Are you really, really into the whole “no I in team” concept? Do you dream of serving the greater good? Do you really want to stay out of melee? Do you want to play with an actually competitive team for the T’au faction? Then Pathfinder teams might be the teams for you!
Released in Kill Team: Chalnath, Pathfinders quickly became the babayaga kill team of 2021, dominating opponents with their ability to chain activations and lob multiple grenades. Wherever you go on the internet, you’ll hear people bemoan their markerlights and killing power. However for many first time Pathfinder players, these complaints often miss the mark. Bespoke Pathfinders, unlike their compendium brethren, are much more of a finesse option, trading access to fire warriors and stealth suits to gain other upgrades over their compendium brethren.
- Guns, lots of Guns – between pulse rifles (D4/5), rail rifles (D4/4, AP1, MW2, L5+), and ion rifles (D5/6, AP1, Hot), any time you land a hit it’s going to sting. Additionally you’re not bogged down with Heavy, Cumbersome, or other keywords which might stop you from moving around.
- Markerlights – In a game that gives you a list of when you can’t shoot someone, the markerlight table allows you to ignore almost all of those restrictions. When you layer your action economy well, you can surgically snipe your opponent’s best pieces out from under them.
- Stealing Initiative – So powerful it was nerfed twice! A Worthy Cause allows you to pay 2CP to steal the initiative from an opponent. In a game where the first action on a turn can make or break some games, it’s a great tool to have in your back pocket.
- Very flexible early turns – Between Mont’ka, Recon Sweep, Bonded and forward-deployed drones, there’s a plethora of tools to allow you to shape an early advantage. You’ll need it too because your operatives die to a stiff breeze, and recon requires you to move up to score points.
- Nerfs – The nerf bat has targeted the Pathfinders many times, and with how much people complain about pathfinders, it does seem like it might happen again.
- Melee – If you get stuck in melee, you’re going to have a bad time. Hitting on 5+s as a baseline makes melee incredibly disadvantaged for the boys in blue. You’ll need to spend CP to shoot into melee, or dash out of melee.
- Durability – Pathfinders take punches as hard as they deal them. 7 wounds on a 5+ armor save makes them about as durable as the standard guardsman, but unlike some other imperial factions they can’t use their faith to get an activation from death.
- Recon-locked secondaries – Pathfinders only have access to faction tac ops and Recon for secondaries. With how much moving recon wants your models to be doing, it can be a struggle to actually play the mission and score secondaries.
Pathfinder Kill Teams are made up of one Pathfinder Shas’Ui and 12 operatives chosen from the following list:
- Shas’La Pathfinder
- Blooded Pathfinder
- Drone Controller Pathfinder
- Assault Grenadier Pathfinder
- Medical Technician Pathfinder
- Transpectral Interference Pathfinder
- Communications Specialist Pathfinder
- Weapons Expert Pathfinder with either a Rail Rifle or Ion Rifle
- Marksman Pathfinder
- MB3 Recon Drone
- MV31 Pulse Accelerator Drone
- MV33 Grav-Inhibitor Drone
- MV1 Gun Drone
- MV4 Shield Drone
- MV7 Marker Drone
Pathfinders have quite a few team rules, and using them all in concert takes some adjustment. I’d bet that people mostly recall markerlights, and Art of War when recalling their pathfinder horror stories though.
Your bread and butter ability. Anyone with a pulse rifle has it, and stacking them lets you break all the shooting rules in the game. Dropping a token on an opposing operative only requires visibility from your model. Opposing models lose 1 markerlight token each turn. Markerlights act as follows, 1: Balanced against the operative, 2: No Cover against the operative, 3: +1BS on the shot, 4: Target operative is not obscured, 5: Target operative cannot conceal with light cover. It’s in your best interest to get comfortable seeing from your models PoV so you can figure out where you can markerlight. One small downside, when you markerlight, you must also shoot at the same target.
Drones? You mean your floating shields! Any time a non-drone operative is selected as the primary target for an attack while within 2” of a drone, you can redirect the shot to the drone. Shield drones can function as a secondary medic. A gun drone that has shot can function as a get out of jail free card for a model that has yet to activate. An excellent tool that requires some forethought to get usage out of it.
