Last October, Wyrd shook up the Malifaux meta with the release of Malifaux Burns. With 54 new Masters and more than 30 new non-masters, almost all of which could be taken cross-faction, players’ options exploded – and the metagame is still yet to settle. A game as complex as Malifaux take a long time to be “solved,” and especially with the recent drop of the GG3 scenario pack, now is an exciting time to be flipping cards. With Malifaux Burns title boxes still releasing (the last ones are slated for October), at least we have a lot of time to figure all this out before the next book releases…
Surprise! We’re doing it now.
Madness of Malifaux
This year at Gencon, Wyrd announced the next expansion book: Madness of Malifaux! This book, releasing in October, will feature six new Masters and “over 50 other new and exciting characters.” We don’t know quite as much about the contents as we did about Malifaux Burns at this point in time, but there are a few things we can infer.
Unlike the previous release, this one features all-new keywords. We’ve seen one, Witness, which will be the subject of today’s article. Each keyword will come with a Master, their Totem, and enough stuff to fill out a keyword (which, from historical experience, is about 6-7 minions, enforcers, henchmen etc.). Interestingly, this book is building on the release model of Malifaux Burns – each Master will also have a title, and those titles will be released in paired title boxes just like the Malifaux Burns ones, with a shared Enforcer.
There are six Masters, which means two of them will be dual-faction. We’ve picked up a few clues here and there to help fill in pieces of the puzzle:
- The Bayou keyword is Angler, and appears to involve Gremlin fishermen (a truly disturbing thought) with some Gibbering Hordes flavor
- The Guild keyword is Cavalier, and we know very very little about them at all
- The Resurrectionist keyword is Returned, a keyword we’ve already seen on Barbaros’s updated card from the February errata. This keyword seems to focus on “overhealing,” that is, healing models above their maximum. Due to the wording of the Nephilim Loyalist rule on Barbaros, we were expecting Returned to be a Neverborn keyword; therefore, I think we can safely say that this one is Neverborn/Resurrectionist.
- The Ten Thunders keyword is Story, but appears to also be Red Library. More on these guys later in this article.
And, as Wyrd revealed to us, the Arcanist keyword is Witness, centered around the mysterious Damian Ravencroft. Who is he? What does he want? What’s with the goggles? Read on to find the answer to some of these questions.
Who Is Damian Ravencroft?
This is Damian Ravencroft speaking. I’m the man who’s taken away your Soulstones and thus destroyed your world.
Aaaaaaaall the way back in First Edition, Malifaux’s story was a bit more… diffuse. There was metaplot, of course – who can forget the Kythera mechanism, or Ramos’s Leviathan – but there were also lots of short stories that were just that, little pieces of fiction that stood alone and illustrated the oddness of the world. One of those was Puzzle Box, a story that appeared in Twisting Fates. I won’t spoil the story – it’s very short, and you really would be doing yourself a favor by reading it (or listening to it here), but it gave us the background on Damian Ravencroft. We don’t know much about Ravencroft, but we do know this:
- He’s an Arcanist (duh)
- He loves games and puzzles
- He’s a man other Arcanists go to for answers
- The Guild was hunting him, especially their Witch Hunter division
- He will risk anything, dare anything, for knowledge
And now, thanks to his keyword, we know one more piece of the puzzle. Witness is the name of one of the Tyrants. Very little is known about Witness… but is It linked to the fabled Soulstone Geode, which Ramos was searching for before he was captured?
The Witness Keyword
The new keyword, Witness, centers around a unique new mechanic: the Configuration. The Configuration is an upgrade that you attach to yourself when you hire at least one Witness model. It can hold cards – a number of cards equal to the number of cards in your hand (excess cards mean you discard one). Think of it sort of as an exile zone for cards. When a card is in your Configuration, it is not in your hand, deck, or discard pile. By itself, the Configuration has only a single, simple effect; if you have three or more cards of the same suit in the Configuration, your Witness models may add that suit to all of their duel totals. But there are lots more effects, as you’ll see.
Cards are added to the Configuration via the Repository ability, shared by almost all Witness models; this lets you put a card from your hand into the Configuration at the start of their activation to draw a card. This by itself gives your crew astonishing card cycling, and your hand quality in Witness crews will normally be very high. However, you have to discard all the cards in the Configuration at the end of the turn… unless another rule says otherwise. Foreshadowing!
