Battle Bros: Chapter III: Drew Explains in Very Small Words How to Build an Army

BATTLE BROS. is the continuing biweekly saga where Drew tries to teach the basics of 40k to his brother Chris (head58), who has no idea what he’s doing. If you missed the previous parts of the series with the intro to both players and the project, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

In which Drew  (PantsOptional) very patiently explains how to play 40k to his brother, Chris (head58), whose enthusiasm exceeds his talent.

Meet the Battle Bros


The older of the two brothers, but newer to the game. Learning to play Iron Hands.


The younger brother, holding his brother’s hand through this terrible ordeal.

CHRIS: Okay, here we go, #AllInOnIronHands2020 (reggaeton air horn sound)!!!  Let’s dump out what I already have painted up from Kill Team and see what we can make of it.

DREW: I regret everything about this already. Fine, tip out the garbage truck and get it over with.

CHRIS: I have:

  • Tactical Marine with Plasma Gun
  • Tactical Marine with Heavy Bolter*
  • Tactical Marine with Missile Launcher
  • Tactical Marine with Boltgun
  • Tactical Marine Sgt with Plasma Pistol and Power Fist
  • Tactical Marine Sgt with Plasma Pistol and Auspex
  • Veteran with two Plasma Pistols and a jump pack
  • Two Scouts with Sniper Rifle and Camo Cloak
  • Scout with Missile Launcher and Camo Cloak
  • Reiver with Grapple Gun and Combat Knife
  • Reiver with Bolt Pistol and Combat Knife
  • Reiver Sgt with Bolt Carbine and Combat Knife
  • Two Intercessors with Bolt Rifle
  • Two Intercessors with Bolt Rifle and Auxiliary Grenade Launcher
  • Intercessor Sgt with Bolt Rifle and Power Sword
  • Suppressor with Autocannon
  • Tartarus Terminator with Thunder Hammer and Storm Shield
  • Tartaros Terminator with Power Fist and Stormbolter

*which I think we determined was actually a gun from a Deathwing Talonmaster, but this lil dude hauling it around like a boss is pretty awesome

“Hey guys, look what I found! Can I keep it?”

DREW: Normally I would have corrected the error – Ravenwing, not Deathwing – but in all honesty I can never remember what kinds of overly dramatic names get attached to the Dark Angels. Their special unit names are the verbal equivalent of Tyranid weapons – no one really remembers what they are, they just nod and smile when their opponent rattles them off. Kind of like you do whenever I’m talking.

CHRIS: Uh huh, sure, whatever. Unassembled and painted I have the other 2 Suppressors, the other 3 Terminators, a handful of Intercessors, I think a unit of Eliminators, and a Gravis Captain.

And that raffle I talked about last time, from that I got the Vanguard Space Marines Start Collecting box (10 Infiltrators, 3 Suppressors, 3 Eliminators, and my very first Primaris Lieutenant – now I have to collect all 27 of them right?), a box of Intercessors, a Repulsor Executioner (because from what I’ve read Iron Hands like tanks, and this looks badass), and an Invictor (I imagine for Space Marines that’s like test-driving your own coffin, which has to be kind of weird).

Oh and it looks like I drunk eBayed a unit of Medusan Immortals, which I’m fairly sure I can’t even use in this game, but they look awesome.

DREW: First off, they do look awesome, and I want it on record that we actually agree on something, so mark that on the calendar. Second, there are a lot worse things that you could have “drunk won”. I once had a friend turn up at a party in a full Bowser costume and he would only explain by saying “drunk, 2 AM, Chinese eBay.” We had no idea who he was at first, just Bowser knocking on the door with a bottle of gin. Also I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a costume party.

My point is, you can definitely use those Immortals. I would warn you that they might not be usable as anything particularly good, but we’re way past the point where that warning would be meaningful. My advice would be to run them as Company Veterans with storm shields and boltguns. You gotta bling them up real good for that, though – whatever that means for the Iron Hands. You might have to paint colors other than black and metal. I know it’s tough. I’ll hold your hand through this dark time.

