The Horus Heresy Legion Focus: Ultramarines

Welcome back to Goonhammer’s series for aspiring Praetors. We know that the Horus Heresy system can seem intimidating to players unfamiliar with its particular quirks, but this series aims to equip you with everything you’ll need to play out epic clashes on the battlefields of the far future with your very own army. In this series, we’ll be walking you through how to build your force and command it to glory, including everything from units to tactics to lead your army to victory.

Here’s the pitch: Heresy-era Ultramarines are awesome. A combined ops force with powerful flexibility, units that can out-shoot and out-fight everything else, a Primarch who can slug it out with the best of them, and absolutely stellar background. The Avenging Son is after you Horus, and he’s goddamn furious.



You know who the Ultramarines are, you know they’ve been synonymous with “Space Marine” in every single GW property since the early days of 2nd edition (at least), and you know they’re fairly generic, base-line marines that everyone else builds off of. Well, this is the Heresy, so all those assumptions are wrong. Ultramarines can – more or less – do everything in the game, and do it well. With a focus on combined operations and shooting, you’d think they’re open to being torn apart in combat, but legion rules and units support blistering counter-attacks and sneaky objective grabbing, building from a solid and deadly wall. Being a Heresy Ultramarine is about being in the right place, at the right time, stood next to the right people. Tactical flexibility, positioning and thinking about the whole army as one big piece is the way forward.

Legion Special Rules

The Strength of Wisdom

The Ultramarine Legion rule is a simple one with a nicely straightforward effect. Adding 1 to a hit roll if a model within 6″ has already shot at the target ups the potency of every weapon in your arsenal, at the cost of being careful with your positioning and firing order.

Taking most of your units effectively up to BS5 if they’re following up, there’s a lot of ways to mitigate the “cost” of being the second unit to fire at a target. Leading with a high ballistic skill model, using a rhino or a wandering character to snap off a single bolter shot, or opening up with a unit you don’t need to hit with so that your second unit gets that +1 is easy enough to pull off. Psychic shooting weapons will also get it working (both ways!), so a Librarian can play a key role in setting up multiple units.

There’s a couple of specific interactions worth mentioning. A vehicle squadron is a unit, so shooting a bolter at something gives your enormously expensive Kratos squadron +1 to hit. It works with snapshotting units as it’s a flat +1 to the roll rather than modifying the ballistic skill. It does not work with blast weapons so if you are using blasts, fire them off first. It also only works in a shooting phase, so no +1 to overwatch hits. However, it doesn’t say your shooting phase, opening the way for….

Advanced reaction – Unity of Purpose

We all know Return Fire is a bit janky and absolutely lethal, so why not make it even more lethal by allowing two units to return fire against a single enemy? It’s simple and straightforward – when one of your units is shot, two units get to return fire against the firing unit. Great for deleting a unit, great for discouraging your opponent from firing at you at all, and fantastic for making shooting at Ultramarines a risky proposition.

There are a few wrinkles to the rules. All the usual shooting phase rules apply to the attack, so the usual caveats to the use of return fire apply, and template weapons get their wall of death rule. No barrage or ignore line of sight, and only defensive weapons on vehicles.

The big deal though is that it only requires range and line of sight to the target. The wording for the second unit is “one other unit composed entirely of models with the Ultramarine special rule”. No restrictions on where that unit is. A unit of Nemesis bolter armed Recons or Seekers can put that 72″ range to good use, or a squad of ten lascannons on the other side of the board can really put the hurt on anything that thought picking on a poor little tactical squad was a good idea. If you have a dread with two conversion beamers standing in the opposite corner who can draw line of sight? Vehicle squadron with a massive defensive weapon loadout? Yep. them too.

Big, Nearly Dead and Poorly Posed. Credit: Lenoon

It’s possible – but ambiguous – if this interacts with Strength of Wisdom. Do two units firing – possibly simultaneously – make one unit first and the other second? Check in with TAs about this, or explain to your opponent. You’re certainly working out the shooting from one unit at a time, but there’s a strong argument that these are simultaneous shots.

