Elves. Elves! Elves? - Part 1

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First off, a quick apology that it's been so long since the last article. While I have several articles for the website in progress it's been a bit of a struggle to find time to finish them considering the work I've been doing on the website and other things.

As I'm a bit late to the party in terms of looking at the Dark Elf and Wood Elf books this article is going to be a bit different to the usual army book overview or review you'll read or hear. Rather than go through the three elf army books in turn, instead I'm going to look at them as a set and pick units from them to make my own fantasy elf army book.

Just in case you're wondering, this article wasn't inspired by the imminent possibility of an End Times edition allowing you to use all the elven races in one army. I've been working on this article off and on since a month or so after the release of the Wood Elf book but the prospect of an Elven themed End Times book has inspired me to get this finished before such a book arrives. I also haven't reconsidered my character choices in light of the maximum 50% Lords and maximum 50% Heroes limitations that have been introduced with version 1.9 of the main Warhammer rulebook FAQ/Errata.

To be clear, although I may also refer to this as my "list" instead of "book" during this article, I don't mean list in the sense of the army list you write when playing your games but the list of units in my fantasy elf book. This isn't going to be my pick of units to go into a tournament list (not least because, as my tournament opponents can probably tell you, I have no idea of what constitutes a viable tournament unit) but my list of units you would construct your list for casual or tournament games from.

As with my High Elf overview, I'm not going to cover special characters as I don't use them and rarely play against people who do.

The Rules

It would have been easy enough to go through each book and pick everything that appealed to me, given a little bit of commentary and then sit back, considering the job done. However, that wouldn't look like an army book, more like the kind of wish-listing you tend to see when rumours of a new army book first start to surface.

With that in mind I decided to set myself some rules to create my "Warhammer: Elves" list, although they may well have ended up more as guidelines, to try and ensure that whatever units I picked would resemble an army book.

What rules have I set myself? Well, firstly, just because I am combing three armies of Elves does not mean I'm going to completely ignore the background of the three armies. Therefore, there will be no Sorceresses flicking through a dog-eared, blood-stained copy of the Book of Hoeth, nor Wood Elf combat characters suddenly turning up to battle with 1+ armour saves. In other words, characters from each army would be considered based on the mounts and equipment, mundane or magical, available to them from their corresponding army book.

The next restriction is that as far as possible I can only pick the same number of units within each category as you will find in the actual army books. This one is definitely more of a guideline than a hard rule as in some categories one army may have more of one type of unit in their army book, so whether I pick one, two (or more) of that type of unit from across the army books will depend upon its role.

My next restriction goes hand in hand with the previous one. I cannot choose direct duplicates of particular unit or character types. For example, using the previous restriction I could look at the army books and say that there are normally two or three combat characters in the Lords section so I'll choose the Dreadlord, Prince and Glade Lord. This restriction will ensure that I just choose one of those as they are essentially the same model just with some army specific special rules, equipment and mount choices.

Another limitation is that the units chosen will be in the fantasy book in the section slot they occupy in the army book, so no Frostheart Phoenixes in the Core section or Loremasters of Hoeth in Special.

The last rule is that aside from Core units, which will be considered in their own groupings, all other units will be considered by type of role they perform, not the section they are in. (E.g. grouping all great weapon infantry together).

Needless to say, as a High Elf player, I'm going to have to try and approach this list from an unbiased point of view (which shouldn't be too hard considering how, like a lot of High Elf players, it's too easy to compare my units with the Dark Elf equivalents and think "why's their unit better than mine? ").


Before I started writing this article I thought that this would be an easy section to split up. After all, it's just magic users and close combat characters isn't it?

Well, as it turns out, not quite. With some of the changes to characters and new characters introduced in the 8th edition army books there are some definite blurred lines when you look at the roles certain characters can perform.

Therefore, while I'm will cover all the characters as either magic users or combat characters, some characters will be considered in both sections.

Magic Users

The 8th edition army books have brought some big changes to the Dark and Wood Elves. Both armies can now access the eight lores of magic from the main rulebook while the Wood Elves can now take High Magic and Dark Magic, having lost their own magic, the Lore of Athel Loren.

Dark Elves

I'll start with the Dark Elves who have the least number of magic users at present, with a grand total of two, the Sorceress and Supreme Sorceress, the hero and lord choices.

