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Sunday, June 27, 2010

How To: Hybrid Tau applied


Well this has been stewing for a long time, just begging to be formulated into words and posted for people to read (wow anti-climatic much). Across the inter-webs there have been quite a few posts about Tau. You’ve got your usual “lol tau sukz” posts or “orkz beat da tau gribbunz gdz” or however else one thinks it is appropriate to communicate online. But there have been rays of hope in a few people posting Tau are good in their singular build and actual interest piqued when a good list is posted (which of course ensues with morons posting the above quotes...again). This list generally comes with the basic of tactics (block & shoot) with the adage that Tau are really good when used correctly, etc., etc. You can take a peek at three posts like this on Relic, H-O and Warseer (all linked to specific threads). Now, my Armies in 5th articles covered extensively how Tau operate in 5th edition through codex choices, why they are important and why others are not but let’s see if we can condense this for the lazy and blind into a single post about tactics. This article will not cover unit choices; I’m going to assume you understand them and why this list is being used. If note I recommend the Armies in 5th articles on Tau. Note: this is quite a long post (near 2000 words).

Whilst there are multiple variations of the 2k Tau Hybrid list, we’ll be using Stelek’s version for simplicity’s sake (and that’s the one I typed out in all of the posts). Here is a quick breakdown of what each unit’s roles are in this list (* indicates secondary role):
  • Anti-tank: Broadsides, Crisis Suits*, Hammerheads*, Piranhas *
  • Anti-infantry: Crisis Suits, Hammerheads, Kroot*, Devilfish, FW*
  • Blocking: Piranhas (inc. Drones), Kroot, Devilfish*
  • Scoring: FW, Kroot*
  • Support: Pathfinders
Roughly 1/3-1/4 of your army is actively engaged in protecting your army from your opponent’s. This. Is. Important. As everyone knows, Tau suck in combat (in case you don’t, now you do) and you need to minimise the potential of combat for as long as possible. You do this by blocking. Armies with barely any shooting essentially lose to this tactic because Piranhas can stop such a wide portion of their army. Enjoy hitting them on 6’s. When you versus a balanced assault list you back up these Piranhas with their Drones and multiple Kroot layers. This forces your opponent to deal with these units one at a time and if you set them up correctly, the opponent’s army takes a turn to deal with each defensive layer, not because they are tough to kill but because you’re only allowing them access to a single squad at a time. This gives you a minimum of three if not four or more turns of protection from the majority of lists and units (read: ground based foot & mech lists). Ya even the almighty Orks.
This can’t really be taught. I can show you diagrams with squiggly lines or bring out my models or link you to batreps (you can find them linked here on YTTH) but nothing works better than practicing. Set up one of your other armies opposite the Tau (or grab a friend and their army) and attempt to block them in a way that it takes multiple turns for your other army to deal with them (particularly in midfield) and reach your lines. You want your blocking units to essentially form a sacrificial wall in front of the rest of your army for the sole purpose of allowing the rest of your army to remain mobile, shoot and shoot some more.

What about lists which are a lot harder to block like skimmer or jump based lists? Well, get better at blocking for one (so helpful I know); it’s harder to do since you can’t just run up to units which “jump” terrain, park in their faces and laugh since they’ll just go over you but it can be done if you eyeball distances well and know where they want to go. Designate these areas where you DON’T want them to go and park your units there. This allows you to force opponents to not land in specific areas (area denial) or land in specific areas (i.e. your Dragon serpent can park itself next to me but it has to move fast to do so SURROUND =D). This isn’t limiting their movement as such but rather their mobility. And yes, even infantry units can do this to tanks. Whilst they may have to tank shock, if you set up correctly and don’t run away, they are either out of position or your infantry ends up wrapping around the tank which can limit their choices in what to do.

