Chapter Approved is here! Well, I mean, almost here. Almost ready to be prereleased here. Okay, Chapter Approved is somewhere. And that’s good news for Tau!
So for those who aren’t keeping pace with the rumors and reveals- and, admittedly, there is a lot to keep pace with right now- Chapter Approved has started to be spoiled by those with current access to it, both legitimately and illegitimately. So I figured it was probably time to go over things and give my very important hot take on the changes and what I think they’ll mean for the Tau players out there. For those of you who don’t play Tau you may find some interesting tidbits in here, but I’m not going to be talking about those changes- both because I am not as familiar with those armies and because other writers are already chomping at the bit to do so, so just wait your turn; there’s no lack of people with opinions on the internets.
Generally speaking, this year’s Chapter Approved took a very conservative approach to the changes it made compared to last year’s edition; very few units received significant increases to their points (which contrasts greatly with the doubling-and-more of prices we saw last year) and even price increases themselves were fairly few and far between. Most of the changes were price drops to less-used units, although not universally so- at times it is a bit baffling which units they decided to make cheaper, because it isn’t always the ones that have the biggest problems that got chosen. Still, in general the theme of this year seems to be smallish price drops across a wide variety of different units and wargear and I think it’s one that holds true for most of the factions that received changes, not just Tau- although Tau arguably got some of the most important changes.
There is also a lot of other stuff in Chapter Approved, of course, even just speaking within the context of matched play- there are new missions and new rules included as well. However, I’m not going to detail those here for a couple of reasons; for one, they aren’t really directly related to the Tau army as a whole, and two they likely won’t see much (if any) applicability to players in the ITC, as Frontline is going to continue to use their own custom missions in place of the rulebook ones and few tournaments on either side of the States use rulebook missions, anyways. I encourage players to check out some of the other articles and podcasts covering those changes, however, as they are interesting in their own right.
One of the biggest winners of the points changes was the Broadside- although Broadsides were an okay unit before, they suffered from being relatively expensive for the firepower you got (stat them out compared them to a Commander, for example) and quite fragile when measured against units like the Riptide. Add in immobility and lack of the Fly keyword and… well, you didn’t have a great platform. But Broadsides saw several big improvements in Chapter Approved, not the least of which being a straight 25pt reduction in the cost of the basic chassis- which is not a trivial amount, given their previous cost of 125-150pts (depending on loadout.) They also benefited a lot from several of the other changes we’ll see below, not to mention shifts in the meta as a whole.
Shadowsun was another huge winner, seeing a 57pt drop in her price (though he drones stayed the same.) At barely two thirds of her pre-CA price, she is looking a lot more attractive these days if you want to trigger that double-Kauyon for rerolls across the army. As she pairs exceptionally well with units of Broadsides (who want to remain static anyways and really appreciate having someone to toss a Command/Control Node strat their way in order to get those invaluable rerolls to wound), there is a very good chance you can expect to see her making some appearances at tournaments in the near future. Farsight also got a significant point drop to the tune of 26pts, although obviously this is a much smaller margin. Still, That 6″ heroic intervention shouldn’t be underestimated, nor should the pile of power fist attacks that are hitting on 2s. He probably won’t be making any appearances anytime soon due to the Farsight Enclaves trait being pretty crap, but he’s a dude to keep an eye on in the future.
Crisis Suits, as most people were hoping/expecting, saw a significant price break as well. Although 15pts isn’t as huge as it could have been, many of their weapon systems also came down in price, so realistically you’re seeing a typical Crisis unit dropping by anywhere from 50 to as much as 140pts for just a three-strong squad. Does this mean that Crisis are back in style again? Probably not, but you definitely will see some people trying them out and I think that some of the more talented players will be able to make them work. For my money, a unit with Flamers seems like a solid bet for supporting other units with overwatch, though there are other options worth exploring as well.
Lastly, Gun Drones went down 2pts to be the same price as the other two types of drones- a good change, I think, as at 12pts each they were simply outclassed completely by the basic Fire Warrior at almost everything. With them being better able to pull dual duty as a shield for your big suits as well as an anti-infantry platform, they’re much more likely to see some use rather than just seeing Shield and Marker Drones all the time. Also note that this changes the prices on a number of vehicles that have Gun Drones mounted to them.
Devilfish, Ghostkeels, Piranhas, and Skyrays also got price drops of 10-20pts; I don’t think it truly changes the viability of any of them, as they’re all mid-tier units that occasionally see use in more specialized lists, but the changes will certainly help add a bit of variety. Piranhas in particular I think you should keep an eye on, as they fill a very useful role in a Tau army while simultaneously bringing a few drones (to feed into your battlesuits) as well as a pair of Seeker Missiles, nothing to sneeze at.
