I've been fortunate enough to play a number of games of 9th edition over the past week or so - mostly combat patrol (against AdMech and Ultramarines), but also one full strike force game (against Grey Knights) at 2000 points. I figured this would be a good place to think about what I've learned so far, and for us as Cults players in general to share practical experience as we pick it up.
Having payed as the Cult of the Four-Armed Emperor in 8th, I'm now giving Twisted Helix a go in 9th, and I'm enjoying it so far. The strength perk has been particularly effective on my acolytes, letting them wound most things (especially marines) on a 3. Coupled with the Primus' ability to drop a +1 to wound on a choice target, I've been able to put together some nasty combinations.
- Against the Grey Knights, the combination of +1 strength on acolytes, the +1 to wound from the Primus, and his +1 to hit aura (pushed out to 9" with Brood Coven and Alien Majesty) meant that when I charged them into his 10-paladin squad, my acolytes were hitting on 2s, wounding on 2s and rending on 5s. And this all as inate abilities - no need for stratagems or psychic support (in fact, I continually failed to cast Might from Beyond throughout that game).
Advance and Charge
Talking of acolytes, the Genetic Lineage stratagem from Psychic Awakening is fantastic. Coupled with the Helix +2 to advance, I can move my acolytes 6", advance a further 3-8", then charge on top. That's anywhere from 9" to 14" of movement, plus a charge, for 1CP. Against the Knights again, I was able to move my acolytes up but still keep them behind LoS blocking terrain - previously, the location of the terrain would have given me a long charge in turn two, but with the Helix advance up my sleeve, I was on the paladins' toes even before making the charge move. Coupled with a successful Mass Hypnosis, my acolyte blob made it into turn two combat without losing a single model.
The games I've won (against the Grey Knights, and half of the combat patrol games) have pretty much all come down to board control - scoring high on the primary objectives, and frequently choosing objective based secondaries as well. I want to be moving up the board anyway, so over-running the mid-table objectives is already on my path to victory. Again, the acolytes are valuable here - a big troops unit that can move, advance and charge covers a lot of ground and can either steal the objective from elite or other specialist units, or outnumber and/or kill other troops units.
Sweep and Clear (retaining control of objectives even after you've moved away again) has been very useful. I've only encountered it in combat patrol so far, but being able to grab objectives and then move forward anyway really suits the Cult play-style. True, enemy units can drop in behind me and take the objectives back, but by then I'm halfway across the board, over-running other objectives and killing enemy units, and having one or two deep strikers wandering around in my backfield with little to do isn't really a big problem.
My combat patrol victories have also come when I've had a good combat character leading the force - either the Patriarch or the Abominant - they hit hard anyway, but at this scale, they can be devastating, and they're a significant threat all the time. The Primus was less effective here, as his aura was usually only reaching one or at best two units, and he himself was very vulnerable to counter attacks without a lot of minions to throw themselves in the way.
Small squads are helpful here. In one losing game, I only had three squads (2x10 acolytes and 5 aberrants) and an Iconward - in turn one, I spread out to cover three objectives, killed some ruststalkers, picked up lots of points. And then I was stuck - if i moved any of the units to attack the enemy, I was giving up either primary or secondary points, or both. Big units are killy, but small units are more useful. In a winning game (in which sweep and clear was in play), having a unit of 5 acolytes underground meant that I could jump onto an objective in turn two, taking it from my marine opponent, and it didn't really matter that he could kill them the next turn - they'd taken control of the objective, and now the marines would either have to move back into their deployment zone to regain control of the objective, or press forward, leave the objective, and make the primaries that little bit harder.
I have three of them, and use them a lot. In 8th, with my competitive head on, they often appeared as three tank commanders via a brood brothers supreme command detachment. That's no longer an option, and I'm trying to be fluffier too, so now they roll as regular Russes. Sadly, they really feel the drop to BS 4+ with no re-roll 1s, but they still do work, and provide a very different threat. And now that they're more mobile, I was able to advance them up one flank, take control of objectives, and force the Grey Knights to deploy significant resources to deal with them (resources that weren't then dealing with my infantry assault on the other flank - in this game, my infantry (20 acolytes, 20 genestealers and character support) ate up 10 paladins, 5 terminators, and three characters, whilst the two Russes on the flank tied up three dreadknights, a librarian and a heavy weapons squad. They died, but it bought me so much time.
I mentioned earlier that in 8th, i went with Cult of the Four-Armed Emperor. Tooled up with a clamavus and the broodsurge detachment, I was dropping in masses of infantry in turn two, trying to find places to put down several squads and characters all in range of overlapping auras, close enough to charge, and ideally in cover. it rarely worked as well as I wanted it to. Now, with rapid advancing, advance-and-charge acolytes and way more LoS blocking terrain (the obscuring trait is so helpful), it's much easier to throw threats up the table, and hold just a couple of squads underground. In smaller games, having some light infantry in reserve to grab objectives is valuable; in the bigger game, I put two 5-aberrant squads in reserve, dropping them in in turns two and three with Perfect Ambush each time. My opponent was well aware of their threat, and it had knock on effects on his own reserves and movement, which was useful two. In the end, the pick unit came in turn two and killed a wounded grandmaster dreadknight, and the hammer unit came in turn three, fluffed their charge, survived a dreadknight going into them, and then battered it to death. Both squads went down to firepower (Astral Aim is horrible), but killed big targets at key moments, and caused significant distractions from my main attack.
So, if you've got any practical experience of using the Cult in 9th, feel free to share