With many upcoming tournaments, be they Game Day Events or whatnot, and many new enthusiasts joining the ranks, lots of people have trouble making lists that work at the upper point levels (i.e. 2500 area) in which many tourneys are played. Others might have played at these point levels before, but are wary of odd scenarios and odder lists that are seen. So I'd like to start this thread to help anyone needing a bit of advice on how to build a good army list. Links will be sprinkled liberally where tactica's on units exist.
Section 1: The Objective
For some, the objective of the list is *ahem* "To crush the enemy! To see them driven before you! And to hear the lamentation of the women!" For others, perhaps, it is VP denial, or holding objectives, or to be the prettiest, fluffiest, and shiniest list out there. And then still more want the mythical "All Comers List"; where even the paper list itself may be put on the table and win against any army imaginable. Here is where you must decide on what list you want to put together. For the purposes of this thread, lets try for the All Comers List...might as well reach for the myth!
Section 2: The Strategy
Here is where it starts to get a bit tricky. You have your objective, your goal. Now how do you get there? An All Comers List (hereafter known as ACL) needs to have elements that are flexible enough to take on many enemies without becoming too specialized. It needs to have its hammers, anvils, scalpels, and snipers. Eldar, for instance, have their aspect warriors who already know their role in things, be they tank hunters, fast assaults, snipers, or heavy artillery. Space Marines are the jack of all trades, able to take on many roles within a squad or two. Tau are different from the other races; their might is in focussed firepower and mobility, rather than sheer manpower, tank power, all-out speed, or durability.
For a Tau ACL its more than just standing back and plugging away with railguns, hoping they never make it to close combat. Its about making sure that what you're shooting dies as efficiently as possible. Its about making sure that your opponent has little retaliation against you. Its about making sure that if you need to hold an objective, come hell or high water, that objective is held. So lets start with the tools you'll be needing.
Section 3: The Units
For the Greater Good of the Tau Empire, all units have their niche. They are cogs in a great machine, and if one fails, all fails. But while some teeth on the cog get broken, they all take heart to the fact that the machine still moves on (shamelessly paraphrased from Fire Warrior). Starting from the top, here we go. (Links will be given to tacticas on the site for some of the units).
HQ: The 3 choices given to us by the codex are the Shas'o, Shas'el, and Ethereal; the Crisis commander being a 1+ choice. Also available are the Bodyguards. While Crisis suits in general are the Tau's answer to everything, the Crisis Commanders are more so; able to choose anything from the wargear and weapons lists, and to use it to the best of its ability. This flexibility is what makes us feared. Many different loadouts are viable here, and you could save this slot till last; find what needs to be shored up in your list and specialize. You could make this your 'Go-To' unit and make it so that it can take on many different roles. At this point level, my personal favorite is the Shas'o Fireknife with Shield Gen, couple of shield drones, and a couple of Fireknife+ Bodyguards for intimidation.
Elite: More Crisis Suits! YAY! Again, here is where you shore up your list against your imagined opponents. Will it be a hordefest? Tank Company? Nidzilla? Probably one of the better loadouts is the Deathrain squad; TL Missile Pods with either a flamer or targetting array for the other hardpoint (really up to you). This gets you a light to medium anti-tank power and the ability to hurt those monstrous creatures...all from 42" away (Tau'va bless JSJ). Another loadout that does quite well is the Firestorm squad; Missile Pod, Burst Cannon, Multi-Tracker. Pumping out 5 shots a turn per suit, anything within 24" should be wary. It might not have the armor punching value of the Fusion Gun, or the Terminator killing Plasma Rifle, but it is a very good suit to have on your side. Side note: With Deep Strike now being a given in all missions, you need to be wary of using them in that way. Sometimes when you need them in, they won't be there. Just be cautious in how you use them.
Also in this slot is the Stealth Suit Team. With the changes to 5th ed, many are looking very seriously at the viability of the SMT (Stealth Marker Team). The cheapest version of this comes to 105 (2 Shas'ui, Team Leader w/Markerlight) with the most common probably being 170 (2 Shas'ui, Team Leader w/ Markerlight, HW Drone Controller, HW Target Lock, 2x Marker Drones). Here is a great place to put a great tool. Nigh uncatchable, unshootable, and oh-so-annoying at times, 3 markerlights can make or break a target. Another viability is the "Surprise! Fusion Gun!" Stealth Team. With the ability to either Deep Strike, Infiltrate, or Outflank, this unit is like those new toothbrushes: able to get to those hard-to-reach places! In general, for this unit, try to keep the 'footprint' small; a massive unit of 6 Stealth Suits and 12 Gun Drones is going to be very hard to hide (though probably very fun to use).
