9E Tau Codex Review: HQs: Shas’o R’alai

Today we look at one of the unique characters for the Tau army, Shas’o R’alai. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.

Overview

Shas’o R’alai comes with a pretty standard Commander statline that any Tau player should be familiar with; movement 8″ and Fly give him reasonable ability to get around the battlefield, while weapon skill 3+ and ballistic skill 2+ give a very good offensive output. Strength and toughness five are both pretty reasonable, although not really the main selling points of the unit. Seven wounds is an unusual exception (presumably with the extra coming from the Hazard battlesuit), but four attacks and a 3+ armor save follow the usual pattern once more. Coming in at 100pts with both drones, R’alai is surprisingly affordable and is not the worst option if you are looking for a budget commander, although being locked into Ke’lshan sept is far from ideal.

Special Rules and Wargear

R’alai comes with the usual set of abilities one would expect- For the Greater Good allows him to fire overwatch in support of nearby units, Manta Strike allows deploying into reserve, and Master of War gives a once-per-game ability to buff nearby units. All of these are identical to the versions possessed by the generic Commander.

However, he has a number of unique rules as well. Foremost among them is the Eclipse Shield Generator, which gives both a 4+ invulnerable save and +1 to armor saves (functionally improving R’alai to a 2+.) This is pretty unparalleled survivability for a Tau Commander, although it will not be enough to save you from a concentrated assault. Still, it is very nice to have. He also has Phase Casters, which give the usual -2 to charge rolls that target the unit, and add a little bit of extra insurance against melee.

The Assassin rule, on the other hand, is all but worthless. It lets you reroll hit and wound rolls against other characters… but since you have no good anti-character weapons, and in fact no way to bypass the Look Out Sir rule at all, it is unlikely to see any real use at all.

Speaking of weapons, R’alai comes with only one- and though it’s a good one, that still ends up being a pretty major flaw. The Experimental Pulse Submunitions Rifle has three separate profiles depending on the type of ammo it fires. EMP shots are 24″ and only Assault 1, but a successful hit on a vehicle causes three automatic mortal wounds- no small matter. Hyper Density Sabot is 36″ and S9 AP-2 Dmg2 with two shots, but considering its lackluster penetration it’s not a terribly attractive option. Finally, Ionic Cluster-Beam Shells are 24″ S6 AP-1 Dmg1 and Assault d6, giving you a sort of marginal anti-horde tool. On its own merits it ends up being a pretty good gun, but the lack of any others hurts him a lot.

R’alai also comes with a Drone Controller and two Blacklight Markerlight Drones, which are similar to other drones but with a few important distinctions. First of all, they are only T3, but are BS4+; combined with the Drone Controller, this gives them pretty astounding accuracy. Second, their Markerlights are 48″ (rather than 36″) and are Assault 1, allowing the unit a lot more mobility than normal. They otherwise possess all of the standard drone special rules, and neither they nor R’alai can select any options.

Uses

The good news about Shas’o R’alai is that he is cheap and cheerful with some pretty reasonable utility built in; compared to a generic Commander with Drone Controller, Shield Generator, Flamer, and Irridium Armor (a not uncommon build), he comes in quite a bit cheaper, especially factoring in the drones. So in this sense, he is a great deal for what you get- better defenses, better drones, a better gun, just sorta better all around. And since Ke’lshan sept is not one of the standard six, you can select any trait you want to represent it. That’s all excellent.

However, there are some downsides. While you are getting a great deal comparatively, that’s because the Commander we are comparing R’alai to is… well, kinda trashy. It doesn’t really do anything other than exist on the battlefield and qualify for using various stratagems (such as Command/Control Node) and fill up that mandatory HQ slot. That’s fine sometimes, but if you’re investing 100+ pts, you often want the model to be doing something, and on that front neither the generic Commander nor R’alai are really going to impress. Sure, you can ping three wounds off a vehicle each turn if you’ve got a target, but outside of that you will.. maybe kill a single Primaris Marine? That’s not exciting, at all.

Commanders often end up doing a lot of the heavy lifting in Tau, because they are very efficient sources of firepower. This isn’t true for all lists, but it is for many of them- and throwing away your one-per-detachment selection on R’alai feels like a bit of a waste of resources. It’s not an indefensible choice, but given that he can’t carry a relic and has the worst possible warlord trait (Inspiring Leader, from the core rulebook), you’re just looking at an awful lot of downsides. And yes, those drones are cool and you might be able to pull off some tricks, but it’s probably just not going to be enough compared to the option of spending another 40-80pts and getting a unit with four Missile Pods or Fusion Blasters or something instead.

Final Thoughts

Shas’o R’alai, aside from being annoying to type, is not at all a bad unit- he is definitely on the short list of Imperial Armour models that are worth considering for a Tau army. But he also doesn’t serve in the same distinct role that the other “good” ones (like the Remora and Tetra) do, which can be a problem for him. Still, if you want to field the model you’re not really punishing yourself to do so, which is more than can be said for most Tau units these days.

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.

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