20 Apr 2013

Tau Tactica - Fast Attack

Hey there everyone, I'm Learn2Eel, and I am here to talk about the new Tau! This time, I want to discuss the much expanded Fast Attack section of the codex; with a handful of entirely new units and some significant changes to previous ones, this part of the book is still very much the preferred avenue for Markerlights owing to the sheer quantity and cost of the units fielding them.

Our Fast Attack slot has notably been the source of Markerlight and light fire support with little durability for many editions running, and little has changed; if you want to "light up" targets and provide bonuses to other firing units, this is the place to go to first. These units perform such roles better than ever, but new potential upgrades and weapon options mean that such teams can be used in an altogether different capacity, that of providing heavy firepower for a minimal cost in a similar way to Devastators and Havocs from Space Marines codices. With the addition of two distinct fliers and some needed re-balances to existing units, the Fast Attack section is stronger than ever and deserves to be filled up to provide your army with the much needed Markerlights to function effectively; that, and more firepower never hurts in a Tau army!

Pathfinders - Essentially Fire Warriors with a bit less of a focus on simple massed firepower, Pathfinders fulfill a different and equally pivotal role in a Tau army; that of providing Markerlight support to the rest of your forces, and doing so cheaply. Compared to a Fire Warrior, a Pathfinder has a worse armour save - making them bolter fodder and quite easy to kill when outside of cover - and they are restricted to Pulse Carbines rather than having an option for Pulse Rifles as well; however, each Pathfinder comes equipped with a very handy Markerlight, and the unit has the Scout special rule to give them a free, minor redeployment before the game begins. Their firepower is designed around medium ranged conflicts, though their important Markerlights have twice the range of the Pulse Carbines and provide hefty bonuses to the army; in that sense, they are quite versatile and can work pretty well either as mobile firing units mounted in the ever handy Devilfishes, or sit back and prove those tasty Markerlight hits. The units role can be diversified further by adding in up to three of the special weapon options - with a choice between Ion Rifles and Rail Rifles - and given that all three can be taken even in a minimum squad of five Pathfinders, this means that the unit can effectively be used in a similar vein to Devastators; providing some cheap, heavy firepower multiplied further than in other units of their type. As far as standard Tau Infantry go, Pathfinders can put out a lot of heavy firepower when given these weapons; the Ion Rifles provide decent anti-tank and anti-monstrous creature firepower, and can be over-charged - with the added risk of Gets Hot - to fire high Strength small blasts at enemy Infantry and multiple-wound squads. The less versatile and more costly Rail Rifle serves as a highly effective anti-Terminator weapon, that doubles well against most light Infantry and even lightly armoured vehicles or monstrous creatures. Both weapons have a long range and are treated as Rapid Fire weapons, meaning they work better in a squad of Pathfinders that aims to get up close with their Pulse Carbines and fire torrents of destruction into nearby enemy forces. Given that taking these options replaces the Markerlight and Pulse Carbine of a Pathfinder, I wouldn't recommend taking these in a Pathfinder squad if you intend firstly to add in more Markerlights to your army; though the extra firepower is cheap and nice, it will often be suited to different targets - especially when one considers the Pulse Carbines - and the Markerlights are far more valuable for the army as a whole, typically.

