Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Tau from the Ground Up No3

So let's try and put this all together. Go get a cup of tea, it's a long one!

Remember I’m trying to dispel conventional thinking and start from the ground up. I want to consider all options, even those the Internet says are “rubbish” (well within reason, I wont be considering Vespids!).

I have 2 tourneys coming up and I need 3 lists – 1750 points, 2000 points and 2250 points. We’ll worry about points in the next post; lets try and get the fundamentals first.

I think this splits sensibly into 3 sections Troops, Fire Power, and Survivability.


One of the things I’ve learned is that I need better troop choices. The theory behind my old list is that I either kill all the other side’s troops, or I hold one objective and contest all others. That works to a certain extent, but what I found at Caledonian in particular, was that I needed more scoring units.

So how to we deal with the “adequate” equation – remember, ideally troops need to be numerous, survivable and fast, although sacrificing one or 2 in favour of another also works. But I also need Kroot as bubble wrap, to protect my suits. The difficulty is that the Kroot squads used to bubble wrap tend to die (it’s the whole point of the unit), so relying on them to score is a problem. Ideally I would like 3 squads of 10 Kroot, and 2 Devilfish with Firewarrior upgrades. This gives me 2 squads of Kroot to protect my suits and one to infiltrate or outflank to keep my opponent guessing. Alternatively it could be kept in reserve and simply walked onto an objective close to my side. I also have 2 mobile and resilient troop choices to move out later in the game (perhaps from reserve) and contest/ capture objectives.
So we have 210pts of Kroot and 290 points of Firewarriors in Devilfish. A total of 500 points so far. Doesn’t sound too bad – but remember the Firewarriors in their Fish do nothing other than score. They have no duality. We may have to think about this again.


So remember I need a mix of Railguns, Missile Pods and Plasma Rifles, and I need to solve the problem of how to deal with Hordes.


The iconic Tau weapon. It’s a straight choice between Broadsides and Hammerheads. I’ve thought about this long and hard in the past and reassessed my position after Caledonian and TofS.

In terms of efficiency, Broadsides win hands down. For 70 points you get a twin linked BS3 Railgun, and a Smart Missile System. So there is a degree of duality – the SMS will help with hordes. We also want resilience. We can do this by making one of them a team leader for 5 points, and adding 2 shield drones. Also – with 3 Broadsides you can suffer from over kill i.e. there are only so many times you can kill a Rhino – hitting it with 3 Railgun slugs is probably going to kill it twice. So let’s run a Target Lock on the team leader. The Target Lock allows the Team Leader to fire at a different target from the rest of his team. Also 3 Broadsides and 2 shield Drones give you a 5 model unit, which needs to take 2 casualties to force a moral check.

So I would like to take one of these units. But let’s look at the mandatory upgrade. Up until now I always ran a Targeting Array (+1 BS) for reliability. I pay a lot for these Railguns and I want to make sure they hit. However, there are 3 other options worth considering (i) advanced stabilization system (ASS), allowing them to move and shoot their Railguns (although they become slow and purposeful), (ii) a Multitracker (allows them to fire all weapons at once), or (iii) a Black Sun Filter (doubles the night fighting spotting distance).

Many people take the ASS, and I understand why. There is nothing more frustrating than having your Broadsides LOS blocked. However, if you are careful with your initial deployment, you can get round this. The Multitracker is pointless, as you will seldom want to fire the SMS and the Railgun at the same target, which leaves the Black Sun Filter.

Until ToS I had thought that the BSF was pointless. The only time night fighting really applies is in Dawn of War. The Broadsides have to walk on in Dawn of War so can’t fire their Railguns (they count as Heavy Weapons and Broadsides are infantry, not walkers). So I always thought that BSF were a waste of points, or at most a way to spend the least amount of points on a mandatory upgrade. However, Necrons have changed this. Having been screwed by a solar pulse in game 4 at ToS, BSF are looking more attractive. So I might want to sacrifice a little accuracy for the BSF. It will depend on points.

So the Broadsides deal with heavy armour – they can deal with light armour as well, but they are my only way to deal with heavy armour. So we need some redundancy. And this is the first hard choice – do we go for 2 Hammerheads as in my original list, or more Broadsides.

