Tau Heavy Support – Part 2: These Guns Aren't Getting Any Smaller!

I just realized, I never actually got around to putting  up the last of my Codex: Tau Empire reviews.  Well, let's correct that little oversight, shall we?

Last time we started on the Heavy Support slot, and unexpectedly got bogged down in the infantry choices. So now here we are in part two, and it's finally time to talk about the tanks. And oh, what tanks they are!

First up, the Tau's biggest and baddest battle tank, the Hammerhead. The Hammerhead has sort of received a price drop; it depends on what version you're running. With a railgun, the Hammerhead is a solid 25 points cheaper than the old bare minimum; with an ion cannon, however, the older Hammerhead snuck in at 10 points less. Either way, the current Hammerhead is 125 points, and frankly it's a steal at that cost. For that, you get either the railgun or the ion cannon, plus a secondary weapon system, either gun drones, SMS or burst cannons. A quick note on secondary weapons; of the three, the burst cannons are objectively, bafflingly the worst. They combine the worst elements of the drones (short ranges) with the worst elements of the SMS (fires snap shots if the vehicles moves more than 6"), with neither of their good points (firing at normal BS on the move and ignoring LOS and cover, respectively). Given that all three options come free, there's simply no reason you would ever choose to take burst cannons. I honestly can't understand what GW thought burst cannons brought to the table.

But enough about that strange, dead-on-arrival option. The railgun continues to be the premiere anti-tank weapon in the game, although it now costs 5 points extra to bring along the submunition, a rather necessary investment for anyone who might just as easily end up facing Land Raiders as Ork mobs. Its lower cost also better reflects the fact that it's a single-shot weapon at BS4, and therefore not incredibly reliable. Yes, you can dedicate markerlights to bump it up, but no cadre commander has ever had enough markerlights for every target; this price is a lot better. If you don't find yourself having to crack open a lot of Land Raiders and Monoliths, however, there's the ion cannon, which has received a pretty huge boost with the inclusion of a large blast/Gets Hot firing option. The ability to deal with groups of MEqs (the blast is S8 AP3) from the Heavy Support section takes a lot of the pressure off the Elites, previously the only realistic source of anti-MEq firepower you could bring in any decent numbers. Both of these weapons are excellent, and in decent-sized games it's not uncommon to find a Tau player bringing one of each, just to cover all the bases. As for the secondary weapons, the drones would put up a better fight if they could still contest or score; while being able to fire at their native BS while the tank's in motion is nice, they're only BS2, and their weapons are incredibly short ranged for tank armaments. Personally, I find the SMS just has too many good aspects to worry about the downside; missiles over death-frisbees, I'm afraid.

The only other basic option the Hammerhead has is to bring along up to two seeker missiles, which are a decent enough investment, particularly if you're running an ionHead and get first turn; if you give up a turn's movement (and your Jink save, admittedly), you can drop two S8 AP3 shots and a S8 AP3 pie plate on your enemy. Throw in a single markerlight token and they're all firing at BS5, or throw in two and your alpha strike has Ignores Cover. They don't work as well for the railHead, given that they're either a bit weak or too strong for what that weapon will usually be hunting, but it's still not a bad way to spend 16 points. And then there's the vehicle battle systems. The Hammerhead can get a lot out of this section, so much so, in fact, that it's important not to go crazy. There is such a thing as diminishing returns.

At just a single point the blacksun filter is a must-take for a tank that's got either a 60" or 72" main gun. You do not want your alpha strike blunted by night fight! Likewise, the disruption pod, though still pricey, adds enough survivability that you need to be pretty tightly squeezed for points before you should even think of sending your tank in without it. Decoy launchers aren't a great purchase, since you'll usually want your Hammerhead on the board blasting away from Turn 1, where it's range advantage is most useful. The point defence targeting array and the advanced targeting system are likewise a bit on the weak side, though again, they're perfectly usable, and there are situations where they can come in handy. Flechette dischargers are situational, but if you find yourself being swarmed regularly by S4 models, it's not a bad idea to slap it on there as both a deterrent and a little insurance. The automated repair system is probably the worst of the options. Given that the Hammerhead is a 13/12/10 vehicle and bearer of the best anti-tank weapon in the game, if you lose it you'll usually lose it to a drop-melta squad of some description; it's pretty rare, in my experience, that your Hammerhead survives any barrage that can reasonably be expected to damage it, nevermind does so with just a Weapon Destroyed result. And even if it does, it's still a 6 to regenerate it, at the end of your shooting phase. I've tried it out a few times, but the once in a blue moon when my Hammerhead survives with its main weapon gone, it never manages to repair it, and doesn't live long enough to have fired it even if it had. It's a neat idea, and if it regenerated hull points it would be a no-brainer, but as is it's pretty safely left behind.

