T’au in 9th: Replacing Commanders

Today I’m going to discuss a couple of the lesser-taken models in the T’au codex. While this won’t constitute an exhaustive analysis of these units, it might very well prompt players to have another look at these models in 9th edition.

Everyone knows that the best units in the T’au codex throughout 8th edition were the Riptide, the Commander, and the Shield Drone. I won’t win any prizes for pointing this out.

And I’ll be honest: at the moment, this doesn’t seem to have changed much going into 9th edition.

Yes, the change to the Fly keyword is a problem, and yes, Shield Drones have become 50 percent more expensive, but Riptides still look really strong in 9th, and Drones will certainly have their place. As hot takes for T’au go, this one is pretty mild.

However, I can see see Commanders becoming less popular. Of the three T’au units that I mention above, the change to the Fly keyword hits Commanders the hardest. The ability to fall back and shoot was one of the Commander’s key assets, and now that it’s gone, T’au players are going to have to carefully consider our HQ choices as we build lists.

With the latest points changes, taking just one Commander in place of the usual three would free up roughly 300 points from our armies, which is certainly nothing to sniff at. Would these points best be spent on a model that hits on a 2+ and can fall back and shoot? Absolutely. Would these points best be spent on a model that hits on a 2+ and can’t fall back and shoot? There’s a pretty good case to be made against this option.

We’ve all heard a lot of hot takes on combat in 9th edition. There are good arguments to say that combat improved in 9th — the board is smaller, there will be far less overwatch — and there are good arguments to say that combat got worse in 9th — charging units must be able to reach all their targets, tri-pointing is no longer effective — and I’m not sure which side of this debate I come down on.

However, the key point is that if the T’au Commander is tagged in combat, he is then all but useless for at least the following turn.

With this in mind, on what else could we spend our 300 points?

I want to begin with the Ghostkeel. 9th edition provided a couple of great little upgrades for this humble Battlesuit. First, it can now move and shoot without penalty. Both of the Ghostkeel’s main weapon options are heavy weapons, so the change to this rule immediately makes the Ghostkeel more appealing. But more importantly, this change frees up a support system slot. In 8th, players could take the target lock upgrade to move and shoot without penalty, but we would of course have to sacrifice something else to take it. This is no longer the case.

Second, the Ghostkeel can now shoot in combat. Considering that this model will very probably be closer to the enemy’s lines that most other units — we’ll talk more about that in a moment — your opponent will have a much easier time tagging it in combat. Of course, we would prefer to simply fall back from combat and engage with our weapons in the following turn, but being as this isn’t possible, we can at least do some damage while we are in engagement range.

However, I would argue that the utility of the Ghostkeel doesn’t come from its offensive output. The Ghostkeel takes the Infiltrator keyword, meaning that in can deploy anywhere on the board that is outside of the opponent’s deployment zone and more than 12″ from an enemy model.

And while the Ghostkeel doesn’t offer the pure offensive punch to take an opponent off an objective, it does provide enough speed and resilience to take a mid-board objective in the early stages of the game. We know that the 9th edition missions focus much more heavily on capturing and holding objectives; the Ghostkeel offers T’au players a head start on this primary method of scoring points.

A Ghostkeel armed with two burst cannons, a cyclic ion raker, an advanced targeting system, a shield generator, and accompanied by two stealth Drones comes to 176 points. The two Commanders that we are replacing come to roughly 300 points, so we’ve got plenty of points left to spend.

I’d argue that the Ghostkeel is certainly worth a look in 9th, but what else to we have on offer?

Let’s talk about something that is a little more out there: the Tiger Shark. This Forge World flyer is tough, quick, and puts out a solid amount of firepower. Because the Tiger Shark is a Forge World model, players who are only beginning their journey into the Empire would be well advised to choose something a little more conventional, but for the veteran T’au player, the Tiger Shark offers some interesting options.

As with the Ghostkeel, the Tiger Shark benefits from the new rules for heavy weapons. In 8th, the Tiger Shark’s main weapons would suffer the hit penalty for moving, and while hitting on a 3+ is still respectable, T’au players pay the points for the Tiger Shark in order to take advantage of a 2+ platform. In 9th, the Tiger Shark will rule the skies with impunity.

Unlike the Ghostkeel, the Tiger Shark doesn’t give T’au players new, interesting options to play the mission. But with two ion cannons, two cyclic ion blasters, two missile pods, and two skyspear missile racks, this model gives T’au players some very strong offensive output. There are, of course, a couple of different options for the main weapon, but I’ll explore this loadout for now.

