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Blood of the Phoenix is the first book in the Psychic Awakening series. Although they haven’t announced how many books will be in the sequence, it appears to be something along the lines of the Vigilus books in terms of scope, although these ones seem more focused on new rules than on a narrative campaign (though it certainly has elements of that as well.) As is usual with my reviews, I will leave others to focus on the narrative and lore side of things, instead looking mostly on what the supplement means for gameplay and for competitive generals.
Like the Vigilus books, Blood of the Phoenix contains rules for multiple different factions- a model that GW is slowly drifting towards and one that I think is beneficial for the player base overall, since it allows more consistent and timely updates to factions without having to pour out ten-plus codices per year. With its focus on the Aeldari xenos, Blood of the Phoenix contains rules for Craftworlds, Drukhari, and Ynnari, with the latter being largely a reprint of their rules from the White Dwarf (though with a handful of relevant changes.) Harlequins, sadly, did not get any updates- and since they needed them more than any of the others, one can hope this means that they will make it into one of the followup books.
Beyond simply having rules for multiple factions, there are also several major sections of the book, and I’ll be breaking my overall review down along the lines of those sections. The Craftworlds and Drukhari each get their own set of “build your own faction trait” selections much in the style of the Space Marine ones- in essence, you can pick any two traits off a list and use them to represent whatever craftworld/kabal/cult/coven you are playing as, so long as you aren’t using one of the ones printed in the original codex. Another large block of the book is dedicated to Aspect Warriors- and specifically to a new set of exarch (i.e. sergeant) abilities for them, which can either replace the exarch’s standard power or, for 1CP, can be taken in addition to it. Third, of course, is the Ynnari section of the book, which reprints all of the Ynnari rules, datasheets, stratagems, etc, in a non-limited format. And finally, there are the new datasheets for existing Drukhari and Craftworld units, with two apiece. Each of those other sections we’ll talk about in detail in its own review, but for now let’s focus on the craftworld traits.
So, Craftworlds get a list of twenty-one traits that they can pick from, with each custom craftworld getting to pick two of these traits to use. There is one trait that, if you take it, prevents you from picking a second one, but being that there’s only one that is not a big deal overall- that still leaves almost two hundred possible combinations to choose from, which is a lot of options. However, just the existence of options doesn’t necessarily make them good- and Craftworlds in particular rely heavily on their faction bonus (namely Alaitoc), so giving it up is a pretty significant sacrifice. So are any of these worth it, overall?
That’s actually not an easy question to answer. Now, in a complete vacuum, speaking of absolute power levels? No, probably not. -1 to hit is an amazingly powerful ability and doubly so when you can stack other penalties on top of it- which Craftworlds can do quite easily, getting up to even -3 and -4 if they want. For a trait to realistically match up to that, it would need to be on par with the new “multitraits” of the Marine codex, each of which has 3-4 different abilities. And let’s be clear here: these traits are not even close to that good.
However, armies don’t exist in a vacuum; they are played against other armies, and it by that play that we measure them. And in that sense we might just be able to give a more positive answer, because the increasing number of abilities that allow full rerolls to hit or that ignore penalties completely are rapidly lowering the value of Alaitoc, which is what makes some of these possibly worth considering. I won’t go so far as to say that they definitely are going to overtake it, but there is enough here to actually maybe make something functional, at least within certain contexts.
Of course, there is a lot of variability in how good these traits are; hence, I’ve broken them up into three broad sets to review them.
So, our first category of traits is gonna be easy- it’s the ones that are outright useful and functional and have a chance of appearing in tournament lists. These are the traits that most people will come to recognize and be at least passingly familiar with. I’ll give each one its own mini-spiel here, but we’ll talk more about them as a whole later, focusing especially on how you can combine them.
Expert Crafters: Each time you shoot or fight or overwatch you can reroll one hit roll and one wound roll.
This right here? This is money. This is the best part of the Salamanders trait and it is gold, because rerolls are always valuable- even to Craftworlds, who have lots of rerolls already. But making your units independent of Guide/Doom is a great feature to have and can potentially get you a lot of mileage when you do MSU builds. Remember, not only can Wave Serpents carry heavy weapons, but Guardians can, too, and Support Platforms split up into separate units after the game starts.
