8 May 2013

High Elves Tactica - Army Special Rules and Magic Items

Hey guys, Learn2Eel here! I'm back to discuss the mighty High Elves, one of the more difficult armies in Warhammer Fantasy to master, but a very powerful force if used correctly. With outstanding melee units, brutal magic users and effective, cheap war machine hunters, the High Elves are a mobile force that relies on smart play and magic to win the day. As my first Warhammer Fantasy Tactica, I hope this article is both enlightening and entertaining for you!


Given how integral they are in Warhammer Fantasy, in particular for High Elves, I will do an overview of the magic items section of the book, and provide some potential combinations that you may or may not have thought of before. As a general rule, High Elves are best served investing most of their points in Special choices - by far the strongest section of the army book. However, you always need strong magic-users, and High Elves have some of the best in the game for their cost. Keeping that in mind, always be aware of the points level of the game you are playing when designing a High Elf army list - certain characters and combos simply aren't possible in smaller games, whilst those same units may not work in really large battles. Remember that my overall evaluations of each unit are based strictly on how they compare to other choices in the same army slot.

Army Special Rules

Always Strikes First - The truly defining rule for High Elves that, in 8th Edition, makes them brutal in melee is that every single High Elf, to a model, has Always Strikes First (note that this does not apply to their mounts though). This cancels out with weaponry that would normally Always Strike Last, such as great weapons - thus, why units such as White Lions and Sword Masters are so universally feared. Having Strength five or six attacks at a high Weapon Skill and Initiative of five or more is something few enemies want to face! In addition to this, if a High Elf model striking an enemy unit has the same or a higher Initiative than their opponent in combat, they get re-rolls to hit! Considering High Elves naturally have very high Weapon Skill and Initiative - even their basic Troops have a Weapon Skill of four and Initiative of five - this means that most of your units will always be re-rolling to hit, essentially maximising the damage they can deal. Of course, High Elves still have naturally low Strength and Toughness, so those are issues you will have to contend with. For further uses in this Tactica, Always Strikes First shall be abbreviated to ASF.

Martial Prowess - Previously a special rule limited to the spear wielding infantry that made up our Core choices, Martial Prowess now applies to all High Elves, and what a change it is. Martial Prowess allows those with the special rule to both fight and shoot in an extra rank than normal, meaning that a block of twenty one White Lions deployed seven wide would all be able to strike, whereas a unit of twenty Spearmen deployed five wide would similarly fight with their full attacks. That it now also applies to ranged attacks is a great boost to our more numerous ranged units, such as Archers and Lothern Sea Guard. That our Archers effectively fight in as many ranks as Spearmen from other army books, and shoot in more ranks, effectively idealises the elite nature of our army better than any other special rule could. That it even serves to make three-wide and three-deep cavalry units even more viable than they were - or really any cavalry configuration - is fantastic!

Valour of Ages - All High Elves (again, excluding mounts) can re-roll failed fear, terror and panic tests when fighting against their hated rivals, the Dark Elves. This is definitely useful for obvious reasons, and should be remembered whenever you clash against your debased kin. Interestingly, this special rule comes into effect if even a single Dark Elf model is present on the field of battle; perhaps a tantalising glimpse of a new main rulebook?

Lileath's Blessing - A boost for any High Elf wizard employing High Magic, granting them a +1 bonus to cast any spell from that rather useful lore. It is important to remember that all High Elf wizards (excluding Eltharion) have this special rule, so for example, Teclis and Alarielle would gain +6 or +5 to cast spells from the lore of High Magic. It is essentially an incentive to use their updated lore as opposed to those found in the rulebook, but as always, choosing which lore of magic to use should be resolved on a by game basis.

Fireborn - Any unit that possesses this special rule is effectively immune to flaming attacks, with a +2 ward save against such wounds. Multiple units in this army either have this special rule innately, or they have access to it through means of equipment; though it won't always come into play, it can grant a significant boost to ones' survivability against certain units - such as the now infamous Skull Cannon of Khorne.

Arrows of Isha -
The blessings of the goddess herself inscribe any weapons with this special rule as having magical attacks, and providing a -1 armour save modifier to forces of destruction wounded by them. This is relevant only for two units in the codex - one a character, the other a Rare choice - and it makes them a more alluring option against armies that can field ethereal units or where the armour save modifier becomes pivotal - such as Vampire Counts or Warriors of Chaos.

Hurrah, hurrah, for the Krogan Que...wrong game.

Vaul's Forge (Magic Items)

Blade of Leaping Gold (Magic Weapon) - As the most expensive magic item in the army book, one could reasonably expect it to be the strongest available. Unfortunately, that really isn't true of the Blade of Leaping Gold, and that comes down more to the actual army book it is featured in. Now, providing the bearer with an additional three attacks and the potential to ignore armour saves with a to wound roll of a six with the weapon is quite nasty, no doubt. However, in an army where the highest base Strength is four, and where accessing ward saves is expensive save for one generic character in particular, its value is diminished; hitting the enemy has never been the problem for High Elves, as wounding is what we always struggle with. For its cost, it would likely see use on expensive Lord characters geared for combat against a wide array of enemies, and outside of lightly armoured rank and file troops, it simply isn't strong or reliable enough to justify its cost. If it were in an army book where the basic Strength of a character was five or six, it would be a much more justifiable proposition; otherwise, I simply couldn't recommend this weapon for competitive play. There is one exception to this rule, though; combine this weapon with a Potion of Strength saddled with a Prince, and watch as gore is strewn in ungodly amounts. The only real issue here is that it leaves the Prince relatively defenceless in terms of ward saves, and this insane damage output lasts only for a single turn; use it well though, and it could easily turn the tide of a battle. For general play though, I would most definitely be looking at weapons that boost the strength of your characters, not their number of attacks.

