Advice for Die Hards: Army Building for the Long Run

Hey guys Cavalier here, commission painter and co-host of Splintermind the Dark Eldar podcast. Today I’m here to discuss my philosophy on how to assemble a winning, low-maintenance and versatile army that can stand the test of years.

Now for those familiar with a bit of background on me, I apologize for telling this story for the ten-thousandth time. Yet back in the end of 5th edition I realized my Eldar army was hopelessly out of season. While I was still winning a decent amount of games, they were white-knuckle affairs where I was desperatley trying to get by with the odds and ends of a collection that was probably dated by the time 2nd edition had ended! So what I did was I decided to stop playing for awhile, figure out what kind of Eldar army I actually wanted to play and put all my energy into that.

Now to zoom out of my personal story, this is a critical first step in developing an overall collection. I think there should come a time for every player who’s knows they are gonna be in the hobby for the long run, when they take a step back from playing and really dedicate themselves to putting together a single army that will stand the test of time. This requires dedicating yourself to what will be your primary faction for a considerable amount of time. While this may seem hellish to some, the reward at the end of this delayed period of hobby gratification, is that you have an army that can roll with the ever changing meta, requires very few and infrequent additions, thus allowing you to focus on other projects (after the completion of your primary faction) at a really leisurely pace. This allows you play games with a big fully painted, fully assembled collection thats capable of running multiple army-lists.

Build Your Core

Even back in those days of 5th edition I thought the best place to start was a robust core of troops with all their options and transports. For my army that was 3×10 units of Guardians/Dire Avengers in a trio of Wave Serpents. Boy did that turn out to be a great decision. Not only did Wave Serpents turn into absolute monsters in 6th edition, but now in 8th edition a trio of troops gets you that hotly coveted battalion and the Wave Serpents are still great. Yet I didn’t stop with just those Guardian/Avengers. I also decided to add some Rangers to the mix and we all know how that turned out in 8th edition. (I also made the very fortunate decision to paint them in a unique scheme which parlayed excellently into 8th edition where different paint schemes for different detachments is a MUST in my opinion.) Yet the reason I did this was to make sure that no matter what happened I’d have my bases covered in terms of troops. I didn’t have an Apocalypse size collection of troops, but just enough that I’d have a strong versatile mix that would work for 1000-2000pts games. This framework of collecting within that 1k-2k army is also a critical factor to keeping things on the right track.

Build Lists, Not Collections

This is another critical point. Because I’m a gamer on a tight budget, I only buy things that I’m going to use. All the units that were going to be in my “core” were units that were factored into a number of army lists that I had cooked up. My list at the time was an Autarch, a Farseer, 3×10 Dire Avengers, 3x Wave Serpents, 3x Hornets with Missile Launchers and a Warp Hunter. It was an entirely mechanized list, but as far as an overall collection it had great versatility because the Wave Serpents could be used by future Aspect Warriors, or dropped altogether to make way for other units.

Yet I didn’t purchase all this stuff in one big go. Since I resigned myself to taking a backseat to playing, I purchased them a chunk at a time, and I didn’t purchase anything else till they were completely painted. This prevented me from feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of models that needed to be painted, but also prevented me from dabbling in all manner of randomness, never truly getting anything done.

I think I spent about 3 months getting all this stuff painted but when I did, boy was I excited and to make matters even more exciting a heap of new models were released by GW.

One Army, Many Factions

So after two or three months I finally succeeded in collecting a solid Eldar collection. I had fully painted my entire army, an Autarch, Farseer, 3×10 Avengers/Guardians, 3x Hornets, 3x Wave Serpents and a Warp Hunter. Yet it was then a curveball was thrown my way at the very end of 5th edition. The entire Dark Eldar product line was revamped featuring an awesome new codex. To make matters more crazy was that 5th edition was also nearly at an end and for some wild reason I thought that there was a strong possibility that Allies might be brought back to the game in 6th edition. If I was wrong, I’d have a second army after developing a good strong army-list for my Craftworld Eldar. If I was right I’d have doubled up the size of my army and be ready to go in new edition of the game with a fully painted allied force. Obviously I guessed right and I couldn’t have been more excited.

