Tayne’s Tau Tactics: Forsaking the Plasma by Graeme Nicholls

27 Oct

This time round, I’m going to discuss my third arm: Tau. (That’s right, I luuurve the overpowered codices, Tau, Dark Angels and Daemons all the way.)

With my Tau, I always, always took at least one Crisis team bearing a Plasma Rifle, a Missile Pod and a Multitracker, letting each model shoot 3 or 4 times each, with some AP2 for good measure. Who wouldn’t want this? Each Crisis Suit becomes a lethal machine! Almost…

                This loadout comes with a cost. First, there’s no space for a Targeting Array for them, so at a BS of 3 half the shots miss. Secondly, it’s expensive. Very expensive, as each one comes in at 62 points a model. Add in a team leader upgrade and a hard-wired target lock (gotta take out those razorbacks), then some shield drones to soak up the inevitable crisis-popping krak missile shots, and you’re looking at over two hundred points for the three-tau squad.

Then, as I planned a force for a team-based apocalypse game, I started thinking. What if I drop the plasma? With the sheer volume of cover saves about, the few plasma shots that hit rarely had an impact on the game. What if I simply ignored the plasma? Sure, those shots are nice, and if they shine, they will really shine, but not spending the points there opens up a lot of points.

So what can we replace them with? My first stop is missile pods. Missile pods are mobile assault cannons, and that’s part of what makes riflemen dreads so effective (yeah, yeah, those ones are S8, but ours can jump-shoot-jump/claim cover). One twin-linked Pod suit with Targetting Arrays is 53 points, 9 points cheaper per model. What if we make it smaller? Twinlinking BS3 has a 75% chance of statistically hitting each round, and replacing that Array with a flamer drops the points down to just 47 each. But then, I took it further. One missile pod and twinlinked flamers per suit. Flamers are a close range operation, so not firing both together is not a big issue. Points wise, we’re at just 43 points each.

Ok, I was not relying on the squad for massed firepower, so only hitting with half shots was fine for my plans, and what I gained was autohitting S4 templates with rerolls to wound. Broadsides and Hammerheads were always my long range plan, I planned for and was surprised to find these suits had a decent place in the army. I used them jumping over troops, flaming, jumping back. The troops were, of course, eaten in close combat leaving me with another round of burninating.

My conclusion? Sure, they aren’t the only viable load out to use as an alternative, but they are fun and do help shore up the biggest failing Tau face, assaults. I plan on using the suicide squad again, that’s for sure.


10 Responses to “Tayne’s Tau Tactics: Forsaking the Plasma by Graeme Nicholls”

  1. Joby Davis October 29, 2011 at 00:12 #

    Very True.

    Plasma is one of the many things in the Tau Codex, that on paper – is awesome and in game terms is surface level good, but if you really look into it is not good enough to actually justify the cost you pay for it – or the cost to the rest of your list for including it.

    Deathrains, TL MP with TA’s are fantastic value (especially with all the Mech out there at the moment). 6 S7 shots a turn, that rarely miss and thanks to weight of fire can even deal with AV13 in a pinch.

    The TL Flamer, Missilepod is also a nice combination – I like to run two Squads of Deathrains and one with TL Flamers and Missile Pods. If you end up playing against horde or an army with units vulnerable to Flamers (low save etc) you can deepstrike them in ignite for some major damage, if you scatter too far away you can switch targets and take out something vulnerable to the Missile Pods. If you come up against a mech army you can deploy normally and have 6 exta transport killing S7 shots.

    Great versatile multi use unit that works brilliantly in conjuction with more specialist units.

  2. Franco October 29, 2011 at 03:09 #

    I think you need plasma from somewhere to deal with tough threats up close. Flamers and missile pods just won’t kill terminators or feel no pain marines when they crash through your line. You need something that is not going to be odds-on for killing them (like lots of flamer hits) but to be an almost certainty.

