Howling Banshees- the worst kind of Aspect Warrior squad, or the best Space Marine chapter? You decide, on this very special installment of Tactics Corner! (Click to read on, or check out the other articles for more reviews and strategies.)
So, in the previous edition of this miniseries we talked about the new craftworld traits; this time around, we’ll be talking about something that is arguably a lot more important, namely the new Aspect Warrior abilities and psychic powers. The reason I think these are more applicable in general is simple- they are, in most cases, replacing things that Craftworlds armies used but didn’t rely on the way they lean heavily on they do the Alaitoc bonus. Of course, chances are good that Eldar players will look to try and take advantage of as many facets of this release as possible, but some are obviously going to be easier than others.
So, let’s tackle the new psychic power table first. The Runes of Fortune are a list of six psychic powers that any Craftworlds psyker has access to- however, unlike the normal powers they select, the Runes of Fortune are accessed in a slightly different way. Rather than selecting them for one of their known powers (by replacing a Runes of Battle power, for example), a model can know one and only one power from the Runes of Fortune table by replacing the Smite psychic power, which sets up a very different sort of choice dynamic. Note that models who don’t know the Smite power- such as Wraithseers- thus cannot access this table, although interestingly this actually works out quite well for the Bonesinger, who otherwise can’t select any psychic powers.
Fateful Divergence is the first power on the table, and arguably one of the most useful ones as well. At warp charge 4 it is ridiculously easy to cast (especially compared to the normal Craftworlds powers) and it targets a single unit; until your next psychic phase you can reroll a single hit, wound, or save roll for that unit, in effect giving you a temporary command point. This might not seem hugely powerful, but rerolls are the bread and butter of Craftworlds armies and it is a very powerful mechanic- especially considering it can be stacked with other abilities to get rerolls (such as Doom, Command Reroll, or the Master Crafters trait) in order to give a unit an absurd number of retries. This is especially relevant when we are talking about a single model that really needs to pass some critical rolls- for example, a Shining Spear Exarch that is trying to pass some saves, or a character who is charging into a target and wants to make sure they kill it.
Witch Strike is next up on the list, and is also warp charge 4. It targets the casting model and adds +2 to the damage of all their melee weapons until your next psychic phase. Some people have gotten really excited by the possibility of using this with a Warlock Conclave to have 20ish swings for d3+2 damage each, but given the wording on their ability to cast psychic powers I think it’s safe to say this will be FAQed (or ruled at tournaments) to only work on the single model from the squad that is “actually” casting the spell, not the whole unit. (If not, however, it obviously becomes a lot more powerful.) The only unit that really takes exceptional advantage of this is Eldrad, who carries a sword with actual AP on it and thus is a lot more likely to push those high-damage hits through. Still, it’s not the worst thing in the world to have access to.
Ghostwalk is the other big candidate for a general-use power, and it’s easy to see why. At warp charge 6 it’s a lot higher than the others on the list and it targets a single unit within 6″, giving them +2 to all charge rolls. Combined with the Headstrong trait (and/or Exarch power from below) you can get a +3 or even +4 to charge rolls, which all but guarantees getting in when you arrive from reserves and is even useful on subsequent turns as well. Giving units like Spears, Wraithblades, and other heavy melee units a way to help their odds of getting off charges is a big deal, and I think you’ll see a lot of players looking to take advantage of this- although the extremely short range means you do need to be careful about using it.
Crushing Orb is a fairly weird power, although not a wholly unfamiliar one. It’s another warp charge 6 power and targets an enemy character that is within 18″ and is visible- note that this is different from many of the other Craftworlds powers (even ones that cause mortal wounds) as it requires LoS. You roll three dice, with each 5+ causing a mortal wound; it’s pretty much strictly inferior to Gaze of Chaos in almost every way, but considering you get it in place of Smite and the ability to target characters is fairly handy, I would call it acceptable overall. I don’t think you’ll ever pump the fist for this power, but combined with Mind War it could get some decent (if unreliable) assassination work done.
Focus Will is currently the worst psychic power in the game due to a major wording error, but stands to actually be extremely good if this is corrected. At warp charge 6 it’s reasonably difficult to cast and targets a psyker within 6″, adding +2 to Deny rolls for them. Here’s the problem, though: RAW it only works until the end of the phase, which is utterly useless as you never make denial rolls in your own psychic phase. Presumably this is a misprint and it is meant to last until the beginning of your next psychic phase, which would make it pretty formidable- a Farseer getting two Denies with a +2 and getting to reroll either or both dice on one of them will strongly control the enemy psychic phase, so hopefully this gets fixed soon.
