What’s Wrong with Markerlights?

All competitive T’au players know that the Markerlight system is broken at the moment.

The reasons are simple: first, the best benefit from the Markerlight table, +1 Ballistic Skill, is too troublesome to reliably achieve for a lot of the game. While it is usually fairly simple to get five ‘lights on a target in the first couple of turns, this is much more difficult into the middle of a game, and certainly more so during the end stages of a game. We’ll discuss why this is a little further on.

Second, many of the benefits of the Markerlight table simply aren’t particularly good and are seldom relevant to the particular situation at the time.

Markerlights, then, have become a tax. In order to use our key assets to their full potential, we must expend points on models and units that otherwise give us very little in terms of offensive or supportive abilities. There are, of course, exceptions to this, which we will discuss, but the principal point remains: to get the most out of that 300+ point Riptide, we must expend further points on Markerlights.

What does this mean for T’au in 9th edition? First of all, it’s a significant part of why T’au perform so poorly at the moment. I’ve been banging on about this for a couple of months now, but the T’au need a major rewrite. Markerlights are not the main problem with the faction — that dubious honor goes to, of course, the change to the Fly keyword — but the Markerlight tax is a problem that the rules writers really need to address order to bring the faction into contention in 9th edition.

And second, Markerlights are one of reasons that we have seen the Farsight Enclaves come to the fore as the most powerful Sept choice in 9th. Farsight units count enemy units within 12″ as having one more Markerlight token than they actually have. This means, simply put, that a Farsight Commander within 12″ of an enemy units gains the ability to re-roll 1s — the first benefit of the Markerlight table — even if the that unit has no Markerlight tokens on it whatsoever.

A T’au player using an Enclaves list, then, can play to the aggressive style of the Sept, using units that do their most lethal work at danger-close range, while benefiting from a free Markerlight token without taking any Markerlights.

In fact, many Enclaves lists eschew Markerlights altogether, focusing instead on bringing units that will deal damage, and employing the Sept ability to increase accuracy at short range. Moreover, this style of play fits in nicely with the limit of two Commanders per detachment to which the Sept is subject. All other T’au Septs may take only a single Commander per detachment.

If the Enclaves player takes two detachments, for example, he is eligible to take four Commanders. Often armed with Fusion Blasters or Cyclic Ion Blasters, T’au Commanders one of the most powerful units in the codex. And what’s more, re-rolling 1s for free at 12″ makes them all the more deadly.

Incentives change behavior. This fact is clearly demonstrated above. Markerlights have become too heavy a burden, so we see a switch to a sub-faction much less reliant on them.

But why are Markerlights so tricky to use at the moment? I mention at the beginning of this article that T’au players can often struggle to get to the magic five ‘lights in order to bring the big guns to bear. The reason is simple: competent opponents will destroy the units that bring the Markerlights, and what’s more, they won’t have much trouble doing so.

Consider Pathfinders. For 11 points, we get a Toughness 3, 5+ Save, Ballistic Skill 4 model armed with a Pulse Carbine and a Markerlight. Any opponent worth his salt will destroy this unit once it comes into view. Moreover, they will need to expend very few resources to do so. In fact, opponents will be able to remove Pathfinders with the guns that they would otherwise consider chip damage. A couple of sponson-mounted Storm Bolters, for example, will put a dent in a Pathfinder squad. Or a couple of Heavy Stubbers. Or a stiff breeze. You get the idea.

Pathfinders don’t give T’au players reliable access to Markerlights throughout the course of a game. But there are a number of other options. How do Marker Drones look? For ten points, we get a Toughness 4, 4+ save, Ballistic Skill 5 model armed with a Markerlight. Marker Drones ignore the penalty for moving and shooting a Heavy weapon, which is welcome, but that Ballistic Skill is a real problem. In order to reliably get five Markerlight hits on a target, we would need to spend 150 points on Marker Drones.

We can, of course, equip a nearby Battlesuit with a Drone Controller, which provides a 6″ aura of +1 to hit for Drones. This is a reasonably good option, but we see again that the T’au player is forced to consider opportunity cost when it comes to Markerlights. What other options does the Battlesuit in question have? There are a number of interesting Support Systems — we might be giving up a 4++ or AP-1 in order to take a Drone Controller.

Moreover, we’re limiting the Battlesuit’s movement in order to take full advantage of the aura, which is yet another impediment that the T’au player must negotiate in order to best take advantage of his Markerlights.

To be fair, it’s not all doom and gloom. The Cadre Fireblade is an excellent choice when in comes to Markerlight support. With a handsome Ballistic Skill of 2, the Fireblade can reliably put a Markerlight downrange. And moreover, the Fireblade has the Character keyword, making him very difficult to target. Finally, the Fireblade provides excellent buffs to nearby Fire Warrior units. The Cadre Fireblade is a great option for most T’au armies, and he is certainly the most reliable option when it comes to getting Markerlights on the board.

