27 Apr 2013

Tau Tactica - Heavy Support

Hey there everyone, I'm Learn2Eel and I am thrilled to discuss the highly useful Heavy Support choices from the new Tau codex! I hope you find this an entertaining and insightful read.

Our Heavy Support choices to a unit provide some incredible firepower all at a very affordable cost, with variations in weaponry allowing for lots of flexibility and potential builds. Though these units tend to be quite static, they make up for it by being quite a bit more durable than their counter-parts throughout the codex. With access to some of the best anti-aircraft units that can be found in any codex, I foresee Tau Heavy Support choices being highly coveted for Allies and those serving the will of the Greater Good alike.

XV88 Broadside Team - Another of the Tau's most iconic units, Broadsides are back in a big way - model included - and have a range of new options that make them quite a bit different to the premium heavy tank hunters they once were. As far as a Tau model goes, they are quite hardy; between Toughness four, two wounds and a +2 armour save, they will laugh off missile launchers and most small arms fire but will rightfully fear lascannons and plasma weaponry - though the availability of cover helps to soften such blows. Unlike other Battlesuits, however, they compromise on movement to make up for their boosted durability; they are not Jet Pack units, and thus do not receive the benefits of boosted movement, assault moves and Relentless. That last one is particularly important here, given that almost every weapon that can be carried by a Broadside Battlesuit is of the Heavy classification; this disbars Broadside teams from moving and shooting effectively, but given their superior range and need for cover against strong AP ranged attacks, this makes them a particularly useful unit to keep in your back field. However, I must stress the importance of keeping them away from a melee at all costs; even despite a Strength of five and a handful of attacks, their pitiful Weapon Skill and Initiative of two will be their downfall, meaning that other back-field holders - such as sniper-armed Kroot, perhaps - are needed to keep them out of combat. Though being forced to snap fire is painful, it is a far better fate than to have to engage in unwanted melee; don't hesitate to reposition your Broadside teams if they are in danger from such enemies.

As far as weaponry goes, Broadsides are obviously intended for long range engagements, unlike most variations of Crisis suits and Stealth suits; with guns that can reach across a standard sized board, they are intended for devastating heavy Infantry, monstrous creatures and vehicles alike through the sheer strength of their weapons. The standard armament for a Broadside is a twin-linked heavy rail rifle and a twin-linked smart missile system; though the heavy rail rifle is pretty good for taking on anything that isn't armour 13 or higher, particularly when one considers its AP1, the smart missiles are intended mostly for doing some wounds or light damage to Infantry or light vehicles. This diversifies its role, but it can be an annoyance - the great range of both weapons works in your favour, though. Though the heavy rail rifle is certainly a strong weapon, I feel that it is outperformed by the twin-linked high yield missile pods; though the missiles lack a point of Strength and much worse AP compared to the heavy rail rifle, they have four shots as opposed to one which, considering the mediocre Ballistic Skill of Broadsides, makes a big difference to their damage output against most enemies - particularly once twin-linking is taken into account. Four shots at Strength seven and AP four re-rolling to hit is far more likely to do significant damage to both vehicles and monstrous creatures than a single shot at Strength eight and AP one re-rolling to hit, almost guaranteed, particularly in an edition based around hull points. The high yield missile pods lack in range compared to the heavy rail rifle, but it is insignificant enough on most game boards that their stronger weight of fire cancels this issue out. The smart missile systems can also be swapped out for a twin-linked plasma rifle for a minimal cost, but I feel this is unnecessary; whilst the good AP and higher Strength are certainly helpful, again, having three (two at rapid fire) more shots that also ignore cover saves will prove more effective against most targets, particularly when considers the smart missiles also have a superior range. My favoured configuration for Broadsides revolves around high yield missile pods and smart missiles; appropriately named the "missileside" by many, this build fires a whopping four Strength seven AP four twin-linked shots, and four Strength five AP five twin-linked shots - the latter of which ignore cover - all at a hefty range of thirty-six inches, all for less than seventy tacos. Given that Broadsides have two wounds each with a +2 armour save and Toughness four, almost any other army in the game will bow at their feet in terms of sheer cost-effectiveness for dealing with all manner of targets - the only real unit such a Broadside team can't deal with is AV 14 vehicles, but such enemies are becoming rarer with each passing edition. Combined with the (expensive) Skyfire upgrade, a team of three Broadsides configured with the missile weapons will prove to be one of the most devastating, cost-effective and tough anti-air - and indeed, anti-ground - units in the game.
You see my gun? I know you do.

