We’re hot and heavy into Gencon preview mode, so I’ve got a little bit of catch-up to do. The nice thing about this for your humble bloggist is that it makes it easy to come up with content on a weekly basis. The hard part, of course, is that they’re starting with masters I haven’t played very much. So, as per usual, take my comments with a grain of salt, but let’s take a look at two of them today.
There’s a pretty obvious pair we can join up, in that there are two characters representing Japanese women who summon monsters from elements of their folklore. Kirai has moved up from the chronically sad apprentice of Nicodem who summoned ghosts and cut herself so she could feel something again to the boss of a spirit-powered Earthside cult and Resurrectionist vigilante helping Molly take vengeance on those who would prey on the weak. Similarly, Asami Tanaka started out as a grieving and half-mad summoner of Oni (demons), but with a little tutelage from Yan Lo and (apparently) a brief break from the pocket demon trying to corrupt/gaslight her, she’s come into her own and has learned to stabilize her otherwise typically temporary “children”. Also, both of their new versions have fallen into the pattern I mentioned last time (namely “hey, let’s press pause on the whole ‘summoning’ thing”). Let’s dive in and look at how they’ve diverged.
Kirai Ankoku was undeniably one of the strongest masters in the early days of M3E, as can be said for essentially all summoners. With a Df of 4 and no built-in defensive tech outside of the keyword-wide Vengeance ability and a card intensive “Protected (Urami)” she was not a master you necessarily wanted to throw into the thick of the fight, though if you did you could benefit from her 4” Life Leech to regain some wounds. She could also trade her wounds to keep Adversary on enemy models at the end of the turn. These two abilities hint at the general theme of this model, namely managing the resource of Kirai’s life to empower herself and the crew. Nothing embodies this as well as her Blood and Wind summoning Tactical Action. After the standard summoning math (TN=10+the model’s cost and the appropriate suit) she can drop any Urami minion and attach a Vengeance upgrade to them. This gave them Slow but also let them build in a Crow to empower triggers on their attacks. Critically, however, it also made them deal 1 damage to Kirai at the start of their activation. As such, you have to play a very delicate balancing act with her to avoid her crew literally killing her. There is a lot of healing in her crew to help top her back off and avoid this, but it’s a real threat and it encourages you to treat her minions as disposable missiles (which, frankly, you want to do in GG2 anyways.) In between summons, her spirit barrage gives some reliable offensive output (gotta love shooting that ignores friendly fire). She’s got a couple of tactical actions that support her crew by healing and yanking them out of trouble, which is good. Her melee attack is alright and has an execute trigger to surprise people but, again, we don’t really want her in melee, so I’d call that situationally useful.
Envoy of the Court Kirai is a very different kettle of fish. Her defense gets bumped up to a mediocre 5 as part of an effort to move her closer to the action to work as a mid-range enhancer for the crew. The magic range for her is 8”, as she projects 3 auras that help the Urami by letting her distribute healing from one Urami model to a different one, grants them a built-in Crow on their attacks, and inflicts a – flip on WP duels and actions targeting Kirai that come from enemies with Adversary. That last one is a little weird at first glance, but makes more sense after you pair it with another ability, “Join Us.” Essentially, after a Urami model moves through the space of an enemy model as a result of one of their actions (more on this later), the enemy model must make a TN 13 WP flip or Kirai gets to summon a 4 soulstone or less model (ok, I lied, she still has some summoning. Bear with me.) Any given enemy model can only be used to do this once per turn, so you can’t just pick on a low WP model to chain out tons and tons of little minions, but critically they only get the generic summoning upgrade rather than the Vengeance one, so they don’t slowly peck away at her life once they’re on the board. This encourages you to call out a bunch of little cheap dudes, particularly since she has a tactical action called Swirling Spirits that lets her push any number of Urami models inside her bubble up to 5”, ignoring intervening models or terrain. That could, potentially, result in a lot of new little guys if the enemy clumps up on her. Gaki and Seishin are the only models that currently can be summoned by this but, you know, I got a funny feeling those other little dudes that come with Kirai in the ToS starter box are gonna fall under that line too. We’ll see what the right choice is after we get their stats, but that should at least give her some options. These summons come in Slow unless they’re Mindless, but otherwise suffer no penalties and are at full health. Moreover, her Sundering attack action, a 12” cast with no gun symbol and stat 6, deals +1 additional damage per minion engaging the target. For an enemy model on a 50mm base, that could be a significant boost. She has a second attack which is a free action to give out Adversary (Urami) which also targets WP (more – flips) and can then let her summon Ikiryo with a mask trigger and an additional cast. Finally, if that’s not enough, she can heal a Urami within 8” for 2 and make them emit a 3” concealing aura until the end of the turn for a little icing on the cake.
