Friday, October 13, 2017

Misery and Woe: A Pandora Tactica

It’s the strategy article this week, and it’s going to be an extra-long one. Why? Because you asked for it! Or, specifically, because one of our patrons asked for it. Patreon user CobalttheUnicorn requested an in-depth tactica for Pandora, so that’s what we’re going to do. Hopefully your recovery is going well, Cobalt. We at Malifaux Musings wish you the best, and let’s get on with the misery!



Background


The Mistress of Sorrow, Pandora carries a mysterious puzzle-box which contains one of Malifaux’s Tyrants, Despair, who grants her power while slowly corrupting her mind. She can use it to release some of her minions, spirits called Sorrows that inflect negative emotions on those around them. Her own powers amplify this, prying the insecurities, fears, and mental derangement from the depths of an enemy’s mind and using it to drive them mad. In 1st edition Malifaux, Pandora was probably the poster child for “This is why everyone hates Neverborn,” as she could chain together unlimited strings of her Incite action, giving her nearly unlimited movement on any given turn, and would take advantage of the way Terrifying used to work to essentially sweep enemy models off the board without letting them react in any meaningful way. It’s somewhat fitting that a master like Pandora would be a negative play experience, using her Misery ability on opponents, but a slightly reduced version was necessary in M2E to improve game balance.
There are a number of short stories featuring Pandora in the Malifaux canon, too many to mention here. One of my favorites is The Malifaux Orphanage for Sick Children from Storm of Shadows, which describes Iggy’s transformation from a normal (albeit troubled) young boy to become a Woe like Candy and Kade. She’s conspicuously absent from the action in Book 5, which may tell more about her allegiance in the Neverborn Civil War than is immediately apparent.

Base Abilities

Outside of her Willpower of 7, Pandora sports one of the least impressive stat lines of any master in Malifaux. Df of 3 is just pitiful. 10 Wounds is average (possibly slightly below, as Wd totals on Masters have started to bloat as the game’s gotten older). Wk and Cg 4 is pretty sad, too. But, as is often the case with the Neverborn, it’s what’s below the surface that counts.
Her abilities are what really define her playstyle. Misery creates a 6” aura around her where, any time an enemy model fails a WP duel, they then take 1 point of damage. This “death-by-a-thousand-cuts” ability is significant because it counts as a separate damage source than the action that initially triggered the WP duel and, as such, the damage isn’t reduced by Armor (as Armor can’t reduce damage below 1) and gets around Hard to Kill (as the initial action’s resolution would do the damage to put the enemy model on 1 Wd, and then Misery finishes them off.) This becomes more significant when you add in other models with overlapping Misery bubbles, as we’ll mention later, but it can add up more quickly than you would think. Because of Misery’s limited range, many Pandora builds revolve around bringing enemies within short to medium range to maximize the number of failed WP duels over the course of the game.
Her next two abilities work hand in hand in many cases. Expose Fears allows Pandora to resist with her WP instead of her DF in any opposed duel. Thus, her sad DF of 3 is much less significant, as any attacks your opponent throws your way will let you use the better stat. However, any Simple Duel will still require the use of DF, so watch out for those in the enemy crew. Additionally, she considers the duel to be a WP and, thus, succeeding at resisting an attack triggers the next ability: Fading Memory. Whenever she wins an opposed WP duel against an enemy model, Pandora immediately pushes up to 4” in any direction. So, if an enemy charges her and misses the first attack, you can push out of basically any model’s engagement range to prevent the rest of the attacks. If she’s getting shot, she can use the ability to get out of LoS or at least behind some cover for any subsequent attacks. Basically, if an opponent is going to come at the Queen, they’d best not miss. Her final ability is Martyr, and it doesn’t come up quite as often. It lets her pull a point of damage onto herself if it would affect a friendly Woe within her 6” bubble. She isn’t exactly overflowing with excess wounds and her crews typically don’t feature an excess of healing, but this can end up being a lifesaver for weaker Woes like her Sorrows.
All of these abilities combine to create a master who is very interested in getting to medium-short range, pulling as many enemies as possible within her sphere of influence, and inflicting Misery upon them (literally and figuratively.) Expose Fears and Fading Memory make her hard to hit, but brittle. Thankfully FM isn’t a trigger, so it can’t be negated by abilities like the Executioner’s Certain Death ability, but if an opponent can hit her she’s going to snap and break quickly.
Pandora’s two main Attack Actions are Self Loathing and Self Harm, both of which cause a target that fails a WP duel to inflict the damage of a melee or shooting attack on themselves after they fail (plus one additional point for Misery.) Self Loathing is slightly better with a Ca of 7 as opposed to Self Harm’s 6, which is of course off-set by the latter’s longer range. On the base card you’re stuck with the damage track of the target’s attacks but, with an upgrade, you can at least ensure that you have a 2/3/4 available in-case theirs is worse. Her (0) action Incite is one of her main mobility tricks, as it is an opposed Wp duel and succeeding at it counts for Fading Memory to give her an upfield push. Additionally, it places the condition Mood Swing on the opponent, allowing you to select that model to activate whenever it is able to do so, in place of the model your opponent chooses to activate. Being able to dictate your opponent’s activation order to them is very powerful, and can allow you to get away with leaving the Doppleganger at home from time to time, as forcing a sub-optimal model to activate first will often be even better than being able to cheat to go first. If you can flip a Tome for the Mass Hysteria trigger, you can immediately take the action again, giving you more mobility. Finally, she has a (1) Tactical Action called Inflict which forces all enemy models in a 4” pulse to succeed on a TN 14 WP duel or suffer 1 damage (plus 1 for Misery.) This one isn't utilized as frequently, but can be put to good use against clumps of low WP models to, at least, drain some cards from their hands.