Hail of Doom: When attacking a target within 12″, your shuriken weapons have AP-1.
Another big shot right here, because not only are shuriken weapons some of the better (and cheaper) options you can get but it also syncs well with the target profile you want to be shooting them at- the Doom/Jinx setup for a big blob of Guardians or jetbikes just got even deadlier. This also has good synergy with some of the other abilities available elsewhere in the book and Guardians are already a good unit, so expect to see this one pop up pretty often.
Headstrong: Add +1 to charge rolls.
While this doesn’t look terribly exciting, the ability to stack this with other bonuses means that you can actually get a lot of work done with assaults, especially from deep strike. Combined with a psychic power for +2 and/or an aspect ability for +1, you are looking at some pretty reliable assaults from out of reserve or from long distances. This won’t be the most common pick, I don’t think, but it is very powerful within its niche so be aware that it’s available.
Children of Prophecy: When you make a psychic test, treat all 1s on the dice as 2s.
Okay, this here? This is actually good. Craftworlds tend to rely heavily on psychic powers in many iterations of their armies, and making those psychic powers more reliable is quite good, especially given the high casting values of many of their powers. And yes, it does also prevent you from suffering Perils on snake eyes, although that’s a pretty small consolation since you’ll still almost always fail the power at that point. However, it’s a very unique and interesting ability and it may well be worth taking if you don’t have something else your army needs more- or if you’re building an army that relies heavily on its psychic phase (e.g. a deathstar.) Be aware, though, that Eldrad with Seer Council up is actually still better, though.
Webway Warriors: You can use Webway Portal one extra time per detachment with this attribute, but it has to be used on them.
Actually quite nice. Webway Portal is a very strong stratagem and enables a lot of cool stuff, but being limited to only affecting two units from your army is a big problem sometimes. With this attribute, you can bypass that, potentially bringing up to six units (at a mighty 9CP cost, mind you) out from reserve. Pairs very well with Headstrong to have large numbers of units charging from reserve to cause problems.
The (Not Actually That) Bad
Despite the name of the heading, these traits are not quite bad per se, just underwhelming. These are traits you can take in a narrative army or casual game and feel fine about, but probably won’t make it into most competitive armies- although there is always the chance for some kind of breakout list.
Wrath of the Dead: Reroll 1s to wound with Wraith Construct models.
A neat trick. Note that it applies to both shooting and melee- great for those Wraithlords, Wraithguard, and even Hemlock Wraithfighters. It’ll be superseded by Doom in some cases, but freeing your Doom to go elsewhere is always helpful. However, Wraith units as a whole tend to be on the weaker side of the codex, and this isn’t enough of a bonus to really push them above par. It also doesn’t have any exceptional synergies with anything, which keeps it from making it into the Good section.
Hunters of Ancient Relics: While within 3″ of an objective, add +1 attack.
Now, this isn’t super-amazing or anything, but especially in ITC and Maelstrom formats (which tend to feature lots of objectives and units standing on them due to progressive scoring) it’s actually not far off just a straight +1 attack for everyone. Even that wouldn’t be mindbreaking, but it can get some work done and especially if you’re working on some sort of gimmick melee plan it can be interesting.
Children of Morai-Heg: while a unit is reduced below half its starting models, it gets +1 to hit.
Another fairly “meh” ability. Now, don’t get me wrong, +1 to hit is a really powerful bonus- however, you have zero control over when it triggers, and it suffers heavily because it does absolutely nothing for a unit that is in its starting condition, which is to say, in the early turns of the game when it is most important to leverage your abilities. If your opponent just finishes off all the units rather than leaving them weakened, this does nothing- likewise, it does nothing for any unit that consists of only a single model. Also, a lot of people are getting rock hard about the fact that if you get to count below half even if you restore models to the unit, but guess what- Craftworlds don’t really have any ways to restore models to a squad, so it’s a complete non-issue.
Children of Khaine: When an Aspect Warrior rolls an unmodified 6 to wound in close combat, that attack has +1dmg
Extremely unimpressive. Not only does it only apply to a small subset of your army, it only applies to a small subset of the attacks made by that small subset of your army. This certainly isn’t the worst trait option on this list, since you can build around it by taking the various melee aspects (Banshees, Spears, etc) which are not awful units and there are many synergetic warlord traits, psychic powers, etc, that you can pair it up with. However, its limited applications and random nature work heavily against it. If this was all attacks (both shooting and ranged) it probably would be a top-tier choice.
