3 May 2013

New High Elves Impressions - Ranked Units

Hey guys, Learn2Eel here with a new look at the fancy new warriors of Ulthuan - the High Elves! We've had a lot of confirmed details leak through about the army book in the past few days, and now I want to share with you my thoughts on the army book. Enjoy!

As we all know, High Elves are an army that have been about precision and tactical acumen for as long as any of us can remember. Their 7th Edition army book had a lot of incredibly strong units - Teclis and the Phoenix Guard notable among them - but many of the units were over-costed or simply didn't shape up well when the new rulebook was released. Between sublime magical items at bargain prices and Mages as versatile as any that can be found throughout Warhammer Fantasy, High Elf players knew how to make the most out of the army in the recent rules. From what I have seen, our army book now no longer relies on crutches like Teclis or the Book of Hoeth to reliably compete against top-tier army lists; this is an army book that presents a host of strong options, simply demanding you to experiment with a variety of potential army list builds. Given that I don't want to incur anyone's wrath, I will put a *SPOILER* warning here; I will be discussing each of the units that I have seen changes to, and how I feel they will fit into the army as a whole. Because of time and length constraints, I will talk about our non-character units only in this article.

Core Choices

Spearmen - They are the same cost per model, their stats haven't changed and they retain all of the special rules that made them useful in the previous army book (bar one). Their command has been standardised to be a bit more expensive, but that likely won't make a difference to army list building. The only real blow here is that they can no longer take a magic standard; this was a useful option that could be combined with a lower Leadership character - such as a Noble - with the Standard of Discipline or another cheap magic banner to help the army out. They haven't really changed at all themselves, but the much stronger support options - particularly from High Magic - as well as the combination with other units such as Frost or Flamespyre Phoenixes can help them immensely against opposing ranked infantry.

Archers - They are slightly cheaper - which makes a big difference in large units - and their full command is slightly more expensive, but again, it isn't enough to worry you. The really tasty treat here for Archers is that not only are they cheaper, but they have gained the Martial Prowess special rule as well, meaning they both fight and shoot in three (or four in a horde) ranks! Awesome! This means that not only are they stronger in combat than your average light infantry - and thus a much nastier prospect for an enemy to assault - but they even shoot much better too. The only true grievance is that they can no longer take a magic banner - particularly the Banner of Eternal Flame - and thus can't be used as cheap and effective killers of low Toughness models with Regeneration. Still, they are well in the green.

Lothern Sea Guard - Cheaper by a minimal amount, with a slightly more costly full command, and increased effectiveness owing to Martial Prowess allowing them to fire in an extra rank. This is a welcome change as their shooting is now even more effective than before, and they come in cheaper/larger units too. I feel Sea Guard still pay a bit too much for their versatility, as the change from longbows to bows (Archers have longbows) is hefty enough to be an issue. However, in saying that, I feel the new rules do give them a significant boost that this isn't too much of an issue, particularly when combined with a Lothern Sea Helm; the swift reform after being charged is very handy, to say the least, allowing the unit to fire in the preceding shooting phase and then tighten up into smaller, more numerous ranks to hopefully remain Steadfast. Much like with Spearmen, Lothern Sea Guard work very well in conjunction with the new shiny toys, as well as all the old familiar tricks - Okkam's Mindrazor is still incredibly nasty here, as it is with High Elves of any kind!

Silver Helms - Yes, our nobles of Ulthuan have returned to Core, and are thus a much more important unit in the army - they can be used to promote a much more mobile force, eat up the Core "tax" in a way that our infantry units couldn't, and provide pivotal battlefield roles such as protection for heroes and lords (the "cavalry bus", ranks of three models wide with a full command). Being able to take +2 armoured heavy cavalry in Core is pretty darn handy, especially considering they have a good Weapon Skill - compared to most armies - and Initiative that, when combined with Always Strikes First and lances, makes them pretty devastating units on the charge. That they also have Martial Prowess is very useful, giving them an edge over most other armies' cavalry; a reason to take them in bigger units, though whether this will prove to be viable for the most part is up in the air. Like other High Elven cavalry though, their charge has to do enough damage, as their subsequent rounds are much less threatening. Again though, the +2 armour save and the potential for ward saves from protected High Mages is another strong indicator of the potential for synergy in this army book. That Silver Helms now apparently come with Ilthimar Barding - that is, their elven steeds don't suffer the movement penalty for being barded - also makes them slightly more mobile, which is a bonus. Ultimately, I think these guys will see a lot more competitive use now, mostly because they are a Core unit and their price hasn't changed; they were well costed before, but their main issue was that they had to compete with Dragon Princes.