Having lost the ability to throw as many power dice at a spell as they liked, the Dark Elf magic users still have access to the Sacrificial Dagger for adding an extra D6 to their casting attempts, assuming they're bunkered in a large enough sacrificial unit. They can also still boost their magic phase by casting Power of Darkness to gain power dice (as well as now having the nice benefit of boosting the unit's strength).

Dark Magic remains a source of nasty, potent spells for these casters but there are new options to explore in the extra main rule book lores they now have access to.

High Elves

Before the new army book the High Elves already had three magic casters in the form of the Mage/Archmage and Dragon Mage. To these has been added the Loremaster of Hoeth in the Lords section.

The Mage/Arch Mage have access to all the rulebook lores and High Magic but have lost the +1 dispel bonus, instead gaining +1 when casting High Magic spells. They're also somewhat starved for power dice compared to the 7th edition book with the Jewel of the Dusk and Banner of Sorcery having been lost in the purge of magic items.

The Dragon Mage now has +2 to cast his spells compared to the +D6 he had before. He now automatically generates Flaming Sword of Rhuin as one of his spells, rather than being able to choose to swap a spell for it, which seems an overlooked hangover from when that spell gave a combat boost to the targeted character in 7th edition.

Lastly we have the new caster, the Loremaster of Hoeth. Boasting what was, until the Lizardmen book came out, the unique party trick of knowing all the signature spells from the main Lores of Magic, he is a Level 2 with no option to upgrade to a higher level. He is also another High Elf wizard who can take magic armour thanks to coming with Heavy Armour as standard, giving you some additional options for keeping him alive.

Despite having the most magic items of the three Elf armies the High Elves, for some reason, only have a single Arcane item, the reworked Book of Hoeth. Priced to ensure only a Lord level wizard can take it this is pretty much an auto-include in any High Elf army with Lord level casters, allowing as it does the user to re-roll one die per casting or dispel attempt.

I still feel that High Magic is a bit of a mixed bag that works better for the other armies that can now take it. That's not to say any of the spells are completely unusable against the right opponent but the ranges on some of the spells are shorter than average. This can mean getting your mage closer to the enemy, as can any ideas you have of using a High mage's casting to boost the protection of a combat unit since the Lore Attribute in High acts upon the caster and his unit.

Wood Elves

In their last army book only the Lord level caster, the Spellweaver, could take spells from any lore other than the Wood Elves own Lore of Athel Loren, and then it was only from Lore of Beasts. Both the hero level casters, the Spellsinger and Branchwraith (if upgraded to a wizard) could only take spells from Athel Loren.

Now the Spellweaver has access to all eight main rulebook lores as well as High and Dark Magic. The Spellsinger still lags behind somewhat though, being unable to take High or Dark, while the Branchwraith is now a wizard by default, using the Lore of Life.

But these aren't all the wizard options available to Wood Elf players. Among several changes the Treeman Ancient has seen in the new edition is the addition of it being a Level 2 wizard on the Lore of Life, and the option of upgrading it to Level 4. Furthermore, the Shadowdancer can be upgraded to be a Level 1 wizard using the Lore of Shadow.

Where the High and Dark elf wizards get bonuses for casting High and Dark magic, all the Wood Elf casters get a bonus for casting with whichever lore they are using while they are in a forest.

Like the High Elves, the Wood Elves only have one Arcane item amongst their magic items in the 8th edition army book. Unlike the High Elves' Book of Hoeth, the Wood Elves' Calaingor's Stave most definitely isn't an auto-include as it merely gives the bearer the Tree Singing spell that was such a feature of the now defunct Lore of Athel Loren.

Caster Choice

With quite a bit of variety to choose from which casters will I choose? At the Lord level I think it has to be the Archmage. With nine lores to choose from, plus access to the Book of Hoeth, that makes him the best choice for me for both casting and dispelling. I was sorely tempted to also pick the Ancient here as well for being a potentially more resilient caster, although that extra resilience is somewhat match-up dependent.

At the Hero level my choice is the Sorceress. Being able to take the Sacrificial Dagger makes her a good support mage since she can sacrifice models in her unit to push an extra D6 onto the casting value, helping you make the most out of whatever spare power dice you have to give her.

