Games Workshop dropped its Q2 Balance Dataslate for 40k in mid-April, dramatically changing a number of key factions. Astra Militarum, Marines and Sisters were buffed, Harlequins, T’au, and Custodes were nerfed, and some key game rules were changed. Now with Tyranids looming on the horizon, we’re looking at several key factions and examining their place in this new emerging meta.
In today’s article we’re joined by Jack Harpster from The Art of War, who will be providing their thoughts on Space Marines.
Space Marines were in a decent spot for a while in late 2021, with some chapters still showing competitive life, particularly after the December Balance Dataslate. However that changed after Codex: Adeptus Custodes came out, and they began to drop off for two reasons: First, they couldn’t crack the defenses of Custodes and second, they were unable to survive the raw damage output of Tau and Harlequins. Luckily for them, Games Workshop took notice of their flagging win rates and stepped in to balance the scales. Not only did the offending armies take substantial hits but GW rolled out Armour of Contempt, a rule granting Marines, Sisters, and Chaos Marine armies of all flavors AP reduction of 1 for incoming attacks across the board (with a few exceptions). This is a sea change for the game’s damage output and while units with shields do not gain the benefits, the affected armies have gained significant durability.
Armor of Contempt has a massive effect on what weapons can even be considered good anymore. Every weapon now has to be compared against terminators or similar 2+ saves in cover and any unit that boasts a 2+ base save – such as Sanguinary Guard – has improved significantly. Additionally, vehicle-based Marine armies now gain quite a bit from the Stealthy successor trait, stacking light cover on top of Armor of Contempt to become incredibly durable. As such, ranged weapons that don’t ignore cover really suffer unless they’re at least AP 3, with AP 4 being preferred. This actually comes into play for marines as they’ve become startlingly bad at killing other marines, especially when the appropriate Combat Doctrine is not active. In this new durability-centric metagame, every army must pass the marine test before it can be considered a top-tier contender.
Melee marine armies have gotten a significant upset from Armor of Contempt’s value to units with a native 2+ save. I expect White Scars armies to start to pivot away from running quite as many Vanguard Veterans in favor of the new-and-improved Terminators, utilizing their inherent mobility alongside the chunky terminators’ natural durability. Blood Angels are finally real contenders again, with their signature assault units Sanguinary Guard and Death Company gaining straight bonuses to durability as well as being Marine killers in a metagame desperate for that role. Other melee chapters’ premier melee units, the vanguard vets, have either stayed the same as before or side-graded to a cheaper loadout that lacks the previously mandatory storm shield. Space Wolves have gained comparatively the least out of the melee Chapters, although they can give their dreadnoughts light cover through their psykers and that’s an interesting combination with Armor of Contempt.
Salamanders also received quite the buff as their Chapter Trait received a rework to factor in that reducing AP no longer stacks with Armor of Contempt. Therefore, their Chapter Trait changed from AP reduction to opponents never being able to re-roll wounds against them. This is a massive boost to Salamanders’ durability across the board but especially to their high-toughness units such as vehicles and any unit that can use Transhuman Physiology. It’s especially potent against other marines who tend to rely on lightning claws to deal damage up close, or Death Guard, who rely on Plague Weapons that re-roll 1s to wound. Ultimately, I expect Salamanders to be at or near the front of the Space Marine pack with their new Chapter Trait.
So with their new upgrades, where will Space Marines perform well, and where will they struggle? Let’s look at their matchups.
Any army that relies too heavily on low AP weaponry or has a hard time ignoring cover is going to find themselves pillowfisted against Marines. Death Guard and Thousand Sons rely on high quantities of medium AP shooting and may struggle to kill Marines in cover. Eldar players who don’t take the Craftworld that ignores cover and Harlequins will have a hard time putting down Marines at range although if the latter goes Dark, they may be able to make up for it in combat.
