Start Competing: T’au Empire Tactics

 

Are you the type of player that likes to sit back and wait for the enemy to come to you? Do you fantasize about watching your opponent throw wave after wave of their enemies into your gunline, only to fall dead at your feet as they try to charge your lines with primitive weapons? Do you enjoy out-ranging nearly every army in the game with your basic guns? Does the thought of getting into a fistfight make you physically ill? Then welcome to the T’au Empire, the perfect army for aspiring generals such as yourself!

8th edition Warhammer 40,000 has been a rocky time for T’au, full of various ups and downs as the army has vacillated between middling and incredibly strong. However with the recent nerfs to Imperial Knights back in April, the time for T’au has come again. They’ve won two major GT events this year, the NOVA Open and the SoCal Open, and they look to remain competitive even in a meta that has become dominated by Space Marine armies.

As with any strategy document, this article represents a specific time and place. This article was written following the release of the final Space Marine Codex Supplements and prior to the release of Psychic Awakening Book 2 and Chapter Approved 2019.

Tau Army

Tau Army. Credit: Jack Hunter

Army Strengths

  • Shooting. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an army in Warhammer 40,000 more dedicated to shooting or better at it. T’au have a ton of great, long-range, high-yield weapons that can destroy anything trying to make its way across the table.
  • Overwatch. Part and parcel to shooting, no one does Overwatch like the T’au. The For the Greater Good special rule can make charging Tau castles a nightmare, particularly when paired with the T’au Sept giving units the ability to hit in Overwatch on a 5+.
  • Drones. Everyone hates drones, and with good reason. Drones allow T’au to tank hits for key units, essentially giving a dozen ablative wounds to their best units. The new FAQ update in September made drones even better, allowing them to even absorb special effects from shooting they intercept and ignore “bonus” wounds like those dealt by snipers.
  • Lots of Good Units. Although T’au tournament lists aren’t incredibly diverse, the T’au army has a lot of solid units that can make their way into competitive builds and multiple Sept options that are competitively viable.

Army Weaknesses

  • Melee Combat. T’au are not good at fighting in melee combat, and you want to avoid being stuck in melee combat if you can help it. Fortunately, you have lots of great shooting and For the Greater Good to prevent that from happening.
  • Reliance on Markerlights. T’au have some of the game’s best guns, but generally have mediocre Ballistic Skill, meaning that in order to get the most out of your amazing guns, you need to rely on Markerlights. This can mean that how well a turn or game goes for you can depend on your ability to hit with a few markerlights early on.
  • Mobility. Ironically, while T’au have the units to be one of the game’s most mobile armies, most everything about their play style and rules encourages castling up, forcing the opponent to come to you while being torn apart by withering hails of gunfire. Rules like For the Greater Good encourage keeping units close together while rules like Kauyon prohibit moving at all in favor of a huge boost to your damage output. The end result is an army that can be very mobile and able to move to capture objectives, but isn’t.
  • Psychic Powers. T’au have no psychic powers whatsoever, and while they make up for much of that deficiency with shooting, it means they have no way to deny incoming powers and are often at the mercy of psychic powers. In particular, T’au need to worry about the Smite power, which will bypass drones’ ability to intercept the incoming wounds, and completely eviscerate forward units like Crisis Suits.

 

Competitive Rating

Top-Tier / Very Strong

While T’au don’t have an incredibly varied set of lists to work with, they’re still more than capable of winning tournaments in the post-Marines meta, and Tau lists won both the NoVA and the SoCal Open tournaments this year. The army’s strongest units–Riptides–manage to sneak past most of the new Marine buffs by being neither VEHICLES nor CHARACTERS, and having invulnerable saves good enough to prevent Combat Doctrines from being a massive problem. T’au units have a ton of synergy with each other, but the limited number of viable strategies at the most competitive levels can make playing as them and playing against them a chore. It can also make tuning them for casual or semi-competitive games difficult, where it can be very easy to go “too hard.”

 

Special Rules

Drones and Saviour Protocols

While drones don’t have the offensive firepower of a Riptide, they’re one of the most powerful things available to a T’au army for their defensive strength. When an Infantry or Battlesuit unit is shot, after a successful wound roll (but before the saving throw), a 2+ moves that entire shot over to the drone and converts it to a single mortal wound. This turns an entire lascannon shot (potentially 6 damage at high AP) into something that kills a much cheaper drone – unless it’s a shield drone with a 5++ feel no pain. Drones are physically small models that can be relatively easily hidden out of sight, making them extremely painful to get rid of – the anti-infantry fire that kills them doesn’t do much to a riptide. Drones have become increasingly valuable as the new marine codex has made targeting characters and taking down vehicles easier.

Saviour Protocols is conceptually pretty simple but the rules implementation is complex and one of the most repeatedly errated rules in the game. It’s always worth going and looking at the latest version of the Tau FAQ on the Warhammer Community FAQ page before heading to an event. We also had a look at the implications of the latest set of changes in our FAQ roundup.

Markerlights

Many units in the T’au army have access to the markerlight weapon. When a target is hit with a markerlight, it gains a counter that lasts for the remainder of the phase. Markerlights on a unit stack, and when other units in the T’au army fire at a unit with markerlights on it, they get bonuses based on the number of markerlight counters it has:

  1. TAU EMPIRE units shooting at this unit re-roll hit rolls of 1.
  2. Destroyer and Seeker missiles that target the unit roll to hit using the firing model’s Ballistic Skill instead of only hitting on a 6+.
  3. When TAU EMPIRE units shoot at this unit, it receives no bonus to its saving throws for being in cover.
  4. TAU EMPIRE units shooting at this unit ignore the penalties for moving and firing Heavy weapons, or for advancing and firing Assault weapons.
  5. TAU EMPIRE models shooting this unit get +1 to their To Hit rolls.

Given that many T’au units have BS4+ and (though tanks have BS3+ at their highest profiles), your army will live and die by its ability to put markerlights on key targets to ensure that your best shooting will get through. Because markerlights themselves have to be fired using the Ballistic Skill of a model, you’ll typically want to bring several very accurate characters who can easily put 1-2 markerlights on a target (Firesight Marksmen fir this bill perfectly), then use the Uplinked Markerlights stratagem to get you the rest of the way there. Having at least 1 markerlight is a big increase, but 5 is the sweet spot, and you will want to do whatever it takes to get 5 markerlights on a target that you’re planning to focus fire down.

For the Greater Good

When an enemy unit declares a charge, a unit with this ability that is within 6″ of any of the charging unit’s targets my fire overwatch as if they were also targeted. A unit that does so cannot fire overwatch again in this turn. This ability is found on nearly every T’au unit outside their vehicles, and is one of their key strengths. Used by a unit in the T’au Sept this is effectively a second shooting phase, almost assuredly targeting one of the enemy’s key units. Against a melee-heavy opponent care needs to be taken that Overwatching to hit the first charge doesn’t open up further free charges, but many times there will only be the single charging unit. Keep multiple units fairly close to each other to take maximal advantage of this and provide supporting fire to deter charges that might hit your most valuable units. Also, when firing FtGG, make sure to fire any markerlights you want to use first, as adding re-roll 1s makes the rest of your shooting better.

Wings Note: If you happen to be reading this article to learn how to play against Tau understanding how to unpick this ability is very important. Even if you aren’t a melee army charging Tau can help – it stops Broadsides shooting for a turn, and forces their other units to at least move and be unable to Kauyon.

Rather than just planning to charge with one unit, you want to make sure you’ve got lots of expendable chargers lined up in a phase you want one to land. Then, from order of most expendable to least, (unless you have something charging from outside LOS, in which case do them first) declare a charge against the minimum number of units you can to allow your charger to plausibly threaten to pile in to whatever you’re trying to lock if they aren’t repelled.

The goal is to force your opponent to use up FtGG shooting from their better units in order to stop your chaff making it in, reducing the firepower faced by your good units until they can get in either safely or at sufficient strength to do stuff. Don’t forget that a unit firing overwatch “naturally” can do so multiple times, but using FtGG is a one-time deal that also stops further natural overwatch fire. With that in mind, if you can manage to declare a charge on a “weak” unit like some drones next to your actual target, you can force them to FtGG to avoid getting locked, opening them up for a “safe” charge.

Naturally, if your army has any relics or powers that let you switch off overwatch, bring those when you’re facing Tau, as they make this whole process a lot easier!

Additional Wings Note: Some extra points from some reader feedback:

  1. If you are charging a Tau unit that is already in close combat, other units can still fire From the Greater Good at you even if your direct target can’t.
  2. Abilities that say “this unit cannot be overwatched” stop any units firing For the Greater Good at the unit with the ability, but abilities that stop a single unit from firing or specifically only affect the charge target don’t prevent FtGG. Bear this in mind when planning charges!

