What else do the T’au need in 9th?

Today I’m going to talk a little more about the difficulties that the T’au faction has at the moment.

Last week, I wrote an article in which I discussed a couple of stratagems that would bring the T’au into a more competitive position in the meta. Obviously, the faction needs a lot more than two stratagems to make it competitive, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

abusepuppy also wrote a great article in which he discussed some of the problems with T’au in 9th edition. I’m going to expand on a couple of the issues that he talked about in that article, so I’d highly recommend giving it a read if you haven’t already.

Furthermore, many of the people in the comments section for both articles, in addition to the people commented on the Facebook posts, agreed on a couple of key changes to the faction: ballistic skill 3 Battlesuits and the return of Jump-Shoot-Jump. I’ll touch on one of these issues in this article as well.

Let’s begin with something that abusepuppy astutely noted in his piece: the T’au are extremely poor in two phases of the game, the Psychic phase and the Fight phase.

Note that the Farsight Enclaves does have access to one Relic that grants a Deny the Witch roll; the T’au aren’t entirely helpless in the Psychic phase, therefore, but T’au players will very rarely take this Relic — there are far better choices available — so for all intents and purposes the T’au have no play in the Psychic phase.

And of course, everyone knows that the T’au are particularly poor in the Fight phase. The faction simply does not have a dedicated combat unit to speak of.

Again, the Farsight Enclaves offers some evidence to the contrary here. Commander Farsight himself does have some limited combat potential — with the emphasis on limited. Moreover, there is a faction-wide stratagem that grants re-rolls to hit and to wound in combat for Crisis Suit Bodyguards if within 3″ of a Sept Character. And there is a stratagem that allows Fire Warriors to use their weapons as Pistols, which gives them at least some functionality if the unit is in combat.

But all things considered, there isn’t much to write home about here.

What does this mean? abusepuppy makes the point that an army with play in multiple phases of the game is a lot easier to balance: more power in the Shooting phase can be balanced out with less power in the Fight phase, and so on.

But a faction that relies almost entirely on one phase of the game is more difficult to balance. The game designers must make T’au good enough in the Shooting phase — but not too good.

We saw this go too far in one direction in 7th edition with the Riptide Wing. But it’s now gone too far in the other direction with the change to Fly keyword.

It’s a tricky one. However, it’s not an intractable problem. There are a number of ways that GW could begin to solve it. Let’s talk about something that a lot of the people in the comments mentioned last week.

T’au Battlesuits should hit on 3s.

Not only would this make sense from a lore and fluff perspective — Battlesuit pilots have years of combat experience — but it would also make sense in-game.

Granted, it would probably necessitate a change to the Markerlight system, but we’ll come to that later.

In the Space Marines era, Battlesuits hitting on a 4+ simply does not cut the mustard. In fact, it’s something of a feels-bad.

Warriors of the Fire Caste that pilot the Riptide Battlesuit are veterans of dozens of enemy engagements. They are highly skilled with a variety of ranged weapons. They are dutiful, disciplined students of the T’au art of war.

They should hit better than a Guardsman.

And what’s more, if the opponent were to add -1 into the mix, things still look pretty bad for the Riptide. When a 305-point model only makes six hits out of 18 shots, killing two or three Primaris if you’re lucky, something isn’t quite right.

I don’t think that the whole army should hit on 3s. Fire Warriors, Pathfinders, Kroot, Vespid — hitting on 4s is perfectly acceptable for these units. But Crisis Suits, Stealth Suits, Ghostkeels, and Riptides should hit on 3s. And while we’re at it, bumping up the Devilfish and the Piranha to 3s wouldn’t go amiss either.

Let’s move on to those Markerlights. At the moment, I don’t think that Markerlights really fit the bill. Granted, a full stack of Markerlights is very useful. This much is obvious. But in order to get the most out of our main units, with the exception of the Commander, we need to first hit out target with five Markerlights.

And that’s the thing. It’s not particularly easy. The two main sources of multiple Markerlights are Pathfinders and Marker Drones. Of course, there are other ways of getting Markerlights on the table, but we’ll stick to these two sources for now.

Pathfinders aren’t particularly good at the moment. For 11 points, we get a Toughness 3, Armor Save 5+ infantry model. These things don’t last five minutes on the battlefield. And what’s more, they take up a valuable Fast Attack slot.

Moreover, when a model shoots a Markerlight, it can’t shoot anything else, meaning that those Pulse Carbines with which the Pathfinders are armed are all but useless. Pathfinders really aren’t in a good spot.

