How to Design an Eldar Army List Part 2: Resource Allocation, Unit Synergy, and Getting to the Win

In Part one of this strategy guide, I encouraged players to approach list-building by thinking about the sorts of obstacles they are likely to encounter in competitive play and writing rosters that include ways of overcoming each of those obstacles. A good list needs to have a way to score objectives, a way to deal with multi-wound heavy infantry, a way to deal with hordes, and so on.

Part two is about how to move beyond thinking of those tools as individual solutions to individual obstacles, and considering instead how they fit together as part of an overall plan. This process begins with a hard look at resource allocation and unit synergy, and concludes with a specific plan for how a given list will win games.

Before we dive in, let’s define some terms. When I say “resource allocation,” I don’t mean how you spend your points, or what models you have to choose from when making a roster. I am specifically referring to other finite pre-game and game-time resources that are essential for getting the most out of your units. These are:
-Craftworld Bonuses
-Command Points
-Stratagems
-Psychic Powers
-Auras

As for “unit synergies,” the term refers to how well the units in your list harmonize with one another or create discord by competing for the same resources.

Resource Allocation and Unit Synergy

Perhaps you used Part 1 of this strategy guide to create a balanced army, but when it came time to actually run the list you found yourself coming up short when you could not both “Fire and Fade” your Fire Dragons back into a Wave Serpent AND “Fire and Fade” your squad of War Walkers out of Line-of-Sight turn 1. Many units available to a Craftworlds player are only worth taking for competitive play if they are enhanced with specific craftworld bonuses, stratagems, or psychic powers. This means that a player building a competitive list needs to consider whether adding a particular unit will starve another unit they plan to include of essential resources. This can lead to some hard choices.

I recently saw a post on a website that shall remain nameless in which a fairly famous 40k player, (who may not actually play Craftworlds very often,) argued that Howling Banshees are actually awesome in competitive play. His explanation went something like this: ‘All you have to do is use the “Matchless Agility” stratagem on a squad of ten Banshees first turn to race across the board, then be prepared for a CP reroll if the charge fails, keep an Autarch Skyrunner with them so they can reroll 1s to hit, cast EMPOWER on them for +1 to wound, use the “Supreme Disdain” stratagem to generate extra hits, and cast DOOM on their target and/or JINX if it has an invulnerable save and then watch the enemy unit get wrecked, (assuming you also have the “Hunters of Ancient Relics” custom craftworld trait and your enemy is standing on an objective.’) I am paraphrasing here to protect the innocent.

This guy is objectively a very good player, but it doesn’t change the fact that this plan is highly dubious for competitive play. Believe me, I would LOVE for my Banshees to be rock stars; as and Iybraesil player, they are my favorite Aspect Warrior. But sinking that level of resources into a unit of Banshees is rarely going to be efficient because it means not using those stratagems, command points, and psychic powers to enhance more optimal units. And even if the Banshees do manage to kill a unit of Eradicators or some Kataphrons, there is a 100% your sleek, screamy murder elves will be easily slaughtered by the opponent next turn.

It’s not that units trading is bad or that it does not sometimes make sense to pour a bunch or resources into super-buffing a single squad, but before you do you need to consider whether you are expending resources in the most optimal way. In casual play, you might build a whole list around trying to make Banshees effective just for the fun of it- (I have done exactly that myself-) but be aware that you are handicapping yourself when you do so in competitive play.

Occasionally, careful list construction with a particular plan in mind really does make normally sub-optimal units the best choice. At the time of writing, a mixed Aeldari list recently won a major tournament with a roster that included the Avatar of Khaine. The Avatar has been famously uncompetitive pretty much since GW introduced it back in second edition, but in this particular list and as a part of this player’s very particular plan, it was a great investment. Here is how it worked:

The player took the secondary objective “While We Stand, We Fight,” which gives 5 victory for each of your three most expensive units if they are still alive at the end of the game. He also included another high-cost monster, (a Wraithseer with D-Cannon,) that was relatively easy to keep alive because it can participate in the battle by providing psychic buffs and firing without Line-of-Sight. He also took custom craftworld trait “Expert Crafters,” which made the D-Cannon and the Wailing Doom significantly more effective. Finally, he set aside nine command points every match to sink into “The Avatar Resurgent,” so that he could just resurrect the incarnation of the Bloody Handed God every time it died.