    The deathrain or MP+flamer set up is a legitimate one, even a good one, but you still need plasma from somewhere. It would be like having an IG army with no quad plasma or melta and just relying on 9 hydras to kill everything that came at you. 9 hydras are great, but quad (even quin) plasma is more of a certainty up close. Combining 8 or more plasma shots with pathfinders plus the other misc shooting you’ll pump in to a real threat means you can put it down reliably. Remember, you have no real assault solution as a Tau player, plasma IS your answer to close assault.

    • Joby Davis October 29, 2011 at 09:08 #

      Hmmm, I would say that flexibility, movement, screening and Kroot are the answers to close assualt. Pathfinders (well I should say Markerlights) are another thing that are awesome on paper, and work ok in game terms – but when you consider the effect paying the points for them has on the rest of your army, and the fact that by taking them (along with the plasma) you are committing yourself to playing your Tau in a certain way become far less good – Its the Tau house of cards effect, the plasma is great when supported by the Markerlights from your Pathfinders, but as soon as you play an opponent that really knows Tau, those Pathfinders are going to be the first thing they target. And Pathfinders (while much more expensive) are no more survivable than those delicate flowers the Fire Warriors. Take one card away and the house comes tumbling down.

      To my mind, target priority and weight of fire is the key to taking down Termies etc, but only if you need to. Terminators are slow, and if you havent deployed in the traditional Tau huddle approach, there is a limit to how much damage they will be able to do after there initial hit.

      By not spending the points on Plasma and Markerlights etc I find that you can put together a much more versatile army thats capable of playing in a lot of different ways (as the mission and opponenent dictate).

  3. Franco October 29, 2011 at 15:22 #

    The thing is, you can’t outrun certain armies, quite a lot of armies actually. Shooting people in the face is something you can always do, running is not. Especially in objective games where you need to pick a patch of ground and hold it or, worse still, take it. At that point you do need the ability to pick a unit and be almost certain about deleting it from the game. Plasma + markerlights gives you that ability. I know folks say that markerlights are expensive, but they’re not really. It’s only because you need to take a devilfish for them that the unit is expensive, but you really need one for your firewarriors anyway so it just ends up as their ride instead. So in reality you’re paying 96pts for a full squad – bargain. Your opponent can pick them out if they want, but it’s a bit of a dilemma all round; go for the pathfinders and the damage dealing elements will be untouched; go for the damage dealers and the pathfinders will have enough of a man-count when you hit the Tau lines to make sure your guys have very little chance of surviving after mowing down the first kroot line.

    They don’t hold a Tau army together, but they’re one piece you need to deal with before you can crack a Tau gunline, one of about 3. And although it might guide your army down a particular playing style, the trick is to simply not let it do so. If 96pts holds your army together and your tactics are reliant on it, then you need to develop more game plans.

    I used to run a more balanced and manoeuvrable army, but I found myself running and really struggling in objective games because I couldn’t just draw a line and say, “cross this at your peril.” Now I load my broadsides and crisis both up with plasma and up close, at 1750pts, I can kick out 20 plasma shots to anything within 12″. I don’t have to hug the back edge any more, I can walk into the centre (after certain things get dealt with, usually after turn 2), all wrapped up nice and tight in kroot, and invite folks to give it a go.

    So in a recent game against Deathwing I rolled badly (or he rolled well, however you want to look at it) in the first 4 turns and killed 4 termies and a predator. Then in turns 5-7 the dice went average and I killed another 21 termies. This was because in turns 5-7 they hit my kroot lines, were within rapid fire range, and as they did not previously have time to deal with my pathfinders I was shooting 20 plasma shots at turn, hitting on 2s (some with re-rolls), and wounding on 2s. The game was EPIC, and certainly not something I would have been capable of with a previous list.

