So as you may have read in Tuesday's battle reports, my Tau cadre did reasonably well against some less than ideal opposing armies. I didn't get to play anyone who simply rushed headlong at me but rather had to be pretty manoeuvrable to take the fight to them. Here's a quick reminder of my list before I go through the units individually and talk about their pros and cons (this will be wordy!):
1,850pts of Tau Empire
Commander (fusion blaster, plasma rifle, target lock, vectored retro-thrusters, iridium battlesuit)
12 Fire Warriors
12 Fire Warriors
12 Fire Warriors w/ Devilfish (disruption pod)
11 Kroot + 1 Kroot Hound
11 Kroot + 1 Kroot Hound
3 Crisis Shas'la (twin-linked fusion blaster, plasma rifle)
2 Crisis Shas'la (missile pod, twin-linked missile pod), Crisis Shas'vre (2x missile pod, PENchip)
Riptide (fusion, ion, early warning override, velocity tracker)
Sun Shark Bomber (twin-linked missile pod, decoy launchers)
Hammerhead Gunship (Longstrike, submunitions, SMS, sensor spines, disruption pod)
There's no question that Storm of Fire is excellent when something appears at close range. However, if you're playing an army that's quite content at range or else doesn't have much need to come your way then most of that firepower is wasted. The main benefit of the Ethereal in this tournament was the Ld10 which was a lifesaver several times over. Think of the 50pts you spend on an ethereal as a way of saving points on squad leaders.
That being said, taking an Ethereal does somewhat push you into a particular strategy i.e. gunline. Now that doesn't mean your whole army has to be totally static, and indeed my army isn't, but it certainly commits your troops to a more static role. Of course there's the option to deploy as far forward as possible and then falling back whilst trying to maintain that golden 15" range. It's a little more risky but certainly worth thinking about against the right opponent.
Of course the issue with the Ethereal is that you're putting a big chunk of your army strategy in the hands of a guy with T3 and no armour save. Had that mawloc hit the army would've started to fall apart quickly. Without the extra firepower and Ld boost I'd have struggled. There are several other ways of taking out the Ethereal too and I don't really want to be in a situation where I have to make multiple Look Out Sir! rolls. Thinking of all that S6 from Eldar makes me think the Ethereal may not be the way to go.
I do wish I'd taken 4 squads of 9 instead of 3 x 12 for the same points. Often with Storm of Fire you're wasting shots as you easily kill some targets and then don't have enough with the remaining squads to finish another. It would've also freed a couple of squads up for advancing and trying to put some fire on my opponents' more static elements. Having the devilfish in there was pretty crucial. At first I thought it was a waste of points but my opponents knew it would allow me to claim objectives late on so made some attempts to deal with it.
Were I to drop the Ethereal then I'd probably consider taking 3 squads of 9 fire warriors in devilfish. That'd be similar cost to the current 36 fire warriors and Ethereal. Obviously by ditching the Ethereal I'm sacrificing a LOT of firepower but I trade it off for survivability and mobility. In the current meta a lot of armies will struggle to deal with several AV12 vehicles and I'll be able to bring my fire to bear even against static armies. Not to mention the irritation that those 3 pairs of drones will be.
Commander & Helios Crisis Team (Fusion/Plasma)
I've been a big fan of these guys since 5th and I don't see a good reason to ditch them at the moment. They provide much needed anti-AV14 firepower and scare terminators and MCs alike. They're also a great way of keeping the warlord alive as he doesn't come in straight away and when he does he's JSJing and using the VRTs to keep out of combat. I admit I was pretty lucky against the Death Company, had I failed my Hit & Run test it could've been a very different game.
Still, with a couple of marker hits this squad can vaporise anything and aren't too shabby without marker support. I'm pleased I twin-linked the fusion rather than the plasma as the S8 melta hits are more crucial in their role. I never really needed to use them against vehicles but the flexibility is there.
Their role is simple, target flimsy units on objectives or else slow down an enemy advance by making him commit units to deal with them. Vital in a gunline list. Not going to devastate your opponent directly but they're a subtle force multiplier. Don't expect too much of them as they aren't what they once were but for the points they do a good job.
Missile Pod Crisis Team
These were my alternative to forking out for some HYMP broadsides (and getting them painted in time). Frankly I'm blown away with them. With some big scary units like the riptide, hammerhead and helios team in the list they can easily get overlooked. Meanwhile they're happy to strip wounds or hull points off a crucial target and a much more mobile than broadsides making them almost as durable.
