9E Tau Codex Review, HQs: Ethereal

Today we review one of the Tau codex’s support characters, the Ethereal.


The Ethereral is one of the three main HQs of the Tau codex, providing support auras to nearby units (though lacking in any significant battle contributions themselves.) They are the spiritual leaders of the Tau, governing their society and insuring that harmony and balance are always kept.

With a 6″ movement the Ethereal is about as fast as most models in the game, but their weapon and ballistic skills are mediocre at 3+ and 4+ respectively. They have typical Tau strength and toughness of 3, but only 4 wounds- about as low as you’ll see on any HQ unit. They also come with 3 attacks and a 5+ save, as well as leadership 9. Ethereals come in solo units for 55pts, making them a cheap HQ but not a very effective one overall.

Wargear and Special Abilities

An Ethereal is by default armed with an Honor Blade (Str+2 AP0 Dmg1), which can be swapped out for Equalizers (Str+0 AP-1 Dmg1, adds 1 attack) if you wish. Since neither version is likely to do any meaningful damage in combat, it’s largely a matter of modeling preference.

An Ethereral can also take a Hover Drone for 5pts, which grants it the Fly keyword and increases its movement to 8″. Given how cheap this is you probably want to do it every time, as Fly is very useful in moving over terrain.

The Ethereal’s two main abilities are its auras. Failure is Not an Option gives a 6″ radius of using the Ethereal’s leadership for morale tests; since Tau typically have middling leadership themselves, this is fairly useful in keeping your squads from running away when they inevitably take casualties. However, since it the area it covers is limited, it generally will only be able to help 1-2 squads at a time, and you don’t want to be taking multiple Ethereals to try and cover the board.

Its other aura is Invocation of the Elements, which lets you pick one active effect from a list of four each turn. The effect only works on Battlesuit and Infantry models (not drones, vehicles, etc), which is important to remember if you are fielding those. You can rotate between the effects on different turns if you wish and you can have multiple effects active if you bring multiple Ethereals, but units can’t get the same benefit stacked more than once.

Sense of Stone is the most common one to use, granting all units a 6+ roll to ignore wounds; Tau durability is usually low outside of Drones, and this helps mitigate that a bit. Storm of Fire provides an aura of rerolling 1s, but only if you remain stationary; since it overlaps with Markerlights, you won’t usually need this. Zephyr’s Grace lets you reroll advance rolls, potentially helping smooth out your odds of getting onto an objective in a critical moment. Finally, Calm of Tides lets you subtract one from morale rolls. However, since this negates the effect of Bonding Knives in squads, I don’t suggest you use it, as it ends up being a net negative.

An Ethereal can select two drones from the usual list, like most other characters.



Although the Ethereal does offer a wide variety of auras to pick from, their lack of offensive potential and defensive potential as well as the overall mediocrity of the buffs makes them a pretty unimpressive choice overall- other factions get characters with always-on reroll auras for similar prices that aren’t conditional. The fact that the Ethereal’s aura doesn’t become active until your first turn is also a significant problem, as it means going second you won’t get the 6+++ until after the enemy has already started shooting/assaulting you.

If you are fielding a lot of squads of Tau infantry or Drones, the Ethereal may be a reasonable option simply to avoid losing any extra models to morale; in this sense, it is probably more of a tax on such squads than an actual unit that you want to have around, since the Ethereal is not really adding anything to the units, merely preventing them from having another point of failure. Drone squads in particular are very prone to taking a single casualty and then having several more members of the squad panic and run away, something that the Ethereal at least guarantees will not happen in that situation.

Since HQ slots are limited in 9E, you will almost always be taking one of your other options over an Ethereal- although if you go up to a full three HQs in a battalion it may be something you consider, as you obviously can’t take duplicate Commanders. However, I think the Cadre Fireblade is still just a superior option overall, as they are not only tougher but also carry actual weapons and can similarly provide reroll 1s via a Markerlight while being a full 10pts cheaper.

