Monday, 30 November 2015

A new challenger appears...

I've been playing Malifaux now for over 10 months now and if you play for this long, you start up a small (or very large) collection of masters. You won't necessarily play every master you buy but you'll get those crew boxes for the henchman and minions.
When I first started Malifaux I picked up "Children of December" with the December Acolyte box which is a fine start. Next was Molemen for scheme running but then I was running Rasputina (Death Incarnate), Ice Golem (Slow yet Smashy) and a whole handful of helpful-yet-easily-killed minions. So I did what I shouldn't of and bought the "Rail Crew" and played that instead for a few games, even got me some Metal & Fire Garmin with a Rail Golem. Then the bug set in, I bought "The M&SU" but found Ramos really hard to play and then bought "Master of the Paths" then "Troubleshooters" then "The Thunder"and at this point, I had to stand back and stop.


I will never badmouth others for the practice of multi-master buying, all the masters in Malifaux are fun and hell, who is it hurting? The general advice veterans give is that if you want to be competitive or simply increase your tactical sphere, stick to one master or if not that stick to one faction. If you're playing Seamus for example, maybe your next master or crew box purchase should be Molly or McMourning, at a stretch Resurrectionist Yan Lo. 


If you were to see Collodi  in action and want to start some puppet Pandemonium, who is going to say "Well, you're a Resser, you can't stop being a Resser!" go play with the puppets, buy Perdita if you like her, play Marcus, play everybody if you want to, If you're having fun, keep on having fun.

I personally though, prefer the single master strategy for myself now. In my early days of Malifaux I did start buying every master I liked the look of but this is a well designed game, every master is good and has massive potential and if I had let myself I would be swimming in Masters and playing with none of them. With rarely playing more than twice a week, I discovered I simply didn't have the time. 

Eventually though, you play a master for long enough and you want a change of pace, I've played Yan Lo now for 25+ games and after that much time you either never want to stop or start looking elsewhere. Variety is the spice of life after all. 

So, after much deliberation, I've decided to re-visit the Murder Train herself: Mei Feng.
I had a lot of fun with her at first, lots of mobility, can string together a lot of attacks and is immune to slow and paralyze which is amazing. Then I looked at her crew and noticed it was very very slow. Wk4 average. Now I'm used to slow crews in Rasputina but Raspy is long range so gets around it with 12" threat range with a supporting crew increasing that range. With Mei Feng bounding around her railwalk targets, she gets to where she needs to go but then the rest of the crew are just standing around or wasting Ap walking to where they need to be. For Mei Feng to work with me, I need to find a way to loosen the grip on the need for going solo and make the rest of the crew useful in Feng's wake. Railwalker is amazing, don't get me wrong but a crew shouldn't be just one model trying to do everything, it should work as a whole engine.

Time to go to work. Have fun out there.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Saying farewell to the Path Master

It's been a long rocky road with Yan Lo. At first he was shelved for being "useless" then forgotten about whilst Ironsides took center (mosh pit) stage until finally I decided that I needed to give him a chance. I liked everything that was on his cards and upgrades but at first couldn't put them to use in actually winning games (Or at the very least, making it frustrating for my opponent to overcome). At some point I stepped back and thought to myself "when am I going to stop chopping and changing masters and start putting some table time into making one great?" It worked with Rasputina & Ironsides but not so much with Ramos, Misaki or Mei Feng.

The Yan man was very tough to play as at first and that primarily came down to two things: The damn Chi and the "reliance" on the Ancestor tagline.

Chi is dead easy once I set it up. Yan Lo is slow guy so getting anywhere near where I wanted to be first turn was going to leave him out in the open (A mistake I made plenty at the start). I've had great success with Clockwork Trap killing first turn and it's set me up for the rest of the game with Ash Acendant and Ca7; Ca8 if I felt discarding for Chi was worthwhile the next turn. After that, bodies hit the floor or Soul Porter gives him more Chi if required. Really easy and after playing him for so long, Chi has never once been a problem using the Trap method. 

I've dismissed Yan's ancestral reliance in previous posts and it remains true to this day. Building a core list to "include at least 3 ancestors" left me with roughly 15-17ss left to build with, thus not making a core so much as making an all-comers list that has a pair of switch-outs, ergo struggling with anything that isn't Turf war with Breakthrough (which is in my mind the default strategy all-comers lists build to).
I've used Summoning Toshiro yes but outside of Soul Porter giving him a shove his Ancestor tag has never played a role in my games. I've also used Yin in some games but again, I used her for her absolutely bonkers defenses and ability to stop movement, not simply because she has a tag that's barely mentioned. Remember, Reliquary doesn't bring back upgrades.

Sooner or later though, even with all the success or all of the time spent honing skills, you want a change. I have met very few people who have been playing this game for more than 6 months who haven't changed masters or at least thinking about it very strongly. There's a lot of choice and using only your first master does become boring after a time. The time has come for Yan Lo and quite honestly I'm saddened that he didn't get a better send off. 

My last three games were simply speaking, bad match-ups with Pushes and Armor taking the main blame. Turning the average damage track of 2/3/4 in Lo's crew into 1/2/3 or even worse 1/1/2, creates poor Ap efficiency so if there is a tough melee brawler with armor who bosses up to my guys and I don't have a convenient Clockwork Trap to the side in order to save everyone, I'm stuck doing 3 damage a turn to a 10Wd+ model whilst they are busy spitting red-hot destruction. When I flurry with Punk Zombies, I want models dead, not viciously scratched. Ronin and Pathfinder are the only anti-armor tech I have but they are really easy to take out in two Ap so I was stuck. The masters that have this as a main tactic/defense are hard-fought when you're taking Yan Lo and quite honestly, I would suggest someone else if facing these threats but this is Malifaux, sometimes you will get into terrible match-ups and you have to take it on the chin and move on.

Even so, my time with Yan Lo has been a memorable one, it's been thought provoking to take a master that on the surface looks to be a dud and start surprising myself with just how effective he can be. Yes he has bad match-ups, 80% of all Malifaux masters do but in the games where he's not facing Armor and Blasts he does bloody well and is going to be a master I will miss playing. Alas all good things must come to an end, it's time to consider another master who hasn't had so much table time. With any luck, they will be just as fun to play as Yan Lo has been. Keep strong and have fun out there.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Zero Sum in Malifaux

I've mentioned it various times in previous articles but I wanted to take the time to discuss further what I mean about zero sum when it comes to Malifaux.
Firstly, a well researched definition:

"Zero Sum: A zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant's gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s)."

