Everyone is up in arms over the new Grey Knights and their free Force Weapons across the board. What everyone is failing to realise is Grey Knights are not built around their Force Weapons but their Stormbolters and Psycannons.
Yes, what the hell Kirby right? Well a discussion several posts ago about the combat viability of the army brought this up and I thought it deserved its own post. SneakyDan has done a mini-rant on this before but let’s look at this from an analytical perspective and why Grey Knights are not in fact a combat army.
Before we start let’s be clear here. I am saying Grey Knights are not a combat army but this does not mean they aren’t decent in combat. Rather, their combat potential is secondary to their shooting. Let’s examine this.
We know Grey Knights are expensive, in fact very expensive. Your ‘basic template’ of a Grey Knight Strike squad (10 strong, 2 psycannons, psybolt ammo, MC hammer, Rhino) is 80 points more expensive than your Tactical counter-part (10 strong, flamer, MM, combi-weapon, Rhino). The main difference is not in fact your combat ability as you’re both still WS4/A1/I4. Sure the Force Weapons are a nice addition to have which allows GKSS to munch on Tactical squads and as a generalist unit, gives you the edge in combat against many other generalist units but the unit’s combat ability is still pretty crappy overall. However, the GK squad has nearly double the firepower at range (13-24”) and can move and fire to nearly full effect, particularly against tanks. This is the key for Grey Knight armies, being able to fire to full effect at 24”. This is further heightened by being able to take at least one psycannon per five guys in all GK units which is a heavy and assault gun. This allows the GK to be very mobile and significantly impact the battlefield (both tanks and infantry) outside of their transports at any starting squad size (5 or 10).
For the most part the whole army is built around this concept. Purifiers, even with 2A and I6 for 26 points, are still not combat units. Sure they get 3A on the charge but are still WS4, have no invulnerable save and not enough attack power to remove a unit before it strikes back. Due to their point cost they are simply inefficient combat units (though excellent against hordes). They are a bargain over GKSS in terms of what you get (extra A, Ld pip, 2 psycannons per 5 guys, cheaper combat weapons, cleansing flame, etc.) but they are still expensive without serious combat buffs. This is not to say they suck in combat, they obviously don’t but they are not a combat unit on which to base a combat army. They are still shooting units first and foremost with more combat ability than GKSS, particularly in terms of horde control.
To be a good combat unit you need to be able to hand out damage (i.e. combination of high WS, number of attacks and models), hit at a very quick and reliable rate (i.e. high I, lots of attacks or re-rolls) or be very survivable (i.e. 2+/3++). Pick two. You then need to factor in cost and this is where Grey Knights generally come undone. They are expensive and rarely have two of the aforementioned bonuses together whilst not paying through the nose for it. Purifiers can hit pretty quickly with I6 but aren’t point efficient compared to some other armies and are still limited by a basic Marine statline and no invulnerable. GKT are twice as expensive as a normal GK and really only have decent survivability (2+/5++) and high initiative (halberds > force swords) but have the same attacks as Purifiers for nearly twice the price and are still WS4. What about Paladins then? They are more survivable with W2/2+/5++ and importantly have WS5. Again though they are based on 2A and are very expensive (beyond hating power fists).
I’m not saying these units are bad in combat, they are far from it but they aren’t dedicated combat units. This is based on a lot of the reasons outlined above but basically boils down to them being very expensive and having minimal deviation from a Marine statline. Compared to the shooting ability of said units (relentless, master-crafted psycannons!?) these units are much better at shooting than combat. Their combat prowess is a great way to finish off opposing units or as a last resort if your opponent gets close especially if you can combine multiple psychic powers like Might, Quicksilver and Hammerhand (S6+2D6 pen, I10?). Grey Knights aren’t push-overs in combat by any means but one of the best ways to beat them is to get units into combat which can absorb 4-5 power weapon wounds and then hit back. They are far more efficient as mobile shooting machines instead.
That being said Death Cult Assassins are a pretty nice combat unit for Grey Knights. High WS, base strength four with improvability thanks to Hammerhand/Rad Nades/etc, high initiative and a high number of attacks on the charge (4) make them a good hit them and kill them unit. They suffer from a lack of a good invulnerable save and no frag grenades but are only 15 points. They aren’t a rock unit like TH/SS but they will scare a lot of units and aren’t a huge point sink or sacrificing shooting by assaulting.
What exemplifies this divergence between shooting and combat for Grey Knights is their effective range. Grey Knights are at their best at 24”as the majority of hand-held anti-infantry weapons don’t get to their most effective range until 12” (rapid fire). This gives the Grey Knights a 12”buffer in which they can use their psycannons and stormbolters to full effect yet the opponent is not yet at optimal range. If the opponent is looking to move forward you can extend this range by moving backwards as they move forwards and only once your opponent gets within that 12”range do you start to press more aggressively and engage in combat. This is where Grey Knights use their shooting backed up by their combat ability. They gain no advantage between that 24-6”range unlike many other armies (rapid fire, melta weapons, etc.) and thus must attempt to maintain their advantage for as long as possible. Only when that is lost should they consider pressing forward to gain combat.
This is obviously much different against armies which are far less aggressive (i.e. Tau, IG, etc.) as your Grey Knights are more than likely to significantly out-do them in assault (though your basic Tactical Marine does as well). However, it is important to remember for most Grey Knight units your optimal fighting range is 24”and you get no improvements up until 6”where you can assault. Many other armies gain improvements to their firepower between those ranges as they move towards you. Combined with the relative point inefficient combat potential of Grey Knights and you are not playing to the army’s strengths by aggressively engaging in combat with your basic Grey Knight units.
In the end, Grey Knights are primarily a shooting force. They have combat potential and do pay for it but they are still Marines, don’t have the 3++ survivability or model numbers of other assault units and pay a huge opportunity cost by losing out in shooting. Other armies improve as they move to engage you in combat but Grey Knights are at their most effective at 24”. For this reason, combat is a secondary role for Grey Knights even though they appear to be quite powerful in combat.
I hope this makes it a bit clearer in why GK aren’t a combat army but rather use combat in a secondary role to help supplement their shooting. Here is an example army which I am using which exemplifies these aspects of the Grey Knights army.