29 Jan 2014

Tactica Tyranids - Tyranid Prime

Hey guys, my name is Learn2Eel, and today I'm going to be bringing you another article in the Tyranid Tactica series! Tyranid Primes are the only fully fledged Independent Character in the Tyranid codex, and while they are generally over-costed - especially when compared to Hive Tyrants - being able to hide in a brood of Carnifexes while providing Synapse is just awesome. In fact, Primes will see use in competitive lists for this reason alone, their damage output and durability be damned! I hope you enjoy this article!

Tyranid Prime


The Tyranid Prime is unique among the species as a true Independent Character, something that not even Hive Tyrants can lay claim to. This allows the Prime to join any unit from Hormagaunt broods to Carnifex units, and even the Tyrant Guard defenders of Hive Tyrants. This is what defines their use in the army as, when compared to a Hive Tyrant, they are actually too expensive for what they would otherwise bring to the table. They can never match a Tyrant for damage output or versatility, so focusing solely on their Independent Character status is the key to using them effectively. The Prime does have the best stats of any Tyranid that is not a monstrous creature, however. Its Weapon Skill 6 and Ballistic Skill 4 are well above average for most Tyranids, albeit only slightly above the Warrior beasts they evolved from. With Strength and Toughness 5, they can tank those nasty Strength 8 weapons that Warriors fear above else, being far more resistant to Instant Death. They have a good Initiative 5 and a pretty crazy four attacks that, with their offensive stats, makes them more than comparable to Space Marine Captains in close combat. Where Primes do fall down on that front is expensive melee weapon options, lack of proper durability-boosting wargear, no invulnerable saves, and no real guaranteed way to make combat. They cannot take wings for some strange reason - I'll touch on this later - and there are no dedicated transports in the codex. As a melee beast, their profile and melee weapon options tend to be used more defensively to add somewhat to an already strong melee units' damage output, or to protect a ranged unit from assaults by non-dedicated melee units. They can bring Barbed Strangles, Venom Cannons and even the really nasty Miasma Cannon to bear on the ranged front, and their Ballistic Skill four makes them one of the most effective users of these blast weapons.

Of course, that isn't all a Tyranid Prime offers, something that may be obvious due to its place in the HQ slot. It is both a Synapse creature and confers Shadow in the Warp, giving you another potent anti-psyker bubble, and more absolutely necessary Synapse. That the Prime is an Independent Character serves to make it one of the most potentially tough sources of Synapse in the army, able to hide in broods of Carnifexes, the vacated Tyrant Guard meant to protect a flying Hive Tyrant, or even broods of Termagants. The ablative wounds are mostly unique for this particular Synapse creature, and as it can also be your Warlord, it is a smart choice in many games just because you can protect it than for any other particular reason. The Prime also has an extra special rule that is an attempt to make joining Warriors and Shrikes more enticing, as either unit when led by a Prime can use its Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill instead of their own. Warriors, even with a Prime tanking wounds behind its 3+ armour save, can't really guarantee making combat, so the Weapon Skill bonus isn't too important. The Ballistic Skill bonus, on the other hand, really helps for the Devourers and Deathspitters in the unit, while any Barbed Strangles or Venom Cannons will be slightly happier with 1" less scatter. It actually makes Warriors into a decent shooting unit, though one that is still over-costed for the damage it puts out - especially when you consider the price of the Prime. When it comes to Shrikes, though, unless you want to neuter them then never attach a Prime to Shrikes. A Prime cannot take wings or any kind of biomorph that changes its unit type to Jump Infantry, meaning that joining Shrikes would slow them down to the same pace as Warriors - effectively becoming Warriors with 5+ armour saves. This is one of the stranger oversights in the codex, and one that you should probably try to forget.