We'll be using the gain-gain variant of Zero sum, so to break this down into Malifaux what does this mean?
Lets say for example that you and I are playing a game of Turf War, we have both revealed Protect Territory and Breakthrough because we're boring but we want to ensure we gain maximum victory points. As the game goes on, every turn after the first we are both gaining 1Vp for Turf War, and due to our scheme runners being too fast or too out of the way, they are absolutely able to put down 4 scheme markers and stand between 2 of them before game end. The game ends on a 10-10 draw. 

Why do I call this Zero Sum? Because neither side at any point in the game through action or inaction was ever above the opponent score wise. End of turn 2, yes I got a Turf War Vp but so did you, so in winning the game terms, it's cancelled out. I got full points for both my schemes but so did you, so it cancelled out. Tournament wise, a 10-10 draw is better than a 0-0 draw because of Vp Differential, in casual though, both players are being good sports whilst also trying to win over their opponents tactics with their own.

Another more complex scenario: Squatters Rights, you've chosen Assassinate and Deliver a Message because you a straight-up balling killer in kickass shades. I've gone more conservative and chosen Bodyguard and A Line in the Sand because I'm a Peaceful Zen Practicing dude (also in kickass shades). I mess up Squatters Rights turn two and three and you win 2Vp to my 0Vp. Right now you have the advantage because I have yet to cancel out your Victory points. Later on in the game, I've managed to gain Vp on Squatters rights every turn after but so have you, you've managed to Deliver a Message for another 3vp but due to lucking out on Soul Stone prevention flips, my master is still standing, my Bodyguard is standing in your deployment zone with less than half health and is going defensive x2 for good measure and I have 4 markers down for LITS.
Lets pause for turn 5. Right now you have 3vp for Squatters Rights, 3vp for Deliver a Message to my 1vp for Squatters but at the end of the game if nothing changes, I'll get 1vp more for Squatters, 3vp for LITS and 2vp for Bodyguard. Including your Squatters Vp, the game will end 7-7 draw as I have successfully kept up a zero sum, even if it wasn't in real time BUT you still have the advantage due to the earlier win in points and you have a greater many options: Keep hitting my master and my master might go down awarding you 2vp for assassinate, if you take even one of my LITS markers, I actually LOSE 2vp. What can I do to gain more Vp? Absolutely nothing at this point. I need my master to survive, my bodyguard to stay alive and for my LITS markers to stay put, all I can do at this point is lose points.

Resume: It's the end of the game, my master is still standing, my bodyguard is still alive looking a little worse for wear but in the final activation, you've taken one of my LITS markers. The game ends 7-5, functionally you've won the game 2-0 if you subtract my victory points from your own, an advantage you had since turn 2 & 3. 

Not everything goes according to plan in Malifaux, one black joker can ruin your whole game but if you've been playing your advantages well, you can ride it out. On the other hand, if you're on the backpedal, so long as you still have options, you can force that draw or win. Ask yourself, is it better for you to score 3VP or to make your opponent lose 2VP? without context the answer appears easy but sometimes it is better to win 5-4 than draw 6-6.

I learned at some point that in Malifaux that preventing Vp is even more important that gaining Vp, If both of you are aiming for 10vp, it's likely with practice and experience that you'll score 10vp but that then creates zero-sum games, neither of you are winning because by focusing on nothing else but scoring Vp you've let the opponent do the same. 
Ergo to gain the advantage in a game, you need to mess with your opponents Vp, Assassinate is worth 0VP if the master is left standing, LITS is worth 1Vp if there's only 3 markers down and doing this creates a landslide effect. Missed out scoring on Reconnoiter for one turn? You now need to prevent 2 turns of your opponents Recon to be above, that one turn of being too close to the center has almost cost you the game but do you attempt to prevent those two turns of recon OR do you make your opponent lose 2Vp from another source? Losing one Vp from the strategy is preferable if your opponent is losing 2vp from Breakthrough. It's an uphill climb sure but it's achievable.

Remember, Malifaux is a game where every model on the board can be dead but you could still win, I've had games where I've done the math and realized turn 3 that I was a deadman, but then I changed up what I was doing in game and forced that draw through Zero-sum or forced that cheeky win from focusing on removing my opponents Vp rather than scoring my own. There are games where you just win, you absolutely crush your opponent 10-0 but I assure you, it wasn't from scoring full points and leaving your opponent alone. It was a sharp focus on what you did to prevent those enemy Vp from being manageable for your opponent. 
On the flipside, don't call it quits turn 3 just because your opponent has Recon and Power Ritual apparently in the bag, it only takes one marker less or one movement to completely mess up your opponents plans and suddenly, they are looking at your one vp above theirs. You could luck out or it could go Mice and Men but at least you've better'd yourself by trying, by not giving up. As human beings we learn much more from our failures than our victories. 

Every game ask yourself, how could I have beat that Zero-sum? What could I have done differently? What am I relying on that isn't working? What models are simply not advantageous in this situation? Could I have won that game by removing Vp rather than gaining my own? Have a discussion with your opponent post-game, ask them what they would have done differently, what they saw as the turning point, most sporting players love this post-game chat because it's beneficial to both players in the end and creates a better meta within your local game shop. 

I hope this has given you an aspect of the way I think when I play games of Malifaux and given the newer players among us a new way to look at the game. Have fun out there.

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Assault on the Visibly Greying Lord

Oh boy, this was a challenging game.

I played a game of Malifaux earlier this week using the Crossroads encounter: The Assault on the Grey Lord as our strategy. To win, I, the defender, needed to keep as many serving girl markers on the board as I could whilst my opponent, the attacker, had to use (1) interact actions to push the markers 6" and eventually off the board and take down my master. The game was pretty much over by the first activation... but before that, the nitty gritty:

Special Terrain: Saloon
This gave the center of the table a Ht1 3x3 soft cover, severe terrain piece that allowed any model within 1" of it to use a (2) interact in order to heal 3/5/7. It removes all flight from models and also provides 4 Chair markers that can be discarded to be used as a makeshift Sh5 Rg:10 action dealing 2/3/7 damage.

A Line in the Sand
Cursed Object
Assassinate (really?)
Bodyguard (really really?)
Outflank (oh come on!)

My Crew:
Yan Lo w/ Fortify the Spirit, Misdirection & Reliquary (Full Cache)
Soul Porter
Clockwork Trap
Izamu, the Armor
Yin, The Penangalan w/ Smoke Grenades
Chiaki, the Niece w/ Pull of the Grave
2x Torakage
I chose A Line in the Sand as I'm already on the center line, and Cursed Object as it was the only other viable scheme. These schemes sucked quite honestly. Yan Lo isn't a killy master so Assassinate was out and Bodyguard needs a Henchman/enforcer who is either very quick or unimpeded, neither of which I had. In normal games Bodyguard is accomplished by having said Henchman/Enforcer move up but stay out of the way, in such close, disadvantageous deployment, it would never work.   

