Hello once again, and welcome back to Tactics Corner. This time around we’re talking about the good ol’ reliable Tau troop choice that dates back to the inception of the codex largely unchanged, the Strike Team.
The Strike Team, formerly simply called “Fire Warriors,” are the nominal basic troop of the Tau codex, though in practice they are often superseded by Crisis Suits, Kroot Carnivores, or Breacher Teams. However, that isn’t to say they don’t have value- Strike Teams are quite good at putting out medium-strength firepower at the middle ranges and have gained a couple handy tricks with the codex update. They remain relatively vulnerable to enemy fire, though, which tends to limit their usefulness in tournament settings where extreme firepower abounds.
Strike Teams get a fairly generic non-Marine statline with no real surprises; threes across the board are the rule in most cases, dipping down to twos in Weapon Skill and Initiative because of being Tau. This means that their basic accuracy is middling, as their shots only hit on a 4+ without the aid of Markerlights- but of course any Tau army worth its salt brought those in abundance. Leadership 7 means they are quite likely to panic and run the moment anything goes wrong, so unless there’s an Ethereal in range you shouldn’t count on them sticking about. 4+ armor isn’t quite MEQ quality, but can shrug off a surprising amount of damage in many cases; beware those Heavy Flamers, though.
The biggest point in favor of the Strike Team is its main armament, the Pulse Rifle. With a 30″ range, S5 AP5 and Rapid Fire it is strictly superior to the common Boltgun in almost every regard; it not only wounds basic troops on 3s and 2s, but is twice as effective against most Monstrous Creatures and can potentially even hurt a Wraithknight as well as damage transports like a Rhino. Many of these are unreliable things at best, but there is a world of difference between having some chance of hurting a target and having no chance at all. Strike Teams also come equipped with Defensive Grenades, which mitigate damage in close combat slightly and can potentially Blind enemies at short range, though this rarely works particularly well. However, if you’re facing some Necrons or a Stormsurge, then throw that shit, brah!
They are also allowed to swap their Pulse Rifle for a Pulse Carbine (18″ S5 AP5 Assault 2 Pinning), but this is almost never a good option. With the changes to Rapid Fire since 5th edition, the Rifle gets its second shot almost the same time that the Carbine starts getting any shots and can begin firing much earlier- important on a unit that doesn’t really want to be getting charged and doesn’t have the raw damage output (e.g. Eldar Bladestorm weapons) to clear out most things in a single volley. While Pinning is a nice addition, many unit types are immune to it and Tau have no way to penalize enemy Leadership unless they bring in Eldar or Dark Eldar allies, so it’s of very limited effectiveness. If you want a short-range high-firepower answer, just take a Breacher Team instead of swapping guns.
Special Rules, Wargear, and Options
Strike Teams come with a small handful of rules and options; Supporting Fire is the most notable of these, allowing you to coordinate shots against assaulters; it won’t usually stop a charge except perhaps at long range, but it can inflict some attrition on the enemy and perhaps slow them down a bit. They can increase their squad size up to twelve members if they wish, at 9pts per body; they can also upgrade one member to a Shas’ui for +1 Leadership and Attacks (?!?) if they want, as well as the option to add a pair of Drones to the unit if they do so.
However, most of the more relevant upgrades focus on filling the gaps in the Strike Team’s capabilities, namely anti-tank. Prior to 7th Edition Tau simply had no options in this arena, but the addition of the DS8 Turret has done a good job of answering that issue. The Turret’s rules are rather odd and a bit counterintuitive; you can place it if the unit chooses not to move and put it within 2″ of any squad member. The Turret can’t be attacked or harmed directly, but vanishes if the enemy gets within 2″ of it or if its squad moves out of this range (though a new one can be set up later, using the above rules.) Whenever the unit shoots, it can pitch in and add its own firepower- either a Missile Pod (S7 AP4 Assault 2) or Smart Missile System (S5 AP5 Heavy 4 Ignores Cover/LOS). While both are excellent weapons- and, interestingly enough, the only instance where a SMS is not twin-linked- the Missile Pod should virtually always get the nod because it gives them a wholly new capability they otherwise lacked. We should also take this moment to point out that since the Turret can’t be shot at (but can itself shoot), a Strike Team positioned behind terrain so as to be unseen can sneak a Turret around a corner or such and have it fire away at the enemy while being invulnerable.