Impair Senses is a very odd power, but potentially a strong one. It is warp charge 6 like many of the others and targets an enemy unit within 18″. When the chosen unit shoots, it can only target either units that are A, within 18″ or B, the closest target. It took me a little bit to parse out what all that would mean, but essentially it means that the unit can only shoot targets that are within 18″ (as the psyker, if nothing else, will have to be within that range, unless they move away from it.) This is actually very powerful because it can control your opponent’s shooting phase, dictating what they can and cannot shoot. If you have several strong backfield units that are hammering away, getting a unit in close and either hiding behind terrain or wrapping something in combat can basically shut down that unit’s entire ability to shoot, and it works on anything- Knights, Repulsors, Dreadnoughts, whatever. Expect to see the cleverest of Eldar players taking good advantage of this spell, especially guys like Sean Nayden who are already known for such shenanigans.
So, we have an entire new psychic discipline with some very useful spells on it to choose from, and obviously that’s a great addition to the army. However, do keep in mind that these spells are not without cost- namely, opportunity cost. First off, you’re giving up Smite to get them; Smite is generally the “got no other options” spell and it’s something that anyone with a psyker knows they have as a fallback. Losing that is not a completely trivial matter, although since Craftworlds in general aren’t particularly reliant on Smite it’s not an insurmountable problem, either. However, think very carefully about the matchup and what you’re likely to need before replacing Smite for any of these powers, because there are times when you really want to be able to deal those mortal wounds. Of course, some models are happier than others to give them up- a Warlock, for example, already has a big nerf to their Smite, so losing a spell that barely does anything anyways is probably fine. On the other hand, a Hemlock really likes having access to that damage boost, and so probably won’t want to give it up.
Secondly, remember that you have a limited number of casts to use these spells with. Craftworlds psykers typically know as many spells as they have casts each turn, and can thus use all of their spells (bar Smite) every turn- however, taking the Runes of Fortune powers will throw this math off, because it means there is always going to be one power you’re not using. A Farseer can sneak past this for 1CP, since they have a stratagem to cast an extra power, but that expense can add up quick and there are lots of other powerful strats in the faction you’ll want to be using, so it generally isn’t safe to assume it every turn. Think about the powers you want to be casting every turn and who is going to be using them when you choose your Runes of Fortune- do you need Jinx all the time, or just one or two critical turns? Is losing Doom or Guide going to be better? If you’re relying heavily on these abilities, you may need to plan to include extra psykers in your army- fortunately, however, Craftworld psykers are pretty cheap, so this is an entirely plausible strategy.
Facets and Aspects
I’ve touched already on the Aspect traits, but before we start talking about them in detail let’s go over the basics. All exarchs (i.e. sergeants) in Aspect Warrior squads come with an ability, which may or may not be particularly useful; Blood of the Phoenix introduces the option to swap out this “basic” power for one of up to six additional options. Additionally, each Aspect Shrine has a stratagem that allows you to spend 1CP to keep the basic power in addition to one of the extra powers- but each of these stratagems can only be used once per battle, so only one of each squad can double up on powers. So, let’s take a look at what they get. (I have included the basic power listed first for each squad, to help with the comparisons.)
Fire Dragons (reroll 1s to hit for the exarch)
Your Fusion Guns can be Pistol 1
You can reroll damage rolls for the exarch
The exarch can reroll failed wound rolls in melee, and their attacks are AP-2 Dmg2
When the unit advances, roll three dice and pick one
When you make an overwatch attack with the exarch’s flamer, it instead hits on a 2+ and does d3 mortal wounds
When the enemy attacks you in melee, they have -1 to hit
So, sadly Fire Dragons don’t actually get anything particularly exceptional here- and since they were bad to start with, that hurts a lot. The ability they trade out is extremely lackluster (as rerolls are easy to get in a Craftworlds army), but none of the new abilities are going to grab your attention, either. making your Melta into pistols sounds good until you realize you would have to spend a turn in combat for that to work out- and that’s probably not going to happen. Rolling three dice for advancing is actually fairly decent, as it allows you to more reliably move that 12″-13″ on the one turn you’re disembarked and ready to shoot, and that probably is the one you’ll see if anyone bothers to use these. (Don’t take any of the melee stuff, please.)
