Of Ulthwe and Edgelords; Playing Without Expert Crafters

If emails about my blog and Youtube channel have taught me one thing about my readers, it’s that some of you hate Expert Crafters. As far as I can tell, there are two types of Crafters-haters: people whose favorite Ninja Turtle is Donatello, and people whose favorite Star Wars villain is Grand Admiral Thrawn.

If your favorite Ninja Turtle is Donatello, I bet it isn’t because he “does machines,” (as the theme song so eloquently puts it.) A big part of the appeal of Donatello is that he isn’t everyone else’s favorite. While the other kids on the playground are insisting that they are Raphael or Leonardo, there is a quiet dignity in being Donatello; (it’s a bit like adding a single droplet of water to a smokey single malt while everyone else in the bar is feeling fancy because they ordered Glenlivet.) “Expert Crafters” is without a doubt the single most popular Craftworld trait for competitive play, and that fact alone is enough to trigger an allergic reaction in some players, (especially if their favorite Xman is Nightcrawler.)

The Grand Admiral Thrawn enthusiasts hate “Crafters” for a different reason: it’s inelegant. Surely Asuryani tactics should demand a delicate dance of martial synergies, psychic powers, and stratagems distributed just so in order to wildly transform the power balance of individual units until an opponent is reeling from unexpected hammer blows and the unanticipated resilience of typically brittle space elves. “Crafters,” in contrast, requires no special finesse. Even the most mediocre Mon-Keigh commander can figure out how to run minimum sized units in order to capitalize on rerolls. Where is the art in that? If you are a person whose ideal villain can typically be found gazing thoughtfully out the window of a starship, uttering the phrase, “that will be all Pelion,” while meticulously plotting an invasion by contemplating the target civilization’s art history, “Crafters” may be offensive to your aesthetic sensibilities, (especially if when you played Magic: The Gathering back in the day, you played blue.)

There is a third category of players who won’t use “Crafters” despite having nothing against it: those loyal to the mainstream Craftworlds that their armies are actually painted to represent. This is understandable. Noble. Praiseworthy even.

This post is for all you Ninja Turtle Edgelords, immaculately dressed super villains, and uncompromising Ulthwe loyalists; I see you.

PART 1: Playing Without Crafters is NOT a Significant Handicap

Many Eldar enthusiasts are under the impression that “Expert Crafters” is compulsory in any Craftworlds list with serious competitive aspirations. Although there is no doubt that “Crafters” is among the most powerful faction bonuses in the game, (and that Asuryani need all the help they can get at the moment,) a good player with a carefully constructed list should be able to take a pass on Crafters without endangering her competitive chances.

As far as what a player actually needs to do to win the game– scoring primary and secondary objectives- most of the relevant units and tactics work equally well regardless of sub-faction bonuses. The appeal of Expert Crafters is that it optimizes fire output for small units dedicated to target elimination, so playing without Crafters necessitates finding other ways to achieve similar optimization, (which is not hard for Craftworlds,) but it doesn’t handicap scoring potential.

In this article, I am going to walk you through how to think about list-design for a non-Crafters roster, and then make some suggestions about strengths that each of the mainstream Craftworlds might want to prioritize. I will also point out where it might be best NOT to try and capitalize on some bonus or unique Craftworlds stratagem that, (although flavorful,) is probably a liability in competitive play. (Sorry, Prince Yriel. The space elves of Iyanden fight better when you stay home.)

9th Edition is About Scoring, not About Killing

In 9th edition 40k, the single most important questions a player needs to answer when building a list are:
“how will my army score primary objectives?”
And, “what secondary objectives will my army favor, and how will it score them?”

(You can find a video about my advice for scoring primary objectives here, and another about how to play secondary objectives here.) I am not going to talk about either of those aspects of list design in this article because I have done it elsewhere. Instead, we are going to focus on some guiding principles might be helpful to players opting out of Crafters. Here they are in no particular order:

1) Use large, well-buffed units for target elimination
This principle is a throwback to the early days of 8th edition when 9-elf units of Shining Spears and Dark Reapers dominated tables, and at least one unit of 20 guardians with two platforms was probably lurking in deepstrike on turn 1. The fact is that Craftworld Eldar rely on damage multipliers from psychic powers and stratagems to get fair-value for their target elimination units. Obviously, these buffs are most effective when applied to more dice, so there is an incentive to run larger units.

The following units can be absolutely deadly in a non-crafters list:

-7 to 9 Shining Spears (buffed with EMPOWER. Against T7+ targets use DOOM. Consider accompanying with an Autarch Skyrunner to reroll 1s to hit or also casting ENHANCE on them.)