The internal Marine metagame has shifted quite drastically as well. Marines don’t have easy access to ignores cover and the traditional shooting builds tend to have lots of AP 1 and 2. Any Marine army that has made the shift towards AP 3+ is going to have a significant lead on any that have not. Melee Marines tend to have quite a lot of AP 3 lightning claws and as such have an edge on the shooting builds whose high AP weaponry comes in the form of easily avoidable Eradicators and now Hellblasters. Salamanders and Blood Angels probably thrive best in the Marine mirror with Salamanders bouncing lighting claw reliant builds and the Blood Angels’ lack of the same reliance on lightning claws and their massive amounts of AP 3 and 4.
Marines still struggle into any army that can beat on them in shooting for multiple turns without the Marines being able to retaliate. Eldar who ignore cover and Tau both can wail on Marines without too much coming back the other way. With Eldar, that’s probably workable, as whatever damage the Marines can apply will still wipe units off the map but Tau are too durable for anything but concentrated firepower to shift and as such will give marines fits. Even with the net -2 AP from Armor of Contempt and the change to Mont’Ka, Tau can still put enough shots in the air that ignore cover to be a serious threat. Not to mention my expectation that Tau players will shift wholesale to plasma rifles, a deadly anti-Marine weapon. Finally Tyranids have emerged onto the metagame just in time to escape the nerf they’d surely receive if the balance dataslate had come out a month or two later. The book is overtuned and undercosted pretty much across the board and is going to be a bear to deal with for any army.
Building for the new Meta
As I mentioned above, the ability to kill other Armor of Contempt armies is critical, AP 1 and 2 are no longer good enough on their own. Besides that, you must build in enough mobility to threaten eldar, specifically dire avengers, and enough damage to kill hordes of medium sized Tyranids bugs. Finally most armies will want some form of mortal wound protection against Tyranids, luckily Marines can find it in the ubiquitous chaplain who can chant an aura of 5+ feel no pain against mortals. Building to these goals is a tall order for any army but Marines should be flexible enough for the task
+++ Salamanders Battalion Detachment +++
HQ: Chapter Master on Bike – Teeth of Terra, Rites of War, Storm Bolter
HQ: Primaris Master of Sanctity on Bike – Warlord, Forge Master, Wise Orator, The Salamander’s Mantle, Litany of Faith, Canticle of Hate
Troops: 5 Incursors
Troops: 5 Intercessors – Auto Bolt Rifles
Troops: 5 Intercessors – Auto Bolt Rifles
EL: Judiciar – Vulkan’s Sigil
EL: Primaris Chief Apothecary – Selfless Healer
EL: 6 Aggressors – Flamestorm Gauntlets
EL: 5 Assault Terminators – Twin Lightning Claws
EL: 10 Vanguard Veterans – Lightning Claws and Chainswords
EL: 5 Vanguard Veterans – Lightning Claws and Chainswords
HS: 6 Eradicators – Heavy Melta Rifles, 2x Multi-Melta
FA: Land Speeder Storm
FA: Land Speeder Storm
This list is extraordinarily durable now with the new balance changes. All the infantry will be extremely difficult to shift, especially while standing in cover near an apothecary and eradicators can take chunks out of opposing hard targets. Once the list closes the distance, aggressors put the hurt on anything without a 2+ and then their plethora of power fist attacks alongside the multiple combat characters and assault units pack a massive punch in melee, especially for the turn Vulkan’s Sigil is active. The Chaplain rounds out the list, being a hyper durable threat tying up enemy units alongside providing rerolls to hit and mortal wound protection. Finally, the two land speeder storms and troops hold objectives and skirmish with the enemy, being surprisingly annoying to kill without rerolls.
Wrapping Things Up
That wraps up our look at Space Marines but we’ll be back with more Faction Focus articles looking at how things have changed. Stay tuned for more to come – we’ll have more from both the Goonhammer and Art of War teams covering a variety (but likely not all) of the game’s factions.
You can get more great analysis and insight from the Art of War by heading over to their site.
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