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Chaos Space Marine Unit Guide: Thousand Sons

Submitted By: Wyddr Date: September 24, 2013, 04:02:32 PM Views: 8450
Summary: A discussion of how to use Thousand Sons/Rubric Marines in 6th Edition games.

Thousand Sons

So, you want to use Thousand Sons (aka Rubric Marines) in your CSM force, eh? Well, for starters, let me ask you a simple question:

Are you out of your mind?

Allow me to break with the tradition of these things by trying to talk you out of this course of action at the outset. Thousand Sons are not very good. Let us enumerate their many failings:

Failing the First: Cost
Rubric Marines cost an arm and a leg. And a torso. Well, they cost a whole extra body, frankly; I mean this literally. For the cost of 4 Ksons and their Sorcerer you can get ten regular Chaos Marines with a heavy weapon.

Failing the Second: Options
Well, what do the mighty Thousand Sons get for this massive cost premium? Well...nothing much, actually. They all get inferno bolts; the sorcerer has a force weapon and a Tzeentch psychic power. There are virtually no options at all, which means the Thousand Sons are extremely inflexible units. They are the Jack of One Trade and Master of Not Even That One Trade.

Failing the Third: Special Rules
Do you know what a primarily shooty unit with Fearless could really use? That's right: Veterans of the Long War. Do you know what a unit that cannot carry heavy weapons might find useful? Slow and Purposeful, of course! Do you know what an infantry unit with anti-infantry guns really, really craves? If you guessed an invulnerable save, you're right! You're also missing the point. You know what's better than an invulnerable save? Twice as many guys and a wall.

Failing the Fourth: The Sorcerer
The only versatility at all in the Ksons unit is the Sorcerer. The Sorcerer is expensive, presumably because he has access to Tzeentch's Lore. Except, Tzeentch's Lore isn't really very good. At all. In fact, it's the worst of the Chaos Lores save for the second power--Doombolt. You have a 50/50 shot of getting it, which is sort of like saying 'Hey, you have access to the World's Best Plasma Pistol...assuming you flip heads on this coin.' If you fail, the other thing you get is lame--either a power that will kill you 1/6 of the time and gives you something useful only 1/3 of the time (Boon) or a short-range frag missile that is weaker than a frag missile 1/2 of the time. Boooo.

Honestly, there is very little motivating someone to fill an elites slot with Ksons. There is only marginally more reason to take them as troops, but then you need to take a Tzeentch sorcerer, which involves taking one of those terrible Tzeentch powers.

Damn you, Wyddr! I hath labored lo these many aeons to field a force of Egyptian-looking Ghost Marines and, dammit, you aren't going to talk me out of it!

Great. Now that we've scared off the power-gamers, WAAC tourney jerks, and point munchkins, we can start talking about how to use this awkward hippopotamus of a unit well and how to make it an asset to your army.

So What the Heck Do I Do With These Guys?

Essentially, Thousand Sons are a mid-range support unit. If taken as an elites slot, their ideal role is contributing firepower toward targets you wish your troops units to assault/displace and tarpitting killy enemy assault units you don't want running around. They do this job with modest efficiency: they aren't quite fast enough to work super well in this role and there are other units that sort of do it better. That said, it is a job they can do. If taken as an elites choice in a footslogging army, consider a unit like this:

6 Thousand Sons + Sorcerer = 196

This group can kick out a decent quantity of marine-killing firepower and has enough bodies to delay a unit of CC monsters for a turn or two, which can be key. I'd hesitate to spend more points than this when using them in this role, however, as they aren't cost efficient as-is, and taking a big unit is a bit like throwing good money after bad.

Now, when you are taking Thousand Sons as troops units, they can still serve this supporting role while backing up your regular groups of Cultists/CSMs or what-have-you, but wind up being scoring to boot. In this role, it is perhaps worth it to take more bodies, since having them survive might mean scoring on an objective and, since they're Fearless, they'll be sticking around to the bitter end.

How Do I Get Them To Work?

The Thousand Sons don't look very good on paper. This doesn't immediately translate, however, to being terrible on the tabletop. Compared to the last edition of the codex and the last edition of the game, the Thousand Sons have gotten moderately better. Why?

AP3 Works Better: Those magic bolters have a bit more bite these days since cover is, on average, not as good as it was. You'll kill about a third more guys in cover than you used to, and nothing but Terminators can take armor saves against you.

Slow and Purposeful is Faster: The Thousand Sons may now move the same distance as everyone else in the movement phase. This is a nice change, making them moderately capable as mobile shooting platforms. Yes, everyone else can run and everyone else can overwatch, but I'm talking comparisons here, not absolutes.

The Psychic Powers are Better: Granted, the psychic powers aren't great thanks to the random determination, but you get them for *free* these days and Doombolt is fantastic. The old Doombolt was terrible and you had to pay points to equip it.

Force Weapons are more Versatile: The capacity to take Force Staves or Axes gives the Sorcerer a few expanded options in assault or against vehicles, which is nice.

