Eldar Codex Mega-Review Part 2: HQs

This was originally to be the second of a three part series on the new Eldar Codex, but it’s gotten fairly long, and so instead this is now the second of a much longer series, so you don’t have to wade through a small novel of my thoughts on the Eldar all at once.

The first part, covering the fluff and aesthetics of the book, can be found here. We continue where we left off, poised to delve into the meat of the book, and look at the units that have caused so much turmoil.

Here we turn to the heroes of the Eldar Empire, the great lights of a dying age, and what used to be the second best demon summoners in the galaxy, but no more…

 

First, a caution on codex reviews – it’s hard to really know how a codex will shake out from a read through. You need at least one, and preferably dozens of games under your belt to really get the feel for how an army works, and it will be a bit before we see how the tournament meta manages to handle the change to what is a very popular tournament army. Awhile back, I was listening nostalgically to some podcasts covering the 6th edition Eldar codex review, including one featuring some very good tournament players I really respect. They called it a “sidegrade”, and there was none of the panic and fear that Wave Serpent spam and multiple Wrathknights would eventually provoke.

The point? Take this all with a grain of salt. Play some games. It’s impossible not to view the codex through the last codex, and the way “I used to play”. Parts of it will be wrong. That is the nature of the beast.

First Impression

As I said with the aesthetic section of the book, someone really loves the story behind the Eldar. This codex, more than any other I’ve read recently, feels lovingly crafted. Everything works like it should, and there’s very little that makes me go “What!?”. That also, in this case, makes the army quite good. I don’t think nearly as awesome as everyone is making it out to be, but quite good.

Army-wide Special Rules

The Eldar army is governed by two special rules:

  1. Battle Focus which lets units with this rule Run then Shoot or Shoot then Run, lending the army a fast, fluid and dynamic character. This rule is unchanged since the last edition.
  2. Ancient Doom which captures the ties between the Eldar and Slaanesh, and the fear She Who Thirsts provokes in them. Basically, the Eldar get Hatred, but suffer a -1 penalty to Leadership to Fear tests. This comes up rarely enough that one might forget it’s even there.

Warlord Traits

The Eldar-specific warlord traits were very situational last edition and, to be perfectly honest, not very good. This theme continues. They are, in order:

  • One use only at the beginning of one of your shooting or assault phases, Warlord and all friendly Eldar units within 12″ re-roll To Wound rolls of 1. Not bad, good for a clustered-up alpha strike.
  • D3 units in your army get Scout. This one is handy for getting into position, and one of the better ones in my opinion.
  • Warlord and unit add 3 to the dice roll to determine how far they will run. Nice if you’re running, and will make Battle Focus more able to get you into cover after shooting if you really need it. On the other hand, if you’re mounted on a jetbike, or not planning on moving, rather useless.
  • Warlord rerolls all saving throws of 1. This one is nice as well, and if you can get off the right set of psychic powers, will likely frustrate your opponent to no end.
  • Warlord gains the Split Fire special rule. Unless you’ve built your warlord around a piece of shooting equipment, like the artifact Sniper Rifle, this is…decidedly meh.
  • Friendly units within 12″ of your Warlord that enter via Deep Strike don’t scatter. Again, super-situational. Swooping Hawks already don’t scatter. There’s a Falcon formation that doesn’t scatter. Webway Portals from the Dark Eldar don’t scatter. If you’re building a deepstrike-heavy army, there are ways to do it, and you’ve only got a 1/6 chance of getting this one anyway. If you could pick, yeah, but even with a reroll you’re talking about a ~70% chance of getting another power.

Generic HQs and Special Characters

Always a particularly rich section of the Eldar codex thanks to the Phoenix Lords, the HQ selections have remained fairly stable.

Autarch: We begin with the modest Autarch, master of the Path of Command, one who has delved deep into several Aspects and yet not become locked within them. The generals of the Eldar army, and classically a flexible, if somewhat uninspiring HQ choice. At the same points cost as previous, and with the same stat line, the only base change is that a jetbike-mounted Autarch gets their own stat line reflecting their higher toughness. Some wargear options got mildly cheaper, and they got the option to take a Fusion Pistol, which is coincidentally on the newly released Autarch model.

The core purpose of the Autarch is in one of their special rules – The Path of Command – which lets you put a +1/-1 modifier on your Reserve rolls, after they are made, to manipulate them. Potentially quite useful if you have a lot of reserves, which is definitely a possibility with the new formations in this book.

