Surefire Ways to Always Beat Space Marines No Matter What

Five simple tricks to beating Space Marines that Games Workshop doesn’t want you to know! Chapter Masters hate them! Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.

So, you’re struggling with the same thing pretty much everyone else is struggling with these days: beating Space Marines. With their vast array of tools and bonuses, it’s no surprise that most armies are having trouble with them. I won’t pretend that I can offer you some kind of silver bullet that will instantly shut the army down and give you a free 42pt win- indeed, if I could come up with something that offered a strong way to beat Marine armies more than half the time, I would’ve taken that to LVO and done a number on them there.

However, while there’s no magic solution, there is some advice I can offer in terms of what you need to be looking at in order to try and take advantage of them. These may not be enough to let you take out a truly excellent Space Marine player, but they may be enough to take down your local champ who is riding high on the army, or at the very least let you pull some extra points out of a loss so you aren’t kicked completely out of the running by going up against yet another Iron Hands list.

However, all of this is made harder by the fact that there isn’t simply one Marine list- there are, in fact, no less than five or so major iterations of the army that have had varying levels of success, and all of them play significantly differently. However, they do share some things in common and there are features shared across most or all of the armies that you can take aim on, so let’s take a minute to look at some of these things and how you can try to abuse them.

Little Green Blue Men

For all their differences, there is one thing that most all Marines- including the Blood Angel, Dark Angel, and Grey Knights variants that have also seen some success as of late- share in common: their statlines. While Marines may vary wildly in their plans of attack and special rules, they all are built off some pretty common unit chassis, so it’s possible to load up on the right kind of weapons to kill them more efficiently than you otherwise might. There are two statlines in particular that we should be worrying about.

The first is the default infantry body, which is to say a toughness four (or, in rare cases, five) with a 3+ or 2+ armor save. Obviously this covers all sorts of Primaris Marines, but Sanguinary Guard, Aggressors, and Centurions also live within this same ballpark and some of the same weapons can be effective against them. Most of these units like to sit in cover (buying them another pip on their armor save) and often inside a magic box or otherwise out of line of sight, for additional resilience.

So, what you want for dealing with these units is a weapon that has a profile to match them- a good number of shots, strength five or six, decent penetration (AP-2 or -3 typically being the sweet spot) and preferably doing two damage per shot. If you can get all of this on a weapons which is also indirect fire or that can ignore cover (not unheard of) all the better, but one shouldn’t be too picky, as a lot of factions simply don’t have enough options to be turning anything down.

This profile gives you the best of everything- it is splatting Primaris Marines in a single hit (as well as other mid-level bodies), pushing down their armor save enough that they have reasonable odds of failing without needing such a high AP value that it likely comes on a weapon with only one or two shots, and wounding them often enough to force a good number of saves. These kinds of weapons also can work reasonably against the tougher targets, since they will drop an Aggressor or Centurion in two shots and are threatening to vehicles as well despite their middling strength simply by virtue of threatening to put multidamage saves through in numbers. But what kind of gun meets all of these qualifications, you might ask? A surprising number- let’s take a look at some examples.

  • AdMech: Bellaros Energy Cannon, Heavy Grav Cannon, Plasma Culverin, Heavy Arc Rifle, Icarus Array
  • Adeptus Custodes: Castellan Axe/Guardian Spear (shooting profiles), almost every gun Forge World has printed
  • Adeptus Sororitas: Storm Bolters (when enhanced), Exorcist Missiles
  • Chaos/Imperial Knights: Avenger Gattling Cannon
  • Craftworld Eldar: Starcannon, Night Spinner, Reaper Missile Launcher, Vibrocannon
  • Drukhari: Disintegrator Cannon
  • Genestealer Cult: Mining Lasers
  • Imperial Guard: Battle Cannon, Demolisher Cannon, Plasma Cannon, Vulkhan Megabolter
  • Necrons: Gauss Cannon, Gauss Blaster
  • Orks: Lootas, Shock Attack Gun, Smasha Cannon
  • Tau: Heavy Burst Cannon, Missile Pod, Ion Cannon, Cyclic Ion Blaster,
  • Tyranids: Impaler Cannon, Acid Spray, Venom Cannon, Bio-Plasmic Cannon

So as we can see, there are actually quite a few such weapons in the game, and if we are willing to expand out our criteria slightly, the list can expand even more.

