Goooood morning ladies and gentlemen, Nick Nanavati here to chat with you all about everyone’s favorite icon in the 41st millennium; the Space Marines! Space marines got a new update this weekend, and along with that they got two new supplements: Ultramarines and White Scars to go along with them. All three books have a lot to offer, and for the first time in 8th edition marines now have multiple viable builds and real depth to their army. The amount of combos you can come up with between chapter tactics, warlord traits, relics, and stratagems is absolutely staggering, and the basic guys also got huge buffs in the form of shock assault and the new doctrines. Not only that, but we’re seeing Games Workshop starting to incentivize playing mono-faction armies, and even further, mono-chapter armies. I’m not one to get excited about new space marines, as I’m more of a Chaos/Xenos guy personally, but this release has really changed the landscape for how armies of the future are going to be designed, so I can’t but help being happier than an 8 year old on his birthday!
Keep in mind, as with all my reviews I look at everything through the lens of a competitive player. I look at powerful combos, and practical applications of units on the table, not fluff and theme. So, now that the little disclaimer is out of the way, let’s get into it.
Space Marines, like every other army have sub-divisions of different chapter which have their own chapter tactics. These are the Salamanders, Raven Guard, Imperial Fists etc… of the Codex, and are equivalent of different craft worlds, ork clans, or legions of chaos. These are keyword distinctions at the detachment level, ie. having a detachment of Raven Guard, a detachment of Blood Angels, and a detachment of Ad Mech making up a battle forged army. Space Marines now additionally have two army level distinctions. If your whole army is made of units with the “Angels of Death” Special rule (basically units out of Space Marines, Ultramarines, and White Scars) then you get access to Doctrines which are additional, powerful, army wide benefits; however they come with the opportunity cost of forgoing other factions entirely. Finally, there are rewards for playing pure Ultramarines or pure White Scars at the army wide level, meaning if every model in your “Angels of Death” army selects their chapter tactic as “Ultramarines” or “White Scars” you’ll gain the ability to either move and shoot while counting as stationary, or +1 damage on the charge respectively. Needless to say, these are both very powerful rules, but they come with the even larger opportunity cost of forgoing all other chapters in your army as well.
As this is a Space Marine codex review I’m going to omit an in depth analysis on a pure Ultramarines army or a pure White Scars army, and instead focus on the different ways to play “mixed” Space Marines. Personally, I think an Ultramarine gunline could be incredibly potent, while a pure White Scar army is probably forgoing too much for a very situationally useful bonus to damage, but I digress as that is a topic for another day.
Before I get into too many specifics I want to preface this with a note about the Space Marine codex as a whole. Almost all of the power in this book comes from subtle interactions and using different rules in tandem to create a well balanced army. There is no one “thing” that’s so obviously powerful that it’s just the go to. It’s actually one of my favorite things about the book. Despite everything getting upgraded significantly over its previous version, the devil is really in the details with this one. It’s for this reason that I think Space Marines will be one of the top armies in the game. They are an army with lots of nuances to reward top level play. If you’re looking for a good old blunt force hammer of an army I recommend looking at a pure Ultra Marine list instead.
I guess I’ll begin with the obvious. GW is clearly pushing us towards Primaris marines. They’re giving us new primaris units and even a new primaris transport. But are these things actually good? Well, some of them are. Far and away the most obviously good unit is Intercessors. Intercessors were already solid with the help of vigilus defiant, allowing them to access veteran intercessors and a slew of new strats. Essentially all of those strats have been incorporated into the new codex, basically making the vigilus detachment for them obsolete. That said, they are even better than before now that all marines get the shock assault rule, giving veteran intercessors 4 attacks each! Not to mention, with the new doctrines they will essentially be ap -2 whenever you need it most. This is obviously really powerful, but let’s not get carried away. I see a lot players chatting about ~50 intercessors in a list just running around blasting and punching people off the table. Let’s remember, they aren’t the answer to all your problems. Many things on the competitive side of the game could not care less about these guys, and turn them into swiss cheese. I’m speaking of popular units like ravagers, razorwings, butcher cannon dreadnaughts, opposing whirlwind/Ad Mech Scorpius’s, and Ork Smasha guns to name a few. Intercessors definitely have their place, but they are not the backbone to an army.
The other Primaris unit that got directly buffed significantly is Aggressors who have now gone up to 3 wounds each. 3 wounds is kind of like that magical spot where the plethora of damage 2 weapons out there looks at you sadly and feels bad. That’s a great spot to be. Not to mention they can now also fire overwatch twice! Aggressors along with the buckets of mass s4 shooting to be found throughout the marine book also absolutely adore the new doctrine rules. Units like scout bikes and storm bolter/storm shield veterans all grew exponentially in power with the additional AP granted to them by doctrines. Of all these units the only ones that may be able to form the backbone to an army is Aggressors, however if you want to make an army centered around them I highly recommend going pure ultra marines, that way they can move and still fire twice. So, for our regular Space Marine army I wouldn’t recommend investing too heavily in aggressors simply because Ultramarines would do it better (though they do still make decent support units).
