Don’t Fear the Space Commies!

Image by Josh Finney

Tau seem to have everyone ducking for cover these days, and running for the hills. Time to get tough–Uncle Sam style–and sock it to those fish faced socialists!

Reecius here from Frontline Gaming to show you how to overcome the Red Scare of the 41st millennium! They’ve been kicking butt at tournaments and locally we’ve seen them steamrolling a lot of players.

The seldom seen red-headed step child of 5th edition is back with a vengeance to show the capitalists the error of their ways. Those of you who remember 4th edition will know how good Tau can be as they were a powerful force in the tournament scene back then. However with the core changes to 5th, Tau saw themselves go from THE shooty army from hell to a sad faced second fiddle. In the hands of a skilled general they could still perform fairly well but in general everything out-shoot them.

Come 6th ed and WOW! Tau are back in force. At Frontline one of the most common questions we get from folks is how to tweak their list to deal with Tau. Tau pack in an absurd amount of firepower and can easily overwhelm an opponent that is unprepared. More than that, it is a sobering experience to play Tau for the first time as it feels like you may as well not even use any terrain the way Tau ignore cover and LoS.

On top of that, Tau essentially shut down reserve tactics with their 5pt interceptor upgrades that can be had so easily throughout the army. Devastating overwatch abilities, cheap leadership buffs (oh how Chaos Space Marines wish they could get Ethereals!) and more unit/wargear combos than you can shake a stick at, Tau really do bring the heat. It is easy to feel a bit helpless when playing against a good Tau army.

But fear not, my fellow champions of democracy! The Reds will never overcome good old fashioned freedom!!! Freedom Imperium style, where if you don’t do exactly what we say you’re burned as a heretic….

But let’s not get caught up in petty details. Let’s look at what makes Tau good and how to counter it.

Tau Strengths:

  1. Firepower. A bit of a duh! here I know, but this is what Tau is built around. Devastating firepower.
  2. Marker Lights. Marker Lights are what take Tau from good to great. A Riptide for example, sans Marker Lights is a solid unit, with them he is devastating. Marker Lights also mean that Tau can go to ground behind an Aegis for the crazy defense but then shoot in the subsequent shooting phase almost as well as normal due to those pesky marker lights. One of the tricks to building a good Tau list is striking the right ratio between offensive assets and support assets (largely Marker Lights). Too much support means your offensive assets become easy to take out leaving you unable to strike a killing blow. Too many offensive assets and your support assets are easy to eliminate which will dramatically reduce Tau Firepower.
  3. Offensive defense. Tau defense is brutal. Their overwatch can be as potent as many armies shooting. Charging into a Tau castle is often suicidal.
  4. Interceptor and Skyfire galore. Tau can absolutely devastate reserves and/or flyer armies.
  5. Powerful unit/wargear combos. Tau can pull off some crazy combinations through the use of wargear and unit abilities. Ignoring cover, Monster Hunter, Tank Hunter, Infiltrate, ignoring LoS, Deep Striking without scattering, etc. etc. etc. You really have to ask questions about your opponent’s army list when playing Tau to make sure you understand what everything does.
Tau Weaknesses:
  1. Taking objectives. Tau stink at it. Their troops are for sitting and shooting, not so much the going out and taking objectives. Kroot can get sneaky with outflanking and such, but they still are not very tough nor do they excel at taking a held objective. Allies helps Tau out with this immensely, but pure Tau definitely struggle in this regard. We have had several games here where we were just getting pummeled by Tau but still won due to playing to the objectives. Tau often do not like to leave their castle.
  2. Close Combat. While it may be very difficult to get into combat with Tau, once there, they die like vermin! Little communist vermin! The suits can pack a surprising punch but generally this is where Tau die horribly. You don’t need much here, either. Assault troops with nothing but two flamers is great (and that is actually a great unit in general for all the wimpy backfield objective holding units we see these days).
  3. Long Range shootouts. Tau don’t have amazing range. They tend to hang out in the 30″ to 36″ range. If your army packs in a lot of firepower that exceeds that range, you can leverage that to your advantage.
  4. Ignores Cover. Tau are champs at ignoring cover but they do not like it when others pull the same trick on them. Weapons that ignore cover and bypass their armor will really do a number on many Tau builds which rely on the Aegis. Barrage weapons, template weapons, etc. are great for this. Hellhounds, shunting Dreadknights, etc. are great.
  5. Leadership. While the Tau can be really buffed up through leadership enhancements such as Ethereals, these provide key targets to eliminate. Taking out leadership buffs is extremely important to beating Tau as once gone, the little blue space men run like girly men! Also, Riptides are not fearless. Shoot them with pinning weapons, etc. and help to neutralize them.
  6. Instant Death! A lot of the Tau heavy hitters are only toughness 4. By using weapons that can one shot them, or comboing psychic powers such as Enfeeble, you can take this annoying little Evangelion wannabes out much faster.
  7. Psychic defense. They have none. Use that to your advantage. Psychic Shriek, Terrify, Enfeeble, Dominate, Fear of the Darkness, Null Zone, etc. are all devastating to Tau. Use them.
  8. Heavy Armor. Somewhat ironically, typical Tau builds lack any really reliable way of dealing with AV14.
How to whip the commies!
It’s all about target priority. You have to know what to kill, when. With Tau, the key is to look for the linchpin units that must be taken out first in order to make everything else weaker and more manageable. Now, there will never be a truly hard and fast rule to this as every game is different (terrain, mission, lists, etc.) but generally speaking, I have found the following to work for who to nuke and when:
  1. Ethereals. These little blue buggers are so good! They make the Tau gunline viable by ensuring that the rest of the army is unlikely to run away. If you can reliably take this commie rabble-rouser out early in the game, do not hesitate to do so. Not only is he worth double VPs, but he makes it immensely easier to scatter the rest of the roaches. I have found barrage weapons are excellent for this.
  2. Marker Lights. As stated previously, these are the key to taking Tau shooting from good to holy $#!^ good. Ignore the Riptides, Broadsides, etc. if at all possible until the Marker Lights are gone. This will dramatically reduce Tau firepower.
  3. Troops. Tau troops are squishy. Even if Tau are shooting you to Hades and back, they can’t win an objective based mission if they don’t have any troops left.
  4. T4 suits. These pack in huge firepower for their points but are relatively easy to kill compared to Riptides, Hammerheads or Skyrays. Again, double these jerks out with Las Cannons, Melta Guns, etc.
  5. Everything else. Riptides, tanks, etc. which are relatively hard targets require a lot more attention in general to destroy and as such, don’t worry about them as much. All of these units go way down in efficacy sans Marker Lights. Again, Riptides are not fearless, pin those suckers or get them to run away!
Generally you don’t want to fight Tau straight up unless you can reliably get into combat (Daemons) or you can straight up out-shoot them. Don’t play their game. Don’t stand and duke it out with them if you can’t win the shootout. Don’t charge them head on unless you know you can get your assaulters into combat.
Look at the Tau list you can facing and from the beginning of the game determine what your course of action will be. Is it an objective game and you are just going to hide, going for objectives last turn? Can you outshoot them? Do you need to go hellbent for leather and send your entire army in a headlong charge knowing that even your weakest units or the few warriors that actually do make it can probably win a fistfight with Tau? No matter your course of action, you need to decide make the choice early and go for it because if you don’t, you too will fall victim to the red tide!
Lastly, here is a video of Eldar vs. Tau where the Tau get what for!


