Shining Spears have, for a very long time, been one of the worst units in the Craftworlds’ arsenal- in fact, they arguably have never been good… up until now. Click to read the updated article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Shining Spears come with a statline that is about what you would expect, although there are a few surprises in there. Movement 16″ is in line with the other jetbikes in the codex, and in combination with Fly it makes them among the fastest units in the entire game- all the more so because of their abilities. Weapon skill and ballistic skill 3+ are both standard for Eldar, but the fact that Shining Spears can make effective use of both is very nice. Strength three is on the low side and will be very limiting at times, but toughness four is pretty acceptable and helps mitigate incoming damage from small arms and the like. Two wounds per model is also a handy bonus, especially with their 3+ armor save- weight of saves is generally not going to be a great way to bring them down. Finally, two attacks per model gives them solid melee output overall. One member of the squad can also be upgraded to an exarch, gaining a bonus attack and wound as well as some wargear options. At 34pts per model, Shining Spears definitely aren’t cheap, but they come with so much stuff that it’s hard to complain.
Wargear and Special Rules
First off, like all Craftworlds models they come with Ancient Doom and Battle Focus- you probably know what these do by now, and they’re no different here than anywhere. They also have Ride the Wind just like all Eldar jetbikes, giving them an automatic 6″ when advancing, which can definitely help you get across the table (especially if you use a stratagem to be able to advance and still assault.)
Beyond that, their other ability is Aerobatic Grace, which gives them a 4+ invulnerable save against shooting attacks. Since they are often going to be the target of multi-damage shots from the enemy, this is an incredibly useful skill to have; it’s unfortunate that they don’t have any kind of invuln in close combat, but something is better than nothing. All models in the squad come equipped with a pair of Shuriken Catapults on their bike as well as a Laser Lance; the Lance is S6 AP-4 Dmg2 and can be used both as a shooting weapon (with 6″ range and one shot) or as a melee weapon, and will often be both in the same turn. The Laser Lance only has the improved profile in melee on the turn the unit charges, however- on any other turn, it is merely S3 (although it retains its other stats and is thus still pretty dangerous.)
The exarch in the unit also has the Expert Hunter rule, which allows them to reroll failed wounds against monsters and vehicles- pretty handy, given their expected role. They also can swap out their Laser Lance for either a Star Lance (same as a Laser Lance but is S8 on the charge rather than S6) or a Paragon Saber (S3 AP-4 reroll failed hits and wounds.) Since the Star Lance is a mere 2pts over the usual equipment, I would recommend taking it every time- it’s just absolutely devastating to most things.
If you weren’t already aware, Shining Spears are a major part of the Craftworlds (and Ynnari) arsenal now. You’ll see at least one unit in almost every list as a hard-hitting melee component and rightfully so, because they are an absolute terror on the battlefield. The danger comes from a combination of speed, hitting power, and durability, but I think that their synergy with the psychic powers are where they really start to shine.
The first thing we should talk about is their speed, because it’s the easiest to process. Shining Spears are fast, with a 16″ movement and the Fly keyword, allowing them to cross large sections of the board in a heartbeat. However, there are plenty of other units in the game that are nearly as fast and don’t see the same kind of play, so we can’t look to this alone when understanding why they are so good. Rather, we should look to some of the subsidiary abilities- namely, the stratagems and psychic powers that multiply the effect of their speed.
Warriors of the Raging Winds is one of the big ones; it enables a single Saim Hann unit to both advance and still assault (as well as giving them some rerolls in melee, which are very nice but not the main reason we’ll care about it.) This means another 6″ of assault distance thanks to their “always get a 6″ rule. Quicken, on the other hand, just gives us another movement, typically meaning 16″ more across the field. Now, 32” is a pretty crazy distance on its own- usually, that is enough to cross from one side of the table to the other. But if we combine the two, we can move up to 44″, which should get us anywhere we need to be, no matter where we started. Behind a ruin staying hidden while waiting for our opportunity? Yeah, this is is. And don’t underestimate the power of being able to start a charge movement from whichever side of the enemy you want- that 44″ move can mean you can charge from behind BLOS terrain, or hit them from a side where it’s easier to trap models, or allow you to pile in and engage models that they weren’t expecting to get stuck into combat.
