Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Two Crews You Need for Tournament Play

I owe you a blog post for this and last weekend, but I'm a little light on content and time at the moment. Here's some random thoughts, and a look at the Through the Breach worldwide event.


I’ve had the idea kicking around in my head that there has to be a compromise between “Build a new crew every game for the strats and schemes” and “Play fixed list every game, regardless of the set-up.” Both have their merits. Going with the former philosophy puts you in a position to minutely tune your crew to the game you’re going to play, while the latter lets you master the operation and synergies of each model in your crew. They both have drawbacks as well, though. If you change your crew completely every game, you run the risk of becoming a jack-of-all-trades master-of-none type player, while if you stick with one crew to exclusion you become predictable to opponents and leave yourself inflexible when the strategy and scheme pool strongly favor a different crew than what you brought. As an example: I’ve been playing a lot of Cheating Bastard Lynch recently. I don’t like it when the cards turn on me, so I like his manipulation of your draw and ability to stretch the value of the cards in your hand by forcing the opponent to cheat duels they don’t have to. This crew works well in a lot of scenarios, but its reliance on a bubble (well, two bubbles) means that Symbols of Authority, for instance, is a tough strat for that crew.
So, to find a compromise between the two, I’ve been refining a theory that the best way to approach tournaments is to have two crews pre-built: the one you like and the one that fixes the bad matchups of the crew you like. Since most of the time this split falls along one specific access for me, it tends to come out as “One crew that focuses its strength in one place, punching into the enemy in one specific location and then holding it” versus “A crew that can spread wide around the field and operate relatively independent from support.” There are obviously elements of both in most games (the strategy is something like Turf War, for instance, but the scheme pool is full of stuff like Undercover Entourage), but usually you can focus on one plan of attack and then make up what’s necessary from the other points after executing it.
As mentioned above, one of the options for my close-together crew is Jacob Lynch. You don’t have to be completely bunched together with them, of course, since the cheating aura comes out of both Hungering Darkness and Mr. Lynch, but this crew still works better when operating in tandem. If half the crew is outside the cheating aura on a given turn, you aren’t getting all of the value from the upgrade that you should be. Some other options with which I’m toying are Summoning Pandora and Fated Collodi. Collodi is more mobile than some of the other options on here, which means he’s actually one of the few examples of a master that can run both types of crews, but the Collodi playstyle with which I’m most familiar keeps him close to the rest of his crew to provide mutual support for most turns of the game. I’ll fiddle with them to decide which I want to use for if/when I go to a tournament next, but at the moment Lynch is in the lead, if only for sentimental reasons.
My spread out crew is in a bit more flux. As an unintended glitch, most of my games lately have been involving the bubble crew, so I haven’t had as many opportunities to try new ideas here. Lilith has classically been my go-to here, and that hasn’t changed much. Bringing her along with a crew of heavies (Nekima, Hooded Rider, etc.) that can spread the offense and interference around the board while the rest of the crew either lends them a hand or runs objectives is a pretty simple strategy for this one. Mama Monster’s biggest competitor in my head at the moment is Zoraida. Lilith is good at interfering with the enemy team between her root and tree-summoning abilities, but she’s surprisingly fragile in close combat and her primary trick, Tangled Shadows, has a CA value just low enough to be unreliable as a means of disrupting the enemy. Zoraida’s Obey actions, on the other hand, can provide both disruption of the enemy plans as well as offensive attacking power by triggering a charge by the aforementioned heavy hitters in exchange for 1 master AP, a pretty good deal. While Zoraida’s never going to kill anything on her own, the Will o’ Wisp summoning and condition shenanigans plus stealing the opponent’s heavy hitters to use against them can substitute for some of this. For some more direct interactions, I’ve considered Titania, as a recent test game underscored just how much more survivable she’s become. And then, of course, there’s Collodi, possibly with Bag of Tricks or possibly still with Fated but letting the crew spread out a bit more. He has no shortage of mobility due to friendly crewmembers being able to push him with his defense trigger, and his attack is the definition of disruptive.
The point is, I think there is a sweet spot between the two extremes of tournament crew building. You don’t have to lock yourself in and master one crew to the exclusion of everything else, but you don’t have to learn the whole faction to do well either. Find some middle ground, master two crews that complement each other, specifically one crew that excels on doing their work up close and one that does better operating as individual models rather than a unit. Then you just have to tweak things here and there to reach a high level of mastery and tactical flexibility.


The Obsidian Gate worldwide Through the Breach event is in full swing. Fatemasters are leading crews of Fated Earthside to try and stop a plot to weaken the barrier between the material world and the realm of the Oni. A crew of misfits (what else could pregens be, really) including a shapeshifted Siren, a former compatriot of Sherlock Holmes, an Abyssinian engineer and his companion Redati-5, and a Japanese version of Michael Scott from The Office, along with a slew of other possible characters for fated to play, enter a Buddhist monastery just as disaster is about to strike, and are wrapped up in a plot to stop a cult's evil plans, facing enemies that defy comprehension. Sign-ups are still going on for new Fatemasters, and the Fated character that receives the most play will become a character in The Other Side! Plus, quick-play rules are included to help those unfamiliar with the RPG to learn and get playing as soon as possible. What do you have to lose? Sign ups continue for another week or so, I think. So sign up! 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Wanted: Bear Force One


             Citizens of Malifaux, we at Malifaux Musings come before you today to inform you of the greatest threat our fair city has ever faced. This enemy has come down from the northern hills, leaving panic and chaos in its wake. This furred foe represents an unprecedented level of danger, violently smashing through all who oppose it while simultaneously distracting them with obscene, strangely alluring dancing. No pic-a-nic basket is safe until this crisis passes. We urge, we IMPLORE, all who read this to stay in your homes. Lock your doors. And, for the love of god, don’t let them give you a hug!

               We are speaking, of course, of Bear Force One.

He tried to warn us, but did we listen?
               First presented in A Wyrd Place over a month ago by Max Value host Travis Weyforth, Bear Force One is a crew list featuring the Slate Ridge Mauler with their 0 stone upgrade, Circus Bear. It’s half a real, powerful crew list, and half meme. It was further discussed by Alex Schmid on his youtube channel, who went on to run it through an acid test in a tournament which he won, demonstrating the viability of the list as a concept. I actually assumed this was just a joke when it first came out, but I assure you the threat is real. Let’s take a look at it, because it very well could be something you could run into during a tournament game and, if you don’t know what you’re seeing or how to approach it, you could very well get wrecked.