Drones have a few downsides that are easy to forget. Primarily if a drone is on engage it can’t retain cover saves, can’t mission action, can’t pick up, and they count as 1 APL for controlling objectives. The retaining cover saves are missed quite a bit, but otherwise most of these are pretty obvious. Drones fly around and help, but must be piloted to do all the things the basic operatives can do.
Art of War
As long as your leader is still on the field, during the strategic phase you can call for an Art of War when you would use a strategic ploy.
- Mont’ka, the Killing Blow: Any model on an engage order can take a free dash during this turning point. The turn this is active all your models shoot as if they are 3 APL models. Move + Dash + Shoot; Dash + Markerlight + Shoot; Dash + Mission Action + Shoot; the list goes on and on. This is the option that is played the most, and the one people bemoan. Effective use of Mont’ka will make or break your games, as without the burst of movement it can make recon exceptionally hard to finish.
- Kauyon, the Patient Hunter: All models can retain a second cover die while in cover. Compared to Mont’ka it’s not as flashy, but there are a handful of situations where this is powerful. Against threatening numbers of low AP shots, you can stack up for bonded and keep 2 saves, while spending a strat ploy for 4+ saves. Primarily something against like Wrymblade’s strong turn 1 offense.
Drones and pathfinders, for every drone you take you lose a pathfinder operative. However most of them have their place on the team depending on what you’re looking for.
Shas’Ui Pathfinders are the leaders of Pathfinder kill teams, and the only model to get the Art of War ability to call a Mont’ka or Kauyon once per game. This leader comes with a mission discount in Holographic Readout, which once per battle gives a non-drone operative within ■ the ability to perform a mission action for one less AP. Since you’re always visible to yourself you can have the leader use it on themselves without issue.
The Shas’ui comes with a markerlight, and hits on 3s. Additionally they’ve got one of the better melee profiles for the team with 3 attacks, WS 4+, and Balanced at 3/4 damage.
The standard operative, with markerlights and a pulse carbine. Surprisingly, having access to more markerlights and mission action doers is good in more than one match up. There are also times when you just need more opportunities and angles to put markerlights on opposing operatives, so don’t sleep on the standard shas’la.
Essentially regular Pathfinders but they come with a Bionic Arm and a Suppressed Pulse carbine rifle. They get a better melee profile (WS 4+, 4/5 damage) and Silent on their carbines, making them incredibly handy operatives since they can keep Conceal orders up all game and aren’t completely worthless fighters in a pinch. Hitting on 3s, and silent, she’s often parked up on a vantage point markerlighting people and blasting away with her superior ballistic skill. In a pinch she can hop off her perch and punch someone to death with her 3 attacks, WS 4+, D 3/4. It’s easy to forget that she also has a 4+ Save, because she’s made of the same metal as the drones. Or she’s taken a lesson from Bucky, and catches bullets with her hand.
Drone Controller Pathfinder
Comes with a pulse carbine and markerlight. This operative’s Drone Scout ability allows you to forward deploy a drone on conceal, wholly within 6” of your deployment zone. This allows you to set up drones for mission actions, suicide runs, and savior protocol safe spots further afield. Controlling the drone gives you 3 major functions; you always chain activate a drone, but you have 3 very different effects.
- The first is removing the downside of your drone buddies, so you can do mission actions and control points as if you’re 2APL.
- The second, sneakier option is to take an activated drone to fire Overwatch immediately. When it comes to an operative like the relentless gun drone, Overwatch is about as good as the standard BS 4+ shot.
- The third option (and one I haven’t done much) is having an activated drone make a free dash move.
Transpectral Interference Pathfinder
The annoyance operator, which ignores obscuring and comes with markerlight on a pulse carbine. These operatives come with special sensors that allow them to treat enemy targets as not Obscured, and they come with the System Jam action that lets them reduce the APL of a visible enemy operative by 1.
The standard use-case is to park this guy in an obscured position so that you can System Jam, and drop -1 APL on opposing operatives. There’s some play putting a High-Intensity Markerlight and Target Analysis Optic on this operative, so you can act as a 4-markerlight operative each activation. He won’t be moving much, but spitting out pulses from an obscured position can be very obnoxious on some maps.
