Hey all, Danny here again to talk about another formation that is almost a guarantee at any ITC competitive event: The Gladius Strike Force!
This formation has been out for a while, but it remains a competitive mainstay in most formats because it offers what few formations really do: mass Objective Secured. So, let’s get into it and see what we can see.
Gladius Strike Force
Source: Space Marine Codex. Faction: Space Marines (Vanilla)
Required: 1 Captain, 1 Chaplain. 6 Tactical Marine Squads. Choice of 2 of the following in any combination: Assault Squads, Bike Squad, Attack Bike Squad, Land Speeder Squadron, and/or Assault Centurions. Choice of 2 of the following in any combination: Devastator Squads or Devastator Centurions.
Optional: 0-2 Dreadnoughts, Venerable Dreadnoughts, or Ironclad Dreadnoughts.
Note: This formation is actually two Demi-Companies put together, but it is easier to tackle it as one
Restrictions: You can only take these models.
Objective Secured: Everything in the Gladius is Obsec. Yep. Everything.
Free Transports: Any unit that can take a Rhino, Razorback, or Drop Pod can do so for free. Upgrades still cost points.
Doctrines: All units in the formation benefit from the once per game Combat Doctrines such as Devastator or Assault, so everything gets to start rerolling.
So…you get an absolute crapton of bodies that are all obsec, free transports (that are obsec), and your entire formation gets to reroll various attacks, and with Devastator doctrine, it means that you get one turn of absolute brutal firepower.
So…how does this sea of marines win games?
Quite simply, the Gladius is the submission expert of the 40K world: It is not going to knock out anybody but the chumpiest of chumps, but it will submit even the best of the best by grinding out a game of attrition. This list wins by dominating you on the mission. With so many Obsec bodies, this list can simply feed you rhinos to contest or claim objectives, and while a rhino is easy to kill, it becomes difficult when you have to kill the rhino and then the dudes inside, all while knowing your opponent has 5 more ready to go and waiting. That’s just the tactical squads, let alone whatever else the Gladius takes.
With so many bodies on the table, you can control the mission, and seeing as most armies struggle to bring a lot of Obsec, you can simply flat-out into an enemy held objective and score it for yourself. Also, let’s be real, AV 11 isn’t tough, but it is immune to str 4 and mostly safe from str 5, so a good chunk of most armies’ shooting is wasted against the wall of metal, and any high power shots you send are a bit wasted on an AV11 vehicle. Gladius wins through sheer logistics.
I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention that because it takes so long to play, it is easier to get games to go to “Quasi-4” or “hypothetical 4” where the round is over and you have to play out the last turn in theory with your opponent, and because of its massed Obsec, it is very easy to point out that the Gladius player can win simply by moving to certain places on the board. Yah, that sucks, so if you do play Gladius, please learn to play quickly.
The Gladius is also flexible in the list-build phase because you have room for very specific army builds. You can go massed drop pods for an alpha-striking, null deploy slugfest (but this build tends to be less strong on the mission), you can go for a combined arms list (but this tends to have less pop in any specific phase), or you can go massed transport spam. Either way, there is room to build an army that excites you and lets you set up different challenges for your opponent. Of course, this doesn’t include that you still get to choose your Chapter Tactics, so you can do melta/flamer spam with Salamanders, Hit and Run fun with White Scars, or Feel No Pain with Iron Hands.
Let’s not forget that Gladius can also bring Centurions, so it can have a bit of surprise teeth. A drop pod of Grav centurions is likely to pick up 90% of badass units, so a smart Gladius player can use this as a scalpel to remove a major threat. With the reroll to shooting on a few key turns, massed bolter fire can still shred a lot of other armies, and some players also spam cheap assault-cannon razorbacks for a mobile army with a lot of str 6 rending. With the doctrines, rerolling all those bolters can still add up, so even a few squads of basic bros double-tapping bolters with rerolls can wrack up the wounds. Yes, Gladius can be built to hit harder, but it is not a knockout artist because it doesn’t need to be.
At 1850, the Gladius has room for a lot upgrades, so those tactical squads might have a few surprises, and you can bet the Centurions will have the grav-cannons. Some players even skimp on points to take a conclave or a flyer support wing to add in some extra trouble.
TL;DR: This formation wins via the mission, not tabling you.
So, how do I stop this endless stream of marines?
Well, the Gladius’ strength is also its biggest weakness: it primarily wins via the mission, unless that mission has Kill Points. The Gladius is the definition of a Multiple Small Unit army (MSU), and Kill Points is a mission specifically designed to give MSU a tough day. In ITC, mission 3 pops up a lot at RTTs (and guaranteed at any of the big ITC GTs), so this means that the Gladius will typically always face the one mission that it has few tools to really win. To me, this is the primary reason that you don’t see a Vanilla Gladius take any of the big events, and some formats like NOVA with their customizable missions means that anyone playing against Gladius will take KPs as part of their mission. In ETC, Kill Points are part of every mission, so Gladius is just screwed.
Also, the Gladius really does lack the kind of brutal knockout power that a lot of other lists have, so when Gladius really needs something to die, it can struggle to make that happen. Sure, Centurions do the Emperor’s work, but not against everything like say Wolf-Tide or Cabal-Star, so if the Gladius absolutely needs to kill something, it might not be able to do such. The formation really only has a few solid swings in it, and once these are spent, it is relying mostly on massed str 4 or Obsec to carry the day, and sometimes, that is just not enough. You can throw units into the fray and be reasonably assured that they will stick around, buying you time or slowing down the advance of Obsec.
The Gladius is also unwieldy, and while some unscrupulous festers-on-the-ass-of-40K society may exploit this to slow-play, the reality is that this army requires some strong generalship to utilize effectively. There can be so many bodies and vehicles thrown every which way, it can be pretty easy to get tangled up. If you can fluster your opponent or simply provide road blocks, suddenly order of operations becomes more difficult to map, and your enemy may just end up getting in his/her own way.
The Gladius is not a melee army, and it will struggle with any army that has a lot of solid, durable melee units that can crack open transports and be able to survive the next turn to get to the juicy goodness inside. Wulfen, Thunderwolves, Meganobz, or really anything that can survive bolter-fire and can multi-assault is going to hurt the Gladius as I’ve seen a solid fighting unit multi-charge 3 squads and a vehicle, popping the vehicle, killing 2 squads, and staying safe in combat for their opponent’s turn. As part of this, Gladius struggles against a well-designed combined arms list where there is enough mid-power shooting to pop the rhinos and with assault elements to get to the marines inside. If you are bringing a bit of everything, some simple order of operations math will help you plot out the best tactic, namely which rhinos to kill to get to which squads.
The Gladius can also struggle with heavy shooting armies like Tau, Eldar, or even Necrons. Tau/Eldar have the mobility, power, and range to pop transports from afar, and once the marines are walking, they aren’t going many places. Necrons all have weapons that can glance the transports to death, and Necrons are so durable that the Gladius won’t be able to punch through the lines. If you can set up a good shooting phase, you can do a lot of work against a Gladius.
Again, there are a lot of dudes in the Gladius, but they aren’t all that tough at the end of the day. If your list can’t kill regular marines easily, it is time to think of a new list.
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