Upgrades
 

               The second defining factor in Pandora’s playstyle comes from her choice of Limited upgrade. She will almost always bring one of them, and will more often than not fill all three of her upgrade slots. I’ll go through three common Pandora load-outs and describe how they’re typically built and played.
               The first Limited option is The Box Opens. This upgrade lends Pandora towards what has been described by many as her “melee build,” which focuses on taking her Misery aura and adding on more and more things to make it a bubble of bad for the opponent. TBO gives her Terrifying all 13 which, given that her melee range is a respectable 3”, lets her tie up a number of models in it at once. Often this upgrade is paired with the generic Neverborn upgrade Fears Given Form which forces any model that activates inside the bearer’s engagement range to take a TN  14 DF duel or take 3 damage immediately. You do have to be careful with this one, though, as friendly models have to take the same test, so Pandora will often be running around on her own when this upgrade is equipped. You may want to pair it with something like Aether Connection to give her some added damage prevention to offset the isolation, though this may fall under the category of “a good idea for newer players, but not necessary for the more experienced.” Often, you’ll find models working to fan out and stay out of her bubble, only feeding her non-essential models or those that are able to stand up to her punishment while the rest of the crew scores VPs, so pairing it up with something like Nekima or another heavy beater to support where she can’t go is typically a good idea.
               The next, and probably most hated, option is the Voices build, or Paralyze-Dora. Most of the M2E “negative play experience” commentary from Dora comes out of this build (for more on this subject, see the April 1st episode of the High Fauxdelity podcast.) The upgrade gives her the relatively innocuous ability “There is no shelter here” that makes the damage from Misery irreducible. That’s not such a big deal. However, it also adds a crow trigger to Self Harm and Self Loathing that reduces the damage to 0 and applies the Parlayzed condition to the target instead. In order to make this trigger more reliable, you also include the Depression upgrade, which gives her a (0) action to discard a card and add the suit to all of her duels for the remainder of her activation. Thus, for a low crow, you can now paralyze 3 models a turn. Players will often pair this with Fugue State, punishing models that take Interact actions within 8” of her by forcing them to succeed at a hefty TN 15 WP duel or take a point of damage (plus one from Misery, if they’re within 6”.) This is probably the safest of the builds for her, as Paralyzed models are incapable of hitting you back, but it can be vulnerable to crews with efficient condition removal like Ten Thunders Low River Monks and Sensei Yu or, if you’re unlucky, a turn where you fail multiple duels and only get a small portion of the enemy crew locked down. It is not, however, a great way to win friends among your play group. Most folks that bring their little plastic toys want to actually play with them, not activate and pass because you keep beating them at WP duels. Definitely not a friendly thing to do to someone who is just learning the game.
               The new Limited Upgrade Pandora got from Broken Promises, Woe is Me, lets her act as a summoning master. Because we Dora players weren’t hated enough already, apparently. Ok, it’s not that bad of a summon, as it “only” lets you call in Sorrows. Moreover, it can only be done by placing the Sorrow next to an enemy model with one or more conditions, and the enemy can subsequently choose to end any of those conditions they wish. On the plus side, this upgrade gets around two of the weaknesses of the Sorrow, their slightly-too-high soulstone cost and their limited mobility. Now you can just drop the nasty little blighters in the middle of the action where you want them and call it a day. Moreover, unlike most summoners, Dora’s Sorrows come in at full health, which is not insignificant. Base contact with an