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July 18, 2013

40k - The Wave Serpent

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The new Eldar codex has been out for a while now and with it has come the nice revival of the the Wave Serpent.

Below is a post by Matt-Shadowlord from 3++ is the new black about the changes to the Wave Serpent in the most recent Eldar codex.

I know the Internet tends to think competitive 40k is just about crunching numbers and throwing dice at each other and takes no skill at all. The post below by Matt hopefully helps confound this (along with the usual arguments of the same people wouldn't consistently place with different armies, "good" and "winning" lists are seen losing all the time, etc.). Although this post looks at the brilliant capacity of a Wave Serpent to be an offensive pain in your rear end, the graphics show the impact it has when using it's movement and mobility in tandem with this offensive capacity.

Movement is the phase you control the most as a player - and this is where the strategy and tactics come in (expounded upon more here). It might certainly be less than other games as the mechanics are simpler but it's by no means a game bereft of intelligent thought needed to do well. Hopefully this post helps to show that as a very practical example of this.


There have been a few units released that have changed the game. The Heldrake stopped the Marine flood in build in its tracks, Markerlights have had a huge impact on everything from the survivability of units in cover to the viability of massed Flyers, and now the Wave Serpent has gone from a unit widely derided during the Eldar rumour-phase to suddenly making Mechanised armies relevant again.

This article is going to have a look at the Wave Serpent both from the point of view of an Eldar player, and that of an opponent who needs to know what they are up against and what its impact on the game is likely to be. I’ll start with some basics and then move on to some tactical advice.

Wave Serpent is AV12/12/10 with 3 HP. Tank, Fast, Skimmer, Transport (12 models)

The default armament is a Twinlinked Shuriken Cannon, and Twinlinked Shuriken Catapult and a Serpent Shield for 115pts, but for the purpose of this article we’ll be looking the version of the tank that has been upgraded to carry a Twinlinked Scatter Laser, Shuriken Cannon and Serpent Shield for 130pts. This is more expensive, but the points are so well-spent it is the version you should expect to see in most competitive games.

The Twinlinked Scatter Laser is a decent weapon with 4 strength 6 shots at 36” range, and a rule that makes all other weapons Twinlinked if this scores one hit. Keep in mind that the chance of scoring at least 1 hit with a 4 shot twin-linked BS4 weapon is around 99%.

The Shuriken Cannon is a nice, cheap (10pt) upgrade that synergises with the scatter laser, offering 3 more strength 6 shots (that will almost always be twinlinked) at 24” range. With those guns onboard we get to the real power of the vehicle: its Serpent Shield.

The Serpent Shield

Gamesworkshop describe the Wave Serpent Shield as ‘a rippling bow wave of force at the front of the craft that disrupts incoming fire, though it can be projected outward as a weapon in extremis’. I suspect by ‘in extremis’ they didn't mean this weapon is actually intended to be used all the time, every time, every turn, but that’s the reality of how this non-gun is going to be used. It’s just that good.

When fired, the shield has Strength 7, AP-, D6+1 shots (average 4.5 shots), a shocking 60” range, Pinning, and one of the most useful universal special rules in the entire game: it ignores cover. It will also almost always be Twinlinked when firing at an enemy within 36” range due to the Scatter Laser.

similarThe seven shots from the Scatter Laser and Shuriken Cannon should average around 6 hits, the equivalent of the multilasers from four Chimeras.

The Waveserpent Shield should average around 4 hits, the equivalent of around 4 Autocannon heavy weapon teams. Against a target in 5+ cover, that’s the equivalent damage output of around 6 Autocannon heavy weapon teams.

This is a rough approximation that ignores things like range-bands and split fire, but provides a nice graphical way to get the message across.

The Waveserpent is a light transport with the ability to wreck all other light transports in the game from turn 1. Killing transports before they move can dictate the entire flow of the game, and is a key feature of competitive list building. The Waveserpent is able to do this while also out-ranging the vast majority of opponents' return fire.

Serpents in Action

The image below shows a standard Dawn of War Deployment, using a graphic from Vassal because we need to look at movement, angles and maneuvering rather than just weapon strength and AP. The Basilisk is deployed as far back as possible, over 31” from the closest Skimmer. The range of the other Wave Serpents means that this tank should be rotated slightly (which is a good habit against virtually all opponents for any army with lower side armour).


However, the new problem for armies with vehicles with lower side armour this when facing Eldar is that this S7 weapon is not only one with Ignore cover, it is also mounted on a Fast Vehicle. It is the addition of 'Fast' that makes the vehicle become a real threat to some armies. 

This is an important factor for Eldar players to keep in mind - I just finished a game against Eldar after which my opponent cursed his dice for hating him; he hadn't managed a single penetration on any of my vehicles. Maybe he was right, the dice had rolled a bit low, but at the same time we went a whole game without him firing a single shot into side armour. Eldar should be able to hunt side-arcs more than almost any army in the game, and not only in the later turns. 

Shown below: The Basilisk is deployed more wisely, at an angle that makes it difficult for an enemy to gain side shots on the right but without exposing side armour on the left. 

The First Waveserpent moves 6” and fires into its Front arc, but the second is able to move 12” and get into the side arc. Being a Fast vehicle means it can fire two weapons at full Ballistic Skill (not one; to save skeptics time, see page 83).  


