6th Edition Tyranid Codex Review: Swarm Lord


I realize that this post will be astonishingly similiar to my post on Hive Tyrants that I did already (as it should be, seeing as this is just a glorified tyrant), but there are going to be some differences–mostly those revolving around hive guard and psychic abilities. I’ve broken this review up into sections and tried to stick to reviewing only the things that have changed since 5th edition. That way, if you have questions on a particularly subject, you can hopefully find the answer quickly.

If you find something I’ve written in error, please let me know and I’ll change it. Likewise, if you think I’ve missed something significant, speak up and I’ll add that as well. Either way, I’ll credit you with the information.

Where possible, I tried to quote where I got each of the rules with abbreviations. These follow the format (NAME-##) where NAME is the name of the source and ## is the page number. The abbreviations I used for source names are:

  • DEX = Tyranid Codex
  • RB = 6th Edition Rulebook
  • TFAQ = Tyranid FAQ (the theory would be that I might reference other FAQ’s eventually)

Each rule should be on (or about) the page I referenced. Hopefully that helps.

That said, onto the Swarm Lord review!

Weapon Options:

Well, unlike the Tyrant, there aren’t many choices to go over here. He comes stock with 4x “Bonesabers”

  • Bonesaber: I read this entry several times over, and was alarmed when I didn’t read anything about them ignoring armor saves. It took me a minute to figure out they come on a monstrous creature (whose already at AP2), so it’s a moot point. Also, since Feel no Pain now can’t be used against these as they cause Instant Death (though it can be used against other weapons that ignore armor)(RB-35). Also remember that (and all successfull invulnerable saves must be re-rolled).

Unit Special Rules:

  • Psychic Monstrosity – Simply gives him 18″ synapse. Nothing changed here, except the value of Synpase got much better. Previously it also let him use two psychic powers per turn, but that’s now given to him with his new psychic mastery level of 2 (TFAQ 4)
  • Swarm Leader – The ability to bestow one of the following to a FRIENDLY unit (including allies… HA!) within 18″:
    • Acute Senses – (no longer available TFAQ-2) thanks to theGravemind for clarification.
    • Furious Charge – Remember that you no longer get +1I–just the +1S on the turn you charge (And you don’t even get that if you perform a multi-assault). While not as bad as Acute Senses, it isn’t as good as it used to be.
    • Preferred Enemy – This now allows you to reroll 1’s on “to-hit” and “to-wound.” At first, I didn’t think it was all that, but after seeing it in action, it’s pretty solid. If you use it on the Tyrant, you’re already hitting on 3+ to virtually everything in the game (WS9), and wounding most things on a 2+, it makes the odds of not killing what you’re in combat with pretty absurd. Also, remember that preferred enemy helps in shooting as well as assault (not that he has much in the way of shooting attacks, but you can apply it to someone within 18″ of him).
  • Alien Cunning – You get +1 to your reserve rolls while he is alove, and allows everything in your army to reroll sides when using outflank (eg. Gives them Acute Senses, without using the same name). Outflanking hasn’t changed (other than the fact that you can’t charge when arriving, so if anything, you might see less usefulness in that ability). Reserve rolls have changed though. New rules for reserves have you rolling at 3+ on turn 2, 3+ on turn 3, and automatically arrive on turn 4 (RB 124). This means, that with a swarmlord, you’ll be getting your reserves out on turns 2-3 on a 2+! (well, assuming you keep the big guy alive)

Synpase Creature:

As a synapse creature, there are a few changes that need to be noted:

  • Shadow in the Warp is now about the best psychic defense in the game (only Eldar and Space Wolves have anything to compete with it). The rules for it haven’t changed (people within 12” roll 3D6 and add them together — again thanks to theGravemind for the correction), but the rules for psychic hoods have. Keep this in mind when playing the game.
  • Fearless, which is granted to anyone within 12” of synapse,has the same upside as it used to, but the downside of taking excess wounds when losing combat is gone. Indeed, the only downside I can find for fearless is that you can’t choose to fail a morale test when you’re up against a model you can’t hurt (RB-35). Since that already existed in the previous edition, this is a clear buff to ‘Nidz as a whole.Edit: theGravemind also pointed out that going to ground can’t be performed by fearless units (which is anything in synapse range now), so that’s definitely something to consider when you’re placing your synapse around the board. I think it peculiar that synpase is now in two ways considered a detriment (going to ground, and IB). Someone should do a post on whether Synpase is necessary (or even valuable) to the Tyranid force in 6th edition.
  • Instinctive Behavior used to be something you really didn’t want to happen. This was particularly true of those units that would FEED. Since feeding simply gives the unit Rage (RB-41), feeding units are now completely under your control. You can move and run them as you see fit, but just can’t fire their guns (but they couldn’t fire in the previous edition either). Lurk however, is unaffected by the new rules edition. This is definitely something to keep in mind when you position your units with synapse.

