19 Feb 2013

Dark Eldar in 6th Edition - How do they work?

In 5th Edition, the new Dark Eldar were a breath of fresh air in an environment where armies focused on spamming the most powerful units in each codex - essentially each army always had a handful of units that were obviously superior to others, and thus were taken in great numbers at a competitive level for redundancy. The Dark Eldar codex bucked this trend - unlike most other codices, the army had an exceptional internal balance offset by strong external balance, making them a delightful army that rewarded the usage of nearly every unit in the codex in some capacity, with very few exceptions. As a rule though, the best Dark Eldar armies were - and remain to this day - mobile forces that relied on their strong alpha-strike and sheer speed to deal significant amounts of damage early in the game and get up close to minimize the damage as fast as possible. Popular armies often revolved around the use of Wyches in a role that would tar-pit enemy units, preventing them from firing on the more valuable transports in a game where kill points where usually the most common form of victory.

So, with 6th Edition, how have the changes to both the rules and, subsequently, the meta affected the Dark Eldar? This is a question that has given me a lot of trouble, as there is no doubt they are very much a different beast than they were before, and for the most part seemed not to have taken too well to the new edition - at least in terms of what units are useful. So, firstly, let's take a look at what used to be the name of the game for Dark Eldar - their transports and Wyches.

My Raider Exploded - Can I have some pity?

It's like Arwyn...But BETTER.
In 5th Edition, a common and competitive army list was built around the heavy usage of Wych squads, usually numbering between six and eight, carried by Raiders to both provide effective melee units a quick entry point into combat, with the unit designed not to be excessive so as to kill enemy units in a single turn. The reason for this was mostly due to the fact that Wyches die if so much as a Lasgun points their way - with a 6+ armour save and Toughness 3 against shooting, Wyches need to be in combat to survive, as even with Pain Tokens they are still quite easily removed. This is why Raiders worked so well with Wyches - essentially adding an anti-tank weapon for a primarily anti-infantry unit without actually compromising their abilities, whilst shooting them hard and fast into the enemy formations. Of course, Dark Eldar have always focused on being manipulative and careful of their surroundings, using terrain and the first turn to their advantage. Raiders were less likely to be destroyed then - at least if used properly - what with the high cover saves provided by turbo-boosting, as well as the decreased chance of actually exploding as opposed to merely being wrecked. As well, due to being open-topped vehicles, the hits suffered by the unit inside if it did explode were only Strength 3, meaning the Wyches were unlikely to lose too many in the blast. They were safe, reliable and most importantly cheap melee units that worked very well at tying up enemy units so that the rest of the army could focus on more immediate threats. With their 4+ invulnerable save, they even made fine candidates to delay enemy Terminators or other elite melee units. A 12" movement from a Raider, a 2" disembark move, and then a subsequent Fleet move and 6" charge also gave Wyches an incredible threat range - meaning very few units were safe from them. Hekatrixes with Agonisers, normal Wyches with Hydra Gauntlets and the like - these were all staples of the Wych units.

With 6th Edition though, all of that changed. Now, open-topped transports no longer have a reduced Strength when they explode, meaning that Wyches suffer Strengh 4 hits when they are forced to jump out. This can lead to the majority of the squad being wiped out with little warning. Whilst Jink saves for moving do give Dark Eldar Skimmers a more common cover save, and Turbo-Boosting gives them a lot of mobility, they are now much easier to destroy due to the changes in the damage chart and the introduction of Hull Points. Venoms can be easily gunned down by massed Bolter fire in one turn, whilst Raiders are still given very little room to maneuvre by Autocannons, Assault Cannons and the like. The increased focus on shooting means armies tend to have far more weapons capable of dealing with, and destroying, Dark Eldar transports - the meta shift to plasma as opposed to melta to deal more with Infantry doesn't help Dark Eldar either, as a plasma gun has a higher range than a melta gun and will still blow up an open-topped vehicle on a 4+, much like a meltagun would have in 5th Edition. And if you do manage to get close, Wyches are further cruelled by the introduction of Overwatch - the snap shots alone can do enough damage to Wyches, especially when coupled with removing the closest models to the firing model and random charge lengths. But now that Flamers are common-place, any unit can do D3 automatic hits that will each likely kill a Wych, unless they have a pain token. Random charge lengths also severely cripple Wyches, especially when Overwatch is factored even; even though Fleet allows Wyches to re-roll their charge distance and arguably gives them a higher potential threat range, their average charge range is lower. For a unit that must get into combat to both do its job and survive, these are highly crippling disadvantages.

