Mathhammer: Fixing the Crisis of T’au Crisis Suits
Tau Crisis Suits are rare these days. Here’s a VERY deep dive to find out why and how to fix them.
a guest piece by Relasine
Crisis Teams at this moment are suffering from low general performance. The reasoning for this is largely a matter of opinion, but I believe that most would agree that they are lacking “something” to make them a viable option in the days of post-Big April 2018 FAQ. To get at why Crisis Teams are underperforming, I think we should start with an evaluation of what Crisis Teams are, what they can do, and what strengths and weaknesses they have. To me, it comes down to a few things:
- Crisis Teams have solid output relative to cost with some weapons (Cyclic Ion Blasters, Fusion Blasters, Flamers) and poor output relative to cost with others (Plasma Rifles, Missile Pods).
- Crisis Teams represent a significant investment on a model-by-model basis with survivability that is low relative to their cost.
- Crisis Teams are almost exclusively a short-ranged unit with a typically low maximum standoff range that consequently relies on Manta Strike to find the positioning required to bring their weapons to bear.
- Crisis Teams have a cost that starts at non-trivial and can cascade into list-defining.
- Crisis Teams suffer from lost opportunity cost when weapons are not taken in triplicate.
Any changes that are made to Crisis Teams should be done by primarily examining how those changes will affect the listed aspects I have just described.
Studying the Current Crisis
Starting with Crisis Team output, we should observe their output relative to their cost, or “points-per-wound” (PPW) margins. The smaller the margin, the higher the output relative to cost.
For something to qualify as having respectable output, it should fall into 40 points-per-wound or lower when fired at optimal targets. Flamers, Cyclic Ion Blasters with Overcharge, and Fusion Blasters fall well in this category. Other weapons generally have an output that is too low relative to cost. Plasma Rifles, for example, should be at 40 points-per-wound or better against MEQs (T4, 3+ Armor Save) or TEQs (T4, 2+ Armor Save, 5+ Invulnerable Save) when within half range and benefiting from Rapid Fire. Missile Pods are expected to have lower output than other weapons due to their long range, but their expected returns, even when benefiting from every possible ability to buff them, are so low that they cannot be taken as a serious option.
This takes us to the second point, which is their cost relative to their survivability. Crisis Teams rely on their T5, 3+ Armor Save, and three wounds in order to survive in addition to whatever Drones they have in tow to benefit from Saviour Protocols. The issue here is that Saviour Protocols is typically only super-useful for protecting assets at long range. As soon as you expose your Drones to short-ranged small arms fire, like Rapid Firing Bolters, they tend to evaporate quite quickly. This leaves us with the profile on the XV8s themselves. While the increase to their Toughness and Wounds from 7th to 8th Edition is certainly welcome, the introduction of weapons that inflict multiple wounds have made destroying them far less difficult than might have originally been considered.
Crisis Teams have three weapon options that fall within the realm of what I and many would consider acceptable, specifically Cyclic Ion Blasters (CIBs), Fusion Blasters, and Flamers. All of these weapons require that the Crisis Team operates within 18” or less in order to be brought to bear. This is one of the weaknesses of Crisis Teams that is compounded by their low survivability relative to cost and gets at the heart of the problems that the unit faces.
A Crisis Team of three models armed with a total of nine Cyclic Ion Blasters (the most common and arguably most viable loadout) costs 288 points. It nets you a unit with solid output relative to cost but only nine wounds on T5/3+ Save models. While CIB Crisis will have a better expected return against a wide variety of targets compared to, say, a Riptide armed with a Heavy Burst Cannon, the trade-offs are quite large. Crisis Teams have solid output, but the very short range and low survivability compared to Riptides who can operate at much longer range with far more survivability, generally allowing them to survive the entire game.
Since Crisis Teams rarely get a second turn of shooting, they are not a unit that “trades up.” The only way that Crisis Teams are of positive value is if they somehow manage to get the drop on something that is the lynchpin of an army, which is quite difficult given the restrictions on Manta Strike, Homing Beacon, and Tactical Reserves. And the more you scale up the unit, the larger this danger becomes.
