Jan 29, 2009

Shining Spears - Tactics and Upgrades

Shining Spears are perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects in the entire Eldar roster. Often they get shoved aside for other options that fit a fast attack role, such as Warp Spiders or Swooping Hawks. Many players do not use the Spears correctly resulting in frustration and many to believe that they are not worth their points cost.

As all aspects in an Eldar army have their specialty, let's begin by analyzing exactly what Shining Spears specialize in. Firstly, Shining Spears are Jetbikes, meaning they move exactly like your Guardian Jetbikes do, can turbo boost and can move 6" in the assault phase, even if they don't assault. What separate them from regular jetbikes are their increased statline and their wargear, most notably the laser lance.

Having an aspect warrior statline means a difference is the Ballistic skill of the unit when compared to Guardian. Naturally this will mean that they will hit more often than their counterparts. BS 4 Twin-linked shuriken catapults hit with a rate of 87% accuracy, compared to 75% accuracy of BS 3 Twin-linked weapons. When comparing 3 shining spears to 4 guardian jetbikes, they will on average hit the same number of times. (105 points of Shining Spears compared to 88 of guardian jetbikes). For a full unit of 5 Shining Spears, this is an average of 8.7 hits, compared to needing 6 to 7 guardian jetbikes for a similar result. (175 points of Shining Spears compared to 154 of guardian jetbikes).

So, what does this mean? It means that short term, for the extra points Shining Spears are going to be slightly more reliable at pumping out shuriken fire into a target. This will result in more casualties for the enemy and will help reduce return fire if you can wipe out a unit.

Also, we can't forget about their other weapon, the laser lance. This is a very unique weapon in Warhammer 40k, because of a few characteristics. Firstly, the lance is classified as a lance weapon while using it in the shooting phase. This isn't particularly too useful, as Shining Spears have enough speed to get around vehicles to hit the weak armor anyway. At strength 6, this makes it not very suitable to tackle vehicles that have 12 armor, as they are going to require a roll of 6 to glance.

Secondly, the lance is a very short range weapon (6 inches), which can be used instead of firing catapults. This will allow you to score a S6 hit on the enemy on a 3+, rather than using comparative weapon skills before you charge into assault. The lance is only AP 4, but the higher strength can be warranted against enemy models that are tough. Against some T3 models, the lance can be devastating, because it causes instant death against those targets. Against T4 models, shuriken catapults win for causing wounds, 1.74 hits, with half of them wounding (strength 4 versus toughness 4) 87% of all shots result in a wound. Compare this to firing the lances against T4 where only 72% of shots result in a wound.

Finally, the lance can be used in close combat, as a strength 6 power weapon when the shining spears initiate an assault. This however is also the unit's weakness. If the shining spears do not initiate an assault in the round they fight close combat, then their lances are useless. Also combined with only having one attack each, this makes them particularly vulnerable. The lesson here is that Shining Spears are effective when they initiate an assault, in all subsequent rounds, they become highly ineffective.

Hiding units of Shining Spears in among your regular jetbikes can make for a nasty surprise as a way of finishing off an enemy unit that has already been damaged by other units in your army. Remember, that like every other unit in an Eldar force, they need to be supported, working in concert with the other units in your force to be effective. A unit of 5 shining spears going into assault will fire Ten S4 AP5 shots OR Five S6 AP4 shots PLUS have Ten S6 Power Weapon attacks at initiative 5.

Let's talk about some upgrades for Shining Spears. Like all other aspects, the upgrades are centralized around the exarch. Upgrading to an exarch require an additional investment in 12 more points, but this adds an extra close combat attack, an extra point of initiative, bringing it to I6, and increases Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill to 5 each.

The exarch can replace his laser lance for a Power Weapon (free) or a Star Lance, which is a laser lance at strength 8 (+15 points). Of these two options I find that the power weapon is rather useless, as the rest of the exarch's squad can still do nothing in subsequent rounds, and it robs him of his S6 bonus in the initial round. The Star Lance can be useful against monstrous creatures, or for having a highly mobile but extremely short range bright lance that hits on 2s. (Remember, the Exarch is BS5, and the lance uses the lance special rule). Though there are far better units for tank hunting other than the exarch and his squad. They simply don't excel at this aspect of war.

The exarch can take the powers Skilled Rider, and Withdraw. Skilled Rider is useful because it will allow the exarchs squad to hide within area terrain without having to worry about getting chewed up there before they go into combat to complete their combat role in the Eldar warhost. Without a warlock to use conceal, they can't get the cover save out in the open like the guardian jetbike counterparts. They can however still turbo-boost to gain a 3+ cover save. Withdraw can be useful for getting your unit out of combat so they are not locked in and being ineffective after the first round. However, if you are constantly getting Shining Spears locked in combat, chances are you are picking the wrong targets for them, or not weakening the unit enough before you assault.

The exarch can also upgrade his shuriken catapults for a shuriken cannon. This is perhaps one of the most devastating but overlooked options in the entire unit. For 15 points you gain a strength 6 AP5 weapon that hits on 2+. Like guardian jetbikes, you can duck in and out of terrain sniping with the cannon using its range and your jetbikes assault move, but what makes this particularly interesting is using an exarch to fire the cannon when his unit initiates an assault.

Let's look at this logically. The exarch already hits at strength 6 (or 8 depending on if he has a star lance) when initiating an assault, but in close combat, your best chance of hitting is on a 3+. With a cannon at range, he can fire it 3 times, hitting on 2+ instead. Not only that, but he will still have 3 more strength 6 attacks in close combat that ignore armor saves. In a unit of 4 plus an exarch, this means that going into assault, Three S6 AP5 + Four S6 AP4 + Eleven S6 power weapon attacks. This makes for a total of 18 potential attacks at S6. (Or Three S6 AP5 + Eight S4 AP5 + Eleven S6 power weapon attacks). Against T4 targets and below, you're wounding with each of those on a 2+.

As you can see there are a lot of variations to how the Shining Spears can attack with, especially when coupled with an exarch. So many variations in fact that it would take a long time to calculate all of the averages. As a final note Shining Spears lack grenades, so they do not get any benefit to having high initiative against troops in cover, for that reason, they need to pick off targets that are in the open. Overall, when used correctly, and supported by your other units, Shining Spears can be a very nasty unit to finish off enemy units or to deal with tough creatures, or to use their jetbike speed to contest objectives in the endgame.

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