The 4th book in the Psychic Awakening lineup, Ritual of the Damned is par for the course as far as what we have come to expect from these supplements. The factions involved in this portion of the narrative (Dark Angels, Grey Knights, and Thousand Sons) all get a decent boost in power with new tricks, new stratagems, and new abilities.
Like other Psychic Awakening books, the new rules and abilities inside vary from “New stuff is always better since we have more options, but meh” to “This fundamentally changes how this army plays” to “These rule actually bring this faction up a tier entirely.”
Thousand Sons, much to many players’ chagrin, falls into the first bucket. Don’t get me wrong – the new Cults are fantastic, the new powers and abilities are flavorful, and bring an even more potent psychic phase to an already strong MW dealing army. However, this book does little to actually encourage bringing Thousand Sons as a pure army – the most powerful spells, stratagems, relics, and warlord traits work perfectly in the already popular (near-ubiquitous, really) Thousand Sons Supreme Command Detachments that features heavily in Chaos Soup lists.
Lets get stuck in!
Note 1: Spell ranges below reflect the Brotherhood of Sorcerer’s rule which adds 6″ to the range of spells in a pure Thousand Sons detachment. Since you have to be a pure detachment to even access the cults, you will always have that extra range.
Note 2: As of 2/10/2020 GW has released an FAQ/Errata for Ritual of the Damned, and this article has been updated to take those updates into account where noted, and ratings changed accordingly.
- Tech Galore: Thousand Sons have always been a pretty one dimensional army, but Ritual of the Damned gives them a lot of ways to change the game state to make plays:
- Much more mobility and access to deployment and infiltration shenanigans
- Even better psychic barrages and enhanced splash MW output
- Access to a Fate dice mechanic straight out of Age of Sigmar
- Abilities to alter your opponent’s psychic tests
- Straight up better versions of the Helm of Many Eyes and the Dark Matter Crystal
- Incredible MW Output: 1kSons already had one of the best psychic phases in the game, regularly dishing out upwards of 30 Mortal Wounds per turn with the right positioning and order of operations (gotta get that Gaze of Fate reroll!). With access to the Cults of the Legion, that damage potential soars even higher.
- Rise of the Rubrics: In Ritual of the Damned, there are a number of abilities and stratagems that specifically target Rubric Marines and/or Terminators to give them more play – they’re still not as durable as primaris marines, but they hit like a brick and now have mobility options, which was one of their major drawbacks previously.
- Better Stratagems: The 7 new strats in this supplement are extremely useful, more so than most of the stratagems in the actual codex – you will actually have stuff to spend CP on, instead of hoarding them all for rerolls on psychic tests, swapping out spells, or fighting twice with tzaangor if they actually make it into the enemy lines.
- Points Intensive: Thousand Sons have always been a bit on the expensive side, and CA 2019 didn’t do them any favors, bumping Tzaangor up to 8 points (the same cost as a plaguebearer…which are better in every way) and making Daemon Princes more expensive than the versions other Chaos factions field. Psychic Awakening doesn’t change that – and because you now have more reasons to run Rubrics and Scarab Occult, and taking away reasons to run cheaper battalions of tzaangor or cultists (neither of those units gain any benefit from any of the new Ritual of the Damned rules), you’re going to find yourself with very few models on the board vs most opponents.
- Limited Cult Scope: The cults are great, and there are a lot of them, all with some solid spells, relics, or warlord traits – but you can only have one per detachment, and they don’t apply to cultists or tzaangor units, or named characters. And since the bonus Cult rules are spells, relics, and warlord traits…things which only apply to characters…it means your Supreme Command detachments in a Chaos Soup list are getting exactly the same use of the Cults as a full Battalion is, in terms of output, for fewer points and likely a lot more efficiency in a full army.
- EDIT: As of 2/10/2020 GW has errata’d Ritual of the Damned to prevent relics from cults being selected unless your warlord proper (not using the Magister stratagem) is from that cult. So you cannot dip into one cult for a warlord trait and one cult for a relic. Huge nerf, for seemingly no reason.
- Order of Operations: The Psychic Phase has always been a game of precision, measuring precise ranges to ensure you can get the spells off you need to to buff your units, debuff the enemy, and blast away their units with MW while staying out of deny range and using things like Warptime to escape threat range after you’ve blown your payload of spells with someone like Magnus or Ahriman. But with even more new spells, new traits and relics to alter the psychic phase, Thousand Sons players may have to re-learn how their order of operations is handled from the ground up – movement precision is key, deployment (and redeployment) precision is key, and the order you cast your new spells in will matter greatly. The goal is going to be to limit your opponent’s ability to interact with your MW output, and that takes a lot of practice.
Cults of the Legion
The new “subfaction ability” for Thousand Sons. You can select one Cult of the Legion for each Thousand Sons detachment in a battle forged army – each Thousand Sons unit (but not Cultists, Tzaangors, or Named Characters) gain that <CULT> Keyword.
