There is a lot of content competing for everyone’s attention online these days. You may have clicked on this guide to playing Night Lords out of curiosity, but are unsure if it’s something you actually want to read.
To help you decide whether to keep reading, I’ve prepared a few simple questions.
- When watching serial killer documentaries, do you find yourself rooting for the killer instead of the victims?
- Do your fists clench with rage when you see someone jaywalk?
- Most importantly, do you hear the voices too?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’re in exactly the right place. Today we turn to our eye to not only one of the coolest armies in 40K, but one of the most underrated armies in the game. Welcome to the official Warphammer guide to playing the VIII Legion.
Ave Dominus Nox, my brothers and sisters. Let’s dive right into the complete guide to playing Night Lords competitively.
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Night Lords are in an interesting spot. They require a lot of thought to make work. That’s not a bad thing, but I think it’s contributed to their perception as a lower tier army. That perception is absolutely wrong.
Night Lords aren’t one of those armies that comes in with one gameplan that they’ll consistently try to execute in every matchup. Befitting their lore, they’re continuously reacting to the board state and disrupting the enemy’s plans.
Rather than tell you how to play the army from start to finish, I’m going to describe some of my favorite plays that Night Lords can make and the strengths of the army. We’ll then talk about how to leverage those strengths into winning games.
Taking Advantage Of Leadership Debuffs
Let’s address the most disappointing part of the faction early. The Legion trait (-2 LD and -1 Combat Attrition within 9″, and +1 to Wound in melee against units with Leadership less than or equal to 5 or below half strength) is largely useless as a way to deal damage in melee. Most units–and especially the units you’ll need +1 to Wound to do damage to–are LD8 or higher, meaning the -2LD won’t proc the +1 to Wound. This is a fact that is well understood by Night Lords players once they have played a few games.
But notice what I said–it’s largely useless as a way to deal damage in melee. That does not mean it is useless. There are several ways to turn LD debuffs into CP, VP, or other forms of damage.
One of my favorites is to help trigger additional VP from Psychic Interrogation. That action generates a CP if your casting roll is greater than or equal to the leadership of one of the Characters within 24″. Combine Night Lords’ easy access to -2 or -3 leadership buffs with easy access to +1 to cast, and you will be reliably farming CP off of leadership 8 or 9 characters. This makes Psychic Interrogation a much more appealing pick for Night Lords than you would believe. If you only expect to score 9 VP from the Secondary, but are likely to gain 2 or 3 CP by taking it, that suddenly becomes a very appealing pick as a 3rd secondary even in non-ideal matchups.
Another way to use the LD debuff is to help score their Secondary. Sow The Seed, Reap The Fear gives you 1VP every time an enemy unit fails a Morale test, Falls Back, or fails an action. It also gives you the chance to roll 2d6 every time you kill a unit in melee, and gives you 1VP if your roll equals or exceeds the leadership of the final model in that unit. That 2d6 roll seems unreliable since most units are LD8 or LD9, but subtracting 2 from their leadership really changes the math. Your odds improve from 42% to 72% against LD8 units, nearly doubling your chance of scoring that VP. Your odds improve from 28% to 58% against LD9 units, more than doubling your chances of scoring the VP!
When you pick this secondary, you also play the brutal mind-game of making your opponent question themselves every single time they Fall Back from you. Since CSM are largely a combat army, opponents almost always want to Fall Back from you in their turn to shoot you with other units. Once they realize they’re giving you additional VP every time they do that, they start to question obvious plays and make mistakes. Sow The Seed, Reap The Fear seems like a trap secondary at first, but I’ve been consistently impressed by its scoring and effect on the game against some very strong practice opponents.
Another benefit of the leadership debuff is forcing your opponent to spend CP on autopassing morale in spots where they otherwise wouldn’t want to. You only get 16 CP total in Nephilim, and that’s before adding a single warlord trait or relic. If there is a single time where they had to spend 2CP to keep the last model on an objective that otherwise might not have run, that’s a really big percentage of their CP gone.
If also combos nicely with Daemons. The additional -1 Leadership from Daemons combos with the Fearsome aura of Possessed, Raptors, etc and the -2 Leadership from the Legion trait to trigger +1 to Wound against LD9 units. It also makes Cacophonic Choir or the Contorted Epitome’s ability extremely reliable. The hard part about adding Daemons to Night Lords is that because you make such amazing Characters, limiting yourself to spending 4CP to leave 2CP for the Daemons patrol can be painful. That’s a good problem to have.
