You didn’t honestly think I was going to let this one pass without comment now did you?
The skies above Fenris are ablaze and the internet is electric with chatter! Magnus the Red and his legion, the Thousand Sons, are back! Why has he returned? What are his aims? What does this mean for the future of the Space Wolves, for Chaos fans and for the Imperium itself? Is a 40k End Times event just around the corner?* And why does he have such huge horns for nipples? Let’s take a look!
*There isn’t. That would just be silly.
Incidentally I almost entitled this post Rubricae, Don’t Take Your Love To Town. Aren’t you glad I restrained myself?
For the first time in a long time* a demigod walks in the 41st Millennium, one of the Emperor’s own sons returned to see in the end of days. Overwrought descriptions follow in his wake; skies cracking, earth writhing, madness ensuing.
*Hush Epic fans, we know you had a model for him long ago. It was rubbish.There’s no beating around the bush – this is the big one. As probably the last major release of 2016 Games Workshop are bowing out with a bang, and setting the stage for the year to come. There is no turning back from this for them. Bigger and crazier models are on their way; more daemon Primarchs, perhaps even a few Loyalist Primarchs. If you thought that 40k was about to reinvent itself into a Necromundaesc skirmish game then those hopes are probably dashed I’m afraid. 2017 will undoubtedly be bigger and more hyperbolic still.
It’s easy to get caught up in the wider impact of this release and the inexact science of prophecy and forget about the model itself. Before we find ourselves plunging into the rabbit hole of rumour and counter-rumour let’s see what we have here and how. Like Forge World’s Angron a few years ago Magnus emerges already straining under the weight of expectation. The narrative of Warhammer 40,000 is one of apocalypse. For almost as long as the 40k universe has existed we have been being told “soon Chaos will rise, the Daemon Primarchs and their Legions will ride out at the head of a tide of daemons and the Imperium of Man shall fall”. Every battle fought in the 41st Millennium is one of desperation, the last fading strength of the Imperium bleeding out in the hopeless struggle of cruel order being crushed by the inrushing tide of absolute disorder. As a direct result of that narrative, I would argue, we’ve been waiting – unconsciously – to see models for the Damon Primarchs for years, perhaps even decades. Set against such a weight of expectation the model itself is undoubtedly going to be in for a fairly divisive reviewing – pulled apart or held up as an avatar of quality depending on how the reviewer feels about what it represents. Thus, in the interests of full disclosure let me restate my position on Primarchs in 40k, as set out a month ago with the release of The Burning of Prospero (which for those less familiar with the setting could be considered a sister release to this one, covering as it does the events which led to Magnus getting so narked off with the Space Wolves in the first place).
…It’s certainly a dramatic development and many are insisting that this means the return of many other primarchs is now imminent. Certainly the background has it that the daemonic Primarchs have been preparing for a return to the mortal universe for some time, …For me the thought of being able to include them in my armies as we surge out of the Great Eye at last and bring ruin to the Corpse-God’s Imperium is hugely exciting. However, perhaps hypocritically, I’m not all that keen on seeing the loyalist Primarchs appearing in 40k… After all Warhammer has already made the transition from a world in which the aesthetic of the pathetic ruled, where a man with no shoes and fewer teeth took up a rusty sword to battle daemon princes and orc hordes, into a glittering universe of superhuman heroics, where gods do battle and the great unwashed are strangely absent…The return of the loyalist Primarchs would send 40k in the same direction. The fate of the Imperium would hang less on the actions of a band of guardsmen defending a trench against the horrors of a hostile galaxy and more about two demi-gods duelling over their father’s throne…
The model itself is certainly dramatic although I’ll confess that at first I felt a slight disappointment based largely on my own unrealistic expectations. However, with his angelic wings and haughty demeanour, he plays the part of the fallen angel with aplomb. What’s more it’s literally packed with occult and metaphorical symbols and it’s clear that the designers had a great time creating a model with real meaning and depth. As a wizard Magnus lives in a world where symbolism is key and in recognition of this the designers have lavished him with clever details. Look for instance at his right hand which appears to form a Hamsa eye, a symbol believed to have magical properties that dates back at least as far as Mesopotamia. In many images of the Hamsa eye three of the fingers are elongated and emphasised, with the thumb and little finger reduced to vestiges. In Magnus’s case this appears to have been taken even further, with the little finger missing altogether. In the centre of the palm an eye looks out, warding the bearer against the evil eye. The evil eye itself may be represented by the glowing eye tattooed on his forearm, representing the wizard in his dualistic role of both protector and destroyer.
