Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Coming Back from the Brink, pt. 13: Skyrockets in Flight

Afternoon Delight?
Greetings Gentlereaders!

It's been too long since I last looked into a unit in Tau in depth, but her'es a unit that I've been trying to look at rationally and civilly.  The sky ray has often been the little brother of the hammerhead, but both benefitted from the changes in sixth edition.  Tau armies rarely have surplus heavy support slots, whether they be friendly or competitive.  So, while the sky ray has the potential to be a very useful vehicle in the Tau toolbox, it is in competition with broadsides, hammerheads and sniper drone teams for a place in the FOC.  It is in competition with units from other codices, like riflemen dreadnoughts and the hyrdra for the role of anti-air defense.

The initial description of a sky ray is more important than it was for other units as, I and possibly you dear reader, have never seen one of these tanks fielded.  The sky ray comes with a pair of networked markerlights and six seeker missiles.  The networked markerlights make the skyray capable of loosing its own seekers and make it possibly the most durable markerlight outlet.  However, its inability to fire its seekers without a markerlight hit means that its markerlights will primarily be used to fire its own weapons rather than contributing to the rest of the army.  Like all other seeker missiles, the sky ray's missiles are non-replenish-able, so it can at best hit with six missiles, but can only expect to hit with five.  While the ability to fire each weapon at a different target makes the sky ray an interesting vehicle and allows it to maximize its firepower, it still seems lackluster to me.

The sky ray's aesthetic seems to suggest that it is designed to be an anti-aircraft vehicle.  This suggestion was emphasized by Games Workshop.  When Apocalpyse Reloaded launched, one of the bundles  available was the skysweep missile defense wing, consisting of two sky rays and a devilfish.  Here is the description, cited from GW's website:

All Tau Hunter Cadres maintian a pool of Sky Ray Missile Defense Gunships.  These are employed primarily in an anti-tank role but they are also highly proficient as an anti-aircraft weapons system.  When fighting larger scale engagements, many Fire Caste commanders call upon a 'Skysweep' Missile Defense Wing to provide dominance of the air over the battlefield.

¡Si, estoy enojado!
This is where I get angry.  I try to avoid getting angry over little plastic spacemen, but this assertion that the sky ray is "highly proficient as an anti-aircraft weapons system" and can "provide dominance" is insulting and will be so until the codex or FAQ are updated.  Being proficient means being well advanced or competent, which the sky ray simply is not.  How proficient the sky ray can be judged to be depends on how you manipulate the probability.  In order for a sky ray to fire a seeker missile it must first use a markerlight hit.  Because the sky ray has two markerlights of its own you could try to calculate the probability of hitting with one missile using both markerlights (0.2778), of hitting with one missile using a single markerlight (0.1389) or the probability of hitting with two missiles using both markerlights (0.0193).  No matter how you calculate this number, any unit with a single shot twin-linked (0.3056) weapon of the same strength and comparable armor penetration (three or higher) is a more proficient anti-aircraft unit than the sky ray.

You may argue that this is a symptom of the rules for fliers and changing between apocalypse and sixth edition, but they have largely remained the same.  The datasheet for the skysweep formation does allow the sky ray to perform its anti-aircraft role and provides two interesting tricks for merely the price of 150 points and the cost of an otherwise superfluous devilfish that must remain alive for either of the tricks to work.  Those 150 points buy a networked markerlight on the devilfish, the tricks and the precursor to skyfire for all markerlights in the formation.

Data, you just...you...sigh
I will grant that with these perks the sky rays in the skysweep wing could provide aerial dominance, however there are two problems with this situation: 1. this datasheet is only available in Apocalypse games while fliers are now part of most standard games of 40k and 2. the skyray needs the skyfire rule to be able to function as anti-aircraft unit and has no way to access it at present.  It does have better shots than the only other unit designed to kill aircraft, the hydra, but the hydra's four twin-linked shots mean that it is more effective at shooting tanks on the ground (0.3056) than the sky ray is at shooting at air targets (0.2778).  You could argue that the sky ray is trying to shoot a target outside its element and that the units should be compared in their elements.  Then the sky ray has at most a 0.5556 probability of hitting a target, while the hydra has a 0.75 probability.

---Stats Alert---

Taking an inexpensive varient of the sky ray, with burst cannons, targeting array and a disruption pod, the sky ray clocks in at a mere 145 points, nearly double the cost of a single hydra.  The sky ray is undoubtedly more durable than the hydra, and I will grant that has considerable value.  However, the hydra is less effective against an armor 13 ground target in terms of effective hull points (0.2037) than is the sky ray (0.3704).  Against armor 12 the hydra can expect 0.4074 hull points while the sky ray can expect 0.5556.  Against armor 11 the hydra gets 0.6111  while the sky ray gets 0.7407 hull points.  Against armor 10  the hydra gets 0.8148 while the sky ray gets 0.9259.  While these numbers are probably as mind numbing for you as they were for me, it illustrates how much parity there is against light armor between a single sky ray and a single hydra while there is such a disparity in points.