Marker Drones are a little better. If nothing else, a Marker Drone can do double duty as ablative wounds for a nearby Battlesuit. Also, it doesn’t suffer the movement penalty for moving and shooting a Heavy weapon. And while it natively hits on 5s, T’au players will often run a model with a Drone Controller nearby in order to increase its Ballistic Skill from 5 to 4.

But putting aside the Drone Controller for a moment, Marker Drones cost 10 points each, meaning that in order to get those five ‘lights on a target, the T’au player must spend 150 points on Marker Drones alone.

Granted, there are stratagems that help out, but overall we’re starting to see one of the problems with the Markerlight system as it stands. It’s not always a done deal getting to five ‘lights.

How could we go about changing this system? First, let’s presume that Battlesuits go to Ballistic Skill 3. This would take a lot of pressure off the Markerlight system, giving T’au players space to put points into units that would deal damage instead of units that support.

With this in mind, then, there are a handful of interesting options that spring to mind. What if a certain amount of Markerlights negated all negative hit modifiers on an enemy unit? In the current system, three Markerlights hits removes cover bonus for the target unit, so let’s use this as a benchmark for the time being.

Three Markerlights to ensure that, say, a Riptide or a buffed-up Ghostkeel would hit on its native Ballistic Skill would start to look a lot more interesting if those models were hitting on 3s regardless. I think that three Markerlights would be an reasonable trade-off to ignore the effects of, say, an Aeldari player using Lightning-Fast Reactions or shooting at a unit through a terrain piece that forces negative modifiers.

What could we do with one Markerlight hit? At the moment, a single Markerlight on a target grants re-rolls of 1s. This is a fairly standard ability across a lot of factions, so it would be reasonable to keep this as it is.

However, I’d really like an incentive for T’au players to use their models in a more mobile fashion. Perhaps in place on re-rolling 1s, a single Markerlight hit could negate the penalty for moving and shooting. Or it could turn Rapid Fire weapons into Assault weapons for models shooting at the target.

How could we incentivise the T’au player to put five Markerlights on a target? Would allowing all units that shoot at the target to re-roll all hit rolls be too good? Honestly, in the current state of the meta, I really don’t think it would. Remember that a Space Marine Chapter Master grants such a bonus with an aura, so it’s really not outside the bounds of possibility that the T’au have access to the same ability with Markerlights.

There’s a lot of scope for improvements here. At the moment, the Markerlight system — and the T’au codex as a whole — feels like a relic from a different edition. It needs a significant change in order to make it viable in 9th.

Indeed, the whole codex needs a change in order to make it more viable in 9th.

The T’au Empire is in a difficult spot at the moment. The changes that 9th brought really hit us where it hurts, and we haven’t quite found our groove yet. A lot of our units are significantly under powered, and our main offensive units took a serious hit when it comes to keeping up consistent firepower throughout a game.

But I like to look on the bright side of life. There’s still some strong options in the codex, as well as some very cool units to put on the tabletop. We’re certainly not down and out yet. Until we get that shiny 9th edition codex, we need to be creative and come up with new, interesting ideas to get the most out of our models.

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



About Rhys Jenkins

Software developer, T'au player.
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1 year ago

With the preposterous number of invulnerable saves in the game currently it would be great to see our extremely high AP Rail Weapons gain some use.

Something like “Kinetic Overload” where the target’s invulnerable save is reduced by 1 for the phase wouldn’t be broken powerful, but would greatly increase the Rail weapon’s value while holding true to the fluff.

Also, Markerlights really shouldn’t have a maximum range. Backline units are often what we want to hit, but our fragile markerlight units become suicide squads just to get in range. Pathfinders should be fun and cool. Instead they are a really easy way for your opponent to gain 2d6+3+3″ movement toward you.

1 year ago
Reply to  Chad

I think the railgun mechanic with causing mortal wounds is actually pretty clever as a way to bypass invuln saves, but it needs to trigger more often on the big guns. When your 180pt tank with one shot has a 1/6 chance to cause a mortal wound, that just doesn’t cut it- but if it had more shots, or caused it on a 4+, or whatever, that would be a very different case.

The range limitation on markerlights isn’t much of an issue now that the table is smaller, but they do have a lot of other problems.

1 year ago

good thoughts about flattening the markerlight table and prioritizing its interactions with movement

Rob Butcher
Rob Butcher
1 year ago

Yet Tau won the Nova and GWGT in 2019 AFTER the SM Codex was released; even with no melee units and BS 4+.

