This is an article I wrote for Bell of Lost Souls nearly two year ago. It set off a firestorm of net hate and the term, “Footdar” was coined as a result. The army has since been vindicated to a certain degree as several skilled players have won events with it (Greg SParks, Blackmoor, etc.) although it is still widely derided. You can make your own mind up after going through the articles!
To see the army, click here.
Winning with Eldar in 5th Edition
I see the pointy eared space elves getting a lot of negative press these days. The general consensus on the net is that the Eldar are not the heavy hitters that they once were and that they are now relegated to playing defensively for objective grabs and pulling tricks out of their hat to have any hope of winning. Well, I am here to say that is not so, and that the Eldar are still one of the big boys on the block.
Eldar in 4th edition had a typical Phill Kelly codex: on the whole, a great book with no units that were totally useless, but one unit that was just too good. And that unit, as we all know, was the super falcon. In 4th all you had to do with Eldar was take 3 indestructible super Falcons, pack them with your choice of killer clowns and fire dragons, drive straight at your opponent, laugh as his weapons bounced off your skimmers like gentle rain, then deploy your units and slaughter everything before you while the Falcons parked on objectives. The list was arguably the best in the game at the time, and required very little tactics since the army was so hard to kill and the units inside the Falcons hit so hard. It was a blunt force instrument; you just clubbed the other guy over the head with it.
This is where I see people having trouble in 5th edition. With the changes to the core game rules, these old style skimmer armies lost a lot of steam. Falcons are no longer unstoppable juggernauts and Harlequins, while still amazing assault units, are no longer able to rip through an army like a buzz saw.
The game has changed and so tactics and overall ideas about how the army plays need to evolve as well. Playing a 4th edition style Eldar army in 5th is not going to get the results it once did. Eldar are an army that requires synergy within the list in order to succeed. You hear this a lot on the boards, but most people don’t really understand this concept or how to apply it. What I mean by synergy is that an Eldar list must have a mesh of units that all are able to support one another in order to mitigate its weaknesses and multiply its strengths. Eldar (and their dark kin) are an army that are really easy to lose with, but once mastered can be extremely powerful. You can’t just take the units you like and hope to win.
So how to do it? Any good list must begin with an overall strategy in mind. You need to address the main objectives of 5th edition missions and how to succeed in achieving them with what yo have available in your codex. There are a multitiude of options in each dex, but for the sake of this article we will analyze two builds: foot Eldar and an aggressive Mech list.
If you decide to go foot Eldar which is a very potent option in 5th, your best bet is to go with Guardians, Dire Avengers and Rangers as your troops choices. Why? Guardians, while not providing a ton of kill power, are very useful none the less. First of all, don’t waste points giving them an anti tank weapon if you go the defender route, they are only going to disappoint you. They need to have rate of fire weapons, the cheaper the better. Mine always take a Shuriken Cannon which compliments their role of anti infantry. Second, max them out. Why? Less kill points to give up and they can perform one, hugely important function: screening. A foot list needs to have mobile cover (think Mek Boys, Venomethropes, etc.) and a 20 strong unit of Guardians led by a Warlock creates a huge line of cover for the infantry behind them. They also provide a screen from enemy assault units. They are a big, tough to shift scoring unit as well and can move and fire their weapons. This means that at close range, they can lay down a lot of flak fire to shred infantry. I know it runs counter to conventional wisdom, but conceal is a great buy for the warlock here. Why? Because this unit is operating as a screen, it needs to have a cover save to increase its resiliency and while it will normally have a 4+ cover save, you can’t run the risk of a mobile enemy maneuvering into position to negate that and shred those little toughness 3, 5+ bodies. This unit is also an assault defense as anything charging them (and as they are the screen, they will be the only thing able to be charged) will get stuck in the fearless Guardians and get counter charged next turn, or if they wipe the Guardians out, get shot and countercharged next turn.
Now the real power of this unit comes when combined with the HQ choices. A foot Eldar list needs two things to really be viable: the Avatar and a Farseer (Eldrad is really the clear choice here). The reason being that the Avatar makes everyone fearless (and provides incredible counter assault) and the Farseer fortunes the guardian screen to make them really difficult to kill (and the Avatar too with Eldrad, which is why you need him). What this means is that your opponent can choose to fire at the fortuned guardians or the infantry units behind them who will have a cover save. Now those flimsy Eldar are suddenly very hard to kill and fearless. Eldrad additionally allows you to bait your enemy with your deployment or react to him if you go first with his redeployment ability. Yet another reason Eldrad is the obvious choice here (and why he should honestly cost more than he does).
To compliment the Guardians, you have a lot of options, but I choose to run 4 full squads of Dire Avengers with no upgrades. Why? They are cheap, each a scoring unit, relatively fast and when run behind the guardian screen, pretty hard to kill. I pass on Bladestorm because to give it to three of the squads I would have to drop one full squad, and I would rather have the extra scoring unit and the extra bodies.
When combined with the guardians, this means you can put out 120 Shuriken Catapult rounds a turn, on the move. What this means is that ANY infantry that comes with 18” of you is going to be gutted. Not necessarily wiped out, but with wound allocation they will be neutered due to rate of fire. Combo this with Doom or Guide from your Farseer and you will see enemy infantry melt before you. This creates a no fly zone around your infantry that is going to intimidate the hell out of your opponent.
The last troops slot is a coin flip in my opinion. I alternate between a 5 man Ranger squad and a 3 man Jet Bike Squad with a Warlock plus Destructor and a Singing Spear. The Ranger squad doesn’t ever actually kill anything, but they will win you the game. Park them on an objective and go to ground if anything looks at them funny. I pass on pathfinders because they cost so much more and they don’t ever kill anything either. With 4+ cover saves so common now, their abilities are largely wasted. Better to save points on them, in my opinion.