Star Lance (Magic Weapon) - One of the famed magic items of the classic Imrik, the Star Lance is the considerably cheaper melee magic weapon of the pair found in the army book, and its worth is far greater. On the turn a mounted character wielding this weapon charges, they gain a bonus of three to their strength, and all of their melee attacks ignore armour saves; this, in conjunction with Always Strikes First and the very high Weapon Skill and Initiative of our combat characters, makes for a literal blood bath. Like any lance weapon, it suffers from not working if the user is charged, or in subsequent rounds, but given both how hard-hitting and mobile High Elf cavalry are for the most part, this shouldn't be too much of a deterrent. The Star Lance actually has a useful clarification in place that makes it even more attractive; the user must switch to a different weapon after that first round of combat, meaning one can then switch to another still somewhat impressive weapon - such as a great weapon - to keep the carnage flowing. For how cheap it is, one simply cannot go wrong. This works really well with a wide variety of mounted characters.

Reaver Bow (Magic Weapon) - The odd duck out in terms of magic weapons as it is a ranged item, the Reaver Bow packs a solid three Strength five shots for a very low cost. In a nutshell, give it to a ranged character sitting back with Archers or Maiden Guard of Averlorn, and reap the benefits. Don't expect it to do too much, but for how cheap it is, it is a pretty neat way to give such characters a bit of punch at range.

Armour of Caledor (Magic Armour) - A suit of magical armour that effectively combines the Armour of Silvered Steel, the Dragonbane Gem, and the Talisman of Protection into one handy magic item - that only takes up one slot, mind, allowing you to take a magic talisman as well - for less than the sum of its parts. Or, in other words, it provides the wearer with a +2 armour save that can't be improved, a +2 ward save against all flaming attacks, and a +6 ward save standard. In other words, it isn't bad considering all but the +6 ward are decently useful - and given the lore attribute of High Magic, even that last one is fine when used in conjunction with a High Elf wizard - and is a nifty little item. It works better for a character on foot, as it is more difficult to boost their armour save to such levels without using mounts or barded steeds.

Shadow Armour (Magic Armour) - Available only to a model that isn't mounted, Shadow Armour functions like heavy armour, though it grants the Scout and Strider special rule to its wearer. The latter is handy as it makes the wearer immune to dangerous terrain, though the former is likely the real reason you would use this armour; it allows the character to deploy virtually wherever you need them to be, provided they are outside of striking distance of the enemy. This is designed to be used in conjunction with Shadow Warriors, or as a risky method of delivering a specific character into a good location. A nifty item that isn't too expensive to consider.

Shield of the Merwyrm (Magic Armour) - An interesting shield that provides the bearer with a +4 parry save that can, unusually, be used in conjunction with a magic weapon; the only restriction on its use is that it can't be employed with a two handed weapon. For a character on foot, it is a very handy item that effectively provides a +4 ward save, and boosts your armour save by one, all for a fraction of the cost; the only real consideration here is that it won't apply if the bearer is struck in the flank or rear - though as it is taken on a character this is unlikely - or from impact hits and stomps. Against most enemies, however, it grants a very strong and cheap save. The big question about the Shield of the Merwyrm is whether it also applies to a mounted model - my gut, and logic, says no, but if it is ruled otherwise, it will quickly become a favourite for mounted characters everywhere.

I said Golden Crown, not...ah never mind.
Golden Crown of Atrazar (Talisman) - Essentially the High Elf equivalent of the Charmed Shield in the form of a talisman, the Golden Crown provides a +2 ward save against the first wound suffered by the wearer, though its effects then dissipate afterwards. Though it doesn't boost your armour like the Charmed Shield and eats up a valuable talisman slot, the Golden Crown is very useful in the sense that it functions for the first wound, not the first hit, that the model suffers, meaning it is much more likely to be employed against something that would seriously worry the wielder rather than a random bow shot. This is particularly useful on an Anointed of Asuryan mounted on a Phoenix, as the Anointed already comes with a ward save and thus need not worry about not being able to take another talisman.

Morannion's Wayshard (Enchanted Item) - Available only to a model that isn't mounted, the Wayshard provides its bearer - and any unit they join - with the Ambushers special rule, though the unit that can be affected must be an Archer or Spearmen unit of thirty models or less. I find that this is an expensive item that is situational in terms of its use, as it won't work well against certain armies - and generals, by extension - but can be a nasty surprise against others. I think it is a useful and interesting item, but eating up the entire magic allowance of a Hero level character may be a dissuading factor.