Master of War

Once per battle, as long as a COMMANDER is alive, that commander can declare either Kauyon or Mont’ka. Either of these are declared at the beginning on your turn, and provide certain benefits to units near them. These will typically used at the beginning of the game to maximize firepower when the first chance to strike a decisive blow becomes available.

Kauyon

On a turn in which you declare Kauyon, at the start of your Movement phase, you can select any friendly <Sept> units that are within 6″ of the Commander. Until the end of the turn, the selected units cannot move for any reason, but you can re-roll failed hit rolls for attacks made by these units. Assuming Riptides, Broadsides, or Hammerheads are in range of good targets, this is a great thing to declare on the first turn to pick up an early kill or two, particularly against anything with a To Hit penalty.

Mont’ka

Friendly <Sept> units within 6″ of the Commander can both Advance and shoot as if they hadn’t moved this turn. Useful for a quick reposition without losing firepower, this is harder to get effective use out of than Kauyon and not quite as powerful overall.

 

Warriors of the Greater Good

Tau Commander

Tau Commander. Credit: Jack Hunter

Commanders

Commanders (by keyword, not by specific datasheet) are limited to one per detachment. Not a horrific penalty; Fire Warriors are inexpensive and effective, and both Cadre Fireblades and Darkstrider are great HQ picks, and even Ethereals can provide enough value to merit inclusion in a tournament list.

 

Sept Tenets

T’au

  • Sept Tenet – Coordinated Fire Arcs: Hit on a 5+ in For the Greater Good or Overwatch while within 6″ of another friendly unit.
  • Warlord Trait – Strength of Belief: Ignore Mortal Wounds on a 5+.
  • Relic – Vectored Manoeuvring Thrusters: Battlesuit only. The model can move 6″ after attacking in the shooting phase.
  • Stratagem – Focused Fire 3CP: After one of your units attacks in the shooting phase and causes one or more wounds to the target, you can add one to wound rolls against it for your other T’AU units the rest of the phase.

Easily the best Sept. The tenet, Coordinated Fire Arcs, dovetails very nicely with For the Greater Good to provide even more charge protection and keep your gunline intact, Focused Fire is incredible on units with high rate of fire (wound something with incidental fire and then give +1 to wound against that target with 20 medium strength shots per riptide), and the warlord trait and relic are no slouches, either. As a bonus, the T’au sept has all of the good special characters. Never a mistake choice — almost every competitive T’au Empire list runs at least one T’au Sept detachment, and many run only T’au Sept.

Vior’la

  • Sept Tenet – Strike Fast: When a unit advances, Rapid Fire weapons become Assault till the end of the turn. Also ignore the penalty for advancing and firing assault weapons.
  • Warlord Trait – Academy Luminary: +3″ range on Master of War, Volley Fire or Failure is not an Option and one extra CP.
  • Relic – Thermoneutronic Projector: Relic flamer with S6, AP-1, D2.
  • Stratagem – Hot Blooded 2CP: A VIOR’LA INFANTRY unit can shoot twice as long as it targets the nearest enemy unit.

The Vior’la Sept’s ability favors a more mobile Tau army, one that is continually advancing and firing on the move, and taking advantage of the fact that it isn’t losing anything from doing so. This is an ability that is theoretically very powerful, but in practice just isn’t what a T’au army wants to be doing in most competitive games. Although this allows you to still shoot on the move with Fire Warriors, you’ll seldom want to move then and so you’ll find that this Sept does its best work with Fusion Blasters, Pulse Blasters, and Pulse Carbines. That makes Vior’la a good match for running Fusion Blaster Stealth Suits, Breacher Teams, and Pathfinders, but unfortunately there isn’t a big use for those in the current meta. This might be good enough to consider if it worked on Vespids. The Hot Blooded Stratagem is a strong power to have in your back pocket, able to turn a squad of Breachers into an absolute nightmare if you can run in close enough to fire off 20 S5, AP-1 shots.

Wings Note: Used to see play in Fire Warrior spam lists, but those are deaaaadddd in singles events in Marine meta.

Dal’yth

  • Sept Tenet – Adaptive Camouflage: Gain cover in the open. If you move for any reason, lose it till your next movement phase.
  • Warlord Trait – Gunship Diplomat: Gives For the Greater Good to VESPID and KROOT within 12″
  • Relic – Dynamic Mirror Field: Your opponent subtracts one from rolls to hit the bearer.
  • Stratagem – Strike and Fade 1CP: Use at the start of the Shooting phase. One of your Dal’yth units can do their shooting and then move 6″.

The Dal’yth Sept bonus is a strong benefit for T’au gunlines and castles, where the primary strategy emphasizes holding still and forcing the opponent to come to you. Having Hammerheads with a 2+ save can be a good benefit, though it’s generally not worth giving up say, the ability to re-roll a hit. The cover save bonus is, on the whole, nice to have, and the relic is great for adding survivability to a key unit. That downside is substantial, though — although T’au armies tend to castle up in games, it’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean you never move. Strike and Fade is an incredibly powerful Stratagem, but it has no synergy with the Sept Tenet — using it kills your cover bonus. Dal’yth essentially forces you to sacrifice all your movement and that often won’t be idea, particularly because you can always opt to use the Prepared Positions Stratagem on turn 1 if you lose the roll. It’d be a decent contender with T’au Sept as the defensive choice if taking it didn’t lock you out of the Special Characters. The best use of the Dal’yth Sept is typically going to be on an Auxiliary Super-Heavy Detachment running a Tau’nar, because in a standard game of 40k it’s not going to move anyways and giving it a 2+ save significantly helps its survivability.

Sa’cea

  • Sept Tenet – Calm Discipline: Re-roll one To Hit roll each time a unit with this Sept shoots, and units with this Sept get +1 Ld
  • Warlord Trait – Beacon of Honour: Friendly SA’CEA units within 6″ lose one fewer models to morale when they fail a test.
  • Relic – Grav Inhibitor Field: Subtract 2″ from charges against the bearer’s unit.
  • Stratagem – Orbital Marker Distribution Uplink 2CP: Use at the start of your Shooting phase. Pick a unit visible to a SA’CEA CHARACTER. The chosen unit and all other enemy units within 6″ of it gain a markerlight counter.

The second best Sept Tenet, and the one you see popping up most in competitive lists alongside T’au Sept. If T’au Sept is the defensive choice, Sa’cea is the offensive one. The ability to re-roll one hit roll each time a unit shoots is incredibly powerful for smoothing the variance curve on high-strength, low-shot weapons and units that have a small number of big guns. Your first reaction might be to think “railguns,” and that’s not a bad idea. But the real value for Sa’Cea is Markerlights. Markerlights are the fuel that powers the T’au engine, and making sure you hit with those one-shot markerlight shots is vital to the army strategy. As an addition to that, the Sept Stratagem is incredibly powerful, and useful for getting things going with your markerlights when you absolutely have to remove a unit from the battlefield. Competitively, a common Sa’Cea build is to take a Vanguard Detachment featuring an Ethereal and three Firesight Marksmen. This gives you both multiple characters to use for Orbital Marker Distribution spotting and also three additional re-rollable markerlights to drop on enemy units. The Ethereal bonuses aren’t <SEPT> locked, so the HQ slot here adds the one you probably want for your castle. Finally, don’t sleep on the +1 Ld bonus — when paired with an Ethereal, you can give nearby units Ld 10, protecting them from morale losses, and the +1 Ld for the Sept Tenet helps protect units from nasty psychic powers that depend on Ld+D6 roll-offs.

Bor’kan

  • Sept Tenet – Superior Craftsmanship: Add 6″ to the range of Rapid Fire and Heavy weapons.
  • Warlord Trait – Seeker of Perfection: When your warlord makes a hit roll of 6+, add one to the wound roll.
  • Relic – Plasma Accelerator Rifle: Relic Plasma Rifle with 30″ range, S7, AP-3 and D2.
  • Stratagem – Experimental Weaponry 1CP: Use when you fire a random shot weapon. You can re-roll one of the dice used to determine shot number. Note you have to use this before you roll.

