Today we look at one of the unique HQ choices from the codex, Darkstrider. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Darkstrider is a unique HQ from the Tau codex; his statline is very similar to that of a Cadre Fireblade, which is his closest equivalent. He gets a slightly higher movement value of 7″, but pays for it with a weaker armor save of only 5+. Aside from those changes, he has the same numbers- weapon skill of 3+ and ballistic skill of 2+ for pretty decent offensive output, strength and toughness of three being somewhat on the low side, five wounds on par with most characters, and three attacks/eight leadership both being relatively meaningless. At 60pts, however, he is more expensive than the generic infantry options, making him an unattractive choice for many armies.
Special Rules and Wargear
As with nearly all Tau units, Darkstrider has the For the Greater Good rule, allowing him to fire overwatch in support of nearby units when needed. He also has the Vanguard rule possessed by Pathfinders, giving him a free 7″ move on the first battle round.
His two unique rules are Structural Analyzer and Fighting Retreat. The former lets you pick one infantry unit within 6″ of him and one enemy unit he can see, and that infantry unit gets +1 to wound the target. This is a solid bonus and can help stack wounds onto targets with 3+ or worse saves, and can potentially even work on heavier targets in some cases.
The latter rule lets any infantry units within 6″ of Darkstrider shoot, even if they Fell Back during the previous movement phase. This is a useful ability to have, although the fragility of Tau troops and the increased focus on killing units in melee during 9th means that its actual implementation on the battlefield is less exciting than one might hope.
Darkstrider is armed with a Pulse Carbine, Markerlight, and Photon Grenades, an unimpressive-but-functional loadout. He cannot be accompanied by any drones.
Darkstrider is theoretically a helpful support character, granting two significant benefits to nearby infantry units that mesh well together. His benefits are most effective for Breacher Teams, who are very likely to get locked in combat and want to maximize their burst damage for the 1-2 turns that they are in range of the enemy. However, since he is locked into Tau sept (and his abilities only work for that sept), he is far from optimal at this role, since Breachers are far more effective in Vior’la (where they can double-shoot) or Enclaves (where they can get rerolls to hit and wound.)
His aggressive inclination in supporting units also stands at odds with his wanting to use the Markerlight he carries, since it is a Heavy weapon. This will prevent him from advancing and using it (which also renders his warlord trait, auto-advancing 6″, fairly useless) and means he will always be taking a -1 penalty to hit with the weapon.
On top of this, he lacks the usual aura that a Cadre Fireblade possesses, meaning he cannot serve in that role in a pinch (despite his higher cost.) His own ability is arguably better when buffing a single squad, but as it cannot affect multiple units at once he is a poor choice for sitting at the center of a firebase, despite their not being a range limit on his rules.
It is worth noting that he can benefit any kind of infantry models with his abilities, including Stealth Suits (which are infantry). Getting +1 to wound with Fusion Blasters is a neat trick, although one that requires enough setup and comes with enough limitations that you are unlikely to be able to take good advantage of it most of the time.
Overall, Darkstrider is another lackluster HQ choice for a Tau army, since he is sept-locked and only realistically supports a type of unit that are a suboptimal play at best. While Breachers are the preferred troop choice these days, Tau is very much not the choice for septs and doubly so when it comes to aggressive playstyles. Combined with his increased cost compared to the other options available and he is unsurprisingly virtually never seen on the tabletop this edition, nor even the previous one in most cases.
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