Oh, hey, Grey Knights. That faction that everyone still complains about how good they were back in 5th edition, despite quite a few current players of the game not even being alive when that was the case. How’re they doing these days? (Hint: if you have to ask, it probably isn’t as good as we might like.)
High Hopes, Burning Bright
A lot of Grey Knights players were expecting a lot out of Chapter Approved, because prior to that the faction was… well, there are a lot of ways to describe it, but the most common would rhyme with “targage meep.” GK had one of the lowest win rates in the entire game and while it was certainly possible to use allies to shore up some of their weaknesses, this was really more a band-aid than anything. There were only a very small number of units in the codex that could be considered anything even close to good enough to intentionally include in a list, and even those were largely restricted to perhaps one or two builds in combination with very specific other allies. In short, Grey Knights were pretty inarguably the worst faction in the game, behind even Necrons or other low performers.
Many GK players had expected something of a panacea from Chapter Approved, which was never realistic; many of the faction’s problems stem from issues that are much, much larger than anything that could be fixed with reductions in points or addition of a faction-wide ability. Issues with special weapon choices, overly-similar units, very limited selections of units even in light of that, and the fact that many of the codex’s choices are simply poor versions of the standard Space Marine vehicles (which are themselves extremely underwhelming) combined to form a pretty insurmountable wall for Grey Knights. Compound that with lackluster stratagems (with one or two exceptions), built-in rules to limit what they can do, and a general lack of synergy with many of the other Imperial factions and you are in for a pretty bad times. Almost none of that could be expected to get fixed by Chapter Approved unless they went in and gave them a brand-new codex the way that they did with Sisters of Battle (which I don’t think anyone was expecting.)
However, adjusting point values would have at least been a band-aid, something to patch up the worst of the flaws and give them a bit of a helping hand. To that end, many Grey Knights players were expecting to see broad reductions across the board for their faction, especially since one of the preview articles for Chapter Approved promised as much. The reality of the book… did not really live up to that hype, although it’s hardly bad for Grey Knights players- their core army most certainly improved, but other factors surrounding it changed a lot and I think that will require some significant revamps to how they think about their lists.
The Cost of a Man
So the good news is that that every single Grey Knights character came down in points- and in most cases by a pretty significant amount, ranging between 15pts and 60pts. Obviously this is a pretty significant benefit to the faction, as HQs are a required part of every list and the GK HQs actually have pretty good statlines, they were just grossly overcosted for what they were able to do. The four named characters all saw major reductions, with Draigo (60pts) being the steepest of all the units. Bringing him down to 180 total, this actually puts him in position to be a legit HQ choice- an aura of full rerolls is quite powerful and his combination of defense and offense in close combat is pretty hard to beat. The only downside to him is his fixed warlord trait, which is absolute garbage- you’ll need someone else to shoulder the mantle, ideally another GK character who can take First to the Fray. Voldus also saw a big drop in points, and with all the abilities of a Grandmaster and a Librarian combined together (for hardly any more points at all) he is an amazing deal. He does still suffer from an inability to take First to the Fray, but if you’re looking to bring some serious psychic might there’s not many characters better than Voldus. Stern and Crowe also saw big reductions, but as neither of them actually brings anything useful to the table there is still no reason to take them at all.
Beyond the named characters, there are a few standout reductions. Grandmasters (-30) and Grandmaster Dreadknights (-20) were already useful units, so reductions to them will only make them more attractive as choices; the Librarian dropped a whopping 44 points, which takes them from being a bad version of a Grandmaster to having some actual interest as one of the cheaper options for the slot. I still don’t think they are particularly favorable overall, as Grey Knights already have tons and tons of ways to bring psychic powers to the table and at a certain point you’re really just spamming Smites out to limited effect, but if you’re running low on points the choice is there. Speaking of which, the Brother-Captain (-40) actually makes a reasonable option to pair with a Grandmaster these days, and the Brotherhood Champion (-23) is now quite cheap for being a pretty dangerous (or survivable) guy in close combat.
