The New Drukhari Codex, and a Drukhari Player’s Dilemma

“LFG — 40K Casual 1k, no Drukhari pls.”

“LFG– 40k Competetive 2k. Looking to take on anything except Drukhari.”

“LFG– 40k Casual 2k Looking to get some practice in with my T’au. Please no Drukhari.”

This is roughly what I saw a lot of on the “TTS Warhammer 40k” discord that I frequent every once in a while when I look for games. I was eager to do more test games with the new Drukhari…and to my distress, a lot of players were explicitly avoiding the pointy-eared pirates of Commorragh altogether.

To backtrack: several weeks ago, the new Drukhari codex finally dropped. I had been looking forward to this release for quite a while, since, after playing with my Sisters of Battle all throughout the latter end of 8th and all of 9th, I was interesting in switching things up a little. I had played the Drukhari through much of 8th edition, and had many fond memories of them zapping and stabbing foes into oblivion (and, conversely, many other memories of my murder elves being blasted out of the sky, but that’s beside the point). Once the codex dropped, I was able to give it a quick readthrough, and I discovered that I mostly liked what I saw. Mostly.

A quick, abbreviated review follows below.

The new Drukhari codex: what I like

I’m sure that, to anyone who has been following either (a) the competitive meta of 40k, or (b) is exposed to the complaints of the vox populi, the new Drukhari codex is very effective on the battlefield. It’s hard to point out what improvements stand out, as there are so many, so here are a few in point form (since when have the Drukhari done anything without points?)

  • A lot of the weapons have been vastly improved across the board, with dark lances in particular doing an absolutely insane d3+3 wounds instead of 6 (so in other words, a single shot will be doing at least 4 damage). Ravagers are now extremely efficient vehicle killers, and even the humble Raider has become that much deadlier.
  • The staple transport of the race, the Raider, has been improved, not only thanks to the above-mentioned boost to the dark lance, but also because it has had its toughness bumped up to 6 (so no more getting wounded on 4s by heavy bolters!). With this toughness boost, it still retains access to its 5+ invulnerable save, which means it is now a fast, deadly and reasonably durable vehicle for a surprisingly decent price of 85 points. Plus a lot of its upgrades (chain snares, splinter racks, etc) have noticeably improved as well. Given how much Drukhari armies tend to rely on their transports, this change is huge.
  • Speaking of transports: while the Raider’s smaller cousin the Venom has merely gotten a sidegrade (its splinter cannons have switched from high rate of fire to a low rate of damage 2 shots), both transports have been boosted considerably by having their transport capacities bolster to 6 (in the case of the Venom) and 11 (in the case of the Raider), meaning both units can now transport a full unit and still have room for a character! Finally!
  • Almost all of the units, where applicable, have gained an attack, as well as the new Blade Artists rule (which makes any roll of 6 to wound in melee an additional -1 to AP).
  • A lot of units have gained some sort of boost. Hellions, for instance, now have an extra wound and an extra point of toughness; Grotesques’ cleavers are now damage 2. Kabalite warriors now have a 4+ armour save, making them a lot less squishy. Incubi and Wyches, thanks to some increased damage-dealing abilities from the former and boosted armour piercing attacks and combat drugs from the latter, are legitimately terrifying close combat units now, just as they should be as per the fluff.
  • The ability to take multi-detachment “army of three” has been re-introduced for 9th, with Drukhari players now able to field a Raiding Force (which consists of a patrol each from a Kabal, Wych Cult and Haemonculus Coven, with the points for the two additional Patrols being refunded) or a Realspace Raiders detachment (where all Kabal, Wych, and Coven units in the army can use their own unique subfaction rules so long as there is an HQ and Troops choice from each subfaction in the list). Even better, the Archon of a Realspace Raiders detachment can have his/her rerolls benefit all Core units in the list, not just those from his/her own subfaction.
  • Speaking of characters, a lot of them have been boosted considerably. The Haemonculus, sadly, has lost a lot of its more useful melee weapons (RIP electrocorrosive whip), but retains the ability to boost all of his creations in range, and can now heal them for good measure; the Archon more or less remains the same, but benefits from some good relics and some dramatically improve warlords traits (my two favourites now being Hatred Eternal and Ancient Evil); and the Succubus, true to her fluff, is now one of the best close combat characters in the game, easily able to take on the likes of Space Marine Captains, large monsters etc and win thanks to a dizzying array of relics and warlord traits. And if that weren’t enough, all of these characters can be upgraded to “Master” versions of themselves, each with a unique ability and a unique upgrade for a corresponding troops choice (for instance, a Master Archon can fight twice once per battle, and can upgrade a unit of Kabalites into elite Trueborn with BS2+ and the ability to ignore negative modifiers when shooting).
  • A lot of the existing subfactions have been improved: the Kabals of the Black Heart, Poisoned Tongue and Obsidian Rose are all fantastic choices, as is the new and improved Coven of the Dark Creed, and all of the Wych Cults are fantastic now as well. If that weren’t enough, the “custom Kabal/Cult/Coven” options from Psychic Awakening have had some slight tweaks as well, and while a lot are mediocre, there are a few excellent standouts (including Dark Technomancers for the Haemonculi Covens, which can now generate a scary number of wounds with their liquifier guns).

