Hammerhead, Devilfish, Broadside, Riptide, Stormsurge, Crisis. One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong. Click to read the CA2018-compliant article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
The XV8 Crisis battlesuit is a mainstay of the Tau army and perhaps the most iconic unit for the faction- though in practice they are reserved for the most elite members of the Fire Caste, piloted only by those who have proven themselves time and time again to be the most skilled of warriors. Armed with any of a variety of weapons and advanced sensors, a Crisis can be outfitted for nearly any battlefield role as needed; often, individual Tau will favor specific setups for their suits and specialize in these particular roles, but by and large Crisis pilots are expected to be able to support their cadre with any number of different weapon configurations. The “Crisis” designation has actually been used for a large number of different suit types and their successive iterations, all the way from the early battery-powered mechanical frames of the pre-spaceflight Tau to the modern versions and their iridium-enhanced power cores.
On the tabletop a Crisis suit has a fairly beefy statline in most places, although it is certainly lacking in some others. Movement 8″ with Fly allows them to get around the battlefield at good speed, although they are not exceptionally fast and it certainly is quite possible for many units to chase them down. Strength and toughness five give them a solid set of basic defenses, and combined with their three wounds and 3+ armor save a Crisis’s baseline durability is pretty good against small arms (though multidamage weapons will put the hurt on them quite quickly.) Ballistic skill 4+ is middling, but expected for a Tau unit as they rely heavily on other buffs to make their shooting effective. Weapon skill 5+ and two attacks makes for a pretty poor combatant, as we might expect, but occasionally they can put a surprising amount of hurt onto something that charges them. Finally, leadership seven means they typically won’t be losing any casualties due to morale, especially as they almost always have small unit sizes. One model in a squad can be a shas’vre (i.e. sergeant) with +1 attack and +1 leadership at no additional cost, making them even less likely to suffer any morale casualties even when they are suffering penalties from some kind of enemy effect. Crisis suits come naked at 27pts per model, but since they have three hardpoints to fill (which we’ll discuss in a moment), a more realistic price is somewhere in the range of 45-80pts depending on loadout. A Crisis squad can be from three to nine members, though large squads get pretty expensive and thus aren’t generally recommended.
Special Rules and Wargear
As Tau models, Crisis Suits benefit from For the Greater Good, which allows them to support nearby units with overwatch when charged; given the potential firepower that a unit of Crisis can mount, this can often be a pretty powerful ability, though point-for-point there are other units that outmatch them. Still, the possibility of running headlong into a wall of flamers or melta is pretty unattractive to most opponents, so they can make an excellent deterrent when kitted properly. They also have Bonding Knife Ritual, which makes any natural result of ‘6’ on the die when making a morale check an automatic success; this means that with their shas’vre alive, the unit will never have to take a morale check if it has a -2 penalty or less from the enemy so long as it’s only minimum size; larger units, of course, will care more.
Crisis Suits can also make use of Manta Strike, which is a fairly standard reserve ability. They can set up before the battle and arrive at the end of a movement phase more than 9″ away from any enemy; however, most relevantly there are several different abilities in the Tau codex that improve or key off of units that Manta Strike, such as the Farsight Enclaves stratagem or the Stealth Suits’ Homing Beacon. Aside from that, the ability to go into reserves is fairly strong for a potentially-vulnerable unit such as Crisis, so we can count it as a big plus (and even more so depending on their loadout.)
Most important, though is the Crisis’s ability to take up to three weapons and/or support systems, in any combination. Especially with the price drops in Chapter Approved, this gives them unparalleled flexibility in adjusting themselves to different roles, from anti-tank to anti-infantry and beyond. Generally speaking, it is highly preferable to give all members of a Crisis team the same weapons loadout and to have all weapons on a single suit be the same; mixed loadouts lead to units without a clear goal or use in the army, and it typically is better to have several specialists who each do their individual jobs well rather than multiple generalists who can do any job poorly.
The Flamer (8″ S4 AP0 Assault d6 hits automatically) is the cheapest of weapons available at 6pts each and actually a very strong contender overall due to the ability to support other units with overwatch; although the 8″ range is very limiting, as an assault weapon it can advance and fire and bypasses the normal Tau issue of low ballistic skill. Note that mounting three Flamers is better against almost all targets than two Flamers and an Advanced Targeting System, a pattern that will be true across virtually all of the weapons. With horde units becoming more popular Flamers may end up being a strong choice for the army overall, though Tau already have access to some fantastic anti-infantry firepower via Strike Teams, Gun Drones, and other battlesuits.
