Saturday, December 14, 2019

McCabe gets schooled by the Academics

Picture of the Malifaux Badlands Expedition Force, circa 1907.

           Last weekend, we began a league in Des Moines, IA run by Schemes and Stones host Kyle Bode and Steam Powered Scoundrels host Doug Broman. It’s somewhere between a grow league and a wide-open single faction format, as we get 75 soulstones to build a pool from which we must hire for every game, but we have to pay for masters and totems. There is a somewhat complicated way of determining our standing and how our pools grow between rounds that I won’t go into. Thematically, the participants of the league are supporting some patrons who are funding exploration, archeology, and/or paleontology missions into Malifaux’s wilderness. As such, Lucas McCabe seemed like a logical choice.
            I’ve liked McCabe since 2nd edition. He’s fiddly and his crew is very flexible, which is good because I often don’t realize what I’m going to need to win a game until I’m part way into it. McCabe’s ability to switch gears and cross the board to deal with emergency situations has always appealed to me. I liked his role as Point Guard (the guy who sets up the plays and calls the shots in a basketball team) in 2e, and I liked his big hiring pool. Those things, however, are not really a part of his game plan anymore. The trinkets he hands out (that’s what I’m going to call them. I don’t care what the real name is) take way more to set up now and aren’t as diverse or as powerful, and he currently has the most limited hiring pool in the game, as he’s a split-faction master whose missing one of his factions. Thankfully, the 10T offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of its versatile models, but you can feel some things are missing when you’re list-building and playing McCabe.

Sidir Alchibal
Desper Laraux
2 Hucksters
Lone Swordsman
Shadow Emissary
Masked Agent Upgrade

            I thought this was a balanced group, with a decent mix of combat and scheming provided by Hucksters and Desper. I had a feeling I would struggle in Reckoning, but I assumed I could flip around to a more attacker focused list, with a lot of shooting to help avoid taking too many attacks back, if I needed to.

            I went to Des Moines to play my first league game. I found when I got there that my opponent would be Kyle playing Sandeep and the Academics. After flipping, we determined that we would be playing Plant Explosives, and I thought I pretty much had it in the bag. This is supposed to be one of the strongest strategies for McCabe, something I thought would be the reason I would bring McCabe to tournaments. Add to that having Detonate Charges and Search The Ruins in the scheme pool, and this was a sure home run. Then add to that Kyle saying that his crew was not optimized for Plant Explosives and, pfft. Put your money on me, folks. This should have been a foregone conclusion.

            But this is Malifaux, and bad things happen.

            I had Sidir and Lone Swordsman controlling the left half of the board with the rest of the crew getting ready to push into the enemy on the right. The enemy was mostly pooled up on the right half, so I thought it would be in the best interest to move up and net-gun several of them. This turned out to be a poor choice, as Kyle had an Oxfordian Mage with him, and the mage can clear conditions in a bubble out to 5” automatically, which meant the slow went away without even having to flip. Staggered did less than I was hoping as well, as the Fire Elemental can jump through enemy models with the burning condition. So, yeah, that sucked, as it essentially jumped past McCabe and into the heart of my crew on the same turn I had went yolo’ing forward to try to keep it in its deployment zone, with Banasuva and Kandara creeping in behind it. Also, I failed to execute the “drop scrap, turn into upgrade, pass around to give everybody fast” machine on the first turn. And I tried to send one Huckster forward to get ready to hide bombs on the enemy’s side of the board t2, only to discover that Sandeep had enough movement to cross the board and delete that Huckster in one turn, so that was one explosives token gone on turn 1. Then the other Huckster didn’t get away from the Fire Elemental in time, so it died on turn 2 but at least managed to get its bomb planted first. Unfortunately, with no Hucksters that pretty much meant no Detonate the Charges. I would have needed a miracle to win that game, and the cards just weren’t in place to get it done. Want to sum the game up in one bonus action? Here you go. On turn 2, one of the last activations, my 1 wound Huckster with Burning 1 used Secret Passages to skip up the board and plant his bomb and then, with his Free Action, try to get myself one last boon before he died. We flipped the cards, and Kyle pulled out the Red Joker put in his hand.

            McCabe held his own despite the difficult situation, surviving until T5 and confounding some of the efforts of the enemy. I kept it close early, maintaining a tie all the way to 4-4  at the end of T3 or 4. Desper managed to escape near death and pick up points for Search the Ruins, but still there was no saving it. I lost 4-7, and I realized I had a lot to learn.

Lessons from Game 1
1)    Know the crew you’re playing against. It’s tough to know everything in Malifaux, but I think you at least have to know what to expect from the keywords. The Academics are a prime example of this, as their ability to trigger effects when they Focus, particularly the way they radiate it out to everyone around them, makes them a lot more dangerous than what you see when you glance over the cards. If you don’t know what to expect, you can’t make a good plan. So, play more games or, failing that, read up in advance.
2)    McCabe is a good tank and support piece, but not much of a beater. Despite all the offensive damage he can put out in theory, so much of it is untargeted and reliant on Simple Duel failure that he just can’t be counted on to do that job. He can do some damage, but he’s not going to kill anybody you need dead without help. What he can do, however, is use the Phantasmal Mask to protect himself and tie up a lot of models in the enemy crew. He’s support for your side, and disruption for the enemy. Going back and relistening to Third Floor War’s McCabe deep dive episode, guest Alyx Drake compared his use to something akin to Zip, a disruption/defense master. I think he may be on to something. And in a similar vein…

3)    Hucksters are different than I thought they were. The Wandering River Dojo sensei, Phiasco, has been telling me he doesn’t buy into them for some time, but it took me a while to see it in person. Secret Passage is good and False Claim is very strong. The problem is that 1) they all require mid-level cards to go off and 2) the Hucksters themselves are made out of tissue paper. Part of completing Plant is protecting the markers once you get them down on the board, and the Hucksters just can’t do that. I had originally envisioned them as first strikers, but I think for Plant they would work better to get the last bombs down, or maybe secret passaging far into the enemy deployment area to stash the bombs where the enemy can’t get to them. I think they’re still good for completing Ley Lines, Detonate, Search, and/or Breakthrough. I’m actually coming around to the idea of utilizing them as anti-schemers, popping to enemy markers and removing them to draw a card, and then strategically pop out and strike for VPs at unexpected times.

So, I guess the Academics taught me a few lessons. This is good, if I’m going to play McCabe competitively. What I need to learn over the next several weeks of this league is whether the crew has the oomph to be the best competitive choice in most strategy/scheme/deployment combinations, or if I need to look elsewhere.