Warhammer 40,000 sets the tone for conflict and war. From Space Marines to Tyranids, there are so many ways to play the grimdark miniatures game that can present success. Every faction has its charm and it’s worth spending time finding an army that is right for you. Especially if it's the Orks. Everybody loves Orks.
Since the release of Indomitus, the core rules and mission updates present a significant shake-up of how to play Warhammer 40,000. As inevitably happens with major updates, certain armies have gotten a boost, while others have lost a little potency and power. Ninth Edition shifts the focus to battleground control, giving a new edge to close-quarters combat as you try and hold certain points against the attackers.
Best Warhammer 40k armies
Fortunately, there are a few armies that present a great starting point into Warhammer 40,000 and offer success within a competitive landscape. Whether you are a casual or competitive player, there is something for everyone and it's worth taking the time to figure out what is suitable for you.
1. Iron Hands (Space Marines)
The Emperor guides my blade
Space Marines grew more diverse with the recent supplements, with each chapter presenting a different playstyle. Space Marines are an attractive option given the wealth of units on offer to combat the threats of the 41st Millennium.
Choosing a chapter can be tough, but Iron Hands remain one of the best chapters to play in a competitive setting. Since Eighth Edition, Iron Hands have cleared tables with Leviathan Dreadnoughts that prompted a swift rules update. Even then, Iron Hands remain viable due to their ability to pressure both from afar and in melee. Running Iron Father Feirros and an Apothecary with Father of the Future should be the foundation of your Iron Hands army. Incorporating these two units will provide a bubble with Feel No Pain and bolster your invulnerable saves, making your units tricky to remove. If you aren't feeling Iron Hands, Dark Angels are a decent alternative due to recent upgrades to their elite choices in Deathwing and Ravenwing.
That said, Space Marines are a potent option no matter the chapter you choose. With the combination of tough infantry, versatile transportation and robust melee options allow for a variety of ways to attack the format. You'll always see Space Marines feature at the top tables due to the amount of support gained due to their popularity within the game.
2. Adepta Sororitas
Praise the Emperor and pass the ammunition!
Released in 2020, the Adepta Sororitas (also known as Sisters of Battle) are popular within the competitive scene due to their proactive playstyle. One quality is their ability to re-roll a result through a divine blessing, or more commonly known as Miracle Dice.
Miracle Dice are a specific set of dice created by your units with the Acts of Faith ability when they do something one or more times in a phase. Then, you can use the Miracle Dice to replace the result of a single die of your choice - this could be anything from re-rolling a wound or denying psychic power. Combined with Shield of Faith, your units can provide an impressive defence against any assault, which is pivotal when the focus is holding objectives.
You have a few options when it comes to sub-factions which can generate a special trait and unique playstyle for your army. Often you'll see the Adeptus Sororitas fall into one of three sub-factions: Valorous Heart, Bloody Rose and Ebon Chalice. To begin with, running both Valorous Heart and Bloody Rose will give you a nice mixture of melee power and resilience in combat. Once comfortable, you can switch into other sub-factions and create lists based on their strengths. As such, the Adepta Sororitas remain an excellent choice for your army going forward. Being able to manipulate variance is a truly unique feature and will present frustration to those playing against you.
Time to clown around
With Warhammer 40,000: Ninth Edition, Harlequins earned a huge amount of freedom compared to the other Eldar factions. They can either work as an allied option or operate as a fully working army on their own. The Eldar traditionally boast mobility in their units, which remains true with Harlequins, and you'll be able to take advantage of small board sizes as a result. Packing Skyweavers with Hayfire Cannons will ensure you can deal with vehicles and large screening units with ease. With this, you can run very few special characters and you can get away with a single Battalion Detachment as your full army.
You'll want to play Harlequins differently compared to other factions. Instead of taking the lead and securing objectives early on, you'll want to take these from the enemy. The learning curve is steeper compared to other armies but offers a higher reward through experience. Often you'll see Harlequins under the Frozen Stars masque as this adds to your close combat efficiency, which results in rolling a bunch more dice during the combat phase. Harlequins are swift, deadly and offer some of the best-looking models in the game.
4. Death Guard (Chaos Space Marines)
Praise the Plague God, Nurgle
Led by the Death Lord Mortarion, the Death Guard march with their warped flesh and swollen bodies ignoring wounds as if it were nothing. The Death Guard are absurdly resilient and offer something novel within the 41st Millennium.
Since separating from Codex: Chaos Space Marines, the Death Guard have a bunch of new characters, vehicles and a Primarch to lead into battle. With this, it's unsurprising to see the Death Guard are well-positioned as an army in Ninth Edition with their ability to hold objectives. The Nurgle faction offers a blend of melee and psychic powers that allow you to engage in all phases of the game. With this freedom, you can curate your list in whichever way you like.
The Death Guard also hold the best survivability rule in Disgustingly Resilient, granting re-rolls on wounds (including Mortal Wounds) and adding to their stubbornness. You'll struggle with movement as the faction is slower compared to others, but you make up for it in resilience and maintaining board presence.
If you enjoy collecting a Warhammer 40,000 army that looks unique and is remarkably gross, then the Death Guard are for you.
Orks iz made for fightin' and winnin'!
Orks have remained a feature of Warhammer 40,000 since the beginning. They're the most savage and offensive species in the galaxy that thrive on fighting. They're everywhere and only think about their next scrap or gunfight.
With this motif in mind, Orks seeing success in Ninth Edition is one of the biggest surprises to come from the release. Initially, it seemed tough on the greenskins due to the update on core rules and the new detachment system hurting them further. But it turns out the update complements how Orks like to play, and that's up close and personal. With the emphasis on holding objectives to score primary points, you'll want to run Deathskulls due to the 'Dis is Ours! Zog Off!' rule to your infantry. Any ability that offers priority when you score objectives is going to win you games.
Orks are a fantastic option and will continue to see results due to their mobility and redundancy. Plus, who doesn't love shouting 'WAAAAGH!' when shuffling Orks into combat?
For the Greater Good
The T'au are known for their expertise with long-range weapons that can eliminate anything trying to make its way across the table. They're so good at it, you don't want to do much else. With this, the T'au may struggle in Ninth Edition with the point increase on Shield Drones that damages the most successful builds. In addition, the missions in Ninth Edition focus on being able to push forward and take enemy side objectives - which is unfavourable for shooting armies. However, the T'au can reach those objectives ahead of most other armies due to their movement, meaning you can at least prepare for the incoming assault.
Despite falling out of favour, the T'au remain a suitable option and will need to adapt to reflect the new update. You'll still want Riptides and Drones, but pushing towards a Farsight build will yield better results. Slanting towards an aggressive strategy will ensure you can keep those objectives and rack up primary points. Although the update did little to improve the Tau, you can still shoot everything in sight and promote the Greater Good.
You can play whatever army you like in Warhammer 40,000 and have a good time. Often you see nerfs and buffs in new editions, but it shouldn’t discourage you in building an army you appreciate the most. Indomitus is a beginner-friendly release and does a marvellous job of giving you a footing into such a broad franchise. The latest update grants freedom and creativity when it comes to planning lists, allowing you to play the game how you want. It's easy to fall into a competitive mindset, but there is nothing wrong in taking the fun and flavourful approach instead.
Looking ahead, future updates could yield a different route that could shift the metagame and playing habits once more. There is something for everyone, and if there is a situation where your army falls out of favour, then it gives you a fantastic excuse to start over with a new one.