In part three of our review of the new Psychic Awakening, Phoenix Rising (PA:PR) we take a look at the new rules updates for The Reborn. If you missed it, please see Raf Cordero’s excellent review of the story and background of Phoenix Rising, and the updated Ynnari from Boon.
Back when we started on the Start Competing project, Drukhari were the very first faction we covered. Much has changed since then, primarily the release of the Space Marine codex and its plethora of supplements. Now with the release of Phoenix Rising, the Drukhari (along with their weak, cowardly Craftworld cousins and the death-obsessed Ynnari) are getting some expanding of their own, with 3 subfactions’ worth of custom traits and updates to Drazhar and the Incubi.
So let’s talk about what this means for the Dark Kin!
Phoenix Rising has updated datasheets for the two units receiving new plastic kits in the Blood of the Phoenix boxed set – Drazhar and the Incubi.
It’s great to see any new plastic Drukhari release, especially one which looks as great as this. Drazhar absolutely rules and is a fantastic re-imagining of the ancient 3rd edition version. The Incubi are basically just “the 5th edition version, but in plastic,” but frankly that was all they needed; getting out of resin was enough. But what about the rules?
- Drazhar sees the biggest boost of any unit in the Phoenix Rising supplement, getting +1 Wound on his profile, the Lethal Precision special rule, and an update to his Master of Blades special rule. Lethal Precision adds 2 damage to Drazhar’s attacks when you roll unmodified wound rolls of a 6, and Master of Blades now adds 1 to the wound rolls for INCUBI units within 6″ rather than the old version, which was +1 to hit. This is a large and welcome boost, but the fact that it doesn’t interact with neither Drazhar’s nor the Incubis’ Lethal Precision ability is a huge miss – it’s hard to tell if this was a deliberate choice, but if it was, it sucks.
- Incubi haven’t changed stats-wise, though their rules did expand a little so that Lethal Precision now applies to the whole unit instead of just the Klaivex. Also, the Klaivex now has access to a new weapon: they can swap out their klaives for demiklaives. Demiklaives are basically strict improvements on the klaive, allowing you to choose between single blade and dual blades mode when attacking. Single blade gives you the exact profile of the klaive – S+1, AP-3, D1 – while dual blades lets you forgo the strength bonus for additional attacks – S User, AP-2, D1 and you get +2 Attacks. The option to fight in either mode is very cool, and Drazhar’s aura mitigates some of the downside of Strength 3.
Does this make either of them worth taking? The answer is “sort of.” Drazhar has more to offer than he used to, with base damage 2 meaning that he can mince Primaris Marines on the charge, or carve up hordes with his demiklaives, since he hits on 2s, and wounds T3 on 2s with 12 attacks at AP-2. The main strike against him is the lack of interaction between Lethal Precision and Master of Blades – if he was wounding T4 on 3s and putting out 4 damage attacks on 5s, he would have had great potential as a character assassin, but when you’re fishing for 6s it becomes a very swingy prospect. I feel like he could have done with dropping 10-20pts, or gaining an extra attack – or possibly even both. That said, Skari seems to be having some success with using him.
Incubi remain just kind of there. 16pts per model is a lot for T3 dudes, and while their output is ok – and better now they can benefit from the +1 to wound from Master of Blades – it’s still not that impressive. In an army which can access Talos, Grotesques, and more importantly, disintegrators, setting up 80pts of Incubi (plus the transport, plus the 120pt definitely-not-Phoenix-Lord) to go piling in seems like a lot. They’d be a hell of a lot more attractive at 10-12ppm.
That’s the updated datasheets, such as they are. What about the new obsessions?
After watching Space Marines get an entire book of traits for building their own Chapters, Dark Eldar are among the first to get to join in on the fun. Phoenix Rising introduces custom Obsession rules for Kabals, Wych Cults, and Haemonculus Covens, allowing players with Battle-forged armies to choose two traits from the Obsessions list when making their own custom subfactions.
There are eight Kabal Obsessions to choose from.
