This list of questions represents a selection of questions asked by new players who are trying to competitively build Tau army lists. While these questions were mainly taken from a thread posted here on the Cadre Building board, any players are free to ask additional questions in this thread or elsewhere on Advanced Tau Tactica, and they may be included in this post for reference.
Original source for these questions, as well as many others, can be found here:
Games Workshop official FAQs and Rules Errata:
1. Is there a drawback to splitting Fire Warriors and Pathfinders into smaller groups?
The drawback is multiple drops; so you probably won’t go first by the GW rulebook rules.
2. What’s the benefit of the Advanced Targeting System over the Multi-Tracker?
The Advanced Targeting System benefits all weapons, as well as the bearer’s attacks in close combat too. The Multi-Tracker is extremely weak as it has a restriction and is the same benefit as a single Markerlight.
3. Is the Pathfinders’ Ion Rifle good enough to justify the points and drawback?
Yes. There’s a trick with Ion Rifles and Markerlights; if you have re-rolling ones (the benefit of 1 Markerlight hit) then your Ion Rifles have a much lower chance of exploding. Markerlights are tricky little things in 8th Edition; consider them about utility, not accuracy. Just gunning for 5 hits won't pay off given how random the game is.
4. How can a squad benefit from its own Markerlights?
Fire the Markerlights one at a time before you fire the squad’s weapons.
5. What makes Ion Rifles better than Rail Rifles? What makes Strike Teams better than Breacher teams?
Rail rifles and ion rifles are about equal; it is a conversation of preference and where you have other same-strength items in your list.
Strike Teams, likewise, aren't better than Breacher Teams; rather, Strike Teams operate best at 15" for rapid-fire, while Breachers aim to get as close as possible to their targets. Breachers are really really good at roasting elite/high-armor units and are cheap, they can also go in a transport to add a forward-moving element to your army. If you take Breachers, definitely be sure to take a Devilfish too.
6. What does the Cadre Fireblade do?
The Fireblade’s purpose is to buff Fire Warrior Strike Teams. The Fireblade will hide just outside or between multiple squads of Fire Warriors so he can neither be shot nor charged while giving his buff to as many units as possible. Fireblades can also be used to buff Drones quite effectively, although this usage is more niche.
7. Is it better to spam Gun Drones or are Strike Teams worth it? What about Drone Controller? Or including Cadre Fireblades?
You need a mix of the two. Fire Warrior Strike Teams have longer range, better accuracy, can choose their own targets, and are Troops choices (hello Command Points!) while Gun Drones have higher durability, speed, and shot volume, and importantly cannot choose their own targets. Drone Controllers and Cadre Fireblades are excellent, but you need to make sure they buff a lot of units! For example, Drone Controllers that buff fewer than 6 Drones are probably not effective. Likewise, a Cadre Fireblade should buff at least 10 Fire Warriors, preferably more.
8. I'm interested in your suggestion of a Commander with 4 Fusion Blasters. Can you walk me though your thought process and how you'd use it?
Commanders hit on 2+, and it's easy to get them to re-roll 1s with a single Markerlight hit. That brings their accuracy up from 83% to 97%. Fusion Blasters deal D6 damage and have AP-4, which ignores almost all armor saves. The Commander can use Manta Strike to arrive >9" away from an enemy target. Finally, Fusion Blasters have an 18" range; if you drop the Commander in via Manta Strike about 18" from an enemy tank, monster, or exposed character, they'll never know what hit them. You'll probably hit all four times, and since your target will likely be T6-T8, you'll get 2-4 wounds and they'll probably not get a save (unless they have base Sv2+). So that's probably 2D6 or 3D6 damage! You can easily destroy tanks or monsters in a single round of shooting, and if the target survives with a wound or two left over, finish it off with Ion Rifles, Seeker Missiles, or any other long-range weapon from a different unit. The 4x Fusion Blaster Commander is one of the top-performing Tau units in the Index!
9. I don't understand Manta Strike. It's just a fancy way of dictating how some units can be deployed, not a ship or something right?
"Manta Strike" is a fancy way to describe both how something is deployed, and how something arrives on the battlefield. For example, you deploy the unit (XV8s, Commanders, etc.) in the hold of a giant dropship called a Manta (think the Tau version of an AC130). The hold of this hypothetical Manta is represented by placing the models not on the tabletop, but on a side table, in your case/box, or something like that. On any turn you choose, the Manta makes a quick pass over the battlefield and drops off the unit- it is simply placed on the battlefield in any location you choose which is at least 9" from enemy models.
