Codex: Aeldari is coming out next week and it’s a pretty big deal. We’ve already covered the major beats of what’s in the book in our multi-part review, but today we’ve teamed up with the crew over at the Art of War to talk about the new book, what we like and don’t like about it, and how it’s going to shake out competitively.
- James “Boon” Kelling
- James “One_Wing” Grover
- Liam “Corrode” Royle
- Brad Chester
- Nick Nanavati
- Chase “Gunum” Garber
Let’s start with the big question. This is a big book with massive expectations. What’s your impression on the overall power level of this book, on a 1-10 scale, where 1 is “Imperial Fists” and 10 is “Pre-nerf Drukhari?”
Kelling: For the book overall, I’d say a qualified 7. However, if we’re just focusing on Craftworlds then I’d give them 6 and probably an 8 for Harlequins. I have no idea how to even think about Ynnari here because the way they’ve been layered in is slightly baffling.
I think Craftworlds are going to really struggle into some of the current meta-defining factions, but even when you bring Tau and Custodes back into line, the faction simply doesn’t leave a lot of room for error and I expect books yet to come to quickly eclipse our puritan elves. In short, and given the hype, I think this is going to fall flat.
Wings: Pretty much aligned there, though I’m willing to go for a 7 on pure Asuryani because there’s enough different tricks available that I think the balance of probabilities is that some build breaks out that really works.
Liam: I’m gonna plump for 7.5 for the Asuryani stuff. It’s an army that’s difficult to evaluate objectively, because pretty much everyone was assuming this was going to be the most broken book of the edition. It’s definitely not that – stuff just costs so much that you can’t build an army with the cruise-control feel that the most fucked up Drukhari and Ad Mech builds had – but I don’t want to overcorrect and say it’s bad, because so much stuff taken individually looks great, even if it’s been a little bit of a struggle to figure out how it all goes together.
Brad: With all my pointy eared soul I want to say 9.5, but having a big cost on low toughness, 1-wound units is criminal. I think the codex has a lot of mobility and my standard Eldar battle cry of “not in the face” will carry me to at least an 8.
Nick: A very solid 7.5 for our pointy friends. The book has some direct mathematical raw power in the form of mass indirect, but other than that it’s a really well balanced, finesse army. I do think a build that begins with 3 Night Spinners and 9 Shadow Weavers has the potential to be broken in the short term, however a points adjustment would solve that after a quarterly balance update. Indirect sadness withstanding it stands to be an army which will really excel in the hands of a highly skilled player, while having a lot of depth to explore a variety viable of builds. Overall, it’s a very healthy codex with powerful builds, but nothing strikes me as absurd.
How does the Craftworlds Army fare in the current meta? Can they compete against the likes of T’au, Custodes, and Crusher Stampedes?
Kelling: T’au are by far the worst matchup, I believe, as they’re simply prepared to counter everything that the Craftwords want to do, and importantly have the bullets AND non-los shooting to do it. Crusher is a little more interesting, but ultimately I think it comes down to “who went first?” – going first into Crusher, with the right tools, I think Craftworlds can trade up pretty efficiently into the big bads. But going second, the double-shooting Hive Guard probably just removes any ability you have to hold a backfield objective and forces you to split your few forces between moving back to secure home objectives, and trying to fight the big bads off the midboard. Custodes I think come down to whether you can overcome their defensive buffs enough to limit their return – of the three, I think Custodes are probably the best matchup because of your increased capability to pick the fight, concentrate forces, and pull off key units.
Liam: I’d largely agree with Boon, yeah. This army wants to put a lot of fragile T3 infantry on the table, and Tau right now are anathema to those models continuing to exist anywhere within 30” of them, so you pretty much have to swing hard and hope you do enough to get through it. Custodes is a much more winnable game, but one that is also going to frustrate from time to time.
Brad: They will play very well into custodes with a mobile msu build, but the same type of army will struggle mightily into Tau because Tau can go die in a fire. Strands of fate, psychics, and a mobile balanced force are going to give this army a strong chance into anything says our cowfish overlords.