Opponent's Crew
Perdita Ortega (Leader) w/ Trick Shooting & Aura Ancestral (6ss Cache)
Sonnia Criid
Enslaved Nephilim
Brutal Effigy
Death Marshall
Francisco Ortega
2x Guild Austringer
Papa Loco
Witchling Stalker
My opponent on the other hand loved this scheme pool, Assassinate when 2Vp from the strategy is killing the master means 5Vp from the death of one master. Killing masters is normally very hard to do but with that same master being 12" away and in the presence of two masters turn one, it suddenly becomes a piece of delicious soft cake. He also took Bodyguard on Papa Loca as why not, he'll be in a pine box half the game anyway. 

As you can no doubt tell, I was at a disadvantage from the get-go, 10 activations to 7, he could deploy on any table edge he felt I had my weakest flank on and because of the 6" radius around the center and I was close enough for him to alpha strike with ease.
I decided that Izamu should stay dead center and protect best he can the serving girl markers, my theory being that the center is indeed the farthest point from the table edges and Izamu would do better in melee than Yin would. The Torakage hugged the house on the outskirts of the 6" deployment whilst Chiaki readied herself with a chair. Yin camped out in a forest giving her the protection of triple-negative flips to attacks against her from range due to Mass of Viscera, Soft Cover and Smoke Grenades with the hope that her fear behind the eyes and severe terrain would stop any would be chargers.

My opponent put his Austringers on the flanks but otherwise deployed in an off-central line formation, having two masters naturally allowing for a more bunched up formation. When I saw this I secretly cheered, two masters shoulder-to-shoulder, one of which is not so great in melee, the other I could Misdirect and models close enough to them in order for a successful Thunder dance to keep the mass of his crew busy for two or three turns. Yan Lo could tank the damage, kill off weakened models, gain chi and tar-pit for as long as possible using Terracotta Curse to stall the movements of everyone else. Life is good sometimes.

Turn one and my hand is dreadful, nothing above a 6 with a black joker, I stone for cards and get an 8 & a 9...wooo. Anyway, by some act of god I manage to get the initiative and take no chances, I don't have the turn 1 advantage of assuming I won't be targeted so leave the clockwork trap alone, discard for chi and walk 4" towards my enemies deployment, sadly only in range of Francisco, with his 8Wp stat from Perdita's upgrade.
I take a gamble and attempt a thunder dance, lose. I try again and once again lose... well good game, cya laters.

Yan Lo takes an absolute BEATING, I'm stoning left right and center and somehow he stays alive for the turn. Half way through the onslaught Sonnia rocks up and targets the Clockwork Trap, wonderful I'm thinking and he flips a black joker for attack (even better) but I only manage a tie, looking at my non-hand at this point, I think it better to save cards for additional defense and let the tie go.  I prefer to have the now useless trap dead than Yan Lo at this point.

Double negative flip. Weak damage easy.
My opponent flips the first card. Severe, Whatever.
Flips the second card, Severe... okay, next is weak, I can take it.
Flips the third, SEVERE!? SERIOUSLY!?

You serious?
Yeah, I've obviously angered the Card Gods because that was so damn improbable a parallel universe got created from it's occurrence and slapped me upside the head! Clockwork trap gets hit with 5 damage. Dead. Soul Porter gets the first blast marker and eats 3 damage. Dead. Yan Lo gets hit with the second, stones and prevents 2 damage. Half Dead. Yin takes the third which annoys her as it kind of gets past her invincibility shield I've lovingly gave her.

Sigh it's just one of those games.

At the end of turn one, Yan Lo is at Chi +2, 2Wds and in no way looking forward to the second turn.

Second turn starts and somehow, I get the initiative again. I have exactly two plans, try to walk out of engagement with Francisco with yet another average hand and take a healing flip from the open bar healing a guaranteed 5 Wds; or Thunder Dance over to the two masters by way of Effigy monorail and have them beat on Yan Lo with the risk of Misdirection. I decide with the more like to happen Thunder Dance option seeing as last turn, without much effort, they dropped 10wds off of Lo with ease, giving them target practice with 7Wds seemed fruitless. I get over to them and set off a Terracotta Curse, cursing the Effigy and nearby Death Marshall but getting nothing more than a bored stare from the ladys in red and their mustachio'd henchman. 
2Wds and a death wish? Yan's your man!
I use the last ap to attack Sonnia with no effect. Perdita activates and attacks Lo, I luck out and beat the first attack and on the next attack gain a mid-way mask to get the Misdirection trigger. "Discard two cards or Sonnia takes that attack" I say, my opponent responds by binning an ace and a 3 and lets me know that Yan Lo is taking "weak" 5 damage....

Yan Lo takes a seat next to the Trap and Soul Porter in the losers lounge. The rest of the turn kills off Izamu and one of the Torakage who up until now have been avoiding Sonnia's gaze and laying down scheme markers for Line in the Sand with his brother. I leave turn 2 with Yin, a Torakage and Chiaki (who has been less than useless this game).

Turn 3 begins as well I would have hoped, Yin is taken to the trash whilst Torakage and Chiaki follow closely after. I'm looking forward to these 15ss worth of models to save the day...
Fate hears my silent plea and a staff member at our local store informs us that we'll have to clear the table for a tournament that was happening soon.
Shallow non-victory time! Ending turn three with all 4 LITS markers and all 4 serving girl markers on the table gave me 7vp to my opponent's 5vp he won off killing Yan Lo (Assassinate + Strategy) and denying him Bodyguard as it was unrevealed at the time.
We later discussed that had the game continued, it was too late in the game to remove the Serving girl markers but LITS would have been removed and obviously Bodyguard would have scored full points ending the game with a much more conclusive 8-4 loss to me. Still, default victory. 

Oh man, Assault on the Grey Lord is a challenge but such an interesting game to get one's head around. Basically speaking, the defenders crew will get tabled, one way or another. Being that close to two masters turn one means you don't have that first turn buffer we all enjoy to set up synergies or combos. You have to survive and concentrate on nothing but survival because that is what this scenario asks of you, to be as much of a pain in the neck towards your attackers as possible and prevent those markers from moving. From the center you need at least 3 interact actions to move the serving girl markers off the table and the only way to do that is to set up conveyor belts of models (easily done by the attacker mind you) in order to efficiently remove them from the defenders scoring pool. This in essence means that so long as the defender has a model alive to get in the way of the bullets, blades and magic, those serving girl markers aren't going anywhere.
Even if the master is taken down, with enough resilience, you're still up two points as defender (so long as assassinate isn't in the pool). Get scheme running and focusing on scheme Vp and you have a chance.

