9th Edition Faction Focus: Grey Knights

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9th edition is out in the wild, and with it a whole raft of changes to the factions of Warhammer 40,000. Today’s article takes a look at one of the biggest winners of late 8th Edition, Grey Knights. Are they still an army to beat?

For most of 8th Edition, Grey Knights were a bit of a joke. They suffered from having an extremely early codex from well before GW had figured out how to write elite armies, and although they got several rounds of point improvements they remained one of the weakest armies in the game, only played by the most dedicated. That all changed with Ritual of the Damned, which via the addition of an absurdly powerful suite of special abilities and stratagems fired them all the way into the big leagues. At the close of 8th Edition, the double Paladin bomb Grey Knight list was one of the armies to beat.

Many players, especially Chaos players clutching their Daemon Engines to their chests and gently rocking back and forth, are probably wondering if that’s still going to be the case going into 9th Edition. Well wait no more – today we’re going deep on the Knights of Titan to see what the new edition holds for the Imperium’s final line of defence against the Warp.

Overview

Grey Knights Justicar

Grey Knights Justicar. Credit: Pendulin

Changes to missions, rules and points all have some pretty big impacts on Grey Knights. These are the ones that stand out.

The Good

  • Army Construction changes are a significant boost – not being forced to try and build a dual battalion of Strike Marines gives you more flexibility.
  • The smaller board size reduces the impact of their weak long-range firepower, and gives opponents fewer places to hide.
  • The missions tend to reward units that can operate in multiple phases.
  • Start of turn scoring rewards powerful tarpit units, which Grey Knights have in Paladins and Terminators (the latter of which are Troops, so ObSec).
  • Low point increases on powerful named characters

The Bad

  • Loss of their immunity to incrementing Smite costs substantially weakens their psychic output.
  • Massive point hike on falchions hurts their melee output.
  • Unavoidably weak to the Abhor the Witch secondary, meaning many opponents will effectively get a free maxed-out secondary against them.
  • While they have no single thing that gets hit badly above rate on points, they were already very elite and increases on their core units hurt.
  • Character targeting changes hurt them quite a lot.
  • Low body count hits their ability to line up required powers.

Grey Knights see a surprisingly huge upheaval for such a recent army. Having digested the changes, my gut feeling is that they’re still going to be good, but their lists and playstyle will change quite a bit compared to what we’re used to.

The biggest thing driving that is the Smite change – the Warp Charge for Smites cast by Grey Knights now increments like for everyone else. Obviously, up front, this could still change in the main rulebook FAQ whenver it comes, but my expectation would have been for it to be bolted onto the Brotherhood of Psykers ability in the codex FAQ if it was going to be. Between this, across the board point increases and the army construction change, six Strike Squads in every list is dead – they no longer provide such reliable burst damage out of Deep Strike under Tide of Escalation, and you don’t need them to get enough CP to power your abilities.  You can still deal a reasonable amount of damage while under this tide – Grey Knights have a built in +1 to casts, and you can boost them up in a wide area with Empyric Surge to help you land a volley of damage at the right moment, but the amount you can ratchet your opponent’s defences down is substantially reduced. It also makes Characters a less effective way of adding weight of damage (though given you’re a bit more stretched for HQ slots that isn’t entirely bad).

That’s the bad news – the good news is that several other things the Grey Knights can do go up in value. With less pressure to stay in Tide of Escalation for lots of the game, you have more latitude to use Tide of Shadows, and it provides an effective resilience boost even up close. That’s especially true on things with a native 2+ save, which helps out vanilla Terminators, who look like big winners thanks to being Troops and thus ObSec. With less pressure to go wide, and hugely increased value of durable objective holders, these are newly appealing (and also didn’t do badly on the point changes). Paladins, the masters of tarpitting, also remain extremely good at it (though they did get enough of a point increase that I think two units is now a tough sell). It’s also much, much harder for opponents to try and work around you – spending a few turns screening your army out and remaining at a safe distance is just going to result in them losing the game on primary scoring.

