Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Big Crunch: Fate of the Dark Eldar

Corvus here, revisiting my big crunch series of articles with a new fresher focus in mind. We've spent enough time bemoaning the state of the marine, but short of Templar, there's a codex out there which has recently felt the crunch of a newer book offering better options per point even more so than the boys in blue. This is Dark Eldar, whom in the wake of the Tau release are looking a bit green around the gills. As ever, with these sorts of articles, I'm not claiming Dark Eldar are incapable of winning games, rather that they're simply feeling outdated and outperformed by similar range codices.

On the whole, the release of 6th edition was something of a sour note for Dark Eldar. They, not unlike Tyranids and Imperial Guard, are still missing a not insignificant volume of their model support. This though was not the worst part of the update for our evil elves. No, they were also hit hard by the nerf to fast vehicles, and the adjustment to S4 hits when their tanks explode. The hull point system didn't take too much from them, given the flimsy nature of their paper planes, and the jink rule for skimmers gives them a little flexibility with regard to if they want to buy flickerfields. Not buying them can be a real deal breaker though, unless you're bringing Vect, since the addition of first blood makes your paper airplane army weep. Furthermore, the changes to FnP, fleet, and night vision were pretty punishing too. The army did reconcile its self with its estranged brother though, finding its sole non-desperate ally in the Eldar. There's some interesting combos there, not the least of which involve the use of Eldrad. Outside of big rulebook adjustments, the disintegrator has gotten a pseudo buff, given the shift to more foot-based armies. But all this considered, 6th has definitely taken more from the codex than it has given.

These problems are compounded by the release of newer codices. Dark Eldar, though fairly points efficient upon their 5th edition relaunch, have seen their comparable numbers dwindle in the wake of 6th edition. Where the Dark Eldar warrior once shined, we now see the existence of the fire warrior at the same price point. The gap between the two in terms of capacity is enormous. The fire warrior is drastically more defensible, courtesy of a save he can claim, and the new addition of defensive grenades. Oddly enough, the two have similar fire outputs. They have identical output against T4 targets, and the fire warriors do better against T3, while the warriors will do better against T5 and T6, with the only the Tau able to harm AV 10 and 11. These numbers indicate to me that the Dark eldar are paying a huge premium for their WS, BS, and I values, discounting any value differences in terms of special rules.

Those premiums only become more apparent when we consider the cost of the wych, who is a point MORE than the warrior. She's exchanged her rifle for a CCW, her 5+ for a 6+/4++ CC dodge, and in the points hike, she picks up another point of initiative, and combat drugs. Now admittedly, there are no punishing results on the table, but the chaos-esque effect does have a "bad" result, in that rolling a 1 now no longer synergizes with the Fleet rule. Looking at comparing her to a warrior, she's paying a point for combat drugs, plus or minus the premium of I 6. Considering similar CC oriented units, like hormagaunts and boyz, cost about half as many points per model, and can be brought in numbers twice as dense, it's hard to justify buying scads of inefficient models for the sole purpose of shoveling them off the board.

Next comes the matter of wargear and transport. As much as I loathe the composition of the tactical squad, the Dark Eldar warrior squad has it even worse. Now, up front, there's good news. The squad can bring a special weapon at the minimum 5 members, which is excellent if you'd like to put a blaster in a venom. Beyond that, for every ten members (squad max is 20), you can bring a heavy weapon. However, this option becomes less tantalizing when you consider that, unlike space marines, the warrior does not have combat squads, meaning that unless you've equipped the squad with shredder and splinter cannon and stuffed it in a Raider (which can cost as much as 80 or 90 points to be practical), you're going to waste shooting from 8 models as you try to utilize your special and heavy weapons.

