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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mephiston & Grey Knights


Can the Lord of Death strike fear into this new foe?

So I frequently hear about how Mephiston is just not what he used to be in an all comers list thanks to the abundance of new GK (Grey Knight) armies floating around. I have used Mephiston extensively in my competitive Blood Angels list since their codex came out and have had great success with him against a wide variety of armies and lists and I personally feel (and you are going to gawk when I say this) he is a largely misunderstood and miss used character. Now there have been many articles on the ‘Lord of Death’ but I am going to focus on adapting Mephiston to strike fear into the imperium’s golden boys and whether it can be done at all.
The Lord of Death

Now I know most of you need no introduction to the BA all-star HQ. However, in an attempt to be thorough you are getting one anyway. If you don’t want one just skip down! Mephiston is a monstrous creature all wrapped up in the neat little package of a power armoured marine. His stat line is tremendous - even reasonable on a monstrous creature scale. He has the added advantage of equipment such as artificer armour and a force sword. There are two things that make Mephiston an excellent character above that of your average MC. Firstly, his ability to hide due his size (or lack thereof) and secondly, his speed. Take note as this is the most important feature that makes Mephiston powerful - speed. Without any kind of decent ranged psychic defence Mephiston is amongst the fastest non vehicle units in the game. With fleet and the ability to cast a psychic power that lets him move like jump infantry, he has a threat range of 19-24”. Using this speed, Mephiston is able to lash out and exploit weak points in the enemy’s army, destroying lesser foes who have no hope of even hurting him due to his impressive toughness and wound characteristics.

The Problem

On paper, the problem is that all GKs wield force weapons and despite Mephiston’s huge stat line he is not an eternal warrior so one wound MAY be all you need to bring him down. Furthermore, psychic defence can reduce Mephiston's impressive threat range. In reality things are not so cut and dry and a good player can circumvent many of the advantages GKs have on Meph in order to let him do his dirty work.

QUICK NOTE: Psychout grenades only work when charging, not when receiving a charge! This is a common mistake I see people making which would greatly reduce Mephiston’s effectiveness. The other nads-of-silly do work both on the charge and when being charged though.

Before we go any further there is a magic number we need to learn and understand and that number is 33.3% - aka one third. Why is this number important? It is the percentage chance that any Grey Knight squad has of successfully activating their force weapons against Mephiston (banners change this slightly). Thanks to Mephiston’s hood and the fact GK units, including paladins, are Ld 9 it is actually reasonably unlikely a unit will be able to use their force weapons on Mephiston presuming they manage to wound him at all (remember, toughness 6!). Now I hear you crying out ‘What about LD 10 characters?’ The simple answer to that is Mephiston will just target the character and kill him/her. There is no GK character that should even last a single round against the lord of death save Draigo who we will get to later. If someone is willing to put an IC on the line, then that is a lucky BA player who gets to remove it without much effort.

First up, GK shooting. It is where the BA’s have some strengths against the GKs. To put it bluntly GK shooting is relatively ineffective at killing BA marines as GKs rely on weight of numbers to bring down Marines, not low AP shots. Since BAs rely on FnP to absorb damage, this mitigates a lot of the damage Grey Knights can do at range. FnP is the winner of this fight. Kirby has done a pretty good analysis of this army comparison here. The same is true for Mephiston and GK shooting. Instead of hiding him behind rhino chassis on the way up towards the enemy - the opposite can be done against many GK armies. Put him out let him get shot at, if he is going to die to a force weapon EVENTUALLY he may as well be on two wounds rather than five. Remember, every psycannon fired at him is not firing upon a transport and every storm bolter is not hitting a marine. To further that, both weapons are extremely ineffective against Meph. It would take 277 storm bolters to take down Meph with FnP which is more shots than most GK armies have over a 7 turn game. It takes 136 Storm bolters with psybolt ammo and 11.36 stationary psycannons when he has cover (which he should always have). So if your enemy is shooting Meph with GKs, you are already doing well.