The hitting power of the unit is the second thing we should discuss, and it’s a bit less obvious. Shining Spears are a melee unit, and most of their work they do in melee… except when they don’t. Remember, every model in the squad is also putting one one S6 AP-4 shot and four S4 rending shots every turn in addition to their melee, and making good use of these can really clear out a ton of enemy models in short order. With a full unit of Spears, it should be pretty typical to blast 1-2 targets off the table with their shooting and then charge another 1-3 targets and wipe them out as well, racking up kills like nobody’s business. While S6 isn’t quite as high as you’d like (as it doesn’t really do the job against big tanks and monsters), AP-4 and Dmg2 are nothing to complain about, nor are the huge buckets of Rending shots- firepower comparable to a Windrider, in fact. This also solves another potential issue that Shining Spears have, namely handling hordes. With two attacks apiece they normally would be in a pretty poor position to deal with a big block of Cultists or the like, but their Catapults allow them to mow down a large number of cheap infantry models before going in for a charge, hopefully clearing out anything that would tie them down come the enemy’s turn.
The final ingredient is the survivability of the unit. Although their statline may not impress overmuch, two wounds at T4/3+ is no small matter to get rid of- and in an age where lots of high-AP weapons are flying around, that 4+ invulnerable against shooting can go a long ways towards keeping them in the game. This is even more true if you start stacking penalties to hit onto them- the Alaitoc bonus is, of course, an obvious one, but they are a viable target for Lightning Reflexes and Conceal as well, which can make life pretty difficult for your opponent. But if you’re buffing them with psychic powers I would always go for Protect first; not only is its inverse power (Jinx) a far stronger option to have when needed, Protect itself is numerically superior against most guns that will shoot at you, as it takes you down to 2+/3++ against shooting, leaving the enemy with no particularly attractive options for doing so. It also helps shore up your defenses in melee a bit (giving you a better save against those Thunder Hammers and other scary weapons), although probably not by enough to really fight against a big-league threat. Fortune is also very handy for Spears as multiwound models, since it not only slows down attrition from basic guns but also can help you shrug those multidamage weapons that would otherwise kill a model with every successful shot- that squad of Dark Reapers will hate trying to chew through your 3++ followed by 5+ FNP, as it will take an average of six Dark Reaper models shooting to kill a single bike. Protect is by far the most important of the three, but don’t underestimate the ability to power up the unit and send them crashing into the enemy’s ranks full tilt.
We also shouldn’t underestimate the value of the Fly keyword for them. We’ve brought it up several times already, but to drive the point home: Fly allows them to not just hop over (and into) terrain they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get past, but also hope over models in order to bypass screens and more easily trap things in combat. Above and beyond that, even it allows them to escape from combats with lessened penalties- and while, yes, they are indeed a melee unit, they are one that is only good on the charge, and even the best melee units sometimes find themselves in a combat they don’t want to be part of. There are not many foes in the game that you won’t be able to tip the odds on by flying away and dropping a huge volley of Shuriken/Lance fire into them- or into something else, if need be.
Shining Spears are, of course, most powerful in a Ynnari detachment where their hitting power can be doubled by a judicious Soulburst, but even in a Craftworlds army they are quite strong. However, the Craftworlds they benefit the most from is… well, I’d say “counter-intuitive” but it really isn’t because it’s the same one that every Craftworlds unit benefits the most from: Alaitoc. Saim Hann wants really, really hard to be a good choice for them, and they are on the most trivial of levels: Spears benefit from their reroll charge distances benefit and the stratagem is absolutely perfect for them. But with access to so many tools to speed them up, Saim Hann’s boosts actually end up being somewhat unnecessary in a lot of situations; there’s no need to go faster when you’re already 2″ from the enemy at the start of the charge phase.
So Alaitoc again ends up being our go-to Craftworld here because it provides a strong defensive bonus that synergizes well with our other stuff. Penalties to hit keep the Spears alive, dead Spears can’t declare a charge, end of story. And yes, you often will end up getting within 12″ of the enemy such that the Alaitoc bonus no longer applies, but think about it: do you think the enemy wants to be within 12″ of you? Do they want to move closer (and cluster their units up for a multicharge) in order to shoot at you without penalties? No, they don’t- they want to be as far as they can reasonably get from your smashy melee unit, and that means letting the Alaitoc bonus go active again, which puts them in a tough situation. This is exactly the kind of no-win scenario you want to be putting your opponents into, because it really ups the chances they will make the wrong decision.
Unlike a lot of units, some other Craftworlds can actually make a semi-reasonable claim to effectiveness combined with Shining Spears as well. Ulthwe is an interesting option, since it gives you a baby version of Fortune- as we talked about above, the combination of a strong invuln and FNP can make it very, very difficult to get rid of the Spears even when your opponent is bringing multi-damage weapons. Biel-Tan manages to slip in as a dark horse as well thanks to Spears carrying a surprising amount of Shuriken weaponry as well as their stratagem, which adds +2 to charge distances and reroll 1s to hit that phase- very, very similar to what the Saim Hann strategy does, in fact.
