We’re heading into most joyful and welcoming* part of the warp today as we venture deep into Nurgle’s Garden.
Nurgle has blessed Death Guard players with an abundance of gifts in the Arks of Omen season. Much like Guilliman in the Plague Wars novels, many Death Guard players don’t appreciate the value of all of Nurgle’s gifts. We’re going to change that today.
Welcome to the official Warphammer guide to playing the XIVth Legion.
* Do you enjoy joyful, welcoming places? Then hop into the Warphammer Discord today at https://discord.gg/gdRBnBhU! It’s the most knowledgable and friendly community for Chaos players out there. See you there soon.
Death Guard have so much more potential than most people realize as we enter the Arks Of Omen season.
Reasons For Optimism
Death Guard are huge winners of the ability to take an allied Daemon Patrol or Chaos Knight unit, as well as the points decreases to Nurgle Daemons. The 0CP Nurgle Daemon detachment is just wild for Death Guard. Death Guard with a free Daemon patrol are an entirely different army than Death Guard without a free Daemon patrol, and I just don’t think people are understanding the impact this will have.
You gain access to several powerful abilities from bringing along some Nurgle Daemons. The first benefit is access to a real (no offense to the Miasmic Malignifier) forward deploying unit in Nurglings. Death Guard benefit so much from Nurglings in terms of early board control, and are the perfect unit to supplement a slow army. They also screen out pre-game moving units like Pioneers and Death Company to prevent opponents from gaining momentum against your slower army. As a Death Guard player, you’re always eager for anything that gives you early mobility and helps you get to objectives. They’re also a great tempo piece. If you start with Nurglings on objectives, the onus is on the opponent to react to you. And once your opponent has started exposing resources to deal with your cheap forward deployed units, you can start exposing your opponent to the full power of our Grandfather’s gifts.
The second benefit is access to the Nurgle Daemon psychic tree. The psychic power Nurgle’s Rot is particularly powerful with a Death Guard army’s -1 Toughness contagion, as the psychic power creates a 6″ exploding aura of d3 or d6 mortal wounds if you roll 2d6 over an enemy unit’s toughness. If your opponent makes a positioning mistake against your Nurgle Daemon Prince, the game is over. The Daemon Prince also provides a mobile beatstick and problem. Flat 4 damage attacks that ignore wound-ignoring rules on a 12″ flying unit really do a lot in the midfield. The next benefit is access to the Sloppity Bilepiper to turn off opposing ObSec out of deepstrike. Another great benefit is access to Mamon, who still has older wording on his auras and provides rerolls to all of your Daemon Engines.
Another reason for optimism is that Death Guard’s worst matchups got nerfed. Tyranids were completely oppressive to Death Guard. After the latest round of Tyranids nerfs hammered basically everything that was troublesome for Nurgle’s chosen, Death Guard finally have some breathing room competitively. Even if nothing else changed, the brutal Tyranid nerfs were enough to push Death Guard up a tier. Harlequins were another tough matchup for Death Guard, and they got nerfed in their own ways. Just be careful with their Death Jester, as his unnerfed exploding 6’s make him a real threat again to any of the fragile DG supporting characters that poke their heads out.
Armour Of Contempt going away was both a buff and a nerf. While the army lost some durability, their damage output also improved greatly in any power armour matchups. The army relied so much AP1 and AP2 that the removal of AOC will make the entire roster much more dangerous. Add in the fact that Death Guard got points buffs to make up for the supposed nerf of losing AOC, and the faction is looking ready to go. And as we shift into a more Marine and anti-Marine focused meta, Disgustingly Resilience will feel much better. DR has had plenty of detractors, but you’ll be thankful for it when you’re facing 15 plasma Inceptors every other game. It’s also a small detail, but AOC going away reverted all the factions whose trait was similar to AOC back to their original trait instead of their upgraded no-wound-rerolls traits. These armies weren’t a huge part of the meta, but the game will feel much better when you play the occasional Iron Warriors, Salamanders, or Valorous Heart player.
