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.
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