10th Edition Competitive Faction Focus: Space Marines

With the release of 10th edition now firmly behind us and more than a month of competitive games in the books it’s time to start taking a deeper look at each of the game’s factions. In this series we’ll talk about each faction, what they have to offer, how they play, and talk about a few list concepts to consider.

You can find all the Faction Focuses that we’ve published here.

In this article we’re looking at the Space Marines, the iconic 40k faction. The focus here will be specifically on Codex: Space Marines, with articles on the divergent Chapters appearing separately. However, there’s a lot of overlap between those two things now, with a shared roster and the ability for the divergent chapters to use regular Space Marine detachments as well as their own, so if you’re a Black Templars or Dark Angels player this article will still be informative.

This article focuses on the ins and outs of the faction’s datasheets and what they’re for; for deeper dives into the detachments available to Space Marines, you can check out the detachment guides below. For more of our competitive content for Space Marines, check out the 10th edition Start Competing: Space Marines Tactics page.


  • Update (latest): 2024-01-23 for Codex release
  • Update: 2023-09-16 for Q3 2023 Balance Dataslate.
  • Published: 2023-08-18

Why Should You Play This Faction? 

Space Marines are an interesting proposition in 10th edition. They’re only middling in power; they’re comfortably able to beat many of the game’s weaker factions and evenly matched with others, but they have terrible win rates into the big dogs of the current meta. Opponents will complain about your Desolation Squads pasting their infantry from behind a ruin, but then a unit of Custodians will simply walk forwards at them and chop them into pieces without breaking a sweat. In essence Marines right now are this guy.

Those are all reflections on the metagame, however. Looking at the army itself, Space Marines have a lot to offer. They feel good to play, they have interesting abilities and a really flexible detachment in the Gladius Task Force, and of course they have an absolute bucketload of different units to work with. You have a bunch of different possibilities when it comes to building your army, and an absolutely incredible array of different Leaders to attach to different units to create combos that will power up both. If you’re looking to take some scalps at GTs or majors, you may want to give Marines a pass (or take a look at running them as Deathwatch/Dark Angels instead), but if you want to play Space Marines that really feel like Space Marines the 10th Edition version is one of the better implementations of them.

Five Things You Need to Know

  1. Whatever the question, you have an answer. If you’re struggling against a particular faction, there’s probably something in the Codex that can take care of that for you. Your variety of Leaders, your Stratagem and Enhancement combos, and the sheer wealth of units available mean that Marines almost always have an answer to whatever question is being posed. The challenge is managing to strike a balance so that you aren’t geared up to take down Imperial Knights and find yourself plinking single shots into masses of Genestealer Cultists.
  2. Your Marines will be tougher than you expect. Between the much more generous cover rules in 10th edition and the general decrease in AP in the game, your units will likely live longer in situations where you’d expect them to simply be erased from the table. Offer not guaranteed when playing against Aeldari.
  3. All the melee units are bad. Space Marines have so many of them, and anyone coming from 9th edition probably has stacks of Bladeguard Veterans and Vanguard Veterans ready and waiting to hit the table. You probably don’t want any of them, sorry. If it’s any comfort, everyone else’s melee is bad too. Bladeguard are probably the closest to decent, particularly with a Judiciar, but you’re almost always better spending the points elsewhere. You may find that you can plug this gap with some of the divergent Chapters – Sword Brethren and Death Company are both pretty strong.
  4. Your detachments are great. Well, most of them. Don’t look too closely at the Anvil Siege Force. The others all have something to recommend them, though, and at least three are genuinely top-end – and that’s not including those in the divergent Chapters like the Black Templars.
  5. If it’s causing problems, deploy Oath of Moment on it. Yeah, it turns out re-rolling all hits against a target is pretty good, who knew?

What Are the Must-Have Units to Start This Faction?

This section used to open with “acquire a Desolation Squad;” now it doesn’t. Such is the power of the Munitorum Field Manual.

You will almost certainly want some Infiltrators, which you already have from 9th edition. They do the same things they did in 9th, those things are still super valuable, so just leave them in your case and assume they’re still in your list. You might also consider Incursors, who aren’t as good at screening things out but do bring the highly useful ability to put a +1 to hit buff on a key target – which helps all your shooting, but in particular can help your indirect fire out by mitigating the penalty (at least for those non-Desolation Squad units that care about it in the first place). Scout Squads, with their freshly revamped model kit, are also an extremely common sight in Space Marine armies once more, with their powerful combination of the Infiltrators and Scouts rules as well as their datasheet redeploy ability making them super-efficient at mission play and scoring points.

Ultramarines Infiltrators. Credit: SRM

Beyond that, the world is your oyster. Whirlwinds add to your ability to attack people with INDIRECT FIRE. The Gladiator Lancer and Eradicators both offer vehicle-killing power and also importantly bring their own sources of re-rolls, which is highly beneficial as it means they’re not reliant on Oath of Moment for their output – and the Wound re-roll/s are even more valuable in a Codex world. “Gun tanks” generally are pretty good – lots of Predators and Vindicators have been dusted off recently, and they can combo particularly well with the Storm Speeders, who each have a different buff to hand out including the Thunderstrike’s very helpful +1 to wound against VEHICLE or MONSTER targets. Also getting another look after a period on the shelf are Inceptors, in both assault bolter and plasma exterminator flavours; their output is good, but their ability to deep strike at 3” rather than 9” range is exceptional for both striking at vulnerable targets but also for objective play. Having TWIN-LINKED on their guns is another place that you get a mitigation for the nerf to Oath of Moment.

