The Tau HQ units are varied and often dissimilar, with each fulfilling very unique roles in an army list; remembering the specific traits of each is imperative to successfully employing them in an effective manner, as comparing their straight up combat abilities given that many provide important support abilities is silly. I feel that all of them have a place in at least one form of competitive Tau army list or another; each provides some very handy benefits that one simply can't ignore.
Commander Farsight - Perhaps the most famous of Tau special characters, Farsight - or O'Shovah, if you prefer - is one of a select few units in the codex that is actually at home in close quarters combat as much as at range; in a melee, he is very much the equal of many similarly costly commanders. Though this has been his most notable trait since the Tau's inception, perhaps the most alluring reason to employ O'Shovah is his guaranteed Warlord ability; without the need for rolling, if he is your Warlord, he allows himself and his attached unit to deep strike without scatter. This ability, as well as his other notable traits, mean that building one's army list around this Warlord Trait is an intelligent application for Farsight; a regular Commander or Shadowsun can otherwise perform similar roles if you don't employ his deep-striking ability, and typically for less too. Aside from his signature ability, Farsight is a very strong commander; with an unusual Weapon Skill and Initiative of five for a Tau, he also wields the powerful Dawn Blade - a Strength as user (five) AP two melee weapon with the Armourbane special rule that strikes at Initiative - allowing him to engage high level commanders and most vehicles in melee quite reliably, especially owing to having four base attacks. The Dawn Blade is useful not only for assassinating characters and tearing through elite infantry, but also to provide a strong defence against walkers if O'Shovah's unit is assaulted by one; often a death sentence for units such as Crisis Suits, the presence of O'Shovah is a deterrent to many dedicated melee units, particularly Terminators that lack either the Mark of Tzeentch or Storm Shields. Between a +3 armour save, a +4 invulnerable save, and four wounds at Toughness four, Farsight is quite difficult to kill for anything that doesn't pack a large number of Strength eight or higher attacks; between shield drones and his Bodyguards though, the risk of losing Farsight to such instant-death causing wounds is relatively slim. His Jetpack move allows he and his unit - provided you attach him to a Battlesuit-armed unit - to perform the ever strong tactic of 'Jump Shoot Jump', or moving into range of an enemy, dealing significant damage with your ranged weapons, and then using the free Jetpack move in the Assault phase to either jump back behind cover or otherwise move out of range to prevent enemies from charging them or firing at them with any kind of significance. Sporting a Plasma Rifle, and owing to his Ballistic Skill of five, O'Shovah works very well as part of a unit performing this tactic; what is noteworthy is the boost he provides his unit against Orks, due to his Preferred Enemy (Orks) special rule. Against any enemy unit that doesn't move twelve inches, can shoot without line of sight or sports long range weaponry, one can literally tag enemies along; if they ever get close, they have to deal with the strong melee presence provided by Farsight.
Another of Farsight's unique abilities is that his inclusion allows you to take a much larger Crisis Bodyguard team than usual, sporting a maximum of seven members as opposed to two; this allows you to field the only true "death-star" configuration in the codex, one that I would typically avoid in favour of multiple smaller teams of Crisis Suits, owing both to their sheer cost and the importance of providing multiple fronts for an opponent to target. Aside from this, it must be said that whilst Farsight is a cost effective commander that can provide a strong deterrent to enemy assault units, the best reason to employ him is to utilise his Warlord Trait; he has it for a reason, and it is a suitably effective tactic to use. Deep-striking a three-strong Crisis Bodyguard (or regular Crisis suits) team with O'Shovah without scatter allows one to devastate one or more enemy units in a deadly alpha strike, following with a Jetpack move to reduce any potential risk of being assaulted or shot at with threatening weapons. That O'Shovah is so strong in melee at such a low cost means that many enemies may actually wish to avoid charging them, which can only ever be a boon for you. This tactic has a wide range of applications; equip your Crisis suits with a range of weapons, from flamers to fusion blasters and plasma rifles, to make use of the ability to get within melta or rapid fire range of an enemy without immediate reprisal - unless they have Interceptor weapons, of course. Against a mechanised Imperial Guard army, smart placement on your part and the congestion of your opponent's forces can be exploited to deadly use with a few twin-linked fusion blasters; in such a situation, one should reasonably exploit to destroy two or more tanks in one go, making the unit's points back almost immediately. A similar thought process can be applied to a particularly irritable horde unit or Devastator-equivalent squad; employ flamers, burst cannons and the like and chase them out of cover and into the hungry guns of your Fire Warriors. Elite Infantry advancing up the field can be similarly destroyed through the use of multiple plasma rifles - including Farsight's own - and what allows all of these tactics to really pay off no matter how you write your army list is the optional Target Lock that any Battlesuit can take, allowing each member to fire at a separate unit. If you are willing to spend the points, you can feasibly arrive in the middle of a defensive formation and lay havoc to their heavy weapon units, long range tanks and artillery units in one swift strike; a mix of plasma rifles, missile pods and fusion blasters is probably the most useful configuration if you can spare the points, though burst cannons and flamers are similarly effective, though the latter does put your unit in charge range. Despite O'Shovah being such a good melee commander, one needs to be very aware of enemies that can still thrash his unit in combat; horde Orks and the like are very much capable of doing so.