Maximizing the Value of Screaming Skies
One thing that consistently separates aspiring competitive players from great players is maximizing the movement gained by resurrecting models. The Night Lord’s stratagem Screaming Skies is a great example of this.
If any of your jump pack units loses at least one model in the opponent’s turn but is still large enough to be a combat threat, use Screaming Skies to put it into deepstrike at the start of your Movement phase. On the following turn, return that unit to the battlefield 9″ away from the enemy unit of your choice. Use Pact of Flesh from your Master Of Possession to return a slain model to your jump pack unit directly closer to the enemy. With 2″ coherency forward and a larger than 1″ 32mm base on your Raptors and Warp Talons, congratulations–you just gained a huge +3.X” to your deepstrike charge. You have effectively a 5″ charge after setting up 9″ away.
The second your opponent kills any models from any of your jump pack units, you should immediately be considering putting it into the sky to charge anywhere else the following turn. This stratagem also lets you deepstrike on turns 4 and 5 if you use it on turns 3 and 4. This is usually far past the point at which the opponent has any units left to screen. Use this to generate a big late game primary swing.
You can also use Screaming Skies to help with your own secondaries. Secondaries like Retrieve Copyrighted Warzone Name That Will Be Forgotten In 6 Months Data and For The Dark Gods require you to do actions in different quarters. Screaming Skies helps you complete them in later turns. It also indirectly helps you keep scoring Engage On All Fronts or Behind Enemy Lines even while running out of resources.
We Have Come For You
Alternatively Titled: (T’au Players Hate This One Simple Trick!)
We Have Come For You is one of the best stratagems in the entire game. Any time you take part of a movement phase away from the opponent in a movement based game, you’re doing something right.
Reliably trapping opposing units in combat gives you a fighting chance into even the most broken gunlines you can imagine.
The “issue” CSM face when combat trapping is that we often kill the screening units we charge, leaving us no one to trap with. The trick is to move some models in your unit towards the unit you charged, and other models towards models in an opposing unit. Then you can pile those models into the other unit to engage it, or at least consolidate towards the other unit once you’ve killed the first one. Unless an opposing unit is by themselves in the middle of nowhere, you’re usually going to be able to pull off this play. This also works well with units with big bases like Lord Discordants. As long as your model is even 0.1″ closer to the enemy unit when you pile in, you’re free to swing the rest of the base around up to 6″ wherever you want. If you want even more movement for you unit to tag someone 7+2d6″ inches away, you can charge the opposing unit with 2 of your units. The first one activates and kills the unit. The second unit then gets their full pile-in and consolidate movement towards the enemy. This play works especially well when you pair a Look Out Sir-able smash character with a large unit like 10 Terminators. You charge both into a screening unit of Kroot or Guardsmen or Incursors or whatever. You activate the character first and kill the unit. Then the Terminators go and tag another unit, keeping at least 1 model within 3″ of your smash character. The Terminators can’t be shot because they are engaged with the enemy unit, and your character can’t be shot because it’s near the Terminators.
Not only are We Have Come For You plays game-winning competitively, but they’re incredibly fun! It feels very fluffy to sink your claws into the opponent and not let them escape.
Let me make a quick list of all the ways I have use no-fall back mechanics:
- Prevent your units from being shot
- Prevent nearby Characters from being shot
- Move block your opponent with their own models (amazing vs Tervigon lists)
- Keep combat initiative if they have access to fall back and charge. The opponent wants to fall back and charge you to fight first. If you’re stick in combat on their turn, you get to fight first. Spending 2CP on We Have Come For You can effectively be a better 2CP combat interrupt where you actually fight before your opponent.
- Prevent the opponent from falling back and reaching an objective.
And if you ever tagged something to avoid being shot that’s too tough for you to kill? No problem. Just pop Underhanded Scheming to Fall Back and Charge some other target when it gets back to your turn.
The Threat of From The Night and Vox Scream
Night Lords have a really cool stratagem called From The Night that lets you deepstrike a unit turn 1. You’re not going to use this very often vs competent opponents because they’ll screen properly, but screening requires resources. And if they’re staying back or moving sub-optimally for their gameplan to avoid getting destroyed by a turn 1 deepstrike, then that’s still a win for you even if you never actually use the stratagem. Just as planned.
