Overall, I expect Ultras and Fists will rise to the top though, as Scars still have the whole 'we have to jink to survive' issue, and just can't quite find the 'oomph' against the likes of Necrons and Eldar (this will be part of a recurring theme). Ultras became the premier tactics for drop pod armies last time, and I expect those will still be (or rise to be more so) popular and potent. Fists' big selling point is that they get to work with the new cheaper Sternguard now, all while Pedro got extensive buffs. Oh, and slapping tank hunter into the Skyhammer (another soon to recur theme) is pretty solid too.
Sternguard weren't quite the great I gave them last time (despite my best efforts) but Legion sure were (if you need them in a Gladius, consult your local allies matrix). I still think Sterns are good, but they do need a little more TLC than I was willing to give them or show them, especially since last codex saw the death of the cap 12 pod, meaning a librarian and captain couldn't just hug it out on the center console while the pod came in. That said, this, to me, kicks us into the most recurring theme in or of the codex: MSU; multiple small units. See, where Necrons' Decurion grants them armywide, undeniable FnP 4+, and the Craftworld Host gives a free 6 on Battle Focus, Marines get a set of combat doctrines, and a mess of Objective Secured from the Gladius and its associated formations. And when I say OS, I don't mean just a combined arms detachment 'oh boy my troops get it', I mean that most of a Gladius will have OS, whether they took the full battle company (they shouldn't, but more on that later) or not.
That underlines or highlights a power disparity in formation detachment already though. Eldar are fast and the Necrons do not die, especially as my opponents and I have found out in the few games I've played with the new Codex. Normally one would think "Those armies don't have OS, I'll just dig my heels in and hold the line, it'll be fine." And, at least in theory, that's how that should work. But it really fails in practice when both of those armies are typically better at killing you than you are at killing them, and are as durable as you and as fast or faster. OS doesn't matter if and when you're dead. Shocking, right?
Instead, I would very very strongly advocate considering the mass of OS to be something like ATSKNF. It serves as further 'training wheels' for a new player's first romp in the grim dark, while being a handy trick in the back pocket of a veteran, and the same can even be said of the set of doctrines. It's not typically a rule that wins you the game on its own. But it makes for an excellent fallback and/or way to force your opponent's hand. How do I mean? Space Marine players need to start by playing smarter in the Objective placement phase of the game, especially with regard to cover and its relation to objectives. Failure to give yourself adequate cover, or deny it to your opponent will result in games being exponentially harder. With objectives placed, you force your opponent's hands, and tell them where they'll have to kill you. Sure, this gives you problems with Maelstrom (as anything not on a bike may have some significant mobility issues), and similarly is potentially meaningless (courtesy of ever increasing ranges). But, nevertheless, you're able to force certain amounts of fire to certain points by swamping them in OS, and telling them, until the last model falls, you're not taking this from me.
All of that said, it's time for me to double back and explain a few of my earlier points. We'll start with my nay-saying of all this chicken little talk of "the game is crumbling" brought about by giving marines free transports. Why am I unafraid? Because even before someone goes out and buys 10 razorbacks (yes, I know, money is no object when the chance to be a wanker is available), that still only accounts for their core choices. That's just a bunch of Marines. There's no guns. No upgrades. Just heavy bolter razorbacks. Or jerks in drop pods. For just under 900 points. And then we still need a compulsory auxiliary. Going drop pods? It'll have to be a Stormwing or 1st Company Task Force, either of which would clock in at around 450. For the razors list, our prospects are even bleaker, the anti-air defense force, or the suppression force. Either one is about 200 points, but neither one exactly does anything. Sure, Stalkers got buffed, but there's the Hunter tax, and they're not designed to fire on conventional ground targets. Yes, yes, they don't have to snap fire at skimmers or Jetbikes, but in order to get those shots to really connect, you'll have to take a third stalker, and as soon as the enemy removes one of those, there goes that ignores cover. They're direct fire vehicles, and even with the understanding that they've got front 12, they'll still quickly be drowned out by enemy fire. The suppression force seems even worse in my opinion. It's just firing more of the same worthless heavy bolter rounds that the rest of our army is built on. For those contending that such a volume of heavy bolter fire isn't worthless, consider that the only dedicated transports you can successfully do anything against are those of orks, dark eldar, and other space marines (and even then you can't if they're playing with drop pods). If you run in to anything heavier, you rapidly notice you'll be dumping some 60 odd points into meltaguns, which you'll have to get out of your razorback to be able to shoot. Once you get out? You're 5 tactical marines, who have to come to the realization that Eldar churn out a similar volume of fire from 4 bikes as you do with 5 razorbacks.
