Rethinking Heavy Weapons; the Best Loadouts for 9th Edition

Even without a new codex, a lot has changed for Eldar in 9th edition. New rules and a new meta have significantly altered which units see competitive play, and in a few cases models that haven’t left the display in more than five years are forming the backbone of top tier armies.

[NOTE: I could not stop myself from writing a paragraph each about Vypers and War Walkers in the current meta; if you would rather skip straight to the analysis of customizable heavy weapons loadouts, just scroll down.]

Vypers in particular, (which haven’t been good since Citadel Washes were called “inks” and kids still make mix tapes,) went from being one of the worst units in the codex to one of the best. These two-elf bikes are a cheap way to bring additional heavy fire to the table without using up a support slot in your detachment, and they’re highly mobile. Run as single models or in squads of two, Vypers’ damage output is almost doubled by “Expert Crafters,” while in squads of three they are viable targets for psychic buffs. If you are looking for an affordable way to give your army a new competitive angle, three Vypers are good value both in points and in pounds, (or dollars, or doll hairs, or currency you use at home.)

War Walkers are another unit that received a big boost in the new edition. Now that they can move and fire without penalty, (and use their heavy weapons in melee,) Walkers are no longer the stationary artillery pieces they were in 8th. Also, in an edition where beta strikes and board control are key to winning, that CP-Free deepstrike is gold. On turn two, Walkers can appear exactly where they need to be to put long-range heavy fire your opponent’s most vulnerable lynch pin unit, while exponentially increasing their damage output with “Expert Crafters” and psychic buffs.

If you are running a competitive list that isn’t pulling heavily from Forge World, it’s probable that you are running Vypers, or Walkers, or both. In either case, you have some critical decisions to make about your heavy weapons loadout, decisions that may significantly affect the overall performance of your army. You might also be deciding which heavy weapons to mount on your Wraithlords, Wave Serpents, and Falcons, all of which are seeing competitive play in 9th edition. What follows is a guide to help you make the most competitive choices for your playstyle and your meta.

A GUIDE TO ELDAR HEAVY WEAPONS:

1) STAR CANNONS
Every competitive Aeldari player I know of agrees that Star Cannons are excellent; in fact, they are probably the best overall option for most units. At Heavy2, S6, -3AP, D3 damage, Star Cannons pose a serious threat to heavy infantry, bikes, light-tanks, (and can threaten heavy tanks and monsters with only minor buffs.)

Most importantly, in a marine-heavy meta, Star Cannons wound marines on 3s, reduce power armor to a 6+ save, and deal damage that will outright kill a two-wound super-soldiers two thirds of the time. (They also have a chance of one-shotting terminators and Custodes.)

Another significant advantage to Star Cannons is that they they can be fired in melee by transports and Wraithlords that have seized primary midfield objectives and are likely to be quickly engaged in close combat by enemy assault troops. The ability to fire in melee is also important for deepstriking War Walkers, which are in danger of being charged after they emerge from the webway to annihilate a unit in your opponent’s backfield.

Because of their rate of fire, two or more Star Cannons are also effective against enemies with strong invulnerable saves, which are increasingly central to competitive lists.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that some factions, notably Custodes (and Tyranids,) have stratagems that let a unit ignore -1AP and -2AP, so the -3AP on the Star Cannon can make an important difference when you really need to blast the Emperor’s personal guards off of an objective.

The only notable shortcoming of the Star Cannon is that at S6 it may struggle to wound heavy tanks and monsters. But with DOOM, “Expert Crafters,” or “Runes of Witnessing,” this obstacle is seriously mitigated. There is nothing in your opponent’s army that can ignore a bunch of Star Cannons aimed at it.

Whether you are brand new to Craftworlds or a veteran autarch who remembers when helmetless guardians had enormous mohawks, Star-Cannons will serve you well on almost any unit that can take them.

2) BRIGHT LANCES

Bright lances have become significantly better in 9th edition. The smaller board size means that their 36” range is now sufficient to target just about anything in Line-of-Sight turn 1, and the fact that tanks and monsters can now move and fire heavy weapons without a penalty has made long-range heavy weapons a more dynamic threat. Most importantly, “Expert Crafters,” has almost doubled the average damage output for singleton War Walkers with twin Bright Lances or similarly equipped pairs of Vypers. Against most targets, twin Lances with “Expert Crafters” will both hit and both wound most of the time. In metas with lots of high-wound models without invuln saves, (like Guard tanks and Tyranids,) Bright Lances are a strong choice.

