There is quite a bit of doom and gloom floating around online about the state of Craftworlds in 9th edition. While some of the salt is justified, Asuryani have some considerable strengths, and if you had a good list for 8th edition that wasn’t all cheese, you probably still have a competitive list for 9th. Although you don’t need to buy a bunch of new models- (aside from perhaps another wave serpent and some dire avengers-) what you do need to do is rethink how you field and play what you already have.
If you have not been following the rules changes coming in 9th edition, you can read about them here: https://www.goonhammer.com/ruleshammer-how-has-9th-edition-changed-the-core-concepts-of-40k/ However, the single most important change is to how the game is won. In matched play, players will earn victory points by competing to hold primary objective markers and completing up to three secondary objectives chosen from a list designed to accommodate many different types of army and match-up. In theory, your primary objectives can earn you up to 45 points and secondary objectives can earn you another 45 points. The most important aspect of 9th edition list building will be thinking about how you are going to score these points and prevent your opponent from doing the same.
Although different matched play scenarios call for different primary objective placement and scoring, all of them require a player to hold one or more objective markers at the beginning of her turn. This is a big departure from 8th edition in which eldar could make use of their superior mobility to nip onto an objective, score it at the end of the turn, and then run away or accept death in exchange for the VP. In 9th edition, your opponent has a full turn to kill your fragile space elves on an objective before you get to score it. This will be difficult for eldar players as most of our units rely on ducking out of line of sight to stay alive; eldar don’t do well in traditional toe-to-toe fire fights. The flip-side is that you too will have an entire turn to shoot your opponent’s units off of objectives, and killing lesser species with heavy support fire is an area in which eldar excel.
The primary objective game is going to be important. In fact, I expect that in at least 75% of games, the player who wins will be the one who scores higher on primary objectives. This is because the flexibility of secondary objectives means that thoughtful players will probably be able to earn most of their points for these and in many cases it is very difficult to prevent these points from being scored. Because of this, and because of the fact that scoring a significant number of primary objective points necessitates preventing your opponent from doing the same, primary objectives will often probably the victor more often than not.
There are two ways to win the primary objective game: hold them yourself, or prevent your opponent from holding them.
Our strongest options for holding objectives markers may be wave serpents or falcons full of 5-man dire avenger squads. Wave serpents are better than falcons in this roll because the serpent shield reduces incoming damage and wave serpents are transports that don’t take up an important heavy support slot. Your opponent has to destroy both the vehicle and the troops inside to prevent you from scoring, which requires tremendous firepower especially if you give the serpent “vectored engines” and make use of the 4++ invuln of the dire avenger exarch, or give him a scatter shield that confers an invuln on the whole squad. If you have two serpents to commit to a single objective you can actually screen your opponent’s melee units out also. Here is a video that shows how: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXzeFg5q7uQ (the whole video is good, but skip to 19:40 if you just want to see the wave serpent trick.)
Another option to consider is a single unit of 5 wraithblades advanced with QUICKEN or deployed turn 2 from a wave serpent and then “quickened” onto an objective. Axes and shields are your best option for camping on an objective as they enjoy a 4++ invuln, but swords are a little more reliable if you want to use them to assault and enemy troop units already sitting on an objective because they ALL need to die in a single turn as wraith units don’t have “objective secured.” In fact, the lack of “objective secured” and the small model count inherent in wraith units probably means that wraithblades will be a little less effective than dire avengers in this role, at least in most local metas.
A third more situational option is shining spears. Small units of shining spears with the “expert rider” exarch trait and PROTECT are good for sitting on objectives exposed to lanes of heavy enemy fire as long as the bikes are too far away to be challenged in melee. That 2++ invul save against shooting, especially if you sit on a command point for a reroll, makes them almost invulnerable.
One surprising change in 9th edition is that you can no longer rely on rangers to camp on your backfield objectives. Rangers lost their -1 to hit in the FAQ and if that objective marker isn’t sitting in cover, rangers are no more durable than storm guardians. Combined with a big point increase, rangers probably no longer have a role to play in competitive lists unless you really need something in a troop slot that can deepstrike without spending CP in order to accomplish your secondary missions. But in general rangers are out; dire avengers are in.
