Tau Tactica: Markerlights

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Markerlights have the potential to vastly enhance the effectiveness of a Tau list. The secret is in knowing where to bring them and what to guide with them. Some claim Markerlights do not justify their expense, that those 200+ points would be better spent on models that actually kill things. While this is true, Markerlight carriers don't actually kill anything, what they do offer is versatility. Let me explain.
In a tournament setting, it's necessary to bring a list which is capable of engaging the largest variety of opponents. We need to include enough AP 2/1 to deal with Deathwing and enough massed pulse fire to deal with swarm Tyranids. However, after a bit of practice building and playing these "take all comers" type lists, you'll soon realize that it's very difficult to build a list which can cover all extremes. It's just not possible with the points allotment we have available. So how can we have a chance against these "fringe armies" like Armored Company and Deathwing? The answer is Markerlights. By bringing a balanced force, with moderate amounts of anti-heavy infantry, anti-light infantry and anti-vehicle shooting and then tossing a smattering of Markerlights into the mix, we can effectively tackle all lists thrown at us. Markerlights allow us to drastically boost the effectiveness of our shooting in one area of our choosing. Therefore, by dedicating our Markerlights to guiding Stealths in the game against Nids, guiding XV8's in our game against Deathwing, and guiding Broadsides in our game against Armored Company, we can have a fighting chance without having to overload on weaponry specific to killing those armies.

Who's got the Markerlight?

While Pathfinders are the obvious choice for including Markerlights in a Tau army, there are several other options available to us, each with their own set of pros and cons. For any army which relies on Markerlight support to one degree or another, including a mixture of Markerlight sources can help provide some redundancy in the event of an early game mishap. Before we get into a detailed analysis of each of our Markerlight carriers, here's a simple chart showing the relative cost of Markerlight hits from various sources.
Sample UnitCost (points per ML Definition: Missile Launcherhit)
8 Pathfinders with Devilfish
[Shas'ui, HW Target Lock]
[Multitracker, Decoy Launchers]
51.5
8 Pathfinders with Devilfish
[Shas'ui, HW Target Lock, HWDC + 2 Marker Drones]
[Multitracker, Decoy Launchers]
53.2
6 Pathfinders with Devilfish
[Shas'ui]
[Multitracker, Decoy Launchers]
59.0
Skyray
[Multitracker, Decoy Launchers, Target Array,
 Target Lock]
63.8
Firewarrior Shas'ui
[Markerlight, HW Target Lock]
70
Stealth Suit
[HWDC + 2 Marker Drones]
90
So as you can see, even with the overhead of their Devilfish, Pathfinders are by far the cheapest source of Markerlight hits. They're so cheap in fact, that adding Marker Drones to the squad actuallydecreases their efficiency!

Pathfinders

As our most efficient way to get Markerlights onto the table, Pathfinders are an excellent option for a Tau commander looking to add some 'light support to a Cadre. However, their incredible potential combined with their amazing fragility makes using them a delicate exercise in balance and psychology.
Pathfinders are a Fast Attack choice, so you get to place them last... an option which can be quite important for keeping them alive. AsScouts, Pathfinders get a free pre-game move. This can often lead newer players astray, however, as this move shouldnot be used to advance into a tempting piece of cover. Pathfinders are infamous enough as it is and will often be target priority #1 on your opponent's "to kill" list. Moving themforward with their pre-game move will only reinforce your opponent's desire to kill them, as Warhammer players have a strange tendency to regard the thing closest to them as the most dangerous. Instead, consider using their move to react to your opponent's recently deployed Fast Attack choices... or perhaps do nothing. Whatever you do, avoid drawing attention to these guys unless you're 100% sure they will not come under significant fire on the first turn.
Pathfinders have the potential to do so much for your Cadre, but the fact remains that they are but a handful of T3 models with a mediocre 4+ save, easily wiped from the table with a few bolter rounds. It's often the case that if they survive the first two turns, you will by then have engaged your opponent with enough of the rest of your army that he will be too preoccupied with other things to worry about a few laser pointers who, after all, don't actually kill anything anyway (you should remind your opponent of this as often as possible). I've therefore found it entirely reasonable to keep my Pathfinders loaded up and/or behind some LoS blocking terrain while the rest of my army goes out and gathers attention to itself. It's not until turn 2 or 3 just before my Firewarriors are ready to unload that I quietly move the Pathfinders into position to support them.

Firewarriors

Although Firewarriors are a less efficient way to get Markerlights on the table, they do offer some degree of tactical flexibility and a measure of redundancy. The advantage here is that adding Markerlights to your Firewarrior Shas'ui (with Target Locks of course) allows you to have the benefit of a few guided shots without having to invest in a full blown Pathfinder team. Furthermore, your Markerlights are dispersed and protected by a host of ablative wounds. The Pathfinders, while efficient, are very fragile and a dedicated opponent can wipe them out in a turn if he sets his mind to it.
The downside is lack of quantity. Kroot, foot-mobile Carbine Firewarriors, and 'fish-mobile Rifle Firewarrior teams all have valid claims to our troop slots, and none of these can/should be carrying Markerlights. Therefore, unless you favor a "firebase" style Tau army with multiple Rilfe-toting Firewarrior squads, Shas'ui mounted Markerlights are likely going to be hard to justify, simply because most of your troops slots will already be full with other things.