Nick: To offer an alternative take I think you can make a very effective force to fight Tau by using the Webway gate. The Webway gate leads to really interesting build styles with unorthodox play styles. It’s essentially a fortification which can infiltrate up the table 12” way from the enemy deployment zone, and can’t be attacked. You can bring your strategic reserves in through the Webway Gate within 9” of the enemy and even within engagement range. By putting a Webway gate or even two in the middle of the board near objectives you can really get to grips with Tau and get a powerful first strike off.
Alternatively, a shooting-based MSU build will really excel vs many of the more durable armies in the meta like Custodes, Black Templars, and the remnants of thick city.
Eldar have such a wide array of highly specialized, not cheap units. With their enormous codex and variety of combos and approaches there’s no list they couldn’t build for specifically to defeat. The challenge is going to be finding the combinations of units that can handle the fire power of Tau, the durability of Custodes, and the janks of GSC all at once.
How do you expect the army to play when it hits the table?
Wings: The cynical version is that I expect to play many games where I thoroughly enjoy three turns of Warhammer, and at the end of that either my opponent’s list has been so comprehensively savaged that victory is assured, or I’ll have an awkward lack of army. The stuff you can do with this book in the first few turns is wild, operating on a Genestealer Cult kind of level, but it has a terrifying lack of staying power that means any turn where you bounce off the opponent is probably going to be terminal, and not enough cheap stuff to really play the waiting game. The combos are going to rule, as are the looks on opponents faces when you explain what your Banshee and Scorpion Exarchs are about to do for the first time, but I get the distinct impression that once people get wise to the worst of it, you’re going to hit games where you lose based on sheer efficiency, without feeling like there was much you could do about it.
Liam: Much the same, this is an army that either gets the quick KO in the early turns or finds itself running out of gas. One concern I do have is the Webway Gate; it feels like it’s very strong, but it’s the exact kind of very strong that is likely to be unfun at the casual end – a whole lot of players in the 6 games a year crowd are going to play against Eldar once, watch 2/3rds of their opponent’s army jump out of the gate and into combat with all their stuff, and be pretty mad about it, with some justification. It has the feel of something that’s going to get a chunky points increase sooner or later, which might suck if Eldar armies end up being reliant on it to function.
Brad: I agree this army will be pretty high on the fragile spectrum, but reserve manipulation, move shenanigans, Strands of Fate, and an increase in the output of pretty much every weapon is going to allow you to play the mission and secondary game very well which translates into some big scores to give you a shot into every game.
Nick: I think Craftworlds will try to take a crippling amount of MSU fire power and small combat skirmishing units for trading effectively. They will try to snipe away your return fire options and speed, and then finish the game at their leisure from there.
I think despite how cool all these aspect warriors are they aren’t tough enough or numerous enough to be the backbone of the army. The core still can’t be based on ground pounding infantry.
What’s the best thing in the book?
Wings: Will of Asuryan, if you want to try and make balanced, pure Asuryani gameplay work, either the Webway Gate or the ease of bringing Harlequins if you don’t. Will does so much for you that it’s unreal, and could plausibly patch enough of the army’s weaknesses that they get there despite them.
Kelling: I frankly love that so many of the options are decent individually. Each unit, especially on its first pick, has a lot of potential and multiple ways to use it effectively – the webway gate being a huge multiplier here.
Liam: Most of the individual datasheets are great, and it’s cool to be excited by Aspect Warriors again – they’re such an iconic part of the army and most of them were just so bad in the 8th book. It’s been a general trend of 9th edition for GW to finally move away from the design sensibilities of 1997 and start making units actually good at their jobs, and nowhere is this better reflected than in the way Aspects play now. As a kind of knock-on to this, the Phoenix Lords are also very cool, and even the weaker ones are still playable. Also in this category, the Avatar, the long-time punching bag of 40k, who most often featured in other factions’ fluff to show how much of a badass their combat character was for killing him. He probably doesn’t get all the way into top lists, but you’re not going to be mad at yourself for including him now.
Brad: You guys have clearly been doing warp dust with Draigo in the warp if you don’t think Strands of Fate is somewhere between amazing and buckwild. With the help of a farseer and possibly some Ulthwe help you can put three or more 6s into whatever you need for the turn. Miracle dice can only stare in envy.
