40K Tactics: The T’au Ghostkeel in 9th
Let’s take a more detailed look at the Ghostkeel, and how to use it in the new edition.
Everyone knows that T’au Empire in 8th edition really only had one competitive list — Riptides, Commanders, and Drone spam — and while it’s too early in the edition to predict how a competitive T’au army is going to look, I want to make the best case for taking some of the lesser-seen models in the codex.
The Ghostkeel is in an interesting place at the moment. It doesn’t offer T’au players much in the way of offensive output, but it does offer some useful utility in other areas of the game. Whether this utility makes up for the lackluster shooting of the model is yet to be decided. As 9th edition goes on, we’re going to see lists evolve and change, so it’s certainly feasible that the Ghostkeel could make an appearance in some strong lists.
However, I’m a little skeptical that we’re going to see much of the Ghostkeel unless the 9th edition T’au codex updates its stat-line and abilities. This is certainly possible, and towards the end of this article I’m going to make a couple of suggestions that would bring the Ghostkeel into line with similarly-priced units in other codex books.
Ghostkeel vs InvictorWith this in mind, let’s begin with a comparison. For Space Marine players, the Invictor Tactical Warsuit plays a similar role to the Ghostkeel: it is a mid-sized unit that can deploy anywhere on the board that is not in the enemy deployment zone nor within 9″ of an enemy model. Moreover, it’s points cost is roughly comparable: 165 points for the Invictor and 171 points for the Ghostkeel.
For 165 points, the Invictor gets Marine players a fragstorm grenade launcher, a heavy bolter, two ironhail heavy stubbers, and a twin ironhail autocannon. For 176 points the Ghostkeel gets T’au players two burst cannons and a cyclic ion raker.
Let’s dig a little deeper into these shooting options. The Invictor has a total of 15 plus D6 shots. The two ironhail heavy stubbers offer six strength 4, AP-1, damage 1 shots at 36″; the heavy bolter offers three strength 5, AP-1, damage 1 shots at 36″; the twin ironhail autocannon offers six shots at strength 7, AP-1, damage 1 at 48″; and the fragstorm grenade launcher offers D6 blast shots at strength 4, AP0, damage 1 at 18″.
As shooting goes, this is respectable output for a model of this points cost. While it’s not going to bring down anything big, the Invictor will do some solid work against most infantry targets in the game, and it has the range to be a consistent threat regardless of positioning.
The Ghostkeel has 14 shots. The two burst cannons offer eight strength 5, AP-1, damage 1 shots at 18″ and the cyclic ion raker offers six strength 7, AP-2, damage 1 shots at 24″. The T’au player can overcharge the CIR for an extra point of strength and D3 damage at the cost of mortal wounds on 1s to hit. Note that I’m presuming that the T’au players takes the advanced targeting system for an extra point of armor piercing. Moreover, the points cost above presumes that the T’au player also takes a shield generator. It is this support system that makes the Ghostkeel an interesting option, but we’ll come to that in a moment.
In this loadout, the Ghostkeel will threaten some light to medium infantry, but will struggle to do much work against most other targets. While the CIR’s stat-line is respectable, the Ghostkeel will hit its target on average three times and will wound a further two against most targets. For the points cost, this is quite underwhelming.
There are a handful of other comparisons to similarly-priced options in a variety of other factions, but the Ghostkeel seldom comes out looking good.
And I accept that comparing two units in a vacuum has significant drawbacks. There is a lot more to both Space Marines and T’au that can improve these two units, but as a simple, broad-brush comparison I think there is at least some use in this comparison.
But it’s an unfortunate fact of this model: the Ghostkeel simply doesn’t offer much bang for its buck.
Before we get too negative, I mention above that T’au players can equip their stealthy lad with a shield generator. It’s here that things start to look up. With the native -1 to hit, and a 4++, the Ghostkeel starts to look more appealing as a defensive asset than an offensive one.
With toughness 6, a 3+ save, a 4+ invulnerable save, and a native -1 to hit, the Ghostkeel can be quite a pain for opponents to remove.
And what’s more, nearby Drones can use the savoir protocols ability to intercept incoming firepower.
Using the GhostkeelGranted, consistent, high-quality firepower will certainly take it off the table, but at the very least this unit forces opponents to think twice when deciding what firepower to employ. A canny T’au player will use this to his advantage.
I think there’s some play here. As a part of a back-field castle, the Ghostkeel doesn’t offer T’au players enough firepower. But as a mobile, mid-board harassment unit, there’s something to be said for it. It’s quick, and with the correct support systems it’s tough enough to get stuck in with a variety of enemy units.
The Ghostkeel, then, will reward more aggressive play. In 9th edition, games are won and lost on the objectives, and the Ghostkeel can be useful tool in contesting and capturing mid-board objectives. It won’t, however, be able to do so on it’s own. Drone support will help to keep it alive for longer and a couple of units will help with overwatch. Indeed, now that Battlesuits can no longer fall back and shoot, T’au players need to leverage our powerful overwatch abilities in order to disincentivise the opponent’s combat units.
T’au players should also consider using the Ghostkeel in the charge and combat phases of the game. Of course, it has little to no combat ability to speak of, but that wouldn’t be the goal of charging the enemy.
We’ve already established that the Ghostkeel doesn’t offer much in terms of offensive output. This means that if we lose a turn or two of shooting, we haven’t lost too much.
With it’s respectable defensive capabilities, the Ghostkeel can take a punch or two and keep on going, so T’au players should leverage this in order to turn off an opposing unit’s shooting and charging. Our Battlesuit could, for example, charge a squad of Intercessors, and while the Marines could certainly do a couple or three wounds in combat, the Ghostkeel would almost certainly survive. We’ve now shut down that unit in the following turn.
Such an aggressive tactic shouldn’t be used in every case, of course, but it should be an option in the T’au player’s toolkit.
Buffing the Ghostkeel
Finally, I want to mention a couple of improvements that would make the Ghostkeel a strong choice for the points. At the moment, it has some use, but it’s certainly not an auto-include. How could Games Workshop rewrite this unit in order to make it much more appealing?
I would keep things simple: increase the wounds from 10 to 12, increase the CIR’s profile from heavy 6 to heavy 8, and give it a 12″ no-reinforcements aura.
The first two are simple enough. Make the model more tough and more dangerous. This is pretty simple stuff. But it’s the third suggestion that I think could be really cool.
I suggest this rule specifically because The Greater Good introduced the very same ability — but in the form of a relic, the Advanced EM Scrambler.
It’s a great ability, but there are other very strong T’au relics, so it’s not at all surprising that we so seldom see it on the tabletop. Moreover, it would only apply to one Ghostkeel. Making the ability native to the model itself would give T’au players a strong incentive to take one or two Ghostkeels in their armies. The ability to block out areas of the board in which the opponent cannot place his reserve units is very strong.
Who knows what the next T’au codex will do for the Ghostkeel. I hope that GW does something interesting with it. It’s such a fantastic sculpt, and it would be great to see more variety on the tabletop.
Until that point, however, I think that the Ghostkeel still has some play.
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