Goonhammer’s Ashes of Malifaux Review Part 1: The Arcanists

It’s finally here! At time of writing, Ashes of Malifaux has been out in the wild for approximately a week, and we’re just starting to come to grips with how the meta has changed. We’ve seen quite a few of the new models in various previews, but it turns out there was a lot left in the book. I’m not going to re-review models I’ve already reviewed, but I will copy over the text (and a higher quality image of the card) into this series of articles so you’ll have all of the reviews in one place.

Like every Malifaux release, this one follows a pattern. Keywords from within the same faction are paired off, with each keyword pair receiving 1-2 models. This time, there’s no real pattern to the releases: some pairs get a single henchman, others a minion, others an enforcer, and others a combination of two types. Each faction also gets a new Versatile option with no in-faction Keyword (though there were some cross-faction options, as you’ll see).

We’ll start with the boys (and girls) in blue, the working (wo)man’s faction, the Arcanists!

Altus Keene

a modest man who knows how to dress for success. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

Anya continues her unbroken streak of stealing models from other Keywords and Factions. Did you know that, apart from her and her Totem, there is only one purely Syndicate Explorer’s Society model?

The first thing I notice on Altus’s card, after his entirely mediocre stats, is Which One Is Real? People who have played me recently know that I’ve been trying to make the Anya2 execute spam hand pressure list work, and having one more passive source of discard in the list is a lot of fun. He’s also got two pretty interesting pieces of defensive tech in Arcane Shield and Swirling Illusions; the former is likely only there to allow him to soak one free Price of Progress damage per turn, but the latter makes your opponent exert themselves at least a little to kill him in one activation (although, admittedly, a lot of models are just going to hit him, then hit him again with Focus). Don’t rely on it – keep this guy hidden.

Twist Reality is a great gun on everyone who has it, especially with the ability to build in any of its great debuff triggers, though Stat 5 is a little frustrating; the nature of Twist Reality means that you’ll almost always be at least even in stat with your target, but for 8 stones, a Stat 6 probably wouldn’t be unreasonable. Dispel Magic is Fine, I Guess, but Arcanists already have access to it for half of Altus’s cost in the Effigy, which you never see.

Altus’s Tacticals are… interesting, to say the least. Incognito is very very cool, given how many Syndicate models have Flexible Morality; normally, people can avoid the hand pressure by just Focusing, and Altus turns that off. He may be worth taking just for that (and note that a Concealed Winston is a nightmare to shoot, and this ability stacking with Swirling Illusions may be enough to keep Altus safe, but relies on you taking one to the chin). The trigger is cute, since a 6″-plus-base-size place is a lot for a bonus action, and since Irena is pretty good you’ll probably take the siblings together quite a bit.

Not an Accident is harder to evaluate. Obviously, this depends enormously on what kind of marker you’re pushing. Shoving a Pyre Marker over an enemy while playing Kaeris is extremely powerful. Beyond that, though, the pickings are a little thin. In Explorer’s Society you could out-of-keyword hire a Vatagi and push a Pit Trap, but that feels a bit too clever by half (especially since your own models don’t ignore it).  But what else is there?  Pylons?  Sandeep’s rainbow of Demise markers? It’s cute, but I just don’t know that it really does enough.

I want to like Altus, since he’s tricky and fiddly and does lots of neat things, but he shares the classic Syndicate problem: he’s super fragile for his cost and just doesn’t seem to do enough to counteract that. But we’ll see as we review his sister that the synergy they have may be worth it as a package.

Irena Keene

legs that go all the way up. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

Irena’s a lot like her brother… at least on the front of her card. She’s got Armor instead of Arcane Shield +1, which makes her a bit tougher on balance, and Don’t Mind Me and Unimpeded instead of Which One Is Real? Those abilities suggest a scheme runner, but as we’ll see when we get to the back of her card, that… doesn’t seem to be what’s going on here. Finally, she has an inverse version of Swirling Illusions in Forgettable, which gives enemies a -twist to hit her as long as she hasn’t been hurt by the enemy this turn.  (Incidentally, that makes her a very good target for Altus’s Incognito, though you probably want to target her anyways and place into base contact with her with Have You Met My Sister?).

She’s decidedly meaner than her brother, though, with Machete Claws, a 2″ range 2/4/5 that can slurp up Terrain Markers to get +twists to hit. As I mentioned in my Altus review, it’s a bit annoying that they have marker synergy while they don’t make markers themselves, but she’s pretty good tech into Reva or Rasputina or similar masters – you can incidentally remove the markers your opponent depends on while getting incidental value at the same time. Her triggers are great, too, and good combat triggers on a Price of Progress model go a long way, since you’ll always have the one you need if you’re willing to bleed for it.

