I love my pointy-eared pirates. This is an indisputable fact. And while the most recent Big FAQ has come and gone, and the changes within it have been consistently good for the game, they do leave my beloved Corsairs in a bit of trouble.
Or, to put it more pessimistically, Eldar Corsairs as we have known them are pretty dead in the water.
So what now?
How Did We Get Here?
Watching the Corsairs’ decline has been something long in coming. It started with the hot mess that is the Forge World ruleset, which left the Corsairs woefully incomplete, and basically incapable of being fielded as a standalone, keyword independent force. There’s really no way to do that without an HQ choice, and with only two Troops and a Fast Attack choice, that was dead from Day One.
There’s also the matter of them not having models anymore. But there are ways around that. You can do what I’ve done, and hoard Corsair bits and pieces in ways that make a Montana prepper seem reasonable and measured, or you can do alternative sources and kitbashing – the various Elf/Eldar kits that exist are a treasure trove for putting together a dynamic, motley-but-coherent looking force. So for the moment, we’ll ignore that problem.
Following a short time later, one of GW’s anti-soup measures killed fielding Corsair units pretty much entirely, by requiring battle forged detachments to all come from the same keyword. No more using an Autarch, Archon, Farseer, etc. to fill in the mandatory slot for a Corsair detachment, or to bring in those Corsair units that technically aren’t Corsair stuff, like Wasp Assault Walkers or Hornets. Given you can’t make a detachment, and given how important Command Points are to the game, that leaves the actual Corsair units relegated to “interesting open play affectations”, which is a kind way to say “They stay on the shelf.”
But there was always another way to play the Corsairs – a way I advocated, having experienced several iterations of Forge World’s slow update cycle leaving Imperial Armour-specific armies woefully obsolete compared to their GW Prime counterparts: Just play them as Eldar.
But this solution has become more complicated as well, as the most obvious build – a combined Craftworld/Drukhari force, has recently also gotten nerfed in the most recent FAQ, most obviously by making psychic effects from Craftworld units only help that army. So basically, no using a few token Aeldari space-wizards to toss Jinx, Doom, etc. around on units to tee them up for their Drukhari counterparts.
Now, to be clear, this rule is absolutely justified. It was leading to anti-patterns in the competitive scene, and is sort of…fluff incompatible for the Drukhari to have just outsourced being psychic to their Craftworld buddies thanks to a loophole.
But it does leave the whole “Squint and They’re Corsairs” build in a tougher spot.
So What Now?
In my mind, there’s really four ways to play a Corsair “feeling” force right now, without using the effectively defunct Corsair rules. They are:
- Pure Craftworld
- Pure Drukhari
- Combined Craftworld and Drukhari
I know this also looks like “The way you play Eldar.” Stay with me for a bit – each has, to my mind, their own spin to make things feel Corsair-like that’s more than just “Play that Army”. There’s also a caveat to all of this – this is not focused on competitive builds. That’s a little bit because the Corsairs were always something of a collector’s army, with their brief flirtation with competitive viability a fleeting accident of 7th edition. The other part is the same concept as “Murder Your Darlings” but in reverse. Trying to get the Corsair feel means putting some constraints on list building – at least in my opinion – and that’s not a position a competitive player should put themselves in from the outset.
Using the Craftworld codex is probably the way I am most familiar with in terms of running a Corsair list, and while it’s not as powerful as it was in 6th and 7th edition, where “Thematically Corsair” and “Tournament Viable” happened to have a very nice overlap, it’s still pretty turnkey. The fast, mobile nature of the Corsairs is served pretty well by Dire Avenger or Guardian troops choices loaded up in Wave Serpents, which conveniently are also extremely durable weapons platforms.
There’s other fast, hard hitting choices in the codex that give you that “Hit fast and run” Corsair feeling. Crimson Hunters, in massive amounts, are my personal favorites. Fire Prisms are another mobile, long-ranged firebase. As are mass, boosted jetbikes, which while not the unholy terrors they were in previous editions, are far from useless. Vypers fall into the right feel, though to my mind there are a number of more preferable options.
