Tau Review Part 3: Formations of the Tau Empire


Hey everyone, DevianID here again with part 3 of my Tau review! Check out part 1 here, and part 2, here. You can also check out Abuse Puppy’s Tau Formation review, here if you’d like to get another perspective!

In this section we will look at formations that Tau have access to.  Where rules vary by community faq/vote, I will evaluate the formation with both sides of the rules implications to hopefully “format proof” the review.  This does mean you will have two different reviews for some formations, but we can blame that on GW.


First is the Hunter Cadre, the core unit of the Hunter Contingent and Dawn Blade.  You need a Commander, an Elite, Fast, and Heavy choice, and 3 Troops.  While this mirrors a normal CAD pretty closely, some units are suspiciously missing, like an Ethereal or a Skyray.  The selection of units is not bad at all, but a bit too big to take this formation outside of a Hunter Contingent/Dawn Blade–you wouldn’t want 3 troops if you only want access to a Stormsurge ally for example.

For rules, you get to Run/Flat Out and shoot when near the Commander, and increased Support Fire range for everyone.  From the Hunter Contingent umbrella you can combine multiple units for increased Ballistic Skill/Markerlight sharing, and from the Dawn Blade umbrella you get to reroll wound/armor pen on 1 unit.

Of the basic abilities, the Support Fire increase is nice, allowing a bit more latitude with unit placement and screening units to block assaults without resorting to daisy chaining units across the table.  The clear winner however is the ability to Run/Flat Out when near the Commander.  If you are already keeping your army together to support each other (like you should) this gives you some fantastic extra threat range.  The biggest winner is on Piranhas, who, as Fast vehicles, get to turbo 18 inches before firing a Fusion gun.  They have to have began their turbo within 12 of the Commander, which somewhat limits their total mobility, but boosting to the side not protected by a Knights Ion shield and firing a Fusion point blank is awesome.  Other notable uses is on Pathfinders and Broadsides, as Run plus shoot lets them be a little bit mobile while still firing their Heavy weapons.  Still, as this is also the base of the Hunter Contingent/Dawn Blade, this formation is not strong enough on its own to justify without also taking the ‘Decurion’ style umbrella, considering how cheap the Auxillary units needed to form the ‘Decurion’ are.


For the Hunter Contingent umbrella, when playing with full buffs, the Hunter Contingent gets a huge thumbs up, even if it can not split fire.  I could write an entire article on all the cool tricks Tau could do with rule sharing(for example, by joining Pinned units to a Fearless Stormsurge, they become un-Pinned and shoot at full BS), but even at face value with only the buff Commander and targeting one unit at a time the umbrella formation would be good enough to consider over a Tau CAD.  Without buff sharing, such as in the ITC, the Hunter Contingent is not better than a Tau CAD.  The difference between the Contingent and a CAD mean that a CAD is just so much more flexible with Skyray access, the ability to take amazing Forgeworld units like Tetras, and a Fortification slot.  Without buffs sharing among the entire Hunter Contingent, then the mandatory Commander becomes a tax unit you don’t want, and your 3 Troops lose Objective Secured.  Sharing Markerlights is neat, but ultimately just amounts to paying for tax units and a restrictive unit selection for a few extra Markerlight hits–something you can just buy with Tetras using the points saved by taking a CAD.

The Dawn Blade umbrella, using the Hunter Cadre as its core, pays an additional tax on all units in the form of Bonding Knives, and gets the much worse Signature Systems list.  The benefit, though, is army wide rerolls to wound/pen.  In my opinion this makes the Dawn Blade worth it, as focusing down critical enemy units is a huge deal, and rerolls versus t7 Artillery blocks and Thunderwolf-stars can not be gained any other way.  By taking Kroot Troops, Stormsurge Heavy units and Marker Drone Fast units you dodge some of the Bonding Knife tax, but with such a high number of mandatory units points will be tight.  Also, the special rule doesn’t  work on the top of turn 1, making your alpha strike damage lower.

In conclusion, thumbs somewhat up for the Hunter Cadre in a Dawn Blade, thumbs way up in a buff-sharing Hunter Contingent, and thumbs somewhat down for a Hunter Cadre in a Contingent where buffs don’t get shared.


Command Detachment: This is a special Hunter Contingent add on which includes a Commander/Shadowsun, an optional Ethereal, and a 32 point tax Crisis Bodyguard suit.  Sadly you really don’t want a second Commander, and because Shadowsun has Infiltrate you need a specialized list to make her work.  The Ethereal is awesome, but Aun’do is even better, and instead of a tax Bodyguard and Commander you get ob sec Troops on a CAD.  The only reason to take this is if you are limited to just a single source Hunter Contingent with buff sharing allowed but can’t take a CAD for the Ethereal due to tournament restrictions.  Thumbs down!

farsight tau 008

Retaliation Cadre:  3 units of Crisis suits, a Broadside unit, and a Riptide, led by a Commander, that auto arrives on turn 2, is a fantastic base for a Crisis suit ‘death ball’ when combined with a CAD for Shadowsun and Aun’do.  Relentless is not much of a boost, since it only applies to the Broadsides, but being able to guarantee your ‘death ball’ of Crisis suits will always come down on turn 2 is critical since it is so much of your army.  Since the ‘death ball’ already uses a buff Commander, if going the Retaliation/CAD route he is not a tax.  The 2 other Crisis suits and Broadside can be minimum units with weapons like dual flamers, so are not a bad tax for this build that relies on the ‘death ball’ getting to the table.  Finally, Riptides are good units, so are never a bad thing to be forced to take, thus are not a tax.

