Tau Codex Review: Lord of War: KV128 Stormsurge Ballistic Suit

Mostly on the shelf since 7E went away and it wasn’t allowed to Stomp everything smaller than a Wraithknight into the ground, the Stormsurge still exists and hey, it’s not terrible! Click to read the post-CA2019 article, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.

Overview

The Stormsurge is basically the Tau Empire (and GW) deciding to give up. From 3rd Edition to 7th Edition, the party line was that the Tau did not field superheavy walkers or tanks in the fashion of other armies because it was not part of their combat doctrine- the Fire Caste emphasized mobile warfare that flowed around strong points in the enemy’s defenses and huge, ponderous vehicles that required massive dedicated logistics were anathema to this. Where extreme firepower was needed, Manta Missile Destroyers or other orbital spacecraft were used, but never ground forces. However, because Games Workshop discovered that people like big robits and it’s real, real hard to make a giant airplane that functions on the tabletop, they decided to completely ignore this decision and instead make a huge giant walker for the Tau.

The Stormsurge has a statline that is… well, it’s not bad, but it is inexplicably worse than other comparable units in a number of strange ways. The most obvious ones are defensive- being only toughness 7 and twenty wounds puts it noticably below something like a Knight or a Wraithknight, though its 3+ armor save is pretty par for the course. It also has atrocious melee combat stats (as do most Tau units), with three attacks and WS5+; bizarrely, its strength is one of the attributes that degrades when it is wounded. Stormsurges are also much, much slower than their cousins, moving only 6″ per turn, though thankfully this doesn’t go down any as they get hurt. Ballistic skill does, however, starting at 4+ and potentially dropping all the way to 6+ if you’re on your final tier. A “basic” Stormsurge is actually quite cheap comparatively (about 320pts), but since the Support Systems that make it functional cost another 80pts or so, we can consider more in the neighborhood of 400 to be the “real” cost.

Special Rules and Options

Stormsurges, despite their appearance, are not battlesuits and do not benefit from anything that affects battlesuits (such as Savior Protocols or the Ethereal abilities.) They actually have the Vehicle keyword instead, as well as the Explodes rule (doing d6 mortal wounds to any units within 6″ when they do so.) As a Titanic model, they also have the Walking Battleship rule, which is identical to the version that Knights have- they can move and fire heavy weapons at no penalty, fall back from combat freely, and may even pass over infantry models when they do so.

More importantly, they also have Stabilizing Anchors; the Anchors are activated at the end of any shooting phase, and can be pulled up at the beginning of any movement phase. (Note that this means there is very little reason not to drop your Anchors every turn after you’re done shooting, as you can pull them up without penalty.) While your Anchors are down you can add +1 to hit rolls with all shooting attacks- though remember, they do not take effect until after you are done shooting, so you have to place them the turn before you want the benefit. A Stormsurge with its Anchors down also cannot move for any reason nor make any melee attacks, though its melee is so bad this is hardly even a loss.

Stormsurges come equipped with a plethora of weapons, but their main cannon has two distinct options. The cheaper of the two is the Pulse Blastcannon- essentially a giant shotgun, it has three different profiles representing differing levels of “spread” on the weapon. The close-in version is 10″ range with S14 AP-4 Dm6 and two shots; the medium version is 20″ range with S12 AP-2 Dmg4 and four shots; the longest-range version is 30″ reach with S10 AP0 Dmg2 and six shots. Although it doesn’t have a lot of range, the other parts of the profile are extremely powerful and the medium mode especially is absolutely terrifying to a lot of units like medium tanks, Custodes, and many others. I am a big fan of the Blastcannon, although its short range can be very limiting- but if the enemy comes within 20″ of it, you can absolutely devastate them.