               When I say that this list features the Slate Ridge Mauler, I mean that you’re going to spend something like 80% of the points in your crew on them. This is a spam list. The recent soulstone reduction the bears received in the January errata made this possible, as you can now cram 6 of these brutes into your crew. They must be world-beaters, right? Well, don’t get too excited. Their crushing claws are a Melee 5 (6 with the upgrade) attack that deal 2/3/5 damage. They have a (0) action to give them a little extra speed, but their walk is nothing to write home about so they aren’t going to set any speed records. The reason you’re using them is for their (0) action, Bear Hug. It’s a Rg 4 attack action that gives out the Slow condition and, with a trigger, pushes the bear’s target into base-to-base contact with them. 

Avoid at all costs.

                 It’s easy to see the appeal of spamming slow, especially if you’re familiar with a similar Weyforth creation, the Voidspam list which featured a half-dozen void Wretches for a similar purpose. The advantage these bears have over the weird void parrots is that they’ve got serious staying power. They have 10 wounds, Impossible to Wound, and Hard to Kill. You can’t use blasts or pulses on them, either, because they have Bearskin Armor (literally) that makes them immune to those effects. And, if you knock them below half wounds (so down to 5 or fewer) their Melee attacks deal +2 damage. 4/5/7 is a pretty scary damage line. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of that.
               Five or six of these coming across the board at you makes for a nasty wall of wounds. They’re only Defense 4, so you’ll have no trouble hitting them. But the question is, can you kill them? Because the worst thing you can do is knock their wounds down to the point that they get the bonus to damage and then let them hit back. Worse, when playing against the bear spam AP efficiency is critical, and wounding them would make their AP more efficient and give them the ability to slow something in your crew, making you less efficient. The rest of the crew is built around either improving the efficiency of the bears or taking care of the jobs they can’t do. The bears aren’t fast, and they’re no more effective at completing schemes than any other model. The obvious master to pair with them is Marcus, and one of his more important jobs is to move quickly around the board and grab Symbols of Authority or complete a Breakthrough or Entourage style scheme. In the most committed bear crews, one that brings the full complement, the only models you bring with Marcus is something like a Malifaux Raptor and the Jackalope. Some of the other crews will drop one bear to give them a bit more flexibility in crew construction, letting them bring in some utility players with Well Rehearsed to help balance it out.

               While Marcus is the obvious pairing, due to his beast synergy, they don’t interplay as much as you would think. It is nice, however, to keep him with a bear so he can pass attacks off to them and let them soak the damage, improving his survivability. Ultimately, the master at the top isn’t as important as long as they can do their job without relying on crew synergy. Sandeep is one obvious choice, as he is just good on his own and can summon Wind Gamin to round out the crew’s capabilities. Ramos is an interesting choice, as his summons can help to offset one of the crew’s weaknesses (spamming 7 stone minions means activation control is going to be an issue in a lot of games.) Additionally, his new upgrade Vox Populi allows him to place Hazardous Terrain that does 3/4/4 damage on the board. The bears can then use their Bear Hug to drag targets through the Strike Markers, which will usually end up dealing 7 damage. Other Arcanist masters may work, though I think those three have the most obvious synergy. Ironsides could get in and mix it up along with the bears, though that seems more like a win-more situation rather than adding in someone who could complement the bears. Colette could actually be pretty interesting with them, using Prompt to push the bears into position and give a free swing, shuffle them around with Disappearing Act, and let them perform some interactions with Rehearsed (though the latter means not using Bear Hug, which is obviously not optimal.) Rasputina, Kaeris, and Mei Feng don’t have incredible synergy with the bears, so you’ll probably want to avoid them, though a splash of, like, 3 bears into their normal crews could make for a decent sledge hammer.

               So, when this unstoppable wall of bear flesh is…bearing down on you, what do you do? Well, you have one pretty clear advantage when you run into Bear Force One: you aren’t going to be surprised by what they’re going to do on the table. They’re going to come at you relentlessly with the bears leading the way, absorbing your attacks and draining your AP with their (0) action. While you’re tied up/getting mauled, the other parts of the crew will likely be scoring VP in the background and/or supporting them. So what do you do to counter it? First, you have to focus your fire. Put your whole crew’s attacks into key bear models, kill them, then move on to the next. The more hard-hitting min 3 damage you can bring along, the better. Additionally, if you can use terrain to make them come at you piecemeal rather than all at once, that is much better and will let you deal with the bears individually. Keep your crew together (though, obviously, not if the leader of the Bear crew is Raspy) so they can support each other and employ combined arms. And, obviously, figure out what the enemy crew is going to do and how to counter it. The bears aren’t experts at scheme running, so the models the opponent brings in the rest of the crew should telegraph how they intend to approach completing their objectives. If you can figure out what they’re doing, you can figure out how to counter it.

               Ultimately, the bear list is real. It seems ridiculous, especially given that the Slate Ridge Mauler was considered an almost laughably bad model prior to the January Errata (what a difference one stone makes, eh?) but this is a legitimate threat on the board, and if you don’t approach it the right way you will get rolled up and crushed by models one can only assume are wearing silly red fezzes. You don’t want that, do you?

Look into the face of fear.

               That said, this crew isn’t a set-list, take-on-all-comers army. In the right scenarios (Public Execution, Ours (though not with Guarded Treasure), Supply Wagon, etc.) they’ll be a force to reckon with (a Bear Force, that is...I'll stop, I promise). However, they’ll struggle in other games that require more finesse. The analogy I used to describe it is that they’re a great sledge hammer: awesome for knocking down walls, not so great for putting together an Ikea wardrobe. I think the real danger of this crew is that it can be sprung on you when you’re not expecting it. It’s one thing when someone announces they’re playing all bears every round of a tournament. When you know it’s coming, you can build to counter it. When you aren’t ready, though, you may not have the hitting power to take down the bears efficiently and may end up having to work around them instead. Additionally, they can function as a modular unit, especially if you go down to three or four bears rather than the whole crew, so there likely won’t be many clues that the bears are coming until you reveal crews. If you have a Guild crew of heavy hitters, you’ll be ok. If you’ve brought something like Shen Long that focuses its attack potential into a couple of elite models, you may end up swamped. As always, you have to read the game state and make a plan for how best to approach it.

