I don’t know what they’re avenging or why their brand is being incredibly bad at it, but it’s time to talk about Dire Avengers. Click below to read the updated CA2018 version of the article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Dire Avengers are the most numerous warshrine of the Eldar aspect warriors; practicing the most balanced and universal of combat forms, they carefully weight strategies of both attack and defense when choosing their posture. Although they lack the razor-sharp focus of the other shrines, they alone are adaptable enough to react to the ebb and flow of battle and respond appropriately- and with their superior training and wargear, few enemies can resist them.
That’s the party line, anyways; in the game, Dire Avengers function as one of the basic troop choices for a Craftworlds army. While they have a fairly typical statline in most places- strength and toughness three, 3+ weapon and ballistic skill, 7″ move, etc- they benefit from a couple increases over their less-trained brethren. 4+ armor means that they are more resistant to enemy fire (with the jump being especially notable from Guardians’ 5+) and leadership 8 means that they are a bit less likely to run when things get iffy. As with all aspect warriors, the Exarch comes as a free upgrade in the squad and benefits from an extra wound and an extra attack in close combat, but unlike many other races does not have any bonus to morale. At 11pts per body (including basic wargear), Dire Avengers aren’t exactly cheap but neither are they particularly expensive.
Wargear and Special Rules
Like all Craftworld infantry, Dire Avengers come with a couple of stock rules- Battle Focus allows them to advance and shoot normally and Ancient Doom gives them some bonuses and penalties against Slaanesh models. As a mobile troop unit, Battle Focus is pretty useful on them, extending their effective range by quite a bit and making them fairly speedy when crossing the battlefield; you’ll be using it most every turn. Each member of the squad comes with Plasma Grenades (S4 AP-1 Assault d6), which are pretty handy at short ranges- definitely toss one if you’re in range, as they are better than your other weapons. Their main gun, however, is the Avenger Shuriken Catapult; like the version carried by Guardian Defenders it gets two S4 AP0 shots that become AP-3 on 6s to wound, but the Avenger version extends its range out to 18″ (a much more respectable number.)
The squad as a whole also benefits from the Defense Tactics rule, allowing them to hit 5+s (rather than just 6s) when firing overwatch- while it may not be a tremendous difference most of the time, it does double your average number of hits on a roll and the Avenger Catapult can be a fairly dangerous gun to a lot of things. Especially for larger squads, it is a big deterrent to enemies declaring charges on them.
The Dire Avenger Exarch gets a bizarre plethora of options available to them, although most of them aren’t particularly good. They can add a second Catapult to their existing one, essentially allowing them to act as two squad members at once (two wounds, two guns); you’ll probably see this one most often, as it is a fairly inexpensive upgrade to their firepower with no special strings attached. They can also take a Shuriken Pistol and either a Power Glaive (S4 AP-2) or Diresword (S3 AP-2 6s are mortal); however, since Dire Avengers are not in any way a melee unit, these options are pretty subpar overall and won’t generally get much use. Finally, you can swap into a Power Glaive and Shimmershield, the latter of which grants all models in the unit a 5+ invulnerable save. While not a strongly competitive option, this does at least bring something unique to the unit and can be an interesting choice if you’re trying for maximum survivability. The Exarch themselves also comes with a 4+ invulnerable save automatically; it’s pretty unexciting compared to many of the other Exarch abilities, but will occasionally be useful.
So the obvious comparison- a perennial one, really, as it has been there in almost every edition since 5th- is to line Dire Avengers up against Guardian Defenders and ask one (or the other) “why are you worth taking?” Because the two units have very similar statlines, abilities, and equipment, so it is almost inevitable that one of them stands out as clearly superior most of the time. And this time around, I think that unfortunately the nod goes in the Guardians’ favor- but that doesn’t mean Avengers are completely without purpose.
With a basic Guardian coming in at 8pts and a Dire Avenger at 11pts, the Avenger is significantly more expensive on a per-body basis and in an absolute sense does not carry any more firepower. If you can get them both into range, they hit exactly as hard as each other, and since the Guardian is so much cheaper this works out fairly poorly for the Avenger. Moreover, the Avengers’ nominal advantage (survivability) actually leans in the Guardians’ favor as well- though they are 50% more resilient against most weapons, they are also 50% more expensive, and Guardians have access to a strong defensive stratagem (Celestial Shield) and benefit more from cover, Protect, etc. Add in the existence of the Support Platform as a way to soak wounds efficiently and bring unique firepower as well as the Webway Strike stratagem to place a large unit of Guardians nearly anywhere on the table, ready to hit their target, and you have Dire Avengers looking not so hot.
