Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Autarch and Deployment Options

I admit that I've been back and forth on the inclusion of an Autarch in my Eldar army. However, my regular sparring partner, Jon, has recently gone to Guard. I have learned, to my detriment a couple times now, that if you cannot hide enough of your army against Guard, they are very capable of nuking you to death on turn one. If Guard doesn't kill you with the opening volley, Guard can certainly cripple your force.

However, this isn't just about fighting off the armored horde that is the Imperial Guard. This is about what the Autarch brings you. The bulk of it is one little special rule, called...

Master Strategist
The Autarch (including Prince Yriel of Iyanden, the hero autarch) grants you +1 to reserve rolls. Why is this important? Eldar don't have nasty units like drop-podding Dreadnoughts, Terminators, Soul Grinders, or something else that deep-strikes in later in the game and brings you ladles of pain.

One of the common strategies in a smaller, mobile armor involves is the 'refused flank.' To wit, the enemy deploys spread out, and you refuse to engage him on one flank and focus your forces on the other flank. The Autarch lets you go a step further, and refuse to deploy. Instead, you can opt place everything in reserve.

What kind of army benefits from this strategy?
If you're moving in from reserve, it means moving in from your own long board edge. As such, you want your army to be reasonably swift. In other words, you want most of your army to be mechanized, or you want to be able to hide the army.

I wouldn't suggest this with a predominantly foot-slogging army; but then again I wouldn't really suggest running a predominantly footslogging army period. However, Wraithguard in particular don't much like having to start out walking on from the board edge. Basic Guardian squads aren't fond of it either, and Rangers should usually find a hiding spot or just find cover and go to ground.

The other note with placing stuff in reserve is that you don't get Fortune/Guide/Doom the turn you come in, as the Farseer MUST cast these at the beginning of the turn, and he/she is not actually on the board at the beginning of the turn. As such, something like a jetbike Seer Council is best hidden on the board so that the Farseer can cast Fortune on them. Believe me, if the enemy can get a turn of shooting on the Seer Council without Fortune, they're going to do their level best to nuke your super-unit.

Why would I want to place everything in reserve?
You don't always want to place your full army in reserve. There are several scenarios where I would suggest such a strategy.

1: Going Second vs a Shooty Army
If you don't have enough cover, and the other guy has a good chance to bring down a lot of your mobile units. If you lose your mobility advantage, you can be in for a world of pain; those Fire Dragons tend NOT to advance far on foot. In general in 5th, infantry out in the open aren't likely to last long, especially not T3 with a 4+ armor save. Guard are one such matchup.

2: Playing against Daemons
The MAJOR perk daemons have going for them is choice deployment. Half of the daemon army MUST deep-strike into play on the first turn. If the daemon player wins the choice of first turn, they're going to make you go first. This time? You say "Sure, I'll go first," as you don't care. You're actually getting the initiative on him.

Considering that daemons also generally need to assault you, this strategy is simply brutal versus daemons.

3: Versus Drop pod marines
The drop pod assault rules in the Space Marine Codex (not the Black Templar and the Angel codices, mind you) require 1/2 of the pods, rounded up, to arrive on turn one. Like daemons, the advantage is to immediately set you on your back foot. Suddenly there's a Dreadnought or two, or combi-melta-wielding Sternguard in your face. He gets the first shot.

You get the first shot if you come in on your board edge; he just gets choice deployment.

4: Armies with other hit-you-fast strategies
This is a bit of a catch-call category. Some armies will have tricks that let them get shots on you very fast. One such example is the scouting Valkyrie with melta-vets: it can scout-move 24", move 12", and drop off vets. Since Eldar vehicles are AV12, three BS4 meltaguns are likely to pen or glance you at least once, even if they're not in melta range.

Other examples include turbo-boosting Raven Guard and Eversor Assassins, but in general it's worth noting that losing an Eldar tank or two right off the bat is hard to come back from.

Basically, if the other guy has some neat-o 'I go first and blow something of yours up' trick, you want to think about reserving in.

How can this strategy go wrong?
1: Reserve Dice
You need a 3+ to arrive on turn two, and a 2+ on turn 3, and auto-arrive on turn 4 or later. There is always the risk that you will not see enough of your army on turn two. You can negate this further by taking a second autarch, but you must then sacrifice your psychic support. To be honest, I'd rather make the reserve strategy an option, as opposed to my army's sole focus.

2: Guard Advisors
The Imperial guard company command squad can take an Officer of the Fleet, which means you have -1 to reserve rolls.

Your mileage may vary on how often you see this. Most guard armies should be able to nuke daemons, and most other armies (other than drop-pod armies) aren't exactly fazed by this option. However, if you see an Office of the Fleet in the enemy's list, be advised that your reserve trick is now only 'normal'.

How do I use that Autarch?
Let's assume I've sold you on bringing an Autarch for +1 to reserves and the reserve-my-whole-army trick. How do you get something out of the Autarch on the field?

