Tau Codex Review: Elites: Firesight Marksman

A simple little fishman with only three wounds to his name, or the most important person in the Tau Empire army? Click to read the updated CA2018 article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.

Overview

Firesight Marksmen are the leaders of teams of Sniper Drones, there to coordinate the efforts of their charges and to set out targets of maximum priority. Equipped with limited stealth fields akin to those carried by larger suits such as the XV25 and XV95, they typically take a sheltered position somewhere in the rear echelons of the army and direct the fire of other contingents to maximum efficiency.

That is the theory, at least. In the actual game, Firesight Marksmen are actually more akin to baby HQs, able to bring useful features to the table completely independent of any Drones. Marksmen are characters, which is the first and foremost thing you should know about them, and though their statline may not be very impressive, it’s got numbers in the places that count most. Movement 5″ is entirely expected and reasonable, and weapon skill 5+ is shoddy but exactly what we get with Tau models, as are strength and toughness 3. Ballistic skill 3+ is a really nice feature, though, rising above almost all other Tau suits and infantry, and three wounds with 4+ armor is fairly snazzy as well. But the real selling point is the 25pt price tag, making them one of the cheapest sources of Markerlights possible in the Tau army.

Special Rules and Options

Firesight Marksmen have the For the Greater Good rule, obviously, allowing them to support nearby units when they are charged. They also have their Marksman Stealth Field, which adds an additional +1 to their cover save when they are in cover- this means that they will have 2+ armor in these cases, which combined with their multiple wounds makes them surprisingly resilient. They also add +1 to the hit rolls of all Sniper Drones of the same sept regardless of distance, provided that the Marksman can see whatever target the Drones are shooting at.

Firesight Marksmen do not have any options and come only in squads of a single model. They are always armed with a Markerlight and a Pulse Pistol (12″ S5 AP Pistol 1.)

Uses

Although the Marksman is a very simple unit, it is an extremely important one to the Tau codex and understanding how its armies function on the tabletop. Tau armies live and die by their Markerlights- anyone with even the most passing of knowledge of experience with Tau knows this. While most Tau units have only middling accuracy to start, if you can stack up Markerlighs (and other bonuses) with them, you can really push their deadliness over the top; a Riptide firing twenty-six shots is scary, but it’s even more scary when you’re hitting on 3s and rerolling 1s with those shots. Shutting down cover, allowing units to move (or advance) and fire without penalty, and launching Seeker Missiles can all also be very dangerous abilities as well, so having a good supply of Markerlights is critical to most Tau armies.

However, Tau players aren’t the only ones aware of this- anyone who has played against Tau knows it as well, and that is why Markerlights are almost inevitably the first target that anyone goes after when shooting a Tau army. Pathfinders, Marker Drones, and even Skyrays are vulnerable enough that they can be dropped in the early stages of a game, so while it isn’t hard to maintain Markerlight presence on turns 1 and 2, the middle-to-late game is a much more difficult proposition. Markerlights in other units (e.g. a Strike Team) are possible, but these tend to have very bad point efficiencies per hit and are often tasked with doing other jobs that detract from their ability to focus on providing Markerlight support.

This is where Firesight Marksmen enter the picture. As characters, they cannot easily be targeted by the enemy (though of course there are some ways around this) and as cheap characters, you aren’t having to break the bank in order to add some to your army. As almost all Tau armies will be running at least 1-2 HQs that tote a Markerlight as well, this means a pretty easy 4-6 highly accurate Markerlights in your army that can’t simply be shot off the table in the early turns of the game. The accurate part is very well worth noting as well- with better than average ballistic skill, your character-based Markerlights should be hitting more often than not (and there are even ways to enhance that, as we’ll get to in a minute.)

However, even all of this by itself wouldn’t really be enough. Even with a full six characters with Markerlights on, it is still a risky proposition to ask that they get up to the full complement of five Markerlight hits on a target needed to gain that all-important +1 to hit on a consistent basis. However, as it turns out, they don’t have to do it by themselves, as there are several stratagems that can help them out quite a bit. Uplinked Markerlight is the main one you’ll see used- for a mere 1CP, it turns one Markerlight hit into d3+1 Markerlight hits, which drastically increases your ability to get up to five consistently. The Sa’cea sept also has Orbital Markerlight Distribution Network, which puts a Markerlight counter onto every unit within 6″ of a single target; since many other armies need to stay in range of auras to gain their bonuses, this can be an excellent way to slap that all-important first counter down on most of an army. Between your various characters and your stratagems, you should be able to fairly consistently put five counters on one unit and then one counter on 2-4 more units that you want to shoot at, at least in the early- to mid-game sections, and if you find yourself consistently destroying more than four enemy units per turn… well, you’re probably winning at that point regardless.

It’s also very important to remember that a Marksman is not just a way to put counters onto enemy units but is also a unit in and of itself. This might seem like a fairly trivial observation, but it’s actually quite important as there are many jobs that can be done by any unit but that are still very important to winning the game. A Marksman can, for example, hold an objective by their lonesome- and being a character, it is actually pretty unlikely that the enemy can push you off of that objective easily. A Marksman can push teleporting units out of your backfield, denying them the space they need to arrive by simple virtue of its existence. A Marksman can qualify as the “unit within 6” in order to trigger the Tau Sept bonus. There are lots of jobs that need a unit, but don’t really care what that unit is- and Marksmen are perfect for all of these jobs.