Ellyrion Reavers - Though they haven't received a price drop or any significant rules changes - aside from the notable inclusion of Martial Prowess, though a unit such as Reavers probably shouldn't be taken in numbers or formations where this would really matter - Ellyrion Reavers are in a similar boat to Silver Helms, as being moved to Core makes them so much more alluring. They are well priced fast cavalry that can be used as mobile fire support and war machine hunters, though perhaps the best reason to take them is as chaff and chaff-clearer's; High Elf players typically had to rely on Great Eagles to fulfill these roles, but with Reavers in Core this really frees up a lot of points elsewhere. I can definitely foresee competitive High Elf army lists featuring at list one or two small units of Reavers popping up everywhere, with similar justifications to those used by Warriors of Chaos players with their Chaos Hounds.

Special Choices

Sword Masters of Hoeth - Perhaps the unit most significantly affected by the "loss" of Speed of Asuryan, Sword Masters are a tricky unit to rate now; they are quite a bit cheaper per model, their stat line is unchanged, they no longer benefit from innate re-rolls to hit, they must strike at Initiative five, and they now fight in an extra rank. Now, as many opposition - but not necessarily High Elf - players will agree, all three of the High Elf heavy infantry choices were under-costed for their performance on the battlefield, and in my opinion, this hasn't changed. Yes, losing the re-rolls and striking at Initiative five as opposed to going first is painful, but look at units from other army books that have a much lower Weapon Skill than us and have to strike last. Compared to those units, especially considering Sword Masters got even cheaper, they are still one of the best in their role in terms of greatsword wielding heavy infantry for the cost. The loss of re-rolls to hit is also mitigated somewhat - how much depends on both unit size and their formation - by the addition of Martial Prowess, as an extra rank of attacks allows for greater variation, but still a lot of damage. This also depends on the unit they are fighting; their high Weapon Skill means it will make little difference against a lot of units, so when one considers Sword Masters have become a lot cheaper and have gained some extra defence against shooting in the form of an (albeit minimal) +6 ward save, it isn't too bad at all. I think Sword Masters are still a great choice that work particularly well when affected by the new High Magic lore, though trying to protect a Mage in such a unit is obviously a difficult proposition.

White Lions of Chrace - Much like Sword Masters, White Lions have lost their re-rolls to hit and striking before enemies to instead fight at their high Initiative value, though they have been made cheaper to compensate. Much like Sword Masters, Martial Prowess is a form of mitigation here, and it is far more prominent for White Lions; Sword Masters still lose attacks in the back ranks, an issue that White Lions do not share. In this way, the White Lions don't pay for those extra attacks that are subsequently lost when actually making use of Martial Prowess, and instead keep the benefits they have always been taken for; Stubborn, +2 to their armour save against shooting, ignoring the dangerous effects of forests, and fighting at Strength six as opposed to Strength five. In that sense, I would say that White Lions have definitely been the lesser affected unit of the pair of great weapon-wielding heavy infantry. Their combat effectiveness has obviously been reduced against certain units, but against others - notably monsters - it is essentially unchanged when one factors in the bonus attacks from Martial Prowess. Of course, the new special rule encourages larger units of White Lions, but seeing as they were already a very popular unit in such sizes, little has changed here.

Phoenix Guard - Rumours have been circling about the inevitable changes to Phoenix Guard ever since word of the new army book started to spread like wildfire. Would they gain Unbreakable? Would their cost go up? Would they lose the +4 ward save? Well, my happy answer is that the answer to all three of the above is a very solid 'no'. Amazingly, they have retained all that made them such a phenomenal unit; they are Weapon Skill 5 and Initiative 6 with Always Strikes First, meaning they hit most enemy units on threes with re-rolls; they are Strength 4 with their halberds, a noticeable boost compared to regular High Elves; they cause Fear, which can be incredibly useful against almost any army, and best of all; they have a +5 armour save, followed by a +4 ward save, making them one of the most durable units of their class in the game. In fact, their effectiveness has increased; with Martial Prowess, they now fight in an additional rank - three regularly, four in a horde - and as such their already very respectable combat efficiency has increased pretty significantly. Now, you must be thinking that for a unit that was already incredibly under-costed in the first place, for them to have only been made stronger must mean they have received a hefty price increase, right? Right? Wrong. They are the same cost per model as they used to be! This is ridiculous for a number of reasons, but an interesting one in light of the new book is that - as an extremely effective bunker - they can be combined with a High Mage that, by casting one measly spells, gives an entire unit of them a +3 ward save. Against anything. Oh dear....

