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Sunday, 1 January 2017

Army List: No-Wraithknight Eldar 1850 pts


How do you counter the counter-Eldar metagame? Leave the Wraithknights at home! No, this is not a joke...

The Grav Gun Blues

As I wrote in my State of the Metagame 2016 post, Craftworld Eldar are objectively the strongest Faction in 40k right now, but a myriad of Space Marine builds tailored to counter Eldar have kept the xenos from total dominance in the competitive metagame. That is not inherently a bad thing, but I still see it as a challenge to overcome!

What differentiates Space Marines from the chaff of the 41st millennium is not power armour, boltguns, the Emperor's blessed gene-seed or decades of GW plot-armour—it is the mighty Grav Gun. A single weapon that deals with infantry, monsters and vehicles alike, that can be fired on-the-move and is available to a variety of Marine units. Despite being significantly more costly than its Melta and Plasma counterparts, it is still selected near-exclusively over those alternative options.


And if you've ever witnessed what massed Grav will do to an 'unkillable' Wraithknight, you would understand its popularity! Let's do a little quick math:

  • A Wraithknight has W6 and Feel No Pain (5+), which equates to nine effective wounds. A Wraithknight can often get a 5++ save from terrain obscuration, or through wargear choice, so we'll be conservative and treat it as having 13.5 effective wounds
  • Grav weapon hits wound Wraithknights at a rate of 0.67 (or 0.89 with rerolls)
  • BS4 Marines hit at a rate of 0.67 (or 0.89 with rerolls)
At worst, firing 30.375 Grav shots at a Wraithknight should kill it. That may sound like a lot, but a normal Grav Gun fires three shots and Marines can spam Grav Guns fairly easily. And while Wraithknights are very reasonably priced at about 300 pts, losing one in a single turn of shooting is still a significant loss to an Eldar list. At best, Grav Cannons with Grav Amps fired using the Devastator Doctrine for rerolls To Hit and To Wound should kill a Wraithknight with only 17 shots, which is very achievable for a single Devastator or Centurion squad.


So what can an Eldar player do about it? Well not much directly, the numbers are the numbers, and for as long as Wraithknights are popular you can bet that Grav weapons will be popular too. But a canny Eldar player will recognise that their codex is full of other good options, including a variety of vehicles that are far less vulnerable to the dreaded Grav:

  • Irrespective of AV, a vehicle loses a HP at a rate of only 0.17 per Grav hit (0.31 with rerolls)
  • Due to the effective multi-HP loss caused by multiple Grav hits (immobilising an already-immobilised vehicle causes an extra HP loss) there is no difference between 2HP and 3HP vehicles, and a 5HP vehicle like the Lynx can take 3HP of damage
  • All Eldar vehicles can Jink to generate 4++ saves on-demand, so have effective 3HP each, or 4.5HP for the Lynx
That means that Grav Guns without rerolls need 27 shots to kill an Eldar vehicle like a Hornet, Falcon or Warp Hunter, or a whopping 40.5 shots to kill an Eldar Lynx! With rerolls To Hit and To Wound, Grav Devastators or Centurions still need 11 shots to kill most vehicles, or 16.6 shots to kill a Lynx. What this means in practical terms is that a single Hornet costing 80 pts can take as much Grav-beating as a 300 pts Wraithknight, and expensive Grav Devastator and Centurion squads will be overkilling the crap out of light skimmers! MSU principles at their best!


Furthermore, the Hornet's AV11 defeats the conventional wisdom of Marine list building that 'bolters kill what grav does not'. With the current trend of all-Grav Marine lists, a points-efficient light skimmer is an attractive counter-choice.

Can't Touch This 

Also noted in the State of the Metagame 2016, the trend towards early-game assault is also troubling for Eldar. Wraithknights are the standard Eldar counter to enemy assaults, but how does a Wraithknight-free list deal with enemies that get up close and personal? 

Simple: don't let them get into assault in the first place, then shoot them dead! Now simple does not mean easy, but Eldar do have a great and overlooked tool available in the Corsair list: the Reckless Abandon rule. This Faction-wide rule allows Corsairs to make a 1D6+6" move immediately after shooting, as long as they don't move closer to their shooting target. This means that when an enemy declares a charge against a Corsair unit, they can Overwatch then Reckless Abandon away, and even if you roll a 1 you are extending then enemy charge distance by a huge 7". It's essentially Warp Spider jump shenanigans in the assault phase! Note it doesn't work against things that deny Overwatch (but only Skyhammer comes to mind).


