Hello there ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the beginning of another new Tactica series! This time I will be analyzing the dark glory of the Druchii; the Dark Elves, Lords of Naggaroth. They, like High Elves, have been given royal treatment by Matt Ward with the new army book being among the highest quality ever released for Warhammer Fantasy. Though I could spend a week discussing just why I love this army book, my obligations dictate that I must spread the love and joy of tactics. I hope you enjoy this article! This is Part 2 of the Unit Overview series.
Dreadspears - These used to be the mainstay of most Dark Elf armies in the 7th Edition army book, but nowadays I rarely see them in more competitive lists. Strictly speaking, these are supposed to be used as an anvil and not as a damage dealing unit due to unit-wide Strength 3. Always Strikes First and re-rolls of 1s to wound in close combat do make these better than average Strength 3 Core units in the damage department, but those are still just Strength 3 attacks that don't do much. The problem is that Dreadspears pay a lot of points for these admittedly good stats for a Core unit that is still designed to be used as an anvil and, with a 5+ armour save, die in droves regardless. This is why I much prefer the vastly cheaper Empire Spearmen to Dreadspears in the same role; the former can actually get several extra ranks to continue holding Steadfast for each rank of Dreadspears taken in comparison. In a meta where armies consisting entirely of 3+ or 1+ armoured units occurs, or even those that have ways to break rank bonuses and Steadfast with ease, units such as Dreadspears become less valuable despite being more cost effective than other units of their type. You rarely see High Elf Spearmen competitively as well and their Martial Prowess is arguably more beneficial than Murderous Prowess for a spear unit. Unfortunately, while the Dreadspear does seem good for the points, it pays too many points for what is still a 5+ armoured Toughness 3 model.
Bleakswords - One of the new units in the Dark Elf codex that gives them an Empire Swordsmen equivalent, Bleakswords have the same points cost and general profile as Dreadspears. The only difference is that instead of a spear, a Bleaksword has a hand weapon and thus trades an extra rank of attacks when not charging for a unit wide 6+ parry save. I've already discussed why I am not a fan of Dreadspears and I share the same thoughts here with Bleakswords, though I guess that as an "anvil" Bleakswords will concede less wounds with the parry save, but cause fewer with losing a rank of attacks. These are still units that are too expensive with that paltry Toughness 3 and 5+ armour save, ultimately. The best tactic to use with Dreadspears and Bleakswords is with a Supreme Sorceress or regular Sorceress using the Sacrificial Dagger due to them being the two cheapest units to use it on.
Darkshards - These are the new look Repeater Crossbowmen and they saw an expected but still surprisingly big points increase. With Always Strikes First and Murderous Prowess, Darkshards can defend themselves in close combat better than most units of their type, but you should still avoid it at all costs obviously. In terms of shooting, a 24" range with Multiple Shots (2) and Armour Piercing is a good ranged weapon for a Ballistic Skill 4 unit, though it makes them very inaccurate. Moving and shooting at long range will see them hitting on 6s, for example, and while Armour Piercing with two shots each is nice, it is still only Strength 3. Add in that these can only fire in two ranks - or three in a horde - and they aren't as high quality a ranged unit as they seem at first glance. Darkshards work as mini Regeneration strippers with access to the cheap Banner of Eternal Flame, or as wizard bunkers in your backfield. You can give the unit shields for a 5+ armour save instead of a 6+, as well as a handy 6+ parry save; this literally makes Darkshards into Bleakswords with repeater crossbows. I like Darkshards more than Dreadspears and Bleakswords simply because the points cost of this unit makes a little more sense given that they are a ranged unit where their defensive stats are thus less important. When you combine these with a nearby Cauldron of Blood for re-rolls to wound with all their ranged and melee attacks, they become a very decent ranged unit. Otherwise, I still think they are a bit too expensive. Give them shields to make them more effective than Bleakswords, albeit without the ranks as you don't want to waste their shooting.
Competitive? With a nearby Cauldron of Blood; yes. Without a nearby Cauldron of Blood; no.