10. How can I use Manta Strike effectively?
This is a really powerful trick for three reasons. First, you can have your units show up exactly where and when you need them. Second, you can keep them off the table if you don't get first turn- a model that's not on the table can't be targeted, so the models are totally safe. Third, during the deployment phase (pre-battle) you can be tricky and deploy these into the Manta hold before you place any models on the table. In my 2000pt list, I have 4 units with Manta strike- so, I can keep the location of my army 'secret' for a while while we alternate deployemts. They place a unit, I place a unit in the Manta hold, they place a unit... on and on until I know where a good chunk of their army is, but the still don't see any Tau models on the table. In this way you can easily "refuse a flank" and get an advantage on one side of battlefield, then use your long-ranged units to engage all parts of the tabletop from a relative position of strength.
11. What are the pros and cons of taking Quad-Fusion commander over a Coldstar? Everyone so far has suggested a Shield Generator, but 4x Fusion Blasters wouldn't allow for that.
This is a good question! The Coldstar Commander has two important differences as compared to the regular Commander: It's one of the fastest and most agile units in the game (up to 40" move with no minimum move!!) but is only equipped with two weapons and cannot equip any additional weapons. The speed also means that the Coldstar cannot be realistically protected by Drones, since it is five times faster than them! So, what does this mean for Coldstar loadouts? You get two Support System slots, but no additional weapons, so you need to make those Systems count. Shield Generators are great because the Coldstar can't be protected by Drones, and needs an alternative method of increasing its durability. The Advanced Targeting System is also a great option, since it increases the Coldstar's firepower. Finally, the Target Lock is great since you can move the full 40" without suffering the -1 penalty to hit. Usually, the Shield Generator + Advanced Targeting System is the best combination of upgrades for the Coldstar.
The regular Commander doesn't have the limitation on the number of weapons- it can take the full four. It also moves 8" which is just as fast as Drones, making it easy to protect Commanders with Drones. A Commander with 4x Fusion Blasters and 2x Shield Drones is a good "min-max" unit. You maximize firepower and minimize durability, but get extra durability from the Shield Drones. After all, the Commander will probably deal an obscene amount of damage even if it's destroyed on the following turn.
12. What other useful tactics can Tau use?
A refused flank strategy is a trick uniquely-suited to the Tau- any army can use a refused flank deployment (basically stack your whole army in the left or right third of the table) by deploying models off-table (all armies have some kind of rule like Manta Strike) and tricking the enemy into a wide deployment while they castle up on one side. However, only the Tau have the effective range needed to hit the enemy wherever they are on the table. Obliterate the enemy models closest to you, and then while the rest walk toward your army you can pick them off at long range. Another good tactic is to deploy your gunline troops in parallel lines. Have screening units- usually Kroot or Gun Drones- in front to absorb charges and provide overwatch firepower, and have two lines of Fire Warriors behind them. If the enemy assaults the screen, the screening units can fall back (Gun Drones excel in this role because they can still shoot) while the units behind them fire into the advancing foe. Each time the enemy consolidates into one of your Fire Warrior squads, that squad can fall back and allow the supporting lines to fire on the enemy. The Tau Sept character Darkstrider multiplies the effectiveness of this formation, allowing every squad to fire while falling back- even squads that had been charged or consolidated into!
13. What about markerlights on Strike Team Shas'ui?
They're the cheapest Markerlights around! If you need a couple more Markerlights, and don't mind losing a few S5 shots (remember a model can't shoot both a Markerlight and a regular weapon), then they're a good pick. There is one drawback though- you can't shoot a Shas'ui's Markerlight, then fire some other squad's weapons, then come back and fire the rest of the Fire Warriors' shots. The Fire Warriors in the Shas'ui's squad can benefit from the Markerlight hit (remember shots are technically fired one at a time, and "fast rolling" i.e. rolling in bulk is just for speed). However, you "activate" a unit, fire all weapons, then "activate" another unit. Many players like to fire all Markerlights first (using Markerlight-only squads like Pathfinders and Marker Drones), and then fire other squads' weapons. This way you can know how many Markerlights have hit which squads before you do any meaningful shooting. Some have to have a few extra Markerlights though (for example, Ion Rifle Pathfinders). So, you can put Markerlights on Fire Warrior Shas'ui, but it's not quite as "clean" since it means declaring shots before all Markerlights have been fired.
14. What's a good number of people in a unit? How do I evaluate a good ratio of special weapons (like Ion stuff with Pathfinders) to regular people to drones?
The thing to remember is, you bring units to serve a role. Don't just bring Fire Warriors because they look like a "core unit" or something like that. Each unit has a role, and you must identify the roles you need to fill (usually those roles are anti-infantry, anti-elite, anti-tank, and objective-holder) and select units to fill those roles. For example, let's say you're making a 1000-point list and you start with Longstrike and a 4x Fusion Blaster Commander as your anti-tank units. That's 385 points total. Now you have 605 points to spend on other roles. In general, it's better for squads to have a defined role than to be 'swiss army knives.' That is, unless you have a fantastic 'swiss army knife' (like the Cyclic Ion Blaster). For example, an XV8 squad with one of each weapon can engage any target, but not very well. As the saying goes, "jack of all trades, master of none."