And reading these articles seems to indicate a table devoid of terrain and sticking to a castle. Yet the games I’ve played and the ones televised have shown that effective use of terrain, FLY (mobility) and reinforcements landing near to objectives are important. In most games, you win by keeping objectives and taking at least one of the enemies.

It will also be interesting to see what comes in the Tau Codex (probably already written) for actions etc.

And compared to the first Tau ships in BFG seventeen years ago 40K Tau armies are in a healthy place; those had to towed into battle!!

1 year ago
Reply to  Rob Butcher

That’s two out of how majors/GT’s? And if I’m to understand it, NOVA and GW didn’t use ITC missions.

1 year ago
Reply to  Crossfade

Remember, Rob has a condition where he is genetically unable to see anything that doesn’t happen inside of Warhammer World, so you’ll have to excuse him. This is a very confusing time in his life because people keep shouting about things he is literally unable to perceive and it makes him very skittish.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rob Butcher

Rob, we know you’re upset that a T’au player kicked you in the nuts and stole your girlfriend.
But continuing to desperately point out that T’au won those 2 particular events in a futile effort to make them seem like some sort of boogeyman is pathetic. Those events were in a different rules edition with different point costs and trying to use them as justification is about as useful as pointing out how many events Ynarri won back in 7th. Get over it.

1 year ago

It’s good to see comparisons and conversations using a unit’s native rules. For a while there was a focus on using strategems to help solve problems. Strategems shouldn’t be the solution. A reliance on them shows that fundamentally the unit doesn’t work.
I am believer that strategems should be for cool tricks, fluffy army flavors, and the occasional “wipe” (gaming term). Not for making a unit viable.

1 year ago
Reply to  zarlus

Very good point. Further, many of the Tau’s existing problems occur because their flavour and mechanics weren’t built into the codex rules.

A lot of factions (mostly, not always) retain their feel between editions because even if a part of the core rules change, their rules inside the codices stay relatively protected.

But with Tau, core rules changes to things like Fly, removal of JSJ, cover bonuses (and how markerlights do/don’t affect them), overwatch, charge ranges etc all have disproportionate effects on the faction.

1 year ago

1. Prototype systems should be implemented as standard across the board. I really like the idea of Tau having them as relic alternatives, but the way they are written now they simply bring the systems in question up to what they should be normally.
2. I agree that Battlesuits (Crisis/Hazard etc, Stealth, Riptide, Ghostkeel, Broadside) should be BS3+, and should have been right from the start. Vehicles should be the same. For a faction that is meant to be “super technology” they seem to have lost any and all access to targeting systems.
3a. I don’t see the problem with taking the Markerlight system back to what it used to be: have a shooting unit pay one (or more) markers and get a benefit. For instance, pay two hits and ignore cover. Pay one hit and fire special missiles at normal BS. Pay another two and get +1BS. You can supremely buff one unit, but you’re spending those markers only for that unit.
3b. Alternatively, make Markerlights easier to get. Whoever is armed with a light can fire weapons normally. Allow more units to take them. Boost the Tetra’s High Intensity system to fire more than once (~50 points for a single BS4+ shot that can score three hits is awful).
4. Bring back the vehicle upgrade systems. They were cool, even if I rarely used them when they were available. Options are always good.
5. I don’t think that Jump-Shoot-Jump is necessary (though it would be nice), but give the JETPACK keyword something to do. As it is it’s worse in every way to Jump Packs. Let them advance and shoot normally, or move faster, or fall back and shoot. Just something would be nice.
6. Fix drones. I play Tau and drones are problematic. They’re boring to play with and boring to play against. The issue is that they’re almost indispensable as they currently sit. I think I saw someone suggest embedding Shield Drones in the unit like they used to be, and then having them increase the Invulnerable/FNP of that unit; on a failed save the drone dies. Easy fix, reduces the sea of tiny units on the board and is easier to manage.
7. Spread the special characters away from the Tau sub-faction.
8. If allied aliens aren’t really a thing any more (goodbye Kroot), then give the Tau a melee-capable (not brilliant, just decent) unit. There’s plenty of secondary-market samurai looking Tau alternatives. Build on this idea. If the faction can learn that big robots are necessary, then they can also learn that battles devolve into hand-to-hand, and train accordingly. Get some Fire Warriors, give them pistols, swords and a WS4+ and set them free. Give melee weapon options to Crisis Suits.
9. Make Mont’ka and Kauyon worth having. If it’s a once per game ability, have it affect a larger radius, or even the board.
10. Reduce weapons on the Commanders and increase support/buff systems instead. Stop them from being the killing machines they currently are and refocus them into making the rest of the army better.