Since rule changes for synapse got better in many regards and didn’t become worse in any way, synapse is a great set of rules for us in this edition. Also remember that the Swarm Lord has an 18″ synapse range!


Perils of the warp changed in that you can no longer make invulnerable saves against it, but otherwise is unaffected.

Deny the witch is a new ability that gives anyone targeted by a psychic power the ability to ignore it on a 6+. Enemy psykers can improve this to 5+, or 4+ if they’re of a higher mastery level than you are (Swarm lord is Mastery level 2). Psychic hoods (for defense) no longer can nullify all of your powers, but do allow their bearer to dispel if you target his friendly units within 6” of him—so keep that in mind.

New psychic powers/abilities have been classified into several categories: Blessing, Conjuration, Malediction, & Witchfire (which have several categories) (RB-69). The categories themselves are pretty much clarification, and don’t have much real bearing on the Tyranids—except to say that Broodlords won’t be able to use any Witchfire powers (because they have no BS). One thing to note is that if you arrive from reserve on a turn you can’t use Blessings, Conjurations, or Maledictions (RB-67-68).

Tyranid Psykers have access to the Biomancy, Telekinesis and Telepathy special powers decks (RB418-423). Doing so, however, will force to you “unlearn” all of the powers the unit already knows. At first glance, Biomancy seems like the best fit for the army. Telepathy also looks good, but the two best powers are only usable by the Swarmlord (since they’re Warp Charge 2) (RB-66).

I’m thinking the choices for the Swarmy are to either go with Biomancy or Telepathy. Biomancy, until you get Ironhand almost seems like a requirement (taking this guy up to S/T of 9 is pretty ridiculous), but then sneaking over to Telepathy for a shot at some of the goods there doesn’t sound bad. Of course, just loading up on Bio seemed to work pretty well for our game.

Whatever the case, it seems a requirement to ditch his natural abilities (Which are pretty good, mind you), just for a chance at the raw power of T9…

Independent Character:

Being an Independent Character grants some distinct advantages including Look Out Sir (RB-16/26/64) Leadership, Precision Shots, Precision Strikes, ability to fight in challenges (all RB-64). These give him:

  • Look Out Sir grants the ability allocate hits suffered on the character to another model in the same unit that’s with 6” of the character. This works in both shooting, and assault (except when fighting in a challenge). As an Independent character, the bonus goes up from 4+ to 2+, so this is huge.
  • Precision Shots allow you to assign the hits from shooting attacks that roll natural 6’s. This will let us pick out models like special/heavy weapons, as well as characters (who still get to Look Out Sir). Yes, he starts off with zero shooting attacks–but he does have a fairly decent chance to pick up some witchfire attacks from the psychic decks. Note: these can’t be used for snapshots.
  • Precision Strikes allow you to assign the hits from assault attacks that roll natural 6’s. This will let us pick out models like special/heavy weapons, as well as characters (who still get to Look Out Sir).
  • Challenges are a new way to snipe enemy commanders in a unit. When you charge, your characters can issue challenges to another unit, in which any other character can choose whether or not to accept. If they accept, only they can strike each other (and Look Out Sir goes by the wayside). If they decline, they can’t fight at all during the combat. This works great for high toughness characters, as they can choose to punk “hidden powerfists” and the like before they get a chance to strike back.

Wound allocation changes in this edition also grant more durability to characters that have joined units. Since there’s no rule that says characters are always a unit unto themselves, other models in base to base with the enemy can absorb wounds for them. This goes both ways though, as excess wounds done to the unit also spill onto the character.

