List Review: Sky Line Tau

List Review is a new semi-weekly feature I’ll be working on in which I take a list someone from the internet has sent me, examine it and pick it apart, then suggest changes (within the strictures provided by the list’s original author, of course.) This week I’ll be looking at a Tau army with a mix of skimmers and battlesuits as well as opening up auditions for future lists.

The army this time around comes from MewAndWing in the Twitch channel, who is looking for some help with a combined-arms Tau force. The Tau codex is actually a really good place for a lot of players to start because there are so few “bad” units in it, but many players struggle with the army because its units are so vulnerable- their tanks, suits, and infantry are all expensive and can die very easily under many circumstances, not to mention the vulnerability in melee.

So let’s see what we can do with things. First up, the list itself:

The Army

+++ Sky Line (1854pts) +++

++ Tau Empire: Codex (2013) (Combined Arms Detachment) ++

+ HQ +

Commander [Command and Control Node, Drone Controller, 2x Marker Drone, Multi-spectrum Sensor Suite, Puretide Engram Neurochip, XV8-02 Crisis ‘Iridium’ Battlesuit]

Commander Shadowsun [Command-link Drone, 2x MV52 Shield Drone]

+ Elites +

Stealth Team [Gun Drone, Marker Drone, Stealth Shas’ui, Stealth Shas’ui, Stealth Shas’ui, Stealth Shas’ui]

Stealth Shas’ui [Vectored Retro-Thrusters]

Stealth Shas’vre [Burst Cannon, Drone Controller, Markerlight and target lock]

XV104 Riptide [Ion Accelerator, 2x Shielded Missile Drone, Target Lock, Twin-linked Plasma Rifle]

+ Troops +

Fire Warrior Team [7x Fire Warrior Shas’la with Pulse Rifle]

Fire Warrior Team [7x Fire Warrior Shas’la with Pulse Rifle]

Fire Warrior Team [7x Fire Warrior Shas’la with Pulse Rifle]

Fire Warrior Team [7x Fire Warrior Shas’la with Pulse Rifle]

+ Fast Attack +

Pathfinder Team [4x Pathfinder Shas’la]

Pathfinder Team [4x Pathfinder Shas’la]


Piranha [Blacksun Filter, Disruption Pod, Fusion Blaster, Seeker Missile, Sensor Spines]

Piranha [Blacksun Filter, Burst Cannon, Seeker Missile, Sensor Spines]

Piranha [Blacksun Filter, Burst Cannon, Seeker Missile, Sensor Spines]

+ Heavy Support +

Hammerhead Gunship [Disruption Pod, Longstrike, Railgun with Submunitions, 2x Seeker Missile, Two Gun Drones]

Sky Ray Missile Defense Gunship [Blacksun Filter, Disruption Pod, Two Gun Drones]

Sky Ray Missile Defense Gunship [Blacksun Filter, Disruption Pod, Two Gun Drones]

MewAndWing does a lot of stuff right here, though some of the other choices leave something to be desired. The Commander is, of course, excellent and is kitted with all of the right gear- attached to a unit of pretty much any kind, he will multiplicatively expand their firepower against virtually all targets and is a wonderful Swiss Army Knife to solve all sorts of problems. Shadowsun herself is also quite good, though the Infiltrate FAQ makes her a lot more limited in where she starts the game- however, that’s a solvable problem.

The Stealth Team is also fairly well kitted overall, though I think a Fusion Blaster could potentially serve to add some anti-tank shooting that the list otherwise lacks- probably on the Shas’vre to take advantage of his Target Lock. The Riptide, however, is suffering from problems- Shielded Missile Drones are simply too expensive for what they do (they cost more than a Shield Drone and a Missile Drone together!) and make him vulnerable to morale checks. Plasma is probably the least-impressive of the secondary weapon systems; it lacks the range and special rules of SMS as well as the hitting power of Fusion, leaving it in an awkward middle ground. The Target Lock is wholly unnecessary and missing out on the Early Warning Override is absolutely unforgivable.

For the list’s troops, I think one big thing is missing: transports. With the rest of the army relying heavily on vehicles and mobile infantry, the static, vulnerable Fire Warriors on foot are going to be a weak point in the army time and time again; lack of an Ethereal to buff them is also a serious issue, as they are otherwise a lot less impressive. Having a unit of Kroot to deploy Shadowsun with could also be useful, though I don’t think it’s a given.