Interestingly, OG Damian has a title, too. Apparently that’s 100% of masters from now on.
Aspirant is a control master par excellence. There are two front of card abilities that define him; Maintain Order forces enemy models in his line of sight to discard a card if they want to take the same action more than once per activation, which applies tremendous hand pressure, and Witness the In-Between allows his Witness models to Cheat Fate with a card from the Configuration by discarding a card- effectively giving you a 14 card hand (if you have Arcane Reservoir on a model, through Magical Training). Defensively, he’s only a 5/7, but Superiority Complex reduces damage if the target has any conditions, which is handy. Finally, Memories of the Yellow Crypt is the first example of Configuration synergy we’ll see; whenever a card of value 9 or greater is added to he Configuration, a friendly Witness model in Line of Sight either gains Shielded +1 or pushes 2″.
Damian has a Runic Blade like Sonnia Criid’s, a reasonable 2/3/5 stat 6 that heals him for 1, and the Siphon Life ram trigger turns it into a scary 3/4/6 that heals him for 2. He’s also got a ranged Wp attack, Esoteric Debate, that deals 2/3B/5B and Injures the primary target if you have at least one card of value 9+ in your Configuration. This attack has the Drain Magic and Draw Out Secrets triggers as well, giving you more hand pressure, more card filtering, and some ranged scheming.
His bonus action, Knowledge is Power, is worth a look – it’s a Stat 6 10″ attack vs. Wp. You pick a suit, and then it deals irreducible damage to the target equal to the number of cards in that suit in the Configuration, up to a maximum of 3. Since you’re typically stacking your Configuration with a suit to build in triggers, it’ll almost always be 3 damage. It also has a very interesting trigger in Expose Flaws that affects a non-Master target – until the end step, the target can only reduce damage via Soulstones. So no Armor, Shielded, or anything else!
Finally, he has Confiscated Lore, as busted an ability here as it is on Sonnia2; a tome trigger lets you discard three cards from your configuration to resummon his Totem, the Puzzle Box, and he also has a mask trigger to push more Witness models around.
Damian has a lot of text on his card, and it gives him tremendous flexibility. He attacks Wp and Df, he can hand out Injured, drop Scheme Markers, push friendlies around, heal himself and others, pressures the opponent’s hand, screws with their deck… the hard part will be figuring out what tool to use for each job, but he certainly is equipped to do it all!
Damian Ravencroft, Unbound
Unbound, by contrast, is as flexible as an iron bar and about as subtle. The highlights on his card come in four places. The first three are on the front: Beacon of Order says that in a 4″ aura around him, enemy models cannot draw cards or use Soulstones. Refraction means that friendly Witness models can draw line of sight and range for all non-aura, non-melee attack actions from Unbound or any friendly models with House the Soul (which means his totem, the Soulstone Gamin and Lohith… of which more later). And Redirect Magic, previously only seen on the mediocre Spelleaters, is a monstrous ability that steals all suits from your opponent’s final duel total and gives them to you. This effectively means that enemy models can never declare triggers into Unbound, and you will always have at least two suits (sometimes two of the same suit).
The fourth ability is his main attack: Absolute Control. This is a stat 6, 4″ range attack against Df; it only deals 2/4/5 damage, but like Leviticus2’s Malice, it can declare any number of triggers. And of course it has four, each scaling with the number of suits you have:
- Rams’ Resonate Power pulses out a heal to Witness models within 2″ of the target, 1 point per ram
- Crows’ Severe Injury hands out Injured, one per crow
- Masks’ Wave of Power pushes models damaged by the action 2″ for each mask (to a maximum of 4″), ignoring other models
- Tomes’ Words of the Tyrant adds a blast for each tome, up to two blasts.
This attack is monstrous, and is a huge part of what makes Unbound tick.
Helping him out are Die Thou, Unsung, a rule that lets him treat the 4″ Absolute Control action as having a range of 2″ melee, which gives him an engagement range and lets him charge (and also ignore Concealment when he attacks as a melee swipe, always helpful). And just for funsies, he has Arcane Reservoir on his card, meaning you always have a 7 card hand without having to hire on a Magical Training caddy.
