Detachment Focus: Vanguard Spearhead

In this series of articles we take a deep dive into a specific detachment for a faction, covering the faction’s rules and upgrades and talking about how to build around that faction for competitive play. In this article, we’re covering the Space Marines Vanguard Spearhead Detachment. 

The Vanguard Spearhead Detachment is designed to model Space Marines at their sneakiest – moving through the shadows, attacking enemies of the Imperium from beyond their sight. While it most cleanly lines up with the tactics of the Raven Guard, any Chapter of the Adeptus Astartes may employ stealth tactics from time to time. 

Detachment Overview

Welcome to my breakdown of the Vanguard Spearhead! As you’d expect, this detachment is all about the sneaky tricks that Space Marines are capable of, and getting your Space Marines into position. The stealthiest detachment in the codex is all about getting the most out of your infantry, and keeping them running around the battlefield scoring points. This army provides a bit of shooting defense to everyone with it’s detachment rule, and so can easily justify some ranged support vehicles. But, the enhancements and stratagems really lean into infantry, and so it’s a safe bet that you’re going to want more dudes than normal if you play Vanguard. For your trouble, you get a stratagem set that looks like it was written for Eldar, and really lets you express player skills. The greatest strengths of this detachment are the tricks you get for mobility and scoring, with plenty of ability to manipulate reserves, be hard to charge, and claim objectives after you’ve moved away from them. Beyond the usual Armor of Contempt, the prize jewel of the stratagem page is “Strike from the Shadows” which provides the only damage buff in the detachment. 

Beyond that stratagem, however, it’s worth pointing out that these are still just Space Marine datasheets. Marine lists usually like taking a balanced mix of shooting and melee, and that is still true here. Due to your mobility and strats you’re likely going to want more shooting than melee, but keeping elements of both still feels like a good idea. While Vanguard are hard to pin down, they very much suffer from being an army of Space Marines on foot. If your opponent can ever successfully engage you in melee, you’re going to really miss having the ability to fall back and do anything. Also, it should be noted that Space Marine infantry just die sometimes, and losing too many resources early can really put you in a bad spot. 

One of the most notable enhancements in  the Vanguard allows one infantry unit to infiltrate, which really encourages you to have a main melee unit that can at least threaten to close the gap early. Terminators (and their chapter variants) are an obvious choice here, but Aggressors and Bladeguard also are easy to justify.  Any infantry with a gun is going to provide great value to the Vanguard, and Eradicators, Inceptors, Hellblasters and Aggressors all fit in. Centurions also notably gain a power boost, as their lack of mobility and strong ranged output are perfectly complemented by the strats available. Have I mentioned that the stratagems are the best part of the detachment enough yet? Command Point generation and management in this detachment are absolutely key. If you can fit an epic hero for more CP, even better!

Raven Guard Primaris Eliminators
Raven Guard Primaris Eliminators. Credit: Dan Boyd

Detachment Rule: Shadow Masters

Each time a ranged attack targets an Adeptus Astartes unit from your army, unless the attacking model is within 12”, subtract 1 from the Hit roll and the target gets the Benefit of Cover against the attack.

While cover is not terribly difficult to get, I found that it still came up more often than I expected, and a negative to hit is wonderful for an army that is actively trying to stay at range. It’s easy to think of the negative as not useful if you drop close to the enemy, but I found it came up the most against enemies that were trying to support my initial target, which hopefully was already dead! 

Stratagems

The stratagems here are absolutely the powerhouse of the detachment, and are surprisingly deep. I found that I would very regularly spend a CP on at least five of these stratagems in the majority of my games. While these are great fun to use, many also provide value in that they threaten to be used. If your opponent puts all the work in get around a Calculated Feint, that CP will just be saved for later! The only thing approaching a dud here is Surgical Strikes, which at 2cp just doesn’t feel worth using. Still, its very presence forces the opponent to play a bit differently and hide their characters! 