The other option you get is the Pulse Driver Cannon, which is now just 7pts more expensive than the Blastcannon. Its profile is a lot more unreliable (72″ S10 AP-3 DmgD6 Heavy D6), which is a big downside in my eyes, but if you’re willing to dedicate a command point to rerolling one of its random values you’re probably going to get pretty good use out of it. On the other hand, its exceptional range (along with the long ranges of several of the other weapon systems on the unit) mean that it’s a prime choice if you want your Stormsurge to set up at the back of the army and pound away with its Anchors planted, ‘causing havoc to the enemy. With both weapons fairly close in price and statline overall, I think either are valid choices- you just need to figure out whether you’re more worried about range or randomness messing up your plans.

Stormsurges also come with a secondary mount of one of three weapon systems- a pair of either Burst Cannons (18″ S5 AP0 Assault 4), Flamers (8″ S4 AP0 Assault d6 autohits), or Airbursting Frag Projectors (18″ S4 AP0 Assault d6 ignores LoS.) The Flamer is interesting as a melee deterrent, but is otherwise rather awkward to use due to its extremely short range on a platform that would rather be sitting still a lot of the time; the Burst Cannon has a somewhat longer range and higher strength, lending it a lot more utility in most situations and thus making it my go-to option. The AFP has a much weaker profile than either of the other two and I think there’s only really any call for it if you play in an area with extremely heavy terrain. The Flamers are slightly (-4pts) cheaper than the other two weapon options, although on a 400+pt unit this probably isn’t going to be a tipping factor at the end of the day.

In addition to its swappable weapon mounts, a Stormsurge comes with several fixed weapons that cannot be exchanged for anything. Two Smart Missile Systems (30″ S5 AP0 Heavy 4 ignore LoS/cover) make for some excellent ways to reach out and touch enemies that are trying to hide, while a Cluster Rocket System (48″ S5 AP0 Heavy 4d6) is somewhat unreliable, but excellent at pummeling infantry targets. Its weapons are rounded out by four Destroyer Missiles, one-shot guns that require 2+ Markerlight counters to fire normally (as they otherwise require 6s.) On a hit, they inflict an automatic d3 mortal wounds per missile, making them devastating against targets such as Knights or daemon primarchs that rely heavily on their invulnerable saves to survive (and also being one of the very few ways that Tau can deal mortal wounds.)

A Stormsurge can take up to three choices off the Support Systems list, more than any other Tau unit. Given its price and large wound pool, I consider the Shield Generator to be absolutely mandatory- having a 4+ invulnerable save on such a large model is absolutely critical, even for 50pts. Advanced Targeting System is also a pretty obvious buy, since the Stormsurge has so many weapon systems with little or no AP on them to start with. There are many good choices for the third slot, though Velocity Tracker (+1 to hit against units with Fly) and Counterfire Defense System (reroll misses on overwatch) are two of my favorites. An argument can also be made for Early Warning Override, which gives a free shot against anything arriving from reserve within 12″, albeit at a -1 penalty.

Uses

The Stormsurge isn’t the best unit in the Tau codex, but neither is it the worst; however, its strengths require a fairly dedicated build to take real advantage of, which is why I think a lot of Tau players struggle to find any success with them. Like other superheavies, the Stormsurge tends to work best when brought in multiples- and due to the nature of the way detachments work, that means bringing three Stormsurges, a prohibitive amount for most players in both dollars and points. However, in a meta that is absolutely lousy with both Knights and players preparing the beat Knights, the Stormsurge suffers heavily, because it simply doesn’t have the fortitude to withstand the kind of firepower needed to withstand Volcano Cannons and the like- and this really limits its uses right about now.

The problem is compounded by the fact that a Stormsurge is also priced on par with other superheavies in its class, but lacks a lot of their advantages- unlike most others, it doesn’t have the melee duality that can make even a Knight Crusader or Knight Castellan so dangerous, and defensively it suffers a lot as well (although coming with a 4++ as stock, rather than a 5++, does help a little- though it’s worth remembering that all Knights can access a 4++ thanks to Rotate Ion Shields.) Starting with only BS4+ also means that it is at a disadvantage compared to many armies, though the ability to plant feet for +1 to hit can help this, as can Markerlights and Velocity Trackers.

