Space Marine players have access to the most extensive roster of unique characters in the game, providing so many diverse play-styles and inherent advantages that encourage players to experiment with a wealth of differing army lists. Unlike some other codices, few of these characters are solely based around damage potential; instead, they provide ground-breaking support abilities and potential for thematic army creation that you simply can't find anywhere else. Though they are restricted to their own Chapter Tactics now, the advice given in the previous Space Marines codex very much rings true to this day; these are templates for mighty heroes to lead your forces, built to give you something you simply cannot find from a kitted out regular character. Where Marneus Calgar allows you to control the morale aspect of Warhammer 40000, Kor'sarro Khan provides free early movement to an entire force, allowing them to dominate positioning and deployment. As Helbrecht is the lynchpin for an army-wide massed and devastating assault, Vulkan He'stan gives you the means to make a Salamanders army the true masters of anti-vehicular warfare. It is such that you cannot judge these characters on the merits of combat or martial prowess alone, but on how they allow for incredible strategic flexibility in the army list creation phase, and in tactical adaptability through their considerable, palpable aura on the field of battle. These Space Marines count themselves amongst the finest heroes in all of the Imperium, and each has their own mark to leave on your army.
Due to the extensive array of unique characters in the codex, Part Three of the Unique Characters section solely covers Kor'sarro Khan, Vulkan He'stan and Kayvaan Shrike. Part Four will cover the remaining Unique Characters, and you can view Part One here as well as Part Two here.
Kor'sarro Khan, the Master of the Hunt
Overview - When you need a grim and viscious super soldier, few fit the description more than the great man himself, a Captain among the White Scars. Infamous for his name - which is also a catchphrase - few can escape the wrath of KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN! I'm sorry, I don't know what brought that on. Anyway, Khan (cough) is one of the best special characters available to a Space Marines player for a wide number of reasons, the first of which being that he makes an all-biker White Scars army - feared enough at a competitive level as it is - so much better. Added to some pretty nifty melee capabilities and being the only special character that unlocks Bikers as Troops, Khan is a great choice at quite the low price. This arguably makes him the most valuable and points-efficient character in the codex just behind Tigurius.
When taking a White Scars army, one tends towards a fast style of play; all non-bulky models get Hit and Run, while the bikes themselves get an improved version of Skilled Rider. This generally leads towards Rhino or Bike based forces due implicitly to the benefits each force gets, even though points-efficient assault-based units can be hard to come by for Space Marines. When you add Khan into the mix, every unit mounted on a Bike, or any unit that can take a dedicated transport - from Terminators in Land Raiders to Tactical Squads in Rhinos - gains the Scout special rule. This is pretty insane for a number of reasons; you get a better version of the Raven Guard scout ability as it actually applies to units like Bikers and Centurions, and then your basic Rhinos and even Land Raiders get a free twelve inches of movement to start the game. Given the mostly medium to short range of Space Marines, this is an invaluable ability that allows you to close with the longer-ranged forces - such as Tau and Eldar - to deny them their usual advantage at range. It also allows your dedicated assault units to get into combat a turn earlier generally, and there are some truly nasty tricks you can play with this; in larger games, scout two or more Assault Terminator units in Land Raider Crusaders into advanced positions alongside your Rhino-mounted Troops. Press the red button. Win!
Truly though, this is most deadly when paired with the already incredibly strong White Scars Bikers. Bikes combine the best of all three worlds in terms of damage output, mobility and durability; Toughness 5 wounds with good armour saves, strong 4+ Jink saves, twin-linked bolters and 12" movement. One of the nasty new tricks that Bikers have is the option to take one or two grav guns and potentially a combi-grav on a Sergeant; grav guns are very powerful against deadly units like Riptides and Wave Serpents who dominate the meta, but are handicapped by their short range. Combine them with the already fast Bikes and Khan's free Scout moves, giving your Troops a 42" effective range with their grav guns on the first turn. This is easily the most devastating use of Scout that can be found in the codex, and perhaps even the game, as it allows you to deliver incredibly damaging special weapons right where you need them while relying on the boosted version of Skilled Rider that White Scars enjoy. It allows you to deliver precision strikes at key enemy targets that would otherwise give your forces a lot of pause, such as those pesky Riptides paired up with Support Commanders or even Pathfinders. Wraithknights, Paladinstars and so many other units will flee in terror from a hailstorm of Scouting grav guns! This is before even mentioning the applications of delivering a kitted out combat Chapter Master with the Shield Eternal into combat so much earlier.
