40K: Ranking the Codex Chapters


Take a look inside the pages of Codex: Space Marines and see how the Space Marine Chapters rank up against each other.

Last week Adam Harry took a look at and ranked the new Chapter Tactics from Codex: Space Marines. While Chapter Tactics are a huge part of the new book, they are not all that goes into making a Chapter or army list. When Adam ranked the tactics he did so with the caveat that he was looking at the tactics in a vacuum. Today lets look at the eight chapters in C:SM as a whole, characters, units, stratagems, relics, etc. and see who are the big winners and losers of the codex. But first a couple things to note.

  • Like the previous article we’re looking at these from a more competitive stand point – we’ve ranked these based on how effective they are, how often they come up, and how game changing they can be.
  •  We looked at what they gained- aside from pure power we took into account how much the book improved a chapter and how well they work with the other new things (Primaris) in the Codex.

So with that said let’s dig in. Here is our ranking of the Space Marine Chapters starting with the bottom and heading on up!

#8. Iron Hands 

Poor Iron Hands. Like their Primarch the old Iron Tenth really didn’t come out ahead. Not only do they have one of the worst, due to randomness, Chapter Tactics in the book, but pretty much everything else they get is lackluster. Their signature stratagem MACHINE EMPATHY  allows an Iron Hands vehicle to ignore movement penalties when shooting, but frankly Machine Spirit already does this for half the vehicles anyway. On top of a list of under-powered abilities they are also the only Chapter to not have a special character, earning them last place among the Chapters.

#7 Imperial Fists  

With the worst ranked Chapter Tactics on our list you know the Sons of Dorn weren’t going to be too high on this list. Like the Chapter Tactic the rest of their abilities don’t stand out that much either. Bolter Drill, their stratagem, allows for a single unit to make extra bolter attacks, when rolling a 6 to hit. Frankly I’d rather have the extra CP back then get the average of like 3 extra bolter shots a turn this will bring you. With a very situational warlord trait and weak relic only the presence of Captain Lysander keeps them ranked above the Iron Hands.

#6 Black Templars

The Black Templars are the most unique Chapter in the Codex, and the one that has in the past had their own Codex (which makes sense since they don’t really follow the Codex at all…). While they have a pretty good Chapter Tactic the rest of their abilities under preform a bit. First off the lack of Librarians is pretty harmful for the army. Not only can they not use physic powers but they are now very vulnerable to psychic attacks. Rather than getting a cool bonus from their Stratagem, Abhor the Witch tries to make up for the lack of Librarians by negating an enemy physic power on a 4+. However not only does this ability cost a CP it also can only be used once a physic phase.

Black Templars do get some power special characters. The Emperors Champion is a boss! But their assault focus benefits little from the shooting focused Primaris additions to the Codex. Moreover as the Codex Marines shift more and more towards a shooting/firepower based list assault list feel better left to Blood Angels or Space Wolves.

#5 Crimson Fists 


Alas, all three of Dorn’s successor chapters fall in the bottom half of our listings. With the Crimson Fists and Imperial Fists sharing so much it might be fair to ask why the successor Chapter is listed two slots above their founder. The answer to that lies with old Pedro Kantor. Kantor, the Chapter Master of the Crimson Fists, is one of the best named characters in the Codex. As a Chapter Master he allows his chapter mates to re-roll all failed hits, not just 1s. In addition to that his handing out +1 attack to Crimsons First is far better than the normal +1 strength most other Chapter Masters get. That ability alone allows the Crimson Fists to build a better assault force then most other chapters. Add to that a decent warlord trait and relic and you’ve got a solid chapter.

#4 White Scars

With a roar of revving bikes everyone’s favorite space Mongols pillage their way to 4th place. The White Scars get a super solid Chapter Tactic with the ability to charge after falling back. This allows them to get the charge off over and over again, gaining related benefits, such as striking first. While powerful, I do wish their chapter tactics was a little more “bike related” for flavor. Kor’sarro Khan is a decent character but not super amazing and the fact that he is stuck on foot is heartbreaking. While they have a good stratagem, both the warlord trait and relic don’t really measure up. A classic case of one of the better chapter tactics being dragged down by the rest of the list.

