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Space Marine Unit Spotlight: A Hellblaster Review

The incredible truth about Hellblasters is actually the lack of nuance. Unlike the other Primaris options in the Space Marine Codex the Hellblasters have a very clearly defined role, and weapon choice really comes down to just picking the most efficient one.

Their absolute saving grace is the mere idea of an all plasma unit, where a handful of Marines are out spraying the battlefield with small pockets of star fury. But apart from the cool factor, the tactics are all what you'd expect to see. But lets dive in a see if we can get the best out of these insane burninators.

Burninating is a word.

As a caveat here, this is simply advice. The first and most important rule is "Have Fun", and the second is "Play Your Dudes(TM)". This is just to give you a heads up on any challenges you may face, or tricks you can pull with the units you want. The third most important rule is "Most People on The Internet Are Wrong, Especially Bloggers". If you think something is wrong, let me know in comments down below.

Overview (TL;DR)

Assault Plasma Incinerators are possibly the best option.
Overcharge all the time if safe to do so.
Target multi-wound models.

[Data sheet picture incoming... my Codex is on loan to a student]


You have an option with them:
  • Fire support
Genuinely that's it. They lack any special movement or deployment options, and they have no special rules to speak of. These guys are a plasma platform, in an edition that seems to want to bring plasma back in a big way.

Specifically though, they function as a mobile plasma battery, with double the durability of other Space Marine options. There are a number of units that can field a similar amount of plasma fire, and their most direct competitor are plasma Devastators. The rest (Inceptors, bikers, etc.), all have other applications and roles (mostly to do with getting places faster).

Devastators have a much higher potential damage output, but the random nature of their shot count puts them at a disadvantage to the Hellblasters. They also need to be static to Overcharge, or risk losses due to inevitable 1s. That said, if you're considering going for the Heavy Plasma Incinerator weapon options on the Hellblasters, just get regular Devastators. You'll be fielding them at rane, and generally out of the reach of the enemy so durability is less of an issue.

Hellblasters are fairly comfortable in the midfield, able to absorb more fire than other troops and hit particularly hard in return. You will need something to allow for re-rolls, as they don't really justify their cost without overcharging. Pair them up with captains or any of the options given in Tips.

At a pinch, the Assault Plasma Incinerator and double-tapped doesn't loose too much firepower when on the lower power setting, and the Assault Plasma Incinerator can still give some fire support whilst your unit advances. Don't Overcharge when Advancing. With the number of shots coming out you'll probably lose two men.

Since damage doesn't carry over, you'll only be using Overcharge on multi-wound models. This makes elite infantry a really good target for your 'blasters. Overcharging on single wound models wil only be wasted. With that said, whilst they can put a significant dent in larger models, don;t expect them to wipe a tank out in a turn... but then again very few things can in this edition.


Re-rolling 1s for Overheated Plasma: Captains, Dreadnoughts running Wisdom of the Ancients Stratagem, Ultramarines: Stratagem and Guilliman.

Don't do the enemy's job for him. If you can't Overcharge safely, don't do it.

Chapter Tactics

Nearly all the Chapter Tactics and stratagems work well for the Hellblasters, but some work better than others.

  • Ultramarines: If there was a single Primaris unit which fit the Ultramarines perfectly it would be the Hellblasters. To start with, the Fall Back and shoot option is amazing. Getting caught in a tarpit doesn't apply to them, and as long as you don't Overcharge your guns whilst walking away you'll still do fantastic damage to most targets. Speaking of Overcharge, the Ultramarine Stratagem where you re-roll 1s for attacks means you can Overcharge in relative safety. Seriously over powered, and I'm sure all of you are thinking of two big 10-man hell blaster units parked near Guilliman. All I can say is... yes.
  • Imperial Fists: One of the best defences against plasma is cover. And Imperial Fists ignore it. I probably don't need to explain more than that, but before you herald the Fists as the best Hellblaster unit remember their Stratagem doesn't work for them at all. Very excellent for shooting, but not the best.
  • Raven Guard: At first glance the Raven Guard Chapter Tactic seems tailor made for siting back with long-range plasma weapons and acting as infantry artillery. Whilst they can certainly do that, and enjoy the -1 To Hit protection offered by the Tactic, their Stratagem allows them to do something far more impactful. Dropping the Rapid Fire plasma next to a target and unleashing fury on the first turn makes for a very potent alpha strike. Whilst it's true that it's risky to do that if you're looking to Overcharge, Captains with both Jump Packs and Terminator armour are more than happy to drop in with them! Bonus points for teaming up with Shrike and a unit of Vanguard Veterans to deal a very hefty blow to even the enemies strongest spot!
  • Iron Hands: A dull but useful chapter tactic, this lets you ignore 1-in-6 of incoming damage. For the Reivers, this makes them hang on for that much longer, absorbing that much more fire. The Iron Hands stratagem doesn't work on them though. (Yes, I copy/pasted this from the Intercessors and the Reivers and the Aggressors and finally the Inceptors... there's really nothing more to them in terms of Infantry). Actually, pseudo-snark aside, if you're playing Iron Hands you're likely to have a bunch of Dreadnoughts around. Don't forget to make good use of Wisdom of the Ancients Stratagem to fill in gaps where you can't get Captains.
  • Salamanders: They have slightly more protection from overheated plasma, getting to make one re-roll per turn. This won't save you from the higher fire rate weapons, but will work very well with the heavy one shot plasma canons. Statistically you'll have a 5-in-6 chance of rolling a one for a unit, which means that your re-roll is good cover. The extra wound re-roll also starts to make the heavier plasma gun work much better for you, reducing it's inefficiency compared to the other sets. A good pick if you wanted pseudo-plasma snipers! Again, their Stratagem doesn't work well for them.
  • Black Templars: Um... Deny the Witch is good defence? Honestly there's not much going for Black Templar Hellblasters. Unlike Ultramarines you don't want these guys getting into combat at all, and being able to charge into assault better is somewhat wasted. In terms of fire support I would recommend against Hellblasters, and go for Aggressors or Inceptors instead. 
  • White Scars: Sorry Jaghatai, this is another chapter tactic that doesn't quite sit well with the Hellblasters. The ability to advance faster than other Space Marines is still an advantage for the White Scars, but with the caveat that you will never be Overcharging if you do. Unlike the plasma Inceptors, being able to yo-yo in and out of combat is wasted on this unit, as they cannot fire and Fall Back. Where they do work is acting as the fire base for your tackle bikers or Reivers, but you have many other options for that.

