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40K TACTICS: Playing with Paper Planes: How to Win with Dark Eldar

7 Minute Read
Oct 4 2011

Hello to all the good people that frequent the Bell of Lost Souls! Mandragoran, your resident Euro player, here to talk about playing (and hopefully winning) with Dark Eldar… at least how I do it in my local meta and at the ETC.

You might disagree with me (this is good, debate is at the heart of making greater discoveries), but hopefully you’ll be able to get something out of this article to take to the table whether your playing Dark Eldar or not.

Okay, this is probably superfleous for the veteran tournament players amongst you, but for those new to the Dark Kin here’s what we have:

1) We’re speedy, we get round the board quickly in our so called paper planes (not to mention Reaver Jetbikes, Beast Master units, Hellions, Scourges, etc, etc.)

2) Dark Eldar throw out utterly hellish firepower (I’ll get into that more specifically later)

3) Close combat wise Dark Eldar, point for point, have some of the best units in the game! Anyone whose been on the end of Incubi, Wychs, or Beast Masters will understand what I’m saying

4) Dark Eldar, points wise, are actually crazy cheap. In 2000pt games it’s possible to easily fill out every force org slot. That means in games where victory points are involved it can be very difficult to “get anything out of” a Dark Eldar Army

1) Dark Eldar live in a galaxy where everything, and I do mean everything, can kill them. If they get into a straigh brawl they’re going to last about as long as a chocolate tea cup… as in: not very.

2) Lots of armies have big time weapons almost designed to kill us even more efficiently: hydras, riflemen dreadnoughts, loota squads. It’s a scary prospect

So, seeing as I’ve written more advantages than disadvantages you may be led to believe that Dark Eldar are some sort of win button crew made to wreck everyone’s faces. The more astute of you will recognise that those are some rather GLARING weaknesses! So lets proceed from there…


What to Use
Okay, we have a few schools of thought on what the ultimate list of awesome Dark Eldar destruction is. Let’s take a look at two of the more popular army style…

Shooting Heavy… or more commonly referred to as “Venom Spam”
Venom spam is effective. It relies on fielding a flock of Venoms (6+ to be considered spam I think, 9 is the max number you can field) that will shoot all of your infantry off the board. Venoms have 12 poison shots each with the extra cannon upgrade (which you should always always take), and come with a flicker field for a 5+ invun save. Simple mathhammer tells us that each Venom cranks out 4 wounds on average per turn (12 shots,3+ to hit 4+ to wound) that means that to work out the number of wounds you’ll wrack up simply multiply your number of venoms by 4. So, in a 9 venom list you’ll cause 36 wounds (assuming all venoms can fire). Let me tell you this: that’s down right unfriendly to anything that happens to be walking round the board (bye bye Long Fangs, or something similar).

To handle armoured concerns the Venom Spam build generally has three Trueborn squads with blasters, and Warriors squads with a blaster per squad; coupled with this is the ubiquitous triple Ravager choice to handle long range anti-tank duties. Frankly, 9 Venoms plus 3 Ravagers will crush a lot of opponents. It’s good at an awful lot, but it can and does come unstuck against certain things. Grey Knights and Imperial Guard spring to mind. Look at it this way:

Venom Spam Player: “I’m going to kill all of your infantry!”

GK or IG Player: “You mean all of those guys hiding in transports? The same transports that your venoms can’t hurt?”

Venom Spam Player: “Yeah, man, my Dark Lances and Blasters will wreck house vs those.”

GK or IG Player: “Good luck bro” [through fits of laughter]


The main issues for IG is numbers. You can’t drop enough of their tanks before they drop you. Hydras kill DE tanks pure and simple. When you throw in Manticores and Vendettas you’re in a world of pain. In the name of all that’s holy, the humble Chimera is a nightmare for a Venom (3 str 6 shots!!). So, in essence this is not cool, at all… ever

Grey Knight wise, they’d be absolutely fine… but for one thing: Fortitude. It makes it impossible to stun a tank and move on (known as “stunlocking” to the “cool” kids), which is normally a go to move when you’re working with limited anti-tank resources.