Back to hell, abomination.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Power of KISS


The March Newsletter has come out, and it has a lot of interesting announcements. 

-First of all, it mentions the Obsidian Gate Through the Breach event, which is now in progress. 

-Additionally, it's time for the spring sale and the onslaught of alternate sculpts that come with it. This year, there's a Viktorias alternate with an Easter theme that are...interesting. Additionally, there's a slop hauler Bob Ross. So that's a thing. If you spend $100, you get an alt Lazarus. 

-During April, Wyrd is running a painting contest called Creature Feature, where you put together a clearly non-humanoid model and paint it. 


Pictured: Not the subject of this article.

              I don’t know about you, but my free time comes at a premium. I have a job. I’m looking for another one once this one finishes up. I have three kids, two of which are in middle school. The eldest is in track and plays the violin. My wife works and is going to school. And I also occasionally sit down and write this blog, as well as articles for Wyrd Chronicles. I’m lucky if I get one whole game of Malifaux in a week, and that usually requires playing over Vassal with Phiasco or my friend Rich, both of whom routinely pound me. If you wonder how somebody who writes a Malifaux blog could make all the mistakes I do when writing about the game, it’s because I just flat-out don’t get to play that often. Case in point: Show of Force has been a scheme since 2017 and is still in 2018. I somehow missed the fact that it only scores if you’re within 6” of the center of the board, not within 6” of the centerline. How has that not come up before now? I have no idea. But it’s kinda ridiculous that I’d never put it together (and I’m now mortified that I have likely cheated some opponents prior to this revelation.)
               Why do I bring this up? It’s not out of some weird need to debase myself. It’s to illustrate a point. When a new crew idea comes along, not everyone has the opportunity to play three or four test games a week to try and learn its intricacies. Malifaux is complex, and there are a lot of models with a lot of complicated interactions you have to learn to master it. Recently, I posted about summoning Pandora, a crew built around interactions between models. All of the models in it are WP based and somewhat suboptimal  on their own, but gain strength through the synergy of the crew. And, when I played it the first time, I played it very poorly. I haven’t gotten a chance to go back and try it again, and I certainly wouldn’t break it out for a tournament, despite the fact that I like Pandora and I think it’d be a cool crew to play. It’s just…honestly a little intimidating. When I only get one game a week, I don’t like spending it in a losing effort, though I should probably get over that. But still, the bottom line is that it’s very rare when I go up against an opponent and am as experienced with my crew as they are with theirs. More often than not, I’m having to learn on the fly, as there’s only so much theorycrafting you can do in your head before the game. And if it’s a really complicated crew with a lot of moving parts, that just makes it harder.
               I’m starting to feel that I should gravitate more towards simple crews. The fewer complex interactions I have to keep track of, the less chance there is that I’ll screw them up. And, to be honest, I think there is something to be said for just playing a crew full of good models that do what they do without a lot of support. The prototypical Lillith crew is one example of this, since it basically consists of the master, some hard hitting enforcers/henchmen, the Primordial Magic, and some other stuff like Iggy or the Mysterious Effigy that provide direct, simple benefits to help the rest of the crew. You can do something similar with Collodi, especially if you have a Bag of Props build that doesn’t revolve around handing out a bunch of buffs to the crew.
And, to risk propagating a stereotype, my other faction is the Guild, who tend to be a bit simpler in and of themselves. There are more complicated Guild crews (Nellie, some McCabe crews), but in general they tend to be a bit simpler to play. I like Perdita, but there isn’t a ton of subtlety in that crew if we’re being honest. One of her best upgrades is Fastest Draw in Malifaux, and all that does is give you a +2 to initiative and a card draw if you lose. The closest thing you have to “synergistic activations” is deciding when to have the Brutal Effigy activate and give her the (0) action buff, and when to have her totem shove somebody upfield. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of activating models, pointing them at the enemy, and pulling the trigger. Simple as that.
Don’t get me wrong, there are things to master with these crews that will separate a good player from a great one, but it isn’t like learning the interplays of a top-end Nicodem crew. And, if I’m being honest with myself, I probably need to stick to something more like that if I want to improve my win rate.
Also, I need to stop playing against Rich. Because he cheats. I don’t know how, but he does.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

How to Cheat at Malifaux


-A worldwide Through the Breach campaign starts on Monday. It’s titled The Obsidian Gate, and seems to be either set earthside or at least related to The Other Side, as the pregenerated characters are representatives of each ToS faction (including Kimon and the Three Kingdoms. Did we know those were factions? Is this news?). Participants play through a free four act adventure, reporting the results on Wyrd’s website. Additionally, the character that is played the most will become an adjunct for their faction in ToS. Sign up at this address and play in some Asian themed Through the Breach action.

- An FAQ was released for March with clarified some of the issues that have come up since Gaining Grounds 2018 released. Follow the link to read through them, including clarifications of the Supply Wagon, Inescapable Trap, and Surround Them questions.

Under Quarantine

The Lion King was really different in Malifaux...

