Arks of Omen Faction Focus: Genestealer Cults

With a new batch of rules updates comes the need to revisit the strategies and tactics of each faction. Today Innes is talking about the changes to Genestealer Cults and how those changes will affect them in the meta.

It’s Arks of Omen season! GW shook things up in January with a massive slate of changes all at once with the new dataslate, MFM, big FAQ and the new Chapter Approved Missions pack. A lot changed and there’s a lot to take in. In this article Innes Wilson will talk about Genestealer Cults, covering how the faction changed, what it means for playing them, how they fare in the new meta, and offer a list with some thoughts on playing them.

The Notable Changes

For the first time since codex release in February last year we have changes for Genestealer Cults that weren’t just secondary related, and we even saw some changes there.

  • Points on Wargear decreased across the board
  • Character Suite gets a little cheaper, as do the much-maligned Aberrants
  • Atalan Jackals saw a points increase but got compensatory wargear price drops
  • No way to side-step the One Per Detachment rule on our Characters from Gene-Sect in Arks of Omen Detachments
  • More Slots for Troops without compromising Command Points
  • Upgraded Faction Secondaries make scoring points easier, and some of the generic options are very useable now
  • Everyone lost Armour of Contempt

For Genestealer Cults the builds that were doing well at the end of Nephilim very much leant on the “Myriad Cults” options with Industrial Affinity to ignore hit modifiers on the various powerful shooting options and a grab bag of other 1pt upgrades to juice the survivability of Neophytes and Atalan Jackals. All of the changes that happened in Arks of Omen are almost custom tailored to make that build better, while also providing a few options for other list archetypes through points drops.

The first and most notable change in the Genestealer Cults section is the change to Special Weapons in Neophytes, and almost all weapons besides Mining Lasers and Demolition Charges in Atalan Jackals, that being that they are all now free. Atalan Jackals themselves went up 3 pts per model (6 on Wolfquads) but received the Atalan Power Weapons upgrade for free (which was previously 3pts) which effectively leaves them the same but forced to buy an upgrade that was rarely seen before.

For Atalan Jackals, this means that you’ll see about a 16pt increase on a 10 Model Unit from before if running 3 Demolition Charges and Incinerators on the Wolfquads, which is well within a manageable amount given the new melee proficiency that you’ll have now. These weapons are even tagged with Industrial Weapon meaning they now ignore modifiers in combat and can actually punch fairly well into the right targets.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

Neophytes see a 10pt reduction in the cost of the Cult Icon, meaning you can have d6 models back per command phase and pay for itself back in one activation. This upgrade still has questionable use due to the one-use-only nature of some Neophyte reserve turns (you probably won’t want this on your Lying in Wait unit for example, 3” away from the enemy means it doesn’t matter how many models you have, they’re never shooting again), and the ubiquity of the Acolyte Iconward in lists. Acolytes struggle with this upgrade for the same reason, typically these units are on a one way trip, or are hiding behind a wall and unlikely to take damage. With how uncommon indirect is at present, an Iconward is usually more than enough to cover your regeneration needs.

More relevant here is the free special weapons; at 2 per 10 you can now have Webbers, Flamers or Grenade Launchers absolutely free in your squads. All of these upgrades have their use, Grenade Launchers have d3 damage and can automatically apply a crossfire marker on hit, Flamers love the +1 to wound from Crossfire and have the same range as a shotgun meaning they don’t mind being danger close, and Webbers can help pick away at tougher models with mortal wounds and have an 18” range to get around pesky auspex scan or over a layer of screens when arriving from Underground.

A slightly more enticing set of upgrades is the reductions for the Acolyte Hybrid weapons – 5pts for a Rock Saw (previously 10) and for a pair of Demolition Charges (previously 5 each) means including one of these upgrades in a 5 or 10 man squad a lot more enticing just for that trade up capacity when doing your scoring, and can make a big squad of them a much more reasonable option even in a world where hitting charges is far from guaranteed.

Some key characters such as the Primus, Clamavus and Iconward saw a 5pt reduction. It’s nothing to write home about but it helps cover the points increase on Atalan Jackals.
Aberrants on the other hand dropped a full 10%, leaving them a still way-too-expensive 27 pts per model for something with 2 attacks. Gladiator Reapers are out here having 44+d3 shots at 3 points-per-shot and Abberants are stuck paying for the sins of when the Stop Sign was the best weapon in the 41st Millennium. Experiment at your own risk but don’t expect much here. They can take a hit but do not deal one well for the points you’re paying.

