Wednesday, October 6, 2010

WHFB: Dark Elf Sorceresses in 8th Edition Part 1

Whenever I go to I see some of the most awesome (read: not awesome) army lists.  There is an unspoken philosophy there that says, "any army with 2 Hydra and a level 4 sorceress is competitive regardless of anything else."  Regardless of what you think about Hydra, and apparently I am in the minority that believes they are good but not broken, the optimal loadout for a Sorceress Supreme is essential to making a competitive build.  

When you read stuff from people who don't play Dark Elves talk about what's good about them, "ridiculous magic" is always the second thing mentioned, right after Hydra.  But the magic is only ridiculous with the right build, otherwise your Supreme Sorceress isn't much better than any other army's level 4 wizards.

The strengths of Dark Elf magic are that they can have, and can throw, more power dice than anyone else except a levitating toad.  This in and of itself is good.  But it takes more to go from 'good' to 'broken.'  The more is found in 3 pieces of really powerful magic items.  Which items you take will determine the rest of your loadout, and which type of army list you are running will determine the items you take.

1.  Pendant of Khaleth.  Reverse ward save determined by the strength of the attack hitting.  Arguably the best ward save in the game.  It makes the Supreme Sorceress one of the hardiest level 4s in the game, as it takes an in ordinate amount of offense to bring her down, and the stronger that offense is, the more it takes.  Additionally, many of the miscast results are strength based hits, so this is one of the only miscast protections the DE have.  This piece is universal and is an auto-pick for your SS regardless of build.

2.  Focus Familiar.  This allows you to place an icon within 6" of your caster and you use the icon when drawing line of sight for spells and to determine range.  If this doesn't immediately strike you as insanely good you aren't playing the same game.  The new, powerful BRB lores are very balanced by range.  Lore of Death is extremely powerful, but also extremely short ranged.  Paying 25 points for an item that extends the range of each Death magic spell 6" is really, really, really good.  The difference between a 12" snipe spell and an 18" snipe spell is huge.  It means you can kill someone's BSB in your magic phase and not get charged by that unit the next turn.  That is gamebreakingly good.  Obviously, the shorter the range of the spells in the Lore you're using the better this item is, but having the extra range is still good with every Lore.

The second useful aspect is the ability to hide out of LOS and still cast.  Hide behind a building, protecting you from shooting, enemy magic, and enemy charges and still cast at people uninterrupted? Stupid good.  

So how is it best used?  On a Sorceress who isn't in a unit, with high mobility.  This way she can be (thanks to premeasuring) exactly where she needs to be to do what she needs to do without the opponent being able to do a damned thing about it.  A sorceress in a unit/magic bunker can still use it to advantage, but as we will see, there are better items for that option.

3.  Sacrificial Dagger.  25 points.  Sacrifice a member of the unit the SS is in and gain an extra power dice.  Once per casting attempt, decided AFTER the initial dice are thrown.  A SS with this item will only rarely miscast, as she can throw fewer dice in the initial attempt to cast and will as a result roll fewer double sixes.  Also, she will lose concentration less often since if she rolls a double one, or a single 1 or 2, she can sac a dude and regain concentration.  Combined with Power of Darkness you are looking at magic phases where you get anywhere from 3-8 extra power dice.  That's a lot of mojo to be throwing around.  Granted each extra dice requires a 6 point Dark Elf Warrior, but as devastating as magic can be in 8th edition, it is almost always worth the trade.  Compare it to the Power Stone in the BRB.  That's a one time use for 2 power dice, used before the cast.  This 6 points for a power dice decided after the cast and with unlimited uses per game.  Broken!  Obviously, this item must be used on a Sorceress who is in a unit, and preferably a unit large and cheap enough to make trading dudes for dice profitable.  Which is why DE are one of the armies that benefit from a horde.  A horde of spearmen are formidible in combat, and thus make an excellent bunker for the Sorceress.  Plus at 6 points a model, 7 with shields, they are a good price to trade for dice with.

Here are the builds...

Supreme Sorceress        370
-Level 4
-Dark Pegasus
-Focus Familiar

If you want some offense, add a Lifetaker and be at 400 points.  If you need to save points, use a Dark Steed, but obviously, it is less optimal.

Supreme Sorceress        320
-Level 4
-Sacrificial Dagger

Again, season with a Lifetaker if you want some offense and have the point.

If you are playing infantry heavy, and are using a big unit of Spearmen, the choice is obvious.  If you're doing a fast list with lots of Cold Ones, Chariots, Dark Riders, flying monsters, Hydras etc, the Pegasus Sorceress is awesome.  Is your opponent really going to spend his limited shooting/magic resources shooting at a Sorceress who will likely be behind cover when there are monsters and cavalry breathing down his neck?  He probably has to or else he will get clobbered by your magic phase.  And he will probably get smashed either way.

Are these the only competitive builds?  No, there are others, but these are the most competitive ones.  When you see a DE list posted somewhere that ISN'T using either the Focus Familiar or the Sac Dagger you have to ask why not?  There are plenty of good reasons not to use one or the other, but there are very, very few good reasons to use neither.

Part 2 will talk about the hero level Sorceresses, and the optimal competitive loadouts for them.   Comments?  Concerns?  Death threats?


  1. I am liking these articles... Actually... I just read your entire blog (like over the last 2 hours or so while cleaning mold lines)... And... I like it. A lot. Unfortunately, it has the side effect of making me want to play Dark Elves really badly (I was leaning towards Lizardmen before this...).

    I especially like this, as it 1) goes through why certain things are good, 2) gives me examples to work from. I look forward to part 2.

  2. There are better uses for the PoK in Dark Elves than on a Supreme Sorceress. It is good on her, to be sure, but it is better on an unkillable lord, who can hold up your opponents characters/deathstar/whatever the entire game.

  3. The unkillable Lord build isn't nearly as good as it was in 7th when you could layer regeneration and ward saves together.

    Taking a Dreadlord at all is a waste of points, really until you get to 3,000 or more point games. Even then, I'd have to see a compelling reason to take one.

    Outside of real world circumstances, yes, the unkillable Dreadlord is a cool thing and a great use of PoK. But in real lists that you actually have to play with and try to win with, no way.