Indeed, that’s pretty much the main reason to take a Tiger Shark. If you want some strong, accurate shooting and your bored of the Riptide, the Tiger Shark could be worth a look.

Let’s take a brief look at a couple of the weapons I mentioned above. The ion cannon gives players three shots at strength 7, AP -2, and damage 2. Or the T’au player could overcharge the weapon, bumping the strength up to 8 and the damage up to 3. Moreover, the overcharge profile yields D6 shots instead of three.

Those skyspear missiles are pretty respectable as well: with D6 shots, strength 6, AP-2, and damage 2, there’s a lot of targets that T’au players can threaten.

But I would argue that the main strength of the Tiger Shark is indeed its ballistic skill. Hitting on 2s is rare for T’au players, and now that our Commanders are less useful, we need to look elsewhere for a 2+ platform. The Tiger Shark offers T’au players a 2+ platform with plenty of big guns, all for 416 points. Granted, this is quite a bit more than the roughly 300 points of Commanders that we are looking to replace, but it could very well be worth it.

As I said, the Tiger Shark is a little more adventurous, but veteran T’au players might certainly want to give it a go. For a look at what the Tiger Shark can do, check out this excellent battle report from Play On Tabletop. Nick runs a great T’au army — and only includes one Riptide! I’d definitely recommend giving it a watch.

Where does this leave us? Are we going to see T’au players forgo the Riptides and the Drones? Honestly, I don’t think we are. But there are more options for those willing to look a little deeper in the codex. I’m certainly going to take another look at the Ghostkeel. One of my concerns going into 9th is how well my army will be able to contest the mid-board, and the Ghostkeel provides me with some interesting new options that I’m looking forward to exploring.

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



About Rhys Jenkins

Software developer, T'au player.

28 Responses to “T’au in 9th: Replacing Commanders”

  1. Avatar
    Dakkath July 26, 2020 11:01 pm #

    My ghostkeels are set up as ion+fusion (3-5 str 8, multidamage shots) and I have one iontide for backup I plan on giving the prototype ion cannon.

    Still hoping there’s a way to make crisis suits viable. 1 cp for the stabilizer jets and 2cp per turn for coordinated engagement seems kind of expensive. Not sure if I want to go farsight enclaves for the veteran cadre and virtual +1 markerlight within 12″. Then of course there’s the issue of what to arm them with.

  2. Avatar
    Zweischneid July 27, 2020 12:09 am #

    If I had to guess, I‘d wager Riptides go and Commanders stay just to Farm those juicy While We Stand We Fight points.

    Also don’t get why people are so in arms about Drones? Shield Drones are literally in line with most stuff and went up less than Grots, Neophytes, Cultists, Kabalites, etc..

    The insane thing isn’t that Shield Drones remained unchanged relative to everyone else, but that most of the Tau book (including other Deones) got cheaper, relatively speaking.

    Tracing the twin paths of GSC and Tau as the two top armies at last year’s NOVA (with Tau being the slightly better army one would presume to get re-balanced more noticeably than the runner-up), and how they two factions were treated through hard-counter Marine-releases, CA19, their shared PA and now CA20, is really bizarre.

    • Avatar
      abusepuppy July 27, 2020 3:09 am #

      Shield Drones were the core of the Tau army, alongside Riptides. Grots, Kabalites, Neophytes, Kabalites, and Cultists were rarely the core of their respective armies, and most of them went up less (either in relative or absolute points) than Shield Drones did.

      That said, it’s not a hard job to replace them with Gun or Marker Drones instead, but it does mean a certain amount of retooling- especially as Tau simply cannot play as they once did, focusing on kills while ceding the board in the early game.

      I strongly doubt people are going to optimize Commanders to try and maximize one objective, because that means giving up a lot of other potential options for shooting- most of them, in fact. Tau are going to be struggling to to effectively score primary points, so they can’t be cutting off tools that might allow them to do so as a trivial measure.

      • Avatar
        Earl July 27, 2020 5:35 am #

        I’d say shield drones are more like cultists than the other units. Part of the issue for both is the other options in the codex are bad. Adjusting the points of one of the only good options, doesnt make the others good, it just lets you take less of the good stuff.

      • Avatar
        Zweischneid July 29, 2020 1:09 am #

        Shield Drones were the core of the Tau Army for the same reasons 9 Flyers were the core of Craftworld armies or 15 Maelific Lords were the core of Chaos armies.