Martial Citizens: Your Guardian units can reroll 1s to hit.
Again, not a blowout but better than you might expect; Guardian Defenders are no joke and can lay down some serious firepower, and this lets you conserve those precious buffs and auras for other units. Also, it does apply to Support Platforms, which makes them a lot more reliable. Giving static, reliable buffs to units is a pretty decent place to be, even if the buff itself is nothing to make particular note of.
Masterful Shots: Your attacks ignore cover.
Not bad. Cover is actually a pretty significant shift in the math of a lot of attacks, and while it’s not great by itself in combination with other stuff (e.g. Hail of Doom) it can make your attacks very deadly. Of course, Craftworlds do have access to this ability already in limited quantities, and unless you’re on a cityfight board you probably don’t need that many cover-ignoring attacks, but still- it’s not terrible.
Masters of Concealment: When attacked outside of 12″, you have cover.
Obviously far less good than Alaitoc or even Raven Guard, but not worthless. This can be another decent “not sure what to pick so I’ll grab something generically good” choice for an army, although if we’re being entirely frank if you find yourself doing that you’re probably not optimizing your army correctly. But it’s perfectly functional and it’s not something you should necessarily feel bad about using.
Mobile Fighters: You can reroll 1s to hit the turn you disembark.
Not bad. It unfortunately is only going to have limited application during a game (you can’t disembark more than half the turns even in a best-case scenario) and honestly since the units disembarking from a transport are usually gonna be Guardians anyways so you might as well take Martial Citizens instead, but it can potentially apply to Aspect Warriors or Wraithguys, so there’s some usefulness to be had here. Probably too niche, but not outright bad simply because it is a useful bonus that is easy to trigger.
Strike and Fade: Your units can still charge even if they fell back. Counts as two trait choices.
Now, this is a pretty strong ability to have, as both White Scars and Hive Fleet Kraken can attest, but let’s point out that both of those armies also come with another bonus as well- and this does not, in fact specifically locking you out of getting anything else. Considering that Craftworlds already have a stratagem that lets you do this (as well as a warlord trait that gives you a somewhat limited version of it), it loses a lot of points. And yes, it is “free” and army-wide, but you’re still paying a significant opportunity cost here, and one that is simply too high in the end I feel.
Students of Vaul: At the start of your turn, each of your vehicles heal one wound.
This is actually very good- Craftworld vehicles already have a reputation for being tough to get rid of, and with several other ways to heal things (Tears of Isha, Bonesinger) this could actually result in some interesting shenanigans. Unfortunately, stacking -1 penalties is probably stronger as a defensive option still, which pushes it down in the rankings a lot. There are niche applications where you might want it, but it’s competing with other traits that do its job better in most cases.
Superior Shuriken: Add 4″ to the range of shuriken weapons.
Cute. 4″ doesn’t seem like a lot, but shuriken weapons tend to be very short-ranged already (with most being 12″, 18″, or 24″) and so this makes a big difference. Maybe combine it with Hail of Doom? I don’t think it’s good enough to build around, but it is amusing to turn your Guardians into faux-Avengers.
These are the traits that are outright bad. You shouldn’t take them except when you are willing to outright throw one of your traits away, or when you’re in extremely specific circumstances and know that you need something incredibly particular to do a job- and even then, other traits will usually serve you better.
Savage Blades: Reroll 1s to hit in melee on a turn in which you charged/were charged/heroically intervened.
Yet another version of this thing, but now focused on melee combat. This does give you rerolls in melee, which are slightly harder to get than at range with Craftworlds, so it could be useful in combination with one of the other melee-focused attributes, but I don’t think it’s gonna be a big deal. Autarchs still exist and are good. It arguably could be at the very bottom of the previous category, but such is the nature of arbitrary divisions and organizations.
Warding Runes: When you take a mortal wound, on a 5+ it’s ignored.