The last major change for Genestealer Cults is the change to Secondaries. Cults players were spoilt for choice in Nephilim with the powerful generic in Broodswarm which you could take into almost any circumstance and bank points. Ambush now joins its older brother in the scoresheet with much more consistent scoring options due to “Kill a unit with a Crossfire Token” moving to a 2VP criteria and the points per turn changing to 5. With 3 very doable criteria, expect to score 12-15 points on this in most games just by playing naturally, which is a very very good thing to have access to.

On the generic secondaries front, with Assassinate, Behind Enemy Lines and Grind Them Down all rewarding Command Points for achieving their criteria with troops, and the troops heavy nature of most Cults Builds, there is a solid reason to reach for some of these. Behind Enemy Lines seems particularly appealing due to the Underground mechanic providing unparalleled access to your opponent’s deployment zone. In testing however, the forced interaction of going to your opponent can be a little awkward compared to the ease of use of Broodswarm (which usually locks up 3 pts per turn for More Models in Your Deployment Zone, No Mans Land and Whole Board, and can be 5 at a push) which can be scored while giving your opponent nothing. Add on the Cranial Inlay upgrade commonly seen on the Nexos making the CP Generation slightly less essential and you end up with a real choice between the two in one of the biggest embarrassment of riches secondary choices going in Arks of Omen.

Finally it wouldn’t be fair to talk about the changes to Genestealer Cults without mentioning that Armour of Contempt has left the building. As an army that primarily runs AP- to AP2 with very limited reach beyond that outside of generally underwhelming melee, this is a big improvement to the damage output of already standout weapons Demolition Charges and Seismic Cannons. Shotguns are a little sad that their damage hasn’t changed, but as a result of the special weapons price drops you’ll now see less of them anyway.

Overall, this is a phenomenal set of changes, and while some of what Genestealer Cults players wanted probably isn’t here (for myself, a reason to play a melee army would be nice), what is here does nothing but good things for the lists the faction was already seeing success with.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

The Matchups

In the right hands, Genestealer Cults are probably one of the best armies in the game right now. Already being able to hang with the best in Nephilim and seeing almost only positive changes means that everything that was working before ports over to the brave new meta with little fanfare or surprise. Some of the other improved factions will definitely provide challenges, which prevents me from outright calling them the best faction going, but do not be surprised if you see the Cults putting up numbers.

The Positive

  • Custodes are a new and interesting force in the meta, and everything they’re doing exists to suffer into Cults. Ignoring Cover and Hit Modifiers and drowning Wardens in weight of S6 +1 to wound remains an incredible plan, and the move blocking capabilities of Bikes does a lot in that matchup.
  • Harlequins remain at or near the top of the meta by all estimations and Genestealer Cults are one of the few armies that can match them blow for blow on scoring, while having the speed and output to catch boats. Mirror Architect’s return means that the central castle can be a little harder to assault but anything on the edges dies much faster, and it already died fast.
  • Some Marine builds also prove to be easy prey, and any that don’t pay the Infiltrator tax may soon find themselves given the runaround.

The Negative

  • On the other hand, sometimes Marines do pay the infiltrator tax and you’re priced into either dealing with them before your drop turn (with Genestealers and Bikes), or trying to play around them. Neither of these are super fun, and can definitely throw a spanner in these matchups as their secondaries are very forgiving and line up well with the Cult game plan. Codex Warfare and Shock Tactics combined with the No Prisoners you can generally write down for your opponent means that the onus is on you to make something happen.
  • Units like Deathwing Terminators can also be exactly the right kind of problem for Cults, and while the lists with 40+ of them will have other issues in the wider meta, they’re something you have to respect.
  • Orks are another faction that applies just the right kind of pressure, through having the speed and volume of models and attacks in Transports to overwhelm a Genestealer Cults player before you have time for all of your underground shenanigans, while typically having very good secondaries. This is a match-up you need to have experience and a rock solid game plan going into to avoid just getting rolled over in a green wave as you fail to crack Battlewagons or Kill Rigs and get out-scored and out-fought by the numbers.

