What do the T’au need in 9th?

9th edition 40k has been out for nearly a month, and we’re starting to see something like a meta slowly beginning to take shape. To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Space Marines are looking at least as strong as they did at the end of 8th edition.

In particular, the Salamanders are looking very powerful, but with high-quality, high-output units across the codex, Marines look good whatever the color of the armor.

As a T’au player, there are a number of fearsome lists to which my army simply wouldn’t have an answer. For example, my boys would struggle to deal with a fast, assault-oriented White Scars army. Our alpha units are just too susceptible to being tagged at the moment.

With that in mind, then, today I want to riff on some ways that the 9th edition T’au codex might improve the army.

I will point out that these suggestions are entirely my own. Reece and guys at Frontline haven’t given me the inside track on any secret T’au designs that Games Workshop is working on. I’m not privy to the Let’s Make T’au the Best Army project that’s going on at GW HQ. That project is definitely happening though, right?

Let’s begin with something broad: I think the army should have access to a 5+ Overwatch stratagem.

Hear me out on this one.

Hitting on 5s in the Overwatch phase is very strong. This is obvious. In fact, it’s so good that there isn’t much incentive to take anything but T’au Sept, which is the Sept choice that grants Overwatch on 5s to the entire army.

Granted, the Farsight Enclaves do have some strong abilities. Generally speaking, T’au players will either play T’au Sept or Farsight Enclaves.

This is a bit of a shame in my book. It would be great to see more variety when it comes to this aspect of the T’au army. But the problem is obvious enough: the other Septs don’t grant an army-wide bonus as good as hitting on 5s in Overwatch.

The Vior’la Sept, for example, allows units to treat Rapid Fire weapons as Assault weapons when they advance. Moreover, units do not suffer the penalty to hit rolls on Assault weapons when advancing.

This is cool little buff. It’s not super powerful, but it offers that bit of extra maneuverability that, in a game that rewards capturing objectives, could be really interesting.

But is it as good as hitting on 5s in Overwatch? It’s not.

And the Bork’an Sept gives an army-wide increase of 6″ to Heavy and Rapid Fire weapons. T’au players would occasionally take an Outrider detachment with this Sept in order to increase the range of the Y’vahra’s flamer, but other than that it rarely saw any play.

Why? It’s not as good as hitting on 5s in Overwatch.

You get the idea. The T’au Sept ability is excellent.

Now let’s say that any T’au army can hit on 5s in Overwatch — for a price. Other Sept options would start to look a lot more interesting.

What exactly would this stratagem do? I think that there are a couple of ways that it could go. It could grant hitting on 5s for everything in the For the Greater Good aura. This would be good-good, so it would need to be expensive. Such a powerful stratagem should cost at least three Command Points.

Or it could grant hitting on 5s for one unit in the For the Greater Good aura. This would, I think, be more appropriate. It would still be strong, however, so I would say that such a stratagem should cost two Command Points.

If T’au players had the option to Overwatch on 5s for a cost, I think that we would see far more variety in Sept choices, which in turn would give T’au players more scope to find more competitive options.

Let’s continue with army-wide abilities. I think that the T’au should have a Fall Back and shoot stratagem.

The strength of such an ability is obvious enough. T’au were so dangerous throughout a lot of 8th edition at least in part because of the flexibility that the Fly keyword allowed. And while I don’t think that T’au should entirely go back to that play style, I think that bringing a sprinkling of it into 9th edition would be a good move.

For the cost of one or two Command Points, one unit should be able to Fall Back and shoot. If it were to cost one CP, it should confer a -1 hit penalty, but if it were to cost two CP, the unit could shoot as normal.

Or perhaps the unit would only able to take half of its movement, or perhaps it would be obliged to shoot at the unit with which it was just in combat. There’s a lot of scope for some interesting rules writing here.

Conferring this ability army-wide would probably be too good, but including it in the form of a stratagem would be a good way to balance out one of the main weaknesses of the faction at the moment.

As changes go, these two would be a strong step in the right direction.

But let’s discuss something more specific. In my article on the Ghostkeel a couple of weeks back, I made three suggestions to improve the model: increase the wounds from 10 to 12, increase the Cyclic Ion Raker’s profile from Heavy 6 to Heavy 8, and give it a 12″ no-reinforcements aura. The first two suggestions here are pretty obvious. Increasing the stat-line of so-and-so weapon or so-and-so model will of course improve it.

And if we’re talking about a basic stat-line upgrade, there’s one weapon in particular that comes to mind.