Pathfinders have a wide range of options to choose from aside from the Rail Rifles and Ion Rifles; chief amongst these are the variety of drones they can select. Though the Shas'ui can take two Marker, Shield or Gun Drones when purchased for the team - Marker and Gun Drones are particularly useful either for more Markerlights or some light firepower - Pathfinders can take three unique drones without the need for a team leader. The Recon Drone is the most expensive by far, but when mounted on a Devilfish, it provides any friendly units arriving from Deep Strike within six inches a complete scatter reduction, and Outflanking units can choose to come on the side a Devilfish is close to. The similarly costed Pulse Accelerator and Grav Inhibitor Drones provide quite divergent, but handy benefits; the former increases the range of Pulse Weapons in the unit by six inches, making the units' Pulse Carbines quite a bit more effective than Pulse Rifles, whilst the latter reduces the charge distance of a selected unit by D3 inches if they charge the Pathfinders. This is all to keep them out of assault, which is simply priceless. Pathfinders also have access EMP Grenades, much like Fire Warriors, and though this upgrade likely won't see use too often given the sheer strength of a typical Tau armies' ranged firepower, it is nonetheless an incredibly powerful tool against vehicles that can save Pathfinders from certain death at the hands of a walker. It becomes more worthwhile on a larger squad where the team members are more likely to survive to get close to such a target; the low Weapon Skill and Initiative of Pathfinders makes charging walkers a great risk at the best of times, but there is no doubt that the capability for destroying Land Raiders with charging Tau Infantry is well worth any price. The Shas'ui and Bonding Knife Ritual upgrades become more worthwhile the larger the squad is, as the more points invested a unit, the more valuable they become to your overall strategy and the more you need to keep them from being swept or fleeing from battle; these points may seem wasted at times, but it is well worth safeguarding against such circumstances. For a minimal cost, you can give a Shas'ui a Blacksun Filter, which I would argue is a very handy boost for how cheap it is given that Night Vision is conferred to a unit if even a single model has it; for one taco, ignoring cover saves provided by Night Fighting likely won't affect Pathfinders too much on the first turn, but it is invaluable on later turns when they will likely be much closer to enemy units. All in all, the main reason you will likely want to take Pathfinders - and should take them, I might add - is the Markerlights; they are simply an amazing tool that no Tau army should leave home without. Pathfinders are one of your two main sources of this, and the stronger choice unless you expend a HQ slot to make their competitor more reliable.

Vespid Stingwings - The Tau certainly aren't lacking when it comes to mobile harassment units - given that much of their combat doctrine is based around such forces - and the Vespid are yet another example of this, with the unusual - for Tau - trait that they are Jump Infantry and not Jetpack Infantry. Between Fleet, Hit and Run and Move Through Cover, they are literally Jump Infantry that ignore all of the usual penalties or restrictions based around being that particular unit type and are thus incredibly fast even compared to their peers; they can move twelve inches in the movement phase and still re-roll their charge distances, they can flee from combat quite reliably owing to their incredibly high Initiative of six, and they ignore dangerous terrain completely. Given that they also have Stealth (Ruins), Vespid are designed to be the ultimate in mobile harassment units in terms of sheer speed, whilst also being quite durable compared to other Tau units; with a Toughness of four, a +4 armour save and above average melee capabilities, they can shoot in and out of cover - or combat - and tank damage quite decently compared to most other Infantry units that don't wear power armour. Of course, being incredibly quick, able to get out of unwanted fights and decently tough would count for nothing if the unit didn't pack a punch, and thankfully, that is definitely the case; each Vespid Stingwing comes with a Neutron Blaster, that being an Assault one Strength five AP three gun with a tasty range of eighteen inches. That it shreds Space Marines is beautiful, especially given Tau typically lack AP three weaponry outside of their Elites and Heavy Support choices; between the sheer speed, mediocre Ballistic Skill and medium range of their guns, Vespid Stingwings are a very handy medium to heavy Infantry hunter in a Fast Attack slot that typically provides firepower geared more to anti tank or generalist anti-infantry.

Pretty much.
Though each model is twice as expensive as a Fire Warrior, they compare quite favourably to units often labeled as 'dedicated Space Marine hunters', such as Thousand Sons; they are far quicker, they should be perceived as less of a threat, they don't pay for gimmicky rules, and they can actually retreat from any battle they can't win quite reliably. The squad size for Vespid ranges between four and ten, and whilst I would probably go with six minimum so the squad isn't too easy to remove and doesn't eat up too many points, a maximum sized unit is not a bad proposition given that they are pretty fairly costed given their abilities. The only real option available to the unit is to take a Strain Leader whom provides a very large boost to the units Leadership; as mobile harassers, this is key to keeping them alive and kicking even when they suffer casualties, and reduces the chances of losing combat so that they can Hit and Run away safely owing to their high Initiative without risk. Given that a ten-strong unit with the leader will cost less than two hundred potatoes, they don't take up too much of a decent sized army list and should prove to be a pretty effective unit, particularly to those that aren't familiar with just how much of an irritating threat they provide. Though I feel our Fast Attack slot is better reserved for adding in as many Markerlights as possible, a unit or two of Vespid provides a strong and mobile fire base that can reave Space Marines and other Infantry alike with relative impunity.