The jet bike squad serves a similar function, they are there to grab an objective and win you the game, but they are fast, and they can hit hard in a pinch. The Warlock with a spear and destructor means they can effectively engage infantry or tank hunt. The choice really comes down to preference.
So, now you have a solid core of 6 troops choices (don’t see that too often with Eldar!) to make sure that you have the bodies to take objectives, and the firepower to waste infantry, plus the entire thing is mobile. The HQ choices multiply the effectiveness of these units and provide some counter assault punch. So what is the list lacking now? Anti tank/monstrous creature firepower.
With the preponderance of mech lists in 5th edition, you need to have reliable can openers or all those Shuriken Catapult shots will be useless. You have several options to fill this role, but I go with Wraithlords because they are so hard to kill. In this case, take three of them, all with an Eldar Missile Launcher and Bright Lance and two flamers. This gives you three very tough units that can reliably pop transports or take out heavy tanks at range and on the move. They also fill the secondary function of tar pitting units that you don’t want to engage in combat. Throw a Wraithlord into a 30 boy Ork Mob after you have Mind Warred the Nob and laugh as that unit does NOTHING for the rest of the game. They also do well at popping any tanks or squishing IC’s that get too close. They are wonderful multipurpose units and mesh well with the army as they will be in psyker cover to avoid Wraithsight (the Warlock with the Guardians should have spirit seer if you take Wraithlords). Just be wary of units with poison attacks, etc. Don’t expose them to assault until you are prepared by keeping them behind the screening units.
The second choice to fulfill this role for this type of list is War Walkers as they can put out an astonishing amount of firepower. Combo these guys with guide and fortune from your Farseer and they can devastate your opponent. My only issue with them is that they require psyker support to really function well and they are fairly flimsy when compared to a Wraithlord and are target priority number one for auto cannons and such.
With this core, the rest of the units in the army are discretionary depending on play style. I always take one unit of Firedragons with an Exarch with a Firepike and crack shot as this allows him to reach out to 18” and ignore cover (including smoke, etc.). This means that that Land Raider with Vulkan and Assault Terminators (or any such unit) will have to think twice about committing to an assault as it will most likely be destroyed once it gets close. Again, this unit takes cover behind the Guardians and moves and shoots, meshing with the rest of the list.
Lastly, the unit I always take is a 10 man unit of Harlequins with a Shadowseer, all with Kisses. This is the ultimate counter assault unit. It cannot be targeted until the enemy is within assault range, is very mobile and it hits incredibly hard. These guys can lurk outside of the screen to increase their mobility, just be wary of fast moving or deep striking units as anything that actually shoots them will most likely kill them. These guys will obliterate nearly anything but the absolute hardest assault units (and they mulch monstrous creatures). Combo this with doom or fortune from your Farseer and not much will be able to resist them. Against a shooty army these guys can be run aggressively, going up field to engage units. They don’t perform as well in this role, but they will at the very least absorb a turn of shooting as you force your opponent to deal with them. If they make it into enemy ranks, they will cause serious damage and they have good odds of destroying a tank with their rending attacks on rear armor.
So what you have on the whole with this list is an army with a lot of bodies (about 100), a unique play style, that is mobile and can effectively take on any type of list or units you encounter apart from a few builds (but no army can hope to have no weaknesses). Enemy units will have a very tough time cracking this phalanx as it is so powerful at short range with shooting and assault, and it is fearless. It takes about a turn to get into range, but once this army gets there it starts to put out serious pain. By careful positioning of your units and creative causality removal, you can keep your units safe from assault but then charge out of your screen when needed. You have a large amount of scoring units and with the Farseer and screening units they are very hard to kill. Another benefit to this army is that it screws up the Meta game. Players who pack in Melta weapons will have wasted all those points as they will have no targets worth shooting. Wraithlords should be deep in the screen to protect them, the infantry are a wasted target for these weapons, and the Avatar can’t be affected by them. Scary assault tanks that get close will be destroyed, and assault units can’t get past the Guardians to the meat of your army until late game when you have already done a lot of damage to them and counter assaulted.
Now it is not all sunshine and roses. This army suffers a bit in Dawn of War deployment, but it is fairly fast so it really only lose a turn of shooting, two if you flub your fleet roles. Also, armies with fast or ranged template weapons (think Hellhounds) and lots of indirect ordnance can be difficult to take on as they ignore your screens and hose your troops (Imperial Guard can be the nemesis to this list). In these situations, hope you get first turn and use your deployment to mitigate the alpha strike. Obviously, target priority needs to be implemented to eliminate the biggest threats first. The other big threat are armies that can shut down your psychic phase, but it is not all bad as this army does not NEED the psychic buffs, it just helps a lot if you can get them off.
Now that is fine for theory, but how does this army operate in practice? In a year of running my foot Eldar list as my primary army I have not yet lost a single game, and I play at least once a week against a very wide variety of armies and players who are very skilled, and play competitively. Now am I saying I am the greatest player of all time or that this list is unbeatable? No, I am not. What I am saying is that this is an Eldar list that can meet nearly any other army in the game head on and defeat them; whether it is a foot or mechanized list. No ducking, no hiding, no tricks, just a boot in the teeth. Plus, the army is a ton of fun to play and to play against as unlike skimmer armies, things actually die. I also have to say that unleashing a fortuned Avatar into enemy lines after having him lurk behind the screen is one of my favorite parts of this army (and I shelled out for the Forgeworld model, which makes an amazing centerpiece).