(Most recently updated March, 11, 2021)
Building a competitive list for 40k means thinking ahead about what sorts of obstacles your army will encounter and ensuring it has ways to overcome each of those. This sort of planning will hopefully prevent you from showing up to a game at your local store and realizing that you have lost the battle before it even started.
To put it another way, a good army list needs to be flexible and designed with specific tasks in mind. Here are some guiding questions for building an effective 2000 point list:
- How will my army score primary objectives?
- What secondary objectives will my army favor and how will I achieve them?
- How will my army deal with hordes and light infantry?
- How will my army deal with multi-wound heavy infantry?
- How will my army deal with tanks, monsters, and titanic units?
- How will my army deal with gun lines?
- How will my army deal with obscenely good invulnerable saves?
- How will my army deal with deepstrikers and my opponent’s strategic reserves?
- Have I considered command points, what happens if I don’t get first turn, etc?
What follows is an in-depth run-down of these questions and some of the tools Craftworlds players might use to answer them. Keep in mind that not all all of the solutions proposed are equally competitive. The purpose of this post is to help players think tactically about list construction; whether a particular unit is the best choice for a given list depends on what types of armies a player is most likely to face in her local meta, how a particular unit does or does not synergize with other units in the army, and what a player has in her collection. (For example, Warp Spiders are better at scoring secondary objectives than Swooping Hawks, but if you have 5 Hawks painted and ready to go and you don’t own Warp Spiders, then your Swooping Hawks might be your best option.)
Also: there is nothing wrong with just building a list around a particular theme or by focusing on units you like the look of. It makes sense to build lists in whatever way helps you get the most enjoyment out of the hobby. If, however, part of your enjoyment comes from the overcoming the challenges posed by out-planning and out-maneuvering opponents, then what follows may be helpful to you.
1) How will my army score primary objectives?
Every matched-play mission in 9th edition 40k requires players to compete to hold 4-6 objective markers spread around the board. A player controls an objective marker if she has more models within three inches of the marker at the beginning of her command phase than her opponent does. If a player has any models within three inches of an objective that possess the “objective secured” ability, she automatically controls the objective regardless of how many models an opponent has, unless both players have models with “objective secured,” in which case only those models are counted. Because primary objectives are scored in the command phase, your units will not only need to move onto the objective but survive your opponent’s turn in order to score.
The ability to generally control at least as many objectives as your opponent is essential, (although you do not need to do so every turn of the game.) If you significantly outscore your opponent on primary objectives, it is very likely that you will win.
There are two ways to play the objective game: you can score the objectives yourself, or you can prevent opponent from scoring them by annihilating her objective holders before her next command phase. Most successful aeldari lists will rely on a combination of these.
Here are some options for objective control:
1) Dire Avengers mounted in a Wave Serpent or Falcon.
A unit of Dire Avengers in a transport parked on an objective is a powerful tool. These units are fast enough to grab midfield objectives first turn, and your opponent will struggle to destroy both the vehicle and the troops inside quickly enough to prevent you from scoring. Also, the transport can be positioned to make it difficult for opposing units to reach the objective to challenge your control. If you have two Serpents to commit to a single objective you can actually screen your opponent’s melee units out entirely. Here is a video that shows how: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXzeFg5q7uQ (the whole video is good, but skip to 19:40 if you just want to see the trick with the Wave Serpents.)
Wave Serpents are better objective holders than Falcons because the serpent shield reduces incoming damage and Serpents are transports that don’t take up an important heavy support slot. That said, Falcons are a little cheaper and the Pulse Laser is hugely valuable against heavy infantry like marines and custodes, so either tank is a solid choice.
NOTE: Consider giving your Wave Serpents “vectored engines,” which conveys a -1 to hit on a turn in which the vehicle made and advance move. Also, remember to make use of the 4++ invuln of the Dire Avenger exarch by assigning high AP incoming fire to him first, or give him a scatter shield that confers an invuln on the whole squad.
NOTE: Don’t count on your Dire Avengers to kill anything; their purpose is to occupy objectives and in certain missions perform actions that allow them to score secondary points. This is a utility unit, not a combat unit.
These durable ghost soldiers can be advanced with QUICKEN or deployed turn 2 from a Wave Serpent and then “quickened” onto an objective. Axes and shields are your best option for camping on an objective as they enjoy a 4++ invuln, high toughness, and 3 wounds. They are the most durable infantry unit available to Craftworlds. The only problem with wraiths in this role is that they don’t have “objective secured.” You can mitigate weakness this by positioning them exactly 3″ forward of an objective in a “V” formation that will make it difficult for enemy infantry to get within 3″ of the point even when engaged in melee with the wraiths.
