Ever since the original Dark Eldar codex came out in 3rd Ed this style of play has always appealed me to the point where I actually made an Ulthwe Strike Force (which is virtually the same style of play as this army). I just love the idea of holding a large portion of you army back in reserves and having some specific points on the board that you can bring them in through all the while being able to act normally the turn they show up. Another really neat thing about this army is it allows you to use certain builds for squads that you wouldn’t really use anywhere else while other units completely come into their own. For this article I am going to cover how to set up your army in regards to deployment and the first couple turns of the game as well as what choices you can make to give this army a greater chance of success which include unit choices, unit options and how to get the most out of your choices.
The first thing we should talk about is what exactly is this style of play? This style of play is referring to a piece war gear that Archons and Haemonculi can purchase which basically creates an extra board edge in the shape of a 3” diameter template for you to use during the game to bring your models in from reserve. This style of play will typically have a very small amount of units start on the board (basically just enough to deploy the portal(s)) while everything else is held in reserve.
There are a few things of note to remember when using WWPs (Web Way Portals). First is you can’t deploy a portal when you are embarked in a transport which means your IC will have to get out pretty much on turn one to guarantee you get you are ready for your units to come in turn 2. The second point which kind of ties into the first point is no vehicle can use the WWP to enter play so this generally will limit you to how many vehicles you can or will want to use. The last point which is one of the biggest benefits to Dark Eldar players using this type of list is unlike the Tyranid Trygon Tunnel it doesn’t matter how you declare your units are coming in from reserve (as in Deep Strike, Out Flank, etc) you ALWAYS have the option of either going with their original reserve deployment OR bringing them through the portal. This is great for two reasons. First it gives you pretty much the ultimate flexibility in how you want to deploy your army as you don’t have to make that choice until you are literally deploying them on the board. So, if it is more beneficial to bring your units in on your own board edge to capture your home objective or if it is better to have them come through the portal so they can assault that turn, you get to decide. The second is you can never be “boxed in”. One of the main strategies to defending against this list is surrounding the portal so none of your models can come through it (like the same you would for models trapped in a vehicle). With the current form of the Portal this can never happen as you can just opt to come in from your own board edge, deep strike, etc. depending on the unit.
Web Way Portal Basics:
The main thing to think about is if you decide this is a play style that you would really like to use is make sure you have at least two portals. This is really important for a bunch of reasons. First off if you have only one WWP and quite a few units coming through you really run the risk of creating a serious “traffic jam” at the entry point as all those units are fighting for space to come out. The next problem about running only 1 portal is it becomes very easy to either avoid all together or defend against as your opponent can fairly easily just lock that portal down by surrounding it with a handful of units. The last main reason to have 2+ portals is it gives your army a bit of security if you happen to be going second since it gives you double the chance of having something still there by the time your turn comes around.
I am going to go over the 3 different main deployment types from the rule book with ways of getting the most out of your portals. The common focus for the 3 deployment types is “box in” your opponent and to leave them with as little wiggle room as possible all the while giving your units maximum effectiveness the turn they arrive from the portal.
Pitched Battle: With this type of deployment I typically place my two WWP units about 1/3 of the way along the deployment line (you want to set up right on the deployment line to be as far forward as possible). During your first turn you move both Raiders as far forward as possible and disembark the Haemonculi with his unit (for me its normally just a 5 man warrior squad with a blaster but Wracks work well too due to their durability) into cover if you can and deploy the WWP. This will place both portals up to 27” in from your own board edge which leaves only 21” to your opponents board edge and you have effectively boxed in the enemy. What I really like about this set up is it makes it so your opponent really can’t hide from your fast assault units (as Beastmasters and Hellions both have a minimum charge range of 19”).
Spearhead: There are many similarities with this set up as with pitched battle and like all 3 deployments the focus is making sure you box your enemy in as much as possible so your units coming out of that portal really hit home. I normally set up both of my Raiders/Venoms right on the edges of the 12” bubble in the middle (basically the shortest distances to their deployment zone) then on turn 1 I move as far forward as possible trying to block off as much of their movement as possible.
Dawn of War: This is the most unique and problematic of the 3 set ups, but with a bit of maneuvering it potentially is the best at removing the playing field for your opponent. The reason why this set up can potentially throw that monkey into your wrench is you can only have one of your WWPs starting on the board. This is the only set up where if I am going first I set up my transport away from the WWP squad to maximize how far back I push my opponent into their own deployment zone (hopefully making it so they just hold everything off of the board and walk on). On my turn one I turbo boost my second Raider towards the center line on the opposite side as my first web way portal. Turn 2 I move that second Raider into the most beneficial spot within 12” to maximize the “boxing in” effect that this army creates which greatly benefits my second wave of reserves.
