Today we’re looking at the last of the new Cities of Sigmar lists. Previously we looked at the Castelite Hosts who have a brand new set of models. Then we looked at the Dispossessed, the Dwarves who don’t have new Age of Sigmar models but will feature in the upcoming Old World releases. Now we get to the Darkling Covens who didn’t get new models and unfortunately aren’t going to feature in the old world. So these models are technically still part of the Cities of Sigmar line but last I checked they were all out of stock. So this is going to be a tricky one to collect.
Before we get into the profiles, I thought we might take a bit of a tour of the background to understand where the Dark Elves fit into Age of Sigmar. We start with Aenarion, the first Phoenix king of the High Elves. He was a bit of a badass and but eventually fell in battle. Malekith, Aenarion’s child with Morathi was the presumed heir. Malekith was a great warrior and powerful spellweaver. After Aenarion’s death, however, the leaders of the High Elves choose another to be the next Phoenix King instead. There’s a little more to this, but ultimately this split the Elves into the High Elves of Ulthuan and the Dark Elves who followed Malekith, mostly sea raiders allied with the Witch Elves of Morathi.
Moving over to the Age of Sigmar, the old Aelven gods are gone and replaced with the heroes of the Oldworld. Malekith is now named Malerion and is the god King of Ulgu, the realm of shadows. It was he along with Astarielle, Teclis, and Tyrion, who trapped Slaanesh who had been devouring Elvish souls. Morathi only recently achieved god hood herself.
There are three factions that are the inheritors of the Dark Elf line. The Daughters of Khaine are those who follow Morathi. The Shadowstalkers are those who follow Malerion and those Dark Elves who are part of the Cities of Sigmar. This is a bit weird as the Daughters and the Shadowstalkers do interact and work with the Cities of Sigmar so in some ways this is an conceptual difference.
Within the Cities of Sigmar there are again three factions. The Darkling Covens which are groups of Dark Elves focused around a single Sorceress. The Order Serpentis is a line of Dragon riders, although now much diminished they ride drakespawn instead. Then we have the Scourge Privateers, these are pirates and raiders who roam the seas in the various realms.
Despite the name of this warband, all three of these factions are represented in this warband.
This is, essentially, the left overs from the old world, those Dark Elf models that haven’t been reinterpreted for the new world. Malerion hasn’t been a big feature for the setting yet, but it’s only a matter of time before Games Workshop explore it and when that happen I think we will see this warband get reinvented. We can expect a similar thing for Tyrion at some point too I think.
Anyway, onto some profiles. As always we start with the plot. We do have a pretty decent range in points which is always nice. A few cheap models at 55 which is fantastic to see and fighters all the way up to 200. If we want something chunkier we can always get it in as an ally so that’s fine. I think if we have some solid chaff models, a few interesting mid range models, and some decent abilities we’ll be fine. For chaff, that Corsair seems to have great damage although average wounds. We do know these are Elves though so we can expect 5 speed. That does seem to be the trend for this warband, decent damage average wounds and good speed.
On the top right we can see the best damage per points, with the Executioner coming out top. We can also see that Assassin is looking pretty good at 3rd place. That’s an average of 6.6 damage against T4 which could be interesting although as often with these Elven warbands it’s probably going to be a of a glass cannon. At the end we’ll look at some blessings that might help this warband out.
There is one ability that every member of the warband can use, the reaction Cut-Throat Strike. We’ve seen abilities like this before, it’s basically a better version of the universal reaction Strike Them Down. That was a 4+ but this version is a 3+, that’s the only change. It does improve things but it’s a minor upgrade to an abilities that isn’t regularly used.
The first profile to look at it is the Sorceress, a pretty typical version of the caster. There was a version of this from the old Cities of Sigmar warband, and she is similar but 15 points cheaper which is nice. Despite what I said about Elves having low wounds, she is very chunky for 125. 18 wounds is what you’d normally get for 150. Her melee weapon is weaker than her ranged weapon which means you should keep her blasting away at range. Average damage is 3 which means she can do 6 average damage in a turn without moving. Not quite the Demolisher with Flamehurler who is also 125 points, but faster and more wounds so yeah pretty good.