#3 Raven Guard

Last week we ranked the Raven Guard as having the best Chapter Tactic, so what happened to bring them down to third? Well, like the White Scars – most of the rest of what they get is just “okay” – from their lone character, to an “okay” warlord trait and relic. They do have a really great stratagem however, allowing their infantry to set up with in 9 inches of the enemy. Unfortunately, this ability is counter to their Chapter Tactic which wants them to stay far away.

Moreover their Chapter Tactic just isn’t as impressive as it would have been in previous editions. With “flawless” deep striking (ie, no scatter) and the easy of moving and firing getting within 12 inches isn’t all that hard these days. To make use of all it’s codex abilities a Raven Guard list really has to pull itself apart, with fast assault units infiltrating and other units hanging back. They are a super solid chapter, don’t get me wrong, but not the best.

#2 Ultramarines

There is a traditional Jewish Passover song called Dayenu that I am remind of when talking about Ultramarines. Dayneu, the word, roughly translates to “this alone would have been enough” and the list of Ultramarine benefits brings this to mind. If we had only gotten Guilliman, the best character in the game, this alone would have been enough. If we had only gotten a host of other good characters, this alone would have been enough. If we had only gotten one of the most versatile chapter tactics, this alone would have been enough. If we had only gotten the best Warlord trait, this alone would have been enough. If we had only gotten solid Relics, stratagems and having all the new units work well with our play style, those alone would have been enough. If we had only gotten the Ultramarines, and not gotten other chapters, Dayenu.

#1 Salamanders

And here we have them – the sleeper hit chapter of the 8th edition Codex. So what makes Salamanders so good? First off they’ve got perhaps the most underappreciated Chapter Tactic. Each unit getting to re-roll a hit AND a wound EACH time they fight or shoot is just amazing, and with the right builds can be bonkers. You want your multi-meltas to always hit and wound? BAM! Done. Need to get those powerfist hits in? BAM! Done. Bare in mind that this tactic benefits all your characters also, and modern Space Marine lists tend to have a lot of those in them.

On top of an amazing the Tactic the Salamanders’ other abilities synergize really well.  Vulkan is a great unit and allowing re-rolls on flame and melta weapons makes him very powerful The Salamanders get a ton out of use out of the new Aggressors which can put out a higher amount of flamer shots than just about other unit. Between their relic and warlord trait they can give a model +1S and +1T (T6 Gravis Captains?) for some brutal combos.

Their stratagem, Flame-craft, plays right into their strengths as well adding +1 to wound rolls with flamers. This in turn combos really well with another warlord tight, Storm of Fire, which increases AP value by 1 on wound rolls of 6+ (so on a 5+ with those million flame-crafted flamer attacks.) All of these ability blend together to not only make an incredibly powerful Chapter but also one that gained by far the most out of his codex, going from zero to hero in a leap and a bound.


So there you have it, a “definitive” ranking of the chapters. Let us know what you think of the new Chapter abilities and how you would rank them, down in the comments! 


  • orionburn

    I admit I was going to mock because last week Salamanders were “ranked” like 5th or 6th, but at least the disclaimer is made that was based solely on that alone. Sallys are going to be pretty darn solid this edition. Still can’t decide if I want to make my Primaris based off them or Raven Gaurd.

    • Zingbaby

      Yeah it is funny just a few days ago they were crap… now the best. I do think Salamanders are really good though.

  • JD Robertson

    I take it you’re not including relics in your rankings? The ability for Black Templar crusader squads to take special/heavy/combi in a min-size squad combined with the increased character bubble from their special characters and relic could create a pretty potent firebase. Not fluffy, but potentially potent.

    • Moonsaves

      Honestly, it’s a bit futile to rank everything overall when the Codex hasn’t been properly put through its paces yet.

  • William Jameson

    “Like their Primarch the old Iron Tenth really didn’t come out aHEAD”

    Too soon.

    • Karru

      Now don’t go losing your head there pal, it’s just a joke.

    • Matt_from_Colorado

      How is 10,000 years too soon?

      • William Jameson

        Because it’s 2017. I’m fairly sure 28,000 years prior to an event can be considered to be too soon x)

  • piglette

    tfw Iron Hands player.