Oddly, the Stormsurge’s weapon loadout also makes it somewhat poorly-suited to taking down other superheavy targets. Its main gun will do the job reasonably well, being on par with the main guns of many other such units, and its Destroyer Missiles are actually quite terrifying to many types of targets, as they can put a huge number of unsaveable wounds onto something in the early turns of the game. But beyond that, it has a lot of weapon systems that are mostly just good for chewing up infantry- and while this is hardly a bad thing, putting out S5 firepower is not something that the Tau codex struggles at, so it feels a bit redundant overall.

However, with those caveats in mind, the Stormsurge can also do a lot of work in the right circumstances. If you can keep your anchors planted, you can put out enormous amounts of firepower and even have the possibility of getting down to hitting on 2s if you stack enough Markerlights onto a target or are triggering your Velocity Tracker; given the number of shots, this can end up being pretty backbreaking when it all works out. As they are gigantic firepower platforms, Stormsurges also benefit a ton from some of the other buffs that Tau can hand out, such as Master of War- rerolling all misses for a turn can really ensure a devastating amount of firepower goes across the table. Do note, however, that a Stormsurge is not a battlesuit and can’t benefit from buffs that work on battlesuits, such as many of the stratagems, the Ethereal abilities, etc.

One of the other strong factors in the Stormsuge’s favor its its ability to carry a 4++ against both shooting and melee at all times; although this isn’t enough to save you from the likes of a Castellan or full-tilt Smash Captain, it can put a real crimp on most other firepower, especially if you’re willing to dedicate a reroll to it. It isn’t as good against Autocannon-type weapons that force a bunch of saves for a few damage each, but against your Lascannons and similar weapons it can do pretty good work, the more so because it will also work in melee combat where a lot of people tend to assume that even big units won’t have any kind of real defenses.

If you’re trying to leverage a Stormsurge in a list, you probably want multiples of them working in tandem with a multiple Commanders (to provide mobility and buffs) as well as a good number of Markerlights- so really, pretty standard Tau stuff. Including a strong infantry presence for taking objectives is also pretty critical, since the Stormsurges themselves aren’t going to be moving around a whole lot in most cases and you need something to be grabbing those other objectives. Transports can be useful here to get additional mobility, but do be wary of the cost- a list with multiple Stormsurges in it is already going to be a bit short on model count, so adding a few hundred points in tanks that don’t innately do anything can make the problem even worse. You can also go the opposite direction and maximize your big, tough chassis by combining it with Riptides, Hammerheads, or similar things, but this has a lot of risks of its own. Still, it can mean your opponent struggles to kill anything in your army many turns of the game and it brings a colossal amount of firepower… so long as you’re not facing Knights or anything similar.

Countering

We’ve already talked about a number of the problems with the Stormsurge already- it lacks a lot of the strengths of a typical superheavy unit while still retaining a lot of the weaknesses of the Tau faction in general, which is not always a great combination. So if you’re staring down the barrel of one, you have a number of options, not the least of which is the standard anti-superheavy tactic of “ignore it and kill everything else in the army.” A Stormsurge (or two, or three) by themselves are often hard-pressed to win a game on their own, especially against a horde army.

The Stormsurge also lacks that most ubiquitous of Tau rules, namely For the Greater Good; this means that while other units nearby can assist it when it is charged, the Stormsurge itself cannot try to help them. As enemies can generally consolidate into it without consequence (since it can’t make melee attacks while planted), it is often trivial to charge some Strike Teams nearby and then force the Stormsurge to pull up its anchors, denying that all-important +1 to hit. Unlike other superheavies, a Stormsurge really doesn’t like being forced to move, as it denies it not only the hit bonus but also the ability to take advantage of the Kauyon for rerolls to hit.

Anything that gives penalties to hit, such as Alaitoc or any of a number of psychic powers, is also very strong against Stormsurges (and Tau in general.) Losing ballistic skill can very quickly neuter a Stormsurge, and while it gets enough shots to still be a non-negligible contributor to a battle, it certainly won’t be making 400+pts worth in that state. This can also include just dealing damage to it, since unlike battlesuits a Stormsurge can’t just spend 1CP to fake being at full health for the turn- any damage it takes is gonna stick around and keep counting. As mentioned earlier, Autocannon-style weapons with a large number of shots for a few damage each are ideal for bringing down a Stormsurge, especially because it is only T7 and thus is wounded much more easily than most large targets.

