YMMV: Culexus Assassin

The Culexus Assassin is historically the least used and most misunderstood of the Imperial Assassins. It is also one of the most devastating, if used correctly. This article discusses the Culexus, highlights its strengths, and gives you some suggestions for fitting it into an army.
Besides the already formidable characteristics of an Imperial Assassin, the Culexus has a handful of wargear and special rules to differentiate the Culexus Temple from the others. First and foremost a Culexus is the dreaded Soulless ability. Any model within 12" of the Culexus has its Leadership lowered to 7. Combined with Infiltration, this ability gives the Culexus its teeth.

Our subject is armed with a ranged weapon called the Animum Speculum. This S5 AP1 Assault 2 weapon gains an extra shot for every Psyker within 12". Without limit. The best I've ever done was 27 glorious shots against a 25-man Seer Council in the 2007 Adepticon Gladiator. It is one of my best tournament memories; I still get misty-eyed thinking about it.

Note: There are a lot of psykers in the game. Besides Farseers and Librarians, there are also Inquisitors, Synapse creatures, Sorcerers, Weirdboyz and a ton of upgrade characters. Most Psyker Battle Squads have NINE psykers in them!

There are also a decent number of psykers that aren't labeled. If the model has a psychic power, it's a psyker (i.e., its "gifted with awesome mental powers, which enable them to channel baleful energy of the Warp") - even if they don't have the "psyker" label. So any Chaos Daemon with a psychic power is a psyker. Grey Knight Terminators are psykers.

The Culexus has the Etherium ability which forces a successful Leadership test to shoot, target with a psychic power, or charge the Assassin. If failed, the unit must attack another target. This ability meshes well with Infiltrate and Soulless.

The Culexus has three other abilities designed to use against enemy psykers: Psychic Abomination forces psykers within 6" to pass a Morale check or fall back. Psyker Assassin allows the Culexus to ignore shooting restrictions to target a psyker (and ignore other models to get into contact with a psyker when charging). And Life Drain, which gives the Assassin the ability to put wounds on psykers before close combat is resolved.

Note: I'm not really covering Psyk-Out Grenades because I've only found a single use for this piece of wargear. Unless you are targeting a unit affected by Weaken Resolve, the Animus Speculum is the only weapon you are going to want to shoot. More on that later.

What the Culexus doesn't have is a freaking power weapon (I'm of the opinion that all Imperial Operatives should have a power weapon - or Rending - and both kinds of grenades. Am I clear on that, GW? Are you taking notes?). This means that although the Culexus is tough in a one-on-one scrap, it can't stand toe-to-toe with a unit. A Culexus is best used as a Leadership lodestone and a short-range shooting platform -- and, of course, as a psyker assassin.

More than any other Imperial Operative, you need a plan to make effective use of the Culexus. He's a decent model on his own (especially for the points), but if you take some time to build a strategy he becomes a real monster. Oh, Soulless affects friends as well as enemies so you need to keep the Culexus at an arm's length (or in the company of Fearless units). In any case, you definitely want to keep him away from your psykers - even Fearless ones.

Most players only bring out the Culexus against an army with potent psykers (e.g., we're going to see him in areas where Njal and his Rune Priest buddies are common), but the Culexus shines is a fantastic choice against any opponent that's not Fearless. He can definitely bring out the best in any army.

I'm going to cover a couple of my favorite methods of using a Culexus. I'm not going to describe the most common (and, in my opinion, least creative) use of the Assassin which is chasing down enemy psykers. You don't need to read a tactica to know that a Culexus is good for killing those guys.

1. The Debbie Downer: This tactic works best with gunline armies, especially the new Imperial Guard. But you can use it with any army that can force lots of Morale tests and/or Pinning checks (e.g., snipers, barrage and high rate of fire armies).

In this build, the Culexus operates alone. You'll always want to deploy as close as possible to your enemy's lines. It's pretty easy to find an out of LOS location within 12" of your opponent - a single model is a LOT easier to infiltrate than a unit. If you are using the Debbie Downer, you need to start planning before you place your first piece of terrain (i.e., place a small piece of hard terrain just outside of the deployment zones).

Mkerr Theory #1: Okay, so I'm full of theories. Here's one about building boards. Most players don't consider their army or the mission when they build a board -- they focus on the pieces YOU place more than the ones they place themselves. One of the most important skills you can develop as a competitive player is learning how to build a board for YOUR army. Put down terrain that you want to _use_ instead of putting down terrain to _hinder_ your opponent.

Mkerr Theory #2: Players only care about the first couple of pieces they deploy. They start with the biggest pieces and work down -- and every board has a few crappy little pieces of terrain nobody cares about at the end. These little pieces are super important to using an infiltrating Assassin effectively. Watch for the first big piece of terrain that your opponent places in his deployment zone -- that's usually for cover. Your goal is to put a small piece of terrain near that piece but OUTSIDE his deployment zone. Make sure you put the piece so that it's closer to the short board edge than the piece you are shadowing. If you can do this twice, then you have a couple of great options for your Culexus.

On your first turn, advance the Culexus toward your opponent's army so its Soulless ability affects the maximum number of enemy units. A twelve-inch radius is larger than you think, so you should be able to get a few units in the bubble. If you need to, you can run your Culexus at the beginning of the shooting phase to get a few more units into the Debbie Downer bubble.