Drone Squadron - Given that these can be optionally purchased in pairs for a multitude of units throughout the codex, having an entire unit of them might seem an odd choice; after all, what can they do that their 'living' equivalents can't? As Jetpack Infantry with a Toughness, Initiative and armour save of four, Drones are quite a bit more mobile and tougher than your average Tau Infantry; they have an average save with a higher than normal Toughness, and the Jetpack move - whether in the movement or assault phase - really helps to keep them firing and stay away from short-ranged or melee-oriented retaliation. On top of being tougher and more mobile without the need for a costly Devilfish, Drones as a unit, or individually, can be tailored to three different roles, based on what Drone you pick; the change between the three available options is, helpfully, free. The first and staple Drone is the Gun Drone; with a twin-linked pulse carbine, it provides some neat, strong and reliable firepower at a range of eighteen inches; owing to their Jetpack move, you can semi-reliably move into range of enemy Infantry carrying bolters and their equivalents and then jump out of range. Such a unit is ideal for light harassment, but it could be argued that Pathfinders in a Devilfish provide a faster, more damaging alternative that also provides handy support weaponry. The second - and likely most popular - Drone is the Marker Drone; sporting a Markerlight, and owing to the below-average Ballistic Skill of all Drones, the Marker Drone is a slightly more expensive Markerlight platform that helps to boost the rest of your forces with every hit managed by a unit. Given their low Ballistic Skill, lack of twin-linking and restriction of one shot per model, Marker Drones will average less hits than the equivalent points in Pathfinders; though they are tougher and more mobile unless a Devilfish is taken by the Pathfinders, the Drones seem to pale in comparison to the Tau Infantry, particularly given Pathfinders also come with Pulse Carbines to actually damage their opponents as well. Shield Drones should never be taken entirely in units, unless you have a specific plan in mind with an attached character; they are there as ablative wounds to protect the more important Gun and Marker Drones, and should be used as such. Of course, most opponents are unlikely to target Drones with AP four or better weaponry given they are such a cheap and obvious distraction unit - unless you are using a large block of Marker Drones - and as such their value is probably reduced here in comparison to units that can take Drones as options, such as Crisis Teams.

Of course, the effectiveness of the Drone Squadron as a whole - whilst decent as a starting point - is dramatically improved by the inclusion of an Independent Character sporting a Drone Controller; a Commander with a Drone Controller is the most viable way of doing this, as (s)he grants the entire Drone unit the use of their high Ballistic Skill of five. The Shield Drones become far more valuable when protecting the already admittedly tough-to-kill Commander, whereas the Marker and Gun Drones become exceedingly reliable sources of anti-Infantry firepower or Markerlight support. The last one is probably the best reason to attach a Commander to a Drone Squadron; this effectively turns what is usually a pale imitation of Pathfinders into a far more effective source of the necessary Markerlights, given that they hit on a two or higher, and are both swifter and more durable to boot. Drones are a pretty handy unit that, whilst decent alone as light harassment or support squadrons, are far better when taken with a Commander armed with a Drone Controller; such a Commander should likely be kept as cheap as possible to both provide some firepower for the unit and make the most of the Marker Drones.

Piranhas - Effectively the Tau equivalent of Imperial Land Speeders, Piranhas are exceedingly fast, highly fragile and have some decent firepower to boot all the while being quite cheap. As a fast skimmer, they can move at cruising speed - twelve inches - and still fire two weapons at full Ballistic Skill; though they only have one weapon that benefits from this, this allows them to move up to a whopping twenty four inches in the shooting phase instead of shooting. This grants them a tasty +4 cover save whilst they are advancing into a better position, and given their fragility, abusing their speed is key to using them effectively. With a front armour of eleven, and ten on the rear and sides, Piranhas are bait to almost every weapon in the game, whether they be dedicated anti-tank guns or no; massed bolter fire can glance them to death if they get to the side or rear arc, and with only two hull points, a Jink save of +5 or +4 won't keep them alive for very long at all. Given that they are also open-topped, there's little that can save them from destruction; keep this in mind, remember their role as harassing units, and realize thus that spending too many points on them likely won't work out too well. Piranhas don't really need upgrades to perform their role effectively, though if you are trying to keep them in the action, Disruption Pods are a useful upgrade, provided the squadron size is minimal - increasing their Jink and Flat Out saves to +4 and +3 respectively should keep them trucking quite a bit longer. Given that their basic weaponry is Strength five, the Point Defence Targeting Relays are a worthwhile purchase, especially if you plan to keep your Pirahnas close to Devilfishes or other mobile elements; the few extra Overwatch shots are always welcome, and cheap too.

