14 May 2013

High Elves Tactica - Heroes

Hey there everyone, I am Learn2Eel and today I am here to talk about the new High Elves - hailing from Ulthuan, the elite forces of order strive to keep destruction and chaos at bay, even if it is a losing war. Every soldier that dies is a terrible loss to the Asur, and few are felt so keenly as the Heroes that lead them into battle - Nobles and Mages alike hailing from all of the kingdoms of Ulthuan. I hope you find this an entertaining article!

High Elven Heroes are essentially cheaper and less adaptable variations of their counterparts in the Lord section; Nobles are weaker and comparatively inexpensive, with reduced access to magic items and monstrous mounts, and the same is true of the Mage in comparison to the Archmage. Notably, none of the characters here - save the Dragon Mage - can ride one of the Dragons symbolic of Ulthuan's - and specifically Caledor's - glittering host. The Hero section is reserved for your battle standard bearer - an essential tool to a successful army list - supporting mages and cheap generals in smaller games where Princes, Archmages and the like are unavailable. In short, this is where your army list finds its cheaper characters to perform specific roles to help your army out, and they all do it with varying degrees of effectiveness, whereas Lords are your game-changing models. 

Noble - As a character that amounts to a cheaper and less powerful form of the Prince, the Noble is quite handy for the points; they do combat very effectively, they can get a strong armour save quite cheaply, and they are also the most easily protected and efficient carrier of the battle standard. With a Weapon Skill of six, an Initiative of seven and three attacks, they are quite capable melee combatants, though they can also be used as effective ranged characters when armed with the Reaver Bow owing to their high Ballistic Skill of six. The weapon options for a Noble should really depend on their mount and how much armour they have; the general rule for High Elven characters, particularly for their Heroes - owing to only two wounds at Toughness three - is to spend points on protecting them before anything else. This splits into whether a shield or mount will be taken; the former precludes halberds and great weapons, whereas the latter is best served with either a regular lance or the Star Lance. If both are taken, I would argue that the Star Lance is a near necessity; for its points, there is no better magic weapon in the army book, given that it effectively makes the Noble a wrecking ball on the charge with three Always Strikes First re-rollable Strength seven attacks. As far as protecting the Noble is concerned, be aware that there is no functional way to give them a +1 armour save when on foot; this is only possible on a mount, and given that having a higher armour save tends to work better than paying for an expensive ward save, this is an important consideration. A cheap and effective build for a Noble involves a Barded Elven Steed, the Dawnstone and a few other items to give him a +1 armour save that can be re-rolled if the dice result is a failure; this provides the Noble with some incredible staying power, and allows you to invest in some weighty offensive options. On foot, this is somewhat more difficult to accomplish, as the maximum armour save potential here is +2, and it is more reliant on magic items and thus will likely preclude the use of the dawnstone.

Where you want your Noble to fight should really depend on what units would benefit most from their inclusion - particularly if they are the battle standard bearer - as a mostly mounted force would likely require a barded steed for the Noble, whereas a focus on heavy infantry would see a reshuffle to maintain their durability. Some cheap and handy uses of the Noble actually revolve around giving them a monstrous mount, and of the two available, both have different uses; the Great Eagle is cheap and easy to kill, but gives the Noble a very effective mount for hunting war machines and lone mages, which is very handy indeed. The latter is the Griffon, which provides a hard hitting and affordable monster on a Hero level character; though I am unsure as to the viability of this in most army lists, a force featuring many flying monsters - such as Dragons and Phoenixes - will find this units' inclusion most useful. Regardless of how you equip them, you absolutely should make one of them the battle standard bearer, as it severely boosts the chances of your units staying around and fighting at full efficiency; the Noble's weight of armour and mount options and magic items make them the ideal choice to carry the battle standard. In a pinch, they can also double as the armies' general in smaller games where trying to field a Prince is untenable, often because they cannot be given an acceptable level of wargear. All in all, Nobles are a very useful choice that you would be remiss not to consider competitively, at the very least for the near necessary battle standard.

