My Tactics pledge: I am not the greatest player, nor a seal pup. I will endeavor to speak from my experience and always be honest about what is theory and what is play tested. Never will I assume to know better than anyone else... unless I must call out ego or pretension.
Warning not fully edited, but wanted to get it out before leaving on a vacation. Will make corrections later if need be.
Plague Marines will be for many players their go to scoring unit, mostly because Chaos Space Marine players have the models already.
As always, let us start by looking at the differences between the 4th edition and 6th edition codex. Here is a side by side comparison between the codexes. (Click to Enlarge)
What has changed between editions?
- Increased cost 23 t0 24 pts
- Icon of Despair
- Plague Knife
- Loss of Leadership 9 to 8
Don't forget Plague Champions can now get Combi-weapons and Gift of Mutation, plus the unit can get Veterans of the Long War.
--More Poop for your Scoops-
Plague Marines got a fair increase in cost moving from 23 pts to 24 pts per model, but if you do the math for a 5-man equivalent unit, they are now 10 points cheaper (discount Plague Champion) from the 2007 codex. It only gets marginally more expensive as you add more and more Plague Marines to a unit. If you take the cost in totality, Plague Marines gained more than loss in the new rules.
--Despair in how I scare no one--
Once again I will repeat Icon of Despair is a waste of points. Too situational and not worth the effort. If Fear effected Space Marine units it would be another story, but as is save the points, and get yourself a Meltagun instead. See this article if you want to know why Icon of Despair is no good.
--Now you have a case of Lockjaw--
The Plague Knife has made its triumphant return. The Plague Knife is an extra melee poison weapon (+4) just like Plaguebearers weapons in the Daemon codex. The Plague Knife gives Plague Marines an interesting dimension; Plague Marines are now a good assault companion for Chaos Lords. Combined with Veterans of the Long War and Plague Marines roll to hit and wound against all Space Marines on the charge.
--Loss of Leadership--
There are powers and such where having bad Leadership does matter, but still I am not sure the point. My guess it is an attempt at consistency with the rest of the Codex.
Putting it all together.
Like the Thousand Sons, Plague Marines have changed more by the changes to of 6th edition than by the new codex.
The biggest change has to be Feel No Pain-- going from 4+ save to 5+. Surprisingly the change is a good one for Plague Marines. Since Feel No Pain is now only negated by Instant Death, and with Toughness 5 very few things to can hurt Plague Marines. It also makes cover saves important as you get more opportunity for two saves instead of one.
Considering that Plague Marines still swing at Initiative 3 Plague Marines now have a chance at a save say against Power Weapons. It does make Grey Knights the biggest threat to Plague Marines when you consider Force Weapons and Hammerhand.
Another good change is Fearless: anything that requires taking fewer armor saves is a good thing even for a Plague Marines.
Minor changes like the one made to Blight Grenades also gives Plague Marines another tool to stay alive. Blight Grenades provide a +1 bonus to cover saves because they give your unit Stealth if anyone shoots at them less than 8" away.
Since you always get a Plague Champion, it is worth taking a Combi-weapon. Plague Marines can still get two special weapons (Meltaguns...) even with 5-man squads; keeping Plague Marines one of the best MSU units in the game.
Plague Marines are just as durable as they were before, if not more, and all it cost was 1 more point per model. Now they can hurt almost anything, at the same time surviving anything. So if you are an old plague father don't change what you been doing. For Chaos Space Marine beginners Plague Marines are great core troop. Plague Marines are so forgiving they give all players an opportunity to explorer other units --knowing they have Plague Marines to always fall back on.
--Ways to play Plague Marines--
Death Star Configuration: 395 pts 14-man Plague Marine unit with, 2 Meltaguns, Powerfist, Veterans of the Long War. At 14 models you keep your Plague Marine unit under 400 pts. Take with a Nurgle Chaos Sorcerer for Gift of Contagion, and you have most units needing 6s to hit your Plague Marines. Make sure you also have a Nurgle Lord along with the Sorcerer.
Balanced Configuration: 340 pts 10-man Plague Marine unit with, 2 Plasma Guns, Power Axe, Combi-Plasma, Rhino w/Combi-Plasma. Light up most units in shooting to clear objectives and then hold. No worries at taking charges because of Blight Grenades.
MSU Configuration: 200 pts 5-man Plague Marine unit with, 2 Meltaguns, Combi-Melta, Melta Bombs, Rhino. Similar configuration from the past, but now with Plague Champion included taking a combi-weapon is almost a must. Sit back, hold objectives or drive up and claim mid-field ones for late game grabs.
Horde Configuration: 515 pts 20-man Plague Marine unit with, 2 Flamers, Powerfist. Expensive unit, but only a few armies (Venom Spam) can handle. Use it to deny the mid-field and at the same time providing a no landing for enemy flyers.
A Word about Allies
Plague Marines don't need much help, but taking a look at Tau and Daemons as allies doesn't hurt.
Tau provide an extra punch that most armies can use. Taking a Crisis Suits and Broadsides is a devastating combination, that provides range and mobility Plague Marines don't possess. In addition, Plague Marines really help the deficiency that is Tau Troops.
As for Deamons it is always good to keep it fluffy. Taking Plaguebearers is a cheaper version of Plague Marines, but consider adding Slaanesh as well. Where Plague Marines lack in initiative using Daemonettes or Seekers in concert with a Plague Marine assault will leave most opponents dead.
For grinding your opponent a Great Unclean One is also a good choice, because of how cheap and resilient it is.
Remember unlike other Battle Brothers Daemons ICs cannot join with Chaos Space Marine units under any situation.
Overall, this is not the reinvention of the wheel. Plague Marines have always kinda played themselves and that hasn't changed. They are really one of the best beginner units; combining flexibility with ease of use, a thing few units in the game have.