Ritual of the Damned Review, Part 2: Grey Knights

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Christmas may have been and gone, but for three 40K factions the new year brings its own supply of juicy presents! Psychic Awakening: Ritual of the Damned goes up for pre-order today, and Games Workshop have been kind enough to send us a preview copy, meaning that we can bring you all the best tidings from the depths of the warp.

A running joke on various 40K communities that there hasn’t been that much “psychic” in the Psychic Awakening, but Ritual of the Damned changes that in a big way, with two of the game’s most psychically-attuned factions getting updates alongside an overhaul for the Dark Angels.

In this part of our review, I’ll be looking at the first of these Psychic Factions – the Sons of Titan and the last line of defence for realspace – the Grey Knights.

 

Grey Knight Kill Team

Credit: Pendulin

The Grey Knights have, for a long time, been the go-to example of a weak faction in 40K. They had a very early Codex using some mechanics that were tricky to hit the right balance point for so early in the edition, and have suffered for it ever since. They have a few good units, and a few dedicated players have managed some impressive successes with well tuned lists, but few would argue that they were in a great place.

The good news for those devoted few is that this book has a lot to offer, especially for pure Grey Knights players and especially in concert with the big discounts they got in Chapter Approved, and having delved into it in detail we’re excited to see if any of the big names in Grey Knights manage a breakout success with the new toys. It’s probably not about to fire them all the way up into the Iron Hands big leagues, and there’s a few things we wish had been included that aren’t, but there’s a lot of potential here and, crucially, the best stuff works really well with the units people are already fielding in the tournament lists (always a good sign when an army needs a boost).

Without further ado, let’s charge up our Rites of Banishment and look at the highlights of this part of the book.

 

What They Get

Grey Knights get five things out of Ritual of the Damned:

  • Masters of the Warp, a new doctrine-like effect offering major boosts for pure Grey Knights armies
  • New Stratagems to supplement the set in their original Codex.
  • The entirely new Dominus psychic discipline, giving their CHARACTERs powerful alternative psychic options.
  • Additional Relics of Titan.
  • A dedicated set of Litanies, and an updated Chaplain datasheet to use them.

In order to open up some design space for rules, the new book also codifies what counts as a “nemesis weapon” and a “psi weapon”. The former is “anything with nemesis in the name and most relic/named character weapons” while the latter is “any gun with psi or psy in the name” but also, importantly, bolt weapons that have been buffed by Psybolt Ammunition for a phase.

Finally, the book also codifies, in print, that Grey Knights get Shock Assault and Bolter Discipline.

Masters of the Warp

Masters of the Warp is a new ability added to all GREY KNIGHT datasheets that, like Marine Doctrines, gives you a bonus if your whole army is GREY KNIGHTS. If you meet that criteria, then at the start of the first battle round you can pick one of four Tides of the Warp to be in effect. Each of these gives a static bonus for your units, and these were shown off in Warhammer Community’s preview of the army:

Credit; Warhammer Community

A new (WC5) psychic power from the Dominus Discipline (which we’ll be looking at shortly) lets you change the active Tide. While a cast and a power slot isn’t “free” by any means, being able to change these when needed is extremely good, and I can’t imagine a pure Grey Knight list that doesn’t bring at least one unit with this power.

So how good are these effects? They’re, uh, real frickin’ good

Well, three of them are anyway. Tide of Fury is fine but I think it will probably be the least frequently activated just because the effect is a bit more marginal than the others – if your Grey Knights are in amongst the enemy in sufficient numbers for it to be really good, then you’re probably already in a pretty great place in that game and aren’t likely to need the help. You might still sometimes want to put it up at the end of the psychic phase if your good shooting units are gone and you’re hitting combat.

Luckily, the others provide gigantic benefits that make it much more likely that you end up in a good position. Tide of Shadows is a great effect to have up if you’re going second (and you choose your active Tide at the start of the first battle round, so you’ll know if you are), making all your power armoured infantry much harder to shift, and providing useful additional resilience to things like Dreadknights as well. Unusually for the newer versions of this effect, the -1 to hit part can apply to VEHICLEs, and has no coverage requirement, so it’s worth making sure all your Dreadknights are touching a ruin when you deploy. That might plausibly get errataed away, but equally this is very explicitly being achieved with “terrifying warp powers” rather than “we’re really sneaky” so being able to hide a Land Raider makes a lot more sense than it would for Raven Guard.

