Are you surprised we haven’t talked about Dark Reapers yet? I am, and I’m the one writing this article! Click to read the updated version, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Dark Reapers are the most sinister of the aspect shrines of the craftworlds; while others embody aspects of Khaine’s might on the battlefield, the Dark Reaper shrine represents nothing less than death itself in the guise of war. Armed with long-range weaponry, they cut down enemies mercilessly from afar without discrimination, taking a toll from any who expose themselves to their sight. It is little wonder that they are one of the most mistrusted shrines, and one that often stands apart from the others of their pantheon, though the craftworlds know full well the power they wield and how necessary it can be.
On the table Dark Reapers have more or less the same statline as all of the other aspect warriors, with a few small tweaks. They are slightly slower than most other Craftworld models with movement 6″, one assumes due to their heavy armor and weaponry (though such things don’t seem to slow down, say, Fire Dragons any.) Weapon and ballistic skill 3+ are completely expected, as are strength and toughness three; one attack and leadership eight are likewise exactly on par. With 3+ armor they are one of the tougher aspects, and as with virtually all cases one member of the squad can be upgraded to an exarch with an extra wound and an extra attack above the normal, at no cost. With the recent FAQ changes, their price has been increased to 34pts per model with all equipment- however, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t still a good deal in most cases, though obviously not so exceptional as it was before. Squads can be anything from three to ten models strong, a somewhat odd setup compared to most units.
Wargear and Special Rules
Although Dark Reapers have the standard rules common to all Craftworld infantry models (Ancient Doom, Battle Focus), they can’t really make use of either of them- Battle Focus in particular is useless to them because their weapons are all Heavy, which prevents them from getting any mileage out of the rule. However, they do have their own unique rule that more than makes up for this loss: Inescapable Accuracy. Dark Reapers always ignore all penalties (and, oddly, bonuses) to hit a target during the shooting phase, hitting on a 3+ no matter what sort of modifiers would otherwise apply. Shooting at a flyer? Enemy put a protective spell on the unit? Fighting that Alaitoc opponent? Camouflage field active? Dark Reapers ain’t give a shit, they’re gonna hit on 3s no matter what. With penalties being such a hugely powerful tool in the 8E arsenal, this ability is incredibly valuable to have around and is one of the main reasons people take Dark Reapers.
Of course, they also come with a very powerful gun, which doesn’t hurt any. Every member of the squad comes armed with a Reaper Launcher, which has two different fire modes. Starshot Missiles (48″ S8 AP-2 Dmg3 Heavy 1) are more or less identical to a Krak Missile or other such weapons- they are your go-to for hitting big targets like vehicles and such, and with fixed accuracy and fixed damage they are an extremely reliable weapon. Starswarm Missiles (48″ S5 AP-2 Dmg2 Heavy 2) are the other option, used for dealing with infantry; since they wound most targets on 3s, have decent armor penetration, and deal multiple wounds per shot they are more than capable of dealing with most problems quite handily. Although Dark Reapers can struggle a little bit with units that have a strong armor save (as their AP is merely okay), the sheer volume and steadiness of firepower they can put out means that they will rarely fail you, especially if you have bothered to invest in any kind of buffs for them.
The exarch in the squad also has some additional tricks up their sleeve. The Crack Shot rule gives them an innate reroll 1s to hit, making their attacks that much more accurate than everyone else’s (especially since they can’t be penalized), but they also get a number of other gun options as well. The Shuriken Cannon (-12pts) is… well, it’s bad. There’s no real reason to bother with it, period; it just doesn’t match well with the rest of the unit. The Aeldari Missile Launcher (+3pts) gives you some interesting options; like the Reaper Launcher it has two fire modes, with the Starshot Missile being exactly like the Reaper’s version except with DmgD6 instead of a flat three- not a great change, even if it is technically an improvement. The Sunburst Missile is S4 AP-1 with d6 shots, which is actually a pretty nice option to have; the weapon also opens up the option for the the Starhawk Missile stratagem, which does d3 mortal wounds to a flying target. The option that most people take is the Tempest Launcher (+5pts), which is absolutely brutal against enemy infantry. Its range is “only” 36″, but with S4 AP-2 and 2d6 shots that ignore line of sight, it spews out an absolutely devastating barrage of firepower that can chew apart most enemy scoring units and other things trying to hide behind cover or otherwise escape your guns. Getting ~7 shots out of a single model in the squad that carve through light and heavy infantry alike is a huge boon, and it’s a significant part of what makes Dark Reapers so good overall.
Anyone reading this article that has been to essentially any tournaments in the past year probably has seen their share of Dark Reapers and then some- they have been a mainstay in Craftworld and Ynnari armies ever since the codex was released, and for good reason. Though their price has been adjusted upward, we are still seeing them appear in significant numbers- not so much the twenties and thirties that they were sometimes taken in before, but we’re still seeing at least one big squad and often still some smaller ones included in armies, which is a testament to just how good they are.
