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Monday, 26 October 2015

Analysis: Codex Tau Empire Preview #4

Most of the new Codex Tau Empire has now leaked all over the internet, and it sure is full of surprising changes—and equally surprising non-changes. Before I post my full analysis of the new book, here is one last preview post on the highlights from this latest round of leaks.

Crisis Situation!

Normal XV8 Crisis Battlesuits can now be taken in nine-man squads! Remember the bad old Farsight Bomb? Seven Crisis Bodyguards with six packing heat and one bringing teh buffz? Tau can now play this trick bigger, better, and cheaper. Nine Crisis suits costs 198 pts; a Shas'vre with the buff trinity (Command and Control Node, Multi-Spectral Sensor Suite, Puretide Chip) adds 60 pts to the squad, and a pair of guns plus a Target Lock on everyone else brings the total up to 538 pts. Optionally add Shadowsun for an extra 135 pts to get Stealth, Shrouded, and Ld10 and you have a seriously shooty and tough deathstar for a reasonable 673 pts.

Compare that to the old book, in which a seven-man squad with only two-thirds the firepower cost you 649 pts (without Shadowsun) and a wasted HQ slot for the Farsight tax. That works out to be a 50% increase in output for a 17% discount—outstanding value!

But it gets even better; the once 'experimental' Cyclic Ion Blaster is now a regular weapon, costing the same 15 pts as a Missile Pod and sacrificing 50% of its range for 50% more rate-of-fire. Providing you can manage an 18" weapon on a Jet Pack platform, you can fire six S7 AP4 shots from each model—that's another 50% increase in output for no change in cost.

In short, 649 pts used to get you 24 Twin-Linked, Ignores Cover, Tank Hunter S7 shots split six way, and that was scary—now, 538 pts gets you 48 Twin-Linked, Ignores Cover, Tank Hunter S7 shots split eight ways. Damn.

Destroyer Surprise

I was mostly unimpressed by the Stormsurge due to its lacklustre secondary weapons including 'Destroyer Missiles' which initially looked like not-Seeker Missiles with AP1 but nothing else exciting. But now we see that those innocuous Destroyer Missiles become 60" D AP1 nightmares with the expenditure of a single Marker Light!

This is a much-needed boost for Tau, which otherwise can really struggle to kill hard targets at range and rely too heavily on melta to answer significant threats like Knights and Wraithknights. When I first saw the Stormsurge rules, I did not think its 10" D double-shot would be enough to cover this weakness, but with four long-ranged D missiles added to its arsenal for free it is now very much worth its 360 pts price tag.

Of course, this little gem comes at a cost—higher reliance on Marker Light support. And one thing that the new book has seemingly failed to deliver is a better source of Marker Lights—Pathfinders are still too squishy (and static), Marker Drone squads still need Babysitter Commanders, and Skyrays are still static with low output (but are still very good, for other reasons). Stealth Suits may be an option, with three Relentless BS3 Marker Lights for 138 pts. But getting Marker Light hits on a high-value target at range can still be a challenge, and that makes those Destroyer Missiles somewhat unreliable.


My favourite model of the new releases—the very sexy XV95 Ghostkeel Battlesuit—sadly finds itself without a useful battlefield role. I previously speculated that changes could be coming to Missile Pods for Crisis and Broadside suits, making the Ghostkeel the new premier source of mass S7 hawtness—but I was wrong, and so the Ghostkeel simply becomes a new way of delivering melta.

However, Crisis suits are simply more efficient melta delivery platforms, and Stormsurge Destroyer Missiles make melta less necessary—the Ghostkeel sadly does not add much to the arsenal.

Fun with Formations

While the Ghostkeel is probably not good enough to stand alone in a competitive army list, and Stealth suits remain unchanged, these two suboptimal units may just be secretly awesome in the new Optimised Stealth Cadre Formation. Comprising two Stealth suit squads and one Ghostkeel squad, this Formation confers +1BS and Ignores Cover to the Ghostkeels, and the same benefits to the Stealth suits if they are within 6" of a Ghostkeel. As an added bonus, they always hit rear AV when shooting vehicles, making the mass S5 of the otherwise unimpressive Stealth suits a relevant threat.

One of the main problems with the previous Tau book is that it did not enable MSU builds; one-per-army buff Relics and a clunky Marker Light mechanic encouraged list design around a smaller number of big shooty units. The new Tau Detachment partially mitigates the unchanged Marker Light mechanic, but Formations like the Optimised Stealth Cadre enable a true MSU approach. Consider lots of minimised Stealth suit squads and single Ghostkeels, all with Ignores Cover mass S5 and S7 dakka hitting weak rear AV when targeting vehicles, and free melta on the Ghostkeels covering any Land Raiders or Fortifications you need to answer. Good times!

A Heavy Retribution Cadre Formation might not have much of value in its special rules, but it allows you to flout any residual archaic notions of FOC restrictions your local environment may cling to, by unlocking up to six Gargantuans in a single Detachment.

The Retaliation Cadre forms a solid basis for any suit-heavy list, with a good selection of units and invaluable Relentless on your Broadsides—automatic second-turn Deep Strike with Relentless +1BS Broadsides is very nice indeed! I would recommend the use of this Formation alongside the Optimised Stealth Cadre so you can infiltrate a couple of Homing Beacons into midfield.


Finally, remember that a polished turd is still a turd—there is no excuse to take the new Vespid or Flyer Formations!


When I look back at the five reasons why old Tau were bad, I am glad to see that four of those five deficiencies have been at least partially remedied; Tau firepower is still very mono-dimensional, but the Stormsurge adds some much needed S10 and D to deal with hard targets at range, reducing the need for suicide melta to answer threats.

Sadly, I don't think this not-new codex will make Tau more interesting to play, since it really just reinforces the current archetype—suits and Skyrays, with infantry, Drones and other supporting elements a rarity in competitive lists. Stealth suits might get played a little more, and Kroot a little less, but otherwise the old staples will remain: Missilesides and Iontides everywhere! Yay!

We might see a brief phase of 'combined arms' Tau using their new Detachment to deliver super-shooty annihilation to single targets, but once enough players figure out that MSU hard-counters this approach, we will see Tau re-settle in their current equilibrium of 'all teh gunz, faceroll' playstyle. Oh well, a missed opportunity for better Faction design, but we make the most of what GW gives us.


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