That is truly O'Shovah's defining trait; versatility, especially when combined with a unit of Crisis suits, bodyguards or no. Though one should be careful not to invest too many points into single units with an army that is so vulnerable in combat and prone to running away like Tau, O'Shovah can truly provide a strong outlet for units to get into range almost immediately and make their points back very quickly. The deep-striking trick can work in almost any situation, as the perfect scatter allows you to deploy anywhere that is necessary, allowing you to avoid any truly risky propositions caused by particular units. Provided you do some significant damage initially, or at least set yourself up in a position to do so in subsequent turns, O'Shovah's unit will provide an immense target for your opponent to deal with, and one that, provided you make use of your Jetpack moves smartly, will be reasonably hard to remove. The melee threat of O'Shovah, in addition to the strong ranged weaponry the unit can sport, means they are a threat to a staggering array of targets. Another consideration against an enemy army where deep striking would be less than beneficial is that you can always advance up the field and employ standard Jump Shoot Jump tactics like any other Crisis team, with the added bonus that your unit is sporting a commander capable of scything through half a Terminator squad in one go with ease, or ripping apart Dreadnoughts. O'Shovah is exactly the kind of commander for a player willing to subscribe to the theory of high risks leading to great rewards; he is strong and provides devastating alpha strike potential for a Tau army, though he and his unit are quite susceptible to instant death, assaults from tarpit units or massed firepower. I feel that he is a very good option to use, particularly in a fluffy 'Rebel Tau' army list, and between an awesome model and very capabilities across the board, it is difficult to go wrong with the legendary Farsight.
|Her original artwork is still awesome!|
Though she is a useful commander even with just these abilities, one must wonder where the rest of her points allotment is spent; as I noted earlier, a cursory study would likely see one determine she is not worth it next to the minimally more expensive Farsight. To really understand just why she is such a strong unit to employ, one must realize the notable (and surprising) fact that the Stealth, Shrouded and Infiltrate special rules she possesses are conferred to any unit she joins. The first two are owing to her experimental battlesuit, which provide her with handy +3 armour and +5 invulnerable saves; given she either passes Look Out Sir rolls automatically or has a +2 save otherwise, she is reasonably difficult to kill even in the open. However, due to having both the Stealth and Shrouded special rules, she has a permanent +4 cover save in the open, and one that boosts to +2 in area terrain; against anything that isn't a Strength six cover-ignoring weapon with an AP of three - the Baleflamer notable amongst them - this makes her incredibly difficult to kill, especially given her 3D6 Jetpack move which allows her to stay out of melee range or of units that would otherwise seriously threaten her. That she confers these special rules on any unit she joins is in my mind the real reason she is quite costly; that any unit she attaches to gains a permanent +4 cover save even in the open, which is thus boosted to +2 with almost any kind of intervening terrain or general obscuration, is absolutely incredible. This boosts the durability of Crisis Teams, Broadsides and the like dramatically; Fire Warriors and Pathfinders even benefit from these similarly, though Shadowsun should really be running up with mobile, constantly redeploying units such as Crisis Teams or Stealth Teams. Though Stealth Teams already have both Stealth and Shrouding and thus don't require her inclusion, a Crisis Team with high cover saves makes them incredibly hardy against many of the weapons that would usually frighten them; their Toughness of four means that Baleflamers and their ilk don't inflict instant death upon them, and the many Strength eight AP three weapons that are their bane - Battle Cannons and Missile Launchers - will simply be stopped harmlessly by +2 cover saves. This is also very useful against massed small arms fire, which can also be a high threat to Crisis Teams. Combine this with Jump Shoot Jump tactics, and the mere inclusion of Shadowsun not only grants a considerable anti-tank presence, but a foil that severely boosts the durability of her unit; abuse her boosted Jetpack moves, and you will have one of the nastier delaying units one can field. That she also grants Infiltrate to her unit - allowing them to deploy much closer to the enemy deployment zone - is an incredible tool for performing such tactics effectively, allowing the carnage and game of cat and mouse to begin on the first turn; take my word for it, enemies will hate you. You can also use this to Outflank her unit, though I would probably go against this tactic as being able to Jump Shoot Jump more effectively than any other unit from the beginning of the game is invaluable.
