To create a friendly atmosphere, we normally start every article on this website off with a fun introduction. All of the previous Chaos Space Marine Legion guides are a great example of this.
We’re not doing that today. As befits the Iron Warriors, we’re going for function over form. Let’s get straight to the point.
Here are the three key characteristics that make a great Iron Warriors player:
- You don’t like the Imperial Fists.
- You HATE the Imperial Fists.
- You absolutely despise the Imperial Fists and everything they stand for with every fiber of your hateful, bitter being.
If all three of those points apply to you, then congratulations: You’re well on your way to becoming a strong Iron Warriors player. Now let’s turn our attention to the tabletop and figure out how to optimize this fun and powerful army.
Welcome to the official Warphammer guide to playing the IVth Legion.
Note: There’s always a certain percentage of people online who read my faction guides, see that I listed one of their favorite units in the Not Recommended section, and tell me I have no clue what I’m talking about. That’s why today, I’m putting my Patreon link at the start of the article. Now I can trick some of those people into signing up to support my content before they read the article and realize I have no idea what I’m talking about.
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Let’s continue our dour Iron Warriors theme and start with the grim parts of playing Iron Warriors. One of the most important parts of playing an army well is understanding its innate weaknesses, and finding ways around those weaknesses in list-building and while playing the game.
As Iron Warriors, you have to accept a few core issues with the army.
- You’re viewed as a shooting army, while being built from a melee focused codex.
- Your army is slow. This is both because the units you are encouraged to run are slow, and you have no mobility buffs.
- Your Secondary options are arguably the worst in the entire game.
I say none of this to be negative. Iron Warriors are actually a strong and underrated army, and one that you can win lots of games competitively with. These points are simply facts we have to lay out early because they’ll shape the choices we make later.
Now that we have covered the negatives, let’s cover the strengths of the faction:
- Innate durability from the “no wound rerolls” Legion trait. While it’s gotten a little less valuable with Leagues Of Votann and Guard coming out in force soon, it’s still a significant defensive boost and stacks well with other defensive buffs or statlines that Iron Warriors can bring.
- Ignoring cover is a huge buff for high volumes of low to medium AP firepower, which the CSM codex can bring in spades.
- Offensive and defensive buffs for Vehicles, which the rest of the CSM codex usually lacks.
- Strong and well-priced offensive and defensive stratagems.
Now let’s talk about how to use these ideas to write lists.
The Most Durable Objective Secured Unit in the ENTIRE Game
If you had to pick a unit archetype that is almost always valuable in 40K, “durable ObSec” would have to be up there. Iron Warriors do this better than anyone in the entire game. So let’s start by laying out the most powerful combo that the Iron Warriors can build, and how you can translate that into winning games. This section really encompasses the sheer determination to keep marching up the field towards the enemy that the Iron Warriors are known for.
The combination works best on Terminators, but you can build around Chosen too if you’re brawling on a budget. Start with a 10-man brick, and give them the Black Rune Of Damnation pre-game. Then take one of your Characters–a Dark Apostle is a great pick for this because he’ll be near your Terminators in the Command Phase anyway–and give him the Bastion warlord trait. This trait gives a Core unit ObSec and lets it overwatch on 5’s/get +1 to Hit when charged. This is such a mandatory autotake that I’m just going to assume you’ve included it in every Iron Warriors list. Make sure to have your Bastion HQ follow your Terminator brick around to select them for Bastion every Command Phase. Be careful not to charge your entire Terminator unit out of Bastion range, and look for opportunities to trail models back as needed.
Sticking to the Command Phase, you’ll have your Dark Apostle cast Illusory Supplication on the Terminators so they can only be hit on 4’s, and opponents can’t reroll hits against them. In your Psychic Phase, your Master Of Possession will cast Delightful Agonies and Mutated Invigoration to give them a 5+++ Feel-No-Pain and +1 Toughness. In your opponent’s turn, you’ll use Dour Duty to add -1 Damage when the unit is targeted. And of course, being Iron Warriors, you’ll always turn off your opponent’s wound rerolls.