There's something you'll already note which plagues the Dark Eldar, regardless of what units you will take, a necessity for transport. Their transports are (sorta) cheap, and fairly potent, but certainly put down a monetary hurdle to starting the army. The reason though why transports pose such an issue for the army though are due to their interaction with Power from Pain. First and foremost, units do not gain pain tokens from destroying vehicles. Makes sense though, hard for a metal box to feel pain. Next, vehicles do not gain pain tokens, nor do they convey them to their cargo. This isn't necessarily a problem, but after the nerf to fast vehicles and how their cargo can fire, the venom looks even better as an anti-infantry boat, leaving warriors left to toting blasters and knocking open tanks.

All this goes a long way to say that Dark Eldar seem to have a bad case of "working against ourselves." Their organization makes them feel like they want to play like marines, if more finesse-y and unique. However, the problem with them wanting to play like marines is that they aren't nearly as durable, and have swapped the rules which facilitate the way marines play for Power from Pain, Fleet, and Night Vision, only one of which warriors truly capitalize on. Wyches could be considered an out, if not for the fact that they're even more expensive for a fragile close combat unit in a shooting edition. Again, the codex still works, but there's a lot working against it this time around. That said, GW has shown that they're more than willing to update non-Imperial armies this go around, so there may be hope for our dastartly friends yet.


  1. I think what you're discounting is how the non-Troop choices work. Admittedly both of the naturally core troops are kind of lackluster (especially Wyches which are hilariously vulnerable to overwatch) but when you stick in a Haemonculus then Wrack become a Troops choice, which is a little more reliable as a close combat troops choice.

    But outside the troops choices, DEldar actually become pretty lethal. Reaver Jetbikes can turbo boost through units to cause easily as much damage as a shooting attack, and get a 3+ cover out of it. Ravagers are highly effective anti-vehicle choice, especially for it's points. 5 Trueborn in a dual-cannon Venom, armed with Blasters can be a pretty lethal unit, especially with the change that a unit in a transport can shoot at a different target from their vehicle. Incubi are still highly lethal close combat units, especially since they get to keep AP2. Voidravens, Scourges, even Talos' and Chronos' can be highly effective in the right build.

    I'm not gonna deny that DEldar got hit pretty hard by the update, but other armies like Nids and Eldar, even Orks, got hit harder. I'm sure they'll be getting an update sometime in the next year or two (Eldar are supposedly up next with Orks in the near future) but I can think of several armies that need it more.

    1. That's why there was a disclaimer at the beginning of the article, and even at the end too. They're a really cool army, and indeed they're still potent. I've certainly toyed around with the idea of picking them up, it just feels like there's a lot working against them. Furthermore, though wracks are more durable through virtue of FnP and T4, they don't offer much potency for their ten points. Maybe they're better in CC than wyches, but that's not saying too much in my opinion.

      Next comes the "everything else good in the codex," a.k.a. trueborn, and the Voidraven. Voidravens are over priced and the only capacity to justify their purchase is that everything else is cheap. Yay for internal balancing! But from my best estimation, I've never seen a list /not/ use blasterborn. They're a bit like the sternguard of the codex. But seeing their single incarnation usually maxed out in terms of elite choices would suggest to me they they're more crutch to prop up the codex, because they're absurdly good, rather than a tactical tool.

  2. The codex defiantly has more merit than is given credit here (even with the disclaimer).

    That said, I will stand by Corvus' observation that the units that are good aren't good out of many other incarnations than they are always seen in. There is a horridly unprovable chance, for instance, you'll see Trueborn take 4 shredders, because the blasters are so desperately needed. It doesn't mean they can't... but they are just not as good, therefor limiting the options the codex can rely upon.

    This happens with every codex, but I feel Corvus got it right. The good options in DE really loose out considering the vehicles are counted upon for the bulk of anti-infantry, and therefor "waste" the power from pain rule.

    All this said. Draz'Har with Incubi is still one of my favorite things in the game. But for now.. I have a fun new side project I'll be working on... Let's just say it's gonna be a green summer. :D

    1. In more ways than one, sir. I have a consuming desire to paint. As my painting consumes my time, my army will consume it's opposition.