Washington DC is a tiny city tucked into a river delta between sprawling, sunny Virginia and proud old Maryland. This obscure little burg is quiet most of the year, coming alive for one weekend every September for the event that puts it on the map: the NoVa open.
That’s right, folks, Team Danger Planet went to NoVa!
Myself, Doug, and Brandon hopped an Acela down from Boston to DC with our Malifaux stuff for two big events. Thursday/Friday was the Malifaux Masters Invitational, the culmination of the yearlong Faux Tour (sort of the ITC of Malifaux). Saturday/Sunday was the Open. Both tournaments were five rounds, run in Gaining Grounds 3; the Invitational used the Bans format, allowing double masters but letting each player ban a keyword in between initial master selection and second master declaration, while the Open was just straight-up singles.
Ten games of tournament Malifaux over four days was obviously a pretty titanic undertaking, so I’m going to split this writeup in two parts. This article will discuss the Masters event, and the followup will cover the Open.
Before I get into it, a little plug: I was competing under the flag of our YouTube channel, Danger Planet. Danger Planet is a Goonhammer affiliate with a particular focus on Malifaux (though we’re branching out into Horus Heresy and roleplaying games as well). Check us out here, and you can find our discord here!
Flying with miniatures sucks. I decided to take the Acela down instead (Rob: Hell yeah. Love the Acela). I came down Wednesday, enjoyed a leisurely seven hour train ride (hey, I got some work done, at least), and checked into the Hyatt Regency. I had a chance to walk around a bit, get some dinner at the hotel restaurant, and see friends of the channel Landon “Popedarpa” Sheehan and David “Haku” Longtin (two of the best Malifaux players in the world – check out Haku’s channel here). Appropriate trash was talked. I also got to unpack my SuperNoVa bag, and holy crap, they put a lot of stuff in there!
The Malifaux Masters Invitational (hereinafter, the “Invitational”) was the brainchild of the Capitol City Crew podcast team (link here). The United States was divided into regions (with Vassal, the web client, having its own “region”) and any event with 8 or more players could report to the Faux Tour. Any region reporting at least 3 events qualified and could send its top 4 players. We had some dropouts, so a few alternates were picked – largely from the Texas region, as their Malifaux scene is huge and extremely well organized. They have jerseys and everything.
This was a pretty stacked event. I’ve played against some, but not all, of these players before, but only at conventions. Others I’d played online, or just talked to – special shoutouts to Jim Dyson (his channel is here) and Maeve (whose podcast is here, and who borrowed my Kin crew for the weekend). I drew my first match into Nathan, a well-known fixture of the Vassal tournament circuit and one of the top-ranked Vassal players in the world. Great.
This round was played on Standard deployment, with Cursed Objects as the strategy. The scheme pool was Secret Meetup, Hidden Martyrs, In Your Face, Leave Your Mark, and Breakthrough. Nathan declared Explorer’s Society, so my first game of the weekend was a faction mirror. I declared EVS and my opponent declared Cadmus. He banned Seeker, as the Jedza1/Maxine2 master combo is very unfortunate, and I banned DUA to deny him Jin Baccara. I knew he might declare McCabe2 as a second master, but that basically guarantees that he would be playing Nexus2, and I had a plan for Nexus2.
Looking at the pool, I liked Maxine2; she’s very good at In Your Face, can really dominate the center of the board to score Leave Your Mark, has good martyrs for Hidden Martyrs, and can even score Breakthrough pretty easily with Calypso. I hired a pretty standard Max crew, picking Beebe, Calypso, Tidecaller and Harata; I also took Jin Baccara, as that pass token is very important to make sure Maxine gets the last activation. For my last slot, I flexed into a Spelleater; I expected Nexus2, and Spelleaters are super good into the matchup, since they build in Drain Magic on attacks against the nexus kids (or Berserker Husks).
To my surprise, he went with Nexus1, much more rarely seen (but still fine, in my opinion). He hired Meredith Stanley with Flush With Cash, the Nightsilk Creeper, the Archivist, two Spelleaters (one with Flush With Cash) and two Eyes and Ears.