For the record, the Swarmlord is not natively an IC, but when he joins a unit of Tyrant guard, he becomes an IC and benefits from all of the same rules (TFAQ-2). This, coupled with the fact that he confers Move through Cover to the unit he’s in (RB-40), and they extend his durability, really makes it a no-brainer to put him with guard.

One curious note here is that he’s been completely omitted from the chart in the rulebook that states what each model is (RB413), so particularly rules-lawyery people might argue that he doens’t get precision shots. The natural thing is to assume that he’s a Hive Tyrant, so he would get the same classifications as they do, but particularly prudish people might make this difficult for you. If you play with someone like that, my advice is to just stop. 😛

Monstrous Creature:

MC’s had a lot of changes in the new edition. Their new special rules include Fear, Hammer of Wrath, Move through Cover, Relentless and Smash (RB-48). I’ll go over each briefly below:

  • Fear causes a test at the start of assault, which can potentially make the opponent fight at WS1 for the combat round. It sounds good, but requires them to fail a leadership test first, so it likely won’t happen that often. When it does, it will make most of your units more durable as well as more accurate in combat. It’s a small plus, but it’s a positive change.
  • Hammer of Wrath allows you to get a free AP –, Initiative 10, hit on the turn you charge at your base strength (assuming you didn’t multi-assault). Some people are touting this as a big improvement, but it seems rather minor to me as well because it doesn’t ignore armor. A free hit at high initiative is nothing to scoff at though.
  • Move through Cover is something they had in the last edition, but it’s changed a bit. Whereas it previously just allowed you to roll an extra dice and pick the highest (which it still does), it now makes you immune to dangerous terrain tests as well. I’m a big fan of this change.
  • Relentless just allows him to move and shoot with heavy weapons and they can charge in the same turn that they fired them. This rule has no practical value in the Tyranid codex, as every weapon is already an Assault weapon.
  • Smash (verses vehicles) allows you to half of your attacks characteristic (rounding up) to strike at double your strength, and allows you to re-roll your armor penetration. Against other targets, smash counts as AP2. In total this is a mixed blessing. Essentially, they already had AP2 (although now, AP2 grants +1 to the damage roll vs. vehicles, so that’s a plus). The question winds up being if it’s better to strike half as much for twice as much strength. I haven’t done the math myself, but I’m going to guess this is going to be a slight improvement to most MC’s, as they only half their Attacks characteristic—not their total number of attacks, so things like crushing claws might prove to be a huge advantage in this edition.

They also aren’t affected by cover like they were in the previous edition as they now can receive a save for standing in area terrain, or if only 25% of the model is obscured (RB-18). This is a huge benefit to all big bugs. Some people will point out that cover saves have moved from 4+ to 5+ as a whole, but I don’t agree with them, this really only affected forests and area terrain (as well as cover granted from standing behind other units), but ruins, ruined fortifications (and presumably buildings) still all grant 4+. Additionally, nothing in the book prevents MC’s from going to ground for another +1 cover save (excepting of course, if they’re in Synapse range, and therefore fearless).

Like in the previous edition, they can still fire two weapons each shooting phases , of course each has to be fired at the same target (RB-48).

In total, I think MC’s got better with the new edition.


Swarmlords definitely got better with the new edition. I didn’t run him much in the old edition due to his points cost and lack of invulnerable save. Now that he can more easily get cover, and his general buffs, I can see myself running him more. The following upgrades I see as great (borderline “mandatory”):

  • Tyrant Guard Bodyguard – For increased durability, and inclusion of all the super rules that being an Independent Character conveys. NOTE: due to the way majority toughness rules work when wounding a unit, buying more than one of these can be a severe detriment (if you’re going to try to pursue Iron Arm). If you have 1 bodyguard and a T9 Swarmlord, everyone has to roll to wound you on T9. If, however, you have two bodyguards, they now wound the unit as if it was T6, and if he’s the closest model, the Swarmy has to take the hits. (Thanks to Cole for pointing this out)
  • Psychic Switcharoo – His stock powers are decent, but you can get most of the same powers at random from Biomancy. With four powers, you can be reasonably sure to get the one(s) you want. For that reason, I’d take Biomancy, at least until I got “Iron Arm” (but maybe stick around for “Enfeeble” & “Endurance” as well). Nothing says annoying like throwing “Feel No Pain” and “It Will Not Die” on a Toughness9 Swarmlord….