The new Impulsor is also a fantastic new transport, boasting the best keyword in the game, <fly>. Not only that, it can have a 4++ invulnerable save and it has an ability causing -2″ to charge it. Anyone who’s played a gunline competitively in 8th edition knows just how difficult it can be to deal with an opponent engaging you and trapping you in close combat. The Impulsor offers you salvations from that as a flying screen that’s too hard to remove with shooting. Basically think of these things like Space Marine Wave Serpents.
It’s not all about shooting though, Marines have some really powerful combat characters and some cool assault rules to boast as well. Chaplains are one of the most interesting units that changed a lot in the update. They can now take litanies, which are basically just an extra rule they get. The Canticle of hate is an aura of +2″ charge and +3″ consolidate. This makes deep striking and charging incredibly reliable when combined with veil of time for a rerollable 7″ charge. Vanguard vets coming in off this with a few thunder hammers and a bunch of chain swords and fighting twice can really end games. Furthermore, you can make a really potent Smash-Chaplain. Basically you take a chaplain with the Matra of Strength, the Imperium’s Sword WL trait, and the Benediction of Fury relic, and you end up with a death machine that has 6 attacks, strength 8, and 4 damage. White Scars also have a pretty spectacular warlord trait that prevents the enemy from falling back on a 4+!Needless to say this is amazing for tying up units to avoid being shot, but it’s also a cheeky way to auto-destroy fliers who have a minimum move distance. Not only that, but Space Marines have multiple ways to take multiple warlord traits and multiple relics so it’s not even that you have to choose between the glorious smash-chaplain and the White Scar Warlord! There’s tons of other great characters and cool combos you can come up with, I just wanted to share a couple of my favorites to demonstrate just how sneaky powerful new marines can get.
The last of the great winners of this update are thunder fire cannons, whirlwinds, and eliminators. Thunderfire cannons and whirlwinds both very much appreciate their new stratagem for shooting twice and the devastator doctrine. Imperial fists thunderfires and whirlwinds are especially potent as they’ll have -1ap and ignores cover. As anyone who’s played with or against tau can attest -1ap ignores cover indirect fire is incredibly powerful. Moreover, the thunderfire cannon has retained its stratagem of tremor shells to slow down units without fly. This existed previously in marines, but was limited in power due to the fact that most powerful units worth using the stratagem on were taken in pairs, so you would slow one down only to be foiled by the other anyway (eg. 2×30 plaguebearers in chaos, 2×20 stealers in Tyranids, 2×7 grotesques in druhari). You can now combine these two strats (shoot twice and tremor shells) to slow an entire army down to a crawl. Not to mention the Phobos marines and White Scars both have psychic powers to slow the enemy as well. Running into a Space Marine army the old fashioned way has never been so difficult. Eliminators, much like Whirlwinds and Thunderfires make tremendous value of the devastator doctrine coupled with ignores cover. Not to mention they are snipers as well. If you play on a board with solid line of sight blocking it’s entirely possible to have your entire army out of line of sight of the enemy while blasting him away. This combined with the way the character keyword interacts with units out of line of sight can make your entire army virtually unshootable.
This is the real strength of the Space Marine army in my opinion. Regular marines have taken a new spot within the meta as the best indirect fire shooters in the game. They truly put guard artillery to shame. Being able to slow the enemy to a crawl, while bombarding them with high quality long range indirect is an incredibly strong niche to fall into. This combined with the fact that you can make some pretty ridiculously potent combat characters to countercharge anything hard hitting while having 4 attack, 4 shot intercessors, or 10 billion shot aggressors waiting patiently to blast an oncoming enemy horde is just literally insane. Even tougher assault armies like daemons will really struggle with the new rules for null zone. Going off on a 7 instead of an 8, and affecting all units within 6″ instead of just models certainly secures its place as a real boon to the Space Marine arsenal. I’ve been using Marines to this capacity to solid success over the past year in the form of “Ultrashame”- a character based point denial army with long range indirect fire power and explosive short ranged counter punch. This style has only gotten significantly stronger with the latest update, probably catapulting it to top tier.
This is far from the only way to play marines however. Their codex is diverse, and even more so when you start exploring Which Scars and Ultramarines. If you’re interested in following me on this janky, indirect fire based, character Space Marine army, or if you want help exploring your own path with Marines I highly recommend you sign up for Nights PRO! It’s full of tons of resources to learn how to play and think about 40k at a higher level, and I’ll be your own personal coach, providing list advice, and tactical insights every step of the way on your adventure through the Grim dark!