So we’ve engaged quite a bit of our available forces to protecting the rest of our army. The obvious reason is because Tau are just that bad in close combat but the reason a lot of people don’t get is because Tau put out an amazing amount of firepower. Yes, 20+ S7, 10+ RF S6, 4-5 S10 AP1, 2 S6 5” blasts, 20 RF S4, 4+ S8 AP1 meltaguns & 27-31+ S5 shots is an amazing amount of firepower. That’s not even factoring in markerlight support or AP. Who cares about AP when you can cause that many wounds? Don’t worry, Tau will make you care about AP when they strip the cover off the vaunted MEQ statline and plaster a squad. The drawback? This firepower is concentrated on specific units (Crisis suits) and if they fall, the Tau army has a much tougher game ahead of them. Luckily for Tau, they can put out the above shooting whilst having enough points to block your enemy which keeps your opponent further away from your shooting units. Crisis suits can also JSJ which means they can hide behind their tanks to force limited arcs of LoS onto your opponent or completely block it. Add in all Tau tanks get a 5pt 4+ cover save...well suddenly utilising 1/3-1/4 of your army as a sacrifice seems like a good idea because that serious amount of firepower gets to plug away for longer.
Putting this all together, how do Tau play on the tabletop? We know the basic roles of each unit and where they should be relative to each other and the why of each unit (including the why nots) but how does this concept work together against other armies? Are we simply standing and shooting or shooting whatever comes closest? Let’s take a look at this now. There are two things (well 3, but combat denial is built into the army list) Tau don’t like:
  1.  S8+ weapons (especially blasts) which can access their Crisis suits
  2.  Mech (as in tanks, especially close cased tanks rather than piddly little Ork Trukks)
There’s no ‘cure’ to S8 weapons (other than shooting them before they shoot you) but hiding your Crisis suits behind tanks is at the least giving you a cover save and is quite likely to block LoS. S8+ blasts though can be ‘targeted’ on the protecting tank and still hit the suits. When playing against armies with a lot of weapons like this (i.e. IG), ensure your Crisis suits get cover if they have AP3 or better and otherwise spread them out. Nothing breaks Tau like a Manticore or two dropping multiple S10 pie plates on squads of Crisis suits. Otherwise this is forcing your opponent’s high strength shots into the vehicles or Broadsides. Broadsides should be sitting in cover, have a 2+ save and shield drones so can generally take it whilst the vehicles...well their vehicles in 5th edition with good AV values and 4+ cover, so they’re happy dories as well (Tau tanks falter when meltaguns get within range, another benefit of the blocking aspect of a Tau army). Tau can actively do something against mech though...

Whilst Tau is generally going to de-mech you quickly, they’d much rather face a slower or less protected army than one all bundled up nicely in cozy little plastic tanks. Why? Because a fast or mech’d army is going to get across the table quicker, this means your protective layers are under threat earlier and faster (and potentially flat footed which is game ending). If your shooting fails (it can happen), Tau can be in for a rough ride. Furthermore, if any mech survives past the Piranha layer, they can begin tank shocking the Drones & Kroot. Suddenly those points don’t seem very well spent. It is therefore important to de-mech your opponents quickly and efficiently. What this means is stopping as many tanks as possible which are coming at you. Remember, Tau’s weakness is close combat, even Tactical Marines would rather be in combat with you than being pewpew’d. Applying target priority principles, take your biggest gun and shove it into the weakest tank (i.e. Railgun into Rhino/Chimera/etc); if it has a gun, even better as you’re also potentially stopping incoming firepower. This means heavy assault transports like Battlewagons (unless you get side shots [sorry, did I say unless?]) or Land Raiders are being blocked by Piranhas if they have supporting mobile tanks (read: Trukks & Rhinos, etc.) so your bigger guns can go for easier targets. Whilst it’s great to knock out those units on T1, if there are easier targets coming at you it’s better to get the “guarantee” rather than the less reliable all or nothing gamble.

Whilst stopping your opponent’s advancing mech means your opponent’s backline can still shoot, you’ve stranded your opponent in midfield or their backfield meaning they’re essentially stuck and the game is half over. If your opponent cannot muster the firepower to drop Crisis suits or break your defensive layers...well it basically is over. Using the JSJ and hiding principles above makes this difficult and AV12/13 w/cover is hard to remove as well. Once your opponent is stranded in midfield, your Crisis and Railheads can go to work in taking out infantry whilst your Broadsides stem dangerous incoming firepower (Piranhas can assist with this once your opponent becomes de-mech’d if necessary). Use your Markerlights on a Crisis suit squad (w/Commander) once your opponent has been de-mech’d. This will give you 4-8 S6 AP2 and 8 S7 AP4 shots @ BS5 and no cover which is essentially 8 MEQ kills or 12 GEQ.

