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Discipline of the Autarch: An exploration of common Eldar Strategies (Part I)

Submitted By: Irisado Date: July 2, 2011, 06:25:29 AM Views: 4721
Summary: The first in a series of articles on different strategies available to Eldar players. This article explores the hammer and anvil strategy.

Discipline of the Autarch: An exploration of common Eldar Strategies
Part I: The Hammer and Anvil Strategy

This is the first in a series of articles on Eldar strategies.  Each article is structured in accordance with a set of criteria created by Adrastos who came up with concept for this series of articles.  The criteria are as follows:

  • Basic description of methodology
  • Thoughts on the psychological effects and demands of the strategy
  • Building the army list: Favourite/common units and combinations
  • Potential antitheses

The Hammer and Anvil Strategy


•   Durable infantry core, usually deployed in the centre, referred to as the anvil.
•   Fast, usually mainly mechanised flanking force, referred to as the hammer.
•   Mixed force of infantry, infantry in transports and sometimes other skimmers, such as Jetbikes.

This strategy involves using a fast moving, hard hitting, flanking force to smash through the defences of one flank of the opposing army, while a durable centre force prevents opposition forces from breaking out of your trap, resulting in the opposing army being broken on the anvil (the durable centre) by the hammer (the flanking force).

In terms of Eldar armies, the flanking force (the hammer) is usually referred to as the mechanised wing, while the centre (the anvil) is often simply referred to as the infantry section.  These terms are used, since they reflect the types of units which usually comprise the two elements.

The key to making the hammer and anvil strategy work is to ensure that your mechanised and infantry elements are balanced.  Many players who wish to utilise this strategy make the mistake of investing too many points into either the hammer or and the anvil, leading to one of the sections being too underpowered to achieve its aims.  When constructing an army list to execute the hammer and anvil strategy, you are looking for a balance between the infantry and mechanised elements, however, it is important to point out that balance does not necessarily equate to fielding the same number of units in each element.

Precisely how many units to field in the hammer and anvil sections of the army list will depend on the points value you are playing, but certainly in terms of the mechanised wing, you are ideally looking to field a minimum of three units, particularly if you are fielding infantry mounted in Wave Serpents, in order for the mechanised wing to be powerful enough to break through the opposing army's flank.  You can get by with fielding two units in a Wave Serpent as a mechanised wing in smaller games, for example, 1500 points or fewer, but it is a gamble, and three is definitely a better number in my experience.  A mechanised wing can consist entirely of shooting units or a mixture of shooting and assault units.  Fielding multiple assault units, however, is not recommended, due to the fact that it can be quite difficult to set assaults up when disembarking from transports.  Based on my own experience, I feel that a mixture is best, since this allows you the greatest amount of flexibility when it comes to dealing with opposing units, and when deciding which flank you are going to attack at the deployment stage of the game.

Given that the mechanised wing requires a substantial investment of points, it is often very difficult to create a hammer and anvil style list if you are playing a game of fewer than 1500 points.  That said, the amount of points needed to be spent on your anvil section can vary, according to the army you are fighting against, so it is still possible to field such a list in a 1000 point game in theory.

Psychological effects and demands of the strategy:

This strategy requires the Eldar player to be comfortable with fielding a mechanised wing, and being both aggressive with it, and coordinating when the troops inside the transports disembark from them.  It is a strategy that requires bravery and decisive thought, and is best suited to players who like to take the attack to the opposing army.  It is also quite a difficult strategy to pull off, so beginners may want to try other strategies before attempting this one.

Favourite/common units and/or unit combination:

Some units which tend to be fielded in the mechanised wing are Howling Banshees, Dire Avengers, Fire Dragons, Warlocks, tri-template Storm Guardians (all mounted in Wave Serpents), Jetbikes, and occasionally Vypers.

The key to using the units in the mechanised wing is coordination.  This is especially true when you have an assault unit, as you cannot assault out of a Wave Serpent if it has moved that turn.  For this reason, it is often better to disembark all your units together a turn later to ensure that they can all fulfill their roles simultaneously.  Many an Eldar hammer has failed to deliver a killing blow because the units attacked in a piecemeal manner.  It is far better, in most circumstances, to have your units wait that extra turn, as, while it is true that the Serpents may be destroyed, they are much tougher than your infantry, and you need your Howling Banshees to work with the Dire Avengers/Fire Dragons by assaulting in the turn in which they disembark, otherwise you end up delivering your attack in dribs and drabs as I alluded to before, and then it is much less likely to be successful.

The anvil needs to be durable, not a word you immediately associate with the Eldar, but you do not necessarily need units which will survive the entire game in this section, as your objective is to hold the opposition up while your hammer crushes a flank, and then turns in on the opposing force's centre and wipes them out while they are still trying to overcome your anvil.  A minimum of three or four units is the usual preference here, but having more against assault oriented armies, which will try to break through your infantry line certainly would not go amiss.

