“How do I get started with Tyranids?” “Where do I start with Tyranids?” “Is Leviathan/Combat Patrol/Christmas Box good?”
I recently just got into Warhammer and into Tyranids myself and want to help answer those questions with what I’ve gathered. I’m not an expert, but I hope to help where I can with a guide that I wish I’d had a few months ago.
Here’s a brief, high-level overview of what Tyranids are, what makes them unique, as well as their general strengths and weaknesses.
The Tyranid are a Xenos (meaning non-human alien) faction in Warhammer 40k. They’re very much a combination of the Xenomorphs from Alien, Zerg from StarCraft, and the Arachnids from Starship Troopers. Actually, the Zerg were based off Tyranids! They’re one of the older and most established non-human armies in Warhammer 40k
Lore-wise their motivation is pretty dead-simple: eat everything The Tyranid army invades planets, consumes all available organic “biomass”, and converts that biomass into more Tyranids. Tyranids were named after the first human planet they consumed.
All of the Tyranid units and weapons are purely organic: mostly generally claws or guns that shoot burrowing slugs or acid.
The Tyranid armies also have psyker (psychic attacking) units, which often serve as relays for the Tyranid Hive Mind, known as Synapse. Mechanically, this Synapse boosts the Battle Shock tests of units within 6” range of a Synapse keyword unit to 3d6 roll instead of the normal 2d6. On the flip side, Tyranids also can also, once per game, force every enemy unit to take a Battle Shock test with the Shadow in the Warp ability, which represents the oppressive eldritch terror that the Tyranids project, signaling their incoming invasion.
NOTE that the “Synapse” keyword is what “has Synapse”. Only those that actually give Synapse have it in the keyword. Every Tyranid unit has the Synapse faction rule, which just means they can receive Synapse.
For example, the Neurotyrant has the Synapse keyword, so it “has” Synapse and projects it 6”. The Termagant does not have the Synapse keyword but only the Synapse ability so it it has the ability to receive Synapse (when within 6” of a unit that has a Synapse *keyword).
Here is the Neurotryant, which “has Synapse” because it has the Synapse keyword: —
Here is the Termagants, which do not have the Synapse keyword:
You must have a unit with Shadow in the Warp on the board to do Shadow in the Warp.
TIP: do Shadow in the Warp during your opponent’s turn to maximize its effect
What they generally lack in raw power, they make up in their superior ability to swarm, control objectives, and adapt.
That point is worth repeating: Tyranids are an objective-focused faction. Prioritizing objectives and secondary objectives is crucial to winning with Tyranids. Tyranids are generally not an army that can “table” (completely kill) the opposing army. If a Tyranid army wins, it’s often with some or even most of their army dead but have earned more Victory Points, which ultimately is what determines the actual winner. This cinematic video from Games Workshop demonstrates it perfectly: the Tyranids appear to be getting slaughtered, but at the end of the video it shows the Imperium is losing the war.
I emphasize this because it’s often demoralizing to newer Tyranid players to have dozens of models taken off the board in one phase or even in one attack! This isn’t to say that Tyranids cannot kill at all; the larger Monsters can punch.
- Objective Control (OC): for example, Battleline units like Gargoyles or Termagants have 2 OC each and have Move abilities.
- Unit volume and Screening: with so many units lets Tyranids Screen which prevents enemy units from arriving from Reserves and blocks effective enemy movements
- Battle-shock: between Synapse, Shadow in the Warp, and other individual units’ abilities, Tyranids have a focus on Battle-shocks. This feeds even more into the Objective Control theme as a unit has 0OC when Battle-shocked.
- Big Bugs: the larger bugs like Norn Emmissary, Maleceptor, and Haruspex are akin to Godzilla or Kaiju. Generally absorbing focus while Battleline units take side lanes.
- Versatility + Reactivity: the “default” Tyranid Detachment, Invasion Fleet, gives several ways to react to your opponent’s plan. The other Detachments encourage other distinct armies as well.
- Feel No Pain: while Tyranids generally don’t have good save stats, some have or give Feel No Pain, which can be rolled even against Mortal Wounds and ignores Armor Piercing (AP).
- Swarms: strategems and units support bringing back Termagants. The Undending Swarm detachment goes hard in this direction.
- Lone Op / Stealth: many of the more “solo” Lictor-like units have Stealth and/or Lone Operative
- Overall/On Average comparatively low “punching power”. Low raw Strength, Toughness, Saves, AP, or Wounds.
- Weak ranged and many Melee-only units
- Individually weak, synergy-dependent units: some units offer Aura buffs, this can make for strong “combos” but this also makes units quite dependent on other units to be even decent. This can cause army point adjustments to have cascading effects on viable strategies. For example, Genestealers are rarely ever played without Broodlord and when their points went up, they both went away from many lists.
Of course, these are in general! Specific units will, of course, break out of these general weaknesses.
Where to start?