The Burst Cannon (18″ S5 AP0 Assault 4) is something of a “default” weapon for the suit and for Tau in general; it has no real special qualities other than a good strength value and number of shots. While it has significantly more reach than the Flamer, I don’t think there’s much call for using it because there are plenty of better ways to bring that S5/6 firepower to the table with Tau- including Hazard Suits, who can mount an ATS without giving up anything significant. Still, at 8pts per gun the Burst Cannon at least isn’t an awful choice.
The Plasma Rifle (24″ S6 AP-3 Rapid Fire 1) has recently had its price dropped by a decent amount, which makes it much more attractive as an option; although it still loses out to the Burst Cannon against many targets, it at least has some niche uses and is notable for being the only weapon system Crisis can carry that isn’t assault, which is relevant for some abilities and sept traits. Plasma generally won’t be much of a priority due to its inability to overcharge or otherwise threaten multiwound targets significantly (unlike the loyalist, chaos, ork, and eldar versions), but if you find yourself needing a tool against MEQs it’s not a bad option.
The Airbursting Fragmentation Projector (18″ S4 AP0 Assault d6 ignores LoS) is essentially a riff on the Burst Cannon, and at 8pts it’s all but indistinguishable in many situations. Ignoring line of sight is a nice trick and one that Tau have surprisingly little access to (Smart Missiles aside), but at the loss of a pip of strength and going to random shots (d6 is worse than 4, with certainty) it’s rarely going to be an appealing choice except in weird cityfight scenarios. Also, you don’t get any of the model in the Crisis box, even though it’s technically an option they have.
Missile Pods (36″ S7 AP-1 DmgD3 Assault 2) are also newly-dropped in price, now at a much more reasonable 15pts (although one still wonders why they cost so much more than the 10pt Autocannon that they mimic almost exactly.) They strike a nice balance between almost all of the stats on a weapon, allowing them to target almost anything with a reasonable degree of proficiency, though their preferred targets are light-to-medium multiwound models. A full three-Missile loadout on a Crisis is quite expensive and competes with the Broadside for the role of medium-strength shooting platform, though the Crisis have the advantages of mobility, reserves, and the Fly keyword, all nontrivial factors.
The Cyclic Ion Blaster (18″ S7 AP-1 Dmg1 Assault 3, can overcharge to make it S8 and DmgD3) is a very attractive weapon that, like the plasma weapons of other races, can upgrade its profile (at the risk of a mortal wound) to hit harder targets when needed; at 18pts a pop, it’s one of the most expensive weapon options around and thus often better-suited to Commanders, but one can’t deny the power of a whole unit of Crisis dropping in with CIBs to vaporize a target. (It’s worth pointing out that a unit of ~5 of them, with full buffs, can drop a Castellan in a single turn.) Its most obvious comparison seems like the Missile Pod, which has a nearly identical statline in many respects but with fewer shots and more range; however, I think a better mentalization is the Fusion Blaster, which serves a similar role of close-in anti-tank support. The CIB is more powerful and more flexible than the Fusion overall, but is also riskier due to the possibility of suffering mortal wounds.
And speaking of, the Fusion Blaster (18″ S8 AP-4 DmgD6 Assault 1 two dice for damage within 9″) is basically just the Tau version of the Meltagun, but with an extra 6″ of range tacked on because Tau are cool like that. At 18pts a pop they are similarly a very pricey choice, but their power against anything without an invuln can’t be denied. As with the CIB, I think that Commanders are typically a better platform, most especially because of the Coldstar’s exceptional maneuverability, but a team of Manta Striking suits armed with Fusion can put a quick end to almost any tank or monster on the field. Fusion should be preferred against anything without an invuln, and the CIB against those with.
Crisis can also mount a support system in place of one of their three weapon slots; however, the opportunity cost on this is quite high, so you should think very carefully before doing so. The Drone Controller is the only one I would say is consistently worth considering, since it achieves a wholly different purpose than any of the weapons you can take and mathwise boosting up the accuracy of any number of drones is almost always superior to a single gun. However, you’ll generally only need one Controller in a squad, which limits your loss there (and is also one of the few exceptions to the “equip all squad members the same” rule.) Advanced Targeting System is good, but mathhammer shows it to be worse than simply taking a third gun in the large majority of circumstances and thus can safely be set aside unless you are scraped for points (since it is cheaper than most weapons.) Counterfire Defense System, Early Warning Override, Shield Generator, Target Lock, and Velocity Tracker all are simply too niche and have too high of a loss for taking them to really even be considered; save these for larger suits such as the Broadside or Stormsurge that don’t have to give up weapons to get them.
