Hey everyone, Reecius here to talk about different strategies in building a Tactical Marine heavy list! Be sure to check out the Tactics Corner for more great articles!
I love me some infantry heavy armies, always have. I have always been drawn to the infantry over armor in any military style setting. It just feels more intense and personal. But, as far as tactics and list building are concerned, there are a number of reasons why infantry armies work well in 40k. For one, you generally make enemy anti tank weapons wasted points as they often do little more than take out a single infantryman. Secondarily, they often excel at taking objectives as they will have a legion of ObSec units to lean on.
Space Marines do this especially well with Tactical Marines. On his own, the humble Tactical Marine really isn’t much, these days despite what the fluff might make him sound like. He’s got a Bolter, Bolt Pistol, Frag and Krak Grenades and a 3+. But, he also has the incredible And They Shall Know No Fear special rule, which means every point invested into a unit of Marines is going to be a pretty safe bet.
Strength in numbers and morale control are the name of the game with this style list. You can outlast your opponent simply because you have so many reliable bodies to ensure you have more ObSec models on objectives at end game than your opponent does. You can also choose to us Combat Squads, which means you can double down on your Tactical Marines units if it is a benefit for the mission you are playing. Nice!
In missions that use progressive objectives (like Maelstrom) or end of game objectives (Dawn of War missions), or both, large numbers of mobile, reliable Tactical Marines can win games without doing a lot of damage. These armies are actually a lot of fun to play, too. They require a lot of thought with movement, but when played well will defeat armies that are much more powerful offensively.
However, there are a number of questions you want to ask yourself before you commit to a Tactical heavy list. Firstly: which book do you use to build your army? While Tactical Marines are largely the same from chapter to chapter, there are some subtle differences that can really add up.
While every chapter has something to offer, these are my favorites.
Ultramarines: the boys in blue are built to rock Tactical Marines. With their Combat Doctrines, they can really pack a wallop on a critical turn (or two, with Calgar). Going this route requires the most tactical acumen, IMO, as each Doctrine is only useable once, so you really need to be able to think a turn ahead. And, speaking of Calgar, gaining the ability to choose to pass or fail any morale check is incredibly good for the style of play Tactical spam encourages. I can’t emphasize enough how good this ability is! Being able to flee if you need to, or stand firm at a critical time is game winning.
White Scars: Hit and Run, combined with potentially Scouts from Khan (assuming they are in Dedicated Transports) means these Tactical Marines can be very flexible during deployment and slippery as hell, which makes them even better at taking objectives than other types of Tactical Marines.
Sentinels of Terra: With twin linked Bolt weapons at half range, what’s not to love? This makes the marines really efficient with their Bolters and you get Tank Hunters on your Devastators. Not bad! The big question here is Rhinos or Drop Pods?
Salamanders: a free Master-Crafted weapon and master crafted flamers (and potentially Meltas, with Vulkan) means you get a really powerful punch out of these Tacticals. Plus, you get increased flamer defense, too, which while not always relevant, is awesome when it kicks in.
Iron Hands: With FnP 6+, and IWND on vehicles, Iron Hands tactical spam is actually quite solid. They get their nice little buff to their resilience, and their vehicles are harder to kill, too. Plus, they gain access to the wonderfully versatile Chapter Master with Shield Eternal on a bike. With his increased durability, mobility and hitting power, he’s a one man support tool that will really help to shore up your Tactical Marines wherever he is needed.
Blood Angels: The option for a Heavy Flamer in the unit is very valuable, and helps to keep them mobile. Furious Charge is a nice little boost to their melee ability, too. But, really it’s the option for fast Rhinos that makes Blood Angels so appealing for this style list! The ability to put an ObSec unit up to 24″ away in a single movement is potentially game winning.
Red Scorpions: Every Tactical Squad gets an Apothecary. Not bad! They cannot go to ground which is kind of a big deal, honestly, but, their increased durability is a nice benefit that keeps them mobile and they are capable in any type of Tactical spam list, be it on foot or mounted. Plus, you gain access to the incredible Severin Lloth, who is easily one of the best Librarians in the game and to Carab Culln, who is a solid melee character that also boosts ld of all your Tacticals to 10 for morale and pinning tests.
Charcharadons: The ole Space Sharks allow you to take a melee weapon on your Tacticals at +1 pt per model. That is a reasonable price tag to gain truly flexible Tactical Marines. You also gain the underwhelming Fear USR, and Rage if you defeat an infantry unit in melee. If you max out 60 of these bad boys, you’re essentially getting Tactical Marines and Assault Marines. Not bad!