Vox Scream works in a similar way. It’s very expensive at 2CP, and requires you to often place your units in danger. Competitively speaking, the threat of it as more powerful than the effect itself. If your opponent knows about the threat of the stratagem, then maybe they’ll avoid moving their character with an important aura forward. Or they won’t move a unit forward that relies on a defensive aura for durability. Anything that effects your opponent’s movement is a great thing, even if you never actually get the chance to use it.
Top Tier Characters
Now let’s get to one of my favorite parts of Night Lords: They can build incredibly powerful smash and utility characters.
Chaos Space Marines, collectively as a faction have, almost no ability to make enemies Fight Last (outside of Emperor’s Children). Night Lords are one of the only exceptions. The Dirty Fighter Warlord Trait lets your Character pick an enemy unit within 3″ and make it fight last. That is a very powerful offensive and defensive tool. Adding Dirty Fighter should be the first CP you spend in every single Night Lords list. It goes great on a Master Of Executions because of his 6″ Heroic Intervention range and ability to squeeze through 2″ gaps in your own units. It also fits really well on a Daemon Prince because of the in-built mobility.
Speaking of Daemon Princes, Night Lords have some interesting access to out-of-phase damage. The relic Talons Of The Night Terror lets you do d3 MW on a 2+ when you move over a unit and when you charge a unit. Combined with their innate Smite and melee output, a Night Lords Daemon Prince can do damage in 4 phases. Good night, Abaddon.
A Night Lords Master Of Executions is one of the hardest hitting models per point in the game. The trick is to combine the Night Haunter’s Curse warlord trait with the Slaanesh stratagem Murderous Perfection to guarantee 2 ways to change a hit roll to a 6, triggering a minimum of 4 (and average or 6 or more) mortal wounds per activation. This gets especially spicy (credit to Colin Kay for finding this tech, I had run Night Haunter’s Curse and Mark of Slaanesh but didn’t realize he had a pistol) if you give him the Warp’s Malice relic pistol, because you can choose to do the same thing in the shooting phase instead to guarantee a minimum of 4 mortal wounds. My Master Of Executions now stays strapped.
One part of Night Haunter’s Curse that people don’t realize is you can use the auto-6 on an advance roll. Slaanesh Characters can advance and charge if you have a Dark Apostle. Does moving a Daemon Prince 18″, doing MW to a unit you moved over, charging, doing MW to a unit you charged, killing something, and then trapping the enemy in combat the following turn sound good to you? Thought so.
Evaluating Units in a Night Lords 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 a Night Lords 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 Night Lords gameplan. Almost all of those units are still perfectly viable for friendly or semi-competitive play.
Daemon Prince: Night Lords can make some genuinely terrifying smash characters, and a Daemon Prince is a great chassis to start with. Daemon Princes are also the only Characters that come with a Leadership debuff, helping them synergize with other parts of your gameplan.
Lord Discordant: Discolords are great in every Legion, and that is especially true in Night Lords. The big base really helps you pull of We Have Come For You plays. You can charge one unit that you plan to kill, and then swing around to touch another unit far away and avoid being shot the following turn.
Master Of Possession: Let’s be honest… you’re already taking a Master Of Possession in every list. An apothecary that can also provide another strong buff (usually +1 Strength and/or +1 Toughness) is a good thing to have. Access to turn 1 deepstrike makes the Master Of Possession’s trick to stab a nearby model and resurrect it even closer than 9″ from the even more valuable.
Dark Apostle: Valuable and worth considering in every Legion, but a little less valuable in Night Lords than other Legions. You are actually incentivized to sometimes start your Terminator brick off the board because they can come down on the first turn, making the Command Phase timing of his buffs a bit awkward.
Cultists: Night Lords like expensive units and characters, so you need some cheap units to fit in under 2000 points. I’m not a math expert, but this checks out.
Accursed Cultists: I don’t have any strong feelings on them one way or another, and they look cool, so what the hell. I’ll throw them in my recommended units section.
Legionaries: HQ slots are extremely limited in Night Lords, so getting some psychic ability out of your Troops can help a lot.
Master Of Executions: Night Lords can do silly stuff with a Master Of Executions, and you’re going to want to include one in every single list.
Terminators: We Have Come For You on a killy unit with Fights First from Mark Of Slaanesh is game-winning. The threat of coming down turn 1 in Night Lords adds an interesting dimension to how you can use them. Just make sure not to go on auto-pilot and deepstrike them in matchups where you shouldn’t, or you’ll find them coming down turn 3 in the back of your own deployment zone.