However, note that the Fireblade will probably be moving up the board in order to support those Fire Warriors, which will negate his strong Ballistic Skill. Hitting on 3+ makes that Markerlight much less reliable. It’s certainly better than the 4+ and 5+ that the Pathfinders and the Marker Drones offer, but we’re nonetheless more likely to miss if we use the Fireblade to its full extent.

But the Fireblade is only one model with one Markerlight. In order to get to that magic +1 to hit, we need five Markerlight hits on the target. There are more options in the codex and from Forge World, but for brevity’s sake we’ll have to put these to one side for now. Instead, let’s discuss stratagems.

When it comes to Markerlights, there are really only two stratagems with which we need concern ourselves: Aerial Targeting and Uplinked Markerlight.

For one Command Point, Aerial Targeting allows the T’au player to pick one unit anywhere on the board and count it as having one more Markerlight token on it than it actually does. Simply put, this is one of the best stratagems in the codex, and most T’au players use it every turn.

Again for the cost of a Command Point, Uplinked Markerlight allows the T’au player to add D3 extra Markerlights hits to an enemy unit immediately after a hit is scored. This is another excellent stratagem that T’au players will use often. 9th edition nerfed it a little because we can now no longer re-roll the D3, but it’s still worth its salt.

Note that in order to use the Uplinked Markerlight stratagem, the T’au player must score a hit with a Markerlight. He may not use the Uplinked Markerlight stratagem to add D3 extra Markerlight hits to the one Markerlight hit granted by the Aerial Targeting Stratagem. A model in the battlefield must hit a target with a Markerlight in order to then use Uplinked Markerlight.

These two stratagems, then, give T’au players flexibility with their Markerlights. Indeed, for the cost of two CP and with a little luck, we could get to five ‘lights on a target after having only fired one Markerlight. We would, of course, need to roll a 5 or a 6 on the D3, which is certainly possible if unlikely.

Generally speaking, however, these two stratagems will be used to get the T’au player to that fifth Markerlight hit. And it’s here that I think we see the problem again: we don’t have the tools at the moment to reliably get to five hits without bringing in other resources that we would otherwise use in an offensive capacity. There are two or three stratagems that most T’au players will be using most every turn in order to increase the efficiency of his force, which means that any CP spent on bringing the Markerlight total up to five is CP that we can’t spend elsewhere.

Next week, I’m going to discuss how we could improve the Markerlight system, and we can already see a theme or two developing. Reliability is key for any strong unit in 40k. At the moment, T’au players need Markerlights to make the rest of the army sing, but we can’t always rely on getting the hits that we need.

Of course, the other problems with the army do come into play here. The faction’s average Ballistic Skill, for example, makes everything just a little more tricky than it should be. A few more Markerlights hitting on 3s would really help to keep the army ticking.

Indeed, the ability to shoot straight would somewhat mitigate the need for Markerlights. There would certainly still be a place for them, but they wouldn’t be crutch that they are now. There’s plenty to be done with the Markerlight system, and we’ll get into how it could work next week.

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



About Rhys Jenkins

Software developer, T'au player.

9 Responses to “What’s Wrong with Markerlights?”

  1. Dakkath October 19, 2020 12:18 am #

    Of course, the biggest issue. Once we’ve spent all those resources getting 5 lights on a target, it’s just for that 1 target. The rest of the enemy army we’re still stuck using mediocre shooting at.

  2. Rob Butcher October 19, 2020 12:36 am #

    What competitive play ? The last “biggie” was LVO in January and any plans for regular tournaments with 50+ players are guesses. It looks like Warhammer World will only have a dozen tables now it’s reopened.

    T’au won Nova2019 and GWGT2019 without much reliance on markerlights — too many drones, FLY and late game points scoring. Now that’s been largely nullified and T’au are in a similar place as many other armies awaiting a Codex.

    • Ohlmann October 19, 2020 6:29 am #

      For october after about 10 secondes of search :

      Iron Halo – 109 Players / 6 Rounds
      Flying Monkey – 74 Players / 6 Rounds
      Wizard Asylum GT – 32 Players / 5 Rounds
      Battle for Survival – 24 Players / 5 Rounds
      Varbergs 2020 GT – 24 Players / 5 Rounds

      So, full of shit as usual Rob.

    • NinetyNineNo October 20, 2020 9:56 am #

      I recommend reading Goonhammer’s meta reports — some of the finest articles ever written about competitive 40k and they very definitively show how far down in the dumps Tau are.

  3. Spera October 19, 2020 12:36 am #

    There is one more problem. +1 is just simply not worth it. 5 markerlights (I ignore cover removal, so just reroll 1 and +1) gives increase of roughly 22,2%. Reroll 1 gives 16,6%. That’s just increase of 5,6 % for incredibly higher investment in points. That means if we want to put 5 markers by using pathfinder, those must be set up for 495 points of our army to shoot at just to be equal. Otherwise it’s just better to invest in dmg. In today’s msu meta, we dont have targets that needs quater of our army to be shoot at to die.

