12 Oct 2015

Tactica Space Marines - Elites

Greetings everyone and welcome to yet another entry in my Space Marine Tactica series, this time with a focus on the venerated Elites choices fielded by the Adeptus Astartes. There is a wealth of choices here with a wide range of varying worth, but generally speaking most of these units have seen either minor or major buffs with the release of the latest codex. I hope you enjoy this article!


Command Squad - Oft considered one of the more devastating units available to a Space Marine player due to their capacity to equip every individual member with any kind of special ranged weapon, Command Squads are an amusing choice for a number of varying reasons. The first of these is that they are essentially cheaper Vanguard Veterans with more customization potential as both units share the same basic profiles and equipment, with the cheaper Command Squad having almost unrestricted access to wargear options while the Vanguard Veterans gain Heroic Intervention and optional Jump Packs instead. The fact that you can upgrade an entire Command Squad to ride Bikes for a fair price far outweighs the Jump Pack option for Vanguard Veterans as just generally speaking a Bike type unit will almost always be more valuable than a Jump type unit and this is most definitely the case here. Bike-mounted Command Squads equipped with five Grav Guns or some other type of massed special weapon is a popular build as they fill the role of super-mobile Devastator equivalents for an army based around Bikers. They can cheaply upgrade any Veteran to an Apothecary or Company Champion as well to improve either their durability or melee prowess respectively, while their incredible versatility in terms of different builds means you can integrate them into almost any Chapter force with high levels of success. The Company Banner is also a nice addition to a Command Squad albeit a potentially unnecessary one depending on your HQ choice - one of which is the popular Kor'sarro Khan. Overall, Command Squads are yet again a very strong unit but they gained an impressive buff in the form of moving to the Elites slot and not requiring a Captain or named equivalent to be legally taken in an army list. That you can field up to three in a single Combined Arms Detachment free of restrictions or requirements can make for some brutal builds making use of their nigh unparalleled access to special weapons.

Honour Guard - Much like Command Squads before them, Honour Guard received a huge buff with their move to the now extremely contested Elites slot; you no longer require an expensive Chapter Master to field them and can take up to three squads per Combined Arms Detachment, a far cry from what was usually a limit of one per detachment. Like Command Squads you also might actually consider taking multiples of this unit as taken on their own merits they are easily the strongest close combat unit in the Space Marine codex. Other Space Marines couldn't dream of being this well equipped as each individual Honour Guard comes stock with a bolt pistol, boltgun, power weapon, frag and krak grenades, but most importantly of all they are each clad in stalwart Artificer Armor to gain a 2+ armor save unit-wide. While this means they do natively lack invulnerable saves like Terminators, the armor is arguably what you want most seeing as invulnerable saves can be substituted out for cover saves or Feel No Pain. When you consider that Honour Guard are capable of rapid-firing their Boltguns after jumping out of a transport at a vulnerable target, firing Overwatch at a unit silly enough to charge them and then fighting with their three base power weapon attacks per model - or instead leading a charge with four power weapon attacks per model - they easily outmatch any other dedicated assault unit for raw damage output for the price. The fact that they aren't restricted to taking specific power weapons means you can mix and match the differing types in a unit to keep them versatile and allow them to deal with almost any target, while the fact that they can actually perform a Sweeping Advance gives them yet another significant advantage over their Terminator-armoured brethren. That you can put them in up to four different Dedicated Transports allows you to deliver them to the fray in any manner you deem fit, while their access to the awesome Chapter Banner upgrade and the inclusion of a nasty fairly priced mandatory sergeant serve to make them by far the most valuable assault unit for Space Marines bar none. It's almost mind-boggling that they got better due to the move to the Elites slot and not requiring specific characters to unlock them as they are a stronger value replacement of Assault Terminators and Vanguard Veterans that used to be balanced out by how few you could field in a standard list.

