40K Tactics: Space Marine Captains & Command Squads

Hey guys, I am Learn2Eel and this is my Codex: Space Marines Tactica! Today, I will be looking at the potent Company Captains and their Command Squads. I hope you enjoy this article!

The Space Marines have a large array of generic characters to choose from, with characters that have distinct roles in an army list and fulfill them admirably. The Captain and Chapter Master are combat-oriented heroes that can allow army list manipulation when certain wargear options are chosen, while Librarians, Chaplains and Masters of the Forge are primarily geared to varying forms of support. The addition of Chapter Relics and the streamlining of wargear costs leads to tougher choices than previously for which character to lead your army; gone are the days when a Librarian was a default choice due to Null Zone and the like. Now, there are intrinsic benefits to employing a Chapter Master in place of a Captain, and so on, rewarding your choices in a considered fashion. As well, the differing Chapter Tactics certainly boost the viability of individual choices by considerable margins!

Captain/Terminator Captain

Overview – Though split into two different units, to save space and time I combined the two entries with specific references to terminator-armoured characters. Anyway, Captains are the midpoint between a Chapter Master and one of the support characters; they are designed to be a less points-intensive combat character that also provides some potential force organization manipulation with the right wargear choice. Given the significant cost difference between a Captain and a Chapter Master, the adage is very much true that the smaller investment works better in the smaller game, while the larger investment conversely functions more effectively in the larger game. While this may not strictly always be true – a Chapter Master does get a lot of bang for their buck, though saving so many points may allow for an extra unit to be included in the army – it is nonetheless a good principle to model your characters after.

The Captain is designed with smaller games in mind due to their cost, though at games of about 1500 points or more, the Chapter Master gradually becomes a more intriguing option due to the lesser likelihood of them conceding Slay the Warlord due to the extra stat boosts. Aside from this comparison, the Captain is very much as you would expect; decently hard to kill for a stock commander, can be made quite killy with some rather cheap upgrades, and generally does the job they are expected to do. Just don’t expect them to do much outside of tanking wounds for more vulnerable and possibly valuable models, or performing strongly in melee, otherwise.

How to Equip Them – Considering that Captains are probably best used as a “Chapter Master on the cheap”, I would probably be careful with the gear you equip them with; for example, a Captain does not gain nearly as much benefit from the Shield Eternal or the Burning Blade due to the loss of a wound and attack compared to a Chapter Master. On the other hand, cheap upgrades such as a Storm Shield or a power weapon will seem much more valuable if you want to make a nasty melee character without breaking the bank. In that sense, I would typically shy away from the Chapter Relics and more towards standard wargear that still allows them to best other melee characters of a similar cost in combat. There is no denying that a Captain in Artificer Armour with a storm shield is seriously hard to put down outside of massed Strength eight or higher attacks, and the addition of a power axe or thunder hammer can lead to the induction of a junior combat monster.

As with a Chapter Master, a Bike is always a very smart choice provided he has Bikers to accompany him, whether in the form of a very useful Command Squad – massed Relentless grav rifles! – or the regular guys, particularly considering the Captain also makes them Troops. As Bikers are arguably the most cost effective Troops option Space Marines have access to, this is an option you should really consider, particularly in a White Scars force. A Jump Pack may fit better in a Raven Guard themed force, but generally doesn’t provide as many benefits as a Bike does for a similar cost. The choice of ranged weapon isn’t as important, as the point of a Captain is usually to wallop enemies up close; however, a Ballistic Skill 5 combi-weapon is never a bad thing, nor is the rather cheap Primarch’s Wrath Chapter Relic. On the other hand, an upgraded melee weapon is almost necessary; a power weapon works well with any configuration, while a power fist or thunder hammer is a more risky option that won’t be able to hide behind four wounds like a Chapter Master, or the Shield Eternal in smaller games.

For a Terminator-armoured Captain, I would probably maximise their defence and offence simultaneously by taking the vaunted thunder hammer and storm shield option; not to mention, you can make a Lysander equivalent for less (though probably not as good, of course). A pair of lightning claws will shred through most infantry, but can be trumped easily by 2+ armoured enemies or most kinds of monstrous creatures and vehicles. Be aware of what his bodyguard – whether it be either kind of Terminator or a Command Squad – is equipped with when you are picking his loadout, as a pair of lightning claws can work fine in a unit already packing storm shields as stand-in guardians.I feel that for either the Terminator Captain or the regular Captain, the thunder hammer and storm shield combined with other equipment to taste – such as a Bike, a Jump Pack, Artificer Armour, and so on – keeps them cheap and provides a nice balance between offence and defence that is unlikely to even break the 160 point mark.