Most interesting of all is her Execute trigger. This gives Anya2 a second Execute model, which means up to 6 Executes per turn, plus the hand-size malus from Anya herself and the discard from Altus. That’s getting to the point where you’ll actually probably just kill someone with Execute with some regularity, though you’ll have to watch out for card-draw-heavy crews and the ever-present risk of just killing yourself with pings. It’s also worth noting that Irena’s Execute is on an attack that doesn’t do damage, so after the first hit, if you Execute and your opponent pitches a card (or stone) you didn’t gain some incremental value – you just taxed their resources.

Not an Accident is as baffling here as it is on Altus, though being able to remove the marker is pretty sweet (especially if you’re targeting markers that can’t otherwise be removed, like Pylons). Casting Dazzling Flourish through the marker is cute, but probably not worth Pricing for, since you can’t execute on this. Finally, Ambush is great, and Altus lets her do it without pitching a card, so hooray for synergy!

I don’t think I’d hire either Keene sibling alone, but together, they’re probably worth it. They’ve got just enough tricks to stay alive if you can trickle healing into them, which both Syndicate and the Arcanists can do, and they really play into the Anya2 execute spam plan. I like them a lot as a pair, though 16 stones is quite a lot.

Arun Rajput 

from now on you can only hear his demise in randy marsh’s voice. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon     

Boxing has been called “the sweet science,” and while there may be a whiff of irony about that term, it’s certainly a more thoughtful and meditative sport than it appears. Being hit in the face really makes you think, at least if you don’t want to get hit there again. It is therefore unsurprising that Toni Ironsides and Sandeep Desai share the loyalty of boxing trainer Arun Rajput, a man who knows there’s something more dangerous than a horseshoe you can put in your glove.

Arun’s an interesting toolbox of a Henchman. His unique Demise, “I Didn’t Hear a Bell,” lets him trade Focus for life. While you can never carry more than two Focus, he can pretty easily Concentrate once per activation without having to give up an AP for it (whether through Good Fundamentals or the trigger on Inside Fighting. His melee attack is fine, though without the ability to build in either of its triggers, you’re not really setting the world on fire. His Grit (Aggressive) and the weird little bonus flip to his punches are a bit odd, since they make him look like a beater, but he really isn’t at 2/3/4 with no Flurry or Onslaught or anything.

He’s a great support piece, though, between Keen Presence turning off two of the most debilitating conditions in the game, and his unparalleled AP transfer. He heals allies, gives them Focus, lets them attack, and lets non-elementals trigger various Mantra effects, which is quite good. His ability to yank friendlies out of melee is top notch, too, since that’s really not where Sandeep2 wants to be. Elemental has some great targets for Inside Fighting, too, with the various Golems, and Good Fundamentals lets you do some insane things with Wind Gamin and the Four Winds Golem – stick them in a Banasuva aura and make them Concentrate, and you’ll be tossing your own models around like ping-pong balls.

In M&SU, Arun does quite a bit less, though feeding Toni focus and making her attack more is always strong. Inside Fighting does not say non-Leader! He’s definitely more Academic/Elemental than M&SU, though.

I really like Arun. 8 stones is a cost you have to think about paying, but he does a lot, and he’s going to be annoyingly difficult to remove. Just watch out for anti-Demise or anti-healing tech; he’ll go down fast if he can’t grit his teeth and hang on.

Elemental Boxer

the first one to make a “work the bag” joke gets a fistful of fire. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

Arun comes with some students, too! In Elemental/Academic, these guys enable Arun’s Unionized ability, which is pretty nice. Elemental Boxers have the classic 5-stone minion problem (i.e. they just die), although a less severe case than some others due to their Hard to Kill and Df 6. If my opponent’s keyword didn’t attack Willpower much – something like Family or Pig – I’d feel a lot better about hiring these little dudes.

They don’t do much more than fight, though they fight pretty well, and Quick Jab is a cute way to deal with Hard to Kill. Punching Bag is a cute little ability that will sometimes get you out of a jam or score a cheeky point, but mostly they’re here to smack people with an element-infused fist.

I don’t know if that’s really something worth doing in this GG, since they’re not super killy and Malifaux does not favor swarming with expendable models, but if you’re looking for some cheap and cheerful fighters that can probably a punch a little bit above their weight, and your opponent isn’t playing dirty with Wp attacks, knock yourself out.


this guy sings in the dead of night. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

The Star Theater is more than it seems. Everyone knows that the Showgirls are Colette’s eyes and ears, and performers like Carlos Vasquez and Angelica Durand serve her on- and off-stage. But not a lot of people know that the Star’s stagehands are in Colette’s pocket, too, as the key movers in her smuggling operation. Damian Ravencroft does know, and he knows how to keep secrets… for a price.

