In order for Tyranids to be competitive at a GT level, they need to have Flyrants. Honestly there's no way around that in the current codex. The "standard" build at 1850 involves 5 of them, with Rippers and Mucolids as troops. It's crucial that the remaining points are spent on units that can help a Tyranid player win Maelstrom missions. We all remember the "LictorShame" list that won several GTs a year or two back, that relied on using Lictors to claim and contest objectives through MSU (Multiple Small Unit) tactics just by overloading their opponent with too many targets to shoot while Flyrants ruled the skies overhead. While Lictors are amazing, they're not the only units that can be used to win you Maelstrom Missions. Today I'm going to break down some tactics that I have found to be very effective in Maelstrom missions.
Step 1: Pick your battles
Most of the ITC Maelstrom missions include both objective control and killing units in the table. With the mobility and firepower of Flyrants, its not very hard to achieve the "kill a unit" when you need to. But, Tyranid Flyrant lists often struggle to control objectives. At the beginning of the game, I recommend looking at both of the missions and seeing if you can realistically win the Eternal War mission. For example, if I'm playing Purge the Alien against Battle Company, or Big Guns against Necrons, I am fairly confident I can take the Eternal War component of the mission. Only then do I decide how aggressive I am going to be in Maelstrom missions. If I'm not confident, I may concede Maelstrom and instead go all out for Eternal War while protecting my warlord, aiming for first blood, and trying to win on the tertiary points. Don't waste effort on a Maelstrom objective you can't win or are hopelessly behind in! For example, there's no easy way to beat a White Scars Razorback Battle Company in mission 3 Maelstrom, where every point is about board control and objectives.
Step 2: Take risks
If you think that Maelstrom is a winnable mission, then it's important to take risks to secure it. My strategy for Maelstrom missions is to limit my opponents points early on instead of trying to keep up with them. This means that I use no-scatter Lictors to contest objectives, or focus my Flyrants firepower on controlling units to deny my enemy points. These are called risks for a reason, as your opponent can then roll the "kill a unit" while your lictor is sitting in his backfield. The way I see it though, its a good trade off to guarantee him losing a point at the risk of him getting it back later. Another uncommon tactic that I have found to be extremely effective is to land my FMCs early. Not my Flyrants that is, but Crones! Crones are sometimes overlooked, but are very durable in the air and also mobile enough to reach almost any objective. When I have a Maelstrom objective that I need, I almost always will land one of my two Crones on it, and force my opponent to choose what to shoot at. A landed, non threatening FMC, or a Flyrant in their face? This often pays off in earning me a point, and then the next turn that Crone simply flies off to spread more mayhem. By limiting my opponents points and selectively taking a few objectives a turn, I am able to keep the maelstrom mission close in almost all of my games, and by turns 4-5 my Flyrants have usually done enough damage that I can start landing with all of my Flyers and edge out a close victory in the Maelstrom. I'm also very aggressive in going for the three-point options in the maelstrom, often leaving a few easy kill points exposed so that I can get them when needed. It's an excellent way to turn the tide!
Step 3: Bring the right units
Ok, this really should be step 1 since you (should) write your list before the game starts, but its my third topic. Everyone already knows that Lictors are great units for Maelstrom missions, with their no-scatter deep strike and good cover saves for durability. But there are several other units that I have found to be golden. Rippers, our most common troop, are excellent for grabbing objectives in "no mans land" away from enemy forces. Always put objectives near terrain to protect them! Mucolids are your other common troop, and although they aren't scoring, when grouped up they provide excellent deterrence to the enemy. Crones and mawlocs are both excellent in maelstroms as they have ignores cover, are tough, mobile, and not shabby in close combat against non-assault units. Finally, I like to have two units in my backfield. One is a venomthrope or malanthrope to protect against alpha strikes, and the other is... a fortification? No its not fluffy, but a Bastion or Void Shield Generator provides excellent defense while your fliers are on the ground, as well as being a very tough unit that can be placed on an objective. Now we all have read the GW faq, but even if you're playing by it, I think a Void Shield provides vital defense for a Flyrant based army on turn 1.
Step 4: Bringing it all together
I won't try to tell you that Tyranids are a secret powerhouse army that can roll through the meta without breaking a sweat. Nids require subtlety, planning, risks, and a bit of luck to use effectively. But I have found that they can be used effectively, and can go toe-to-toe with some of the best armies in the game. All of the above tips and tricks have helped me win maelstrom missions against battle companies, Riptide Wings, Decurions, and worse. Hopefully it can do the same for you!
Thoughts? Feedback? Questions? Are Nids as bad as the internet claims? Let me know how you've been using Tyranids!