Sunday, September 29, 2013

Breaking Lynch

Tonight marks the end for one of the greatest television shows in history, Breaking Bad. Over several years of watching, we’ve watched as Walter White has transformed from a down-on-his-luck Chemistry teacher with lung cancer, trying to make some money for his family to megalomaniac mass murderer and drug kingpin. We’ve all suffered through this season as, predictably, it’s all fallen down around Walt’s ears. We all hate him now (at least I hope so. If you’re a #TeamWalt person, I’m puzzled and slightly terrified of you at this point.) We’ve watched as, in showrunner Vince Gilligan’s words, Mr. Chips has turned into Scarface. And tonight it comes to an end. To commemorate the occasion (and get an easy post topic out of it,) I decided to take some time and discuss one of my favorite masters in Malifaux, every Malifool’s favorite drug dealer, Jacob Lynch. So, without further ado…

To start, let me just say that I love Jacob Lynch as a character. I bought his whole crew when he was released at Gencon 2012 and painted them up faster than any I had bought previously. It could just be my proclivity for cheering for the morally complex bad guys (I still think Lex Luthor has a point about Superman) but this crew has always been attractive to me. I like the look. I like the focus on card advantage. These guys are my kind of scum.

Lynch is the proprietor of the Honeypot casino, a den of debauchery where any vice can be explored with the right amount of scrip. The story started out with him down on his luck, about to end up on the wrong side of a loan with the Ten Thunders and desperate. Enter Messirs Graves and Tannen, a pair of disguised Neverborn with an offer he can’t refuse. You see, something old and unspeakable lives below the Honeypot (that’s quite the double entendre sentence), a creature from the age of the tyrants who just wants to find a host to latch onto so it can get out and feed. All Lynch has to do is bind with this Hungering Darkness and spread his influence through the city in the form of Brilliance, the most potent and intoxicating Narcotic to hit Malifaux and which, incidentally, allows the HD to feed off of their essence until only a burned out shell remains. Fast forward, and the Honeypot is a runaway success. Customers are streaming in to try their luck at the tables, spend time with the beautiful ladies, and have a taste of the good stuff that makes it all possible. But Misaki knows what resides inside Lynch now and wants to use it for her own purposes, while the Neverborn could frankly give a damn what they want, being interested only in the corruption and ultimate destruction of the humans who have invaded their home. Once again, Lynch finds himself being pulled between two masters who, if we’re being honest, don’t EXACTLY have his best interests at heart, and trying to find a way to get out from under their thumbs with his skin intact.

In his first iteration, Lynch played very much as his fluff would suggest. He was pretty unassuming and basically snuck around the board completing objectives while the rest of the crew induced havoc. In 2nd edition, by contrast, he appears to have embraced some of the powers made available to him and has become quite a bit more “hands on” in his approach. His main offensive weapon, his hold out pistol, has a trigger for each suit and the ability to pitch a card from his hand and apply that suit to the duel total. The most obvious is the Ram trigger that converts his damage profile to 4/5/6, but the others can be situationally useful as well. Lynch also has an unorthodox ability called Ace in the Hole that allows him to grab any aces flipped or discarded by other members of his crew before they hit the discard pile, effectively allowing them to utilize Defensive Stance and abilities like Rapid Fire and Flurry without giving up card advantage, which we all know I appreciate. But when his activation comes around, what do we do with all those aces? Well, there’s always his (0) action, Mulligan, that lets him shuffle three cards into his deck and draw three new ones which, when paired with his “Woke Up With a Hand” upgrade, basically allows you to draw a brand new hand at the end of your turn in exchange for waiting to activate Lynch last. Also, though I’ve never successfully used the ability, the same upgrade gives him a (1) action called Final Debt where a target with the Brilliance condition takes a point of damage for each card in Lynch’s hand.

