Sunday, July 8, 2018

July 2018 Errata: aka When Zombies Cry

Is that enough click-bait? Yeah, probably.

              Golly, what could we write about this week?

               Oh, right, there was a summer Errata. I’m sure we’re all reeling from the changes to Burn Out. This is really going to revolutionize how Lynch is played. Forget about Cheating Bastard, summoning Lynch here we come.

               What’s that? It doesn’t really change anything? People were already playing it that way? The real changes came to…

               Sigh. Ok. I’ll go get the Wanted Posters again.


               Apparently Wyrd decided to claim the Bounties I put out for themselves, as the focus of the summer errata were Sandeep and Nicodem. Sandeep got the lighter end of it, as I’m not sure I’ve heard any complaints about his changes other than, maybe, that more should have been done (and that has been a very, very small minority.) To quote the man Mason (who appears to be doing much of the design work at the moment. Is he lead designer now? I don’t know if I’ve heard an official announcement.) these are the changes:

For two years now, Sandeep has proven to be incredibly versatile, to the point where he has become something of a staple at tournaments. By itself that's not a problem, but Sandeep's effectiveness has pushed other Arcanist masters out of the spotlight, so we'll be reigning him in a bit.

- Cache reduced to 2. This new Cache is more reflective of Sandeep's power level.

- Beacon Ca penalty increased to -2. Sandeep's Beacon is a powerful tool, but his Crew was using it a bit too efficiently. This should apply a bit more pressure onto Sandeep's Crew when it comes to hitting the TNs of borrowed Actions.

- Removed Impossible to Wound. This loss will make Sandeep considerably more fragile and, thus, make positioning more important for Sandeep and his removal easier for his opponent.

               I’m far from a Sandeep expert, even after having written the previous article, but I think these changes are just the sort of "small adjustments" that I think we all like to see from errata. The combination of the reduction in cache and loss of Impossible to Wound makes him a lot more fragile. Deep players will have to keep him a bit Deeper (rimshot) during games, as a few swings from a beater could add up to a dead master in relatively short order. Admittedly, no soulstone users are exactly “easy” to kill in M2E, but being able to cheat damage flips against Sandeep will go a long way to helping players bring him down. Additionally, the increase in penalty for Beacon makes bridging his spells out to other models much more difficult. Path to Salvation is obviously the biggest effect here (as it already requires a mask, so a reduction of 2 removes one of the 6 cards the deck could have used to cheat that) but even having the push or the interact become more likely to require a cheat will increase hand pressure for Sandeep, potentially bringing his power down a bit and giving some other members of the faction a chance to shine.

               Will this fix the problem with the Arcanists? The problem, as always stated, was never that Sandeep was somehow doing something ridiculous that required dramatic changes, but rather that he did almost everything too well and made him the “best” choice for most games. There’s always a bit of a stink on masters that get nerfed, so we’ll most likely see a temporary dip in Deep’s play for a short time. I know Rasputina has gotten a bit of a rumbling in the “this master is better than people are giving her credit) direction recently (I know she’s always given me fits, anyways) and the Max Value crew have been lobbying for people to use Ramos’ Vox Populi upgrade for the potential to do a silly amount of hazardous terrain damage with proper positioning. I think the key thing here is that players who love Sandeep should still be able to do so (possibly without as much groaning and eye rolling from opponents) but perhaps of the others will have a chance to outdo him now, particularly in scheme pools he’s less suited to completing.

               So, since they used such a measured, limited “try it and see” approach with Deep, we’ll probably see the same thing for Nicodem, right?


               Oh. Oh, my. It seems getting killed by Lady Justice really took the wind out of Nicodem. Let’s let Mason introduce the changes, again.

Nicodem was strong when M2E first released, and he has only gained in strength since then. His ability to use Undead models more effectively than other Masters has made him an increasingly strong choice, to the point where he has started to crowd out other Resurrectionist Masters and warp the design process. To that end, we will be reigning his power level in, both on his base card and his most popular upgrade.

- Wounds reduced to 12. This should make Nicodem a bit more vulnerable to assassination attempts.

- Re-animator now summons Undead in at one Wound remaining, rather than half their Wounds. This will make his summoned models more vulnerable and apply pressure on Nicodem by forcing him to either summon more fragile models or to spend AP healing them with Decay.

Undertaker (Upgrade)

- I Can Use That! now only affects non-Peon models, and it only functions when they are killed (not sacrificed). This should prevent the worst of Nicodem's abusive use of this Ability and bring it back in line with the Upgrade's cost.

- The Patchwork trigger now has reduced range and healing, which, when combined with Nicodem's Re-animator changes above, should prevent him from healing up his summoned models quite as easily.

               Yowzer. That was a bit heavier handed, wasn’t it? I can see why there’s so much salt flowing from Nico players, as his hits were comparatively much more impactful than what Deep got…or were they?