Nick: Are we talking Best in terms of coolness or competitiveness? In terms of competitiveness it’s the Webway Gate. It opens up so many interesting builds. Or the indirect fire spammed out, but that is just sadness land. Don’t go to sadness land. For coolness, it’s without a doubt Maugan Ra. Have you looked at him?
What’s bad about the book? What could they have done better?
Wings: The Troops section. Eldar in 8th were perpetually forced onto skew builds by the difficulty of building a Battalion you actually wanted, and despite how far we’ve come on making Troops good in 9th, that’s pretty much still true. Dire Avengers leaving is the big issue here, as they’re incredible now – entirely genuinely, put them back into Troops and my rating for this book climbs to like an 8.5. As is, every Troop model in this book is probably 1pt too expensive, and the serpentscale platform on Storm Guardians needed to cost 10pts, and we’re right back to the bad old days of Battalions being hard work. Elsewhere, a few units get some frankly spiteful feeling nerfs based on what they did in 8th, and we’re far enough into 9th at this point that that shouldn’t be the baseline we’re operating from.
Kelling: The costing, generally. I think the book is overcosted significantly across a wide number of areas – there’s just no relief in any slot or ability, it’s all expensive. If I had to guess, after a year-plus of rumors that the book was just absurd, a final pass on the book before print significantly altered the points upwards or altered a few key abilities and it didn’t get a good pass afterwards. The result is a book that just feels overpointed at every turn.
Liam: Yeah, it clunks a bit. The Troops slots are poor – I don’t think the Guardians or Rangers are actually bad, but they all feel a little pricey for what you get. Dark Reapers just feel bad; they were still a fine unit even to the end of the old book, but a lot of the power that was still in them depended on being quite cheap to get 3 with an Exarch with a good power. In this book they’ve been hit with the classic GW “pull all the levers at once” nerf, with a chunky 30ppm cost and fixed unit size of 5, points-costed Exarch powers, and losing both datasheet and army-wide abilities that made them tick. They’re one of those units where anyone who remembers them in their heyday is going to have a hard time accepting that they got hit too hard, but also the last time they were even close to game-defining is nearly 3 years ago, and a more thoughtful redesign would have helped. At least this army puts the lie to the idea that GW deliberately makes new units overpowered to sell them, though; nothing in the avalanche of new plastic kits really cracks the top third of what you want to be putting in an Eldar list, while strong contenders for most-improved unit include the formerly derided Webway Gate and the hottest new plastic kit of 2nd edition, the Falcon.
Brad: I have to agree that the units feel a bit overcosted when comparing them to the last two books that came out. Upgrading your units exarch really hurts when you realize these are still 1 wound models and the efficiency when you look at points per wound or points per attack is actually pretty low.
Where is this army going to struggle?
Wings: Staying on the table, and getting through defensive stratagems. Eldar are going to be few in number, and rely on their big hits landing the turn you commit with them, so if your opponent has the tools to prevent those from working then things are going to go sour pretty fast when they counterattack.
Kelling: Yeah, agreed again. I think this is an army that is going to leave a sour taste in player’s mouths as they happen into games where they played it perfectly but the dice fell flat and the army just can’t stomach that kind of failed turn.
Liam: It’s a common refrain for players of a particular army to insist that it’s very highly skilled and requires really knowing how to play 40k, unlike those losers in the Adeptus Custodes/Adeptus Mechanicus/T’au Empire (choice of target left to reader, who can also opt for the free space in 9th edition balance bingo, Drukhari), but I think in this case there’s some justice in saying that there’s going to be a big skill differential when it comes to playing Craftworlds. The mid tables and below are going to be full of Eldar players getting rolled over without quite understanding why their army is so glass-jawed.
Brad: I have to agree with Liam in that there will be a large disparity from the low to high tables in performance of this army, but I think that they will struggle a lot less than you think when played by players that really understand the book as it has the tools to handle most anything… haters.
Nick: Eldar isn’t going to win their games on math alone. They are a tricksy movement based army that plays every phase. They are inherently difficult to play by nature, because mistakes are incredibly punishing. I believe learning how to manage their lack of durability with excellent positioning is going to be key.