I’ve read a couple of different suggestions on how to use Lynch in games. Obviously he’s a much more effective combatant now, but he still has no real defensive abilities besides making people take two damage when they cheat in a duel with him. As such you kind of have to pick your spots with him and make sure he’s well supported. I personally like to save him for the end of the turn and use Mulligan and Woke Up With A Hand to ensure that I can dominate any duels that Lynch is involved in since my opponent will likely have depleted their control hand by that point. The holdout pistol’s ram trigger gives him a surprisingly effective damage output. Others have suggested utilizing his “Play for Blood” attack to spread more Brilliance through the crew, effectively using Lynch to optimize things for his minions, but I’ve personally found the Beckoners and, to a lesser extent, Hungering Darkness to be better at that job, especially given the fact that “Under the Influence” drops off at the end of the turn. His walk of 4 makes him not particularly speedy, so objective grabbing is probably better accomplished by other crew members as well. So, honestly, I think the best way to use Lynch is probably as a hand manipulator and surgical damage dealer.

Also, a sharp dresser

Of course, just like Walt, Lynch can’t do it all on his own. He needs a partner, though in this case his partner is a lot more Gus Fringe and a lot less Jessie Pinkman. The real power of the crew, both in terms of the fluff and on the tabletop, is the Hungering Darkness. Despite resembling the Nightmare Edition of a Hungry-Hungry Hippo (Gencon 2014), the HD is one of the nastiest melee monsters in the game. A 50mm based model with a 3” melee range basically means everything is within his threat radius on the second turn. He’s incorporeal and heals himself with successful melee attacks. He has an enemies only Obey spell. He gets plus flips to basically everything when you are “Under the Influence.” And all this comes before you put any upgrades on him.

Taste me you will see, more is all you need…

Of course, probably the most important upgrade choice you make for HD actually gets played on Lynch. Both are limited, so you have to make a call here, but the choice is between either giving HD an additional CA action per turn (his melee attacks run off of Ca) and makes him Terrifying (All) or gives him Bad Juju’s “When this model would be killed, bury it instead” and lets you resummon him when a Brilliant model dies. This was actually kind of a quandary for me when they introduced this change between the closing of the Beta and publishing the rulebook. I can see games where both would be useful. The ability to effectively prevent any scoring from killing HD (since burying him doesn’t count as killing him) makes it a pretty solid denial tactic for Reckoning or henchman-kill based schemes. On the other hand, if you know you’re playing Ressers or one of the construct-based Arcanists, Terrifying All becomes worth an investment, to say nothing of the added offensive power. I tend to alternate between the two, particularly when running the crew as Neverborn (Nexus of Power is incredibly strong on the big guy and can make Rising Sun sort of superfluous.) We’ll have to see if, after several games, one ends up supplanting the other.

The friendly staff members of the Honeypot are always ready to serve.

The two remaining “in theme” models for the crew are Beckoners and The Illuminated. Beckoners were previously almost too good, effectively spreading Brilliance through the enemy crew at will and giving you the ability to lock down most models in the opposing crew by putting them on negative flips to hit them. They’ve been toned down a bit at this point, but two of them are probably still an auto-include in most Lynch builds. Lure is just too powerful of an ability to ignore in an objective based game. They still have the negative flip to opposing models’ attacks when Brilliant, but their “The Party Never Ends” range has shrunk significantly, making it easier for models to get away from them and sober up. They’re not going to kill anybody, but that’s not what they’re here for. Put them in. Paint ‘em up pretty. Thank me later.

I am not an expert on the Illuminated, I’ll confess. The first time I tried to use one in a 2nd edition game, it had a bad case of “new model syndrome,” walking up behind cover against a Sonnia player only to be set on fire by a Witchling I had lured in and subsequently blasted to pieces by her on the first turn. My take on them at this point is that they’re worth including now and then but will probably see limited use after the Wave 2 minions come out, simply because they seem to be pretty good at a lot of things but not great at anything. I like the combination of armor, regen, and their Brillshaper healing spell for resilience, and Flay is always good, but the model’s statline is otherwise fairly unremarkable and their ability to spread brilliance requires a trigger and isn’t particularly efficient even when you do hit it. If they were a bit cheaper I’d be singing a different tune, and it’s possible I’m just off base or not using them right, but they just don’t feel like you’re getting a full 7 stones worth of model with these guys and, unfortunately, will probably be replaced by better options once we see what’s coming with Wave 2.

