Playing with the Big Boys – Primaris Kill Teams

I imagine I am not alone in liking the look of the Primaris models. These marines, far closer to true scale than previous iterations of marines, are larger, easier to paint, and hark back to the clean lines of the Horus Heresy era marines in the Mk IV kit, which many hobbyists regard as the best looking of the tactical squad sets.

They are included in the starter sets, and have EZ build versions of the standard marine, the Intercessor, and the close combat marine, the Reiver. For a lot of newer players who started the hobby in the last year or so, they are what they view marines as being, particularly as it appears there will be no new squat marines. The recent launch of Warhammer Conquest has only underlined this, pushing Primaris as the default to a new generation of hobbyists.

In this article I’m going to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of Primaris only lists, and give some example lists.

In 40k terms Primaris are very mid-tier, and form part of armies picked from disparate army lists (the Imperial Soup list) or provide objective holders while tanks and tooled up combat characters provide the threat.

In Kill Team some of the problems with Primaris disappear, and they have a number of strengths.

  • 2 wound toughness 4 models in power armour. This means that Primaris need two wounds and failed saves before they start making injury rolls. If taking fire from the vast majority of basic weapons in Kill Team, which are damage 1, this means the first hit doesn’t cause an injury roll. It’s an ablative wound on every model.
  • 30” Rapid Fire 1 Ap -1 Str 4 guns. Primaris Intercessors have a 15” rapid fire range. They have a negative save modifier when most other standard infantry do not, and they wound everything T 3 on a 3+.
  • 2 basic attacks. The Primaris Intercessors and Reivers have two basic attacks, which while they are still Str 4 AP 0 hand slaps, are twice as many as what a tactical marine or chaos marine gets.
  • Primaris Auxiliary Grenade Launchers – Range 30” Frag or Krak grenades.
  • Intercessor Sergeants can take a powersword. This makes intercessor Sergeants the model of choice to be the Combat Specialist as an additional power weapon attack is worth much more than an additional AP 0 attack.

They do however have a number of weaknesses.

  • Lack of heavy Weapons and multi-damage.
  • Lack of multi damage power weapons.
  • Lack of variety in special weapon choices (it’s auxiliary grenade launcher or nothing, and sergeants can’t take combi weapons or special pistols).
  • Not a lot of AP. AP -1 is nice, but the only AP -2 available for shooting is from stalker pattern bolters.

The current optimum Space Marine Kill Team is The Council of Sergeants with Gunners, though composition of this may vary greatly, and I have given an example below:

Model Equipment Points Specialist
Tactical Sergeant Auspex, Combi Grav 16 Leader
Tactical Marine Gunner Heavy Bolter 16 Sniper
Intercessor Gunner Auxiliary Grenade Launcher 16 Demolitions
Intercessor Sergeant Power Sword 18 Combat
Scout Gunner Missile Launcher, Camo Cloak 17
Tactical Marine Gunner Plasma Gun 16


In this list you have five special weapons, four of which have the ability to be multi damage (the combi-grav is particularly delicious against Thousand Sons). This is a list optimised for fighting marine equivalents, particularly things like Thousand Sons, where you can bypass their additional +1 to save vs damage 1 weapons. In your roster you’ll take each heavy weapon option, each special weapon option and a couple of Reivers including a Sergeant. This lets you switch your weapons according to different opponents, as for example if you are fighting Harlequins you’d never take a power sword, you’d save the points and buy a chainsword instead and benefit from an additional attack as AP -3 is useless against the clowns.

Lists similar to this will tend to be the higher performing Space Marine lists, and I have taken a similar list using models from my Carcharodon force and done reasonably well with it. If you are trying to win tournaments you’ll likely field something along these lines, I’ve run across them and stomped them into the ground in previous tournament outings.

A Thousand Son with Warpflamer about to catch a missile in the face.

However from a modelling and hobby point of view it’s possibly not the most interesting force. Not everyone is a tournament player, and plenty of people like casual play, fielding things such as plague marines armed with bolters, or guard armed with lasguns, as part of their Kill Team. I know, it sounds crazy, but there are people playing because they enjoy the game, not to take the beardiest list.

The other thing is that some people like the challenge of not playing the factions at the top of the meta.

So what would you choose if you were doing a Primaris themed marine force?

