The T’au are in big trouble, and it’s not clear what can fix them.
With a host of books already released for 9th Edition we’ve got a pretty clear idea of how the game works and how it should be played.. We also know that we are still close to the start of a new Codex cycle that plans to refresh and remake all the books. Of all the books coming out in the future, the T’au is the one that interests me the most as they seem to be an army that fundamentally doesn’t work well in 9th Edition. Let’s take a look at why that is.
Broken and Ripped Off
In 8th Eition, T’au had some major issues. They were fundamentally a broken army, and here I mean broken, not OP. They didn’t work well. Yes, they had a winning build, but they had one winning build that no one, not even T’au players, liked. On top of that, they saw many of their mechanics stolen by Marines over time. Even though T’au won some events and had a larger role in the meta than many other armies, it was a dark time for them, and the army has been in real trouble. 9th has only made that worse.
A Game About Objectives
9th Edition is very much a game about objectives. The missions focus heavily on pushing forward, taking, and then holding objectives. This is how you score primary objectives, and a large number of secondary objectives also feed off of controlling objectives. While it’s not the only way of scoring points, it is a primary way, and any army that can’t push forward to take ground is in real trouble.
Cue T’au. Out of any 9th Edition army, they are in the worst spot for this. Many of their units want to stay at long range. Even their few short-ranged units don’t actually want to get into assault. The most effective T’au armies have almost no close combat ability. This makes it harder for them to push the enemy off objectives and for T’au to hold them in the face of assault units. Certainly, T’au can attempt to break the enemy with ranged attacks in the early and mid-game and then grab uncontested objectives later in the game, but this risks the enemy getting an early lead in points that the T’au can’t overcome. This has been shown out in a pretty poor showing in the meta over the past year.
Acting In All Phases
One of GW’s things seems to be pushing for 9th Edition is that armies should be able to act and do stuff in every phase of the game if they want to be good. We can see this design philosophy in both the missions and the new books. The Primaris Techmarine is a great example of this, as it is a unit that can be useful in every phase but the physic phase. You’ve also got units like Ghaz and the C’tan that can only take a certain number of wounds each phase. To have any chance of killing them in a reasonable time, you need to do damage in many phases. You can see many of these changes in the newer books, with shooting armies getting more combat options and combat armies getting more shooting options.
T’au are pretty much the worst army in the game for being useful in many phases. Right now, the only phase they are actually good in is the shooting phase. They are OK at doing things in the movement phase but really don’t have any particular tricks, nor are they a fast army. They have zero psychic power and effectively zero assault power. They can do some stuff in the enemy assault phase, but it’s not really great. They likely won’t do anything in their assault phase, and they don’t have any morale tricks. They, of course, as an 8th Codex, don’t have any command phase actions, but we can assume that at least will be fixed. Taken as a whole, they can’t do stuff in a lot of the turn’s phases.
This leaves them in a rough spot. Consider fighting Ghaz or a C’tan with T’au. You can’t kill those targets before turn 4 if you do everything right, and allowing them to rampage unchecked for several turns will likely cost you the game. This disconnect from the game philosophy will likely only get worse. Even Necrons, who suffered from the same issues in the past, have gotten access to both good assault units and things that act in the psychic phase.
T’au have also simply just fallen behind in the weapons race. They used to be an army known for having some of the best weapons in the game. Indeed their whole thing was being the army with S5 basic weapons. However, with armies getting tones of buffs in 9th and new weapon stats, the T’au are getting left behind with old and obsolete equipment. Compared to a lot of armies they are kind of weak in the D2 or high AP department. They just don’t have a lot of great MEQ weapons. Speaking of Marines, new Primaris units can now field a whole army with S5 guns. Alas, so much for T’au being special.
Something Needs To Be Done
I don’t pretend to know what GW plans to do with T’au, but it seems like drastic change is needed. The T’au army is fundamentally out of whack because of the way that 9th is designed to be played. This is not a good thing, as the army already didn’t work, which has only made it worse. As a stand-alone Codex, they don’t even have the option of souping up with someone else to balance their issues. I’m not even sure what can be done to make T’au both a good and interesting/fun army. There hasn’t been a ton of interest in really revamping Xenos books in 9th. Durkhari and Orks were more of a refinement than really giving us anything new. Necrons was the biggest revamp and they are probably the worst 9th Edition book. Hopefully, GW has a plan and will fix them, but I don’t know what the heck it is.
Let us know what you think they should do to fix T’au down in the comments!