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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Outcast Impressions Part 1 - Masters

So as a "quick" (meaning long winded) post I thought I'd share my impressions of some Outcast models and interactions after having used them consistently for the last year or more. This will most likely include models outside the faction that can be used as an Outcast in general and relies heavily on actual game experience rather than the faction as a whole, as I don't think I can comment on models I haven't used as of yet. I want to keep this more of an opinion piece rather than an overview, as any summaries can be obtained through either cards or PullMyFinger. I will do my best to avoid rambling but can't promise anything.

As a disclaimer I'd like to say that I am by no means a Malifaux Master, I am amateur at best and all comments should be taken with a grain of salt.


I'll start with talking about the Masters I have experience with, some more than others.

  • Misaki
There are a lot of issues I have with her. She is probably my most disappointing Master as she was my first and probably the one I was most excited to use. On paper she looked fine enough, even when you know that she operates as a solo artist. 

Lets start with her best attribute: offense. Her damage track is minion level at 2/4/6. At that point she is already starting off really bad, as more often than not you're hitting minimum damage. She has no way of buffing that damage to respectable levels. I understand her trigger is where the hurt comes in, but to be a consistent model you must have decent power in raw stats alone, and that is where the other Masters outshine her. Her Melee 7 is great, as that's a stat I most often relate to being reliable.

The Assassinate trigger sounds boss at first, then you have to start thinking of ways of getting the opponent's control hand down. And that's where you start putting in more moving parts and making a Rube Goldberg machine. You can make it work, but the amount of effort and AP you place in that machine takes away from the efficiency of the rest of your crew. Some people work around this by activating her last and hiding her, but at that point you're relying on your opponent exhausting his resources for you, which is something you can't rely on without expending the effort and AP, and thus going back to the machine. In cases where players decide to go after smaller targets to capitalize on the ability, a savvy player may just let the minion die if the resources are more important, or if the loss isn't affecting their VP strategy. This isn't even mentioning the fact that by attempting to hit the trigger you are either out of Soulstones or you're expending a high crow from your hand and a soulstone, both are situations you don't want to be in. Blowing through SS just to get the chance to trigger doesn't work well in real situations from my experience as a lot of her arguments for her are done in a vacuum and rarely seen accomplished well on the table. If you're starting with a low SS pool planning on utilizing the trigger then you lose a lot of versatility that comes with SS and relying a whole lot on her abilities alone.

Her upgrades available as an Outcast present more problems. To capitalize on her offense I usually went with Stalking Bisento. But this prevents use of the Disguise upgrade. So her whole "hit and run" build is neutered by this. Sure, you have the Next Target trigger, which is cool. But you're usually wanting to hit all your attacks on this target, so with your 2" melee range you're ending your activation about 6" away, so that target is needing to be close by some LOS blocking terrain to prevent retaliation, and that retaliation is coming from a whole crew if you're operating on the fact that you want her activating last, giving plenty of opportunity for the opponent to combine efforts. Sure, people argue that she just hits one, moves, hits another, moves, etc. but that is not efficient damage as it is always better to get rid of a single model rather than ping everyone for small amounts of damage. Depending on Next Target to hide her means you're depending on dense, LOS blocking terrain on the table to aid you, or relying on your crew to pack on the damage that Misaki starts doling out. It's a lot of moving parts when you can just pick a master who evaporates a target, something that Outcasts definitely have. And don't mention using her for marker placement, it would burn every Outcast's soul.

The argument that she can hit a model and move to another is also very dependent on your opponent's actions, and a good plan never depends on the opponent walking into it. This is why certain schemes always outperform others, as Schemes like Frame for Murder can be negated by just not killing (hard to do for me, but doable) potential suckers, which I've seen done by savvy players easily enough.

So the other upgrades are so-so, with exceptions like Cutpurse being pretty bad to use in my opinion. You can't make her dip into so many uses like Cutpurse forces you to do, you have to be focused in specialization when it comes to being a Master like Misaki. Her abilities aren't good enough on their own that you can dip around in utility, she does one thing and tries to do it well.