Great idea, right? But it wasn’t easy to pull off. Consider all of the other adjustments he needed to make to his list so that this would be viable. First off, he needed units that required virtually no CP investment at all to function at an optimal competitive level. (He did this by running minimal squads of Dark Reapers with the “Fast Shot” exarch power and “Expert Crafters,” and lots of cheap and self-sufficient Drukhari.) He also could not include any unit is his army that would be more expensive than the 170 point Wraithseer with D-Cannnon. This means no five man units of Shinning Spears, no Wraithblades, etc. And then he needed to come up with ways to reliably score his other two secondary objectives and play the primary objective game without stepping outside the parameters he set up with these initial unit choices.

So What is the Take Away Here?

Every time you make a decision to include a particular unit and use a particular combination of craftworld bonuses, stratagems and psychic powers to enhance that unit, you are altering the relative value of every other model in the codex. If, for example, you decide that you are going to add five Wraithblades and select “Hunters of Ancient Relics” to enhance your midfield objective control, you have created an incentive to run additional units of Wraithblades and Shining Spears to contest objectives because “Hunters of Ancient Relics” makes these units significantly more points efficient. (Suddenly a three-elf unit of Spears hits nearly as hard as a five-man unit, and so on.) Nevertheless, you also decrease the viability of including certain other units in the same detachment or army by foreclosing on the possibility of having chosen some other custom craftworld trait or because the Wraithblades and Shining Spears need to monopolize “Matchless Agility” and QUICKEN.

If you are a newish player reading this, you might be starting to feel a bit overwhelmed. It is hard enough to learn your units do and how to play the game. Worrying about the interrelated consequences of resource allocation might feel absolutely mind-melting at the moment. If so, don’t worry. If you are mostly playing other newish players, you can likely get by without considering these factors right away. As you improve your knowledge of your units and the game, however, building lists with these additional concerns in mind will become both easier and essential, especially if you use the guide below to help you get started.

1) Begin by prioritizing units essential for the objective game

You win at 40k by scoring points, and you score points by succeeding at the objective game. If you are struggling to decide how best to allocate resources and what unit synergies you should emphasize, the best place to start is with units that will enable you to maximize your secondary objective scores and/or play the primary objectives. Because Craftworld Eldar struggle more than many factions to win the primary objective game, it is even more essential that you maximize your score for secondary objectives.

To be really effective, a unit selected to score a secondary objective should also fill some additional need. In the winning list I discussed above, that Wraithseer was not only worth five points at the end of the game, it also provided psychic support and dangerous ranged attacks that could threaten tanks and heavy infantry out of Line-of-Sight. The Avatar prevented powerful enemy melee units from reaching fragile backline units; it was both a tar-pit and a monster-killer.

That said, there is also a threshold at which it really is okay to include a unit that will do nothing but score points. Five Warp Spiders with the “Web of Deceit” exarch power, for example, can be essential to maximizing “Deploy Scramblers” while also enabling you to pick up two or three more points for “Engage on All Fronts.” (If these teleporting Aspect Warriors also kill a unit of enemy light infantry holding a backfield objective, even better.) Spiders might not be much of a combat unit, but a single squad can bag you an easy twelve victory points with no CP expenditure or psychic support, and their presence frees up another more combat-efficient unit to position itself without worrying about “Engage on All Fronts”.

Begin your list construction by figuring out which secondary objectives you plan to emphasize and exactly how you are going to score them. Include the necessary units and allocate the stratagems and psychic resources you need in order to succeed. Now consider how you will contest primary objectives.

These initial choices you make will create parameters for the rest of your list as you move forward with selecting units to fill the other roles described in part 1 of this strategy guide.

TIP FOR NEWBIES: Remember that you can include two separate detachments with different Craftworld bonuses. For example, you might give both detachments “Expert Crafters,” but your Vanguard detachment will benefit most from “Masterful Shots,” while your Patrol of melee-oriented objective holders prefers “Hunters of Ancient Relics.” Splitting detachment bonuses in this way may feel janky or ‘not in the spirit of the game’ to new or narrative players, but it is absolutely standard in tournament play.

2) Identify Package Deals

Initially, approaching list-building with special attention to resource allocation and synergy will be time consuming and mentally demanding, but it will quickly become easier as you learn to recognize package deals.

There are certain groups of units that function especially well together and have predictable resource demands that may make them incompatible with other blocks of units in your collection. A good example of this is dual Night Spinner build that I suggest in the blog post: “How to Use the Backline Farseer; Soccer of Space Elves.” In addition to the units that make up this package, a player must dedicate 3CP per turn for specific stratagems, which may preclude including units hungry for the same resources.

