In the current edition of 40K, markerlights seem to be all the rage for Tau armies. Whereas many Tau armies in 4th edition focused on bringing mechanized troops to the table, the current trend is to bring markerlights to negate 5th’s ever-present cover saves. While there are a variety of units that can mount markerlights, the two most commonly used are the Pathfinder squad and the Stealth Team. So, which is better? Are there any clear advantages to using one over the other? Let’s take a look at two potential markerlight units:
3 Shas’ui w/ Burst Cannon, Drone Controller, Marker Drone
1 Shas’ui team leader w/ Burst Cannon, Markerlight, Hardwired Multi-tracker, Drone Controller, Marker Drone
Cost: 260 points
7 Pathfinders w/ Markerlights and Pulse Carbines
1 Shas’ui w/ Markerlight and Pulse Carbine
1 Devilfish w/ Smart Missile System, Disruption Pod, Multi-Tracker
Cost: 221 points
So, what are the advantages of each? Let’s start with the Stealth Team.
- Jet Pack Infantry – this is probably the biggest advantage of the stealth team. Most importantly, it makes the unit Relentless, allowing them to move and shoot their markerlights. They also gain the extra 6″ of movement in the assault phase, allowing them to use Jump-Shoot-Jump tactics, as well as effectively putting their markerlight range at 42″.
- 3+ Armor Save – higher survivability is better. True, it doesn’t carry over to the drones, but the suits themselves can take more punishment than pathfinders can.
- Markerlights on Drones – having the markerlights mounted on drones allows the stealth suits to still use their burst cannons. With 4 suits, that’s 12 shots at 18″ – 4 more than the pathfinders can dish out. Also, unlike the pathfinders, the Stealth Team can fire their markerlights and their burst cannons in the same turn. Even the team leader, with his multi-tracker, can fire both.
- Networked Markerlights – thanks to the marker drones’ networked markerlights, the Stealth Team can even use their own markerlight hits, if they so choose. Note that this is not true for the team leader’s markerlight.
- Infiltrate – deploying last on the table, and being able to be within 12″ to 18″ of an enemy unit allows the Stealth Team to get into a prime location for lighting up the enemy.
- Deep Strike – if a prime location can’t be found at the beginning of the game, then the Stealth Team can deep strike later in the game, keeping them safe until they deploy, at which time they are free to mark the enemy.
- Stealth Field – always being treated as being under night fighting rules helps keep the Stealth Team just a little bit safer. Whether the field helps in assault as it did in 4th edition is still up in the air, unfortunately.*
So, that’s what the Stealth Team has going for it. What advantages do the Pathfinders have over them?
- Lower Cost – the Pathfinder unit I’ve posted is relatively maxed out; it’s got a full unit with a shas’ui, and it’s riding in a Warfish. With all that, it’s still cheaper than the Stealth Team. At the very bare minimum, a 4-man Pathfinder squad can be had for 128 points. You’d be hard-pressed to find a less expensive option for putting markerlights on the table.
- More Markerlights – the Pathfinder unit is bringing 8 markerlights, as opposed to the Stealth Team’s 5. That’s going to get you an average of 1-2 extra markerlight hits a turn.
- Dedicated Transport – the Pathfinders come with their own Devilfish, which they can use to get into a good position. After that, they can either use it to escape, give it to another unit for taxi purposes, or just let it run around on its own to harass the enemy and contest objectives.
- Scout – getting a free move before the first turn can help the Pathfinders react to enemy positions and pick a better markerlighting position. More importantly, it allows them to deploy from their Devilfish before the first turn, thus allowing them to stay stationary and fire.
- Fast Attack slot – Stealth Teams have to compete with Crisis Suits – the workhorses of the Tau army – for Elite slots. Pathfinders, on the other hand, are a Fast Attack option, and are arguably the best Fast Attack unit we have. It’s easy to fit them into your army’s FOC.
- Markerlights not tied to drones – one weakness of the Stealth Team is that, while there are many advantages to having marker drones, there’s one major weakness: if you lose a drone controller, you lose the attached drone as well. Each dead Stealth Suit causes you to lose two models, not just one. Pathfinders, on the other hand, each carry their own markerlight, so losing one is just that – one model lost.
On a side note, both units are capable of outflanking (Stealth Teams due to their Infiltrate rule, Pathfinders due to being Scouts), so that particular item is a wash.
After looking at the two units, there’s two ways we can compare them. From an pure economic standpoint, the Pathfinders are the winners, hands down. They’re cheaper per model, allow you to pack more markerlights for fewer points, and can be decently tricked out and still come in under the Stealth Team’s cost. However, from a pure utility standpoint, I have to give the win to the Stealth Team. They’re more mobile, more survivable, and are capable of doing more damage than the Pathfinder team, all while providing comparable markerlight support – if not better support, thanks to being able to shoot and move every turn. Unless you’re pressed for points, I feel that they’re the better option. The Pathfinder transport is nice, and does make it a solid option, but there’s just not that many turns in the game, and you’re going to lose at least two turns using it – one to pick up a unit, and another to disembark them. Stealth Teams don’t have that slowdown, and can remain just as mobile as a Devilfish.
Now, as for myself, I’ve been using Pathfinders for my markerlight support, and while they’re good, they’re not quite as good as I’d hoped. This weekend, then, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. I’ve picked up another Stealth Team (for my fourth marker drone), and I’m going to put them to the test during my gaming over the Labor Day holiday. I think the peformance will prove my conclusions above, but there’s only one way to be sure, and that’s to try it on the table.
* EDIT: The Stealth Field Generator’s anti-assault effect – treating the Stealth Team as being in cover for assault – is unclear in 5th Edition. This is because it’s terrain, not cover, that changes up the initiative order in 5th Edition, and Stealth Fields don’t change the terrain. However, the unofficial INAT FAQ from Adepticon indicates that the assaulters are still affected, while the official GW FAQ says nothing either way. Rules as Written say one thing, Rules as Intended indicate another way, and there’s no consensus. It’s always best to err on the side of caution, though, so unless your opponent or tournament organizer says otherwise, assume that it does not help.