The Bor’kan Sept introduces a powerful capability to the T’au arsenal, essentially allowing them to out-range any army in the game with their basic guns and ensure that they can start not just hitting targets across the table on turn 1, but also choosing them. Note that this ability stacks with Pulse Accelerator Drones, giving nearby pulse rifles a range of 42″. It’s also helpful for extending the range of heavy burst cannons to 42″, and helping Pulse Blastcannons get their best damage output at longer ranges. This is another very powerful Sept Tenet that unfortunately loses out to T’au Sept because it locks you out of access to unique characters and because, well, you usually won’t have any problems reaching an opponent’s units as they try to move within your already considerable range to get shots of their own off, or hide off-table from you until they’re ready to drop. The Experimental Weaponry Stratagem is sadly just not that useful–it would work OK for a full unit (though even then it probably wouldn’t make flamer Crisis Suits worth taking), but as-is, you’ll get the most utility out of it with either Riptide Ion Accelerators or Submunitions shots on Hammerhead Railguns. Of course, if you’re taking Bor’kan Riptides, you’d probably prefer they have Heavy Burst Cannons so you can actually use the extra range.

Wings Note: The combo everyone got very excited about with this out of the gate was giving a Y’vahra’s flamer a 14″ range. Over time, it has proven that this isn’t really worth it, but it can be quite funny. It also changes the short range brackets on one of the big gun options for the Stormsurge.

Farsight Enclaves

  • Sept Tenet – Devastating Counter Strike: Re-roll 1s to wound with shooting attacks against targets within 6″ of the firing model.
  • Warlord Trait – Hero of the Enclaves: Your warlord has a 6″ heroic intervention and can also re-roll hit rolls in melee when they charge, are charged or heroically intervene.
  • Relic – Fusion Blades: Relic replacing two Fusion Blasters. Allows you to make two attacks in melee with the Fusion Blaster’s S8 AP-4 Dd6 profile.
  • Stratagem – Drop Zone Clear 2CP: Use at the start of your shooting phase. A FARSIGHT ENCLAVES BATTLESUIT unit that deep struck using Manta Strike this turn adds +1 to its hit rolls.

Farsight Enclaves have the coolest unique character and one of the better color schemes, but are also just geared toward things that a Tau army just doesn’t want to do. It turns out covering the weaknesses of a T’au army and making them better at close-range combat and fighting isn’t nearly as good as making them even better at shooting and avoiding melee combat. Drop Zone Clear is an interesting stratagem for Crisis Suits, but Crisis Suits aren’t very good when they aren’t worn by Commanders.

 

Units

HQ

Credit: Charlie A.

Commander Shadowsun

One of the best units in the T’au Empire Codex and up there in the “best in the game” competition (though scroll down for another contender). With a significant points drop in the most recent Chapter Approved, the list of reasons to not take Shadowsun is pretty small (though she still won’t find her way into every list). Shadowsun comes with a pair of fusion blasters, (optionally) a trio of Command Drones with a 3+ invulnerable save (who can tank mortal wounds they take form Saviour Protocols on a 5+) and the ability to give a nearby Tau unit the ability to re-roll hit rolls of 1, and the ability to set up anywhere on the table more than 12″ away from an enemy unit. Stealth Suits can also take wounds for her, but you won’t be running them. But even with all that, Shadowsun’s best ability is that she allows you to declare Kauyon even if Master of War has already been activated for the first time. Being able to activate Kauyon on your Riptides and Broadsides on turns 1 and 2 is incredibly good, particularly when you can forego her short-range shooting in favor of using the Command-and-Control Node Stratagem to re-roll failed wound rolls. At 110 points, she’s priced very aggressively and nearly reason enough on her own to choose the T’au Sept. People often leave the drones at home – they’re cool, but you would normally rather just chuck more shield drones in your big squads, and also keep her as cheap as possible.

Wings Note: Kauyon twice is very powerful, but Shadowsun also opens up another tactic that can be especially important in ITC. If your opponent has backlined out of your range or doesn’t have key targets visible on turn 1, you can use Mont’ka to move your castle forward to contest the board centre, then use Kauyon for maximum firepower in turn 2. Sitting at the back in a castle might let your opponent beat you on objectives, so adding this ability to hustle your army out to control more of the board while still keeping Kauyon in the bank is another reason why Shadowsun is so good.

Commander in XV8 Crisis Battlesuit

Crisis Suit Commanders are one of the T’au army’s strongest units, capable of carrying four weapons and dishing out a massive amount of firepower as a deep strike threat. The only reason XV8 Crisis Commanders don’t show up more often is because there’s little to recommend them over the Enforcer and Coldstar variants. Their primary differentiator is the ability to upgrade to an XV8-02 Iridium battlesuit for a 2+ Save but with the ability to take Shield Drones, this isn’t nearly as important as having an extra wound or being able to dart across the table.

Commanders can go out hunting, but an undersold benefit of having them is that they lurk in your castle threatening to seriously increase the damage suffered by anything lurking too close. A bunch of fusion or CIB shots at 18″ range can really ruin the day of anything that tries its luck on a close assault.

There are basically three ways to build Commanders, regardless of the flavor of suit you’re going with:

  • 3 Cyclic Ion Blasters and an Advanced Targeting System – This maxes out your Commander’s shots, giving them 9 shots while helping get the ion blaster’s AP up to a respectable -2 to ensure they at least push your opponent to their invulnerable save. These are your best loadout, and the reason to take Enforcers and XV8 Suits.
  • 4 Fusion Blasters – This turns your Commander into a fireball of damage, though note that any turn you arrive from a Manta you’ll be out of half range distance. This loadout works better on the Coldstar suits, because they can’t take Cyclic Ion Blasters. Also their high Movement characteristic can help them close to 9″ distance and unload a volley of insanely strong shooting at a high-value target. After a reasonable while where this had fallen out of fashion thanks to the prevalence of invulnerable saves, these are back with Marine meta, as popular Marine vehicles and units are fantastic targets for them
  • 4 Missile Pods – The other Coldstar build. This makes the commander more flexible, letting them contribute to weight of fire from within your castle, but still shoot if they need to zip out at speed to try for an assassination or steal an objective. Fallen out of fashion again now the Fusion Coldstar is back.

You also used to see really bare-bones Crisis Commanders used as a platform for Command and Control Node, but now that Shadowsun is ridiculously cheap people just use her for that instead.

Commander in XV85 Enforcer Battlesuit

For four points more you get an extra wound over the XV8 Crisis Suit Commander, and that’s just an incredibly good deal for the price. In the long run it’ll also likely pay off more as you’re being shot at. Give your Enforcer an Advanced Targeting System and 3 Cyclic Ion Blasters and drop him and his drones where he can put a hole right in the middle of your opponent’s army.

Commander in XV86 Coldstar Battlesuit

A much, much more mobile version of the Crisis battlesuit, the Coldstar Battlesuit trades off the ability to take Cyclic Ion Blasters or Iridium Armor for blazing speed and the ability to take massive leaps around the battlefield. Since they can’t take the Ion Blasters, you’ll want to arm these with 4x Fusion Blasters instead. These guys can drop in where they want on the fringes of the battlefield, take out a priority target, and then dart over to wherever else they’re needed.

Ethereal

Ethereals are cheap HQ options that can help you fill out Battalion Detachments without eating up a COMMANDER keyword slot. They come with two abilities, and neither are Sept-locked, which means that an Ethereal is a good choice to fill out an HQ slot in a Sept other than T’au.

  • Failure Is Not An Option – A 6″ aura that allows an Ethereal to lend its Ld to nearby units for Morale Tests. This is helpful for the +2 Ld boost it offers, but isn’t particularly amazing. It’s best benefit is on helping the Ld 6 drones in your castle avoid losing additional models due to morale.
  • Invocation of the Elements – In the Movement phase, the Ethereal can pick an element, and then all TAU EMPIRE INFANTRY and BATTLESUIT units within 6″ get a benefit. A unit can only benefit from a given element once in a given turn. Calm of Tides lets you subtract 1 from Morale Tests, Zephyr’s Grace gives you re-rolls on your Advance Rolls, Storm of Fire gives you re-rolls of 1 to hit in the Shooting phase for stationary units, and Sense of Stone lets models roll a D6 for each wound they take and ignore the damage on a 6.

Sense of Stone and Storm of Fire are the clear winners here, and which one you want will depend on your strategy. Because re-rolling To Hit rolls of 1 is the easiest ability to get for T’au (since it comes off a single markerlight), you’ll often find that it only benefits you when your plan is to go wide and shoot at targets without markerlights. Instead, the ability to give multiple units the 6+ feel no pain save can dramatically extend the longevity of units and make your Riptides that much more of a pain in the ass to take down.

Take one with a couple of shield drones (or a marker drone) and consider the Hover Drone to give it a little more movement flexibility if it has to follow more mobile suits around or get its aura somewhere quick. +2″ doesn’t seem like a lot, but for 5 points and the JET PACK and FLY keywords it’s not a bad deal.