        It’s precisely the reason they needed to go up even more, or better yet, get a fundamental rules-re-write like Ynnari.

        • Avatar
          Ohlmann July 29, 2020 1:45 am #

          Only if the rest of the army go down in point by quite a bit.

          You forget a fundamental problem in your comparison : unlike your examples, Tau don’t have serious other options. The internal balance of Tau is a mess, which mean nerfs to the good units will make the faction insanely bad.

          • Avatar
            Zweischneid July 29, 2020 2:40 am

            Not true.

            Mech Tau for example is still heads and shoulders above, say, GSC (e.g. the army they faced in last year’s NOVA finals that also had their “core” taken and had to adapt).

          • Avatar
            abusepuppy July 29, 2020 8:22 am

            “Better than what is probably the worst army in the game” is a pretty low bar to meet, though.

            Tau have some potential in a small handful of units, but it’s a very thin tether. One or two FAQ or book changes could drop them directly into the dump bin prtty easily.

          • Avatar
            Ohlmann July 29, 2020 9:42 am

            Also, that an army have been nerfed into oblivion don’t mean all the other need to get the same treatment. While I don’t like power creep, the opposite isn’t better.

          • Avatar
            Zweischneid July 29, 2020 10:30 pm

            If a game mechanic like Drones-taking-wounds is (allegedly) at the heart of the problem, as people similarly argued with Ynnari and Broviathan, it needs to change.

            Whether that constitutes a nerf or not, is a secondary concern.Ideally, the faction (with a different build) stays viable, which I guess worked with Iron Hands but not with Ynnari. But the toxic mechanic should be out.

          • Avatar
            abusepuppy July 30, 2020 6:08 am

            I would love to see them move away from drones-protecting-a-big-thing as the only Tau build that is functional.

            Unfortunately, with the current codex that isn’t really possible. Their design philosophy that Tau don’t get to participate in 2-3 phase of the game combined with a very limited view of what Tau guns can do and what shenanigans the faction should be allowed to have result in an army that is often stuck in a monobuild. I think GW need to seriously reconsider how they write the Tau codex and fluff if they want them to be a viable army going forward.

          • Avatar
            Zweischneid July 31, 2020 2:00 am

            Sure. Same for Ynnari.

            But as with Ynnari, I think it’s worth removing the toxic play experience first.

            If they get around to making the army viable in some form later, great.

          • Avatar
            abusepuppy July 31, 2020 5:16 am

            I don’t think Tau Drones are even _close_ to as toxic as Ynnari are. And invalidating an entire faction is very different from Ynnari, which were just an alternate set of rules that some factions could use.

          • Avatar
            Zweischneid August 1, 2020 4:13 am

            Excluding the ITC with their no-LOS-first-floor houserule, Tau won every single WHW GT in 8th.

            From Maelific Lords to Ynnari to Castellan or whatever the ITC was worried about, Tau was the most toxic and OP faction through all of these “phases”, topping all of them, throughout 8th, if played RAW.

            They faction was (is?) easily more toxic than all of the above taken together in 8th.

          • Avatar
            abusepuppy August 1, 2020 8:30 am

            It’s almost like they implemented that rule for a reason!

          • Avatar
            Jace August 1, 2020 3:03 pm

            You mention “ITC 1st floor house rule” a lot.
            Do you mean it in a critical or inflammatory or derogatory way?
            Text is tone death so I don’t know.
            The whole point was to add extra blocking terrain to an edition they felt needed it without forcing a physical remake of all terrain.
            That seems so incredibly sensible I don’t understand the harping on.
            If duct tape covered all doors and windows would that have been better?

          • Avatar
            Zweischneid August 1, 2020 11:13 pm

            ITC changing terrain rules to make up for shortcomings in the game is fine. But it obviously had implications on what armies were good/bad.

            Eg.g. it made Ynnari in the ITC a lot better then they were in the game “played RAW”, where fire-&-fading Reapers/Spears couldn’t hide, and it made Tau a lot weaker.

            Ultimately, the game needs to be fixed at the “RAW”-level, not at the level of various house-rules and adapted variants of 40K, and at that level, Tau have been far more problematic than any Ynnari, Castellan or similar “ITC-meta”lists have ever been.

            If anything, the entire ITC circuit having to come up with a house-made variant to sidestep the most egregiously OP army in all of 8th Edition just proves that point.

