Crafting for the Future – Psychic Awakening: Phoenix Rising Review Part 4 – Asuryani

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By this point in the week it hopefully hasn’t escaped your notice that three of the Aeldari factions (sorry Harlequins) have received shiny new rules from the first book in the Psychic Awakening series, Phoenix Rising (which is in-stores today). Earlier in the week we covered Ynnari and Drukhari and last (but definitely not least) we have the Asuryani (or Craftworld Eldar), who get the most new stuff. Regular readers will know that I’m a huge Craftworlds fan, and while (being honest) I probably hoped for more from this, there’s still plenty to discuss.

In this review we’ll tour through the following updates to the Asuryani arsenal:

  • Updated Datasheets
  • Aspect Powers
  • The new Runes of Fortune Discipline
  • New Craftworld Attributes

After that, I’ll throw out an army list option that tries out some of the new traits, and hopefully gets you thinking about what you could do with the tools in this book!

Datasheets

Two units in the Craftworlds range get updated datasheets in this release, perhaps unsurprisingly the two that have new models in the Blood of the Phoenix box – Howling Banshees and their Phoenix Lord Jain Zar. I like both these units a lot (I got into Eldar a loooong time ago and have owned models for them since second edition) and was super hyped for these changes, as Banshees are currently niche and Jain Zar sees no play. Sadly that probably doesn’t shift massively because of these changes (although Banshees get some interesting aspect power options) but there is still stuff to talk about here.

Howling Banshees

There are quite a few updates to the wording of Howling Banshee abilities to conform to the new standard wording used for various effects (something I endorse) but the only meaningful change here is that Exarchs have access to a Triskele again and it’s been buffed up and discounted from the version in the Craftworlds index, hitting at S4 and running you 6pts rather than 9.

It’s cute and I guess fine? If you’re planning to use these to bully charge something to deny shooting (which remains their only real purpose with this update) then you could argue that chucking a boomerang to pick off a few infantry on the way in is better than nothing, but I’ll probably still be picking an executioner when I do this, as d3 damage gives you the ability to actually threaten an unwary character who has strolled into their not inconsiderable charge range.

As we’ll see when we look at Aspect powers, there are a couple that improve the tarpit capabilities of banshees, which does make a single unit of them a more compelling choice if your army needs a spoiler unit to do that, but this datasheet change doesn’t really contribute. Banshees still suck at killing stuff, and desperately needed to go up to 3A base or have some way of hitting S4 (perhaps on the charge) to make them worthwhile in that role.

Jain Zar

Jain Zar

Jain Zar. Source: Warhammer Community

Oof, another proper disappointment here. A lot of people have been telling me to be excited about her point cut – but she didn’t get one, she’s been 115pts since Chapter Approved and no one’s used her. Given that if anything she’s slightly worse, I can’t see this update changing that much.

Other than the same wording changes Banshees got, Jain Zar has one actual datasheet change – her Disarming Strike ability (which let her temporarily disable one weapon on an INFANTRY model on a 3+) has been replaced by The Storm of Silence, which allows her to replace her attacks characteristic with the number of enemy models within 2″ after her pile-in. This sounds incredibly metal, but isn’t that useful in practical terms – unless your opponent plays right into it without thinking, I would expect this to cap out at somewhere between 5-7 attacks at most (and the upper end of that range is probably generous). Sure that’s nice, but I don’t think it’s a great swap for the ability to occasionally completely humiliate an opponent like a Smash Captain.

This feels like a spectacular missed opportunity, as the Phoenix Lords are truly iconic and should have stats to match. If I had been updating Jain Zar’s datasheet I’d probably have done the following:

  • Give her 5A base. Come on GW. Really.
  • Keep Disarming Strike, but take away the INFANTRY restriction on it. Jain Zar should absolutely be able to go full Shadow of the Collossus on a knight and somehow disable its titanic feet.
  • Let her pick one of the new Banshee Aspect powers at the start of the game, replacing any references to a “Howling Banshee Exarch” with “Jain Zar”.

The last option would make a fantastic “general” fix to the Phoenix Lords, and I think it’s a criminal missed opportunity that there’s nothing like that here. You’d have to exclude some of them for a few Aspects, but it would add that layer of special spice that would make them worth taking – it currently still largely isn’t.

Speaking of Aspect powers…

Aspect Powers

Exarchs

Exarchs. Credit: Wings

One of the marquee sections of this book that has been heavily hyped pre-release is that each Aspect Shrine (and it has actually turned out to be all of them, which is pretty cool) gets six new choices for Exarch powers, which can replace the “default” one on the unit’s datasheet. The power of the vanilla ones is extremely variable, so having new options sounds great, and if you like the existing one you also have the option of spending 1CP on Exemplar of the <aspect> Shrine to let an Exarch take a new power as well as their default one instead (though note you can’t pick two from the new list – only add one of the new ones to the existing one).

All of this sounds pretty awesome . Are the Aspect Powers any better?

Yes – kind of. I’ll be up front that this book hasn’t lived up to my hopes for my beloved Aspect Warriors, but I think every Aspect has at least one option that makes the unit a more compelling choice. Even if that isn’t enough to take some of them off the bench, it’s nice to see an improvement, and I’ll aim to highlight the best choices for each.

I do have one major quarrel with these, which is that the pre-amble shares the new wording GW used in Codex Marines about some of these pre-game choices having to be on your roster rather than changed game to game. This works fine for Chapter Master over in marines but is a real downer here. Several of the Aspects have multiple similar abilities that are each tuned to different kinds of foes, and having to “lock in” your choices on your army list (including any you add via the stratagem) kind of defeats the point of a lot of the more niche ones, chasing you back towards those that are “generically” good. Making these more flexible might have increased the competitive impact here, and also made the “interesting” choices turn up more. I think the designers could have met us halfway here – lock in replacement choices, but allow ones added via the stratagem to flex game to game. That would mean that you ccould either take a “safe” choice for free or invest resources in more flexibility.

