10 Apr 2015

Dark Eldar Unit Overview - Part III

Greetings my fellow debased kin and welcome to the third entry in my Dark Eldar Unit Overview mini-review series! I've found this codex to be much more impressive than a lot of the initial reception seemed to indicate, though obviously a lot of that may be rooted in the fact that it can and will struggle to deal with a lot of the truly top-tier builds - much like almost any 7th Edition codex, of course. In any case, I hope you enjoy my thoughts on the Elites and Fast Attack slots; the former is still nice with one greatly-improved unit, while the latter is stacked with excellent choices.


Incubi - I'm flabbergasted at how much this unit straddles the line between competitive and avoidable based purely on one mind-boggling but sadly expected omission with their rules. In theory, Incubi have all the tools they need to be a powerful and devastating melee unit; they have above-average Weapon Skill and Initiative, AP2 close combat weapons, a decent number of attacks, average Strength values, access to dedicated assault transports and good armour saves. The lack of an invulnerable save isn't as much of an issue once the unit reaches their preferred hunting ground in close combat, while both that issue and not being Fearless will be solved by Power from Pain as a match progresses. They have Fleet and high base Leadership to make them a very reliable combat unit, while in practice they certainly brutalize opponents such as Terminators that rely solely on their 2+ armour saves. The individual price of each model in a unit is pretty darned high given they are Toughness 3, 3+ armoured models that will usually be riding in the Warhammer 40,000 equivalent of paper planes, though the one true limitation to the unit is that it lacks assault grenades and thus will strike at Initiative 1 the moment it charges into close combat. That 3+ armour save of theirs will only carry them so far, especially as Feel No Pain provided by Power from Pain won't save them against Strength 6 attacks - many of which also ignore their armour saves - and thus their main saving grace is theoretically that they are Initiative 5. They will suffer casualties and thus lose lots of important attacks - and crucially expensive models - before they can strike when charging into cover, making an otherwise highly efficient melee unit a very unwieldy one. They did receive a very handy points reduction per model but the changes to Phantasm Grenade Launchers prevent users from solving the only actual problem everyone has with the unit.

Mandrakes - Continuing a trend with most recent codices, a once unusable unit in Mandrakes was thankfully fixed and elevated to competitive status with their latest rules incarnation. The sizable points reduction per model certainly helped, but it is in the special rules that Mandrakes saw by far the most significant improvements. First among these is that their sole ranged weapon, the Baleblast, can be fired freely rather than having to rely on the unit actually having a Pain Token which they always struggled to get; two shots at Strength 4 AP4 with Soul Blaze per Ballistic Skill 4 model at an 18" range is very decent indeed! They pack in all of the usual Dark Eldar special rules such as Power from Pain, Fleet and Night Vision, though they also kept their prior abilities such as Infiltrate and Move Through Cover. The awesome combination of both Shrouded and Stealth replaces their 'Daemonic' 5+ invulnerable save, making them incredibly difficult to shift from cover and a generally amazing skirmishing unit given that they Infiltrate and have two attacks each at Strength 4 or three on the charge at Strength 5 once they gain Furious Charge. Chuck in Fear, a standard Dark Eldar stat-line as well as base Strength 4 and you have yourself one of the best value infiltrating units around - they are incredibly difficult to kill outside of Ignores Cover weapons (which ruins their day, sadly) and have fantastic deployment and mobility in conjunction with good damage output. Their low cost per model and perfect fulfillment of the role of backfield hunters in the enemy deployment zone gives them a place in almost every Dark Eldar list, a far-cry from their days as one of the most universally derided units in the game.

Wracks - I really wish there were still ways to manipulate the Force Organization chart as being able to move Wracks to the Troops slot or just permanently moving them there would make them so much more viable. As an Elites choice, Wracks don't classify as an effective dedicated melee unit and aren't suited to ranged engagements; they were designed first and foremost as a tough scoring unit for an army that traditionally lacks those while being able to defend itself mildly well in close combat. That they aren't Troops makes using them for that purpose almost pointless given that they lack Objective Secured, especially once you consider that Toughness 4 with a 6+ armour save and Feel No Pain (5+) really isn't that great in terms of survivability. They are functionally easier to kill than Incubi, lack the important speed boost that Fleet provides to a melee unit and are far worse in combat than the armoured slaughterers against anything that isn't a monstrous creature. They are pretty darned cheap as one would expect of a Dark Eldar unit, but when you consider their pitiful saving throws and inability to benefit from a good chunk of the Power from Pain chart makes their price seem just a tad bit exaggerated. At the very least they are a better unit than Wyches because they are generally harder to kill and won't drop quite as rapidly to shooting attacks while also being a comparable or even superior melee unit, but considering they aren't Troops it is really hard to justify taking them over anything else in the Elites slot. Just take the cheaper Kabalite Warriors that can shoot instead and provide you with Objective Secured while using those valuable Elite slots to bring either true melee combatants such as Incubi and Grotesques or an awesome skirmishing unit such as Mandrakes. It doesn't help that their iconic Liquifier Guns were reduced to Strength 3, though their Ossefactors are decent enough special ranged weapons. Heck, even Poison isn't that much of an advantage anymore given the nerf it received by only providing re-rolls on to-wound rolls when the Strength value of the attacker is higher than the opponents' Toughness, making the Strength 3 Wracks - realistically - a mediocre combat unit at best.

