PLAYING SLAANESH IN COMPETITIVE 40K

When the eldar fell, the universe fell with them. The void shook in pain and, where there had been order and peace, chaos and destruction came. Doomed by their own arrogance, most of the eldar race died at The Fall. But from death, new life arose: Slaanesh, the Dark Prince, god of rapture and excess!!!

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I’m a huge Slaanesh fan, I’ve been for a while. I mean, what’s not to like? A mix of metal, murder, sex, drugs and BDSM in the grimdark setting of the 41st millennium? Sign me in! But the problem is I’m also into competitive 40k, and Slaanesh has been quite underwhelming since the dawn of the 8th edition. Sure, noise marines were cool, the Slaanesh-only CSM stratagem, endless Cacophony, was great, or even a Daemon Prince with the Intoxicating Elixir. But you couldn’t make a good army out of it, not when Chaos has access to powerhouses like Bloodletter bombs, Ahriman and TS princes, immortal plaguebearers, etc…

But through this past week, with the new releases, I’ve been experimenting with a Mono-Slaanesh list, with pretty good results to my surprise. So I thought I could share my conclusions to help all the repressed Slaanesh fans out there.

FINDING A LOST GOD

The first thing you should think about is “Why should I play mono-Slaanesh?” Until basically Wednesday there was little to no reason outside liking the fluff or the models, but now Slaanesh fulfills a role in competitive 40k as a character spam army with quite a unique flavor.

Character spam was already a popular build among Chaos players, using Ahriman and Daemon Princes with some others hiding in a Plaguebearer blob. This has proved to be very effective, to the point it won the Adepticon, so when I saw the rules for Syll’Esske and The Epitome of Slaanesh, I knew I was going to try a similar approach.

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THE TOOLS OF TORTURE

Once you know what the army is about, you need to choose the right tools to play it, which basically can be drawn from the Chaos Daemons and Chaos Space Marines codices (I don’t think Renegades and Heretics bring much to this kind of build), so next I’ll review the most relevant units for pure Slaanesh armies.

A note on inter-faction buffs: many units among the chaos books share the DAEMON keyword and, as such, many buffs and abilities target them. It’s very important to remember that per the actual FAQs you can’t use stratagems from the Chaos Daemon codex on units from any other codex, but every other buff works across factions. This means that for example you can’t deep strike an Heretic Astartes Daemon Prince with the Denizens of the Warp Stratagem, but he does get a +1S from a nearby herald or can advance and charge if in the range of a Locus of Swiftness.

Syll’Esske

Best unit in the army? Very possibly. At 30 points more than a TS winged daemon prince he trades flying, psychic powers and resiliency for easily more than twice the offensive potential and more utility. He’ll basically be the lynchpin of your assaults, as he can debuff enemy melee threats to oblivion and then hack them to pieces.

The Contorted Epitome

Another substitute for a DP, this time only 15 points more expensive. They’re better psykers, hit harder (a lot harder) and bring more utility, but again they’re a tad weaker and also they don’t have such a broad selection of powers, so you will end with redundancy if you bring three of them along Syll. Still, very powerful overall, specially because of the synergies available which I´ll explain later.

Daemon Prince of Slaanesh

Plainly worse than the Thousand Sons version, but still pretty great, as they hit just as well and the Dark Hereticus discipline is really good. They also get buffed by your daemon characters, meaning that they’ll be S8 most of the time between others. Finally, they’re your main source of flying threats, meaning you’ll rely on them to down enemy aircraft and to assault over screens (both yours and your opponent’s).

The Masque of Slaanesh

A cheapish support character, the Masque provides area buffs. The +1 to hit will only help against armies with modifiers in melee, as all your big assault threats already hit on a 2+, but the -1 to hit against nearby DAEMONETTES helps a lot since both Syll and the mirror have that keyword, and because they have character protection against shooting, melee is one of their main vulnerabilities.

Lord Discordant on Helstalker

Two weeks ago I wouldn’t bother mentioning the Lord Discordant, as we all know that a 12 wounds character is doomed to die. However, in the new Big FAQ they added a little entry that mostly passed unnoticed stating that Legion Traits affect every unit with the CHARACTER keyword, not just infantry and Daemon Princes. This means Lord Discordants can now benefit from the -1 to hit of Alpha Legion which, coupled with their high movement, being able to run and charge near a character with Locus of Swiftness, cover in turn one with the Prepared Positions strat and other defensive buffs like Cursed Earth or Benediction of Darkness, means at least one should survive to charge your enemy if you run three.