- Dark Mirth – Subtract 1 from the Leadership of any enemy models within 6″ of a unit with this obsession. Also, the first time an enemy unit fails a Morale test, add 1 to the Leadership of every model with this Obsession until the end of the battle. This kind of ties in with the Power from Pain ability for an additional -1Ld, but by the time you get there the +1 Ld bit is irrelevant and leadership bombs have been worthless for all of 8th. F
- Deadly Deceivers – Units with this obsession can charge in a turn in which they fell back. Also, when an enemy unit finishes a charge move within 1″ of a model with this obsession, roll a D6; On a 6, that enemy unit suffers 1 mortal wound. This would be fantastic if Kabals had any units that wanted to be in melee in the first place, but… well. If only this was on Wych Cults it might be a lot more interesting. E
- Disdain for Lesser Beings – You can only lose a maximum of one model to a failed morale test for units with this obsession. The relevant units for this are Kabalite Warriors, who are Ld8 anyway, and nothing else. You might, conceivably, take a 20-Kabalite unit which could benefit from this. But you won’t. E
- Meticulous Flayers – Units with this obsession that have the Power From Pain special rule always have the Eager to Flay bonus, even on the first battle round. When resolving an attack made with a melee weapon by a model with this obsession against a unit that isn’t a VEHICLE or TITANIC, an unmodified hit roll of 6 always hits and automatically wounds the target (do not roll). Note that this means that units that depend on bonuses from their wound rolls being a 6 will miss out on those opportunities. Another melee-focused Kabal Obsession, really? There is no world in which I want to take a melee-focused Kabals build, and Black Heart already has the “be one step higher on Power from Pain” gimmick except it applies all the time instead of to just getting you Eager to Flay one turn earlier (how many turn 1 charges will you be executing with Kabalites, anyway?). F
- Mobile Raiders – Add 3″ to the Move characteristic of units with this obsession with FLY. This is great in Flayed Skull and as a trait to pair with another it’s great here. A
- Soul Bond – When you make an Inured to Suffering roll for a model with this obsession, re-roll 1s. Units with this obsession that don’t have Power From Pain get the Inured to Suffering bonus. This is a funny combo of a Covens relic and the other half of Black Heart’s bonus. Making your Kabalites and Archons that little bit more survivable is nice, and being able to get the 6+ Feel No Pain on vehicles is handy, though not unique. From the wording, I think that vehicles get the FNP without the re-roll 1s bit, which is a shame. C
- Toxin Crafters – When you roll an unmodified 6 to wound with a poisoned weapon for a model with this obsession, you do +1 damage. Doesn’t apply to relics. Now we’re talking. This is a bonus that is relevant to basically everything in your army, and fills a niche Drukhari didn’t already have covered. It probably doesn’t quite get where you need it – the amount of stuff in the game which is W2 but also has bad enough saves to fear random procs of this is a short list – but at least it’s something genuinely useful. B
- Webway Raiders – You get an additional use of the Webway Portal Stratagem for each detachment in your army with this obsession. If you want to use the stratagem more than once, you can only use it on units with obsession for the second and subsequent uses. This is…. fine. I guess it lets you hide 2 units for 2 CP rather than 3, or go all in and spend 6 CP to hide four? I don’t know that any Drukhari players were crying out for this, and it doesn’t really interact with the Kabals playstyle of “dudes in transports” since you can’t use it on the transports. D
I’m not gonna lie to you, this is a disappointing list, and kind of a surprising one. The original Drukhari codex had a strong list of Kabal traits, all of which were pretty useful and well-considered, and this feels like the polar opposite of that. Who on earth wrote multiple melee-focused traits for the shooting-focused subfaction with zero dedicated melee units? Did anyone play a game with these? There’s 8 traits here, and you can pick two, and the best I can think to suggest is a combination of Mobile Raiders and Toxin Crafters, and really that is strictly inferior to just taking Flayed Skull. Your choices are basically some combination of those two and Soul Bond, I guess.
Wych Cult Obsessions
There are eight Wych Cult Obsessions to choose from. Let’s hope they’re better than what Kabals have to offer.