Free Strategic Reserves also do a lot for Death Guard. Anything that helps solve your mobility issue is a great thing. If enemy units are sent up to screen your deepstriking Plague Marines, then that just means more targets for your firepower and charge opportunities for the rest of your army on the board.
DG are decently positioned to score points in Arks Of Omen. Spread The Sickness and Banners are both excellent, and you’ll always be picking one of those two secondaries. Fleeing Vectors becomes very strong if you bring 3 Plagueburst Crawlers (which you should be doing anyway), as you can use their mortars to fish for failed morale tests or get some additional kills with plague weapons for your tally.
Grind Them Down is a very solid choice if you run bigger Plague Marine bricks instead of spamming MSU units. Keep in mind that you now generate a CP if a single Troop of yours kills an enemy unit. Given how good Plague Marines are, that will occur in 3 or 4 battle rounds every game. The condition to generate a CP for a Troop kill in Grind Them Down is also entirely separate from the scoring part of the secondary. Even if you only score 6 points, you can easily generate 3 or 4 CP.
Warp Ritual and Behind Enemy Lines are also solid. You’re probably not scoring BEL as Death Guard, but free strategic reserves on small Plague Marine units will generate some additional points with how well the rest of your army can kill screens. It’s also a lot easier to come back from behind on this secondary now, and you can still score 10+ easily even if you don’t have any chance of scoring it turn 1. Look for chances to use charge distance to slingshot units forward if you take this secondary.
Despoiled Ground is an interesting choice. I used to think it was overrated, but now it has swung back around to underrated. The one good thing about it is that its hard to get blanked, so its not a bad choice as a third secondary unless your opponent has 3 banger secondaries–which will be rarer in Arks Of Omen than in Nephilim. I prefer Behind Enemy Lines because it fits into a much more streamlined gameplan of pushing towards the enemy’s objectives, but don’t be afraid to give Despoiled Ground a shot. People are afraid to pick a secondary if they don’t see themselves scoring 15 on it, which is wildly too optimistic. Consider it as a third secondary, take your 9 points, and feel satisfied.
Death Guard tactics revolve around Plague Marines, who are one of the best Troops in the entire game. That doesn’t mean spamming the maximum amount is always the best choice, or that you’re handicapping yourself by not running 50+ Plague Marines. But you should view your army as a machine designed to set up the Plague Marines for success, and whittle down the enemy enough that they have difficulty dealing with the Plague Marines once they’re in their lines.
One of my favorite tactics with Plague Marine heavy armies is making generous use of The Blightening. This stratagem is one of the best in the entire game, and one you should constantly be keeping it in mind. Note that the wording says “pick 3 Death Guard models”, not “pick 3 models from one unit”. You can select 1 Plague Marine (or Character) from 3 separate units. If any of those units are near a Biologus Putrifier, those 6 shot grenades become quite powerful. Look for chances to chip in extra damage or free up a unit from combat so they can charge somewhere else.
The choice of Plague Company is one that gets a lot of debate. The most important thing isn’t to pick the perfect Plague Company, but rather pick one you’re confident in and make sure your list makes sense for that. Inexorable was the popular choice in Nephilim for the additional AP, but with the removal of AOC we have more options. Mortarion’s Anvil has a wildly good Contagion, and really supports the MSU Plague Marine playstyle well. With one section of the board protected by Gloaming Bloat and another section of the board protected by Revolting Stench Vats, you can have two areas that are nearly impossible for your opponent to charge reliably. The Ferrymen’s value is largely based on how valuable a 12″ Revolting Stench Vats aura is in the overall meta. The Ferrymen’s Contagion isn’t bad either, so even if the stratagem doesn’t provide much value in a matchup you can still get some benefit from running Ferrymen. If you throw out some Chaos Spawn or a Greater Blight Drone with Flash Outbreak and can give most of your opponent’s army halved movement, that can be a gamechanger. Keep in mind that unlike most movement reduction abilities, the Ferrymen’s ability still works on Fly and Titanic units. A Blood Angels army that moves 7″ on their go-turn instead of 14″ is way easier for you to play around.