In a gunline that uses aura buffs to increase firepower, you want large squads since they interact positively with aura buffs. Units that serve roles in the far backfield (and are often "out of sight, out of mind") small squads are more ideal. A good rule of thumb is, keep squads to 4 models or more and don't spend more than about 400 points on a single unit. There are exceptions of course but in general squads should be large enough not to give up Victory Points too easily and small enough that they don't become- just imagine how annoying it would be to position a squad of 9 XV8s... let alone how much enemy fire that squad would attract!
When it comes to wargear (Ion Rifles, for example), if you can take only a few items, you should take them all. An Ion Rifle only has a net cost of 4 points (since it replaces a Markerlight), so you should always take all three. This is "min-maxing"- if a squad is going to have Ion Rifles, it might as well have as many as possible. Of course, if you want Markerlights, then don't take any Ion Rifles. As such, 5x Pathfinders w/ 3x Ion Rifles is a good loadout, while 5x Pathfinders w/ 1x Ion Rifle won't be as effective.
However, remember that upgrades cost points, and those points pile up. For example, an un-upgraded squad of Stealthsuits costs 90 points. If you give that squad every upgrade, it costs 161 points. Almost double! Very few units in the Tau army can fall into the "too much wargear" trap, but many Imperium and Chaos armies do. Similarly, you can buy a big squad of support Drones for a Pathfinder or Fire Warrior squad... or you could just get more Fire Warriors and Pathfinders!
About the ratio of "regular people to drones", remember that Drones need to serve a role, and work better in large squads. Sure, you can give a Fire Warrior team two Shield Drones, but adding two more Fire Warriors would be a better idea. Likewise, you could give a 3x XV8 team one Drone to follow it around, but that Drone would likely be killed very quickly.
15. My inclination is to put ATS on two Stealthsuits with Burst Cannons, and put the big Fusion Blaster on the other one.
Let's look at the ATS first. Three Stealthsuits cost 90 points with their Burst Cannons, and with all three carrying ATS cost 114. Six more points could, instead, buy us another Stealthsuit. So let's compare 4x Stealthsuits to 3x Stealthsuits w/ ATS.
4x vs.T3/5+ - 3.6 kills
3x + ATS vs.T3/5+ - 3.3 kills
4x vs.T4/4+ - 2.7 kills
3x + ATS vs.T4/4+ - 2.7 kills
4x vs.T4/3+ - 1.8 kills
3x + ATS vs.T4/3+ - 2 kills
As we can see, bringing more Stealthsuits is better against weaker units, equal against regular units, and worse against tougher units. Of course though, bringing another Stealthsuit doesn't just add more shots, but also more wounds (better durability) and more bodies (better at holding objectives). So, are more Stealthsuits 100% better than fewer Stealthsuits w/ ATS? Not necessarily, but I'd say that more Stealthsuits bring more advantages to the table, unless you're exclusively hunting Space Marines or Terminators. Stealthsuits are excellent and hunting weak units.
Should we bring a Fusion Blaster on a Stealthsuit though? The main reason would be that it's a cheap way to get an anti-tank gun. In your specific case, given your small collection, it's one of the few anti-tank options you have available to you. However, in more average-sized games I'd argue that Stealthsuits really aren't the right platform for that kind of weapon. It's usually best to bring squads that are dedicated to a single purpose, as I've mentioned before. With a Fusion Blaster, Stealthsuits are better at destroying tanks, but 50% weaker against infantry. If at all possible, try and make squads that can perform one or two tasks well, instead of splitting them up between different roles. A squad of Stealthsuits costs 101 points with a Fusion Blaster, and that Fusion Blaster only has a 50% hit chance too.
It's usually best to equip squads for a single purpose; in addition, for squads that have low accuracy (BS4+ or worse) it's usually best to equip guns with high rates of fire. With these points in mind, I'd say that Stealthsuits aren't the right place to get anti-tank.
16. What does it mean to be “anti-elite”?
Anti-elite basically means "good at shooting tough stuff that isn't vehicles." Commonly, you'll see cheap infantry models often have poor defensive stats like the Kroot T3/Sv6+. A S4AP-1 weapon (like a Bolt Rifle, a gun common to our enemies in the Imperium of Man) is just as effective against these units as a S5AP-2 weapon (like a Snazzgun, a much less common Ork weapon). Both the Bolt Rifle and Snazzgun wound the Kroot on a 3+ and ignore its save, thus each weapon has 66% per-hit of damaging a Kroot. However, fired at an XV8, we find that the Bolt Rifle is woefully ineffective with just a 16% chance per-hit to damage, whereas the Snazzgun has a much better chance at 33% per-hit to damage an XV8. As such, we can see that while these weapons are equal against a weak target (due to overkill on the part of the Snazzgun), the Snazzgun is more powerful against stronger targets. As such, we can say it is "anti-elite."