-7 to 10 Fire Dragons that “Fire and Fade” into a Wave Serpent (Buffed with GUIDE)

-9 Dark Reapers that “Fire and Fade” into a Wave Serpent (Buffed with GUIDE or an Autarch)

-3 War Walkers with AMLs (Buffed with GUIDE or an Autarch)

-2 Nightspinners (Buffed with an Autarch and maybe a nearby Farseer using “Runes of Witnessing”)

-3 Hornets or Vypers with Star Cannons (Buffed with GUIDE or an Autarch Skyrunner)

-7 to 10 Wraithblades with Ghost Swords (buffed with ENHANCE or EMPOWER and a nearby Spiritseer.)

-9 Warlock Skyrunners in a Conclave (buffed with ENHANCE or an Autarch Skyrunner; they will need to JINX most hard targets as they have no AP.) You probably also want PROTECT and FORUTUNE on this unit and possibly to QUICKEN it for a turn 1 charge. This can be an absolute nightmare for an opponent to deal with, although it’s a resource intensive build both in points and psychic powers.) Warlock Conclaves have a considerable advantage over Shinning Spears in that they maintain their invulnerable save in close combat.

-3 Fire Prisms are also worth considering in a non-Crafters list because the “Linked Fire” Stratagem enables all three to reroll hits and wounds and to target a unit that only one of the Prisms can see; (that single tank can then “Fire and Fade” behind obscuring terrain to keep the whole trio safe.) The “Linked Fire” stratagem is especially valuable here because it frees you up to use DOOM and GUIDE elsewhere, at which point you are probably rerolling more attack dice than even the most opportunistic “Crafters” list.

REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU CHOOSE:

-If you select shooting units like Reapers or War Walkers, you are going need other units that will keep up midfield pressure and engage fast enemy close combat specialists. Wraithblades with Ghost Axes and even Warlock Conclaves have good synergy here.

-If you use DOOM and GUIDE carefully, not having Crafters probably won’t matter

2) Some Popular Units are Sub Optimal Without Crafters

Most of the advice on the interwebs is geared towards MSU style lists, (MSU stands for “Minimum Sized Unit,”) that allow a player to take maximum advantage of Expert Crafters, while optimizing scores for the secondary objectives “Engage on All Fronts” and “Retrieve Octarius Data,” (both of which reward a player for running lots of small units.) Minimum sized units of Spears, Reapers, Walkers, Hornets, etc. abound in these builds. If you have decided to abjure Crafters, some of this advice is still relevant but much of it you need to ignore. In particular, some of those smaller units are much less effective at target elimination. Especially:
-Singleton War Walkers
-Wraithlords with expensive shoulder mounted heavy weapons
-Wraithseers with D-Cannons

The simple fact is that these units do not have a high enough fire output to make optimal use of GUIDE, and they miss their shots a third of the time. There are, however, ways to work around this shortcoming with DOOM and other buffs. A Wraithseer can cast “Fateful Divergence” on itself to gain a single reroll either to hit or wound, (which is often enough.) Other units might make use of a nearby Autarch to enable rerolls of 1 to hit, or even a Farseer using “Runes of Witnessing” if DOOM is not in play you have CP to spare. The point is simply that counting on unbuffed units for target elimination is not a reliable strategy, so you need to think very carefully about how you are going to provide rerolls or equivalent bonuses to key elimination units that can’t just fall back on Crafters, which reliably increases their damage output by 50%.

NOTE: Unbuffed Vypers and even Hornets might still be good picks for board control and scoring “Engage on All Fronts” turn 1.

3) You Probably Need More Psykers and Maybe an Autarch

Without the inherent damage multiplier provided by Crafters, psychic buffs are even more essential; as such, you probably need more psykers. If you aren’t already running two Farseers in your list, you may want to add one. (I suggest giving one DOOM, EXECUTIONER, and SMITE, and the other GUIDE, FORTUNE, and FOCUS WILL.) The only exception is if you are playing Ulthwe, as Eldrad’s extra cast and general reliability make him the equal of two Farseers on his own, especially with the “Unparalleled Mastery” stratagem that lets him cast a 4th power.

On the Runes of Battle front, you may want two models with access to PROTECT/JINX so that you can cast both powers on the same turn. After that, you should make decisions based on the needs of the specific units in your list, but QUICKEN, EMPOWER, and ENHANCE all have tremendous utility, as does the highly underrated CONCEAL. Give at least one of your Warlocks FOCUS WILL so that she can super-buff a Farseer if necessary; (FOCUS WILL + “Seer Council” will provide +3 to all of your Farseer’s casts. And remember that on a role of 11+ SMITE goes up to D6 damage. Note also that in a detachment with the custom Craftworld trait “Children of Prophecy,” the FOCUS WILL + “Seer Council” combo makes it impossible for a Fareseer to fail any casts, as even a pair of 1s will count as a roll of 7.)