How to Equip Them

This is really dependent on what kind of units you want your Tyranid Prime to join. If it is going to be baby-sitting a brood of Biovores, for example, you can leave it stock as it will be wanting to hide out of sight along with the living artillery. If it is going to attach to a brood of Carnifexes armed with two pairs of brain-leech devourers each, then giving it a Miasma Cannon to extend the maximum range of the unit for resolving damage and no other upgrades is handy enough. For the most part, I avoid the melee biomorphs and standard biomorphs on a Tyranid Prime because they are quite expensive stock and don't really need the upgrades. Tyranid Primes have no reliable way of reaching combat, especially as they will actively slow down broods of Hormagaunts for example - lacking Bounding Leap - and so I don't really think the melee weapons are that worthwhile. If you want to use one, go for a set of Rending Claws to replace their Scything Talons and that really should be it. They don't make much use of the Maw Claws of Thyrax because they are not monstrous creatures and thus lack Smash, meaning they have to contend with its rather measly AP5, and they also cannot guarantee early combats. The Reaper of Obliterax is more useful for a Tyranid Prime than something like a Tervigon, especially as lacking Smash and being Strength 5 base makes the +1 Strength bonus more useful. Still, I think it is too expensive to really be justified, and you are probably better off with just a Lash Whip and Bonesword and Toxin Sacs combo. Giving the Norn Crown to a Tyranid Prime can be a huge help to make up for their inability to take Dominion as they are not psykers, but I recommend only giving it to a Prime that is either hiding with Biovores or is attached to a brood of two to three Carnifexes

Where to Put Them

The defining trait of Tyranid Primes is that they are Independent Characters; it is not their boosted profile over a standard Warrior, or their access to Tyranid Bio-Artefacts. They are the only true Independent Character in the entire codex, and as a Synapse creature additionally, there is never any reason to leave them alone. As I've already repeated myself countless times on moving through cover with certain units and using line of sight blocking terrain - and I'll cover each unit on that anyway - I'll instead talk about which units are best suited to being led by a Prime. Synapse comes at more of a premium in this codex than it used to mostly due to the Tervigon change and removal of Mycetic Spores making Zoanthropes and Warriors more restricted for deployment options, and Synapse is also more important than ever. This is why unless you are taking some kind of hugely expensive Tyranid deathstar with a kitted out Hive Tyrant or Swarmlord, two to three Tyrant Guard and a Tyranid Prime, you generally don't want to join up with Tyrant Guard. It's just a waste of their Synapse potential, really, unless it is a flying Hive Tyrant that detaches from the unit early on and has the Tyranid Prime being the actual Warlord. That is a smart and safe use of your resources, and should protect the Prime - and Warlord point - quite well.

But really, the best unit to join to are Carnifex broods. They are big models, they are scary as heck, they do so much damage in shooting and combat, and they are very tough in broods as monstrous creatures. They literally make the best bodyguards for a Tyranid Prime, even if they don't really fit that role in the fluff. With its Look Out Sir rolls, a Prime attached to a brood of Carnifexes can make the most of wound allocation shenanigans by standing at the front or the side of a unit. Carnifexes with double brain-leech devourers are ideal, providing a lumbering torrent of destruction that doubles as a sentry to the Prime. Such a units' only real weakness is a lack of Synapse, so attaching a Prime to the unit is just about the perfect solution. Other good choices are Termagant broods for massed, cheap ablative wounds and Biovores for having a Synapse unit nearby so they can hide and shoot without succumbing to Instinctive Behaviour. Hormagaunts are handy, but attaching a Prime to them negates their pivotal Bounding Leap rule, somewhat neutering their speed. As such, I tend to recommend against attaching a Prime to them. Hive Guard could use the mid-range Synapse if Zoanthropes aren't present, but a Prime's weapon options don't really gel with them, and they are one of few units that won't really benefit from a wound tank. Venomthropes and Zoanthropes are all ideally suited to a Prime, making use of its 3+ armour save and Toughness 5 - for instant death purposes, as it will actually be Toughness 4 due to majority Toughness rules - though Zoanthropes with their 3+ invulnerable saves don't need it as much. Warriors are of course an obvious choice, and using the Prime to soak up Strength 8 shots is ideal; just be careful not to throw it away, as losing the Prime is going to hurt more than losing a single Warrior at a time.