If you want to shoot stuff up, Tide of Convergence is your friend. It’s a little bit of a shame that this is tied to the INFANTRY keyword, as Dreadknights would love this, but pretty much every competitive Grey Knight list comes packing three Purgation Squads loaded with psilencers, and this represents an appallingly big boost to the output of that firebase, especially in concert with a stratagem we’ll be looking at shortly. There are also some good boosts to shooting and psi weapons in the new Dominus discipline and Litanies, and all of this comes together to let Grey Knights be way more active in the Shooting phase than they have been before. The fact that you can throw Psybolt Ammunition onto storm bolters to access this in a pinch is really, really nice too. It probably also makes psycannons a bit more worth looking at, as it stacks with Psychic Onslaught to get them to S9. Psilencers being cheaper and having more shots probably keeps them the favoured option, but I might consider throwing a single psycannon squad in.

Last, but certainly not least, we have Tide of Escalation. This is nice and simple but extremely good – all your Rites of Banishment smites now deal two mortal wounds rather than one, near doubling your psychic damage output. This is spicy in general because every squad and character you have kicking around can throw out multiple mortals, and has the more subtle (but very welcome) benefit of making having lots of units on the board more attractive, meaning that trying a dual battalion is probably worthwhile.

Right off the bat, all of this comes together to give Grey Knights a serious boost in two areas they needed help – keeping their relatively low model-count armies alive and doing enough damage to their opponents. Tide of Shadows is what you’ll want to start with most games, as although you could choose another if you go first, a lot of the army’s tools are pretty short ranged and won’t get the full benefit from any of the aggressive tides early on (although if your opponent isn’t cautious enough then you have our blessing to go wild). As soon as the opponent is in your threat range, switch across to whichever Tide is going to do the most work and destroying the enemy! Usually you’ll want Tide of Convergence then Tide of Escalation, and it should usually be reasonably clear which.

Of course, there’s also a greedy option you can aim for if your opponent doesn’t have enough shooting to make Shadows worth it. Because the switching is done via a psychic power, you could start the game in Escalation, throw out all of your D2 smites in the Psychic phase, then switch to Convergence and just start blasting! Judging when it’s safe to do this won’t always be easy, but in the games you manage to land it you should do absolutely horrendous damage to your opponent’s forces.

Masters of the Warp feels genuinely game-changing for pure Grey Knight lists, but don’t worry – that’s not even close to everything they get!

 

Credit: Lungboy

 

Stratagems

Grey Knights get two whole new pages of stratagems, finally bringing them in line with more recent armies. Some of this is filled out with hits from the Marine codex, with Transhuman Physiology being the most important, and Vengeance of the Machine Spirit available for anyone who wants to try and repeat the legend of That One List With The Land Raider. On top of these there’s a good crop of new dedicated Grey Knight choices. Plenty of these are cool and powerful, but some standouts we want to highlight are Bring Down the Beast, Redoubtable Defence and Overwhelming Assault.

After you shoot a VEHICLE or MONSTER in the shooting phase, you can activate Bring down the Beast for 2CP to allow friendly Grey Knights units to re-roll wounds against it for the rest of the phase. That’s right kids – you can just straight up Doom against shooting for 2CP. No roll. No deny, all you need is some random character with a storm bolter to set it up and away you go. This is fantastic, especially in concert with Tide of Convergence – Grey Knights can now pack a lot of mid strength, mid damage weaponry, which is exactly the place where full wound re-rolls give the biggest benefit. This should be a huge help for Grey Knights going up against large targets like Imperial Knights, makes the already popular psilencer Purgation Squads even better

Credit: Lungboy

Redoubtable Defence is pretty clearly aimed at helping one thing: The Paladin bomb. For 1CP (5 models or fewer) or 2CP (6+ models) you can reduce the damage of multi-damage weapons by 1 (to a minimum of 1) for a shooting phase, in response to a TERMINATOR unit being targeted by a shooting attack. In concert with either Transhuman Physiology or the new Armoured Resilience psychic power to make them harder to wound, Tide of Shadows to give hit modifiers and/or cover and Sanctuary to up their invulnerable saves you can make this already hardcore (and recently discounted) unit an even toughter nut to crack. Since Paladins also pack a tonne of shots and attacks to benefit from Fury of the Proven (a re-named Fury of the First) we expect that this will ensure they’re still a staple of successful Grey Knight armies.