What the symbols around it might mean however remains unclear (I’ll admit my first thought was to dig through symbolic alphabet for the Dark Tongue of Chaos in The Lost and the Damned but to no avail). As ever any theories, no matter how wild or outlandish, are welcome in the comments.
On his wings we find a number of eyes reminiscent of the tail of a peacock, the Cauda Pavonis of the alchemists, to whom it represented both the white light in which all colours are united and, conversely, the failure of the process by which one believes illusions to be real. Much like Magnus himself then who, although he has claimed enormous power, will forever remain far less than he could have been, trapped forever by Tzeentch. Note also how the colours of the alchemical process progress from black, to white, to gold and finally to red, whilst across the Thousand Sons range gold appears with ever greater prevalence on the higher ranked figures, whilst red appears on the robes of the sorcerers, increases on those of Ahriman and becomes dominant on Magnus, the Crimson King himself.
His armour is likewise covered in the intricate details. In one a snake looms over a skeletal figure. Various theories have already been put forth to explain this including in White Dwarf itself; that the snake represents Tzeentch whilst the doomed figure is either the Emperor or Magnus, signifying how Magnus’s quest for vengeance upon his father shall ultimately doom both. Of course such symbolism often contains multiple layers of depth and my personal theory is that the snake also represents the incoming Tyranid swarms who’s animalistic hunger shall soon see the Imperium devoured. We know from statements by the developers that Magnus’ attack on Fenris is just the first step on a plan of galaxy-changing scale. By finally slaying the Emperor and snuffing out the light of the Astronomicon the forces of Chaos shall scatter humanity to the winds, preventing all hope of a co-ordinated response, and yet also removing the one thing which was drawing the Hive Fleets towards the inner worlds and perhaps offering some small hope for those who remain. After all if the Tyranids eat everyone who shall sustain the Chaos gods through their suffering?
In Egyptian myth, from which much of the imagery associated with the Thousand Sons is sourced, the serpent Apep devours all – life, light and magic – much as the Tyranids themselves do. Humanity is only saved by the intervention of Set, not a particularly noble or traditionally heroic figure, but a god of storms, disorder, violence and – most importantly – Chaos.
The kit also contains three different faces, unusual for a unique character (apart from politicians which come with two as standard) but perfect for Magnus who was capable of transforming his appearance and looked different depending on who was looking at him. Emphasising this one of the faces is a mask, perfect for concealing his ever shifting features. It’s not all quality however. For example the various the cables and other assorted ironmongery emerging through his arm seems slightly unnecessary. In the latest issue of White Dwarf it’s suggested that this is a result of whatever restoration was required following his battle with Russ. Surely however someone so magically powerful as Magnus, already capable of enormous feats of physical regeneration even before his ascension to daemonhood, would have no need for such augmetics? If this were Perturabo, or even Angron, I would understand, their cybernetic components are part of their character and would undoubtedly remain so even in the wake of their demonic-rebirth. It may be that Magnus wishes to wear his wounds openly so that his sons might see how he too suffered at the hands of the Space Wolves – but again these don’t look like ragged injuries but clean, intentional features and most of his Legion are automatons anyway, whilst the rest are egomaniacs who probably couldn’t give a monkeys what he looks like. Thus to me they end up looking like they were only added in order to fill a space on the model.
The trouble is actually working out what is intended as part of a subtle reference or clever hint on the designers’ part and what was simply added because they thought it looked cool. Does the three fingered hand really represent the Hamsa eye? What are the nipple horns actually for (apart from making him hard to hug)? Do they represent some form of symbolic feminine, the wizard combining male and female elements into a hermaphrodite form – a union of all the opposing forces within himself – or are they only there because John Blanche put them in the original artwork? Does the fact that he lives in a big tower with a huge eye at the top mean he’s only emerged from the Warp to hunt down hobbits?
Ultimately Magnus is a miniature which, when I first saw him, failed to really engage me – but the longer I’ve looked the more I like him. Even in this review I’ve rewritten passages multiple times as repeated looks have unlocked him further and further and I’ve shifted from being rather harshly critical to actually embracing him (not literally of course, nipple horns again). Thus although I may not be running down to the shops for him at once I suspect he may make his way into my collection at some point.