Autarch Statline
The autarch is WS6, BS6, S3, T3, W3, I6, 3 attacks, Ld10, and has a 3+ armor save and 4+ invulnerable. What's that tell us? He's accurate with whatever gun we give him, and he's got solid I and WS. His basic kit includes plasma grenades, at the least. He is also Fleet of Foot, matching him with most of the rest of the Eldar armor (save for Dark Reapers, Warp Spiders and Striking Scorpions.)

Autarch Gear
Basic kit includes a pistol, plasma grenades, and haywire grenades. This means he can get a bonus melee attack, goes at initiative, and can try to slap grenades on a vehicle. The Haywire glances on 2-5, and pens a vehicle on a 6. Not really THAT effective, but it's something. So, how can we kit out the Autarch?

-Mobility Options.
If, for some reason, you feel like running Warp Spiders or Swooping Hawks, the Autarch can take a Warp Jump Generator or Swooping Hawk Wings and pace that unit. If you have jetbikes, he can mount up and go with them, too. You pay 20-30 points for those options.

-Melee Options
There are two sets of melee kit you can bring: the head-mounted one, and the hand-mounted one. A Banshee Mask costs 3 and lets you go at I10 at the onset of any combat, or for 10 points you can get a Mandiblaster, which translates to +1 attack.

For melee weapons, you can pick a power weapon, a scorpion chainsword, or the bike-autarch can take a laser lance. The chainsword gives you +1S, meaning you wound most guys on a 4+. I'd still favor the power weapon, just so any wounds you do get stick. If you're on a jetbike, go ahead and take a laser lance, I suppose. It's an S6 Lance shot before being an S6 power weapon on the turn you charge.

-Guns, guns, and guns
The Autarch can take a variety of firearms: Avenger Shuriken Catapult, Death Spinner, Fusion Gun, Lasblaster, or Reaper Launcher. In other words, he can hang with most units and contribute an identical gun. But, is that what you want to do? For the most part, I'd think about a Fusion Gun, since any unit he's with can benefit from a BS6 meltagun equivalent.

Autarch Buildouts
-Rides-with-fire-dragons (90 points)
Power weapon, fusion gun.
Fairly straight-forward. He can mop up a couple of guys, or add his fusion gun shot to whatever. To be honest, this is kind of a solid utility build.

-Rides-with-the-Seer-Council (120 points)
Jetbike, Mandiblasters, Laser Lance
Also straight-forward. IF you want, you can trade the laser lance for a power weapon and fusion gun. He throws out five S6 power weapon attacks on the charge at WS6 (WS7, I7 if there's an Enhance-equipped warlock in the seer council). It's a way to incorporate the autarch into a seer council, but beware as it means the council's worth 3 kill points now.

My personal favorite for the standard Autarch is the power weapon/fusion gun; it's just an economical build and meshes well with mounted Fire Dragons.

Prince Yriel of Iyanden (155 points)
Yriel is the hero autarch. He has the 'master strategist' rule, but is also significantly nastier than a standard Autarch. Given his price, I would hope so. He does keep the standard 3+ armor save and 4+ force shield invulnerable save.

-Yriel in melee
Yriel is actually a bit of a loner in melee. This is because of the Eye of Wrath. Once a game, in lieu of making his attacks, he may place the large blast template over himself. All models, save Yriel, take an S6, AP3 hit. In other words, you can drop Yriel out of a transport or split him off; he then walks up to a unit, makes them pile in, and proceeds to blow them all to pieces. He's a pirate and that's one awesome eyepatch.

But, it gets worse. Or, better, if you're using him. Yriel has four base attacks at WS6, I7 with the Spear of Twilight. The Spear of Twilight is a singing spear that ignores armor saves, so in practical terms Yriel gets five attacks on the charge that hit at WS6, I7 and wound on 2+ with no armor saves allowed. If Yriel is tackling vehicles, the Spear of Twilight (which is a singing spear, which is a variant of a wytchblade, which is in the main rule book) hits at S9.

-Yriel at range
The Spear of Twilight is a singing spear; so Yriel fires one S9, AP6 attack out to 12" with BS6

-Yriel's cons
The Spear of Twilight means that Yriel is 'doomed,' since it's kind of trying to eat him and he can't put it down. In game terms, at the end of the game Yriel takes a wound from the Spear of Twilight and gets his 4+ invulnerable save. It could bite you in a KP game, but Autarchs aren't THAT hard to put down. He's still T3, which means S6+ wounds insta-kill him.

Autarch Options Summary
I suggest keeping him cheap and running him with fire dragons or another mechanized squad. 90 points for a fusion gun and power weapon; mandiblaster or banshee mask as points filler. Yriel can mount up with a forward-moving squad, and be split off to go tackle something with the Eye of Wrath or Spear of Twilight.

Autarch Summary
Autarchs add +1 to your reserve rolls, and can grant you the ability to keep the drop on enemies that might otherwise cripple you if you gave them the first shot. The Autarch as a unit is best kept cheap, or you can bring Yriel with his abject nastiness in melee.
Disclaimer: ...that's not my autarch. It's way too nice. It's a GW pic.

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