Shall We Dance, Mon-Keigh? Post-FAQ Movement Shenanigans, and Why Fire Dragons are Back

If you live under a rock, have a life outside of 40k, or are a prestigious horse dentist working 70 hours a week to afford the services of top tier commission painters, you might have missed the big news: January and February updates to the 9th edition rules on the FAQ page of the Warhammer Community site.

For the last few weeks, the internet has been abuzz with experts weighing in on how these changes affect first turn advantage, large model deployment, and combos on which competitive factions rely. If you are interested in a broad run down of the new rules and their implications you can find them on the Goonhammer site, or you can listen to high-quality podcasts at ‘The Art of War’ and ‘Splintermind’.

In this post, I am going to briefly acknowledge the most relevant changes for Craftworld Eldar, suggest a good turn 5 trick, and then do a deep dive on new tactics available for using Fire Dragons in competitive play, followed by a shorter less informative commentary on Dark Reapers. (Yes, you read that correctly. Fire Dragons are back for the first time since making fun of Dubstep was hip and people under 40 still used the word “hip”.)

If you already know all about the changes, you might just want to scroll down to the bit about Fire Dragons.

What’s New for Craftworld Eldar

1) Troop units became cheaper

All the Asuryani troops dropped 2 points per model. This is good for Autarchs everywhere, but unless you are spamming Dire Avengers, the lower cost probably only accounts for a 30 point swing in your current list.

Whether cheaper troops will open up new competitive tactics for Craftworlds remains to be seen, but I doubt it. In theory, Guardian bombs just became more feasible in 9th, but given that they have to be within easy charge distance of an enemy to use their catapults- and given that melee is an obvious and effective counter to Guardians- Guardian bombs are still probably not an efficient use of points in most metas.

(For the busy horse dentists out there: Guardian bombs are large units that start the game in deepstrike with a stratagem, jump out of the webway to blast an enemy on turn 2 or 3, and then hopefully survive a while by using the “Celestial Shield” stratagem or assigning incoming fire to platform.)

2) Moves instigated with the QUICKEN psychic power can no longer be advance moves.

This one is a big ouch. Wraithblades, Shining Spears, and Banshees, are the obvious losers.  What might be less obvious is that the QUICKEN nerf may actually slow down units that are not even the target of QUICKEN. This is because a player might now have to use “Matchless Agility” in combination with QUICKEN to position a key unit, whereas previously she could have spread these resources between two units.

3) During turn 5, the player going second now scores primary objectives at the end of the round, rather than in the Command Phase.

This can be big advantage for a Craftworlds player taking the second turn. Because our units are so mobile, it should be easy to spread out and score big on a lightly populated endgame board. Your last surviving Warp Spider or Farseer with Faolchu’s wing can leap onto an objective without having to survive a barrage of fire to claim the point. Your lone Dire Avenger can make use of “objective secured” while sticking his head directly into the barrel of an enemy tank cannon in order to get close enough for another 5 VP.

A GOOD TRICK: If there is an objective that is just out of reach or a little too well defended to capture in the turn 5 movement phase, you may still be able to grab it by zapping the enemy squatters in the shooting phase and then moving onto the point with “Fire and Fade.”

4) The player who wins the roll-off no longer chooses who takes first turn; instead that player has to go first.

If this change hadn’t happened, then endgame turn 5 scoring for player 2 would be a much bigger win for Craftworlds players. Other than reigning in the benefits of this other new rule, the compulsory first turn doesn’t impact Asuryani all that much because we can use the PHANTASM stratagem to redeploy key units after we find out whether or not we are going first. On the other hand, if the deterministic roll-off makes deployment more difficult for factions that don’t have a redeploy stratagem, Craftworlders can only benefit.

5) Your units can now Fire and Fade into vehicles.

Hang-on to your ears fellow space elves because Fire Dragons just became viable and Dark Reapers are no longer automatically countered by indirect fire. Here is how to get the most out of your newly advantaged aspect warriors.

Fire Dragons

I was initially skeptical about the new application of “Fire and Fade” benefiting anything other than Reapers, occasionally Shadow Specters, and Dire Avengers in very specific situations. When Simon over at Table Top Titans posted a video suggesting that the new rule might be a game-changer for Fire Dragons, I wrote him a barely restrained note pointing out that a player would still need to move a transport full of Dragons into the enemy’s kill zone and leave it there for a turn before the overpriced and embarrassingly fragile aspect warriors could jump out and fry a target. Any competent opponent would just crack the transport out of hand and slurp out the juicy center like a monkey sucking an egg.

Simon helpfully pointed out that I was being stupid.

Here is how it works:

Step 1: Find that box marked “units I don’t look at because remembering they suck makes me sad,” and dig out eight to ten dusty Fire Dragons. Add them to your roster and give them the exarch power “Swift Step,” which allows you to roll 3 dice when the squad advances and take the highest. (Leave the Fire Pike at home by the way- it’s way too expensive at 15 points.)

