Tau Battlefield Slot Review – Heavy Support

Last time we looked at Tau’s fast attack options and learned to laugh again (don’t get the joke? go read the article!). This time, we head into the Heavy Support choices for Tau. There’s a common theme to Tau’s Heady Support choices – bringing pain at range. Not all of them do this as well as others though, so let’s dive into which choices excel at range and firepower. If you’ve forgotten how we do the math or never knew in the first place, start here for a great introduction.

But first, assumptions:

  • We will only look at Seeker missiles on the Skyray. The Skyray is the most egregious example of the fact that seeker missiles make things more efficient, but everything that can take them benefits from this. More on this point in the article.
  •  We will assume maximum shots (i.e. within rapid fire range) for rapid fire weapons.
  • Situations that give weapons chances to do bonus damage on certain rolls (like on a 6 to wound) or get to re-roll damage rolls if they are within half range are not considered for simplicity’s sake.
  • A GEQ is defined as a model with T3 and Sv5+, one wound
  • A MEQ is defined as a model with T4 and Sv3+, one wound
  • A Tank is defined as a model with T8 and Sv3+, multiple wounds
  • For weapons that do multiple damage, we will assume it does average damage (3.5 for D6 damage and 2 for D3)
  • I’ve taken the liberty of only showing the most-relevant columns (rationale here), GEQ PPW (point per wound), MEQ PPW, and Tank PPD (point per damage)

Sniper Drones

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Rather than part of the group of drones and marksman like in 7th edition, in 8th edition the Sniper Drones are broken off into their own unit. While the do have an impressive 48″ rapid fire S5 gun, the fact that they need a lot of support to land a lot of hits, coupled with the absence of mortal wounds, means that Sniper Drones look a lot cooler than they feel.

For comparison, Astra Militarum has access to snipers that can hit on 3’s, cause mortal wounds on To-Wound rolls of 6, and have a 36″ range – all for less than 10 points. Meanwhile, the Sniper Drones (nearly 20 points a pop) will need a Marksman plus something with drone controller to be able to hit on 3’s with no chance of mortal wounds. You might be thinking that you could also get 5 Marker Light hits to give them a plus 1 To-Hit, but this is not normally possible, since your Marker Light sources can’t target characters unless they’re the nearest visible enemy unit. Also, since most of the Characters that you want to be sniping will probably have some sort of invuln save, there’s a real chance the Character will just save any wounds you manage to do. As a result, they just don’t do what you need them to do to make them worth it.

Heavy Gun Drones

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Heavy Gun Drones are regular drones with two burst cannons. If you thought regular Gun drones put out some dakka, prepare to think again. While they do need support (at least a Drone Controller) to really shine, they can be effective against GEQ-targets and it’s really not that hard to fit a Drone Controller into your army, if you’re not already running one. While I’ve never personally run them in games, the math checks out and they are easy to scratch build with leftover burstcannons and drone bodies. I don’t see them talked about much and am not sure why. Possibly because they are not quite as efficient as regular gun drones and not as cheap so harder to spam. Still, if you need to fill some Heavy Support slots and don’t have enough points for something big, Heavy Gun Drones are a good choice.

Skyray

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Any value that the Skyray has, is based in the non-quantifiable. Mathematically, they are quite good at a variety of targets, but this is only the case while they have their initial 6 Seeker Missiles. After that, they are woefully point-inefficient due to the fact that they only have their secondary weaponry – two burst cannons, smart missile systems, or drones – and a single marker light.

Seeker missiles make everything more point efficient. Since the Skyray’s main firepower is based around single-use weaponry, it demonstrates this the most. A Seeker missile is a 5 point chance at doing a mortal wound that scales in efficiency with the shooter’s BS. Take Longstrike for example. He can hit on 2’s with any seeker missiles that he takes. That results in an ~97% chance of doing a mortal wound, per seeker missile (assuming you have two markerlight hits on the target). Normally, you have to hit, wound, and then get your target to fail a save in order to cause damage, but with seeker missiles, you only have to hit. Let me reiterate: seeker missiles are amazing and every unit in your army that can take them, should. While I’m not necessarily saying that you should build a list around seeker missiles – I’m not NOT saying that (I recently made a list like that and it did quite well).

So if seeker missiles are great, why not take a Skyray, it has 6? Because that’s all it has. Once those are gone, it’s got next to no fire power and the only use it has is to charge your enemies and try to keep them in combat. Longstrike, hammerheads, literally everything else that can take seeker missiles also has decent other weaponry – except the Skyray. What would fix this issue? A stratagem in the upcoming Tau codex that let you rearm the Skyray. But as we have said before, this is not a place to wishlist. Skyray – not even once.