Where to Put Them – Captains are ideally placed either in a melee unit to boost their total damage potential and provide him with a nice escort, or in elite ranged units to ward off potential aggressors in melee. Much as Lysander was often used as a defender for Sternguard Veterans in the 5th Edition codex, so too can the Captain be employed to scare off those pesky, mobile melee units you don’t want to deal with. He can sit with Devastators, Sternguard Veterans, or even Tactical Marines in such a role. However, you are probably best suited getting them to where they can do the most damage, which will usually be either with Bikers, Assault Terminators, Vanguard Veterans or Command Squads. In fact, one of the nastiest places to put one is with a bike-mounted Command Squad; give them all grav guns, and the Captain a combi-grav weapon, and watch the carnage as you slaughter hapless Riptides and Wraithknights within the first two turns and scoot away through your Jink saves and boosted Toughness. Employ a storm shield so that Heldrakes can’t hit you back, and you have yourself arguably the best unit with which to employ a Captain.

Best Uses – Given the expansion of Chapter Masters into their own defined role, Captains are now effectively your budget combat characters; this means that you typically want them either in smaller games or in an army where you want to maximise the points spent on regular units rather than characters. Captains thus find their own niche while still being a melee-oriented character; you want them to fight enemies up close, because outside of a combi-weapon, they can’t really help out much in shooting. However, unless you take the Shield Eternal, you typically don’t want them fighting against enemies which a Chapter Master might otherwise be able to handle, such as nasty monstrous creature characters or abusive melee units like Death Cult Assassins. You should be able to handle most enemies in close combat, but it isn’t a bad option to take a Captain alongside a mixed or mostly ranged unit to keep themselves safe; they concede Slay the Warlord more easily than a Chapter Master, importantly. While drop-podding them in with Sternguard to dissuade charges or another such unit is a viable use of them, I think the afore-mentioned Command Squad kitted with special weapons on bikes will likely be the Captain’s safest and best destination overall; that he also makes the cost-effective regular Bikers Troops is just the icing on the cake.

Chapter Tactics – Similar to the Chapter Master, a Captain is best served by the Chapter Tactics that benefit melee characters specifically, such as Black Templars, Ultramarines or Salamanders. For an assault unit, White Scars and Raven Guard provide nice overall benefits – particularly the latter when embarked on a Rhino – and so there is no real clear cut winner here for the Chapter Tactics best suited to a Captain. Be mindful that while you can pull off the godlike Iron Hands build with the Shield Eternal, you are probably best served maximising its durability with a Chapter Master. After all, you must pay for greatness!

Command Squad

Overview – Much like the Honour Guard of a Chapter, Command Squads are only available in an army featuring a Captain, Librarian or Chaplain; as with Chapter Masters, the potential inclusion of this awesome unit is often an important decision when choosing your HQ units. Priced similarly to Sternguard and Vanguard Veterans, each model in a Command Squad is an elite model with two attacks base, two combat weapons – with the option of a bolter – and Leadership 9. Though they don’t come stock with power weapons or Artificer Armour for the only slightly more expensive Honour Guard, they instead have access to a greater slew of options; with bikes, storm shields, melta bombs and even special weapons (per the most recent codex FAQ) to choose from. Though they might not jump out as much as Honour Guard do in terms of outright melee capabilities, it bears mentioning that Command Squads can be so much nastier overall when given some particular wargear combinations.

How to Equip Them – This is entirely dependent on what transport you are putting them in, or if you are taking Bikes; I think it bears mentioning that running five expensive Space Marine models up the field, even with expensive storm shields, is a bad idea, so I won’t go into that. You don’t have to worry about squad size as it will always consist of five models, though the permutations available in the squad can be rather staggering. With each model able to make their own individual wargear selections, you can have schizophrenic combinations of storm shields, bolters, combi-plasmas, power mauls and pairs of lightning claws. Of course, if you want a unit that either makes its points back or at least actually fulfills a particular purpose in your army list, I would avoid mixing and matching like that and instead keep them focused on the one particular role. Space Marines tend not to do very well if they aren’t specialized to destroying a specific type of enemy, and the same is no different for Command Squads.

