The Old Stuff
Witch Elves. Nuff said. Witch Elves retain basically everything from the previous book, and add to their arsenal ASF and MP on top of the move into core. What is not to like? Dark Elves have a cheap high damage output core troop that almost no other army comes close too. The only real drawbacks are the low strength and some aspects of frenzy. Still, besides this these girls squarely are a winner in 8th.
Dark Riders. Simply put, the best fast cavalry in the game got cheaper, whilst remaining core...
Repeater Bolt Throwers. Expect to see four of these guys in an army near you. A point drop to put them on parity with their High Elf cousins, but more importantly a move to special sees these more accessible. However I am going to go on record in saying the move to special is a double edged sword. Special is now crowded with desirable units where as the rare section is a little lite...
Executioners. Being able to strike in initiative order is huge when you wield a great weapon. Being 12 points a pop is amazing value for money. Bringing strength 6 to a low strength army is priceless. Not to mention killing blow will inspire a lot of fear in your opponents. These will be a mains-day unit in any build.
Cold One Knights. Yeah I am throwing these guys in the winner circle. They may be a touch more expensive, but they gain an additional strength 4 attack on the model, whilst retaining the only high armour value in the book. These guys forefill a role in the army better than no other can. Use these guys instead of Black Guard. They do the infantry mop up job better.
Shades. They get their great weapons back. Need I say more? One of the best scouts in the game just got better thanks to ASF, I5 and great weapons on top of the shenanigans they could already pull.
Masters! With access to Sea Dragon Cloaks (5+ scaly skin) and Dark Steeds (fast cav) we now enter the age of 1+ save vanguarding characters. Lets pair this up with some BS6 shooting, great weapons and ASF. I wont dwell on them, but expect to see them on a table near you soon.
Sorcerers. These girls also benefit from the new Dark Steed rules, however they also get access to all the lores now! Even after the re-write of the Sacrificial Dagger they still come out on top. Oh yeah, and there even cheaper than their High Elf compatriots....
Spearmen. They got great new models but unfortunately they went up in price. The price is fair and consistent with High Elves, however they where cheaper in the last book, thats a fact. Who would take these guys anyway now they are competing with Witch Elves and Dark Riders? Short of cheap dagger fodder, leave them at home.
Black Arc Corsairs. Yeah I know, they are still good, but in this book they are simply out-shined by core Witch Elves in the amount of pain that can be dished out. Thats not to say they can't play a role, as one of very few infantry that carriers a 4+ save into battle, running Metal in conjunction could be interesting for a 2+ save infantry circumstantial and all (This may not work as Glittering Robes grants Scaly Skin 5+ as does the cloaks). Its too soon to tell but they could still prise a role with handbows. I just think that when dealing with T3, more bodies is better, or if you want to shoot something, then just get Rxbm for the same money. I'm shelving these guys unless I want to play a themey raiders list (I do)
Black Guard. Yeah they are stubborn. Yeah they have 2 strength 4 attacks. Yeah they hate all you mofo's. But they are still 15 point toughness three duders with strength 4, no matter how you look at them. There armour save is pants, and they are designed to rip through infantry in a world of 1+ save Monstrous Cavalry, they just don't cut it. Notwithstanding we have units that do that job cheaper and better. They needed something like a 4+ ward similar to what the Phoenix Guard have, but then again, you never see them either. Such a shame as the new models look superb. Guess I can always use the heads on executioners instead...
And then there is the Couldron of Blood. Its still good, don't get me wrong, but I am not going to dwell on it. It was better in the 7th book, and it forefills a slightly different role now. We will see them, especially if people take Witchypoobus(tm) or Executioners block, but I think most serious competitive builds will avoid them now.
The Middle Ground...
Hydras. I am really struggling here. On one hand they lost "classic" regeneration but then picked up another one grows back, or "modern" regeneration. One is good against one shot kills, the other against chipping wounds off. So in other words, Empire, Ogres, Daemons, Dwarves and a few others will really like the loss here, but most armies will not be so cherry. I have not tried it out enough yet but on paper prolonged combats could be interesting. But then again toughness 5 with 5 wounds saving on a 4+ is nothing special. Equip it with a flaming breath weapon and you are looking to annihilate some infantry in one round of combat. Equip it with the spit and it becomes more or a support monster. Both still susceptible to all the classic anti monster tools. It has really suffered from the loss of re-rolls to hit, and no longer has the pseudo 5+ ward save from monster and handlers rule. The more I think about it the more it sounds like a loser. Lets just see how it fairs with the "modern" regeneration rule before jumping to conclusions, as it is very cheap compared to its compatriots in other books (carnosaurs anyone?)
The New Stuff
Warlocks... do I really need to say anything here? These guys are not baking the cake, there eating it too! By far the best unit in the book.