Getting back to their role as Markerlight providers, though, Firesight Marksmen are important not just as way to finish out Markerlight chains but also as a way to start them- putting one token on a unit will significantly up the efficiency of your later units that shoot Markerlights at them, allowing you to more easily get to the upper tiers of the chart. A unit of Pathfinders or Marker Drones working alongside the Marksman will be a lot more likely to get the hits you need if the Marksman fires first, so even armies that make heavy use of non-character Markerlight sources should definitely be making use of the characters as well.

And finally, of course, we have the actual nominal point of the Marksman- buffing Sniper Drones. Although they aren’t as commonly seen in competitive list, Sniper Drones can actually be a pretty good solution to a lot of the problems that Tau often face; I won’t go too deeply into them here (as that is the topic of a different review), but suffice to say that a gun that wounds on 3s and causes mortal wounds on 6s, or even 5s with a stratagem, is a very valuable thing to have, especially when it’s getting multiple shots and can fire on the move. But the Firesight Marksman is what enables your Stealth Drones to really be functional- at BS5+ or BS4+ they are a lot less impressive. But a Marksman combined with any other unit in range carrying a Drone Controller can buff them all the way down to BS3+, which is as good as any other army in the game gets for accuracy. Do note that the Marksman must be the same sept as your Sniper Drones to give them this benefit, though they do not have to be within any particular range of them, so the usual tactic of mixing Tau and Sa’cea Septs has some disadvantages here.

On that subbject, I think it is worth discussing the septs available; while there are some septs that function better or worse for nearly all Tau units, the Firesight Marksman in particular has some very slanted benefits. As a single-model squad with a gun that fires only one shot, they benefit hugely from Sa’cea Sept, to the point where it is actually a bit unusual to see anything else for them. Guaranteeing the accuracy of those all-important Markerlights is critical to a Tau army, so if you’re looking at the top-tier Tau lists they almost always include a Sa’cea Vanguard with some kind of HQ and three Firesight Marksmen; for as little as 125pts in total, this unlocks some really powerful options for a Tau army and is almost never going to be overlooked. Even when that’s not an option, at the very least an Auxiliary Support Detachment will be included, since having even a single Sa’cea character makes the stratagem usable- and that is another fantastic way to distribute Markerlights.

The only real downside to the Marksman is that they are independent models that are deployed individually, which means that they can very easily bloat the drop count of your army (making you less likely to go first) as well as the number of potential kills (which can be a big disadvantage in certain missions.) As characters, they also are prime choices for the Headhunter secondary objective in the ITC Champions missions, which can also be problematic- however, even with all of those considerations in mind, most Tau lists still bring three of them to every battle, which should tell you something about how good they are.

Countering

Firesight Marksmen can be a bit annoying to deal with, especially if you are trying to shoot at them. With 2+ armor any time they are getting a cover save and three wounds each, it can take some pretty concentrated shooting to push one off the table- and there’s inevitably two more sitting right beside it even if you do, so bumping that one 25pt model rarely feels like much of an accomplishment. The typical advice when shooting at Tau is “kill the Markerlights first,” and for good reason, but in cases where the majority of your opponent’s Markerlight support is coming from characters this just isn’t a feasible solution. Even with several units of dedicated snipers on your side (e.g. Rangers), you are unlikely to eliminate all of their characters before the end of the game.

That’s not to say that you won’t ever be able to kill them, but attempting to do it with traditional shooting is something of a fool’s errand. Think of each Marksman as a very small Terminator and you’re more on par with what you’re dealing with- Plasma and Melta, or other such high-AP multidamage shooting, will do a much better job of taking care of them than simple small arms. But even better than that are melee attacks; even rather weak melee (e.g. a squad of Guardsmen or Termagants) stands good odds of dragging down a Marksman in combat, especially since they are fairly easy to surround and trap. If you really want to kill them off, you need to get in and do some charges- though as always this can be a dangerous proposition against Tau. But if your plan was to assault into them anyways, you’re already going to be soaking a lot of overwatch, so putting charges onto one or two more units won’t really change that any. Do be aware that units from different septs are allowed to use For the Greater Good to support each other freely- the fact that one unit is Tau Sept and another is Sa’cea Sept will not stop them from interlocking fire.

Final Thoughts

Although a fairly simple unit with not a lot of rules or wargear to its name (and not even a “proper” solo box release of its own, as it can only be obtained as part of the Sniper Drone Team box), the Firesight Marksman is one of the most important and prevalent units in the Tau codex. It is absolutely critical for a high-tier Tau army to have Markerlight support, and the Marksman’s status as a character along with its exceedingly cheap price ensures that this can be maintained without undue dedication of resources. If you are looking to play Tau, they are functionally a necessity for your army, either through buying or conversion.

As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.

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AbusePuppy is the one who has been ruining 40K for everyone this whole time. He is also searching for the six-fingered man and is one of the three people who know the secret recipe for coke (not the soda, the illegal drug.)

2 Responses to “Tau Codex Review: Elites: Firesight Marksman”

  1. Draaen September 19, 2018 5:50 am #

    Yeah these guys are really important I never leave home without them. I converted up 3 as kroot with cammo cloaks and hunting dogs or binoculars. They are one of those breakout units from the transition to 8th for Tau that initially wasn’t really on my radar.

    Keep up the great reviews!

  2. Shas’O September 20, 2018 2:57 am #

    Great review! I like brining them a devilfish to conserve drops when needed.

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