As far as other unit upgrades are concerned, Broadsides can take the Bonding Knife ritual much like other Tau Infantry and Jet Pack units; much like Crisis Teams though, this is an unnecessary upgrade given that they can never be reduced below 25% of their starting total and thus do not require heroic morale. With a team limit of three, one does need to be careful of fleeing though; their mediocre Leadership does not lend itself well to having to take a morale check every time a team member dies - save the last, of course - and as such, the Shas'vre option is an excellent purchase here. Any member can also add a Seeker Missile to their armament, but I would forgo these personally; they are cheap, but ineffective without the use of Markerlights - and such tokens are usually better spent elsewhere. Besides, the Broadsides don't really need them; they have enough firepower as it is! Drones are a great option for Broadside battlesuits; shield drones are great for soaking up instant-death causing wounds that ignore +2 armour saves, though I feel gun drones and marker drones are better reserved for other units with a purpose separate to long range fire support. Unlike other units though, Broadside teams may take up to two missile drones per member in the team; this adds some excellent and cheap firepower to the unit that is boosted heavily by the inclusion of a Drone Controller, whether through an attached Commander or one of the team members. In regards to support systems, Broadsides can only take one, limiting their choices and role; you can't take both Interceptor and Skyfire, for example. Either of those upgrades are incredibly worthwhile - particularly Skyfire - though it must be said that a team of "missilesides" does just fine against most fliers even without using their own Ballistic Skill to fire at them. Feel No Pain and Shield Generators are handy here, though they are expensive and situational; against Necrons, for instance, Feel No Pain is far more valuable as they typically lack armour ignoring weapons. Against Space Marines, however, you will learn to value the Shield Generator - or Shield Drones, more likely - far more, owing to their incredible array of armour-ignoring and even instant death causing weapons. They are all worthwhile in different environments, and thus I feel you should do yourself a favour and experiment with them in varying circumstances - and the same goes for the weapon systems - as Broadsides are quite a versatile unit that excel at providing effective anti-tank firepower to a Tau force.

Hammerhead Gunship - Designed primarily for mobile anti-tank at an incredibly long range, the Hammerhead is a tough skimmer that doesn't lack for all out firepower; with a main gun that can rip Land Raiders to shreds from across the game table reliably, it is rightly feared as one of the deadliest vehicular slaughterers in the game. As both a tank and a skimmer, it can ram or tank shock enemy units - though doing so probably isn't advised unless its main weapon has been destroyed. The main benefit of the latter classification is the +5 cover save for moving, owing to the Jink special rule, which increases to +4 if the Hammerhead moves flat out - though range and line of sight usually won't be an issue, forgoing your shooting for one turn to get into a better position or survive a potential onslaught is very much worthwhile. With a front armour of thirteen, side twelve and rear ten, the Hammerhead is quite hardy compared to most other skimmers, especially when it has a +5 cover save simply for moving; taking Disruption Pods is a great choice here, increasing any cover save it has by one, for a +4 cover save when moving normally or +3 when moving flat out. This is a very strong upgrade for an already tough vehicle that can make it relentlessly difficult to put down, but surviving your opponents' counter strike will often be the least of their worries; what it actually fires is far more frightening. Unlike the Devilfish, the Hammerhead has a Ballistic Skill of four, meaning its weapons are a good deal more reliable; unlike the Devilfish, it sacrifices transport capacity to facilitate a very powerful primary weapon system. The upgrades it can take are all useful, though perhaps less so than for a Devilfish; for example, that which allows it to Overwatch probably won't see much use given the restriction on Strength five guns, though it is handy nonetheless. A pair of Seeker Missiles are available, though much like Hunter Killer missiles for Loyalists, I would only recommend these if you have the points spare, even with Markerlight support; they hit hard, but not enough to justify their one-use-only - and thus unreliable - nature. The secondary weapon system of the Hammerhead can be taken in three flavours, all of which are free; a pair of gun drones which can be disengaged and used for light redirection and fire support, a twin-linked burst cannon that has better firepower but less tactical application, and a twin-linked smart missile system. The last one is easily the strongest choice, owing to the far superior range, the high Strength shots that Ignore Cover - compared to a burst cannon, there is literally no reason for the smart missile system to be a free upgrade here. Take it, always.