Add that all up, and you have a Terminator unit that the opponent can’t reroll hits or wounds against, can only be hit on an unmodified 4+, is Toughness 5, -1 to Wound, is -1 Damage, and has a 5+++ Feel-No-Pain. Let put this another way: It takes an average of 15 melta shots to kill a single fully buffed Iron Warriors Terminator. Now remember that the Master Of Possessions can resurrect a Terminator every turn. Realistically, if your opponents want even a single Terminator of yours to be dead in the following turn, they have to put around 30 melta shots into your unit. As a wise man once said: From Iron Cometh Strength.
This is all very fun, but it’s more of a party trick than something that will be tearing up the competitive scene. The issue is that even if you take away 1 or 2 of those defensive buffs (especially spending 2CP on Dour Duty for -1 Damage), that Terminator brick has already far outpaced most armies’ abilities to do damage to it. It’s just overkill (in a fun and hilarious way). Your Terminators are also very weak offensively in Iron Warriors, and can get tied up in combat surprisingly easily.
Rather than stack all of these defensive buffs every turn, look for situations where the opponent won’t be able to kill most of your Terminators even without some of these buffs, and invest those resources in offensive buffs instead. Great examples are attempting the advance and charge prayer or the melee hit reroll prayer instead of Illusory Supplication, choosing +1 Strength over +1 Toughness from Mutated Invigoration, and using the 2CP you could use on -1 Damage on +1 to Hit and Tank Destroyers or buffing another unit’s output.
It’s great that you have a super durable unit. Where many beginner players fall short is making “have a super durable unit” into their gameplan. Instead, you should use your super durable unit in support of your gameplan.
The Need For Speed
This is a little counter-intuitive for many Iron Warriors players, but hear me out. The first question you should be asking when considering an Iron Warriors list isn’t if its durable enough, or hits hard enough. That’ll usually work itself out. The main question you should be asking is, “Where is the mobility in this list?”
Some armies can afford to slowly plod around on their half of the board and score highly. Chaos Space Marines are not one of those armies. If you’re not going to win on Secondaries–and I promise you that you’re not–then you’re going to have to win on Primary. And you’re not going to win on Primary slowly trudging up the board and shooting whatever unit pops out into the open.
So let’s talk about some ways you can add mobility to your Iron Warriors list. One of my favorite ways is bringing a unit of Rubric Marines to get access to Warptime to move your bricks up the board early. Your HQ slots are always extremely crowded as Iron Warriors, so getting access to Warptime in a non-HQ slot is extremely valuable. A warpflamer squad costs almost the exact same amount as a Balefire Tome Legionary squad but is more versatile and durable. Adding all those 2+d6 shot AP2 flamers to your army makes even Salamanders players jealous.
Iron Warriors specifically take Rubrics to the next level. Their rule All Is Dust gives +1 to their armour save against 1-damage weapons. You can use Dour Duty to reduce 2-damage weapons to 1-damage, triggering All Is Dust. And unlike the equivalent Thousand Sons -1 Damage stratagem, Dour Duty works against both shooting and melee.
Transports are also a great way to add some mobility. The extra +3″ to your move when you disembark really goes a long way. Rhinos are more durable than usual in Iron Warriors, and can give you some extra mobility early in the game. Land Raiders even become interesting in Iron Warriors, with the Legion trait making their Toughness 9 extra difficult to deal with.
You can also gain some mobility by choosing the right HQs. A Master Of Possession can consistently add 3 or 4 inches of movement to your units by resurrecting models, including models he just stabbed to death himself to gain a bonus to his casts. A Dark Apostle can give your big Slaanesh Terminator brick (or Chosen or Bikers for the more refined palate) access to advance and charge. These few extra inches really add up over the course of the game.