A unit of Crisis Suits can also be accompanied by drones, up to two drones per suit. Although they don’t have access to any of the unique drones, they can otherwise pick freely from Gun, Shield, or Marker, and the drones will be set up in coherency with them (or Manta Strike with them) when you deploy the unit. After that, they act exactly like the Tactical Drones purchased as Fast Attack units, though it is worth noting that these drones do not count towards the maximum number of units of Tactical Drones that can be purchased in an army, which is nice. As they do not start the game as separate units, they also don’t increase your drop count, another helpful feature.
For every three models in the unit, one member of a Crisis squad can take Iridium Armor for 10pts, which upgrades their armor save to 2+. This was good even before the price drop and now it’s an absolutely steal, so you should always be kitting one member of the team with it unless you are absolutely crushed for points and there’s nowhere else to get them. Although your Crisis will generally die once they run out of drones to take wounds for them, Iridium Armor can delay that process ever so slightly (and also helps you soak those hits where you fail the 2+ to pass off the wound to a drone.)
So, the Crisis Suit is significantly improved from its versions in the Index and original Codex pricing, but it’s still not without its failings. Whereas in past editions the Crisis was often a mainstay of Tau lists, or at least a common feature, this is no longer the case- however, it does have its uses and you’ll see players bringing them now and again, so it’s important to understand what they’re capable of and what you should be concerned with.
The first thing we should take note of is that the Crisis has a lot of competition in its role with the Broadside, Stealth, and Riptide suits, not to mention Hazards and other, more esoteric options. All of these have significant advantages over the Crisis in their specific roles- the Riptide is vastly tougher and functionally doesn’t degrade, Broadsides have incredible fire output for their cost, Stealths have great deployment options and survivability, and Hazards are just Crisis++ if you want anti-infantry firepower. So before you take a unit of Crisis, first think: is there another, more specialized unit that could fill this role instead? Because if there is, you’re probably better off taking that instead.
So what do Crisis do well, then? Well, it’s fairly simple, actually: they are a reserve unit par excellence and can carry some very unique kinds of firepower. If you’re taking Crisis, you’re taking them because you want a flexible threat that can arrive anywhere on the table and wreak havoc at the enemy, albeit at a pretty significant cost. The key here is out loadout options: only the Crisis Suit (and Crisis Commander, but we’ll set that aside) get access to the Cyclic Ion Blaster, and it is one of a small number of units that can make good use of the Fusion Blaster. Maximizing the potential of these two weapons is where you’re going to get your value, and so they are the only real options if you’re talking about a competitive unit.
Of the two, the Cyclic Ion is usually going to be the more efficient by a significant margin, for several reasons- it not only has the flexible statline (able to target both infantry and vehicles with good proficiency) but also loses less of its effectiveness against medium-weight targets (e.g. Trukks, Ogryn, etc) as well as targets with an invulnerable save, which are exceedingly common these days. For that reason, I think that a full-Ion kit is your typical best loadout, although as the meta shifts it is certainly possible that may change- but I wouldn’t expect it to particularly soon.
The other half of the reason that Crisis work best as a reserve unit is an extremely powerful stat that they have access to through the Farsight Enclaves subfaction. Farsight is typically a very lackluster sept choice for a Tau army due to being so restrictive and Tau Sept being so powerful, but in the specific instance of Crisis suits it actually pays off. For 2CP, the turn a unit of Crisis arrives on the table they can get +1 to hit with all their weapons. With Markerlight bonuses, you can even get them down to hitting on rerollable 2+s, which is a pretty unheard-of level of accuracy for Tau- and doing so with a powerful gun like the Cyclic Ion Blaster is no small feat, either. Making best use of this means taking a large (5-9 member) Crisis team, which can be quite expensive, but the ability to clear an entire area of the table with those 45-80 shots often more than pays for itself, as not many things are going to be able to survive that kind of barrage.
