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Friday, October 21, 2011

Dark Eldar - Defensive to Aggressive

Following on from the article last night regarding Dark Eldar, we're going to look at two examples of a mixed strategy for Dark Eldar. We'll be using my Dark Eldar list from 2000 points and playing against a list which it can outrange (Purifier spam) and a list which it has no hope of outranging (Thunderbubble). We're going to assume Dark Eldar won the first turn for both games and the same board will be used with the same deployment. Normally one wouldn't use the same deployment obviously but it works okay in both cases and minimises the variables we need to discuss. Both games are going to be Seize Ground with five objectives spread evenly (so a mix of NOVA and normal missions).

Game 1 is against a Purifier list which the Internet thinks is all the rage and simply trashes Dark Eldar. It's Crowe, Vindicare Assassin, 4x6x Purifiers w/2x Psycannons, Hammer, 3x Halberds, Psyback, 2x5x Purifiers w/2x Psycannons, Hammer, 2x Halberds, Psyback, 3x Psyfledread. Personally this is a pretty blah list as you're making the little units of Purifiers attempt to do everything but it does bring a lot of firepower to bear which threatens everything Dark Eldar have. See here for a Grey Knight and Dark Eldar comparison.


Here's the deployment. Remember this deployment is a 'pre-determined' deployment to use as an example so isn't perfect for Dark Eldar. Since we are playing a list which we outrange however there are a few things we can do. The aim with our Turn 1 movement is to force the Purifiers out of their transports to shoot their Psycannons (which have a 38.9" threat range in a moving transport) which exposes them to mass splinter fire and counter-assaults from Hellions and Beastmasters OR keep the Psybacks moving 6" to keep the Psycannon threat range down and thus suffer less hits across multiple targets. This in essence is the exact same choice we discussed for Dark Eldar in the previously linked post but for Grey Knights - are they going to alpha strike and bring all of their units to bear at once or play more cagily and go for a midfield/midgame dominace? Some of the Dark Eldar firepower will be lost as we re-mobilise to one side and unless they're lucky they're not going to be able to shoot down the Dreadnoughts until later when our Reavers come into play.

The Grey Knight deploys defensively with majority cover on their vehicles and the ability to go to either side of the board. This means their Dreadnoughts will be in range 99% of the time and their Psybacks should be in range with their 6" movement. Normally when one needs to get across the board to get into range you deploy in a line and trust in cover and vehicle durability to see you through. This stops your tanks getting each other stuck. With Fortitude however we can ignore this pretty reliably and thus only Immobilised results screw up our parking lot.

Dark Eldar Turn 1

We see the right flank moves quickly (24-36") except for the Ravager which uses the LoS blocking terrain to hide from the right flank. This loses some firepower but also forces the Grey Knights to come towards the army on the left flank or go around the BLoS terrain. This means the far right Psybacks will need to move 12" to get their Psycannons in range and thus expose them to fire. As you can see from the Purple arc - they are out of optimal threat range of all the vehicles - they can jump out and shoot the Hellions if they like but with 3+cover/FNP they are pretty durable against small arms fire.

The rest of the Dark Eldar army also moves laterally to keep out of range of Psycannons as much as possible. The Psybacks, Vindicare and Psyfledreads will always be in range so you suck their hits up and try and get cover as much as possible. The Hellions and Beastmasters move into positions where if the Purifiers jump out, they will get swamped.

Let's play some "what happens next" and use Vassal dice to determine this. Shooting unloads and Dark Eldar get reasonably statistical results in terms of kills but don't do much suppression - this isn't really an issue with Grey Knights since they are very likely to ignore these results anyway. Mass poison fire only drops one Purifier (though explosions killed three more) and the Dark Eldar brace for impact. By opening the tin cans on the left, those Grey Knights have to move to get within 24" range (therefore no 8 S7 rending shots from standing still) and the other Psybacks have to move 12", forego their own shooting and expose the Purifiers to firepower. Or they move 6" and shoot the Psybacks and keep the Purifiers protected for another turn as they move into position. If the Dark Eldar army had rushed forward, they may have gotten some more Blaster shots off but would also be suffering from all the static Psycannon firepower and Psybacks. By staying away they are more likely to suffer either Psybacks or moving Psycannons and thus force the Grey Knight player to react. Much better!

Grey Knight Turn 1

The Grey Knights move up and for the most part use their Psybacks to shoot with one Purifier squad being dropped out. The Grey Knights could have done this with all of their army and gone for a counter-alpha strike but since the Dark Eldar army is far away, the would have only gotten then Psycannons instead of the Psycannons + Psybacks. It still has its merits as the Dark Eldar then has to deal with 30+ Purifiers at once but also commits the Grey Knight army.