I think my crew build was fine (although the Spelleater wasn’t going to do much in the matchup), but I definitely fell down on my Scheme picks. I didn’t pick Hidden Martyrs, despite having really good targets for it in Calypso and Jin Baccara, and instead picked In Your Face; the first point of IYF is very easy to score with Max, but the second half is nearly impossible, as Harata Ngaatoro has to survive to the end of the game and cross the map and good players kill him instantly. I also took Breakthrough, which wasn’t bad, but Nexus has a lot of meat to churn through and it’s hard to get to the far side of the map.
The game ended up in a fairly brutal slugfest, with Nathan distributing Parasite Tokens expertly to my force and making excellent use of unresistable ping damage. In retrospect I could have used Calculate the Possibilities for some heavy ping healing to counter the ping damage, but Max was focused on killing as much as possible; she slew Stanley before she activated Turn 2, and took out the Nightsilk early as well. It’s very important to avoid getting Parasite Tokens on your important models for as long as possible, and I let it happen a bit too early. I also showed my hand on Breakthrough too early by running Orville off to make a break for it; he had an unactivated Spelleater with Focus on it and was able to just walk and take a Focused shot at Orville that took him off the board.
In the end I was able to deny Nathan’s second In Your Face point by killing his Archivist with my Spelleater, but he used Will of Cadmus to deny my first Breakthrough point on the very last flip of the game by moving Beebe out of position – if he had flipped an 11 or less I could have beaten his flip since so many models were dead he was attacking at Stat 3, and his hand was tapped out, but he flipped a 13 and there was nothing I could do about that. I scored one for In Your Face and three for the strategy; he scored one for In Your Face, one for Leave Your Mark, and three for the Strategy, for a final score of 4-5. I don’t feel bad about losing to Nathan; he’s a great player, and I know exactly what I did wrong and what to focus on for next time.
On to Round 2! In between we went out for lunch to an Italian sandwich shop called Bozzeli’s. By “Italian sandwich shop” I mean they sold $9 roast beef sandwiches, $10 personal pizzas, and $60 bottles of Veuve Clicquot, and you could also buy cigarettes behind the counter. I love the DC food scene.
Having lost one, I was at least spared the agony of the winner’s bracket, and found myself playing into Texas’s Trey Woodfin – a really great guy and a wonderful opponent. He declared Outcasts and the Mercenary keyword, while I decided “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” and declared Cadmus. I banned Obliteration, since I wanted the option of taking Calypso, while he banned Seeker. With Wastrel unbanned, I declared second master McCabe, solidifying my commitment to choosing violence.
Sorry, Trey. It’s the Masters.
The pool was Carve a Path on Corner deployment, with Catch and Release, Public Demonstration, Hidden Martyrs, Set the Trap and Sabotage. I think the kids are great at Carve, and while they don’t have great minions for Catch and Release or Hidden Martyrs, I had a plan for that.
My full list was the Nexus kids, the Shambling Nests, McCabe2 and his doggie, the Archivist, Dr. Meredith Stanley, two Eyes and Ears and a Botanist. The Botanist was a bit of a flex, but with McCabe scooping up trash to turn into treasure and Meredith Stanley eating webs to churn out Berserker Husks, the Botanist was going to grow immediately and be an excellent and durable scheme runner. I picked Catch and Release on it, and Sabotage on a tree on my opponent’s half of the board.
My opponent took the Viktorias’ title form with Servant of Dark Powers, their “totem” the Student of Conflict, Taelor, Kenshiro the Tactician, the Hodgepodge Emissary, and two Ronin with Wanted Criminal.
His list had a ton of mobility, which he leveraged to the utmost extent. The Hodgepodge makes models faster and pushes them around with Weary Road, the Viks had Herald for a 6” pregame move, and the Ronin were blazing up the field with Escape Plan and On the Move.
He came out of the gate hard, gunning for my Shambling Nests. Taelor beat one up, but she didn’t kill it, and the Nest hit her back to land a Parasite token and heal itself for 3. The Viks charged the other and unfortunately black jokered a damage flip, leaving it alive with 2 health remaining. I swung my Botanist around the south end of the map and deployed the rest up the middle.