So what does work for these two units now? Well, for the most part Wyches aren't taken as commonly anymore - especially given their only other avenue previously, the Webway Portal, no longer allows assaults out of reserves. Wyches also need to be taken in chunkier units to compensate for exploding transports and Overwatch, otherwise they will be taken out without a fight. Raiders and Venoms still have a place though, as both still provide near necessary mobility to a very fragile Dark Eldar force. Hull points and the like do serve to make them even more vulnerable than they already were, but their firepower and mobility are still highly valuable. Given the trend of monstrous creatures and infantry to appear now, Venoms with dual splinter cannons are becoming even more popular than they already were, especially as vehicles are far less common and thus Raiders are less seen. Still, Raiders work very well for a mobile fire-base; with splinter-cannon armed Kabalite Warriors inside with Splinter Racks on the Raider itself, a literal torrent of fire can emerge from a single, relatively inexpensive unit. Generally speaking, Dark Eldar players have to be a lot more careful with their transports than before, and focus far less on getting units into melee than before - shooting is indeed the name of the game, and Dark Eldar still do it very well. It is a shame that Wyches have been hit so hard, but it isn't all bad; with Hull Points, Wyches armed with Haywire Grenades are now cheap anti-tank units that will wreck almost any vehicle with little difficulty.

Guns and lots of them - Kabalite Warriors in focus

Given how much Wyches and assault armies in general have been weakened, the importance of the Kabalite Warrior has become far more pronounced - they are now the most effective Troops choice in the army, and should form the bulk of your army lists. The reasons for this are many-fold - as a ranged unit, they already have a distinct advantage due to the randomised, unreliable nature of assaults. Overwatch and Snap-Shots give them some extra rounds of fire against enemy units, even when they usually would have been unable to shoot before. The increased availability of area terrain and cover gives them some much needed breathing room when they aren't taken with Raiders or Venoms, meaning that Haemonculi aren't as necessary as they were before. Their weapons are fantastic against Infantry and Monstrous Creatures of all kinds, allowing them to overcome the usual reliance on special weapons to deal with units such as Trygons or Wraithlords - mobile units in Venoms can take Blasters for nice anti-tank support, whilst Splinter Cannons boost the firepower of a unit immensely, all for a few pennies. With vehicles being far less common now, their poisoned ranged weapons have become even more valuable. The importance of Troops choices in an edition where objective-based games are in play five out of six times means that Kabalite Warriors should be taken in multiple units, and their low cost considering their weaponry and the advent of cover makes them a great unit to add into any Dark Eldar force. They are all but necessary in an army that has taken some big hits in 6th Edition, and they are very consistent performers that, provided they are given some readily available protection, will do their jobs in nearly every game.

Some of the better combinations for Kabalite Warriors revolve around their large amounts of firepower at minimal expense, usually involving either Venoms or Raiders. Warriors do work well as bunker units, though they need to be taken in numbers for this to work, otherwise even with cover they are probably too easily removed from an objective. Combined with Duke Sliscus - who is now in his prime - and some splinter cannons, a chunky unit of fifteen or more can lay down some devastating firepower against anything that isn't a vehicle which, given the meta-change, you shouldn't be too worried about. And even then, that is what Ravagers, Voidravens and Trueborn with Blasters are for. Add in a Haemonculus and they become very hard to shift. Another good way to use them is take one or two units of ten in Raiders, add in a splinter cannon and take splinter racks on the Raiders. This gives you three things; a mobile scoring unit, an anti-tank weapon on the transport, and some serious anti-infantry firepower that doesn't worry too much about snap-shooting and is thus very helpful against flying monstrous creatures. All three of these things are very useful, and again, it all is very cheap for what you get; just remember that their durability (or lack of it) and vulnerability means you need to be careful with them. I've seen small five-strong units in Venoms with two splinter cannons and a blaster on the squad work well too, much like a cheaper, less effective form of Blaster-armed Trueborn that can score. In general, Dark Eldar put out a lot of high Ballistic Skill shooting - something they need to use to their advantage in 6th Edition to have any hope of victory. Units such as Scourges, Reaver Jetbikes and the like provide some extremely fast firepower at a price, and complement Warrior-heavy armies well.

