EDIT: Thanks to one of our readers (abusepuppy) for double checking some of the math and helping to ensure that everything was correct. Thanks to several of our other regular readers (Jean-Luc and Simon) for pointing out benefits to taking the XV8 commander that I had not considered
Welcome back! First of all, thanks to all of you who have reached out in the past bit and asked if we would be continuing writing articles. I wasn’t expecting the amount of interest and it was very encouraging to hear. I’ve personally used my hiatus from writing articles to get some models painted, which was past due. Now, with the release of the Tau Codex, it’s time to get back into the thick of things and figure out how its changes affect the point efficiency of the Tau units.
I’d like to use this point to state that the way I’m calculating these value has changed for the better. To that point, I’m a bit suspect of some of my previous values and think they were a bit off – not far enough to have effected the major points, but enough that it would bother a nerd. My apologies! I appreciate those of you who fact-checked my values and reached out when you thought you found something amiss. My goal is to have correct and reputable information, so if you see something, say something!
This is an update to our previous HQ analysis and a lot of what we originally said, still holds true now. You may notice that some information is suspiciously similar to our original article, and that’s on purpose.
Tau have a lot of viable HQ choices this edition. There are two main roles in our HQ choices – those whose focus is on directly killing things and those that enhance other units. We will discuss all HQ choices, but the easiest method by which we can compare them all would be to look at their measure of lethality, which we have done several times before. However, for those HQ choices whose role is more complementary, they will naturally be lacking in the lethality department. For that reason, I have categorized the HQ choices into two categories: 1) synergistic HQ’s and 2) combat HQ’s. There are some choices that, arguably, have some overlap into both categories, but we will try and stick to direct comparisons within each category, only deviating when appropriate. For the Synergistic HQ choices, their benefits aren’t quantified by the previous analysis methods we discussed, so their benefits will be discussed, rather than analyzed.
- Cadre Fireblade
- Commander (XV85)
- Coldstar Commander
- Commander Farsight
- Commander Shadowsun
- Shas’o R’myr
- Shas’o R’alai
- Commander (XV81)
- Commander (XV84)
- Coldstar Commander
Ethereal’s are now takable due to the fact that they no longer give a Victory Point when killed (as compared to in 7th edition). Of their four invocations, the one you will probably see the most is the Sense of Stone which confers a six up feel no pain. This is most beneficial when you have a large number of infantry or battlesuits. You can expect to save two out of the full twelve-man unit of Firewarriors, but could also try fun things like placing an ethereal near Crisis Bodyguards, who would in turn both try and tank wounds for Longstrike. Ethereals have their place but are by no means an auto-take HQ choice unless you just need a non-Sept-specific HQ choice.
The ethereal that never heard not to get into close combat, Aun’shi of the Tau sept feels more like a gimmick than a real choice. He’s just good enough at close combat to warrant a solid look at but due to the face that he’s in an army focused around shooting, it seems hard to get the most out of him. He can choose a “stance” that either gives him a bonus to AP or to his invuln save. If you just need something to clean up some GEQ’s that have wandered too far from home, he might be takable, but only in fluff and friendly games. Might be fun in a Vior’la devilfish with 10 breachers.
Everyone’s favorite Tau sept Space Pope makes a return in 8th edition, regardless of any mortality challenges he may face. If you’re taking an ethereal, you probably have a lot of infantry. If you have a lot of infantry, why take one ethereal, when you can take Aun’Va? He now costs just 5 more points than two ethereals but gets to use two invocations at once, plus all Tau units get to reroll failed morale rolls – board-wide. Plus he has two bodyguards that can tank wounds for him and can add the AP of the attacker’s weapon to his save instead of subtracting it, which both make for a surprisingly resilient ethereal pope.
The guy who literally brings a knife to a gunfight, the Cadre Fireblade will see a lot of use in lists that run a lot of firewarriors and gun drones, due to his ability that gives specific pulse weapons a extra shot when at half range. This ability turns Pulse Rifle Fire Warriors into a a very efficient unit and gun drones into very respectable sources of dakka – even with their price hike in the Codex. The Cadre Fireblade is an excellent example of a force multiplier that Tau in 8th are build around. Plus, he has a BS2+ markerlight that is very useful for starting markerlight chains. Non-Sept-specific, so expect to see a lot of these, especially in FSE (because FSE can’t take ethereals).
Limited to the Tau Sept, Darkstrider brings some unique things to the table, like his ability to add one to wound rolls for one nearby infantry unit and his ability to let infantry without the Fly keyword fall back and shoot. If you’re running a Tau gun line of either Strike Teams or even max-size stealth teams, he can be a significant force multiplier. He also has his own BS2+ markerlight like the Cadre Fireblade.
Before we get into the details for the rest of the choices, let’s get our assumptions out of the way:
- For Commander analysis, we are comparing the Enforcer and the Coldstar – we’re ignoring the XV8 Crisis Battlesuit Commander. This is because even though the Crisis Commander is a bit cheaper (4 points to be exact) and therefore it’ll end up being a little more point efficient, the benefit of the Enforcer over the Crisis Commander (extra wound for only 4 points) means that you’d pretty much always take the Enforcer or Coldstar.