Mage - As one of the learned students of the Tower of Hoeth, Mages are the perfect supporting spell casters for a typical High Elf force, though they can also double as the primary spell caster in an army that does not feature a Lord level wizard. As a level one wizard standard, they can be upgraded to a level two and be used as more powerful spell casters that either take some or all of your power dice, or be kept basic to be less dice-intensive when saddled with another more powerful wizard. How you use them will largely be dependent on the points limit and any Lord choices in your army; if you have an Archmage or Loremaster of Hoeth, the need for a level two Mage is minimal because they will likely eat up valuable power dice that should be reserved for the stronger wizard. Conversely, an army that is led by a Prince or Anointed of Asuryan - or, simply speaking, lacks a Lord level magic user - requires a level two Mage to not be at such a great disadvantage against armies that employ high level wizards, such as Vampire Counts and Tomb Kings. Given the strength and versatility of the many lores of magic and how they can effectively neuter or destroy your forces, it is important to keep a high level wizard of some sort for protection and stability against such threats; a common build for a Mage used either as a level one or two is to gift them with a dispel scroll, allowing them to remove a particularly dangerous spell at a moments' notice.

Now, in regards to how they actually compare to the wizards of other armies, Mages are unusually expensive given their mediocre profile - much like an Archmage, they should be kept out of combat at all costs owing to their fragility and frailty - but what they pay for, aside from the typical High Elven boosts such as Always Strikes First and a high Movement value, is their versatility; they have access to nine lores of magic, and their innate special rule Lileath's Blessing grants them a +1 bonus to casting that ninth lore, High Magic. This means that even a low level Mage can be used to grant some very useful spells, such as Earth's Blood from the Lore of Life or Drain Magic from High Magic; the latter of which is particularly handy for a more defensive oriented spell caster. Generally speaking, the lores best suited to High Elves tend to be Shadow, Life and Light - the first to allow High Elven forces to dominate the combat phase, the second for its range of direct damage and buff spells, and the third for its defensive nature that helps to solve the High Elves' major issue of fragility. High Magic is a useful lore, particularly for a Mage that can expect to cast one or two cheap spells per phase, simply because of the lore attribute; using a cheap Mage to boost the ward save of any unit to a minimum of +5 is highly useful, particularly against all the high strength attacks and impact hits that are the rage in the current edition. Really, any lore can find some measure of use on a Mage, particularly owing to how cheap they are; however, I should stress that Shadow and Life in particular are almost integral to a High Elf army to keep it functioning with few losses, and as such either should be a near mandatory inclusion on a Mage if they are your primary wizard. The Mage has a range of options outside the winds of magic, with a decent allowance of items and mount options at hand; a steed works well to protect the Mage in what is commonly referred to as a "cavalry bus" - wherein a unit of Silver Helms or Dragon Princes with all three command options is used in three rows or more of three men and women wide to push any attached character to the second rank - whereas a Great Eagle is useful for flinging spells either at range or close proximity, and out of the prying hands of melee units. The Mage is a cheap and versatile wizard that can be tailor made to suit your force, though it must be said that owing to their wizard level limit of two, they are best used as support casters to back up the primary wizard in your force - whether that be an Archmage, Loremaster or special character - and in this role they will be very effective.
Slightly unrelated, but epic nonetheless.
Dragon Mage of Caledor - As the only generic character that comes standard with a monstrous mount, the Dragon Mage is both the only option for a titular dragon in the Hero section, and has the most limited lore selection of any High Elven wizard, with access only to the situational Lore of Fire. As cool as it is to have a wizard flinging fireballs from the back of a young and equally brash dragon, the reality is that you are paying an excessive price for a wizard - one that has only two wounds and minimal offensive prowess physically - that wants to stay out of combat, and a low-tier dragon that absolutely needs to be in combat to make a difference. Unfortunately, there simply is no happy medium here; the Dragon Mage himself is too feeble to really threaten enemies in a melee, even despite having one more attack and point of Initiative than a regular Mage, owing to his low Strength, weak Toughness and lack of efficient melee options. The Sun Dragon, on the other hand, can only really threaten enemies outside of combat through a powerful, but one-use-only flaming breath weapon; if it isn't in combat, it is little more than an expensive distraction for enemies to unload a cannonball or stone shot at. The Mage himself does have a few nifty options unavailable to other Mages though, and that is the availability of dragon armour; though taking a +5 armour save that provides nifty and diverse ward saves is handy on a mounted character, the real ramifications are felt when magic armour of all kinds suddenly becomes both legal and available. Given that the mount provides the Dragon Mage with a 1+ boost to his armour save, a Dragon Mage can feasibly purchase an Enchanted Shield and effectively gain a +2 armour save for a pittance. Given that the pairing works best in combat, this is almost necessary and it is cheap enough that you should always have spare points available for it. From there, the Dragon Mage makes for a somewhat handy monster-riding character, what with handy buff and direct damage spells from the Lore of Fire, very decent survivability and some pretty nasty damage potential. Like with any such unit though, you need to reserve them for flank charges; they cannot outlast units with ranks, and will be blasted apart by cannons, massed archers and elite infantry alike. In short, they need to be used in conjunction with your own rank and file, such as Spearmen and Phoenix Guard, to deny your opponent both the weight of attacks back and their rank bonuses. In this role, Dragon Mages function in the sense that they work well in tandem with other elements as an expensive, but powerful flanking unit. They can also be handily used as war machine and wizard hunters, owing to the incredible speed of the dragon and its decent durability for a monster.