The limiting factor for Bright Lances is still invulnerable saves, but careful use of JINX can mitigate this weakness, as can running cheap chassis like Walkers and Vypers to create volume of fire.

Some players worry that Bright Lances will underperform against infantry-based marine armies, and given the prevalence of those armies in tournament play, committing to Lances is just too risky. Used effectively, however, Lances can play a valuable role even against lists that don’t include a single tank or monster. With “Expert Crafters” and the much-overlooked “Runes of Witnessing” stratagem that lets you reroll 1s to wound, a squad of three Walkers each with twin Bright Lances is statistically likely to wipe a 5 man squad of primaris marines in any given round of shooting. (If you cast GUIDE this even more likely.) Your opponent can halve this by using the “Transhuman Physiognomy” stratagem, but if she does then she isn’t using it elsewhere on the table.

In most lists, Bright Lances should not replace Star Cannons, Pulse Lasers, or Reaper Launchers, but if you already have a good amount of that sort of fire, a few Bright Lances are a good idea, especially if you don’t have other ranged weapons that deal D6 damage.

3) AELDARI MISSILE LAUNCHERS

In 8th edition the AML was a strong pick in any list, but these days the Aeldari Missile Launcher is only a good option in very particular lists or in metas where horde-armies are common. The advantages of the AML are a 48” range, target flexibility, and the BLAST keyword; in order for the AML to outperform the Star Cannon and Bright Lance, it needs to be in a list designed to capitalize on these advantages, which might be trickier than it initially appears.

The 48” range counted for a lot back in 8th edition when the board was larger and many top-tier Eldar armies relied on target denial. These lists were designed such that every unit in the army stayed out of sight, out of range, or carried -3 to hit while exposed. This catch-me-if-you-can play style is still viable in 9th but trickier because the smaller board makes it harder to out-range enemy heavy weapons, and the emphasis on midfield objective control means that Aeldari can no longer win by playing an elaborate game of hide-and-seek. Instead, if you are planning to play a target denial army, you need to use indirect fire and units that “Fire-and-Fade” to completely blow enemy units off midfield objectives so you can stay even with your opponent on primary objective points until you have worn her down enough to swoop in and control objectives late game when there are not enough enemy units yet to pose a serious threat. In this sort of list, six AMLs on backfield War Walkers that “Fire and Fade” every turn while benefiting from GUIDE or an Autarch reroll constitute a strong pick. 

As for target flexibility, AMLs are not actually as versatile as they seem, but can be a great option in lists that don’t have other ways to handle hordes. Their anti-tank profile is mediocre with only -2 AP, and their anti-infantry profile is a little worse that the scatter laser against small units, but highly effective against blocks large enough for the BLAST keyword to auto-generate six attacks. Their real shortcoming, however, is that they are poor against multi-wound heavy infantry, (read all space marines,) which are the backbone of many effective tournament lists right now. So, ironically, an eldar list with lots “versatile” AMLs may find itself without an effective heavy weapons profile in most tournament match-ups. On the other hand, if your list already has a bunch of star-cannons, pulse lasers, reaper launchers, etc. AMLs can fill an important gap.

Lastly, the BLAST keyword may be the AML’s greatest strength, but it comes with a significant drawback: unlike other heavy weapons, BLAST weapons cannot be fired in melee. This means that on units used to control midfield objectives or deepstrike into an enemy deployment zone, other heavy weapons are a better choice because they are not shut down by enemy close combat troops. AMLs work best on units that hang wayyy back from the fighting and are unlikely to ever see melee.

The result is that many units that can take AMLs will probably be better off with something else. Wave Serpents, Falcons, and Wraithlords all want to be able to challenge midfield objectives without giving up substantial firepower if they are engaged in melee, while Vypers need to be able to zip into enemy territory to hit hard-to-reach targets potentially at close range. You may want your War Walkers to be able to deepstrike into an opponent’s backfield without being taken out of the fight by 10 ambitious guardsman with bayonets.