Now, for what you really want to hear. The Hammerhead has access to two primary weapon systems, and choosing between either of them is quite difficult. The stock weapon is the much vaunted - and now far rarer - Railgun, firing a Strength ten AP one shot at a ridiculous range of seventy two inches. This has two clearly defined roles to fill; one, it will obliterate almost any tank it hits, and two, any single model with a Toughness of five or lower without Eternal Warrior will die so hard, they will....die to death. The mere sight of Railguns is known to cause a break out of hives amongst opponents - mind the exaggeration - and justifiably so. Of course, it isn't without downsides; cover and invulnerable saves, as rare as the latter is for vehicles, can nullify any shot; that it is a single shot that doesn't re-roll to hit and can't Skyfire limits its uses and reliability. However, in an army that features the godsend that are Markerlights, this isn't so much of an issue; boost their Ballistic Skill, grant it Ignores Cover, and go to town against any enemy - even fliers and those pesky flying monstrous creatures! The latter will hate you. What is also important to note here is that for a minimal cost, you can purchase an additional type of ammunition for the railgun - submunitions - that allow it to fire a powerful Strength six AP four large blast that seriously improves its viability against blocks of Infantry. Given that many players in 6th Edition are abandoning vehicles, this is invaluable when such units are not available to receive the esteemed attention of the standard Railgun - blast those blobs! With a good scatter - Markerlights help here - you can force a lot of wounds on almost any Infantry unit, with a good result against Space Marines or Eldar alike.

Such a misleading name....
The other weapon option - a free exchange - is the Ion Cannon, that fires a very handy three shots at Strength seven, AP three with a slightly reduced range compared to the Railgun. Whilst more effective against standard Infantry in this configuration, it obviously suffers quite a bit against vehicles; it doesn't have the Strength, AP or even the number of shots to really outweigh the effectiveness of the Railgun, but it should do just fine against light vehicles. The real value of the Ion Cannon comes from over-charging it; like any Ion weapon, it can be 'over-charged' and, after passing a Gets Hot roll, fires a whopping Strength eight AP three large blast weapon that obliterates any Infantry unit lacking a +2 armour save with impunity. Unlike other such weapons - including the popular Battle Cannon - this has the benefit of being able to ignore cover saves with the help of some friendly Markerlight tokens, denying such such enemies their only defence against the weapon and thus leading to ten-strong Space Marine squads being reduced to ash and blood splatters. The choice of which weapon you pick should really depend on what you need more in your army list; the Hammerhead's Railgun is now the only long range weapon capable of penetrating AV 14 available to the Tau, and is invaluable for that very reason. The Ion Cannon is perhaps a better multi-purpose weapon and, in conjunction with Markerlights, is incredibly more effective against power-armoured Infantry-centric army lists which are in abundance nowadays. I think that trying both out is a good idea to work out what your army list benefits more from - you really can't go wrong with either.

Perhaps the most interesting option of all for a Hammerhead is Commander Longstrike; though quite a deal more expensive than any other upgrade available to the gunship, its worth is beyond reprimand. Longstrike is a once-per-army upgrade whom provides a host of benefits to his Hammerhead. Increasing its Ballistic Skill to five increases the reliability of its weapons by a significant margin, which is particularly handy for the Railgun given that it only fires a single shot, reducing the need for Markerlights. Providing both Tank Hunter and Night Vision to his vehicle means that enemy units can't benefit from cover saves at range early or late into the game, whilst re-rolling failed armour penetration rolls against enemy vehicles; the latter, when paired with a Strength ten AP one weapon with a table-reaching range, is ludicrous. Does popping a Land Raider every other turn sound nice to you? Yeah, tell your opponent to stop their whinging. Handily, Longstrike also allows the Hammerhead to fire Overwatch without the restriction on Strength five or lower weaponry, whilst also gaining the Supporting Fire special rule to Overwatch targets that charge friendly Tau units; laughably, though it can't be expected to do too much each turn, Longstrike can Overwatch multiple times each phase. I can only imagine the ire drawn from a Chaos Space Marine player when their Helbrute charging a Fire Warrior unit is obliterated by Longstrike, and then their prized, expensive Daemon Prince is vaporised when he Overwatches it further - or the other way around, whatever you think is more laughable. It will probably never happen, but that it can - particularly given potential Markerlights fired during Supporting Fire - is awesome. Against Imperial Guard, Longstrike also has Preferred Enemy; as if re-rolling armour penetration rolls against their vehicles wasn't enough, allowing his railgun to re-roll to hit or wound rolls of a one really maximises his damage potential. All in all, he is a great upgrade for any Hammerhead - a unit which is itself a very handy addition to an army.