Chaos Space Marines

What I sadly believe to be our best troop options, the CSM of which I’ve spoken so badly in the past are back, not because they’ve been buffed, but because cultists have been nerfed and in the case of Slaanesh Daemonettes are just sad. The thing is marines are pretty difficult to get rid of with their -1 to hit from Alpha Legion and 2+ save in cover, making them very resilient to mortars and the likes, and because of it they’re actually decent at controlling objectives.

Noise Marines

Great for removing chaff, very thematic and they shoot even if they die, making for a really useful unit that isn’t too expensive to run. With VotLW and Endless Cacophony a big unit can basically wipe enemy screens for your melee threats to charge what they must, and they’re also very resilient against small arms fire for the same reason regular Marines are.

Havocs

With the right buffs this unit can be one of the most damaging in the whole game if kitted out with 4 Reaper Chaincannons. VotLW+ Warpsight Plea + nearby CL/DP + Endless Cacophony will be devastating, and you’re very likely to pull it off because a) they can get a -2 to hit 2+ save with Alpha Legion, Benediction of Darkness and cover and b) thanks to the Devastation Battery detachment they have an stratagem to shoot in your opponent’s turn if they don’t get the first one. They also mitigate their 24” range with the fact they usually want to shoot screens and can move 9” before starting with the AL strat, meaning their only true weakness is the huge amount of resources they need to be used at maximum efficiency, needing many CP and support characters, but they can be more than worth it if used right.

Of course there are more units you can take when making Slaanesh lists, mainly support characters like Sorcerers, Dark Apostles or Masters of Possessions that will be of great use in most lists, and maybe other units like Chaos Bikers, Greater Possessed or Chaos Rhinos, but the above are the ones I’ve had more success with.

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THE SLAANESH COCKTAIL

Once we know what our list should do and the units we have to do it, we need to mix them in a way they work. I’ve found two main ways to do this:

 

Slaanesh Rush

Deviating more from traditional chaos lists, the key for this list to work is using three Lord Discordants and many fast characters behind to slam into the enemy as fast as possible and shred them to pieces. This concept has a couple weakness that must be addressed, though.

First it needs to charge your enemy true threats really fast, so screens need to be removed for it to work properly. Havocs are probably the best answer for it, though noise marines can also be used.

It will also struggle against shooting-heavy armies that can destroy the Lord Discordants before they get there, and there’s not much you can do about that other than making sure you bring your defense buffs (Prepared Positions make Discordants save on a 1+) and use terrain to your advantage. And even if the three of them die, if the rest of your characters survive and charge it should be enough to cripple most armies.

Overall this is an extremely aggressive build that will work best in team tournaments where it can pick pairings so it doesn’t play against pure gunlines. Here is an example list:

Battalion Detachment – Chaos Space Marines (Alpha Legion)

  • Specialist detachment: Soulforged Pack

Lord Discordant on Helstalker

  • Field Commander: Master of the Soulforges

Lord Discordant on Helstalker

Lord Discordant on Helstalker

5x Chaos Space Marines

5x Chaos Space Marines

5x Chaos Space Marines

Battalion Detachment – Chaos Space Marines (Alpha Legion)

  • Specialist detachment: Devastation Battery

Chaos Lord

  • Gifts of Chaos: Daemon’s Eye (depends on pairing)

Dark Apostle

  • Prayers to the Dark Gods: Benediction of Darkness, Blissful Devotion, Dark Zealotry

5x Chaos Space Marines

5x Chaos Space Marines

5x Chaos Space Marines

2x Dark Disciples

5x Havocs

  • 4x Reaper Chaincannons

Supreme Command Detachment – Chaos Daemons (Slaanesh)

Syll’Esske

  • Warlord: Bewitching Aura
  • Slaanesh Discipline: Delightful Agonies, Symphony of Pain

The Contorted Epitome

  • The Forbidden Gem
  • Slaanesh Discipline: Hysterical Frenzy, Symphony of Pain

The Contorted Epitome

  • Slaanesh Discipline: Phantasmagoria, Symphony of Pain

The Contorted Epitome

  • Slaanesh Discipline: Cacophonic Choir, Symphony of Pain

Total Points: 1999 Total CP: 10

 

Slaanesh Fest

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More similar to traditional chaos soups but with a very unique flavour, this consist of a more balanced army that will work better as an all-comers list. In this occasion instead of the Lord Discordants you take a 20-man unit of AL space or noise marines to be used as a screen for the characters.