I could go on and on about all of the individual facets that make the book so damn good, but then this article would be a lot longer than I intended. Suffice to say, it does a lot of things right by improving a lot of units that were struggling, making the transports of the Drukhari much more viable units, allowing them to field the “army of three” without having to spend an inordinate number of command points in the process, and generally making Drukhari the lightning-fast, stabby threat that they should be.

The new Drukhari codex: What I Don’t Like

It’s not all roses, though, as there are a few things that I’m less enthusiastic about. They are minor quibbles, but all the same, they are there.

  • Not all subfactions were improved. The Kabal of the Flayed Skull, for instance, which was one that I used to represent my own spikey space elves, has been dramatically toned down in power. Similarly, the Prophets of Flesh Haemonculus Coven has been nerfed significantly: it’s still not a bad choice, but it’s not the no brainer that it used to be, and gone are they days when I will be able to rock a wall of Grotesques with a 4+ save (although that was admittedly pretty dirty).
  • The artwork in the last codex was terrible. In this codex, it continues to be terrible, with the Drukhari’s faces all looking blurry and hideous, and the colouring looking aggravatingly pastel-shaded
  • The fluff feels lacklustre: not only does it not expand upon any of the stories from the previous codex, but it is also lacking in a lot of the detail from the previous codex as well. There are no details, for instance, about the chronological history of the Drukhari, or the various districts, regions and dimensions of the Dark City, or of the organizational structure of a Kabal/Cult/Coven. These were details that the previous codexes happily dove right into, but feel almost like an afterthought in this book.
  • A huge part of the book is actually in a different codex. In what a lot of people have been calling a “Day One DLC,” GW added an entire supplement for the Wych Cult of Strife to Warzone Charadon: The Book of Rust almost at the same time as the Drukhari codex was released. To make matters worse, a lot of the things in the Cult of Strife supplement are actually quite good (in some cases overpowerdly so, in the case of one particular Succubus build). I, for one, find it exceedingly irritating that I have to get an entirely separate book in order to field the full rules for my army.
  • Last but by no means least…they STILL have not brought back any of the lost special characters from the 5th ed codex. I am more than a little annoyed by this, as this would have been the perfect opportunity bring in say, a giant, diorama-esque model of Asdrubael Vect on his Dais of Destruction, a massive centrepiece model to rival the likes of the Silent King, the Triumph of St. Katherine, etc. At the very least, one of the other minor characters such as Lady Malys or Duke Sliscus (I’ll be honest, especially Duke Sliscus) could have come back. Alas, all we got instead was a new model for Lelith Hesperax. I find the aforementioned model to be okay, not great; while I like her dynamic pose, I find myself preferring the symmetry, the cold glare and the poised tension of the previous model.

An Archon’s Dilemma

So, overall, the Drukhari book is pretty damn good, one that is easily able to compete with a lot of the other strong armies that have come out in the current edition. It stands to reason, then, that I should be pretty happy about this, right?