Patriarch. Credit: Rockfish
Patriarch. Credit: Rockfish

The List(s)

The current version of a “Nephilim Standard” 80 Neophytes List is as follows:

Thomas Brown – 1st Place – Northern Warlords Team Tournament

== Elites Arks of Omen = 0 CP, [99 PL, 2000 pts] ==
Cult Creeds: Industrial Affinity, War Convoy, Accustomed to Toil, Cold-Eyed killers

HQ: Primus [4PL, 70pts] (WARLORD)
HQ: Acolyte Iconward [4PL, 65pts]

TR: 5 Acolyte Hybrid [3PL, 45pts] Cult Lash Whip
TR: 5 Acolyte Hybrid [3PL, 45pts] Cult Lash Whip
TR: 5 Acolyte Hybrid [3PL, 45pts] Cult Lash Whip
TR: 20 Neophyte Hybrid [9PL, 195pts] 12 Cult Shotgun, 4 Seismic Cannon, 4 Flamer
– – – Proficient Planning : A Perfect Ambush
TR: 20 Neophyte Hybrid [9PL, 200 pts] 12 Cult Shotgun, 4 Seismic Cannon, 4 Flamer
– – – Proficient Planning : Lying in Wait
TR: 20 Neophyte Hybrid [9PL, 180pts] 12 Cult Shotgun, 4 Seismic Cannon, 4 Webber
TR: 20 Neophyte Hybrid [9PL, 190pts] 12 Autogun, 4 Seismic Cannon, 4 Grenade Launcher
– – – Proficient Planning : From Every Angle

EL: Kelermorph [3PL, 80pts]
– – – Gene-Sire’s Gifts : Wyrmstooth Rounds (-1CP)
EL: Nexos [3PL, 50pts]
– – – Gene-Sire’s Gifts : Cranial Inlay (-1CP)
EL: Sanctus [3PL, 70pts] Cult Sniper Rifle
EL: Clamavus [3PL, 45pts]
– – – Relic : Oppressor’s Bane (-1CP)
EL: 10 Purestrain Genestealers [8PL, 150pts]
– – – Proficient Planning : They Came From Below

FA: 8 Atalan Jackal [9PL, 190pts] 2 Demolition Charge, 2 Grenade Launcher, 10 Atalan Power Weapon, 2 Atalan Wolfquad with Atalan Incinerator
FA: 8 Atalan Jackal [9PL, 190pts] 2 Demolition Charge, 2 Grenade Launcher, 10 Atalan Power Weapon, 2 Atalan Wolfquad with Atalan Incinerator
FA: 8 Atalan Jackal [9PL, 190pts] 2 Demolition Charge, 2 Grenade Launcher, 10 Atalan Power Weapon, 2 Atalan Wolfquad with Atalan Incinerator


This list aims to create space on the board early through the They Came From Below Genestealers and Bikes, allowing for a devastating drop turn. War Convoy and Accustomed to Toil keeps the bikes active and ticking on the board for refreshment by the Acolyte Iconward, and the glut of Seismic Cannons combined with powerful Secondaries like Broodswarm, Ambush, and Retrieve Battlefield Data affords easy scoring options that give a good game into any army out there.

Nicholas Rose at Captaincon in the United States adapted a similar version of the above build that instead uses Pauper Princes and the Reliquary of St Tenndarc to provide its durability while also amping up the combat aspects of the list, allowing a squad of Acolytes with Our Time is Nigh and the Combat Weapon Equipped Bikes to hit pretty hard, which you can see here on 40k Stats.

We’re also starting to see mainstream success from Twisted Helix and Impassioned/Industrial Affinity Myriad Cults builds, suggesting some exciting departures in store for us this season. You can find examples of those on 40kstats – check out Peyton Preece’s third-place list from Melee at Shiloh or Robin Roberts’ winning list from the Savannah Showdown GT.

Wrapping Things Up

For the time being it seems that Genestealer Cults are to remain a primarily shooting army leaning on the strong weapons datasheets and the phenomenal Crossfire rule amping up their damage. With great secondaries, a wealth of new guns through points removals and a general reduction in the resilience of the broader game, it’s a good time to be underneath the meta as a faction with low popularity and a high performance cap. Expect to see sporadic but high placing Genestealer Cults results, but this isn’t a faction you should expect to see at the top of every event. They’re Lying in Wait, you see.

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