I’ll also be interested to see what other convertors do with such a large and impressive canvas. Certainly if we don’t see a new Lord of Change released soon I can imagine a number of hobbyists replacing Magnus’s head with the bird head from Archaon Everchosen.
Finally, before we move on to the rest of the release, let us remind ourselves of that Epic model which was Magnus’ first tabletop incarnation.
Here we have him – the real star of the show! The second of the classic chaos characters to be given a redesign in 2016 Ahriman joins Kharn in receiving a plastic reincarnation of a well-loved metal model. Unlike Kharn however, who received an extensive – and to my mind unnecessary – redesign – Ahriman is very much as he always was, with a few tweaks representative of twenty years of technological progress. It’s a risky business taking on a classic but all the iconic features are still in place, from the sweeping antelope horns to the instantly recognisable facemask and staff. Thus unlike Kharn, and for that matter Eldrad Ulthran, who both ended up looking slightly less than their metal predecessors, the new Ahriman is actually an improvement.
There was always something aggressive about his pose but that’s been turned up to eleven, no longer merely casting a spell but actually lunging into wizardly combat. The fact that he’s now riding on a disk only serves to emphasise the effect. He’s also divested himself of his gun (it’s holstered under his robes), preferring instead to fry his enemies with whatever magical effect is swirling around his fingertips. Normally I’m no fan of sculpted ethereal elements/fire/smoke/what-have-you but on this occasion it feels right. After all if Ahriman, easily one of the most powerful mages in the 41st Millennium, can’t be throwing a few spells around then who can? I’ll probably still be snipping it off though!
Here it is at last; the thing we’ve all be waiting for – a set of Space Marines who aren’t squatting! Better yet it’s the Rubricae, the rank and file of the Thousand Sons who were turned to dust by Ahriman’s disastrous rubic thousands of years ago, and left to gather dust by Games Workshop for almost as long. Now, at long last, they’re back – with a stylish range of wonderfully ornate models.
The Aspiring Sorcerer also has an eye in the palm of his hand, a neat and subtle link to Magnus.
Note the similarity between the Aspiring Sorcerer and the 30k incarnation of Ahriman released last month, a nice bit of visual storytelling that helps to tie the chief librarian’s past and future incarnations together in spite of his own changed appearance. The key difference is that the Ahriman model is casting with his right hand, the Aspiring Sorcerer with his left. Or, to put it differently, the staff – the focus of his power – is held in the Aspiring Sorcerer’s right hand, representing him choosing the right hand path of magic and accepting power from without. At the time of the Heresy Ahriman holds his staff in his left hand, choosing the left hand path of independence and channelling power from within himself. By the 41st Millennium however his staff has switched hands, perhaps because Ahriman’s struggle for self-determination has been for naught and he is now shackled forever by Tzeentch.
Whatever the meaning, if you’ve ever fancied creating a Sorcerer who’s casting a spell with both hands outstretched now’s your chance.
The Scarab Occult
Clad in Tartaros terminator armour in another nod to last month’s Burning of Prospero the elite warriors of the Scarab Occult join their brothers at last. When the rubric of Ahriman turned the legion into walking suits of dust-filled armoured it wasn’t just the power armoured marines who were affected. For years fans have been pointing this out and muttering about Rubric Terminators and finally their hopes have borne fruit.
Like the power armoured Rubricae the terminators carry an elegant assortment of weapons. Even the Hellfyre missile rack is stylish and ornate, although I’m still not entirely sure if the look of that particular set up appeals to me. Otherwise however the arrival of these terminators is a welcome addition to the range.
Life’s always better when it contains a Chaos sorcerer or two so the arrival of a boxset to make them with can only be a good thing. Packed full of mutations, extra staff tops and alternative heads this has the makings of being a kitbashers dream come true. It’s just unfortunate that the official models themselves are all a little disappointing. This one appears to be farting himself into the air. At first I assumed it must be an effect of the angle at which he’d been shown but no, however you look at it, there it is. I hoped it was just me who saw him this way but sadly it seems it was just the designer who didn’t. Never mind, the joy of plastic models is that it should be easy enough to convert something else.
Luckily these should be compatible with most of GW’s other space marines – both loyalist and heretic – so I’m looking forward to all kinds of fantastic kitbashes emerging over the coming months. With seven different heads in the kit it should be possible to come up with plenty of unique-looking characters to lead one’s mindless Rubricae to battle. In a particularly nice touch the disk of Tzeentch is double-sided allowing it to be reversed to create two different looking disks for your sorcerers to ride.