One of the more ridiculous tricks I have deduced is the possibility of attaching Shadowsun to - don't laugh - the Riptide. Now, whilst most monstrous creatures can't be joined by Independent Characters, the rules state that you can join a unit of them so long as they are able to take more than one model in their unit - or, to put it simply, if they are able to purchase additional squad members. As Drones count as additional squad members for all intents and purposes, that a Riptide can purchase optional squad members means that an Independent Character can attach to it; this is legal even if Drones are not purchased for the Riptide. Now, provided you don't purchase more Drones for Shadowsun than for the Riptide, the unit uses the highest Toughness value - six - for majority Toughness. Between Toughness six against shooting attacks and +2 cover saves in any kind of terrain, this makes for a horrendously durable unit that is almost impossible to kill by conventional means; keep the Riptide up the front to soak up any potential Instant Death wounds - Shadowsun is still treated as Toughness three for the purposes of Instant Death wounds, though they do roll to wound against the Toughness value of six - and you will one of the game's most sickeningly difficult to kill units. Did I mention that the 3D6 Jetpack move also applies to the Riptide? Jump Shoot Jump with the giant monster, and take advantage of its durability to get Shadowsun into effective range for her fusion blasters. If you want to Infiltrate them, go right ahead; though the Riptide works best in a support role and its weaponry is mostly ideal for long range engagements, providing your opponent with such a threat early in the game can severely influence the outcome of the game. Make sure to keep away from mobile melee units, abuse the expanded Jetpack move, and even combine - as unrealistic as it would be from a fluff perspective - with a deep-striking assault from O'Shovah and his bodyguard for a brutal one-two punch in the early turns, provided your reserve rolls aren't shocking. Aside from this, Shadowsun also has the option to purchase up to three unique drones; one Command Drone, which allows one friendly unit within twelve inches to re-roll to hit rolls of one in the friendly shooting phase, and two special Shield Drones, providing a very handy +3 invulnerable save. Either of these options is costly, though worthwhile to add extra ablative wounds to her unit; the Command Drone can always be used on her own unit if no others are in range, leading to - essentially - two twin-linked fusion blaster shots at anything that isn't hard to hit in each shooting phase. Not bad! Overall, Shadowsun is a very handy commander that works best with mobile, aggressive units that provide strong fiepower as part of the mobile delaying and harrassment tactics the Tau arefamed for. That she grants Stealth, Shrouded and Infiltrate to any unit she joins can be used to brutal effect in multiple units; many combinations are possible here, though much like O'Shovah, you should make full use of such abilities if you plan on taking her. Merely pointing her at the enemy won't work.
Aun'va - Previously considered by many as the worst special character in the game, Aun'va - alongside the rest of the Ethereal caste - has seen a complete revamp that places him amongst the most valuable commanders in the codex. Understandably, as a character with a low Toughness and a lack of Eternal Warrior or the ability to join units, justifying just how important Aun'va is in a Tau army isn't exactly simple. Looking at his basic profile tells us that he is even more horrid in combat than a Fire Warrior, which is no mean feat; with but one attack at Initiative and Weapon Skill one, Aun'va is not intended to actively engage in combat. However, he is a good deal tougher than any other Ethereal; between four wounds and a +5 armour save, he can soak up a lot of small arms fire quite well. This doesn't even account for his two Ethereal Bodyguards, models that share the exact same profile as a standard Ethereal with an Honour Blade - albeit with one higher Ballistic Skill and a +5 armour save themselves. In that sense, you are technically getting three Ethereals that are stronger and tougher than regular Ethereals for less than double the cost, which is an amazing bargain given that I haven't even touched on Aun'va's unique abilities. Firstly, Aun'va's guaranteed Warlord Trait is a once-per-game ability that allows any friendly Tau unit on the battlefield that has gone to ground to get back up into the fight; this is highly useful, particularly in a tight game where either you need to go to ground for cover boosts or otherwise jump up and shoot at full effectiveness and move to the objectives. Much like a regular Ethereal, he can boost friendly forces within twelve inches with minor, but very useful, buffs; unlike a regular Ethereal, he can use two of these each turn, which is pretty swell when one considers you can broadcast Stubborn and Feel No Pain (+6) to all friendly units in that bubble simultaneously. If you thought that was great, he also, amazingly - and this is particularly so for a generally low Leadership army that lacks Fearless or And They Shall Know No Fear - allows any friendly Tau on the battlefield to re-roll all failed Morale, Pinning, Fear and Regroup tests, meaning your low Leadership bodies are far more likely to stay around in the fight. These amazing support abilities make Aun'va the ultimate buff character in the codex, and perhaps the game considering the Tau's usual weaknesses; given that an Ethereal should be taken for these exact reasons, and that Aun'va is a much tougher and more cost-effective unit overall when one considers his two bodyguards, Aun'va is a fantastic unit that simply cannot be ignored.