Beyond that, he’s a bit one-dimensional; his bonus action, Chains of the Tyrant, is an 8″ stat 6 attack against Wp that yanks enemies 6″ towards him, ignoring models and terrain, and injures them, and has a trigger that can give you Focus. This ability exists entirely to set up his attack. Restore the Natural Order, his tactical action, removes all conditions within 4″ (though notably not on Unbound himself), and has triggers to let you selectively omit conditions or ping out 1 damage to enemy models.
Unbound is not a subtle model; he grabs people with Chains and smashes them into the ground with Absolute Control, leaving them unable to declare triggers or use Soulstones to protect themselves. He is very, very good at that, and how good he is depends heavily on how well that strategy works. Armor and Hard to Wound are his mortal enemies, since against Armor +2 he’s just got a 1/2/3 track, and even without armor his Weak 2 damage isn’t that scary. He also desperately hates being Stunned, as he lives or dies by his triggers – and Staggered isn’t much fun either, since he has to be fairly close to do work.
All that said, he does have some scary tools, and if you can’t keep him away from your Master and Henchmen they are going to die. The rest of his crew isn’t that killy, outside of Lohith, but they can do surprising damage when they’re channeling all of their attacks through Unbound from a safe distance (especially once the Injured is stacked up).
The Puzzle Box
Damian’s totem is an odd one. The Puzzle Box is a floating box, which has some predictable consequences: it doesn’t attack, it’s Insignificant, and it’s Armored but not particularly hard to hit or kill. It does have House the Soul, an ability I mentioned above; this lets you pick one card in your Configuration at the end of the turn to keep, which is very helpful at keeping those triple-suits or 9+ value cards stocked.
The Puzzle Box has three actions, two regular and a bonus, and Once per Turn restrictions mean you can do each one exactly once in each activation. The first, Rework the Configuration, lets you swap up to three cards in your hand for cards in your Configuration, then resolve three effects based on the suits of the cards you added to the Configuration:
- Crows let you pick an enemy model within 6″ to take a TN 11 duel or take 2 damage
- Rams let you move a marker within 6″ by up to 2″
- Tomes let you hand out Shielded +1 to a Witness model within 6″
- Crows let you move a Witness model within 6″ by 2″
You can of course pick the same effect multiple times, and often will; pushing Unbound by 6″ is a big deal.
Simple Solution lets you give a friendly Witness model of cost 7 or less Fast, or a Witness model of cost 8 or more Focused. Again, very straightforward; give Unbound focus, or let one of your little guys do more.
Finally, it has The Box Opens, from Pandora’s card. Simple and entertaining. This is most profitably channeled through Unbound or another House the Soul model, as the Box is slow and fragile, but it’s very funny when it works. It also strong disincentivizes enemies from killing the Box with Aspirant; it’s usually too slow to Box Opens on people, but if it dies, he can resummon it in the middle of the enemy Crew. Oops.
A former Witchling Handler, Thorpe deserted the Guild to serve Damian. And I’m sure he’s glad she did; her Guild Deserter rule means that enemies within 5″ must discard a card to Concentrate, adding to the crew’s hand pressure, while Right Side of the Law lets you pulse out a single point of healing to one friendly model in your line of sight per ram in your Configuration (up to 3). She has Arcane Shield to keep safe, and Deadly Pursuit for some maneuverability.
For actions, she’s got the same Runic Blade Aspirant has, with the Drain Magic and Ignition triggers. She has a unique gun: her Arcane Firearm only has a 2/3/4 damage track, but it automatically Stuns any target with Wp 6 or higher. Attacks that Stun without a trigger are very rare, and this makes her very good into opposing Unbound Damians, which is kinda funny. The gun also has a trigger to pick a card in you Configuration and add it to your hand, which really is just card draw when you think about it.
Her tacticals, though, are where the real sauce is. Outmaneuver lets two friendly models within 6″ push up to 3″, more out of activation movement for Unbound, and a ram trigger lets one friendly non-Master model moved this way take a non-bonus action. A tactical action Obey that also pushes two models around is nutty, even though the trigger is once per turn. She even has I’ve Got Your Back as a bonus action, complete with the Magical Dampening trigger on a tome to prevent enemy models from declaring triggers in duels with the target. This trigger is crazy powerful (again, ironically, against Damian Unbound himself), but take note – you can’t just declare the action to get the trigger; the target must be engaged by an enemy model.