Turn 2 the Viks disposed of the Nest they were engaged with and zoomed into my line, targeting the Archivist. However, my hand was great and Cadmus models are surprisingly hard to drop; with Arcane Shield and We Are Legion, the Archivist soaked two swings and came out smiling. Unfortunately for my opponent, that left the Viks high and dry, surrounded by Nexus kids. That never ends well; the kids drilled them over and over with Drain Life, stacking multiple Parasite Tokens on them and forcing my opponent to chew through his stack of Soulstones to keep them alive. Even that wasn’t enough, and a Berserker Husk managed to finish them off, using Parasite Tokens to compensate for my inability to cheat fate against them and turning them into an Eyes and Ears from the Join Us trigger. Meanwhile, McCabe moved forward, focused, and blasted the Student of Conflict off the table with his pistol.
At that point he had two Ronin on the north side of the board, escorting a strategy marker towards my deployment zone the long way, and then Taelor, the Hodgepodge and Kenshiro together in the south-east portion. McCabe ran for that group and did some serious damage, and when two Nexus kids arrived to back him up, the three of them were able to finish off the Hodgepodge, Taelor and Kenshiro in that order – while the Botanist scored the first half of Catch and Release on Taelor. From there, it was all over but the shouting; the Botanist and third Nexus kid escorted the payloads into my opponent’s deployment zone and stopped off to drop two scheme markers near the tree for Sabotage, while my Husks hunted down the last two Ronin (although I was careful not to kill them myself – I let poison from Meredith Stanley’s flask do it, to avoid triggering Hidden Martyrs if he had that).
My opponent scored three from the Strategy but none from Schemes, as he’d taken Public Demonstration and Set the Trap and was never in a position to score either. I got my full four from schemes but only 3 from the strategy, as I wasted a few too many AP to get the payload into my opponent’s deployment zone on time. Corner deployment zones are really far from each other!
Good game to Trey, who really put up a hard fight in a tough matchup; the Viks are fun, but the power disparity between them and Nexus2 is very noticeable, and McCabe’s ability to deny charges in an AoE is very strong.
The last game of the day, and I was 1-1 going in. I wanted to end the day above 50%, and fate matched me into Jim Dyson, also known as Diceman87, a really, really nice guy and member of the Other Coast podcast team (check them out here). I’d played against Jim on Vassal before and we’ve talked a lot about the game, but this was my first time meeting him in person. He was one of the politest, most pleasant Malifaux opponents I’ve ever had, and was utterly charming. Jim, it was a real pleasure to meet you at last and I can’t wait to see you at the next con!
The pool was Guard the Stash on Flank deployment with Secret Meetup, Vendetta, In Your Face, Breakthrough and Spread Them Out in the pool. My opponent declared Outcasts and picked Freikorps, banning Seeker; I sighed and drew my bug-chitin katana, declaring Cadmus with McCabe2 again.
down with all non-bug political formations! Credit: Me!Jim brought Von Schill 1, Hannah Lovelace, the Hodgepodge Emissary, Yannic Waller, a Metallurgist, and two Freikorps Engineers. I brought a similar list to last time, though I dropped the Botanist as there was no longer a need for it and instead brought Flush with Cash on Stanley and one of the Nexus kids (the girl with the weird abdomen poking out from her dress, hereinafter known as “Bug Butt”). Looking at the pool, I did something that’s probably not optimal but is very fun, and took advantage of the extremely precise wording of Vendetta to declare a Vendetta between Bug Butt and Hannah Lovelace. That lady has to die fast. I also took Breakthrough, which is very easy to score with Cadmus.
I deployed in a loose formation, ready to surge forward and claim the middle while my two Nests hung around near the Stash markers along the edges of the centerline. Those markers with both in the middle of big forests, and I accepted that this meant that the Nests wouldn’t be contributing much to my main game plan, but points are points (as long as I can tag the nests with Will of the Many + a ram to make them Significant, which I did each turn that it was required). Jim deployed very tightly and spent much of the first turn abusing the hell out Yannic’s Ingenuity ability and the Engineers’ Strengthen Armor action to hand out tons of Focus and draw tons of cards. He did black joker the Steam Trunk’s Rummage ability, but he didn’t need it with all of the equipment he was handing out.
