New Codex Death Guard 2021 Review – 9th Edition Warhammer 40k
The Lord of Plagues influence waxes as disease and rot spread across the galaxy. Corrupted by the powers of Nurgle, the children of Mortarion grow bloated with filth, their unnatural resilience lending to their tenacious trench warfare abilities. Grandfather Nurgle’s face splits in a joyous grin as the Death Guard march to war.
Due for release in late 2020 but fittingly delayed due to the current pandemic, the brand new Codex Death Guard for the 9th edition of Warhammer 40,000 is finally in our grubby disease ridden hands! We were lucky enough to be sent a copy a little early by Games Workshop, so settle back as we take a look through the new Codex and explore all its disgusting delights!
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In addition to this written review I have also filmed a video review on YouTube going through the entire 2021 Codex, so make sure to check that out below! Or if you rather your reviews in text form then make a fresh brew and read on!
Codex Death Guard
Continuing on from the Codex releases that followed the launch of Indomitus and the 9th edition of Warhammer 40,000 it is now the turn of Chaos to get their attention, and this kicks off with one of the armies that got their previous Codex back at the launch of 8th Edition, the Death Guard.
Codex Death Guard is a 95 page supplement that contains all you need to command your own Plague Company and lead them to victory on the battlefields of the 41st Millennium. If you’ve not picked up a Codex before, essentially this contains lore information about the army that shares their history, their organisation and leaders along with the rules for using the units in both Matched Play and Crusade games. Presentation is top notch, keeping the same styling and layout as the previous 9th Edition Codexes with the contents split into colour codex sections for easy reference. Artwork is great as ever with some brilliant pieces such as the gorgeous cover art depicting Mortarion and the Death Guard striking down the Ultramarines and even classic returning artwork such as the original The Lost And The Damned making an appearance!
As with previous Codexes we also get a miniatures showcase showing off the entire range, but also a look at the Crusade army of Tom Moore of the Army Painter team painted in their classic Horus Heresy scheme. I really like these inclusions of a “real” army in addition to the ‘Eavy Metal images as this gives you more inspiration and ideas for the creation of your own force!
Keeping in line with the other recent Codex releases we also get a really clear and concise reference section containing the points in a much easier to digest format than in the 8th Edition books, and full quick reference glossary and rules appendix making it really handy for looking up rules mid-game.
The Death Guard see quite a lot of changes in this new Codex, with a number of new keywords created in order to manage these rules.
Plague Marines and Poxwalkers (but interestingly not cultists) have Objective secured, dispelling fears that the Poxwalkers may not have this (and making them really good for camping objectives, especially with their points cut!). However we do see some new army construction rules in which you cannot have more Poxwalker units than Bubonic Astartes Core Infantry, and also no more cultist units than Bubonic Astartes. This may mean some people may need to shuffle their army in order to have the required number of Astartes units to unlock them. This is an interesting change and I wonder if we see any other actions like this in other codex in order to restrict cheap units that often got picked to fill out detachments.
In a similar but slightly more controversial move, Infernal Jealousy now means you can only take one Lord of the Death Guard per detachment – this is a massive list: Death Guard Daemon Prince, Typhus, Death Guard Chaos Lord, Death Guard Chaos Lord in Terminator armour, Lord of Virulence and Lord of Contagion. If you want to take multiple picks from this list then you are going to have to spend those command points and take multiple detachments! While we saw something similar with the Space Marine Captains, they have a lot more HQ options with lieutenants who dont have that restriction.
If you are a fan of the Elite Characters however you are in for a spot of luck with Foetid Virion, as they can now be taken 3 to an Elite slot in a similar way to the Necron Crypteks, giving you more space to take more fun stuff!
Death to the False Emperor is also gone! Yes, everyone forgot this rule in the heat of battle, but it was a good source of extra attacks, thankfully most units have instead been given extra attacks across the board
Inexorable Advance means that you count as stationary if you did not fall back or advance – in addition Infantry are immune to Move, Advance and Charge modifiers making anti-charge defences useless against them, and vehicles do not suffer the -1 to fire heavy weapons in engagement range!
The Death Guard also still get their Space Marine equivalent bolter rules allowing them to get the benefits of rapid fire in half range, if they stay still or if they are a terminator. In addition the Remorseless rule lets them ignore Combat Attrition modifiers.
