Considering how often rikimaru challenges me on this subject , and how often people seem confused as to how I actually play my armies, I thought I'd put together a little write-up/HOWTO for playing army lists that I consider "5th edition competitive".
Firstly, let me unequivocally state that this is not the only way to play Tau. But by the same token, I know that this way works. This topic exists because many people can't seem to grasp how it all fits together. For example, I received the following PM just a few days ago.
I've received other PM requests in this vein as well. So perhaps it's time for a full and public airing.I'd really like to get some tips about typical tactics like using kroot&piranhas for blocking&covering. There must be a lot of advices how to use such thing properly.
I'd also like to know how to beat some difficult lists. And for example, a friend of mine is playing a marine list like this:
HQ-Jump Pack Captain with energ weapon
2 razorbacks (with lasercanons) filled with marines
2 squads jump pack marines
1 devastor squad
how would you play against something like this ?
Also he plays a land raider with cc-terminators sometimes and an ironclad cybot
To be considered "competitive", you must be able to handle any of the common army lists and builds that are occupying game tables.
* Mech. Examples: IG, Marines, Eldar. (Full disclosure: About 8 of every 10 armies I face are mechanized. More than 1/2 my opponents are Marines and Chaos Marines, and about 1/3 of my opponents are IG. I might face a non-[C]SM or non-IG army once or twice every 10 games or so. This article is biased by this experience.) Beating a mech army is a two-step process. First, you have to kill the vehicles. Then you have to kill the dismounted infantry. Thus, your Tau army must be deathly efficient at both tasks AND be able to switch them up on a dime. Having units that are capable at both tasks is an absolute must if you face heavy mech like I do. Taking multiple specialized units (e.g., one for anti-armour, one for anti-infantry, etc.) is suboptimal because the enemy has the ability, if they so choose (and they will if they're smart), to cripple your effectiveness at one half of the game plan you need to execute. This is unacceptable. Ergo, your army must be built with full redundancy in mind.
* Horde. Examples, Orks, Tyranids, foot IG. This army has been disappearing as 5th edition has become more established and the new 5e codexes make going mech cheap, easy, and effective. Nevertheless, a horde army can't be taken too lightly, especially by us Tau because even weak units of infantry can just assault us off the table. And Orks, for example, can field a serious hammer unit or two (e.g., Nob Bikerz) that, if not dealt with, will krump you good. Beyond that, you have to be able to torrent down large units of infantry despite their near-ubiquitous cover saves so that you can claim Kill Points or claim/contest objectives. Your army must put out a ferocious amount of firepower. More guns is always better. In fact, more guns is better than having maximum accuracy. Anybody who has faced shooty Orks or a mostly foot IG army knows what I'm talking about. Accuracy is not as important as sheer weight of fire. Tau struggle with this a bit because much of what is available and effective is relatively expensive, but nevertheless it is possible. You just have to cut out the extraneous crap.
* Other. Is there anything worth mentioning here? If you can smash mech and wipe out hordes, you can deal with anything in between (e.g., semi-mech IG, which is about the strongest army in existence right now, or other Tau armies, which are usually semi-mech as well). Just reinforcing that your army has got to be redundantly capable of doing everything, or it's not balanced enough.
* Space Marines. A special note has to be said concerning Space Marines. According to GW's own statistics, about 40% of all armies played are Space Marines of one stripe or another. The percentage goes higher (about 50%) if you also include Chaos Space Marines. "Tuning" your army to combat Marines is rarely going to be a bad choice. Marines are difficult to destroy, whether we're talking about vehicles or infantry, so if your army can conveniently handle Marines you know you're good for about 1/2 of all games you're likely to play. And anything that is good at killing Marines is usually (though, admittedly, not always) good at killing all other infantry as well. Which is to say: there are worse list-building strategies than thinking about your usual opponent being MEQ.