That’s enough complaining for now – back to the good stuff as we look at the powers themselves.

Fire Dragons

The basic Fire Dragon Exarch power is crack shot, allowing them to re-roll 1s to hit.

  • Dragons Bite: You can choose for your Fire Dragon unit’s fusion guns to become Pistol 1 at the start of the shooting phase. This is theoretically hilarious, as it allows them to unload in melee, but is such a pain to set up unless your opponent plays right into it that it isn’t super relevant. C
  • Tank Killer: An Exarch with a Firepike can re-roll one damage dice against VEHICLES. Fine, will occasionally help a lot but does require investing in a Firepike which isn’t usually super worth it, although this is an incentive. B-
  • Burning Fist: Lets you Exarch punch at AP-2 D2 with re-roll wounds in melee. You really don’t want these guys to be in melee – I guess they’re at a risk of it because they have to be so close and maybe this lets an Exarch take a marine with them before being punched to death, but I’d rather up their survivability with Burning Heat. D
  • Swiftstep: The unit rolls 3d6 and picks the highest when advancing. Honestly this may well be the best here – making these a bit faster out of a transport can only help, and it lets them get a real shuffle on when combined with Quicken. B+
  • Wall of Fire: Lets an Exarch with a Dragon’s Breath flamer do a special attack on Overwatch, inflicting d3 MWs on a 2+. I’m a low-key fan of the flamer in this unit anyway, as it makes them a bit more flexible and if you need a melta shot from the Exarch you can always get close enough for a melta bomb. I much prefer this as a contingency for them ending up in melee to Burning Fist, as once they hit melee they’re probably dead and this is much more likely to have a meaningful impact as they go out. B
  • Burning Heat: Unit is -1 to hit in melee. Has the problem that they’re probably still dead at the point that this happens, but I guess gives them more chance to pull through. However, it probably doesn’t get them over a threshold against any “real” melee threat where enough will survive to make it worth spending 2CP to fall back and shoot, which is likely their only route back into the game. B-

OK I lied – we’ll get to the good stuff soon, as Fire Dragons probably get the weakest set of these, and they don’t fix their fundamental problem of being designed for early 8th, prior to 5+ invulnerable saves being the norm. Swiftstep is the biggest winner to my mind as it helps them get about (and probably is worth taking over Crack Shot as you want other re-rolls on these anyway), but I still won’t be taking these in lists.

Was writing “The Exarch’s weapons ignore invulnerable saves” really that hard?

Dire Avengers

The basic Dire Avenger Exarch power is Battle Fortune, giving them a 4++.

  • Bladestorm: Unmodified hit rolls of 6 with the unit’s non-grenade ranged weapons score an additional hit. With a two-gun Exarch in a min-size squad (the “default” loadout) that’s worth an extra two hits each time they shoot, which is a nice increase in efficiency on a unit that’s already playable. A
  • Defend: -1 to wound the unit in melee. Nice but, like Fire Dragons, you don’t want these in melee and unlike Fire Dragons this randomly spiking and making them survive isn’t even that big of a deal. C
  • Stand Firm: Unit is immune to morale. Nah – even on a 10-model squad I’d rather look elsewhere – Eldar units die easily, and what I want from these is ways to make them do more damage first. D
  • Martial Adept: The Exarch is BS/WS2+. Sounds cool, but even when you’re down to just a two-gun Exarch left Bladestorm is roughly equivalent in how much output it adds, and it’s better in every other situation, making this a trap. C
  • Shredding Fire: The Exarch’s Shuriken Weapons are flat AP-3. Another reason Martial Adept is a trap – if you want a ninja Exarch, probably take this – it adds about half an unsaved wound to the Exarch’s average output against power armour, which actually is favourably comparable to Bladestorm in that situation. What keeps it from being a competitive choice is that when dunking on a doom/jinxed Knight or Repulsor it makes no difference, as 6s to wound are already AP-3. Still, cooler than the above. B
  • Avenging Strikes: If any model in the unit has died, add +1 to the whole unit’s hit and wound rolls. Holy moly – there’s no “easy” way to set this up (I, like all Eldar players, immediately checked) but the bonus is outrageous if you manage it. The best I’ve come up with is just running a 10 model squad in a Wave Serpent and hoping one exactly one dies in the crash. This will probably turn out not to get there but the upside is so spectacular I’m unwilling to entirely rule it out, and will probably try and make it work in a tournament list at least once. B+ until it  faceplants in actual play and I downgrade it to a C.

This is more like it!. The vanilla Dire Avenger power is quietly extremely handy, but Bladestorm is a really compelling alternative, upping the output of these when you’re alpha striking with them, which given alpha striking with coordinated fire at some point is often part of the Eldar game plan is attractive. It’s also neat with some of the new Craftworld attributes. Because Bladestorm wants you to keep the Exarch alive, I’d swap it in rather than add it. All Dire Avengers are really missing is “be slightly more efficient” so given that’s what this does, it’s a big win for them.

Avenging Strikes is the other one here I want to see work. It absolutely wants you to take a 10 model unit, and in that case I probably would pay the CP to add it as an additional power, as the Exarch is a deadly killer all the way to the end once he’s powered up.

Dark Reapers

Dark Reapers

Dark Reapers. Credit: Wings

The basic Reaper power is Crack Shot, re-roll 1s to hit for the Exarch.