Skyray

The Skyray offers us something we can't get anywhere else in the Tau Codex, mobile Markerlights. Even after it's expended all of it's heavy ordinance, the Skyray can still contribute meaningfully with its two 12" move and fire laser pointers. Furthermore, not only are they mobile, but they're mounted on an AV13 decoy-launcher equipped skimmer which largely solves the durability issues we have with our other Markerlight carriers. The most significant downside to the vehicle is that it occupies a valuable Heavy Support slot. It's up to each player to decide if they're willing to use a Heavy Support slot for a few Markerlights and Seekers, both of which can be brought in the Troops and Fast Attack slots. Note that the price comparison above discounts the cost of the Skyray by the expense of the Secondary System as well as the Seekers it carries.

Stealth Team

Although costing almost twice as many points as a similar sized Pathfinder unit, a small Stealth Team brought with a full compliment of Marker Drones can be an interesting alternative. Their jet pack assault move gives them a bit of mobility and their Stealth field and 3+ save give them survivability. That being said, they suffer from the same drawback as the Skyray (occupying a valuable force org slot) without being nearly as mobile or nearly as survivable.
In larger games, the Elite slot would be better used with something else and in smaller games (where you'll have the force org slots free), the Skyray offers better performance. In general, this is a sub-par option however it's mentioned here for completeness.

Who Gets to Use the Markerlight?

Now that we've got a few 'lights in our list, the next major question we need to answer is who to guide with them. Since Markerlights now have several uses, we'll go over each of these.

Increasing BS

Since Markerlights now guide entire units, it makes sense that the units most suited to recieving Markerlight guidance are ones with the most number of high strength shots. Of course it also depends on what you're targeting, but in general the two best candidates are a full squad of Rifle-equipped Firewarriors in rapid-fire range or a full squad of XV8's. Stealths are a close second and are a good choice for guidance while your Firewarriors are moving up the table, but once the Firewarriors get within 12" their extra 6 shots make them the more efficient option.

Reducing Pinning Resistance

Interestingly, a squad of 10-12 Carbine-equipped Firewarriors and a single Sniper squad each have an almost identical chance to force a pinning check against Marines. Against softer targets, the Firewarriors have better odds. Gun Drones, while attractive for their Jet Pack assault move, do not have the quantity of shots required to reliably force a pinning check on Marines or other heavy infantry.

Reducing Cover Save

In general, the answer here is, "any unit whose weapons which will pierce the target's armor", since reducing the target's cover save does little good if they still get to make their armor save! This option will likely see the most use against units who have little/no armor but instead rely on cover for their saves. Kroot, Eldar and IG all fall into this category. Interestingly, you statistically get more kills by using your Markerlight hits to first increase your BS.Definition: Battle Sister or Ballistic Skill Only if you have Markerlight hits left over should you begin using them to reduce their cover save.

Auto-Passing Target Priority Check

Even with the Command and Control Node, there are going to be times when Ld9 or Ld10 just isn't good enough for a target priority check. This will really only be the case with exceptionally high profile (and high value!) targets which are most likely to be engaged with Railguns. Therefore, since Hammerheads have no nead of target priority checks, the only squads you'll generally be guiding in this manner are Broadsides. The other time this option might be useful is for guiding a squad of Pathfinders. Often your Pathfinders will be in the backfield and will need to pass target priority checks to train their Markerlights on the targets you wish to eliminate. Using a Markerlight hit from another source to auto-pass this check can be quite valuable.
In general I'd caution you not to flinch from using Markerlight hits in this fashion. While their other uses certainly result in more dead people, a failed target priority check at the wrong moment can turn the tide of a game.

Auto-Passing Night Fight Spotting Checks

This is a good option for long range units who have the ability to criple an enemy early on. Since Battlesuits come standard with the Acute Senses USR, they're often quite capable of fending for themselves at night. Instead, vehicles are the better choice here, namely Hammerheads. Although it might seem tempting to go for that LandRaider on the first turn, remember that if it's Night Fight they'll have difficulty spotting you as well. It's assault troops that benefit the most from an early turn of Night Fight, so consider leaving that Land Raider until later and popping a Rhino instead.
A fun combo here is to equip a Skyray with a BSF and take advantage of an early turn of Night Fight to light up a pair of choice transport vehicles across the table. Then use those Markerlight hits to auto-pass the Night Fight spotting roles for a pair of backfield Hammerheads. In this instance you've bought a single BSF (for your Skyray) but used it to improve your Night Fight performance for 2 vehicles (your Hammerheads).




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