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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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