Hammerheads bring a BS4 AV13 Tank, which is also a skimmer. Equipped with twin Burst Cannons, a multitracker and a disruption pod, it is a very resilient MBT, which can move 12 inches and still fire one of its weapons systems. In that configuration (and anything else just doesn’t work IMO) it costs 165 points – so not cheap! The advantages over a Broadside are

· It is far more mobile, so can move to clear fire lanes and get side armour (perhaps not so important given the gun is S10!).

· It gives me something to hide my suits behind on terrain free boards.

· Because of its mobility, and its Tank status, it can tank shock onto objective to contest them at the end of the game.

· It is the only way in the Tau army to deliver horde control at range, via the sub-munition round (S6 AP4 Large Blast).

· It’s scary. People focus more fire power on a Hammerhead than its threat profile really justifies – which takes the heat of my suits.

However, the biggest draw back is it costs 165 points for one gun – which misses a third of the time, and can be stunned, or blown off. Two of them cost 330 points. For that I can get another unit of 3 Broadsides as above, and save 76 points. So lets go for another unit of Broadsides for now, and think about how we compensate for what we’ve lost by not taking the Hammerheads. (Another unit of Broadsides would also compensate for the drop in accuracy of the unit if I take Black Sun Filters rather than Targeting Arrays.)

Unfortunately there is nothing we can do about Horde control at range. There is nothing else in the Tau arsenal that does it. If I don’t run Hammerheads I have to accept that the Horde will just have to get a little closer before I try and deal with it, providing I can build something else into the army to do so.

As for tank shocks and late turn contesting, I plan to have 2 Devilfish with scoring upgrades (Firewarriors), so we can use them instead. They are not as resilient as Hammerheads, but they present less of a threat so hopefully will not attract as much fire. Also the intention is that they will come in from reserve, so there is less time for them to be shot at.
So, on balance, I’m content with no Hammerheads, as long as I have 2 scoring Devilfish.

So I now have, 6 Railguns that can target 4 separate units. They deal with heavy and light armour. I also have 24 S5 AP5 shots from the Smart Missile Systems, helping to deal with Light Infantry out to 24 inches.

However, they are not the whole answer to armour. While they can pretty much kill a land raider per turn, and have a reasonable chance of killing 2 per turn, at best they can kill 4 Rhinos per turn, and realistically probably only 3. What if I face Razorback spam – or Dark Eldar venom spam, or land speeders? I need something to take out multiple units of light armour.

Luckily, Tau have the ideal unit to do this – Crisis Suits with missile pods.

Missile Pods

I need to think this through. Crisis suits are my only remaining (meaningful) weapons platforms. They need to cover light armour, medium infantry, heavy infantry, monstrous creatures and hordes. Luckily, they can do all of this, depending on their load out. However, while you can take 15 suits (2 Command Suits with 2 body guards each and 9 elite suits in 3 squads of 3), they get expensive quickly.

Suit configurations are almost endless. Tau players debate this endlessly. This is a brief summary of the options. Trying to keep things simple each XV8 has 3 “hard points” which you must fill with either support systems, or weapons. Some suits (generally command suits and their body guards) can take Hard Wired support systems that don’t take up a hard point. The basic weapons are missile pods (S7 AP4 36”), Plasma Rifle (S6 AP2 24” Rapid Fire), Flamers, Burst Cannons (S5 AP5 18” Assault 3) and Fusion Guns (S8 AP1 12” Melta). You can get 2 of each gun, but they count as twin linked, not 2 separate guns.

Support systems do lots of different things. The important ones are Black Sun Filters, Multitrackers, which allow you to shoot all weapons systems at once, and Targeting Arrays, which boost the suits crappy BS from 3 to 4.

