First stop on the next dex is for the Fire Dragons. They are the only aspect that has had a statline change (4+ armour to 3+) since the old dex, but that comes with a pretty hefty price increase. The big question, of course, is whether or not they are still worth it. After all, for only 50 points more, you could get a 5-strong squad of Wraithguard who will do even better most of the time due to their S10 wraithcannons and their high toughness and fearless nature lending them more survivability than your average ‘tankicide’ unit.
So, step one is equipment. The equipment on these guys is the same as it ever was, with the exception of the heavier armour. Your standard Fire Dragon pack a fusion gun (a meltagun by any other name…) and some meltabombs. Dragons have always been used for two main targets: vehicles and monstrous creatures. Given the changes in 6th edition, they are better at dealing with the MCs, primarily down to the use of meltabombs in close combat. Also, given that grenades are far easier to plant on walkers, the assault phase is more open to them than in 5th and certain units will not want to get anywhere near them, meltaguns notwithstanding. But the same could be said of them in the previous edition.
The 3+ armour save is nice, but not worth the points cost in itself. I’ve joked several times that it doesn’t matter that they’ve got a better save, they’ll do exactly the same thing, and with the same result as they did in 5th. I’ll hold to that assessment I think. The extra armour is nice, but ultimately not going to be of too much consequence give how they’re used. However, the new Battle Focus rule really dovetails nicely into their tank-killing role. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the rules for vehicle disembarking forced them to only move 6” instead of the usual 12. In reality, due to the far more generous disembarkation distance, it only really resulted in a 2” loss of movement. With Battle Focus though, this loss can be easily swallowed up 35 times out of 36 and the overwhelming majority of the time they can now get closer to the target than they could before. Definitely an improvement. Or there’s the other possibility for Battle Focus, and that’s as a retreat. Combined with the fleet reroll, the ability to duck back into cover may well help surviving all that retaliatory fire. When it comes down to it (all snark aside), anything that could help them survive longer is a big plus, as even one Fire Dragon is a big threat to enemy vehicles.
Onto the Exarch then. There’s the standard statline upgrade than comes with it, and the equipment upgrades are the same as before; the Firepike and the Dragon’s Breath being identical to their previous incarnations. The big changes are to be found in the Exarch powers. The big downer here is the lack of Tank Hunter, a big deal in a vehicle-hunting unit (although there is a limit as to how much that will help given the plethora of fusion guns at the squad’s disposal). Instead, we get three powers of varying degrees of use. First we have Iron Resolve, boosting the leadership of the Exarch (and therefore his squad) to 10 instead of 9. This is useful, certainly when tank-shocking season comes around or if you want to stick around in a combat with a monstrous creature. It’s cheap too, at only 5 points. Also, given the casualty rate of a Fire Dragon unit, it is certainly not to be disregarded.
The next ability is Crushing blow, increasing the Exarch’s strength to 4. I won’t mince words here: I see absolutely no point to this. They don’t get decent close combat weapons; unless you count meltabombs and they don't rely on strength. It will have (at best) a marginal impact on assaults versus infantry, a sub-optimal position for them anyway. Certainly not worth the 10 point price tag. The leadership bonus is far more useful and at half the cost. The last ability is Fast Shot, which could be useful, as you would get an extra BS5 shot for slightly less than buying an extra Dragon, so a net gain there. Also, if you’re feeling unconventional, comboing this with a dragon’s breath flamer makes for a very going anti-infantry weapon for the unit. EDIT: Actually, you can't do this. It can't be used on Template weapons. Err... Whoops? You probably won’t need more than 4 meltas anyway…
So the conclusion? It’s mixed for me. The hefty price increase is definitely a point against them, although that seems to be the only complaint. The increased manoeuvrability is handy, the armour improvements and some canny deployment could help them be more than a single-shot suicide squad. And if you want to take down a landraider, they and Wraithguard are still your only viable ranged options without spend out the arse for lances. There is one thing to bear in mind on the price front though, which has made me soften to these guys significantly from my first read though. The tank-killing squad of choice in the Dark Eldar codex are Blaster-armed Trueborn, who have less armour, wield lance instead of melta (personal choice there) and cost 27 points each. Just something to think about.
Next up will be the Phoenix Lord of the Fire Dragons. How will Fuegan fare?