So what is the big picture lesson behind this anecdote? Its not about oracular farsight, instead, just because you are developing a single faction army, doesn’t mean it has to come from just one book. I dont think we are ever going back to the 3rd-5th edition days of mono-faction. Eldar, Harlies, Dark Eldar are all one big family. Chaos and Daemons are like PB+J. Space Marines, Sisters, Guard et. all are all effectively a super faction. Ever since 6th dropped, the notion of building a “primary army” can encompass a multi-faction collection. The core idea is that you are assembling a sort of “dream army” or at least the core of one, which will allow you to just add bits and pieces as you go. Speaking of which lets get on to that now.

So as I settled into 6th edition I found myself with not only a great codex, but also versatile collection that kept my opponents guessing from game to game. As we transitioned into 7th all I had to do was added 3 units of Jetbikes and I was all set to go. The reason being is that I assembled a versatile mix of meat-and-potato troop units and transports that stood the test of time. While the age of 7th edition were certainly glory days for the Craftworld dex, instead of doubling down on the power units, I decided to just stay the course and keep bulking out the collection with what I called “challenge units”. Units that seemed garbage to most people, but units I could afford to experiment with as time rolled on. The first was my Striking Scorpions which were monsters for me on the tabletop. I then realized I wanted to have a counts-as version of all the Aspect Warriors, leading me to getting Swooping Hawks and some old Dark Reapers to count as Corsair versions.

Sidenote: Avoid Excessive Specialization

So another side lesson, is that after committing to having a primary faction, I think its very much worth it to embrace theme just a bit. I think you can take it too far and over specialize such as making an Iyanden army with just million Wraithguard, Wraithblades, Wraithlords etc. Although that can be a great way to go AFTER getting a good collection of versatile lists developed.

Reaping What You Sow

While I was riding high in 6th and 7th edition, when my frugal disciplined approach was nice but not truly necessary, when it really payed off was in 8th edition. When 8th edition dropped I suddenly found my collection VASTLY diminished in power. All my Forgeworld units were either extremely underwhelming or outright terrible. Yet a few key investments of time and energy during the glory days of 6th edition + 7th edition kept my army afloat, namely a battalion worth Guardians, Corsairs, Dark Eldar Warriors, Rangers, the inclusion of Dark Reapers to round off my collection and the fact that my ENTIRE Dark Eldar collection (which I been nurturing just to stick to my program) was suddenly freaking great! While my army was no longer top dog, my large versatile and fully painted collection of various army builds was able to cope with the bumpy road presented by the Index days of 8th edition.

While it was certainly a big adjustment in terms of playing 40k in terms of the 7th to 8th edition change, the big army-list focused collection I had developed was versatile enough to ride out any of the rough patches through all the changes from 5th through 8th edition. It was a lot of work up front, but during this time I’ve hardly spent any serious chunk of time painting up my Eldar stuff in all that time. At most I’ve ever added is 2 new units at a single time. So while it was certainly a bear, plunking myself down and painting non-stop for 2 or 3 months till I had a fully painted collection in the very beginning, the results in the end were just so rewarding. I never felt I was chasing the meta, even when it changed and by the time 8th edition rolled around I found that my Eldar collection had turned from 1 or 2 armies (Craftworld and Dark Eldar) into 5 armies: namely Iyanden, Alaitoc, Y’nnari, Red Grief, Flayed Skull and soon Harlequins!

Since I had done all the hard work up front, it was really smooth sailings from then out. I found that my general attitude toward the game went from one of desperately pursuing wins with a collection that always seemed lacking, to a positive and relaxed one, where I looked forward to changes in the meta so that I’d have an excuse to add something to my Eldar after a long period of inactivity.