Grotesques - In spite of the disappointment provided by Wracks, Grotesques shine as arguably the best all-round close combat units in the codex and their place in the new codex is sealed by a host of welcome improvements. Though they didn't see a points drop or a change in their stats, the entire unit now comes stock with Flesh Gauntlets that both give them an extra attack - meaning they have four each base - and make all of their melee strikes Poisoned (4+) in addition to the awesome ability to inflict Instant Death on to-wound rolls of a 6. With base Strength 5, this makes them a brutal counter to monstrous creatures and a highly efficient melee unit against most enemies - quite the opposite of Wracks! Add in Rampage and Grotesques become one heck of a scary combat squad with their plethora of high Strength poisoned attacks that have the potential to instantly slay enemies, while being Toughness 5 with 3 Wounds and Feel No Pain (5+) base makes them one of the toughest units around. Thankfully, their Berserk Rampage special rule was also removed so that players would never have to worry about a potentially game-losing special rule screwing them over at a random and crucial moment. With Raiders available to them as a Dedicated Transport, taking units of five in those gives you a well priced and super fast combat unit in an admittedly fragile assault transport. About the only real issue I have with Grotesques is that their base Leadership is terrible and they need to wait until the later turns of the game to gain the Fearless special rule from Power from Pain, though I've found losing combats with these to be extremely rare. They practically require a Raider at minimum to ferry around the battlefield but this won't be a problem for typical Dark Eldar lists that take both Raiders and Venoms in high quantities anyway.

Fast Attack

Beastmasters - While this might not be the unit it once was, that doesn't mean that is bad by any means; various lowered stats across each model are balanced by an overall points reduction, while the unit composition now provides more freedom of choice than previously. It is still fundamentally a fast, hard-hitting and tough assault unit that benefits greatly from allied Eldar psychic blessings, though the inability to provide it with all the ridiculous buffs and characters - the removal of Baron Sathonyx still hurts - stops it from being over-top. The utter lack of assault grenades and no option to provide them with that important wargear gives them a weakness they previously didn't have to worry about, though generally speaking it still functions as a "safer" version of Grotesques that doesn't require help with Leadership or an assault transport to ferry them around.

Raider - While I do recall many lamenting the lack of an effective price reduction to this staple of Dark Eldar armies during the codex release month, this still classifies as an ideal transport for an army that specializes in fast and hard-hitting units. While the version with a Dark Lance shares the same points cost, those who favour Disintegrator Cannons on their Raiders were given a welcome five point discount for their loyalty to a usually skipped weapon option. Generally speaking, it still functions much the same as it did back in 5th Edition despite a wealth of changes; you really don't need to bother with most of the upgrades much like before, nor do you want to over-invest in such a fragile unit. If memory serves it isn't quite as fast as it was but it also needn't worry about being destroyed automatically if it moves too far and fails a Dangerous Terrain test, while the new 7th Edition rule allowing templates to hit the occupants of open-topped transports has always seemed like a targeted nerf at Dark Eldar - one that was humorous but ultimately unnecessary. There are a load of other changes I addressed back when 7th Edition was released so I'll not repeat myself here, but in any case, the Raider is still the functional and useful transport it always was even if the inability to take Flickerfields does still make it a free kill for anyone with Ignores Cover weaponry. Perhaps the nicest "buff" it received was an indirect one; Eldar now want to use this as their go-to assault transport, increasing its' popularity two-fold. Oh, and did I mention these can now innately Deep Strike and thus have some hilarious combinations with characters bearing Webway Portals? Watch the look on an opponents face when a squad of Wraithguard armed with D-Scythes pops out of one of these from reserves with no scatter whatsoever, it will be priceless.

Venom - If you thought a price increase of 5 points to the dual splinter-cannon toting build for this deadly gun-boat was a bad thing, think again. This is still the most terrifying single model in the game for monstrous creatures and other high Toughness units to face, utterly negating their high Toughness values and destroying them from a relatively safe range of 36" with a ridiculous number of poisoned shots. The minor points increase is honestly negligible on a vehicle that terrorizes certain armies like no other, while its' innate Flickerfield providing a 5+ invulnerable save makes its paper-thin armour and two hull points not quite as alarmingly bad, while the added ability to Deep Strike is a nice touch. It is still the perfect transport for Kabalite Trueborn in particular and is even amusing as an "empty" transport in a Fast Attack slot, providing ridiculous anti-Toughness shooting that is a threat to almost anything; even 2+ armoured Dreadknights and Riptides!

