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I realize the importance of bringing marker lights to the table. They bring a few variable tricks to make it a bad day for the opposing side. But I wonder do I really need Pathfinders? I'm gathering my first set of Tau up to the 1000 point cut off. (Don't want to overindulge until I figure out what works for me) As of now I want two Devilfish transporting Fire Warriors then fill up the rest of the list with suits and drones. Can't I get by with spreading the marker light love to stealth suits and other individual units?
Yes, you could indeed. You don't mention how many Fire Warriors your squad contains, but assuming that they are full teams of 12, you are already talking roughly 450pts: 12-man Fire Warrior team with 'Ui and BK x2 plus 2 DFs with DP. Add in the obligatory Commander as a Shas'el Fireknife+ (PR/MP/TA/HWMT) for a further 97pts and you're looking at about 470pts left to play with.
Taking a minimum Pathfinder unit with Shas'ui will set you back around 150pts depending on upgrades. Instead of that, you could invest in a Sky Ray and a Hammerhead. The Ray will get you two Networked Markerlights on an AV13 chassis which will top out around 150-160pts when upgrades are applied, and the Hammerhead would set you back about 175pts, again depending on upgrades.
You would still have about 140pts to play with, and this could be used to get a 3-man Stealth Marker Team with Team Leader, Markerlight, Hard-wired Target Lock and Hard-wired Drone Controller with a single Marker Drone. Cost for the unit is 140pts.
"Tau Commandment #226: Participants who use Velocity Trackers in the Tau Clay Pigeon Tournament will be disqualified"
I run two full pathfinder squads in pretty much every army I run. These are the reasons why. An 8 man team gives 8 marker light shots. with our BS that means you usually get 4 ML hits on two different targets. Stripping cover saves alone is worth it especially against vehicles. Not to mention making a full firewarrrior squad at double tap range have a bs 5 is one of the most beautiful things you will ever witness.
You mentioned running at least two fire warrior squads in devilfish. The pathfinders compulsory devilfish choice can easily be used to fill your transport needs sibnce dedicated transports can now be used with other units. These transports are even better then the normal ones that come with a firewarrior squad just for their ability to reroll deep strikes. I almost always will deep strike with one crisis suit (deathrain is what I usually run) if the other player is running tanks. Nice to get those back armour shots.
I like upgrading my pathfinder units to include a shasui. I usually add the bonding knife and target lock. Target lock is great if you really do need to designate another target even if it is only 50% chance to hit. I like to also add bonding knife, black sun filter and a drone controller with two gun drones. Black sun filter gives you a better chance to get a hit with your shasui's in night fighting. Usually on tanks so you can use the ML to allow your rails to shoot at them. Gun drones mostly to allow some ablative armor before you have to take your pathfinders off as casualties. Sometimes, if I have the 10 extra points I will add multi tracking to both shasui's. Never underestimate being able to split your fire on your pathfinders. 7 markerlight shots on one unit and a single markerlight shot and 3 pulse carbine shots on an approaching close combat unit you may just need to try to pin.
However, if you add markerlights to your firewarrior squad, I always upgrade to target lock (no point in markerlighting the unit your squad will be shooting as they can't benefit from that markerlight) and multi-tracking. Multi tracking will allow you to actually use the marker light and shoot your pulse rifle. For 5 points, it is well worth it especially since you have already spent 35 or 40 points (if you have added bonding knife) to a single figure just for a markerlight shot. Might as well add 5 more so he can get a single shot as well.
The point cost for a firewarrior shasui to have a markerlight is a minimum of 30. This gives one model a 50% chance to hit. If you could have just 8 of these shasui's with markerlights would run you 320 points. A pathfinder squad at base with 8 pathfinders 176. In my opinion, the pathfinder squad is a much better price. Even with the vehicle upgrades and shasui upgrades I like to suit them out with, the pathfinder squad is the better bang for the buck.
I have not really used the Skyray a lot. I like the fact that it is a mobile markerlight platform that can actually have a bs 4 on your markerlight shots. I have had good success with my 2 pathfinder squad set up and really do not wish to lose the heavy support slot and points for that vehicle. I think it could be used well and very effectively. Especially against a novice player that may see the Skyray as a serious threat.