Close combat and support characters

As all of the Elf books feature several characters who fall within this category, including some who also cross over into magi user territory, I'm going to pick one or two from the Lords section and two or three from the Heroes, depending on what they bring to the table.

Dark Elves

When it comes to quantity of combat characters the Dark Elves have more whose sole role that is, unlike the other elf books.

Starting with the generic combat character choices, the Dreadlord and Master, you have the only elf characters able to get a 2+ armour save on foot, or 1+ when mounted, without dipping into that important magic item allowance. The Murderous Prowess rule also sets them aside from their direct equivalents in the other elf books as it allows them to re-roll dice rolls of one to wound in close combat, helping their effectiveness.

There are two new options in the Lords section: the High Beastmaster and Black Ark Fleetmaster. The Beastmaster shares nearly all the same characteristics as the Dreadlord barring one less Attack and point of Leadership. He comes with either a manticore or Scourgerunner Chariot as part of his cost, although personally if I wanted a Lord on a manticore I'd be taking the Dreadlord.

The second new character, the Fleetmaster, is a Lord but has the characteristics of the Hero level Master, barring the prerequisite three wounds for being a Lord, and also only has a Hero's normal magic items allowance of fifty points. Equipped in the same way as a Black Ark Corsair with Light Armour and a Sea Dragon Cloak he also comes with an additional hand weapon as standard. His big party trick is his special rule that makes his unit Unbreakable if he is kills an enemy character or fights in a challenge.

Under the Heroes section we come to the Death Hag. Possessing standard Elf Hero characteristics her attacks are boosted to five courtesy of having two hand weapons and Frenzy. Those attacks can be boosted by taking a Gift of Khaine or you can buy her a magic weapon. She won't have any protection at all though unless she is mounted on, or in the same unit as, a Cauldron of Blood.

The last combat character in the Dark Elf book is the Khainite Assassin. Coming with the expected high weapon and ballistic skill of a model whose role is to kill characters he is none-the-less still an elf in most other characteristic regards. The Forbidden Poisons upgrades can give the Assassin Killing Blow or +1 on their To Wound rolls, as well as leadership penalties to characters they wound.

High Elves

For the High Elf book the base combat characters are the Prince and Noble, sharing the same characteristics as their Dark Elf equivalents. Key differences are that the best mundane armour save they can get is one less than the Dark Elves and, unless you're running a massive unit of characters, the Martial Prowess special rule is effectively useless on them. Comparing mounts the High Elves get a bit of an edge with the Prince having the choice of three dragons but the Prince and Noble do not have access to Fast Cavalry mounts, unlike the Dreadlord and Master.

New to this edition is the Anointed of Asuryan, a Phoenix Guard Lord level character. While he loses a point of Ballistic Skill, Leadership and Attack compared to the Prince, he comes with a Ward Save as standard and Magic Resistance as well. On foot he gives his unit a 6+ Ward Save and Immune to Psychology while if you want to mount him on a monster he can ride either of the new Phoenixes.

Already covered under the Casters section, the Loremaster of Hoeth also warrants consideration as a combat character since he has the characteristics of a Noble, plus the third wound marking him out as a Lord level character, and the equipment of a Swordmaster. As a combat character you're going to want to give him a Ward Save and possibly a magic weapon so he can make use of his Always Strikes First special rule. With his casting ability being his main feature he doesn't give any bonuses to units he joins except through casting spells, unlike the Anointed.

The first character we look at from the Heroes section has also been considered in the Casters section: the Dragon Mage. The Mage's own combat credentials are pretty minimal &45; with the strength of a standard Elf and only two attacks he doesn't look much like a combat character. However, he can now take Dragon Armour, getting him to a 4+ armour save and 6+ Ward Save and could use his magic item allowance for a magic weapon or some armour to make him a bit more durable. Of course, the main thing he brings to a combat is the dragon he rides on. Granted it's the least impressive dragon available in the army but it's still a highly mobile monster with higher toughness than you'll find elsewhere in the army, barring the Frostheart Phoenix and two more senior dragons.

