The Tau crisis suit "Fireknife" configuration consists of a missile pod, plasma gun and multi-tracker. For those of you who don't know your Tau (shame on you!) this translates in Imperial to a 36" range autocannon, and a S6 plasma gun that doesn't get hot - which can both be fired in the same shooting phase. It's a flexible configuration that delivers effective firepower against light armour, heavy infantry and monstrous creatures. Most competitive lists I see these days take 3 x 2 or 3 x 3 Fireknife suits (depending on points level) to fill up the Elite slots.
The main drawback of the Fireknife configuration is it's cost of 62 points per suit - shelling out 20 for the plasma is a pricey proposition. What are its strengths?
The two guns and similar in range and strength.
- One of the guns is a missile pod - it's essential in 5th edition to field as many of these as possible.
- One of the guns is a plasma gun - the only effective Tau answer to Terminators and Feel No Pain.
- It performs well outside the 12" range band allowing the suits to keep out of rapid fire and extended assault ranges (with the jet-pack jump).
- It provides a reasonable weight of fire at close range.
Note that the missile pod is more effective against vehicles, the plasma against heavy infantry, and both are roughly equivalent against monstrous creatures and the like (depending on their armour save)
There are three flaws that I want to point out, and then provide my solution for ;)
The first flaw (a minor one) is long range anti-tank. Compared to a Deathrain configuration (twin-linked missile pod) the Fireknife is only 2/3 as effective outside of 24". As you move past this range band the plasma provides additional firepower, but it's S6 is not the same as another S7 shot, especially as at that range you really want to penetrate that vehicle as it is getting close to your lines.
The second weakness comes from the stupid 5th edition wound allocation rules. With a mix of AP 2 and AP 4 shots a savvy opponent will be allocating multiple AP 2 wounds on to the same model, defeating the purpose of shelling out 20 points for plasma in the first place.
The final weakness is that all the suits in a unit are identical, so you can't wound allocate. These are two wound models people - haven't you heard of Nob Bikers. It's a crime to take multi-wound units that could have been differently equipped and miss the chance to virtually ignore wounds.
So what's the solution? With my two crisis suit units I have been combining trading the multi-tracker for a targeting array on one of the suits. Because every crisis suit configuration should have a code name, let's call this one the "Fireknife TA" (better than Fireyknifey eh?). For five points more I can benefit from wound allocation shenanigans - but what is the effect on firepower?
To answer this question we need to compare the number of hits different configurations cause within the three range bands of the Fireknife's weaponry. Let's compare missile pod hits / plasma gun hits for the two squads - my mixed configuration squad described above, as well as the traditional squad with 2 Fireknifes. (All non-essential math-hammer has been hidden to protect the innocent)
Clearly we have improved our long range firepower, with .3 extra missile pod hits. Thats a valuable contribution as we will always benefit from an extra roll or two on the vehicle damage table in those early turns.
Let's jump to the close range bracket now. Trading 1 missile pod hit for .3 plasma hits is an equal trade against MEQ or Feel No Pain - unless they are in cover. But less missile pod hits means less wound allocation shenanigans. There is a noticeable loss of weight of fire against less armoured units. There are other tools to deal with these threats in a Tau army however.
Finally lets look at midrange firepower - it is slightly better against vehicles, and equivalent to slightly worse against monstrous creatures (depending on their armour save). Against light infantry, or MEQ in cover, the difference is minimal. Firepower is weaker against MEQ not in cover, but you rarely get those opportunities at medium range. In these scenarios you can fire a single plasma with the TA which is slightly more effective that the missile pod.
Overall, the Fireknife/Fireknife TA mixed squad is slightly better at AT and slightly worse against infantry in some scenarios. However it is much more survivable, at a cost of 5 points more. Consider it next time you build a Tau list with Fireknife spam!