Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Purpose of Riptides

Riptides, the newest addition to the Tau arsenal, are the most interesting unit in the new codex.

Is it worth using? Riptides are obviously a strong unit, but their base cost is also very high.  They're tough to kill, sure, but a Riptide's damage output isn't that great for how much you're investing.

A Riptide's real strength lies in it's flexibility.  It functions as a Swiss army knife for the Tau army; properly equipped, a Riptide can handle literally any unit type in the game.

It doesn't actually kneel to fire -
he's just mocking the fire warriors
Let's work from here: the Riptide's best weapon option is the ion accelerator and fusion blaster.

Granted, a heavy burst cannon/smart missile system set up is better against light or medium infantry, and ion accelerator/plasma gun is better against heavy infantry.  But those setups are still less useful than ion/fusion.

The reason ion/fusion is the most effective combo is because of what the Riptide is supposed to do.  Yes, it can fill several roles in your army, but if you want to mow down infantry, why are you using a Riptide when 24 fire warriors will do the same job much better for the same cost?  Or a unit of broadsides with missiles?

If you compare it to a more specialized unit in the Tau army, a Riptide will always lose out to missile broadsides, double plasma crisis, fire warriors, etc.  It is not cost-efficient for its damage output.  But despite this, Riptides are fantastic, because their job isn't to be a massive firebase like those units - Riptide's job in a Tau army is to provide stability.

While another unit might deal with one kind of target more efficiently, it's important to realize that an ion/fusion Riptide can deal with all of the targets you'll face, in every game you play.  You can kill heavy infantry and light vehicles (firing normally); monstrous creatures (firing normally); heavy vehicles (nova-charging the fusion blaster or melee); normal infantry (ion large blast); and by taking a velocity tracker, it can also shut down flyers.

Ion is the new hellfire. And kraken.
And vengeance.
Horde, flyer spam, drop pod rush, whatever - no matter what bizarre, frustrating army list an opponent throws at you, the Riptide will always be able to handle it.  They'll always be a problem unit for the enemy army.

And unlike most units of this variety (cough*sternguard*cough), they are incredibly difficult to kill.  You can't just deal with a Riptide and move on to the next thing.  With a 2+/5++ save, FnP from an etheral, and being able to nova-charge to a 3++, Riptides are the single most durable model in 40k.

This doesn't mean that every Tau army needs three Riptides.  What's important to understand is that they can fill any gap in a Tau army nicely - a Riptide's ability to alter the specialization of its firepower each turn gives it unmatched in-game flexibility.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Updated Piranha Tactics

Piranhas in the new Tau codex are a solid, inexpensive unit that can be fill multiple roles very effectively.

There's nothing awe-inspiring about Piranhas - they don't offer massive damage, and they're fairly easy to kill if your opponent decides to focus them.  But they fill some important gaps in a Tau army, and you can use them in a variety of different ways, which is what makes Piranhas such a strong choice in almost any Tau composition.  It's also worth noting that Piranha are incredibly cheap for what they do - if you subtract the cost of their drones (14 for drone units), Piranhas cost just 12 points each.

Piranhas excel at a few specific roles: Hunting down hard-to-reach units, Tank Killing, and Screening other units in your army from assault.
It's hard to find a greater good
than 12 point skimmers

Hunting: Piranhas are fast skimmers, which lets the move 12" and fire at full BS.  Gun drones now count as passengers, which means that they can only fire snap shots if the Piranha moves more than 6".  If you flat out with a Piranha, you can move an additional 18" in the shooting phase instead of firing for a total distance of 30".

Because of this immense mobility, Piranhas are great at cleaning up lightly-armored enemy units that the rest of your army may have difficulty getting to.  Small units of cultists, guardsmen, gaunts, or other inexpensive troops are useful for holding objectives in your enemy's deployment zone, especially when they've set that objective behind a building or other terrain that blocks your LoS.  Deploying 12" forward and jumping 30" on the first turn means your Piranha can hit anywhere on the board come turn two with a barrage of S5 AP5 weaponry - exactly what you want to chew up cheap objective holders.

Even if your enemy decides to counter this move, a unit of Piranhas is surprisingly durable. Front armor 11 makes them resilient or immune to most infantry weapons, and their 4+ cover save from moving flat out will let them soak up a lot of fire before going down - probably more than your enemy is willing to commit to put down a full unit.  Better still, you can detach your gun drones on the second turn to force him to deal with an additional target roaming around his backfield.

S8 AP1 vs unsuspecting cows
Tank Killing: The most traditional role for Piranhas is using fusion blasters to gun down enemy vehicles.  This is certainly the least innovative of its three roles, but important to mention nonetheless.  Piranhas are especially useful as tank killers because they allow you to free up your Heavy Support and Elites slots for other uses, while arguably doing the job much more efficiently due to their high mobility and low points cost.