Disgustingly Resilient has had a big change in that it now reduces the damage of an attack rather than being a 5+ wound shrug – this makes you much more susceptible to Damage 1 weapons, but is actually a net improvement against damage 2 shots. I have a feeling that this will be folded into the Nurgle Daemon rules too, which will be interesting to see as Plague Bearers currently wouldn’t get a benefit from it.
Contagions of Nurgle is a new ability held by the majority of the army that dishes out a -1 Toughness aura – this aura increases in range as the game continues up to Turn 4 giving most of your army a 9″ -1 T aura, which is rather brutal! Your Warlord also gets an additional aura of his own based on which Plague Company you select. It’s worth pointing out that you must take a Plague Company when you construct your army (Though in theory different detachments could have different companies) Each of these companies gives you access to a unique stratagem, a new contagion for your Warlord (This replaces their warlord trait however, so you will have to weigh up the benefits!) and an optional relic – here are the available Plague Companies:
These are the 1st Company represented by hordes of poxwalkers, and their strat allows a unit of poxwalkers to reroll all hits, which is pretty good! The Warlord trait is interesting, it is pretty much a reworking of some of the old Death guard auras, dishing out mortal wounds in the enemy movement phase. Finally their relic allows you to give an objective marker contagion, making it a -1 toughness node, or even a mortal wound vendor when combined with the above warlord trait.
This company have a stratagem which reduces enemy charge rolls by two, the warlord trait is a contagion that improves friendly AP and a relic that restores wounds when you destroy a model – these all seem good options!
Another excellent choice with some brilliant options, a 1CP strat allows any number of friendly units within 3″ of a friendly model that has been charged to heroically intervene (Careful charging these guys!). The Warlord trait is fantastic, anything within range of this contagion cannot overwatch, Set to Defend or reroll and hits or wounds! Now, this is just on your Warlord, but by the end of the game that becomes a large bubble in which your opponent will find it difficult to counter your attacks! Their Relic allows the wielder to reroll all hits and wounds too!
This is the psyker heavy faction, the Strat gives a Psyker an additional power and allows them to reroll a psychic test once per psychic phase, their relic increases the range of splash wounds for casting on a 7+ and their warlord trait adds a contagaion that makes any hits of 6 auto wound.
These are the Daemon engine specialists and their abilities reflect this, their strat is ace – not only does it allow daemon engines to shoot blast weapons in engagement range, they also get +1 to hit! Can see some really fun lists with aggressive mortars and defilers with this! The relic allows you to give a daemon engine a 4+ invulnerable save, and their warlord trait is a contagion that reduces leadership and increases combat attrition. Really like these and can see some fun siege lists here!
This faction has a stratagem that increases the range of your auras, a contagion that reduces movement and a rather nasty manreaper as a relic – some fun bits, but dont feel these are the strongest.
Mortarion’s Chosen Sons
Finally we have the plague weapon specialists, these have a strat that increases plague belchers, plaguespurt gauntlets and plague spewers to D2, their contagion removes the benefit of cover and they get a super plague sprayer as a relic.
In addition to the strats granted by the above Plague companies, the Death Guard also get a stack of stratagems that are available to any company. There’s some really fun stuff here from such as;
Trench Fighters – At the end of the fight phase each Plague Marine with plague knives can make an extra attach with it – this is on top of the additional attack they have already gained in their new rules!
Mutant Strain – This buffs poxwalkers with a chance of doing damage to them, each hit of 6 does a mortal wound on top of any other damage, however each hit of1 does a mortal wound to the poxwalkers at the end of the fight (Though they could potentially shrug this as we will see later!)
The Dead walk Again – Brings back Poxwalkers in the command phase! perfect for a poxwalker heavy Typhus army
Disgusting Force – Increases the damage of the Plagueburst mortar to 3 and does splash mortal wounds to units near the target!
Flash Outbreak – Now this one is great as it allows you to pass the Plague Company contagion from your warlord onto another of your units and they also count the contagion as being one turn higher for the purposes of the aura
Continuing from the character upgrades seen in the Space Marine codex, the Death Guard can pay points to give upgrades to the characters and unit champions – and while named characters cannot take them, I absolutly love the fact that you can for example give your Deathshroud champion an upgrade giving each hit of a 6 an additional hit, or why not make each wound of 6 cause a mortal wound on top? These upgrades cost between 10 and 20 points and are a nice way of using any “spare” points left by giving your units a couple of buffs!
They also don’t count as relics, so you can combine them on your non-named characters too!