    • Avatar
      Earl July 27, 2020 5:30 am #

      If you build a list around spamming grots, cultists, or shield drones, you’re upset. And people were taking upwards of 30 shield drones in lists, because about the only competitive builds included them. I think it’s more an indictment of how bad most of the Tau codex has been in 8th and looks to be in 9th.

      I’m wondering if Fish of Fury could make a comeback in 9th. None of the Tau troops are durable, but maybe the transport protects them enough to get objectives and win.

      • Avatar
        Ukelesh July 27, 2020 1:01 pm #

        An enclave devilish with gun drones and a nearby fire blade should get 16 s5 shots rerolling 1 to hit and wound at less than 6 inches. It can do that in combat now. Almost sounds more dangerous than the troops it carries

  3. Avatar
    abusepuppy July 27, 2020 3:14 am #

    Having played with the Tiger Shark a decent bit during 8E, I am skeptical that it is going to see much use outside of brief spates of experimental lists. BS2+ is very nice, obviously, and something the Tau have little access to, but it is NOT particularly tough at all given its cost- it’s priced about the same as a Knight, but is sixteen wounds and 3+/5++ compared to 24 wounds of potential 2+/4++. It is, comparatively speaking, _quite_ fragile and will usually go down as soon as a competent opponent starts shooting at it; this is all the more true with smaller boards making it harder to hide it out of range. The loss of the old Heavy Burst Cannon profile also dealt a major blow to it, since you now have to choose between having decent anti-infantry and decent anti-tank; Hammerheads, which can hide behind terrain and end up with similar accuracy profiles thanks to Longstrike, are probably going to be a lot more popular.

    The Ghostkeel, though, is worth a look for all of the reasons mentioned. I have a feeling it simply won’t be enough to give Tau any kind of decent board presence, but it is at least some kind of starting point.

    • Avatar
      NinetyNineNo July 27, 2020 8:14 am #

      I wonder if Stealth Suits are poised for a comeback. They don’t shoot worth a damn, but they’re fairly cost-effective defensively and a Primaris statline on objectives with a -1 to hit and maybe a Shield Generator in there might fill a missing niche for Tau.

      • Avatar
        Monchiño July 27, 2020 1:11 pm #

        If Ghostkeel will have place in Tau armys, stealth will also fit well as both units have good synergies. Problem I can see with both is their firepower is so low for their cost. Maybe can be usefull properly supported for Riptides and Commanders

      • Avatar
        abusepuppy July 27, 2020 6:52 pm #

        Stealth Suits can’t shoot in combat, which differentiates them from the Ghostkeel; being on the objectives immediately isn’t of much value if you can’t actually defend them, since at that point you’re just giving the enemy easy charge targets and ways to lock themselves into combat.They are reasonably durable, but if people are bringing guns to kill Primaris, they get caught in the crossfire and they are _significantly_ more expensive than an Intercessor or the like.

        • Avatar
          Monchiño July 28, 2020 5:04 am #

          You are right, but I will give them a try together with Ghostkeel. Ghostkeel also need some support from others unit to work fine. At least, tryingt to keep focus out of GK…
          Which specially sucks in stealh suits is the cost of burst cannon (well, suck anyhow…) that increase heavily their total cost for almost nothing.
          Which is the consensus about Sunshark Bomber? Not a bad option after point increase and new 9th rule set. Free from shooting with penalty, blast weapons, new aircraft rules, bombadment and even some FSE stratagem…I feel is a decent choice

  4. Avatar
    kaixaukyr July 27, 2020 1:59 pm #

    this is a good article! thanks!

  5. Avatar
    Matt July 28, 2020 5:27 pm #

    Great article! Vast improvement over the last Tau one.

    It’s also worth checking out Advanced Tau Tactica – there’s some interesting discussions being had there about the increased need for things like Darkstrider and grav-drones with the loss of Fly.

  6. Avatar
    BK August 2, 2020 4:10 am #

    How about 3 man crisis suit units with flamers and iridium on one of the suits? They are pretty cheap battlesuit models with deep strike, decent mobility and relatively durable who can play objectives and have decent overwatch.

    • Avatar
      Dakkath August 2, 2020 12:14 pm #

      I’m curious to try such a thing myself. It’s about the only cheap loadout option, does 9d6 autohits, you can advance the unit freely (and you’re gonna need to to take advantage of that 8″ range), and it doesn’t need markerlight support. On the downside, if it gets tagged in melee it’s as good as useless.

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