That plays in to the other big upside for Grey Knights – the shorter game. One of the ways to beat them was definitely to just weather their initial storm and then run them out of stuff, and having one fewer turn to do that, in combination with the wide variety of tricks they can pull, puts opponents under pressure from the word go. Change is definitely here for this army, but overall they’ve got a lot to offer going into 9th, and we’ll now move on to looking at which units came out best.

Note: To pre-empt the comments – yes I’m aware of the current weird interaction with Tide of Shadows and Rare Rules and no I don’t think it’s intentional or will survive the rulebook FAQ.

The Units

HQ

Like a lot of factions, Grey Knights see relatively light changes to their HQs, with almost all the regular ones going up 5pts (technically 6 on the Chaplain because his storm bolter isn’t offset by a melee weapon change), Voldus going up 7 and Draigo by 10. The only outlier is the Grand Master Nemesis Dreadknight, which goes up by net 21pts, and even that’s not wildly unreasonable given how potent they are.

Grey Knights Credit: Lungboy

Grey Knights Credit: Lungboy

All of this is obviously good stuff, but that doesn’t mean there’s no change in value here. In general, you’re often now going to have fewer HQ slots to play with, which makes the named characters and Librarians a bit more valuable as they come packing additional known spells and casts to tick off the things you need to do. The change to Smite also increases the degree of diminishing returns from lots of characters, and makes the Brother Captain in particular look quite a bit worse, as increasing the range of smites was his whole deal. You also probably don’t want Chaplains nearly as much – being forced to choose their Litany at list building time makes them massively weaker, as the Grey Knight ones are quite niche.

Shane: I actually quite like Chaplains here still, with them knowing 2 Litanies, the fact that Invocation of Focus (extra -1AP) is always good, and that Litany of Faith gives out a 6″ aura of 5+++ vs mortal wounds makes for 2 good litanies to lock into a list. In my mind, the only real loss here from the change to 9th edition rules, is that you can’t reroll your test for the Litany.

Credit: Lungboy

The weakening of what has been the dominant Grey Knight strategy (Paladins and Strikes) plus the improvement to Terminators probably also means that GMDKs are worth another look. They were far from bad as soon as Ritual of the Damned dropped, but got crowded out because they didn’t benefit from the Tides other than Shadows, and you generally didn’t want to be in that for much of the game. Now, there’s a real appeal to the idea of running an army that’s 2+ and has cover in the open across the board, as that’s going to just be a complete nightmare for some armies to shift. They also no longer take the move/shoot penalty on their guns, a nice upside. This has actually already been used to success in one of the armies we’ll look at at the end, so anyone whose had these on the shelf since Ritual dropped should probably start dusting them off!

Troops

Grey Knight Kill Team

Grey Knight Kill Team
Credit: Pendulin

We’ve sort of already covered off what I’m going to say here – Strike Marines are substantially down in utility (but still fine to take a few units of to fill up your battalion if needed) while Terminators go up in value a lot.

Strike Marines go up three points each, and are a bit more constrained in terms of upgrades. Nemesis falchions are now four points for the pair while everything else is free, so yeah don’t take those any more huh. Psycannons also go up a few points, so you probably don’t want to stick one of those in each unit either (though Psilencers are still pretty cheap), and all together you end up paying more for a unit that just does a bit less across the board.

Terminators come out better. They also go up three points each, but that looks a tonne more reasonable starting from 35pts each rather than 17. With the loss of falchions to up the output of strike squads, they give you a unit with more melee punch and more resilience for fewer than half the points, which is an attractive sell. Being ObSec, tough and deep-strikable is a great combination too, and I think there’s potentially a use case for these both to fill out mandatory troop slots and as a replacement for a second Paladin bomb to free up some points. A particularly neat trick with these in the new missions is to use Dynamic Insertion to drop them in within 3″ of the enemy and contesting an objective they’re holding – now that scoring is start of the turn this is considerably more valuable than it used to be, as it can both deny your opponent points and put them on a clock to shift you off. Grey Knights have a whole array of tricks to make tough models even tougher (dropping Redoubtable Defence on a squad of 5 is cheap and makes them a pain to remove in particular), and this gives them a very effective way to mess with the objectives.