TIP: If you plan to use wraithblades in this role, consider selecting the custom craftworld trait Hunters of Ancient Relics, which will increase the damage output of ghost axes sitting on an objective by 50%.
3) Shining Spears.
Small units of Spears with the “expert rider” exarch trait and PROTECT are good for sitting on objectives exposed to lanes of heavy enemy fire as long as the bikes are too far away to be challenged in melee. That 2++ invul save against shooting, especially if you sit on a command point for a reroll, makes them almost invulnerable. In the late game this small unit can zip off the objective to assassinate enemy characters.
Larger units of Spears can be used to punch enemies off midfield objectives and then score those objectives if your opponent is unable to retaliate. If you plan on using this tactic, I would recommend tanking the custom craftworld trait, “Hunters of Ancient Relics,” which will give your models an additional attack when they are on an objective; this will increase the damage output of a unit of Spears by about 50%. I have found this to be essential for Spears in this role.
Deepstrikers are units that have the ability to deploy anywhere on the board after turn 1 at least 9 inches from all enemy units. Eldar have stratagems that allow them to put any infantry or bike units into deepstrike at the beginning of the game. In addition, Swooping Hawks, Rangers, Striking Scorpions, Warwalkers, and Warpspiders can start in deepstrike without the use of stratagems. Units appearing with deepstrike on turn 2 or 3 can be a serious threat to your opponent’s objective control.
You might occasionally have the opportunity to seize and objective directly with deepstrikers, but most opponents will probably be able to prevent this. Instead, use deepstrikers to either shoot enemies off of objectives or charge enemies sitting on objectives, both eliminating them and capturing the point in a single turn. For the first of these, you can use Swooping Hawks or War Walkers without using CP, but there are a variety of other options if you use the ‘Webway Strike” stratagem. For melee attacks, your best option is to use Shining Spears buffed with the exarch power “Swooping Dive,” the custom craftworld trait “Headstrong” and the psychic power “Ghost walk.” If you really want to double down, use the stratagem “Supreme Disdain” to really maximize your chances of killing everything on the point. (Again, you should definitely take the custom craftworld trait “Hunters of Ancient Relics” if you are using melee units for objective control.) Banshees might also work well for this with the right buffs, although they are fragile.
5) Specialized Heavy Support.
Fire Prisms, Night Spinners, and the Tempest Launcher can all wipe out troop units sitting on distant objectives completely out of line of sight. Eliminating hard-to-reach troop units camping on objectives can swing the game in your favor even if you cannot immediately grab those objectives yourself. Not only does it prevent your opponent from scoring points for the primary, it may also prevent her from triggering secondary objectives like “Raise the Banners High” AND give you additional points if removing the unit means you now control 1 more objective than your opponent.
Shooting opponents off objectives is essential, as eldar do not have the cheap, robust units with Objective Secured.
6) Tie up enemy units in melee or just blocking their movement with fast units
If you can pin enemy units in melee engagements early on, you can prevent them from moving towards objectives. Howling Banshees are excellent for this. They can deploy three inches forward of a Falcon or Wave Serpent and rush across the field turn 1, (especially if you cast QUICKEN on them) bind up enemy infantry and create a log jam in your opponent’s deployment zone. The Banshees may not kill many models, but their value is largely in controlling your enemy’s movement rather than inflicting wounds. Because Banshees are even more fragile in 9th now that they can no longer stack additional penalties to hit on top of their native -1, this strategy is probably less reliable than the others, but it can still be quite effective in the hands of a skilled player. It’s a tactic often used by harlequins.
Another option is to use very small units of basic Windriders to get in an opponent’s face turn 1 and block their movement. You can be absolutely certain that these bikes will die, but two units of three might be enough to trap your opponent’s objectives holder turn 1, and it might be worth the cost from a tactical perspective even if the bikes don’t inflict quite enough damage with a single round of shuriken fire to “earn” their points with an enemy body count. This is a strategy that works better for factions with cheaper cavalry, like Slaanesh, but Craftworlds can get some utility out of it, although it is galling to sacrifice elf lives to control enemy movement.
7) Enhance objective holders with powerful defensive buffs
Even the toughest craftworlds units are too fragile on their own to jump on objectives and suffer the wrath of a tournament-tier shooting army. If you are running a list that requires multiple units to jump on objectives first turn and absorb enemy fire, make sure ALL of those units are buffed- hopefully in multiple ways- to make removing one resource intensive for your opponent. Your best tools for doing this are:
-The Runes of Battle power PROTECT
-The Runes of Fate power FORTUNE
-Vectored Engines (make a vehicle that jumped on an objective -1 to hit)
-Spirit Stones (a 6+ feel no pain that can be given to most vehicles)
-The Wave Serpent serpent shield- not a buff, but worth thinking about when you plan your distribution of defensive buffs.
