On a scale of one to laser death elves, how badly do you want your opponent’s vehicles ruined? Click to read the CA2018 version of the article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Fire Dragons are the dedicated tank-and-monster hunters of the Craftworlds armies; armed with some of the most devastating weaponry in the Eldar arsenals, they train relentlessly in the practice of total destruction of their enemies. Although their duties place them in extreme danger, right at the heart of the enemy’s strongest forces, Fire Dragons have faith in the power of the Cosmic Serpent from which they take their name and battle posture- no foe, mortal or otherwise, can stand up to the forces they wield.
Fire Dragons come with a standard Eldar set of numbers, with bonuses where you would expect them for being aspect warriors. Strength and toughness three, weapon and ballistic skill 3+, and leadership of eight are all perfectly common; one attack and one wound as well as 3+ armor give them a pretty reasonable set of overall numbers, with the exarch of the squad getting an extra pip each in W and A. At 24pts per model with basic wargear, Fire Dragons are hardly cheap, but they come in a fair bit lower than you might expect for a unit with nothing but Melta weaponry.
Wargear and Special Rules
Like nearly all Craftworlds models, Fire Dragons benefit from the Ancient Doom (reroll misses against Slaanesh in melee) and Battle Focus (advance + shoot normally) rules; while the former is fairly worthless, the latter is extremely useful for them, since their weapons are so short-ranged. Of course, even without it you could still advance and shoot thanks to the guns being Assault, but ignoring that -1 penalty is hardly trivial and helps ensure that they can get to the targets they need to hit.
The aspect special rule they benefit from is Assured Destruction, which allows you to reroll 1s to wound when shooting monsters and vehicles. Rerolls to wound are fairly rare in the game, though Eldar do have better access to them than most factions thanks to powerful spells like Doom, but even so it is a welcome inclusion. Against the vast majority of targets this means that the Dragons will be wounding on 3s and rerolling 1s, giving them pretty good chances of pushing a wound through. The exarch of the squad also has Crack Shot, allowing them to reroll 1s to hit with shooting as well- not a particularly exciting bonus, but certainly not unappreciated.
All members of the unit come with a Fusion Gun (i.e. Meltagun- 12″ S8 AP-4 d6 damage) for a primary weapon, which is basically what the whole aspect lives on. They also carry Meltabombs, although there is essentially zero reason to ever use them- they have the same profile as the Fusion Gun but only a 4″ range, though they do reroll all failed wounds against vehicles (rather than just 1s), so in niche cases you might use them to try and kill a T8 target at point-blank range or something. The exarch of the unit can also swap his gun out for a Firepike (which has the same stats as the Fusion Gun, but an 18″ range) or a Dragon’s Breath Flamer (i.e. Heavy Flamer- S5 AP-1 d6 automatic hits)- forking out a few points for the Firepike isn’t a terrible option if you have some laying around and nothing better to buy, but neither are really particularly impressive options.
As we already stated, Fire Dragons exist for one purpose: to show up near something big and dangerous and blast it to death. They usually die themselves shortly afterwards, but hopefully whatever you point them at is important enough that you still got your value’s worth out of them before they went down- and managing that is the key to succeeding with the unit.
The first thing we should address is what they can and cannot do. Many people look at a unit of Fire Dragons and think “okay, great, five meltaguns- anything I point this at is gonna die instantly!”, but this is far, far from the case. Even against a standard T7/3+/W10 vehicle like a Rhino, a unit of Fire Dragons only has about a 45% chance of killing it in a single volley (though this goes up to 65% if they are within 6″ to get the melta bonus.) If it’s something bigger, like a Leman Russ, or Fire Raptor, and that has additional layers of defenses or more wounds, your chances drop significantly. And that’s just your average results; it is quite plausible for a unit to shoot at a Rhino and do fewer than five wounds to it- almost a 20% chance, in fact. Unless you are giving them additional rerolls (to hit or to wound), you simply cannot assume that a basic unit of Dragons will kill a full-health vehicle most of the time; it’s not a safe bet. Have other sources of damage there, ready to finish the job if needed- or shoot at a different target, if not needed, because it’s certainly possible that you will just roll on the high side of the bell curve and vape some stupid tank regardless, but you shouldn’t assume that will be the case.
