Know Your Enemy – How To Beat Space Marines

Space Marines in all their colours make up over 30% of the 40k Meta.  The question is; What are you going to do about it?

Hello and welcome to ‘Know Your Enemy’ a series of articles that will explore the know-how of the various factions in the Warhammer 40k Tabletop Game. This chapter will dive into the weaknesses of the Astartes Faction. I am Skari, one of the Art of War coaches and I specialize in game mentality. Many of you might have me pegged as a die hard Drukhari player, however the first army that I collected and played were the Black Templars. This gives a unique chance to write this series as I am able to appreciate what weaknesses the Space Marine faction has from both perspectives, playing as them and playing against them. With the experience of multiple tournaments and competitive practice matches under my belt the goal of this series is to give you a theoretical and practical road map to being able to understand the faction, realize its weaknesses and ultimately use this information to beat them in your games! 

I chose to start this series with Space Marines because they are the most popular faction in the 40k game. Most people own or have owned a space marine army and therefore you are likely to run into them when playing the game, either at a tournament or a pick-up game at your local game store. This is a broad statement however as space marines come in all types. On one hand, you have the methodical durability of the Deathwing, on the other hand, you have the speed and hitting power of the White Scars, and everything else in between. Because of this, the How To Beat Space Marines article series will aim to encompass all of the main space marine sub-factions and chapters. This initial article is a dive into the general concepts that rule all space marines as a faction, and each subsequent article will dive into the nuances and specifics of the Chapters. The weaknesses of the Space Wolves are not the same as the Ultramarines for example, so other articles can focus on more specifics. This also applies to other factions, chaos, eldar, orks and necrons; so you can expect another Know Your Enemy article soon! 

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With that being said, let’s dive in and find out, How To Beat Space Marines. 

First we have to identify what the main weaknesses of the space marines are and once we have done that we will give some examples on how to exploit those weaknesses. Let us break down the faction:

Main Weaknesses Of The Space Marines 

They are an elite army – Space Marines have many great options to pick from in their Codex. However in comparison to other armies and factions they tend to have an “elite” feel. This means that the armies will usually be built with a lower number of units. Each unit tends to be worth more points, however fewer in number. This has a few ramifications, the main one to remember is that of board control and support characters. Space Marines tend to want to play as one powerful pocket or unit or bubble, or as multiple bubbles on the table, this means that they tend to not want to spread out across the table too much. They tend to gravitate towards controlling the center of the table or a position from which they can attack multiple objectives from their centralized position. This is a tough prospect for any army to face, however, this means that they tend to project what their thought process is as they do it, there is little subtlety in this so you, as their opponent can see this happening and can use movement, move blocking, or reserves to exploit this. 

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Popularity of Choice  – 

Space Marines being a popular army is also a weakness to the faction. Players tend to gravitate towards the more widespread popular choices in list building because there are such a large number of vocal players on the internet that analyze, break down and explain the inclusion of the “best” choices for any Space Marine armies. Some examples of this include things like the obligatory master apothecary (sorry space wolves), Bladeguard and/or Vanguard Veterans with lightning claws and storm shields, even things like the Inceptors with plasma, you can probably right now thing of half a dozen more Astartes units that would be in almost every list!

And that is the point; ‘in every list” means that you can more accurately and deliberately make choices in your own army list creation, when developing a competitive build, to better combat the choices that are the most likely to be used in a space marine army. When you stress test your list, and determine if it can deal with the main threats it will face when playing against the space marines, odds are you will know what units you need to run the numbers against. This means that when the time comes to play the game, you are more likely to have included the tools to deal with anything the space marine player can throw at you and then you. Having the same units in the army be strong is a weakness, as it allows you the knowledge to come into the game prepared. 

