“How do I beat Space Marines?” is one of the most common questions among 40K players these days. To understand how to beat Space Marines, you have to accept two things:
- They will shoot more efficiently than you.
- They will fight more efficiently than you (probably).
Where most people go wrong is they look at those two bullet points, think “this game is hopeless”, and go online to complain about Marines instead of practicing against them. But there is a crucial third bullet point:
- Scoring in 9th Edition 40K has almost nothing to do with how well you can shoot or fight.
To beat Marines, you need to have a list that scores Primary points well and can score several Secondaries independently of what your opponent does. While this article is written from a Daemons player’s perspective, hopefully players of all factions can gain some insight into how to approach the Marine matchup. As a former Marine player, I understand that different chapters can have very different units and playstyles, so I’ll discuss specifics of playing against specific Chapters when relevant.
Let’s dive in. What’s the best way to beat an army with oppressively good shooting? Entirely prevent them from being able to shoot you. And Daemons have a unique tool to do just that…
The Contorted Epitome (and its friends, Fiends!)
There are few units in the game with as much upside as the Contorted Epitome, once you’ve learned to become very precise with your Fight phase movement. For those that don’t know, the Contorted Epitome has an aura that prevents units within 6″ from falling back unless they pass a Leadership check on 3 D6 under their leadership. This can be used to tag multiple units of yours into combat with a Marine unit, keep the Marine unit in place, and ensure that no other Marines unit can shoot any of your units in the following Shooting phase.
Let me show you a picture of what I mean. This was from a game I played against the #1 ranked Dark Angels player at a tournament last month. He seemed certain to win over the first two turns as his shooting was blowing my army off the board, but a key “Epitome wrap” kept just enough of my army alive through his turn 3 to deliver a huge blow and then repeat the cycle each of the remaining turns, racing across the objectives and scoring enough points to win.
9th Edition requires you to use your melee weapon if a model has it, so try to charge a unit near your wrap target, kill it, and then consolidate into the wrap target so you don’t accidentally kill the wrap target. In the example above, there was another Ravenwing unit in between the two Razorbacks at the start of my turn. I declared the Bloodletters, Nurglings, and Contorted Epitome all charging into the Ravenwing unit, and nothing else. The Bloodletters wiped out the unit and piled into the Razorback, while the Nurglings got a free 6″ of movement from piling in and consolidating into the second Razorback and the Epitome was free to move 6″ forward and end within 6″ of both Razorbacks, trapping them both.
Pro tip: Instead of saying “I prevented these units from being shot”, say “These units have a 1++ invuln save against shooting this turn”. It feels much more badass.
Build A List That Can Score Secondaries Without Relying On Kill Secondaries
One of the strengths of Marines is that their lists generally don’t give up enough points to make any killing secondaries worth picking. A typical Marine list will only have 30-40 models, 2 or 3 vehicles, and around 3 Characters.
What that means if you need to bring units that can effectively score Secondaries without interacting with your opponents. Great choices are bringing Furies to Deploy Scramblers, durable “Look Out, Sir!” HQs like Horticulus Slimux to score While We Stand We fight, or Daemonettes to Raise The Banners High.
Plan your Secondaries ahead of time, in the list-building phase, so that you don’t get to the table and then have trouble picking three Secondaries that don’t involve killing.
One thing to keep in mind is that if the Marines list doesn’t have any Psykers, they have no ability to interact with your psychic actions. Both of the Marine stratagems to deny an enemy cast on a roll of a 4+ (Black Templarss Abhor The Witch and Iron Hands’ Souls of Iron) only affect psychic powers, not psychic actions. I’ve seen Marine players often try to use these against psychic actions (it’s an easy mistake to make in good faith), so make sure to correct them if they attempt to deny your victory points.
Screen, Screen, Screen
Screening, and pre-measuring your opponent’s threat ranges, are the most important skills in the Marines matchup. Most of their strong units are mid-range shooting and combat oriented, especially now that Repulsor Executioners have received a significant nerf with the loss of double-shooting and <Core> re-rolls.
Marines are capable of brutal turn one alpha strikes with units deepstriking out of Drop Pods. To prevent them from getting in range of your valuable targets, you should take Nurglings that can deploy outside your deployment zone and screen out their threat range/Line of Sight angles, even on turn one. Previously this wasn’t much of an issue for Daemons, because Marine players generally ran Devastators with Grav-Cannons in their Drop Pods which were ineffective against Daemons. A shift in the meta towards melta or flamers coming out of their Drop Pods means this becomes a legitimate concern for Daemons again.
The biggest threat Marines players can bring these days is Eradicators, which any chapter can place in Strategic Reserves for 1 CP. I have seen several units of Eradicators kill every Greater Daemon we have, even the buffed Lord of Change with a the Impossible Robe/Incorporeal Form/Aura of Mutability. Eradicators need to be screened, when possible. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that Strategic Reserves requires you to come in within 6″ of a board edge, which is extremely limiting. The best way to screen Strategic Reserves is advance a throwaway unit as far up one board edge as you can, which quickly limits their threat range towards targets in the middle of the board (seriously, go to a table and measure the theoretical 24″ threat range to the middle of the table if they have to come in on a board edge far up the board–you’ll be surprised at how safe your half of the board is, even on the smaller boards of 9th Edition). Worst comes to worst, make sure you at least keep a unit 3.1″ in front of your important targets, because preventing them from deepstriking within 12″ and getting increased melta damage is a must.