For spell-slinging purposes, the Dragon Mage is easily the weakest amongst the wizards of the Asur; with the restriction to the Lore of Fire, and their penalty to dispel attempts, Dragon Mages cannot be relied upon as the armies' primary magic user. Though the first spell they generate is always Flaming Sword of Rhuin, an admittedly useful spell that provides a handy buff for elves in particular owing to their low Strength, the Dragon Mage is still limited in the sense that the oft more pivotal buff or debuff spells, hailing typically from the Lores of Shadow and Life, are unavailable. Their versatility is, as such, lessened and they effectively still pay a hefty tax for abilities which aren't of great use for them - Always Strikes First is handy, but the Dragon Mage is such a hefty investment already that magic weapons of any real note are unlikely to be taken competitively. The only real advantage the Dragon Mage has here is that he gains an additional +2 modifier to any casting attempts from the Lore of Fire, a handy trait that, on a level one or two, effectively gives you an Archmage on a Sun Dragon using a (mediocre) Lore for less. Of course, the issue here is that the Archmage can use magic lores that will benefit the entire army far more effectively, and this comes back to the meat of the issue; their limitations, lack of both versatility and a unified role make the Dragon Mage a sadly weak choice that only functions well in armies that have other high threat targets. They are too expensive to be used in any competitive capacity; Sun Dragons are definitely much stronger than they used to be, and the access to magical armour is a definite boost to the Dragon Mages' usefulness; however, it does not serve to fix the issue of a support-oriented wizard riding the back of a combat-oriented monster. That it costs more than a well equipped level four Archmage that will serve the army far better defensively and, through spells, offensively is little more than a sad note on what is otherwise a very cool concept.

Lothern Sea Helm - Hailing from Eataine, the Sea Helm is one of Lothern's finest commanders; this is represented in their Naval Discipline, a special rule that effectively defines their use. When stood beside a Noble, a Sea Helm compares less than favourably; their profile is weaker, with one less attack meaning that their limited weapon options are far less valuable; they also lack for mount options, with only the Lothern Sky Cutter able to bear them, precluding them from being a part of any mounted unit. They come standard with light armour, a shield and a spear; this has little use in game considering that as characters they will likely fight from the front rank and also cannot use a parry save with the spear, though they certainly line up next to the ranks of brave Sea Guard very nicely. They lack so many of the useful options a Noble can take - such as heavy armour, dragon armour and lion cloaks - that I feel there is very little reason to include a Sea Helm for the purposes of a cheap combat character outside of fluff reasons, given that they are also considerably more expensive than a basic Noble. It is thus why their Naval Discipline special rule is their only real saving grace competitively; it allows the Sea Helm's unit a free reform after they have been successfully charged by an enemy unit. This amazing ability effectively denies any attempts at flank or rear charging the Sea Helm's unit, and given how important it is to deny enemies combat resolution and strike with your full attacks, this works fantastically well with almost any High Elven infantry unit taken in decent numbers. Unfortunately, it cannot be used after a Stand and Shoot reaction, but that could probably be seen as a fair trade for what is effectively a bait and switch tactic to use on an opponent; lure them into flank charging a vulnerable unit such as a deep White Lion unit, and then reform to fight their front head on and destroy them. Of course, canny opponents will likely be aware of this trick and will thus be unlikely to fall for such deceit.

