Monday, 16 July 2012

Lores of Magic: The Lore of Dark Magic

NOTE: This review is of an older version of the Lore of Dark Magic, which has since been replaced. If you're looking for the current rules, please try here.

The Lore of Dark Magic is exclusively available to Dark Elves, however it is not that often seen nowadays. It is competing with the Lores of Death, Fire, Metal and Shadow when it comes time to choose spells for your Sorceress or Supreme Sorceress, and a lot of the time it loses out in the decision.

It’s worth noting that all Dark Elf Sorceresses have the Druchii Sorcery rule, which means they may ignore the usual limit of 6 power dice for a single spell attempt. This rule made more sense when the army book was released, when a wizard could only use dice equal to his level +1 for a spell attempt. Now its sole purpose is to encourage throwing a preposterous number of dice at a potentially game-winning spell. Anyway, let’s have a look and see what the Lore of Dark Magic has to offer.

What does it do?
Like all 7th edition Lores, Dark Magic includes no Lore attribute. In some ways this gap is filled by Druchii Sorcery, however since this rule applies to any Lore chosen by the Sorceress (in addition to the Lore Attributes offered by the choices from the 8th edition rulebook), it doesn’t really count. On with the spells, then.

The Signature Spell of the Lore is Chillwind. A magic missile with a 24” range, it inflicts D6 Strength 4 hits. As a bonus, if the spell kills a model, the target unit can’t shoot in its next turn. Despite this bonus effect, the spell only costs 5+ to cast – about what you’d expect for the damage alone.

Chillwind doesn’t do enough damage to scare most things, although it will threaten lone characters without a decent save, and may be good for a panic test on a small flanking unit. However, the ability to prevent a target shooting means the spell is just as likely to be aimed at the largest missile unit in the enemy army. The spell can generally be relied upon to drop at least one model from a unit armed with ranged weaponry, and given Dark Elves often field a lot of units that don’t really like being shot at, silencing some of the enemy firepower may be quite worthwhile.

Doombolt is a magic missile with a range of 18”. It does D6 Strength 5 hits, and is very cheap to cast on a 6+. This is a very basic spell. The low casting value reflects its range, which is below average for a magic missile. On the bright side, it’s still far enough that it can be cast without having to get right into the enemy’s face, and you can be in range in the first turn if you want to be (although you or the target will have to move forward). Strength 5 is a solid hit from a magic missile, and most targets would prefer to avoid the spell unless they’re very large units (for whom D6 hits is peanuts), or very tough (things like war machines with Toughness 7+).

Word of Pain affects an enemy unit within 24”, reducing the target’s WS and BS to 1 for a full turn. Lowering a unit’s WS has both offensive and defensive benefits, however Dark Elves frequently have superior WS to their opponents, and between that and Hatred, they generally have little trouble hitting their enemies. The real impact of the spell will be in a defensive context, with enemies needing 5+ to hit the relatively fragile Elves. This could make a huge difference for a unit like Executioners, who have to wait for the enemy to attack before they can have a go with their great weapons. Dropping a missile unit’s BS to 1 will effectively neutralise it for a turn. That’s probably not game-changing, but for a 7+ it may well be worth a crack if you have any spare dice.

The next spell in the Lore is Bladewind. An enemy unit within sight of the caster is attacked by 3D6 WS 4, Strength 4 close combat attacks. Characters and unit champions may be picked out, but only with one attack each. The spell has a range of 24” and costs an 8+ to cast.

In general terms, Bladewind is not a very dangerous spell. If your target has a WS of 4 or more, you’re only going to average 5 or 6 Strength 4 hits. This is the equivalent to a modest roll from a regular magic missile. The advantages of the spell over that magic missile are that the Sorceress may cast it out of combat, and the ability to target individual models. The latter is the main point here. Killing an enemy champion model is not necessarily important (although it might be if you have a character on a monster preparing to charge in alone), however pecking away at wizards with a spell like this will make your opponent nervous – especially if the wizard has already taken a wound from an earlier spell, or from a miscast result.

However, for all that you might have fun throwing Bladewind at units containing wounded wizards, for the large part this spell is a slightly under-powered magic missile and as such is a bit disappointing.