Anyway guys hope you found that article interesting and helpful. If any of you had similar experiences, or had a different route to a similar outcome I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. I’ll also be documenting the development of my Harlequin army which will be following the same philosophy I described in this article so I can show the process in action.

Also if you are interested in exclusive Dark Eldar and all things Aeldari coverage check out our podcast Splintermind the Dark Eldar Podcast, where we tactics, hobby, lore, interview Black Library authors all as it relates to the Eldar factions. Thanks for stopping by!


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About Cavalier

Commission Painter for Frontline Gaming + Co-Host of the Splintermind: The Dark Eldar Podcast

7 Responses to “Advice for Die Hards: Army Building for the Long Run”

  1. Dakkath June 22, 2018 1:50 am #

    I have a similar philosophy to collecting. My main problem is that it takes me so long to make up a list I like that the next codex/edition change is imminent by the time I do >..<) that I want to use but well…
    I've got tons of fire warriors, kroot, and devilfish sitting in storage from my starting days of grabbing up battle boxes in 5th, but I just really don't like the tau troops.

    • Dakkath June 22, 2018 1:52 am #

      ((reposting because half of it got eaten))

      I have a similar philosophy to collecting. My main problem is that it takes me so long to make up a list I like that the next codex/edition change is imminent by the time I do X[
      That, or by the time I have an army ready to go all the flgs have gone under.

      I’ve got a couple dozen crisis suits (all magnetized) that aren’t good anymore, a trio of ghostkeels (likewise), a single riptide (built with ion instead of burst X[) that I want to use but, well…
      I’ve got tons of fire warriors, kroot, and devilfish sitting in storage from my starting days of grabbing up battle boxes in 5th, but I just really don’t like the tau troops.

      • Cavalier June 22, 2018 2:40 am #

        Hmmm. Taking an entire edition to decide on a list is pretty extreme! Dont get paralysis by analysis. Every list will have good match-ups and bad, just make something that suits your playstyle and trot it out and see how it does and make adjustments as you go.

        As for the issues with your Tau, well I’d just get as many units that you do like into the list to offset the units that you aren’t wild about.

        That being said, I’m not wild about Guardians so I just dont use them. I’ve often gone on a crusades to prove the usefulness or find a way to make under rated or under peforming units work.

        My current unit of choice is Incubi and they’ve been great for me! All in all I’d say just make a list that you think matches your playstyle, make sure you have a healthy amount of units you like, accept that it wont be perfect and go get some games in. Tau are really good right now, I’d get out there and enjoy them!

  2. Reecius June 22, 2018 8:37 am #

    Dude, your army looks so awesome! Love it.

    • Cavalier June 22, 2018 9:49 am #

      Thanks so much Reece I really appreciate it man. Trust me the feeling is mutual I’m a huge fan of your IG, Eldar and your homebrew Marines. So is my brother!

  3. Visitor June 24, 2018 7:52 am #

    It boils down to: rules change. Take what looks cool and not to much of the same and you’ll be able to field your army some way or the other for the decades to come (unless Robin Cruddace writes your next Codex – you’re never save of natural desasters…)

    • Cavalier June 24, 2018 8:10 am #

      Hey Visitor, I see this sentiment thrown around a lot, and I actually strongly disagree with it. I’ve got a number of friends who take that approach and their playing experience is one of perpetual frustration. They end up with a collection full of shooty Terminators, lightning claw Vanguard vets Space Marine Captains and other HQ choices but are always scrambling to field an effective force.

      While things may seem cool and fun when you are assembling them, afterwords often times it leads to real disappointment and frustration soon after when all the time, money and enthusiasm never translates to last enjoyment on the tabletop.

      I just find thats it always worth it to carefully consider the force you are building (consider time, money and energy) try to find a good balance of theme and effectiveness and you cant go far wrong.

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