Craftworlds Codex Review: Elites: Wraithblades

You would think that “angry punch ghosts who set you on fire with their Swords of Axe +1” would be a unit that would have attracted a lot more attention from the fan base, but oddly they have not. Click to read the updated version of the article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.

Overview

Although it is not uncommon (though usually reviled) process to return the soul of a dead Eldar from the Infinity Circuit to inhabit a wraithbone body, in some cases it is more risky than others. Not all souls sleep peacefully in the Circuit, especially not those that have witnessed the destruction of their home and their race impotently from the depths of their crystalline limbo. For these souls, being returned to the physical world is a chance to wreak havoc on the enemies of the Craftworlds and vent their boundless rage on the living- Khaine, after all, was a very bloody-handed god indeed.

Wraithblades are very nearly identical to their companion unit of Wraithguard (from which they were derived when the two got a plastic multikit, before which they didn’t exist) and have almost exactly the same statline. Movement of five inches is a tad below other Eldar, but not absurdly so- though it means you’ll need to do a bit of work to get them into combat. Weapon skill of 3+ means they should generally hit pretty hard in combat, especially with two attacks each; strength five base likewise means that they should cause some havoc when they go to work. Toughness six and three wounds, plus a 3+ armor save, give them the ability to weather quite a bit of damage from most sorts of enemies. At 35pts per body in a squad of five or more models, they definitely aren’t cheap- but on the flip side, they are actually less expensive than most other models of their caliber.

Wargear and Special Rules

Wraithblades benefit from the usual rule of Ancient Doom, allowing them to reroll misses against Slaanesh units but giving them a small morale penalty. Although you won’t often be fighting Slaaneshi models, when you do it will be a very nice bonus to have around and the penalty is all but ignorable. But better than that is their Fires of Wrath rule, which gives them an old-school bonus attack on the turn they charge- since you will typically be the one initiating combats with them, that can be rather a lot of attacks.

This is added to by their base loadout, which is a pair of Ghostswords (S6 AP-3) that grant them one additional attack. For those of you counting at home, that is four attacks on the charge, hitting on 3s and wounding on 3s against most infantry and denying them any real save. For 10pts extra per model, the whole squad can swap out their swords for a Ghostaxe (S7 AP-3 DmgD3) and Forceshield (4+ invulnerable save); however, the Ghostaxe does give -1 to hit and lacks the extra attack of the Ghostswords, so your output is going to be a lot lower.

Uses

Wraithblades are a unit that have been on the borderline of being good for a while now, as they’ve seen a number of small, incremental improvements. With the shifts in the meta we’re seeing and the changes from the Wraith Host specialist detachment, they’ve gained more traction than ever before- but they still are a unit with a lot of limitations that you need to keep in mind, though if you can work around those limitations they are extremely powerful.

The first, and most obvious one is that they are slow. They are, in fact, the slowest unit in the Craftworlds codex, with not only a low movement speed but also no ability to advance and still be able to act. Mitigating this means either putting them in a Wave Serpent (which limits the squad size and, of course, costs more points) or dedicating a Quicken or stratagem to getting them somewhere- and considering that these options are also wanted by many other units in the codex (not the least of which being Shining Spears), they are sometimes hard-pressed to be first in line for them.

Beyond that, there is the problem of their loadout. The basic version with Ghostswords can put out an impressive numbers of attacks, but struggles against vehicles (due to only being S6 and Dmg1) as well as has no invuln to speak of. The Ghostaxe/Forceshield version, on the other hand, starts with a nice 4++ but suffers a penalty to hit and loses an attack, which drastically lowers their output while charging you a premium for the honor of doing so. If you could mix weapons that would be a good option, but the whole squad has to stick with the same equipment, making things fairly awkward.

However, with those issues in mind, Wraithblades can be a powerful asset. Defensively, they are extremely strong- toughness six and three wounds each means that most enemies will struggle to bring them down with normal weapons and if you have an invuln, they become incredibly difficult to damage with anything. Their large squad size (up to ten models) and infantry status also means that they are perfect for stacking spells from Runes of Fate or Battle onto; Protect is a prime choice (potentially making them 2+/3++), but Fortune, Empower, and Enhance are all excellent options as well.