Alternatively, a Sea Helm can be used as a mobile combat resolution generator mounted upon a Lothern Sky Cutter; the risks are low, as the Sky Cutter is fast and relatively tough. The Sea Helm actively grants the Sky Cutter a 4+ ward save against shooting attacks, and between a 4+ armour save and four wounds at Toughness four, it is unlikely to be removed by standard ranged units of any kind; laughably, even cannons can bounce off of the Sky Cutter harmlessly, though such a cheap unit likely won't be the target for enemy war machines. Much like a Noble, the Lothern Sea Helm can be the battle standard bearer; combined with Naval Discipline and the boosts to any Sky Cutter they ride, they aren't too ineffective a carrier compared to the Noble, though obviously once in melee the latter shines owing to their greater ease of attaining high armour saves. I feel that though they aren't terrible, Sea Helms are best reserved for fluffy army lists; they simply pay too much for a situational, but definitely useful, special rule whilst losing some important combat punch and a breadth of options, losing out on versatility.

I'm thankful they ditched the old "battle skirts" look.
Handmaiden of the Everqueen - Numbering only a hundred, the Handmaidens are amongst the most elite servants to Alarielle, and are skilled beyond measure at range. Nowhere is this more evident than in their prowess with the magical bows blessed by Isha that they - and their Sisters - carry, and that they organise their Sisters to fire on the move with little penalty. Much like the Sea Helm, the Handmaiden is an interesting choice for themed army lists and, despite featuring a rather mediocre set of options and stats compared to a Noble, has a highly advantageous special rule that compliments a specific unit, serving to make them altogether more worthwhile than they initially appear. Compared to a Noble, a Handmaiden has a higher Ballistic Skill by one, but has fewer attacks and a reduced Weapon Skill; they aren't as proficient in a melee, and though they have access to magic weapons, it defies the purpose of the Handmaiden to be in combat. They are also quite fragile, with only light armour to protect them; additional defence isn't a bad idea by any means, but Handmaidens' don't really need more points invested in them over their base cost. In fact, the only equipment I would bother granting to a Handmaiden would be the Reaver Bow and a Potion of Strength; the former because it is a cheap and powerful ranged weapon that combines well with the Handmaiden's Strength of four, and the latter because it stacks both with the Handmaiden's melee and ranged attacks - providing she took the Reaver Bow. This gives her an incredibly potent one-turn damage output, with three Strength seven shots and two Strength seven melee attacks thrown in for good measure; that her ranged attacks will almost always be hitting on a two or higher is a bonus. Sill, as with the Sea Helm, the dearth of options compared to a Noble is problematic; she cannot take a mount of any kind, precluding her use from cavalry-centric armies, and she has to pay for expensive magic armour or talismans to get a decent saving throw. Her best use is thus with a unit of Sisters of Averlorn, owing to her Quicksilver Shot special rule; her unit - and herself - have the Quick to Fire special rule for their shooting attacks, though it only applies to Sisters of Avelorn. Though this means she can't be used in conjunction with a unit of Archers to make full use of her special rule, she nonetheless remains a decently costed support character that acts as a force multiplier for units of Sisters. Unlike both the Noble and the Sea Helm, she cannot be the battle standard bearer, which many may feel is unfortunate for a themed army list; of course, one can always use a Noble from Averlorn. The Handmaiden's arrows, and those of her Sisters, ring true in the presence of evil; a sign both of the Everqueen's favour, and that she is a useful choice.

I will note here that I am relatively inexperienced with the concepts of Warhammer Fantasy, and as such, I struggled to accurately represent the uses of Heroes as opposed to Lords. With this in mind, if you found this article even remotely helpful, my work is vindicated; please let us know in the comments section below your thoughts on High Elven Heroes and their uses! As a learner of the game myself, all feedback is very much appreciated. Thank you.

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