What’s that in the sky- is it a bird, a plane? Yes, it is in fact a plane. It’s good that you can tell the difference between living and nonliving objects; those skills will come in handy throughout your life. Click to read the CA2018-updated article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
The Hemlock Wraithfighter is perhaps a weapon more appropriate to another faction of Eldar than the Craftworlds- it is a ghoulish device, the fusion of a living Spiritseer and the soul of a dead Eldar hero trapped in an unnatural shell. While such travesties are commonplace amongst the lesser races, for a member of the craftworlds to invoke such a malign spirit is almost unheard of. Still, with the increasing desperation of their peoples and the horrors of the Great Rift, more and more Hemlocks are being fielded, for the effectiveness of their weaponry against the immaterial targets cannot be denied.
A Hemlock’s statline is identical to that of other Craftworlds flyers from the codex; toughness six, a 3+ save, and twelve wounds start it off with a very solid (if slightly below par for other factions in the game) statline. As for the other stats… they pretty much don’t matter, honestly. Your Hemlock won’t be making any kills in melee, it doesn’t roll to hit with its weapons, and it won’t be making morale checks; except in the most unusual of situations, all of its other characteristics should be pretty irrelevant to the game, including its movement profile- it’s so fast it really should have no trouble getting where it needs to. At 210pts with all wargear, the Hemlock is priced very affordably, although if you start running them in multiples you may find it to get pricey rather quick.
Wargear and Special Rules
As with most all airplanes, a Hemlock Wraithfighter comes standard with several special rules to represent its fly-y nature. Airborne prevents it from being charged by most units, Hard to Hit penalizes all shooting attacks aimed at it, and Wings of Khaine forces it to do the “turn 90, move in a straight line, turn 90 again”-style movement. Do note that the second turn it gets is a major advantage over most other flyers, allowing it to “hover” by bouncing back and forth between two points or otherwise maneuver to get almost anywhere on the field each turn. A destroyed Hemlock may also crash, causing d3 mortal wounds to nearby units in the manner of most all vehicles.
Beyond the standard stuff, a Hemlock has several very useful abilities. Unlike other aircraft it comes stock with Spirit Stones, which give it 6+ “feel no pain”-type ability to ignore wounds, further increasing its durability. It also carries Mindshock Pods, which give all enemy units with 12″ -2 to their Leadership, which can be very powerful when paired with many of the other Eldar abilites and psychic powers.
Hemlocks are always armed with a pair of Heavy D-Scythes, each of which gets d3 automatic hits at S12 AP-4 Dmg2 and with a 16″ range. (It is exactly double what a D-Scythe is, in fact.) While the number of shots may not be particularly exceptional, the rest of the weapon’s profile is pretty hard to beat and gives it a very solid output against anything with multiple wounds, especially those with T6 or lower.
Hemlock Wraithfighters are also psykers and know Smite plus one power from the Runes of Battle table (i.e. the one used by Warlocks and Spiritseers); unlike those models, however, a Hemlock can only cast the debuff powers from the table, not any of the buffs; while this certainly limits it somewhat, the Runes of Battle powers are so strong that it almost doesn’t matter. Jinx (-1 to all saves), Restrain (halve movement value), Reveal (negate cover bonuses), and Horrify (-1 leadership) are all solid choices for it, depending on your needs.
The Hemlock is one of the strongest airplanes in the game right now, especially with Fire Raptors being knocked back up in price again; while it certainly is not without competition for that title, I think it compares favorably to most of the others in the rankings, especially when one keeps faction bonuses in mind. Its combination of firepower, durability, utility, and speed is hard to beat, even in a codex as full of good stuff as the Craftworlds book.
