Craftworlds Codex Review: Flyers: Phoenix

Like a phoenix with no sense of mercy/Rise, young man, to the heavens like a legend. Click to read more, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.

Overview

The Phoenix- sometimes Phoenix Bomber, depending on the author and edition- is the premiere ground-attack plane for the armies of the Craftworlds. Armed with a variety of types of missiles with warheads customized to their targets, a Phoenix can rain down firepower from high in the skies while still being so agile as to evade both enemy anti-air firepower and even the dedicated interceptors of most races- such is the maneuverability and speed of Eldar craft. When not used to make strafing runs on ground positions, the Phoenix can serve in orbital combat as well, raking enemy ships with fire and discharging its torpedoes to harass enemy capital vessels as they try to close with the Eldar fleet. Used by Craftworlds, Corsairs, and others alike, the Phoenix is a vehicle that has stood the test of time and has triumphed countless times on countless battlefields.

On the tabletop, the Phoenix functions much like the other Craftworlds aircraft, although it is a bit beefier in some places (as benefits its high price point.) The usual toughness six and 3+ armor are present, of course, but it comes with sixteen wounds rather than twelve, which makes it a fair bit harder to bring down, especially when the enemy is throwing burst damage at it. It has the same 20″ minimum movement as other aircraft, although it is slightly slower than them with a max speed of a mere 50″. Its combat stats are, of course, abysmal, but it does have ballistic skill 3+, which would normally be fine but the forced movement combined with Heavy weapons can make this somewhat less accurate than we might like. At 205pts, the Phoenix is definitely not a cheap vehicle, although it isn’t even the most expensive of the airplanes not particularly out of keeping with the prices across various other units in the game.

Special Abilities and Wargear

The Phoenix comes with a pile of special rules, although none of them are unique to it- they are instead just the basic rules one would expect to find attached to any Craftworlds flyer, with no real twists. Wings of Khaine forces it to move in a straight line, getting two right-angle pivots (one before the move, one after it) as part of the process. Hard to Hit forces the enemy to subtract one from shooting attacks against it, while Airborne prevents it from being charged by non-Flying units and prevents the Phoenix itself from declaring any charges. And, of course, Crash and Burn has a chance to deal d3 mortal wounds to units nearby when the Phoenix dies, in the usual fashion.

The much more interesting part of the datasheet are the Phoenix’s weapons, most of which are in fact unique to it. The main gun is a Phoenix Pulse Laser, which is a slightly-upgraded version of the Pulse Laser found on several other vehicles (including the Crimson Hunter); functionally it is very much like a twin lascannon (S9 AP-3 Dmg3 Heavy 2) and its excellent numbers pretty much everywhere on the profile mean that it is great for killing heavy targets of all sorts. The upgraded strength in particular is a big benefit against Knights and other large units and the fixed damage helps avoid bad runs of dice, at least to some degree. You are allowed to swap out the Pulse for either of two other options, a Twin Starcannon or a Twin Bright Lance; however, since the Pulse is free and both of those cost nontrivial numbers of points in addition to having generally-inferior statlines, I cannot imagine any situation where you would want to.

Alongside the centerline weapon a Phoenix also carries a missile launcher, in one of two varieties. The basic choice is the Phoenix Missile Array (shocking), which gets d6 shots at S6 AP-3 Dmg2; although it’s not the most exciting profile in the world, it can do a decent amount of work against heavy infantry or light vehicles and its generally-above average numbers mean that it won’t be terrible against anything in the game. The other available weapon is the Nightfire Missile Array, which gets 2d6 shots but is only S4 AP-1 Dmg1. It does also come with a bonus rule that forces the enemy to subtract one from hit rolls if it suffers any damage from the weapon, but since this effect only lasts until the end of the turn (and thus wears off before the enemy’s shooting phase) means that it will almost never be relevant. Both weapon options are free, so the choice on them is something of a matter of preference; as Craftworlds aircraft tend to already have access to a lot of medium-strength multidamage multishot weapons on their other chassis, I would probably lean towards the Nightfire, but it’s certainly not a given.

Lastly, the Phoenix comes with some fixed equipment as well. A pair of Shuriken Cannons in the wings (for a total of six shots at S6 AP0, with 6s being AP-3) give it some general-use firepower that can put damage in on virtually anything and don’t suffer a penalty for moving, which is very nice; a Crystal Targeting Array rounds out the loadout, which allows it to ignore the Heavy penalty so long as it’s shooting at the closest target. While this is obviously much less good than the native BS2+ that the Crimson Hunter has, it at least lets the unit be reasonably accurate most of the time, although when you start targeting vehicles and other specific things it becomes a bit more problematic. Still, it’s better to have it than not, so we can’t complain too hard.

Uses

So, the Phoenix is one of a number of options for aircraft that a Craftworlds army can bring to the table to fill potential roles; however, unlike its brother the Nightwing Interceptor, it actually is very distinct from the two aircraft in the codex in a way that is potentially useful. I don’t think this usefulness is overall enough to carry it to seeing a lot of tabletop play, but the uniqueness is at least there.

