Sergeant Series: The Assault Sergeant

I enjoyed writing the article about Devastator Sergeants so much, that I went back and renamed the post, and plan to write an article on sergeants for every codex unit that has options.

This second article focuses on the sergeant leading the much-maligned Assault Squad. Yes, "much-maligned." The world at large seems to hate Assault Marine squads due to their points cost and limited armament options. Everyone wants Space Marine Assault Squads to have the same armament options as Blood Angel Assault Squads. If we had that, what would make the Blood Angels special? That's a tired debate I don't care to rehash here, so on to the discussion of Assault Marine sergeants!

The very first thing we have to look at when talking about an Assault Marine sergeant is the unit's role on the battlefield. The default setup for Assault Marine squads provides the default Marine statline, power armor, a bolt pistol, a chainsword, frags and kraks, and a jump pack. You can trade in all of the jump packs in the unit for a free Rhino or Drop Pod if you want.
This wargear load makes Assault Marines into a bully unit that relies on weight of dice to bring things down. Without purchasing any sort of upgrades, a 10-man Assault Squad throws out 30 S4, WS4 attacks on the charge, and 20 when receiving one. This is the kind of unit you want smashing into units with low Toughness or poor saves, like Guardsmen or Orks. The unit also excels when charging Marine equivalent units that aren't specialized for melee (Tactical Squads, Bikes, etc).

The unit is mobile, being Jump Infantry. They can hop across the table 12" at a time or arrive by deepstrike.

So, how does a sergeant augment those abilities?
The first upgrade he has access to is a pistol swap. he can trade in the trusty bolt pistol for a plasma or grav pistol. Both cost the same number of points and they have similar primary targets. However, up to two squad members can also take plasma pistols, but none can take grav pistols. I feel the plasma pistol is slightly more useful due to the matching squad pistols. It's important to note that the sergeant only get ONE pistol upgrade. The 5th Edition codex allowed the sergeant to trade both his pistol and chainsword for a plasma pistol. That option no longer exists. Sadly, that means the model I made with two plasma pistols is no longer legal.
The plasma pistol upgrade carries the Gets Hot risk, on a single-wound model who may or may not be crucial to the unit he leads. The double-plasma sergeant I used to use was designed to make full use of deepstrike and combat squad rules. I would split the unit on arrival to contain one half with all the plasma, and the other half with all basic models. I'd then sink all those plasma shots into a Terminator unit, Monster, or other vulnerable target. This can still be done, but you'll lose 25% of the plasma shots, as well as the ability to decide to combat squad on arrival (you have to declare combat squadding before the game begins now). It's a very niche role, and not really worth the effort any more unless you're really hard up for sources of plasma, or are going for a themed list.

Sergeants can now only trade their chainsword (and/or pistol) for a melee upgrade: power weapon, lightning claw, thunder hammer or power fist. This is where the sergeant in an Assault Squad earns his paycheck and he's got a lot of options to choose from.
Because the Assault Squad is a bully unit that picks on weak or low save units, Assault Sergeants can actually get away with using a power maul. It bypasses the armor of the squad's ideal targets, and provides a bunch of S6 attacks against vehicles. However, it falls flat against 3+ armor or better.
A power lance is also useful on this sergeant because Assault Squads tend to be the aggressors in a melee because of their speed.
The power sword is the "Average Joe" of the power weapon options. It gets more attacks than its closest equivalent (lightning claw), but fewer wounds. it's the jack-of-all trades of the power weapon world.
I've never been a big fan of I1 weapons on single-wound characters due to the challenge rules. The points investment involved in equipping a sergeant with a power axe or fist is quickly flushed down the toilet when challenged by some chump Guard sergeant with a power sword, or assured mutual destruction when pitted against an Ork Nob with a power klaw. I don't like losing 40+ point models before they can swing. That being said, both weapons give added AP2 punch to the unit and in the case of the fist, the ability to peel open vehicles or cause instant death to a wide range of opponents.
The thunder hammer is similar to the powerfist in its role, but is also Concussive. It's neat, but falls into the same traps the fist and axe fall into.
A lightning claw is a nice alternative to a sword. it allows attacks at initiative (though one fewer) and wounds more often. If you really want an extra attack, you can also take a pair of claws by trading in both the pistol and the chainsword. In fact, you can get two of any of the melee weapons this way.
Fans of flexibility could take a power sword and a power axe, power maul and axe, lance and axe, and so on. Double power fists are available, as are double hammers. Those last two options are astronomical in price, so I'd skip them entirely as they both only add +1A for the crazy investment in points. Two power weapons would get you the +1A, and some flexibility for only a small number of points over the Veteran upgrade. You'd lose out on a single bolt pistol shot, which shouldn't be a consideration at all.