CHRIS: You’re a prince among men. I have always said this about you. But what does all that make? From what I’ve read, I can’t even turn the smolmarines I have into a legal unit, can I? So my options there are either a) bin them or b) buy more smolmarines to round out a unit or two. I have a hunch you’re not going to recommend the latter. I know this is fairly divisive in the way that the Atlantic is fairly wet, but is there any point in Tactical Marines anymore?

DREW: So we’ve decided to start the portion of the column where we get hate mail, huh? Well I say bring it on, cowards! (Do not bring it on, and if you do, know that I will delete it without reading it.)

CHRIS: I welcome your hate. Please send all your hate mail to

DREW: Really, though, is there a place for the Firstborn nowadays? Sure there is. It’s not in the competitive world, that’s for sure, but you’re not here to dive into the dark and choppy waters of competitive 40k. You’re here to wade into the “minnows” section with your floaties on your arms because this is your first time in the water.

Leaving aside Astartes forces with no access to Primaris like the Grey Knights or ones where the Firstborn actually have great customization options like the Deathwatch Veterans, there are a lot of corner cases where Primaris just don’t have a good fit. Look at those Company Veterans we just talked about, for example. You couldn’t do that with Primaris! They don’t even know what a shield is. The entirety of Captain America: the First Avenger was a complete mystery to them, between that and normal-sized people fitting into transports.

Besides that, though, you have to remember that we’re not prepping you for the competitive circuit, just for beerhammer. Casual players, and I include myself in that group, still have quite a lot of old-school Marines if only for the fact that they’ve been the standard for so long. The current meta might not have a place for the Firstborn, but they fit just fine on the tables of the people who’ve been collecting them for decades and still enjoy using them.

You can throw those Reivers right in the trash, though.

CHRIS: One very important question because I am amazingly anal about this – how important is WYSIWYG for things like the type of bolt rifle on each Intercessor? I’m not talking about completely swapping out models or having one with entirely the wrong type of weapon, just bits-level detail. I can really get paralyzed by indecision over what’s the “best” weapons loadout and tend to magnetize anything that I can. I plan on magnetizing things like Dreadnought arms but if I don’t need to hotswap out the type of grenade each model in a unit is carrying I’ll be a very happy man. At the very casual level I’m going to be at, do people care?

DREW: Do you remember what I said about Tyranid weapons? You don’t even have to look very far, it was earlier in this very article. No one remembers what they are. I play Tyranids and I don’t even remember what half the weapons are. Bolt rifles, and most of the new Vanguard variants, are the Marines equivalent. They might as well carry around a sign that just says “gun go bang bang.” 

haha Tyranid gun go shlorp shlorp

What people are going to remember is “this unit has a gun that does X”, and that’s what matters, not whether you glued on the appropriate type of magazine for bolt rifle variant #69420. As long as you’re consistent the sort of people that you’re likely to play against will be fine. They may also want you to be reasonable about it – deploying a full unit with bolt pistols and combat knives and claiming that they’re all plasma cannons may raise an eyebrow or two. Just talk it over in advance – it’s almost like communication is a magic skill that helps solve problems.

CHRIS: Wait, nobody said I’d have to talk to other people. Why can’t this be like Warmachine where we just grunt and point? 

I’ve been reading through the 8th edition rulebook, the 2019 Space Marine codex, and the Iron Hands supplement and I think I have a tenuous grip on army formation. Detachments are weird but fortunately someone smarter than us already covered this right here on goonhammer dot com. I’m left wondering what the real benefit of a “pure” Iron Hands army is, especially after the February FAQ. It looks like I’d lose Calculated Fury, which negates the penalty for moving with a Heavy weapon and allows me to reroll 1s for Heavy weapons, but both of those only apply in the Devastator Doctrine, i.e. the first round of the game (unless I burn CP on a stratagem to give let one unit treat Devastator Doctrine as active for one round). Everything else seems to only be looking for pure detachments, not pure army. Is that enough for one round of use, when I may be out of range from a lot of targets anyway?

DREW: Ohhhh boy. Hate mail time again, everyone! (Please don’t, and also I literally can’t read anything you send us, so don’t bother.) This might be a pretty divisive issue again. Sure, you can do a detachment of Iron Hands and a division of Knights, because I know your itch for giant robits is undeniable. But my philosophy is, put some fuckin’ cream on that itch, son!