Khan's Master of the Hunt ability makes him a worthwhile choice alone, but he also happens to be a very appropriately equipped Captain as well. He has a slightly boosted version of a power sword that inflicts instant death on to wound rolls of a six, and has access to a slightly more expensive bike that brings his cost up to a reasonable one and a half centuries. He has a stock standard stat-line as well as a default Warlord Trait that awards D3+1 victory points if he slays the enemy warlord instead of the usual one. Between Furious Charge and two combat weapons for five Strength 5 AP3 attacks on the charge, in addition to D3 Strength 5 Hammer of Wrath hits if he takes Moondrakken, Khan has a pretty decent chance to kill enemy Warlords; hilariously, if he rolls a six against those Iyanden Wraithknight Warlords, he gets the goods and a lucky wound through at the same time! He can cleave through 3+ armoured and worse units pretty reliably, though he should definitely stay the heck away from 2+ armoured opponents or monstrous creatures who can laugh his attacks off and Smash him (literally) in the face. He's a pretty nifty combat character but nothing to write home about; still, that he costs so little and also gives you the almost army-wide Scout - specifically in a White Scars army - is nothing short of ludicrous. He's also fairly hard to kill between Hit and Run, Toughness 5 if you take him on Moondrakken - which you should as he gets so many benefits from it - a 3+ armour save and a 4+ invulnerable save. On that last point, though Moondrakken is an option rather than included in his base wargear - which may have something to do with the fact that he only has a model on foot - you really should always take him on one unless you have a specific strategy in mind regarding foot-based Command Squads or a Rhino list. Between the boost to Toughness, the addition of a twin-linked bolter, the boosted Hammer of Wrath and unlocking those nasty White Scars Bikers as Troops, I would always recommend taking Khan on Moondrakken to make the most of his Chapter Tactics.
Maximising their Abilities - When it comes to choosing between going on foot or taking Moondrakken, I would almost always take the latter provided you are taking at least a few squads of White Scars Bikers. Given that you really should be taking those Bikes, it makes a lot of sense to put Khan with them; he gets a lot out of the extra points, most importantly that he becomes a lot tougher to kill which, if he is your Warlord, can be absolutely pivotal. When taking Khan, you use him primarily because he provides Scout to a lot of units; if you want a super combat character, you should really look into a Chapter Master instead. In that sense, you need to design your army around Khan so that all or most of the force gets the most benefit from Scout; Bikers are the obvious choice, as are bike-mounted Command Squads, especially when armed with grav guns that usually suffer a range handicap. If you don't want to use an entirely bike-mounted army, then Tactical Squads with a plasma gun and perhaps a combi plasma work really well in squads of ten with Rhinos; use them en masse for a white flash of the classic Rhino Rush lists. Taking Assault Terminators in a Land Raider Crusader is also really cool to add to the force for larger games, particularly if you can fit a Chapter Master - or Khan himself - in with them. The idea with White Scars is to get up close to the enemy where Marines really come into their own and do so as fast as possible; Khan allows you to do this like no other, at least outside of Drop Pods anyway. Maximise on shorter ranged weapons - such as grav guns and meltaguns - or the popular medium range choices like plasma guns so as to really boost their effectiveness and maximise your damage up close.
Vulkan He'stan, the Forgefather
Overview - In reverence of their Primarch, the Salamanders constantly have a single Forgefather that forsakes their original name for that of their sire and pursues his ancient artefacts across the galaxy. Vulkan He'stan is the latest of these most honoured Space Marines, and he is predictably one of the best equipped characters in the army; his mastery of wargear is such that it even extends to those he leads. Name plagiarism aside, He'stan is a great leader for a Salamanders force, even if they - and every other Chapter in the galaxy - no longer need his services to be a competitive army. He has a standard Captain stat-line (how many times must I say this?) which means he is a very well rounded commander even before most wargear options are included. Of course, such characters are very prone to instant death from power fists, smashing monstrous creatures and so on; this is a weakness that you always need to be aware of, so don't send Vulkan into a fight he cannot win! Trygon Primes, Wraithlords and so on can all single the Forgefather out and slay him in a heartbeat, so always be aware of those enemies and try to avoid them as much as possible.