Centurion Assault Squad - It goes without saying that Centurion Assault Squads simply do not compare to Centurion Devastator Squads, but I nonetheless feel the need to address it just in case you might not be too familiar with the over-sized Space Marines; the ranged variant far outclasses the melee variant here. However, I've come to appreciate this unit that I previously gave a lukewarm reception to back when they first released during 6th Edition; this is a surprisingly powerful assault unit that, much like Centurion Devastators, gets a lot of love from their unrestricted access to "empty" Drop Pods in the Fast Attack slot. I find the comparison to Assault Terminators equipped with Thunder Hammers and Storm Shields to be an interesting one; you pay ten points on a Centurion to gain +2 Strength and Armourbane on their attacks, striking at Initiative order and not suffering Initiative penalties when charging through terrain, one or two different ranged weapons in addition to their pair of melee weapons, Toughness 5 and 2 Wounds per model as opposed to Toughness 4 and 1 Wound per model and adding Move Through Cover to their list of special rules. However, the Assault Terminators crucially gain a 3+ invulnerable save (the Centurions have no such save) with the native capability to Deep Strike, apply Concussive to their melee attacks, have a higher base Leadership value if the Centurion Sergeant is removed from the equation, are capable of making Run moves and have a much larger maximum unit size. When you really compare them in this way the Centurions actually have a lot going for them as they have far greater damage output against larger targets - they can and will rip apart Super Heavy Vehicles in close combat - are not slowed by terrain at all and are much harder to kill on a model-by-model basis overall, though the importance of the 3+ invulnerable save is undeniable in an edition where AP2 is so ridiculously common with both ranged and melee attacks.

I don't consider either unit to be that great but I feel that those saying Centurion Assault Squads are "poor" aren't considering the whole picture; the base comparison seems pretty favorable to Centurion Assault Squads if you take AP2 weapons out of the equation, while the fact that they gain greater benefit from psychic blessings and even Combat Doctrines while providing some added ranged firepower that their competitor entirely lacks means they can't ever classify as terrible. Three of these equipped with either twin-linked flamers or twin-linked meltaguns in a Drop Pod provides you with a pretty potent alpha strike unit that can soak up a lot of punishment - against small arms fire they are roughly as durable as ten Terminators - and then crush almost anything short of horde units in an assault in the space of one round. I'm not joking when I say that three of these charging a Baneblade will destroy it on the turn they launch the assault assuming average rolls as long as they get even one damage result on it prior with their twin-linked meltaguns, something which very few other units of comparable points in the codex are capable of. Again, I don't think unit is great given that the lack of an invulnerable save and their reliance on taking a transport to ferry them around or deliver them straight to the enemy lines makes them a deceptively expensive and fragile unit, but to say that they are weak is most definitely a misnomer given their incredible damage potential and ability to soak up small arms fire. Being able to shoot hurricane bolters (at the cost of losing their assault grenades) and twin-linked flamers or twin-linked meltaguns before charging with their incredible melee weapons makes them one of the more surprisingly valuable units in the Elites slot, though I must stress once more that they are super reliant on a Drop Pod particularly to make them work. I think the fact that they can now fully benefit from every Chapter Tactic is amusing given that they can now freely gain Hit and Run from the White Scars Chapter Tactics, allowing them to disengage from the units they struggle with and either shoot and charge them or move away as necessary.

Vanguard Veteran Squad - While my earlier mentions of this unit throughout the review might paint them in a bad light, I'm actually quite a fan of these in the new codex as obviously the rules designers saw fit to give them the love they deserve. As it stands they still don't compare to Honour Guard for a dedicated assault unit, they are fragile compared to other such units in the codex due to their 3+ armour save and they are built around investing tonnes of points into upgrades whereas their competitors can often get away with just the bare bones builds. The Veteran profile gives them a nice buffer over regular Space Marines, while the optional Jump Pack upgrade lets you choose whether to field them as elite Assault Marines or inside of a transport. They now thankfully pay much less for their special melee weapons compared to character models which means a fully kitted out squad can save up to one hundred points depending on unit size and equipment when compared to the previous codex, a pretty gargantuan buff for those that use these as their elite assault unit. Being able to mix and match weapons remains one of their key advantages over Assault Terminators as it allows you to diversify the units' effective targets and vary their damage output, while being able to add Storm Shields as necessary on a model-by-model basis gives the unit some much needed defence against AP3 or AP2 attacks.