---All Clear---

As far as Tau anti-tank is concerned, the sky ray's armaments are a joke.  Missiles are a legitimate anti-tank option for most codices, but we are talking about Tau.  For Tau, railguns are the gold standard and anything that tries to compete must have volume of fire and the sky ray does not.  I would love to say this unit is worth taking, but I simply cannot through a combination of high cost, low damage output and having to compete against other heavy support options that Tau rely on.

You could object that I'm comparing a fourth edition codex to fifth edition codices and it isn't a fair comparison.  That would be a legitimate counter-argument if we were still playing fourth edition with fourth edition codices.  However, I am playing sixth edition, with a fourth edition codex against primarily fifth edition codices.  As soon as my opponents play fourth edition codices or Tau are a sixth edition codex I'll stop complaining like this because I know no one likes it.  I don't like doing it.  But when I set out to do these in-depth looks at individual units, I decided I had to examine them in context.  That context is the mix of fourth, sixth and fifth.

I'm Undergound Heretic and I get to live with that every day!


  1. Great analysis there. I was really annoyed myself when 6th edition came out and markerlights weren't given Skyfire.

    This could very easily have been limited to the launching of seeker missiles in the FAQ and would have made the transition into 6th and flyers much more palatable.

    They really missed a tick there!


  2. Could be Worse, you could be playing Black Templar. Higher points, more restrictive allies matrix, less units to choose from, Harsh FAQ, More demanding "Mandatory Unit(s)" rules, less viable lists, self restricting special rules (i.e. no psychers [considering 6th's push for psychers...]), Assault emphasis over Tau's shooting emphasis (pros and cons here).

    Oh, and I'm a fourth edition codex. Trust me, I feel your pain, and then some. Your options are to suck it up and wait it out, utilize heavier levels of allies, or play an alternative army till the update. Not a grand set of options, but that's what we 4th ed army players have to deal with right now.

    Otherwise, good read.

    1. I believe that UH is mainly annoyed due to the complete disregard for the fluff surrounding a vehicle (that was next to useless even in 5th) now that it actually has a chance to have purpose and live up to the fluff in 6th (against flyers)

      I am sure UH would agree with me that in 6th it's not all that hard to win anymore, those of us that struggled and persevered through 5th with the Tau are now reaping the rewards since it has become allot easier for us.


    2. Oh I know. He and I have discussions quite often regarding old codexes and old units. Admittedly that was the point I honed in on.

      I'll agree the skyray is pretty awful right now. It's possible it will be redone to be awesome, or replaced by a new unit that simply does sky fire better. There's not really much telling, beyond waiting and finding out. It's 2 pretty big editions behind, so it's feeling it's age quite extensively.

      We can be frustrated with GW ll day if we must about their FAQ's, and what they "should have covered". But we all know they're in it to make money. And making everything super awesome right now, means they won't sell later, and they have to shuffle what exists now with what will exist in the future, and how that effects sales.

      They'll very rarely risk it for the biscuit unless it pays out in the end. I'm sure it has a chance to shine in the future, but for now, it'll have to be kept on the shelf much liek a lot of other units out there, Imperial and Xenos alike.

    3. Godfrey, we could go through our unit selections and I think we would have about the same number of units. Remember that Tau also have mandatory units, two to be exact, and our mandatory hq can't step out of the FoC to make room. I know we can allie with psychers, but we also have no native psychers either. To be fair, for your higher points you do get better units, or you could if you decided to shoot. Any decision is a risk with an uncertain outcome, it's just how uncertain.

      Kiblams, you defined my position well and I thank you for defending it while I was writing for Tuesday (spoilers: it's part 14). I would have liked to get markerlights that could have given skyfire, but I can see how they imagined skyfiring broadsides being overpowered (~64% chance of killing any flier, BS4, AV12).

      It may not be hard for Tau to win, but it has been hard for me to win. I've gone first a handful of times and that's a nasty for Tau. Godfrey's Kreig basically tabled me by mid-3, I fought IG/Wolves to a draw on objectives, but lost on secondaries, lost based on mission type to BA, almost got tabled by BA/Eldar assault, etc, etc, etc...

    4. Difference between the mandatory units is a staggering leap in your favor. You will be taking a suit commander. They're really your only option outside characters and ethereals, and they can be pretty cheap for the stats and rules they have. But the big point is their role. You can bring one... and be done. While yes, I have the Emperor's Champion... guess what, he can't be my warlord. Not only that, but I have to bring another HQ because the champion will not be enough to help the army. I need bubbles of fearless, or Rites just to make my army even capable of going, seeing as I have leaderships at 1 casualty per squad. So you mandatory HQ services your FOC mandatory unit (AKA, doesn't really count). Yes it can matter, but 99% of the time, it wont. Same to be said for your fire warriors. You'll ring way more than one... so really lets face it, that rule doesn't mean anything negative for Tau :P.

      Beyond that, if I play a shooting Templar army, I sacrifice not only stats, but also special rules... making the army beyond inefficient. Argument to be made for well roundedness, but that's a whole 'nother point.

      That said, I recognize this is a tangent about a different topic. So I'll digress. Just thought it would be something for perspective.