Performer/Witness is next, and as is the particular idiom of those keywords, Blackbirds are sneaky little snakes. They’re a bit more expensive than Boxers and a bit more fragile; one extra health matters a little, but the difference between 5 and 6 health is not super significant, and I’d much rather have Hard to Kill than Arcane Shield +1. Their defensive trigger is cute, but it’s almost never going to go off, since you have to win the duel. It just discourages your opponent from throwing random opportunistic attacks at them.

Set the Scene, though, is very cool. You can hand out a lot of Distracted in Performer if you want to, and these guys can also just give it out themselves. That’s a lot of free Scheme Markers, so if you’re in a pool where that’s meaningful – Information Overload, say – you can make the ability work for you.

One problem with Witness models outside of a Damian crew is that it’s very hard to make the Configuration do anything for you without a critical mass of Repository models. Of course, the fail case of Repository is that it cycles a card at the start of your activation, which is pretty great! And even in Performer, the Configuration is not entirely useless; Thief’s Pocket is a very nice ability, letting you get down the two Scheme Markers you need for Ensnare or letting you interact-walk-interact.

Blackbirds’ melee attack is extremely skippable, since melee is where it really doesn’t want to be. Spotlight is a kinda-cool attack, though the range is worryingly short – I think mostly I just want to scheme-run with these guys, though.

Overall, if the pool favors lots of markers, Blackbirds may be worth it. Just play very cautiously with them – they cannot take a punch. And Sir Vantes or the Midnight Stalker will fuck you up.


her brother Meadowlark chose a different, groovier path. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

The Star’s new star is a triple threat: singing, acting, and assassination. Socialite by day, thief and killer by night, she’s sort of an evil Batwoman. But with style.

Shadowlark, aka Tina Grenville, is quite cheap for a Henchman at 7 stones. She’s basically an upgunned Blackbird – a bit faster, with Diving Charge for maneuverability and Don’t Mind Me to up the scheming ante. She’s super fragile, though, even for her modest cost; Disguised is nice, but any ranged attacks are gonna just murderize this lady.

Her blade is better than the Blackbirds’, especially with the surprise Execute trigger, but melee is the Danger Zone for Shadowlark. Her ranged attack is a lot more exciting, especially with those triggers, but Stat 5 is a bit of a tough sell. I’m a fan of the Shadow Jump trigger, and having it on both melee and ranged attacks is aces, but you really want to be moving your own models into position as jump targets. It’s a bit risky to put yourself in danger and rely on hitting a trigger in an opposed duel to get yourself out (though at least in Witness you can build the trigger in). I will note that it’s not Enemy Only, so you can get some leaps going if you want to hit your own guys, but you could also get almost as much distance walking/charging.

I think the model is likely to be gorgeous, if a pain to transport, but I struggle to see how Shadowlark fits into lists. If your opponent is a solely melee list, maybe her maneuverability and Disguised keep her safe enough, but anyone with decent guns is going to perforate her in short order.


he makes boilers. it’s what he does. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

I will never understand Wyrd. The Peacekeeper is made of slabs of solid steel. Armor +2.  Gracie is covered in pots and pans. Armor +2. Mikhail XVI has a little stylish pauldron on one shoulder. Armor +1.  Boilermaker is made entirely of steel. Armor +1.

Whatever. The Boilermaker works for Mei Feng, but it has a little secret. When the Burning Man appeared, a tiny portal opened inside this construct, a conduit for the Burning Man’s energy. Kaeris, also touched by the Burning Man’s power, can call on the thing’s loyalty… until the Burning Man’s random passage takes him into the void between worlds, and Boilermaker goes cold again.

As you might expect, this thing loves to be on fire. Rise From the Ashes is, I think, one of the defining abilities on this card – it’s sort of Ride the Rails, but it works with Pyre Markers too. Kaeris2 is extremely fast, but this thing can actually keep up with her.  It also can spit out its own Scrap or Pyres, which is great: Kaeris2 loves pyre generation. And Mei Feng2 doesn’t mind it, since she makes her whole crew immune to Hazardous Terrain (though that’s a bit of a bummer with Boilermaker, since he wants to walk through Pyres and catch fire). Searing Heat ensures that your opponent can’t just ignore Boilermaker, since it adds an effective 3 Burning to all already-on-fire enemies.

The Chain-Wrapped Fists are a pretty cool attack action, though that Weak 2 means you won’t really want to be taking a lot of non-Focused swings. Shove Aside is great everywhere it shows up, and doubly great when you can build it in with Kaeris2. Same with Corrupted Chains – it’s a reasonably strong attack, if short ranged (a problem neatly solved by Rise From the Ashes), but the ability to build in On Your Heels or Pull and Drag makes it a lot stronger than it looks. Boilermaker can haul ass when he has to.