Let’s look at one of Mephiston’s ‘worst nightmares’. I hear people scream how every GK unit will clean him up. What about a 5 man unit of purifiers? 2 halberds 2 psycannons and 1 hammer? With a single plasma pistol shot and 6 attacks on the charge, I won’t bore you with the math but let’s just say the purifiers don’t even strike back. Even with bad rolling and the hammer purifier left the chance of Mephiston dying is below 13%. So let’s kick it up a notch - a common 300pt unit of purifiers, 4 psycannons 5 halberds and a MC hammer. Mephiston will kill 5 on the way in removing a halberd and 4 psycannons (if they want the best chance of killing him). The purifiers can’t use hammer hands as they will then lose the ability to use their force weapons. They have 8 halberd attacks and 2 hammer attacks. 8 halberds = 4 hits which = 0.67 wounds, the MC hammer inflicts 1.08 wounds totalling in 1.75 wounds done to Meph. The force weapons will likely fail and there is a small chance they get unlucky and don’t wound him or the Justicar kills himself trying but that aside they will on average loose combat by 3 or more which means another dies to fearless saves. Now Meph is I1 so at this stage so it will be close who wins this fight. However, we are pitching Meph against a unit that should be excellent at killing him and worth more in points. Take away the hammer from this unit and without crap luck, Meph will clean up the whole squad in two rounds of combat for a total of only 1 wound. This is actually very good but you will find people generally expect a lot from Meph and if he doesn’t clean up 500 points worth of the enemy and absorb 100 bolter rounds believe that he hasn’t performed.

Now I realise next round other units can come in to assist in killing Meph and so on. However, the same is also true for the BA player which are generally faster units than the GK army. This means much of the time they can assist and join combat on their own terms.

Using Mephiston

So let’s look at how a smart player can use Meph and assist him to make him considerably more powerful against GKs (which can be extrapolated to an all-purpose use of course). Take that same unit of purifiers and add in a simple BA assault squad, which for arguments sake, is bare. Using an assault squad is a great way to tie up attacks to avoid them hitting Mephiston. Using the assault marines to charge and engage just the hammer (correct movement to setup the charge can make this possible) you can tie up the only real threat to Mephiston. If they can absorb just the fist and let’s say one halberd, the chance the purifier unit has of killing Meph drops to below 10% - severely bad odds. Combat changes slightly with Meph receiving .5 wounds from halberds the assault squad loosing one model to a halberd and one to a hammer and the assault squads killing one purifier. This way the purifiers still lose combat by three and next round Meph is not I1 and will finish them off before they attack. The 10 man purifier unit can put more halberd attacks onto the assault squad, say perhaps six with a minimum two attacks going on Mephs and essentially be wasted. In either case the BAs win combat and Meph is left unfarmed to finish off the unit next round.

This example is true for any GK unit, tie up the hammer if there is one and Meph will carve through the unit in most cases. Now this is a very specific scenario though there is an element here I am trying to show you. If you can divert the deamon hammer attacks from a unit onto another model instead of Mephiston (especially ones with stormshields) you will find he goes from pretty survivable to almost un-killable. This is true when facing, strikes/purifiers/terminators/paladins etc. A strike squad in the same situation as the purifiers has less than a 5% chance to kill Meph even as a 250 point unit (2 psycannons, psybolt ammo and a hammer). So by clever manoeuvring or simply attacking units without hammers, Meph is still exceedingly hard to kill for grey knights who cannot use hammer hands and a force weapon in the same turn.

What this emphasises is how Mephiston plays. He’s not a hammer – if you charge him into a unit of TH/SS Terminators or Paladins all with Daemon Hammers, they will turn around and very likely hammer him into a pulp. If you take on targets you can wipe out quickly (the ideal situation being two rounds of combat) or use other squads as indicated above to ensure increased durability, Mephiston will carve through units like a hot knife through butter.

Other ways to keep Mephiston alive include;
  • Hitting the outlying units of the enemy’s army or units that are out of position. This way he is far enough away to avoid enemy counter-attacks.
  • Hitting units that are already weakened and thus can be finished off allowing no return attacks. This tactic also gives you a consolidate move which in turn with the first point can allow you to get away from counter attacks.
  • Combining the example of using a support unit to absorb attacks and point two can give Meph plus another unit a consolidate move, using these two moves it can be very easy to completely surround Mephiston with a layer or even two of marines so he physically can’t be charged next turn, and as we know, it is unlikely the GKs can punch a hole in those units that are wrapping him as we have discussed GK shooting against BA’s with FnP. This tactic is useful when using Meph to snipe a HQ unit or when you are really throwing him into the deep end where you want him to kill a unit and still be alive next turn to go after back field units like rifleman dreads.
Mephiston can still perform his other old duties as well - an exceedingly mobile psychic hood is very annoying to GK’s as it can stop those hammer hands and Fortitudes going off. He still exudes an aura of board control that only a foolish GK player will choose to ignore and these two points alone make him worthwhile. Against Coteaz lists based on henchmen, Mephiston is back to his good old self, a complete wrecking ball when used well, even assassins need 6’s to wound after striking last. Also, if the enemy has a Dread Knight consider that dead if it gets within 19” of Mephiston.