Now concentrate your shooting on units in the bubble. Always shoot your Pinning and Barrage weapons first and once you've successfully pinned a unit, move on to the next one. If you fail to pin the unit, make sure that you kill enough to force a Morale check. A non-Fearless, non-Stubborn army is going to fail half of those tests. I've played games where half of my opponent's ground forces are pinned or falling back after my first turn of shooting. When using the Debbie Downer, keep your Culexus out of assault and rely on Etherium and Soulless to keep him alive.

2. The Bag of Hammers: The Culexus is a great addition to a fast-moving, Fearless or Stubborn assault unit. Basically, any unit that can win a close combat benefits from having their opponent's Leadership reduced to 7 (e.g., "Okay, your Leadership is 7 and you lost by 4, so you need a ... Ugh. Sorry, mate.").

Personally, I love combining the Culexus with fast units (like effectively-Stubborn Seraphim or mobile marines with a Chaplain/Wolf Priest or other Stubborn character) and with other infiltrators (like the Guardsman Marbo) or outflankers that can get into close combat on the turn the arrive (like Wolf Scouts). Death Cult Assassins are still decent companions for the Culexus, but the 5th Edition changes make them a lot less effective and they've been relegated to the display shelf. But in general, look for a unit that won't be hindered by the Leadership reduction. And remember that the goal is to assault the enemy quickly with a force that can WIN the first round of close combat.

I've said it before but if you have an Imerpial army, then you should invest in an Inquisitor and a few Imperial Operatives. They are a relatively inexpensive addition to your army and they instantly make your army feel different. Here are some ideas for using a Culexus in the various Imperial Armies:

Imperial Guard: The Culexus really shines here, especially using the above Debbie Downer strategy. You put the Culexus in the middle of your opponent's ground pounders and nail them with as many Barrage, Pinning and high rate of fire weapons as possible. With a little luck, you can completely immobilize or break every unit in the 12" bubble.

Psyker Battle Squads: The best thing to happen to the Culexus in 5th Edition is the addition of the Psyker Battle Squad. These two units get along like peas and carrots. Since every sanctioned psyker in the unit is a psyker, you can pump the Animus Speculum up to an Assault 11 gun. 1 Culexus + 9 psykers = Endless Opportunities!

Fun with Psyker Battle Squads #1: Here's one of my favorites. I put the Culexus in my opponent's path, forcing his assault units to move within the Culexus' 12" Soulless bubble. Then I drive my PBS (embarked in a Chimera so I don't have to make a Morale test) into the 12" bubble and turn my Culexus into an unbelievably effective shooting platform.

Fun with Psyker Battle Squads #2: You can take two PBSs and still have room for the elite Culexus. That means you can pump the Animus Speculum to a S5 AP1 Assault 20 gun -- putting even the Leman Russ Punisher to shame!

Fun with Psyker Battle Squads #3: Weaken Resolve works great with the Culexus! Worried about your Culexus getting shot at or assaulted? Just hit the nearby squad with Weaken Resolve and suddenly Etherium makes the Culexus next to impossible to target (this is great when you have to run with your Culexus).

Fun with Psyker Battle Squads #4: A PBS gives the Culexus Psych-Out Grenades their only use in the game. Just hit the target psyker's squad with Weaken Resolve (generally lowering it to LD2) and then toss in the grenade. If you hit, then you just caused 2d6-2 automatic wounds to the targeted psyker (saves as normal). This little tactic will devastate an opposing Psyker Battle Squad or a Seer Council.

Space Marines: The Culexus works great with Space Marines. ATSKNF (as well as easy access to Stubborn/Fearless units) makes the Soulless ability a little less dangerous to friendly troops. Space Marines also have great Pinning weapons in the form of Space Marine Scouts (which can also Infiltrate).

Dirty Trick #1: The Culexus is a lot of fun with Sergeant Telion. Not only does he have a Pinning weapon (as can the rest of the squad), but he's also able to pick out individual models that can cause problems to the Culexus. It's almost like having a Culexus and a Vindicare in the same army.

Space Wolves: At first glance, you'd think that Space Wolves won't play well with a Culexus, due to their generally low Leadership. But, used with care, a Culexus fits right in. He works great with any unit with an attached Wolf Priest worked great and he's a great partner to units get into close combat right away (e.g., Wolf Scouts).

Dirty Trick #2: The Culexus works great with a Rune Priest (or a couple of Rune Priests). Several of their powers cause Morale tests (Fury of the Wolf Spirits) or effectively cause Morale tests (Murderous Hurricane and Jaws of the World Wolf). A Culexus add insult to injury by making it tough to pass those test! 

Black Templars: The Culexus also abhors the witch, so he fits right into a Black Templars army. And since psykers are on the rise (thanks to the Imperial Guard and Space Wolves codices), you could do worse than adding an Inquisitor Lord (with a Psychic Hood) and a Culexus to your army.

Dirty Trick #3: Want to totally screw with a Black Templars player? Then put your Culexus near their ground pounders and watch him fail Righteous Zeal tests. If one of the units pulls off a successful Righteous Zeal test, then nail that unit with a couple of Pinning weapons to force it to ground and move on to the next one.

The Culexus is - by far - the most cool and freaky unit you can field in an Imperial army, so every player should have one. If you already have one, then I hope this article gave you some great ideas on using your Culexus in your 5th Edition armies. If so, I'd love to hear about it.

Comments are welcome and feel free to email me your lists or questions. Just send them to me at mkerr@chainfist.com. And, as always, your mileage may vary.

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