Space Marine Elites Review: Sternguard, baby!



Hey everyone, SaltyJohn/Overwatch here from TFGRadio, Capture and Control, and the salt mines of Kessel. Up for review: Space Marine Sternguard!

As always, check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and videos! Sternguard Veteran Squads are members of a Space Marine Chapters’ first company. They’re specialists in the bolter, combi-bolter, special, and heavy weapons in the Astartes aresenal; unleashing the most deadly of fusillades from their ornate bolters, and other weapons, loaded with a plethora of exotic and deadly Special Issue Ammunition. Do these hallmarks of  Adeptus Astartes ballistic prowess hold up on the table top to their reputation in the fluff? We’ll see!

Sternguard Veterans were initially released as part of the Space Marine range by GamesWorkshop with the 5th edition codex. Since that time they’ve been conditionally used in many players lists. Few of the top competitive lists use Sternguard but that doesn’t mean they are without their uses. In fact, I feel one of the most overlooked, but excellent, 7th edition Space Marine Auxiliary formations works best with Sternguard as the bulk of the formation.




Overview: Generally speaking Sternguard are a flexible shooting unit. Their various types of ammunition, outlined below, means they can fulfill the role of a hunter unit. Hunter units in 40k are ones you will generally gear towards taking out specific types of units. Grav equipped Centurions are great Gargantuan Monstrous Creature hunters for example. The nice thing about Sternguard is if you know how to position and play Tactical Squads effectively then you’ll be able to use Sternguard squads effectively as well with only a little extra thought. Clocking in at 110 points base they’re not bad as a stock 5 man squad in a Drop Pod for 145 total. For only 20-40 points more you can add some combi-weapons, special weapons, or heavy weapons to tool the unit toward the completion of a specific roll.


  • Bolt Pistol
  • Boltgun
  • Frag/Krak Grenades (but who gets to use theirs? Surely we can’t all throw a krak grenade at the enemies Battle Tank…)
  • Special Issue Ammunition, or SIA. (AWWW YEEAAAAAAAAA! Cue the NCIS meme…)


Special Rules:

  • Chapter Tactics
  • Combat Squads

Tactics: The strength of Sternguard Veterans is their shooting, so naturally any tactics involving them will be centered around bringing the full brunt of their shooting to bear on an enemy. There are several load outs for them that are common given the wide range of weapons at their disposal. Many people, including myself, like to use them in Drop Pods so you can bring the full effectiveness of the somewhat short ranged bolters to bear on the enemy quickly. (We should be real for a minute here, Sternguard belong in Drop Pods or outflanking/scouting Rhinos. No two ways about it so from this point forward let’s assume we bought them a 35 point transport.) Often times running combi, special, or even heavy weapons that augment this role. In my opinion the ability for this unit to draw from almost the entire range of Space Marine shooting weapons is amazing. From Heavy Flamers through all the Grav you can want it’s a versatile unit. But let’s go through the Special Issue Ammunition because really that’s what makes this unit interesting.

The Sternguard Veterans of a Chapters’ First Company are armed to the teeth with the best ammunition Martians can produce; and complex inter-political, quasi-religious agreements can buy . There are four rounds, each designed with a specific purpose, and each with a great role to play against specific targets.

  • Dragonfire bolt- Str 4, AP5 ignores cover. This pairs well with combi-flamers and Heavy Flamers to take on hordes.
  • Hellfire round- Str 1, AP5, Poisoned 2+. This is the MC hunter round. Generally speaking this is the round that gets the most use. If you couple this round with some sort of re-roll to hit you’re going to do a lot of damage to any unit you shoot at.
  • Kraken bolt- Str4 AP4 30 inch range! This one actually comes in useful when you’ve got an enemy with a lot of Armor 4 units. Also the increased range gives you a bit of flexibility.
  • Vengeance Round- Str4 AP3 18 inch range, gets hot! The Marine Equivalent (MEQ) hunting round. Pairs well with combi-plasma (huh? What’s Plasma? Bruh, 4th edition called…) also pairs well with Grav (like a nicely aged Cabernet to bacon wrapped filet mignon).