Von Schill himself finally went and blasted the hell out of the Arcanist with his gun, nearly killing the poor thing but leaving him barely alive. In response, I managed to tag Hannah with a solid Drain Life and get an early Parasite Token on her. Starting from Turn 2, Von Schill and Hannah skirmished in the center while Yannic, the Engineers and the Metallurgist hung back to keep the card cycling engine going. He got some pretty solid rocket launcher blasts off, but I was prepared for this and spread out to minimize the damage. The breakthrough came when I sent McCabe in; he lacerated Hannah, forcing Jim to spend a lot of Soulstones to keep her alive, and with McCabe in position Von Schill wasn’t really able to run and gun as he wished. Bug Butt scored Vendetta plinking the wounded Hannah, and while I started losing Husks at this point, the double Flush with Cash and Meredith Stanley’s aura meant I was drawing cards and gaining Soulstones for each one.
Turn 3 saw first the Steam Trunk and then Hannah banished to the realm of wind and ghosts. I fully admit that I cannot remember if the Archivist died at this point as well, although I believe so. I also sent one of my kids and one of my Husks at his backline, though Yannic was able to push McCabe away and stun him with Daze.
By turn 4, Jim had seen the writing on the wall and used Von Schill’s absurd mobility to get the hell out of Dodge, running for my deployment zone to score points for Breakthrough. I let him go; I had bigger fish to fry. His Engineers were stacked with Shielded and Armor, but guess who doesn’t care about that? McCabe carved both of them into jerky and put a hurt on Yannic, too, while my Nexus kid scored Breakthrough.
Turn 5 was mostly just cleanup. Yannic died, the Metallurgist died, and Von Schill was alone. I didn’t care to try to table him, instead just scoring my second Breakthrough point. In the end I got the full 8, while Jim scored 3 – one for the strat and two for Breakthrough. Jim was a very good sport about this, which I appreciate. The Freikorps really suffer from a Min 3 Precise attacker that also degrades their own attack profiles.
First Interlude: Rooting Around
So that was Day 1 in the books! I felt ok about a 2-1, but I knew I’d have to bring my A game tomorrow. I retired to the board game room with Landon, Brandon and Doug to decompress. Landon had never played Root but wanted to learn. We warned him not to play the birds, he decided he wanted to play the birds, and then he beat us all anyways. The man is very good at games! We also played Azul, but I picked up this round; my secret weapon is having parents who like Azul, so I’ve played a lot of it.
I skipped the overpriced hotel buffet breakfast and had leftover pizza. It was fine. I was rested, I was jazzed, and I was ready to go. Now that I was above 50%, I was expecting some tough competition, and it came in the form of Cole Thomas, who I hadn’t met before but who was apparently very good – he was in the same conference as Landon and Haku, and qualifying with those guys around can’t be easy.
The pool for Round 4 was Covert Operations on Wedge deployment, with Assassinate, Set the Trap, Leave Your Mark, Breakthrough and Load ‘Em Up. Cole declared Rasputina while I declared Cadmus again. I banned Augmented to avoid any second-master-Hoffman shenanigans, while he banned… something, I don’t remember, but it wasn’t Wastrel. Sorry, dude.
This game I dropped down to 1 Eyes and Ears and 0 Flush with Cash (possibly incorrect) in order to take Cavatica. I really like the bugfaced boy for card draw and Called Out, and I had told myself I was going to practice using him better. The rest of the list was the same, including McCabe with lightsaber whip. My opponent took Rasputina 1, an Ice Golem with Soulstone Cache, Snow Storm, the Blessed of December, two Silent Ones (one with Magical Training) and a Kaltgeist.
Just looking at the lists I could tell he was planning to fling his Golem up the board and count on Soulstones and healing to keep it alive, while Snow Storm and the Blessed followed up to kill things it missed and score points. I took Leave Your Mark, since I knew the game was going to develop into a brawl in the middle and if I didn’t win it and kill the Golem I was going to lose, and Breakthrough just because the other schemes were pretty bad for my crew.
The game unfolded pretty much the way I expected: the golem rocketed up the board and squished a Shambling Nest flat, setting up a nasty 2-damage hazardous aura. He also tried to blast Luna with Rasputina, but wasn’t able to get to a straight flip and just hit her for 2.
