Wednesday 1 July 2009

Wave Serpents, and how to use them.

40K has a great many Tanks, and even more armoured vehicles. It has many Skimmers. It has many Fast vehicles. Very few vehicles combine these attributes however, and most of them belong to those most enigmatic glass hammers, the Eldar. The Eldar are not an army to be taken lightly, on either side of the table. Playing against an Eldar army can feel like trying to fight your own shadow - they can dance around evading your most dangerous units, systematically eliminating the things you have that pose them any danger before swooping in to finish you off, or merely grinding you into the dirt from where they are if that is their wont.

Playing as Eldar is no less impressive, when done correctly - buit they are NOT an army a beginner should take up. Wielding an Eldar force is more like playing Tetris than the common Chess comparison. Tetris is easy if you're good, and have the correct pieces at the right time, but if you constantly get 's' and 'z' shaped pieces, and never a nice 'l', then you'll soon fill your screen with immovable blocks too close for comfort, or Ork Mobs as the rest of us call them!

Of all the weapons available to the Eldar, the Wave Serpent is perhaps the best. At first glance, it's not a hugely powerful option - No Fire Points, one Access Point, two twin-linked weapons, and averaging around 120 points. When you compare this to the Razorback in the SM Codex, or, even more pertinently the Chimera, you may feel short-changed.

This is where the 'Energy Field' comes into its own. This simple rule makes the Serpent quite simply the most survivable tank in the entire game. It's the vehicular equivalent of getting in a transport vehicle, that's how good it is. It's the e to the mc get the point. :)

The Energy Field allows the Serpent to perform it's many roles with aplomb. This post isn't going to be a detailed look at each one of these roles, but a general overview with an example for each. Beforehand though, a quick refresher - the weapon options for the Serpent are identical to the ones for War Walkers, Guardian Platforms, and Vypers - although it has the advantage of being twin-linked, essentially for free.

Okay, different ways to use a Serpent:

1) A mobile infantry shield:
The most obvious way, as it is the basic Transport role - keeping infantry safe until they can do their job. Unfortunately, the Serp is not optimised for this role, due to the fact that Infantry can't get out if you move over 12", and the fact that most Eldar Infantry are inferior to the tank they're in at everything but CC. Fire Dragons are a very obvious exception, that crops up below also.

2) A delivery system:
This is the most common role, and one that was fulfilled by Falcons in 4th. Basically, everything used to describe their role back then is still valid to a point - you still want to only deploy against an enemy you can take out in one go, and together, never piecemeal. The inherent problem eith this system is that it can promote recklessness and cause you to waste your rather expensive tank and troops a turn early - this comes with judgement and experience. It'd be impossible for me to definitively say whether you should rush or hold in any given situation, but, as a rule of thumb, if the enemy is within 20" (as in, 19.99 or less) then it's a good idea to fly 12, deploy 5 Dragons, and Melta at short range. Make sure the Serp is modelled on a low flying base if this tactic is likely to be used often - this grants a cover save for the vehicle when the opponent shoots through the Dragons. :)

This tactic is also viable for Wraithguard, Banshees, Seer Councils and Falcons of Harlies, although remember that even with Holo-Fields a Falcon is not as resistant to Melta fire as a Serpent, and it will often be unable to fire more than one gun @12" move - I say this largely because I love my Gunboats (PL, BL, H-F, SS, ShuriCan) too much not to recommend them to others. Note that Councils are even tougher than the tank itself. (And technically called Warlock Bodyguard Squads, but hey)

3) Popping the enemy's clogs:
This is for the EML or BL configurations of the Serpent. Note that these are the two most expensive weapon upgrades that the opponent won't be entitled to laugh at you for using, because the intermediate weapon should be relegated to 4th Edition, and not seen again until the next Eldar 'Dex improves it again... /rant.

These weapon options allow the tank to fulfill an anti-tank role in yuor force, which is ideal if, like me, you run 3 Fire Prisms. Anyone who tells you a Blast weapon is reliable ranged anti-tank is just plain wrong, or lying. Prisms destroy entire MEQ squads in one blast (if t-l) and can be used on narrow beam to take down so many TEQs it's not even funny for you after a while. Killing vehicles though, is not their strong point. To counter the lack of ranged anti-tank found in my list, I use 3 BLs on DAVU Serpents, adding some much-needed anti-Land Raider punch, and giving me better redundancy on my 15 Fire Dragons, in case they somehow fail to accomplish the task.

4) Cleaning House:
This is the task given to Striking Scorpion Serpents. Their ability to outflank allows them to get around to side/rear armour much more easily, and, while the Scorps have a jolly old time ripping apart enemy artillery/Lootas/holding Scouts/Gretchin/Battlesuits etc the Serp can jet off in pursuit of a Dreadnought/Vindicator or other vehicle that loses AV significantly at the back...Scatter Laser is the most valuable weapon for this role - good range, exellent RoF, high S, and it allows you to support the Scorps going in with excellent anti-infantry fire.

5) Sweeping up:
This is the name given to perhaps the most fun use of the humble Serpent - sweeping the enemy backline of all the static elements, especially those with a low LD. Perhaps best used in conjunction with Cleaning House, but also eminently viable with the Delivery System tactic (I should so go all ATT and name these properly...) it basically involves using the Tank Shock mechanic to create gaping holes in the enemy lines, flaunting your survivability by flying into the middles of units to force them aside, or clipping the edge of units to pack them tighter together for the ensuing pieplate from a Prism at your back line. The true beauty of this is that you have such a large footprint, and incredible mobility, that you can force the enemy to fall back right to their own edge, even Space Mairnes can't regroup if you're within 6" of them. This allows you to rout units that otherwise may have proven an issue without some daring.