Think of it this way: if you hold one objective that is out of Line-of-Sight near your own deployment zone and then you seize two midfield objectives that you opponent can shoot, it might be helpful if you are holding one with a wave-serpent with vectored engines and spirit stones, and the other with some Shining Spears that have both PROTECT and FORTUNE on top of “Skilled Rider.” Now your wave serpent is -1 to hit, has a 6+++ feel no pain, subtracts 1 from all incoming damage, AND is filled with wraithblades that are a nightmare to remove. Your spears have a 2+ and a 2++ on the exarch, and a 5++ feel no pain.
(If you are running a detachment of Harlequin allies, you can access a whole new set of defensive buffs to help you trip-out a unit to contest a third objective. For more about Harlequin allies, click here.)
If you also move other dangerous units forward to threaten the enemy with powerful shooting while grabbing objectives, your opponent needs to decide whether to let you score the objectives and focus on those other threats, or pour a tremendous amount of resources into blasting you off even one of those objectives- and even with a total resource commitment, it is likely that effort will fail. Forcing your opponent to choose between multiple bad options is a reliable way to win at 40k.
2) What secondary objectives will my army favor and how will I achieve them?
In many 9th edition missions, players have the opportunity to earn up to 45 victory points by achieving specific secondary objectives chosen individually by each player before the game begins, but after they have seen the mission and one another’s armies.
Obvious secondary options for eldar include: “Engage on all Fronts” and “Scramblers.” The first of these requires you to have units within 3 quarters of the board at the end of each turn for 2VP or all 4 quarters for 3VP. The second requires you to perform an action with an infantry unit in each third of the board over the course of the game to score 10VP. The superior mobility of eldar should make both of these easy with minimal planning. Ideally, you want to choose secondary objectives that don’t require you to divert significant resources away from winning the primary objective game and eliminating the most dangerous enemy units.
You might also consider the psychic objective “mental interrogation.” This one essentially gives you 3VP every time one of your psykers forgoes their normal cast to instead perform this secondary by casting “mental interrogation” near an enemy psyker, however, few competitive players are running this at the moment because most lists rely on the synergies created by their psychic powers, but in a list with extra psykers- especially non-HQ psykers like Wraithseers, you might be able to do well with this one. (Personally, I think “Mental Interrogation” is under-rated at the moment.)
“Repair Teleport Homer” also has real possibility as we have three different infantry units that can deepstrike without spending CP. This one is a bit easier for an opponent to counter, but may require her to pull resources away from primary objective control to do so, and if you can score a third primary objective marker at the cost of achieving this secondary objective it’s actually a win. It might look like a wash because you give up points to score points, but anytime you score a third objective point you not only gain 5 points, but you prevent your opponent from gaining 5, which is an overall gain.
The take-away here is not that you need to select the secondaries I just named, but that you need to have a plan for exactly how what you bring to the table will enable you to get as close as possible to scoring an additional 45 points for secondary objectives. Keep in mind that you don’t have to choose your secondaries until you have seen your opponent’s army list, so while it is good to have one or two secondaries that you plan to run no matter what your opponent brings, you should be familiar enough with all the secondaries that you can be flexible about a third secondary slot if your opponent brings a list that is especially vulnerable to a secondary that you may otherwise not use.
3) How will my list deal with hordes of light infantry?
Horde lists were out of fashion in the early days of 9th, but there are currently several factions that rely heavily on flooding the midfield with cheap bodies that also have “Objective Secured.” You should be prepared to eliminate light troops used to hold objectives, screen out your deepstrikers, and assault your own light infantry and objective holders. Your competitive list should have some way to handle a mob.
You probably don’t need to be prepared to deal with the 250 little monsters immune to moral tests that a Tyranids player could theoretically throw at you, but you should have a way to remove 90 light infantry that might need to be blasted off objectives or killed before they swarm your backfield. Assume that really effective enemy light infantry will have a 5++ invulnerable save, as many do. Here are our best ways to eliminate light infantry:
1) Blast Weapons.
In 9th edition, some weapons have the “blast” keyword, which means they will always fire at least 3 shots against units with more than 5 models, and at least 6 against units with more than ten models. So, for example, an Aeldari Missile Launcher that is Heavy D6, will automatically roll a 6 when targeting horde units.
Melee is a powerful tool in 40k. Because melee units fight on both players’ turns, the potential damage output for melee units is significant. Wraithblades with Ghost Swords put out 3-4 attacks per player-turn at S6 -3 AP. They are blenders against light infantry. Wraithblades with Ghost Swords are probably the most efficient light-infantry killers in the codex, but their limited mobility means you may have to think creatively about how to get them engaged with your preferred targets. The psychic power QUICKEN can be invaluable here, as can mounting six of these ghost warriors in a Wave Serpent.