Karibdyss. Despite its unspellable name, and incomprehensible pronunciation, this is an interesting option. 5 strength 7 attacks with the possibility to get another D6 more hits (lets just wait and see how the additional wounds are distributed in the next FAQ) the only problem that remains is getting it into combat with a desirable target. It could make a mess of any monstrous cavalry, or even a steam tank, and is reasonably priced as well (need I mention the carnosaur again... LOL Lizardmen). I think at this point its icing on a cake.
Bloodwrack Medusa. Really... 90 points for a Ld2 Frenzy monstrous infantry with low toughness and 3 wounds. If that where not enough they get a ranged attack that is only a few inches... like they will ever get a chance to use it (not that you would want to. How many Shades can I get for 90 points...?). Nicest model in the range though, if that is any conciliation... Expect to see them as a Daemon Prince in a WoC army near you.
Black Ark Fleetmaster... Err... WTF... serious failure in unit design here. How is this thing worth 150 odd points??? Its a Master with less options, an extra wound and a special rule which has all the signs of someone who has no clue about the game mechanics...
I shall mention the new Scourgerunner chariot briefly here. At 150 points Matt Ward has fallen into the all to common trap (at least in Games Workshop Army Books) of assuming that taking unit a, and adding it to unit b will mean it should cost a+b... In this case they do not take into account the bolt thrower is now toughness 4, not 7. Yeah its mobile, but WTF! an Ironblaster is 20 points more and a Skullcannon is 15 cheaper! Both of them a 10 times what the Scourgerunner is. We almost had a well executed book on our hands, then we had our hopes dashed that the writer actually knew what he was doing...
And then there is the Bloodwrack Shrine... for 85 points more than a solo Medusa you get toughness 6 and 5 wounds, but still no save to speak of. And to boot, your a large target so no hiding from anything. The mirror on the back must be purely cosmetic because there is no range increase or benefit what so ever to the poor shooting attack. It does however have a peculiar +1/-1 leadership bonus which seams to offer some synergies with other parts of the book, until you look again at the delivery system.
No this is an interesting lore. At first looks it appears very powerful, but once you take a closer look its not so much. Two signature spells anchor this deck similar to High Elves, but unfortunately they are both very situational. Doombolt, whilst a great spell, requires a big investment in power dice unless you are a level 4. And then there is power of darkness... How is this good, +1 strength to the unit your in, and the ability to recover some power dice, you know, the same ones you spent to cast the spell cause its 8+. Of course this is far to powerful so there needs to be a downside, in that you have the chance to wound yourself.... Sure thats it... If that was not bad enough, it can only target the unit your in, therefore if you want to make use of it you need to put your caster in the Witch Elves (who will murder her) or in another front-line unit. Sorry, I will be taking wildform if I want to do this, a calculated 9132 times better.
Now there is some good spells in this mix, like the other magic missile Blade Wind, or the amazing Hex that is Word of Pain. Then we get Soul Stealer! and the bomb that is Shroud of Despair (on our flying/fast cav sorcerer). Oh yeah, and then there is Black Horror... its no Purple Sun but I guess it has its place vs the High Elves.
The lore is really designed to work well with a level 4 caster IMO. Most spells sit at the 8-10 power range which means reliable casting on two dice all day long. Its a very offensive deck with a lot of mid ranged damage spells and even a few anti-armour spells to boot. I don't think you will see this often on a support wizard (read level 2) when you have Warlocks on the field, but there is a few synergies with Death and Shadow plus some not so obvious ones with other lores.
I wont get into these guys and girls to much other than to say Hellebron is a beast and Morathi looks great on paper.
So there is a lot going on in the new Dark Elves Army Book.
Overall the book has a very aggressive feel to it and I think it captures the Dark Elves view on the world well in comparison to the High Elves. Infact on of the opening lines in the background is the High Elves want to control the world, the Dark Elves want to rule the world, and the Wood Elves want to hide from the world (or just be left alone!). The author (Matt Ward) has captured this well, and the previously mentioned rumour that all three of the Elven Army Books being written at the same time has some serious weight added to it here.
The book has some very good internal balance, which is easily identified after reading through it a few times. You are left with a plethora of ideas floating in your head and no clear "power" list, although making a call on a "power" list (which eventually becomes the "netlist") this early is a bit premature. Multiple options in core (I am talking Orc & goblin numbers here), a packed special section, multiple character options and some interesting new units will keep me entertained for a while. Besides oddities like the Scourgerunner Chariots (seriously, WTF Matt Ward) that just don't add up, the book is well thought out to the most part.
As for power levels, well its no WoC as far as obvious builds go, nor will it be the surprising strengths of the Daemon book. Its a book that can be used to design several specific builds, and will lend itself well to tournament play IMO. Will it see the top podium? Time will tell, and of course this entirely depends on all those banhammer wankers that are out to ruin the game. You know who you are...