The Death Guard get access to a list of 6 Warlord Traits from which you can pick
This is the old Disgustingly Resilient – a 5+ shung against losing wounds!
This is an amazing ability – every enemy unit within 3″ cannot be affected by aura abilities from their army, no rerolls, no shenanigans, nothing! This is such a good ability and can cause so many headaches for the enemy, especially when it is on a Daemon Primarch scything his way through their lines…
This adds 1 to the warlord’s wounds and makes them only able to be wounded on a 4+
This has been tweaked a little, it is now a 6″ aura that lets you reroll wounds on plague weapons, but for ranged weapons the target needs to be within 12″ too
Makes your Warlord a bit of a tank, it improves their toughness by 1 and makes any attacks of Ap 1 or 2 allocated to them count as 0
Not the greatest, at the end of your movement phase each unit within 6″ takes a single mortal wound on a 4+ I feel there are better options here!
Now, the named characters have to take a specific trait, Typhus gets Harbingers Contagion aura causing mortal wounds in the enemy movement phase, but Mortarion gets Revoltingly Resiliant, Living Plague AND Arch-Contaminator. Wow, just wow! I feel this makes Mortarion a real must take in this book due to how good these traits make him!
The Death guard also 9 Relics they can give to a character, again we have some old favourites returning with a few new ones!
Reaper of Glorious Entropy
This is a brilliant Manreaper that does additional mortal wounds for each wound of 6
Plague Skull of Glothila
A one use item that does a splash of mortal wounds – too situational for my liking
This is an interesting item that makes an enemy unit unable to fall back on a 2+ for the rest of the game – good for getting a threat tied up by all the poxwalkers in the world
Gives the bearer an additional 3″ on their aura abilities – pretty good option for some characters
Gives a caster an additional psychic power and a once per battle heal
A Tallyman only relic that gives him an aura giving core units exploding hits with ranged weapons, feel this would be good in a Plague Marine heavy force combined with some of the other buffs you can throw out
This essentially gives the Foul Blightspawn his old rules back (he now only selects a single model to fight last) in making all units within 6″ unable to fight first regardless of special rules
2+ save and if you wound him you take a mortal wound on a 2+
A really scary +2s AP-3 Dam2 sword that counts each model killed as 2 for combat attrition, good combined with some of the leadership and attrition manipulation abilities in the book
The Death Guard get their own psychic discipline in the form of the Contagion Discipline!
Miasma of Pestilence
Gives a unit -1 to hit when shot at
Gift of Contafion
A nice debuff that reduces a target unit’s Strength by 1, and also reduces their attack characteristic on a cast of 8+
Nice horde unit stripper – roll a dice for each model, every 6 is a mortal wound – on a cast of 9+ each 5 is also a mortal wound!
Very good power, increases a target infantry unit by +1 Strength and Toughness, T6 Plague Marines anyone?
Curse of the Leper
This can be good if you can get units within your contagion bubble – roll 7 dice, each one over your target’s toughness causes a mortal wound – use on elite low toughness units like Eldar to upset anyone with pointy ears.
Gift of Plagues
If you want to really upset the above mentioned Eldar then this power adds 6″ to your contagion giving you an impressive aura of -1 T
The Death Guard have had quite a few changes across their rules, so let’s take a look at what has changed compared to the previous book and see how they stack up now!
Death Guard Daemon Prince
The trusty Daemon Prince has had a points cut, been given 2 extra attacks and his sword is now a lot better with extra strength and AP. You now can only give him wings or a Plague Spewer with the wings now only increasing his movement to 10. As a Lord of the Death Guard he now has a 6″ reroll hits of 1 aura that only affects Core units. He is also in competition for that precious one Lord of the Death Guard slot per detachment!
Typhus has had some big changes, he is now faster at movement 5 and has a base 6 attacks, his armour still gives him a 4+ inv save but no longer affects his movement! When using his manreaper you can now choose between two different profiles for 6 powerful attacks or 12 weaker ones. Interestingly his “pistol” has gone and has been replaced with an aura that does mortal wounds to a unit in the command phase. Finally his Poxwalker buff now only increases their Strength, not their Toughness
Death Guard Chaos Lord / DG Chaos Lord (Terminator Armour)
These are now fully fledged Death Guard getting Disgustingly Resilient, extra toughness and the Lord of the Death guard keyword and aura.