Well, yes and no.

Very quickly after the codex was released and games were played with it, news began to quickly proliferate that the book was actually overpowered. Tactical authority figures such as Auspex Tactics and Goonhammer began to quickly question whether the book was too good, and remarking that there didn’t seem to be any bad matchups for it. Early battle reports quickly showcased the Drukhari’s power against a lot of armies, including one infamous moment of a humble Succubus cutting down Roboute Guilleman. To top it all off, while I am not a tournament player in the slightest, it doesn’t change the fact that Drukhari are currently dominating the tournament scene, with statisticians recording them as enjoying a 70% win rate. In short, almost overnight, one of my main armies, an army formerly renowned for is fragility and its punishment of even the slightest of mistakes, has become one of the main bogeymen of the hobby.

Oooph.

This of course leaves me with a dilemma. One the one hand, I really want to try out the new codex and play my Drukhari in all of their new, lethal glory: after having Space Marines and their ilk dominate the tabletop for the last year and a half, it feels refreshing that a xenos army is now shifting the balance (all the more so, admittedly, because it is mine). The problem is, people may not want to play against the Drukhari, not with the stigma that has suddenly been generated. I have had one game so far with the new codex, and in that quick 1000 point game my Wych list forced my Deathwatch opponent to surrender: based on this one quick experience alone, I can’t say this stigma is unjustified. Any game that only lasts two turns is not fun for either party.

So, what can I do in this situation?

Well, one thing I am going to have to do for more casual games is, obviously, try to field more casual lists. Unfortunately, this means I’m going to have to figure out what a “casual” Drukhari list would be, since there are few bad choices in the codex and almost everything synergizes excellently. By the same token, while I want the game to be fun for my opponent, I don’t want to patronize them either– the last thing I want to do is unintentionally insult my opponent by bringing what I consider to be a sub-par list, or worse, declaring it to be as such.

Thus far, some ideas I’ve been thinking on for a “fun” Drukhari list include limiting the number of transports/dark lances I take, limiting myself to only one Succubus (since even without the broken razorflail combo, Succubi are still ridiculously powerful characters), not taking any giant multi-wound deathstar units of things like Hellions or Grotesques, or possibly even doing something completely insane and taking a footslogging Drukhari army: no vehicles, no transpots, just a lot of spiky murder Elves running into murder range, hopefully before they all get gunned down.

The second idea is to only limit myself in small, reasonable ways, and instead be ready to offer my opponent a choice of which of my armies to play against– my Drukhari, my Sisters of Battle, or my fledgling Thousand Sons force (the Thousand Sons, in particular, I would be more inclined to field against 8th codexes, as they are still lagging far behind in the power department). This may mean I’ll never get any games in with Drukhari, as my opponents will most likely gravitate towards the must less scary Nuns and Sorcerors, but at least I’ll be giving my opponent a say in the matter of the type of army he or she will be fighting against, and how difficult the game will be.

The third thing I could do, though, is to not limit myself at all or give my opponent any options at all, but instead continue playing the Drukhari the way I want to play them, because they may not be top dog for that much longer. The Adeptus Mechanicus codex is on the way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up having a lot of nasty tricks of their own to counter Drukhari. And after them will be Sisters, and then Orks, and by that point the Drukhari may end up falling from their lofty perch. Given that the meta of the game is constantly shifting, it may be stupid of me to worry about whether or not people will want to play against me, and just focus on having fun with an army I’ve been collecting since third edition. (Yes, I’m that old. Shut up.)

Honestly, I think my approach will end up varying from opponent to opponent. The one thing that I do know for certain is that, no matter what, I do intend to get some playtime with the new book, as powerful as it is, and to enjoy taking my Drukhari to the field once more. If I have to tailor my lists slightly so that my opponents have a more enjoyable game, then so be it, so long as I actually get to play my Drukhari.

Anyway, I don’t know what everyone is complaining about, we are nothing but hospitable in the Dark City…ahahaahaahcoughcoughcough.

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