10 Mar 2016

Codex Tau - Update Analysis

Greetings all and welcome to the first part of my new Tau Codex Tactica series, kicking off with a look at all the changes made to the 6th Edition codex that birthed the current iteration. I hope you enjoy this article!


Before we begin, I must point out that the entirety of my 7th Edition Tau Codex Tactica series will be purely focused only on the aspects of the codex that were updated or are wholly new. I don't believe that reviewing units that have received no changes whatsoever between editions is worth wasting precious time on given how significantly large my backlog already is, especially as almost everything I already wrote before in the 6th Edition Tau Codex Tactica series is still accurate and valid to this day. I will cover any direct changes made to all segments of the codex in this article as well as the "minor" additions such as the Guardian Drone and then move on to individual unit reviews for all of the recently released units that have served to evolve the Tau Empires' capabilities on the battlefield.

Updated Units 

Commander - I'm sure most Tau players would be pleased that this particular unit didn't change as it remains a highly efficient killer, wound tank and army buffer with so many avenues to build the character with wargear. In that sense we should probably appreciate the addition of yet another equipment choice in the form of the XV86 Coldstar Battlesuit which unlocks the potential to use the Commander as a Flying Monstrous Creature, though it ranks as one of the less efficient options available to him or her and is thus relegated to an interesting albeit rather weak addition. 

Ethereal - Giving the Ethereal some additional wargear options in the form of the Hover Drone and Recon Armor is kind of nice but ultimately you probably won't get all that much use out of either of them. This is because they are mostly just token upgrades for a model that should never see combat or really move around the battlefield that much, so just skipping them or relegating them to the "left-over points" zone is ideal. 

Darkstrider - I will be very brief with this one as it relates more to a new unit than Darkstrider himself; whereas he was restricted to joining only Fire Warriors and Pathfinders before, the split of the former unit into two distinct entities mandated a change here. In any case, Darkstrider can now be attached to Strike Teams, Pathfinders and Breacher Teams. 

Strike Team - The new acquisitions of the MV36 Guardian Drone and the Tactical Support Turret to the repertoire of Strike Teams (formerly known as our beloved Fire Warriors) is very welcome indeed with very much the opposite reception to the aforementioned XV86 Coldstar Battlesuit. The Guardian Drone adds a nice defensive bonus to a Strike Team unit; on the flip side, the Tactical Support Turret is a cheap way to improve the firepower of a Fire Warrior unit. Both are useful in their own right and very much justify purchasing the newer Fire Warrior kits in my opinion. 

XV8 Crisis Battlesuits - While they could have used a bit of a price drop and perhaps a permanent move to the Troops slot to try and diversify the builds available to standard Tau army lists, the rules designers opted instead to greatly increase the maximum unit size of Crisis Suits from three up to a whopping nine. This has multiple effects, the most obvious of which is that it allows you to really pack in the firepower to those valuable Elites slots without being forced to go Unbound or take additional detachments. Where its impact is perhaps felt the most prominently is how it can combine with Commander Farsight; instead of having to use Crisis Bodyguards to make up his nine-strong squad, being able to take regular Crisis Suits instead massively decreases the cost of the aptly named "Farsight Bomb" in any configuration. Additionally, the changes to both Airbursting Fragmentation Projectors and Cyclic Ion Blasters allow you to outfit dual-configurations for those units, adding yet more options to what is already perhaps the single most versatile unit in Warhammer 40,000. 

XV8 Crisis Bodyguards - On top of always having a nine-strong maximum unit size just like generic Crisis Battlesuits rather than only with Farsight as was the case previously - not to mention the now non-unique Airbursting Fragmentation Projectors and Cyclic Ion Blasters - what really stands-out for this unit is that they are a full Elites slot rather than a HQ-dependent choice that didn't eat up a slot on the Force Organization Chart. I consider this a nerf to their usage as there's little real reason to take them over the cheaper Crisis Battlesuits now that they contest them for an Elites slot rather than giving you the ability to fill your Elites slot with alternative choices to the latter unit and still get your XV8 love in the HQ section. 

XV104 Riptide Battlesuits - In quite the opposite scenario to Tau players wishing their Crisis suits got some points decreases, pretty much the entire non-Tau Warhammer 40,000 community was hoping for some major reworking of this incredibly powerful unit. We instead got a new way to play the Riptide; you can now field them in squads of up to three models and, provided they number three models exactly, they gain a +1 bonus to their Ballistic Skill values for as long as the squad remains at full strength. Fielding Riptides as a squad is best used either to capitalize on that Ballistic Skill increase via the Fire Team special rule, or to free up an Elites slot; if you are putting them in a single unit for any other reason then you will probably be making a mistake. The reason for this as that making them one target may allow for some wound allocation shenanigans but it ultimately just allows a player to focus them down together rather than potentially overkill a single target, reduces the total amount of units that can use to grab objectives and push up on different flanks while forcing them to purchase one or more Target Locks to split their shots between enemies. Lastly, they become even more dangerously vulnerable to assaults and crucially lack the Fearless special rule; losing one Riptide to a Sweeping Advance is bad enough, but two or three being caught simultaneously can be game-losing. 