Here’s my Blood Angel list, but I tend to go with a 100 point list and stick to it.

Model Equipment Points Specialist
Reiver Sergeant Bolt Carbine, Combat Knife, Grapnel 18 Leader
Intercessor Sergeant Bolt Rifle, Power Sword 18 Combat
Intercessor Bolt Rifle, Auspex 16 Comms
Intercessor Gunner Bolt Rifle 16 Demolitions
Reiver Bolt Carbine, grapnel 17
Intercessor Bolt Rifle 15


In doing a Primaris list you have three options: Intercessor Team, Reiver Team or mixed team. I feel the mixed team is the best option, and the easiest for beginning players.

If you’ve picked up First Strike, or got the EZ Build kits from Conquest, then you can build the following Kill Team from one sprue of intercessors and one sprue of Reivers.

Model Equipment Points Specialist
Intercessor Sergeant Bolt Rifle 16 Leader
Intercessor Bolt Rifle, Auspex 16 Comms
Reiver Sergeant Heavy Bolt Pistol, Combat Knife, Grapnel 18 Combat
Reiver Heavy Bolt Pistol, Combat Knife, Grapnel 17 Veteran
Intercessor Bolt Rifle 15
Reiver Hvy Bolt Pistol, Combat Knife, Grapnel 17


This team clocks in at 99 points. If you are feeling confident with conversions you can give your sergeant a chainsword and add an auxiliary grenade launcher to the Intercessor with Bolt Rifle and make him a Demolitions Specialist, dropping the Veteran, which takes you to an even 100 points. The Comms specialist then buffs your Demolitions Specialist with +1 to hit and ignoring the penalty for cover. Remember that a Frag grenade from your grenade launcher wounds a marine or death guard in cover on a 4+, as Demolitions doesn’t add +1 to strength, but to the wound roll.

However in building your own kill team (I’m picturing access to a box of intercessors and a box of reivers here) you can go with any mix you choose.

Reivers with grapnels may be pricey at 17 points, but they ignore vertical terrain during normal moves (not charges) so are able to buzz around the battlefield pretty quick if there is tall terrain. Giving a reiver Veteran allows you to zip forward with them using adaptive tactics to get closer to the enemy or seize and objective, and cam be used to set up a turn 1 charge by crossing linear terrain in the adaptive tactics move.

In going pure Reivers you will likely have a split with 3 models with grapnel launchers and 3 without, as that lets you fit six models into exactly 100 points. It gives you a fairly mobile team with a reasonable number of bodies.

If you go pure Intercessors you can get six bodies, but with maximum upgrades (1 sergeant with powersword, 1 gunner, 1 auspex) you can still only get to 95 points, further handicapping yourself in matched play games.

As with a lot of teams, your tactics should mirror standard infantry section tactics in real life. Half the section moves forward, and the other half provides covering fire. This will normally be two fireteams of 3, with the advancing element containing reivers and an intercessor sergeant with power weapon.

There are a number of enemies where the close combat power reivers and intercessors deploy are enough to deal with them, for example Guardsman, Cultists, Poxwalkers, Tau, Grots, Eldar who aren’t Dire Avenger Exarchs with power weapons, Thousand Suns, non-champion/fighter Deathguard, etc. You still have 2-4 attacks with Str 4 hitting on 3+ and if you are in combat they can’t shoot you. Yeah, it might be a bit pointless getting into a slapfight with a Death Guard, but if he’s got a blight launcher and you are stopping him picking off one of your marines a turn then it’s absolutely worth it.

In tournament play you will have it tough, because you’ll be fighting either forces that do what you do but better (like Deathwatch), are faster and much better in close combat (Harlequins), are tougher and shootier (Thousand Suns, Death Guard). But competitive play will also be working from an objective deck, and you have to play to the objectives.

Playing a pure Primaris Kill Team isn’t playing the game on easy mode, that’s for sure, but as with all games it depends on the crowd you play with. If everyone is playing tournament forces then you’ve got to have a conversation and have a more casual, perhaps narrative game, or even better a campaign.

Genola’s converted Blood Ravens.

One thing you should remember is that in narrative games you can play around, and play with the equipment available to the Primaris marines. In narrative games it’s about playing a game, and you shouldn’t be afraid to make a few conversions. I’ll come back to narrative play in another article.