You can build a Disguise Misaki, on the other hand, with Survivalist and I guess Untouchable, but you're just making a harder to hit/kill Master, whose offensive abilities are now on their own as is on her card - unremarkable. And why did you build her that way? So she can stay around longer? Disguise isn't that hard to get around, either with shooting - and Bulletproof 1 isn't that great - or melee efficient models ganging up on her. She can dance away, but that's negated with 3" melees, base to base contact with 2" melees, and the fact that it costs a card every time, which is super resource intensive. She's Origami, she folds under pressure. She will die an inglorious death to focused up models, or burning, or any number of other things. Not to mention you can just ignore her

I've seen builds for her that focus on an amazing turn for her, such as Scout the Field, Oathkeeper and Stalking Bisento. I think this is one of her better builds, but still doesn't make her that great compared to other masters. She moves up once for free essentially, okay got that. She gets 1 extra AP once per game, always good. But Stalking Bisento's (0) action always annoyed me as an Outcast. I usually did it during her first activation, telegraphing what I planned on killing. If you ever got to use it for the attack then you couldn't use it that same turn once you killed something. If you used it during the turn you planned on swinging with then you didn't benefit from the extra attack. Sure, positives are always good especially when coupled with her high Melee stat, but you were almost always getting half of your ability's use, never all of it. When you did get all of it you had to use two separate turns. This is why she's better in Ten Thunders as Sensei Yu can Stalk for her, but that's a whole other conversation where I talk about the fact that you're hiring a 9SS model just for her (0) action...

Anyway, this build is good enough, except for the fact that it can't stand up to anything remotely good. Master on Master, she won't kill them. They will most likely be taking minimum damage then preventing it, and 2 damage is easily prevented entirely. If you are banking on the fact that Stalking gives the positive, thus making straight damage flips, then you also have to hold onto high cards for damage to get that severe, meaning less cards to hit with, meaning that master can hold his own. It's constantly a robbing Peter for Paul situation. And using it to hit low level minions seems like such a waste.

I can think of a few Outcast models that hit harder than her and more consistently, and they aren't even all masters.

That's all just with her hitting power, let's talk about list composition. She has the ability to infiltrate Last Blossom models, which sounds awesome at first but lackluster in practice. Her best choice is Yamaziko, who is actually a model I love. Minimum 3 damage, very good defensively with her Brace Yari action, only 7SS and a 3" melee makes her very good for utility. She breaks to a stiff breeze, but she's usually either on her own running schemes with Nimble or being guarded by a beefcake.

Now the other options: Ototo (don't do it... just don't), Torakage (models I've reeaaaally tried to make work), and Oiran (the crap version of Lure girls). Ugh.

Ototo has WP4, which can be problems right there. His potential isn't reached until he's halfway dead, at which point you should have just gotten a model who is great from the get go, and is slow as molasses. Great looking model, though. Just wait till he's buried by a Death Marshall or something. The average player usually comes to the conclusion that he's not that great, and I've used him enough to see this myself early on and never let him back out of the box.

I've heard people say Torakage hit like trucks, which makes me go "Whaaaaa...." as their minimum damage is 1. Sure, their severe is great, but whenever I think of consistently hitting severe I think you're spending high cards on damage or lucking out on the flips. Their positives ability is good, but not enough on their own to not need resources as they are Melee 5 which usually garners a negative flip on damage, just canceling out. Those are resources that Misaki needed as explained earlier. And these resources are all in the context of offense, not mentioning needing these cards for defense, or casts, or suits, etc. If you're taking Smoke and Shadows then you're taking more than one Torakage, which is more than one than you should anyway. They're too expensive for scheme running, they're too expensive and not good for damage dealing, they're just underperforming. Not to mention that the 1AP used for smoke, which can help for their bury, makes them forced to only use 1AP for their use if that makes sense. Like, if you're using Smoke/Shadows for mobility to run schemes, then that means they pop out, pop a marker then smoke again. Okay, that whole time they're within 6" of an ally, usually close enough to get killed before they activate. And if they don't die, then all they did was pop a scheme. That upgrade slot and 1SS could have been put to better use if you just bought a cheaper scheme runner. And for 6SS you could have bought a better damage dealer. 

Oiran aren't good Lure models, just compare them to the others. The points could be spent focusing on other aspects.