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Reliance on key miniatures for buffs

Space Marines like to use their rerolls and key miniatures are the ones that hand out these unit enhancements and buffs. This next weakness ties in to the two that we have explored earlier. Being Elite their armies tend to stick together and lose cohesion and power as you split them apart, you also tend to know what each of these specific buff units do in the army because they are so popular and they are seen all the time. The elite armies also really benefit from things like re rolls, and free models to maximise on their effectiveness, however most of these buffs and re rolls are given within a specific radius, and therefore encourages the marine player to stick together, you can also use this to your advantage to prey on their reliance on these re rolls to move around the table and try to force the enemy into a dilemma, split up to deal with the threat (and therefore loose your buffs) or stay close together to keep the buffs but lose the table control. 

Those are some of the main and more important elements that can be considered weaknesses of the Space Marines. I am sure you can think of some others so make sure you comment below to let me know what else the Astartes struggle with. We also need to now talk about some of the main things you can build into your list to combat the space marines.

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Exploit The Kinks in their Armour 

What can you put into your list to best combat space marines:

Mortal Wounds – These are a fantastic way of killing the tough and armoured space marines. Being able to simply do wounds, and bypass most if not all of the elite units protective capabilities means that you will have the tools to eliminate the target you put your mind to clearing an objective, or softening up a target before a charge for example. Also note if you have a way to inflict targeted mortal wounds that allow you to pick characters this is also very strong, and helps you ignore the Company Veterans that stop you from being able to shoot characters nearby.

Objective Secured Units – Many of the most popular Space Marine choices lack the Objective Secured rule. They do have the ability to give buff characters an aura that confers it to units, however having a lot of “ObSec” in your army will help you play the mission more efficiently and force the space marine player to be more careful with his auras and positioning of said units and characters. This can help you dictate the pace of the game when it comes to scoring points and board control or even forcing the Space Marines to change their target priority to stay in the point game at the cost of ignoring the units that could damage them more easily. In other words, have the units in your list that will allow you to put pressure on the mission. 

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Reserves and Speed – Capitalize on the elite bubble format of the space marines by forcing them to commit to screening the table. Using a portion of your army to threaten the space marines from different angles, the last thing you want (unless your DeathGuard) is to have a head to head fight in the middle of the table. Split up the marines with units that can move over their main advance line, or reserve in behind them. All armies have the capacity to use Strategic Reserves to keep things in their back pocket, so I recommend you get familiar with how those rules work and find the best units within your codex that can fit into that role. 

When in doubt trust in better AP – Space Marines have great armour, amazing toughness and awesome invulnerable saves even ways to make it hard to wound them to mitigate damage and resurrect models. I have found that stocking up on weapons that have decent AP (like 2 or 3 preferably) helps. Even something like ignoring the light cover bonus can really help when trying to do damage. I feel this is preferable to low shot high damage weapons as they tend to bounce off the invulnerables more readily. Don’t mix my meaning though you still need good anti tank weapons to kill the dreadnoughts or attack bikes, or light tanks. However when in doubt I have found that stopping the space marines from being able to take their best armour saves due to storm shields and light cover is the most impactful over the course of many turns. 

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Screening and Sacrificial units – These units are also called speed bumps. You have to build units into your list that can be put in the way of space marine units with the sole purpose of slowing the movement of the marines down and preventing them from gaining position on the table, this also serves the purpose of buying you a turn before the enemy gets to where they wanted to go, every turn you can spend shooting the space marines and preventing them from overwhelming your position is another turn that you can use to manoeuvre, or score points. Units that can screen your backfield and prevent the space marines from deep striking behind you or outflanking are also incredibly useful, like this you can dictate the direction that they will be advancing on you from. 

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And there you have it, the main weaknesses of Space Marine armies. Space Marines are an Elite, durable army that relies on buff characters to get the most out of the army. You can build specific things into your list or use clear tangible gaming tactics to take advantage of these weaknesses to get an advantage in the game that will help you win. Please comment with what you think are the main weaknesses of the Astartes, did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments. The aim of this article series is to break down all the various factions and how to beat them. The plan is to cover the chapters, one at a time as they each have unique playstyles, units and strategies. What Chapter should I cover first? What other armies would you like an article on in the future? Let me know! 

I have been your grateful Author – Skari – If you want to reach out for coaching, list building or more make sure you check out the menu on the AoW40k Website and find what is best for you.  Till the next chapter! 

Skari – out. 


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