I also want to give some attention to the less appreciated Plague Companies too, because they have some real play even if they’ll never be the optimal choice. The Wretched Plaguecaster with the upgrade stratagem and relic is a reliable source of Mortal Wounds, and the Contagion is a nice option to have on your go-turn. Keep in mind that the upgraded Plaguecaster’s MW fallout effect doesn’t require line-of-sight. Neither does Rotigus’s MW fallout effect. It’s not an incredible list, but I think there is a very real Wretched list that combines the Wretched Plaguecaster all damage powers with Rotigus with damage powers to act as basically 2 Maleceptors. You can hit them with a wave of mortal wounds to the face, and can also chip them away with mortal wounds even behind walls. The Mortarion’s Chosen Sons stratagem makes Plaguespewer Bloat Drones into real menaces, especially when combined with their Contagion to turn off cover. The only Plague Company that doesn’t really have any play is the Poxmongers. In theory, they’re supposed to be the Daemon Engine focused faction. In practice, even Daemon Engine spam lists are better off being run as Inexorable or Gloaming Bloat. Inexorable helps get your damage to a critical point, while Gloaming Bloat’s contagion will do more to keep your Daemon Engines alive than +1 invuln for 1 unit.
Inexorable still may be the best one because the stratagem is so valuable, but there are lots of viable choices for Plague Companies.
Evaluating Units in a Death Guard List
It’s boring to just tell you what units to run or not run. Where’s the fun in that for either of us? Besides, people love experimenting with off-meta picks… and I am 100% here for that energy. So today we’re going to go over a lot of different units from the codex and explain why they work, or don’t work well, in an Death Guard list competitively.
Please also remember that this is coming from the perspective of trying to win high level competitive games. If a unit you love is in the Not Recommended section, that doesn’t mean it’s unplayable. It just means it doesn’t fit into an optimized Death Guard game plan. Almost all of those units are still perfectly viable for friendly or semi-competitive play.
Sorcerer In Terminator Armour: Hear me out… now that HQ’s get free wargear, the Sorcerer in Terminator Armour is a very real consideration over a Plaguecaster if you need a dedicated caster. He costs 20 points more, but he is much more durable and comes with a melta and chainfist. While you’re definitely not bringing him for his damage, having a versatile unit that can can defend themselves from skirmish units and chip in some damage late game provides real value.
Malignant Plaguecaster: You’re going to want at least one of these guys in every list for access to the Death Guard psychic tree, and very often two. If you bring two Plaguecasters, make sure to give one all buff powers and one all damage powers. That way you can keep the guy with both buff powers in the backfield out of deny range, while the guy with both damage powers can push up with the main force. Two Plaguecasters also gives you someone to do Warp Ritual while the other one casts the powers you need.
Lord Of Virulence: The Lord Of Virulence combines midfield damage with a reroll 1’s aura. The best part is his twin plague spewer, which is very dangerous in a post-AOC world and makes him difficult for skirmishing units to charge.
Typhus: Typhus is a great datasheet, combining a Plaguecaster and a Lord Of Contagion in one powerful unit. The issue is Typhus exists at the mercy of your TO. While he doesn’t break your Contagion in non-Harbinger detachments because of his Herald Of Nurgle rule, he does technically break your non-Harbingers <Plague Company> detachment for the purpose of access to the stratagem, relic, and warlord trait.
Plague Marines: Now we’re on to the real MVP of the Death Guard codex. Coming in at a wildly cheap 19 points with free wargear, these will be the star of your show. You’re going to lean on these heavily in any Death Guard list you build. The only question is which loadout to use. The flail and cleaver are mandatory, and the power fist/plasma loadout provides a lot of value on the champion. You’re also going to want a blightlauncher model. That basically leaves you the choice of a plasma gun/melta/melee weapon on the 5th model. It’s hard to imagine you’re ever going to run less than 5×5 units of Plague Marines, and you easily could run 60+ in various configurations and feel great about it.
Poxwalkers: Poxwalkers are such a great unit, and you’d see them a lot more if Death Guard didn’t have another superstar Troop unit. Their Dead Walk Again regeneration stratagem is incredible. Look for opportunities to put one model on an objective with the rest of your Poxwalker unit behind a wall. If they shoot the unit but don’t wipe it in one activation, leave the unit hidden and just regenerate a dead model on your objective in your Command Phase to score your Primary. They’re also extremely deadly in Harbingers lists, where one unit can average 13 Mortal Wounds in melee by combining the Mutant Strain and Wrathful Dead stratagems.