The big strength of Dark Reapers is, of course, their firepower. We talked about it a bit earlier, but it’s worth reiterating here- in an edition where penalties to hit are one of the best defensive tools most armies can bring to the table, Dark Reapers ignore them entirely while being innately quite accurate and capable of benefiting from a variety of buffs (Autarch aura, Guide, etc) that can increase that even further. Against almost all targets in the game they hit on 3s and wound on 3s, with the potential to get rerolls on both, and overall that means you have a unit that will almost always do what you want it to because it can sidestep several potential points of failure. The fixed damage on their weapons only makes this even better, because it removes yet another potential step where things can go wrong- you might never get that beloved ‘6’ on the damage die, but neither will you roll 1, 1, 2 on that Rhino with five wounds left and find yourself in a severe bind. For serious tournament players, this reliability is in itself a very valuable thing to have.
Dark Reapers are also important because they fill a very relevant niche in the Craftworlds army, namely a way to handle heavy infantry and basic tanks; there certainly are other units that can fill this role as well (and with the price increase on Reapers we’ve seen more of them make appearances), but few can do it as cheaply as the Reapers can, since you are paying for little more than a basic aspect warrior body to attach their gun to. Even now, fifteen or twenty Dark Reapers might not be absurdly cheap, but you can pretty easily slot it into a force alongside a bunch of other tools (melee units, support characters, troops, etc) without seriously compromising yourself on any fronts. And, we should remind you in case that didn’t sink in: a Craftworlds army can put twenty Missile Launchers into its toolbox without making too strenuous an effort of the matter. Put in that perspective, it sounds almost insane, but it absolutely is true.
Since they are inexpensive enough to take in numbers and there are lots of support powers and stratagems that can help keep them alive and active- things like Lightning Reflexes, Fire and Fade, and Feigned Retreat are all commonly used to keep squads of Dark Reapers in the game when they otherwise might be taken out. Although they obviously aren’t as straight-up resilient as something like a Hemlock or Fire Prism, their ability to maneuver around the field and avoid (or outrange) the enemy’s firepower is second to none, and they can be surprisingly resilient to enemy anti-infantry firepower when sitting snugly in some cover.
We should also take a moment to reiterate what a threshing machine even a minimum squad of Dark Reapers is against most infantry units. With only two models plus an exarch (with Tempest Launcher), the squad is putting out an average of eleven shots per turn, most of which reroll 1s to hit and all of which have AP-2. For 107pts, you can blast away most of a squad of Marines or Guardsmen every turn of the game, no matter where they try and hide. The indirect fire aspect of them is one of the most important in an ITC setting, because it can otherwise be fairly difficult to dig out those small units hiding behind a ruin and sitting on an objective- Dark Reapers not only solve this problem, but do so without really giving up much of your firepower at all, since the unit is otherwise great against a ton of different targets even when so armed.
If you’re running Dark Reapers in your army, the challenge to using them is going to be making sure that they don’t get taken out by the enemy- because you can be assured that the enemy is going to focus as much of their resources as possible on getting rid of them, thanks to the fairly horrific amount of firepower they can put out. This can take a variety of forms, including many of the stratagems mentioned earlier, but it’s probably going to need to go beyond that- you are going to need to set up your army to help defend the Reapers, or else they are going to get taken out pretty easily. Because even if they are rocking that 2+ armor save sitting in cover, your opponent is going to throw all their anti-infantry guns at them and you are going to fail saves and lose models. With each Reaper costing about as much as a Terminator but only having one wound, that is going to start to hurt really fast.
So layer #1 of your defense strategy should be simple: where possible, don’t let the enemy shoot at your Reapers. Put them in a Wave Serpent at the start of the game and the enemy can’t alpha strike them off the table. Use Fire and Fade to move them behind terrain, or just use their normal movement to get out of line of sight of as much of the enemy army as possible. Use Rangers to push back enemy reserve units (and other units) where you can by denying space. Use the Reapers’ own 48″ range to stick at the back of your deployment zone and avoid return fire- a surprising number of weapon simply don’t reach that far, you’ll find. You don’t have to roll saving throws against shots that don’t happen, so whenever possible just don’t let the enemy take shots at them.
