Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Optimized Stealth Cadre in the Field

I went to an ITC Grand Tournament this weekend and decided to use that as an excuse to get my third Ghostkeel painted, which has been sitting around for a year.  I was so excited to get those things originally and yet I somehow just never actually got around to playing the third one.

I would like to hi-lite this Formation.  This formation isn't a secret, and it has gotten a lot of play online.  It was the subject of some controversy in the ITC which fortunately got resolved.  I am here to report as a player who attends a lot of tournaments, that I have never seen it fielded.  Not one time.  Not by anyone.  We know it obviously must be used somewhere but given the incredibly competitive "meta" (boy do I despise that word) I play in, I would have thought that if the Formation were any good, it would have seen a lot of play.  It hasn't.

The strength of the Formation is its Stealthsuits.  Stealthsuits have been maligned for so long, that I wonder aloud if it is just the old bias that causes people not to make use of it.  The Stealthsuits become absolutely fantastic at killing vehicles without the need for a Meltagun in the unit.  Because they need no Meltagun to kill a vehicle, it increases their already intrinsically good anti-personnel firepower be keeping their Burst Cannons.  For those who may not know, 6 stealthsuits pump out 24 STR 5 AP 5 shots.  Nicely complimenting this is that when the Wall of Mirrors Formation benefit is active, they get +1 Ballistic Skill without the need for a Markerlights (or just to augment the Markerlights they do have).  Perhaps as importantly, the Wall of Mirrors Formation benefit grants the Ignore Cover rule when activated.  Finally it causes them to strike the rear armor of vehicles which is why they don't need the Meltagun anymore.

All of this happens only when they are within 6" of the Ghostkeel, so it drastically changes the normal way you'd use Stealthsuits which is as forward and independent operators working as harassment on the flanks or what not.  In the Optimized Stealth Cadre, they become a mainline unit.  They and the Ghostkeels  act like a walking hedgehog that moves forward and backwards to stay just at maximum range to the enemy, then fading back all the while firing with abandon.

The Formation on its own is good, but when you look at how you can outfit the component parts of it, you start to see more value.  The Stealthsuits are able to use the Ghostkeels or terrain as cover, which in turn means they are essentially running around with 2+ cover saves most of the game.  Anything in the game that can negate AP plus grants a 2+ save is already brilliant.  The Stealth and Shrouded that Stealthsuits get natively makes them much harder to remove than their T3 would suggest.  In addition, if someone has Ignores Cover as a rule, the Stealthsuit is natively a 3+ armor.  Only the most powerful weapons with Ignores Cover are going to take away our opportunity to survive incoming fire.  Even when the enemies are capable of all of it, as I will explain below, the enemy may not STAY capable of it for long.

The Ghostkeels come with Drones, which when alive are allowing the Ghostkeels Shrouding, and they already have stealth natively.  The Drones double both bonuses when the unit is over 12" away from an enemy.  Like the Stealthsuits they therefore also walk around the board with a 2+ cover save in the open most of the time.  They are also T5, so this adds to their fortitude a great deal.  The one threat to them would be STR 10 ranged weapons which can double them out if they fail a save.  To protect against this possibility somewhat, they come with a one use only Holophoton Copuntermeasure (per Ghostkeel) which is the equivalent of an F15 throwing chaff when enemy missiles lock onto them.  The in-game effect is that against that one shooting attack, they force the enemy unit to snap fire.  Ergo, once per game they could stop a Manticore or something similar from hitting their unit.  Each Ghostkeel suit has this and so in theory you could negate up to three units from firing for one round in total so choose wisely when you decide to use it.  I have chosen unwisely before.  You have to trust the shadows somewhat if you play this type of Formation.

There is further reason to rejoice with this unit.  The unit has the FireTeam rule.  When a Tau unit has three vehicles or monstrous creatures in one unit, they get +1 Ballistic Skill.  This dovetails with the Wall of Mirrors nicely, allowing the unit to fire at BS 5 as long as the Wall of Mirrors.  This makes them effectively independent of the need for Markerlights (though again, the Stealthsuits could use the help sometimes, so don't get too cocky and leave the Markerlights at home, but it is true you will need less of them to power this Formation).

So what I did with it is I took all three Ghostkeels in the unit and their attendant 6 Stealth Drones.  I gave one of them a Velocity Tracker, all of them Early Warning Override.  I also added the TL Fusion Blaster to each one.  As far as main armaments go, I added the Ion Raker to two of therm and the Fusion Collider to one of them.