Assault Grenadier Pathfinder
Equipped with one of each kind of grenade, pulse carbine with markerlight, and the Nanocrystalline Headgear, which allows him to ignore modifiers to APL, WS, and BS. When paired with a medic, you can almost guarantee a full ballistic skill grenade throw, allowing you to go about your merry way and ruin someone’s day.
Generally, EMP grenades become profitable if you can hit targets with 4+ saves. Otherwise I’d rather fusion grenade someone and guarantee a valuable trade. This operative is often the subject of a turn 1 investment of Mont’ka and Recon Sweep to slingshot him ⬟ (normal move) + ■ (Recon Sweep dash) ■ (Recon Scout dash)+ ■ (Mont’ka dash) for a total of 15″ movement before lobbing a grenade another ⬟ (6″) for an impressive 21″ threat range out the gate, albeit with the caveat that your Recon Sweep dash requires you start and end that particular dash within 6″ of a killzone edge.
Communications Specialist Pathfinder
This is essentially the standard commsman you can find on other teams, but with a pulse carbine and markerlight on top of the ability to boost the APL of a friendly operative. It’s important to find creative uses for the +1 APL; one potential good target is whichever model is holding onto the High-Intensity Markerlight and Analysis Targeting Optic equipment combo. This allows that operative to move into position, markerlight, and fire away at the same target while effectively enjoying the benefits of having 3 markerlights (two from the high-intensity + 1 from the Optic).
Another cute combo if you don’t pop Art of War on the first turning point is to pass an APL to an activated model, so that on the Mont’ka turn you can dash, markerlight, shoot, then normal move.
Medical Technician Pathfinder
Pathfinders have their own medic with the standard ability suite, but again (are we seeing a theme?) this one comes with a pulse carbine and markerlight. While most other medics don’t present a shooting threat, on the Pathfinder team they’re more than capable of (and willing to) do harm. Medical Technicians can revive nearby operatives, picking them back up with 1 wound and giving them a free Dash action. They can also use their Medikits to heal lost wounds on friendly operatives.
Against other shooting teams, stick the medic within 3” of the big guns and watch opponents struggle to kill your castles efficiently. When fighting elites, use this operative like another damage piece because markerlights and 4/5 damage profiles sting even the big boys.
The Marksman Pathfinder gives you an additional rail rifle; they come with a special Marksman Rail Rifle that hits on a 3+ and can either fire the standard rounds or Dart Rounds, which trade Lethal 5+ for Silent, turning them into deadly snipers. Their Inertial Dampener ability lets them make Overwatch shots at full BS.
Critically, this operative does not have a markerlight, and so will need/enjoy some setup from the other pathfinders. This guy is generally sitting in an obscured position under Conceal orders, plinking away until you really need to remove an operative with extreme prejudice.
Weapons Expert Pathfinder
Finally you can take a pair of weapon experts, which are just regular Pathfinders with rail rifles or ion rifles. In terms of damage effectiveness, the general hierarchy is Overcharged Ion > Rail Rifles > Standard Ion. However there are different reasons for each kind of weapon.
Landing 5 hits with an Overcharged Ion Rifle means potentially dealing 15 damage outright to any operative. While that sounds outlandish, setting up 3 or more markerlights on a target while bonded means you are thorwing 7 dice that hit on a 3+, while your opponent needs to roll their saves naturally. Against elites this is where you want to put your effort, so you can fire at a target and then forget about them.
When it comes to shooting hordes however, the rail rifle hits the 7W breakpoint about as reliably as the hot ion rifle, so you can skip the chance at hot biting you in the ass without losing much reliability. In the end this is a hotly contested topic, and to each their own. My personal roster has 2 of each so that I can switch weapons based on my opponents.
All the drones come with a 4+ save compared to their squishy organic fiends.
Mb3 Recon Drone
The big boy drone with all the fun abilities. This drone has 12 wounds, a heavy gun, and of course the Analyse (1 AP) action. Additionally as a little bonus, it gives you a Recon selection during scouting phase in addition to your actual scouting choice, which is one way you can guarantee the extra dash move for your Grenadier in the scenario we mentioned above.
