Designing Dread Elves, Not Dead Elves – Entry 1

I have recently begun practicing for the Surrey Spartans first official 9th Age tournament – we’re organising prizes and everything! Now that our competitive scene has evolved past the bragging rights stage, I’ve got to get my arse in gear and put a decent list together.

And then sadly paint stuff.

Not being an enthusiastic painter, I set about constructing a Dread Elves list that would take on all comers. Having only previously played Dwarven Holds in anything approaching a competitive environment I had two lessons to go in with – Secondary Objectives matter a lot, and big blocks of infantry do lots of work. With these two things in mind I set about building a list.

I came out with two units of 25 Corsairs with Paired Weapons, one unit of 30 Legionnaires with spears and heavy armour, 25 Tower Guard carrying the Banner of Blood, a Hydra, a Raptor chariot and one bolt thrower with repeating shot.  For characters I had a Dread Prince on Chimera with the Ogre Sword and a 4+ Ward Save, a Fleet Commander Hero as my Battle Standard Bearer – carrying the Banner of Gar Daecos – and two level one sorceresses, both on Fire and one with a Dispel Scroll.

My plan was, with over a hundred combat elves in 5-wide units, to get as many as possible in combat with the same unit and dice it into small, nonthreatening and non-scoring cubes. And then rinse and repeat. Sure, I’m S & T 3, but with I5 on the Spearmen and Tower Guard & I6 on the Corsairs they’d get there hits in. The ridiculously expensive Banner of Gar Daecos (25 for BSB, 40 for Fleet Commander and then finally 60 for the Banner itself) would give all Corsairs and Spearmen with 6” +1 to wound while also rerolling any 1’s, and the Banner of Blood would allow the Tower Guard to reroll 1’s & 2’s to wound. Combined with killer instincts, this is a very killy set of combos. The Hydra is mainly there to distract cannons from my Lord on Chimera, the Bolt Thrower to snipe chariots or war machines if it got ambitious and the raptor chariot was essentially the leading jab for my Lord’s haymaker. They would hit units in the flank at the same time as a block or two hit it in the front and turn it into red mist.

Very impressed with this list, and buoyed by my perfect record of previous games with Dark Elves, I threw down the gauntlet on the Spartan’s facebook page. Felix, tournament organiser and frequent tournament player, picked up with a warm smile and we set a date.

Fair warning, this battle report will be brief. Firstly great thanks to Felix for his great attitude and sporting nature when it came to the number of mistakes I made about my list and the units therein. Apparently the 1.0 changes passed me by. I was let down by this, but we carried on – learning a lot of interesting rules in the process, but discovering that they didn’t actually apply to my army as I thought they did. So thank you, Felix, for your understanding.

It may also have helped that he thrashed me pretty soundly. The only reason that I didn’t throw in the towel at the end of my second turn was that we’d made a bet he couldn’t beat me in an hour and we were only 48 minutes into the game. Even then things had fallen apart so badly I considered it.

One unit of Corsairs miraculously managed to delay his Wrath Lord’s unit of Definitely-Not-Bloodletters in the centre, keeping them off the objective. The other unit, containing my BSB and a sorceress, got front and flank charged by too units of Fiends of Lust, or whatever the Monstrous Cavalry of Lust are, and were pureed in a single round of combat. Those fiends, by the way, are insane and terrifying. One unit chased down my BSB and what few Corsairs survived while the other six went into the side of my Lord. My Spearmen were far out on my left flank thanks to a very well executed feint from Felix during deployment and my Tower Guard were off to one side as well. The Hydra and Bolt Thrower had been taken out in Felix’s first turn with a combination of magic and two cannons. The Raptor Chariot was on my far right, almost but not quite relevant. I’d killed 10 Definitely-Not-Bloodletters and two Fiends of Lust thus far.

You can see why the towel was a tempting option.

What did I salvage from the situation? Well, my Lord and Fluffy the Hungry Chimera chewed through the larger unit of fiends for the loss of a single wound, going on to eat Felix’s general before eventually getting shot down by a cannon or magic, I don’t recall which. Mainly he died to the forest in the centre, losing two wounds to dangerous terrain. The Tower Guard killed all but one of the other fiends, as I completely forgot about the Banner of Blood, and then were killed. The Spear block awkwardly faced off against Felix’s large block of Pestilence-daemons after finishing off the fiends and at the end of the game we actually had a similar number of models, if not points, on the board.

What did I learn? Lots, in short.