First up, if you are taking them in a Drop Pod, give them all guns dependent on their Chapter Tactics; a squad led by Vulkan or with Salamanders in general would be best served by taking meltaguns or flamers for a brutal alpha strike, while any other special weapon would work for the different Chapters. A unit in a Rhino or Razorback will probably want either plasma guns to fire out of fire points in the midfield, or melee weapons to take advantage of the fire support a Razorback provides. A Land Raider is best suited to a squad equipped for combat, but at this point, you may want to think about investing in Honour Guard instead if your HQ choices allow it. If you take Bikes, you needn’t worry about the Chapter Tactics – though White Scars are probably preferable – as you can deliver five grav guns straight into an enemy formation on a relatively cheap unit that is also quite decent in combat. Paired up with a wound-tanking character of some form, and you will regularly enjoy the sweet scent of terror exuding from your opponents. Riptides, Wraithknights, Terminators, Dreadknights, and so on; beware!

For general use, the character and standard upgrades for a Command Squad should be taken mostly based on personal taste, as though they generally provide strong returns, they can be expensive for an already costly unit. The Company Champion is actually quite cheap and very much worthwhile for any melee-oriented Command Squad; if you want to provide massed special weapons though, I would probably avoid the upgrade. An Apothecary is very cheap for what he brings, and is definitely a good inclusion if you have the points spare; unfortunately, he still can’t take the weapons Veterans can. Melta Bombs are cheap and allow the Veterans to engage monstrous creatures and vehicles with varying degrees of an effectiveness; obviously, a Trygon or a Wraithlord is likely to eviscerate most of the unit in return. I probably wouldn’t bother with more than one or two Storm Shields in a Command Squad due to their high cost; generally speaking, you probably only need the two 3+ invulnerable saves to tank the AP3 or AP2 wounds you will encounter. As for the holy standards, the Standard of the Emperor Ascendent is probably not worth it in so much as the Company Standard will prove to be more useful for so much less points. Both provide re-rolls to units of the same Chapter Tactics for Pinning and Morale tests within 12″, while the former provides a mini-bubble of Hatred, as well as conferring Fear on the bearers’ unit. If you want to take one of the standards, concern yourself only with the Company Standard; the small unit size and lack of great durability for Command Squads really limits the use of such an expensive relic.

Where to Put Them – I honestly think that there is no “right answer” if you want to use them as a “special weapons team”, and so where you put them largely depends on their special weapon. Grav rfifles are best suited to bike-mounted Command Squads, while meltaguns and flamers work better in drop pods – particularly with Salamanders and even Vulkan thrown in. On the flip side, you probably want massed plasma guns either in a drop pod or a rhino, with Raven Guard particularly favouring the latter due to Scout.

Best Uses – Command Squads actually aren’t cut out to be a dedicated assault unit as they aren’t the most cost effective unit you can bring for the role; instead, you want them to deliver high strength firepower on elite models, all with surprisingly high efficiency. Arm them with flamers or meltaguns, combine them with Vulkan and you have a phenomenally destructive alpha strike unit that embodies the term “overkill”; obliterating any single tank or one or more – depending on their placement – infantry unis in one deadly salvo. I think the best overall build for a Command Squad is on Bikes and armed with grav rifles to make full use of their Relentless; plus, the Bike upgrade averages out to less than ten points per model, which is actually quite cheap given their Veteran status.The unit will slaughter Riptides, Wraithknights and other really nasty monsters and high armour units, while dealing quite well with Wave Serpents due to to the wording of the graviton rule. They can then rely on their high Toughness, mobility and Jink saves to save themselves the return fire; White Scars benefit this build the most due to the pseudo Skilled Rider they provide.

Chapter Tactics – I don’t think any of the Chapter Tactics in particular stand out for most kinds of Command Squads, though certain types definitely get stronger advantages from certain Tactics; White Scars hugely benefit bikers, while Salamanders work very well with “drop and pop” units.

Thanks for reading everybody and by all means chime in down in the comments. How have you been running your Captains?

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