In my experience, there are three battlefield roles for an Autarch: “I needed a cheap HQ”, “Super Exarch” and “Shenanigans”. In the first, a stripped down, on the cheap Autarch serves primarily to manipulate reserves, and toughen up some unit, maybe with a piece of wargear that lets them harass the enemy from the relative safety of a large unit, or add a little backbone to your line. In the second, you load up your Autarch with the equipment befitting a particular Aspect Warrior squad, attach them to one, and enjoy having a considerably more powerful second Exarch along for the ride. Finally, “Shenanigans” involves using some unlikely combinations (a melee weapon, a reaper missile launcher and a jetbike being my personal favorites) to serve as a pest. While they might not be suited to take on a Space Marine Chapter Master, or a Daemon Prince, they can shatter pesky infantry units holding objectives, maneuver for flank shots on tanks, and grab objectives themselves. Sadly, this role has taken a bit of a hit due to the loss of a piece of wargear which I’ll touch on later, but was always enjoyable, and at times game winning.

Farseer: The HQ choice that is clearly the winner in this edition. For the same price as previous, and with the same stat-line (save again for a seperate jetbike stat line), they got better thanks to Runes of the Farseer, which lets a model with this rule re-roll any number of dice used in a single Deny the Witch or Psychic test. That’s amazing. Have a power go off but also take a Perils of the Warp? Reroll one of the doubles. Really need to deny that one power? Reroll all your dice!

They retain the Ghosthelm, which is an excellent piece of wargear, though do not that spending a warp charge only negates an unsaved wound, it does not protect you from the other potential effects of the perils.

Finally, they lost Daemonology(Maelific) as a psychic discipline. This makes me a little sad, as I was planning on building an Exodite-themed force built on summoning angry and not-entirely-your-friends world spirits, but by and large makes sense. They retain Sanctic, but are not any better at it than anyone else. To my mind, the Autarch has always been a pretty tough sell compared to the power and potential of a Farseer, and the new Runes of the Farseer rule will, I suspect, relegate Autarchs to special circumstances HQs.

Warlock Conclave: This unit has changed fairly substantially in their design. Previously, you took somewhere between 1 and 10 Warlocks, and if you wished, parceled them out to Guardian, Storm Guardian, Windrider Jetbike or Vaul’s Wrath Support Battery Units as essentially Psychic Sergeants.

That is not how this unit works anymore. Instead, they exist as a separate unit of 1 to 10 warlocks, either mounted on jetbikes or not (this is a decision for the whole squad, you can’t pick-and-mix). They’ve also picked up the Brotherhood of Psykers special rule, and an additional special rule that determines their Mastery Level. Basically, 1-3 Warlocks = ML 1, 4-6 = ML 2, 7+ = ML 3. As the unit loses models during the game, their Mastery Level can drop, and you can start losing powers known. You do however generate a number of warp charges at the beginning of the psychic phase at 1 per Warlock, instead of 1 per Mastery Level.

That’s a pretty big change to the unit. You can still build a Seerstar by attaching a Farseer to a jetbike-mounted unit of Warlocks, but they’re now very much a dedicated unit, and taking 10 of them doesn’t basically guarantee having every psychic power you’re interested in covered. It will however generate a truly staggering number of warp charges. They’ve also gained Daemonology(Sanctic), which is potentially interesting, but without being able to generate powers per-Psycher, could be spreading yourself pretty thin.

Regardless, a number of formations involve one of these units, so you should consider their potential, even if it might just be “Take a 35 point naked Warlock to generate dice”. One tempting alternative is to take them as a bodyguard for your Farseer, to eat challenges, and use some of the Runes of Battle powers to make everyone involved a little more durable, as they will be a very obvious target.

Spiritseer: Some fairly serious but subtle changes to the Spiritseer arrived in this edition. Importantly, in keeping with GW’s war on HQ units that unlock “X units as Troops”, they no longer let you take Wraithguard and Wrathblades as troops. This destroys your ability to take ghost armies in CADs, and events that claim to let you take themed lists but restrict you to CADs should adjust accordingly. In exchange, they now let Wrath* units reroll 1’s to hit when targeting units within 12″ of the Spiritseer – keeping one with your front line will make your ghost troops nasty indeed. They’ve also kept their Independent Character status, so they may find some use in psychic support for non-Wrath* units when you’re pressed for points and can’t justify the extra 30 for a Farseer, though the latter is a far superior character in that role.

And now we turn to the special characters…

Eldrad: Why take a Farseer when you can take the Farseer? Well first, because he’s almost twice as expensive as a Farseer (though 10 points cheaper than he used to be), and can’t be on a bike. But past that? Everything a Farseer does, Eldrad does better. Mastery Level 4, 3++ invulnerable save, and a nasty staff that is AP3, Force, Fleshbane. And when Eldrad passes a Psychic test (not necessarily hard given the Farseer rerolls) on a 5+ he adds another warp charge to the pool to keep the party going.