TX7 Hammerhead Gunships - Like the Riptide, there are only two direct changes to the Hammerhead; you can now field them in squadrons and thus follow the trend set by other recent 7th Edition codices, while the Fire Team special rule provides all of them with Ballistic Skill 5 if a squadron numbers exactly three models. This is a pretty sizable buff to Hammerheads as it means you don't need to spend too many slots on them when Broadsides and Skyrays can guzzle them as well, while Ballistic Skill 5 Railguns or Ion Cannons are nothing to be sneezed at for both tank and non-vehicle hunting. However, much like with Riptides, putting all of your Hammerheads into a single unit does come with some potentially severe drawbacks; they become a single congested target rather than multiple spread out models, meaning assault and high Strength blast weaponry can instantly neuter them. However, the ability to separate a squadron based on results on the Vehicle Damage Chart does provide them with a bit more leeway than the Riptides in this regard, especially as vehicles are entirely immune to running away. 

TX78 Skyray Gunships - If you've been reading the analysis' for the previous two units, you'll probably understand what's up with the Skyray update; squadron availability and all the assorted disadvantages that go with it with the useful Fire Team special rule to try and balance that particular problem. I would say that Skyrays benefit more from this than the Hammerheads given that all three of them can share each others' Networked Markerlights, the Markerlights themselves become far more reliable and those Seeker Missiles are so much more precise if you fire them as a salvo without the specific Seeker ability offered by expending those highly valuable Markerlight tokens. 

Updated Wargear 

Airbursting Fragmentation Projector - The removal of the one-per-army restriction on this weapon is an utter godsend given that it is functionally the best anti-infantry weapon available to Crisis Battlesuits, having a larger potential spread than a Flamer and over double the effective range in addition to the oh-so useful Barrage special rule. A three-strong Crisis Team armed with dual Airbursting Fragmentation Projectors might be quite a bit more expensive than a dual-flamer variation but they are utter murder to any low or medium Toughness units with average to poor armor saves.

Cyclic Ion Blasters - As above, the same is very much true in the case of Cyclic Ion Blasters; being unique did them a disservice as they could only be mixed with other usually entirely distinct weapons with little actual synergy. Now, they serve as an alternative to Missile Pods; they have half the total range but add an extra shot plus an optional firing mode that spits out a potent Strength 8 AP4 Blast that, while risky with the Gets Hot rule, is nonetheless very handy when facing Toughness 4 models with multiple wounds such as Tyranid Warriors. If your Crisis Teams tend to operate at close quarters or Deep Strike, the Cyclic Ion Blasters are a natural upgrade to the Missile Pods, though if you use the unit in a safer long range bombardment role then you will obviously get more mileage out of the latter choice. 

Markerlight - Featuring some expanded capabilities is the theme of anything that got an update in the Tau codex, and this is no less true of Markerlights; they can now be used to improve the all new Stormsurges' Destroyer Missiles by expending a token per missile in a similar fashion to Seeker Missiles. While it doesn't improve the accuracy of a Destroyer Missile or indeed offer any of the benefits that it does for Seeker Missiles, it instead upgrades the base profile of the weapon from a "mere" Strength 8 AP1 to Strength Destroyer AP1 - quite the improvement and undoubtedly the best use of those special guns.

XV86 Coldstar Battlesuit - The prospect of having a Tau Commander change his Unit Type from Jetpack Infantry to Flying Monstrous Creature is no doubt a tantalizing one but ultimately the Coldstar Battlesuit is just a bit too limiting and expensive to really be worth it in competitive match-ups. Firstly, the Coldstar comes with preset weapon choices that cannot be modified - a potent six-shot Strengh 5 AP5 gun with an 18" range in the form of the High Output Burst Cannon and a Missile Pod - and lend themselves well to flyer or light vehicle hunting but little else. As his Unit Type changes, the Commander loses the ability to make Jetpack movements in the Assault phase which leads to whatever Battlesuit unit he joins being massively hamstrung with regards to positioning and return fire, though the fact that he can still join units as an Independent Character is nice enough. The fact that the Coldstar lacks a lot of special rules that other Flying Monstrous Creatures possess in the form of Fear, Smash and Vector Strike makes sense from a narrative perspective but just reeks of arbitrary limitations, even if realistically a Coldstar Commander would rarely make use of those abilities. The real kicker here is that the bearer of this specialized battlesuit is incapable of taking any other wargear choices (not the "instead" in the wording) and this leaves him or her with the same paltry Toughness 4, 3+ armor save and 4 Wounds for defence. This might not seem so bad given that most units will be forced to Snap Shot at the Coldstar but consider that any single stray Strength 8 or higher shot will inflict Instant Death on the overly expensive model and you will quickly see why it has proven unpopular with competitive Tau players. While Jink offers a possible escape from those attacks, one last issue rears its ugly head; failed grounding tests will inflict an automatic Strength 9 hit on the Coldstar that ignores its armor save, likely killing it immediately. With all of that in mind, the Coldstar is fragile, not all that damaging and in a competitive game should only be used to bring anti-air capabilities to an army list if you are lacking in that department and don't want to use the actual Tau flyers. 

