Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rantings on Dark Eldar: Continuing the Xenos Surge

Hey folks! 

I always forget to write this at the end of articles, so up front it goes:  As always, we appreciate you clicking on ads!  Hulksmash tells me that your efforts might actually pay for our Adepticon Team Tournament next year.  I presume he’s talking about the entry fees, not plane tickets and lodgings and stuff – but anything that helps is help appreciated. J

The purpose of this article is to address what I see as some “myths” about Dark Eldar perpetrating the internet, often advanced by “listened-to” parties about Dark Eldar – things I find irritating, incorrect, unsubstantiated, or a mixture of all three.  I also intend to browbeat army-building techniques and advance my own agenda for how to formulate a cohesive army.  As always, advice I give is flavored with my competitive nature, so apply as needed. 

I should note that if you find any of this derogatory, screw you! :D  I type the words that come to mind, without the filters that posting on Dakka require to prevent typing a word that a family-friendly and innocent pre-teen who’s been raised in a Christian household, private schooled away from the vulgarities of public existence and exposure to words like “hell, damn, turd, fag”, but who has yet evolved a such a deep passion for Warhammer 40k that they’ve turned to the internet forums and blogosphere to slake their thirst for knowledge.  To be honest, in an age of such deep-rooted virtual society and youth’s demand for instant-gratification, I’m not sure that there’s such a being in existence.  While I have no doubt that pure souls from family-friendly atmospheres exist, I doubt they play Warhammer 40k or spend their weekends around sweaty beefcakes at “I used to LARP, but downgraded to tabletop gaming instead” meetings.

I digress.

Part One:  The Internet is Full of People with Bad Advice:

As I cruise around the internet from time to time, seeing what people are asking about and what advice is being given (and this applies to all armies, not just Dark Eldar), I consistently see two things that irritate the balls right out of my scrotum. 

The first is that those looking for help submit an ill-conceived set of parameters in which help must be given.  Several broad examples:

Example #1: I’m trying to make my army more competitive, but I’m not taking out these reaver jetbikes or Baron Sliscus.
Dash says:  If you want to make your army more competitive, don’t set conditions on what you’re willing to do.  Or, ask for two things – the first being some good competitive builds, the second being competitive builds utilizing parts of what you’re looking for.  They may be different answers, but if you’re asking for help building a competitive list and mandate that your 18 reaver jetbikes stay in it, then get your ass handed to you and wonder why you got such bad advice on a “competitive” list, it’s because your artificially imposed restrictions made the only advice you were capable of receiving bad advice.

Example #2:  I’m not too competitive, please help me with my army.
Dash says:  What?  I’ve never understood this one.  If you’re not competitive, then build whatever the hell you want.  Build an army that looks pretty, or fits your fluffy backstory, or has a theme, or consists of the models and wargear that you actually have.  This is a vague, poorly worded request, and deserves to never be repeated.  Unfortunately, I see this one more than any other.  What help do you want if you’re not too competitive?  Either you’re having trouble winning against something and *DO* care, and want to change it – in which case you’re competitive, or you don’t care if you win or not, in which case changing your army serves no point and you should continue to run whatever you want.  There are only three roads to take here:
1.        I want to beat face with Dark Eldar, what are some good, competitive ideas for army lists at XXXX points?
2.       I’m losing against XXXX army with my YYYY List and don’t like it – what could I possibly change to improve my chances?
3.       I win/lose as I do with the army I use, but since I’m not competitive, I’m not going to ask for help with my army list since I can use whatever I damn well like.

There’s no middle ground in there for “Help me with my army, but I don’t want it to be *too* competitive, or too hard.  Then make whatever you want!  You don’t need help with that.

The second irritable factor is the opposite side of the coin:  People who give advice that have no business doing so.  So once again, in my competitively flavored opinion, there are two groups of people that should be giving advice about building or using an army.

Group #1:  Players from that codex that have significant experience AND SUCCESS with that codex against a wide variety of opponents in a wide variety of situations.

Group #2:  Players who frequently play against that codex, who can chime in with things that scare the poop out of them to see across the table.  For example, a Black Templar player having trouble beating Dark Eldar asks for advice on building a list.  While I don’t play Black Templar, I’d feel safe chiming in that I play Dark Eldar, and the one thing I NEVER want to see across the table from me is triple land raiders, all with blessed hull.