Before we go anywhere, it’s crucial to have some valuable resources:
- Core Rules and other very important Downloads: Warhammer Community Downloads GW has made all the Core Rules and supplemental PDFs fully available for download. The initial set of rules for each factions, called their “Index” is also available. However, once the full set of rules for a faction come out, called their “Codex” then those Indexes become obsolete and unavailable. Currently, Tyranids have our Codex, so see that below. Here’s what you all need:
- Core Rules: obviously a must-have!
- Balance Dataslate: Contains the latest rules updates. There have been important updates to Mortal Wounds, Stratagems, and abilities that adjust CP costs of Strategems. A must-have!
- Munitorum Field Manual: contains the current army points costs of units. Optional if you’re using an app that does points tracking for you.
- Wahapedia: Tyranid Datasheets - All of the Tyranids Datasheets and Warhammer Rules have been put onto Wahapedia, which is a Warhammer Wiki.
- OR 39k.pro is a mobile-friendly quick reference website for datasheets
- Tabletop Battles App Very useful for tracking CP and VPs during a game.
First, This one is Easy: the Leviathan box set. Split the box with a friend or buy the Tyranid half from somewhere like eBay.
This box also includes a deck of the Leviathan Chapter Approved cards, which are used for playing current standard games of Warhammer 40k.
Many units within aren’t top-tier (then it would be a steal of a buy), it’s a great start and recommended if you’re new to Warhammer in general.
Next, get a 10th edition Codex new, in plastic! It has a QR code that you will need to unlock the Tyranid rules in the Warhammer 40k Official App. Also, it’s very easy to confuse the obsolete 9th edition codex with the 10th edition codex. The 10th edition has the logo-watermark. See the image below.
Unfortunately, the Leviathan Box doesn’t have a TON of great units even though it has a ton of models. Here’s a rough breakdown of the Leviathan Units:
- Termagants: They’re a fine battleline unit. See Gargoyles below for the “upgrade”
- Barbgaunts: A solid unit, especially loved by newer players, but often just doesn’t make the cut in most competitive lists.
- Psychophage: As cool as the model is, the stats are bad and it costs WAY too many points.
- Winged Tyranid Prime: There is one configuration where this model is good (leading Tyranid Warriors, not included), but it’s mostly a newbie trap.
- Screamer-Killer: Another decent unit that just costs too many points. See Maleceptor below.
- Neurotyrant: Finally, a good one! Not great, but has good damage output, a useful far Synapse-giving ability, and surprising durability and improves your Shadow in the Warp. I always include one in my army roster.
- Von Ryan’s Leapers: With their profile, these only excel at pouncing on very weak opposing models, which just isn’t something worth taking often. They compete in a crowded spot with other Lictor-like units. See Deathleaper below.
- Neurogaunts: An okay unit to screen your deployment zone against opponent’s Deep Strike or late-game Reinforcements. Very high model-to-cost ratio, but also doesn’t DO anything.
- Ripper Swarms: With Deep Strike and only costing 20 points, often a way to spend your last few points to get some reliable Secondary scoring. See Biovore below.
The Number 1 question asked is “After the Leviathan box, what units should I get?” There’s no perfect answer and opinions will vary, but currently, here are some of the top units in the Tyranids that aren’t in the Leviathan or Starter boxes:
- 1 Biovore: Absolute must-have. Produces a Spore Mine (aka “Score Mine”) each turn that can reliably score Secondary Objectives. Only one Biovore can spawn mines and only one mine is ever needed, so run exactly one Biovore.
- (20-40x) Gargoyles: fast moving, deep-striking, high-OC screening Endless Multitude unit. As annoying as they are to assemble, paint, and move on the board, they’re infinitely more annoying for your opponent.
- 1 Deathleaper: Just a load of abilities: Fights First, Infiltrator, Lone Op, Stealth, and Fear of the Unseen. Considered a must-have currently.
- 2-3 Neurolictors: Aura/Support unit that is often planted near one or even two objectives. Works very well with Deathleaper, the two are often paired together near a vital objective.
- 1-2 Maleceptors: All around solid unit. Very tanky with good attacks.
There very good and strong units within the Tyranid roster, but its most-often their points cost that is prohibitive. What makes the units above very good is their relative utility/power to their points cost.
NOTE It is currently VERY hard to find Neurolictors and Maleceptors for purchase. Good luck!
After those highly-recommend units above, here are the next tier of units. You don’t need all of these, but you’ll very often see them in good lists.
- 1-3 Exocrine: One of the Tyranids best shooting units.
- 1 Pyrovore: Not as crucial as the Biovore, but just a good body for only 30 points.
- 1-2 Ripper Swarms: Similar role to the Biovore, just a solid Secondary Objective scoring unit with its Deep Strike.
- 6-9 Zoanthropes: each unit is technically 1 Neurothrope + 2-5 Zoanthropes, but generally just called “zoans”. Anti-tank and gives a decent Invul aura.
- 1 Hive Tyrant / Swarmlord / Winged Hive Tyrant: Recent rulings have made these weaker and thus they’re overcosted, but they are still a source of CP efficiency. These come in one box, but with some magnets and an extra torso from Etsy/eBay, you can actually build all three from one box.
