Hey hello guys, gals, and xenos filth. Today, we’ve got a very special guest piece by TheGraveMind. Though typically a loyal servant of the Hivemind, he’s recently been acting awfully fishy, and nothing has spurred him on so joyfully in the service of the Third Sphere as the introduction of the Ghostkeel. I’m sure something resulting from years of abuse to his bugs has prompted this, but I’m still not sold on the idea of being sneaky in a Riptide. Nevertheless, he’s here with some points about why the Optimized Stealth Cadre is one of the most powerful tools in the “new” Tau codex.
The OSC is a new Tau formation that was released with the “7th edition” Tau codex. It is made up of one squad of the new Ghostkeel, and two units of Stealth suits. I’ll do a brief overview of what it’s capable of, its limitations and how I’ve been running it. The formation grants the Ghostkeel unit one unique rule; The Wall of Mirrors. At the beginning of the shooting phase, the Ghostkeel can choose to use this ability, for the rest of the shooting phase they gain +1Bs, ignores cover and all of their attacks hit vehicles on their rear facing. Any stealth suit units from this formation gain this ability if they’re within 6” of the Ghostkeel unit.
This formation is all about the Ghostkeels and it is important to understand what they can do, within the context of this formation. Their main weapon is a melta blast, which in the long run isn’t much different than a twin linked melta weapon for tau. They can exchange this freely for a Cyclic Ion Raker. This CIR is a 6 shot autocannon at half range. With the wall of mirrors activated, the ignores cover, and hitting on rear armor makes the CIR the superior weapon system. The increase in BS also favors the higher rate of fire over the single blast.
Their secondary weapon starts off as a twin linked flamer, whose only real use is overwatch, but if it’s come to that, things are already bad. For five points you can increase it to a burst cannon. Now this does compliment the CIR pretty well, giving you a decent rate of fire, a decent strength and ok range. My main complaint here is that the burst cannon is the weapon you have everywhere else in your army, and it also narrows the role of the OSC to lighter infantry and vehicles. The last option for 10 points is a twin linked fusion gun. This is the tau’s version of the Imperium’s meltagun, but at 18” range. So now when you consider the Wall of Mirrors, you have a reliably hitting weapon with high strength, low AP, which ignores cover. For most vehicles you don’t have to worry about Melta range, as S8 will do fine against the rear armor. It’s low AP also allows you to take out heavy infantry like terminators, and still have a chance against AV14 heavy tanks.
The ghostkeel, when it still has its stealth drones with it, has both stealth and shrouded giving it +3 to any existing cover save. If the enemy is shooting from further than 12” away, this bonus is doubled to +6 to its cover saves, making Ghostkeels have a 2+ cover in the open. It is worth noting this does not affect the drones, who will only have a 4+ in the open. Since they want to be outside of 12” when being shot at, they want to end their turn generally 18” away from the enemy. This is another reason I favor the CIR, as the 24” range gives more room for error and random dice. Each ghostkeel also can once per game make an enemy unit snap fire at them. This can completely nullify blasts, and hinder any other shooting. You get to declare this after being targeted but before To Hit are rolled.
But let’s not forget about the stealth suit squads. You’re required to take two units of them, and they are pretty pricey for a three-man T3 unit. They slightly out-point a Space marine bike, since they haven’t changed points since their introduction in 3rd edition. These XV25s (or XV15s if you run the old metal ones like I do) are all equipped with burst cannons, and that is how I’d leave them in general. The Stealth squads are considered the Tax to give the Ghostkeel the formations abilities. So while you can run the OSC formation with a single ghostkeel, you are paying more points in Stealth suits than you are for the Ghostkeel. Adding a second Ghostkeel to the unit gives them increase durability, firepower and most importantly a second use of the snap fire defense mechanism.
This is the minimum I would consider for the OSC if you were keeping it on the low budget for points; two minimum bare stealth suit squads, and a single unit of two Ghostkeels, both with CIR and twin linked Fusion. While the Gks can take two systems, the only one really needed is to give one of them a target lock allowing them to split their fire onto two softer targets. Stims and the Shield are generally not needed, and over costed for this cover save loving monstrous creatures. Both Counter-fire Defense and Early warning override have their merits but I would not consider them until the end of the list building stage, if I had a few points left over.