Group #3:  There is a third group; a mystical gathering of players who are so attuned to their inner nerd that they can zoom to the core of what will make a competitive army out of a codex not even released yet.  Hulksmash is one of those players.  I am not one of those players.  However, this group of people is so small that they’re not even really a relevant factor.

If you don’t fit into one of those two categories….you should stop polluting the internet with your white noise. 

Part Two:  No!!!  Your Reaver Jetbikes are NOT made out of win.

Reaver Jetbikes are the most common discussion point that I see.  This is usually in the form of “I <3 my Reaver Jetbikes, and they’re an integral part of my list,” but too often are unfortunately suggested to hapless advice seekers as a good addition to their list. 

Once upon a time, in an ancient text of forgotten history (the old DE codex), Reaver Jetbikes could take two special weapons per three bikes, were cheaper, could take three bikes in a unit, and had better armour saves.  And even then, you never saw them being fielded by Dark Eldar players for one important reason:  Anything that they can do, something else can do better, cheaper, more efficiently, or a combination of those things.  They had a limited *potential* role in bigger games….we’re talking 2,000+ where you’ve already filled out your entire Force Organization chart except for Fast Attack, and need to add points.  And then they were used as either screening / attempted cover saves, and/or flanking runners trying to get up the field to try killing a vehicle and being an annoyance before getting smeared off the board.

Today’s Reaver Jetbikes are much different.  Now, they’re prettier!  And more costly.  And you have to take MORE of them to get the same number of special weapons.  They have some fancy wargear options now, but no matter what you equip them with, or how costly you make them, they still serve the same purpose:  Screening/cover unit that will run up the board trying to kill a vehicle before getting smeared off the board.  The one difference is that now they can fly over an infantry unit and potentially do damage, and can zoom further!  *cheers*  Hardly.  In reality it comes down to a couple of problems.

1.       No Alpha-Strike.  A 12” move with an 18” blaster or 9/18” lance isn’t going to get you much in the first turn.  In fact, if you’re not playing a monkey pushing units at random, it’s going to get you nothing at all.  Nor will a 36” flat out get you much against anything except aforementioned monkey.  In Dawn of War, you’ve got nothing.  In pitched battle, any decent player isn’t going to leave a large enough footprint behind their unit deployment for you to fit in your Reaver Jetbike squad.  And in Spearhead….well, this is the one deployment that could let you zoom forward 36” over an infantry unit and piss acid over their heads on your way by.  I’m not going to get in depth about the likelihood of a non-embarked infantry unit deploying without a rearguard blocking it’s rear footprint, but let me just say that a potential use against a small segment of armies in one of several deployment types is not reason to take a unit.

2.       No survivability.  Dropping the RJB armour save from 4+ to 5+ made a bad unit worse.  Regular flamers are STR4 AP5.   It used to be that you could at least take an armour save during a turbo-boost when you got up close and personal.  But no more.  Flamers and combi-flamers of Imperial and Xenos design are common, and jumping them forward to get close and personal with something is asking for trouble.  They cost as much as a space marine, but have a 5+ instead of a 3+.  Do you REALLY want to get them into close combat?

3.       They don’t integrate into army lists.  So you’re running a foot-slogging WWP army.  Are your bikes going to zoom out and suicide themselves in a waste of points?  Are they going to hang back cautiously looking for an opportune moment and hope to survive like a waste of points?  Now you’re playing my Darklight Storm, or a variant of a venom-heavy army.  Venoms scooting up 12” and unleashing a huge alpha-strike.  Reavers do what?  Scoot up 36” and do nothing?  Hang back and do nothing?  Wait for an opportunity later?