While at first this seems like a bad idea, almost laughable, in practice there’s basically no army in the game that can get rid of it in a turn, which is all you need. Defensively it boasts T4, immunity to multiple damage because they have 1 wound each, 3+ save (that gets to 2+ save in cover using Prepared Positions), -2 to hit due to Alpha Legion and mandatory Benediction of Darkness from a Dark Apostle and if you go first you can cast Delightful Agonies for a 5+++. This makes them almost invulnerable to small-arms fire, and you should gladly see them die when your opponent wastes anti-armour shots on them, which are never enough in number to kill the whole unit.

Mobility isn’t an issue either as, thanks to Alpha Legion, they can move 9” before the first turn, which coupled with their regular move is more than enough to not hamper your mirrors and princes, and it can even Warptime if necessary, though usually you’ll want them more than 12” away from the enemy for the -1 to hit.

If you pay the extra points for them to be Noise Marines you’ll also get a way to get rid of screens, which will work even when they die thanks to Music of the Apocalypse.

So basically with this list you take control of the midfield on turn 1 with a really tough unit, and start launching assaults from there from turn 2 onward with your crazy melee characters.

While of course still better against melee armies, this build should fare better in case you see yourself at the other side of a gunline, and as such I recommend it more for singles tournaments. And the example list:

Battalion Detachment – Chaos Space Marines (Alpha Legion)

Daemon Prince with Wings

  • Dark Hereticus: Warptime

Dark Apostle

  • Prayers to the Dark Gods: Benediction of Darkness, Blissful Devotion, Dark Zealotry

Sorcerer

  • Dark Hereticus: Death Hex, Delightful Agonies

5x Chaos Space Marines

5x Chaos Space Marines

5x Chaos Space Marines

2x Dark Disciples

20x Noise Marines

  • 19x Sonic Blaster

Battalion Detachment – Chaos Daemons (Slaanesh)

Syll’Esske

  • Warlord: Bewitching Aura
  • Slaanesh Discipline: Pavane of Slaanesh

The Masque of Slaanesh

10x Daemonettes

10x Daemonettes

10x Daemonettes

Supreme Command Detachment – Chaos Daemons (Slaanesh)

The Contorted Epitome

  • The Forbidden Gem
  • Slaanesh Discipline: Hysterical Frenzy, Symphony of Pain

The Contorted Epitome

  • Slaanesh Discipline: Phantasmagoria, Symphony of Pain

The Contorted Epitome

  • Slaanesh Discipline: Cacophonic Choir, Symphony of Pain

Total Points: 1999 Total CP: 14

 

DOMINATING ASSAULT

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Through the article you might have noticed I usually take as a given that if you reach combat you will win, but if you stop to look at the datasheets of the units I’ve mentioned you’ll see that, even though they all have brutal CC profiles, it isn’t that amazing. However the irony of Slaanesh armies is that they don’t win combats because they hit hard (even though they do), they win because of how survivable they become once locked and the shenanigans they can pull off. First of all The Masque can provide a -1 to hit to your key characters (Syll and the mirrors), and then with the Aura of Acquiescence any character can broadcast an aura of -1 attack. If you use Syll’Esske as your warlord (or give another character the Bewitching Aura WT) that’s another -1 attack. And finally if you can cast Simphony of Pain on the unit that’s attacking you it’ll have another -1 to hit. That’s potentially -2 to hit and -2 attacks, enough for your apparently squishy units to simply bounce off most melee units in the game.

But it doesn’t end there. Once a mirror gets into combat, it’ll stay there, as enemy units need to roll less than their leadership on 3d6 to fall back from them. The average of 3d6 is 10.5, and you can lower ld in area with the power Phantasmagoria. The only shame  is they don’t get FLY to auto kill aircraft.

You want me to go on? Because it still gets better, really better. When the Chaos Daemons codex came out, there already was a small wave of Slaanesh hype and many crazy combos were tested and shared on the internet, and one of the things that caused more impression was the fact that one of Slaanesh exclusive stratagems, Locus of Grace, triggered additional attacks with a weapon profile on 6s to wound, meaning that when used on units with Steeds of Slaanesh each 6 triggered multiple attacks since the weapon profile states that the weapon makes multiple attacks. Of course, soon enough everyone realized that units with Steeds were really bad, like pretty much the whole Slaanesh section of the codex, and the idea was soon forgotten to oblivion. Again, until Wednesday. When The Contorted Epitome got points and the Slaaneshi world changed with it. If you read the magic mirror’s profile you’ll notice it only gets 2 attacks, the other 8 are, that’s right, made in the same manner as Steeds, only that they’re heralds, meaning they’re actually relevant at S6 AP-1 (-4 on 6s) D2. So basically each time a Contorted Epitome rolls a 6 to wound with its Ravaging Claws while in the range of the Locus of Grace stratagem, it makes another full set of 8 attacks. That’s raw damage potential.