What are people going to miss when they first get this book – what’s going to fly under the radar?
Wings: The depth of integration for Harlequins caught me by surprise, and you can do more with them while losing less of your Asuryani bonuses than you’d probably expect. I expect to try a lot of builds mixing them in. Elsewhere, the key thing is to carefully consider how Strands of Fate impacts on rules as you read them – anything that triggers on 6s to hit or wound is a lot better than it would be normally, while any invulnerable save, even the 6+ from Ulthwe, unlocks the capability to automatically shrug an attack.
Liam: I’m going to say the faction secondaries, purely on the basis that their latest appearance in the “Chapter Approved” section’s peripatetic journey through the Codex layout is right between Pivotal Roles and Relics. Can we please just put these at the start or the end of the rules instead of leaving it to the whims of the layout guy?
The amount of different builds that will be viable is going to surprise people.
Nick: The sneaky mortal wound and leadership shenanigans. You can do a lot of weirdly timed damage to enemies with this codex without committing resources, which may prove critical to staying alive. Also Maugan Ra.
What’s going to be overrated? What are people overreacting to in this book?
Wings: As the world’s number one Night Spinner fan I am weeping as I type this in, but – Night Spinners. They’re fine, but in such a point-constrained book they just aren’t as good as people are saying, even with the buff to their gun.
Kelling: I would have also said the Nightspinner, but for variety, let’s say the Wraithknight and Avatar. I think both of these things are eagerly anticipated as big, centerpiece models and iconic units. They both got significant updates, but neither one of them is likely to see the table very often because of the difficulty already present in army building and the overwhelming nature of some of the factions out there (T’au).
Liam: Fire Dragons. They’re very similar in feel to Eradicators, where the raw stats are so eye-catching that people will assume they must be incredibly dangerous, while the reality of the metagame they’re playing in right now will mean that for every time they pull off a perfect Falcon-pod insertion and blast a Knight off the table, there’ll be another where they try the same trick and bounce off a Contemptor-Achillus or a shield drone and are promptly murdered.
Nick: You guys are crazy – Night Spinners make my poor GSC so sad. Three of them and 9 shadow weavers pew pew pew lasers pew pew. My real answer is the Avatar. I think he’s too many points and just won’t kill much in most games. Though, I definitely don’t think he sucks.
We saw some Drukhari players have success last season with a mixed Drukhari-Aeldari force. Is that still viable?
Wings: I expect to give this a good go, yeah, which is honestly a surprise given I was expecting to pivot to full Asuryani with this book. I think Falcons podding in Dire Avengers in particular go great into soup builds, and the fact that many Aspects have one good power (so the first unit is great) further encourages this.Despite my answer to the previous question, Night Spinners also look better here than in pure Asuryani, as I’ve found they work super well as a way to force the opponent to engage with your Drukhari stuff.
Liam: I’m not as convinced as James of this purely because you lose out on quite a lot by combining the two (unlike with Harlequins, see below), but you do open up some capabilities that Drukhari don’t currently have, so I’ll try it and see how it goes – have models, will travel.
Are Harlequins better or worse now? Are they competitive as a standalone army? On the same 1-10 Scale, where do you put them?
Chase: I’d say about an 8. Or rather I think we’re looking at a strong “B,” maybe low “A,” if you want to put it in letter grade terms. I think they’ll have tough matchups against Custodes and Death Guard, and probably T’au, though I think Harlequins can hard counter T’au in a bunch of ways. Drukhari is another tough matchup, and how bad Chaos Knights and Crusher Stampede are will depend on how badly Harlequins miss fusion pistols. Harlees can be very good against shooting armies and they have to play for the best trades they can when it comes to melee.
Wings: Harlequins feel like they lose some of their ability to throw melta sucker punches, but are just wild, runaway winners in almost every other way, and have one of the best sets of Codex Secondaries we’ve seen for ages. I’d go for a 9 here – this is top-tier stuff.