The second way to handle the objective game is to make sure anything your opponent puts on an objective, dies. Eldar will be able to accomplish this more easily than most armies as we have multiple strong options for indirect fire at long range, and our units are mobile enough to create line of sight easily. Fire prisms, night spinners, and the reaper launcher will probably all have increased utility in 9th because they can wipe out troop units sitting on distant objectives and completely out of line of sight. (That said, the big point hike to the night spinner probably means you will not want more than 1.) I think swooping hawks and scatter lasers will also be more useful than some people think because they excel at killing hard to reach troop units that you opponent may be using both to score primary objectives and to trigger action based secondaries like “Raise the Banners High.” In 9th edition, you might find that the better tactical move is to focus on destroying an opponent’s objective holders rather than her hardest hitting threats.
I suspect that most successful eldar lists in 9th will succeed with a combination of the two strategies above; probably by totally dominating two objectives with units while shooting an opponent convincingly off of a third each turn.
Secondary objectives are an area in which eldar are going to shine. You can find a good broad rundown of them here: https://www.goonhammer.com/hammer-of-math-9th-edition-primary-and-secondary-objectives/
Obvious options for eldar include: “engage on all fronts” and “mental Interrogation.” The first of these requires you to have units within 3 quarters of the board at the end of each turn for 2VP or all 4 quarters for 3VP. The superior mobility of eldar should make this pretty easy. I think that “Repair Teleport Homer” also has real possibility as we have three different infantry units that can deepstrike without spending CP. This one is a bit easier for an opponent to counter, but may require her to pull resources away from primary objective control to do so, and if you can score a third primairy objective marker at the cost of achieving this secondary objective it’s actually a win. It might look like a wash because you give up five points to score 5, but anytime you score a third objective point you not only gain 5 points, but you prevent your opponent from gaining 5, which is an overall gain.
The take-away here is that eldar players are probably going to score most of their secondary points with psykers, fast units, and deep strikers, although keep in mind that you might want to limit yourself to two psykers so that your enemy is not tempted to take the secondary objective “abhor the witch,” which puts a 5 point bounty on each of your psychic characters up to a 15 point max, and eldar psykers are quite fragile and will be harder to protect now that “Look Out Sir” has replaced the 8th edition rules for targeting characters.
Against some opponents, you might also find yourself tempted by “Bring it Down” and “Titan Slayers,” as eldar heavy support units excel at killing large targets. These are good options and you should familiarize yourself with all of the secondary objectives before playing a competitive game as you will often choose your third secondary objective based on the composition of your opponent’s army.
As you plan your 9th edition lists, be sure you can answer questions about how exactly you will use the models in your army to achieve both primary and secondary objectives. This should be the guiding principal of your 9th edition list building.
Another consideration is that the detachment rules have changed. You probably already know that unlike 8th edition, 9th edition actually rewards players for having fewer detachments, as you have to pay command points to bring additional detachments to the table. Most of the 9th edition play testers have suggested that in competitive play most people will bring only a single battalion. This means that you might have to make harder choices about what units make the final cut, especially where heavy support slots are concerned as many of the best eldar units fall into this category. That said, I think many competitive craftworld players will opt to pay the modest command point penalty to bring either an extra patrol detachment or a vanguard to slip in a little extra heavy support.
I am not going to attempt a complete overview of “Our Best Units in 9th Edition and How to Use Them” because there is a separate core content page for that, (which I hope to update soon,) but I will say that the consensus from eldar 9th edition play-testers seems to be that a particular subset of units are more likely to be effective competitive play. The following list has been generated based on podcasts and videos made by different eldar playtesters, and in a couple of cases some direct conversations over email:
War Walkers (Woot!)
This list is pretty similar to what it looked like in 8th edition; We have essentially dropped Rangers, Guardian Bombs, and Vibro-cannons, while adding War Walkers, Vypers, and Dire Avengers. I think Swooping Hawks might also be up there for lists that focus on movement-based secondaries, but that is mostly my own optimism and plotting speaking.
So there you have it. Your collection is probably in pretty good shape going into 8th, although you might find it playing quite differently on the table. In my opinion, that’s the best possible sort of shake-up as it breathes new life into the game without necessitating a big investment of money to keep our lists relevant. Eventually, we will see bigger changes when we get our 9th edition codex, hopefully changes that give even more units a role to play. Until then, use your kick-ass transports and superior vehicles to remind the galaxy whose empire once dwarfed* that of the pathetic mon-keigh; whatever you do though, don’t sell your army.
*(As 40k players, we should probably say “squatted” instead of “dwarfed.” I shall endeavor to do this from now on in all 40k related conversations.)
**(If you don’t know what a squat is, you are younger than I am.)
*** (Squats were space dwarves, a 40k army discontinued in the late 90s with the narrative explanation that the tyranids ate all of them. #neverforget #nomnomnom #i-likes-mine-raw)