Malifaux Errata 2023: Balance is Back and So Am I

Hello, Mali-Folks!

It’s been a minute, hasn’t it?  My son was born in March, a little bit early – early enough that I didn’t get to write my last column, in which I would explain what was about to happen – and so I’ve spent the last few months preparing bottles, learning to swaddle, and discovering the meaning of the term “blowout.”  Fatherhood is awesome, easily the best thing I’ve ever done.  It doesn’t leave you much time to write, though, at least not at first.

Now that the little guy is sleeping through the night, my own schedule is a bit more normal, which means more time to game!  And more time to write about gaming!  Lucky for me, not much has changed in the world of Malifaux since I finished my Madness columns – but that changed on Thursday, when Wyrd published a special bulletin.  There’s an errata coming!  None too soon, too.  While this errata may have come a bit later than people were hoping for, there’s a lot of good news.

Balance is Hard

Especially for a game as complex as Malifaux.  Now, Malifaux doesn’t have a playerbase as big as MTG, or even Warhammer – it takes longer for the metagame to be “solved” and for consensus to arise on what’s good and what’s not.  But ever since he released at Gencon 2022, it’s been clear that Damian Ravencroft was… a problem.  Andre Demings of the Texas Malifaux community took him to the Las Vegas Open and ran the table, crushing all competition, then traveled to New England for Captaincon and crushed his way through two tournaments there, too.  Damian is pretty strong at mid-tables but crushingly powerful at the top, as the insane depth of his bag of tricks means his skill cap is somewhere near the ionosphere.

haha, remember this? Credit: Wyrd Games (and me)

Nor was he the only problem in Madness.  Koji, the new Ten Thunders starter box henchman, had a combo that could draw a casual 30 cards a turn.  Watson, Harold Tull’s doctor pal, was showing up in basically every Guild list, recently joined by Louisa Fusi.  Tiri’s supercharged Iron Matron was doing silly things like killing Fuhatsu in the opponent’s deployment zone, turn 1, before he activated, on corner deployment (I really did this).  And the less said about Harrison Frodsham the better.

Balance is hard.  We get it.  And in the past, when Wyrd released stuff that was overtuned, it was quickly fixed.  So when the November 2022 errata cycle came and went without any changes to Damian – indeed, without any changes to any Madness content – it was… worrisome.  We knew a fix was coming, but as the months passed by, it grew harder and harder to wait.  The Malifaux World Series on Vassal even instituted, by player vote, a Restricted format in which the most egregious offenders were banned or restricted to certain builds.

Communication is Key

Thursday’s announcement was thus welcome – and not just for the relief it promised from Damian Hell.  The bulletin didn’t just announce an upcoming errata (targeted for July) – it included a long explanation of the philosophy behind these balance changes and an explanation of some of the changes.

That is great, and what it portends is potentially even better than the errata itself.  Balance is hard, as I’ve said.  It takes time.  Nobody expects Wyrd to get everything right on the first try, or resolve problems immediately.  But when the are balance problems and the company is radio silent, it can raise anxieties among the playerbase that they don’t know or care what’s going on out in the world.  Communication like we got on Thursday – clear, explicatory, and detailed – makes a world of difference.  I had faith in Wyrd, based on past performance; now I have faith in Wyrd, based on a clear and cognizable explanation of their thought processes.  That’s a very welcome difference, and I hope we can look forward to this level of communication around future errata.  It’s a very, very positive step, and I want to commend Wyrd for putting in the effort here.

