Games Workshop dropped its Q2 Balance Dataslate for 40k in mid-April, dramatically changing a number of key factions. Astra Militarum, Marines and Sisters were buffed, Harlequins, T’au, and Custodes were nerfed, and some key game rules were changed. Now with Tyranids looming on the horizon, we’re looking at several key factions and examining their place in this new emerging meta.
In today’s article we’re joined by the 2021 ITC Champion Richard Siegler from The Art of War, who will be providing his thoughts on playing T’au post-Dataslate.
While the Adeptus Custodes stole the show in January for “new power codex,” the cunning T’au were soon released into the meta the following month after LVO. And what a codex it ended up being. Perhaps the best designed codex T’au have ever received, with multiple powerful Septs to design lists around, an excellent tree of warlord traits, useful prototypes systems, and a nice balance of datasheets where there are far fewer completely useless choices, which was a core problem of 8th edition T’au.
Yet, externally, this codex was perhaps the most powerful one released in 9th edition up to that point, being able to go toe-to-toe with the golden-armored newcomers and dominate previously strong armies like the Adeptus Mechanicus and Drukhari, let alone the middling factions. The book allowed T’au to take advantage of some of the most powerful rules in the game at the time—indirect fire and bodyguard—creating an army that could devastate an opponent from out of line of sight while leaving untargetable commanders and their drones holding down objectives out in the open. T’au were the culmination of a series of design flaws in 9th edition and they took full advantage of it for over a month, with an incredible win rate and dominant tournament showings.
The new dataslate nerfed not only T’au-specific rules, but through the game-wide changes to how indirect fire and bodyguard function, the faction’s tournament playstyle. No longer able to sit a commander next to a bodyguard unit and string the model’s drones out onto objectives while being free from the threat of incoming firepower, T’au armies need extra resources that can sit out in the open on objectives in order to survive and score primary points. Additionally, the crisis unit loaded with airbursts and flamers took a massive nerf in two ways:
- First, from the indirect fire rules changes to giving the unit -1 ballistic skill and giving the opponents unit +1 to its saving throws, airburst fragmentation launchers are far less effective at killing the opponent’s infantry and cheap units that way to screen their backfield (which would open plays for their objectives later in the game and gaps to deepstrike devastating firepower into).
- Second, thanks to the change to the Mont’ka tactical philosophy removing the additional armor penetration when within a certain range airburst fragmentation launchers pale in comparison to their former selves. To function in a similar capacity to the prior status quo demands target locks, a crisis commander, and Shadowsun, but against units with average or better armor saves they will still do very little damage.
This means that T’au armies will need to rely on mobility to kill such enemy units now and in doing so put more of their T’au units at risk of being counter attacked. Both changes combine to be the death knell of the unhealthy non-interactive style of play that the original codex promoted.
This is far from the end of the line for T’au in 9th edition as they still boast some of the better shooting datasheets and synergies in the game, have very good secondary play, and have a diversity of Sept rules that emphasize different tactical choices. I expect T’au to continue to perform well, likely dropping to a 50-55% winrate as players looking for easy wins abandon the faction, while true Shas’O will use this as an opportunity to innovate.
Let’s talk about the faction head-to-head matchups for T’au post-dataslate.
T’au continue to match up well against many of the factions in the game, with armies like Harlequins being brought down to the level of mere mortal clowns, one of the most difficult matchups for the codex is much more playable. Custodes, who I believe T’au were favored against, were hit quite hard in the dataslate and the particular nerfs they received were some of their strongest rules against T’au. Against armies that lack the speed to contest T’au primary points effectively, I expect the faction to continue to perform well, such as certain Space marine builds, Death Guard, and Thousand Sons.
However, with those factions in mind, their return to the top of the meta via armour of contempt will force different weapon choices onto battlesuits. In light of this, many of the units wielding burst cannons, airbursts, and flamers will likely shift to more plasma rifles, cyclic ion blasters, missile pods, and perhaps even fusion blasters as the meta shifts towards power armor. This is going to hurt the internal diversity of T’au Empire weapon choices that was previously seen, but that will be a game wide phenomenon as all factions adjust to armour of contempt. T’au is especially impacted here because of the loss of armor penetration from Mont’ka, encouraging not only higher ap weapons, but the coordinated engagement stratagem, and possibly even the Through Unity, Devastation warlord trait.
One of if not the toughest matchup in my mind is going to be the new Tyranids with an enormous output of mortal wounds, exceptionally durable units for their points costs, and the sheer power of Encircle the Prey on fast units like Hive Tyrants and Ravenors when supported by the Onslaught psychic power. Craftworlds an army that was performing close to T’au and Custodes in winrate over the past several weeks also escaped any nerfs in the dataslate. They are now the undisputed kings of non-interactive firepower with battle focus, fire and fade, and the speed to spread the board and punish opponents who want to close the gap to the firebase. And finally, fast, hard hitting melee armies on denser terrain will be far more troublesome than before without the indirect fire to force them to deploy more defensively and to whittle down their combat threats before they hit the empire’s front line.
Building for the new Meta
But all is not lost here. There are several positives to take from the balance dataslate for T’au. First, with the indirect fire changes, the faction has one of the best screening units in the game in kroot as they now require some sort of commitment to kill rather than effortlessly dying from indirect weapons. So, these cheap disposable units will continue to be essential to the success of T’au lists whether in soaking mortal wounds or screening dangerous combat threats.