What about other more static lists like IG, opposing Tau, DE or Eldar, etc.? These lists are less concerned about crossing midfield (though like all 5th edition armies need to be able to control it) and it may therefore seem like the Tau army concept falls apart as you have built-in blocking within the list. Luckily, these units can still play a pivotal roll against these lists through area denial, bubble-wrap, objective camping, fast meltaguns, etc. However, how do you deal with the improved firepower coming downfield? Whilst 4-5 railguns are very likely to cause 2-3 significant results on enemy tanks, the rest of your army (i.e. Crisis suits) are less effective due to range limitations. Enter the huge argument between TL-MP and MP/PR suits which I won’t go into detail here, but let’s look at it briefly.

In this scenario, TL-MP suits are much better because you are able to more reliably shut down armor at range but you’ve lost a lot of anti-infantry firepower (10-20 S6 AP2 shots is nothing to be sneered at, especially when you can markerlight them) which makes the whole tactic of keeping your enemy in midfield...well not as effective. The point of keeping them away is to bash them with lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of shots. TL-MP doesn’t do this. Whilst they certainly help out in long-ranged warfare, the Tau army is still quite capable of holding its own (20+ S7, 4 fast meltaguns, 4-5+ S10 AP1, markerlights, etc.) with your basic PR/MP suits.

Here it also comes down to denying midfield/objectives (i.e. meltavets in Chimeras) whilst also maximising the reduction in incoming firepower. This again means targeting the weakest link with the biggest gun but mitigated by potential output (i.e. minimising the amount of incoming firepower). Remember also your Crisis suits are taking a secondary role here and are much more useful as suppression fire rather than direct anti-tank. This is also where markerlights can become very important. Whilst getting AP2 shots through without cover is great, Tau have a lot of torrent and can bash through good saves through sheer number of wounds. This can be harder with anti-tank as there is less anti-tank to go around. Tau therefore have two distinct advantage against many ranged lists. Firstly they can get perma-cover in long-ranged warfare for 5pts. This means they are capable of moving into the open and creating new firelanes (which also protects their suits from dangerous tests) which combined with the second benefit of markerlights, can create a cover imbalance where the Tau army has cover but the opponent’s does not in key locations.

With this article I attempted to build off of what the Articles in 5th laid down by applying the concept of the 5th edition Tau Hybrid list to in-game mechanics. I hope reading this players who think Tau are bad or haven’t used Tau effectively can improve their gameplay and understanding of the 40k environment.

29 pinkments:

Smurfy said...

And is hence why I am playing Tau @1500 pts on VASSAL these days, to prove those people who think Tau suck wrong.

Now, I just needa find a way to crack them myself as the Blood Rodeo.

Brother Loring said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brother Loring said...

*Apparently I fail at making sense...

I think this is a great article and probably agree with every statement. It's incredible the number of people I see playing Tau badly. Good positioning (inc. bubblewrap and blocking) and target prioritisation and they're a really nasty force. Play them like a fool and they'll bite you back.

I hope you don't mind me not reading the links... It's a struggle to hold all of the useful stuff, I don't want to take up space with stupid!

Ishamael said...

Kirby, I got to apply every one of these tactics yesterday in an 1850 competition. It works wonders, and you will start to be afraid of multiple Crisis teams designating which of your units dies this turn.

Note: the whole 6 Fire Warriors in my army did 2 wounds on a Tervigon yesterday, and tied combat with it. On the last turn of the game. In close combat.

Katie Drake said...

Excellent article, Kirbs.

Kirby said...

@Smurfy; my first trial game with Blood Rodeo I smacked this Tau list around (against myself) but I screwed up the kroot wrap so...

@Loring; it's unacceptable. Read them!

@Ishamael; spread the Tau lovin!

@Katie; cheers.

Smurfy said...

Yeah kirbs...your Rodeo has to take a chance for at least 2 turns trying to weather the Tau storm. ;) Same as every army. You have no way to get past the Kroot in proper bubble mode, at least till you assault them/shoot em a bit.

Kirby said...

aye, Tau should be able to drop the two larger biker squads by the time anything actually happens but the Rodeo has no way to threaten Crisis suits early on.

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