Analyse is why you take this chonker, though; Pick a visible enemy operative and another operative on the field can activate immediately following, and when that activated operative attacks they can re-roll any or all of their attack dice (basically, they gain Relentless) on shooting attacks on that target. On open boards you can often set up a Mont’ka (or +1 APL) play where you dash onto vantage, shoot someone, then Analyse. With some good positioning it can lead to a devastating alpha-strike, where your weapons specialist doesn’t need the markerlights before they do the work.
An important note about ceaseless and overwatch against 7w, 5+ save models: The Ceaseless abilty on the gun means you’ll normally end up chipping in 3-4 damage.
Mv1 Gun Drone
The humble gun drone, with Relentless pulse carbines. With Relentless its output is the same as a pathfinder shooting at a target with 3 markerlight tokens. Which makes this a flying fully tricked-out gun, albeit one without the markerlight action. Drone controllers should be looking to get overwatch off with this guy where possible.
Mv4 Shield Drone
A drone with a 4+ invulnerable save, and a 5+ feel no pain on top of that. This drone basically functions as a secondary medic in the shooting horde match ups, and as a hilarious way to tie up models with medium-to-poor melee skill. Try charging into a 3A WS 4+ model and watch it flail against your feel no pains for multiple turning points.
Mv7 Marker Drone
The only drone with a markerlight, and it applies 2 when it does, thanks to its inbuilt High Intensity Markerlight. Makes for a good mission doer when being controlled by a pilot.
Mv31 Pulse Accelerator Drone
In open play I get the sense that you’d be better off never taking this. However, in a post-Into the Dark world, there may be uses for auto-retaining a couple hits while you have the Bonded Strategic Ploy active. If you have fewer chances to set up markerlights, guaranteeing a hit while keeping bonded might make up the difference. Additionally, you’ll get savior protocols to keep your primary guns around a bit longer.
Mv33 Grav-Inhibitor Drone
The only drone that’s almost always bad. It’s a drone that slows opposing charges if your opponent moves within range of the grav-tokens. If an opponent doesn’t respect it, you can fly it into strange places to score recon tac ops. That said, I’ve taken one in a championship game and I won that game, so there’s that.
Art of War
- Mont’ka – Your bread and butter art of war, whether it’s on turning point 1 or 2. Gives you a free dash action with each of your operatives. It’s best to have a plan with how you’ll use the free dash. Remember that you must be under an Engage order to get the benefit so on turn 1 you’ll need to have engaged models to really get good use out of this.
- Kauyon – The niche art of war, when you expect to get shot at early or unexpectedly and you want to counter punch with engaged models. Lets you retain an additional dice as a successful normal save in cover. Double retains in cover pushes your chance of dying from kraks and bolters down 10-20%, compared to just retaining one dice.
- Recon Sweep [1cp] – All models wholly within 6” of a table edge can make a free dash move, as long as they are wholly within 6” of one of the edges that are not your Killzone edge. Often times you’ll set up for the first turning point with this in mind, and get your moves up on either flank. On diagonal boards 6” can cover the majority of your team, so there are some very cheeky plays you can make with Recon Sweep. I generally expect to use this ploy 1-2 times a game.
- Take Cover [1cp] – Improves your save characteristic against shooting attacks by 1 for non-drone operatives in cover. Use it against an opposing shooting horde if you want to start the shoot-out early, or you’re in a position to get shot at first. Retaining while having a 4+ save means its much harder to be taken out against non-AP weaponry. I generally only use this in shooty match ups.
- Bonded [1cp] – Your bread-and-butter stategic ploy. All organic operatives push out a 3” aura that provides 1 re-roll on shooting attacks. This doesn’t require visibility; I guess when it comes to bonded brothers just knowing someone is on the other side of the wall is good enough. An important note is that even robots love their organic friends, so the Recon Drone can fire with ceaseless AND a re-roll while this is active for a truly devastating barrage.