EDIT: Since posting this, it has been brought to my attention that the spell's effects counting as close combat attacks make it ideal for cutting apart war machines, as it will bypass the high toughness reserved for ranged attacks. This is almost certainly the best use of the spell, and something that has escaped my analysis. Thanks John.

Soul Stealer is a spell that can be equal parts funny and nasty. It targets an enemy unit within 12”, which may be in combat. Every model in the unit suffers a Strength 2 hit with no armour saves allowed. Additionally, unsaved wounds can be used to heal the Sorceress – and take her up to double her starting wounds.

The damage aspect of this spell is considerable. Strength 2 hits are not intimidating, but when they ignore armour, they gain a whole new dimension. Units with very good armour won’t want to know about Soul Stealer, even if they have decent Toughness. Large units with Toughness 3 (armoured or not) won’t like the spell simply because it is set to kill a third of their number. Being able to throw it into combat is handy, as it could be a cheeky way to swing a questionable combat in your favour – knock off the odd rank and maybe some attacks to shift the balance. It’s important, because a range of 12” means you’ve got to be pretty close to the target, and there’s a good chance your targets will end up in combat in the immediate future. The casting value of 10+ is well worth it if the right target is in range.

Morathi - letting it all hang out for a very long time...
Stealing wounds is not the most important thing in the world when you’re talking about a Sorceress. If it were doubling the wounds on a fighting lord character with a great save, that would be a different story. As it is, at best you will find yourself with a High Sorceress with 6 wounds, but even if you’ve got a great save on her (such as the Pendant of Khaleth), the best she can hope to do is hold something up a while. I guess if you’re riding about on a Dark Pegasus or Dragon you might like the extra insurance. Having said all this, if the caster is already wounded (or just miscast when firing off the spell, the odd spot of healing might not go astray – especially given it’s a side-effect, and probably not your main objective in casting Soul Stealer in the first place.

The final “normal” spell in the Lore of Dark Magic is Black Horror. It places the large blast marker within 18” of the caster, with no chance of it scattering. Models under the template take a Strength test or suffer a wound with no armour saves, and any units suffering a wound must take a Panic test.

In this era of powerful spells that kill outright as a result of a failed test (I’m looking at you, Dwellers Below and Purple Sun), Black Horror seems pretty tame. It’s no real threat to models with multiple wounds, and it still allows ward saves. However, the ability to place the template with certainty and the relatively low casting cost of 11+ mean it’s certainly worth casting. Provided pesky things like ward saves and magic resistance don’t get in the way, a Strength 3 unit will lose half its models to this spell. It could savage a unit that was going to hold you up forever due to Steadfast, or put a serious dent in a dangerous combat unit before you engage. Anything with Strength 4 or less is a decent target.

Before the arrival of the 8th edition Lores of Magic, Black Horror was one of the most dangerous spells in Warhammer. It hasn’t changed since then, even if it’s been outstripped by some of the newer offerings. Against single wound targets, it’s still one of the deadliest spells available.

But wait, there’s more!
In addition to the spells they roll up (and regardless of their choice of Lore), Dark Elf Sorceresses also know the bonus spell Power of Darkness. Granted, this spell will not play much of a role in deciding your Magic Lores, but every Sorceress who does choose the Lore of Dark Magic is guaranteed to have this spell as well – so this is as good a place as any to discuss it.

Cast on a 4+, Power of Darkness gains the caster an additional D3+1 power dice. The dice must be used by that caster, and if they remain unused at the end of the phase, each dice inflicts a Strength 4 hit on the Sorceress. This last bit is quaint, but unless you plan things very poorly, it should pose no real danger.

Power of Darkness is really just a spell to make your opponent uncomfortable. You will almost always have to use 2 dice to cast it in order to avoid the danger of an automatic failure of a 1 or 2, and this means that there is a 1 in 3 chance of you only getting the same number of dice back. Of course, there is a better chance of you making a net gain of 1 or 2 dice. It’s the sort of spell that your opponent may let you have, depending on how low you rolled.