The Techmarine saw perhaps the largest drop overall, however, going down by a whopping sixty-four points. Of course, this still leaves him being pretty expensive overall, but he is surprisingly dangerous despite not coming with the typical Nemesis weapons, as he has two Servo-Arms and a Power Axe. If you’re looking for something bargain-basement and have a vehicle to potentially repair (e.g. a Grandmaster Dreadknight), you might consider bringing a Techmarine along to the party.
Outside of characters, a few of the Grey Knight units got point reductions, although unfortunately it wasn’t the ones that were needed. The book desperately was looking for a drop in the price of the core troops (especially Strike Squads), but sadly got essentially nothing on that front. (Grey Knight Terminators did come down slightly, after having their price wobble up and down in various other publications, but they still come in at more than 40pts per model, so there’s little reason to consider them.) However, of the units that did get price breaks, there are a couple that can be considered notable- namely, Interceptors and Paladins. Interceptors have been functionally the only non-character unit in a lot of GK armies for a while now, so a 2pt reduction in their cost is nice to see- however, as other factors have made building an army around them much more difficult, I don’t think this will greatly affect list-building, though saving a few points is always nice. Paladins came down 6pts, which at least makes them cheap enough to feel more distinct from Custodes infantry and the likes. Like the regular Terminators they are probably still not exciting, but it might be interesting to play with a large block of them fully-buffed by Sanctuary/etc and see how far that can go.
The reductions to the various other units (Land Raider, Dreadnought) and generic Imperial weapons (flamer/melta/missile/etc) are all but irrelevant to Grey Knights, unfortunately, as they lack good platforms to carry the various weapons on and the GK versions of those vehicles, even more than their standard counterparts, are simply terrible. The Incinerator and Heavy Incinerator also came down in price; however, as the standard version cannot be used following a deep strike (due to its 8″ range), it remains quite worthless, though the Heavy version now makes a solid choice for a Dreadknight due to an excellent weapon profile with autohits.
All in all, a typical Grey Knights list probably earned back 60-100pts off discounts on various models and weapons, though of course some will be higher than that. But compared to many other armies which performed similarly-poorly (such as Necrons or AdMech), these are not big changes- there were plenty of other armies which saw drops of 200, 300, or occasionally even more, and I think that was what the faction really needed to become an attractive choice for anyone taking Imperium.
The Halo Effect
Grey Knights weren’t, and aren’t, anything even vaguely approaching a viable solo force- which does tend to fit with their fluff, but can put many players off. However, for those willing to bring allies (which is most players using GK at this point), there are a lot of important considerations that need to be made following Chapter Approved, because the landscape of ally choices has shifted quite a lot. GK have always excelled at playing the reserve game, and with that and the existence of Interceptors (who can Shunt once per game in the same fashion, but aren’t limited on first-turn arrivals) has made them a strong contender in heavy alpha strike lists.
However, while the GK portion of this army has gotten better thanks to the price drop on Interceptors, other aspects of it have lost out. Sisters of Battle can no longer plausibly throw 2-4 jump pack units across the field every turn using Acts of Faith; they can still speed their units up significantly, but the disappearance of double-moves means that Seraphim and Celestine are no longer the highly-attractive ally choices they once were. This doesn’t mean that Sisters should be discounted as an ally choice, but they no longer support a fully-aggressive plan in the same fashion. (Dominions can, but they are much more expensive and present vehicle targets to the enemy that GK can’t typically match up with well.) However, they do have a ton of other things to offer now- especially cheap and resilient backfield scoring that is actually pretty solid in melee as well, which is a nice contrast to some of the other armies that do similar things.
Blood Angels, another popular option, have also been somewhat on the downtrend due to the nerfs on CP generation and the Fly keyword. However, if you’re still bringing a good number of command points with your army (typically 12+ at the start of the game), Smash Captains are still a very strong unit that can go one-on-one with most things in the game and have actually gotten cheaper as of Chapter Approved thanks to price drops on the Storm Shield and Thunder Hammer. Scouts, the typical troop choice for a Blood Angels detachment, also can be very useful to Grey Knights because they effectively clear a “landing zone” in midfield for the GK units to arrive in, not to mention bringing some cheap scoring units to the table and presenting a non-negligible melee threat themselves.