But there’s a bit more to it than that when you actually put them on the tabletop. First and most notably, while Dire Avengers may have a higher model cost, they actually cost less per unit than Guardian Defenders do, at least in their minimum incarnation. Since they start out at five models and Guardians start at ten, they are actually a fair bit cheaper to fill a basic squad out- and as troops are one of the main ways to unlock more command points, keeping the squad cost down can be pretty important. Though they compete with Rangers in this role, Avengers perform very different tasks on the battlefield than Rangers and I think are more of an apples-and-oranges comparison overall, so we won’t go too deep into that matchup here.
Secondly, although Webway Strike can mitigate many of the issues with Guardians’ short range, it doesn’t eliminate it, especially if you are running multiple units of them. The difference between 12″ and 18″ on the tabletop is enormous- in a purely mathematical sense, the 18″ bubble (i.e. the maximum area you can shoot out to) covers more than twice the area the 12″ bubble does. Functionally, it means that Dire Avengers can use their excellent mobility to hang at the edges of their range band and shoot at enemies while remaining in cover, out of range of some return fire, etc, whereas Guardians will typically be forced to position themselves in unfavorable ways to be able to use all their guns- and they are especially vulnerable to being charged.
Thirdly, the Dire Avengers’ small unit size can often act as an advantage, more easily allowing them to get in cover or even get out of line of sight completely. There are few better protections in the game than being completely out of line of sight, and for a minimum-size unit like Avengers this is relatively easy to do (especially because they are also on 25mm bases and are relatively compact models.) As troops they will benefit from objective secured and thus even with a minimal number of bodies they can still claim objectives in the face of resistance, so every unit is a potential threat to your enemy’s plans.
All in all, while Guardian Defenders really want to be a unit that gets in close with the enemy and drops a hammer on them, Dire Avengers are best in playing a more defensive and fluid role. By darting in and out of range, they can attempt to selectively engage the enemy forces, using terrain to their advantage and pressing close or withdrawing as needed. “Cityfight”-style boards with lots of ruins and other blocking terrain are where they will do best; if you’re playing on a lot of empty tables, Dire Avengers are not the unit for you. By the same token, you will need other mobile units to support them and deal with heavier threats, as Avengers themselves are largely useless against vehicles, monsters and the like.
Competitively, Avengers probably are not going to make the cut for most lists- the Webway Guardian crew is much too powerful a tool for them to compete with for the most part, and Rangers synergize too well with other components of the army while also being cheap and durable. However, it’s certainly plausible to see one or two units of Dire Avengers in a tournament list filling out the last few troop slots from a brigade or double battalion; I don’t think they’re ideal, but they perform a sufficiently-unique role that you can do pretty alright with them.
One final thing to note: though many of the Phoenix Lords are a bit lackluster, especially in the context of their bonuses to their aspect shrine, Asurmen ends up being one of the better ones. He grants all nearby Dire Avengers a 4+ invulnerable save, which is no small potatoes- if you’re optimizing for it, combined with Protect, Conceal, and/or the Alaitoc bonus you can make your unit of space elfs surprisingly tough this way, and the big man is a pretty decent melee threat as well. Again, it’s not something I would recommend in a competitive setting, but if you’re having fun on the side or want to bring an off-kilter list, you could do a lot worse than Asurmen surrounded by two or three blocks of Dire Avengers.
It’s a bit embarrassing to explain, but there is a pretty simple way to beat Dire Avengers: you shoot them with guns until they die. For all of their fancy tricks and special rules, at the end of the day they are just T3/4+ models that are comparatively expensive on a per-wound basis. If you can engage a group of Avengers in a stand-up firefight with some Scouts, Sisters of Battle, or even just a Strike Squad, you will almost certainly win- Eldar shenanigans count for very little when you are simply slugging it out by the numbers, so if you can force this kind of engagement you are in a very good place already. Additionally, while their Defense Tactics provide them with some protection in the form of overwatch, if you can afford to soak a casualty or two (or if you can charge from out of line of sight), they fold relatively easily in close combat and don’t have any special way to escape. Dire Avengers are not a particularly complex unit, so the solutions to them tend to be similarly-simple.
Though they are arguably the “worst” unit in the troop slot of the Craftworlds codex, the bar is set surprisingly high in that regard and I would say that Dire Avengers are probably on par with many of the other troop units in the game; their guns are just as dangerous as any shuriken weapon and can randomly put significant numbers of AP-3 wounds onto targets if you roll well and Battle Focus plus a good movement characteristic means that they can scoot around the battlefield faster than most units. Though you’ll probably see other, more specialized units more often, that doesn’t make Dire Avengers bad in and of themselves and you can get some good mileage out of them if you play them right.
As always, remember that you can get wargaming products at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.