I recently bought and read through the PDF version of Under Quarantine, the Through the Breach supplement detailing the Resurrectionists and other hazards of the quarantine zone in Malifaux. The background/fluff section goes through each section of the Zone and discusses their unique qualities, including the plague warrens, a section overgrown by Knotwood trees (and the Neverborn that come with them), and a mostly flooded/bayou like zone that would be a good homebase for down-on-their-luck Fated, as it serves as a literal and cultural estuary where humans, gremlins, stitched (undead characters), and even Neverborn can intermingle. Did you know Parker Barros’ brother is the de facto mayor of one section of the QZ, and ripping off his family to take over part this part of Malifaux city is what drove Parker to banditry in the first place? You can read about it here. Additionally, it provides information about the Necropolis beneath the city and tunnel environments in other parts of Malifaux. The Lampads, a current flavor du jour of many Resurrectionist crews, were first introduced in this book as creatures from a city in the Northern Hills that is perpetually on fire!
For rules content, the book introduces a new character generation tarot, the Lifeline Tarot, that includes a character having a brush with death (from which they may not have escaped), allowing you to play a character with a close tie to the energies of life and who may, in fact, be an undead creature. It also contains a number of new pursuits. The Alchemist is a pursuit that gives you some of Rafkin and/or Sebastian’s abilities to manipulate the Poison condition. The Ghost Eater lets you manipulate Chi ala Yan Lo or the forthcoming Manos. And, of course, you couldn’t do this book without a Necromancer pursuit, in this case one inspired by Nicodem that includes elements of magic using and commander style pursuits to let you summon and order around a horde of the Undead. For those who don’t necessarily want to go that dark with their character, the Bully lets you use intimidation magic to strike fear in opponents during combat and the Sawbones is a doctor that you’ll be seeing in action if you play in the Obsidian Gate campaign, being used by a character with a very familiar name.
Later, the book introduces some additional rules for Through the Breach. There are a handful of new Magia and Immuto for spellcasters, per usual for these books, as well as some new unique Grimoires (one of which is a zombie who follows your character around and tells you the spells, which amuses me greatly.) A section details alchemical compounds that can be made with the Alchemy skill. There are a lot of General Talents to try out, including one that lets you remove a card you don’t want from your Twist Deck (take that, Ace.) Fittingly for a book titled Under Quarantine, there are a number of new diseases introduced in this book. Some of them are relatively mundane (want to know what it’s like to catch tuberculosis or polio in Malifaux? There’re rules for it here!) Others are more exotic and iconic for the world. Specifically, rules for corruption and slow transformation into a Nephilim by Black Blood are introduced here, rules for Fated who are addicted to Brilliance (ending in the Hungering Darkness coming to find you and turn you into a Depleted, fun times!), and finally a condition called Haunted for characters that spend too much time around ghosts or other angry spirits. Finally, the book finishes off with a great big pile of Fatemaster characters from all the different thematic elements in the book, from the expected (undead, undead, and undead) to some of the less obvious (various rat-related things from Hamelin’s oeuvre, employees and clientele of the Honeypot casino, and some miscellaneous tunnel dwellers from the Northern Hills.)
This book is solid. The maps of the city from the core book or other Malifaux products show that here are multiple Quarantine Zones, but this is the first product I’m aware of that goes into each of them in detail. There are a lot of cool new character options for players and new threats for the Fatemasters to throw at them. If you’re into Through the Breach, I’d definitely recommend giving this one a look.

Cheating Bastard

Oh yeah. You knew the banner was coming out...

               I’ve always liked Lynch. That’s not a secret. Partially this is because I’m a fanboy of his, and partially because I like having better cards than the person I’m playing against. I’m a little more reckless than most with my hand, so it’s nice being able to do that with the knowledge that I have Woke Up With a Hand and Mulligan waiting at the end of the turn. Picking up the Aces. Getting the free henchman. They were all good stuff. I come from a CCG gaming background, so card manipulation appeals to me. But still, he’s not super fast. He deals a lot of damage, but that’s about all he does well. Huggy is good, but his defense of 3 is a real liability even with Incorporeal. You could get around it by using him as a disposable missile and bringing him back via Rising Sun, but the bottom line was there were probably better options in Neverborn that could do similar things.
               Enter Book 5, and along with it the upgrade Cheating Bastard. It gives Lynch two abilities. One is kinda cute, where you reveal one to three masks from your hand at the beginning of his activation. One mask lets you hand out Brilliance automatically to a model within 8” of Lynch. That is not insignificant, as much of his activations revolved around forcing a model to be hit by Play for Blood to set up the finishing blow Final Debt prior to this, which of course always leaves the possibilities of getting screwed by the deck. Two masks lets you drop a pair of scheme markers, one in base to base with Lynch and one with Huggy. The third lets you heal everybody in your crew. It’s not likely to that you’ll have the three (hell, two has been tough in some of the games I’ve played) but it’s useful for the auto-Brilliance if nothing else.
               The reason you would bring it (it is a limited upgrade, so it means no Rising Sun or Endless Hunger), is the other ability. This allows every friendly model within 6” of Lynch of HD to cheat second regardless of the initial flip. This is major. You haven’t lived until you flip a deuce on the initial flip of a Lure from one of your Beckoners, your opponent asks if you want to cheat, and you reply “I don’t know. Do you want to?” If you make a little smug smile while you do it, I think you get extra points. It throws opponents off base, breaking one of the fundamental rules of Malifaux. It is VERY strong. And, it’s a 6” radius aura. From BOTH OF THEM. That’s 24” of aura, plus an inch for Lynch’s base and 2” for Hungering Darkness. That’s a pretty good chunk of the board covered. I’ve always bumped up against bubble crews, because they tie your movement up too much and make it difficult to function. If, however, you have a pair of them, your crew is a lot more free to spread out and do what it needs to do. I like this upgrade quite a bit, and it’s made me want to get my Lynch models out.
               I’m still not sure that he’s better in the Neverborn than in Ten Thunders. Recalled Training is just so good, and the support models in 10T are better overall. The Neverborn tend to function more independently, and like I said, Lynch isn’t going to break any speed records anytime soon. However, Lure is an effective way to get around this problem, and it just so happens that Mr. Lynch has some pretty solid Luring options with his Beckoners. I’m not sure if Lilitu isn’t still a better option even after the reduction in cost to the Beckoners, but they can hand out Brilliance to support the Lynch/HD attacks while they’re at it. I’ve got some experimenting to do to find out which way I prefer it, but a crew that is designed to drag an enemy out of position across the board and kill them. It’ll work well for some games, but maybe won’t be great for games where you have to move rapidly across the board. Symbols of Authority is going to be a struggle for them, for sure. But still, I’m interested in it, and I thought I’d share with you guys. And also, it let me dust the banner off again.

Until next time!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Wanted: Sandeep

Wanted: Sandeep Desai

Crimes: Conspiracy with known Arcanist terrorists, unsanctioned magic use, being too good at everything

Known Associates: Oxfordian Mages, Wind Gamin, Kandara, Pretty Much Anything Else

Considering how popular the Nicodem article was, I wanted to keep this idea going. For those who are maybe new to the blog or didn’t see the previous Wanted Poster, the goal of these articles is to take a look at the archetypal “top tier” lists in the meta at any given moment. Malifaux’s a complex game with a lot of different models, and it’s impossible to know all of them in depth. So, the objective was to present the crews players should be looking out for if they’re attending tournaments at the top level. The articles will familiarize you with the crews and masters of the top lists, give you an idea of how they run, let you know what to watch out for, and give you an idea of how to beat them. And, since I’m just some shlub living in the Malifaux desert of Southwest Virginia, I would hunt up some top-level Malifaux players to contribute their knowledge with the community.