Credit: Lungboy

Finally, while there are other cool things here we had to give a mention to Overwhelming Assault. For a mere 1CP, a NEMESIS DREADKNIGHT gets +1 attack and re-rolls 1s on wound and damage rolls. Since most Dreadknights seen in the wild are Grandmasters they’ll usually already have hit re-rolls, so re-rolls on the other parts of the attack sequence are extremely welcome. It potentially makes the nemesis greatsword quite an attractive choice – it doesn’t have the negative hit modifier of the Daemonhammer and hits far harder than the dreadfist, with re-roll 1s on damage making the d6 damage way more appealing. The hammer is probably still better (I’m sure we’ll make Kevin work it out at some point) but swords are much cooler than hammers or fists. It is known (and if you agree, go look at our Dark Angels review).

The one disappointment here, and it’s something that’s consistent across all of the Grey Knights rules, is that there’s nothing to boost their charges out of Deep Strike. This leaves First to the Fray as their only option for increasing the chances of landing the all important hammerblow turns. Given how powerful some of the charge boosting options handed out to Chaos Space Marines in Faith and Fury were, throwing the melee-focused Grey Knights a bone in this regard would have been nice – although just how much better the new rules make them at operating in other phases helps to mitigate the hurt. It would also have been nice to see a Hero of the Chapter style bonus warlord trait ability.

 

Credit: Lungboy

Dominus Discipline

The Sanctic discipline is actually one of the better parts of the Grey Knight codex, but one of the problems the army ran into was simply not having enough powers to go round, with lots of units ending up stuck with only a one-damage Smite to cast.

On top of the bold new technology of “two-damage Smites”, Grey Knights get a whole new Psychic discipline to help address this problem. The Dominus discipline is available to GREY KNIGHT CHARACTERs in a similar way to the chapter-specific Disciplines in the Marine supplements – each CHARACTER can choose whether to know all their powers from Santic or all of them from Dominus. While some units like Dreadknights might stick to Sanctic (in order to use Gate of Infinity) we think a lot of casters will swap to Dominus, as its got some vital stuff. The CHARACTER restriction on this also, finally, gives you a reason to maybe take a Librarian or Voldus sometimes, which fixes the narrative dissonance of Grey Knight Librarians being kind of pointless.

Warhammer Community already showed off the good, clean fun of Empyrean Domination (WC7: gain a command point) and we’ve already talked about the impact of Warp Shaping which changes the active tide. The remaining four are two relatively boring but effective buffs that will further help Paladins and Purgation squads, and two super cool ones.

So many Purgation Squads. Credit: badaBlack

The first of these is Edict Imperator. This lets a friendly unit within 12” immediately shoot as if it was your shooting phase and then move as if was your movement phase (no advances). While it can’t shoot again or charge this is real good – it’s basically Fire and Fade in a single ability, bringing your shooting forward and then letting you move the squad back into hiding. It can also let something like a footslogging Dreadknight just cover more ground, or get a Land Raider further up the board so that when the passengers disembark in the next turn they’re that much closer to the enemy. It can also be used to sneak in one powerful round of shooting with a Purgation squad before you switch between Convergence and Escalation in the mid game.

Finally, we have Inner Fire, which is just hilarious. You roll your psychic test and then select an enemy within 1”. You then roll a number of d6 equal to your psychic test result, and inflict a MW on the enemy for each 3+ and one to yourself for each 1. That’s a lot of mortal wounds – don’t forget that Grey Knights average an 8 on their tests, so you’re looking at 5+ wounds a lot of the time, enough to put enemy characters straight in the bin. Obviously this is challenging to use thanks to the range, but luckily you can increase that to 7” with the Powerful Adept stratagem. It’s probably a bit ambitious, but dropping an Apothecary or some other throwaway character in with Dynamic Insertion (previewed on GW’s Facebook page and letting you deep strike within 3” but not charge) and immediately blowing away a key character seems like it could occasionally be a good ace in the hole.

The Dominus discipline is extremely good, and getting enough character cast slots in to gain access to it suddenly feels like a very high priority.

 

Grey Knights Justicar

Grey Knights Justicar. Credit: Pendulin

Relics of Titan

The Grey Knights existing relics are pretty weak, so getting access to some better options is something they very much need. These get some of the way towards that – there are some decent options here and one really good one that probably becomes the go-to free relic option for the army, but they’re not as exciting as some of the other things on offer.

The Sanctic Shard is the aforesaid really good one, giving +1 to Psychic tests and letting the bearer re-roll them as well. It’s really good deployed on a model with must-land powers, and is another thing that acts as a draw towards actually including a Librarian so that you can use it for multiple casts from one of the Disciplines, and it’s worth bearing in mind that you can now stack as far as +3 on casts between various effects, making Vortex of Doom pretty interesting, especially with the re-roll.