Use it to delete units, use it to get cheeky unexpected sniper fire off, use it to punish people who think they can use their vehicles while you have antitank anywhere on the board, use it to destroy units who think they can shoot at your guys when they’re out of range. It’s immensely flexible if you’re paying attention to your positioning, so time it right and use it to take a key piece off your opponent and deny them a moment’s complacency in their own shooting phase.


Unlike some, smugger, legions, the Ultramarine gear list is small, but gets the job done.

Legatine Axes are an upgrade for power axes – shifting down a point of strength, losing unwieldly and gaining AP 2 for a 5 point upgrade for independent characters. Losing the +1 strength hurts, but you can cope with it, because it’s a relatively cheap way to access at initiative AP2. For a Consul you want chopping, it’s a good choice. On a Praetor, it’s going up against the Paragon blade (for only 10 points more, with +1 strength and Murderous strike) though lacking the Paragon specialist weapon does mean you can squeeze an extra attack out of it in lots of contexts.

Argytum Pattern Boarding Shield is a 15pt boarding shield buy for independent characters that gives a 5++ moving into a 4++ in melee. You can use it to give a Consul a 4++ in melee. It doesn’t grant you heavy and lacks the wording to prevent two melee weapons giving you an extra attack. If you really want to, you can put it on a terminator. The saves don’t stack though. That’s it, it’s a better boarding shield.

A Mantle of Ultramar replaces artificer armour on a single Praetor and makes you immune to blind (quite rare, but you’ll be thankful the few times this helps you out). Really, though, you’re paying 25 points to get the battle-hardened (1) rule on your Praetor, making them just that little bit less likely to be insta-gibbed. Taking you to T5 for instant death purposes lifts you out of the S8-9 danger zone, so you’ll be able to laugh off most powerfist hits, lascannons, all melta and virtually every type of missile without getting instant death’d. Pop one on a Terminator Praetor with a Boarding Shield to waddle around like a one man testudo.

Warlord Traits

Burden of Kings (Loyalist)

Can you make that Terminator Praetor even tankier? Hell yes. Burden of kings gives you a 4+ to regenerate lost wounds and fearless once your warlord has been allocated a wound (saved or unsaved). Provided that you aren’t suffering instant death (because you have that Mantle of Ultramar), or being bodied out in a phase, you’re going to be an incredibly tough proposition for the enemy to remove. Embedded in a unit that can absorb challenges to keep your Warlord safe, with strong saves and ablative wounds – perhaps with an apothecary – you’re not giving up that slay the warlord victory point without a fight.

Also gives you an additional reaction point per turn in any phase – provided the reacting unit is the warlord or warlord-joined unit.

Aegis of Wisdom

The Tactical flexibility trait, letting you use the LD of your warlord on any unit with line of sight to it when regrouping. Given that a leadership bump from 7 or 8 to 9 or 10 improves your chances of rallying from 60% (LD 7) to 91% (LD10), you’ll be rallying your units much, much more often than not. With morale actually mattering in the Heresy, this is a big boost – but it’s not just that! You also get to make shooting attacks and charge as normal, ignoring restrictions usually put on regrouping units. If (when) your units regroup, they get to act as if they’d never fallen back in the first place – keeping your units acting at their best, all the time. This interacts nicely with the Ultramarines core trait with the regroup movement and standard shooting, you can get a unit back within 6 of their comrades and unleash on the opponent. Your firing line is never going to break. I think this is probably the best Ultramarine trait, though in my lists it tends to lose out to Stoic Defender from the core book, because I’m addicted to pinning.

This warlord trait also gives you an extra shooting phase reaction.

Pride’s Dark Power (Traitor)

If you love smiling through a bloody mouth and saying “heh, that all you got?”, this is for you. The traitor trait (aha) lets you sub in your leadership for toughness for a phase. With this trait on a Praetor, you’ve got a single phase of toughness 10, with a 2+/4++. It’s not inconceivable that with that you’re able to take an entire army’s shooting output to the face. You can take a volcano cannon shot and be unlikely to lose a wound if your warlord is just wandering around in front of a titan, and the potential to fuck with your opponent’s plans is massive.