Step 2: Hide your newly liberated aspect warriors in a Wave Serpent and use a forward deployment set-up. (If you don’t get first turn and the Serpent is too exposed, you can always reposition it with the “Phantasm” stratagem.) (I will talk about “foreword deployment” in an upcoming post, but it just means aggressively positioning units towards the front end of your deployment zone.)

Step 3: On your turn, the Fire Dragons disembark 3 inches forward of the transport and then use “Swift Step” to advance within range of a key enemy target. (You can cover additional ground with QUICKEN if necessary, especially if it gets them within 6” so that they can benefit from the fusion gun’s special rules.)

Step 4: Move the Wave Serpent to a position within 7” of the Fire Dragons and out of Line-of-Sight of most of your opponent’s heavy support.

Step 5: Annihilate your target with a combination of powerful fusion guns, “Expert Crafters,” and Dragon’s natural ability to reroll 1s against vehicles and monsters.

Step 6: Use the “Fire and Fade” stratagem to jump back into the Wave Serpent.

Step 7: Repeat

There are lots of variants on this. You might instead deploy your transport conservatively and wait for your opponent to seize midfield objectives with heavy infantry or armor, then use the Dragons to counter the objective holders. Or perhaps you begin by moving the Serpent to a totally obscured location in the midfield and then wait until turn 2 to make your first aggressive move. As long as you position the transport such that the Dragons can “Fire and Fade” back inside, you are off to a good start.

If you are feeling greedy and optimistic, you could reduce the squad to 7 Dragons and add a unit of 5 Dire Avengers, so that you have an ‘obsec’ unit of your own that can leverage small arms fire against infantry hiding in transports destroyed by your Dragons. I personally prefer to have more fusion guns for reliable hard-target elimination, especially as even the most basic Wave Serpent gives you ten dice of anti-infantry fire already, but this other build is worth considering.

Be warned however: like so many eldar tactics, whether this approach works well for you depends largely on the nuances of how you position your units and the choices you give your opponent. One way to screw up, for example, is to use the Wave Serpent to grab an objective before the Fire Dragons jump back inside. There are circumstances in which this is the right move, but it will usually be a mistake. Competitive 40k is largely about forcing your opponent to make difficult choices. If you seize the objective with some other unit- perhaps a unit of Wraithblades or Hornets, your opponent will need to decide whether to ignore your objective holder and try to eliminate the significant threat posed by the dragons, or let literally the hottest aspect warriors in the game roam unchecked, and focus on your objective holders instead. If you plop your mechanized Dragons on a midfield objective, you’re making your opponent’s best move easy and obvious.

To earn their points, your Dragons probably need to eliminate at least two targets, which means keeping the Wave Serpent alive for the first half of the game. You stand a good chance of succeeding if you utilize careful positioning that limits exposure to enemy heavy weapons, and/or by presenting multiple tempting hard targets that will divide your opponent’s fire and attention. You might also consider giving the Wave Serpent Vectored Engines or Spirit Stones, or casting FORTUNE on it when you know it will be exposed to enemy fire.

That said, one of the things I like about this build is that it doesn’t require additional game-time resources to be effective. QUICKEN and FORTUNE can be useful tools here, but they are far from essential. The only resource expenditure required to make your mechanized  Dragons effective is a single CP per turn for “Fire and Fade.” Because so many other Eldar units require psychic buffs and significant CP expenditure to be competitive, self-sufficient units are a welcome addition to any roster.

On the other hand, the pregame resource cost is considerable. At 334 points for the minimal package, (8 Dragons in a Serpent with no upgrades,) this isn’t a cheap investment on the front end. If you want to max out the squad, you are looking at 370 points, and if you add in Spirit Stones and Vectored Engines we are within spitting distance of 400. You might reasonably ask, ‘why not just run four War Walkers in squads of two with Brightlances and “Expert Crafters”?’ They have the same fire output as eight dragons, but with a 36” range, a 5++ invuln, and 24 wounds between them. Isn’t that arguably a better build for fewer points?

It’s a reasonable question. There is no doubt that Fire Dragons are a little over-costed compared to similar units from other factions and that War Walkers are a great pick for most lists. I am not telling you that you shouldn’t choose the War Walkers, only that these long-neglected aspect warriors now offer some tactical advantages different from those presented by other units in the Eldar line. The mechanized Fire Dragons give you a damage reroll at close range, suffer no degradation to their threat level until the transport is destroyed, and can speed around the field in a way that War Walkers cannot. Also, they don’t take up a heavy support slot. One of my own current competitive lists includes both a unit of mechanized Dragons and three singleton War Walkers with lances and “Expert Crafters.” So far, this combo has proved very effective.

