Whenever a new 'dex comes out, I try not to jump immediately into a mode where I start judging the value of units. More often than not, some of the strongest units in a 'dex are initially panned, or simply looked over. I've written before about winning armies, and how things on the table are often different from what we see as excellent in theory. The power gradient that's in our mind is usually a bit different than what's winning games on the table.
I've been talking with a lot of my of my Eldar-playing friends, (special shout out to Way of the Eldar) and played a few games against the new 'dex, and I feel like I'm ready to give some general advice on how to handle the new 'dex.
First off, your new Eldar strategy, which I'm going to coin as:
The Eldar Dance of Death
Battle focus is an exceptional ability, and Eldar short-range anti-infantry shooting is phenomenal. In addition, Eldar anti-tank and support fire has a very long range, and tends to be mounted on extremely mobile platforms.
What that means is that you really want to have your close range units (think anything that has shuriken weaponry and and a move after the shot) to be dancing juuuuuuuust at the edge of the enemy's range. Get in, shoot your shots, and run away. Most units don't like to test an assault at a unit that started the turn ~15”+ away from them, especially if there is any intervening difficult terrain.
The very fast speed of Eldar infantry (with battle focus) means that you can pull this off while you position yourself on the battlefield- taking objectives, shifting fronts, etc. Eldar infantry are so fast with battle focus that they're often nearly as quick as many other races infantry units that are riding in transports. Use that to your advantage.
The other thing to keep in mind is that you will lose models, and that is absolutely OK. People give Guardians a lot of flack because they die so easily, but the simple fact of the matter is that point-for-point Guardians win an exchange of fire with any unit in the game. A barrage of fire from a guardian squad is about as bad for a unit as being charged by an equivalent points cost in Genestealers. And the enemy will return fire, and you'll lose some. That's OK. That's pretty much the whole Eldar story, isn't it?
Your vehicles are also very powerful. Carrying your cover save with you, as Eldar vehicles do, is extremely good. They're also so fast that they should never really be caught out in an open fire nexus that much, and they should really never be getting hit by melee attacks. (Unless you're using them as a wall to block access to an area.) They're also so long ranged (36”+) that they really don't need to be far up the field to be contributing.
You can use the pressure of powerful short-ranged shooting and reliable long-range support firepower to really put pressure on the enemy. If you're playing right, you'll be in their face, but untouchable, always dancing just out of range of melee annihilation, while your vehicles blow holes in their support. Think of it as a series of hit-and-run attacks that are supported by unending artillery fire.
You get the picture. Let's look at some units. The point of this little run through will not be to give a very in-depth analysis to each and every unit, but rather to give a broad overview of what is most tactically useful.
The Many HQ's
Eldar have a crowd in every slot- that's what you get for being in the game line so long. HQ is no exception to this, as Eldar have 13 HQ choices, not counting the Warlock Council (who is really un-slotted.) Most of them are pretty bad, but there's a few fun options in there.
Eldrad is the first one most people will look at, and he's… OK. Not phenomenal, as he costs basically 2 standard Farseers, without an appreciable increase in power. His ability to regain Warp Charge isn't super useful, as you can't cast the same power twice, so you'll run out of casting anyway. I'd probably take 2 Farseers over him in almost every case.
Prince Yriel, Asurmen, Jain Zar, Fuegan, Baharroth and Maugan Ra are all best left on the shelf. They're not really doing much that isn't covered better elsewhere. (This is what happens when you have a lot of dudes trying to do basically the same stuff- One of them is going to do it best.)
I will make a fun theory note, though. You could theoretically cycle Fuegan being wounded and then Renew him back up, all the way to S10 A10. It would never happen, but it's funny to think about.
Karandras is the standout Pheonix lord. He's one of the pre-eminent challengers in the game, able to take down just about anything with his 5 I7 S8 AP2 attacks. (With a likely re-roll to wound.) In addition, he gives his units Shrouded, which means he can hang with his Scorpion buddies and they can cover each other with Stealth as well. He also comes stock with what is probably the best Eldar warlord trait. Still, it can be hard to pick him over a couple of Farseers, and having both makes your HQ slot very heavy. (ONE HUGE CAVEAT: The IPad version lists him as having Stealth, NOT Shrouded. If that's true, he's a LOT worse and I'd probably leave him behind.)
