It’s big, it flies, it’s got laser machineguns for hands, and it has a million little friends that will die for it on a whim. The Riptide battlesuit- everyone’s favorite Tau unit to hate. Click to read the updated CA2018 version of the article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
One of the more recent introductions to the Tau arsenal, the XV104 Riptide Battlesuit has been made possible by several critical discoveries. The nova reactor that is the core of the battlesuit is the most important amongst these- powered by unstable dark matter, it allows the Riptide to carry powerful weapon systems without compromising the maneuverability that is the hallmark of most battlesuits. Just as important, however, is the advanced nanocrystalline armor that gives it the survivability needed to maintain a presence on the battlefield. However, with both of these technologies still relatively new and in short supply, the number of Riptides in the Empire is very limited- despite what you might have thought if you went to a tournament around the end of 7th edition.
The Riptide comes with a very respectable statline as benefits its status as a monster; toughness seven and 2+ armor make it quite difficult to hurt, and with fourteen wounds even the damage that does go through is gonna take some time to stack up. Movement of 12″ means that it can get around the field pretty quickly (especially since it can further enhance this with its abilities); its melee stats are slightly better than an average Tau (S6 A4 WS5+), but not so much that you’ll actually ever want to put it into combat- unlike previous editions, monsters gain no innate benefits when fighting, so don’t ever expect it to do anything there. Ballistic skill 4+ is what we get for most Tau units but is still a bit disappointing, though it makes up for it in the number of shots it can put out. Like most large units, the Riptide’s statline degrades as it is wounded, though there are ways to bypass this; one small benefit, however, is that it only ever drops to BS5+, never any lower.
At 250pts for the basic loadout, a Riptide is quite the pricey beast and including more than one in your army will definitely put a crimp in your other options, but they definitely have enough punch to justify their price.
Special Rules and Options
Riptides benefit from For the Greater Good just like most other Tau units, allowing them to support a nearby friend; with the volume of firepower they can put out, this is no trivial matter, either. It also comes with a 5+ invulnerable save against all attacks thanks to its Riptide Shield Generator. The most notable feature, however, is the Nova Reactor, which costs one mortal wound to activate (and no longer requires a roll- you just declare it during the movement phase.) Doing so allows you to pick one of three benefits- either improving the invulnerable save to a 3++ (Nova Shield), allowing it to make a 2d6″ movement in the charge phase even if it doesn’t charge (Boost), or improve the number of shots on its main weapon (Nova Charge.) These options allow you to improve the Riptide’s offensive, defensive, or mobility as needed, making it a very flexible unit indeed.
The guns on a Riptide are the main attraction, though, and they are pretty impressive. It comes with one main cannon and a pair of secondary weapon systems (which must be identical); the main cannon comes standard as a Heavy Burst Cannon, which is 36″ S6 AP-1 Dmg2 Heavy 12, and the Nova Charge will give it six extra shots for a total of eighteen(!) per turn. Alternatively, you can swap it out (and pay 15pts) for an Ion Accelerator, which like most Ion weapons has two profiles depending on whether you choose to overcharge or not. The normal version is 72″ S8 AP-3 DmgD3 Heavy D6, and overcharging ups it to S9 and Dmg3, but will do a mortal wound to you if you roll any 1s to hit. Nova Charging the Ion will up its shots to a straight six, rather than having to roll a die. Of the two weapons, the Heavy Burst Cannon is favored pretty heavily because of the flexibility of its profile (as it can threaten both infantry and vehicles pretty effectively) as well as good synergy with some other Tau stratagems and the cheaper price, but the Ion Accelerator is not completely awful, since it gives you a long-range weapon that hits pretty hard and isn’t as reliant on Nova Charge to be effective.
For backup weapons, though, the case is a lot more clear-cut. The basic loadout is two Smart Missile Systems, each of which are 30″ S5 AP0 Heavy 4 weapons that ignore cover bonuses and don’t need line of sight. As weapons that can fire without LOS are fairly rare in the Tau army and very necessary to root out units that try and hide behind ruins and other awkward terrain, the SMS is very valuable option and almost always what you should pick. It doesn’t help that the other weapons aren’t great for reasons of their own- the twin Fusion Blasters that you can swap out for are a bit expensive (+6pts) and are much shorter-ranged than the SMS, though they do have the advantage of bringing some solid anti-tank shooting to the unit. However, with quad Fusion being a common setup for most Commanders out there, I don’t think you typically need the Fusion on your Riptides, especially because it doesn’t mesh well with some of the support systems we’ll discuss. The other option available is the ever-unimpressive Plasma Rifle. The Plasma Rifle, even with its changes, is a pretty unimpressive weapon overall- it’s only real virtue is being cheap (-14pts compared to SMS) while still having a decent range and rate of fire (24″ S6 AP-3 Rapid Fire 1). It’s still worse than the SMS at almost all jobs, though, and gains little advantage from the Advanced Targeting System that generally accompanies the main weaponry. If you’re absolutely strapped for points and can’t get them anywhere else you might consider it, but otherwise don’t bother.
