Using More Aspect Warriors, my silly ideas for making this work

Most eldar players have at some point had a love affair with aspect warriors. In 8th edition, this relationship likely unfolded like the doomed tryst that was your first serious high school girlfriend or boyfriend: at first, it seemed they had everything to offer, but gradually the warm glow of their good looks and cool backstory wore off, and you were left with the imperfect reality of someone who isn’t who you told yourself they were and probably cost you a lot of money too.

Let’s be honest though, you still have a warm place in your heart for aspect warriors and will never really forget about them. For one thing, the concept is bad ass: small specialized squads each of which is so perfectly suited to a special task that together they can dismember any opponent by each applying their own particular type of pressure in exactly the right places.

Unfortunately, with the exception of reapers and spears, most aspect warriors haven’t seemed to offer cost-effective utility in 8th edition. In fact, many, (including dragons, scorpions, and warp spiders,) appear fairly ineffective at their supposedly expert specialties. Additionally, lots of craftworld players were initially salty about Phoenix Rising, (despite the fact that the new craftworld traits are awesome,) specifically because our biggest hope for the book was that it would “fix” aspect warriors. It didn’t. Those new exarch powers offer some fun options for casual play and some big boosts to spears, (the-already-excellent-aspect-warriors,)  but the warriors from the majority of aspect shrines remain totally absent from high performing tournament lists, and it still seems pretty much impossible to design a competitive list primarily around these allegedly highly versatile war-obsessed elites.

Nevertheless, I have been messing around with including some of the most unloved and unappreciated aspect warriors in my semi-competitive lists. In fact, in my last couple of games, I have endeavored to run a squad of every aspect warrior without any of those points being wasted. I have come to the conclusion that while aspect warriors might not be as amazing as we would like, because of Phoenix Rising and the new ITC rules, aspect warriors have more to offer than is initially apparent.

To start with, I think we need to consider 2 broad categories of aspect warriors: those that primarily are good for destroying enemy units, and those whose primary purpose is scoring or board control. I am going to suggest that spears, reapers, and dragons are the only aspect warriors that are primarily unit killers, while all the others should be considered for their tactical value, not based on what units they are likely to destroy. (I am not going to discuss reapers or spears, as it’s obvious why those are good and I have already written about how to use them effectively.)

Fire Dragons: we all know the problems with dragons. Even squads of 6 or 7 don’t hit hard enough out of the webway without buffs to actually delete their target reliably, and they are so fragile that they inevitably get slaughtered the turn after you use them. Nevertheless, I have had some luck using dragons in a heavy melee list with “head strong” and “expert crafters.” If you bring in 7 dragons out of the webway and you give them the exarch power that lets them use their guns as pistols, you can do the following: a) cast “ghost walk” on the fire dragons the turn they emerge from the webway. b) blast a heavy target with 7 shots of melta fire with 2 rerolls from “expert crafters,” probably enough to destroy a light tank. c) Charge another target with +3 to your charge from “ghost walk” and “headstrong.”

If you have multiple units engaged in melee this turn, your dragons may survive to your next turn to destroy a second target, (this time getting the damage rerolls for being at close range,) and charge again. Ideally, when your dragons charge the first time, they do so such that the enemy cannot escape, rendering the dragons untargetable in the next round of shooting. (The easiest way to do this is to “tripoint” a single model.) On the other-hand, If you can get the dragons engaged with a tank on the charge and pin in it there, next turn the dragons can blast it with those fusion guns that count as “pistols” now re-rolling damage rolls.  Dragons also have good synergy with the Yncarne’s deepstrike power, as if they are almost guaranteed to be well positioned for the Ycarne to take their place when they die.

Swooping Hawks: These guys really earned their points in my last game. I think the key to hawks is to think of them as scoring units first and chaff-clearing units second. If you run a minimal squad of 5, you get a low cost anti anti-infantry unit that can deepstrike for free. The new ITC rules have made mobility and objective control highly valuable. Hawks can help you score both the “Recon” and “Behind Enemy Lines” secondaries while also giving you extra fire power against the additional light troop units that are likely to become more popular as the objective-control aspect of the game has become more important in the 2020 ITC rules. Hawks can increase their survivability by taking the “evade” exarch power, which grants them 5++ invuln, and by engaging in melee with weak opponents. Like fire dragons, hawks also have good synergy with the Yncarne.