The infantry units usually fall into the categories of ‘pinning’, counter assault or assault protection, and support fire.  Against some armies, such as Tau, which are very poor in assaults, and are more likely to stand off and shoot, the need for a counter assault unit is reduced, so some players may prefer not to run one, and dedicate more points to the mechanised wing, or perhaps to a heavy support or linking unit (more on these later).  Against the majority of armies, however, a counter assault or assault protection unit will be needed; otherwise the opposition will simply sweep through more common Eldar infantry units, such as Dire Avengers, as they are not able to hold many units at bay in an assault for more than a turn without dedicated close combat support, while Defender Guardians, are unlikely to even manage this, so they require protection from assaults (hence the two different categories for the assault squads).

While the role of ‘pinning’ and counter assault units is to tie up opposing units in combat, the role of support fire units is to whittle down the size of these units before they get close enough to initiate an assault, since it is much easier to hold opposing units at bay if you have numerical superiority.  In the light of these ideas, which Eldar unit will fulfill these three roles?

‘Pinning’ units:

Wraithguard and Dire Avengers led by an Exarch equipped with the Power Weapon, Shimmershield and Defend combination are the two usual choices for this role.

Wraithguard tend to be favoured if you are playing an Iyanden list, or in games of 2000 points or more, since when fielded in squads of ten, and led by a Spiritseer, not only are they very durable, and capable of holding up a reasonably wide variety of opposing units in combat for turn after turn, they are also a scoring unit, and they are capable of destroying tanks, should your opponent direct any vehicles towards your infantry to try and aid his/her attempts to break through your line.

Dire Avengers, on the other hand, are the more common choice in smaller games, and for players whose armies do not have an Iyanden theme.  Despite their lack of close combat skill, Defend makes them last much longer than you may think, and the Shimmershield is very handy at neutralising the full potential of those annoying squad leaders with Power Weapons, especially if you have a Farseer with Fortune nearby.  You can also add an Autarch to this unit for extra close combat ability if you wish.

'Pinning' units can also be used aggressively.  If your counter assault or assault protection unit needs to initiate an assault for any reason, you can use your 'pinning' unit to join in the same combat as an assault support unit if you wish.

Counter assault and assault protection units:

Striking Scorpions are the best option here, since their armour save, consistently high (for the Eldar) strength, and number of attacks, gives them the edge over other close assault units in the Eldar force when it comes to fighting in protracted combats, in my opinion.

The key to using this unit is to give the Exarch the Scorpion’s Claw and Stalker.  The former allows the unit to be more effective against MEQs, while the latter ensures that if the squad advances through terrain it will be much less likely for an unlucky difficult terrain test roll to occur and leave it out of assault range.  It is also important to ensure that you take a large squad, so you are looking at taking between eight and ten models, as the unit must be sufficiently large to be able to take a few casualties, yet still remain a viable assault force.  Such a unit also needs as many attacks as it can get when it comes to fighting counter assaults in particular, as some of them may last for several turns, and if you have more attacks that the opposing units, this is a significant advantage.

The other Eldar assault units do not really lend themselves to this role in my opinion, as both Howling Banshees and Harlequins lack the necessary durability to get involved in prolonged assaults.  The latter can be used successfully on foot, thanks to the Veil of Tears, but this does not help once the two armies are in close proximity to each other, which is that which tends to happen when you use the hammer and anvil strategy, and given the vulnerability of Harlequins to small arms fire I do not feel that they are worth taking against most armies.  There are also background limitations on the use of Harlequins which some players may wish to take into account.

Support Fire Units:

There are a wide range of support fire units available to the Eldar (note this is not heavy support, I will discuss that later).  The most common choices are Defender Guardians, Dire Avengers led by an Exarch with Bladestorm and Dual Avenger Catapults, Rangers/Pathfinders, and Warp Spiders.

Defender Guardian squads are at their best when taken in pairs and given Scatter Lasers.  The Scatter Lasers allow them to whittle down opposing infantry units as they close in on your infantry line, in order to make life easier for your ‘pinning’ and counter assault units.  Scatter Lasers are also very effective against fast moving light transports, such as Dark Eldar Raiders, and other moderately armoured transports such as Rhinos.  Neutralising these means it will take your opponent longer to reach your infantry, and give you more time to coordinate the strike of your mechanised wing.  It is also worth pointing out that once you know the opposing squads are going to get within assault range, you can risk advancing your Guardians to within assault range, and open fire not only with their Scatter Lasers, but also their Shuriken Catapults.  If you have two units of ten, that constitutes a decent amount of firepower, and you would have a very good chance of inflicting significant casualties on your target.  If you opt to do this though, you must ensure that you do wipe out, or virtually wipe out your target, as Guardians will not survive for very long in an assault.