How cool is that!
As far as actual firepower goes, Piranhas are definitely designed for anti-Infantry duties, though the above average Strength of their main weapon makes them quite versatile in a pinch; with a burst cannon and two attached Gun Drones, they provide quite a lot of medium-range shooting, and when taken in numbers, can put several wounds on almost any Infantry unit - or even a monstrous creature, depending on their Toughness value. The Burst Cannon can be upgraded to a fusion blaster for a decent price, changing the Piranha's role into a more suicidal tank-destroyer that promptly explodes upon return fire. Their mediocre Ballistic Skill of three makes this tactic even more unreliable than it is for other units of their kind; with only a 50% chance of hitting, and having to rely on Markerlights to make the most of their shots - Markerlights which both propagate in the Fast Attack section and are far better suited elsewhere - isn't ideal. Which weapon you choose should probably depend on what your army needs, though I feel the Piranha is outperformed by both Stealth Suits at mobile anti-Infantry and Crisis Teams at mobile anti-vehicle duties, and given that the Fast Attack slot is one of the few sources for quantifiable Markerlights, I feel Piranhas are more a specialist choice than anything else. Given that the Gun Drones can't be exchanged, taking a fusion blaster likely means one part of the 'unit' won't be shooting at something it can actually do well against at any given point; the tactics around detaching Drones are key here, with the pair of Gun Drones proving very useful for charge denial and blocking. Piranhas can be thought of as a less effective Land Speeder, and with good reason; their role and build is similar, but they are less versatile, arguably more fragile against most shooting, and their firepower is mediocre for the most part. That doesn't make them a bad choice though, but in an army that has lots of other units that perform such harassment roles far more effectively and less riskily, I feel the Piranha, though it has a place, isn't the best option to fill up your Fast Attack slots. It's best attribute is its sheer speed; the only trait where it truly has an edge over those other units, and using Piranhas to their fullest potential requires a deft touch in both the movement and shooting phases. Deployment is key to using them well, as is the choice between moving Flat Out or firing; getting into a good position and being able to adapt on the fly will make or break this unit.

Sun Shark Bomber - As one of two entirely new flyer units to the Tau force, Sun Shark Bombers - at first glance - appear to follow the trend of the Dark Angels flyers as 'balanced', but perhaps slightly over-costed units that definitely don't compare favourably to the new edition's chief of the skies, the Heldrake. But enough of that; the Sun Shark enters the game as one of the stronger bombers that can be found, with its titular weapon one of the more reliable and quantifiable that can be found. Whilst a Strength five AP five large blast might seem a bit weak when one considers much stronger large blast weapons can be found sparsely throughout the codex - with the Riptide and Hammerhead proving particularly effective - the maneuverability and sheer speed of a flyer means that this is perhaps a more reliable weapon, albeit one that effectively has a thirty-six inch range and relies upon turning and the like. Unlike other bombers, the Sun Shark can potentially drop six bombs throughout a match; though it is one use only. a D6 is rolled for each time one is dropped, with any roll but a one generating yet another bomb to use in the next turn. Unless your dice aren't particularly helpful, you should reliably expect to make at least a handful of bombing runs in each game. The Sun Shark also has some decent weaponry to complement its Pulse Bomb(s), with a missile pod - that can and should be twin-linked for a minimal investment - and two seeker missiles available for your perusal; though the firepower is strong, the Sun Shark's Ballistic Skill is predictably mediocre, and thus it works best when combined with Markerlights. It must be said that whilst bombing a unit and then shooting another target entirely is fun and very handy, it wouldn't be all that great if it were unreliable; this is where the Sun Shark's Networked Markerlight is quite useful, as though it suffers from the same issue of Ballistic Skill, it can be used by the Sun Shark to boost its own Ballistic Skill for subsequent shots. Whether it uses Markerlights to boost its Ballistic Skill or fire off a seeker missile at a designated target, the Sun Shark works pretty well when using the tokens either it, or allies, generate. It also comes stock with two unique Interceptor Drones, sporting ion rifles that are identical to those carried by some Pathfinders; firing either two twin-linked Strength seven AP four shots that hits on a five and up, or over-charging them to fire a nasty Strength eight AP four small blast with the added risk of Gets Hot. This extra firepower is very useful for both anti-Infantry and anti-vehicle duties; given that they have Skyfire and Interceptor, they can be used alongside the Sun Shark's missile pod and seeker missiles to provide some very handy anti-flyer firepower that is, surprisingly, quite favourable compared to the dedicated anti-flyer Razorshark. The Drones also have unique special rules that allow them to disembark even as the Bomber is zooming; like any other Drone, they can then be used to block enemies, tarpit minor units and provide some effective and mobile harassment.

