Friday, 14 June 2013

Beating Drop Pod Lists.

There’s lots of chatter on the intertubes about Tau being the new “broken” army, and more talk about building lists that will counter Tau. 

Now I’m sure things will change as people adjust to the new codex and get used to playing Tau, but my fear is that my beloved Tau will become the new “hate dex” like grey knights used to be, or demons before their new dex, or like cron air is now. That would make me sad!

So on that note, I would like to give a shout out to the 40k Global pod cast, and their web site (operating under the delusion that people reading my obscure blog won’t have heard of them!). They have put up a few posts on “how to beat tau” that I think are great. In particular this week’s pod cast has a battle report by BJ where he would appear to have smashed a Tau army using drop podding wolves.

However, in the interests of continuing the arms race, here are a few thoughts on how I would try and counter a podding wolves list!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a scary list, and by no means am I trying to say that these tactics would “smash” it. Drop pods are not good for Tau. As I said in one or more of the battle reports from the Games of War tourney, the way to attack a Tau gunline is to present it as quickly as possible with as many tough threats as possible, and simply overwhelm their fire power. Although it’s much harder to do than it was in the past, the best way to smash a Tau army (although perhaps not necessarily the best way to beat it) is still to get into assault as soon as possible.

So the Wolves list was

Wolf Priest, preferred enemy -General- (joins wolf guard unit)
Rune Priest, Bolter, Jaws, living lighting
Rune Priest, bolt pistol, Jaws, Storm caller
Rune Priest, combi melta, Jaws, tempest


7  Greyhunters, melta gun, drop pod with deathwind launcher
7  Greyhunters, melta gun, drop pod with deathwind launcher
7  Greyhunters, flamer, drop pod with deathwind launcher
5 Greyhunters, flamer
5 Greyhunters, flamer


10 Wolf Guard, drop pod with deathwind launcher
-7 with combi plasma
-1 with combi flamer (joins greyhunters with flamer)
-2 with combi melta (joins greyhunters with melta)


6 Long fangs, 5 heavy bolters, drop pod with deathwind launcher
6 Long fangs, 5 heavy bolters, drop pod with deathwind launcher
6 Long fangs, 5 heavy bolters, drop pod with deathwind launcher

The big danger is the 4 pods with 3 packs of grey hunters and the plasma wolf guard coming down first turn. The Rune Priests will be with the Grey Hunters and the Wolf Priest with the Wolf Guard, giving them preferred enemy on their combi plasmas. The two Wolf Guard with combi meltas will join the Grey Hunters with the melta guns, and the one with the combi flamer will join the GH pack with the flamer. The Long fangs will set up “on the line” to push back infiltrating kroot. The 2 small packs of grey hunters will be in reserve to come onto home objectives at a later date.

As I said, it’s a scary list designed to give Tau fits – what to do about it?

Well, as always, when multiple targets threaten your gunline, you need to kill each unit one at a time, while blocking the other threats until it’s their turn to die. This basic tactic stays the same, however, it’s more difficult because you need to weather a potentially devastating alpha strike before you can retaliate.

The key to a weathering this sort of alpha strike is a careful deep strike defence. The basics are that you want to push the pods back so that everything is as far away from your army as possible when it comes down. This minimises the effectiveness of their weapons, but also gives you room to maneuver when it comes to killing the wolves, after you (hopefully) weather the alpha strike. This can be built into your list (e.g. ally in Coteaz with a henchman squad of plasma death and a strike squad – Coteaz uses “I’ve been expecting you” to kill anything that comes within 12”, and the Strike Squad uses warp quake to push everything back), or done by deploying carefully. A combination of both helps!

As an (arguably futile!) exercise in “what ifs”, lets assume I’m playing the 1750pt list I took to the Games of War tourney. To make it up to 1850pts I’ll add in another pack of Kroot and increase the other Kroot squads to make up points. The list would be


                                                                                                                                                        XV8 Commander, 2 Missile Pods, Target Lock, Drone Controller, Puretide Chip, Iridium Armour, 2 Marker Drones


Riptide, Fusion Blasters, Ion Accelerator, Early Warning Override, Velocity Tracker  
Riptide, Fusion Blasters, Ion Accelerator, Early Warning Override, Velocity Tracker     


12 Fire Warriors, Devilfish, Sensor Spines, Disruption Pods                                          
11 Fire Warriors, Devilfish, Sensor Spines, Disruption Pods
10 Kroot, 4 Kroot Hounds                                                                                                     
10 Kroot, 5 Kroot Hounds                            
10 Kroot, 1 Kroot Hounds                                                                                                      

Fast Attack

7 Marker Drones                                                                                                           

Heavy Support

Hammer Head, Rail Gun, Sub-munition Blast, Longstrike, Disruption Pod, Smart Missile System
 Skyray, Black Sun Filter, Smart Missile Systems, Disruption Pod.                             
 Skyray, Black Sun Filter, Smart Missile Systems, Disruption Pod.                                  

