If you got a caper then you know who to call/It’s the Sneak, it’s the Sneak!/Who’s the dapper swindler out of Jannity Hall?/It’s the Sne~ak!
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Stealth Suits are the lightest battlesuit fielded by the Tau military in large numbers, although this is actually somewhat misleading as the name technically refers to two different battlesuit variants. The XV25 version is the most commonly seen and is the larger of the two, having most of the features that are commonly expected of a battlesuit and standing significantly taller than a space marine in stature, roughly equivalent to Terminator armor. XV15s, on the other hand, are essentially a powered exoskeleton equipped with jet thrusters, allowing a single infantryman to carry significantly larger weapon loadouts than are normally possible as well as incorporating the various baffling and distortion systems common to the Stealth Suit. XV15s seem to have been largely phased out by the Fire Caste, although presumably some legacy units are still in operation.
On the tabletop, Stealth Suits (regardless of their mass designation) have a statline somewhere between basic Tau infantry and those of the larger battlesuits such as Crisis. They are, however, still infantry models and thus can benefit from cover (and stratagems) in the usual fashion, which is well worth remembering. With an 8″ move they are reasonably fast, especially as they have the Fly keyword and can thus pass over most obstacles they encounter. Strength and toughness of four give them a pretty decent basic array, and with two wounds and 3+ armor they are pretty resilient overall. Weapon Skill 5+ is standard for Tau, if a bit trashy overall, and ballistic skill 4+ isn’t as high as we might like but isn’t unusably bad. Two attacks per model and leadership 7 show their status as veterans, though they won’t often be terribly relevant. One model per squad can be upgraded to a Shas’vre for free, gaining +1 attack and +1 leadership. At a basic 28pts per model with their standard gear, Stealth Suits aren’t exactly cheap, but as we’ll see they are priced well within the affordable range.
Special Rules and Options
Like most Tau units, Stealth Suits have the For the Greater Good rule, allowing them to support nearby allies with overwatch fire. They also have Bonding Knife Ritual, which lets them pass any morale check if they roll a natural ‘6’ on the die- though this won’t typically be relevant due to the small squad size, it’s still nice for when you take larger units or if the enemy is penalizing your leadership somehow.
Camouflage Fields is perhaps the most iconic rule of the unit, forcing the enemy to subtract one from all hit rolls that target the unit. Note that this is all hit rolls, whether in shooting or in melee, and thus is a very versatile ability that will protect them in almost every situation. Combined with their other defensive stats and whatnot, it makes them a surprisingly hard-to-deal-with unit. This is magnified by their Infiltrators ability, which allows them to be deployed anywhere on the field that is not within 12″ of an enemy unit and is outside of the enemy deployment zone; this lets them get to very inconvenient places on the first turn of the game and start scoring various positional objectives right away, rather than having to wait until later on as is typically the case.
Stealth Suits normally come armed with a Burst Cannon (18″ S5 AP0 Assault 4) on each model in the squad, which makes them a bit unremarkable; in other armies such a gun might be considered above par, but for Tau it’s really just two Pulse weapons strapped together, which isn’t a blowout. Still, it’s a fairly reasonable weapon, so we can’t complain about it too hard (although the short range is certainly vexing on what should be a skirmisher unit.) One model in every three can upgrade to a Fusion Blaster (18″ S8 AP-4 DmgD6 Assault 1) for +10pts, which gives the unit the rare capability of toting its own anti-tank weaponry- something almost unheard of in the Tau codex. I don’t think that it’s a blowout option, but for an army that can often struggle to bring anti-tank firepower in multiple slots, it’s very useful to have.
Any member of the squad can also take a single support system from the normal Tau list, even mixing and matching between the members of the team if you want; this can get pretty expensive pretty quick if you aren’t careful, but judicious choices can really boost the usefulness of the unit and some of the options are even cheap enough that you can feasibly put them on everyone without completely breaking the bank. A Drone Controller is arguably the premiere choice here, since you probably don’t need multiples of them (as you can always pull other models as casualties if you want) and unlike most other suits where you can get it XV25s don’t really need any support systems to do their job well, so the opportunity cost is quite low. Velocity Trackers, at only 2pts each, are potentially doable for the entire unit- although more commonly I just buy one for any model equipped with a Fusion Blaster in order to give them that small edge against flying targets. The Shield Generator is perhaps the least obvious choice for the unit; although a tad expensive (8pts per model), it turns the unit into a real hassle to deal with overall- minus one to hit, 2+ armor (thanks to cover), and a 4++ with two wounds is a lot of layers to break through, though I’m not sure it’s worth the price overall. Advanced Targeting System is borderline usable, since unlike many other suits you don’t give up a weapon to get it; if you’re taking a large squad and intended to use buffs to maximize their performance, it might be worthwhile.