The best thing about the Hemlock, in my opinion, is that it gets to ignore or bypass so many of the things that normal units have to deal with. As a Craftworlds flyer it gets the “bonus” turn at the end of its movement, getting around the maneuverability issues that can sometimes plague flyers; as its weapons are Assault and do not roll to hit, it can completely ignore the degradation chart on its profile- losing movement and BS simply doesn’t matter to it, since it can advance up to 45″ even when down to a single wound remaining. And since it doesn’t care in the slightest about to-hit penalties, it can cut apart many of the units that are often difficult to remove otherwise- especially other Eldar.
The Hemlock also benefits a lot from another feature that tournament players will love: reliability. A Hemlock, at any wound value, will do almost exactly the same thing every turn of the game- move to wherever you need it to be (with no roll), cast a psychic power for a couple wounds, and shoot at what you want dead (again, with no roll to hit or for damage.) With fixed damage and autohits on its weapons, a Hemlock only needs to roll for number of shots (which will usually be 3, 4, or 5, only occasionally straying outside that range) and to wound, probably on 2s or 3s; opponents don’t usually get saves against it thanks to AP-4 and there is no random damage to end up screwing you. Warhammer is a game of dice, but avoiding situations where the dice can go bad and screw up your plans is one of the cardinal rules of competitive play, and a Hemlock Wraithfighter is all but immune to back luck in this way because it has so few points of failure. Even on a “bad” turn it is still typically putting 4dmg (or even more) onto a target of your choice, which is pretty solid work.
Additionally, like the Crimson Hunter Exarch (its close cousin), Hemlocks excel at hunting down obnoxious characters and units who think they are protected due to their location. Unless a character is completely surrounded by other models, a Hemlock can often dash in and fire off a Smite + volley of shots to eliminate them; while it may not like contending with invuln saves, characters like having to take those saves even less. Unless you’re trying to shoot through a 3++, you can usually count on a Hemlock to drop an enemy HQ in a single pass.
We also should take a moment to note the Hemlock’s psychic powers- the Runes of Battle table is full of excellent options, and while it’s sad you can’t use your Hemlocks as a source of Quicken or Protect, the ability to slap -1 to all saves onto a target in preparation for a bombardment of firepower is quite nasty. Especially on big units with invulns (like primarchs or superheavies) that -1 penalty can make things very bad for them, especially when combined with Doom or other abilities. Similarly, Restrain placed preemptively onto such a unit (especially one that wants to be in melee) can basically shut them down for a turn, making it an absolute must to save a Denial attempt for it. And while Smite may not be quite as powerful as it once was nor as exciting as the other powers available to you, it is still a very solid choice and can stack up wounds surprisingly fast- again, great for dragging down that Knight or other heavy target.
A wing of 2-3 Hemlock Wraithfighters included in a detachment can be a great way to fill some anti-tank in your list while also getting access to some additional utility as well; although in some ways less durable than a Crimson Hunter (which can stay back at max range, rather than needing to get in close where the Alaitoc bonus may not apply- and yes, you should still play them as Alaitoc, since the other craftworlds are pretty useless to them), in other ways they have the advantage- for example, by having Spirit Stones built in. Even understanding that, however, the Hemlock is, by most standards, incredibly hard to hurt thanks to its resistance to shooting- hanging back at 16″ means that most guns able to threaten you will have to choose between -1 for moving and -1 for being outside of 12″, and combined with your innate -1 and the potential to pop off Lightning Reflexes for an additional -1 if you’re in danger means that it is a real struggle for most armies to do anything. And let’s not forget: any damage to a Hemlock that doesn’t destroy it is completely wasted, as it does not degrade in any meaningful way, so if your opponent points all their guns at it and gets eight wounds, all they have done so far is give up a bunch of shooting for that turn.