Cadre Fireblade

Cadre Fireblade. Credit: Jack Hunter

Cadre Fireblade

Fireblades are another cheap HQ choice for filling out Battalions that doesn’t eat up a COMMANDER keyword slot. They’ve got two main uses. The first is being a BS2+ Markerlight. Given that you need Markerlights to make the army function, this makes Cadre Fireblades easy to include in most armies as your most reliable way to put the first ML on a unit. This ability alone is enough to make Fireblades worth bringing, but the other ability they bring to the table is also very good. The Volley Fire ability gives friendly SEPT units within 6″ an additional shot when firing with pulse pistols, pulse carbines, and pulse rifles when shooting at a target within half the weapon’s range. This is very good on Pulse Rifles, where half range is 15″, and a Cadre Fireblade can ensure that charging into a line of T’au Sept Fire Warriors is a lethal affair. You don’t need Fire Warriors, Pathfinders, or Gun Drones to make Fireblades worth having, but if you’re bringing both, they make a wonderful team.

Darkstrider

Another very good T’au Sept character, Darkstrider is also a BS2+ Markerlight option who buffs nearby T’AU SEPT Infantry, giving them the ability to shoot after Falling Back if they’re within 6″ of him, and using the Structural Analyser ability to give a single infantry unit within 6″ +1 to its wound rolls against that target, ensuring they’ll wound most infantry targets on a 2+. Darkstrider’s another HQ character choice you’d bring just for the cheap 2+ Markerlight, but will give you a huge boost when paired with Fire Warriors or Pathfinders. His Vanguard ability allows him to move up to 7″ after Deployment at the start of the first battle round as long as he isn’t within 9″ of an enemy model, helping quickly reposition him at the start of the game.

Longstrike

An HQ tank choice, Longstrike comes with his own custom Hammerhead tank, which comes with BS2+ at its full profile plus the Tank Ace ability, which gives it +1 to wound rolls against VEHICLE and MONSTER targets, and Fire Caste Exemplar, which gives T’AU SEPT HAMMERHEADS within 6″ +1 to their hit rolls in the Shooting phase. This is incredibly good, to the point where if you’re taking Hammerheads, you’re taking Longstrike. Most of the time you’ll want to replace Longstrike’s Railgun with the Ion Cannon, since the three shots are just a better deal than the single-shot Railgun, and you should consider upgrading the drones to smart missile systems, which have a range closer to that of the tank’s primary gun options and give you the ability to shoot targets out of line-of-sight. You should also strap a couple of seeker missiles to him, since those will benefit from his improved BS as well once you have multiple Markerlights on a target.

The Rest

  • Commander Farsight: Farsight’s a Crisis Suit Commander who can handle himself in melee and he’s got a pretty beefy plasma rifle he’s carrying around. He gives you an extra Mont’ka activation each game, gives nearby FARSIGHT ENCLAVES units the ability to re-roll to hit rolls of 1 in the Fight phase (any phase if you’re attacking an ORK unit), and has a 4+ invulnerable save. But the Farsight Sept isn’t particularly good and no one needs melee T’au so there isn’t a lot of value to Farsight in a competitive T’au army.
  • Aun’va: A T’au Sept-specific Ethereal who can invoke two elements per turn and has a hilarious ability that allows him to add the AP of incoming weapons to his save rather than subtract them. He also gives re-rolls for Morale tests to all friendly T’AU EMPIRE units on the battlefield. The ability to invoke two elements per turn is neat, but it’s not good enough to overcome the fact that this guy is an expensive version of a unit whose value comes from being a cheap slot filler.
  • Aun’shi: Another special character Ethereal, this time specific to the Vior’la Sept. Aun’shi’s cheaper than Aun’va, only invokes one element, has a 4+ invulnerable save, and is better at fighting, with the ability to give himself either AP-2 or re-rolls for invulnerable saves for the Fight phase every turn. He’s cheaper than Aun’va, but much less useful and also not worth paying the extra points for.

 

Troops

Credit: Charlie A.

Strike Team

Strike Teams are your bread and butter Tau unit, being made up of a group of Tau and their …. 30″ Rapid Fire 1 S5 rifle and 4+ armour save for 7 points??? Strike Teams form a key part of basically every Tau army, though often only 15 of them hanging around filling out a Battalion. They have a multitude of uses – screening your castle, providing FtGG overwatch fire, taking objectives, popping out bonus markerlight shots – and they’re surprisingly tough with a 3+ save in cover. Earlier in the edition you tended to see more of them, especially when Tau brigades were more of a thing, but they’re quite vulnerable in Marine meta and you can squeeze more performance out of taking the absolute maximum of Elites and Heavy Support, so they’ve tended to fall down the priority list to merely filling up detachment slots in Battalions.

Credit: Charlie A.

Kroot

Kroot are the other Troops choice which sometimes appears in Tau armies, though they seem to go rapidly in and out of favour. Most people dismissed them for a long time, and then at LVO this year a Tau army did very well and included about 40 of them, and now they’re back out of fashion again (see the lists posted below – all of them are from recent events and the only Kroot which appears in any of them is Dahyak Grekh). Their primary use is to form big blobs of cheap guys and screen, and provide something approximating a melee threat, but Fire Warriors and Drones screen more effectively since they don’t die so easily, and in any case Tau quite often want to be charged since they can then get a bonus shooting phase with FtGG.

The Rest

    • Breacher Team: Breachers are the answer to the question “what if Fire Warriors, but with shotguns?” And the overwhelming answer is “meh.” That isn’t totally fair – the pulse blaster is actually kind of funky, and from 5″ away it’s an utter terror. In another, better, world, Tau armies involve flying Devilfish around and bailing Breachers out to turboblast Space Marines straight to hell, but we don’t live in that world and so these mostly don’t really show up.

 

Elites

Dahyak Grekh (Blackstone Fortress)

A Kroot Tracker added by the Blackstone Fortress game, Dahyak Grekh is very, very good. For only 20 points, you get a BS3+ Sniper who can deep strike onto the battlefield more than 9″ away from an enemy unit, gets +2 to his save in cover, and once per game can activate a booby trap for the chance to do D3 mortal wounds (or D6 if you roll a 6 and the unit has 10+ models) to a unit. He doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but he’ll surprise you with how tough and annoying he can be. He’s more than capable of harassing smaller characters or putting a dent in larger squads of elite 1-wound infantry, and so for 20 points, he’s worth bringing along in a lot of competitive lists.

Firesight Marksman

Ignore the buff to Sniper drones; the Firesight Marksman’s key benefit is to give you a BS3+ Markerlight. And because they’re a cheap way to get extra higher-BS markerlights, it’s worth taking them as part of a Sa’Cea detachment, where they can use the Calm Discipline Sept Tenet to re-roll their Markerlight shots. As mentioned above, the play here is a Sa’Cea Vanguard Detachment with an Ethereal and three Firesight Marksmen to boost your army’s Ld and get high-probability Markerlights. These guys are also must-takes if you take Sniper drones but you shouldn’t take Sniper Drones.

Tau Riptide

Tau Riptide. Credit: Jack Hunter

XV104 Riptide Battlesuit

The Riptide is possibly the best unit in the Tau book and has a strong claim in the “Best Unit in the Game” competition. They’re big, tough, incredibly versatile, they fly, and they put out a lot of shots. Most, if not all competitive T’au lists run at least two and usually three. On top of their basic guns and profile, they have the “Nova Reactor” special rule – for the cost of 1 mortal wound, you can either move 2D6″ in the charge phase, improve the number of shots, or increase their invulnerable save from 5+ to 3+, highly annoying for your opponent when they also have a 2+ armour save and, of course, are surrounded by shield drones. Most of your turns will see the Nova Reactor being used to improve your gun’s output, but the other modes bring a lot of utility to the table. The 1CP Branched Nova Charge stratagem also allows one Riptide per turn to choose two of the above, for when you need to murder something and protect yourself. Arm them with a Heavy Burst Cannon, Smart Missile System, Velocity Tracker, and Advanced Targeting System, and you can’t go far wrong.

 

Tau Stealth Suits

Tau Stealth Suits. Yes, we know these are XV15s. Credit: Jack Hunter

XV25 Stealth Battlesuits

On the surface it seems like there’s a lot to recommend about Stealth Battlesuits — they give opponents -1 to hit them, they have a high volume of fire, 2 Wounds each, and they can deploy forward and use drones to protect themselves. Unfortunately, the reality is that their BS4+ characteristic means too much of their firepower will be wasted, and their forward presence makes them an easy target for Smites, which will quickly wipe them off the board in any match-up with psykers. Which is most of them.