Khaine's Ring of Fury (Enchanted Item) - A magic ring that imbibes the wielder with the ability to use a spell, regardless of whether they are a wizard or not, which functions as a decent and cheap magic missile from the lore of High Magic. The really alluring aspect of the Ring, not only owing to its low power level of three, is that it also gives the wielder - and by extension, their unit - the benefits of the High Magic Lore Attribute, immediately giving them either a +6 ward save or a +1 bonus to any ward save they already had. It costs just enough that our hero-level characters can employ it without jeopardising their magic item allowance, and of those units, several of them either have a +6 ward save, or a +4 ward save. The former can really use the boost, whereas the latter essentially pay a small tax to become nigh immortal blocks of infantry. For those reasons alone, this is a fantastic magic item that should see use in your competitive army lists.

Gem of Sunfire (Enchanted Item) - An item that, for one turn only, provides a +1 bonus to any 'to wound' roll made by the bearer and their mount - magic missiles, shooting attacks, melee strikes, and so on - as long as they are of the flaming variety. It is cheap, and can help to maximise the damage output of a character in an important turn. In fact, one laughable use of the Gem is to employ it on an Anointed of Asuryan mounted on a Flamespyre Phoenix - all of its attacks, even those dealt when it flies over a unit, are flaming. Who else likes the smell of roasted ranks? A good and cheap item for specific characters.

Cloak of Beards (Enchanted Item) - A situational item that is sure to aggravate any Dwarf player you fight, and also one that enforces the arrogant personality of its wielder. In short, a fun and fluffy item that isn't too bad in its own right. Against most armies, it is an expensive avenue to cause Fear, and isn't really worth it in that sense. Against Dwarves, it causes Terror, it destroys magic items carried by said Dwarves in close proximity and also makes any of the short bearded people hate its bearer. In essence, on a combat lord when fighting Dwarves, it rocks. However, given that list-tailoring is typically frowned upon (and I share the sentiment), and that it is functionally near worthless against most armies, I would avoid it unless you and your opponent agree to list tailoring for a fun or themed game.

Book of Hoeth (Arcane Item) - Available only to Lord level wizards owing to its cost, the Book of Hoeth returns in a perhaps less spectacular fashion than its universally decried previous incarnation, but that isn't to say it is without use. In fact, this is quite to the contrary; the Book of Hoeth is an amazing item for its cost that provides staggering bonuses to both casting and dispelling for any wizard that employs it. It allows its wielder to re-roll any single D6 from every casting or dispel attempt they make, barring results of a six. It essentially solidifies the magic phase so that your wizards can more reliably cast spells, and allows your wizards to safely "one dice" spells. The utility and boost in effectiveness it provides are well worth its cost.

My shield is my book, my glory is my helmet!
Banner of the World Dragon (Magic Standard) - A magic standard that is costed exactly so that any of our elite units that can carry a magic banner have access to it, the Banner of the World Dragon provides some amazing benefits for its cost that make it a near must-have in any competitive army list. Functionally, it provides the unit with a +2 ward save against spells, magic weapons and magical attacks, and any friendly or enemy Dragon within twelve inches of the standard bearer gains the Stubborn special rule. Whilst the latter is both helpful and fluffy in a Caledor themed army, the real reason to take it is that it essentially makes an entire unit immune to several units across multiple army books and, amazingly, every unit in an entire army book (Daemons of Chaos). These defences are down right disgustingly good for the points, and even if they won't always have use, are still well worth the cost in any game - especially against the popular units that employ magical attacks going around right now, such as Skullcrushers and Daemon Princes. My personal advice is not to use this banner in a friendly game, and never to take it against a Daemons player if you know they are fielding the legions of the chaos gods. Alarmingly, it can be combined with Alarielle - whom provides the unit with a +5 ward save against non-magical attacks that can be boosted by her own High Magic - and essentially make the unit carrying it impossible to defeat conventionally. Don't ever.....ever do it in a friendly game. Ever!

Did you find this article entertaining and/or helpful? Or do you feel I am wrong on my judgements? Voice your opinions in the comments section below - we appreciate any and all feedback!


  1. Pretty good summary:

    I don't find the Star Lance useful. You need to be mounted, and functionally a great weapon does a similar job cheaper (and you can just eat your Potion of Strength on the turn you need to hit harder). Even compared to a regular lance, its not really that great.

    Khaine's Ring is going to show up on Loremasters I think. It lets them pump up the ward save of the Phoenix Guard bunker he will be with, but still take his 8 signature spells for spamming magic damage. I initially didn't rate it, but the +1 to ward is nice.

    Banner of the World Dragon is balanced out by the magic nukes in the game (the vast majority of which ignore ward saves), plus the fact that once you are in melee the damage output of stuff like Skavenslaves will drag down your expensive infantry. It's amusing to stack it with Alarielle, especially against Daemons, but you can still be killed by standard strategies.

  2. I think the Cloak of Beards is better than you say, it's only 10 points and for a non-tailored list, making a unit cause fear is decent. And if you happen to go against Dwarves in a tournament or whatever it's a bonus.