In my opinion, it feels like you’re thinking small picture here. You don’t just lose Devastator Doctrine for one turn and the accompanying Iron Hands benefit – and, I might add, just about everything that qualifies for Devastator Doctrine should be in range anyway that first turn so you’ve already lost out some there. You lose all Doctrines for the entire game. You’ve got a lot of Heavy weapons in this list, true, but you also have a lot of Rapid Fire that will all lose out on a turn or two of AP buffs as well as the melee weapons you say you want to use. On top of that, every point that you spend on non-Hands models is a point that won’t go toward getting you a larger detachment and thus more Command Points.

More to the point: you haven’t even played a single game yet! Get those floaties back on your arms and don’t over-complicate your list. Ideally for your first game we’d be doing a simple Patrol Detachment and nothing else. We can always move on and add those Knights in later anyway. It’s not like you’ll lose any friends playing against me. 

CHRIS: Okay, no Knights then (kicks the Knights he impulse bought on eBay under the couch). But that’s all based on “all units in the army must have Combat Doctrines” right? So in theory as long as each Detachment is a pure chapter, I could mix different chapters in the army, doing a thematic “Shattered Legions” thing with Raven Guard and Salamanders, yes? Hypothetically speaking, of course. Just trying to understand.

DREW: In theory, sure. In theory I’m also massively employable based on my skillset and education. You’d lose out on Calculated Fury as well as Surgical Strike, but that’s less of a problem than the practical one. Again, this is theoretically for your first game, so we want to keep it simple. As an exercise, I want you to picture yourself keeping track of two different Detachments of Space Marines and the various special rules and buffs applied to them, when both of which are painted mostly black. Don’t worry, I’ll be here when you regain consciousness.

CHRIS: I get it, fine, crawl before I walk, blah blah blah, yes. You bring up a good point about the Doctrines though that I wanted to pursue – so ideally I want something that can shine in each of the first 3-4 rounds, by which point I’ll likely have been tabled so hard my grandchildren will feel shame. Is it a good idea to balance out an army into rough thirds between Heavy, Assault, and Rapid Fire/Melee weapons then? And other than those Reivers what kind of melee options do Space Marines really have? Centurions, Vanguard, some Dreadnought weapons?

DREW: Ideally, what you want to do in a more general sense is to have a plan to deal with a variety of unit types – infantry, heavy infantry, monsters and/or vehicles, and flyers – and purpose-build to deal with that from the start. One of the problems of building from an existing army rather than planning ahead is that sometimes you end up with combinations inside a unit that suffer from a lack of focus. Here’s a great self-own from my past: back in 3rd edition I used to run a Predator with an autocannon turret and lascannon sponsons, because those were the parts that I had for the godawful metal/plastic hybrid kit. That thing was half-made to kill infantry and half-made to kill tanks and as a result it mostly just sat there getting shot and wasting my points. Don’t be like me.

CHRIS: That’s tattooed on the inside of my eyelids.

DREW: As for melee options for Astartes, the big problem here is that any serious melee contender for Codex Marines is going to fill a much-coveted Elites slot, whether that’s Aggressors, Dreadnoughts, Incursors, Reivers, or Vanguard Veterans. You could always go with a set of Vanguard Veterans kitted out with storm shields and thunder hammers, which would absolutely wreck face but also cost hell of points. I know I shit on Reivers mostly because their gimmick of playing with enemy Morale is largely unimpressive in a game where so many armies have Morale mitigation and also because they look like a 2000s nu-metal band reimagined as tacticool soldiers, but they’re really the cheapest useful melee option in the Marines arsenal so if that’s what your heart tells you then listen to it.

This cat hates Reivers, and is not wrong.

CHRIS: Yeah, okay. Don’t worry about melee, pretend Assault Doctrine doesn’t exist, check. Now on the detachments themselves, is there any benefit to using one detachment type over another, besides the number of Command Points awarded? Should I mainly look at what I have available and try to plug it into whatever combination gives me the most CP (so a Brigade over two Battalions, for example, if I have the models to make it work)?

DREW: Command Points are incredibly clutch. If you can do a Brigade, go with a Brigade. Being able to spend points to use Stratagems and make big plays without worrying about your budget for a few turns is pretty necessary. I know your mind and I know you’re already thinking about hoarding Command Points like they were potions in a JRPG. You don’t win any awards for having points left over, so use them.