The Burst Cannon has been a staple of the T’au faction since release, but in the era of double shooting Aggressors and Endless Cacophony Obliterators, this little cannon that could doesn’t really cut the mustard.

But a stat-line boost would be an easy way bring it into contention.

At the moment, the Burst Cannon is an Assault 4, 18″ weapon. Its Strength is 5, it doesn’t have an AP value, and its Damage is 1. All things considered, this is a pretty modest gun.

Increasing it to Assault 5 would be a good move.

It wouldn’t drastically change the T’au meta. T’au players wouldn’t immediately buy out your local store’s supply of Stealth Suits, but it would start to make the Burst Cannon a more appropriate weapon for the two-wound Marine era.

Three Stealth Suits would have 15 shots instead of 12. This would be cool, but it wouldn’t break the game. Three Crisis Suits each armed with three Burst Cannons would put out 45 shots instead of 36. This would be really cool, and with some Markerlight support it could start to look pretty tasty, but it still wouldn’t break the game.

Furthermore, this change would make a couple of the custom Sept tenets all the more interesting. Hybridised Weaponry increases the range of Assault and Grenade weapons; an Assault 5 Burst Cannon would make this more tempting. Up-gunned increases the AP of the Burst Cannon to -1; an Assault 5 Burst Cannon at AP -1 is starting to look a lot more competitive.

It’s interesting how seemingly small changes to one rule or another can have ripple effects throughout a meta. I doubt that an Assault 5 Burst Cannon would significantly change the T’au meta, but it would certainly make more units more interesting.

The T’au are in a bit of a tricky spot at the moment. And until a new codex is released, we’re going to have to make do with what we have. Fortunately, there’s still a lot to like in the T’au codex, but there are also some tough aspects that need some attention.

This is a subject that I’m going to return to. It’s good fun to speculate like this, and as the meta goes on we’re going to get more information about what is working and what isn’t working in the army. I’m sure that something will come up that no one is considering at the moment.

Here’s a prediction to finish: Crisis Suits with flamers are going to be banter.

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



About Rhys Jenkins

Software developer, T'au player.

25 Responses to “What do the T’au need in 9th?”

  1. Spera August 24, 2020 1:26 am #

    What Tau need in 9th?

    No words can describe how bad this is from game design perspective. This is core mechanic that we are actively trying to avoid to make better list. Mechanic that supposed to buff our shooting, but players feels like its punishing mechanism. While the idea is neat in the theory, it fails at a delivery on disaster level.

    Beyond that, anything that is design update and actualization will help, but without marker light fix first its putting band aid on broken leg.
    And I hope that they will address tau problem with playing the game. This army is good at thing that you don’t want to do in this ed. Anything that would help to play primary objectives better, because we are by far the worst faction on that department, and not shining in other places to balance that. JSJ is one option, but wont mind if we get something else as long as it gets jobs done.

    3+ BS would go a looong way for sure. If we deal our dmg in one phase, it needs to be reliable. It’s also paradoxically much easier to balance 3+ or even 2+ because variance is much smaller.

    Also, battlesuits should get either infantry or vehicle/monster keyword, or rules on their own, and not be hung in this weird limbo where they don’t benefit form various buffs and interactions other keywords have.

    Change drones to giving suits inv that is not rerolleable, but if you roll 1 or pass this roll or something, one drone goes down. And after that adjust costs of unit accordingly. Saviour protocols is broken, because it is supper efficient on units with t7 and up, but anything lover you are overpaying, and this pushes you into riptides.

    Rework support systems. They compete with weapons and that’s tough competition. I would increase their costs, but also their effect. Counterfire defence system make it like 15 points, but you overwatch on your BS. Early warning override 15 and make it work in your gun range. You get the idea. Those points are example, likely not balanced, but are good enough to illustrate the idea.

  2. MidnightSun August 24, 2020 2:57 am #

    I’m way out of touch with what Tau are up to, but has Defensible terrain had that little impact? I would have thought that the T’au sept would have been the most badly hit by the terrain changes, given how many types of terrain have the Defensible keyword negating their Sept trait, but I haven’t seen them across the table myself.

    I think that Tau will struggle in their design space for as long as they’re restricted to being so one-note. Most other factions have stuff to do in at least two phases of the game, even if they’re not a very strong faction, but since Tau lost their movement tricks they seem to have suffered from GW running out of ways to make “shoot real good” interesting. Falling out of combat is *strong*, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea; I’m not sure what the *answer* to the problem is, but “Tau can shoot and will always shoot and shoot in your turn and cannot be stopped from shooting and will shoot forever” feels dissatisfying to play and to play against. Maybe play around with movement in the enemy turn, like Bolt Carbines?