Black Ark Corsairs - Now this is a unit I have a lot of personal love for due to their models and monetary cost, though they aren't necessarily the most competitive choice. For two points per model more than a Dreadspear or Bleaksword, each Corsair has an extra attack per model in the front rank and a 4+ armour save. While the 4+ armour save isn't as good as a 6+ parry save against most high Strength attacks, it is far better against other typical Core units or things like Strength 4 Chaos Warriors and Longbeards. The extra attack per model in the front rank makes up for the third rank Dreadspears usually get when fighting, though the higher cost per model will obviously see more Dreadspears in a unit of the same total points cost. If you actually want an infantry anvil unit, Black Ark Corsairs are the best in the Core section, especially when combined with a Bloodwrack Shrine. You can alternatively give them each a brace of repeater handbows, though the 12" range of these usually means the additional hand weapons are a better choice. I think Black Ark Corsairs are a decent to good unit, but nothing special; I would however prefer them to Dreadspears and Bleakswords in most army lists.
Dark Riders - What can I say about this unit? Outside of perhaps Doomfire Warlocks, Dark Riders are easily the best Fast Cavalry unit in the game right now. They can get a 4+ armour save without losing the Fast Cavalry special rule, they have Movement 9 steeds and they can all take repeater crossbows. Throw in spears, Always Strikes First and Murderous Prowess and Dark Riders will not only dominate the vast majority of chaff units they find - ethereal chaff being the main exception - but they are one of the most cost effective and irritating units in the game. They are the perfect harassers and, unbelievably, come out of the Core section too. Dark Riders may as well be the perfect unit and are amazingly just one part of the unholy chaff domination duo.
Witch Elves - If you like the idea of a Core meat grinder unit, then Witch Elves are possibly the best in that most narrow of fields you could find. They drop like flies to any kind of resistance with Toughness 3 and no save of any kind, but their damage potential is almost unheard of for a Core unit that isn't from the Ogre Kingdoms or Warriors of Chaos books. Each Witch Elf has three Strength 3 Poisoned attacks that get to make full use of Always Strikes First at Initiative 6, decent Weapon Skill 4 and Murderous Prowess. They will absolutely maul other lightly armoured units and, with the right buffs and supporting units, can monster even the nastiest death stars in the game with little difficulty. Yes, just like Ogres with their "Gutstars", Dark Elves can feasibly run a Core unit death star. It's hard to look down on a super duper blender unit when the majority of it comes out of your required Core points! Frenzy does make them somewhat unreliable even with Leadership 8, though easily accessed re-rolls and the high Leadership of most Dark Elf characters should mean this isn't much of an issue overall. They can be used as Frenzied chaff units that will, even more so than Dark Riders, obliterate enemy chaff units with ease and even serve as really nasty small flanking units. A Cauldron of Blood can also be implemented to buff Witch Elves to ridiculous levels by giving each model a 5+ ward save, re-rolling all failed to wound rolls, potentially extra attacks through its bound spell and a big and tough model that eats up a lot of room in a formation. Regardless of how you use Witch Elves, their damage potential is simply insane for a unit that is in a slot filled mostly with weak units across Fantasy armies.
Dark Riders and Witch Elves are easily the best choices available here, with the former being arguably the best chaff unit in the game and the latter one of the more deadly Core units yet seen. Black Ark Corsairs are a good unit that is one of the better anvils in the army book, while Darkshards are an ok but ultimately expensive ranged unit. Dreadspears and Bleakswords are simply too expensive and fragile for what they bring and simply don't compare at all to, say, Witch Elves.