The last, and simplest, way to add some mobility to your list is by choosing fast units. I really like an unmarked unit of Raptors with 2 Flamers in Iron Warriors. They’re cheap enough that you don’t mind losing them if they have to screen or expose themselves to do an action, pretty durable in cover with no-wound-rerolls and access to some amazing defensive buffs, and decent skirmishers with 4+2d6 flamer shots that ignore cover and a cheap volume of melee attacks. MSU Possessed are excellent flankers in Iron Warriors, as access to -1 damage makes them extremely hard to gun down with 2 or 3 damage weapons.
It’s also extra important when playing Iron Warriors to use their charge and fight phases for their full mobility potential. Your Terminators can move 5″ in the movement phase, and 18″ over the remainder of the turn. I don’t want want to get too deep into this here as it really should be an entirely separate article, but learn to use your charges and fight phase movement well and your slow units can quickly become very, very fast.
A lot of the value in Iron Warriors comes from their stratagems, so let’s talk about some ways to use them in game.
Let’s start with the simplest: Spiteful Endurance gives any of your units besides Cultists a 5+++ shrug against Mortal Wounds for a phase. I love this stratagem. One of the biggest worries about running a big Terminator brick is the fact that many aircraft like Sunsharks or Harpies can easily kill 3-5 Terminators with bombs in the top of turn 1 movement phase before they get their defenses up. Being able to pop Spiteful Endurance on your Terminators if you go second (or on something like a Daemon Prince who is very vulnerable to bombers) helps mitigate some of that damage.
Cold-Hearted Malignity was unfairly maligned when the codex came out, but I’ve actually really enjoyed it. Think of it as a 1CP morale auto-pass when a unit is down to its final models on an objective, and you’ll find yourself using it surprisingly often. Note that once you gain the benefits from being below half-strength, you keep them for the rest of the battle even if you resurrect enough models to get above half-strength later. Your unit will stay bitter in perpetuity.
Cannon Fodder is a stratagem that’s a complete trap to build into your gameplan, but is important to keep in your toolbox for clutch late-game situations. No matter how killy your opponent’s shooting unit is, they’ll require at least 2 units activating to shoot you off an objective since your other unit isn’t eligible to be targetted until the Cultist unit is dead.
Unholy Vigour can push your Daemon Engines or Land Raider to absurd heights of durability. I wish it were 1/2CP instead of 2/3CP, but we play the hand we’re dealt. Just make sure to keep at least 1CP left in your list if you’re counting on this stratagem to keep a key unit alive, as you’ll need 2CP available in their turn if they go first.
Here’s a fun little Bastion trick: It combos very well with the Long War secondary. Say your opponent outnumbers your Terminators on an objective, or has 1 random ObSec model touching the objective. At the start of your turn, your opponent controls that objective. In your Command Phase, you make the Terminators ObSec, and now have the objective. You have flipped the objective as per the criteria of the Long War, and get 2 VP for your troubles.
And once you get past that cute trick, there aren’t many other positives to takeaway from the Iron Warrior’s secondary situation. You can feel bitter about it if you want–in fact, I highly recommend it if you truly want to play Iron Warriors well.
Realistically, Iron Warriors are going to take Banners 100% of the time, and then some combination of the following secondaries:
- A kill secondary that your opponent’s list gives up
- Warp Ritual
- Psychic Interrogation
- The Long War?
- Grind Them Down. This actually feels pretty good as Iron Warriors and really should be higher up the list, but rearranging these bullet points is too hard
- Why are you even still reading this list, I’m completely out of ideas by this point
- Another killing secondary that your opponent’s list doesn’t really give up but you can kind of squint and see yourself scoring 6 or 7 points on. You might score 3 but whatever. What else were you going to take instead, Engage On All Fronts? Lol.
- Engage On All Fronts
- Rise to Glory if you’re running Abaddon?!?!? Every single time I think to myself, “You know what? This matchup is actually a sneakily good Rise To Glory matchup”, it turns out not to be a sneakily good Rise To Glory matchup and I score 2 points.
- You’re still actually reading this list, you stubborn bastard. Well I’ll be damned. You’re not smart, but you’re persistent and dedicated, and that’s honestly worth way more in life than raw intelligence. The personality traits you’ve demonstrated by reading this far down the list bode very well for your life and career. I’m so proud of you and the direction you’re heading. I wish you all the best, my friend.