Pathfinder teams are a bit subpar, but as an iconic Tau unit they’re hard to resist. However, getting that fifth body to make Morale checks a little bit crippling is very important; a bunker to put them in might also be nice, but we’ll have to look at the points available. Piranhas are a personal favorite of mine, so I can respect anyone who runs them- the mixed armament isn’t doing them any favors, though, so we’ll probably need to straighten that out.

The Heavy Support setup is actually pretty solid- two Skyray and one Railhead is my preferred loadout for a mech Tau list, although with the Pathfinders and Marker Drones I think the army is verging on having too many Markerlights at that point. I also tend to not take Disruption Pods for my Skyrays, as I find that they usually want to remain in a static position behind some cover (taking advantage of the height of their turret) in most battles. However, one more important error jumps out: Gun Drones on the vehicles. While I think Devilfish can make good use of the Drones as blocking/hindering units, there’s absolutely no excuse for not taking the SMS on other tanks every time, as the range and Ignores Cover are simply too good to pass up.

What’s the Take-Away?

As I said, I think the list has a lot of solid units in it and is a good start, but as it is now it’s definitely going to struggle a lot due to the fragility of its troops, lack of good places for the HQs to join up, and general dis-synergy of its components in many cases. It’s also going to have HUGE problems with melee armies, especially stuff like Scouts, Infiltrators, or Deep Strikers. Fortunately, we can shore up a lot of these weaknesses without making too drastic of changes to things and without resorting to the use of allies or other detachments at all.

So first up on the cutting block: we need to drop one of the HQs. Shadowtsundere and the Buff Commander are both excellent HQs, but currently we have a lot of points sunk into characters and fixing that would help the rest of the list a lot. They both have advantages; TsunTsun is great for getting into short-range firefights, but the Commander has more raw utility and brings the power of Ignores Cover to the army. One or the other of them will be leading a squad of suits into a fight, but the question is which one. With TsunTsun not being able to easily deploy with most things, I think the Commander gets the nod- however, you could invert this decision and keep TsunTsun instead and still do quite well with the list, you’d just have to make different choices in a couple places.

Speaking of suit teams, this list could really use some Crisis suits to shore up its anti-tank. Broadsides are better at that job, of course, but Crisis have the edge in mobility and dollar-bill price as well as fitting better with the high-mobility theme of the list. So we’re gonna fit in some Missile Pod-equipped Crisis to get some synergy with TsunTsun and give us a little more variety of firepower. Fusion Blasterss could also serve here, depending on preference- however, I’ll be going with Fusion in order to give the army a few more tools to deal with things and to have a slightly more flexible weapon overall, especially since we want to get a bunch of Gun Drones for ablative wounds.

We’re also going to trim the Fire Warriors down slightly (four squads is actually a lot of bodies) and give them transports so they can keep up with everyone else in the army. Devilfish, although expensive, do a very solid job of keeping your guys alive until the late game thanks to that 3+ Jink save; optionally, Sensor Spines and a SMS can really turn it into an excellent midfield sniper, although at that point you’re pushing past 100pts, which feels like rather a lot. However, I know some really good players who swear by it, so I think it’s worth experimenting with to determine personal preference.


1 Ethereal (50)

1 Commander (Iridium Armor, Multispectrum Sensor, Command/Control Node, Puretide Chip, Drone Controller, Vectored Retrothruster, 2 Marker Drones) (192)

3 Stealth Suits (1 Fusion Blaster) (95)

3 Crisis Suits (2x Missile Pod, Target Lock, 6 Marker Drones) (243)

1 Riptide (Ion Accelerator, TL Fusion Blaster, Early Warning Override) (190)

9 Fire Warriors (Devilfish w/Disruption Pod) (176)

9 Fire Warriors (Devilfish w/Disruption Pod) (176)

9 Fire Warriors (Devilfish w/Disruption Pod) (176)

3 Piranhas (1 Sensor Spine) (125)

1 Hammerhead (Longstrike, Railgun, Submunition, SMS, Sensor Spines, Disruption Pod) (195)

1 Skyray (Blacksun Filter, SMS) (116)

1 Skyray (Blacksun Filter, SMS) (116)

So we’ve lost a few things, but c’est la vie. The Pathfinders were an early drop, unfortunately, because we have a lot of buffs going around already. I think keeping them by virtue of dropping the Stealth Suits is a pretty viable option, but I’m more inclined towards the Stealths overall. We trimmed down one Fire Warrior unit, but managed to stay just about even on bodies- when you’re in a pinch, unloading all the guys and putting eighty-one shots into a nearby unit can be a pretty brutal plan, even if you don’t have any Markerlights to back it up.