I didn't get to the end of the third turn sadly so it's up in the air whether it would have changed up the game enough but seeing as I was tabled by then, having 3 strong 5ss models enter the fray just to ensure LITS kept scoring is a solid option, or maybe just more tough get-in-the-way models.

Final thoughts, this is definitely not a game for the faint of heart, every card in your control hand matters, every bad flip or below average hand can result in death. Every stone you use to improve that bad hand is another stone you could have used to keep your master alive, every soulstone damage prevention flip is another stone you could have used to get better cards or re-flip that close initiative. It's a challenge and makes you really think about every single action you take. Should you stand and attack? Or is it better to go double defensive and weather the storm? These are all questions that will ask yourself constantly during this encounter as defender and one I very much look forward to getting a full time re-match against my opponent.

Keep on improving and have fun out there.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Preparing for the Assault

For me, the story encounters from the base rule book and then the encounters seen in Crossroads have always been interesting for me. The thing is when you think about them in a practical sense, they are either heavily unbalanced, easily abused or just simply boring. 

Maybe it's for the role-playing crowd where these story encounters better encapsulate an uneven game where one player is struggling against another with pure advantage on their side but in my meta at least, we prefer a balanced game where one player's skill is tested against another on an even field rather than putting up story related barriers. Yes, not every battle is fought on an unknown battlefield where both sides agree to not scout ahead first but you have to sacrifice making sense for having fun when it comes to tabletop skirmishes.

The majority of Crossroads is more of the same (ambient without the redundant multiple choices for defender victory), the attacker has something they want to do, the defender is either stopping it or doing their own thing in tandem. Some are needlessly complex, some are all about the summoning and some are hopeless in their simplicity but for all their negative points, some do seem to be a welcome casual distraction to the base rule book or Gaining Grounds strategies. 
Everyone knows what to bring to Reckoning, everyone knows summoners in Interference are a pain but how do you construct a list for a relatively unknown strategy that as well as doing something completely different, takes you out of your comfort zone?  This week, I'll be trying out a needlessly complex encounter to challenge just that.

The Assault on the Grey Lord is unique in it's premise, Two masters vs One master in a escort the markers type event. For those of you who don't own the Crossroads book or don't have it to hand, here are the rules:
It includes the special terrain "Saloon". All models lose flight due to the ceiling and includes a 3x3 space in the center of the table: an "Open Bar", that is Ht1, severe and soft terrain (leaving out dense so you can still see through it is important). This bar allows a model to spend it's activation healing so long as it's not in combat and gives out some chairs to throw around for fun.

Onto the encounter itself, after flipping for schemes, the attacker hires two masters for free (but assigns only one as the leader) and otherwise creates a normal 50ss list. The defender creates the normal 50ss list but at the end of the third turn brings in 15ss of models they could have hired at the beginning of the game (As written I imagine it's worded in such a way as to not allow you to bring back a rare 1 model that died before turn 3) from a chosen table edge. The defender deploys first within 6" of the center of the table, the attacker then deploys at whatever 4 table edges they wish within 6" of that edge, then lastly the defender places 4 serving girl markers down.

Serving girl markers in base to base with a model can be (1) interacted to be pushed 6" in any direction, if they are to be moved off the table this way, they are removed from play.
At the end of the game, the defender is awarded 1Vp for each serving girl still in play, the attacker earns 1Vp up to a maximum of 2vp for each serving girl marker that is no longer in play and 2Vp if the defending master is no longer in play (either by death or bury).

As I said, needlessly complex.

This week I will be taking the role of Yan Lo, defending his strangely forested nightclub: "The Down Lo" from kidnappers who are up to no good, who are starting to make trouble in his neighborhood, they'll get in one little fight and Yan Lo's scared because he's fighting against two monkey-fighting masters in his monday-to-friday club!... Ahem...

This is a complex undertaking, as we all know outside of special circumstances, deploying second is advantageous because you have a rough idea of where your opponent wishes to aim his scheme runners and where best to place your utility guys vs wreaking balls.
So deploying second against an opponent who is already mostly past the center line is almost certainly providing heads on plates. I need the most defensive, awkward to alpha strike list I can think of and ensure I stay alive long enough to protect those markers.

Luckily for me, Yan Lo and a bunch of Ten Thunders models are exactly that, a right pain to put down in the right circumstance. Yin with smoke grenades in soft cover might as well be invisible to any ranged threats and can stop melee chargers with her "The Fear behind the Eyes" No Escape built-in trigger. Torakage with a buddy forces focus attacks from Sh actions and have auto-focus when in melee. Armor and Hard to Kill are handy but for most of Malifaux, they are almost blank abilities without a self heal.

Who has a self heal? Izamu does, so for the first time ever I see a real need to bring along Reliquary, having the option to bring back a difficult to hit or melee Rg3 model for another crack at dying seems like an idea that actually works in this scenario. With my needing to protect markers without necessarily losing points each turn by not being next to them, my opponent will either send in melee or shoot from afar and clean house afterwards, having tough models with an extra life being there purely to stand next to markers and tank damage will be more beneficial than lasting 3 turns then watching the serving girls scatter. Lastly Chiaki because of course Chiaki.

This is so far a full 50ss list but what about the 15ss backup turn 3? What will they need to do from a (hopefully) clear edge of the board? Scheme runners seem important but I might also need to think about if things are going breast-skywards. Snipers or Archers assist against damaged targets yes but will that alone stop a markers falling off the table? Ototo with a Komainu is a great tag-team to potentially stop that from happening but alas, the 15ss backup is the hardest to plan if only because of the great unknown but making the correct choice to gain the most Vp is paramount to simply adding more scheme runners or models that won't make an impact. As this is the sole "Balancing" mechanic I'm given to even the scales against two masters, I need to use it effectively.