So with this in mind, we've got a unit that can move and shoot without any real problems, occasionally has access to some decent psychic firepower, and can get off charges with S5 or S6 weaponry. If you apply this against the right target, you can win some convincing victories. The 'apply it against the right target' bit is the challenge, though.

A Word About Options

The Thousand Sons really only have three options, five if you count Force Weapon and Psychic power choice. Some points about each:

Meltabombs are cheap and almost always worth it if you're taking Ksons as troops. It makes the unit an unattractive target for monstrous creatures and marauding walkers, which is worth it if you're parked on an objective.

Gift of Mutation is usually not worth it, since Slow and Purposeful makes several options worthless or downright bad. About 12 out of the possible 36 results on the table are pointless, and another third of them aren't really worth the cost of buying this option.

Banner of Flame is very much not worth the points on an already expensive unit. A cursory read of the Soul Blaze rules will explain why this is.

More interesting, of course, are the options of Force Weapon and Psychic powers.

Force Weapons change according to your local meta, mostly. If you're playing against MEQs or lots of Terminators, the Axe or the Sword are good buys. Against anything else, the Staff's strength bonus is very much worth it.

Psychic Powers, as described above, come down to a choice between Doombolt and Tzeentch's Firestorm, since Boon is very, very bad for one wound, slow and purposeful sorcerers. Tzeentch's Firestorm looks okay on paper, but the best thing about it is really the range; I've never killed much of anything with it. Doombolt, however, is fantastic--never trade Doombolt for Tzeentch's Firestorm, no matter how many gaunts you think you need to kill.

Ideal Targets and Tactical Applications
Thousand Sons are best applied against enemy troop units or enemy MEQ elites. With Doombolt and a Force Staff/Meltabombs, they can engage vehicles fairly well, particularly in assault. If facing down a Monstrous Creature, it's worth noting that the Sorcerer has a Force Weapon and might pull off an insta-kill. Their good invulnerable save means they can tarpit a lot of different units, assuming you've got enough guys. All of those targets other than enemy troops and MEQ elites, though, are secondary and there are probably much better units in your army to fill those roles. One hopes, anyway.

Ksons Vs Troops
The Thousand Sons have two chief advantages when it comes to engaging enemy infantry.  First, they can rapid fire and charge in the same turn.  Second, they have that invul save to protect against power weapons and the like. This means the following things:

-Units that are shooting resilient but assault averse (guard infantry blobs, SM scouts/Eldar Pathfinders in cover, Necrons, etc.) can be softened up at range and then charged by Ksons. Good.

-Units that are vulnerable to shooting but strong in assault (many Eldar units, many Tyranid units, and some Ork units) can be shot up and then the remnants can be charged, which denies the enemy their charge bonuses next turn. Since your guys would probably end up in assault against these enemies anyway, you may as well.

-Marines of most varieties are specifically vulnerable to the Ksons shooting attacks and the Veterans of the Long War can help push you over the edge in assault. Again, shooting and charging is generally wise.

Even if you lose the ensuing assault, the fact that the Ksons are fearless means you're in no danger of being run down. If you have units available to bail them out of long assaults, they'll do very well. You can even use the Ksons to pin dangerous enemy units in place (like Terminators) in order to give the rest of your army time to get the Terminator-killing guys into position.

No Fair Fights, Please...
Always remember that the Thousand Sons die as easily as regular Marines against everything but AP3/2/1 weapons, but they cost a lot more. Accordingly, you need to make sure your Thousand Sons are in uneven engagements. Get them into one-on-one confrontations with vulnerable targets whenever possible. A Ksons unit that is double-teamed and ganged up on is probably dead; granted, they might occupy enough of your enemy's shooting phase to leave the rest of your army alone, but they are an expensive diversionary unit and I don't recommend them for that role.

One of the best ways to make this happen, incidentally, is to use them in conjunction with Ahriman. His Master of Deception trait is key to infiltrating your Thousand Son units (and their Rhinos!) into positions where they can do the most damage. Barring this, it's a good idea to put your Thousand Sons in a position where they do not appear to be the largest threat. This is fairly easy since, as explained above, the Ksons look like terrible units on paper and are easily underestimated. Thousand Sons units take time to eliminate--they won't all fall down at once--and if your opponent delays dealing with them in favor of other targets, they can easily find themselves without enough turns left in the game to eliminate them. That means either a claimed or contested objective for you, which is good news.

A Word About Mobility...
Ksons don't get anywhere quickly, but their best location is in the midst of the battle. For that reason, it is a good idea to buy them Rhinos or give them a commander that will let them infiltrate (Huron, Ahriman). They work out as being pretty good Mechanized troops, in that their initial shooting attack can be pretty nasty against many infantry targets and they are tough enough that they won't all drop dead to a return volley. Then you can rapid fire and charge next turn as normal.

Suggested Unit Builds
As discussed, the Thousand Sons don't have a lot of options available, so this will be a short section.

Standard Elites Layout
6 Ksons + Sorcerer--196
This unit works well as a support unit--big enough to do some damage, but not so huge that the cost becomes prohibitive. Honestly, I don't recommend Ksons as elites; they work better as troops.