All that said, if you have a unit of war walkers that are operating exclusively as long-range back-row fire power, or a unit of celestial-shield loving guardians with a platform sitting on an objective, or a transport that is only a shell for Dark Reapers, then AMLs are a great option. Additionally, if your meta is swarming with hordes of termagants, Ork Boyz, and Daemonettes that flood objectives with warm bodies, then the AMLs might be essential.

4) SCATTER LASERS

Scatter Lasers had their time in the sun back in the first half of eight edition, but as things currently stand in 9th there are relatively few circumstances in which they are the BEST option for a competitive build. This is because with the new BLAST rules AMLs perform slightly better against hordes, while the total lack of AP makes Scatter Lasers weak even against the small squads of heavily armored infantry that ignore BLAST. That said, if you mount Scatter Lasers on jetbikes and buff them effectively, they can do some serious work in casual play.

The biggest advantage to scatter lasers (aside from their 36” range) is that you can put them on Windrider jetbikes, which means you can have nine in a single squad buffed with GUIDE, an autarch’s aura, and/or “Runes of Witnessing,” to deliver a hammer blow: 36 shots hitting on 3s, rerolling misses, wounding most light infantry on 2s, rerolling 1s. You can then move the entire squad out of the line-of-sight of fire with “Fire and Fade.” As long as you are also running the custom craftworld trait “masterful shots” to offset their total lack of AP by ignoring cover bonuses, this combo can be a terror. (JINX is also valuable here.)

The reason that the nine lasers are still a bit of a stretch for competitive play is that the combo I just described requires at least one psychic power and significant CP expenditure every turn, which means you are not allocating those resources other places. Also, because most competitive armies need to be teched out to kill marines at the moment, they just happen to ALSO excel at killing windriders, each of which is a little more squishy than a primaris marine despite costing 30 points with a scatter laser.

That said, in metas where you are likely to encounter large numbers of infantry that rely on a mediocre invulnerable save, (like Pox Walkers,) scatter lasers might be a competitive pick because they excel at clearing models off distant objectives or killing small squads of glass cannon elites. In casual play, you can certainly get good results with scatter lasers.

5) SHURIKEN CANNONS

Shuriken Cannons have only one significant merit: the “Assault” keyword. On units that need to make an advance move onto an objective first turn and then face destruction or significant damage, Shuriken cannons are the way to go. For this reason, I almost always take twin shuriken cannons on my Wave Serpents. (Suicidally aggressive Wraithlords are another decent candidate.)

As damage-dealers, Shuriken Cannons leaves much to be desired. With no regular AP, and half the range and 25% less fire output than a Scatter Laser, Shuriken cannons don’t excel at killing anything in particular. A pair of them might account for a couple of light infantry or put a wound on light tank, but they aren’t going to form an important part of your offensive strategy.

The only exception to this is if you are running them in a patrol with the Custom Craftworld trait “Hail of Doom” which increases their standard AP to “-1.” It only makes sense to select theis Craftworld trait as part of a much larger strategy, (not specifically so you can soup up your Shuriken Cannons.) So if you are going in this direction, don’t decide to drop “Expert Crafters” and “Masterful Shots” just so you can put Shuriken Cannons on your Vypers.

SO THERE YOU HAVE IT

Star Cannons are the best generalist option, while Bright Lances, AMLs, Scatter Lasers, and Shuriken Cannons can play key roles in particular metas, match-ups, or specially constructed lists.

Obviously there are lots of non-interchangeable heavy weapons that are not covered here, many of which are among the most powerful tools available to Craftworld Players. The Pulse Laser, Reaper Launcher, and Prism Cannon are all brutally effective, while some of the Forge World Options might cause the most stalwart space marine to reconsider his claim to “know no fear.” The weapons covered in this post are just the ones players must consider when equipping customizable heavy support and fast attack units.

One big advantage that Aeldari players have is access to some of the most powerful heavy support combos and synergies in the game. In order to get the most out of your collection in competitive play, it’s essential to make good use of this advantage.

If you have questions, tips you want to share about combos that are working well for you, or you just want to send me a picture of your recently painted Vyper squad, use the “Contact” tab at the top of the page.


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