Tau Codex Review: Elites: XV95 Ghostkeel

Today we look at the largest of the Tau stealth units, the Ghostkeel battlesuit. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.

Overview

The Ghostkeel is on the larger side of Tau units, although by no means the top end of things, and it has an unusual profile. Movement 12″ (degrading down to 4″ at its lowest tier) makes it fairly fast overall, especially with Fly, and strength and toughness six give it a reasonable baseline for a monster. Weapon skill 5+ is standard, as is ballistic skill 4+ (degrading to 5+) on Tau suits. Ten wounds put it both above the Broadside and below the Riptide, though its 3+ armor save is worse than either. Three attacks and leadership eight are both expected as well. A Ghostkeel comes with two Stealth Drones, which have a typical drone statline except that they have movement 12″ to keep up with their companion. The Ghostkeel comes in at 150pts with its basic loadout, which is a touch expensive but not unjustifiable.

Special Rules and Wargear

A Ghostkeel has the For the Greater Good rule, like almost all Tau units, allowing it to fire overwatch in support of nearby units. The whole team also has the Infiltrator rule, like their smaller cousins, allowing them to deploy anywhere onto the field outside the enemy deployment zone and more than 12″ from enemy models.

The Ghostkeel itself comes with its Ghostkeel Electronic Warfare Suite, which gives enemies -1 to hit rolls when outside 6″ of the model. Separately, the Stealth Drones give -1 to hit for themselves or a nearby Ghostkeel, though due to the way modifiers work in 9E this is generally redundant.

A Ghostkeel’s primary armament is the Fusion Collider (18″ S8 AP-4 DmgD6 Heavy d3 melta), which can be swapped out for a Cyclic Ion Raker (24″ S7 AP-1 Dmg1 Heavy d6) for a savings of 5pts. Like most Ion weapons, the Raker can be overcharged to make it S8 and DmgD3 as well as Heavy 6, although any 1s to hit will cause a mortal wound to the model.

As a larger battlesuit it also comes with a secondary armament of two guns; by default these are Flamers (12″ S4 AP0 Dmg1 Assault d6 hits automatically), but you can also upgrade to Burst Cannons (18″ S5 AP0 Dmg1 Assault 4) or Fusion Blasters (18″ S8 AP-4 DmgD6 Assault 1 melta) for a price.

The Ghostkeel can also select two support systems off of the usual list, with many of them being very useful to its roles. Advanced Targeting System is a powerful option if you aren’t using Fusion weapons, although it does come with a high price tag as a result. The Shield Generator is also very popular, as it meshes well with the survivability of the unit and adds another layer of defenses. Counterfire Defense System can be useful to help protect the suit when isolated, and a Drone Controller can be useful to help support the overall team.

Uses

The Ghostkeel is in an unusual place because it doesn’t really bring the overwhelming firepower or survivability that are the hallmarks of most of the other “good” Tau battlesuits. It also, for most of its history, has been pretty poorly costed and thus overshadowed by both larger and smaller brethren. 9E has not really changed that all that much, but it is in a slightly better spot than before.

The traditional Tau battleplan just doesn’t work anymore- that means Tau have to try and fight for the middle of the field. This is not something they are great at, but they also are not completely without tools to do so- and the Ghostkeel, used right, can be one of those tools. It’s big, it’s survivable, and it has enough firepower that the enemy can’t just throw 5man troop squads at things and hope to push it off. It is by no means the solution to the Tau’s problems, but it can be useful in more casual settings or in some kinds of gimmick lists.

The Ghostkeel, as you might expect, is at its most basic level a scaled-up version of Stealth Suits- it can deploy anywhere and is tough enough to survive some discouragement from the enemy when holding an objective. However, you should not let this fool you because the Ghostkeel does not function like Stealth Suits do. Stealth Suits are good for holding distant objectives, performing actions, and basically being annoying to an opponent at a minimal cost. With the Ghostkeel being A, not infantry and B, 150+ pts, it is not good at these things.

That doesn’t mean it can’t help out with them, though, and that’s where its role comes in. The issue Stealth Suits often run into is that they can’t hold or clear objectives on their own if there is any opposition- even with a Fusion in the squad, they are not really able to push back anything but the most trivial of foes, and since they are usually deployed to isolated corners of the board they typically operate without much support. The Ghostkeel, though, can deploy with them and provide that fire support, bringing heavy multidamage guns to bear on anything that tries to infringe on your objective, and it is fast enough to scoot around a general area and protect several objectives.

However, there are some issues with this plan that stop it from being used in most competitive armies. First of all, the Ghostkeel isn’t cheap- 170 to 200pts is the usual price tag, which isn’t all that much cheaper than a Riptide- and a Riptide has vastly better firepower as well as the range to use it. Second, while it its firepower is good compared to Stealth Suits, it is pretty poor compared to a lot of the other options in the codex, and this presents a major issue when you remember that firepower is basically the only thing Tau have going for them. Third, its survivability leaves a lot to be desired in 9E; unlike Stealths its hit penalties don’t apply in close combat and stacking -1s are meaningless, thus rendering its main defense less intimidating. Since it also has a middling save and wound count combined with no ability to benefit from cover, it can easily be chipped down or assaulted and destroyed in short order- a fate against which it has no real defense at all.

Final Thoughts

The Ghostkeel remains something of an oddity in the Tau codex for the time being, an interesting unit that can do some unique stuff but not one that has ever really seen a significant amount of tournament play. It is, however, ripe for an update of its rules should the Tau book ever get an update; a fix to its points cost would also have been nice, but GW apparently thinks it unnecessary.

As always, you can get your wargaming products at a great discount every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.

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