Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Eldar Seer Council and You

This article is going to look at one of the nastier units out there: the Eldar Seer Council. What's a Seer Council, you ask? The Warlock is typically a 'sarge' type upgrade for Guardian units (or Wraithguard).
However, the Eldar also have the option to bring a unit made solely of Warlocks as an additional HQ choice with your Farseer. These guys have the capability to be one of the most durable, killy units in the codex.

Warlock Wargear
Warlocks come with three pieces of wargear: the shuriken pistol, the wytchblade, and rune armor. They have a single base attack, and WS4, I4. S is irrelevant, as they carry the wytchblade. They may upgrade their wytchblade to a singing spear for a mere 3 points. While it's not wargear, this is also a fine place to note that footslogging Warlocks are also Fleet.

Why is the wytchblade so cool?
I'm glad you asked. Short answer: it wounds on a fixed 2+, and it strikes at S9 versus anything with an armor value. In other words, Warlocks are very adept at shanking people, and they will also beat down vehicles. On the charge, Warlocks throw three attacks: 1 base + 1 for 2 CCWs + 1 for charging.

On the Singing Spear
The Singing Spear gives you the ability to 'shoot' vehicles. It is a two-handed melee weapon, so Warlocks are stuck at their base one attack. At range, the Spear is S9, AP6 with a 12" range. It is probably worth considering a Spear or two, for a couple reasons: 1) if on jetbikes, you can shoot the vehicle, and then have options based on damage results; 2) wound allocation games; they can create another 'group' for allocating wounds. If nothing else, a single Spear is 3pts and loses you one attack.

Warlock Powers
Warlocks have access to a variety of 'Warlock Powers.' These are technically psychic powers, but do not require psychic tests. As such, they cannot be countered by something like a psychic hood. The main point? Warlocks are psykers. Oooh, ahh, so noted. Not important unless there's something like a Culexus Assassin nearby, and who runs those?

This is the neat little thing that makes Seer councils absurdly killy at close range. It is effectively a heavy flamer; it is a template weapon that fires at S5, AP4. It is 10 points for a Warlock. It is deadly against troops, especially when combined with Doom. AP4 means you flat-out kill any xenos; few are those non-marines with 3+ armor saves. (Though our codex has the Scorpions and Spiders, a couple of the exceptions. You generally won't see those, though.)

This is a neat melee support power. Your unit benefits from +1WS and +1I. This is not cumulative, so there's no "I brought 4 Enhance so we're all WS8, I8!" No, that's crap, so don't try to pull it. It does boost Warlocks from WS4 I4 to WS5, I5, which means they generally go first/simultaneously, and they hit on 3+ most of the time. We'll discuss why it's worth bringing this power later. 15 points is on the pricier end for the powers, but it is nonetheless worth it.

5 points for a power that lets you re-roll leadership tests. Now, Warlocks are Ld8, but the Farseer that might be attached to them has Ld10. This makes it difficult to break, and it also is the most effective means of boosting your Farseer's ability to get psychic powers off. (see Dverning's numbers here; I take no credit for the math. Or any mistakes in it. ; ) ).

15 points to always carry a 5+ cover save with you for the unit. Warlocks have a 4++ save from Rune Armor as it is, so you can safely skip this for the Seer Council. There are two weapons that I can think of that negate invulnerable saves at range; the Psycannon and Incinerator. If you have an armor save (and you ought to; we'll explain why in a moment) then you ought not worry.

Gearing up the Seer Council
There are effectively two ways to run a Seer Council in 5th. You can mount them on bikes, or you can leave them on foot and load them into a Wave Serpent. You could theoretically footslog them, but you run into the Eldar issue with a horde: you are an army of specialists, and if you are on foot, it is much easier for the enemy to simply blow you away before you get close enough to do your damage.

Basics of Warlock Configuration
Warlocks are close-ranged units. That much is apparent from their gear and power selection: essentially nasty melee weapons and heavy flamers. Since the Farseer will be with them, Embolden is worth far more than its 5pt price tag. (psychic tests are leadership tests, after all). Since you will end up in melee more often than not, Enhance is similarly worth it. You may have to assault into cover, and there's nothing for that. But, moving to WS5 will generally move your Warlocks to hitting on 3+, and still being struck back at 4+ in assault. This is worth it.