…And look, this one is reloading his pistol with magic (a touch which is either brilliance of a simply inspired nature or too silly for words – I’m undecided)!
Ultimately there are so many clever components in the kit that, in spite of its flaws, I’m looking forward to raiding it for conversion materials. I doubt these two masters of the occult will be alone for long.
Time and again lately Games Workshop have plundered their own history and brought forth brilliant ideas too long left in the shadows. When the first pictures of Magnus appeared online it seemed natural to expect the Thousand Sons to emerge with him and, in the wake of Wulfen and Genestealer Cults alike, I dared to hope that they might be bringing their thrall-herds with them. To actually see them come snorting and braying onto the tabletop at last however is exciting beyond words. Newcomers to the hobby might be scratching their heads at this – after all the Tzaangors were part of the Silver Tower back in the spring so why would they not make the jump to 40k now? Older hands however will recall the years in which 40k seemed to be slipping ever further into safe, sci-fi territory with the crazier elements abandoned or forgotten. Surely it was too much to hope that they might actually appear in model form – until now of course.
And what wonderfully weird forms those are! Combining elements of birds, goats and humans they create a figure which is far from anything we know from rational biology, yet which still appears functional. What’s more the brutal, bestial elements are entwined wonderfully with the ornate armour and weapons. They look alien, but believable.
For me then this may be the best bit of this release. I’m already a big fan of beastmen in 40k and the chance to add some more of these savage warriors to the those I’ve already picked up from the Silver Tower boxset will not be missed. They’ve also reminded me how much I’ve enjoyed working on my Bloodgors so perhaps we’ll see more of those soon as well. And then there are Pestigors and Slaangors to consider as well…
Mazzakim the Liar
Before describing my own future plans for these models I’ll need to explain a little about the idea behind my Chaos collection over all. Hard to believe though it may be behind what might at first look like a random pick ‘n’ mix of Chaos forces, with cults of all four gods and none piling in together, exists an underlying plan that ties it all together. Kallamoon Kell, the so called Lord of Ruin, is the lynchpin that holds it all together. His is the ultimate command and it is on his orders that the fleets sail and the Chaos Marines make war. Beneath him are a number of sub-commanders, and whilst Kell himself leads an inner circle of troops loyal(-ish) to him above the gods, these lieutenants each have command over one of the cults. Ghisguth the Reaper leads the followers of Nurgle, whilst the as yet unbuilt Rannoghar Garran commands those warriors who have sworn themselves to Khorne. Later I have plans to create the clone-twin lovers who lead the Slaaneshi warband The Choir of Spite. The Tzeentchian element will be led by an exile from the Thousand Sons who goes by the name High Magister Mazzakim the Liar.
For almost as long as he’s been plotting in the dark corners of the Eye of Terror I’ve been plotting how to make him with, as yet, no actual results to show you. All that, however – I like to imagine anyway – is soon to change. The last time a miniature for Azhek Ahriman was released – a mere month ago – I got hugely excited and bought one, plus a Gaunt Summoner and started kitbashing wildly in the hopes that soon Mazzakim would emerge from my thoughts into solid reality. The High Magister however stubbornly stayed away. No matter what bits I assembled where nothing looked right for the great sorcerer. Worse, pictures started emerging thick and fast showing the upcoming Thousand Sons and the whole project got kicked onto the backburner until I saw what the new models had to offer.
Now this isn’t to suggest that my enthusiasm for the project is on the wane, if anything it’s higher than ever. However I have been hanging back to get a proper look at the new kits – after all Mazzakim needs to lead them and that means no half measures. In the background I’ve created he’s one of Kell’s most senior and valuable advisors (or as valuable as an advisor who willingly calls himself ‘the Liar’ can be that is) and I don’t want him overshadowed by his own lieutenants. Because of that I’m almost tempted to base him on Ahriman, or even Magnus, but both are awesome characters in their own right and I’ve no wish to make my own character into a mere spin-off. It’s a problem I can assure you I’ll be pondering a great deal over the coming weeks.
Whatever form his model takes in the end, Mark from Heresy of Us was kind enough to send me a little care-package of bitz, including these books and candles – vital accoutrements for any wizard which will undoubtedly be used in summoning Mazzakim.