Who gets the warlord nomination in this list is actually a little tricky; on the one hand, the Ethereal has superior rolls on the Tau table (due to not getting some of the “bad” ones) and can seriously increase your odds of getting Hunter of the Skies or Exemplar of the Selfless cause in a clutch time. On the other hand, this paints a HUGE target on his forehead as well as the chassis of whatever vehicle he’s riding in- you can bet your opponent is going to destroy it first chance they get. It is fluffy, however, so that counts for something. Giving the nomination to the Commander means some possibility of getting bad results, but makes your opponent divide their attention a bit more and hides the Warlord point on a pretty resilient body, albeit one that is starting on the table most games.

All in all the list has a good mix of mobility, firepower, and resilience and has a couple little tricks to throw a wrench in your opponent’s plans. With plenty of ability to cut through cover and wreck tanks as well as the standard Tau arsenal of anti-infantry firepower, I think it’s well-equipped to handle most comers- I’ve played a similar list myself a number of times and had good fun with it.

Competitive Concerns

Astute viewers may notice that this list is a rather major departure from the sort of armies I (and most other people) typically bring to tournaments- indeed, it’s something of an antithesis. Running only one detachment (and a vanilla CAD at that, without even using any FW models or supplements) it is a rather unusual sort of beast for these days and it could, in theory, benefit quite a lot from mixing in some allies in the form of Eldar or Necrons to shore up weaknesses. To put it bluntly: this is not a competitive army. You could take it to a tournament, and with a smart general at the helm you could likely work your way into the middle tables, but there are a LOT of things it doesn’t have solutions for because it’s just not possible to do so in a single-detachment list of any kind.

However, writing “the strongest possible army” isn’t the point of my List Review feature- my aim here is to craft an army that fits the needs (and means) of the person sending the list in. MewAndWing, in this case, asked me to try and work within the units they had available and to keep things to a pure Tau force despite having access to other armies- and so I did. That’s the key thing about writing an army list: you need to decide what your goals are. Sometimes you DO want to create the strongest army possible, such as when going to a tournament; other times, you want to write an army that adheres as closely as possible to a particular version of the fluff, or maximizes some quality within the army (“How many psychic dice can I generate in 1500pts?”), or that makes best use of a specific unit. All of these are equally-valid goals, but it’s important to know which one you’re going for when you start a list; a “most strongerest” tournament army is certainly not going to look the same or function the same as a “most dice” psychic army is.

For the Future

Hopefully you’ve found today’s little experiment with Tau to be reasonably entertaining and/or enlightening with regards to how to put together lists. In any list design there are hundreds of potential branch points where you could decide to do things differently- but understanding why certain choices are made and certain options are taken over others is much more importantly than simply copying someone else’s list and trying to win with it. I hope to make List Review an ongoing feature here at Frontline, so if you have an army you’re struggling with, a list you can’t quite make work, or just a battleforce that you don’t know what to do with, send me an email at AbusePuppy (at) gmail dot com and I’ll try to get some kind of response for you. Please include lists in a plain-text format somewhere in the body of the email (rather than in an attachment); if using Army Builder or a similar program, make sure to use the condensed format so I don’t need to scan through five hundred words to get a single unit listing. Also include any model/fluff limitations or other special concerns for the army- I typically avoid making too drastic of changes, but if you have special restrictions you’re working under that’s important to take note of.


About abusepuppy

AbusePuppy is the one who has been ruining 40K for everyone this whole time. He is also searching for the six-fingered man and is one of the three people who know the secret recipe for coke (not the soda, the illegal drug.)

16 Responses to “List Review: Sky Line Tau”

  1. Brian September 1, 2015 4:09 am #

    Man, this was a great article guys, I hope you keep it up.

  2. MisterMeatball September 1, 2015 4:42 am #

    Good write up, AP. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these.

  3. Deuce11 September 1, 2015 5:09 am #

    Awesome. Looking forward to more

  4. Chaplain Sam September 1, 2015 5:50 am #

    Fun read. I like list review post idea and I look forward to reading more.

  5. Truesight September 1, 2015 6:28 am #

    How do we submit for such a lovely analysis?

    • abusepuppy September 1, 2015 7:31 am #

      Last paragraph has an email address you can submit lists to. Not everyone who sends in a list will necessarily get it posted here at Frontline, but I should at least send _some_ kind of response to them.