There are many more good units out there, but these above are some of the top ones.
Tyranid leaders aren’t typically meant to “lead” but here are some options.
Next up, there are a few Leader-Combo units available for Tyranids:
- Old One Eye (OOE) + 2 Carnifex: A terrifying unit to bring out of Strategic Reserves
- OOE+Carnifex Brood is also very hard to buy currently.
- Broodlord + 10 Genestealers: Currently over-costed, but this used to be a solid death-ball
- 2x (1 Winged Tyranid Prime + 6 Melee Tyranid Warriors): With Adrenal Surge, two of these units can turn into a fury of melee attacks with 5+ Crit Hits, Re-rolling Hits of 1, Sustained Hits 1 (from WTP), and Twin-Linked.
BUT WHAT ABOUT ????
“But what about Norn Emmisary, Tyrannofex, Tyrannocyte, etc etc.”
There are many strong and cool models out there and I’m not going to say they’re all bad. Especially in certain detachments and depending on how you build your army, there are so many ways to build a list where any unit could be good.
However, every unit has an Opportunity Cost in the form of points: could you have put in a better model for a near-equivalent amount of points?
After knowing what units are considered, the next question is “Which Detachment should I play?”
The answer: INVASION FLEET
The Tyranid default detachment is the go-to for several reasons:
- It’s versatile, which means it works with many configurations and against many opponents
- It’s newbie friendly by giving a good Detatchment Rule, Enhancements, and Strategems. Other Detachments typically have either a good Rule OR good Strategems
Here are the other Detachments:
- Crusher Stampede: Just skip this. It’s Just Not Good at what it’s supposed to be good at, which is big monsters.
- Unending Swarm: Can do very well if your meta is very vehicles and anti-vehicles heavy as the swarm exploits that focus. Generally want a Swarmlord to always have enough CP for Unending Waves and about a hundred (yes, literally 100+) Termagants.
- Want 100+ Undending Swarm units: Termagants mostly and many Gargoyles.
- Terivgon and Venomthropes are good support.
- Assimilation Swarm: Also skip. Too finicky to pilot for not even that much payoff.
- Harvesters: Haruspex, Psychophage, Pyrovore, and Ripper Swarm.
- GOOD Harvesters: Haruspex, Pyrovore, and Ripper Swarm.
- Vanguard Onslaught: Requires more skilled 3D-Chess piloting, but also considered on-par or better than Invasion Fleet competitively. Seek out guidance on it specifically elsewhere; there’s been a lot said about this one.
- Vanguard Invaders: Broodlord, Deathleaper, Parasite of Mortrex, Winged Hive Tyrant, Winged Tyranid Prime, Gargoyles, Tyrannocyte, Genestealers, Harpy, Hive Crone, Lictor, Neurolictor, Von Ryan’s Leapers
- GOOD Vanguard Invaders: Broodlord, Deathleaper, Gargoyles, Genestealers, Lictor, Neurolictor
- Synaptic Nexus: Like Undending Swarm, a bit more skewed but around a B-grade detachment, but still less forgiving than Invasion Fleet. It basically wants you to have nearlly all of your army to be Synapse for its abilities and strategems, but the payoff is certainly there for using only the most brainy of bugs.
- Synapse units: so many
- Good Synapse Units: Hive Tyrant, Maleceptor, Norn Emmissary
What is a Hive Fleet?
The Tyranid Hive Mind has “tendrils” with different names, personalities, and (most notably) different color schemes. The Hive Fleets used to be tied to the Detachment, but that’s no longer the case.
Practically, it’s just fluff: how you paint your army and the lore behind it.
Some notable Hive Fleets are:
- Leviathan: the current poster-child fleet. Purple carapace, white skin, and pink accents.
- Behemoth: the “old-school” Hive Fleet. Dark blue carapace, red skin, and black accents.
- Kraken: Red Carapace, bone-white skin.
Most players come up with their own custom-named hive fleet for their own color scheme. Examples include “Tiamet” and “Garmr”
Should I build a Norn Emissary or Norn Assimilator?
The Norn Emissary is a bit more flexible in its attack profile, while the Assimilator is more of a surgical assassin.
Like many kits that can build two things, the best this is to use magnets to get both from one box!
What magnets are good?
For magnetizing heads and arm joints (e.g. Hive Tyrant and Swarmlord): 5x2mm and use a 5/8” drill bit
For magnetizing bases to a metal or magnet tray for easy carrying: 10x2mm
Before I post this in front of a bunch of pendants, I’m going to include some caveats: I intentionally did not go into every unit and combination across the entire Tyranid Codex b/c others have done this and I wanted to keep this as a quick overview for people new to Tyranids and to help answer commonly asked questions.
There are many ways to play Warhammer, from only what’s in a Leviathan Box to the most hardcore competitive lists. I assume that people reading this are wanting to enhance their starting army but cannot just manifest infinite dollars and plastic.