Note that this only applies against mortal wounds, not regular ones; it’s an interesting gimmick and if you’re seeing a ton of psyker spam it’s maybe something to look at, but honestly is a bit too niche overall. Eldar don’t really struggle with psychic armies as a whole and the biggest danger in those cases is generally that they will target your characters- but Farseers already have the 5+ FNP save against it so this is oddly redundant. Mortal wounds just aren’t a big enough part of the game for this to be in consideration.
Diviners of Fate: Your units have a 6++ save.
Ehhhhhhhhhhhhh. Okay, this is… something, I guess. Means your Guardians will get to roll dice before they die, and your vehicles will get a slim chance of surviving the hit from that Meltagun or whatever, but honestly it just won’t come up that often since a lot of Eldar have invulnerable saves already. Now, if this was a +1 to invulns (presumably to a maximum of 3++), we would be having a very different conversation, but as is this is just too lackluster even for a defensive-minded army list.
Vengeful Blades: When you make a melee attack against a Chaos model on the turn you charged/were charged/heroically intervened, you can reroll hits.
Wow, uh, I guess they had to just keep lathering on the restrictions there, huh? Not even close to worth it, other than thematic reasons.
Children of the Open Skies: When a unit with Fly advances, add an extra 2″ to its movement.
Just… awful. Units with Fly are almost always extremely fast already (12″ to 60″ in the Craftworlds book, depending) and the majority of them are vehicles and thus don’t have Battle Focus to allow them to shoot normally, so you don’t actually tend to advance all that often. This does help out your Swooping Hawks and Shadow Spectres I suppose, or if you really want your Wave Serpents to be faster (and Star Engines aren’t enough.) This is pretty garbage-tier.
Grim: You can reroll morale tests.
This is… just the worst. It was terrible when Word Bearers got it at the start of the edition and it’s even more terrible now that we’ve seen traits expanded and improved. Don’t take this unless you’re actively looking to handicap yourself or you have some weird sort of morale phase fetish.
What’s About It?
So, what can we make from these? How much do they actually help current Craftworlds lists, and how much do they enable new ones? In terms of helping the extant lists- I don’t think they do. While there’s some useful stuff in here, I don’t think a lot of it is easily splashable into the current Air Force lists, and certainly none of these are worth losing the Alaitoc bonus for.
On the other hand, there is at least a passing potential for opening up some wholly different types of armies. Sean Nayden, among other people, has long been toying with various sorts of foot horde armies, and I think there definitely is some possibility of opening up a build there. Now, to be clear, I don’t think that build is as good as the Air Force, but it does avoid some of the vulnerabilities of that army and especially in regards to a meta that is shifting towards more tanks (and hence more anti-tank) as well as ways to bypass hit penalties, it may end up being superior overall.
Expert Crafters and Hail of Doom stand out to me as the two best picks off the trait list, with Headstrong potentially coming in third due to synergy bonuses and Webway Warriors getting a nomination for similar reasons. Picking any of these means you lose out defensively, of course, but there’s still stratagems and psychic powers to help cover that front (Guardians with a 3++ are hard to shift) and Eldar often do better playing as a glass cannon, anyways. With Drukhari not taking as hard of a hit from the meta changes, it’s also very possible that we’ll see a shift towards Craftworlds supporting them as allies- and in that respect, being able to bring in some heavy weapons or reserve shenanigans is not at all a bad place to be, nor is adding snipers.
I think that any armies looking to take advantage of these traits are going to be much more infantry-focused that the current Craftworlds lists, which are heavily mechanized. Shurikens and heavy weapons are available in largest numbers on infantry (e.g. Guardians) and other “light” units such as Support Weapons and MSU squads of certain aspects. Similarly, any lists looking to use reserves or melee will rely almost exclusively on infantry and jetbikes, which will further push away from vehicle-based lists. Of course, the Crimson Hunter, Wave Serpent, and other stars are still very good units and I don’t think they’ll disappear entirely, but I do think they’ll stop being the only kinds of Craftworld units you see.
Of course, we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg here so far- we haven’t even covered all the new stuff that Craftworlds get, to say nothing of the other factions. However, there’s far too much to try and cram into a single article, so we’ll be picking this up again next time when we talk about the new Aspect Warrior bonuses and psychic powers for the Craftworlds.
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 expand an existing army or start a new one.