Building Dread Elves, Not Dead Elves – Final Entry; I Dreamed a Dream…

I have abandoned the Dread fleet. The black flag flies no more, instead lying tattered and frayed upon sands stained with elven blood. The dark cloud of Ninth Age 1.2 has done what no player or foe has done before now. It has robbed my Dread Elves of their claws and has broken my will to lead them. The Dread Elf dream is dead. Why? A fair question.
Does this sound despairing? Almost as if I’m giving up without a fight? Be not deluded. I scoured the Dread Elf book for a hidden strength, a secret power I can exploit, but none revealed itself. There are some very punchy units, some very scary weapons at a Dread Elf’s disposal, but there’s few, if any, ways to get them where they need to be – or to keep them there long enough for them to do their dirty work.
Tower Guard, Executioners,  Raven Cloaks and Dread Knights all pack one hell of a wallop but are each priced at such a premium that they are almost mutually exclusive if you get units of meaningful size. Alternatively you can get them in several smaller units which, while not individually survivable, could give one of them a good chance of getting into contact. However, their small size makes them less effective and T3 with only a 5+ save means they aren’t that survivable. When you can get 25 S3 T3 dudes with extra hand weapons for circa 250pts in other armies, higher WS and I don’t  make up for the difference in numbers. Sure, Dread Knights are T4 and have a 2+ save so have some decent survival chances but at 52 points a model they don’t come cheap. In small units a couple of unlucky rolls – or any decent firepower – can reduce the units to too few in number to be effective. Larger units go back to being expensive, although 520 points for ten perhaps isn’t too bad considering their Toughness and Armour.
While I do have fifteen Dread Knights, ten of which are even painted, I cannot find a convincing way to support the them. One should be able to support 730 points with 3770, but it is somewhat difficult using the Dread Elf book. I could use two Hydras (880), two Dread Reapers (360) and a Hunting Chariot (250). This comes to 1490 points, so a total of 2230 with the raptor riding bad boys. I’d have to spend 1125 on Core: 30 spear Elves with command,  10 Corsairs with trimmings and two units of five Dark Riders with Repeater Crossbows comes to 1160 and gives me a block that can weather a bit of attention/maybe hold objectives or a combat long enough for the cavalry to arrive as well as three small units to harass people with – the Corsairs are also scoring so can snatch objectives late game, while the Dark Riders can also double as bunkers for a Sorceress.
With a total of 3390, I have 1110 for characters – a Sorceress with wizard master, 3 spells and ring of shadows on horse and Yemen cult (530) a captain bsb with banner of blood (280) and another Captain with 150pts of toys (halberd,  heavy armour, talisman of supreme shielding perhaps?) as general. That’s 4500 on the button, I think, and sounds really good.
But is it? The scary bits are the Hydras and the Dread Knights. They have 25 wounds between them, 15 of which are T4. If 10 BS3 handgunners shoot at them from long range, that’s 1-2 wounds on average,  one of which is saved. And 10 BS3 handgunners is 200 points in the Dwarf book, so you’re looking at 35 for the same points. Sure, you can manoeuvre them round terrain etc., and there’s also two Hydras to deal with, but a volley gun’ll  gut them while also threatening the Dread Knights and with the change to how Penetrating works cannons and bolt throwers are more threatening, not less, to big blocks of cavalry. Why don’t I field them as three units of five? Logistically, having 9 units on the board – 5 of them cavalry – can be difficult and make it hard to bring them all to bear on the same target, and units of five quickly lose combat efficiency to a couple of unlucky dice rolls. Additionally they can’t achieve much against blocks – they’ll win combat but won’t remove steadfast, so even 20 basic spearmen have a fair chance to stick about.
My last comment is that the Divine Altar has now become a combat chariot rather than a support wagon. They are quite dangerous for their points, but no longer get Dread Elf infantry where it needs to be, or help it stay there. You either get Lethal Strike, a 5+ Ward vs Artillery (you know, that stuff that apparently got nerfed recently…) or switstride against one unit. Sure, it’s a 12” aura and they’re all nice little buffs but they’re situational at best and irrelevant at worst. These leaves your Core to be gunned down in swathes by any missile weapon from bows to slings to harsh language – yep, even other Dread Elves will be able to pincushion your Core – or indeed, any Infantry you take.
So I have shelved them. The dream is dead. I think Dread Knights area now a must take not because they are outstandingly good, but because they are at least functional against all armies. I guess that makes them outstandingly good by Dread Elf standards, but that’s because they only have one unit that doesn’t fall apart on contact with the enemy faster than a plan written on wet tissue paper. I have until November 20th to submit a new list and that doesn’t give me much time to learn how to use heavy cavalry well enough to hinge an entire tournament on them.
Lots of people have told me I’m an Anvil player trying to use an army (Dread Elves) that’s all Hammers. Other people – who’ve gone to the effort of reading the book in passing rather than just making assumptions from the lore – have said Dread Elves need to play evasively and never get involved in combat. To the former I’d say a smith needs both a hammer and an Anvil to work, and anyone who tells you differently misunderstands the analogy. To the latter I’d ask them to re-read the book and tell me which of their evasive units can deal with monsters or large blocks, and why most of the book is made up of non-evasive units.
So I left my flirtatious, exciting Dread Elf lover and returned, like a sinner before the gates of a grudge bearing,  stone-hewn heaven, to my first love in 9th Age – Dwarves Holds. I have a list and a game against Mike’s Vermin Swarm tonight. I just hope the Clan’s Thunder doesn’t fail me as punishment for leaving her. More 9th Age news as it comes!

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