You may be saying to yourself “Hey self, that sure makes it sound like new Kirai can summon things just fine and may actually end up summoning more stuff than the original version.” And you might be right, to be honest. I haven’t seen it on the table. The thing is, though, new Kirai relies on an interaction with the opponent to summon, which is at least a yellow flag for me. While there’s no range on “Join Us”, I think opponents will most likely cheat their whole hand away to stop you from summoning outside of the 8” bubble of bad as long as they’re able. Personally, I don’t trust actions that rely on my opponent to make a particular choice, as my philosophy is to assume that they will always choose to make the choice that is worst for me. Within 8” you can apply Adversary to take the choice away by imposing a – flip, but now you’re asking the crew to do 2 things to make the summon work. I don’t know that I think it’s bad, and it is very interesting design to be sure. It just sounds like you’re working kind of hard to set up an ability that, if it does succeed, just gives you some “ok” 4 stone dudes (although again, this could change if the two new guys turn out to be broken.) What is cool about it, though, is that it enables a very different summoning style for Kirai. The original version wanted to get the most value from every model she summoned, so you wanted to get the biggest, nastiest Goryo or Shikome you could since, once it was on the board, it was going to start literally draining the life out of her. You wouldn’t even look at summoning a Gaki, as the cost was just too high. New Kirai, on the other hand, will likely hire those heavy hitters in her starting crew and summon the little dudes whenever possible to give her activation control and boost up her own abilities. For what she brings to the meta-game of Malifaux, I like Envoy Kirai a lot. On the table top I’m worried your opponent is going to sit at range and peck her to death (although building for that creates interesting tension, since if they bring original Kirai she’ll have Vengeance and can penalize your snipers). I don’t think her summons are going to be as reliable, and that makes me lean in original Kirai’s direction more than the new one at first blush, but I’m prepared to be wrong. At the very least, I applaud the design team for Envoy Kirai being a very interesting take on the character.
Asami is, herself, inspired by the Futakuchi-onna or two-mouthed woman, a yokai or monster from Japanese folk myths about the punishment of miserly husbands who don’t feed their wives enough. That part doesn’t exactly play a ton into her backstory, but it does sort of speak to the way her keyword, Oni, are somewhat self-devouring and self-destructive. All Oni have From Beyond, a keyword that lets them give themselves flicker tokens to gain + to their flips with the understanding that, at the end of the turn, they would be sacrificed if they have 3 or more of these tokens. In this way they also embody a Japanese aesthetic called “mono-no-aware” or an acceptance of impermanence and appreciation for the beauty of temporary and imperfect things. Or, to translate it into modern terms, everything you feel when you say “Burn bright, king” to your middle-aged father when he blazes off on the crotch-rocket he just bought as part of his midlife crisis.
Asami Tanaka originally was built to summon Oni who are, by design, very temporary. Df 6 is pretty good, and Arcane Reservoir on your summoner is always a good thing. She can do 2 damage to herself whenever an Oni ends their turn within 10 of her to remove a Flicker token from them, trading her own life for theirs effectively. If she’s close enough to support her crew’s charge, she can let them place rather than push during that charge, increasing the flexibility and unpredictability of the action significantly. Her summon follows the same math as Kirai, but the transience of her models comes not from leeching her life but because the upgrade she attaches to her summoned minions places 2 flicker tokens on them right away and makes them gain another one at the start of their activation. They can offset some of this by removing corpse or scrap tokens from the board to take some of the flicker tokens off when they summon, but the bottom line is that, even if you don’t take advantage of From Beyond for + flips, these models are on a clock from the minute they come on the board. She can use A Mother’s Love to remove another flicker token and give them Focus, which is good. She also has Reaching Tendrils to shove her own models (or the enemy crew’s models) to make sure that her summons get the most done in their brief span that they can. She also has a decent melee attack (Stat 6 2/4/6 damage) with a couple of good triggers to let her do some damage in close. As such, you generally want her a little bit closer to the action than Kirai, and it encourages you again to treat her summons as temporary. In a way, it can be more like a spell-effect she creates that goes out, does something, and then ends, rather than actually adding a model.