enemy is where a Sorrow wants to be, as they can then pull a Wd off of that enemy model when they activate with Life Leech. And, of course, there’s the fact that Sorrows bring their own Misery aura which stacks with Pandora’s, turning those little 1 damage slaps-to-the-wrist into 2, 3, or 4 damage wallops every time the enemy fails against Incite. This is even more significant when you consider the other ability from Woe is Me, Growing Woe. Any time an enemy is killed by the Misery Aura while the upgrade is in play you can summon her totem, the Poltergeist, for free. Any time you can swing 4 AP like that, it’s a good thing, and the Poltergeist is an underrated totem that didn’t see a ton of play due to the relative ease with which it can be killed and it’s relatively high cost (who ever heard of a 5SS totem, anyways?) You’ll probably want to bring Depression with this build as well, as the summons require an additional Mask. Moreover, it gives other friendly Woes within Pandora’s LoS (read: the Sorrows you just summoned) an attack targeting WP (meaning it triggers Misery) that can force a model that fails to activate last. Good stuff. It’s still pretty early in the Broken Promises era to come to any conclusions, but the limited testing I’ve done with this so far leads me to believe I may have initially underestimated Woe is Me. There are a lot of conditions in Malifaux. I mean, a WHOLE LOT of them. this upgrade doesn’t distinguish between positive and negative conditions, either. An opponent who spends an AP to give a model Defensive or Focus has now provided you with a summoning battery. It’s possible my experience with this isn’t typical (Phiasco typically plays 10 Thunders and they’re notorious for throwing Focus around like it’s candy,) but I've had no trouble having good targets with positive conditions they don't want to remove availabe. Two of the new strategies from Gaining Grounds 2017 place beneficial conditions on models that can’t be removed by actions, even if the model WANTS to remove them. And you can always use your Incite or condition applying actions to put them out yourself in a pinch. Iggy would be pretty clutch for this (more on him later.) And we already know how potent an effect summoning can have on the game. So, to be determined, but there may be some real meat to be found in this version of Dora. Time will tell if it’s good enough to replace Voices as the go-to Limited.
               In addition to these, she has a handful of other upgrades as well. Cry for Me gives her a (1) Ca 7 attack to hand out a condition imposing a negative flip to WP duels on enemy models that fail until the end of the turn, with a double Mask trigger to place a blast marker and spread it around. This used to see a little bit of play, particularly if you thought you were going to go up against something that had a decent chance of resisting your attacks, but as more upgrades are added to the game and slots get tight I’ve seen it fall out of favor. Her other new Book 5 upgrade, Rile Them Up, has a few more interesting possibilities. It costs 2 stones, which is a little hefty, but it gives her the ability Mania to discard a card and take the Incite action an additional time using one of her general AP. I could see this being useful for games where mobility will be at a priority or, if you’re feeling feisty, where you’re going to try for a late-game Undercover Entourage run for the opponent’s deployment zone. It also adds a Mask trigger (so, built in) to Self-Harm and Loathing that lets you replace the attack’s normal damage track with 2/3/4 and makes the damage irreducible. Potentially, this could be useful for any of the Limited builds, though the most obvious synergy goes with Melee-Dora (who could have some odd hiccups killing models that don’t have good attacks for her to steal) and Woe is Me (who can use the additional Incite either to throw out some more conditions for summoning or because she had to use her (0) for Depression to gain masks.) This one may end up being scheme pool dependent, where you bring it for the aforementioned Entourage run or to give her a better shot at Master killing in Neutralize the Leadership. Still, it’s got some decent utility.

