Whither the Eldar?

One of the interesting phenomena of fourth-edition Warhammer 40K has been the relatively thin embrace of the Eldar amongst hobbyists, since their new Codex.

When it came out, I genuinely thought their popularity would increase significantly—or rather, would again begin to approach its old levels. You see, the Eldar were the power army of V2 40K, a designed-Space Marine-killer race that had the necessary tools to beat almost every other faction at the time at their own game, as well. The Eldar kind of hung on to that reputation in the transition to V3 (especially with the original third-edition black book Wraithlord sporting a Toughness 9!), then steadily lost their pride-of-place as a power army of choice once their codices began coming out. They were still powerful—the Wraithlord remained (and remains) one of the best bang-for-its-points units in the game, the Craftworld supplemental codex essentially allowed Eldar to become the only army who could cherry-pick Elite units and make them core Troops choices (something the new Codex elegantly still allows with a few more game-balance-oriented controls), and then the codex supplement which gave us the Eldar Seer 'Jedi Council' created one of the most infamous army compositions for tournament play in post-V2 history—but they were already moving in a direction this most recent codex carried them completely to: the ultimate 40K combined arms force. The Eldar have almost no jack-of-all-trades type units, which can forgive their player a deployment or movement blunder by simply hanging in until he gets a chance to correct it: the Eldar general has to use each unit he chooses for his army to its best advantage, to excel. They are very unforgiving, if misplayed (or even casually played). And as there really aren't as many genuinely tactically gifted players out there as the trashtalking in an average game hall would suggest, many hobbyists in this edition have encountered Eldar armies they've been able to make short work of...and assumed the army plays like that under every hand. It doesn't. Once you've met an Eldar army in competition played by a truly skilled general, you will be wary of them ever after—perhaps most of all because when an Eldar general beats you, there aren't many 'codex' excuses to blame, or lucky die rolls to finger. The Eldar reward skill.*

I still admire the current edition codex very much. With the possible competition of the most recent Orkdex, I think it is the best of the 'new generation' codices.** I have come to realize its very complexity in use will probably mitigate against it ever becoming as popular as I expected it initially to be...but I also suspect that it will appeal to more and more hobbyists who reach a point where they want more complexity, more challenge, less 'obviousness' from their chosen tabletop army. And I think that combination—of veteran, experienced gamer and army list full of highly specialized but outrageously-effective-if-used-right tools—will bring more and more Eldar armies to the table in the near future which will need to be reckoned with.

Of course, they are still prancing, arrogant, pointy-eared xenos scum who nearly destroyed the universe once—and may yet still—through their utter inability to control their basest, most debauched urges. Whatever compliments I may direct toward their codex as the hobby's most currently challenging—that always needs be said of them, too.

* Though I have faced a number of genuinely nasty Eldar armies in Independent, Rogue Trader and Grand Tournaments over the years (including several of those aforementioned Seer Councils), for sheer 'Jedi Mastery' of the Eldar on the tabletop, credit in my personal experience goes to a gamer from Winnipeg, Canada named Dave Violago, a regular attendee of what I consider hands-down the finest hobby experience 40K has to offer, Canada's Astronomi-Con circuit, who left me feeling exactly like most 'monkeigh' feel around Eldar in the game's background fiction (about three steps behind them)—except that he was a gracious sport all the while he elegantly outmaneuvered my Daemonhunters all over the city ruins, and generally schooled me in all aspects of gameplay. If you ever get a chance, play him: you will never underestimate the Eldar again.

** Both the current-edition Codex: Eldar and Codex: Orks were written by Phil Kelly. Both rulesets are both competitive and marvelously evocative (the Orkdex has the distinction of being the only rulebook I recall which made me laugh out loud while reading it. Repeatedly.) and are a credit to the game system. I recommend them highly.

The Outrider