XV8 Crisis Suits

Crisis Suits are one of the iconic units of the Tau army, and the reason a lot of players bought into them in the first place. Naturally, because the T’au book is what it is, they’re bad. The main problem with them is pretty simple – they have BS4+, but their weapons are priced for use by Commanders, who have BS2+. As such, they’re perennially overpriced for what they actually offer. Being mobile units with FLY which actually want to get close to things, they also don’t really fit in to the common Tau playstyle of forming a great big castle surrounded by Drones and then shooting until the opponent goes away. In a world where they were costed appropriately for their ballistic skill, they’d probably be alright, but sadly we don’t live in that world.

XV95 Ghostkeel Battlesuit

Ghostkeels are actually pretty sweet and the main strike against them is that they’re competing within their slot with Riptides, which are one of the best units pound for pound in the whole game. Their defensive profile isn’t as good – they’re only T6 with W10, a 3+ armour and no invulnerable – but they are -1 to hit from more than 6″ away, and can be followed around by Stealth Drones to be -2 to hit (though of course any thinking opponent will just shoot the drones first). Ghostkeels can also infiltrate, which is handy to have. Gun-wise, they offer either a fusion collider – a d3 shot 18″ range melta, or a cyclic ion raker – a 6 shot 24″ gun which can either be S7 AP-1 D1, or overcharge to be S8 AP-1 Dd3 (and inflicts a mortal wound if you roll any 1s to hit). It also has two flamers, which can trade out for two fusion blasters or two burst cannons. For the fairly cheap cost, Ghostkeels are fun and offer something a little different – but you might find they get crowded out by the other options in a truly top-tier list.

The Rest

  • Kroot Shaper: Ostensibly a way to buff nearby Kroot units and add some additional combat support, he’s just not very good in combat — he lacks any kind of AP or 2+ damage weapons, and so just isn’t likely to actually kill much if he has to fight. That means his only real value is to give re-rolls of 1 to wound to nearby Kroot, but if you are taking Kroot, you’re not doing it for their ability to kill things but instead their ability to be a dirt-cheap screen. Their morale boost ability doesn’t really solve the Kroot Carnivore morale problem, either. You can skip these.
  • XV8 Crisis Bodyguards: They’re Crisis Suits which can also act like shield drones. Just take shield drones.
  • Krootox Riders: One of the most hateful models in the game to assemble back in the days of metal, because the two halves didn’t line up, these guys just kind of exist. I can’t recall ever seeing one on a table.

Fast Attack

Tau Pathfinders

Tau Pathfinders. Credit: Jack Hunter

Pathfinder Team

Pathfinders show up reasonably often in Tau lists reasonably often. They can take some funky Drones, but their main uses are twofold – one, they get a 7″ pre-game scout move, and two, they’re a source of mass markerlight fire. They’re also good slot filler in a Tau Brigade, since they take up Fast Attack slots, though so do Tactical Drones (for more on these, see next entry). Pathfinders don’t do anything especially big or clever, but they have a clear purpose that’s costed about right, which in Tau is about as good as you can ask for.

Tactical Drones

The tiny powerhouse mainstays of the current competitive T’au Empire army, drones primarily serve the purpose of protecting key units in your army from taking damage while your units continue to spew out unreasonable amounts of firepower. While most competitive T’au armies want to take the add-on drones that come with unit selections, there’s also a real need to take multiple additional drone squads to protect and screen key units. Most competitive lists feature multiple squads of drones, usually either taking 6-8 shield drones per squad, or taking a mix of shield drones and marker drones to help provide Markerlight support for the army. Shield drones are ideal here because they’re hard enough to kill that opponents are loathe to shoot at them directly, while still being able to punish players for ignoring them as they tank wound after wound for Riptides.

Tau Piranha

Tau Piranha. Credit: Jack Hunter

TX4 Piranhas

Piranhas were kind of ignored for a long time after T’au Empire first dropped in 8th edition, and then a build started showing up using tons of them. The gimmick is basically this – they’re cheap, fast, and fly, plus they mount a couple of drones on them. They can also take two seeker missiles, and as long as their gun drones are attached they can fire a couple of pulse carbines too. What you do is mount fusion blasters on them all, smash them into midfield where they offer a fair amount of board control, and then unload a pile of seeker missiles and fusion blasters into something vulnerable-looking. Whenever a Piranha dies, it drops off a unit of Gun Drones, which can then continue to hold any objectives it was on, and also of course help to screen characters and generally get in the way. The build hasn’t shown up for a little while – it can be rough in ITC, since the Gun Drones are a great way to give away “kill more” – but as a way to do something different with Tau it’s a fun one and can be surprisingly effective.

XV109 Y’vahra Battlesuit (Forge World)

The Y’vahra is a bit like a Riptide, but with a bloody great flamer attached to it. It has a slightly different Nova Reactor table, which lets you pull it off the table and re-deploy, or throw a 3+ invulnerable on against melee only. It has two guns, an ionic discharge cannon which is (standard/nova charged) Heavy 3/3d3, S8/10, AP-3, D1/3, and does 1/d3 mortal wounds to vehicles for each wound roll of a 6+, and then also a phased plasma-flamer which is Heavy 2d6/3d6, S6, AP-2, D3. That’s a lot of firepower. The main strike against Y’vahras is that they cost 395pts and they need to get close to offer their maximum output, and at base they can’t redeploy and shoot the flamer. As mentioned previously, there was a fashion for taking these in a Bork’an detachment so that the flamer was 14″ instead of 8″ – which makes it a lot better! – but that didn’t really work out competitively since they’re just so expensive and Riptides offer just as much.

The Rest

  • Vespid Stingwings: These guys would be amazing if they could benefit from any of the Sept Tenets. As-is, they’re just on the wrong side of being playable, with BS4+ preventing them from being a deadly Deep Strike threat against Marines (where otherwise having S5 AP-2 firepower is really good).
  • Kroot Hounds: These guys just sort of exist. They do have one role, which is being cheap slot fodder for a Brigade, but their actual in-game use mostly comes down to “stand on objective” and “hope not to die.” They’re basically the cheapest screening unit you can take in the T’au army, but you should probably be buying drones to do the same thing, only better.

Heavy Support

Tau Broadside Battlesuit with Missiles

Tau Broadside Battlesuit with Missiles. Credit: Jack Hunter

XV88 Broadside Battlesuits

Broadsides are the conceptual opposite of Crisis Suits – they’re not fast, they don’t fly, and they don’t ever want to be too close to anyone. What they offer instead is a 2+ save, 6 wounds, and firepower which is actually costed appropriately. By default they come with a heavy rail rifle and two smart missile systems, which they can swap for two high-yield missile pods or two plasma rifles respectively. You’ll see all four guns in Simon Priddis’ list below, demonstrating that there’s use cases for all of them (though in the case of the plasma rifles I suspect the use case was “being fairly cheap.”) The rail rifle offers 2 shots at enormous range, Strength 8, AP-4, and D6 damage, plus it causes an additional mortal wound on a 6+ to wound. The missile pods are a little more sedate, being only S7 AP-2 and d3 damage, but you get four times as many shots from them. As with Crisis Suits, you can take 2 drones per model in a Broadside unit, and you should do this most (if not all) the time.

TX7 Hammerhead Gunship

Tau Hammerhead Gunship

Tau Hammerhead Gunship. Credit: Jack Hunter

The battle tanks of the T’au Army, Hammerheads can opt for either a Railgun or an Ion Cannon as their primary armament. And while the Railgun looks extremely cool, it’s almost always going to be a worse option than the Ion Cannon, which can put out a greater volume of shots at nearly the same range and has much lower variance, with the ability to Overcharge for D6 S8 3-Damage shots. Overall, Hammerheads really need Longstrike to do their thing effectively, so if you’re bringing them, plan on bringing three and also Longstrike to make sure you’re getting the most out of them. It’ll also likely be worth your time to load each one up with Seeker Missiles, to give yourself a relatively tough platform to keep them around long enough to be fired at a key Markerlit enemy target. The main weakness of these is that they’re true VEHICLE models rather than being BATTLESUIT like a lot of the rest of T’au, so they’re vulnerable to things like haywire or the Imperial Fists’ Legacy of Dorn doctrine where things like Riptides aren’t.

MV71 Sniper Drones

In sniper meta these have been trialled – Devin Swann ran a list while ago which ran 27 of them – but they haven’t yet wormed their way into the greater consciousness. They’re -1 to hit from more than 12″ away, and each drone has a rapid fire sniper rifle with 48″ range and S5, so they definitely have prospects for wailing on things like Warlocks or Guard Commanders or the various Plaguebearer support characters.