Overall – get out your Terminators, look sadly at the 30 falchion Strikes you probably have. Sorry.

Elites

Grey Knights Credit: Lungboy

Grey Knights Terminators Credit: Lungboy

The Elite slot in Grey Knights is pretty wide, but quite a bit of it can be written off straight away. Without Relic vehicles to take, you don’t want to be buying Servitors, while the reduction in Smite spamming kills the use case for the Ancients as well, as trying to set up the fancy flag combo isn’t really worth it.

Apothecaries, on the other hand, go up in stock a bit, simply as the cheapest character you can get in here. With the reduction in HQ slot availability, and a need to lock in powers pre-game, there are inevitably going to be situations where being able to sneak a character into the Elites slot becomes highly relevant. Taking more Terminators also just makes them a bit better when they’re kicking someone back to life or healing a wound “safely”. They’re also good for doing Actions. You already saw these in lists as “one more character”, and I don’t see that changing. It’s worth saying that Chapter Approved seems unclear on whether Brotherhood Champions live here or in HQ now, but realistically with the Apothecary option I don’t think you take them either way.

Purifiers are an odd one – in theory they’re better, as they’re the same cost as Strikes and you don’t have to try and fill as many Troops slots, making running a big squad of these and going in on the Untained and Unbowed stratagem plus Sanctuary to give them a 3++ as a board control piece more viable. It’s interesting, but it does compete pretty hard with taking a Terminator Squad since they’re ObSec, and weakens any attempt to build a list that’s all 2+, which you may now want to do.

Dreadnoughts got pretty light point changes, and the old staple of the Astral Aim sniper Vendread is probably still semi-fine, maybe even a bit better (though also totally skippable).

Finally Paladins, the terror of late 8th. These get one of the bigger point changes in the book, going up six points each (and a few extra on psycannons). While that’s relatively on-par with the average rate across the game, it’s a bit above the rest of this army, and just means that running a full squad runs you 500pts minimum. That gives you an outrageously powerful and tough unit, which is very good in 9th, but my suspicion is that you’ll struggle to justify running two full squads any more. Between the reduction in burst damage Strikes can put out, characters not being able to hide behind them at a distance and the reduced ability to spread a 6+ model squad out, I think you’re more likely to see one unit with more points spent on other stuff backing them up.

Fast Attack

Only one entry here, Interceptor Squads, and I don’t think they’re likely to see much play. You might want to consider a single unit as something to shunt around for performing Actions, but there are so many other ways Grey Knights can be mobile that the 23ppm price tag here looks a bit much. They also have slightly broken rules as it stands, making them even worse.

Heavy Support

Grey Knight Gunner

A Grey Knight Gunner armed with Psilencer – Credit: Pendulin

First up in Heavy Support we have, naturally, the Land Raiders. These all went up pretty modestly once you factor in their gun costs, so end up a little less costly compared to the field as a whole. That probably brings them closer to being usable, and there’s definitely some appeal to the legendary teleporting Land Raider in an edition where transports have gone up in value and they can shoot in combat (something that’s especially spicy on the Crusader and Redeemer). It’s almost certainly not where a serious list should be looking still, but I suspect you’ll have a better time using one than before if it’s your most favourite model.

Basic Dreadknights have the same problem they’ve always had, which is not being Grand Masters, felt especially keenly as the two units went up by the same amount. With HQ slots at a premium there’s maybe a slightly higher chance these see play – you can keep them quite cheap if you’re going for threat saturation – but it wouldn’t be the first place I looked.