Finally, there is also one other unique option available to the squad that can’t be bought by any other units in the Tau codex, although if we’re thinking about it’s really more of an upgrade for another unit rather than the Stealth Suits. For 20pts the squad can be equipped with a Homing Beacon, which can be placed at the beginning of the movement phase and allows one unit arriving via Manta Strike to instead make a Low-Altitude Drop (which is the same thing, but they have to be placed wholly within 6″ of the Beacon and don’t care about proximity to the enemy.) The Beacon doesn’t need to be used immediately, but it does short out of the enemy moves within 9″ of it, so you will typically want to be doing so. This used to be a much more powerful option when it could be placed at the end of the movement phase (allowing your Stealths to move over and place it where you wanted it) rather than the beginning; it’s still not wholly worthless, but all things considered it’s probably not an exciting option. Also keep in mind if you’re trying to do some Crisis alpha strike shenanigans that a Low-Altitude Drop is not a Manta Strike, and thus will prevent you from using the Farsight stratagem to get that +1 to hit.
Stealth Suits, though they have a lot of other text written into their unit entry, really come down to two very simple factors- Infiltrate and Fly. The other stuff certainly doesn’t hurt, but those two basic abilities are what really matter at the end of the day, and they tend to define the role that they play in most Tau armies in 8th edition. Even with the beta FAQ limiting first turn arrivals of reserves, there are still lots of ways to bypass this (e.g. Forward Operatives, Upon Wings of Fire, etc) and there are many armies that use such tactics to push forward powerful aggressive elements in the first turn or two of the game, and Tau need a way to deal with these things.
Enter Stealth Suits. Although other solutions definitely exist (Kroot and Pathfinders being two good examples) and they tend to be cheaper, these other units have some failings. First and foremost is the lack of the Fly keyword, and this is absolutely critical to understanding why Stealth Suits are so useful. Many melee armies- in fact, most good melee armies, I would argue- have perfected ways of “tri-pointing” models in order to trap them in combat and prevent them from falling back. (For those who aren’t familiar- this means getting three or models to surround an enemy in close combat such that there is no direction it can move to fall back without running into one of the models, leaving it trapped.) For a pure shooting army like Tau, it is imperative that this prevented from happening, because even just a single turn locked in combat and immune to your firepower for a unit such as Genestealers, or Khorne Berzerkers or the like can spell the end of your army. Since Stealth Suits have fly, the tri-point tactic does not work on them- they can simply pass over the enemy so long as there is at least one open space somewhere within 8″ of their position, which is all but guaranteed.
So a screen of Stealth Suits can push back enemy reserve units (and potentially even units that simply move across the field normally as well, depending on numbers and positioning) while remaining immune to being entrapped- that’s very important, and it’s probably the main reason you’ll be looking to take them. But if that was all they could do, they wouldn’t really be worth your time, nor the additional points cost above something like Drones. In many matchups, you won’t need that screening role because there are a fair number of armies that simply don’t bring those kind of units, so it’s important that they can do something else in those games; and oh boy, can they do things! With the ability to get anywhere on the field turn 1, Stealth Suits are amazing at grabbing distant objectives as well as scoring various positional secondary objectives such as Recon or Behind Enemy Lines. This is especially true because most Tau units are quite bad at these jobs, so Stealths look exceptionally good at them.
But it’s not just that they can get to the far corners of the field that makes them so great, because other units can do that- Tau have access to plenty of reserve units and quick-moving aerial options, after all. But what’s different about Stealth Suits is that they are so durable for their points, in several different ways. The built-in minus one to hit works in both shooting and melee, making them quite resilient to a lot of the BS4+ firepower out there and even degrading the BS3+ stuff down significantly; add in that they come with a 3+ armor save and are Infantry, allowing them to get cover almost trivially easy, and you have a unit that is pretty resistant to small arms fire but also to larger weapons, thanks to that hit penalty. Two wounds per model also helps, although with many of the multidamage weapons with high rates of fire out there (such as Armiger Helverins and Knights Castellan) you can still be in for a pretty bad time if they decide to focus on you. Still, if your dinky little 84pt unit of objective-grabbers is getting attention from your enemy’s 600pt Knight, there is a pretty good chance that they aren’t going to be nearly as much damage to rest of your list, which is good for you regardless. And though they are generally in a prime position to be assaulted, the penalty from their Camouflage Fields along with their natural resilience generally means that they will be able to scoot away with 1-2 squad members still alive and continue doing their job; they can even put out a surprising amount of damage in combat if you get lucky, as a basic squad gets seven S4 attacks.
Stealth Suits are also an excellent support piece for a variety of other reserve units; with a Drone Controller they can be an excellent spot to bring in a large block of Gun Drones in order to put some firepower in the enemy backfield and with a Homing Beacon they can also bring down Crisis dangerously close to the enemy, though this tends to be limited by the natural weaknesses of Crisis themselves. They also are great for screening your Coldstar Commanders that go leaping forward to hit a hard target, since they can deploy heavily forward and are fairly hard to get rid of; the two can complement each other nicely, with the Coldstar bringing the anti-tank and the Stealth Suits the anti-infantry needed to ward off different types of units.