    So running can be a good tactic, nay, a very viable tactic in fact with Tau. And TL’d missile pods are also very good, worth even swapping them in instead of fireknives actually. However, I would still prefer to simply draw and line in the sand and know that opponents main chance in breaking it involves me simply rolling very badly. It doesn’t always work of course, while movement doesn’t need dice to make it work However, you can apply the tactic to anyone and you can’t apply the ‘runaway’ tactic to folks like Dark Eldar, Eldar, Blood Angels, any bike list, mass infiltrating genestealers, and anyone else who can simply catch you and kill you at their leisure.

    Maybe it’s just a playstyle thing, but as a Tau player, I was simply sick of running the whole time. I felt it was time to start moving forwards.

  4. Joby Davis October 29, 2011 at 17:59 #

    The problem I have is the points combined with the knock on effects, for example, the Markerlights set you back 96 Pts, and the Devilfish another 85 (with mandatory Disruption Pod) – so 181 pts in total.

    Now, you can give the Devilfish to the 6 Firewarriors you are forced to take, and that offsets the cost slightly, but it gimps your deployment – because you cannot start those Fire Warriors off the table inside the Devilfish, you either have to hold both units in reserve (and hope they come in on the same turn), start your Fire Warriors on the table (six Firewarriors on foot from turn 1 =’s dead) and wait for the Devilfish to arrive. Start the Devilfish on the table, which means it may be dead before the Fire Warriors arrive and also gives your opponent a very good idea of where your Fire Warriors will be coming on. Or start both on the Table, which means your Fire Warriors and Devilfish are a target from turn 1 onwards.

    Personally I prefer to buy the 6 Fire Warriors there own transport and hold them off the table as long as possible before making that objective dash (Or just staying as far away from the enemy as possible in a Killpoints game).

    Your Pathfinders are also a support unit, but because you rely on them to make your plasma effective it means you have to protect them in the early game stages (because all your opponent needs to do is kill 2 to have a 45% chance of them running), so you are forced to tie down another part of your army protecting (supporting) your support unit.

    Once those Pathfinders are gone, your highly expensive Plasma Weaponry has a 50% chance of actually hitting, and the plethora of cover saves etc in 5th means that even when it does hit your opponent is likely to have some sort of save.

    Dont get me wrong, I think the Plasma Rifle is (on paper) an awesome gun, and it can be brilliant in game, but for 5th edition its not worth 20 points. It takes points away from the rest of your army, and to be really effective you have to invest points in other units that can gimp your army in different ways. On top of that, while you are playing against MEQ/TEQ armies it can be (marginally) worth its points, its ridculous overkill against anyone else with an average save, and nowhere near as effective as a Missile Pod against mech (which most armies have in high quantities now days), and Flamers against Horde or Low save Troops.

    Like you say, its Playstyles I guess, you invest heavily on Plasma and make that the main threat of your army, and that can certainly work if you invest the points and build your tactics around those options – but personally I think Plasma is not “Needed” and neither are markerlights, in fact in many ways I think taking these units messes with your deployment and game options and weakens the rest of your list more than they help you overall. I prefer to play a manuverable game with Tau, with absolutely no static elements (apart from Kroot, but I normally use them as agressive outflankers rather than bubblewrap) in the list and versatile units with multple deployment options. That to my mind is one of the biggest strengths with Tau in 5th, you can build one list that you can play in a variety of different ways depending on the opponent and mission.As soon as you start adding units like Pathfinders to the list, or to an extent Plasma (just through cost) you are limiting the effective ways you can play effciently.

    Its probablly fairer to say that Plasma can be good, but I dont think its fair to say that its a must take or that Tau “Need” it to be succesful (my personal and probablly minority opinion is we are better off without it).

