Tau Tactica: Denying Shots

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While other armies have some ability to accomplish a similar effect, the Tau have the distinction of being the best army in the game at denying your opponent suitable shooting targets. In fact to some extent, Tau Commanders are forced to adopt this strategey in order to be successful. We just don't have the staying power to go toe-to-toe in the shooting phase with any serious shooty army. In addition to being a practical asset on the tabletop, this idea is well supported in the fluff as well.
In general, the notion of denying shots falls into three categories, all of which can be exploited simultaneously.

Mobility and Terrain

The Tau have a number of ultra-mobile skimmers which can fire on the move and pass freely over terrain. This mobility allows them to move to where they're needed most while simultaneously positioning themselves around terrain so as to block LoS to as much of the opponent's army as possible.
Our Jet Pack assault move performs a similar function. Battlesuits and Gun Drones have the extremely useful ability of being able to move out from behind cover, shoot, and then retreat out of LoS in the assault phase, a tactic affectionately refered to as Jump-Shoot-Jump (JSJ). This staple Tau tactic is not only one of the first learned by new Tau Commanders, but also one of the most vital to their success.

Weapon Dilution

Less understood and less tangible than JSJ, weapon dilution is nevertheless an important part of our doctrine of denying shots. The idea here is that the "average" take-all-comers list generally includes enough anti-vehicle and anti-infantry weaponry to take on other "average" take-all-comers lists. We can therefore bias our own list so heavily to one side of this spectrum that we overload our opponent's ability to counter us.
The most common use of this idea is Mechanized Tau. By bringing 5+ fast-moving, decoy-launcher equipped skimmers each of which require in the neighborhood of 10-13 LasCannon shots to bring down, your opponent's heavy weapons are so horribly overtasked they can't possibly take out all our tanks before they're themselves wiped out. Furthermore, by packing all of our infantry into AV12 vehicles (or using our assault move to end our turn out of LoS), we simultaneously make useless every single point he's spent on a dedicated anti-infantry weapon. Every point spent on Heavy Bolters, Shurken Catapults, Lasguns, etc is uterly useless.
A similar effect exists for a Tau army composed entirely of infantry. Every point spent on anti-vehicle weaponry goes largely to waste since we've brought no vehicles! Sure he can feel free to shoot that LasCannon at Kroot in cover if he'd like! This strategy isn't quite as effective as Mechanized Tau simply because LasCannons can still earn some points shooting infantry, and Battlesuits are still prime targets for mobile anti-vehicle weapons. Furthermore, some would argue that our vehicles are one of our greatest strengths, and leaving them behind solely for a minor dilution effect is unnecessarily handicapping yourself.

SMS, Seekers and Steath Suits

These weapons have the unique ability of being able to shoot the enemy without being shot back. Although the Stealth Armor on the Stealth Suits is by no means a sure thing, when it works, it can not only protect the Stealths from a round of fire, it also causes your opponent to waste their shoots entirely! The SMS and Seekers are excellent weapons and don't generally suffer from the "unreliability" that Stealths have, however we generally can't make them a substantial part of our army on account of the significant infrastructure cost associated with bringing them in larger quantities. Nevertheless, all of these weapons mesh well with the Tau notion of denying shots.

The Bottom Line

Whether they know it or not, most Tau Commanders win or lose games against shooty armies based on how well they deny the enemy the ability to target them. Often, all of these three methodologies can be used in a single game. Turns 1 and 2 might see you skulking around terrain firing with long range assets, indirect weapons and Jet Pack equipped units while your Devilfish wait patiently behind a forest. Then turn 3 everything jumps out, your Devilfish making a beeline for their targets while the rest of your army provides covering fire and a dilution effect on account of an overabundance of targets. Turns 4 and 5 see the heaviest fighting while you attempt to use terrain to deny LoS to a portion of the enemy army while you crush a flank.
 




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