    Maybe we’ll see GW remember that Kroot are a thing and make them relevant, or they might change how battlesuits or support systems work, but I think it’s something of an evolutionary dead end to pursue the current design philosophy with them.

  3. Earl August 24, 2020 4:17 am #

    I think the army needs a complete overhaul. Its supposed to be Hunter Cadres. They don’t play as hunters, or very mobile. They tend to play as a gun line. That Riptides and shield drones have been the best thing, by far, for multiple editions shows how poorly the codex is designed. Not to mention the iconic unit, crisis suits, haven’t been that good for most of the same time. Obviously, you can win with the book in past editions. But having one good thing doesn’t make a good codex.

    I think part of the problem is how to differentiate them from Eldar. Mobile firepower fits both of them.

  4. Zweischneid August 24, 2020 5:25 am #

    Tau need a serious adjustment, so the next NOVA finals GSC vs. Tau repeat hopefully get’s a GSC victory this time.

  5. Ken August 24, 2020 6:12 am #

    What do Tau need?

    1. Hit more often, particularly for the veterans (ie suits). Either a straight BS3 improvement for the battlesuits, a change to Markerlights, or a piece of wargear you can give a suit for +1BS.

    2. Escape combat and shoot. 8th Ed Fly rules, but only for Crisis and Stealth suits. Give the small suits some love.

    3. Vehicle wargear. Give me a reason to take Hammerheads again. Disruption pods, sensor spines etc etc. Hammerheads don’t have the raw damage output, so give them things like a purchaseable -1 to be hit, or a 5++. Devilfish would also benefit, without going all Wave Serpent crazy.

    4. Fix the Hammerhead railgun. One shot I get, fine, but make it S16 -5 2D6+3 damage. An average of 10 damage is not crazy for a 200pt main battle tank, and the low shot volume (plus enemy invul/FNP saves) also mitigate the actual output.

    My two bob.

  6. Dakkath August 24, 2020 10:10 am #

    1) Fix markerlights. Needing to hit 5 nondamaging shooting attacks just for everything else get on par shooting at that target alone is ridiculous. And stop pricing and statting everything in the codex as if they were always benefiting from 5 markerlights at all times. Markerlights are supposed to be our substitute for buffing psyker powers, not a crutch.

    2) Make the troops worth taking. Kroot are too fragile to hold an objective and don’t deal enough damage to take one. Strike teams are ok sitting on an objective, but too fragile to go take one. Breacher teams could maybe take an objective, if the devilfish weren’t perpetually overcosted and maybe had access to its wargear options back.

    3) Increased mobility for the smaller jetpack suits. If a riptide, ghostkeel, or even assault marine can jump 12″ in the movement phase, why are crisis and stealth suits stuck only going 8″?

    4) Increased BS on battlesuits and vehicles. At least bring back the old targeting array option for +1 BS, but preferably bake it in so that the veteran soldiers with advanced tech all around them aren’t as bad at shooting as your average imperial guardsman.

    5) Give the option to take drones as part of units again (and remove savior protocols for any drones taken that way). T’au have several special drones that are basically useless because they can be targeted with no protection other than LOS. Guardian drones, Shadowsun’s drones, pathfinder drones, stealth drones, all pretty much fodder for every tacked-on storm bolter on a rhino.

    6) Revamp the special weapons. Aside from fusion blasters and flamers everything is shorter range and/or worse statted than the imperial equivalent. Burst cannon vs heavy bolter: +1 shot, 1 worse ap, -1 damage, -18″ range. Missile pod vs autocannon: d3 damage vs flat 2, -12″ range. Plasma rifle vs plasma gun: -1 str, no ability to overcharge. Cyclic ion blaster vs plasma gun: +assault 3 vs rapid fire 1, 3 worse ap. Airburst frag projector vs mortar: -30″ range. Smart missiles vs mortars: 4 shots vs d6 blast, +1 str, -18″ range.

    7) Do something for the hammerhead’s main gun. For ages it used to be a threat to vehicles of any size, nowadays it’s a very lucky shot to kill a scout sentinel in one go. Also let it shoot twice if it moves slowly like literally every other factions’ main tanks (leman russ, fire prism, battlewagon, tyrannofex, etc).