Killing Tankies

The second profile we should be concerned with takes a bit less explanation- that is, the standard vehicle profile. A fair number of Space Marine armies field Dreadnoughts, flyers, Whirlwinds, Thunderfire Cannons, or other, similar vehicles, so having the guns to break them can do some work- although of course in some cases these vehicles may not be targetable at the start of the game, and many also have added abilities that can make them extra-difficult to get rid of.

However, killing vehicles is something that most lists are going to need to do anyways, so it’s not as though you’re going as far out of the way to be ready to take care of them. We can instead focus on three of the more unusual vehicles that you’ll see with commonality and make sure we are prepared to handle them- and the first of these is the Thunderfire Cannon, which most people may not even think of as a vehicle but does indeed have the keyword as well as a statline that, at least on the surface, is fairly similar to the regular run of the mill vehicles (T6/2+). Provided we get the opportunity to shoot at them- by having excellent mobility on our platforms or by being able to shoot indirectly like they can- it should be fairly trivial to erase the Thunderfires in short order.

However, there are some tougher targets to take on, such as the flyers. Although they’re merely T7/3+, the -1 (or more) to hit means that they often have to be approached a little bit differently than other targets, valuing number of shots over raw AP or damage. Since such flyers are usually Iron Hands, you should also be prepared to deal with 6+ feel no pain as well, although this will only add a small amount to their resilience. Generally these vehicles find their fortitude mostly in numbers, as you’ll often see six of them taking to the table at once- and when this is the case, ways to negate hit penalties or bonuses against units with Fly can go a long ways, as can anything that bypasses hit rolls (such as mortal wounds from psykers or whatnot.)

The last target profile, and most specific, is the Executioner- T8/3+, sometimes with an invuln or damage reduction and a 6+ feel no pain. While this isn’t nearly as common as it once was, your list should really have some way of dealing with a hard target like this in a single round- because if you don’t kill it immediately it probably is either going to beta strike you out of existence or repair back up in short order, so attrition is simply not a valid strategy.

Now, I’m not going to try and list off all of the useful weapons for killing tanks here because they are absolutely innumerable, but do note that not only do a decent number of the weapons from the previous list fit here, but also most of the “general use” guns can do so as well, so it’s really more of a matter of making sure you have enough of the right kind of gun here rather than struggling to find something that works.

Power Ranges

Now, there is one other weapon characteristic that we’ve so far completely ignored but can be very useful in defeating Space Marines- namely, range. With many of the standard deployment types giving us extremely deep zones to deploy into and the new ITC missions giving us more flexibility in ever for a defender to choose their zone, there is a lot of potential to simply deploy as far as possible from a Marine army and give them issues. Now, of course, this doesn’t work against all Marine armies, as some of them (RG, WS) don’t really use a lot of shooting, some of them (IF) having lots of long-range shooting of their own, and some of them (flyers) being able to close the gap with trivial ease.

However, for the ones outside of these qualifications- including the infamous Broviathan list- outranging them can be critical to winning a match, as it can let you get 1-3 turns of unimpeded firepower off that can be difficult for even the most resilient armies to absorb. Much of the army’s firepower is limited to 36″ or 48″, which is very possible to avoid if your army is extremely maneuverable (like Eldar) or has a lot of reach (like Imperial Guard.) If you can dictate the way the engagement progresses and keep them from effectively expanding into midfield without taking heavy losses, you may be able to prevent them from ever being able to inflict major casualties on you while also controlling their ability to score, and that’s tantamount to winning the game. It’s not just the firepower you have that matters, but also how you can leverage it- and range is critical to that, just as line of sight is.

