|Share the pain.|
Frequent visitors who have seen my Dark Eldar Tacticas understand that I have tremendous confidence in the army and I truly believe that they are a competitive force in today's 6th Edition environment. In fact, I have had enormous success against a wide array of opponents, but I seem to still get strange looks when I line my fleet up on the table. My love of the game means I often frequent forums, watch battle reports, and otherwise scour the internet to see how the game, and how my preferred army, are changing. Too often, however, I find that feelings about Dark Eldar in 6th edition are ambivalent, at best. At worst, the army is a useless waste of time, effort, and plastic. All too many times I have read stories of complete and utter defeat, rampant frustration, and an overall feeling of disadvantage when compared to other 6th edition powerhouses (looking at you, Necrons). While many of these feelings are warranted, I argue that Dark Eldar are one of the most underrated armies in Warhammer 40k.
If there's one point of consensus about this army, it's that Dark Eldar epitomize what it means to be a glass cannon. Dark Eldar are not a forgiving army; their fragility does not lend itself to mistakes like a 3+ armor save might, and the army requires an incredible amount of finesse to play. In my humble opinion, many armies out there seem to play themselves. Dark Eldar, on the other hand, require players to make extremely effective use of cover, understand and utilize speed, and be able to take advantage of targets of opportunity. Now to be clear, I'm not claiming that all other armies in 40k don't require similar tactics, but I am arguing that Dark Eldar will punish you for mistakes to a much higher degree than many other armies, and this can be very frustrating, especially for players new to the army. If you can take advantage of these tactics to keep your units safe, Dark Eldar can put out incredible amounts of damage. Warriors in raiders can pump out shots and their speed means they will always be in position. Similarly, wyches can get into the face of your opponent quickly and efficiently, and can then serve as a jack of all trades, excelling at not only killing infantry but also taking out armor with haywire grenades. Listbuilding is also very important, as you can supplement weakness with the pain tokens provided by Haemonculi and take plenty of S8 AP2 lance weaponry to eliminate vehicles. While your transports may not be sturdy by any stretch of the imagination, using cover, speed, and night shields can add so much to their survivability, and thus their effectiveness. What many players dislike about Dark Eldar, as I have discovered, is that they are so unforgiving that many players don't give them more than one chance to discover the nuances and details necessary when playing with the army.
The 6th Edition Environment
While 6th edition is no longer new, there is still much to be said about the advantages and disadvantages that Dark Eldar have gained. The first, and biggest rule that this army takes tremendous advantage of over any other army is Night Fighting. Although this rule is random, you can augment your chances with the Warlord trait table, and it provides such a huge boost to Dark Eldar on the first turn, it is almost unfair. With jink saves on all of our vehicles, getting that first turn is more important than ever now, as you want to be able to move vehicles to get a cover save, take advantage of night fighting, and grab that ever important first blood. Night fighting can basically give you a free turn, which great Dark Eldar players will take advantage of to do some damage and get into position.
Flyers are another huge factor in the 6th Edition environment, and some armies have a clear advantage over others in the air (once again, looking at you Necrons). Night Scythes and Dakka Jets can definitely ruin our AV10 parties, and I have seen the tears flow all over the internet among Dark Eldar players, claiming that there is just nothing that they can do. While I do concede that flyers pose a unique problem to our army, we have many tools to (literally) get around them. The first of these, is our speed and maneuverability While you likely cannot avoid all the damage from the skies, the biggest weakness of fliers is their lack of agility. Our vehicles, on the other hand, can maneuver into blind spots in order to avoid fire altogether. Many Dark Eldar players, however, often do not have the patience to make mistakes and learn from them in order to figure out the best way to take advantage of the weaknesses of enemy units. In fact, isn't that what Dark Eldar is all about, exploitation? In addition to speed, Dark Eldar also have access to (in my opinion) one of the best flyers in the game: the voidraven bomber. While not as cheap or accessible as the Night Scythe may be, it is a versatile, offensive powerhouse with access to many defensive upgrades as well. Two S9 AP2 void lances can do a real number on enemy flyers, and it has some incredible anti-infantry missile options as well. The final option is always to use an Aegis defense line, which can end up being quite effective with some creative list building. While air superiority is a big factor in the 6th Edition environment, we have plenty of answers and are not at as big of a disadvantage as many would believe.