Lord of Virulence
The new kid on the block improves the AP of nearby core units on a wound of 6 in addition to his reroll 1s, which is cool but I feel he is again fighting for the precious Lord of the Death Guard slot, and may struggle to see the tabletop because of that.
Lord of Contagion
Faster and more attacks than he previously had, but no longer has mortal wound auras, instead he has a bigger contagion aura, he also gets a new grenade with 3D3 shots!
Death Guard Sorcerer in Terminator Armour
His non Terminator equivalent is gone, but this guy gets the Death guard treatment with extra toughness and relevant abilities and keywords
His staff now has an extra pip of strength and his extra mortal wounds on a cast of 7+ is now a 12″ range, other than that no major changes!
Some big changes here, now 2 wounds and an extra attack each. Unit options are now based on what is in the box, so one of each weapon type for every 5 models. The Icon of the despair now causes a mortal wound of a 4+ for each unit in engagement range at the morale phase, they also get a Sigil of Decay that makes any bolt weapon hit of 6 auto wound for the unit, this is a great little 10 point upgrade! Core unit
Death Guard Cultists
No real changes other than the relevant new Death Guard keywords – they are NOT core so not affected by lots of auras in the army
the trusty Poxwalkers have got better with a WS of 4+ a Toughness of 4 and a 6+ wound shrug! this makes them great tarpits, and they still get models back for each that they kill making them really hard to shift. They still ignore morale tests so will never be affected by combat attrition either. Great unit at 5 points each, especially if you have Typhus to buff them further. They cannot do any actions (Except for the Darth Guard Specific “Spread the Sickness”) however so don’t bank on them for all objectives, they are also not Core
Has changed a little now giving +1 Move and Advance to Core Units and Elite Characters within 6″ sadly this means he cant speed up Poxwalkers or HQ options any more. He is now better used for worsening enemy combat attrition and reducing psychic cast rolls.
This guy has had a few changes too, the weapon is less spiky now simply being S7 and is damage 2 with a 12″ range, his stink has also changed somewhat now allowing him to select 1 enemy unit within 3″ to fight last
Couple of changes here, his Blight Racks make nearby units grenades Ap1 and Damage 2, which is pretty fun, he can now also make a friendly Core unit cause mortal wounds on a wound of 6 in close combat in addition to any other damage
The Tallyman has a fun new ability that gives a Core unit within 6″ +1 to hit for a turn, his Seven Fold Chant has also changed, simply giving him a command point on a 2D6 roll of 7+ each turn
I really like this guy now, he can heal D3 wounds to a wounded Bubonic Astartes model each turn and gives all Bubonic Astartes units within 3″ a 6+ wound shrug. It may not be the old 5+ Disgustingly Resilient, but this is as close as you can get in the book for your infantry units!
The Blightlords have lost their Aura of Rust and their weapon options are based on kit contents, so 1 in 5 can have each weapon option. Contrary to some rumours going around still have a 4+ inv save. Core unit so affected by most buffs.
Have lost their old bodyguard rule, instead they work like the Necron Murder Buckets making any character with 9 or less wounds untargettable – no more taking hits for Mortarion! Can still be useful for making it impossible to shoot your supporting buffing characters like the Plague Surgeon. They are also a Core unit
Few little tweaks, Crazed has gone and is replaced with a reroll wounds of 1 ability when he starts taking wounds, it also reduces damaged suffered by 1 (Interestingly this is the same ability as Disgustingly Resilient, but a different wording, making this useable in the Chaos Space Marine codex). Core unit
Death Guard Possessed
Much improved with 4 attacks each, Toughness 5 and disgustingly resilient. Core unit
Now have 2D3 attacks and a -1 Leadership aura
They have lost their fog ability that granted them a -1 to hit aura, but have gained WS, BS, Wounds and Attacks making them much more reliable now!
They no longer have a degrading profile and also boast improved WS BS and A, they also show some weapon improvements with the mower now giving them a fairly mental 12 attacks in total!
Like the other Daemon Engines the Crawler now hits on a 3+ and the Mortar is also now more reliable with a flat 2 damage, the Entropy cannons now do D3 +3 given them a spike in effectiveness too! It’s worth noting that all the Daemon engines have the Contagions keyword too, so are also handing out your -1 Toughness aura
Chaos Land Raider / Predators / Rhino
Have lumped these together as no major changes outside of smoke becoming a strat and both weapon options of the Predator becoming different Datasheets allowing you to take 6 Predators in your army if you want!
