Diagnosing the T’au’s Problems in 9th

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.

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



About Rhys Jenkins

Software developer, T'au player.

19 Responses to “Diagnosing the T’au’s Problems in 9th”

  1. Ken September 21, 2020 2:15 am #

    I’m ok with the Tau not having a tarpit unit. Holding ground for the sake of it is not the way Tau are meant to fight fluff-wise. Now, if you really did want to give them a tarpit unit, I reckon look to the alien allies. No, not Kroot. They were never good. I’m talking about a unit that won’t kill much, but be hard to eliminate. A Deimurg construct maybe. Or some Hrud with a big invul save. But I’m comfortable with that being a Tau weakness, that is offset by strengths elsewhere (come on better markerlight table).

    Otherwise, the issue of getting Tau units onto an objective they just cleared seems really, really simple to solve. Give Battlesuits (primarily Stealth and Crisis suits) the ability to move in the Assault Phase. Jump-Shoot-Jump is a time honoured feature of the Tau, whether it be a flat 6″ or 2D6″. Solves the issue with a minimum of fuss.

    Make Tau Great Again. (and Hammerheads – I miss my Hammerheads)

  2. Rob Butcher September 21, 2020 5:38 am #

    it ain’t a pretty picture … Tau hiding behind drones for three turns to win NOVA2019

    it ain’t a pretty picture … Tau using piranhas to deny flyers any movement to win GWGT Grand Final 2020

    it ain’t a pretty picture … GW’s Dan using three storm surges at London GT 2018

    three different lists, but really one play style … to sit back, killing in the opponents charge phase/your own shooting phase whilst hiding behind forty drones (always sounded to me like the tactics of Wellington at Waterloo in 1815; which he always reckoned was a “close run thing”)

    Tau don’t compete in the psychic nor melee phases .. so how about using mobility rather than relying on a castle (Blitzkreig 1939/41 or Normandy 1944) .. how many units can you deepstrike / infiltrate in later turns ?? how many objectives can your guns cover and deny the enemy ??

    Terrain is playing a massive role in the new missions … even implying players should take their own “customized” sets to events

    I also noted that Brian Pullen won’t be entering any tournaments until vacinations come … tbh many players feel the same, so it’s time to find a way to win.

    Many said Tau couldn’t do it in the past edition, yet they still won the last two big events last year!! We know that IH won’t be using three chaplain dreadnoughts and auras/heavy doctrine to win (LVO 2020) much now.

    • Amof September 21, 2020 7:30 am #

      Yea the way GW designed Tau is as you say “ain’t a pretty picture”. Wish the designers would open up the faction a bit more rather than shoehorning players into taking the same units over and over.

  3. abusepuppy September 21, 2020 8:17 am #

    >Let’s just all agree ignore that 11-year streak where the Drukhari didn’t get a new codex.

    Hey now, just because they didn’t get a book didn’t mean they were bad! There were many points during the time span of 3rd to 5th editions where Drukhari armies were considered to be _absolutely brutal_ because of their ability to spam immense numbers of heavy weapons for a very cheap price while also being several times more maneuverable than any other army in the game. Of course, those armies were pretty one-dimensional and their entire life was based around whether or not S8 AP2 was any good at the time, but they weren’t _bad_!

    (Please do not sentence Tau to the same fate as Dark Eldar, GW.)

    • CPK December 27, 2020 7:09 am #

      dashofpepper’s dark eldar in 5th were a thing of beauty to watch

  4. Leonix September 21, 2020 2:59 pm #

    Not going to lie, I’ve been looking at Blackstone units like the Ambull and Borewyrms as possible answers with their tunneling abilities… The Guardian Drones too as durable front line units.

    The crux of course is the resources you have to spend to bring them in.

    • abusepuppy September 21, 2020 7:56 pm #

      Most of them also can’t legally be included in any detachment, since they cannot be included alongside any other unit with an actual faction alignment, and they themselves are not enough to fill out a detachment.

      • Rob September 24, 2020 1:00 am #

        Have I missed something? The rules for battleforged armies specifically exempt Unaligned units from the requirements.

      • Leonix September 28, 2020 3:17 am #

        They only way to take them is in an Auxiliary Detachment, which will cost you 2CP each…

        I can make the argument for 1 Ambull or 1 unit of Borewyrms because their ability to tunnel saves you a CP by not needing to put them in reserve, but 4CP for 2 Ambulls is a hard sell imo, despite their solid stats.

  5. Matt September 21, 2020 6:00 pm #

    I know a lot of people are keen on Tau gaining some use in the assault/psychic phase. But it’s more interesting to have factions which are distinct with clear themes and strengths/weaknesses. Giving Tau dedicated assault units or psykers doesn’t really make sense fluff-wise, and would dilute the unique feel of the army somewhat.

    An alternative might be to give them abilities that allow them to reduce the movement of enemy units. I.e. instead of trying to assault an enemy unit on an objective, give them a cost-appropriate way of slowing that unit so you can get to the objective first? That’s kinda what the SFN was for.