To say I'm going to be defensive this game is a given, I have to defend my models in order to stay in the game, defend markers from their 6" push of doom and weather the storm of 2 masters. Even a full cache isn't going to help against that so I simply need to last. Yan Lo needs to heal, Chiaki needs to rid models of both beneficial and de-buffing conditions as well as slow the opposing crew in an attempt to even out the Ap disparity. 
Saying that though, rolling out 2 masters sounds amazing until you realize you only have one hand of cards, cheating fate or soul-stoning for suits for both will make for rather restrictive plays, so anything I can do to strip cards away from my opponent is going to be more important than ever; that said, a savvy opponent will simply circumvent this by playing one master who uses stones a lot and another that is soulstone lite. It's going to be an uphill battle in any case, but it's also going to be fun to fully test out the durability of what I have stated is very difficult to take down crew. I'm looking forward to it.

Keep challenging yourselves and have fun out there.

Monday, 9 November 2015

List Building with the Yan Man

After my, lets keep it family friendly, absolutely soul crushing and face wreaking defeat at the hands of Mo11usq (Awesome guy btw, check out the battle report here) I thought I would re-approach the drawing board and redefine for myself what is best used for each scheme and strategy. My weakness is "shiny new model" syndrome, I recently bought the shadow effigy as a means to improve my scheme running and give greater options but if you've watched Mo11usq's battle report you might ask yourself why I brought the Effigy to a game where Line in the Sand was the ONLY marker related scheme. My answer: I wanted to play with the new model I just brought. It's one of those things I have to train myself out of; in Malifaux, almost every model is a valid choice but sooner or later you'll find that a sub-section of models do the job more consistently each time than other models.

Thus this write-up, Strategies for the most part are either tough models, lots of cheap models or tough models with cheap model support, so we'll give them a pass. What's important now is what models from my box of fun work best with what schemes? Let's take a look:

For the most part, my web of Toshiro, Punk Zombie and Komainu (+ any summons) should be well versed in placing a few markers down in-between death dealing but a couple of Torakage on the flanks would be good insurance. Shadow Effigy is amazing for this IF you happen to have some spare 10's in your hand or get real lucky.

Breakthrough/Plant Evidence - aka You know that one guy who's been staying out of combat?...
Torakage are my go-to scheme runners, but if they aren't together they die pretty darn quickly. Their speed is their saving grace but even if you take three walk actions and throw down a scheme marker with the help of Daddy Toshiro and Uncle Effigy, the scheme marker in question still needs protecting until the end game. So really it comes down to either Yan himself, or keeping the ninja hidden until turn 4&5. Really though, so long as the crew has been moving up all game, any model can finish these schemes within reason.

Assassinate - aka Who am I facing? Welp, not doing this scheme then!
Assassinate is really difficult for some masters, and at least a bother to those who can do it. The thing is, the mass majority of Malifaux masters are nearly impossible to take down either due to their defenses or simply being far far away nuking any threats before they can get within killing distance. Even the ones who do go down easily take a lot of AP to do so. Yan Lo is not a killy master and most masters would love it if you thunder dance'd them into a fairly defenseless yet powerful henchman, so this scheme is essentially blank for all intents and purposes.

Protect Territory - aka Reveal and score 3 Victory Points NEXT!
There have been discussions on just how to improve Protect Territory in order for it to be a challenge or not so auto-include. Are you 6" away from your deployment? or in other words, have you moved since turn one? Wait until turn 4 or 5 and slap down a marker. I have never seen Protect Territory not taken unless my opponent was making a point on not relying on it, but 3Vp is 3Vp right?

Bodyguard - aka - Everyone forgets the distance restriction.
Right now I have 2 solid options for Bodyguard: Chiaki, for her incorporeal and generally staying out of the way; and Yin, because you put Yin in cover and occasionally heal her and she never ever dies ever.
Heck I'll be willing to include both in a list just to keep my opponent assuming I'm body-guarding Toshiro (who is an awful bodyguard target). The thing myself and everyone playing Malifaux has to remember is that "More than 8" away from deployment" so often players forget this. Always aim to get the bodyguard over the halfway line and keep it busy, nothing more suspect than a tough model who's scheme running...

Distract - aka It's like Take Prisoner, but all game.
Distract in theory, my crew can do rather well. Thunder dance an activated target next to Komainu and attack to slow it, then hit Distract. That gives you half of what you need for two turns which is 1/6th of what you need Vp wise for the whole game. Theory has a way of fooling us like that though. What if Komainu fluffs the attack? What if the Komainu gets killed early or get's distracted himself? It takes a lot of effort to Distract an enemy without being distracted back and at that point it's a zero sum game. I tend to avoid Distract unless the scheme pool is THAT bad that it becomes my only option.

Cursed Object - aka Activated? I'll take a Vp thank you.
I love Cursed Object but I hate Cursed Object. It practically turns into a game of whack-a-mole in terms of trying to win with it. If both players choose it, it's basically zero sum once again. I activate, throw a cursed object on everyone in range who activated, you activate and do the same, repeat. Any model in my crew can do this scheme and I'll normally take it to retain that zero-sum, although with the average Wk speed of my crew being Wk5, having to find a 7 to cheat to unbalance the scales is hard to do.

Outflank - aka Arrgh I can't even.
Reserve two tough killy models, be forced to reveal it as it's one of those pesky 2Vp schemes that you want full points from. Then have them run the flanks and ensure that everyone that goes near them dies of mysterious circumstances and pray to whatever higher power you believe in that you can keep this up all game. With so many good and easy ways to gain Vp in this game, you have to be either full out of options of FAAR too optimistic (like I was in Mo11usq's game). I have tried to play this scheme a handful of times but it is far to un-forgiving to be worthwhile.

Entourage - aka I place Yan Lo 8" over here turn 5.
It's terribly inefficient but I use Bone Ascendant as a 2ap place action if it means scoring Vp. Yes it's a cop-out but when you have an 8" place action on an incorporeal model who generally speaking is well over the halfway line anyway, why the heck not?

Vendetta/Murder Protege - aka I better use a Sniper for this.
Vendetta is better suited for Katanaka Snipers over all others, which make him obvious but effective, having that 28" range you can hit your vendetta turn one potentially then it's just a case of ensuring the same Sniper gets the killing blow by game end. Murder Protege in the pool, why not have it be the same target? The sniper can wittle their health down early. If this means roughing the target up then Lo handing him to the sniper in melee so be it.

Plant Explosives/Spring the Trap - aka Toshiro's going to use them for Focus, honest.
Walk up, lay down 3 scheme markers then Thunder Dance. Never really that easy but in practice, near as. Shadow Effigy leads a hand to stop the 4" interact restriction being too much of a pain but for Lilith and Yan Lo in particular, Plant Explosives is on easy mode. Spring the Trap is slightly hard if only due to not always wanting to have a Master in the middle of your models but if their is no murder schemes in the pool, do it for the Vp late game.

