Reecius here to talk about some easy tips to help you win more games with your Space Marines regardless of which Chapter you play!
Space Marines are the bread and butter of the 40k universe, and the most commonly played army, too. They were fittingly the first faction to get their Codex in 8th ed and as such, everything that came after was compared to them. We’ve also had time to adjust to what they have to offer. Also, please bear in mind that this article is aimed at the player who plays an army of all Space Marines, not one in which you take many different Imperial Factions.
As is often the case with familiarity, a common perception is that Space Marines have lagged behind the power curve a bit. However, this is simply not true. While new books roll out and hit the scene with all of their new tricks and combos it generates a feeling of shock and awe. Comparatively, Space Marines are a known quantity. Despite that, Space Marines continue to perform well competitively and have all of the tools they need to compete in the rapidly developing 8th ed meta. If you are struggling with your Space Marines and feel a bit overwhelmed, here are a few tips that can help you gain a competitive edge. I have used them to great success with my Space Marines in a competitive setting, having gone a total of 10-3-1 in tournaments with them so far. I say that not to toot my own horn (there are plenty of better players out there than me) but to give some concrete proof that these ideas have merit in reality and are not just theory. If you’d like to read some of those reports, you can do so bellow. The important take away from those reports is that while I did not win every game, I never felt outclassed and I played against some truly nasty tournament lists. Two of my losses were because of massive mental errors were I basically handed the victory to my opponent, too, lol.
The first step is to identify what Space Marines do well and where they’re weak. What they do well is give you very efficient units when you need them to be so. And what I specifically mean by that is the plethora of ways to get cheap re-rolls for both hitting and wounding in your army. Many other factions cannot match this ability to get the most out of each point spent. Space Marines also have a LOT of options in every force org slot which gives you a great deal of flexibility and the ability to compete in every phase of the game. Lastly, you have some of the best utility Stratagems in the game, and using them is critical to success.
Where Space Marines can be weak is ironically in the reserves game as they do not have as many options for staying off of the table as many of the other Codex armies do with the exception of Raptors (a Ravenguard successor Chapter) armies utilizing Lias Issodon which is why that Chapter has become so popular. Obviously they have Drop Pods, and I am sure a clever player could make a very effective list using them, typically we are not seeing Drop Pod armies any longer due to the fact that they are not so cheap as they once were. Space Marine armies largely start on the table in 8th ed and as such, you must consider how you will counter many of the incredibly hard hitting lists that either infiltrate, outflank, deep-strike or simply shoot you to bits. Lastly, Space Marines are very vulnerable to Mortal Wounds such as with Smite, etc. As they pay points for a good save and tend to have lower model count armies, attacks that bypass this are especially deadly to them.
With those basic ideas outlined, let’s look at some tips to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses!
Tip #1: Scouts
The humble Space Marine Scout unit is one of the most tactically advantageous units available to you. The reason why is very simple: they create space. Scouts are one of the few units in the game that infiltrate during the deployment phase. What this means specifically is that they get to be placed on the table before many other army’s infiltrating units can be placed, such as with Alpha Legion, Stgies, Raven Guard, Ratlings, etc. In 8th ed, as stated, you must have a strategy for dealing with the hard-core alpha strike armies like Cultist Bomb or Terminator Bomb chaos lists, Eldar units appearing from the Webway, Stygies AdMech dropping in Electro-Priests, Tyranid players bringing any of a variety of deadly units in with a Trygon, etc. which can be devastatingly powerful. Scouts deploy out of your deployment zone, and deny your opponent anywhere to go, shutting down some of the deadliest combos in the game. If you combine their forward position with a good backfield defense, denying your opponent ways to come in behind you or on a flank you, can make what would have been an incredibly difficult game into an easy win. Your opponent is forced to walk up the table at you or wait until later in the game to deliver their vicious combos and allow you to control the table and wrack up mission points.