Raptors: besides just being cool, Raptors Tacticals gain Scouts, stealth on the first turn and if they hold still, their Bolters become heavy 1, Rending. Nice! These guys are quite viable on foot, if you wanted to go that route. Lastly, you get access to Lias Issodon, one of the best support characters available to Space Marines.
Mantis Warriors: Like the Raptors, these guys function fairly well on foot, if you want to do that. You gain MtC and HoW, which is pretty solid for taking on high initiative models and light infantry or Invisible units. For example, HoW on your Tacticals makes fighting things like Daemonettes and Harlies a lot less daunting. You also get Furious Charge when you assault out of terrain, which is a cool little benefit. Lastly, the army bonuses of a re-roll to seize the initiative (awesome!), Divination for your Libbies (also, awesome) and the named Librarian Azra Redth, make Mantis Warriors another great choice for Tactical Spam!
Red Hunters: Lastly, the very cool Red Hunters. They come stock with Adamantium Will, which is solid. They can also, once per game, choose to give a number of units equal to the turn number one of the following USRs: Counter-attack, Monster Hunter, Tank Hunters, Hatred, Skyfire, or Interceptor. That is really cool, and provides a lot of flexibility. Like Ultramarines though, you need to know when to pull your ace card with these guys but when done right, it can be devastating.
Clearly, there are a lot of viable options to spam out your Tacticals. You can make any of the chapters work if you wanted to, even Dark Angels, but those listed above are my favorites.
The next question to ask yourself is how to play the units? Do you want to go on foot? Mount up in Rhinos or even Razorbacks? Or, Drop Pods? All of these can be viable options, depending on what style of play speaks to you the most.
If you go foot, you will want to take a close look at those Chapter Tactics that boost your mobility or that focus on boosting infantry models that are on the table. For example, Raptors gain Scouts and Stealth on the first turn (but not their transports). This means you can get them further up-field, right out of the gates, be in range to start using your Rending Bolters, and take advantage of Stealth. You can also Outflank if you want to. Mantis Warriors are also a good example, with MtC, HoW, and gaining Furious Charge out of terrain. All of these abilities favor units that are on foot. Their named character, Azra Redth, is a 3 wound libby that has a WC1 Shrouded psychic power + whatever else you roll (including Divination), and if he is the Warlord, gives the unit Interceptor (great for those Deep Striking Wraithguard) and Night Vision. Nice! Positioned well, this can be a really solid deterrent unit.
Foot lists will also want to consider taking advantage of solid, ranged weapons like Las Cannon, Plasma Guns or Missile Launchers. Using Combat Squads to leave a shooting half of the unit and a mobile half to grab objectives is a solid strategy. With a foot list, you also gain the benefit of saving points by not buying transports, less Kill Points in the list, but also less ObSec units and reduced mobility in addition to not gaining the protection that a transport provides.
If you choose to mount up, you get a lot of benefit with little draw back. For one, you get mobility. That counts for a lot as Tactical spam is all about movement. You gain another ObSec unit, and, you gain protection for your Tacticals inside. This can be critical for last turn objective grabs where you need a layer of protection from a powerful shooting or assault unit. Transports also allow you to Tank Shock, charge block, and provide mobile LoS blocking cover. They also make the game play quicker for you, as you are moving fewer models. You will want to focus on mobile weapons, and cheap Heavy Weapons if you take any at all as you will likely be on the go every turn. Blood Angels shine here with their Heavy Flamer option.
In this edition, I am in favor of Rhinos over Razorbacks as they transport a full 10 Marines, allow two to fire out the top, and are cheaper. However, while Razorbacks are certainly not what they were in their heyday in 5th ed, I bet a creative player could still make them work. Assuming you go with Rhinos, however, many of the chapters will work very well in them. White Scars Tactical heavy lists especially, want to be in Rhinos. If you take Khan, they gain Scouts which is fantastic. That plus Hit and Run means White Scars are going to be masters of movement. Iron Hands also favor Rhinos as theirs will repair themselves as you go! Blood Angels are also stand outs for Rhino rush tactics. With fast Rhinos, and a weapon load-out that really favors mobility, Blood Angels can race around the table scoring objectives and posing a threat to armor or infantry units.