Illic Nightspear is also very interesting. While he's only kind of OK, he does have some interesting options. Pathfinders are expensive at 25 points per guy, but you can get 6 of them for the cost of a Vindicare at a much higher effect. More and more units in 40k rely on specific models to make them powerful, putting out that many precision shots is very nice indeed. And those pathfinders are difficult to take down, as they also pack stealth and shrouded. You could theoretically make an army including him and a bunch of other pinning units and force a ton of pinning checks. If you have a Hemlock to hang around, you can really get some units to go to ground. (You are sniping the Sergent, no?)
I'm really not sure on the Avatar. Maybe he's good?
The Autarch is, for the most part, pretty bad. His reserves rule don't help an army that doesn't generally like to start of the board, and most of his gear makes him a very expensive weapons guy to attach to a squad. However, there's one build I like with him. I call it the
“Challenger” Solitaire. Take the Mantle of the Laughing God, a Jetbike, a Laser Lance, and a Banshee mask. It's hard to shoot you to death, you can run around on your own, and go hit-and-run anything vulnerable. Unless you hit a hard combat HQ (so… don't. You're fast.) you should be able to take anything down in a challenge, and just rip up smaller squads, all while you're nowhere near the rest of your army. Eldar really do love a melee harass, and someone who can tackle weakened squads. I'm going to throw in comments here as well as I really am loving this combination so far; I'm not sure if I'll continue with him long-term as he does have a horrific weakness to anything which ignores cover but he's only 135 pts and will ruin anything that doesn't have a 2+ save.
The Farseer is good, and the Spiritseer is OK. Eldar don't have a ton of units that really need the bunch of blessings that the Spiritseer provides, and the Farseer actually provides a lot of nice, very reliable abilities in a cheap package. You can always just choose to have Prescience and Guide, with rolls on both tables to try for something great. (Doom and Fortune both being your best options.) Really, the Farseer is the default HQ for most Eldar armies. Some may want to build the all-wraith army that the Spiritseer gives access to, but I just don't see how it would work. It's slow, clunky, vulnerable to a ton of things, and don't synergize with much of anything in the rest of the army.
Warlocks are pretty good, and hand out super-nice shrouding (or what can be even more clutch: take it away) at worst. You should stick them in a bunch of squads. Remember that shrouding gives your bog-standard Jetbike squads a 3+ all the time cover save.
An interesting bag, with some good and some bad.
Guardian Jetbikes are excellent. They're amazingly fast, tough as a marine, and they put out very respectable anti-infantry firepower. Six squads of 9 bikes with heavy weapons would not be overkill. Really, you should probably always bring a unit or two of them into every battle- they're just too useful due to their speed.
However, they're not the only decent choice. Guardians, as I alluded to in the introduction, are actually quite good. Their firepower literally doubled in effectiveness against MEQ units, and a natural BS of 4 means that they are actually OK with their heavy weapons. Those weapons, by the way, also are wound-takers themselves now. You can potentially stick one or two in front to soak firepower with their 3+ saves if you need to. They all also universally have much longer range than the Guardians, which extends their casualty possibilities. While you should expect to lose a lot in return, as long as you're not being charged and wiped, you should often be able to make your points back in your slaughter-barrage. I like the Brightlance with them, though the Scatter Laser is the one to pick if you already have good antitank in your list (though please note it does NOT twin-link the whole unit, as many suggest).
Dire avengers are overpriced Guardians, in my opinion. They're uncomfortably between the cost-effectiveness of Guardians and the overall awesomeness of Jetbikes, which leaves them a bit stranded. Know what your army does and pick one or the other.
Rangers are solid. Precision shots are always welcome, and their extreme range and decent BS means they have a place in a lot of armies. A couple small squads to sit back, hold objectives, and plink at MCs and VIPs is not bad at all.
