Good day (or night) to you and welcome to my very first preview of the (spoiler alert - if you do not presently know of the leaked rules and don't want to be spoiled, stop reading) re-imagined Genestealer Cult rules! Before we begin, I would like to point out that this is not a proper review and should not be taken as such; it is an assessment of the information given to us from the two leaked images displaying part of the Patriarch profile and the entirety of the Acolyte Hybrids profile. We do not know a lot of details such as the minimum requirements to field a Genestealer Cult detachment, the price point of the Patriarch or other HQ choice (if any exist) for the faction, whether the Favored Disciples are a unique unit and so on. In any case, I hope you enjoy the article!
I will keep this one brief as we literally know only half of the full picture here and so much of what could make this model useful will still ultimately be determined by its points cost. If it is priced appropriately for its abilities, we will be seeing a lot of these in future army lists provided that they aren't Unique (even being limited to one per detachment as would befit the narrative, I still expect multiple detachments to feature duplicates of these spread between them). What the Patriarch boils down to is a Genestealer Broodlord given some very interesting and potentially game-changing differences once we account for its implications on Tyranid army lists. The raw stat-line is identical to the Broodlord and is still just as impressive in this case as it was before, the weak 4+ armor save balancing out what is otherwise the stats backing an Eldar Phoenix Lord with key improvements to both the Strength and Toughness values and the removal of a Ballistic Skill value (we'll get to that). While I will refrain from quoting the codex in full for those unfamiliar with what a Broodlord brings to the table, think of it as having a stronger profile than a Space Marine Chapter Master in nearly every way unless you want to shoot or survive incoming attacks due to having that aforementioned 4+ armor save balancing out a modest Toughness 5.
Most of the special rules are also shared and this leads to one incredibly diverse model with regards to what it can potentially accomplish in a match; it can re-roll the dice for Run and Charge moves, it can Infiltrate into an advanced position or Outflank to suit your needs and it Moves Through Cover with little difficulty. This already earmarks it out as being swift and capable of deploying almost anywhere on the battlefield with the resultant near guarantee of a turn two charge, but the additional special rules it gains over a lesser Broodlord are certainly eye-brow raising too. While causing Fear tests isn't much to get excited for, being able to freely leave a combat with Hit and Run most certainly is, as is a natural Fearless mind-set that ensures it will never be caught in a Sweeping Advance or involuntarily flee, while Stealth makes for a nice squad-wide defensive bonus that could prove integral to keeping the various Genestealer Cult squads in play. Being an Independent Character enables the Patriarch to join any unit of choice which could be very powerful when combined with what it is capable of in the psychic phase and considering the likelihood of it being able to join fully fledged Tyranid broods. Also of note is that the Patriarch has two unique wargear options that we do not as yet have the rules for, namely the Patriarch's Claws and the Genestealer Familiar; while the former is most definitely some kind of upgraded version of Rending Claws, we can only guess as to what the latter is other than it possibly affecting its psychic potential. Before we move on to the Patriarchs' psyker capabilities, I'll throw out a few ideas for what the Patriarch's Claws are; they wouldn't simply be Rending Claws given that they would have just used those instead, and with the decades-old profile for them allowing the Patriarch to ignore armor saves, my best guess is that they function as AP2 or AP3 Rending Claws - if it is the former, the Patriarch will be an utter monster on the battlefield for more reasons than one.
On that note, the Patriarch is a Mastery Level 2 psyker - gaining a bonus mastery level over a Broodlord - which is very frightening given that it is likely to be a powerhouse in a melee, but also because it is now the only Tyranid affiliated model in the game not to use the Tyranid psychic powers. A common criticism of the current Tyranid codex is that they are restricted to their own psychic powers table and are incapable of using any other; while the table itself is decent, it still denies Tyranids a wealth of versatility and some specific powers that could massively assist their competitive potential. Enter the Genestealer Cult Patriarch with access to arguably the most powerful psychic discipline of all, Telepathy; yes, a Tyranid model now has the possibility of using Invisibility on itself or other Tyranid models. The ramifications of being able to cast Invisibility on Tyranid units are darn near jaw dropping given that suddenly broods of Carnifexes and individual Dimachaerons or even mighty Hierophants suddenly gain the defensive boost they need to make it across the board and leave a resounding impression as they tear all opposition to pieces before them. Now, this obviously comes with a few assumptions; it seems almost inevitable that Genestealer Cults will be a separate faction to Tyranids but still ultimately Battle Brothers with them given that the former essentially paves the way for the latter, and we can also safely assume that the Patriarch will have unrestricted access to Telepathy.