Another often overlooked assault countermeasure—that is not limited to Eldar—is the good old Skyshield Landing Pad Fortification. In addition to its invulnerable save and Deep Strike enhancing utility, units on top are effectively an extra 5" away from a charging enemy (3” vertical distance plus -2" penalty for charging through Difficult Terrain). This is often enough to delay assault by a turn, even against a Skyhammer.

Putting it all Together

So we know we aren't taking Wraithknights, we want Hornets and a Skyshield, and we want Corsairs of some kind. Of course, we don't want to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, so we'd better spam Windriders and Warp Spiders to some extent in order to maintain the tried-and-tested winning Eldar formula.

Let's start with the easiest part—an Aspect Host Formation of three Spider squads. Min-sized with naked Exarchs is fine, and this potent little Formation costs us just 315 pts.

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Next we need some Windriders—or Cloud Dancers, the slightly more expensive Corsair equivalent. If we start with a Corsair Combined Arms Detachment we can field six min-sized squads (with Scatter Lasers) for only 540 pts, which is 54 pts more than Windriders without Reckless Abandon.

Of course we will need to pay the HQ tax for our Corsair Combined Arms Detachment, and at least one Prince is a mandatory requirement of the Faction. He is not cheap at 75 pts base, and has plenty of expensive wargear options, but we will resist the temptation to tool him up and aim for cheap utility instead. One Prince in an army can select from a list of a half-dozen different special rules that tailor the list play-style to varying extents—including conferring Rampage and Rage to selected units, access to relics or combat drugs, and a few others. We will take the Traveller of Forgotten Paths rule, that gives the Prince the Deep Strike rule for free and an interesting piece of wargear called the Multiphase Key Generator.


If you've played Eldar or Dark Eldar in previous editions, you may recognise this item by its old name: the Webway Portal. Unlike the contemporary Dark Eldar Webway Portal that simply allows one unit to Deep Strike without scattering, the old-school version allowed the placement of a portal marker in the shooting phase from which any number of other non-vehicle units could arrive from Reserve as if it was their table edge. The Multiphase Key Generator has a few subtle differences from its previous versions, but the idea is the same; and most significantly, it now allows any friendly non-vehicle unit that finishes its movement phase within 3" of the portal marker to immediately enter Ongoing Reserves... I sense the opportunity for shenanigans!

We will keep our Traveller of Forgotten Paths Prince otherwise naked and fairly cheap at just 75 pts—his role is simply to Deep Strike in to a suitable spot and activate his Multiphase Key Generator. We don't care if he dies afterwards.

Next we want some Hornets; double Pulse Laser is the default best configuration for Hornets, a bargain at just 80 pts, and we don't need to bother investing in defensive wargear since we can just Jink (then Flat Out and still Snap Shot the next turn). Squadrons are a liability not a gain, so we'll just fill our Fast Attack slots with three solo Hornets. At this point our list looks like this:
Combined Arms Detachment: Eldar Corsairs
HQ
Corsair Prince, Traveller of Forgotten Paths [75]
Troops
Corsair Cloud Dancers, 3x Scatter Lasers [90]
Corsair Cloud Dancers, 3x Scatter Lasers [90]
Corsair Cloud Dancers, 3x Scatter Lasers [90]
Corsair Cloud Dancers, 3x Scatter Lasers [90]
Corsair Cloud Dancers, 3x Scatter Lasers [90]
Corsair Cloud Dancers, 3x Scatter Lasers [90]
Fast Attack
Corsair Hornet, 2x Pulse Laser [80]
Corsair Hornet, 2x Pulse Laser [80]
Corsair Hornet, 2x Pulse Laser [80]
Fortification
Skyshield Landing Pad [75] 
Aspect Host Formation
Warp Spider squad with Exarch [105]
Warp Spider squad with Exarch [105]
Warp Spider squad with Exarch [105]

All this only costs us 1245 pts, so we still have about 600 pts to play with. I'd really like to get more Hornets into this list, plus some ranged D weapons. The former will require another Detachment, but the latter can be easily added through a Lynx in the Skyhunters Squadron Formation.


The Lynx is another underrated Eldar unit—for a very reasonable 255 pts you get an AV12 Eldar vehicle with a huge 5HP and a Twin-Linked three-shot D weapon, that can alternatively fire as a Large Blast D weapon in any rare occasions when that mode would be better. Let me put the phenomenal efficiency of this unit into perspective—a Wraithknight costs 295 pts and gets 1.33 D hits per turn, but a Lynx costs 255 pts and gets 2.67 D hits per turn. Yes, the Lynx is literally twice as good, and cheaper! Sure, the Wraithknight is generally tougher than a Lynx, but as we saw earlier, the Lynx can take more of a Grav-beating than a Wraithknight, which is all that really matters in the hard match-up of Marines. And to make things even better, the Lynx can Zoom as a flyer to escape enemy assaulters, although it is stuck Snap Firing if it has to—but that's better than being dead!

