Is The T’au Codex Good?

Hi folks! Rhys here. Today I’m discussing what makes a codex particularly good or bad. And as usual, check out the Tactics Corner for more great articles!

I’ll start with this: the T’au codex is not a good codex.

What exactly do I mean by this? Note that I’m not saying that the T’au codex isn’t a strong codex. While it’s not at the level of the Marines, it is nonetheless a strong book with which players can build competitive lists. The success of Richard Siegler and Brian Pullen demonstrates this handily.

No, I argue that the T’au codex isn’t good, which of course will prompt readers to ask the question: what makes a codex good?

And that’s the real issue, and while I certainly don’t have the definitive answer, if such a thing even exists, I can definitely offer readers my two cents on what makes a codex not good. And I’d say that one of the elements of a poor codex is this: lack of depth.

What exactly does that mean? Put simply, a codex without depth offers players few strong choices. And this is exactly where we T’au players find ourselves at the moment. There is really only one way to play T’au competitively, and we all know what it is: three Riptides, three Commanders, and at least 40 Drones.

Before I go any further, let me acknowledge that not all competitive T’au lists follow the above formula. I think we should acknowledge the heroic T’au players who rock up to events with six Hammerheads and three Skyrays. And anyone who goes deep into a tournament with a double Y’vahra list is someone whom I respect.

But most of the time players know what they’ll be up against if they’re to play a T’au army competitively.

In my previous article, I discussed the main changes to the T’au codex in Chapter Approved 2019. And while there are now a couple more interesting units in the codex, I argued that the core of competitive T’au lists won’t change.

Good players know that points reductions are seldom enough to make units more attractive to competitive players. The problems that seldom-used units have are usually found in sub-par performance on the tabletop, which means that the datasheet itself is under-powered. And while we do find units that perform well but are much too expensive to take, this usually isn’t the case.

Indeed, the most important points changes tend to make units more expensive. Consider the Knight Castellan. Earlier this year, it was absolutely everywhere. At the peak of its power, roughly 25 per cent of the meta used the Knight Castellan in one form or another. And it was easy to see why. It was an absolute monster.

knight lance

But then two things happened: First, the stratagem that many Castellan players relied upon to keep it alive, Rotate Ion Shields, could no longer buff its invulnerable save to 3+. And while a 4+ invulnerable save is nothing to sniff at it, the nerf certainly made the Castellan less imperious.

Second, with a combination of chassis and weapon points increases, the Castellan became roughly 100 points more expensive.

These two changes to the unit clearly had an effect on the meta: in the weeks after the changes, we saw far fewer Knight Castellans on the tabletop. And while we certainly still see Knight lists perform well in tournaments, we see far fewer than we did.

So what does this mean for the T’au codex? If the rules writers really wanted to change the T’au meta, they would’ve done what they did to the Knight Castellan: they would’ve made Riptides and Shield Drones more expensive. They didn’t. I’m sure my fellow T’au commanders breathed a sigh of relief when they heard this news. I certainly did.

But we know that T’au are due an update in the Psychic Awakening series. Indeed, the book after next is called “The Greater Good”, so we know this will be the T’au-focused update. And if the releases continue at their current rate, we’ll see this book in February or March.

It’s not entirely beyond the realms of reason that this update to the faction will bring significant changes.

For example, we could see an update to Shield Drone mechanics. Precisely what would change is, of course, up for debate, but it would not surprise me at all if Games Workshop decided to change this core function of the T’au codex.

Now let me briefly state and explore what could be an unpopular opinion: the Savior Protocols rule is not broken. Hear me out.

In terms of win percentages at tournament play, T’au are sitting at a little over fifty per cent. Don’t get me wrong: this makes T’au a strong faction. But unless your name is Richard Siegler or Brian Pullen, you’re unlikely to be winning tournaments with T’au. And this means that most T’au players win only slightly more than the average player, which is pretty good evidence that the core mechanic of the army isn’t broken. It’s very good. But I don’ think it’s broken.

I also get that playing against a horde of Drones can be frustrating. They just float there, ready to obediently intercept any big hits on your Riptide like the seagulls in Finding Nemo. Mine. Mine. Mine. (I can’t take credit for that joke. That goes to my mate Will, a great Drukhari player).

I’ll discuss my thoughts on Savior Protocols in more detail in a later article, but for now I’ll get back to my point: the rule could change.

And what would that mean for the codex itself? Would such a change make the codex better or worse? It’s a tricky question. But I think that the problem of depth isn’t solved by changing one rule. It would be solved by rewriting five or so different units in the codex.

At the end of my article last week, I mentioned that the price reduction for Crisis suits won’t make them competitive. I also humorously (I hope) hinted that the return of the jump-shoot-jump rule might go some way to getting them there. And it certainly might help them along the way. It would certainly make them more interesting.

But what else? How would we make Vespid good? What could we do with Kroot? How could we get players to take Piranhas?

There is a lot of scope to improve these units. And I really hope that GW pulls something out the bag to really shake up the T’au meta. I think it’s bad for the game when a codex becomes stale. Unfortunately, the T’au codex in its current form is certainly heading that way. It’s not a good a codex. It’s a strong codex. But it’s not a good codex.

And remember, Frontline Gaming sells gaming products at a discount, every day in their webcart!



About Rhys Jenkins

Software developer, T'au player.

12 Responses to “Is The T’au Codex Good?”

  1. Ohlmann December 24, 2019 9:44 am #

    They could nerf savior protocols, but give every gun an additional -1 AP and +1 damage. After all, it worked for Space Marines.