Weapons and Wargear
Quite a large number of pieces of wargear also had their costs adjusted; most of them weren’t drastic changes, but they definitely are appreciated ones, as the cost of a single weapon or upgrade multiplied across half a dozen or more models in the army stacks up very quickly. The Advanced Targeting System on non-huge models (i.e. anything Broadside-sized or smaller) was one such piece; it went down 6pts, halving its cost from the codex. As ATS was already a prime choice on several units, this only cements its place in many cases- but it also opens up the possibility of using ATS with Crisis or Stealth Suits as well, although I’m not 100% sold on that idea yet.
Speaking of Crisis, many of the “basic” Tau weapons saw reductions in their costs. Most notable are Missile Pods, which went from an absurd 24pts down to a much more reasonable 15pts. Although it’s still not a cheap weapon, the excellent general-use profile will I think again make it a mainstay of a number of units- and just as importantly, will bring down the cost of some odd side units like the Sun Shark and Razorshark. Flamers went down 2pts to fall in line with general changes across all armies, and Fusion Blasters were cut by 3pts for the same reason- as both of these were acceptable weapons previously, they only become better now. Plasma Rifles also dropped 3pts so that they are the same price as a Burst Cannon now; the profile is still fairly unexciting, but at least now the gun is cheap enough to warrant some consideration. (I’ll point out that a Rail/Plasma/TLock Broadside now clocks in at less than 100pts total.) Crisis also saw their Irridium Armor upgrade go down by 5pts, so that is something of a no-brainer now. It also makes the XV8 Commander over the XV85 Commander an interesting choice; you pay 6pts and lose a wound, but gain a 2+ armor save that can really make a difference against some weapons.
Many unit-specific weapon options dropped as well. The High-Output Burst Cannon on the Coldstar Commander is now just the same price as two Burst Cannons (which is what it essentially was), and combined with the drop in price on the Missile Pod you may see people kitting them this way- though honestly I already thought that the Burst setup was pretty good. The Ghostkeel’s main weapons also both dropped by a small chunk of points, and combined with the chassis price drop looks to save you ~25pts with most setups you could possibly go with. The Razorshark’s main Ion weapon dropped by 15pts (as did the Ion on the Riptide), and Pathfinder’s Rail Rifles came down by 5pts- again, not likely to make the units competitive, but nice to see none the less.
But the real winners in the weapons department were the Pulse Driver Cannon on the Stormsurge (which is the long-range random shots version) and the Railgun on the Hammerhead. The former dropped by a whopping 47 points, and the latter by twenty-eight, both huge changes given the price of their chassis. This puts the Pulse Driver on par with the “shotgun” weapon that is the Stormsurge’s other choice, and hence I think a superior choice overall given the way the unit functions. The Railgun, meanwhile, is still numerically pretty inferior to the Ion Cannon when it comes to choosing Hammerhead weapons, but the price drop makes it more attractive as a budge option; a basic Hammerhead can come in as cheap as 126pts now.
The Scope of the Meta
All in all, Tau were pretty dang fortunate in that they got cost drops to a lot of decent-to-good units that in some cases I think will make them great units. But more than that, none of the Tau units saw any price increases nor did the faction as a whole see any significant nerfs in the past few months- and for an army that was already making some decent top-8 and even first-place finishes at GTs and Majors, that is a pretty nice thing to hear. So Tau players should be pretty happy in general about the way their faction panned out in this year’s Chapter Approved.
But beyond just that, there is a whole other angle to consider- that is, how other factions come out from the book. We obviously don’t know what the full impact of it (or of the new Vigilus campaign book and its pseudo-formations), but I think we can see some broad, sweeping strokes already from the information that has made its way out to the public as well as the shifts in the meta we’ve seen happening and will probably continue to happen over the next few months. I think Tau are actually in a surprisingly good position to be a top army as a result of these changes- that’s not trying to be a sugar-coated “every army and every unit is good and wonderful you just have to learn to love them for the special unique snowflakes that they are” opinion, either.
The last six months or so has been a Knight meta, one defined heavily by the presence of T8/3++ superheavy vehicles; I think many have seen the writing on the wall already, but for those who haven’t, I’m here to tell you that I think those days are at a close. Knights aren’t going away entirely, but I doubt they’re going to be a constant feature at the top tables anymore- not because they got any worse, but rather because there are some very strong new contenders that they simply don’t handle well. We’ve already started to see this with Orks taking top spots in some of the winter tournaments, even in just the short time since their release- Orks are undeniably powerful in all phases of the game, and Knights simply are not equipped to handle 120 or 150 bodies on the field that are supported by large numbers of powerful combat characters. But I think that it goes well beyond just Orks- we’ve seen a rise in horde-style lists from many factions (Chaos, Tyranids, even Tau itself) and for very good reasons: I think we’re entering the age of infantry, and we haven’t even seen what Genestealer Cults and Sisters of Battle will bring to the table.
