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I've been playing with my chaos for a little over a year and a half now and I cannot find a single reason to use normal CSM over cult troops.
On paper, CSM are a steal for their versatility and price. However, in 5th's metagame their non-fearless status hurts their ability to hold objectives (even with the Icon of Chaos glory). The biggest part, however is ability discrepancy.
Berserkers > CSM in CC
TS or Noise Marines > CSM in shooting
Plague Marines > CSM in survivability
For heavy shooting support havoks or oblits do the job much more effectively.
Even price isn't that much cheaper with upgrades; Example
7 Plague Marines, 2 Plasma Guns, AC with PF, Rhino = 266
10 CSM, 2 Plasma Guns, AC with PF and Icon of chaos glory, Rhino = 265
Now, I'm probably just uncreative so I want to ask other chaos players, is there any reason you can justify taking normal marines over cult troops?
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Simple. Versatility. I use some cult troops, and some basic CSM. I get my initial bases covered with some plagues for objectives and some heavy support guys for raw firepower, then flesh it out with CSM. They can fill whatever gap I need from game to game, be it CC, shooting, anti-tank, whatever. the cult troops are more specialised and overall less versatile for the points.
One game you need CC, and zerkers would be nice, but the next you need shooting and wish you had noise marines. CSM do well in both roles. Well enough to get the job done, whatever the job may be.
As to the price example... dude, you get 3 extra wounds in there. And 6-9 extra attcks in CC, or 6 extra rapid fire shots, 3 extra krak grenades, and 3 more shmucks to pile wounds on before hitting important stuff. That's a lot of extra options and oomph to make up for being squishier per marine (except against AP1-2, S8+, or armor-ignoring wounds of any kind, in which case they're just as tough).
Also, fearless isn't all it's cracked up to be in my opinion. Ld10, with option for re-rollable is typically about as good. Assault is the only place it can hurt if you lose a CC fight really badly, but you really shouldn't be doing that very often with CSM, especially when mounted in rhinos so you can pick your fights better. Fearless can be nice, but it's far from uber in my experience.
In my experience using cult troops generaly reduces model count. Ofcourse cult are better armed or more durable or better at shooting...and are fearless. But model count is important. Ex. your plage marines are just as durable as your normal marines against hi str wepons, your 1k sons are less efective than the normal ones against gaunts.....etc so it realy depends on your strategy
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Strategy brings up another point. Cult troops, being more specialised, are also more predictable. If I see a unit of plagues, I have a pretty good idea that they're probably going to be objective camping. Zerkers are heading for CC, etc.
CSM, being pretty good at about everything, can be used for about anything, leaving your opponent less sure of just what you plan on doing with them, and therefore less able to counter them. It's a fuzzier benefit, but there none the less.
Aswell as all of the points listed above, I think CSM are easier to play than cult marines. The most common fault with cult marines is that (IMO) they are too dependant on transport (Apart from noisers, but thats still arguable). If someone pops your zerkers rhino / raider, they get shot. If someone pops your plaguers rhino, they dont make the objective first... and offensive on plaguers inst the best. As for 1Ksons, doesnt slow and purposeful speak for its self?
If something durastic happens to your CSMs, you addapt their role. Simple If their rhino is popped, you waddle over to the nearest objective / enemy squad... realy whattevers closest If they face something like orks or nids, CC is gonna hurt, so shoot them... likewise when facing shooty armies like tau and crons, strike at their heart.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a Battle Cannon (and other scenarios and weapons like it) is just as good against more expensive and less numerous cult troops as it is against vanilla marines.
"If you can wait til I get home, then I swear we can make this last."
I play 5 chaos Armies, one of which is undivided. This army is among my best, right under my Emperors Childrens. I usualy field 4 x 10 CSM squad with IoCG and special weapons, some support units and a daemon prince. They are easy to play, excellent at everything, and I don't remember seeing them flee as I usualy win my close combats.
They are awesome.
40 CSM for 640 points against 28 plague marines or 30 Berzerkers.
Their overall resilience is mostly the same and they perform so well in every task. Holding an objective is never a problem as I wait for the 5th turn before I move my CSM on it. If you let your opponent start the game, it automaticaly means that you will be the one ending it, so there is no point in parking your troops on an objective from the start since you'll have the last word anyway. And it so much fun to watch your opponent go for the objective and then realise he's been baited into a trap.
CHAOS Undiv.: won 14/22 games EC: 4/7 WE: 6/9 DG: 10/15, TS: 3/7 Orks : 13/20 SM NL : 1/6 TAU: 14 of 24 IG: 3/7
CSM CC > Thousand Son CC
CSM > Plague Marines when faced w/ S8+ weaponry.
Noise Marines have the same basic function as Chaos Marines, but are more expensive to field.
Havocs and Oblits are good, yes, but don't capture objectives and take Heavy Support slots which can be in high demand. I don't have enough slots to field two Predators/Defilers, a group of Oblits, and my Havocs.
The difference are subtle. As pointed out, Cult Marines tend to be specialists. They do one thing and do it very well. Berserkers are killers in Close Combat, but still pale when put up against the real beasts of CC like Genestealers. Thousand Sons are great for shooting down Power Armor foes, but become expensive, slowly walking Chaos Marines when faced against the Imperial Guard.
Standard Chaos Marines are generalists. They're adaptable to just about any situation. Genestealers coming down upon you? Bolters from cover. Heavy shooting army like the IG? Get into CC and cleave your way through their ranks.
And if you're really worried about Fearlessness, you could always just take Fabius Bile...
The basic CSM is fantastic unit as has be stated already. At 1750 I run 30 CSM's and 8 Zerkers, they haven't let me down yet.
Ld 10 with re-rollable is better than fearless.
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