|Shadow is best.|
After my disappointing trial of High Magic over the last 4 games, I'm seriously thinking of switching back to Shadow. Here is why:
Miasma - Better than Hand of Glory: Why? Because vs. your WS5 on WS3 units, the spell automatically means they hit you on 5s. With Hand of Glory, you're looking for WS7, which needs a +2 to WS. A third of the time, the spell won't even do anything defensively. Vs. WS4, it's even more apparent. Their WS4 vs. your WS8 changes nothing; your WS5 vs. their WS2 means something. vs. WS5 like Chaos Warriors, a Miasma for 3 means you're hitting on 3s and them on 5s.
Enfeeble - ALWAYS good and stacks with Phoenix. We have nothing like this to compare in the High Magic lore. Wounding you on 5s and even 6s means the world of difference; keeping your armor save even in most cases. You can cast this into combat.
Withering - White Loins are S6 vs. everything, normally wounding on 2s. However, vs. beefier targets which our army already has an inherent weakness to, reduced Toughness means more wounds gets through and often times that's enough. Every combat unit benefits from lowered Toughness and every shooting unit does too. Again, you can cast this in combat.
All three of these benefits the Elven race more than any other lore. All 3 of which can be cast in combat and all 3 of these will be useful in all phases of the game. Not so much with High Magic. We're not even counting the usefulness of the must-stop Mindrazor on ASF Elves at this point.
Let's get off the WS3 S3 troops for a second and think about the wider picture. What I used above was just an example of how much more effective Miasma is compared to Hand of Glory.
- vs. WS5 Warriors, Miasma wins hands down. You can bring them down to WS2, allowing you to hit on 3s, them on 5s. Hand of Glory doesn't even have that option.
- vs. the WoC/Ogres matchup, Enfeeble will allow you to stay in the fight and minimize damage. It stacks with Phoenix; which is an integral part of our warmachine now.
- vs. any fatties, Chimeras, or T5 chariots, or other monsters, you need Withering to do the damage and force wounds that you otherwise wouldn't be able to accomplish.
- vs. any of the bigger guys who are by design, more difficult to deal with our army, Shadow fills in the gaps like it always does since the 8th Ed. book was released. High Magic does not offer this at all.
New test case:
You're in combat with Chaos Warriors. What are you going to do? Hand of Glory over Miasma? Withering over, wait.. that's it. The rest of the lore has magic missiles, direct damage and a heal spell on one model that might not even been wounded or is in the combat. What are you going to do now? Move something with Walk Between Worlds? Combat is what determines the outcome of GAMES, and takes the WIN.
Again, all of these are combat friendly, used in every phase of the game. Shit, you can compliment your S4 Maidens shooting even more if have Withering in the army. And best of all, all of these are raises and eyebrow in the dispel phase rather than them just staring at your 6-dice Hand of Glory because you have nothing else to cast. Shadow is useful in combat and don't eat up a lot of dice, allowing you to min-max your magic phase as long as you have Book of Hoeth. We just don't have that many PD to throw now. Book of Hoeth makes Pit and Skillrazor easier to cast as well, and we all know how much our opponents fear ASF + Mindrazor.
If you look at a Lv.4 with Book with Shadow, here are some numbers..
Miasma - You can 1-dice this most of the time, or push for 10+ needing a 6 on 2-dice to cast at 89% chance.
Enfeebling - At 10+, you need 2 dice for 89% chance to push.
Withering - At 13+, you need 3 dice for 89.5% chance to push.
Pit of Shades - At 14+, you have 3 dice at 82.47% or 4 dice for 96.69%
the big boy Mindrazor, at 18+, sees 4 dice at 76.22%, or 5 dice for 93.80%
When you compare this specifically to High Magic, the ONLY spell you should be comparing to is Hand of Glory, because it is the only spell that can change the outcome of the current fight (or rather, the fight that you immediately want to change). What would you rather have? 4 spells that can change the outcome of a battle and be able to at least cast them, or hold onto 3 of your DD/MM spells while you only cast Hand of Glory because you can't do anything else. Not to mention the result of casting is relatively the same result value as you would Miasma. People saying Shadow is more expensive than High Magic is a fact, but if you compare the numbers of how much it takes them to cast to their impact on the battlefield, you'll see each spell has significantly better value in a game based around close combat.
If you want Drain Magic, just take a support caster: Lv.1-2, take your pick and default to Drain if you don't pull Hand of Glory. You can also cover your ethereal bases by defaulting to Soul Quench. That eliminates the last part of the argument to take High Magic over Shadow. For next game I plan on taking Shadow/Heavens just to play around.
Lv.4 with Book, Shadow
Lv.1-2 with Scroll, Heavens
That's my layout from now on. Period.