Monday, 7 November 2016
The Most Underrated Unit In Warhammer 40,000
A big part of Warhammer 40,000's fun boils down to opportunities to annihilate your foes. Not simply to win, not simply to emerge victorious, but to utterly trounce an enemy and stroll through their ashes. If it wasn't, there wouldn't be quite so big a market for Titans after all. Much as we might always praise the right tactics on here, the right kind of killer unit is always harder to pin down. You know the ones, the kind people dread to face, and the ones which become a linchpin in your entire army list. The sort of ones which become your personal Death Star on the battlefield. Sometimes these are the ones which make the game worth playing, but there's an extremely fine line between "exciting and powerful" and "I'll beat your primarch to death with another primarch's corpse".
These units are often praised when done right, but the odd thing is that one of the best examples to date seems to have completely slipped under the radar. For most players, they barely bat an eye upon seeing it, nor does it ever arise on internet forums discussing the game's hardest hitting units. What's all the more surprising is that it's not only a Craftworld Eldar unit, but also both a flyer and a Forgeworld brand creation.
Simply put, it's this particular monster - The Phoenix Bomber.
Yes, this is a unit which has minimal armour, lacks any Strength D weapons, lacks the ability to instantly annihilate whole squads at a time with no saves, or last-second Special Rules to help them solo enemy forces. Yet, here we are, arguing that it's a criminally underrated and overlooked model worthy of your praise. So, you might be wondering, what exactly does it have going for it given the sheer raw power of so many units today?
For starters, this is an insanely versatile flyer which is effective in most roles, and has a weapon for just about any task. Its main air-to-ground offensive capabilities, and the ones you'll want to lean on the most, are its Missile launchers, which come in two distinct flavours. First are the Phoenix missiles, which are a set of astartes annihilating Strength 5 AP3 attacks, three per pod and without being twin-linked. This means that a lucky roll will usually kill half of a Tactical Squad per turn and send weaker troops running for cover. They're near perfect for nailing heavy infantry targets and quickly wrecking the stronger, high value troops of most armies.
Such a weapon alone would be enough but then we have their crowd control option. For just a few extra points the single model destroying versions can be refitted with Nightfire missile launchers. Unleashing six Strength 4 AP5 small template blasts, these not only cause Pinning but complete Ignores Cover. So, against a force intending to rush the often outnumbered eldar, you can be expecting to utterly maul a full squad per turn. Effective against the Ork WAAAGHS!, the Tau Fire Caste, Tyranids Hive Fleets, the Imperial Guard or even the Dark Eldar Kabals - These things will have a field day locking down and destroying the backbone of most armies.
The missile launchers alone would be enough to make this a potent combat vehicle, but then you have the guns as well. The two Shuriken cannons (not twin linked I might add) are a nice option for sure, and serve as a nice way to quickly finish off squads or pluck lightly armoured flyers out of the air. However, they are just an addition to its main payload - a Pulse Laser or a Twin-linked Starcannon, depending upon the role you wish for the craft to carry out. This means that Monsterous Creatures, lone HQ choices, Terminators, Crisis Battlesuits and others can be added to the increasingly long list of units this thing can utterly shred in a single turn. Oh, and if that weren't enough, the addition of Strafing Run as a special rule means every single gun pointed at a ground target is hitting on a 2+.
The Phoenix is also a halfway decent interceptor as well, but being a Craftworld Eldar flyer that is to be expected by this point. Against the average Valkyrie, or even a few of the more dedicated interceptors, it can put up a decent fight and tie down the risk of sudden reinforcements from airborne divisions. However, what truly makes it stand out is the fact it can dodge and survive damn near anything so long as the dice are with you. Short of a massed force of dedicated anti-air units or an Aegis defense line, this thing is going to dance about enemy flak weapons for most of the game. While it has 10 armour on every side, it comes with a total of three hull points, conferring a little more durability than the usual flyers. However, what really makes it stand out is the addition of Shrouded. With this special rule, you have a 5+ save against incoming enemy fire as standard, but a 2+ save if you opt to Jink about enemy shots.
There's no real area which this aircraft fall short on at all, and with a balance between suitability, accuracy, firepower and versatility, it's a potent vessel for sure. So, with this in mind, what keeps it from being pushed into utterly overpowered territory?
The main limitation, of course, is that it can only be outfitted for one or two roles per game. No matter which weapons you choose, there will always be a few units which can stand up to this thing or survive its onslaught, and against the wrong list its uses can be fairly limited. It also can't fully operate alone. While it can offer a Swiss army knife approach to fighting an army, you'll still need other units to pick off anti-air forces, and it can still be brought down by concentrated fire.
It's a very useful unit to be sure, but it best serves as a keystone within a bigger force; something to punch its way into an army, wreck a few things or weaken positions, and then to have the other forces move up to finish them off. Compared with the likes of the Wraithknight, Dreadknight or a few of the other big walkers, it can't simply march through an entire army without the slightest care in the world. You need to be aware of how to use it, when to use it and when to send it in. So, while it's powerful, and you can afford to make mistakes, it's not the usual "I win" gimmick button so many shiny units tend to be.
It's odd that the Phoenix Bomber has been overlooked with all these advantages, but then you have to consider what it's paired up alongside. The two other big Forgeworld choices are the Nightwing and Vampire Raider/Hunter after all - AKA the single best anti-air unit in the game, a Thunderhawk on steroids, or the Titan-annihilating doom gunship. It's no surprise that a unit which isn't quite so quick or flashy would tend to get overlooked, but unfortunately that's something that happens all too often in this game. Perhaps, as the meta continues to change, we might see a shift in this as time goes by, but it would take quite the push to force them back into the spotlight. At the very least though, this is one very effective choice which lacks the infamy of bigger units. So, you have the advantage of springing it on other players without them ever knowing the nightmare they're letting themselves in for.