    Less sarcasticaly, Savior Protocols mean that the Tau is one of the few army that cannot be gutted in one round of shooting. That’s very against the current trend, where offensive potential go up but defensive potential is unchanged, so indeed it’s somewhat likely to get nerfed. (once again, the space marine update is a strong example : they didn’t give much if any additional resilience, but gained two layers of offensive buff).

    There’s also the fact that Psychic Awakening aren’t full codex rewrite, but a very small amount of additional rules. GIven the problems of the Tau, it’s quite unlikely to fix the main issue of being a very lopsided codex ; however, a select number of units could become worth it.

  2. Chad December 24, 2019 10:24 am #

    A big part of the Codex being problematic is the reliance on marker lights. In today’s game they are both costly and a liability. While the bonuses are significant they can be difficult to land, out ranged, flat out miss, or the easily removed from the board.

    Thunderfire cannons are everywhere because they are both amazing and cheap. This requires either character protection (expensive for 1 marker light and not able to be moved forward well) or drones (need drone caddie and more expensive then pathfinders). The end result is that marker lights are both CP heavy and points heavy. But without them we shoot less effectively then guard units.

    Well Marines dominate The Meta they do so because of incredible inherent bonuses. If you look at them apples to apples even a fully stacked markerlit target provides roughly the same bonuses that IH gets for wearing the right colors. This given that Tau is BS 4 and Marines are BS 2/3.

    Drones are boring and slow the game down massively as they are rolled one by one. Triple Riptides have been ignored by GW and there is no more evidence needed then the Ion Cannon being 50 points vs the HBC being 35.

    The codex needs a rework to allow other units to shine. Markerlights probably would be better balanced if they were unlimited range. When the star of your army has no guns and only is around to (brokenly?) absorb lascannon, you know you missed the mark.

    • Dakkath December 24, 2019 9:03 pm #

      “even a fully stacked markerlit target provides roughly the same bonuses that IH gets for wearing the right colors.”

      Man, if this isn’t the achilles heel to the entire codex right here.

  3. N.I.B. December 24, 2019 2:42 pm #

    Boohoo. Go play some Tyranids.

    • Chad December 24, 2019 4:10 pm #

      Ha, Tyranids are my first and favorite army. They are a joke and GW wanted me to spend $40 on 9 pages in a space marine book. It is truly a shame where they are currently.

  4. Richard S. December 24, 2019 3:41 pm #

    The one thing I would add is that while the Tau Codex has horrific internal balance and a lot of terrible units, abilities and rules, it does scale well with skill. Compared to the early part of this year, I am a much better player due to the demands the codex puts on you in the deployment, movement, and assault phases. Any mistakes made during those can be extremely punishing more so than say for Iron Hands, which is the closest faction to Tau, but with massive training wheels.

    • Chad December 24, 2019 6:02 pm #

      That I totally agree about and if you are the Richard S, then you are one to know. I have a young kid that I try to spend all my free time with so my playing has drastically fallen. Even casual games are rare.

      It is more so a shame that the codex is so unbalanced within itself my “competitive” choices are very limited. I’d love to play something other than Riptides, but our other options either die easily or can’t return much damage. GW has made so much money they can afford to make incremental changes to the game. They just don’t seem to hire enough or the right people to read each book they put out. Units out there are still completely unplayed and haven’t seen changes. This speaks to their not caring, or more likely their interest in only selling their higher profit models.

  5. Dakkath December 24, 2019 5:22 pm #

    Thank you for accurately summing up all my woes with the dex.

  6. Ken December 25, 2019 4:35 pm #

    A change to the Savior Protocol rule would be a serious mistake. You are quite right that Tau really have one competitive build. A nerf to either Shield Drones or Riptides would reduce that to zero competitive builds.
    What Tau need are boosts to some of their other units to make them more competitive and encourage people to take them. For my two bob;
    – Crisis suits need their JSJ Assault move back. They should also benefit from cheaper weapons, with things like missile pods and plasma rifles overpriced compared to Guard equivalents.
    – Homing Beacons need to lose “at the start of the Movement phase”.
    – Make Hammerheads Great Again. They need a price drop and/or some wargear. Disruption pods for a -1 to hit (or 5++), target locks to move and shoot heavy weapons. Also the Hammerhead railgun needs a stat change. If it’s only going to have one shot, it needs to be a good one; S14 -4 2D6 damage at a minimum
    – Vehicle wargear would also help units like Piranhas. Maybe give Piranhas Homing Beacons so they can combo with Crisis suits.

    My thoughts anyway.

  7. Engelshaeubchen December 26, 2019 5:12 am #

    Well, thanks a lot for that interesting article.
    You should have mentioned that you just argue on an ITC-Meta.
    Advice: Play a scenario where only scoring units (troops) can score points and win you the game.
    Tada, the whole Tau-Riptide-Drone Architecture would break down immediately….

    All I want to say is that it is not only the Codex which makes a faction playable or not.
    The scenario as well as the terrain are important parameters of our game, too.

    If in ITC tournaments 40% of the gamemat would be covered of LOS blocking ruins you could not play Tau at all and Khorne berzerkers would party all night long.

    • Ohlmann December 26, 2019 6:19 am #

      Note that in both of your examples, Tau just become unplayable. ITC make it so that it have a standing chance.

      Which is the role of the ITC package really : trying to give a chance to most factions.

  8. BK December 27, 2019 7:34 am #

    Thanks for the review.

    On CA changes didn’t Brian Pullen at some point this year use CIB Crisis suits with some success?

    I think Ghostkeels and Stealth Suits with their drops could get some play as well.

    Hopefully their psychic awakening book expands it a bit more as well.

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