CHRIS: I’m thinking back to my WoW days and how many potions I always saved “just in case,” and your dig physically hurts me. I’d ask how you know that about me but…

DREW: Aside from that, go with what works for what you want to put on the battlefield. You don’t have enough Elites slots to deploy your Oops All Dreadnoughts army? Load up a Vanguard. We can talk later about different Dreadnought types, because I can tell that your thirst for those is roughly around “Instagram creep” level.

CHRIS: Looks like I’m a Fast Attack unit shy of being able to drop a Brigade right now.  I’ve got 2 Suppressors. I could grab a third, or some Inceptors – hey, what’s the deal with these guys having Crushing Charge? They don’t have anything beyond the default close combat weapon so why on earth would I want to charge with them? Sure I get a 1 in 6 chance for a mortal wound but unless they manage to kill the charge target they can’t shoot next round because they’re within 1” of an enemy unit. I know I’m incredibly dumb but that just feels like bad math to me?

DREW: This is a great example of you internalizing a key skill to playing 40k: forgetting about rules until after you’ve shown your ass to everybody. And I didn’t even teach you that yet! You really are ahead of the curve.

Seriously, though, this actually underlines a point that I was going to make (honest), which is that you can’t just look at the numbers when evaluating a unit but instead you have to think of their entire interactions. Sure, charging with these Dollar Tree Crisis Suits looks like a bad idea because they’re unlikely to kill a unit, but that’s actually what you want. What you forgot about the Inceptors is that they have FLY so they can Fall Back and shoot, so optimally you charge during your turn, tie up an enemy unit to keep it from shooting, and then Fall Back on your turn and blast the everliving hell out of them.

CHRIS: Ooh, I get that now. They’re not as terrible as I thought, valuable lessons learned: 1) read the stat sheet and 2) I’m better at being terrible than even I realized!. 

Last question for now – is there any logic behind which HQ – pausing for a moment, what the heck is up with calling a detachment leader a “headquarters”? That just sounds super dumb. When I first started reading 40k lists and such I thought “this couldn’t possibly mean headquarters, it must be some archaic term of art within the game.” –  is there any logic behind which HQ you designate as your Warlord? I assume it’s Bad to get your Warlord killed so you want it to be someone who is kept safe. But it’s not like Warmachine Bad, where killing the opposing Warlord is a victory condition is it?

DREW: I know this will be difficult for you to hear, but you will have to make a choice about your Warlord since the game doesn’t flowchart it out for you. It might hurt your processing unit even more for you to learn that your Warlord doesn’t have to be one of your HQs. Hell, you can even pick a model that isn’t a CHARACTER, but since you gain literally nothing from doing so and in fact lose out by not taking a Warlord Trait I don’t know why you would. (Don’t @ me, dear readers.)

Speaking of HQ units, it is a shameful Iron Hand who leaves out the crown jewel-like object of wonder at the heart of his collection: Iron Daddy Guy Feirros. That dude owns, and he owns hard. You’re probably going to want to pick him to be your Warlord, and give him some sort of Warlord Trait that helps him turn your vehicles into unkillable death machines.

CHRIS: Oh, I have Iron Otto Octavius. Even before committing to this dumb project I’d picked him up because I’d somehow convinced myself I “just wanted to paint up a handful of cool models but not actually play the game.” I believe that’s the hams equivalent of “just the tip.” And looking at the various org charts I get that I’ll probably have a handful of HQs, I was just wondering which one should be the Warlord. Seems like I should look at it backwards, which Warlord Trait do I want most, and then who benefits from it the most. 

DREW: I think that’s a great idea. Let’s wrap this up – you take a look at Warlord Traits, mull it over, and come back to me with pictures of Spider-Man a rough idea of an army so that I can tell you it’s bad.

CHRIS: Whatever you’re picturing right now, I promise you it will be worse than you can possibly imagine!


Next Time: Pictures of Spider-Man A Rough Idea of an Army

That wraps up things for this week, but join us again in two weeks when Drew and Chris walk through Chris’s first army and we see how laughably bad it is (spoiler: It’s Iron Hands so Chris is going to somehow completely demolish anything Drew fields). In the meantime, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at