And let’s not underestimate just how powerful they are as an infantry-killer when they get going. Each model gets a base of four attacks on the charge, assuming you arm them with swords- which I think is the superior loadout overall. Hitting on 3s and wounding on 3s against most things, that means each model kills about two Space Marines by itself, and we have access to a number of different buffs to improve this. We can get rerolls for both hits (Autarch, Spiritseer) and wounds (Doom), straight bonuses to hit (Enhance) and wound (Empower), extra attacks (Wrath of the Dead), exploding attacks (Supreme Disdain), and even doubling attacks (Psytronome of Iyanden.) Best of all, many of these combo well together- with Doom and Empower up, even big targets like Knights will have to worry about the sheer amount of attacks we can throw down, and Enhance doubles the effectiveness of Supreme Disdain so that we get more attacks on both 5s and 6s.

The Wraith Host specialist detachment is also key here, because it gives us access to several important benefits. It lets us reroll charges with its “bonus” warlord trait, get +1 attack from the stratagem, but best of all it lets us get an invulnerable save on the Ghostsword version of the unit, which is key to making them survivable against other big hitters. Although none of these benefits are complete blowouts, combined together they make for a very useful suite of options that we gain access to for just a 1CP tax. The optional spell (which grants a unit cover) is okay, but it’s almost always worse than Protect or Conceal, so its only real advantage is that it can be stacked with both of them if you really need to make a unit tough.

However, all of that stuff is only part of the reason Wraithblades are coming into vogue now- and the other half has nothing at all to do with the Craftworlds codex or any of the changes that were made. No, the real reason we’re seeing Wraithblades take the fore is because of the surge in popularity of Orks. Eldar as a whole don’t have a ton of great solutions to Orks; they certainly have weapons that can kill them, but those weapons are usually pretty short-ranged and thus all but guarantee the unit employing them will die next turn. This isn’t universally true, of course- Windriders and Swooping Hawks can both do the job pretty well themselves without being completely suicidal- but even the units able to do it at range tend to fall easy prey to Ork return fire. Wraithblades, however, will absolutely murder Orks in close combat but are still very resilient against both shooting and melee- especially if they are sitting at 2+ or 1+ armor. With even just a single offensive buff a unit of Wraithblades can blast a whole squad of Boyz off the table in a single go and still be ready to kill another one the following round if they don’t stop you.

That said, you are going to need to be fielding large squads to do this, and those units are a very big point investment, on the order of 300+ pts. They also are very vulnerable to certain kinds of firepower, such as from a Knight Castellan or even indirect shots such as a Basilisk. You’ll need to further protect the squad with psychic powers, which puts you squarely into the same sort of role that Ynnari units often fall into. Of course, Wraithblades can be run as Ynnari as well, but this prevents them from benefiting from the specialist detachment- and that consideration is a whole other set of worms to unravel, so I’m not going to go into it here.

Countering

If you see that big unit of Wraithblades across from you on the table, remember some of the stuff about it and it will probably be a lot less intimidating. First off, they are heavily dependent on stratagems and psychic powers to maintain effectiveness- a lot like Shining Spears, in many ways, albeit with less shooting and slower (but tougher.) Your opponent is probably going to have to feed 2CP into them every round to keep that 4++ active, which also exposes the Spiritseer to any sniper weapons or characters that can sneak in and assassinate it. They also need to be putting 1-3 spells on them every turn, possibly even more- and that’s not counting using Quicken or the likes to get into charge range, since all by themselves Wraithblades are fairly ponderous. If you can get something with good protections against them (e.g. a squad of buffed Tzaangors) or a really hefty target (such as a Knight with 2+ armor or a 5++ in combat) you should be able to cause some real havoc, as they’re just not built to fight that kind of thing- they really only excel against infantry and smaller targets. Buffs or not, if they go toe-to-toe with a heavy hitter such as a squad of Vertus Praetor Jetbikes, they are probably going to get their big, dumb heads kicked in pretty quickly.

Final Thoughts

The buffs from Vigilus help Wraithblades quite a bit, bringing them into the realm of playable units rather than just a sad joke. They do require a fair amount of investment to really be exceptional, but they have the possibility to be just as scary as their lore suggests and even less-optimized squads (such as a basic unit inside a Wave Serpent) can still be pretty dangerous, as they can throw down enough attacks to give most units significant pause. They still aren’t a counter to other armies’ heavy-hitting combat units, but Eldar have better solutions to that sort of problem then butting headfirst into it and losing valuable (dead) members of their society, so that’s fine.

Remember, you can always get your wargaming supplies at a great discount every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re starting a new army or expanding an existing one.

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About abusepuppy

AbusePuppy is the one who has been ruining 40K for everyone this whole time. He is also searching for the six-fingered man and is one of the three people who know the secret recipe for coke (not the soda, the illegal drug.)