The combination of the Codex and the most recent Munitorum Field Manual changes also brought some new contenders into play. Land Raiders of all flavours got cheaper, and the Redeemer in particular has been seeing a lot of tables. The tank itself is good, with some strong shooting output of its own, and can also carry key units within it. All three kinds of Redemptor-chassis Dreadnought are seeing play, too – the Redemptor itself, the Ballistus, and even the Brutalis. Finally, don’t sleep on Stormravens, which are seeing a resurgence.

How Does This Faction Secure Objectives?

There’s two things to think about when it comes to objectives – getting them in the first place, and then keeping them afterwards.

When it comes to early game objective control, it’s helpful to have units that can start the game positioned on them. Scouts and Infiltrators are well-placed in this role, and can pick up a pseudo-Lone Operative from the Phobos Librarian if needed. For Infilrators, their anti-deep strike bubble means that if opponents want to charge in and take the objective from them then they need to foot slog over to them. Incursors lost INFILTRATORS in 10th edition, but they still have Scouts 6”, so they can deploy somewhere that gives them an option on a run to a point and then use their scout move to close the distance – or alternatively, to run backwards out of line of sight if you lose the roll-off. Eliminator Squads can also reach surprisingly far with their combination of being INFILTRATORS and the ability to make a Normal Move after shooting, and they’re lovely and cheap now. You might also consider using some allied units here, particularly the Imperial Assassins. I’m personally a big fan of the Callidus, who is a great objective piece with her mix of INFILTRATORS, DEEP STRIKE, and her datasheet redeployment ability (and again a points drop in September, presumably because her “Vect” ability got less useful but that is not at all the only thing she does); the Eversor is also great in this role thanks to a 9” Scout move, the ability to Advance and shoot and charge (which means he can Advance and do actions), and being cheap as chips.

That’s fine for getting the points, but what about keeping them? Space Marine units are pretty resilient, so against the kind of incidental firepower that might wipe out some Guardsmen or Skitarii they’re usually pretty safe, but they’re not that tough and a dedicated push will generally wipe them out. One useful ability on the Intercessor Squad is Objective Secured, which means that if they hold an objective at the end of your Command Phase then you keep control of it even if you have no models in range of it. Intercessors aren’t great, but Objective Secured is a useful option if you really don’t want to have to leave anything behind, and it means an opponent has to actively come and take the objective off you rather than just killing what you have on there. If you’re more interested in your units hunkering down and holding a point, then Heavy Intercessors are also worth a look; they’re not much more expensive than the regular kind, but they get T6, an extra Wound, and the Unyielding in the Face of the Foe datasheet ability which gives them +1 to armour saves against Damage 1 weapons. Opponents will need to commit more serious firepower to getting rid of them, and their anti-infantry output is respectable thanks to their heavy bolt rifles. Aggressors have a similar defensive profile and are likely to be advancing forwards to take on enemy units in the first place, plus they have respectable melee, so they’re a likely choice for holding midfield points.

The new Assault Intercessors with jump packs are also seeing play in a doing-missions, grabbing-objectives role, because they’re cheap and fast and at least mildly punchy into the kind of weak targets which are often used to hold objectives from the other side.

Crimson Fists Aggressors
Crimson Fists Aggressors. Credit: Corrode

Other options include Impulsors – great for getting forwards at pace, and providing a tough shell for a unit to secure a point without exposing themselves so badly – and Drop Pods, which are obviously more static but can serve a useful purpose in both dropping offensive units like Devastators into a useful shooting position, and also putting them onto a midfield point you might otherwise struggle to reach. Speaking of deep striking, don’t forget about the Meteoric Assault on Inceptors, which can be very handy for flipping a weakly-defended point – in particular it can be hilarious for pulling off Capture Enemy Outpost if an unwary opponent has left their home objective vulnerable.

New in the Codex is the Company Heroes unit, which hearkens back to the Command Squad of old. These guys have reasonable damage output – some interesting guns, a good sword, that kind of thing – but what really makes them worthwhile is their toughness. They’re 4 wounds each, plus as long as there is a CHARACTER model in the unit (and they can’t be deployed without a Captain, so you’ll nearly always have one unless someone Precisions him out early) they’re -1 to wound. If you just need something to sit on an objective and hold it, and require excessive resources to remove, these guys are it.

How Does This Faction Handle Enemy Hordes?

For repeat themes, see again Aggressors, who pour out a huge volume of anti-infantry firepower. Whirlwinds can also contribute volume of shots to anti-infantry since they shoot d6+3 with a BLAST weapon, though unlike Desolation Squads they do suffer the indirect penalties and so you will want to account for cover and potentially either shoot them at an Oath target or give them +1 to hit from somewhere, or both.