Army List Core
So, based on the objectives we have to accomplish, here are the units that I feel pass muster. (I assume normal 40K games of between 1500 and 2000 pts. Something like 'Ard Boyz with its 2500 pts limit will look different, as will much smaller games played at less than 1500 pts.)
* HQ: One and only one fireknife crisis suit commander (plasma rifle, missile pod, targeting array, hard-wired multi-tracker). Trust me, you don't need more than one. You can get 1.5 fireknife Elite crisis suits -- or nearly all of 1 fireknife + 1 deathrain (twin-linked missile pod, flamer) crisis suit for the cost of an additional commander. See what I said earlier about "more guns". And don't bother with bodyguards, either. Too pricey. If you want protection for your commander, give him a bonding knife and stick him with a unit of Elites.
* Elite: 3 Teams of crisis suits, 2-3 models in each team. At least two such teams should be fireknives (PR, MP, MT). If you really feel that you need a few upgrades elswhere in the list, or you want the points to field an additional crisis suit or two, than making one team a team of deathrains (TL MP, flamer) can be OK. But fireknives are still strongly recommended. These units are the most important units in the army. These are your anti-mech units. They are also your anti-infantry units. They have a high rate of fire no matter what they're shooting at, and the weaponry they employ is the envy of every other 40K army. Even IG has a hard time fielding as many autocannons and plasma guns as we are capable of, and that's saying something.
Stealths aren't employed because they are only anti-infantry units. Without any real ability to tackle armour, they are out. (No, getting two BS 3 melta guns for 190 pts does not count.)
* Troops: 6 Fire Warriors and that's it. We're taking them only because we have to, not because they're really any good. Str 5 weaponry is nice, but we have lots of Str 5 in the army as it is. We also have better units for tackling infantry than fire warriors. These guys are objective holders and nothing else, so don't waste any more points on them than you have to. They're not resilient enough nor accurate enough nor strong enough to do anything else worthwhile for us.
You also need 2 units of Kroot with Hounds. 10 Kroot and 5 Hounds is only 100 pts and well worth the cost. (If you can spare points for more Hounds, good!) Kroot are necessary because while your crisis suits sit back and shoot, your Kroot are positioned to intercept any units that want to get to our suits. Infiltrate -- never outflank -- into position to put early pressure on and keep your enemy focused right in front of him rather than farther away at you. You should be doing so much damage from downtown that anything that wants to get close to you can be finished off by your Kroot units.
And that is all the Troops you will ever need. It may look thin, but the reason you don't need them is simple. You are killier than your opponent. You are also surprisingly aggressive. Your opponent won't be given the choice to shoot at your Troops. If he does, you have the firepower and the mobility to arrange that firepower such that it will cost him the game to risk doing so. This army is designed to feed your opponent the only targets he should be shooting at, because if he ignores them your forward elements are capable of making him pay directly. Not to mention all the firepower arrayed behind those forward elements in support of it.
If your opponent isn't more worried about your piranhas, your crisis suits, and any Kroot you have infiltrated "just so", on purpose, then you're playing the army wrong. Don't be shy, be aggressive! Be threatening! Make it clear to him just how many big guns (autocannons, plasma guns, melta guns, railguns) that you have pointed at him. Not to mention those nasty markerlights that you can use to boost your effectiveness in any way you see fit from turn to turn. Blow the living crap out of him every turn. Keep him on his back foot.
Kill points games are a breeze. And never forget that you only ever need one more objective than your opponent to win any objectives game. Your fire warriors should never ever be a serious target because you're too busy shooting the living crap out of your opponent to make them a target. (Keep your fire warriors in reserve if you're really worried about them.) Meanwhile, you can blow units off objectives and/or contest the others. You've got enough guns and enough units to do both.
One final note about objectives: Don't forget that you get to place half of them yourself. This is tactics as well. Place your objectives to your advantage, knowing that you are intending to claim them late with your fire warriors. Remember, you only have to win 1-0.