Layer #2 needs to be a way to handle melee, because on their own Dark Reapers do not deal well with it. Oh, sure, you might get lucky and punk off some wounds in overwatch, but you are rarely going to stop a charging unit dead in its tracks this way- and without Fly or some other trick, it’s not very hard for an experienced player to cling onto your unit of Reapers (or something else nearby) and ensure that not only do they not get to shoot, but also nothing else can shoot at the unit engaging them. Thankfully, you have access to a variety of strong choices in this role, depending on what kinds of enemy melee you are expecting- personally, I find a combination of Shining Spears (for the “tough” melee units) and Howling Banshees (to delay things and slow down hordes) do a great job, but your personal tastes may vary- Wave Serpents can be useful here as well, as can Autarchs, Wraithblades, Yncarne/Avatar, Striking Scorpions, Drukhari allies, etc.
Layer #3 of your defense needs to be a bit more nuanced: have an army that doesn’t allow the enemy to focus all of their attention on the Dark Reapers. If you’re bringing 600+pts of them to the game (and let’s be clear here: not every Craftworlds army needs to, these days, but I’m using this as an example) then that is a huge chunk of your force that your opponents have to worry about. But you also have 1400pts of other units, and you need to make sure that those are pulling their weight such that the enemy sees them as a concern as well. Are your Swooping Hawks picking off their infantry and holding objectives? Are your Rangers taking down support characters and monsters? Are your Guardian Defenders clearing their screens and stealing key points on the battlefield? Are your Hemlocks debuffing key targets and sniping backfield units? Etc. If you are leaning 100% on the Dark Reapers to carry your army, you are doing it wrong- you need all of the parts of your army to be presenting a threat to the enemy’s game plan or else they are simply going to sweep out the one functional part of your army and laugh off the rest of your pitiful force. This is something that is of course true for all armies, not just ones containing Reapers, but it’s easy to be overawed by their power and flexibility and get yourself stuck into the mindset of “I don’t need to worry about ______, my Reapers will handle it.”
Dark Reapers can be incredibly intimidating to see across from you on the field, but it’s also easy to forget how fragile they can seem from the enemy’s perspective. A six-strong unit will run just over two hundred points, and for that pretty major investment you only have seven 3+ saves between them and annihilation. Have you ever lost an entire Tactical Marine squad in one round of shots due to rolling poorly? That same sort of principle applies to Dark Reapers, only they are even more fragile due to T3.
This relative fragility is why Dark Reapers are as cheap as they are- as infantry with no real special defenses, there are tons of things in the game that will give them an incredibly bad day. Anything that does mortal wounds will cut them apart in short order- especially the targeted spells that aren’t required to chew through screening units first. Basic weapons such as Boltguns are surprisingly effective against them, and anything armed with an improved version (we’re looking at you Necrons, Grey Knights, and Deathwatch) will absolutely tear them to pieces in a heartbeat with the sheer number of shots and AP they can put out. “Midrange” weapons such as the Heavy Bolter are also very useful, since they have the right combination of number of shots and good stats that elite infantry really hate to see.
Melee-based strategies are also a huge problem for Dark Reapers, as they are completely awful in a fight and don’t have a lot of ways to deal with anything that gets in close to them (aside from relying on other parts of the army to do the job for them.) Virtually any melee unit that can get a charge off on Reapers can ruin their day, whether it be a Cultist horde, a Vertus Praetor assassin squad, or Smash Captain just going to town on them. Also remember that they are very much not immune to morale checks and are only leadership 8- if you can kill four or five of them in a single go, you may be able to wipe out the rest of the squad for free if the enemy can’t/won’t pay 2CP to ignore the morale check.
Dark Reapers also suffer from all the usual limitations of any other shooting unit- while the exarch in the squad might not need line of sight, the rest of the unit certainly does and very often the Craftworlds player won’t be satisfied with only getting to shoot one model out of six or ten that they paid for. Make use of blocking terrain (especially ruins) to limit what they are able to target, and make sure that you present them with multiple threats to deal with at any given time rather than sending a single unit over towards the squad- if they have to worry about both the unit hiding on an objective in your backfield and also the squad rushing in to kill the Reapers, it puts them in a difficult position. The AP-2 on their guns also means that they will be significantly less effective against models with 2+ armor than many other weapons may- and likewise T8 units will put a serious dent in their damage output as well. Things with an invulnerable save (such as Wracks, daemons, etc) can also be a difficult cookie for them to crack, though you don’t often see those kind of saves in large numbers.
Although Dark Reapers are still inarguably a very powerful part of the Craftworlds codex, they are no longer an absurdly-dominant one like they were prior to the FAQ changes. They now compare quite reasonably with many of the other heavy weapon platforms available in the codex, with some advantages compared to each of them but also some disadvantages- which is how the book ideally should be. They are still strong enough that they will be a very consistent choice for players of any kind of Aeldari to bring to the table, but you shouldn’t need to wade your way through dozens upon dozens of them if you want to have any shot of making it to the top tables anymore, and for that we can all be thankful.
As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies from the Frontline Gaming store at great discounts every day, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.