Sunday, April 3, 2016
Oh Captain, my Captain!
Scalpel - the Season 2 Captain for Morticians...
It's very hard to know exactly what we expected pre-release from the second Morticians Captain. When you look at Obulus (after you've swallowed that little bit of vomit that rises from your gut when you recall the last time you had to face him) there's a lot to love/fear. His mobility and defensive qualities are superb, his Playbook is varied and serviceable, and Puppet Master of course is game-wreckingly on fleek. Combine all of this with his ridiculous INF stat and there's very little not to like (although Morticians being practically neighbours to Cryx players we can always find something to whinge about - for me it's his Kick stat... drives me nuts...).
A lot of players couldn't see the available real estate for a competing Captain given how much Obulus impacts the game but the actual issue is that a lot of players didn't even realise that other property existed in the first place! Steamforged have used the Season-release mode of system and Guild development cleverly (IMO) to take each team in different directions. Much as a Warcaster in Warmachine has a significant impact on their army plays the game, I believe Guild Ball Captains undoubtedly sway not only play-style and victory outcomes, but also team build and make-up (and this will only become more pronounced as future Captains are released).
In Scalpel's case, the comparisons are so vastly different that lining her up against Obulus and making arguments for or against on that premise alone is a flawed approach. Rather, take Obulus out of the equation entirely - clear your mind, your pre-conceptions and "bench marks", and start from scratch. Don't come back straight back with "but - Puppet Master!" or "but - Unpredictable Movement!". Imagine Scalpel is your only choice of Captain and commit to reconstructing your understanding of how Morticians work on the table and what each player brings to the team. That's how impacting the different Captains are in Guild Ball, and that is what we must do if we wish to move forward and get our minds out of the Obulus vortex of "but... she's not Obulus!".
All this said, let's go through the card and appreciate what we have in a stand-alone model before moving on to Guild synergies and other semi-immediately apparent sweet tech.
Instead of talking this out in terms of raw stats, I'm going to try a blanket approach addressing a number of key categories that handily summarises some of the impact that Scalpel's stats will have on how she plays, these being Mobility, Defence, Offence, and Support
Scalpel has huge things going for her in this area of play. Her naturally high jog and sprint values (7"/9") allow her to reposition very well (she makes for an excellent ball receiver from the kick-off). A high sprint allows her greater freedom to engage enemy models without triggering charge responses and this is further enhanced by Slippery. The big money here though is having the option to trigger Second Wind by spending a point of Momentum instead of 2 INF - glorious. At full clip her total movement in a turn, before Dodges (from combat and/or ball shenanigans) is a mighty 16" (that's from one deployment line to the other!). Nice! Don't forget that when you score a goal your activation immediately ends - which means the conditions for Second Wind have been met (quote: "at the end of its activation") and it can now be triggered! If you choose to Dodge (first) from scoring a goal this allows Scalpel to redeploy a crazy 11". Add in any Guild Plot effects (Knee Slider?! Some wacky Season 2 Guild Plot card?) for further movement silliness.
Scalpel also has Dodge effects on five out of her seven Playbook results. A Momentous Dodge on one hit can allow her to disengage from combat before triggering Second Wind so she may not even have to take a Parting Blow (for which she would be Slippery anyway). Her high Kick stat also makes her a reliable ball handler which can potentially give her a surprising 4" Dodge after making a successful pass. While this option can band-aid slower players, taking something already good and making it better is where you start to bend the power curve in any given area of the game.
Adding further to her mobility is her Legendary Play - Voodoo Strings. This effectively makes her running threat on any given model 13" (sprint 9", Push 3" from Voodoo Strings, melee zone 1"). Sweet. If she passes the ball and Dodges you could find that a model 17" away from Scalpel at the start of her activation is suddenly taking knives to the face (and she'll arrive on the doorstep with 4INF to spend if she was fully loaded!). And when she's done rinsing something with her choppy knives you she can then Second Wind away.
If Season 2 Plot cards allow for further mobility buffs then Scalpel is among those models that will only benefit further.
Finally, if she finds herself on the wrong end of a pointy stick, her high speed allows her to get back in the mix quickly and remain a part of the game.
I can imagine a world where Scalpel's base stats are 5+/1 but I'm not sure that even Morticians players deserve that many lynch mobs, pitchforks and torches coming their way. 4+/1 base is a serviceable and all-round average looking defensive stat. Slippery immediately lifts this to 5+/1 on Parting Blows which is cool, if a little more niche for the times that you're engaged by 2" melee zone models and couldn't Dodge out from being engaged.
Once again, Second Wind plays a big part in Scalpel's impact on the game as far as her personal defense goes. The best way to avoid getting hit is to not be on the receiving end of a punch and she can do this very well by repositioning herself away from reprisal. Dodge on 1 hit means a counter-attack with TAC 7 forces the hand of other 1" melee zone players to Push/Dodge themselves or look for a Knock Down and anything that's preventing damage coming her way can be seen as helpful. DEF 4+ also means she isn't a Momentum tap for enemy models (and becoming 5+/1 using Defensive Stance is a surprisingly handy number).
Let's take this a step further and imagine she's been punching the model that is most likely to be closest to her after the Second Wind movement. What if you've been consistently getting 4 hits against that model from her TAC 7 attack actions? Then you've possibly been removing INF from that model using Tormented Agony, maybe leaving them with little to nothing when you're done. Now she quite possibly can't even be attacked by that now INF-less player.