In order to access extra casts, you might consider a Wraithseer or Warlock Conclave. In lists that DO make use of Crafters, I favor Wraithseers because their D-Cannons are greatly enhanced by those free rerolls, while in non-Crafters lists I like a large Warlock Skyrunner Conclave; it’s higher model count has better synergy with unit buffs, and like the Wraithseers you can use it to counter aggressive enemy melee units.

Whatever you decide concerning psychic buffs, plan to have the following:

-Two to three defensively-buffed units to hold objectives
-Enough attack rerolls to reliably eliminate one hard target even if you roll poorly and your opponent has defensive buffs like -1 to hit or ‘wound rolls of less than 4+ automatically fail.’

4) Some of the other Custom Craftworld Traits are even more effective than Crafters for particular detachments.

Even if you have opted to run a Custom Craftworld, there are plenty of ways to construct a competitive detachment that gains greater benefit from alternative sub-faction bonuses. These include:

“Superior Shurikens and “Hail of Doom” for detachments composed primarily of large squads of Avengers or Guardians to hold objectives and perhaps MSU units of Windriders or Vypers to help with “Engage on all Fronts.”

“Hunters of Ancient Relics” in detachments with lots of melee units intending to contest objectives. The most obvious recipients are: Shining Spears, Warlock Skyrunner Conclaves, Wraithblades, and even Wraithseers. (Although Hunters can also be marginally effective at making Banshees pull their weight, it does not even come close to making Striking Scorpions worthwhile as a combat unit.)

“Children of Prophecy” in detachments with three psychic characters and perhaps even one or two Wraithseers. With the right combos, (as described above,) this bonus can be formidable for dishing out large numbers of mortal wounds with SMITE and EXECUTIONER.

“Masterful Shots” for detachments with heavy support units picking off enemy infantry at long range with -2AP or less. This one is almost essential for Night Spinners and a nice boost for Dark Reapers.

“Headstrong” for detachments with aggressive melee units coming in out of Deepstrike.

PART II: Running Mainstream Craftworlds in 9th Edition 40k

Although they are not all equally competitive, each of the mainstream Craftworlds has at least one powerful tool that other Craftworlds would love to make use of if they could. If you have opted for a mainstream Craftworld, it would be silly not to take advantage of unique bonuses that are the envy of your pointy eared cousins from elsewhere in the galaxy. That said, some special characters, stratagems, and faction abilities are best left out of competitive play. I would never discourage you from emphasizing these flavorful options in a narrative game, but aspiring Autarchs trying to build competitive lists might do better taking a pass on some of the “advantages” available to their chosen sub faction.

What follows is a list of the most enviable exclusively advantages available to each mainstream Craftworld, how to capitalize on those in list construction, and the pitfalls you may wish to avoid.

ULTHWE:

 

(Official GW photo)

Craftworld Ulthwe has access to powerful mortal wounds spam, Guardians worth having, and a native durability bonus that is especially effective for multi-wound infantry and bikers.

1) Eldrad Ulthran
Eldrad is the undisputed best HQ unit available to Craftworld Eldar. He is a Farseer who knows and can cast an extra Runes of Fate power in the psychic phase. In addition, he gets +1 to psychic casts if the previous power he attempted succeeded in manifesting. As a result, he is both a reliable engine for essential unit buffs, and potentially the backbone of some of the nastiest mortal wound spam in the game.

If you use a nearby Warlock to buff Eldrad with FOCUS WILL after popping “Seer Council,” this celebrity space-elf performs his first power at +3 and additional powers at +4. (You can use “Unparalleled Mastery” of course for a fourth cast.) Eldrad has about an 50% chance of pulling off super SMITE for D6 damage, (75% if you commit to a reroll.) If you are also using EXECUTIONER, he can put out D3+D3+D6 mortal wounds per turn with average dice rolls, on top of DOOM and either FORTUNE or GUIDE. Brutal. If you throw in the Ynnari character Yvraine for another 2D3 mortal wounds, you have a peerless psychic wrecking ball of head-popping murder at your disposal.

Eldrad and his allies generally want to hover around a midfield objective just forward of your deployment zone, well screened by a unit with an invulnerable save that has been kicked up to a 3++ using PROTECT. Ideal candidates include: Wraithblades with Ghost Axes, Asurman and a bunch of Dire Avengers, or a large Warlock Conclave. Alternatively, if you are playing for the center of the board to score Warp Ritual, you might position Eldrad there instead, but I would advise against this in scenarios without a middle-table objective marker. Eldar just don’t have enough durability buffs at their disposal to both hold the middle of the table AND enough objectives to win the game. Regardless of where you position him, Eldrad will distribute buffs, debuffs, and mortal wounds with regal savagery.

The only downside to Eldrad is that he can’t ride a Jetbike and can’t take Faolchu’s wing. This isn’t much of a handicap however, as he has the same toughness and wounds as a Farseer Skyrunner AND a 3++ invuln instead of a 4++.