Warp Spiders: Warp spiders have been accused of being the worst unit in the eldar line. I used them effectively in a recent game by treating them as a point-scoring unit, rather than a combat unit. A minimal squad of 5 with the “web of deceit” exarch power can deepstrike for free to score “behind enemy lines,” “recon,” or grab an undefended objective, and can then do this a second time with that new exarch power. They are still probably a weaker choice than the hawks for the points, but if you have a squad of 5 that you want to play with for thematic or aesthetic reasons, they won’t let you down as a control unit.

Banshees: Arguably already the best of the aspect warriors for their cost after reapers and spears, banshees have gotten a utility boost from the new ITC rules. They are so affordable and so fast, that their ability to charge enemy light troop units on objectives is brutal and cheaply bought, and if you are running melee spears or wraithblades in the webway, banshees can hit your opponent’s line turn 1 and keep them tied up in his or her deployment zone while you wait for your heavy hitters to arrive turn two. Even if you don’t have other melee units, this is a cheap way to keep your opponent’s melee units trapped in their own deployment zone turn 1. Alternatively, you can hold minimal squads of banshees in falcons or a serpent turn 1, and have them pop out turn 2 to shut down overwatch fire for your spears.  I also find that my opponents tend to over react to my banshees, which can be useful for my other units.

Dire Avengers: Phoenix Rising finally made it possible for these aspect warriors to have at least slightly better fire output than the same number of guardians, and at least one high-performing Los Vegas Open list used several minimal units with “Superior Shurikens” to good effect. If you are trying to get to 2 battalions for extra CP, units of 5 dire avengers will not only get you there inexpensively, but as the only aspect warriors with “objective secured,” they will give you extra objective-control that is essential for the new ITC missions. That said, if you have ever thought to yourself, ‘I wonder if I could run Asurman and 20 Dire Avengers to benefit from his 4++ invuln save, in order to control 2 objectives and use “superior shurikens” to drive enemy troops off the midfield objectives,’ I am here to tell you that it doesn’t actually work. Stick to units of 5 to flesh out a battalion and do normal troop stuff.

Striking Scorpions: I still have not figured out a way for these guys to be useful. Occasionally I see accounts online about how scorpions are amazing because in some dude’s last game they assassinated an essential enemy support character, but I can’t help thinking that if you were able to deep strike some scorpions and assassinate an essential character, your opponent was either being extremely sloppy, or is totally new. As a scoring unit and board control option, Scorpions offer the same free deepstrike that hawks and spiders have without hawk’s substantial anti-horde fire power, or spider’s ability to double-deepstrike by repositioning with the exarch power. As a melee-control unit, scorpions don’t have banshees’ ability to engage on turn 1, and if you are going to go through the trouble of using “ghost walk” and “head strong,” to get them into combat as turn two deepstrikers, why not just drop in something like wraithblades or spears that can do some real damage? In theory, the one thing scorpions have on other melee units is the “withdraw” power that lets them jump out of combat at the end of your opponent’s fight phase and charge a different unit in order to tie up a tank or something, but that would be pretty hard to pull off to any great effect with a relatively fragile unit that poses no real risk to hard targets. (I think scorpions could be easily fixed with a stratagem, but I will talk about that idea in an upcoming post about my wish list for 9th.) If you have figured out a way to make scorpions work well against skilled veteran opponents who don’t make silly movement errors, please shoot me an email. I would love to use them.

The Take Away At least in ITC play, almost all of our aspect warriors can find a place at least in semi-competitive lists. If we start by giving up the idea that every unit should be assessed primarily on its ability to do damage, and select exarch powers that enhance aspect warriors’ function as small scoring and control units, our cliquey totemic war cultists might surprise us with how much they have to offer.

If you want to chat about aspect warriors feel free to get in touch with me via the “contact” link.

Leave a Reply