Space Marines in the Competitive Metagame


Space Marines have been out and about for about 3 weeks now, yet no one really knows what a competitive list for them looks like. Just last weekend I was at the NOVA Open and I was chatting with some other top 40k players, picking their brains on what they think is good for marines, and there was almost no universal answer. Some players favor Ultramarine mobile gunlines, while others favor White Scars assault based armies. Finally, there’s the strangely unexplored elephant in the room: mixing SM with other factions, forgoing doctrines for allies. Truth be told any of the above options are viable for various different reasons, which makes it understandably difficult to pinpoint what marines do.  
Allow me to rephrase, Marines can do everything, which is of course, very true to their name. Furthermore, marines are GOOD at everything. So, how is this fair? Well, Marines are still expensive and even more so when you take specialized units like infiltrators to zone out deep strikers for example. Opportunity cost becomes a real thing. Many top level, non-marine players seem to feel the Marine book is unfair, and they have an answer to everything, while on the flip side marine players struggle to build lists that actually have an answer to everything all in a 2000 point package. Quite the catch-22

The truth of the matter is that deeper Marines go into a concept, the more they struggle in other areas. For example, you can build a really powerful Ultramarine Gunline with Aggressors, Invictus Warsuits, indirect fire options, and Infiltrators/Impulsors for anti deep strike and flying screen options. On paper this seems like a well oiled, death machine. Anti deep strike, flying screens so the army isn’t vulnerable to being trapped in combat, and buckets of dice, what could go wrong? Well, nothing in the above army has anything higher than s7, save for maybe a couple characters splashed in, so an opposing Imperial army with a trio of Leman Russ Tank Commanders with the relic battle cannon and a basilisk or two can both outrange and out shoot the army. Additionally, a multiple Knight army, Eldar flier spam, or a mech Tau army is likely to simply out shoot the marine list.
So, what if the marine player stops investing so many points into Infiltrators and Impulsors, and starts investing more points into long range anti tank to remedy the situation? Well, what long range s8+ anti tank is there? Units like Predators, and Devastator squads are just as vulnerable to dying turn one in a fire fight with an equally shooty army, while simultaneously making your army vulnerable to GSC and other assault armies.

Now, let’s look at a different direction. What if we take an assault based White Scars army. To run combat oriented marines we’ll need to leverage the ridiculous character combinations we can make, and deliver them safely with egregious abuse of the character rule. Taking multiple scout squads to just run around hiding places to ensure the characters aren’t the closest and your screening units are out of los will shut down all but the most proficient gunlines. However, this opens up a world of other issues. Large blocks of 30 ork boys or plaguebearers can start charging into your scout units to trap them in combat while standing on multiple objectives to accrue points. Of course your hero hammer style of SM can charge in and try to counter punch, but the thing with most characters is that they have a low volume of high quality attacks, which is basically the worst thing you can use to clear out this type of issue.
To remedy this maybe you start taking more “units” with lots of attacks to counter assault? Large blocks of veteran intercessors can put out ~40 attacks on the charge with full rerolls to hit along with many other rules. That will surely clear out 30 boys, or plaguebearers with the support of a chaplain and null zone. However, now we’re taking real units, which of course can be shot. This circles us back to the problem of basilisks, tau, and now opposing marines.

My point here is not to make Marine players feel like all is doom and gloom. Space Marines along with their supplements are unequivocally one of the best, if not the best codex in the game. The depth to them, and the plethora of viable options found within is completely overwhelming. But, Marines at the highest tier of competition need to be more than a blunt hammer gunline, or an jagged knife assault army. Striking the balance between raw power, and toolbox is key. From a meta perspective though, Marines at a first glance seem to struggle with long range anti tank, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of over correcting for that, only to create a new weakness to hordes or assaults. As Marines reach an equilibrium, and find their natural balance, it’s likely they will struggle vs the more extreme army builds out there such as mass vehicle overload (Ad Mech, Eldar, Tau), max haywire harlequins, or insane amounts of horde infantry backed by solid firepower like Orks.
The best Marine lists have yet to reveal themselves, but if you want help with your own personal Marine lists, or if you want help updating your list for the incoming Marine based Meta I implore you to check out Nights PRO!

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