IMO one of the most flexible configurations is what Tau nerds call Deathrains – Twin Linked Missile Pods. Normally you fill the 3rd hard point with a flamer, a BFS, or perhaps a Targeting Array. I’m not persuaded that spending 10 points on a targeting array is worth it. Putting it on a Broadside is reasonable – you really want such an important and expensive gun to hit. But 10 points to boost a Deathrain, is not IMO worth it.
That leaves Flamers or BSF. Remember however, that one of my concerns is Horde Control. I’ve accepted I need to do it at closer range, and how better to do it than with Flamers? Adding the Flamer provides duality to the suit, and the fact that they cannot fire both weapons at once, is not a problem as you probably don’t need to.

Again BSFs would help against Necrons, but what your really want to put down are their vehicles, which are AV13 – so Missile Pods aren’t really any use. As long as my Railguns have the Black Sun Filters, we should be OK.
The other option would be to use only 1 missile pod, with another weapon in the 2nd hard point. You could then put a multitracker in the 3rd hard point, allowing you to fire both weapons at once. Tau nerds call the most popular option a “Fireknife” i.e. a missile pod with a plasma rifle and multitracker. This changes the focus of the Suit from anti light armour and horde control, to anti light armour and medium and heavy infantry.

I think the problem with Fireknifes is their cost, or at least their relative cost. A Fireknife costs 62 points to the Flamer Deathrain’s 47. The problem is that the standard Fireknife is only BS3. That’s a lot to spend on a weapons platform that misses half the time.
So, given I want something to deal with light armour and hordes I think a squad of Deathrains with flamers is the way to go.

The next question is how many in the squad – 2 or 3. On average 2 Deathrains will score 3 hits, while 3 will score 4.5. Given their main target is light armour 4.5 hits will more reliably kill a rhino than 3. So let’s go with 3 in a squad.

So a unit of 3 Flamer Deathrains with 2 Gun Drones is 141 points. Again, we need a degree of redundancy, so if points allow, I would like to take 2.


Next we need something to take out Heavy Infantry, Monstrous Creatures and (to a lesser extent) Medium Infantry. To be fair, Missile Pods do help here, and deal with MCs and Medium Infantry reasonable well. However, they rely on failed armour saves, and don’t bring enough weight of fire to do this consistently well. Ideally I would like something to cut through the armour – to stop them dead.

So whatever else, one of the hard points will have a plasma rifle. The question is – what to put on the other ones? There are 4 options;

· A Fusion Gun (called a Helios) usually with a Multitracker so that at 12” it can put out 2 S6 AP2 shots and one S8 AP1 Melta shot.

· A missle pod – i.e. the Fireknife described above.

· A Burst Cannon (called a Firestorm), again with a Multitracker. The Burst Cannon is S5 AP5 Assault 3

· Another Plasma Rifle, making them twin linked (called a “Burning Eye” I think!).

There are a number of options for the 3rd hard point that I will discuss below.

There are 2 options for this suit team – we can take it as an elite slot, or as a Command slot i.e. a commander and 2 body guards. The Command slot will cost 45pts more, with the advantage that you have one suit (the Commander) who is BS4 naturally. However, you can upgrade the bodyguards with hard wired Targetting Arrays for another 20 points to make them BS4 as well. So the command slot gives you the option to upgrade all the suits to BS4 for an extra 60pts.

In the first instance I’ll compare the elite slots, and then think about whether to take them as command slots.

The Helios

Adding the Fusion Gun gives the suit 2 S6 AP1 shots and one S8 AP1 at 12 inches (with a Mulittracker in the 3rd hard Point). A unit of 3 BS3 Helios suits should force 3.75 armour save ignoring wounds on marines or terminators. So you will kill 3.75 marines or 2.5 terminators. Three of the 9 shots (if they hit and wound) will double out Paladins. A unit of 3 BS3 Helios suits costs 186pts.

The Fireknife

Another option is a unit of Fireknives. Fireknives cost the same as Helios suits. The advantage they have is range. Over 12” they push out 3 high strength shots (one plasma and 2 missile pods), so clearly better than the Helios at range. Up to 12 inches 3 BS3 Fireknives will force 2.5 amour save ignoring wounds on terminators or marines and 3 wounds that allow saves. So you should kill 3.5 marines, or 2.1 terminators. So if you are prepared to accept you will deal with marines and terminators at close range, and you do not need the duality of the missile pod (remember I’m planning to run 6 Deathrains) the Helios suits are slightly better.

