It's no surprise that in 5th edition 40k, you need to know how you are going to handle mech. It's simply too good not to take mech if your army can take it. As such, a good portion of the overall meta of 40k is handling your opponents' mech. High strength is obviously a desired quality in shots you want to send towards mech, but more than that, you really want to have the ability to reliably get those destroyed results (wrecked and explodes!).
AP1 weaponry is the most reliable weaponry for popping armor. The extra +1 to the vehicle damage chart gives you a 50% chance of destroying a tank or transport when you pen and a 16% chance when you glance (rolling a 6). Most of the marine armies have this ability in spades in the form of meltas and multi-meltas. Grey Knights suffer a little bit since they don't have the ready access to melta weaponry other than through henchman squads which require Coteaz or individual inquisitors. Other armies don't have quite the ability that the marine chapters do. As such, you have to discover which weapons are the most reliable.
Dark Eldar are no different. Their ability to take lance weapons at S8 is perhaps unparalleled than any other heavy weaponry in any other army with DE being able to take 15+ dark lances in a single army with ease. However, dark lances are only AP2 which means they statistically require more penetrating shots per vehicle to get that destroyed result. Luckily, that can happen with ravagers that carry 3 dark lances per vehicle.
However, Dark Eldar have a more reliable weapon for anti-tank in the form of the heat lance. The heat lance is S6 and has both the lance and melta rules. On top of that, it has a range of 18" meaning the 2d6 melta range is at 9".
I have run the numbers and here is what I have found. The probabilities calculated are initially figured assuming a hit has been made first.
Dark lances- At S8, all armor that is AV11 will be penned 50% of the time. There is then a 33% chance of destroying the mech. This means that after hitting, There is a total chance of destroying at vehicle of 16%. If you want to figure in a BS4 shot, that yields an 10.65% chance of popping a tank with a dark lance. AV12 and up will be penned 33% of the time with the 33% chance of destroying yielding a 10.8% chance of a hitting lance shot destroying AV12+, 7.19% considering the to-hit roll.
Heat lances- At S6 with lance and melta rules, the heat lance is really only effective in melta range. This means it has to operate at a range of equal to or less than 9". If that range is achieved, the heat lance will pen AV11 72.23% of the time. Then it has a 50% chance of destroying the vehicle due to being AP1. This yields an overal chance of destroying a vehicle at 36.115%. Considering a BS4 shot, that goes to roughly 24%, over double the chance of success than a dark lance. Against AV12+, the heat lance will pen 58.34% of the time and again destroy 50% of the time yielding a 29.17% chance of a hitting shot destroying a vehicle, a 19.42% chance considering the to-hit roll. It is also good to note that heat lance also have a chance of destroying via a roll of 6 on the damage chart when they glance, which is a small possibility, but it will increase each its effectiveness a handful of percentage points per AV.
The sad and unfortunate thing about the heat lance is its relatively smally application in units across the DE codex. Only reaver jetbikes, scourges, and talos pain engines can take one, of which the talos carries a twin-linked version. A unit of reavers can take one heat lance per 3 models. The scourges can take 2 per 5 models and the talos gets the one TL heat lance. Not much to go on.
That said, they are the most reliable, but are the points worth the effort to get a handful of more reliable shots? I believe this depends on the army composition, really. As I have mentioned in previous posts, beastmasters are perhaps DE's best combat unit. They take up a fast slot of which both reavers and scourges come from. In a 2K army, I would ideally like 2 beastmaster units meaning that I have only one slot for reavers or scourges. The reavers have better protection overall due to turbo-boosting, increased toughness, and better armor saves, so I would more than likely take a unit of 6 to get two heat lances. I don't think I would take a talos as the ravagers are simply a better buy for their damage output.
So, again, it looks like volume of shots wins out with Dark Eldar. Dark lances aren't as reliable shot for shot, but we just don't have the access to heat lances like we do dark lances. When all things are considered, we can take a large quantity of dark lances far easier than we can the heat lances and the increased number of shots, if applied correctly should be good at destroying vehicles in its own right.
That said, I still think I am going to try to fit in a reaver squad if not two depending on how I finally decide to fill out my force org chart. Heat lances are cool, but I just can't see them making as big an impact on a game as the dark lances and blasters.
Othe Dark Eldar articles:
Dark Eldar Combat Units:Beastmasters are the Sleeper Choice
Dark Eldar Warrior Analysis: Are the extra models worth it?
What Makes a Strong Core for Dark Eldar??
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