The common understanding is that her list composition is independent of her model herself. I disagree, as you'll want to set her up for success with her crew by trying to drain their resources and running the schemes to let her do what she wants. Unfortunately her Outcast model selection does nothing for this, and has led me to believe that she's better in Ten Thunders, where her selection is more robust for her style and her upgrades are better in my opinion. Granted, I still think she's not that great there either.

  • Von Schill
I really don't like this guy. And I wanted to, so bad.

My whole thing is that you really should specialize in this game, and if you dip into other areas then your ability should be good enough to do so. Von Schill's models do just the opposite, being mediocre in all things. This does not lead to versatility to me. This leads to failing at all things.

He does do one thing very well compared to the other masters - he sticks around much easier... just to suck longer.

If you see what the community loves about his crew you'll see a trend. People love the Trappers. But that's because they specialize in shooting. They love Hannah, but she specializes in denial and dabbles in force multiplication through her copy ability with no loss in efficiency. People love the Librarian, but for reasons I don't as I've found healing in this game to be inefficient.

VS's shooting is probably his best area in my opinion, with a minimum damage of 3 and range of 12". This helps as his Sh 6 will result in negative damage almost all the time. It ignores Hard to Wound which helps a lot more against certain model match ups. 

His Melee I find is significantly weaker. Most people would spout out about his damage potential, which can be high, but there's a huge disconnect between potential and his on table consistency. Critical strike without a built in Ram amounts to resource intensive for consistency. And you have to choose between damage dealing or utilizing his other trigger to lower DF, which is good by itself but is relying on the long run of dealing damage to the model. He lacks the ability to put down heavy models himself in melee, which is a huge deal as the most efficient way to do it is in one activation -something he'd have a tough time doing himself. This is why I think ranged is the way to go with him, if you are planning on focusing damage from several sources to one model to take it down then it's better to do so with ranged attacks, as there are less repercussions and you can do it from a much wider berth.

I will admit that of all my Masters I own Von Schill is the one I'm least experienced with, but he was the worst performing I've ever used by far. Although he can tank, any dedicated damage based crew can just as easily take him off the board as they do against anyone else.

His crew composition, however, is usually not bad as the Freikorps have access to some good choices, which I'll discuss in a later post.

I plan on trying him out more, but I know for a fact there are better choices out there.

  • The Viktorias
Now we're getting into the masters I'm very experienced with. The Viktorias are why I think less of Misaki and Von Schill. Misaki prides herself on melee damage, where the Viks do it harder, faster, and more efficiently than she does, and operates about the same way she does as they are also somewhat solo artists. Ashes has a similar gun to Von Schill, at least statistically without any special abilities, but the Viks' melee definitely outshines VS. They may not have the same staying power, but I guarantee you if you put them up against each other they'd eat him for breakfast, and they can use his crews as well just for insult.

So lets get into the main talking points for the Viks. Offense is the name of their game. Most people know them by that, and it's obvious. What's best about the Viks is their AP efficiency though, mostly in their attacks, but some in a few more subtle ways.

Lets get one thing out of the way: I think their abilities to have sisters swoop in or out to make attacks is a TRAP. Some people rate this ability very highly and I don't like it one bit.

First of all, to capitalize on the ability you have to recruit more sisters. This means Vanessa and the Student of Conflict. Some even go so far as to get the Howling Wolf Tattoo to make another model a sister... for a turn. So we've already got a Rube Goldberg machine going with list building alone. I'm not a fan of Vanessa, as there are plenty of other models that are worth taking over her, and I'm actually partial to the Student myself, but she's pretty pricey for a totem.

So, in theory, Viktoria of Ashes can use this 2AP (that right there is a turn off) ability to make sisters within 6" or something to be placed in base contact with the target and all of them take swings. Sounds pretty nifty, right? There's a potential of 5 swings with positives to damage flips and unicorns and cotton candy and stuff. Well, that's the theory.

In reality, it's hard enough to try to get all the sisters in range, not to mention someone having to discard the upgrade which took up a precious slot to make one of them a sister. So more than likely you won't be getting 5 swings initially. 