Heroic Intervention also received a pretty notable buff that I think a big part of the community apparently glossed over as it now allows Vanguard Veterans to re-roll one or both dice when determining their random charge length while still also functioning as it previously did. Ultimately, the unit does still suffer from being really vulnerable to small arms fire given that they lack the crucial 2+ save possessed by their peers, though they are better equipped to mitigate their weaknesses with optional cheap Storm Shields and taking powerful melee weapon upgrades at a ten point discount per weapon. While the buff to Heroic Intervention is nice the real reason these catapulted back up into usefulness is the return of the discount weapon pricing making a fully kitted out Vanguard Veteran squad not obscenely expensive as it used to be, allowing them to actually compete in a codex with lots of different dedicated assault units. You can take ten Vanguard Veterans all equipped with Jump Packs, Power Weapons and Storm Shields for just under 400 points which, while probably still inefficient, is nonetheless very impressive given that the same unit would have been priced at close to 500 points in the old codex. While this does mean that bare-bones Vanguard Veterans haven't changed too much, ultimately you generally want Vanguard Veterans for their lack of multi-charge penalties and - as of now - cheap access to powerful upgrades like Storm Shields and Power Weapons making even smaller five-man units surprisingly potent at a reasonable cost. The key is the mobility offered by the Jump Packs on such a well equipped unit as it gives them their main selling point compared to all the other elite assault units in the codex.

Sternguard Veteran Squad - I looked forward to reviewing this unit as on their own they are one of the few entries in the codex that didn't receive any changes to their basic rules, though obviously they gain a lot from the various formations, buffs to certain Chapter Tactics and so on. Sternguard Veterans used as Imperial Fists gained a hilariously potent buff with the about-face on their rules allowing units with Special Issue Ammunition to benefit from Bolter Drill, while their place in Gladius or standard lists remains strong given their nature as a supremely potent alpha strike unit in a Drop Pod. They become almost godly in terms of sheer overall value when part of either the 1st Company Task Force or as bodyguards to the Crimson Fist Chapter Master himself, Pedro Kantor, who provides them with the awesome Objective Secured special rule. There's ultimately not too much to address here as we all know what Sternguard Veterans are capable of; equipping them with massed combi-weapons (usually melta) and placing them in a Drop Pod gives you one of the best and most classic alpha strike units in the game, while their firepower after the drop is impressive in the sense that it can threaten almost any non-vehicle, non-gargantuan model they come across. They can defend themselves much better than your average Space Marine in close combat while packing some of the nastiest shooting that a Space Marine on foot is capable of bringing, all at a fair price even with the ten-point combi-weapon nerf they received back in 6th Edition. Many competitive armies still use at least one of these squads even despite the fact that Centurion Devastators in Drop Pods are essentially super-powered versions of these as they are still a great unit taken on their own merits and can be easily integrated into a lot of lists.

Dreadnought - Oh how the mighty have returned to their former glory. The amount of buffs that Dreadnoughts of all kinds received is simply mind-boggling, even if functionally they still aren't that great due to the inherent fragility of sub-AV13 vehicles in 7th Edition Warhammer 40,000. First up is the most obvious one; the number of base attacks a Dreadnought has was increased from two to a whopping four, doubling their close combat effectiveness and making them very scary to face in a melee for most units seeing as they have so many Strength 10 AP2 attacks. These can much more easily escape from tarpits now as a result while being a nightmare to face for the majority of monstrous creatures in the game given the heavy nerfs to Smash in 7th Edition, allowing them to easily best their fleshy counterparts. They still aren't amazing in combat given their average Weapon Skill and Initiative values but it nonetheless is a very handy buff that, when combined with the next change they received, can make them one of the more efficient melee combatants in the codex. As you might have guessed I am referring to the fact that Dreadnoughts now all have Chapter Tactics as part of their profile, which is awesome in some ways and makes perfect sense from a fluff-driven perspective.