There’s more, but I’ll stop now.

Oh yeah, Rail weapons should be something targets fear. At the moment they’re just a single-shot joke.

1 year ago

Not related to article: I keep hearing about T’au won Nova. The 9th edition rules are much different than the 8th ed rules and the old ITC rules. Please stop making this comparison in comments sections. The game isn’t the same.

I think markerlights going back to something like 7th where you can use markerlights to increase BS by removing them for each unit that shoots is better than it is now. But yes, suits at BS3 with slightly better durability (+ wounds, native invuln) with a nerf to saviour protocols would be welcome (coming from a T’au player here). Ethereals should get psychic powers I think. Would see more taken and they aren’t exactly super strong otherwise. I’ll keep pushing for more shots on the hammerheads with a higher strength, 3 +d6 dmg, and a 2CP strat that allows 1 tank to ignore invulnerability saves. Call it “Hypersonic projectiles”

Charles Williams
Charles Williams
1 year ago

What about Kauyon? Most of the time I play against Tau all of their key shooting units are re-rolling hits for two turns next to Shadowsun…

1 year ago

It requires units that want to benefit to remain stationary. They cannot move at all, so its sub optimal if you stay with majority of your army instead moving across the board for points.You basically cannot afford that with the way scoring now works. You can use it once(twice with shadowsun) per game so its super limited. And it is reroll of failed hits, so if -1 one applies, you cannot reroll 4s. When you see other armies getting reroll all hits, for army that really has only shooting phase and bs4 you see how bad it is. If Tau could take chapter master stratagem for their commanders even for 3cp no one would skip the beat or hesitate. 4cp even.

1 year ago

Markerlights are a big problem but just by changing the markerlight table and a couple of other buffs, they could be made to address many problems.

There are plenty of units that don’t care if there are 2, 3, or 4 markerlights on a target. 1 and 5 are the only numbers that matter for a lot of units. So why can’t we have 2 bonuses per markerlight level?


1 – reroll 1 to hit AND tau empire units targeted by the marked unit get +1 save*
2 – ignore save bonus to cover AND launch seeker missiles at normal BS
3 – +1 to hit AND weapon effects that trigger on a 6+ to wound trigger on a 5+
4 – -1 invuln save to a 5+ at worst AND ignore heavy/assault to hit penalties
5 – +1 to hit AND reroll Damage rolls of 1

I am not suggesting this table is well balanced but it illustrates how much can be done. Maybe throw some command point regeneration in there somewhere or give some weapons a second profile when there are X or more markerlights on a unit. There are just so many options

*I’m crazy, right?! You could play around with when the markerlight counters are removed or limit how many are removed. What if we only removed 4 counters at the end of the shooting phase and the last one hangs around till the next Tau shooting phase? Markerlights are meant to be highly complex so why can’t they be analyzing the weapons of the enemy too and feeding info about offensive capability and potential countermeasures to deploy. Taking this idea further, why can’t pathfinders have a pregame move OR marker-light shoot?

We still have issues with getting enough markerlights. How about we get rid of the poor reroll 1 to hit abilities of the ethereal and the multi-tracker and roll what the pathfinder recon drone does into the markerlight system as well? Say the ethereal’s bonus doubles markerlight counters instead and the multi-tracker and recon drone add a markerlight counter under certain conditions.

1 year ago

Like it or lump it, Markerlights are baked into the T’au’s DNA now. It’s too late to put that genie away, so let’s live with it. What do we have? A buff mechanic that is spread out across an entire army, with options to take it in bulk for a few specific units. It needs to be something that is good enough that you want to take in bulk (but not too strong), while still happy to take in minor amounts (good enough even with just a few).

Let’s try this:

Make Markerlights work in the Psychic Phase. When they hit, they cause a Mortal Wound from “advanced Seeker Missiles being fired from nearby engagement zones”. Make Seeker Missiles also cause Mortal Wounds, and if you have a vehicle with an unused one, you can use it to turn the 1 Mortal Wound into d3 Mortal Wounds instead.

It gives them something to do in the Psychic Phase, makes them strong (but not too strong), gives them a purpose outside normal stuff in the army, but they’re not stupid strong if you go whole ham on them (unless they’re priced too competitively).

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x