Update: Many people have written/commented to me that the Illuminated are, in fact, better than I’m giving them credit for here. One of them did help me to win a game the previous weekend (as I’ll discuss in my upcoming post about Vassal,) mostly by being able to weather a storm of ice blasts from Rasputina while in defensive stance to hold the Turf War marker. Certainly, Armor+Regen+Brillshaper makes for a pretty tough model. Also, against a Brilliant target they will certainly do a lot of damage. I maintain my concern that the model may end up on a pile of “hey, remember those things? They were pretty good” once Wave 2 comes out, but I wanted to make sure people are aware that this may be a minority opinion on my part.

The question of what faction to run the Lynch crew with has always been a little one-sided for me from a feel perspective. He just seems like he fits better with the Neverborn. These are horrific monsters doing terrible things to the people who step through the casino doors, and you don’t get much more Neverborn than that. Plus, my Cade and Teddy are both wearing formal attire, so they’re dressed and ready for a night on the town with Lynch. Mechanically, the Neverborn fit well with him as well. As mentioned, Nexus of Power played on HD makes him pretty difficult to take down simply by pouring Soulstone’s down the big guy’s throat to heal any damage the opponent puts on him. Terror Tots become some of the best objective grabbers in the game if you can manage to cycle through your deck and find the ace of masks, since you can cheat the flip for their sprint ability then pick the AoM back up thanks to Lynch. The Doppleganger gets a number of tasty (1) actions to copy between HD, the Beckoners, and the Tot’s unlimited sprinting. Teddy gets to flurry for free and provides a pretty solid 1-2 punch with the HD. I’ve played them much more often as Neverborn, and have never felt that I was missing out.

That’s not to say that the Thunders don’t bring some solid advantages as well. Recalled training is just good no matter who you put it on. The Archers get to Rapid Fire for free thanks to Lynch, and their ability to shoot into melee at will makes them pretty useful to back up the HD. I’ve always liked putting Yamaziko and Hungering Darkness together to form a massive wall of denial in the mid-board, especially for scenarios like Squatter’s Rights. Misdirection is always handy and, with the ace of masks trick, can end up being pretty effective to block opponents’ attacks against your Henchmen and/or Enforcers late in the turn when the opponent’s hand is shrinking.

Personally, I don’t think you can go wrong and your choice may just come down to preference and playstyle. Lynch is overall a good crew with some very interesting tricks. I don’t know that he’s ever going to end up being classified into whatever shakes out as the “Top Tier,” but I also don’t think the crew has very many particularly bad match-ups either. I’m interested to see what they do with the rest of the crew in Wave 2 (using the Depleted for reliable, cheap objective grabbers would be excellent.) In the meantime, have fun spreading addiction and corruption through Malifaux, and let’s all hope that Walt finally gets what’s coming to him, and that Jessie gets revenge on that piece of crap Todd.

See you next time.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Misaki Switch

Just a couple of quick mini-muses today, as it’s been a bit since I trashed Tara and got the most pageviews and comments of any blog post I’ve ever done (this is an unfortunate message that you’re sending me, internet world.) Fortunately today’s work is going to be somewhat more positive.

One of the significant differences between the previous iteration of the game and current Malifaux was the introduction of the upgrade system as a means of adding complexity to crew selection and allow people who are playing the same masters to come up with completely different looking and feeling crews on the tabletop. The promise of this comes in the form of very different upgrade packages, particularly upgrade cards with the “Limited” designation. I think the general consensus is that the success of this effort has been mixed. On one hand, there are masters who very clearly have a couple of different modes of action depending on their upgrade suite. Seamus jumps out as probably the marquis example, as selecting between his two limited upgrades (I’m at work, so can’t look the names up at the moment) results in a master who either focuses on terrifying and more of the ranged aspect or transforms nto a full-on melee beast by adding the Bag o’ Tricks (discussed well on the most recent Cheated Fates Radio). On the other hand, other masters don’t really seem to have this. I like Sonnia, but in my opinion there are only a handful of upgrades that are worth taking on her, and I don’t think any of them significantly alter what you’re doing with her on the board (namely, standing back and blowing enemy models right the hell up.) When I was doing crew construction for the game mentioned in my last post, it occurred to me that Misaki seems to me to be a fine example of the upgrade system working the way it is supposed to work, giving you an ability to build two very distinctly flavored crews depending on which of her two limited upgrades you attach during the pre-game.

