Grey Knights have been in a pretty bad place for a pretty long time, basically ever since the end of 5th edition, but the new Psychic Awakening rules may herald a change for them. Click to read on, or check out the Tactics Corner for more reviews and strategies.
Most readers of this article will come in one of two stripes- desperate Grey Knight players hoping for a single ray of sunshine regarding their faction and curious non-GK players who are wondering what’s up with them, having not heard more than a peep about the army in the past eight years. Hopefully I’ll be able to provide something of interest to both parties here, because I think that Grey Knights may be making something of a comeback- although I say this with significant hesitation and with the understanding that it may be a relative comeback, which is to say that the army will appear anywhere other than the bottom 30% of tables.
The reasons for this we’ll get to deeper in the article, but they come mostly as a result of Psychic Awakening- though, as with other Marine chapters, the price updates from Chapter Approved also make a significant difference as well and it’s really the combination of both of them that makes the whole thing work. It also helps that the meta as a whole is working in such a way that Grey Knights may potentially be able to make a comeback, as they have some of the right tools to be effective.
One final note- unlike many of my other articles this isn’t going to be a review of the Grey Knights section of Psychic Awakening, but more a discussion of how its contents can be used. There are lots of things in that book that I’m not going to talk about simply because I don’t feel they’re relevant to competitive play; instead, I’m going to focus on what you can use from the army.
The Turning of the Tide(s)
So, let’s talk a bit about the most important addition- the Tides. Much like Doctrines for other Marine chapters, Tides of the Warp provide a bonus to your Grey Knights army so long as it is kept pure. However, unlike Doctrines they are actually pretty flexible- you can choose which of the four Tides you start in at the beginning of the first battle round and have the ability to switch at any time using a psychic power, with no limits on order or progression. The Tides themselves are also very powerful tools, adding significant bonuses to the army that can really change the way you play.
Tide of Escalation is arguably the most eye-grabbing of them- it makes it so when you cast Smite with a GK unit that has Rites of Banishment (i.e. not Purifiers, Crowe, or Stern), that power deals one additional mortal wound. This is functionally doubling your output against most targets, bringing your “baby Smites” up to full power while also removing the randomness of a normal Smite- all extremely useful things for a competitive army. Also note that it makes your Smites against daemon units four damage each, effectively handing you a win against stuff like the Possessed bomb and whatnot. We’ve already seen how powerful Smite spamming can be, and an army that can do it with every single unit in the codex is potentially quite strong, even if those models are a tad fragile.
That’s where the next Tide, the Tide of Shadows, comes in. On the surface level it looks a lot like the Raven Guard or other, similar traits- your units always have cover against shooting and if they’re on a terrain piece, they also get -1 to hit. However, there are a couple very relevant differences to take note of here. First of all, there is no range limitation; you simply gain the benefits of the Tide, period. Second, it makes no distinction between Infantry and non-Infantry units, so plonking your Dreadknight down in a crater will give it -1 to hit, easy peasy. This is a much-needed boost to survivability for the faction, and while it’s not going to stop something like Marines from chewing you apart with their massed AP-2 shooting with full rerolls, it may at least stem the bleeding a tad and allow you to fight lower-firepower armies more effectively.
Tide of Convergence, although not as powerful as the above two, is still quite strong. It gives +1 strength and damage to all Psi weapons- those being Psilencers, Incinerators, Psycannons, and any bolters enhanced by the Psybolt stratagem. This notably takes Psycannons up to S8 Dmg2, making them a semi-respectable antitank weapon, and takes your Storm Bolters to S6 AP-1 Dmg2 when using Psybolt, which will give pretty much all infantry serious pause. Combined with some of the other stratagems from below and the mortal wounds from Smite, this finally gives Grey Knights a fighting chance against heavy armor lists, which have traditionally been a serious problem for them.
Lastly, Tide of Fury gives you reroll 1s to wound in melee with Nemesis weapons; although this isn’t a bad bonus by any means, it doesn’t really compare to the raw output of damage that the other Tides can manage and getting into melee is simply not reliable enough for Grey Knights to be your primary consideration. It’s certainly something that you may find yourself using, but it won’t often be your main concern.
Taken as a whole, the four Tides offer a flexible and powerful set of choices to aid both offense and defense. With the ability to shift Tides during any of your own psychic phases, it is very possible to pull shenanigans like casting all your Smites with bonus damage followed by shifting over to empower your shooting- or to neuter enemy shooting. And since you don’t pick your Tide until the first battle round, you will always do so with full knowledge of the game state- which lets you always pick the right tool for the job.