Mephiston’s Problem Units

Mephiston does have two problem units, Draigo and Librarians, and this is where you really have to play Mephiston well to get some millage out of him.

Librarians – GK librarians are expensive and though Meph will butcher them in close combat, they’re rarely found there. Instead they are generally buffing the army with Shrouding, sanctuary, might of titan, etc. Now a Librarian’s hood can be annoying to Meph though this works both ways. Sure if the Librarian is in range he may cancel wings but if you use Meph correctly he should come from an angle outside of the Libs hood range. The only time Mephiston should really be in Librarian hood range is the Librarian is being aggressive (which means Mephiston can very likely assault him) or Mephiston has already engaged the enemy. With practice this isn’t hard to do as Librarians are relatively slow outside of a transport so it is relatively easy to predict where they will/can move to each turn. When that Librarian gets in a transport though…well things can get a bit more annoying!

On the flip side Mephiston’s hood can be exceedingly annoying to the GK librarian and army in general. Take an extreme case where a unit of terminators charges a Dreadnought and the Librarian uses might of titan to give the terminators the upper hand. A failed cast here can doom that entire unit of terminators. All I am trying to show you is psychic hoods work both ways, Meph is equally annoying to a Librarian as it is to him but Mephiston is fully capable of picking off an over aggressive Librarian whilst the reverse is less true without lucky dice. Another thing to note, when Mephiston enters combat he actually doesn’t need powers to function as his stats alone will win him combat the majority of the time, his main psychic power is what gets him to combat.

Draigo – If there was even a character created to destroy Mephiston, it is Matt Ward’s latest lovechild and lord of all things silver and holy, Draigo. There are no tactics in the world that will let you take Draigo on with Mephiston. However, with Draigo comes another unit, Paladins. Paladins are good, no they are great and again on paper they will destroy Mephiston, but in practice this isn’t exactly true. Firstly you need to accept that Mephiston is not going to walk through their army even with exceptional play. However, can you get him to do significant damage on the way down.

A common unit taken by Draigowing players is a five man unit of paladins. If you can single this unit out, even with a hammer, Mephiston over two rounds of combat will beat this more often than not. You can again use another unit to absorb the hammer and Mephiston’s chances of coming out almost unscathed jump up dramatically. Dreadknights are common and as mentioned before go down real easy to the lord of death. With a sword, heavy incinerator and a teleporter (common load out) they are worth in excess of 250 points but Mephiston cares little for their high toughness and 2+ armour.

Now if you want to take on Draigo and the 10 paladins you have to expect Mephiston is going to go down. However, by using even a single model to hold up Draigo, you can insure that Mephiston gets around two rounds of combat in before Draigo or the Paladins can kill him. Mephiston can crash in the unit and even with a few swords and a warding staff, he will reliably take down 2-3 per turn. The banner makes a bit of a difference to the force weapon test but on average his psychic hood will still null the power. Against Draigowing it is often best to simply target weaker units and then go down in a blaze of glory fighting Draigo and his guard.


I understand that these scenarios are ideal for Mephiston however that is the point. What I am showing you is that Mephiston should always have a use and can always find ways to heavily impact a game. I have never had Mephiston not be worth his cost in a game; he is too dynamic as a character. People who treat him as a sledge hammer will find he has bad match ups whilst those who use him as a scalpel by striking quickly at weak, over stretched units or simply know how to support him such as bubble wraps to protect him from counter charges and utilise his hood and area denial capabilities will find him an exceedingly good unit against GKs or any force out there.

I hope through all that you have perhaps seen another side to Mephiston that most players are unaware of. I can honestly say he is a character that just keeps giving the more you improve as a player. When I first played him he was good, when I learned that he wasn’t just a beat stick he became something a whole lot more.


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