All right, Games Workshop, you got me.
Last week, overwatch was a bittersweet memory of a passing edition. This week, it’s a core component of the T’au art of war.
Indeed, T’au players, rejoice! The sky isn’t falling. The world as we know it isn’t coming to an end. The mont’au isn’t yet upon us.
Well, it’s not quite that simple.
Let’s get into it. The faction focus article for the T’au Empire was released a few days ago — handily written by the excellent Brian Pullen — and it confirmed that, for the T’au, overwatch would not change in 9th edition.
This is great news. Not only do we keep one of the core aspects of the way our army plays, but because overwatch will be so much less prevalent in 9th, far fewer players will take abilities and traits to mitigate it. This means that we will most likely fire overwatch more in 9th than we did in 8th. Put simply, T’au overwatch is now relatively more deadly.
All right, fellow Fire Caste commanders, don’t rub it in.
But it’s a funny thing: the confirmation of overwatch wasn’t the most important reveal in the faction focus article, not by a long shot.
The most important reveal was the change to the way that the Fly keyword works. From the article: “The largest challenge for the T’au Empire in the new edition is the change to the Fly keyword. It no longer offers units the ability to Fall Back and shoot”. This is a big change, a really big change.
Before we discuss it, let’s just take a second. As I’ve said many times, we cannot judge the new edition until we have all the rules. GW might reveal something else in a coming article that allows flying units to retreat from combat and still take certain actions. Perhaps it’s a stratagem. Perhaps it’s a faction-specific rule. We do not know yet.
And I understand that many T’au players — and indeed players of other factions — are concerned by this change. I get it. The focus of my army is Commanders and Riptides. I understand. But we all need to wait until we have the whole picture.
With that out of the way, let’s discuss what this means for the T’au.
I think that there are a two different ways to look at this. First, we could presume that our Battlesuits are simply unable to withdraw from combat and shoot. This would be a pretty big deal. Commanders, Crisis Suits, and Stealth Suits just became significantly less effective. We know that the board is going to be smaller, so we can reasonably assume that enemy forces are going to get closer quicker. Put simply, we’re going to be in combat more. And when the previously mentioned Battlesuits are tagged in combat, they’re unable to shoot in the following turn.
A handful of infantry models, then, can charge a Commander, and while a few might die in overwatch, it only takes a couple of them to get into combat and that Commander is out of action for at least a turn.
If a T’au Commander isn’t shooting, he had better be dead or buffing another unit with the Command and Control Node stratagem, because losing even one round of shooting with a Commander is a big deal.
For Riptides and Ghostkeels it isn’t as bad — but it’s still pretty bad. Because both of these models take the Monster keyword, they can shoot in combat in 9th edition. And while this is welcome buff, it won’t make up for the inability to fall back and shoot.
If a few Marines tag a Riptide in combat, the Riptide must clear the Marines before it is able to shoot at anything else. This means that the opponent can dictate what our alpha units shoot at simply by tagging them in combat.
This ain’t a pretty picture.
The T’au army would have to change significantly if it were to remain competitive in such circumstances. Unfortunately, I predict that this would see the T’au turn into something like an Astra Militarum clone, with two or three layers of screens defending a castle of Broadsides and Riptides. This would be a real shame. The T’au are the most fun to play — and play against — when they are out in the battlefield, sparing at medium to close range with the enemy, jumping into and out of combat, controlling the board and destroying pockets of resistance as they go.
That’s the first way to look at it. The second offers a much rosier vision of the T’au Empire in 9th edition. It would go something like this. While the Fly keyword no longer allows models to fall back and shoot, the updated T’au codex offers T’au players ways of keeping this advantage.
For example, the T’au’s Psychic Awakening book, The Greater Good, added new Sept tenets to the army. Much like particular Space Marine chapters, these tenets conferred certain abilities to T’au units. They were an excellent addition to the game, adding more variety and flavor to the army.
However, one of these tenets, Stabilization Systems, allowed Battlesuits to move and fire heavy weapons without penalty. In 8th edition, this was a great bonus to the Riptide, which had to use one of two support system slots to receive the same benefit, meaning that the Riptide had to forgo some other benefit in order to move and shoot. Now, with the Stabilization Systems tenet, the Riptide can take two support systems and avoid the penalty for moving and shooting.
In 9th edition, of course, all Monsters can move and shoot without penalty, meaning that T’au players don’t need to take the Sept tenet. More importantly, this means that the Sept tenet itself far less useful: with the exception of Broadsides, any Battlesuit that can take heavy weapons also has the Monster keyword.
It would not at all surprise me, then, if GW rewrote this stratagem in a day-one errata to allow Battlesuits to fall back from combat and shoot. This would be an excellent solution to the issue. It would force T’au players to make a choice about how they want their particular army to play. Players who enjoy using Riptides and Commanders would no doubt forgo other Sept tenet bonuses in order to take this new tenet. But players who prefer to do battle with, say, infantry, Devilfish, and Hammerheads would choose something else.
Or GW could finally do something significant with the Jetpack keyword. This keyword has conferred a couple of different rules throughout the different editions of the game, but in 8th, the keyword has done nothing for most of the edition. The Greater Good added some functionality to Jetpack models if the player chose the appropriate Sept tenet, but other than that this keyword has no use.
All of Battlesuits in the codex take this keyword, so it would be very simple for GW to add a rule allowing units with the Jetpack keyword to fall back and shoot. Moreover, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to add a -1 to hit penalty for doing so. The ability to fall back from combat is a powerful one, so a minor nerf such as this would be appropriate. It would also provide an incentive for T’au players to take more care with screening units, and it would encourage players to think more carefully about how aggressively they commit their Battlesuits into the fray.
There’s a lot of scope for some interesting game play mechanics here — but only if Battlesuits can fall back and shoot. Otherwise, I fear that we simply won’t see many Battlesuits in 9th edition.
All this speculation is good fun, and it’s providing writers like me with plenty of content each week, but speculation can only get us so far. For all we know, the next big change to how T’au play in 9th could be right around the corner — or we might have seen all that we’ll see up until the release of the rules.
Either way, we’re certainly living in interesting times.
I must say, I absolutely love how T’au play at the moment. I think Battlesuits are super cool. I love to hit that Mont’ka turn one and charge up to the middle of the table with my Riptides and my Drones.
It goes without saying, then, that these changes leave me with a slight sour taste in my mouth. But I need to listen to my own advice: wait for the rules before judging the game.
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