Dark Eldar: The Ultimate Spoiler Army?

dark eldar Succubus


The dirty dogs of the 40K universe often play king maker at tournaments.

Dark Eldar are one of those armies that do just about everything differently. I love the army and the models are some of the best in GW’s entire range, IMO. Jess Goodwin really hit it out of the park with these.

Phil Kelly also wrote a great rule set with only a few real stinkers (Keradruakh, lookin right at you, bud!). But for the most part, everything in the book is fair to great.

What makes Dark Eldar so different? They have some critical rules that really set them apart from everyone else. Primary among these is the fact that their ranged weaponry relies upon the Poison rule which means they essentially ignore toughness. That is a core game mechanic and they just pick it up and throw it in the trash can.

So what, I can hear you saying!

The what of it is that the points every other army in the game pays for their toughness becomes moot! Why is the mark of Nurgle so expensive? Because it’s cool to go into battle with a steaming load on your britches and weeping sores covering your body? Or because it takes you to toughness 5 which makes you much, much harder to kill for most targets? DE though, make those points utterly wasted.


Now, this goes both ways too, as low toughness models will either notice no difference or actually benefit from this. Grots for example, would rather get shot by a Splinter Rifle than a Las Gun! However, this is generally offset by the low points cost of most DE units and soft targets are typically not difficult to kill anyway.

The other downside to this is that these weapons have no effect at all on units with an armor value. That said, most infantry weapons don’t either, or only effect AV10 vehicles (Tau excepted). So what you end up with are weapons that get better the tougher (and coincidentally more expensive) your target gets. Your weapon becomes more points efficient as your opponent gets better! Nice one.

Combine this with blazing speed to either get into striking range or dance away from it, the fact that in many respects the paper thin DE transport vehicles actually improved with the transition to 6th (strength 4 weapons have a harder time taking them down, jink saves, etc.), the sheer volume of poison weapons DE can bring to bear and the move to more infantry heavy armies and you have a recipe for success.



For the next few weeks you can combo DE poison weapons with Eldar’s Doom power, and assuming Eldar retain Doom which I think they will as it has been a staple power of theirs for ever, and Dark Eldar Poison weapons go absolutely bananas. Rerolling failed to wound rolls means these potent weapons go from a 50% wound rate to 75%. There are very few units in the game that can weather that volume of damage for long.

Units such as Warriors, Warriors in a Raider with Splinter Racks, Venoms, Hellions, and to a lesser extent Scourges and Wracks all exemplify this.

Nearly any player with an infantry army at a tournament when asked which army are they hoping not to pull will reply: Dark Eldar.

So why don’t you see them more often? They seriously pack a punch and we haven’t even covered the other benefits they have such as some incredible characters, hard hitting assault units, etc.?

They are extremely frail and suffer a massive weakness to going second against any type of shooty army. Particularly on your typically terrain sparse tournament table, this can be the kiss of death. Even with Vect giving you a seize on a 4+, you will still average going second in 1/4 of your games. If that happens to be vs. a shooting heavy army your tournament run can come to a sudden halt. This is exacerbated by not being able to go full reserves any more. This Achilles’s Heal is what stops a lot of people from taking the army. That and the fact that they are arguably the most evil faction in 40K.

What this means is that Dark Eldar often play the roll of spoiler in a tournament, if not knowingly. They can knock a lot of very well built infantry lists out of the running if they draw them on the way to the top that may very well have otherwise stood good odds of winning the tournament. The Deldar then them self can easily get knocked out by that mech IG player they don’t want to draw. Thus the role, not usually on purpose, of playing king maker by being the wild card in the deck that either wins or loses big.

So what’s a poor Deldar player to do?

What people say when they see Dark Eldar!

What people say when they see Dark Eldar!

Make sure there’s enough terrain on the table!!! Haha, not that you can control that all that much, but use what you have to get as much cover as possible. Also, when building your list either use loads of cheap infantry to absorb punishment or loads of cheap vehicles to increase safety in numbers. Good old Venom spam is still a great list. Night Shields are also fantastic for minimizing the impact of shorter ranged weapons or longer ranged weapons that are deployed poorly.