You should also identify units that are optimal without any buffs from stratagems, auras, or psychic powers. This can be quite difficult in a pure Craftworlds list, but there are a handful of examples like the Lynx and Shadow Specters that require no bonuses of any kind to be deadly. On the other hand, if we assume that one of your custom Craftworld traits is “Expert Crafters,” your roster of potential independent operators becomes substantially larger. Singleton War Walkers, twin Vypers, and small reaper units like the ones in that tournament-winning army I described above all perform extremely well on their own.

A word of caution: although thinking about your collection in terms of unit-groupings can be enormously helpful, it is important that you don’t become so attached to particular ways of grouping your units that you stop considering new and creative combinations. The dude with the tournament winning Avatar would have missed a great opportunity if he had become mentally inflexible about the potential of his bloody-handed elf-daemon.

3) Complete Your List and Perform an Audit

Once you have assembled a two thousand point list, you should go back and check to make sure that the following conditions have been met:

-Your list has answers to all of the potential obstacles presented in part 1 of this strategy guide.

-You have accounted for the psychic powers and stratagems required by each individual unit in the army in order for it to perform optimally. Check to make sure that two units do not require the same resource at the same time and that you have enough CP to fuel the really essential combos long enough for you to secure victory.

This is also a good opportunity to identify any psychic casts that are truly pivotal and taking steps to make sure that you have enough bonuses and rerolls for those casts to be all but inevitable.

-Lastly, check for missed opportunities. Perhaps you have designed a list that barely needs CP at all. If this is the case, look for ways you can plan to optimize it with stratagems you might not have considered. Alternatively, there might be some particularly powerful stratagem, like “Fire and Fade,” that you might have left out. Although you doesn’t necessarily NEED to make use of “Fire and Fade,” it is worth at least considering whether you have a use for it as it is one of the most powerful tools available to space elves.

And Finally…

Getting to the Win: Planning for 75

High level competitive games tend to also be high scoring games, and most tournament formats will reward high-scoring wins more so than low-scoring ones. As such, a really ass-kicking list needs to stand a good chance of scoring over 70 points per game, (not including those 10 points that you allegedly get just for having a painted army.)

Before you declare your competitive list ready for the table, assess exactly how you plan to get to 75 points. Maybe your strategy is to control at least two objectives for three turns after turn 1, and you also have a wraithbone-solid strategy for scoring all 45 possible points for secondaries. Or maybe its 35 and 40 or whatever, but you should have a precise and particular plan.

Once you do, consider what an opponent might be able to do to foil you and come up with contingencies. Although it isn’t possible to create an army optimized to beat every other list it might encounter, you are much more likely to be successful if you have thought carefully about these challenges in advance.

Ultimately, if you have good skills and a competitive army, and you come up against another player with those same assets, it will be your ability to recognize your opponent’s grand strategy and foil it, while preventing her from doing the same to you, that will determine the outcome of the game. At that point, however, you will be well beyond list-building as a primary concern.

So there it is. If you follow the steps presented in parts one and two of this strategy guide, you should be well on your way to having an army that can terrorize the competitive tables at your local game store and perhaps eventually become a contender in big tournaments.

One final piece of advice: you might be tempted to circumvent this whole process of list-building by simply looking up whatever Aeldari list did the best at the most recent big tournament and duplicating that list. I strongly urge you not to do this. Not only does net-listing deprive you of one of the most enjoyable aspects of competitive 40k, (list building,) but this approach is also unlikely to get you the results that you want. If you are not the one who went through the mental exercise of thinking about all of the questions that I presented in these guides to make the list, you are unlikely to grasp exactly how best to play it. This is powerfully illustrated in every single major 40k tournament. Inevitably, multiple clones of the last big tournament-winning list show up, and those clones never turn out to be the winner. Players copying a list they found online a month ago will almost never play that list as well as the player who designed it.

I am not suggesting that you should not look at net-lists or that you shouldn’t look especially carefully at lists that do well. (I certainly do.) All I am saying is that if you learn how top competitive players develop effective rosters and mimic that process instead of mimicking the final product, you will get more out of the hobby and probably end up with better competitive results in the long run.

Best of luck. May you tactical machinations help to restore the lost glory of the Aeldari Empire.

-Brent

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