- Behind Enemy Lines
Evaluating Units in an Iron Warriors 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 Iron Warriors 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 Iron Warriors gameplan. Almost all of those units are still perfectly viable for friendly or semi-competitive play.
Warpsmith: He combines synergies your army wants (+1 to Hit at range and healing for Vehicles) with one of the best relics in the entire game. What’s not to love?
Dark Apostle: Your Dark Apostle can make your Terminators truly absurd defensively. Your Iron Warrior Terminators are already more durable than most CSM Terminators, with innate no-wound-rerolls and access to -1 Damage and a 5+ shrug vs Mortal Wounds. Adding trans-hit and no-hit-rerolls on top of that takes them to the point that most armies just can’t interact with them at all. And that’s all really. Really great. I don’t want to downplay the value of that.
On the other hand, you need to be very careful in-game to not overinvest in their durability. Access to Advance and Charge on your big Terminator brick is his biggest benefit, and one of you need to be taking advantage of whenever you can. Adding d6″ inches to the threat range of your 5″ moving unit is usually more valuable than adding one more defensive buff to a unit your opponent already can’t kill.
Daemon Prince: In an Iron Warriors list, your Daemon Prince is less of a beatstick and more of a utility piece. Having a psyker with a fast and durable chassis helps you play the mission. He becomes extra valuable if you give him the Mark Of Nurgle or Tzeentch. Access to 1CP transhuman or ignoring the first failed save every turn, combined with the innate no-wound-rerolls of Iron Warriors, makes this glass cannon unit into just more of a cannon.
Lord Discordant: What’s better than a killy, durable vehicle in an Iron Warriors list? A killy, durable vehicle that can’t be shot and buffs your other units!
Master Of Possession: Access to Pact Of Flesh alone makes a Master Of Possession worth it. The ability to resurrect models to get extra movement or reduce charge distance–including models that the Master Of Possession killed himself–is extremely valuable in an otherwise slow Iron Warriors list.
Just remember that the Master Of Possession can only inflict mortal wounds on nearby units while casting spells from his unique discipline. If you want to kill your own models to resurrect them in front later, make sure you are casting Malefic Discipline spells instead of Smite or Delightful Agonies.
Cultists and Accursed Cultists and Traitor Guardsmen: Cheap ObSec or bodies to screen the backfield are always useful. The fewer points you spend on Troops, the more points you have to spend on your heavy hitters.
Command Phase movement is also extremely valuable to squeeze out unexpected Primary points or farm The Long War.
Rubric Marines: Already written about plenty in previous sections of this guide, but you seriously can’t go wrong with a unit of these in an Iron Warriors list.
Terminators: Want a unit that can tank the apocalypse but will get tied up by 5 Intercessors for multiple turns way more often than you would like? You’ve come to the right place.
There is no better option to build the core of your army around and they’re a fantastic unit, just make sure to keep your eye on the bigger picture.
Possessed: Possessed combine durability and mobility like few other units available to Iron Warriors. While big bricks are probably over-committing to a datasheet that struggles offensively and can’t get Bastion, one or two 5-man units are an excellent way to round out an Iron Warriors list.
Master Of Executions: Iron Warriors honestly do almost nothing for this datasheet, but getting a Character outside of your limited HQ slots and a countercharge threat in otherwise shooty lists makes him an interesting piece.
Venomcrawlers: Venomcrawlers benefit significantly from both halves of the Legion trait. They’ll win you skirmishes on the edges while your main battleline trudges forward.
Chaos Spawn: Priced efficiently, getting a cheap screen or objective holder in an otherwise slow army can be valuable.
Raptors: You’ll need some speed in your list, and Raptors are your fastest unit that can still do Infantry actions. Weirdly durable as Iron Warriors, you can’t go wrong with one or two units in your Fast Attack slot.
Warp Talons: The extra durability that Iron Warriors provides (and need for mobility) pushes them into recommended territory. They’re overshadowed by Possessed, but you can still do solid work with them in Iron Warriors.