Now, this isn't to say Vulkan is fragile; in fact, he is far from it with a meaty 2+ armour save and 3+ invulnerable save. He can serve as a wound tank against Heldrakes and, if you feel game enough - but I wouldn't recommend it - those cover-ignoring Ion Cannons on Hammerheads. On that note, Chaos players will hate you here if you position Vulkan well; against flame weapons, he gets to re-roll his failed armour saves, meaning a 2+ re-rollable armour save against baleflamers! He also shrugs off a lot of AP2 weaponry, but again, having only three wounds and no Eternal Warrior means that while he will tough it out against a lot of enemies, those that force massed invulnerable saves or inflict instant death really need to be watched for. This is of course easier said than done if you are using a standard Salamander build involving lots of drop pods, but if you aren't, I do advise Rhinos or Razorbacks to transport Vulkan with a regular squad. He doesn't need an expensive bodyguard as he isn't really a dedicated melee killer like Marneus Calgar for example, Vulkan is very much an all-rounder who is there mostly to buff your army. Keeping him safe, as such, should really be your top priority, provided of course he is your Warlord.
As tough (or not) as Vulkan may be, his damage potential is suitably impressive to match the theme of the Salamanders; he really is one of the best equipped Captains you can get, especially for his points cost. He has a master-crafted relic blade that lets him swing at non-2+ armoured characters with ease while tanking through his strong saves, and provided he isn't challenged out, he can help even a Tactical Squad to victory over monstrous creatures like Carnifexes with his Strength 6 attacks. This also lets him destroy most non-walker vehicles really easily, as most have rear armour of 11 or 10; Vulkan's four attacks on the charge alone can destroy a pesky Wave Serpent. To add to the pain and promote his effectiveness in a drop list, Vulkan has a heavy flamer that, combined with Salamander Chapter Tactics, has re-rolls to wound all the time. Paired up with a Sternguard squad or even Tacticals with a flamer and combi-flamer, and Vulkan's unit can dish out some crazy anti-infantry damage to destroy units like massed Fire Warriors protecting Etherals or Pathfinders and their ilk. Those twenty Guardians performing the role of home objective sitters aren't going to be so arrogant when they get their faces melted off by a swathe of promethium flames! Just be wary of his limits; he can't really harm vehicles outside of combat, and 2+ armoured enemies will simply shrug his blows off. Walkers will also usually laugh at him; don't ever get him and a squad of Marines into combat with an Ironclad or Soul Grinder if you can possibly avoid it, as he hasn't got the fists of Calgar to save them! His heavy flamer is best suited in a squad dedicated to anti-infantry to maximise both the alpha strike and the defensive benefits of template weapons through Overwatch, but it is also a smart move to pair him up with combi-meltas and meltaguns to keep his squad versatile against some truly nasty threats. If you can pop those walkers before they charge you, Vulkan will already be a long way ahead in the race to survive.
And on the subject of melta weapons, there really is one major reason to take Vulkan over a Captain, Chapter Master or Master of the Forge. He is equipped very well for a Captain and all, but he still suffers the limitations of the stat-line; instead, you want him for his amazing support ability. By including Vulkan as your Warlord, all models in the same detachment - even those without Chapter Tactics - get master-crafting on their meltaguns, multi-meltas and combi-meltas for free. Basically, your melta weapons all get twin-linking which, combined with all the twin-linked flame weapons in the army, means your force will truly fit the bill of masters of fire. In gameplay terms, this leads to a severe effectiveness and reliability boost for such weapons in your force; typically, melta weapons suffer a lot from being single-shot weapons with little reliability outside of Ballistic Skill 4. Too often you will see drop-podding suicide Dreadnoughts with multi-meltas miss their quarry, or a lone meltagun in a Tactical Squad fail to hit the mark. Adding in Vulkan's upgrade means that all of these weapons you take, all of these risky tactics you employ become far more efficient, almost completely removing the element of chance from the equation. Generally, melta weapons have very high damage-to-shots ratios against vehicles and even monstrous creatures; maximising those few shots makes them all the better. It gives Space Marines incredibly reliable sources of anti-tank even outside of their heavy support slots. A nasty trick many have noticed is that the master-crafting also applies to the special issue ammunition employed by Sternguard Veterans; it is the gun itself that gets the re-roll after all!