In addition to its guns, a Riptide can also carry up to two support systems off of the list (though it is prohibited from using some of them, like the Shield Generator- it already has its own shield!) The most important one is the Target Lock, which allows you to ignore the penalty for firing heavy weapons on the move- as the Riptide very much wants to stay mobile (and most all of the weapons are Heavy), this is absolutely invaluable and should be considered a near-mandatory part of its base cost. (In fairness, many players use Markerlights to achieve this effect, and while that’s certainly possible it does urn the risk that your MLs get killed in the early/mid game, leaving your Riptide without support, and that worries me too much to rely on that setup.) The other support system slot can vary depending on your needs; Advanced Targeting System is very popular, since it improves all of the AP of your guns by one and thus makes the HBC and SMS a lot more dangerous. Velocity Tracker (+1 to hit against any target with Fly) is also very useful, since it helps compensate for Tau’s low ballistic skill when shooting at airplanes, Eldar, and similar things. Counterfire Defense System isn’t often seen, but on a Tau Sept Riptide it can be absolutely terrifying, as it allows you to reroll all misses on overwatch. If you see a lot of reserves, Early Warning Override might be worth considering, as it gives you a free shot at any unit arriving within 12″ of you (albeit at -1BS.)
Riptides can also be taken with up to two Shielded Missile Drones accompanying them, which are pretty much exactly like what they sound like. With a 4++ save and a Missile Pod, they aren’t… bad on the most basic level, but since they cost almost as much as a Shield Drone and Missile Drone put together (but only have one wound), there really isn’t a good argument for ever buying them. This is especially true since they didn’t get a price reduction when the Missile Pod did, making them look pretty hilariously overcosted.
Do you like shooting things? If you’re reading this article about a Tau unit, you probably do. Well, the Riptide is really good at shooting things.
That’s a bit reductive, but it does come down to one of the fundamental points about the Riptide (and most especially its common setup, the HBC/SMS setup): it shoots out a lot of bullets pretty well while remaining hard to get rid of. Throwing down 26 shots, all of S5 or higher, the Riptide is an absolute machine gun against most infantry and even tougher targets (such as Custodes jetbikes) will find themselves in for a bad time against it. That really is the main strength of the Riptide, the sheer number of shots; even against targets where the profile isn’t ideal, the raw number of them means that it can put out some reasonable numbers regardless.
But before anyone gets to crying about how OP the unit is, let’s remember that it still only has BS4+, which means that without buffs it’s performance isn’t nearly as impressive as you might think. Tau do, of course, have a lot of buffs to offer- from the simple reroll 1s of a single Markerlight up to full rerolls to wound or to hit from a Commander. But unlike the units of some other codices, a Riptide alone and unsupported is not a particularly terrifying prospect in and of itself; the secret is in combining it with other units.
And perhaps the most important way to combine it is with the many drones that Tau have access to. Although a Riptide by itself is rather reminiscent of a Land Raider- i.e. a big, unwieldy target with surprisingly-poor firepower- with the support of drones and stratagems it can become all but invulnerable. Savior Protocols is the key here- by offering you the ability to pawn any wound you take off on a drone, no matter how powerful the gun, it offers the Riptide a huge increase in survivability. Until your opponent can eliminate your drones, the Riptide essentially just cannot die- you might fail one or two Savior Protocols rolls, but you still have your armor/invuln saves in those cases, and you should be able to keep yourself from dropping down any tiers to the point where you’re losing out on that all-important ballistic skill. This is in fact a common feature of all battlesuits, but it is particularly relevant for the Riptide because you can protect such a large number of points with such a small investment into the drones, as you’re effectively purchasing bonus wounds. And not just one at a time, either- a drone that eats a Lascannon wound is functionally taking 3.5 wounds for your Riptide, and one that soaks up a Volcano Cannon shot is a full six wounds! At 10pts a pop, that is a pretty fantastic rate to be purchasing them at and most other units would die to do so.