Thorpe is an integral part of the crew and I wouldn’t dream of leaving home without her. Her unique tech (in her gun and Magical Dampening) also makes her an appealing out of keyword hire in some matchups…
Poor Lohith. He went to Sandeep Desai looking for help with the gamin that tormented him, but he couldn’t master the magic of Malifaux and ended up melded into a gigantic Soulstone in an abandoned mine. At least he’s out now. Well, not really, “out,” but he’s mobile and in the sunshine. And hey, there can’t be any hard feelings, since Sandeep can hire him out of keyword (though he’s not an Elemental… for balance reasons, I’m sure).
Lohith, Damian’s other henchman, is what you’d expect from the word Golem: a 10 cost beater with a Huge Fist and a demise trigger. He’s only got Armor 1, unlike the Ice and Metal Golems (I guess soulstone is soft?) but more than makes up for it with Living Soulstone; once per activation, when he uses a Soulstone (say, to reduce damage) he can discard a card of value 9+ from the Configuration to get another Soulstone back. This makes him astonishingly tough, as long as you’re flipping reasonably well and your Configuration is stacked. To help the latter, he has House the Soul, and because he’s modeled with a lantern he has Lantern of Souls, which is a bit of an odd flex but very welcome anti-Demise tech in a faction that doesn’t have any.
Its Demise, Last Release, removes any number of Markers within 3″, which is kind of neat but not particularly groundbreaking. The real meat is on the back. Like all Golems he has a 3/4/6, this one letting him turn dead enemies into Soulstones with Siphon Essence or force a pulse of Tn 11 duels to avoid Stunned with Soulstone Shards. He has a ranged attack too, Thrown Boulder… it’s only 8″, but a respectable 2/3B/5B with a built in 2″ push, and a mask trigger lets him add a blast and then teleport into base contact with the target (which, flavorwise, I guess means he threw himself?).
His bonus action, Soulstone Geode, is pretty nuts; it puts up a 3″ aura, and friendly Witness models in that aura (including Lohith himself) may have him suffer 1 damage to give themselves a +flip on any duel. No once per activation limit either! The damage will add up, but the Claim Gemstones trigger on the action heals a number of different Witness models in range by 2 equal to the number of suits in your Configuration, which will basically always be 1 and therefore basically always include himself. Finally, Draw Essence lets him ping himself to pulse out Tn 12 Df duels, dealing 2 damage and letting him heal 1 per failure; this is neat in a pinch, but it’s not reliable healing, and he has to damage himself to use it.
Lohith is a major lynchpin of the crew; he can generate lots of Soulstones while staying alive, he’s the only Min 3 beater in the entire keyword, and he has House the Soul. He’s an always-take with Unbound, probably, and I’d think hard before leaving him out at any other time.
Marco Bonatti was once a medium, but a terrible accident rendered him bodiless. Fortunately, Professor Bruttenholm made him a containment suit, and…
Sorry, Mignola. Bonatti’s an ink-man in a suit; it’s unclear at time of writing how he got that way, but he was mentioned in the original Puzzle Box story as a man with magical tattoo powers, so the connection is at least straightforward. He’s Damian’s first Enforcer and whoo boy is he a good one.
Like many Witness models, he has a Configuration-themed ability; in his case, it’s Aetheric Calibrator, which states that when a friendly Witness model within 4″ activates, if you have at least three Crows in your Configuration, you may look at the top card of your Fate Deck and discard it. That kind of scry is pretty neat, but on top of that he has Inkfingers, forcing your opponent to discard their hand during the End Phase – a brutal ability that straight-up stops people from being able to sculpt their hand across multiple turns. Defensively, he’s Df 6 but only Wp 4, but with 7 health and Armor he’s reasonably tough, and Kinetic Amplifier lets him discard a card to convert damage from pulses, blasts and shockwaves to Focus instead.
