Dark Eldar have taken a beating in 6th ed as several of their builds become pretty pointless i.e webway portal. Currently, Dark Eldar have really one strong build and that is Venom Spam. This build is still a top list and can duke it out with the new top xeno codices.
Pick your poison
The Venom is an av10-10-10 open topped vehicle which can carry 5 models. It comes in fast skimmer form and has two weapons; splinter cannon and splinter rifle. In addition it has a flickerfield, this gives a 5+ invulnerable save.
As the Venom is a fast vehicle it can move 12" and fire two weapons. It is always a worthy investment to switch the splinter rifle for a second splinter cannon, this will give you 12 4+ poison shots at 36". The total threat range of the Venom is 48" - everything should be in range.
The Venom can take additional wargear, out of these I would consider the night shield, grisly trophies and maybe chain-snares.
The night shield is an item of wargear like marmite; you either love it or hate it. The night shield reduces the enemy shooting range by 6". Personally I am not a fan of it, I shall explain why.
The Venom Spam army is 'backwards', infantry do anti tank and vehicles do anti infantry. As the infantry are carrying the blasters (18" lance), which doesn't have the most awesome range, it means they need to get fairly close to the target.
The weakness of Venoms is mass fire power, the more saves you force on a Venom then the more chances of failure. Ideal anti Venom weaponry would be: autocannon, assault cannon, multi laser, psycannon, scatter laser, serpent shield, high yield missile pod etc etc. All of these weapons out range the blaster.
So, if you are using night shields then all they are going to do is reduce the range of a weapon which is already in range anyway.
The only things which night shields will effect will be 24" rapid fire weapons i.e bolters, meltas and anything which is 18" range. Bolters are really desperation weapons as they need a 6+ to glance. Meltas do not need to be in half range anyway as they will glance the Venom on a 2+, they stand 16% chance of failure of doing any damage. Plus the melta is the 'ideal' weapon a Venom likes to face; the less shots the more chances of failure to hit and the more chances for the Venom to survive.
So that's my reason why I do not like night shields.
The way to play Venom Spam is the fluffy way and that is max out on Venoms. And yes, before anyone says anything, Venom Spam is a fluffy list - read the background on the Venom, it isn't just one or two that attack, the Dark Eldar will attack with a "dizzying number of craft" - so there it's a fluffy list :P . The most Venoms you can get in a list is eleven, though the most common number is nine. There's several ways to get Venoms into your list, which gives some customisation to the Venom Spam army.
Court of the Archon - this unit often gets overlooked and forgotten about when it comes to Venom Spam. You do need an Archon in order to take the Court, which can work out expensive, but it is another way of getting Venoms into your army if you wanted to go the full amount.
Kabalite Trueborn - Trueborn are the most common units taken in a Venom Spam army and often dubbed 'Blasterborn' as the common tactic is to take four of these and then give them blasters. A unit of these along with a Venom can easily tackle something like a Rhino or Chimera and then the Venom blast the contents inside.
Incubi - if you fancy some close combat element in your army then Incubi are one such unit that can access the Venom. Unlike typical Dark Eldar they can take a punch as they have a 3+ armour save and are pretty good in close combat thanks to their nasty AP2 weapons. Do not forget that the Venom is an open topped vehicle so the Incubi can bail out and launch an assault.
Wracks - Wracks fill a role as a cheap scoring unit. Yes, I know they are elites, but take a Haemonculus and they are now troop choices. They can still be elites if you wish, but I do not think they offer so much then.
Hekatrix Bloodbrides - these are more expensive and slightly better Wyches, but why take them when you can take cheaper and scoring Wyches or superior Incubi? Still, they do offer a Venom as a transport.
Kabalite Warriors - Venom spam is commonly made up of minimum Kabalite Warriors (5) and then they are given a blaster. A very cheap, shooty, scoring unit which when combined with a Venom can be mobile and offer anti infantry and anti vehicle support.
Wyches - I'll be honest, I am not a huge fan of Wyches and I believe Warriors are the much stronger troop choice. Wyches offer close combat in troop form and can have nasty haywire grenades giving them the ability to deal with vehicles in close combat too. However, close combat units become depleted as they are getting themselves out the transport to get their hands dirty. The longer your units are inside the transport the less damage they take, plus if they are a shooting unit then they have little reason to get out (besides to claim objectives) as they can shoot from inside. As Wyches HAVE to get out then they are killing themselves and can be easily shot up or get beaten up in close combat.
When I started Dark Eldar I used Beastmasters coming out of a web way portal. I switched the Beastmasters in favour of the more sexy looking Scourges and gave them dark lances to camp back and lay down additional fire power. This didn't work too well and I found out that Dark Eldar really need close combat support.
