Oh Commander! My Commander!

Last time we looked at how the various markerlight sources compare. This time we will compare loadouts for both the Tau Commander and the Coldstar Commander in the XV86 Coldstar battlesuit.

When it comes to Tau Commanders and 8th edition, there are two schools of thought: those that spam Commanders and those that feel bad that they spam Commanders. I kid, of course, but until our codex comes out or the stats/points of our units change via an FAQ, the Commander is one of the most point efficient units we have and I can empathize with players who see the value in taking multiple of these units.

In 8th, there are two variants of the Tau Commander: “regular” (which we will refer to as “Commander”) and Coldstar (which we will refer to as “Coldstar”). The biggest difference between these are the loadout and mobility. The Commander has four slots and an 8″ move while the Coldstar has to take the same two weapons every time, but also has two slots for wargear and an impressive 20″ move.

Lets start with details of the Coldstar first as that is the simpler of the two cases. It comes with a High-output burst cannon (Assault 8) and missile pod (Assault 2) every game which is less than impressive dakka. The main selling point of the Coldstar is its 20″ move and its “Coldstar” ability which allows you to automatically advance 20″ – no need to roll for your advance. This makes grabbing up objectives and harassing far-away units quite easy. The main question now is: what do you take for the two slots for wargear?

I would consider Automatic Targeting Systems (ATS) an auto-take for the Coldstar. Based on calculations on lethality that you can find here, let’s take a look at what the Coldstar can do with and without ATS. Our assumptions:

  • We are comparing a Coldstar Commander with ATS and without ATS – everything else is the same.
  • A GEQ is defined as a model with T3 and Sv5+
  • A MEQ is defined as a model with T4 and Sv3+
  • For weapons that do multiple damage, we will assume it does average damage (3.5 for D6 damage and 2 for D3)

Without ATS, a Coldstar can expect, on average, to cause 4.12 unsaved wounds on a GEQ target and 2.04 unsaved wounds on a MEQ target. Not terrible but let’s compare that to a Coldstar with ATS, which would expect to cause 5.09 unsaved wounds to GEQ’s and 2.96 to MEQ’s. For an eight point upgrade, your Coldstar can kill, on average, an extra model each time it fires. That’s worth it in my book.

Table 1. Lethality with ATS vs. no ATS

What about the second slot for wargear? The three that stick out most obviously to me are the stimulant injector, the shield generator, and the target lock. This unit is a character and a decent choice for your warlord so the 6+ FnP that comes along with the stim injector. However, only having six wounds means that, on average, you will roll one six a game resulting from stim injectors and only effectively get one extra wound. Stim injectors scale with the number of wounds the user has and six wounds is just not enough to warrant it in my book.

Along the same train of thought as stim injectors, a shield generator will help keep your Coldstar alive longer. Disregarding mortal wounds and based off math found here, a shield generator effectively gives your Coldstar nine wounds. I personally enjoy using my second slot for a shield generator as it seems like the safest route to go.

I’ve also seen a pretty convincing argument for the second slot to be taken up by a target lock, which lets you move and advance with no penalty. That means that you’ll be moving up to 40″ every turn and still hitting with BS2+. Careful positioning of other units can essentially shield your Coldstar from fire (remember you can’t normally shoot at a character unless it’s the nearest target). However, I feel like hitting on BS3+ resulting from moving and advancing without a target lock is still pretty decent and let’s me not worry as much about keeping my Coldstar alive. All in all, the Coldstar has a lot of merit in terms of being able to be useful throughout the game and still be a decent threat.

Meanwhile, if you’ve run the other variant of Commander, you understand just how much firepower it brings. With four slots for combinations of weapons and wargear (or all weapons that can target independent targets), the Commander is a force to be reckoned with. The choices for weapons can be found on page 49 of the Xenos 2 Index:

  • Airbursting fragmentation projector (AFP)
  • Burst cannon
  • Cyclic ion blaster (CIB)
  • Flamer
  • Fusion blaster (FB)
  • Missile pod (MP)
  • Plasma rifle

The question that I see coming up again and again is: Do I take four weapons or three with ATS? We can use the same basic calculations as before to help us figure this out.

More assumptions:

  • A Tank is defined as a model with T8 and Sv3+
  • Plasma Rifles are NOT in rapid fire range***
Table 2. Four weapons vs. three and ATS

This is a lot to digest so let’s start with what causes the most wounds. For the GEQ targets, the CIB is unrivaled. I heard people claiming the CIB was a great choice on Commanders but until I went through this analysis, I didn’t really understand. Now I get why the four CIB-weilding Commander is a great all-purpose unit. Further, four CIB’s are the best option for causing maximum wounds on MEQ targets too, technically tied with three burst cannons and ATS. Tank targets will suffer the same number of wounds from the CIB, three burst cannons with an ATS, and four fusion blasters. Remember that unsaved wounds are not the same as damage caused.

You’ll notice that for the GEQ wound column (“GEQ W”), you’re always causing more wounds with four of the same weapon. Taking ATS reduces your firepower by a fourth and you can see it negatively affects the number of wounds caused. GEQ’s already have such a low Sv value that the further reduction via ATS does not offset the loss in volume of shots.

However, when we get to the MEQ and Tank columns, with their Sv3+ values, we start to see greater AP reduction pay off, or at least break even sometimes. On low or no AP weapons, trading the fourth slot for an ATS can help up the wound count slightly. But because we are looking at many weapons with multiple-damage profiles, we can’t just look at the number of wounds caused, we need to look at damage caused.

Across the board, four fusion blasters will deal the most damage thanks to that sweet D6 damage. However, all of that damage is pretty much a waste except when shooting at something with a lot of wounds (looking at you, Pask). So for GEQ’s and MEQ’s we need to find weapons that don’t result in massive amounts of wasted damage. Here we arrive back at the CIB. Against one-wound models like GEQ’s, the standard profile of the CIB will be nearly wiping seven models a turn. Against one-wound MEQ targets, again, the CIB is the best way to go. With MEQ-like stats and more than one wound, overcharging that CIB will result in over five deal models a turn, which is hard to pass up.

*** Rapid fire range makes all the difference between how plasma rifles compare with CIB for MEQ’s and Tanks. Within rapid fire range, four plasma rifles will be doing  3.7 unsaved wounds to MEQ’s and 2.7 unsaved wounds to tanks.

In summary


  • ATS is an auto-take
  • The best second slot options are either shield generator or target lock, depending on your style and risk tolerance


  • A good rule of thumb is to take four of the same weapon instead of three plus ATS
  • CIB are a good all-around solution for all but the heaviest-armored targets
  • If you’re also of the same mindset as I am, that CIB’s have an ugly model, consider picking up some bits from Red Dog Minis, like the “Ion Energy Blaster” found here

In closing…

Next time we will bring you a battle report between Tau and the Imperial Guard. Battle reports, pictures, and analysis to follow!

If you like what you’re reading, please consider following on twitter or via email in the sidebar to your right.

Thanks for reading – happy dice rolls!

9 thoughts on “Oh Commander! My Commander!

  1. A small point in the 4th weapon vs ATS discussion is that the ATS is cheaper (sometimes significantly) that the 4th weapon. A CIB commander is 10pts cheaper with ATS, and when you switch to damage caused per point spent the ATS is better against MEQ and Tanks, and only slightly worse against GEQ.

    Using ATS also means you have to get less of the insanely hard to obtain extra CIBs.

    Great blog by the way, just found it today 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

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