3) Scatterbikes or other Windrider units.
Scatterbikes are Windriders with scatter lasers that make use of this weapon’s long range and high strength to shred enemy infantry with volume of fire. Scatterbikes can also be used to grab objectives late in the game. Windriders with plain twin-linked shuriken catapults are a good alternative if you want to cut costs as they are 20pts per model instead of 30, although their much shorter range limits their utility. A large unit of Windriders buffed with GUIDE and “Runes of Witnessing” can devastate most horde units in a single round of shooting, and then kept alive with “Fire and Fade.”
All that said, I think Scatterbikes are just too expensive relative to their utility to be viable for competitive play at the moment.
Nightspinners are the eldar anti-infantry tank; their Doomweavers fire 2D6 S7 shots that each deal 2 damage and can target any unit within 48″, even units out of Line of Sight. In 9th edition, Nightspinners also have the “Blast” Keyword, which means they will always fire 6 shots against hordes. These are a powerful tool that benefit considerably from a nearby Autarch and a Farseer triggering the stratagem “Runes of Witnessing.” Together, these allow nearby units to reroll 1s to hit and 1s to wound.
5) 3 War Walkers.
Armed with Aeldari Missile Launchers, these can pose a serious threat to light infantry. Either individual War Walkers benefitting from “Expert Crafters,” or squads of three bolstered with GUIDE or an Autarch are best.
6) Dark Reaper Tempest Launchers.
Your Dark Reaper exarch can take a tempest launcher that fires 2D6 shots, re-rolling 1s, always hits on a 3+, and can target units the bearer cannot see. Although one of these is definitely not enough to deal with all your opponent’s light infantry, it’s an inexpensive way to significantly improve your dakka. This is a great option especially for new players as the squad is cheap to buy, easy to paint, and offers great utility. When I use Dark Reapers in this role, I usually select the exarch trait that allows a player to reroll the number of shots generated each turn by the tempest launcher.
7) Three Fire Prisms.
Fire prisms have three different profile for shooting, one of which is a D6 anti-infantry blast. Because Prisms can fire twice if they move less than half their movement value, and because there is a stratagem that allows them to all target a unit even if it is only within range and Line of Sight of a single fire Prism, three can generate 6D6 shots of potent anti-infantry fire with almost infinite range and no Line-of-Sight limitations. That said, you will often want to use your Prisms on larger armored targets instead of light infantry.
8) Swooping Hawks.
Each Hawk fires four S3 shots with a 24″ range. A squad of 5 is cheap and while it won’t provide enough anti horde fire on its own, hawks have enough other utility where board control is concerned that they are a strong candidate for a partial solution.
9) Guardian bombs.
A “guardian bomb” is 16-20 guardians that start the game in deepstrike using the “webway strike” strategem. On turn two or three, the guardian bomb drops in 9″ from the enemy horde unit and hits it with 36-40 shuriken shots. Guardian bombs also have the added bonus of being troop units, so they help fill out a battalion; however, in 9th edition guardian bombs are fairly expensive and are themselves subject to blast weapon attacks, so unless you are running Ulthwe and have access to “discipline of the black guardians” you probably have better options available.
It is also worth noting that guardians absolutely evaporate in melee combat as they cannot make use of “Celestial Shield,” and guardians need to be within easy charge distance of an enemy in order to use their weapons.
3) How will this list deal with large numbers of Heavy Infantry?
For our purposes, we will assume heavy infantry is any infantry model with at least 2 wounds; generally they also have a toughness of at least 4 and a 3+ armor save. Space Marines, Terminators, and Ad Mech Kataphrons are currently among the most dangerous heavy infantry in the game.
You cannot rely on a high volume of fire with no AP to remove heavy infantry, as a marine in cover saves on a 2+. Instead, you need weapons that inflict 2 wounds or more wounds. Here are our best options:
1) Star Cannons.
For my money, Star Cannons are among the most competitive options for handing heavy infantry, especially if you mount them on trios of War Walkers. Three War Walkers with Star Cannons fire 12 shots at S6, -3AP and D3 damage. If you cast GUIDE on them and use the “Runes of Witnessing” stratagem to reroll 1s to wound, (or DOOM the target,) they should wipe out most heavy infantry units in a single round of shooting.
Star Cannons can also be mounted effectively on Vypers, Falcons, Wave Serpents, and Wraithlords. For more about why these are a great option, read my blog post about heavy weapons loadouts.
2) Night Spinners and the JINX psychic power.