See, Dark Eldar are a glass hammer army. They need to hit hard and fast and cripple the opponent's forces before they even have chance to strike. I think of think of D.E as a 'bully army' and will only pick a fight if the odds are well in their favour. Sure having an elite vs elite slug out is cool, but Dark Eldar do not work like that. Dark Eldar cannot play the attrition game and they cannot absorb damage well. This is why I found out I need close combat support for; the Venoms and lances will do a great job, but something will always remain. In some situations you need that unit to be finished off or dealt with so it doesn't threaten you next turn. Having enemy units around to threaten you isn't in Dark Eldar's nature of hit hard and fast before the opponent manages to strike. So add in a close combat threat and you can finish things off that your shooting has failed to.
Beastmasters - Beastmasters are the ideal close combat unit for a Venom Spam army; they are fast and can keep up with the speed of the Venoms; they do not take a valuable troop choice or elite choice which could be used for gaining more Venoms or other units; can absorb a crap load of fire and of course they are beasts, so can move 12", not effect by terrain for assaults and have move through cover - they have a prospective 24" assault range, on average this is 19".
Reavers - basically these guys are Wyches on bikes, but a damn lot more survivable as they have skilled rider. They can move silly speeds thanks to their jetbike, they can turbo boost 36", this gives them a total move of 48"! They also have bladevanes which allow them to turbo boost over an enemy unit and cause D3 S4 hits per Reaver, great for thinning out enemy units without shooting. Speaking of shooting, Reavers can add a bit of this and more importantly they gain access to heat lances, overall the Dark Eldar lacks melta and this is just one of the few places you can get melta weaponry. They also get hammer of wrath which makes them slightly better in close combat than your bog standard Wych.
Hellions - like the Reavers, the Hellions are another form of Wyches, though these guys come on a skyboard (jump infantry). They do get the hellglaive which gives +1 strength and attack and they have hit and run, so excellent for tying up enemy units and then running off when it is your next turn.
I will note that Hellions can be troops if you take Baron Sathonyx. Hellions are another popular choice in a Venom Spam army particularly when using Haemonculus and Wracks. The trick is to have Baron start with the Wracks and the Haemonculus with the Hellions. First turn both I.C's switch units, Baron takes the pain token while the Haemonculus leaves his with the Hellions. On the first turn the Hellions will have two pain tokens (maybe a third with good combat drugs roll) and be ready to put boots to asses.
As mentioned above, the Venom Spam army is pretty short ranged in the anti tank department thanks to the blaster. The army really needs additional ranged support and there's two units which can provide that; Ravager and Voidraven Bomber.
Ravager - is another skimmer and will start on the table with your army - this will give you additional numbers and really add to the D.E fluff, so many dizzying numbers! With Ravagers, Beastmasters and Venoms on the table at the start of the game what do you shoot with?
Like the Venom, the Ravager can access wargear. ALWAYS take the flickerfield, do not rely on jink saves because if you do not get first turn then you may not get cover saves. Also if you get immobilised or assaulted you will not get any form of save. There is also the night shield, which is probably more effective for Ravagers than Venoms as the Ravager's tougher av11 means dedicated ranged anti tank weapons need to deal with it i.e lascannon, missile launcher, autocannon etc. But, same case as earlier, the dark lances equipped on the Ravager have a much shorter range than those weapons targetting it and so it will have no effect. But, like the Venom, the Ravager has 'ideal' weaponry shooting at it and that's those mentioned - less shots is less chance to hit and less chance to damage and more chance to save.
Voidraven Bomber - you are probably thinking why I haven't mentioned the Razorwing Jetfighter, well that's because it is the same points cost and you get two lances and several single shot anti infantry missiles. Does it look like the Venom Spam army needs anti infantry? No it doesn't, it needs ranged anti tank, so you may as well take the Voidraven for the same points cost and get better lances, the Voidraven's lances are S9.
Like any other D.E vehicles ALWAYS take the flickerfield. This is extremely important on a flyer as it means the Voidraven does not have to jink to get some form of save.
The one issue I have with the Voidraven is that is must start in reserve and this means something less on the table to start off with. If you know how to take out Dark Eldar then Venoms will be dropping out the sky and Venom Spam survives by using target saturation amongst other things.
Venom Spam really needs to play like how cancer acts and that is attacking one part of the force and then spreading out through the rest. If possible you need to get first turn, Dark Eldar do not like being shot at, and you need to hit hard and fast before the opponent has time to react. Baron Sathonyx is a great HQ choices which not only helps you have higher chances of deploying first but also fits with Beastmasters perfectly.