Cold One Knights - The standard 2+ armoured heavy cavalry of the army book, Cold One Knights stand above most others through their unique mix of special rules and damage output even after the charge. Though Movement 7 is fairly typical, Stupidity is not and can be quite a damaging factor even with Leadership 9 thrown in the mix. Ultimately though, a cheap as chips magic banner option or a nearby Battle Standard Bearer negates most of the downsides of Stupidity, so it isn't a major issue. They might be only Toughness 3 with a 2+ armour save, but their damage output and special rules more than make up for this. Each Knight has a single Strength 6 attack on the charge combined with two Strength 4 attacks per mount. The latter comes with a topping of Fear, while the former combines Weapon Skill 5 and Always Strikes First at Initiative 6. For their cost, Cold One Knights are very strong as far as heavy cavalry are concerned, able to severely cripple other units before they can retaliate. However, the main selling point of Cold One Knights is the fact that the whole model brings three Strength 4 attacks with Fear. This might seem trivial at first, but compared to most other heavy cavalry units, this means Cold One Knights will actually still be quite damaging after the charge. This is in direct contrast to a unit such as High Elf Dragon Princes where they are very damaging on the charge but lose their combat effectiveness rather severely on the subsequent turn.
Black Guard of Naggarond - This is a very interesting unit, one that is built as the armies' main anvil unit but still shares that pathetic Toughness 3 and 5+ armour save. The reason they are more defensive in application than Executioners is that Black Guard come stock with both Immune to Psychology and Stubborn that, with Leadership 9, means they can hold up almost anything as long as they have bodies to spare. They are also quite decent on the damage front with each having two Strength 4 attacks at Weapon Skill 5 that always re-roll to hit due to Eternal Hatred. As you might have guessed, they also have Always Strikes First and Murderous Prowess. Essentially, Black Guard are the "specialist" light to medium infantry blenders of the army book as opposed to Core Witch Elves. It is for this reason that I'm not a major fan of Black Guard; their role is already filled by units such as Witch Elves and they are a lot more expensive per model to boot. They are as "difficult" to kill as a Dreadspear that is six points cheaper per model or, if you really want to stretch it, an Empire Spearmen that is almost ten points less expensive per model. Their damage output is good against lightly armoured units, no doubt, but without an expensive Razor Standard they can't do too much against heavily armoured enemies. For their cost, they don't bring the insane defensive capabilities of Phoenix Guard or the crazy offensive potential of Executioners which sadly narrows their usage. They are hardly an ineffective unit, of course, but they really need a Cauldron of Blood to be effective. The Cauldron gives them a unit-wide 6+ ward save - effectively parry saves with no restrictions - re-rolls of all failed to wound rolls and potential Frenzy, as well as D6+1 Strength 5 Impact Hits. Without Khaine's Altar, I just don't see this unit ever justifying its exorbitant points cost.
Competitive? With a Cauldron of Blood; yes. Without a Cauldron of Blood; no.
Shades - When I first reviewed these guys, the first thought that popped into my mind was "why are Darkshards so expensive?". Shades essentially exchange (rather pointless) light armour for Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill 5 as well as both the Scouts and Skirmishers special rules. The first special rule lets them deploy anywhere on the battlefield that is 12" away from an enemy unit, meaning that with their Ballistic Skill 5 Repeater Crossbows, they can put pressure on war machines on the very first turn of the game. The latter lets them fire their Repeater Crossbows even after marching - though with a usual move and shoot penalty applied - switches their formation to a loose concentration and makes them harder to hit for enemy ranged attacks. This makes Shades incredibly flexible and probably the best war machine hunting units in the army, something that can be invaluable when considering the elite nature of the force and number of monsters available. The smattering of Dark Elf rules in Always Strikes First and Murderous Prowess means that they will dominate chaff units and war machine crews in combat for the most part. They might not be as high quality an overall unit as Dark Riders, but they are nonetheless again at the top of the pile in their role.
