Death To The False Emperor: Melee Chaos Lists Are Back With a VENGEANCE

A Red Butchers Terminator charging with his chainaxe revving and blood dripping from his armour. A Warp Talon descending from the sky with his lightning claws crackling with energy. A Keeper of Secrets gliding across the battlefield faster than the eye can see, tearing into enemies with it’s claws before they even realize it is there. This has always been peak 40K to me, and why I fell in love with the game.

Unfortunately, melee Chaos lists (and to a lesser extent, Greater Daemons) have taken a real beating recently. And as the meta stagnated over the last few months, Chaos players have had to pivot to long range shooting lists focused around Dreadnoughts and Decimators to survive. There’s a reason almost every top 10 CSM player has been an Iron Warriors player this year.

Today, that changes. Melee Chaos lists are BACK. Chaos players should be so excited by the changes in today’s balance update.

Winners and Losers

I’m going to break down all the reasons why in this article, but first I’m going to rank the biggest winners of this balance update and changes to the meta.

Biggest Winners

  • NIGHT LORDS. I can barely contain my excitement to start playing Night Lords right now.
  • Emperor’s Children
  • Black Legion
  • Disciples of Be’lakor

Other Big Winners

  • Slaanesh Daemons
  • World Eaters
  • Word Bearers
  • Melee focused Alpha Legion or Creations of Bile lists

Biggest Losers

  • None. Literally not a single Chaos faction, including Death Guard or Thousand Sons, has gotten worse. Iron Warriors are probably the one that gains the least benefit, but they still benefit from the changes to other factions.

Death To The False Emperor

Let’s talk about the most direct change first. Chaos Space Marines were the only Chaos faction to get an explicit rules change. Their Death To The False Emperor (DTTFE) ability has been changed in two ways:

  1. Death To The False Emperor now works against every faction, not just Imperium
  2. Death To The False Emperor generates additional Hits, not Attacks

The first part is obviously a big buff, even at just the surface level. Getting one of our core mechanics to work against everyone, not just a certain selection of armies, is great. Assuming the usual 3+ to Hit and 6+ DTTFE, that’s just a straight 25% damage buff in melee against everyone.

The second part of the buff is a change I love almost as much. DTTFE previously generated Attacks, meaning you still had to roll to hit for the additional Attack. Now we just get an additional Hit, and can go directly to the Wound roll. This is just a straight up 7% average increase in damage over rolling and potentially failing for the additional attack. This is also a great improvement from a practical perspective. It saves a stage of dice rolling and a bit of time every time we fight in melee.

I do have to point out something funny before we move on. When filling out the latest customer feedback survey, I got lazy and just wrote “Death To The False Emperor” in the written feedback section. Evidently, someone at GW actually took that as a balance suggestion. You’re welcome Chaos fans!

Now let’s take things to the next level. Because DTTFE is a key CSM mechanic, our codex has a few rules that interact with it.

  • Abaddon/Black Legion Warlords can give out a 6″ aura of 5+ DTTFE… which also effects themselves
  • Slaanesh melee units can take a 10 point wargear upgrade for 5+ DTTFE
  • Flawless Host already generate an additional Attack on a 6+ to Hit against everyone, which stacks with extra attacks from Death To The False Emperor
  • Any modifiers to Hit rolls still affect Death To The False Emperor. So things like Prescience or Night Lords +1 to Hit stratagems generate absolute buckets of dice. Unfortunately, negative Hit modifiers can still turn off 6+ Death To The False Emperor.

Flawless Host already had a 1CP stratagem to reroll all Hit rolls in melee. Cast Prescience for 2+ to Hit and 5+ DTTFE, give them full Hit rerolls, and reroll all Hits fishing for 5’s. You end up averaging around 30 Hits off of 21 Attacks from a single Warp Talons squad. This trick can be replicated by any Legion that brings a Dark Apostle and uses their default prayer.

Night Lords and Emperor’s Children already had super reliable delivery systems for melee units. Universal DTTFE means you’ll be drowning everyone in dice, especially from units like Warp Talons and Terminators that can take Lightning Claws.

And Abaddon has just elevated from “one of the best melee units in the game” to “Abaddon has become Death, the destroyer of worlds”

Meta Changes

Let’s talk about the biggest change first: Aircraft are now limited to 0-2 models in standard 2,000 point games. This is just great for the health of the game. Aircraft are just oppressive to groundbound armies when they are good. Not having to worry about Aircraft spam is a huge buff to groundbound melee armies….