|I think we all have bad memories of his previous incarnation...|
Aun'shi - Given how much I gushed over Aun'va, one would suitably think that I would stick to the age-old formula and heap criticism upon his compatriot, but that isn't truly the case here. I will preface by saying that given the purpose of Ethereals in a Tau army are to buff friendly forces, and also that our only effective melee commander works because of his mobility, Aun'shi definitely won't appeal to everyone. At exactly twice the cost of a regular Ethereal armed with an honour blade, Aun'shi pays heavily for melee abilities which most Tau players likely won't feel are necessary, making his inclusion into an army list somewhat unusual; that he is also more expensive than the ever impressive Aun'va who need not worry about fighting in risky melee battles - for any Tau unit that is - is quite strange, to say the least. Enough of that though; like a normal Ethereal, he allows any friendly Tau unit within twelve inches to use his Leadership of ten for any Morale, Pinning, Fear or Regroup tests they have to take, with the disadvantage coming from counting as an extra victory point if killed. He also provides one of four benefits each turn to any friendly Tau unit within twelve inches; these range from Feel No Pain (+6) to Stubborn or being able to fire Snap Shots after Running - though none of them are truly ground-breaking, they are nonetheless very useful for providing minor, helpful boosts to your forces. Generally speaking, Aun'shi's inclusion is as beneficial as a regular Ethereal in terms of buffing your forces; in that sense, there is always a place for such a character. Where Aun'shi starts to differentiate from other Ethereals is in his admittedly impressive statline, though it must be noted that he does share the same weakness of Toughness three, making him quite vulnerable to Instant Death from Strength six or higher attacks; a problematic weakness given how costly he is. Between a Weapon Skill, Initiative and Strength of five - the last owing to his honour blade - with four attacks base, Aun'shi can definitely put the hurt on a lot of units, even despite lacking an armour-ignoring weapon. He also sports an extra wound over regular Ethereals, and with a shield generator to boot providing him a +4 invulnerable save, the aged warrior is quite a bit more difficult to kill than would be initially expected. His statline is very much befitting a melee character from other codices, and though he is still relatively fragile, attaching him to a unit of Fire Warriors or the like serves to make them a far safer proposition in the unfortunate event that melee must be joined; between Stubborn at Leadership ten and strong melee capabilities, Aun'shi can - and probably will - literally turn the tide of a specific engagement against anything that isn't a dedicated melee unit. This is definitely his intended purpose, as Fire Warriors and the like absolutely crumble against any kind of enemy in melee; having Aun'shi nearby to join the fray can mean the difference between life or death for an entire unit, and he should be considered solely for this reason. Much like any other Ethereal, you need to keep him protected in a nice large unit, and having him nearby multiple units of Fire Warriors, particularly given his Ethereal abilities, should allow you to switch him into melee wherever necessary to hold the line.
The veteran warrior has one other specific special rule though, and one that serves to make him a good deal more effective in his stated role than would initially be deemed. In a very tasteful and awesome addition to his rules, Aun'shi can adopt a blade stance at the start of each Fight sub-phase if he is in a challenge; much like Castellan Crowe or the Brotherhood Champions of the Grey Knights, which goes a long way to showing just how remarkable a bladesman amongst the Tau the legendary Ethereal is. There are two of which to choose from, and both are suited to different situations; the first makes all of Aun'shi's already powerful melee strikes gain the Rending special rule. Given his relatively high number of attacks with a good profile to back them up, these can be very handy in an assault against well armoured opponents such as Space Marines or any character that isn't a killing machine. He has enough attacks that, against Weapon Skill four opponents, he should average one Rending wound in every second combat phase, which isn't bad at all; those extra wounds can make a huge difference in a combat involving Tau. The second, and perhaps most interesting stance, is the more defensive of the pair; Aun'shi forfeits all of his blows in combat that round, but may instead re-roll any failed saving throws. Combine this with Feel No Pain (+6) and use it to hold up enemy characters in combat, or otherwise keep an entire unit occupied; a +4 re-rollable invulnerable save is very handy, even despite his Toughness of three, and even if he does take a wound, being able to re-roll a failed Morale check at Leadership ten means he will be staying there for quite a while. Against any unit that is forced to challenge you - Chaos Space Marines are notable here - or where the opposing player mistakenly accepts the challenge, you can then tarpit an entire unit for a long time - if not for the rest of the game - provided that character isn't particularly nasty or sporting Strength six or higher weaponry. This is a very important consideration, given that tying up enemy units is a role that almost no other unit in the army can perform; given how important it is to keep your ranged units out of melee, this is an invaluable tool that makes Aun'shi a very interesting proposition, though perhaps not for the reasons one would expect. One need only read his new or classic background to understand that using Aun'shi in such a role does not actually break with the fluff; he is revered for his heroics as standing beside his warriors, protecting them from any foe with might, valour and skill. Though using a character - potentially a Warlord - that concedes a victory point if he dies in such a way may be seen as risky by many, I feel that it befits the fluff of Aun'shi; that of a hero that will never rest in the face of adversity. Aun'shi is back, and praise be, I am so joyous that it is so; though not the most competitive choice one can employ, he does make for a useful unit against any army that isn't sporting dedicated melee units in abundance owing to his unusually strong tarpit potential.
