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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dark Eldar - Aggressive or Defensive?

Rant in E Minor

Dark Eldar are the best non-Imperial army out there currently. There's not much competition so they shouldn't feel super chuffed about this but they are an excellent army despite their reliance on suppress fire (which can hurt against Grey Knights and the Necron rumors for example). However, I seem to always see them advocated in one of two ways: hyper aggressive or hyper defensive where you sit back and shoot, shoot, shoot. Both of these strategies have their places which we will talk about shortly but they generally should not be the only way you play them every game, regardless of opponent. A good list is going to be flexible and not be forced to play the same way every game. By having choices you can adapt your army to your opponent's and operate under a battleplan of maximum efficiency. This isn't to say you react to your opponent but rather you have more choices as a general. A good general then makes the right choices.
With Dark Eldar this generally revolves around managing these two play-styles. There are times when you want to be aggressive from the get-go and force your opponent into a corner where they are reacting to you but there are also times when you don't want to move forward at all and would rather play games of keep-away for as long as possible. There are pros and cons to each style of play and you generally have to be proficient in all of them to get the maximum benefit from any army - Dark Eldar simply exemplify this as they are less forgiving.

Aggressive -

By being aggressive you limit your opponent's movement. Lots of Venoms and Raiders speeding at you with units jumping out is going to block some of your movement somewhere and as a rule, generally limits your movement to a particular side of the board. With the ability for Dark Eldar to move and shoot as well, they are going to get in your grill and shoot pretty effectively on Turn 1. For maximum effectiveness though they are going to be dumping their pretty weaksauce infantry in your face. Warriors and Trueborn with Blasters aren't known for their durability so are very open to reprisal. The issue here is a fully meched Dark Eldar list is going to drop 20+ targets in your face often with backfield scorers/shooting units such as Wracks in Raiders + Ravagers to keep you honest. Not many armies can point enough guns at the opponent to at least damage each unit, let alone damage them significantly or reliably. 

This is the ultimate alpha strike for Dark Eldar - hit hard, fast and early and overwhelm your opponent with targets. They may be weak but because of the damage you inflicted first turn plus simple numbers, it's going to be hard to even damage them all, let alone kill them all. The issue here is you're relying a lot on your ability to hurt your opponent in the first turn and sometimes dice just tell you to get lost. Whilst 20+ lance weapons are excellent at suppressing enemy vehicles, if you can't destroy at least one against a fully mech'd opponent, what do all your poison shots shoot at? Furthermore, this relies a lot on getting the first turn or seizing the initiative. Whilst Dark Eldar have options for this (called Baron and Vect), it's not always going to happen and thus reserving is often a better choice when being aggressive would suit you well. You can still get an alpha-strike in but importantly you've denied your opponent two turns of shooting.

Either way, this is a tactic best utilised against an opponent who out-ranges you significantly and when you have the first turn. It can be used against shorter-ranged opponents to hem their movement and put them under pressure early but you have the opportunity cost of being shot by all those short-ranged guns you could have avoided for a couple of turns.

Defensive - 

The exact opposite of an aggressive strategy, defensive play looks to maximise the range and movement ability of the Dark Eldar army and weapons. This might seem a bit counter intuitive as Dark Eldar don't exactly have extremely long-ranged weaponry. Their staple heavy weapon, the Dark Lance, is 36" after all and even combined with 12" moves from Ravagers and Raiders, they can only shoot 36" - well within range of the 48" weapons of the Imperium and other armies. However, with the speed advantage Dark Eldar have (few armies can move 12" as an army and fire all their weapons for example), they can focus on one side of an opponent's army. This leaves them in range of say half the opponent's force which they have hopefully suppressed well and forces the other have to re-mobilise to engage them. This isn't always possible within a single turn and by force of movement and being able to shoot, the Dark Eldar army has 'saved' itself against many of the opponent's opposing guns. 

This is a great strategy for going both first and second. If going first you can deploy centrally and then move to a flank to avoid some of your opponent's guns. It's less effective this way as you can only move so far whilst still firing but you're still gaining a similar effect and hitting your opponent first. If going second you can deploy away from as much of your opponent's army as possible and use your mobility to get into range of part of their army and again minimise the damage you take early. This tactic is very effective against armies based upon shorter-ranged guns such as Grey Knights, Tyranids, Vulkan Marines, etc. as you are much more capable of using your speed + range to keep away from your opponent. This strategy can be further enhanced with night shields.

It must be noted however that whilst this strategy plus kiting (moving away from your opponent whilst firing) cannot be done all game all the time. The board is only so large and opponent's who are seriously out-ranged or even opponent's with only part of their army out of range, are going to move to midfield so there are far fewer places to hide. This strategy is therefore far more useful in early or late game stages where the enemy is at its furthest away (thus this strategy is more possible) or there are less units unengaged which can strike you.

Mixed -

This is where I think most games will fall and it's up to you as the general to determine when one strategy needs to morph into another. Quite often you'll push early to hem your opponent in and then pull back to control the board/protect yourself, whilst other times you'll use range and mobility to your advantage to damage the enemy as they approach and then move in aggressively to engage them as they come into range. When you do, this is very important as games will be won or lost based upon this but if you blindly stick to one strategy every game or for a full game length, you'll find it comes un-done with some regularity - especially if you play against the same opponents regularly. No strategy or army is invincible. 

Conclusion - 

Dark Eldar ultimately maximise this mixed strategy as they are rarely going to win a straight-up fight. This often leads to them being called a finesse army which is really misleading - you just need to know how to run them rather than needing a particular skill. In terms straight up slug-fests, whether they be long ranged or short-ranged, Dark Eldar are simply too fragile to compete. They are AV10-11, open-topped, T3/5+ save models for the most part and whilst there are some rather durable units and pain tokens add to their survivability, they are by no means a durable army. This means you need to fight ON YOUR TERMS on you will lose. The key to doing this is utilising different strategies as discussed above and when the moment is right, moving from one to another. 

You will lose models, as with an army, and things can look dire after a good round of shooting by your opponent but as long as you keep in mind how the game is unfolding, Dark Eldar do very well. They are not Marines. Do not blindly rush them in all the time and think they are going to survive throwing blaster shots at the opponent. They are not Marines. Do not sit back and think you can outshoot someone due to your great BS and durability. Combine the two and combine them differently against different opponents and you'll do well.

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