Greetings everyone; I bid you welcome to the second entry in my Dark Eldar Unit Overview series. I was eagerly awaiting the new Dark Eldar codex to see how Games Workshop would handle the archetypal "glass cannon" army of Warhammer 40,000 in 7th Edition, and I must admit my initial impressions weren't great. A lot of units didn't receive the buffs they required to remain competitive in the current meta, but the strong lists of the past and the play-style these hedonistic butchers are famous for did remain intact. Today, I'm reviewing the HQ section and analyzing the importance of these characters and their retinues to a successful Dark Eldar force; I hope you find this a helpful article!
Archon - While this character used to be a brutal combat monster that hid behind a seemingly impervious 2+ invulnerable save while destroying enemies with a weapon that inflicts Instant Death and further doubling his Strength, users of the current codex will doubtless inform you that those glory days are over. An inability to take an AP2 melee weapon in conjunction with a lesser Soul-trap see the Archon now as a still decent but unfortunately limited combat character, one that is far too vulnerable to Instant Death as well as being incapable of dealing with the usual 2+ armoured challenge monsters. If you spend points to tool up a melee combatant in the HQ slot, being able to at least stand up to a Chapter Master with Artificer Armour is expected if you don't want to just be wasting points - that is, unless the character clears enemy units out extremely quickly or performs another important role. Sadly, the Archon does neither of these things; he or she lacks the raw number of Attacks and the Strength value to be a true butcher, while much unlike the Eldar Autarch an Archon provides no innate support benefits for your army. However, if you want a cheap and versatile HQ choice, the Archon is a great model to lead your army as a cheap bearer of the super-important Webway Portal while providing some anti-tank firepower with a Blaster and even acting as a wound-tank with a Shadow Field. Heck, the base profile of an Archon is really strong aside from the stark vulnerability to Strength 6 and higher weapons that are available in great numbers to most armies and will stop the Archon dead in his or her tracks. I feel that the Archon would have been awesome if the Huskblade had been 10 points more expensive but was AP2, especially as the Shadow Field is now far superior to its prior incarnation by still working until the end of the phase where it deactivates rather than losing its' protection immediately.
Court of the Archon - Being able to freely choose what specific models comprise a Court of the Archon is easily the biggest buff to this unit the new codex wrought, allowing players to tailor their Court to whatever they need in an army list. All of the constituents are useful in their own way and are priced appropriately once you also consider the optional Archon that frees their slot up, though my favourites so far have been the Medusae with their Strength 4 AP3 template weapons and the Sslyth's for their raw survivability. The nice thing here is that you need not attach the Court of the Archon to their titular leader, instead giving them their own Raider or Venom as a Dedicated Transport and using them as yet another cheap and mobile source of hard-hitting firepower. Some minor points changes to the Medusae and Sslyth are expected and - in the latter case - beneficial, though ultimately not being forced to take at least one of each will often lead to you spending less points on the unit by cutting out the unnecessary filler. Oh, and one other very nice aspect of the Court is that you no longer require an Archon to use them, meaning you can take a minimum 10 point Warlord choice so as to maximise on raw firepower; what more could you want?
Succubus - Though she received an entirely unnecessary 10 point increase to her base cost, you may want to consider the Succubus for that aforementioned melee combatant in the HQ slot because she is the only one with a natural AP2 melee weapon option, the Archite Glaive. That she has an in-built 4+ invulnerable save in close combat plus an awesome profile - barring her poor Strength and Toughness values - makes her a natural front-runner in that role, while she is even capable of bringing a Webway Portal to the fight. Add to this her exclusive Combat Drugs and the fact that you don't need to take any defensive upgrades on her as well as her very well priced but near mandatory Archite Glaive and you have yourself a superior combatant to the Archon, giving Dark Eldar players a cheap character capable of scything through 2+ armour saves without relying on expensive Incubi. One could even infer that the Succubus is better in the current meta than she was simply because of the Archite Glaive and optional Webway Portal, though another reason is definitely the lesser status of current Archons.