2) Foresight of the Damned
Foresight of the damned provides a 6+ feel-no-pain save to all of your Ulthwe models. Although not as potent as some of the custom craftworld combos, this is nevertheless a solid faction bonus. It’s especially useful for multi-wound models like wraith infantry, Shining Spears, and even Warlock covens because it creates significant inefficiencies in the flat two and flat three damage weapons used to target these units. For example, if a Wraithblade fails an armor save against a weapon that does flat three damage, you roll 3 D6s, and if you rolls any 6s, the model survives. Mathematically, this means that your wraith infantry can shrug off 50% of incoming damage from weapons that do flat three damage. Your vehicles too are noticeably more durable, and are likely to require an extra hit from a heavy weapon to eliminate.

3) Discipline of the Black Guardians
This 1CP stratagem turns a unit of Guardians into a murder machine; it confers +1 to hit until the end of the phase. If you can also manage a nearby Autarch, 20 Guardians put out 40 shuriken shots hitting on 2s and rerolling 1s. If you DOOM the target, even a T7 tank will on average suffer 21 wounds, half of which will be at -3AP. Suddenly your humble Guardian blob is a true all-purpose elimination unit. (And this is without adding heavy weapons platforms for even more mayham; I like Star Cannons here.)

A word of caution: I would advise against making a guardian blob the escort unit for Eldrad. This is tempting because with Celestial Shield and PROTECT they’re robust against shooting attacks, but it’s just too easy for melee factions to stay out of range of those 12” Shuriken catapults and then move into easy charge distance. Guardian Escorts work okay if you are using the custom craftworld trait “Superior Shurikens” for extra range, but your Black Guardians are better off starting the game in Deepstrike. When you bring them in, take careful note of your opponent’s melee threats. If you can stay out of close combat range, you might be able to make those citizen soldiers a multi-turn nightmare with the previously mentioned defensive buffs.

4) The Ghosthelm of Alishzier
This Ulthwe-only relic adds 1 to psychic tests for SMITE. If you are attempting mortal wound spam, you might consider giving this to a second Farseer or even a Spiritseer simply because Craftworld Eldar don’t have many competitive relic options and Eldrad can’t use Faolchu’s Wing.

That said, the Ghosthelm is awkward to fit into a list and might be better left out. If you ARE running mortal wound spam, Yvraine is a better pick than a second Farseer, and Spiritseers can’t make use of “Seer Council,” while Warlocks only have baby SMITE. In order to be really useful, this relic would need to stand a good chance of getting a D3 SMITE to a D6 super SMITE at least once per game, and it just doesn’t do that.

5) Fate Reader
This Warlord trait allows you to roll a D6 at the beginning of each player’s turn and gain a CP on a roll of a 6. On average, this is worth one CP by the end of turn 3, and maybe one more before the game is over. In theory, this works out about the same as “Seer of the Shifting Vector”, if you assume that on average you would spend about as many CP rerolling for PROTECT /JINX per game as you would gain from “Fate Reader”. The difference of course is that if you take “Seer…” you could also use CP for an extra reroll in the psychic phase if you needed to, or you could reroll an invulnerable save. I personally think you are better off sticking with “Seer”.

Saim-Hann:

(Official GW photo)

Saim Hann offers some potent options for melee-oriented target elimination units.

1) Wild Host
The Saim-Hann faction bonus allows all units to reroll failed charges, and for biker units to treat Heavy weapons as Assault weapons when they advance. The first of these is particularly strong as it significantly increases the odds of pulling off a turn 1 charges with multiple units of Shining Spears or even a large Warlock Skyrunner conclave. A less obvious beneficiary is a unit of Wraithblades with Ghostswords coming out of deepstrike and enhanced with the Runes of Fortune power GHOSTWALK, (which bestows a +2 to charge.) Six Wraithblades with Ghostswords put out 24 attacks on the charge at S6 and -3AP, which is enough to annihilate most targets that don’t have an invulnerable save, (if you cast DOOM on anything above T6.)

Rather than the turn one blitz, I prefer to set up surgical strikes against key units by playing the Spears conservatively on turn one, and using deepstrikers to preform charges with GHOSTWALK on both turns two and three. That said, in semi-competitive games, you can also try running three units of Spears, three units of Banshees, an Autarch Skyrunner, and some deepstriking melee units to just overwhelm your opponent with melee engagement on turn 2. This is a game-winning move against some factions- (and very thematic-) but it is not even close to being effective enough against all-comers to take to a tournament.

The Saim-Hann bonus to biker units is excellent for Vypers making advance moves on turn 1 in order to score “Engage on All Fronts” as they can now have Star Cannons instead of Shuriken Cannons and perhaps do some real damage to heavy infantry or light tanks. I would not, however, recommend trying to make Scatterbikes happen with this bonus. They’re still just too expensive for their damage output.

