Tome of the Crimson King

Army Building, July 09, 2018

Thousand Sons have access to the most psychic powers of any army in the game today. Choosing them can be a tough task when there are so many choices. Let’s take a look at some ways to make your life easier.

Who can take what

First of all, the most important thing is knowing what disciplines you have access to. Here’s an easy way of remembering who has access to what:

  1. Magnus and Daemon Princes are the only ones who can access all 3
  2. Ahriman & Sorcerers only get access to Change & Dark Hereticus
  3. Everyone else can only access the Change

The important part about this is you know who/where you put your spells. It means if you only have a single Daemon Prince in your army, you should be focused on packing Tzeentch powers into his book.

Chaos Familiar

Remember that you have this stratagem in your back pocket. If you’ve played even a single 40k game you’ll know that Command Points are precious so, if you can design your army not to rely on using a stratagem to function, it’s a preferred road to take.

However, once you get into competitive situations, such as where your army composition is fixed for a series of games, you can always go get that power you need.

The important part about this Stratagem is that it works on any Thousand Sons Psyker (even Aspiring Sorcerers) and you can pick from any of the disciplines. Which means, anyone who doesn’t naturally have access to a power, can be given one for 1 CP.

Picking Powers

So, now that we have those things out of the way, let’s get straight to the strategy of picking powers. Let’s start with the best power in the game and the one that you should be taking first, and casting first, in every game.

Always Take Gaze of Fate

What’s so great about this? It’s a free re-roll! No command points needed. It can’t be “Vect’d” and if you position your units right (more on that in a bit) you should always be able to get it. It means you can re-roll for 2 failed charges. How about you re-roll both dice when trying to beat leadership on a Treason of Tzeentch test. It opens up the probability of many difficult things you can face in the game and it lasts for the rest of your turn.

Tip: Always mark your free re-roll somewhere near your command point marker. I always set a single dice aside so I know I have it later.

The only downside to Gaze of Fate is that it has to be taken on a Daemon Prince or Magnus. If you have Magnus, do you really want him using one of his limited casts on it? So, this one belongs on your Daemon Prince and if you don’t have one in your list, it’s a great reason to add him.

Treason of Tzeentch or Flickering Flames

Choosing the next spell to fill out your Daemon Prince should come down to these two spells. Sure, theres cases to be made for the others but I think it’s tough to argue the versatility and reward for these two. Now, if you have more than one Daemon Prince in your army, great - you can expand on these with the others. Remember that Daemon Princes are the only ones with access to the Tzeentch book so, pack them into your Daemon Princes where you can.

Treason of Tzeentch is my go-to second power. Part of that has to do with where the meta is today - Knights are hot and most armies have a plethora of characters their armies rely on. Why do I mention Knights? Well if you go to a tournament, they are a very common “Gatekeeper” army - which means you’re going to have to deal with them if you want to climb into that top tier. This spell is one of the most powerful ways to deal with them - make them your Knight.

Now, this doesn’t work all the time. Your opponent has to make their Knight a Character - which is done by either giving them a relic or warlord trait. Your opponent also needs to avoid making their Knight their Warlord as this too cancels the ability for this to work. So, you may be thinking “this situation will never happen”, but you would be wrong. It’s actually the norm. The benefits for a Knight player are so high, it’s become part of their natural strategy to army construction - just like how we use the Webway stratagem for our Tzaangors. Taking a relic or giving them a warlord trait makes them a Character. Also, making a Knight your Warlord comes with risks even in non-ITC style games. You know people will be making the Knight a target priority so, why just give up easy points? You also will know if it is their Warlord or not simply going into a most ITC matches because Warlords and Warlord Traits are declared ahead of time.

So lets say we’re not even facing Knights, how is this useful? Theres a simple rule you need to remember. If a unit is within 1” in the fight phase, it has to fight, there is no avoiding this. So, what better way to either deal with an annoying character or annoying unit, than to have them duke it out with one of their own units? This also works great when you need to move a unit off an objective or generally away from you.

The trick to this spell is to save your re-roll for the leadership test. You’re not always going to make it but think of it like a 9” charge - with a re-roll you have a chance and not a bad one.

Flickering Flames is an okay substitute here if you’re running Tzeentch Daemons or Enlightened. You can buff their ability to wound without needing Veterans of the Long War. Right now I’ve moved away from Enlightened, but Pink Horrors can be a great target with this and if you have a Herald nearby, go ahead and wound everything on a 4+ up to T7. Not bad.