Each Cult comes with a relic, warlord trait, and additional psychic power that, crucially, is known by all psykers in the detachment with the <CULT> keyword, rather than requiring selection during the pregame set up. That’s huge!
I’ll start with the 2 cults that are likely to see the most obvious play first, and discuss the rest in no particular order:
Cult of Magic
- Spell: Astral Blast, WC 6 – a mini Infernal Gateway. D3 MWs to the closest visible unit within 15″, and every unit within 3″ of that target takes 1 MW. Very solid vs Marine castles.
- Relic: Arcane Focus – +1 to the bearer’s psychic tests. Can be stacked with the codex warlord trait that does the same, for a mini-Magnus +2 to cast that can’t be bracketed.
- Trait: Devastating Sorcery – +1 MW every time a unit suffers MW from one of your spells. Huge – that means Astral Blast is doing D3+1, and 2 to every unit within 3″. Infernal Gateway is also a choice power for a model with this trait, doing an automatic D3+1 to target units and every unit within 3″ (and if you roll that 12+? That can be a loss condition for your opponent, right then and there).
You’ll see this Cult in every single chaos soup list going forward. A supreme command of Ahriman and 2 Daemon Princes all with +1 to cast, and with one of the DP’s rocking Devastating Sorcery (1 CP for an extra WL trait now, thanks based GW) and Infernal Gateway. A Flying DP’s mobility will be key to getting into the right position to get off lots of splash damage into key points of an enemy’s army.
Rating – 5/5
Cult of Duplicity
- Spell: Sorcerous Facade, WC 7 – Da Jump for Dusty Bois. Pick a unit within 12″ that has the <CULT> keyword, pick it up and place it anywhere on the board outside 9″ from the enemy. Dark Matter Crystal but without the “one use” stipulation. Great!
- Relic: Perfidious Tome – roll a d6 at the start of every battle round. On a 4+, have a command point. But on a 1, your opponent gets a command point. I rate this higher than the Helm of Many Eyes, although if you really want to lean into CP regen and guarantee your 1 per turn, you could just take both.
- Trait: Duplicitous Tactician – we’re necrons now! Basically the deciever ability with a slight twist – select D3 <CULT> units at the start of the first battle round before the first turn begins, and redeploy.
I see this Cult making it into a lot of Chaos lists that choose to take 2 Thousand Sons detachments, and in any pure Thousand Sons army this will be near auto-include. Mobility and deployment shenanigans help this army drastically, as slow as Rubrics are – and having tech like this built into the list means you can feint on a flank and redeploy once you know who is going first to either play conservative and hide out of line of sight, or to push aggressively against a weaker enemy flank than they anticipated. Hugely powerful in the hands of the right general.
Rating – 5/5
Cult of Prophecy
- Spell: Divine the Future, WC 6 – Basically fate dice. Roll a D6, and set it to the side; you can replace a single hit, wound, advance, charge, psychic test, deny the witch, or morale test dice roll for a <CULT> unit in your army.
- Relic: Pythic Brazier – a friendly model within 6″ of the bearer can reroll one hit, one wound, or one damage roll when it shoots or fights. Mini master artisans, not terrible.
- Trait: Guided by the Whispers – once per turn, after firing overwatch, this warlord can move 6″ as if it were the movement phase. Your eliminator sergeant wrap trap ability to bait an enemy into charging you, only to run away and leave them in the midfield with their hair in the wind. Great vs aggressive armies like GSC or aggressive units like RG Centurions.
Rolling high on the Divination spell will feel very clutch in order to guarantee a mega smite or a key denial of an enemy power – but low numbers are only useful for morale, which you mostly don’t care about with this army, so the spell is a bit meh overall.
The relic, as of yet, affects all friendly models – so can even effect allies like chaos knights, or models like plagueburst crawlers to limit their variance, and could see some play if positioned correctly with the right mix of units.
EDIT: As of 2/10/2020, the Pythic Brazier has been errata’d to only effect friendly <CULT> units, as expected. This would drop the rating on this Cult slightly…
…However the spell is still decent, and the trait was simultaneously errata’d to be used even if you don’t have a shooting weapon – and if you are out of line of sight and would therefore not normally be able to fire overwatch – which is huge. That immediately gives that warlord trait some play on a double talon daemon prince.
Rating – 3/5
Cult of Time
- Spell: Time Flux, WC 5 – return one model to a <CULT> Infantry unit within 12″. On an unmodified 9+, return D3 models to the unit. Very solid for keeping scarab terminator units fighting strong.
- Relic: Hourglass of Manat – we’re Gulliman now! One use, when the bearer is killed, return them to the battlefield with D3 wounds remaining at the end of the phase.
