Tau Empire: HQ: Tau Ethereal

Heyo everybody, this is HotSauceMan here to tell you about our supreme and benevolent leaders, the Ethereals. If you want to know more remember to check out the Tactics Corner for more fun stuff.

The Ethereals are the leading caste of the Tau. They control all the other castes and give them spiritual guidance. They united the various tribes in Tau pre-history and created the empire. There are many rumors as to how they came about. The most common rumor is that they were created by the Eldar in order to convince the tau to grow out from their planet to fight chaos.

The ethereal occupies a weird place for the Tau. They are support models with a wide array of abilities, be it buffing the leadership of you army, or giving them special abilities related to each caste. They also can take optional gear that is related to close-combat, but if this guy is in close-combat, somewhere along the line you failed as a Tau commander.

Funny enough, this guy comes  with no actual wargear. So all of the following is actually optional.

  • Honour Blade: Pretty cheap +2 strength with the two handed rule. So you are wounding marines on a 3, but it really isn’t worth it, you want to cram as much fun stuff into your army as possible.
  • Two Equalizers: For twice as much as a blade you get an extra attack at strength 3 ap4. WOOT?
  • Blacksun filter: Allows you to ignore night fight. It is also the only way to give fire warriors this ability. But tau have enough ways to get ignores cover, so it does not matter.
  • Homing Beacon: You don’t scatter when you deepstrike within 6″ of a model holding this. This is pretty good for how many points it costs. I have looked around and it looks like it can be used within a transport, but I might be wrong.
  • Recon Armor: 5+  armor save, so you can now pay for your armor to be ignored.
  • Hover Drone: The newest toy for the Ethereals, this allows him(or her. I don’t discriminate) to ignore dangerous and difficult terrain. Not bad for its price point. If you got 5 points to spare, take it.

Special Rules:

  • Failure is Not An Option: All friendly-faction models can use his leadership within 12″. But if he dies, your opponent gets and extra victory point. This hurts quite a bit, especially in ITC format.
  • Independent character
  • Stubborn: Not bad, but as there are very few negative modifiers outside of combat, so it is pretty limited in its usage.
  • Invocation of the elements: This is where this guy really shines. At the beginning of the movement phase you select a single non-vehicle unit withing 12”. These gain one of the following four buffs.
  • Calm of Tides: Gives the target unit stubborn. Not bad, but tau get wiped out in close-combat so easily that stubborn isn’t going to help. Really it will only help XV104 Riptide Battlesuits so they don’t die, but they’re not going to be within 12”
  • Storm of fire: All pulse weapons get an extra shot at half range. Really Nice. This effects so many units that it is the most used ability and my favorite. I will get more into this in a second.
  • Sense of Stone: 6+ feel no pain. Useless, utterly useless. Battlesuits can buy better versions, Firewarriors have T3. Skip this one.
  • Zephyr’s Grace: You can run and fire snapshots. Considering that there is a whole formation based around this that allows you to fire at full BS, it is kind of not worth it. Pass.

The best thing the Ethereal has going for him is that he is cheap. Like cheap enough that you are worried he might have some diseases and infections that he is lying about. Being that cheap he is actually the best HQ if you have to take a second detachment for any reason. You can also fit him into any detachment if need be. Even his upgrades are cheap, each being roughly 5-10pts each.
The most obvious way to play him though is in a tau gun-line army. One where you castle up behind a fortification. The best choice would be the Void Shield Generator because of all the scouting grav weapons that exist now (while the VSG still provides Grav protection, that is). Load up with some strike teams and cast storm of fire on them. With them not needing a sergeant you save on points for all your squads because they are now leadership 10.

Storm of Fire is obviously the bread and butter of the ethereal and taking full advantage of it is how you will get your points back for this model. My favorite use for the Ethereal is to load him up into a sniper drone team. At 24’ you are firing an extra shot. But with all the GMC that exist now, it isn’t worth it. Anything that is described as “pulse” weapon is going to be affected by this. Note, it does not affect the R’varna’s guns.


My favorite way to use him is to put him in with a full Breacher team and run him up in a TY7 Devilfish. Slap a homing beacon on him and run him up, full speed. Then during the next turn, your guys arriving from reserves do not scatter. And because the homing beacon is unique, the model doesn’t actually have to be physically on the board to take effect, so it works from the transport. Storm also works on the Breacher’s guns so you can then use that on them for the extra shot. (Note: It is half-range on the gun, so if you are using its highest profile, you can still fire at 6″).


There is only one formation the Ethereal fits in. The Ethereal Council. This is a real stinker. 3-5 of them all form a unit. They gain fearless. None of them can ever leave the unit. Failure is increased to 24”. Evocation also allows you to evoke all four instead of one. The problem is with them all being in a unit, they can’t hide. But each one you lose, your opponent gains another VP. They will die to be sure, they are squishier than a guardsmen skull under a power armored boot. So you’re giving your opponent at least 3 extra points. Not worth it in my opinion.