Support Models        

      

               Obviously, anything with Woe under its characteristics has potential to be added to her crew and used effectively. Her box set is one of the few that you can pretty much open, assemble, and run and have a relatively effective crew. Candy finds her way into a lot of Pandora crews to this day, mostly because of the potency of combining the Mood Swings condition from Incite with her Sweets ability to paralyze an enemy model. Kade falls in and out of favor, mostly due to his fragility. If you bring him and he can get a couple of his damage buffs running, his Carving Knife can dish out a horrific 5/6/8 damage track. If you can afford it, equip him with Depression instead of Dora to let him pitch a crow and make one of his triggers built in. Also, if you’re bringing Kade, bring Teddy. You wouldn’t make a sweet little baby go out without his Teddy, would you? What kind of a monster are you?

               Oh, right, the kind that plays Pandora. Never mind. Forget I asked.

               We already talked about Sorrows a bunch above, so let’s move on to other stuff to hire in. First of all, it’s the Neverborn, so I’ll just point at Nekima, the Doppleganger, and the Primordial Magic and assume you already know why you might want to bring those. Moving on.
Besides Candy and Nekima, there are a couple of other henchman options that can play well with Pandora. The Widow Weaver would be an interesting henchman to bring along if you could ensure her safety, as the Web Marker Willpower penalties can be devastating. The problem, of course, is that she can only place them within 6” of her and a stiff breeze will blow her over, taking her Webs with her. She’s not my favorite option, but if you’ve got some amazing defensive tech to keep her alive then by all means, bring her out. Barbaros is a little bit pricey, but I don’t think he gets the praise he deserves. I’ve written about how rude challenge is before, but that WP duel to target anyone but Barb is just disruptive as hell. I think he could be particularly useful in a Woe is Me build to help protect your newly summoned Sorrows. And if they fail the WP duel to target anyone else, their action fails AND they take damage. That’s just rude. Plus there’s something to be said for not entirely focusing your crew on WP attacks, as the wrong opponent will end up laughing at you since WP is, on average, higher throughout Malifaux than Defense. Opposing Nekimas, in particular, will be thrilled with your choice. So Barbaros and other DF targeting models can help broaden your focus a bit and offset some of those bad matchups.
The minion pool is actually a bit more shallow from a Pandora-oriented focus than you might think. Normally one would think Beckoners would be a natural fit, and they can be under the right circumstances, but their 7 stone cost puts them in direct competition with the enforcer Lillitu, and Lillitu’s just better in most cases. Some people don’t care for them due to their relatively low wounds, but I think Insidious Madness makes for a pretty good scheme runner that can change gears and support your offense in a pinch when necessary. If you’re playing Woe is Me Dora you can hire Guild Reporters, who have obvious synergy with Dora. It’s kind of your choice which scheme runner you prefer, and in some cases it may depend on the job you’re asking them to do, but the reporter is a stone cheaper and is better at removing enemy markers than the IM. And performers are solid mercenary hires, as Siren Song and Seduction both play well with what a Pandora crew is trying to accomplish. Not to mention we could all use a bit more "Don't Mind Me" in our lives.  
There’s a lot for Pandora to like in the Enforcer slot, by comparison. I already mentioned Lillitu, who has the Rotten Belle level Lure spell available on a sturdy enforcer’s body. Lure is especially important for melee Dora, as you need to draw models into her bubble so she can be fully effective and they’ll likely be trying to stay as far away as possible. Iggy is a workhorse enforcer that, for a measly 5 stones, gives you another source of Martyr, another (0) Incite, a Rg 12 attack to hand out Burning +2 (hurray for more conditions to use for summoning), and/or a pretty decent WP penalty on enemy models within 6 of him that haven’t activated yet. Having 2 Martyrs gives you a great deal of ability to