The other use for Power of Darkness is to hold onto a single dice for the end of the phase, and then try to generate enough dice for one more spell. It’s a gamble, but provided that you still have something worth casting, it may be something your opponent has to save dice to prevent. By casting the spell with a single dice you get maximum value from the spell, and by saving it until last you alleviate the risk of stuffing it up and stalling your magic phase, as well as forcing the enemy to consider hoarding dice for a potentially failed casting. It’s cheeky and well worth considering.

How will it be used?
The Lore of Dark Magic is up against four 8th edition Magic Lores when a Dark Elf player comes to choose. In terms of sheer power this tends to be a losing battle, and you don’t see a lot of Dark Magic being thrown about on the battlefield. However, this doesn’t mean the Lore has nothing to offer.

The spells of the Lore lack the sheer power of some of the newer offerings (especially when they’re boosted), but they also come without the sometimes severe casting values. This means Dark Magic tends to come into its own where the player plans to throw a lot of spells out at a bargain price. The first 4 spells in the Lore can be easily cast with only 2 dice by a Supreme Sorceress, and 3 dice should normally be enough to cast anything she wants. In contrast, you tend to run out of cheap options very quickly with the Lores from the 8th edition rulebook.

Dark Magic offers a largely offensive mix of magic missiles and damage spells, with a couple of hex-type ones thrown in for good measure. There are spells to attack small units and very large ones – a fairly versatile mix. Granted there may be one or two you don’t really want (many players will be uninspired by the limited potential of Bladewind in particular), however that is common in most of the Lores in the game.

Where Dark Magic tends to fall down is that the strengths of the Dark Elves (their ability to throw as many dice as they like, and access to Power of Darkness and items like the Sacrificial Dagger) are all slanted towards casting spells with a lot of power. This means some very high-level spells like Okkam’s Mindrazor or a boosted Purple Sun of Xereus become quite achievable, where other races might struggle to pull them off. There are also spells in some of these Lores that may play better with the build of the Dark Elf army (The Withering on a target about to be hammered with repeater crossbows is a devastating combination).

All of this means that Dark Magic will never be as prevalent in Dark Elf armies as authors probably intended, but it may still see some use on backup wizards or from players who are shying away from the path well-travelled. It’s not a Lore with nothing to offer; it’s just not the option most players will go for.


  1. isn't bladewind perfect for taking out pesky warmachines. As the attacks are close combat they use the crews toughness rather than the toughness of the machine as would a magic missile.

  2. That is a very good point. That would have to make it the ideal use for the spell.

  3. I think you might find that the lore truly comes into its own when you have 2 lvl 4 casters. One usually on shadow and the other with dark. The dark caster will take the sacrificial dagger and will end up casting a huge number of spells each phase and will hopefully draw dispel dice, but you always have the threat of the shadow spells there as well, so it makes stopping everything very difficult. With sacrificial dagger you can reliably cast the entire lore with an average winds of magic roll and with 4 spells you should be able to cast all of them and have dice left over (especially with 2 power of darkness rolls up your sleeve).

    Overall your assessments look spot on, but you really need to build around having the lore in your army as it's not as powerful as some of the new lores.

  4. You're right, an army like that could really pump out a formidable wall of magic. Of course, if you were looking at using a list like that in a soft comp environment, the scorers might come after you with a very big stick. It's unfortunate if the only way to really get mileage from the lore is to completely overload on magic.

  5. I am new to your blog, and let me tell you: I love it. The Lores of Magic reviews are excellent, however, I wish for you to focus on the Lore of Nehekhara. I am a big Tomb Kings player, and with their 8th edition army book, I am intrigued by the lore itself. If you do not play with Tomb Kings at all, that is perfectly fine, but on the off chance that you do, a Lore review for them would be great.

  6. Thanks Noah. Whilst I'm not a Tomb Kings player, I fully intend to review all of the Lores before I finish. Might as well complete the set, hey? I'll see if I can arrange to bump it up the "schedule" (see what I did there? I pretended I was organised...).

  7. That would be great! Thank you for the fast reply, and thank you as well for perhaps bumping it up on this supposed "schedule." I will be looking forward to the review!