Final Thoughts

The Ethereal is mostly just a necessary evil in some lists, not a unit you are happy about taking but one that you will sometimes field regardless in order to mitigate your weaknesses. Outside of the named characters, it is probably the worst of the HQ choices- although none of the choices in the codex can really be considered exceptional overall.

As always, remember you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store.


About abusepuppy

I was there, reader- I was there three editions ago. When Games Workshop released the Ynnari. When the strength of men failed.
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1 year ago


1 year ago

good review as usual, gets right to the heart of a big Tau problem: small and weak HQ auras that strongly encourage castling. personally think you’re underrating the 6+++ a little because Tau troops need all the help they can get these days and fireblades don’t help breachers, but that’s only a degree of difference

believe you forgot to mention one of their biggest problems which is that you can’t take them in FSE detachments for fluff reasons and FSE is one of the most “viable” options for Tau rn

1 year ago

Ethereals are one of those units that have cool fluff, and a cool rules premise, but they miss the mark on the tabletop.

It seems they are on the cusp of being good. A couple of rule tweaks here and there would likely make them viable.

Doesn’t have to be major changes either.

Keep Sense of Stone as it is. IMO, it’s a strong buff for suits and infantry. 6+ FNP for ~55pts for all models within a 6″ is cheap compared to other units in the game.

Change Storm of Fire to do everything it does now, but make it so that instead of the unit having to remain stationary, they instead only have to have not advanced that turn. That would help decouple the castling attitude that is part of T’au gameplay currently, and make the Ethereal encourage mobility within your gunline.

Or since rerolls to 1 are already pretty common, perhaps rerolls to 1 on wound rolls would be better. Or the ability to pick either or.

Zephyr’s Grace could be changed to just give you the advance roll for models effected. So, don’t roll the dice, you get the max movement allowed.

Calm of Tides should be changed, as you mention in the article. I didn’t think about how it would effect Bonding Knife ritual and that’s a big negative. Seems like an unintended oversight for how T’au works since, generally speaking, most Battlesuits and Infantry will have bonding knives.

Perhaps buff it on the back end, where you can negate how many causalities you suffer if you fail morale.

Overall, I think it would be a good idea to buff the invocation of elements to make all four competitive. So that it really is a decision to decide on the one you want the most, and in turn, perhaps compel you to have more than one Ethereal (or bring Aun’va for once).

The Ethereal really should be a powerful buffing unit, but have the frailty and weakness (in terms of stats) to offset this so that your opponent can play around this. And then of course adjust points as needed to bring it in line with other things.

1 year ago

I’m not sure how I feel about a new series of reviews of Tau units in 9th edition. Feels a little like rubbing salt in an open, festering wound that is already widely, publicly viewable. Normally, I’d eat Tau reviews right up as they are my main army, but here I am just wishing that this doesn’t mean that our actual 9th Edition codex release is a long ways off.

1 year ago
Reply to  steelmanf

I think most people assume that simply “talking” about a subject cannot garner any tangible results and only actual action will lead to any meaningful changes (in this game or in any facet of life).

I disagree with that notion. I think having open discussion about the topic, so long as it is constructive, can lead to results.

Sometimes the “obvious” isn’t always so obvious to everyone, and the conversation could help to illuminate others.

The conversation could also inspire new ideas from people just joining the conversation, or people that are revisiting the topic after X amount of time.

At the very least, such articles can help to provide new players or players unfamiliar with a faction, a chance to understand the do’s and dont’s, as well a place for more experienced players to commiserate (in a way).

In any case, if GW is to read anything from online sources for player feedback, I would assume FLG would be on the list.

1 year ago

To rub salt in the wound – Farsight Enclaves have a warlord trait for units with the bonding knife within 12’ to auto pass morale on a roll of 1, 4,5,6.

So apart from drones which you aren’t taking in units of their own really anymore, so a non factor, it is a straight up replacement for an ethereal in a WL trait if you plan on bringing lots of models!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x