How would I deploy to counter the pods?

I would build a castle. I would build a castle by deploying units so I can control where my opponents brings down his pods. I can’t do that completely of course, but what I can try to do it push his pods away from my castle as far as possible. The goal is to get his Rune Priests 24” away from my Riptides, his melta guns (at least) 6” away from my vehicles (preferably 12”) and his plasma guns as far away as possible.

You do this by controlling space on the board. Pods can’t come down on top of your units, or within 1” of them, so you spread your units out to limit where they can come down. But don’t squash your units up too tightly. If you do that, when it comes to your counter strike, you wont have enough room to maneuver.  The key distance in your castle is 5”. Go and get a drop pod and measure it’s base. You’ll see that a DP will not fit into a gap that is 5” or less. This is conservative, but lets be cautious. When building your castle you want to leave as much room to move as possible inside your castle, but no more than a 5” circle!  If you do, your opponent will pod right into the middle of your castle, and you really don’t want that!

When building the castle build it in layers. As a rough rule of thumb you want disposable units on the outside and your hard-hitting units on the inside. Against the wolves I would build the castle in a corner, using the back board edge and the side edge as 2 of the castle walls. In an objective game I would have one of my objectives in my castle, one close on my side, and (if possible) one on my side but further away. The idea would be that this might tempt my opponent to drop one of the pods onto the further away objectives meaning I only need to deal with 2 or 3 threats rather than 4. I could then deal with the other packs on the objective once I had (hopefully) dealt with the ones in my teeth! To be honest however, it’s unlikely an experienced opponent would fall for that!

The first thing I would put down would be the Skyrays and the Hammerhead. The wolves only have 5 melta guns (3 of them combi melta’s). As long as the melta guns are more than 6” away (and they’re going to be!), there is a good chance my AV13 vehicles will survive. I would spread out the tanks so they are 5” apart to give me room to move next turn. Five inches behind them would be the Fire Warriors in their D’fish. Again the D’fish would be 5” apart to allow the Warriors to get out next turn if that was a good idea.  Five inches behind them would be the Commander and his gun drones and then the Riptides. The Kroot would be infiltrating, and would infiltrate 5” in front of the AV13 wall; pushing the melta guns back that crucial 6”. If I could (i.e. if I didn’t need it for my castle) I would keep the small pack of Kroot in reserve, outflanking – remember that objective that was on the other side of the board? Well, if my opponent doesn’t take the bait, and there’s nothing over there, the Kroot can outflank onto it later in the game (hopefully out of sight of the heavy bolters!).

This works even better if you can get cover on the vehicles. If you’re going first, you will always get at least a 4+ (Jink plus D’pods) – you really want to go first!

Of course you will have noticed the fatal flaw in the plan – Dawn of War deployment. In Dawn of war deployment I can’t get the necessary depth in my castle to push the Rune Priest far enough away from my Riptides. Assuming my opponent deploys his Long fangs directly opposite my castle (and why wouldn’t he!), the maximum depth I can get in my castle is 18” (12” deployment and then the Kroot infiltrating 18 “ away from the long fangs). If I’m going first I might be able to expand the castle in turn one by moving the Kroot Screen forward. If I’m going second it’s trickier. Depending on where he deploys his long fangs I might be able to build the castle in a little more depth. You could also try and build the castle so the only way he can get Jaws in range would be to drop the pod close to the board edge. That might discourage your opponent to drop there and risk scattering off the table. Other than that the only answer is to reserve the Riptides, or “pray” the Pods scatter badly and/or the Priest fail to cast!

Now, to be clear, it’s easy to explain how to build this awesome castle on paper, but it’s a tricky thing to do. Terrain gets in the way, the units don’t “fit” where you want them to fit, there is “always” a 6” gap somewhere in your castle etc etc. You will never be able to build the perfect castle “in real life”.

OK, having said that, let’s assume for the purposes of the exercise that I’ve been able to build a castle as described above. I’m in a corner, Skyrays and Hammer heads out front, D’fish behind and Riptides behind them in the corner. I have 2 Kroot Screens in front of the AV13, one on the deployment line, and the other infiltrated in front of that. Assuming I’m not going 2nd in Dawn of War, I should be able to create enough depth in my castle to push the pods 24” away from my Riptides. Chances are you will be able to use the Kroot to push the pods 12 “ away from your Vehicles.  

If I have first turn, I’ll move all my vehicles a fraction of an inch so they get a 4+. In fact I’ll be tempted to move them “flat out” for a 3+ save (particularly the Devilfish), but I might decide to try and kill a Long fang Squad for first blood. If you’re going second (or on his turn 1) its time to tighten your body armour and make sure your Pulse Rifle is fully charged!

