In the third and penultimate installation in the series, we take a look at the Dark Kin and their new options. Spoilers: I hope you like poison, because a surprising amount of it is about poison. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Although Drukhari didn’t get quite as much content as Craftworlds did, seeing only their new set of traits as opposed to getting a bunch of “bonus” content as well, I would argue that they still made out quite well- much of what they did get was quite good, and their core codex was stronger as a whole, as evidenced by the many pure Drukhari armies we’ve seen fielded (and winning) since the release of their book. Drukhari are in a fairly solid place in the meta right now, being strong enough to compete but not so strong that anyone has their sights set on them in particular, so any help they can get from new releases will be a big boon to them.
In that regard, Psychic Awakening offers some interesting possibilities for the codex. Like Craftworlds, Drukhari are often heavily dependent on their Obsessions (i.e. subfaction traits) for army builds- although often for very different reasons. However, unlike Craftworlds the Drukhari armies generally aren’t built around their traits, which offers them a bit more flexibility in terms of being able to swap them out and still maintain a coherent army, as the benefits of the various obsessions are very useful but not critical.
Due to the way Obsessions are handled, I’m going to organize this a little differently- we’ll go over each of the subfactions individually rather than ranking them all out individually. I think it will still be pretty clear what my opinions on each of these are regardless, but for clarity purposes we’ll be doing it this way.
The Kabals have perhaps the toughest competition to switch- not only does the premiere Obsession choice (Kabal of the Black Heart) give a very good bonus, it also has a game-defining stratagem associated with it as well as a very powerful relic and warlord trait. Add in the fact that there are several other good Kabals to pick from that have powerful synergetic abilities if one isn’t interested in Black Heart and any potential newcomer is in for a very rough time indeed. It also doesn’t help that the new Obsessions are, as a whole, somewhat underwhelming (though not bad) for Kabals, making it an even tougher sell. Still, it’s worth taking a look
Dark Mirth: -1Ld for enemies within 6″. If such a unit fails a morale check, your army has +1Ld for the rest of the battle.
Pretty unexciting; the very minor penalty to enemy morale just isn’t enough to build around, and there’s no real way to take advantage of the bonus to your own leadership even if it does trigger. Just too niche to be effective.
Deadly Deceivers: Your units can charge after falling back. If the enemy charges you, roll a d6- on a 6 they take a mortal wound.
This is actually fairly decent, because being able to charge after falling back is a pretty big deal. For the many units with Fly it’s even better, letting them act wholly unhindered in such a turn- which can result in a lot of shenanigans with Venoms and the like. The fact that this only counts as a single choice, not two like it does for Craftworlds, is pretty big. Might have a little bit of mileage in a weird army.
Disdain for Lesser Beings: You can’t lose more than one model to morale.
Not awful- this is what Dark Mirth wants to be, but isn’t. It is possible to field Warriors in units of up to twenty, which would let you take full advantage of this, although typically it isn’t optimal to do so. Still, it does have an obvious use that can sync well with certain builds.
Meticulous Flayers: Your units with Power from Pain can reroll charges and advances. In melee combat, unmodified 6s to hit automatically wound (except against vehicle/titanic.)
These are good abilities, but they don’t mesh well at all with what Kabals do. If this were a Covens ability it would be handy, but here it’s pretty meaningless.
Mobile Raiders: Your units with Fly can move an extra 3″.
Although this overlaps with one of the existing Kabals, it’s still a pretty good option to have, since transports are basically what Drukhari live and die by and moving 19″ without even advancing is a pretty big deal. The potential issue is what to combine it with, as most of your choices are going to struggle to compete with rerolling 1s and ignoring cover.
Soul Bound: You can reroll 1s when attempting to ignore wounds with Power From Pain. Your units without PfP can ignore wounds on a 6+.
This is another very nice one that steals a page from some of the codex Kabals. Rerolling 1s on your PfP isn’t huge, but it does give you a slight (very sleight) durability boost; the real bonus is getting to do so on units that normally wouldn’t have the ability, such as transports and flyers. You could probably make a pretty respectable mechanized force with this and Mobile Raiders, although I think it would struggle with targets in cover when compared to Kabal of the Flayed Skull.
