Today we look at how a much-maligned weapon became a major hit for Marines.
The Stalker Bolt Rifle is one of three options that the Primaris Intercessors can take as squad-wide weapons. Originally introduced towards the start of 8th Edition in the first Space Marine Codex, it failed to find traction and was mostly discarded in favor of other weapons. The gun, however, got a new lease on life in with the 2.0 Space Marine Codex and its supplements and has become a power option in the new meta. Let’s take a look at why the gun was bad, and how it became the powerful tool it is.
A Rocky Start
The Stalker Bolt Rifle, along with the Auto Bolt Rifle, was introduced in the 2017 Space Marine Codex as alternate options to the basic Primaris Bolt Rifle. The Stalker traded the Rapid Fire tag for the Heavy tag, losing a shot at half range, but gained an extra 6 inches of range and a point of AP. Along with the Auto Bolt Rifle, this gave Primaris units the option of being armed with heavy, rapid-fire, or assault weapons and, in theory, let them be tailored to a role (similar options were given to Hellblaters).
Unfortunately, the Stalker didn’t catch on. The loss of half the shots that either other option could get, along with reduced mobility from the Heavy tag, meant that the Stalker was not a great option. Going from 30 to 36 inches wasn’t a hung upgrade, and the extra AP didn’t really balance out getting 50% fewer shots. Overall the Stalker had a much lower damage output than the other options. It also proved to underperform vs. the Scout’s Sniper rife. The sniper rifle had the same range, and while it lacked the AP of the Stalker, it could both target charterers and deal with mortal wounds. Worse, under the first Codex, a Sniper Scout was only 15 points vs. the 22 points of an Intercessor with Stalker. Given better options both within the squad and by taking other units, the Stalker didn’t have a chance.
Things Get Worse
To try to fix some issues with Space Marines, GW started making changes. A few of these helped the Stalker. Intercessor points dropped to make a Stalker armed Intercessor only 17 points, vs. 13 for a Sniper Scout. A five-point drop for the Primaris unit and making them 4 points, rather than 7 more expensive than a Sniper Scout. But that was the only good news. Marines got some major upgrades with Bolter Drill and Vigilus. These really tilted things in favor of the basic Bolt Rifle. The ability to trigger rapid-fire at long range meant that the one real downside to the Bolt Rifle, that it wouldn’t get double shots in the early turns, was now gone. Now a unit of Intercessors Armed with Bolt Rifles would outshoot Stalkers at almost any range (with the rare exception of if they happened to be precisely between 31 -36 inches away from each other).
Vigilus also added some new stratagems to target various Intercessors weapons. Auto Bolt Rifles got the ability to auto-hit at half range, stalkers got the ability to shoot characters, and bolt Rifles got the ability to just straight up double their shots. This made the imbalance pretty crazy. While being able to pick out characters was OK, it still didn’t really make the Stalkers better than a sniper rifle and ate up CP. Moreover, even a full squad of 10 Stalkers were unlikely to kill a character. This simply didn’t stack up to the Bolt Rifle’s ability to put out 40 shots at 30 inches (even the auto hits of the Auto Bolt Rifle were overshadowed as 40 shots even without rerolls was likely to net you more than 20 hits). Back when these changes went into effect, Adam even wrote about how bad the Stalker had gotten and how to fix it.
It turns out that GW must have been listening to Adam because the first thing they did to the Stalker in the new Marine Codex was following his advice – making it D2 (they also did what he suggested to the Auto Bolt Rifle). Going up to damage 2 was a major change to the Stalker and helped make it a viable weapon. This meant that its total damage output was actually the same as a Bolt Rifle, both able to do up to 2 damage per gun. The Stalker, with the lower AP, is a better gun to shoot heavy infantry, such as Terminators or other Primaris, while the Bolt Rifle remained more mobile and better at taking down single wound hordes. This change alone made the two weapons distinct and gave them different roles. Also, the extra AP they could get from Doctrines meant that the Stalker could get down to AP-3, making it go right through most armor, and even allowed a Squad to ping enemy tanks and monsters for few wounds. The extra range on the Stalker really paid off here as you could make sure to get shots off on turn one when the Stalker was at it’s best. If these had been the only changes, the Stalker would be a viable alternative to the Bolt Rifle and still in a good place. However, these were not the only changes introduced, and the new “super” Chapter tactics were about to blow the Stalker up.
The first supplement to come out, the Ultramarines, gave minor bonuses to the Stalker. The ability to move without counting as moving helped make the Stalker more mobile, but was an ability really aimed at the Bolt Rifle. Raven Guard, which followed up also works well with the Stalker. The +1 to hit and wound characters means that if you do spend CP to target a character, you get some good returns, but it’s not really taking things to crazy town. Where we start to see some crazy options is with the ever-powerful Iron Hands. Their ability to move and fire heavy weapons without penalty and reroll 1s to hit makes a unit of Stalkers both as mobile as any other Intercessors and extremely accurate without needing support. Since it triggers in the Devastator Doctrine and since Stalkers are Heavy, it also means that you can get better army-wide synergy and simply have your whole army stay in Devastator Doctrine and benefit from it the whole game. This is super powerful. Add in Master Artisans a successor trait, and a five-man Stalker Squad will normally hit with all their shots without the need of an aura.
The last book to come out, the Imperial Fists also saw a great role for Stalkers. Like the Iron Hands, their ability triggers on Devastator Doctrine, meaning you get great army-wide synergy. The extra damage against vehicles also really shines with Stalkers. A relatively cheap unit of Stalkers thus can sit at long range with AP-3 and D3 vs. vehicles, meaning even just a few wounds, from basic infantry, can cripple main battle tanks. Add in extra hits on 6s and ignoring enemy cover, and an Imperil Fist Stalker armed unit is a significant threat to both infantry and tanks. All these changes have combined to make the Stalker a very powerful choice in general, and for two of the best armies in the meta, they are the extra good. It seems the age of the Stalker is here at last.
Let us know what you think of the improved Stalker, down in the comments!