferable. It is for this reason that if you were to choose between either of these weapons, I would always take the brain leech devourers without fail. The option to take twelve Strength 6 shots that re-roll to hit with an 18" range for the cost of a single Tyranid Warrior is downright ridiculous and should be your preferred weapon load-out for ranged Carnifexes.

The latter two weapons that use large blast and small blast templates respectively are the Stranglethorn Cannon and Heavy Venom Cannon, the former which is identical in cost to a brain leech devourer and the latter which is only marginally more expensive. These weapons have double the range of the brain leech devourers and deathspitters, but their strict offensive output is generally lower - at least in regards to the devourers. A large blast with Strength 6 and AP5 is certainly decent, but having six twin-linked shots with AP- is almost always better except against light infantry hordes that aren't individually spaced out. That the brain leech devourers can also target zooming flyers and swooping flying monstrous creatures gives them utility as decent anti-air weapons. The main advantage of the Stranglethorn Cannon is that it has the Pinning special rule which is always useful, though without penalties to Leadership like the Horror it isn't that likely to do much.

The Heavy Venom Cannon's draw is Strength 9 and AP4, able to instantly kill Toughness 4 models on the spot and ignore a lot of armour. That it is a small blast means it isn't really effective against infantry provided they are spaced out 2" from another, with the small blast only really able to hit one or two models at most without favourable scatter. This is generally a different matter against vehicles, with a small blast on Ballistic Skill 3 still able to at least touch a vehicle with an average scatter roll; any hit with a Strength 9 weapon is pretty darned good, though the AP4 means it is mostly good just for stripping hull points. Truth be told, the extra range is nice over the brain leech devourers, but those also have far more utility with anti-air potential as well as re-rolls to hit to make up for the Carnifex's mediocre Ballistic Skill. The short range generally isn't that big of an issue as long as you take multiple monsters in a brood so that they are a difficult target to shift; just Run into position from the get-go.

Of course, no article discussing Carnifexes would be complete without referring to its unique upgrades. Carnifexes are still one of a handful of Tyranid units with access to assault grenades, with Spine Banks being their own particular form of this pivotal assault upgrade. This is a very cheap upgrade that allows Carnifexes to strike at Initiative 2 instead of Initiative 1 on the charge which generally is only helpful against models that are affected by Unwieldy, other Tyranid monsters and Necron characters with warscythes. I find that while Spine Banks are ridiculously cheap and striking before power fists is always handy, the examples of where the Spine Banks would really be useful are few and far between, particularly as there is never a guarantee that a Carnifex would be charging into cover in the first place. If the Carnifex was Initiative 3 or higher I would consider this more, but as it is, it only really helps it against power fists and thunder hammers. It also comes with a Strength 3 small blast that lacks any AP value and has a 6" range, something that is downright forgettable as charging an enemy at that minimal range is almost always preferable. For the points though, I guess you can't really complain.

Bio Plasma also makes a return in all of its mini plasma cannon glory, providing a Strength 7 AP2 small blast with a puny range of 12". I wasn't a fan of this weapon in the old codex and even with the Carnifex itself dropping in points I still don't see the value of it; the upgrade itself may work out cheaper than before overall but it still doesn't compare to the many superior ranged weapon options. A 12" range puts your Carnifex in assault range, for one, while Ballistic Skill 3 and a lack of Ignores Cover make it very unreliable. A small blast template isn't ideal for hitting anything but medium to large sized vehicles, and its Strength 7 isn't that high. When you can get six twin-linked Strength 6 AP- nothing shots for five points less that also have a 6" higher range and can be used as Snap Shots and during Overwatch is pretty insulting. It is a cool and thematic upgrade, but one that is severely handicapped compared to the other ranged weapons a Carnifex can take. The final batch of upgrades added to the new codex are two tail weapons, the Thresher Scythe and Bone Mace. The first adds a Strength 4 AP4 Rending attack to the Carnifex that, while seemingly decent, is only slightly less costly than Crushing Claws which make all of a Carnifex's attacks Strength 10 and Armourbane, making it rather pointless. The latter confers a Strength 8 attack that is slightly more expensive but also much more valuable, particularly for destroying vehicles; remember that monstrous creatures ignore the Unwieldy special rule. Unfortunately, this too is a rather silly upgrade as, again, you could just take Crushing Claws instead for the same exact cost and get far more benefits. Extra attacks are nice, but not when their stats are lacking - the inability to combine Smash with Tail Biomorphs makes them pretty lacklustre on monstrous creatures. You should just take Crushing Claws, or better yet, Adrenal Glands, for the same cost. 

