My Tactics pledge: I am not the greatest player, nor a seal pup. I will endeavor to speak from my experience and always be honest about what is theory and what is play tested. Never will I assume to know better than anyone else... unless I must call out ego or pretension.
MEQ players often get too accustomed to power armor; it is imperative to remember Cultists are squishy, hide and protect Cultists when need be.
There are typically two schools when it comes to a unit like Cultists.
- Go MSU and Reserve
- Go Blob and Hold
Both of these strategies do work, but is there another way?
Firstly, let us look at what Cultists have to offer.
Three things stand out when it comes to Cultists.
- Cheap only 4 pts
- Max unit size 35
- Can take Marks
Cultists give Chaos Space Marines a cheap scoring unit they always lacked. Starting at 50 pts Cultists are only 10 pts more than Gretchin. This is a critical change from 5th edition where Chaos Space Marines only had expensive scoring units. This gives so much flexibility to creating lists. Comparing to a Plague Marine 5th ed list, just one replacement Cultist unit instantly frees up around 200 pts. That sort of freedom allows players to explore other unit options in the codex without being forced to have another expensive scoring unit.
The ability to take 35 Cultists also opens up new opportunities. At only 150 that is one big scoring squad, add in 3 Flamers (165 pts) and you have something truly dangerous. The biggest problem with the Cultist blob is no Fearless (Icon of Vengeance). That means you have to wager the worth of attaching an expensive Fearless HQ with the unit.
--Mark my Bitch up--
Cultists can take Marks as well, but you run into the similar problem as Chaos Space Marines. If you take Mark of Khorne or Mark of Nurgle your cheap Cultists instantly becomes the same price as a Ork Boy. Can you say with a straight face, having either of those marks make Cultists better than a Ork Boy?
Then you have Mark of Tzeentch...nevermind.
That leaves you with Mark of Slaanesh which when you think about is the best choice. 5 pt Cultists go before Ork Boyz and the same time as Space Marines in assault. I rather have my Cultists at least get a few swings in before dying; unlike having Mark of Khorne where there is no guarantees. Add a little Hysterical Frenzy psychic power and watch out!
--What about the other options?--
The Autogun replacement should be free, so don't waste your points. Heavy Stubber would make sense at str 5, but a glorified Bolter is not worth 5 extra points. What about the Shotgun on the champion?!? That leaves us with the Flamer a MUST buy if you run large squads. Three Flamers can cut down a Ork Boyz squad and leave it small enough to run over. They also provide auto hits when being charged.
Let me make a special note about the Cultist Champion. He is really important. Large Cultist squads can break many units, but it requires your Champion to sacrifice (Challenge) itself to an Independent Character. They are the cheapest character in the game throw them to the wolves accordingly.
--Brains...Brains...Brains...-- (as it has been pointed out it looks like according to RAW you cannot take more than 10 zombies per squad. I think this will be FAQ)
We all know that Phil Kelly has a soft spot for Zombies so it shouldn't be a surprise that we have Plague Zombies back! You can make any Cultist unit "free" of charge a zombie, the only thing you need to do is take Typhus as a HQ. Zombies get Fearless, Feel No Pain, and Slow and Purposeful. They only have a single Close Combat Weapon for wargear and cannot get any options.
Typhus is a great HQ so you don't feel like you wasted points just to have Zombies. Still are Zombies better than normal Cultist, at first glance it seems obvious: Zombies win! What if you take a closer look?
Zombies are all about survivability. Fearless is huge! Feel No Pain not as much, because many weapons will ignore when your unit is only toughness 3. Only in cover with Feel No Pain do Zombies really shine. That means Zombies should be doing just two things: sit in one place and charging things that dare get close.
You lose a little flexibility with Zombies with only one attack and no Flamers . Zombies really cannot deal much damage and will get ground to dust by a determined opponent. But consider this: 210 Zombies are only 900 points ;)
--Ways to play Cultists--
Death Star Configuration: 200 pts 35-man Cultist unit with 3 Flamers, Mark of Slaanesh. Run with corresponding Chaos Lord for Fearless and consider a backup Sorcerer for Blessings.
Balanced Configuration: 145 pts 30-man Cultist unit with 3 Flamers. Takes losing 8 Cultists for a Leadership check. Good for protecting deployment from most out-flankers and great for dislodging lightly armored opponents.
MSU Configuration: 50 pts 10-man Cultist with no upgrades. Reserve and forget.
Horde Configuration: 150 pts 30-man Plague Zombies with no upgrades. Take Typhus and run wild. Sit behind an Aegis Defense Line and watch your opponent squirm.
Cultists are top-tier because of cost and giving so much list freedom for the rest of your Chaos Space Marine army. At least take one and consider two when ever making a list.