We’re back with more Tau codex coverage, and this time it’s the Ghostkeel battlesuit. What exactly is a “ghostkeel”? Why is it the only battlesuit not named after an actual word? Why doesn’t it use the aquatic theme common to most Tau units? Just what are magnets, anyways? Click to read the answer to none of these questions, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
The Ghostkeel is one of the new additions to the Tau armory; although its mass classification number is the same as that of the XV-9 Hazard suit, it is significantly larger- being a monstrous creature rather than just standard infantry. However, despite its MC status the Ghostkeel’s stats are a tad on the low side compared to most such Tau models, though it more than makes up for this with a plethora of special rules and abilities.
All Ghostkeels are purchased in units; you can include from one to three models of the Ghostkeel itself and each one is accompanied by a pair of Stealth Drones. With a total of six wounds and toughness 5 for 130pts base, this is a pretty good deal in terms of survivability- it’s significantly cheaper than, say, a Riptide or most other equivalents from other factions. However, being down a pip of toughness compared to “normal” MCs is nothing to sneeze at, as it can really come back to haunt you against low-to-mid strength weapons like Bolters and Pulse Rifles. Apart from that small lack, the Ghostkeel has a very standard Tau statline- low weapon skill and initiative, average ballistic skill, a good number of attacks (at AP2 thanks to Smash) and a middling Leadership value for a model of its type. The Ghostkeel itself has 3+ armor and the Drones 4+ armor, which gives you a bit of mitigation against Grav weaponry- but they maintain toughness 5 so as not to drag the unit down, thankfully.
Rules, Wargear, and Options
The huge array of special rules and gear is where the Ghostkeel comes into its own: Stealth, Supporting Fire, and Fire Team are all built-in to the unit for a very solid starting package. (For those who have forgotten, Fire Team gives you +1BS if you have three MCs in a unit.) The Stealth Drone further upgrades this with its own Stealth Field rule, which gives Stealth to anything that doesn’t have it (i.e. the Drones themselves) and upgrades Stealth to Shrouded for the Ghostkeels- so already we’re talking about a 2+ cover save if you have any kind of cover at all. And then on top of that, the Electrowarfare Suite doubles all bonuses to cover saves when more than 12″ away from the enemy; for those that are counting, that is a +6 bonus to all cover saves (i.e. a 2+ even when standing in the open and affected by an Auspex) when the unit has at least one drone and one Ghostkeel. Now add in the Holophon Countermeasures that allow you to, once per Ghostkeel, force an enemy to make Snap Shots and you have a unit that can be almost impossible to bring down with any kind of shooting.
The Ghostkeel’s armament is more than acceptable, although it’s not a blowout like the Riptide. It comes with a main gun and a secondary, just like its bigger brother- the main gun can either be a Cyclic Ion Raker (S7 AP4 six shots, with the option to fire a S8 pie plate instead as standard) or a Fusion Collider (S8 AP1 small blast), both of them free swaps. The Fusion Collider has some possibilities, but with its statline no better than a normal Fusion weapon and small blasts so hard to actually catch more than one model with, I don’t think there’s much argument for it- those six Ion shots are just too good to pass up. It comes stock with a twin-linked Flamer as its secondary weapon- which isn’t completely awful, since it can at least use it on Overwatch, but the TL Burst Cannon (5pts) and TL Fusion Blaster (10pts) should almost always take its place unless you’re really scraping, especially considering the formation bonuses you can get with it.
Like all battlesuits, Ghostkeels also have access to the various support systems; where applicable, they have the same cost increases/restrictions as the other “big” suits and thus can’t get Hit and Run and pay more for the Shield/FNP. Target Locks are a natural choice for the unit if you’re taking more than one Ghostkeel; they let you apply your firepower more efficiently and are quite cheap. Putting down as many shots as it does, the Advanced Targeting System (precision shots) can be useful as well and it’s quite cheap to boot; and, of course, Early Warning Override (interceptor) is always a useful option to have.
The unit also deserves special note for something that is practically unique in the Tau codex- the Bonding Knife rule is actually helpful to them. With only Leadership 9 and the potential to field three battlesuits and six drones in a unit, you really want to be able to pass that regroup check regardless of your casualties- when the last two models in the squad are two battlesuits, you don’t want to be relying on snake eyes to get them back in the fight. So for a measly 2-3pts, you can put an insurance policy on your Ghostkeels that is well worth the price and I suggest you do it anytime you’re fielding more than a solo suit (which does not benefit from the Bonding, since it can never be below 25% and still be alive.)