All Grey Knights characters also gain access to a new psychic discipline, though like other such disciplines you can’t mix powers from both on a single model. However, since GK have always struggled with their limited power set (due to all of their units being casters, and thus commonly knowing 12-20 powers across the army) this would be a big boon even if the table itself were mediocre- which it decidedly is not.
Warp Shaping is probably the most important power on the table, allowing you to change the current Tide to a new one. With only WC5 required, you should be able to shift Tides virtually at will- all the more so because it’s easily put on a character hiding in the back out of range of all Denial attempts.
Armored Resilience is potentially quite big as well, although it is a bit more limited in its usage. It gives the enemy -1 to wound one of your infantry units, which is a very rare type of bonus to see in the game. Combined with some of the other stuff you can stack together, it gives the potential for a single extremely-resilient unit of, say, Terminators or Paladins that can maraud around the field clearing buildings of enemy units while the rest of your army hits units out in the open.
Edict Imperator is a bit more complicated, but still very powerful- it lets one of your units make an immediate shooting attack, then a normal movement (though it cannot shoot again or charge for the remainder of that turn.) Fire and Fade has been a powerful part of the Aeldari arsenal for the whole of this edition, and Grey Knights have many of the same ways of using it, i.e. an overarmed infantry unit that wants to duck in and out of cover. It won’t be as backbreaking as ten Dark Reapers double-shooting, but it’s still pretty strong.
Empyean Domination, on the other hand, is quite simple. You cast the spell and get a command point, no hoops to jump through or special conditions attached. Although GK are going to see a lot more double-battalions and brigades thanks to their price reductions and other army changes, command points are a resource you can almost never have enough of and with far more useful strats to be activating you’ll want to try and pop this one off most every turn if possible.
Inner Fire is perhaps the most interesting of the powers, because people are alternately rating it either very highly or as absolute trash. It’s potentially very powerful, but requires some work to get it to happen- however, I think it’s going to be a major feature of Grey Knights in the future, which we’ll talk about more in a second. To cover the basics, once the spell goes off you pick an enemy unit within 1″ range and roll a number of dice equal to your casting result- every 3+ does a mortal wound to the target, while every 1 does a wound to you. It’s risky, and can be very hard to get off, but when it does it will just evaporate something, especially give the bonuses that GK can stack up to their casting rolls.
Grey Knight stratagems were previously pretty lackluster, with only a small handful of them even worth using in niche situations. This was “good” because with very little ability to realistically bring a lot of command points to the table, the faction wasn’t going to be using many strats.
Now, however, with a renewed incentive to bring battalions (and even brigades!) and ability to do so thanks to price drops, Grey Knights will have a lot more CP to play with- and a lot more strats to use it with. Just as importantly, many of these strats help fill holes in the army that are otherwise problematic, and GW has also leaned in on costing them very aggressively as Grey Knights are a bit lacking on many fronts, so you’ll see a lot of armies that make heavy use of certain combos.
Bring Down the Beast is perhaps the single most important addition to the arsenal. For a simple 2CP, you pick one vehicle or monster that was shot at by a GK unit and for the rest of the phase you can reroll to wound against them. Yes, Grey Knights get a Doom that can’t be shut down, and since you can always just fire a random Storm Bolter from a character or whatever at the target to activate the strat, it essentially has no downside. Vehicles have always been a problem for GK due to their extremely lackluster special weapon options. However this, in combination with their ability to spam out mortal wounds as well as the Tide of Convergence for bonus damage on weapons makes them much more able to handle such heavy targets. Don’t underestimate the power of a full squad with Psybolt and Convergence up shooting into something with forty S6 AP-2 Dmg2 shots that reroll to wound.
Dynamic Insertion is another powerful one and it has gotten a lot of attention, although I think for the wrong reasons. For 1CP, you can bring in any unit with the Teleport Strike rule from reserves up to 3″ away from enemy units, much in the fashion of GSC. (They obviously cannot charge that turn.) Most people are focusing on it as a way to deliver Incinerators, which simply isn’t very impressive considering that you can really only get two of them dropping in such a way- Purgators and Purifiers don’t have Teleport Strike, after all, and a full unit of ten Paladins is far too expensive for such a gimmick.
What it does do instead is let you drop a character in at close range, and then have them activate the other stratagem from the combo- Powerful Adept, which for 1CP extends the range of your powers by 6″ for the turn. Now you are 3.1″ away from whatever support characters the enemy has and you have Inner Fire with a range of 7″; cast your big spell and drop 5-7 mortal wounds onto the target, vaporizing them for the low cost of 2CP and ~80pts.