Hammerhead

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Mathematically, Hammerheads appear to be just ok. But accompanied by Longstrike (which you should basically always be doing), Hammerheads are pretty good in terms of damage output. The above numbers are without Longstrike’s +1 to hit that he gives nearby Hammerheads, but even so, it’s not hard to imagine the advantages that a T7 W13 Sv3+ model with decent range  can bring. Plus they have <Fly> so should they get assaulted, they can fall back and still shoot.

The main drawbacks that exist with a Hammerhead are that they are reliant on Longstrike to really excel, they have a lot of heavy weapons so will be punished when you have to move, and they only have T7 instead of the coveted T8 from other tanks (looking at you, Astra Militarum). Don’t expect Longstrike to survive for long, so any other hammerheads you have will only get to use his buff for one turn, two turns max.

Heavy Bombardment Hammerhead

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A Hammerhead with High-Yeild Missile Pods from Forgeworld, this variant is focused on lower-toughness targets like GEQs and MEQs. Mathematically, it’s decent on it’s own, but remember that the numbers only get better with Longstrike. Much of what is said about the regular Hammerhead is applicable here. The biggest drawback of this variant is the cost and range of its HYMPs. I feel that HYMPs are a bit too expensive for what they do and the range will mean you’re always in range of things like las cannons (48″ range). If you feel safe at 30″ range or closer, you will probably do some damage with the Heavy Bombardment Hammerhead.

Fire Support Hammerhead

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I couldn’t find a good picture, so you get a cool gif instead. The Fire Support Hammerhead is quite possibly the most durable platform and most point efficient GEQ-killer we have looked at. One (or two) with Longstrike will just chew through GEQ’s all day with the Heavy 16 Twin Burst Cannon. I prefer the longer-range SMS as a secondary weapon choice just so I can keep as much distance between myself and the enemy, but it’s not quite the most point-efficient choice. If you’re ok with taking advantage of the 18″ range from the drones, then all I can say is “good luck.” Like the other variants of the Hammerhead, the Fire Support Hammerhead will crumple under dedicated fire. It is the most efficient Hammerhead variant at damaging Tanks, but again, that relies on close range, which I’d just prefer not doing.

Broadside

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Broadside are not terrible, but not competitive either. In an Index of lots of “ok” units, the Broadside is right at home. It’s expensive but it’s fairly deadly. If you can guarantee that it will be shooting at vehicles that are less than T8, it stands a good chance at damaging them, but against dedicated heavy tanks like the Leman Russ’, it will fair only averagely. If you need anti-infantry – take a Fire Support Hammerhead which has more durable stats and better damage efficiency. If you need anti-tank – take a 4 Fusion Blaster Commander.

One use for it might be for a back/middle field drone controller – surrounded by Missile and Gun drones. However, Shas’O R’alai (or a regular commander with a DC) would probably make for a better and significantly cheaper option to fill this role.

R’Varna

Chuckles-in-RVarna

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*The above numbers for the Nova profile assume that you’re rerolling any 1’s you get for damage. Whereas the average result for a D3 is 2, I have used the average of 2.5 for the result of a D3 with rerolling 1’s. There might be a better way to do that, but that’s what I’ve done. Comments and criticisms welcome. 

If the Y’Vahra and the R’Varna are cousins, the Y’Vahra is the cousin that lifeguards at the pool in the summer, has a six pack and his own bright red Mustang while the R’Varna is the awkward cousin that never wears enough deodorant and stutters. S6 weaponry falls in a really weird place currently and the R’Varna is all about S6 weaponry. It’s a ~400 point model that wounds GEQ’s on 2’s but nearly any decent vehicle on 5’s. When it hits, it does multiple damage for each failed save, but it just doesn’t wound often enough for me to want to take one. Tau doesn’t need something else to deal with GEQ-targets and long ranged-options are already prevalent. Changing the main weapons to S7 would make me look at this seriously, but at it is, it doesn’t fare well against my local meta and doesn’t fare well against what we have analyzed it against.

In Summary

Tau Heavy Support choices seem focused on using range to their advantage while trying to do the maximum damage possible. A few choices like the Fire Support Hammerhead or the regular Hammerhead seem to do well, while Sniper Drones and Skyrays seem nearly unplayable in all but fluff games. ALWAYS TAKE SEEKER MISSILE, just don’t take a Skyray to do so.

If you like what you’re reading, please consider following on twitter or via email in the sidebar to your right. If you have specific questions that you’d like us to address here, about Tau or other armies’ units, let me know below. Thanks for all the feedback and help in making sure my math is accurate and honest.

I’ve gotten some great comments and feedback via the submission form in the past, please keep on being awesome!

Happy dice rolls!

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