When considering the aforementioned improvement to their melee prowess, adding Hit and Run from White Scars or improving their damage output against buildings via Imperial Fists makes for some hilarious shenanigans. However, it is worth mentioning that not all Chapter Tactics really affect Dreadnoughts or provide minimal benefit; still, one can't complain about free extra rules I guess, especially as Hit and Run is just silly for Dreadnoughts. The other really intriguing change is that Dreadnoughts can now be fielded in units of between one and three as opposed to always operating solo, a change that I'm still not sure how to really analyze given that vehicles of this durability level tend to be very easily dealt with in the current competitive meta. I think that Dreadnoughts are now at a place where they are cheap enough to justify using them without ever really expecting too much of what is ultimately a decent unit, but taking them in squads is definitely something to consider if you want to just flood the board with Walkers which, given their other buffs, is not necessarily a terrible idea - especially for Iron Hands players. Another thing to point out is that a lot of their upgraded ranged weapons saw a price reduction which combines with all the other buffs to make for a much improved unit, even if the core issues with the model itself weren't really fixed.

Venerable Dreadnought - I've never really been a major fan of Venerable Dreadnoughts even when they saw a 50 point price reduction in 6th Edition as you basically pay more over a standard Dreadnought for defensive improvements that don't work against the most common means of their destruction; hull point removal. AV12 vehicles aren't "automatically terrible" as some might lead you to believe but it nonetheless does present an issue of fragility meaning you want to have high value from those AV12 vehicles, something that Dreadnoughts aren't really analogous to. Still, I don't want to undersell these as they actually get way more benefit from the various buffs than standard Dreadnoughts; the Venerable rule combined with It Will Not Die does still make it a harder target to destroy than your average Dreadnought, while Weapon Skill 5 makes those four base attacks much more efficient and reliable. When you consider that these received all the same improvements as regular Dreadnoughts, working out which is more competitive tends to be really easy. The Venerable Dreadnought pays 25 points for a bonus to its Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill values which makes a pretty big difference in both cases, while the Venerable rule does allow it to survive the low rate-of-fire AP1 and AP2 weapons that some armies might use to bring it down, leading to it being the more valuable choice of the two. However, the Venerable Dreadnought suffers from the same basic issues as the regular Dreadnought, namely that it is still too easy to destroy and it exists in the same slot as the Ironclad Dreadnought.

Ironclad Dreadnought - If you really want to make full use of the many changes made to the three Dreadnought variants, Ironclads are definitely your go-to unit as one simple improvement over the other two variants makes them so unbelievably more viable in a competitive sense. Exchanging the bonuses to Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill, as well as the Venerable rule, to instead have AV 13/13/11 with improved weapon options and various other rules makes the Ironclad the obvious star of the Space Marine Dreadnought roster. AV13 sits in that lovely spot where most anti-tank weapons populating the competitive meta aren't nearly as good against it as AV12 which is a far bigger defensive bonus than the Venerable rule could ever be. It is also important to note that most units capable of harming Walkers in close combat use either krak grenades or have Strength 6 attacks to which Ironclads are completely immune, meaning they are also hilariously powerful against the majority of monstrous creatures in the game due to the Smash nerfs. The value of the Ironclad is even greater when you consider that it has "free" Extra Armour included in its base cost, meaning it is directly comparable to a Venerable Dreadnought outfitted with the same upgrade while being superior in almost every way possible.