               When released in Wave 4, Sandeep Desai’s design/theme was pretty clear. He was intended to be an all-rounder: not the best at any particular thing, but pretty good at everything. I don’t know if this analogy still works, having not played any of the newer versions of the game, but he was supposed to be like Mario from Mario Kart. Not the fastest driver, not the heaviest hitter, but right in the middle. That’s what Sandeep was supposed to be. He could summon a little bit, but not to the extent that Nicodem or (at the time) Dreamer could do it. He had attacks that were ok, but nothing that set the world on fire. He had a little bit of mobility, and a bit of toughness. He would be a great starter master or a very solid choice for a single-master style tournament, but you would probably see others for the top-end games, simply because their ability to specialize would make it so a better choice would probably be available for most games.

               Then the first tournament he was legal (Gencon Masters), he won. That probably should have told us something.

Fast-forward to 2018, and a very different state of affairs is in place. If you play against an Arcanist crew in most competitive settings, you need to expect to play against Sandeep regardless of the scenario. The All-Rounder has turned out to simply be the best choice in most games. They’ve almost become a one-master faction, as he can do almost any job in the game as well or better than any of the other masters. It’s not that the other Arcanist masters are bad, it’s just that he’s at least as good if not better for…just about everything. Ramos is a great summoner and Rasputina’s a great damage dealer, but their crews are usually on the slow side and can’t reposition efficiently. Marcus is fast and can use resources to hit hard, but the damage isn’t as reliable, and he and his beasts can be a bit fragile. Ironsides doesn’t have the speed or ranged projection. And Kaeris…well, she’s Kaeris. And, even if you get a game with a pure enough scheme pool that you can specialize with one master so completely that it makes them a better choice than Sandeep, he’s still likely to be a close second, and there’s something to be said for focusing on one crew to the point of mastering it rather than switching between very different pools of models to use for different games.

So what makes Sandeep such a solid choice in most games? What is it about him that makes him such a solid choice in most games? Well, I don’t know. I’m an idiot. That’s why I contacted Ben Sime, host of Arcane Reservoir and long-time Sandeep player, and Erik Lodal, better known as Grrn, an American Sandeep expert and occasional guest on the Max Value podcast. We’ll start by taking a look at some characteristic elements of Sandeep’s crew, right after this word regarding our Patreon account.


Do you know that we’re supported by Patreon? You should, I mention it every week. But, in case you’re new, here’s the deal. I’m not rich. I’d like to be, but I’m not. I also don’t have an excess of free time, and what I do have I dedicate in large part to writing this blog. I’m not asking for sympathy…I’m just asking for a little bit of money. $1 a month, to be precise. For $1 a month (.25c a blog post, in most months) you can be a part of making Malifaux Musings into the world’s premiere Malifaux information source. We discuss tactics. We discuss model releases. We discuss fluff. And, if we get enough new donors, we’ll start to have our monthly raffles for Limited Edition Malifaux stuff again. You can’t beat that. So why not throw us a shekel or two? Just head over to and donate today!


 Rolling in the Deep

As stated, Sandeep doesn’t immediately jump out at you as a world-beater. His stats aren’t bad, but they’re not amazing for a master either. None really stands out other than his 12 wounds, and even that is starting to become par for the course (for context, he was smack in the middle for number of wounds in Book 4, where he was introduced.) Impossible to Wound and Arcane Shield gives him some survivability, and he has good mobility tricks to get him out of tough situations. As Grrn put it, most Sandeep deaths are due to player error, rather than the opponent doing something clever. However, he has a completely forgettable melee attack, a decent ranged cast with a 2/4/5 damage flip that can use a Ram to get a + to damage, and some utility actions to push things towards him, give him a (0) action Leap, and/or to interact as a (0). He’s very vanilla, so what makes him so great?

The first things are his Beacon and Student of All abilities. Beacon lets other friendly non-peon models within 12” and LoS use his cast actions. They can each only be used once per turn, but this effectively gives Sandeep a potential for 2 extra (1) actions, as well as spreading around the use of his (0)s as well. Better, the spells are cast by the other members of the crew, creating the potential for force projection. Cast 6 2/4/5 is an ok attack for a master, but for a 4 soulstone gamin it’s pretty solid, even at -1 Ca! Second, Sandeep can take a free (1) action after one of his crew uses his CA actions and ends with a tome in the final duel total (once per turn.) That’s like an out-of-turn Fast, in exchange for doing what you want to do anyways, borrow Sandeep’s spells. He has 4 Ca actions on his card, so chances are you would get the free AP every turn just from flips, even without Arcane Storm having a Tome built in!

Next, and possibly the thing for which he is most infamous, is Deep’s summoning. It isn’t built in, instead coming from his Limited Upgrades (other than the Book 5 one, but most don’t give that one much love.) Both allow him to summon gamin, including his totem Banasuva, while attaching one of three Rare 1 upgrades that give them a buff in exchange for a hindrance of some kind. Thus, he’s only ever able to have at most 3 summons in play at a time (a system some have advocated adapting for all of the summoning masters in the game, though that’s neither here nor there.) The two flavors of his Limited favor either scheme running/interacting (To Behold Another World) or combat (To Command Another Plane.) Opinions fluctuate on which of these are better, though both Ben and Grrn prefer Behold. Both have their merits. One of the upgrades from Commands hands out + to attacks for friendly models within 3, which you can summon wherever you need it. A mobile + to attack bubble is pretty handy, as most Nicodem players could tell you. On the other hand, Behold Another World has the utility of a model that can drop scheme markers on the turn it is summoned or another that comes in with a weak version of Chatty is often more important. Probably best to try both and see which you prefer. As for what they’re summoning, well, the answer is usually Wind Gamin. Their speed and the flurry of attacks they can unleash outclasses most of what the others can do. Of course, Banasuva is a Gamin, so you can summon him, but that can be pretty card intensive. Some of the others can be useful as well for certain situations, but he Wind Gamin are really what you need to look out for.

