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!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

January/February Hobby Round-Up: BFF Edition

After the big Nicodem post from last week, I was excited by all the new traffic (hello to you, if you're a new fan,) but ready for a bit of a break. Thankfully, it's hobby week. Pretty pictures time!

To start with, some of my own work. I'd been preparing my Collodi crew for a tournament in Tennessee. Unfortunately, my wife's car needed new spark plugs and ignition coils, so that pretty much killed the travel budget. My patreon supporters are appreciated, but right now I don't make enough from there to cover the costs of a trip like that. (Of course, you could be a part of changing that. Doesn't that sound exciting? Go to and you can!)

But, they're painted now at least, and I'm pretty happy with them. Here's how they turned out.

I'll just have to wait for another opportunity to Laissez les mauvais temps rouler.

I've also been working on some buddies to run with them (and other NB crews. Here's a pretty much done Iggy and a still WIP Mysterious Effigy.

I've really gotta get some better light for these. 

Our feature artist this week is Marina Ainagoz from Serpentarium Painting. She caught my attention because she has been posting finished work from a pair of Malifaux Masters in A Wyrd Place, the Resurrectionist BFFs Kirai and Molly. I think the work is stunning, and I think you will too. Plus, those two turning into friends was one of the funniest and coolest things to come out of M2E.

First, here's Kirai.

The freehand and the patina on the Komainu are especially impressive.

Next, here's Molly.

She's looking pretty good, with an impressive sheer material dress and some spooky ghostly effects in her hand and coming up through the floor. Very, very cool.


And we'll finish up with a few odds and ends.

First, Kirill Kanaev did a version of the Evil Baby Orphanage Jack the Ripper model. I was very impressed with the lighting on the felt hat.

Next, Alan O'Brien had a cool Dia de los Muertes version of the alt performer. Could work for a Domadore de Cadaveres.

Finally, Enrico Laura had a cool diorama with Archie.

There are some weird things on the other side of the looking glass.
Thanks for our contributors this week. See you next week, when I'll probably be writing stuff. Maybe. We'll see.

God, that Nicodem thing was long...

Monday, February 5, 2018

Wanted: Nicodem.

Name: Nicodem

Aliases: Nico, The Necromancer, Amelia Bathory
Known Crimes: Grave Robbery, Gross Necromancy, Drawing obscene numbers of cards
Associates: Mortimer, Phillip Tombers, Asura Roten, Morgue Assistant Sebastian

               I had an idea for a series of articles detailing the top crews in the Malifaux meta at any given point in time. I’d call them “Wanted Posters” (since Malifaux’s Most Wanted was already taken,) and they’d give me a chance to take a look at the crews that are dominating right now and give players tips as to how they worked, what the key pieces were, and how best to overcome them. I recalled, specifically, the so-called “Rat Bomb” Outcast crews from 2016 that plagued the meta (pun unintended) before they were errata’d out of existence. The community scrambled to try and discuss how to keep from getting rolled by this toxic build, but they still ran wild and the "how do I beat this list?" posts were more or less constant. Articles like these Wanted Posters could have helped save some folks from a Negative Play Experience back in the day and given them a fighting chance, and I thought maybe I could try and get something like that ready now. Plus, it would give me a chance to learn some things about Malifaux as a whole. At first, I was planning on doing one of these for a Misaki crew with the original version of her Thunder upgrade, especially after the havoc it caused at the UK Nationals. Then, of course, it ended up being nerfed in January, bringing that particular nightmare to heel a bit. So I had an idea for a cool style of blog post, but no subject. And then I remembered the crew that’s induced the most moaning and groaning in the podcasts I listened to historically, particularly those recorded in the UK. One answer jumped out: Nicodem.
               This was an intriguing subject to me for a couple of reasons. For one, I don’t have a ton of experience playing with or against him. Phiasco experimented with him early on in M2E, and the main thing I learned was to knock him out of his little circle of summoning to disrupt him (Mr. Graves literally threw him out the door of a building, which was very satisfying). Seemed simple enough, and it explained to me why I didn’t see him all that often if that was all it took to stop him. Contrasting my own experiences, however, were the horror stories out of the UK meta of him taking down tournament after tournament, seemingly without stop. The modern Nicodem crew has been the boogie-man of the UK Meta for many years, now. You can’t go five minutes on the Flippin’ Wyrds podcast without some mention of how Nico is filth (though one of the hosts probably has a lot to do with that). And yet, here in the US he doesn’t seem to have the same infamy. If you talked to certain people in the US, the thought of spending almost three quarters of your crew’s points on models to drive your summoning engine was laughably slow, the sort of thing players did in the old days of 1st edition (ah, remember that? Hiring dogs and/or desperate mercs to murder on the first turn? Memories…)
               So what is a Nicodem crew? What does it look like? What makes the crew work and, if it’s as bad as the UK meta seems to think, what can players do to beat it? Well, I knew I wasn’t the one to answer, so I went looking for outside help. Asking around the internet, I made contact with Travis Weyforth, host of the Max Value podcast and recent Nicodem convert. Max Value in particular has scoffed at the practice of spending so many points on things that don’t actually go out and score VP, though Travis has changed his tune a bit recently. His opinion, I thought, would be very informative. But, to get the inside scoop on the infamous UK Nicodem crew, there was really no one better to get hold of than the source of all this strife and woe, *sigh* Jamie F’N Varney (we’re contractually required to refer to him that way. Yes, even the sigh.) That, paired with some first-hand demonstrations and insight from a friend of mine, Rich Nave, led to the monstrosity below.