  • Rapid Shot: The Exarch can shoot an additional shot each time he fires. Unless you have a Tempest Launcher, you are definitely taking this. A
  • Rain of Death: You can re-roll the dice for the number of shots on a Tempest Launcher. I wish this was “either or both dice”, as is it helps protect you from down spikes but you can’t really fish for up spikes. Probably still a good pick on a Tempest Launcher. B
  • Grim Visage: Enemies within 6″ have -1LD. No. F
  • Long Ranged Fire: The unit’s weapons have +6″ range. Could be OK on a Tempest Launcher, but I’d probably pick Rain of Death over it.
  • Deadly Touch: The Exarch does 2MW on a 6+ to hit in melee. What? Why? F
  • Focused Fire: The Exarch can character snipe within 18″. This could actually be pretty funny some of the time and if Rapid Shot wasn’t so generically great on the Reaper Launcher and AML builds. B

Rapid Shot is the spectacular winner here, and by itself makes Reapers a way more attractive unit. Crack Shot is often a waste, as on large units you’re generally aiming to either Guide them or have them in an Autarch bubble. Adding an extra missile shot instead is a massive boost to their output, and also makes me want to look hard again at the option of running MSU reaper squads, as four big missiles for the price of three looks like a bargain (although only being able to Fire and Fade one squad hurts that). There are also some options for the Tempest Launcher, but don’t do nearly as much to pull up the playability.

I am already trying to bring Reapers back, and this is only going to help. If they get a point cut in CA (which they probably should since old soulburst is gone), look for MSU squads to have a decent resurgence too (and I could believe they’ll turn up already with some of the new Craftworld Traits).

Howling Banshees

Howling Banshees

Howling Banshees. Credit: Wings

The basic Banshee Exarch power is War Shout, -1 to hit the squad in melee while the Exarch is alive.

  • Graceful Avoidance: The squad has a 5+ FNP in melee while the Exarch is alive. Improves their ability to tarpit chaff substantially, and could just about make a full squad aiming to use their terrifying mobility for wrap and traps interesting. If you’re taking this you’re almost definitely taking it as well as the regular one rather than instead of it, as they complement each other to make the squad very tough to shift in the fight phase. A-
  • Piercing Strike: An Exarch with an executioner can take -1A to get +3S and D3 for a fight phase. This would be absurd if Banshees had got the +1A buff they really needed but even as is, to my surprise, it actually does perform compared to just taking +1A on the executioner against a decent proportion of targets. The difference is relatively marginal, and doesn’t really make the squad an offensive powerhouse, but if you want a killy Exarch this is basically your pick. B
  • Disarming Strike: Pick a model within 1″ of the Banshee Exarch to get -2A  (minimum 1) at the start of the fight phase. This is one of the ones that annoys me, because against some armies it’s a superior tarpit option to Graceful Avoidance (mostly where multi-damage weapons are the norm), and against others you’d rather have the flat 5+++. I think Graceful is the better “default pick” but this is cool. Also, if Jain Zar had just had Disarming Strike changed to this she’d plausibly have been a fine character hunter. Missed opportunities abound. B
  • Whirling Blades: Exarch gets +1A, or +2 if she has mirrorswords. Unfortunately, the base S3 on Banshees means that mirrorswords are the best choice in such a narrow range of matchups that this isn’t worth it. Is, ironically, probably a better choice on an executioner, but as covered above Piercing Strike does actually just get more done unless you’re against some sort of horde, and I think you’ll get more value from the strike. C+
  • Decapitating Strike: Deal a Mortal on an unmodified 6 to hit. I’d rather just have an extra executioner attack or Piercing Strike. C
  • Nerve Shredding Shriek: After charging, pick a unit within 1″ and deal d3 MW on a 4+. I was going to write this off, but then I did the maths and it actually adds more average wounds against hard targets than Piercing Strike does, so while the latter will pay off more over time, this is way better than I instinctively feel like it should be. B

Banshees are mostly currently used as distraction/disruption units, and get two new choices that can contribute towards that in Graceful Avoidance and Disarming Strike (both best added alongside War Shout, which is really good). I suspect the former is probably better most of the time, as it makes Banshees into an extremely effective harasser of basic infantry, and I could actually see trying a unit of 10 to attempt wraps with (before probably giving up on them as overcosted).

There are also a bunch of offensive options, several of which are at least fine, but it’s really a damning indictment of the killing power of this “elite melee unit” that you’re plausibly better off adding a coinflip on a smite than you are trying to buff their attacks.

Still, Banshees get better at the thing they’re best at, so yay for Banshees.

Swooping Hawks

The basic Hawk Exarch power is Herald of Victory, a 3″ +1Ld Aura

  • Intercept: The unit re-rolls wounds against targets with FLY. Cool, but doesn’t get there – there aren’t enough FLY units you want to shoot these at where you wouldn’t already be tossing in Doom to maximise your army’s output. C
  • Suppressing Fire: When the unit fires overwatch at an enemy, subtract 2″ from the charge roll. Hawks are one of those units that’s right on the edge of playability on “rate” (i.e. their baseline combination of stats and abilities being worth it), and this is such a very neat trick against some meta nasties like Genestealer Cults that I don’t think it’s impossible including a couple of squads of Hawks with this could turn out to be worth it. 10 models would cover a very wide space as a screen, and a couple of squads of these as harassers/objective grabbers is at least OK anyway if you don’t need that in the matchp. B+
  • Evade: Unit has a 5++. It’s nice, but because you control where they drop these usually go into cover anyway, and at the point where you’re opponent needs them dead enough that weapons with a better AP than 2 are coming at them they’re gonna die regardless. C+
  • Rapid Assault: The Exarch gets +2A when he charges. GW remember that the Hawk Exarch can take a power sword, but forget that S3 stuff with a power sword is utterly irrelevant in 8th. D
  • Fast Shot: The Exarch’s ranged weapons become Assault 6. I mean yeah, sure, see above re: “almost good enough on rate”, so no complains from me about adding two more shots on the best gun in the squad. B+
  • Swooping Barrage: +1 on Grenade pack rolls. Against squads where you’re rolling the full number of dice this is going to perform, and probably outdo extra gun shots in terms of wounds assigned, but has more of a positioning requirement  and falls off faster as the squad dies, so probably doesn’t get there. C