Let's return to the idea of drop pods. We're at about 1400 after all the meltaguns I'm calling compulsory, and those are only equipping tactical squads. Your devastators are still naked, and your assault marines too. I'll concede that keeping the assault marines naked is the way to go, but devastators? Those present the awkward conundrum that I've battled against for the last two years. Do I take advantage of their allowable heavy weapons? They'll have to be snap fired. Leave them at home? Oh look, I'm paying more of that Emperor-forsaken bolter tax I loathe so completely. I brought a first company strike force, so I have Sternguard bolters, so taking them on devs is entirely tax. And, at which point, it comes down to how willing I am to pay or trade certain taxes. In my opinion, the reason you get free transports is that the assault marine and devastator (and chaplain) taxes are so absurdly high as to be laughable. Sure, it gets boots on the ground, but they're boots that really won't do anything but show up, and die. They're not well equipped, they're not good at shooting, all they do is have a 3+ armor save. The Gladius is built for hybridized armies, and it's still rough to try to force it to work, as most of the auxiliaries aren't exceptionally amazing. Are the combat doctrines good? Yes, but not if the models you're trying to get them to work with aren't capable of anything without them. Likewise, it's hard to try to take advantage of some of the better parts of the codex utilizing only the Gladius. Buffed dreadnoughts? You can wedge them into those demi-companies, but they're expensive and you'll run low on points quick. Vehicle squadrons? They get expensive really quickly, so you can treat the Armored Spearhead like an expanded heavy support section. Maybe it's healthier to act like the squadron buffs don't exist, but sometimes it's the best way to draw fire. Bikes? You'll have to take those in place of assault marines in your demi companies, reducing the tax, but cutting back on your 'free' points, and they'll end up one of the few non-vehicle units on the table. I'd say the same thing for the compulsory heavy support unit, there's centurions there (with no drop pod access in the Gladius), and there's the option to take lascannons on devastators, and just throw their free razorback on the table. Exploring those extra options will run you out of points, but it just might be enough to make it work.
So, all of that posturing above on the Gladius? Ignore all of that, it's (Sky)hammer time. Maybe don't ignore all of it completely, but almost all of it is for naught when you can take a combined arms detachment and bolt on one or more of these bad boys. In fact, screw combining arms. Just take three of these. Wedge your points correctly and you can swing it, with 4-5 of those devastator units having 4 grav cannons. Wraithknights? A thing of the past. Grav bikes or Eldar Jetbikes? Tied into close combat until friends can come and try to bail them out. The more of these you take, the fewer friends you'll have. As we talked about in our podcast, it's somewhere between interesting and disappointing that this is how far we had to come to make assault marines and devastators worth it, and even here, the assault marines aren't necessarily expected to 'do' anything other than die after trying to forestall some enemy shooting to try to buy your devastators a second round of their own. I know Godfrey expressed some concerns at the Devastators and their abilities to destroy armies by 'automatically' inflicting an irresistible debuff, but unless you bought the extra bolter jerks (see bolter tax above), having your Devs shoot something that isn't the scariest single thing in the enemy army (statistically likely to have fearless, be a vehicle, or otherwise be incapable of being pinned) is entirely a waste. Similarly, just as we see centurions pop into the game (and in drop pods no less), we see a way for devastators to access relentless, which, to me, was one of the most attractive aspects of the centurions in the first place. Some may call it competition or internal balance, I call it shoehorning. GW didn't get how to make devastators not suck, so they made centurions, and only after those happened and caught on did the light bulb click on that "Oh, heavy weapons are useless in a game where being mobile is absurdly good!" The long and the short of the Skyhammer will likely boil down to Ultra tactics, as rerolls that cross detachment lines is very very strong, and exponentially more so when you're shooting 5 shots per model.
If the full extent of the above is anything to go by, the codex really didn't change. At all. Those chapters which were good will remain good, those that weren't likely won't be. What did change is the introduction of (bad) squadrons, and formations, most of which can approximately be ignored, excepting the obvious of the Skyhammer and possibly the Librarius conclave. Those lists looking to hybridize may find some success with the razor company, but when was the last time your army was afraid of heavy bolters. That said, if the other guy is playing drop pods, expect at least one Skyhammer, and learn how to fight it. There's a lot of articles which exist that cover the subject of bubble wrapping against the drop. So, that in mind, expect to see me continue to experiment and tinker with a list that's as fun for me to play as it is for my opponents to play against. The Gladius is likely to let me scratch my Sternguard itch, but I'll likely drift into a Skyhammer with combined arms owing to my love of the new buffed dreadnoughts.
The first place I plan to start is likely to help segue into another Marine series with how I learned to stop hating my marines, and love MSU. Down with the bolter tax!