The biggest weakness of the ethereal is the fact that they are squishy and give up an extra VP. Their pros are that they are cheap and are a decent force multiplier for your foot units. They can’t keep up though with your suits, so you need an army built around them. The real questions, as always with Tau, is why would you take him over Buffmander? If you have a reasonable answer to that question, you will enjoy using the Ethereal!

As always, share your thoughts in the comment section. And remember Frontline Gaming sells Games Workshop product at up to 25% off, every day.



About HotSauceMan

HotSauceMan is a mediocre and lower tier player, but he makes up for it in spunk and Jazz. When not writing for Frontline, He can be found huddled away in his dorm watching cartoon, or fighting DareDevil.

10 Responses to “Tau Empire: HQ: Tau Ethereal”

  1. Vankraken May 8, 2016 12:18 pm

    I use the Ethereal quite a bit in my Tau lists that spam Fire Warriors and make up the gunline or “anvil” of my army. The leadership bubble makes the Tau infantry rarely retreat while the Ethereal hide behind LoS blockers or in a Devilfish. Also helps keep any Broadsides, Pathfinders, and anything else in my more static position from breaking while really using the pulse weapon shooting. The homing beacon is an auto include so my “hammer” force of Crisis Suits can make defensive deep strikes (which are indeed often simultaneous and devastating) if needed. While of little use to a Riptide/Stormsurge heavy list army, the Ethereal has its place with lots of infantry. The other kick in the face slit for the Ethereal (other than giving up a VP on death) is that it’s difficult to fit one into a Tau Hunter Contengent list. Coordinated Firepower is so good for Fire Warrior style lists but your basically stuck taking a separate CAD to fit the Ethereal in the army. Would never see one at one of the top tables of a tournament but it can definitely be the glue to a infantry spam list.

  2. Kevin Lantz May 8, 2016 7:50 pm

    He’s tournament worthy for the fact that he’s a dirt cheap leader that gives a 6+ fnp bubble, yes, not as good as 5+, but it’s essentially free and makes a gun line actually work.

    • Kevin Lantz May 8, 2016 7:52 pm

      which I find incredibly ironic with the “suits can buy better” yeah but for how much, and when you want troops on a front line, what’s better for two-three units of 5-12 guys than a 50pt 6+ fnp, oh and stubborn for assaults.

      the author clearly doesn’t play gunlines or care about them… if he did he’d realise how incredibly good this guy is as a corner stone, and how incredibly good 6+ fnp bubble is.

      In particularly if you have a riptide wing just at the fringes of it, a unit or two… if you even decrease the stim injectors by a third, he’d still be worth one to two hundred points in 6+ fnp.

      • HotSauceMan May 9, 2016 9:39 am

        You are right. I do not play gunlines because that is not how Tau are meant to be played. Their troops are squishy and dont put out the Firepower needed for a gunline to be worth it. Tau are now a mobile army, which is what you need for ITC missions. I do not see the value of an ethereal in that respect.

        • Kevin Lantz May 9, 2016 7:25 pm

          to each their own, but mobility doesn’t mean much in the face of super friends charging anywhere they want 1st or 2nd turn.

  3. abusepuppy May 8, 2016 10:00 pm

    Until a couple days ago, I actually ranked the Ethereal pretty highly; the ability to sit inside a transport (or building) and hand out a Leadership buff as well as weak FNP or some other bonus was actually pretty good, and as Kevin notes above the main advantage was the Ethereal’s cheapness in comparison to the other HQs (as a Commander often closes in on 200pts with all of the kit.)

    However, the recent FAQ has changed all of that; the Ethereal’s auras can no longer extend from inside a vehicle, meaning that it must get out and expose itself if you want to be getting any benefit at all from them. This is a pretty huge blow to any army that wants to make use of an Ethereal, sadly, and pushes them down a lot in the usefulness rankings.

    • HotSauceMan May 8, 2016 10:02 pm

      Prettymuch, that hurt my ethereal alot. running around in a devilfish with a homing beacon….but yeah. not so much now

    • lessthanjeff May 9, 2016 1:53 am

      Moreover, even the turn you disembark you can’t use the invocation because it has to be done at the beginning of your movement phase when he was still inside the transport. The fact that I can’t even jink with the transports without killing the firepower of the passengers pretty well ended my current project of 3-4 breacher teams racing up the field in devilfish.

      • abusepuppy May 9, 2016 4:41 am

        You actually can use the Invocation from inside the transport, it just won’t affect anyone when you do.

        But yeah, Jinking transports penalizing the occupants is pretty brutal.

  4. Dakkath May 9, 2016 4:40 am

    I really wanna like the ethereal, but that extra vp is just way too much of a risk, especially on a t3 no save model. I’d rather just spend the extra 10 points and grab a fireblade if I need a budget hq, even if it’s more limited in scope.