(A note, I am a very inexperienced Warhammer Fantasy player and I feel that the quality of this article in particular is well below my usual standards. I apologise in advance.)
Our Core choices are somewhat controversial amongst the community, with very little real consensus on the "strongest" or most effective units; the versatility of the slot, in regards to the many army list variants we have access to, is the chief reason here. Ellyrion Reavers are highly effective chaff and re-director units, baiting frenzied opponents into charges and fleeing to safety to continue harassing enemy positions. Spearmen make for formidable, if expensive, basic infantry that massed numbers to an otherwise elite force, while Archers provide effective ranged support and are strong enough in melee to hold out against most chaff or harassment units. Lothern Sea Guard are a costly multi-purpose unit that effectively combines Spearmen and Archers into a single, less effective formation that maximises on defence. The mighty Silver Helms provide the army with heavy cavalry that can both dish out and take the punishment quite savagely, though they are best used as flanking units owing to their minimal damage output after the initial charge. I believe a combined arms approach to High Elves is the optimal form of army building, but there are certainly many specific builds that can be viable; an all cavalry army may not have the numbers to sustain attrition, but they can decimate elite forces with multiple small units with little real difficulty. Similarly, Archers and Ellyrion Reavers armed with bows make for an imposing "bowline" army that supports more damaging ranged units, such as Sisters of Averlorn and Eagle Claw Bolt Throwers. How you approach this difficult topic is really up to you, as there is no real "right" way to build an army list; a true mark of a well written army book.
Spearmen - The typical rank and file making up the militia forces of Ulthuan, High Elven Spearmen pay relatively little for a host of stat boosts and special rules that make them far superior fighters in comparison to regular Spearmen from other army books. However, in their chosen role, it can be argued that these extra rules are unnecessary. When compared directly to, for example, Empire Spearmen equipped with shields, the High Elven equivalent has a staggering array of advantages for a rather minimal increase in cost; they have a higher Weapon Skill comparable to the elites of many armies; their Movement, Initiative and Leadership are all superior, and; they have Always Strikes First with re-rolls to hit against most enemies with Initiative five or lower, and they fight in an extra rank than normal owing to Martial Prowess. Exhale. For their points per model, Spearmen are very effective fighters indeed; striking before enemies with re-rolls to hit and fighting in up to five ranks in a horde, or four normally, with a respectable Weapon Skill is very much unheard of for the cheapest Core choice in an army book. Functionally though, Spearmen are ultimately paying those points for boosts they don't really need; their low Strength and fragility, with only a 5+ armour save and no parry save, means they die in droves and can't really hurt much of anything that isn't also Toughness three with a low armour save. Against other similarly priced or cheaper Infantry with similar stats, Spearmen do indeed have a massive edge owing to striking first and with probable re-rolls to hit, though without a range of augment spells or buffs provided by characters - such as an Anointed of Asuryan - they will crumble to any true opposition. To prepare for this, Spearmen should never be used in small units, as they don't have enough staying power or damage output to be a genuine threat in units of a size below twenty or so. You need a lot of models in each unit to break Steadfast on opponents and deny them their rank bonuses, whilst your more elite infantry such as Sword Masters or White Lions carve through enemies with little resistance. In this sense, Spearmen aren't as effective as their equivalents in rival army books because of their high base cost, though that isn't to say that they aren't still a very decent unit. Their speed in the movement and melee phases is not to be under-estimated, and they work incredibly well against enemies when a High Elf wizard with the Lore of Shadow is in play - the range of buffs and debuffs in that lore, particularly Okkam's Mindrazor, complements Spearmen sublimely. Though you can't expect them to deal with enemy elites, they should deal with chaff and cheaper infantry in decent numbers; plus, there is little High Elven magic can't fix.