TX78 Sky Ray Gunship

Sky Rays have shown up from time to time as a neat alternative list. What they offer is an absolutely horrendous alpha strike – each Sky Ray can take 6 seeker missiles, which means that each one is potentially unloading 6 krak missiles into something with markerlights on turn 1. That’s a whole lot of firepower, and you can also mount smart missile systems on them so that they have something to do post-turn 1. Much like Hammerheads, they’re vulnerable to haywire or anti-VEHICLE weaponry which doesn’t affect Riptides, which is a big issue in a world where Imperial Fists exist.

Dedicated Transport

Devilfish

Devilfish are the only transport available to Tau, and they’re another iconic part of the faction which just kind of isn’t really there. They have all the same issues as other transports in 8th, they don’t have particularly significant guns in and of themselves, and a lot of what would normally be transported in them is stuff that is better off just standing around in the Tau castle. Devilfish full of Breachers hopping out to murder things would be great if only it wasn’t objectively worse than just plinking away from miles across the battlfield, but it is.

 

Flyer

AX39 Sun Shark Bomber

The Sun Shark has a similar role to the Drukhari Voidraven, which is to fly over something and bomb the hell out of it and hope to cause mortal wounds. It’s not quite as good here as it is there, since it gets no bonus against VEHICLE or MONSTER units and only wounds things on a 5+ (4+ against INFANTRY). It also has a missile pod, two seeker missiles, a couple of drones with ion rifles, and also totes a markerlight. Sun Sharks have a definite application zooming over stuff and hoping to drop a ton of mortal wounds on it, and Devin Swann’s list below which uses these plus a pile of Sky Rays for a horrific alpha strike is at least something to think about.

Credit: Charlie A.

Tiger Shark (Forge World)

There was a brief moment where Tiger Sharks were a hot meta pick, because they had the same guns as Riptides and when the Codex updated those, these got a stealth buff for no extra cost. Giant planes which could pour out sickening firepower are good for reasons we probably don’t have to explain. About a week after Simon Priddis won Battlefield Birmingham with them, someone at GW finally noticed that this had happened, and they were immediately FAQed to use the index version of their gun which was considerably less good – thus ending their reign. No-one was sad to see them go (except possibly Simon).

AX3 Razorshark Strike Fighter

The Razorshark sure is a unit which exists in the book. Their gun is pretty ok, and they have seeker missiles as well (though the seekers will be hitting on 5s since they’re heavy weapons and the Razorshark has to move), but they’re fairly flimsy and the gun isn’t good enough to justify the cost.

 

Fortifications

Tidewall Shieldline, Tidewall Gunrig, Tidewall Droneport

Every so often someone gets the clever idea to take a Tidewall Shieldline and use it to scoot stuff about the table in a hilarious way. That is the entire use of Tidewall fortifications. Thanks for checking.

 

Lord of War

Tau Stormsurge

Tau Stormsurge. Credit: Jack Hunter

KV128 Stormsurge

The only VEHICLE in the T’au Battlesuit fleet, the Stormsurge is kind of an odd beast. It’s not a Battlesuit, and so doesn’t benefit from any of those bonuses, but it has the ability to plant its feet for an additional +1 to its To Hit rolls when shooting as long as it remains stationary. That’s helpful because with BS4+ base, it really needs the help to get the most out of its shooting. The sad truth is that Stormsurges just don’t quite “get there” in a competitive setting. They can’t be protected with Drones’ Saviour Protocols rule and you can’t use any of the BATTLESUIT Stratagems on them, and while they can put out a lot of firepower, it’s not quite enough to make up for the fact that they cost significantly more than a Riptide. And while they come with more wounds and the ability to take a Shield Generator for a 4+ invulnerable save, losing out on the drone protections means they’re ultimately more vulnerable than Riptides.

If you do run a Stormsurge, you should swap out the flamers for Burst Cannons to give it a boost and give it more output at longer ranges and stick to the Pulse Blastcannon, which costs less and has greater wound output potential. 72″ range is nice but it’s not it if it means you’re paying more for a S10 Lascannon shot. The Destroyer Missiles that come with the Stormsurge can absolutely ruin someone’s week if you get the Markerlights in place to get them hitting on a re-rollable 2+. You only get four, but that should be more than enough to do some real damage. You also need to slam a Shield Generator on this bad boy because it’s imminently targetable and needs the 4+ invulnerable save to survive as long as it can without drone protection.

 

Credit: Ethan “Firehead” Case

KX139 Ta’unar Supremacy Armour

This thing is a BATTLESUIT, and as such benefits from Saviour Protocols. Unlike most titan scale units from FW this thing is actually usable, and we hate it. Lots of firepower, relatively easy to kill if there are no drones, but there are always drones. Suffers from the same weak ankles of all T’au battlesuits, which can cause catastrophe mid-game. Otherwise, the Tau’nar is capable of putting out obscene amounts of firepower and doing so at crazy ranges. It still suffers from being a “putting all your eggs in one basket”-type strategy, and if your opponent has the firepower to bring it down in a turn through your drones you’re going to wish you’d diversified. Still, back down to its original points cost, the thing is practically a steal, and it can put out a silly amount of shots. It’s not quite a strong enough for Tau’nar lists to be a regularly viable strategy, but Tau’nar lists have top-4’d at smaller events. If you take one, the best move is probably to take it as Dal’yth Sept, since it’ll rarely move and bringing it up to a 2+ save is a significant bonus when you’re talking about that many wounds and only a 5+ invulnerable save.

The Eight

No.

Extremely Gunum voice Ok but just hear me out

NO.

 

Stratagems, Traits and Relics

Stratagems

  • Multi Spectrum Sensor Suite – 1CP: Use when a BATTLESUIT unit fires. Enemy units can’t claim cover against it this phase. This is a lot more useful than it used to be, now that the meta is lousy with both Raven Guard and Successor Chapters that use the Stealthy Successor Trait to gain a cover bonus when more than 12″ away. Cover was already much easier for Tau to deal with than -1 to hit, and this helps close the rest of the gap. B+
  • Fail Safe Detonator – 1CP: When a BATTLESUIT unit is destroyed in the fight phase, inflict a MW on each unit within 3″ on a 4+ (rolled per unit). A neat little spiteful ability that can be helpful for punishing Berserkers and other low-wound elite melee units, but incredibly situational. C
  • Automated Repair System – 2CP: Use at the start of any turn, once per turn. Heal a VEHICLE or BATTLESUIT for d3 wounds. Very helpful for pushing a Riptide back over a damage threshold on its profile. A
  • Neuroweb System Jammer – 2CP: Use at the start of the enemy shooting phase. Pick an enemy unit within 18″ of a BATTLESUIT COMMANDER and give it -1 to hit. Potentially helpful but expensive and the range implies you’re going to be venturing out of your castle to use it. C
  • Repulsor Impact Field – 1CP: Use after a BATTLESUIT unit is charged. Roll a d6 for each model from the charging unit within 3″ of your unit and deal a MW on a 6. This doesn’t deal nearly enough wounds to be worth it and you’re going to get more damage shooting in Overwatch most of the time. C
  • Command and Control Node – 1CP: Use at the start of the shooting phase. Pick a <SEPT> BATTLESUIT unit within 6″ of a <SEPT> COMMANDER. The commander can’t shoot, but the other unit can re-rolls failed wounds for the phase. This is a very powerful ability and useful for helping your Riptides live their best lives. A
  • EMP Grenade – 1CP: Use when a unit throws a photon grenade at a VEHICLE. Make a single hit roll and inflict d3 mortals on a hit. It’s rare that vehicles will be getting this close to you unless they’re knights, in which case getting in a few mortals isn’t so bad if you’ve got the markerlights in place to ensure the grenade will hit. As Redditor Matora pointed out, this can be particularly nasty in the hands of a Cadre Fireblade, who can lob it at a Knight or other large vehicle with BS2+ and then use the wounds caused to activate the Focused Fire Stratagem for the T’au Sept, allowing you to do some real damage to something that’s gotten close enough to regret it, but hasn’t yet charged, or something you’ve fallen back from and now need to clear out of your space. B
  • Hunting Hounds – 1CP: Use after a Kroot Hound unit charges. You can re-roll charges for other KROOT units within 12″ of those Kroot Hounds. Would be more useful if Kroot were worth taking or could do much in melee. C
  • Uplinked Markerlight – 1CP: Use after hitting with a markerlight fired by a model from your army. Add an extra d3 markerlight counters. This is the army’s go-to Stratagem, and you’re going to find yourself using it almost every turn to help get key targets to 5+ Markerlights. Use a Cadre Fireblade or Marksman to drop the first Markerlight or two, then used Uplinked Markerlights to make it an additional D3. A+
  • Branched Nova Charge – 1CP: Get two Nova Charge effects instead of one on a Riptide. This is fantastic, and you’re going to use it a lot in the games where you’re bringing multiple Riptides. Which is almost all of them. Use it to protect your Riptides with a 3+ invulnerable save while continuing to pour out higher damage output. A
  • Support Turret Replacement – 1CP: Respawn a dead support turret at the end of your movement phase. C
  • Point Defence Targeting Relay – 1CP: A VEHICLE firing Overwatch can hit on 5s. Helpful for Hammerheads, but really made with the Stormsurge in mind. Neat in a pinch, but if your Stormsurge is getting charged we suspect that hings have gone horribly, terribly wrong. B-
  • Emergency Dispensation – 1/3CP: The standard Stratagem for generating extra relics.
  • Orbital Ion Beam – 3CP: Once per battle in your shooting phase, a stationary commander can draw a 2D6″ line on the battlefield. Then you deal d3 MWs on a 4+ (5+ for CHARACTERS) to anything it crosses. A little too expensive for its variable length. C
  • Breach and Clear – 1CP: A Breacher Team re-rolls failed wounds against an enemy unit in cover until the end of the phase. This would theoretically be more useful now that so many space marine armies are bringing the Stealthy trait to get the benefit of cover, but that only applies when you’re more than 12″ away and Breacher Teams want to be well within 12″ when they start shooting, so as-is its primary uses are when you’re rushing enemies, which just won’t happen in most competitive games. C
  • Recon Sweep – 1CP: Use at the start of your shooting phase. A Pathfinder unit can move 2d6″ but cannot shoot or charge. Another ability that gives T’au mobility that they don’t really use, but can be handy for making a last-ditch push for an objective if you’re bringing Pathfinders. C
  • Wall of Mirrors – 1CP: Use at the start of your movement phase. Redeploy a Stealth Battlesuit unit that was within 6″ of a Ghostkeel unit anywhere that is within 12″ of that Ghostkeel and more than 9″ from the enemy. A really useful ability for shifting Stealth Suits around, but hampered by the fact that Stealth Suits are bad. B
  • Stimulant Injector – 1CP: A BATTLESUIT unit with 10+ wounds can use its top profile for the turn regardless of how many wounds it has left. Very useful for making sure your Riptides can continue to operate at full efficiency after they’ve taken a few shots. A

