So, this is the first guest article for this blog. Exciting stuff (at least for me)! My friend Leonidas (aka Moskitokiller) has been into Space Dark Elves for quite a while now. He had some very interesting insights about their new codex. I asked him if he could put down his thoughts in an article that I could post here. The guy is a university professor and he approaches his game the same way he does for his science. Meticulously and with a lot of serious thought. He is also strong willed and opinionated and I always consider his advice even if I don't have to necessarily agree with it. So I hope you enjoy this in-depth article and hope you get many things from it.
I present an analysis on the characteristics of the Dark Eldars according to their latest Codex. Based on those characteristics I attempt to probe the strategy and techniques, suitable for this new army.
Let me first state that this is not the usual analysis one might find on the Net. No unit by unit presentation, no personal favourites, no list of suggestions either. This is left to the player. My intention is to express some of my thoughts and to present a set of principals, a framework if you will, in order to help the DE player to build his army and to develop his techniques.
Let me start with a conceptual clarification on the concepts of strategy and tactics. It is quite common for these two concepts to be used indiscriminately. Strategy (from the Greek word στρατηγική: the art of leading an army/ στρατηγός: leader of the army, general) is the framework of procedures, built on a set of principals and ideas, a systematic plan of action for the achievement of a goal. The term also refers to the art of planning and marshaling resources for their most efficient and effective use. Strategy, especially in a game like 40K is multilayered and contains primary and secondary goals (or objectives as they are called in military usage). The main goal in a game is to win but this is so bluntly obvious that it is not a part of strategy, it's the goal. The plan of actions that lead to victory is the strategy.
Tactics (from the Greek word τακτική: set of rules to be followed/ τακτικός: tidy) is the sum of planned or specific actions meant to deal with the demands of the moment. They determine how to move from one intermediate objective to another in pursuit of the overall goal and define the conduct of an engagement. Tactics are the means by which a strategy is carried out. You can only employ tactics that you are capable of employing, based on ability. Consequently, tactics are limited and defined by who we are, what we have in our disposal and what we can do (our abilities).
In strategy, on the other hand, you are relatively free to aim high. If you have a superior plan of action and a clear, feasible goal you have a chance of succeeding even when the mission is tricky.
How a battle is fought is a matter of tactics. What the preliminary and secondary targets are, as well as the terms and conditions that the battle is fought on is a matter of strategy.
What we need to do then? Kill the heavies first. That is strategic target. How do we do it? Use our fast heavies’ range concentrated. That is tactics. There is no point in having a strategy of performing a 1st round assault if you do not have a unit fast enough to be able to achieve that.
In 40K, strategy is expressed mainly while making the army list. One can choose the type of army he would like to marshal. He can mould the army any way he wants. Even making anti-lists if he could know the opponent, a luxury a general on a real war never has. There are some elements of strategic application on deployment and in choosing the order of the player’s turn, as well as following certain principles while playing but they are less important. This article is concerned mainly with the attributes of the Dark Eldar that have to be taken into account while planning a strategy. Some tactical tips are also presented as extra material.
Medium range supremacy
The main heavy weapon of the army is the dark lance. With a considerable range it is a very potent anti tank weapon. There is a number of other useful weapons, be it lances or not, that can give the DE player some serious anti-tank option. It is perfectly doable to have 17-25 anti-tank weapons in a list of 1500-1750 points without sacrificing the rest of the army characteristics (speed, close combat ability). The difference from the previous codex is that now some of this arsenal must be of medium range (blasters, heat lances, haywire launchers) or even zero range (haywire grenades). The ‘dark lance forest formation’ is gone. The dark lance is extremely expensive to be used en mass on infantry. Now you need to get closer to do things right. At first it seems like a negative turn out, yet a number of other things tip the balance in favour of the DE player.
