14 May 2014

Black Ark Khaederes - Project Log 1

Hey there everyone, it's Learn2Eel here and I wanted to provide a proper update on the progress of my Dark Elf force. Black Ark Khaederes has been mostly successful so far with several victories, one crushing defeat and a very closely fought loss. Though I don't feel I have the time to really commit to a Dark Elf Tactica series as it would be put on hold almost immediately by the advent of 7th Edition 40K, I can at least provide you all with my impressions of how the Druchii fight. I hope you find this article useful!

Overall Army Thoughts

Most of the games I have played in so far have been at the 2500 point level with the only exceptions being closely fought Triumph and Treachery matches, so I have had a lot of different units and tactics to work with. My current army list using all the models I own - plus a few proxies - isn't exactly what you would call "top tier", but I feel it is decent enough and gives me a bit of flexibility. That I basically got this army over the course of a month and use lots of my old High Elf Spearmen as Dreadspears means I can't complain too much about how good the list is right now! Taking what usually amounts to two Stupidity and two Frenzy tests a turn is a big change from the total control I have over my Vampire Counts army, but Inspiring Presence, a Battle Standard Bearer and the Gleaming Pennant have mitigated these to almost a non-issue. Having to actually worry about running from combat and taking Psychology tests has placed much more consideration on to which engagements to handle, and being so fragile as an Elf army has me fearing shooting like never before. Also, having access to nine spell lores in total gives me a degree of flexibility I haven't enjoyed since I pulled out my High Elves well over a year ago, though so far I have only really used the Lore of Life on my Supreme Sorceress. With that said, I'll cut to the chase and present to you the current fighting force of the Dreadlord Khaedes (who so far has only taken the field on one occasion!);

2500 Points, Dark Elves, Warhammer Fantasy

Supreme Sorceress w/ Level Four Wizard, Dispel Scroll, Dragonbane Gem

Death Hag w/ Cauldron of Blood
Master w/ Heavy Armour, Sea Dragon Cloak, Enchanted Shield, Dawnstone, Sword of Might, Battle Standard Bearer

Witch Elves (27) w/ Hag, Musician, Standard Bearer, Razor Standard
Dreadspears (25) w/ Champion, Musician, Standard Bearer

Executioners (28) w/ Draich-Master, Musician, Standard Bearer, Standard of Discipline
Cold One Knights (10) w/ Musician, Standard Bearer
Cold One Knights (5)

Doomfire Warlocks (5)
Doomfire Warlocks (5)
Bloodwrack Medusa

The list is pretty simple in application; the small Cold One Knight unit, the Warlocks and the Medusa act as flanking units packing a serious punch. I rarely outnumber my opponent in terms of drops but my "chaff" tends to beat theirs into submission. I try to keep the Medusa within the 12" Inspiring Presence bubble of my Supreme Sorceress early on so she doesn't get Frenzy baited into accomplishing nothing. Lady Nepthephs the Supreme Sorceress takes the Lore of Life for the massive defensive bonus it provides to Executioners and Witch Elves who don't really need help on the offence, while she teams up with Ceres the Battle Standard Bearer in the Executioner unit. The draich-wielding elite of Har Ganeth are run six wide and five deep so that they don't lose out too quickly on their rank bonuses, as once my Life magic is neutered they drop like flies.

The Witch Elves are obviously joined by the Death Hag on the Cauldron and I tend to put them in a seven wide and six deep formation, but in the last game they featured in I switched it up by putting them in horde formation at ten wide and four deep. The results of the latter were very impressive, but I am concerned about losing ranks quickly as even with the 5+ ward save I have found my (lack of) dice luck has seen the Witch Elves die in droves anyway. The Dreadspears are deployed five wide and five deep in a proper anvil formation, and they fill their purpose as Core point fillers and a supporting block to either the Witch Elves or the Cold One Knights. Speaking of the Knights, the ten strong unit goes five wide and two deep to provide as small a footprint as possible while maintaining an impressive 20 attacks on the charge when accounting for both riders and mounts. The rest of the units are rather self explanatory, though I have to give special mention to the Medusa; I was under the impression this was a non-competitive unit and had no intention of fielding her, but getting her as an added unit to my Cauldron of Blood (and Crone Hellebron) for the price of one kit has had me give her a go.