Rolling With the Punches

Another quality that can hugely benefit you against certain kinds of Marine armies is a lack of good targets- which is to say, a lack of good targets for the enemy. Many of the Marine lists right now are packing some very hefty anti-tank firepower in the form of Stormcannons, Lascannons, Stalker Rifles, and other hard-hitting anti-tank weapons, but consequently they can be somewhat lacking in massed anti-infantry shooting, although this is not always the case.

However, being able to at least shrug off those hidden Lascannons/Stormcannons can be extremely critical- and if you have a ton of vehicles for their army to shoot at that probably won’t be the case, as many Marine lists (and also non-Marine lists, as mentioned in the above sections) are packing a lot of heavy AT tools these days and it’s unlikely that you are going to be able to weather that firepower as efficiently as the best army out there right now. It’s better to simply deny the enemy such targets to shoot at wherever possible by not having them, or by protecting them in such ways as they don’t present the enemy with anything to shoot (e.g. by being out of line of sight.)

Now, obviously there is a compromise to be made here, as many of these same vehicles are where you would otherwise be getting some very important guns, but we can combine our approaches here- a Night Spinner, for example, has the advantages of both range and ignoring LOS while also being relevant against most Marine targets, so it has elements of all three methods. A Leman Russ with a Battle Cannon can fire effectively at Marine vehicles while also having good range, and if it is Tallarn it can also manipulate line of sight as well, as can a Basilisk. Being able to use at least two of these three elements is often critical to keeping your units alive long enough to tilt the game in your favor against an opponent like Marines whose raw statline and numbers are so superior to your own.

You can also achieve this by “cheating” in various ways that allow you to bypass their damage output, such as Tau’s Savior Protocols, as the Marines will simply be unable to damage your relevant units when they want to. Not every army is fortunate enough to have such rules, but if you do by all means take advantage of them.

If you’re looking to ditch vehicles entirely, it also helps a ton to have either a good invulnerable save or the ability to ignore AP modifiers, such as Sisters of Battle can get. Effects like Orks’ Kustom Force Field that can grant an invulnerable save to a large number of models at once are extremely valuable, as can traits that grant you an invuln or massed penalties to hit or wound. Infantry armies are generally a bit more resistant to Marines’ firepower, but you still are going to have to work to ensure that they can live through a reasonable length of game.

Screen Savers

So far we’ve talked a lot about how to deal with Marine shooting, but shooting is by no means the be-all or end-all of Marine armies, as many of them are fielding anywhere from one to six units of tough melee units that can spray out short-range firepower in the form of Centurions or Aggressors. For units like these, enabled by White Scars or Raven Guard to close the distance with speed and apply pressure to the enemy quickly, it is absolutely critical that you have cheap, effective, and expendable screens to prevent them from getting to your other units.

I’m not going to try and detail how to effectively screen here because it’s a subject that is covered better elsewhere by many other people, most of them better players than I, but the key features we are looking for in this particular instance is that your screens are fragile enough that they will fold up under even a fairly weak assault as well as being able to keep the enemy far enough back from you that they won’t get first turn charges on anything that matters.

The fragility is actually quite important in an age where there are many units with rules that prevent you from falling back from combat, who will typically pull some kind of shenanigans to avoid inflicting too much damage (e.g. by swinging with their default combat weapons rather than anything good) and thus get locked in during your turn, making them immune to all your shooting no matter how effective it might be. However, if you have a sufficiently large unit (usually 10+ bodies) and you are sufficiently easy to kill (T4, 6+ armor, etc) this can actually be pretty difficult to achieve, as it is very hard to wrap 3+ models and the morale phase gives you the opportunity to potentially pull even more members of the squad.

Mike Control

The last notable feature I want to touch on of many Marine lists is the fact that they are actually quite static. Marines, as a whole, have often been a fairly mobile army in the past, but that is not really true this edition- often they are moving all of their units in a single “castle” centered around a small blob of characters who are handing out auras and may not really be moving at all due to a preponderance of Heavy weapons.