At the end of this look at Primaris Space Marine units, the Ultramarines are really starting to shine as the strongest Chapter Tactic. The combination of Stratagem and Falling Back gives you far more flexibility and options that the others, but that's to be expected with Games Workshop's flagship chapter.

With that said, the other Chapters are not necessarily worthless in comparison. The Imperial Fists can have a field day with any army that relies on leverages (like Death Guard and Imperial Guard), and the Raven Guard can really scupper any ones plans. Salamanders and Iron Hands both have understated but very useful tactics, and the Black Templars present the go-to choice for close quarter themed armies. And even though they don't gel quite so well with the Hellblasters, White Scars present a fascinating way to play.

Basically play your way, and don't let the Ultramarine player leverage his strengths. And remember... an Ultramarine Falling Back is only shooting as well as a Guardsmen!

Stop. It's Math Hammer Time.

Weapon choices again for the Math Hammer. Since we're comparing choices within a unit, it's actually fairly easy to do (since we can leave out extra bits like Chapter Tactics, grenade access and other special rules).

My personal choice for this is going to be the Assault Plasma Incincerator. Whilst the standard Plasma Incinerator does more on paper, and has higher strength and longer range, two shots at 24-inches usually matches what the standard rifle can do easily.

Leave the Heavy Plasma Incinerator at home. The higher strength rarely has an advantage, and having to stand still to Overcharge makes them both boring to play and vulnerable to Deep Strike.


Starting with shooting, I've made up some tables to show the average points efficiency for each weapon option. If you play Power Levels... well just pick what you like, that's what that system is for!

Here are the weapons:
  • Plasma Incinerator: Rapid Fire 30-inches, Str 7/8 AP -4 D 1/2
  • Assault Plasma Incinerator: Assault 2 24-inches, Str 6/7 AP -4 D 1/2
  • Heavy Plasma Incinerator: Heavy 1 36-inches, Str 8/9 AP -4 D 1/2

We really need to look at the "Points per wound given row" to see how efficient these weapons are. We want to see low numbers here, meaning each average wound per turn costs us less.

So you can see why the HIP is not very good compared to the rest. You're not getting that much more damage at long range compared to the standard rifle, and the AIP is simply better up to 24-inches. To put that in reality, as the Assault version can move and fire, you've really only got an extra 6-inches of range on the HIP.

This graph spells out the advantages of the other guns. Double shots really just are that much better:

Assault is the same story for all of them, with the more expensive options coming in at a disadvantage:


Cheaper standard rifle is best. Most expensive, static HIP is worst.

Like the rest of the Primaris Marines, they are tougher than most but not invincible. Feel free to brawl with most other units but don't push your luck with them.


I recommend equipping this unit with Assault Plasma Incinerators, and feeding fire from the midfield. The standard rifle is perfectly good for most tasks, and the Heavy Plasma Incinerator is simply not hard hitting enough to justify it's cost.

I'll repeat it here, because it's important. No one plays 40K as a cold mathematical exercise, so if you like some of the "weaker" options, go ahead and use them. Plasma sniper is just as fun as gattling plasma! This is just to give people a clearer idea of how these things can run on the table, so you don't spend loads of time on models only to be disappointed.

Right, after several days with no sleep I'm off to bed. Babies and boarding houses are not conducive to a good nights sleep

Until next time!