- Thanks to some extra and helpful insight from a few of the readers, it was pointed out that while the XV8 Commander might have 1 fewer wounds for 4 less points than the Enforcer, it does have some key benefits like the ability to take an Iridium armour for 15 more points, while not using a system slot. This means that for a small point cost, the XV8 can be decidedly better against AP0 attacks. However, I feel that tactically, you should try to put yourself into situations where your commanders can’t be targeted at all and hopefully for your sake this is mostly a moot point.
- We will assume maximum shots (i.e. within rapid fire range) for rapid fire weapons. This is due to the fact that those rapid fire weapons have a range such that Manta striking into rapid fire range is always possible and should therefore be considered.
- I did not factor in melta range or other such scenarios where you can reroll damage
- Points for drones are included in the cost of units that must take drones. They have to take them and pay that “tax”.
- Green highlighted cells are the very best result and blue are worth noting
- A GEQ is defined as a model with T3 and Sv5+, one wound
- A MEQ is defined as a model with T4 and Sv3+, one wound
- A Tank is defined as a model with T8 and Sv3+, multiple wounds
- For weapons that do multiple damage, we will assume it does average damage (3.5 for D6 damage and 2 for D3)
- PPW stands for “points per wound” and PPD is “points per damage”
- I’ve taken the liberty of only showing the most-relevant columns (rationale here), GEQ PPW, MEQ PPW, and Tank PPD.
Not a ton has changed with the point efficiency for Commanders. Flamers are still best for GEQ’s, but the range is difficult to stomach. Luckily 4 Burst Cannons are about the same with much greater range. As the save goes up for MEQ’s, AP becomes more useful, which is why you see 4 Plasma Rifles to be a solid choice. And it’s not surprise that Fusion is king for damage against Tanks. With the increase in point cost for ATS, it’s hard to suggest taking it when you could just take more weapons instead.
What has changed significantly are CIB’s, Cyclic Ion Blasters. Their weapon profiles changed to a flat Assault 3 on both their regular and overcharged profiles. This means that while they are not the mathematically best option all the time, they are the absolute best thing to take to every game due to how versatile they are. If you’re needing more CIB bits, consider Red Dog Minis.
Note: The Tau Codex initial FAQ updated the weapons that the Coldstar can take and the above chart represents that.
With the change to allow Coldstar Commanders to take regular weapons (minus CIB), there are very few reasons why you want to take an Enforcer Commander for the Coldstar, given the Coldstar’s 40″ movement and
access to the High-Output Burst Cannon (HOBC) (the recent Codex FAQ specified that if you take the HOBC you also have to take the MP). The Coldstar Commander is a great source of mobility, dakka, and synergy for the rest of your forces. Take one, take many (but not more than 3 in a matched play game!).
Against GEQs, if you’re feeling gutsy, you could go with four flamers, but four BC’s is nearly as good and definitely more safe for your Coldstar. For targeting MEQs, four plasma rifles can be the winner if in rapid fire range. If not, then three BC’s and ATS are your go-to. It’s also decent agains GEQ’s so it’s somewhat well-rounded. Against Tanks, there are no surprises really with 4 Fusion being the clear winner. If you want something a bit more generally effective then the HOBC, MP, and BC with ATS. The Coldstar has always (IMO) looked the cooler of the two variants and now packs quite a bit more punch.
With just one loadout to look at, Farsight is fairly straightforward. The above assumes he makes use of both of his weapons, ranged and melee, which may not always be possible. Still, his numbers, in the 30’s for GEQ PPW, and 40’s for MEQ PPW, stayed the same from Index to Codex, while the Tank PPD got a lot better thanks to the increased strength on the Dawn Blade and the 2D damage of his Plasma Rifle. In this right circumstances, Farsight can be a great HQ choice, even in melee and even against high toughness targets.
There is more to Farsight (and pretty much all HQ choices) than his raw damage output – most notably his twice-use Commander ability Mont’ka. As is pretty much the case across the board with Tau, getting the most out of your units will require taking advantage of as much potential for synergy as possible. While I can’t speak for the claim that Farsight is the best HQ choice Tau has, his numbers and the potential tactics surrounding using using Mont’ka twice, definitely make me want to playtest him more in the near future.
Also with just one loadout, Shadowsun works out to still be an interesting choice, despite not changing at all form Index to Codex. She brings less efficiency herself, but with the ability to reroll failed hits to units within 6″ of her twice a game, potential is definitely there. Plus, she’s harder to hit (-1 to hit) and might make a good warlord because of it, but T4 versus other Commander’s T5 are a bit worrisome for me personally. It feels to me, that in order to realize her maximum efficiency, she needs to play a roll similar to a Buffmander in 7th, where she is the center of and maximizes other unit’s firepower rather than being the source of the firepower.
Further, from my own experiences using her as the lynch pin of my double Kauyon gun line, I find that not moving a majority of my forces for two straight turns is something I need to work around and make up for. Best served with a side of Riptide for an amazing Heavy 18 gun, re-rolling to hit and to wound.