Especially with the new ITC missions or missions like Maelstrom that heavily reward being able to control multiple objectives this means that you can potentially earn a lot of points on them by being able to control large sections of midfield that they can’t or won’t move into- you can see this with the success of mobile armies like Tau and Grey Knights where they can effectively box the Marines out of many of the objectives in a given game. Armies that can effectively take the middle of the table- even if only for a limited number of turns- can potentially out-score Marines for long enough to take a decisive lead. If you are getting Hold, Kill, Hold More, and the Bonus every turn for the first four turns, you are going to be hard-pressed to lose that game as long as you can avoid getting tabled.

The Roundup

Hopefully some of these thoughts have given you ideas for coping with Marines. Don’t misunderstand- none of these are foolproof solutions and you’re still probably going to lose more games than you win against them, but with any luck it can give you something of a fighting chance or at least turn what might’ve been a blowout game into something a little closer. Things are in a very rough state with Marines these days, but if you’re going to keep playing it means finding some kind of way or another to deal with them, so take what chances you can muster and make your best swing at things.

As always, remember you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.


About abusepuppy

AbusePuppy is the one who has been ruining 40K for everyone this whole time. He is also searching for the six-fingered man and is one of the three people who know the secret recipe for coke (not the soda, the illegal drug.)

22 Responses to “Surefire Ways to Always Beat Space Marines No Matter What”

  1. Rathstar February 26, 2020 4:49 pm #

    Always a pleasure reading your thoughts, thanks for another great article.

    • abusepuppy February 27, 2020 2:41 am #

      Glad you enjoyed it. Here’s to hoping that we see a more permanent solution to the problem in the near future.

  2. Rob Butcher February 27, 2020 2:29 am #

    An interesting read as an IF SM player.

    As LVO, the GW GT Heat 1 and Bournemouth GT showed every army can be defeated by a lucky general with a good army list and lots of experience playing it. You need that level of luck to get the right match-ups to succeed and this is a dice game.

    There is no auto-win list unlike the Tau drone spam; dark reaper spam of Ynarri; or the Knight + smash-captains + loyal 32 that have been around over the past two years!! All have there weaknesses as shown in this article.

    I wonder what will replace the SM ?

    • abusepuppy February 27, 2020 2:40 am #

      If you believe that Ynnari, Tau, or the Castellan List are more of “auto-wins” than the current Marine armies, you’re obviously not paying much attention to the actual numbers about the rates at which SM are winning events and their win percentages at all tiers of play. They are far more common than any top-tier army we have seen before and they are winning far higher percentages of games than any of the lists you talked about. Even at the height of their popularity, none of those armies compromised 50%+ of all top 8s during a given week, nor did they completely sweep the finals of major tournaments such as LVO the way Marines have.

  3. Ohlmann February 27, 2020 2:55 am #

    Oh, I remember that Rob Butcher. It’s the guy who say he talk for all the non competitive player, and also that marines are absolutely and completely fine for casuals. (the 40K attendance where I live was slashed by a solid third since the space marine)

    The absolute unit of auto-win was the Iron Hand before nerf, where there were tournaments where Iron Hand were unable to be under 3 victories. It was utterly absurd. The current incarnation is still significantly dumber than anything ever in 8th, but at least Iron Hand players can actually lose games.

    If I had to say something bad about the article, is that since it’s dry and technical, it don’t convey that most of the advices are really hard to accomplish and that most armies can only get a few of them. Don’t hope that a mass of AP -3 STR 6 shootings will win you the game ; it’s more a necessary first step for the match up to not be close to unwinnable.

  4. Robert Nathan February 27, 2020 3:53 am #

    One weapon I’d say is missing in your list for imperial and chaos, is over charging plasma guns. Especially for Iotan Dragon Scions, these could be a thorn in space marine’s sides (potentially anyway). Handy advice though 🙂

    • abusepuppy February 27, 2020 8:56 am #

      I didn’t specifically call them out, no, but obviously Plasma is quite good against a lot of things. I think most people know that already, though.