Archers - Archers have perhaps most keenly felt the changes of the new army book more than many other units, with the inclusion of Martial Prowess giving them the priceless ability to both fire and fight in one more rank than normal. This effectively makes them the equivalent of Spearmen from other army books in combat while sharing a greater ranged effectiveness than others of their class. When valued together, the boosts to their melee and ranged formations effectively make Archers immune to typical chaff units that would otherwise slaughter other armies' ranged infantry, and they put enough shots to worry even tougher units in large enough blocks. Much like Spearmen, they share a strong Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill befitting more elite infantry from other army books, and their Movement and Initiative values are all high enough to allow them to quickly react to and engage multiple threats. The latter is especially important to their close combat hopes, what with Always Strikes First very much in play here as well; the barest of enemy rank and file troops may outnumber the Archers commonly, but they will suffer a heavy toll getting through them. Given their cost and the importance of the longbow in terms of range and damage potential when combined with magic and massed numbers of shots, Archers seem to be a far superior choice to Spearmen if the High Elf player can find the massed ranks they need in their Special slots. They start with no armour and have to pay for it, but against common enemies such as Warriors of Chaos, this matters little anyway as it will be ignored by the majority of blows struck against the wielder. They fight in only one rank less than Spearmen, but have longbows to make up for it, making them ideal chaff and even monster hunters if used in conjunction with Sisters of Averlorn and Eagle Claw Bolt Throwers. With the right support, Archers are formidable opponents indeed; just don't expect them to survive, and don't bother using them in massed units much like Spearmen given their slightly higher cost. Of course, a necessary upgrade for any ranged unit to have is a musician, as it allows the unit to perform a swift reform to turn and fire at units without suffering penalties to their shooting. Given that the unit isn't designed for sustained combat - even if they can deal with a lot of chaff units that are sent their way - the other command options are unnecessary, though handy if you feel they will see combat and want them to be a slightly more effective speed block. Of the two common militia units, I would argue that Archers are better in general, but Spearmen have a place in filling up your numbers.
Lothern Sea Guard - Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a Spearman with a bow? Well, the Sea Guard might just be what you are looking for; they are an expensive per model unit compared to the other infantry in the Core section, though they pay this price for some boosted versatility. While Archers may fight in three ranks and have longbows with the option for light armour, Sea Guard have short bows, spears and need only pay for their shields; given this, when compared to Archers, they are effectively paying for a less meaningless saving throw and to fight in an extra rank if they don't charge. The shorter range of their bows may not seem like too much of a disadvantage, but it makes a big difference for long range and to hit modifiers; that extra six inches, in conjunction with a movement of five, allows Archers to effectively fire and stay out of assault range for at least a handful of turns against regular infantry. Given that Archers are cheaper and aren't paying for armour that most enemies will simply cut through anyway, it could be argued that Sea Guard are paying for wargear which they don't really need. Of course, this is perhaps selling Sea Guard a little bit short; between spears, bows, a 5+ armour save and the capability to stand and shoot, they make for excellent defensive units that, while costly per model, provide pretty decent returns against other infantry of their kind. Their price is an issue however, given it puts them close to the territory of Chaos Warriors and the High Elven elites; given that even Sea Guard will die in droves as easily as Spearmen or other light infantry, they are perhaps too expensive to bulk up your forces and provide you with meat that isn't costly when lost. I am probably too pessimistic (and rather tired) and as such my evaluation is likely to be inaccurate, however, I feel that you should use Sea Guard either as your primary Core choice - to the exclusion of Spearmen and Archers - or not at all, with a mix of Spearmen and Archers otherwise. If you feel you want to take a handful of larger units and not a mix of medium and small units without spending too much points on Core, then Sea Guard are definitely an attractive option as they effectively combine the two units, though are somewhat less effective in either units' role - that of sustaining casualties but holding up enemy units, and providing light supporting fire.