So who is Mazzakim? Long since estranged from his Legion Mazzakim has spent the millennia roaming the Eye of Terror and beyond, driven by a fierce hunger for knowledge. He rose through the ranks of the Pyrae, swimming in fire, but soon turned his attention to the other cults, consuming their knowledge and never sated. From the Athanaeans he took the power to scour minds, stripping them of all thought and memory. From the Raptorae he claimed terrible destructive power, whilst his shifting form and bloated ego was undoubtedly a gift of the Pavoni. Yet it was the Corvidae he studied most avidly, using their powers of precognition to plumb the depths of what is yet to come. Always he seeks knowledge and always one secret dances just beyond his grasp for Tzeentch has bound him into a web of lies and the key to his freedom is forever out of reach.
Thus Mazzakim has plundered the future and knows that the answer he seeks can only be claimed at a confluence of time and place. He must walk at Kell’s side into the throne-room of shattered Terra. Without the Lord of Ruin the moment will pass unmarked, even if Terra falls and Abaddon stands triumphant.
Yet the future does not give up its mysteries easily and time and again his prophetic visions return the same result; that the road to Terra is bloody and Kell will die long before they reach the surface of humanity’s cradle. Mazzakim has lived a life defined by selfish desires, heaping mockery upon those of his brothers, like Ahriman and Khayon, that hold lofty ideals and strive for greater ends. Yet he knows without doubt that without his aid Kell’s death is inevitable and all the scheming and questing of his long and evil life will have been for nothing. Thus Mazzakim gathers his Rubricae and marches to stand at Kell’s side. He will serve the Lord of Ruin, guarding him even to his own death, for without Kell the long millennia will close about him like a cage, Mazzakim’s path narrowing down to a single road which he is cursed to see, rolling out ahead of him, down the unbroken aeons of eternity.
Eat Our Dust Imperials!
What’s particularly exciting about this release is the level of depth and character that the legion has been provided with. We’re used to seeing this from Forgeworld but it somehow feels fresh and exciting to see it from Games Workshop itself. Many of us have been hoping to see the Chaos Legions given proper recognition for years but I think that even the most enthusiastic expected at best to see some rules, ‘legion tactics’ and special issue wargear to differentiate one collection of spiky marines from another (and indeed something of this nature appears to be scheduled for release in the next few weeks). The idea that we might see unique models to represent our chosen legions always seemed unthinkable. Our loyalist brothers got everything from Wulfen to Sanguinary Guard to Deathwing Knights whilst we kitbashed and became increasingly good at using greenstuff, grateful for any scraps the Empire of the Eye could provide. Some loyalist chapters got their own unique versions of stock units like tactical squads and terminators whilst we were told we could always paint our helbrutes red to show they are World Eaters, or a slightly different shade of red if we collect Word Bearers. Like the Legions themselves we have grown strong in our exile, developing our creative skills in a way the loyalists have never needed to, learning to loot as well as any ork and cobble new legionaries from loyalists, daemons and our better supplied brothers over the fence in Age of Sigmar.
At the same time however many of our number have become bitter. Bereft of hope they have descended into a kind of spawndom and, gathering together in lost brotherhoods, they roam from forum to forum, bleating and braying their distrust of the God-Emperor enthroned in Nottingham and conducting running battles with equally disaffected Sisters of Battle players.
For the rest of us though this release represents hope for the first time in years. Imagine what could be if we dared to dream! Dare we imagine something of this quality released for the World Eaters, Death Guard, Emperor’s Children or any of the other Legions? I think we do. More than that I think we should! For Games Workshop to remain at the head of the industry they must continue to innovate, to delve ever deeper into the worlds they have only hinted at before, to no longer expect us to make do with second best but to unshackle their own creative spirit and delve into the possibilities they know themselves to be capable of.
Ultimately the question must be; do you want your grandchildren to live in a world where the only difference between a Night Lords army and an Emperor’s Children army is the colour of the paint? Do you want to see the Novamarines and Angels of Absolution get their own model lines whilst we fight in the dirt for an upgrade sprue with a useful looking shoulder pad on it? Of course not brothers! The fightback starts today!
As ever with a Tzeentchian release these days I’m already waiting to see what Big Boss Redskullz comes up with and naturally I’ll be keeping an eye on Kraut Scientist in the hopes that another of his signature release reviews is in the works. In the meantime if you have any thought on this release get them in the comments box below (even Space Wolves players are allowed – providing they’re house trained…).
All pictures snatched from Game’s Workshops vaults and planted on my blog by the Changeling as part of an elaborate Tzeentchian plan. Apart from the ones I took myself obviously.