    • Karru

      Don’t worry. Once the Legion rules drop at some point, you’ll be happy as can be when you look at what Chaos will get. /endnecessarychaoswhine

      With that out of the way, I do feel bad for Iron Hand players. While I personally find the trait much, much more useful than the trait Ultramarines have, but the fact that Iron Hands have 0 characters and their “special vehicle rules” are placed behind Stratagems makes them very boring army to play in general.

      • Tushan

        Kind of a poetic justice.
        In 7th they were beasts with op vehicles and command squads of doom plus every formation possible, even the clearly op ones made available in their “chapter codex” addon.

        Now IH players will see how it feels to be a 7ed salamander, lol.

        My 5000+ hours golden deamon-ish Salamanders army is pretty happy though.

        • Tyr

          I dunno… as an IH player, weve had it rough. At least the Salamanders were never misnamed in their own fluff section… (seriously, the old codex said “Iron Warriors” at one point… at least in the german translation…)

          • Tushan

            True. At least you IH players got everything plus the kitchen sink (skyhammer) while us sallies got stuck with a redeemer.

      • piglette

        tfw also Emperor’s Children player.

    • Zingbaby

      It’s really not as bad as the Internetz are making it out to be – because 8th is a very different game.

      I agree that the Salamanders have the best CT, but a true 6+ FnP is actually still huge. At best everyone else get’s a crappy Apothecary that can heal in the following turn assuming your whole unit isn’t dead.

      With Smite, EVERYWHERE, and mortal wounds a plenty – the true 6+ FnP is actually really nice and will come into play so much more often than many of the other CT.

  • CloakingDonkey

    I’m really regretting painting up my Primarines as Imperial Fists… I’m contemplating re-decaling them to a custom chapter and using some special rules that aren’t steaming hot garbage.

    • MarcoT

      Nooo don’t! This ranking makes it sounds very skewed, but in general space marines will just play as space marine, with a little flavor on top.

      • CloakingDonkey

        I’ve tried them in game already and the IF abilities just don’t do much. The Chapter Tactic did exactly what I knew it would, my opponent just ignored all the terrain and changed his tactics… The Relic did nothing. The Warlord Trait never worked and I would have been better off using a generic one… it’s quite sad.

    • Moonsaves

      Is there a reason everyone is treating straight-up Ignores Cover like it’s nothing? I’ve seen tons of battle reports so far where cover was used.

      • GravesDisease

        I’ve found cover not to make that much of a big deal as -AP removes cover anyway. In fluffy battles where you have lots of dudes with bolters then yes, maybe ignore cover may have more utility.

      • CloakingDonkey

        The cover ignore is alright, it has its uses but I don’t like it much from a mechanics side… I find it rather poorly designed. It’s all the other stuff that’s absolutely terrible. The warlord trait is situational and not very good, the relic is boring and situational and the stratagem is a waste of command points. I actually disagree with the list I think Iron Hands are better off than Fisties. I’d much rather have a 6+ Feel no Pain than all of the Fisty abilities combined.

        • Moonsaves

          I can see where you’re coming from there, especially with regards to the Iron Fists. I guess something else I didn’t really think about is that I overlook special characters completely because I don’t really like them in games – I prefer them in the background doing all the really major stuff, personally, with the player’s own characters being the movers and shakers in these comparatively tiny skirmishes.

    • GravesDisease

      I painted up my primaris as imperial fists too! Ok so our rules aren’t great, but it’s an awesome colour scheme. Rules strength can wax and wane but a well painted model is eternal.

  • Thomson

    Warhammer 40k 8th Edition
    An attempt to balance 40k

    June, 10th 2017 – July, 27th 2017

    you died so young.

    P.S.: But your child,
    Warhammer 40k 8th Edition
    King of the Codex Creep with no internal balance

    will probably live long and prosper.

    • Moonsaves

      It’s a bit hard to have Codex creep with one Codex.

    • AircoolUK

      What a cheerful perspective.

    • Red_Five_Standing_By

      Not seeing the lack of internal balance.

      Each of the Chapter Tactics are fairly equal, with some favoring one style of play over all others.

  • Josh Felstead

    Iron Hands players, I’m so, SO sorry. You deserved so much better than this steaming sack of ****.