Final Thoughts

The Stormsurge certainly isn’t a standout inclusion in the Tau codex, but it’s better than a lot of people tend to give it credit for and it can certainly do a number on a lot of targets if given the opportunity to fire to full effect on them- launching that volley of Destroyer Missiles can be pretty devastating when you go all-in. Until Knights go down in popularity and people aren’t preparing to shoot through the much-tougher defenses of a Castellan or the like we probably won’t see Stormsurges making waves anytime soon, but they are probably something that will lurk in the background a bit and occasionally pop out here and again at a tournament.

As always, remember 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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About abusepuppy

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.)

9 Responses to “Tau Codex Review: Lord of War: KV128 Stormsurge Ballistic Suit”

  1. Ishagu October 3, 2018 4:38 am #

    I’m a fan of the Stormsurge. I think that it can make it’s points back, and in my experience it isn’t often the highest priority target for an opponent meaning it can do work over multiple turns.

    Very appealing model in person, also.

  2. Charlie A. October 3, 2018 6:36 am #

    I was definitely looking forward to this review. Maybe it’s because I don’t have 3 Stormsurges, but even after reading your case for why they deserve consideration, I’m just not buying it. I’d rather put those 400 points in Riptides or Tanks which have a lot more pros and tools at their disposal.

    I think you really nailed it in saying that, they’re not bad but not exceptional and the meta is already geared towards taking these kind of target out.

    • abusepuppy October 3, 2018 8:12 am #

      The Riptide is a better unit, no questions; the Hammerhead is more arguable, as the Stormsurge has better survivability point-for-point but a Hammerhead hits harder. But you don’t really see Hammerheads or Skyrays winning tournaments these days- they just go away the instant a Castellan thinks about them, which isn’t a viable strategy.

      • Charlie A. March 27, 2019 5:52 am #

        Sadly, even after nearly half a year, this is still the case 🙁

  3. Kevin Lantz October 4, 2018 3:11 am #

    Nail on the head: not enough ballistic skill without battlesuit keyword and depredations that make it’s one strong area super laughable makes it overcosted for what it does.

    In an army that will more likely than not go second, waiting for turn two before the +1 bs kicks in is just silly.

  4. Dale October 6, 2018 6:56 am #

    No one talked about the Sept Tenets for these guys. I think having just one Dal’yth Stormsurge while having multiple Riptides could be quite resilient. Having a 2+ 4++ against shooting will be good enough for me.

  5. Clifton Jackson March 28, 2019 10:19 pm #

    I had middling success with a triple surge list (generally Borkan sept,either triple blast cannon or two blast/one driver) early on, particularly pre-codex, but once knights became a major force in the meta again it was game over for them. I’d love for them to be just T8, but even then I doubt I’d bring them back out for anything more serious than an RTT.

  6. Mauler July 1, 2019 8:44 am #

    A fair review. Absolutely nailed a very lazy GW on the overview (I’m certain Andy Chambers countered this and kept different Factions different with his oversight) and pretty much summed up a middling unit. Can be good, but it’s a lot of points to make good with some firepower that can be summoned from existing, more flexible units. Also, from the front it’s 93.5% ugly as sin, compounding the fact that going by the long-standing lore, it shouldn’t exist. Destroyer Missiles tho :]

  7. Bixultimat September 24, 2019 1:16 am #

    largely agree with this review, although I use a stormsurge’s range on the pulse driver cannon to lay down supporting fire for key units like vehicles or riptides that are in a tight spot or I try to take out key enemy units with it instead of trying to make it the power player of my army. so while definitely not worth it as a big damage dealer, can be good as a support with a lot of shots. But of course, if you have a choice between this and a riptide, well the correct choice is obvious.

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