If not using the ‘death ball’, this formation doesn’t really add anything on its own if Crisis suits are not buffed and able to split with Target Locks, and you never want a second Commander anyway.  If Hunter Contingent buffs DO spread though, then taking 6 individual shooting units with Target Locks gives the Hunter Contingent an msu approach in addition to the ‘death ball.’  However, if spamming single suit units, a Farsight CAD makes them Objective Secured Troops for the cost of a Bonding Knife, so it is a better base for MSU suits.  Overall, thumbs up!

In a Dawn Blade, this is an alternate Core choice, which is a fantastic base considering the Killing Blow rule.  Picking an enemy unit to kill on turn 1, then dropping in many small units from reserve to pick apart your opponent, works great and also gives good board presence.  While you do pay 5 points minimum for Bonding Knives, the overall cost is low for a fairly flexible Core choice.  At 67 points for a Crisis suit and 2 Gun Drone with 12 s5 shots, and 90 points for a Broadside and 2 Missile Drones with 8 s7 and 4 s5, Tau have a decent shot at out MSUing Eldar scatter bikes on the drop turn.  Note that, like the Hunter Contingent above, if you just want only MSU Crisis Suits then in a CAD they are Ob Sec.  Either way, the Dawn Blade auxiliary units are amazing, so I would keep the Crisis units small to make more space for Auxillary units.  Because Farsight Enclaves does not get buff Commander Wargear, I would not use them as a base for a Crisis ‘death ball’.  Overall, thumbs up!


Heavy Retribution Cadre: if this formation was legal in more formats, we would see it a lot.  Stormsurges can engage a lot of targets, and the formation rule halves charge movement if both shoot at a unit.  With both shooting 4 targets minimum, a melee army will be significantly slowed.  Rounding down is especially brutal, as you turn a 7 inch charge to a 3 instead of 3.5.  Couple with terrain, Grav objectives that further reduce charge range, and screening Pathfinders with a Grav drone, you can almost negate assault entirely.  Sadly, because this formation has 2 Lords of War, it will be banned by most tournaments that I know of.  Still, if legal, this formation gets a big Thumbs up, it helps the Tau assault problem a ton, and the Stormsurges can engage potentially 12 units on turn 2 to slow them down fairly reliably.

Infiltration Cadre: 3 Pathfinders, 2 Stealth Teams, and a Piranhas are quite a few points spent on units that individually don’t make the cut in a pre-update competitive list.  This means we have to lean heavily on the formation special rules, and fortunately they turn out to be pretty good..  Intervention Request allows you to bring your reserves in immediately if a unit from this formation is destroyed.  While on its own a weak rule, if you built a heavy reserve list, such as the Crisis suit ‘death ball’ or MSU spam mentioned, this formation grants another source for guaranteeing your units comes in when you want.  What’s better, if you have the bottom of the turn, then on turn 1 you can bring your reserves out with no roll–quite good for the reserve and counter attack style army.


The second half of the formation rules makes any unit from the formation inflict a s8 hit on a unit whenever they hit with 3 or more Markerlights.  This is a fun rule, made a bit better if you take Markerlights and Marker Drones on your Stealth Team. In a Hunter Contingent, where you can use several small units like your Piranha and Troop squads to bolster the Pathfinders BS, this can grant potentially 5 s8 hits a turn with the 5 units capable of bringing Markerlights.  However, this is a fringe case, and if you need Seeker Missiles and Markerlights then paying for the 6 units in this formation is a waste of points compared to just buying a Skyray in a CAD detachment.  352 points, the minimum cost for this formation, is 3 points more than 3 Skyrays with Blacksun Filters.  Those Skyrays come with 6 bs4 Markerlights and 18 Seeker Missiles that are guaranteed.  This means the formation’s Seeker hits, while nice, can not be the focus of this detachment to get value–you must also be taking advantage of the reserve manipulation ability.  Fortunately reserve manipulation is much stronger than Seeker Missile hits, especially with the bottom of the turn.  This means that this formation helps cover some of the Stormsurge’s weakness, as it allows you to null deploy most of your heavy hitters including the Stormsurges, and if you get seized on then assuming your opponent kills your pathfinders (easy to do since you will be aggressively deploying this force) then your army walks on at the bottom of turn 1.  If they try and be sneaky by choosing NOT to kill anything, then the Markerlights and free Seeker Missiles, combined with a decent number of s5 shots from 7 Burst Cannons and up to 14 Pulse Carbines, will punish anyone purposely avoiding killing you.

This formation gets a conditional thumbs up due to this.  It’s a bit pricy, but it’s a good way to get a Crisis ‘death ball’ or big Stormsurge unit on to the table safely, and makes a good mandatory auxiliary for Hunter Contingents, since regardless of unbuffed Coordinated Fire this formation will be mostly unchanged as they don’t plan on splitting fire.  If your not planning a reserve based army, then your better off with Skyrays, as the 180 points in Stealth Teams is a very hefty tax–no one chooses to take Stealth Teams for their base rules.