  • I need to re-read the Dread Elf book.
  • Multiple Medium Units (MMU) was not a strong approach for Dread Elves. The core units do not have the punch to stand up to larger blocks, tougher blocks, or if caught alone by a similar block. The combo-charge was a pipe dream and I need to accept that.
  • The Chimera is probably the best mount available for any self-respecting Dread Elf. Frenzy, Lethal Strike, Multiple Wounds, Alpha Predator and being Monstrous Beast all add up to a devastating hero or monster hunting murder weapon.
  • The Tower Guard were underwhelming despite the maths (with the banner) favouring them in most cases. Perhaps remembering the banner may help next time.
  • The Hydra’s death in the first turn was unfortunate, but not unprecedented; it would have died sooner or later anyway, probably before being useful. The single Bolt Thrower also falls into this category. As per the Law of 40k Dreadnoughts, always take two of these.

Driving home I completely redesigned the list with Dyson. We made an incredibly shooty list, bristling with crossbows and medium ranged pain. I think, after the maths, I had about 120 shots at 24 inches. I kept the Lord & Fluffy, dropping the silly expensive banner of Gar Daecos for the Banner of Blood and getting a unit of 30 Tower Guard as damage control. Three bolts throwers, three chariots and a unit of Raven cloaks rounded off the list, with two level 2 sorceresses.

Then I spent a few days reading up about what Dread Elves do well – play to your strengths and all that. Sadly, apparently what they do well is ‘not much’.

A Brief Overview of Dread Elfery:

With one ranged foot unit that forces an accuracy loss on itself and only one war machine in the form of the mediocre-at-best Dread Reaper – two if you count the Hunting Chariot – Dread Elves are not shooty. Let’s not beat around the bush here; it’s dismal.

10 Repeater Auxillia in two ranks get off 20 shots. At BS4, they need 5’s to hit at long range and 6’s if the move at all. So in the first turn of firing we’re looking at three S3 Armour Piercing hits, which will cause two wounds against a T3 target. That’s one wound against a T4 target. If you’re shooting at anything worth shooting, you want to be killing more than that. Sure, you can get more but at 10pts/model they aren’t cheap. They’ll threaten chaff but that’s about it.

The bolt thrower is so bland it’s painful. BS4, S6 or 6x S4 shots with a multiple shot penalty mean that this isn’t going to do much more than scare light chariots. The Hunting Chariot with Harpoon Launcher sits at 125 points and is probably the best ranged unit in the army – not a difficult competition, but its mobility, S7 D3 shot coupled with emergency impact hits means it threatens all sorts of things.

Raven Cloaks are also worth a mention. A rare choice, and unarmoured Scouting Skirmishes to boot, they aren’t likely to live long so you don’t want big units of them – especially at 13pts/model. However, BS5 and Skirmishing makes them very reactive and difficult to pin down. Saving a spell for dealing with these guys is probably the best idea, and if the enemy doesn’t you’re threatening war machines, flanks, single targets, all sorts – especially if you took Great Weapons and Poison Attacks. However, since half their power comes out of their potential in combat we can’t really say they’re a ‘shooty’ element of the list, wielding the same piddly Repeated Crossbows as the Auxillia.

Dark Riders seem pretty excellent, and are worth mentioning, but they’re actually only standard when it comes to Fast Cavalry. From what I understand they used to stand out far and beyond their competitors, but apparently other Fast Cavalry was actually just weak and got buffed in 1.0, making these guys at best a high achieving above-average unit. Still, better than everything else so far.

Magic is pretty standard. They don’t excel wildly, but they’re versatile and Master of the Black Arts is a nice perk. That’s about it for this phase.

Leaving combat, an interesting place for a T3 elf pansy. BUT WAIT – all the Dread Elf Core combat units can get a 4+ save, which isn’t terrible by any means. It’s also I5 which, while standard for Elves, means they get the drop on other units nearly all the time. Pity that killing ten dudes in a Horde won’t make a difference. The Special choices, Tower Guard and Executioners, are also very scary in regards to damage dealing capabilities, but again suffer from being T3, having expensive points per model (ppm) cost, and only a 5+ save. So what we’re seeing here is that they rip shyt up in combat, but if there’s too much shyt to rip up they fall down. This lack of staying power isn’t really a surprise in an Elf army, but in what is accepted as the combat elf army this is a problem.