My enemy is my friend - Eldar and Allies

After a long, hard day of battle, Asdrubael Vect shook Eldrad Ulthran's hand whilst their warriors bro-fisted in the way only victorious elves could. Wait, what? Yeah, didn't you know Dark Eldar and Eldar are the best of buddies? They love each other! Sarcasm aside, whilst it makes more sense from a fluff perspective than you might initially think, it definitely is a smart idea to combine the two armies together using one of the big new 6th Edition features - Allies. The introduction of Allies creates so many new, unique possibilities that there are still competitive combinations being found out well over half a year after the main rulebook was released. It is essentially an excuse to start the army you've always wanted without wasting your previous armies - so long as they can ally, you can make the fluffy alliances you have always wanted, and mix the units you never dreamed could have been mixed. So how does this work with Dark Eldar? Well, firstly, Dark Eldar make fluffy armies for nearly every army in the sense that they are pirates who tend to have hidden ulterior motives - they may seem friendly at first, but will often back-stab their 'allies' later. As well, they provide some very effective firepower for a small price, even if they aren't all that durable. However, as the primary force themselves, like any Allied detachment, you should include armies and units that make up for the weaknesses of the Dark Eldar. Generally speaking, Dark Eldar lack durable units and psychic defence - both of which Eldar can provide in a neat little package.

The most common Allied detachments involving Eldar include Eldrad Ulthran, notably because he is cost-effective, powerful, provides a host of support abilities to the other Eldar units and gives your army an exceedingly potent psyker defence. These abilities are invaluable, especially when paired up with certain units - the first, most common build for Eldar allies when used as a detachment for any army is to take Eldrad, a small unit of Rangers upgraded to Pathfinders, and an Aegis Defence Line with a Quad Gun. Eldrad mans the Quad Gun (or someone else), giving your army a suitable defence against most fliers, whilst buffing the Pathfinders and throwing Doom out like candy. Heavily psychic armies, such as Tyranids, will hate Eldrad's Runes of Warding too. The best part is that it clocks in at under a third of your allowance in a 1500 point game, and given that Dark Eldar tend to have very cheap units anyway, this works in your favour. In this way, you are giving your army a big boost in regards to flyer and psyker defence, whilst providing some extra firepower that is very tough to shift. Oh, and a great scoring unit too! The other common interplay between the two armies involves Harlequins with a Shadow Seer, an attached Archon with a Shadow Field - though Sliscus or Vect himself also work - and a Farseer or Eldrad casting Fortune on the unit. Stick the Archon at the front and laugh as your Harlequin deathstar runs across the board due to the guy at the front having a 2+ re-rollable invulnerable save! Oh, and the Harlequins with their Rending attacks and stuff make them able to deal with most threats. Use this unit carefully, and it can and will win games for you. Allies can make a significant impact on how you write your armies, but you should always remember to take them for how they cover up your weaknesses, rather than immediately boost your strengths.

What's that in the sky? - Flyers and Dark Eldar

I see your Night Scythe, and raise you a Thunderhawk.
Flyers. A simple little word that changed everything. Inception reference aside, Flyers are a very, very important aspect of 6th Edition Warhammer 40000; so much so that any competitive army list needs to be prepared for their use, whether through target denial or actual ranged defence. How this interacts with Dark Eldar is interesting to say the least; they get two good fliers that provide a lot of firepower on a budget, and are typically no less armoured than a lot of other fliers. The lack of twin-linking on most of their anti-tank weapons means their ground units will usually struggle against fliers, though the sheer number of dark lances a Dark Eldar player can field may make up for this. Still, I feel the best way for Dark Eldar to defend against flyers is to take an Aegis Defence Line with the Quad Gun - often with Eldar allies as Dark Eldar tend to be mobile anyway - as well as their own flyers, usually the Voidraven Bomber. For the most part, fliers won't worry Dark Eldar players as much as Havocs with Autocannons or split-firing Long Fangs would, so there's no real impetus there to change your army list too much.

As far as actually fielding fliers, Dark Eldar can either ally with others - particularly Eldar for the dreaded Nightwing - or take their own good ones. The Razorwing is mostly an anti-infantry flier that does have two dark lances, giving it the versatility to deal with other fliers in a pinch. It's sheer mobility is scary, as is the incredible amount of high strength shooting it can put out in a single turn. The Voidraven is the alternative to a Razorwing, and much better suited for taking out vehicles and other fliers. With two Void Lances - Dark Lances with an extra point of Strength - and a droppable Void Mine, essentially a blast-based Void Lance, Voidravens' work much better against mechanized or elite armies than the Razorwing. For anti-flier duties, you should definitely take the Voidraven, as its Void Lances give it a very strong chance of penetrating even armour 12 fliers such as Stormravens or Heldrakes. Whilst I don't think fliers affect Dark Eldar too much, you do need to be very aware of them and plan accordingly - dropping a third Ravager and fitting in a Voidraven is a great strategy. A note though - take Flickerfields on your fliers, as it gives them a much welcome save that means they never need to Evade, allowing them to keep up full firing efficiency!

