Well, well, well. It seems like Gencon was just yesterday (shut up, I know it was almost a month ago). And, as is tradition, Wyrd has a special surprise for us: an official announcement of the next Malifaux book!
Hm, something’s off here.
No, that’s definitely not right.
There we go!
That’s right: we had Malifaux Burns, and Madness of Malifaux, and now we’re in the aftermath. Ashes of Malifaux will be the next expansion book, and we got our first look at Gencon!
Very little is known about this book right now. Last year, Damian Ravencroft and the entire Witness keyword debuted alongside Madness of Malifaux, but Ashes didn’t make quite the same splash – on balance, a good thing, because Damian’s launch marked the beginning of a yearlong reign of terror only recently curtailed via errata.
Nothing from Ashes has been officially released yet. In fact, we don’t even know what form these releases take: will there be a set of new Keywords? New models for existing keywords? New versatiles?
There are at least some of those last- we’ve gotten a few looks at models that are either definitely or probably going to show up in the book. So let’s check them out and do some wild speculatin’!
This Is a Job For the Hand
Our first entrant is utterly Keywordless. The Hand of Janus is a 10-stone Versatile with no keyword, no particular synergies, and no fucks to give. This robot exists for one reason and one reason only: to beat ass.
10 stones is a lot, so let’s see what we’re getting for that price. The Hand’s statline is uninspired, with 4/5 defenses and 9 health leaving it extremely vulnerable for a 10 stone Enforcer. Sure, it has Armor 2, but anything that ignores Armor will be putting it in the ground in a hurry. Even crews that don’t ignore armor will be able to chip it down very quickly if it just barrels into combat.
It’s got an ordinary Mv of 5, and Sz 4 is very interesting… the Hand won’t be able to hide from anything, but nothing will be able to hide from it, either. Helping out with that is Towering Figure; the Hand can charge right through terrain and screening models, and it can see over the heads of all but the largest foes, meaning it’ll be next to impossible to keep it from drawing a bead on vulnerable support pieces.
The other two front of card abilities are both very strong in different ways. Excess Funds is great and frequently reason enough to include Flush with Cash in your list. Funds lets you build lists with smaller caches, too, because it helps fix your hand, and it really rewards cheating the Initiative flip, since it activates after you do so and draws you back up to full hand size (i.e. discard three, draw 4).
Frantic, on the other hand, is the sort of model-defining ability that gives opponents fits. It’s the equivalent of Focus on every single attack you make, but it also stacks with Focus, meaning even Hard to Wound enemies or Soulstone users can’t keep you off a straight flip. Trying to activate Frantic – or keep your opponent from activating it – is going to be a minigame with the Hand. You need to reduce it to 4 health to activate Frantic due to the way “halves” work in Malifaux, which is a perilously low total – but crews that don’t have easy access to armor piercing attacks will struggle to do more than 1 or 2 damage to the Hand at once.
And once you see the Attack Actions, you’ll understand why it’s so important to never let this thing go Frantic in your lines. Its melee attack, Janus’ Wrath, meets the gold standard for beatsticks in Malifaux: a 2″ reach, Stat 6 3/4/5 with three good triggers. In particular, Shove Aside is a nasty trigger on everyone who has it, especially a model that tramples right over other models and terrain, while Mutilate inflicts a debilitating condition or even more damage. Armor Piercing is the kind of trigger that doesn’t matter until it does, but when it does, it matters a lot. Remember, without Soulstones the Hand can’t build in any of these triggers, so saving appropriate cards is very important.
While the melee attack is great, I am actually way more excited about the Hand’s gun. 12″ is a long way, and the Hand’s enormous Sz means that it’ll be very difficult to screen it out from shooting your backline. It ignores Concealment, Cover and Friendly Fire, and can even be fired out of melee, since it’s not a projectile attack (so no Bulletproof damage prevention for you!). The damage track is a bit odd at 2/4/4b, but the Burst Damage trigger ties it together.
This is a gun that wants Severes. Hitting a single target for 2 damage is not the sort of thing you want your 10 stone beater to do, but hitting a target for 4 and then spreading out two 4 damage blasts is hideous. That’s the sort of attack that just rips crews to pieces, especially when you can shoot past the frontline at the vulnerable Df 4 support pieces in the backfield. Against crews that can’t or won’t spread, a couple of Seeking Bolts flipping Severe damage with Burst Damage are going to do insane amounts of damage, probably killing 2-3 models in a single activation. That’s why Frantic is so important: if you can get to a straight flip to damage on the gun, and you have Severes to cheat, you are going to just vaporize crews.