  5. Dakkath February 27, 2020 7:42 am #

    Would Smart Missiles getting to ap -2 or -3 thanks to the hardened warheads custom tenet get onto the list, or is the D1 too much of a limiter?

    • abusepuppy February 27, 2020 9:03 am #

      Smart Missiles are definitely a great weapon against almost everything, including Marines. Although the lack of multiple damage means they’re not as great as they could be, the ability to ignore LOS, ignore cover, and come with good AP means they are definitely a prime choice in the Tau army.

  6. NinetyNineNo February 27, 2020 10:31 am #

    You forgot the key strategy to deal with overpowered factions, AP: whine and wait for nerfs. This evidently yields the best results, as shown by today’s piledrive of a FAQ.

    • abusepuppy February 27, 2020 11:48 pm #

      If you think Space Marines aren’t still the best faction in the game, I want some of whatever you’re smoking.

      • NinetyNineNo February 29, 2020 3:31 pm #

        Oh don’t get me wrong, I was whining alongside everyone else. Not all whining is unjustified. I am curious how the meta’s gonna look going forward though, IF is probably on the way out but I wonder if IH will just pick up the pieces of Broviathan and run 5++/5+++ Primaris hordes, or if the assault chapters will finally have their time to shine (and conclusively shut up the “melee is worthless in 8th/all games are decided by turn 2” crew).

        • abusepuppy February 29, 2020 7:37 pm #

          Yeah IH are still gonna be good, even after losing their Doctrine they can still do a lot. They’ll switch over to Bolt Rifles rather than Stalkers I imagine, but they can still push a ton of extremely tough bodies out onto the field, though they will have to actually try slightly to bring anti-tank now rather than just living off the Leviathan.

    • Ohlmann February 28, 2020 4:57 am #

      They still got out pretty lightly by past standard.

      And there were a lot more whine about how “marine deserve to be overpowered” and false equivalency with the old knights than actual whine about marines.

  7. Martin February 28, 2020 6:02 am #

    Thanks for interesting insights.

    If you have a lot of veichles with fly (aeldari etc) which kind of screen do you prefer, veichles or infantry?

    • abusepuppy February 28, 2020 11:55 pm #

      Depends on what you’re facing. Sometimes it’s worth screening with the infantry, since the vehicles are generally going to be your firepower- however, if you’re in danger of being tri-pointed, you’ll definitely want to front with the vehicles. For this reason, I think it’s worth having some “expendable” vehicles you aren’t afraid to sacrifice in such a list.

      • Martin February 29, 2020 5:46 am #

        I’ve considered to use Swooping hawks as a screen, they are not cheap but have fly and with the new exarch power it is -2″ to charge them. I’m not sure if it’s worth it but it’s interesting.

        • abusepuppy February 29, 2020 9:12 am #

          Swooping Hawks are excellent- the only reason you don’t see more of them is that they don’t mesh well with the current versions of lists that Craftworlds tend to run. But they shoot very hard against infantry so long as you aren’t hitting 2+ saves, screen well, can inflict mortal wounds, are highly mobile, and can reserve to steal objectives.

          • Martin February 29, 2020 11:35 am

            Agree, I’m surprised that you don’t see them more often in craftworld list.

          • Martin February 29, 2020 1:23 pm

            What do you mean with “don’t mesh well with current lists”? That they don’t have a useful roll in a mechdar list?

          • abusepuppy February 29, 2020 7:39 pm

            Mechdar lists want to be fielding all vehicle targets if possible, because putting any infantry on the table means that the enemy has an easy target for their Thunderfire Cannons, Bolt Rifles, etc, etc. They also don’t need the screening quite as much as some other versions, although that’s not to say they couldn’t make _any_ use of it.

          • Martin March 1, 2020 5:13 am


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