Once he’d blown his load (so to speak), I got to work with McCabe, charging right into the Golem’s face. McCabe’s Depths of Malifaux ability let him ignore its aura, and with Precise he was ignoring its armor and dealing 3-4 damage per hit (depending on whether I hit the whip trigger) I smashed it hard. He burned through his Soulstones to keep it healthy, then activated the Silent Ones to heal off the damage. That was fine – he spent several Soulstones and two activations to undo my one activation. Plus I had the three kids left. I activated them one after another, blasting the Golem with Drain Life over and over and over. Parasite Tokens meant I couldn’t possibly miss, and I was often at a straight flip or even a positive twist, which meant I did more than one Severe hit. 2 damage per severe, 1 per weak or moderate, plus an extra 1 in each activation from the Parasite Token ping? The kids didn’t quite finish the Golem off, but then Cavatica stepped up and did the job himself (taking some modest Hazardous damage in return, but nothing too significant due to Arcane Shield).
Turn 1 and the Golem was dead in exchange for one Nest, and I was feeling good about myself. He rallied and sent in the second wave, but they really couldn’t hold ground. McCabe dealt with the Blessed, while I sent my Berserker Husks after Snow Storm – one of them red jokered a damage flip to kill it, though that really wasn’t necessary.
Rasputina was very effective at spreading Slow throughout my crew and cluttering up the board with ice, but I still had so many spare AP to spend removing Ice Pillars that I was perfectly happy to spend AP for AP. Realizing that the fight for the midboard and the Covert Operations markers was lost, he tried to score some Assassinate points by attacking my Nexus boy. He took him down to half health, but I was able to heal him up by the simple expedient of walking him forward and shooting Rasputina herself; Drain Life heals a point when it hits, the Parasite Token heals another when it lands, and then the other Nexus kids came forward and added their own guns to the fray. Every token on Raspy was another heal on the boy, and the turn ended with him at full health and her nearly dead. Turn five was a simple matter of cleaning up his last models and scoring Breakthrough. I only got one point on that scheme but I scored the full 7 and locked my opponent out of scoring entirely, which felt a little rude. My opponent’s gameplan was good, but McCabe2 is just really, really well designed to kill beefy Armor +2 beaters.
Here it comes. The big enchilada. The final boss. Longtin had sent Landon down in the last round (partially thanks to a misreading of the rules by both of them, but also thanks to some absurd damage flips against Youko2) and so I had to face the Pope myself. We’d played once before, at Captaincon, and he dished out my one loss of the weekend, so I was both dreading and looking forward to the rematch. I know he’s good – very good – but I had been practicing since then and felt very prepared. The match was Guard the Stash on Standard deployment with Catch and Release, Secret Meetup, Assassinate, Hidden Martyrs and Spread Them Out in the pool. I declared Maxine2, thinking that she would be more effective given the schemes, and he declared Youko2. I banned Honeypot to avoid any Kitty Dumont shenanigans, while he banned Seeker to avoid the aforementioned absolutely busted interaction between Jedza1 and Max2.
I ran a very similar list to the one I’d run in the first round, swapping out the Spelleater for the Intrepid Emissary. I know very well what Youko does – she stacks her hand with good cards and then fuels her beaters with focus – and I wanted no part of that. Landon took Youko2, Hinamatsu, Bill Algren, the Lone Swordsman, a Charm Warder, a Kunoichi and a Terracotta Warrior. For schemes I took Hidden Martyrs, though I definitely chose the wrong Martyrs (Orville and the Tidecaller rather than Calypso and Jin Baccara), and I took Secret Meetup between the Tidecaller and his Charm Warder, which was very ambitious.
The game started off very cagey, with both of us advancing towards each other in a cautious pattern. He loaded his three threatening beaters up with Focus and stacked his hand, while I gradually built my Max Castle in the middle of the board. With Youko’s pass tokens he was definitely going to get the last activation, though he wasn’t going to get the last two activations, which mattered a lot. I couldn’t get at any valuable targets, so I just set up Focus on my models and stacked my hand with Calculate the Possibilities.
Turn two he cheated to win the initiative and activated the Lone Swordsman, sending him like a guided missile at Harata. The problem was that I had kept a 13 in my hand and he’d used his. The Swordsman’s first attack missed, and with that his chance to take out Harata was gone; he attacked again and missed again. In response, Harata activated, put up his aura, and promptly cut the Swordsman in half. I was now up a major value piece and in a commanding position.