But the real standouts, for nailing the highly mobile Corsair feel, are the legacy Doom of Mymeara Forge World units. Specifically:
- The Hornet, which is everything the Vyper wants to be and isn’t
- The Wasp Assault Walker, which is blessed with the <Fly> keyword and is a joy to use as either an aggressive pressure unit or as a gun platform. And which is barely more expensive than a standard War Walker
- The Warp Hunter, which is a great forward gunboat accompaniment to a Wave Serpent heavy force
They’re all solid units, and there’s slowly some improvement in the hot mess that was the Forge World index units via points-based adjustments (and hopefully some PL adjustments soon). Not much help for the super-heavies at the moment, where there are more core rules problems, but those three give a good “Not Quite Craftworld” feeling.
There are also some painting and conversion opportunities in a Craftworld army to mark them out visually as Corsairs while still drawing on Craftworld units. The nearest equivalent to the classic Eldar Corsair squad are the much maligned Storm Guardians, but in my experience Howling Banshees, Dark Reapers and Fire Dragons, along with Swooping Hawks, all draw on visual elements present in those squads.
Kitbashes of Eldar, Dark Eldar and Corsair pieces can serve to give units a lighter, more dynamic look than the fairly old Eldar sculpts, while still being visually distinct from Dark Eldar units. For the really adventurous, the new Deepkin range has opened up a sort of savage, almost gladiatorial feel that might work as well in both the this form of the Corsairs and the Dark Eldar version. Personally, I’m currently working on converting some of the eel riders to work as Shining Spears.
There are some downsides to using an Eldar list at the moment though – mostly the Eldar codex, on it’s own, is fine, but not exactly a powerhouse, and while quite durable as long as everyone is safely nestled inside Wave Serpents, it’s reliable on a couple units to do most of the heavy lifting, like Dark Reapers, Crimson Hunters and Shining Spears. It’s a solid codex choice, but choosing not to take Wraith units (one of the things I think is hard to justify theme-wise) and otherwise using a subset of the codex is harder this edition than it was in previous. Or, to put it another way, it’s a choice that actually has consequences now.
At this point, I think this is the easiest “Point and Click” Corsair army build, because the Drukhari codex is really well written. I don’t mean just in the “it’s a powerhouse” sense, though it’s also that. I mean in a “Most things work the way they’re designed to work, and pull off what they should be able to pull off” sense.
While the Drukhari don’t have access to many of the emblematic Corsair units like the Wasp or Hornet, their core Troops choices still give off that proper pirate feel – Kabalites and Wyches in Raiders or Hornets are mobile, fast and hard hitting. Because lets face it, Corsairs and Drukhari are both spins on the “Eldar Pirate” theme. And the inclusion of some of their more elite troops is probably easier to justify than it is for Eldar Aspect Warriors, wherein your relying on “Counts As”. Incubi are mercenaries – a Corsair Princess (or Princess) with enough resources could probably hire some, given the right contacts and a tolerance for risk. The same is true for most of the other mercenary units like Scourges.
The units I wouldn’t include are far fewer. Mostly Coven units, because they don’t give me that pirate feel, and their usual hold over Drukhari society doesn’t necessarily apply to Corsairs, but even then I think there’s an argument to be made. The only unit that I’d really assert doesn’t belong in a Corsair-themed list are Mandrakes.
So the Drukhari are fast, hard hitting, a strong codex and work well together. What’s not to love?
Really nothing, in my opinion. If I had to dig, I’d say there’s somewhat reduced modeling opportunities – it’s easy to “spike up” a Craftworld army through kitbashes, but for the most part the only modeling needing to be done on the Drukhari range is to exercise a little restraint and not use the spiky-ist bits or the ones that are the most “That’s some dude’s face”.
But if I were to start a Corsair-themed force today? I’d start with the Drukhari codex.
Combined Craftworld and Drukhari
Also known as the Reese’s Build.
This was a solid build before the FAQ, and it’s a solid build after the FAQ. Yes, the loss of being able to debuff a unit with something like Jinx and Doom before unloading with Drukhari firepower hurts, and this army will probably not being enjoying as much time on the top tables as it previously did, but it’s still a strong contender. The core of the concept is in using two somewhat more restricted lists to cover each other’s weaker points, giving up a little bit of shared <Keyword> synergy in exchange for a broader base to choose from.