4.       Mixed Target Priority:  The best example I can give is DE against DE.  I played against Chris Carlisle at the Alamo GT against his own Dark Eldar.  We both had mechanized Dark Eldar with a single non-mechanized unit – mine was a beast squad with Baron Sathonyx, his was his 9 man reaver jetbike squad.  Both of us are providing a non-mechanized unit for anti-infantry weapons to target – in both of our cases, that’s splinter cannons and splinter rifles.  The difference between us:  My dudes have a bunch of 5 wound models with 3+ cover saves sitting still.  His are 1 wound models with 5+ armour saves sitting still.  While I’m providing a target for blast weapons and anti-infantry munitions, they can live through it between a mixture of 2++, 4++, 5+/FNP, and multi-wound 3+ cover.  Reavers have none of that benefit.  We take the field against each other, and I don’t have to worry about killing a vehicle to put my splinter cannons to work, they just spend a turn wiping the reavers off the board.  Heavy Bolters and Multi-lasers would much rather be firing at reaver jetbikes than venoms, ravagers, and raiders.  ‘

That about sums it up.  Reaver Jetbikes were never particularly good, and they’re worse now.  However, people keep trumpeting their awesomeness because they’ve had personal success with them against previously mentioned monkey enthusiasts. 

It comes down to this:   Exactly what can Reaver Jetbikes do that something else isn’t BETTER at?  By the time you get through that list of things, your force organization chart is filled out, and you still haven’t included RJBs.  Now you’re at 2,000 points, meaning the only time you have room for RJBs in a decent list is ‘Ard Boyz, where you shouldn’t be looking for FoC fillers anyway. 

Part Three:  DE are a Sniper Army, aka “I Don’t Play DE, But I Love To Armchair General Noobs”

 Yep, Stelek – General Armchair himself.  I suspect that other advocates of this position are players who play long-range armies, or have switched to Dark Eldar from something like Razorfang /Mech IG and haven’t learned to adapt their gameplay to an army that is suited for a completely different style of play.  Dark Eldar have a single weapon (Dark Lance) in the entire army suited to long-ranged “Sit back and snipe.”  I don’t include Splinter Cannons in this assessment because their use requires targets to shoot at, which generally means cracking open transports – a task that three ravagers aren’t numerous enough to accomplish on their own.

You can add raiders to the list of sniper vehicles….flesh out all your troop choices and elites with raiders, and then you have 12 vehicles with lances!  Even this isn’t sufficient to take an enemy mechanized army to task, and it comes down to which side of Quality vs. Quantity you fall on.   Orks can put out a lot of STR7 low BS shots.  IG can put out a lot of high strength medium BS shots.  Space Marines can put out a lot of medium strength high BS shots, or a reasonable amount of high strength, high BS shots. 

Dark Eldar don’t fit into that paradigm.  Dark Lances are neither high quality or high volume – they’re middling.  They have neither quality nor quantity; they have speed.   They have the unique ability to apply middling force in concentration anywhere on the battlefield.  They have the ability to break and neutralize a piece of the enemy army, and then either counter the counter, avoid the counter, or break the counter.  5+ saves and AV10 open-topped vehicles don’t survive a  cross-board firefight unless it’s against an assault army that can’t fight across the length of the battlefield.  You can’t replace a longfang pack in cover with a kabalite warrior squad with a Dark Lance and a supporting raider, use them the same, and expect the same results.   

If anything, the long-range exchange in the first turn with Dark Eldar exists solely to create and expose weakness for the rest of the army.  It’s why I advocate a no-holds-barred approach with Dark Eldar.  Every gun – blaster, lance, splinter rifle, splinter cannon, and everything else – should be applied as soon as possible.  Thus, alpha-strike.  Dark Eldar don’t have the survivability to fight an attrition war, but they do have the ability to alpha-strike an enemy and then get away again.  If a chimera scoots ahead to disembark a flamer squad, the IG player knows that their flamer squad is dead.  They’re suiciding them to gain a greater benefit than the loss.  Meanwhile, the rest of the IG army is still hammering away at a distance.  If a Dark Eldar Venom scoots ahead to disembark warriors or trueborn, the rest of the flipping army is doing the same thing next to it – making sure that such devastating firepower gets unloaded on the enemy that there’s not enough local presence to make the move suicidal.

To reiterate:  Quality vs. Quantity doesn’t apply to Dark Eldar.  Don’t try making it fit.