Finally, the Hand has a nice little bonus action to heal itself or other Constructs. It can even remove Conditions, though because it takes a trigger to do so, it won’t be able to remove its own Stunned – removing Slow or Distracted from itself, though, will be worth it all by itself.
So how do you use the Hand? Well, the obvious answer is you lard it up with Focus, Fast, and Shielded (to the extent possible), stack your hand, and send it into the fray. Tiri and Gibson DeWalt are both more than capable of this task; both have good card draw, both have Burn Out, and both can hand out Focus. Both Umbra and Bygone can also accelerate the Hand up the board pretty easily, letting it save its AP for murderin’. The gold standard, though, has to be EVS. Maxine hits all the boxes: she can give the Hand Fast and/or Focused, she draws a billion cards, and Beau Fishbocker or Orville can move the big guy into position via Lead the Way or Up We Go. Machinists are also worth a shout, since their melee attack heals any friendly construct, not just EVS ones. The Hand of Janus slots neatly into the slot Kiya Manimi was occupying, and I expect to use it with Maxine a lot.
Never Fear, Bura Is Here
We saw Bura a while ago, but my guess is we’ll see her full keyword in Ashes. She appears to be the Guild starter box Henchman:
- Guild hasn’t yet gotten their Third Edition starter box
- She’s a Henchman from a hitherto-unknown Keyword
- She’s Versatile
- She’s about the right size (in soulstones) to be a starter box model
- She has a rule that references a specific, named other model – these are very rare outside of starter boxes, but relatively common in them. See the Arcanist, Ten Thunders and Neverborn boxes.
So, assuming she is the starter box model, what does she do?
It appears that the Vanguard keyword is all about Shielded. Of the four abilities on the front of her card, Shields Up! is the most likely candidate to be a “keyword ability” that they all share – and it’s a real doozy. Normally, multiple stacks of Shielded apply to multiple successive incoming attacks, but only reduce 1 damage per attack. Bura can eat a big stack of Shielded to reduce incoming damage by a larger amount. This is huge, since Shielded is one of those conditions that it’s pretty easy to stack up in big numbers, and it is also one of the very few ways in the game to reduce damage to 0. What’s more, Bura’s player has the option to apply Shielded any number of times, so you can no-sell a huge attack or simply whittle it down low, knowing that you have some healing incoming on your next activation. This is a bit of a build-around but it’s a tremendous asset and one that makes Bura much tankier than her 5/6/7 defensive stats indicate.
Her other abilities mostly play with Shielded as well – Under My Protection gives her and her Vanguard friends a little Shielded each turn, and then a little more when she activates. This is actually a deceptively large amount of protection. If you’re running the full four Vanguard models (assuming standard starter box size), this is seven shielded just for showing up, without spending a single AP, and without counting any other source of the condition. And because of how Shields Up! works, you’re likely to be able to spend it all. Note that Bura can actually hand out Shielded to non-keyword models using this ability, too. Guild really benefits from little spurts of Shielded, since a lot of its models have Armor, and stacking Armor and Shielded produces great synergy.
Shielded Bullets gives you something to do when your opponent isn’t obligingly attacking your Shielded models. Once per activation, she can cash in a Shielded to let a nearby friendly’s gun ignore Shielded and Incorporeal. That’s pretty sweet: Incorporeal is rare, but Shielded isn’t, and the ability to pierce right through someone’s shields can guarantee that last point goes through against an armored beater (like, say, the Hand). Finally, Resupply gives Bura one small card per turn, which is quite useful either for fueling discards or just hitting TNs.
As you might expect from a Shielded-focused crew, Bura’s attacks aren’t too dangerous, but there’s some interesting play there. Her Sword is not something you’ll ever be excited to use, but Crushing Force can be pretty useful against Shielded foes (since it’s sort of a 3/4/4 against them), and by attacking Mv it gets around triggers (and will usually be at even stat with the defender). The built in Get In There! trigger can also help get you that last little push you need on a minion.