His other biggest strength is probably the difficulty in teching to beat him. When writing about Nicodem, there are models you expect to see and you have an idea what’s going to be coming for you. With Sandeep, it could be almost anything. When I asked Grrn what he considered a “typical” Sandeep build, he offered this:

Arcane Reservoir
One of the legit summon upgrades
Maybe another upgrade as you like it?
Some tanky model like Anna Lovelace or Joss or Carlos
The mages
Someone carrying Well Rehearsed (could be a mage, could be another enforcer)
Fill (common choices atm are the Medibot and the Steamfitter, but I think these have a veneer of newness to them that may go away)

With the follow-up:

Part of his major strength is you don't really need other models for him to do his thing and do it well.

Ben had some thoughts as well:

I think a typical Sandeep list is going to include mages, some smaller models such as wind gamin for schemes, a big hitter in Howard or the Valedictorian.
Then finishing off with something like either a Practiced Production user and/or these days Kandara.
How it plays is always dependent on build, scheme pool etc. but typically some nice synergy between the academics getting the most out of the Oxfordians.
Little things running objectives and taking advantage of borrowing Sandeep's (0) interact, while another probably uses the arcane storm.
If these models aren't in it'll typically be the summoned ones that can take advantage.
A Mage list will probably see "Commands" making a fully powered Oxfordian weapons battery whilst a "Visions" list is taking full advantage of the expendable nature of some of the gamin.
Other than that, expect little suprises, things like Sandeep getting his free AP via Student of All to summon out of activation and other nice little things.

Sandeep crews often bring the Oxfordian Mages, because their new discount upgrades and the old wards turn them into a 15 stone hard-hitting, furious casting, tough to kill unit. Usually you see something Tanky like Carlos Vasquez, maybe a hard hitter like Howard Langston. The new hotness is to spam Slate Ridge Maulers for their toughness and ability to spam Slow, though the jury is out on whether that build will have staying power or if it’s just a meme list.

Essentially, you can pick the best models from the faction, without concern for a theme, and get the tools to complete the schemes and strategies. Another one of his upgrades even allows you to hire academics from outside the faction, so you can bring in the Valedictorian if you want. More recently, Sandeep crews have splashed in the Medical Bot and Steamfitter for their added utility. And, of course, Kandara from Book 5 is a clutch addition, as she has offense, survivability, mobility, and can free you from the summoning cap by transferring the upgrades from Gamin to herself and then discarding them (probably not useful every game, but interesting nonetheless.)

Off the Deep End: How to take down Sandeep

               This is probably the hardest part of this article, and the thing that I’ve struggled with the most (outside of fighting off a bout of writer’s block) when putting this thing together. I really don’t want to write “play the schemes and strats, and do it better than your opponent,” but that’s really what it comes down to.  There are no glaring weaknesses in Sandeep’s game. He doesn’t have a hole in his swing. And, moreover, there’s no formula for what his crews bring to the table. If you tech to kill the Mages and play against Ben, that tech is worthless since he doesn’t use them. To beat him, you have to try and be as flexible as him and play the game to the bets of your ability. Let’s see if our contributors have any other tips.

Ben) The main anti-Sandeep thing I can think of is the same case for a fair few masters and that is to pressure them and their resources.
Sandeep is Impossible to Wound but he's easy enough to hit. Resource wise it's just the hand he needs but to take advantage of 'deep and his crew there's discards, 12's for Banasuva and 8's for other gamin.
On top of this there's Furious Casting in the mage list which can be aided with the Unalligned Sage upgrade but that's a cost in itself or even stuff in my own lists like Flurry from Howard and healing from Carlos.
A few cards down and it's a much harder time for him.
Also, it's maybe cliche but anti armour is decent vs Sandeep too, the little gamin all have armour and you're bound to see something else with it.
It isn't a major deal but if that's your decider for the last model in your list vs Sandeep lean towards it.

               So discard can be useful against him. That’s a good tip. What about Grrn?

Grrn) Sandeep has a lot of Ca actions.  Sue is pretty decent into him.  Things that ignore damage reduction and can smoke the Oxfordians are also worth considering.  I think another part of what makes Sandeep really good is that there's no "oh well you took the counter model, I guess I lose" thing going on.  In general you have to play Sandeep's game and beat him at it.
               So Sue to disrupt casting and anti-armor. Probably a good idea against Arcanists in general (he said, right before playing Ironsides). And a reiteration that there is no catch-all solution.

               After my interview with Jamie, I’ve started asking players what they would bring to a game if they were playing against their Doppleganger who was bringing their list to play against them. When I asked the fellas this question regarding their Sandeep crews, this was what they had to offer.

Ben) I think the strats and schemes will always matter, I think luck is still always a factor but overall it's the player not the crew usually.
Versus my kind of list if I have to answer though I guess it would be any of the top summoners, obviously Nicodem is up there, but even solid Som'er crews.Whilst Sandeep summons his crew can't get beyond a certain size, even with Kandara upgrade shenangians.
The others can press the numbers advantage and get activation control which is not only one of the most important things in the game full stop but vs my interact shenanigans it's even more of a pain.

Grrn) Hah, yea I've actually done this a few times.  Well that's complicated.  First, I think Sue is a good consideration.  Past that I have several branches of thought.  I would definitely not take models that rely on armor and/or are slow as mages are common.  I would also try to take more models rather than fewer as activation control is a big, big deal.  Cards are going to be fairly important in the matchup, so either looking at really efficient models or models that put pressure on cards would be another consideration.  I have run a December Acolyte/Silent One gunline out of Sandeep in the mirror that worked out meh I guess?  The biggest single factor in what crew I took would be the strat/schemes though, so it’s kind of hard to answer from just a general point of view.  There's no one model I'd always consider.

               So, it seems there are some tricks that might help you. Pressure his resources. Bring some anti-caster tech, and things to help you deal with Oxfordian Mages. Don’t get out-activated if you can, obviously. And play the objectives more effectively than he can. That might be the most important bit, looking at the game and trying to figure what the rest of the crew will look like, and moving to counter that. Sandeep is a known commodity, but But the main thing is to know what to expect and be ready for it. Probably the best thing you can do to learn to beat Sandeep is play against him, so you can see his tricks first hand and know what to expect. Summoning a gamin that can interact that turn during a different model’s activation is tough to prepare for, but you’ll have a better shot at seeing it coming if you’ve seen it before. Practice, practice, practice, and be ready to play your game.