The rest of your powers? Warlocks may select a single power. You don't have to take powers, but 3-4 Destructors are usually enough to thoroughly BBQ your target (unless it's something stupidly resilient like Plague Marines. You will, of course, heap the wounds on them and any other monstrous creature. Were you hoping your T6 would defend you? That's nice, we wound you on 2+ in melee. Still, some durable targets CAN take the abuse you dish out.)

So, for the council:
Embolden x1
Enhance x1
3-4+ Destructor
1-2+ Spears, to taste
That means we want at least a 6-man council, ideally more. The enemy (if they don't already know) will realize that your council is capable of doing unspeakable acts to ANY unit on the board they can catch.

The Biker Council
Make no mistake: the biker Seer Council is expensive in terms of points and cost as well; GW for some reason feels like bikes ought to cost. Warlocks start at 25 points, and the Jetbike is another 20 points. This means a maxed-out 10-man council starts at 450.

Then, you have to add in the Farseer to the cost. I suggest the following Farseer for the Biker Council:

Farseer w/ Jetbike, Runes of Warding, Spirit Stones, Fortune, Doom.
Total cost: 175.

Fortune is what gives the Biker Council its real 'oomph.' The Jetbike grants you a 3+ armor save, and the Rune Armor grants you a 4+ invulnerable. With Fortune, therefore, you have an 11% chance of failing an armor save, and a 25% chance of failing an invulnerable save. The enemy MUST devote a massive number of shots to force enough wounds to deplete the council. The moral of this story? Bring a lot of jetbike Warlocks, as they need to be able to survive a heap of gunfire and and still be a threat.

King Elessar brought up an interesting point for the Seer Council: Mind War over Doom. If you're hitting an enemy squad that has a powerfist or something hidden in it, and you want to be locked into assault, nuke the fellow with the Powerfist/klaw/what-have-you. His words are somewhere in the middle of this post. Personally, I find Mind War to be highly comical when you kill a linchpin-type unit in the other guy's army.

An additional note with the jetseer council? If you have the attached Farseer cast Fortune on the squad, you can get 18" in a turn: 12" move, + 6" in the assault phase, as you are Eldar jetbikes and therefore entitled to a 6" move in the assault phase. Huzzah, space elves. Really. Your bikes are cooler than theirs. If you have two Farseers, the non-Jetbike Farseer can simply cast Fortune on the Jetbike squad, and then you can turbo-boost. Note that you cannot use psychic powers AND turbo-boost on bikes, per the rules.

A sample Jetbike Seer Council would be something like:

8 Warlocks on Jetbikes (8x45 = 360)
4 Destructor (4x10 = 40)
Enhance (15)
Embolden (5)
3 Singing Spears (3x3 = 9)
Total: 420 points.
Farseer w/ Jetbike, Runes of Warding, Spirit Stones, Fortune, Doom.
Total cost: 175

Final points cost of the 8-man 'minimal' Seer Council: 604 points.

As said, this is a bloody expensive unit, but very durable, and capable of doing damage to anything it can catch. Four heavy flamers for hordes (and even a heap of twin-linked Shuriken Catapults, for what they're worth. Yay, bike guns. Really.) and then massed Wytchblades for melee against vehicles, walkers, etc. You can charge dreadnoughts and kill them without fear of reprisal if you've got Enhance still.

Wound Allocation in the Unit
First off, if you lose the Farseer, you lose psychic support, and a good chunk of your durability. If you are facing an enemy that has WS3 or lower all around, Enhance is expendable. Enhance is a neat goody, but after you get into the enemy early on, it becomes less important. The 'naked' warlocks are obviously expendable, but while there are still enemies out there to burn, you want to hold onto your Destructors. Bear in mind that while you are T4, it's actually T3(4); you still eat Instant Death on the Farseer on S6+ hits. So, avoid giving him those wounds if you can.

Assault and the Farseer
The jetbikes have a little more leeway in this because of their speed, but it goes for the foot council as well. Sometimes, after the burny and the spearing, you're going to assault. Sometimes, that unit has a schmuck with a powerfist, or something else capable of inflicting Instant Death on your Farseer. Now, he's an independent character, so in assault he's a unit unto himself (or herself, if you prefer. Call me crazy, or maybe it's Dawn of War's influence: I see Farseers as female. Oh well.). This means the other guy can single out the Seer. Well, we look to assault rules, and find that you have to move your closest unit into assault first. Then, the other guy has to pile in. But, only unengaged models pile in. So, if the enemy has a powerfist, it behooves you to see two conditions met:

1) You hit the powerfist on the get-go with your charge moves
2) Your Farseer is on the other side of this melee.

