or, Why the Devilfish is the Worst Transport in 40K
For the first time in seven years there's a new Tau Empire codex, and the 40K community, and the Tau subset in particular, has been absolutely poring over it. There are some exciting changes, like the new Signature Systems and the new Ethereal, and some disappointing ones, like the erasure of Targeting Arrays and vehicle Multi-Trackers, and some that are so radical it's hard yet to tell if they're good or bad, like the change in role for the XV88 and Kroot squads. But there's one unit that really hasn't changed at all, the Devilfish troop transport.
Why is a hover-tank so darn static?
And that's kind of a problem.
The Devilfish is bad. In fact, as you may have gathered from the sub-title up above, I would go so far as to say that it is the worst transport in 40K at the moment. Why? Well, to say why the Devilfish is bad, we need to say what makes a transport, in general, good in this game. And to me, it basically boils down to a transport offering one or more of three things; a superior firing platform, a superior weapons platform, or valuable high-speed transportation.
To be a superior firing platform, a transport needs either firing points or the Open Topped designation. This allows the unit inside to increase its capabilities in some way; generally, this is accomplished by either increasing the unit's ability to fire longer or by increasing the firing unit's mobility. Even flimsy transports like Dark Eldar Raiders, properly protected by cover saves, require that much more shooting before you can target the even squishier unit inside; this leaves said unit able to fire at its full strength longer. Even better is if they can offer greater mobility for the firing unit, such as allowing Rhinos full of melta-armed Grey Knight henchmen to surge forwards and into firing positions for Turn 2, or a dozen Lootas in an Ork Trukk to move 6" and still get to fire at their full BS. Since the Devilfish has no firing points and is not Open Topped, the unit it is transporting cannot contribute to the battle while inside their transport, and while they are protected from direct damage, you could get the same results for free by simply leaving them in Reserve.
To be a superior weapons platform, a transport needs to bring some form of weaponry its transported unit doesn't commonly posses, either because they can't purchase them or because doing so hamstrings the unit in some way. Stormravens with lascannons and multi-meltas, Razorbacks with lascannons and plasma cannons, Raiders with dark lances, Chimeras with multi-lasers and heavy bolters. Even the Eldar Wave Serpent, over-priced as it currently is two editions past its last update, can bring twin-linked heavy weapons along on a Fast Skimmer platform. Most of these don't allow the transported unit to fire out (the Chimera and Raider are exceptions), and make up for that by providing enough punch on their own to cover the unit's absence from the field until it disembarks. The Devilfish, however, brings only the same S5 AP5 weaponry that the Fire Warriors inside already posses, and most of that is significantly more short-ranged. The fact a 90 point Devilfish is out-shot by 90 points worth of Fire Warriors doesn't exactly help it's case here, either.
Finally, a transport can justify itself by offering valuable high-speed transportation. This is mostly the purview of assault armies; Open Topped vehicles, like Ork Trukks and Battlewagons and Dark Eldar Raiders, are particularly useful here because the units inside can hop out and charge. But Marine Rhinos and Eldar Wave Serpents with melta-armed squads inside want to get close to their enemies too, and the Night Scythe is the undisputed king of being able to put a unit where it will do the most damage in the shortest amount of time. These vehicles are pretty exclusively useful to armies that want to get closer because their units are either inferior at or flat-out incapable of contributing at range, or because their sudden appearance will heavily disrupt the enemy's plans. Tau Fire Warriors, on the other hand, carry guns with superior range and strength as a matter of course, encourage the enemy to come to them because of their absolutely abysmal close combat abilities, and lack a flyer transport that will allow them to strike without offering, oh, two or three turns of prior warning as to their intended target.
Those are the three basic elements of the useful transport; having just one of them is good enough, but the more, the better. A Chimera full of PlasmaVets, for instance, is a perfect hat trick; the tank's weapons expand on the threats the unit can tackle, it lets the transported unit contribute their fire while closing on the target, and those Guardsmen really want to be safely inside Rapid Fire range before they're exposed to any return fire. The fact that the Devilfish really can't lay claim to any of them makes it a pretty serious failure as a viable choice.
And of course, there are other things that help to push it down to the very bottom of the barrel. Aside from the Eldar Wave Serpent, the Necron Ghost Ark and certain special cases (flyers, Land Raiders, Battlewagons) which bring their own unique attributes to offset such, it's the most expensive transport in the game. And unlike the Wave Serpent and the Ghost Ark, it has no special rules to offer it further protection. Its vehicle wargear is underwhelming, with the Disruption Pod having tripled in value and seen its effect halved (though the straight Stealth instead of Stealth at ranges of more than 12" is something, at least) and many of the other choices offering nothing of real use. Its drones have to fire snap shots if it goes faster than 6", and they no longer count as denial units when detached. And while it can have two one-shot seeker missiles bolted on, each of those is fully a tenth the cost of the tank again, and given Tau ballistic skill one of the two is likely to go to waste. The Devilfish just doesn't do anything the equivalent points' worth of Fire Warriors wouldn't do, arguably better, to say nothing of the results that would obtain from investing those same points into suits or tanks or Pathfinders.