How to Play Melee Armies in 9th Edition

Hey everyone, Camden here to talk about playing melee armies in 9th edition. In my playtesting with players near me for the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen many players who run melee armies such as Harlequins, World Eaters, Blood Angels, and Khorne Daemons having quite a bit of trouble moving into the new 9th edition game structure. I am writing this article as a way to help these players.

I want to start with the most crucial point of this article.

It is extremely difficult/impossible for a melee army to assail the deployment zone of a good player 

I want to make this point extremely clear. Due to the addition of these many anti-melee mechanics, there is precisely one circumstance in which you can assail a gunline with functional screening units:

a.) You must have a large horde unit with a nigh 100% chance to charge two weak, non-flying units simultaneously from complete safety and be able to tri-point.

b.) Your opponent cannot have any counter-charge units

Now, let us go through each faction and see which of them fits these qualifications.

Space Marines of every single flavor (including CSM and Custodes): Not only will you be attempting to tripoint units with 16 or more S4 attacks, but they also have a load of counter-charge characters/units just waiting to mace you in the face.  Conclusion: No

Adeptus Mechanicus: It is never a 100% chance to charge their Serberys Raiders as they can just retreat 12” when you declare a charge on them. They also frequently take counter charge units in the form of Electro-Priests that would love for the chance to get to a 3++. Conclusion: No

Knights: They do not have screens, and thus, missile units work. Obviously, if they take an ally with screens, this is a really bad idea.  Conclusion: Against mono-faction, yes, with missile melee units. Otherwise, no.

Imperial Guard: They can either screen with Punisher Cannon Tank Commanders or Guardsmen depending on circumstance and have Bullgryn, which are extremely strong anti-melee. Conclusion: No

Eldar of all flavors: Can screen with cheap or durable flying vehicles and have solid counter-charge units. Conclusion: No

Necrons: Can deepstrike a unit out of tri-point and breakout the other. They also have strong counter-charge units. Conclusion: No

Orks: Good luck surviving after charging into Boys and keeping them alive.  Conclusion: No

Tau: Can screen with drones, which fly. You will also lose your whole unit to overwatch. Even if you can tag two Breachers units, they can put 3-4 shots a model into your melee unit. Conclusion: No

Nids and Genestealer Cults: Good counter melee units. Conclusion: No

Daemons: Lol no.  Conclusion: Are you crazy?

Wow! Not looking great, is it? Now, this is not to say that, if you are up against a weak opponent, you cannot make it work. If your opponent is screening with Skitarri vanguard without Electro-priests or guardsmen without having Bullgryn to back them up, go to town and take the free win. Otherwise? You will need a new strategy, or you will just be handing your opponent a win. So, what is that new strategy? Well, that leads to my next point.

Melee is now all about the “Ambush,” “Flip and Trap,” and the “Out-trade”


Here is a typical combat patrol/incursion board with GW-approved amounts of terrain for the first matched play mission, and here is what that board looks like from the vantage point of a shooting army.


Taking the opposite of these zones provides a clue to melee army positioning.


That is a lot of instant death on the other side of that map, huh? So, why even go there? Let us just set up/move like this:


If I get first or second turn, I should wait here until my opponent makes a move. As long as I take the Raise the Banners secondary mission, I am currently scoring the same as my opponent, and so, if we were just to sit here as we are, we would either end in a draw or a win for me (if they didn’t choose Raise the Banners. It is imperative as a melee army to have “momentum.” This forces your opponent into action.


A smattering of shooting from the Inceptors and advancing Intercessors cuts down a couple of models through the -1 to hit, and the shooting player jumps up onto the objectives. Time to show off some melee strategies!  


Here are a couple of examples of the tactics displayed here:

The Ambush


This non-objective securing unit (Bloodcrushers) is strong enough to wipe this objective grabber (Intercessors) and is relatively tough. It will require resources to remove it, and it got some of its points back by getting a kill. This is also a unit that is a very good target of offensive strategems to ensure I wipe the Intercessors and defensive strategems on the next turn to hold the objective.

The Flip and Trap


The opponent made the mistake of putting a non-objective securing unit (Inceptors) on this objective, and so, I made a charge with a unit with Objective Secured (Bloodletters). There is no reason to use any offensive strategems on this unit because the Inceptors need to fall back anyway, so it cannot retaliate with shooting. Additionally, even if my opponent falls back and remains on the objective, it is still mine unless another unit elsewhere on the board can wipe them. If the Inceptors didn’t have fly, I would also tri-point the unit, forcing my opponent to either write the unit off or spend 2cp on Desperate Breakout.

The Out-trade


These Hellblasters lost their screen, as the Intercessors made a move to get on an objective. In response, I launched a missile in its direction that will likely kill it/heavily damage it. An important note is that my Bloodthirster only costs 250 points to the Hellblasters’ 330. This is typical because melee units typically cost less for significantly more burst damage than ranged units that are all about long-term efficiency. This Bloodthirster is likely very dead in response, but because I sent a cheaper unit than my target, I ended up coming out ahead on the trade. I probably will not spend any cp protecting it unnecessarily. It has out-traded already.

Following up

Now, the shooting army is in big trouble. They will have to spend quite a lot of resources to re-claim one of these middle objectives and likely have lost this game. Let us say that the shooting player pulls another big threat out of strategic reserves and lays down some return fire.


Ouch! I did get an extra 10 vps for my trouble, plus some secondaries, but I took a pounding standing in the open like that. However, now I am ahead on points, so there is no reason to remain in the instant death zones. So, let us just set it up all over again by abandoning the right objective and finishing off the Inceptors with my Bloodletters in another Out-Trade (200 points to 80).


Now that I am ahead in vps, I can sit behind these walls for the rest of the game if need be. The shooting army has to come back onto these objectives, and we can pull those same three tactics all over again.


Obviously, these were just toy examples, but I feel that it builds an excellent base to build more advanced tactics on top of. Here is an example higher-level melee tactic (The Pull-Down) I have been working on:

I set up a melee unit in Ambush near an objective, and so, my opponent sends an aircraft to get around the obscuring terrain to clear it out. However, this was itself a trap for an aircraft that had to land out of position to clear out my ambushing unit. A flying unit (such as a Bloodthirster or Daemon Prince) then pulled that aircraft to the ground while itself remaining behind obscuring terrain in an excellent Out-Trade (80 points for the Ambushing unit vs. 100+ points for the aircraft). I used this tactic just the other day, and it basically gave me the win almost all on its own. 

I hope that these tactics can help those melee armies out there compete properly. If you have any questions, please comment below, and if you would like to take your game up a notch, subscribe to the War Room or hire an Art of War coach and learn more tactics like these.

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