- Trait: Immaterial Echo – if you cast a power with a 9+, cast an additional power that phase. Max of one additional power per phase. Decent for getting off your tool kit spells/buffs and casting a bonus Smite if you happen to hit a 9.
Healing is never a bad thing, but being able to only heal 2 units in the entire codex (rubrics or terminators, since nothing else that’s infantry gets the <cult> keyword) is a bit meh. To maximize value you’ll want to use it on terminators, but if you’re bringing a 10 man squad of terminators, you’re probably also taking Duplicity instead of Time for the mobility.
Rating – 2.5/5
Cult of Mutation
- Spell: Warp Reality, WC 6 – Select a terrain feature within 24″, and then select an enemy unit within 3″ of the terrain feature. That unit has its movement halved and subtracts 1 from advance and charge rolls. With no limit on TITANIC models, this is the rare example of a movement limiting ability that can be used on enemy knights or LoW models, unlike tremor shells.
- Relic: Exalted Mutation – +1 S, A and T. Simple, easy, arguably useful…except its Sorcerer only, which typically don’t want to be in CC (or taken in your army at all). Would probably be too useful on a daemon prince with talons.
- Trait: Touch of Vicissitude – unmodified wound rolls of 6 in melee inflict 1 MW in addition to other damage. Great one a DP with talons who is dishing out 8 attacks per combat phase.
All in all, this cult is focused on melee prowess and the ability to stall enemy units making it easier to counter charge them – which is always useful tech to have in an army, but not all that great in an army that generally wants to be at arms length casting powers instead of stuck in protracted combats.
Rating – 3/5 for the mobility reduction spell alone.
Cult of Scheming
- Spell: Seeded Strategy, WC 6 – target <CULT> unit within 30″ can fall back and still shoot and charge. Throw a 20 man rubric squad into the midboard using the infiltrate stratagem (see below), then fall back and unload with double shots when the enemy tries to tie you up. Just don’t get wrapped.
- Relic: Cha’Qi’Thl’S Theorem – once per battle, a selected stratagem costs 0 CP. Sneaky good, since the target of the stratagem doesn’t need to be a Thousand Sons stratagem nor does it have to be used by a <CULT> unit.
- Trait: Grand Schemer – <CULT> units within 3″ gain obsec, or count as double models for the purposes of obsec. Decent, but its usually just as easy to get one additional model in range of an objective to control it as it is to move a warlord near enough the controlling unit to count as double models.
I rate the Theorem relic very highly – since the target unit doesn’t have to have the <CULT> keyword, you are free to use the tzaangor fight twice strat for free to get extra mileage out of those models if you’re still bringing them, or pop a free corruscating beam turn 1 if your opponent presents a juicy opportunity. Since the stratagem doesn’t even have to be a Thousand Sons stratagem, it just has to be used by the bearer’s owning player, you can open up a lot of possibilities to use CSM, Daemon, or Chaos Knight stratagems for 0CP as well.
Rating – 2/5 due to the FAQ removing the option to take relics from multiple cults. You’re never going to take the Theorum over the Arcane Focus, and the trait is just flat out not worth taking in order to unlock the relic over things like Devastating Sorcery or High Magister.
Cult of Knowledge
- Spell: Psychic Delve, WC 6 – select an enemy unit within 24″, reroll wound rolls of 1 vs that target by <CULT> units. Decent for a DP to boost his damage output vs a chosen target, but the majority of <CULT> units want nothing to do with dedicated combat.
- Relic: Incaladion’s Cry – special warpflame pistol. 12″ range, Pistol D6, S6 AP-2 but still damage 1.
- Trait: Ardent Scholar – Re-roll 1s when taking psychic tests. Easy, straight forward, solid.
If you bring Magnus, you won’t be needing the warlord trait for the most part, but otherwise reducing variance in psychic tests is never a bad thing. The relic is really meh to me. Maybe there’s some play putting it on an exalted on disc, so he can’t be wrapped and you can keep fleeing from combats and then over-watching with his souped up auto-hitting pistol…? Way too situational.
The spell is actually solid, and using it on a juicy target and hitting it with a 20 man blob of rubrics with veterans of the long war and the rapid fire strat can just melt screens, bumping the rating up slightly.
Rating – 3/5
Cult of Change
- Spell: Disturb Reality, WC 6 – select an enemy within 18″, subtract 1 from their LD and Attack characteristics.
- Relic: Capricious Crest – when a psychic test is taken within 18″, you can change 1s to 6s for your models and 6s to 1s for enemy models. Very solid, if situational.
- Trait: Fickle Nature – reroll charge rolls, and you can shoot and charge even if you fall back.
The capricious crest can be a huge boon when it works, and hilarious when an enemy rolls a 1 and a 6 and you can force them to perils. But, something that has a flat bonus of +1 or -1 to dice rolls would have been better (see below…) – as is its a bit too situational for my tastes. The warlord trait is just a better version of Aetherstrider, which is solid.