2) Warriors of the Raging Winds
This 1CP stratagem allows a Saim-Hann biker unit to advance and charge AND to reroll 1s to hit in the fight phase; it’s fantastic. The most obvious recipient is a unit of Shining Spears, but it can also be used on an Autarch Skyrunner or a Warlock Conclave. The Warlock Conclave is an oft overlooked option for Saim-Hann, but it’s a powerful one because unlike the Spears, a Conclave continues to benefit from invulnerable saves in melee. A Saim-Hann player can make a turn 1 blitz with a 9-elf Conclave that rolls 18 dice, hits on 3s rerolling 1s, wounds everything on 2s, and gain an effective -1AP with JINX for D3 damage per hit. If you then cast PROTECT and FORTUNE on that unit, your opponent will have 27 wounds worth of bikers with a 3++ invuln save and a 5+++ feel-no-pain to deal with while the rest of your army plays objectives and delivers additional charges on turn 2. Nasty.

3) The Novalance of Saim-Hann
This relic lance can only be given to an Autarch Skyrunner; it’s just like a Laser Lance except that it’s S8 when the Autarch charges and on wound roles of 6+ it does 4 damage instead of 2. The Novalance totally transforms what you can expect of your Autarch. Not only does your flying war-chief now pose a serious threat T8 targets without invulnerable saves, but she also has potential as a character assassin. If you give her the “Seer of the Shifting Vector” Warlord trait, she can reroll a wound roll, which effectively increases her attack characteristic to a 5 and gives you a decent chance of rolling at least one 6 to wound. (Against a DOOMed target, at least flat 8 damage is statistically likely and generally goes straight through any armor that isn’t an invuln save.) Consider also the synergy with “Warriors of the Raging Wind.” Ouch.

Think of your lance-wielding warlord as a slim torpedo to be unloaded on one of your opponent’s most dangerous units at a critical moment.

4) Wild Rider Chieftan
This is a Warlord Trait that enables the recipient to make pile-in moves towards the nearest enemy character, (rather than the nearest enemy unit,) and confers an extra attack against an enemy character in the fight phase. Don’t bother. If you want to use a Warlord Trait to enhance an Autarch Skyrunner,  you are better off just taking “Seer of the Shifting Vector” which provides a reroll equivalent to an extra attack or can alternatively allow you to reroll a failed invulnerable save.

BIEL TAN

(Official GW photo)

The space elves of Biel Tan enjoy several advantages that can give their target elimination units an edge in competitive play.

1) Swordwind
This faction bonus provides a +1 leadership modifier to Aspect Warriors and allows models armed with shuriken weapons to reroll 1s to hit. From a lore perspective the second of these is bizarre, as it encourages Biel Tan players to lean into Guardians and Windriders despite the fact that this particular Craftworld is known for is having far more Aspect Warriors than citizen soldiers.

In my opinion, it’s best not to build your list around maximizing the Swordwind bonuses. The leadership bump can be useful for a large squad of Shining Spears or Fire Dragons, but is hardlu a game-changer. The reroll for Shuriken weapons is nice, but it isn’t good enough to merit trying to capitalize on it with multiple Guardian blobs or large Windrider units. In fact, the biggest trap for a Biel Tan player is to forgo more effective target elimination units in order to make room for Guardian blobs. Unlike “Discipline of the Black Guardians”, “Swordwind” has no synergy with an Autarch and does not affect Star Cannons or other heavy platform weapons. There are better target elimination units for the points.

Don’t get me wrong; the rerolls are nice to have, especially for Shining Spears and perhaps a couple of Vypers or MSU Windriders that are in your list only to help with “Engage on All Fronts” turn 1, but these units are in your list anyway. It doesn’t hurt to throw in a deepstriking Guardian blob that might not otherwise have made the cut, but in general “Swordwind” should not be a major consideration in your list building.

That said, there is one unit that can really benefit from the Swordwind bonus: a 10-elf Dire Avenger squad making use of the “Avenging Strike” Exarch power and running with Asurman to control objectives. With PROTECT and FORTUNE, they have a 3++ invulnerable save, a 5+++ feel-no-pain, and can be made -1 to hit with “Lightening Fast Reactions.” These are enormously hard for an opponent to eliminate, and once at least 1 model has been removed, “Avenging Strike” gives the squad +1 to hit and +1 to wound. With the Swordwind bonus, they hit on 2s while rerolling 1s and wound even T7 models on 4+. Fantastic.

2) Natural Leader
This Biel-Tan exclusive Warlord Trait allows you to designate a unit within 3” of your Warlord at the beginning of the shooting phase and reroll all failed hit rolls for that unit. It works just like the psychic power GUIDE, but it doesn’t use up a cast and can’t fail or be shut down with “Deny the Witch.” This might be the best Warlord traits in the codex.