This, like the entry on Hive Tyrants, will likely count as part of the content I’ll use to create my army specific page for Hive Fleet Proteus (a failed New Year’s resolution from 2011). That’s why I’ve included pictures of my models throughout. Next up: Tervigons!

12 comments on “6th Edition Tyranid Codex Review: Swarm Lord

  1. Loved him before, love him more now…

    Swarmlord is a total battering ram, throw in some Trygon or other super threatening units and watch your opponent sweat it out when deciding which to deal with and which to let run rampant.

    I got into Nids to make a MC army, im glad 6th hasn’t mucked with this and has if anything enhanced it.

    it’s worth noting too that Iron arm adds Eternal Warrior to keep those pesky force weapons from quickly ending his rampage.

    • And Biomancy plugs another hole for Nids. Seems like that lore is specifically designed with them in mind. +d3 Strength and Toughness and Eternal Warrior is good for just about every psyker, but it’s magnified when it’s on a model with a naturally high S&T.

      Definitely a rules set that works for them a little better.

  2. How does he get 4 psychic powers? Does he automatically come with all 4 normal Hive Tyrant powers? I thought it was just 2, the same as the others.

    You say that now that monstrous creatures can get cover saves more easily, then can also go to ground for the +1, but aren’t tyranid monstrous creatures fearless, and therefore forbidden from going to ground? i.e. the same problem as bugs in synapse range?

    • Tyranid Codex p56: The very last line, it lists him as having all four of the basic Hive Tyrant powers.

      You’re right though, monstrous creatures can go to ground, but fearless (granted by synapse) prevents this. As such, the Swarmlord can never go to ground (unless there’s some wonky way to remove synapse from him), but creatures like Carnies outside of synpase range could. Or is there something I’m missing…?

  3. Two minor corrections. I believe the FAQ took out acute senses as an option completely for his ability.
    Also Shadows is add all three dice, not take the highest. That was last edition nids. haha

  4. Although you’re right in that p40 Move through cover states that if any model in a unit has it then the unit gets an extra D6, the Independent character rules p39 states in the Special Rules paragraph that his Special Rules are not conferred to the unit and vice versa. So as I understand it, he wouldn’t make Tyrant Guard have this ability, unless I’m mistaken.

    • Page 39 says “When an Independent Character joins a unit, it might have different special rules from those of the unit. Unless specified in the rule itself (as in the Stubborn special rule), the unit’s special rules are not conferred upon the lndependent Character, and the Independent Character’s special rules are not conferred upon the unit. Special rules that are conferred to the unit only apply for as long as the Independent Character is with them.”

      The example they refer to is Stubborn which simply says “When a unit contains at least one model with this special rule…”, which you’ll notice is the same wording used in “Move Through Cover.” Because of this, we play that he can give the ability to the unit.

      From a wording perspective, it seems pretty clear; however, when I take a step back for a second, I’m left wondering. It seems that virtually every rule that would effect an entire squad has that “at least one model” clause in it. If that’s the case, what purpose does the IC “Special Rules” rule serve? Perhaps it’s just to clarify that other rules (mostly codex specific — like IG orders, or DE pain tokens) don’t apply?

      If I compare it against older rules, it seems to make sense. Examples here include Logan & Tank Hunter, Lysander & Stubborn, etc. If a character didn’t convey Stubborn, what’s the purpose of having it? Granted, GW doesn’t always make sense with their rules.

      Anywho, I can see that there could be some debate here, but I think I’m going to continue playing the rule as I have. I appreciate you calling me to the carpet on it though. 🙂

      • You are absolutely right in that comment “From a wording perspective, it seems pretty clear; however, when I take a step back for a second, I’m left wondering”. Quite a lot of the rules feel like that, that they’re written in such a way that if you read them back with the exact opposite inference in your head but the same words and suddenly it is the exact opposite, like they exist in another dimension, this isn’t where they found the Higgs-Boson was it? 😉

        I’ll have to re-read everything just to try and get my head round it.

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