The ‘shooty’ Dire Avenger unit is more flexible than the Guardians, since it can unleash an awful lot of firepower while staying out of assault range of regular infantry.  Being able to stay out the assault range of ordinary infantry makes this squad better at providing close range support fire, as it does not require additional direct support; however, you do need to watch out for Jump Infantry, or other infantry units with movement bonuses or special movement rules, as these can cause this unit problems.  Again a pair of these units is the optimum, but unlike the Guardians, I have found that fielding one such unit of Dire Avengers can work reasonably well.

Rangers/Pathfinders can provide long ranged fire support, but their low rate of fire makes them less useful against larger units or horde armies.  They also suffer from not being able to move and fire, which can hurt the overall mobility of the list, which is not good news if you want to keep your anvil in reasonably close proximity to the hammer to enable it to play a supporting role.  Still, they are quite useful for taking out small elite units, or taking wounds off Monstrous Creatures, so they can have a role to play.

The Warp Spiders are unique case, since they can either be fielded as mobile fire support for your infantry line, or as something called the ‘linking unit’.

‘The Linking Unit’:

One of the dangers of the hammer and anvil strategy is that you end up splitting your army into two, and using it as two separate armies.  This is not a good idea when playing the Eldar, as you really need both elements to be working with each other, so that they can assist one another should something go wrong.  A way to resolve this problem is not only to avoid taking units which cannot move and fire in the infantry section, but also to take a unit which can act as a link or bridge between the two, and the unit which I believe best fulfils this role is the Warp Spiders.

Warp Spiders are effective in this role because their speed enables them to be deployed between the mechanised wing and infantry section, and move forward in such a way that they can support either element, depending on which one encounters the most resistance.

The only gamble here is that the Spiders can be singled out and shot at quite easily, but if the opposition is shooting at the Warp Spiders, either your hammer or your anvil is taking less punishment, and this can be to your advantage in the long term.

Jetbikes could also be used as a 'linking unit' should you wish, but having not tried it myself, I cannot be certain how successful it would be.

Heavy Support:

Just a quick note on heavy support:

The type of heavy support you choose will vary according to the army which you are facing.  The important factor to bear mind though is that you either use it to make things easier for your hammer by perhaps destroying a tank on the flank your hammer is attacking, or you use it to make life easier for your anvil by shooting approaching opposing infantry or transports to pieces.  You can divide your heavy support up into different roles, or have it focus entirely on one role, but the main thing is to ensure that each unit in this section has a role, so that it does not end up splitting its fire between two different sections of the opposing force.

As for which units to take, most of the heavy support choices are viable when using the hammer and anvil strategy, so the decision comes down to the type of firepower you feel that you need.  Wraithlords equipped with an EML and Brightlance are sound options if you need more anti-tank support fire, while War Walkers with Scatter Lasers are better if you want anti-infantry/light vehicle fire support.  Fire Prisms and Night Spinners are also possibilities, particularly if you want to focus on anti-infantry firepower.

Potential Antitheses:

Armies which are fast and can redeploy away from the mechanised wing/hammer will cause you problems, as will an army which uses the hammer and anvil strategy against your hammer and anvil, since both hammers could end up hitting at roughly the same moment, meaning, if you end up facing a mirror list, that luck of the dice has the potential to determine who wins the game.

Another problem is that the infantry section can end up being overwhelmed by too many opposing units, particularly if your opponent has a lot of fast moving vehicles, and/or units which can deep strike and outflank.  Against such armies, you sometimes may be better off picking a different strategy, or ring fencing your fragile infantry with your skimmers during deployment, in order to protect them from first turn strikes from Drop Pod or Daemon first turn strikes.

The final difficulty which can be encountered when employing this strategy concerns gun line opposition.  These armies will just sit back, out of range of most of your infantry, and pound your force as it advances, and you only have the mechanised wing and heavy support units which can engage the opposing army early on.  This can also make target priority easier for your opponent, resulting in your mechanised wing being targeted by a lot of heavy weapons fire, which can neutralise your attack.  To counter this, you may wish to commit your mechanised wing as early as possible, but this can result in its becoming separated from your infantry block, meaning that your army hits in a piecemeal, and thus less effective, fashion.  Another option is to include some outflanking and deep striking units to bolster your attack, and make it less reliant on the mechanised wing, as well as provide some additional units to link it back up with the advancing infantry.  Either way, gun lines are tricky to defeat when using this strategy, so you need to be careful when employing it against them.

June 2011

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August 25, 2011, 08:19:46 AM
Such an excellent read. I actually forwarded this onto a friend who plays Imperial Guard who enjoyed it as much as I did.

Thanks, Irisado.
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July 20, 2011, 09:53:29 AM
Nice over view of hammer and anvil tactics.  I would add that when playing a ghost army one can sometimes survive to close with a gun line, or threaten to.  As the wall of wraithbone closes the mech wing says under cover and times it's assault with the wall.  Hard to do but running wraith guard and lord do tend to comsentrate the enemies attention.  But I still have issues with the fast mech and out flanking armies.  Eagerly awaiting your next instalment!

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