The Elites choices in the Space Marine army are largely just buffed up versions of their other units, having largely the same profiles just with a few added points here and there. They remain Space Marines at heart, jacks of all trades, but masters of none in particular.
Firstly we have arguably the worst choice in the section in the form of Vanguard Veterans; close combat veterans who can take jump packs and all manner of awesome power weapons (any model can take items from the “melee weapons” list in the armoury). If they don’t take jump packs, they can take a Dedicated Transport. They also have a special rule that allows them to ignore penalties for disordered charges (defensive grenades won’t work against them and they can multi-assault and still get +1 attack) and allows their sergeant to automatically pass Initiative tests to make a Glorious Intervention. All of this sounds great, right? Well, it would be if they were not horrendously expensive. The way I see it, the only way to field these squads is to approach it with modesty. Jump packs are a must unless you plan on taking a Land Raider as a Heavy Support as they need the delivery system to get them into close combat. Various power weapons should be carefully approached as well, as to avoid their points spiralling out of control. It is very easy to end up with a 10 man squad weighing in at about 400 or 500 points. The problem with the high points cost is that they are still just a Space Marine; Toughness 4 and a 3+ Armour save will only save you from so much, but for the points an opponent could easily leverage a lot of either fire power or bodies to drown them in. For example, I would be very confident that I could kill a Vanguard Veteran squad with my Dark Eldar in close combat for a lot less points, using Wyches and Incubi to kill them before they could even strike. That’s fighting them on their grounds too, I would be far more likely to just gun them down with whatever small arms fire I have at my disposal; even enough lasguns will take them down with relative ease. They are, however, the most Eldar unit in the Space Marine codex: they are fast moving, pack a punch, but fall over if your opponent so much as pays them attention. For their points, they are not worth it, but can be fun to field. Saying all of that against them, I will frequently take a kitted out squad in my own Marine list because I like them. I’m just saying that they are not competitive.
How there is a rivalry between these guys and their Vanguard brethren is beyond me; these bolter wielding veterans are vastly better than their so-called rivals. They are only marginally more expensive, have more utility (for the points) and have more survivable options. Their specialised ammunition means that they can deal with any target that is not a vehicle or a Terminator, though this can be circumvented by combi-weapon options. I would say that any weapon that is not a combi-weapon is not worth taking for a Sternguard Veteran squad, as their strength comes from the versatility of their specialist ammunition which only works with bolters and bolter components of combi-weapons. I see them run in two ways.
First, there is the kamikaze Drop Pod Sternguard with combi-meltas. This configuration is a small(ish) unit of Sternguard wielding combi-meltas in a Drop Pod with the job of turning your opponent’s favourite vehicle or heavy unit into a pile of slag before they can do anything with it. I generally dislike this set up because I am a minimal-losses kind of person when it comes to 40k and can’t justify buying a 200+ point unit that will basically be a throw away. That’s not how I operate, but I could certainly see it giving you that edge, if not mechanically then psychologically. Warhammer 40k is also a battle of wills, not just strategy and chance.
Secondly, there is the supportive Sternguard. These are Sternguard who stay near the middle of your army, providing fire support where there bolters are needed (and counter charging if necessary, 2 Attacks base is still very useful!). Again, I feel that they would benefit from a Drop Pod to allow you to get them in the middle of the board without taking a turn or two of shooting from your opponent. The likes of Tau, Eldar or Astra Militarum have the capabilities on the first turn to reduce a few of your squads to below combat effectiveness, so avoiding that is always a plus, allowing your more expensive unit to come in after the cheaper options have softened up the enemy a little. Either that or give them a Rhino or Razorback (depending on the size of the squad taken) because they are cheap and provide an extra layer of both protection and mobility.
A fairly iconic unit in the Space Marine codex, the Dreadnought is a nice, versatile unit that can largely find a place in any army. A Dreadnought can be outfitted with many different heavy weapons and can take on either a supportive or a close combat role, though with the introduction of 7th edition allowing any unit to score objectives, the ranged variant of Dreadnought has become more useful. Firstly, I would just like to point out that a Venerable Dreadnought is basically the same as a normal one with a Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill of 5 as opposed to 4, but with a very, very useful addition: the Venerable special rule. What this does is it allows you to make your opponent re-roll the result on the Vehicle Damage table when you suffer a penetrating hit. Considering that now you need a 7+ after modifiers to wreck vehicles in 7th edition, this extra rule is worth every point.
When it comes to weapon options, you can choose to either go as a long range anti-vehicle firing platform, giving your Dreadnought a twin-linked lascannon and a missile launcher. You can outfit it for ranged anti-infantry support with a whole host of combinations, such as two twin-linked autocannons if you want to double as a light-vehicle counter. However, I believe that unless you want to take the lascannon and missile launcher build stated first, then you are better off keeping the Dreadnought’s close combat weapon to give it Strength 10 and AP2 in close combat. Not only this, but you can also upgrade the storm bolter on the close combat weapon to a heavy flamer, which in my opinion is a no-brainer and should always be taken. My favourite close range build for a Dreadnought is to take a twin-linked heavy flamer on the gun arm, with a Dreadnought close combat weapon and attached heavy flamer on the other. Remember that Walkers can still fire Overwatch, so it’s a nice addition to have in defense, let alone the damage that two heavy flamers can do. In this build I would always put the Dreadnought in a Drop Pod as otherwise your opponent will simply destroy it as it trundled up the board with a few lascannon shots or racial equivalent. With a Dreadnought close combat weapon, any of the arm options would work, but in my opinion the twin-linked heavy flamer and the assault cannon are your best options.