- Acrobatic Display – If you pick this trait, you don’t get to pick another one. While a model with this obsession is within 1″ of an enemy model, it improves its invulnerable save by 1, to a maximum of 3+. For units that don’t already have an invulnerable save, they gain a 6+. On first glance this looks good. Making your fragile Wyches more survivable is never a bad thing, and it brings Succubi down to a 3++ as well. Sadly it does nothing for them outside of melee (which wasn’t really the problem). There is a fringe benefit here for the non-Wych Wych Cult units like Hellions, Reavers, and Beasts, who should all stick around a little longer than before in melee against higher-AP attacks, but it probably takes a bit more than this to make those things viable. C
- The Art of Pain – While a unit with this obsession with the Power From Pain ability are within 1″ of an enemy unit, they treat the current battle round as being 1 higher for their bonuses. This has more potential than it initially looks like it might. Unlike Acrobatic Display it affects everything, which is nice, and it has some important possibilities – a turn 2 Wych bomb is more likely to do the business with +1 to hit, and you can theoretically get them up to being Fearless on turn 2, and definitely so on turn 3, so they don’t fall over to Morale. That said, it still requires you to make combat to matter, which means it’s irrelevant for getting the re-roll advance/charge boost which might help Cult units out a lot, and you lose the immunity to Morale if you end up out of combat – when that’s exactly the situation where you would want it. C
- Berserk Fugue – When you make an attack with a melee weapon by a model with this obsession that charged, was charged, or performed a Heroic Intervention this turn, an unmodified roll of a 6 to hit scores 1 additional hit. You can’t combine this with the Precise Killers trait. This is a tasty trait, since if there’s one thing that Wyches are good at, it’s vomiting out piles of attacks. As with Drazhar and his Incubi, it’s a shame this doesn’t interact with the +1 to hit from Power from Pain. Still, ignoring drugs, 20 Wyches under a Succubus aura can expect 7-8 additional hits from this, which isn’t nothing – though at a little under 1 additional point of damage on a Space Marine, it could well feel like nothing. C
- Precise Killers – When you make an attack with a melee weapon by a model with this obsession, an unmodified wound roll of 6 improves the AP of that weapon by 1 for that attack. You can’t combine this with the Berserk Fugue trait. Again, handy for adding a little extra lethality to the piles of 0 AP attacks that Wych Cults units throw out. I’m not really clear why you can’t combine this with Berserk Fugue except for the obvious fluff implication of the trait names. Was anyone out there terrified of Wyches or Hellions throwing out a few extra hits and 1/6 of them being AP-1? C
- Slashing Impact – After a model with this obsession finishes a charge move, you can pick an INFANTRY, BIKER, or MONSTER within 1″ of it and roll a D6; on a 5+ that enemy unit suffers one mortal wound. This is interesting because it’s on a per-model basis and not per-unit, which means that large units of Wyches can theoretically do some real damage on the charge just from the mortal wounds dealt by this. The main limitation is just getting them all within 1″ in the first place – though they are only on 25mm bases, which means it’s theoretically possible to get two full ranks in. In a perfect world a unit of 20 Wyches charges in and drops 7 mortal wounds onto something, but sadly we live on the fallen earth of real life and this is more likely to end up chipping off a couple of wounds here and there. C
- Stimulant Innovators – When the Hyperstimm Backlash Stratagem is used on a unit with this obsession, it only costs you 1 CP instead of 2. Was this really worth a whole trait? E
- Test of Skill – When you resolve an attack by a model with this obsession against a MONSTER or VEHICLE with a wounds characteristic of 10+, add 1 to the wound roll. This is genuinely interesting, because suddenly your piles of Wych punches have a bit more potential to go somewhere. Mostly this is going to be about turning 6s to wound into 5s, which in relative terms is twice as effective. The real problem is, again, the AP – how many 10+ wound MONSTERS or VEHICLES have a save worse than a 3+? Let’s take our 20 Wych blob again and assume it has Test of Skill – they’ll do 3.5 wounds to a Rhino now instead of 1.75. That said, it can potentially be interesting on a shardnet/impaler Wych, who throws out 3/4 attacks with damage 2 and AP-1 – it’s possible for them to jab 2 damage through a vehicle’s armour, especially if this is combined with Precise Killers and they get the bonus AP. This also has some potential on S4 Hellions, who are suddenly wounding T7 4s and Knights on 5s, but on those it’s probably not enough to overcome their cost extreme fragility in getting there