Finally, Purgation squads. A resounding “meh”. They’re OK, but I’m less interested in throwing down power armoured bodies than I was, and the way the various cost changes net out mean you now pay a bit more for them you used to.

Flyers

There’s still basically no reason to take these – the fighters don’t really synergise with any of the rest of the army, while the Stormraven is probably too many points in one basket, hilarious though it is.

Transports

Like with almost every faction, there’s probably a bit more play in running Rhinos than there used to be, but here I think you want to adapt to the missions by swapping to Terminators rather than buying Strikes Rhinos.

Missions

Grey Knights vs Tyranids

Grey Knights vs Tyranids
Credit: Pendulin

Primary Objectives

As already kind of alluded to, your big option for holding Primary objectives is to ram some flavour of Terminator squad onto it and not let go. This is generally pretty effective, as you have a healthy host of defences you can stack up – importantly probably enough to power two units at once. Between Transhuman PhysiologyRedoubtable DefenceArmoured Resilience, Sanctuary and Tide of Shadows you have a lot of tools to play with, and with a fairly reliable flow of 2CP a turn (thanks to Empyrean Domination) and only five turns to stretch out, if you can keep some of your bigger threats alive your opponent will find it very difficult to prise you out late game. By using abilities like Gate of Infinity and Edict Imperator to push early, you also force them to commit to trying to engage your bigger units early on when they’re still at full power, certainly not the most comfortable position to be in when against this army. All in all, Grey Knights want to apply severe pressure early on, then ride their tarpit units through the mid game while opponents break against them.

Secondary Objectives

Like all armies, Grey Knights have some objectives they’re especially well suited to, and some they’re a bit less keen on.

  • Grind them Down – as a highly elite army, Grey Knights should be able to tee up Kill More against a lot of foes.
  • While We Stand, We Fight – If you don’t go down the Dreadknight route, it’s likely that all of your most expensive models will be among your CHARACTERS, making it a bit more feasible to keep them alive than it is for some armies. That isn’t always what you want, as some of them definitely expect to go out hunting, but it’s worth considering in some games.
  • Raise the Banners High – Grey Knights have tough, ObSec INFANTRY that can get on objectives fast to raise a flag then stay there. You do need to make sure you have enough units to pull it off, mind.
  • Mental Interrogation – While giving up casts on your characters isn’t always ideal, you pretty much always have some around that can do this, and it’s potentially a good thing to detail an Apothecary who’s also a backup Warp Shaping caster on.
  • Repair Teleport Homer – realistically, I’d probably take Banners over this most of the time as it’s lower risk, but Grey Knights are one of the few armies that can have a real go at this – you can almost always put a Terminator squad into your opponent’s deployment zone turn two with Dynamic Insertion, and might even be able to do so turn 1 with Gate of Infinity. Should you? Probably still not – this objective is such a nightmare.
  • Deploy Scramblers With having a plenty of Infantry options, and the ability to jump into your opponents deployment zone easily. This should be an easy 10 points.

The breadth across categories isn’t fantastic, and you’re definitely hoping your opponent has Assassinate targets, as you’re pretty good at scoring that. You do also need to be mindful that it’s very likely any opponent without Psykers will be able to max Abhor the Witch easily against you.

Army Lists

We’ll finish up, as ever, with a couple of army lists, one from me attempting to emulate some of the fun of the dual Paladin bomb in 9th, and one from Ben Cherwien, which took third place at one of the first GT-level events played in 9th.

