Since the first edition of Warhammer 40,000, Space Marines have remained at the forefront of the franchise. Also known as the Legion Astartes, Space Marines are genetically modified superhuman soldiers and the greatest defenders of Humanity. Through association with Warhammer 40,000 overall, Space Marines continue to be popular as a human-facing faction with a wealth of sub-factions (also known as chapters) available.
Best Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine chapters
There are roughly a thousand Space Marine chapters with about a quarter named and described, all illustrated within the lore. Even that number is in question, though, as the Eighth Edition Codex points out the Administratum's bookkeeping is too inefficient to get an exact number. Ironically, you could say their administration of record-keeping follows the overall grimdark tone of Warhammer 40,000.
You don't have to worry about the countless chapter options, as Games Workshop has whittled this down to 13 within its product range. With this, we’ve selected the six best Space Marine chapters to get you started on your Warhammer 40,000 journey. Whether you are looking for the next competitive-winning army, or want something flavourful, there’s a chapter suitable for you.
1. Iron Hands
"Humans do not submit to fate. We shape it."
Since Warhammer 40,000's Eighth Edition, Iron Hands have swept tables with Leviathan Dreadnoughts - which eventually demanded a revision to the rules as the chapter dominated competitive events. Even with the errata, the Iron Hands remain an excellent Space Marine chapter due to their ability to apply pressure from afar and in close combat. Leading with Iron Father Feirros and an Apothecary with the Father of the Future trait should be the baseline of any Iron Hands army. With these two units, you will have access to Feel No Pain which bolsters your invulnerable saves, ensuring your units stick around during combat.
You also have access to powerful stratagems such as Calculated Fury, which allows you to move and fire heavy weapons without any hit penalty. As such, Iron Hands are excellent at siegecraft thanks to abilities such as Blessing of the Machine God. Combining this with Psysteel Armour, you can give your vehicles strong survivability and an additional counter to units that have penalties to hit.
If you think flesh is for the weak and favour the confidence of Iron, or fancy shooting first with little concern for the outcome, then the Iron Hands are for you.
"What does not kill me... is not trying hard enough."
At the forefront of Warhammer 40,000’s narrative, the Ultramarines are a popular chapter amongst players and Warhammer store employees. The Ultramarines are known to be one of the most flexible chapters within the Space Marine faction. They're able to move freely around the board while picking and choosing combats they want to be involved with. Given the emphasis on capturing objectives in Ninth Edition, this makes the Ultramarines a solid tabletop option.
You have access to the powerful Chapter doctrine called the Scion of Guilliman, this offers a huge boost for non-vehicle heavy weapon units like Devastators and Suppressors, who can stay mobile without losing damage output. You can round out your list with powerful characters such as Chief Librarian Tigirus, who is one of the best psykers in the game.
Ultramarines do plenty of things well. However, they don't strive for anything unique. Think of the Ultramarines as a 'jack of all trades' Space Marines chapter where you can cover plenty of bases. This is ideal if you are looking to build an army without a particular theme in mind, or want to keep your list as low maintenance as possible. If you enjoy playing as a Lawful Good character in Dungeons & Dragons or think Roboute Guilliman is the best tactician within the Warhammer landscape, the Ultramarines are a great starting point into the franchise.
3. White Scars
"Only poets can be true warriors."
The White Scars are an assault-focused Space Marine chapter; they charge with blistering pace before the enemy has a chance to respond. By using assault bikes and jump packs, White Scars can attack with deadly precision to wipe out threats at the right time. Their biggest strength lies in delivering the enemy to the fight, and they have the best tools for reaching close combat with ease. With this, White Scars are excellent at taking objectives and breaking up enemy strongpoints, which is a huge aspect of Ninth Edition.