               Until next time, Musers. Remain vigilant for Arcanist terrorism. Keep an eye out for Wind Gamin. And play your friggin' stats and schemes, already! 

For more from Ben, check out his work at and the Arcane Reservoir podcast. For more from Grrn, check out old episodes of Max Value. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Faux Pas 2: How not to Summoning Pandora

In what’s becoming a bit of a recurring theme on Malifaux Musings, I thought I’d write about how not to play a new crew, in this case Summoning Pandora. And, as obvious as the name may be, I think we’ll call these articles Faux Pas from this point forward. Go ahead and groan, that’s the title. 

Deal with it.

But first, mini-musings.


-There’s a new issue of Chronicles on DriveThru RPG. It has a tactics article by me, as well as some discussion from Rathnard regarding starting Outcasts on a budget and a lighter Through the Breach module where the Fated help a bride put her wedding together after their wedding planner gets arrested for being an Arcanist sympathizer. You know, that old chestnut ;).

-The February newsletter announced that there’s another Through the Breach worldwide event coming soon. There aren’t a ton of details, yet, but these are always pretty exciting. Previously, we helped release Titania from Nythera and travelled back in time to old Malifaux in the time of the first Breach. Let’s see what’s coming soon.

-There hasn’t been an official preview yet, but Game Trader magazine had a picture of the other story box coming for Malifaux. It’s called Backdraft, and seems to feature a fight between Arcanists and Gremlin moonshiners. Sounds…flammable?

Pictured: Incorrect Deployment
So I took summoning Dora out for a spin and, per usual, played it terribly and got crushed. There are probably people out there that put their models on the board and are successful the first time out of the gate, but I am not that person. Hopefully, my failure can be educational for others, at least.
Pandora, specifically a Pandora crew oriented around her book 5 summoning upgrade Woe is Me, is sort of a topic du jour in the Malifaux community right now. Several weeks ago, Travis did an episode of Max Value with a tournament report featuring a version of the crew. Over the course of the last week, Alex posted about it on his Youtube channel and Arcane Reservoir did an episode with Luke Cocksedge detailing the crew, since he’s been having a lot of success with it. Also, some blog started writing about her too. It’s a heavy synergy crew that relies on spreading conditions and a swarm of Willpower duels to start spreading misery (literally) through the enemy. I built a version for myself and gave it a test drive, and promptly got pummeled.

They say we learn the most from our failures. If that’s the case, I should be the smartest person alive.

So, here’s a quick list of things I learned not to do when playing this crew. Hopefully it’s useful.
1)     Don’t spread out. We were playing Ours and my opponent Rich had deployed models on both flanks and in the middle. I tried to fan my own crew out to contest him. This was a big mistake. As I said, this is a crew oriented around synergy. They support each other, as none of them are particularly tough or damaging in and of themselves. The whole idea behind the crew is that the enemy can easily pass some of the Willpower tests you’re throwing at them, but by combining them together the combined threat paired with Misery auras overwhelms the enemy and drains their resources. Iggy out on a flank by himself is going to get killed by most things the enemy throws at it (in this case, a Bone Pile and Chiaki.) Iggy in with the rest of your crew is able to put Burning for Pandora to use for summoning, Incite to help control the enemy’s activations, and can hide among bigger, scarier threats.

2)     Speaking of Ours, it’s a slightly tougher strategy than some of the others for this crew. Since they want to stay together in support, it’s harder to fan out and cover multiple quarters. It’s not that she CAN’T handle this, but you definitely can’t do it the way I did, by putting the focus of the assault in the middle. I think a much better plan would have been to choose a flank and roll up it in force, knocking out one side of the enemy’s crew and then making them come to us to try and dislodge us from the enemy quarter.

3)     The best strategies for summoning Dora are Ply and Public Execution, because you can theoretically summon off of the enemy’s strategy conditions. There’s nothing like that in Ours. I was playing against a Yan Lo crew, with the old man hiding in the backfield to build up his Chi and refusing to engage until turn 3, when he was effectively unkillable and was going to wreck my whole board. There were no other conditions in the enemy crew to use for summoning. I had brought along the Emissary with Dora’s conflux to copy Misery and put another aura into the board. Thing is, that’s 10 points that can’t generate conditions. I brought Lilitu for Luring, but she also doesn’t put out conditions. And I brought Baby Kade, who also doesn’t put out conditions. As such, when we called it on turn 3 I had no Sorrows in play, and no obvious way to get one out there. Gotta get more conditions in the crew, because I can’t count on the enemy to provide some. I blame playing so many games against the Ten Thunders for this one.

4)     In a similar vein, Pandora does most of the heavy lifting for this crew, but she can’t do all the lifting on her own. When I was grumbling about card flips, my opponent pointed out that I killed Izamu twice in that game. That was cool and all, but here’s the thing: that was all I got done all game. The crew needs the Poltergeist to do what it does, and I couldn’t get the damned thing into play because of the dearth of misery auras and the fact that I had to have Dora kill Izamu personally. That’s a lot of AP to get him down, and it feels pretty bad when Yan Lo just resummons him the next turn to make me do it all over again. I got him down, but by the time I did the game was basically lost. I think the crew would do better focusing on bringing down softer targets earlier to get its summons on the board and get the ball rolling, then shift to bringing down the heavies. Also, have to keep in mind that this version of Dora isn’t The Box Opens Pandora. She is more effective with the team, not rocketing up the board on her own. The summons are a lot trickier when she has to do it all by herself.

So, in retrospect, I needed to keep the team together, bring more conditions for summoning, and roll up a flank first then try to turn it to chew through the army from the side. I’ll try and reload, recalibrate, and give it another go next game. Here’s hoping it works out better.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Pandora Potpourri

I'm stricken with a bit of writer's block recently for...reasons. IRL I'm in the midst of a job hunt and am that's taking up more and more of my attention (pending unemployment will have that effect.) Also, there's playtesting going on, which means much of my gaming time is being spent on things I can't discuss. So, this will be a bit more top of mind than usual. Apologies.