Activated at the right time, this is insanely powerful. In a higher or equal initiative combat (Palatine Blades, perhaps?) a toughness 10 warlord who cannot be hurt by anyone not swinging a power fist (strength 6 and lower can’t wound T10 without a lucky rend) is absolutely hilarious. You have to be running around on your own because of the way majority toughness works, but still. Niche, but pull it off and you’re laughing. Most of the time you’ll be using this in challenges to tank an opponent and likely either guarantee a win or a fruitless draw (even against some Primarchs). Also gives you an additional assault phase reaction.

Pride’s Dark Power could let this guy tank a Primarch Credit: Kevin Stillman

Legion Rite of War

Ok buckle up, because the Logos Lectora is complicated but using it right makes you as fighty as Space Wolves, faster than White Scars and Braver than, well, everyone. Time to fight like a (Roman) legion.

First, the (quite substantial) costs. No non-standard deployment (deep strike, flanking, subterranean assault or infiltrate), an additional compulsory troops choice and an additional HQ choice that must either be a Master of Signals or a Damocles Command Rhino. If you commit to the bit and take no reserves, the MoS has no real downsides beyond a fairly limited utility, which is lucky.

In exchange you get to pick one of four powerful effects applied to your infantry. These boost a phase of your game each turn, though you can’t repeat one twice in a row. You’ve got:

Movement +2, but reducing BS and WS by 1

Leadership (+1) with a full reroll for shooting but no movement

Melee, with a solid +1 to WS and Charge rolls at the cost of BS-1

Regrouping rerolls

These are all (except possibly regrouping) exceptionally powerful effects if you can control the board and flow of the game enough to make sure you can switch the right effect on at the right time. Full rerolls to shooting is beyond fantastic, but you must be in position for it. Equally, suddenly turning all your marines into WS5 long range chargers is fantastic, but all your shooting units get the -1. You can mitigate the -BS most of the time using the Strength of Wisdom, particularly by using a rhino to proc the +1 to hit for nearby infantry. The penalty of not being able to repeat commands is mitigated slightly by the regrouping command having no downsides, so you can switch into flexible mode when needed.

There’s a couple of clever ways to run this:

Flexible, take-all-comers list, where every unit can do every thing. Load up on terminators, veterans, give your tactical squads chainswords, take lots of dreads, so that every unit can shoot, fight and haul ass across the board. Here, you’ll never have units that are wasted and – at least to some extent – every logos command is of use.

Skew Detachment using your Ultramarines primary detachment to focus on one element of the Logos commands. Maybe you have Suzerains and Despoilers in Land Raiders with Assault squads and Jump pack characters, or go the other way and anchor a solid shooting line around Heavy Support Squads and Tacticals. Whatever you do, you’re sacrificing one of the logos commands – and a phase of the game – to maximise another. The sneaky bit comes in a secondary detachment that covers your weaknesses, letting you hone your Ultramarines into dominating a single phase while the other, simpler, legions do the others.

Full Skew well, look at billy big balls over here, running a full skew list and focusing entirely on one phase. Probably best with a melee focused Ultramarine list – very doable between Suzerains, Praetorians and Locutarus – you’re loading everything for maximum melee effect, sprinting at +2 movement on turn one, and hitting melee at +1 WS and +1 to charge on turn two. Use Guilliman here (see below) to make that move, and charge, absolutely ridiculous.

If you can pull this off – and I’ll be honest, I haven’t yet – it’s a very very good rite. To get the full effect though, you have to be in command of the table and in a position where you can predict – or determine – what your opponent would do. If you’re playing 3D chess right now, this might be the one for you, but working out when to use it in game hurts my tiny brain.

Legion Units

Praetorian Breacher Squad

Because GW just cannot get over the Ultramarines=Romans thing, we have a sword and board unit to give us proper Legionaries in our Legion. Two wounds, weapon skill five, AP3 with access to some AP2 at initiative, they’re a solid combat unit that can fairly confidently go toe to toe with other legion specialists. With line, hammer of wrath, heavy and a boarding shield, still them in a land raider and hammer it onto an enemy objective. Once you’ve taken it, you can dare anyone to try and take it off you. Even a fairly small boarding shield and power sword equipped unit will ferociously bully non-melee specialists right off the board, but, and I wish I’d known this before converting ten of them, they’re not quite as good as they could be.

