I'd been waffling on the idea of going to the last of the Munitorum series games at Black Knight; while I can theoretically field 2500 points, it's a stretch, and I've heard over and over again that you should play what you can really play, not what you can stretch to. Ultimately it turns out I won't be able to go for entirely unrelated reasons, but the act of trying to figure out how to put twenty-five hundred points of Tau Empire on the field got me thinking.
See, if I put every Fire Warrior, XV8 and '88, and every Pathfinder in my hunter cadre on the field, and backed them up with all the Devilfish, Piranha and Hammerheads from my armoured interdiction cadre, I still couldn't quite get there. I also had a Sniper Drone Team hanging around, but using it would've meant actually losing 80 points or so from the total by either dropping an XV88 or my Hammerhead to make room, so no help there. But there was one more option; a quartet of XV15s, three-quarters of them painted up and ready to go. And if I moved a few of my XV8s into the HQ slot, as a Shas'el and his bodyguard instead of as three XV8 shas'ui, I could slip those '15s in there, and bam, twenty-five hundred points even.
Which got me thinking about the XV15s. I know I dismissed them in an earlier post, and I still stand by my reading of them; they compete for space with XV8s, which are far more versatile and central to Tau tactics, and their guns' ranges and the effect of their stealth fields conflict annoyingly. But XV8s are expensive, and at lower points level spending 62 points for a single Fireknife can become pretty prohibitive. And this, I think, is where the humble stealth suit finally comes into its own.
For the price of about two Deathrains, or one and a third Fireknives, you can get three XV15s, one of whom has a fusion blaster. One of the biggest handicaps the Tau face is their trouble getting melta onto the field. There are only three units that can field it, and of them XV8s are too important to risk getting that close (and arguably have better options at longer range for the most part) and Piranhas are too fragile to reliably close the distance. Some would say that isn't much of a handicap for an army with 72" S10 AP1 guns, but XV88s are expensive and fragile in a world full of krak missiles, Hammerheads aren't especially good shots, and both of them can suffer serious reliability problems penetrating AV13 and AV14, neither of which are especially rare. The melta weapon has become the go-to anti-armour weapon in 5th edition for a reason, and the Tau's trouble putting it on the field really can be a handicap.
So, what does the XV15 offer? Well, it's roughly as tough as an XV8, but with a much smaller profile it can more easily hide or get cover saves. The stealth field can limit the ability of dispersed units to target them, and any unit that doesn't have assault grenades will strike at I1 if they charge them. The non-fusion-armed XV15s can put out six S5 shots, giving them the ability to pick away at large, lightly-armoured units and possibly shoot out a Marine or two. They can deep strike, which removes the threat of being shot to pieces crossing the table, and if there's a Pathfinder Devilfish on the table they can do so somewhat reliably. And at just ninety-two points and three models, you can feel relatively good about playing aggressively with them, since their successful use could be decisive while their loss wouldn't be likely to cripple the cadre. As for its costs, well, we've long since established that; XV15s cost XV8s, the workhorse of the Tau Empire and the only source of those plasma rifles that are so vital to dealing with Marines and Terminators.
I haven't put it into practice yet, and probably won't get a chance until next month, at the next Black Knight tournament. But I think I'm going to give it a shot. If nothing else, seeing a cadre drop melta into someone else's rear armour should be a pleasant novelty!
There is one little detail I'm not totally clear on, though; the codex says that 'one in three models [...] may replace their burst cannon with a fusion blaster'. Now, does that mean you have to buy three more XV15s to get a second fusion blaster, or would four suits, with two fusion blasters, count as having 'one in three', since you can make two groups of three models from them, neither of which contain more than one fusion blaster? Oh GW, you and your slightly vague and inconsistent wording...