    • Zingbaby

      Like I said earlier in the thread – it’s actually not bad at all.

      8th is a new game — more wounds on models, and weapons and Smite (that is EVERYWHERE) that cause Mortal wounds. The true 6+ FnP is the only thing really denying those mortal wounds and giving a 2nd chance on normal wounds.

      It’s also one of the rare 2nd-chance saves in the game now.

      • AircoolUK

        It makes you wonder what sort of one dimensional thinking the self proclaimed ‘experts’ are cursed with.

        I can see pro’s and cons for each Chapter, but none that are better or worse overall.

  • SilentPony

    Its gross the Templars are considered a Codex chapter…

  • Corelin

    Aaaaaand now Dayenu is stuck in my head. You bastard.

  • AircoolUK

    I dunno, this looks like a generalised list, especially with the judgement on CP abilities. It’s like CP abilities have been assessed as something which is in play every turn.

    The Iron Hands have a straight up 1/6 chance to ignore a wound, regardless of the wounds source. This is one of the few abilities that can nullify a mortal wound. Also, Power of the Machine Spirit is limited to a few vehicles only. Being able to ignore the penalty to heavy and assault weapons is great for something like a dreadnought and light armour.

    Imperial Fists. Being able to get an extra ‘Bolt’ weapons attack on a 6+ might sound a bit poor for a 5 man tactical squad, but use it on a 5 man Inceptor squad and the picture is a little bit different. Command Points aren’t an ‘I WIN’ button, but are used to temporarily increase the effectiveness of a unit, whether in offence or defence. 10 Intercessors with their various bolt rifles, alongside a character that gives re-rolls would benefit from that 1/6 chance of an extra shot when they really need to finish off a unit.

    Meanwhile, whilst the Salamander Chapter Tactic which gives ONE MODEL re-rolls is great for that tac squad missile launcher, it’s not so great for gunlines backed up by characters because you can only re-roll the dice once. You’re also pushed into taking flamers (however, that’s why people play Salamanders) where other weapons might be more useful. Also, you can’t use Storm of Fire with Vulkan on the table.

    Most importantly, people will gravitate towards a chapter that suits their playing style, while most people will gravitate towards the chapter that they like collecting.

    • Red_Five_Standing_By

      I do not understand the hate for the Iron Hands. Straight up 1 in 6 chance to negate damage. How is this bad?

      For the Salamanders, how are you punished for taking flamers? Use the re-roll to hit for another model in the unit, or save it for melee.

      • AircoolUK

        I didn’t say you were punished by taking flamers, just steered towards taking flamers. Some people can lose focus when building an army; just because you get a bonus to a certain item of wargear, it doesn’t mean you should take that wargear, or heavily favour that wargear.

        As for the Iron Hands, their Chapter Tactic is great, and the more Infantry/Bikers/Dreadnoughts you have, the better it gets. Characters are likely to get more than their fair share of mortal wounds thrown at them, so being able to shrug one off from time to time is useful. Same goes for large wound models such as the Dreadnought. Being able to shrug off one or two mortal wounds (and of course normal wounds) increases their survivability; maybe enough for another turn of shooting or close combat.

    • CloakingDonkey

      Even if you have 5 Assault Bolter Inceptors use the stratagem on average dice it will be as if you had 1 temporary extra Inceptor…

      ” Spend 1 CP to add 1 extra model to a unit of Inceptors before the Shooting Phase and remove it at the end of the Shooting Phase” Sounds terrible.

      Oh and lets not forget you spent over 200 points on a mediocre unit for the privilege of even using this strategem… Thanks, I’ll take another Redemptor and play Iron Hands.

      • AircoolUK

        You make a very common schoolboy error regarding the assessment of all these tactics and stratagems etc… That is, presuming that each will be used on the first turn with a full complement of models on each side and that risk/reward is based purely on probability vice situation.

        It’s as if no-one has ever played a game where ‘if I’d have had just one more shot, the game would have turned in my favour’ situations have occurred.

        That’s the whole point of these stratagems, they’re situational and limited, but could have a massive impact on the game.

        Basing your assessments on probability alone is poor tactical analysis as the only factor in your conclusion is a random element.