Basically, anti-elite guns are too powerful against weak units, and too weak against tough vehicles, so they fall "in the middle" as guns dedicated to killing tough enemy infantry. Tau "anti-elite" guns are weapons like the Vespids' Neutron Blaster and battlesuit Plasma Rifle.
17. How do we feel about weird drones like Pulse Accel and Grav (or even Guardian and Marker for that matter)?
Simply put, we don't think too highly of them for the moment. Just taking one or two drones in a squad is just asking for them to get killed- Grav-Inhibitor drones are cool, but useless if the enemy kills them with pistols before they charge! These "utility drones" (the ones you mentioned, plus the Recon Drone and Commander Shadowsun's drones) have nice abilities, but are simply too flimsy to stay on the table for more than 1-2 turns. The one exception to this rule is taking a Pathfinder team with 4-5 drones. All the drones form a unit, so you can make a fairly durable squad of 2 Shield Drones, 1 Pulse Accelerator Drone, and 1 Grav-Inhibitor Drone. It's a decent little group that, while not exactly tough, is much, much more durable than just a single Grav-Inhibitor Drone. So, in short, never take Drones in groups of 3 or fewer. This means no Guardian Drones, no lonely Pathfinder drones, maybe even no Shadowsun drones. But, if you can field a big squad (like Marker Drones embedded in a larger Gun Drone squad) or 4 drones or more, I'd say that's viable. The one exception is 2x Gun Drones on a (non-Coldstar) Commander or Stealthsuit team. These units can only take two drones maximum, and sometimes you'll want that extra durability depending on your list. Not amazing, but viable I'd say.
18. I guess I'm having trouble imaginging scenarios where the increased range or the lessend charge distance are relevant. Do they ever matter in-game?
The increased range is useful in situations like where your maximum range of a pulse rifle is increased by a further 6" but it also increases your range on your ability to get a second shot at half distance (or 3 with a Fireblade!) from 15" to 18". Yes it's only 3 inches but pairing that with a grav drone and you can get your extra shots off without opening yourself up too much to charges from units that have a swift 8" move. You even have a decent shot at keeping 12" movement stuff from charging with the grav drone and being AT 18" for your rapid fire shots. The problem is keeping the drones alive as a savvy player WILL shoot them first.
19. What constitutes “tying up” a unit?
Tying up a unit is when you stop it from charging next turn. For example, if a character charges a blob of kroot, he will be unable to kill more than 4-5 himself, possibly less, meaning the rest of your army can retreat and deal with other things while that single melee character is tied up. That is the basic concept. Keeping things like devastators or other shooty units in combat is another common application of this strategy. Devilfish or other tough vehicles can also tie up big infantry units.
20. How do you “sacrifice” a screening unit to tie up an enemy and keep your gunline alive?
First, shoot at the nearby enemy assault squad with both the screening unit and the gunline. Then, charge the assault unit with your screening unit. On the enemy’s turn, they can either stay in combat, or fall back- either way they cannot charge your gunline. Then, on your following turn, your screening unit can fall back and let the gunline fire again into the enemy assault unit.
21. Is it possible to have an answer to everything at 500 points?
You shouldn't worry too much about a 500p list. It's impossible to have an answer for everything with so few points. If you take something against tanks, the enemy can swarm you with cheap hordes. If you take something against hordes the enemy can overwhelm you with a Landraider. If you try to take something against both you won't be able to deal properly with any extreme. Then there are the possibilities of the enemy taking a shooty list or a melee list or a tough airbourne unit, etc. etc. etc.
22. Are Broadside Battlesuits viable?
This makes me sad to admit, but Broadsides really aren't that viable. The venerable Broadside with Heavy Rail Rifles has about a ~50% for D6 damage at 183 points, whereas Longstrike has a ~92% chance for D6 damage at 191 points among other abilities. Both of these units absolutely pale in comparison to the furious damage output of a Commander. 3 High Yeild Missile Pod Broadsides, still, are outperformed by 3 Commanders with Missile Pods, for fewer points. For the time being, I wouldn't pick up any Broadsides unless (a) you find a really good deal somewhere, or (b) you wouldn't mind if they don't get any better in the Codex (which they probably won't). Ghostkeels may fall into the same category as well. In fact, we can just say that all large Tau battlesuits (Riptide, Broadside, Ghostkeel; Stormsurge is not a battlesuit) are simply not worth their points.
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