Monday, August 17, 2015

Tau Empire Sniper Drone and Marker Drone units

I am enamored of these.

For a long time now I and many players used the Tau Pathfinders to provide Marker light support.  They were the clear choice because fire Warriors and various other platforms, while fine as far as it goes, didn't allow you to mass them with great accuracy and frankly, firing your fire Warriors at the front of a Chimera just to mark it for a unit of Crisis suits to take it out was probably not a real good use of your Fire Warriors.

When the new codex came out there were a few things a MAJORITY of the Tau Empire players seemed to miss, or they simply didn't care:  Pathfinders became extremely good assassins.  This little factoid went so completely unnoticed that even now many moons since the Tau empire codex dropped, Tau Empire players are STILL showing up with Pathfinders as marker light caddies instead of using them as the offensive weapons they are!

Let me review the reasons why this no longer makes any sense:

Drones Have a 4+ Armor and are Tough 4, compared to Pathfinders who are 5+ armor and Toughness 3.  This creates a very significant gulf between the two, right out of the gate.

The Pathfinders are 11 points each, but the Drones when attached to something are 12 points each (14 if taken in a Drone Swarm Fast Attack slot).  So for only 1-3 points more per model, you get +1 Armor, +1 toughness, the RELENTLESS rule the Jetpack assault move!

What that means is if you take a Drone swarm, you get Marker lights that are tougher in every way, that can actually MOVE with their Marker lights to a better and less exposed position and can back away after firing to mitigate the number of return shots they might face!  This is so worth it.

But wait a moment there Unorthodoxy, says the naysayer.  You're failing to mention the Ballistic skill 2 on those Drones!

The naysayer isn't wrong on that point unless you take in the whole picture (and as all Tau Empire Generals know, and Tau Empire opponents learn to their detriment) the Tau Empire must always be looked at as a whole.

In the case of normal Drones a simple 8 point upgrade on the Tau Commander grants them his Ballistic skill!  This is twice as effective when you consider the Ballistic skill of a Tau Commander who you are as likely as not to take in every army.  This means that if you attach a Drone Swarm to the Commander, you now have Ballistic Skill 5 Marker lights!  this further distances the Marker Drones from their more pedestrian cousins the Pathfinders.  Want to add insult to injury?  don't arm your commander, put Irridium armor on him, and use the upgrade that allows you to re-roll all misses as long as he doesn't fire...which he never will.  He can soak wounds like crazy to the unit which further illustrates the increased longevity of this key function of your army.

Every Tau army needs at least two separate sources of Marker lights to reach their maximum lethality and having ones like these is quite clever.  72 points for six pathfinders that hit 3 times per turn when they aren't hurt compared to  5 Marker Drones for 70 points that hit 4.17 times per turn and are so much more mobile and survivable?  Win.

How does the Marker Drones being better lead up to Sniper Drones being awesome?

Take a look at the Sniper Drone team!  Firesight Marksman ALL come with the Drone Controllers and a Ballistic Skill of 5!  You can take three of them.  Therefore you can take three Firesight Marksman along with the Sniper Drones and make this one of your Marker light sources. What do you get?  13 point Marker lights that hit 2.5 times per turn between the three of them without the need for being with a Commander!  Economical as all get out.  Adding in to this is the fact that unlike Fire Warriors and some other sources of Marker lights in the army, the accompanying members or cost of the unit can take on any kind of unit whatsoever.  Sniper Drones are relentless and can shoot Monstrous Creatures, vehicles or infantry.  Using the units shooting is never wasted in order to get the 2.5 hits from the Marker lights.

Another underrated fact about Sniper Drones is that they come with a 48" RAPID FIRE Sniper Rifle.  So when they are close enough to an Ethereal and his Elemental ability, they are firing THREE times per drone at 24".  That is fantastic!  A Sniper Drone unit can rain 27 AP 5 Sniper shots per round at 24" at Ballistic skill 5 which means four rends and seven normal saves against Monstrous Creatures, and obviously that means vehicles can be rended as well. Oh and by the way 2.5 Marker light hits per turn (usually 3).

What makes these guy even better is that you can bury the Firesight Marksmen behind the Sniper Drones to protect them and maintain their threat, and the entire unit has stealth making them even MORE doughty than Tau Pathfinders ever thought of being.  Want an added ounce of defense?  If you have Aun'Va you can fire them, and when the enemy says "holy crap, need to silence THOSE" and starts shooting them back, you can go to ground.  Because of the built in Warlord Trait of Aun'Va you can go to ground in a ruin for a whopping 2+ cover save and a 6+ Feel No Pain; and then on the following round, you can use Aun'Va to pop the Sniper Drone Team (and indeed everyone in the army)  right up again and fire freely.  This trick is usable once per game but you can pretty well bet you're not going to lose that unit in the early going and the Marker light fire can continue!

So the optimal build is to take an Ethereal (I highly recommend Aun'Va), take a Commander that has the Drone Controller, 8-12 Marker Drones and of course the Sniper Drone unit itself with three Firesight Marksman in it.

This gives you two incredibly valuable and hard to kill Marker light units.  The Marker lights zoom in on their target and the rest of the army eliminates the target...with prejudice.

Links to a few other Tau Empire articles:

Kroot Riders

Tau ATS System

Tau V Eldar Battle report