A formation that’s been gaining some attention recently, the Piranha Firestream Wing is newly back from the dead following the updates to the FAQ and there’s more than a few skilled players who are giving it a whirl. Click to read more about it, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Lord knows I love Piranhas, even when they aren’t great. And sadly, until recently the Piranha Firestream Wing hasn’t been great due to changes made by the ITC vote- it’s shown up in tournaments now and again, but hasn’t made a lot of waves at ITC events for the most part. However, with the new racial FAQs gone live and the resulting reversion to the printed text of the Firestream’s effect, it stands to become a meaningful part of the meta as well as a significant option for Tau armies to make use of in lieu of the big suits that have composed the majority of their firepower up until now.
The Firestream Wing comes out of the Farsight Enclaves book, though it is not mandatory for it to be a Farsight detachment (though there’s no reason not to make it one, since none of its units have the option for Bonding Knives.) It is composed of four units of Piranha skimmers; one of them is the Target Acquisition Team and must have only a single model, the others can be of any size and armament.
Composition and Special Rules
A Firestream Wing gains two main benefits that give it value in a competitive environment compared to the standard Piranha (which, though I love it, is not going to be seen at the top tables on its own.) The first is the Target Acquisition Team- this solo model can nominate a single enemy unit at the beginning of your shooting phase as the Wing’s target for the turn and all Piranha models in the formation gain +1BS and Tank Hunter when shooting at that target. (Note that this bonus only applies to the Piranhas, not any drones in the formation.) As Piranhas are often tasked with destroying enemy vehicles and have an otherwise-lackluster BS3, this is a huge bonus for them- all the more so because of the formation’s other rules.
The second part of the formation is the one most people are familiar with, Rearm and Refuel. If the entirety of a squadron ends its movement phase within 6″ of your board edge, it can choose to leave the table (even if some members are immobilized) and enter ongoing reserves; when it returns, it will be restored to its full original strength and with any drones or expended weapons ready for use again as well as any damage repaired. However, like other units a Firestream Wing is unable to leave the table the same turn it arrives (though you typically wouldn’t want to anyways.)
So, obviously the Firestream Wing offers some very interesting possibilities to a Tau player outside of the normal paradigm; Tau are typically a somewhat fragile army with very limited endurance and once they begin taking damage or getting assaulted they will usually fold up fairly quickly. In fact, it is this very reason that the “monster mash” armies are predominant for modern Tau, as they are much more resilient against most things than regular Tau armies are. The Firestream Wing, however, offers a different type of play and one that is familiar to many players- the ability to spawn more units as the game progresses.
A Firestream Wing can produce up to four sets of drones over the course of a game, dependent on circumstances; especially when taken in larger units this can be an impressive number of models moving across the table surprisingly quickly. While Gun Drones may not be the most terrifying of units in the world, they are reasonably tough (T4/4+) and can put out a surprising amount of shooting, especially when supported by a VX1-0 Drone Network or the likes. They won’t wipe out the enemy on their own, but they can support your other units (both in the metaphorical sense and in the more literal one, as they have the Supporting Fire rule and thus can be a big discouragement to assaults) and cause problems of all sorts for the enemy.
Knowing the role of your drones is key to using the Firestream Wing; they are not scoring units , but also do not count towards victory points gained for killing units (and thus won’t hinder you in Purge the Alien games or the ITC Maelstrom missions.) As a result, they can be thought of as almost entirely expendable in most senses, as they cannot on their own actually win you a game- however, they can certainly still win you games in a less direct sense. The fact that their weapons are Pinning is very easy to forget but also incredibly important; forcing a key enemy unit to stand still for a turn as well as denying any possibility of a charge as well as negating most of its shooting is absolutely clutch at times, so make sure you have the enemy make that Leadership test every time a unit causes at least one casualty. And while they might be Tau units with the usual crappy stats, drones can be surprisingly effective in a fight against weaker opponents; Initiative 4 and Toughness 4 go a long ways towards winning (or even just tying) battles. Don’t be afraid to assault opponents like Eldar or Guardsmen with your drones if you need to lock them down or finish off the last couple of members of a squad; I even throw them in against Space Marines and the like when I have them significantly outnumbered.
However, drones can do a lot more for you than just kill stuff- their very presence on the battlefield can be one of their most important assets you have. While drones might not “count” for some purposes (such as scoring missions), they still very much are units and thus the enemy cannot move within 1″ of them except during the assault phase. Combined with their excellent mobility thanks to the Jet Pack unit type, drones are excellent at positioning themselves in inconvenient places and forcing the enemy to choose between ignoring them (and thus conceding that area of the battlefield to you) and expending resources to get rid of them (and thus taking that attention off of your “real” units, allowing them to do their jobs unmolested.) It is this strategy of harassment and attrition at which the Firestream Wing excels, since it can generate so many units over the course of the game and none of them are trivial to remove. While some armies won’t have a lot of trouble with this sort of thing due to having an abundance of low-level shooting (especially Battle Company and its Rhinos/Drop Pods, etc) for many others it can prove very problematic because they simply don’t have enough different shooting attacks to realistically get rid of the drones that are annoying them. This is especially true for deathstar-type armies, which typically just field one really big unit that can only assault a limited number of things per turn; by pushing your drones forward and repeatedly forcing them into the enemy’s face, you can deny them charge opportunities against your main force and control their position on the field with relative ease.