Possessed: They do a great job running the flanks while your Terminators and extremely powerful Night Lords Characters go up the center. The additional -1 Leadership debuff helps the Legion trait function.
Khorne Berzerkers, Plague Marines, Chaos Spawn, and Venomcrawlers: Grouping these together in the category of “Night Lords don’t specifically do anything for these datasheets, but they are generically useful and worth consideration”.
Raptors: The ability to go back into deepstrike mid-game gives them additional flexibility in Night Lords. The additional -1 Leadership to help trigger +1 to Wound would be cool… if they could take any melee weapons besides AP1 Chainswords. Run them as a 6-man squad with 2 flamers to skirmish and do Retrieve Copyrighted Warzone Name That Will Be Forgotten In 6 Months Data multiple times in some matchups.
Warp Talons: I’m a really big fan of Warp Talons. They love having access to a fall back and charge stratagem. In Midnight Clad helps soften the blow when you fail the no-fallback roll and they get shot. Spoiler alert: You are going to fail the no-fallback roll way, way, way more often than you expect. It’s a 50% success rate mathematically speaking, but feels like a 25-30% success rate in practice. That drops down to a 5-10% success rate if you’re worried about failing. Much like the Night Lords themselves, the dice gods prey on your fear.
Bikers: I actually love Slaanesh Bikers in Night Lords, but Fast Attack slots are just so limited. Most of the time, you would rather have Raptors and Warp Talons and Venomcrawlers.
Heldrake: They’re an interesting unit in Night Lords. Their mobility makes them a great early delivery system for Vox Scream. That’s the entire argument for them, because paying 165 points for a Heldrake is just egregious in a game with Harpies and Sunsharks.
Havocs: Nothing else in Night Lords really shoots well. Sometimes you just need a big gun to pop a transport and get to the squishy contents inside. It’s just like cracking open a cold one with the boys, except the “cold one” you’re cracking open is a bus full of terrified passenger. And the boys you’re cracking open the cold one with are a bunch of bloodthirsty killers.
Cypher: I think Cypher fits into the “disruption” playstyle of Night Lords. I think he’s more “cute” than “good”, and you’ll likely not have enough HQ slots available, but it’s at least something to consider.
Not Recommended Units
Abaddon: If you come here for the hot takes, then you’ll enjoy this one. Abaddon is great, but his fit with the Night Lords gameplan is a bit awkward. It’s never wrong to take him, but it’s not always right to take him either.
Sorcerers: Very solid utility units, but you’ll never have enough HQ slots available.
Chaos Lords: Very solid utility and beatstick units, but you’ll never have enough HQ slots available.
Warpsmith: Very solid utility unit, but you’ll never have enough HQ slots available.
Dark Commune: A less than solid utility unit, so you’ll definitely never have enough HQ slots available.
Exalted Champion: A less than solid utility unit, so you’ll definitely never have enough HQ slots available.
Chosen: Chosen are the clear odd man out for Night Lords in the constant Terminator/Possessed/Chosen dilemma. They can’t deepstrike to threaten the opponent with From The Night like Terminators, and they don’t provide a -1 Leadership aura to help trigger the Legion trait like Possessed. Solid unit, but you can do better.
Helbrutes: Give them an 8″ move, or give them death.
Land Raiders/Predators/Vindicators: Night Lords have literally not a single stratagem, warlord trait, relic, or Legion trait that has any interaction with any of these datasheets.
The one upside of running Vindicators in Night Lords is you get to imitate your Primarch and say “Death is nothing compared to vindicators!” all game. That’s a really big plus.
Rhinos: The units you want to run are generally deepstriking, move 12″ already, or can’t ride in Rhinos. They’re a useful datasheet in CSM overall, but have an awkward fit with most Night Lords lists.
Let’s tie it all together, and show you some competitive Night Lords lists to inspire your own list writing.