Hybrid lists can work very well too, particularly with only a few Venoms–which are easy to hide–and Deldar flyers which pack a serious punch and can stay off board to avoid that first alpha strike while those good old poison weapons take out common interceptor weapons such as Quad Guns and Saber Platforms before they arrive.

What are you Dark Eldar players out there doing to maximize your role as king ascendant as opposed to king maker?


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

26 Responses to “Dark Eldar: The Ultimate Spoiler Army?”

  1. skari May 11, 2013 3:24 am #

    Thanks for the article.
    I have been playing dark eldar for the better part of 4 years now. Since before the new book came out. Thats right, a DE hipster. I play with them all the time, play methodically and ruthlessly. When I loose, it just makes me learn and i aply it in future battles. I have reached the pinnacle of the learning curve with the Kabalites, and this has encouraged me to go even further. At the moment I am now testing the coven army, (or a mainly coven army) and after thats done I am starting to play and learn a Wych and Reaver cult.

    The Dark Eldar are one of those armies that make the opponent nervous as soon as you step up to the table. If played well they will strip the victory from the enemy without them being able to react. You have to be methodical, know your target priority and use the movement phase to your advantage.

    Against shooty armies on sparce tables, you grit your teeth and deploy as smart as you can to minimize damage. You hope for night fight or sacrifice a unit or two for the betterment of the game as it develops.

    Dark eldar benefit from causing the enemy as many perplexing situations as possible. Lots of pressure and then dilemas. No choice will be the right one, any choice taken will have to be the lesser of two evils.

    Use haywire grenades, those things will wreck tanks.

    I have a lot more. Mostly on my youtube channel and blog. The latest batrep tho, VS necrons is one that taught me a lot as a DE player. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bVRGAeKNH4


    • Reecius
      Reecius May 11, 2013 8:47 am #

      Nice one, thanks for your input! Always good to hear form a veteran DE player.

  2. Black Blow Fly May 11, 2013 5:52 am #

    Dark eldar have some serious issues versus Necrons. My honest feeling is the codex is overly balanced. For example Vect should be T4. Just a little more oompah and they would be top tier. They had a short window of dominance then the release of the Grey Knight codex spelled their doom… i.e., psyfleman dreadnaught. Sure now the psyfleman is not so great any more but it seems dark eldar could not rise back up to the top again. The army is too frail for my liking.

    They can still be good but it requires a very specific type of build which involves three or more Ravagers which is not my style. Maybe with the release of the new eldar codex we will some new powerful allied builds that don’t rely upon gimmicks to win. That would be awesome.

    • Reecius
      Reecius May 11, 2013 8:51 am #

      Vect a T4 would be just ridiculous! haha, too good, IMO. He is a beast!

      I think Psyfilmen are still one of the best vehicles in the game, but the change in the meta to more infantry and the introduction of HPs did debuff them a tad.

      Deldar are a master’s army, I think. They require a deft hand and a lot of experience to really play well.

  3. Invok93 May 11, 2013 8:16 am #

    I think that Deldar really struggle with anti flyer, especially Flying monstrous creatures vector striking side Armour 10 / 11. They have access to a quad gun but that doesn’t suit the play style at all. The Bomber with S9 lances is good, but its expensive and might show up turn 4 when the game is already lost

    • Reecius
      Reecius May 11, 2013 8:48 am #

      I agree that they do stuggle a bit with Flyers, however, with volumes of Poison weapons they should be able to down FMCs fairly reliably. It’s things like Hell Turkey that really scare me.

      I think they have some excellent flyers, myself. If you take three and a comms relay, I think you will be well covered in the AA department, but that is just theory at this point.

      • Invok93 May 11, 2013 9:00 am #

        Something like a flyrant with devourers or shooty flying daemon princes who can pop 2 tanks a turn would be a really hard counter.

        Or like you keep saying board control can really limit the damage that can be done, those skimmers have to move and If you limit them to 1/3 of the board they would struggle

        Hell turkeys are amazing against most things so no surprises there

        • Reecius
          Reecius May 11, 2013 9:39 am #

          Yeah, that is a very good point. With toughness based flyers though, you can drop them out of the sky with volume of fire and then kill them quite easily once they’re on the ground. However, if they get the drop on you, yeah, they can fairly easily kill 2 skimmers a turn which is a bummer.

