Eldar Unit Tactica: Guardians

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Admittedly, it was just a months ago that I realized that Guardian Defender squads are now required to take a heavy weapon platform choice according to the new codex. I thought that I had read the entire book cover to cover several times. But, apparently, I spent much more time looking at the pictures and glossed over the new rule.
When I did realize my mistake, I had to rework my Eldar army to accommodate the new emphasis on Guardians that this rule created. I also threw myself into studying the various Guardian heavy weapons and trying to determine a strategy for Guardian use.
I figured I'd type it up and share it with you here.

Overall changes

Not a whole lot has changed for the Guardians in the new codex. Their stat lines and cost stayed the same. They lost their grenades. But I'm not sure if that is such a big deal. The biggest change is that Defenders now must take a heavy weapon choice. This presents Guardians with an opportunity to expand their roll in the Eldar army.

Guardian Defenders

Defenders will probably remain the main Guardian choice for most players. They are a fairly common model and are slightly more versatile than their close combat obsessed kin (and more accurate to most fluff).
Guardian Defenders are armed with a Shuriken Catapult. This weapon means that they have to get close enough to the enemy that they can smell them in order to use the weapon. So it's a good thing that its an assault weapon. Still, against ranged troops (like Space Marines or Necrons) bad things are going to happen. Against 'Nid Gaunts or Imperial Guard infantry, they will probably stand a chance.
But let's not forget that Shurken Catapults share the same stats as a Bolter and are much more mobile. However, they have a shorter range.
Their big advantages lay in three things 1) squad size, 2) heavy weapons, 3) wave serpents.
Squad Size
Squad size changed for the Defenders. Instead of 5-22 (with heavy weapons) the squad size is now restricted to 10-20. The heavy weapons team is now included in that number. Since the Wave Serpent capacity has changed as well (see below) most Guardian squads are probably going to be 10, 11, 12 or 20.
No more can players choose two 5 Guardian squads to fill the Troop choice roll and select Aspect Warriors for the rest of the army.
While a squad of 20 Guardians could produce a withering hail of shuriken death (especially with Guide and Doom), I expect that most players are going to default to the Dire Avengers for this purpose (extended range and Bladestorm). Expect squads of 20 to be armed with shuriken cannons and used as meat shields (sorry guys!).
The larger percentage of squads will probably fall into the 10-12 range due to the new Serpent capacity. 10 Guardian squads could be advantageous as heavy weapon support (the Guardians providing protection for the weapon platform and crew). Also, the relative inexpensiveness of Guardians makes the weapon team role even more attractive. For 85-110 points you can get 10 Guardians and a heavy weapon.
Thus, Guardians fall into two rolls: battle line and mechanized.
Heavy Weapons
The new weapons platform rules allow all heavy weapons mounted on platforms to be counted as assault weapons (exact effect as the old rules but with better wording). The new weapons platform rules also allow the Guardian Defenders to Fleet of Foot. This allows the Guardian Defenders to cover ground more quickly than pretty much any other infantry unit with heavy weapons in the game.
Shuriken Cannon
The Shuriken Cannon is the cheapest heavy weapon the Defenders can access. If you're using Guardians as troop choice filler, this is your weapon. But I'd strongly recommend taking three Guardian jet bikes instead for this roll as they are cheaper.
If you're actually going to use your Guardians in a strategic roll, the Shuriken Cannon gives you a good rate of fire combined with a decent armor penetration. Still, this weapon is woefully short ranged. It should only be used if you plan on getting your Guardians up into the thick of things where it can supplement their Shuriken Catapult fire.
Bright Lance
This is the anti-tank choice for Guardian weapons teams. Its great strength, lance rule, and great armor piecing value make it idea against big vehicles and heavy infantry.
The Bright Lance also benefits from a very good range. This helps to keep pesky vehicles and mean heavy infantry far, far away from your lightly armed Guardians. Unfortunately, its low rate of fire and the Guardian's low ballistic skill combine to make it the most inaccurate of the Guardian heavy weapons.
Missile Launcher
Imagine a Bright Lance without the lance special rule but with the ability to switch ammo against lighter infantry. That's what the missile launcher is in game terms. You have the strength of the Bright Lance with a greater range but a slightly weaker armor piercing score. But add to this, the fact that you can switch to Plasma Missiles at any time and pummel lighter troops with a much weaker (but still fairly good anti-personnel) strength and armor piecing shot. The advantage to taking on light infantry with Plasma Missiles is that they are a blast template weapon with pinning. So, against tanks use Krak Missiles against light infantry use Plasma Missiles. Easy enough. The bummer is the rate of fire. Again, with an inexperienced Guardian, the missile is likely to miss its mark.
Starcannon
The Starcannon shines against MEQ's & TEQ's. You can typically depend on almost one MEQ/TEQ dead every turn. Its strength is weaker than the Bright Lance (and lacks the lance special rule) so it's not nearly as good against vehicles. But it retains the range and armor piecing value that the Bright Lance has. This combines with its faster rate of fire to make it a fairly good anti-heavy infantry gun.
Scatter Laser
The Scatter Laser is my favorite Eldar heavy weapon of all. It has a fairly good strength (poor armor piercing) and an incredible rate of fire. Its range is equivalent to the Bright Lance of Starcannon. The real beauty is in being able to lay down its rate of fire after moving (it becomes an assault weapon on the platform). Since GW Definition: Games Workshopchanged the Heavy d6 for this weapon into a fixed rate, it has become the preferred weapon of more Eldar players than myself. Its new rate of fire should give you an average of two hits per turn rather than hoping for the one hit you might get with a Bright Lance or Missile Launcher.