Optimized Stealth Cadre: This formation is getting a lot of buzz, however from a competitive stand point I have to say it’s not that good–maybe.  You may think I am crazy, as Ignore Cover, +1 BS, and hitting rear armor all are fantastic rules to get.  I say it’s not that good because when the Hunter Contingent allows you to buff your army and then split fire, then you already get Ignores Cover and Tank Hunter and +1 BS.  Thus this formation adds nothing new to a buffed Hunter Contingent, and comes with that terrible 180 point Stealth Team tax.  In a Hunter Contingent working with full buffs, you can simply take Ghostkeels by themselves, and pay a 5 point tax on each for Target Locks (plus the normal Hunter tax units) instead of 180 points in tax Stealth Teams.

If the Hunter Contingent is not sharing buffs, such as in ITC, then this formation will see play in a Tau CAD list as a second source, with 3 Ghostkeels and 2 Target Locks.  This unit, like lots of Tau units, allows you to spread buffs to many target units with Target Locks without needing to use the Hunter Contingent.  This is especially true if Holophron is ruled to be usable 3 times in a unit of 3, which I doubt considering the pushback on the Hunter Contingent we have seen so far.  However, as a unit of monsters, with unbuffed Hunter Contingent, even at bs5 with the base formation rule and Fire Team rule, you lose out on Monster Hunter, Tank Hunter, Twin-Linked, and Fearless that Broadsides with attached buff Commander and Aun’do get.  This leaves you with 18 s7 ap4 24 inch Ignore Cover bs5 hits on rear armor, and 3 s8 18 inch Fusion hits versus 24 s7 ap4 36 inch Tank Hunter hits on front armor.  With that and Target Locks, each Ghostkeel will expect to kill a Rhino ~85% of the time according to napkin estimates.  Thus, compared to Broadsides for less points, who also expect to kill the same amount of Rhinos in the front facing but don’t have a 180 point Stealth Team tax, we see that the Optimized Stealth Cadre isn’t so optimized compared to what Tau are used to doing.

End result is a thumbs down on the formation when playing the Hunter Contingent at full buffs, as it is redundant to get Ignores Cover twice while having to pay 180 points for Stealth Teams, and a shaky thumbs up in ITC where Hunter Contingent is ruled unbuffed but Holophron can potentially be used 3 times, since the rules are decent and self contained, meaning anyone can slot this force in to shore up a weakness versus high cover units like Ravenwing.  The shaky part is due to the low range inherent to Stealth Teams and Ghostkeels, and the fact that there are longer range sources of anti vehicle and anti cover weapons, compounded with the 180 point tax from Stealth Teams.


Firebase Support Cadre: talking about rules debates swinging a unit from good to bad, the second formation to bear the name Firebase Support Cadre is two debates waiting to happen.  The first debate goes back to the Hunter Contingent ITC ruling, as here we have the second instance of grouping up a number of different units and buffing them, while all the models have access to Target Locks.  So, much like the Hunter Contingent, if Target Locks work then the Firebase is good, since the main benefit the buff Commander grants Broadsides, who are already twin-linked and partially Ignore Cover, is Tank Hunter or Monster Hunter.  This would mean the Firebase could operate without a buff Commander, making it a good formation to slot in to several armies, as you can split all the Broadsides at different targets while keeping Tank Hunter/Monster Hunter.  If Target Locks don’t work with the formation rules then like the Hunter Contingent this formation will be pointless, as you can just take a CAD buff Commander in a single large Broadside unit and split fire with buffs anyway.  Thus, the only value this formation has is by allowing you to skimp on a buff Commander while still engaging many light targets with Tank Hunter.  Since ITC didn’t vote on the specific Firebase wording, if planning to take this formation be sure to ask the TO ahead of time.

Now, the second debate is that this is the second formation to bear the name Firebase Cadre, but both have different rules.  The original gives Tank Hunter and Preferred Enemy Space Marines, but forces you to take 6 Broadsides and gives Marines Hatred versus you.  This one gives two rules too, with Monster Hunter replacing Preferred Enemy Space Marines, requires only 2 Broadsides, doesn’t give Hatred, but requires you to shoot the same target to get your buffs.  If Target Locks work, then both are equal power wise, so it comes down to if the new formation replaces the old one.  It’s a grey area, made worse if they rule against Target Locks because then the old formation will be vastly superior since splitting fire is so important to big units of broadsides that punishing Target Locks by taking the formation’s only rule bonus away makes the formation useless.

Final result is a thumbs up IF Target Locks work AND you can still choose the old version, as it lets you tailor against either big monsters or Marine Gladius but not both, thumbs down if you can’t split fire since it wastes too much shooting, and thumbs down if it takes away the option of the old version since the old Firebase is a critical tool in helping versus the very powerful Gladius Battle Company.

Special note: While ITC voted on the Hunter Contingent that buffs don’t share if the unit splits its attacks, each unit gets its own buffs in this formation, so it’s not a given that the Hunter Contingent ruling applies here the same way it does to a buff Commander.  Again, check with your TO before bringing this formation with Target Locks.