  • A Deadly Prize (Wargear, 1 CP) – Used at the start of the Command phase for an Infantry or mounted unit within range of an objective marker you control. That objective marker is said to be Sabotaged, and remains under your control even if you have no models within range of it, until your opponent controls it at the start or end of any turn. While a sabotaged marker is under your control, each time an enemy unit ends a Normal, Advance, Fall Back, or Charge move within range of that marker, roll one D6 and on a 2+ they take D3 mortal wounds. Stickying an objective you’re about to move or get shot off of is great. Handing out some mortals is better. Doing it in your opponent’s turn is the best. A-
  • Armour of Contempt (Battle Tactic, 1 CP) – Used in your opponent’s Shooting phase or the Fight phase, after an enemy unit picks its targets. Pick an Astartes unit from your army picked as the target of one or more of that unit’s attacks, and until the end of the phase, each time an attack targets your unit, worsen its AP by 1. The exact same stratagem from every other detachment is still a banger. News at 11.  A-
  • Surgical Strikes (Battle Tactic, 2 CP) – Used in the Fight phase on an Infantry unit which hasn’t been selected to fight yet. That unit’s melee weapons gain [PRECISION] until the end of the phase. The idea of this stratagem is appealing, but there aren’t that many good melee units in Space Marines and the Epic Challenge strat is only 1cp. This is good to have in a pinch, but my favorite axiom is that all attacks have precision once the bodyguard unit is dead.   C
  • Strike From the Shadows (Battle Tactic, 1 CP) – Used in your Shooting phase. Pick an Infantry unit from your army that hasn’t been selected to shoot yet. Until the end of the phase, each time a model in that unit targets an enemy more than 2” away, improve its BS and AP for that attack by 1. If one or more enemy models are destroyed by those attacks, pick one destroyed model and its unit must take a Battle-shock test. Making infantry shoot a lot harder is an absolute gem. The best part is that the +1 BS serves as an Oath-substitute, allowing you to get accurate shots into multiple targets. AP on top makes this incredible at turning one shooting unit into a hyper reliable killer. A+
  • Calculated Feint (Strategic Ploy, 1 CP) – Use in your opponent’s Charge phase, after an enemy unit declares a charge. Pick one Infantry unit targeted by that charge and you can make a Normal move of up to D6”, or 6” if it’s a Phobos or Scout Squad unit. You can’t pick a unit that’s already within Engagement Range of an enemy. This is unrivaled shenanigans if your opponent is playing a melee army. Your opponent can only redeclare their charge if it becomes non declarable, which is somehow not the same as being impossible to complete. If Phantasm happened in the fight phase, you’d have Calculated Feint. Beyond the obvious “move back behind a wall or out of range” is a deep well of movement tricks that will make your opponent yank their hair out. 
  • Guerilla Tactics (Strategic Ploy, 1 CP) – Use at the end of your opponent’s Fight phase and pick up to two Phobos and/or Scout Squad units in your army, or just one other Infantry unit. Remove those units from the battlefield and put them into Strategic Reserves. Each unit you pick for this has to be more than 3” away from all enemy models. I love that they gave scouts a bonus in this stratagem as if it’s not on their datasheet already. A 3” exclusion is very hard to shut down, but is the only weakness in a great redeploy strat. Because it places the unit into Reserves rather than telling them how to set up, they can use any datasheet rules they happen to have, like Deep Strike or the Inceptor’s Meteoric Descent. Inceptors are probably one of my favorite uses here, as they can hard commit to a safe corner to clear trash and then immediately get back into the action next turn while forcing screens.  A

Enhancements

The Vanguard Spearhead Enhancements play into the Stealth vibes of the detachment, with one giving a unit Infiltrator, another giving Stealth and Lone Operative, and two only being accessible by PHOBOS units.

  • The Blade Driven Deep – Infantry model only. While the bearer is leading a unit, models in that unit have the Infiltrators ability. The first one is an autotake. Generic Space Marine melee units are either slow or bad, with few exceptions. So, be slow and closer! This is also a great way for a usually reserve heavy detachment to start carving out board control early.   A+
  • Ghostweave Cloak – The bearer has the Stealth and Lone Operative rules. Simple and effective, but it’s not obvious who should carry this one. Marines already have access to Lone Operatives, and this can only effectively go on a Leader who will then not be leading. A thick Gravis Captain, or a fast JP Captain, both look like an interesting skirmisher while wearing the Ghostweave Cloak.  B-
  • Execute and Redeploy – Phobos model only. In the Shooting phase, after the bearer’s unit shoots, if that unit isn’t within Engagement Range of an enemy unit, it can make a Normal Move of up to 6”. If it does, until the end of the turn that unit is not eligible to charge. You can’t use this to move more than once in your Shooting phase. This is a great rule and I have absolutely no idea where to put it. The hardest-hitting Phobos unit outside of Deathwatch is an eliminator squad that can… already do this. Adding a character and enhancement to most Phobos units is a waste, but an infiltrator unit with Librarian may enjoy using this enhancement to just go very fast and screen real good.  C+
  • Shadow War Veteran – Phobos model only. Once per battle, after your opponent uses a [Battle Tactic] Stratagem, the bearer can use this Enhancement to increase the cost of that Stratagem by 1 CP for the remainder of the battle. It’s Vect in a can! For a modest 30 points, this feels automatic if you have a spare Phobos character. If not, a Lieutenant with Combi Weapon makes for a great Callidus impersonator who also has Space Marine synergies. My favorite part is that you can still take a Callidus, for when you really want your opponent’s favorite Battle Tactic to turn into a once per game adventure after you raise it to 3CP.  A-