Lelith Hesperax - I'm truly divided on this particular special character given some obvious buffs but also a general reduction in her capabilities in other areas contributing to what is still a mediocre rather than good or even great commander. In practice, she will have roughly the same amount of attacks as before as she now has a base six - and seven on the charge - attacks plus an additional D3 from Rampage when her unit is (inevitably) outnumbered, meaning she should have around nine for the most part. Her previous way of attaining bonus attacks was inherently random in a sense, giving her around ten or eleven attacks against most opponents but being reduced to seven or eight once any standard combat character popped up. In that sense, she is worse at killing units in a lot of cases but she is far better wherever characters are concerned; especially with her new ability to re-roll all failed to-hit and to-wound rolls in a challenge. That she ignores armour saves and is Weapon Skill 10 due to her Warlord Trait (not that it really matters as Weapon Skill 9 is functionally the same against the vast majority of enemies) makes her a pretty nasty character killer, but the problem here is that her base Strength 3 makes her incredibly unreliable against Toughness 5 or higher opponents. Even Toughness 4 models with strong invulnerable saves will be able to repel her quite well, while the fact that she loses this ability outside of a challenge makes her a poor unit killer, an issue that has been around since her 5th Edition incarnation. A modest price reduction and the fact that she retains armour-ignoring melee attacks in 7th Edition does lead me to believe she is in a better place to before, but that doesn't change the fact that she is much more expensive than a still suitable Succubus without really addressing her one major issue of high Toughness values. For her points, she is sadly just unnecessary - possibly the worst description one could label a unit with in Warhammer 40,000. Oh, and ignore the optional Impaler; if you hadn't guessed, Lelith no longer reduces opponents Attacks by one and thus even lost a bit of her defensive lustre.
Haemonculus - Removing the benefit that allowed you to take Wracks as Troops while also disbarring you from taking up to three of these characters per HQ slot does start the initial unit impressions off on a bad note, but thankfully this character is otherwise greatly improved. The Haemonculus and Haemonculus Ancient have been streamlined into one profile, the new Haemonculus essentially being a cheaper version of the Ancient. This is still the awesome support choice on a budget that most Dark Eldar players love and he is still competitive for that reason alone, being a more survivable HQ choice than most others in the codex while also providing an often crucial boost to Power from Pain for himself and his unit. He can bring a Webway Portal to the fight as well as a lot of other sometimes useful but generally negligible wargear choices, though honestly I would just keep him cheap and embrace the fact that he is a support tool first and foremost. He is a decent melee combatant but seeing as he lacks Fleet and any decent close combat weapon, using him with a beefy ranged unit is generally ideal.
Urien Rakarth - The best way to describe Urien Rakarth is that he is a Toughness 5 Haemonculus with a 4+ invulnerable save and Feel No Pain (4+) rather than the usual 5+ roll, giving you by far the toughest Warlord choice in the army list albeit at a high cost. His Warlord Trait isn't very useful in most match-ups while his expanded melee capabilities are generally a forgettable trait in comparison to what actually makes him recommendable, namely the fact that he boosts the Power from Pain rule for all Dark Eldar units within 12" rather than just his own attached unit. Chuck in It Will Not Die to an already hugely survivable HQ choice and you have yourself the perfect model for holding on to that often crucial Slay the Warlord victory point, while his one-use-only AP3 ranged weapon is decent enough but nothing special. While I do agree with many that he is unnecessary for your typical mechanized Dark Eldar army and classifies as somewhat of a points-sink, he is absolutely mandatory either in larger games or for your less traditional army lists.
