Competitive 40k players around the world have been mentally conditioned by Games Workshop to expect every DE release to either be total garbage or a nifty supplement to Codex Eldar. But this is 2018, and after years and years of disappointing us with horrible DE codices, Games Workshop finally gave us a pleasant surprise. A good DE book!
Actually, calling the new DE book good is not really do it justice. The Dark Eldar codex, in my opinion, is probably the most well-designed codex thus far, at least externally (maybe not internally). One of the biggest struggles the rules designers face with “Soupable armies” (a technical term) is that they need to incentivize people to play the army with pure Detachments and rules, so players don’t just cherry-pick their best units. On the other hand, they need to be wary not to accidentally make these incentives so powerful they break the game.
Typically, this is an incredibly difficult balance to strike, and they usually miss the mark. *cough* Celestine *cough* Guard Battalion *cough* shield captains *cough* Hm, excuse me, I must be catching a cold.
But enough ego-inflation for GW, let’s get into the actual codex review.
This is by far the most challenging review I’ve done yet because, by nature, this codex is structured differently than all the other codices thus far. To that end, my review will be structured a bit differently as well. First, I’ll touch on their ludicrous patrol detachment rule, to dispell any notions of it being useful competitively. Then I’ll break down each of the three archetypes- Kabals, Wych Cults, and Covens, along with the strengths of each of them. Finally, I’ll give a preliminary sample list concept just to put it all together.
Let’s start off with this patrol nonsense. I’m really glad Games Workshop is open to the idea of giving different armies different detachments to work from. This really helps more elite armies like Necrons and Grey Knights unlock Command Points which are currently a huge weakness for those builds. I think it’s a really great concept, it just happens to not work for DE, and here’s why. Basically, you can take three Patrols for four total CP, or many more patrols for even more CP. In Matched Play, you only have access to three detachments so taking three patrols uses all your detachments, and taking more isn’t even legal. Four command points generated from three Detachments is pretty poor, to be frank.
That’s the kind of CP generation pure GK can expect to see, and clearly, they’re dominating the meta (/sarcasm). Dark Eldar is an army with lots of reasonably cheap HQs and troops, which screams Battalions to me. I could see triple Battalion DE armies being competitively viable, or in a format which limits each detachment to 0-1, I think you’re more likely to see a Battalion, an Outrider, and a Spearhead for +5 CP as opposed to the +4 for triple Patrol. Basically, the point I’m trying to make is that the Patrol stuff is a trap, so avoid it.
In my opinion Kabals are the weakest of the three archetypes. That said, they offer a lot of unique things which definitely warrant their inclusion into lists. Warriors are super cheap, fill a battalion/brigade very easily, and even deep striking 20 of them isn’t terrible (though at that point doing it with Guardians from Eldar is probably better). Ravagers and Razorwings (the flier, not the beast) are really the value of the Kabals. The consistent, medium-high quality firepower these two vehicles provide are pretty solid for the points. As far as which Obsession to choose, I’d go with Black Heart simply for the Agents of Vect Stratagem which can easily win you a game instantly if used correctly.
All of the different obsessions Wych Cult have are really strong, but the two that stand out to me the most are Cursed Blade and Red Grief. Cursed Blade unlocks S4 base which is a world of difference compared to S3. S4 vs S3 directly increases your ability to wound T3, 4, 6, and 7, which are the most common toughness values in the game. Not only that, but it lets you mitigate the leadership issues you’ll almost certainly have in a Wych Cult heavy build. On the flip side, Red Grief can turn your army into an insanely fast, tying up machine. Red Grief will enable a lot of turn one charges. That coupled with the no escape rule (which magically works against fly) and some traditional surrounding tricks you can lock an entire army down turn one.
Wychs can turn into pretty awesome speed daemons or chaff killing machines with the right drugs. Also, no escape working on units with Fly is just so amazing I can’t even begin to describe how good it is. I could see an army featuring 120+ s4 pseudo fearless Wychs being really strong. Another option for Wychs could be taking a bunch of 9-10 man squads in Raiders. This would allow you to significantly reduce your drop count thus giving you better odds at the +1 which Wychs will certainly want to have. This will also give you some (albeit not much) durability, and perhaps more importantly, a sneaky way of increasing your move by 4″ when you factor in the disembark.
Reavers are definitely a unit you want to make Red Grief. There’s something about a unit moving 26″-30″ in a turn and charging that just screams “good” to me. A bunch of these guys (girls?) deployed somewhat defensively and then boosting across the table to launch a very unexpected charge is definitely a strong tool for DE players to make use of. Being multi-wound and relatively low model count will also allow them to make great use of Hyperstimm Backlash really well without killing too many models.