Of course, with the short ranged nature of such weapons and Vulkan's focus on them comes a forced hand for Salamanders players wishing to employ the Forgefather; you need to use Salamanders led by Vulkan either in massed Rhinos or massed Drop Pods. This is because of those short ranges, and the added benefits that Salamanders get for using template weapons; the Chapter Tactics and the commander all favour army builds that maximise those weapons. Using such a force either on foot or without melta or template weapons simply wastes the competitive reasons for taking Vulkan and Salamanders in the first place. Like most of the other Space Marine special characters, you really need to build your army around these important force-changing models to get the most out of what they provide. Otherwise, why not just a combat monster Chapter Master or a supporting Master of the Forge instead? So again, I must stress the point; as good as Vulkan is overall, you are best off using him in a highly mobile mechanized force. The choice of delivery system for your melta and template weapons will generally come down to preference, though I am a firm believer in drop pods for a Vulkan list. They get the short-ranged guns into range immediately, and give you the best possible alpha strike of any Space Marine Drop Pod list.
As an aside, Vulkan does have a few little tricks up his cloak to keep in mind. First up is his guaranteed Warlord trait, Iron Resolve, which gives his unit a +1 bonus to combat resolution when he is involved. This is handy, particularly as Vulkan will often be right up in the face of enemy units anyway if you are using him to the fullest of his abilities; it is certainly a lot better than causing Fear! Additionally, his heavy flamer gives him a set of digital weapons, allowing him a free re-roll to wound in the assault phase. This is nifty for maximising his damage with his relic blade, that along with a single re-roll to hit, gives him quite the edge over similarly equipped enemies. Though these are only minor advantages to Vulkan, they nonetheless contribute to what is an incredibly strong special character overall. He is better equipped than almost any Captain you could find that is worth their salt, and he provides a crazy army-wide boost favouring a specific list build. If you utilize him and his force in the appropriate manner, which involves either massed drop pods or rhinos as well as a load of melta and flame weapons, then you will have an all star and one of the premier HQ choices in the codex.
Maximising their Abilities - Like Khan, taking Vulkan means taking as many units that get the most out of his special rules as possible. Ironclad Dreadnoughts with meltaguns, Dreadnoughts with multi-meltas, Tactical Squads with a meltagun, Sternguard Veterans with three or more combi-meltas, Command Squads with meltaguns; when put in Drop Pods, all such units are viable and important choices in a Vulkan list, because they get so much benefit from those re-rolls. Rhinos do work alright as well, but they don't deliver your Salamanders into the fray as quickly as the Drop Pods do; as well, it doesn't give you that all important and ridiculous alpha strike. A mixed force also works fine, but I do prefer massed Drop Pods, as a few of each won't work nearly as well due to enemy units being able to pick and choose their targets if they go first. Make sure to include anti-infantry units in such a list as well, with five-man Assault Squads in Drop Pods armed with two flamers being the most popular choice; Sternguard are also very helpful here. Having too many meltas will lead to overkill and saturation on anti-tank, leaving you more vulnerable to massed infantry such as Fire Warriors, Termagants and the Daemonic Troops choices. For Vulkan himself, I recommend a Command Squad and a Drop Pod as his personal escort, and I would probably reserve him for the second wave if you feel confident in your other units providing a deadly alpha strike. This will keep him safe, get him close to the action quickly where he can ply his trade, and give you a lot of control over what engagements to pick; remember, you don't always have to drop in near the enemy army if you really want to preserve your secondary victory points! A friendly tip here; in a Vulkan Drop list, if you fail to get First Blood, that probably means you are in a lot of trouble.
Kayvaan Shrike, Captain of the 3rd Company
Overview - In ages past, Shrike was one of the crazier characters you could get, unlocking such combinations as ten infiltrating thunder hammer and storm shield Terminators. This fit very well into a themed Raven Guard army (hurr hurr) as many competitive players would tell you. Jokes aside, Shrike was often taken not because of his stealthy tactics, but because he could deliver any nasty melee or ranged unit into short range immediately. In an understandable effort to limit the fluff-breaking potential of Shrike conferring Infiltrate to his unit, this has now been limited to jump pack equipped units. In fact, Shrike can never join any unit that isn't a jump unit during deployment, meaning that if for some reason you don't include Vanguard Veterans or Assault Marines, Shrike has to sit all by his lonesome before the game starts! Annoyingly, Shrike's ability also has not been clarified to specifically affect his attached unit as well, much like characters such as Karandras or Shadowsun that may or may not confer it to the unit - a raging debate that I choose to avoid, personally. Honestly though, it seems like the rules as intended do favour Shrike infiltrating a unit forward, but that is something to work out with your opponents. Additionally, Shrike also has the Stealth special rule which is thus conferred on to his unit; this makes up for the Raven Guard tactics not giving Bulky - including Jump units - units Infiltrate and Stealth, which again appears to fit into Shrike's function.