Of course, you don’t always want to be 100% reliant on your drones, and that is where Nova Shield comes into play. With the ability to get a 3++ save, irrespective of the source of damage or any other factors, a Riptide can make itself very nearly as tough as a Castellan- and most people should know just how frustrating that can be by now. Of course, there is a price to pay for this- you’re giving up the extra shots for your main gun and taking a mortal wound, but if you’re expecting to receive some heavy shooting in the enemy turn, it can be a very strong option to have. Even without the Nova Shield, the Riptide’s innate 2+/5++ make it very resilient to most incoming firepower, so it’s not as though you need to be worrying about it constantly. Also, when absolutely necessary you can use Branched Nova Charge to get the bonus to your invuln and number of shots, if you really want to go to town.
Riptides are also a very strong part of the Tau arsenal because of their ability to help protect other units from assaults. Although point-for-point not as efficient as something like Strike Teams, a Riptide represents a single huge chunk of supporting fire that you can hop about the battlefield as needed to prevent the enemy from assaulting you; that barrage of high-strength shots can be a real discouragement to a lot of things, as with Tau Sept you’re looking at an average of ~4 dead Marines if they try and assault you, just from the Riptide alone- and that number can be even higher with good dice. The multiple damage is also very discouraging to some of the strongest assault units, like bikes, as they can potentially lose 2-5 models just from declaring a charge- to say nothing of whether it passes or not. Working in concert with each other, Riptides become essentially unassailable by anything short of a Knight- but do be careful, because as a single-model unit is is very easy for the enemy to lock them in combat with something disposable (especially a vehicle) before making their “real” charges.
We should also note that mobility plays a big part in the Riptide’s usefulness- with the ability to move 12″ while ignoring terrain and models, Riptides can get a lot of places that other large units can’t easily reach and can follow on the heels (or in front) of Tau infantry as they advance. They also can serve a major role in taking midfield objectives that might otherwise be too dangerous for other Tau units to go after- with their strong saves, ability to fall back without penalty, and heavy firepower, Riptides are perfect for getting into contested objectives in order to prevent the enemy from racking up too many points in the earlier stages of the game. Tau often struggle with scoring during progressive missions, and a well-used Riptide or three can go a long ways towards mitigating this. Don’t underestimate them as a blocking or screening unit, either- the Riptide’s large base, high resilience, and Fly keyword mean that it can often cut off enemy movement (or assault) lanes and always be able to escape from them after, as very few units will be able to kill a Riptide and its drone accompaniments in a single phase and back-to-back phases of getting shot by a whole Tau army will usually spell the end of most things.
I’ve been talking so far about the Riptide almost exclusively in its “main” configuration- that is, Heavy Burst Cannon, Smart Missiles, and Target Lock, with one other support system (usually Advanced Targeting, but sometimes Velocity Tracker) in the final slot. This is far and away the most common configuration you will see on the Riptide, and for good reason- it’s easily the most effective. But we should take a moment to talk about the other configurations, and why they don’t typically see play with a bit more detail than we did in the Options section above. In previous editions, the Ion Accelerator was often the go-to weapon choice, but it has largely fallen by the wayside these days and you don’t often see people using it. This is for a number of reasons, but the simplest one is just raw math- even though the Accelerator is 15pts more expensive than the Burst Cannon is, it performs worse against most types of targets because of the availability of the ATS upgrade, which makes the Burst’s statline nearly as good as the Ion’s, but with three times the number of shots. even against vehicle-class targets, anytime the enemy is T6 or less or has a significant invuln, the Burst suddenly jumps to the fore again- and if we’re being at all honest with ourselves, that is most targets you are likely to face in most situations, as the only vehicles in the game these days are ones that are tough enough to survive fire from a Castellan with at least a reasonable chance of survival. The Ion Accelerator certainly does have some advantages (such as range and strength), but they simply aren’t enough to compensate for the overall-inferior statline and certainly not when you’re paying a premium to get that inferior statline.
The last thing that really brings value to the Riptide are the stratagems that pair so well with it- and not only does it have a unique stratagem to its name, but there are several others that may as well be custom-made for it, given how well they sync up with its abilities. Branched Nova Charge is the unique one; for a single CP, It lets you pick two Nova effects instead of just one, which typically is going to mean getting both extra shots and a 3++; for as cheap as it is, it’s a pretty dang good option to have. Branched Nova is often something you’ll use more in the mid-to-late game, since early on you should have drones to soak wounds for you pretty freely, but sometimes popping it off early can be useful. Automated Repair System is also helpful, as it gives you back d3 wounds and can be used at the start of any turn (either yours or the opponent’s.) Since Riptides inevitably take a lot of attrition damage from using their Nova Reactors, this can be a useful way to bump yourself back up into a higher tier (or to prevent yourself from dying when you use your Reactor, if you’re low enough.) And speaking of damage tiers- Stimulant Injectors is probably going to be a go-to stratagem for you most games. For a mere 1CP, you can have your Riptide pretend to be at full health for the duration of a turn- which probably means flying its full 12″ and pouring firepower into something nearby. With the easy battalions Tau can make and the Puretide Chip giving you a steady stream of CP over the course of a game, you should have little trouble keeping your Riptides feeling like they’re in tip-top shape all game long.
