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.
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.
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