The added power of a meltagun as the under-slung gun on its unique melee arm, the stock dual close combat arms and their capability to take two separate heavy flamers makes them a far nastier alpha strike unit than either of the other two Dreadnought variants overall. That they have Move Through Cover and optional Ironclad Assault Launchers makes them more efficient melee units by far as well given that they will have a much easier time making it into combat and striking before most hard-hitting targets even if assaulting through cover. It is also worth mentioning that the Seismic Hammer with its AP1 and Concussive, or the Chainfist with its Armorbane, are both much improved over the standard power fists wielded by other Dreadnought variants. This is actually a unit that benefits massively from the buffs to all units using the Dreadnought chassis as it is the only melee-focused Dreadnought and it actually has the durability to make those improvements count. Running squadrons of Ironclads up the field with their innate Move Through Cover and re-rolling Run rolls with the White Scars Chapter Tactics is actually one very amusing tactic I've seen quite a number of players use to surprisingly good effect. Having six Strength 10 AP1 or AP2 Armorbane attacks on the charge per Ironclad is insane, as is gaining Hit and Run and the aforementioned Run bonus from White Scars Chapter Tactics. Though the rules designers did a noble job of trying to make all of the three Dreadnought variants worthwhile competitively, the reality is that the Ironclad is still by far the best one to use whether inside a Drop Pod or slogging up the field as part of a unit given their rules actually function well in a 7th Edition context.

Legion of the Damned - This is one of those rarely seen but still very strong units that I feel is only so uncommon because of their limited model support, as their rules are actually really darned good. These are probably most analogous to Sternguard Veterans in terms of what role they fulfill in an army, being a unit that exists to deliver a punishing alpha strike to any opponent. The comparison is an interesting one to say the least; the Legionnaires are three points more expensive per model and lose out on the always useful Special Issue Ammunition, though they gain a host of advantages that Sternguard can't replicate. The most notable of these is that all Legionnaires have a 3+ invulnerable save which instantly makes them as tough as Storm Shield equipped models against AP2 and AP3 weapons, making them so crazily durable against the many armour-ignoring weapons populating 7th Edition armies and instantly capable of surviving return fire on the drop unlike Sternguard Veterans. They lose out on Chapter Tactics but instead gain the Fear and Fearless special rules, while they gain the various advantages and disadvantages of Slow and Purposeful; notably this means they can fire all of their guns and still charge enemies in the same turn, all the while shooting their heavy weapons at full effect on the move. The other, most crucial benefit of fielding Legionnaires is that all of their ranged attacks have the Ignores Cover special rule which, as many of you may realize, instantly makes them one of the only real natural counters to Ravenwing, Ghostkeels and other powerful cover-reliant armies or individual units. While most of the unit has to use boltguns this still makes them a great unit for clearing enemy infantry off of objectives, while the mix of melta or plasma weapons elsewhere can make them a deceivingly powerful ranged unit when combined with that juicy Ignores Cover. Additionally they have their own in-built delivery mechanism by innately arriving from Deep Strike Reserve and having the ability to re-roll the scatter die and the 2D6 when they do so, making them a very reliable Deep Striking unit. That they also possess Veteran stats with an improved Leadership score makes them a potent close-ranged unit as well and just generally a high value squad overall given their mix of 3+ invulnerable saves and Ignores Cover, though they do sadly lack the means to employ Graviton weapons.

Terminator Squad - I was amazed to see Terminators get any buffs at all in the latest codex as I feel the rules designers don't really understand why these units are so mediocre nowadays when every army can tear them apart in record time before they get a chance to do anything significant. "Tactical" or ranged Terminators as they are often referred to are generally seen as the weaker of the two varying units equipped with Tactical Dreadnought Armour available in the Space Marine codex, and while I'm sad to say that this hasn't really changed the one buff they did receive is still worthy of praise. A 5 point price-reduction per model is not a massive change but it nonetheless helps to provide incentive to those sitting on the fence about their usage, essentially allowing them to get the upgraded ranged weapons for free when compared to the previous codex in a squad of five. The latest codex also removed a lot of the restrictions on Terminators benefiting from the various Chapter Tactics which means even these most heavily armoured of Space Marines can perform Hit and Run maneuvers or gain the Shrouded special rule for the first game turn, even if the latter will be functionally pointless in most cases. Terminators still suffer the problem of being too easily killed despite their high points cost in a 7th Edition context while suffering from mediocre damage output; storm bolters with one or two heavy weapons depending on unit size is barely an improvement over a regular and much cheaper Tactical Squad, while their melee capabilities are obviously strong but fall short compared to proper dedicated melee units. They are at least somewhat versatile but they literally pay a heavy price for that all the while just generally not having much of an impact in most games. Thankfully they did get some love via the formations of which both types of Terminators are present in at least three with the most competitive probably being the 1st Company Task Force, but even then these are still merely decent rather than good or great.

