Today we look at the main HQ choice of the Tau codex, the Commander. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
The Commander is the centerpiece HQ for Tau Empire armies, with the best wargear, rules, and statline available in the book. Starting with an 8″ movement, much like other battlesuits, the Commander boasts weapon skill 3+ and ballistic skill 2+ for the best offensive output the book can muster. Strength and toughness five also give it a solid baseline and four attacks can back that up reasonably well also. Leadership nine and a 3+ armor save round things out.
The Commander is available in two variants, the Crisis and Enforcer versions. (The Coldstar will be discussed in a separate article.) The Crisis version has five wounds and costs 90pts base, while the Enforcer has six for 100pts. The two units are otherwise largely identical, although the Crisis variant does have one additional option that will be discussed below. As per the codex’s rules, only one Commander (of any variant and including unique characters) can be taken per detachment.
Special Rules and Wargear
A Commander comes with the Manta Strike ability, allowing it to deploy into reserves, as well as For the Greater Good, letting them fire overwatch for nearby units. They also come with Master of War, which gives a once-per-game ability to have all nearby units either stand still and reroll misses, or be able to advance and fire as though they had stood still. Note that Master of War can only be used once per game, regardless of the number of Commanders in a list.
Beyond their abilities, the main draw of a Commander is their variety of options- with four “slots” on the suit, they can take a wide range of weapons and support systems in different combinations, although in most cases you are best served taking three or four of the same weapon.
Of the weapon systems, the premiere one is probably the Cyclic Ion Blaster, which is not available to the Coldstar variant. S7 AP-1 DSmg1 Assault 3 at 18″ is a solid basic statline, and the weapon can be overcharged to improve to S8 and DmgD3, allowing it to threaten tougher targets (although it will cause a mortal wound if any 1s are rolled.) It is often paired with the Advanced Targeting System, which improves the AP of all attacks by 1 and allows a Commander to punch through heavier armor when needed.
The Missile Pod is another favorite for longer-distance engagements, having only two shots but being d3 damage naturally as well as 36″ range. Fusion Blasters are also sometimes seen, being a Tau version of the Meltagun but with 18″ range- though they still use the old, outdated melta rule. Drone Controllers (+1 to hit with nearby drones) are also reasonably common for supporting Marker Drones and the like, and Flamers are sometimes seen as a cheap option that discourages charges.
Also notable is the Iridium Armor upgrade for the Crisis variant, which improves the unit to a 2+ armor save for 10pts. As this puts the two variants at exactly the same overall price, with one having an extra wound and the other an extra pip of save, the Crisis version is generally considered to be the superior choice, as it has better survivability against most weapons.
A Commander typically operates in one of two main roles- a primary source of firepower that can stay protected, or a cheap slot-filler that brings utility to the list. The first is typically more popular, as a lot of Tau units simply aren’t that effective at clearing things these days, but there are places for both depending on the list. Farsight Enclaves in particular can make a lot of use of Commanders as a way to bring efficient firepower because of their ability to double up within a detachment.
Many of the most efficient and popular weapon systems for a Commander have short-ish ranges (typically 18″), which has historically been a significant limiter on the unit; however, with battlefield sizes shrinking and more action happening in midfield this is less of a concern than previously and now the Cyclic Ion Blaster is by far the most popular of weapons, as it gives an excellent mix of different stats that make it effective against most targets. Its main weakness is the lack of AP, but since the Advanced Targeting System (and Markerlights or stratagems) to ignore cover can mitigate this it is generally an acceptable limitation. Damage reduction (e.g. Disgustingly Resilient) can also be an issue, but since one can simply choose not to use the overcharged mode it isn’t as bad as it might be otherwise.
The main draw of the Commander, however, is ballistic skill 2+, since almost all other Tau units are 4+s; this allows the army at least a middling ability to shoot into dense terrain, at units with innate penalties, etc; the Commander suffers a relatively mild loss of accuracy in such circumstances, whereas other Tau will lose as much as one-third of their firepower when doing so. The Commander’s lack of any kind of static aura or other abilities reinforces this- for four out of the five turns of the game, they are nothing but a shooting platform.
However, it is possible to keep the Commander’s price much lower by avoiding investing heavily in weapon systems; upgrades like the Drone Controller can be extremely helpful to an army and a bare-bones Commander can clock in as low as 100pts. While this isn’t cheap by any means, it does come on a reasonably-resilient platform and honestly isn’t that much more than stuff like an Ethereal would be anyways. Having a Commander in your army also opens up several nice options, such as the Command/Control Node stratagem, which gives full wound rerolls to a battlesuit unit for only 1CP.
A Commander, in one form or another, is very nearly mandatory for most Tau armies, especially given how lackluster their other HQ options tend to be. Although they can output fairly significant damage, their limited availability and the nature of 9E’s rules means that they are by no means a guarantor of clearing a unit- or of taking an objective.
As always, remember you can get your wargaming supplies at great discounts every day from the Frontline Gaming store, whether you’re looking to start a new army or expand an existing one.