The ability is a Quad so it’s going to have to be good. You pick a target and roll dice equal to the ability. That’s unfortunately a bad sign as Quads are pretty hard to get already so needing a good dice value is even trickier. The range is also quite tight at only 3 inches. Every 2+ is 3 damage which is crazy good. So each dice is going to to 2.5 damage on average. So a dreamy Quad 6 is going to on average do 15 damage ignore toughness. As a bonus, if that doesn’t kill the target their toughness is halved for the rest of the line so hopefully the rest of your team can finish the job. I do like this ability, as always quads are compared to the move and attack of Rampage and with a high enough dice value this will be better.
There is an ability on another fighter that we will see later which will key off of the Sorcercess, but it’s notable that apart from that her profile is very similar to the Scinari Calligrave from the Lumineth. That fighter has a worse melee profile, not really an issue, and costs 5 points cheaper with a few more useful abilities. Unfortunately this is going to be a common theme in this warband, the heroes can easily be replaced by allies.
The next hero to look at is the Assassin, no special ability so this is all profile. This is remarkably similar to the Skaven Deathmaster who is 20 points more for 1 extra move and a range attack that doesn’t really matter. I do love the Deathmaster, but there is one problem. The Deathmaster has the Triple Running Death which gives it a bonus move so you can get close and double attack the target. That isn’t an option for the Assassin. Points wise this is a great model, you’ve essentially got that 6 move at the minimal cost of having 3 toughness which is a great deal. Unfortunately, that’s it. There’s really not a lot going on here which is a shame.
As the Assassin is a hero and does not have any synergies within the warband, the sad reality is he can be replaced by any other hero within the Order grand alliance. For example, the Slaughter Queen from the Daughters of Khaine is 5 points cheaper and 1 move slower but otherwise identical. She does get extra abilities, a double, 2 triples, and a quad!
Next hero we have the the Lordling. This is the leader model from the standard troop box. Wounds are decent. We have that great Elven move of 5 and with shields we have 4 toughness rather than the typical elven 3. Damage isn’t great but isn’t terrible either. At 100 points we’d like to see 4 average damage, so 3 with all the other perks isn’t too bad.
The ability is unique to this fighter, it’s similar to the ability in the Castille warband which has been quite well received. It will take your Bulwark fighters, conveniently the only ones with shields, from 4 toughness to 6. That’s a pretty good number and should make them hardy. It is of course limited to just the Shield Elves, so it’s a little worse than the Castelite version but still seems pretty solid. As we’ll see, the shield troops are our chaff so making them a little tougher is a good thing.
The first of those are the Bleakswords. A mere 55 points. The 8 wounds are good for that and the average damage of 2 is about right for it. To go back to the Castelites, this is similar to the Steelhelms but the bleaksword costs 5 less, has 2 less wounds, and is 1 faster. Even better, it’s 5 points cheaper than the Flesh Eater Courts new Crypt Ghoul profile which is identical but has 1 less toughness. Another comparison is with the highly competitive Arkanaut Privateer possibly one of the best chaff in the game. That Privateer is 5 points cheaper, has 4 more wounds and a range attack but is 1 less toughness and only has move 3. So the Bleaksword is a very different profile, it’s faster and has better toughness while the Arkanaut Privateer is able to stay at ranged and has more wounds. I suspect this is going to come down to what the missions look like but even comparing against the Privateer I think the Bleaksword is a really solid chaff fighter. Again no abilities to go along with it, but the Lordling can buff them up which hopefully should help.
The other option is the Dreadspear which changes the sword to a spear. Damage drops to 1.6 but they get a reach of 2. That’s a decent deal, unless we see a damage boost aura these guys will typically be used to stand on objectives. It would be nice to have more damage or more wounds, but we’re still get 5 movement which makes it a pretty good chaff fighter.