You want the Farseer on the other side so the Powerfist isn't within 2" of anyone engaged with the Farseer. Otherwise, the fist can still reach the Seer and turn your psychic support into chunky spaghetti sauce. Hopefully, if you can't avoid engaging the first you kill it before it swings, and failing that, you're in the land of "Oh, crap, can I make the saves and keep my Seer?"

The Joy that is the Eldar Jet Bike
past the T3(4) note and the semi-interesting guns (hey, I'll take the twin-linked catapult over the pistol any day of the week if I'm shooting something), the Eldar Jet Bike DOES have one big advantage. You'll have to hit the main rulebook for it, but note that Eldar Jet Bikes may always move 6" in the assault phase, even if they are not moving into assault.

What does this mean to you? Versatility, that's what.

Well, if you only brought one Farseer, it means you can still get Fortune on, and move 12"+6" for an 18" advance.

The second major advantage is you can decide what you want to do after your shooting phase. Let's say you brought a few Singing Spears. Not a hefty investment. The enemy has a transport nearby. Say you got within 6" of it. You throw your spears. Well, if you blow up the vehicle and have enemies in assault range, you can follow up with a charge on them. If you don't blow up the vehicle, you can consider assaulting the vehicle, depending on how fast it moved last turn. (Spears always hit on a 3+; assault is variable.). Or, if you blow it up and the other guys are out of charge range, you can back off 6". The same goes for hosing down troops with Destructor. If you break them and they run out of range, you can backpedal 6" and potentially get out of easy counter-charge range. Or, you can simply plunge in and finish the job.
The Foot Council
To be honest, I see the Foot Council as second place to the Jetbike Council. You can still take a massive unit and try to launch assaults out of the back of a Wave Serpent, but there are issues (touched on here) with that. Mostly, you have to run up, hope no one blows you up, and then get out and assault next turn.

As such, you would be looking at something like...
8 Warlocks (8x20 = 160)
4 Destructors (4x10 = 40)
Enhance (15)
Embolden (5)
3 Spears (3x3 = 9)
Farseer w/ Runes of Warding, Spirit Stones, Doom, Fortune (145)
Wave Serpent w/ TL Shuriken Cannon, Spirit Stones, Vectored Engines (130)
Total: 504

As you can see, dropping the bikes and picking up a Wave Serpent (which, here, is optimized for troop delivery only) saves you 100 points over the Jetbike Council. You are less durable as Warlocks with just a 4+ re-rollable. If you lose the Serpent early, you are on foot, and we go back to the problem of 'Ah, I bet I can nuke that before it gets to me.' If you lose the Serpent in the other guy's face, well, if he's smart he'll be in a position to hurt your Council dead.

Alternatively, you can cheapen the squad and just run it as a heavy flamer delivery system. I think it might look something like:

Farseer w/ Doom, Spirit Stones, Fortune (130)
4 Warlocks (4x25 = 100)
4 Destructor (4x10 = 40)
Sub-total: 270 (before Transport)

Here, we've got a much smaller and more focused Warlock unit. Its sole purpose is to Doom a target and feed it four heavy flamers. It will then promptly die, much like Fire Dragons. Why? This is a lot of firepower focused into one package. After it appears, anyone who can do so will kill it. I suppose this configuration could work; though I would suggest my default Serpent config of Bright Lance + Shuriken Cannon at 145, since you may want to sit back and shoot for a bit. We bring Fortune so we can grant our Serpent a 4+ cover save. This means the enemy must focus more fire into the tank to drop it, which is a problem.

Still, I can't shake the feeling that such a minimalist use of the Council ignores its Witchblades and potential durability. If anyone uses it in such a manner, let me know how it works for you, as I am curious.

Final Note on the Serpent-mounted Council
There is one glaring weakness of the mechanized council: if the enemy pops the transport, game over for the council. Wave Serpents are durable with their energy field, but even then it's just AV12. They are not immortal.

On the other hand, the Serpent Council has the Serpent around it. If the enemy manages to knock the Fortune off the Jetbike Council (for whatever reason, be it a psychic hood, you just flubbed the roll, or just came in from reserves) then you are essentially Marines in cover in terms of durability and the enemy WILL maim/kill the unit. Alternatively, a Serpent Council can combine a turbo-boost save of 4+ and Fortune. (Beware Hydra Flak Tanks, though, as they'll just laugh at your turbo-boost save and blow you to hell in a hail of twin-linked autocannon shots.)