Armored Interdiction Cadre: three units of Hammerhead tanks and 1 unit of Skyrays is just a massive tax considering your only formation benefit is Twin-Linked against limited enemy targets.  If the Hunter Contingent is full buffs then you can already get access to Hammerheads and Twin-Linked without using this formation, so the only unique thing granted in a Hunter Contingent is the Skyray.  Perhaps as an oversight, this is the only way to get Skyrays without taking a CAD, which is a shame since Skyrays are such important anti-air tanks for Tau.  Still, one unit of Skyrays is not worth 375 points in tax Hammerheads, even with Twin-Linked being a fantastic rule for making the Seeker Missiles on the Skyray really count, as for 375 points you can do a lot better than 3 Hammerheads.  Thumbs down.

Air Support Caste: 3 Tau flyers with a bad It Will Not Die formation rule, and a good chance to ignore Shaken and Stunned, doesn’t get around the base weakness of the Tau air units.  The formation doesn’t reward you for spending points on suboptimal units with improved capabilities like the Optimized Stealth Cadre, so Thumbs down!



Allied Advanced Cadre: 4 units of Kroot and 2 units of Vespid are pretty hefty tax requirements considering you lose the opportunity to get Objective Secured for CAD Kroot and Run and shoot Kroot in Hunter Contingent Kroot.  Thus any rules gained need to be better than Objective Secured AND 144 points of other stuff, since Vespid are a big tax unit.  Infiltrate does make Vespid better at least, but Vespid are terrible so it doesn’t matter.  Forest Shrouding is very situational on Kroot, since terrain is not defined as Forests nearly as much as Ruins, plus with 40 Kroot not all will make use of the rule even with Forests on the table due to the large footprint of 40 Kroot.  One Ballistic Skill can already be granted to Kroot with a Hunter Contingent as well making this buff pointless.  Thus supporting fire is the last benefit, and while it is a good rule, if you are screening with Kroot, like you should be, then the unit already gets to fire Overwatch, and if your non-formation Tau units get assaulted the Kroot still can’t join in since the formation gives just a restricted version of Supporting Fire.

Overall thumbs down for the final Kauyon formation.  Hunter Cadre Kroot and CAD Kroot gain more valuable special rules than this formation, and don’t come with a 144 point Vespid tax in order to be taken.  This formation really saddens me, since a Kroot themed war shaper lead force with buffed Krootox, Kroot Hounds, and special weapons on Shapers would have been awesome.  A lot of missed opportunity here, considering how cool the old Kroot mercenary force was, and a Tau formation would have been the perfect place to give a nod to it while rounding out the Tau’s close combat weakness.

Devilfish #2

Devilfish #2

Counterstrike Cadre: 4 loaded Devilfish that can move 30 inches in their first Movement/Shooting phase, with limited rerolls to hit, make the Fish of Fury army somewhat viable.  With an Ethereal to increase shot count, this force can put a decent number of mid strength shots out.  That said, you lose Ob Sec on your CAD Troops or Run and shoot on your Hunter Cadre Troops to take this formation, so the opportunity cost is too high.  Thumbs down!

Rapid Insertion Force: Similiar to the Retribution Cadre, but trading a good Relentless Broadside for bad pseudo Homing Beacons on Stealth suits.  With no internal reserve manipulation, the Retribution Cadre is just better, so this gets a quick thumbs down!



Ranged Support Cadre: 3 units each of Broadsides and Pathfinders make for an ok self contained force out of the gate, but the formation rules elevate the Pathfinders from pass to good.  Infiltrate, Scout and Shrouding give the squishy Pathfinders a 2+ cover save in Ruins, and enough deployment options to almost guarantee good positions.  With Markerlights doubling their effectiveness for the Broadsides, even versus flyers or invisible units your Broadsides will rack up the hits.  The Overwatch support works the same way, with just 2 Marker hits making the Broadsides deadly accurate.  However, a lot of this Formation overlaps with a Hunter Contingent, with increased Support Fire range and improved BS, and the Hunter Contingent without buff sharing is behind the power curve as is.  Thus despite the Pathfinders going from ok to good, the formation needs to be great to warrant a spot in a competitive list.  Thumbs down.

Piranha Firestream Wing: 4 Piranhas are a cheap investment, and conditional +1 BS and Tank Hunters are good additions.  That said, what makes this formation so talked about is its potential for Gun Drone farming.  Due to ambiguous wording, it seems that the Formation can come on the table, drop off Drones, and leave in the same turn.  While other units that can leave the table, like Flyers, must stay on the board for one turn, it is possible this formation gets around that.  What’s more, by using the language ‘full strength’ instead of a clear definition, we can’t say for certain if destroyed members of a squadron come back.  Still, with the expected conservative ruling that you can’t leave the same turn you arrive from Reserve, each Piranha can drop 2 Drones on turn 1, 2, and 4, so in a 5 turn game the formation will still generate 4 extra Drones per 40 point Piranha.  4 extra Drones are worth about 36 points, same as Fire Warriors, making even the conservative rules for this Formation amazing if you can protect your Piranhas on their arrival turns.  (I know the Drone Fast Attack choice values them at 14 points, but no one ever bought Gun Drones at that price, hence they are not worth 14 points.). This formation gets a big thumbs up with the conservative 36 bonus points in Drones, and a through the roof thumbs up with the more powerful interpretation granting 72 points in free stuff by turn 5.  (If ruled full power, 160 points making 40 Gun Drones and 24 total units by turn 5 is so good every army, Tau or not, will likely benefit by taking this formation, since the 20 free Drone units dont give up Victory Points.)

