Let’s take a look at who the real kings of the battlefield are.
Earlier this week, I wrote about how Intercessors have come into their own and feel like a solid troop choice. In response, several people mentioned that they still felt the humble old Tactical Marine was king of the block, as they benefit from many of the same new buffs as Intercessors. Also, Tactical Marines got cheaper this codex and have several options not open to Intercessors. Today let’s take a look at these two competing troop choices and see which one is really the best choice.
N.B. I’m going to mostly ignore the other three troop options, Scouts, Infiltrators, and Incursors. While these are all troop choices their more specialized nature means they don’t directly compete for the same role as the Intercessors and Tacticals do.
The basic Tactical Marine is a mainstay of 40K and has remained virtually unchanged for decades. It’s the baseline by which most “good” units used to be judged by. For the (now reduced) cost of 12 points, you get a marine that hits on a 3+ in both shooting and combat – that is Strength and Toughness 4, has a single wound and attack, is leadership 7 and gets a solid 3+ save. He has a basic boltgun, bolt pistol, frag and krak grenades – none of which add to his cost. For 5 extra points, 17 total, you can instead take an Intercessor. Those 5 points will gain you an extra wound and attack. They will also upgrade your boltgun to a bolt rifle, giving it a point of AP and an extra 6 inches of range. You also have the option to take a Stalker bolt rifle for free, or an auto bolt rifle for one point.
A look at the direct comparison shows us a few things. In combat, the Intercessor starts off being twice as good as a Tactical Marine, with double the attacks. At range, the Intercessor and the Tactical are very similar with the extra range being a minor factor in 8th Edition (though not unimportant), and the AP difference being another small bump in the Intercessor’s favor. While slightly better, the Intercessor is not close to twice as deadly at ranged combat, and their maximum shooting output with the Bolt Rifle is the same.
When it comes to defense the Intercessor at first seems twice as good as the Tactical. Two wounds are twice as many as one, after all. This is true against small arms fire. It will take twice the shots to kill an Intercessor and the squad will degrade more slowly as they will lose attacks every two wounds, not every one wound. On the other hand, with the large amount multi-damage weapons out there this is not as good as it seems. Any weapon that does 2 or more damage per attack will kill an Intercessor as easily as it will kill a Tactical Marine. So, while Intercessors are situationally harder to kill than Tactical Marines they are not, taken as a whole, twice as tough.
The Basic Match Up
If we want to try to directly compare the two options we can. For 36 points you can get 3 Tactical Marines, and for 34 points you can get 2 Intercessors. This comparison is pretty clearly in the Intercessors’ favor I think. In combat, the Intercessors will get 4 attacks vs. the Tactical Marines 3 (the Tacticals would get 3 bolt pistol shots vs two in protracted combat, but that is a real corner case). At range, the Tactical’s do win – with 6 shots vs 4 slightly better ones (though for a perfect points match up you could give the two Intercessors Auto Bolt Rifles, which would give both groups 6 identical shots). And of course, the Tactical Marines have 3 wounds vs the Intercessors 4.
Were they fight each other, the Tacticals would come out on top almost every time. At range, for instance, the Tactical Marines would get 6 shots, resulting in 4 hits, 2 wounds, a possibly one failed save, with no deaths. In return the Intercessors would get their 4 shots, they will get 2-3 hits, and likely 1 wound, with a 50% change to kill a Tactical. On average it will take the 3 Tactical Marines 3 turns of shooting, without losing any models, to kill one Intercessor (18 shots, 12 hits, 6 wounds, 2 failed saves). Give the Intercessors 3 turns of shooting (12 shots, 8 hits, 4 wounds 2 failed save), and they will kill two of the Tactical Marines. If it then comes down to a 1 v 1 matchup, the outcome is clear. Given the Intercessors longer range, they are likely to get the first round of shots off, and (as they degrade slower in an actual shooting match) should win every time. In combat, the fight is ever more one sided as the weight of attacks switches to the Intercessors favor.
So in the basic match up Intercessors win. However, match ups are rarely basic and upgrades often affect how a unit fights. Both the Intercessors and the Tactical Marines can equip their sergeants with some decent upgrades. As far as close combat weapons go, it’s mostly the same. Tactical sergeants get more options but Intercessors now have access to all the good options – power swords and fists, chain swords and Thunderhammers. In addition Intercessors Sergeants get more attacks and will get more out of close combat weapons, which cost the same for both. Tactical Sergents have better access to ranged options, but these are pretty rare to see on Sergeants these days.
Looking at the squad weapons (heavy and special) Tactical Marines are, for once, the clear winners. They have access to a number of weapons from both groups, while Intercessors are limited to the underwhelming grenade launcher. These options do give Tactical Marines some flexibly that Intercessors lack, in particular allowing them to gain ranged anti-tank firepower that Intercessors simply can’t have. On the other hand, these options up the price of the squad dramatically, and vs. hordes will still leave them only as or less effective than Intercessors. Moreover, the meta has taken a pretty hard turn away from single weapons placed in infantry squads.
Both squads have access to several new buffs that improve their ability to fight. Tactical doctrines give them extra AP. Shock Assault gives them an extra attack. Chaplains can buff them, and both have access to relics that give then an extra attack. While you can combo this to get, for instance, a Tactical Marine to have 3 attacks on the charge, the fact is that Intercessors get more buffs now. Not only do they get the same buffs as Tacticals, but they have a number of stratagems that only affect them – including Veteran Intercessors which gives them an extra attack. Tactical Marines have no stratagems specific to them. Intercessors can get up to 5 attacks on the charge, still outperforming Tactical Marines (yes, you can get more bang for your buck on Tacticals as you buy more of them to put in your auras, but you have to actually fit them in the aura, which isn’t easy). Intercessors start out at a higher level and get more use out of all the new buffs.
When looking at the two units we should also consider transports. Both have access to expensive transports/main battle tanks. While you might take them in your list, they are unlikely to really be used as transports. On the cheaper end, you have Rhinos, which only Tacticals have access too. This is a decent option but doesn’t really allow for quick assaults or objective taking. The best comparison is the drop pod and the Impulsor. Both allow for quick deployment, and more importantly quick objective grabbing. A drop pod can deploy up to ten Tactical Marines to any point on the table outside of 9 inches of the enemy on any turn. The Impulsor can deploy up to 6 Intercessors. With its 14 inch move, plus 3-inch deployment, plus 6-inch move, plus d6 inch advance, it can get a unit an average of 26 inches in a turn. It’s not as far as a drop pod but does allow you to get within 9 inches. Both are great for grabbing objectives, though once the unit is deployed the Impulsor brings more to the table.
On balanc,e Intercessors are generally superior to Tactical Marines in every way.
Point for point they are tougher, and have more offensive ability. An equal points group of Intercessors will beat the Tactical Marines basically every time. Intercessors have better buffs, and make better use of them, and get more from their sergeants weapon upgrades. Tactical Marines have an edge in squad weapons, but it’s not a role they are very good at – and one the meta has moved away from. They can take anti-tank weapons, but those are best left to dedicated units. Tacticals have slightly better transport options, but the Intercessors are no longer crippled by lack of quick deployment. Tactical Marines are cheaper and thus better at filling out cheap battalion, but they aren’t the cheapest choice, so will be over looked in that role.
When it comes to the key roles of troops, taking objectives, surviving to claim them, and killing other troops to prevent them being contsested Intercessors are better in all regards and a better investment of your points. While the rules tweaks in this new codex have subtle for both units, it’s clear that the future is Primaris.
Let us know which troop choice you like best, down in the comments!