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I'm a relatively new High Elf player (five games under my belt...and five wins thank you very much!) and I'm looking to expand my current force. So far I've realised the devastating nature of Swordmasters (regularly packing 40 of these beauties into 1500 point battles!) but I want to branch out into one of our other Special choices.
Mostly I play against OK, Dwarves and Brets so high toughness, good armour and good CC is my main adversary. Both WL and PG have their pros and cons; I like the PG models, and the ward save, but WL strength 6 is tough to ignore...
I'm playing the Brets tomorrow and I'll see how it goes ( maybe put up a Battle Report). Any advice on my next purchase? And how to play them?
Figure what you want the troop to do - WL will cause lots of damage and can hack through pretty quick, but they die very quickly. PG simply stay put and will not go anywhere. I would use WL to go against the few numbered tough units where you need to break through their armour/toughness and would use PG against those deathstar hordes that need to be tied up until you can flank with other units to keep them from being tied up for the whole game (chopping through 50-60 skaven slaves for 4 turns is not a real effective point return!)
Overall, my PG never let me down.
Considering you love affair with Sword Masters, I would also go for the Phoenix Guard. This is because you already have plenty of hard hitters in your army and I think by adding more would be a little redundant. If you were ever going to go down the White Lion path, then I would just swap out some Sword Masters for them. Even going up against the opponents that you usually face the amount of quality S5 attacks that the Sword Masters bring should still do the job.
Like MDSW, my Phoenix Guard have never let me down either. I usually drop a Prince in the unit and let the unit carry the Razor Standard (if I have the points) or the banner of sorcery (if it cannot go anywhere else). I feel the Prince will make up for the lack of hitting power that the Guard will not bring to the combat and actually make it competitive during this phase. There is nothing wrong with the White Lions by any means, their 3+ armour save against shooting and stubborn makes them a threat in their own right.
Personally I use both the Phoenix Guard and White Lions over the Sword Masters as my choice of elite units, taking the Guard in units of 20 (Full Command) and the White Lions in units of usually 12 (Banner & Musician if points allow). Most of the armies I play against usually put alot of shooting on the table and I need my units to be able to cross the board while suffering minimal damage. Usually when I bring Sword Masters they rarely make it across.
Warhammer Armies: High Elves, Tomb Kings, Daemons of Chaos
Warhammer 40k Armies: Chaos Daemons
Bloodbowl Teams: Mean Machine (Dwarves)
Firstly, this has been discussed several times in the past. I'm grateful for the activity here on LO, but it would help to use the Search feature ever now and again. But in answer to your question:
PG and WL serve two entirely different roles. If you want a unit that's going to survive some gunfire and get into the enemy and really tear them apart in combat, you want the Lions. They're a fighter unit, and S4 (from the PGs) just isn't going to cut it the way S6 Lions will. Basically, if you ever feel the need for more than 15-18 Swordmasters in your combat units (because of shooting), switch them to White Lions and you'll do fine.
PG are an anvil unit. They're the ones who escort Teclis around the field, take the biggest and baddest of the enemy units right to the teeth and hold fast for you, they're literally an anvil. But their damage output isn't even as good as a SpearElf regiment, because they fight in 2 ranks with S4 attacks. Lame. So you use them to hold the center of your line, and then send in Swordmasters to break whatever just stuck itself to the front of your PGs.
If you're looking to buy a unit - buy Phoenix Guard if you don't have some already. Lions are a very narrow regiment when it comes to their uses. The Swordmasters do their job, and do their job better until you get to T7 opponents. Literally, only T7 opponents, or opponents who combine T4 with a 3+ save (Chaos Warriors with Shields). This is because typically, the extra attack is better than the extra point of strength, and yes, I've sat down and done the math. If your army is already full of Swordmasters, grab up some Phoenix Guard to act as bodyguards.