Ghostkeel Wing: 3 units of Ghostkeels that give your nearby units Stealth or Shrouded is a nice benefit to MSU Tau army builds, but Ghostkeels themselves are merely ok.  With no great way to buff the units in this formation as it is not part of the larger contingent, and with other ways to improve survivability, Ghostkeels once again take a back seat to Riptides.  Thumbs down, which is a shame, since formations that benefit their parent faction like this one does feel like the most balanced way to have formations.

Skysweep Missile Defense: 3 Skyrays are fantastic, but with a tax Devilfish the rules granted by the formation have to be good to cover the tax cost.  Sadly, the Command Override rule is broken, as Skyrays can already fire any number of weapons in the Shooting phase, so nothing changes.  The second rule gives you a 5+ cover save versus flyer types, which is ok, but Jink is a 4+ already, so again not enough to make up for the tax unit.  This formation won’t see much play in formats where you can take a second source CAD.  This formation really wished it was in a Hunter Contingent.  Thumbs down!


Ethereal Council: 3-7 Ethereals is 2 more than you want, and losing Independent Character is a huge loss.  Fearless on its own is somewhat pointless as they are so fragile, but having all 4 powers at 12 and LD 10 at 24 inches is quite handy for MSU Tau.  I think you will only ever see the Ethereal Council in formats where your Dawn Blade detachment can’t also take a CAD for the Fearless Ethereal Aun’do.  In that case, 3 Ethereals with 6 Marker Drones, plus the core detachment’s mandatory Commander with Drone Controller and 2 Marker Drones make for a passable unit, with 8 Fearless BS 5 Markerlights using nothing but Ethereals as the base unit.  Thumbs down in any format with multiple detachments allowing Aun’do, barely passing thumbs up in single source+formation formats.



Drone-Net:  Units of Drones always bothered me being 2 points more than unit upgrade Drones while also losing scoring.  The Drone-Net finally addresses this, and gives units of Drones special rules to offset the higher cost and lack of scoring with great tactical upgrades like Jink, Outflank, and Interceptor.  The +1 BS is just gravy at that point.  Huge thumbs up, this is almost an ideal formation, as it takes a unit no one ran and makes it competitive.  My only complaint is that there is no ‘tax’ Sniper Drone Team included, as the Team Leader with his built in Drone Controller would have been a fluffier place to put the Collective Targeting Data rule.  With no tax, expect Drone-Nets in any Tau force that makes use of Interceptor or squad upgrade Drones like Piranahs or Broadside Missile Drones (this is most Tau lists lol).  Thumbs way up!

jeremy Tau

Riptide Wing: As I have mentioned elsewhere, Riptides are good enough to never be considered a tax unit.  Since this formation is just 3 units of Riptides with awesome special rules added in, this is an example of a bad formation–making the best units even better and removing even tax troop and HQ slots that a 3 Riptide CAD would have to take means anyone with access to Tau allies will be taking this formation.  When compared to Ghostkeel Wing, whose Stealth rule applies only to Tau forces, Riptide Wing makes you question if you even need a Tau army or if you just want nothing but Riptides.  Still, as a competitive tool I have to give this formation a huge thumbs up.  Some tricks include taking a 3 Riptide unit and two single Riptides, so that when the 3 man unit shoots at a target shot at by a single Riptide it makes all 3 ‘tides BS5 with the Fire Team rule combined with the formation rule Coordinated Attack.  With rerolls to Nova and BS5, Burst Riptides are finally viable, which is also nice.  The once per game double shooting is also huge, especially with Ripplefire, as 16 Twin-Linked Ignore Cover Ignore Los shots per Riptide gives Tau decent odds at clearing those Eldar scatter bikes before they pounce from behind a wall to steal an objective on turn 5.  In summary, I feel this is a poorly designed formation as Riptides didn’t need a lot of help and there is no synergy with the rest of your Tau army from the rules or a tax unit, but for competitive play huge thumbs up, expect this everywhere.

Air Superiority Cadre: This is a much better designed formation, as it takes units that weren’t played much and makes them decent.  The clear winner is the D3 free Markerlights, which makes shooting invisible units a ton easier.  Still, the flyer’s short range, poor armor penetration and low armor mean that even with +1 BS, when you are up against a flyer like a Hive Tyrant you will still get smashed.  Tank Hunter would have been more useful, but you get pseudo Tank Hunter in a Dawn Blade at least.  One fun rule debate is if Skywatch lets you come in from Reserve on turn 1 against Skimmers/FMCs/Jetbikes, as this would make the formation a lot better.

As an aside, math wise the 2 average auto Marker hits versus an invisible unit is 12 pathfinders, worth 132, or about the same cost in Tetras.  Thus this formation only shows some promise as dedicated Markerlight delivery versus Thunderstar, as they can’t really assault up in the sky, but overall versus everything else gets a thumbs down!

