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Monday, January 30, 2012

Eldar Codex Review - Part 6: Wave Serpents

Miniature Painting

Wave Serpents, like any transport, are the backbone of most mech based armies and Eldar are no different. Wave Serpents offer a combination not seen in another army - good AV, good defenses, tank and fast skimmer. And it's a transport. Few other armies have such vehicles let alone such transports and this is where Eldar can build a lot of their strength from.

The Review

Wave Serpents come with an impressive array of abilities as pointed out above. Their statline alone would indicate some sort of fast tank but the fact they can transport units as well is pretty damn cool. Unfortunately they are expensive without guns and become very expensive with even basic guns. For that expense though you get:
  • AV12 front and side - AV10 rear
  • Energy fields which restrict strength of weaponry and extra dice against front and side arcs (i.e. max S8+D6 armor penetration)
  • Fast, Skimmer, Tank profile (i.e. move 24", tank shock, move 12" and fire a weapon, etc.)
  • Transport capacity of 12 models
That's bloody impressive and when you consider they can run two heavy weapons (one turret mounted, one upgraded underslung weapon), well they can be battletanks and transports both. The issue of course, is their price and the price of their weapons. Base cost of 90 isn't too bad but that's before the mandatory turret weapon mount is paid for and whilst some like the Shuriken Cannon and Scatter Laser options aren't too dear, the Bright Lances and Starcannons are far too overpriced for what they do.

This doesn't diminish from the fact they are an excellent transport which is sturdy, fast and brings good firepower to the table (not to mention the ability to ram and tank shock at massive ranges). It's not so expensive where it's useless or overpriced but it is a hindrance across an army and the points add up. Because of this running lots of Wave Serpents with major weapons on them (i.e. Bright Lances or Missile Launchers) isn't often a good idea and running more Serpents with Scatter Lasers or Shuriken Cannons is better. Scatter Lasers hold the edge here as they have the extra range and shot over Shuriken Cannons but they are good in a pinch. Bright Lances and EMLs are expensive but do provide higher strength firepower at range and on the go which Eldar can often lack do to their prohibitive price. They are expensive but running a couple with Bright Lances or EMLs isn't a bad idea.

One of the major issues Wave Serpents suffer from is the units they carry - the Wave Serpent itself is often far better and this has led to many units being bought simply for the sake of taking Wave Serpents (contrary to popular belief, this is not how Razorback based Marine armies work). Wave Serpents do make great gunboats but it's often easy to forget they have a decent transport capacity and can make use of this. This will be covered more in the unit sections themselves but it's something which needs to be remembered with the Wave Serpent despite it not being used all too often (outside of Fire Dragons of course).

Wave Serpents have a lot of options as well in terms of upgrades though most aren't worth it. The underslung Shuriken Cannon is often a must however - at 10 points, three S6 shots is a bargain, especially when compared to the rest of the Eldar arsenal. Spirit Stones are a common choice but not really necessary when you have nine+ AV12 vehicles. They are useful upgrades on specific Serpents such as ones which carry Fire Dragons, particularly since they are 10 points compared to Extra Armor's 15 points, but they are by no means an auto-include. If some form of Hull Breaching comes into play for 6th edition though, well they will jump up in importance. Otherwise a closer look at all the vehicle upgrades can be seen here.

Potential Uses

Wave Serpents make great gunboats and delivery platforms for shooting units. They are tough, fast and bring one-two heavy weapons on every chassis. This gives them the ability to move to where they are needed and unleash hell whilst moving. Their speed also allows them to drop off shooting units pretty much at will whilst also being able to defend them. It's often useless to drop off a unit smack bang in front of the enemy. They might do a lot of damage but will often get shot or assaulted off the board in turn. Being fast means they can drop units off where it's best for them (i.e. max/efficient range) and where they can be supported by other units. A common use here is deploying the unit behind the Serpent where they can shoot under it but not be assaulted without going around it.

Pretty basic there - add Serpent to unit for mobility and firepower just like nearly every other transport in the game. Eldar have a unique conundrum though - lots of assault units which have access to the Wave Serpent and would like to use it. As we discussed above, the lack of assault ramp is a big hindrance in the Wave Serpent's use with these units and unlike other armies (i.e. Marines), the units which want to get into assault can't take some shooting on the chin. This means you need to work to get assault units out of said transports and assaulting on the same turn. Let's take a look at how you can do this.

First thing is to remember most Eldar units have Fleet of Foot which gives them a guaranteed extra inch of assault movement and up to another six. Second thing to remember is you have to set your assault up the turn before - no assault ramps makes this an imperative. The final thing you need to remember is pivoting counts as moving in terms of getting out and assaulting. Let's look at your basic scenario - a Wave Serpent with some Warlocks 14" from your opponent. Normally this is perfect, you can hop out and assault with any normal unit. However, Wave Serpents only have a rear access point and the chassis is quite long. This puts the unit four inches further away (3.1" if we take into account the base).

A little bit of spinning of the Wave Serpent can cut this down by a couple inches whilst still protecting our rear armor. We don't wave the hatch facing the unit as the enemy army is now much more likely to kill it.

16" is a lot more manageable - an average Run! roll is going to get you into combat but that's still pretty risky so let's see how we can set our movement up for getting an assault off the following turn. It's important here to take into account the opponent's movement, otherwise running the Wave Serpent forward into the teeth of the enemy would be the most simple of things.