Darkstrider - As the only special character chosen from the ranks of Pathfinders and Fire Warriors in the codex, it is fitting then that Darkstrider is allowed only to join those two units; given this limitation, one would hope that this lack of accessibility is a trade off for providing significant benefits at a good cost. Luckily, this is indeed the case; Darkstrider has a number of eye-popping special rules that really come to life when combined with particular variations of those units. In general terms though, his profile is roughly equal to that of a Cadre Fireblade for about forty percent more of the Fireblade's total cost, with a weaker armour save that is thus ignored by bolters and the like; as well, he carries a Pulse Carbine rather than a Pulse Rifle - though the viability of both weapons is much more even than ever before - as well as a handy Blacksun Filter that grants both he and his unit Night Vision. That last one is very handy given the more common appearance of Night Fighting, meaning that advancing enemies won't benefit from boosted cover saves against his unit; Dark Eldar and the like won't be too happy when your Fire Warriors don't afford them Stealth or Shrouded at long range. Though he lacks the boosted shooting for pulse weapons that a Fireblade provides, Darkstrider also grants his unit both the Scout and Outflank special rules, meaning that he can be used to tactically redeploy a unit as necessary, or deliver a firebase unit deep into enemy lines. Though the latter is arguably situational regarding Pathfinders and Fire Warriors on foot, using them in a Devilfish in this way is a far more interesting proposition, particularly if they are equipped with scatter-reduction wargear to help accurate deep strikes for friendly units such as Crisis Teams. However, Darkstrider's worth becomes truly worthwhile when one considers his two unique special rules; the first is that after his unit has fired Overwatch, they can immediately consolidate D6 inches in any direction. To put this into perspective, let us use this example; you are carefully measuring to stay just within rapid fire range of an opponent with a squad of twelve Fire Warriors and Darkstrider. You unload on to a unit of Chaos Space Marines, hungry for a fight; with added Markerlight support, you kill six of them all up out of a total of fifteen. On their turn, they move forward, and though the charge range is nine inches, they have the Icon of Wrath and thus have a very decent chance of making it into combat. You fire Overwatch, killing another three models with the help of Supporting Fire from other Fire Warriors, meaning the Chaos Marines now need a ten on two dice with re-rolls. You then consolidate Darkstrider's unit, rolling a three, back out of charge range. Essentially, you have just had a free shooting phase at the opponent with no chance of them catching you. Engage troll-face. Now imagine performing this game of cat and mouse throughout much of a match, and you will see just how amazing this ability is.
|May or may not be Darkstrider. Hey don't tou...|
Ethereal - As a spiritual leader amongst the Tau, you would expect an Ethereal to be based around buffing friendly forces and providing a serious drawback if they perish; suffice it to say, this is exactly the case with the Ethereal. As a standard character, the Ethereal is cheap and relatively ill-equipped; their basic profile bequeaths a decent Weapon and Ballistic Skill, with a low Strength, Toughness, Initiative and Wound value of three. Considering they lack any kind of save and have no way to purchase one, Ethereals are relatively easy to kill if wounds are allocated to them; given that they concede a victory point if they are slain regardless of whether they are your Warlord - and their high leadership means there is a good chance they will be your Warlord - and that they are merely Infantry, protecting them tends to involve attaching them to a meaty squad in cover and hoping the enemy doesn't focus too much attention on them. Given their fragility, they don't hit particularly hard either; they can take a pair of AP four melee weapons for a low price that makes them decent contenders against squad leaders that are light infantry, or the usually more popular and cheaper honour blade that boosts their Strength value to five, making them a somewhat decent proposition in melee. Still, unlike Aun'shi, you really should keep them out of combat wherever possible; they aren't designed for it at all, and neither should the unit they join be (not taking Allies into consideration). So what exactly do Ethereals do to justify their cost of half of a hundred tacos? Firstly, they provide the Stubborn special rule to any unit they join, meaning they should stay in the fight; also, any friendly Tau unit within twelve inches of an Ethereal must use his Leadership of ten for any Morale, Pinning, Fear or Regroup tests they make. On top of this, each Ethereal can provide one of four benefits to friendly Tau models within twelve inches, chosen at the start of their movement phase; these provide minor benefits to your forces, but they are useful to have nonetheless. Each ability is tied to a particular Caste of the Tau people, providing a benefit that makes sense from a fluff perspective and benefits certain units more than others. The first grants any units within range the Stubborn special rule which, given that any friendly Tau unit within twelve inches of the Ethereal uses their Leadership of ten, means that your forces whom are very much prone to running away are far more likely to stick around and hold up enemies in combat that much longer. This is an invaluable tool that really helps to solve one of the Tau armies' more significant weaknesses; that of a lack of high Leadership, Fearless or And They Shall Know No Fear. The second provides all Pulse Weapons with an extra shot if they fire at half range, meaning that a squad of Fire Warriors would fire three shots each at fifteen inches if they are all in range. This is a pretty strong buff, particularly if you have multiple Fire Warrior, Pathfinder or Kroot units in the vicinity; those extra shots add up, especially given the high Strength of Pulse weapons.