Let's say you're smart and didn't take Howling Wolf Tattoo. That's 4 sisters now who can swing, cool, that's still a lot. And you don't have to waste an upgrade slot for it. Well, one of those guys swinging is Vanessa. who is probably no longer on the Ley Line bonus, and has a melee 5 and 2/3/4, which isn't that great, but hey you got a free swing for 2AP. The other one? A Student with a melee 4 with 2/3/4, which isn't bad for a totem but bad when you're spending 2AP and hoping for change. But hey, it was free. Most likely these will miss short of some bad defense, but hey, it was free.

Then you can chain activate Viktoria of Blood and do the same thing again. Although, again, most of those free attacks aren't worth the full use of her AP, but hey, they were free.

But the counterargument is that this is including the Viks' attacks, so I'm not considering the fact that they are also popping damage with their impressive stats. True, but it's 2AP! On a single target! If you're relying on the Viks for the damage then why are you bring in these other yahoos? Because it's free? Well it sure is a lot of set up to make it happen. If you do it right you'll probably kill the guy in the first round of swings and it might be a bit overkill. But let's say everyone is going to deal weak damage for argument's sake, and yes I know there's a positive to damage. So the Viks do 3 each, that's 6, and the Student and Vanessa do 2 each, that's 10 total. That's enough to kill most models with base damage. If you used Vik of Ashes' third AP to put on Sisters in Fury for +2 damage that's a lot better, for a total of 18 damage, yaay you're cooking with gas. That's well over what's necessary to kill almost every model there is, leaving at least one of those swings unnecessary. Which is ok, because you'll probably miss with the Student anyway.

This is, of course, if you're all within 6" of the target, and the stars aligned, and it's the winter solstice, etc. and you're not slow or something. I agree, that's a lot of damage coming from 2AP. What I'm arguing about is it's tabletop viability as well as its true efficiency.

I don't think that it should never be used, I think it has its place. But I see a lot of people online building toward this ability by hiring sisters and stuff, and it's misplaced. I think of it as more of the obscure tools in their kit that you should use entirely with only Viktoria of Blood in mind.

Viktoria of Blood shouldn't ever be the one using this ability unless for some awful reason she and Ashes needed to be pushed out 6" for the win. Maybe they're in the middle during Interference or Turf War. But the problem is that if you're going for a single target and trying to murder it Blood is much better off just swinging away, as her minimum damage is usually 5 after the buff and ignores darn near everything. With her 2AP and free swing that's 15 damage done easily. She doesn't need anyone else's help, she gotten almost as much damage as the Rube Golberg version did with all weak and the same AP usage (technically). What's better is that her 15 damage is true damage, while the others still get affected by armor and stuff. So that previous 18 damage from the other example is actually lowered to 15 if they guy has armor 1, and 12 for armor 2 and so on. Plus simply swinging is more flexible, as if she kills the target she can move or swing at something else with her remaining AP. If the target died from one swing in the previous example, everyone else's swings are wasted and so is the second spent AP.

The main way I see this ability being used is getting as many swings from Viktoria of Blood as possible. If a target has moved within 6" of Ashes and Blood and has several defensive abilities like incorporeal, then first using Sisters in Fury before using Dragon's Bite Ashes gets a minimum 5 damage swing as well as Blood, who ignores the buffs. Then Blood chain activates and swings for more. This is good if, say, you had two big targets with these buffs on. But even then, the Whirlwind trigger takes care of this, and because the sisters end up being close together they actually lose some buffs.

Well, I ended up talking about that trap spell a lot longer than I thought. Essentially, I find the ability redundant and unnecessary.

So... back to their AP efficiency...

Ashes has a few staple upgrades that help with efficiency. The best combination I've found - and is commonly what most other Vik players use - is Sisters in Spirit, Fury and Synchronized Slaying. Fury adds a devastating 2 damage to sisters' Melee damage, almost doubling their damage output, so essentially that saves AP by having to swing less often. Spirit teleports and saves AP from the target's movement. Synchronized Slaying doesn't necessarily save AP, as it actually helps the opponent out-activate you, but the important thing is it lets you get an Alpha strike. If you effectively use the chain activation and end up with two dead models on their side, then you've basically caught up on the activation numbers, but you just end up with the same amount of models - that probably doesn't make sense. 