Dragon Princes of Caledor - In the previous army book, Dragon Princes were commonly seen as a no-brainer pick over Silver Helms because, as they competed in the same slot, the obviously superior combat prowess and effectiveness of the Dragon Princes - as well as their +2 ward saves against increasingly popular flaming attacks - was more than worth the price hike. This is an altogether different matter in the new book though, seeing as Silver Helms are now a Core choice and thus can be used to fill up required points totals for the army and act as very cheap and effective bunkers for important characters. It is for this reason that there is now actually a strong reason to take Silver Helms over Dragon Princes, and also because of the disparity in how Martial Prowess affects each unit; Silver Helms benefit from it more as they don't pay for extra attacks, but Dragon Princes do and this is a definite problem if you want to take them in bigger units. Ultimately though, small five-strong units of Dragon Princes are probably still superior to Silver Helms in terms of a minor, cheap flanking unit that hits very hard and can take punishment pretty decently. They have received a number of slight boosts, what with dragon armour now granting a tidy +6 ward save - not bad in an army that can stack ward saves bonuses much like an ant colony ferrying food - and Martial Prowess still being handy despite it being more useful on Silver Helms. They still hit as hard as they used to, with two Strength five attacks each on the charge that hit first at Weapon Skill 5 and Initiative 6. Though heavy cavalry such as Chaos Knights probably won't be fazed too much by Dragon Princes, particularly given the elves are Strength 3 in subsequent combat rounds, it is important to note that the nobles of Caledor are significantly cheaper. For their cost, they are still a highly effective heavy cavalry unit.

Tiranoc Chariot - Much like the disparity between Silver Helms and Dragon Princes in the previous edition, White Lion Chariots were seen as the stronger option, though it must be said that neither of the High Elf chariots were particularly outstanding. Thankfully, the Tiranoc Chariot has received a decent drop in points, and its effectiveness is essentially unchanged otherwise, with one exception; it can now be taken in units of up to three! Between this option and the price drop, I feel Tiranocs are certainly a much more appealing unit this time around, though I do wonder if most will simply take them in units of one anyway.

White Lion Chariot of Chrace - They are cheaper by a pretty big chunk, and though I feel they don't stack up too well to - for example - Gorebeast Chariots, they are a much stronger option than they used to be. I feel this is the case even though the White Lion riders have had their outright combat effectiveness reduced - see my thoughts on White Lions - and can't use Martial Prowess to make up for this, as they have always hit pretty hard and are decently survivable. Their main issue has always been their prohibitive cost, and whilst it is probably still a bit too expensive, I would say it is very much a handy unit to have now.

Lothern Sky Cutter - Look, what's that in the ski......Oh bother it. A flying chariot that is quite a bit more expensive than a Tiranoc Chariot, but has an added mobility bonus and the ability to move over intervening terrain and models. On a chariot, this is a priceless ability that means you can effectively flank or rear charge enemies, or get at those your enemy has used chaff to protect against would-be-chargers. The Sky Cutter also has the benefit of a stronger mount, what with the high Weapon Skill, Initiative and decent attacks of the "Roc" - much akin to a Great Eagle - able to put much more of a dent into most units. I'm not too familiar with the rules, but as far as I can see, the "Roc" also gets a Stomp attack - if so, that is much better damage potential than the Elven Steeds! This looks to be a very well costed chariot option, and it does have a few interesting options available to it; one is to mount a Lothern Sea Helm on it, giving it a +4 ward save against shooting and also letting it act as a flying battle standard bearer platform. It can also be used to mount a somewhat costly mini bolt thrower, though I doubt the effectiveness of this given the Sky Cutter will likely be moving and has a pretty high damage output on the charge. Still, this is handy for a number of reasons, particularly in an edition where monstrous cavalry are becoming very popular. The appeal is certainly there; move up in the early stages of the game with your fly move to get past unwanted threats, and fire into the side arc of a monstrous cavalry unit such as Mournfang, Demigryph Knights or Skullcrushers; provided you score a hit, a lucky roll could see you kill one or two models, all of which are very expensive. It must be noted that this mini bolt thrower does not share the same option as the repeater bolt thrower that allows it to instead fire multiple Strength four armour piercing shots.