Drazhar - As what effectively amounts to the Dark Eldar equivalent of a Phoenix Lord (he is all but confirmed to be one, anyway), Drazhar brings the most impressive stat-line of any HQ choice in the codex while also being the only 2+ armoured model you can access. Unfortunately, he really doesn't compare to those legendary warriors as he only provides minor buffs at best and lacks any of the awesome Exarch Powers those characters are famous for. Though he did receive a significant points reduction, the removal of his ability to single out enemy models without being forced into a challenge and thus suffering return attacks is definitely a downer. Still, with Rampage and the potential to get lots of bonus attacks from other sources with his natively AP2 or AP3 melee weapon (depending on the profile chosen), I would be lying if I said Drazhar was a pushover in close combat; he will brutalize most opponents and isn't too expensive in that regard either. There are a few core issues to consider that seriously restrict Drazhar's competitive usage even before one considers his exorbitant price tag for a Dark Eldar character, the most notable being his complete lack of an invulnerable save. Given that he is supposed to be the "challenge monkey" of the codex with his AP2 melee attacks, the fact that he won't be able to survive against a similarly equipped character is both disheartening and downright silly. That he is forced to join the generally mediocre Incubi rather than being allowed to freely attach to more useful units is an unnecessary and arbitrary limitation given that the Eldar Phoenix Lords have no such restrictions, while his utter lack of assault grenades - something he does keep in common with the Phoenix Lords, ironically - makes him a very questionable use of the points.
Kabalite Warriors - One of the nicer changes in the new codex was a seemingly unnecessary albeit minor points reduction to the primary and now solely competitive Troops choice, the Kabalite Warriors, giving Dark Eldar players a very strong core unit to build their lists around. The basic Warrior has an awesome ranged weapon in the form of the Splinter Rifle that functions as a far superior Boltgun that is equal in damage output against Toughness 4 opponents and stronger against everything that is Toughness 5 or higher. They are accurate and have decent base Leadership and Initiative values, though the fragility of the army is in full effect here with each Warrior having a pitiful 5+ armour save and Toughness 3. Still, these compare fantastically well to the lesser Imperial Guardsmen and even Tau Fire Warriors, especially in the context of the highly mobile and firepower-intense Dark Eldar that brings numerous cheap open-topped transport options that perfectly suit these strong ranged units. Some tweaked point costs for their upgrades and a homogenized profile with Trueborn are appreciated changes, and the latter unit remains a fantastic choice in the Elites slot as well due to their good Leadership and ability to bring up to four special weapons - they are famous for Blasters particularly - at a minimum squad size. Power from Pain gives these already great units some very nice buffs - particularly Feel No Pain and Fearless - that improve their objective-taking capabilities two-fold as the game progresses, while both Fleet and Night Vision make them more reliable for mobility and fighting opponents during Night Fighting respectively. Overall, Kabalite Warriors are among the game's best value Troops choices considering the fact that - much like Eldar Guardians - they effectively ignore one of the common methods for improving survivability in the game, scaling incredibly well against monstrous creatures, while being cheap scoring units that are solid and become harder to shift the longer a game goes on.
Wyches - Ugh. This is a unit that absolutely required major buffs to make it a competitive choice in either a 6th Edition or 7th Edition context, yet despite the already great Kabalite Warriors getting a points reduction, Wyches were made even worse with the new codex. Overwatch and massed Ignores Cover shooting killed this unit in 6th Edition for any role other than annihilating vehicles with massed Haywire Grenades, yet even this was taken away from them with that particular upgrade now being restricted to the Hekatrix. A reasonable change would have been to make their Dodge save work against Overwatch, but alas, they restricted it to working only in the Fight sub-phase. No points reduction was made to compensate for the fact that Dark Eldar units are arguably more fragile than ever with their Open-Topped Transports, and even their special melee weapons really aren't that impressive. Bloodbrides remain as pointless as ever in direct contrast to Kabalite Trueborn, while the unit just generally is too expensive, surprisingly weak in combat and far too vulnerable to ever be an effective melee unit. This is sadly a red-herring in an otherwise mostly stellar codex and it is both disheartening and confusing given their status as one of the two Troops choices in the codex and the core of Wych-cult themed lists.
Thank you all for reading this latest article of mine covering the nefarious Dark Eldar! I'm very happy with the codex overall and love the fact that it is unabashedly a force designed with veteran players in mind, being the choice of many skilled players that can make use of its status as the ultimate glass cannon army. I would love to read your thoughts on the Dark Eldar codex and my review of them; please share your feedback in the comments section below! Thank you and have a lovely day!