  5. Franco October 30, 2011 at 03:15 #

    Ah, see but I’m not thinking of plasma on crisis, I’m thinking about them on broadsides primarily, with crisis as a backup. So now the plasma only costs 10pts rather than 20, and hits 75% of the time without markerlights over 50%. Since I run about 7 broadsides I don’t need much more in the way of ranged anti-mech, so a few more missile pods is fine. And the pathfinders are not as essential, they’re more like insurance. So I don’t dedicate anything to protect them, I either protect them by throwing them out in the middle of nowhere so it’s not worth going for them or not at all (you can get a better explanation of this in my blog entry from the past few weeks). I’m much happier about them getting shot at than anything else in my army most of the time tbh, so if I need a bait unit this is it.

    I use my devilfish differently as well. Even if I had a dedicated transport I’d use it the same way. I *never* start my warriors on the table really, always in reserve. They will typically walk straight into the pathfinders fish, which will sit about 7″ from the table edge, then whiz off somewhere safe if I need them, or just come in out of the way and stay there if I don’t.

    So in my list I’m playing right now I spend 110pts on my plasma. If I dropped the plasma from the broadsides and swapped it out of the 2 crisis who have it I’d pick up another 2 crisis with twin-linked MPs and flamers say. They’re good suits (I have 2 already as it happens) and I’d be better at killing vehicles and hoards maybe, but I don’t need any help killing vehicles, and all the plasma I’d normally have up close isn’t exactly mince at dealing with hoards either tbh.

    You don’t need plasma in some lists, true, but I need it in mine. I don’t have speed to simply run for it, but the point is that no list has enough speed to run from certain other lists which is why I don’t build one around that – because I got tired of simply being caught and killed by some lists. Running isn’t always a solution. Screening only works for so long. Against something like a DoA list (rare now thank goodness) or ork bikerz, or even just plain old Eldar running isn’t an option for you, All of a sudden you have no option, you just end up packing your army away in about turn 4 when they table you.

    You could also say that you don’t need 7 broadsides in a list at 1750pts, that 2 or 3 and a couple of hammerheads is a better way about things. I used to run exactly this set-up in fact. But 7 broadsides works much better for me really. I like the fact I don’t need to run from anyone. That I can even go on the aggressive. I like the fact that someone playing Deathwing can look at my army and give a gulp at the thought of needing to bear the brunt of all that plasma before they’ll be able to crash into my line. Most of all, I like how easily I rip apart Grey Knight armies with almost careless abandon. None of which I would be able to do without my plasma.

    • Graeme Nicholls (@TheTayne) October 30, 2011 at 21:14 #

      I’m very curious to see your list, Franco. I tend to run one or two broadside units, a hammerhead and, if just the one broadside, a skyray. (I’ll no doubt do an article on the skyray, I get so many comments about it). I’ll admit, this article was thinking of Crisis-plasma, I’ve not tried the broadsides carrying them. Now that I’ve thought about it, it makes a lot more sense. It’s cheaper, it’s already got a decent line of sight and it’s in the defensive placing already.. definitely something for me to try out.

  6. Joby Davis October 30, 2011 at 21:07 #

    Ah well that becomes clearer now, because I think the OP (or Blog’e) and my self are both focusing more on Plasma on the Crisis Suits than talking about Broadsides (where it is a less expensive option).

    I always hold my 6 Fire Warriors in reserve too, but always in there own dedicated transport, would rather not risk the transport not being there when they turn up, or tipping my hand to my opponent and giving away exactly where they will potentially come on by having a fish parked up waiting for them – but as you say that more of a matter of playstyles than anything else.

    Your tactics definately would not work in my case however as I have a Broadsideless list! Dont get me wrong, I have nothing but good things to say about Broadsides, they are a great option and possibly the best anti (heavy) mech platform in the game. I tend to run 3 Hammerheads, mainly for the mobility and battlefield independance they offer – they can look after themselves.

    Yes, the Hammerhead is not as good against heavy mech as the Broadsides (more shots and twinlinking) but when required its just as capable as dealing with them, and as I am generally pumping out 20 Missile Pod shots at 36″ a turn I dont really on the Hammerheads to take down the low AV Vehicles, just to deal with the rarer heavy armour when it appears, other than that they are on Anti Infantry duty, which is where (thanks to the Pie Plate) the Hammerhead excels (although I will concede that a Plasma equipped Broadside is probablly a better platform against Heavy Infantry at close range).