    8) Stop overpricing the devilfish. It’s been consistently overcosted since at least 5th edition; I guess as ‘punishment’ for fish of fury. It’s inferior in every way to a wave serpent (especially with the loss of disruption pods), and consistently marginally more useful than a rhino but at a significant premium.

    9) Bring back vehicle wargear. Disruption pods, targeting arrays, sensor spines, flechette launchers, all of it.

    10) STOP FOCUSING ON OVERWATCH AS T’AU’s GIMMICK. Nobody likes it. Not people playing T’au, not people playing against T’au. I get that it’s compensation for being the worst army in the game at melee, but there has to be a better way to do it.

    11) Stop making the riptide the standout unit. Bring everything else up to where a 12 shot d2 weapon (that deals a mortal wound to the user) isn’t glaringly the best thing in the codex.

    12) Remove the 1 commander per detachment limit. It wasn’t needed as soon as the rule of 3 was introduced. And if crisis suits were made better then spamming commanders wouldn’t be needed.

    And that’s all not even getting in to trying to fix vespid, piranhas, the codex fliers, sniper drones, the tidewalls, and everything else I’m forgetting.

    • Matt August 24, 2020 11:29 am #

      +1 to all of this, especially points 1,4,5,10,11,12.

      Also, I think saviour protocols is actually a really bad game mechanic. No-one likes shooting at a unit and achieving nothing. Tau players don’t like having to bring clouds of drones to make their lists competitive, and don’t appreciate every battlesuit being costed as if it always has full markerlights and tons of drones.

      Making drones part of a unit again would remove the need for the rule, so you can’t indefinitely protect a unit with any more drones than the ones the unit came with. And then you could boost the durability of the suits (crisis only having 3W in the age of D3 weapons doesn’t cut the mustard) and/or reduce their cost to something affordable.

    • zarlus August 31, 2020 9:14 am #

      This guy gets it.
      Tau has been penalized for frustrations with jsj and fof and the designers have simply continued making iterations from decisions made 3 editions ago to “balance” the faction. It seems no one has actually looked at how Tau should uniquely function within the game, and implemented on that design.

  7. Matt August 24, 2020 11:24 am #

    To be fair, has there ever been a time when Tau have _not_ struggled with a fast, assault-oriented White Scars army?

    Tabletop Tactics are basically some of the only playtesters I’ve seen who understand Tau, they have a great Good, Bad and Ugly video on Tau that summarizes the problems with the faction better than I could… But TL;DR: Markerlights need to do more or be cheaper, and FtGG/overwatch is a terrible game mechanic. Those are the two biggest starting points.

    • Rob Butcher August 24, 2020 12:48 pm #

      TTT playtested some of the Codex armies – we don’t know if that included T’au.

      And the regular T’au player has only been in a handful of tournaments – most of those with SW.

  8. Matt August 24, 2020 11:35 am #

    Also, just putting it out there, losing fallback and shoot could be replaced by JSJ, which raises the skill ceiling for Tau players, and still rewards opponents who can catch Tau units in melee.

    Having Tau units saunter away from melee with no penalties sucks for the opponent and makes Tau players lazy with unit placement.

    Also, most of the comments here are great, and understand the problems with Tau pretty well. Tau players have been saying this stuff literally for years. But for reasons unknown, GW and the Tau community always seem to have radically different ideas of how Tau should play.

  9. Rob Butcher August 24, 2020 12:46 pm #

    Yet Tau won the GWGT 2019 and NOVA 2019.

    Relying on overwatch isn’t going to win a game based on mobility. (Defensible
    Terrain ? It’s in the rule book – have you read it?) Or are you planning on the castle covering four or more objectives.

    • abusepuppy August 24, 2020 5:55 pm #

      You heard it here first, folks- Rob Butcher says that the best way to win with Tau is to rely on melee attacks. Another brilliant strategy from our local genius.

    • Zweischneid August 24, 2020 11:09 pm #

      Tau also won the GWGT 2018
      Tau also won the GWGT 2017

      Without skewing the meta with ITC terrain rules / houserules that allow Ynnari Dark Reapers to hide in Ruins and Shining Spears to Quicken after Deep Strike, Tau was consistently the strongest army in 8th Edition from the release all the way to Codex Space Marines 2.0.

      Nothing from Maelific Lords over Ynnari to Poxblossom or Castellan ever came close.