Storm Guardians are dumb. You can't melee things to death with guardians, even if you have an extra attack. Just don't. They do have special weapons though…
The Wave Serpent
This gets its own section, because there's a lot of misconception about it.
You need to change your thinking about the Wave Serpent. The easiest, quickest explanation of the new serpent is that is has changed from a transport with guns, to a main battle tank that happens to be able to ferry people.
First off, the Serpent Shield should really be called the Serpent-Gun-That-Is-Sometimes-a-Shield. It's an AMAZING weapon. Not only does it cause hits at long range at good strength, but it causes pinning hits (Illic Nightspear army clears it's throat) and most importantly it ignores cover. Ignores cover is an amazing ability this edition, (really every addition) but it means that the Wave Serpent threatens light vehicles like nothing else in the game. A Scatter Laser will even let you re-roll those Serpent Shield misses and add even more firepower, which allows the Wave Serpent threaten everything from AV10-12 tanks to high save infantry. It's REALLY powerful and I would even consider taking one for a squad that would never use it, or couldn't even fit. Great tank.
One day GW will realize what Blizzard did a long time ago: if you have multiple units doing the same thing, one will be the best, and that's the only one that will matter. Either cut the others, or change their role.
In our case, it's the Eldar elite melee unit that we're looking at. Howling Banshees, Striking Scorpions, and Harlequins are all up for the exact same role of punching things to death.
I'll save us all some time. Scorpions are the best, because they survive the best, and because all 3 squads have similar output on anything you'd want to melee. If you want a melee unit, take Scorpions. Bam.
Fire dragons deserve a mention here. While they're still an OK unit, the face that Eldar have a lot of platforms that can take reasonable Bright Lances, as well as their price increase, renders them a little less impressive. I wouldn't take them unless the list you use is specifically having trouble with high-AV tanks.
Not sure on the Wraith units yet. In theory you could do some decent hop outta transports kind of stuff, but I'm not really sold on the effectiveness of that. I REALLY don't like them as troops, they're slow, have terrible range, and even at T6 aren't that difficult to remove.
Swooping Hawks seem like they might be a good harassment unit, but you already have a lot of hit-and-run infantry harassment in whatever troops you bring, so I don't really like them all that much, still.
Warp Spiders are a bit better, as they can cause a lot of wounds, and obliterate tanks. Still, 19 points each is expensive, unless your list needs them, it's probably best to leave them at home. (Needs the ability to nuke lightish tanks and further support your hit-and-run attacks, that is.)
Shining Spears I'm not sure about. My initial reaction would be to fill out your scoring Jetbike squadrons first, but there may actually be a place for them. Eldar REALLY like at least one unit in the army that can do a decent job in melee, and the speed of the Spears would be a huge asset in that role. Though it is a shame they can't have a Warlock, the would really love Shrouded.
The Crimson Hunter is a little overcosted, I think, as you can actually bring most aircraft down through weight of fire. It's also so fragile that to make use of it you'll probably have to go second, which is less than ideal for an army that likes it's Wave Serpent alphasplosion.
Vypers are pretty bad. I'd skip them. You can pretty much always find something that will do the same job better than they will.
The Hemlock is OK, but I wouldn't take it unless you're pretty sure you want to force a lot of pinning. The Mindshock pod is great. Still, expensive, and expect it to get shot down in short order.
Dark Reapers are really, really expensive, and only kind of good. One thing to think about, however, is attaching an allied Tau commander with a Puretide Chip, Multispectral Scanner Command and Control Node. That's some scary shooting right there. But unless you're doing something like that, I'd advise against them.
The Support Battery is interesting, the D-cannons look OK, but you really don't generally need help killing heavy tanks, and small blasts are of limited use against most infantry. It could potentially be a decent character sniper with its indirect fire.
The Fire Prism is solid. No more stupid rule where you have to give up shooting with one to be decent with the other. It's a nice all-rounder, but when you're playtesting it's worth keeping an eye on it to see if you should swap it out for something more specialized.
The Night Spinner is quite good. The Doomweaver is very powerful against grouped tanks and many infantry (remember, it can effectively rend and ignore cover when hitting infantry with its barrage). It's torrent fire mode is especially impressive, it's actually good enough that I would consider the Crystal Targeting Matrix with this thing.
