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40K: T’au in 9th – Replacing Commanders

6 Minute Read
Jul 28 2020
Today we discuss a couple of the lesser-taken models in the T’au codex. Hopefully players will take a fresh look in 9th.

Everyone knows that the best units in the T’au codex throughout 8th edition were the Riptide, the Commander, and the Shield Drone. I won’t win any prizes for pointing this out.

And I’ll be honest: at the moment, this doesn’t seem to have changed much going into 9th edition.

Yes, the change to the Fly keyword is a problem, and yes, Shield Drones have become 50 percent more expensive, but Riptides still look really strong in 9th, and Drones will certainly have their place. As hot takes for T’au Empire go, this one is pretty mild.

Fading Commanders

However, I can see see Commanders becoming less popular. Of the three T’au units that I mention above, the change to the Fly keyword hits Commanders the hardest. The ability to fall back and shoot was one of the Commander’s key assets, and now that it’s gone, T’au players are going to have to carefully consider our HQ choices as we build lists.

With the latest points changes, taking just one Commander in place of the usual three would free up roughly 300 points from our armies, which is certainly nothing to sniff at. Would these points best be spent on a model that hits on a 2+ and can fall back and shoot? Absolutely. Would these points best be spent on a model that hits on a 2+ and can’t fall back and shoot? There’s a pretty good case to be made against this option.

We’ve all heard a lot of hot takes on combat in 9th edition. There are good arguments to say that combat improved in 9th — the board is smaller, there will be far less overwatch — and there are good arguments to say that combat got worse in 9th — charging units must be able to reach all their targets, tri-pointing is no longer effective — and I’m not sure which side of this debate I come down on.

However, the key point is that if the T’au Commander is tagged in combat, he is then all but useless for at least the following turn.

With this in mind, on what else could we spend our 300 points?

Enter the Ghostkeel

I want to begin with the Ghostkeel. 9th edition provided a couple of great little upgrades for this humble Battlesuit. First, it can now move and shoot without penalty. Both of the Ghostkeel’s main weapon options are heavy weapons, so the change to this rule immediately makes the Ghostkeel more appealing. But more importantly, this change frees up a support system slot. In 8th, players could take the target lock upgrade to move and shoot without penalty, but we would of course have to sacrifice something else to take it. This is no longer the case.

Second, the Ghostkeel can now shoot in combat. Considering that this model will very probably be closer to the enemy’s lines that most other units — we’ll talk more about that in a moment — your opponent will have a much easier time tagging it in combat. Of course, we would prefer to simply fall back from combat and engage with our weapons in the following turn, but being as this isn’t possible, we can at least do some damage while we are in engagement range.


However, I would argue that the utility of the Ghostkeel doesn’t come from its offensive output. The Ghostkeel takes the Infiltrator keyword, meaning that in can deploy anywhere on the board that is outside of the opponent’s deployment zone and more than 12″ from an enemy model.

And while the Ghostkeel doesn’t offer the pure offensive punch to take an opponent off an objective, it does provide enough speed and resilience to take a mid-board objective in the early stages of the game. We know that the 9th edition missions focus much more heavily on capturing and holding objectives; the Ghostkeel offers T’au players a head start on this primary method of scoring points.

A Ghostkeel armed with two burst cannons, a cyclic ion raker, an advanced targeting system, a shield generator, and accompanied by two stealth Drones comes to 176 points. The two Commanders that we are replacing come to roughly 300 points, so we’ve got plenty of points left to spend.

I’d argue that the Ghostkeel is certainly worth a look in 9th, but what else to we have on offer?

Taking Up the Tigershark

Let’s talk about something that is a little more out there: the Tiger Shark. This Forge World flyer is tough, quick, and puts out a solid amount of firepower. Because the Tiger Shark is a Forge World model, players who are only beginning their journey into the Empire would be well advised to choose something a little more conventional, but for the veteran T’au player, the Tiger Shark offers some interesting options.

As with the Ghostkeel, the Tiger Shark benefits from the new rules for heavy weapons. In 8th, the Tiger Shark’s main weapons would suffer the hit penalty for moving, and while hitting on a 3+ is still respectable, T’au players pay the points for the Tiger Shark in order to take advantage of a 2+ platform. In 9th, the Tiger Shark will rule the skies with impunity.

Unlike the Ghostkeel, the Tiger Shark doesn’t give T’au players new, interesting options to play the mission. But with two ion cannons, two cyclic ion blasters, two missile pods, and two skyspear missile racks, this model gives T’au players some very strong offensive output. There are, of course, a couple of different options for the main weapon, but I’ll explore this loadout for now.


Indeed, that’s pretty much the main reason to take a Tiger Shark. If you want some strong, accurate shooting and you are bored of the Riptide, the Tiger Shark could be worth a look.

Let’s take a brief look at a couple of the weapons I mentioned above. The ion cannon gives players three shots at strength 7, AP -2, and damage 2. Or the T’au player could overcharge the weapon, bumping the strength up to 8 and the damage up to 3. Moreover, the overcharge profile yields D6 shots instead of three.

Those skyspear missiles are pretty respectable as well: with D6 shots, strength 6, AP-2, and damage 2, there’s a lot of targets that T’au players can threaten.

But I would argue that the main strength of the Tiger Shark is indeed its ballistic skill. Hitting on 2s is rare for T’au players, and now that our Commanders are less useful, we need to look elsewhere for a 2+ platform. The Tiger Shark offers T’au players a 2+ platform with plenty of big guns, all for 416 points. Granted, this is quite a bit more than the roughly 300 points of Commanders that we are looking to replace, but it could very well be worth it.

As I said, the Tiger Shark is a little more adventurous, but veteran T’au players might certainly want to give it a go.

The Future

Where does this leave us? Are we going to see T’au players forgo the Riptides and the Drones? Honestly, I don’t think we are. But there are more options for those willing to look a little deeper in the codex. I’m certainly going to take another look at the Ghostkeel. One of my concerns going into 9th is how well my army will be able to contest the mid-board, and the Ghostkeel provides me with some interesting new options that I’m looking forward to exploring. What do you think about the two choices?  

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