We haven’t talked a lot about how to equip your Stealth Suits themselves, and honestly there aren’t a lot of options in that respect- the real question basically comes down to “do I take a Fusion Blaster or not?” I generally don’t- it’s expensive enough that it’s not a trivial cost, but the real loss tends to be in the mixed role that the unit ends up performing. Most of the targets that Stealth Suits will be running into on their position on the field are gonna be enemy troop units, and against those the Fusion just doesn’t have the numbers that the Burst Cannon does. That won’t be true if you see a lot of Custodes or Primaris Marines, but those aren’t typically your tournament mainstays, so I don’t think I would worry too much about them. On the other hand, Tau also tend to lack a lot of good platforms for heavy firepower if you are specifically avoiding bringing big suits and tanks to the table, so you may find it necessary to run some Fusions in your unit in order to have those couple of extra guns around. It also gains a lot more utility if you’re running Sa’cea Sept, which makes landing that one shot vastly more reliable.
It’s also worth remembering that as Infantry, Stealth Suits are able to benefit from a number of stratagems and abilities that aren’t available to most battlesuits. They can shoot twice with the Vior’la stratagem, get +1 to wound with Darkstrider, and even embark onto fortifications (but not Devilfish.) And of course, they can also benefit from all the battlesuit-specific stratagems as well, including ignoring cover, rerolling wounds, and inflicting mortal wounds on melee combatants. Don’t underestimate the utility of the many stratagems available to them- while most of them aren’t overtly powerful, they are quite cheap in most cases and sometimes it is those small bonuses that can give you the edge you need to tip things over.
Stealth Suits can be very annoying to deal with, but at the same time they can also be laughably easy as well. The first question to ask yourself when facing them is “how much do I care about getting rid of these?” Sometimes it may be extremely important to do so, in order to deny the enemy victory points or to clear sections of the field you need your reserves to arrive in. At other times, they may be fairly ignorable- the enemy isn’t getting points off them, or you don’t need to control those sections of the field. So understanding early on how much effort you’re willing to dedicate to them is pretty important, because if they’re not a priority you can just kinda sideline them pretty easily- a single squad of Stealth Suits brings less firepower than a minimum Strike Team for almost triple the cost (12 S5 shots vs 15 from the Strike), so if you’re just looking to degrade the enemy’s shooting they are probably one of your lowest-priority targets. They can, of course, get into your backline and harass you just like any mobile unit and which you should be prepared for, but if you have some vaguely-competent melee in the area they probably are not going to take the chance and will likely just sit about trying to pip wounds off your objective-campers.
If they are a priority for your army, though, then we have to start looking at ways to handle them. As already mentioned, many of the multidamage multishot weapons out there (including but not limited to Avenger Cannons, Disintegrators, Impaler Cannons, etc, etc) can be a pretty bad time for Stealth Suits, especially if they also come with good AP values as well- and many of them do. Weapons that can ignore cover also get a lot of mileage against Stealth Suits, since they drop them down from that all-important 2+ save; for similar reasons, melee attacks can do a pretty decent job on the unit, although you potentially have to eat overwatch in order to get the opportunity to do so. Still, that’s often not a huge issue (1-3 casualties, except in outlier situations) and it can often achieve some dual purposes.
If you’re less worried about killing the unit and more worried about the objectives they’re holding, the job becomes even easier. With a low model count and no Objective Secured, Stealth Suits are easily overwhelmed by another unit crowding onto the point they’re on and stealing it away from them; forcing them out of a table quarter (or deployment zone) can be more difficult, but it’s certainly possible to do by virtue of making it unattractive to stay there- they are tough but not invulnerable, and even just the threat of 2-3 units’ worth of Boltguns or the like can put pressure on them that they can’t ignore. Eventually they will have to make a choice between continuing to stand their ground and escaping with their lives, either one of which you’re probably okay with overall.
The real key with Stealth Suits is not to grant them undue importance. Yes, they can be annoying if they are harassing you from the flanks or rear, but they are generally going to be a lot less important than most other elements of the Tau army that you should be focusing on- as said, they have one of the lower firepower-per-point ratios for the army, since they pay quite a bit for their survivability. If you can safely ignore them, do so until other units are gotten rid of and you’re cleaning up the remainders of the little blue fishmen, at which point it shouldn’t be hard to finish the job.
Stealth Suits are a great example of a specialist unit- excellent at their particular niche and able to do several different useful things, but outside of that role somewhat lackluster and thus not automatically a feature of every army. However, for competitive Tau players the role they fill is a very important one, so you can expect to see them on the table pretty often when it comes to the more experienced generals out there.
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