          • SCP Yeeman May 13, 2013 11:44 am

            This is where the experience comes in. Deployment can negate the shooting or Vector Striking of the fliers for atleast one turn regardless of deployment. Once they come forward, you will have enough shooting to Ground them and kill them.

            Helldrakes are a pita to deal with, but our fliers can do very well against them. Plus, the way i look at it, everything that looks at our troops or vehicles kill them anyway, so the Helldrake is really no different.

  4. vybert May 11, 2013 9:54 am #

    Good read. Dark eldar are my least favorite army to play with my nids because of speed and poison.. not to mention all the high str shots

    • Reecius
      Reecius May 11, 2013 11:29 am #

      I agree 100%! They are my kryptonite!

  5. Vidar May 11, 2013 11:29 am #

    I think that DE is a finesse army that has a steep learning curve and that does not translate into mass appeal. Guys in our field REALLY hate to lose and this more than almost any other army requires a highly developed tactical acumen to play successfully. Much like the eldar. It is just easier to play power armor or necrons. Point and click necron air. But playing fragile highly mobile DE is a lot harder.

    • Reecius
      Reecius May 11, 2013 11:56 am #

      You said it. DE is a master’s army. I mean, you can play Venom spam and pull an infantry army and just eat them for breakfast, but to consistently do well with them over 5-8 round tournaments takes real skill.

  6. Invok93 May 11, 2013 12:03 pm #

    An army that takes real skill sounds like a lot more fun than playing 3 hell drakes 9 oblits, naming no names of course.

    I love the idea of TaC armies but i don’t think dark eldar can be a top tier army with the current state of the meta

  7. Shane May 11, 2013 1:38 pm #

    You sure hit the nail on the head there Invok93, Dark Eldar have imho the best looking models in the game and can be very rewarding to play with but are just not able to duke it out with top teir tournement lists and reliably win.
    The problem is if you get a bad match up your unlikely to be able to sneak through with a draw either, it’s very much an all or nothing style army and to my experience doesn’t reward you if you hold anything back which means you have to live with the big losses as well as the big wins.

    I love the models and the evil feel of the codex and play style but the learning curve is brutal and even at the top of your game there are match ups you simply won’t be able to win.

  8. Douglas of Wolfbrothers May 11, 2013 2:13 pm #

    Baron, Beasts, Poison, Lances, Scaryness

    Oh and void bombs, love void bombs.


  9. Korona May 11, 2013 2:48 pm #

    I really like the doom farseer. It’s possible to swap her power out if you roll painbringer on the combat drugs chart (result #4 – re-roll to wound). Fake-guide is very helpful and you might roll one of the other awesome divination powers.

    The 3x guardian jetbikes squad is great in the endgame so taking the eldar allies really doesn’t hurt the list.

    Overall I’m back with a raider heavy list and loving it. I’ve tried the beast pack and so on but there’s more and more out there now that completely removes cover saves. Raiders are hard to use right but they’re fantastic. Night shields + jink combo so well with pre-measuring. If you can get the hang of abusing ranges it can really frustrate a medium or short ranged army.

    Items like venom blades, shattershards and liquifier guns are so much fun and never get old to use.

    Of course we tend to play on terrain heavy boards. I don’t think this army would be fun on an open board, but no 40k army is much fun on open boards.

    • Reecius
      Reecius May 11, 2013 5:51 pm #

      Yeah, adequate terrain makes literally all the difference. The game is much more fun on good boards.

      DE are a great army, I really enjoy them a great deal…I just hate seeing them on the other side of the table with most of my armies! haha

      • Korona May 11, 2013 6:18 pm #

        It’s the easiest army to get into the spirit of playing! It’s so hilarious to bounce around the board using horrible toys to make your opponent’s army disintegrate – if you’re not cackling like a madman then you’re playing the army wrong!

        • Reecius
          Reecius May 11, 2013 6:40 pm #

          Hahaha, nice one! They certainly do have a lot of character.