Troops: Ahh, the Troop choice. With the advent of 5th Ed., troop choices now have a somewhat larger part to play, rather than being the compulsory 2 squads that you *have* to take while spending the rest of your points on those Godhammers everyone loves. Troops are used to control (not just contest) objectives; and seeing as how there are 6 out of 9 objective based missions, this is important. I would take no less than 4 troops, especially at this point level, and if possible fill up all 6 available slots. First up is the humble, unassuming Fire Warrior squad; a +1 choice, 6-12 members with a few options/upgrades available to you. I'll say this now, so I can get it out of my system: I LOVE FIRE WARRIORS! Armed with, arguably, the most powerful basic weapon in the game and still has a few Tau tricks available to them...mmmmm so nice! My personal favorite is an 8 or 10 man squad with Pulse Rifles (again, my preference is the Rifles over the Carbines, but there are many uses for both) mounted in an upgraded Warfish (we'll get to that lovely bit of vehicle in a moment). Properly utilized and supported (i.e. not just thrown in front of the army and possibly helped with a markerlight or two) this squad can *decimate* other units, and I use it as my hammer. EMP Commandos, backup Markerlight teams, and the backbone of Gunline Tau; this unit is more versatile than it first appears. For this ACL, I would recommend probably 2 mounted squads with a few more footslogging to stay with objectives and protect our back end.
Our other option for troops are the Kroot (I'm staying away from human auxillaries and just using the codex; link given was written for 4th Ed, but still a good read). Cheap, fluffy, and fragile, you'll see many swear by them and others swear at them. A favorite 'speed bump' unit, they are the best close combat unit we have; beware, thats not saying much. Used as either protection for one unit or another, infiltrating to hold an objective, or outflanking to tie up those hard to reach units Kroot are just as versatile as Fire Warriors but in different ways, so don't waste these units (another tip: don't waste units at all if you don't have to!) Trees and jungle terrain are this units best friend, giving them a 3+ cover save. If an objective is in the woods or jungle stick a unit of kroot around it, have them go to ground, and chances are that objective isn't leaving your possession. A good Outflanking unit consists of 10 Kroot with 10 Hounds coming in at a thrifty 130 points. A charge from this unit is nothing to sneeze at, even for dedicated assault troops, with 30 I5 attacks (thats right, Mr. Chapter Master, simultaneous attacks)and a further 30 I3 coming in to seal the deal. I would use 2 of these units, just to allow you a greater flexibility of options.
Transport: The Devilfish. The glorious, wondiferous Devilfish. I love this vehicle more than I love my fire warriors, and thats saying a lot. Probably the second best transport in the game by a very narrow margin, its a skimmer, a tank, has good armor and weapons, and the availability of a whole lot of lovely upgrades; whats not to love? It has saved my bacon numerous times. The Fish of Fury (alternate tactica here; first article was written for 4th ed, but well written with pics and underlying principles) is a great tactic to know.
Fast Attack: The odd man out in many army lists, the Tau have a couple good choices here. I'll start with Pathfinders. The cheapest and most cost effective markerlights available to Tau. That sentence right there should help you decide whether you need Pathfinders or whether you don't. Devilfish must be bought for this unit as well, which is another place to get your transports (remember, in 5th Ed, other units may be transported by the DF, so if you need a last minute ride for Fire Warriors, they can use the Pathfinder's devilfish). Also available in this unit are Rail Rifles, a weapon that is overlooked in many cases. At this point level, I'd probably use at least 1 if not 2 units of Pathfinders; markerlights are very useful for increasing the power of your entire army (and also a good 'scary' unit that may take the heat off of more needed units, depending on your opponent).
Pirahnas(such a hard time spelling that...) are up at the top of the Fast Attack slots beside Pathfinders. Our only Fast skimmer, a unit of these is really useful, be it for last minute objective grabs or racing across the board to give a nice, warm Fusion Gun welcome to that Basilisk in the corner. And don't forget the Gun Drones; coming free with every Pirahna, these little guys are another great 'speed bump' or harrassment unit. Depending on your playstyle, this unit is either an excellent backup or a great first-striker.