About Reecius

The fearless leader of the intrepid group of gamers gone retailers at Frontline Gaming!

24 Responses to “Don’t Fear the Space Commies!”

  1. Avatar
    Gregorius42 July 17, 2013 4:02 am #

    Since Tau had their premier at the Alamo GT with JWolf running the tables, they have been a maligned army. Following up at Wargamescon, the Tau struggled and left many folks scratching their heads as to why Tau did not perform better. Your article sums up nicely the Tau strengths and also their weaknesses.

    Basically, buffed out Daemons forcing the assault with Khorne dogs assaulting in turn 2, etc. really exposes some weakness due to speed and exploiting the one over watch rule. At Wargamescon there were a lot of Daemons and the enormous number of objectives in the mission booklet also hampered the Tau.

    One mission had 11 objectives. Another, with hammer and anvil allowed opponents to play their own gun line and force the Tau to move forward as deployment could be more than 36″. All in all I would say that this assessment is spot on, and should help negate the Tau advantage. Just make sure you deploy as much out of that 36″ bubble as possible to avoid the Alpha strike from hell.

    • Reecius
      Reecius July 17, 2013 8:49 am #

      Thanks for the input, and I agree.

      I heard about WagamesCon with the oodles of objectives, I wonder what the rationale for that was?

      But as you said, knowing your enemy is the key to victory. You have to understand what they do in order to exploit their weaknesses.

  2. Avatar
    D-ManA July 17, 2013 6:28 am #

    You hit on the head Reecius. Knowing what any army does and what it can’t do is one of the key factors to winning games. A couple of Saturdays ago at a local 1850 tournament I got paired up with a tau player second round. He was running double riptide, one skyray, one broadside unit, one suit unit, a gadget commander, an ethereal a bunch of fire warriors and one unit of kroot. I was running sisters of battle with grey knight allies. He had problems dealing with the armor 13 exorcists and I took out the majority of his marker lights first turn. It was a kill point mission so most of my army stayed in the backfield while my exorcists, psyfilman dread, and Coteaz’s monkey/servitor unit (they got extended range for the monkey power which made my heavy bolters, Multi-meltas, and lascannons add 12″ to their max range) shot to pieces his heavy firepower. By the end of third turn he had zero kill points so he called the game because all the firepower that could have taken out my armor was either destroyed, hiding, or had to get close which would have been suicide

    • Reecius
      Reecius July 17, 2013 8:53 am #

      That’s been my experience as well: if Tau go first, they are devastating. If Tau go second and you know what to hit and with which of your weapons, they get destroyed. I think Tau really need allies to hit maximum power so that they can get reliable scoring units and some much needed speed.