The Firestorm

Firestorms are slightly cheaper than Helios and Fireknives. A unit of 3 will cost 174pts. The Burst Cannon is S5 AP5 18” Assault 3. So a 3 suit squad pushes out 3 AP2 shot and 9 AP5 shots at 18 inches, and 6 AP2 shots and 9 AP 5 shots at 12”. So the same 2.5 armour save ignoring wounds as the Fireknife, and the same 3 wounds that allow saves (more shots but lower strength works out roughly the same). So identical to the Fireknife up to 12 inches, but 12pts cheaper.

The Burningeye

This is an option I’ve not really thought about before. At 12” it will put out 6 twin linked S6 AP2 shots. So a squad of 3 BS3 Burningeyes will have an identical damage out put against heavy infantry as a squad of 3 Helios suits. And you have the 3rd hard point still to use. I could fill that with a flamer for more anti horde with a squad of 3 coming in at 177pts. So the same damage output as Helios suits plus 3 flamers for Hordes, for just 3 points more. Or add a Targeting Array for BS4 (coming in at 195pts for 3). That would increase their damage output to 4.4 dead marines and roughly 3 dead terminators.

So up to 12” inches a squad of 3 BS4 Burningeyes kill the most heavy infantry for only 9 points more. And the advantage of this is that you can make them BS4 as an elite slot. The disadvantage of course is that they have no duality i.e. all they do is kill Monstrous Creatures, heavy infantry and medium infantry at close range!
The problem is factoring in range and cover, and that’s where my maths breaks down….!

My “feel” for this (and if anybody is a maths whizz please step in here (and I know at last one person who will read this is!!)), is that if you factor in range, cover and efficiency, the BS4 Burning eye has it. If you want to factor in a degree of duality, then the Bladstorm might have the edge (greater weight of fire with longer range).

However, there is something else to consider. If you put both armour ignoring wounds and non armour ignoring wounds on a complex unit, a smart player can “stack” armour ignoring wounds on one model. If you gotta kill a unit of marines its better to use all armour ignoring weapons, and not a mix of both.

The final option, is to run the plasma rifles on your Broadsides. You can swap out the Smart Missile Systems for twin linked Plasmas Rifles at a cost of 10 points. This is an option favored by a very experienced Tau player who kicked my butt at tournament a while ago (he was using Grey Knights at the time). He runs plasma on his Broadsides and all his XV8s as Deathrains.

I’ve wrestled with this, and I can see the argument. If you put Multitrackers on your Broadsides each unit will pump out 6 armour ignoring shots at 24”, and 9 at 12”. Not bad. In fact pretty devastating. At 12 inches it will kills more marines or heavy infantry than the Burningeyes. And it does it at a cost of only 36pts over the “normal” Broadside team!

My worry is that it makes your plasma very static. No jump shoot jump. I suspect the problem would be moving to get clear shots (i.e. to deny cover saves), and there would be no prospect of moving back into cover, or out of charge range. Also, losing the SMS, means losing one of the only sources of Horde control outside flamer range!

I think I need to test Burningeyes and Plasma Broadsides.

On balance, I think I’ll try a squad of elite BS4 Burning eyes coming in at 195 points. Given I already have 6 flamer on the Deathrains, I’ll sacrifice the additional anti light infantry for more accurate plasma guns. I also need some redundancy, which means a unit of Burningeyes run as a Commander plus 2 body guards at 230pts. That leaves a “spare” hard point on the Commander. I’ll come back to this when I consider the other HQ slot.

P.S. Astute observers will notice that I have not discussed Pathfinders. Pathfinders are pretty awesome. They fire marker lights. For every hit they score you can “spend” a marker light hit to increase the Balistic Skill of a unit targeting the unit hit, or strip a point from their cover save. Essentially they are a force multiplier.

However, they have (IMHO) serious limitations, which I discussed in an earlier post. After a lot of thought I have decided to drop marker lights.


There are 3 aspect to this. Resilience (i.e. not dieing to firepower), blocking i.e. stopping assaults, and not failing moral checks.