We now come to the new heroes in this book. First we have the Lothern Sea Helm. Considering he costs forty percent more than a Noble the Sea Helm only has two attacks and, being a Sea Guard themed character, only has a mundane armour save of 5+ thanks to light armour and a shield. He can be mounted on a Skycutter, at which point he gains a 4+ Ward Save against shooting attacks. What you appear to be paying points for is his Naval Discipline rule that allows a unit he is in to make a combat reform after being charged, provided they haven't fled or declared a Stand and Shoot during the charges sub phase.

Lastly in the High Elf book we have the Handmaiden of the Everqueen. As with the Sea Helm, the Handmaiden loses an attack compared to the Noble but gains an extra point of Ballistic Skill. She also, through one of her special rules, has the Quick to Fire rule, as does any unit of Sisters of Avelorn she joins.

Wood Elves

The new Wood Elf book sees their combat characters get a name change from Highborn and Noble to Glade Lord and Glade Captain. Sharing the same characteristics as their counterparts in the Dark and High Elf army books they come in slightly more expensive due to coming with an Asrai longbow. Unlike their cousins in the other elf army books they struggle to get a decent amour save without resorting to magic items &45; they best they can get from mundane armour being 5+ on foot or 4+ when mounted. With the loss of the Kindreds in this edition the only real customisation you can give them now outside of magic items is the choice of their enchanted arrows.

Formerly an out and out combat model the Treeman Ancient has lost some impact in that regarding. Losing a point of strength, as all Forest Spirit units have done, the Ancient has also lost a point of Weapon Skill and two attacks. In exchange it has gained a point of Leadership and become a Level 2 wizard. Cheaper now, partly due to having to pay for Strangleroots rather than coming with it automatically, it also now has the permanent 6+ Forest Spirit Ward Save and the Tree Whack attack, which should come in useful against low initiative armies or monsters.

Replacing the Wardancer Kindred Noble option from the 6th Edition army book, the Shadowdancer is kind of a new choice and has the highest Weapon Skill of any character in the Elf books barring the Dark Elf Assassin. With only a 6+ Ward Save base and no armour barring what you can fit into his 25 point magic item allowance, one wonders what he can really do for your army that a unit of Wardancers won't do for less points.

Another replacement for upgrading a Noble with a Kindred in the last book, the Waystalker replaces the Waywatcher Kindred Noble. With only one attack this character's role is going to be as a ranged character hunter, rather than close combat beast, having the Sniper rule and the choice of ignoring armour saves or shooting with multiple shots.

Finally there is the Branchwraith. Already covered in the casters section, the characteristics of the Branchwraith compare favourably to the Glade Captain (in fact they are identical apart from the Branchwraith having a better Toughness value) for the same points. As a Forest Spirit the Branchwraith comes with a built-in Ward Save plus Hatred for guaranteed re-rolls in the first round of combat. Having access to Lore of Life means that at a push the Branchwraith can default to Earth Blood and give the unit it is with a regeneration save.

Close combat and support character choices

When it comes to my choices across all three armies my Hero selection is going to be dictated somewhat by the fact that I'm going to need one character that can be a Battle Standard Bearer (BSB), which gives certain characters a bit of an advantage.

Across the elf army books there are five characters who can be the Battle Standard Bearer. From the Dark elves we have the Death Hag and Master. The High Elves have the Noble and Sea Helm while the Wood Elves give us the Glade Captain. To quickly whittle down those choices I'm going to eliminate those that have difficulty getting a decent save when carrying a magic banner. That means saying goodbye to the Glade Captain, Sea Helm and Death Hag.

In a comparison between the Master and Noble, for me the Master wins on most counts. His army specific special rule works for him, he can get a better armour save and can take a fast cavalry mount to whip around the board to where he needs to be. In his favour the Noble can take arguably the best magic banner from the elf books and gets a 6+ Ward Save (2+ against flaming) if equipped with Dragon Armour. Overall though, I think the Master just takes it.

That leaves me with a couple more choices to make for my Heroes to be in line with the numbers found in the army books and puts the Death Hag and Sea Helm back in play for the moment, along with the Assassin, Dragon Mage, Hand Maiden, Shadowdancer, Waystalker and Branchwraith.

While I think the Dragon Mage can be a fun option I don't think I want to have him in my fantasy elf army list as by the time he's been upgraded to stand a chance in combat he's going to be pushing four hundred points. If I wanted a Hero on a monster I'd take a Noble on a Griffon or, as I've already said I'm going to put the Master in my list, I can take a Manticore, which will be a more combat oriented option for less points.