Keep in mind that Dark Angels have the ability to deepstrike their Terminators in only 6″ away if they are near a Ravenwing unit. In addition, they can double move a Ravenwing unit, so you would have to physically place models to prevent a Ravenwing unit from moving where it needs to be to summon in Terminators close to you.
Hit Modifiers (Bring Out Your Plaguebearers!)
Anyone that used to run Plaguebearers, only to get tired of scooping them off the table as they got massacred by Aggressors and Centurions, knows how ineffective Hit modifiers are against Chapter Master full re-rolls. Fortunately for our slow and stinky friends, the new Marine codex updated Chapter Master to only give full Hit rerolls to a single unit in each battle round. Notably, this is declared at the start of the round, meaning Chapter Master cannot be applied to any unit coming out of reserves.
What does this mean? Hit modifiers are back on the menu as a core defensive tactic!
While hit modifiers are capped so we can no longer have a unit of -2 to Hit Plaguebearers, having greatly reduced re-rolls against -1 to Hit units is a big survivability boost. In addition, Khorne and Tzeentch finally received access to Hit modifiers through Dense Cover, which is a big boon for Lords of Change and Bloodthirsters.
And while we’re on the topic of Plaguebearers… you know what Plaguebearers really didn’t like? Aggressors shooting 100+ bolter shots with full re-rolls. Not only are the full re-rolls reduced, but Aggressors have completely lost the rule to shoot twice if they remain stationary (which was easily played around by Ultramarines and Salamanders). The book on Marines had become that they were extremely efficient against hordes through volumes of re-rolling dice, but I think we need to reevaluate this conventional wisdom in light of their new codex.
Playing Around Judiciars
Judiciars can be backbreaking if you’re a melee army, because even shooting focused Marine infantry put out significant amounts of attacks if they are able to fight before your charging unit. Fortunately, the Daemons counter is rather easy. The Rare Rules section explicitly specifies that “fight last” abilities like the Judiciar has are cancelled by “fight first” abilities, and every single Slaanesh unit has the Quicksilver Swiftness rule that enables them to fight first. Your Slaanesh units can charge units near a Judiciar with impunity. While Quicksilver Swiftness was a largely irrelevant rule in 8th Edition, the increasing amount of “fight last” abilities in the game are making it more impactful.
The general trick for countering a Judiciar is staying outside of 3″ of the Judiciar when you charge (his fight last ability activates at the start of the Fight phase) and waiting until you pile-in to get within 3″. If a single chargeable point in the unit you want to charge is more than 2.1″ away from the Judiciar, you can safely charge that unit because you can end your charge 3.1″ away from the Judiciar. In addition, the Forbidden Gem can be activated at the start of the Fight phase to prevent the Judiciar from having any impact. The Forbidden Gem does specify that you can only use it in an opponent’s phase so it won’t help if you’re the one charging, but could have a big impact if you heroically intervene near the Judiciar or if there is an ongoing combat nearby.
Slay The Corpse Worshippers
This section is the least interesting and the most straightforward, but just as important: Make sure you have units that can kill Marine bodies efficiently. Sources of Mortal Wounds such as Lords of Change and Flamers excel in this matchup. Units such as Bloodletters and Keepers of Secrets have enough attacks and AP to produce reliable damage even if your opponent uses Transhuman Physiology or an equivalent (like the new rule Inner Circle members of the Dark Angels received).
Space Marines can also now revive models at full Wounds instead of with one Wound remaining, giving increased importance to finishing off a squad of high value models. In addition, their Chief Apothecary now gives a permanent 6+++ Feel No Pain aura (note that this no longer combines with the Iron Hands trait to produce a 5+++ Feel No Pain). It only affects units within a 3″ aura so it won’t cover the vast majority of the board. You can generally play around it in practice, but for situations where you have to attack a unit near a Chief Apothecary, try to use weapons that have a damage characteristic higher than the Wounds characteristic of the unit you’re attacking. This is due to the fact you have to waste an entire extra attack killing (for example) a 3 Wound unit if they make even a single 6+++ Feel No Pain roll against a 3 Damage attack, which will happen 42% of the time. Keepers of Secrets generally are great at killing Gravis armoured units, but become rather inefficient at killing Gravis units near an Apothecary. Use high volume of 1 damage attacks (like Flamers or Bloodletters) to kill Space Marines near their Chief Apothecary, and use your multi-damage attacks to kill units elsewhere.
And lastly, going back to the bullet point at the start of the article: Don’t try to outshoot them. Playing their game is just going to lead to frustration for you. Skull Cannons, Burning Chariots, and Horrors are all fun units that will never trade efficiently with Marines, and would be a poor use of points.
Don’t stress if you’re facing a Marine player at a tournament or pickup game. Come in with a game plan, execute the mission, and you will find yourself beating Marines often. Have fun, stay safe, and may the Dark Gods bless your rolls.