Cold One Chariot - One of the more surprising revelations about the Dark Elf army book was how well designed the chariots are as opposed to the High Elf equivalents from the same author. Seriously, would you ever actually want to take a White Lion Chariot over a Cold One Chariot even with just an initial glance at both units' profiles? Anyway, a Cold One Chariot manages to compare very well to the Core Chaos Chariot though thankfully (from a balance perspective) it isn't quite as nasty as that. This has four Toughness 5 wounds with a 3+ armour save, making it far more survivable than any other Elven chariot. It inflicts D6+1 impact hits at Strength 5, with a flavouring of four Strength 4 attacks and two Strength 5 attacks, on the charge. The two riders even have Repeater Crossbows, with the model as a whole having six Strength 4 attacks on a turn in which it doesn't charge. Looking at the points cost, the Cold One Chariot could easily be seen as the most cost effective chariot in the game that isn't also a war machine (Khorne and Iron be damned!). The issue here is, like with Cold One Knights, Stupidity at a high Leadership 9. While it won't come into effect that often, the risk is nonetheless a pretty significant deterrent when you are trying to set up important multiple-unit charges. Movement 7 means they shouldn't range too far ahead of your Battle Standard Bearer unless they are on opposite sides of the field, so I don't see this is as a major issue. It is undoubtedly why the Cold One Chariot is so cheap but I think that it is more of an annoyance than anything else. That leads us to just one conclusion; this is one of the best damn chariots in Warhammer Fantasy.
Har Ganeth Executioners - Much like Swordmasters and White Lions before them, Executioners are that rare breed of unit that combines Always Strikes First with Always Strikes Last through the use of great weapons. Each Executioner has a single Weapon Skill 5, Initiative 5 attack at Strength 6 with the Killing Blow special rule, making them the primary armour-busting unit of the codex. Like with Wights from the Vampire Counts codex, a unit sporting Killing Blow is very scary for enemy characters - though where Wights are mostly average in combat and heavily reliant on magical buffs, Executioners don't need much support at all. Of course Executioners are only Toughness 3 with a 5+ armour save, but where Black Guard are significantly more expensive than similarly disadvantaged (in terms of survivability) units, Executioners are almost mind-bogglingly cheap. What makes Executioners so ridiculous is not only that they strike at Initiative 5 and Strength 6, but that they bring Killing Blow and re-rolls of 1s to wound in close combat. Against Toughness 4 and lower models - i.e. the vast majority in the game - Executioners will be wounding on 2s with re-rolls with the potential for ignoring armour and killing outright on to wound rolls of a 6. Leadership 9 and Weapon Skill 5 may as well be an after thought for this crazily devastating unit.
Reaper Bolt Thrower - Identical in every way to the appropriately priced High Elf version, the Reaper Bolt Thrower gets its only distinction by being a Special unit instead of a Rare unit. Where High Elves struggle immensely to fit in Bolt Throwers in their Rare slot due to high quality units such as Great Eagles, Sisters of Averlorn and Frostheart Phoenixes, moving them to Special for Dark Elves eliminates this congestion issue entirely. There is really no reason not to take four Reaper Bolt Throwers if they are available to you because they don't eat up many points and are some of the best anti-monster and anti-cavalry units the army can get. Aside from perhaps the Goblin equivalents, Dark Elves and High Elves share the best Bolt Thrower in the game, with the former able to feasibly use more without compromising on other important unit selections. These are great in any army list, even an otherwise highly mobile one.
Harpies - While I might be a firm believer in Shades, Harpies are nonetheless a very effective unit in a similar role too. These are reasonably priced flying light infantry with two Strength 3 attacks at Initiative 5 per model; oddly enough, that is all there is to their abilities. Exchanging Weapon Skill 5 for an extra attack generally favours the Harpies in terms of damage output, though when fighting war machine crews this largely doesn't matter. The main selling point of Harpies is their Flying movement which they get as opposed to Scouts and Skirmishers. This means that while they can't set up close to their preferred targets, they can avoid other units with ease; however, Leadership 6 means they are easily panicked and will often be march blocked. While I don't think they are the best chaff unit Dark Elves have by any means with at least three coming to mind I feel are superior overall choices, Harpies are nonetheless a decent unit with a lot of potential uses. If playing Vampire Counts has taught me anything it is is that winning the chaff war is pivotal, and these flying bird-human hybrids will help you do that. Unfortunately, I'm just not sold on them as much as am with those other chaff units, especially when Harpies cost the same as Black Guard. You can get Core Dark Riders and spend those points on Black Guard or, heck, Cold One Cavalry instead. Again, less a case of the actual unit being bad, but more a reflection on the army book and the meta.