Havocs: Havocs should be seriously considered in all Iron Warriors lists. Coming in at a mere 125 points with autocannons, they’re annoyingly durable against small and medium fire. There’s an argument for bringing 3 units and just throwing dice downfield for 5 turns. A Slaanesh unit with Lascannons and Murderous Perfection to change a damage roll (or hit roll if you have exploding 6’s) into a 6 every turn is also a nice damage dealer. I also see a real argument for one unit with a Chaincannon
Vindicators/Predators: Predators are ironically better in Emperor’s Children than in Iron Warriors, but IW Vindicators bring a really solid mix of offense and durability for the points. Turning off wound rerolls when you’re T8 and have a 2+ Armour Of Contempt save means the enemy has to dedicate way more firepower than they would like. Don’t be afraid to push it up the field aggressively and use that durable metal box to disrupt your opponent’s plans.
Land Raider: Turning off wound rerolls when you’re T9 and have a 2+ Armour Of Contempt save means the enemy has to dedicate way, way, way more firepower than they would like to put it down. Access to healing, Mutated Invigoration for +1 Toughness, and Unholy Vigour for -1 to Wound means that it’s (almost) never going to die unless you want it to.
The much more pertinent question is whether your opponent cares about your Land Raider not dying. With only 4 shots and few ways to buff its damage output to a point where your opponent actually cares about it, probably not. If you’re bringing it, put something like Rubric Marines or Chosen inside to take advantage of the +3″ movement from disembarking and a safe ride up the field.
Forgefiends: I’ve been very impressed with my Forgefiend every time I run Iron Warriors. Access to Methodical Annihilation to get a flat 9 shots into any unit with 3 or more models makes it absolutely brutal into elite infantry. Access to acting on top bracket and -1 incoming damage helps it consistently deliver damage over the course of the game.
Leviathan: Methodical Annihilation helps both of its excellent blast gun options (Grav Bombard and the Melta Lance) cross the line from good to great. A double Grav Bombard loadout seems particularly vicious for the points. Don’t forget to include the free 2x Heavy Flamers or 2x Twin Volkite Calivers when considering its damage output, which both benefit greatly from ignoring cover.
Legionaries: Fine for the points, especially with the ability to take a Balefire Tome and cast Prescience onto your Leviathan or Lord Of Skulls or whatever you want.
Bikers: Ignoring cover at least makes their high volume of bolter and flamer firepower worth rolling. They also provide some mobility and open up Engage On All Fronts. They’re not going to set the world on fire, but access to lots of mobile T5 wounds gives you some nice options in-game.
Heldrake: A 2+2d3 shot baleflamer that ignores cover on a durable chassis that’s fast enough to get angles into Repentia and Swooping Hawks? You can do far worse. Access to -1 Damage and -1 to Wound, combined with innate no wound rerolls, helps Iron Warriors Heldrakes stay on the board turn one despite their inability to use Obscuring terrain.
Not Recommended Units
Dark Commune: Figure out whether you want a Dark Apostle or Sorcerer in your HQ slot and take the right unit for a job, rather than this weird unit that does both jobs poorly.
Chaos Lords: Fine in a vacuum, but don’t ever waste one of your precious HQ slots in an Iron Warriors list on him.
Sorcerers: Another HQ who falls in the “fine in a vacuum, but don’t ever waste one of your precious HQ slots in an Iron Warriors list on him”
Exalted Champion: Another HQ who falls in the “fine in a vacuum, but don’t ever waste one of your precious HQ slots in an Iron Warriors list on him”
Helbrute: They’re fine. They just move too slowly and don’t synergize with everything else. Use him as a chunky backfield objective holder or countercharger, but don’t ever expect him to do anything on your opponent’s side of the field with just a 6″ move.
Obliterators: It pains me to put Obliterators here. They are an iconic Iron Warriors unit. They look so good with Hazard stripes painted on and extra guns converted on.