Here we see the Wave Serpent has simply gone as close as possible to the Necron Warriors but they have the potential to block the rear hatch of the Wave Serpent. Their basic move is 6" which won't cover it but even a Run! roll of 2" is going to see them envelope the rear hatch and prevent any disembarkation. Against an army which can move fast or has vehicles, this is very easy to do. We can see below the Necron Warriors do just this and the Warlocks cannot get out and assault.

This means we need to set the Wave Serpent the turn before so it's far enough away to avoid having its rear hatch blocked whilst also ensuring the unit inside isn't relying on a Run! roll to get into combat.

At roughly 8" away the Wave Serpent at an oblique angle has the space to disembark six-eight models when facing a 6" move unit. Even if that unit runs straight at the Wave Serpent and gets a Run! roll of 6", there's still space at the rear of the disembarkation point thanks to the oblique angle.

If the unit moves directly away 6" however, there is still scope for the unit to assault but we come back to the original conundrum of relying on a average Run! roll to ensure the unit gets into combat.

A few things to note here. First, the Necron Warriors have sacrificed ground to avoid being assaulted. That's something in the Eldar's favor, particularly if there is an objective in said area. Second, if the unit Runs!, there is less of a chance the unit inside the Wave Serpent can assault but not only have the Necron Warriors sacrificed ground but shooting as well. Another win for the Eldar.

Regardless, in terms of assaulting from a Wave Serpent we're back to the initial conundrum - the assaulting unit is needing a 3" Run! roll to get into combat as we can see below (the Warlock unit has moved and assaulted 6").

Call it a 50/50 shot (yes I know a 3+ is 33/67 split but let's account for some shifty measuring) - not something you want to rely upon. So you use the tank's mass to help you out and push the unit towards you.

Another Wave Serpent potentially forgoes shooting and does a tank shock ensuring its placement moves some of the closest Necron Warrior models closer to the Warlock unit. Remember, and I forgot to point this out so my apologies, you cannot drop units off if the vehicle is going to go Flat-Out and since the vehicle is barely in range of the Necron Warrior unit, is not an effective means of tank shocking as it cannot land dead on the unit. You therefore are best to use another vehicle to tank shock and bring the unit closer to the disembarked assaulting unit. This puts less reliance on the Run! roll and if done precisely enough, can ensure an assault goes off even with a Run! roll of 1 (or by foregoing the Run! roll completely).

And thus the Warlocks get to assault the Necron Warriors despite being 16" away and not being in an assault ramp transport. It required both the Warlocks, the transport and potentially another vehicle working in conjunction but the end goal has been obtained - the unit is in assault.

There are still lots of ways for the opponent to stop this, just like with any other assault based unit but by maximising threat ranges and the abilities of the units you have at your disposal, you can use assault units out of Wave Serpents though it requires very precise movement to ensure your hatch does not get blocked and the unit can get out whilst ensuring the unit is still within range of the unit to be assaulted.

Potential Changes

Changes are easy - points drop in base price and significant points drop in weapon price. Twin-linked Bright Lances are not worth 45 points, stop it. Wave Serpents are a great chassis so shouldn't be cheap but a roughly 20-30 point decrease on average across most variants would be a giant step to making the current crop of Eldar a much more viable force. When there are lots of objectives around and a ruleset that primarily benefits lots of units, having your average transport be anywhere from 100-150 points is too much.

Otherwise the Wave Serpent is pretty solid though its end points cost obviously depends a lot upon the ruleset it works within - how strong are fast skimmers for example. Changes to Spirit Stones in bringing back the anti-suppression 3rd edition style would bring them in line with Grey Knights and Necrons as well (the new anti-suppression trend for tanks).

The major question becomes though - how do assault units maximise the use of the Wave Serpent? A potential new upgrade to provide assault ramps or a different transport all together? Whilst you can certainly use Wave Serpents and assault units as we see above, it's not exactly a piece of cake to pull off and if the ranges are off, the unit stays tucked inside the transport waiting. Some sort of upgrade which would allow units to get out of the transport and assault on the turn it moves would go a long way to making those specific units a lot more viable in more lists (beyond making said units more viable in a foot based list) and keeping it as an upgrade doesn't create a waste of points for the standard transport.


As it stands, the Wave Serpent is an excellent gunboat and transport but there are two glaring issues - price and lack of assault ramp. As 5th edition has gone on, the Wave Serpent has felt its inflated cost in relation to the new Rhinos, Razorbacks and Chimeras. It is certainly stronger than them all with energy fields and AV12, but when you get two-three Razorbacks or Chimeras for every Wave Serpent, there's too large a discrepancy going on. Beyond this, the use of the Wave Serpent is limited in conjunction with assault units and Eldar have quite a few assault based Aspects. They may not be the most impressive units themselves but an assault ramp transport would go a long way to seeing them in more lists. How this issue is solved - upgrade for Wave Serpents, very good foot options for said units or new transport entirely, isn't as important as actually having the solution. If Wave Serpents are part of that solution, well excellent obviously.

Beyond this, Wave Serpents bring a tough and durable tank which is fast and brings multiple heavy weapons to the table. All of these are good things as they bring so many tactical options even though you're overpaying for them. The ability to not only provide fast transportation for units but pretty decent firepower whilst taking quite a bit of damage on the chin thanks to AV12 and energy fields is really valuable. This is the basis of the Eldar flexibility in game plans and part of their overall strategy each game.

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