Scourgerunner Chariot - Another new unit added to the mix, the Scouregunner faces some pretty stiff competition from the Cold One Chariot right off the bat and, sadly, I don't think it really stacks up. To be fair, the Scourgerunner fills an entirely different role to the Cold One Chariot; it is less of a pure combat chariot and more of a ranged support unit. It has Strength and Toughness 4 with a 5+ armour save while also lacking Scythes, making it immediately less potent and survivable than the Cold One Chariot. It loses out on four Strength 4 attacks from the steeds while it trades two Strength 5 attacks with four Strength 4 attacks from the riders, though the riders do keep the repeater crossbows. Leadership 8 without Stupidity is a bit of a wash against Leadership 9 with Stupidity, though the main selling point of the Scourgerunner is its unique mounted bolt thrower. This trades out the "Multiple Shots" alternate firing mode for half the range, 24" to be exact, and Strength 7. This generally means it will have a hard time hitting its target between movement and that short range, though to offset this it can "drag" wounds monsters D6" towards the chariot and inflict another wound with no armour saves allowed on it. Ultimately, especially considering how inaccurate this weapon is, I think it should have been a lot cheaper than it ended up being. At nearly a third of the cost higher than a Cold One Chariot, I just don't see the value here sadly.
War Hydra - As much as the new incarnation of this beast has nothing on the old one, I still think the War Hydra is a very useful unit. The stats are actually quite good with Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill 4, Strength and Toughness 5 with four wounds and a 4+ armour save. With a choice between two ranged weapon upgrades and a plethora of attacks, the Hydra isn't just your simple "lumbering monster that is easy to hit but hits hard". No, this one actually has some unique traits to keep in mind, with one of those being a pitiful Initiative 2. This makes it quite vulnerable to spells such as the Purple Sun or the Pit of Shades, but it also means it will strike after most other enemies. When units such as Executioners and Skullcrushers are running around with all their Strength 5 or 6 attacks, this is definitely not a good thing. Otherwise, the Hydra is one crazy monster with its two unique special rules, the first of which gives it three attacks base plus one per remaining wound it has. This means an unharmed Hydra has a whopping eight attacks at Strength 5 and Weapon Skill 4, though obviously that Initiative 2 and its decent but hardly special defensive stats will see that total decrease quickly.
Where the Hydra can get a little bit ridiculous against certain enemies is in its other special rule which allows it to regrow wounds on a 4+ at the end of each friendly turn, rolling a number of dice equal to how many wounds it has lost. Yes, this is what Tyranid Regeneration really should have been and yes, it is awesome. What this effectively means is that if your opponent doesn't put the Hydra down in a single game turn, it can keep regaining wounds and continue fighting with all those Strength 5 attacks and Thunderstomps. Basically, if your opponent lacks either war machines or lots of high Strength attacks - or both - then a War Hydra, even alone and unsupported, will wreak havoc across infantry formations with ease and regrow wounds as fast as it loses them. Combined with a cheap Strength 4 Flaming Breath Weapon upgrade, the Hydra is an infantry masher like few others of the monstrous kind. You can argue Witch Elves make it redundant in a sense with their massed Poisoned attacks, but Strength 5 and its cost nonetheless have me seeing a good, but not over-powered, unit.
The vast majority of Special choices are hits rather than misses, with only the Scourgerunner Chariot and Harpies not being all that worthwhile. Executioners, Shades and Reaper Bolt Throwers in particular are fantastic units, with Cold One Knights and Black Guard supported by a Cauldron of Blood sitting just under that level, I think. Hydras are good units that trade raw survivability for insane damage capabilities, while Black Guard without a Cauldron of Blood are very expensive and thus are a rather iffy choice.