* Fast Attack: Pathfinders. Markerlights are necessary to make this army function at peak efficiency, and pathfinders are the most cost-efficient source of them. They also provide a devilfish that your fire warriors can borrow to stay nice and safe inside while they claim an objective for you. Mostly, you should be using markerlights to remove cover saves (from vehicles, from infantry), but if you don't need to remove cover, boosting the BS of your suits and hammerheads is always going to be welcome. Don't worry too much about losing your pathfinders. If your opponent wants to target them, let him. You still have torrent-of-fire to win the day for you. Remember, MORE GUNS IS BETTER! So long as you have More Guns, you'll be fine. All shots not taken at your More Guns is A Good Thing, and something to be encouraged!
The other two FA slots should always be filled with piranhas (fusion blaster, targeting array, disruption pods). For smaller points, take 1 piranha in each FA slot. For larger games, seriously consider expanding one or both units by 1 piranha. As with Kroot, these units are harassment units. Shove them directly in your opponent's grill and force him to deal with them. As somebody else has said:
And:[T]hey are fast threats that will soak up a surprising amount of enemy anti-vehicle firepower and are large enough models to severely litter the battlefield and put obstacles in the enemy's way.
Essentially, if you want your opponent to move left, but he has the option to go right, swing your Piranhas over to his right, maybe try to kill a vehicle or two, but aim to let your Piranha wreckage fill a gap with a now-dangerous-terrain obstacle. Create a wall. Your opponent's movement options are now limited, he may be down a vehicle or two, and you have railguns, so you have enough anti-tank anyway.
Finally, so much has been written about Piranhas in this forum that I can't even begin to point out links. Use the searchy to good effect.I don't even use my piranhas for tank popping. I use them for crowd control - move them to block avenues of attack, force your opponent to waste movement going where you want them to. Dump drones out and make your opponent waste shots on them instead of something valuable. Contest objectives the same way. These are the fastest moving units you can get so they're also your only chance for turn 5 objective grabs.
At first I was adamantly against piranhas but since I've started using them I've seen a lot of good use from them and I don't think any of that use was a vehicle kill.
* Heavy Support: Take 1-2 Broadside teams. Any slots that aren't taken with Broadsides should be railheads. Whatever you do, fill all three slots. You take broadsides because they are the deadliest anti-mech (and anti-MC) unit available to us, and mech is the most dangerous army for us to face. We're not nearly as fast as our sleek vehicles look. Most mech opponents are actually faster because they're not constrained by having to shoot while moving. Most of their mech is relatively lightly armoured and designed to drop deadly infantry payloads at our doorstep, so they just drive straight at us full tilt. Broadsides will stop 'em dead in their tracks. And railheads can help out with that, too, but they're equally good at splatting infantry with submunition shots, too, which is why it's always a good idea to have at least one hammerhead around.
This is the key thing about broadsides. Their initial targets should usually not be the heaviest mainline battle tanks your opponent is fielding (e.g., land raiders, leman russes, vindicators). No, it should be Rhinos, Razorbacks, Chimeras, Wave Serpents, etc. Railguns are nearly guaranteed to stop lighter armour in their tracks, and that's what you should do. Always take the least risky shots and work your way up the ladder. Let your piranhas stall the heavy armour for a turn or two while you dismount your opponent with your railguns. Once he's dismounted, you can kill the exposed Troops at your leisure and can safely move onto the heavier armour when it's convenient for you (assuming that the heavy armour is even a legitimate threat to you). With most of his infantry stranded, your opponent will be put on the defensive and won't be able to be as aggressive with his remaining heavy armour.
Dismount the opponent, and you have seized the initiative. That's what railguns are for.
So How Do You Play It?
Pictures are more effective than any essay I could write. I've pointed these out on this forum before, but I really do think they're truly illuminating for people trying to learn how to make armies like mine work.