Dire Avengers (the exarch has a 4++ save)
When you roll an unmodified 6 to hit, score one additional hit
When the enemy attacks you in melee, they have -1 to wound
Automatically pass morale checks
The exarch is WS2+ and BS2+
The exarch’s guns are AP-3
If the squad has lost any models, it gets +1 to hit and +1 to wound
So, Avengers got a double boon here. The standard exarch power is completely worthless and losing it means nothing, but on top of that several of these powers are quite strong and arguably even make Dire Avengers worth using in competitive lists, especially since they can also get bonuses from some of the new craftworld traits. Exploding 6s on attack rolls is of course great, and AP-3 all the time on the exarch is excellent as well- especially since you can kit him with two guns for double the effect. Either of those are easy picks that add a lot of value, although which you want will depend a bit on what you’re expecting to face- though I think exploding 6s has slightly more value overall. However, there is one other option that may outweigh them, and that is the +1 hit/wound once you’ve lost a model; although it is a bit tricky to set up, once it “activates” the squad becomes extremely powerful, because it means you are getting twice as many AP-3 wounds as normal (since 5s become 6s), to say nothing of the raw boost to numbers of hits and wounds. One of the more effective ways to work this may be through using Wave Serpents- you typically don’t want to disembark until the Serpent is dead anyways, and should one of your models die in the explosion… well, suddenly your little elfs have become killing machines.
Dark Reapers (reroll 1s to hit with the exarch)
When the exarch attacks with a ranged weapon, make one extra shot
When firing a Tempest Launcher, you can reroll one of the dice to determine the number of shots
Enemy units within 6″ have -1 Leadership
Add 6″ to the range of the squad’s weapons
When the exarch attacks in melee, an unmodified 6 to wound causes two mortal wounds
The exarch can target characters even if they aren’t the closest model
So, unlike the previous two entries, giving up the Dark Reaper ability is not completely trivial; however, given the choices here (and the aforementioned ease of access to rerolls) I think that it’s still well worth it- however, you may actually find yourself wanting to spend that 1CP to keep both. The extra shot with your guns seems on the weak side, but note that it works even when firing their “krak” missiles- so a minimum squad puts out four shots instead of three, a one-third increase in firepower. Rerolling the dice on your Tempest Launcher is also a fairly nice little boost, helping to smooth out the curve on that 2d6 a bit. The real money here, though, is the ability to target characters; Eldar already have some excellent anti-character tech in several different ways, but adding another is absolutely golden- and note that in combination with the Tempest Launcher it allows them to target any character within 36″, regardless of line of sight. S4 AP-2 will usually put some hurt on most characters, especially T3 ones, so we may see Reapers make a small comeback in popularity.
Howling Banshees (When attacked in melee, the enemy has -1 to hit)
When you lose a wound in the fight phase, roll a d6; on a 5+, it is ignored
If the exarch has an Executioner, you can make them -1A but +3Str and Dmg3
Choose one enemy model in combat with the exarch, they have -2A
Exarch gets +1A, +2A if they have Mirrorswords
Exarch’s attacks cause a mortal wound on unmodified 6s to wound
After finishing a charge, do d3 mortal wounds on a 4+ to one unit
Banshees are another unit where giving up the exarch power is actually a legit loss, rather than an ignoreable nothing; in fact, they might be the only aspect that I would be tempted to keep the basic power rather than trading out for one of the new ones. That’s not to say there isn’t anything useful here, though; 5+ ability to ignore wounds in combat isn’t a terrible thing to have and will sometimes work out better than the -1 to hit (though of course doubling up is even better.) Giving an enemy model -2A is also potentially very useful and helps with their core strength, though in general it won’t be as good as the -1 to hit; however, it’s absolutely hilarious against Imperial Knights or anything that has a “trade some big hits for lots of smaller hits” ability, since it is extra-effective on those models. Doing d3 mortal wounds on the charge is an interesting offensive option if you would rather add a little punch to the squad; I would prefer it to the other offensive options on the list, as they are all quite lackluster.
Swooping Hawks (Units within 6″ of the exarch have +1 leadership)
You can reroll failed hit rolls against units with Fly
If this unit fires overwatch against an enemy, that enemy has -2 to its charge roll
All models in the unit have a 5++ save
The exarch gets +2A on the turn they charge or are charged
The exarch’s gun is Assault 6
Add +1 to rolls for the grenade pack
So, Swooping Hawks were already arguably the best aspect in the codex due to their cheapness, flexibility, and utility; however, the exarch’s ability was basically a complete zero, so gaining the ability to trade it out for something else is great and the fact that many of these abilities are very good is even better. Rerolling all hit rolls against targets with Fly (not just flyers) is very powerful, because Fly is everywhere in the game- it helps, for example, to clear squads of Drones or get rid of a pesky Smash Captain or any number of other things. The only real limiter there ithe S3 on their guns making them largely useless against flying vehicles, but there are still other targets. Giving the enemy -2 to charge is also extremely good, as Hawks are often used as a screening force for the rest of the army; forcing enemies to need 11″ charges out of reserves makes things completely untenable, and even for those that can get closer (like GSC) it still becomes a very rough time. A 5++ save is, surprisingly, not all that bad; there’s a lot of high-AP firepower going around these days, especially out of Space Marines, so getting something to mitigate that is definitely not bad. And the bonus with grenade packs is also great; you would be surprised at how often even a minimum squad of five Hawks can come in and completely wipe an enemy unit out with a combination of grenades and shooting. As we see more and more tough targets with 3+ or 2+ save, the grenades become even more useful, and they can even occasionally plink a wound off of a big target like a Knight.