Just one mini-musing today, mostly introducing products coming soon. There are a couple of new encounter boxes on the horizon. One is The Undying, a box set revolving around a conflict between the Ten Thunders and the Resurrectionists. The story behind it is an order of warriors bent on hunting down wizards that feed on soul energy to stay alive like Yan Lo, led by Minako Rei (the masked lady in the picture above.) She's hunting down an eternal assassin named Manos who used to be one of their order, but who adopted the unnatural abilities to extend his own life and become Manos the Undying. He uses Chi to power his abilities, while Minako can put some sort of Kharma condition on models to have them take the damage she gets hit with. Along with them, they bring a set of minions. Manos uses a new type of Belle called Mourners who act defensively. Minako has Katashiro, some origami constructs that also count as Oni, and a Flaming Wheel of some kind. There also appears to be some kind of big resser...something in there. It looks cool. But, I must reiterate, if you are painting Manos, there is one acceptable paint job. One.

I'm just disappointed his boxed set doesn't come with Torgo. 


So I've been interested in summoning Pandora since I first saw it in book 4's playtest. That said, I didn't play it a ton, mostly because I haven't played a ton in general and when I have, it's been focused on things like Collodi recently. This complicates things even more, because there is a ton of overlap between what Collodi and Pandora do well: namely short to medium range murdering. It didn't make a ton of sense to do one while going with my goal of learning Collodi. But, I'm kind of over that now. It's not that I hate Collodi. He's fine. It just doesn't inspire me to play it the way other crews do.

Enter: podcasts. These are probably the biggest source of my Magpie syndrome. Recently, Max Value did an episode on summoning Dora and Alex Schmid did a Youtube video on the lady of sorrows as well. I've had a Pandora crew since 1st edition. I like the idea of her, and I like the idea of the summoning, so you'll probably see some more of her coming along shortly.

So let's take a look at this crew and what makes it different. First of all, don't go look at any of the stuff about other Summoners. Woe is Me does not make her work like them. She can only summon two models: Sorrows and the Poltergeist. That's it. And, little secret, from what I've heard you're doing way more of the latter than the former. That is, in part, because you don't have a ton of control over the former summons, as it requires you to cast off of an enemy model which has a condition, and the enemy model can then remove said condition. So, you don't have control over it, which means you can assume that your opponent will make the worst choice possible for you in any given situation (as they should be) and, even if you're summoning off of their Fast or Reactivate, they may just choose to drop it anyways to stop you. That said, there are two strategies that require conditions on the enemy crew's models to score VP, so they have to weigh losing points vs. letting you have more models, which is delicious.

Sorrows and Poltergeist have always been "good" models. The problem with them was that they were 1) Fragile and 2) Expensive. Summoning them gets around this problem. Now they're disposable, and if the opponent kills them they can just be brought back, which is great. The Poltergeist's - to WP flips is just debilitating. Sorrows can be really good, and you all know how much I like automatic damage.

One of my questions with this crew is how to focus the action. There's kind of two ways to go about it: take the battle to the enemy or bring the enemy to you. Basically, do I build the crew around advancing aggressively into the enemy, or do I use Lures and the like to bring the enemy in and kill them on my terms. Both have their pluses and minuses. Obviously, if you're drawing them to you and killing them, it's a lot safer. You don't overextend. You don't have to waste AP on your movement. You're separating pieces of the enemy's crew from each other so they can't support each other. Also, a lot of the stuff that works well with Pandora helps make this happen. Things with Lure like Lilitu, Beckoners, Baby Kade etc. all attack Willpower to do what they do (less so Kade, but he has other synergies.) However, if you're using a more passive/Lure based crew, you're also letting the other crew do what they want early on for the most part. You're reacting to their gameplan as opposed to enforcing yours on them. This can end up leaving you too passive and can cause you to fall behind and have to play catch-up to win games. Also, in a game situation where you CAN'T sit back and have to advance, you can end up with a crew that can't get the job done and is severely underpowered.

On the other hand, a more aggressive, attack based crew is going to avoid this problem. You're enforcing your will on the enemy and making them play around you rather than the other way around. This style of play works best in game scenarios where you have to move into the enemy half of the board and accomplish objectives (for instance, Symbols of Authority). Plus, Pandora's numerous auras and those of her summons, particularly the Poltergeist, are being used to their best effect when numerous enemy models are trapped within them. The risks, of course, are that you'll find yourself on the opposite end of the advantages to sitting back and pulling them into you. Worse, you're spending YOUR AP to get into contact with the enemy, so they don't even have to cast Lures or anything like that to get you into their trap. But, bottom line, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.

I don't entirely know the answer to this. I know this crew doesn't have the force projection to deal with an enemy that hides if they don't at least advance to some extent, but I may just have to build to the scenario and go from there. Still, I see a lot of potential here, and the successes I've heard the crew having of late in tournaments is encouraging.

One of the things I like about it is the flexibility of attack methods Pandora can bring in this build. The Max Value pod was very illustrative of this. Some games, Travis played her like the Pandora you know and loathe: moving up into range, smashing you with her attacks, and killing what she needed to kill to disrupt your crew, with Incite in place to help ensure activation order. In another game, however, he ran up against a Mei Feng crew that was using Vent Steam to block the attacks. In that game, he switched to more summoning and use of Incite as the primary offensive tool (cut to a shot of sad Iggy, whose Incite is a Ca instead of Wp, for whatever reason.)

One of the most important things to remember is that Pandora's brittle (like many of her Neverborn compatriots.) To mitigate some of this, I've converted to use of Aether Connection in more crews, particularly with her. I initially wasn't that impressed with just adding one more point of damage mitigation, but in truth that's huge. Pandora has 10 wounds. Mitigating an additional point of damage is saving 10% of her life. That's pretty awesome.

Perhaps because of that lack of wounds, I haven't used Martyr a ton when I've played her. That said, prior to book 5 most of my Pandora crews were the smashmouth version with Box Opens and Fears Given Form, usually supported with a couple other big beaters. As such, there weren't many Woes for her to use it with. I think figuring out when best to use it will be a key part of mastering this crew.

I think that's most of the thoughts I've had so far. Thanks for sticking with the random blur of nonsense. Usually I'm more focused than this, so if this is your first time at the blog, well, Welcome! and go check out the Nicodem wanted poster article to get a better idea of what I'm shooting for most of the time.

Also, if you're an old reader (or a new fan), please go support us on Patreon! All I want is a dollar a month from you. A dollar! You don't have a dollar? You're a liar! Gimme your dollar!