The “Typical” Build

This crew is the much more aggressive of the two builds, and it seems to be the one that I see most often in discussions of how to play Misaki, namely an attack oriented, aggressive build focused around attacking with Misaki and tearing up the enemy crew. The reasons for this are pretty obvious, as Misaki’s high combat rating, long melee range, and good defenses (particularly after burning out her soulstone reserve) make her very well suited either for minion sniping or going after Assassination targets. The upgrade you use for this is the Stalking Bisento, giving her the ability to, as a 0 action, attach the “Stalked” condition to any model in line of site. The now unfortunately “stalked” model triggers a move from Misaki every time they take a walk action and, on subsequent turns, will allow Misaki to use her Bisento attack action as a 0 action against it. This makes an already very aggressive master even more dangerous. I enjoyed Mike Marshall’s discussion of how to run versions of this on this week’s Malifools podcast, particularly the combination of recalled training and utilizing Misaki to go attack the enemy leaders and basically just tie them up during the game, freeing the rest of the crew to go claim objectives, kill enemy minions, and do other things that generally result in winning the game. Currently, my agro Misaki build looks a little something like this:

50SS Aggressive Build

Misaki-Stalking Bisento, Recalled Training, Misdirection, 3(ish) SS
Torekage x2
Ototo (or Yamaziko, your henchman of choice can be here)-Smoke and Shadows, Recalled Training
Ten Thunders Archer
Dawn Serpent

This crew has a couple of effective hitters outside of the master. Ototo and the Dawn Serpent can chew through most of what your opponent brings for minions. The archer can back up either Misaki or the other hitters since they can fire into melee. Dawn Serpent is one I haven’t had a chance to use and could be subbed out for Ronin, particularly if you think you’re going to be up against an armor heavy crew.

The Switch Build

On the other hand, it occurred to me that you could build a very effective defensive build with Misaki by utilizing the other limited upgrade, Disguise. This upgrade makes it so that Misaki can’t be made the target of a charge action. I would pair this particular upgrade with another, Untouchable, which lets her use the defensive stance action without discarding a card. This becomes particularly rude when you activate her Deadly Dance ability, leaving you in a situation where you can engage enemy models with 1” melee ranges while denying them the ability to hit you back, since you can dance away before they can make a strike against you. Thus, you now have traded some of her melee ability to create a soft control model that is extremely difficult to get away from and could potentially be very disruptive to the enemy force. I went on to build a theory-faux crew to go with this that is much more objective oriented than the previous:

50SS Misaki In Disguise…with Glasses

Misaki-Untouchable, Disguised, Misdirection, 6(ish)SS
Yamaziko-Smoke and Shadows, Recalled Training
3x Torekage
2x Oiran
Monk of the Low River

I’m not sure this crew could really kill anything (at all), but I have to think it would be damned annoying to the opposing crew and quite good at objective based scenarios. I like using Yamaziko’s Brace Yari ability to fend off opposing chargers. The Torekage can get a ton of movement out of burying for Smoke and Shadows first turn and then either popping out of Misaki or Yamaziko at the end of the turn, leaving them free to walk out of melee and not be subjected to disengaging strikes. I’m not amazed with the Monk of the Low River, but being able to remove conditions is huge and he’s cheap and resilient, so he matches fairly well with the crew. It’s a very passive crew, to be sure, but I’d be interested to see how it would actually do on the tabletop. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Raw Deal, Card Access, and My Concerns About Tara

To begin with, today marks a rebranding of my Malifaux blog to reflect my new job and location in the eastern part of these United States. I’ve accepted a position as a postdoctorate student in Blacksburg, VA (before you ask, no, I don’t know what a Hokie is) and as such this place could hardly be considered “Midwestern” anymore. Therefore, to keep the alliteration intact, the committee (me) have voted to rechristen the site Midatlantic Malifaux Musings. Even though I Blacksburg isn’t on the coast.

What do you want from me? This isn’t a geography blog.