Part Four:  Venom Spam Doesn’t Work

 I’m sure you’ve seen someone bashing venom spam yourself.  Let me first throw a generalized “armies work based on the general fielding them, not the units in the list” caveat out there before I go to work.  Detractors of my Darklight Storm and similar army builds point to the middling anti-tank capability, the AV10 open-topped vehicles, and the fact that venoms don’t have anti-tank capability themselves.  I agree on all points.  Every army has weaknesses though, and if you list weaknesses without contemplating how to offset those weaknesses, every army looks weak.  Compare these statements in a vacuum.

-Orks outnumber Space Marines 3:1.
-Tau are no match for any army in close combat.
-Chimeras are AV10 on the sides and rear, and passengers all get hit on a 3+ when it explodes.

Yes!  Those are all true statements as well, and just like Dark Eldar, every army offsets those “weaknesses” by shoring them up.  A venom heavy army works despite these weaknesses because they are offset by strengths.  AV10 and open-topped….offset by a permanent 5++ save and the ability to move fast and…be open-topped for disembarkation purposes.  No anti-tank on a venom….offset by the fact that a venom can pack a unit with some potent anti-tank firepower.  And all these units are cheap – none can master MSU like Dark Eldar can.  A venom-based army *does* work, if the general using them is willing to shift away from the paradigm of a space marine player.   It’s no surprise that a space marine player would look at a Dark Eldar army and say, “Can’t win an attrition war, not competitive.”

Part Five:  Rushing the Middle Is Wrong!

This advocacy is again primarily squawked by Stelek – even straight to me, blithely after getting beaten down by it.  I’ve said this before, and here it is again.  If my enemy knows exactly what I’m going to do, can anticipate my every move, and I follow their expectations TO THE LETTER….and they still can’t beat me, then I’m doing it right. 

Dark Eldar pulling a middle-rushing alpha-strike works.  In part because of Part 4, and also because of part three.  Speed, and the focused application of firepower.  I let my battle reports show the intricacies of doing so.

Part Six:  Razorwing Fights are HAWT!! OMG!!!

Hearkening back to my first and second points, I understand that there is great physical appeal to the model.  It’s sleek, it’s cool, it looks nice.  I see a lot of armies asking for input, where their heavy support slots are two ravagers and a Razorwing Fighter.  I’ve even seen a ridiculous and extremely lengthy argument for why the Implosion Missiles are better anti-tank and alpha-strike than another dark lance.  And most of the folks won’t budge on their razorwing fighter. 

In my competitively-flavored opinion, Dark Eldar don’t have enough anti-tank.  We have middling anti-tank that isn’t particularly scary.  I suspect that our anti-tank abilities will be more than sufficient in sixth edition if the rumors about vehicle passengers are true and it tilts a bit back towards an earlier edition (before my time) as people start shifting into infantry-heavier armies.  Then again ,when GW can sell a single vehicle for $50-$90, I’m not sure that they would consider such a move.  But my position is this:  Every Razorwing on the table is a Ravager not on the table…to your detriment.  Yes, implosion missiles are cool, but they’re one shot, and no dark elder army needs help with anti-infantry.  Between wyches, poisoned shooting, and beasts, the anti-infantry element is well under control.

Personally, I pack as much anti-tank into my army as I can, and it STILL doesn’t feel like enough.  The only thing I could do differently would be to give up my venoms and buy raiders, and sacrifice my beasts to pay the difference, leaving Baron Sathonyx homeless.  And I could swap out my 5 man warrior with a blaster units for 10 man warrior units with a stationary lance – also not a good idea, not in this day and age of zipping onto objectives.  And either one of those would drastically alter the army I’m fielding – which would be deadly.  All that anti-infantry firepower serves as a bastion against Space Wolves having their way with me, Monstrous Creatures not quaking in fear, Orks in general (and Lootas in particular)….it’s a necessary part of the army.

Part Seven:  All the rest!

This is the part where I should probably talk about the different kinds of DE armies that are worth fielding competitively, how they differ….except that I’ve already done that in my “Beating Face with DE” guide, and it doesn’t really need to be rehashed.  I just wanted to cover down on some annoyances and myths that I disagree with.

Thanks for reading!  If you have any that I missed, feel free to contribute.  And as always, clicky clicky on those ads!