As far as competitive Dark Elf lists go, this one definitely doesn't rate very highly at all with its lack of effective means to deal with monsters or a high number of both chaff and war machine units. Even before considering all the damage they would do to my Toughness 3 and 5+ save Elves, a Gryocopter and Dwarf war machine spam list would see me left utterly incapable of victory. Reaper Bolt Throwers and Dark Riders are so integral to competitive Dark Elf play alongside Doomfire Warlocks that I have definitely felt the weight of their exclusion in my games so far; where my Vampires always win in both deployment and chaff, my Dark Elves have had no such luck. The Executioner unit is fairly standard, as are the Witch Elves - though the Cauldron of Blood is generally seen as an inferior choice to just taking the equivalent points in Brides of Khaine - but the Dreadspears in particular don't really belong in a good army list. I used to love all the special rules my High Elf Spearmen had, but as the games went on I realized that any time they ever did anything of note it was always against either other "weak" Core units such as Empire Spearmen or when they were buffed to crazy levels by magic. They just aren't a quality unit and I have been left with that distinct feeling of disappointment in all but one of the games I used them in - and the one combat they did well in was against the weakest unit imaginable!

The Cold One Knights are good but nothing spectacular as I feel the equivalent points in Executioners will generally win out, especially since the new Wood Elf book hard counters them so badly. Ballistic 5 shooting at Strength 3 that ignores all armour saves is damned good when the target is a mere Toughness 3 such as Cold One Knights, so I feel that a resurgence of Wood Elves will probably see these really fall out of favour. Don't get me wrong though, Cold One Knights are some of the better heavy cavalry units in the game with their reliability and damage output, but I just think with so many armour ignoring options from cheap Bolt Throwers and Waywatchers that their Toughness 3 is a bit of a trap. On the flip side, a first glance at the Medusa's rules had almost everyone saying it was terrible, but my experience - and that of some famous Dark Elf players - has surprisingly proved otherwise. The points you pay gets you one of the stronger chaff and wizard killers in the game, the only issue being that dreadful Leadership 2 with Frenzy. I probably will drop this model once I get my full fighting force up, but she has been a decent performer so far and I would recommend Dark Elf players to give her a shot in a few games.

Three Key Notes

On the Dark Elves as a whole and how they perform generally, I can definitively say three things about them that I feel no one can dispute.

1) They are even more fragile than High Elves. The Asur are the most defensively suited of three Elf factions with their native spell lore providing unit-wide ward saves, plenty of heavy cavalry, natural anvils like Phoenix Guard and the strength-draining Frostheart Phoenix. The Wood Elves lack armour of almost any kind and thus beat out Dark Elves on the fragility title - though the ward counters do give them some leeway - but yeah, just how easy to kill are Dark Elves? Our heavy infantry and primary armour killers in Executioners are Toughness 3 with a 5+ armour save the same as a Core Dreadspear, while Witch Elves get no saves at Toughness 3 or perhaps a 5+ ward save from an expensive Cauldron of Blood. Where High Elves can at least take the Banner of the World Dragon and army-wide 2+ armour saves through Core heavy cavalry as well as the massive defensive boosts provided by Frostheart Phoenix combo-charges, the Dark Elves really get no such luck. The Druchii answer to Phoenix Guard - those 5+ armoured, 4+ ward toting Fear-causing disciples of Asuryan - are Black Guard, who trade the ward save and Fear for better offensive stats and Stubborn. Being Stubborn naturally is nice on Leadership 9 models, but having a unit-wide 4+ ward save is so much better when both units are Toughness 3.

2) Re-rolls are amazing. As a High Elf "veteran" I know all about how good re-rolls to hit are across almost the entire army, especially when your lowest Weapon Skill value combined with Always Strikes First is four. However, Murderous Prowess is the really alluring part of this army and the one that I always thought was inferior to Martial Prowess - oh how wrong I have been! Re-rolling 1s to wound for units like Dreadspears tends to lose out to an extra rank of attacks, but having that ability combined with Strength 6 attacks leads to lots of lovely butter slicing. Executioners and Cold One Knights with this ability are bonkers in damage output, with the latter re-rolling to hit and wound all rolls against Toughness 4 opponents with Initiative 6 or less. Yikes! With how cheap so many Dark Elf units are, packing in this extra reliability just pushes some of them into ridiculous tier.