Credit: Charlie A.

Warlord Traits

Tau Warlords typically fall into two categories: Crisis Suit Commanders and Cadre Fireblades. Which Warlord Trait you’ll want will depend mostly on which you’re making your warlord and what will benefit them and your army the most.

  • Precision of the Hunter: The Warlord re-rolls 1s to wound against VEHICLES and MONSTERS. This is a decent ability, and worth considering if your commander is going to be a triple- or quad-fusion Coldstar Commander. At which point having this will help you maximize your output. It’s no Through Unity, Devastation, though. B
  • Through Unity, Devastation: Pick a unit visible to your warlord in the shooting phase. Friendly <SEPT> units within 6″ get an extra -1 AP when they roll a 6+ to wound when shooting the selected unit. This is a really strong ability and essentially the default Warlord Trait you’re going to choose for a competitive Tau army. It pairs very well with units that have a high shot output like say, Burst Cannon Riptides and Missile Pod Broadsides. Great on a Cadre Fireblade Warlord A
  • A Ghost Walks Among Us: Your warlord always advances 6″, do not roll the dice. There isn’t really a Warlord in the T’au army that wants this ability. If you want a Warlord that can really move, take a Coldstar and then you’ve got +20″ when you Advance. C
  • Through Boldness, Victory: If your unit starts the shooting phase within 12″ of an enemy unit, they can re-roll failed hit rolls for the rest of the phase. A useful ability, but one that’s going to take too long to become active. Better to focus on things that will help you wipe as much off the battlefield on turn 1 as possible. C
  • Exemplar of the Kau’yon: Your warlord can re-roll failed hits as long as they haven’t moved for any reason this turn. This is OK but typically if you have a Crisis Commander Warlord, you’re likely to be dropping in from a Manta and moving, and if you’re a Cadre Fireblade Warlord, the only weapon you’re going to be operating is a Markerlight. This is OK for that, but not worth using a Warlord Trait on. C
  • Exemplar of the Mont’ka: When your warlord advances, they can shoot as if they didn’t. Another Trait for mobile Warlords (and mobile armies generally). Might be more useful if there was a compelling reason to play mobile T’au but right now, the strategy is to let them come to you. Still, useful on a Coldstar Commander that needs to be able to close a 40″ gap and then shred something with fusion blasters. B-

Relics

  • Puretide Engram Neurochip: When either player uses a stratagem, roll a D6. On a roll of a 6, gain 1 CP. In addition, get a once per battle re-roll for a hit, wound or damage roll for a <SEPT> unit within 6″ of the bearer (including themselves). This is probably the best relic T’au have, and the one that shows up in most competitive lists. Because they tend to sit back, if you take an Ethereal, it’s a good idea to give them this relic. A
  • Onager Gauntlet: Gives a BATTLESUIT COMMANDER a single attack at S10 AP-4 Dd6 each time they fight. This is neat, given that Tau don’t really get close combat weapons like Thunder Hammers but you don’t really want your commander fighting. You want them firing off 3 fusion blasters or 3 cyclic ion blasters. C-
  • Multi-Sensory Discouragement Array: Enemy units within 6″ get -1 to their Ld. Laughably bad, just like almost every relic or ability that lowers enemy Ld. F
  • Solid Image Projection Unit: An Ethereal on a Hover Drone can move 3″ when declared as a charge target (once per phase). Helps your Ethereal stay out of combat, but you should already be screening them to keep them safe so you can clear up the space for a different relic. C+
  • Seismic Destabiliser: At the start of each shooting phase, pick either a BUILDING or an enemy INFANTRY unit claiming cover within 12″ of the bearer. A BUILDING suffers d3 MWs, for INFANTRY you roll a dice for each model and deal a MW on a 6. The building part of this is worthless, and the Infantry part is only useful if you are pressing toward an enemy position where they are in cover, which won’t happen often. D
  • Supernova Launcher: Relic airbursting frag projector. Assault d6, 18″ range, S6, AP-2, D2, and doesn’t need LOS. An interesting relic weapon. Potentially funny on a Coldstar Commander running this and 3 Airbursting Frag Projectors, where the ability to spit out 4D6 shots per shooting round at a target out of LOS is potentially a very scary threat. B+

 

Credit: Ethan “Firehead” Case

Army Lists

Brian Pullen’s Triptide List

This list, piloted by Brian Pullen to a 6-0 1st-place finish at the SoCal Open in October. The big change to Brian’s list from older Tau lists is a heavier reliance on drones. A combination of the new rules for drones absorbing wounds and the ease with which Space Marines can wipe out characters means that T’au lists need to heavy up on drones as a way of mitigating the damage that marine armies, especially Iron Hands, Raven Guard, and Imperial Fists, are able to put out in the game’s first two turns.

Brian Pullen's SoCal Open List - Click to Expand

++ Outrider Detachment +1CP (T’au Empire) [25 PL, 465pts] ++
T’au Empire Sept Choice: T’au Sept

HQ: Commander in XV85 Enforcer Battlesuit [7 PL, 135pts]: Drone controller, 3x Fusion blaster

FA: Tactical Drones [6 PL, 110pts] – 8x Shield Drone, 3x Marker Drone
FA: Tactical Drones [6 PL, 110pts] – 8x Shield Drone, 3x Marker Drone
FA: Tactical Drones [6 PL, 110pts] – 8x Shield Drone, 3x Marker Drone

++ Vanguard Detachment +1CP (T’au Empire) [51 PL, 1,022pts] ++
T’au Empire Sept Choice: T’au Sept

HQ: Commander in XV86 Coldstar Battlesuit [9 PL, 182pts]: 4x Fusion blaster . 2x MV4 Shield Drone

Elites: XV104 Riptide Battlesuit [14 PL, 280pts]: 2x Smart missile system, Advanced targeting system, Heavy burst cannon, Target lock
Elites: XV104 Riptide Battlesuit [14 PL, 280pts]: 2x Smart missile system, Advanced targeting system, Heavy burst cannon, Target lock
Elites: XV104 Riptide Battlesuit [14 PL, 280pts]: 2x Smart missile system, Advanced targeting system, Heavy burst cannon, Target lock

