Elites are commonly looked upon as the Hammer of an army. Some lists rarely use them (I almost never see Elites selections in Imperial Guard armies, for example) and others use them extensively. A very common tactics in using Elites are to pound the crap out of the enemy and then use the rest of your army do the cleanup (stray squads, models or objectives). This, of course, means you’ll drop a lot of points and trust in those units but the advantages tend to outweigh the consequences in most lists.
It is incredibly important to know the strengths and weaknesses of your Elites units more than any other in your entire army. Not only that, but it is even more important to know what the purpose of the squad will be when you create your list. Other units, such as Troops, can have malleable purposes based on a situation. This is not a good idea with Elites. Why? A big reason is because they’re generally expensive. You never want to pay a butt-load of points for a unit without even knowing why said unit is in your army- it betrays logic. While building a list, a good way to figure out what Elites choice may work is to build a “core” force of Troops and other necessary units and then see where your list’s weaknesses are and fill those holes with your Elites choices. They are meant to be the sword of your army: useless on its own, but held by a skilled fighter, it can do a lot of damage.
Another necessary thing when determining what Elites choice to take is that you need to constantly weigh pros and cons such as how fragile they are, how powerful they are and what cohesive element do they add to your army. When you finally have found a good balance, you have to think about how they will work into your list- whether they’ll be tank-hunters, hammers, anti-infantry, or a shielding unit (in that they draw fire away from the rest of your army) all comes into play when you are deciding whether “unit x” is really worth more than “unit y”. A lot of this comes down to play-style and, even more importantly, play-testing.
Toy with new ideas, build new lists, but be sure you are looking at your Elites for what they are: Elite units meant to soften the enemy enough for the rest of your army to take care of them. With that very basic concept in mind, you can begin creating new tactics for your army to take advantage of and be able to accurately determine where Elites fit into your strategy.
Next up are Troops choices…
I’d love to hear your comments on this, so fire away!