Longstrike is the first HQ choice we are looking at that has multiple loadouts. He got notably better from Index to Codex due to the Ion Cannon improving. Long live the Ion Cannon – the Railgun is dead. Due to the fact that both drones shoot each of their four shots (eight shots in total) using his BS2+ while embarked, the drone option for the secondary weapon is the most efficient. While their 18″ is certainly realistic to use some of the time, it’s probably not often that you’ll be in range every turn. A more realistic option for the secondary weapon is the SMS as it has the bonus of ignoring any cover saves that your target may have, plus they got cheaper in the Codex.
Even against Tanks, the Ion Cannon, overcharged, outshines the railgun due to its Heavy D6 shots and dependable flat 3 damage. There’s a reason why Ion Cannons and the turret seat for HammerHeads has gotten more expensive on eBay recently… Longstrike remains a versatile platform that is most efficient when accompanied by multiple other Hammerheads due to his ability to buff their hit percentage. His main drawback is that he’s locked into the Tau sept and he’s not able to be saved by Savior Protocols, so handle with care.
Bonus point (via abusepuppy in comments below): It’s worth mentioning that as long as Longstrike and friends are not suffering any negative to hit modifiers, they can safely overcharge their ion cannons without risk of damaging themselves thanks to Longstrike’s +1 to hit. A roll of 1 will always fail, but due to modifiers coming into play before the check for a result of 1, you can bypass this self-inflicted damage.
No change from the Codex in ForgeWorld models, so the below is still relevant.
Shas’o R’myr stats assume he is in range to use both weapons, which is not reasonable at all due to his miniaturized flechette pod’s range of 6″. That being said, if and when you can be in range to use his flechette pod, you’re in range to assault and for Shas’o R’myr that’s a decent option. When he has the opportunity to shoot with both weapons and then assault though, he has the opportunity to be one of the most point-effective units we’ve looked at so far. And with the FAQ that improves his shield generator, Shas’o R’myr seems like a real viable choice.
No change from the Codex in ForgeWorld models, so the below is still relevant.
Coming equipped with his ++4/++3 (from greater than 12 inches away) shield generator, drones controller, and a whopping eight wounds, Shas’o R’ailai seems to make for a decent back/mid-line commander. He would make a great warlord and center of your swarm of markerlight drones, but won’t bring a ton of his own firepower. The way his rules read, it seems like he should be a dedicated character killer, but yet it’s clear he has nothing that lets him target characters unless their the nearest visible enemy unit. This could be an oversight to his rules, and would allow for some very fun character sniping, but for now leaves his role singular, as the back/mid-line drone booster.
Commander in XV81 Suit
The XV81 suit Commander is a commander with two slots who also has to take an Smart missile system (SMS). It has the same base cost as the regular but none of the other commander variants have access to the SMS, which is a nice weapon to have especially with its recent point drop. When it comes down to it though, the XV81 Commander doesn’t offer anything flashy or different than the standard Commander apart from the SMS, so there’s not a whole lot to discuss.
Commander in XV84 suit
The XV84 Commander is essentially a Commander with just two slots and one caveat: when it hits with its weapons, a markerlight is applied to the target. Since we know we can roll one die at a time for shooting, I’m of the mindset that you could, for instance, roll each of your six CIB shots (for a 2xCIB-weilding Commander) until you got one hit (not hard with the BS2+, and then that marker light would immediately benefit the remaining shots. Plus the marker light would benefit any other units shooting at the marked target, of course. To me, it seems less than ideal to have the marker light AFTER shooting. I’d rather have dedicated units for shooting and markerlights rather than a mixed bag of both.
Bonus point: there’s nothing stopping you from using this commander to trigger the Uplinked Markerlight Stratagem. As it stands, this is one of the most reliable ways to get a markerlight on a target and is worth noting.
Combat HQ Summary
So how do all these stack up? Rambo R’myr still holds his throne at the best GEQ killer (if you can shoot and charge with him that is) but most of the time you’ll get more use out of Burst Cannon Commanders. 4 Fusion Commanders still do work against Tanks (T8). While the other Commander variants are not inherently bad, they suffer from the Commander limit and struggle to compete. Farsight slices and dices most infantry and even tanks now, plus if you can take advantage of two Mont’ka’s then he seems to be an efficient HQ choice. Longstrike is ok on his own but good when surrounded by multiple hammerhead’s. Shadowsun is middling at best on her own, but could be good when you take advantage of her two Kauyon’s. Shas’o R’alai makes a decent babysitter for drones now and with a rule tweak would make for a fun choice.
Unfortunately, most of the non-Commander choices are Sept-locked to Tau, which is great if you want to play Tau and sucks if you don’t. If you’re playing a non-Tau sept list, with multiple detachments, you’re going to fill up on Ethereals and Fireblades fast. Then, if you’re playing FSE, you’d better have a ton of Fireblades since they can’t take Ethereals.
Next time we will bring you the next installment in the series analyzing the choices available for each battle role, focusing on Troops.
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