The XV-86 Coldstar suit has gotten a bad rap ever since it was first released- and not unrightfully so, because it comes with some pretty major drawbacks. But having tested it out myself fairly extensively, I’m here to tell you that it can be a lot more than just a big ol’ lawn dart. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and info.
The Coldstar suit upgrade is available to all Commanders in both Tau Empire and Farsight detachments; it replaces the normal Crisis suit rules with its own and prevents the user from buying any other Signature Systems or weapons (though it comes with two weapons of its own.) Unlike the Signature Systems that it replaces a Coldstar suit is not limited to one per army, should you decide that you want to field several of them- however, this probably isn’t generally something you will want to do.
An XV86 provides the Commander with the usual battlesuit equipment (Multitracker to fire two weapons, Blacksun Filter for immunity to Blind and Night Fighting) as well as two slots to take Support Systems. In addition, as already mentioned, it comes with a Missile Pod (S7 AP4 Assault 2) and High-Intensity Burst Cannon (S5 AP5 Assault 6 Twin-Linked) as fixed weapons. The suit also changes the Commander’s unit type to Flying Monstrous Creature, granting them the Move Through Cover, Jink, Relentless, and Hammer of Wrath rules as well as the ability to move 12″/24″ in the movement phase- however, unlike other Tau battlesuits a Coldstar suit cannot make a Thrust movement in the assault phase.
Options and Upgrades
With only the two Support System slots for choices, a Coldstar suit is much more locked into its role than most other battlesuits are; however, it does still have some decent choices to make. It can also purchase up to two Drones in the usual fashion, which as we’ll see later here is very important. I generally find that the Drone Controller and Target Lock are the two go-to systems on a Coldstar suit, since in combination they let you use the Commander’s excellent BS5 value while also sharing it with a squad of Marker or Gun Drones. For some setups a Counterfire Defense System might have more value than the Target Lock- the Coldstar suit’s high rate of fire and twin-linked weapon make the extra pip of BS during overwatch very useful.
The Advanced Targeting System and Early Warning Override (for Precision Shots and Interceptor respectively) are also both excellent general-use upgrades, but with so little space available you’ll very rarely find opportunity to take them. Similarly, Vectored Retrothrusters (Fleet and Hit and Run) are excellent and may be worth taking over the Target Lock if you plan on spending a lot of time on the ground, but more often you won’t really be given the chance to use them because you don’t want to be assaultable.
The big elephant in the room is Shield Generator, classically considered mandatory for Coldstar because the 4++ save gives you a chance to survive a Grounding Test (which would otherwise pulp you regardless of remaining wounds.) However, its expense and limited utility make me shy away from it, so the question becomes how does one avoid a Icarian fate the moment any wound goes through?
The trick- and this is admittedly not something 100% certain because of the timing involved, but given the mediocrity of the Coldstar- is to not have the Commander be the one who takes the S9 AP2 wound. So long as the Commander is in Swoop mode, any Drones they have purchased stay off the table and don’t “count”- however, by definition a Commander that has been Grounded is no longer in Swoop mode and thus their Drones will be placed with them on the table in time for the S9 wound to arrive. A simple 2+ Look Out, Sir roll later and your Commander is alive and well, albeit minus a companion. One envisions the Commander surfing her way back down to earth, Marty McFly-style, while riding atop the poor unfortunate Drone whose antigrav systems they are so violently abusing.
Using the Coldstar
So what, exactly, is the Coldstar suit good for, anyways? It can’t take any of the excellent Signature Systems that Tau normally use on their HQs and doesn’t really have an obvious purpose from its basic statline. It gives some Skyfire weaponry, but as Tau are the one faction in the game that get actual Skyfire of their own that hardly seems necessary given what you lose to access it. So if we’re being completely honest, the Coldstar doesn’t really do enough to justify its existence. You won’t find it in any real competitive lists and I’m not going to try and defend it from that perspective. However, it does have some uses in a more casual setting and is a lot better than people usually give it credit for, so the upgrade isn’t a complete piece of trash.
The first thing we should note is that the Coldstar’s fixed weapons are actually pretty good. Missile Pods are a go-to of Tau lists in every format for a long time now, so having one is pretty excellent. The improved Burst Cannon is also surprisingly good- six shots with Twin-Linked means it will shred infantry pretty reliably and even on Overwatch is likely to put 1-2 hits in (or 3+ if you’re BS2 or better) and can do a number on vehicles when shooting into their rear armor.
That’s the other big strength of the Coldstar- mobility. With the capacity to move up to 24″ in the movement phase, a Coldstar suit can pretty easily leapfrog across the battlefield to places people aren’t expecting it to be and can easily get side/rear armor on targets as needed. This is particularly good for bringing down enemy fliers, as two S7 and six S5 shots into rear armor will generally bring one down (or at least force it to Jink) in a single go. Even when remaining on the ground, 12″ per turn is nothing to sneeze at and can enable you to get a lot of places more consistently than a jetpack unit might have been able to. It’s also worth noting that you can join units while in Swoop mode- you effectively lose the benefits of Swooping while doing so, but it’s still sometimes useful.
We should also call out the Coldstar for a particularly unique quality- it is the only Independent Character in the Tau armory that has the Move Through Cover rule. Farsight models can upgrade to it via a Warscraper Drone, but outside of that it is simply not available and with so many suits (and drones) hopping in and out of terrain it can really save a lot of headache for you if you’re using it.
Still, though, we haven’t really answered the fundamental question posed to us- why use the Coldstar? The answer, for me at least, is a combination of utility and survivability. Although inferior to Iridium Armor with its 2+ save and Toughness 5, a Coldstar Commander is relatively difficult to bring down due to the enemy having to snapfire against it in almost all cases. Thus it is that, despite almost always being alone, a Coldstar suit will see a lot less firepower directed against it than your usual HQs will- it’s simply not worth the time to shoot at it for most opponents, especially not when there are still other targets available. With the ability to also jump around the table and deny LoS and/or range to the suit, most opponents will rarely throw more than a token amount of firepower at you unless they are desperate to get the Slay the Warlord point- and if that’s the case, then it’s unlikely that anything would protect you so you can at least rest assured that they will probably be wasting a lot of firepower in order to successfully down you.
Not Just a Lawn Dart
In practice, I found that “lawn darting” (i.e. failing a Grounding check and dying to the resultant S9 wound) virtually never happened to me while using the Coldstar- even ignoring the trick with pawning off wounds on drones. Being Toughness 4 was extremely problematic, but more because of suffering lots of wounds from basic Boltguns and the like (and having only a 3+ save to stop them) or dying to a Meltagun or Lascannon before the Grounding even had a chance to take effect.
As I said before, the Coldstar upgrade certainly isn’t a big winner in the codex, but if you like the model and/or rules for it you shouldn’t feel like you can’t take it because of it being too bad- rather, just understand that there are some things (namely, anything that can hit you in the air and ignore 3+ armor) that will spell the end of you very quickly and some others that you are largely immune to. Since the Coldstar suit is priced fairly reasonably considering it comes with a pair of weapons, you can bring your Commander in for a pretty acceptable price, leaving more points to spend elsewhere. However, you do want to make sure that you have a good number of units for the Coldstar to join up with as they move around the table; expendable Drones can be ideal here, but Stealth Suits, Kroot, and other options are possible as well.
There are very few truly bad units and options in the Tau codex, and the Coldstar is no exception to this rule; with a bit of practice and the right army, I think you’ll find that it can be surprisingly useful as a utility piece to move a significant amount of firepower across the table on short notice as well as jumping onto objectives or hunting down enemies hiding in awkward spots, all tough jobs for Tau much of the time.