So here’s the thing about killing a Riptide: it’s not about killing the Riptide. The actual Riptide model itself is… well, we won’t say easy to get rid of, but since the Tau player is likely to do 5-6 mortal wounds to it on their own, you’re looking at what is functionally a nine-wound model with T7/2+/5++. That’s vaguely hard to kill, but not so hard that you should really be worried about it. But in order to get to that model, you are going to have to do a lot of work killing drones first, and that is where the trouble comes in. In other words, killing a Riptide is less about having powerful anti-tank shooting (like a Castellan) and more about having sufficient anti-infantry shooting (like Mortars) that can snipe off its companions. Indirect fire weapons are very useful in this regard because drones are fairly small targets and like to hide behind terrain and models, but even just your basic Lasguns, Boltguns, and the like can do a lot of work- as can those “supplementary” weapons such as Heavy Stubbers and their ilk. Also, on models that have multiple different weapons (such as Knights and big tanks), remember that you get to choose the order you fire your weapons in- so if you kill the last of the drones before you fire that Battle Cannon, the Riptide can’t pass wounds off to them.
Also remember that the use of Savior Protocols to protect the Riptide is limited by range (the unit needs to be within 3″ of the Riptide) and thus by how far the drones can move- a Riptide that advances too eagerly will find itself without support very quickly. It also is not automatic, needing a 2+ roll each time to give the wound away; this means that you may sometimes get lucky and slip through a big hit even when drones are nearby, though you certainly shouldn’t count on this.
Realistically, though, unless your army has a fairly insane amount of anti-infantry shooting, you won’t be able to deal any real damage to Riptides in the early turns of the game; expect at least one and possibly two or more turns where the Tau player loses drones and little else when trying to kill a Riptide. Depending on the situation, it may benefit you more to shoot other units (such as Strike Teams) first to degrade the Tau player’s firepower, while distributing only a bit of firepower to those drone units in order to force morale checks- drones are very vulnerable to morale.
One method stands out above others when it comes to killing battlesuits, however- mortal wounds. As each mortal wound is always dealt individually (even if a single “source” caused multiple of them), mortal wounds are a fairly efficient way to get rid of drones- each one will kill a single drone, which is much better than a Lascannon wasting its damage on a single-wound model. Better yet, drones can’t absorb wounds from psychic powers at all, so if you have ones that target a unit rather than hitting the nearest unit (e.g. Infernal Gaze or Doombolt), you can use these to chip away at a Riptide without interference. And as Tau have no psykers of their own to stop such powers, they are doubly vulnerable to this sort of thing, so psychic armies can really clean out a Riptide pretty easily.
This concept can also apply more generally, as weapons that spread their damage out over a larger number of shots (e.g. a Disintegrator Cannon) are better than those which do big damage but all concentrated into a few hits (e.g. a Volcano Lance). Medium-weight weapons will generally do a fair amount of work on a Riptide, and don’t forget that it’s only T7 also- even basic guns can grind away a wound or two if you’re lucky, as 2+ armor won’t last forever.
Riptides, having only BS4+, are also extremely vulnerable to penalties to hit of any kind; even just a basic -1 will put a significant damper on their fun. Armies such as Alaitoc or Alpha Legion can be quite miserable for them to fight, as can the multitude of stratagems and psychic powers that stack up penalties against an opponent. If you can drop a Riptide down to BS6+, it’s practically dead already, and that is well within the capabilities of many armies out there including Tyranids, Dark Angels, Craftworlds, Dark Eldar, Space Wolves, and more.
With its update to the codex version, the Riptide is a very good unit that can find a home in many (though not necessarily all) Tau armies out there, provided you are willing to invest into buying it drone support and other units to cover its weaknesses. Throwing down a ridiculous number of shots every turn with multiple damage is a great thing to have available to you, and the mobility and resilience it brings to the table are second to none in a Tau army, allowing you to project forward where otherwise you might have to worry about lesser units getting killed. Plus, you know, it’s a giant fighting robit with machinegun hands- how can you not like that?
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