in the first place. There is one additional fringe use here, which is doubly nice because it makes a unit interesting which was otherwise irrelevant in Wych Cults – planes. Test of Skill doesn’t specify melee attacks, and both Razorwing Jetfighters and Voidraven Bombers can be <WYCH CULT>. +1 to wound against vehicles and monsters is pretty much ideal for these guys – it’s a straightforward buff to all of their weapons, even the splinter rifles on the Razorwings (it’s worth noting that this also means it buffs the Wych pistols, so against a monster they’ll wound on 3s – which is not nothing!) It’s arguably a better choice than Black Heart, which is the most common way planes are taken, as long as you have some other way to access Agents of Vect. B+
- Trophy Takers – When your opponent takes a morale test for a unit that lost any models to melee attacks by models with this obsession this turn, they have to roll 2D6 and drop the lowest result. God, whatever. F
There’s a bit more going on here than in the Kabals section, at least. I was half-expecting something to buff Wych shooting, but these at least all seem to be focused on making them punch better. Combining Test of Skill with Berserk Fugue or Precise Killers (to either get a bunch more hits or some AP-1 wounds) seems like it has some potential, though it’s low-key infuriating that the ToS/PK bonuses don’t interact at all. There’s also the above-mentioned use of Test of Skill to buff planes – Razorwings are already a competitive choice, and +1 to wound against one of their key targets is a straight buff for them. I can easily envision a list with a Black Heart Ravager spearhead, an Air Wing of <Your Wych Cult Here> with Test of Skill, and then a further Battalion of Covens or Kabals to fill out the list. The only downside here is that none of the other Wych traits buff the planes at all, so the secondary choice is irrelevant, though you could also take a Wych Battalion or something with two planes in the Flyer slots and a Test of Skill/your choice of Berserk Fugue/Precise Killers combo.
Otherwise, Acrobatic Display seems like a solid choice – one of the main strengths of Wyches was already getting in and tarpitting things, and making them that bit more able to achieve that goal is a noble aim. That said, it’s hard to read this particular grab-bag briefly after having read through Start Competing: Genestealer Cults. Now that’s a set of traits which aids an army full of fragile models that want to get into melee. Dropping in some kind of charge booster here, or something to make them a little more survivable, would have been a much bigger get than anything that’s actually on the list.
Haemonculus Coven Obsessions
Haemonculus Covens also got eight Obsession traits to choose from.
- Artists of the Flesh – If you pick this trait, you don’t get to pick another one. When resolving an attack against a unit with this Obsession, subtract 1 from the damage characteristic of the weapon making the attack (to a minimum of 1). Damage reduction is a very powerful ability, especially on the pile of tough units that makes up the majority of Covens lists. Like the rest of the traits on this list, for actual Covens units it’s competing with Prophets of the Flesh and the resilience offered by the army-wide 4+ invulnerable save. This comes pretty close, but no cigar, and it also locks you out from taking another trait. That said, the place it does have potential is on transports – both Raiders and Venoms can be <HAEMONCULUS COVEN>, lose nothing by taking this, and are regularly preyed on by things like avenger gatling cannons or autocannons. The main challenge (which is going to be something we come back to) is just getting them in the list, but there’s ways around that. C for actual Covens units, B for imitation Wave Serpents.
- Dark Harvest – After a unit with this obsession finishes a charge move, for each model in the unit, pick an enemy unit within 1″ of that model and roll a D6; on a 5+, that enemy unit suffers 1 mortal wound. Identical to the Wych version, except that you’re going to have smaller squads here and so it’s even less relevant. D
- Dark Technomancers – When a unit with this obsession fires Overwatch or is chosen to shoot, you can choose to enhance any or all of the ranged weapons for models in that unit. If you do, until the end of the phase, add 1 to the wound roll and 1 to the Damage characteristic of that weapon for that attack. But if you roll an unmodified wound roll of 1 for an attack made with an enhanced weapon, the firing unit suffers 1 mortal wound after shooting. Where was this for Kabals!? Again, as a trait applied to actual Covens units, this is extremely whatever – you’re not taking those guys for their guns, though this does make for some hilarious damage potential on haywire weapons from Talos. On a Venom, though, and combined with Experimental Creations, this can potentially be very tasty, and we’ll talk about it more below. C for Covens, A for Venoms.
