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Now that most of the rules from the new Codex Astra Militarum have previewed/leaked online, it's time to start our proper Faction an...

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Analysis: Codex Tau Empire Preview #1

It looks like 40k releases are back with a bang! The shiny new Tau KV128 Stormsurge is now up for pre-orders from the GW webstore, and leaked rules for it and the forthcoming XV95 Ghostkeel have made their way around the internet. So let's see what we can infer about the almost certainly imminent new Codex Tau Empire.

New Evolutions

These two new 'big' suits join the Riptide to complete the evolution of the Tau suit range:

  • 'Tactical' suits  XV8 Crisis (small) and XV104 Riptide (big)
  • 'Devastator' suits  XV88 Broadside (small) and KV128 Stormsurge (big)
  • 'Stealth' suits   XV25 Stealth (small) and XV95 Ghostkeel (big)
I expect to see new Formations that combine one big suit with two squads of small suits for a buff—expect the Cadre Firebase to be revised (or superseded) to comprise Broadsides with a Stormsurge, and similar new Formations comprising Crisis with Riptide, and Stealth with Ghostkeel.

Due to these expected Formations—and GW's penchant for adding supplemental content outside the codex—I doubt we will see a 'Farsight' Detachment in the new book, or any way to make Crisis squads into Troops choices, so too bad if you're a Luddite who can't move past the 12 year old Force Organisation Chart.

Missing Links

Evidence has emerged that two other new suits—the XV85 Enforcer and XV86 Coldstar—will also debut in the new codex. I believe the Enforcer represents the old Iridium Armour Relic going mainstream, so it's fairly safe to assume it will fit into the 'Tactical' line of suits, possibly an upgrade to Crisis squad leaders or maybe even entire squads. I'm guessing that the Coldstar will be a similar addition to 'Stealth' line, rather than an addition to the 'Devastator' line, but that is pure speculation on my part.

Armour, Redefined

The Stormsurge 'only' has T6 with a 3+ armour save, and the Ghostkeel is expected to be T5 with 3+ armour save. Given that the Stormsurge is nominally the heaviest of all the Tau suits, I suspect that Tau armour saves are all going to be capped at 3+, with Toughness and Wounds varied to differentiate the relative resilience of suit types.

Given the evolutionary paths outlined above, I predict the following profiles:

  • XV8 Crisis T4 W2 Sv3+ | XV85 Enforcer T5 W3 Sv3+ | XV104 Riptide T6 W5 Sv3+
  • XV88 Broadside T5 W2 Sv3+ | KV128 Stormsurge T6 W8 Sv3+
  • XV25 Stealth T4 W2 Sv3+ | XV86 Coldstar T5 W3 Sv3+ | XV95 Ghostkeel T5 W4 Sv3+

The reduction of Broadsides and the Riptide to a 3+ armour save is likely for a few reasons:

  • Tau players whinge about Grav
  • Non-Tau, non-SM players whinge about 2+ armour saves
  • GW don't need to sell new Riptide or Broadside kits with this codex release

That cynical third point aside, I think this sort of change is fair; the Riptide will stay competitive, but will be less of an auto-multi-include which will encourage diversity in Tau lists. Broadsides will lose out in this rebalance, since it would be incongruous to have a small suit with a better armour save than the big suits; a bump up to T5 (and possibly W3) would reduce the number of weapons that double them out, but the increased vulnerability to small arms (and Scatter Lasers) would hurt.

I hope that Stealth suits get a resilience buff, because they are some of my favourite Tau models but are simply unplayable with their current rules. I think a Toughness boost is most likely—they are wearing battlesuits, after all—but an extra Wound would really help their playability. I think it is both justifiable in fluff, and balanced on the table, to have Stealth suits with equivalent resilience to Crisis suits, with the smaller suits being far more limited in their weapon quantity and options. Based on this expectation, I predict the Coldstar (assuming it belongs in the 'Stealth' line) will have the same profile as an Enforcer—but again, I am purely speculating when it comes to the as-yet unseen Coldstar.

Big Guns Never Tire

I have previously written about the current problems facing Tau; two key issues being that their weapons are all too similar (S7 AP4 everywhere) and they lack ranged D. Now we've seen the rules for the Stormsurge—the ultimate shooty suit—and they suggest to me that Tau firepower is going to diversify, but that ranged D will still be mostly missing from their arsenal.

Yes, the Stormsurge does have an option for ranged D—but it is bizarrely limited to only 10" range, and lacks any blast. I think the alternative weapon option (Pulse Driver Cannon) will be the superior choice, since its S10 AP2 Ordnance Large Blast is nearly as good as D for penetrating heavy armour or doubling-out T5 infantry at long range—and long range synergises well with the Stormsurge's 'double-tap' ability.

(Perhaps the big-ass Railgun on the Hammerhead will become a D weapon with useful range? That would give the tank a useful role in the Tau order of battle. We will see.)

While most pundits have focussed on the big gun options for the Stormsurge, consider the unusual profile of its secondary missile pods—a random number of shots coupled with a very tame S5 profile. What will this mean for the Broadside? After all, it's the 'small' version of the Stormsurge and has a missile pod option that looks very similar (model-wise) to the Stormsurge missile pods. Perhaps the Broadside is going to be super-nerfed down to something like 2D6 S5 shots?

The Ghostkeel is rumoured to carry an ion weapon with a multi-shot S7 AP4 profile—perhaps ion will be the new S7 archetypical Tau weapon, with missile pods demoted to a S5 anti-infantry archetype?

What would this mean for Tau? For one, I think it will seriously marginalise Fire Warriors (even further) if their only advantage (S5 small arms) became ubiquitous across battlesuits. But otherwise I think it could be a positive change for Tau, by encouraging more diverse list-building and hopefully more dynamic play. Right now, Tau are just the 'S7 spam' army; I would like to see plasma, fusion and rail weapons become relevant again, and a combined arms approach become competitively viable for Tau.


The biggest unknown about new Tau is Markerlights; if they change to some sort of persistent targeted debuff then Tau could be viably built MSU style. Alternatively, if Markerlights remain an expendable targeted debuff, but more and/or better sources of Markerlights became available (perhaps Stealth suits?) then we could also see viable MSU Tau. We'll have to wait and see for now, but I expect this Faction mechanic will be very significant to the new codex.


At this stage, I predict 7th Ed Tau will be a lot tamer on release than 6th Ed Tau. But I also think that some moderation and diversification may help them to endure as a competitive army, instead of their traditional 'peak and fade' power curve seen in previous editions. Hopefully we will see more information emerge in the coming days.


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