3) Nothing beats a good offence. You've all probably heard the reverse side of this adage before, but I feel this one in particular is true of Dark Elves. They will die in droves unless you pick your fights properly and make full use of their high mobility, but by Khaine do they hit like a tonne of bricks. Witch Elves are, in my experience, the most damaging Core units in Warhammer Fantasy per point spent. Three Strength 3 attacks with Always Strikes First, Murderous Prowess and Poisoned Attacks with all the joy of a slightly boosted Elf stat line is as ridiculous as it sounds, especially when each model is only barely above the ten point mark. Executioners, on the other hand, bust monstrous cavalry and heavy cavalry like few others with Strength 6 Killing Blow attacks all at Weapon Skill and Initiative 5 that re-roll 1s to wound. Even getting the charge off with an Empire Inner Circle Knight bus on a unit of Executioners could prove very costly! Combine this with a Cauldron of Blood giving re-rolls to wound in both shooting and combat for things like Reaper Bolt Throwers and Darkshards, or take something as simple as the massed Strength 4 Poisoned attacks on a fast cavalry unit like Warlocks, and it is easy to see just how pleasing the Druchii are to Khaine.

The Performances

It's time to get down and dirty, it's time to be brutally honest; this is where I get to tell just how well (or not) these units have been performing for me so far. From best to worst, these are the Druchii servants of Dreadlord Khaedes! The units reviewed include; Supreme Sorceress, Master, Death Hag, Cauldron of Blood, Dreadspears, Witch Elves, Cold One Knights, Executioners, Hydras, Doomfire Warlocks and Bloodwrack Medusae.

Witch Elves - Oh. My. Word. I've already mentioned how insane these ladies are, but actually controlling them and seeing them butcher everything from three units of twelve or more Bretonnian Knights at once who all charged in the same turn to sizable Saurus blocks has been nothing short of astounding. Backed by a Cauldron of Blood, they murder everything! As long as you give them the Razor Standard, anything that doesn't have a 1+ armour save will leak wounds in the dozens against a big unit of Witch Elves. Their damage output is whopping even for many Special units in other armies, but they are Khaine-damned Core models. Core!? Heck, even without a Cauldron of Blood they have been spectacular for me; sixteen of them were charged by 26 Dwarf Warriors with shields, and the Witch Elves proceeded to kill over 10 Toughness 4, 4+ armoured models with 6+ parry saves in one round of combat. I don't think I can really give further praise to this unit, they just completely redefine the concept of Core units solely being chaff or tarpit units. They have only been wiped out once so far and have stood against staggering odds - such as the aforementioned three Bretonnian knight units - and are well deserving of my "Most Valuable Unit" award.

Supreme Sorceress - Do I even need to mention why the Supreme Sorceress is close to the top of the pile in terms of performances so far? Level 4 Wizards are mandatory to almost any competitive army list you can think of, and the Dark Elf equivalent is certainly as good as you would want one to be. Finding a place for her to hide isn't exactly easy, but with Life magic in a scary Executioner unit she tends to survive more often than not despite lacking a natural saving throw. Her Life magic has been pivotal to the survival of my Executioner block - and thus all three of my General, Magic and Battle Standard Bearer - while having Toughness 5 or 7 Witch Elves has made a huge difference in the games my opponent couldn't stop it.

Cauldron of Blood - Before I start, there's an important distinction I want to make; the Death Hag herself is not included here, as she has been far worse than the Cauldron so far. The Cauldron has only died in one game so far and that was from one of the worst cases of luck you could ever witness - march through a forest, roll a 1, roll a 3 to fail the 4+ ward save, roll a 5 to kill the chariot outright. Darn it all! Other than that, the re-rolls to all failed to wound rolls it provides to Witch Elves is insane. I rarely get to use its Strength 5 Impact Hits and my luck with the unit-wide 5+ ward save for the Witches has been sub-par at best, but those re-rolls...you get the picture from my earlier Witch Elf evaluation. Also, I find that sacrificing a lot of attacks to plonk a Toughness 6, 5 wound model with a 4+ ward save in the middle of my Witch Elves has actually saved me more combats than I could count. Forcing even a handful of attacks to hit it has seen me win or draw some incredibly tight melees, so in that sense it has been worth every point spent so far.