Mortal Wounds are Great

By now we’ve filled out a few powers we must have or are restricted by who can take them. Now, the focus shifts to packing our army with damage output. The key to this is first knowing what spells dish out mortal wounds (yea there are more than just smite). Here they are ranked in my own preferential order:

  1. Doombolt
  2. Infernal Gaze
  3. Gift of Chaos
  4. Tzeentch’s Firestorm
  5. Bolt of Change
  6. Infernal Gateway

Doombolt belongs on your psyker with the best casting bonus you have. Chances are this is your Warlord with the High Magister trait. You’re going to need that bonus because you need a 9 to get this one off. The key is to use this on units that rely on movement - Flyers, mobs trying to charge you, characters that need to keep up with their escorts.

Tip: Remember that the targeting Characters restriction only applies in the shooting phase. You can target Characters with these spells all you like

Infernal Gaze is much better than Tzeentch’s Firestorm as you only need a 4+ and that’s pretty reliable on 3 dice. It’s great for finishing off what you need for that kill. It’s also only a 5 to cast but, you’re only going to have this on your sorcerers.

Gift of Chaos might seem like an odd choice here but it’s because you have easier access to it than Bolt and Boon of Change. This works great against T3 characters, as you’re doing 3+D3 mortal wounds to them on a 4+. This spell makes a great choice to swap out with Chaos Familiar when you’re facing situations where it’s not worth it. Remember, you’re also going to be using Smite a lot so, it’s okay to have a power sit there in your back pocket.

Tzeentch’s Firestorm sucks, in my opinion, but it can be taken on anything in your army. This is typically the spell I throw onto characters like Tzaangor Shamans because I typically will be using them to Smite. Where this comes into play is if we use The Great Sorcerer stratagem to cast another power. You typically want to have a damage-dealing spell in those situations and you don’t always know who it’s going to be. So, if you see my lists, I typically have this spell stuck to all my Shamans such that I have a go-to cast if I need it.

Bolt of Change is at the bottom of my list simply because it is in the Tzeentch tree, which makes it tough to distribute in your army. What this is good for is Chaos Familiar if you’re in a situation where you need another power to cast. For example, let’s say you just didn’t roll good on your smites and something is left with 1-2 wounds? Pop a couple Command Points and grab one of these and cast it to finish them off.

Infernal Gateway might surprise you that it’s at the bottom of my list. It looks great on paper, like a D6 mortal wound nuke. But it’s limited in a lot of ways - again, it’s in the Tzeentch tree, the range is only 18” for Thousand Sons, and it’s not able to target specific units. The one use this really has is on Magnus (covered later).


After you’ve distributed the above spells, you’re left with some options for utility purposes. These tend to be defensive in nature and aimed at buffing or enabling your army. These become much more subjective to what you’re trying to accomplish with your army so, it’s not really fair to rank them.

Boon of Mutation is not a spell I take often. Where it fits well is on an Aspiring Sorcerer where they can buff your Daemon Princes or Sorcerers on discs. Don’t get this Boon tree confused with the one from 7th edition, it’s actually pretty good and any of the bonuses can be helpful. But chances are, you’ll be casting smite, and this just takes away one of your much-needed casts.

Glamour of Tzeentch is one of the best utility spells we have and giving anything -1 to hit is really good. Magnus is a natural target or anything else that you know your enemy will be targeting. It does require 7 to cast but that’s not too bad so, it’s perfectly fine to have this on a non-enhanced caster.

Temporal Mutation is good but not great. What I typically do is use Chaos Familiar to snag this if I need it. When running Magnus, it’s a good idea to have this on someone in order to heal him. Don’t forget that it’s good for any Thousand Sons unit - even Vehicles.

Weaver of Fates is another good but not great spell. It’s great to lower those invuln saves, especially on someone like Magnus. However, in most cases you’re better off taking something offensive. Increasing the save is only going to apply to one unit and that only goes so far. Tzaangors are a good targets as well as Rubrics or Terminators but again, you’re likely better off using offensive casts for powers like Smite.