When going first it is difficult to deploy as your opponent should react to you. Deploy in the centre with Ravagers turned on their side to give Venoms cover, this will help if using night fighting - night fighting is a great asset for Dark Eldar as their skimmers will get a 3+ cover save while they totally ignore it as they have night vision! When deployed in the centre no matter how the opponent has deployed you can move your force, at the moment you are reacting to your opponent's deployment, usually that's a bad thing, but it will turn in your favour ;)
As mentioned early, Dark Eldar are a bully and love odds in their favour. They need to pick a fight extremely in their odds and overwhelm targets with numbers. Thanks to the speed of the Venoms you can easily move over to a flank and start tackling the opponent's half one piece at a time. When you have your ENTIRE army versus part of the opponent's who is going to win? You are! This will seriously cripple the opponent's force and leave them little to harm to the weak Venoms, plus they will now need to react to your movement and relocate their forces to get into range of get better line of sight etc. If night fighting is active then this will seriously work in your favour, not to mention night shields will come into play here.
As Venoms are pretty small it is extremely easy to get cover with them, you only need 25% covered to claim a cover save. Try and keep them out of LOS from certain targets to minimise return enemy backlash and of course to get yourself better cover, don't get me wrong the flickerfield is nice, but a 4+ cover is better than a 5+ invulnerable when being shot at. You need to particularly do to this when night fighting is on as it gives even greater chances of cover, as you know Dark Eldar have night vision, laugh at your opponent!
When moving your Venom Spam around the table top ALWAYS keep it together as a fleet. Never ever split it. If you split units they will become isolated, like a weak unit getting left behind from the herd and we no what happens then. When the Venom Spam is together as a fleet you have weight of numbers, fire power, and using your mobility to out play your opponent.
Then, like cancer, once part of the enemy force has been destroyed then you may split, but still keep Venoms together for support. Do not think just because you have 12 shots per Venom you can destroy anything. Venoms always need support, keep them in groups of 3 with Beastmasters close by and Ravagers packing up the rear. This will create multiple smaller attack forces and the opponent won't no where to strike. When you do split into smaller groups you must attack on target priority.
A big key to winning with Dark Eldar is suppression and knowing when something has been dealt with. You do not want to invest in more fire power to destroy something when it is not or of little threat to you. Stunning and shaking vehicles is a mild suppression as the tank can still snap fire, though stunned is a much great suppression against infantry as they cannot fire. Remember, even if the vehicle explodes, if you score multiple penetrations you still roll on the vehicle damage chart as there's a chance that the enemy unit inside could be shaken or stunned - less shooting at you means you live longer! Malicious Death
I did a previous article Dark Eldar Rock which talks about ideal targets for Venoms and the averages of taking units down etc. As a quick coverage:
The bigger they the harder they fall - big monsters or units which rely on their high toughness are ideal prey for the Dark Eldar. The high toughness is no protection against 4+ poison and lances. Typically elite style armies tend to be the easiest force for Dark Eldar to beat i.e Nidzilla, Daemonzilla, Ravenwing, Deathwing etc.
Laugh at your slow tanks - thanks to hull points vehicles are now a lot easier for D.E to deal with. On average the blaster will score more glances than pens, this suits the Dark Eldar nicely. Due to their speed the Venoms can get into side armour and then next turn the Dark Eldar inside unleash salvos of dark light shots.
High av, that's cute! - as Dark Eldar anti tank weaponry is lances anything over av12 isn't a threat to them. They laugh at Vindicators, Predators and Land Raiders and all Necron vehicles just as much as they laugh at lesser armoured vehicles.
**A word of warning, Dark Eldar are not an easy army to play. They play very differently to every other army and you need to be focused on movement, target priority and have knowledge on your opponent's army. Once mastered Dark Eldar can be a great army to play and you will become a very skilled player.**
Dark Eldar in 6th ed
While not the strongest army, I believe Dark Eldar are still a force to be reckoned with. They got a whole lot better in 6th ed thanks to the changes to night fighting, hull points working extremely well in their favour and changes to beasts.
6th ed lists are mostly hybrid lists now and contain about 3-4 vehicles and then bags of infantry. Venom Spam loves infantry and will have no problem sweeping models from the table. Blasters and lances will deal with vehicles reasonably well and the less vehicles to shoot means easier time for Dark Eldar, after all Venom Spam lists can have 20+ dark light weaponry!
Do you still play Dark Eldar Venom Spam? Let me know how you rock it.