I never really had an appreciation for the Imperial Guard faction in the 40K CCG (I’m not calling them Astra Militarum). That changed when I started building my first Imperial Guard deck. While I have yet to believe they are a top tier faction in the game, I am thoroughly enjoying the deckbuilding process and think they bring a lot of cool things to the table.
While I can’t speak to Guard subfactions such as Catachans, my approach to generic Imperial Guard is to balance synergy and reliability. This combined arms approach feels very fitting to the faction, and allows the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.
With that being said, here are my four pillars to a balanced Imperial Guard deck:
The humble infantry squad forms the core of this deck. Individually, they are rather mediocre. The ideal statline for your rank-and-file troop should be 2/2/3, which is OK but hardly impressive. Your infantry support units are even worse, boasting 2/2/1, 1/2/1 or 0/2/1 statlines. Your troops are generally frail, and alone don’t pack much of a punch. So, why play them?
With a First Wave of 2, you’re going to have quite a few of them, and with support, they will crank out a lot of dakka. Between Basilisks, Fire Support Squads, Pillboxes, and Sentinel Squadrons with their firepower-boosting tactics, each infantry unit is equally capable of shooting almost any other unit off the table.
Your weak (at first glance) support infantry also bring a lot to the table. Fire Support Squads can reliably boost every other unit’s firepower. Command Squads can infiltrate an extra unit to a battle, and can be rallied to do so again. Mortar Squads can score a shell on an amazing 2+ roll, and can also be easily rallied to fire again.
How do you keep them alive? Well, to be honest…you don’t. Imperial Guard has high-speed units such as flyers and sentinels, which can block in a pinch, but you’d rather have them do their actual jobs. You have a few counterattack options but not nearly as many as Space Marines. Armor boosting is often out of the question as well. Occasionally you’ll have invulnerable saves on rank-and-file units like Veteran Platoon, which can come in handy, but they’re definitely not to be relied upon.
And that’s one of the neat things about Imperial Guard. That single Mortar Squad isn’t your only artillery option. That Fire Support Squad isn’t your only firepower-boosting option. You’ll have others, spread out across the different unit types. It’s up to you and your deployment strategy to make sure that your units have the support they need to work together. If the pieces of your puzzle are isolated, however, you will crumble at a sector.
But to capture sectors, you’re going to need infantry.
I initially underrated Guard’s ability to infiltrate units from other sectors. Now I think it’s great. It represents their ability to throw waves of men at the enemy, securing victory through attrition. The Imperial Guard fleet card also rewards you for playing aggressively to win battles, granting you a free deployment after taking a sector.
Infiltration also gives you additional options in a battle. If you’re missing firepower, you can bring in a Fire Support Squad from another sector. Trying to dodge counterattacking units? Bring in a Mortar Squad to take out that locked Squad Damocles.
By setting up first wave deployments and choosing sectors carefully, you can position yourself to maximize these infiltration options.
More than any other faction, Guard love their big guns…and you’re going to need them. Despite their overwhelming firepower, the speed of their shooting units will rarely exceed 2. As such, you will need a way to bypass fast blockers to take out high-priority threats. Your artillery units can do so, by locking them down with shells or through command lines such as Veteran Platoon (CC) or Baneblade (CC). With the invaluable Kane’s Squad (IV), by merely locking your artillery units you can even destroy opposing units outright.
A note about dice rolling
Guard have very few options to increase their dice rolls, and many of the high-die cards available are not very good (I’m looking at you, Infantry Squad). That’s why units with reliable rolls such as Basilisk (3+ artillery shell, 2+ infantry firepower boost) are so valuable. You can count on them to lift up your units at a sector without being subjected as harshly to RNG or Chaos/Eldar shenanigans.
So, expect your dice rolls to suck. I don’t rely on 5+ tests to succeed. Instead, I shoot for 4+ as the most difficult roll in my deck.
As expected of Guard, there are a lot of fortification synergies in the faction, most notably with the common Veteran Cityfighters (CC). Fortifications should be used to level the playing field against other factions and strategies. Command Bunker is a great all-around option to shut down tactics-heavy decks such as Space Marines and Orks. Force Field Generator can give you an edge against infiltration strategies, while Tank Traps can slow opposing vehicles to a crawl.
Fortifications will also give your opponent a high-priority target to remove, further dividing their attention between your units.
Imperial Guard is a faction that I believe is much stronger than its individual parts appear. None of their units evoke the aura of a Great Unclean One or an Avatar, but they all work well together to overwhelm the opponent with a variety of tools. As I evolve my deck, I hope this will continue to be the case.