Ultramarines Infiltrators. Credit: SRM

Playing This Detachment

The Vanguard is tricky, and therefore tries to trick its pilot into playing the detachment wrong. The cool stealthy redeploy detachment wants you to take cool stealthy Space Marines, because GW forgets that mobility is actually best on slow thick boys with Heavy weapons. The Vanguard detachment provides you with the ability to hit your opponent hard with point blank shooting, but this isn’t actually a good idea. Space Marine damage output in tenth is adequate, but rarely does it pull off a one turn tabling to end the game with fireworks. Instead, this mobility and trickery should be used to threaten the opponent while you play the game and score points. 

The best part of the Vanguard is that it lets you put a Space Marine datasheet exactly where you want it, not that it makes Space Marine datasheets into something they aren’t. Don’t forget what you are, and that sometimes a space marine rolls bad! I have most enjoyed the ability of the Vanguard to draw out and protract a game, while constantly scoring, shooting away key pieces and holding an ax over your opponent’s neck. If they disrespect your damage that ax will fall early, but I frankly prefer to drop it as late as possible. 

How should this affect your list writing? Practice is everything, but I have learned that a melee punch, dedicated shooting, and as many Inceptors as possible is key to the ideal list. Building in plenty of scoring trash is always important, because if you have to use expensive marines to score points early you may not have enough damage for late game. This leads to a wonderful balance where Vanguard threatens to do anything, but can’t do everything at once. Hits hard, can’t take a punch. Scores secondaries well, often falls behind on Primary. Deploys forward, then pulls back. There are a ton of choices being made at all times, but there’s a real threat of information overload for both the pilot and opponent, and this detachment will punish mistakes by either player. 

”John

Space Marines
Ultramarines
Vanguard Spearhead
Strike Force (2000 Points)

CHARACTERS

Apothecary Biologis (80 Points)

  • 1x Absolvor bolt pistol

      1x Close combat weapon

  • Enhancements: The Blade Driven Deep

 

Marneus Calgar (185 Points)

  • 1x Marneus Calgar
  • 1x Gauntlets of Ultramar
  • 2x Victrix Honour Guard
  • 2x Victrix power sword

 

Uriel Ventris (75 Points)

  • Warlord
  • 1x Bolt Pistol

      1x Invictus

      1x Sword of Idaeus

 

OTHER DATASHEETS

 

Centurion Devastator Squad (370 Points)

  • 1x Devastator Centurion Sergeant
  • 1x Centurion fists

          1x Centurion missile launcher

          1x Twin lascannon

  • 5x Devastator Centurion
  • 5x Centurion fists

          5x Centurion missile launcher

          5x Twin lascannon

 

Company Heroes (95 Points)

  • 1x Ancient
  • 1x Bolt pistol

          1x Bolt rifle

          1x Close combat weapon

  • 1x Company Champion
  • 1x Bolt pistol

          1x Master-crafted power weapon

  • 2x Company Veteran
  • 2x Bolt pistol

          2x Close combat weapon

          1x Master-crafted bolt rifle

          1x Master-crafted heavy bolter

 

Eradicator Squad (190 Points)

  • 1x Eradicator Sergeant
  • 1x Bolt pistol

          1x Close combat weapon

          1x Melta rifle

  • 5x Eradicator
  • 5x Bolt pistol

          5x Close combat weapon

          4x Melta rifle

          1x Multi-melta

 