The other two abilities are perhaps of more situational use, though they are certainly not bad options at all depending on the unit that receives them. The third provides Feel No Pain (+6) to any Tau model within twelve inches, but given that the specification is not "unit" but "model" and that Tau are almost universally Toughness three, trying to exploit this fully will likely leave your forces quite vulnerable to blast weapons and high Strength shooting. Don't misunderstand the value this adds though; even if it is only a minimal save, it can still save a unit from total annihilation; any casualties you can save are very much worthwhile, though I feel in such a dire situation many will prefer Stubborn or the extra shots from their Pulse weapons. The last ability allows any of the affected models to Snap Fire after Running, which is useful if you need to get a given unit into a good position on a particular turn but want to fire some extra shots off; it isn't a great ability, but a few extra shots - particularly with Markerlights - can still be very handy. As to the actual options an Ethereal has aside from melee weapons, they can take a handy Blacksun Filter or Homing Beacon for a minimal cost; either is helpful in almost any situation, with the bonus of providing night vision to a unit or having a beacon for deep-strike scatter reduction well worth the investment, though the latter is obviously dependent on whether it is actually necessary for your army list. The Ethereal can also purchase two drones which are quite handy in any situation; shield drones will probably prove to be the popular choice to actually afford the Ethereal a "save" in a sense, though gun drones and marker drones all have their uses too. The former provides a little bit of extra firepower at a good cost, whereas the latter grants a cheap Markerlight shot that comes in handy for your other forces if it actually hits. All in all, the Ethereal is best kept cheap and situated in a chunky unit, preferably one in the backfield; Fire Warriors are perfect bodyguards for an Ethereal, though Pathfinders and even Broadside Battlesuits make fine options for the Ethereal to partner with. Remember to use his support abilities to their fullest each turn, as they are the true reason you will take one; they are a fine unit, one that is most helpful to keep your Tau in the fight.
Cadre Fireblade - Continuing the theme of a cheap commander that is primarily used to benefit a unit(s) rather than be a powerful presence themselves, Cadre Fireblades are inexpensive units that work best in tandem with a handful of units in particular. As Infantry with three wounds at Toughness three and a +4 armour save, they are decently durable for how few points they eat up, but it nonetheless must be said that keeping them out of combat - or any line of fire, for that matter - is a good idea, as a single Assault Cannon or Autocannon shot is all that is needed to kill them instantly. That, and massed Bolter fire will reave them if you don't place them within a unit; they are there to join up with Fire Warriors or Kroot, and should be used solely for such purposes. As to what they actually do, they are decent at keeping your basic soldiers in combat and not being swept, given their Initiative of three and Leadership nine; bucking the trend of other Tau Infantry, they have a Weapon Skill of four and handy Ballistic Skill of five. Armed with a pulse rifle, they provide a few bonus, precise shots to a Tau unit, and they sport an always useful Markerlight that can be Split Fired at a separate target to the rest of their unit to support your other forces. These abilities are definitely useful and make the Fireblade a versatile choice outside of merely adding some presence to a squad, though the Fireblade's true value comes from their Volley Fire special rule; provided the Fireblade and their unit didn't move in the prior movement phase, they each fire an additional shot with their Pulse Rifles and Pulse Carbines.