        • CloakingDonkey

          … No I’m giving you the best case scenario… you’re dreaming up fringe cases and exceptional scenarios that are statistically insignificant .

          If the Ultramarine stratagem comes up in 50 out of 100 games and the Fisty stratagem comes up in 1 out of 100 games… I’d rather have the one that’s useful more often because it’s statistically better. But you go right ahead and wait for that one fringe case where somehow Bolter shots of all things will be the deciding factor (which is never cause you probably lost the game on some other, previous roll or a bad decision, like taking a huge unit of overcosted Inceptors…) so you can FEEL vindicated.

          If you want to build your army around fluff and cuddly feelings then don’t argue power level. Common schoolboy error, I hear.

          And now excuse me, I’ll go hang with people who aren’t so obnoxiously pretentious and condescending. 😉

  • Red_Five_Standing_By

    By my reckoning, the Salamanders are far and away the best and the Fists are far and away the losers.

    Salamanders are the clear winners. Their Tactics are useful every single turn of the game, regardless of what the enemy is doing.

    To me, the only lame Tactic is the Imperial Fists, since cover’s importance has dramatically dropped this edition. Personally, I would have preferred they keep their old Chapter Tactics (bolt weapons re-roll 1s to hit) or just give the Firsts a better BS when shooting with Bolt weapons. If you play Cities of Death, the Fists become a dominant force, since there is so much good cover that they can eliminate.

    The rest of the Tactics can be divided in to two groups – Tactics that favor a gimmicky/specific forces (BT, WS, RG) and Tactics that benefit every model in the army, regardless of army type (UM and IH).

    Iron Hands are definitely not the worst. not with Mortal Wound spam on the rise.

    • CloakingDonkey

      holy crap I had no idea that was their old ability. I’d take that over the new one any day.

    • Moonsaves

      It’s awkward as well, because if you were playing Cities of Death there’s barely any advantage whatsoever to your opponent bothering with cover.

      • Red_Five_Standing_By

        Which is why it is such a poorly thought out rule. It is poor in the base game and completely warps Cities of Death.

  • MechBattler
  • 301stFeinminsterArmoured

    The big takeaway here is that if your not playing on battlefields covered at least 50% with terrain, you’re doing it wrong. Ruins aren’t that hard or expensive to build people, just run down to the Craft Store and get some foamboard. $3 is all it takes to fully cover a 4×6.

    • CloakingDonkey

      See? As I said… the IF chapter tactic is terrible design because it turns you into “that guy” who turns up with arm fulls of terrain because it’s good for his army.

      • Zingbaby

        I get where you’re coming from – but pretty much the general consensus of 8th terrain / cover is — we need MORE terrain. One big tournament group was suggestion requiring a giant LOS blocking piece in the center of every table.

        • CloakingDonkey

          Yeah I agree. I think more is better. But I play Imperial Fists… so obviously I would say that, wouldn’t I? 😛

          … *grumble* *grumble* that stupid rule…

      • 301stFeinminsterArmoured

        If they pay points for it, I see no problem (270 points for assured cover is a bit of an investment, but that’s nearly a Land Raider’s worth of models they won’t be bringing), but I was more directing that comment at TOs because, as the designers have stated, the game assumes, regardless of the Faction you play, that you have a healthy amount and variety of terrain to play in. The trouble with playing without terrain is that it skews the game in favour of factions with ready supplies of long range fire power, or with ridiculously fast assault units (basically, Eldar, T’au, GSC, Necrons).

  • Greg Betchart

    Kor’sarro Khan has a bike option in the index, which is still valid. I use the White Scars Biker model from Deathwatch Overkill.

  • GravesDisease

    Nice! Yeah fair enough, if you don’t have a particular allegiance to the Imperial Fists then there will always be a yellow successor chapter out there. Personally though, I feel like my primaris imp fists is my long term investment for if Rogal Dorn comes back.

  • Kinsman

    Ranked after half a week of playtesting, huh? Ok. Why not.

  • Gennadios

    I already knew the Iron hands were gonna get reamed when I read that they we’re being lumped in as a Codex Compliant chapter.

    Saves me money though, I swore not to buy 8th Ed material until the Iron Hands get unique rules. I might be out of the game for a really long time.