Sunday, February 24, 2013

Coming Back from the Brink, pt. 16: The Other HQ

Credit to Adam Smith
Greetings Gentlereaders,

It's been quite a while since I touched this series, primarily because of the losing streak I'd been on, but also because I really didn't want to touch this unit.  I need to finish this review series before the new codex creeps up on us.  Whether or not the codex will actually drop this time as it didn't when it was rumored as the last codex of 2011 or not won't be sure until we get some pictures of the book, but I'm hoping it won't be too long until I have to relearn my favorite army and re-start this series.  Hopefully it will be more illuminating then.

I finally saw an ethereal fielded a couple weeks ago and thought this would be the perfect time to try to tackle a unit that I can only say is akin to the lone wolf, important in life and death.  Let's take a look at the ethereals and Aun'va.

The ethereal is an odd duck in so many ways: being the only tau that isn't part of the fire caste, dependent on taking another HQ to 'unlock' while still taking a slot, and being a ceremonial figure rather than a military one.  It's not unprecedented for a spiritual leader to be part of a 40k army, but unlike the chaplains and dark apostles the ethereal is not a warrior.  Not a warrior who leads the worship and ceremonies of the army, ethereals are the object of veneration and thus their presence on the battlefield has a large psychological impact on the Tau.

Ethereals clock in at the cheapest headquarters choice in 40k, but do not fill the 1+ fire caste commander requirement imposed by the current codex.  They are only 50 points, which is becoming quite a high price relative to the psykers in the 6th edition codicies.  The ethereal has probably the flimsiest defenses of anyone in the game, which seems odd considering their importance to the Tau.  Sitting at a human standard toughness with two wounds, but no save, the ethereals are currently reliant on their Look Out, Sir! rolls to survive.  Though they have the second highest WS in the game, their human standard strength is enhanced because he has two sticks or a stick that brings him up to thunderwolf strength, neither of which have an AP value.  Since he isn't kill-y and doesn't have protect-y bits, he's got some game changing rules that can win or lose you a game.

This, but surrounded by grim dark warfare
Their spiritual influence is represented in the two part rule Inspiring Presence / Price of Failure.  While the ethereal is alive, any Tau units that can draw line of sight to him may re-roll any morale or pinning test even successful ones.  Additionally, the ethereal and any unit he has joined are fearless.  Note, this is only those units that are racially Tau, not any unit from your army, so no alien or drone can benefit from this.  Because Tau top out at leadership eight, this rule really helps if you can place the ethereal somewhere where he can be highly visible and outside of a transport.

The Price of Failure is similarly restricted in its application, but only effects those Tau units not locked in close combat or in a transport.  If the ethereal dies, every Tau unit that qualifies must take a morale test and gains the preferred enemy special rule for the rest of the game.  This is the part of the ethereal that makes him controversial.

The value of ethereals in fifth edition was next to none, with Inspiring Presence's ability to re-roll successful morale checks being the most appealing as it could save your army from a heroic shas deciding to prevent his comrades from shooting a unit that had reached the line.  In sixth edition, that ability is still valuable, though less so with the greater ability to kill assault units before they can reach Tau.  The more valuable rule is now The Price of Failure because of how preferred enemy was changed.

Who do we hate? THEM!  Why do we only hate them now?
In fifth edition it meant that you could re-roll to hit in close combat; in sixth edition it means that you can re-roll any to-hit or to-wound rolls of a one against your preferred enemy.  The change is astounding when you consider that it essentially gives most any weapon the shred rule against toughness three targets or twin-linked if the unit is BS five.  At base ballistic skill, it provides a 16.67% increase in hits and to wound against any target biological target, except toughness nine or greater.  While this is no mean feat, it requires your Tau to take a morale test, which can cause them to run off the table.  Deciding whether it is wise to think losing an ethereal is a benefit to your army should take into account whether you would lose a higher percentage of your units than you would gain in damage, excluding vehicles and anti-vehicle fire.

--Math Alert--
When we talk probability we need to realize that only holds in the infinite case. that is when the number of tests you roll approaches infinity, your  percentage of passes should approach the probability, though any single sample can have any number of successes or failures.  You should fail 42.7% of your leadership tests at lead seven, 27.8% at lead eight, 16.67% at lead nine and 9.3% at lead ten.  In most all cases, this means that losing an ethereal would, in the infinitely long run, cause you to lose more damage output than you would gain from the Preferred Enemy rule, with the only exception being if most or all of your units that test at leadership ten.
--All Clear--

So, looking at the numbers we can see losing an ethereal can be backbreaking, so why would anyone run one?  There is one commander who can make the risk of losing an ethereal a winning gamble in the long run:  Leader of the Third Sphere Expansion, Commander O'Shaserra.  If her command drone is still functional, O'Shaserra's shared leadership of ten can mean that losing an ethereal nets you a 5.8% increase in your damage output, after accounting for losing units.  You could call this an example of synergy, but the only place where bringing a spiritual leader to a battle is when they are accompanied by the supreme leader of your empire's armies.

So, can I resign too now?
So that's the generic ethereal, a gamble that can pay off.  Aun'va, Master of the Undying Spirit and arguably the closest Tau have to an emperor is entirely different.  Aun'va cannot join a unit, as he has unarmored bodyguards, though he and his guards have a re-rollable 4+ cover save.  His Supremely Inspiring Presence does not grant a re-roll, but rather only gives Stubborn.  His Ultimate Price of Failure rule grants the Furious Charge special rule, in addition to Preferred Enemy, to any units that take the test.  He does have toughness five, as do his guards, but he provides a less flexible benefit while living, arguably a detriment.  In addition, Aun'va exceeds 150 points, in comparison to his 50 point brethren.  In my opinion, this good model kit should be painted well and used as three objective markers in competitive games, a drinking cue (passed cover saves) in friendly games and as a display piece otherwise.

That's my opinion on ethereals and Aun'va.  I must admit this is an argument based on numbers rather than tabletop experience.  I've never been a fan of Tau's special characters and especially not of the idea of having a civilian who can take some of your army with him when he dies on the battlefield.  What do you think of ethereals?  Do you run them?  What makes them worth running or worth avoiding for you?

I'm Underground Heretic and I get to live with that every day!

1 comment:

  1. Having run the Etheral/Shadowsun trick all of one time... I can't say I have extensive experience, especially since the enemy was also Tau.

    That said... what I noticed in that game was a huge difference in what I felt was Tau's already impressive fire base.

    I slammed 5 firewarrior teams and Shadowsun behind an ADL, along with 3 2-man teams of Broadsides and an etheral attached to Pathfinders... and it netted extremely impressive fire output, as well as a nice defense for my Pathfinders. Either kill the ethereal, or leave my pathfinders free to continue marker lighting.

    I'll admit the weakness is loosing Shadowsun, but if you can keep her (and her drones) alive... it's fantastic. Considering she'll most likely have a 2+ cover from ADL + stealth/shrouded... shouldn't be too hard.

    If I were a Tau player... it's be the list I run at the current time. It's not mobile, sure... but it's one hell of a gun line.