For the Stealthsuits, which you are required to take two units of in this Formation, I maxed them out at 6 each and added my favorite Stealthsuit upgrade, the Advanced Targeting System (ATS) which makes all of the shots precision shots.  This is a critical element of their defense capability because it allows them to attack with a massive number of shots into a unit that has an important upgrade in it.  The two units can pour 48 shots into a unit, which is 8 chances to snipe the Sorcerer at the center of a Screamer star, the Apothecary in the bike unit, the Sanguinary Priest in the Death Company, the Power Axes in an Imperial Guard blob squad, the Tempest Launcher in a Dark Reaper Squad, the Auspex used by the Scions of Mars and the list goes on.  Knocking out the specialized upgrades can make a huge difference to the Tau chances at victory.

So the concept is to drop the upgrade characters (and as many of the fellows around him) as possible before then dropping the boom on them with the firepower of the Ghostkeels.  This is what I meant when i said that the enemy unit may not STAY capable of negating our cover.

The Ion Raker on the Ghostkeel is typically the weapon the Internet pundits (who seemingly never actually play the Formation) recommend.  I am inclined to agree that all around it is the superior weapon, but it does have limitations the Fusion Collider does not.  So I chose to have at least one Collider.  Imagine you want to fire at three different targets using a Target Lock.  The Fusion Collider plus Twin-Linked fusion Blaster both generally have the same type of target they can go after, such as monoliths, obelisks Land Raiders and the like which Ion Rakers cannot, even with Wall of Mirrors.  Having the option to do that is important because STR 7 AP 4 Ion Rakers simply will be laughed at by such vehicles.  I want a real chance to drop those kinds of things, or at minimum damage them to the point of ineffectiveness (stunned or weapons blown off etc...).  In the case of an Obelisk its unlikely I would be splitting my fire early, but it's quite likely that I would later in the game when it has lost a lot of hull points.  I don't want to be forced to "waste" a ton of my firepower to finish it off or any Super Heavy actually.

The Ion Raker can fire in two modes.  The first is a STR 7 AP 4 grouping of six shots.  the other a large blast, STR 8 AP 4.  Like other Ion weapons it Gets hot if you do this.  The great thing about it though is that it will double out multi-wound models and get past Feel No Pain that many units can gain through various means.  The AP however does leave something to be desired against many characters and "major figures", but the volume is good.

That brings me to another reason I like having the singular Fusion Collider.  If you blow away the ablative wounds off of a unit using the other weapons, you may now expose the important characters to the Small Melta blast that the Fusuon Collider throws, causing Instant Death more convincingly than the ion Raker.  As a "finishing" weapon it has a real place in the unit and as all weapons are fired as groups, it can go last.  This might seem counter-intuitive at first because it's a blast and conventional wisdom is to fire them first to maximize the number of people they hit.  In actual play there have been many times I wished I had saved it for last just for this chance to finish an important figure that the other weapons weren't as good at damaging.  At Ballistic Skill 5, the scatter isn't terrible, though still an issue.  I think you will need to do the calculations in each instance to determine how likely the characters are to survive the initial Ion Raker barrage and if it seems likely that they might have the wounds to outlast it all (such as in Ork units which might be led by a Nob) then fire it beforehand but if it seems like you can get to the character after its all said and done, fire it after the ion Rakers and assuming everything stays in range, then use the TL fusion Blasters last.

After playing games with the Optimized Stealth Cadre Formation in actual tournament play I am going to rate it a definite A.  The Stealthsuits in particular just find a home here that they have never had.  I was able to wipe out four enemy vehicles and a Corsair command squad in one go using the combination of the Stealthsuits targeting vehicles, and then the Ghostkeels firing down on the other targets separately.  The Ion Raker in conjunction with the Wall of Mirrors Formation benefit is murderous to most vehicles and for everything else, there's the Fusion Collider.  The Collider ended an entire unit of Corsairs and their leader, which he was none too happy about.  That leader was about to make soup out of my Ghostkeels.  it was him or me.

I hope this opens it up for people wanting to play Stealthsuits.  While the big robots do what big robots do, the real winners were the Stealthsuits who can now be your true swiss army knife, knocking off vehicles, blowing up hordes, and Sniping out the important enemy elements.