What’s Changing

Enough with the preliminaries.  What’s actually changing?  Wyrd has provided us with a list of which models are being adjusted in power.  The following are being nerfed:

  • Damian Ravencroft, Unbound

  • The Configuration (Upgrade)

  • Lohith

  • Soulstone Gamin

  • Harrison Frodsham

  • Harris J-5

  • Gearling

  • Sabertooth Cerberus

  • Harold Tull, Artillerist

  • King’s Wall

  • Louisa Fusi

  • John Watson

  • Guild Mage

  • Perdita Ortega, Neverborn Hunter

  • Nephilim Hunter (Upgrade)

  • Hag Hunter (Upgrade)

  • Bestial Hunter (Upgrade)

  • Ghost Hunter (Upgrade)

  • The Iron Matron

  • Koji

  • Yannic Waller

  • Wandering River Style (Upgrade)

The only item on that list that should surprise anyone is the Sabertooth Cerberus, and I’m frankly curious what they plan to do with it.  Everything else is clearly overtuned, in some cases dramatically so.  The list is more surprising for what’s not on it than what is: No Youko2 and absolutely nothing from the Bayou or Resurrectionist factions… though both got absolutely brutalized last cycle, with Bayou also taking a tremendous hit in the February 2022 cycle, so maybe they’re owed a break.  The only thing I can imagine would be adjusted would be the Clampetts’ title form, Bally-Hoo Bucket, and even that I don’t think is particularly above-curve (though its power could probably be redistributed in a way that would make its play pattern more fun… a topic for a future article, perhaps).

haha, i get to reuse this one too. Credit: Wyrd Games and me (and Ward Sutton)

Meanwhile, the following models are being buffed:

  • Slate Ridge Mauler

  • Sergeant

  • Sanctioned Spellcaster

  • Razorspine Rattler

  • Angel Eyes

  • Tuco Ortega

  • Maurice

  • Bloodwretch

  • Corrupted Hound

Again, few surprises, but the Mauler and Rattler both appearing on this list may provide a clue as to why the Cerberus is being nerfed: an overall normalizing of the power level of Marcus’s beasts would be good for list diversity without catapulting the crew into broken status.

Wyrd also provided a surprisingly candid explanation of how they chose what models to adjust.  They noted that a lot more models are being buffed now than in previous cycles, and observed (correctly) that “it doesn’t matter if [a model is] the worst or the second worst if it doesn’t see the table.”  More to the point, they noted that they “weighed out-of-game factors” including “unsold stock we had on hand, as well as on the shelves of game stores” when determining which models to buff.  This may be a bit eyebrow-raising, but I appreciate the honesty.  If any of these buffed models begin to dominate the meta, that statement could come back to bite them, but with the exception of the Sergeant this is a truly dire list of never-takes, so I think there’s a lot of room to improve.

Wyrd concluded by noting that “there are almost certainly models that exist that will see an Errata later,” but “if we missed something, we’ll get it next time.”  This is, I think, an appropriate level of humility for a design team to have, and also bodes well for future releases.

Overall, I am very happy with this statement.  I think it speaks well of Wyrd’s team and their process and it gives me a lot of confidence that they’re serious about ironing the kinks out of their game.  About my only criticism is that the errata isn’t out now!  They said “late July,” which at least means it’ll be live in time for Gencon.

The Fall of the House of Ravencroft

While we won’t know the full extent of the changes until July, Wyrd did share some with us, including notably the changes to the Witness keyword.  They accurately identified these as the “most exciting” changes, which if anything understates the community sentiment towards Witness.  Everyone wants to see Damian take a cricket bat to the goolies, so let’s see what’s become of Malifaux’s greatest monster.

Credit: Wyrd Games

I’m not sure if anyone expected a change to the Configuration itself, but here it is.  The change is subtle but tremendous: the Conduit ability, which grants Witness models free suits, is now Once per Activation.  This is enormous; the most broken play patterns were those enabled by unlimited free suits, such as Bonatti drawing three cards from Prioritize, Miya drawing three cards from Surge, Soulstone Gamin drawing two cards with Prioritize, Aspirant looting three cards with Drain Magic… ok, it was mostly just insane amounts of card draw, but generally, unlimited free suits with no real downside is, uh, bad.  This will make it much harder to abuse the Configuration, and also removes the possibility of benefiting from two different free suits, which several Witness models took greedy advantage of.