If you give “Natural Leader” to a backline Farseer near a pair of Night Spinners, (or perhaps near a large unit of Dark Reapers and a unit of three War Walkers with AMLs,) you can enable both units to reroll all of their hit dice. This can be a significant damage multiplier, especially used in combination with a frontline Farseer and Warlock combo making use of DOOM and JINX.

3) “The Spirit Stone of Anath’Lan” and “The Burnished Blade of Eliarna”
The first of these exclusive relics gives one of your psykers a casting reroll and the second is just a Power Sword that does 2 damage. I recommend taking the Spirit Stone and giving it to your Warlock with PROTECT/JINX. This build has good Synergy with “Natural Leader” as you have to forgo “Seer of the Shifting Vector” to take “Natural Leader” and the “Spirit Stone of Anath’Lan” will make up for the casting reroll you lost by passing on “Seer.”  In my opinion, this kick-ass combination is essential for competitive Biel-Tan lists.

4) Court of the Young King
“Court of the Young King” is a 2CP stratagem that gives a unit of Aspect Warriors +2 to charge and enables them to reroll 1s to hit in the fight phase. The best target is a large unit of Shining Spears probably attacking out of Deepstrike; (if they also have GHOST WALK cast on them, they charge at +4; with a reroll in your back pocket, success is almost certain.) Although 2CP is a significant expense on top of the 1CP you spent on “Webway Strike”, the results can be gratifying. Rerolling 1s in the fight phase also makes the Spears much more reliable damage dealers.

If the charging unit also happens to be within 6” of the Avatar of Khaine, the charge bonus becomes +3. Let’s be clear: this is not a reason to include the Avatar of Khaine in competitive play. If you really want to run the Avatar of Khaine, consider opting for a custom craftworld and check out this video. Although the Avatar is narratively appropriate for a Biel-Tan list, it has no synergy at all with the faction’s bonuses.

ALAITOC

(Official GW photo)

Craftworld Alaitoc has the most inherently durable units at long range and is the only Eldar sub-faction for which Rangers still have significant play.

1) Fieldcraft
Attacks that target an Alaitoc model more than 12” away must subtract 1 from the hit roll. Back in early 8th edition, Fieldcraft made Craftworld Alaitoc the terror of many a tournament table, but now that hit penalties cap out at -1 and there is a greater emphasis on midboard objective control, Alaitoc loyalists have to rethink how they make use of this bonus. It’s still very good however.

The most obvious beneficiaries of Fieldcraft are long-range heavy support units that don’t want to be anywhere near the enemy. This includes Warwalkers with AMLs, Dark Reapers, Fire Prisms and Lynxes, all of which are a bit more durable with access to Fieldcraft. Even units that rely on “Fire and Fade,” like War Walkers, can benefit from Fieldcraft when the opponent has access to indirect fire weapons.

The other big winners here are objective holders, who are likely in the early turns to take fire from units at long range. Alaitoc players still need to prioritize units with invulnerable saves to hold objectives, but they no longer need to spend CP on “Lightning Fast Reactions” on turn 1.

The key to making the best use of Fieldcraft is to not be overly ambitious about its benefits. “Fire and Fade,” PROTECT, and FORTUNE, are just as essential as in any other list.

2) Pathfinders
This 1CP stratagem renders a unit of Alaitoc Rangers in cover extra sneaky; they can only be hit on natural 6s in the shooting phase. Unfortunately, “Pathfinders” is not quite as swanky as it initially appears because 9th edition rules discourage players from placing objective markers on terrain, so the opportunity to use nigh-unshootable elf ninjas as objective holders will not present itself in every game or even in most games.

Nevertheless, it’s totally worth including a single unit of Rangers in an Alaitoc list if you plan to play “Engage on All Fronts” and “Retrieve Octarius Data.” The significant-but-situational durability boost provided by the “Pathfinders” is excellent.

3) Puritanical Leader
Units within 6” of your Warlord automatically pass moral tests. Not worth it. You are better off taking “Seer of the Shifting Vector” for rerolls on psychic tests and using “Insane Bravery” if you ever require a unit to be insanely brave.

4) The Shiftshroud of Alanssair
This Relic makes an infantry character -1 to hit in the shooting phase and allows her to Deepstrike without spending CP. In general, Craftworld characters rely on keeping their heads down and their friends close in order to stay alive, so the -1 doesn’t come up much. As for the deepstrike ability, it’s hard to see the merits. You could use it on a Farseer or Warlock in order to get them into position for DOOM or JINX on turn 2, but it just isn’t worth giving up the ability to cast with them on turn 1. You could give it to an Autarch, but why bother when an Autarch with Swooping Hawk Wings can already do the same thing? You are better off with Faolchu’s Wing or the Phoenix Gem.