So if we are entering a meta that is going to see lots and lots of infantry on tables, and very often close combat infantry at that, Tau are going to be riding high (at least to a degree.) Tau have some of the best anti-infantry weapons in the game at their disposal, and several of those weapons just got more efficient- Strike Teams, Riptides, Broadsides, and Gun Drones can all chew hordes to pieces in pretty short order, and when clustered up to support each other with overwatch they can spell absolute death for anything that decides to charge them- so long as you’re Tau Sept, of course. There are of course weaknesses to these units and strategies (not the least of which being all those stupid -1s to hit that some armies get), but that’s just part of a healthy meta- and something that you should be taking into account when writing up your lists. But in terms of their starting space, Tau are very well-equipped to handle a lot of what I think you’re going to see in the near future here.
It’s hard to say that the other factions in Chapter Approved made out as well. Space Marines (and their dozen variant codices) certainly made some gains and had some decent price drops in places, but from what I’ve seen so far none of those changes are things that are going to fundamentally shift the army by a lot- they still have all the same struggles as before, just with an extra ~100pts in their army list to take advantage of. AdMech gained a lot more and will probably be able to play as a pretty decent shooting army now, but nothing they do is fundamentally all that powerful and they tend to lose in a straight shooting match with armies such as Eldar or Tau. Necrons… yeah, sorry, Necrons. Craftworlds have some small ups and downs, but I think generally speaking they didn’t really change all that much- Ynnari are still amazing, Wave Serpents are still good, and a few less-seen units dropped in price enough that they may see the table again. (Also the Warp Hunter is probably good again, but that’s a subject for another article.) So while other armies have certainly gained from CA coming out, I don’t think any of the current top-level armies have gained anywhere near as much as Tau did- the various kinds of Aeldari basically broke even or took some small nerfs, as did Guard, and CSM took a decent hit with the bump in price to Cultists. And since the armies that did gain tended to be towards the bottom end of things, I think Tau climb up a bit in the absolute rankings as well as the relative ones.
Does this mean that you’re gonna start seeing people spam Tau like crazy at every tournament? No, certainly not; Tau are stronger, but I still would be very hesitant to call them the strongest army out there and as already mentioned they have some significant weaknesses to take advantage of. But you probably will see Tau lists climbing up higher in the rankings more often, and building to beat Tau will be a significant consideration for many armies out there- especially melee armies, who are going to struggle to overcome Tau overwatch.
Of course, all of this is ignoring the impact of Vigilus Defiant on the meta, and while I don’t think it will be as large as Chapter Approved, it won’t be trivial, either. SM players in particular have a number of things to look forward to there and we know that some of the other factions have detachments as well (though it remains to be seen exactly how strong they are- honestly, I’m not hugely impressed by the Craftworlds stuff, though it’s certainly far from horrible.) So there’s certainly still a number of factors to take into account as we approach the end of this ITC season and the Las Vegas Open,but I think generally speaking Tau gained quite a lot relative to most armies, and in fact the fundamental meta that we’re gonna see post-Chapter Approved won’t be all that shockingly different from the one we saw before. Many of the mid- and bottom-table armies got a lot better and may be able to perform more when built well or piloted by a good general, but since most of the point changes were to units that were either bad or subpar before, they don’t have nearly as much tournament relevance as last year’s version did.
I think there’s a lot to be happy about in Chapter Approved- although I may sound a bit pessimistic in places above, I think that generally speaking what GW did with it is pretty good. More gradual point changes are generally going to be better for the game, and while I’m a bit unhappy with where certain units and codices are at (most pointedly Ynnari and Knights, although Orks look like they might possibly be shaping up to be a contender as well) and there most certainly are still several books that are struggling and didn’t get as much help as they probably needed, the gaps in power level have been closed significantly compared to previous editions and previous eras of 8th edition.
Tau are probably one of the better examples in terms of what CA did for factions, and though there are a few units that probably should’ve gotten price drops but didn’t (Vespid???), generally speaking they made a lot of the right choices in dropping the cost of not just units but also specific options on units to make the “blatantly inferior” choices more appealing. Crisis Suits, one of the biggest points of contention for many players of the faction, are actually somewhere near good again, and most of the iconic units from the Tau Empire are now valid choices for a tournament army in one way or another. Tau players have very little to complain about at this point (aside from perhaps some of the conceptual parts of the faction that are possibly solvable with future releases), so if you’ve ever wanted to put some little fish-men down on the table and make pew pew noises, now is a pretty good time to do so.