Credit: Wyrd Games

Only one change here, and it’s one so obvious Wyrd gets no points for it.  There is no reason, none, why Lohith’s free positive twist should have ever worked on damage flips.  It’s inexplicable.  No other ability in the game works that way.  It was obviously broken from day 0 and should not have existed.  This is just Nature healing itself.  Lohith is still fine and will show up in close to 100% of Witness lists.

Credit: Wyrd Games

This change is a lot more substantial.  Gamin saw tons of play, partially because of House the Soul but mostly because building in a Crow with the Configuration allowed you to get two free card draws per Gamin per turn off of the Prioritize trigger on Drain; they’d sit at the back Draining each other and drawing cards from your Configuration, which you’d then cycle into better cards using Repository and Miya’s Dream of the Red Chamber.  Drawing two cards per turn with no TN required was a little more efficient than a typical 4 stone model.  Prioritize is now gone, replaced by Drain Magic, which lets you achieve a similar effect but only when hitting enemies.

This is a massive nerf to the Gamin.  You might still see them for House the Soul, but as they now need to be near the enemy to actually do stuff, their 4/4/4 defensive stats are much more of a liability.  I would not be surprised if they become a much rarer pick.

Credit: Wyrd Games

Ah, here he is.  The Big Enchilada.  Damian Ravencroft, Unbound was not ok.  He was not even close to ok.  He could not see “ok” on a clear day.  With a telescope.

Rather than try to tinker with his design, they went back to the drawing board.  This Damian bears only a faint resemblance to his former incarnation.  He’s been rewritten from the ground up; no longer will you always have Arcane Reservoir just for showing up, no longer does he turn off all card draw and Soulstone use near him, no longer does he build in a billion triggers and go to town, no longer does he clear conditions for free, no longer does he abduct and Injure enemies with no counterplay of any kind possible… basically, no longer is he an unstoppable murder machine.

This Damian is much more of a conductor.  He sits in the middle of the table, pushing enemies around, pinging them for damage and Stunned while Obeying friendlies to take actions.  He’s much, much more vulnerable now, since you can declare triggers into him and he no longer benefits from an amount of healing that could charitably be described as “bananas.  Superiority Complex only partially makes up for that, but at least he can protect other models with Beacon of Order.  His attack is a weird one; there are some enemy attacks for which copying them is an improvement over his old attack, but in most cases it’s a downgrade, especially since he doesn’t get access to his target’s Triggers.  You’re much more likely to go for Chains of the Tyrant here, since you can wreak significant mischief by tugging enemies around and Stunning them, and even summon Soulstone Gamin in the process (which means you shouldn’t melt yours down into plastic scrap just yet).

Overall, while it’s too early to really rate Damian Unbound, he’s unquestionably a lot weaker than his former incarnation, especially with the other nerfs to the keyword.  Still, it’s not all doom and gloom for Witness players.  Damian Ravencroft, Aspirant was nearly as good as his title – absolutely still a broken master – and his card didn’t change at all (though the Configuration changes, and the change to Lohith, will both serve to tune him down).  I personally think he may be in line for adjustments even after this, since Maintain Order is a really, really gruesome ability to not have a range limit.  Marco Bonatti and Miya Murakami are likewise A+ models that didn’t get touched aside from the general Configuration change, which does hurt them both but probably not fatally.

Most of all, while Damian has fallen from the lofty heights of Mount Bullshit, it looks like Tiri, Tull, and Koji, his fellow mountaineers, are also taking a bit of a tumble.  So I think he’ll be just fine in the brave new post-errata world.

That’s all from me this week.  I’m hoping to resume my regular biweekly column, and you’d better believe that when the errata document drops I’ll be rushing through it and giving you my piping hot take as soon as it’s out of the oven.  Maybe more than one, given the length of the change list.  In the meantime, there’s lots of fun stuff to speculate on.  What’s with that ghost sailor we saw on Wednesday?  And those fungus dudes?  And that, uh, Guild lady?  What’s going on with them, huh?  HUH?

I guess we’ll see!

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