  10. Kralizak May 11, 2013 7:55 pm #

    They’ll probably be my second army simply because of how cool they are, despite my lack of competitive experience or great skill

    I love the idea of an army that can shoot well (being a nid player) that also goes really fast, and the fluff and models of the Dark Eldar are quite arguably the best in the game. That, and they are dark space elves, and being a fan of dark elves… 😀

    • Reecius
      Reecius May 11, 2013 9:27 pm #

      I think you will enjoy playing them a great deal, they’re super fun.

  11. SCP Yeeman May 13, 2013 9:12 am #

    i thnik you hit it on the head Reece. They are a master’s army and take a very experienced player to play. Granted Venom spam against infantry foot lists, does not, but I have seen countless venom Spam armies fall to said lists because they think they can roll up and auto win.

    Posion is fantastic. Some people in my parts think it is too good and shouldnt be allowed. Anything with a Toughness value is always being wounded on 4’s and it couldnt be any sweeter.

    We have some good CC units. Beasts are amazing this edition. Some lesser used units like Grotesques are also nice in certain situations.

    We have awesome fliers. We cant spam them, but they are awesome. I am all in on the Voidraven camp. I will never take a Razorwing as I think it is lacking in almost every way compared to the Voidraven. So much punishment comes from those planes. Unfortunately, if we take 3, we lose out on one of our best units, the Ravager. The Ravager is awesome and cheap and is 1 of 2 vehciles with AV 11 in our book.

    3 things I think are important for playing DE successfully:

    1. Deployment- You mess up deployment, you’re dead… period. Assume you get seized on and you will be fine. Too many people take going first for granted, and when you get seized on , they just lose.

    2. Target Priority- You need to kill the units that harm you the most. Taking out the Long Fangs or the Thunderfire Cannon early makes a world of difference late game.

    3. Kill things you know you can kill- Alot of times I see people shoot a Venom at a Tactical squad and another Venom here and shoot a ravager here or there. When the dust settles, that Marine squad still has 7 members, the vehciles still have Hull points and nothing has been killed or crippled enough to be useless. Because everything can threaten our vehicles and our infantry, things need to be killed fully or left alone until you can deal with it later. If there are 10 TH/SS Termies comign at you, dont shoot them first turn! Kill everything else. Feed them a squad or two. Too often people want to get greedy and try to kill 5-6 units and successfully kill none. Where if they used the firepower, they could have eliminated 3-4 total units and worked on from there.

    I know the above things seem pretty basic, and are actually not just Dark Eldar tactics but 6th Ed and every army tactics. But for some reason, when I see other DE players, they just assume they will win when they see Foot Orks or Nids. They assume their Venoms will kill things and that Trueborn in Venoms are the end all be all. Hardly the case.

    Dark Eldar are extremely balanced and exemplify the “glass hammer” name that they have come to be known as. They hit very hard, but break very easily. knowing what is capable of what, and ensuring the death of units is a major key to victory with them.

    Spoiler army? Yes! But I think they play spoiler a lot because people assume they are bad more than people dont think anyone plays them. Those internet forums are a powerful thing and people believe what they read, and most people say DE suck. LOL…. Please come play a good DE player and then say that!

    *sighs* Long post. I love my DE. I have played them since the end of 3rd Edition. i have played them different in every edition. (Raider heavy 4th, Webway 5th, Hybrid 6th) and have loved the learnign curve that comes with the army and the excitement of winning with them as well. I love proving all of the nay-sayers wrong.

    • Reecius
      Reecius May 16, 2013 10:31 am #

      Thanks for the extensive reply!

      I agree with you on every count. Target priority and firing on a unit until it is totally destroyed are basic principles that a lot of folks miss. However, knowing what targets are the most dangerous and how to destroy them comes with experience.

      I too love playing “bad” armies. It is fun to turn conventional wisdom upside down and show how wrong it is half of the time.

      And guys in your area think something is too good and should be banned? Hahaha, shocker =)

  12. Crispy May 20, 2013 9:17 pm #

    A bit of a late reply! I’d love to see you guys do a batrep with a dark eldar army you think could win a tournament against say the new Tau or something. Would be a good test of their ability me thinks and probably be a pretty decent batrep to watch 😀


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