Tau Codex Review: HQs: Commander in XV81/84 Armor

XV-25, XV-8, XV-88, XV-9, XV-104, KV-139… if there aren’t enough alphabet soup battlesuit designations for you out there, let’s add a couple more to the pile! Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.


Although the XV-85 Enforcer model of armor is now the default for Commanders that lead a Tau army from the front lines, it is far from the only such model of armor- indeed, some Shas’os prefer the older (and more familiar) XV-8 armor, while others don prototypes or suits from limited production runs. In some cases this is done as a favor to the Earth Caste- after all, such experimental upgrades require field testing, and what better set of hands than an experienced and battle-hardened Commander who has already mastered the many aspects of warfare? In other cases, though, it is the pilot’s own preferences that give rise to these variant armors- Shadowsun, for example, has always favored stealthy tactics, so it only makes sense that she would equip herself to take full advantage of this strength. Thus, while the basic XV-85 has hundreds of possible loadouts, there are always those who are unsatisfied with the options it presents and wish to push the envelope further, resulting in an endless series of field modifications, jury-rigs, and experimental configurations.

On the tabletop, the XV-81 and XV-84 (each of which is technically its own datasheet, to be clear) are identical in statline to an XV-85 Commander. An 8″ movement (and the Fly keyword) give them pretty decent mobility, and with six wounds and 3+ armor they don’t go down easily. Strength and toughness five give them a strong baseline to work from, and ballistic skill 2+ makes them excellent shooters. Surprisingly, weapon skill 3+ and four attacks also makes them pretty passable combatants, although you still don’t want to take on any “real” combat units. An XV-81 costs 76pts base (the same as an Enforcer does), while an XV-84 is slightly more expensive at 80pts. Both have mandatory equipment (discussed below), of course, and are limited to a single model in a given army- not that you’d be likely to take multiples of either even if it were an option.

Special Rules and Wargear

Like most all Tau units, both variants of the Commander have the For the Greater Good rule, allowing them to support nearby units with overwatch. Both also have the Master of War ability, giving them the option to activate a bonus for Tau units within 6″ of them once per game, with the bonus depending on which version they choose. They can also Manta Strike, arriving on the field as reserves if they please. As this is all standard for any Commander, I won’t go into much detail about it here- I talk about in more detail in the earlier article.

Where the two units differ from a normal Commander is in their loadout, and we’ll discuss each of them individually. The XV81 comes with a Smart Missile System (30″ S5 AP0 Heavy 4 ignores LoS/cover) and can mount up to two additional weapons or support systems; if we presume that the SMS takes the place of one other weapon system, this actually leaves it down by a hardpoint compared to the “common” version- though it can at least access all of the normal gear for its remaining slots.

The XV84, on the other hand, comes with a Target Lock and two additional weapons or support systems. However, it also benefits from the Networked Markerlight rule, meaning that it can place a single Markerlight token on one unit that it hits with an attack during the shooting phase. The text is careful to emphasize that it can never produce more than one token in this way, but this is still a useful tool to have access to.


So, why might we want these units over the standard Commander? Because right out of the gates, we can say that they have some significant deficiencies compared to a basic Commander. The XV-81 is missing a weapon slot, meaning it is just 25% less capable than a standard Commander. And although the SMS is definitely a nice weapon, it’s not that nice of a gun. In fact, I can’t honestly think of a great use for the XV-81; it’s kinda a crummy unit, all things consider. I mean, you could give it some Missile Pods or something and make it a reasonable fire support platform, but as already noted a basic Commander would simply be better and it’s not as though Tau lack access to units that can carry an SMS- heck, even their troops can get them. I guess you could also give it two Airbursting Fragmentation Projectors (ain’t that a mouthful!) to make it an all-indirect fire unit, albeit one with a fairly short range. But even that presumes a very unusual type of terrain that I think will go poorly for Tau regardless of what units you bring.

The XV-84, at least, has a bit more purpose. Although it functionally has only three “slots” (two open ones and a forced-pick Target Lock), it essentially has a fourth weapon in the form of its “markerlight”, which auto-tags anything the other guns shoot at. While this is probably not the best use of a Commander’s weapon slot, it does have some advantages- since it’s not actually a Heavy weapon the way regular Markerlights are, it will be hitting on 2s and if you have a multishot weapon (like a Missile Pod) any one of the hits connecting is good enough to put a token on the enemy. If you’re looking for ways to start a Markerlight chain, you could do a lot worse than an XV-84 Commander all things considered- especially if you also want it to be mobile and protected from enemy counterfire. I think you definitely want to lean towards weapons with longer ranges (as these give you more potential targets) and multiple shots (so that at least one of them connects and gives you the token), which makes the Missile Pod a natural choice.

However, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t really think either of these two units are worth much. Tau have other character-protected Markerlights (including Firesight Marksmen, Cadre Fireblades, and more, all of which are good units in their own right) and Commanders are in very limited supply due to their special rules restricting them to one per detachment. With such a precious few of them, dedicating one to carrying one of the most common weapons in the Tau armory or to being a Markerlight caddy simply isn’t a very attractive proposition- especially since you are taking a hit to the unit’s firepower as a result, and in a very absolute sense. If these units had a normal number of weapon slots available they might be more defendable, but as they are now I don’t expect either one will see any use during 8th edition, or at the very least until they see an update in their rules.


Neither of these two are particularly threatening in their own right; they might occasionally be annoying in that they can spit out some BS2+ firepower, but this is double true for a regular Commander and those come without so many of the inherent limitations. Seeing an XV-81/84 across the table from you should be a good indication that the opposing player is either not very good at the game or is a fluff bunny, so it probably doesn’t bode well for them in the match to come.

Final Thoughts

The variant Commanders suffer badly from the restriction of one Commander per detachment, and the 81/84 types are perhaps the worst examples of this, as they aren’t really all that unique and don’t bring much to the table of their own. While the named characters are also fairly lackluster in general, the 81/84 have almost nothing to call their own, and they showcase some of the worst facets of Forge World’s rules writing this edition. Now, to be fair, they were printed during the Index phase of the game, and thus are costed more along the lines of many of the more cautious values (and rules) made during that era, so were they to be re-released today they might be changed so as to be a lot more attractive- but until that time comes, they are unlikely to make it off the shelf in any but the most casual of environments.

As always, remember that you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline gaming store, whether you’re looking to expand an existing army or start a new one.


About abusepuppy

AbusePuppy is the one who has been ruining 40K for everyone this whole time. He is also searching for the six-fingered man and is one of the three people who know the secret recipe for coke (not the soda, the illegal drug.)

8 Responses to “Tau Codex Review: HQs: Commander in XV81/84 Armor”

  1. Avatar
    Argentus April 3, 2019 7:54 am #

    It would be really cool to get unit breakdowns like this for armies like Orks, Admech, or even the new genestealer cults. I’m out of eldar/tau/tyranid bingo cards.

    • Avatar
      abusepuppy April 3, 2019 9:12 am #

      Once I’m done with Tau, I’ll move onto one of the other armies- I only have a handful of FW units left, really. AdMech or Orks might be interesting, but I haven’t really decided what yet.

      • Avatar
        Kevin Lantz April 5, 2019 2:32 am #

        I do wish there were hazard suits or crisis suits that could take SMS….

  2. Avatar
    zarlus April 3, 2019 6:04 pm #

    XV-81 should really only be used as a buffmander of sorts. Hidden with SMS, drone controller, maybe AFP; (as you state), or BC. Place it in cover next to as many sniper drones as possible. Perhaps also used for CnC strategem.

    XV-84 is a mobile ML with no negative modifier. Ran as Vior’la, it’s possible to get a marker on a character or backline unit out of your other sources’ bubbles. Can you capitalize on that…who knows? Yet, that’s the benefit.

    Neither are really that competitive. I wish we could combine the special rules into one unit entry. An SMS with auto-proc ML would be fantastic.

    • Avatar
      abusepuppy April 3, 2019 7:19 pm #

      Yeah, and XV-814 might actually be worth something, but neither of their rules individually are really that good.

      Alternatively, if you made it so that the XV-84 put a Markerlight on _every_ unit it hits, in any phase, it becomes more useful.

      • Avatar
        Hotsauceman1 April 4, 2019 9:59 pm #

        I feel as if a Xv-81 is good on those commanders that are babysitting sniper drone teams now.

        • Avatar
          abusepuppy April 8, 2019 3:41 pm #

          Not really. I’d still rather have three Missile Pods and a Drone Controller than a single MP, DC, and SMS. I don’t really rate the “bare minimum carrying nothing” setup on Commanders, I think the opportunity cost is too high.

    • Avatar
      zarlus April 8, 2019 12:21 pm #

      The XV-84 has Target lock, so running Vior’la isn’t necessary; (I was thinking it was on the 81 in my original post).

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