Whither shall you go - Final Thoughts

Dark Eldar have changed a lot in 6th Edition, and not always for the better unfortunately. Most of our assault-based units are now far less viable due to a host of new rules, such as random charge lengths, Overwatch and the like, whilst our other units are either still going strong or even better than they were. Whilst Raider-based Wych cult armies have fallen out of favour, 'Venom-spam' armies are still prominent, and the advent of foot-slogging Dark Eldar has led to a host of new strategies for players to adapt to. Fliers, allies, fortifications and the like are all very interesting avenues for new tactics to be employed and countered - all should be considered for competitive play, particularly fliers, as they can make a significant impact on a game if not carefully managed. In general, I feel that the internal balance of the Dark Eldar codex has been damaged quite a bit by 6th Edition - what with ranged units now being far superior to their melee counter-parts in the same slots, such as the comparisons between Wyches and Warriors. Harrassment units such as Reaver Jetbikes are enjoying a lot of success, whilst the Talos and Cronos' slow speed means they are less viable than before. Ravagers are still very important, whilst Voidravens and Razorwings provide necessary flyer support for Dark Eldar armies. I think that whilst many 5th Edition army lists will no longer work due to the wide range of changes, there are still a lot of positives to take out of 6th Edition for Dark Eldar and as more and more players adapt to the meta, we should be seeing even more competitive Dark Eldar army lists out there.

Example Army List

With some thought about the major changes to Dark Eldar in 6th Edition, notably fliers and allies as well as the more common inclusion of psykers, I came up with an army list based around the ideas and notes expressed above.

Dark Eldar 1500
Duke Slicus – 150            
Haemonculus w/ venom blade, liquifier gun - 65

Kabalite Warriors (20) w/ two splinter cannons – 200
Kabalite Warriors (5) w/ blaster, Venom w/ dual splinter cannons, night shields – 135
Kabalite Warriors (5) w/ blaster, Venom w/ dual splinter cannons, night shields - 135

Heavy Support
Ravager w/ night shields – 115
Ravager w/ night shields – 115
Voidraven Bomber w/ flickerfield – 155

Eldrad Ulthran – 210

Rangers (5) w/ pathfinders – 120

Aegis Defence Line w/ Quad Gun - 100

Though perhaps not the best army, it does have its fair share of strengths - it has two tough bunker units to sit on home objectives and provide lots of firepower at a moment's notice, as well as two very mobile small midfield objective grabbers able to deal with many different threats. The Ravagers provide necessary medium to long range firepower whilst minimising harm to themselves with Night Shields, and the army has significant flyer and psyker defences due to the Voidraven Bomber and Eldrad manning the Aegis Defence Line. It is a very balanced army that uses the new rules and systems introduced in 6th Edition to its advantage, with a strong mixture of infantry and vehicles, as well as a focus on firepower. The Voidraven and Quad Gun should be able to deal with most enemy fliers quite well, whilst Eldrad maximises the damage potential of the Pathfinders. It is a nicely designed force that should do well for the most part, and isn't overly reliant on a strong alpha strike.


Thank you for taking the time to read through this long-winded Dark Eldar article! I hope it has been helpful and enjoyable, and I am very excited to hear any critiques or suggestions about army list combinations you have. Thanks again! Now excuse me, I've got to go get my best friend back from Urien Rakarth. Wish me luck! Learn2Eel, over and out.  


  1. Thanks a ton. After the wych nerf I've been looking for a good example of how to play these guys... This helps immensely.

  2. An interesting angle to consider that I have had some success with is a foot dar list based around a Fortress of Redemption. I know it goes against the speed rule. But consider this, for 250 points you get a series of Armor 14 buildings that you can hide squishy assault-based units in (Haemonculi, Grotesques and the like if desired) additionally, take a Harlequin Unit with the Shadowseer, Vect and put them on the Krakstorm Missile Launcher...you now have a never scatter artillery cannon that your opponent has to move his guys through the shadow of and you have it well defended if used properly. Also, the Icarus Lascannon does provide some Anti-Air cover.

  3. Although, as you say, warriors should be the backbone of the army, I also auto include haywire wyches (i wrote why at http://army-builder.com/. Generally, they do wonders for my games when in a venom.


  4. So theres only a 5th and 7th edition codexes now?