|Have you seen the Fireblade model?|
Commander - The staple Warlord choice for Tau armies since their inception, the Commander - or Shas'O - is a cheap, tough and incredibly versatile leader for your force that can be kitted out for precision strikes with powerful ranged weaponry, or provide strong benefits to other Battlesuit pilots. With access to far more wargear options than any other HQ choice, the Commander has a very low base cost that allows you to really go all out and equip him to fit the role you envision; between Toughness four, four wounds, a +3 armour save and the awesome Jetpack assault move, he is quite tough even without wargear additions, though as a HQ, be wary of opponents gunning for him with high Strength weaponry. As Jetpack Infantry, he works best in a unit of Battlesuits; unless you don't have the models or the points, I would not recommend using him in a squad of Fire Warriors or the like, unless you have a specific plan in mind; he is intended to harass enemies, much like Crisis Teams, or at least help them to harass enemies. He also packs a decent Weapon Skill of four and an Initiative of three, though his Ballistic Skill of five is likely his most alluring attribute - at least, aside from the sheer number of wounds he has. Unlike a regular Crisis Suit, he can take up to four weapon or support systems and, much like a Crisis Shas'vre, he has access to the Signature Systems as well. A note that though you can fill up all four system slots, just because you have the option of doing so doesn't mean that you should, as a Commander can become a massive points sink if you aren't careful - take what you need in relation to who he will be running with. If you want to make use of the Commander's great Ballistic Skill, I would recommend taking two ranged weapons, or one twin-linked one; I feel his Ballistic Skill of five means that you don't need to worry about twin-linking his weapons, though it is certainly a good idea given the minimal increase in cost. Plasma rifles and fusion blasters, weapons that have fewer shots than the others available to Crisis Suits, make for the perfect weaponry on the highly accurate Commander, and when paired with Precision Shots backed by an Advanced Targeting System, this can allow your Commander to be a deadly and efficient character or special weapon sniper, a truly invaluable tool. The choice of weaponry is very diverse, meaning you can really kit out the Commander however you want; flamers and burst cannons are perfect against horde or light infantry based armies, whereas the two previously mentioned are ideal for close range firefights to deal with elite infantry, vehicles and monstrous creatures. I don't feel there is a "right" way to give weaponry to a Commander; just be aware that his weapon selections should reflect on the unit he joins, so in that sense, you can look at him more like a unit upgrade than anything else.
For support systems, I feel that this will strictly be dependent on what you require the unit to do, and whether or not the Commander is your Warlord. If the latter is true, then I would always take a Shield Generator on the Commander; the amount of AP two and AP three weaponry that will likely come his way will likely vindicate the purchase swiftly. Aside from that, these are all useful, but situational and, much like the weapon systems, should be based highly on what you want the Commander and his team to target; if you want a versatile unit that gets into the thick of things, the early warning override (Interceptor), velocity tracker (Skyfire), target lock (a better version of split fire) and stimulant injector (Feel No Pain) all make for good additions, though the last one should probably be reserved only for your Commander. Purchase them based on what weapons you take as well - fusion blasters and plasma rifles lend themselves well as Skyfire weapons, where a mix of burst cannons and flamers alongside those prior weapons lend themselves well to target locks. They are all cheap and useful additions to your Commander and his unit, and the sky really is the limit with how you want to equip them; as always though, be mindful that the Commander and his Crisis Bodyguards or Crisis Team don't go over two hundred points per unit. A note here that though I do speak mostly about the Commander joining Crisis Battlesuits, Stealth Suits and Broadsides are also good options to join; the former for the cover bonuses and sheer weight of anti-infantry firepower, and the latter to provide them bonuses such as tank hunters and ignores cover through one of the rare choices. On that note, the Commander has access to the 'relic wargear' section of this codex, a range of one-per-army items; most are surprisingly inexpensive for what they can potentially do. For a Commander in particular, the most popular option will likely prove to be Iridium Armour; boosting his Toughness to five and increasing his armour save to a +2 for a measly points cost is absurdly strong on a model that has four wounds. In fact, when combined with a Shield Generator and Stimulant Injector, you get a Commander with four wounds, Toughness five, +2 armour, +4 invulnerable save, and Feel No Pain (+5), and this configuration will run you exactly one hundred and fifty tacos before any other upgrades. Whilst expensive, against anything that isn't Strength ten or a force weapon, this makes your Commander unreasonably hard to kill; given your Jetpack move, you can stay away from enemies you don't want to face with some measure of reliability, and laugh off almost all incoming firepower. As good as it is, the cost is significant enough that I would only ever reserve this configuration for your Warlord; the fact that it is much harder to kill than a Daemon Prince outside of combat is laughable in of itself, though. That, and it still leaves room for two more weapon systems, meaning you can take a fusion blaster and plasma rifle and have a Commander that is almost impossible to remove and deals a lot of ranged damage for less than two hundred runs!