However, when looking at what to pair up with a Grey Knights army, I think one of the most important consideration is how to handle vehicle- and monster-level profiles. Grey Knights by themselves are generally fairly bad at this- while a Dreadknight or character with a Daemonhammer can do a lot of work in that regard, outside of those choices (which are themselves pretty much entirely reliant on getting into melee), you are going to struggle quite a bit to bring down heavy targets. Knights and other T8 units are especially problematic because your squad-level weapons (such as Psilencers and Nemesis Falchions) that can normally be relied on to do some chip damage will be almost wholly ineffective, and a Castellan or Crusader rampaging across the field for three to six turns is simply not something that a GK list can endure. So I think that the most important consideration for a GK list going forward definitely needs to be how it handles heavy targets, and in that regard there are a couple more options that raise their head.
Knights themselves can be a solution to enemy Knights- Armiger Helverins, Gallants, Crusaders, and Castellans all offer some useful tools to a list; I think the shooting Knights are generally going to be more useful overall, but there’s potentially room for any of them. Although having only one Knight in a list can be a bit risky (even when it’s got the 3++ going), GK are certainly capable of putting some large targets of their own onto the table, so I feel like there is some available synergy there. However, a battalion detachment would absolutely be needed at that point, as you would be very low on command points otherwise (and even with it things would be a bit sketchy.) Still, it’s hard to deny the power of that many big, stompy robits running around the field causing havoc, and it certainly ensures that you finish your games on time.
Imperial Guard offer a different sort of take on things, bringing a ton of bodies (and potentially a lot of CP as well) to fill out your backfield. While the options for anti-tank from Guard are a bit more limited than some of the others, they certainly exist- just that you’re largely committed to bringing vehicles at that point, which can complicate the build somewhat. Still, Guard are cheap and do a lot of the things that Grey Knights want, and the large amounts of CP they can bring meshes well with many of the other CP-hungry armies that you may want to pair up with.
Finally, I would be remiss not to at least mention Adeptus Custodes, which are basically Grey Knights on steroids. I’m sure everyone is fully aware how good their jetbikes are, and with the multidamage spears as well as the melta missiles they can present a very credible threat to most vehicles (or, alternatively, can run with Hurricane Bolters to further enhance your anti-infantry firepower.) Unfortunately they end up being redundant with GK in some respects, as they both are tough-but-elite armies that hybridize melee and shooting together. Including a Custodes detachment in an army without making it the primary faction can also be difficult, as they tend to run just short of 1K for a minimum contingent, which is pretty limiting for army construction overall.
So, let’s look at a couple of different army builds for GK using the above takeaways. I don’t expect any of these to be taking the tournament world by storm, but they are dangerous enough that they can at least get some reasonable chances of wins at tournaments and may even be able to claw their way towards the top of an RTT or small GT.
List #1: GK/SoB/BA
Grey Knights Battalion
-Grandmaster (Warding Staff, Psilencer)
-3×5 Strike Squads (all Falchions+ one Psilencer in each squad)
-1×10 Interceptor Squad (all Falchions, two Psilencers)
Blood Angels Battalion
-3×1 Captain (Jump Pack, Storm Shield, Thunder Hammer)
3×5 Scouts (Pistol/CCW)
Sisters of Battle Battalion (Order of the Bloody Rose)
-2×5 Battle Sisters (3 Storm Bolters each)
-1×7 Battle Sisters
-3×10 Retributors (4 Heavy Bolters each)
So this one isn’t exactly complex- it takes a lot of what worked best for GK before and ports it over to the new edition; it’s also what Shaylynn Allen, one of the best GK players around these days, is currently using and comes out of a number of discussions and experimentation post-CA with her list. Triple battalions brings a lot of CP to the table to fuel the BA and Sisters stratagems, and large numbers of power armored infantry deny the enemy any good targets for their antitank weapons while also remaining fairly resilient against small arms. The flexible deployment on the GK units and various strats for the BA units (Forlorn Fury, Wings of Fire) give the list the ability to drop threats in almost anywhere and the Sisters can effectively hold the backfield while chewing away at any screening units the enemy brings so that the heavier hitters can get in on the enemy’s vehicles and fire support. The list is especially effective in formats where LOS-blocking terrain is extremely common, as the infantry can easily get inside ruins and hide there to threaten assaults on future turns. Enemies who jump over near the Sisters units expecting an easy fight will often be shocked as they put out 15-30 attacks per squad at S4 and with the possibility of fighting twice- perhaps not enough to wipe a “real” unit on their own, but especially used as a finisher after some shooting (or as countercharge) it can be shockingly effective.
