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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Armies in 8th: Dark Elves Part Two: The Infantry

Cult of Khaine

Dark Elf infantry has a reputation as being underpriced and overpowered.  While I certainly agree that some units are very points efficient, I feel this generalization ignores that there are several units that are not quite on the same level as the top notch units.  Fortunately for the Dark Elf general, you aren’t at all obligated to take the chafe in your lists.  It would be nice to have an 8th Edition army book where all the choices are at least viable, but be careful what you wish for: a new army book is likely to take away many of the very things that make the power DE units so good.

Repeater Crossbowmen:  Simply put, these guys are arguably the best Core unit in the game.  They are by far the best shooting Core unit, and when armed with shields they are not bad at all in close combat due to their elite elven statline and Hatred.  The combination of great ranged ability and above average close combat ability makes them ideal at holding key pieces of the battlefield and protecting your flanks.  The one battlefield role they don’t excel at is advancing toward the enemy and seizing ground.  This drawback, however, is mitigated by the other selections in the book.

Spearmen:  Spearmen have a couple of advantages over xbowmen.  First, they have spears for armament, which means an extra row gets to fight.  This makes them slightly superior to xbowmen in close combat.  Second, they can carry a magical standard which allows them to combo with a few pieces of magic items.  With the Flaming banner, a character armed with a Lifetaker can shoot down powerful regenerating units.  With the banner of discipline, they can more easily pass the leadership tests they will be taking thanks for the Sacrificial Dagger and the resulting miscast casualties.  Third, they cost 6 points a piece.  This allows you to bring a horde at an affordable cost, which can fuel the Sac Dagger.  6 points per power dice is a small price to pay to utterly dominate the magic phase.  For these reasons, their most common role is as a magic bunker for a Supreme Sorceress with a Sac Dagger and/or Lifetaker

Corsairs:  Corsairs are a very odd unit without a defined battlefield role.  They are much worse at shooting than the xbowmen, and much better at close combat than spearmen.  You can tweak these attributes depending on the loadouts you give them to be choppier or shootier but the end result will be much as I say.  My disdain for them is well documented and I will reiterate it here:  if you want them to be shooty, bring xbowmen.  If you want a choppy choice, there are elite infantry that are much more effective in that role.  The one time where I can recommend them overall is when you want a choppy infantry unit, but your Specials slots are occupied by something that precludes taking elite infantry such as Cold One Knights or Chariots.  I know some people love their Corsairs, and I’d love for those people to explain in the comments what my analysis is missing.

Shades:  These guys dominated the battlefield in 7th Edition.  Armed with the Always Strikes First banner and great weapons, along with Repeater Crossbows, they were superior to almost everyone in close combat and also superior at shooting.  Great Weapons took a hit in 8th, which eliminated the Shades from being a close combat power house.  Now, they are simply an infiltrating shooty unit.  Against armies without shooting, they can deploy safely on an enemy flank and pepper them with shooting unstoppably.  Their disruptive ability can be second to none.  The problem with them arises when you play against an army with excellent shooting ability.  Being that they are very expensive, they cannot win a battle of shooting attrition with something like, say, High Elf Archers or Dwarven gunmen.  The end result is you have a unit that can utterly dominate certain opponents, but utterly fail against others.  This could be considered ‘balanced’ by some people, but from a tournament list perspective I would much rather take a choice that was 5/10 against all comers rather than 1/10 against some and 10/10 against others.

Harpes:  These… uh… ladies(?) occupy an interesting role in the army.  They are flying harassers who exist almost exclusively to threaten enemy warmachines.  They are cheap, and aren’t very good fighters due to a lack of Hatred and they have poor Leadership.  Their biggest drawback though is the lack of a plastic model.  I feel this prevents most players from experimenting with them and assessing their true value.  With that said, they are probably not worth bringing solely for the fact that their battlefield role is incredibly niche and what I’ve found is that people who play warmachine armies are getting smart and don’t deploy in a manner where a unit like Harpes can easily bring down the house.  If you find units like Harpes are able to consistently trump enemy warmachines, my suggestion is your opponents aren’t very good and skewing your perceptions of Harpes.

Witch Elves:  These are a glass cannon: they have little to no defenses but they absolutely puree anything they touch in close combat.  I’ve written about how to use them effectively in a theme list, which is quite popular.  Incidentally, Witch Elves are among the best targets for a Cauldron of Blood in the army list as they greatly benefit from all of the potential buffs.  In my sample list, I run 3 big units of Witch Elves backed up by triple cauldrons.  Not the most cut throat competitive tournament list, but it can be a nightmare.  If you cannot shell out for the metal/finecasts of these (and I wouldn’t either) you can use Corsairs as a stand in.

Executioners:  Amazing models, crap rules.  If they weren’t Khainite, or if they could take a magical standard they would be among the best units in the army book, but as is there is no reason to bring them instead of Blackguard.  They are expensive, squishy, and strike last.  This is a pretty bad combination for a unit that many drones on various forums argue is good.  A good unit doesn’t need add-ons to be useful, a good unit is useful out of the box and any upgrades should make them more effective.  Maybe next army book!

Blackguard:  Quite powerful in 7th Edition, and while less so in 8th, they are still the cream of the crop.  Combined with one of the two armor piercing banners, these guys simply chew up anything they get into combat with.  Another bonus is the unit champion can carry a magic item, which allows you to tailor the unit to be extra-killy, or to carry some kind of utility item or defensive equipment.  The advantage of Blackguard over the other elite infantry is that they can operate effectively on the battlefield without a Cauldron, or without an accompanying character.  If you add a Cauldron or character they become even better.  For this reason they have a leg up on the other options.  The only opponent they really fear in close combat are the elite High Elf infantry who hit just as hard, but strike before them, or Chaos Chosen Deathstars.  Everyone else they eat for lunch, so I have no issue recommending them as the best infantry available to Dark Elves, especially when taken in multiples.

In conclusion, in the transition from 7th to 8th, Dark Elves lost the ability to bring incredibly overpowered deathstar infantry units, but instead became an army whose infantry contingent contained well rounded, killy, and cost efficient choices.  The infantry battles will be much more sanguinary now, but when done properly the Dark Elves should still come out on top more often than not.

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