Make them Suffer - aka Ora Ora Ora Ora Ora Ora Ora Ora Ora....
This scheme is a tricky one, Yan Lo has a hardy crew with giving enemies a lot of negatives to attacks with armor and hard to kill to share a few, but a fairly fragile crew at the same time with some if not all it's survivability due to Chiaki's condition removal, minor heal & Lo's superior heal. Lo can pull out the laser pointer of death, yes, but consistently twice every turn? Not so much, I play a death of a thousand stings tar pit style with the odd take-down being random in determination. This of course makes MTS a tough choice when other better schemes are available and gives an advantage to my opponent more often than not.

Deliver a Message - aka Candygram for Yan Lo. Candygram for Yan Lo.
My two mosh pit masters: Yan Lo & Ironsides hate this scheme because even before game start, I'm giving away 3vp. 3Vp gone just like that. If I play to defend against this then I lose a lot of momentum and my opponent can simply outplay me. This is due to the nature of Thunder Dance, the target gets thrown to a nearby ally yes, but then I'm sitting near the rest of the opponent's crew, what happens then? I need to win every. single. Thunder Dance to ensure no model ever get's engaged with Lo and that's hard work. Even with Ca8 at some point a black joker is going to turn up or my opponent cheats a 13 or any number of scenarios. Thunder dance is a 95% hit rate yes but 5% is all your opponent needs to activate and make a mockery of the postal service.
On the other hand, dependent on the master across the table and if I'm fairly confident that it won't be to my detriment, I will throw a Master to a minion capable of processed tree bark communications and grab an easy 3vp. Even if it is to zero-sum the score.

Take Prisoner - aka Oh yeah, I'm facing Yan Lo aren't I?
Yan Lo win's this.
Okay, not so easy but when you have a Ca8 place action with a model renowned for his survivability, the same ability that allows him to shoo away any other models. It's pretty easy to see why Lo doesn't have a hard time with Take Prisoner. The difficulty lays in choosing the model and that can be tricky sometimes. I will personally go for the toughest SOB on the table and tar pit the ever loving jazz out of it but sometimes the utility model sitting in deployment is the better option due to it not being in the thick of it. Either way, Yan Lo himself or a surviving minion makes short work of Take Prisoner.

Frame for Murder - aka - Dead man walking... and shooting... and clubbing you over the head...
Frame for murder is very simple on paper. Get a dude killed. Thing is, in practice, trying to tell your opponent to murder someone on purpose without telling them is...a pain. You've got a choice, either have a minion take the role and walk on up making less than desirable plays or have a tough menace to society barrel through and do just enough to make an impact without taking TOO many heads. It's a fine balance and another candidate for, you guessed it, Zero Sum. It's possible to go a whole game without killing anything but that's a hard fought game.

Power Ritual - aka Power Ritual.
I love me some Power Ritual, it gives risk and reward a hearty shoot of adrenaline and something I have to tell myself isn't an auto-take. Two Torakages playing safe will normally be my MVPs during this but I have to ensure they can get to the other corners and that might mean taking Yamaziko for a spin if only to allow them access to their Wall-n-Bamf ability. I love how it interacts so well with the battle field and in a game that's going well, is almost unstoppable. Then it becomes a mental game of the Waltz if both players have taken it, it gets ridiculously tense by end game and I love it!

There you have it, my humble opinion on what my crew should be doing with Malifaux's schemes, hopefully writing this down will give me better understanding of what I should be bringing and not let that shiny new model I quickly glued together take the limelight in a show it shouldn't be in.

Take care and have fun out there.

What's in the Box!!? - Ten Thunders Yan Lo

Settle down Mills

Whilst some may have the space or storage available to take their whole faction or even whole collection of Malifaux to their local gaming store, I personally only want to bring the minimum amount of what I'm playing at the time.
Think about a single master you play, then think about how many times in the last month that you've played with every single model that's available for that faction with that single master. It's a slim chance you're going to say everything, people have preferred lists, models that are staple to victory in some schemes and strategies and simply your favorite models to run with that master. Thus my reasoning, I like to travel light and I've only got one case with limited space. Here's currently what I'm bringing when playing the Master of the Paths:

Yan Lo - Hard to play a 50ss game without a master.

Soul Porter - I'm an advocate that totems aren't auto-includes for all masters, De La Soul Porter though is so useful from all angles that it would seem like madness to leave the little dude in the case, great movement, can push Tosh and Lo with no card flip, 3" melee range on his attack which triggers are beneficial to any casters in the crew and an emergency sacrifice if you have ever said to yourself "If only I had just one more Chi". Soul Porter is solid and there's never a game that I've never taken him in.

Toshiro - The one man minion buffing machine. Toshiro is a hard cut if I feel he doesn't suit the schemes or strategies but giving out +flips to melee attacks and passing out Fast or giving EVERYONE focus is just too good. That's not even talking about his summoning upgrade which can replace losses and give me more Ap to work with in the late game. Too good to not have.

Yamaziko - If I'm facing an opponent who is primarily using Wp as their main means for attack, Yama will see play. I have a soft spot for Yamaziko as I love the model and I love every letter printed on her card. It's her defense stat that lets her down which makes me hesitant to pay 7ss for nimble target practice but when she is facing those Wp focused crews, she's an unstoppable force of nature and nothing can touch her and then truly, she shines.

Chiaki - Chiaki is Chiaki and Chiaki is the best. A hell of a useful model and if the opponent is using conditions a lot such as most Neverborn or Resurrectionists do, she can wipe out whole activations of work with a single 7 card. Facing down a lot of burning or poison? Chiaki has your back. Need Toshiro to be an even more boss summoner, Chiaki has your back. Do you need key models in your enemies crew to be slowed or insignificant? Chiaki has your back. Such a great model.

Yin, the Penangalan - Just because Yan Lo "works" with Ancestors (he doesn't) doesn't mean the ancestor models themselves are duds. Yin provides that all important addition to a team of un-killiables being extremely Ap intensive to take down. Yin being able to stop walk actions is mega, her Gnawing fears ensures Thunder Dance goes off as well as other Ca & Wp attacks in the crew, add to that her slow trigger on melee and you have what some see as a pain in the neck to overcome, especially with Yan Lo healing her up.

The Lone Swordsman - Facing a shooty crew, here's the man for the job. There's a lot in Malifaux that ignore armor but nothing that ignores bullet proof and having bullet proof +3 is insane in that regard. Making an average damage track 1/1/1 means this is a guy who can take some hits. When he's in combat, it's a good chance he can take some non-shooting hits with every trigger being useful as a way to take care of business. Not for every list but when he has his moment, it's glorious.