The big issue is the points cost, and the fact their weapons are Heavy. 90 points is just way too much for the profile, especially since Dour Duty costs 2CP on even a 2 Obliterator squad. And since their weapons are Heavy, you’re only getting exploding 6’s on the turn the opponent is generally hiding anyway. You could put them in a Dreadclaw to get angles turn 1 or bring a Warlord Trait to give them exploding 6’s every turn, but that’s just throwing more good points after bad.
We’ll reevaluate Oblits when they drop into the 70 point range. Until then, I just can’t recommend in any Legion.
Maulerfiends: Why be slow and punchy when you can bring a Forgefiend instead and be slow and actually reach them with your shooting?
Chosen: Pay the premium and bring Terminators instead. That 2+ instead of 3+ save, combined with actual weapons choices, makes such a different in today’s game. Chosen aren’t bad, but they will rarely be the optimal choice for you.
This list does a great job finding ways to add mobility to an otherwise slow army, using 2 Heldrakes, a Lord Discordant, and Flamers as mobile threats while the incredibly durable Terminator brick swallows up the midboard. It finished 4th at a 50 player GT, so credit to Sam for piloting the army well.
Sam Boardman’s 4th Place List at the Protect Ya Neck GT
- Iron Warriors Battalion
- Dark Apostle: Bastion (-1CP), Illusory Supplication
- Lord Discordant: Flames Of Spite (-1CP), Gorget Of Eternal Hate (-1CP), Mark Of Tzeentch
- Master Of Possession: Mark of Slaanesh, Pact Of Flesh, Mutated Invigoration
- 2 x 10 Cultists
- 5 Legionaries
- 10 Terminators: Black Rune Of Damnation (-1CP)
- Land Raider
- Heldrake: Baleflamer
- Heldrake: Baleflamer
- Daemons Patrol
- Changecaster: Infernal Flames, Bolt Of Change
- 2 x 5 Flamers
The next list is one that you can experiment with if you want to run pure Iron Warriors without any Daemonic allies. This list is designed to skirmish really well and provide lots of pressure on the flanks, while the ObSec Terminators go up the middle with the Daemon Prince to control the midfield objectives and reliably farm psychic actions. It also features the 10-12MW Warpsmith and plenty of vehicles for him to use his flat 3 wound heal on.
Mike Pestilens’s Iron Warriors
- Iron Warriors Battalion
- Daemon Prince: Mark Of Tzeentch, Eye Of Tzeentch (-1 CP), Bastion (-1CP), Prescience
- Master Of Possession: Mark Of Slaanesh, Pact Of Flesh, Mutated Invigoration
- Warpsmith: Hatred Incarnate (-1CP), Relic Tendrils (-1CP), Mark Of Slaanesh
- 3 x 10 Cultists
- 10 Terminators: Black Rune Of Damnation (-1CP), 4 meltas, 2 chainfists, 2 power fists
- 5 Rubric Marines: Warpflamers, Warptime
- Raptors: 2 Flamers
- 2 x Venomcrawlers
- Forgefiend: 3x Plasma
- Forgefiend: 3x Plasma
- Havocs: Autocannons
- Heldrake: Baleflamer
Iron Warriors in 9th Edition are an underappreciated army, largely ignored while their brothers get most of the glory. Sound familiar to any fans of their lore? By focusing on the principles in this faction guide and getting in enough reps in to fully understand the faction, you’ll be able to turn their reputation around and become a real force on the tabletop.
The exciting content at Warphammer doesn’t end here! Coming up next will be our long-awaited guide to playing the mysterious Thousand Sons. I’m currently on a trip to the Impossible Fortress on a mission to discover all the secrets to mastering this incredibly powerful army.
Interested in learning from a successful tournament player who loves your faction as much as you, or getting your fluffy list reviewed to add a bit more bite? Sign up at https://www.patreon.com/Warphammer and join the team! Whatever you want to run, we can make it work. Thank you for supporting the best resource for both Chaos and 40K fans available online!
As always, have fun, stay safe, and may the Dark Gods bless your rolls!