Anyways, what better way to start things off than with a quick battle report that led to some further musings on my part. My Gencon order arrived promptly last week (thanks to EricJ for leaking that the webstore was open on his twitter, I snuck my order through the gate almost as soon as it became available to do so.) Thus armed with shiny new cards, a rulebook, and knowledge that I was moving at the end of the week, I went back to the old game store for one last Malifaux hurrah on the way out the door. I played Nick, who hadn’t done a lot of Beta M2E playing, so I thought this was a fine opportunity to try out some of the Misaki stuff I’d looked at but not had a chance to play. I was even more excited when he broke out Outcast Tara, as it would give me an opportunity to see the new hotness in person.

Misaki vs. Tara, 40SS Reckoning
Misaki-Stalking Bisento, Misdirection, 6SS
Ototo-Thundering Upgrade
Yamaziko-Smoke and Shadows
Schemes: Vendetta (Ototo on Nothing Beast) and Bodyguard (Yamaziko)

Nothing Beast
3xVoid Wretches
Some upgrade cards and soulstones (your guess is as good as mine, I wasn’t paying attention)

Schemes: Entourage and Vendetta (Void Wretch on Archer)

The game started out with me advancing in a turtle cluster that was shielded by some terrain and some Misaki deployed Smoke Bombs while the Tara crew came at us in two groups, the NB, Tara, and Karina on one side and the wretches and Taelor from the other. Misaki buried herself after the smoke bombs and popped out in the midst of the Taelor/Void Wretch pack of dudes. I had a plan here, despite how suicidal this appeared.

Tara starts the second turn pinging off of Misaki to make her whole crew fast, pitching three cards. Misaki discovered how difficult it is to kill incorporeal things but dropped one Void Wretch, damaged Taelor, and repositioned a bit. Taelor came up at this point and attempted to smoosh her, only to discover that while Nick thought it was funny that I was voluntary going to let him discard cards with the Misdirection upgrade, it was less funny when I was SSing in masks to make Taelor beat on her own models instead (more on this later.) On the other hand, Yamaziko was getting hit a bunch by the rest of Nick’s crew walking politely up and taking one attack, as brace Yari is a very good ability, particularly when the opponent has no blasts to force you not to castle up. The Nothing Beast came up and did some damage, allowing me to charge Ototo into him and score 1 for Vendetta. Alas, my rush of victory was short lived as the NB then proceeded to bury him in response. Karina rubbed salt in the wound by setting him on fire.

Somewhere in the void, Ototo got angry.

Misaki was feeling slightly outnumbered next turn, so I went ahead and killed the Nothing Beast to get Ototo back on the board and even the odds. She popped another Void Wretch, I believe, to score from Reckoning this turn. Taelor introduced the Torekage to her hammer with a red joker damage flip, and Tara killed Yamaziko scoring for Nick. I now saw another concern with Tara, as Nick was unable at this point to use her “make everything fast” ability, as it would have sped up my whole crew as well. Ototo came out and was in angry mode, smashing hard into Taelor.

I discovered that Ototo’s laugh off ability has the side-effect of also allowing you to flip 12+ cards whenever Tara attempts to bury him, so long as you laugh like a jackass while flipping the cards (I’m sure it’s in an errata somewhere, as this is how it worked the rest of the game.) The remaining Void Wretch peeled off to go eat my archer. Between turn 4 and 5 this would score 3 for Nick from Vendetta. However, Misaki and the enraged Ototo proceeded to mulch the rest of the Tara crew, leading to a 5-4 win in my final game of Malifaux in the old stomping grounds over one of the area’s best players, albeit one who had not really played any M2E.

Shut up. It counts.

The Trouble With Tara

Once upon a time, a younger version of myself played a CCG based on the WWE franchise known as Raw Deal. (Stop judging me. I got to go to Wrestlemania one year for free because my team was playing in the World Championship.) Anyway, this game involved players building 60 card decks of maneuvers, reversals, and actions cards representing a match between the two wrestlers you were basing your deck around. Each WWE Superstar had a different hand size and special ability that in some way reflected their ring presence. From the beginning, it was obvious that the cards in hand were a potent resource, as HHH effectively had no special ability outside of having a ten card hand size and was still one of the most effective characters in the game. At this point in time, nobody was really dominant, but HHH and a handful of other superstars proved themselves consistently to be strong. All of that changed, however, when the Backlash expansion came out, introducing the Right to Censor (bonus points if you’re enough of a WWE nerd to remember them) into the game and I made the fateful decision to persuade my friend Bryan Witte, who had absolutely no interest in wrestling whatsoever, to try the game.