The alternative to this loadout is two shas'ui with 3 missile pods and a shas'vre with PENchip, MSSS and CCN. It costs 25pts more but hits more reliably and ignores cover. Difficult to find 25pts in an already tight list but perhaps worth it. It does free up markerlights as the unit can perform well enough without them. Not overly keen on having a model that doesn't shoot mind you.
Pathfinders and Markerlights
The question remains though, which is the best platform for markerlights? I think the debate will continue for a long time and ultimately it comes down to personal preference. For me pathfinders are the only option that provides enough flexibility. Of course the commander with marker drones will score more hits but often they'll be wasted and you really need to light up more than one target. The problem with pathfinders will always be that they're too static. I didn't find they got targetted all that much as there were plenty of other distractions in my list but then I didn't face armies that had ranged anti-infantry fire in abundance.
I think 7 pathfinders in a team is about right as even when you lose a couple you're still getting enough hits for what you need. Any more than this and you're either getting more hits than you need or else losing too much when the unit is destroyed. Of course there was a markerlight on the bomber but most of the time it missed or else I wasn't able to make the most of it. It would be great against flyers though to help the drones or riptide out.
Sun Shark Bomber
Everyone was very quick to rule out the Tau flyers but I have to say I'm definitely a fan. Flyers are fantastic distraction units as it's hard not to pay them some attention. The threat that the bomber poses to cheap scoring units like guard, cultists, termagants, etc can't be ignored but losing the bomber isn't a massive blow to my strategy.
The key to its success are the excellent interceptor drones. The bomber tends to draw all the fire whilst the drones get ignored. They may have been lucky that one of the stormtalons was in rapid fire range but with a 30" range it isn't that unlikely. Overheating to an S8 blast each helps to mitigate the low BS too. Don't forget the guns are twin-linked so there's a good chance of the blasts hitting. The ability to take flyers out before they even fire is excellent. Then next turn when they can't fire they simply Turbo Boost to a useful position and claim a cover save. This also helps to mitigate the problem of arriving before other flyers. The enemy flyer comes on expecting to down the bomber only for the drones to take it out first!
One question that did come up was when the decoy launchers allow a 4++ save. The rule states "against glancing and penetrating hits caused by weapons with the Interceptor special rule". Doesn't say only when firing with Interceptor. Therefore since a quad-gun has interceptor all the time does the bomber always have a 4++ save against it? Isn't that unreasonable when you consider the AV12 Heldrake has a permanent 5++ save against everything!
You'd expect the bomber to be downed pretty quickly but (thanks to a little luck) it only properly died in one game (in another it was off the table when the game ended). As I say, people underestimate it and therefore want to fire at something they deem more threatening. Of course it can be downed by S4 fire but that's a unit that isn't shooting my troops.
I can't believe I ever doubted the big man. He's simply brilliant. My loadout isn't cheap at 210pts but I firmly believe it's the best version of him. You might say the Velocity Tracker is too expensive but I think 20pts for the opportunity to fire a twin-linked, two shot (assuming Nova) melta at a flyer in the enemy turn is worth every point. I never quite got the opportunity though.
Having interceptor gives a great opportunity to shut down enemy reserves or even force people to deploy normally if they don't want to risk it. The range of the riptide makes it nearly impossible to bring something in near your lines that it can't try and pie-plate. Combined with the VT the ion accelerator isn't too shabby against flyers with AP2 helping get that important damage result.
My anti-air consisted of the bomber, riptide and missile team. All of which can potentially take a flyer down solo but having them all prevents your opponent protecting his flyers by taking out a single AA unit. A little luck is needed of course but when isn't it?
I even charged the riptide into combat on one occasion and he was ready to charge the baal predator/drop pod if shooting didn't do the job. Of course he sucks against a lot of things in combat but having the option is good. I can't remember anything actually shooting at the riptide either. The only wounds he took were from Nova failures. There are just too many other things for people to worry about before they think about using shots to take out a T6 five wound model with a 2++ save.
I'm torn about whether I'd include him in a list outside of Blog Wars. He can easily pull his weight against enemy tanks but otherwise he's a bit limited even with the submunition. That and 195pts is nearly a second riptide......
I hope this discussion has been useful for other people. It certainly has for me to think about the role everything played in my games. The lists I played this weekend definitely flattered my army and I probably could've done better had I not been playing in such a rush most of the time.
There are a few things to consider when I write another Tau list for tournament play. Double riptide sounds fun to me.