Best Uses

I feel the best application of a Tyranid Prime is to attach to a Carnifex brood armed with dual brain-leech devourers, while the Prime itself wields a Miasma Cannon and little else - none of the other upgrades are really necessary. The Prime confers Synapse to a unit that can kill itself without, a unit that also happens to be one of the deadliest and most expensive in the codex. The Prime gains protection from the Carnifexes, each model having four Toughness 6, 3+ armoured wounds. The Miasma Cannon eliminates the need for a Stranglethorn Cannon or Heavy Venom Cannon on one of the Carnifexes so that their "maximum range" for wounds isn't capped at 18". The Prime gives the three monstrous creatures more potential for wound allocation shenanigans, using its 2+ Look Out Sir roll when attached to the unit to spread the wounds around even more in different phases. It can take a wound or two, then Look Out Sir on to the closest Carnifex. On the next turn, it can swap the positioning of the models around and do the same thing, meaning it will take far more effort on the opponents' end to drop any single model in the unit, thus keeping their damage output at maximum for longer. As the Carnifexes will be heading up the midfield and will typically be supported by Hormagaunt, Termagant or Gargoyle broods, the Prime can use the Carnifexes as a "slingshot" unit to attach to the rear of one of those broods just before they declare a charge. Other good uses of the Prime are to join small to medium broods of Warriors to give them a damage boost with its Alpha Warrior special rule, though I feel Biovores - due to the lack of Synapse creatures with long ranged shooting - and Venomthropes - who otherwise drop too easily to Smart Missile Systems - could use the Tyranid Primes' unique abilities more.

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.

Tyranid Prime - Adrenal Glands, Flesh Hooks, Lash Whip and Bonesword, Toxin Sacs - This is what you can safely call a "baby Tyrant". Join it up to a brood of two or three melee Carnifexes all with Adrenal Glands and watch the carnage unfold; replace the Devourer with the Lash Whip and Bonesword and keep the Scything Talons. This gives the Prime six Strength 6, Initiative 8 attacks on the charge at AP3 with the potential for Instant Death. Yes, this means it can slaughter most 3+ armoured monstrous creatures on the charge, and yes, it will scythe through almost anything. And hey, it has bloody Carnifexes as bodyguards! Oh, and assault grenades always win.

Tyranid Prime - Miasma Cannon - A nice long ranged small blast weapon on a Prime keeps it as cheap as you want while it actually does something. This should be attached to ranged Carnifexes armed with brain leech devourers; the 36" range of the Miasma Cannon is used to extend the maximum range of the unit for allocating wounds.

Alpha Organisms

The Hive Fleets constituting the greater Tyranid race base their incredible feats of destruction around their unmatched adaptability. Where other species can adapt their weapons, armour and other such technologies to combat specific threats over a period of a few months or years, the Tyranids can create entirely new sub-species designed to counter-act each unique foe they face. The very flesh of their own established bio-organisms can be mutated either in spawning pools or on the battlefields themselves to counter and destroy new strategies and opponents. Warriors embody these principles of the Tyranids more than any other sub-species - even the great Hive Tyrants - as they can adapt weapons of all kinds, wings, bounding legs, enhanced armour plating and numberless other adaptations. At the apex of the Warrior strain is the Tyranid Prime, the most vicious, intelligent and physically adept Tyranid creature not of the monstrous or gargantuan creature designation. It is a slayer of champions, a commander of numberless organisms, a well that devours psychic energy, and a direct link to the Norn Queen. Their very presence drives the lesser Warrior creatures to even more terrifying acts of ferocity, and few can stand before the relentless assault of an elite creature designed purely for combat and slaughter.

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. i was thinking about putting a tyranid prime and a venomthrope in a bastion... 6" shrouded / 12" synapse buffer from the hull and getting BS4 on the icarus lascannon on top. maybe even throwing a few biovores on top for some really good LOS and 2+ cover. not too shabby!

  2. The prime amongst a brood of carnifex would also be toughness 6 due to mixed toughnesses, nice.

  3. The prime can no longer attach to a Carnifex brood as off 7e, the rule has been modified to include monstrous creatures and not just vehicles and units consisting of a single model.