Rare Choices

Repeater Bolt Throwers - We all know what was needed to make these a viable choice, and Games Workshop has delivered - at least to an extent. These are now significantly cheaper than they used to be, and their effectiveness is unchanged. Oh, and you can take four of them in a standard army, or eight in a grand army. Hoorah! Not much else needs to be said, except......hoorah!

Great Eagles - In the previous army book, Great Eagles were our only real source of chaff; Reavers in Special simply couldn't perform this role well at all, particularly given the Special section was where the majority of our points used to go. Given that Reavers now are fantastic chaff units, having moved into the Core section, this has raised concerns over the viability of Great Eagles - they are cheap and do some light damage, though they are incredibly fragile. I would say that, as chaff, they are still very useful additions - two units of Reavers in Core, and two Great Eagles in Rare should more than suit your chaff needs, and shouldn't eat up much of your points at all. A nice addition is that you can upgrade them, with a cheap upgrade giving them armour piercing close combat attacks, and a slightly more expensive one giving them Always Strikes First. My recommendation? Take them. They make the Great Eagle so much more effective at hunting war machines, maximising its killing power and ensuring the war machine is silenced. It also, obviously, improves its durability in combat, which is handy. It makes an even better flanking unit too, and can give even decently armoured but low model count units a bit of a scare. For their points cost, this is to your benefit, regardless of whether they survive. Another very important note is that their unit size is now +1, meaning they can be taken in units! As chaff though, I must say that I doubt whether taking one Great Eagle unit of two models is a stronger proposition compared to taking two Great Eagles in separate units - this allows for more placement drops, and they still do just fine by themselves and are less of an obvious target.

Sisters of Averlorn - Quite a bit more expensive than regular Archers, though they have a few nifty special rules to justify this; they are equipped with light armour, and they have pretty nasty ranged fire. Comparatively, Archers fire Strength three shots at 30 inches, whereas Sisters - wait for it - fire Strength four magical and flaming shots at 24 inches. As with the comparison between longbows and bows, the reduced range is an issue, particularly when trying to avoid enemy fire and potential charges. However, it must be noted that the boost in Strength as well as the magical and flaming special rules allow the Sisters to reliably harm a lot more units than Archers could - particularly in the new army book where they can't access the Banner of Eternal Flame. Magical shots allows them to harm Ethereal units, which is very handy particularly against Vampire Count players, whereas the flaming portion of their arrows is obviously designed to hunt monsters with pretty significant efficiency. Strength four is nothing to be sneezed at, and given that Sisters also gain the armour piercing special rule on their bows against Forces of Destruction, they can be handy against the more elite units enemies field. What must be asked is obviously whether a Repeater Bolt Thrower with its alternate firing mode loosing six Strength four armour piercing shots against any target is a more effective choice, though I would say that the Sisters are a harder unit to remove, and a more reliable one at that. I wouldn't take them in large units, but units of about ten or so would be very handy for adding in some strong firepower into the army. What also works in their favour is that each model has a Ballistic Skill of five, making them more efficient shooters for the most part than either Archers or Repeater Bolt Throwers - though the reduced range compensates for this. I feel they are a good unit that might not look too great on paper but is pretty handy in an army that typically struggles to deal with heavily armoured foes at range.