Profiles in Necromancy: How does the Nicodem crew work?

                      Put simply, the strength of this crew comes from its access to cards. One of the balancing factors for summoning crews is that they have to expend their resources (in the form of cards and soulstones) to do what they do and get new models out onto the board. Resurrectionists in general have ways of getting around this, and Nicodem is particularly effective at it. But, before we get down to that, let’s take a look at the important pieces of the crew and discuss how they work.

Nicodem- The man. The myth. The top hat. I mean, his name’s on the Wanted poster, so of course he’s the engine that makes this car run. His summoning is, obviously, the defining characteristic of the crew. The TN for Re-Animator (the Summoning spell) is 10 Double Crow plus the soulstone value of the undead minion he’s summoning, so cards and/or stones are the only way to make this spell work (he has one crow built in.) Like most summoners, he has some perks and some costs for his newly summoned troops. They comes in with only half of their wounds (assuming Nicodem doesn’t trigger and use some additional corpse markers to heal them), but any undead model within 6” of him gets a + to Ml and Df duels and undead models don’t gain slow within the same bubble, which takes away one of the main costs of summoning. Once the Undead are on the board, he can heal them with Decay and/or use Rigor Mortis to make them Fast. He’ll often bring the upgrade Maniacal Laugh, allowing him to take a (0) action and turn any corpse marker within 8” into a Mindless Zombie, granting a degree of mobility to his summoning. And last but not least, he draws a card whenever an undead model is killed or sacrificed within 6 of him. This is just good in general, but the crew exploits this with a few…we’ll say “loopholes” in the rules where mindless zombies and Sebastian come into play, resulting in an obscene amount of card draw that effectively lets Nicodem do what he wants on his turn, regardless of what cards he has in his opening hand. As someone who tried summoning Dreamer and, on the first turn of the first game, found himself looking at a hand with nothing bigger than an 8 in it, I can truly appreciate a summoner who is effectively agnostic to the twists and turns of deck randomization.

Asura Roten and Sebastian- These two are vital parts of the engine, functioning essentially as the fuel injectors. Asura can create a Mindless Zombie every turn, and Sebastian uses “Those Are Not Ours” to sacrifice it, drawing a card and gaining a soulstone. Because this is often done within 6” of Nicodem, that results in the drawing of another card. Two cards and a soulstone in exchange for basically spending no resources at all is a pretty good trade. Sebastian’s Under Cover action allows you to protect the summoning bubble from attacks that have gun symbols, and he isn’t completely useless in melee as a countercharger if it comes down to it (though, if it DOES come down to it, you’re probably in a lot of trouble). He’s also one of the models that can drop a scheme marker for Phillip to chew up on his activation for more cards. Asura, meanwhile, has an ability similar to Sandeep, allowing undead models within 12” to use one of her melee attacks. The worst of these, by far, is Grasping Hands, as it applies a condition that reduces your Df, Wk, and Cg by a point based on how many times you’ve been hit with the attack. That is, frankly, crippling, and adds a ton to the defensive abilities of the crew. The best way to stop a charging melee beatstick is to shorten his Cg down so he can’t reach you in the first place.

Phillip and the Nanny- The joke of this model is that it’s basically just here for “Lost Knowledge,” a tactical action that lets P+N discard a friendly scheme marker within 6” to draw two and discard one. Now, it’s fast and, if used with things that can push it, can function as a very good scheme denier. But, come on. #realtalk, the cards are the reason you’re bringing Phillip.