So just how valuable are those abilities? Assault Marines and Vanguard Veterans all got a welcome and hefty price drop in the new codex, and the ability to use their jump packs in both the movement and assault phases gives them a very large reliable threat range. Paired up with Shrike giving them a slight defensive boost and - probably - a better deployment, these units should feasibly be able to pull off either a first player turn or second turn charge with little or no risk of failure attached. As it is, this is a big boost to one of these units, though like any good force, army composition is key to success; you can't just throw one large or small unit of jump pack-equipped Marines at the enemy early on. You need to pair these up with Infiltrating Tacticals and Sternguard in Rhinos to overload your opponent with threats in the first game turn, but no matter how you press it, there will always be a noticeable deficiency. This is due to Marines lacking many infantry units that can keep up with Shrike, leaving the oppositions' anti-infantry fire with one or maybe two probable and easy targets to deal with. Unfortunately, this is compounded by the fact that Shrike cannot be used as a wound tank like Vulkan or Sicarius; with only power armour and an iron halo on top of the regular Captain profile - sigh - to protect him, he can soak up some wounds but not many. Certainly, he cannot be used to save a squad from the greedy maw of a Heldrake, or those crazy Colossus' barrages. For what will likely be an expensive unit kitted out for melee, given that they lack Hit and Run and few real good ranged options, this can be a real deterrent to even employing such a unit. Even with Stealth, that so many AP3 template or blast weapons also ignore cover - particularly when Markerlights are thrown in - means that the unit simply won't survive long with Riptides, Ion Cannon Hammerheads, Heldrakes, and even massed firepower from Fire Warriors or Imperial Guardsmen around. This leads to a highly mobile and quite dangerous melee unit that simply doesn't have the durability to survive for very long outside of incredibly picky deployment using large line-of-sight blocking pieces of terrain. In a force that is naturally strapped for points due to its elite nature, having a Captain that can only join a specific type of unit that itself cannot take a dedicated transport while using its' jump packs leads to a very limited range of deployment options. You are forced to be aggressive or waste the melee talents of Shrike and his unit, but it leaves you too vulnerable to a first or second turn barrage to really worry the competitive army lists.
And this then really starts to tie in with just why Shrike is a mediocre at best commander for your army. As a Warlord, he concedes Slay the Warlord easier than most or all other Captains, while his abilities for being a Warlord aren't even that great. His guaranteed warlord trait is arguably the worst of the bunch, as giving both he and his unit the Fear special rule is unlikely to really make a difference most of the time. Against Tau and Imperial Guard, you don't need Fear to beat them in combat, and against the forces where you could really use it - such as Daemons, Space Marines and monstrous creatures - they are always immune to Fear anyway! The few times it might be useful are when trying to fight units such as Raveners out of Synapse range - who are as fast as Shrike's unit anyway - or Chaos Marines without Fearless. But then, most don't even take such units, at least not for their melee capabilities; you may see Raveners, but it is rare indeed that they show up and are also outside of Synapse range when they need to be. So between being relatively fragile compared to Captains that have artificer armour or a storm shield and having one of the worst Warlord Traits you could possibly ask for, taking Shrike as a Warlord really shouldn't happen outside of a themed army list.