The world of Raw Deal would literally never be the same.

Feel the Charisma

Bryan came from Magic: The Gathering. He was a blue player, and delighted in combo/denial style decks. In a way, Bryan was similar to what Eric J. described as “that guy” in one of his recent blog posts, though not necessarily for the negative connotations implied by that title. In his spare time, he liked to pick up other CCG’s that were still in their first iterations and deconstruct them to find the strategy that inevitably broke the game (you didn’t even want to try and play him at Pokemon back in the day.) This wasn’t done out of malice so much as just enjoying the intellectual challenge of trying to find the most reliable ways to win at contests that interested him. It should have been no surprise, then, that when I suggested he try this silly wrestling game since there was a denial style deck I thought would match up well with his interests, he would jump at it and eventually end up changing the game forever. Fast forward a couple of years, and Bryan had thrown out most of the cards I suggested in the first RTC deck, redesigned it and made it into an unstoppable force that would lead him to become the 2003 World Raw Deal Champion, and in doing so demonstrating to me one of the undeniable tenants of CCG’s: the power of card access.

Here’s a picture of the card he got to design for being champion. Bryan’s the dude getting punched.

The reason Bryan’s deck was so unstoppable had nothing to do with the RTC’s strong reversal cards, as countless other WWE characters had arguably as good if not stronger specifics available to them. It was all about the card access. The RTC started with a not-insignificant hand size of 8 after boosting it in the pre-game phase, but more importantly were able to, once per turn, put the cards in their hand in any order, place them on the bottom of their deck, and redraw the same number off of the top. Most people underestimated the significance of this. First of all, it let Bryan see usually about 1/5th of the deck per turn. More importantly, however, it meant that, usually by the seventh turn of the game or so, Bryan now knew where and in what order all of the cards in his deck were, giving him a HUGE advantage in the subsequent rounds. This level of card access was completely unmatched in the game, but it underscored a point that became more and more obvious as time went on: the strongest Superstarts to play as in Raw Deal invariably consisted of those that had the best card access. Whether it was the Undertaker being able to ditch 2 from his hand to grab any one card from the discard pile (an ability which got stronger as the game went on, since “damage” in Raw Deal was represented by cards milling out of your deck) or JBL’s 12 hand-size and ability to hide any 2 cards from his deck inside of his limousine before the match


card access was king. Eventually, I realized that the same principles were true for other CCG’s, as most of Bryan’s strategies to break other card games revolved around getting access to as many cards from his deck as he possibly could. Today, Malifaux is an interesting hybrid of card game and table-top miniatures strategy game, and I’ve often found that, to one degree or another, this rule also applies here. There’s a reason nearly every Neverborn crew in 1.5 used the Primordial Magic totem if able to, since it increased your card access by pushing up the maximum hand size.

And all of this, ladies and germs, is why I have some serious reservations about Tara.

Say what, now? 

For the uninitiated, Tara has a suite of abilities between herself and her crew that encourage her players to shrink their control hand every turn. Namely, she ditches three from her hand to grant fast to everybody within 6” of her and the defense stats of her Nothing Beast and Void Wretches shrink dramatically based on how many cards Tara is holding. In exchange for this, she gets massive bonuses. Fast to her whole crew for 1 AP out of a potential 7 that Tara will be using during the turn is huge. Her beasts get massive bonuses when attacking other fast things (there will be at least one fast enemy model, as you have to include one to cast it on her crew.) She can bury and unbury friendly models nearly at will with the right upgrades, giving her 1.5 Dreamer-esque mobility. Her crew hits hard; moves fast; can be pretty survivable with the incorporeal, high base defenses on her minions, and her ranged defense trigger; and can perform equally well in objective based as well as kill-y strategies. On paper, she is a very, very strong crew that has titillated a lot of the best and brightest players in the Malifaux community, and with good reason.

I’m just not buying it.