Her Tacticals are much more interesting, though. Remember the Mission is always strong, giving you a pseudo-Don’t Mind Me. Overload is very cool: a three-damage pulse is something that people have to pay attention to, especially a three-damage tactical pulse, which ignores Incorporeal and other effects specific to Attack Actions. TN 12 isn’t much, but TN 14 Mv is annoyingly high, and notably she doesn’t need to target Bracer (whoever that is) to get that trigger. They just need to be nearby. And notably the 5 you drew from Resupply can help you hit either Tactical’s TN and get the trigger you need.
Overall, I like Bura, especially at 7 stones. The synergy with other Vanguard models is strong, so her playability will depend on how good they are, but she plays very nicely with a Lawyer. Just make sure you’re hiring some damage dealers, since she won’t help you much there.
Our last new friend(s) of the day is (are) Batsch & Amalie. If Commander Bura is a preview of the Guild starter box, B&A are most certainly her Resurrectionist counterpart(s). In terms of stats, the two are identical, with Batsch (I’m not going to write out the full name each time; sorry, Amalie) having one more health, as befits a Resser. But the similarities end there.
Batsch has Hard to Wound and Regeneration, a solid suite of defensive abilities. Endless Waltz is mostly just a slightly weaker version of Butterfly Jump, in that you have to actually suffer damage and must Push instead of Move, but Butterfly Jump is really strong so there’s lots of room for an ability to be weaker than that and still be good. The really interesting front-of-card ability here is Fruiting Bodies. Some enemies will totally ignore it, and usually there aren’t that many random Corpse or friendly Scheme markers around (and the fact that they do have to be friendly is definitely a limitation), but if you can spread enough gore around, you can really make life difficult for your opponent. Individual patches of Severe Terrain are easy enough to avoid, but in multiples they can ruin charge math and make positioning a real headache.
Mostly, though, you don’t need to slow enemies down – you just need to tag them for a built in positive twist to Mushroom Cloud. As we just saw with Bura, a stat 5 vs. Movement is deceptively strong, and while the damage track on Mushroom Cloud isn’t too substantial the blasts help a lot. Just one blast off a moderate is 5 damage total, a respectable amount, and if the enemy is clumped up things can get silly fast. And that’s before factoring in Unexpected Ferocity, which can ramp damage up to a 4/5/5 and make this a decent single-target nuke.
Revolting Swipe, like Bura’s sword, isn’t much to write home about, though the trigger here is stronger. I’m really interested in Spore Spurt, though. As a bonus action it’s effectively “free” and a discard is a pretty solid payoff, especially later in the turn when your opponent doesn’t have too many bad cards left. Alone, it’s not much, but alongside other sources of hand pressure it can give opponents fits as they decide whether to cheat or lose a card anyways. The Distracted it can hand out is fun, too, synergizing with Mushroom Cloud. It’s very short-ranged, so you’ll have to be close in, but at least you can get some Shielded to protect yourself.
The Power of Dance is a fairly unimpressive tactical, so much so that I’d wager most readers don’t even realize it’s an existing ability (from the Coryphee Duet – which usually has better things to do with its AP). The triggers here are fairly nice, though. The TN on the Cordyceps duel is too low to really be reliable, but Fancy Feet is a great trigger. Moving Markers can do all kinds of fun things: you can position Schemes to score or deny, you can push Tide Markers or Pylons out of your way, and you can move your own Pyres or Sludge Markers to where your opponent really wishes they weren’t. The TN on this ability isn’t free, but it’s low, and you can stone for the trigger if you really need it.
I am a bit less impressed with these two than I was with Bura; a lot is going to depend on the other models in the Fungal keyword, and how many Corpses or Schemes your crew can generate. But if you’re running a master that wants Markers in a specific location, like Reva, these two are worth a look.
…And a Ghost Boat
That’s not quite everything. We’ve seen two more previews that, to me, strike me as candidates for Gigantic Ashes of Malifaux: the Ferryman and Kari Zotiko.
I don’t know anything about these goons. Apparently they show up in Through the Breach at some point? I’d definitely like to learn more.
So what do you think? Are you pumped for Ashes of Malifaux? Are you just crossing your fingers and hoping there’s nothing busted in this book? I mean, what I’ve seen so far is fine – strong enough to play, but by no means broken. But 3 models out of who-knows-how-many is a pretty small n, and there are plenty more previews to come. Watch this space!
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