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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Defeating the Beast: Fighting Grey Knights

I wanted to start a new series of articles on “how to defeat _____”, and I figured I would start with Grey Knights since that seems to be the talk of the town given how prolific they seem to be.

I’ve already read a few articles on other sites already talking about the best way to defeat Grey Knights. Quite possibly, the common theme and impetus for those articles has been that those authors are tired of hearing whining about “OP Grey Knights!’ and how all the band wagon jumpers are moving to Grey Knights. The theme of some of those articles has been thus, and I think that this detracts somewhat from the conversation as a whole. In fact, Grey Knights ARE a very powerful codex, arguably better than even Space Wolves, and I think that the first step in a discussion about defeating Grey Knights at large is to accept that this is a power codex in the grand scheme. Not only is it highly competitive, it also has a lot of easy to use builds which fit the “every man” of 40K. Further, the Grey Knight codex has a LOT of builds which fit the competitive bill. This means that any discussion pointed at “defeating Grey Knights” needs to also take into consideration all the potential kinds of Grey Knights you might see.

One thing I do want to clear up right here and now, though, is that the Grey Knights dex is not “OP”, “broken”, etc. The Grey Knights dex, in my opinion, is the example of what ALL codices should look like. Extremely viable. Many, many competitive builds, a decent amount of which should be easy to play and accessible by the “every man”. Fun to play. Interesting to think about.

As to the cries of “OP” or “everyone I know is quitting because they can’t stand the Grey Knights!”, these individuals should have already processed this when Demons came out, Orks after that, IG after that, Space Wolves after that, and what I’m sure will be Necrons or Chaos Legions after this. Stop whining about how good the GK dex is and let’s start discussing what you can do to compete with it. (And for Pete’s sake, don’t be that guy who says he only plays for “fun or fluff” and then complains when he can’t win games against a top tier dex. This is counter-productive and will only put you in the wrong mind set.)

On to the discussion.

Grey Knight List Potential and Power

Intelligence is critical to almost any plan. The more you know, the better prepared you will be. To me, it’s useful to first analyze where Grey Knights are actually drawing their power from so that we can understand the best ways to apply that knowledge in taking them down. Also, this part of the discussion is critical because Grey Knights have access to a lot of different, effective builds. So, how to best defeat a Grey Knight army, as I will talk about next, is best defined as how to analyze how your list will do against the varying types of GK builds.

The first key here is to firmly analyze where Grey Knight builds, in general, draw their power. The answer is not “Strike Squads with flippin’ Force Weapons!” or “Festooned with Grenades!” It’s a good bit deeper than that. One thing that makes the GK dex interesting to analyze is the amount of Red Herrings in the dex which serve to distract from where the real power in the dex lies. It is exactly things like Force Weapons and Psyko-brokes that detract from real power and provide a “smoke and mirrors” concept which serves to crush you by forcing you to focus on things that don’t really matter.

It’s things like, “OMG FORCE WEAPONS!” which serve to distract you. It’s almost like, “LOOK AT THE BIRDY!”, while the Dreads, for example, are the things that are actually doing all the damage. So, let’s take a look at where the majority of GK lists actually draw their greatest strengths.

The Psybolt Dreadnought with Autocannons

For many mech players, this unit takes the cake. Recognize that the Psybolt Dread actually puts out more anti-tank fire on average than a 5 man Long Fang pack. The reason is the twin-linking. A Dreadnought has an 89% chance to hit with each shot. A Long Fang as a 66% chance. Using poor man’s statistics, that means 5 Long Fangs hit 3.33 times. (Incidentally, if you are a Space Wolf player, this is why your 5 man squads always seem to always only hit with 3 missiles.) A Psybolt Dreadnought hits with 3.56 shots. Now, this is poor man’s statistics, but the point should be getting across.

Think of it this way. Each Psybolt Dreadnought in a GK army is equivalent to a 5 man Long Fang Pack.

If the GK player brings 6 Dreads, that’s like fighting a Space Wolf player with 6 Long Fang packs. Ouch!

The next thing to realize is that when a Psybolt Dread can reliably put down 4 S8 shots, against AV 10-11 vehicles, he doesn’t care about your cover saves. He will penetrate the vehicle 1-2 times in most cases, regardless of your 4+ save.

Simply put, the morale of this story is, you are a player who likes to run spammy style AV 10-11 (here’s looking at you Deldar, Razor Spam, Rhino Rushers), you need to plan right away for how you will shut the Dreads down and FAST.


