10 Oct 2013

Dark Elves - Initial Impressions

Hey guys, Learn2Eel here with a quick look at the "new" kids off the block; the Dark Elves of Naggaroth. I have been anticipating this release for a while due in no small part to the earlier High Elf update, and it is really intriguing to see just how the two forces compare. I hope you enjoy this article!

Since the release of their equally depraved kin in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, few releases have really gone beyond a handful of plastic kits and one to three characters. The Dark Elf release has set new ground for Games Workshop with the all-but confirmed two-month release window, the difference from other releases such as Warriors of Chaos or Chaos Daemons being that these months were consecutive. The new kits and characters are of a truly stupendous quality, and I am very excited to eventually have an army of them up and running in the next year, time and money permitting.

However, models aside what really appealed to me about this release were the rules and feel of the army book; though I still love my High Elves for fluff, the Dark Elves just do so much more for me on the table-top. It actually has little to do with how 'competitive' the book is, but more the options available to me as a player; blenders in Witch Elves and heavily armoured infantry with Black Ark Corsairs in the Core selection alone really get me going. After that, having Reaper Bolt Throwers in Special rather than Rare frees up a lot of points to take the incredibly impressive new Warlocks, as well as my personal favourite - the Kharibdyss'! Combined with Hydras in Special whom actually regenerate heads as they should as well as the ability to get 1+ armour saves on characters easily through Sea Dragon Cloaks, and the army book simply gives me a lot that I really can't get from High Elves. Now that isn't to say the glittering host doesn't have some awesome tricks and models up its sleeve, but what really sold the Dark Elves for me was the Hydra/Kharibdyss kit, and how I can take three Hydras and two Kharibdyss' in a standard army! I love me some Greek mythological beasts, or models inspired by them!

Now, in keeping with the fact that you guys probably don't want hear about my boring armies, I wanted to give you my early impressions on all of the Dark Elves units and some nasty tips and tricks. For now though, to keep this article short, I'll just do a top ten list (in no particular order) and leave it at that; I don't want to waste any more of your time! You can also see some more impressions of mine in the Warhammer Fantasy Forum over on +Bell of Lost Souls.

Top Ten Dark Elf Changes/New Stuff

1) Sea Dragon Cloaks - In the previous Dark Elf army book, Sea Dragon Cloaks were quite similar to Lion Cloaks in that they offered a boosted armour save against shooting attacks of +2, and a +1 bonus in combat. Available only to combat characters and Black Ark Corsairs, it was a useful bit of kit but not anything special of course. Come the new book, it was changed to an impressive 5+ Scaly Skin. This is great for a wide range of reasons; first off, alongside their points reduction, it gives Corsairs a firm place in the army list as they combine both greater durability and offensive prowess when given additional hand weapons to really outclass the Dreadspears and Bleakswords. Though Witch Elves certainly are and will remain the popular Core choice, Corsairs are the best of the Infantry choices when it comes to surviving both in combat and, importantly, against shooting. Also, it gives Dreadlords and Masters the unique capability to easily get +1 armour saves without magic items when mounted, or a +1 armour save on foot with an enchanted shield, or say a shield and Dragonhelm thrown in. This allows Dark Elves to get really cheap foot Battle Standard Bearers with 1+ re-rollable armour saves and Strength 5 attacks, as well as 1+ armour saves that don't compromise the offensive capabilities of a Dreadlord on a Cold One. A great example of this is taking the Giant Blade, the Other Trickster's Shard and a Dawnstone to give a Dreadlord a re-rollable 1+ armour save with heavy armour, a Sea Dragon Cloak and a Cold One as well as Always Strikes First Strength 7 attacks combined with enemies re-rolling their ward saves against him or her. This build simply isn't possible for High Elves, and it remains an important advantage for Dark Elves. Compared to the very similarly priced Lion Cloaks, the Dark Elves definitely have the better of the fabrics here!

2) Cold One Knights - I don't have the previous army book on me, but from memory Cold One Knights didn't change too much in points cost. For what they did go up by, they gained some impressive benefits; two attacks on the Cold Ones themselves, re-rolls 1s to wound in combat, as well as Always Strikes First. This means that your basic Cold One Knight, for only a mere peso more than a Dragon Prince, puts out two Strength 4 and one Strength 6 Always Strikes First attack on the charge. With probable re-rolls on the lance attacks, as well as re-rolls 1s to wound, these guys are incredibly nasty heavy cavalry that also have 2+ armour saves to go with their Caledorian rivals. That the Knights are Strength 4 base means that they also don't suffer in subsequent rounds or if they were charged, allowing them to more effectively engage enemies even without the lances. Though obviously not as fast as the Elven Steeds with Ilthimar Barding and lacking in attacks, the higher Strength and better equipment choices available to a Dreadlord through the Sea Dragon Cloak make them pretty comparable to the Dragon Princes. This is a great thing as the latter unit is definitely one of the stronger heavy cavalry units you can find going around. I like how the two army books now have two roughly comparable equivalents in the Special section for heavy cavalry, and it really serves to give them their identity; one works better against low Toughness and save enemies, the other against higher Toughness and save units or monsters.