Of course, the Sun Shark is not without weaknesses. As far as fliers go, it is quite fragile; with a front armour of eleven, and ten for the rear and side values, the Sun Shark is very susceptible to the majority of anti-flyer weapons, and unlike most, even fears the touch of a flying monstrous creatures' vector strike. Massed fire from high-rate-of-fire heavy weapons or regular Infantry weaponry, such as bolters, can bring the three hull point-Sun Shark down with alarming ease compared to other fliers, and it is in this way that its impressive firepower is balanced out. The Sun Shark will likely crumble to Interceptor fire from a very popular Aegis Defence Line with the quad gun, and though it will likely be able to drop its first bomb off before it is destroyed, the Sun Shark is unlikely to prove its worth in one round of 'shooting'. Thankfully, the Sun Shark has access to some very useful upgrades that help to mitigate such issues; an incredibly cheap option are the Decoy Launchers, providing a +4 invulnerable save against shots inflicted by a weapon with the Interceptor rule. This is handy not only against Aegis Defence Lines, but also against Tau sporting very common Skyfire-enabled Battlesuits, and the cost is so minimal that adding them in is near mandatory. Disruption Pods are handy, but given that zooming Flyers only benefit from the Jink rule when they evade, the Sun Shark's firepower is mostly being sacrificed if the Disruption Pods are ever actually used, and they aren't cheap either. Of course, the main reason to take the Sun Shark is the bomb, and given that it isn't affected by Evade, you can continue to drop them and stay alive that much longer. Still, the Sun Shark likely won't survive if faced by a flyer such as a Heldrake, Vendetta or Night Scythe; given how common these are in the current meta-game, this means the Sun Shark is a risky choice no matter what route you go. However, given that it can drop a Strength five large blast on one Infantry unit, fire up to six Strength seven and two Strength eight shots at an enemy flyer or vehicle, its versatility is superb. As far as pricing goes, I feel that when compared to the Dark Angels' Nephilim and Dark Talon, it is favourably priced, but as always, it pales considerably when compared to flyers such as the Stormtalon, Stormraven, Night Scythe or the infamous Heldrake. A useful unit, but seeing as Tau already bring devastation to both fliers and Infantry elsewhere far more efficiently and with greater durability, the Sun Shark - and indeed the Razorshark - likely won't see too much use competitively. A note here that the Sun Shark Bomber cannot hover, and though this shouldn't be too much of an issue, an intelligent opponent will exploit your limited direction, minimal arc of fire and enforced speed to their advantage and effectively avoid most of the damage a Sun Shark can deal.