So what niche does the Ghostkeel fill in a Tau army? In a lot of ways, they are similar to the Riptide- a highly survivable and mobile attacker that can perform passably in melee at times and brings some useful gun options to the army. Ghostkeels have better anti-vehicle firepower than their big brothers do thanks to the large number of shots on the Ion Raker, but with only AP4 they aren’t nearly as much of a threat to most types of infantry. Their secondary gun options are a tad worse, but given they are only 2/3rds of the price, that is hardly a terrible crime.
So Ghostkeels can make good hunters of light-to-medium weight tanks and light infantry while staying survivable against a lot of types of firepower. While they aren’t exactly vulnerable to small arms shots (as T5 and 2+ save should shrug them pretty consistently), they will take more damage from such weapons than a Riptide usually will, so be careful. The flip side of this, however, is that big guns that don’t ignore cover are pretty futile against them, since they will still get their 2+ save and have a huge number of ablative wounds (potentially fifteen before losing a squad member, for a full unit.) Getting pulped by those S10/StrD weapons will occasionally be annoying, but those typically come in low enough numbers that you can put Drones out front and not be too worried.
The big trick to keeping them alive, though, is using their Holophon Countermeasures. The ITC and GW FAQs have both confirmed that the Countermeasures can be used once per battlesuit in the unit (and affect the whole unit each time), which gives you a good incentive to max the squad size out. Those rare units that can pierce your defenses easily (such as a Hunter’s Eye squad) you simply pop off one of your Holophon activations and suddenly you’re not taking all that much damage at all- a full unit of three Centurions is only putting 1-2 wounds on the squad, which is pretty ignorable damage. It won’t help you as much when the enemy’s firepower is distributed across large numbers of units with 1-2 guns each, but even then it can be useful. Also, note that when activated they force all of the shots from the unit to be snap shots, even if they are targeting things other than the Ghostkeels- it’s a big disincentive to stuff like Gargantuan Creatures to split their fire into you.
The Ghostkeel is not without its issues, though. First and foremost of these are its relatively short ranges- the Ion Raker only goes to 24″ and its other weapons are all 18″ or less, which means against a lot of opponents you may not get to shoot on the first turn of the game as the Ghostkeel does not have Infiltrate or any similar rule unless you get lucky with your warlord traits. Similarly to the smaller Stealth suits, they want to stay somewhat- but not excessively- close to the enemy in order to be able to use their guns without getting charged, often a tricky balance that can limit the targets you shoot at. Making good use of their Thrust moves is key, and remember that as Monstrous Creatures they will ignore all terrain checks, even the drones.
Another (although typically less problematic) issue is the lack of any invuln saves for the unit. Since they rely so heavily on cover and bonuses to cover, against any weapon that can bypass cover saves they can be in big trouble- and this is becoming more and more common these days. Holophon Countermeasures can stave off such attacks for a short time, but they are unlikely to last you through the whole battle, so it is imperative that you eliminate those units as quickly as you can. Worse, however, is getting stuck in close combat where their comparatively-weak saves and low toughness both come back to bite them, along with their middling leadership value and high squad size. Though they may be able to batter down weak opponents like Guard and Eldar, anything tougher than that will give them big problems in close combat and should be avoided at all costs. They are fine with getting some free punches in on vehicles if it comes down to that, though, as they’re just as good as a Riptide on the offensive.
There are two formations for the Ghostkeel that deserve some special note- the Optimized Stealth Cadre and Ghostkeel Wing. The first is the one most people probably immediately thought of; it gives the units +1 Ballistic Skill and Ignores Cover as well as the ability to always strike rear armor, all of which do an excellent job of enhancing the Ghostkeel’s primary mission of hunting tanks and light infantry. With the OpStealth bonuses, a single Ghostkeel stands a very strong chance of vaporizing any tank within its range- all the more so if you brought a full unit of three for that BS5. The Ghostkeel Wing, on the other hand, can be a bit more awkward but shares its bonuses with the rest of the army rather than keeping them to itself- you need three separate Ghostkeel units, but anything within 12″ of at least two of them gains Stealth. For a low-survivability army like Tau, this is an absolute godsend and can easily net 3+ or 2+ cover saves for other things in range; the +1BS for shooting multiple Ghostkeels and preventing Overwatch as well are nice little bonuses.
Even as part of the formations it’s in, the Ghostkeel ends up being a relatively fair unit with some very exploitable weaknesses- and though that may not sound like a huge recommendation, that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful and fun to use. It doesn’t have the same reputation that the Riptide does and thus won’t typically get you the same kind of hate from the casual crowd, but can still impress with some of its tricks when used right. The Tau codex is full of “solid but not amazing” units and the Ghostkeel trends towards the higher end of that pile, although I wouldn’t say that it escape it entirely. If you’re looking for an interesting addition to your collection in terms of both modeling and gameplay, the Ghostkeel may be the right fit.
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