Deploying for your Mission:
The last thing to consider when deploying your WWPs is which mission are you playing? If you are playing one of the objective missions like Seize Ground or Capture and Control you can do your best to try to have your WWPs in the middle of as many objectives as possible to help you control the game (it is can be much harder in Capture and Control just based off where your opponent places their objective)
Sometimes it just happens that you are going second with only a very small portion of your army on the field (and if you are me this happens A LOT lol). The only thing you should focus on is protecting your Web Way Portals. Literally nothing else matters. Here are a few things you can do try to limit the damage you take on the first turn.
1) Hide!: The biggest thing to strive for is trying to hide them with LOS blocking terrain or anything else you can find, even if it means setting up a bit back from the deployment line. One thing you can do to help yourself out with this is by taking Venoms instead of Raiders since they have such a smaller profile and are therefore easier to hide.
2) Alternate Deployment Options: Another really good option for deploying your Web Way Portal is putting your Haemonculi in a small 5 man unit of Harlequins with a Shadow Seer. Enemy units have to be within 24" just for a CHANCE to shoot this unit so having something like this could be very valuable in this type of list.
3) Target Saturation: Set up more units then you typically would on the board while holding just a couple choice units in the portal for later in the game. This way you aren't faced with just having two Raiders or Venoms for your opponent to shoot at while still keeping to the overall theme of your army.
4) Other Options: Other options you could consider to help with who goes first would be taking Characters that give you a much greater chance of getting the first turn like the Baron or Vect. Another way you could go would be to use all the alternate deployment options of the units in the Web Way Portal. So if you have things that can outflank (like Mandrakes) or Deep Strike (like Scourges) make sure they are using them in case your portals go "poof". The nice thing about this is if the portals are still alive then you are free to use them and if not then your game plan isn't hurt too much by their loss.
One of the best parts of playing this type of list is it allows you to take units that you would normally never really consider due to their lack of speed (a Talos typically doesn’t fit into a “Raider Rush” type list but is PERFECT for this list) or things that might be too frail to simply just walk across the board (like a 15 strong units of Wyches). The biggest thing to consider when selecting units for this type of army is “layering” the choices you have. What I mean by that is you want things with different speeds (so mixing up standard foot troops with Reavers and Hellions) as well as having some shooting elements come out of the portal. The reason for this partially ties into the “Traffic Jam” idea which is making sure you don’t bog down your deployment zone. The other reason for this is to have some elements that can pop transports so your fast close combat units have something to assault the turn they arrive. Here are some examples of different units that do work really well for this type of list.
Wyches: This style of play is the only time I would run them in a unit of 15. The great thing is it allows you to use this unit in a different fashion then 99% of the other times you would use them. You can use all your Wyche weapons and you can actually put out a decent amount of wounds so it no longer is just a “Tar Pit” unit and becomes a damage dealing unit. I would also really consider starting this unit with a Haemonculi so you are as durable as possible when coming out of that portal. The last thing to consider is taking Haywire Grenades since you don’t have many tanks and you need all the anti tank you can get.
Warriors: Other than having some small squads to help deploy this army this is a great place to use that big 20 man unit since it will give you a great, tough scoring unit as well as something that can appear and throw down a huge number of poison shots without having to get too close to the enemy. You can also take some smaller 10 man squads to camp your objectives and are set up on the board at the start of the game. I normally have them armed with Dark lances and Blasters to help soften up enemy tanks before your main force arrives.
Hellions + Baron: This unit is one of the single best units you could take for this list. It is fast, puts out huge firepower and is great in CC. The biggest thing though is for you to get the most out of it is you should always take the Baron for your one decent sized squad of 15 (so 14+ Helliarch armed with an Agonizer). He takes them from being an “okay” unit to being an incredible unit. The other really important thing about taking the Baron is he gives you that mighty "+1" to see who goes first and like most DE builds that is incredibly important (as it allows you to place your portals before you get shot to crap).
Beastmasters: The other main unit that I would include in virtually every WWP army that I played. In my mind there really is no “optimal” build for this unit and it is more based on personal preference. For me I like having a mix of a decent amount of Khymera with some Razorflocks and maybe a Clawed Fiend thrown in (this is only because I love the model lol). I personally feel that you need those str 4 Khymera attacks to help out with your str 3 Razorflock attacks (on average you will only get 1 rend per 2 bases of Razorflocks per round of combat…which isn’t great). Doing the mixed approach with some different multi wound creatures also helps with wound allocation, which is great.