His main attack, Inky Grip, is just a 1″ reach Staggering Punch – a 2/3/4 that Staggers. It has two very cool triggers, though; Stain gives the target Adversary (Enemy), marking it for death, while Pitch Black immediately reduces your target’s duel total by 1 and cancels all their suits. An effective Stat 7 attack that always staggers and ignores defensive triggers is pretty solid, but the hits keep coming. Bonatti has a ranged Shockwave in Aetheric Grenade, along with Thorpe’s Prioritize trigger; you won’t do this too often, but it’ll be nice to have when you need it. His bonus action, Lashing Tendrils, is a short range attack on Mv that pushes the target 4″, but also has a trigger to let you immediately take the Grasping Tentacles tactical action.
This action is nuts. You may remember it from Pandora; until the end phase, whenever an enemy model within 6″ moves for any reason (walks, charges, pushes, etc.) if the move was not caused by a friendly (to Bonatti) model, reduce it by 2″. Worse, it has the Mass of Tentacles trigger. Mass of Tentacles is a bonkers good trigger, shoving nearby models around and dealing a point of damage to them, and he has it on a tactical action – which means your opponent can’t interact with it at all. That was so good on Calypso it got nerfed and here it is again!
Bonatti is crazy strong, a contender for best model in the keyword, and is going to show up out of keyword a lot. He’s nasty, and loses very little by not having a full Configuration to play with.
Leger de Main
We don’t know much about Leger, either, a street performer by the looks of him. He’s an Enforcer like Bonatti, but much less combat-oriented. He has Diversion, an always-nasty ability that turns off enemy bonus actions near him, and Manipulative to keep safe… along with Showmanship, which means he flips face-down and always cheats second. This is a nightmarish ability to deal with, since your opponent always has to guess whether they’ve hit him or not and you can bluff to force them to spend good cards. His Configuration ability, Mirror Trick, is just ok… for each Tome in your Configuration, you can move a friendly Scheme Marker in Line of Sight 1″. This’ll rarely break open a game, but it might be worth a point here and there.
He’s got Desper LaRaux’s Expert Thief to steal Soulstones (along with a neat Mask trigger that makes it Stat 7 instead of 5), and Distracting Illusion, a 2″ melee attack (last seen on Colette) that Stuns and Distracts the target. It has a ram trigger to deal 2/3/4 damage as well, and a very odd Mask trigger that lets you choose a Marker, anywhere on the board, not in base contact with a model; that Marker becomes Blocking, Impassable, and Destructible. As written, the Blocking ability does nothing, since Markers that aren’t already Blocking don’t have any Sz and therefore don’t cast a shadow or provide cover, but making Scheme markers impassable is fairly nice… and you can make enemy Pylons Destructible. Take that, Hoff!
Disillusion gives Leger a neat little bonus action to push enemies around (a theme with this crew, you may be noticing, between Chains of the Tyrant and Lashing Tendrils), and he’s got False Claim – an ability that’s never bad, even if it’s only sometimes great. It has a unique trigger, Ace Up the Sleeve, which requires you to have an Ace in your Configuration (not a hard ask, since you usually want to pitch low cards with useful suits) but lets you look at and reorder the top 3 cards of your deck.
I like Leger a lot, though some pools won’t really want him. He’s very fragile if it’s later in the turn and you don’t have a ton of cards to cheat with, since he’s only Df 5; an enemy that really needs to kill him will cheat high. But if you keep him safe, he’ll debilitate any enemy that gets too close, and if you have three Masks in your configuration he can reliably steal a Soulstone per turn.
We saw these guys’ art a while ago. They’re neat – seems like they’re sort of baby Arcanists just figuring out their weather, rock, or, er, fish powers, but they’ve also got the Wizz-Bang keyword to play nice with Wong.
They’re bog-standard 5-stone minions, with all that entails. They do have Arcane Shield and Blast Resistant to keep themselves alive a bit longer, but they’ll still die if something serious tries to make it happen. They do gain Glowy Tokens – once per activation, if they fail a duel generated by themself or an enemy model, they gain a Token and add the top card of your Discard Pile to your Configuration. However, they only thing they can do with them is to spend two to increase the value of one of their shockwaves by +1, which is pretty minor.