With the Psybacks + Psyfles shooting a lot of the Dark Eldar army gets poked pretty hard. A couple of Psycannons manage to inch themselves into range as well and we see two Venoms die as well as two Ravagers. The 3rd Ravager is stunned as is a Venom and another loses one of its cannons. A pretty good turn of shooting from the Grey Knights with above average vehicle kills but not  unexpected with lots of S6-8 shooting and AV10-11 open-topped vehicles. However, there are now some Purifiers exposed to the Dark Eldar's excellent anti-infantry and the remaining part of the army is still a decent distance away from the rest of the Dark Eldar army.

Dark Eldar Turn 2

Now is the time for Dark Eldar to be potentially aggressive and in this case they do. If they had a fully mech'd army it may have been wiser to kite some more and move away from the Grey Knights to keep more of their Purifiers out of play. Since we have a mixed army list with some aggressive infantry units (Hellions + Beastmasters) pushing now is an option. We do this by sending our Reavers and the aforementioned units towards the three de-meched Purifier squads (combat drugs was +1A btw). The rest of the army mobilises as much as possible to get some good shots off - this causes one more Razorback to wreck and another to be shaken - again probably statistically average in terms of kills but a little low on damage results though this is less important against Grey Knights with Fortitude.

A combined mass of posion shots and combat however sees a lot of Purifiers get munched. But now of course the Hellions and Beastmasters are open to reprisal and whilst both of those units are pretty damn decent in combat, the combination of I6, force weapons and Cleansing Flame can do a number on them. However, Dark Eldar now have units in the Grey Knight's battleline which they have to deal with. The Reavers are still there to support both of these units and bring S6 melta to bear on those Dreadnoughts who can also be tied up by continuously hitting and running Hellions and there are still six mobile vehicles for the Grey Knights to deal with which aren't all within easy reach of the unengaged Purifiers. This is the 'transition' phase against an army which cannot always reach you as you try to minimise their firepower but maximise your offensive capabilities.

Grey Knights Turn 2

The Grey Knight counter-attack has to play a bit defensively to sweep their battline clear and ensure their units aren't exposed. If they push their remaining Purifiers against the backfield of the Dark Eldar they may do more damage but expose the Purifiers (and there are still enough squads out there which can damage them) and leave their backline free to be molested by the Hellions and Beastmasters. By playing defensively they can still utilise their Psybacks for firepower, use Purifiers to clear their backline and protect any Purifiers sent forward to shoot. This again means they aren't maximising their firepower so the defensive and then partially aggressive play of the Dark Eldar is still working in their favor - they aren't being hit by everything.

Unfortunately for Dark Eldar, the Grey Knight shooting is particularly effective this turn and drops three tanks whilst the charging Purifiers reap a heavy toll on the Beastmaster squad. Things are still in the balance as the Reavers and Hellions are still in play and there's enough ranged Darklight firepower (Blaster Warriors, Lanceborn) to crack open those remaining Psybacks.

And with that we shall finish this pictorial exercise - it's purpose was to show how to open a game defensively with a Dark Eldar army. I will post the end results of the game though in another post for all those who are curious (which I was one of!) so never fear, you'll know the answer of to who wins yet...

Analysis & Conclusion -

This is a match-up the Internet likes to think heavily favors the Grey Knights (but they also think this list is the most broken thing ever - go figure). If the Dark Eldar army plays into the hands of the Grey Knight army - then yes, Grey Knights should indeed walk all over this list. What does this mean? Don't play aggressively early. A lot of Grey Knight firepower comes in at 24" - mainly psycannons and stormbolters. The threat range of these weapons is generally 30" (24" + 6" movement) though the Psycannons are doubly threatening when the don't have to move. When they are in a transport though this jacks up to 38.9" thanks to a 12" move and 2.9" disembark. This means hiding from them is hard but if your opponent does this, their units are exposed and they aren't getting the firepower of both the Psyback AND the Psycannons.

By playing defensively early on, you can avoid being hit by every weapon the Grey Knight army has to offer at once. Our goal here in our first turn/deployment is to therefore force the Grey Knight player to either move 12", jump out and shoot or move 6", stay inside and just shoot with the Psybacks. We're always going to be in range of the Psyfledreads and it's very unlikely we'll ever outrange all of the Psybacks but you do not want to be in that 30-33" zone where the Psybacks can move 6" and disembark the Psycannons into range. That's a sure way to lose. By staying out of this zone you can therefore bring your firepower to bear to damage your opponent's army and again reduce the incoming firepower your way.

Dark Eldar are fragile so you need to minimise the firepower that comes in. As we discussed in the previous article there are two ways to do this - stay out of range or smash the opponent. The problem is, neither option is always the right answer and always sticking to that strategy rather than adopting can see you lose games which you could have won. In this example we saw a defensive strategy used with aggressive elements as the Grey Knight player moved into the threat range of aggressive units. Hopefully this furthers your understanding in this regard and next post on this topic will look at it from the other angle (aggressive to defensive).

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