      • Ibushi September 1, 2015 8:48 am #

        Great stuff AP, liked the analysis and conclusions. One of my favourite units for the Greater Good has to be kroot, so sad not to see them, but the triple firewarriors with ethereal really does lay down hurt. Although we’ll see what happens when the new Tau dex drops!

        Next up — close combat Eldar?

        • abusepuppy September 1, 2015 11:07 am #

          I love Kroot as well- they’re typically my default Tau troop choice- but the submitter didn’t have any in his collection, so mostly a no-go there.

  6. sheit27 September 1, 2015 9:43 am #

    Tau is pretty much unplayable against any power 7th ed codex without Tetras or EWO Stacking.

    You will have a hard time finding the stealth suits, piranhas, and hammerhead being worth taking. Stealth suits are expensive for having 1 weapon at BS3

    Hammerheads have trouble IMO doing anything with 1 shot, and paying close to 200 points for a pimped out longstrike is a huge point sap. you could take 3 crisis suits with 6 fusion shots for 152 points and cause 3x the damage without even using markerlights.

    The worst thing about Tau in 7th and what not having Tetras is forcing you to do with marker drones is locking up 435 points into a unit with your HQ, 3 suits and drones that don’t have a single invuln save and will be double toughed by str8 weapons.

    You can lose 435 points to some missile launchers and bolter fire when other lists are bringing twice the resiliency and firepower inside of that point cost.

    I’m not trying to be a fun buster here but if you play anyone with a 7th codex with either of those lists you likely wont be having fun.

    Tau viable units right now are pretty much
    1. Tetra
    2. Broadside
    3. Skyray
    4. Riptide
    5. Crisis Suit

    most everything else will either have trouble earning it’s points back, isn’t worth its point cost, or will die too fast.

  7. Jewelfox September 1, 2015 10:41 am #

    Oh hey, I didn’t know you’d switched to writing for Frontline Gaming. ^^ Good to read your articles again! Are you going to review the new Tau codex when it drops?

    I was just going to say, the shielded missile drones might be expensive but they also make the Riptide’s unit harder to crack with grav weapons fire. I mean, nova-charging the shield does as well, but that has a 1 in 3 chance of failing without the ECPA installed, and that’s early-game firepower you’d be foregoing in order to use it.

    At least, that’s what I was thinking, since I haven’t actually tested it out yet. ^^; Is this actually an issue, in your experience, or are they just not that competitive regardless of grav centurions and stuff?

  8. punchymango September 1, 2015 7:00 pm #

    I miss this kind of content from the old days at 3++, nice to see it coming back!

  9. WilliamMunny September 1, 2015 9:46 pm #

    Nice article, I enjoyed the breakdown and analysis. I hope you’re ready for the tide of lists coming your way.

  10. Scrambles September 4, 2015 3:22 am #

    Great article, very well written. Looking forward to more like this!
    How would you feel about reviewing a Horus Heresy list?

  11. Rathstar September 5, 2015 12:40 pm #

    Good review, and I look forward to more of the same in the future.

    One minor comment, it would have been good to say which units you would have added if it wasn’t for the restrictions you were given (eg. tetras and kroot).

    In response to Sheit27 above: While I agree with your list of the top 5 Tau units, I think Fire Warriors, Kroot & Sniper Drones can be effective when supported by an Ethereal, and Piranhas make great cheap fast objective grabbers, and lastly a Barracuda with disruption pod for a 2+ jink is also nice (but gets forced out of my list by 2 tetra units and a squadon of piranhas).


  12. benn grimm September 6, 2015 11:16 pm #

    Nice read and good to hear you’ll be here as a regular, looking forward to the next instalment/s.

  13. davethegamer September 8, 2015 8:10 am #

    Good article.

    Besides the excellent breakdown (would love to see a shadowsun list too!) I really liked your section on competitive lists.

    Honestly, I think one of the worst things to happen in 40k is the allies – don’t get me wrong, I love a good story based list – a player might imagine an encounter where multiple forces might combine to fight a common foe.

    While I am not a “fluffy” player – I do think that making a “themed” list based upon the THEME is a really cool thing.

    However – usually allies are just a way to cheese things up – basically by cherry picking units that normally would never go together just to up the power of a list.

    Perhaps I am too old school here – I used to play tau competitively in 5th after all – playing an army within that army and doing well is the hallmark of a good player in my opinion.

    Regardless, nice article ; look forward to more.

Leave a Reply to Rathstar