In my mind, this is one of the easiest special characters to decide whether to take: Do you have a Farseer on foot? Do you have the points? Take Eldrad. He’s tougher (literally…T4), has a better save, more powers, more dice, and if your opponent manages to get him into combat, he’ll at least be dangerous before he’s cut down. He’s also got the d3 Scout Warlord trait guaranteed, so if that’s what you’re hoping for, he’s a way to keep that fixed.

Prince Yriel: “Like an Autarch, but different”. Yriel gets the reserves manipulation rolls that an Autarch gets, along with an extra wound, higher initiative and an extra attack. And those attacks are nasty thanks to his weapon, which is an AP3, Fleshbane and Armorbane weapon, which largely obviates his lower strength – though it comes at the cost of re-rolling saving throws of 6, because the man is carrying a spear that wants to kill him.

He also gets a comical one-use attack in close combat, in lieu of his normal attacks, that involves a large blast monster centered over him, and each unit under the template takes a number of S6 AP3 hits equal to the number of units under the template. Fun, but I don’t necessarily know that it’s a particularly strong ability outside some particular circumstances, and it basically eliminates “Super Exarch” as a potential role for him. To me, he feels like a fun character against the right army, but I don’t know that I’d take him in a generalist force.

Illic Nightspear: Illic is the super-Ranger. Armed with a long-range sniper rifle that fires at AP2, are always precision shots, and cause instant death (or a penetrating hit) on a roll of 6, getting shot by him definitely hurts. He also makes Rangers better – instead of having to pay for expensive Pathfinders, he now converts a unit of Rangers he joins to always having the precision shots rules as well. He can also be infiltrated very aggressively – anywhere he wants besides impassable terrain, regardless of the enemy’s positioning – and can bring a unit of Rangers along for the ride. Though infiltrating Rangers straight into the teeth of your opponent feels like a really pretty questionable decision. Honestly, if you want a sniper Autarch, there’s a more flexible version – an Autarch with the even longer range rifle. He’s got the split-fire warlord trait, so that’s going for him, but in my mind, that makes him functional rather than good.

Asurmen: The big-daddy of the Dire Avengers and founder of the concepts of Aspect Warriors, he remains largely unchanged from the last edition. As with all of the Phoenix Lords, he is a Super Exarch – in this case for a Dire Avenger. His Dire Sword will be hitting at S5 at AP2, and he rolls d3 traits on the Warlord table for Eldar only, which should give you a decent spread. He’s a strong all-rounder, decent and dangerous in a challenge, but quite spendy. He’d probably make an excellent line anchor for an Eldar army, and I don’t think he’ll ever disappoint, but I also don’t know that he’ll amaze.

Jain Zar: 80’s hair and sharp pointy bits. She gives her unit (which should be Howling Banshees…) an extra 3 inches of run distance thanks to her warlord trait, causes Fear and is Fearless, and will hit like a truck with AP2 Shredding attacks, though they are only at S4. That does however solve one major problem for Howling Banshees, which is when they hit a Terminator-shaped brick wall where their AP3 power swords do no good. She also has a couple neat tricks to keep her opponent on the back foot – in addition to not being able to Overwatch against her and her unit, enemy models within 6″ of Jain Zar suffer -5 to I and WS, to a minimum of 1. Additionally, she has Disarming Strike. She can designate an enemy model, give up an attack, and choose to have an enemy not count as having been armed with a particular weapon – very useful for getting rid of things that will menace her T4 2+ save self. At a pretty hefty 200 points, she’s an absolute monster in close combat versus infantry models, but will struggle to carry her own against high T monstrous creatures or walkers with smash attacks, who will also largely be able to ignore the squad she’s in. Whether the Anthem Rock Blender is awesome or not depends very much on your local meta, in my opinion, but other close combat dependent armies should be rightly intimidated by her.

Karandras: Karandras got considerably cheaper – 30 points to be exact – while keeping the same stat line. His big boost is not in manipulating reserves, ala an Autarch, but in determining how he arrives. He automatically arrives on the 2nd turn, and can move on from any table edge – and he can bring a unit of Striking Scorpions along with him. With good saves, Shrouded until the unit attacks (we’ll get to that later) and the ability to dictate where they will appear (and then Battle Focus into cover), they should be able to weather that first turn where they’ve arrived but cannot yet attack. He’s got a special piece of wargear that gives him an armor ignoring, initiative 10 hit on a 2+ (4+ if a Gargantuan Creature) on a unit engaged in combat with him or if he’s in a challenge, the guy dumb enough to challenge him. Not game breaking, but a nice way to kick off the combat phase. Striking at S6 AP2 and at his initiative, he’s definitely scary.

