The Eldar Flyer Duel – Hemlock or Hunter?
In the past, the Eldar Craftworld flyer options were something that could be made to work but were often overlooked due to ease of destruction and cost. With 8th edition, these planes are back in a big way!
Crimson Hunter (and the Exarch)
The Crimson Hunter was the ultimate in Air to Air combat in 7th edition. It would shoot down pretty much any enemy flyer it got its sights on. This was balanced by having an airframe that seemed to be made of the same tissue paper Dark Eldar like to make vehicles from. What did 8th ed bring? Heaps!
At the core, both the standard hunter and the exarch are pretty similar. Move 20-60, BS 2+, T6, W12, Sv3+ is the core stat line (with the same damage chart reducing BS and movement as you lose wounds). They have the same weapon base load out of 2 Bright lances and a pulse laser (the exarch can also swap the lances for star cannons… because…). This basic load out lets the hunter sit at 36” range and shoot 4 times with S8 weapons, half at -3 and 3 damage, the other half at -4 and D6 damage. This alone is a pretty solid weapon payload and has a potential max damage of 18 in a single turn! One thing to remember is that despite the BS2+, all the weapons the Hunter carries are HEAVY so you are taking -1 to hit.
Getting guns to bear in 7th was a little hard sometimes but was mitigated by vector dancer. In 8th, we get Wings of Khaine instead which does pretty much the exact same thing. Combined with the new shooting rules, this means the hunter should always ALWAYS have a target for its guns. Being a flyer in 7th made it immune to charges and required 6’s to hit it in shooting. 8th has also updated these to Airborne (meaning you need FLY to charge it now) and Hard to Hit (which confers a -1 to hit rolls in the shooting phase). So while it can easily engage targets in 8th, it’s a little easier to engage back.
Both versions of the Hunter share the rule Skyhunters, allowing them to reroll failed wound rolls with ranged weapons against targets with the FLY rule. This is again a port over from 7th but affects more targets now rather than just the Flyers of 7th. They also both can crash and burn – but the chances of this happening and what it does are much reduced compared to 7th.
The Exarch picks up 1 extra rule – Marksmans Eye, allowing rerolls of 1 for ranged weapons. This is a new power as it simply allowed precision shots in 7th – which are no longer a thing in 8th.
Both variants also share the exact same key words – and are the ones you would expect them to be. The basic hunter is Power level 9 while the exarch is 11.
The Hemlock Wraithfighter flyer in 7th was a mirror to the hunter in everything but load out and 8th has largely continued this format.
The Hemlock boasts the same basic stats with the exception of its BS being 1 lower (in all damage categories). It also packs the same Wings of Khaine, Airborne, Hard to Hit and Crash and Burn rules… but that’s where the similarities end.
Instead of the traditional lance weapons of the Hunter, the Hemlock packs a pair of Heavy D-Scythes. These weapons have significantly changed in the way they behave between editions… and 8th makes them nothing short of amazing. Each one only has a range of 16” and D3 shots but they hit automatically, are S10 with -4ap and do 2 damage. Weapons that hit automatically in 8th are a hugely effective tool to have and when mounted on a flyer and with the stats these have, they are nothing short of golden! Whats even better is the automatic hits make them deadly to other any other enemy flyer they might encounter!
These weapons alone would be enough to make the Hemlock a contender for selection but then you realise the thing is a psyker as well! Like all psykers it knows smite and can also then select one power from the Runes of Battle eldar powers. It can cast once and deny once per turn. In terms of psychic powers, Conceal and Terrify (embolden) are the 2 I gravitate towards with conceal increasing the difficulty in engaging the Hemlock (for a -2 to hit rolls!) and Terrify allowing you to stack negative LD penalties with its other piece of wargear – the Mindshock Pod.
The Mindshock is a simple rule – forcing enemy units within 12” of any Hemlock fighters to subtract 1 from their LD characteristic. The best thing about this is it is an aura effect and with the short range of the primary weapons, you will always be in the thick of things so will generally be applying this to multiple enemy units.