Swooping Hawks are a unit I’ve included in armies and not completely hated, and there are two good options here. The fact that they are replacing Herald of Victory, which is totally irrelevant 95% of the time, only makes this more appealing. Fast Shot makes them generically slightly better while Suppressing Fire gives them a boost to playing a screening role in some matchups. I suspect that Fast Shot isn’t quite enough to make them a properly efficient unit in their own right at current cost, which would make Suppressing Fire the best choice, but Fast Shot ones are right on the knife edge of good now and even a single PPM cut in CA would probably see a lot of them on tables.

Striking Scorpions

Striking Scorpion Exarch with Biting Blade

Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

The basic Striking Scorpion Exarch power is Sustained Assault, giving the Exarch an additional attack for each 6 to hit.

  • Stalker: Your opponent is at -1 to hit this unit with ranged weapons while they’re wholly on or within a terrain feature. I was going to completely write this off as another marginal defensive boost but on reflection I’m wrong on that – this makes an MSU of these a decent ITC Engineers choice in Alaitoc, as in terrain they’ll be -2 to hit and have a 2+ save. That makes them even tougher to shift with no-LOS firepower than Rangers, and cheaper to boot (although not filling a troop slot sucks). I’m not convinced that will ever get there (not filling a Battalion is a killer), but it is at least something they now do uniquely well, so worth considering, especially as those same characteristics make them a valid thing to drop onto an objective from Deep Strike. B-
  • Crushing Blow: The Exarch is +2S, which makes him a mighty S10 with the claw. Yeah, sure, OK – if you have a claw this is just better than Sustained Assault against anything T>3, and you can choose to have both if you’re feeling spicy! B+
  • Scorpion’s Grasp: Unmodified 6s to hit for the Exarch inflict a MW. Worse than just buffing S against the really relevant targets when using the claw, and if you’re building a murder Exarch you’ll have the claw. C
  • Ambush: The unit always fights first while wholly on or within a terrain feature. I thought GW had realised that “always fights first” sucks in this edition unless it’s army wide, but here it is with extra conditions! F
  • Withdraw: Your unit can fall back 6″ at the end of the fight phase. I’ve squinted at this long and hard and I just can’t see anything stupid and broken you can do with it, despite it feeling like there “ought” to be something busted it enables. Ready to be wrong, but a D for now.
  • Scorpion’s Sting: +1 to Mandiblaster rolls. I’m actually at least moderately interested in this – unlike the Hawk grenade pack Mandiblasters always key off the flat number of models in your unit, and Scorpions are super cheap, so a squad of 10 with this is actually pretty terrifying to infantry. They do fall down on only working against INFANTRY, which makes them weaker in quite a few matchups, but they’re also one of the few units that Eldar have who are moderately tough for their cost. There’s probably no space for this theoretical unit in most Eldar armies, but it’s another moderately interesting thought experiment at least. B.

Scorpions are another Aspect with a relatively marginal basic power that picks up some enhancements for most of the things you might want to do with them. If you want a back-line murder squad, making the Exarch S10 is great, as they’re already basically an Exarch delivery mechanism (and you should consider adding it alongside Sustained Assault as it makes him even better). If you just want objective grabbers/engineers, Stalker is real good. Finally, if some unforeseen list actually does want a 10 squad of these to tarpit in melee and mandiblaster things to death, Scorpion’s Sting will help.

Shining Spears

Shining Spears

Shining Spears. Credit: Wings

The basic Shining Spear Exarch power is Expert Hunter, granting the Exarch re-rolls to wound against VEHICLE and MONSTER units.

  • Withdraw: Same as on Scorpions. I’m vastly more interested in it here, simply because Spears have the FLY keyword and that opens up options. They can charge in to something weak then leapfrog past them onto an objective, or pop up onto a tall piece of terrain next to them, just to throw out two examples. I still don’t think you pick this, but it’s at least better here. C+
  • Swooping Dive: +1 to charges. You are probably bringing these on as Deep Strikers in many matchups, and every little helps as far as locking in a reliable charge goes. Once you combo in one of the new Runes of Fortune powers this makes them hitting melee out of DS extremely likely, which is good. B+
  • Blademaster: The Exarch’s paragon sabre becomes D3. Paragon sabres normally suck next to the Star Lance option, but this suddenly makes them at least worth thinking about. My gut feel is that only being S3 is still going to hold them back especially compared to stacking either Lancer or Heartstrike with Expert Hunter, but we’ll be returning to this comparison in an upcoming Hammer of Math. Still, you don’t need to bother paying to stack this, and it’s good enough to make a normally useless weapon worth thinking about, which is a feat! C+
  • Lancer: Score an additional hit on an unmodified 6 to hit. Using a star lance, this will be the best of the offensive buffs to stack with Expert Hunter most of the time. B
  • Skilled Rider: The Exarch has a 3++  against shooting. Probably fine – I’m side-eyeing it a bit because you don’t want to be sticking him in front of shots first, but the Exarch in this case is almost a character’s level of deadly, so making him tougher after the rest of the squad melts is at least OK. As fellow writer Boon pointed out on our chat, it’s also very funny stacked with Protect to get the exarch to a 2++ against shooting. B
  • Heartstrike: The exarch deals a MW on an unmodified 6 to hit. Competes with Lancer, better in some cases, less good in others, though does have the upside of not needing to be stacked with the regular power to get full effect. B

There are a bunch of options for making Spears more deadly here, but Swooping Dive is quietly probably the best choice – killing stuff when they make combat isn’t really something Spears struggle with, so even a marginal boost to the chances of landing it (especially when there are other options in this book to help too) is nice.