Once you are ready to throw your army into combat, you can use a blend of the Ride the Winds and the relic Plume of the Planesrunner to give your infantry units +3 to advance. Even a unit of Centurions will be outpacing normal infantry and an evasive unit such as a Smash Captain will be approaching absurd speeds when entering combat. Coupled with the psychic ability to ignore overwatch that targets your units, White Scars are a deadly chapter if utilised correctly. If you like making 'Nyoooom' sounds while moving assault bikes into combat, or enjoy coating your models in endless amounts of white paint, the White Scars are an excellent army to ride into battle.
4. Blood Angels
"By the blood of Sanguinius!"
The Blood Angels are a noble Space Marine chapter with a terrible curse. They aim to protect the helpless but are plagued with a flaw in their gene stock, known as the Red Thirst. With this trait, Blood Angels end up as a powerful melee-focused chapter with various methods of jumping into combat quickly. Blood Angels are one of the more popular chapters amongst players, as there is so much individuality that sets them apart from the rest. Not to mention, Blood Angels offer some of the best-looking character models within Warhammer 40,000.
You'll want to slant your Blood Angels list towards melee gameplay since this is the chapter's biggest strength. As such, you can use Strategic Reserves to buy you time for the Assault Doctrine and Savage Echoes to kick in. Not only will your units enter as hyper-aggressive space vampires, but your strongest melee units are sheltered from enemy firepower until then. However, it does take time to play Blood Angels right. It's effortless to rush into combat and assume you'll tear everything apart, but this is where specific secondary units such as the Death Company and the Sanguine Guard come into play.
If you enjoy getting up close and personal, while wailing over the loss of Primarch Sanguinius, then the Blood Angels may pique your interest.
"Protect the weak, no matter who it is!"
Similar to the Blood Angels, the Salamanders see themselves as protectors of the vulnerable and downtrodden. Despite holding a similar cause, the Salamanders opt for a more brazen approach - with huge Flamers and Melta Guns to scorch their opponents into the dirt.
The Salamanders are warrior-craftspeople that heed to the glory of the Imperium of Man. The chapter carries this ideology onto the tabletop, where they can easily take down vehicles due to their talents with heavy weaponry. The Salamanders have impressive defensive capabilities, such as the Forged in Battle rule, which lets you reroll a hit roll and a wound roll on overwatch shots. Then there’s the Promethean Cult ability, which is the biggest draw to playing the chapter. It's a simple ability, but it grants your flame and Melta weapons receive +1 to wound when Tactical Doctrine is in effect.
While they fall short in long-range shooting, the Salamanders are an admirable chapter. They care about searing everything in sight while adorned in the finest scales and relics on offer.
6. Imperial Fists
"Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon."
Decorated in blazing yellow, the Imperial Fists are staunch defenders of the Imperium since the Great Crusade. Similar to the Iron Hands, the Imperial Fists are excellent at blasting enemy fortifications and establishing their own. Thanks to the Siege Masters Chapter Tactic, the chapter can hose Bolters better than anyone else. Going further, the Imperial Fists shine bright in Intercessor-heavy builds going into the Tactical Doctrine.
With these abilities in mind, you'll want to focus on taking objectives early as possible. Given that Ninth Edition centres around holding objectives, stratagems such as Bolster Defences and Shield Unwavering contribute to this approach favourably. At times, you'll want to be aggressive and take objectives - which is where the Redemptor Dreadnoughts come in. Even after spending their first turn with Legacy of Dorn firepower, these Dreadnoughts remain useful during a game. Despite the chapter looking like target practice on legs, the Imperial Fists are a resilient option if you fancy a bit of colour compared to the Iron Fists.
Space Marines remain a strong option no matter the chapter you decide. Combining the blend of resilient infantry, diverse transportation and capable melee options allows for a variety of ways to approach Warhammer 40,000. Space Marines will continue to see generous support from Games Workshop since they are the headline faction within the franchise. As a result, Space Marines will always feature at the top tables due to their evergreen popularity and accessibility.
Whether you are looking to sweep tables, looking to enrich the lore, or aiming for something more casual, there is a flavour of Space Marine for every kind of Warhammer player.