It’s more than just annoying as an opponent of Grey Knights. Hey Dark Eldar players, you know how annoying that Flickerfield can be right? Well, look at it this way, every Grey Knight vehicle comes equipped with one. Don’t think so? Mathematically, by effectively ignoring 33% of the damage table, GKs basically receive the equivalent of a 5+ save versus the entire damage chart. And, yes, just like a Flickerfield, this applies to all damage results: CC, shooting, rams, and on.

But wait, there’s more! It’s BETTER than a Flickerfield because unlike a Flickerfield, the GK player gets to take his cover save in addition to his 5+ save. That means, when shooting at a GK vehicle in cover, that vehicle effectively has a 3+ save. (No, I’m not kidding. It really is a 3+ save). Now, factor in shrouding for extra giggles!

To make it worse, GKs barely pay any points for this ability.

So, what does this mean at the end of the day? Well, you could “rage” about it as being ridiculous, and it really kind of is, or, you can integrate this into your plan. First and foremost, this means that GK vehicles are hard to shut down, especially stopping them from shooting.

So, if you are going to play against lists of GK which bring a ton of vehicles, you need to bring some tools you might not have normally brought. Either you pack in a lot more anti-vehicle shots, OR, pack in a lot more AP 1. AP 1 almost negates the Fortitude bonus. Also, you need to consider how you could attack those vehicles while denying them cover saves. Or, could you pack in psychic defense to help shut this down?

It also means that Grey Knights are as good at mech lists as Imperial Guard.

Ranged Anti-Vehicle Fire

Grey Knights are unparalleled in their Ranged Anti-Vehicle Fire as it currently stands in 40K. Bet you thought that was Guard, didn’t you? It could be if I defined “ranged” as any shooting attack. When I say “ranged”, I mean anything 18 inches and higher. Psybolt Dreads, Psybolt Razorbacks, and Psycannons mean that GKs can pack an anti-AV 10-11 shot in EVERY. SINGLE. UNIT. Guard have BS 3 Chimeras with Multi-lasers. GKs have twin-linked Psybolt Razorbacks. No contest.

Unless the GK players are shooting at Guard. Funny how that works?

Save for the occasional rending off a Psycannon and the Psybolt Dreads, GKs really don’t bring a lot to the table that is really effective versus AV 12+ vehicles….. which Mech Guard carry en masse.

What does this mean? This means that in the world of GKs, you need a real plan of what to do with your masses of Razorbacks and Rhinos. Razorspam at face value simply won’t work versus GKs who can sorely outshoot you. Rhino Rushing only works if you can entice the GK player to shoot at something other than Rhinos.

A GK army can easily disable/destroy 5-8 AV 10-11 vehicles IN COVER, a turn depending on what’s in their list, and that’s WITHOUT considering Psycannon units.

The Paladin

A nod to the Paladin builds out there. Paladins are NOT your traditional rock style unit. People want to classify them as such, but they simply aren’t. Why?

Traditional rock units generally sorely lack in the shooting department. Think about it. Assault Terminators. Tyranid Death Stars. Thunder Wolf Cav.

Paladins can pack in storm bolters and 4 Psycannons which always shoot in “heavy” mode. On top of that, they can also fight pretty well in assault. They are not your traditional rock unit and should not be treated as such.

Make some considerations about what your list might do if you run into a 10 man block of Paladins. How will you mitigate them? Ignore them? Kill them?


I know, hammer lists are fun. Nothing says fun more than charging 3 Thunder Lords across the board and wrecking face!

Well, actually there is something more fun than that. Counter-charging with a 100 points worth of Death Cult Assassins and a stupid tech marine with Psyko-brokes and kill all 3 Wolf Lords before they get to swing!

Grey Knights EXCEL at destroying Hammer Units. Access to Force Weapons, Hammerhand, Initiative 6, Psyko-brokes, Death Cult Assassins, and other things mean that if Grey Knights have a need to lay down a serious pimp hand, they can get it done. Worse. They can get it done on the cheap.

Likewise, Grey Knights excel at Counter-Assaults. Like Guard, most GK lists are happy to sit back and shoot, letting you get close, and then laying out aforementioned pimp hand. Guard have a pimp hand too, but it is not nearly as strong.