Crimson Hunters

Crimson Hunter Exarch

Crimson Hunter Exarch. Credit: Wings

The basic Crimson Hunter Exarch power is Marksman’s Eye, re-roll 1s to hit with ranged weapons.

  • Aerial Predator: +1 damage to this model’s ranged weapons against flying targets. I see we’re starting off in a totally restrained manner. Only held back from being busted good by the fact you have to lock it in, making it a meta call against some of the others on this list. B+
  • Evade: Has a 5++. Good in some matchups, but you’re often being killed by AP-2  stuff so I’d be a little wary of locking it in. B
  • Hawkeye: Ignore the move/shoot penalty for Heavy Weapons. Just a flat buff compared to Marksman’s Eye in every way. We’ll come back to this in a second. A+ (why does this exist?)
  • Strafing Assault: Re-roll 1s to wound against non-FLY targets. This one is flat worse than Marksman’s Eye a lot of the time an that’s before you consider that you’re probably Dooming any key ground target these shoot. C
  • Eyes of Khaine: Ignore cover. Doesn’t become properly relevant often enough to be worth it when the guaranteed buff of Hawkye is right there. B-
  • Aerial Manoeuvring: The first pivot this makes each turn can be 180 degrees rather than 90. Hilariously over the top and completely unnecessary. C

This set of stuff makes me mad, because in what world do you look at the Eldar range and decide that what they really need is for Crimson Hunter Exarchs to get a buff?

Hawkeye is just better than Marksman’s Eye – it’s an 83% hit rate compared to 78%, and both scale linearly against hit modifiers. However, it’s actually even more significant than that, because taking away the inherent re-roll 1s lets them benefit from other sources of it like an Autarch bubble, either by flying into it or (as I think is going to be increasingly relevant in Space Marine winter) Deep Striking in for an alpha strike. Adding re-roll 1s takes it to a 97% hit rate, making it about 25% deadlier than normal.

Originally I was going to follow this up with some very upsetting maths that demonstrated that even if you were sure you would see Iron Hands Repulsors all the time, it still probably wasn’t worth taking Aerial Predators, as three of these deep-striking into an Autarch bubble still wouldn’t kill one. With the nerfs now applied that’s no longer true – but you also don’t need to skew as hard to plan to beat Hands, so taking the strong default of Hawkeye is just better.

To be fair, it is also entirely possible that just taking a 5++ is better (though I think I value higher deadliness more I the current meta). I can definitely see using Exemplar to stack that with Marksman’s the next time I bring one out with bright lances on, as in the matchups where the lances are good it becomes a higher priority target for the opponent and they tend to have weapons where a 5++ matters.

Overall, Crimson Hunter Exarchs got better in a variety of ways.

Isn’t that great everyone?

Hello?

Come back I didn’t mean it.

Warp Spiders

The basic Warp Spider Exarch power is Iron Resolve, letting the squad re-roll failed Morale tests. Thrilling, I know.

  • Surprise Assault: You can re-roll shooting hits with death spinners for this unit on the turn they arrive from Deep Strike. I mean yeah, sure – much like Bladestorm this just makes these flat better in a key use context, they just weren’t as near to good already as Dire Avengers were. B
  • Withdraw: Same as on Scorpions and Spears. I think on reviewing the wording that they can activate their jump generators for FLY, so while I’m less inclined to use it on them than Spears (because I don’t super want them in combat) I guess you can do some of the same fun stuff with it. C
  • Web of Death: Once per game the unit can redeploy on-board in your movement phase. OK, yeah – Eldar don’t really have much in the way of redeploy abilities and Warp Spiders kind of suck at the moment, so opening up a whole new niche for the unit is probably the best punt they have at finding a place in lists. They’re also pretty good firing into a Doom/Jinx dunk, and this gets them into position to do that turn 1. I will put my reputation out there and say that if these see any play between now and some sort of additional rules change it will be because of this, so it gets an A- basically by default (the minus because I still don’t think it will actually get there).
  • Spiders Lair: If they’re wholly on terrain and get charged the charger suffers d3 MWs on a 3+. Conditional abilities that your opponent has to play into after you set it up are not good. F
  • Flickering Assault: The unit can pile in 6″ instead of 3″. If I’m aiming at wrap shenanigans I’m taking Banshees, pass. D
  • Spiders Bite: The Exarch’s powerblades get +1S and D2. This is actually a super heft buff – it still isn’t what you want to do with them, but it does actually take the Exarch from “naff in melee” to “faintly OK”. C+

Spiders probably need more help than any of this gives them, but maybe there’s some strange list that exists that really wants the threat a Web of Death squad presents, so it’s nice that that’s there, and Iron Resolve is not any kind of loss.

Aspect Powers – Summary

As we’ve seen there’s some really neat stuff here, and various Aspects certainly pick up a boost. My main annoyance with it are that it’s very much a case of the rich getting richer – Crimson Hunters are the best current aspect and also the biggest winners. Dark Reapers and Dire Avengers vie for second place in the biggest boost, and were also probably on the next tier of Aspect Warriors as they stand. Hawks and Banshees, also units I occasionally get out, also get better at the things they were already good at.

Basically, just by the action of having to write six abilities for each, the units that were good or fine have, in fact, gotten better, and the units that were mostly irrelevant probably don’t stop being that. I do appreciate that Scorpions and Spiders both picked up one power that gives them a possible role to play, but ultimately don’t see them successfully seizing a slot in any big way.