Along with all the generic options all Hammerheads have, one tank in your cadre can also be piloted by Longstrike. This guy is a steal, unarguably the best of the vehicle commander characters. Longstrike gives you BS5, Tank Hunter, Preferred Enemy: IG, Supporting Fire, the point defence targeting array and a blacksun filter, all for just 45 points. I just want to repeat that; for 170 points altogether, you get an AV13/12/10 skimmer tank with a 72" S10 AP1 weapon, that ignores night fight, fires at BS5 with a re-roll against Guard, and has Tank Hunter. If you're bringing along a railgun Hammerhead, there's almost no reason not to bring along Longstrike, as well.

But the Hammerhead isn't the only tank worth taking anymore; the Sky Ray Missile Defence Gunship has made its presence known, as well. Built on the same chassis as the Hammerhead, the Skyray costs ten points less, and has the same secondary weapon options. Its primary armaments, however, could not be more different from its sibling. The Sky Ray comes with six seeker missiles, a pair of networked markerlights, and most importantly, a velocity tracker. This makes it one of the very few vehicles in the game now that can engage flyers at its native BS, and unlike the Guard's Hydra, it can also engage ground targets normally. With a pair of networked markerlights you can reliably expect your Sky Ray to be firing its seekers at BS5, which is no small threat to even AV12 flyers. And if it doesn't move, it can fire all six of those missiles off, making it an absurdly powerful alpha strike weapon.

Unfortunately, the Sky Ray has taken a couple of nasty little hits, one from the change from 5th to 6th and one from the transition between Tau codexes. In the first case, the idea of 'defensive weapons' disappeared, meaning the markerlights simply count as regular weapons when it comes to how many a vehicle can fire. And then with the removal of the vehicle multitracker, and its permission to fire like a Fast vehicle, the Sky Ray lost the ability to move and fire more than one weapon at its normal BS. While that does leave you with a pair of BS4 markerlights and an SMS attached to an AV13/12/10 frame even after all the seeker missiles are fired, it's largely reduced to immobility if it actually wants to land any of its shots.

This makes the disruption pod and sensor spines almost a must-take for the Sky Ray; it very badly needs to find some area terrain, particularly ruins, to sit in for a passive cover save, since it can only get its Jink by hamstringing its own shooting power. The sensor spines are there so that, if for any reason it does have to move from its nest, it doesn't risk crippling itself in the attempt. The blacksun filter is likewise non-negotiable, for the same reasons as on the Hammerhead, and the other vehicle systems are just as good (or not) on the Sky Ray as on the Hammerhead.

The Sky Ray's mobility issues, however, don't especially detract from its utility as an anti-flyer platform. Front armour 13 means it can shrug off half of all lascannon and lance hits, which are the main anti-tank weapons most flyers are armed with, and it's easy enough to protect the Sky Ray from a flyer alpha strike by simply moving and going flat-out until the flyer arrives; AV13 coupled with a 3+ cover save should get you through just about any shooting your enemy can throw at you. And once the flyer is on the board the Sky Ray's main weapons are all turret mounted, meaning it can simply stop dead and light up whatever airborne troublemaker your enemy has. Even Heldrakes and Storm Ravens will have trouble coming unscathed through a fusillade of BS5 S8 weapons. Sure, you may lose the tank afterwards, but it's 115 points, so trading that for any of the nasty flyers in the game right now is definitely worthwhile.

The Tau's grav tanks have gotten better across the board; cheaper, better armed, with more options and a wider range of viable targets. I think the only thing Tau players could possibly still ask for is the option to take them in squadrons, Guard-style. Other than that, I do believe we're good, thanks!


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  2. Ahem. I meant to say that I like the site re-design, and that it was probably worth mentioning the Gun Drones as capable of overwatch. It is kind of odd that the Burst Cannons are twin-linked, instead of independent, but presumably it was a bone for people that had glued their burst cannons on the tank.