- Experimental Creations – Add 1 to the Strength of models with this obsession. When you make an attack with a poisoned weapon by a model with this obsession against a unit that has a lower Toughness characteristic than the attacking model, add 1 to the wound roll. This is kind of a schizophrenic trait, and I’m not totally clear if something got mixed up here with the Strength/Toughness thing. I guess you can conceivably say that Grotesques and Talos benefit from the +1 Strength regardless (and it’s nice to be able to access that without having Urien!) and then Wracks benefit from the second half, since they can punch out Guardsmen, or even Marines if they’re in a Haemonculus aura, at +1 to wound. As a general buff to Covens units this is solid, if unexciting. Once again, the interesting part is on Venoms. C, or A.
- Hungry for Flesh – Add 1 to charge rolls for units with this obsession. Again – where was this for Wyches? This is a straightforward but always-relevant buff and I’m happy to see it here. B
- Masters of Mutagens – When you make an attack with a poisoned weapon by a model with this obsession against a unit that isn’t a VEHICLE or TITANIC, an unmodified hit roll of 6 always hits and automatically wounds the target. Doesn’t apply to relics. This is fine, but it mostly enhances Wrack punches or maybe Haemonculi, and the combat prowess of either of those units isn’t a thing I care about enough to devote a whole trait to improving it. C
- Master Torturers – When you use the Torturer’s Craft Stratagem on a unit with this obsession, it only costs 1 CP instead of 2. Like Hungry for Flesh, this is a no-nonsense trait. If you unaccountably don’t have all the stratagem names memorised, Torturer’s Craft is the one that lets you re-roll wounds in the Fight phase for a unit. Making that 1 CP rather than 2 is a lot more relevant than the Hyperstimm thing for Wyches. B+
- Obsessive Collectors – When an enemy model is destroyed by a melee attack made by a model in a unit with this obsession, you can select one model in that unit to regain D3 lost wounds. If the model that destroyed the enemy was a Wrack, you can instead get back D3 destroyed models. Ok, this is super cool. Being able to pile damage Talos into a horde of infantry and then heal them back to full again rules. It’s more limited than it sounds – remember that Talos have 7 wounds and Grotesques have 4, so the maximum wounds you’ll heal on a unit is 6 or 3 – but the idea of a couple of Pain Engines pounding out a Guard squad and eating them alive to get stronger is super cool. B
There’s two things to unpack here. First, there’s the obvious point that for actual Covens units, all of the above are competing against Prophets of the Flesh, and I think on balance none of them quite get there. The 4+ invulnerable from Prophets is just so important for making it so your expensive and fairly slow units make it to combat, though it matters a lot less on Grotesques (where there’s a case for a single big bomb coming out of the webway) than Talos, which tend to want to advance up the table en masse. There’s also the consideration that Prophets has Urien, who provides a key buff (though one that can be replicated with Experimental Creations), a really strong relic, and a useful stratagem.
Second, there’s a couple of key uses for these, highlighted above, which do a lot more to enhance Venoms than they do to help out anything that might be called a real Covens unit. That may well have been intentional – previously there was almost zero reason for a Venom to ever be part of a Coven, and now there’s multiple! – but it seems like a slightly odd choice to devote whole traits to making a transport better.
On the plus side, there’s more to actually talk about here, with some interesting combos on offer.
An easy and obvious choice is to take Experimental Creations and Master Torturers, which makes your key units have a natural higher Strength and cheap access to re-roll wounds. This makes your Talos S8 with their macro-scalpels or your Grotesques S6, and easily able to re-roll wounds. Alternatively, swap one of the two for Hungry for Battle, making those crucial charges a little bit easier. We already know that an 8″ charge is much more likely to succeed than a 9″ charge, especially when you factor in the re-roll available from Eager to Flay – your odds jump to 66%. The prospect of a big unit of Grotesques dropping out of the webway and charging into combat is an attractive one. I would probably opt for Master Torturers and Hungry for Battle as the combo here, since +1 Strength is less relevant on Grotesques than re-rolling wounds.