Finally, Crisis Teams have more than weapon options available to them; they have eight Support Systems. The problem with them is that each use of a Support System on a Crisis Suit represents lost opportunity cost since a Support System occupies the same slots as weapons. Because Support Systems generally offer a lower return than simply running the full allowed allotment of weapons, running Support Systems is most often a poor idea.
To summarize, Crisis Teams are a short-ranged unit with a few solid weapon options that are fragile, rely on Manta Strike, are very expensive, and are compositionally kind of boring. Despite their decent output relative to cost with two or three builds, their fragility means they are not a unit that trades up, and their range and reliance on Manta Strike means that smart positioning can counter their presence quite strongly.
Fixing them is a matter of determining what exactly they are supposed to be, what their role is. Are they meant to be a unit that splashes down, takes out a key target, then promptly dies? If so, they need lower PPW margins and a stronger way to Manta Strike. Are they supposed to be a unit that Manta Strikes, does solid damage, and takes a beating for at least two turns? Then their survivability relative to their cost needs to increase. Are they meant to be a Swiss Army Knife capable of being molded into a number of unique and interesting configurations? Well, a lot needs to be done there, but there is a way that I think is compelling.
Honestly, I do not think that the output on Crisis Suits needs to be greatly tweaked. I think Missile Pods and Plasma Rifles need a bit of review, but the rest of the weapon options and their expected return relative to their cost is all fine. Fixing the Plasma and Missile Pods is relatively easy.
- Decrease the cost on Missile Pods to 18 and make them Assault 3
- Make Plasma Rifles cause two wounds
This will bring the margins on Missile Pods way down but still keep them below other well-rounded performers like Cyclic Ion Blasters, still sacrificing quite a bit of output for quite a lot more range. Plasma Rifles at two wounds will make them a niche weapon for going after Terminators, Bikers, and other multi-wound models with strong armor saves. It will additionally give them some teeth against armor, but not nearly as much as Fusion Blasters or Cyclic Ion Blasters.
Adjusting their survivability relative to their cost can come in three flavors: lower their price, increase their stat line, or lower their price while maintaining expected output relative to cost through Wargear Option manipulation.
The first option is not a good one. As I mentioned, Crisis Teams have a few loadouts that produce decent returns regarding single-turn output. Reducing their cost will cause these numbers to spiral out of control and lead to higher output than is appropriate. The goal should be to encourage power creep by raising Crisis Teams to the performance level of Commanders.
The second option is not bad. Simply adding another wound to their profile will do some decent work at helping them survive. It is also the path of least resistance.
The third option is complicated, but leads to the most interesting place. My suggestion here would be to drop the cost of the XV8 Crisis Suits to 28 points and to change their Wargear Options to two weapons and one Support System. This can be messy, and will probably make some modelers upset, but will do a lot for improving the survivability of the unit relative to cost as well as for the compositional aesthetic of the unit. It will force Crisis Teams to more resemble the art as they are portrayed in the Codex. It will additionally eliminate the problems with the lost opportunity cost of taking Support Systems.
Note that the below data sheets assume my earlier suggestions for Missile Pods/Plasma Rifles are made:
As of now, there are two, maybe three viable builds for Crisis Suits. If you go with option three, the potential viable options expand greatly. Do you want a unit that is designed for taking on flyers? Run Crisis Suits with two Missile Pods and a Velocity Tracker. Want to build for taking on armor at point-blank range? Take Fusion Blasters, Shield Generators, and Iridium Armor. Want to take on hordes of infantry at maximum range? Run Burst Cannons and Multi-Trackers. Want to counter deep strikers? Take Counterfire Defense. Do you simply want the most bang for your buck against a wide variety of targets? Run Cyclic Ion Blasters with Advanced Targeting Systems.
With the suggestions I have put forth, Plasma Rifles gain a niche, Missile Pods have stopping power but do not overshadow other options, Cyclic Ion Blasters gain a marginal volume of output with ATS, and the floodgates for different Support System load outs increases exponentially.
There is a series of suggestions that I have made throughout this analysis. To sum the up:
- Missile Pods
- Change cost to 18 points
- Change profile to Assault 3
- Plasma Rifles
- Change their Damage stat to 2
- Crisis Suits
- Change the Wound stat on Crisis Suits to 4
- Reduce their cost to 28 points, change their Wargear Options to only allow for two weapons and one Support System
~Calculators down. Class dismissed.