Corpse Bloat (aka Mortimer)- The assistant Gravedigger has been a staple in Nicodem crews from the beginning. However, he’s one of the few parts of this crew where you see variation. Jamie and several other Nicodem players I spoke to use him essentially every game. Travis, by contrast, considers him “trash” and just puts Corpse Bloat on Phillip to do the job of corpse generation, making them responsible for starting the engine and getting the car moving (to keep belaboring the metaphor.) The advantage to doing it this way, of course, is that Nicodem can then use Decay to heal him up for more corpse generation later. The disadvantage is that you’re putting your eggs in one basket and, presumably, that means killing P+N early could be a way of slowing the engine down. Plus, Mortimer has a tactical action on his card that costs 2 AP to summon a corpse, and so can summon 2 a turn (3 with My Little Helper which, let’s be honest, of course he’s bringing.) In other crews, I’ve seen the upgrade placed on Asura instead. YMMV. Either way, this piece’s job is, in the early part of the game, to generate the raw materials needed for Nico’s summoning. If you do bring Mortimer his other job is to provide a little bit more defense for the bubble. His shovel doesn’t do a ton of damage, but he is Ml7. Assuming he’s still alive later on, he also has Chatty to block interactions (so good luck doing Dig Graves.) Obviously, the advantage to consolidating and cutting Mortimer is that those points are then available for buying other models. Mr. Weyforth recommends putting them in for the Emissary. I would say, if you’re looking to try it out, try both and make your call based on your own experience. If nothing else, you’ll have the Mortimer model anyway from buying the boxed set.

The Summons­ (and the non-engine stuff)So if you’re spending so many points on the engine, you’re going to end up relying on Nicodem’s summons to do a lot of the work for you. The meat and potatoes summon is the Punk Zombie. Ml 6 2/4/5 with Flurry that you can plop out of thin air wherever you need it is nothing to turn up your nose at. Their attacks have a built in + to the flip, and Nicodem throws another one on, so these guys will routinely turn your deck over for you in a turn when they really get going. The new hotness, of course, is the Kentauroi. They add a degree of force-projection that was missing before (because, really, it just wasn’t fair that Nicodem couldn’t drop a Lampad in the opponent’s DZ turn one.) Also, they drop corpse counters all over the place when they move and are respectable in combat in their own right. Rotten Belles are still gross and good for summoning the enemy out of position and/or into the death bubble. In a pinch, he can summon the Students to specifically target a creature type if something particularly troublesome is coming for him. Also, there’s Hanged, and Dead Doxies, and Necropunks…you get the picture. As an aside, the problem with Nicodem is that, every time a new Undead minion comes out, the designers have to keep in mind that he can summon them and cost them accordingly. So, in case you ever wondered why most of them are bad for their points cost, blame him. I mean, Molly and Kirai have something to do with it to, but Nicodem is a good target.

The non-engine stuff (IE what you might hire from the beginning) have some flexibility as well, but mainly it’s to put some more attack and/or utility on the board to supplement the engine. A big counter-charger to keep Nicodem safe is usually not a terrible idea, so you might see Archie or a Valedictorian. The Emissary fits nicely, because the Death Puffin can either help the engine get running and/or go support the rest of the crew independently from the bubble (shards blocking LoS is still good.) Starting out with some Rotten Belles is usually not a bad choice either, and if you’re worried about something alpha-striking you (more on this later) the Belles can be a good counter-choice to pull the pieces out of position/into your death bubble to be killed safely. The new hotness (pun-intended) is the Lampad. Making them fast so they can push onto you, set you on fire, then knock you down to let you die from burning and summon a new one is very strong, as a 4 AP swing between crews is always one of the best power plays in Malifaux.

Putting it all together

I mean, you have some of the pieces at this point, but how does it all work on the board? Well, I could tell you, or I could just let Jamie do it. If you don’t know Jamie Varney, he’s won…all the UK tournaments? I don’t know. Most of them. He’s been the UK Master a couple times and came in second this year. He’s won Nationals. He’s won the GT. He’s the number one ranked player. He’s won all their stuff, basically, usually with some version of Nicodem/Kirai/Molly (so summoning Rezzers.) Let’s see what he’s got to say on how to play the crew, shall we?

So I see Nico playing as an engine that is all about him. He buffs everything. +flips to DF and ML mean anything around him becomes much harder to kill and much better at killing. He is amazing at resource generation and at depleting your opponents. With your models on positives your opponent will often need to cheat to make a hit count and Nico's models won't. If/when you do kill his models it's generating cards and corpses for him.

