As you read the following entries, you may get the impression that Fast Attack is my favorite section of the Eldar codex. This is absolutely true. I think the options here really support what I imagine as the Eldar style of war. They hit exceptionally fast and hard, but they have to be used carefully or the enemy will easily destroy them.
Swooping Hawks were almost universally written off as a useful unit in the last codex. Their biggest asset was that they didn’t have to be on the table. I can happily report that they are now an excellent unit. Coming in at the old cost of a Tactical Marine, Swooping Hawks come with the standard aspect warrior profile and armor, as well as a jump pack and an Assault 3 lasgun. I know it’s just a lasgun, but 3 shots per model at 24” is pretty good. In addition, they can drop a blast template within 24” of where they deep strike. It’s a large blast if the squad is 6 or more models and a small blast otherwise, and it Ignores Cover.
They’ve got a couple excellent special rules too. Heralds of Victory means that they never deviate when they deep strike, while Skyleap allows them to leave the table and deep strike back in on the next turn. Between those two rules, they can easily reach any point on the table. No place is off limits to them and no target is safe (well, except targets with high toughness or good armor. They do have their limitations).
The Exarch provides some additional firepower to the unit. He can exchange his lasblaster for a Hawk’s Talon (a S5 lasblaster) or a Sunrifle (a AP3 lasblaster with Blind), which add some extra hitting power. Both are good choices, though I like the Sunrifle for killing Marines and blinding Tau. The powers he can take are Night Vision (not to useful for a squad with 24” range), Marksman’s Eye (good for sniping out characters with a Sunrifle), and Hit and Run (nice for escaping assault, but the Hawks will probably die in their first round of combat before they get to use it).
Swooping Hawks aren’t very durable and won’t do much damage to tough targets. However, they are cheap, absurdly fast, and able to put out an impressive number of low strength shots. They are extremely useful for taking out small scoring units that your opponent thinks are safe, as well as making sure you get the Linebreaker point. They aren’t flashy, but they will win you games.
I’ve always liked Warp Spiders, but previously I’ve been in the minority. This edition, they got a massive upgrade. For less than 20 points, you get an aspect warrior with a 3+ save and a warp jump generator. This makes them the flat out fastest infantry in the game. They move 6 + 2D6”, get to run d6” (and still shoot, just like any Eldar), then jump another 2D6” in the assault phase. For those keeping track, that’s an average of 24” a turn, with a maximum possible move of 36”. Warp Spiders get into your enemy’s face very quickly, which suits their preferred weapon well. They carry Death Spinners, 12” S6 Assault 2 guns that have rending against targets with wounds and get S7 against targets with initiative 3 or less, including most vehicles.
Overall, Warp Spiders combine tremendous speed with great, if short ranged, firepower. Very few targets can survive the shooting from a full squad, and the list becomes even shorter if Guide or Doom are involved. They don’t do well in assault, but they come with Hit and Run so they can escape if they are charged. Unlike the Swooping Hawks, their 3+ save means that at least a few will survive to run away.
The Exarch is a pretty good addition to the squad, and can twin-link his Death Spinner for a few points. Alternatively, he can take a Spinneret Rifle, an 18” range, rapid fire AP 1 weapon; it gives the unit a bit more range and is excellent for killing Terminators and vehicles. He can also take power blades, which are essentially an expensive pair of power swords. These aren’t a particularly good purchase as the squad really is at its best when shooting continuously. For exarch powers, he can take Fast Shot (great for pumping even more firepower out of the squad), Marksman’s Eye (once again, useful for sniping specific models due to the Exarch’s large number of shots), and Stalker (a challenge power that helps offset the low strength of the power blades, but the Exarch should still be staying out of assault).
Warp Spiders are a tremendously useful unit. They’ve got the speed to reach their target, the durability to survive the trip, and the firepower to maul whatever they shoot at. They make good tank hunters, as each one essentially carries a short range autocannon. Warp Spiders are even at good hunting flyers with the help of Guide.
Shining Spears are the Eldar’s attempt at a fantasy style heavy cavalry unit. They are expensive but are mounted on jet bikes so they have the necessary speed. Each one carries a Laser Lance, which acts as a S6 AP3 melee weapon, but only when they charge. It also has a 6” range shooting attack and is a Lance, so it can theoretically damage any tank. The squad comes with Skilled Rider, which is great as it adds to their Jink save and guarantees that none of the expensive models will die moving through terrain, and Outflank, which may help them reach assault.
The Exarch is fairly predictable. He can take a power weapon or a Star Lance, which is basically a Laser Lance but S8 AP2. He can take the exarch powers Monster Hunter, Disarming Strike, and Hit and Run. Of those, I would only suggest Hit and Run. Since their lances only work when they assault, Shining Spears desperately need to avoid protracted combats.
Shining Spears really want to be heavy cavalry, but they just don’t have the hitting power. The lances are nice, but they only have 2 attacks on the charge and they’re as durable as a standard Space Marine. They fall far short of Thunderwolves or Bloodcrushers. Small squads could be used as fast units to wipe out small enemy scoring units, but I think you’re better off with either Swooping Hawks or Warp Spiders.