Toxin Crafters: Unmodified rolls of 6 with a poison weapon have +1dmg.
This is a nice trick and gives you a bit of extra oomph with those poison-spam armies, but with some of the Coven abilities we’ll see later this absolutely pales in comparison, so I don’t think it’s really going to get a lot of traction.
Webway Raiders: You can use Webway Assault one extra time per battle for each detachment of this.
I don’t know that Kabals have a particularly exceptional way to take advantage of this ability, but it’s arguably the most unique one on the list and it potentially can do a lot, so I think it’s probably the most likely to have something built around it. Dropping in 2×20 Kabalite Warriors with Blasters could be quite dangerous and hard to get rid of- possibly with Disdain for Lesser Beings in order to ensure that your big units stick around when you want them to.
Wych Cults also have access to a very strong Obsession choice in Cult of the Cursed Blade, but since there are other ways to potentially overcome the losses of its abilities it isn’t wholly insurmountable. The Wych Cults as a whole have some very interesting choices with the new traits, but they often suffer from being very limited in scope, whereas the existing Obsessions are mostly very broadly powerful. However, Wyches are not a particularly high choice in the rankings of most Drukhari players right now, and I think this book will do little to change that- they’re not bad, they just don’t have the same kind of raw power that the other two parts of the book can offer and they suffer heavily from many of the features of the current meta.
Acrobatic Display: Your units have +1 to their invulns while within 1″ of an enemy, or a 6++ if they lacked one. You can’t pick a second ability.
So, obviously this is very limiting in that you don’t get a second trait to go with this, but it’s strong enough that it may be worthwhile- as anyone who is familiar with Prophets of Flesh knows, improved invuln saves are huge. Note that it does apply against both shooting and melee so long as you are close enough, so you’ll still benefit from the improved save against pistols or other things that can shoot into combat. Succubi with this trait get down to a 3++, making them shockingly survivable, and big blobs of Wyches with it become a serious problem for Knights, Centurions, and other heavy hitters.
The Art of Pain: While within 1″ of the enemy, you count PfP as being one turn higher.
No. Unlike the above, this is not only an ability with a narrow focus (only being able to take effect in a limited set of circumstances), but the bonus it provides barely even does anything a lot of the time. Okay, sure, if it’s turn 2 you get that sweet +1 to hit a turn earlier, but you could already do that for 1CP, so that’s not a huge improvement. And if it’s turn 3 I guess you can be immune to morale earlier, which isn’t useless, but again- that’s something you can already get from Cult of the Cursed Blade (who also get a strength bonus in the bargain) and could likewise be replicated for 1CP. It really just isn’t enough to ever be exciting.
Berserk Fugue: If you charge, were charged, or heroically intervene, unmodified 6s cause an extra hit. Can’t combine with Precise Killers.
So, this is pretty nice- with most Cult units getting large numbers of attacks, you should see a fair amount of effect out of this ability, even if it is a little inconsistent. Although not quite as effective as the +1Str you might otherwise get, the fact that you can combine it with something else tricksy while still getting a good melee bonus is definitely a high point, and in some cases it will actually be more effective than the strength bonus would’ve been (e.g. if you are already S4 from your Drugs, etc.)
Precise Killers: When attacking with a melee weapon, unmodifed 6s to wound have one extra pip of AP. Can’t combine with Berserk Fugue.
The math on taking this vs. Fugue will vary depending on your exact target, but as a rule abilities that trigger on hit rolls are better than those that trigger on wound rolls, and free hits are better than slightly improved AP in most cases. That said, this can be useful against certain types of enemies- like those with 2+ armor, as Wyches will otherwise struggle greatly against them, so it’s not a completely black-and-while issue. Obviously the ideal would be to combine them to make a blender unit, but that option has been prohibited to us.
Slashing Impact: After finishing a charge, roll a d6 for each model within 1″- on a 5+, do one mortal wound to an Infantry, Biker, or Monster.
So, this is fairly decent, as Wych units tend to like to come in big blocks and it does help with your offensive output against tough targets (which is often an issue for Wyches.) 25mm bases mean you can potentially crowd quite a lot of models into range (as you can go two ranks deep theoretically), but you won’t always get the full effect simply because of the charge distance you rolled. This plus Berzerk Fugue gives you a pretty decent pure-offense option for a Wych build, though it will suffer against vehicles due to being unaffected by the mortal wounds.