Storm Guardians

If I had it all to do over again, I think I would have gone with Storm Guardians. Don't get me wrong, I love my Guardian Defenders (I've painted them three times…I'd better). But being able to dump a squad of 20 Storm Guardians and a Warlock on the battlefield and charge a unit of Space Marines to attack 63 times and hit on a 4+ is just hilarious. Plus you'll strike first! Yep, that would be beautiful.
Storm Guardians are the close combat version of their Defender kin. They are armed with Shuriken Pistols and close combat weapons. This combo gives them a +1 to their attacks in close combat. They lack the rate of fire of the Defenders, but that's okay because you really want to get these guys stuck in somewhere.
Squad Size
Like the Defenders, Storm Guardian squad size is going to fall between 10-20 models. Again, the balance will be between a large unit that can take a lot of punishment and a 10-12 Guardian unit who can fit in a Wave Serpent or use cover effectively.
Special Weapons
Storm Guardians have access to two special weapons to augment their combat. Both will cost the same points - so it is merely a case of deciding which one suits the style of play for Storm Guardians.
Fusion Gun
The Fusion Gun is a phenomenal anti-MEQ/TEQ and anti-armour weapon. Since this is an assault weapon, you will be able to possibly bring down a few heavy infantry or give a monstrous creature a few wounds before coming to grips with them. For only 92 points, you could field a unit of Storm Guardians who could bring down a Land Rader or kill a Carnifex. Still, Fusion Gun armed Storm Guardians are only a few points cheaper than a Fusion Gun armed Fire Dragon. The Dragons have a better save, better WS, and access to better special rules.
Flamer
The Flamer isn't a bad weapon for Storm Guardians. It is especially good in Cityfight games where you can use Guardian squads to hunt down enemy units who are hiding out in cover. Likewise, you could put two Flamers and a Warlock with Destructor in a unit and effectively get three flame template weapons.
Transport
As mentioned before, Guardians have access to Wave Serpents. These tanks are fast and can carry up to twelve models. This makes them excellent for lightning strikes. However, selecting options for your Wave Serpents is as important as selecting options for your Guardian Squads.
Heavy Weapons
The Wave Serpents have the same weapons options that the Guardian Squads themselves have. Keep in mind, though, that the twin-linked status of these weapons means that you can afford to possibly take a lower ROF weapon. I'm still a fan of the Scatter Laser for use here. However, Starcannons or Eldar Missile Launchers would be good choices as well. Finally, taking the Shuriken Cannon upgrade instead of the twin-linked Shuriken Catapults can be a fairly good choice. In reality, you could end up with 7 S6 shots from this transport. That's nothing to laugh at.
Other Options
Wave Serpents have a number of other options that can make them harder to kill. We'll discuss them below.
Vectored Engines
Vectored Engines are expensive. That being said, loosing an entire squad because your transport crashed is even more expensive. Vectored Engines can help prevent this. However, run the numbers first. There is a relatively limited chance that Vectored Engines will actually come in handy. However, they are insurance and can be worthwhile.
Star Engines
I can't stop laughing about this. As Mal pointed out, GW's current wording on this upgrade makes it worthless. However, should GW Definition: Games Workshopfix the wording in an FAQ, this upgrade will be an incredible asset for bringing your Guardians into the thick of things quickly.
Spirit Stones
Spirit Stones are a great upgrade. They can help keep your Guardians unshaken if the Wave Serpent gets hit. Likewise, they can help keep your Wave Serpent mobile after it gets hit. This is important because of the Skimmer rule.
`Warlock Leadership
Guardian squads may take Warlocks as leaders. Warlocks allow players to exploit the Guardians through the application of their powers. There are very few cases where I wouldn't recommend picking up a Warlock. They are, however, fairly expensive respectively. My favorite Warlock configuration is worth 5 Guardians. But I believe it's well worth it.
Conceal
This is by far thebest Warlock power, in my opinion. This allows your Guardians to take saves in spite of AP weapons. That means that your Guardians will last longer before they have to take adverse morale checks. Template weapons, though, are still going to give you problems. Likewise, you probably don't want to get a Concealed unit into close combat.
Destructor
This is a very powerful power. Since your Guardians will need to be close to the enemy to unleash their Shurikens, it shouldn't be a problem to get them that much closer to use Destructor. This power can essentially be your squads "special weapon" in many ways.
Embolden