* Chaos vs Tau
* Tau vs Daemons
The Chaos batrep shows how to properly use piranhas. The Daemons batrep demonstrates how you create deep-strike buffers with Kroot. Both of them show how piranhas and Kroot keep the enemy at bay. The Daemons batrep is great because you get to see how Kroot can still be useful in assault, even against the game's best assault army, provided you have the firepower and positioning to back them up.
And now, finally, I want to return to the PM I quoted way at the beginning. How to tackle the example "tough" Marine army builds the person mentioned to me.
The Marines army with the vindicators and jump packers is actually a cakewalk for a properly built Tau army to defeat. The first thing you must do is prioritize your targets. IMHO, the vindicators are the most deadly, followed by the jump packers, followed by the razorbacks. The devastators and scouts hardly count for anything and can be safely ignored. Lascannons are not very scary anti-armour weapons. Yes, they can and will occasionally destroy some of your vehicles, but to penetrate, get past your 4+ cover save (huzzah for disruption pods and Flat Out moves) AND still roll a 5 or 6 on the damage table requires a lot of luck. More than you need to worry about. Ordnance templates and fast units that can mess up your suits are way more dangerous and need to be dealt with immediately.
Thing is, this army doesn't actually have very many true threats to you. Just the vindis and the jump packers. Makes it easy to figure out what to do. Take care of them and you've won the game. I would start by shoving the piranhas directly in the vindis' grills. I mean like right up to 1" away from them if you can manage it, but you must ensure that your AV 11 front is all that any enemy weaponry can see (without exposing them to the rest of your army, at least). Make your opponent waste anti-armour on your piranhas and not your other stuff. Stop the vindis dead in their tracks for at least one turn.
Your Kroot units are your jump-pack counter-assault. Infiltrate to anticipate where they will jump to since you know you're going to stop the vindis. I imagine the player will hide his jumpers behind the vindis, so account for that with your deployment.
Then railgun the razorbacks. Yes, the razorbacks, not the vindis. Ensure their destruction to expose the embarked Marines in the open AND to eliminate the twin-linked lascannons. (And if your opponent decided to hide jumpers behind the razorbacks instead, huzzah!) That leaves only the vindis with any anti-armour weaponry beyond the devs, which you are going to studiously ignore. And with piranhas in the vindis' grills, guess what your opponent will be forced to target with those awesome machines? (You can chuckle evilly about now. The TLLCs were never really a big threat, but by wiping them out, you've both reduced the mobility of your opponent AND removed one of that army's few anti-armour options. Two birds with one stone.)
Ideally you'll have eliminated the razorbacks and your crisis suits are free to shoot targets of opportunity. If you can get side shots on vindis, that's worth considering, but otherwise, nail as many jumpers as you can. Remember, they're one of the most worrying things about that army for us.
Next turn, if you have any piranhas left alive, slag vindicators with them while continuing to block. Railgun the vindis otherwise. And everything else in the army shoots at jump packers. Try and double-assault a unit of jumpers with all your Kroot to wipe it out, leaving just one unit of jumpers left for you to clean up next round, and maybe, if you were unlucky, a vindicator still.
Just two of your turns, and you should be in clear command of the game going forward, with your losses being nothing more than a few Kroot models and possibly both Piranhas.
As for dual raiders and drop-podding dreads: no prob. Piranhas into the raiders' faces and Kroot to create a deep-strike buffer zone. Heck, burst cannon fire into the rear armour of a dread can take care of it, but you'll have plenty more than that after it gets nowhere fast against your Kroot. (Oh noes! Your ironclad ate my Kroot! Again, laughing evilly about now is in order.)
And if you're facing an all drop-pod army, you have two choices. One is to deploy as described and shown before, with a deep-strike defense castle. Or you can do like any other army could do and just stay off the table. Ideally, take the 2nd turn, too, so your opponent has to waste two of his turns before you show up. You'll get 1/2 of your army on in turn 2, so just show up and roll up a flank like that. Any other army can do it this way and we can, too.