Less obvious are the applications to transports. There’s two things you can do here. The first is to take Artists of the Flesh and get your Raiders and Wave Serpents -1 damage. As mentioned in the entry, this is great for them – they don’t benefit from other Covens traits, so they don’t lose out by taking this, and many of the weapons that prey on them are mid-strength, 2 damage guns which hope to chip through their fairly flimsy defences with volume of fire. Effectively doubling the number of successful autocannon or avenger gatling cannon shots which need to go through your tissue paper armour is serious stuff.
Alternatively, for Venoms, the Dark Technomancers and Experimental Creations combo really amps up their potential output. Many Drukhari players will be familiar with the situation where they’re firing splinters at a big monster and cackling as they ignore its high Toughness and wound it on 4s – only to then spend the next turn shooting at chaff infantry and still only wounding on 4s. This trait combo gets around that nicely. Dark Technomancers gives you an optional buff of +1 damage and +1 to wound, while Experimental Creations gives you a further +1 to wound against models with a lower Toughness than yours. Venoms at Toughness 5 are higher than basically any infantry they’d want to shoot at. Conceivably you can therefore load up a Venom with both of these, blasting away with a high volume of fire (anywhere from 5 shots at long range to 12 shots at short range, depending on loadout) which hit on 3s and wound on 2s doing 2 damage. Suddenly those Intercessors aren’t getting chipped down by a couple of wounds here and there – they’re taking a pile of saves and each failure blows one away. Equally, hordes of light-armoured models like Orks or Genestealers are potentially losing whole squads at a time – especially since the 2-damage part means that the FNPs they rely on to enhance their survivability become a lot less reliable. The prospect of a high output Venom-based gunline of these is extremely intriguing.
The main challenge with the transport-based concept is just getting them in the list. There’s a couple of options for doing this. You can just run a straightforward Covens Battalion with the absolute minimum of stuff in it – two Haemonculi and three squads of Wracks is reasonably cheap, and that enables you to take 5 Venoms. This might also be a good place to slot in Drazhar – he’s detachment-agnostic, and it’s not like the second Haemonculus offers you much of anything. You can gain additional Venoms by paying additional Wrack tax, and the Wracks themselves can either be out on the board taking objectives, or floating around inside the Venoms ready to jump out.
Alternatively, you could take advantage of Blades for Hire. It’s actually entirely possible to have a Covens detachment with zero Covens-tagged units in it besides the Venoms – for example, you might take an Outrider of Drazhar and three units of haywire Scourges, and pick up four Venoms that way.
Lastly you might also just take a full Covens list using the trait combo – S8 Talos firing haywire weapons which proc on 3+/5+ and do 2 damage in addition is nothing to sniff at, nor are S6 Grotesques.
So overall, what do we think about the Drukhari bits of this release? I don’t think it’ll be a surprise to anyone who’s read the above if I say that my thoughts are mixed. There’s definitely cool things you can do here, and it’s nice to see at least an attempt being made to enhance the potential of Drazhar and the Incubi, and to increase the range of options available to the faction. That said, my chief opinion is that it all seems a bit slapdash – I don’t think whoever wrote this really knows the faction well, or understands how it currently works. Both of Black Heart and Prophets of the Flesh are strong choices for reasons other than just the trait they offer (though as I’ve said before and will say again, Prophets is also the best trait and in my opinion Covens were balanced around having it – GW really need to just make the 4++ the default and then do something else with them). Many of the interactions seem unintended – I don’t think the primary purpose of the Wych traits was to accidentally make one which enhanced planes, nor were the new Covens bits intended to up the damage output or resilience of Venoms.
The biggest disappointment has to be the Kabals list, though. Undoubtedly someone in the comments will tell me I’m wrong, but I can’t conceive of a purpose for them nor why you’d ever take any of them over any of the four in the codex. What on earth inspired not one, but two traits written purely for melee? In a faction featuring precisely seven units which can benefit from a trait – Archons, the Court of the Archon weirdos, Kabalite Warriors, Raiders, Ravagers, Razorwing Jetfighters and Voidraven Bombers – this is a choice which is just beyond me.
Mostly, this book feels like a missed opportunity, especially since this is likely to be the last time Drukhari get revisited for several years. I would be totally unsurprised to discover that the Craftworlds content – new Exarch powers for every shrine, new traits, a new Psychic lore – was written, and an antagonist was required, so someone dashed off some Drukhari traits to fill out the page space and never revisited them.
Still, at least the new models are cool.