From hero to zero, Space Marines have dropped from a once competitive list to the bottom of the heap.
No army is more central to what Warhammer 40,000 is than the Space Marines. They are the poster boys of 40K (often quite literately) and in many ways define the game. They are by far the most popular army and have the most fluff written about them. Given how central they are to the game, and how popular they are, one would expect them to be a force to reckon with on the tabletop. However, the truth is that Space Marines kind of… well suck. In 8th Edition they have sunk towards the bottom of the comparative rankings, let take a look at why.
Space Marines have always been something of a paradox. While they have pretty much always been the most popular faction, they are rarely the most powerful. Even in previous editions they often found themselves denied the top spots. Still, prior editions did feature comparative lists, 7th had feared Battle Companies, other editions had Drop Pod based lists or Razorback spam. Lists that worked at a high competitive level built around Marines. Even if a list wasn’t top tier, it was still going to be a fight to chew through the tough Marines.
8th doesn’t have these lists, at least not as far as basic Marines are concerned. The handful of genuinely competitive lists have been based around flyers and Guilliman. Hardly what you would call a real Space Marine list, and this builds have gotten continuously nerfed. Marines have seen some success with soup lists, such as Alexander Fennel’s Space Wolves/Astra Militarium list from LVO. But these are corner cases. Blood Angels alone have built a few good lists, but even these are struggling, and Blood Angels have their own Codex. Overall, at least as Codex Space Marines is concerned, they aren’t doing so hot. The Bottom line is:
While a good player can still win games with them, on a general competitive level Space Marines are the lowest they have been in years.
The Curse of First
One reason for this and one that has plagued Marines for editions is that due to their popularity they often get the first, or almost first, book in a new edition. These books always seem great at first, as they are one of our first introductions to the more recent version of the system and get a lot of updates, normally with some new units. However, as they come at the start of an edition, they are often kind of test cases. They are written in the tabula rasa new edition, before the craziness sets in, and before the designers may be entirely comfortable with the edition. They set the meta, rather than acting as a counter to it. As power creep starts to set in, the first books often end up being weaker, or at least blander.
One problem Space Marines often face is the sheer size of the Codex. Space Marines are one of the biggest armies, with a LOT of different units. With so many units in one book, they can’t all be good. Space Marines tend to have a lot of redundancy and a lot of units that just never get played. #forgottenwhirlwind
Less Elite Than Before
Another issue facing Space Marines is the loss of their elite status. Space Marines used to be the elite arm of Imperial forces. Aside from a few character types, like Assassins, they were the most potent units in the Imperium. However, this meant that whenever GW decided to make new “elite” armies, they had to be better than Space Marines. The slow introduction of forces like Grey Knights and Deathwatch, by necessity, stole the title of the elite from your Basic Space Marines. Still, both those armies were just more-elite marines.
The introduction of the Custodes as a full fighting force killed the myth of Space Marines as elites. The Custodes are so head and shoulders more powerful than Space Marines that it could not help but diminish the other army. They’ve gone from the elite Imperial force to the better than a Guardsman force.
Fall of The MEQ
The real issue with Space Marines, however, is in the fall of the MEQ. For several editions, the term MEQ was significant in competitive 40K. MEQ (Marine Equivalent) referred to Marines and those who shared a similar stat line, WS3+ BS3+ S4 T4 W1 A1 Ld7 Sv3+. When you were building a list, this was the statline to watch out for and to make sure you could deal with. This was the most elite stat line you were likely to face in large numbers, and your ability to kill models with this statline would determine how well you would do. It was the most relevant stat line in 40K and killing it was tough.
That’s no longer true, however. Back in October, I wrote about why 8th had made horde lists so good. Most of that is still true and why MEQ’s aren’t very relevant. In particular changes to AP made Marines much more vulnerable to attack. Many common weapons, like Heavy Bolters, that before would have allowed them to get a full save, now reduce their save to a 4+ or worse. Meanwhile, they often find that their guns have gotten worse. The basic bolter used to deny a Guardsperson their save, now they get it. The overall increased deadliness of 40K means that Marines tend to drop like flies these days. Couple that with the fact that there are a lot of more elite armies now and the MEQ is no longer the king of the table top.
A Weak Middle Ground
Marines are a middle ground Jack-of-All-Trades army. They are OK at about everything; they have OK numbers, OK firepower, and OK survivability. 40K is, however, a game of extremes and middle of the road armies can’t hang with the extreme kids. Most Marine armies can’t do any one thing well enough to win. A few, like Blood Angels, manage to get good at one thing, and if they can pull it off, they can do OK. But the rest fall down on the job.
In particular, the price of Marines and their new vulnerability makes even the best Marine, or Blood Angel, armies into glass cannons. Ten-man Marine squads can easily evaporate in modern 40K. While Marines have never been the most killy of armies, they’ve often been one of the more resilient armies. It turns out that if you take that away, they don’t have a powered armored leg to stand on.
Let us know if you think Space Marines still have it, down in the comments!