Where to Put Them

Carnifexes are best deployed as close to the edge of your deployment zone as possible while also providing them a cover save. This is because they are mostly medium to short ranged fighters that can bring most of their weapons to bear in the 18" or lower mark. Even when kitted out for ranged combat, their melee prowess as a brood is still highly useful with base Strength 9 and four attacks per model on the charge. This means you really need them to get up close as quickly as possible which is best done by using up that deployment zone as much as possible; position them in the furthest forward piece of terrain, or behind it, or even near a terrain piece just outside of your deployment zone. 3+ armoured Toughness 6 wounds are nice and all, but concentrated heavy firepower will still be rid of them rather easily, so making full use of cover is necessary despite the slight mobility penalty it imposes. Adrenal Glands are always a good upgrade for Carnifexes in this regard, allowing them to maximise their Run moves as they make it into advanced positions.

Carnifexes should be spaced out 2" from each other wherever possible so that large and small blast weapons like battle cannons and plasma cannons can't get easy hits on two or more members of a brood. Their large base sizes make it impossible for a small blast to hit more than two Carnifexes from the same brood, and ditto with a large blast provided they use the unit coherency distance to full effect. Their bulky models make for excellent cover provided by the intervening model rules for other Tyranids, particularly vulnerable Synapse creatures such as Zoanthropes or Warriors. A single Venomthrope can hide behind a Carnifex and be completely obscured in the frontal arc, giving out Shrouded to the unit so long as that one Carnifex survives. This can mitigate the need for using cover and give the Carnifexes a slight speed boost as a result. Using a wall of Carnifexes for units such as a Hive Tyrant and Tyrant Guard provides the valuable HQ and Synapse unit with mobile cover, an invaluable tool for any Tyranid player.

Best Uses

I feel the best implementation of Carnifexes into a Tyranid Swarm is to employ them either in pairs or in trios, and from there have just Adrenal Glands or two sets of twin-linked brain leech devourers. The three main advantages a Carnifex has over all other Tyranid monstrous creatures is its adaptability in regards to upgrades, its low cost per model and the capability to be taken in units of up to three models. Two stock Carnifexes are only slightly more expensive than a single Trygon Prime, while you can fit in three for just over half a century of points than the Swarmlord alone. They are tied with the Hive Tyrant for the least survivable Tyranid monstrous creature on foot, but they are also significantly cheaper than all other monstrous creatures - save the Mawloc, where the difference is less pronounced. My belief is that there is no reason not to exploit this, similar to how Necrons can get ridiculously cheap units of three wound, Toughness 6 monstrous creatures. Carnifexes are an iconic unit but one that is considered the closest analogy to "fodder" out of the Tyranid monstrous creatures; they are akin to a cheapish brick wall that you can throw into any army list. Pairs and trios of Carnifexes bring lots of wounds and damage output that no single Tyranid monstrous creature can match.