Overwatch is another point of contention among players, and many argue that those pesky fleshbags that shoot you while charging have "completely ruined" all Dark Eldar assault units due to their low toughness and lack of significant saves. While I definitely agree that overwatch fire hurts the Dark Eldar assault, I also argue that Dark Eldar have many ways to mitigate that damage, and we have even reaped several benefits from the rule as well. First of all, changes to defensive grenades means that when charging, Phantasam Grenade launchers will often give us stealth, meaning that in combination with fleet, Dark Eldar can safely charge through cover and actually benefit from the increased save. Secondly, assaulting with Dark Eldar is all about opportunity. With the changes to Haywire Grenades, wyches have become premier vehicle hunters, and increased their assault versatility exponentially. Overwatch, on the other hand, provides a huge advantage to Kabalite Warriors. Many opponents like to assault our vehicles since they only need 3's to hit, but our Warriors can do a significant amount of overwatch damage from out of the open-topped vehicles in combination with splinter racks. This can be an absolute riot, as your opponent charges your gunboat, breaking down in tears as he loses 2 terminators in the process.
The biggest advantage Dark Eldar have in the 6th edition environment is their unexpectedness. Everyone and their mother gameplans for Necrons, Dark Angels, Grey Knights and the like. However, Dark Eldar can capitalize on the blindness of your opponents and exploit their lack of answers to many Dark Eldar staples. I can't tell you how many times I've faced opponents who never expected the speed and offensive capability of Dark Eldar, and lost because of their lack of knowledge and preparedness.
Finally, I want to make just one small note about a trend I've seen all across the web. Players have become slaves to the "latest and greatest" lists, and much of the creativity has been sapped from the game. I have read countless comments about how people refuse to use units because the almighty internet claims that they are bad. While some units are just god-awful (what's up mandrakes?), I encourage everyone to figure out what works and what doesn't for themselves. First of all, it is my philosophy that your tactics on the table make a much bigger impact on the outcome of a battle than the list you bring. That is not to say that the list doesn't matter, but I think that a great player can make many "bad" units work very effectively. I encourage all players to experiment, try things out, and don't be afraid to fall flat on your face. While you will often find units that are worthless, you may discover new ways to use some units that turn out to be fantastic. My current project involves a list with an Archon that travels with a Grotesque bodyguard. It could end up being terrible (the internet consensus is generally that Grotesques suck big time) but I have an interesting and creative theory that I personally feel will make them awesome. Another list I'm working out uses twenty footslogging warriors with an Aegis defense line (What!?). The great thing about the Dark Eldar book is that we have so many hidden gems and great units just waiting to be used in the perfect, unstoppable combination, including our craftworld allies. So go out and try it! And if you've always wanted to play a Dark Eldar army but have been turned off by the haters, I say go for it. I'm always here for advice if you need it, and once you learn the army, you won't be disappointed.
Thanks for reading!
A note from HERO:
This is my first guest article and for good reason. Not only is it written in a clear, concise and inteligible way, Justin is also a frequent visitor to my blog. He wrote this 7 months ago as a comment to one of my Dark Eldar gaming articles:
jwhite • 7 months ago −
You have BY FAR the best insight on DE list building and play styles on the web. I just want you to know that I definitely appreciate all the hard work you put into your articles and you have improved my playing tenfold. I absolutely stomp everyone at my local game store (including my friends) because of your advice, so keep doing what you do!
Now that he himself has become a formidable Archon, it is intensely satisfying to see how much good advice pays off. Good work Justin, kick some more ass for the Dark Kin.