Speaking of, they have two attacks: Elemental Blast is an attack we’ve seen before, though if you have a 5 or 6 in your Configuration you can declare the From Mountain to Valley trigger to Stun the target. And Lightning Strike, the aforementioned Shockwave, is pretty basic as Shockwaves go, though again they have interesting triggers; Practice Makes Perfect lets you look at a number of cards from your Fate Deck equal to the number of odd cards in your Configuration, and discard any non-Jokers you see, while Remake the Earth drops a Scheme Marker in base contact with the Shockwave; ranged Scheme dropping is always nice, and if you fail to get the Shockwave off, you get the Glowy Token and a Configuration card.
Finally, they have a bonus tactical action, which pushes them 2″, +1″ for each 9+ in your Configuration, and can even remove Markers they pass through with a Mask trigger.
There’s a lot of text on this card, but they’re very fragile and with a Stat 5 attack they won’t be setting the world on fire. Take them if you need ranged marker dropping or if you absolutely need to ranged-Stun things that don’t have Wp 6 or higher.
The little version of Lohith are very much like papa. They share Armor, House the Soul and his Demise, but none of his other front of card goodness. On the back, they have a very crappy 1/2/4 attack and a 6″ shot that inflicts Injured +1, which is pretty interesting. And their bonus action heals a nearby Witness model for 1. Wheee!
You need a couple if you’re running Unbound, for House the Soul channeling shenanigans, but outside of that they’re Df 4 models that die to a single Severe 5 shot. Not too exciting… but at least they’re cheap.
Our last model today is a tantalizing hint of things to come. Damian’s title box is split, Malifaux Burns style, with that of Linh Ly – a new Ten Thunders master with a split keyword: Red Library and Story. We’ve seen Story of Raijin previewed, so it seems like the Sooey/Pig split with a lot of Red Library workers supporting a few Stories. A librarian-themed crew is very interesting, and Miya’s good enough to show up basically 100% of the time.
She’s an old lady, a retired Charm Warder by the look of her. From her old profession, she’s borrowed Jinx, a ranged attack that does damage and Injured (see how many ways this Keyword can injure you?), along with Chi Barrier to turn Scheme Markers into force fields. Her only other attack is Unassuming Demeanor, not very exciting, but it does have the Exorcism trigger to murder Summons… but remember you do have to be in melee for that. She’s got a plethora of great supporting abilities, though. Stories of the Red Library means that whenever she or another Story in Line of Sight activates, she can add a tome from your discard pile to your Configuration; in Witness, that’s just a decent source of 9+ value cards, but in Red Library/Story it means she can actually populate the Configuration (depending on how many Stories there are; we know of two right now, Linh Ly’s Title form and Story of Raijin) even if she’s the only model in the crew that can use it.
Untold Tale is a 4″ aura that allows any friendly model that discards a card or adds a card to the Configuration to gain Shielded +1. She’s also got Manipulative to keep safe and Well-Versed, which appears to be the Red Library keyword ability; once per turn, when she would flip a card, she can look at the top card of her deck and may discard it. The real meat on her card, though, is Without a Voice; when a friendly Leader activates, she can look at the top X cards of the opposing player’s fate deck, where X is the number of Tomes in the Configuration (remember, she adds those). She can’t discard those cards, but just knowing what’s coming up is super important, especially for masters like Unbound that want to mix it up in melee.
Her bonus actions are also pretty nice – Creep Along compensates for Mv 4, while Dream of the Red Chamber lets her draw two, then put two cards from her hand on top of her deck – and remember you can discard one of those with Well-Versed!
Overall, she’s very potent – a little fragile with only Manipulative to keep her safe, but she can stack Shielded on her team very efficiently (even gaining a little bit herself), and she’s priced to move at 6 soulstones. Keep her safe and she’ll do work!
Well! That was pretty exhaustive. I’m not an Arcanist fan, but I really like the lore behind Witness, and the incredible creativity of the mechanics here is pretty refreshing. It’s a good sign that even this many years in, Malifaux isn’t anywhere close to getting stale, and the team hasn’t nearly mined out the seam of design space for their game. Malifaux is a complex game, but even complicated mechanics can play intuitively when designed well and paired with excellent flavor, and on that account Witness is a home run. We probably won’t know much about the other Keywords until October, when Madness of Malifaux releases, but I’ll definitely review them as they come up.
At time of publication, I have just arrived home from NoVa, so expect a writeup of that once my body recovers. Until then – keep it Wyrd!
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