5) Illic Nightspear
Illic Nightpear is a sniper HQ unit with a relic rifle called the “Voidbringer”: Heavy 1, S4, -3AP, 3 damage, wounds non-vehicles automatically on a 2+ and inflicts an additional mortal wound on wound roles of 6. (Obviously, this space elf assassin also hits on 2s, ignores “Look Out Sir”, and has a CP-free deepstrike.)

At only 70 points, Illic is better than the internet thinks he is. Against armies that rely on buffs from characters with a wound profile of 3 or less and no invulnerable save, having a reliable assassin can be a game changer. The problem is that most of the lists that you are likely to encounter in tournament play probably won’t offer enough potential victims to optimize his presence. Nevertheless, even against these lists Alaitoc’s most famous deadeye can usually inflict damage equal to his points by popping a few Eradicators or Kataphrons or whatever. The real question is whether you wouldn’t rather just have another War Walker, a Spiritseer, or even 2-elf Warlock Conclave.

If you do decide to take Illic Nightspear, one option is to run him with a unit of Rangers, (who also ignore “Loof Out Sir” and deal mortal wounds on 6s,) and have them team up to put the hurt on slightly tougher characters while the Rangers use “Pathfinders” to screen for Illic. If you decide to go this route, you might even increase the size of the Ranger squad and consider the merits of casting DOOM on the target to generate additional mortal wounds on rerolls.

Illic Nightspear is far from being an auto-include, but he also is not a purely narrative pick.

IYANDEN

(Official GW photo)

Iyanden players have access to some potent bonuses including what is probably the best Craftworlds relic in the game.

1) Stoic Endurance
Wraith units in Iyanden detachments can never lose more than a single model as the result of a failed moral test, and units with damage charts perform as though they had double the number of wounds remaining for the purpose of determining what profile to use.

The first of these benefits is inconsequential. If you have enough models in a wraith unit to risk losing any to moral, you are almost certainly going to play “Insane Bravery,” anyway. The damage chart benefit can come into play with Wraithlords and certain tanks, but looks better than it is: it simply doesn’t many ideal targets. The most popular eldar vehicles and monsters do not have declining profiles, and the ones that do either stay out of line-of-sight or aren’t primarily concerned with target elimination. Weirdly, the unit that stands to benefit the most from this is probably a Lynx in a list where “Fire and Fade” has been used on something else.

The temptation for Iyanden players wanting to both make use of Stoic Endurance and lean into the ghost-army narrative is to triple down on Wraithlords. Unfortunately, the more factions that get 9th edition codexes, the less effective this approach is. Wraithlords might be T8, but they have no invulnerable save, and every updated faction seems to have access to S8 or S9 anti-tank weapons that do D3+3 damage. It only takes a couple of hits from these weapons with modest damage rolls to kill a Wraithlord, at which point the damage chart doesn’t matter.

Wraithkinghts are in an even more tragic position. Because Super-Heavy Auxillia detachments don’t have access to faction bonuses, a singleton Iyaden Wraithknight doesn’t even have Stoic Endurance. In order to access this ability for knights you would need to run a detachment of three of them, (and Eldar knights are strong contenders for the worst titanic models in the game.) Wraithknights are for casual, narrative, and Apocalypse play only.

But don’t despair, Iyanden players! You can still run wraith-oriented armies in competitive matches; it’s just that Wraithlords and Wraithknights are not your best options.

2) Guided Wraithsight
This 1CP Strategem increases the range of a Spiritseer’s “Spiritmark” ability to 12” and enables affected units to reroll ALL failed hits instead of just 1s. This is a considerable damage multiplier for Wraithblades with Ghostaxes and shields, (as they carry a native -1 to hit;) Guided Wraithsight bumps their damage output by 50%! Axe-and-shield Wraithblades are already a top quality pick for objective control, and this Stratagem gives them serious potential as a target elimination unit too.

3) The “Pystronome of Iyanden.”
Once per battle at the start of the fight phase, the Iyanden Psyker carrying this relic can activate it to double the attacks characteristic of all friendly Iyanden Wraith Construct units within 6”. At the end of the phase, each affected unit takes D3 mortal wounds. This is probably the best relic in the codex.

Six charging Wraithblades with Ghostwords buffed with this relic put out 42 attacks at S6, AP -3, 1 damage. (The math here is a little weird. When you declare the charge, the attack profile on the Wraithblades goes from 2 to 3, and then at the beginning of the fight phase doubles to 6, so 36 attacks plus 6 additional attacks for having two ghost swords equals 42. The extra attacks for the Ghostswords don’t actually change the attack characteristic, and so unfortunately do not also double.)

If you also buff them with Guided Wraithsight and have access to DOOM and JINX, they should wipe out most enemy units in a single round.

Alternatively, if you have a couple of Wraithseers countercharging a Demon Primarch, this same combo of powers I just described makes it possible to kill Mortarian or Magnus in a single round of combat. Even a single Wraithseer can hope to do about 10 damage accounting for invulnerable saves and feel-no-pain rolls.