++ Battalion Detachment +5CP (T’au Empire) [28 PL, 511pts] ++
T’au Empire Sept Choice: T’au Sept

HQ: Commander in XV86 Coldstar Battlesuit [9 PL, 182pts]: 4x Fusion blaster, 2x Shield Drone
HQ: Ethereal [4 PL, 70pts]: 2. Through Unity, Devastation, Honour blade, Hover drone, Warlord, 2x MV4 Shield Drone, Puretide engram neurochip

Troops: Strike Team [3 PL, 58pts], Fire Warrior Shas’ui: Markerlight, Pulse rifle, 4x Fire Warrior w/ Pulse Rifle, 2x MV4 Shield Drone
Troops: Strike Team [3 PL, 58pts], Fire Warrior Shas’ui: Markerlight, Pulse rifle, 4x Fire Warrior w/ Pulse Rifle, 2x MV4 Shield Drone
Troops: Strike Team [3 PL, 55pts], Fire Warrior Shas’ui: Pulse rifle, 4x Fire Warrior w/ Pulse Rifle, 2x MV4 Shield Drone

FA: Pathfinder Team [6 PL, 88pts]: MV31 Pulse Accelerator Drone, MV33 Grav-inhibitor Drone, Recon Drone, 2x Shield Drone, 5x Pathfinder: 5x Markerlight

++ Total: [104 PL, 1,998pts] ++

 

Simon Priddis’ Twisted Onslaught List

Tau Piranha

Tau Piranha. Credit: Jack Hunter

This list, piloted by Simon Priddis to a 5-0 1st-place finish at Twisted Onslaught in early September, dials back on the Riptides in favor of running Broadsides, Piranhas, and Shadowsun. While successful, it represents a pre-supplement build for Tau, most notably pre-Raven Guard. While Tau have less to fear from Raven Guard than most armies thanks to being able to take a ton of drones, this particular army is light on drones. If you were to run it today, you might be better-served finding a way to fit in a squad or two of drones in order to protect Shadowsun and the army’s other characters. Priddis’ list also incorporates 6 Seeker Missiles on the Broadsides, set up to eliminate any target that the army’s Marksmen drop Markerlights on turn 1.

Simon Priddis' Twisted Onslaught List - Click to Expand

++ Battalion Detachment +5 CP (T’au Empire) T’au Sept [109PL, 1870pts] ++

HQ: Cadre Fireblade (39), Markerlight (3), 2 Shield Drones (20) Puretide Engram Neurochip (0) [3PL][62pts] WARLORD (Through Unity Devastation)

HQ: Commander Shadowsun (110), MV52 Shield Drone (11), Command Link Drone (6) [10PL] [127pts]

Troops: 5 Strike Team (35), Upgrade to Shas’ui (0), Markerlight (Shas’ui, 3), 2x MV4 Shield Drone (20) [3PL][58pts]

Troops: 5 Strike Team (35), Upgrade to Shas’ui (0), Markerlight (Shas’ui, 3), 2x MV4 Shield Drone (20) [3PL][58pts]

Troops: 5 Strike Team (35), Upgrade to Shas’ui (0), Markerlight (Shas’ui, 3), 2x MV4 Shield Drone (20) [3PL][58pts]

Elites: XV104 Riptide Battlesuit (185), Heavy Burst Cannon (35), 2x Smart Missile System (30), Advanced Targeting System (18), Velocity Tracker (10) [14PL][278pts]

Elites: XV104 Riptide Battlesuit (185), Heavy Burst Cannon (35), 2x Smart Missile System (30), Advanced Targeting System (18), Velocity Tracker (10) [14PL][278pts]

FA: 3 TX4 Piranhas (90), 3x Burst Cannon (24), 3x 2 Seeker Missiles (30), 3x 2 Gun Drones (60) [12PL][204pts]

HS: 3 XV88 Broadside Battlesuits (105), 3x 2 High Yield Missile Pods (150), 3x 2 Smart Missile Systems (90), 3x Seeker Missile (15), 3x Advanced Targeting System (18), Upgrade to Shas’vre (0), 5 Shield Drones (50) [24PL][428pts]

HS: 3 XV88 Broadside Battlesuits (105), 3x Heavy Rail Rifle (105), 3x 2 Plasma Rifles (48), 3x Seeker Missile (15), 3x Velocity Tracker (6), Upgrade to Shas’vre (0), 4 Shield Drones (40) [23PL] [319pts]

++ Vanguard Detachment +1 CP (T’au Empire) Sa’cea Sept [8PL, 130pts] ++

HQ: 1 Ethereal (45), Honour Blade (0), Hover Drone (5), Marker Drone (10) [4PL][60pts]

Elites: Dahyak Grekh (20) [2PL][20pts]

Elites: 1 Firesight Marksman (21), Markerlight (3), Pulse Pistol (1) [1PL][25pts]

Elites: 1 Firesight Marksman (21), Markerlight (3), Pulse Pistol (1) [1PL][25pts]

 

Devin Swann’s Sword and Brush List

Devin Swann’s list, which he piloted to a 4-1 2nd-place finish at the 32-man Sword and Brush event in early September, is primarily here for variety’s sake: It’s an example of a successful T’au Empire list that doesn’t take three Riptides, instead employing Hammerheads and Skyrays for its long-range heavy firepower. One of the biggest challenges with this list post-Marines is that it’s going to struggle against Imperial Fists, who can very quickly knock out its tanks from 30″ away.

Devin Swan's Sword and Brush List - Click to Expand


++ Battalion Detachment +5CP (T’au Empire) [10 PL, 198pts] ++
HQ: Cadre Fireblade [2 PL, 42pts]: Markerlight
HQ: Cadre Fireblade [2 PL, 42pts]: Markerlight

Troops: Strike Team [2 PL, 38pts], Fire Warrior Shas’ui: Markerlight, Pulse rifle . 4x Fire Warrior w/ Pulse Rifle
Troops: Strike Team [2 PL, 38pts], Fire Warrior Shas’ui: Markerlight, Pulse rifle . 4x Fire Warrior w/ Pulse Rifle
Troops: Strike Team [2 PL, 38pts], Fire Warrior Shas’ui: Markerlight, Pulse rifle . 4x Fire Warrior w/ Pulse Rifle

++ Spearhead Detachment +1CP (T’au Empire) [67 PL, 1,302pts] ++
HQ: Longstrike [10 PL, 212pts]: 2x Smart missile system, Ion cannon, 2x Seeker missile

HS: TX7 Hammerhead Gunship [9 PL, 175pts]: 2x Smart missile system, Ion cannon, 2x Seeker missile
HS: TX7 Hammerhead Gunship [9 PL, 175pts]: 2x Smart missile system, Ion cannon, 2x Seeker missile
HS: TX7 Hammerhead Gunship [9 PL, 175pts]: 2x Smart missile system, Ion cannon, 2x Seeker missile

HS: TX7 Heavy Bombardment Hammerhead Gunship [10 PL, 190pts]: 2x Smart missile system, 2x High-yield missile pod, 2x Seeker missile
HS: TX7 Heavy Bombardment Hammerhead Gunship [10 PL, 190pts]: 2x Smart missile system, 2x High-yield missile pod, 2x Seeker missile
HS: TX7 Heavy Bombardment Hammerhead Gunship [10 PL, 190pts]: 2x Smart missile system, 2x High-yield missile pod, 2x Seeker missile

++ Spearhead Detachment +1CP (T’au Empire) [28 PL, 500pts] ++
HQ: Cadre Fireblade [2 PL, 42pts]: Markerlight

Elites: Dahyak Grekh [2 PL, 20pts] HS: TX78 Sky Ray Gunship [8 PL, 146pts]: 2x Smart missile system, 2x Markerlight, 6x Seeker missile
HS: TX78 Sky Ray Gunship [8 PL, 146pts]: 2x Smart missile system, 2x Markerlight, 6x Seeker missile
HS: TX78 Sky Ray Gunship [8 PL, 146pts]: 2x Smart missile system, 2x Markerlight, 6x Seeker missile
++ Total: [105 PL, 2,000pts] ++

 

Wrap Up

And that’s enough about gun-toting fishmen. By now you hopefully have everything you need to get going on your T’au Empire army (hot tip: start with Riptides and Drones) and start crushing your opponents. Personally I can’t wait for Tau to show up in Psychic Awakening and randomly buff Riptides without helping the rest of the army, forcing us to come back in and make that recommendation even stronger. As ever, if you have any questions or comments, drop us a line in the comments below or shoot us an email at contact@goonhammer.com. Otherwise, go forth and continue to threaten a fairly minor region of space!

 

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