    And maybe since so many 40k images with Tau show them firing their weapons at point-blank range in assault, let them do that? If all Tau units could fire weapons in melee, albeit at like a -1 or -2 to hit, that could stop them being a pushover in assault, without incentivizing the Tau player to initiate assaults.

    • abusepuppy September 21, 2020 7:58 pm #

      Actually in the fluff the Tau explicitly do have close-combat units and psykers to aid them; that’s one of the big reasons that they bring allied forces.

      But that said, as I talked about in my own article there are plenty of ways to give Tau the ability to participate in the assault/psychic phase without removing their uniqueness. Even giving them a weaker (but not completely worthless) presence in those phases allows them to make the choice to participate or not- whereas right now it’s not a choice at all.

      • Matt September 22, 2020 12:38 am #

        Oh really? Huh, never mind then. Oh yeah, there’s the Nicassar, forgot about them.

        Where are the close combat units mentioned? Or are you referring to Kroot?

        • abusepuppy September 22, 2020 6:12 am #

          Kroot are one of them, but the Tarellians and Anthrazod are also both implied to be fairly sturdy melee combatants by their blurbs and presumably would serve similar-ish roles.

  6. Spera September 21, 2020 11:35 pm #

    There is one more problem that comes out of this that i think people often forget to mention. We have nothing to punish our opponent from coming to close. Other armies have melee reactive threats or even really strong but short ranged gun, but tau has almost nothing. Closest thing that we have are breachers, but they aren’t that good for that either. This makes that our opponents have only to worry about LoS and this gives them plenty of room to move and control the board. Our opponents can came literally 1,1″+ in front of our units and what we can do? Heroically intervene? Flamers are nice, but we don’t even have Heavy version to really threaten tougher targets.

  7. Yarium September 22, 2020 2:22 am #

    Seems to me that T’au need a unit that can move in the assault phase, or a rule that lets them move after shooting during the actual shooting phase. Something that let’s them move and really take a location after shooting. Either that or T’au players will have to get Firewarriors to take one for the Greater Good and charge that last model in a squad and try to lock them in combat so they can’t be shot.

  8. kaixaukyr September 22, 2020 10:29 am #

    Some ideas for fixes. Implementing all of these would probably be broken! but I hope some of them are interesting.

    Codex fix ideas

    1b. All Septs may use the Veteran Cadre stratagem
    1c. Crisis, Stealth, and Krootox Riders gain Obsec
    1d. INFANTRY/BATTLESUITS may fire Assault weapons within Engagement range at -1 to hit
    1e. Kroot receive +1A and a defensive buff (“Accelerated Evolution” wounded only on 4+?)
    1f. Kroot Shaper gains Shock Assault aura

    Wargear fix ideas

    2a. Burst cannon => 0 points
    2b. Fusion blaster/missile pod/AFP => 5 points
    2c. Cyclic ion blaster => 10 points
    2d. Flamer & fusion blaster receive melee profiles
    2e. Plasma rifle to S6 AP-2 D2
    2f. Kroot rifle (shooting) type changed to Pistol 1
    2g. Kroot rifle (melee) receives “the user makes an additional attack with this weapon”
    2h. Ritual blade receives -1 AP and “the user makes an additional attack with this weapon”
    2i. Shield generator => 5 points
    2j. Replace Multi-Tracker with Battlesuit Combat Upgrades “This model’s Attacks characteristic is improved by 1 and the AP of any Melee attacks it makes is improved by 1.”

  9. Kaveh Rashid September 22, 2020 11:02 am #

    Good article, and all those who have written articles on this topic here have been excellent and thought provoking.

    My 2 pennies is that along with the additions via auxilleries suggested by the various authors, is for a tailor specific solution of a suit or crisis weapon options for clearing objectives.

    This could be in the form if a stronger flamer type weapon that can cause significant damage though require the unit to be up close and personal.

    Perhaps a grenade or weapon that physically moves the target unit pushing them off an objective.

    Or a gravity based weapon that causes the target unit to strike last and increases the AP of the attacking unit attacks by -2 as they are able to hit a perfectly frozen enemy. Instead of making tau better in combat make the opponent worse?

    Just my brain storm. I love the image of smaller versions of the yavara burning objectives clear.

  10. N.I.B. September 24, 2020 12:33 am #

    Tau being top tier is bad for the game.

  11. Mirkomir December 24, 2020 5:36 am #

    For me Tau are first love in WH40K and first army to pick, but…

    i wouldn’t do it now.

    They are little to plain and too boring, especially that they miss two phases (psychic as they have nothing to do and meleeas there is no true assault unit for that role in their roster – i know, i know, this is because their fluff).

    About fluff – it’s quite frustrating while reading their parts, that Tau are losing almost everywhere, but have plot armor that keep them alive.

    Also their models are starting to be quite boring, just another bigger robot… I envy Necrons for some of their chasis, especially Triarch Stalker and Seraptec Heavy Constuct- it could be used to create another branch of models of heavier Broadside type in form of more tank walkers with support abilities – drone relies, mobile forcefield, mobile cover (two first legs as heavy shields).

    I think that auxilleries might be perfect to solve all their problems. Also as they are quite technological developed race then they could have some tech miracles? Maybe new form of mech’s chasis?

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