6) Flying Vehicle Shield:
Essentially, this is the 'just killing time' role of the Serpent, as it does not prevent you from performing the unmentioned anti-infantry shooting (ShuriCan is cheaper than Scats, but Scats are better if you have the points - this will rarely be the case, however.) and the tank-hunting. Essentially, this technique is modelling for advantage, but there's nothing wrong with it, as it makes perfect sense - we're not talking about a 6" tall base so that the opponent never gets a cover save from a Lascannon Devastator here. Serps should always be mounted on a lower base than your main 'almost static' elements (MechDar should ideally never have anything that cannot move and fire, should the need arise) to enable bth untis to shoot without blocking each otheres' LOS. The enemy, however, will find a significant prtion of your rearmost vehicles obscured - at least 50% in fact, which, combined with the Foremost of Ulthwe, leads to a theoretical 75% safety from glances and Pens. The front vehicles, while not getting a cover save, are Wave Serpents. They will be fine. :)

Okay, that's all I have to post on the matter for now, as ever, Comments appreciated, and all will be answered (if they are relevant) :)


Raptor1313 said...

I agree with you that the Serpent must be used with care. That's an Eldar thing.

For weapons on the Serpents, I'm all about the Lance. A simple S8 shot from the missile launcher is ok enough against light transports, but insufficient against anything heavier. The Bright Lance beats that problem, and I honestly don't think the versatility of the plasma missile beats the Lance's ability to beat heavier armor.

I'm also a fan of Shuriken Cannons on the Serpents. 10 points for some extra gunfire. Helps you hunt lighter armor, monstrous creatures, and infantry. Beats the hell out of trying to actually USE that dinky little twin-linked shuriken catapults.

For Shielding Infantry, I agree to an extent. I think in terms of two basic things in the Serpents: heavy anti-tank (Fire Dragons, maaaybe Wraithguard) and anti-infantry (Dire Avengers, Storm Guardians with flamers)

In that sense, it's more a 'shield infantry until there's a need to use them' instead of shielding them in principal. I've had games I've won or lost and still had a squad in there.

On the delivery system note, I disagree that dropping melee troops out of the Serpents is effective. I see you list Scorpions, Banshees, and harlies. In my experience, the problem with it is that you're telegraphing the move. You're basically stuck running the Serpent into their face, and then letting them know they've got a turn to pop it or deal with the troops inside. They've got two options at this point:

1) Blow the serpent to hell. It's not
impossible. AV12 isn't bad, but even with the energy field it's not invincible. If the serpent gets popped, your T3 troops with either 3+ or 4+ saves are sitting in the open, twiddling thumbs and hoping there's not enough incoming fire to kill 'em all.

2) Move out of assault range. It's doable, but a bit more difficult with banshees.

Or, they let it happen, and your melee troops sit in the open after nuking something in assault, and hope no one takes 'em out.

I agree on the tank-shock thing. It's easy to forget you can do that.

In the vein of throwing your tank at the enemy, a beat-up, empty grav tank can STILL crank out a healthy S10 ram. Granted, it'll take damage, but it's something to do.

TheKing Elessar said...

Absolutely, a Shuriken Cannon is great if you can find the points. For me, it's definitely non-essential, it's the kind of thing you tack on at the end, after maxing out on the tanks themselves. As you say, every extra Lance counts. Personally, I don't run EML turrets, but I understand people who do. A lot of people, for some unknown reason, still run Starcannons though, and it's easier to get them to the Lance via the EML. At least, that's the idea.

Regarding melee troops in Serps, the only really good ones are actually the Seer Council. Scorps have a place in their own list, as they can Outflank in a BL Serp, pop a transport with ease, and descend on the contents at will. This works better in theory than in practice... ;)

Banshees need to be a large enough squad to not fit in a Falcon, but are best used as a counter-attack unit, waiting until he enemy is within 15" of the Serpent so you can jump out, slice them up, and move the transport either to shield them from next turn's battering, or abandon them to their fate and deal with another threat, trusting the Banshees to accomplish their task.

The main reason I'm not a fan of using a Serp as a guided missile is because it's likely to down itself as well - preventing late game contesting. The enemy will rarely shoot a crippled transport, allowing it free rein to tank shock enemies out of the way, and to contest. :)

Raptor1313 said...

I keep the cannons on as a means of making the take capable of popping infantry in a pinch. I like the added versatility in the list, because someimtes the bright lance isn't the biggest deal.

Like you, I don't see the point in a starcannon. If you want the nasty AP2 fire, grab a Prism. If you want the S6 dakka, shurikannon or scatter lasers. But, of course, you still give up the lance. Even more so, scatter laser or shurikannon on something like Vypers.

I agree that the guided-missile Serpent isn't necessarily the optimal use, but it still is a use. Actually, it's likely to pen itself, but there's still a 33% chance it just shakes/stuns itself.

Also second on the Seer Council note. They're really the best thing there is in the list for keeping up with melee, largely because of the fact they're bikers. I mean, the massed destructors, witchblades, and fortune just helps 'em out.

TheKing Elessar said...

Even foot Council in a Serp is something to be feared - it's obviously not as effective, but it's also cheaper, and can bring Eldrad to the party. :)

Iggy said...

Excellent article there! I've some time on my hands, as I have a massive hangover and can't bear the sun right now, so I thought i'd read the articles i missed.

It's funny, everyone warns that Eldar aren't for beginners. While I agree, they were my first army, and it took me years to really get the hang of them. I wouldn't have it any other way thiugh ;)


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