Where things get rather iffy is the fact that the Patriarch has a Ballistic Skill value of zero and the as-yet completely unknown function of the Genestealer Familiar, because as it stands and depending on whether you agree with the ITC ruling on the issue, a Broodlord legally cannot use Psychic Shriek which remains one of the premier witchfires in the game. I've always personally played it as Psychic Shriek requiring a single roll to hit per the witchfire rules, but given that it remains one of the biggest rules debates online regarding 7th Edition Warhammer 40,000, be sure to defer to your local gaming groups' ruling as ultimately there is no clear answer either way despite what some people may tell you. Besides, I'm fairly confident that as long as the Patriarch isn't massively expensive and doesn't get screwed over in some way by the Genestealer Familiar rules then it will be an incredibly popular addition to Tyranid army builds (if they are Battle Brothers with the Genestealer Cult) looking for that Invisibility outlet, even if it is by no means guaranteed with only two rolls (we presume) on the Telepathy chart. Again, we lack the full context to support a proper tactical analysis and much of its rules are still up in the air with the largest determining factor for its competitive usage being the unknown points cost. However, having an already powerful model in the Broodlord given a massive boost with a likely set of AP3 or AP2 melee weapons, a host of extra special rules, an additional psychic mastery level and access to Telepathy leads to me giving the Patriarch an early thumbs up with no real obvious negatives to point out from what we know.
The Favored Disciples
As opposed to the Patriarch, we actually know the full self contained rules for this unit with no outside special rules or wargear entries requiring clarification; we are fully aware of the points cost, battlefield role and so on with all that is missing being how it properly fits into a Genestealer Cult army, what the faction detachments will look like and how the other units support these Acolytes. If you want to skip a lengthy and articulate analysis of this unit and get a quick impression from me, I'm happy to oblige; for raw damage output in close combat and objective capturing or holding uses, this unit is phenomenal and looks to be theoretically a great overall addition to a Genestealer Cult force. I haven't seen such a fully realized and self contained squad in so long that it almost amazes me that it is ultimately a Tyranid associated production given that forces' over-arching theme of drawbacks necessitating key support elements. About the only real issue I have with this unit is that it has a fixed unit size of twelve models with no optional wargear choices, squad leaders and so on meaning it cannot be adapted to different scenarios at your leisure or be made to fit either the multiple-small-units or horde styles of play. However, given what they are capable of already, I'm not sure that I can truly complain too much about what-ifs concerning adaptability.
Before I get into the real meat of this preview, I'll address the less eye-catching elements of the Favored Disciples. They are Infantry as you would expect and importantly lack the Unique rule which means you can take multiples of the squad despite their seemingly distinct name, while each model has but a single wound as you would expect of any non-elite unit. Their defensive stats are in keeping with a standard Imperial Guardsman or Guardswoman what with Toughness 3 and what appears to be a 5+ armor save rendering them incredibly vulnerable to any kind of shooting attack, forcing them to use cover wherever possible to survive even mere bolter rounds. Their Leadership 8 is unusually high for a light infantry squad that instantly brings them into contention with the mighty Space Marines, but don't worry, the comparison doesn't stop there. In any case, each Hybrid wields an autopistol backed by a mediocre Ballistic Skill 3 to sling some short ranged Strength 3 AP- shots into an enemy before charging or performing other actions; in decent numbers, these can ping wounds off of monstrous creatures or kill the odd elite model so you should at least keep them in mind despite how unimpressive they generally are.
Where things start to get rather interesting is that the Favored Disciples are utterly Fearless and thus immune to almost any type of Leadership-based effect short of something that wounds off of that value such as Psychic Shriek. It is exceedingly rare for a light infantry squad to have the full Fearless special rule given that it crucially removes the unit types' over-arching susceptibility to morale tests from the equation and ensures that they will stay in combat, hold an objective and refuse to flee despite whatever odds are stacked against them. Unlike almost any other Tyranid model and in keeping with their Genestealer ancestors, the Acolytes are not prey to the crippling Instinctive Behavior charts and thus can operate individually without requiring nearby Synapse models or characters of any kind. This also flies in the face of many other popular squads sharing their stature such as Ork Boyz, Daemonic troops or Conscripts; the first has the painful Mob Rule table to try and make up for lacking any sort of defence against Leadership tests, the second is vulnerable to self destruction in close combat and the third requires a particular Independent Character to steady them. While being Fearless does have its drawbacks (namely being ineligible for Going to Ground), having no in-built rule to weigh the Hybrids down is probably the better trade-off here as the lack of any other special rules ensures that they are entirely self sufficient and thus can operate on their own without having to invest points to make up for any perceived weakness.