List #2: GK/IK/AM
Grey Knights Spearhead
-2×1 Grandmaster Dreadknight (Greatsword, Psycannon, Psilencer, Teleporters)
-2×1 Dreadknight (Fists, Psilencer, Incinerator, Teleporters)
-1×5 Purgation Squad (4 Psilencer)
Adeptus Mechanicus Battalion (Stygies VIII)
-2×1 Techpriest Enginseer
-3×5 Skitarii Rangers
Imperial Knights Superheavy
-Knight Crusader (Avenger, Thermal Cannon)
-2×1 Armiger Helverin
The idea here is pretty simple- you put a bunch of big boys down on the table and go to down on the enemy, causing havoc in both the shooting and assault phases. If you wanted to get really ballsy, you could even switch the Armigers over to Warglaives to give you a bit more melee threat and high-AP firepower, although I’m not sure how advantageous that is overall. The command points here are stretched a little thin (typically starting at ~10 and spending about 3-4 per turn), but not to such a degree that it should be killing your games. It would be possible to slot a Castellan/Valiant into the Knights slot by trading all of the others away, but that puts an even larger strain on the command points and loses a fair amount of the melee threat (though it would save enough points to turn the Purgation Squad into another Dreadknight, or possibly switch over to a battalion to make up some of the lost CP.) AdMech gets the nod for the third detachment because it’s slightly cheaper than the other options and the Techpriests can repair the Knights, so it’s not just a bunch of useless guys in the backfield.
List #3: GK/IG/SoB
Grey Knights Battalion
-2×1 Grandmaster (Daemonhammer, Psilencer)
-2×10 Strike Squads (all Falchions + two Psilencers in each squad)
-1×5 Strike Squad (all Falchionss + one Psilencer)
Imperial Guard Battalion
-2×1 Company Commander
-3×10 Infantry Squad
Sisters of Battle Battalion
-2×5 Battle Sisters (3 Storm Bolters each)
-1×7 Battle Sisters
-3×10 Retributors (4 Heavy Bolters and Simulacrum each)
Another pretty simple concept here; a solid gunline that can hammer away at the enemy as well as a lot of ObSec scoring units and countercharge. The Grey Knights generally start in reserve and drop in to claim objectives or harass the enemy’s firepower, but they can hang out with the main body of the force if the enemy is playing a more aggressive army (e.g. Orks.) Antivehicle firepower is lighter than I’d like in this version, but you have abundant stratagems to pop off in order to make up for it- 18CP starting is an absolute bucketload, even if you decide to spend some for relics and whatnot. It uses a lot of the same tricks as the previous list with Sisters in it, but tends to be a lot more shooting-focused overall and more cagey about spreading out to the board and probably won’t be throwing its units in the enemy’s face most of the time.
Although Grey Knights came out of Chapter Approved with an overall-improved status, I think a lot of other armies gained a lot more than them- and not just bottom tiers like Admech or Necrons, but even some of the more powerful factions as well. While the book was a step in the right direction, it was nowhere close to what Grey Knights needed as a whole in order to become a real, competitive faction that you stood any chance of seeing anywhere near the top tables. Grey Knight players are still forced to rely heavily on allies in order to make their army functional, and short of a completely new book giving them a new set of stratagems, weapon profiles, and possibly some actual unit options, I don’t expect that to change particularly soon. Would that there were better news for fans of the faction, but some price drops on HQs and on units that are utterly invalidated by the existence of the Knight Castellan simply doesn’t do the trick to bring them into the foreground of the game, or even the middle ground for that matter.