Rating – 2.5/5
Cult of Manipulation
- Spell: Attempted Possession, WC 6 – choose an enemy character within 24″. That model suffers 1 MW, and subtracts 2 from all psychic tests until your next psychic phase. This is much more useful than the Capricious Crest, in my opinion.
- Relic: Sorthis’ Reflector – in the fight phase, you can choose to attack with a weapon that an enemy Infantry model is equipped with instead of one of your own weapons. Caveat, it has to be within 1″ and have LD9 or less (which is most units) – and you cannot reroll hits or wounds.
- Trait: Beguiling Influence – subtract 1 from the attacks chracteristic of enemy units within 1″ of this warlord.
Stacking Cult of Manipulation’s trait and Cult of Change’s spell to subtract 2 from enemy attack characteristics can be a huge swing, but that brings us back to ignoring the two best Cults in favor of a cute trick that might be too situational. That being said, in a meta of RG centurions, having them fight with 2 less attacks, and being able to use one of their siege drills against them in combat might not be the worst thing. Again very situational, and still not better than Magic or Duplicity from a pure competitive standpoint.
Rating – 2.5/5
- Magister (1CP): Thousand Sons finally being brought into 2019 with a strat to take a second warlord trait in the army. Take this every game to grab both Devestating Sorcery and High Magister in your Cult of Magic Supreme Command Detachment, and cast devastating blasts of warp energy to your heart’s content.
- Infernal Fusillade (1CP): Double shoot your rapid fire weapons if you don’t move, for Rubric Marines or Scarab Occult Terminators. Very solid, and cheap – a unit of 10 terminators or 20 rubrics will put out a withering amount of fire with this, and don’t forget about Malicious Volleys as well. Just remember you can’t move, so if coming in from reserves or teleporting with dark matter crystal/cult of duplicity, do it cleverly so you can make use of this on the following turn.
- Risen Rubricae (1CP): Set up a unit of Rubrics anywhere more than 9″ from the enemy deployment zone and enemy models during deployment. Can only be used once per battle, but especially with cult of duplicity’s ability to redeploy, this becomes extremely useful to try to catch an opponent out of position.
- Yoked Automata (2CP): At the end of the enemy charge phase, select an enemy unit that finished a charge move within 1″ of a friendly Thousand Sons Character (other than Tzaangor). You can heroically intervene 2d6 with a Rubric Marine or Scarab Occult Terminator unit within 12″ of that hero, but must end within 1″ of the selected enemy unit. Positioning is key, but this is great tech to have in your back pocket to boost your rubric marine or scarab occult terminator mobility via heroic intervention and subsequent combat moves.
- Sorcerous Infusion (1CP): When you cast a power on a 9+, heal up to D3 wounds to the caster’s unit or return one model to the unit with all wounds remaining. Great for Terminator units that roll hot on their one spell, when you’re in a pinch or towards the end of a game when every model and every wound you have on the board counts.
- Indomitable Foes (1CP): Improve the invuln save of a Rubric or Scarab Occult unit by 1 until the end of any phase in which they are chosen as the target of an attack. You can use this and Weaver of Fates to grant 2 units a boosted invuln, or stack them to grant a 3++ on a crucial unit. For 1 CP, super great.
- Adepts of the Immaterium (1CP): When a Thousand Sons Psyker would suffer perils, you don’t suffer perils. Boom, even with rerolls of 1 from Magnus and Gaze of Fate, with as many psychic tests as you take per game you’re bound to use this once or twice a game. Great to have in the back pocket.
Ultimately, the Thousand Sons are still very much where they were before Ritual of the Damned, tier wise.
If you were using a Supreme Command in your chaos soup lists, you’re still going to do so – and its going to be better than ever, with bonuses to cast and extra mortal wounds (as well as an additional splash damage spell) for free, just for showing up.
If you were playing pure thousand sons, you’re still mid to upper-mid tier, but more deadly than ever in the psychic phase and with a lot of new tricks and tech to help mitigate your mobility and board control issues. You still lack dedicated anti tank outside of targeted mortal wound spells or forgeworld models, and your core faction units are still too expensive for what they bring when compared to similarly costed units of other factions.
I believe you’ll see a lot of Cult of Magic supreme command, a lot of minimum Cultist battalions for CP and to grab the odd relic/trait from an “off” Cult of the Legion (like the 0CP ability), and a more traditional Rubric battalion on Cult of Duplicity to get the mobility shenanigans that a list really needs to be able to compete in today’s meta.
What do you think of the new Thousand Sons and Ritual of the Damned? What do you think of Psychic Awakening as a whole? Comment down below and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to stay up-to-date for GDFC’s latest articles and news.
And stay tuned for GDFC’s Grey Knight vs Thousand Sons Battle Report, coming soon to the site!