Praetorian Breachers, Credit: Lenoon

They’re expensive for single attack melee fighters. With boarding shields they lose an attack for two combat weapons, and a five man squad with two legatine axes (one on the Sarge) will cost you 150 points. That’s only 25 points cheaper than their bigger, flashier brothers who can do everything they can do, but substantially better.

Invictarus Suzerain Squad

Flashy. Ultramarines Suzerain. Credit: Forge World

And oh man can they do it better. 175 points for five WS5 3 attack base shiny lads in artificer armour and swinging AP2 at initiative. They get the Ultramarine boarding shield, giving them a 4++ in combat, and those shields are light enough not get in the way of using axe and pistol in combat. Oh, and they’re Line, and all characters. They also give a nice little leadership bonus to nearby less flash Ultramarines. All that, for only 8 points more per additional marine than the Praetorians.

They have the same Land Raider option as the Praetorians, so you can smash them through and into an objective, but instead of then sitting there, they have the attacks and the sheer gloriousness to go on a massive tear through the enemy line. You can take them as a retinue choice for a Praetor and chuck a legion standard in there, making them leadership 10 to boot. On top of all that, since they’re all characters, they can accept challenges on your Praetors behalf and do quite well, leaving a melee blender character free to do what they do best, killing everyone.

The only real downside is their incredible cost in resin and their rather large cost in points. If you can cope with those, get those eagle hats ready for the Legion’s Flashiest Lads and start chopping shit into tiny pieces.

Remus Ventanus, Saviour of Calth

Credit: Forge World


Remus is an interesting one, a tougher (+2w) but not quite as choppy Centurion who packs a 4++, Legion Standard, nuncio-vox and a unique sword that’s about as good as a Legatine axe. I’m not quite sure what he’s for, except that he is an absolute unrepentant badass in Know No Fear, but that doesn’t quite match up with his rather anaemic attack stat. He has a good save against psychic powers and force weapons, and can grant line with his legion standard, but that’s about all.

Until you have a look at his warlord trait. Remus grants all Ultramarines units in the army auto-pass LD and Morale checks when in a 3″ range of objectives. If you can get a unit on an objective, when Remus is your warlord, they aren’t going anywhere, and that is damn powerful. Stick the man himself in a normally non-line unit and throw him at an enemy held objective. You’ll win it, eventually, or die trying having tied up the enemy for turns until you were all, individually, killed. Every unit is a nightmare tarpit unit when you’re the Saviour of Calth, and the unit he has joined has line – and he can join any unit a normal character can. If your plan relies on putting some of the nightmarishly hard to shift Ultramarines line units down – or a fury/heart of the legion unit – on a key objective, congrats! Remus is the most annoying possible Warlord choice.

Roboute Guilliman, Complicated Primarch

So the Logos Lectora is complicated, requires timing and flexibility and a masterful comprehension of the tides of battle. What if you could add an extra layer of complexity to really supercharge those rite commands, pin that complexity to a big tall glass of milk with a nice sword and One Big Hand?

Credit: Kevin Stillman

Everything about Guilliman is about maximising your army composition. His Warlord trait just gives a flat +1 to Leadership to everyone – all of your guys are now better at carrying on doing what they do – and you get to pick a phase at the start of the battle (once you know what you’re facing) and gain an extra reaction in that phase. If you’ve got your reactions down pat, and you know your own army well, you’ll know where to use this to squeeze out extra effects. If you want to hedge your bets, return fire is still (as of the time of writing) hilarious, so use that.

Guilliman’s Preturnatural Strategy is where he starts to supercharge your army. Each turn he’s on the field (including being in a transport), he’s able to grant your entire army one of several very strong options (though not for two turns in a row) – Fleet (2), Counter-attack (1), Furious Charge (1) or Stubborn. These are all good options when you need them – with no downside, but they become ridiculous when combined with the logos. Fleet (2) and +2 movement makes base marines run and charge like jetbikes. Furious Charge combined with the Logos +1 to WS (and charge) makes your combat units beasts.