I weep for my Fire Dragons. Maybe next update.

Runes of Fortune

Biel Tan Farseer with Witchblade

Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

Craftworld Psykers get access to a new psychic discipline. Unusually, however, rather than picking their “normal” powers off this list, they can instead choose to swap out knowing the Smite power (which all psykers know) for one choice from this list.

Positivity time – I love, love love these. From a game design point of view the idea of replacing Smite is a masterstroke, as it opens up a tonne of design space, makes immediate sense as soon as you write it down and yet is somehow completely non-obvious. That enthusiasm is slightly tempered by a templating issue meaning that one of these powers just doesn’t work as written, but that’ll be fixed in the FAQ, and I don’t want to detract from how clever I think this is

Some of them are also pretty good! The most obvious way to use these is to replace Smite on warlocks, who have a terrible gimped version of it, giving them some other tricks to choose from. Having MW output is sufficiently good on psykers with “full” Smite to mean that Warlocks are probably where it will see the main use, but because it’s so configurable it’s nice to have the option of taking some of these elsewhere in the right matchup. The other thing that really needs to be hammered home is that the Children of Prophecy Craftworld trait (which we’ll get to) allows you to near automatically cast some of these powers, as several are only WC4 (although some are also <CRAFTWORLD> locked making that less good).

The powers are:

  • Fateful Divergence – WC4: Pick a <CRAFTWORLD> unit within 6″. You can reroll a single hit, wound or save for that unit till your next psychic phase. Very nice – a good way for a warlock waiting in your lines for the right time to go out and Jinx to add some value if you have no good Protect target. B+
  • Witch Strike – WC4: the Psyker’s melee weapons get +2D until your next turn. This is hilarious, if not actually super good as none of your Psyker options have more than two attacks. It could theoretically be worth taking over Smite in a few matchups, notably Daemons where everything is behind a flat invuln save, and I’d strongly consider it on a Warlock in that case. C+
    Edit:
    As a few people have pointed out, it’s a bit unclear how this works on a Warlock Conclave, but you can certainly make a good argument that it affects the whole squad. Given that a maxed out Skyrunner Conclave is already the foundation of a fringe viable list, then if this does affect the whole unit it’s a considerable buff to that build. Expect this to be clarified in the 2-week FAQ for Phoenix Rising.
  • Ghostwalk – WC6: Give a <CRAFTWORLD> unit within 6″ +2″ to charge. A big deal, and makes any sort of deep striking melee threat (most likely Wraithblades or Shining Spears) way more worth thinking about. B+
  • Crushing Orb – WC4: Pick a visible enemy character within 18″ and roll 3d6, dealing a MW for each 5+. Usually not going to be worth it, as you’ll probably have scarier things you could be doing. C.
  • Focus Will – WC6: So, uh, we don’t actually know what this is meant to do. based on the wording it could be one of two things, a.) “pick a friendly psyker within 6″. Their casts count as 2 higher against opposed deny the witch tests this phase” or b.) “pick a friendly psyker within 6″. They get +2 to deny until your next psychic phase”. Honestly, both of these would be super relevant in the Chaos matchup. I suspect it’s marginally more likely to be the first ability, which can have utility in pushing Doom through against a souped up deny. Don’t forget that you could be sneaky and keep the caster of this just out of deny range so it can’t, itself, be stopped. The second would be a powerful defensive tool in the same matchup. I think it’s a B either way, and eagerly await finding out what this actually does.
  • Impair Senses – WC6: Pick a visible enemy within 18″. Until your next psychic phase, they can only target the closest visible enemy unit unless they’re shooting a unit within 18″. This one has some mild trolling potential with a Hemlock – against low BS armies, fly it up and force them to target it and then Lightning Fast while laughing in Elf at their pathetic attempts to kill it. This probably isn’t actually good, but I firmly hope to make it relevant at least once. C+.

Are these earth shattering? No, but there’s some neat stuff already in there and the potential for some more once Focus Will is clarified. I expect to pick Fateful Divergence on my Jinx Warlock a lot, and chuck it onto all sorts of things at useful moments. Honestly the only thing to be sad about is that now they’ve found this design space there will probably be a much more pushed implementation coming down the line for another faction at some point.

Top marks though, love it.

Craftworld Traits

The final set of new rules for the Asuryani here are the new Craftworld Traits. Similar to Successor Chapters, you can design your own Craftworld bonus by selecting two of these (apart from a few where you only get one). Everyone knows Alaitoc is great, and Ulthwe has some things going for it, but beyond that there’s very limited uses for the others, so having more to choose from is pretty attractive. Unlike Marines, there’s also no punishment for mixing multiple Craftworlds in a single list, so devious combinations that maximise each benefit are possible.

There’s some real power in this list of abilities, and I think these new rules will have the biggest impact from this book.

Rather than trying to give each a grade rating, I’m just going to go through three tiers – the ones that will almost certainly see tournament play, the ones that have potential, and the ones that are probably a miss. Obviously I’m looking at these from a competitive angle, so if a trait I don’t like is perfect for your homebrew Craftworld don’t feel that means you can’t use it in your games – just maybe don’t expect to show up to a tournament with it and take the gold!

Top Traits

Children of Prophecy

Dice rolls of 1 on psychic tests are counted as a 2. Woof, this is the real deal – this substantially boosts your cast reliability on your key powers. The important context here is that all the Runes of Fate and Runes of Battle powers don’t have <CRAFTWORLD> keyword requirements, instead just affecting ASURYANI units. Given that most Craftworld traits don’t massively help characters, there’s very little penalty for bringing a Bike Farseer and Bike Warlock in a supreme command with this trait (probably combined with Children of the Open Skies), perhaps with newly discounted Yvraine or the Yncarne in the third slot, as your Doom/Jinx delivery mechanism. You do lose access to Forewarned and Runes of Witnessing, but if your list needs those badly you can take a foot Farseer too to babysit the relevant units – dual Farseer builds have seen a tonne of play.