If you are as yet not yet in agreement with my earlier proclamation of the Hybrids' quality or fail to understand what could be driving it, the reasoning is simple; it is the culmination of the above utter independence from other necessary units and their utterly ridiculous melee capabilities. Don't let the raw stats fool you, the Hybrids are now point-for-point one of the best damage-dealing assault squads in the entirety of 7th Edition Warhammer 40,000. Being Weapon Skill 4 means they will hit almost anything in the game on 4s or 3s, while Initiative 4 ensures they will strike simultaneously or before - again - the majority of foes you can find short of those belonging to the Eldar species. They further distinguish themselves from other Tyranids and one of their chief competitors for rules of melee efficiency in Slaaneshi Daemonettes by possessing assault grenades, in this case taking the form of blasting charges. While these could represent a powerful ranged attack, allowing the Hybrids to charge into cover and still strike at their normal Initiative step is good enough as it is. A base Strength 4 completes the comparison to the Adeptus Astartes and gives them a significant natural advantage over other similar squads, leading to highly increased wound counts and the potential to glance AV10 vehicles - all three of the aforementioned stats fit the "sweet spot" in Warhammer 40,000 for tying with or exceeding the largest amount of opponents.
What brings this all together is the Acolytes two central wargear inclusions, namely a close combat weapon and the Rending Claws that their Purestrain forefathers are infamous for. With a base two attacks per model which is already fairly high as it is, the addition of a third attack in all circumstances due to each model bearing paired melee weapons sees the Hybrids capable of emulating Ork Boyz for sheer amount of Strength 4 attacks on the charge, but it is the Rending Claws that really elevate the Favored Disciples to a new level of pain. Before I address the Carnifex in the bunker that is a basic squad having four Rending attacks per model on the charge, the side-effect of having Rending Claws is that all of the Hybrids' attacks that don't roll a 6 on a to-wound roll (becoming AP2 instead) are AP5 and thus ignore the armor of most light infantry units in the game. This gives them a massive advantage over their contemporary counterparts as Ork Boyz - as an example - will not bypass the Hybrids' armor in return, ensuring that the Acolytes win a battle of attrition against anything from Cultists to combined Astra Militarum Infantry Squads. That they are Weapon Skill 4, Strength 4 and Initiative 4 means they will be also benefit from at least one of the following advantages in such contests as well; having a better to-hit roll, needing a lower to-wound roll, and striking first. Compared to Daemonettes - considered point-per-point as one of the most efficient damage dealers in the game - the Acolytes win out against most other light infantry given the increased number of attacks and the fact that they can charge into cover without requiring a Skull Cannon to strike at Initiative order and lose models before attacking as a result. Flayed Ones pull ahead of the Acolytes in this scenario but their lower Initiative and further lack of assault grenades can also be their downfall, though they are much tougher to make up for it. Even then, the Flayed Ones' advantage isn't that significant; the closest points-equivalent squad size for the Necrons at seven models only averages two more unsaved wounds against Ork Boyz than the base twelve Acolytes, despite the Flayed Ones' specialty arguably being in acting as a blender to other non-vehicle units.
Of course, what really sets the Favored Disciples apart is their brutal nature when it comes to elite adversaries. Combining Strength 4 with Rending plus the bonus of AP5 on non-Rending wounds ensures that the Hybrids will deal out more average wounds than the other cheapest source of Rending in the game that is ham-strung by a low Strength value - Daemonettes - while also making them the most capable of any horde unit at destroying vehicles. They can always harm AV13 and lower vehicles and, truthfully, a squad of twelve will much instantly destroy any vehicle with AV11 or lower - including walkers - and usually repeat the feat against any non-walker (or Weapon Skill 3 walker) that is AV12, while even AV13 models should still lose one or two hull points per assault phase. That isn't even to speak of what non-vehicle models get put through; on the charge and against Weapon Skill 4 to Weapon Skill 8 models, the Hybrids average four Rends and these alone will kill three Terminator equivalents (single wound models with 5+ or worse invulnerable saves) on top of the plethora of armor saves they will force as well. They will obliterate monstrous creatures and even be a legitimate threat to gargantuan creatures, while only models that are both immune to their regular attacks and possess an invulnerable save are truly safe from the Hybrid onslaught (for reference, it only takes one round of combat for twelve of the buggers to kill a Toughness 8 Wraithlord). Heck, just comparing them to Hormagaunts or Termagants as an overall competitive choice makes me sad as both of those two require Synapse creatures to even function, while they are nowhere near as dangerous up close by comparison.