Brooding. Credit: Forge World

If you compare this to another, choppier Primarch – let’s say Leman Russ – you can see the massive level of flexibility this gives you even without the Logos. Leman gives his Wolves +1 strength on the charge all the time. You can apply it when needed. He also, for one turn in the game, gives +1 movement. You can apply more or less that (Guilliman’s Fleet 2) when needed. Plus, you can do other things. It’s damn powerful, and boosts virtually any army, except a completely static gunline. But if you wanted that, you’d play a worse legion.

You’re bringing Guilliman for his army-wide benefits, but he can slap shit about in combat. He has a 4++ with a reroll of the first failed save per phase, which is fairly tasty. In a fight with something large enough and scary enough to not die immediately, he rerolls hits of 1 the second (and subsequent) rounds of combat. His Gladius is good, giving him Murderous Strike (with a re roll for master crafted) and AP2, but for Primarch on Primarch action, or for hitting a Dreadnought, it’s all about his Big Hand – Brutal (2), Strength 10, with a master-crafted reroll. Both are specialist, so he’s swinging at 7 attacks. He probably doesn’t kill the extremely combat focused Primarchs, but anyone without Brutal will fall long before you fail enough rerolled 4+ invulnerable saves.

Most importantly, he’ll kill Lorgar stone dead.

Legacy Units

Honoured Telemechrus, Best Lad

Ok, we know that Dreadnoughts are good this edition. We know that Telemechrus is the best Dreadnought. Is Telemechrus the best dread in this edition?

Coming with a Kheres built in to his cost, he’s only 50 points on top of an identically equipped Contemptor, and those 50 points buy you one additional Weapon Skill, Wound, Attack and Leadership. That alone is probably just about worth the cost when Dreads remain so nightmarishly hard to kill, but such is the rage of the survivors of Calth that Telemechrus Hates (Everything), giving him full rerolls to hit in the first round of a combat. A Contemptor with W6 and rerolls to hit with his big ol’ metal hands? Yes.

Credit: Kevin Stillman

The only downside I can possibly see is that you can’t give him two fists and he takes up an elite slot on his own, thus perversely limiting the number of dreads you can roll with.

Fulmentarus Terminators

So, you want Tyrant Siege Terminators, but possibly a little bit better under some circumstances, and you also want to play Ultramarines? Sure, why not.

Alpha Legion Fulmentarus Terminators courtesy of the Rewards of Treachery. Credit: Lupe.

Fulmentarus take “Ultramarines do it better” to the absolute shooty limit, putting some heavy anti-tank and anti-contemptor missiles on a Cataphractii chassis, letting them ignore line of sight and night firing and then pretty much just calling the job done. If you want to periodically unleash a barrage of S8 AP2 Brutal (2) missiles at BS5, to wipe out terminators, dreadnoughts, light vehicles, these are your guys. Perhaps less outright broken than originally thought at launch, the range on the “good” missiles is only 24″, and while the longer ranged Splinter missiles are heavy 4 and pinning, they’re only AP 5 so you’re fishing for breaches and hoping for missed saves. Still, a unit of five will put out 20 Splinter shots, so you’re likely to hit quite a few breaches.

Before you get overexcited, if you’re using the line of sight ignoring Peritarch Targeter, you can’t use the Ultramarine special reaction to return fire from out of line of sight. Someone already thought of that and put a stop to it. They’re also bloody expensive at 290 points for five, so they’re slightly less of an auto-include than those Brutal (2) missiles would have you believe.

Locutarus Storm Squad

Now, full confession here, I haven’t put these down on the table. A jump pack and power weapon equipped assault squad is nothing to be sneered at in a world dominated by 3+ armour saves, and at 150 points for five, Locutarus are fairly competitive compared to other legion close combat specialists.

Two things make the Locutarus a bit spicier than just jump packs and ap3. Their fancy unique swords have rending (5+) and duellist’s edge. They also get a melee version of the Ultramarines legion rule – +1 to hit on the charge if the unit targeted has been shot by an Ultramarines unit, no matter how far away from the Locutarus they are. That’s not half bad – with WS5 already, you’re going to be hitting other specialist melee units on 3s if you’ve managed to get even a single bolter shot off at the unit you’re charging. That, combined with Chosen Warrior and duellist’s edge, lets the whole unit pop off challenges and have a good shot at winning – easy hit rolls, higher initiative and AP3 is a strong combination.