Skyray Missile Defence Gunship - Much like the Hammerhead, the Skyray mounts some nasty weaponry upon a pretty heavily armoured chassis which is all the more valuable when one considers it is a skimmer. Simply by moving, the Skyray gains a very handy +5 cover save because of the Jink rule, increasing to +4 if it opts to move flat out instead of firing in the shooting phase; given that a Skyray really needs to be positioned well to make the most of its initial salvo against fliers without being destroyed by said unit upon their arrival, this is pretty important to remember. Disruption Pods, while not cheap, are very useful for giving +1 to any cover save the Skyray has; +3 cover when moving flat out, or +4 for moving at all on an AV 13 12 10 vehicle with three hull points is highly useful. The Skyray has access to a wide number of upgrades, all of which have good use; the aforementioned Disruption Pods, the Advanced Targeting Systems - owing to the high Strength of the Skyrays' titular weapons - and the Point Defence Targeting Relay to allow the Skyray to Overwatch and defend itself with reasonable success after it has loosed its main payload. It doesn't need any upgrades, but if you are willing to invest more points into the Skyray to suit a certain strategy or tactic, by all means, go ahead. Now, much like the Hammerhead, the Skyray comes stock with a pair of gun drones that, for free, can be exchanged for a twin-linked burst cannon or a twin-linked smart missile system; the high Strength, shots and ignores cover special rule of the smart missiles make it the obvious choice over the burst cannon. However, the gun drones do have their uses; detaching provides a variety of tactical opportunities, from minor redirection, assault line blocking, and providing minor firepower against exposed elements of enemy armour. The Sky Ray also handily comes with a pair Networked Markerlights which - given the Skyray can fire at zooming fliers and swooping flying monstrous creatures without penalty - allows it to mark targets quite reliably, especially given it is Ballistic Skill four, whether for its own weaponry or those of others. This can be used in conjunction with its main salvo of weapons to ignore the cover saves of enemy fliers, denying them the Evade special rule and forcing them to endure the damage that comes. This gives the Skyray a good deal of versatility even after it has exhausted its primary weapons.

XV88's got jealous and stole its missiles.
As you might have guessed by its name, the Skyray has two key functions; the first being that it has the Skyfire special rule, and the second being that it has six seeker missiles. When combining the two with its networked markerlights and (probable) smart missile system, the Skyray is a pretty effective anti-air unit that is also quite effective against ground vehicles and heavy Infantry that don't sport a +2 armour save. Monstrous creatures are also a prime target; between using its own - and friendly - Markerlights to boost its Ballistic Skill and provide ignores cover to its shots, even a six wound monstrous creature such as a Trygon or Tervigon will be feeling the heat. The Skyray's Seeker Missiles can be expended via Markerlight tokens and fired at enemies from across the board without line of sight required; this can be useful while keeping a Skyray in the backfield, providing a nasty anti-tank shot against a threatening vehicle to, for example, a flanking unit of Vespid or Kroot. Whilst unloading its entire salvo on a flier - with the support of Markerlights - in one shooting phase may be a good way to attempt to guarantee "it makes its points back" - or, more accurately, traps its mark - saving them for later may be wise, given the circumstances. It must also be noted that moving even a mere inch forces the Skyray to snap-fire all but one of its weapons, meaning moving and shooting with it isn't a great exercsie unless you are willing to expend multiple Markerlight tokens with the support of other units. This makes effectively dealing with fliers - particularly ones that can actually threaten the Skyray - a bit more difficult than you would hope, but the Skyray is nonetheless a cheap and effective vehicle that, with its Networked Markerlights and secondary weapon systems, is a useful cog in a Tau army well after it has fired its six Seeker Missiles.

