Once the terror of 7th Edition, now reduced to barely even appearances in the most casual of games. It’s a MTV: Behind the Music special all wrapped up into a neat package, my friends, and you would do well to heed their example. Click to read the updated CA2018 edition of the article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Windriders are members of their craftworld that go into battle riding on grav-powered jetbikes that skim just above the ground at fantastic speeds. More than any other race, the Eldar are able to take advantage of such technology, for their inhumanly-fast reflexes and superior senses allow them to perform maneuvers that even a space marine couldn’t hope to dare. Although their pilots are merely citizen-soldiers, part of the craftworld militia, they still can surpass even the best pilots of other races with trivial ease.
On the tabletop Windriders come with a reasonable statline, although one that has seem some significant shifts since previous editions (and mostly not for the better.) On the plus side, with a movement characteristic of 16″ they are one of the fastest units in the game, able to outpace anything except a handful of other flyers and bikes; weapon skill and ballistic skill 3+ are standard for Eldar models and they are no exception, making them pretty reasonable on offense. Strength 3 is poor, but you have very little reason to be in combat anyways so it’s not a big deal; toughness 4 is much better, though still a pip below most other races in the galaxy. Two wounds (thanks to the bike) is obviously pretty handy to have, though with only 4+ armor they are not as well-protected as you might like. Finally, leadership 7 is nothing to write home about, but with the small squad size it won’t usually be a problem. At 18pts per model in squads of three to nine, Windriders compare reasonably to similar choices in the book (e.g. Swooping Hawks), but are not particularly exceptional.
Wargear and Special Rules
Like all Craftworld models Windriders have the Ancient Doom (rerolls and morale penalties in combat against Slaanesh) and Battle Focus (advance and shoot without penalty) rules. Although the former is fairly worthless to them, the latter is very handy, as their mobility is their main asset and especially in combination with their Ride the Wind ability (always advance 6″ extra) they can move a pretty enormous distance across the battlefield.
Windriders come armed standard with a twin Shuriken Catapult (12″ S4 AP0 Assault 4 6s are AP-3) which provides some pretty decent firepower, albeit at a very short range- and since they don’t hit hard enough to wipe out most targets in a single volley, this can leave the unit in a very precarious position. However, any number of bikes in the squad can also swap out their weapon for either a Shuriken Catapult (24″ S6 AP0 Assault 3 6s are AP-3) or a Scatter Laser (36″ S6 AP0 Heavy 4), you’re not actually too bad off. The Scatter Laser will set you back an extra 5pts per model, but has to content with the Heavy penalty; the Cannon is +8pts per model and is assault, making it more functional overall, but also pricier.
With the changes from the Chapter Approved update, Windriders may not be the most exciting of units, but they no longer are abjectly terrible. They may, in combination with the rules from the Vigilus supplement, even actually be somewhat decent- although I would still hesitate to call them great. But they at least have a niche within the codex and can perform some unique roles, so they aren’t simply a useless trash fire. That said, they would still benefit a lot from returning to the troop slot so that Saim Hann armies could be functional once again, but I don’t think we’re expecting to see that happen anytime soon.
The thing Windriders do best, and have done for some time now, is to put out buckets of medium-strength firepower; they are actually one of the most efficient ways of getting these sorts of guns in an Eldar army, although there certainly are problems with the platform as well that may caution you away from using them. That sort of mid-strength multishot firepower is also a lot weaker than it has been in past editions- S6 guns aren’t wounding everything in the game on 2s and glancing vehicles on 5s anymore, so they can’t be relied on to do nearly as much work when it comes to clearing the field of enemies. With that said, however, they can still throw down a pretty impressive volume of shots and will do some real work against light infantry, so we can consider them a viable unit for competitive armies despite these failings.
So why would you bring Windriders? Well, there’s a number of reasons. Although S6 firepower isn’t as dangerous as it used to be (which is to say insanely lethal to almost every unit in the game), it’s still a good way of cutting apart hordes of infantry, which are a dominant part of the meta these days. Armies of all stripes bring large numbers of infantry to the table as a matter of course- perhaps not every army, but the vast majority of them, even armies like Knights or Tau that have traditionally been very elite forces. More than that, however, horde infantry are something that Craftworlds can struggle with unless they bring specialized solutions- unlike most other armies, the default weapons of basic Craftworld troops are extremely short-ranged and aren’t well-suited to picking off enemy infantry at a distance, so a Craftworlds army needs some more dedicated ways of getting rid of those sorts of threats without closing to point-blank ranges.
Now, that’s not to say that Windriders are the only such solution- Swooping Hawks are extremely good at those sorts of jobs and are exceptionally effective against T3 and lower models, amongst others, but there are reasons to look to other options; they are quite fragile, for example, and Windriders get the benefit of T4 over their flighty cousins as well as an overall edge in maneuverability (going up to 22″ per turn with no roll needed, as opposed to 14+d6″ for the Hawks.) The higher strength firepower on the Windriders also has the advantage against tougher targets like Custodes or light vehicles (against which Hawks are all but useless.) But as with any unit, it’s worth considering the needs of a list, the current meta, and other factors when looking at which option you pick- and the fact that you have multiple options is a big strength of the Craftworlds book overall, as there’s at least one or two good-to-great units in every slot.