Being anywhere near Nico's bubble is a toxic place to be where you're really up against it and Nico takes it in his stride. He can pull you in with belles and reach out with Kentauroi, he is super versatile since Kentauroi and can seriously threaten almost anywhere on the board or just bring you where he needs to be using lures. Kentauroi and his/your models dropping corpses just makes his next turn stronger and if he has enough corpses to sacrifice 2 when summoning (usually late turn 2 or turn 3 with Kentauroi dropping and stuff dying) you're in a really bad place as he will bring in models fully or near fully healed and draw multiple cards for each summon. Good cards or bad cards it doesn't matter as you either use them or discard them end of turn.

Black joker. Always keep it. Always. With all the +flips especially punk zombies (a flurry PZ can easily flip 18 cards in an activation) get it out your deck and likewise always get the red back in there. Use it to summon or make an attack hit. Just get it in your deck where it can have the biggest impact. Protect Nicodem. Don't put him in danger. Always be on the lookout for threats to him and try to stop them. Anything else is expendable. Think ahead. Nico needs set up. He usually needs to think a turn or 2 ahead, he has an answer to everything but if you need interacts for example you need a summon or model that didn't arrive that turn.

Turning the Tide: How to Defeat the Undead Horde

So, is it hopeless? Sure sounds like it, and when you see the size of Nico’s hand at the end of turn one and realize that he has specially crafted his hand to make it borderline unstoppable, it can kinda feel like it. To give you an idea of how obscene this gets, I started a game with a Nico player recently on Vassal just to see the engine in action, and I watched him discard a 13 from his hand to activate an ability. It wasn’t that his hand had all high cards (there were, like, 10 cards in his hand at this point, and it was late in the turn.) It was because he wanted to hold the bad cards in his hand and stack his discard pile for next turn with severes. If he kept the bad ones, they’d be in his discard pile turn 2 and, thus, couldn’t affect his flips when he was going to be coming in to murder my face. And, of course, because he had SO MANY HIGH CARDS IN HIS HAND HE COULD AFFORD TO DISCARD ONE OF THEM.

This was on turn one, it’s worth repeating.

Well, here’s the good news. Nicodem isn’t unbeatable. Despite what some people think, Aaron does understand that Nicodem is very good and would have taken steps to nerf him in the 2018 errata if it was necessary. I’ll let Jamie throw his two bits (pence? quid? I don’t know UK money) in first.

The weakness. In my opinion there is one. And it's Nico. He is DF 4 with no +flips. Get into him and attack him. Attacking stuff around him just uses your resources and gets him more and he can easily replenish his crew. It's not easy, especially with Kentauroi to get him out of harm’s way. Not much in the game can kill him in an activation and he has an amazing heal and a solid buffed crew around him to protect him, lure, slow, kill any threats. But it is the best way to attack his set up. He will punish you for it if you can't make it count when you go in but otherwise there is no hiding from him. He will lure in or use Kentauroi to get to your models and kill them piece by piece. If you play Nico poorly he is easy to defeat but played well he has insane board control, crazy resources and snowballs into an unstoppable force.

Ok, that doesn’t sound super hopeful, but the idea is that the best day to deal with a Nicodem crew is kill Nicodem, and it’s not impossible to do so. Fighting his crew is like punching a huge marshmallow:  it’ll yield and squish down, but it’ll just spring back to shape just as quickly and leave you tired (and a bit sticky…nevermind. Ignore that part.) If you can launch a decisive alpha strike on him in the first or (maybe) second turn and kill him, threat averted. The slingshotting Viktorias probably have the best chance of pulling this off consistently, plus their whirlwind lets them damage the rest of Nico’s crew while they’re at it. And, of course, once the man in the hat is dead there’s nothing else in his crew that can really do any damage to you.

The trouble is, the crew is very good at surgically neutralizing threats early on by drawing you in and killing you or launching a Fast Lampad and/or Kentauroi into the threat’s face. And worse, if you die in the process of taking him down, you’ve most likely given him more corpse markers with which to fuel his engine, which is some major salt in the wound. As Omar from the Wire put it “You come at the king. You best not miss.” But how to ensure that? Back to the main man I went, with a more pointed question. “You’re sitting down to a game of Malifaux, and you’re playing against Doppleganger Jamie Varney, and you know he’s playing your Nico. What crew do you bring?”

Anything that can bring multiple points of pressure onto Nico turn 1. One model is not enough, he will just kill it or tie it up. Or something that can take out a lot at once, Viks, Misaki etc or something that can pull nico out (not easy at WP 7) so Zipp or Asami.