Grey Knights also get access to many of the basic Space Marine stratagems, including Big Guns Never Tire (allowing one vehicle to ignore the heavy weapon penalty.) While this normally is a bit lackluster, it can be a very useful boost to a Dreadknight, keeping its shots more accurate for a relatively low cost. This pairs well with Overwhelming Assault (+1A, reroll 1s to wound in combat) as it lets your standard Dreadknights keep much more mobile without sacrificing firepower, which in turn enhances their odds of getting into combat. With the unit already getting a good number of attacks often 5+) and wounding most targets on 3s or 2s, popping off Overwhelming Assault all but guarantees you’ll wipe out most targets in a fight.
Last but not least we have Redoubtable Defense, which is a custom strat for Terminators. It reduces all incoming damage from ranged attacks by one, effectively giving them an Ironstone of their very own, which makes them vastly more resilient against stuff like Avenger Gattling Cannons and the like. Combined with the psychic powers you can stack on it and their innate infantry status (to get cover), it can make for a very difficult unit to break up- and since Terminators can be troops for GK, there is definitely some consideration to be had there.
Although they don’t get any new warlord traits, Grey Knights do benefit a lot from a new set of relics- especially because relics were one of the weakest parts of their book before, with most of them being either unusable or awkward on a lot of the commonly-taken HQs. There is a major turnaround of this in Psychic Awakening, however, with a ton of strong utility relics available to virtually any character. Most of them also have a strong theme of psychic manipulation, including the Sanctic Shard (+1 to cast), Stave of Supremacy (enemy perils on any doubles), and Nullifier Matrix (add +/-1 to a psychic die.) Being that the psychic phase is where the army excels anyways, all of this is excellent news, since it lets Grey Knights focus on their core strengths quite effectively, while also getting a lot out of the other phases from the sundry other parts of the book.
Massing the Army(ies)
So what’s the fallout of this? Well, there’s a number of things. First of all, Grey Knights players can reasonably expect to have models left at the end of the game thanks to Tide of Shadows- and that’s not a small feature, given the way they have played up until now. They have the survivability to at least play the same game that other armies are playing, rather than a bizarre points-hoarding game of keep-away with their last 1-2 models.
Secondly, they are a legit threat in the psychic phase. A Grey Knights army at full steam can reasonably expect to output 20+ mortal wounds on a given turn, and even seeing 40+ is not out of the question. While there are some potential hurdles to this (most notably enemy Denials and limited range), there are also ways around these problems and they are set to become quite possibly the premiere psychic spam army in the game, eclipsing even Thousand Sons in that regard.
Third, and following on to the second part, Grey Knights infantry are worth taking again. For quite a while now the infantry units (like Strikes or Interceptors) have been a tax you paid to get your Dreadknights on the table- or an easy target for the enemy’s guns- but with the increase in psychic output as well as cheaper total price and better synergies, suddenly the infantry models have the potential to actually pull their weight again.
So what kind of armies can we expect to see coming out of this? Well, there are three broad possibilities that I think are worth testing and may see play. A very obvious choice would be full-on psyker spam- fielding as many units as possible in combination with various psychic enhancements (e.g. Brother-Captains) to rain psychic death down on the enemy, followed by regular death from shooting and assaults. This version probably runs a brigade or double battalion, filling up with Strike Squads and Interceptors as well as some Purgators and simply brings in a devastating alpha strike (or beta strike) that dumps mortal wounds and S4 shooting on the enemy with no chance for them to respond. Characters work as support pieces and assassins (via the Dynamic Insertion bomb mentioned earlier) as well as spell batteries for stuff beyond Smite.
A second possibility would be to invest heavily into a true “bomb” unit, such as a maximized unit of Paladins, and layer on as many defenses as possible as well as character support. Obviously this build would have other elements in the background to support the bomb, and it’s possible that it would even run a double bomb for when the first one starts to suffer too much attrition, but the idea is the same- a big bully unit to take the center of the table and punish the enemy.
The third possibility is some kind of armored list, likely taking advantage of massed numbers of Dreadknights and Grandmaster Dreadknights, which you can fit three of each in and catapult them all into your opponent’s face turn 2. Of course, this was also possible before, but with all six of them plausibly getting +1 save and -1 to hit from Tide of Shadows, suddenly getting rid of that many armored targets in short order becomes a much scarier prospect. The list might also utilize other armored elements to hold the backfield, or might rely more on small infantry squads to do so, but threat overload is of course its primary objective.
I won’t say that Grey Knights are going to break the meta, or be the new hotness, or anything absurd like that- they are still a mostly-fragile faction with limited options, but they now have the tools to be at least a part of the meta that everyone else has been playing in for years now. Their high mortal wound output can serve them well against the many elite armies (namely Space Marines) that are currently dominating the meta, as can their massed Nemesis weapons. Don’t expect them to completely dominate the scene, but do expect them to be a real contender for wins during RTTs and GTs when piloted by a good player.
As always, remember that 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.