Beyond their role as being a glass cannon unit, Windriders can also be useful in other ways. They aren’t quite the cheapest unit in the Fast Attack slot (that honor goes to the Vyper, by a 2pt margin), but they clock in noticeably below most options and they tend to mesh better with the other units that you may include in a list and thus are likely to get the nod in many cases when building a brigade or other detachment. And the minimum-size basic-equipment squad is actually surprisingly dangerous at short ranges, spitting out twelve S4 rending shots; of course, this is something that a lot of basic Eldar units can do, but few of them are so mobile while doing it. A minimum squad of Windriders can jet across the field, blast a scoring unit off an objective, and take it for themselves with pretty reasonable facility and for a very low price. Similarly, they can easily move into table quarters or the enemy’s deployment zone in order to score secondary objectives as needed and without giving up firepower elsewhere.
However, if you’re looking for something to accomplish a more active role in the army, you’re probably looking at the “standard” setup (Scatter Lasers for everyone) and making some use of the Vigilus Defiant specialist detachment. Some of the benefits there are pretty trivial, but there are some others that are fairly clutch. The main one we’ll care about is Tempest of Blades, which is very pricey at 3CP and requires a Farseer Skyrunner, but improves the AP of all weapons used by bikes within 6″ of it by one. AP-1 might not seem exciting, but it’s actually a huge improvement and will make your guns pretty terrifying to a lot of things, especially if you are spreading it across several units. Add in Guide and/or Doom and you’ve got a near-guaranteed way to cause some misery to whatever you shoot at, short of a superheavy target (and even there you can cause some nontrivial harm.) The up-front investment is pretty large for this strategy (1CP for the specialist detachment, 3CP for the strat, 300-500pts for the various units needed) but it can hit like a freight train, so if you’re willing to build for it then it can be quite scary.
Of course, that combo doesn’t really address one of the main issues with Windriders- namely, that they are quite vulnerable to enemy shooting. Although they have a pretty respectable range with the Scatter Laser (36″) that will keep them out of the way of many of the enemy’s smaller guns that might otherwise be annoying, for an aggressive army that is pushing into your face or for longer-ranged weapons out there (of which there are many), that won’t be enough. Worse yet, with two wounds and only a 4+ save, they are very vulnerable to multidamage weapons with high rates of fire, especially guns like the Avenger Gattling Cannon on Knights. Although some of the Craftworlds defensive spells can offer limited protection, your best odds are simply to not be where the enemy can shoot you- and to that end, the Fire and Fade stratagem is extremely helpful, as it can get you back behind protective terrain (or out of range) pretty easily for only 1CP, which is a godsend if you’re running something like a full-size unit of them. Dark Reapers and other vulnerable units also tend to want to monopolize the use of Fire and Fade as well, but a good player can probably manage their target priority and assess threats to know which units need it more- just prepared for situations where you have to make something of a Sophia’s Choice between two of your valuable units.
We should also bring up one other consideration, namely that of the Craftworld attribute you choose for your Windriders. In most cases, there really is no “choice” here- you go Alaitoc because Alaitoc is hands-down better than everything else due to the way it completely changes some of your matchups. However, Windriders possibly have an excuse to sometimes run with Saim Hann, as shrugging off the Heavy penalty with your Scatter Lasers is a pretty nice bonus in terms of improving your firepower (especially if you intend to be using Fire and Fade to be out of sight anyways, largely negating the need for Alaitoc.) So if you’re looking to dedicate a significant chunk of your list to making full use of a specialist detachment, you may want to think of whether Saim Hann or Alaitoc is going to be most useful, which should include things like the relative frequency of BS4+ armies in your meta and other factors. It’s not a forgone conclusion either way.
Windriders are cheap enough now that they are actually something you should perhaps be concerned about seeing, but at the same time they are not particularly hard to get rid of. Although they throw out a lot of firepower (when kitted with the appropriate weapons, obviously), they are quite fragile and even casual shooting at them will start causing casualties to the squad. If you can aim basic guns at them, that’s good- and if you can hit them with some more dedicated weaponry such as Autocannons or Heavy Bolters, all the better. The medium-weight guns that have a decent number of shots but also some increased AP and damage are the ideal tools to use against Windriders, since they are working at full effectiveness on them.
Also, don’t forget about melee as a solution; although they can fall back and shoot without penalty, they have to survive for that to be relevant. Anything that can get in with them with a good number of attacks can probably tear down most of the unit and force a morale check- which, given their middling leadership and expensive models, can be quite punishing to the Craftworlds player. Similarly, mortal wounds and other “alternate” sources of damage are pretty effective on Windriders, due to their low wound count and high concentration of special weapons.
If you’re facing the more slippery type of Windrider squad, the minimum-size no-upgrades variety, the solutions are a bit easier. Make sure you have units around the area to keep them from scooting into your backfield (or other locales) unmolested and try to keep Objective Secured units of decent size on the objectives wherever possible- as Fast Attack units, Windriders will lose out to troops every time when it comes to claiming objectives, so unless they wipe them out to a model they’re not gonna be able to steal things away.
Windriders have been on a bit of a roller coaster these past two editions, but they’re back around to being a fairly acceptable, even good, choice in a Craftworlds army. While they may not take the tournament world by storm, they can do a solid job of several things as needed and they have some unique strengths that differentiate them from other units (e.g. Vyper, Swooping Hawks) that can fill a similar job. If you’ve got a ton of jetbikes laying around from 7E, maybe give them a spin in some of your more casual games- you might be pleasantly surprised and even consider making room for a few of them in your tournament army now and again.
As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day at the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one. Or even purchase Windriders, you poor, blighted soul.