Now, you might be thinking that despite the downsides, Shrike at least makes up for it in combat. Thankfully, this is partially true; he can be quite damaging against most opponents, but he really doesn't work as a character killer of any note. His twin lightning claws afford him an extra attack, giving him four base at Weapon Skill 6 and Initiative 5 which, with frag grenades, means he will be striking at Initiative on the charge with five attacks. His attacks are AP3, he re-rolls failed to wound rolls, and to wound rolls of a six are also Rending; this does apply to vehicles as well, but outside of strong luck it really doesn't outshine a mere krak grenade that much. Rending lightning claws are pretty decent, particularly as each is master-crafted, giving Shrike two re-rolls to hit in each combat. This means he is very reliable against most enemies, as he will almost never need 5s to hit outside of a charge from Jain Zar and the like, re-roll his misses - meaning he will usually hit four or five times with five attacks depending on the opponents' Weapon Skill - and he re-rolls all failed to wound rolls at a decent Strength of 4. Not bad at all! This makes Shrike a bit of a blender against enemies such as Fire Warriors, power-armoured Space Marines and 3+ armoured HQs. Unfortunately, even with Rending, he can't really engage 2+ armoured enemies with a great deal of efficiency, and despite his re-rolls to wounds, he isn't going to harm monstrous creatures like Trygons or Wraithknights any time soon - something to note is that with Rending, Shrike actually can harm the latter without using a krak grenade. Besides, most commanders either sport a 2+ armour save or a decent invulnerable save, so while Shrike will do quite well against a lot of enemies, he isn't that much more effective than a regular Captain would be when equipped similarly.
And therein lies the issue; for a staggering half a century of points more than a Captain equipped in the same way, Shrike really doesn't give you that much value for the price increase. His melee capabilities are only boosted slightly by the additions of two re-rolls to hit and potential Rending, but the difference really isn't noticeable enough to justify such a cost, nor are his rather mediocre abilities. The kicker here is to compare those abilities to someone like Khan or Vulkan, both of whom provide far more for the army - rather than a single unit - and really affect the way your army list is written and how it plays. Where Shrike gives a single unit Stealth and Infiltrate, giving them a slight defensive boost against shooting and some extra deployment shenanigans, Vulkan master-crafts all melta weapons in your army and is a stronger overall character for shooting, durability and melee. In the same breath, Khan gives most of a force - or all of it depending your unit composition - the Scout special rule and, with a Bike, is as mobile, tougher and almost as decent in a combat, as Shrike. The former of these is only marginally more costly than Shrike, and on top of having superior special rules, he is far harder to kill with stronger saves across the board and the ease of being able to really choose what unit or transport to deploy with. The latter is quite a bit cheaper and provides large boosts to his own 'Chapter Tactics', whereas Shrike has to make up for deficiencies in his own 'Chapter Tactics' so that they can affect but a single jump unit. This contrast in fortunes between White Scars and Raven Guard, for example, really highlights the lack of value in Shrike in contrast to other special characters in the codex. He isn't cut out to be a dedicated combat monster like Lysander, but nor can he provide the amazing support abilities of someone like Tigurius. Instead, he tries to ply both trades and fails pretty badly at both, leading to an over-costed and pale imitation of the other more specialized characters.
Does this mean that I think Shrike is terrible though? No, I don't think so; he is too expensive by far for what he does, particularly as Vulkan and Sicarius are both almost identical in price to him and offer so much more to your army. He also doesn't really get that much more over a similarly equipped Captain when it comes to combat; when those Rending hits matter will often be against enemies who will squish Shrike anyway due either to his lack of a 2+ armour save or no Eternal Warrior. In practice, he isn't even a well equipped Captain; a jump pack, even for Raven Guard, is almost universally inferior to a Bike, particularly for a costly multiple wound model that is likely to be the army Warlord. A pair of lightning claws isn't terrible, but it pays a lot for an extra attack; often a power weapon, preferably a maul, with a pistol is better overall for the points. It also leaves the Captain quite bare when it comes defence, with no storm shield or artificer armour. Essentially, you really pay through the nose for decent buffs over a regular Captain which doesn't work at all when representing a themed Raven Guard force is likely easier done, both ironically and sadly, with a White Scars force led by Khan. That a Captain equipped like Shrike really isn't worth it in the first place seals his place as a themed choice to play on the hopes that your opponent doesn't have potent first turn shooting, or that you can find a lot of terrain on your game board to hide them. Even then, Shrike just isn't the melee monster you would want him to be; why not instead take Lysander in an Allied Detachment with a group of Assault Terminators or a Command Squad? Shrike really needed to be a good twenty or thirty points cheaper, that or his special rules really needed to be more pronounced and affect more than just one unit. As it is, I would only ever take Shrike in a themed list; outside of those, you are probably just wasting your points.