The big thing the Phoenix does that the other airplanes do not is kill infantry- when equipped with a Nightfire Array it can throw down in excess of fifteen shots per round on average, which is quite a lot of dakka to be putting out. This is important because one of the things that Eldar Flyer lists struggle with is massed infantry- and those sorts of armies are extremely common these days. While not quite as efficient as, say, a Razorwing Jetfighter at that role (their firepower is comparable, but the Razorwing is 2/3s the price) the Phoenix does have the advantage of being an actual Craftworlds unit and thus can not only benefit from Guide, Doom, and Jinx but also can be Alaitoc to get that extra -1 to hit against shooting.

The difference there is absolutely huge, as anyone who has played against the flyer list can tell you; having “just” a -1 to hit versus -2 or -3 is a massive, and Razorwings are inevitably some of the first vehicles to die in the army as they are drastically easier to kill than other targets while putting out more relevant firepower in many cases. While it’s irrelevant against some armies (e.g. Orks), against the many BS4+ armies that additional one point swing will cut their number of hits in half and can even put them in the unenviable position of being unable to hit you at all if their vehicle is damaged or your activate Lightning Fast Reflexes. (Of course, giving up a Kabal of the Black Heart detachment has costs of its own in terms of list building, but that’s just part of the process- you can weigh losing Agents of Vect versus having your individual models be significantly more durable, thus denying kills.)

We also should remember that the Phoenix has another advantage over the Razorwing- namely, that it gets the extra ninety-degree turn at the end of its movement, which makes it drastically more maneuverable and able to more effectively move-block things on a regular basis. If you are trying to hold off all of those Genestealer Cult units that are waiting to pop out from reserve, the freedom to make an extra turn after you move is actually quite significant and will drastically change where your units can go, and more importantly where they have to go.

With all of that said, however, the Phoenix is probably not an amazing choice. It is quite expensive, coming in at about the same price as the Hemlock, and yet it is significantly less accurate with its main anti-vehicle weapon (since you cannot reliably assume that the closest target is going to be whatever heavy vehicle you want to shoot at) and even its anti-infantry weapons will have to fire at the “wrong” target reasonably often and thus suffer that -1. The added survivability is nice, but it ends up being fairly close to the Hemlock (which, thanks to its Spirit Stones, functionally has about fourteen wounds compared to the Phoenix’s sixteen) and unlike its two codex companion aircraft it does not come with any special rules or abilities to help shore up the potential downsides; it is a 100% vanilla unit, which for an army that lives heavily off the interaction of various special rules is not a great place to be. The Phoenix has seen some limited use at tournaments, but the reality is that Craftworlds in particular and Aeldari in general just have access to a lot of very good choices, so it’s hard to care too much about what is generally a somewhat unimpressive choice overall in order to gain a few relatively minor advantages that are replicated elsewhere. You can certainly use it without ruining your chances of placing well at an event, but if we’re looking at taking the best possible options available to the book I just don’t think the Phoenix makes the cut overall.

Countering

So, the Phoenix does throw down quite a bit of firepower in any configuration you’ll see it in; however, given that it probably is appearing alongside several other vehicles you need to ask yourself if it is more threatening than the other things that are on the table at the same time. Now, if you’re fielding a bunch of light-to-medium infantry, then perhaps it is- the Phoenix’s weapons are optimal for taking out the T3/4+ or 5+ models that have become fairly ubiquitous these days, and if you’ve got a lot of that you may need to worry about its firepower. On the other hand, if you are fielding mostly Marines or other heavy targets, the Phoenix’s most common loadout (i.e. Nightfire Missiles) is simply not that dangerous to you, especially when standing in cover.

You should, however, be careful of its Pulse Laser. Able to wound virtually any vehicle in the game on a 3+ while getting multiple shots to mitigate its accuracy issues, the Pulse Laser presents a significant (if inconsistent) threat so long as the Phoenix is on the table. The odds of it landing both shots, wounding with both, and you failing both saves are not particularly high (about 12%), but neither are they so low that you can completely discount them- and the potential to lay down six damage on something big on any given turn can be a rude surprise, all the more so if the controller went with Phoenix Missiles and got a few other lucky 5s in to cause additional havoc. Be wary of its potential damage output and consider what it might do to your plans when thinking target priority.

Really, though, with the probably -2 to hit most of the time, the Phoenix should not be at the top of your list to eliminate. Take out the enemy ground forces wherever possible and aim to shut down their ability to score and hold the board if you are playing an Eldar Flyer list, and if it’s a more traditional army (perhaps featuring 1-3 flyers and some other assorted units) try to either kill the flyers in assaults or to get prevent them from firing effectively at the targets they want to- remember, unless the Phoenix’s target is closest it hits on a 4+ against most things and if it maneuvers to get closest, that will often force them to put the model in places that it would rather not be (because of potential threats, I mean, not because of the model falling over.)

Final Thoughts

The Phoenix is one of the many Craftworlds models that fall into the category of “solid, but not so great that you’ll see it in tournament lists” and it’s hard enough to get ahold of that not many people will bother. If you are looking to play pure Craftworlds and really want a solution to enemy infantry that can’t be shot or assaulted effectively it’s obviously quite useful, but outside of those strictures I think there just tend to be better solutions overall.

As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts from the Frontline Gaming store every day, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.

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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.)

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