The Sub-Optimal Results Obtained by Extensive Imperial Mechanization

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.


  1. I'm pretty sure Deffguns are Heavy, meaning a mob of Lootas in a trukk moving 6" would have to use Snap Shots.

    The purpose of the Devilfish is to get T3 Sv4+ Firewarriors onto those objectives. Given the Tau ability to clear objectives from range, a slower, costlier dedicated troop transport is balanced.

    1. Y'know, I don't know why I thought Trukks being Fast conferred a benefit to their passengers. You're right, it's still snap shots if they move, which drops it from a two-point transport to just a one-point one for Lootas.

      As for the use of the Devilfish to get Fire Warriors to distant objectives, this isn't the first time I've heard that put forwards, and I've gotta say I remain entirely unconvinced. As you said, Tau have the ability to clear objectives from range; why do they then need to put guys on it? Fire Warriors are entirely capable of hanging around on 'home' objectives and contributing, given the range of their guns, and now that the Commander can take a solid beating and stay standing (T5/W4/2+/FNP) you can both deny Slay the Warlord and use him and a supporting Crisis squad to go for Linebreaker; even if you lose First Blood, you're still entirely capable of going for a tie, or a win if you can get Slay the Warlord yourself. And the best way to do that is with more guns, not fewer.

      The real nail in the Devilfish's coffin is, Allies exist. It's a thing now, so if you want a unit in a codex to be good at its job, it has to offer something no similar unit in an Allied codex can offer in its place. If you really need to move scoring units, take some Marines in Razorbacks, or Guard in Chimera. Aside from Eldar, any Allied Troop unit and their dedicated transport are going to be able to do the job better than Fire Warriors in a Devilfish. And yeah, I really do lay the blame for that at the foot of the Devilfish. It just kinda sucks, on pretty much every front, compared to pretty much every other transport.

    2. I don't think allies are worth taking, except as a way to play with a new army you have yet to bring up to playable size. In particular, the limitations on markerlights mean allies will under-perform the same points-worth of Tau.

      Tau need to put Troops on objectives for the same reason every army needs to put Troops on objectives, in order to hold more objectives than an opponent who is also trying to hold them, and contest the ones that the Tau army claims from the outset.

      The Devilfish outperforms the Razorback in terms of transport capacity, armour, firepower (8 shots), mobility - it's a skimmer, and in useful wargear. Same with a Chimera. Eight S5 shots beats three S5 shots and three S6 shots. Particularly when those shots can use markerlight tokens, especially when forced to use Snap Shots because it's moving 12" per turn.

      So yes, the Devilfish offers three things that no allied dedicated transport provides: Markerlight utilization, cover maximization (Stealth), and supporting fire for its transported unit, and against ambushers tryng to kill the Troops in their transport.

    3. "Eight S5 shots beats three S5 shots and three S6 shots"

      Does it, really? An 80 point Devilfish may have more shots than a 55 points Chimera, but those shots only have half the range. Same with the Razorback; you're getting fewer shots (5 points less for a TL-AC with half the shots), but the shots you're getting are longer ranged, stronger, with a higher AP and Rending. Given that the Tau army is already drowning in S5 AP5 firepower, most of it significantly longer ranged than what's on a Devilfish, the variety is worth a lot more than a points-inefficient bundle of 'more of the same'. Longer range also means more time to do damage before the enemy is close enough to start doing it right back to you, which is kind of Tau's stock in trade.

      As for Markerlights, it's hard for me to imagine a situation in which you would have so many Markerlight tokens floating around that you'd be giving them to Devilfish. At least, a situation in which it would matter; if the enemy has already killed all your HQ, Elites and Heavy Support units you might find tokens going spare, but at that point you're already dead. There are just too many units that benefit more from markerlights than the Devilfish (XV8s, XV88s, Hammerheads, Riptides, full strength Fire Warrior squads with Fireblade...) to bother spending those tokens on essentially a six-strong Fire Warrior squad with two carbines.

      "I don't think allies are worth taking [...]. In particular, the limitations on markerlights mean allies will under-perform the same points-worth of Tau."

      Only if you're bringing BS3 Allies to do the same kind of basic shooting as the rest of the Tau army. A BA ASM squad doesn't really care that they don't get markerlights, because they're not shooting. Likewise, a giant mob of Ork boyz is so cheap that they're better at Overwatching than Fire Warriors, and they can actually stick it out in a fight, something Tau and Kroot simply cannot do. Allies are great for bringing units that do something your codex doesn't, meaning in the case of Tau that you should be bringing things that wouldn't benefit from markerlights in the first place.

    4. Those 8 shots really do beat the Chimera's 6, thanks to a number of factors. The first is the fact that the Devilfish is a skimmer, with AV12/11/10, meaning it can get into positions reliably and without exposing the AV10 flanks that make the Chimera a death-trap. It's not like Devilfish is there to sit back and blink as part of a phalanx of armour like the Chimera.

      The Razorback is somewhat similar, but against less valuable because it's not a skimmer, and has weaker frontal armour. Neither has access to the Markerlights that will make those S5 shots hit on 2+ and ignore cover, but then you have a point about rending. Despite having half as many shots, it can engage AV14. The Devilfish would need to be upgraded to have Seeker missiles for that to happen.

      Remember, what a Devilfish does is deliver Troops on objectives outside of your deployment zone. It can move 12" and fire all of its weapons at full effect, and better than full effect if there are markerlights floating around, and it's not unimaginable giving the number of units with Markerlights, including Fire Warriors.

      Which brings me to my general point about allies: Paying for allies to do things your army doesn't do cut into the points for what it does do. By having Blood Angel allies in a Tau army you're losing Tau strengths for Blood Angel strengths of which you'll fail to acquire the critical mass.

      You don't want Ork allies to stick it out in a fight, for example. You want Kroot that will disappear and leave the enemy in front of your guns. You don't want a Blood Angels Assault Squad for the same reason, because they're mediocre unless backed up by an army of Blood Angel units.

    5. The Chimera and Razorback have something that the devilfish lacks though. Range. They may be lighter armored, but they don't have to get out there to use their guns. Meanwhile the devilfish with the pitiful 18" range has to move to shoot, but then can't shoot well because it moved. Derp. Moving means it can no longer shoot at full effect and only gets snapshots. If you by some miracle had extra markerlights floating around on the devilfish's target that means that you've already failed since the primary unit you were using to kill the target already failed and you accidentally got too many markerlights on the target.

      So yes the devilfish was and is the worst transport in the game. In fact it got worse.