manipulate wounds, as you can either pull 2 wounds off of a Woe and split them between Pandora and Iggy or chain one single wound down the line (IE if you can afford to put the wound on Pandora but she’s more than 6” away while Iggy is closer but on low wounds, Iggy can snatch a wound off with Martyr and then pass it on to her.) Teddy is a sentimental favorite that would see more play if he was a little faster and a little bit tougher to hit. He’s good for a themed crew and fun to use with Kade. Plus, if you’ve been playing as long as I have, you probably have at least three sculpts of him lying around. And Bishop can be an interesting Merc to hire in, as his melee attacks can target either WP or DF.
The last few books have been kind of a desert for new Pandora crew members, but the Crossroads Seven enforcer Lust is an exception. Nine stones with the merc tax is a little steep, but she brings a pretty solid suite of unpleasant abilities when combined with Pandora. Her “Now, Kiss!” Attack Action can potentially force the enemy to make 3 separate willpower duels in exchange for 1 single AP from Lust, which is some potent Misery activation on top of potentially disrupting the enemy’s plans and positioning. Pair two uses of that with her (0) action which also triggers a WP push, that’s a grand total of 7 potential damage per Misery bubble in which the targets are trapped when doing it. That can get nasty. Book 5 doesn’t have anything specifically for Dora outside of her new upgrades, but there could still be some useful tools here. One of the things you see often with most Pandora builds is a tendency by the opponent to spread out and stay away from her auras. Adding a Grootslang or two to your crew gives you a way to rapidly redeploy to counter this. I envision Pandora and team deploying in the center of the board with the two lair markers deployed in what you think will be high-traffic areas on the flanks, allowing your Groots to deploy rapidly to them and cut off the enemy’s retreat. Bultungins have interesting potential to serve as low-stone beaters and potentially to avoid shoe-horning your crew into being all WP all the time, but they’ll likely have more synergy with other masters like Titania or Collodi who can better exploit their abilities. There are a couple of mercs as well, though none immediately trip my trigger. Soulstone Prospectors have to compete with other 7 stone positioning models, and I don’t think they do well versus Lillitu. Bayou Smugglers are interesting as well, as 6SS is relatively low, can grant you some abilities to manipulate your hand, and their The Swap attack targets WP and either gives you a card or lets you screw with positioning. Don’t know if it’ll be an amazing addition at first blush, but there are possibilities here as a defensive flank holder to grab and position markers to mess up scheme completion.

Harvester of Sorrow: Putting it All Together





Pandora is a tough but brittle master that lives off of projecting auras of sadness and badness to the enemy anywhere near her. There are three main builds defined by which of her Limited Upgrades you bring along, and all of them are effective in their own way. The Melee Pandora wants to get up close and personal and force the opponent to take incidental damage for doing the things that they want to do in an average turn anyways. Voices Pandora is going to try to paralyze models at range, and it actually says on the Voices upgrade card that your opponent’s soul takes a point of damage every time you do this. And the new Woe is Me upgrade lets her summon her small Sorrow minions and, potentially, her Poltergreist totem off of models with conditions on them. Her crew has never historically had a set of “in every Pandora crew include X” type models outside of the standard Neverborn staples of Nekima, Doppleganger, and the Primordial Magic who, in several cases, have alternatives which can even make them dispensable. But it’s really more about building a crew to exploit the area of denial that she creates by her very presence and ensure that you can run down and foil anyone who tries to fan out to escape her wrath. Pandora really isn’t as nasty of a Master as everyone thinks she is (though don’t tell people that. 1) they won’t believe you and 2) it’s more fun to keep the mystique in place) and can be fun to play if you enjoy her style. So give her a try, already!