Given that we've already established that the Acolytes are neck and neck or exceed their competitors (chiefly Flayed Ones and Daemonettes), it might come as a surprise to you but the Acolytes actually pull ahead of both units against medium infantry - Space Marines - and most of the models that are in a higher class. Assuming no cover to give the Daemonettes the advantage, rounding up all fractions and with all units charging while suffering zero casualties in Overwatch, the kill tallies are as follows when going off of points equivalence; the 10 Daemonettes kill four on average (three Rends, four armor saves forced for one failure); the 7 Flayed Ones kill five on average (fourteen armor saves forced for five failures), and; the 12 Acolytes kill seven on average (four Rends, eight armor saves forced for three failures). The return blows will see the Acolytes suffer the most damage but only if the Daemonettes do not charge through cover and thus strike at Initiative 1, wherein their overall kill count and survival rates drop significantly. Another example would be a powerful Grey Knight Nemesis Dreadknight, and following the same rules as before; the 10 Daemonettes inflict two unsaved wounds (three Rends for two failed 5+ invulnerable saves); the 7 Flayed Ones inflict one unsaved wound (six armor saves forced for one failure), and; the 12 Acolytes inflict three unsaved wounds (four Rends for three failed 5+ invulnerable saves) - in all cases, if the units in question charge into cover, the Acolytes massively win out due to the Dreadknights' return casualties. A final example will be against one of the ultimate anvil infantry units, Terminators with Thunder Hammers and Storm Shields using the touted restrictions; the 10 Daemonettes kill one on average (three Rends for one failed 3+ invulnerable save, four armor saves forced for zero failures); the 7 Flayed Ones kill two on average (fourteen armor saves forced for two failures), and; the 12 Acolytes kill two on average (four Rends for one failed 3+ invulnerable save, eight armor saves forced for one failure). And unlike Flayed Ones, Acolytes can harm AV11 to AV13 vehicles, while also pulling ahead of Daemonettes in the raw close combat damage dealing department against most potential targets. Point for point, there's barely anything in the game that beats them in that regard overall.
At seven points per model, the Favored Disciples are about as powerful of a close combat unit on a per model basis as you can get, but there are a lot of considerations to keep in mind before one declares them as over-powered. Firstly, unlike both Daemonettes and Flayed Ones, the Hybrids are entirely lacking a form of boosted movement or alternate deployment method meaning they will have a harder time than either squad when trying to make it into combat. They can only deploy normally in your deployment zone - unless the Genestealer Cult faction rules bypass this limitation - and are then restricted to moving 6" in the Movement phase, D6" in the Shooting phase as a Run move, and 2D6" in the Assault Phase as their random charge roll on a turn in which they are eligible to declare a charge. They are also far more fragile than Daemonettes against anything that ignores cover or catches them out in the open, while the Flayed Ones may as well be monstrous creatures if you really want to follow through with that comparison. As such, while they are actively more dangerous than both units against the widest range of possible opponents, they are the least likely to make it into a melee and their preset and unalterable squad limit further hampers tactics of trying to flood the board with them. If you are in the camp that they aren't that dangerous, I say hello world to you and I will merely leave you with the act of comprehending the sheer majesty that is a unit of twelve seven point models eking out 48 Strength 4 AP5 Rending attacks with Weapon Skill 4 and Initiative 4 on the charge, backed by Assault Grenades and the Fearless special rule.
Of course, that is until we remember that these are a Troops choice and, provided the Genestealer Cult detachments aren't horrible restrictive, means that you can take handfuls of these incredibly cheap but amazingly deadly groups should you desire to play a horde style army that doesn't back down even from lists with a vehicular or monstrous focus. Their true value comes not solely from being such incredibly threatening assault squads that can thus dissuade a lot of enemies from fighting them, but also from being Objective Secured and thus having two distinct advantages over many other units in the game; they can score regardless of enemy proximity unless they share the same special rule, and they have the hitting power to make taking objectives they hold that much more difficult. They don't have Slow and Purposeful in the same vein as Plague Zombies so they can at least shamble up the battlefield with moderate success as well, but obviously what will really define them is how the army as a whole works together as these hybrids will innately struggle to deal with fast moving ranged armies or fliers. Still, as their own individual unit entry, these definitely get another thumbs up from me for being scarier but cheaper Daemonettes with a few distinct advantages and disadvantages to balance the equation; they seem like a great unit in theory, but their practical applications could very well tell a different story. At the very least, the Ork player inside of me cried a little when I had even the slightest inkling of a comparison between Boyz and the Favored Disciples.
Thank you all for reading these early impressions of the two (partial) data-slates that have leaked so far for the Genestealer Cult! I'm incredibly excited to see the return of one of Warhammer 40,000's most iconic and disturbing factions; the models are phenomenal and the rules certainly seem to be good enough to cut it in standard games, but whether they make it into the tournament scene is anyone's guess at this point given how little we really know. If you are excited for the long awaited reintroduction of the Genestealer Cult, or you have an opinion to share regarding this article, please feel free to leave a comment below and I will do my best to reply in a timely manner. Thanks again!