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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Armies in 8th: Dark Elves Part One: House of Pain

Hi everyone, Nikephoros here to bring you the next installment in the Armies in 8th series, the Dark Elves. 

The Dark Elves were nearly universally considered to be the most powerful army book in 7th Edition.  In those days, the War Hydra had no rival on the battlefield, their magic was among the best, if not the best, and they had magic items- like the Ring of Hotek- that could completely dominate the game.  They killed their enemies by using ASF Blackguard or Shade units to wipe out the front row (or two) and not suffer any casualties in return. 

8th Edition changed the dynamic of the army in several important ways.  The new edition, combined with an extensive FAQ/Errata release nerfed several of the common 7th Edition strategies.  Since enemies can hit you back even if their first rows get wiped out, the Blackguard deathstar is no longer capable of single-handedly winning the game.  The change to ASL/ASF makes Shade-stars with Great Weapons (probably the best 7th Edition DE build) unusable in 8th.  The War Hydra can no longer break ranked units easily thanks to Steadfast, which means it’s simply a great monster rather than a 175 point monster than can defeat entire armies on its own.

On the other hand, several strategies caught a significant buff.  First and foremost, Dark Elf magic (which was already good in 7th) got even better in 8th.  Power Dice are among the most precious commodities on the battlefield, especially as the size of the game increases, and thanks to Power of Darkness Dark Elves will have more Power Dice than almost any other army under normal circumstances.  In 8th Edition, the magic phase is much more important to the overall success of the Dark Elf army than it was in previous editions, thanks to the buff to their magic but also to their close combat becoming less reliable.

Chariots in every army caught a buff in 8th Edition, and Dark Elves are no exception to that.  The general weakness of Elven armies in Fantasy is lower armor, low toughness.  This is in order to balance out the high initiative, high killing power of the army.  Dark Elf chariots are an uber unit because they are high toughness, high armor, and retain all the killiness you’d expect from Elves.  Other armies can bring more chariots in a force, and others can bring them more cheaply, but no other army’s chariots compliment the strengths and weaknesses of their particular army book as well as Cold One Chariots do for Dark Elves.

Thanks to an erratum that was written rather unintelligibly, the Cauldron of Blood became significantly better.  It is now much harder to kill than previous editions, and with the buff to battle standard bearers, it is much more useful.  Previously it was a 200 point unit that provided a marginal buff to a single unit.  Now it’s a 200 point unit that provides a marginal buff to a single unit, and a major leadership buff to most of the army.  This is a powerful change.

From an army-wide perspective, Dark Elves have made the transition to 8th quite well.  They have gone from a somewhat gimmicky deathstar army complimented by insanely over powered Hydras to a more balanced army that utilizes magic heavily to influence combats with its killy yet fragile forces.  Curiously, despite being considered a top tier army book, Dark Elves have quite of lot of units that can only be generously labeled ‘uncompetitive.’  This leads to issues where you see successful Dark Elf armies are rather homogenous.  While you do tend to see the same ‘good’ units repeated in most Dark Elf armies (a trend common with old Warhammer 40k codices) there is still enough variety to allow a general to create several distinct styles of play.

The first major playstyle is elite infantry.  Depending on the size of the game, you will have two or three units of Blackguard backed up by a Spearmen magic bunker.  Added to that are usually some combination of Hydras and/or Reaper Bolt Throwers, and Repeater Crossbowmen.   There might also be a Cauldron or two in the mix.  This type of army moves its killy blocks forward while using Death Magic to drop templates of doom on anyone who wants to sit back and shoot at your advancing infantry. 

The next army, and dearest to my heart since it’s my tournament army of choice, is Cold One Chariot spam.  You start by taking the max number of Cold One Chariots, either 3 or 6 depending on the size of the game, and add a BSB riding a chariot, and if you can afford it, another Master riding a chariot.  You run them together as a phalanx so that they charge the same units simultaneously, obliterating them with impact hits.  Running them en bloc prevents them from being isolated, bogged down and killed as would often happen if they were spread out.  You season this by adding the max amount of Hydras you can take, 2 or 4 depending on the size game.  This gives you between 6 to 12 high toughness, difficult to kill units as your main offense.  Not what most expect from an Elf army.  Your core compromises a healthy mix of Crossbowmen and Dark Riders.  It’s an army with all the expected killing power of a Dark Elf army, but with a very non-Elven toughness and resiliency.

Less commonly seen, but still competitive, is the Dark Elf magic gunline.  This army brings all the Reaper Bolt Throwers and Crossbowmen it can, and backs them up with all the L1 Fire Magic Sorcereress it can afford.  Add in some Shades to cause chaos in the enemy backfield and you have a list.  Thanks to the synergy between Power of the Darkness and Fireball, you have the capability to drop absolutely withering firepower the opposition’s forces in both the shooting phase AND magic phase.  It’s a simple list, but surprisingly effective.

Lastly, you have the battleforce army.  The Dark Elf army book has some serious stinker units, no doubt.  But it also has some of the most cost efficient units around.  You don’t have to go all in with infantry or chariots/cavalry as in the above lists in order to win, you can play a mix and matched balanced force, so long as the units that comprise it are individual strong.  I won’t lie, it takes a good general to play a list that is jack of all trades master of none and crush the opposition, but Dark Elves are one of the few armies in Warhammer that have the tools to win in several phases of the game and take multi-dimensional strategies.

In the second part of this series I will detail the Infantry units that comprise the Dark Elf army.  I’ll give my thoughts on the good, the bad, and the really bad.  The third part of this series will be the non-infantry like chariots, cavalry, monsters and warmachines.  The final installment will be the Lords and Heroes where I will discuss the general tendencies of each option, as well as cover some specific builds you will see in many tournament armies, like the “Unkillable Dreadlord.”

Stay tuned!

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