Maximising their Abilities - When using Shrike, you really need to make the most out of his See But Remain Unseen special rule; this means taking a large and decently equipped Assault Marine or jump-pack equipped Vanguard Veterans squad. As Shrike must join a jump unit in deployment and only one of either units' dedicated transports can carry bulky models, this means your deployment options are quite limited. Taking a transport will also limit the number of models you can transport due to Bulky, so I probably wouldn't advise that outside of maybe a Land Raider Crusader. If only Shrike could join non-jump units and only take up two slots in a transport instead of everyone in the squad doing so as well! Depending on how generous your opponents are, the ideal deployment scenario is to Infiltrate Shrike with his unit to close with the enemy for a first turn charge - if you go second - and hide from as much enemy firepower as well. With Stealth, even sitting in cover may be ideal, but you really need to be wary of your problem units; Riptides, Hammerheads, Colossi, Griffons, Basilisks and the like should not be able to draw line of sight to you on the first turn. If any such unit can, then you are in a lot of trouble; in the case of the last three units, of course, it may not matter, but it boosts your chances of avoiding their shots.
Infiltrate does give you a lot of leeway for deployment though which always helps, allowing you to get as close to ideal targets and away from those problem units as you need to. That the unit can re-roll their assault moves while moving 12" in the movement phase - provided Shrike is attached to a Raven Guard squad of course - means that they have an incredible threat range early on, which few other dedicated assault units can lay claim to. This doesn't make them invincible though; even with a power weapon or a few more, depending on the squad, they simply can't handle some units in combat. Trygons, Wraithknights, 'Screamerstars', Flesh Hounds led by a Herald, Spawn with a Khorne Chaos Lord, Nurgle Bikers and the like are all deadly melee units that are often seen in a competitive sense, all of which are easily capable of tearing apart Shrike's unit. For how to equip Shrike's attached unit, I would definitely take a power weapon on a Sergeant if you can manage it so that Shrike doesn't stick out like a sore thumb on an opponent's list of "models to kill first", but only if you have the points spare as it is expensive and probably not very efficient. For an Assault Squad, I recommend flamers over plasma pistols due to the cost difference and the real lack of reliably for the latter; the former also lets the squad effectively engage massed infantry that can harm them greatly in Overwatch, like a bunker of multiple Fire Warrior or Kroot units with a nearby Ethereal. A graviton pistol is an ideal purchase on the Sergeant as its' Concussive effect and lack of Gets Hot! make it an ideal replacement for a plasma pistol, as well as giving the unit a better chance against high Initiative monstrous creatures like Daemon Princes. In the case of Vanguard Veterans, as 'alluring' as it might be, I would avoid giving them a lot of power weapons. While it is cheaper than before, the cost increase is so significant that it effectively leaves your force a unit short; given how important target saturation is to support a dedicated assault unit, I really recommend only taking one or two at most. In the same breath, storm shields are in a bit of a similar boat; they are cheap for what they do, but you still get left with Toughness 4 models with only 3+ saves, meaning they can and will be gunned down by massed firepower. This does make them a lot less vulnerable to the weapons that are usually their bane - the AP3 cover-ignoring variety - but it also makes them a good deal more expensive. Adding in a handful is a safe bet, but no more.
To the choice between each unit, this is pretty tough as while Vanguard Veterans will have more flexibility and the important option to multi-charge in such large numbers with no loss of charge bonuses, they do get a lot more expensive very quickly. I'm really undecided on which unit will prove to be more effective in the long run, so I would leave this to personal preference. Regardless of how you choose, be very aware of their limitations, and prioritize units that you can engage without suffering too many casualties. There is nothing worse than losing a likely 200+ point unit in the space of a few turns because of exposing your unit to firepower it otherwise should have hid from. Your unit is very mobile with a 12" movement and has natural Stealth; never forget either of these, as they are key to their survival and chances of reaching combat in repeated turns. On Shrike himself, I would avoid making him the Warlord simply because he has the worst of the Warlord Traits by far, though this is obviously only if you are taking another HQ. On that note, don't just "take" another HQ, even one as cheap as a Librarian, just to avoid using Shrike as the Warlord; those points are almost always better spent on more bodies if you don't have a clear cut purpose for the character.
Did you find this an entertaining and insightful read? Cheers! If you have any feedback for me, feel free to post a comment here or speak to me over on +Bell of Lost Souls. Happy hunting!
"They are my bulwark against the Terror. They are the Defenders of Humanity. They are my Space Marines...and they shall know no fear."
- The Emperor