For best results, wait to deploy them if your opponent does not have any units that deploy in the same way as Scouts do (which is a short list, but be familiar with it). If they do have a unit like Scouts, such as Nurglings, you want to drop a Scout unit as your first drop, hopefully before your opponent can drop theirs in order to deny them space. I have found 3 units of 5 Scouts is enough to block off the majority of no man’s land from your opponent, denying them their ability to infiltrate, Deep-strike, scout move, etc. on turn 1. Remember, as enemy units cannot typically appear closer then 9″ from your units, Scouts spread out can cover a massive portion of the table, and have an 18″ buffer zone between each pair of units. This buys you time to deal with their threats before they are all over you. As stated, you have ultra efficient shooting units available to you as a Space Marine player but they aren’t doing you any favors if they’re getting chopped to bits by Berzerkers on the top of turn 1. Space Marines can deal incredible amounts of damage at range, you just need time to do it and Scouts help earn you that time.
Scouts can also serve an incredible important function of simply blocking movement and earning you mission points. By standing in front of units that want to advance and cannot simply move over them, you can earn yet more time by sacrificing them to force your opponent to deal with them. If they do so with a unit that probably costs vastly more points than the Scouts, you are trading a pawn to keep their Queen occupied for a turn. Or in a similar function, they can charge a powerful shooting unit and stop them from shooting for a turn. This works doubly well if you can do so from a good hiding spot to avoid being overwatched, such as from behind the wall of a ruin which keeps them safely hidden but they can move through. Likewise, you can run on to an objective to earn mission points and force your opponent to use resources eliminating them or risk that they continue to earn points. As you can see, there are myriad ways Scouts can be used effectively without firing a shot. That said, they do put out damage and can be effective fighting units but their ability to give you board control and create space between your opponent and yourself buys the heavy hitting elements of your army time to do their thing which is massively valuable.
Tip #2: Stratagems
Space Marines have some incredible stratagems available to them. However, where some faction such as Chaos Space Marines have overtly powerful Stratagems that are quite obvious in their application, Space Marine stratagems are a bit more subtle. And, unlike Chaos Space Marines who often use all of their Command Points in the first turn or 2, Space Marine players will want a steady stream of CP throughout the game to fuel some of their stratagems. For example, I never play without at least 1 Heavy Bolter and 1 Missile Launcher on Infantry models to take advantage of the Hellfire Shells and Flakk Missile stratagems to deal Mortal Wounds at long range.
Also, the Tremor Shells stratagem unlocked by a Thunderfire Cannon is one of the most powerful stratagems in the game and why I take a Thunderfire Cannon in every list. Halving an enemy unit’s move, advance and charge distances is sometimes as good as destroying the unit as it can take them out of play. However, where destroying a powerful unit can require loads of your resources, all you have to do with the Tremor Shells stratagem is burn a Command Point and hit the target with your Thunderfire Cannon. It’s incredibly reliable. And as an example of just how crazy good this is, imagine that a unit of 20 Berzerkers is 12″ away from your lines. This would mean they would move 6″, and have a 5″ charge to make under normal circumstances which with their standard granting them a re-roll, has very good odds of being successful. If you hit that same unit with the Tremor Shells stratagem, they now only move 3″ and can charge a maximum of 6″, meaning it is impossible for them to successfully make the charge. Same goes for Roboute, or any unit that is not either Titanic or has the Fly keyword. If your opponent has large screening units, you tag them with Tremor Shells and now not only they, but everything behind them is moving slower. Or, a unit about to make a move for a game winning objective that suddenly finds themselves unable to move far enough to get there. I cannot stress enough how powerful this one stratagem is.
Likewise there are many more, extremely valuable stratagems in your arsenal. Auspex Scan helps to defend against the myriad deep-striking or out-flanking threats that may sneak past your perimeter defenses. I have found that just the threat of the stratagem will cause your opponent to rethink where they drop their units down. Likewise, Armour of Contempt, Death to the Traitors, Datalink Telemetry (which works on the Forgeworld Whirlwinds, too), etc. are incredibly good in certain circumstances but you just have to remember to use them! To this end, be sure to crack that section of your codex open and read them from time to time to keep them present in your mind, and imagine circumstances in which you would use them. Many of them are also only applicable to specific units such as Sternguard or Scout Bikers and as such, you may want to consider including these units in your list to take advantage of them. From a great deal of experience, I can attest to the fact that Sternguard with the Masterful Marksmanship stratagem are incredibly good for the points investment.