Tormented Agony also starts to look very nice against models with Knock Downs on low end results on their Playbook. These guys don't tend to get truckloads of INF handed out - they get 1-2INF to dish out the Knock Down(s) for someone else to capitalise on later. Tormented Agony can remove this low result Knock Down from the equation completely!
In a pinch she could even put Wake the Dead on herself although there are likely more amusing options to be found amongst her team.
With 17 hit points she takes a bit of punishment and this needs to be taken into account when considering how survivable she can be. Also easy to overlook is the fact that her icy sponges are nice and high - the right Plot card and a quick heal will put her almost back to full.
The obvious starting point here is TAC 7 with Anatomical Precision. I'm going to operate on a basis that you won't be charging too often with Scalpel though - her natural speed and Legendary, and not proc'ing Defensive Stance from your opponent means that sprinting into combat (or just jogging up) is going to be a more common sight. This means that, on her own and unsupported (i.e. no TAC buffs, no Singled Out or Tooled Up etc) she will be most consistently getting 3-4 hits against the average model (i.e. 4+/1 defensive statline). That's 1-2 damage per INF (with Momentous options in both the 3 and 4 hit columns) - not amazing by any stretch. But she's also doubling down on these by getting additional effects. A Momentous Push/Dodge with 1 damage on three hits is great. Four hits gets you Momentous 2 damage and a Tormented Agony.
The more I look at Tormented Agony, the more I like it (see note above about stripping players with easy access to Knock Down results) and the more I see useful opportunities to trigger it (I think Engineers are going to really hate her - engage Ballista in combat and strip off his INF - no filthy crossbow/MP generating shenanigans for you!). Strikers hate her too because they'll lose INF to take shots at goal, or buff themselves with Super Shot, or sprint into position for the shot. A model holding the ball that has no focus can only get rid of it by dropping it (and they can't pick it up again in that activation). Killing INF on a ball carrier could be massive (no pass = no Dodge from passing and also no Momentum gained).
A Tackle on 2 hits is good for Morticians, against lending her some credibility as a ball handler in her Attacking Midfielder role. Consider her threat on goal - sprint 9" and Kick 6", but with Voodoo Strings she can also Push a player into to whack/generate MP/Dodge off for extra range and MP to fuel the shot at goal. Sweet.
Voodoo Strings does a lot for her threat range - it's a seemingly heavy-handed repositioning of players but don't overlook the following:
- 8" is a massive range in Guild Ball.
- it doesn't require LOS.
- Pushes ignore rough-ground penalties but once you're in rough-ground you're sucking down a -2" MOV penalty to get out (or spending MP to Glide).
- you don't have to Push every (any!) model 3".
- you can screw order of activations by blocking models with their friends.
- drag in someone who has used Unpredictable Movement to escape your clutches. Obulus or Midas. Or that damned blasted cat.
- you are moving enemy models 3"! That's 3" further for them to punch your dudes, kick at goal, pass a ball, use "Come on, Mate!". Jogging to engage can suddenly becoming needing to sprint to engage. Aura effects no longer apply where they were supposed to (Ox, Spigot et al). Esters has to move first to use her Legendary. Brick's counter-charge bubble has shifted. Multiple models are Pushed through Embalming Fluid. Friendly models are no longer engaged. And a bunch more stuff that I couldn't think of in 20 seconds... This gives her enormous flexibility in the activation order of your team too and plays to your understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, as much as it does knowing your own team.
Yes it would be better if it was "Push in any direction". But it would also arguably be broken as balls too. I like it as is - it requires skill and finesse. I like that this is something being encouraged in the Morticians Guild - we're not hurr-durr Butchers for crying out loud! And there's always that one time that she positions to Push a model towards her and them harass them off the table with Push/Dodges.
Ok, there's a few things here that I've spotted or considered...
- Voodoo Strings effectively increases the threat range of every model in your team.
- Used in the reverse it can pull models away to increase the survivability of your team and/or protect a ball carrier.
- Wake the Dead on Ghast looks cool. It makes an already horribly difficult to Take Out model even trickier to deal with. Strangely it also looks quite amusing on a mascot too.
- Second Wind Dirge can move 18" in a turn. Get the ball to him and set that birdy free! Then wait it out and Bonus Time a budgie kick when you're ready. This is superb for keeping the ball away from goal-focused teams (Fish) or models (Strikers), or possibly a mirror match into Obulus.
- Second Wind Cosset might not actually die immediately after committing to combat!
- Second Wind Mist can Smoke, sprint, Where'd They Go and Second Wind jog a total of 20" (or 22" if you Second Win advance starting in cover!). That's quite a picture if you can then get the ball to Mist later in the turn for a Snapshot. Bonesaw by comparison can sprint/Second Wind 14" - still plenty of advance to get within striking rage of a goal (pro-tip - Bonesaw is shit. Don't take him).
- Some sort of sideways possibility where you Tormented Agony a bunch of INF onto a model near the table edge for someone else to then Push off the edge? Somehow?
To be fair there's a lot less to see here than I had hoped and a lot of it plays around with Second Wind and the assumption that you aren't just using it on Scalpel anyway.
Scalpel. Yes, I know she's not Obulus. But maybe give her a decent shot anyway and you might find yourself surprised. Even with a different Captain, Morticians still provide an engaging game that is fun to play :)
I'd like to read up on the thoughts of more experienced players than I regarding the new Captains being released for other Guilds, so feel free to step up and put digital pen to paper. Cheers.