Bert Jebson - A versatile little Ht1 dude. 3ap on a non-master without a card flip is awesome, despite only average stats on his shooting, it is a great shoot action and can lead to a lot of damage if the card gods shine in your favor. I've used him for scheme running, shooting, hitting 3/4 minimum damage in melee and Crackerjack Timing is yet another way for Yan Lo's crew to drain your opponent's hand.

Pathfinder & Clockwork Traps - Need range support or a way to get back those equally annoying yet easily killed traps you've set. Say no more. He's no Sniper but with Yan Lo's Thunder Dance giving traps easy prey, Pathfinder can take models down with ease afterwards, just don't get him in range of the enemy, with so many models that are difficult to take down, having a 6Wd regular dude in the crosshairs is simply too tempting, especially being that he's just so good as his job of shooting and drawing a card a turn.

Torakage - My first scheme runners of choice for the time being until Tengu rear their heads onto the plastic scene. Give them a buddy to walk with or get in the enemies face and once again we have a model that's card intensive to put down. Stacking One in the crowd and Works best alone against a charge target is filth and ensures that low weak damage is not seen as often. I never have them in the front lines as a Wk6 model is wasted in large melees but as runners and hunters of other scheme runners, they are awesome.

Ronin - My second scheme runner of choice. Being a little easier to kill and being a stone expensive and 1wk slower than Torakage it purely depends on who I'm facing. If I'm against armor and a melee focused crew, the Ronin are a lot better than Torakage for their ability to flurry through armor when necessary or push out of combat for those all important last minute marker drops and giving enemy models "slow" if they want to get back into combat with them. Being able to ditch a model who is likely to die anyway for soul stones or cards makes for a model that's a hard sell to include but very effective in the right list.

Katanaka Sniper & Thunder Archers - I've grouped these two together because they serve similar roles depending on what the game is looking like. If I need additional damage and I plan for everyone to be engaged, I'll take the Archers for their Threading the Needle and Rapid fire. If the game is looking to be more spread out, I'll take the Snipers for their range and extra damage. Both are Ranged support that Yan Lo desperately needs and both do their jobs very well when used properly.

Punk Zombie - What's there to say about an angry undead samurai slicing you up with Ml6 +flip attacks with flurry and a wicked card deplete action. A poor walk and an average 8" threat range is Punk zombies only downfall but when he's in combat with Toshiro buffing him he's death incarnate, give him a group of enemies when he's fast and Slice and Dice will give your opponent headaches. just amazing.

Komainu and Ashigaru - Toshiro's summons. More often than not I will hire Komainu as their re-positioning and slow trigger is what I like to see in my models. Ashigaru I have purely as summons, they are okay but very card intensive and whilst you can get 6 attacks out of them potentially, it takes too many cards to make it worthwhile. As a summon though, they have a protective brace aura for anyone who actually wants to take on Toshiro and a Punk Zombie in melee and a decent Wk to do some last minute scheme running. Komainu are simply amazing for their Rst Wp attacks with slow and burning. Their guard the Soul is epic against a casting crew.

Shadow Effigy - Need a scheme marker pool won, LITS, Breakthrough, Protect Territory, Planting Explosives and Evidence and Springing Traps become a lot easier when your models drop them as a nothing action. It is expensive though, don't aim to activate Remember the Mission more than once a turn unless it's crucial to winning that sweet sweet Ap. A 10 card keeps models alive and accurate so you have to ask yourself how lucky you feel or if that 10 is discardable.
Keep the little dude out of the way but if you find yourself in 7" of someone with 2Wds trying to meddle with your markers, Precision Blade not needing to flip damage with Ml7 is so damn cool if you can get it off.

There you have it Mills, you now know what's in the box. What would you include? What would take out? let me know and have fun out there.

Walking the Paths

I had a choice once upon a time: Do I pick Kirai with none of her summon models released or do I choose a "weaker" master with a full line up? In the end I chose Yan Lo on merit of actually being able to play him and secondly for my already expansive collection of Ten Thunders models from my Mei Feng and Misaki trials. Quite honestly, I made the right choice.

Yan Lo is a difficult master, he doesn't hit as hard as an Ortega or Misaki, he doesn't move as freely as... well Ortegas, or Mei Feng and he doesn't have as much synergy with the models in his faction as a whole host of malifaux masters do.
No, what Yan Lo does is everything, he heals, he's nigh-untouchable, has placement shenanigans, he has a solid attack with Ca stats that dwarf all non-Sonnia and Hoffman casters, he has a superb totem in Soul Porter who can push, raise Ca for 5 models and has a 9" threat range, Lo can even tar-pit remarkably well with damaging disengaging strikes, Misdirecting enemy attacks and Terracotta'in Cursing anyone nearby who wants to sneak by unmolested.
He can do a lot of things in a game, almost without fear of losing duels doing so... which is why a lot of people online consider him a weak master. Name an ability (other than healing) and someone will name a Ten Thunders or Resurrectionist master who can do that ability better, Seamus can move further with Belles who never ever fail lures (ever), every malifaux model is a better summoner than Lo is, his attack is rubbish why wouldn't I use McMourning? etc etc etc...

You can of course do this with every master (maybe except Levi and Perdita, one believes they are built to be without weakness) Summoners are too card and stone intensive, Lady J and the Viks fall to even the slightest whiff of aggressive attacks, Rasputina is too focused on a tiny subset of (fairly decent) models which don't work as well with other masters; Gremlins are really really fiddly to glue together! You get my point, if you want to trash on a master you can do so with ease with the right weaknesses in the spotlight. Malifaux players who have stuck with a faction, or even a single master know what their master fails at and creates plays that allow that weakness to not even come out. Rasputina for example (my first love) is infamous for her being shut down so long as a melee model comes into contact with her but with her push upgrade, that doesn't happen. With her other limited upgrade, she would use The Captain or Snowstorm to ensure that she is NEVER engaged AND aptly punish the poor fool with paralyzing December cursing death!

I'm off course, today I'm talking about Yan Lo. He is a master I've played more than 20 games with now at time of writing and he is such an enjoyable master to play. Win, lose, he creates fun games when played to his strengths. What are his strengths (and don't for the love of god say Ancestors)? Yan Lo decides where your opponent's models are going to be on the board, he decides, to an extent, how many cards are in your opponent's hand, he can quickly re-position and grab last second wins and ensure that key models are alive and buffed. With good list building skills and model positioning, Lo has the ability to control the whole board.