Don’t get me wrong, I bought the box set and I’ll probably play her in fun games, but I have some serious reservations about a crew whose abilities encourage players to hamstring themselves in this manner, particularly when it comes to competitive play. One of the selling points for Malifaux is the ability to take one’s fate in one’s own hand by having a hand of cards with which we can modify the card flips which determine interactions in the game. No more would be the days when your Khorne Berzerker marine squad charges a lone Imperial Guard platoon, only to roll a pack of 1’s and lose the game on the critical turn. Without this resource, we are now subject to the vagaries of the chance, and despite what Yu-Gi-Oh! may teach us, sometimes you are going to get hosed whether or not you believe in the heart of the cards.

The flip side to the strong superstars in Raw Deal were the Mankind, X-Pac, and Spike Dudley’s of the world. They had amazing cards (just like everybody else.) They drew more cards per turn than their opponents. But they started out at a disadvantage due to having a starting hand size of 2,0, and 0 respectively and, to no great surprise, these superstars were underrepresented when it came to top competitive events. The reason was simple. Even though they were burning through their deck much faster than their opponent, they started out at such a disadvantage that it was impossible to recover, particularly if those two or three cards they drew on the first couple of turns sucked.

The same principles can be applied to Malifaux, in my opinion. Everyone has seen the triple + attack flip come out with no face cards and, sometimes, nothing higher than a five. It happens. Sometimes you roll 1’s. It’s part of the game. But for Tara crews it’s going to seem like this happens a lot more often, I’m predicting, because when it does occur she will have limited resources to correct for it. Obviously, when you ditch 3 of your cards to pass out fast (half her hand, if you’re not good at fractions,) you’re going to keep the three best out of the bunch. But the bottom line is, that is now three total cards you have available to fix those bad flips during the turn, and that’s assuming you don’t then turn around and use those cards up to try and improve your minion’s defense stats (the Nothing Beast is a much less impressive defense of 6 with three cards in hand, while the Void Wretch is a very average 5.) At times in our game, Nick was forced to cheat in flips that weren’t that important simply because he knew his models were in trouble and were going to need to push up their defense just to survive.

All of this is just looking at things from your perspective, but what about your opponent? Well, it turns out he/she will know the situation you’re going to be in from the beginning of the game and, if they’re smart, use it against you. Nick chuckled as he saw me putting Misdirection on Misaki before the game, amused that I was going to give him more ways to pitch cards. That amusement went away rapidly the first time he saw me burning stones to throw masks onto her defense and leaving him with the choice of either cheating away 2/3rds of those good cards he had saved in his hand or be unable to hit Misaki while she stands in the middle of a crowd. Once the stones were gone she now became hittable at least (albeit with her now receiving + to defense flips) but now turned every Bisento attack she made where she flipped a crow into a decapitate, again forcing Nick to make hard choices or, as happened several times after Nick had cheated his hand down to 1, having no choice at all. This is an extreme example, but I think every crew will have some way of exploiting this AND SHOULD, given how potent Tara’s crew can be.

Now, caveat time, I have played a total of one game against a Tara crew and have yet to use her myself. I saw no examples of Tara battle reports after a cursory examination of the Wyrd boards. Our game ultimately turned into “Line up and run at each other,” as many playtest games do, and I have a feeling Tara crews will be much more successful playing surgically and going for objectives rather than getting into a knock-down drag out (though anybody who thinks the crew isn’t tough has never gone up against Taelor with Fast.) What I’m saying is, I am far from an expert on this crew. Moreover, Malifaux isn’t a pure CCG and good players can make up for bad cards with excellent strategy and play on the board. Would I be blown over to see a Tara crew winning tournaments at Gencon next year? No way. A few flips going the other direction and this game was Nick’s, I have no doubt. The raw power of this crew is undeniable, but the fact is that I had these reservations about Tara from the first time I saw her crew cards in Wyrd Chronicles. I still can’t shake the feeling that, when you play Tara in a tourney, a crew like this is always going to have that one game where the deck seems to turn on them and they can’t do anything about it, and the next thing you know you’ve got a loss and you’re running uphill to try and climb back into contention. Given the choice between this crew and one with better card access, like a Lynch crew with Born with a Hand and Mulligan that basically gets to draw a brand new control hand at the end of the turn, I’ll take the Lynch crew every time for competitive play and never regret the decision.

Let the comments on why I’m wrong begin!

I can hear them coming, already.