One and a Half Paladin Bombs

Grey Knight Battalion

HQ

Grand Master Dreadknight, hammer, psilencer, psycannon, teleporter, warlord – First to the Fray, Relic – Augurium Scrolls – 250
Power: Gate of Infinity

Voldus – 160
Powers: Armoured Resilience, Edict Imperator, Empyrean Domination

Kaldor Draigo – 190
Powers: Warp Shaping, Armoured Resilience

Troops

Terminators x5, 4 Halberds, 1 Stave – 190
Power: Vortex of Doom

Terminators x5, 4 Halberds, 1 Stave – 190
Power: Hammerhand

Terminators x5, 4 Halberds, 1 Stave – 190
Power: Astral Aim

Elites

Paladins x10, 9 halberds, 1 stave – 500
Power: Gate of Infinity

Paladins x5, 4 halberds, 1 stave – 250
Power: Sanctuary

Apothecary, halberd – 80
Power: Warp Shaping

Total – 1998pts, 12CP

I can’t pretend this list doesn’t look a little sparse on the ground, but one has to make do in this exciting new world. It definitely re-affirms my belief that trying to do two Paladin bombs is probably dead, as you just don’t have the quality in the supporting units any more to make it worth it once you’ve spent an extra 120pts on the models.

You’ve got a couple of options for how you can deploy this on the board depending on how assertive you think your opponent is going to be turn one. If you don’t think they’re ready to try and take the centre in force you want probably want to deploy:

  • Both Paladin squads
  • Voldus
  • Apothecary
  • One Terminator unit (Astral Aim)

If you go first, you want to try and get off one volley of Astral Aimed Tide of Convergence Psybolt Ammunition from the big squad via using Edict Imperator prior to switching to shadows, and to move them onto a middle objective at the same time, ideally trailing out models far enough to still screen Voldus and the Apothecary. The Terminators want to sit on a home objective, while the other Paladin unit acts as either additional bodyguards for Voldus, or Gates onto another objective. On turn two (most of the time) the rest of the army shows up to the mid-board fun party and throws down (with the possible exception of one Terminator Squad looking for a weak back-line objective it can Dynamic onto).

Older versions of this list avoided the Dreadknights, but here I think you want one just so you have something that can trash a Knight or similar in combat, as losing the ability to reliably burst them down with Smites is a big problem. The guns are also pretty good against armies like Death Guard, which are looking popular early on. You’ve also got the one squad optioned on Vortex of Doom to punish any opponent that clusters up too much in the centre of the table.

This list should lean on Tide of Shadows pretty well, but does have the option to switch to others in an emergency – it has enough units that if a key enemy really has to die it can often get it done with smites, and needs Shadows a bit less once battle is really joined.

I suspect some matchups will properly trash this, but I fear that’s going to be a bit more of an issue for Grey Knights in general – they don’t quite have the universal ability to win they used to. Against anything that isn’t widely ignoring cover or putting out AP-3, this should give an enemy a real fight.

Big Dreadknight Energy

Note: Commentors have pointed out that there was a mistake with the original list here at the event, and it’s over by 50pts. We have made a tweak to make it legal in the version shown, the original version is in the drop down below.

Original List - Click to Expand

Grey Knight Battalion

HQ

Grand Master Dreadknight, hammer, psilencer, psycannon, teleporter, warlord – First to the Fray, Relic – Augurium Scrolls – 250
Power: Gate of Infinity

Grand Master Dreadknight, hammer, psilencer, psycannon, teleporter – 250
Power: Gate of Infinity

Grand Master Dreadknight, hammer, psilencer, psycannon, teleporter – 250
Power: Sanctuary

Troops

Terminators x5, 4 Halberds, 1 Stave – 190
Power: Gate of Infinity

Terminators x5, 4 Halberds, 1 Stave – 190
Power: Gate of Infinity

Terminators x5, 4 Halberds, 1 Stave – 190
Power: Hammerhand

Terminators x5, 4 Halberds, 1 Stave – 190
Power: Astral Aim

Grey Knight Patrol

Voldus – 160
Powers: Armoured Resilience, Warp Shaping, Empyrean Domination

Kaldor Draigo – 190
Powers: Inner Fire, Armoured Resilience

Terminators x5, 4 Halberds, 1 Stave – 190
Power: Hammerhand

Total – 2000pts, 10CP

Our second list brings back the classic mid-8th energy of triple Dreadknight, spiced up with the new 9th Edition tech of running lots of Terminators.

