“Dark Eldar and Eldar? I don’t get it,” said Dr. Science.
“Yeah, Eldar are meh and Dark Eldar are even more meh. Together they’re terrible,” responded Sergeant Smarty Pants.
This exchange happened a foot away from me at the recent Emerald City Slaughter Grand Tournament in Seattle. These two players seemed puzzled as to how in the world my army had landed on table three during the final round of the two-day tournament, and the weird thing for me is that this wasn’t a new development: people often seem surprised when Dark Eldar do well in tournament play.
In reality, though, the Dark Eldar/Eldar combination is one of the most vicious ally choices in the game today. I finished the GT as Master Tactician, their title for best general, with only a single loss and the second highest battle score in the tournament (behind Best Overall). Here’s the list that I ran (or the close approximation):
-3 Squads of 4 Trueborn with Blasters in Raiders, Night Shields
-5 squads of 3 Wracks in Venoms, Night Shields
-3 Voidraven Bombers, Night Shields, Flickerfields
-1 Farseer on Jetbike
-5 Guardians on Jetbikes
It doesn’t look like much, right? The key here is the fact that the metagame is shifting toward rewarding players for putting boots on the ground rather than using minimum-sized squads as a tax for buying transports. Venoms are the game’s most vicious answer to this trend, because they don’t care whether you’re playing marines or guardsmen or tyranids — toughness seven or three, Venoms don’t discriminate. The more the metagame shifts toward infantry-heavy lists, the more decisive the power of the Venom becomes. Are you thinking that your marines are no guardsmen and can stand up to my AP5 Venoms? Sorry to break it to you, buddy, but your marines cost three times as much as those guardsmen and take exactly three wounds to kill, as opposed to the one it would’ve taken to down the guardsmen. From my end there’s absolutely no difference between the squishy bodies at the other end of my barrel.
The most common criticism of Venoms I hear is that they’re AV10 with two hull points, which I guess makes people think they’re not worth playing. Here’s the thing, though: that only matters if they’re getting shot at. Being a fast skimmer means that they can move 12″ and still fire 12 shots at full ballistic skill; add to that the 36″ range of splinter cannons and they’re effective at up to 48″ away. Assuming I’m looking at a squad of Long Fangs, that means that I have a six-inch bubble of impunity granted by my Night Shields where I can shoot but can’t be shot. Once you’ve considered that, add night fighting to the mix and you’ll have a better idea about how survivable Venoms actually are.
The Voidravens are massively overcosted at 205pts each, but the remainder of my army is so points efficient that I can afford them. They’re fantastic dogfighters since they don’t ever have to evade (go go Flickerfield!), and their missiles (large blast, strength seven, reroll to wound) really put the hammer on large squads of infantry. The Voidravens can splinter even full squads of terminators, leaving little more than cleanup work for the Venoms.
The three squads of Trueborn in their Raiders do the majority of my tank-popping. With the equivalent of fifteen Dark Lances altogether, I don’t often have trouble dealing with heavily armored lists. Those that do resist the Dark Lances typically get acquainted with my Void Lances beginning on turn two.
The last little part of my army is my Eldar ally. The Farseer carries Runes of Warding to protect me from irritating psykers, and he swaps out his two codex powers for Prescience and whatever else he rolls from Divination. Twin-linking Dark Eldar firepower can get ridiculous, whether it’s blasters firing at flyers, Venoms firing at troops or large blasts that can reroll their scatter dice, twin-linking is something the Dark Eldar codex lacks and which makes their firepower absolutely overwhelming. Additionally, the speed of Eldar jetbikes typically means that I don’t have to worry about scoring Linebreaker and often allows me to harass gunlines that lack effective counter-charge units, like Imperial Guard and Tau.
My list isn’t fantastically easy to play well, and it’s not the only Dark Eldar/Eldar list that can do well in competitive environments. That’s kind of my point, though: since sixth edition hit I’ve seen competitive builds for almost every codex in the game. We’re moving into a whole new era for Warhammer 40k, with the majority of the game still unexplored. Those two guys who didn’t understand how I was doing well didn’t do very well themselves, and I think that’s probably because they write armies off as noncompetitive without bothering to actually look at lists and try to understand their focus. There’s a whole new world out there: what army are you going to win with?