Basically a siege Dreadnought, this variant has more Front and Side armour and a lot more melee options. There is no point trying to go with a ranged build here, it’s best to just maximise on anti-armour capabilities, dreadnought close combat weapon (heavy flamer upgrade here is advisable, but not as essential as it is with the Dreadnought) and a chainfist in a Drop Pod to go hunt vehicles and fortifications. The seismic hammer is a nice idea, but I think that the chainfist is more useful, especially as it is a free upgrade.
I will re-iterate that a Drop Pod for an Ironclad is nothing short of essential. Walking across the board at 6” per turn will leave you dead in the middle of the board. Take a Drop Pod!
Legion of the Damned
This unit is a strange one. I love the idea of them, but I also can’t see them as being very useful. Sure, they have a 3++ invulnerable save, Deep Strike with a re-roll to the Scatter dice and their ranged attacks ignore cover, but they also cost an arm and a leg to field. In my opinion you are better off fielding Sternguard, as they are more useful than this squad, however I will not deny that I would field this unit for the sheer awesome factor that they possess. After all, they are flaming, ghost marines who just appear where they want and then leave without so much as a word. What’s not to love about that?
I really like this unit. In my opinion, this is one of those cornerstone units that everyone should include due to their iconic nature. Veteran Space Marines wearing suits of Tactical Dreadnought Armour. As to how they appear on the tabletop, Terminators received a huge buff when 6th edition hit and still retain it in 7th with power weapons generally getting knocked down to AP3 or Unwieldy. This is a unit to have on the front lines, but you also have to be careful to not get swamped. Terminators are great at shooting, all wielding storm bolters with decent options for weapon upgrades, and are decent close combat, all wielding power fists with two Attacks each, though the sergeant has a power sword instead (I prefer the power fists on the ordinary members of the squad). Each of the weapon options are good and depends on personal preference, though I have my favourite in the assault cannon. Are you a Salamanders player, or want your Terminators right at the front? Take a heavy flamer. Do you want some long range capabilities as you move forward or some anti-vehicle ranged power? Take the cyclone missile launcher. Want a weapon that can deal with anything apart from heavy vehicles at range? Take the assault cannon. It’s also useful to include one or two chainfists in the squad to give them that extra punch in case they get assaulted by a Walker or want to pop open a tank themselves.
They can also take a Land Raider of any type as a Dedicated Transport, though I would not advise it unless you wanted to take a Land Raider as a Heavy Support anyway, as that way you would free up a slot for something else. I would simply Deep Strike them near a unit with a teleport homer, such as infiltrating Scouts, though unit synergies will come later.
Terminator Assault Squad
Identical to Terminator Squads in every single way apart from their weapons. The choice for each Terminator, sergeant included, is either a pair of lightning claws for shredding all kinds of infantry, or thunder hammers and storm shields for giving them ridiculous survivability and the capacity to kill almost anything in close combat at the expense of volume of attacks and re-rolls on the To Wound dice that lightning claws give. In my opinion it is better to specialise here, either give them all lightning claws (and run them with a Terminator Chaplain in a Land Raider Redeemer/Crusader. More on unit synergies later down the line!) or all thunder hammers and storm shields. A mix is a nice compromise, however it makes them even more like the Space Marine codex, jacks of all trades, but masters of none, which is generally not something you want to do. Specialise, give it a job and stick to that job, being wary of your opponent’s attempts to foil your attempts and they will perform far better than if you try to gear them up for everything.
This unit has no shooting at all, so I would always give them a Land Raider Dedicated Transport as Deep Striking will leave you out in the open for a whole turn, giving your opponent the perfect opportunity to kill them off with shooting. A Land Raider on the other hand is an Assault Vehicle, meaning that you may disembark and charge in the same turn, giving your opponent no chances to shoot at you other than Overwatch (which is largely terrible, unless you face Tau, then it is rather average). The Land Raider taken would depend on the squad size, as well as what else is in your army. If you only have five Terminators and no other models to go with them, the standard Land Raider is a decent, but not amazing choice unless you need more anti-vehicle fire power in your army, as the two twin-linked lascannons are not close range weapons; more importantly, it does not have frag assault launchers, meaning that any lightning claws that you choose to take in the squad will strike at Initiative 1 if you go through any terrain when charging. If you have any other models in Terminator armour, such as a Terminator HQ choice, I would choose the Redeemer as the two flamestorm cannons pack a lot of punch to help your Terminators as they go in: simply drive up, melt a squad to the left and then use the Power of the Machine Spirit to melt a separate squad to the right as well. If you have a chunky Terminator unit (8 models total), then the Crusader is your only choice and is far from a bad one, packing enough anti-infantry fire power to give the Terminators and easier time charging in. Also, the Redeemer and the Crusader both have frag assault launchers, an item that counts your Terminators as having assault grenades if they charge on the same turn as they disembark (which they will, won’t they? Or they will get shot at by a lot of enemy units). A life saver when using lightning claws!
Centurion Assault Squad
No! No, no, no, no, no, no! Unless you want to run them for fluff reasons, having them fight in a siege scenario or something along those lines, these are not worth taking at all. It’s a close combat unit that gets almost no Attacks and almost no models total due to squad limits and points costs. Sure, they have Strength and Toughness 5. Sure, they have 2 Wounds. Sure, they have a 2+ Armour save. They also only have 1 Attack each, no Invulnerable save and cost 60pts per model. They are great if you want to play a fluffy siege scenario, but mechanically they are just so counter-productive. In close combat, you need numbers of attacks or bodies, or an utter intractability that will leave your opponent in a tar pit for the rest of the game. Centurion Assault squads fill none of these criteria, having almost no models in the close combat, having very few Attacks each and having no Invulnerable save so anyone with an AP2 weapon can just carve through them like a hot knife through butter.
They’re just not very good. Sorry.