Minor Additions

DS8 Tactical Support Turret - Easily the most complex entry I have to cover in this mini-review, the DS8 Tactical Support Turret is an absolutely amazing choice to tack on to your Fire Warrior teams of either the Strike or Breacher variety. It doesn't actually operate in the usual sense as an individual model as it can never be harmed for any reason and does not really operate with its parent squad; instead, provided the users did not move (including arriving from Reserves), it can be deployed in a given Movement phase and operate from then on until the unit elects to move in any way. It functions as an untouchable gun platform equipped with either a Missile Pod or Smart Missile System, firing off two Strength 7 AP4 shots or four Strength 5 AP5 Ignores Cover shots that do not require line of sight respectively. With Ballistic Skill 3 it is just as accurate as your average Tau model in spite of what a Drone would normally operate at, while it can be fired in the Shooting Phase or in Overwatch - the one restriction here is that it still must fire at the same target as the owning unit. The reason behind the Turret being so darned good is that it not only costs roughly the same as Fire Warrior and offers better firepower than any individual Striker or Breacher, the fact that it cannot be harmed for any reason allows you to play some nasty tricks with it. You can theoretically place the owners in a ruin that blocks line of sight to the enemy and thus the Fire Warriors themselves so that they can safely hold an objective, but then deploy the Turret on the other side of the ruin provided it stays in the 2" unit coherency limit and then use it to freely fire shots at enemies. There is absolutely no counter-play available to an opponent other than getting behind the ruin and firing at the Fire Warriors themselves and as such this incredibly cheap upgrade that is not locked behind a Shas'ui allows your Troops choices to safely secure objectives and still provide some presence in the Shooting phase, something that simply wasn't possible before. Keep in mind that it does get "removed" whenever the controlling unit moves for any reason or an enemy model comes to within 2" of it, but as it is never destroyed it can simply be redeployed in a later turn at your discretion. 

MV36 Guardian Drone - Though not quite as popular a new choice as the Tactical Support Turret, this item is still worthy of your attention given the potentially unit-saving defence it provides. Available only to your Strike Teams and Breacher Teams, the Guardian Drone cheaply confers a 6+ invulnerable save to your basic infantry that are so often mopped up by AP4 Ignores Cover or heavy weaponry and comes at little cost if you already like to take Shas'ui squad leaders in your units. If it saves one or two members from otherwise assured destruction it will have cheaply paid for itself, especially if you let it and the rest of a squad die before a Shas'ui that can then make the most of his or her higher Leadership value to try and secure a victory point or two for your side. Of note is that Breacher Teams in particular gain a 5+ invulnerable save instead of a 6+ due to the combination of their Field Amplifier Relays and the Guardian Drone's energy shield, essentially turning them into armored Daemons that are fairly resistant against most forms of attack with respect to their super low points cost. 

Hover Drone - Available exclusively to members of the Ethereal Caste, Hover Drones cheaply remove any movement penalties for moving or charging through difficult terrain, allow the user to ignore potentially nasty Dangerous Terrain tests (Ethereals only have two wounds) while also being able to jump over intervening models or obstacles in much the same way as a proper Jump or Jetpack unit. This is a nice and cheap little upgrade that functionally will probably do very little in most matches. 

Recon Armor - Though this technically isn't new as it was the domain of Pathfinders before, 7th Edition codices have opted to remove the codex entries for individual armor sets unless they have their own additional rules aside from the armor save given that you can just look at a units' profile to find that information anyway. This is now an upgrade available to Ethereals and gives them a token save against enemy attacks that are AP6 or have no AP5 value; ultimately, a 5+ armor save isn't going to do much and its cost reflects that. 

Thank you all for reading this short article, I hope you enjoyed it! The changes to existing Tau units and wargear were decidedly minor, much to my and many other players' chagrin for varying reasons, but what few minor alterations we did receive are still appreciated for offering more options to an army that is still ultimately built solely around the Shooting phase and no other aspect of the game. I would love to read your opinions on the items discussed above and your general impressions of the Tau codex. Thanks again! 


  1. Thanks for the overview - I notice you didn't mention the guardian's improved 5+ save to Breacher squads though (thanks to the field amplifier relay).

    Looking forward to seeing what you have to say on some of the new units!

    1. I thought I might mention that only in the forthcoming Breacher review, but I think it would make sense to mention it here as well now. I'll edit it in now, thanks!