Let's say they have 8 models and you have 8 models. If you have initiative and activate Ashes first for buffs and teleports, then chain Blood into two models, you're down to 6 remaining activations. If you killed those two models, your opponent is also down to 6 remaining activations. The difference is that you now have 8 models to their 6 and they don't currently out activate you. The great thing is generally I get more than 2 models dead with my Viks!

So basically the set up usually requires Ashes to act as a supporting role to deliver Blood, who is the most efficient when it comes to dealing damage. She acts as a model who essentially "transfers" the AP she uses to Blood so that she delivers her attacks that bypass most defenses. If Spirit essentially saves 1AP of movement for blood but it takes 1AP from Ashes I guess I'd make more sense that way.

Blood's upgrades are extremely efficient. Mark of She'zuul is a must have, as it limits the amount of necessary attacks from her to take her target down. With her 5 minimum damage after Fury and the ability to ignore everything she can kill almost anything in 3 hits. Her melee 7 stat ensures that she can easily hit most targets. She has an innate positive flip to attacks, something Misaki has to buy an upgrade and use a (0) for. She has two flexible (0)s, one being a positive flip to damage, and the other increasing her melee to 8 (and all other sisters within 2" get the +1 melee too), which is an underrated ability when you're going against someone like Lilith with a high defense. I find the damage buff to be more useful, as Blood is generally more than 6" away from Ashes after charging, and the negative gets canceled out this way should you need to cheat.

Most of their efficiency is printed on their card rather than their upgrades. Misaki and Von Schill wish they had this much awesome.

Now Blood's second upgrade is pretty flexible. A popular one to use is Oathkeeper, but I don't think it's necessary unless you're really trying to spread the Viks out too thin for just one good swing. I used to exclusively use Scramble, giving her a lot of flexibility toward her target range. I have recently switched over to Tally Sheet, however, as this not only increases my control hand significantly (on average I draw 3 extra cards) this also ensures that Blood gets a positive flip for Defense and Willpower duels, which she will get a lot of being a huge target in the middle of the table after wiping out a lot of stuff. Those extra cards help keep her alive, coupled with damage prevention and having a higher Defense between the two sisters.

A lot of people feel like she's a tactical nuke, and will die soon after her spree. I've found a semi-consistent way around this with my recent lists however and have included Hannah with Ancient Tomes. At first I used her because she was a sweet model. I found a way to use her with the Viks by utilizing her 50mm base to block LOS to them by having Blood hug the back of her base, which eliminates most lanes of fire. I didn't like Ancient Tomes at first, seeing how it can be resource intensive and isn't an efficient offensive option to me for a situation-useful bury. I coupled the bury with her ability to copy the Freikorpsmann's (0) action to add a ram in and make it more useful, and in a pinch you can buy the ram. But what I've discovered is that it's actually very useful defensively and much more consistent. If you explode the Viks in the first activation and gather a lot of cards from Tally Sheet while using stones to prevent damage as much as possible for one activation from the opponent you can use Hannah to bury Blood and keep her safe for the rest of the turn. This, of course, means that should Hannah die she gets unburied, but it takes a few resources and activations to take her down and that's a lot fewer ways to take Blood down. After that you should be able to get at least another shot or two in with Blood. I've only really utilized this new tactic once but it worked beautifully. Granted, I lost that game, but it was due to the fact that I left Ashes out in the open and my opponent was a government built machine meant only for Malifaux killing.

Essentially what I'm getting at is that the Viks are much more effective and efficient at killing than Misaki or Von Schill. That's a given, and everyone has already come to that conclusion. But if you're comparing other traits, are those two any better? Mobility? Viks have that, Misaki doesn't become more efficient at it outside of Stalking prey, but she doesn't get to control the direction she walks when she does, not to mention it costed a card to do so. Von Schill is slow compared to them. Survivability? Misaki is just as squishy as them, and Von Schill beats them. But what's the point of living longer if he's not really that exceptional past that? Crew support? Misaki doesn't have it either. Von Schill does it better, but pretty much Freikorps only, and I've found most Freikorps models to be lackluster, but I will hand that one to him. Most of them will still die easily enough however.

I know that there are other Masters in Outcasts that excel in other areas over these two, but for what they do they do it best. In my mind I feel that with the existence of the Viks there is no Scheme Pool that they can do better than Misaki or Von Schill from a master specific point of view. It just takes a more delicate hand to use them.