Liam: I like Harlequins a lot now; it’s certainly disappointing for people (including me) who invested in a lot of fusion pistols only to find that Troupes are now restricted to what comes in the box, but I think they get a lot back. I’m closer to Chase’s 8 purely because “pure Harlequins” still means picking from a tiny pool of datasheets, but bloody hell, they’re quite something, aren’t they? Even the Voidweaver has something going on now.
Nick: Without a doubt in my mind they are better. I will miss the soaring spite strat though. It’s nice that I feel like their damage is relevant again. I also think Skyweavers got a new lease on life. As a stand alone army they will be incredibly challenging to play. What else is new? I think they would be a 7 out of 10. Maybe an 8 if someone really mastered them. Capable of winning a Major, but it would be hard, and a super major is probably out of reach.
Let’s talk about the new Detachment rules. Is there play for Harlequins in Drukhari? Is that army better or worse than monofaction Drukhari?
Wings: Light Saedath gives you some excellent tools for inexpensively holding positions while the Drukhari forces get stuff done elsewhere, and not having to lose Power from Pain to do that feels huge, so definitely expect to see it tried. The other Saedaths have some real appeal for pure Harlequins, but their relics and warlord traits are a bigger part of what they do, so losing access to them (as you probably would in this soup scenario) hurts.
Liam: Yes, absolutely. If nothing else, being able to bring in a Shadowseer to use Psychic Interrogation is a great way to shore up an easy third secondary in a category that Drukhari normally can’t access. It’ll also just be interesting to freshen up lists, and try something new and different.
Nick: I legitimately thought Harlequins and Drukhari was a good army before, but losing advance and charge was too big a deal breaker. Harlequins bring a lot of tools Drukhari appreciate, and now they get to keep Advance and Charge! This is a great day for the pointy ear people!
What’s the best thing about the new Harlequins?
Chase: Two things. The first is Luck of the Laughing God. It’s not broken good, but it’s definitely an S-Tier ability. Who doesn’t want 4-5 free Command Re-rolls per turn? In a lot of ways it’s basically free CP and helps mitigate that the army doesn’t have a lot of ways to refund CP. The other thing is the survivability of the book. The bikes and vehicles turning off re-rolls plus being -1 to hit is pretty insane. Mix that with the -6” shooting range debuff from Shadowseers + the light cover buff plus the ability to turn off shooting from outside 18” with a psychic power (that gets reduced to 12” with the Shadowseer debuff), and you have some nasty tricks.
Harlequins having the option to be seamlessly integrated into craftworld armies is the biggest thing for me. I love the options it opens up in army concepts.
Liam: Luck of the Laughing God is straightforwardly great, yeah – an ability that is just baseline powerful and which you’ll get great use out of every single turn. That’s a bit of a theme with Harlequins all across the army – their stuff just works, and there’s a lot of different choices you can make that all seem valid. The new version of Cegorach’s Rose is awesome, too.
As a more general point, I like how they’ve weaved in the Harlequins rules with the Asuryani stuff in the Stratagems section – where there’s Stratagems in common they’re scoped in as you’d expect, and they even get access to Bladestorm. In particular, the extra Relic/Warlord trait stuff is nicely worded so that it’s quite flexible. GW clearly want you to be able to use Harlequins and Asuryani together, and the rules are designed to make it as seamless as possible. Souping with Drukhari isn’t quite as slick, sadly, but that’s probably too much to expect from a book that is primarily not about them.
Nick: They made Harelquins really hard to gauge how difficult they will be to kill. No rerolls to hit against them makes reliability against them go out the window. Then couple that with Luck dice and 4++ invuls. Killing Harlequins will be tricky business that requires over commitments of resources.
Is there anything to like about Ynnari in the new book? Are they going to be competitively relevant?
Kelling: Let’s be clear, Ynnari are 3 datasheets and then just another set of Craftworld traits. If that Craftworld isn’t good or not worth taking against the other Craftworld options, then Ynnari are not worth taking. Inexplicably, the designers have made it so that you cannot take any of the three datasheets outside of the Ynnari detachment – so if it sees play it’ll be in a gimmick list. That Incubi price premium is just…
Ynnari are still paying for their sins.