Speaking of Gun Drones, I put them at 3rd on the list for Fast Attack choices. Able to Deep Strike in, and armed with TL Pulse Carbines, it is an often overlooked unit. The tactica linked gives you some ideas for them, but at this level, you're better off using the points for something else.
Vespids. Hmm.... While there might be some use for them out there, I have yet to find it. I'd skip them, at any point level. Too fragile, too expensive.
Heavy Support: *sniffsniff* Whats that heavenly aroma? Is that a railgun I smell? Tau have the most recognized, most powerful, and probably most hated weapon in their Heavy Support slot. And we can take it up to 9 times. The epitome of anti-vehicular weaponry, we have 2 options for its carrier. First up: the Broadside (tactica written for 4th Ed, but still good info). Whats better than 1 railgun? 2 railguns! This unit is welcome in any army list, carrying a TL Railgun and a 2+ armor save. Stick a Team Leader in there, give them an AdSS and a few Shield Drones, and you've got every vehicle's worst nightmare coming at you from 72" away.
The Hammerhead is an excellent tank, with good armor, great weapons, and all those lovely Tau vehicle upgrades. Able to move 12" and still fire that beautiful railgun (now with kung-fu submunition action!), its the flipside of the nightmare that vehicles face when fighting against Tau. Also available is the Ion Cannon, a well rounded weapon, but mostly overshadowed by the railgun. It also gets a secondary weapon system, with a well thought-out tactica about them lying here. I'd take a Hammerhead just to have a good, moving cannon to use when and where you need it.
The Sky Ray is one of those vehicles I look at, see and acknowledge the potential of it, and then move back to my Broadsides and Hammerheads. One of the nicer places to find a mobile markerlight and, with the Sky Ray, you get 2 of them along with 6 Seeker Missiles and a secondary weapon system. I've heard it said that it needs a big infrastructure to use, and I agree; you don't need to build a whole list around the Sky Ray, but you need to build a good chunk of one around it and sometimes thats more than I'm able to devote to it.
The Sniper Drone Team is just like the Sky Ray; great potential, but too much competition for the Heavy slots. One of the sneakiest places to find a markerlight, though.
Section 4: The Teamwork
This section is devoted to thinking about how your list is going to work together. While any army you choose needs to work together, the Tau are almost rewarded for doing so. Markerlights are a prime example of this. Don't think about each unit individually; think of the list as a whole. With an ACL, you need to be disciplined in your plans and strategies, flexible when they goes awry (and they *will* go awry), and utterly ruthless in your attacks. Remember your goals! From overall goals like kill points and objectives, down to stopping that huge squad of genestealers from getting into CC with your frail, frail Fire Warriors; keep them in the front of your mind. Unless you're Deep Striking a suicide Monat Sunforge behind enemy lines, don't let units go out there alone. Make sure you have them backed up. Coordinate your units to get overwhelming firepower in the places you need it most. Go through the Academy and the Tactica sections to find out how to use your units effectively.
Section 5: The Costs
Ahh, point costs. Why must you restrict me so? That aside, when putting together your list, remember that total and remember to keep things in balance. At 2500 points, you can whip out that big, beefy unit of firey death; you've got plenty of points to spend on it. But so does your opponent! If you place too much pressure on one unit it could break at the most inopportune time, and keep in mind that sometimes one shot can make or break a game. What's that? Lysander with 7 Assault Terminators in a Land Raider Crusader just rolled up? One good railgun shot and a few bad rolls on your opponents part could send that 730 point unit up in flames. One shot. Now, sometimes that happens, and sometimes it don't. My recommendation, though, is to temper your list with well-rounded and well thought-out units. (As an aside, there is nothing better than to see a big, beefy unit of firey death do what it does best, so sometimes you should take the risk )
Section 6: The Conclusion
My apologies for the long-windedness (and also the break between the first draft of this and the final one), but the point of this was to help you think about putting together a list that both a) suits you and your playstyle and b) makes it easier to win. I hope that it does in one way or another. Any questions, comments (snide remarks), and additions you may have are welcome.