But tbh Asami is the ultimate nico counter. She can pull him out or just summon off his corpses and she's super quick and can put summons and Yasunori in his face turn 1

*breathes a quick sigh of relief that he didn’t just say “I would play Nico also.”*

That makes it a bit clearer. Your alpha strike needs to be able to bring several threats to bear at once. Yasunori+Misaki, perhaps, or Viktorias and…some other fast thing from Outcasts (I don’t play Outcasts.) If you’re playing Rezzers, you can always give him a taste of his own medicine and Lure him out to take him down (not easy, but at least possible) or maybe some combination of Seamus plus a beater that gets lured forward and then charges in. There are options. The point is, bring multiple threats and jump on him early. If you wait until later in the game, the engine will be running and there will be no stopping him.

Now, not every crew can pull off a turn one multi-front blitzkrieg (shocker.) Also, it may not be the right gameplan for every Rezzer crew your opponent might bring, so you’re gambling in a tournament situation bringing an “anti-Nico” crew that you might end up wrong-footed with an inappropriately suicidal crew. So what happens if you don’t have the perfectly crafted anti-Nico crew, but find yourself squaring off with the master Necromancer? Well, for that one, I turned to Travis, who just finished up coming in second at CaptainCon with Nicodem this previous weekend.
This is more of a paraphrase, as I asked him for bullet points to save him time, but…

Going for kills on nico isn't bad but it needs to be something that can kill him on one activation or very close. You aren't going to chip him down slowly. Any 3/4/6 type beater is scary because one red joker and he's in danger of dying. But even then you are just fishing for the joker and hoping, which isn't the best plan.
So alpha strikes are always good if you have access to good ones and do it right, but don't alpha strike with some mediocre model. You’ll just be feeding him corpses. Instead, you can win with your scheme selection.
You don't want to take any end of game schemes vs nico. You are always going to be out activated late in the game, and he just powers up over the game so things like take prisoner or covert breakthrough are super easy for him to deny late. You want schemes that score all at once (before end of game) if possible or alternatively ones that you score per turn like Dig Graves.
You also need to focus on scoring points not trying to win the brawl. Unless you get an alpha strike early and get way ahead or manage to kill nico you are always going to lose the brawl, so instead focus on scoring what victory points you can early on. Any killing you do should be done to accomplish this goal, aid you in scoring VP, or to block him from scoring.
Biggest thing is scheme selecting.
Score points as quick as you can. By turn 4-5 you will almost certainly be at a huge disadvantage.

The key thing that every Nicodem player I spoke to for this article repeated is this: he is beatable, it’s just that people don’t know how to do it. Play your strategies and schemes (since, you know, that’s how you win.) Don’t get intimidated by what he’s doing, and don’t try to knock him out unless you’re confident you can get it done in one clean blow. Instead, focus on getting as many VP as you can in the beginning of the game and denying him later, if possible.

In a way, it’s narratively fitting to play against Nicodem if you think of it like a zombie horror movie. Your crew are the group of plucky survivors, trying to hold their ground against a relentless tide of the dead. You’re going to get overwhelmed. You’re going to get overrun. A big, grey tide of the dead is shambling your way, and you have a turn or two to prepare for their arrival. Make those turns count, because when the horde gets here your models are going to start dying. By turn 5 there may not be very many of them left. Understand that from the beginning, and keep your head about you. Keep your eye on the prize and play the scenario, and that will give you the best chance of winning in the end. Remember, Nicodem’s crew isn’t going to be trying to score points early on. It’s busy revving the engine up on turn 1. The Kentauroi being added to the crew means he’s at least going to be able to threaten you early on, but that’s nothing compared to what you’ll face later, and chances are he’ll have to send them out of the bubble to reach your key stuff. Grab your VP as fast as you can, and hang on as hard as possible until the final whistle. It’s not going to be easy, but the point is that it’s POSSIBLE to win, and this gives you the best shot at doing it.


I hope this was informative and somewhat entertaining. Many thanks to my contributors. You can find Jamie on Twitter being relentlessly hounded about how broken Nico is @FlippinWyrds. You can also sometimes hear him on a podcast, the Flippin Wyrds Malifaux Podcasts, though they’ve put out two episodes in three months, so don’t hold your breath (we tease because we love). Travis can, of course, be heard on the Max Value podcast, likely telling you why Larry, Roger, or Alex are wrong (today.) He wants to invite people to register for the Capital City Meltdown tournament, May 5-6 in Laurel, Maryland. If you don’t go, you’re a bad person and you should feel bad about yourself. Lord knows, I do. And, of course, thanks to Rich, who’s on FB and usually on Vassal Tuesdays making Phiasco or I sad by summoning far too many things.