Flamespyre Phoenix - This beast possesses a lot of nifty special rules and attacks that make it an incredibly worthwhile choice in a take-all-comers High Elves list, notably its innate potential to deal with ranked enemy units - something High Elves typically struggle with owing to their elite nature. The main draw for the Fire Phoenix is that a single unengaged enemy unit it flies over can receive the illustrious reward of its burning aura; the unit suffers D6 S4 flaming automatic hits, and then D3 S4 flaming automatic hits for every rank after the first. Skaven or Undead giving you trouble? Use the Phoenixes' incredible manoeuvrability and movement of ten inches - twenty inches marching - owing to being a flying monster to tell them just how much you love the smell of burning carcasses (or skeletons, if that is your thing). Of course, that isn't even all this beautiful beast does; with stats of five almost across the board, an Initiative of four and three attacks - and a typical High Elf Leadership value for marching! - it also hits pretty hard too, especially when the Strength 5 thunderstomp is taken into account. It will reliably wipe out chaff units with impunity, and when charged into the flank of more prominent units, it can reliably expect to add at least six or seven to your combat resolution against most enemy units - invaluable, in other words.

That it can keep on kicking even when it dies is sure to annoy most opponents; when its time is done, place a marker where it died. From then on, roll at the end of either players' turn and consult a chart to see what happens; on a 1-2 it dies, on a 3-5 a Strength 4 flaming large round template is centred over its marker and hits everyone - friend or foe - under the template, and on a +6 it comes back to life with D3+2 wounds! Though it is unlikely it will come back to life in a typical game, the chance is there and given the already substantial abilities of the Phoenix elsewhere, this shouldn't faze you too much. Still, the sight of a Phoenix rising back to life with all five wounds on the first or second turn after eating a cannonball or a lot of shooting will surely give you a smile - an uncannily similar scenario occured in the White Dwarf battle report! Much like Dragon Princes, the Fire Phoenix has a +2 ward save against flaming attacks, effectively neutering some of the more prominent threats against most monsters - Skull Cannons, for example - and it also has Flaming Attacks, which makes it very useful for taking on enemy monsters especially considering its strong stat line befitting its place in an elite force. Joyfully, the Fire Phoenix also gains some extra support based on your Winds of Magic roll, an effect that lasts until your subsequent Winds of Magic roll; a 1 or 2 weakens it, where any of the other four results make it an even more daunting prospect for your opponent. Given that the result is based on the highest single dice out of a two dice roll, the chances of rolling a negative chance are rather slim. Did I forget to mention the Fire Phoenix also has a +5 ward save, giving it a pretty decent chance of surviving a typical cannon shot and other attacks that are typically directed at monsters? Yeah. Essentially, the Fire Phoenix has little in built weaknesses, is incredibly versatile in that it scares the pants off of ranked up blocks of infantry, can be used to charge a wide range of enemy units and do very well for itself, survives cannons better than most monsters, gets buffs in most turns, can still affect the game even after dying, can fly and thus is incredibly mobile and can essentially pick and choose its targets, and best of all, it is incredibly cheap. You want one. At least, you want one until you see its elderly cousin.

Frostheart Phoenix - The aforementioned elderly cousin of the Flamespyre Phoenix. Now, as I discussed earlier, the Fire Phoenix is an incredibly strong monster that simply demands to be in your army list, but its main issue is that it has to compete with this sublime challenger. The Frost Phoenix, notably, lacks both the "after I die, regrow" stuff, as well as the fly-over attack and the flaming ward/attacks, meaning its damage output against ranked infantry is severely reduced and it doesn't ignore regeneration saves. So why exactly do I feel it is the stronger choice? Firstly, it has improved stats across the board; sixes instead of fives, meaning it has a Hero (Lord in some cases) level Weapon Skill, Strength and Toughness of six, with five wounds, an Initiative of three and four attacks. Basically, it is stronger, harder to hit - and on such a level that many characters will be hitting it on 4s, amazingly - harder to wound, slightly slower, strikes more times and has a superior thunderstomp. It is thus much better against tougher opponents, and can actually double as a dedicated monster hunter owing to its incredible stat line as far as such units are concerned; it is also devastating in flank charges, by rarely conceding wounds and dealing them out incredibly quickly. Against a unit such as - for example - Khorne Warriors of Chaos with halberds, a Frost Phoenix charging into the flank of a six-wide and three-deep unit averages three hits, three kills with its regular attacks, and then a further three or four (averages on one dice are non-existent, so I use the median result in such cases for the purpose of examples) kills from the Thunderstomp. The Khorne Chaos Warriors are unlikely to do anything, and will likely forfeit their rank bonus - and thus Stubborn - and be promptly chased down, all in one combat phase! A subsequent one may be needed, but seeing as the Frost Phoenix doesn't lose any of its combat effectiveness in the following combat rounds, this isn't a major issue. The Frost Phoenix shares the Winds of Magic based abilities with the Flamespyre Phoenix - whilst a negative modifier to its ward save or Strength hurt, they are unlikely, and the other buffs are all handy to a degree; a bonus attack or point of Strength are very handy against most enemies, though the +4 ward save is probably the one you will be hoping for. Compared to the Fire Phoenix, the cold bird also has a +5 armour save which is handy enough and makes it quite a bit more survivable against weaker enemies - such as chaff or low strength ranked infantry.