For the suits we need to think about Drones. The first question is Gun Drones or Shield Drones. Gun drones are cheaper (10 pts rather than 15pts for Shield Drones) and give you extra shooting (TL BS2 S5 AP5, Assault 1 Pinning). They are however AV4. Shield drones take their owners armour save (3+), and give a 4+ invulnerable save, for 15 points. I’m open to persuasion on this one but, given you should always have a 4+ cover save anyway, I don’t think the Shield Drones are worth it on XV8s (Broadsides are different as the Shield Drones takes the Broadsides 2+ armour save). So I’ll go with Gun Drones on XV8s and Shield Drones for XV88s.

Tau block with Kroot and Piranhas. I already have 3 squads of Kroot. Two Piranhas would be good if points allow

Tau have 3 ways to bolster leadership (i) Commander Shadowsun gives leadership 10 to all Tau units within 18”, (ii) An Ethereal makes his unit fearless and allows all Tau units within line of sight to reroll leadership tests (mind you, if he dies you auto lose!), and (iii) a lone Command Suit can attach to a unit and gives that unit his leadership in the normal way.

Leadership 10 means you pass 92% of the time. Re-rolling leadership 8 (all suits) also means you pass 92% of the time. So the Ethereal and Shadowsun are pretty even there.

Shadowsun comes in at 175pts! Even though you get a Commander with 2 BS5 Fusion Blaster, 2 Shield Drones and a stealth field, that’s way too expensive.

The problem with an Ethereal is that if he dies, all your units must take a leadership test. Given most units are leadership 8 or less, that’s not good. So if I’m going to take an Ethereal, he needs to be protected. And we have a really good place to put him….attached to one of the toughest units in the game – a 3 suit squad of Broadsides, with 2 shield drones, in cover. You can also give the Ethereal 2 Drones. That means you need to be taking 8 wounds before you need to put one on the Ethereal. And given their fearless they aren’t running off the board. Hmmmm…..!

However, the Ethereal doesn’t affect Kroot. There are 2 ways to help Kroot. Larger units help (13 or 17 models are best)– more models need to die to force a check. The other way is to attach a Commander giving them leadership 9 (or10).

So, if we can give the suits Drones, take a Couple of Piranahs, and take an Ethereal and/or a solo Command Suit, that would help!

So, next post, I’ll try and make sense of it all into a list or 2.



  1. One leadership option you aren't considering is a bonding knife. Too expensive for fire warriors imho but probably worth it for suits.

    Otherwise a great post but as you know I disagree on a number of points. The only one I'll mention here though is that I think 2-man teams are better. Having 3x2 man deathrains instead of 2x3 man is definitely better. More targets and more survival. If you lose a suit and they run you're only losing 1 more suit not two.

  2. Your right, I hadn't thought about Bonding Knives. But having looked at them, I'm not so sure. The standard XV8s don't have access to the wargear list so I would have to upgrade to a team leader in the elite slots. So it's a 10pt upgrade, not a 5 point upgrade. Also, even with drones, my suit teams have to get down to 1 man, before they can't rally (Drones don't count when assessing if the squad is below 50%), so I have to take 4 casualties (or 6 wounds if you ignore instant death), before I'm gone. Also, with suits hugging the board edge (especially the XV88s) and XV8s falling back 3d6, chances are they are off the board first fall back anyway.

    I agree - 3x2 Deathrains are better. Particulaarly if they are falling back. Losing 2 Drones from a 5 model team, failing a moral check and having 3 suits run of the board would be horrible! However, if you do that there is no elite squad for the Burningeyes I'm planning to have in the list!

    BTW - have you seen the upgraded Forge World rules for Tetras.....! I would swap pathfinders for Tetras in an instant!


  3. I've digested a little better the arguments in the post on why the proposed build makes sense. I think I agree for the most part, with a couple of caveats. (I have to split this into two chunks ... apparently I have too much to say ...)