Piranhas are especially talented at downing vehicles with the fusion blaster's new 18" range.  Because you can move 12" and fire at full BS, and get 2d6 for armor penetration rolls within 9", you now have an effective threat range of 21" for taking down heavy vehicles.  Even the base damage of a fusion blaster is solid for taking down smaller tanks, especially due to the AP1, and they can serve as decent monstrous creature hunters against vehicle-light armies.

Screening: This is the most important use for Piranhas because it mitigates the Tau army's glaring weakness: close combat.  Against some opponents you'll have time to deal with the terminators or plague marines slogging their way towards your lines, but plenty of lists can shove three or more major threats in your face on their first turn, and you might only have the firepower to eliminate one of them.

A well placed Piranha unit can negate this problem, at least for a turn or two.  Leaving your army to deal with the most important target, you can spread a squad of Piranha out just in front of your army to screen your fragile fire warriors and battle suits from enemy attack.  A Piranha has a wingspan of about 6".  Since enemy models need to stay at least 1" away from your Piranhas (unless they're assaulting the unit), you can create a 40" wall in front of your army by carefully spreading out a full unit - 6" per vehicle, plus an additional 1" on each side of the wings.
"Great Wall of Skimmers" is a little less catchy

You probably won't need a full 40" screen very often, though it's a nice option to have.  What's important, though, is that you only lose 10" of your screen for every Piranha we remove from the unit, so you can use this tactic very effectively with just a unit of three to provide a 20" screen.

It's important to be careful of an opponent destroying one or two Piranhas and charging through the breach, but this is where the gun drones come in.  By detaching the drones before your skimmers move and using their thrust move to re-position, you can set up the drone squadron as a fail-safe screen.  It won't block off as wide of an area as the Piranha  but you can make sure a vulnerable section of your line is doubly safe against assault.

Are you going to lose your Piranhas with this tactic? Almost certainly.  Your opponent is either going to go around you, create a gap, or absolutely trash the Piranhas that are in his way.  But the screen should be able to cover your entire army if you set it up right, and that means you'll be able to unload a monstrous amount of overwatch into whatever decides to charge the squadron   And whatever's left over is sitting right in front of your army for fire warriors to triple rapid fire it into a bloody smear.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Skyrays: Preemptory Strike Tactics

In a metagame over-saturated with flyers, Skyrays are fantastic.  Durable, high-damage and with the option to skyfire, that rack of seeker missiles is a highly effective countermeasure against fliers or flying monstrous creatures.

Just imagine it has smart missiles
That isn't the best part, though.

The most attractive aspect of the new Skyray is that it can empty its entire cache of missiles during the first turn of the game.  Unlike in previous editions, seeker missiles are no longer limited by markerlights to fire.  Each seeker missile fired via markerlight has BS 5 and ignores cover, which is nice, but not really ideal for the Skyray.  Rather than spending six markerlights to fire off the missiles, you can spend three for the same effect (assuming you have pathfinders available) - one to raise the Skyray to BS 5, and two to negate the enemy's cover save.  And if cover's not an issue, the Skyray's networked markerlights can handle the BS 5 on their own.

Firing six seeker missiles into a single target right as the game starts will be crippling against some armies.  Multi-wound units, including monstrous creatures, are fantastic priority targets for a Skyray, as are vehicle squadrons (of armor 12 or less) or particularly expensive enemy units.  Sometimes an army has a unit that has to die right damn now, and pumping S8 AP3 missiles into it is a great way to accomplish this

(A quick note before we go on - yes, there is a rule that states a vehicle can only fire two missiles per turn.  However, this rule specifically applies only to fliers, which the Skyray is clearly not.)
Six seeker missiles aren't a counterspell...
but they're pretty close

The frontloaded firepower of a Skyray is viciously effective if used well - you can burst down an enemy unit when they're not expecting it, or demolish a key target they were expecting to survive for a few turns.  Coupled with these missiles being skyfire, Skyrays are especially devastating against Tyranids with winged hive tyrants, or Daemons with Bloodthirsters or Daemon Princes.  With six shots, you've got a solid chance of killing any monstrous creature (without a 2+ save) immediately.

Using all of your seeker missiles immediately limits the Skyray's uses later in the game, of course, but unless your opponent had a more important target held in reserve, being able to eliminate a 200+ point monstrous creature before it can do any damage to your army, courtesy of your 115 point Skyray, is almost always going to be worthwhile.

This early-strike tactic will leave you more vulnerable to fliers later on in the game, but the Skyray's pair of markerlights are still fantastic as anti-air.  Because they're skyfire, you can use this pair of markerlights to give other units in your army with fusion blasters, missile pods, or railguns BS 2 or 3 and let them put down the flier.

