In this week’s article I’m going to riff on an excellent Goonhammer article on the subject of a tier list in the current 9th edition meta. As usual with Goonhammer, the article itself is great, so I’d certainly recommend giving it a read if you haven’t already.
The article breaks down the game’s factions into a number of tiers, with the strongest armies in the top tier, and so on. Many of the author’s conclusions in the article will not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with competitive 40k: Space Marines are strong. Harlequins are strong. Death Guard are strong. You get the idea.
I’m going to comment on some of the general themes of the article, but I want to concentrate on a couple of points that the author, James Grover, makes when discussing the problems of the T’au in 9th edition. I think that Grover absolutely hits the nail on the head in his diagnosis of the T’au’s struggles in 9th so far.
I’ll not go through each faction’s placement in this article. Go and check out the original over at Goonhammer if that interests you. But I will point out that the article features two lists: one composed a couple of months ago, just before the release of 9th edition, and another composed roughly halfway through September 2020.
Grover put the T’au in the second tier in the original ranking, which is interesting for a number of reasons. Clearly, at some point a couple of months back, there was at least some optimism about how the T’au would perform in 9th edition.
I should say that at the time I shared this optimism. If you read my articles from a couple of months back, you’ll see that I was, generally speaking, quite positive about the T’au, even with the changes to the Fly keyword and the emphasis on primary objectives.
That optimism was, unfortunately, misplaced, but we’ll come to that in a minute.
The mid-September tier list looks a fair bit different, and there’s a lot of interesting points to get your teeth into if high-level 40k analysis is your cup of tea. But for the purposes of this article, we want to know where the T’au sit according to the latest data. It will come as no surprise that my beloved Battlesuit boys are sitting right down there in the bottom tier. Cue sad Drone noises.
Before I discuss Grover’s diagnosis, I want to talk about three excellent points that he makes on the subject of why the low-tier factions struggle so much in 9th. Writes Grover:
- “They cannot construct a good list that isn’t extremely vulnerable on one or more of the kill secondaries.
- They don’t have the mobile push threats to credibly attempt to flip multiple objectives to their control on a single turn.
- They don’t have anything that can tarpit on an objective, or doing so ties up lots of their resources.”
This is some very strong analysis, and these problems really strike home with me as a T’au player. The second and third points here form a very big part of the problems that T’au have in 9th. We really struggle to flip objectives. Without a legitimate combat threat, both removing the opponent’s units from an objective and taking that objective is very tough.
Moreover, we have few units that can effectively tarpit an objective. T’au troops are far too fragile to sit on an objective for multiple turns, and our big Battlesuits are useless in the face of an opponent’s obsec units.
With that in mind, let’s turn to Grover’s T’au-specific analysis. As I mention above, Grover really hits the nail on the head here. From the article:
“Out of almost any faction, Tau are uniquely ill equipped to seize back objectives in the fight phase, and that means when they go second in 9th Edition, they frequently just lose.”
This hits a little too close to home, man. T’au players will know what I mean.
Commanders still have excellent output. The Cyclic Ion Blaster is still boss. Hitting and wounding on 2s is great. But none of that matters if the objective that we just cleared doesn’t have any T’au units on it.
Of course, we can get our models close enough to the objective in the movement phase and hope that we have enough firepower to clear it. This is certainly one way to do it. But here’s the problem: we miss out on the available movement in the Charge phase. Why? Because we can’t guarantee that the unit with which we charge will do the business in combat.
Most other armies have a unit that can put down some hurt in the Fight phase. This means that they can set up a charge in the Movement phase, thin down the enemy in the Shooting phase, move into combat in the Charge phase, and finish off the opponent in the Fight phase. The T’au struggle to do this.
We’re starting to see just how difficult it is to have virtually no play in the Fight phase in 9th edition.
Grover also makes a great point on mid-board objectives:
“To win as Tau, you basically need to ensure you’re never in a position where an opponent has gotten a durable foothold on multiple mid-board objectives.”
Again, this is absolutely spot on. Because we struggle to flip objectives, if the opponent gets any sort of foothold on the mid-board, the game can very easily get away from us on primary points alone. And all good 40k players know that the game is won in the mid-board in 9th edition, so most competitive players will look to move up as soon as possible.
Like I said, it ain’t a pretty picture.
But, as always, I’m going to end on a positive note. Good fortune comes and goes in 40k, and factions are seldom particularly weak for a long time.
Let’s just all agree ignore that 11-year streak where the Drukhari didn’t get a new codex.
In my articles over the past few weeks, I’ve discussed how Games Workshop could bring the T’au into a competitive spot in 9th edition, but I’ve also discussed some of interesting plays and abilities that we have at the moment. Granted, there isn’t much to go on, and all things considered the T’au aren’t in a great spot at the moment, but I would argue that it’s better to focus on the positives than to dwell on the negatives.
We need to look to creative new strategies while GW is working on the new 9th edition codex. Both Brian Pullen and Richard Siegler have mentioned Piranhas in 9th edition. We seldom saw this quick little vehicle in 8th edition lists, but I think that the Piranha does have some play in 9th.
Moreover, Breachers can be very strong when used correctly. Again, we didn’t often see Breachers in 8th, but close range combat is all the rage in 9th, so the Breachers’ Pulse Blaster definitely has some use.
Again, I don’t want to gloss over the truth of the matter: if you play T’au at the moment, you’ve got to bring your A-game every time. You’ve got to play a strong game every time. T’au are at a disadvantage right now, there’s no doubt about it, but that just means that we’ve got to be better.
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