The Sea Helm I'm going to discount as I think his special rules are just a bit too situational, likewise the Handmaiden. Assassins aren't really my cup of tea and the Shadowdancer I don't think is special enough to warrant extra consideration.

That leaves the Death Hag, Waystalker and Branchwraith. The Hag could be fun with lots of attacks but the lack of a save unless mounted on a Cauldron of Blood makes her the proverbial glass hammer when she reaches combat.

Do the two Wood Elf characters left get in by default? I don't think so. The Waystalker, while suffering most of the flaws of the other characters I've discounted if in combat, is clearly designed to sit back making a nuisance of himself by sniping away at your opponent's characters and brings something different to the usual combat character.

Lastly, we come to the Branchwraith, the only non-elf up for consideration. Its characteristics compare favourably with the elf characters, especially with the point extra of toughness, and while it lacks the Always Strikes First of the elves it has Hatred, and so is always getting re-rolls in the first turn of combat. While it only has a 6+ Ward Save as protection, the option to use it to cast Earthblood on itself and its unit is a potential benefit I think warrants inclusion as an option in my list.

Coming to the Lords I'm afraid that again the Wood Elf generic lord the Glade Lord gets an instant disqualification due to the armour save issue that also does for the Glade Captain.

Between the Prince and the Dreadlord, just as between the Noble and Master, once more the Dark Elves' Murderous Prowess special rule gives the Dark Elf character the edge in combat in my opinion and, again, you can put the Dreadlord on a Fast Cavalry mount. The Prince gets access to two more types of dragon but for me, considering the majority of games I play are 2400 points, the Star Dragon is just a bit too expensive and requires too many compromises with the rest of army when you're writing a list for a game.

Looking at the race specific magic items they have access to and I think what one wins in one aspect the other wins in the other. I think the High Elf magic weapons are straight out better than the Dark Elf options while I think the Dark Elf Enchanted items and Talismans just about have the edge. (The High Elves have an auto-win with Magic Armour since the Dark Elves have none in their Magic Items section).

Overall then, I think the Dreadlord gets the first Lord slot in my list.

Working through the other characters I don't think that the High Beastmaster from the Dark Elf book really brings anything that putting a Dreadlord on a monster would do and I don't think I'd be putting a Beastmaster on the Scourgerunner enough to warrant inclusion in this list.

The Black Ark Fleetmaster also largely falls foul of the fact that I don't think his &45;Show No Weakness&45; special rule is worth the extra points he costs over a hero, and if I wanted to take a Corsair themed character I could stick an additional hand weapon and Sea Dragon cloak on a Dreadlord or Master (and a Sea Dragon cloak pretty much picks itself anyway regardless of theme).

Moving on to the High Elf lord characters we have left and I'm not sure either of them will give me that little bit extra variety I want to try and have for my fantasy elf list. Yes, they do bring things that are a little bit different but the Loremaster I think ends up a bit too much of a compromise between combat character and caster for inclusion here. The Anointed's main attractions are being able to bring a phoenix, being able to buff an infantry unit just by being in them and coming with a baked in Ward Save and Magic Resistance.

However, if I'm looking for a character to ride a monster I've already got the Dreadlord for that, and the Anointed does cost a premium for his Ward Save and Magic Resistance, although granted most of the time I'd be putting a Ward Save on the Dreadlord at the least anyway.

So, possibly somewhat controversially, I'm going to include the Treeman Ancient. It may be due to may complete lack of experience playing with or against the new Wood Elves but despite the characteristics nerf it took I think the Ancient can do a job as a combat Lord. It would have to be properly supported in any combats it was thrown into but despite losing some attacks, strength and weapon skill it still has a Thunderstomp and the Tree Whack attack. Plus, with being a Life wizard, it can potentially heal itself back up if need be. More importantly, I think it brings the variety I'm looking for to this section of the list.

Well that's the end of part one. If you enjoyed this check out part two where I look at Core units plus Special and Rare infantry, or our other articles


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About the author


cerebros has been back into Warhammer since October 2008, since which time he has failed to finish painting any units in his army. It was his tactical genius that David Moyes based Manchester United's 2013-14 season on.