Standard Troops Layout
8 Ksons + Sorcerer w/Meltabombs in Rhino--284
This is Tzeentch's favorite number and the number of Ksons you get with the conversion kit. They can move around, they have enough bodies to hold an objective, and the Sorcerer's meltabombs give them some recourse against certain hard targets.

MSU Troops Layout
4 Ksons + Sorcerer in Rhino w/ Havoc Launcher--197
This tiny unit can be taken in larger numbers, giving you a goodly number of sorcerers for an increased chance of many Doombolts. Not a terrible plan, but they really aren't tough enough or cost effective enough to guarantee this would work. Might be fun, though.

I want to make it perfectly clear that Thousand Sons are a support unit. They cannot win a game on their own and they have less in common with Space Marines than they do with various Eldar specialists. They do one job--shoot up infantry and then punch it--and they do that job reasonably well. When used in that role and deployed to fight against their chosen enemy, their primary drawback is then simply cost. You can make a pretty good argument that states that taking four squads of regular CSMs is a better call than two squads of Thousand Sons, and you'd generally be right. It isn't my position to convince you of the almighty awesomeness of Rubric Marines (hah! hilarious...), but rather to show those who actually want to use them because they find them cool how to do so. Due to their cost, you are going to have to build a list around them and that can be done (though how to build a themed Thousand Sons Legion is an article for a different day). You might not win any tournaments with them, but you will likely have fun with them if they are used properly. That, of course, is the whole point of the game after all, and Thousand Sons have as much right to be involved as any other unit.

Rating: ***** by 4 members.


Author Eminence: Hereticus Liber Daemonica | Fio'shas Shi
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October 7, 2013, 12:53:59 PM
Thanks for the comment, Caustic. As usual, you and I disagree chiefly in that you have a significantly rosier view of in-game scenarios than I do. I tend to plan for the worst and, as such, Ksons are fiddly troopers. They cost a lot and don't really survive substantially better than a tactical squad save against specific weapons. My Rubrics die to weight of fire the same as my basic CSMs do, but they cost twice as much. Each loss of a Rubric Marine is equivalent to losing two other troops. So, yes, they don't all die to a battle cannon shot. Half of them *do*, however, which is the same (in terms of cost) as if an entire regular unit had just been wiped off the board. If this doesn't give you pause, then I'm not sure what will.

As for close combat, I will point out that I did suggest that rapid firing then charging is the *only* way to get your money's worth out of Ksons and yes, the Force Weapon is nice, but given that the scenarios where the force weapon will be actively useful are extremely rare, I'll stand by my implication that the force weapon is really no big deal. Since your ideal targets are enemy troops, anyway, you aren't going to be slogging it out with too many daemon princes. Even if you are, the odds of the daemon prince (or similar) failing to kill your little sorcerer dead long before you take your statistically-unlikely shot at glory are sufficiently high to rate this as more of a gimmick than a tactic.
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September 28, 2013, 01:52:20 AM
I appreciate your article and your efforts to delve into the Thousand Sons and understand the ways they can be used as effective units. I feel the need to mention though that your article does introduce itself with quite a bit of bias towards them being poor units, and while I feel that you do make a fairly convincing case towards that there's also some more meta-game related parts you don't realise or fail to mention.

Your article highlights the Inferno Bolts and Aura of Dark Glory + Mark of Tzeentch upgrades in a dismissive light, without getting into sufficient detail as to what they both can mean to the performance of the unit on the battlefield. Inferno Bolts, for example are useful against a wide range of targets and in cases where your opponent isn't in cover (which happens quite a lot, especially if you wreck his transport and make him walk) they can be devastating against MEQ targets and highly workable against 4+ Save units.

An invulnerable save as potent as the one the Thousand Sons have is quite powerful, because it gives them a decent save against every attack your opponent can send against them. This means they can disembark from a transport in a clumped group and not be massacred by Battle Cannons and Plasma/Grav or be forced to go to ground the next turn... not to mention the benefits once you are locked in close combat and cover saves don't apply. One of your statements I found particularly interesting is that Thousand Sons are a 'shooting' unit hence Veterans of the Long War and Slow and Purposeful charges after Rapid Fire aren't that useful. My opinion is that Thousand Sons are Space Marines, and because of their cost and resilience they will inevitably end up in close combat at some point where every little bonus helps.

Compared to Plague Marines, I feel like the big advantage Thousand Sons have is their firepower. While Nurgle is tough against anti-infantry and attacks well in CC, Thousand Sons are tough against anti-MEQ and attack well at range. It's easy to blindly say Plague Marines are better, but the bottom line is only two of them will ever have special weapons at cost while the whole unit of Thousand Sons have anti-MEQ bolters.

The Aspiring Sorcerer is expensive, but force weapons on troops are pretty rare (Grey Knights being the only other exception) and for a good reason. The Sorcerer has a decent chance of beating any opponent he faces apart from the most epic of characters like the Swarmlord or Abaddon thanks to a good number of attacks and the ability to capitalize on the wounds he scores, allowing you to make the most of him even though he's mandatory.

Overall though I enjoyed the article and I'll give it a 4/5. Could've mentioned the Forge World doors, novels, and conversion possibilities though... :)

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