Stimulant Innovators: When you use Hyperstimm Backlash, it costs 1CP instead of 2.
Wooooooooooooow, once or twice per game I can possibly save 1CP. I am in utter awe.
Test of Skill: When attacking a monster or vehicle with 10+ wounds, add +1 to wound.
So, this trait is obviously quite good- it means you’re wounding on a 5+ at the very worst and often on a 4+ (or 3+ with poison.) However, there are two important things to note here- first of all, this applies to both shooting and melee attacks; Wych Cults aren’t really known for their shooting, but Venoms and other units get Obsessions, too, so don’t forget about it. Secondly, it checks a units’ current wound total, not its starting total, so if you push a unit below 10 you stop getting the bonus. This may or may not be intentional (it’s hard to tell with GW), but for the time being that’s how it works, which can be a little awkward. However, the effect is so powerful that even with that limitation it’s still pretty good, as it won’t be too hard to use it to push a big target over in one or two turns with your massed attacks.
Trophy Takers: When your opponent rolls morale for a unit that has lost models to melee combat, they roll 2d6 and take the worst.
Another resoundingly unimpressive morale ability, and this one with an even shorter range than the others. Don’t take this.
Of all three of the Drukhari subfactions, Covens have the most to lose by giving up their trait- however, they also have the most to gain, as GW wisely recognized that tempting anyone away from Prophets of Flesh would be a hard sell and so made all of these abilities a fair bit stronger than their other counterparts. You definitely are going to see some people experimenting with some of these traits, although whether such experiments will be successful will depend on many outside factors, so I’m not sure how they will fare in the long term. Still, there’s some options here that have already raised eyebrows in the community and I think that there’s enough to explore that people will be tinkering with it for a year or so before we get a final verdict.
Artists of the Flesh: Reduce damage from each hit by 1 (to a minimum of 1.) You can’t take a second trait.
The obvious comparison here is to Prophets, who have a similarly basic, defensive-oriented trait, and I think the comparison between the two is pretty apt. The actual math of it is a bit complicated and will depend on which unit you’re talking about (Wracks, Grotesques, Talos/Chronos), but broadly speaking the 4++ will be better against single-damage hits and high-damage (4+) hits, whereas the reduction will be better against medium-tier weapons. However, there are a couple other considerations- first of all, the damage reduction applies to other units as well, and so affects transports and the like- which can be a big boost for your Venoms and Raiders. On the other hand, Prophets of Flesh has access to a powerful named character as well as an excellent relic and stratagem, all of which could easily incline you towards picking them. I think that, generally, Prophets are going to continue to be the prime choice when making lists that want defensive benefits, but depending on the sorts of weapons you see in the meta some players make take advantage of this new option as well.
Dark Harvest: When one of your units finishes a charge, for each model pick a unit within 1″ of them and roll a die- on a 5+ it causes a mortal wound.
Note the big, big difference in wording here between this ability and the Cult one. Although Covens are not the best at fielding hordes of infantry, they can certainly put a pretty significant number of models down on the table if they really want to, and critically this gives them some extra offensive punch that they can otherwise lack. Interestingly, this has no limitation on its targets- so if ten of your Wracks gang up on a Knight, they can potentially do a bunch of mortal wounds to it. Still, giving up the 4++ is a lot to ask, so this probably mandates a very, very different kind of army than we’ve seen from Covens before.
Dark Technomancers: Every time you shoot, you can choose to give the units’ weapons +1dmg and +1 to wound; if you do, the model suffers a mortal wound if there are any unmodified rolls of 1 to hit with that weapon.
So, this one has a lot of people in a tizzy, and rightfully so- adding one to wound and damage is huge, an absolute game-changer. Yes, you will suffer a lot of attrition from this ability- a Venom is fairly likely to suffer two wounds each time it fires using this, which will add up really fast. However, the damage you can output in that time is pretty insane- multidamage hits that wound on a 3+ or 2+ in large numbers are quite scary. The only thing that keeps this from being completely bonkers is that you have no way to access rerolls as a Covens player, but even so it is potentially quite big. Remember, the ability is optional and works on any weapon; it can obviously buff various poisoned weapons, but also Disintegrators, Hexrifles, and other nasty candidates.