This ability to control position is one of the most important parts of the drone units and can do a lot for you; enemies likely won’t be thrilled about charging your drones (since they will have to eat a ton of twin-linked overwatch from the main unit as well as anything else nearby) and shooting them won’t be a lot better, since they drones can easily Go to Ground in cover and make themselves obnoxiously hard to dislodge. Of course, with only Leadership 7 it won’t take a lot of casualties to send them scurrying off the table (or Swept in combat), but even so this all costs valuable time and attention on the enemy’s part that isn’t getting aimed at your main force.
Up until now we’ve ignored the Piranhas in favor of their drones, because the drones will always constitute the majority of models on the field from the formation; however, you shouldn’t take this to mean that the Piranhas themselves won’t contribute or aren’t important- indeed, they fulfill a very important role alongside the drones. While their little death frisbees can do a good job of laying wounds onto infantry where needed, they will struggle mightily to do anything at all to vehicles and monstrous creatures- and that’s where the Piranhas come in. With Ballistic Skill bonuses and Tank Hunter, the Piranhas can put a lot of hurt onto enemy tanks in pretty short order, even all the way up to AV13 and AV14. Add in a Markerlight or two and you can all but guarantee the death of a vehicle- or anything with a 3+ save or worse- via a massive volley of Seeker Missiles. With its ability to get the Missiles back each time it returns, the Firestream Wing is one of the few times I think adding Seeker Missiles is worthwhile on a Tau vehicle; it’s also why I think the inability to leave the table every turn is largely moot, as you want to be staying on for a turn to launch your Seekers before exiting to bring another load of drones and Seekers for the enemy.
The desire to be constantly unloading drones and missiles at the enemy can be a big limiter on the formation, however, as it needs to spend almost all of its time near your board edge; this means it won’t be able to get out to score more distant objectives for most of the game (which can hurt you a lot in the Maelstrom missions.) Though Piranhas are Fast vehicles and can move 12″ and still fire both their Seeker Missiles at full BS, their drones cannot disembark when they do so and will have to fire snap shots. Similarly, the Piranhas cannot move Flat Out the turn that you disembark their drones, which will limit your ability to reposition at times. Since the Firestream relies so heavily on its on-/off-table cycle it’s important to always be looking a turn ahead for what you need to do; when to fire missiles and when to hold them back, whether you want the whole formation “synchronized” or if you want to stagger their arrivals, when to stick around an extra turn in order to apply that little bit more firepower, and how to plan around the game end are all very important things to consider.
In addition to being available on its own, the Firestream Wing can also be taken as an auxiliary choice in a Dawn Blade Cadre; this means that its drones and Piranhas will benefit from the reroll to wound/penetrate each turn that the Dawn Blade gives in addition to the Tank Hunter that the formation has, so you can potentially have a lot of rerolls going against the enemy on a given turn. The ability to get a reroll to wound for your drones is pretty clutch, since it means they are getting rerolls on both parts of their attack, which is always great. It can also have good synergy with many of the other formations available, especially the Drone Network.
For those facing down a Firestream on the other side of the table, there’s a number of things you can do against it. First (and most obviously), Interceptor is great against the Firestream because it can force them to Jink before they have a chance to shoot at you, which will greatly diminish their effectiveness. However, as most armies don’t have access to many or any Interceptor weapons, this often isn’t a viable option, so second on the list would be don’t try and shoot at the Firestream Wing unless you can destroy an entire unit of the Piranhas. Expending firepower to damage or destroy a few of the models as you try and break through their 4+ cover (because they will Jink in almost every case) is a complete waste on any except the final turns of the game. Third, and on a similar vein, take out the Target Acquisition Team as quickly as you can- since it is a single-model squad once destroyed it cannot return and it provides the rest of the formation with significant bonuses, so dropping it as early as is viable helps a lot. Fourth, know when you can afford to ignore the drones and when you can’t- and have a good plan for dealing with them. Forcing morale checks can go a long ways towards shutting them down, but it’s not a reliable method of doing so- so be ready to make assaults or hit them with AP4 weapons where needed. Drones take up a lot of space on the board, which can be good for the Tau player but also bad, since it often forces them to crowd in close when they’d rather not and can leave them vulnerable to blast weapons.
The Piranha Firestream Wing is a solid, even strong formation with a lot of flexibility in how it is used and synergy with a variety of different Tau armies. I think the earlier attempt to nerf it was a mistake; it certainly doesn’t come anywhere close to things like the Aspect Host or Battle Company in terms of power level and I think smart play from the opponent can mitigate a lot of what it does, not to mention the inherent limitations of the formation itself. I’ve played both with and against the formation in its un-nerfed state (including allowing it to fly off the table every turn) and it’s quite possible to deal with; as with every army, you just need to know your opponent.
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