    Soooo, we have army that should be good at removing single targets, by using markerlights, that is mechanics which effectively decreases our army effectiveness. And we are balanced assuming that it increases its effectiveness. We are paying more points just to pay more points that makes rest of our points worth less.

    Why GW, why?

  4. abusepuppy October 20, 2020 4:42 am #

    I think the biggest problem with Markerlights is the scaling and how expensive/awkward to get they are. The core concept is actually fine and is a good way to set Tau apart from the many, many, many armies in the game that live off their auras, but the way it plays out just doesn’t function very well in most editions.

    Rerolling 1s is a great bonus, obviously, and ignoring cover is surprisingly useful these days. +1 to hit is also good, especially for units with lower ballistic skill. But being able to fire Seeker Missiles isn’t a bonus at all, it’s a limitation that they put on the Seeker only to allow it to be unlocked with ML hits. And ignoring heavy/advance penalties is cute, but it’s getting less valuable by the day, especially because it is so high up the ranks on the table. There’s a lot of ways to solve the issues with the table’s bonuses, but I think the key needs to be that every level should feel like it _does_ something, as right now there are 2-3 “dead” spots and considering the investment needed that just isn’t acceptable.

    The issue of platforms is the other problem. Almost all of the units that can carry Markerlights are _incredibly_ vulnerable- pathfinders being the very worst example of this. Although they have brought the cost on many of these units down, this still means that they can be selectively targeted by the enemy for elimination, denying us the benefits of the ML even if the table is useful. Since other factions gain their versions of these abilities through character auras, psychic powers, and similar effects, this potentially puts Tau at a huge disadvantage because we can be stripped of our buffs but the enemy cannot. I think making Markerlights an option across more units in small quantities can help this, as can giving Tau access to more strats and abilities that can place Markerlight tokens.

    • Spera October 20, 2020 7:02 am #

      Yeah, it could work incredibly well, especially in this edition, since you could technically support your units around the whole board, while being in your own from deployment. Not having to commit aura characters to certain places, and being able to rapidly support army where its needed. It had amazing potential, and I think that is what doomed it, because GW was afraid of it being to good. It reverse example to marine doctrines, when they dint think through how it will make people play, and underestimated potential. Here it was overestimated, and thus they priced it to high.

      the fact that we give re-rolls on target and not for our friendly units makes that our rerolls of1 are essentially worth less, and should be on discount compared to other faction buffs.

      Reroll increases our units by 16% witch is good.

      seeker missiles marker was ok when it was dealing mortal wounds, oh how sweat would it be to get it back now. But now they just should be normal bs, and marker allows to fire it without los.

      Remove cover is today very usefull, almost an extra ap, which is nice. Would it remove also dense cover, whoah, now we are talking.

      There are fringe cases where it matters(path finders hitting on 4s again for this final markerlight) but over all it is barelly worth any thing because most thing we have that use heavy weapons don’t take -1 anymore at all, and we rarelly advance our assault weapons because either they are fast enough, or we are moving them behind los, so they cant shoot anyway.

      +1 is nice…when you shoot knight or something else that needs to be targeted by majority of your army- otherwise when just some trees can negate completely… its not worth to get it here.

      We are out dated and out powercreeped. We are supposed to have better tech and better guns, but today 30″ s5 pulse rifle isn’t any thing special. Plasma sucks major ass(literally flamer is now better point for point). Our platforms are also overpriced/understated.
      Marker lights were barely ok, when we were on level with other factions, but now those are outdated and bad. And GW know that for a looong time, first stratagem that we got even before the codex was uplinked markelight to bandaid this mes, next one was aerial targeting and full markerlights for crysis units. We had three bandaids, and gw is still not willing to understand/admit that it is not right treatment for cancer ridden patient.

    • Matt October 22, 2020 11:13 am #

      I’ve found occasional success in the past by sticking MLs on Strike and Stealth team leaders. Depending on how many of those squads you take, you can get another 3-6 MLs. That plus a Fireblade, Firesight marksman and a few drones can get you up to a respectable number of MLs that are reasonably hard to auto-delete.

      Funnily enough though, the trouble was that those embedded MLs were often hitting on 5’s due to moving and shooting or the usual -1 to hit shenanigans. So they often missed.

      I’ve often wondered if making MLs auto-hit or merely immune to any negative modifiers would resolve a lot of the issues with getting 5 ‘lights on target.

      • abusepuppy October 23, 2020 9:14 am #

        Yeah the troop squads are a good place for “incidental” Markerlights that actually can work pretty well. I’m not a fan of them on Stealth teams anymore due to it precluding you from using your other guns, , but the basic concept there is useful.

        I’d actually like to see one of the Markerlight effects be “ignore negative to-hit modifiers”, which I think could help solve some of Tau’s problems. But that’s a much deeper discussion than can usefully be had here.

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