Conclusions on the Seer Council
Make no mistake: the Seer Council, in any form, is capable of being a massive threat. It wants to be in the enemy's face, butchering their vehicles or burning their troops down before shanking the remains with psychically-charged blades.

As such, the challenge in using the Seer Council is getting it to the effective short range. The Biker Council is mobile until dead, whereas the mounted council ceases to be as much of a threat if you pop their transport early. However, Fortune + Turbo Boost = a Serpent with a 4+ re-rollable save in the other guy's face, which is usually a bit of a pain to deal with.
Any way you look at it, a Seer Council is a massive fire magnet. They do their best work up close, and if the enemy can stop them before they close? Lots of points rendered ineffective, but that's something you might be used to if you've rolled out the Land Raiders and such.

For durability, both Councils have access to a form of it. The Serpent Council has a wave serpent hull for protection, and can combine a turbo-boost's 4+ cover save with Fortune. The Jetbike Council has a 3+/4++ set of saves, but is much more reliant on Fortune to be durable. If the enemy can get you without fortune (IE: came in from reserves, flubbed the roll, or got a psychic hood to the forebrain) then you can expect them to try to nuke your council. On the other hand, a Jetbike Council can't lose its mobility to a single lucky shot. In short, the durability and mobility are a tradeoff.

In terms of assaultyness, the Jetbike Council wins out in my opinion because of the assault move; they can back off if the situation warrants it whereas the Serpent Council commits, and if they really want to assault instead of just being a flamer unit, they take a couple turns to get a convincing one off.

Any way you cut it, the Seer Council is an investment; you're looking at 500-600 points in anything beyond a minimal burny Council. However, this unit can do some serious damage. The only thing to watch for is stuff with hefty armor saves; things like Terminators with 2+ saves and Plague Marines with 3+ armor and 4+ FNP can absorb a heap of wounds.
Comments/suggestions are as usual welcome and encouraged.


Dverning said...

Mmmm, my favorite part, popping up with edits! Yet again, another thorough and thoughtful post.

1. Thanks for the link-backs. The math should be sound as I've crunched it multiple times and had others verify...
2. I think the T3(4) should be moved from Wound Allocation up to the same spot as the Rune Armour. It's a matter of durability, not wound allocation. (Small item, but that's my feeling.)
3. Wound Allocation: Farseers are an Independent Character. In CC they count as a separate squad for ALL purposes. This means attacks, taking attacks, and wound allocation. You can't "hide" them in the unit. Instead, the way to keep them alive is being creative with your charge. You'll want to contact minimal enemy units and none with a S6+ attack. Then try to engage those S6+ models with your Warlocks and/or surround your Farseer so that they can't contact him with Defender's React. Smart engagement will greatly reduce the threat to your Farseer and can be an art in of itself. (So really, I'm saying remove the Wound Allocation sectio entirely as it's really Tactics of Assaulting... though you could note something on spreading Torrent of Fire Wound Allocation regarding differentiated wargear...)
4. I think you still undervalue the Serpent as an Assault craft. It's all about good positioning and possibly extra resilience thanks to Fortune. I'm working on a tactica specific to Serpent Assault that I'm hoping to post some time post-Ard Boyz.
5. Bonus for the Serpent Council over Jetlocks? They have a form of protective durability (their tank) from the moment they hit the field. Jetlocks on the first turn, a failed Fortune, or coming in from Reserves aren't any more difficult to kill than a Marine in cover.
6. I also think you're looking at the Council as an assault unit too much. Their inability to ignore armour means they struggle against heavy elements like Termies or Plague Marines. Yes, statistically you should eventually whittle them down, but it takes a while. What good is it to destroy a unit in 8 turns when the game only lasts 5-7? Councils are an excellent shock unit and tarpit, but have a bad habit of bogging down if you aren't careful.
7. I think your bias towards them as an assault unit also means you discounted Spears too quickly. I'll admit that I did it too when first writing my tactica for them.
Consider hunting a tank: Spear can throw at 12"+, determine results, and then back off 6" or whatever. Blade-only have to charge in, cluster up, there's no consolidation move allowed no matter the result, and the tank can move away (if able) to leave the Council free to be blasted by templates or something.
Consider hunting a Transport: Spears can drive up close, pop the tank, assault the tank if they fail to kill it or assault the guys inside. Blade-only can only drive up and assault the tank, leaving the guys inside potentially unmolested to shoot and charge on the opponent's turn.
Consider the difference in to-hit: Spears hit vehicles on a 3+ and a Farseer Spear on a 2+. Blades-only hit a vehicle that moved 6"+ on a 6+.
Consider the difference in total attacks: Spears throw 1 shot, and then charge to get 1A base and +1 for charging to get a total of 3 attacks. Blades have 1A base, +1 for 2xCCW, and +1 for charging to get a total of 3. (There's also incidental arguments back and forth like "Wych Weapons No bonus CCWs" versus "Spears can't throw around a corner but you can assault around one"... I consider those a wash.)
Basically, I'm not saying that everyone needs to have Spears, but sprinkling in a few per Council is cheap and gives you an extra layer of flexibility. Then if you face an opponent where you don't need them or where you've eliminated the threats they're good against, those guys can be the ones you allocate wounds to first.