Executioners - Surprisingly, these haven't been the incredibly brutal melee monsters for me that I was led to believe they were by other Dark Elf players. Yes, for a single point more than an already inexpensive Witch Elf, the Weapon Skill/Initiative 5 and Strength 6 Executioner with both Killing Blow and re-rolls of 1s to wound is one of the best value great weapon units in the game. Still, they don't dish out that many attacks and they lack re-rolls to hit which quickly becomes an issue against high Weapon Skill foes like Warriors of Chaos or other Elves. The latter especially is a big nuisance with their Always Strikes First attacks going before the Executioners who are so darned fragile, but really I can't complain too much. The Executioners have been terrifying for my opponents who wouldn't dare risk charging them without support or focused most of their shooting on them, and they have won the vast majority of combats they were involved in. In that prior Bretonnian triple-knight unit charge on my Witch Elves I mentioned earlier, the Executioners got the all important flank charge off that won the game. They have been good, but I know they could be doing so much better.

Doomfire Warlocks - Panic on Leadership 8! Panic everywhere! I might be unlucky but that has been the story of my life with the Warlocks so far; I lose two to shooting or magic, they Panic and flee for two turns almost without fail. They are amazing for the points and I could talk for hours about the tactical applications of this unit, but their magic and 4+ ward save haven't worked out as well for me as I would have hoped. Their close combat prowess, on the other hand, has been stellar; they beat down other cavalry with ease and even run down light ranged units with multiple ranks all the while receiving a flank charge! Ten Strength 4 Poisoned attacks plus five Strength 3 attacks from a unit of five is amazing for a fast cavalry unit and is the only reason I am putting them high up on the list as, again to my surprise, their other traits haven't been all that great.

Master - I'm not rating these as highly as you would expect because my army rarely loses combats and has very high Leadership scores almost across the board, so the usefulness of the Battle Standard is reduced. They haven't been as pivotal as they are for armies like Ogre Kingdoms, but the re-rolls have certainly been useful enough. The typical 1+ armour with re-rolls and Strength 5 Battle Standard Bearer on foot build is definitely as good as everyone thought it was at release, and he has been a staple part of almost all my army lists - the only exceptions have been in games of 1500 points or less. He adds some much needed Always Strikes First attacks to my Executioner unit and is a great challenge hero.

Hydras - I'm going to put these here for two reasons; the first of which is that three of the four Hydras I have used across two games have died before they could ever reach combat, or got tied up by tough Chaos Chariots. Pretty damning, huh? The second is that the one Hydra that did make combat killed twenty Eternal Guard in one round of combat, then ran down a unit of Glade Guard who chose to flee from its ensuing charge. Don't let the army book reviews fool you, the new Hydra is still a good unit but it just can't deal with well armoured targets and lacks the ridiculous abilities of the previous one. Eight attacks and a Thunderstomp at Strength 5 plus a Strength 4 Breath Weapon will mulch through Toughness 4 and 4+ save or worse models like a knife through butter, almost like no other unit in the game really. By the by, that regrowing wounds is pretty damned crazy against armies that lack either reliable or high quantities of war machines!

Cold One Knights - These are some of my favourite Games Workshop models and their rules are really good as far as heavy cavalry units go, what with Strength 6 attacks that re-roll to hit and wound against most targets and a whole bunch of Strength 4 attacks from the mounts. Unfortunately, these have been decidedly average for me and it really pains me to say it. When they get the charge, they do pretty well for themselves but they certainly can't take on any serious combat unit unsupported. Most of the time though I find these just get shot to death either from war machines or Waywatchers - yeah, chalk up another hard counter to Toughness 3 heavy cavalry - or they just lose effectiveness very quickly with even a few attacks. My 2+ armour saves fail me so often and I lose attacks so darned quickly that I just can't rate these nobles that highly. My dice luck certainly has something to do with it, but I do keep asking myself that all important question; would I be better off with the equivalent points worth in Executioners?

Bloodwrack Medusa - Let's be honest here, a model with the same defensive stats as an Ogre bull at triple the cost and minus any saves probably won't be worth your time. However, when that model has four Strength 4 attacks, four Killing Blow shots that wound based on Initiative and forces Initiative tests in combat that if failed can also lead to outright death, it actually becomes a true glass cannon. The high stats, Movement 7, Always Strikes First, Murderous Prowess and lots of Killing Blow make the Medusa one of the deadliest "chaff" units in the game. In my experience, the Medusa tends to do one of three things; die horribly from early shooting, get Frenzy baited into uselessness, or charge something and make its points back immediately. My Medusa has claimed quite a few victims so far, most notable of which was her being almost entirely responsible for the second death of Arkhan the Black. She's too easy to kill and has died before making it into combat in all but one of my games, but when she has made it there she has made a big splash. Plus, the shooting she draws doesn't get aimed at my much more valuable Warlocks. Distraction Medusa? Yes please!