Razorshark Strike Fighter - As the kit sibling to the Sun Shark Bomber, the Razorshark is another new flyer introduced to the Tau Empire, serving not as a bomber but instead as a dedicated anti flyer - and by extension, anti-vehicle - unit that is oddly only marginally more effective in an aerial duel than the Sun Shark. When talking specifically about firepower, the Sun Shark averages a similar number of hits to the Razorshark in terms of Strength seven AP four shooting - the trade-off here is that the Razorshark's main gun can be fired in any direction, meaning it can fly past other fliers, deny them any return shots, whilst continuing to pepper them with ion-tinged death on their rear or side armour - invaluable against Heldrakes and the like. The Razorshark carries up to four unique weapons; the Quad Ion Turret that fires four Strength seven AP four shots, a burst cannon that can and should be upgraded to a missile pod, and two seeker missiles. Unlike the Sun Shark, it lacks a Networked Markerlight, which is somewhat disappointing given its weapons aren't twin-linked and thus rely on other units' Markerlights - which often don't have Skyfire - to maximise its damage potential, particularly against flyers, though the issue is lessened against ground vehicles. The Razorshark is definitely far better at dealing with such units, owing to its far superior arc of fire, though the lack of a pulse bomb or any dedicated anti-Infantry weapon means it is definitely a less versatile choice. With its one-use only missiles and weight of firepower, it should do just fine against other flyers, particularly if you use its speed and unlimited arc of sight to fire at their exposed rear armour; that its weapons can fire all around them means that its inability to hover isn't as much of an issue as it is for the Sun Shark, too. The lack of twin-linking does hurt though, meaning its average number of hits is similar to the Sun Shark; that, and a result that forces the Razorshark to snap fire - or Evading - can be a serious deterrent to its usefulness.

Much like the Sun Shark, the Razorshark is quite fragile as far as fliers go; sharing an identical front armour eleven, with side and rear armour ten, most anti-air weaponry will blow the Razorshark out of the sky with little resistance. A Quad Gun, a Heldrake's Meteoric Descent, or even the Vector Strike of a typical flying monstrous creature will likely prove to be enough to rip the Razorshark to shreds, or at least force it to Evade so as to dodge destruction immediately. As noted, being forced to snap fire effectively destroys the damage potential of the Razorshark. This is where Disruption Pods and Decoy Launchers come in very handy, equally so with the Sun Shark - though, again, the lack of twin-linking means Evading is a bit more harmful here - as the boosted saves provided by them can mean the difference between safe-guarding the flyer or losing it before it can fire a single volley. Given how costly and fragile the Razorshark is, you should probably consider these. All in all, much like the Sun Shark, the Nephilim and the Dark Talon before it, the Razorshark is a mediocre flyer that, whilst arguably a stronger choice than its Dark Angels equivalent, is outperformed by other units within the codex; Broadside Battlesuits have emerged as one of the best anti-flyer units that can be found in any codex, and given that a team of two with Skyfire costs similarly to a Razorshark, I feel it is decent, but not as worthwhile as other choices.

Example Builds - The Fast Attack choices are interesting and can be used in a multitude of different roles. Here are a few for you to consider.

Pathfinders (8) w/ three ion rifles, devilfish w/ point defence targeting relay - 208
Pathfinders (8) - 88

Vespid Stingwings (8) w/ strain leader - 154

Drone Squadron w/ ten marker drones - 140
Drone Squadron w/ six gun drones, two shield drones - 112
Drone Squadron w/ seven marker drones, three shield drones - 140

Piranhas (2) w/ fusion blasters - 100
Piranhas (2) w/ point defence targeting relays - 100

Sun Shark Bomber w/ twin-linked missile pod, decoy launchers - 168
Razorshark Strike Fighter w/ missile pod, decoy launchers - 153


  1. You actually can't evade a vector strike because they ignore cover now.

    1. I think I worded the sentence wrong; I'm aware of the FAQ change, but I meant to say that most anti-air weapons would force it to Evade whilst it has little defence against even common flying monstrous creatures. I'll edit it soon, cheers.

  2. Another awesome review, thanks!

  3. Good review, as always.
    Just something : the sunshark's drones are like turrets, so you have a 360 arc and can shoot behind you. I also have a question. Can the missile pod and the markerlight considered as turrets? Because they seem to be able to rotate.

    1. I'm not sure; from memory, one of the criticisms of the Sun Shark's model was that some of its weapons didn't have the same arc of sight. I've seen images of the model that appear to confirm this, but I haven't had a truly close look at one in person so this might be wrong.