On my opponent’s turn 4 pods crash down, but because of the Kroot, at best, any wolves coming out of the pods are 13” away from the first line of tanks, and (hopefully) more than 24” away from the Riptides. My Kroot will evaporate in an explosion of feathers and blood, but the only things that can hurt the tanks are 7 combi plasma shots. I would need to be pretty unlucky to lose an AV13 tank to 7 plasma shots, particularly if it had a 4+ save!

The first thing I need to do is decide whether or not to intercept with my Riptides. This will depend on where the pods dropped, and how clumped up the wolves are when they get out, but I would be tempted not to. The reason is that the Riptides will have no marker light support when they intercept. In my shooting phase they could have up to 9 marker lights – more than enough to ignore cover and significantly reduce scatter on their blast templates.

So, assuming my Riptides and tanks come through unscathed, and the Kroot evaporate, its now my turn.

It’s very hard to predict what will happen next, as it depends entirely on where the pods came down and what are the biggest threats. However, what I would probably do is decide which packs were going to die that turn, and which were going to die next turn! I reckon I would have a good chance of killing or crippling 2 packs per turn – so I would choose 2 to die, and 2 to block. The tricky decision is whether to get the Fire Warriors out of their ‘fish on this turn. It’s tricky because of the Deathwind launchers on the Pods. One of them on a disembarked squad of fire warriors would ruin their day! But they only have a 12” range (assuming they’re the same as regular marines). So I could disembark out of range and still be in rapid-fire range with my pulse rifles. I also need to remember that the heavy bolters will chew through the fire warriors as well, although with all those pods and vehicles in the way, never mind terrain, I might be able to get them out without giving the Long Fangs line of sight.

So, if I can get them out more than 12” away from a pod, and out of LOS from the Long Fangs, I might get the Fire warriors out. However, I need to be cautious with the Fire Warriors, as I don’t have many troops left to grab objectives, and there will still be 2 squads of Grey Hunters around with bolters next turn.

I would Nova Charge the Riptides so I could use the S9 Ordinance Large Blast. The main use is to kill the marines, but if I can also clip a pod, I have a good chance of killing that too.

In the movement phase I also need to deal with blocking the 2 squads that will die next turn. The best way to do this is with Vehicle hulls and gun drones. I’ll use the Skyrays and the Hammer Heads, plus the D’fish Gun Drones to block their movement (ideally you don’t want to move the Skyrays as you want to blast something with the seeker missiles in the shooting phase, but needs must at times!). Yes I will lose them next turn (probably) but better that than my fire warriors or Riptides. Also, by moving the vehicles towards the Grey Hunters I delay their advance, and give myself more room. Finally, if they assault the vehicles, that triggers supporting fire, so again, depending on positioning, I might get an “extra” round of shooting.

In shooting I’ll marker light the most “clumped up” squad with the Commander’s Drone Squad. Chances are I’ll get a large number of hits. I’ll use them on one of the Riptides (the one who successfully Nova Charged, if only one did) and drop a cover ignoring S9  AP2 Large blast that will scatter minimally on their heads. With a bit of luck I’ll also kill the Drop Pod they came out of. Next, I’ll shoot the Skyray’s marker lights to light up the other squad. If I’ve had to move the Skyrays to block then I’ll be shooting the marker lights at full BS and snap shooting everything else. However, if they’ve stayed still, then they’ll be shooting 12 S8 AP3 shots at the unit, plus their marker lights and their SMS, probably at BS5. That leaves the rest of the army (Hammer Head, another Riptide and the Fire Warriors, if they got out their fish), to mop up as much of the 2 crippled squads as possible. Thinking about it, if the Fire Warriors got out their fish, I might get greedy and try and kill/cripple 3 squads in that turn.

In my opponents next turn, with a bit of luck, I’ll lose a couple of vehicle hulls, and then be able to wipe out the remaining squads in my turn. Then it’s a question of getting to the objectives….!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s really easy to “theory hammer” a battle, but much, much harder to pull it off. It’s always going to be a hard game against a list like this. The key is surviving the alpha strike with enough of your army intact to kill his wolves, and then still have enough time/mobility to grab objectives in the last few turns. One of the hardest things is positioning your army to maximise fire power and blocking potential. That’s why it’s so important not to build your castle too small, you need room to maneuver – it often feels like a big game of Tetris!  

Much easier said than done!




  1. The commander cant have that much wargear (he can only have 4 not 6) :/

  2. @Flashkid. He only has 4. The Puretide chip and the iridium armour are signature systems that don't take up hard points.

  3. @Embrace Your Inner Geek. Wow, that just opened a whole new level for my commander, thank you

  4. Welcom mate. Also doesn't count on bodyguards, but takes up a slot on elite Shas'vre.


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