Raptor1313 said...

Huzzah, edits!

On math, if someone else does it soundly, I see nooooo reason to do it myself. I just link back, and we're all happy.

On 'hiding' in assault, I meant it more as you said: charge creatively. However, I could've been clearer.

On spears: you are correct. I have undervalued them, but I think in a larger unit, a few have a place as you've mentioned.

Serpent Durability: that is true. I could probably give it a fairer shake, as you are correct to point out that the council is just marines in cover without the fortune. I should probably add under the 'cons' that a Biker Council - Fortune = Soon to be KIA council. That also hampers into their reserveability, but I should mention that.

I end up thinking of them as an assault unit, though in truth it's more accurate to say they're a short ranged/assault unit. I shall have to meditate on this more after I clean up from a workout.

As ever, the edits are appreciated; there are spots I miss and when folks point 'em out, I can tweak 'em and then post up a better analysis.

CJ said...

Well I play a Seer Council and looking at the close combat rules I can see no reason why a Powerfist if allready charged by a warlocks model can even attack a Farseer even if he is next to it.

let me explain. it states that models can only hit the unit they are first placed in to base to base with. So if you place your warlock into base to base with the Sergeant or other geezer weilding a power fist he is then only allowed to hit him and the other warlocks since they are a unit separate from the farseer in terms of Combat. Their for he would not be allowed to hit the farseer even if within 2"of a model that is into base to base with the Farseer.

hope this explains it well enough I would like to hear what you think about this.

Cheers CJ

Raptor1313 said...

CJ, you are correct, I believe.

You must fight what you are in base contact with, so as long as the Fist is only in contact with Warlocks, you'd be safe. If the fist is in contact with the Farseer AND Warlocks, then it may elect to try to smack up that Farseer.

The_King_Elessar said...

Raptor is, ofc, correct on that. Great article again, one thing I'd add on the topic of edits - please replace appropriate Turbo-Boost references for the Serpent with Flat Out. :)
Makes it easier to explain to people (*cough Stelek cough* why Deff Koptas that Scout Boost get Cover Saves, while a Valk doesn't... ;)

As usual, thanks for links. :) Again, one that'll get linked in my CGTTE.

Peter said...

I may be mistaken but I'm pretty sure that you only get the bonus against vehicles if you upgrade to the singing spear, might be worth re-checking your codex/rule book

jordan said...

nope witch blades are s 9 vs vehicles as well... In my saim hann i run a 5 man council, all destructor with a farseer and it is more fragile and as such not a unit i can just ram down some1's throat, but if used carefully it can toast armies. The trick is not getting into cc against armies like marines with good armor, as I am worthless in cc with that unit. I usually keep at least one of my 3 9 man jetbike squads near by to pour buckets of doomed (my farseer has it) cannon fire and catapult fire into the unit i am destructoring to make sure im not in cc, and that way if i succeed in killing it with the flamers alone the other unit can use its 24" shots somewhere else and assault move away. Against things like orks, i tend to try to actually ram it down throats, as they generally have low armor saves and i can actually kill stuff in cc, and thus i use mind war instead of doom to kill the nob with klaw (as wound distribution never ceases to befuddle me) and then i get in cc, take no wounds, do 2-3 and run them down. So in general the min council works, but I only play 1500-2000 pts, so at 2500 which seems to be a very popular size it may be killed easily by the weight of firepower. Just my experience with the min council...