- Determined Tactician [2cp] – With A Worthy Cause being pushed up to 2CP, this went from something you’d probably never use to non-existent. Being able to double up your art of war in a 6” aura is powerful, but with only 6 CP to spend in a game, there isn’t much time for this.
- A Worthy Cause [2cp] – This went from something you’d use every turn to once a game and now only when you’ve lost initiative… A Worthy Cause has had a mighty fall from grace. Yet even at 2 CP it still remains one of the best tools in the Pathfinders’ toolkit. This is used once per game at the start of the Firefight phase if you lost the initiative to get a free activation for a friendly non-Drone operative that is either within 3″ of an enemy operative or 2″ of the centre of an objective marker, essentially letting you steal the Initiative from an opponent for 2 CP.
You should always budget this into your next turn’s plans… so don’t drop below 1 CP a turn, unless that 1 CP would win the game on the spot. If you’re out of position for the ploy’s distance/positioning requirements sometimes you can recon sweep to get into position, since this happens after the ploy, at the start of the Frefight phase.
- Supporting Fire [1cp] – The first of 2 melee-centric tac ploys. While within 6” of someone trapped in melee, you can have a friend operative take a shot into melee. Your friendly will provide cover saves to the opponent, but on ITD they could also end up removing a shot from the attack’s characteristic.
- Reposition [1cp] – This ploy effectively turns your dash into a mini fall back. This is a nice trick to have in the back pocket when some enterprising melee player charges into some tau hoping to hide themselves from your shooting in melee. Reposition out of the way and open them up to some firepower!
Compared to the compendium teams, Pathfinder teams essentially get a whole new suite of Equipment to play with. Photon Grenades return here, but as everyone already has Markerlights and the Shas’Ui comes with a Holographic Readout built in, this team calls for all-new options.
- Target Analysis Optic [2ep] – When firing at a target which has 1+ markerlights on them, they count as if they had one more. Makes for a mean combo with the High-Intensity Markerlight to fire at BS 3+, or as a way to push someone to the 5th markerlight unexpectedly. A solid pick you’ll take often.
- High-Intensity Markerlight [2ep] – These are the best equipment option for the team, bar none. The ability to quickly move up the markerlight table takes you from 4+ ballistic skill to truly threatening far quicker than any other equipment. On a team focused on gunplay, this is the equipment that makes that gunplay consistent, and quickly. You’ll want to take 3-5 of these along with the marker drone to have access to this effect everywhere.
- Orbital Survey Uplink+ [3ep] – You can pick any operative on the map and blast out 1 token to all operatives within 1” of that operative. It’s alright, but the action to do this costs 2 AP, and since it’s easy for opponents to space around I haven’t bothered with this one all that much. This might be more useful on Gallowdark maps where you can’t draw LOS to the opponents all that easily, however.
- Drone Repair Kit [2ep] – Medic kit for drones. This works better with the drone controller, but even then isn’t likely to be something you’ll want to bother with. There is some play here with the shield drone and the drone controller in a shooting castle so that you can keep the drone healthy with the repair kit. However, I’ve never seen that level of defensive play pay off yet. Perhaps against a very shooty opponent with poor starting cover where you need to create your own safe spots it could be good.
- Emp Grenade [2ep] – a frag grenade with lethal X, where X is the save of the targeted models. Since you generally take the grenadier you won’t often pay for this. Generally I’d use this on saves of 4+ or better and skip it against worse saves.
- Fusion Grenade [4ep] – a small melta grenade. Again, taking the grenadier precludes paying 4ep for this one. In the past people loathed the triple fusion rush, but even then markerlights were better. Why spend an operative throwing a grenade when you could shoot them down with superior ranged firepower?
- Photon Grenade [2ep] – A big nerf from the compendium team, where this effect is unlimited. Now that it’s just 1 use at a time, it’s relegated to the sidelines. Hilariously enough this is another tool that mostly wrecks elite teams and melee teams. Against something like a nightmare hulk, losing 2” and a dash means that unless you start close to them, they can only run at you slowly. I suspect it’s often better to just markerlight and shoot the hulks down, but experimentation never hurts.