Special mention goes to the Space Marines combat oriented stratagems. Honour the Chapter and Only in Death Does Duty End takes Space Marines melee units from OK to awesome in a hurry. If used properly, it means a Character can essentially be assured to attack twice if needs be. We’ll talk more about this later, but keep that in your pocket. Now, all of these great stratagems, many of which you want to be able to use multiple times throughout the game, require a healthy amount of CP. This means lots of troops and HQs in most instances but luckily Space Marines have quite a few great options in those categories. As stated above, Scouts are amazing but Tactical Marines are also a solid choice as they have better defense and do a great job of zoning out your backfield to block enemy reinforcements in the same way Scouts do up-field. Plus, with a nice 2+ save in cover, they can be very difficult to remove from an objective and are simply not a high-priority target and a single heavy weapon on one of them can put out decent firepower and is protected by the other 4 Tactical Marines.
Lastly, be sure to review the Chapter Specific stratagems as they provide a lot of unique utility. The Black Templars’ Abhor the Witch, for example, can be absolutely devastating to your opponent’s plans if you stop a key psychic power. Born in the Saddle for White Scars allows you to hit your opponent very hard with a unit of say, 9 Scout Bikers who pack a staggering number of attacks. Likewise, Bolter Drill for the Imperial or Crimson Fists can make a unit of Stormbolter or Special Issue Boltgun (further boosted with Masterful Marksmanship) equipped Sternguard even more devastating than they already are. Building the means to utilize these in to your list to maximum effect can give you quite an advantage on the tabletop.
Tip #3: Support Units and Characters
The other half of unlocking Command Point rich detachments is HQs, and Space Marines are spoiled for choices in the HQ and Elites department with loads of force multiplication units. The excellent Captain and Lieutenant are incredibly efficient force multipliers for a very reasonable points investment. These are the key to making your shooting units go from good to great. Space Marines have more access to cheap re-roll mechanics than any other faction in the game. Taking advantage of these is critical to getting the most out of the tools you have. If your faction has access to a Chapter Master, even better. However, if you are playing without at least a Captain and Lieutenant then you are doing yourself a disservice. Building out a portion of your list to focus on maximum efficiency firepower is a key tactic to winning games with Space Marines. Whether this comes in the form of the very popular Razorback or Stormraven and Bobby G combo that has been popular sense the dawn of 8th ed, or with Hellblasters, Centurion Devastators or Devastator Squads utilizing Space Marine Standards to fire again after dying and perhaps an Apothecary resurrect them. Likewise, Predator Tanks backed by these support characters and utilizing the Kill Shot stratagem become hyper efficient. Lastly, as chaff units are so prevalent and popular in the competitive meta at present, you need the ability to plow the road and blow through the Conscripts, Cultists, Brimstone Horrors, etc. Space Marines have excellent units for this such as Stormravens, Scout Bikers, Hevay Bolter Devastators, Sternguard, etc. and they become even more efficient in this task with a few carefully positioned support characters to eek out maximum efficiency from their shots.
Space Marines can also play offense with their characters in a way many players are not fully utilizing. As I explain at length in this article, the Captain with Thunder Hammer, Storm Shield and Jump Pack is simply outstanding. He provides mobility, deep-strike capability, and the ability to deal a lot of damage to any target (including flyers) and with the plethora of amazing Relics Space Marine players have access to (particularly the Shield Eternal) plus the aforementioned stratagems, this humble model can deal tremendous damage and go toe-to-toe with heavy hitting melee units that would seem to outclass him on paper. Likewise, his partner in crime the Lieutenant can join him with a Jump Pack to layer another buff on to nearby units and also deal decent damage himself. Jump Packs are incredibly good for a number of reasons but primarily the ability to move over enemy units and terrain means you can bypass screens and get into the guts of the enemy army and deal some devastating blows to them. The Librarian is also best fielded in this role, in my opinion as his powers are best utilized on the offensive. He can pump out Mortal Wounds, buff the Captain or himself, turn off enemy invulnerable saves (which if this goes off and you get into the right position, is utterly devastating), or provide you with a defense against Mortal Wounds. Whereas many lists don’t have a place for a Librarian, when played offensively he can become incredibly potent and versatile.