Mike Pestilens’s Hit And Run Night Lords
- Night Lords Battalion
- Daemon Prince: -1 CP, Murderous Reputation, Prescience
- Dark Apostle: Mark of Slaanesh, Illusory Supplication
- Master Of Possessions: Mark of Slaanesh, Pact Of Flesh, Mutated Invigoration
- 3 x 10 Cultists
- 3 x 5 Possessed
- 5 Rubric Marines: Warpflamers and Flamer Pistol, Warptime
- Master Of Executions: -2 CP, Night Haunter’s Curse, Warp’s Malice, Mark Of Slaanesh
- Master Of Executions: -2 CP, Dirty Fighter, Intoxicating Elixir
- 8 Chaos Bikers: -1 CP, Black Rune Of Damnation, Mark Of Slaanesh, Power Fist, 2x Meltas
- 6 Raptors: Mark Of Slaanesh, Power Fist, 2x Meltas
- Havocs: Mark Of Slaanesh, 4 Lascannons
Everyone knows Chaos Terminators are very strong–and they’re going to be featured in the second list below–so I wanted to instead feature a list that leaned more into mobility and the “hit and run” nature of Night Lords. A big unit of Bikers that can move 20″ and then prevent the enemy from falling back have the potential to win games right out of the gate with move blocking. And with their massive bases, they are perfect for plays where they charge one unit and then consolidate towards another.
I love the combination of Dirty Fighter and Intoxicating Elixir on a Master Of Executions. With a 6″ Heroic Intervention, it’s very difficult for opponents to avoid his Fights Last from Dirty Fighter. And because he has the Intoxicating Elixir, he can safely put Fights Last on a very dangerous target and survive to do it again on the following turn–or escape to fight a weaker opponent, as the Night Lords love to do.
I included the Rubric Marines for two reasons. First of all, they’re great skirmishers and flankers with d6+2 shots AP2 flamers. Secondly, they can help you farm Psychic Interrogation and Warp Ritual. On turns you don’t need to cast Pact Of Flesh, your Master Of Possession can move forward to perform a Psychic Action and then get Warptimed back to safety by your Rubric Marines. You’ll have +1 to cast from the Venomcrawler, so this play is relatively reliable. Your most important power is Delightful Agonies, so your Daemon Prince can still cast that while your MoP and Rubrics farm VP. This isn’t a play you’ll go for all the time, but it’s an interesting option to have available.
This list is set up to score a wide variety of Secondaries, depending on the matchup. We can score Rise To Glory, Sow The Seed and Reap The Fear, The Long War, Psychic Interrogation, Warp Ritual, Behind Enemy Lines, and Raise Banners.
This list might struggle with Harlequins (as does almost every single army), but it has strong matchups into most of the rest of the field.
Colin Kay’s 5-1 List from the Fight Club August Major
Colin has been doing great work with character focused Night Lords builds since the codex dropped, and this list is no exception.
- Night Lords Battalion
- Daemon Prince with Wings: -1 CP, Nurgle Daemon weapon, Mark Of Nurgle, Warptime
- Lord Discordant: -2 CP, Dirty Fighter, Intoxicating Elixir, Mark of Slaanesh
- Master Of Possession: Mark of Slaanesh, Pact Of Flesh, Mutated Invigoration
- 10 Cultists
- 6 Legionaries: Mark of Khorne, Power Fist, Heavy Axe
- 5 Legionaries: Mark of Slaanesh, Balefire Tome, Prescience
- 10 Terminators: -1 CP, Black Rune, Mark of Slaanesh, 4 melta, 2 Chainfists, 6 Power Fists
- Master Of Executions: -2CP, Night Haunter’s Curse, Warp’s Malice, Mark of Slaanesh
- 5 Possessed
- 5 Raptors: 2 Flamers, Power Fist
- 5 Warp Talons
- 5 Havocs: Mark of Slaanesh, 2 Lascannons, 2 Missile Launchers
Night Lords are an incredibly fun and thematic army. Don’t write them off just because they’re not tearing up the meta. They have lots of powerful tricks, and a unique playstyle that will crush your opponent’s spirit if played well… just the way Konrad Curze would have wanted the game to be played.
On a more general note, it feels so good to be writing regularly again. I’m finally settled in, and gotten all of the moving and work transition issues sorted out. I can’t wait to keep sharing my love for all of the Chaos factions, and experience playing them competitively at a high level, with all of the readers all around the globe. I currently have Disciples Of Be’lakor and Iron Warriors guides in the works, and plan to have at least one of those out later this week.
Interested in learning from a successful tournament player who loves the fun and fluff of your faction as much as you, or turning your fluffy idea into a list you can take to tournaments? Sign up at https://www.patreon.com/Warphammer and join the team! There’s tons of additional benefits available to you too.
As always, have fun, stay safe, and may the Dark Gods bless your rolls.
Ave Dominus Nox.