Faction Tac Ops
- Tac op 1: Mark Enemy Movements – If your game plan is to eliminate scary opposing game pieces, then this will end up much harder than it looks at the outset. However, if you are able to drop 2 MLs on the entire enemy team, then this should be theoretically easy to score. Probably best used against elites, where 12 MLs on turn 1 is more easily doable. I don’t often take this, but on certain boards it can be easier to set up.
- Tac op 2: Patient Hunter – If more than half of your team is concealed and you score more primary mission VP, you can score this. I’ve often found this to be too hard. When your team is 7w 5+sv, it’s hard to actually stay concealed on open boards, while somehow winning on primary missions more than 1 turn. I’ve generally skipped this.
- Tac op 3: Killing Blow – If more than half your team is engaged, and you kill more wounds worth of models than your opponent you can score this. I’ve often found this to be the best tac op as it leans on your strengths best out of the 3 faction tac ops. With recon, you’re generally doing mission actions and playing keep away with your opponents, so getting rewards for removing dangerous operatives is the cherry on top
Painting and Modeling Pathfinder Kill Teams
We’ve covered painting T’au Empire units pretty extensively, including multiple unit types and vehicles. Check out How to Paint Everything: T’au for more info there.
- 1 Shas’Ui Pathfinder
- 3 Shas’La Pathfinder
- 1 Blooded Pathfinder
- 1 Drone Controller Pathfinder
- 1 Transpectral Interference Pathfinder
- 1 Assault Grenadier Pathfinder
- 1 Communications Specialist Pathfinder
- 1 Medical Technician Pathfinder
- 2 Weapons Expert Pathfinder, Rail Rifle
- 2 Weapons Expert Pathfinder, Ion Rifle
- 1 Marksman Pathfinder
- 1 Mb3 Recon Drone
- 1 Gun Drone
- 1 Shield Drone
- 1 Marker Drone
- 1 Pulse Accelerator Drone
Taking one of every organic specialist and gunner option will cover you up to 12 operatives. You then add all the relevant drone options which basically misses the Grav-Inhibitor, or you replace a Shas’la with the Grav-Inhibitor. However most people will point to the Shas’la and ask “why would you want a basic operative over a drone?” The answer is “when opponents are trying to avoid markerlights, or you want more models who can score tac ops,” that’s when. The humble Shas’la with a markerlight is honestly superior to any other team’s basic operative. Markerlights are a force amplifier for future activations, organic operatives provide the Bonded aura, and the basic gun still punches quite hard. Sometimes you just don’t need more drones eating up your ability to apply the markerlights on turn 1.
I think there is an effective engaged operative gameplan that focuses on setting up 5 markerlights on important opposing operatives on turn 1. Against elites this sort of gameplay pattern can make things look hopeless for opponents. Having Ion/Rail rifles delete big chunky elites with Bonded and BS 3+ makes the elite match up one of the easier ones for your team. When running this strategy it’s best to have the Killing Blow tac op, and Plant Signal Beacon. Since you can generally focus on 1 flank and push up to score Plant Signal Beacon, while applying lethal firepower.
If you want to elect for a more concealed gameplan you can plan on attempting to apply 2 markerlights to the entire opposing team with the aim of scoring Mark Target and Mark Enemy movements over the first 2 turns. Since you have two silent guns, it’s relatively easy to get Mark Target finished on open boards, then switch gears to Killing Blow on later turns.
Then there is the counter punching plan where you are aiming to stuff someone’s turn 1 aggression. A much more niche strategy used against something like Wrymblade, where they want to aggressive come out on turn 1. You can pop Kauyon, giving all your operatives 2 retained saves, while standing in Bonded bubbles and starting on engage. This means when people pop out of hiding you are much less likely to be killed, but you can return the favor with 1 markerlight and a shoot. Giving your basic operative 6 dice on a 4+ ballistic skill, while retaining 2 dice for being in cover.
T’au Pathfinder Kill Teams are still one of the most feared forces in the game, and more than capable of winning events in either open play or in the Gallowdark. Although they specialize in ranged combat, they’re a team that requires coordinated efforts and a bit of finesse, though once you become familiar with some of their tools – the markerlights, the free dashes, and the additional activations – you’ll be able to make quick work of opponents.
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