Next up we have the Guardmaster, this is another leader of a group. In this case the attacks are split between melee and ranged in what ends up being a pretty underwhelming fighter. The ability could be interesting, a triple 6 would be 3 extra dice effectively a full bonus attack but as the attack profile is so weak already it’s not really worth it.
The Darkshard is the non-hero version of this fighter. Same ability and same issues.
Like this Sorceress and Assassin, this is a hero that comes as a single model rather than as part of a unit although obviously this is linked to the black arc reavers. The Fleetmaster is a pretty straight forward profile and honestly is great for the points. Wounds are worth about 150 points and the weapon profile is about right for 135. So we’ve traded 1 toughness for 1 extra move from the 4/4 baseline which is a good deal. The special ability which we will see again and again with the Corsairs can only be used on the first turn. That often is a move-move which in this case will let the Fleetmaster move 14 inches for a double which seems decent. Obviously it’s not much more than just an Onslaught but it is something. I think the bonus attack is nice but often not needed on turn one.
This is the Corsair box itself, the leader is the Reaver. I’d say he’s the one in the funny hat but that doesn’t narrow it down much. As before, wounds are damage pretty much match what you’d expect for a typical profile at these points. Nothing special to say.
The main profile for this unit is the Black Arc Corsair with two melee weapons. This is 5 points more than the Bleakswords we saw earlier, and we’ve traded 1 toughness for an extra 0.6 average damage and we’ve traded the Bulwark runemark for Elite. I suspect the double ability from the Lordlings to boost the toughness of the Bleakswords is going to be more effective than the Merciless Raider double which will only ever boost one fighter at a time. Still, this is a pretty nice profile and might be good if you wanted to get a little more damage into it.
Then we have the option of trading one of those two melee weapons for a ranged weapon. I think this option could have been interesting as having lots of chaff with ranged attacks could let them all target a single enemy and build up that damage. Unfortunately the average ranged damage is way too low for that to work out.
Next up the Black Guard and starting with the hero Captain of the Black Guard. Wounds are good for the points, damage is just under and would be more suitable for 100 points, but we are getting that with Reach 2 which is great. We’re also getting this with 5 speed and 4 toughness, so this is a pretty great profile.
There is an ability which any of the Black Guard can use. This is a double which will reduce damage this fighter takes if it is within 3 inches of a Sorceress by 2. So you use the Black Guard to block access and have the Sorceress blast from away at ranged. That’s kind of cool. It is a bit tricky to use though, you have activate the Black Guard and trigger the ability before it will work. So if your opponent gets to act first they can get their damage in before you can use the ability. It also only protects one model, so if you have two Black Guard and use the ability with one, your opponent can just attack the other Black Guard. Add to that, we’re going to be using this with the ranged Sorceress, if our opponent moves into melee with the Black Guard then the Sorceress can no longer target them with her ranged attack.
So it’s an awesome ability but could be tricky to use.
The standard troop is the Black Guard which is a good chunk cheaper at 85, 1 less average damage and wounds down to 10. Again great wounds for the points and once you factor in the reach that damage is pretty good too. These are 30 points more than the Dreadspears with an increase of 1.4 damage and 2 more wounds. Since there isn’t really a difference between the Captain and the Black Guard when it comes to the ability I’d be tempted to go with this verison instead and leave the hero slots for more fun stuff.
Same kit but different unit, the Draich Master is the leader of the Executioners. Again, wounds and damage are looking pretty good for what would be a 4 move 4 toughness unit, but in this case we’re getting that plus one move for free. The ability is nice, it’s a Double Executioners Strike which increases crit damage. By the averages you need a double 5 or 6 to make it better than just Onslaught but having that option is great.