The most important is anti infantry firepower. All splinter weapons are now poisoned, wounding on 4+. That means that a simple warrior squad is quite deadly at a range of 12 to 24 inches. Especially effective is the splinter carbine with 3 shots at 18’’. There is a pattern emerging. The army is pretty deadly against pretty much everything at a range 12 to 24 inches. It is what I call ‘medium range supremacy’ and I thing is the major strategic asset of the new Dark Eldar army. There are options of much greater range- up to 48’’- and others for close combat – such as Talos- but, with the appropriate list, if you can keep your opponent for as much time as possible at a medium range you can inflict maximum damage.
In the medium range philosophy one can fit the amazing new ability of the jetbikes to inflict wounds just by passing over a unit. With a turbo boost movement of 36’’ it is doable to kill opponents and stay more than 12’’ away at the end of your movement, having a medium range anti-infantry unit that stay always in 3+ cover! Alternatively, jetbikes can be fitted with several medium range anti-tank weaponry available to them, giving a fast anti-tank response unit (much more fragile this option). Jetbikes, scourges and especially kabalite trueborns are the units that best express the ‘medium range supremacy’ philosophy.
Mobility is essential for medium range supremacy. The infantry shooting units have to be carried quickly on appropriate locations on the table to release their payload. Some of those will survive – hopefully- and have a second or even third go. Things like disembarking and re-embarking next round or taking a different available vehicle passing by (taxi) will be more common, disorienting the opponent and performing hit and run techniques (nothing to do with the hit-and-run universal special rule), something so difficult to perform in a game with player and game turns. Therefore, fast skimmers and other fast units remain the main strike force for the Dark Eldar.
Having presented the medium range theory, I do not imply that assault is useless or less important. Far from it. Assault is the ultimate purpose of any Dark Eldar player that respects himself. Shooty DE are not really for me, even if they just might work. There is no higher satisfaction than killing the opponent’s HQ with your timid wyches and watching the expression on his face (it is even better if he charges you and then you tell him that you hit first and that you have invu 4+ and FnP-with a joined heamy or by drugs). But for the final assault to be successful, the wearing down of the target units by range is imperative.
Exception to this is the use of haywire grenades (the only thing that got cheaper point-wise). In such an occasion, you act in a direct way. Move straight to the enemy and charge on round 1 if possible. Let me note that one must use wyches that way only when is absolutely necessary – like when they are the only option - and one has at least one more wych squad. The charging unit will most likely disappear next round, from debris out of the explosion of the vehicle or/and shooting.
Ideal Army Size in correlation with the rest of contemporary Codexes
There is a fact that crushed the hopes of seasoned DE players, hopes of getting a new overpowered codex with ‘cheap’ overpowered units. As it is easily observed by anyone who has an idea about 40K and has seen the old codex, the majority of the units are now more expensive than they used to be. The same goes for wargear. As an example I shall refer to scissorhand that costs 15 points, in stead of 5 in the old Codex. And it wounds on 3, instead of 2. As for the combo Heamy + scissorhand, it is double the points in comparison to the old codex (of course the haemy has FnP, but still…).
Yet, the new goodies cannot be denied. New types of weapons. Fancy ways of hitting the opponent, such as by flying over his head. Invu saves for the vehicles. It becomes obvious that as more and more upgrades are purchased, the point cost increases non-linearly. But their effectiveness is increasing non-linearly as well. A stripped down force will be point – to point weaker than the same force based on the previous codex. By using the extras, the new units and the upgrades, you end up with a very effective, yet ‘elite’ force.
The DE became more of an ‘elite’ army. And the DE player has to deal with it. When I say elite I do not mean like a Deamonhunters army or a Deathwing one. The DE list will have more units and will give more kill points. And it does not mean more effective. In general, more elite should by no means be translated as more effective. Imperial Guard is the less elite army, yet the more effective.
As I said, for the DE effectiveness is acquired by buying extras and upgrades and this has a point cost. The result is that a 1500 pt DE list is very poor, stripped down. At 1750 things look better. At 2000-2300 the DE become the kings of the 40K world. With the previous codex before that was possible at around 700-900 points – that was the point range where DE were more lethal than other armies. Now is around 2200. Good news if you consider that most tournaments are at 1750pts and some are at 2000 (like GT).