Wings: Yeahhh not sure what to make of this honestly, to the point where I almost wonder if there’s either a missing line of text somewhere to let Ynnari keep Strands of Fate when bringing in Drukhari/Harlequins, or something to let the characters go in an Auxiliary detachment without breaking Craftworld traits. The psychic powers and the Yncarne are cool, but right now you’re essentially boxed into running them as a mid-tier Craftworld without access to Will of Asuryan or Doom, which is just absolutely killer. This is probably the biggest disappointment of the book, as I was really looking forward to putting my Yncarne on the table.
Liam: The Ynnari rules are just baffling. The version of Ynnari that existed in the first half of 8th edition was undeniably too good, but we’ve had a lot of books since then that have eclipsed them for relative power and win rate even at their worst, several of them in the last 12 months. Ever since the White Dwarf redesign it’s felt like the rules team have Ynnari mentally filed as being “too good,” but they believe it’s something inherent to the army as a concept instead of pinpointing the specific issue that the index 8th version of their rules had, i.e. free, widely-available double actions combining with over-generous access to things like Craftworld-specific Stratagems.
The Ynnari characters being stuck in their own little box is weird, too, especially in an edition where a few different factions have quite flexible options for mixing in things that are a kind of internal soup – AGENTS OF THE IMPERIUM, SANCTIFIED units in Sisters, Specialist Mobs in Orks (still broken at time of writing, mind), even the AHNRATHE stuff in this book (although Ynnari can’t take those either!). The codex even has an orphaned AGENTS OF THE AELDARI keyword that doesn’t seem to be attached to anything any more. Also darkly funny is that 18 months after Phoenix Rising, the fluff from that book still can’t be reflected in an army on the table – Lelith is out, Jain Zar is out, the Solitaire is out, and in an extra twist the Corsair fleet that was also mentioned in that fluff is now a thing that exists, and as mentioned, also can’t be included. You have to start wondering if whoever wrote that fluff had a falling-out with the rules team, and this is their punishment.
Is this the book Eldar players have been waiting for? What does the army’s outlook look like from here, and how are you planning to tackle playing them in the future?
Kelling: The book will be fun for a time, and it’ll have a lot of opportunity to explore options as the meta adapts and changes, but from a pure competitive standpoint I think you’re likely to see Harlequins more often than Craftworlds. It’s a big book, there’s a lot in it, but I think most elf tournament players are praying that the next balance update looks favorably on the points costing of a number of different areas, but most especially in the Exarch powers and the Troops slots, while they put their Drukhari back on the table with a sigh.
Brad: I’m actually super excited to tackle this book and put my limited attention span to it for a bit. The combinations of clowns/cwe, pure craftworld, and de/clowns is going to be exciting to work with. I believe that Strands of Fate is going to make some occasional amazing turns possible and give you lots of epic tales to tell at the bar after the day’s games and if that isn’t the best part of 40k what is??!!
Liam: Kind of? There’s a lot this book does right – Aspect Warriors and Phoenix Lords are a real thing that you want to include in your list instead of knowingly hamstringing yourself by doing so, the Stratagems and the non-Warlock powers are all pretty fun, and there’s some surprising additions like the drop pod Falcon thing and the Webway Gate being a going concern which will change up how the army plays. If you really love Craftworlds and what you wanted from this book is to be able to put your favourite army on the table without feeling like you were giving up by doing so, then you’re going to have a lot to like here.
It’s hard to escape that clunky feeling, though. The changes from the Autarch datasheet in Eldritch Omens and the fairly credible rumours of a last-minute points increase suggest there were some big adjustments made all over the book at the very last minute, and while I don’t want to live in what feels like a terrifyingly possible alternative world of 16pt Warp Spiders with auto-hitting death spinners, it might have been helpful if someone had had maybe just a week longer to look at the raft of late changes and think “ok, so how does it all tie together now?”
Nick: It’s not the raw efficiency, everything is undercosted, every rule is broken, game breaking machine some people wanted. It’s the interesting to explore, high skill capped, everything has a place army that we deserved.
That wraps up our round table, but we’d like to thank the Art of War crew once again for stopping by. If you’re interested in more content from the Art of War, you can find it by visiting the Art of War Website or the War Room for video content. And as always, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.