Night Spinners have a 2D6 fire output with the “BLAST” keyword, hit at Str7, and most importantly: deal two damage per hit; they can also target any enemy unit within 48″, even if the unit is out of Line-of -Sight.
Although Night Spinners cannot be run in squads and so are not great targets for psychic powers, two of them can benefit greatly from an Autarch’s reroll aura or a nearby Farseer if you use the strategem “Runes of Witnessing.”
The one downside to Night Spinners in this role is that they have no AP except on shots that roll 6s to wound; (those shots have -4.) As a result, the “Masterful Shots” Custom Craftworld trait from the eldar psychic awakening book is nearly essential for any detachment that includes Night Spinners, otherwise marines in cover will save against them on a 2+.
Casting JINX on the target will also greatly increase the utility of your Spinners in this role, as most heavy infantry will have an excellent armor save. Your best option for casting JINX is a Warlock Skyrunner because it has the mobility to get into range of most targets.
2) Heavy D-Scythes on Hemlock Wraithfighters
These are the ultimate anti-primaris weapon. They fire 2D3 shots, hitting automatically, wounding on a 2+, essentially ignoring armor except invulns, and dealing 2 wounds. Remember, Wraithfighters can also cast SMITE, which is usually good for 1 more kill. This is a good option for new players because it is so straight forward, although veteran players may find wraithfighters a little too expensive to make the cut for competitive play.
4) Dark Reapers with Starswarm missiles.
The Starswarm missile profile is H2, with a 48 inch range, Str 5, -2 AP and deals 2 damage. Two squads of 5 pose a significant threat to heavy infantry almost anywhere on the table.
4) Pulse lasers and Star Cannons, especially on Crimson Hunters.
Pulse lasers do a flat three damage with good strength and -3 AP, making them highly effective for wiping out multi-wound heavy infantry and bikes. Star cannons fire D3 shots, are S6, also have -3 AP and do D3 damage, which means a successful wound will kill an unwounded primaris marine 2/3 of the time. The falcon tank is the cheapest way to add a pulse laser to your list.
5) Three Fire Prisms.
Fire prisms have three different profile for shooting, one of which is a D3 anti-heavy infantry/bike profile. Because prisms can fire twice if they move less than half their movement value and because the “Linked Fire” stratagem allows them to all target any one unit that all can see, three Prisms pose a series threat to enemy heavy infantry almost anywhere on the board.
6) Shining Spears.
The laser lance is a brutal weapon against heavy infantry. If you can move this unit close enough to the target unit to blast them with last lances in the shooting phase and then charge in to hand-to-hand, you should be able to devastate any unit that doesn’t have an invulnerable save of at least 4++. (Don’t forget to also fire with your 36 shuriken catapult shots. Although, because they only have an AP value on rolls of 6 to wound, they are unlikely to do much damage to heavily armored units- but every little bit helps.)
Once you are in hand-to-hand Consider using the “Supreme Disdain” stratagem to score a few more blows with the laser lance.)
NOTE: Be careful not to leave your shining spears within charge distance of a powerful enemy melee unit at the end of your turn. Spears have no invuln save in hand to hand and will be quickly destroyed by a powerful melee unit; this is the shining spears’ greatest vulnerability.
7) Fire Dragons.
Fire dragons in the webway or in a falcon or wave serpent can deal some serious damage to a heavy infantry unit, but dragons are fragile and will almost certainly be destroyed the turn after you use them- so it’s a trade, like in chess. Unless of course you use this clever tactic.
8) Wraithguard or Wraithblades.
Wraith infantry with any loadout excel at killing enemy heavy infantry, but you will need to mount them in a transport, deepstrike them, or use QUICKEN to deliver them. Their limited range and movement makes it difficult for them to threaten hard to reach targets and they are too expensive to sit out most of the fight, but played carefully and positioned well they can be a powerful tool.
9) Forgeworld Units
Forgeworld is a subsidiary of Games Workshop that makes additional units for most 40k factions; these units are not mentioned in your army’s official codex, but may actually be quite common in competitive play. Eldar have some powerful Forgeworld options that excel at eliminating heavy infantry. You can learn more about them here.
4) How will my army deal with heavy tanks, big monsters, and titanic units?
Tanks and monsters got a whole lot better in 9th edition, so it is even more important now that you be ready to deal with them. There are many armies you may face that rely heavily on a core of heavy tanks or a couple of titanic units that you will need to cripple or destroy in order to win. This means any army you run needs to have a significant amount of fire power that has a high strength (6 minimum but 8+ is much better,) an AP of at least -2, and a multi-wound damage profile. I suggest at least 12D6 Damage worth of anti-tank weapons, where at least half are be able to reroll both hit and wound rolls and at least half have a range of 36” or more. (Count D3 damage weapons as ½ a D6 and flat 3 damage weapons as 2/3rds of one.) Here are out best options:
1) Bright Lances on vehicles with the “Expert Crafters” custom craftworld trait.