Eradicator Squad (95 Points)

  • 1x Eradicator Sergeant
  • 1x Bolt pistol

          1x Close combat weapon

          1x Melta rifle

  • 2x Eradicator
  • 2x Bolt pistol

          2x Close combat weapon

          1x Melta rifle

          1x Multi-melta

 

Eradicator Squad (95 Points)

  • 1x Eradicator Sergeant
  • 1x Bolt pistol

          1x Close combat weapon

          1x Melta rifle

  • 2x Eradicator
  • 2x Bolt pistol

          2x Close combat weapon

          1x Melta rifle

          1x Multi-melta

 

Inceptor Squad (260 Points)

  • 1x Inceptor Sergeant
  • 1x Close combat weapon

          1x Plasma exterminators

  • 5x Inceptor
  • 5x Close combat weapon

          5x Plasma exterminators

 

Inceptor Squad (130 Points)

  • 1x Inceptor Sergeant
  • 1x Assault bolters

          1x Close combat weapon

  • 2x Inceptor
  • 2x Assault bolters

          2x Close combat weapon

 

Inceptor Squad (130 Points)

  • 1x Inceptor Sergeant
  • 1x Assault bolters

          1x Close combat weapon

  • 2x Inceptor
  • 2x Assault bolters

          2x Close combat weapon

 

Infiltrator Squad (100 Points)

  • 1x Infiltrator Sergeant
  • 1x Bolt pistol

          1x Close combat weapon

          1x Marksman bolt carbine

  • 4x Infiltrator
  • 4x Bolt pistol

          4x Close combat weapon

          1x Helix Gauntlet

          1x Infiltrator Comms Array

          4x Marksman bolt carbine

 

Scout Squad (65 Points)

  • 1x Scout Sergeant
  • 1x Astartes chainsword

          1x Bolt pistol

          1x Close combat weapon

  • 4x Scout
  • 2x Astartes shotgun

          4x Bolt pistol

          4x Close combat weapon

          1x Heavy bolter

          1x Scout sniper rifle

 

Scout Squad (65 Points)

  • 1x Scout Sergeant
  • 1x Astartes chainsword

          1x Bolt pistol

          1x Close combat weapon

  • 4x Scout
  • 2x Astartes shotgun

          4x Bolt pistol

          4x Close combat weapon

          1x Heavy bolter

          1x Scout sniper rifle

 

Scout Squad (65 Points)

  • 1x Scout Sergeant
  • 1x Astartes chainsword

          1x Bolt pistol

          1x Close combat weapon

  • 4x Scout
  • 2x Astartes shotgun

          4x Bolt pistol

          4x Close combat weapon

          1x Heavy bolter

          1x Scout sniper rifle

This is a variant of my World Championships list that takes advantage of some Ultramarines characters to shore up the perceived weaknesses of the detachment. Uriel Ventris gives the Centurions Deep Strike, granting my slowest unit exponentially better mobility. Calgar’s presence both eases my Command Point problem, and provides punch and utility to the larger Eradicator brick, which is allowed to infiltrate thanks to an Apothecary Biologis. Rather than committing to a single line of play, this list is designed to screen, wait, and then have the most available options when the time for action comes. It absolutely rewards patient play and practice, particularly when it comes to timing and setting the pace of the game. I have to say, it’s also the most fun detachment I’ve run in 10th edition so far! 

With the game constantly evolving, I’ve also added an Infiltrator unit to my usual arsenal. Rapid Ingress is a large threat to the army, and so keeping your opponent out of the places they don’t belong is more important than ever. I’ve also started to notice that some of the best detachments in the game are a little less reliant on Battle Tactics than before, and so I replaced a Callidus with those Infiltrators. As the meta adapts though, that’s a substitution I’d be happy to make again!

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

Final Thoughts

I think Games Workshop hid a real treat in the Space Marine codex. While non-30k enthusiasts can sometimes accuse power armor of being boring, this detachment is anything but. It also shows real promise for GW’s mission to have each detachment play noticeably differently than others, and is a great change of pace for both dedicated Marine players and faction hoppers like myself. There’s no single aspect of this army that stands out as broken in my opinion, but the total package is excellent when used properly. This is a great niche detachment for casual or competitive players who enjoy its theme, because it provides a noticeably different playstyle to standard Space Marines. 

Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.