Death Hags - The reason I am rating these separately is because - to be brutally honest - the Death Hag is the stepping stone to the hilltop that is the Cauldron of Blood. She is too fragile to be a Battle Standard Bearer even on a Cauldron, and she is outperformed by a Master in almost any other role. Her damage output is decent enough on a Cauldron, but it really isn't worth the points I feel. By the by, in any game that the Cauldron of Blood has survived, the Death Hag has perished, mostly just to regular attacks from non character models. If only the Death Hag wasn't a mandatory part of the Cauldron...

Dreadspears - Hey look, its an Empire Spearman with +1 Movement, +1 Weapon Skill, +1 Ballistic Skill, +2 Initiative, +1 Leadership, Always Strikes First, Murderous Prowess and Hatred of High Elves all for just three points more per model! What an amazing deal! What a waste of time. Yes, they make Spearmen from other armies look pathetic by comparison. Yes, they have special rules as far as the eye can see. However, they are still Strength and Toughness 3 models with a 5+ armour save, no parry save and only one attack. They are more reliable fighters in terms of getting hits through, but even with the re-rolls of 1s they don't force nearly enough wounds to change the fact that they are designed to be an anvil. The Spearmen of other armies perform this role at a much lower cost per model and thus can feasibly run either deeper units or care little if their tarpit units perish. Sure, you can give these guys magic and make them quite strong, but those buffs are far better suited - and needed - on units like Black Guard or Executioners who are your real elite infantry. My thoughts on this unit have been proven by their performance in each of many games I have used them in; they aren't good at holding units up, and they aren't good at doing damage. Bleakswords practically invalidate Dreadspears as an anvil, and Witch Elves do far more damage. Their only notable achievements - and again, this is not an exaggeration - so far have been grinding down a Bretonnian Peasant Archer unit in combat and holding up a Scar Veteran on Carnosaur for two rounds of combat. If I didn't have to use my High Elf Spearmen as Dreadspears until I buy more Witch Elves/Corsairs/Dark Riders I would drop them in a heart-beat. They aren't worthless but they are the only unit that has been actively terrible in each and every game.

As you can see, most of my units have done pretty well, but some odd chickens like the Dreadspears and Death Hags haven't really been worth the effort. On the flip side, I can't really complain because the Dreadspears are filling up Core points that I am short on due to financial reasons, while the Death Hag is a necessary evil to conjure the Cauldron of Blood. My Dark Elves have been an effective fighting force so far, though heavy ranged forces such as Wood Elves really get me worried. In any case, I hope this has been a helpful article for any aspiring Dark Elf commanders out there. My thoughts and experiences will not reflect those of other Dark Elf players who have far more games under their belt than I, so I encourage you to have a look around and get as much information as possible on the army. With that said, I think I have prattled on long enough and thus I wish you all a very good day. Don't let the bed lizards bite!


  1. Executioners are perhaps my favorite unit in the new book. I usually run them as a 30-strong horde, led by Tullaris and a Death Hag w/ Witchbrew for double-frenzy. This gives each of them 3 attacks, and the whole unit will have 50 attacks to the front. Support with Life Magic as needed.

    Cold One Knights are another great unit. What I have found useful is to include a Sorceress on a Cold One with the unit, running Lore of Beasts. Wyssan's Wildform as the signature spell (+1 S & T, 10+ to cast) is exceptionally useful for an offensive and defensive boost. The best part? The Lore Attribute gives you a +1 bonus to cast, since it's a unit of cavalry.

    Anyway, just two quick suggestions that I have found useful for maximizing these units' potentials. Sa'anishar!

    1. Yeah running Executioners like that is definitely a viable tactic, pair it up with a Witch Elf star and your opponents will be having one heck of a tough time! I know they are an awesome unit, so far though they aren't doing all that well for me as they really should be.

      I might just have really horrid dice luck with my Cold One Knights as I know they are one of the best heavy cavalry units around, but I can't rate them too highly based on their performances so far. The Beasts support is a great idea, getting the +2 to cast on a Level 1 is very helpful. Toughness 4 Cold One Knights with Strength 7 attacks? Hoo boy!

      Cheers for the advice!