The bright lance is much improved in 9th edition now that vehicles can move and fire it at no penalty, its points stayed level while almost everything else in the game increased, and best of all the “expert crafters” craftworld trait allows a single bright lance on a vehicle to reroll both to hit and to wound. The best mounts for bright lances are: warwalkers in squads of 1, (to maximize the benefit from expert crafters,) Falcons- (another surprising winner in the 9th edition points updates,) wave serpents, wraithlords, and Vyper jetbikes in squads on 1. Crimson Hunters are also an option, but for various reasons I think you are still better off with star cannons on those.
2) Aeldari Missile Launchers on vehicles with the “Expert Crafters” custom craftworld trait.
This weapon has an anti-tank profile nearly as powerful as the brightlance’s and for the same cost. It has slightly less armor penetration, but might be the better choice in metas where there are still lots of light infantry as there is also an anti-infantry profile you can select when you fire it. It mounts on all the same vehicles mentioned above except the crimson hunter.
3) Three Fire Prisms.
Fire prisms have suffered a substantial point hike in 9th such that 3 of them constitute almost 25% of a 2k list. Nevertheless, because they can fire twice and have access to the “Linked Fire” Stratagem that allows them to reroll all their dice to hit and to wound, and can target a unit that only one of the three can see, fire prisms remain one of the most potent anti-tank options available to craftworlds. Fire prisms have three different shooting profiles, one of which is designed to counter heavy armor: Heavy 1, S12, -5Ap, D6 damage; however, you will usually be better off using their middle profile: Heavy D3, S9, -4 AP. This is because against most targets, both of these weapon profiles wound on 3+ and have enough AP to just ignore the armor, and more shots is likely to result in more damage, even at D3 damage instead of D6. As they can all target a unit that is in range and Line-of-Sight of at least one of them, spread your prisms out in the backfield, you should be able to hit anything on the board with all of them while ignoring line of site and range. Average damage output from this combo is about 16 against a T8 target with a 3+ save. This is a highly competitive option, especially if you are not using the “expert crafters” craftworld trait as they do not need it when using “linked fire.”
4) Shining Spears.
The shining spears’ laser lance is a S6 weapon with a -4AP that does 2 damage, while the exarch carries a S8 version of this weapon. If you can get 5 spears within 6″ of a heavy target, they take 5 shots with those profiles and then charge for a further 11 attacks with the same profile. This can be a powerful blow against an imperial knight, greater daemon, or heavy tank, especially if you cast DOOM on the target. The S6 of the lances is a little low against heavy tanks, so casting DOOM on the target or EMPOWER on the spears is important.
TIP: Spears are a powerful tool, but using them requires you to carefully maneuver the unit into position beforehand. Although highly competitive, this technique may be difficult to pull for new players. For more about how to use Shining Spears to devastating effect, click here.
5) Wraithguard with cannons in the webway or Fire Dragons in transports.
Wraith cannons and fusion guns pose a serious threat to armored support units IF you can get them into range. In 8th edition this was difficult because lower point costs and looser deployment rules for squads meant that it was easy to insulate targets with infantry to prevent deepstrikers from getting close. 9th edition features fewer infantry and makes it more difficult for infantry squads to spread out, so wraiths and Dragons are more dangerous. Keep in mind though in will be turn 2 or perhaps even three before they join the fight. Less experienced players should use wraithguard, as their durability makes them more forgiving.
If you are interested in using Fire Dragons in this role, I strongly reccomend reading this post.
6) Dark Reapers.
Dark Reapers have an anti-tank profile that makes them moderately threatening to heavy targets. Although I think they are more useful against Primaris Marines and bikes or other heavy infantry, you could consider a unit of 5 of these aspect warriors a very modest part of your anti-tank tableau.
The Wraithknight and the Avatar of Khaine have weapon profiles that are specked for hard targets, but these two are not be competitive options for a variety of reasons, although they are lots of fun to play. One other potent competitive option is to splash in in 5-10 harlequin skyweavers as part of a patrol detachment, as these are highly dangerous to vehicles and do not depend on “expert crafters” or DOOM.
5) How will my list deal with a gun-line or an Enemy with Potent Shooting?
A gun-line is an army that sits in its own deployment zone and tries to wipe the enemy off the board with long range fire. This types of build will probably see less play in 9th edition as objective control has become more important and the strategic reserves rule has made it easy for players to protect their high value targets turn 1. Nevertheless, you should have a plan for what to do if you encounter an army that start with significant long range fire power on the board turn 1. Tau are a classic example of a gunline army, as are many imperial guard lists. Generally speaking, there are three ways to beat a gunline: target denial, melee engagement, and making good decisions about target priority. For eldar, target denial and target priority are the most effective.