The Turret isn’t a mandatory inclusion by any means, but can be very helpful to Strike Teams that intend to stay relatively static; for those on the move, Haywire Grenades (or EMP Grenades, as the Tau term them) can also give an option, albeit a bit expensive of one. But they can provide some minimal capability at short ranges if needed, so they are worth at least thinking about sometimes.
Strike Teams can also take a Devilfish as a dedicated transport; while the Devilfish isn’t a fantastic tank, it’s somewhat passable and can do a good job of keeping its contents alive, which is often all you’re asking of Tau troops. However, it can be a big increase to the sum cost of the unit, so it can’t be regarded as mandatory (and doesn’t sync well with many of the upgrades, like DS8 Turrets and EMP Grenades.)
The Strike Team is very much a glass cannon unit; it can put out a pretty significant amount of firepower for a fairly small price, but it is utterly incapable of weathering any such return damage and indeed can fall to pieces from the most trivial amount of attention from the enemy. As a result, one must be extremely careful when using them to always be aware of what sort of firepower can focus on them and what the rest of your army is doing.
The Pulse Carbine’s range can be one way to mitigate the fragility of the unit- if they aren’t within 24″ of enemy basic troops, they can’t be shot at. Obviously this isn’t always 100% possible, but limiting their exposure via range is one big step towards keeping them alive. Beware the enemy’s dedicated anti-infantry weapons like Scatter Lasers and Quad Mortars, though, as these heavier weapons can often reach out and hit you almost no matter where you are.
Strike Teams on foot are often run as minimum squads of five in order to cheaply fill a Troop slot; these basic units can provide a lot more firepower than one might think due to their S5 guns and relatively long reach for Rapid Fire (15″ + 6″ move), but the caveats about fragility are especially important for these units. Larger squads can also be of use- I have often run full squads of twelve (or occasionally just nine, for morale purposes) with an attached Cadre Fireblade or Ethereal. These characters allow you to vastly increase the output of firepower for the unit- the full unit plus Fireblade nets you over twenty-five shots at anything within your (not-insignificant) reach and both units get you nigh-on forty shots when Rapid Firing. Even a single Markerlight hit will turn these units into extremely effective anti-infantry platforms that can sit on or near an objective to score it for you.
As mentioned in the Fireblade article, the foot units like this can make an excellent ally choice as they are relatively cheap and put out a type of firepower that many armies can do with. Especially in situations where you can expect to face some Ignores Cover firepower that will shred Kroot badly, a Strike Team can fill the mandatory slot while still bringing something helpful to the table.
The “Fish of Fury” tactic (i.e. mounting a Strike Team in a Devilfish and unloading them near the enemy to do a lot of damage) is usually done more with Breacher Teams these days, but you can still get some mileage out of it. Many opponents will assume that if they get within range of an assault, the unit is dead- however, you can preempt this by unloading the Strike Team behind the ‘Fish and then cramming it right up on top of the would-be assaulters. As the Devilfish sits on a flying base, the Strike Team should easily be able to see underneath it and both squad and transport (plus the onboard Gun Drones) can combine shots on the enemy and do some damage; come the enemy turn, they will probably be forced to assault the Devilfish, incurring a round of Supporting Fire from the ex-passengers even if they do manage to wreck it. It’s not something that will devastate full-strength enemies, but it’s excellent for finishing off something that has been harassing you for a couple of turns. This ability to unload, shoot, and then likely survive the enemy’s counterassault after is what differentiates them most from Breacher Teams; where Breachers commit themselves absolutely to an alpha strike once disembarked, Strike Teams have a bit of leeway in how and where you place them.
Strike Teams, as a basic troop, are available in a number of different formations for Tau; they aren’t exceptional in any of them, as they tend to fill a “I’m here also” sort of role in a lot of armies. A Hunter Cadre is one of the most notable of these, since they can use Combined Fire to not only boost their own Ballistic Skill (making their guns a lot more effective) but also help out other units in the army significantly- their long range and ability to contribute to a shot while staying out of sight (thanks to the DS8 turret) makes them an ideal third unit for a combined shot.
Like many of the Tau units, Strike Teams are a fairly acceptable choice for many armies, even if they may not be a top-tier competitor. Though the massed units of Fire Warriors on foot that GW often tries to promote (in the fluff and in pictures) are laughably bad, more singular squads brought in the right armies can be functional and transport-mounted squads compare favorably with Breachers in many situations. They work well enough as a line troop and their sniping with DS8 turrets can make them very annoying to opponents who are otherwise occupied with trying to kill more important units to blunt your firepower.
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