Putting it All Together

Horus Heresy Ultramarines reward considered, careful play where to win against more specialised legions, you have to execute your plan at the right time, in the right place. You can build for a powerful, highly flexible force that utilises the multiple options you have available to you at any one time – if you can get a handle on when to switch between modes, turn on your Primarch superpowers and who to shoot at when. It’s a lot to think about, that will require careful play and practice to exploit to the fullest. When you do, though, you’ll find the Ultramarines the fastest, bravest, shootiest and (nearly) choppiest of the loyalists when and where you need them to be.

There’s a couple of key things to think about:

Are you making best use of the reaction threat? A long ranged unit you can put in cover that counters armour AND infantry (or one of either) is a goddamn scary thing when you casually mention your super-reaction.

Are you running the Logos? A Logos list will thrive with a horde of infantry, but be careful about what infantry you’re getting and what you plan to do with it. A limited variety of infantry will let you maximise one of the rite benefits. Too wide and you risk never really getting the killer turn, but you do probably have the units to benefit from every part of the rite.

Primarch or No Primarch? I’m not a massive Primarch fan (were they really all always there at every skirmish?) because I prefer to have My Own Guys (TM), but that’s no reason you shouldn’t. Roboute supercharges your units, especially in the Logos list and that Brutal fist lets him slap people around with the best of them.

Example List: Guilliman the Logos  (3000pts)

With that said, lets look at a list at 3k that I have been toying with – by no means the best list out there, but one I’ve been thinking about to ease my brain into Logos and Guilliman mode. It’s got a few flashy tricks, but it’s mostly just a legion standing in front of a legion, asking them to love them.

Did I take on this legion focus so I could post more pics of my own models? Yes! Credit: Lenoon

This list uses multiple units interspersed with Dreadnoughts to make sure most marines are shooting at a +1 at the right target at the right time. Tactical Squads with Rhinos, Nemesis Bolter Equipped Recons, the Ubiquitous Telepathy Librarian and two lovely big dead lads in Contemptors provide a solid anchor that, with sniping, pinning, effective BS5 and the Dreads popping hard targets, is like walking into a blender. Meanwhile, the Suzerains, Locutarus, the Leviathan and Logos-boosted everybody else are either a counterpunch to a melee enemy or a hideous, line-breaking threat to a standard or shooty list. You’re saving the Ultra-reaction for a lascannon snipe on your enemies’ best anti-tank, or a ludicrous amount of bolter fire. There’s not a huge amount of anti-armour in here, but isn’t that what fists are for?


Roboute Guilliman (465)


Librarian (120)
Librarian, Telepathy, Psychic Hood, Force Staff

Master of Signals (105)
Nemesis Bolter


Apothecarion Detatchment (135)
3x Apothecary

Contemptor Dreadnought Talon (375)
1x Dread with Melta Cannon and Fist
1x Dread with Autocannon, Fist and Helical Targeting Array

Invictarus Suzerain Squad (455)
7x Suzerains, Land Raider Proteus


3x Tactical Squad (155 each +5)
Scanner and Vox , Rhino (one searchlight)

Reconnaissance Squad (201)
Sergeant and 7 Recon marines, 8 Nemesis Bolters

Fast Attack:

Locutarus Storm Squad (250)
8x Locutarus

Heavy Support:

Heavy Support Squad (150)

Leviathan Dreadnought (270)

Deploy it like a Roman legion (Hastati! Principes! Triarii!), park yourself on objectives and bully line units off enemy objectives with swords, or Dreads, or +1 to hit Fury of the Legion. Use the Dreads and the Suzerains to kill everything that threatens your complete board dominance, and the Telepathy librarian to turn off reactions to ensure you’re deleting units with complete impunity. You have speed, hulls for blocking, several very difficult to deal with units, and most of all, you’ve got Guilliman and the Logos. When you need to, every unit can relocate, shoot, fight or hold as well as anything in any other legion. Make sure you have your shooting killer turn, and roll it into a combat killer turn – if your firebase can reach out (with their logos buffs) on the turn before your Suzerains and Primarch buddy, Locutarus and Leviathan reach combat with theirs, there’ll be very little left opposite you. Positioning, careful thought and merciless application of clinical violence – the Ultramarine way!