      • abusepuppy August 25, 2020 1:00 am #

        It’s cute that you are just pretending that 99% of tournaments don’t exist in order to “prove” your point about how Tau are ridiculously OP and won every event ever held in the past retroactively. Truly, an astounding feat of denial.

        • Zweischneid August 25, 2020 9:38 am #

          Very few other tournaments played the game straight from the book / box without houseruling the win conditions, which obviously changes the relative strength of armies (if it didn’t, what would be the point of changing it?).

          • abusepuppy August 25, 2020 6:38 pm

            Yeah, I hated when GW houseruled things with Chapter Approved and the FAQs as well. It’s like, hey man, just play the game as written!

          • Zweischneid August 25, 2020 9:58 pm

            Because there is absolutely no difference between GW themselves changing rules to random tournaments or garage people doing their thing, sure.

          • Ohlmann August 26, 2020 5:51 am

            You dangerously sound like Rob Butcher, Zwei. You might want to check if you don’t have the coronabutcher.

            Apart from that, very few people play the 8th game out of the box because it stink to all heavens. That being said, as far as I have seen, the difference made by tournament packets weren’t *that* impactful on faction balance.

    • Dakkath August 25, 2020 1:11 am #

      Siegler won NOVA with T’au, but the London GT was won by eldar flier soup. Data from both events also shows that overall T’au posted a losing win percentage in both.

  10. Danth August 25, 2020 4:51 pm #

    Should be pretty telling when each list i read is basically the same thing.
    Tau need options that aren’t based entirely on “what if?”
    Markerlights are hot garbage and relying on them is absolutely painful, but not utilizing them is also a huge nerf to yourself as a Tau player.

    Drones aren’t fun.

  11. Elhombredelgas August 25, 2020 11:51 pm #

    Totally agree with the improvements suggested on the article.
    I always believed that the big problem of other Septs different than Tau and FSE is that the rules you get only matter in a specific niche of the army. A huge disavantage to choose them even in small detachment.

    Burst cannon NEEDS the revamp

    Other important things to include in future codex are reword the markerlight table and add vehicules support systems as in previous editions

  12. David McGiveron October 12, 2020 5:45 am #

    1.) Crisis Suits with BS3.

    2.) Some kind of combat weapon for Fireblades and Squad Leaders. (A Tron/Predator style cutting disc would be cool, that can double as a Shield.)

    3.) Fire and Fall Back for Battlesuits

    4.) Crisis Suits with BS3

    5.) Ditch or revamp Markerlights.

    6.) Did I mention Crisis Suits with BS3?

    For the Markerlights, here’s my proposal:

    Selective Fire: Models with Markerlights can target and fire their weapons at the start of the Shooting phase, before other targets are declared. This represents the precision and tactical cohesion of the Tau, working together to light-up units for their comrades to target.

    1 Token: Reroll 1s to Hit
    2 Tokens: Use Model’s BS for Seeker/Destroyer Missiles
    3 Tokens: +1 to Hit
    4 Tokens: Reroll 1s to Wound
    5 Tokens: +1 to wound roll.

    This would make Markerlights MUCH more dangerous, and also more versatile…do you want +1 to hit on several units? Or do you REALLY want to blast the shit out of the unit you’re lighting up?

    Combine that with a general BS increase to Crisis Suits and Vehicles and you’re golden.

    I also support changing Shield Drones to provide an Invuln. Save. Frees up an accompanying Crisis Suit team to take a triple-weapon loadout… 😉

    Burst Cannons do need a buff but they can get that from the Psychic Awakening Sept Tenet now. (I like playing Hardened Warheads and Up-Gunned for an AP-1 buff on my missile weapons and Blast Cannons.)

  13. Zusstab November 22, 2020 2:44 pm #

    For tau they really need some kind of damage buff and the uping the BS both of which I think will happen. Tau also need some more ways to deal with holding the middle or fighting for it. Give there kroot and Vespids some love. We have no way to stop psykers atm either. Space marines can out shoot you. Are just more survivable and will stomp you into the dirt in close combat.

  14. VLK_Static February 17, 2021 3:51 pm #

    Yeah Tau were winning lists, but what is important to remember is that all these lists were more or less the same riptide and drone spam. And that isnt fun for anyone involved. Tau are lacking those mechanics that make playing them or against them interesting as it currently stands. And in so many ways are lackluster when they shouldnt be.

    Id much rather take a weird list than a riptide but its not viable. And their kroot and vespid allies are so bad both in rules and the old models that desperately dont fit 9th.

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