I'd rather have lots of live Guardians than a few brave ones. However, Embolden can help you for those moments when your Guardians are thinking about running away. Guardians have a mediocre Leadership, so they have a good chance of failing morale checks. Embolden can help you with this problem. But, for the points, I'd go with Conceal and try to keep them from taking that morale check in the first place.
Enhance
There's nothing better than a Guardian who can match a Space Marine in close combat. Tongue Enhance is a great power for Storm Guardians or those players who want to swarm the enemy with big units of Guardians. This power is definitely worth its points if you can get your Guardians into close combat.
Singing Spear
Don't take this weapon. Tongue In reality, the Singing Spear can be handy to knock out vehicles at a range or attack monstrous creatures. Otherwise, stick with the Witchblade. I prefer the ability to use the Witchblade with a pistol in close combat to being able to use the Singing Spear at a range. While both have their use, I don't think that the Spear is worth its points. Of course, knock out a vehicle with it and I'll have to eat my hat.
Strategies / Defenders
Weapon Battery
Using the minimum squad size and equipping each squad with weapons such as Bright Lances, Missile Launchers, or Scatter Lasers will enable you to place 2-6 units side by side and command one or more vantages to pummel your opponent from afar. The relatively inexpensive Guardians will provide you with an excellent escort to the heavy weapons and help to keep enemy infantry away from them.
This becomes a good tactic to use if you have a more mobile branch of your army that can take the fight to the enemy while your Guardian weapons teams bound him from afar. For 660 points max (yep that's it) you could pop 6 of these bad boys down on the table to give your opponent something to think about.
Overwhelm
Alternatively, toss a Shuriken Cannon or Scatter Laser on a unit of 20 Guardians and use them to overwhelm the enemy with massed firepower. The Shuriken Catapult's limited range could make this a little tough. But these guys, combined with a Warlock with Embolden, are excellent at holding a position against enemy assaults.
Serpent Assault
Using a Wave Serpent to get closer to the enemy is just the proper Eldar thing to do. Equip your Serpent in a way that is appropriate for your combat style. We'll discuss the options below. However, the strategy is simple. Begin with your Guardians disembarked, within 2" of the entry point of your Serpents. On turn 1, embark onto your transports. Use your Serpents to move your Guardians up quickly, disembark at the beginning of turn 2, and move your Serpents in front of your freshly deployed Guardians. The Serpents will help to screen the Guardians (forcing target priority checks) and not block LOS so your Guardians can shoot underneath them. Finally, the Serpents themselves operate as tanks and can provide strong fire support.
Teasing
Since your Guardians can move and fire their heavy weapons. Use their mobility to fire and fall back from enemy units. This is best down with a smaller Guardian squad. However, it can be very frustrating to enemy units by forcing them to move forward to try to engage your Guardians. It will keep the enemy from bringing their heavy weapons to bear on your Guardians.
Implacable Advance
Taking a unit of 20 Guardians with a heavy weapon (especially a Scatter Laser, Shuriken Cannon, or Starcannon) can allow you to advance in spite of enemy fire and lay down a withering hail of fire during the advance. Several units of 20 Guardians with heavy weapons can easily split up enemy fire while allowing you cut them down with heavy weapons.
Storm Guardians
Overwhelm
Stack 20 Storm Guardians in a unit and allow them to overwhelm enemy units in close combat. This is a pretty straightforward strategy. Simply pile them in around any enemy unit and let them cut down the enemy with numbers. Likewise, you can use the Storm Guardians to tie down enemy units who are good in close combat or monstrous creatures. They may not win, but they are a cheap way to keep the enemy out of contact with your more valuable units.
Serpent Assault
Just like Defenders, you can pop 10-12 Storm Guardians in a Wave Serpent and allow the transport to propel them to the enemy very quickly. However, this strategy is tough to implement because of the small unit size, relative fragility, and disembark / assault rules. The Storm Guardians are not close combat experts. So don't expect them do be much more than a diversion.

Other Options

Don't forget that attaching a Farseer to a Guardian squad can be a huge bonus. Guide and Fortune are by far the best powers to use on Guardians. Use Fortune & Conceal or Fortune & Embolden to create a unit who will stick around much longer than the enemy wants. Or use Guide & a more powerful heavy weapon (like the Missile Launcher or Bright Lance) to ensure more frequent hits.
 




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