New Asami (Takusen is the keyword) is, once again, very different. This one doesn’t summon at all (I promise.) Instead, she focuses on letting her crew take advantage of From Beyond while also pulling the Flicker tokens off more efficiently to let them stick around when they do so. First off, her defensive stat is slightly lower, but her willpower has climbed 2 points, leading to an overall increase in her defensive total to 12 (first of the new Title masters where we’ve seen that.) Arcane Reservoir is gone (boo) but replaced with Arcane Shield +2 which, again, increases her defensive abilities. She’s gonna need this, because she wants to stay with the Oni while they move up to do their dirty work. Her Flickering Lantern ability allows Oni who end a move within 8” of her remove one of their Flicker tokens and gain Shielded +1. Meaning 1) you want your Oni to have at least some flicker tokens on them to gain this defensive tech and 2) you can control things to make sure your Oni never flicker out at the end of the turn unless you want them to. The trade off, though, is that you may end up having to stay somewhat clustered with Asami to take full advantage of this. To offset some of this limitation, she also has Dimensional Rifts to allow Oni who end a move within 1” of her or a Rift Marker to jump to within 1” of a different Rift Marker that is within 8” of where they started (one wonders if Asami’s been reading some literature from the Cult of the Burning Man). Where do these Rift Markers come from? Well, Asami makes them with a range 8 attack action called Into the Beyond that acts like a relatively standard 2 damage shockwave attack, but leaves the Rift behind after its done. Rifts are also hazardous to the enemy crew, so Asami’s going to be able to do a bit of battlefield control both through enhancing her crew’s mobility and penalizing the opponent’s. She can also create them as a trigger from her melee attack, which no longer has an execute trigger. As if Takusen didn’t have enough going on the front of her card, she also has a new version of Molly’s Lethe's Caress ability that, rather than doing damage, gives a model Injured +1 if it declares the same action more than once per activation. That honestly may be worse than Lethe’s, or at the very least more debilitating. Of course, there are ways to play around it, but it’s a pain and it limits your options. She can hand out more Staggered or Injured with a ranged attack action that has an odd sort of movement trick/defensive tech with a built-in trigger, Possession, that lets you bury an Oni that was within 8” of the target. They unbury at the start of the buried Oni’s next activation, so you’ve got some good control to let you hop a model around with this. Then, for a little extra spice, she’s got a Free Tactical Action to give an Oni Reactivate, at the cost of them taking 3 Flicker tokens. Normally this is a death sentence but, again, all they have to do is end a move around her to pull one off and get Shielded.
So, obviously new Asami is a short to mid-range battlefield control master par excellence rather than a summoner. Malifaux players may not have as clear an idea of how silly some of this can get, but if you’ve played against the Cult of the Burning Man in ToS, you have alarm bells ringing in your head. This movement isn’t quite that silly, of course, but an 8” hop as a bonus to another move means you can significantly relocate the Oni who, once they get into combat, can rip a target up (and thank the gods Yasunori stopped being an Oni after he came to M3E). In the meantime, your options to hit her back are hindered by the Rifts, Chains of the Earth, and the fact that she and her crew are probably going to be Shielded. That said, Oni are (by design) not the toughest models in the world, and once they’re gone she can’t bring them back. She isn’t that impressive on her own offensively, so she’s probably in trouble if her crew is dead or if she gets separated from them.
Even more than with Kirai, these two versions of Asami are very different and will look very different in play. I really don’t know enough about either to say definitely which I like better. The new version may be a bit more new player friendly, both in terms of not having to buy all of the potential summons and not having to do as much mental gymnastics with Flicker, though the positioning shenanigans can be a mind-bender also. In terms of sheer power level, well, there’s a reason they’re veering away from summoning, and that’s because it’s usually really, really good. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Asami Classic remains the preferred option for tournaments as a result of this. Still, I’m curious to see the more control-oriented version in action, hopefully on my side of the table rather than stomping my face in.