As with other Daemon engines the Defiler has had a general improvement with better WS, BS and more Attacks! The main cannon is also now damage 3, which would be very tasty using the earlier mentioned ability to fire it in engagement range!
The Primarch of the Death Guard is back and looking great, his Toughness and Attacks have increased and Silence now does a more reliable D3+3 damage allowing Morty to put out an absolute truck load of damage. It’s not all buffs though, with The Lantern being reduced to a range of 12 and his re-roll hits ability affecting a single Core or Character unit. He still has the Lord of the Death Guard area though so will be rerolling 1s to hit for Core units in 6″. His contagion abilities always count as being in the 4th battle round meaning he starts with a 9″ -1 Toughness bubble. But that’s not all, he can pick any of the Plague company specific contagions to take for himself regardless of which company your army is from! Personally I’d go for Mortarion’s Anvil one to shut down any overwatch, then have a field day chucking a Daemon Primarch at terrified units! Dont forget he gets 3 Warlord Traits too including a 5+ wound shrug, a 3″ bubble shutting down all auras and wound re-rolls for plague weapons. I feel he is the best unit in the book, but still needs to be careful against things such as the Nightbringer!
Finally, we have the new Scenery piece for the Death Guard. I really like this model and really want to like its rules, but for 75 points I’m struggling to fit it in any list. Essentially it acts as a forward contagion node giving you a 9″ -1 Toughness bubble out on the battlefield, It also gives Deathguard Light Cover or -1 to hit if they already are in cover. It has a weapon but at 6″ range I can’t see anyone getting anywhere close to it! Certainly some cool rules, but I feel its a tad too expensive for what it does. A couple on objectives in the midground could be an option, but that’s eating into your already tight points.
One of the things that we have enjoyed the most about this edition of the game is Crusade, in which you create a force and tell their story over a series of games, gaining upgrades, experience and telling deeds of your heroic acts! Codex Death Guard keeps up his standard with some really fun Crusade content! You can decide to give your characters a Chaos Boon instead of granting them a battle honour, leaving the results of their fate to Nurgle himself! You get to roll on a D333 chart with everything from +3 movement to +1 Toughness available and no poor results. However there is a downside, and if you get the same result twice then you will get turned into a Chaos Spawn!
Chaos is fickle! Equally though, gather enough boons and you can choose to spend a requisition point to ascend your character to Daemonhood!
As part of your Crusade force you also get to craft your own disease, with it’s own Vector, Infection and Terminus. Over the course of your Crusade campaign your disease will mutate and evolve into a weapon and vital part of your army!
I love content like this as it really allows you to capture the narrative of your force with a developing story that will evolve between games. This should be something that is further expanded in the Plague Purge Crusade supplement that is hopefully not too far behind this Codex!
So what do I think of the latest Death Guard Codex? A lot of units and even core army rules have changed, so it’s going to take some games to get a true feel for how they will affect the game. On the whole however I do feel that the Death guard come out of this for the better and it seems a fairly balanced book. I was not originally convinced with the changes to Disgustingly Resilient, however Plague Marines increased toughness (And ways to get them to S6) the reduced damage will make it really hard to kill them, this combined with the Plague Surgeon giving them a 6+ shrug still means that if you are lucky you can still get some fluke saves and keep the unit standing even under massed fire.
Contagions are a fun new mechanic, though outside of a stratagem it is a shame the really interesting ones are tied to your Warlord – that said, I can see a lot of people bringing Mortarion as their Warlord as he is certainly very tasty and gives you a resilient (daemonically so!) platform from which to lunch your contagions into the thick of the enemy army.
Daemon engines have also had a great boost in this book, which I fully approve as they are gorgeous models that always previously tended to struggle hitting on 4s
The one thing that may rub people up the wrong way is the restriction to Lords of the Death Guard being 1 per detachment. This will mean people running multiple Daemon Princes are going to have to either take additional detachments or rework their armies somewhat – I see the logic from a lore point of view, but fear that limited HQ options may make this difficult in practice with the lack of a lieutenant level character, and I’m very surprised the new Lord of Virulence didn’t fill this niche, as he would have been the perfect option!
The book really captures the narrative feeling of the Death Guard, and to me that is a sign of a great Codex. this is especially true in the Crusade content, and I can’t wait to see the unravelling story as my Plague Company begin to make their mark on the galaxy
Codex Death Guard is up for pre-order today and is released 23/01/2021
Games Workshop provided Sprues & Brews a copy for review purposes.
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