Doomfire Warlocks - I already mentioned that these might compete with Dark Riders for the best Fast Cavalry unit in the game, and the reasons for this are almost too good to believe. Their profile is mostly the same, albeit with Strength 4 and an extra attack per model making them immediately more dangerous in combat. The steeds are identical, but with the rider having Poisoned Attacks on top of the standard Dark Elf special rules, Warlocks are a much stronger melee unit than Dark Riders. Instead of a 4+ armour save, Warlocks get a crazy 4+ unit-wide ward save that only ever ceases to apply against wounds caused by models with the Mark or Daemon of Slaanesh special rule. Slaanesh isn't the most common Chaos God, of course, so this means your "chaff" unit will almost always be sporting that great 4+ ward save. While Warlocks lack Repeater Crossbows and Spears, they make up for this by being a "wizard unit" where they count as a Level 2 Wizard. I mentioned in the Sorceress review that, while a good choice, they suffer because they compete with Doomfire Warlocks. For the same rough cost as a single model with two Toughness 3 wounds, no saves that is a Level 2 Wizard, you get five single wound models with Toughness 3 that are all mounted on Dark Steeds, have two Strength 4 Poisoned Attacks each and a 4+ ward save. Yikes! This is made even crazier by the fact that Warlocks effectively ignore miscasts by only suffering D3 wounds that ignore armour saves instead. Funny that they all have a 4+ ward save, no?
Of course their spell selection is important in determining their relative worth to a Sorceress, and while Warlocks always know the same two spells, you will love the ones they do get. Doombolt gives them an easy to cast direct damage spell that is great for clearing out enemy chaff - Warlocks only really struggle in combat against ethereal chaff which is hard counted by a Strength 5 direct damage spell - and they get one of the best Lore of Death spells in Soulblight. Yes, each of your Warlock units not only has one of the stronger direct damage spells, they also always get to inflict a -1 Strength and -1 Toughness hex on opponents with a decently low casting value. If you are left saying "wow" then don't feel alone; I'm still trying to work out just how amazingly good this unit is. It gets even better once you remember that Dark Elf characters on Dark Steeds always get the Fast Cavalry special rule regardless of their equipment. This leads to some of the more ferocious "buses" in the game right now, combining cheap 1+ armoured characters in the front rank with 4+ ward saves on the rank and file that are both nasty wizards and crazily fast with Movement 9 and the Fast Cavalry special rule. Warlocks are just an insanely good unit that can either be used as five-strong chaff units or as full on combat units.
Bloodwrack Medusa - This is one of the more interesting units in the army book, if only because it is really rather unique. The Medusa is the only monstrous infantry unit in the army book and yet can only ever be taken solo. It has a very similar profile to a standard Ogre, but is triple the cost of one that hasn't been upgraded. So what makes the Medusa tick, exactly? Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill 5 combined with Initiative 5 and the usual smattering of Dark Elf rules usually reserved for the elves themselves make it an above average fighter, though its complete lack of saving throws makes up for this. It has three attacks base with Frenzy, though Leadership 2 means that it is quite possibly the most easily baited unit in the game if it ever falls outside of your general's Inspiring Presence bubble. It is slightly faster than an Ogre with Movement 7, but it trades Ogre Charge and Impact Hits for its unique Avert Your Gaze and Bloodwrack Stare special rules. Avert Your Gaze inflicts automatic Strength 4 hits with both Killing Blow and no armour saves allowed on enemy models in base contact with the Medusa at the start of each close combat phase, provided that the models fail Initiative tests. The Bloodwrack Stare is a magical shooting attack with a rather puny 12" range that is Strength 4 with Killing Blow and again ignores armour saves, though it wounds against opponents' Initiative rather than Toughness. This uses the Multiple Shots (4) special rule as well that, with the 12" range and probable movement of the Medusa to be in range to fire, will usually see it hitting on a 5+. This is a creature that will dominate most enemy chaff, can deal with Ethereal units and can prove a real threat to enemy characters if you charge it into a flank with its Killing Blow stare. The applications are there for sure, even if I feel the cost is a bit exorbitant. Does it have a place, though? I would say yes, yes it does. It needs to pair up with a Dark Rider unit in front to screen it and prevent Frenzy baiting, but otherwise it makes for a good wizard assassin and chaff unit.