No Iyanden force should ever take the field in competitive play without the Pastronome of Iyanden.

4) Enduring Resolve
This Warlord trait grants its recipient the ability to attempt to Deny the Witch one additional time per turn. Don’t take this; most Eldar lists already have plenty of denial roles.

5) Prince Yriel
Prince Yriel is an Autarch with a slightly juiced witchstaff and a pistol that fires D6 shots at 3” but can only be used once. In the fight phase, Yriel has to reroll saving throws of 6 to account for the fact that he is cursed. He cannot take relics.

Because I respect you, I will not explain why Prince Yriel has no place in a competitive list; it’s just obvious. If what you are looking for is a moody anime heart throb whose likeness might enhance the bedroom wall of a teenage goth-girl, Prince Yriel is your elf. If you are looking for a reliable HQ unit for 9th edition 40k, choose literally anyone else in the codex.

6) A Final Note on Wraith Units in an Iyanden List
There is no reason why you can’t run a competitive Iyanden list in which 50% of your points have been spent on wraith units and Spiritseers, (as is thematically appropriate.)

I recommend:
-6 Wraithblades with Ghostswords in the Webway. Be prepared to cast GHOSTWALK on them the turn they arrive, and have a command reroll in reserve for the charge. Position a Spiritseer before such that you can enhance them with “Guided Wraithsight” and/or a Psyker on a Jetbike to double their attacks with the Pastronome of Iyanden. This is a target elimination unit.

-6 Wraithblades with Ghost Axes and Shields to control a midfield objective. Don’t put them into a Serpent, just advance them onto the objective turn 1 with “Matchless Agility” and buff them with PROTECT and/or FORTUNE to make them nearly indestructible.

-A Spiritseer with PROTECT/JINX or QUICKEN/RESTRAIN to travel with the Ghost Axes

-2 Wraithseers with D-Cannons, at least one of which should have the Runes of Fortune power FATEFUL DIVERGENCE to increase the reliability of its D-cannon. These venerable undead heroes should stay out of sight turns 1 and 2, pinging away at the enemy with their D-Cannons and handing out psychic buffs. In the late game, when there are fewer enemy heavy weapons, they can emerge to cause havoc in melee, counter charge enemy aggressors, or control objectives.

That’s about 900 points. If the rest of your army is made up of the usual HQs, objective control units, secondary utility units, and one or two target elimination units, you should have a highly competitive force with the uncompromising undead flavor essential to any self respecting War Host from Iyanden.

So there you have it.

Regardless of whether you are a Donatello Groupie, Thrawn-enthusiast, or just looking to run a roster consistent with your Craftworld colors, you have lots of options for a competitive list that ignores “Expert Crafters.”

If you have your own ideas about how best to play one of the mainstream Craftworlds, why Donatello is the best Ninja Turtle, or which Star Wars villains correspond to which 40k player factions, please leave a comment below. And if you have not already subscribed to the blog, you can do so using the button in the right hand column.

Until next time,

-Brent

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6 thoughts on “Of Ulthwe and Edgelords; Playing Without Expert Crafters

  1. Just started a Biel Tan force (been my favorite craftworld since a Wrath and Glory campaign) and am glad to hear expert crafters isn’t a make or break the army.

  2. Hi Brent! Thanks for great material. I’ve long wanted to ask you – what’s the best way to leave you some comments/ideas/suggestions on your posts? You often mention people e-mailing you – is that the preferred method of communication?
    Thanks again, you’re doing great thing.

    1. If you have a lot to say or would rather the communication be private, emails are the way forward. If it’s something quick and/or you specifically want others to see your ideas, commenting on posts is the way to go. In general, I get a lot of emails about blog post posts and primarily comments on the YouTube videos.

  3. Another great post. Truly refreshing take on how to use Craftworlds units outside Expert Crafters. I’ll have to build myself a sizeable chunk of Warlock skyrunners for my new conclave I think.

  4. As a primarily Ulthwe player, thank you for the article Brent. I always appreciate your content and how it has helped me become a better Craftworlder. I just have a question about what you were saying in regards to Eldrad however.
    I was under the impression that Eldrad does not actually get stacking +1’s on each ability he manifests? The 8th Edition FAQ says that he only gets a +1 to the next test. https://www.warhammer-community.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/40K_8th_ed_Update_Index_Xenos_1_ver_1.1.pdf
    That being said, you could always do Focus will with a nearby Warlock for a +2, which combined with the +1 from Seer Council and a +1 from Spirit link means you can do that final Smite at a +4, which while nice is not as good as him doing +1 from each power succeeded.

    1. Thanks Bryan! I just fixed it; you are right of course. (I also owe apologies to a couple friends in my local meta.) I don’t often run an Ulthwe detachment, but when I do I always bring Eldrad. I will keep him honest from here on.

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