Did you know Wraithlords almost made top 8 at LVO last year? Probably not, as most people just remember them as “the bad eldar dreadnought,” but I’m here to tell you that they’ve got way more going on than that. Click to read the CA2018-updated article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Wraithlords are perhaps the ultimate sacrifice that an Eldar can make- possessed by a spirit stone containing the soul of a departed warrior, unlike the lesser constructs such as Wraithguard, a Wraithlord holds the mind of a great hero of legend. Like a Dreadnought, they represent a service that passes even beyond the bounds of death, and the Craftworlds are loathe to invoke such service, but in times of utter desperation it may be necessary to draw upon their acumen and fighting prowess.
On the table, Wraithlords represent the bare-minimum tier of units that suffer from a degrading profile- something that we’ll come back to in a bit. They start with 8″ movement (which nudges down to 7″ or 6″ as they are wounded, a fairly trivial loss), about average for various non-flying monsters in the game. Weapon skill and ballistic skill 3+ (degrading to 4+/5+ as they are wounded) are also fairly standard for Eldar and make them pretty decent at both shooting and melee. Strength 7 and toughness 8 give them very solid melee stats and notably puts them a pip above anything smaller than a superheavy- they have little to fear from most races’ basic guns, and even plasma/melta struggle against them. Ten wounds and a 3+ save are far from ideal protection, but they are enough to keep the chassis running through a decent amount of punishment. Lastly, with four attacks, they can put out enough threat that most units won’t want to tangle with them. For 85pts stock, that is a very solid set of numbers overall.
Wargear and Special Rules
Wraithlords have only one special rule- Ancient Doom, which will let them reroll misses against Slaanesh units. Not typically going to come up, but it’s handy when it applies. Do note that they lack Battle Focus, as all of the Wraithguys do, and thus are limited to moving in the same fashion as all other factions in the game.
A Wraithlord comes stock with Wraithbone Fists (S7 AP-3 Dmg3) for free, which is a very solid weapon to have- the strength is enough to hurt most things pretty effectively, even if it’s not as high as one might like, and the fixed damage is excellent. It also carries a pair of Shuriken Catapults (12″ S4 Assault 2 6s are AP-3) on the arms, which can be exchanged for Flamers if one wishes- I will generally do this, as a Wraithknight’s biggest worry is getting bogged down by a horde unit and the Flamers give it a bit of protection there as well as superior shooting weapon. The Flamers are a bit more expensive (6pts each), but I think they’re still cheap enough to be worthwhile overall.
It can also add to its basic armament, taking a Ghostglaive (+10pts) that lets it fight with a S9 AP-4 DmgD6 profile instead- the extra strength and AP are definitely welcome, though the random damage is not. I go back and forth on the viability of the upgrade, but I think overall it’s best to leave it at home- though rule of cool says you should definitely take it, as everyone loves a giant ghost robot with a ghost sword. Wraithlords can also mount up to two heavy weapons from the Craftworlds list on their shoulders, at the usual costs; Shuriken Cannons are my go-to here as they are most places, as they are cheap and put out a good amount of firepower while still allowing you to potentially advance and shoot (albeit at a penalty in this case.) Scatter Lasers are also a very solid choice, as they are actually cheaper than the Shuriken Cannon, but are Heavy instead of Assault. Starcannons are also good, though they encourage a more static role; Bright Lances and Missile Launchers end up being a bit expensive but not wholly unreasonable, if you want a backfield shooter- personally I would lean towards the Missile to keep it as versatile as possible, especially given the recent price changes.
So let’s address the big issue first: the Wraithlord’s degrading profile. Starting with only ten wounds, a Wraithlord gets caught in the most awkward point in terms of its statline, and a lot of people see Dreadnoughts (who come with two less wounds for about the same price, but do not degrade) as being better. I would strongly disagree, and I think the math (and strategy) backs me up on this one.
Let’s take a hypothetical Dreadnought versus Wraithlord comparison. As I said, they cost about the same overall and are armed with similar weapons- two Bright Lances vs Fist + Twin Lascannon is an obvious comparison, but there are plenty of other loadouts that work out to be pretty similar as well, so I think the juxtaposition is very apt. Now, right out of the gates, the Wraithlord has one higher toughness- that makes it not only resistant to small arms (which, having only a 3+ save on both models, is a nontrivial factor) but also to Autocannons, Plasma weapons, Missile Launchers, and many others. However, let’s set that aside and look at the issue of the degrading profile itself.