Usually Sternguard are taken to fill a very specific purpose. Often this can be dependent upon your meta, other times it’s dictated by the wider meta or the weaknesses of your particular list.

The miniature Devastator squad is a somewhat effective build. Normally seen with 2x Las Cannons or 2x Grav Cannons in Rhinos. Personally I feel this wastes the real beneficial part of Sternguard which is their bolters’ special ammunition. If you need to get in some more Heavy Weapons and for some reason you’re all out of Devastator slots then I guess this is an ok route to go.


The Heavy Weapons/Special Weapons option for the Sternguard Squad is a wasted spot in most cases because the extra weapon replaces the bolter and most of the weapons don’t pair well with the SIA. The notable exception is the Heavy Flamer as it fits well with the anti-infantry role most Sternguard squads fill and it fits nicely in with their SIA that ignores cover; Dragonfire bolts. You’d already forgotten the name hadn’t you… If you run Salamanders this unit becomes even more vicious with the re-roll to wound on the flamers, and if you’re using the new formation, plus one strength to each flamer. So Str5 flamers and Str6 Heavy Flamers re-rolling to wound! Some of you may know I love playing Salamanders and I find it hard to resist taking some Sternguard with Heavy Flamers for Vulkan to Drop Pod in with and evaporate a unit. It’s fun to watch. Try it and see for yourself.


Another fun Salamanders based Sternguard unit set up is with combi-meltas. You can use the master crafted combi-meltas to pop a vehicle on the drop. Those bolter rounds fired in subsequent rounds are also considered master crafted by the way! Enjoy some re-rolls. There’s no reason this has to be a purely Salamander tank hunting unit, any chapter with access to Sternguard could benefit, and it is more versatile after the first volley of melta fire than say a Command Squad.

105294_md-Burn, Cool, Salamanders, Space Marines, Warhammer 40,000

You could of course run the uber Grav unit of doom. Take a 5 man Sternguard squad, 2 Grav Cannons, 3 Combi-Grav, Drop Pod, and a Cataphractii Captain to give the unit Slow and Purposeful. On the drop you have 19 Grav Shots, if that Captain was a White Scar and he had the Hunters’ Eye then you have 19 Ignores Cover Grav shots. It’s an expensive unit but if you need a Stormsurge dead, well, this may be the prescription for what ails you.

Enough of the non-sense. Let’s talk actual tactics for this unit. Things you may see in a competitive list. To do this we need a formation in 7th edition. Luckily for us the Sternguard are available in a sweet, but under utilized, formation. The First Company Task Force. Another article outlining the full potential of this formation will be written at some point I am sure. For now let’s look at why I like this formation for Sternguard. It is an auxiliary choice so can fill that slot in the Gladius nicely but the best part is their rules: Terrifying Proficiency and Extremis Level Threat.

  • Terrifying Proficiency- Enemy units subtract 2 from their Leadership whilst they are within 12in of at least three units from this formation. (That includes the Drop Pod dedicated transports…)
  • Extremis Level Threat- Nominate an enemy unit before deployment, units in the formation have preferred enemy against that unit.

So here is what I like to do with this unit. I nominate a nice juicy target. Maybe a pesky blob, Ravenwing Command Squad, GMC, MC, a troublesome unit of Eldar bikes with Farseer etc. I drop down, blast the unit with twinlinked Hellfire rounds wounding on a 2+. If that unit takes Morale it is now doing so at -2. Even better, since I run Drop Pod heavy armies, any other units within 12 inches of 3 models from this formation that take tests are at -2. I also like to get a librarian, or conclave, into my lists. With this formation one Libby should get Psychic Shriek, rolling 3d6 against an enemies -2 leadership to cause wounds with no cover or armor saves allowed is pretty legit.


If you take the above formation as the Auxiliary choice in your Gladius Strike Force alongside a single, or double, demi battle company build and you have Pedro Cantor you just added three Sternguard to your already obscene tally of Obsec units.