16 Responses to “Craftworlds Codex Review: Elites: Wraithblades”

  1. WestRider August 2, 2018 6:01 am #

    It’s kind of a bummer that their performance on the table doesn’t even come close to matching up with how awesome the concept is. I’ve always thought they were really cool, since they were first released, but I’ve never been impressed by them on the table. As with a significant number of other Units, being able to mix equipment within the Unit would definitely help. It would also help if the loss of an Attack was considered a sufficient tradeoff for going Axe/Shield, rather than tacking on a -1 as well. Or even if the Iyanden Trait had something to offer them at all. 5+ FNP for Iyanden Wraith Units that don’t have a degrading profile, maybe?

    • Reecius
      Reecius August 2, 2018 7:24 am #

      Daniel Olivas, a very good Ynnari player in the Suthwestern region, used them in his list and he frequently takes top 3 at GT level events.

      • abusepuppy August 2, 2018 7:46 am #

        I believe he said he was planning on removing them from his list after BAO due to underperforming though, didn’t he?

        • Reecius
          Reecius August 2, 2018 8:13 am #

          Ah, I missed that if so. I have seen him use them in quite a few events though.

        • Daniel Olivas August 2, 2018 12:11 pm #

          I will absolutely not be pulling them as they are a perfect counter to the IG backfield and for 1 CP they can deep strike and wipe that backfield out while being nearly immune to Lasguns and mortars as long as you keep them in cover.

          • abusepuppy August 2, 2018 9:25 pm
            #

            Hmm, fair enough, perhaps I was told wrong, then.

            I’m honestly surprised you don’t run something like Hawks instead, though; they’re much, much better at clearing light infantry (one unit plausibly wipes an Infantry Squad by itself in a single turn the turn it drops, whereas Wraithblades are pretty unlikely to do so) and are far cheaper. They’re not even that far behind in survivability, since you get three squads for the same price as one Wraithblade unit.

          • Daniel Olivas January 23, 2019 9:12 pm
            #

            I love my wraithblades and would love to run them but with the changes to imperial guard artillery with vigilus and specifically emperors wrath you just cant run them anymore. Double shooting rerolling basilisks just murder them. I find you are forced to leave them in serpents, and if they aren’t absorbing enemy fire and surviving it’s just too many points. They excel at killing guardsmen and orks but sadly titans and artillery sideline them for now.

          • abusepuppy January 24, 2019 1:43 am
            #

            Interesting, I would say that they are much more viable after Vigilus, not less; with Alaitoc and some combination of Conceal or Lightning Reflexes, they are essentially immune to IG shooting (especially if you also have Cover/Protect/Fortune.) And stuff like a Castellan will pick them up there are no ruins to hide behind, but at LVO that is much less of an issue.

      • WestRider August 3, 2018 12:37 pm #

        I should probably clarify: While I do think that they could use a little tweak or two (not all of the things I mentioned), the real reason their performance lags behind the awesomeness of their concept is just how awesome the concept is. I mean, to quote AP’s intro, “angry punch ghosts who set you on fire with their Swords of Axe +1” should be totally awesome, not just “usable in the right build” 😉

  2. Anggul August 2, 2018 6:55 am #

    I’m planning on sticking protect on them with axes & shields and using them as a tanky unit that can also do a bit of chopping.

    The axes really shouldn’t be -1 to hit. They’re just worse than power fists. I get that they made the forceshields 4++ because if they were as strong as storm shields like they should be, protect would give them a 2++, but there’s no explanation for the axes.

    Maybe they should make the forceshields 3++ but cap protect at 3++?

    • abusepuppy August 2, 2018 7:49 am #

      Yeah if the Axe wasn’t -1 to hit, or was Str8, or Dmg3 or something, it could be a lot more worthwhile. Likewise, if the swap between weapons was free, or you could take a mix of Axes and Swords, that would also be a big benefit. But as things stand, it has a lot of strikes against it that prevent it from being a truly appealing weapon option.

      I think if you’re taking a unit of five, swords is probably the way to go- it’s something you can drop in at a key location and cause some problems while standing in terrain for that 2+. If you’re going with a full unit of ten, Axe/Shield is needed because you really want to be maximizing them with buff spells.

      (I think the Forceshield is fine at 4++, honestly. Remember, Autarchs get them, too, so buffing it to 3++ innately would be very powerful there.)