3) Crone Hellebron - I remember glancing through the new Dark Elf book and looking at the Crone herself; this was more due to the new models for all the Witch Elves than anything else. I'm not interested in Witch Elves - I'm more a Corsair guy personally - but the Crone's rules nonetheless made me jump! Like Teclis, she has no saves of any kind and only three wounds at Toughness three, a slight improvement on the formers' weakened stats; she dies to pretty much anything that attacks her, even basic rank and file Skaven Slaves. But then I saw her offensive stats. Between eight to ten Strength 10 attacks each round with Always Strikes First, re-roll 1s to wound, Weapon Skill 7 and Initiative 9 - for the purposes of re-rolls. Well, really it isn't that....WHASDHO{ASDHASOPUIA UAW WHAAAAAAT!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? Crone Hellebron is easily the most destructive combat character in the game. You can expect her to reliably - due to all the re-rolls - wipe out an entire rank of anything from Empire Spearmen to Nurgle Chaos Warriors (I'm not kidding!) each round. Hell, she will probably kill a Frostheart Phoenix - due to Hatred (High Elves) - in one round, one of the only single models in the game that can make such a claim. She will butcher pretty much any character or unit you can think of in a space of moments rather than minutes. She is ludicrous, especially for her points cost, but the balance obviously is that she is easy to kill. But wait, Dark Elves can now take the Lore of Life, as well as cheap Always Strikes First Executioners. The Crone gives Frenzy or Super Frenzy - if they already have Frenzy - to her unit, causes Fear at -3 to Leadership, and is in general a true terror weapon. Put her in a big unit of Executioners with a Lore of Life Supreme Sorceress and maybe Tullaris. Three attack Executioners plus the Crone as well as Toughness 5 or 7? Good game. Good game mate!

4) Dark Riders - Core Fast Cavalry that can take big boosts to their armour saves, including shields, without losing Fast Cavalry status, on top of Always Strikes First and Murderous Prowess? Yes please, especially for how little they cost. A fantastic unit. Need I say more?

5) Warlocks - These guys are pretty ridiculous; mobile cavalry with 4+ ward saves, a good number of Poisoned attacks, and much like Pink Horrors, they count as a single Level 2 Wizard with two pre-defined spells. For their cost, if they had two mediocre spells they would still probably be pretty worthwhile in the less crowded Rare slot, but that they actually have the ubiquitous Soulblight as well as Doombolt is just the icing on the cake. Soulblight pairs up incredibly well with Dark Elves who themselves have low or "average" Strength and Toughness; it is an awesome spell that really brings other Dark Elf units such as Black Guard and Corsairs into the fore. Doombolt is also a very decent magic missile that gives the Warlocks quite a bit of punch outside of combat. Overall, these guys are fantastic and work incredibly well as your 'supporting wizards' to a Supreme Sorceress.

6) Kharibdyss - When one considers the cheap and awesome Warlocks already in the Rare slot, the move of Reaper Bolt Throwers to Special becomes so much more valuable with the invention of the monster-hunting Kharibdyss. It has good stats and decent survivability for a monster of its price point, with a high Weapon Skill, ridiculous Strength value and good number of attacks making it a cheaper and better equivalent to a Lizardmen Carnosaur, particularly with Initiative 4! That it also forces enemy units to re-roll successful Leadership-based tests against it is really impressive as it applies to Terror tests and Break tests taken against it. That it effectively cancels out the Hold Your Ground! special rule from Battle Standard Bearers makes it a potent all round monster that can really play with the morale of the enemy army, giving it a great chance to break enemy units. This is a great value monster that, while perhaps not as incredible as a Frostheart Phoenix, is nonetheless a strong contender for a Dark Elf armies' relatively free Rare points.

