Saturday, 4 May 2013

It's all About the Tau - Marker Lights

I've already posted this on Warhammer Tau, but thought I would also post here for completness.

Marker Lights are very useful. They can do 3 things 

·      Any unit can use a Marker Light hit to boost their BS by one point, this works on snap shots, and for other Marker Lights.
·      2 Marker Lights hits can grant any firing unit Ignores Cover, and
·      You can use a Marker Lights hit to fire a Seeker Missile.

So in an army when most units are BS3, and in a game where many death stars use (abuse!) boosted cover saves, that’s pretty useful. This post is about Marker Lights and how best to field them. But first…… do you need them at all?

At the end of 5th Edition, I stopped using Marker Lights because Pathfinders, the only (sensible) platform for marker lights in the old ‘dex, were not very good. You had to take a Devilfish that you usually didn’t want, they were very vulnerable to counter fire, and their Marker Lights were Heavy Weapons making them very static. I built my armies around twin linked weapons, and Targeting Arrays, and just took more guns.

However, that wasn’t to say that Marker Lights weren’t good – they were, and in tournaments that allowed Forge World units, I used Tetras, and they were awesome. So, while you could build an army without Marker Lights under the new codex (harder as there are no Targeting Arrays), you would only do so if you had to.

So the question is not whether you want Marker Lights, you obviously do, but rather whether the Marker Light platforms in the new codex are effective.

However, before I look at the available platforms, I wanted to talk about how I use Marker Lights, which of course informs the Marker Light platforms you want to bring. Now this is based on experience in the old codex, but the mechanism is broadly similar.

In general terms I usually found myself using Marker Lights on priority targets. I didn’t tend to spread them around, but concentrated them on one or 2 targets that simply had to die - the Landraider that would deliver Death Company into assault on turn 2, the Psyfilemen Dreadnaughts that would double out my XV8s, or the Paladins that had just deep struck in front of my gun line and would wipe me out if they were allowed to charge. Being able to kill one or 2 units reliably in one turn of shooting was often crucial, and Marker Lights made that easier.

However, what I found was that the number of Marker Lights I needed would vary, depending on how many units I wanted to shoot at the priority target. Roughly speaking you needed 3-4 hits per unit – one or 2 to boost BS, and a couple to reduce cover saves. Sometimes I wanted to shoot only one unit at the target, and another unit at a secondary target (e.g. A Hammer Head against one Psyfileman, and Broadsides at the other one). However, sometimes I would need to shoot multiple units at the target e.g to put the Paladins down I would need to fire multiple units at them, and would need to drown them in Marker Lights to do so.

Another thing I noticed is that, while Marker Lights are useful at the very start of the game, they are often more useful at the end. Turns 3 and 4 were usually when I lost a game, because that was when my opponent’s assault units had climbed out the smoking  ruins of their Landraider, slogged across the board, beaten down my Kroot bubble wrap, and were about to assault my gunline. If they managed to do so I lost, if I stopped them I won. Being able to drown that unit in Marker Lights was crucial.

So, in an ideal world, you need at least 2 Marker Light units, each of which can put 3-4 hits on one unit, or alternatively combine and drown one unit in 6-8 hits. And, if at least one of those units can survive until rounds 3 or 4, that would be good.

And the problem of course is that, the more points you spend on Marker Lights, the fewer guns you have to take advantage of them. You need to balance Marker Lights against guns.

Finally, before we go onto looking at the platforms I wanted to mention 2 things, that are relevant when considering Marker Light platforms – Cascading Marker Lights, and Maker Light Chain Reactions.

Cascading Marker Lights is when one unit has an embedded Marker Light that fires as the target along with the units other weapons. The firing unit cannot use that Marker Light (not generally being “networked”), but another unit can pick up and use the token, if they also fire at the same target. In addition, if the second unit also fires a Marker Light, the next unit to fire at the target can pick up that Marker Light. In this way the Marker Lights “cascade” along the firing line.

An example of this would be 3 units of Fire Warriors behind an Aegis, shooting at a squad of Terminators. Each squad has a Shas’ui, firing a Marker Light. The first unit fires at BS3. The Shas’ui gets lucky and hits with his Marker Light. His unit can’t use it, but the next unit to fire at the Terminators can. They pick up the Maker Light and fire at BS4. If their Shas’ui also hits with his Marker Light, the next unit along can pick up that Marker Lights and also fire at BS4. You can “enhance, the Cascade by giving the Shas’ui in the first team 2 Marker Drones, making it more likely he’ll hit, or you can start the cascade with more accurate Marker Lights (e.g. Sniper Drone Marksmen).

A Marker Light Chain Reaction is where one unit fires a small number of accurate Marker Lights, which are then picked up by another unit which fires a larger number of less accurate Marker Lights, hoping that the total number of hits exceed the number if both units fired individually.

For example, a Skyray fires 2 Marker Lights at a target getting 2 hits. A unit of 12 Marker Drones then picks up those Marker Lights and uses them to fire their Marker Lights at BS4, getting 8 hits rather than 4. The net gain is 2 Marker Light hits over the units firing individually.

So with that in mind, let’s look at the available platforms. They are

·      Pathfinders
·      Marker Drone Squads
·      Skyrays
·      Sniper Drone Marksmen
·      Stealth Teams
·      Individual maker lights/Marker Drones imbedded in teams.


Pathfinders are the cheapest options for a unit with lots of Marker Lights – 110pts for 10 Marker Lights, averaging 22pts per hit. However, they have 2 big draw backs – first Marker Lights are Heavy, so they can’t move and shoot, second they are T3 with a 5+ save, so very fragile. Pathfinders are unlikely to last beyond turn 2 against anybody who understands their importance.