Shining Spears are an extremely powerful tool in the toolbox of a Craftworlds player, but you do need to use them with caution. They are not nearly as tough as some of the other “hammer” units you see in the game (such as Vertus Praetors or Plague Drones or the like) and if you just throw them willy-nilly into the enemy’s lines, they will get shot to death and die no matter how much you buff them up. You need to pick targets for them carefully, hitting portions of the enemy’s forces where you can either take out more isolated units (such as a weak flank) or where you can lock a large number of units into combat safely to shut down potential return fire (like tagging a bunch of Cultists, IG tanks, etc.) This can also work if you have other units to tie down the enemy in place of the Spears (Wave Serpents, Banshees, etc) as part of a more concerted effort, or if you can use other units in your army to shoot those threatening parts of their line to death before they have a chance to go after your Spears. In short, you should be using Shining Spears the same way you use most Eldar units- as a scalpel, not a blunt instrument.
If you play a top-tier Craftworlds army, or an army containing Craftworlds models, you’re almost certainly going to see some Shining Spears. So how do you deal with them effectively? There are a number of ways to go about the matter, and part of your decision process is going to be figuring out what psychic powers the enemy is putting on them and what kind of tools you have, because both of these will have a huge influence on how you do things.
The enemy’s choice of psychic powers will have a huge impact on your game plan. Conceal is going to give you a very different set of choices to make than Protect, which is in turn different from Fortune; and if they do all three… well, be prepared for a slog, at the very least. However, regardless of their choices, the first thing you should recognize is that shooting weapons with high AP (Lascannons, etc) are simply not going to be great tools against them in most cases, as their invulnerable save against shots is very powerful. Disintegrator Cannons and other weapons with lots of shots and multiple damage will still do a pretty good job, of course, but a lot of armies don’t have access to those- however, if you do, by all means use them. Autocannons, Psilencers, Avenger Cannons, and other “midrange” weapons that typically have a blend of decent AP, decent strength, and decent numbers of shots are going to be your best bet. You want at least some AP on the weapon so that if they have Protect up they don’t get to roll that obnoxious 2+ armor save, but AP-1 is all you will ever really need against Spears, so that’s the range you’re looking for. If they don’t have Protect up- either because they were a fool and didn’t cast it or because you shut it down- Boltguns and other basic weapons can be a lot of use in chipping away wounds. Like most Eldar units, Shining Spears do not appreciate being put into games of attrition.
This fact can also be useful in a broader strategic sense- if you can bait the enemy into going after something important-but-not-critical with their Spears, you may be able to set them up to where they are exposed to firepower from your whole army and in place to be annihilated in short order. All of the warnings I talked about in the above sections apply in reverse here, so try to engineer those bad scenarios for yourself in order to take advantage of them.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, for all the durability of Shining Spears against shooting, in melee combat they will fold like wet sacks of paper once you hit them with anything significant. They hate being charged by powerful melee units more than perhaps anything else, as they not only don’t have any kind of invuln in close combat (relying entirely on their 3+ armor- a dicey proposition) but also don’t gain the benefit of the increased profile on their Lances when the enemy charges them. Where possible, charge them with something big (Shield-Captain, Daemon Prince, Smash Captain, Berzerkers, etc) and watch the whole unit fold up in practically no time at all. Even just sending a blob of expendable dudes into them can do a reasonable job- again, games of attrition are where you want to be when facing Shining Spears, as anytime you can trade model for model with them you are almost certainly winning.
If you have fragile or easily-disruptable shooting units in your army that you are relying on, you should also practice good bubblewrapping technique against Shining Spears. Their high movement value and Fly keyword mean that it is most certainly difficult to keep them from going where they want to, but not impossible by any means- remember, they are still limited by where their bases can fit and they cannot come within 1″ of an enemy they didn’t declare a charge on when making assault moves. Close proximity to your shooting units can force them to declare charges they don’t want (meaning more free overwatch shots) or even make charge moves impossible if you have enough bodies to surround things entirely. Be very careful about how you position your models, however, as there are lots of shenanigans that a good general can pull to get past screens and you need to know how these work to defend against them; Nick Nanavati has written several very good articles on the subject on his blog, which I highly recommend you check out.
Although sometimes not recognized as such due to units like Reapers and Hemlocks getting the lion’s share of the attention, Shining Spears are one of the most powerful parts of the Craftworlds codex when supported properly. They do require a significant investment (typically at least two Runes of Battle psykers) to be effective, but when given that level of support they can perform incredibly well and change the face of the battlefield in the blink of an eye. Expect to continue seeing them on the field as long as Craftworlds models continue to make it into armies of any flavor.
As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to pick up a new army or expand an existing one.