Crisis suits and commanders will continue to be the mainstays of T’au armies as they simply have the best synergies between one another and with the various rules of the codex. The loss of CORE on broadsides will likely relegate them to T’au Sept lists exclusively, and for the other Septs, push them even further towards Crisis suits—what a complete 180 from the old 8th edition Codex! As previously mentioned, T’au are also fortunate in having several good Septs like Bork’an, Farsight Enclaves (vanilla and Allied World), T’au Sept, Sa’Cea and custom sept. Even with the nerfs Farsight Enclaves, their rules best support the commander and crisis suit heavy lists, though you will be less likely to deepstrike crisis units into your opponent’s backfield without markerlight support, encouraging tetras or a remora that can move back there and still support your efficiency.
Septs such as the custom combination of Enriched Reactors to improve what I expect to be the most popular gun in the T’au arsenal now—plasma rifles—alongside Defenders of the Cause to soak up mortal wounds deserve some consideration. Additionally, more units are going to be sent across the table to deny T’au primary since more enemy units will be surviving behind terrain with the lack of indirect fire. This dramatically increases the power of the enforcer commander who can grant objective secured to core models in a Crisis unit.
It also increases the value of the Sa’Cea Sept, which has an outstanding Warlord trait—strategic conqueror—that grants objective secured to a friendly Sept unit. Importantly it is not restricted to CORE and so makes units like Piranhas, Tetras, Steathsuits, Devilfish, and other fringe units like Riptides much more valuable when combining their speed with objective secured to not only defend your own primary points, but contest those of your opponent. Sa’Cea also boasts Orbital Uplink stratagem to remove the benefits of cover (both light and dense!) from an enemy unit, which will be significantly more useful with power armored bodies hugging cover with armor of contempt. I think this Sept is the one that has shot up in value in my mind with these changes and I plan to test it in several games on the Art of War channel.
+++ Sa’cea Sept Patrol Detachment +++
HQ: Commander in Crisis Battlesuit, Warlord, Exemplar of the Mont’ka, relic: Multi-sensory discouragement array, Burst Cannon, Cyclic Ion Blaster, prototype: DW-02 Advanced Burst Cannon, Missile Pod, Plasma Rifle, Iridium Armor, Marker Drone, Shield Drone 177
Troops: 10 Kroot Carnivores 60
EL: 5 Crisis Battlesuits, 5x Cyclic Ion Blaster, 10x Plasma Rifle, 5x Shield Generator, prototype on shasvre: Stimm Injectors, Iridium armour on shasvre, 3x Marker Drone, 2x Shield Drone 369
EL: 5 Crisis Battlesuits, Iridium Armor, 5x Missile Pod, 10x Plasma Rifle, 5x Shield Generator, 4x Marker Drone, 1x Shield Drone 357
FA: 4 Kroot Hounds 24
+++ Sa’cea Sept Patrol Detachment +++
HQ: Commander in Crisis Battlesuit, trait: Strategic Conqueror, 1x Airbursting Fragmentation Projector, prototype: Dominator, 1x Plasma rifle, 1x Missile Pod, 1x Cyclic Ion Blaster, 1x Marker Drone, 1x Shield Drone 177
HQ: Ethereal, Invocations: Sense of Stone and Wisdom of the Guides, Hover Drone, relic: The Humble Stave, 2x Marker Drone 85
Troops: 10 Kroot Carnivores 60
EL: 3 Crisis Battlesuits, 3x Cyclic Ion Blaster, 6x Plasma Rifle, 3x Shield Generator, 1x Iridium Armor, 1x Marker Drone 195
FA: Piranha 60
FA: Piranha 60
+++ Sa’cea Sept Patrol Detachment +++
Commander in Enforcer Battlesuit, trait: precision of the hunter, 2x Cyclic Ion Blaster, 1x Plasma Rifle, 1x T’au Flamer, relic: The Be’gel Hunter’s Plate, prototype: Thermoneutronic Projector, 2x Marker Drone 195
10 Breacher Team 85
Devilfish, 2x Gun Drones 95
While I love the all-guns-blazing Farsight Enclaves style, I’ve wanted to try something a bit more akin to what I was running in early 9th edition with the old codex. An army that can commit to contesting my opponents’ primary multiple turns in a row, and one that can protect against my opponent’s denial plays as best as possible. Instead of raw firepower and killing potential, I’ve chosen the flexibility that Sa’Cea provides in terms of making multiple units objective secured and using them to dictate the overall points game.
With two crisis commanders, the large suits units, designed for To the Last, can operate on the flanks if needed each supported by the potential of falling back and still shooting. The Devilfish takes up a central position able to reach multiple objectives and treated to Strategic Conqueror, while the breachers inside can leap out and touch a completely different objective resulting in simultaneous primary denial plays and move blocking! While I do start with only 4 command points, T’au as a whole are not command point reliant and with the Ethereal using wisdom of the guides, I often have an abundance of command points by the late game. Overall, if you’re a T’au player looking for a bit more Kauyon than Mont’ka, give this list a try at a game store near you!
Wrapping Things Up
That wraps up our look at the T’au Empire but we’ll be back with more Faction Focus articles looking at how things have changed over the next two weeks – we’ll have more from both the Goonhammer and Art of War teams covering a variety (but likely not all) of the game’s factions.
You can get more great analysis and insight from the Art of War by heading over to their site.
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