Terminator Assault Squad - The other half of the Terminator equation for Space Marine players, Assault Terminators seem like they would be even less valuable given that their paired Lightning Claws make them functionally weaker in assaults than power fists against the kind of targets your army would otherwise struggle to deal with in close combat. The reality is that Terminators get shredded by monstrous creatures and proper dedicated assault walkers or units that make a mockery of their 2+ saves, meaning that striking at Initiative order with paired lightning claws is often more useful in terms of killing the units that Terminators won't get butchered by. Still, it doesn't paint a pretty picture given that they sacrifice their ranged weapons and what is generally a superior (and more expensive) melee weapon to end up being the same exact cost with no other direct rule changes, meaning even the same price reduction applied here still isn't that big of a deal just like with regular Terminators. This is where the beloved combination of Thunder Hammers and Storm Shields comes into play even if that combo ended up sadly staying the same in terms of total point expenditure; Concussive is a very handy upgrade over a power fist given that it levels out the playing field with regards to Initiative values, while the 3+ invulnerable save solves the core issue of Terminators being too easily massacred by abundant AP2 weaponry. Of course, the other problems with Terminators in general still remain; they lack a cheap and reliable delivery system, they are vulnerable to massed small or medium firepower, they are overly expensive for what they provide and they can't really compete with the best dedicated assault units in the game - namely Canoptek Wraiths. Still, if you want Terminators of any kind from a Space Marine codex then these are undeniably your best bet as they actually classify as a good or maybe great unit depending on what your local gaming meta consists of, while they gained a stealth buff with the addition of Drop Pods popping up in the Fast Attack slot and thus being accessible by Assault Terminators.

Thank you all for taking the time to read this article, I hope you enjoyed it! Space Marines are doubtless the most versatile army in Warhammer 40,000 by nature of their incredible amount of unit choices, and this is perhaps no more evident than in their Elites slot with each unit providing players with unique responses to different opponents. If you agree or disagree with my thoughts here then feel free to leave a comment below, or even just let me know how your own Elites choices have fared with the newest codex!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. (Edited the original)

    GW has really not known what to do with Terminators since all the way back in 3rd edition. I don't know if you were playing back then, but at the initial release termies didn't have even a native invulnerable save--they were just flat 2+ armor, in a game where just about every squad could be slinging up to four AP2 shots (special weapon Plasma Gun, plus a combi-plasma on a sergeant). They hurriedly put out a rules update giving them a 5+ Invulnerable...which always seemed odd to me, because it seems like an easier fix would have been to put plasma weapons up to AP3 where they can still chew up heavy infantry but don't result in The Heaviest Armour In The Universe invariably getting wiped out the first time anyone shoots at it.

  3. In my view they should have been 2 wounds each with the tactical terminators allowed 2 heavy weapons per 5. It would make them far tougher against small arms fire and alleviate the issue with the tactical termies of only having storm bolters.

  4. I'm loving this series! Great analysis and descriptions.

    I run Imperial Fists so the Sternguard Veterans look devastating with the Special Issue Ammo now, especially Vengeance rounds because their re-roll can save them from the 'Gets Hot' drawback.

    And I hadn't though of running a Command Squad on bikes like this, but at 35 points it is quite a steal!

  5. Terminators should have been toughness 5. Just that little change would have made them better and on par with lesser armored marines on simple bikes...

  6. Great read dude. Btw Ironclads have rear armour 10 not 11 :)