When you get to three Gks in a unit, this is where the formation really begins to shine. Ghostkeels have the fire team rule, which means when they are in a unit of three, they gain +1Bs. This will stack with the formations +1Bs, making them have Bs5 most turns. You give them target locks and now each model is firing six shots hitting on 2+, S7 that ignores cover. You also have a third use of the Photo-defense snap firing rule, along with a total of six T5 stealth drones to soak some wounds. At a unit of three, Gks become a threat in melee to smaller units as well since they are still 3 base attack MCs. With four attacks on the charge, three GKs will kill about 5 marines on average, taking maybe 1 wound back from krak grenades.
An OSC really wants to push to mid/side field. You want to be in range to do damage, but stay far enough away that your thrust move will keep you more than 12" away including the survivors move towards you. They are great for maelstrom missions. The stealth teams are good for hiding further back, grabbing objectives or picking off stragglers that the ghost keels didn't kill all the way. The OSC's main weakness, much like the rest of Tau, is close range combat. Units that can put out a lot of firepower within 12", such as drop pod grav, or fast moving assault units, such as Necron Wraiths, will really give you headaches. This is where the rest of your army comes in.
My favorite combo so far is running OSC with Forgeworld’s Y'vahra jumptide. Ghostkeels want to keep just outside of 12", while y'var wants to be just within 12". The y’var has incredible firepower at short range, and it complements the Ghostkeels load out very well. I have been using them as zone control. They hover just ahead and to the side of the OSC as they move across the table. They protect the flanks, kill the heavily armored units the OSC would struggle with and keep units further away unless they have dealt with them first. It has worked so well I think it will be the new core of any army I run. The main limiting factor is that since the jump tide is forgeworld, I am stuck running a CAD + formation until their new IA book is released.
If you aren’t looking to min/max every point out of the formation and want to play for fun then there are some options to consider with the stealth suit squads when the points are less tight. Instead of running both bare minimum, you can put one or both squads at max 6-man and increase one to a Vre (sarge). For every three models one can be given a Fusion gun for 5 points, and it is only 5 more points to give that model a target lock as well. This will put the unit from 90 points up to 210, but gives it much more versatility and flexibility on the table. I have run a unit this way before when I used Shadowsun as my Warlord for a themed list. The squad she is targeted to join also gains two drones to give more ablative wounds, and the Vre also takes Vector retro-thrusters so the squad can hit and run out if they get caught in combat. Shadowsun’s command drone also boosts the formation well, as rerolling 1’s can be a nice boon for Ghostkeel and stealth suits alike.
The other option is to run a minimum unit of Stealth suits, upgrading one to a Vre and purchasing a markerlight for him. He can then buy two marker drones and a drone controller. If a drone net formation is on the table, you can skip the drone controller. This gives small unit three Bs 4 markerlights that can hide with stealth and shrouded behind the Ghostkeel unit. If you discount the cost of the Stealth unit you were already taking, this makerlight source upgrades cost you around 42 points, which for three Bs4 shots on a 2+ cover save relentless platform is a good deal.
Overall the Optimized Stealth Cadre formation is an incredibly powerful addition to the Tau arsenal. All light infantry with a 4+ save or worse will vaporize before their firepower, and tanks with AV12 or lower rear armor will end up out of hull points after a single turn of shooting. A unit of three GKs will take off 5 hull points of an unshielded knight’s back armor at 24” away. Since the Wall of Mirrors can be chosen to activate after the knight has allocated the direction of the shield, the Ghostkeel can play a little game with it. If they choose to protect the rear arc, the GKs still average 2 hull points against the front armor, and the knight is exposed to the rest of your army’s firepower as well. The OSC leaves the rest of your army to focus on killing the heavily armored targets of the enemy. It is also a fully independent unit, not needing any markerlights to boost its Bs or ignore cover. It can perform unhindered and allow markerlights to be spent more economically for other units.