Experimental Creations: +1 Str for your models. In addition, when you attack with a poison weapon, if the target has lower toughness than your strength, add +1 to the wound roll.
This is the other half of the combo with Dark Technomancers. Between the two of them, you can get poison weapons that wound on a 2+ against targets with toughness 4 or lower, and doing two damage per pop no less. However, even without combining with anything Experimental Creations is potentially quite strong- a horde of Venoms that wound on 3+s against most things is pretty terrifying and will drag most infantry down in short order, unless they are rocking 2+ saves. Whether this will be useful in a meta with so many Space Marines remains to be seen, but it certainly opens up a new type of build for Covens. Also, let’s not forget it makes all your stuff more dangerous in melee as well, which is not a trivial benefit- you’re essentially getting an Urien Rakarth for free across your whole army.
Hungry For Flesh: When you make a charge roll, add +1.
Very simple and straightforward. This might have some potential in combination with Dark Harvest to make a more aggressive, infantry-oriented kind of build, although I do wonder if the loss of durability would be survivable. But if you ran heavy on transports it very well might be, and Drukhari certainly have access to some very good vehicles.
Masters of Mutagens: When you make an unmodified roll of 6 to hit with a poison weapon, it automatically hits and wounds (except against Vehicles and Titanic.)
Another useful poison buff here, although working in a slightly different way than the others. The automatic wounding is actually pretty big and really shifts the math a lot, but it has pretty middling synergy with the other two abilities, so I’m not sure if it will end up seeing a ton of play. But if you want a bit safer option than Dark Technomancers, this plus Experimental Creations gives you some very dangerous poisoned shooting without having to worry about those pesky mortal wounds.
Master Torturers: When you use the Torturer’s Craft strat, it costs 1CP instead of 2.
Obsessive Collectors: When you destroy a model with a melee attack, you can heal d3 wounds on a model in that unit or if they are Wracks regain d3 slain models.
So, the way this is worded in the book (which I have not reproduced in full here), there are… some issues with this wording. It seems to be the case that it triggers for every model that is destroyed by such a unit, which basically means any time your unit kills something it gets a full heal. I won’t say that is impossible, but it does seem a lot stronger than the designers probably intended it to be, so I would expect an FAQ on this one to limit it to triggering a single time per phase, but either way it is a fairly strong ability. The fact that this can help make up some of the loss of durability from missing out on the 4++ is actually pretty big, since it can be combined with something else offensive-oriented in order to make a very dangerous force.
All Together Now
So, all of these things individually are certainly interesting, but the real question is whether we can build an army out of them. And in that respect, yes, I think there definitely is enough to work with here to make some powerful and interesting armies out of it. We already know that the Drukhari vehicles are strong in many ways and Venom Spam lists have been dancing around at the top tables of tournaments for some time now; getting several new options to make this build more powerful certainly isn’t going to change that. Also, lest you forget- Drukhari of any type can embark on a transport of any of the other subfactions, so it’s perfectly fine to have Wyches riding around in those Coven transports if you please. Being able to mix-and-match like this is definitely a big strength and can, for example, let you combine a strong shooting force with a strong melee component and get the best of both worlds.
Of course, it goes beyond just that, as Drukhari have options for allying in other types of Aeldari as well, and many of those factions have gained benefits also. We’ve seen a resurgence in the use of Shining Spears as well as a big price drop for the Ynnari characters, both of which give a shooting-centric Venom list some options to bring a strong melee component for an affordable price. In fact, the plethora of options for ways to build is probably one of the biggest strengths for Aeldari as a whole right now, as they can pick and choose detachments of almost any conceivable type to fit their needs, from on-table presence to reserve shenanigans to high-power shooting to board control to backfield scoring. Having such a broad toolbox of options is certain to get the attention of at least a few players, and we’ve seen some very strong generals making good use of them already- however, with Space Marines being on the rise there certainly going to be some struggles for them as well.
In our fourth and final part of the series next week, we’ll be looking at the updated datasheets for named characters, aspects, and Ynnari. As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.