Kharibdyss - The first true sea monster for an army that is renowned for their escapades on the tides, the Kharibdyss is the new kit sibling to the Hydra and one of the better value monsters in the game right now. Toughness 5, five wounds and a 4+ armour save mean the Kharibdyss really isn't that tough, especially as it lacks the wonky "Regeneration" the Hydra possesses. However, the frightening devastation a Kharibdyss can sow is really rather astoundingg. Weapon Skill 5 and Initiative 4 give it better than average combat stats for a monster which, combined with a whopping Strength 7 and five attacks, pretty clearly set its role as a monster-hunting monster. Just rolls off the tongue, no? Its Leadership 6 does make it vulnerable to Panic tests and breaking from combat on a bad roll, but its good stats will usually see it through once it does get up close. Movement 6 is pretty standard for a monster, though the Thunderstomp at Strength 7 is downright scary. The Kharibdyss' uses don't stop there, though, with its unique Abyssal Howl and Feast of Bones special rules making it even more of a generalist unit. The former special rule forces enemy units in base contact with the monster to re-roll successful Leadership tests, something that stacks rather nicely with its Terror and the Leadership-reducing rules in the rest of the army. The latter inflicts an additional D6 Strength 7 hits on a single enemy model if that model was hit by all of a Kharibdyss' five attacks, making it much more situational but also something of a terror weapon against opponents trying to decide if they want to risk attacking the sea beast with their own monster. While being a Rare choice does see it competing with the likes of Warlocks for space, the Kharibdyss is very cheap for what it brings and really sets the standard for monster pricing in an 8th Edition army book. It is a good unit that combines high damage potential and good stats with a nasty ability that acts almost as a "negative Battle Standard Bearer", and it has a surprisingly low cost despite all that.
Bloodwrack Shrine - A chariot with mostly similar stats to the Cauldron of Blood that differs in application entirely, the Bloodwrack Shrine is an under-rated unit that works best as part of an anvil unit for the most part. First off, it has five Toughness 6 wounds with a 6+ armour save for defence, meaning it can shrug off low Strength hits but can't really take on serious aggression from kitted out characters or monsters. It can join units exactly like a Cauldron, meaning that the 15 model spaces it takes up in a standard infantry unit allow the Shrine to be used as a giant "filler" model with a rock hard Toughness 6 three-wide frontage. It causes Terror and brings Magic Resistance 1 to its unit, as well as D6+1 Impact Hits at Strength 5. The Medusa on top of the Bloodwrack Shrine is virtually identical to the one on foot, save that this one actually can't be targeted separately from the chariot itself. Yes, this means that the significantly larger model base works for the Avert Your Gaze special rule, forcing lots of Initiative tests that, if failed, will see models suffering Strength 4 hits with no armour saves allowed with Killing Blow as an aside. The Bloodwrack Stare is still the same unfortunately, but I guess it can be a decent little shooting attack for trying to kill off nearby enemy heavy cavalry. The Shrine also adds another two Strength 3 attacks on top of the Medusa's three Strength 4 attacks, making it decent in close combat but not really comparable to a Death Hag on a Cauldron of Blood.