Sniper Drone Team - Owing to their name, their role is obvious; snipers are best used to put wounds on high Toughness units - owing to their fixed to wound roll - and attempt to single out enemy characters and special weapon-carriers from enemy units, neutering them. A Space Marine Tactical Squad is far less threatening if it loses both its plasma gunner and bearer of a plasma cannon, no? Especially when a Riptide or Iridum Armoured Crisis Commander is advancing in to their threat range. That all sniper weapons wound on a fixed dice roll means they are far more effective against monstrous creatures than your average Troops - though this isn't as important as in other codices, given the strong basic weaponry of Fire Warriors - and, with Rending shots, can be quite effective against any kind of unit with a Toughness value, and even light vehicles with some degree of efficiency. Sniper Drone Teams are quite cheap and very strong as far as most sniper units are concerned; each spotter has a Ballistic Skill of five and a Drone Controller, meaning the sniper drones themselves - who have a huge range of forty eight inches that, with rapid fire, means they can fire two shots at half range. This makes them a deadly sniper unit at almost any range, what with their high rate of fire and being able to shoot on the move with unerring accuracy. Handily, the Spotters also have Markerlights; this means that whilst peppering a particular unit with sniper rounds - removing a few important models in the unit - you can provide reliable Markerlight tokens to other units so as to further devastate the unit you just neutered with the sniper drones. Handy! Between +4 armour saves, a majority Toughness of four and the Stealth special rule, Sniper Drones are quite durable too; stick them in cover and they should do just fine, particularly given their range is quite superior to most enemy units that your opponent would want to target them with anyway. Given how cheap they are, if your opponent targets them with a unit of significance, you shouldn't feel too bad about it; after all, they are very cheap and are, essentially, basic Infantry. Tau have far more valuable targets for enemy units, and as such you shouldn't worry too much if the Sniper Drone Team is the subject of enemy firepower.

The unit composition of the Sniper Drone Team is actually the only consideration when using them; the base squad begins with one spotter and three sniper drones, and you can add up to two more spotters and six more sniper drones. Now, whilst a small team might be alluring, I feel they don't provide enough firepower to justify taking up a very valuable Heavy Support slot - for roughly double the cost, a team of deadly Broadsides could be had. I feel adding an extra two or three sniper drones and one or two spotters is perfectly appropriate, but taking a complete squad is hardly a major investment in a standard sized game; the sheer number of sniper shots that hit with a Ballistic Skill of five available here is simply invaluable, especially considering they also double as Markerlight providers. The spotters also have pulse pistols that share the same high Strength as the long ranged weapons carried by Fire Warriors and Pathfinders, giving them a decent short-range defence against enemy assaults. That the sniper drones carry rapid fire sniper rifles and not heavy ones means the unit can move away from encroaching enemy units and continue to rapid fire into them at twenty four inches, staying completely out of range of some units and only receiving minimal fire from others. All up, Sniper Drone Teams are one of the best sniper units that can be found in any codex, and they make a good addition to a Tau army; it must be noted though that the Heavy Support section is a hotly contested slot because of the effectiveness of anti-tank and anti-air units available here. In that sense, I probably wouldn't take more than one Sniper Drone Team in a competitive Tau unit, not because of any deficiency with the unit itself, but because Broadsides, Hammerheads and - to a lesser extent - Skyrays are pivotal cogs to a Tau army. 

Example Builds - Here are some handy builds to use for the units found in the Heavy Support section.

Broadsides (2) w/ high yield missile pods, smart missile systems, velocity trackers - 170
Broadsides (3) w/ high yield missile pods, smart missile systems - 195
Broadsides (2) w/ heavy rail rifles, plasma rifles - 140

Hammerhead w/ railgun, smart missile systems, disruption pods, longstrike - 185
Hammerhead w/ ion cannon, smart missile systems, disruption pods - 140

Sniper Drone Team w/ three spotters, nine sniper drones - 174

1 comment:

  1. Sniper drones are awesome, especially combined with an ethereal. I let you imagine the face of my friend who plays Tyranids when his deep striking trygon received one salvo of 27 sniper rounds and died :)
    For the broadsides, I take two with rail rifles and skyfire and one with the missiles and a target lock. While the two first take down the flying monstruous creatures and the vehicules, the other one massacres the infantry and light vehicules.
    I also think that the heavy support choices are good in any configuration, even if some can be more effective in particular situations.
    For the greater good! :)