At foodhammer (a great event by the way) that I hope to go to next year, I was lucky enough to “win” the event. Foodhammer is NOT actually a tournament, more like a bunch of people playing pickup games and earning a few points for each game. No real rhyme or reason and not designed to determine the best player/best army. Which made the question I received the end a bit odd. Someone asked me what I thought of the current state of elder, to which I responded, “They are bad, the worst codex in the game right now.” I probably should have put a qualifier in there about sisters (unsure about them) and that with Forgeworld they are still a bottom tier codex but not THE bottom tier. This was promptly followed up with, so how to do win with them? I don’t remember what I said, probably something about having some tricks they can do and lots of experience, but the question has bugged me. So here is more in depth answer to the question. First a couple of pregame items.
- Build a balanced list. Too many army out there can just shrug off even the most min-maxed eldar list. This means you need to have a lot of tricks, not just one really good one. Building a Rock-paper-scissors list is more like building a list for a game of Rock-paper-towel-towel-scissors (towels are paper that beat rock and sometime beat scissors) list and only being able to choose rock.
- Read the mission and the rules. They are stronger than you overall so you need to concentrate on the objectives.
- Look at the Forgeworld options available. They aren’t game breaking by any means but a nightwing are probably the best air to air option in the game, wraithseers seem cool, warp hunters give you some decent ranged fire power, hornets are what vypers should be, phoenixes provide a lot of fire power (but are very expensive). None of these are great units, but they do help fill the holes in the codex. Splashing a unit or two is something I recommend (if allowed).
I’m going to start with a discussion about strategy and overall mindset for the game.
First you need to recognize what the weaknesses in your opponent’s lists are. I suspect most people would put understand your army strengths in the first spot. In fact this is so engrained that when Is started writing this, I originally had it as my first item. However I don’t think this works for eldar. It is quite possible that your army does not have any strengths relative to the opponent. So you first need to figure out how to stop your opponent from achieving the mission. If your opponent is stopped from achieving the mission the worst result you get is a draw (which is just fine given the relative starting strengths).
Next understand your opponent’s strengths and figure out how to prevent him from implementing them. I know, exploit their weakness and avoid their strength isn’t exactly rocket science but it is different from maximize your strength and minimize your weakness. While taking a break from writing I read an article on fritz40k.com that said “Active players don’t care what they opponent does since their army will counter every move, and is playing to the mission/tournament goals first and foremost, and NEVER the other play or opposing army. “ Even though fritz is an eldar player (and a good one from what I can tell) I think he is wrong here. Don’t get me wrong , you can react to everything your opponent does but you do have to adapt to their army. Sending scorpions after the grey hunters and banshees after their IG allies isn’t a good idea. However if you don’t have a choice about who to send where, there is nothing wrong with it.
Take baby steps. Look for every little gain you can find. Remember you are losing to start so an even trade is actually a trade in your advantage (it gets you closer to the draw). If they use a 150 point unit to chase your 150 point unit, that is probably a win for you. Most likely, they are giving up a lot of capability than you are. This is a hard concept to explain but if you start with the (correct) assumption that eldar are over-pointed compared to current codexes by “trading” an over-pointed unit for equal points of “properly” pointed units you are actually getting a better deal. Let me also be clear that “taking out” does not always mean killing. A unit of pathfinders gets shot at and goes to ground. None die (2+ save) but they are no closer to winning either. Sure you are unlikely to do anything in return but he is no closer to winning.
Do this enough and eventually you will (hopefully) find a tipping point at which you and your opponent are close enough in capability or a mistake is made that you can start to try and actually win the game. The 66 point eldar jetbike unit is about 30-40 points over-costed in terms of impact on the table top. (They are extremely valuable at winning you the game however) So every time the enemy shoots or adjusts because of them it is gravy (unless of course they are wiped out- that is bad, as those bikes are probably needed to draw/win the game).
Without getting into specific tactics, you have to remember that adapting is key. I don’t think the eldar are strong enough to have a game plan and stick to it. Your army isn’t strong enough and if you will lose a battle of strength. Please note this does not mean you should be purely reactive to everything and it almost definitely means you shouldn’t be defensive. Taking the fight to the enemy and forcing them to make a choice is often an excellent idea. But you have to be ready to make sure that whatever choice they make is as painful as possible (once again pain isn’t always about removing models from the board, it can just as easily be about being out of position). Determining when to change the role of your bikes from distraction units to scoring units is a form of adaption. The key to successfully adapting is knowing what your army strengths are (and how strong they are). Every turn the enemy is going to hurt you, this means you need to be able to assess the damage, figure out what tool you lost and find new tools to replace them. When I fenced, I scored most of my point on parries followed by ripostes (parries stop the opponents attack and ripostes are your attacks back) . Generally this is a defensive procedure, however defensive fencing is generally a good way to lose slowly, so what I would do is attack, expect a parry riposte from my opponent and counter his riposte. This form of aggressive defense is something I find useful in 40k as well.
In closing, approaching the game as if the eldar army is the de-clawed cat at the cat fight is a good idea. You are different, you don’t have the same options as your opponents, but that can be strength even if you don’t have claws, you still have your teeth and your opponent may not know how to defend vs. that.