If you struggle against armies that are infantry based Sternguard might be a good option for you. If you want even more obsec in your already obsec heavy Gladius than some Crimson Fists, with Cantor obviously, led 1st Company Task Force Sternguard may be a good fit for you! All things considered the Marine book is filled with amazing options. It may not be the Eldar codex but the versatility in each Force Org slot and within the multitudes of formations mean that you can build a seemingly competitive list out of many units from the book. Sternguard are often overlooked but they can play a strong role in many SM builds. Keep your eye out and try them in your lists, well placed veterans have turned the tides of battle more than a few times on the table tops of the 41st millennium!

As always, share your thoughts in the comments section! And remember, Frontline Gaming sells Games Workshop product at up to 25% off, every day.



About SaltyJohn

John has been playing Warhammer 40k since the 3rd edition box set with Space Marines, Dark Eldar, and weird green palm trees were in the set. He is currently a 40k Head Judge for the Las Vegas Open, the largest 40k tournament in the world. An avid board gamer, a huge fan of video games, and a guest spot on Geek and Sundry as a "Historian" during an episode of "Game the Game" round out his geek credentials. You can catch "Salty" John on TFG Radio's Twitch Show, and Podcast, as well as find him streaming video games on Twitch on the TFG Radio Twitch page from time to time.

11 Responses to “Space Marine Elites Review: Sternguard, baby!”

  1. Hiveminded June 25, 2016 1:07 am #

    Nice article. I agree, sternguard are excellent!

  2. Kartr_Kana June 25, 2016 3:42 am #

    I love Sternguard and as an Imperial Fists player, taking them in the 1st Company as part of the Sternhammer Strike Force… Twin linked 2+ poison shots will murder most non-GMC toughness based models in short order. And twin linked Ignores Cover Bolters can do yeoman work against Xenos flyers.

    However I think the combi, special and heavy weapons are a trap. Devastators do heavy weapons far better and Command Squads do special weapons far better. The only exception may be the Heavy Flamer since they are one of two units that can take those. Even then I wouldn’t do it outside of a Salamanders army when you know you’re facing a horde.

    • Alex r June 25, 2016 4:11 am #

      Heavy flamers with vulkan are perfect easily doing 7-8 wounds before bolters just wrecks face combine with the 2+ posion even meq die

    • abusepuppy June 25, 2016 9:00 am #

      Sternguard in a Rhino can make a lot more use out of a Lascannon or the like, but I definitely agree that the Special weapons are a bit mediocre. Combi-Weapons I feel aren’t completely terrible, but especially lining them up against a Command Squad it ends up making them feel kinda overpriced- however, if you’re going with a 10man in a Drop Pod, mixing in 2-4 combis isn’t a bad plan.

  3. abusepuppy June 25, 2016 9:06 am #

    It’s worth pointing out with regard to Vengeance Rounds that Hellfire are almost always better (and always safer.) Against other MEQs sitting in 5+ cover, Hellfire have slightly lower performance (.37 vs .44 kills per shooter) but only if both are in double-tap range, and since Vengeance are noticably shorter that won’t always be the case. In 4+ cover or better as well as against T5 or better or outside of 9″, Hellfire are the superior choice and have no chance of killing you on accident.

    In other words, use Hellfire rounds on everything unless specifically need the range or Ignores Cover ability of the other two.

  4. Reecius June 25, 2016 5:06 pm #

    Sternguard are incredibly good, I’ve been doing quite well with, and enjoying playing them in the first company task force.

    • Luke June 25, 2016 6:24 pm #

      I love combi-melta stern guard. Expensive but the drop is brutal against just about anything.

      And I run them as salamanders with Vulkan, whom the new FAQ confirmed does master-craft BOTH parts of the combi-melta. Why yes, I will take master-crafted special ammunition. Thank you very much!

      • SaltyJohn June 26, 2016 12:10 pm #

        It’s a good ruling for sure. Makes that unit much more effective after the melta drop has burned off.

  5. westrider June 25, 2016 6:25 pm #

    One of my fave MEq Units. Best as primarily Anti-Infantry, but can be kitted out to take on just about anything in the Game.

    The other quote I like re: that second pic is “It’s not the one with your name on it you need to worry about. It’s all the other ones addressed “To Whom It May Concern””

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