Alternatively, you can use some of your HQ’s as disruption units. A single Captain in Terminator armor (Cataphractii armor is great for this) dropped into a gap behind your opponent’s lines can foul up your opponent’s plans tremendously. They’re tough, can use character protection to avoid being targeted (again, Scouts can be invaluable here by getting up in your opponent’s face and making it impossible for them to target your disruption characters with any of their units closer to the Scouts) and hit hard for a reasonable price point. Even if all they do is soak up several enemy units firepower for a turn, that can give you the opening you need to hammer your opponent with your damage dealing units. Slap a Combi-Melta on them with a Thunder Hammer and profit. Alternatively, go mega cheap and just stick with a power weapon and Storm Bolter to save points but still be a massive pain in the butt for your opponent to deal with. Likewise, a Librarian can be used in a similar fashion, disrupting enemy psychic support and dealing significant Mortal Wounds in the backfield.
Also, and quite obviously, consider the special bonus named characters provide in list building as some of them have some fantastic benefits such as Shrike, Vulkan and Pedro Kantor. By building portions of your list to leverage their force multiplication abilities, you get a lot more power out of those units than you typically would have.
Tip #4: Relics
Space Marines have some absolutely fantastic Relics. It is a rare game I don’t take at least 2 of them. First and foremost, unless you are running a mechanized or dedicated melee list you should take the Standard of the Emperor Ascendant. This magical piece of kit massively increases the return on investment made in shooty Infantry units, and to a lesser extent, melee units. There’s simply no good reason not to take him, he gives you quasi-alpha strike defense in that he at least lets units have an opportunity to shoot before dying, but also keeps nearby units immune to morale. That is amazingly good and if your list features any units that qualify for the buff, use it. He also fills an Elites slot too, if you are going for a Brigade.
However, Space Marines also have access to a wide variety of offensive and defensive Relics as well. As mentioned, the Shield Eternal is outstanding. It makes the Captain bearing it able to reliably destroy much more powerful melee units such as Celestine, Daemon Princes, etc. Humorously, you can also slap it on the Company Champion and make him significantly more powerful, although you still have to resolve how to get him into combat. Thanks to the flexibility the Relics of the Chapter stratagem provides, you can decide on the fly to instead take something like The Armour Indomitus for a 2+ save if you need to wade into flack fire. Offensively, the Teeth of Terra gives you an amazing weapon for the cost of a Chainsword and possibly a Command Point. A simple Captain with a Jump Pack, Chainsword and Master-Crafter Bolter, Storm Bolter or a second Chainsword, costs less than 100pts but hits very hard. A very efficient unit. The Chapter specific Relics also can be very appealing such as the Raven’s Fury or the Fist of Vengeance. Carefully consider building the opportunity to use these into your list and accessing them via a Command Point as they can catapult a decent unit into a fantastic unit based on what you find yourself fighting.
Tip #5: Many Small Units
Space Marines tend to favor a Many Small Units (MSU) play-style. While you occasionally want to maximize a unit to take advantage of a specific stratagem as with Masterful Marksmanship and Sternguard, typically it is more advantageous to stick to small units and lots of them. It may make sense to pad a unit with extra bodies as with Devastator Squads to buy yourself more time to fire the big guns but rarely do you want to go to a full unit of 10. As many of your core strengths revolve around stratagems and the need to cover a lot of area with a small number of models, you need quite a few units to make that all happen. And, this list building strategy helps to get you those Command Points which you hopefully now see are so critical to making Space Marines work in a competitive setting.
Ultimately, Space Marines can 100% compete, however it takes a bit of finesse to do so in many instances. If you want to just smash, you can always stick to the Bobby G+shooting units of your choice script, but you certainly do not have to. To the thoughtful general, Space Marines present a wide range of tactical options which allow you to win in situations you would not otherwise have been able to.
And while I know I said this was an article for pure Space Marine faction players, I did want to point out one little exception to that rule and that is assassins. The Culexus especially is incredibly useful for Space Marine players. As you are more vulnerable to things like Smite than many armies as your average model is relatively expensive, building in a counter is not a bad idea. The Culexus gives you that in spades. As psychic powers cannot affect him, and Smite (and many Mortal Wound dealing psychic powers) target the closest enemy unit, if you play him correctly he will entirely stop at least one round of enemy Smites. If you position your army well to take advantage of this, that should be all the time you need to deal a crushing blow. He also gives you excellent latent psychic defense to hinder all of the rest of your opponent’s powers, too. If used in conjunction with a Librarian, you should stop many of your opponent’s key psychic powers. My list is much stronger for having included him.
~For the Emperor!
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