Airplanes in general are, of course, pretty resistant to being assaulted, but that’s not to say they are immune- there are more and more strong melee units with Fly showing up in the meta, and many of these units hit hard enough (e.g. Shield Captains on bikes) that being charged by one is potentially very threatening. However, this is another place where the Hemlock can say “fuck you” to the usual rules and do its own thing- unlike most vehicles, the Hemlock possesses strong auto-hitting, multi-damage weapons that can threaten almost anything that would like to assault it. Normally, sending that Captain who is down one or two wounds at a vehicle to get some free movement and damage is a no-brainer, but with a Hemlock it’s a real risk- it’s very probable that anything charging you is going to take 4-6 wounds (even taking invuln saves into account), and that is a very real risk for most such units. Unless it’s something on the scale of a daemon primarch, Hemlocks are functionally impossible to charge without major risk.
The Hemlock also has one other feature that we haven’t touched on yet: the Mindshock Pods. Putting out an aura of -2 Leadership for all enemy units, the Hemlock will in most cases just make morale a bit more dangerous to enemy units. Even Space Marines have to start worrying when you cause casualties to their squads, as most leadership values in units just don’t get that high and -2 is a pretty big swing; even better, however, is when you can combine with with other morale-sapping abilities (such as the Horrify power, or some of the Dark Eldar/Harlequin wargear) to really make it so that you can get a bunch of free kills on any unit you wound. The penalty also applies to more than just morale, however- psychic powers that key off of leadership such as Mind War also benefit from it, and in some matchups you can make absolutely devastating use of this fact to take out enemy HQs left and right.
Since we’ve already brought up the subject before in another article, we should take a moment to discuss the Hemlock vs. Crimson Hunter Exarch. I’ve compared the two flyers a number of times already and they end up looking very similar on the surface, but they do different jobs overall. Both of them excel at anti-tank and anti-heavy infantry, with T5/6 targets being especially favored by both of them. The Hemlock is obviously more expensive by a decent bit- roughly the price you would pay for a psyker, in fact, and so looked at from that perspective you can consider them roughly even after ignoring that factor. Hemlocks, then are much better against most vehicles and especially enemy airplanes, whereas the Crimson Hunter has superior numbers against lighter targets as well as the advantage in overall durability (though at the cost of losing some steam later in its wound track.) If you want something that hangs in your backfield and snipes at stuff, take a Crimson Hunter Exarch; if you want a close-in brawler that is extra-resistant to melee and brings along some added utility, go with the Hemlock.
There’s a pretty basic binary when it comes to determining how to deal with a Hemlock: you can either ignore it, or focus on it. A lot of times, the best thing you can do is simply focus on other portions of the army- most anything else you are going to shoot at will be significantly easier to hurt and won’t simply ignore any damage you do it that falls short of instant destruction. You can’t just leave the airplanes to fly around completely untouched, of course- sooner or later you’ll probably need to kill them- but especially in the early turns of the game, leaving them be is often the right choice.
When you decide to shoot down a Hemlock, choosing the right moment to do so is also critical. The relatively short range on its weapons mean that Hemlocks typically have to hang out relatively close to your lines- which means if you have some mobile firepower, you can often slip inside the 12″ protective gap of the Alaitoc rule and light it up. You’ll still take the normal -1 to hit (and quite possibly the -1 from Lightning Reflexes as well), but it will at least be a bit easier than it otherwise would’ve, especially if you do it late enough in the game that the Craftworlds player is out or nearly out of command points.
Also, keep in mind that there are a number of factions that have ways to access units or stratagems that can ignore (or minimize) hit penalties; if you have access to these tools, they can be incredibly effective at downing airplanes in general and the Craftworld ones in particular, since they rely heavily on those minuses to hit to dodge enemy firepower and otherwise have a fairly weak statline.
Hemlocks, bringing a wide array of useful abilities and gear at a very reasonable price, are well-poised to take over for some of the space that Dark Reapers have freed up in Craftworlds armies. They aren’t nearly as efficient of shooting and their durability certainly inclines them towards playing a much longer sort of game plan than Reaper-heavy armies (which tended to either vaporize things on the first 1-2 turns or get overwhelmed and torn down quite quickly), but they are still definitely a unit you should be keeping on your radar.
Heh. Radar. Like… like they use for airplanes? You know what, nevermind.
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