In my mind, he’s not the strongest character to take, but he’s potentially one of the most disruptive. With a unit of Scorpions with him, appearing in your opponents back field, he cannot be ignored, and will force your opponent to yield to some of their strategic initiative to deal with him. In an army that, as we’ll see, is all about threat saturation, this can potentially be really powerful.

Fuegan: Honestly, Fuegan falls a little flat for me. He’s a powerful character who is mostly about his shooting attacks, but unlike Illic, he’s not going to be able to hide and not engage. Fire Dragons get up in your face. They melta stuff. And then they die. He can reroll a failed To Hit, Wound or Armor Penetration roll (like when he fails any one of those with his single shot Firepike), has split fire so that if his unit utterly destroys something he can shoot at something else, and an AP1 Armorbane axe that I doubt will see combat.

My issue is that there are cheaper ways to get a meltagun. Fire Dragons get killed – they come in small units, they do their job, and then they die. Fuegan just makes a suicide unit more expensive, and while he might survive – he does have a 2+ save and Feel No Pain (and if he takes unsaved wounds he gets nastier), there’s a lot of if in a 220 point model that I don’t think will cause nearly the havoc of some of the other Phoenix Lords.

Baharroth: A Phoenix Lord on the cheap – and at a 15 point discount over his previous version. Again, after the Jain Zar/Karandras combo of awesome, Baharroth also falls a little flat. His sword is S User and AP3 with Blind (yay?) meaning he can be tarpitted by 2+ save units and will seriously struggle against 2+ save combat characters, and his S5 AP5 Assault 3 gun, while fired at BS 7, is nothing to write home about. He does move fast, and will cause lots of blind tests if he arrives via Deep Strike, but there’s not much to him. With Hit and Run and his movement, he feels a lot like a Shenanigans-focused Autarch, but way more expensive.

Maugan Ra: Rounding out the HQ Special Characters, we have Maugan Ra, He Who Looks An Awful Lot Like a Death Jester, but with A Worse Tailor. Weirdly, he doesn’t slot cleanly in with a unit of Dark Reapers, as his gun has a different range and different purpose than their missile launchers, though the Warlord trait he gets grants split fire, so it doesn’t so much matter. Capable of firing twice per turn at BS 7, he’s got a choice between 36″ shots: S6 AP5 Assault 4 Rending, and S1 AP5 Assault 1 Pinning, Poisoned, Rending, Bio-cataclysm (large blast marker over a non-vehicle unit killed by this weapon, units suffer S5 AP4 hits based on the number of models under the marker that ignore cover). Use All the Special Rules!

Maugan Ra will kill some folks at range, and if he is drawn into close combat, 4 attacks at S6 and AP3 is still quite dangerous, though like Baharroth, Terminator-type units will shut him right down. But if you are looking at an anchored gunline style army, he may be your man, and he could potentially be interesting loaded up in a Wave Serpent with a unit going forward – between the tank, his double-tap shots and whatever you brought along, someone is going to die.

Remnants of Glory

The relics table has changed only a little between this edition and last. The relics are:

  • Kurnous’s Bow: An AP3 Rending Shuriken Pistol. It’s a cheap 10 point upgrade, but almost every HQ that can take it has access to better. The only real benefit I can see is giving it to a Spirit Seer to give them some shooting ability, and a single round of being dangerous if they’re being charged. This replaces the Mantle of the Laughing God.
  • Shard of Anaris: This is a nasty little weapon, meant for challenge and single combat oriented characters. Natively, it’s a +2 Str Rending weapon that also grants Fearless. In a challenge, it also gains Fleshbane and Instant Death. Having used this fairly extensively in the last edition, it’s nice, but not necessarily a game winner, especially at 40 points. I’ve found that against the kind of things an Autarch should be in combat with, it’s overkill, and against dedicated challenge characters, it isn’t enough to put them over the edge. With no AP, you’re relying a lot on the Rending/Instant Death roll of a 6, before your likely lower initiative opponent pulps your relatively fragile Autarch. And 6’s just don’t come that often, or on demand.
  • Uldanorethi Long Rifle: If you liked the idea of Illic more than actual Illic, this is the weapon for you. A staggering 120″ range, AP3 Sniper rifle, it’ll take advantage of an Autarch’s excellent BS. And if given to one on a relentless jetbike, they can also fire this badboy on the move. At 25 points, it’s only modestly expensive, and makes for a good tool for a fire support Autarch who is trying to stay out of the way.
  • Faolchu’s Wing: This allows a character to give up their shooting and psychic attacks to run up to 48″, and reroll failed cover saves when they do so. Decent for a “Shenanigans Autarch”, but you can get similar mobility and IMO more survivability from a jetbike, for less than 30 points, but it might be good if you don’t want to lose being an infantry model, but still do want to be able to dart all over the battlefield graving objectives. Be cautious though, as you’ll be on your own and fairly fragile. Note that this does not make you a Swooping Hawk-esq Autarch. There’s more wargear you need to buy for that.
  • Firesaber: Anti-infantry to the Shard’s anti-character, the Firesaber gives you a +1 S AP3 with Soul Blaze. Additionally, when Soul Blaze causes an unsaved wound, every unit (friend or foe) except the unit with the bearer, rolls a D6 – on a 4+, they get Soul Blaze too. To be honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that happen, and I’d likely consider Soul Blaze a nice bonus over anything else. What it really buys you for 15 points more than a Power Weapon is the +1 S, and when fighting Space Marines or other T4 characters, wounding on 4’s is nice.
  • The Phoenix Gem: A one-use only item that relies on you to die. When you do though, on a 2+, a large blast marker is centered over your character, and everyone around you takes a number of S4 AP5 wounds equal to the number of models in their unit under the template. If that causes an unsaved wound, your character lives with 1 wound left. Possibly useful for a spite kill or two from a combat-oriented Autarch, I’m not sure S4 AP5 will get the job done vs. the units that present a real threat. The other option is to put a support Farseer in a unit of Guardians with this gem, and the hits as a way to keep your Farseer up, but I’m not sure that’s worth 25 points plus some very dead guardians.
  • The Spirit Stone of Anath’lan: Give up your invulnerable save and in exchange, you reduce the Warp Charge cost of a power by 1 (to a minimum of 1). A very handy at a pretty low price (15 pts.), it’s useful especially on a support Farseer who will hopefully not taking much fire, or on a jetbike-mounted Farseer who will hopefully be using their better 3+ armor save.

Those familiar with the last edition will note that there is one missing: the Mantle of the Laughing God, which was replaced with the middling but cheap pistol. GW clearly considered this to be a way to make a pseudo-Solitare using Codex: Eldar characters, and with Codex: Harlequins out now, why bother?

Sadly, I rather liked the artifact. A potentially 2+ rerollable cover save was really nice for a Shenanigans Autarch working on their own. Sadly, that no longer exists, and being a soloist Autarch is now much more dangerous, to the point that I think they now have to travel with an escort.

Psychic Powers

Rounding out the HQ section of the review is a look at the Eldar psychic powers, which have also changed subtly.

Runes of Battle: Runes of Battle are pretty much unchanged, save that if you’re running a Seerstar, you’re not likely to have multiples of every power here. Protect/Jinx is still excellent, as is Conceal/Reveal, and the others definitely have their place depending on your opponent and how you’re running your army – for example, Embolden/Horrify works rather well if either one of you is using DE/Harlequin leadership lowering powers heavily.

Runes of Fate: The nice part about Runes of Fate is that there are no useless powers here. The extremely dubious Death Mission, which was both pretty situational, not very good and a ton of book keeping is gone. In its place is Will of Asuryan, a Warp Charge 2 power giving a 12″ bubble of Fearless and Adamantium Will, which is solid for keeping a unit on the field and shutting down dangerous incoming psychic powers.

Doom’s cost went up 1 Warp Charge, and Mind War has changed as well – there’s no chance of it backfiring now. If the d6+Ld roll is tied, the target takes -1 to BS and WS, and if the target loses, they take their usual wounds. This makes it considerably better against high Ld targets, where there was a non-trivial risk of accidentally making your Farseer even more of a chump.

The last major change was to Eldritch Storm which is now a Warp Charge 3 or 4 power – big, flashy and expensive. The three point version is a 24″ range, S3 AP3 Assault 1 Fleshbane, Haywire, Pinning Large Blast. The four point version is the same, but an Apocalyptic Blast. The addition of AP3 is a huge deal – while the previous version was nice vs. Guardsmen and occasionally winging a vehicle with a Haywire hit, it was much less effective against anything with any sort of armor, most especially Space Marines. This new version, while more expensive, is vastly more generally applicable – and definitely cause to take the Spirit Stone artifact to cast if your opponent is obliging you with clumped up targets.

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