For other options, you might also look at the Storm Speeder Hailstrike, which has respectable anti-infantry shooting and also grants additional AP to other Space Marine units that shoot at a non-VEHICLE/MONSTER target it hit – which can be great for setting up your lighter firepower to punch above its weight, and is particularly helpful into things that have AP-reducing effects like those under Illuminor Szeras’ aura.

Inceptor Squad with plasma exterminators.
Inceptor Squad with plasma exterminators. Credit: Corrode

Assault bolter Inceptors also produce a high volume of shots, particularly if you high-roll their SUSTAINED HITS 2. A surprise entry here is also the Impulsor, which can roll up with its two storm bolters and ironhail heavy stubber to pour out 14 shots at Rapid Fire range, a respectable number for a transport which also has FIRING DECK 6 to let you shoot with whatever’s inside – Sternguard Veterans and Hellblasters both offering different spins on this concept, and Hellblasters can also benefit from a kind of protection from their own HAZARDOUS rolls if they want to overcharge their plasma incinerators from inside the boat.

On the subject of transports, both the Land Raiders Crusader/Reedemer and the Repulsor offer decent anti-infantry shooting on top of their core functions, and often you’ll find with Marines that one way to manage hordes is simply to utilise all the random storm bolters and stubbers and such which get strapped to every vehicle and Dreadnought by default. 

How Does This Faction Handle Enemy Tanks and Monsters?

For straightforward anti-tank infantry, there’s Eradicators, whose datasheet ability lets them re-roll their whole Attack sequence – Hits, Wounds, and Damage rolls – into both MONSTER and VEHICLE units, which is super helpful both for making their melta weapons punch up into the array of things out there with T10 or T12, and also for making them less dependent on Oath of Moment. They are shorter-ranged than in prior editions, however (just 18”), and since they’re Gravis-armoured they only move 5”, so getting them into range can be challenging. There are options for doing this in the various Detachments, of which the most notable is the Firestorm Assault Force straight up giving them ASSAULT on their guns.

I mentioned the Gladiator Lancer earlier, which has both a Really Big Gun and also its own native re-rolls, and is priced to move. Also in the straightforward “shoot big gun at enemy tank” category is the Predator Annihilator, as well as the Vindicator and the Ballistus Dreadnought. The Ballistus is a great pick due to its cheapness, and arguably gives you better output than the Lancer since the higher number of meaningful shots reduces your variance overall.

If you need a little more oomph from smaller guns, the Storm Speeder Thunderstrike brings the useful ability to give +1 to wound against an enemy VEHICLE or MONSTER unit which it hits with its own attacks. This is a great all-round buff – it helps your dedicated anti-tank to be more efficient, whether that means big guns moving from 3s to 2s, but it also helps your S7-S9 firepower to punch up – the aforementioned Eradicators, but also Whirlwinds, Hellblasters, Redemptor Dreadnoughts and the like. Speaking of punching up, the Redemptor’s fist is also a viable option for close-range anti-tank, as is Roboute Guilliman’s and Tor Garadon’s.

Imperial Fists Redemptor Dreadnought
Imperial Fists Redemptor Dreadnought. Credit: Jack Hunter

What Detachments Are Available?

Space Marines have a mighty 7 detachments in their codex, and you can find guides to each of these below:

  • 1st Company Task Force – as the name suggests, a detachment themed around the veteran forces of the First Company
  • Anvil Siege Force – an Imperial Fists-themed detachment, all about heavy weapons and blowing things away at range
  • Firestorm Assault Force – a Salamanders-themed detachment, which encourages getting up close and personal with overwhelming shooting firepower
  • Gladius Task Force – an Ultramarines-themed detachment, with lots of flexibility
  • Ironstorm Spearhead – an Iron Hands-themed detachment, all about building an iron wall of Dreadnoughts and tanks
  • Stormlance Task Force – a White Scars-themed detachment, built around a fast-moving, aggressive style
  • Vanguard Spearhead – a Raven Guard-themed detachment, full of sneaky tricks and stealthy stuff

These detachment guides give an in-depth look at each detachment, as well as looking at an example army list for the specific style it encourages.

In addition, Space Marines have a number of other detachment options available in the indexes/codex supplements for the divergent Chapters, such as the Dark Angels. These have their own specific rules and restrictions; check out the Start Competing guides for these sub-factions to learn more about them.

Final Thoughts

That’s that for Index: Space Marines, unadorned by divergent chapter frills. We will of course be covering those extra indexes elsewhere (and as mentioned have already published a view on Deathwatch), as well as looking at everything in 10th edition in our ongoing Faction Focus series. For now, enjoy your games, grit your teeth whenever Aeldari (now mercifully a bit weaker) show up across the table, and rest assured – we’re at the start of an edition, and so Codex: Space Marines and its accompanying tidal wave of new Space Marine kits is inevitably coming soon, to add even more options to the faction which may or may not help keep elves from kicking its teeth in. As ever, if you have questions or feedback feel free to drop us a comment below, or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.