Grey Knight Battalion

HQ

Grand Master Dreadknight, hammer, psilencer, psycannon, teleporter, warlord – First to the Fray, Relic – Augurium Scrolls – 250
Power: Gate of Infinity

Grand Master Dreadknight, hammer, psilencer, psycannon, teleporter – 250
Power: Gate of Infinity

Grand Master Dreadknight, hammer, psilencer, psycannon, teleporter – 250
Power: Sanctuary

Troops

Terminators x5, 1 hammer, 3 halberds, 1 stave – 205
Power: Gate of Infinity

Terminators x5, 1 hammer, 3 halberds, 1 stave – 205
Power: Hammerhand

Terminators x5, 1 hammer, 3 halberds, 1 stave – 205
Power: Astral Aim

Elites

Apothecary, hammer – 95
Power: Gate of Infinity

Grey Knight Patrol

HQ

Voldus – 160
Powers: Armoured Resilience, Warp Shaping, Empyrean Domination

Kaldor Draigo – 190
Powers: Inner Fire, Armoured Resilience

Troops

Terminators x5, 4 Halberds, 1 Stave – 190
Power: Hammerhand

Total – 2000pts, 10CP

The big, obvious difference here is that this list eschews any attempt at Paladin nonsense in favour of two more Dreadknights. That certainly provides a heck of a punch, and substantially ups the ranged threat the army can present, which is quite relevant in some matchups. In theory it has the partial tradeoff of providing your opponent’s anti-tank with targets, but in practice you need tankbusting guns just to go after the core units here – while regular Terminators aren’t quite as tough as Paladins, this list still puts up a tonne of them, and will take real work to shift.

Shane’s Terminators Everywhere

Grey Knight Battalion

Draigo (Astral Aim, Hammerhand)
Librarian – WL (Loremaster), Santic Shard (Armored Resilience, Empyrean Domination, Warp Shaping)
Chaplain (Edict Imperitus)(Litany of Faith, Invocation of Focus)

10 Terminators w/2x psycannon, 6 halberds, 4 staves (Gate)
10 Terminators w/2x psycannon, 6 halberds, 4 staves (Gate)
5 Terminators w/3x halberds, 2 staves (Gate)

Apothecary w/Falcions (Sanctuary)
10 Paladins w/4x psycannon, 6 halberds, 4 staves (Sanctuary)

Not a ton of units, but three hard to shift units that will sit on objectives and overall be threatening. With the amount of smites one can throw reduced, you might want to flex into some offensive powers, but I went with all the main utility abilities for now. The large terminator units function similarly to a paladin bomb and lets you get the most out of stratagems/buffs. The changes to coherency make moving around 6+ model units slightly annoying and you have to pay more attention to casualty pulls, but more than likely this will get easier with experience. You are slightly susceptible to blast, but I haven’t found it to have much impact yet. One other thing that I think needs mentioning, Bring it Down is really good at making a 10 man terminator/paladin unit deal heavy damage to a Knight with shooting when combined with Tide of Convergence and psycannons/psybolt storm bolters.

 

These lists have a lot of overlapping elements, which is probably going to be quite common – while Grey Knight still have powerful stuff, their really good options are pretty clear at this point. I do want to see if anyone managed to reconfigure a list that makes Strike Marines work, but in the meantime I’d suggest swinging hard towards the more elite options you have access to – the success of this list demonstrates that they can be really made to work.

Wrap Up

Grey Knights end up in a slightly odd place. I’d probably say, on balance, that having dug in to write this I’m a bit more pessimistic than I was immediately after reviewing Chapter Approved – although they got a light treatment in point changes, they were already up against it enough for that to hit pretty hard, and while the diminished utility of Strike Marines frees you up for other options, you do lose board and power redundancy in the process. Still, if you want psychic ObSec terminators, the Grey Knights have got your back, and in 9th that’s a decent place to be.

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, give us a shout at contact@goonhammer.com.

 

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