    I tend to run more of a “Disruption Tactics” Tau list, with every unit being as mobile as I can make it, able to look after itself on the battlefield and operate idependantly and with multiple deployment options. My Kroot normally run in large units of Kroot and Hounds and outflank to cause damge between the lines and generally disrupt my opponents advance. Screening is generally left to Flechette Equppiped Piranha’s who make an effective wall, that however is there secondary job as I prefer to use them as “Objective Contesters”. I would say that my game is more based on manuvreing and wrong footing my opponent than running and screening and the cost of Plasma on Crisis Suits (and the fact that you really need markerlights to make it effective in 5th) means it does not fit into my list. Broadsides (while awesome) are too static and require to much looking after to make them a viable choice for me (as well as eating into the points I would rather spend on things like Piranhas and Missile Pods! lol).

    If i run into an opponent whose list requires a more traditional fight, then I have the units (Kroot, Piranhas etc) to bunker up and screen against him, other wise I stay mobile and try to attack from as many angles as possible, sometimes using bait units and sometimes not, it all depends on the game.

    Anyway, I think we will have to agree to disagree on whether you “Need” to take plasma, in your list you do – but then, by the sounds of things, have built an Army where the Plasma is one of the cornerstones of your battle plan (and it obviously works well for you), and you are equipping it on the Broadsides rather than the Crisis Suits which is more economical and less reliant on markerlights. The way I play, Plasma on the Crisis suits is just to expensive and situational to be worthwhile, and the other units are too static to fit into my list – and would stop me being able to play Tau the way I like.

    Plasma can be useful (but more so with your Playstyle and tactics than the traditional Fireknive Crisis Build, which I think suffers greatly now and has an over reliance on other units), but I dont think a Tau list “Needs” it to be successful.

    • Graeme Nicholls (@TheTayne) October 30, 2011 at 21:21 #

      Joby, I think I run a variant list somewhere between yours and Franco’s, but closer to yours. I love the mobility of a Tau force, but broadsides are too good to leave at home for me. And yes, I did mean plasma on the crisis suits rather than broadsides, cover negates it’s too much for the points paid in that regard.

      As an aside, I’m very happy with the mini Tau round table this seems to have sprung. At least there’s this here until Dave and co can sort the ‘cast version for us all.

  7. Franco October 31, 2011 at 02:27 #

    Aye, I wouldn’t take loads of suits and plant plasma on them. I’ve run a list that was all missile pods and flamers on the suit, with only broadsides with plasma, and there was 10 crisis in that list including the HQ. Spending 320pts on their weapons would have been highly inefficient, but 70pts on 7 broadsides is pretty good for the money. I give the broadsides advanced stabilisation systems as well, so folks get used to them moving D6″ every turn, then when they move the full 6″ without rolling and fire their plasma it can take them by surprise a little.

    The deathrain load out and list you talk about Joby is a good one to be honest. I played around with something similar for a while. I was just tired of hitting those match-ups that were auto-lose situations for me with it was all. Blood Angel assault troops were just a nightmare to deal with. Ork bikerz too. The last time I came up against BAs with my current list I just melted one squad a turn and threw stuff in the way of the rest until I could deal with it. I lost my piranhas, kroot (x2), and pathfinders, but tabled the guy in turn 6. There was a distinct feeling of satisfaction, especially as the last assault squad was getting torn apart and my opponent knew their DoA list was about to get tabled by gunline Tau.

    And I’ll do a blog entry on my list at some point (after deployment is finished I reckon). It’s been going through some subtle changes recently, after the big changes earlier in the year of just dropping all ability to run for it in favour of having more ability to melt faces.

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