… and in comes the best groundbound melee army in the game, Slaanesh Daemons. Keepers and Daemonettes are great into most lists, but were basically a bye round for 4-6 Aircraft lists. Both the move/charge blocking and uninteractive damage output meant Keepers of Secrets lists were extremely hard countered by Aircraft. 2 Aircraft are still annoying to face, but you should be able to take down one with Belakor and another over time with Smites and Whips. The Aircraft nerf has to be such a huge relief for Slaanesh Daemons players.

AdMech receiving points nerfs across the board, and Orks losing their ability to spam the best buggies and planes, is also a great thing. Whenever I wrote a board control list, I would think, “This list seems durable and should win on points… unless you run into AdMech or Orks”. I recently ran my Disciples of Belakor into 6 AdMech planes, that could fly right into my face and ignore the -1 to Hit penalty and block my Beasts of Nurgle from going upfield. I’m so thankful no one will have to have that experience any more. CSM Infantry were in general always embarassingly squishy into Squigbuggies and AdMech, so cutting down on their firepower is a great thing for us. This gives Chaos players a little more breathing room to take Infantry over Dreadnoughts/Lords of Skulls.

Chaos Space Marines always had a pretty good matchup into Necrons, so the fact they got buffed and we will see more of them is a good thing for us. Emperor’s Children especially can “break” their reanimation protocols with Excess of Violence to get a second round of attacks in before the unit activation is finished.

Imperial Guard getting 2+ Saves on their Leman Russes is actually annoying for my Emperor’s Children, as we relied on overwhelming volumes of low AP/2 damage firepower to kill tanks and Knights. I might drop a Contemptor for other units in response or change its weapons around. It’s all good.

Chaos Knights Changes

Knights received huge buffs to their board control–mainly the fact that Armigers and War Dogs now count as ObSec in pure Knights lists. Knights also now count as 5 (or 10 if they are Titanic) models for the purpose of holding objectives.

The importance of this change cannot be overstated for Chaos Knights. One of the biggest things holding back Chaos Knights relative to Imperial Knights was the fact we couldn’t use their Freeblade detachment to get lots of ObSec Knights in our lists. This always left us as a more killy but less board control focused version of Imperial Knights, which isn’t great in 9th Edition. Now Chaos Knights players gain a huge boost to their board control just for showing up. I don’t play pure Knights myself, but I’m so happy for any Chaos fans that do. And now, I think we will see fewer Chaos Knights players pretending the spikes on their Knights don’t exist and running them as Imperial Knights. I’m not judging you. Chaos welcomes you back with open arms.

Chaos Knights also love to spam Armigers relative to Imperial Knights, due to the fact the Infernal buffs make Lightning Lock Moiraxes and Helverin Autocannons absolutely terrifying with +1 Strength and +1 Damage. The fact those Armigers are now ObSec makes it so much harder for opponents to deny the Knights player Primary scoring. While all Knights got buffed, Chaos Knights come out as by far the biggest winners.

List Ideas

I haven’t had time to write exact lists yet, and that’s something I’ll be diving into soon in future articles. In the meantime, to get your creative juices flowing, here are some list sketches to help Chaos players get started.

Slaanesh Daemons + Flawless Host or Night Lords

  • Slaanesh Daemons Battalion
    • 2 Keepers of Secrets + Belakor
    • Daemonettes, Furies, and Fiends
  • Flawless Host Outrider
    • Lord Discordant and a Daemon Prince with the Intoxicating Elixir and Warptime
    • 1 unit of Cultists
    • 3 units of medium sized Warp Talons and some Raptors, potentially with melta

I’ve gotten feedback that some of my list suggestions are too heavy on Forgeworld or Lords of War for average players to use, and I understand where that’s coming from. This list right here is all awesome plastic sculpts and isn’t spam that a new codex could make unplayable. This feels like a 4-1 list in a good player’s hands and seems like an absolute joy to play on the tabletop. It has lots of trading pieces, action units, and 5 hyper-killy units in the Keepers, Be’lakor, Lord Discordant, and the buffed Daemon Prince.