Venom Spam is great… but not quite world beating.

Heavy Combat… or lovingly referred to as “Raider Rush”
Components tend towards tooled up Wych squads, Blood Brides, and Incubi in raiders; accompanied often by some form of tooled up combat character. Vect is common, but in a non special character environment you could easily get away with an Archon or Succubus.

Backing this up are usually some small Warrior or Wrack squads that are there to do back field scoring duties. Heavy Support wise it’s often Ravagers FTW for anti-tank. But, you do tend to get a smattering of Razorwings and Void Ravens.

A Raider Rush’s goal in life is to blast up the field in Aether Sail Raiders, and beat your army to death up close and personal like. They are awesome at this, able to deal with all sorts of varying targets from Ork mobs to Terminator squads. The fire support element is there to take out your speed, so you can’t get away fast enough from the onslaught. Anti-armour duties are backed up by Wychs as they have access to haywire grenades, so they can wreck enemy vehicles too (I personally haven’t ever seen a good reason not to take haywires). All in all when this works, it really really works and the opponent’s army has its heart torn out. But, similarly enough to Venom Spam, there are issues with this style of list.

If you don’t go first and don’t have a place to hide you either have to reserve or risk your “rush” never hitting home at all; AV 10 open topped transports aren’t known for their resilience!!! If you reserve them then you risk a disjointed attack that’s much easier to deal with as Dark Eldar don’t have a way to appropriately manage reserves like their Craftworld kin (in the form of the Autarch). It’s very hard to accurately predict or plan your games (or even tournaments) because it’s so dice dependent! So, this list style is not for me. If you play in a particularly terrain heavy environment with lots of line of sight blocking terrain this army improves a great deal.

Thus far I’ve told you about some build ideas and how they work. Suffice to say I believe that to be successful you should have a balance between the two most popular approaches. Great shooting allied to a meaninful combat element gives you many more options than either extreme. Now this means that it doesn’t dominate as much as either extreme in the specialist areas, but nor does it fall down in the manners that the others do… basically balance gives you option!

I take a couple of big Wych squads in Raiders (or some Incubi if points allow), 6 -7 Venoms for the wall of fire along with a healthy dose of blasters… I guess you could call my approach “Venom Rush” (see what I did there??!!!)


As a note this is by no means all you can do with DE tactics or army selections, but I have to save something for future articles if you ask me back ;0)

Pulling the Venom Rush Together
For me there are a number of key things that you should keep in mind with my sort of balanced DE list. These to me would be the make and breaks of a game win:

1. Use the terrain! So many times I have seen people think of the terrain as an obstacle to be overcome. To a Dark Eldar player terrain is your best friend. Also, don’t think to only use it defensively. Think of it this way: if you can isolate enemy forces using terrain (only limited numbers can see you) and hammer the ones that can potentially retaliate your onto a good thing. The fancy name for this style of play this is “the shadow game.”

2. Alpha Strike for the win! When you’re hitting something don’t paw at it with jabs, if your going to hit something hit it as hard as possible. One Venom won’t drop a 5 man Marine unit by any stretch of the imagination. Four have a solid chance, though. It’s all about combining power, or, in a rather hackneyed turn of phrase, “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.” If you can execute an attack that has every gun in your army firing (blasters included), and has charges going in to clean up the remnants you’re doing it right. By the way, part of executing point two is paying very close attention to point one!

3. Pick your battles! Under no circumstances should you accept battle under anyone’s wish, and to anyone’s advantage but your own. People will try and bait you out with sacrifice units, they’ll use objectives to move you to areas that aren’t good for an evil Eldar’s health. So be patient, you have the speed to get where you need to so don’t be afraid to spend a turn repositioning when confronted by negative set ups

Well that was quite a diatribe on Dark Eldar for my first post. Here’s hoping I gave you some food for thought, and that we can get some discussion going on what’s good, bad, or indifferent about what I’ve said and DE in general. Hopefully, I get to post something else for you. Until then may your lances always pen on 5+ ;0)

– Mandragoran

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