So now that we have looked at all the new Tau units and the new formations, we can finally put this review into practice with some sample lists that take advantage of the changes.  Stay tuned for part 4, Tau lists in action!


About Reecius

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

35 Responses to “Tau Review Part 3: Formations of the Tau Empire”

  1. Avatar
    NotreDameGuy December 17, 2015 8:34 pm #

    You seem to not be mentioning at all how resilient Ghostkeels. Show me how a squad of crisis suits can survive as well as 3 ghost keels, who have a 2+ Cover save in the open, 4 wounds each, T5, and can make 3 enemy units snap fire.

    I honestly cannot believe you don’t think OSC is amazing. Because it is extremely powerful

    • Avatar
      Narfwak December 17, 2015 11:03 pm #

      Same, I’m a little dumbfounded by this series.

      • Avatar
        bigpig December 18, 2015 12:32 am #

        shhhh… don’t mind the man behind the curtain

    • Avatar
      Dakkath December 18, 2015 2:13 am #

      The ghostkeel’s t5 is a little misleading, unfortunately, since the vast majority of the time the unit will be majority t4 because of all the drones.

      • Avatar
        abusepuppy December 18, 2015 3:56 am #

        His Drones are T5 also, just like the Riptide’s.

        • Avatar
          Dakkath December 18, 2015 5:53 am #

          I stand pleasantly corrected

    • Avatar
      DevianID December 19, 2015 4:33 am #

      So a Crisis team with Shadowsun has roughly the same cover save as Ghostkeels, but with much more ablative wounds, better weapon range and Hit and Run, plus can be made fearless. Ghostkeels are very vulnerable to attacks like psychic scream and terrify, which are taken in large numbers in this Telepathy driven meta.

      As for Holophron, it is unclear if a squad of 3 gets 3 separate Holophron uses. I did mention that the unit is much better with the more aggressive reading of Holophron, but I doubt the aggressive Holophron reading will stick in ITC.

      • Avatar
        X078 December 19, 2015 2:16 pm #

        Then again the OSC has better cover save when more than 12″ away from an enemy.
        Also it almost completely negates any annoying shield benefits on Eldar/Necron/Knights so there’s that.

      • Avatar
        NotreDameGuy December 19, 2015 7:28 pm #

        Its not an “aggressive reading”.This has been discussed in numerous forums such as dakkadakka and that is exactly how the rule is supposed to work.

  2. HammerheadGames
    Dayone916 December 17, 2015 10:10 pm #

    New tau is amazing. Riptide wing is brutal from personal experience. Top tier tau just jumped up in power significantly imo.
    I’m not trying to say the sky is falling but honestly the new tau and their formations are going to have a significant impact on the current meta. I look forward to the changes because it’s always fun to see new stuff and an opportunity for unique / new lists to pop up.

    Great article btw, very easy to read and very informative

    • Avatar
      DevianID December 19, 2015 4:40 am #

      Thanks! As a Tau player i feel the Riptide wing is just busted good. I seriously doubt any other formation besides the drone net will see much competive play as long as that beast exists.

  3. Avatar
    Dakkath December 18, 2015 12:32 am #

    You missed a point about the Firestream. The piranhas also regain spent seeker missiles when they come back. So they can come on, barf out drones, launch a volley of seekers, let the drones jump in front for cover, then fly off next turn.

    Agreed with you on the riptide wing. For far too long I saw “[main army]+Tau” in most lists just meaning “and taking the (old) Firebase Support Cadre”. Now I’m predicting a lot of swapouts of firebase for riptide wing, especially since the costs are pretty close.

    The OpStealth is generally going to be best as a second detachment, either to a tau CAD or as another army’s ally. That being said, it’s still 610 points for 3 ghostkeels with fusions and a pair of target locks plus tax stealths. 620 if you throw fusion blasters on the tax stealth teams. 630 if you also give target locks to the fusion stealths. That’s over 1/3 of your points in an 1850 list, and I’m not sure it’s worth it.

    Gonna disagree with you on the ghostkeel wing. The trio of ghostkeels can provide a huge safety net for msu crisis and drone units (such as from the Drone Net) hiding behind it. 4+ cover without even going to ground/jinking. And the ranges sync up nicely as well, with 24″ ghostkeel ion, a 12″ stealth bubble, and 30″ missile pods and 36″ markerlights.

    • Avatar
      DevianID December 19, 2015 4:46 am #

      For the piranha formation, if they can leave the turn they come on, you wont see seeker missiles since you wont be on the board to fire them. If it is ruled you have to stay on the board a turn, then turn 2, 4 and 6 you can shoot the missiles, but with the cost of 8 missiles you could get quite a few other upgrades, like melta or just more piranhas. I’m not saying it is terrible, but if you want seeker missiles you are better off with a Skyray imho.

      • Avatar
        abusepuppy December 19, 2015 5:03 pm #

        I dunno, I don’t think I agree. While the Seeker upgrades aren’t exactly cheap, you can theoretically fire them on 1, 3, 5, and 7- so up to four shots per game at 8pts apiece. Now, the critical thing here is that _they can’t be destroyed_. It’s all but impossible for you to lose your Seekers, so while you’re paying a pretty significant price for them overall, like a flyer they typically are going to survive the entire game.