Striking Scorpions (exarch has exploding 6s in melee)
If the unit is wholly on a piece of terrain, enemies have -1 to hit with ranged weapons
+2Str for the exarch
When attacking with the Scorpion’s Claw, unmodified 6s to wound also cause one mortal
If the unit is wholly on a piece of terrain, they always fight first
At the end of the enemy fight phase, if you’re within 1″ of an enemy unit you can make a Fall Back move of 6″
Add +1 to rolls with Mandiblasters
So, the exarch’s exploding sixes on attacks are obviously a very nice thing and losing them is unfortunate, but there are some really good options here so I think it’s usually worth giving it up. If you want sheer offensive prowess, the +2 strength is amazing- remember, a model’s strength is calculated before the weapon’s strength is, so what you have is a S5 exarch using a weapon with Str x2- or in other words, your exarch is carrying a S10 power fist with no hit penalty. That’s pretty good. Being able to retreat 6″ in the enemy’s turn is a very sneaky trick and though I’m not entirely sure what sort of shenanigans might be best to use it, there are tons of possibilities- getting onto objectives, charging into other units, etc, etc. And, of course, a flat -1 to hit for being in cover is amazing and stacks with the Alaitoc bonus very well; very few enemies want to deal with a unit that is -2 to be shot and has a 2+ armor save. Especially considering the price break they got as of the last Chapter Approved, Scorpions are looking to be in a good place.
Shining Spears (you can reroll failed wound rolls against Monsters and Vehicles)
At the end of the enemy fight phase, if you’re within 1″ of an enemy unit you can make a Fall Back move of 6″
Add +1 to charge rolls
Your Paragon Sword is Dmg3
When the exarch attacks with their Spear, unmodified 6s cause two hits
The exarch has a 3++ against ranged weapons
Unmodified 6s to wound in melee by the exarch also cause a mortal wound
There are some very interesting possibilities here for Shining Spears, and I think the key to using them is going to be maximizing your synergies rather than simply selecting the “best” one. Spears have always had a problem keeping alive, but several of these abilities can help with that; the 3++ on the exarch is a nice little bump over the 4++ by the rest of the squad, but the real kicker here is that if you Protect the unit then you are looking at a 2++ against ranged weapons (which you can reroll with CP or with a psychic power), making the exarch an incredibly tough customer. That’s ideal if you’re facing heavy shooting or want to move across the table, but on the other hand you could take the +1 charge, stack it with a trait and a psychic power and then simply come down by Webway Portal and need only a 5+ on the dice in order to get into combat, which is a pretty handy trick of its own. if you’re worried about being locked in combat- something Shining Spears hate- you even have an ability to avoid that, as a 6″ fallback move with the Fly keyword should pretty much always get you out of trouble (and ready to shoot, then charge whatever is needed.) Although they may not benefit from Ynnari the way they once did, Spears have gotten some very powerful options again and may actually see some play on the table.
Crimson Hunters (reroll 1s to hit)
+1dmg against targets with the Fly keyword
Ignore the penalty for moving with a Heavy weapon
Reroll wound rolls of 1 against non-Fly targets
Ignore cover bonus to saves
Can pivot up to 180 before moving in a straight line
What, didn’t you realize that Crimson Hunter Exarchs were exarchs, too? Well they are, my friend, and they have some great choices. By far my favorite is ignoring the Heavy penalty- this takes the unit from hitting on a 3+ rerolling 1s to hitting on a 2+ with no reroll, which is a significant upgrade, but you can then get the reroll anyways by virtue of an Autarch, Guide, or even just paying the 1CP to get both traits. +1 damage against other flying targets is also very big, although the math of which is better will depend on what you’re shooting at; however, generally speaking it’s better than reroll 1s against most multiwound targets. The 5++ is decent if you’re expecting some really tough shooting from the enemy and want to maximize your chances of staying alive, but offense is generally better than defense so I wouldn’t usually call it a first pick. Lastly, the 180-spin is hilarious but not actually all that great, given you’ll get another 90 at the end of your movement anyways- however, if you wanna drive your opponents nuts, it can be very amusing.