Combined with Seer Council (+1 to the Farseer & Warlock’s casts) and a Farseer re-roll this gives you an outrageous 95% chance of successfully casting Doom (with Jinx on a CP re-roll at a respectable 90%). That same Doom also now has a 48″ strike range. Anyone who has read my reports will know how critical landing Doom and Jinx is to Craftworld armies, and this gives you best-in-breed options for doing it, while having the nice fringe benefit of making Warlock head explosions much rarer.

I expect to see a lot of Supreme Commands with this and the next one.

Children of the Open Skies

Units with FLY that advance get an extra +2″ to their move. I don’t expect to see this a lot in its own right, but it’s probably the best combo for the Children of Prophecy Supreme Command, so I think it is highly likely to get play on that basis.

Expert Crafters

Iyanden Wraithseer with D-Cannon

Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

Re-roll one hit and one wound each time a unit shoots, fights or overwatches. A copy/paste of Master Artisans across from the Marine book, and extremely exciting here as well. Eldar tend to run lots of small units anyway, so you can get a lot of value out of this. So much value, in fact, that I think there’s a whole bunch of units previously not worth considering that are worth a look. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Vibro Cannons. These were already nearly good, but their normal drawback of splitting into separate units after deployment is suddenly a massive boon here.
  • Wraithlords/Wraithseers with a single heavy weapon. Used to not be worth a coinflip on a single HW shot while moving. Now you re-roll a hit and a wound, that’s suddenly way more interesting, especially as it also helps them a lot in combat and they’re also good with this trait’s likely partner-in-crime Masters of Concealment.
  • MSU Reapers, especially with Rapid Shot too.
  • Falcons, as they’re a super cheap way to mount a pulse laser.
  • Wave Serpents with heavy weapons rather than Shurikens or Scatters.
  • Probably various bits of Forge World nonsense.

The Aeldari Missile Launcher got a cut to 20pts in CA and is probably the prime candidate for the preferred heavy weapon on all the options that can take it. I think Vibro Cannons make out like a bandit, and it’s legitimately plausible to me that just running 3×3 with an Autarch with Reaper Launcher is a good detachment now, this amps them up so very much. I am, however, much more excited to be able to (at least briefly) renew my desperate quest to make Wraithlords good.

You can’t take this away from me. Don’t try.

Masters of Concealment

Eldar Rangers

Rangers. Credit: Corrode

Always in cover outside of 12″. Combines with the above to bring the Master Artisans/Stealthy combo to Eldar, and I’d be astounded if people didn’t manage to make it work. Mostly the units good with it are the same sort of stuff, although bumping Crimson Hunters up to an effective base 2+ save is also not nothing. It’s also super useful that it gives Rangers a 3+ in the open.

Sadly, the heavy laser destroyer being AP-5 does put a bit of a cramp on the style here, as 2+ saves on vehicles aren’t what they used to be (but maybe we’ll see fewer now the Iron Hands nerf has landed). Without that, I’d almost be tempted to try my Wraithknight out with this combo (with wraithcannons), but as it is I’ll have to wait and see how much the meta changes.

Despite this minor quibble, this is still great, and I expect it to see lots of use.

Hail of Doom

All Shuriken weapons get an extra -1AP within 12″ (but still only become -3AP on a 6 to wound).

I’m going to refer to this forever more as “Shuriken Doctrine” and you can’t stop me. It’s also a useful thing to draw attention to how good this probably is – until we saw them in actual play I don’t think it was clear just how great Marine doctrines were. This applies the same buff to all your Shuriken weapons at an arguably lower cost, since if you go full on mix and match there’s no reason you can’t have your forward units rolling with this and backline stuff/planes packing Alaitoc or a different combo. The big winners from this are:

  • Guardians
  • Shuriken Serpents
  • Dire Avengers (especially with Bladestorm)
  • Windriders
  • Shining Spears

A Battalion of 3×10 Guardian Defenders in Serpents looks a little bit dated now, but was still nearly fine before this change and this might push that setup back into contention. There is a slight question of what you pair it with – you could buff up the Guardians with Martial Citizenry, but probably just making sure the Serpents have a 2+ via Masters of Concealment is better. You can also just throw in Superior Shurikens for more range, but bear in mind you’ll never benefit from both at once.

I love Eldar infantry and I love Wave Serpents, so I’l definitely be trying to make this work in at least one list.

Interesting Traits

  • Children of Khaine: Aspect warriors do +1D in melee on an unmodified 6 to wound. Admittedly this is a reach – melee aspects are all still pretty bad – but if you really want to make them work this does at least help, and it’s obviously great with Doom.
  • Diviners of Fate: All models have a 6++. Currently, defensively, this is inferior to Alaitoc and inferior to Ulthwe against D1 weaponry on infantry. However, you get to take this and another, so it’s much more interesting, and if either of those (by which I probably mean Alaitoc) catch a nerf at some point it’ll look even better.
  • Headstrong: +1 to charges. Mostly, if you want to build some sort of Deep Strike melee bomb you really want this. I could see you stapling this onto the Children of Prophecy Supreme Command and sticking a max squad of Wraithblades into the solo elite slot. You even then have some turbo-charged psykers to cast Ghostwalk on them.