Finally, you shouldn’t forget the Quicksilver Swiftness rule, which basically means that you’ll always count as charging for activation order purposes, combining surprisingly well with your defensive buffs as not only you’ll make units hit less, but sometimes they won’t hit at all because you’ll kill them before they can.

THE UGLY SIDE OF PERFECTION

The bad part of running Slaanesh competitively is that still most of our units in the Chaos Daemon codex are shit and Emperor’s Children, the Slaanesh chaos legion, is unusable as we depend a lot on Alpha Legion’s -1 to hit and scouting moves (Flawless Host could work though, as a detachment for melee character like Daemon Princes or Greater Possessed that wouldn’t benefit much from Alpha Legion anyway).

I mean, we have awesome models like the new Keeper of Secrets that have gotten worse with their update. The Fiends of Slaanesh, already a one trick pony that saw absolutely no play, now eclipsed by the arguably better ability preventing falling back of The Contorted Epitome who is better in absolutely every other aspect. Seeker Chariots, Helflayers, Lucius the Eternal, etc, etc… While I’m definitely happy because I now see myself going to a tournament with a mono-Slaanesh army, which I previously found unthinkable, I can’t help but have a sour taste in my mouth because of all those cool units left behind, specially the KoS, which they had an obvious opportunity to fix, but they’ve missed it by far.

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BREAKING THE THEME

As I get not everyone is going after playing fluffy armies or hunting the ITC best of faction award, I feel obligated to mention possible allies with which to mix the above Slaanesh units so that this is really a competitive review.

The most obvious choice about which many will have already thought of and the one that requires more meditation is swapping the weird noise marine screen with the much more familiar Plaguebearer horde. This is not a bad idea, but I actually consider it more of a sidegrade than an upgrade. On the one side they are more resilient to high AP weapons thanks to their 4+ invul (counting Warp Surge) and they always have their 5+ feel no pain save while NM need to cast a power for it, but on the other Noise Marines have a 2+ armour (counting cover), meaning they save better against small arms fire and, what is more, have a -2 to hit even if they don’t have the first turn. Also it’s important to remember NM also serve to clear screens, as well as being a screen themselves, while plaguebearers are only the later. Finally, and the reason I’ve liked marines more than plaguebearers through this past week games, is mobility. Plaguebearers move 7 and advance 1d6+1 with an Spoilpox Scrivener, but Noise Marines can scout 9” before the first turn thanks to the AL stratagem and can be targeted by Warptime to move 12”, meaning they won’t hamper the movement of your fast characters.

Apart from Plaguebearers, Chaos offers many options. Tzaangor bombs might be an effective way to apply extra pressure from the first turn, though I don’t think this build has enough points to spend on a Thousand Sons detachment. Bloodletter bombs are easier to fit though, and could fill a battalion with two units of Nurglings that offer board control and are a surprisingly efficient way to stop your characters from being targeted as they can infiltrate out of LoS but closer to the enemy. Finally I could see some renegade armigers providing some ranged anti-tank support, something Slaanesh clearly lacks, but I don’t know if they would be a target to obvious for enemy heavier weaponry.

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THE END OF THE PLAY

To conclude, I believe Slaanesh is now much more playable, even if it’s just because of two new models, but they help filling a role that previously was clearly better filled by differently marked units, giving Slaanesh an edge over the other gods.

Also I would like to note that some kind of codex, be it a renovation of Chaos Daemons or fleshing out Emperor’s Children, seems likely in the near future, so all of this might change very soon. For now though, I’ll keep perfecting the builds mentioned above!

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10 thoughts on “PLAYING SLAANESH IN COMPETITIVE 40K

  1. It’s so Sad that you consider this a pure Slaanesh army when clearly it’s a Alpha Legion list with a splash of Slaanesh. I was excited to read this article which I still think you did a good job on, but still disappointed to find out that the changes didn’t really make a full Slaanesh army viable.