The Skyhunters Squadron is a Formation that can simply comprise a single Lynx, so a Lynx can just be dropped into our list—also note it can be just as easily dropped into any other list, so take heed all you players of Factions without good access to D weapons! A free bonus from this Formation is the On Wings of Flame rule that confers a 4++ cover save to a Lynx for a turn cycle after it Deep Strikes in.

Now to get extra Hornets without forming squadrons, we need another Detachment—the easiest option is to add a Craftworlds Combined Arms Detachment for another three Fast Attack slots that we can fill with Hornets. Two of our Corsair Cloud Dancer squads can be substituted with Windrider squads, and an Autarch can satisfy our HQ tax and contribute some useful Reserve manipulation utility. My preferred Autarch configuration is the simple Wings plus Fusion Gun combo, so he can Deep Strike in, gank a tank, then Skyleap out, rinse and repeat.

So what does our (almost) final list look like?
Combined Arms Detachment: Eldar Corsairs
HQ
Corsair Prince, Traveller of Forgotten Paths [75]
Troops
Corsair Cloud Dancers, 3x Scatter Lasers [90]
Corsair Cloud Dancers, 3x Scatter Lasers [90]
Corsair Cloud Dancers, 3x Scatter Lasers [90]
Corsair Cloud Dancers, 3x Scatter Lasers [90]
Fast Attack
Corsair Hornet, 2x Pulse Laser [80]
Corsair Hornet, 2x Pulse Laser [80]
Corsair Hornet, 2x Pulse Laser [80]
Fortification
Skyshield Landing Pad [75] 
Combined Arms Detachment: Eldar Craftworlds
HQ
Autarch, Swooping Hawk Wings, Fusion Gun [95]
Troops
Windriders, 3x Scatter Laser [81]
Windriders, 3x Scatter Laser [81]
Fast Attack
Hornet, 2x Pulse Laser [80]
Hornet, 2x Pulse Laser [80]
Hornet, 2x Pulse Laser [80]
Aspect Host Formation
Warp Spider squad with Exarch [105]
Warp Spider squad with Exarch [105]
Warp Spider squad with Exarch [105]
Skyhunter Squadron Formation
Lynx, Pulsar, Scatter Laser, Holo-Field [270]
1832 pts 

I haven't settled on a way to spend that final 18 pts—adding Chain Snares to the three Corsair Hornets so they can Tank Shock is probably good utility. I also haven't nominated a Warlord; the Prince is too disposable, and the Autarch is very fragile too, so a Spider Exarch might be the best option. However, smart and conservative play with the Autarch can keep him alive, and Spiders are a very high priority target, so YMMV.

Conclusion

This list has eighteen units at 1850 pts, so it certainly fits the MSU style with all its associated benefits. While it may start with a bunch of Hornets and jetbikes deployed on and around a Fortification, it is an extremely mobile list with Deep Striking characters and Spiders, plus the webway portal enabling the jetbikes to pseudo-Deep Strike too. Perhaps more significantly, the webway portal also allows Spiders and jetbikes to escape aggressive enemies and re-position the following turn by scooting into Ongoing Reserves. Importantly, the Autarch allows Reserve manipulation to ensure you get your reinforcements when you want them, whether that be sooner to enable an alpha strike or later to foil Pods.

This list brings absolutely withering firepower to the table—72 S6 shots, 30 S6 Monofilament shots, 24 S8 AP2 shots and 3 Twin-Linked D shots at its peak. All that S8 AP2 firepower is really important, as while this list is tailored to counter Marines, it would be quite susceptible to Tau if it wasn't also so capable of blowing away an army of battlesuits very quickly.

Best of all, this list will confound and infuriate those who aim to lock it down in assault, especially with early-game assault tricks. Abusing Reckless Abandon on jetbikes and the geometry of the Skyshield should keep your forces mobile and shooting—and buying even just a single extra turn of shooting with this list should be sufficient to win most battles.

Without Stomp or Psychic Shriek, this list does not have any direct counters to Invisibility, but I think its firepower and mobility should allow it to win against most deathstar lists regardless; plus it rolls enough dice to still push damage through Invisibility, especially since its D weapon is direct-fire and inherently Twin-Linked.

So what do you think of this list? Any glaring weaknesses in a competitive list without the dreaded Wraithknight? And how do you think the contemporary Space Marine lists will deal with an enemy without an obvious valuable target to efficiently Grav-smite?

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