There are a few downsides to this tactic.  You can't move your Skyray on the turn you unload, which means no jink save, and sometimes it's better to wait and use the missiles to deal with units that become a problem later in the game.

With that said, you're going to want to unload your Skyrays on the first turn of most games.  There will be times you'll need to be patient, but being able to devastate a target immediately is a brutal trick to have in your back pocket when you need it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sniper Drones: Nature's Perfect Killer

Sniper drones are goddamn terrifying.

Here we see the
beast in its natural habitat
Just looking at this sleek, bloodthirsty killer is probably enough to make your blood run cold. But maybe that's not enough to convince you; I'll go into more detail.

Sniper drones can lay out a devastating amount of firepower with their BS5, rapid-firing, 48" range sniper rifles - pulse weapons, so they benefit from an ethereal's Storm of Fire invocation.  This means that when your target is within 24", each sniper drone can fire three shots.

Plus, sniper drones have stealth.  And they're T4.  And they can move and fire, then make a 2d6" thrust move when they're done.  All this for just 15 points a model - just 148 for a full unit of nine drones and their accompanying firesight marksman.

If you're not sure how that translates into damage output, consider this: they can drop any greater daemon in one round of fire, with just one unit of drones.  27 shots, 24 hits, 12 wounds, oh look that Great Unclean One is dead.  No problem.

Iron Arm making you T9 this round?  Too bad, these tiny murder machines don't care.  Even against armored targets, 1/3 of your wounding hits are going to rend - that hive tyrant's not gonna last much longer than the greater daemon.

Target acquired
The strength x is ideal against high toughness targets, of course, but sniper drones are solid infantry killers - those 12 wounds, including 4 rends, are going to drop most of a space marine unit with each volley.  Not to mention that this volume of firepower means a lot of precision shots, so you can easily take out heavy weapons, sergeants, or chaos banners before they become a problem.

The only thing they have trouble with is vehicles.  But that's what the rest of your army is for, right?

Keep Your Ethereals Alive

Tau ethereals are fantastic, but they're a big target and easy to kill.

Last edition, it wasn't a problem at all - you just never took ethereals.  The re-rolls on leadership they gave your army simply wasn't that big of a deal, especially considering that a dead ethereal could see half your army panic and run off the table.

In 6th edition, Tau ethereals are probably the most cost-efficient unit in the entire game.  Yeah, their drawbacks are huge - losing an ethereal means an extra VP for your opponent, which can easily cost you the game.  But for 50 points, the 12" bubble of effects they provide for your army is brutally powerful.  6+ FnP for most of your army is incredible - it's a slight chance, yeah, but for the whole army? 50 points is a bargain.  Or you can be stubborn if you need to keep someone locked in combat - on the ethereal's Ld 10, no less.  Being able to run and snap-fire isn't anything special, but it's nice to have.  Mostly, you're taking an ethereal for that sweet, sweet bonus shot with rapid-firing fire warriors.

Unfortunately, all these abilities come in an very fragile package.  Two wounds, no saves, and T3 means that anything that hits your ethereal will kill him.

"I'll just hide him in the back," you might say.  "My twelve-man fire warrior unit will keep him safe."  A small unit of fire warriors isn't going to protect him from a competent opponent, however.

This isn't to say that hiding your ethereal in an infantry unit is necessarily a bad play - in some games, that's going to be your best bet.  But you won't always be able to rely on that tactic to keep such a high-value target alive.

There are three primary ways for an opponent to kill your ethereal:

1. Precision Fire
2. Overwhelming Firepower
3. Assault

Most anything your opponents will throw at you is going to break down into one of these categories, or a combination of the two, so let's go over ways of dealing with each of these possibilities.

1. Precision Fire is a problem because it can pick your ethereal out of the unit protecting him.  This can come from several sources: characters, snipers, focused witchfire psychics, and Tau battlesuits with an advanced targetting system.  

Against all of these, fortunately, you get a 2+ Look Out Sir! roll for being an independant character, so precision fire isn't a major concern unless your opponent is drowning in snipers; it takes 36 shots from a precision weapon to actually land a hit on your ethereal (1/6 chance of rolling a 6 to hit, 1/6 chance of failing your Look Out Sir!).  If someone can fire 72 sniper shots into a tau unit before you can kill the enemy snipers, or if you roll a lot of 1's, this could be a problem, but most armies won't be packing a massive arsenal of snipers.  
On the off-chance that this is a issue, your only real option is to hide your ethereal, either behind terrain that blocks LoS or behind one of your vehicles.  Keeping the ethereal inside a devilfish is also a sound strategy, provided you can keep the transport alive.