Biologus Putrifier: The Putrifier is the best unit in the codex, and a mandatory pick in any list besides skewed Daemon Engine focused lists. The ability to pick a unit every turn and give them MW’s on 6’s to wound combos so well with the wound rerolls your army can bring. His Blight Racks aura is another highlight of the codex. Lok for opportunities to pair this with the Blightening stratagem and hit your opponent with real damage in the shooting phase. And he’s only 60 points?
Plague Surgeon: The Plague Surgeon is a previously maligned unit. I’m aware of this. What most people aren’t aware of is the Plague Surgeon’s value has shifted with an increased focus on Plague Marines and points drops to him and them. Give him Arch Contaminator and the Fulgaris Helm, and he provides a solid centerpiece for your list.
Foul Blightspawn: While he’s gone from underrated to overrated, he remains an extremely valuable tech piece with the Revolting Stench Vats relic.
Noxious Blightbringer: Making your slow guys into not-as-slow guys is a good thing. The cool thing about the Blightbringer is that his aura is constant instead of triggering at the movement phase. This means he can start in one area, boost those units’ movement, and then run himself to another area and then boost those other units’ movement.
Contemptor Dreadnought: I kept vacillating between including the Contemptor in the Recommend and Not Recommend sections. At the last second, my dog came up to me and rubbed his head against my leg before laying down across my feet, putting me in a great mood. So you know what, why not. Let’s put the Contemptor in the Recommended section.
Chaos Spawn: Coming in at a cheap as chips 21 points, a unit of either 1 or 3 Chaos Spawn is a nice addition to any list with Fast Attack slots left open. They give you two things your list may otherwise lack: some mobility to screen or grab objectives early, and a unit that doesn’t mind soaking up mortal wounds.
Foetid Bloat Drones: Great, great, great unit. Now that weapons are free, both the Fleshmower and Heavy Blightlauncher variants look incredible. The unit gives you some much needed mobility regardless of how you load it out. The Fleshmower hits like a truck into infantry and light vehicles, and gives you maximum value out of the 6″ heroic intervention stratagem. The Blightlauncher lets you contribute AP3 damage from 36″ away, and you can still chip a few wounds off in melee with its default probe weapon. The flamer is the worst choice, but the removal of AOC means you’ll feel a lot better running the plaguespewer loadout if you built your Bloat Drones that way.
Greater Blight Drones: They do absolutely nothing, but they’re very fast while doing nothing, which is the biggest redeeming trait a unit that does nothing can have. Use them to skirmish, tie up enemy units, and drop some well placed Flash Outbreaks.
Myphitic Blighthaulers: They’re significantly slower than Bloat Drones because they don’t have the Fly keyword, but access to the amazing Belching Fumes stratagem makes them much more durable. Subtracting one attack from each ranged weapon is just so strong against units like Devastators with multi-meltas or plasma inceptors with 2 separate d3 shot guns. Take them in units of 2 to get the best value out of Belching Fumes.
Plagueburst Crawlers: They’ve been an auto-include since the army launched in 8th Edition, and nothing has changed. They are swingy on any given turn, but are reliable because they’re going to get to keep firing for many turns. They can either be pushed into your opponent’s lines to tie them up or keep lobbing firepower downrange while screening your side of the board.
Not Recommended Units
Possessed: Fast units in slow armies are good. Their inbuilt invuln also helps them stay on the field. I’d rather have a Bloat Drone with Fleshmowers as a mobile skirmisher at a similar points cost as 5 Possessed so I’ll put them in Not Recommended, but a small unit of Possessed makes a lot of sense in a Death Guard list.
Deathshroud Terminators: Deathshroud are great. 2.5 Plague Marines for the cost of 1 Deathshroud is better. They’re right on the edge of being recommended, but Terminators are a tough sell since they just exacerbate Death Guard’s weaknesses. One unit of 3 or 5 is a decent anchor but don’t invest too heavily in them.