|Like this except less Dragon-y.|
Silver Helms also provide the important function of acting as 'bodyguards' for a mounted character; deployed in a three wide and three deep formation, with eight Silver Helms and one attached character, a unit with all three of the command options - the champion, banner bearer and musician - "push" the character to the second row and thus safeguard them from harm in both shooting and combat. This is a commonly used tactic that is perfect for protecting Mages and Nobles alike, and with the new availability of an all mounted army, it is also the perfect formation to employ for protection the armies' battle standard bearer. This formation is also highly effective because it maximises both on the Martial Prowess special rule, by allowing all three ranks to strike blows, but also the minimal "frontage" or width of the unit, meaning that unless they are flank charged, few enemy models will actually be able to move into base contact and attack them. As such, it is the perfect offensive and defensive formation with which to employ Silver Helms, and allows them to provide some handy rank bonuses as well to potentially deny enemies their steadfast boosts. I would typically avoid larger units, given the near perfect mix of offence and defence that the three by three formation provides, but it is certainly an achievable option that, given they are a Core choice, shouldn't really eat into your allotted points. The only real issue with Silver Helms is, like with Dragon Princes, prolonged combat; they are Strength three in subsequent rounds after they have charged, and given that lances only function if they launch the assault, charging into units with several ranks or being charged in return are sure ways to guarantee the loss of the unit. This also places the onus on the player to determine which engagements the Silver Helms are best suited for; they cannot hope to survive against Skullcrushers of Khorne, let alone do any real damage, but in conjunction with White Lions or Phoenix Guard, they can devastate units of almost any kind - from Chaos Warriors to lowly Skeletons. Use them smartly, and they will be a very strong choice.
Ellyrion Reavers - Much like Silver Helms, Ellyrion Reavers have made the (perhaps unexpected) leap to Core from the Special section, and it is truly well that they have done so. Much like with their more heavily armoured counter-parts, having access to light cavalry in the Core section really diversifies the army list building stage of collecting a High Elf force; an all mounted army is now feasible, and it makes themed forces from Caledor or Ellyrion alike far more intriguing. The real benefit of having Reavers in Core is surprisingly felt elsewhere, with the ever useful Great Eagles now no longer a necessity in competitive army lists to serve the role as chaff and redirectors for frenzied units. Fast Cavalry with faster than average steeds and a high Leadership value are a rare commodity indeed, and though Reavers can't be expected to do any real damage to larger or more heavily armoured units, they provide light fire and assault capabilities that should easily counter the chaff of other armies. Their mobility and limited damage potential in conjunction with Always Strikes First makes small units of five or so a viable choice to use as "placement drops", or units used to out-deploy your opponents by not putting your more important and bulkier forces down earlier than them. In this sense, two or three units of Reavers are almost essential to a High Elf force, particularly if Great Eagles are not present; given the introduction of Sisters of Averlorn and the Phoenixes, Reavers make for a fine option indeed. With only a 5+ armour save and little real melee punch to speak of, Reavers should be kept out of combat at all times save to flank or rear charge other units in tandem with infantry blocks of Phoenix Guard and the like, or to deal with enemy chaff in the form of war hounds or harpies. Though they do come with spears that gives them Strength four blows on the charge, their typically small unit size and lack of attacks means they are unlikely to do any real harm to most units that their own rank bonuses won't simply deny. As such, I feel that replacing their spears with bows - I wouldn't take both, as it increases their cost unnecessarily - gives them the perfect weapon to reliably stay out of combat, force frenzied units to chase them and flee and pepper enemy chaff and perhaps even hardier units for much of the game. Used wisely, they can dictate the movement phase by forcing enemies to turn and deal with them, or charge them owing to Frenzy and thus allow you to "pull" such valuable units out of position to be at your mercy. In short, Reavers are a unit that faultlessly embodies all that defines the new High Elves most; their fragility, their speed, and the unmatchable strength of tactics and synergy.
Example Builds - Though there are limitless effective formations with which to use our Core choices in, some of these are ones I have found to be consistent in their performance. With Sea Guard, it is best to mention that they should be used in the early turns in a wider formation to maximise their shots, and then reformed into a narrower formation to ensure they maintain a high number of ranks.
Spearmen (25) w/ champion, standard bearer, musician - 255 (five wide, five deep)
Archers (15) w/ musician - 160 (five wide, three deep)
Lothern Sea Guard (25) w/ shields, champion, standard bearer, musician - 355 (varies)
Silver Helms (8) w/ shields, champion, standard bearer, musician - 214 (three wide, three deep)
Ellyrion Reavers (5) w/ bows, musician - 95 (five wide)
Did you find this an insightful or helpful article, or do you feel my assertions are quite inaccurate? Let us know in the comments section below - we appreciate any and all feedback.