Degrading is the cost you pay for the extra wounds on the Wraithlord and a lot of people aren’t happy with it. They say they’d rather have a shorter, non-degrading statline, but let’s look at the numerics of it. When either unit has taken 0-4 wounds, they are equal- they have the same offensive stats and so the degrading is irrelevant. When they have taken 5-7 wounds, the Dreadnought has the advantage- both units will be alive, but the Wraithlord will be down a point in its WS/BS. But when they have taken 8-9 wounds, the situation flips- yes, the Wraithlord has degraded even further, but it is still alive and on the battlefield, whereas the Dreadnought has already been removed as a casualty. With Craftworlds having multiple ways to heal their units (including a stratagem, Tears of Isha, and a character who also happens to be a psyker) it doesn’t take a lot to bump that Wraithlord back up to being a legit threat again- and even heavily wounded, it can still be quite obnoxious for your opponent to get rid of.
This is where we should take special note of the Wraithlord’s combination of statline and other bonuses. For a relatively cheap cost (~105) we can get four effective guns and a dangerous melee weapon built-in, all on a T8 chassis with a goodly pile of wounds and the -1 to hit penalty from Alaitoc. This is why Nanavati and many other members of his team were considering running Wraithlords in their previous LVO lists, as I alluded to in the opening- the combination of versatility and durability is something that a lot of people don’t expect from Craftworlds armies and especially when brought in larger numbers (which is to say trios, thanks to the FAQ rulings) they can be a real hassle to get rid of.
Although I mentioned the “pillbox” Wraithlord earlier, sitting in the backfield with its heavy weapons and firing away, I think overall this is not the best way to run them- it does have the advantage of being a backfield shooting unit that is innately protected from any kind of reserve melee shenanigans your opponent might try to pull, but I don’t think it makes best use of the unit’s strengths. That said, though, don’t discount it completely; the model is small enough to get cover relatively easily and that only adds one more layer of problems for your opponent to deal with when they are trying to shoot it out.
However, I think the “aggressive” Wraithknight is probably the better one overall. Eldar armies are running more and more frontline elements these days as part of their strategy- Shining Spears, of course, but also Howling Banshees, Harlequin Troupes, Taloses (Taloii? Talox? Taloinians? Talors?), and others as well, and especially as part of a “combined front” like this Wraithlords can be a real threat. With almost all weapons hitting them on 4s (or worse) thanks to Alaitoc and wounding them on 4s or worse, it can take a pretty intense amount of firepower to deal with one- and that’s firepower that isn’t going into your other units. And if the enemy chooses not to shoot at them… well, now they have a big monster assaulting their vehicles and flaming their infantry, causing general havoc in the back lines where you don’t want such things rampaging around.
Even in a list that doesn’t employ extensive forward aggressive units, Wraithlords can serve as a strong deterrent for the enemy’s aggressive forces- Craftworlds armies are often very shooting-heavy, and there aren’t a ton of options for where to get countercharge units without spending a large part of your points on them. The Wraithlord solves this dilemma by being both a solid countercharge unit (well able to dissuade basic squads and even some of the tougher customers, especially if they are wounded) as well as a part of the gunline itself with its heavy weapon options. It may not be as durable as a Wave Serpent or Crimson Hunter, but it can support the army in a very different way and will prove surprisingly resilient to those people who haven’t tried to deal with one.
Although Wraithlords aren’t currently something you see on the table all that often, it’s still worth knowing how to take them down. The easiest way, in my opinion, is to hit them with a focused hammer blow- a Wraithlord’s strength is in its resilience and flexibility, but if you can annihilate it in a single go that doesn’t matter. Lacking any kind of invuln or other special defense, if you drop a powerful squad onto one you should be able to take it out in a single turn, or two turns at the absolute most. An assault unit equipped with Thunder Hammers or the like will probably be able to do the job, as can a squad with a heavy plasma loadout or similar weapons. Anything with poisoned weaponry (such as Drukhari or Deathwatch models) can give it a very bad time, and Lascannons and other S9 weapons will as well. Wraithlords have a comparatively-small wound count given their price and other stats, so every point of damage you can push through is golden. This can also include mortal wounds (Smite, etc) or even just S5 guns in armies like Tau that have abundant access to them.
I probably wouldn’t lay any money on seeing Wraithlords jump up to the top tables this coming season, but I don’t think I’d bet against it, either- they have a lot of things going for them and it’s very possible that we’ll see some sort of shift in the meta or breakthrough list that will push them into the spotlight. They’re definitely one of the many units in the Craftworlds codex that you should keep an eye on, because it’s very possible that they will make their presence known in a big way at some point in the future- and maybe you’ll even use them in a list of your own.
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 start a new army or expand an existing one.