Despite being the oldest 5e codex, it seems the Vanilla Marine Codex is still poorly understood. There still seem to be a lot of posts/emails asking for advice on a list (in a competitive environment only, stand down fluff-wolverines) that just seems to ignore all the good advice about Vanilla Marines. Let's get a few things straight. The Vanilla Codex is a very competitive codex. Even in the post-Wolf world, the Ultras can, and do, win tournaments. It's also a very good codex. It has competitive choices in every slot. It allows you to bring a wide variety of lists and still compete. I think this last point is where people slip up. The Vanilla Codex does NOT have variety in a very straightforward way. Once you start building your list, most of your choices are pretty straightforward. Where the Vanilla book shines is before you start building your list. I think this book can bring the widest variety of lists of any book. It can do: Rock (doube TH/SS Raiders), pure Mech (traditional "Best Of" style lists), MSU mech (razorspam), Drop Pod (6 Dreads/5 other), "foot" (Bikers), Biker/Rock (Bikers with TH/SS Raiders), Biker/Mech (Bikers with Dreads), hybrid (Thundergate/bubble lists). I don't think any other book can cover that wide an interest base. What can't it do? Pure foot, but no one really can except Loganwing. Jumpers, of any sort, let alone pure Jumpers. I'm not sure what else there is in army theme (Please let me know if I missed something)
So, how do we actually build a competitive Vanilla SM list? It's not that hard. Use this handy guide.
HQ: If you haven't noticed, psychic powers are good, so are invulnerable saves. We happen to have an HQ that stops both. You're bringing a Librarian. Terminator and Storm Shield are viable upgrades if he has a Termie squad to roll with (either on foot or in a Raider). You're bringing Null Zone. 2nd power is Gate if you have Th/SS or Avenger if you're in a Rhino/Razor. HQ done unless you want bikes or Pods. For bikes add Captain with bike, SS and Relic Blade. If you're running hybrid bikes (with Dreads or Termies) you're done. For pure Bikers, drop the Libby, add a 2nd Captain as above and 2 blinged out Command Squads (SS, MG and LC on nearly every guy). For Pods add a naked MotF. (as an aside, Vulkan is viable too, but I don't want to discuss him)
Troops: Razors or Rhinos? Rhinos control midfield better, put out better anti-infantry and favor a more aggressive style. Razor put out better anti-tank and favor a more sit back and shoot style. Rhinos costs 205 points and come with a Multi-melta and a flamer (your Sgt should keep his bolter too). Leftover point upgrades are dozer blade, meltabomb, combi-melta, your choice of preference. Razorbacks come with lascannons and TL plasma guns. Leftover point upgrade is combi-flamer. No CC upgrades for either squad, ever. Pure Rhino base lists bring 2 Rhinos, no more no less. Pure Razor lists will probably bring at least 4. Combined lists are very good and bring 2 of each. If you want Biker troops instead, max out your melta. TL bolters are sufficient anti-troop. Combi-flamer is a good leftover upgrade. Again, no CC upgrades. Want Pods? 2-3 10 man squads as above, with Pods instead of Rhinos.
Elites: Are you bringing Termies? If so, add 10 TH/SS. Big blob for hybrid lists, combat squaded if you're going Raiders. Fill the remaining 2-3 slots with Dreads. Rifleman (double TL autocannon) is the standard. MM/DCCW is tolerable if you like to mix it up in CC and like a strong midfield. Ironclads are less tolerable if you REALLY like CC or love Hunter-Killer Missiles. Hate Dreads? Sterns are somewhat acceptable as Lasbunkers (2 LC in a Rhino) or BBQ-box (heavy flamers and combi-meltas in a Rhino). Tactical Terminators with Cyclones are also somewhat acceptable but simply inferior to Riflemen. Bringing Pods? MM Dreads in pods. HF possible. Bringing pure bikers? No elites, sucka.
Fast Attack: Do you need more: A) blocking/harassing B) melta C) suppression fire (ie anti-light tank). For A or B add MM/HF Speeders. For C add Typhoons. I think 2 and 2 (MM/HF alone, Typhoons in a squad) hits a nice points level for most 2k games. If points are tight, MM Attack Bikes are passable. If Pods, 5 man Assauly Squad with a Pod and a flamer is the cheapest pod you can buy to get the 6/5 ratio needed. Pure bikers get better value from bike squads than Attack Bikes, so no FA for them either.
Heavy Support: Are you running Rocks? Crusaders or Redeemers with Extra Armor, Multi-melta. Crusader is better on paper. Redeemer scares people. Your choice for what you bring. But bring 2 (one is Dedicated). Rest is dakka Preds (HB/autocannon). If you're really light on anti-light tank, AC/LC Preds can be substituted, but they are sub-par. Bikers? No HS, sorry. Pods? 3 more MM Dreads.
FA/HS is really where you have wiggle room. Express yourself in your Speeder/Pred ratio and loadout. Make your army unique
Pretty straightforward. The big choice for Vanilla Marines is what army-type to bring. After that, the list writes itself. Class dismissed.