How does he control the board? Thunder Dance, Terracotta Curse and juicy combat models who are too lazy to charge and just want to flurry instead. With advanced planning, Yan Lo can chain-Thunder Dance most of your opponents crew to areas of the board YOU want the opponents models to be, with care it's possible to neuter a whole crew as early as turn 2.
How do you dictate an opponents hand size you ask? Duels, lots of them. Ca 8 vs the average Df/Wp6, it's going to force a lot of high cards, Terracotta curse, Hunpo Assault, Punk Zombie Slice and Dice, Bert Jebson's Crackerjack attack, Flurrys etc etc Forcing this much control hand use for defense means your opponent is on back pedal and trying to stay alive, rather than using their hand for what they need to do to win Vp, all the while Lo's crew is free to do as they please. 

Yan Lo is massively versatile and not to be taken lightly, his base stats and lacking damage track lead some to believe him to be a master easily ignored but if you've ever had an Hunpo Assault go off in the middle of your wounded and thunder danced minions, he cleans house with that average attack. If you've ever tried to HIT Yan Lo, you tend to hit a Def/Wp18 wall or have one of your other models take the death blow instead, if you bypass that then enjoy that weak damage that's halved that can be Soulstone prevented. The best advice I can give players facing a good Yan Lo player is not to waste Ap killing Yan Lo, because it's not going to happen. Neuter him by any means for sure but you aren't going to kill him without dedicating a large amount of resources and Ap doing so.

His crew? Don't believe the hype of Ancestors, do you know what Yan Lo can do with Ancestors? He can take an upgrade you'll never seem to get a use from to potentially revive them and Soul Porter can push them. If Yan Lo "works" with Ancestors, then I can make a pretty strong argument that Ironsides "works" with Molemen because the opposing crew is too busy having a bar brawl with Toni to notice them.
No what you need is a turn 1 Chi battery (I prefer using Clockwork Trap for consistency as I play Thunders but any low-Wd cheap minion/peon will do the job) to ensure the most starting Chi. To do this, discard a card for Chi, Focus-Charge your Chi battery, luck out or cheat in severe to gain the 2nd Chi then kill the target for the 3rd. Zero action your upgrade of choice and there you go, you are set up for the rest of the game and with Soul Porter's help, 10" up the board ready for the Thunder Disco.
After that I like taking summoning Toshiro because summoning Toshiro is a boss, bringing along a Punk zombie and perhaps a Komainu to lend help slowing and flurrying T.D targets ready to be summoned upon after death by a minion buffing badass.
Chiaki is a no-brainer but I only bring her if I suspect my opponent has conditions that I don't really want to have, she isn't in every list but her ability to insignificant-ify a model and slow others from a decent range is nothing to take lightly.
After that I normally build to the scheme and strats, more often than not I will add a Pathfinder or a Katanaka Sniper for ranged support; nothing like finally being out of reach of Yan Lo to be gutted by a sniper for your hard work.

Chi Management is a big issue some find hard to get past, using the Chi battery it's not a big problem but it's all about timing and sacrifice, staying at Chi 3+ rigidly gets you nowhere but dumping it all to get all the Ascendant upgrades asap means you have Yan Lo at base stats, something everyone can agree on aren't great. Hunpo Assault comes up rarely more than once a game so why throw all 3 Chi at it early "just in case"? 
Do you NEED to be Incorporeal? Are you moving through terrain for cover/LOS blocking or blocking another friendly model? Are you in a situation where Fury of the Yomi will benefit you? If not, you can leave it on the shelf and heal instead. I'd rather keep Toshiro alive and summoning rather than turn that 3 damage attack on Lo into a 2 damage attack. 
That said, will getting an Ascendant upgrade you do need right away gimp you for the rest of the Ap following it? Do you NEED Ca8 or will Ca6 suffice? Are you in a situation where Misdirection or being impossible to wound are good enough defenses? Spend your Chi to get that upgrade that you NEED right away and use it immediately. Timing and sacrifice, use what you need at the right time and don't be afraid to drop your Chi below 3 if it benefits you, with 5 ways to gain Chi, it will soon come back anyway.

The upgrades I use don't vary all that greatly with for Yan Lo, my personal auto-includes being Fortify the Spirit and Misdirection. Fortify the Spirit is too good to pass up, Lo's Df & Wp being 5 means a lot of chances for savvy enemies to get a straight damage flip so being able to count tomes as having +3 to their cards is a life saver. Misdirection is another shield in front of the master of the paths many shields, Thunder Dance will more often than not do two things: either land you on your opponents table half out in the open, or have Lo in the middle of 3 or so guys just waiting to destroy your carefully crafted plans; Misdirection allows you to stand their and dare those 3 models to hit him, I will happily take some halved damage if an opponent has spent a card to cheat and another 2 just to hit (maybe a 4th to cheat the damage flip) that's a hand destroyed for 4 damage which has done nothing to advance the game.
As for other upgrades, I can normally do without. Recalled Training is a staple for Ten Thunders but I find Yan Lo's general disregard for ever losing duels means I never really need it. If moving 4 inches more the first turn mattered I might include Dragon Stone but again, spending 1ss for an upgrade to functionally serve the same purpose as the superior Wings of Wind a waste, the (0) focus might be useful if it wasn't a (0) action, Heals or upgrades kinda take priority. The Wings I consider an option if I have the stones spare and feel Yan needs that last turn push out of combat or simply as a means to increase his Thunder Dance web threat range; the zero gets very rare use as stated as if you're not healing, you're grabbing an ascendant upgrade; and if you aren't upgrade grabbing, you're likely healing some more; but the times where you're in a position of not doing either is a good time to shift a slow model into useful territory. 
Broken Promises is done better by Misdirection, having both starts to become a detriment, Lo is already defensively based enough with Ascendant upgrades and Misdirection without giving the opponent a reason to completely stop caring altogether about actions against him. It is better served on the Henchman or enforcers you bring along. The last upgrade requires a crystal ball to use effectively (looking at you Servant of 5 Dragons) and unless my opponent really likes bunching up their LITS or breakthrough markers, every game, Lo is better off picking them up himself rather than hoping markers are still going to be within range the turn after he bamfs to someone.

With all masters, I found growing pains but everything I've said above is the result of trial and error in a range of games against whole factions of masters, I'll be following this up with reports of my future with Yan Lo to use as a guide to how I play him and to continue to better myself with him. He is far from top-tier I assure you but he is a strong master full to the brim with options and most importantly, very fun to play. If I have changed any minds or have ignited a spark within you to at least give the old man a go without prejudice, then I'll be happy. If not, well at least I will never have any mirror matches!

Have fun out there.