But of course you also want to keep that Crisis unit alive and shooting beyond that single turn (otherwise it’s not a very good investment), so you’re going to want to bring drones to support them. You can purchase up to two drones per member of the Crisis team as part of their unit (and that will arrive by reserve with them), but you’re probably going to want a lot more than that in a list- fortunately, Tau have an abundance of ways to get access to drones. Gun Drones are a premiere choice, as they can not only shield the battlesuits but also put out a lot of firepower to slow down enemy infantry, but Shield Drones get a significant amount of extra resilience compared to the others and Marker Drones are an excellent way to get those five Markerlight hits that you want to achieve maximum efficiency. Tactical Drone units themselves can obviously be purchased for these reasons, but Hazard teams can bring up to four drones per squad, getting you a pretty solid slot-to-drones ratio as well. Best of all, since all of your drones and Crisis have the Fly keyword, they cannot be locked in combat even if the enemy tri-points them; and given their relatively-short range, this is a very important factor. Better yet, since the drones that come with the Crisis squad are deployed at the same time as them, “intercept” abilities such as Auspex Scan or Forewarning won’t get to bypass your defenses- though of course you still should try and avoid triggering them, if possible.
Arriving from reserve prevents the enemy from getting to alpha strike your Crisis away before they get to act, but it does have other disadvantages of its own. Reserve units can be screened out by a good player, preventing you from getting to the most valuable targets- and most of the Crisis’s weapons are only 18″ range, and thus won’t be able to reach all that deeply into the enemy’s lines. This can be a problem when there’s something particularly important (e.g. a Castellan) that is buried deeper that you need to get to. Depending on the enemy army, they may in fact be able to screen off most or all of the board, even- and you definitely don’t want to be dropping in and trying to kill, say, a unit or two of Gretchin and nothing else. The use of a Homing Beacon from a Stealth team can mitigate this, but do note that using the Beacon prevents you from activating Drop Zone Clear for that +1 to hit, as you are no longer arriving via Manta Strike.
For this reason, an army that wants to bring Crisis in reserve should also be bringing a lot of infantry-clearing firepower that they can leave on the table- though fortunately this is something that Tau are very good at. Strike Teams, Gun Drones, Stealth Suits, Riptides, Broadsides, and all of the other classic Tau inclusions can be quite effective in this role, so make sure you get rid of those screens first so that you can hit the juicy center of the enemy army as you please on turn 2. And don’t forget that they will get a turn of movement of their own in between your shooting and your next movement- so plan ahead and look at what they can to to try and close the gaps you’ve opened.
Outside of their reserve role, Crisis can have some uses in non-Tau Sept armies by providing overwatch defense. Like their bigger brother the Y’varha, a squad of Flamer-equipped Crisis can be pretty terrifying for most things to charge- and when positioned correctly, they can also make nearby units unpleasant to do so as well. However, this does rely on the 8″ range of the Flamer, which is fairly short (and shorter still when being used to support things); it’s quite possible for the enemy to simply charge from 9″ or more out, denying you the ability to use the weapon- and for someone like Orks or Genestealer Cult, this is still a pretty reliable charge to make.
If you’re dealing with a big block of Crisis in reserve, your best defense is to simply not allow them to show up where they want to. Screening off the battlefield is easily done with a lot of units and you should be able to deny the enemy that critical 18″ range increment against your most valuable targets. (Note that this can be done even with a single “line” of models, as you can easily create 28″ of space between your important units and whatever chaff you are using to block off the field, which should be more than sufficient.)
Once the Crisis are on the table, you’ll need to continue managing range as well as wearing away at them. Like with most battlesuits, you’ll have to chew through quite a few drones in order to do any real damage, so aim your guns at the surrounding units before turning to the Crisis themselves. Also, don’t underestimate how tough it can be to get rid of them, even once their drones are gone- T5/3+/W3 is not an easy profile to drag down, and you’ll have to deal with at least one model with a 2+ save as well, so don’t expect that a unit of six will fold up right away even to Lascannon fire or similar weapons. But neither is it excessively difficult to get through, so don’t be afraid to throw Bolters and Lasguns at them- those 3s will fail eventually, and every wound counts on an expensive unit like that.
Although I wouldn’t by any means call Crisis Suits a top-tier unit at this point, neither are they complete trash the way they used to be. I think most Tau players still might like them to be a bit better so that they returned to their old role as the mainstay of the army, but honestly that actually requires some very careful balancing on GW’s part, since any change to the price of the base chassis is only going to exacerbate the current issues with weapon imbalance and any change to the weapons will cascade outward to lots of other units in the codex. I’m happy enough with where things sit right now, even if it’s not perfect- the unit is good enough that no one is going to laugh at you for bringing them to a tournament, and even casual players will probably be able to get good mileage out of them in their games. Unit balance is never an absolute thing, and so long as nothing is getting pushed down too far in the bucket of choices, I say let it ride. Besides, it’s been a long time since Fire Warriors were any good at all, so perhaps let’s all just bask in that fact for a bit and accept things the way they are.
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.