    I think I agree with why you'd want BS3TwL + BSF on the Broadsides rather than BS4TwL --- BS3TwL has a probability to hit of P(h|BS3TwL) = 0.75 while P(h|BS4) = 0.66; P(h|BS4TwL) = 0.88, so I'm not convinced, like you, that it's worth the extra 10-pt cost vice another service system on the 3rd hardpoint, particularly when it's a BSF that will help to neutralise the threat du jour in upcoming tournaments (i.e., Imotek the Stormlord). The same argument plays out in choice of the 3rd hardpoint for Deathrains --- it's not worth the 10-pt cost when you have a BS3TL system already.

    Another reason to be cheerful with a second group of XV-88s (other than taking BSFs rather than targeting arrays) is that they provide much greater tactical flexibility by virtue of being a separate unit with potentially crossing fire-arcs, separate morale, and separate, deferrable firing (i.e., you can wait to see what the other units do before committing to firing them). Nice shiny tank chassis are hard to give up on, though.

    I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced about making the command suits Burningeye. TwL on BS4 doesn't gain that much to-hit (about 13%), and doesn't increase the volume of fire. I think you'd get more, if the argument is purely stopping power, with the Helios suits, certainly below 12". I guess you'd have to play-test and see where you get to. My other objection is that the division of roles across the various suit groupings works well if you're close enough to repurpose the suits mission to support, but maybe not so much otherwise. What I mean is that it sounds like you're assuming that you're always going to be deploying close enough for the Deathrains to support the other suits when it comes to light armour and vice-versa for medium and heavy infantry. This argues for a fairly close deployment which feels like it might limit for tactical flexibility. Is that fair, in your experience? I'm not sure how strong the support for this is --- it's just a hunch --- but a counter-argument for Fireknives might be that they spread the love around viz. Missile Pods.

  4. Another argument on drones to be aware of is the majority toughness question. Not a problem on deployment, and if you expect to blow off the drones as ablative wounds, maybe not a problem at all. But if you lose one suit of a 2-suit team (and not the drones), your unit toughness drops.

    I'm not clear what calculation you want to see for the range/cover questions. Cover is really just another save, so it should factor into the computations the same way any other save does. Perhaps you could outline what you think the range question is? Maybe a threat bubble comparison between different builds as a function of range bands? The most frustrating thing about trying to generate some numbers is that I don't think there's a way to provide a 'value' for the various builds that would stick, because there are so many aspects that would need to be weighted. How much value should you place in a BSF, for example, or the tactical flexibility of having two groups of two XV-88s rather than a three and a monat? If there was some sort of uniform scale of value like they use in chess, then we might be able to make better arguments about an optimal (in the sense of the expected value) build; right now, it's really a bit of a guessing game, because a lot depends on your play style and the game is sufficiently involved and convoluted to confound the likely outcomes.

    The Shadowsun/Ethereal question is a good example. Technically, Shadowsun is the better choice when it comes to purely the ability to maintain leadership for the troops that need it (i.e., LD7 or below), but the cost is such that it doesn't feel like a good choice --- even though fielding a notoriously squishy Ethereal makes me very nervous as the alternative. I guess that's also something that would need to be play-tested.

  5. Thanks NC. In response.

    The XV8 load outs are the bit I'm least sure of. I think the Deathrains are sound, its the choice for putting down marines and terminators who will charge me next turn. Relability is key - the unit must die. By my maths (on average) the BS3 TL Burning eye will kill the same number of marines or terminators as the Helios, and the BS4 TL Burning eye will kill slightly more. That's why I went for the BS4 Burning eyes. I've played fireknives for a while and at BS3 they are just not reliable enough. If you can task pathfinder to support them than that's fine, but I do not plan on running pathfinders in the lists.

    As for dedicated suit teams I know what you mean - no real duality. However, what I would hope to do is run 2 teams. That would allow me to split deploy if that's advisable i.e. one unit of XV88s supported by a unit of Deathrains and a unit of Burning eyes, bubble wrapped by a unit of kroot.

    As for the cover save, range calcs, not really sure. I guess one question is how to factor cover saves into a decision on which suit load out works best for putting down marines and terminators i.e. Burning eyes might be best if three is no cover, but what if they have cover?