The Falcon is sort of meh. Even with the Pulse Laser it's generally doing less damage than a Wave Serpent, and it doesn't have the shield option! I just don't see where it fits in.
War Walkers are very cool. Since they have Battle Focus and Scouts, it's very easy to run them up a flank while maintaining constant fire. My preferred loadout would be Scatter Laser/Brightlance, which lets you threaten just about anything in the game. I'd probably run a squadron of 3 outfitted like this in any build, as they're fast and effective against all targets. Eldar, more than any other race, really benefit from encircling the enemy, as the large amount of mid-strength shooting they bring benefits greatly from side shots.
I don't rate the Wraithlord very highly. It's weapons are very expensive, and much like a Dreadnought it is unlikely to see itself safely to combat. Honestly, its probably better to just take a Wraithkight, which is effectively two bolted together (double cost, double wounds) but with good stock guns for free.
Finally, the big boy: the Wraithknight. First, why is it called that? Why is it not the Wraithlord, and the old Wraithlord is renamed the Wraithknight? Would that not make the progression make more sense? (Guard<Knight<Lord<Kirby?) Anyway…
I didn't rate the Wraithknight very highly at first. (And before you get excited, I still kind of don't.) He has the option to take four weapons, but can only ever fire two. His sword is a huge waste of points, and his stock guns are cool and powerful but largely unneeded in a properly built army. If I were to build one, I'd swap for the Suncannon (you WANT that invulnerable save) and the Scatter Laser (just one) to twin-link it. That's pretty threatening to most infantry.
The biggest thing that makes me think the Wriathknight is perhaps worthwhile, however, sounds absurd on it's face: you can Deep Strike it. Yup, it's a Jump unit, so it can Deep Strike. While the thing is hardly invulnerable, deep striking a monster with T8, W6 and a 3+/5++ could potentially be very strong. You could use that to effectively pen the enemy, while you carry out your other operations, as the thing would be an imminent threat. And no, don't put the fracking thing right next to the enemy, it's jump infantry, it's fast and can afford to drop somewhere safe.
I'm sure there will be a lot of builds to come, but there's a few which I think are, at the moment, very powerful. I'll list a few, to hopefully help you get started:
1.) Siam-Hann: Bikes bikes bikes. Load up on a ton of Jetbike Squads, and lots of long range firepower. With such a fast front to your army, you can afford to take many of the more immobile heavy support units. This is the list I would use Karandras in, I think the constant annoying harassment from the bikes would be a perfect cover for he and his unit to sneak up unmolested.
2.) Tsunami: Maximize the Wave Serpent carnage. Take big squads of Gaurdians who don't even bother to get inside, support with units that can crack heavier armor, and get up the field as fast as you can. Double Farseer is not a bad call, as Guardian squads really appreciate Guide and Prescience. Just be very careful of melee units, you want something to countercharge, and this list really benefits from a sniper or two to take out characters.
3.) Godzilla: Bring a Wraithknight and all the heavy firepower you can muster. Pen in the opponent and just keep smashing.
4.) Pinning Storm: Bring Illic, two units of pathfinders (6-7 in a squad is fine). Bring three Night Weavers, bring 3 Wave Serpents. Force unending Pinning checks after you snipe out the sergeants. For extra fun, bring a Hemlock.
And, of course, as always, there's the:
5.) Balanced Approach: Make use of those good troop options! 1-2 Squads of Rangers, 2-3 of Guardians with Serpents, and 2-3 of Jetbikes. Have 6 total. Test out melee units until you find one that can keep melee enemies off your back. Bring a Squadron of War Walkers, a Fire Prism, and a Night Spinner. Don't be afraid to try things, and remember that army synergy trumps raw power every time.
Anyway, that's my initial take on it. One more shout out to Way of the Eldar. He's a smart guy who help me reach a lot of these conclusions, or outright told me them. And of course make use of the 3++ forums – we all love them; so should you. So, what do you guys think of the new 'dex?