Deciding which melee upgrade to take depends on whether or not you upgrade the sergeant to Veteran status. As we talked about in the Devastator article, Veteran status gives +1A and +1 Ld. Assault squads will benefit from the increased Leadership early in the game because they fall back 3d6" on a failed Morale test. When you're still in your deployment zone, there's a good chance the unit will run right off the board early.
The bonus attack greatly impacts how different power weapon options perform against different targets. For example, in the hands of a non-Veteran sergeant on the charge, both a power sword and a lightning claw will cause .75 unsaved wounds to an MEQ statline. But in the hands of a Veteran sergeant in the same situation, the sword causes 1 wound, while the claw causes 1.13. 13% better.
A power maul in the same situation, which allows armor saves by the MEQ model, would result in 1.09 unsaved wounds by a Veteran, while only .82 by a non-Veteran.
Whether you take Veteran status is your choice to make, but in the majority of situations it will be a useful addition.

Assault Squad sergeants also have access to a combat shield for a marginal points cost. It gives a 6+ invulnerable save. I feel that a 6+ invulnerable isn't worth any number of points on a Space Marine model. The situations in which a sergeant would need a 6+ invulnerable are few, and the Look Out Sir! rules outshine the appeal of that long-shot save. The only time I can see it being remotely useful is in a challenge against a weaker opponent with a power sword, like that chump Guard sergeant. It fights long odds with long odds. If that's your play style and mindset, buy the shield.

Assault sergeants also have access to meltabombs, which are always a good buy. I'd rather spend points here than on a 6+ invulnerable save! Meltabombs on a front-line unit are wonderful walker repellent, as well as being threatening to just about every assaultable vehicle in the game (minus the Land Raider Achilles, but who runs that?).

So there you have it, the gamut of options available to the sergeant in an Assault Squad. Which is best? Well, if you're going hunting for weakling units, I'd stick with a pistol and lightning claw, Veteran status, and meltabombs if you feel like it. If you think you can pull off the TDA-hunter build I used to use, take the plasma pistol, skip Veteran status, and no meltabombs. The last option is to take a power fist and Veteran status to make a transport-killing unit that clamps krak grenades and punches in the back armor of those Rhinos and Chimeras.

A quick note should be added here for Chapter Tactics. Only two directly affect Assault Squad sergeants: Raven Guard and Black Templars. Raven Guard gives the sergeant an always-on Hammer of Wrath attack. HoW is nice, but it comes into its own in challenges. You still get the HoW hit when challenged, and it MUST be directed at your challenge opponent. That S4 hit can put an extra wound on an Ork Nob, allowing your power sword to finish it off at I4, or knock down the Guard sergeant before he can swing at all. Never forget to use those hits! They can save an expensive power fist sergeant.
Black Templars will give you an edge in a challenge with Rending and rerolls to hit. This gives the so-so power sword sergeant some teeth, or makes the lightning claw into a blender that can score AP2 hits. People have complained that Templars were neutered with their inclusion in the Marine codex. I think they're a little short sighted.

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