      • Avatar
        D-ManA July 17, 2013 10:53 am #

        Maybe those riptides would like a big daddy wraithknight as a friend 😉

  3. Avatar
    Billyjoeray July 17, 2013 8:53 am #

    Hey Reece, nice article, but just one comment. Riptides are MCs and so get a handful of USRs that include fearless (and MTC).

    • Reecius
      Reecius July 17, 2013 9:00 am #

      Glad you liked the article!

      However, and TONS of people miss this, MC’s no longer automatically get Fearless! Check their entry in the BRB units section.

      • Avatar
        Joseph July 17, 2013 7:24 pm #

        Thanks for this, so many people are under the impression that Riptides are fearless and ignore Pinning, Fear, etc. I think it’s people confusing the rules from Fantasy.

        • Reecius
          Reecius July 17, 2013 7:41 pm #

          Yeah, and previous editions of 40K. MCs used to be fearless.

      • Avatar
        Billyjoeray July 25, 2013 9:29 am #

        Well, I’ll be damned. Thanks a ton for that then! It’s good to know!

  4. Avatar
    Hotsauceman1 July 17, 2013 9:15 am #

    I feel the pain of tau hate. As one of the only two tau players at my FLGS i get ALOT of flak for playing 40k on easy mode. My advice for many other players is just try to understand. Manytimes I try to tell my opponents what things in my list does, like the spectrum suite or C&C node. but they just blow it off telling me to tell them what it does when i use it. Then they are upset I ignore their jink save

    • Reecius
      Reecius July 17, 2013 10:12 am #

      Then that is on them, not you. If they are not taking the initiative to learn what your book does then they have no reason to complain.

      • Avatar
        Tarrant July 17, 2013 1:03 pm #

        Agree with Reecius, the onus is on the other players to learn what their opponents are fielding.


      • Avatar
        fluger July 25, 2013 6:43 am #

        Bring your army and swap it with someone else. I did this when my Orks were dominating late 4th and early 5th and people were saying they were broken. Once they get behind the wheel and see what the owner of the list is doing to beat the list they get a better handle on what to do and when.

        No one knows the weakness of a list better than the owner of that list (at least if they are wise).

  5. Avatar
    Gregorius42 July 17, 2013 11:00 am #

    The Tau Is fun to play, but hard to move out of their castle, like the British royal family. They are fragile outside of the devilfish. However, aside from the wave serpent the devilfish is the best transport in the game with armor 12 and for only 10 points another SMS.

    The Riptide is a beast, but can be tapped down with str 6+ shooting and a few bad armor save rolls can neuter a Tau armies effectiveness. Let your oppenent send out the riptides and send your WS 5 assault unit with power weapons after him. Death Co anyone?

    Anyway, I play a Tau army, one of the nine I suck at… Anyway, I enjoy playing them but I am looking forward to the Farsight supplement due to the rumor that Crisis battle suits will be troop choices.

    Let’s see 36Battle suits, plus Farsight… Awesomeness.

    • Reecius
      Reecius July 17, 2013 3:17 pm #

      Yes, the suit army sounds AWESOME! So much mobility, so much firepower….so few models! haha

  6. Avatar
    Rob July 17, 2013 11:05 am #

    Any player that played Tau through 5th will never draw my ire. They endured a bad edtion and a mono build. They are like the kid that was always bullied and took Karate and is kicking tail. To use a sports anagology, I grew up in boston so my team is the Sox but what i can’t stand is Sox fans since 2004. Bandwagon players are the same but at the end of the day you buy the models put in the time to assemble and paint them so play them. Frontline is in my top 3 of sites i read.

    • Reecius
      Reecius July 17, 2013 3:18 pm #

      Glad you like Frontline’s stuff!

      And yeah, it’s like old school Grey Knight players. Grey Knights used to be so crummy, and then they became the most powerful army in the game and everyone started playing them. That was a bit annoying. But hey, like you said, if someone buys, builds and paints the models, they have the right to play them.

      • Avatar
        fluger July 25, 2013 6:44 am #

        Yeah, GK is the best example of this.

  7. jy2
    jy2 July 17, 2013 4:13 pm #

    Knowing is one thing. Being able to do something about it is an entirely different matter. IMO, most TAC lists will just get overpowered by a well-built Tau list run by a competent general. Only a very few TAC builds have what it takes to beat such a Tau list. Other TAC lists will actually have to be built with a slant towards fighting the Greater Gulp!

  8. Avatar
    fluger July 25, 2013 8:24 am #

    I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with Tau with my IG, I was able to best them at an RTT last month by doing some of the stuff talked about here.

    I took advantage of my AV14 by threatening him with my Leman Russes.

    I went after markerlight units as a primary target.

    I went after squishy troops.

    His list isn’t what I would call idea, but it had a lot of the hall marks of effective Tau. I wrote up a battle report here:

    • Reecius
      Reecius July 26, 2013 4:53 pm #

      Griffons! Nice, I love Griffons, such an underrated unit.

      I like that list a lot, though, lots of big threats.

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