               Let’s look closer. First of all, the change to Undertaker’s card drawing needed to happen, and I’m not going to allow anyone to argue with me on that point (not that I think many realistic Nicodem players would.) For a bit of historical context, the first time I heard a version of the card draw engine Nico uses (Sebastian’s Those are Not Ours on Mindless Zombies) was with a Kirai crew, who was able to cycle those rotters for cards and stones to power her summons. This was before Asura came out to make getting the Zombies easier, and it didn’t have the cards from Undertaker. And the key thing is: it still worked to make Kirai's summons much more reliable. Was it the kind of draw that Nico gets now? No, but that’s the way it SHOULD be. It should feel like a Rube Goldberg device, not a perfectly greased, flexible machine. The whole idea behind summoning focused crews is that they have to expend their resources getting models on the table, potentially leaving themselves vulnerable to getting hit back. The Undertaker card draw engine was such that he could summon whatever he wanted at will and then still have more cards in hand than you to actually kill you with. So, you had a danger trifecta of having more models, more cards, and more activations than the opponent. That was simply unsustainable and needed to be changed.

               The change to his wounds number I consider cosmetic. Yes, he’s more vulnerable to being sniped now, but he still has Impossible to Wound so the opponent has to brute-force it by weight of attacks rather than through cheating in big damage. The biggest other change is the combination of his summons coming in on one wound and reduction in efficacy of Reanimator’s ability to discard extra corpses to heal the summons when they come in. That one hurts, as Nico really doesn’t want to be using his AP to heal disposable summons. Part of what made summoning Punk Zombies so effective was the fact that they have Hard to Kill, ensuring the opponent has to spend 2 AP to get rid of them (potentially giving Nico an AP advantage, since he only had to spend one to get the model onto the board in the first place.) I personally would look to play his summons more like one-shot “fire and forget” missiles than by using his AP to heal, but maybe the preponderance of corpse markers the crew can get out could be used to augment the heals on critical models, or the Malifaux Child could use Decay to heal. I’m not sure, but it most likely leads to a fundamental shift in the approach of these crews. One possible upshot of this, however, as it takes the focus away from Hard to Kill Rezzer minions, who were the preferred summons previously, and gives some of the other stuff a chance for tabletime. I know that’s kind of cold-comfort, but seeing something besides Punks Zombies, Necropunks, and Kentauroi would be a welcome change.

               So where does this leave Nicodem? Well, I think the knee-jerk is going to be to put him away and get out Kirai. Nerfs tend to have that effect in general, especially when they’re painful like this one. There’s every chance that Nico will end up being tossed in the same hole as Summoning Dreamer and forgotten. I think that would be a shame, though. Nicodem still has the most diversity of summons of any master in Malifaux. Compare that to the very limited summons Dreamer can do, and Nico is in a much better spot. He can still summon Kentauroi, albeit requiring a bit more finesse to keep them from dying straight away (though that may not be the worst thing, either, as it will result in more corpses on the board for subsequent turns.) He still has the Lampad summoning engine, which operates independently of the rest of the crew. You can do a stripped down card-cycle with Asura and Sebastian. Put all of that together, and the comparison to summoning Dreamer seems more and more ridiculous.

               So, unlike his in-world counterpart (thanks again, Lady J), I don’t really think Nicodem is dead. If players give him a chance and are flexible enough to try some things from outside the old archetype, I think you can still use him to win games. There’s no doubt, however, that he got a harder hit than Sandeep, and I would definitely expect to see Rezzer players looking elsewhere at least in the short term, if only to get the salty taste out of their mouths. That’s not necessarily awful, either. Those wanting to stick with summoning can still play Kirai, who is arguably better in some matchups. I know some have mentioned playing more Reva. Personally, I think it’s criminal that the new and improved Seamus terror build isn’t seeing more play.

But, I think the biggest reason this needed to happen was simply this: while Sandeep was just a very good Malifaux master, Nicodem changed the game into something different. Opponents of Nicodem had to stop playing a normal game and had to either build for a first-turn alpha-strike which would result in you winning or losing at the top of turn two or had to sprint for schemes that could be scored in the early turns before you inevitably ended up getting overwhelmed by turn 4. The test games I played when writing the Wanted Poster article for Nicodem were one of the few times I looked back after a game and had to honestly say to myself “I don’t think there’s anything I could have done differently to win that game. This was over before it started.” So something absolutely had to be done. Did these go too far? Maybe. But one of the biggest complaints people have had recently on the competitive scene is that the meta is stale. This reminds me of the first instance I can remember of a collectible game’s designers having to step in and use errata on their product: the Black Summer in Magic the Gathering. To shorten the history lesson down, this was a period early in MTG wherein a card called Necropotence was so powerful that, to play competitively, the only realistic choices were to either play Necropotence decks or to play the specific things that could beat them. M2E’s 2018 season wasn’t that bad (the fact that Deep was good enough to also require nerfing proves that), but a meta of “Nico or thing that can beat Nico” is going to naturally lead to stagnation of crew construction. By cutting down the prevalence of these crews, it frees things up for others to step to the forefront for a little while. Now, there’s also the possibility that these alpha-strike lists could potentially have their hands freed to run rampant without a nerf, and I’ve heard this concern as well, particularly with the Viktorias paired with Marlena Webster (who just HAS to be on the concern list for January’s errata.) I don’t know what kind of list Roger Yohn typically runs, but his victory at TFL with Ten Thunders probably involved some version of fast Yasunori getting lobbed up the board, as that’s basically in every Ten Thunders crew at the moment. This is another pretty effective alpha-strike, especially if Misaki is with it. However, increasing crew diversity also opens the door for people to learn crews that are more resistant to alpha-strikes. At least in theory, this should lead to a healthier meta overall. We’ll have to see how it plays out, I suppose. I, for one, remain hopeful.

Until next time.