From there the game developed in my favor. I sent Beebe and Calypso around and smashed Chiyo into the ground, then brought them back towards the center. I had screwed up the positioning, though, and forgot to read Kunoichi’s card – they have No Witnesses, as it turns out, and were able to kill Calypso pretty easily. Hinamatsu rushed in and finished off Beebe, and so I sent Max after her. I beat the absolute tar out of that wretched puppet, forcing him to soulstone to keep her alive on just two health. Suitably chastened, Bill advanced towards my Stash marker, keeping his distance, while the Tidecaller and Emissary took up station in the center of the board to protect Harata and co.
Turn three he yanked Hinamatsu out of danger with the Kunoichi. I promptly used Jin Baccara to pop out next to the puppet and cut her strings with his armor piercing attack. Bill moved into position to score, but I had total command of the center and had lost only Beebe and Calypso compared to my opponent’s loss of 2/3 of his combat models. He redeployed the Kunoichi to the far left flank and began to advance her towards the second marker, but I used Max’s incredible mobility to chase her down and finish her off, locking him to one strategy point and giving me the game.
Haha, can you imagine? No, what really happened was this:
I decided to ignore the Kunoichi entirely, letting him freely score on the strat, and instead used Max’s entire activation to move over to where Bill was, denying my opponent one (1) strategy point. I then let a Charm Warder beat Max up and spent my last soulstone on cards. I then completely forgot about the Charm Warder’s anti-Demise aura and didn’t cheat the initiative, letting Bill activate and murder Max entirely and permanently dead.
From there, I had a problem. He wasn’t going to give me a Martyrs point by killing anything I had left, and I wasn’t going to score the second half either, since it’s almost impossible to engage Youko. I’d given him one Martyrs point and it was going to be very easy for him to get the second with his Terracotta Warrior, since Youko has absolute activation control and can push her own models around. I hadn’t killed the Kunoichi, so he was going to get two strategy points to my three, and worst of all, he’d picked Assassinate. I got one for Secret Meetup – he couldn’t stop the endgame condition there – but when the dust cleared, I’d lost 5-4 in a nailbiter of a game that ultimately came down to me throwing Maxine away in the stupidest possible manner. As I told Landon later (to his great amusement), I was in the driver’s seat that game, and I drove it off a cliff.
Ah, well. Mistakes are lessons. Steel sharpens steel, and this is the only way to get better at Malifaux: play the best players in the world. Next time, Landon. Next time. Well, not literally next time (little foreshadowing there).
Second Interlude: The Aftermath
Still, surveying the results, it was hard to feel too bad. Haku won the event overall, piloting the absolutely phenomenal Witness keyword four rounds and playing Hoffman2 for one round (against the other Witness player). Landon had come in second, while I had landed a respectable fifth, beating out some other very well regarded players. I had also won Best Painted for my EVS crew: the crew represents the international crew of the Expedition Vessel Superior, so I painted each crew member’s national flag on them somewhere (except for the Maori Harata Ngaatoro, who wore the flag of Tino Rangatiratanga, a Maori term meaning “absolute sovereignty”). That felt nice.
With Team Danger Planet-affiliated players in slots 1, 2 and 5, we felt inclined to celebrate, and so we retired to the nearby Freddy’s Beach Bar. There, we celebrated with cocktails and karaoke, as is tradition, along with several other players from the event. Doug sang Californication and Walking in Memphis; Brandon sang Everywhere and My Shot; and I sang Handlebars and Hell. Landon surprised us with talented renditions of Du Hast and Holding Out For a Hero, while Haku – the reigning champion of Malifaux – led the bar in a rousing rendition of the Spice Girls’ Wannabe. It was absolute bliss.
And there were two whole days of NoVa left.
Stay tuned, gentle reader, for the Malifaux Open: five rounds of no-holds-barred Malifaux action, open to anyone bold enough to step into the arena. Thirty-odd players competed for the honor of the Iron Scorpius, the most coveted prize in competition Malifaux. Who would win? Who would lose? Who amongst our number was born to sing the blues?
These questions and more will be answered in NoVa II: NoVa Harder.
If you liked this content and want to hear us discuss our experiences at NoVa, check out the video below!
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