Conveniently, I think the “Corsair-y” units in both rulesets do this nicely for each other. Wave Serpents can provide a more durable firebase that can keep up with advancing Raiders and Venoms. Crimson Hunters are – arguably – superior to Razorwings for the aspiring Drukhari-centric Corsair who wants to rule the skies. Wyches provide cheap, good close combat prowess to keep the pressure off Craftworld firing lines, while Ravagers are just…comical amounts of firepower.
Here I think psychic characters are still the go-to HQ options for the Craftworld component, as I continue to find Autarchs to be…lackluster. You can’t take a minimalist section any more to boost a Drukhari army, but a Guide-buffed Dark Reaper, or a couple of Craftworld units converging on something that’s been Doomed and Jinxed is still a pretty serious threat. I think now it just means having a plan, and for the “second” detachment, whatever it is, to be more of an actual side-dish, rather than just a sprinkling of units for a specific boost.
I also think this is the natural evolution of a lot of Corsair-themed armies, as it allows you to dabble in a new army with new units, while still staying true to a single theme and occasionally being able to play in astonishingly large games. Or perhaps that’s just me. Regardless, I definitely think this has a lot of potential as an interesting and dynamic force, and I’d urge you to give it some consideration beyond “Can I cram a Farseer and a couple of Warlocks into my Drukhari army?” The nice part from a painting standpoint is these two armies also look wonderfully coherent if you’re toning down the Drukhari and toning up the Craftworlds a little bit.
So the Ynnari have been changed…a lot.
I think this too is for the best, as for awhile the answer to playing Craftworld Eldar was mostly “Why aren’t you playing Ynnari.”
I’ve been quiet on the Ynnari changes for two reasons – I hadn’t had a chance to play with the new rules, and the reason I hadn’t had a change to play with the new rules is that my White Dwarf got lost in the mail.
I think the changes to the Ynnari are genuinely interesting, and importantly, have something to distinguish themselves from just playing a mixed Craftworld/Drukhari army. The pleasantly aggressive Revenant discipline lets you play that psyker-support heavy force in a way that still helps Drukhari units, which is nice, albeit not as flexible as a Craftworld army that can draw from a much broader panel of potential powers.
And the fluff is certainly there – after all, Yvraine was a Corsair at one point, and they were some of her first allies, even if she did get a truckload of them killed (or worse) in her escape from Comorragh. I think the theming here is a little bit inverted from what we’ve been talking about otherwise – rather than using another codex to build a Corsair army, I think here you’re going for a Corsair-flavored Ynnari army. This has some advantages, because you can work in some of those units that might not have fit in a straight Corsair army, like Wraith units, which the guys over at Splintermind have been pushing hard for as the core of a Ynnari force.
For me, this is what I’m most excited about for future projects – using Ynnari to “splash in” some units I might not normally take to represent a primarily Corsairs force strengthening a smaller, more specialized Ynnari force. After all, what Corsair might not want Yvraine owing them a favor or two?
What About Actual Corsair Models?
For those of us who have actual Corsair models, I think the easiest answer is either to ask your opponent if they’ll give you a break, or to start splitting them up and parsing them out into other units. For the most part, there are several counts-as options for Corsair units. In my mind, the Craftworld Eldar are the saviors here – Corsair units with missiles, meltaguns, swords and lasblasters all potentially have homes in “Counts As” Aspect Warrior units, where the fancy jetpacks can be used to make it clear that those units are special in some form.
Or we could all pray that someday Forge World comes out with like, a single sentence that would at least allow them to be used in Ynnari armies, or something like the mercenary unit rules for the Drukhari.
The TL;DR Version: The Corsairs have taken a beating, but you can still get that Eldar Pirate feel in a way that’s viable, especially in non-competitive play.
For my money, the Drukhari are the turnkey approach, with the Craftworld Eldar suggesting some of the most interesting kitbashing opportunities, while both codexes and the Ynnari armies allow for plenty of room for collectors who want large armies.
And the true beauty? All of these things remain mutually compatible with each other thanks to the permissive allying rules of 8th edition, letting you stretch your hobby wings in different directions, and try new directions when things get stale.
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