I should probably explain myself better. Each army can present a number of lists for a given point limit. The number of competitive lists, based on independent army characteristics compared with other armies and not the players skill (believe me, there are independent characteristics that can be used as markers but I will not talk about them here) for each army varies, depending on the point limit. Consequently, for every army there is a point range where it can perform better in comparison with the rest of the other armies. This characteristic is one of the less studied and sometimes organisers increase point limits without even considering the shifting of balance caused by such changes.
I shall offer an example. If there was no FOC, someone could just have 3 monoliths at a 750 points limit. You can imagine what that means… But there is a FOC. Therefore, the necron player cannot use 3 monoliths at this limit. Additionally, other restrictions like phase out and the need for objective contesting, or speed, make other units necessary. But what if the necron player could have 3 monoliths without sacrificing in numbers and assets or breaching any of the restrictions? This is possible in higher point limits. There you can have 3 liths and 3 5x destroyers and a C’tan and much more (even 6 units of warriors- the sky is the limit!). That means that you unleash the full might of the Necron codex. In comparison, all the other armies at that particular limit will field more firepower than in lower limits but their effectiveness won’t increase at the same rate as the Necrons. That ideal range is therefore the best range for a Necron. This does NOT mean that he will be undefeated at that limit. There is no such thing in 40K. But he will be comparatively more effective than facing the same opponent army at lower or higher limit.
The old DE was by far the most effective race at 750 with FOC. I can’t think of something that could easily face 2 squads of wyches plus a dracite and two ravagers at 750.
The ‘Point Limit – effectiveness’ relationship is a tricky concept and is heavily dependent on the mission, the rules (now we talk about the current 5th edition) and most of all the correlation between all the armies. It is therefore obvious that each new codex issued change dramatically the picture.
And now a statement that comes without proof (for now). In my opinion, the army that stands more effectively at a wide range of point limitation is Imperial Guard. That means that as the 40K armies increase in size, IG remains a competitive opponent with a great number of ‘strong’ lists and minor FOC saturation.
High on pain: does it pay off to maximise the pain tokens?
A new characteristic of the Dark Eldar is the strength through pain special rule. It reminds me of video games or RPGs where the character gets stronger as he passes different stages of the game. Kill and get stronger. I can see why it looks interesting. Should you successfully collect a number of tokens you end up with a number of pumped up units. It is possible to have hellions with strength 6 or incubi and wyches at strength 5 when assaulting – sounds amazing, doesn’t it? But is it worth to build your army around this attribute? You can have a list with a huge number of pain tokens to start with. 6 haemys, wraks for troops and 3 Cronos. A feel no pain/ furious charge army ready to become fearless. But is it a competitive build?
There are two ways to get pain tokens: have units with pain tokens in your list – such as haemonculi and wraks- or gain tokens as the game proceeds. The second has a variation. There are units that can get tokens easily, just by inflicting wounds and then they can spread the wounds around. The most obvious token generator is the Cronos. In a single fight you can end up having a number of tokens that you can spread to neighbouring units. Another one is a heamy with animus vitae. So instead of unit killed = pain token you can have wound = pain token. The profit is obvious.
But even more obvious are the drawbacks. For every cronos on the table, one ravager is lost. That means diminished anti-vehicle firepower. For 3 cronos you will get no ravagers. That effectively means no dark lances on the table. With so many mechanised armies in the 40K universe, diminished anti – tank firepower equals defeat in most of the cases. In addition, it is not the easiest thing to kill anything with a Cronos, at least from a distance. Even if all goes well and you end up on round 4 with 20 pain tokens, it all comes down to the ability to destroy the enemy vehicles. And I seriously cannot see how fearless wracks –or incubi- with furious charge can open a Rhino, let alone a Land Raider. One might suggest increased use of Scourges or Trueborns, but then the point cost goes up and you have to trim points from somewhere else. It is my impression that you should not build your army with accumulation of pain tokens in mind. This will come naturally as the game proceeds should you have a strong and balanced list.