High Elves Magic, Wood Elves shoot, and they’re both fairly glass hammer-y in combat too boot. Dread Elves are just glass hammer-y in combat, perhaps a little tougher if you’re kind. Normally the plethora of monsters would help but…

  • Hydras are expensive and just about worth it if you didn’t have to pay 30 pts for a breath weapon, or 45 for alpha predator. That brings them to a massive 255 pts for an I2 monster that gets shredded at range, even with Regeneration. Comparably, Gortachs & Bloodbeasts are cheaper and have as many or more wounds, as well as ways of getting them back. Arachnarok’s are just cheaper and better – Arachs & Gortachs have T6, Bloodbeasts have 5 but can get wounds back. Hydras cry.
  • Krakens follow the glass hammer analogy, but at the dismal Initiative of 3. T5 with only a 4+ save means that crossbows present a realistic threat to this thing, and while it is S7, it only has 4 attacks if it survives to attack – and yeah, D3 wounds is nice on the rare occasion it fights another monster that doesn’t make it into sushi first. Poisoned attacks seem great but at S7 they’re somewhat redundant.
  • Dragons suffer from being a Ridden Monster that flies. T6 is meaningless against most artillery, so you just stick a flag on your head that’s red to small arms and green to heavy firepower. Taking D3+2 wounds from cannons with no ward save, and giving them +1 to hit you, seems a great way to get your Lord killed on turn one.
  • The Medusa’s profile is the most disappointing thing I’ve ever read since I found out Nigel Farage hadn’t hung himself after the Brexit vote. Single model, T4, W3, no save. That would be fine at maybe 40 points, but the damned thing is seventy five. Base S4 means that you almost have to pay 2 points for a halberd, but then you lose one attack to the awkward-if-your-optimistic Petrifying Glare rule. Oh, and that can’t be made as a supporting attack even though you only get one Medusa in a unit. Trolls are 42 pts, come base S5 and have Regeneration – and Stupidity is only a problem if you move them further than 12” from your general and/or battle standard bearer. If you get a Medusa model, us it as a lucky charm, not a Dread Elf Medusa.

So the ‘monstrous support’ is just ‘monstrous’ – with a silent ‘-ly bad’ if you want to be honest with yourself. So what’s left? What can possible make Dread Elves cause Dread in their enemies rather than their owners?

The astute amongst you who are aware of the ins and outs of the Dread Elf list probably don’t play Dread Elves – because you’re astute, which implies you make good decisions. However, you’ll also notice I haven’t mentioned two things. The first is Witch Elves, now in two flavours – overpriced core and overpriced special. What they lack for in armour they make up for with nothing and barely perform under optimal circumstances – sure, getting 50 Witch Elves with the Banner of Blood into combat will wreck another unarmoured horde, but they’ll never get there. Don’t kid yourself.

The other thing is the Divine Altar. You have to dedicate it to either Nabh (15 points cheaper, making it 200 wasted points) or Yema (totalling 215 points of worth). The Yema Altar is the only way to have a functional Medusa for one thing – it’s hidden as a crew member so all of its weaknesses are taken away. This effectively makes the Altar 140 pts, and it still dishes out either +1 LD (meh), +1S (not shabby for a whole unit) or a 5+ friggin’ Ward Save (cue Ode to Joy). People usually truck it around behind other units as a Gungan shield generator, trusting it’s 4+ Ward and T5 to see it through to turn three.

But it’s a War Platform.

“But it’s dedicated to a cult!” – Sure, that just means things dedicated to the other cult can’t push it. Oh, no, I guess my Executioners will keep Killer Instinct and my Witch Elves will stay at home like they would have done anyway.

So I rewrote my list without even trying the shooty one. 44 Spearmen (not heavy armour), two units of ten Corsairs (Vanguard, Paired Weapons, Repeater Hand Bows), two Hunting Chariots, 25 Tower Guard along with the Altar of Yema left room for a tooled up Lord on foot with the Executioner’s Axe, a BSB with the Silly Expensive Banner of Gar Daecos and an Giant’s Blade, two sorceresses at level one with a dispel scroll between them and an assassin.

The list is fairly immobile, holding back with the big block – containing general, BSB and both sorceresses along with the Altar of Yema – while threatening the objective. If we’re in a banners game then I can nominate the BSB and the unit standard bearer to force people to engage it. If I play the one with two objectives then the block will have to either march off into the guns of the enemy against shooting armies to threaten their point, or against other combat armies hold my own point while other units try to sneak their objective. Not ideal for the list, but we’ll see what happens.

I arranged a test game against someone who had played since 4th edition Warhammer, although they had no 9th Age experience, and the tables were set – if slanted in my favour. Still, I’d definitely find out if I’d made a massive error! Find out what happened in my next post!

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