The Executioner is similar, just cheaper and indeed that’s a common trend with this warband. Once we get to building a warband I think we’re going to ignore most of the unit leaders as they’re just more expensive variants without opening up additional abilities. The Executioner is the best damage per points we have in the warband, it’s not by a lot usually 100 points would get us 4 average damage but we are getting that without making many other sacrifices. Wounds are closer to 80 points than 90 but we do still have toughness 4 and 5 speed. In this case a double 3 or 4 will also be better than onslaught due to the lower strength. Solid fighter, fast with good damage and no really downsides.
That was the last of the infantry, we have two cavalry units left spread across 4 profiles.
The first is the classic Dread Knight leader of the Drakespawn Knight unit. A little faster than the rest at 8. 5 Toughness. Good wounds for the 200 points. Damage is a bit low though..
The ability is Cavalry Charge which is a pretty standard ability. It’s a nice one to have but not something you’d build a list around.
As an aside, I think these used to be called Cold Ones rather than Drakespawn at some point. I think the suggestion is that they are somehow related to Dragons but we all know they’re really velocoraptors
The cheaper version is the Drakespawn Knight. Not exactly cheap at 165 points. Same speed and toughness. Wounds are right for the points. Average damage is 1 less at 4 but you do get that with a reach of 2 making this a better value option in my opinion. With many warbands getting a cavalry option in adds a lot of speed, but this warband is packed with 5 move fighters already so I’d wonder whether it’s actually worth the while. Two Black Guards for example come to 170 points. They have the same combined wounds as the Drakespawn Knight and are each doing 3 average damage with reach 2. To there definitely is an argument against them. That said, these are Dark Elves riding Dinosaurs and one should never deny oneself the finer things in life.
The last unit we have is the Dark Riders, lead by the Dark Rider Herald. From what I can tell the Herald is denoted by his pigtails which are super cute. While the Drakespawn was fast at 8, this is super speedy at 10 move. Toughness here is 4 and wounds are lower but still matching points cost. Damage in this case is split across two weapons, one melee and one ranged. Again, having the option is nice but the damage isn’t great.
Strangely, the leader here has different runemarks to the normal troops. So the herald has an ability that boosts range attacks like we saw with the Darkshards. As with the Darkshards, the ranged profile is just to weak to justify using the triple.
The normal Dark Rider is 150 points and has a same base profile as the Herald. 10 Move, 4 toughness, and wounds matching the 3 wounds per 25 points expectation exactly. The damage is a little worse but the melee attack gains reach which is nice. They also get a unique ability, this is a free disengage as a double which combined with their reach of 2 is very nice.
Direct comparison to the Drakespawn Knights has the Dark Riders 15 points less, losing 2 wounds, losing 1 average damage, but gaining an extra 2 move and a ranged attack as an option. Again, I suspect we aren’t going to need all these extra speed with such as fast warband already and it’s not like it’s packing a bunch once it gets there. Also Dinosaurs. Why settle for horses when you can have Dinosaurs.
Before we get into building some warbands I do want to talk about how the boxes are set up.
- If you want the Black Watch or the Executioners you get them in same box.
- If you want the Bleakswords, Dreadspears, or Darkshards you get them all in the same box.
- If you want the Dark Riders you get them in the Doomfire Warlocks which are a Daughters of Khaine box.
So you can actually get a decent range of fighter option if you were just to pick up the Executioneer and Dreadspear boxes.
Alright, lets talk about lists. There are very few synergies within this warband. Only really two of note. The Blackguard have an ability to to take less damage when near a Sorceress and the Lordling has an ability that boosts the toughness of itself and nearby Bleakswords and Bleakspears.
Those are relatively self contained, you don’t meed to do a lot beyond keep the groups together and trigger the abilities. As they’re so cheap, I suspect you’ll be running either Bleakswords or spears. So I’m tempted to favour the Lordling as your leader. That’s going to form a solid core of chaff. The rest of the warband has good profiles that are really competitive numbers, but no particularly exciting abilities. So if you have models like the Corsairs, Executioners, or Drakespawn Knights you can definitely run them without sacrificing quality but I’m tempted to say the focus of this warband should be a fighter or two you ally in.