      • Anggul August 7, 2018 1:22 am #

        You could always make Wraithblade-specific forceshields. There’s just no reason they should be weaker than storm shields. Their tech is supposed to be better than Imperial tech, not inferior! Gameplay-wise too, as long as they were capped at that 3++ and couldn’t be buffed to 2++ it would be fine I think.

        Though really even for Autarchs, they’re pretty squishy. If a marine Captain is allowed a 3++ I don’t see why an Autarch isn’t. They would just have to go up in points cost.

      • Trev September 28, 2019 4:01 pm #

        axes are dmg d3. I did the math-hammer on them, and axes have a much larger load out, even at ws4. 3 attacks with an axe, -3 AP doing d3 dmg each outstrips 4 attacks -2 ap, doing only 1 dmg each. Against primaris marines, characters, light vehicles – axes are 30%-40% higher dmg load out. I dont have the exact numbers on me, but axes do much more dmg in comparison

        • abusepuppy September 28, 2019 9:10 pm #

          Ghostswords are also AP-3, same as the Axe is, so against single-wound targets they are essentially always superior.

          Against multiwound targets it depends a little bit- for example, with Primaris Marines the numbers are actually almost identical on the first round of combat (1.48 vs 1.54), since rolling max damage on the Primaris is wasted. (On subsequent rounds of combat, the Swords are superior due to getting three attacks vs two.) On the other hand, against T6/7 targets the Axes have an advantage in raw numbers.

          However, you have to consider this in the context of the expected buffs as well- Craftworlds have access to both Empower and Doom, and combined the two of them mean that swords will wound anything 75% or better, no matter how high its toughness value. While this can’t always be presumed to be in effect, they’re still a relevant consideration and I think tilt the calculation significantly towards the swords.

          The real kicker, though, is the cost. If Axes were a free swap I would rate them a lot higher, but you have to pay a _significant_ premium to get them, which makes them not worth it in my opinion.

  3. DaveSoundwave January 23, 2019 6:10 am #

    Personally, I’ve always found Wraithblades *incredibly* useful. Been using 7 or 8 of them (depending on points changes) with swords alongside a Spiritseer and Warlock in all my games for just over the last year or so, fielding them as Alaitoc alongside a wing of 6 Windriders, 3 Vypers and some Skyrunner psykers, as well as 3 Fire Prisms and a smattering of Dire Avengers and Rangers. Thing is, they’re super killy against the right things, but yeah there are better units that have that covered in the codex; where I find they really excel though is snatching late-game, mid-field objectives and slaughtering anything that gets near them. Usually I find my opponents are way to distracted by the Fire Prisms blasting away all their big stuff and the Jetbikes zooming around chipping away at their mid-tier units and snagging back-filed objectives to bother dealing with the Wraiths so early on. Especially with so many of them with a high toughness, wound and save. When there’s 3 Prisms sat on the board people usually don’t waste their high AP stuff on the slow moving footslog robots (part of the reason I field 3 prisms is so that I can afford to lose one of them and still make use of Linked Fire properly), so a handful of loses are generally taken but not enough for it to be an issue.
    The reason they’re so useful mid-field is because that’s where I find my opponent charging towards the fastest with the ObSec units (assuming there’s an objective there) which mitigates the need for Wraith speed somewhat and usually means there’s something to hit when they get there, especially as ObSec units are usually *exactly* what Blades excel at taking out. Then they proudly sit on an objective, hardy enough to secure it but not killy enough to waste shots against. It’s a very decent balance, plus screening them with 5 Avengers also shields them enough to ensure a charge (even if the Avengers get taken out).

    Of course they’re not so hardy that survival is guaranteed, but that’s generally where the fact that I use them as more of a late-game threat comes in handy, as I say above, they’re not a priority target early on, which gives them way more versatility alongside the rest of an army than they would otherwise seem to have on their lonesome.

    It’s a classic case of: build an army around them, you’ll be disappointed; use them to fill a niche and they’ll do wonders.

    Plus casting Empower and Enhance and hitting/wounding on 2s with 30+ attacks at AP-3 is just an amazing feeling (plus Drain and Enervate make them even hardier in combat if that’s a priority)

    • abusepuppy January 23, 2019 9:47 am #

      Yeah, with the changes to the meta, they are a great way to control the center of the field in the mid/late game. I definitely think they have a role in Eldar lists these days, although admittedly it’s one they compete with Grotesques and some other units for. But I’ll be taking a unit of them to LVO, so I think I have to at least give them a “these are good now” rating based on that much alone.

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