Nothing else is quite as awesome – there’s a decent Librarian-only relic that lets you manipulate nearby psychic tests, the funny-but-not-that-great Stave of Supremacy that Warhammer Community previewed, a relic Nemesis sword to complete the set from the Codex, an aura melee boost and last and (in this case) least a relic that buffs Techmarines. Cool. OK.

Ultimately, Grey Knights are going to want huge, towering piles of CP to spend on their stratagems now,so one really good, obvious pick was all they needed, meaning this section is definitely still a net boost, but definitely not as exciting as the earlier parts.

Litanies of Purity

Finally, we come to Litanies. Grey Knights have enough unique stuff going on that they get a dedicated set of Litanies rather than sharing the core Space Marine ones, and to make up for not having a “Chapter” litany on top of the six their Chaplains get to pick two rather than one (though still only chant one).

There’s some decent options in here, and although the price tag on a Chaplain is not inconsiderable, the fact that he’s also another potential Dominus caster might be able to get these over the line.

Grey Knight Gunner

A Grey Knight Gunner armed with Psilencer – Credit: Pendulin

A notable theme here is that there are several more things that boost up the all-important psilencer squads – there’s a litany to boost the range on a unit’s psi weapons by 6”, a litany to let them re-roll damage (surprisingly useful for d3 damage) and, probably the most important, a boost to AP via the Invocation of Focus. Being able to get psilencers to AP-2 in a pinch (in combination with Psychic Onslaught) is extremely important in a metagame full of things like Centurions, and I think on that basis there’s a good chance Chaplains make it into lists. There are also some nice counter-pick options for specific opponents, including one that gives an anti-MW aura and one that lets a unit ignore hit modifiers.

I think the way these will most likely be used is on a Chaplain that also takes Edict Imperator and spends at least the early parts of the game babysitting a tooled up Purgation squad. You can pick the right set of litanies for the terrain and matchup and make your opponent’s life very difficult indeed. It is still a hefty bolt-on cost wise (costing more than a second Purgation Squad) and may end up out-competed by some of the other efficient options the army now has, but I think it’s definitely good enough to try out in earnest.

Army Thoughts

So where does that leave Grey Knights overall? Well, definitely in a vastly better place than they started! You can take pretty much any of the top Grey Knight lists on 40kstats, spend the extra 150-200pts Chapter Approved gives you and end up with something that’s going to feel orders of magnitude better than it used to once you add these spicy rules in. The existing top units of Purgation Squads, Paladins, Grand Master Dreadknights and characters all get strong boosts from this book, so filling out with more of those is going to be just fine, but I think this unlocks other angles as well.

Most notably, I’d be much, much more interested in going for a dual battalion, filling out with lots of Strike Squads (which a few players are already doing). Each unit can bring a psilencer along at only a single extra point over a base loadout, helping give critical mass when you’re in Convergence and now adds twice as many mortal wounds in the psychic phase when you hit Escalation. Even outside of their improved output, wanting at least a few of your characters focused on the Dominus discipline adds more value to being able to cast Santic powers from your basic squads, giving more coverage of crucial powers like Gate of Infinity.

Credit: Lungboy

There’s also low-key some decent support for Grey Knight vehicles/Dreadnoughts in here if that’s your jam, with Big Guns Never Tire and Duty Eternal both jumping across from the codex. That probably makes the sneaky Astral Aim Vendread, who turns up now and again, a pretty neat inclusion, although being stuck going Missile/Las post-legends makes him less powerful than he once was. Realistically, if you want to build around Marine Vehicles Iron Hands/Fists and their Successors are the way to do it, but the Land Raider is a pretty iconic part of the Grey Knight look, so it’s nice to see a bit of a boost.

My one real gripe here is the lack of support for melee options. Getting into melee is a tougher proposition than shooting people, but in general the buffs to ranged and psychic output in this update are way more generous than the melee ones, and still not having a good charge booster is starting to look a little bit silly – all that would really have been needed would have been to include Canticle of Hate unchanged in the litany list and things would have been golden.

Still, while that is an undeniable miss it shouldn’t detract too much from what is, overall, a fantastic upgrade. We’re going to do a deeper dive into this in a few weeks time, probably combining it with writing Start Competing: Grey Knights, but even from the lists I’ve been knocking around on paper it’s clear that the Sons of Titan are a vastly, vastly more credible threat across the board than they used to be, and all I can say to that is – about time!

Wrap Up

That’s it for the Grey Knights, now yet another army I’ve reviewed and immediately want to own 2000pts of. If you have any thoughts, comments or questions, give us a shout at contact@goonhammer.com, and make sure to check out the other parts of our review of this extremely powerful book!

 

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