7) Executioners - Always Strikes First great weapons. Executioners were previously a pretty mediocre unit that really needed a specific banner so as to be considered a competitive choice, particularly in light of White Lions and Sword Masters from the High Elf book. Always Strikes First great weapons. That they have Killing Blow and Strength 6 with easily added Frenzy from Witch Elf Death Hags, Crone Hellebron or Tullaris gives them a pretty solid base of improvement, even before you consider their new tricks. Always Strikes First great weapons. Combined with the new army-wide special rules in Always Strikes First and re-roll 1s to wound, and you have the cheapest of the Elven great-weapon wielding Special choices that is easily the best against heavily armoured targets. Always Strikes First great weapons. Between Killing Blow, Strength 6 and re-roll 1s to wound, most enemy units will go after the Executioners, be wounded on 2s with re-rolls and have a one in six chance per wound to be killed outright with no armour saves. Always Strikes First great weapons. These guys are really nasty against all the 1+ and 2+ armoured monstrous and heavy cavalry going around, and they shred right through Chaos Warriors like few other elven units. Did I mention the Always Strikes First great weapons? Yeah, these guys are brutal, and probably the more competitive overall option between them, White Lions and Sword Masters, particularly with Dark Elves now able to access Life magic and so on.

8) Reaper Bolt Throwers - When High Elves were redone, their Repeater Bolt Throwers got a sizable points drop but stayed in the heavily congested Rare slots, competing with star units such as Frostheart Phoenixes and Sisters of Averlorn. Now Dark Elves came along and said "screw you guys, I'm going home" and moved the Bolt Throwers to Special with the same points drop and rules. Did I mention the less congested Rare slots? Though it might not seem too big a change to some, when one considers how good Kharibdyss' and Warlocks are, it really frees up so many points for nasty units in the army. You can easily fit in four Reaper Bolt Throwers on top of units of Cold One Knights, Executioners and so in medium to large games; it really serves to give commanders a lot of flexibility in their army list selection.

9) Corsairs - The previous army book left Corsairs in a vacuum with no real place in competitive lists outside of specific uses involving the Sea Serpent Standard. This was due to an unusually high points cost and the less useful previous form of the Sea Dragon Cloak, meaning they didn't really compare too well to Spearmen or Repeater Crossbowmen at the time. The new book pretty much changed this entire balance and really shifted Corsairs into the limelight, at least behind or beside Witch Elves anyway. Between a points drop for the basic model despite the addition of Always Strikes First and Murderous Prowess - particularly as Spearmen or 'Dreadspears' and Repeater Crossbowmen or 'Dark Shards' went up a lot in points - and Sea Dragon Cloaks being a flat 5+ Scaly Skin save, Corsairs really catapulted forward in terms of overall viability. For only slightly more points, you can get an entire unit with additional hand weapons, a 4+ armour save and good Elven stats overall; they are more durable than any of the other Infantry choices, and the second most damaging behind Witch Elves. Given their cost, this makes them an incredibly viable choice that only really competes for Witch Elves and Dark Riders to eat up the Core points in competitive army lists. They are just so superior to the triple-kit Infantry choices overall for the points now.

10) Witch Elves - Witch Elves have always been quite the nasty unit, adept at hitting enemies on the flank and butchering monsters, light infantry and the like. For an already good unit, the new army book gave them a ridiculous buff; for only a point or so more per model, they gained Always Strikes First at Initiative 6, more easily accessed 'Super Frenzy' through Death Hags and Hellebron and re-roll 1s to wound. Between Poison, Frenzy and additional hand weapons, each Witch Elf has an astonishing three attacks that hit a lot of enemies on 3s, they get re-rolls against the vast majority of units in the game and strike first which gels really well with Poison, and then they get re-roll 1s to wound as well. Basically, they are a blender unit with few equals. But what makes them so ridiculous that people are clamoring over each other to get them? They are Core choices. Lolwut? With so many buffs available to them through easily accessed Supreme Sorceresses - Lore of Life anyone? - and Warlocks casting Soulblight on their target unit, as well as Death Hags with Witchbrew and the like, Witch Elves are a premier unit that will tear apart anything that doesn't have both ranks and 1+ or 2+ armour saves. Their ridiculous number of Poisoned, Always Strikes First attacks will simply annihilate monsters and anything that has 4+ or worse saves.

Well, those are my top ten positive changes to the Dark Elf army book. Hell, this list is imperfect when you consider that Dark Elves can now take any rulebook magic lore, or that Malekith got 90 points cheaper, and so on. It just goes to show how awesome this army book is, and I think I am justified in saying that this is one of Games Workshops' best overall releases.

By the by....


  1. Hey buddy, great article.
    Check out my latest BR vs. HE, it features my Hellebron build!