  • Leveticus
And so I saved the old man for last. He is currently my go-to Master and there are plenty of reasons why.

First off his upgrade that increases his hiring pool makes him extremely flexible in composition. Where all the other Outcast masters are pretty static in their pools, generating pretty stable compositions, Leve can hire more than any other master out there leading to more dynamic and synergistic crews. He is the master I have the most consistent success with but I'm having the toughest learning curve with.

When it comes to AP efficiency he's got quite a bit. His main ability in this area is Channel, allowing him to get positives in attack and damage for an action by hurting himself for 2 damage. This usually leads to doing it for 3 attacks and almost killing himself (before killing himself), and if translated into the equivalent of focus actions that's 3 additional AP. His attacks also ignore a lot of defensive abilities, which essentially increases his damage output when faced with armor, Silent Ones, Riders, etc. as well as damage prevention with a trigger. If you get his upgrades he usually has a trigger for 3 of the 4 suits, so there's always an add on to his damage. My favorite one reduces the target's wounds by half rounding up, so that's saving some AP by having to attack less times to kill something. Generally the understanding is that he should be able to kill almost any model in one activation. This can be devastating to an opponent when they see a big model go down so easily and makes for some great mind games to those who aren't expecting it. 

His attacks are very effective as they are Casting 7 against WP. This is crucial, as WP stats tend to run lower than DF ones and bypass a lot of defensive triggers. Coupled with his Channel he tends to always hit and have straight flips for damage. I've found that having 7s for any stat is the turning point from good to great, whether it's melee, shooting or otherwise, as no matter how many positives you get you are still capped out if both players cheat in 13s. I'd rather have a +1 to a stat over a positive flip, and a lot of people equate positives to increasing their stats for some reason when that is far from the truth. I'll give any opponent 52 positive flips when playing me! But seriously having 4 positive flips still fails against someone with a higher stat and a 13 in hand. Raw stats and money over everything. That's why I think Von Schill lacks, because he has 6s for most stats and abilities which is on par with exceptional minions.

In terms of movement efficiency that comes with his Waifs, so instead of having to spend AP on movement he just keeps popping up around the battlefield where he's most needed. Granted there are some caveats, but generally this isn't too hard to achieve if you're playing smart.

He's most vulnerable while buried if the opponent starts popping Waifs or killing anchors, but he should almost always have 2-3 options of coming back out. Killing him is extremely tough compared to almost every Master out there.

Then there's the summoning. It should be treated as a happy byproduct to his attacks, although some - and sometimes I - treat it as a main ability. Should he kill something he can pop out an Abomination, which is generally more efficient than summoning itself as you're getting it as a result of an attack so it's like 2 actions in one, but it's less reliable as you'll need to kill targets to get it. Some people use From Ash to summon more Abominations, but it's much more inefficient as it uses an AP and requires a scrap marker to bring one lousy model back, when you should be concentrating on killing. Abominations aren't game breakers, you shouldn't revolve your strategy around it, and the same effect can be done by buying or using a crow. This is made a lot easier if the opponent brings tons of squishy stuff, like Hamelin.

I believe he is the Outcasts' most competitive Master, even in Gaining Grounds 2016's format (Neutralize the Leader be damned). This is not only because he kills so well - the Viks can kill even better technically - but mostly because of his crew selection. He has a model for everything. Sustainability? Flesh Constructs. Scheme running? Ashes and Dust, Necropunks, Crooligans... Control? Rotten Belles. More summoning and table quarter denial? Mechanical Rider. Plus all the good models in the Outcasts like Trappers and the Hodgepodge Effigy. One can say his main limit is in making sure he has Anchor models, but being that they have to be 6ss or higher this ends up being pretty flexible, as they can go from Flesh Constructs to Aionus depending on your needs and flavor. His crew composition tends to be very good and is top tier in my - and several others' - opinion. 

Well, that's it for now. It was a lot lot lot lot lot longer than I thought it would be, but I plan on revisiting Outcast topics periodically and thought that it would be interesting to give my thoughts on them as a player, particularly from a practical point of view rather than the typical overview. I apologize that it's so long and that it tended to ramble on, but let me know if you have any comments, questions or contrary arguments to my thoughts!