This article has been updated since its initial publication to reflect Chapter Approved 2018 changes.
Today we’re talking about the ruling caste of the T’au empire, the Ethereals. Through mysterious means (potential psychic will and manipulation), the Ethereals are able to unquestioningly command the other T’au castes. It is said that any T’au would willingly lay down their life for them and through invocations of “elemental truths” battles can be swung and ultimately won just by the mere presence of an Ethereal.
On the tabletop, much like in the lore, the Ethereal is a support HQ choice. Rubbish on their own, they help squeeze out the most of your other units, particularly <Infantry> and <Battlesuit> units through chants and buffs. While not psychers, they are the closest the T’au gets in that regard.
Ethereals come stock with an Honor Blade (Melee S+2 AP0 D1) but can alternatively take Equalizers (melee S[User] AP-1 D1, increase attacks for models armed with this by 1). It can optionally take two Tactical Drones (consisting of either Shield, Markerlight, or Gun Drones) as well as take an optional hover drone, which while not a separate model, it’s basically a mount which allows the Ethereal to change their movement value to 8″ and gains the <Fly> keyword.
Special abilities include Failure is Not an Option and Invocation of the Elements (IotE). Failure is Not an Option allows T’au Empire units within 6″ of the Ethereal to use the Ethereal’s leadership (Ld9) instead of their own. Invocation of the Elements requires that the Ethereal choose one of the four following chants to invocate during the movement phase. All friendly T’au Empire <Infantry> and <Battlesuits> gain the chosen chant’s benefit:
- Calm of Tides
- Subtract 1 from any morale tests made for affected units
- Storm of Fire
- Reroll hit rolls of 1 in the Shooting phase for affected units that remain stationary in the Movement phase
- Sense of Stone
- Whenever a model in an affected unit loses a wound, roll a D6; on a 6, that model does not lose that wound
- Zephyr’s Grace
- You can reroll the dice for affected units when they advance
Chapter Approved 2018 did not adjust the points of the Ethereal unit nor its wargear. However a lot of units that the Ethereal pairs well with did see significant point reductions, and I feel that puts the Ethereal in an overall slightly better position.
Ethereals are meant to buff nearby units, not actually get into combat. Their middling-to-bad melee proficiency coupled with a Sv5+ results in a unit that, if it does get into combat, gets ripped apart like a wet paper towel and that is most threatening to simple Guardsmen. For that reason, it shouldn’t matter which melee weapon you take, because hopefully, you’ll never use it. I stick with the Honor Blade.
Due to the 6″ bubble for buffs, you’ll want to keep your Ethereal at close to the heart of your forces, typically <Infantry> and <Battlesuit> units. It’s not “entirely within”, thankfully, so even just a single Firewarrior or the toe of a Riptide will confer the buff. Speaking of buffs, they are the only reason you’re taking an Ethereal. If you’re running larger-size units (think 10 or 12 Fire Warrior Strike Teams), then using the Ethereal’s Ld9 (or Ld10 if he’s a Sa’cea Ethereal) can really help mitigate against morale losses. Furthermore, since the wording on Failure is Not an Option is just “T’au Sept“, this is one of the only ways to buff <Kroot> and <Vespid> units, should you be taking them, but more importantly it affects large units of shield drones you might take to protect your Riptides. Should you be so inclined as to run a 20 model Kroot unit, a Sa’cea Ethereal on a hover drone (to help keep up with the Kroot’s speed) will be absolutely vital, especially when combined with Calm of Tides.
Most of the time, however, I prefer to run smaller units, to make my opponents have to calculate their firepower a bit more, as opposed to just throwing everything against a few large units. Although most of you reading this might play ITC missions more than the book missions, the Chapter Approved 2018 missions no longer favor 1st turn to the person with fewer drops, so MSU is even more of a legitimate strategy. In this case, the most beneficial buffs will probably be the Storm fo Fire and Sense of Stone. Sense of Stone will help if you’ve got your Ethereal surrounded by multiple Strike Teams, say if you took a Battalion and loaded up on 6 units of Fire Warriors. It will also help keep a few wounds off any <Battlesuit> with a ton of wounds – namely units of Broadsides and Riptides. For a full unit of Broadsides (18 total wounds), you’re going to save about 3 wounds through the Sense of Stone chant, which is half a broadside. An Ethereal is now about half the cost of a Broadside, so this can be combined with other units nearby to come out ahead. You already were probably taking 3 riptides and with the point reductions, Broadsides look a lot more attractive, so if you can get an Ethereal within 6″ of all that, over the course of the game, this can make your already resilient units (thanks to Savior Protocols) even tougher. That helps put it into perspective the kind of impact that an Ethereal can have.
Storm of Fire will also help those same <Infantry> and <Battlesuit> units, providing that you keep them in the backfield and immobile. Since you usually need some unit to fill that role, it’s reasonable to strategize around. Rerolling 1’s To-Hit is a small boost in efficiency, approximately an 8% boost, which could change the max Missileside unit from hitting 24 total shots (48 total shots between three Missilesides, hitting with BS4+) to hitting about 28 total shots via rerolling 1’s. Seeing as they gain this benefit no matter who they shoot at (unlike markerlight counters which require that you shoot at the unit with the markerlights in order to benefit), this small increase in firepower is worth noting.
The best way to reliably get the most out of the last chant, the Zephyr’s Grace, is through combining it with Mont’ka. By deploying a Commander and Ethereal near one another at the start of the game, and most of your forces around them, you can use a first turn Mont’ka combined with Zephyr’s Grace to more reliably advance forward quickly. Apart from that, it will have limited and niche uses.
The best way to counter an Ethereal is to kill it as there is no denying its invocations or buffs. Though it has the <Character> rule, it will normally be near the things you will want to assault and kill. Therefore, with good play and some luck, you could feasibly get into combat with it. Keep in mind the significant overwatch that will occur when using this tactic though, as the T’au For the Greater Good rule is quite powerful. Once you do get into close combat with the surviving assaulting units, the Ethereal will easily be dealt with.
The second best way to deal with an Ethereal is just to go first. The Ethereal’s chants take place in the T’au player’s Movement phase, so by going first yourself, you can act for a full turn without any of the Invocations’ buffs, like the 6+++. Lastly, they’re only T3, with a Sv5+ and 4 wounds so even a few dedicated Sniper units should be able to quickly take it out. A good T’au player will try to keep it out of the line of sight, but that’s not always possible. Like fighting against T’au in general, you want to take out the support structure for the real powerhouse units (i.e. Riptides) and then you’ll find that the T’au army fails to perform as well as is needed.
The T’au Ethereal is a cheap HQ choice that acts best as a force-multiplier. Left uncontested, it can provide buffs for all of the T’au forces that will probably earn its points back and then some over the course of a full game. This is even truer after Chapter Approved 2018 when most of the units it wants to be buffing are either still just as viable or even more so through point reduction. Therefore, it should be a priority by turn two or three, if not sooner, to eliminate it. The longer it’s around, the more efficient it is. The optional Tactical Drones that it can take can be helpful at providing a few more drone units on the field without violating the Rule of 3 but do make the T’au player more susceptible to excessive kill points. All in all, the Ethereal can provide enough benefits to justify taking it, given the right list, but it’s also pretty cheap so can be an easy detachment slot filler if you run out of better options too. It is not the best HQ choice that T’au has by a wide margin, so it will play second (or third) fiddle compared to Commanders and Cadre Fireblades in almost every case.
Does Chapter Approved 2018 change how you’ll be using Ethereals?
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