Note that this is turn 1, before the basilisk has fired.  It did not even require shenanigans with the vehicle deployed sideways on the edge of the 12" zone and rotated before movement to gain an inch or two as some players are wont to do. This manoeuvre requires careful placement, but can be done with a simple move, and has a few inches of leeway. 

Don’t underestimate the impact that a Fast vehicle with a 60” gun will have on the game; you may love or hate low relative side-armour tanks like Manticores, Basilisks, Predators, Exorcists and even Vindicators, but the ability of an army to reliably kill them with nothing but their dedicated transports will have a big impact on the ‘meta-game’.

How do I Deal with this?

I don’t plan to Ebay my own Guard army or don't think people should lose games more games than necessary to Eldar, so here are a few tips.
  • Set up your vehicles where terrain will block line of sight to side armour where possible.
  • Use lower-value vehicles to block line of sight to side armour when terrain won't.
  • Place objectives on the far left or right if you plan to get to them in vehicles.
  • Take the angles of your vehicles very seriously. When facing Eldar, rotate them slightly more than you usually would. Or lose them.
  • Focus on killing one flank at a time (in the example above, killing the left tank would make it very easy for the basilisk to rotate further and present front armour to the other Serpents).
  • Keep high-value vehicles in reserve when mech Eldar have first turn. The game requires some units to be deployed, so the minimum amount of infantry placed in cover or out of sight may be a better option.
  • Seriously consider Reserve Manipulation options for your army. I'll intend to do an article on this soon, but Alpha Strike armies are getting more common with new codex releases and more deadly with more Ignore Cover weapons entering the game. All races now have the option to do something about the reliability of their reserves. Treat your decision to reserve or not to reserve similar to how you would when playing Guard or Tau.

Go First or Second?

This is a very important decision when playing mechanised Eldar.
  • If you go first, all their serpent shields will be up and 5 out of 6 pens will be glances. I recommend targeting all the Eldar tanks that do not have shields; the Falcons, Night Spinners etc will be vulnerable to penetrations. You will be vulnerable to last turn objective contesting, a real problem vs an army with Jet Bikes.
  • If you go second, their shields will probably be down. However, they will have fired enough shots to degrade your firepower, and they will now have Skimmer cover saves from moving (5+ or 4+ depending on wargear). All eldar skimmers will have these saves, so there is less advantage to targeting Falcons etc. instead of Serpents. You will also be less vulnerable to last turn contesting.
Go first if
  • the opponent's army does not contain jetbikes or similar contesters
  • if your own army has the ability to penetrate AV12 vehicles at range
  • if your have vulnerable vehicles you can't risk losing
  • if the terrain is a shooting gallery and you have low side armour
  • or if you have a fast moving army that needs to get into assault as quickly as possible.
Go second if
  • your opponent has too many potential contesting units for you to deal with
  • if you yourself have potential contesting units
  • if you can't penetrate AV12 anyway
  • if you don't have many low-armour high-cost vulnerable units
  • if the terrain has multiple line of sight blockers
  • or if you have reliable reserve modifiers so you can keep high value targets in reserves for a massive Beta Strike.

  • Or if you're running a drop pod assault*
*(in which case, do yourself a favour and bring one AV13 tank for the Eldar to fire all their shields at before you drop your pods. 60% of the time, it works every time) In reality of course, nothing is that clear cut and each game is going to be a combination of the above factors and more, and you're going to have to make a judgement call based on your own experience and preferences.

Tank Shock!

An article about Waveserpents wouldn't be complete without mentioning they are one of the best tank-shock vehicles in the game. Tankshocking is done in the movement phase, which means that the Serpent Shield will not yet have been fired. It takes a penetration for a model to even hope to stop a tank shock with Death or Glory, assuming the Eldar player isn't so desperate that they are tank shocking a melta unit using a vehicle with only one Hull Point left (this is where I'd use the expression 'in extremis').

Even if the Death or Glory attempt is successful, on a roll of 2+ it will be reduced to a glance and the enemy model killed. Even on a roll of one, the enemy still die if the Serpent merely receives a Shaken or Weapon Destroyed result. This means you have very reliable tank shocking, after which you can still shoot the serpent shield you just used to protect the tank. Eldar have their cake and eat it too.

Waveserpent Shield and Weapon Destroyed FAQ

A brief note on a related topic: The Waveserpent Shield is not listed as a weapon, so there is an argument for it not being possible to destroy it with a Weapon Destroyed result. It's quite possible GW do think it is a defensive shield and not a weapon. At the same time, it is listed as wargear along with the Shuriken Cannon and Catapult in the Wave Serpent entry and there is an argument for it to be treated as a hull mounted weapon that has equal chance to be destroyed as any other weapon on the tank.

I’ve already seen arguments about this and expect it will get an FAQ in the near future. If it’s a big deal to you or an opponent in the meantime, perhaps compromise that the shooting ability can be destroyed but the shield’s ability to reduce penetrations to glances remains functional. This stop-gap is just a suggestion however.


Like all vehicles, Wave Serpents are still not survivable in close combat, hull points still kill them through attrition, the men inside still can't assault out, and troops inside still can't score or even claim line breaker. Despite that, GW have released a dedicated transport as efficient at killing as many main battle tanks, and better than many of them.

Against all the odds, the AV12 mechanised transport army is back from the dead. Best to be prepared.

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