As far as the weapons and upgrades are concerned, melee Carnifexes don't really need Crushing Claws unless you regularly face Land Raider spam army lists. These kinds of broods are more dependent on Adrenal Glands for Fleet that give them a speed that, when potentially combined with up to three monstrous creatures in a brood, can be downright terrifying for all but the most arduous of gunlines. The other melee upgrades are unnecessary for a unit that is universally Strength 9 in combat and even adds D3 Hammer of Wrath attacks at Strength 9 to their already impressive close combat potential. A walking brood of fast monsters that can reliably make it into combat due to Fleet re-rolls is definitely not something most players want to be facing. The other popular unit of Carnifexes is the holdover from the last edition, the "Dakkafex" armed with two twin-linked brain leech devourers. This unit puts out an absolutely insane amount of medium Strength shooting that is able to tear apart light vehicles, infantry of all kinds and monstrous creatures with almost unparalleled efficiency. They are cheap for what they bring to the table and are almost a must-take, even if the loss of Mycetic Spores has limited their overall usefulness somewhat. These units should both be making Run moves in the first two turns of the game until they get into assault or shooting range, unleashing their devastating offensive potential on any unit that is unfortunate enough to be in their sights. Aside from common deathstar builds, three Carnifexes - even ranged ones - can deal with almost anything in combat with little difficulty, while those armed with brain leech devourers form the most impressive Tyranid fire-base you can find.

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.

Carnifexes (3) - Two with Two Twin-Linked Brain Leech Devourers, One with a Stranglethorn Cannon and One Twin-Linked Brain Leech Devourer - This is what I like to call the "Fexstar". This unit will run you well over the four hundred point mark but is undeniably worth every point spent. You get a whopping 30 Strength 6 Twin-Linked shots at 18", capable of annihilating almost anything that isn't AV13 or higher that gets too close - and those vehicles won't stand against 3D3 Strength 9 Hammer of Wrath hits and 12 Strength 9 attacks on the charge! The lone Stranglethorn Cannon is there to give the Carnifexes a 36" ranged weapon to get around the whole allocating wounds and maximum range issue, while also giving a pretty nasty Pinning Strength 6 AP5 Large Blast weapon. You can either just Run into range or take some early pot shots with the Stranglethorn Cannon before you get within 18". Your choice!

Carnifexes (3) - All with Adrenal Glands - While this unit isn't that much cheaper than the one listed above and is obviously completely null in terms of ranged damage, its speed and melee prowess is just frightening. Twelve Toughness 6 wounds with 3+ armour saves and Fleet for re-rolling Run and Random Charge Length rolls? Oh, did I mention that the unit puts out 15 Strength 10 attacks on the charge after it does 3D3 Strength 9 Hammer of Wrath hits? Holy heck is this unit frightening!

Carnifexes (2) - Each with Two Twin-Linked Brain Leech Devourers - This is your primary Carnifex unit, one that sacrifices a third monster for the sake of straight efficiency. A third Carnifex can often be overkill on your points limits as well as destroying particular units through both ranged and melee attacks, so having just two works fine here. They can be a particularly nasty bodyguard for a Tyranid Prime and are a surprisingly well priced and damaging unit.

Living Engine of War

Of the countless Tyranid sub-species, one has proven to be the most devastating and fearsome of all even though it is by no means the largest or most intelligent. If a garrison manages to push back the hordes of lesser Tyranid organisms, as well as any aerial or ground attacks from Gargoyles and Raveners, they cannot afford to grow over-confident for even a moment. As the Swarm retreats, momentarily weakened and confused, a deafening roar sounds across the battlefield silencing all chance of victory. The earth begins to tremble as a wall of living tanks, great monstrous beasts thickly armoured and incredibly bulky, begin their final march to the walls and gates. In moments the defences are torn down and smashed to pieces, defenders ripped from their vantage points in a sickening feast of gore and blood. These beasts are the Carnifexes, the strongest of all Tyranids and designed solely as engines of destruction. 

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 comment:

  1. Dakkafexes should be taken in pairs as I have discovered. It substantially increases their survivability. Opposing units often focus fire from multiple units that are often not all closest to a single model, which allows you to spread wounds out rather than have a Carnifex get singled out.