Big Papa Slice and the Ghostly Bois. Credit: Boon

  • Martial Citizenry: GUARDIAN units re-roll 1s to hit. Usually doesn’t apply broadly enough to be worth it, but Support Weapons have the GUARDIAN keyword, so I could believe it being the best combo with Expert Crafters for a Vibro Cannon Spearhead
  • Mobile Fighters: Re-roll hit rolls of 1 for a unit that disembarked from a transport this turn. Probably doesn’t get there because generally the transport heavy armies should be aiming to use careful Autarch positioning to have this anyway (and on the transports themselves) but it is a very nice bonus.
  • Superior Shurikens: +4″ range on Shuriken weapons. I would rather try and maximise Hail of Doom, but this could plausibly be good.
  • Webway Warriors: You can use Webway Strike an extra time for each detachment in your army with this trait. Uses beyond the first must select a unit with this trait. Hmm. I can’t think of anything super dumb to do with this immediately, but I’m not ruling out the possibility that a dumb list exists.
  • Wrath of the Dead: Re-roll wound rolls of 1 for WRAITH CONSTRUCT units. Wraith units probably still aren’t going to see wide play because of this, but it is a cool option. If the metagame turns around to an Air Wing of Hemlocks suddenly being good this is also potentially relevant, as they have this keyword.
Iyanden Hemlock Wraithfighter

Credit: Alfredo Ramirez

  • Savage Blades: Re-roll hits of 1 in melee if you charged, were charged or intervened.  This mostly runs face-first into the problem of most Eldar units really sucking, but I guess you might want it on Shining Spears if a build that deep strikes a full blob arises. The enormous part of me that is incredibly mad at Banshees not getting +1A really wants this in the next list though.

There’s a decent second tier of stuff to try out here. I’m less confident any of it will make the cut, but I expect people to try some of them.

The Rest

  • Children of Morag Hei: Get +1 to hit rolls if half the models in your unit have been destroyed. Way too hard to set up for a pretty mild payoff.
  • Grim: Re-roll morale tests. You do not need this.
  • Hunters of Ancient Relics: +1A while within 3″ of an objective. I was torn on this one because it does give melee aspects the thing they desperately need (more attacks) but is ultimately not reliable enough to plan around.
  • Masterful Shots: Ignore cover. You can already have this via Reveal if you need it, and basically no one is ever using that, so it’s obviously not worth a slot.
  • Strike and Fade: Uses both your picks. You can fall back and charge, and if you are not within 3″ of an enemy when consolidating, you don’t have to move closer to the nearest enemy. I have really racked my brains on this and just can’t work out what it’s for – it seems to be aimed at a Craftworld that is somehow consistently winning combats overwhelmingly. I am not aware of this Craftworld.
  • Students of Vaul: Vehicles regain a wound at the start of each of your turns. Extremely marginal.
  • Vengeful Blades: Re-roll hits in melee if you charged, were charged or intervened against CHAOS units. I am not going to use my customisation to lock in a bad bonus against a single faction, thanks.
  • Warding Runes: Ignore MWs on a 5+. I guess that theoretically a metagame could arise where this is good, but is hasn’t yet.

Quite a lot of duds here, but that’s equally true of the Marine list – it turns out that writing 20+ relevant traits is pretty hard!

Army List

To close out, here’s an army list I’ve come up with that slams together some of the coolest new things in this book. Obviously this probably isn’t what I’m going to be bringing out at my first tournament after PA is live (I’m likely to be way more pedestrian and also don’t own any Vibro Cannons) but I think it showcases some of the buffs effectively.

Army List - Click to Expand

Battalion – Craftworld Al-Pha (Hail of Doom, Superior Shurikens) – 904pts

Autarch Skyrunner w/Lance, Fusion, Banshee Mask
Spiritseer

10x Dire Avengers, Dual Gun Exarch, Avenging Strikes
10x Guardian Defenders, Shuriken Platform
10x Guardian Defenders, Shuriken Platform

Wave Serpent w/Catapults and Cannons
Wave Serpent w/Catapults and Cannons
Wave Serpent w/Catapults and Cannons

Spearhead – Craftworld Be-Ta (Expert Crafters, Masters of Concealment) – 782pts

Autarch

3x Vibro Cannons
3x Vibro Cannons
3x Vibro Cannons

Wraithlord w/Catapults, Glaive, Aeldari Missile Launcher
Wraithlord w/Catapults, Glaive, Aeldari Missile Launcher
Wraithlord w/Catapults, Glaive, Aeldari Missile Launcher

Supreme Command – Craftworld Gam-Ma (Children of Prophecy, Children of the Open Skies) – 314pts

Farseer Skyrunner
Warlock Skyrunner
Yvraine

This list has a neat mix of stuff, combining the hefty backline shooting threat of the Vibro Cannons and the counter charge/push potential of the Wraithlords with a deadly mobile firebase made up of Serpents and shuriken infantry. Finally, you have a lethal seer threat ready to land Doom/Jinx on whatever needs to die the most.

While I think this list would be very playable, it’s mostly just a showcase – I think it’s much more likely that elements of it show up elsewhere. However, each of these detachments is doing something new and exciting, so for all that Phoenix Rising is overall a bit of a let down, we can still showthat there’s some very cool stuff in it.

Wrap Up

I must admit I have a certain amount of tonal whiplash trying to summarise this – I started writing this review prior to the Iron Hands FAQ, so the landscape I was assuming when assembling my initial thoughts now looks quite different! Overall, I am still slightly disappointed with Phoenix Rising – while there’s some cool stuff, I don’t think it’s really done enough to redress the balance between the bad Craftworld units and the good ones – I’m still going to start most of my lists from the same reliable core of quality choices. All that being said, as the sample army list above demonstrates there are some powerful new combos here, and Eldar had competitive choices available to them going into it, so it’s far from all bad.

If you want to contact us to comment, provide feedback or tell me I have shamed all of elf-kind by missing a cool combo you can reach us at contact@goonhammer.com or via our Facebook page.

 

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