1) Deny the enemy viable targets. Because eldar tend to be fragile, conservative deployment is important. If at all possible, begin the game such that none of your high value units are both visible and in range of your opponent’s gunline, even if it means you may not be able to fire with all of your units turn 1.
(The “phantasm” stratagem is especially useful for this, as you can place a high value target on one side of the board, force your opponent to deploy to destroy it, then redeploy that unit out of range.)
The safest option of course is to not deploy high value units at all, but to instead hold them in strategic reserve and bring them on turn 2 to light up the gunline. If you plan to run a Wraithknight with the cannon build for example, you should absolutely start it in strategic reserve if you don’t have the first turn.
Other tricks to keep in mind:
- The “Lightning-Fast Reactions” stratagem. It gives your opponent -1 to hit the unit that uses it; use “Lightning-Fast Reactions” on high value units like reapers.
- Start your fragile Dark Reapers off in a Wave Serpent or a Falcon if they cannot be completely of sight. (They can emerge on your first turn before the serpent moves so as not to give up a round of shooting.)
- Use the “Fire and Fade” stratagem to move heavy support units like Dark Reapers completely out of Line-of-Sight after taking their shots.
- Start key units in deepstrike using stratagems so they cannot be targeted before you have used them.
- Outrange your opponent. Reapers and Nightspinners have a 48″ range, Fire Prisms have 60″. Stay out of your opponent’s range turn 1 while making her units move into yours. This is one of our very best options.
- If you know you will face lots of gunline armies, consider running your army with the Craftworld Alaitoc trait, which make all your units -1 to hit by enemy units that are 12″ or more away.
2) Melee Engagement.
In competitive play, eldar really aren’t much of a melee army. Our hardest hitting melee units, Wraithblades, are just too slow to be a serious threat to a gunline. We do have two pretty cool melee options against a gunline though:
- Howling Banshees.
Banshees sadly don’t see much play in competitive 40k because they are just too expensive for their utility and fragility, but they do have some utility against gunline armies and objective holders. Start two units of 5 banshees in a Wave Serpent at the edge of your deployment zone and then watch as they deploy forward of the tank, run across the whole board in one turn using the “matchless agility” stratagem and still charge the opposing gunline, engaging as many units as possible while being immune to overwatch fire. Banshees are not a reliable way to destroy key enemy units, but they can tie a few up and do some damage while you bring fire to bear on unengaged targets. This works best if you are also assaulting additional enemy units on the same turn with Shining Spears.
- Shining Spears.
Double move them with QUICKEN on turn 1 and be sure to buff them with PROTECT in the psychic phase and to select the “skilled rider” power for the exarch so you can give the whole unit a 2++ invuln save by assigning all incoming fire to the exarch.NOTE: You can also start the Spears in deepstrike with a stratagem; this way they cannot be targeted by the gunline if you don’t get first turn. If you do, you really must take the custom craftworld trait “Headstrong” that confers +1 to the charge AND cast GHOSTWALK on the Spears for an. additional +2. (Trade one of your warlock’s SMITE power for GHOSTWALK using the Runes of Fortune that can be found in the Phoenix Rising supplement, or here.) Your opponent will have a tough time getting away from the Spears once they are in her backfield, especially as their FLY keyword means that they won’t get tied up in combat; they can just keep engaging your opponent’s key support units by flying over anything in the way.
3) Target Priority.
This is one of the most essential skills in 40k: knowing what to blow up first. Against a gunline, choose the units that pose the greatest immediate threat to your own most essential units and which you have the best chance of destroying in a single round. This means you need to actually sort of know what your opponent’s units are capable of. Some of those heavy tanks can be safely ignored, kill the heavy weapons squad instead. That Ultramarine primarch? Don’t bother, you won’t be able kill him anyway. Kill everyone he is buffing instead. Tau? Blow up the drones that buff their defenses first.
This part comes with practice.
6) What will my army do against targets with excellent invulnerable saves?
Some lists you face will have highly dangerous units that benefit unmodifiable 3++ invulnerable saves, (in rare situations a disgusting 2++ like our own buffed Shinning Spears.)
The worst case scenario is when your opponent has a 3++ invuln units that you not only HAVE to kill, but that your opponent WANTS you to target because they can absorb so much fire power while drawing it away from the rest of her army. (I once spent two turns shooting Magnus the Red with literally everything in my army and failed to kill him while he waded through my fragile space elves like Sauron in the first scene of The Fellowship of the Ring.)
