Chaos Knights: Why do Imperials seem to get ahead?

Hey everyone, Danny from TFG Radio here, and today, I want to talk about something that I’ve noticed as events have started to pop up more and more, namely why Imperial Knights seem to be placing quite high in larger events but not Chaos Knights. What magic do the corpse-God’s followers have that we noble Renegades lack? Let’s find out. Of course, checking out Frontline’s Tactics Corner is always a good way to keep those skills sharp.

I love Chaos Knights, and quite often, I find myself splashing them into my lists in some form or another. I also try to keep on eye on how the faction does a whole, and well, you just don’t see Chaos Knights getting to the podium, so I have to ask myself, why? I did some digging thanks to 40K Stats, and here’s what I sussed out:

Population:

Frankly, there are just far more Imperial Knight players than Chaos Knights. As of this article, in the data that 40K Stats has, there were 48 lists that brought Imperial Knights, 38 of them being the Primary detachment (79%), but there have been only 27 Chaos Knight lists, 19 of them primary (70%). While neither Faction is clearly as popular as say Drukhari or Death Guard (both over 100), it certainly shows that there are almost twice as many Imperial Knight players actively taking them to tournaments than Chaos Knights.

The more players that play a Faction, the more likely they are to get a decent placing. It is just simple probability that even if a faction is a bit weaker than others, the more people playing, the more likely you get that sweet, blessed tournament run where you dodge all your bad matchups and the dice gods are in a benevolent mood. Imperial Knights have essentially twice the chance for such compared to Chaos Knights, so that could certainly be a factor. A larger, active tournament population also means more people engaging each other, sharing information, and in general, doing that theoryhammer work that helps discovers new tek as well as sharing hard-earned experience from the battlefield.

Sub-Faction:

When you drill down a bit into the data, a few things pop out. Namely, the Imperial Knights that win are overwhelmingly House Krast and to a lesser extent, House Raven. These are the two most popular Houses for Imperial Knights, and really, there’s some good reasons for that.

For Krast, their House Trait, Cold Fury, is solid for melee with reroll failed hits when they charge, are charged, or they heroically intervene, and they always get this bonus against Titanic targets. This isn’t bad, and seeing as how the Magaera is ever so popular, with its brutal close combat abilities, this certainly tracks. Their custom Stratagem, Controlled Aggression, also allows some big burst damage by granting exploding hits in melee on a 6, something the Magaera loves with its 12 attacks with a D3 weapon. This bonus is even better when against a Chaos unit, making these attacks add 2 extra hits on a 6 rather than 1. Their WL Trait, First Knight, also isn’t bad for just a flat reroll 1s to hit. The other big special here is the Headman’s Mark relic, adding +1 damage against targets with 10 or more wounds or +2 damage against a Titanic unit, making Krast Knights absolute hard target murderers, helping them in any sort of mirror match. Plus, as Mechanicus, you also have access to Cawl’s Wrath, which if you take a Castellan certainly makes it scary. Krast make up 15 of the lists and have a solid 61% win rate.

For Raven, there isn’t as much overwhelming power as in Krast, but there is consistency. Their bespoke relic is meh, and the WL trait is ok for essentially ignoring AP-1, but there is a reason Order of Companions has been nerfed several times, their bespoke stratagem, which turns a Castellan into a true monster with rerolls 1s to hit, to wound, damage, and number of shots. If you like taking the big C, this is one of the best ways to do so. Raven’s Trait is also really useful, allowing them to advance and still fire their weapons, giving them a lot of surprising speed while still firing at a full capacity. Krast has more sheer damage, but Raven still has some good moves. They make up 10 lists and have a 47% win rate (spoiler: this is higher than any Chaos Knight subfaction).

So how does this stack against Chaos Knights? Well, most Chaos Knight lists are different, and the only Household that really shows up is the custom choice of Endless Torment with 5. Endless Torment is nice for getting a free reroll on number of shots, but that’s it. All the other Houses and standard combos are there, but again, only with 1 or 2 lists, so it seems like Imperial Knight players have generally figured out the optimal builds while Chaos Knights are scattered around different ideas. While Infernal builds can up their damage output and Iconoclast can up their melee output pretty solidly, there isn’t the same sheer increase that Krast can provide, both in terms of raw damage and accuracy.

In short, Krast and maybe Raven appear to be just stronger overall choices than what Chaos Knights have to offer.

The Magaera Question:

When you search through lists, there is a very, very common thread: Magaeras. These bad boys are all the rage, and for good reason: they have potent melee, explosive ranged, and they have a built-in 5++, not just an Ion Shield. They are multi-threat and resilient, so really, what can Imperials do with them that Chaos cannot?

Well, you can make Magaeras better in Imperial because they are Questoris keyword, so you can make them characters without making them the Warlord, you can give them extra relics, and in general, you can load them up for bear, but not in Chaos Knights. For Chaos Knights, you can only make Abhorrent, Despoiler, or Tyrant chassis Knights characters and/or give them an extra relic, so the only way to get some sweet kit on a Magaera is to make it your warlord, which there are certainly a lot of fun combos here, but Imperials get to do that with multiple Magaeras.

You can give one Magaera Headman’s Mark to make that Lightning Cannon brutal against hard targets, and you can give another The Sainted Ion for a 2+/5++ save Magaera, which is just beefy. You can throw on warlord traits and all that, and in general, you don’t just get one combo’d out Magaera, you get two or even three. Since the Magaera is proving to be the most efficient of the Knights out there, it really does matter which Faction can build upon that efficiency, and it is most certainly Krast.

So yah, Krast + Magaera = Win.

Well, there it is. Imperial Knights certainly have some built-in advantages that allow them to compete a bit more than Chaos Knights, but you know what? That doesn’t mean Chaos Knights can’t be a major force on the table. Perhaps with more games, more experimentation, and more dialogue between Chaos Knights players, there can be that growth forward that starts seeing Chaos Knights up on the podium. Of course, now I feel like this is a personal challenge and of course, temptation sneaks into my brain about SoCal Open 2021, which would be a great place to bring out the Knights.

Thanks as always for reading, and if you love Chaos Knights like me, be sure to talk to other players, share intel, and find new ways forward! As always, play games, and be nice to each other.

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About Danny Ruiz

Long-long time 40K player, one of the original triumvirate of head 40K judges at LVO, writer, educator, tyranid-enthusiast, disciple of Angron, man about town, afflicted with faction ADD.

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