Daemons have seen a pretty large shift in how their Codex works recently. Possibly one of the greatest changes in 40k in the last few years. With the removal of Daemonic Assault and the dramatic change around of points costs especially in the Troops section, it's like we have a whole different army. Some people like that, some people don't, but haters gonna hate, and I like the new format.
One of the biggest complaints amongst Daemon players in 5th edition was that our Troops choices were all bad. And yeah, they were. They weren't very durable (with the exception of Plaguebearers, who were incapable of actually damaging anything really) and they were all rather expensive. Therefore, here seems like a good place to begin this blog's analysis of the new(ish) Chaos Daemon Codex: Plaguebearers.
Rather than engaging with the new format for this line, which is building lists around a unit, I am going to be going through what changes have been made to the Troops and how they impact their use on the tabletop. Let's face it, as Troops you're probably not going to build a list around them as they really don't have a specialist use, they are more there for objective holding and complementing the rest of the army. This is especially the case with Plaguebearers.
So, how do they differ. Blow-by-blow first of all, going into more detail below: They now have a Ballistic Skill, 3 rather than 0. However, they have also suffered a toughness nerf from 5 to 4. They are now Leadership 7 rather than Leadership 10, which does matter, as they're now subject to Daemonic Instability whilst losing the Fearless rule. Their Plagueswords come with a new rule entitled, 'touch of rust'. They lose Feel No Pain but gain Shrouded and Defensive Grenades. Their squad size is re-jigged and they have a Sergeant option, who can take Lesser or Greater Daemonic Gifts. The Instrument of Chaos is more expensive, but is also completely different, the Chaos Icon is much cheaper, but works pretty much the same. Additionally, they can take a Magic Flag. Oh, and they are now 40% cheaper than what they used to be. See, overhaul.
In 5th, Plaguebearers were probably the most common Troops choice for Daemons because, 1. They were the cheapest, and 2. They were the least terrible at holding objectives. In the new edition they actually have some competition for this, and so needed to get better.
The first thing to note is how good they now are at holding objectives. Well, first off, you're forced to invest more points into a squad to take them. In the old Codex it was 75pts for a minimum size squad, now it's 90, slightly more expensive, but they you are getting 5 more Plaguebearers. So much better value for points, but now you don't have that minimal squad is slightly more expensive.
As I've mentioned, they do lose Feel No Pain and they suffer from a reduced Toughness. However, Shrouded is still absolutely fantastic. When looking to place objectives you're generally going for terrain, even in area terrain these guys are getting a 3+ cover save. Then think about an Aegis Defence Line, put your Plaguebearers behind that and you effectively have 10 Terminators sitting on your objective (2+ cover save). They also never run as you choose to pass or fail morale checks.
If you want, you can even put a Quad Gun on that thing too, as Plaguebearers now have a BS, albeit it's nothing special but with a Quad Gun you're getting on average 3 hits, which isn't bad at all. Whether this is viable or not is another matter but you're finding another use for your Plaguebearers for another 50pts on top of your Aegis. Plus, with the Aegis you can guarantee that cover save, without looking at the board. I'm not entirely sure how long it is but I wouldn't be surprised if you could place 2 objectives behind there if you played the placement right.
So they're pretty durable from shooting, especially when taken with an Aegis Defence Line, but is this also the case in combat? Not really no, unfortunately the loss of FNP and T5 makes them much easier to kill in combat, they're only T4 and only have a 5++ save. They do have a couple of little tricks though. Firstly, a large squad will still take a while to eat through, remember that they can take up to 20 guys, and their save is invulnerable. They also come with Defensive Grenades, which is a big boost limiting the amount of damage that your opponent can put out. Plus your opponent is charging through cover most of the time, and if they don't have Assault Grenades they're striking at I1, giving you time to get out 20 4+ poisoned attacks, causing about 7.5 wounds most of the time, but remember that most assault units will come with Assault Grenades.
The basic principle here is, don't let them near combat. Either smash your opponent so hard with the rest of your army that they can't afford to come over and deal with your Plaguebearers or try and take a unit to screen them and tie up advancing units (I opt for smash).
That said, here is a nice point at which to mention their Plaguesword's new rule, entitled, 'touch of rust'. This is similar to the Gauss rule, and means that you always glance vehicles on a 6. With 20 models that not too bad, but I don't see it being used too often. A bit like Fear, which I probably should have mentioned in the combat paragraph (and there's my point, it's quite forgettable).
Plaguebearers also now come with a Sergeant option, called a Plagueridden, who is only 5pts, and comes with an extra attack, but most importantly Precision shot, so you can put your Plagueridden on the Quad Gun on your Aegis and pick out enemy characters. Ironically BS3 helps with this, as you're getting more re-rolls and therefore more chances to roll 6s. Not bad for 5pts. I'd probably ignore the gifts though, they're a bit of a waste on him.
Both the Instrument and Icon of Chaos are now 10pts, but both now are slightly different. The Icon of Chaos is pretty similar to last edition, allowing for safer Deep Strikes for your units. It is also 60% cheaper than last edition, probably due to the fact that your units are no longer forced to Deep Strike. I probably wouldn't give this to the Plaguebearers too often if you're sitting back, as the point of Deep Striking really is to get into your opponents face fast and start doing some damage.
For those that played the last Codex, you may remember that an Instrument of Chaos meant that if you drew a combat then you counted as winning it by 1, a rarely used upgrade. Here it is completely different. The first thing that it allows you to do is escort a unit onto the board when Deep Striking. Dropping down is tempting for Plaguebearers, as you may feel that you can avoid some shooting that way, but then you risk mishap or scattering beyond your cover. If you want to reserve them I'd go for the walk on approach, so that's not particularly useful here. In addition, it has some effect on the Warp Storm table, but only for certain rolls, such as with Khorne's Wrath, where you get to re-roll a single dice. I probably wouldn't take this on the Plaguebearers, it's not useful for the Deep Strike but for the Warp Storm manipulation it is tempting. I personally wouldn't take it as it's too specialised and random for 10pts.
No unit would be complete in a Games Workshop book without a magic flag, and the Plaguebearers are no exception. They are given the option of taking a Plague Banner, for an additional 10pts on top of your Chaos Icon. As well as the buffs given by the Icon, the banner can be popped (like a Wolf Banner) for one assault phase, making the Plaguebearers weapons Poisoned (2+).
My feeling on this is that it's actually pretty good. If you could take it without the Icon, I'd be all over it like a tramp on chips, as your opponent may think twice about charging them. However, I think that this effect is mainly psychological. Running the maths. 20 Plaguebearers striking against T4 power armour with the 2+.
10 hits, 8.3 recurring wounds, 2.7 dead marines. As oppose to; 10 hits 5 wounds, 1.3 dead marines. Yes you're doubling the number of dead marines but 2 x 1.3 still isn't very high. And you have to take the crappy icon as well (crappy in this context).
So, with the Plaguebearers, much better than last edition all in all, especially considering that most armies are shooty rather than choppy nowadays. Keep them away from combat though, and keep them as cheap as you can, 90pts worth is good enough. Remember to consider your cover, and don't rule out Fortifications.