However, the defining attribute of the Bloodwrack Shrine is its' Aura of Agony; friendly Dark Elf units within 6" get +1 Leadership, while enemy units instead get -1 Leadership. There are two schools of thought to this, however; the first is that the rule is badly worded and applies the Aura to all units within 6", not individual models. The second is that the rule is written as it should be and is, as such, not as useful as it could be. The rules for Leadership mean that units use the highest value in their unit, so if that 6" range doesn't touch the entirety of a unit, then it doesn't get the penalty. Obviously this is only an issue when concerning enemy units, as the +1 bonus to Dark Elves will see them using the affected models' Leadership if it is the highest in the unit. For enemies though, per the rules, even if all but one are in range, they will still be using their base Leadership for any required tests. Luckily enough, however, this is actually better in practice than it is on paper, and the justification comes from some simple measurement examples. A 5 wide and 4 deep infantry unit on the standard 20mm square bases measures about 3" from front to back. A Bloodwrack Shrine is roughly three wide in terms of 20mm square bases, meaning that it can effectively "touch" a full five wide and eight deep unit of infantry on 20mm square bases, provided the aura only needs to touch part of the base of a model to work. That doesn't actually seem so limited now does it? Only unnaturally wide formations - such as hordes - or very deep units on larger 40mm bases will ignore this Aura completely, meaning it will be affecting usually just the Shrines' attached unit and the enemy unit they are in combat with. This might not seem that great, but when combined with a deep unit such as a narrow formation of Black Ark Corsairs or Sisters of Slaughter, even units as small as 10 models, it becomes a really cost effective defensive unit that gives Dark Elves their best proper anvil.
Sisters of Slaughter - If you have ever wanted gladiators in a Dark Elf army, then Sisters of Slaughter are your perfect partner. At first they seem like expensive Witch Elves without the Poisoned Attacks, sharing mostly the same profile and thus lacking saves with only Toughness 3 as a defence. However, Weapon Skill and Initiative 6 combined with two attacks per model and Leadership 9 make them more "effective" fighters than Witch Elves in a broad sense. Between a hand weapon and shield alongside a lack of Frenzy, Sisters are a more "controlled" unit that can't be baited out and has some defences. They get a 6+ armour save against shooting but not the 6+ parry save, the reason for this being that they have a superior 4+ ward save against close combat attacks. Strength 3 does still relegate them to being a rather mediocre combat unit, but their two unique special rules - anyone else noticed a pattern yet? - serve to make the difference yet again.
The first of these is what provides that all important 4+ ward save in combat, though the other effects of these rules are far more interesting. Enemy units in base contact with Sisters of Slaughter can't take parry saves and don't get to count rank bonuses against their combat resolution - though Steadfast as a result of having more ranks isn't negated. Additionally, Sisters get a +1 to hit and +1 to wound bonus against enemies that either have a high Weapon Skill or higher Strength value than the Sisters do. With Strength 3 this will come into effect quite a lot actually, and while it isn't as good as actually being Strength 4 in some cases, it makes them very effective against high Toughness models or even those with -1 to hit penalties. Basically, these are designed to not only negate a lot of the defensive potential of Dwarves, but they also laugh at the Mark and Daemon of Nurgle special rules. They are also one of the better units to combine with a Bloodwrack Shrine; ten Sisters of Slaughter deployed 5 wide with a Bloodwrack Shrine will make for a 5x5 unit that is Leadership 10, very hard to hurt, imposes a Leadership penalty on enemies, ignores rank bonuses and parry saves, and is pretty decent in terms of damage. This is what I call the "super anvil" that will beat down steadfast blocks of units such as Empire Spearmen or Skaven Clanrats, win in combat resolution and have enough ranks to possibly deny Steadfast, then win by a landslide with all the Leadership and combat resolution penalties it imposes, leading to an easily broken enemy unit. It is damned nasty! Otherwise, Sisters make a good flanking unit that is rather expensive and fragile, especially against shooting, but can be used to great effect against enemies relying on their ranks and parry saves to hold out.
Surprisingly all of the units here are worthwhile, with Doomfire Warlocks in particular being one of the best units in the game right now. Bloodwrack Shrines and Kharibdyss' are good choices, with Sisters of Slaughter and Bloodwrack Medusae being more specialized but still effective overall.
And that's a wrap, everybody! I am intrigued to hear if you guys like
these kinds of summary articles ala my original Chaos Space Marines
Tactica' playing out as introductions to the full-on Tactica Series'
themselves. I also would like to see how each individual unit has been
performing for you in your own Dark Elf armies; have the Druchii lived
up their name as merciless slaughterers, or have they been mewling
cowards unable to bring back noteworthy plunder? Thanks for the support,
and I hope you have a nice