Call to the Burning Man is great as a little survivability tool that keeps you topped up on Burning, and Heatwave is a really, really strong trigger for a Tactical Action. Boilermaker can teleport right where he needs to go (say, next to a Strategy Marker in Raid the Vaults) and push enemies away.

I really like this construct, although I think he loses a bit outside of Kaeris2, since a lot of his power is budgeted into his triggers and he can’t stone for them without a Soulstone Cache. Mei Feng doesn’t really need the help dropping Scrap and doesn’t tend to do much with Burning, though “not much” is not the same as “nothing,” and Boilermaker is a good midrange threat a step below the Metal Golem but a step above Survivors or Metal Gamin.

Sightless Snow

“tree mctreeface” was vetoed during the beta. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

Malifaux’s Ten Peaks are majestic to look at, but you wouldn’t want to visit – especially not in the wintertime. These ain’t the Alps, and there are not friendly St. Bernards toting barrels of whiskey – if you get stuck in the cold, you make like the Donner Party.  The woman known as Sightless Snow was once a wisewoman, so gifted at the healing arts that the spirits of the mountains gifted her a pure white elk. But when December came, bringing ice and famine, she was put in a desperate and impossible situation.  Hunger drove her to the unthinkable, and in return she was cursed to forever contain a fragment of the elk she’d consumed in her madness.

Sightless Snow/Ceddra is really one model, with two cards, much like Ferdinand Vogel and The Beast Within, and let’s get one thing out of the way early: this model is broken.  If anything from Ashes gets a nerf, it’ll likely be these two.

Sightless Snow’s human side is unremarkable, with reasonable health but low defenses, but she does get one Mutation upgrade for free. This can help keep her alive, especially if you go with Armored Plates for Armor +1 or Natural Camouflage for Stealth and Disguised.  She’s Unimpeded, and can draw range and line of sight for her attacks through Beasts or Ice Pillars, which is a very strong ability. But there’s more – when she transforms (which costs you a card, she gets to make an Ice Pillar anywhere within 6″ for free, which means she can really easily set up those arc nodes to use her attacks from relative safety.

Her melee attack is nothing to write home about, though Slowing even on a hit is nice, but her ranged attack is nasty. This is only the second Breath of Frost we’ve seen, and the first Stat 6, and it’s much, much scarier than its Firey equivalent.  Especially here, where the 6″ range is mitigated by the ability to cast it through an Ice Pillar – you can reach out and touch someone 13″ away, plus blasts. The attack’s triggers are great, too, either giving someone a free attack (which, if you’re playing her with Rasputina2 and channeling through the Ice Pillar, can be Raspy herself) or transforming into Ceddra without losing upgrades. This is meant to let you keep the Mutations you’ve accumulated but in practice it lets you put a Soulstone Cache on Snow without fear.

Her bonus is great, too, giving you effectively a third AP – you can get a Walk or an Interact, except better in both cases, and in rare cases you can make another Ice Pillar.  And remember, you never have to be without an Ice Pillar if you want one, since she gets one for free when she transforms.


someone’s seen The Thing. Credit: Danger Planet Brandon

The other half of Snow’s card is even nuttier, somehow. Ceddra is faster, and has lost the ability to channel through Ice Pillars, but in return it gains Demise (Eternal), making it insanely annoying to remove (especially if, as noted above, you’ve taken SSC and/or a defensive Mutation). Like Ceddra, it has three AP with Onward!, and it can heal by snacking on corpses (though that’s a bit more corner-case).

The crazy thing, though, is Call of the Mountain, which is effectively a free Walk that ignores Engagement and also lets you swap your Mutation!  For free! And you can target yourself!  Practically speaking, that’s what you’re going to do a lot of the time, since as long as you have a 6 in hand it’s way better than a Walk. And if you like your mutation, you can keep your mutation, and instead turn back into Snow!

Ceddra also has an attack, and it’s actually kind of insane? Stat 6 3/4/5 is the gold standard for a beatstick, and this one has good triggers in Tear Off a Bite and Bloody Fate.

This model is absolutely nutty. It schemes like a champion, since you can just transform into the lady, make a free pillar, drop a scheme marker through the pillar, attack an enemy, transform back into the elk… and if an enemy scheme runner tries to stop you, you will almost certainly win that fight at 3/4/5 and needing to be killed twice in a single turn to die. If you do end up engaged with something nasty you can turn into the elk, move out of combat (7″ with Feathered Wings!), swap for Disguised so they can’t charge you back, and have another walk and a full extra AP left.

Get ready to be really sick of seeing this thing. I already am.

Back the Blue

That’s it for the Arcanists, and I think they really lucked out. They might have gotten the biggest boost from this book of anyone. Next time, we’re moving from the mountains to the swamp as we visit our friends in the Bayou.