We’re back to reviewing units that don’t completely suck and blow, and surprisingly this week it’s Mandrakes- a loser in every edition prior to this one, but quite decent this time around. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Mandrakes mostly have the common statline of Aeldari models, although with some small changes as befits their otherworldly nature. 8″ movement is on the fast side for infantry, although not exceptionally so, and weapon skill and ballistic skill 3+ are pretty standard as well. Strength four is the notable deviation from the norm- it means that the unit has a lot more striking potential than most others would in close combat, although other factors can limit this. Toughness three and no real armor save, on the other hand, leave the unit fairly fragile at its most basic level. Three attacks per model is quite high for such a unit, even at 16pts apiece, and the standard squad leader with a bonus attack and leadership only adds to this. With squad sizes of five to ten models, Mandrakes come in at a pretty affordable price all things considered.
Special Rules and Wargear
Like most all Drukhari infantry, Mandrakes come standard with Power From Pain, which gives them escalating bonuses over the course of the game- most notably the ability to shrug wounds on a 6+.
However, they also come with several abilities of their own. From Out of the Shadows is a standard reserve rule, letting them deploy anywhere outside of 9″ of the enemy. Shrouded From Sight, meanwhile gives the unit a 5+ invulnerable save and forces all attacks- both melee and ranged- to subtract one from hit rolls against them. Combined, this gives them a very solid defense despite their middling overall stats.
Mandrakes also come with two unique weapons, one each for melee and at range. In close, they use Glimmersteel Blades, which have AP-1 but are otherwise a standard combat weapon- not terrible, given their fairly decent combat stats. When shooting, they fire Baleblasts (18″ S4 AP-1 Assault 2), which are also notable because a 6+ to wound causes an additional mortal wound to the target, allowing them to threaten even heavier targets in a pinch.
Note that Mandrakes do not have any Kabal, Cult, or Coven keywords and thus do not benefit from detachment abilities or most auras, although they also do not prevent other models from gaining these abilities.
Mandrakes are in something of an interesting position in the Drukhari codex, being that they aren’t aligned to any of the three major subfactions within. This allows you a bit of flexibility in taking them, although it also means that they tend not to fit specifically with the themes that any of the three subfactions specialize in, so whether you bring them will depend on if they are filling a useful niche for your army. However, given that what they do is reasonably unique within the book, there’s a good possibility that you can get some mileage from the unit.
The first thing to take note of is that they are one of the few Elites units available, or at least one of the few that actually fill a slot. If you are trying to fill a brigade (and aren’t running Covens), they and Incubi are essentially your only choices. Of course, most Drukhari armies don’t bother with brigades because of the hassle involved in filling one, but a Kabals army can potentially make good use of one, especially if they are looking at bringing some manner of allies and thus want to keep their detachment count down.
However, the more important factor is probably their ability to come out to reserve. This isn’t a feature completely unique to them, as Scourges can also do it, as can other infantry via Webway Portal or vehicles via Screaming Jets. However, being able to do it without any cost or investment is a very nice thing to have, especially because it doesn’t interfere with the use of the two aforementioned stratagems.
Mandrakes are also well-suited to playing reserve games, being that the unit itself is fairly cheap, able to provide some threat with both melee and shooting, and resilient enough (and small enough) to drop onto an objective somewhere inconvenient if needed. While Drukhari certainly don’t lack for maneuverability in most lists, being able to arrive anywhere you want them to provides them with a distinct advantage compared to having to maneuver units to specific places, making them well-suited to grabbing distant objectives or those that are in places where you don’t want to fly a transport (e.g. inside a ruin, dangerously close to the enemy, etc.)
They also are excellent for clearing out far-flung objectives that belong to the enemy; since they can’t come in before the second battle round, they always will be benefiting from Eager to Flay, letting them reroll charges. A 9″ rerollable is certainly no guarantee, but it’s reasonable odds for getting stuck in (around 50%), especially if you’re willing to spend a command point on it. Their Baleblast is also well-suited to clearing most types of objective-holders, since it has a good middle ground between strength, AP, and number of shots- enough to get through cover while still wounding consistently and putting enough wounds on the target to be threatening. While a single unit of Mandrakes probably won’t clear the enemy by themselves (even if they get a successful charge), in combination from other firepower or if they are facing a particularly fragile enemy such as Grots they can certainly be enough.
The Baleblast shouldn’t be underestimated in other circumstances, either, though. While its profile is not particularly exciting for shooting at most types of targets, the ability to threaten mortal wounds on 6s means that it will occasionally spike in damage drastically- it is theoretically possible for a 5man squad of Mandrakes do deal twenty damage to a target, albeit immensely unlikely. However, with ten shots from such a squad, it will be relatively common for them to do one or two mortal wounds to anything they shoot at, and even 3-5 isn’t that implausible- a significant chunk of damage no matter what you’re aiming them at. No matter what your opponent has, Mandrakes are a potential threat to it, and that wide target profile is a big advantage in an army that tends to have a lot of very specialized guns.
Last but not least, let’s remember the Mandrake’s defensive stats. With a 5++, a 6+++, and -1 to hit, you’ve got several layers of defenses against almost anything the enemy tries to do to you. It probably won’t stop you from dying if the enemy dumps rapid fire Bolters with rerolls onto the unit, or bombs them with a Thunderfire Cannon, but most infantry aren’t going to stand up to that kind of firepower so that should hardly be surprising. Mandrakes are tough for a Drukhari unit, so don’t expect them to weather immense firepower, but if you can limit the number of guns that are shooting at them (via range, line of sight, or other means) they can prove to be a significant hassle to get rid of, especially for BS4+ armies.
As already mentioned, Mandrakes don’t fare terribly well against the basic guns carries by most infantry- Bolters, Lasguns, and other standard weapons can do quite a number on them in most cases, especially since Mandrakes get essentially no benefit from cover. While they can make use of Lightning-Fast Reflexes to make themselves obnoxious to hit, that stratagem is a precious resource in any Aeldari army and most of the time it won’t be worth using on a minimum squad holding an objective- and if the enemy decides to commit to it, that makes the rest of your shooting phase against their other targets a lot easier.
Mandrakes also struggle because while their guns can threaten everything, they aren’t exceptional against anything- a classic jack-of-all-trades. Your Primaris Marines in cover are not going to be terribly worried about Mandrakes, even if they go wild on sixes- they’re gonna take at least a couple turns to get rid of you and your return fire is a big problem for them.
Note also that charging into combat with anything that isn’t severely weakened is a risk for Mandrakes, since one of their major defenses (the -1 to hit) is ineffective there, forcing them to rely entirely on their weak saves. Generally it won’t be devastating to them, but just as their own attacks can fish for sixes and hope to get lucky, enduring overwatch will always be a gamble for them.
Mandrakes aren’t an exceptional unit, but they are one that at last has a reasonable niche within the codex, which is nice because it gives a good excuse to use their pretty models. They fall solidly into the “good enough to use but not so good that they break the game or obviate all other contenders” pile, which is ideally where most or all units would be falling, gods of game design willing.
As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day at the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.