Things can get even more tricky should you try excessive ‘token transfer’ while playing. You will confuse the opponent, that is for sure, but you are guaranteed to mess up your battling plan. Dancing around IC’s to collect and distribute tokens will cause more problems than offer advantages. For an enthusiastic player the prospect of boosting some key units with pain tokens seems irresistible. Similarly, the possibility of having a strength 10 Archon is fascinating. But it is also unrealistic most of the times. And it gets even worse if you built the whole army around such concepts. ‘High in pain’ strategy is problematic at the least, suicidal at worse. If the game flow and the opponent allow the stacking of tokens, you should be ready to use it to your advantage but do not built your strategy around it. You can win a game without a single unit gaining an extra pain token. From the other hand, you can loose having 3 units with 5-6 tokens at the end of the game. Not to mention the questionable use of toughness 3 fearless units…
Use pain tokens as a tool that can offer an advantage. That is all.
Having said that, in high point games, near the optimum DE size (according to what I described in the previous section ) it is perfectly feasible to apply a partial ‘high on pain’ strategy and have the full advantage of this special attribute without sacrificing firepower and anti- vehicle efficiency. Still, you should keep it partial (no more than 30% of the army) and focus on the dominant attributes of the DE race – speed, medium range firepower and close combat.
As it is common with a new codex, there are a number of combos that could be utilised to increase the efficiency of the DE army. As I said, it is not my intention to give suggestions, therefore there will be no list of useful combos. Yet, let me use just one example. This is my friend’s, the Antipope idea. He was the first to describe it. 5 trueborns with 4 blasters on Venom with two splinter cannons. Move 12, disembark within 20’’ of an enemy transport, blast it open with the blasters and then shoot the passengers with the venom’s weapons (12 poisoned rounds). You might say that this is not a combo but a tactical manoeuvre. I put it here along with combos because it applies the ‘combined arms’ approach to warfare. A nice and simple combo, lethal for sure.
Transferring tokens especially at the beginning of the game is another combo. Incubi joined by a heamy can take his token. An Archon joining a unit of wracks can steal their token. On round 2 you can have a unit of Incubi joined by the Archon, FnP + FC. Such tips have already been presented and discussed on the Web. I would suggest however that we should wait for the relevant FAQ, since there are some issues that need clarification.
A rather pricey combo is the combination of Vect and the Baron. The one steals the initiative at 4+, the other adds +1 to the roll for determining which one chooses deployment zone – which for the current rule-set is the same for choosing to play first or second (now why they had express it in that way on Baron’s entry I do not know. It makes you wonder. What did they have in mind when typing that expression? A new edition maybe, where choosing side will be rolled separately?). Therefore, you improve your chances on wining the roll off for choosing the players order and have 50% chances on stealing the initiative. You can let your opponent deploy first, then deploy accordingly and then steal the initiative. Risky but quite useful I say. Or you can just deploy first.
And here are some strategy tips, for what they might worth:
a) Go for the heavy ones first or the units that can cause the most severe damage to your vehicles and diminish your mobility.
b) Sacrifice when necessary.
c) Clear the effective radius – define your killing ground. That is why sometimes it is imperative to get rid the Monolith. It is in your killing radius and strikes back.
d) There is a general principle in 40K – probably in other systems as well - and that is: use massively the under priced units. One will find out that there are not many of those in the new codex. Unfortunately, an extreme rationalisation on costing robbed the Dark Eldar from the ‘extras’ they used to have, such as the amazing old version wych weapons and the free infantry dark lance (with the possibility of running a ‘Dark Lance Forest’ army, the strongest anti-vehicle list on the game). Yet there are some options that might fall to that category. The most obvious one is the Ravager. Its cost remained the same and yet, it is now improved. Subsequently, unless you have a define strategy that needs a different heavy option or that does not leave enough points, always use 3 ravagers with flickerfield.
e) Always give flickerfield. Maximise the survivability of the frail DE vehicles. It is pivotal.
f) Fielding at least a unit of fully tooled up wyches with haywire grenades is wise. It is a multipurpose assault unit that can handle almost anything. Fully tooled up means 9-10 wyches mounted on a raider with flickerfield and aether sails with hekatrix armed at least with an agoniser, special weapons (these are optional).