Hellions are a really interesting unit given how hard they hit, their speed, and the fact that they are infantry. I think they actually belong in a Ynari/DE list which will let you deep strike them, then Soul Burst afterward to move again then shoot and charge. I’d consider them to fill a very similar role to shining spears in a Ynari list. They do make wonderful use of Eviscerating Fly By as well. 20 Helions aggressively deep striking, using soul burst to move again, then using Eviscerating Fly By and shooting a nice hefty unit of infantry, then charging a bunch of multi-wound models like vehicles or bikes with their two damage weapons, whilst standing near the Yncarne for fearless seems like a pretty awesome and strong army concept to me.
Covens have always been the ugly stepchild of Dark Eldar (literally) and they haven’t really been considered a real thing until recently. But man, are they a real thing now. My personal favorite, by far, is the Prophets of Flesh. 4++ across the board is a really powerful (borderline broken) mechanic- Take it from a long time Daemon player.
These are awesome for buffing other Coven units simply because of what an amazing buff +1T is. Also, they’re HQ’s and you need them. So yeah, take these.
I wouldn’t go nuts with these guys but they aren’t pricey and they are super durable ob sec. T4/5 4++ infantry is just phenomenal honestly, especially in 5 man units to just hang around and be obnoxious backfield Deep Strike defenders and objective holders.
I’m a huge fan of Grotesques. They fall right in line with other similarly costed, hard-hitting, and durable units. Little things like T6 from a nearby haemonculus to make them relatively immune to garbage shooting, like Guardsmen, Fire Warriors, and Cultists, and 4 wounds which is the perfect number for tanking Ion cannons and Dark Reapers. They fall on the right side of the “is that worth it” line in the metaphoric list building sand which really helps justify their inclusion.
Similarly to Grotesques, these guys just fall in a really good spot stats wise for their points and provide a high number of decent quality attacks for their points. These definitely aren’t spammable in the highest levels of competitive 40k, but a unit of 3 of them will see play I expect.
Pretty much the only thing I like about the Cronos is its lieutenant-esque ability, and only because it affects all Drukhari, not just Coven units. I’m not sure these will make it into lists because that’s a lot of points for a buff from a non-mandatory slot filler, but I think they are worth mentioning.
So right about now is where I’d write a draft list to point people in the right direction for DE, but to be completely honest, between all the available strats, WL traits, relics, and uniqueness of their army, I think it’s better if I draw up a rough draft list concept rather than write a fully comprehensive list. So with that caveat in mind, let’s see what a shell of a DE army looks like.
Kabal of the Black Heart Spearhead Archon
- Agonizer, Blast Pistol 86
- Ravager- 3 Disintegrators 125
- Ravager- 3 Disintegrators 125
- Ravager- 3 Disintegrators 125
Wych Cult Battallion
- Red Grief Succubus Agonizer 54
- Succubus- Agonizer 54
- 9 Wychs- Shardnet and Impaler 77
- 19 Wychs- Agonizer 156
- 5 Wychs 40
- 9 reavers- Agonizer 175
- Raider- Disintegrator 80
- Prophets of Flesh Urien Rakarth 90
- Haemonculus 70
- 5 Wracks 45
- 5 Wracks 45
- 5 Wracks 45
- 9 Grotesques- Mosterous Cleavers 288
- 10 Grotesques- Moneterous Cleavers 320
The army is really Dynamic since almost anything can Deep strike, parts of it are incredibly fast and can lock things down, whilst parts of it are relatively slow, hard-hitting, and durable. Fundamentally I’d probably deep strike the large Wych block and try to use the Wych Raider opportunistically to go first and grab as much of the enemy army as possible. You can give the Raider Wych unit +2″ move as their drug, then double it for +4″ with a strat if need be. Then you can disembark for another free 4″ followed by an advance and charge for an insanely far charge range turn one. Charging the opponent’s army with them and the Reavers on the first turn can win you the game right there. Alternatively, the Deep Striking unit trying to make the charge with rerolls to charge and CP is roughly 55% to make it in. Once you’ve tied up the opponent’s army long enough to buy time for your Grotesques to make it, you can really lay into him.
I’m sure as time progresses and I see actual games played with DE to see what works and what doesn’t they’ll evolve much passed this initial idea but for now, it’s a decent starting point to work off of.
Finally, when you start to add in Eldar and Ynari as potential allies, you start to get some really interesting combinations to build your army off of. But that’s an article for another time. I’m sure I’ve bored you all enough with my ramblings on DE for today, so, for now, I bid you farewell.