James Hudson posted some extra tips and tricks over on Facebook, and they were just so good they deserve to be mentioned separately here!
I just want to put this forward. You missed out on a gem of a tactic here. 
Keep an ancient near your hellblasters to make the most out of your overcharge shots. This is a great offensive and defensive boon.

You overheat? That dead marine can potentially produce a further 1/2 shots from his gun.

A unit tries to dislodge and destroy your hellblasters? Then they will most likely have to suffer casualties doing so. Wiping out 4 hellblasters just to have 3 of them strip up to a potential 12 wounds off a nearby tank or high cost unit

Works even better with the Standard of the emperor ascended , if you wanted to make this into a true fire base an apothecary whilst a little indulgent can just keep those squads ticking.

Also Hellblasters in a Repulsor make a deadly unit as you can deliver them into the field quite quickly with little trouble And thanks to the nature of the assault incinerators, Have them rush from the Repulsor into nearby cover and start laying down some extra shots!
Thanks James! I really like that Ancient trick, as it strongly discourages the enemy targeting your firebase. Fluffy and devious... superb!

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  1. I'm working on a very mobile Ultramarines army - as we were discussing when you talked about the maniple swap - so I've been focusing on making the best use of the UM chapter tactic by equipping as many units as possible with Assault weapons so that they can fire while doing the blitzkrieg-on-foot maneuvers.
    I was at first reluctant to go with the assault plasmas because they are slightly weaker, but on further consideration, I see it this way: Unless you're planning on getting within 15 inches with your fire support (why on Earth would you use them this way?), the assault incinerators are going to get twice as many shots. And two shots at S6 is always more likely to cause a wound than one shot at S8.
    And you can double-tap from 24" away. Move into range, shoot, fall back, draw the opponent into the kill box... I really need to build and paint faster (and find opponents who aren't persnickety about WYSIWYG, because I'm using the models from the DI box).
    Thanks for another great article.

    1. Thanks for another great comment! I really don't know how people can get that upset about WYSIWYG for the new Primaris Marines. There's barely any difference between either the plasma or the bolt rifle variants. Standardisation has never been that great across the Imperium anyway!

  2. Nice article

    I'm supposed to be painting more Tau & Dark Eldar, stop tempting me to add to my Marines :)

    1. Thanks for commenting! I do it to myself all the time too. Every time I do an analysis like this I'm already reaching for my wallet to go and buy a whole new army!

  3. Great article and statistical analysis. As a brand new to WH40k this is really invaluable information to me.

    Are you planning on looking at the Redemptor and Repulsor?
    I did a quick math calculation that I think showed the Redemptor to be the most point efficient per wound snd shots compared to the other Primaris units, with only Scouts with bolters being better. I was hoping to eventually see your analysis on it.

    Are you planning to do a Space Marine codex wide comparison study to see how the most common units fare against each other? I know there is slot of argument about how NuMarines are inferior to the old models and was curious to see an actual stats breakdown.

    Thanks again for your work!

    1. Thanks for commenting! I'm planning on looking at both Redemptor and Repulsor at some point, just as soon as I work out a reasonable format for comparing units with multiple weapon options on the same platform. I think I have a good way of showing the data, but I want to avoid very wide tables where you can't see relevant numbers.

      I've found that the Primaris Marines tend to average out better thanks to the extra wound they receive boosting their defensive capability. Old Marines tend to have more punch though, and in tournament settings a strong alpha is usually preferred (the best defence is to make sure nothing hits back).

      But I think the best thing to do is post up a comparison between Tacticals and Intercessors to illustrate the point. I'm not going to say when though, because that's usually the kiss of death for it getting out in a timely fashion!

  4. Fantastic article! Your explanations are very newbie-friendly. Please post similar articles of this sort!

  5. Fantistic article! Since i've just started playing i have a question:Do you think its worth to fire overcharged at Plague Marines?Since disgustingly resilient can make things pretty slow.

    1. As long as you can avoid overcharge death, then yes. That Disgustingly resilient means that you statistically only deal two thirds of a wound. An extra point of damage makes the kill far more likely.

      It's a good question to ask, as many people would interpret the ruling as being rolling Disgustingly Resilient (DR) once before damage is multiplied out. You need to roll for each point of damage done by the weapon (i.e. twice for the overcharged plasma). Of course, if a Plague Marine fails any he's dead.

      In terms of stream lining, you can roll all the DR saves at the same time. However, you need to remember that you can't have more models removed than failed armour saves. Damage doesn't spill over from model to model (unless it's a mortal wound), so you just need to make sure you have that limit.


      You score three plasma hits, and the Death Guard fails 2 armour saves. You deal a total of 4 damage.
      The Death Guard player rolls 4 dice for Disgustingly Resilient, and fails 3 times.
      Since the number of failed armour saves is 2, only 2 models are removed rather than 3.

      That works statistically, but there are cases where arguments can occur (like if you only fail 2 out of 4 DR saves... what if both those points of damage were only on one model?). The above system really does work out, but if you find yourself with a grumpy opponent, just roll each model individually.

      Hope that helps, and thanks for the comment! It made me think a bit!


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