Chaos Knights

  • Custom Infernal Household for +1 AP within 12″ and War Dogs Fall Back + Shoot
    • Knight Magaera
    • 3 War Dog Moiraxes with Lightning Locks
    • 3 War Dog Helverins
    • Additional War Dogs as suits your fancy, with one War Dog Warglaive to have as a cheap throwaway unit

Between the overwhelming firepower and 14″ moving ObSec bodies, this list is going to give out a ton of 0 point Primary turns to its opponents.

Black Legion

  • Black Legion Battalion
    • Abaddon
    • Dark Apostle with his Dark Disciples
    • 2 x 10 Cultists
    • 1 x 10 Chaos Space Marines with Chainswords
    • Contemptor and Leviathan Dreadnoughts
    • 2 x 5 Raptors with 3 Meltas
  • Black Legion Superheavy Auxiliary
    • Khorne Lord of Skulls

Final Thoughts

For the first time in a little while, I’m excited to experiment again with my Chaos Space Marines. I know a lot of other great Chaos players have been feeling the same way before today. I’ve missed this feeling. Time to get back in the mix and practice a bunch of different lists against different opponents. I’ll be a lot more excited knowing I won’t run the risk of running into 6 Flyers again.

After work today, I’m going to be going through my bits box to make Icons of Excess for all my Slaanesh melee units. I’ve had requests from a few Patrons to dive into Creations of Bile. I was really down on them because CSM wanted to be shooty instead of fighty for the last few months, but I’m going to give Creations of Bile another look now. They still have some major issues, but their “melee infantry trading in the midfield” playstyle has received a major boost with the DTTFE change and the meta shakeup.

I recently did an interview with Russell Tassin about playing shooty Chaos Space Marines. The winner of a Major down in Texas, Russell had some great ideas and mindset advice for Chaos Space Marines players that hasn’t been changed at all in this balance update. Look for an article about that soon, as well as other articles with further list ideas and tips for playing melee CSM lists.

As always, stay safe, have fun, and may the Dark Gods bless your rolls DEATH TO THE FALSE EMPEROR!

Note: I’d love to work with you on making your fun or weird Chaos idea into a competitive list. If you’re interested in supporting the growth of Warphammer and quality 40K writing, feel free to check out and join the team. Additional benefits and coaching are available.

Interested in learning more about playing Chaos? Check out the Warphammer Discord here:

Published: November 9th, 2021. Last Updated: November 9th, 2021.

10 thoughts on “Death To The False Emperor: Melee Chaos Lists Are Back With a VENGEANCE”

  1. with the admech and knights changes i’m expecting a “Knights of the iron cog” spam to be their new list style vogue. Do you feel like the exploding 6’s combined with the astartes chainsword buff at the start of the edition is enough to make CSM units viable now? I’m not expecting them to be world beaters, but this seems to make them passable or am i overstating?

    1. 8PS, it’s tough to judge the value of the classic Chaos Space Marine. They’re still too squishy. I would rather bring dedicated melee or jump pack units over them.

      I think they still have a role in Red Corsairs for Advance + Charge because they can take Icons of Excess, and you can’t go too wrong bringing a unit of two even if they aren’t the most efficient choice.

      I hope the actual Chaos Space Marines get some serious buffs in the next codex. Would love to run them as a Troops choice and actually feel good about it!

  2. 8pointedshuriken

    I’m expecting “Knights of the Iron Cog” spam to be the new vogue given the changes to both AdMech and Knights. Do you think this is enough to make Chaos Space Marine units actually viable now? I’m not expecting them to be the best troops in the game, but with the chainsword buff at the start of 9th would i be right in saying it’s no longer list suicide to take a couple?

  3. How do you use the raptor squads with 3 meltas and what chaos mark do you give them? Do you plan to use them as potential Endless Cacophony units against vehicles and such?

    Also how valid are combibolter/lc terminators now? I mean by just drowning them with shots with Endless Cacophony. Is this something that you think we can double down on more now in a TAC list against factions with high saves/invuln? Or do you think we will still see more of the melta/lc or plasma/lc terminators?

    Love your site as always!

      1. All good, this game has a lot of rules to keep track of!

        Lightning Claw/bolter or melta Slaanesh Terminators with Icons of Excess look better than ever now. They were already solid, and have now jumped into the top tier of units. You can’t go wrong running claw Terminators after this update

        Of course, the fact that Chaos Terminators are also top tier Rule of Cool helps too!

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