Lastly, you can mount up in the trusty Drop Pod. While Pods are tailor made for Alpha Striking, they do have some draw backs. For one, once you’re down, you’re down. You can find your Tactical Marines spread out, unsupported and out of position if you drop poorly. Secondly, you are reliant on reserves. Whereas Rhino rush Tactical Spam has all of your assets on the table and in play from turn 1 if you want, Drop Pods dictate that some of your units start off the table, which can hurt as it allows your enemy to focus on what you do have. Drop Pods also don’t contribute too much once on the ground. If you can drop them into scoring position on an Objective, awesome! If not, they won’t be doing much. However, I do have to add, the Deathwind Missile Launcher is surprisingly good. A friend of mine plays Drop Marines, and all of the Pods come with Deathwinds…they start to rack up kills which make them much higher of a priority to deal with, confusing target priority.
On the plus side, Drop Pods give you the ability to go pretty much anywhere on the board with impunity–thanks to the Inertial Guidance rule–and hit an enemy unit (usually) before they hit you. Beware of Interceptor, obviously, but beyond that you typically hit first. Chapters like Salamanders, Ultramarines, Sentinels of Terra, Red Hunters, etc. that can do a lot of damage in a single volley, will enjoy deploying in Drop Pods. Charcharadons are also solid in Pods as they come down, perform like normal Marines, and then next turn are in position to assault like Assault Marines if that is what you require of them. No matter which way you go, though, try to get a means of controlling your reserves built into your list to ensure you get those second wave pods in when you need them!
If you go a full 6 units, you’re looking at a roughly 1,000pt to 1,250pt investment. That is a big chunk of your army. But, remember, your game plan is victory through objectives and attrition. So, the more units of ObSec Tacticals you have, the better. What you need to consider beyond this point is what support units to take? You have limited points, so you want to choose wisely.
Firstly, which HQ are you going with? In some instances, the choice is obvious as with Khan for White Scars, Calgar or Tigerius for Ultramarines, Issodon for Raptors, Vulkan for Salamanders, or a Chapter Master for Iron Hands. But, in other cases it isn’t so clear cut. What I do recommend though, is either choosing a very useful support character such as Redth for Mantis Warriors, who will multiply the effectiveness of your Tactical Marines, or a solid, mobile melee unit. Melee is not dead, despite what the internet claims. In fact, it is alive and well and quite effective. A fast melee unit that is reliable will help you immensely. Tactical Marines can get bogged down in combat, or wiped out if facing a tough melee unit. If you have the ability to quickly move to support them, that can be incredibly useful. Conversely, the ability to go and apply pressure to your opponent will help to keep the heat off of your Tacticals for a while. A unit like this plays well as a free safety, going wherever needed and providing support. Dante fills this roll well with Blood Angels and is easily taken with a small unit of Assault Marines, for example, for a potent, accurate unit that becomes a very dangerous backfield threat.
Another unit in this roll can be a Dread in a Drop Pod, particularly in a Lucius pattern pod. You plop a high threat unit in your opponent’s backfield and force them to deal with it, which buys your Tacticals time. Every turn they aren’t getting chewed up, is a turn you are imposing your strategy on your opponent.
If you find yourself facing these types of units, you have to use some smart play. Tacticals can get gobbled up by powerful, speedy assault units. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice a Combat Squad here and there, even if only to move block a unit. Again, remember, the clock is your friend. You want to tie up your opponent’s key units as long as possible to allow the core of your army to win the mission.
Anti air is another consideration to factor in. Tactical Marines are not always that great vs. air units, and can suffer a fair bit to them, especially units like Heldrakes, which are mercifully less common, now (but making a comeback due to Eldar and Crons!). Air units of your own, or ground based AA (which in some cases, is covered by your Tacticals as with the Red Hunters) is a solid bet. Baring that, Contemptor pattern dreads are solid, as are Daraedeo, and Mortis Dreads, as well as the ever popular Storm Talon or Fire Raptor.
Long ranged fire support is also something to consider. As your opponent will often have their hands full trying to deal with all of the units you have running around the table, some solid backfield firepower can really make an impact and go relatively unmolested. Thunderfire Cannons are the most common, but also 5 man Devastator Squads, particularly with Chapter Tactics that buff them as with Sentinels of Terra, Ultramarines or Red Hunters. But, units like Sicaran Tanks, Scorpius Tanks, and even Attack Bikes will compliment Tactical Spam very well.
If you can squeeze in the points, a true hammer unit is not a bad choice, either, such as some Centurions with a Chapter Master, or something similar. A unit that can pack a mighty wallop and take a punch, too. This helps to not only take a chunk out of the other player, but again, buys you time by forcing them to deal with you on your terms, leaving your Tacticals to focus on winning the mission.
I hope this has helped you Tactical Marine players out there, or perhaps inspired some of you to give it a whirl! Tac Spam is a ton of fun, challenging and very good at winning missions.