Dark Reapers

Dark Reapers are sooo close to being sooo good. They have crazy range, ignore dense cover, and excel at dealing the flat 2 and flat 3 damage essential for eliminating tough infantry that dominate current meta.

Nevertheless, two significant drawbacks have prevented these skull-faced killers from helping Craftworlds out of their 9th edition slump. The first is that Reapers are still overcosted because of an advantage they enjoyed for about 18 months in the first half or 8th edition, (and only if players ran them as Ynnari.) The second obstacle is that Reapers are too easily countered by bombers and indirect fire. As a result, they have tended to perform very well against rosters without indirect fire because they could just “Fire and Fade” out of line-of-sight, but against lists that did have such units, Reapers were almost guaranteed to be eliminated after a single round of shooting and with only a minimal expenditure of resources by an opponent.

The new application of “Fire and Fade” has changed all that. You can now load a unit of Dark Reapers into a Wave Serpent just out of line-of-sight in your backfield and safely assume that your opponent will seriously struggle to crack this particular egg, while your grim-faced goth kids put the hurt on key units every turn.

The only problem is that 10 Reapers in a Wave Serpent costs exactly 500 points.

Ouch.

Before you totally dismiss this option on the grounds that you could get 2 Lynxes for that and still have points left over for a Vyper, hear me out.

Yes, the Reapers are very expensive, and yes, they probably need a 20% cost reduction in our 9th edition codex to be equivalent to what more recently updated factions can field. That said, the big unit of mechanized Reapers offers some unique advantages. First of all, damage multipliers like GUIDE have greater effect on a single large unit of Reapers than they have on a single Lynx or even on a maxed-out unit of War Walkers with Star Cannons. It’s hard to get as big a payback buffing anything else. Secondly, (and most importantly,) no other equivalently powerful block of Heavy Support Fire can be kept as reliably safe as the mechanized Reapers in the Serpent tucked entirely out of Line of Sight. Yes, 2 Lynxes might have 32 wounds between them and a 5++ invuln, but a determined opponent with a powerful shooting force can still probably chew through at least one per turn, while your Reapers are likely to survive until the end of the game unless you get tabled or lose control of your own backfield. This makes Reapers a powerful tool.

Again, I am not saying that mounted Reapers are better than all your other options, only that they offer some new tactical possibilities that are worth considering as you plan your next competitive list.

So there it is. Not only did the new FAQ institute some broad changes that are a net gain for Craftworlds overall, it also made two of our beloved aspect shrines much more competitive. And while we Aeldariphiles might not agree on everything, (like whether the Ynnari for real or whether Craftworld Biel-Tan is populated by psychopaths,) I think we can all agree that any updates to the game that make aspect warriors more viable is exciting.

-Brent

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7 thoughts on “Shall We Dance, Mon-Keigh? Post-FAQ Movement Shenanigans, and Why Fire Dragons are Back

  1. Brilliant as always, Brent!

    I think these changes give us some options to try out, which is very nice! I personally will be gong all in on a Ulthwe detachment with Eldrad, a guardian bomb, two units of 10 storm guards, with two fusions each! – that points deduction was the push I needed! 😉

    Thanks for your continued work, Brent. Looking forward to the next one!

    1. I know everyone is excited about the Fire Dragons. However, I think there are still some major things that will stop them from appearing in more competitive builds, one meta, several tactical.

      First, from a meta perspective, the majority of things you’ll fight are marine armies, which these days are primarily infantry with few monsters or vehicles. So you lose efficiency on the re-roll 1s to wound. Sure, you’ll still be able to zap a squad of primaris a turn, but is that really how you want to be spending all those points (nearly 1/5th of a 2k list)?

      Second, from a tactical perspective, the guns are still only 12” range. Good opponents will be able to move/range block. Say there is a good target for your dragons. A good opponent will likely keep them hidden Turn 1 and in later turns screen them with infantry, which isn’t hard when you have to get within 12” (or closer to maximize the damage).

      Lastly, the build incentivizes you to take a big block to maximize buffs. In turn you lose tactical flexibility, and with short range you have trouble targeting multiple units, unless they’re in a death ball.

  2. Well written article. I’ve played nearly 15 games now since the FAQ and Reapers quickly became a staple in my list. I’ve not tried the Dragons as it appears much more difficult to successfully use as opposed to Reapers. I also run a Lynx and War Walkers. Combined, they are my While We Stand We Fight units and have served me quite well. Marine players have a lot of difficulty while some other lists are less fussed; mainly Chaos or Demon armies have been my biggest challenge.

    Thanks for the write up. Solidly written.

  3. This is a fantastic idea. Can’t wait to have my Mecha-Reapers bouncing around the field and absolutely terrorizing my buddies next time we run some games.

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