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    1. Hello there! The list is indeed pure Slaanesh since Alpha Legion can still take Chaos Marks and everyone in the list has MoS. It is not Emperor’s Children, but Legion rules can be used to represent warbands whose style resembles them, and I think stealth could be the defining trait of a Slaaneshi warband with ease. Anyways thanks for the compliment, and if you prefer it you could try Emperor’s Children too with Noise Marine MSU, though I believe it would be slightly less competitive.

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  2. Good article, I’ve been trying so hard to find a way to make slaanesh viable in comp, but running the usual wave play style just wasn’t working.
    The new keeper I think is pretty ehh, not really worth the 240 points considering bolt guns wound it on a 5+ and all it gets is a 5+ invul save.. its still very squishy.

    I need to try out the contorted epitome! It sounds pretty legit when you explain it the way you did, Also even giving it the herald only relic means it can wound anything on a 4+ and ignore its armor, which can make quick work of tanks.

    I’ve tried using fiends, and as cool as they are, they still just die so easily with T4 and only a 5++

    Keep in mind though I’ve been testing this out in small games like 1000 points against a few mates with different armies. So can only really speak for smaller sized games.

    Im thinking the way to go for 1k might be a contorted epitome, masque, and like 3×10 demonettes to fill the battalion out, then a patrol with a winged dp and a big noise marines unit. Not sure on the points but It could be a start for bigger sized games.

    Anyways thanks for this! Really opened my mind to different things and also reinforced my thoughts on how shit a lot of the units really are xD Thank you! aha

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    1. I don’t think Slaanesh would work as fine in such small games as you really need a lot of stuff for sinergies to work, though it is true you’d get exposed to less firepower. For your list I’d try to make the CSM detachment a battalion and the daemon one a patrol (or supreme command), since Daemonettes have let me down each time I try them…

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  3. Very nicely done sir. You might want to include the fact that some of the best Lord DIscordants are Flawless Legion (for extra attacks on 6’s) with Intoxicating Elixer(s?) (+1S & +1A) with one being the Warlord with the Utimate Confidance warlord trait (each extra attack generates 3 attacks).

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    1. While I’ll surely mention them in the second part since they’re even seeing some tournament play, I like Alpha Legion better for pure Slaanesh. The reason being pretty simple, when you run pure Slaanesh the last thing you’re going to feel lacking in hitting power, you’ll most likely have too much offensive capabilities indeed, while lacking in the defensive aspect, and thus Alpha Legion being better to mitigate your weakness. However I agree in mixed chaos lists FH disco lords can be amazing.

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  4. Interesting stuff, just the kind of content I was looking for.

    Although I am not a very competitive player I was leaning towards a similar list concept (Alpha Legion + Slaanesh Daemons). A 15-man Possessed unit with a Master of Possession, a Greater Possessed on the Daemonkin Ritualists detachment plus a Dark Apostle and a Sorcerer with Jump Pack. All the Slaanesh Daemons HQ in a Supreme Command detachment. Some Fiends, havocs and a Slaanesh DP.

    My main questions right now… Summoning a big blob of Daemonettes turn 1 is not viable? With the MoP psiquic power you could lock them turn 1 and use all the synergies from the Slaanesh HQ.

    This list would offer a low CP count… could a Slaanesh Batallion work? I know Daemonettes are not super good but you would need the CP for the AL stratagem and potential

    Again, I am not super competitive, just looking for a thematic list that can put some damage on close combat as fast as possible – that¡s why I would like to summon and lock as many units in combat in turn 1: the big Daemonettes blob + fiends + possessed with Warptime and forward operatives and the HQ behind for the buffs and a potential second round charge. Do you think it can work?

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    1. If you’re not going for a very competitive approach you sure can try summoning, but you must be aware it depends on too many factors to be reliable at all. First you need to manifest the power, then your opponent must not deny it or use any stratagems to stop powers, then you have to roll high enough to summon a big unit and lastly you need to roll the 8″ charge (considering you take an instrument). I think it’s easier to simply DS them in turn 2 if you insist on running daemonettes.
      I always take one or two battalions because chaos in general is CP hungry, but always as CSM detachments with cultists and Marines. I find daemonettes to be quite useless in small units and too much of an investment for what they do in big ones.
      If you like the Daemonkin Ritualists detachment I would focus more into Greater Possessed than regular ones though, since they’re great beatsticks for their price and have character protection, then you would only need a good screen to cover them and other characters, which Alpha Legion does pretty easily by stacking it’s -1 to hit with Benediction of Darkness from a Dark Apostle.
      Hope that was an useful answer and good luck playing with the worse (but best) chaos god!

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