A rather unusual entry to the Tau armory, Sniper Drone Teams have a lot of unique features going for them in terms of statline and wargear, but aren’t often seen on the tabletop. Click to read why, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Often overlooked in the codex, a Sniper Drone Team can be a surprisingly-useful addition to many Tau armies, with nigh-unheard of accuracy, useful gun stats, and good general-purpose abilities along with a very reasonable price tag. Whether you’re looking for a bunker to hide some characters in, a unit to pick off heavy weapons and monstrous creatures, or a reasonably-durable source of Markerlights, Sniper Drones can do it all.
It is important to note that a Sniper Drone Team is, in fact, a team and consists of two very different models- the Sniper Drones themselves and the Firesight Marksmen that “supervise” the team. The Sniper Drones are largely a standard drone profile- toughness 4 and 4+ armor stand out as high points, but apart from those weak combat stats and fairly abysmal leadership 7 give them some definite downsides. Drones are natively BS2 (though this is largely irrelevant; see following) and come with a Longshot Pulse Rifle- despite the name, it shares nothing except its AP5 in common with a standard Pulse Rifle, instead being a 48″ Sniper weapon with Rapid Fire.
Firesight Marksmen are standard Fire Warriors that have traded out their common armament for a Pulse Pistol (still S5 despite the tiny size, but only 12″ range) and a Markerlight. However, somewhere along the way someone gave these friggin’ guys a “How to Shoot Good” manual because they are ballistic skill 5. Yeah. While most Tau struggle to best Orks in terms of accuracy, somehow the Marksmen are better shots than most named characters from across the galaxy. Huh, maybe put one of these dudes into a Riptide or Stormsurge instead of the usual chumps?
Special Rules, Wargear, and Options
So as a Tau unit the Drone Team obviously gets the usual Supporting Fire, which is as handy as ever; as a nominal stealth unit they also come with the- gasp– Stealth rule, which means they are a bit more resilient than many other units of their type; plopping them down inside a ruin can make the unit relatively hard to shift, though of course the usual Ignores Cover weapons will give them a bad time.
The big score in terms of gear, however, is the Marksman’s Drone Controller, which lets all of the Sniper Drones use his ballistic skill so long as he’s alive. This means that the whole unit is BS5 at pretty much all times, unless something horrible goes wrong, and that means a LOT of hits with Markerlights and with sniper rifles. The unit doesn’t really have any options to speak of, apart from adding additional bodies; it starts with three Drones and one Marksman and can add up to six more Drones (15pts each) and two more Marksman (13pts each), in any combination.
It should also be mentioned that the Longshot Pulse Rifle is not only a Pulse weapon (and will thus benefit from the Ethereal’s Storm of Fire) but also has the usual Sniper rules, i.e. Rending, Precision Shots, and always wounding on a 4+. Many players tend to focus overmuch on the Rending part, but the other two are arguably more important- Precision Shots allows you to pick off specific models with regularity and the pseudo-Poison effect means they can wound tough targets with comparative ease.
So what do you do with these guys? Well, there’s actually quite a number of surprising uses for them, despite the mundane appearance of the unit. The “durrrr” one is that they make good snipers- unlike most sniper units, Sniper Drone Teams have weapons that are both extremely long-ranged and extremely accurate (not to mention mobile, bar the Markerlight)- this lets you pretty easily pelt the enemy with fire and take out key models with Precision Shots, most especially those nasty heavy/special weapon troopers that don’t get a Look Out Sir roll. Monstrous creatures with a 3+ armor save or worse will also find themselves in serious trouble from Sniper Drones, as they can easily pile a lot of wounds on pretty quickly. Tau already have Kroot which compare favorably with Sniper Drones in a large number of ways (more flexible deployment, better FoC slot, cheaper, etc) and can do a pretty similar job, so if this were all the unit were good for we’d probably call them garbage- but they go much beyond that.
Tau armies tend to be heavily reliant on Markerlights, but often finding sources of Markerlights that can last through a game is difficult. Pathfinders are both fragile and static; Skyrays are expensive and don’t provide many hits; Tetras are fantastic but can only be brought in a Combined Arms and are also quite fragile; Marker Drones are great when paired with a Commander but useless when not; etc. The Sniper Drone Team adds another option to the Tau arsenal for bringing Markerlights; 84pts gets you the minimum three Drones to act as fire support and ablative bodies as well as three Firesight Marksmen to give you three BS5 Markerlights. The unit actually comes in second just behind Tetras in terms of expected Markerlight hits generated per point, and while it may be largely static it certainly has other advantages in its favor (like Stealth.) Better yet, if you’re going budget on your HQ choices (a Cadre Fireblade or Ethereal), the Drone Controllers will apply to the Drones of any attached characters as well- in the case of a Cadre Fireblade, this can mean six BS5 Markerlights coming out of the same unit, all for just over 150pts.
The Ethereal has other synergies with the unit, however- Sniper Drones can put out a pretty shocking number of shots even on their own, especially if the enemy closes to within 24″ for Rapid Fire, but add in a nice little Aun buddy and suddenly that’s three shots from each Drone, hitting on 2s. Needing 4+s to wound anything may mean it won’t devastate most infantry, but against models that rely on high toughness (MCs, bikes, Plague Marines, etc) for their survivability it can be a nasty surprise. The Ethereal doesn’t even need to be joined to the unit in question for this to work, merely close enough that his Storm of Fire ability will affect them- because, be honest, do you really use any of the others when you bring an Ethereal? I thought not. However, often enough the Aun will be hanging with the Drones since it’s an easy way to bunker up and hide from enemy fire- T4 on the unit helps reduce the number of incoming wounds and Stealth makes shrugging most firepower a lot easier, especially if you can Go to Ground and then stand back up with the Exemplar of the Selfless Cause warlord trait.
One thing to watch out for with Sniper Drone Teams, however, is leadership checks- with only Ld7 the unit is very vulnerable to simply skittering off the board at the first sign of casualties, which makes the aforementioned Ethereal doubly helpful for them. Taking advantage of the unit’s comparatively-long range (36″/48″) is also recommended, as many opponents will quickly realize what a threat they can be and so make them a priority target. The Teams are tough compared to normal Tau units (which tend to vaporize pretty instantaneously), but concentrated shooting or any amount of assault will see them fold just about instantly, so choose your position with care. Also, don’t be afraid to hit the dirt with them if you think they’re gonna get targeted- while losing the benefit of BS5 is sad, making snap shots with a living unit is infinitely preferable to having full ballistic skill on a dead one.
Sniper Drone Teams offer a very unique option to bring both firepower and Markerlight support to the table in the same unit, and in a way that can complement certain types of army builds very well. Their role can be a bit niche, depending on the types of forces you like to play, but their efficiency is undeniable and their unique profile lends itself well to filling in slots in many armies.
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