        To contrast, a Skyray is 115pts for six Seeker Missiles. Obviously it does more than that, but so do the Piranhas, so it’s not an unfair comparison.

        When you’re staying within 6″-12″ of board edges, Melta is not a very impressive gun. I wouldn’t ever bother paying for it.

  4. Avatar
    X078 December 18, 2015 12:48 am #

    Almost everything in the Hunter Contingent hinges on that the Commander is alive and is able to participate in CF. Take him out and you’re left with Marker Light sharing and +1BS. While the Riptide Wing is nice it is a bit expensive per dakka, stil very good though. Personally i would skip the Hunter Continent and combine the good stuff:

    Optimized Stealth Cadre
    2x Stealth Shas’ui [Burst Cannon]
    Stealth Shas’vre [Burst Cannon, Markerlight and target lock]
    2x Stealth Shas’ui [Burst Cannon]
    Stealth Shas’vre [Burst Cannon, Markerlight and target lock]
    Ghostkeel [Cyclic Ion Raker, Twin-linked Fusion Blaster]
    2x Ghostkeel [Cyclic Ion Raker, Target Lock, Twin-linked Fusion Blaster]

    Optimized Stealth Cadre
    2x Stealth Shas’ui [Burst Cannon]
    Stealth Shas’vre [Burst Cannon, Markerlight and target lock]
    2x Stealth Shas’ui [Burst Cannon]
    Stealth Shas’vre [Burst Cannon, Markerlight and target lock]
    Ghostkeel [Cyclic Ion Raker, Twin-linked Fusion Blaster]
    2x Ghostkeel [Cyclic Ion Raker, Target Lock, Twin-linked Fusion Blaster]

    Riptide Wing [Formation Detachment]
    Riptide [Early Warning Override, Ion Accelerator, Twin-linked Smart Missile System]
    Riptide [Early Warning Override, Ion Accelerator, Twin-linked Smart Missile System]
    Riptide [Early Warning Override, Ion Accelerator, Twin-linked Smart Missile System]

    You get two independent OSC teams with four stealthed BS4 marker lights for some extra support to the Riptide Wing.

  5. Avatar
    X078 December 18, 2015 1:31 am #

    And for my second list which utilizes Surges, Drones and Ghostkeels & Wing for cover instead of the (in my view) very expensive SS invuln. This is should be played a bit more aggressively close range army, some may like it, some may not. I make use of intervening models, jink and stealth. The Ghostkeel wing can do some nice assault shenanigans with Phantom charge and go to ground to avoid getting stuck in etc.

    Drone-Net VX1-0
    4×4 Marker Drones

    Ghostkeel Wing
    3x Ghostkeel [BKR, CIR, EWO, TL-FB]

    Heavy Retribution Cadre
    Stormsurge [BKR, EWO, Pulse Blastcannon, TL-BC]
    Stormsurge [BKR, EWO, Pulse Blastcannon, TL-BC]
    Ghostkeel [BKR, CIR, EWO, TL-FB]
    2x Ghostkeel [BKR, CIR, EWO, TL, TL-FB]

    • Avatar
      X078 December 18, 2015 2:58 am #

      Disregard the BKR on the Surges, c&p error.

    • Avatar
      Kevin Lantz December 18, 2015 1:16 pm #

      you’re losing missions hard with that list though.

      • Avatar
        X078 December 18, 2015 4:30 pm #

        Maybe, depends on the tournament i guess. If it was ITC (which i don’t play) then i would probably run something like this:

        CAD 1

        Farseer skyrunner

        3 scatter bikes
        3 scatter bikes
        3 scatter bikes
        3 scatter bikes
        3 scatter bikes
        3 scatter bikes


        Wraithknight (scatter shield, ghostglave)

        CAD 2

        Autaurk skyrunner, banchee mask, laser lance

        3 scatter bikes
        3 scatter bikes
        3 scatter bikes
        3 scatter bikes
        3 scatter bikes
        3 scatter bikes



        Inquisitor with 3 survo skulls


        • Avatar
          abusepuppy December 18, 2015 4:59 pm #

          Better hope you don’t run into anything AV13 or you’re gonna be in trouble. Or Centstar. Or Tyranids. Or Drop Pods Battle Company. Or a lot of other things.

  6. Avatar
    Lord Krungharrr December 18, 2015 4:52 am #

    I had non idea the stay had so many dang formations now! They’re going to ruin many days for many forces. The still way-too-cheap interceptor upgrades especially adds to the frustration.

    • Avatar
      Kevin Lantz December 18, 2015 10:23 am #

      check out the montka book, those books added formations for tau, IG, and a couple different space marines.

    • Avatar
      abusepuppy December 19, 2015 7:58 am #

      When they bump Drop Pods to 50pts and stop giving them out for free, I’ll be fine with EWO being nerfed down a lot.

      Until then, it’s almost literally the only solution in the game to reserve armies.

  7. Avatar
    DCannon4Life December 18, 2015 6:34 am #

    I appreciate the way you approached this review, with respect to some of the more problematically worded rules.

    If I owned a 3rd Riptide, I would just play that. If I owned 6 Riptides, I’d double down.