Death Hex is extremely situational and a spell you either opt-in for early or grab later in the game for a CP if you need it. A good example of when you should have this is when you’re fighting units with great invuln saves and crappy armour saves - like Necron Wraiths. Strip them of that invuln and the game changes quickly. The other advantage to using Chaos Familiar here is that you bait your opponent into thinking you don’t have Death Hex and that it’s okay to charge them up at you. But this spell doesn’t do much for you unless you’re running a heavy Rubric or Terminator army where we have lots of -2 AP and up weaponry. A 3+ armor save is still only reduced to a 5+ with our bolters so, Death Hex is really a waste in those situations - like Custodes 2+/4++

Prescience is best used on Enlightened. You’re boosting their auto-wound ability by 1 in the process and if there is a shaman nearby, you’re automatically wounding on 4’s when you hit. Not bad at all if you need to bring down some vehicles. In most other situations, this becomes another casualty to using Smite or offensive damage spells.

Diabolic Strength is a fantastic spell and it belongs on your Daemon Prince, at least as a target. This takes your Daemon Prince from pretty scary to downright terrifying in combat.

Warptime has been around since the start of 8th and is always a great utility spell to have. I typically don’t load up on a lot of these on my psykers. Just one on someone like Ahriman is usually good enough for when you need it. Of course, Magnus always needs it.

Boon of Change is a great extra power to cast on Magnus to try and bump him up to T8 if you roll good. However, it’s better to leave this one aside as there are plenty of better options in place of it.

Redundancy or Variety?

Okay so we’ve covered every spell in the book by now and you’re probably wondering when I’m referring to “distributing” spells above, how do I do it? Is it better to take lots of the same spell or spread them out? I think most folks who walk into playing Thousand Sons for the first time, and I was one of them, think you want that redundancy so that when a psyker dies you still have that power to use.

There’s a couple things though that are working against that theory. First, all of our casters (troops aside) are characters and thus, gain the advantage of being able to hide behind units. This means your characters have a higher than usual ability to survive the game. Second, most of the time you are only going to need a specific set of spells on only one or two models. Magnus tends to be a great example of this. You’re more likely to have your Enlightened die than to have your ability to cast prescience on them be taken away.

This means we want to distribute spells for variety in place of redundancy. When we do this, we have more options to cast through the turn, since only one can be cast per turn. We’re not left with spells sitting un-used on our psykers - like casting 1 power on a Sorcerer when they have 2 casts.

What To Take On Big Red

If you’re running Magnus, theres a pretty typical build for what to take with him.

  1. Weaver of Fates
  2. Glamour of Tzeentch
  3. Warptime

Outside of those, you want to target him before you move him up with Warptime. You want these on him since you get +2 to cast. Alternatively, if you have a Terminator Sorcerer with a Familiar and High Magister, you can throw a couple of these on him instead to avoid being in range of Deny the Witch.

Tip: If you get all these off and Magnus is in position, you can swap in Infernal Gateway and cast it for a couple command points. Make sure you position for this though as it’s worded for the closes model

Kitting Out Your Army

Here’s some unit and wargear options to consider for your next list.

Sorcerer in Terminator Armor

Take the High Magister trait, include a Familiar and you’ve now got +2 to cast for a fraction of the cost of Magnus. Throw in Cabalistic Focus and you’re at +4. Pretty sweet way to get that D6 Smite or ensure Doombolt goes off.

Sorcerers with Disc/Jump Packs

One thing you want to make sure you have are Sorcerers with Jump Packs or Discs. They are worth the extra points for the 12” movement. You’re also likely to advance them often as you’re not really losing much by not shooting or charging - their purpose is to cast and advancing doesn’t affect that. Jump Packs are great if you want to reinforce a Tzaangor Bomb. Discs are great if you want to them to be Demons (for targeting).

Theres no real benefit to taking Exalted Sorcerers over regular sorcerers when it comes to casting. If you have shooting, use Ahriman to get that re-roll aura where you need it.

Tzaangor Shamans

Always remember they have that awesome 1-time free re-roll. Don’t be afraid to use them early (like turn 1) to get things rolling in the right direction. I always use them to avoid a double 1’s peril but never double 6’s. Take the mortal wounds (they won’t die the first time) and that smite jumps to D6.

Competitive Pre-Game

If you’re playing competitively, I have some closing thoughts to help you speed the process up.

  1. Select your powers ahead of time and then make slight adjustments where you need. Know ahead of time what units to look out for as triggers to take something else - Necron Wraiths and Death Hex for example.
  2. Develop a routine when casting. Always cast Gaze of Fate first. Then rotate through your casts in a routine that you can remember. Use the routine as a way to memorize what has been cast or not.
  3. Write down some cheat sheets to remember the ranges on powers until you have them memorized. Most are either 18” or 24”

Hopefully this has given a good primer on taking powers in your army and making use of them the right way.