2. Overwhelming Firepower is what you really have to watch out for.  Most individual Tau units aren't particularly durable, and if an opponent with a decent shooting phase decided he wants the unit of fire warriors sheltering that ethereal dead, there's a good chance he'll be able to pull it off.  Cover will alleviate this problem to an extent, and going to ground is definitely a nice option, but be careful with this; if that unit hits the deck the ethereal won't be able to leave for a full strength unit in your turn.  And if they do manage to wipe out your unit, then your ethereal is easy prey for anything the opponent wants to throw at him.

Shield drones are the simplest way of sheltering your ethereal from enemy fire.  It's not foolproof, but that extra pair of wounds with a 4++ save increase his survivability enormously.  Better still, if your ethereal needs to move to another unit, the drones come with him.  24 points is a reasonable investment for keeping such a high-value character alive a little longer.  Hiding the ethereal behind cover or a vehicle works here, too - even if the rest of your unit is being butchered, the excess wounds won't lap over onto a target the enemy can't see.

Probably the best way of handling massed fire, though, is to join your ethereal to a riptide.  In order for this to work, your riptide will need to have shielded missile drones accompanying him, ideally two of them.  Characters aren't allowed to join single monstrous creatures, but they can fit into a unit of them - just like Necron players can toss their lords into tomb spider units, you can slide an ethereal in with a riptide and a pair of drones.  Seven wounds at T6 is a lot harder to burn through before reaching your etheral, especially with that 2+/5++ save.  And if you're really worried about heavy weapons fire, the riptide can boost his save to a 3++ (probably).  The only downside to this is that it limits the mobility of your riptide, because you need the ethereal in the center of your army, but giving your ethereal a monstrous creature as a bodyguard is probably worth it.

3. Assault is a concern for all Tau units, of course, but enemy units of bikes, cavalry, or beasts are especially capable of scooting past intervening units and charging into your ethereal's unit, especially if your opponent can shoot up intervening units to clear them a path.  You might abandon a unit of fire warriors or drones to their fate, hoping they die quickly so you can shoot up the unit that just charged into your lines, but abandoning an ethereal to his fate is a poor option.

Of course, your best plan will be to keep the ethereal out of combat altogether; that honor blade might make him S5, but he's still going to die to anything stronger than a couple of guardsmen in melee.  Prioritizing fast assault units will help, as will layering fire warrior and drone units in front of the ethereal's own squad - just be careful of presenting an attractive multi-charge target.  Supporting fire is enormously helpful here, though - with your army clustered around an ethereal, anything trying to assault his unit is going take heavy casualties from overwatch.

Your other option is to keep a counter-charge unit around to deal with whatever hits your lines.  This is tough to do with units inside the Tau codex, unfortunately.  Kroot, even with hounds, aren't capable of standing up to a dedicated assault unit most of the time.  Eldar offer howling banshees, striking scorpions, and harlequins, each of which does decent damage, but in addition to being very fragile, eldar units tend to be horribly over-costed; I'm hoping they'll be more useful allies when their new codex releases.  Space Marines are your other battle brother, giving you assault marines or assault terminators as strong counter-attack options.  Both of these are pricey, but hard-hitting and tough to kill.  Ork shoota boyz are a great cheap way to tarpit enemy attackers, with the added advantage of being incredibly cheap.

Special characters:

The two special character ethereals, Aun'va and Aun'shi, are also potential ways of keeping your opponents from murdering your ethereals.

Aun'va's signature system, the Paradox of Duality, gives him and his honor guard an additional saving throw equal to the AP of the enemy weapon shooting them.  This is nice on paper, and Aun'va's bonus rules are great - he's even more cost-efficient than the standard ethereal, and if you can keep him alive Aun'va is fantastic.  The problem is that it's just him and the honor guard - four wounds of T3 Tau before Aun'va is on his own.  Worse, Aun'va is not an independant character. He only gets a 4+ LoS roll, and when his honor guard die he cannot join another unit - he's stuck being a sweet, juicy target.  You can hide him behind terrain or a vehicle, of course, but these are risky options at best.

Aun'shi is essentially a sturdier version of the standard ethereal.  You're paying an additional 60 points to get him, but he has an extra wound and comes with a 4++ save from his shield generator, which more than compensates for not being able to buy drones.  He's also much more durable in combat due to his WS5 and being able to either rend or re-roll invulnerable saves in a challenge, but you probably shouldn't rely on these - while he might be able to survive for a round or two, he's not going to win that combat on his own.  Aun'shi's best looked at as a way to protect your investment - for those extra points, your ethereal is substantially harder to kill.

You've got a lot of tools at your disposable for keeping your ethereal alive - now you just have to decide which method fits your army (and is most likely to frustrate your opponents).