    As for the OSC: Yes, please continue to give it a thumbs down. I’ll continue playing mine and surprising opponents with the S9 AP1 BS4 Ignores Cover hammer that is the Fusion Blaster, dropping it on them after chipping away ablative wounds with lots of S5 and S7. I’m playing OSC with a single Ghost Keel, and I am adding Fusion Blasters (and Target Locks) to the Stealth Suits. On their own, they don’t look like they’d be too successful, but when presented to your opponent in conjunction with other high-priority targets, they tend to get ignored. That’s the key to their success, in my opinion.

    It’s unfortunate that the Storm Surge didn’t get a ‘better’ formation than the Heavy Retribution Cadre. Something with x units of dedicated markerlight drones would have been fun.

    • Avatar
      Kevin Lantz December 18, 2015 10:22 am #

      his review of the OSC was spot on, it’s not saying it’s not got good rules, just that it’s helping you excell in an area tau already do well with.

      Stealthsuits are still not worth it, and are a heavy heavy tax for what you get.

      • Avatar
        X078 December 18, 2015 4:28 pm #

        Looks like he is though:

        “Optimized Stealth Cadre: This formation is getting a lot of buzz, however from a competitive stand point I have to say it’s not that good–maybe…”

        • Avatar
          abusepuppy December 18, 2015 4:55 pm #

          I might agree that the OSC isn’t the blowout formation some people thought it was, since it suffers from range/positioning issues and vulnerability to melee, but calling it “not that good” is a lot further than I’d go.

          Getting BS4 (or even BS5 in a Hunter Contingent) and Ignores Cover is pretty huge. Yes, the Contingent can share Markerlights and combine its fire for bonuses, but you still have to have those Markerlights active, in range/LOS, and successfully hitting- and as any Tau player knows, keeping all of those things happening is a lot harder than you might assume.

          • Avatar
            X078 December 18, 2015 5:01 pm

            Very true.

      • Avatar
        abusepuppy December 18, 2015 4:58 pm #

        The minimum Stealth squad is a bit middling, but I think actually spending the points to get a Team Leader could be worth it- with Markerlight/Target Lock he’s great for painting targets for Combined Fire and bringing a pair of Gun Drones to the party (or Marker Drones if you wanna emphasize the support aspect) does a lot to bring down the per-wound cost of the squad while still benefitting from Stealth/Shrouded.

    • Avatar
      DevianID December 19, 2015 5:02 am #

      Dcannon, in your example you spend about 350 points for a s9 blast with ignore cover. A riptide gives you that same pie plate but bigger with triple the range and 160 points in something other than stealth suits. Ignore cover on a short range shot is much less of a benefit when your core army identity is taking away cover and being bad in assault.

  8. Avatar
    Gunfex December 18, 2015 9:05 pm #

    Good review overall, but incorrect statements regarding the new Firebase Support Cadre. Unlike the Hunter Contigent, it specifies that all “models” must fire at the same target, not “unit”. Thus, there is no dispute that target locks in multi-model units could not be used while still benefiting from the tank hunter/monster hunter. As for whether the old formation still exists, that would be like asking to use any predecessor rules for a model when it has the exact same name – as far as I am aware, no one has ever permitted this. When the name of a model or unit is identical, the new rule overrides. I stand to be corrected on this second point, however.

    • Avatar
      DevianID December 19, 2015 4:55 am #

      One rule states the model must shoot the same target, the other rule says the model can shoot a different target-which is it? Neither rule is demonstrably more specific.

      As for the old formation, if the names were even slightly different then it would be assumed both exist, sonce they have different rules with different compositions and different drawbacks–like the pinion demi company and regular demi company.

      • Avatar
        X078 December 19, 2015 12:01 pm #

        Is it not quite clear? Do you want the Coordinated Firestorm benefit? Then fire with all models at the same target.

        Do you want to use a Target Lock, which you can of course?
        Fine, you are now firing independently, no Coordinated Firestorm benefit.

      • Avatar
        Gunfex December 19, 2015 12:09 pm #

        I just looked and I note that the old formation is called the “Tau Firebase Support Cadre” as opposed to the new “Firebase Support Cadre”. So actually I agree with you and would argue that they are technically different, even though the intent was to have the new one supersede the old.

        As for the application of Target Locks when using the Firebase Support Cadre, I am not sure what you are trying to argue there, as this has nothing to do with a rule being more “specific”. If you want to use the Co-ordinated Firestorm rule, all models in the formation must fire at the same target. I presume no one is trying to dispute what this means. Target locks let a model in a unit fire at a different target to the unit. Also clear. If you have a unit of 2 broadsides within the Firebase Support Cadre, and one has target lock and chooses to use it, that is completely legal – however, you have not met the condition of Co-ordinated Firestorm which explicitly reads [to exercise the ability] “all models from this formation must shoot at the same target”. Not sure how shooting at 2 different targets with the models in the formation allows you to fulfil this condition. But definitely open to hearing a clear explanation.

        • Avatar
          Gunfex December 19, 2015 12:10 pm #

          Sorry, I meant to say in the first paragraph that I *Think* the intent was to have the new one supersede the old – of course no way for us to really know, and I don’t presume to know what GW is thinking haha.

Leave a Reply