Blightlord Terminators: The worst part of running Blightlords isn’t facing mortal wound armies that pick them up easily, or facing the auto-wounding armies that pick them up easily, or the armies spamming 3+d3 damage weapons that pick them up easily. It’s when you get a good matchup for Blightlords, have them finally reach combat, you then have to watch them spend the rest of the game tied up because they’re waving flimsy pool noodles around.
Mortarion: Free reserves is definitely a big boost for Mortarion, and makes him much less of a liability in some matchups. My biggest issue with Mortarion isn’t that he’s too fragile; he always impresses me in how much damage he can soak up. It’s that Death Guard simply have too many units competing for points to bring Mortarion. You always want lots of Plague Marines and Plagueburst Crawlers and some Nurgle daemons, so you can’t really afford the 450 points for the Primarch. He remains an incredible model and fun to use, and is better than people think. I really wish Mortarion had gotten even a small points drop in the latest update.
Tallyman: His CP generation is less valuable now that many secondaries generate CP when done by Troops, and you have arguably the best Troops in the game. He is still valuable with Tollkeeper in <Core>shooting heavy lists with Blightlord bricks and Contemptors. He’s just not an auto-include, nor as valuable as people think.
Daemon Prince: I like DG Daemon Princes. I really do. There are some amazing conversions people have done out there for Nurgle Daemon Princes. But there is no universe in which a Daemon Prince is better than a Plaguecaster + Bloat Drone for the same points.
Miasmic Malignifier: It’s a great datasheet and damage soak with 12 T8 wounds at 65 points, with not irrelevant auras. The huge issue with a 0″ movement unit like the Malignifier is that melee armies can just tag it to stay immune to your shooting. As long as you understand when to deploy it forwards and when to deploy it on your side, you can definitely get some value out of it. I’m just putting it in the Not Recommended section to keep any casual players just scanning this article at a glance safe, because it is actively harmful to you if misused.
Cultists: Just bring Poxwalkers. Or realistically, stop being such a stingy bastard and free up the points to upgrade that unit to Plague Marines.
Helbrute: A much better fit for Thousand Sons or even Chaos Space Marines. In a Death Guard list, just bring more Plague Marines. Or Poxwalkers. Or even Cultists.
Defilers: I’ve already told you not to run Defilers in every other Chaos army guide that we’ve put out. At this point if you’re running a Defiler, you’re just a wild unhinged individual who has a tenuous grasp on reality and/or a flagrant disregard for common sense. I want to be your friend.
This list elects to go wide and bring lots of units that are all annoying for your opponent to interact with instead of building a big death-star unit, and as a result you have lots of ways to attack the opponent and play the mission.
- Mortarion’s Anvil Arks Of Omen Detachment
- 7 x 5 Plague Marines
- Foetid Bloat Drone: Heavy Blightlauncher
- Foetid Bloat Drone: Heavy Blightlauncher
- Biologus Putrifier: Arch-Contaminator (-1CP), Plague Skull (-1CP)
- Foul Blightspawn: Viscous Death, Revolting Stench Vats (-1CP)
- Plagueburst Crawler: Entropy Cannons
- Plagueburst Crawler: Entropy Cannons
- Plagueburst Crawler: Entropy Cannons
- Nurgle Daemons Patrol
- Daemon Prince of Nurgle: Wings, Corruption (-1 CP)
This list just feels like so much stuff. It has board control, shooting, durability, melee, and the ability to score secondaries. It also feels very thematic and fun for any Nurgle fans out there.
The era of men is over, and the era of rot has begun. It’s time to get your Unbroken off the shelf and on to the tabletop.
Looking forward, we’re going to continue to explore how Arks of Omen has shaken up the Chaos world. There are so many fun and viable options now. Daemons, Disciples Of Be’lakor, Chaos Knights (particularly Vextrix!), and Chaos Space Marines are all in great spots. We’re going to continue diving into how to get the most out of those armies over the coming days and weeks, so keep Warphammer bookmarked and come back here often.
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As always, have fun, stay safe, and may the Dark Gods bless your rolls!