Near the start I did say I wanted to talk about Divine Blessings with this warband.
Everything apart from the Dreadknight has 22 wounds or less, so all the blessings are at the cheaper cost. This warband is remarkably well stated, so we don’t really need to cover any gaps. Typically we’re going to look to get more damage then.
One of the interesting quirks of this warband is a lot of the fighters have 3 strength.
That means a 15 point +1 strength blessing is probably going to give around a 1 average damage increase. That’s only going to work if the opposing team has toughness 3 or 4 though, if they have toughness 5 that would be wasted so instead you switch to the slightly cheaper +1 crit. As you would only be doing damage on 5s and 6s, boosting the damage on that crit has a lot more value. The extra attack dice will get you a little more damage but does cost more at 25 points, for example with this Drakespawn Knight it would bring the damage to 6.6 / 5 / 5 so better against T5 but actually worse against T4.
Since you choose your blessings after the battleplan has been decided you do have a certain amount of flexibility, although do be aware divine blessings are an optional rule and we have seen tournaments do weird things like making you pick the blessings before the tournament. You also have the option of moving away from damage blessings and you could increase the wounds of a fighter that your opponent has to kill for the mission or something like that.
The Drakespawn Knight is a pretty decent place to start, it’s fast and hard to kill already and that damage boost will give it a little more of a punch. Compared to the Dreadknight the normal version with Might is doing more damage, has reach, and costs 20 less only losing out on 5 wounds. If I wanted to run one or two I think this is the way I’d go.
Another option is to try increase the damage of the Sorceress. Unfortunately a lot of the blessings are melee only but Might, the strength one can increase ranged damage. So this might blessed Sorceress can do 4 damage at range against T4 which is pretty good.
If we’re planning on using the Black Guard as blockers, we can give them +4 wounds with Fortitude. That should give them a bigger buffer to stay alive, although might be overkill.
As often blessings act as multipliers, they will work better on more expensive models. Here we’ve taken the Assassin and added Brutality to increase his non-crit damage to 3. This is now a 190 point model but the damage has jumped by almost 2. The model does end up a bit lopsided, the wounds are lower than you’d expect at this price point but the damage is higher.
Similarly we can take that super fast Dark Rider and give it a bit more damage, in this case the best value is actually increasing the crit damage. So we can move 10, stay at range 2, roll 4 dice looking probably looking for 5s and 6s.
I’m not sure either of these approaches are necessarily good ideas. I suspect we’d be better off going for one of the classic Order allies for high damage like Neave or a Bloodwrack Medusa either of which you could bless to get more damage out of them.
I think at this point it’s fair to say there is good and bad news for this warband. The chaff for this warband is excellent and you have options like the Corsairs for a little more damage and that early burst of speed. If you have extra points, you can upgrade those chaff into excellent fighters like the Executioners or or Black Guard.
If you love Dark Elves you can play almost all of your models without making a compromise. That said, if you want to get the most out of this warband you’re probably looking at just the Lordling and Bleakswords and 1 or 2 powerful allies like Naeve. You could for example take Naeve, a Bloodwrack Medusa, a Lordling, and 6 Bleakswords. That’ll probably do really well but is it really a Dark Elf list? It’s essentially the same as having a Castlite hosts warband and taking a Sergeant at Arms and Steelhelms, but with the Darkling Covens each model costs 5 points less and is 1 move faster. Your troops do lose 2 wounds but that’s a pretty fair trade.
Overall, this warband sits in a pretty strange place. If you already have the models then I think you can have some fun with whatever you have. So if the objective was to make them playable then design has succeeded. I think if you could get your hands on the Bleaksword or even the Corsair box you could make a pretty competitive list using them as a core, but those boxes are out of stock and I don’t expect them to restock any time soon. That might put them in a strange place for competitive play where they may actually be a top tier list but very few people can get the models. That list is also partially dependent on the quality of Order heroes which hasn’t been great, but has certainly improved with the arrival of Neave and could get better with future releases.
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