Talos: Another creature MADE for this type of list. You can arm him however you like but I normally go for either a twin linked Heat Lance or Haywire Blaster, Chain Flails (a real must) and maybe a twin linked liquefier. I would target vehicles that are close by or throw him in other combats to help turn the tide in your favor.
Chronos: Like the Talos this is one of the best places for it and is a great option for this type of list. When taking the Chronos I would always go for both upgrades. It is still really cheap and gives you the chance to get 3 pain tokens per turn. If things go your way it can be a massive help in both survivability and offence as you can give some units enough pain tokens for Furious Charge (*cough…Talos…cough*).
Grotesques: Another unit that normally gets forgotten about that really comes into its own in this type of list. You can take them in decent size units and it gives you something with real toughness coming at your enemy. I normally set up my Aberration with Scissor Hands as it gives him 7 attacks on the charge (4 base, +2 for the scissor hands/extra CC weapon and +1 for the charge) and he re-rolls all wounds on anything T5 or 6 or lower (if he has furious charge) with a “to wound” roll of a 3+. One great addition to this unit if you know you are going to be facing a lot of Grey Knights is adding in Lady Malays with an extra Haemonculus. That way the whole unit is 100% immune to all of the GK’s tricks including Force Weapons and Hammer Hand and Malays will get Furious Charge to go along with her large number of power weapon attacks. Most standard Grey Knight units (except for Paladins of course) will fold faster than Superman on laundry day when getting assaulted by this.
Scourges: A great anti tank unit with some speed. The way I normally take them is a unit of 5 with either Haywire Blasters or Heat Lances (the Heat Lances I would only take in a WWP list as Reavers are a WAY better platform for those weapons). You can also make them 10 strong and go 4 blasters or go all anti troop with 4 splinter cannons. For me personally this army doesn’t need all that much help with anti infantry, especially in this list because of all your elite CC units. You really do need all the anti tank you can get.
Reavers: Along with Hellions and Beastmasters this is one of those units that I would always take in this list. Their speed and special abilities as well as their Heat Lances make them invaluable. I love being able to move out 12”, blow up a transport, then move out of the way to give your Beastmaster unit a direct line to assault the contents. I always run 6 with 2 Heat Lances as my standard set up but that isn’t by any means the only way to run them. Another way which is effective and super fun (especially if you are running two portals) is a max unit with 3 cluster caltrops so you can just criss-cross the board bladevaneing people to death. Doing 7d3 str 4 hits combined with 3d6 str 6 hits is a substantial amount of damage, especially when you consider you aren’t taking any hits in return and you are also giving yourself a 3+ cover save. If you do plan on this type of squad I would definitely invest in a squad leader as you want to protect this investment as much as possible.
Mandrakes: Yup. I have gone and done it. I have included Mandrakes! I personally think this is by far the best list to include this unit (if you are actually going to). The way I do it is take 10 plain Mandrakes for 150pts and include a Haemonculi with a Liquifier and maybe a CC weapon. Now you have a unit that has stealth, coming out of the portal with 20 Str 4, Ap4, pinning shots and is insanely tough if it is in cover. It will help support the rest of the units (fits into that “layering” effect I was talking about earlier) and is also fairly decent in close combat (with two pain tokens they are Str 5, init 6 on the charge, which is very decent). Now, understand I am not saying that this is the best choice in the book but I am all about finding uses for units that most people have disregarded.
This list of units is by no means the only units to run in this army. I just listed these as some examples of units, some of which you never really see in most lists unless you are trying to do something different. The best thing you can do is try out as many different types of units/unit combinations as you can and really find what fits your play-style the best. Regardless of what units you are going to be taking the biggest thing to keep in mind with this style of army is focus fire on one point of the board and keep your reserved units together. The main drawback for a WWP portal army is that your army is coming in piecemeal, especially since DE don’t have any way to modify the reserve roll. With that in mind if you focus on one flank (and having two portals gives you way more flexibility on where you want to go) you can do crippling damage to one flank (hopefully) and what you do have on the board will be able to support each other.
While playing a Web Way Portal army might not be the most competitive army choice in the world it is something that is very different from your standard Raider Rush/Venom Spam type army and can make for some seriously enjoyable games. I am finding more and more these days I am starting to focus on what is “fun” instead of what is “uber competitive” and trying to make that work in a tournament setting. I am hoping over the next couple months to get some more games in with some “unconventional” armies and I am going to do up some battle reports with a tournament at the end of November. If there is anything I missed in this article, anything you guys would like to add or anything you would like to see articles about please feel free to make requests in the comments section.