The rest of the signature systems are very much dependent on whether you want your Commander to make use of his high Ballistic Skill, or if you are happy to relegate him to a supporting role; though the latter is feasible, it must be noted that a more effective unit for this role is a team leader or one of his bodyguards. The Onager Gauntlet is a hilariously cheap melee weapon that allows the wielder to exchange all of their attacks for a single strike - at their base Initiative, I might add, which is very useful against slow enemies - resolved at Strength ten, AP one; this is there mostly to allow your Commander to have a great chance of destroying a vehicle up close, or risking an instant death strike against an enemy character. For how cheap it is, it could never be considered a bad purchase. Similarly, a Neuroweb System Jammer, with its ability to make a single enemy units' weapons have gets hot within twelve inches, is less than a handful of chips to purchase; its uses are pretty significant, especially when your unit is likely about to be faced with a torrent of fire from, for example, a squad of Tactical Marines. Making your opponent think twice about anything is more than worth the few points. The Failsafe Detonator might be useful against lots of low save enemies, though if your Commander has been charged by such enemies, the Failsafe Detonator is likely a waste anyway. The more interesting options are reserved for higher points levels; the Puretide Engram Chip provides a range of special rules to select from, with the limitation of one per turn. The only two really useful ones here are Monster Hunter and Tank Hunter, as the rest seem to be geared more to boosting a terrible melee units' assault capabilities; it is useful, but decently expensive. Remember how I mentioned the potential for a support commander that doesn't fire his weapons? The Command and Control Node and Multi-Spectrum Sensor Suite are where it is at; though they aren't cheap, they provide both re-rolls to hit and Ignores Cover to the ranged weapons of the wielder's unit provided the wielder doesn't shoot themselves. This likely is better served on a Crisis Shas'vre, but it does shine if you plan on running the Commander with Broadsides; Strength eight AP one weapons with a sixty inch range that ignore cover saves and re-roll failed armour penetration rolls? Sign me up!
Crisis Bodyguards - Given that this article is already too long and that this unit is functionally nearly identical to a regular Crisis Team, I will preface this by saying that much of my discussions on this unit will actually be reflected in the article concerning Crisis Teams. In any case, as far as comparison to regular Crisis Teams go, Crisis Bodyguards are exactly as costly - and share the exact same wargear options and basic profile - as Crisis Team Leaders, otherwise referred to as Shas'vres, in short. They pay a premium for boosts that are unnecessary given they can only be taken - and thus only be attached to - a Commander, namely the Leadership buff. Whilst they aren't really over-costed in that sense, a standard Crisis Team not only has cheaper standard members and doesn't need to worry about paying the price for a Shas'vre, but has the option of taking a third suit member as well; just be aware that they have reduced access to signature systems, though this can be remedied by taking the Shas'vre upgrade. Much like Crisis Teams, Crisis Bodyguards are decently tough against anything that doesn't have either a Strength of eight or an AP of three, though concentrated small arms fire will surely kill them quite quickly; like any other Jetpack unit, you need to make full use of their assault move and keep them out of the line of fire whilst causing as much damage as possible in return. The fabled tactic of 'Jump Shoot Jump' or jumping out of terrain, firing at enemies, and then jumping back into terrain to hide from view and effectively deal damage without reprisal is the absolute best way to use Crisis Bodyguards short of using them as an expensive deep-striking suicide squad. Their load-out should reflect what the Commander has, and for the most part, signature systems are best reserved for the Commander to buff his durability; however, support systems such as the Command and Control Node or Multi-Spectrum Sensor Node work wonders on one Bodyguard that doesn't take any weapons, severely increasing the effectiveness of almost any weaponry the other team member and Commander carry. This is best used with plasma rifles, missile pods and fusion blasters, though burst cannons do benefit a lot from the re-rolls to hit. I would typically advise keeping the cost of the Bodyguard team below about one hundred and thirty points; any more, and you are probably spending way too much on the unit to give them unnecessary boosts. They are a good unit that whilst probably outweighed by regular Crisis Teams, has a place because they do not take up a Force Organisation chart, the attached Commander or other character (such as Farsight or Shadowsun) automatically passes Look Out Sir rolls, and each of them can be an effective character sniper when given the very cheap Advanced Targeting System. They work supremely well with Shadowsun owing to the amazing special rules she provides to her unit, and in regards to the large unit Farsight can take, I would reserve any Crisis Bodyguard team above five pilots to 2000 point games and over; that many points in one unit is simply asking for trouble in smaller games. These live up to their name as Bodyguards and a very useful option for our Battlesuit-equipped Commanders to join; a note that Farsight, Shadowsun and the Commander are the only units that unlock them for purchase.
Example Builds - Given that most of our HQs tend not to have a lot of wargear options outside of Drones, I feel the best way to talk about examples is to provide those specifically concerning the Commander and his Bodyguards;
Commander w/ iridium armour, shield generator, stimulant injector, fusion blaster, plasma rifle, onager gauntlet - 185
Commander w/ iridium armour, two shield drones, two missile pods, velocity tracker, early warning override - 189
Commander w/ iridium armour, puretide engram chip, command and control node, multi-spectrum sensor node - 160
Bodyguards (2) w/ plasma rifle and twin-linked fusion blaster - 134
Bodyguards (2) w/ burst cannon and plasma rifle, two shield drones - 138
Did you enjoy this article? Do you think my summations were accurate, or should I probably go back to the drawing board? Have your say in the comments below - we appreciate any and all feedback. I hope you found it an entertaining read!