Marker Drone Squads

Marker Drone Squads are T4 with a 4+ save. More importantly they are relentless so can move and shoot, and as jet pack units can move 2d6 in the assault phase, allowing them “jump shoot jump”. The advantage they have over Pathfinders is that they are more mobile, and more survivable. However, they are also more expensive, being 14pts each, and less accurate being only BS2 compared to the Pathfinders BS3. Twelve Marker Drones are 168pts and will hit 4 times, so 42pts per hit.

The Drone’s inaccuracy can be dealt with by attaching a Commander with a Drone Controller, giving them BS5, but that just makes the unit even more expensive, and there‘s the opportunity cost of using the Commander here, rather than elsewhere. Alternatively, Marker Drones can be used with more accurate Marker Lights, in a Marker Light Chain Reaction as described above.


Skyrays have 2 BS4 Skyfire Marker lights. As such they are good candidates as the catalyst (if that’s the correct scientific term!) in a Marker Light Chain Reaction. In particular, because their Marker Lights are Skyfire, they can start a chain reaction against Flyers. So, the Skyray hits a Flyer with 2 Marker Lights, the 12 Marker Drones then fire at the Flyer at BS3 getting on average 4 hits rather than 2. Your Hammer Head then picks up 4 ML hits shooting at the Flyer at BS5.

The problem is expense – 115pts for 2 marker lights! However, it’s useful if you’re taking them anyway.

Sniper Drone Marksmen

Three Marksmen in a Sniper Drone Team costs 97 points, chances are all three will hit (BS5) so it works out at 32pts per hit. Three marker lights is enough to boost a Crisis team to BS4, and allows their weapons to ignore cover. Three hits are also good for starting Chain Reactions. Teamed with a 12 man Marker Drone unit, their 3 hits turn 7 hits if each unit fired individually, into 10 hits when combined.

The biggest problem is opportunity cost – most people would rather have Broadsides, Hammerheads or Skyrays in their heavy slots.

Stealth Teams

Stealth teams can take 2 Marker Lights, one on the Shas’vre, and 2 Marker Drones. The Shas’vre can take a drone controller making the Drones BS3. However, it costs 129pts for probably 1 hit, maybe 2.

The only advantage the Stealth Team has is that they can infiltrate. If you’re going first (and as a Tau player you usually want to go first), you’re opponent might hide that crucial unit out of LOS. Being able to infiltrate Marker Lights to get LOS, after your opponent has deployed, and then light up the hidden target and destroy it with Seeker Missiles, is pretty cool …. but very situational!

Embedded Marker Lights

Embedded Marker Lights are not the best solution. They are either limited in number, and/or inaccurate. But the biggest problem is that they’re not Networked i.e. the unit that fires them cannot use them. Thus they are only really useful for Cascading Marker Lights through a number of units.

The image I have in my head is of a regiment of Redcoats at Talavera during the Peninsula war, forming a firing line and firing by company! So line up 4 squads of Fire warriors behind an Aegis. The first one that fires has a Fireblade who shoots his marker light at BS5, and that starts the cascade. The next unit in line picks up his marker lights and fires at BS4, their Shas’ui firing his marker light…. and so on. Mix in a Sniper Drone Unit, and It could be moreeffective, but I suspect it might be difficult to orchestrate in anything other than a simple gunline!

However, the big advantage Embedded Marker Lights have are that they are resilient – they are spread through a number of units and are more difficult to kill in a couple of round of shooting.


It will come as no surprise that Pathfinders and Marker Drones are the premier Marker Light platforms, however each has their limitation – Pathfinders are fragile and immobile, Marker Drones are inaccurate and expensive. You can make Pathfinders more durable by attaching a Commander to “tank” wounds. However, that does not cure their immobility, and counters their advantage over Marker Drones by increasing their price. You can also increase Marker Drone’s accuracy by attaching a Commander with a Drone Controller, but that only exacerbates their expense! And both solutions have the opportunity cost of tying up a Commander

You can go round and round on this all day I suspect. Only field-testing will provide an answer, and it will entirely depend on what you have in the rest of your army.

However, one configuration I’ll be testing is a unit of Pathfinders and a unit of Marker Drones, backed up with a Skyray. The plan is that, in turn 1 and 2 the Pathfinders and the Marker Drones will work together, putting 4-5 marker light hits on a target each. At this point you could say, “why not just take 2 units of Pathfinders and save 58pts”. Well, the advantage of having both is durability. The Pathfinders are likely to die very quickly. Even 2 units are unlikely to survive past turn 2. However, the Marker Drones are more likely to survive for longer (through increased toughness, better armour save, and JSJ). Turn 3 or 4 is when I find I most often need to drown a hard target in Marker Lights, and focus 2 or three units on killing it in one turn of shooting. That’s where the Marker Drones come in.

The plan would be for my Commander (who I would be taking anyway) to stay with the Broadsides giving them Monster Hunter or Tank Hunter for the first 2 turns, killing stuff at range. At some point he would jump away from the Broadsides and attach to the Marker Drones and boost their BS to give me the ability to drown a target in Marker Lights.

The Skyray is there “just in case” as a potential catalyst in a Marker Light Chain Reaction.  If, for whatever reason, my Commander is unable to attach to the Drones, I can shoot the Skyray’s Marker Lights at the target and use them to boost the Marker Drone’s BS to increase marker hits. It’s a better option than the cheaper Sniper Team, as (a) you can use it to start a Skyfire Marker Chain Reaction, and (b) it is of more use as its own unit.

So that’s my Marker Light strategy!

What do you think?

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