The second thing is their short range. 12″ is not a long ways, and even with Eldar being a faster-than-average army, you are going to have to take some special effort if you want them to get within range of their targets, because the enemy is going to throw everything they can at stopping you. Wave Serpents are, of course, a great way to get units around the field unharmed, and they should probably be one of your first considerations. With enough transport capacity to carry even the largest units, the only real disadvantage is their cost- even with minimal kit, a Serpent costs more than a basic Fire Dragon squad, and that cost can quickly rise if you start tacking on upgrades.
For that reason, Webway Portal is often used as a less points-intensive way of getting them to their target, but it does have difficulties of its own. Intelligent players will screen off their important targets, denying you the ability to get to them in the early stages of the game- and this, obviously, is when you most want to be taking out their heavy-hitting units. Even in the absence of the recent changes from the FAQ, it is still unlikely that you will get to drop your Fire Dragons onto these units before turn 3 or thereabouts, unless you are playing against an army that is drastically lacking in bodies.
One other point that we ought to make here is about Fire Dragons’ comparative fragility. Although they do have 3+ armor saves, with toughness 3 this won’t do a lot to save them, especially in an age where AP-2 or AP-3 weapons are common and cover largely ineffective. This might not be a huge consideration overall, as many codices have suicidal units armed with heavy weapons, but it’s worth bringing up here because Craftworlds have an option that compares very directly to Fire Dragons- namely, Wraithguard. Armed with a weapon that has a nigh-identical profile (the only difference being the Melta rule), Wraithguard are a fair bit more expensive (40pts each, compared to 24 for a Dragon) but are toughness 5 and come with three wounds apiece, a massive upgrade in survivability. Shooting that might wipe out an entire squad of Fire Dragons might not even kill a single Wraithguard, and likewise Wraithguard cannot be locked in combat (apart from surrounding them, of course) the way Dragons can. This isn’t to say that Wraithguard are strictly better, but if you are looking at a short-ranged heavy-hitting anti-tank unit for your army, you should consider whether you can afford to spend a little more to keep the unit safe by upgrading to the bigger boys.
If you’re facing down one or more units of Fire Dragons (and it’s probably more, since they usually come in multiples), your tanks need not cower in complete fear. Although they are excellent at getting rid of vehicles and other heavy targets, there’s plenty of things you can do to keep yours safe. If the Fire Dragons are being carried in a transport, you can gun for the transport- Wave Serpents aren’t easy to kill, but they typically aren’t that difficult, either, so it should be pretty feasible to gun them down early before they can deliver their contents to where the enemy wants, especially if you have first turn. Screening your units properly also goes a long ways towards protecting them- not just against Webway attacks, but even in the more general case. With a range of 12″, it is quite possible for armies with a lot of bodies (such as IG, Nids, or even Tau) to bring enough boots to simply deny the Craftworlds player the ability to move within range of your firebase- after all, lacking fly, Fire Dragons are forced to abide by all of the normal movement restrictions. Of course, this plan won’t last forever, as the enemy presumably will try to kill your screening units, but it can buy you enough time to cripple whatever pieces are supporting the Dragons or otherwise take control of the game before they can arrive and do their job.
That last part is extremely important, because Fire Dragons, on their own, are not that impressive of a unit. They aren’t very good against massed infantry, they can’t deal with melee very well, they die if exposed to fire for long, etc; like all Eldar units, they rely on mutual support from other elements to do their job well. A single unit of suicidal Fire Dragons thrown into the middle of your army is not a threat- they become a threat when they are part of a combined attack that strikes at multiple weak points simultaneously. If you can isolate the Fire Dragons or kill their support, it should be very possible to take them out with relative ease. Of these tactics, simply charging them with a disposable unit (but not the stereotypical Rhino charge, for obvious reasons) is a great way to put them out of action for a bit- however, be wary if you don’t have a way to surround one or more models and prevent them from falling back, as Craftworlds have a stratagem to fall out of combat and still act normally.
Though they aren’t the powerhouse they were back in 6th edition, when Wave Serpents full of dangerous dudes reigned supreme, Fire Dragons are still a powerful unit that can spell the doom of any big targets your opponent brings to the table with shocking ease. That we haven’t seen them much in tournaments says more about the kinds of targets that are being fielded and the other tools that Craftworlds have available to them rather than any serious lack in the unit itself- used properly, they are still very good at what they do.
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