But you see, that isn't even what makes the Frost Phoenix tick. Its defining attribute, the icy jewel that gives it purpose, is that any enemy unit with models in base contact with the Frost Phoenix are at -1 Strength and have the Always Strikes Last special rule. Take that in for a moment. Remember how the Frost Phoenix loses a point of Initiative, but gains an attack and a host of other benefits compared to its fiery twin? Remember how it has a +5 armour save that doesn't seem so great on a monster? Well, put simply, this thing just laughs at any attempt to defeat it by a unit sporting a similar points investment. This nullifies enemies with Always Strikes First, effectively neutering Vampire Count Blender Lords, which is alone a very useful buff for your regular Elves, but it also importantly forces the vast majority of enemies to strike after anything in your army - notably, your own monsters and great weapon-wielding units. Star Dragons may have a pitiful Initiative of two, but enemies will be tearing their hair out in abject terror as a terrible beast ravages their forces before they can strike. Sword Masters and White Lions won't need this against most enemies, but it is nonetheless critical against enemies that would strike either simultaneously or before those units, really helping their survivability and thus combat resolution. Reducing the number of attacks coming back at your typically squishy Elves is an incredible bonus, put simply - and that only covers the Always Strikes Last effect! The -1 Strength bonus is incredible, particularly given that all Elves are Toughness three - not only does it effectively make the Frost Phoenix Toughness seven, but it means that elite enemies such as Warriors of Chaos will need fours or threes to wound your units as opposed to threes and twos, which is huge, particularly where White Lions and Sword Masters are concerned. Oh, and most enemies will then need fives to wound your units. Its like that. And it is absolutely incredible. Between a hero-level Weapon Skill, incredibly strong stats across the board, fantastic debuff abilities that neuter certain enemies and make it incredibly tough to kill, strong saves as far as monsters are concerned, the ability to fly and thus pick its engagements and pull off rear and flank charges with ease, as well as its innate synergy with other elements of a High Elf army, the Frost Phoenix is a sublime choice that I would never leave home without. Given that it only costs a marginal amount more than a Fire Phoenix, many will tell you to not even bother with the flaming bird, even though it too is an immensely useful unit. Decisions, decisions....

I think it is undeniable that our units have gotten stronger across the board, and given the innate potential for synergy and buffing across the army by combining certain elements - in particular with the new monsters - I feel that the new High Elf army is very much one that not only doesn't rely on crutches to win, but wouldn't even need them in the first place. I also think that we have two of the best monsters in the game, but that is for another time. What do you think? Do you share similar opinions or feel differently about these units? Have your say in the comments below - we appreciate any and all feedback.


  1. The Chaos warriors flanked by a Frosty Phoenix would still be steadfast until they are reduced to 4 or fewer models. Only need the front rank 5-wide for Steadfast, not a back rank... silly Steadfast rule.

    Overall I like the style of this new book. Re-balanced infantry plus more viable toys for variety = a chance of me playing them again, unlike my Warriors of Chaos which just sorta got more expensive and worse in a lot of ways.

    1. Ah, that's a shame. Silly rule indeed! Oh well. The Frostheart Phoenix should still grind them down at least.

      I agree. It is amazing to see so many veterans of the previous army be absolutely stumped as to what they want to field with the new book, not because the units are bad, but because they really are spoiled for choice. You could reasonably field a number of themed armies and remain competitive, and I love it.

  2. Im confused, how arethe Phoenixes ranked units?

  3. It was basically just to say "non-character units" more than anything else.

  4. Thanks for sharing this great content, I really enjoyed the insign you bring to the topic, awesome stuff!

    Flame cutter

  5. You forgot to comment on the shadow warriors.