Save for some exceptions which I will discuss in another article, it’s really time to start reconsidering those Hammer lists.

The Purifier/Duality

The last real power of the Grey Knight dex (that I can think of at the moment anyways) is the duality of every unit, best show-cased by the Purifier.

What is Duality? Duality is just a word used to describe a unit’s ability to be both Anti-Armor and Anti-Infantry. Even the lowly Strike Squad can bring a Demon Hammer and a Psycannon to the party while also packing lots of shots with Storm Bolters. Even the Psybolt Razorback can handily take down AV 10-11 vehicles while adding 2-3 reliable wounds to the anti-infantry party.

The Purifier (and even the Paladin) exemplify this kind of Duality. Indeed, the Purifier is probably THE SWISS ARMY KNIFE of the 40K. He can bring Psycannons and Hammers for anti-tank. He brings 2 Attack S 5 Force Weapons. He brings Cleansing Flame for killing hordes. He brings Storm Bolters for anti-infantry. What else do you need?

So, lists which contain a lot of “Grey Knight” units bring a lot of duality to the party. The Grey Knights do not have a straight forward weakness. Their weakness is in their point cost


That’s enough for one huge article. I purposefully did not mention: Psyko-brokes, Warp Quake, Librarians, Grand Masters, and other things which are commonly mentioned. I’ll explain why in another article.


  1. Great article. I was actually half way through one of my own for my blog but I think I'll just link yours if that's allright.

    I was mainly focusing on fighting them with tyranids, but the units I focused on were also dreads, paladins, and purifiers.

  2. You are more than welcome to link and toss in some thoughts about Nids fighting GKs as well. I'd be curious to see your thoughts on it.

  3. This is a very interesting article. I followed the link from hy3mynd's blog.


  4. This article focuses mainly on mech vs mech, so the tyranid perspective is slightly different.

    Rifle dreads are actually less effective against nids as they don't cancel the 3+ save on MC's like missiles do.

    Force weapons become more of a concern.

    TBH I feel the changes in meta will force nids more towards true swarm builds. I'm finding results are better with big units in cover with FnP over MC's where I pray SiTW stops the force activation.

    I've had some funny (good) results proxy testing with 60+ gargoyles. Even cleansing flame isn't too bad if you can get FnP on the gargoyles. They do pretty well blocking and tarpitting paladins also with proper placement. I'm feeling like my next investment will be half a dozen boxes of gargs.

  5. So basically what you are saying is that unless you are actually playing Grey Knights...

    1. You cannot out shoot them because they have better shooting with quantities, high strength, etc.

    2. You cannot out assault them, because they have better assault with the I6, grenades, etc.

    3. You cannot effectively flood them with mech, or horde, or speed because they will take all that down too with the dreads, purifiers etc.

    4. If you target the dreads who do the real work in the army, you probably wont get past the cover save, fortitude, or venerable status.

    So when does the "How to beat Grey Knight" tactica begin? Can it start with: "if you see Death Cult Assassins, use your flamer on them"?

    I have been playing against Grey Knights fairly regularly since the dex dropped and all I can really see as a viable tactic is to get on them as fast as you can, and at all costs. If I have to suffer through more than 1 round of shooting (esp Crowe lists) then I probably will never make it across the table which makes going second especially horrible.

    While the codex may not be OP, I wouldn't say its balanced in any sense. I think taking away the assault grenades would have been a huge step towards reasonable because at least then you could bait GK through cover to mitigate all of the I6 with Halberds.

    If you look at the three main flavors of GK (Coteaz, Crowe, Draigo) I am not sure where the tactical acumen enters the game, or strategy even begins. Usually you hear these players say "The list really plays itself" not "I had to play very carefully to figure out where my 5 Autocannon Dreadnaughts should direct their fire."

    In reality I end up winning as much against Grey Knights as I lose which is a true sign of balance. Most of my games end up brutal blood baths where I was able to either get on top of the other player and collapse their army in assault, or a close loss where I just couldn't deal with the dreadnaughts by the end of the game.

  6. I have to agree with dzer0. If the current Tyranid codex is supposed to go even with the codi that came after Tyranids, then I'm concerned.

    Space Wolves are bad, but with GK trampling the scene like this I'm beginning to contemplate my Tyranid's survival and leaning more and more towards a switch to Necrons (just to keep it Xeno). At least they won't have to fear mass Force Weapons and grenades since they don't do assault that much anyway.


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