Reavers - Like almost every other bike or jetbike unit in Warhammer 40,000, Reavers saw a tremendous buff due mostly to significant points cost reductions aimed at making these particular fast-moving units more competitive and recommendable to everyone. In this case, Reavers saw a hefty 6 point price reduction per model and importantly gained the Hit and Run special rule, not to mention the increased benefits provided by Eldar Jetbikes now with the free 2D6" move in the assault phase if no charge is declared. Add in the fact that they retained their impressive base stats and other special rules such as Combat Drugs and Skilled Rider and you have one of the most efficient bike-type units around, especially now that they pay even less for their highly useful ranged special weapons. An increased maximum unit size is functionally there to give you up to four Blasters or Heat Lances in a single unit. While the Bladevanes no longer generate D3 hits per Reaver on a unit they move over when Turbo Boosting, that they now have Hammer of Wrath attacks resolved at Strength 4 and with Rending does make up for that somewhat; one needs to remember that Bladevanes always were pretty finicky to use properly and it also meant sacrificing the units' often very damaging shooting phase. Overall, this is yet another fantastic use of the points from a slot that is packed full of high quality units.

Hellions - Much like Reaver Jetbikes before them, Hellions saw a pretty sizable lowering of their points cost by 3 points per model while retaining all of their prior traits, including Combat Drugs, Hit and Run, Splinter Pods and a decent stat-line. Their Hellglaives were sadly changed to no longer provide a bonus attack to make them a fairly decent assault unit, though the introduction of Hammer of Wrath and the addition of AP5 to their melee attacks does help to soften the blow somewhat. Of course, they can no longer gain assault grenades from any source which wastes their high Initiative 6 while the change to the Stunclaw means you can't snatch enemy characters from units anymore. Honestly, they just no longer have a clearly defined place next to Reavers which is their main issue; Reavers are much quicker, tougher, hit harder overall and can take special weapons to diversify their role on the battlefield. As many have pointed out, the lack of assault grenades on what appears to be a more combat-oriented partner to Reavers just stops them from really taking their deserved place, though I honestly feel the greater problem is that there is nothing to justify taking them instead of the far superior Reaver Jetbikes.

Razorwing Jetfighter - A move to the Fast Attack slot and a decent points drop makes an already very handy flyer an almost mandatory choice if only for the strong anti-air capabilities it possesses.  That it retained its' stock four Monoscythe Missiles and gained all of the massive buffs provided by being a flyer in 6th Edition or 7th Edition has me wondering why anyone would ever be dissatisfied with this unit; it was even easier to kill previously than it is now, for heaven's sake. Yes, Interceptor may not have existed back then but that shouldn't stop anyone from also recognizing that the insane buffs it received from both the core rulebook and the latest codex outweigh that potentially serious weakness. Their combination of two Dark Lances (I really recommend paying for them) and four Monoscythe Missiles with a twin-linked Splinter Rifle at less than 150 points on a supersonic flyer makes them insanely versatile and absolutely devastating in almost any match-up. They are one of the better flyers around and certainly prove to be the perfect anti-air and horde-clearing tool for all Dark Eldar army lists, locking down a competitive place they have held for several editions running.

Scourges - If you were looking for a cool alternative to Reaver Jetbikes in the Fast Attack slot and was just as disappointed with Hellions as I was, Scourges may as well be the angelic saints descending upon feathered wings to give you their blessing. They too saw a 6 point price drop per individual model and retained all of their prior stats, equipment and special rules while even gaining some more "passive" buffs such as the addition of Hammer of Wrath and generally longer charge ranges - not that you really want to use this unit for assaults. The points reduction aside and the fact that they have superior stock ranged weapons to Reavers, what distinguishes Scourges from their Jetbike-mounted kin is that they can take a whopping four ranged special or heavy weapons at any unit size, providing you with a fast-moving equivalent of a Devastator Squad with few of the drawbacks. The obvious choice is the Blaster, though Haywire Blasters and Heat Lances are also excellent choices that don't compromise the paid-for mobility of the unit; all serve as potent anti-tank weapons when taken in high numbers, and the fact that Scourges can Deep Strike makes them one heck of an alpha-strike unit.

Thank you all for reading this latest addition to my Dark Eldar Unit Overview series! I've enjoyed reviewing the Dark Eldar codex so far and generally find it to function much the same as it previously did, though generally I feel it is a better balanced codex even if the competitive meta in 7th Edition might not necessarily favour it. I love the army for its unique play-style and I am glad to see the rules designers didn't change the core philosophy of the army, but I am curious to hear your thoughts on this matter; should they have made more significant changes to the army and the way it functions on the table-top?

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