Eldar have three valuable tools for dealing with invuln saves:
1) the psychic power JINX.
It would be hard to overstate just how important this power is. Turning a 4++ invuln on a high-wound model into a 5++ is huge, while making a 3++ a 4++ creates hope where there was only despair.
2) Mortal wounds.
Because they ignore armor saves, mortal wounds are arguably the best way to destroy enemies with high invuln saves. Spiritseers, Hemlocks, and Farseers can all cast SMITE, while Farseers also have access to EXECUTIONER. These are you best options for inflicting mortals, but their are a few others. Your Rangers are now much more likely to inflict mortal wounds with “Expert Crafters” as a craftworld power, (but they have become less desirable overall because of an increased point cost and a major nerf to their defenses.) Swooping Hawk grenade packs are also a good way to dish out a few extra mortals to large units, but these too are a B list option. Also, consider swapping out your Warlock’s SMITE power for “Crushing Orb,” (see the psychic awakening book,) as Warlocks only deal 1 wound with a regular SMITE.
3) Heavy weapons with a high rate of fire and a 2, 3, or D3 damage output.
Invulnerable saves are one of the reasons that star cannons are so popular. Although you could always get lucky and score 6 damage with a bright lance, you are generally better off hitting your targets with several shots that do D3 or a flat 2 or 3, than one shot that deals D6; it is a much more statistically consistent approach.
7) How will your army deal with deep strikers?
Enemy deep strikers can be absolutely devastating if you are unprepared. Having your Dark Reapers slaughtered by teleporting Terminators, or your Fire Prisms overun by burrowing Tyranids turn 2 can lose you the game, especially if your backfield objectives are captured. Eldar have two good responses to this, plus a dirty trick.
1) Control your own backfield by spreading out. Because deepstrikers need to come in 9″ from all enemy units, if you place your units in groups 16″ apart and 8″ from the edge of the board, there will be nowhere for enemy units to deepstrike in.
2) Run an army that is too mobile to care about deepstrikers. If your army is 100% made up of bikes, flyers, and a handful of totally expendable infantry, you don’t need to worry as much about deepstrikers. (This is hard for Craftworlds as we don’t really do “expendable.”)
3) Dirty Trick: the “Forewarned” stratagem. If you have a Farseer in close proximity to one of your units, you can spend 2 CP to shoot with that unit as though it were the shooting phase when an opponent places a deepstriker. It’s pretty satisfying to watch your dark reapers light up those unwanted backfield guests, but highly skilled opponents will see this coming and deploy out of sight of units near your Farseer. Nevertheless, this limits your opponent’s deployment options.
8) How will my army deal with Strategic Reserves?
Your opponent’s strategic reserves pose two special threats: a guaranteed unmolested 1st turn of shooting, and the ability to deploy on board edges. Here are options for addressing these obstacles.
1) Control the board edges.
No strategic reserve unit can be brought on within 9″ of an enemy. If you can maneuver your units well, you should be able to frustrate your opponent’s efforts to threaten you with reserves anywhere near your own deployment zone or even the midfield. Your swooping hawks, windriders, and shining spears excel at this, but even just moving up the flanks with small units of infantry or tanks will do the trick.
2) Consider your opponent’s options and move carefully.
When you place your models you cannot just think about where your opponent’s models are now, but where they could be before they fire; this includes strategic reserves. 9th edition calls for more scenery than did 8th, much of which completely obscures firing lines. Use this terrain to protect your key units and don’t deploy more units directly onto the board than you can protect. You can do this by including units in your list with a deepstrike ability, using the “webway strike” stratagem, or putting units into strategic reserve yourself.
9) Will this list give me enough command points to use its units effectively?
In 9th ed, all players have the option to start the game with lots of command points. You might be tempted to use some of these to put units into deepstrike or bring additional detachments. Just be sure to leave yourself enough to make use of essential stratagems during the game. Planning what strategem combos you are going to use in advance will make it much easier for you to make maximum use of them during the game.
If any of your answers to the above questions requires you to get first turn, or requires you to succeed on several merely probable dice rolls in a row, then your list is not flexible. Try and design a list the works well even when things don’t go as planned.
Consider your meta
If you mostly play the same 3-7 opponents, you should definitely take into account what types of obstacles those opponents are most likely to present. If 5 of your opponents run primaris marines, for example, your roster needs more anti-heavy infantry units, and probably fewer anti-horde options.
Now you are ready for Part 2
Once you feel you have a handle on all of the individual considerations listed above and the options available to a Craftworlds player for tackling those options, you are ready to consider the big picture: How to Design an Eldar Army List Part 2: Units Synergy, Resource Allocation, and Getting to the Win.
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