Key word wise it loses Aspect Warrior in exchange for Spirit Host and Psyker but otherwise matches the Hunter. It’s a power level of 10.
Comparison & Thoughts
Looking at the points costs and power levels of each flyer, they all sit pretty close in terms of costs to the force – with the basic Hunter a smidge over 180 points, the Hemlock a touch over 210 and the Exarch Hunter just over 220. The fact that they are not bolter fodder anymore is a huge benefit and their cost has not gone up so much as you might think.
At this point you have to look at what they bring to the table.
For long range support – the hunter is a clear winner. 36” on the lances and 48 on the pulse laser combined with Wings of Khaine allows it to engage any target on the table more often than not and its weapon stats mean wounds on 4+ at worst (more often 3+) and with great same modifiers and good damage, its hard to not like!
The reroll 1’s of the Exarch is harder to justify for the 40ish points difference. If this ability allowed him to ignore the HEAVY weapon penalty I would say absolutely… but I am just not sure the minor buff is worth the cost.
Once you close the range though, the decision is reversed!
At 16” or less, the Hemlock is clearly the superior of the 2 Aircraft – its weapons are devastating, its large debuff LD aura is coming into play and its options for things like Terrify and Smite allow it to engage and support other incoming fire come into their own.
In terms of raw damage potential – the Crimson Hunter has 2d6+6 if everything hits and wounds while the hemlock is 12 (from the max 6 hits on the 2d3) plus the option for smite doing D3 or D6 mortal wounds on top of the physical weapons.
What’s interesting about this damage comparison is that while the hunter has a higher weapon potential, it’s a much less reliable set of attacks. Lets compare them against 3 different targets… a T4/3+Sv/W1 unit, a T7/3+Sv/W11 vehicle and then a T8/2+Sv/W18 behemoth!
Infantry – The Bright Lances on average will kill 1 model while the Pulse laser is almost certainly a second. The Exarch pushes these chances up but not significantly enough to make the 2nd kill for each shot.
Vehicle – Again, the Lances should on average inflict a single unsaved wound for D6 damage and the pulse laser is slightly less likely but again, should inflict a single unsaved wound for 3 damage. The Exarch again makes the consistency increase but not enough to make it more than 1 wound per weapon.
Behemoth – The lances are down to a 50/50 chance of inflicting a single wound and the pulse laser is a little less than that thanks to its lower AP modifier. Again the exarch is a middling upgrade where you increase the odds but not significantly.
Infantry – The D-Scythes average just over 3 unsaved wounds. The key part of the comparison though is the Hemlock can potentially kill 6 targets with its 2d3 over the flat 4 shots of the CrimsonHunter.
Vehicle – You can expect just fewer than 3 unsaved wounds (for a total of either 4 or 6 damage) against this target. This comparison is basically a draw with the Crimson Hunter though the hunter has a higher potential (d6+3 vs 4-6).
Behemoth – The D-Scythes come into their own here, averaging over 2 unsaved wounds (total 4 damage), consistently I will add. While again the Hunters weapons might match the Hemlock, the hemlocks results will be something you can bank on again and again.
So… which flyer to take? I guess that depends on a few things.
Assuming you like flying dangerous, I feel like the Hemlock is a clearly better option – its damage output is reliable, its debuff aura is solid and its options to either take more incoming fire (thanks to conceal) away from the rest of your forces or to apply mortal wounds on specific targets (thanks to its speed and Wings of Khaine), making the closest unit what you want is pretty easy.
If you want a safer, fire support style unit – the basic Crimson Hunter is where you want to be. Its easy to deploy close to your board edge, turn/move/turn means you can easily sit out of harms way while shooting the whole game.
I don’t personally see an Exarch ever being worth the extra cost over either other option. Its bonus reroll 1’s changes the impact of its shooting so little that the expense doesn’t cover the benefit.
Whichever way you go, the Eldar flyers are back in a big way!