Warp Spiders (reroll failed morale checks)
Reroll failed hits for the squad the turn they arrive from reserves
At the end of the enemy fight phase, if you’re within 1″ of an enemy unit you can make a Fall Back move of 6″
Once per game, if you aren’t within 1″ of an enemy you can remove yourself from the table and deep strike anywhere more than 9″ away
If the unit is wholly on a terrain feature, when charged roll a die, on a 4+ it causes d3 mortal wounds
When you pile in, move 6″ instead of 3″
The exarch’s Power Blades are Str+1 and Dmg2
Our final member of the cast, Warp Spiders have a pretty abysmal basic exarch power- however, this means that the opportunity cost here is going to be pretty low, so maybe we’ll take that as a plus? There are a couple of nice abilities in here, most all of them movement-focused- which is great in some ways, because Warp Spiders already excel in that arena, but it might’ve been nice to get something to up their firepower a bit and shore up a weakness. Still- being able to fall back in the enemy turn is a handy trick, just as it is with other Aspects that have the ability- though Spiders lack Fly outside of their own movement phase and thus will struggle with using it a little bit. The once per game redeploy is quite handy, allowing you to plop them down anywhere you want on the table and will likely to a prime choice for a lot of players. The only other one that might compete with it is getting to reroll all misses when coming out of reserves, which guarantees them at least one good turn of shooting- however, I’m not sure it’s valuable enough overall, given that it only works a single time per game (and they are already innately fairly accurate.) Overall I don’t think Spiders gain immensely from the new powers and they probably won’t be making many appearances post-Psychic Awakening.
Things You Can Do
So, what does all of this mean for Craftworlds armies? Unlike the previous entry on new traits, both the psychic powers and Aspect abilities can mesh nicely into existing Eldar forces- it’s simply a matter of taking some slightly different choices. The Runes of Fortune powers especially can be changed from game to game, giving the Craftworlds psykers an even larger toolbox of options to choose from as needed; functionally, this gives them a total of nineteen different powers to pick from across their psychic disciplines, a huge array that rivals even Thousand Sons. Getting access to a powerful debuff spell (Impair Senses) will be big for a lot of shooting armies, as it can help control the enemy’s firepower very effectively; Ghostwalk will also open up some build options, and once Focus Will is fixed it will be an extremely effective anti-psychic tool. I think only Ghostwalk will be a “game-changer” in the sense that it will alter the way armies are built for Eldar, but the others will all add to their power level as they give more options for ways to deal with enemy lists or more ways to enhance the strengths of their own list.
The Aspect powers also have the potential to add a lot, but they do come with a few caveats. Firstly, when are they actually chosen? Games Workshop’s ambiguous wording on such matters means it will be left to the decision of TOs, but the difference between being chosen at the list-building step (that is, locked in between games) and at the pre-battle step (that is, changeable) is a rather important one to tournament players. If I were to hazard a guess I would say that they will likely be changeable, since there are optional stratagems that affect their use- however, it’s certainly not a guarantee and we’ve seen some significant differences in opinion between various tournaments on similar matters (e.g. warlord traits), so I don’t think it’s a settled matter at all. Being able to switch abilities between games would be extremely useful and up the value of some of the aspects quite a bit- for example, Dark Reapers could take the sniping trait against a character-heavy army and the more consistent number of shots against one that relied more on number of bodies; as always, options are powerful. However, even in the absence of that choice to switch, you’re still going to see an uptick in several of the aspects (most notably Hunters, Hawks, Reapers, and Spears) as people take advantage of their new powers.
Now, with all of that said, is this going to spell a new era of dominance for Craftworlds lists? Absolutely not. There are definitely good tools in here, and ones that can up the value of certain already-popular units (like the Crimson Hunter), but they are by no means game-breaking tools, nor do they hold a candle to the abilities present in the Space Marine supplements. Many of the Aspect Warrior units were all but worthless before, and many others were lackluster for the most part, and even the “good” ones were still generally not top-tier; these improvements help them, but certainly won’t make them unstoppable. More broadly speaking, I think that some of the other Aeldari subfactions may gain in popularity somewhat, as both Ynnari and Drukhari had some huge benefits come up for them and as a result may spike a bit in use. We’ll touch on that some more next week, when we go over the new Drukhari faction traits in detail in the next part of our review.
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.