Well, so much for posting an article every week! Despite my best intentions, life once again got in the way and it’s taken me freaking ages to finish this blog post off. In any case, I hope I can make it up with this blog entry because oh boy, it’s a big one, clocking in at almost 3500 words! So strap yourselves in, grab a cup of coffee (or your liquid beverage of choice..), and prepare for some serious verbal diarrhea, because I’m gonna talk about Pandora.
In the Beginning…
As I said before, Pandora was my first Master. When I picked her up Malifaux was only a few months old and players were still getting the hang of the game. Back then, community wisdom had decided the “Top Tier” Masters to be Lilith and Perdita (both were considerably nastier before their first errata). Pandora on the other hand, was initially considered a lower tier master. She wasn’t easy to kill, but nobody had truly appreciated the potential of her “nickel and dime” damage output. It didn’t take long for that to change, of course, and while her power level was toned down somewhat she remained one of the least fun Masters to play against in Maifaux 1.5.
Fast forward to M2E, is Pandora thankfully lost a lot of what made her unfun. The nickel and dime damage is still there in the form of her Misery ability, and in fact with enough Sorrows around (also with Misery) she’s capable of dealing massive amounts of damage each activation with her variety of Wp-based attacks. Her free pushes from movement from Fading Memory have also been toned down somewhat – short of any out-of activation Wp-duels (like if someone attacks her) she’s usually only going to get two free pushes – one from winning an incite duel and the other if she makes the trigger to recast incite. Perhaps most importantly though, Pandora has become much less frustrating to kill. Models used to need to pass a straight Wp-duel with Pandy just for the privilege of targeting her, failure of which would result in them suffering a wound. But in M2E, she can now just uses her Wp instead of Df in opposed duels and the wording on Misery means that the attacker won’t take damage if they fail.
So overall, while she’s not nearly as horrible to face as she used to be, from the reactions of my opponents she’s still an intimidating Master to face.
The Magic of Misery
The most obvious aspect of Pandora’s playstyle is undoubtably her fixation on Wp duels, whether it’s for offense, defense and in the case of Fading Memory, mobility. My main approach with Pandora has been to put her into harms way, follow up with sorrows and use those overlapping Misery auras to deal 3-4 damage with each failed Wp duel from Pandora’s attacks (usually Incite to get within 3”, then Self Loathing). I’ve found that even a pair of sorrows is enough for Pandora’s attacks to wipe out 2-3 models each turn, provided they’re foolish enough to get within striking distance.
It’s her lethality within those Misery bubbles that has encouraged me to think of her as an area denial tool. Nobody really wants to go near her, so parking Pandora on a Turf War marker or something similar seems to be the best way to use her. Either your opponent sits back and allows you to claim those VPs unmolested, or they try and engage her and get pounded in the process.
Defensively, Pandora’s been a hard nut for my opponents to crack. She’s got an impressive Wp of 7 to defend against any opposed duels and any time she wins a Wp duel she can push 4” with Fading Memory. Her main weakness comes has come in the form of irresistible damage (such as from blast attacks directed at nearby sorrows)
Going it Alone
In my games thus far I’ve been able to bring both the Sorrows and Pandora to bear on her victims to quickly take them out, but to be honest I’ve yet to face someone who’s appreciated just how important it is to take down the Sorrows. I’m sure I will at some point so when that happens, there’s a good chance that Pandora will have to do her thing without any support from her Sorrows.
To be honest I’m not too concerned about such a scenario. Without the Sorrows she won’t be cutting a swathe through enemy models, but her Self Loathing attack plus Misery should still allow her to dish out some good damage. That will be especially true against glass cannon-type models (ie. high damage, low resilience), and anyone with a low wound count (ie. 4 or less).
Spreading the Pain
At first I thought Martyr was a bit of a dud ability. Situationally useful perhaps, but otherwise something I would normally ignore in my games. After all, why would I willingly hurt my own master in order to minimise damage on the less important members of my crew? In practice however, Martyr is actually very useful. Thanks to their Misery Aura, Sorrows tend to be a high priority target for my opponents. Incorporeal tends to mitigate some of the damage, but with Martyr most attacks against the Sorrows will be reduced to 1 or even 0 damage, greatly improving their lifespan. Even better, if you can reduce the damage to 0 on the Sorrow it also negates any “after damaging” effects or triggers. I found this especially valuable in a game against Mei Feng. Not only did it keep the sorrow alive long enough for Pandy to do her work on Mei, but it effectively negated her triggers, almost all of which are an “after damaging” effect.
Because being a little bit Miserable isn’t enough (Upgrades)
I’ve found that while Pandora is more than happy to fill out her upgrade slots, she tends to be limited not by the number of slots, but by her available soulstones. Most of the time I strive for the full three upgrades, but more often than not I find myself dropping one of the three to give myself at least one extra soulstone (I rarely like to start with less than 4 in my crew) or to fit in that third Sorrow.
Pandora’s two limited upgrades seem to offer you a choice between adding to her defense (The Box Opens) or offense (Voices). The main benefit from Voices is the getting the Mental Anguish trigger to paralyse enemy models. That in itself is amazing, but in every game I’ve taken Voices, I’ve wished I’d taken The Box Opens for additional protection that Terrifying 13 grants. If nothing else it tends to make me feel a little safer when I throw Pandy into danger, plus it both helps to drain my opponents hand and add some extra damage from the failed Wp duels.
As for the other ability/action that these upgrades grant (specifically, There is no Shelter Here and Those who Dwell Within), I’ve honestly never found myself using them. When I take these upgrades, it’s only ever been for the Paralyse trigger or Terrifying.
Cry for Me is my favourite upgrade for Pandora – I shouldn’t need to tell you how nasty a negative twist on your opponents Wp duels is! If I have the soulstones I definitely try and fit this upgrade in, especially if I can combine it with lots of terrifying effects (such as from The Box Opens) or Wp-based attacks from other models (such as with the Depression upgrade). That said, unlike The Box Opens I’ve yet to miss it in games where I leave the upgrade at home. So while I won’t deny that it’s a fantastic upgrade, it’s not absolutely necessary for Pandora to do her thing.
If you haven’t already guessed, Fugue State’s usefulness tends to be dependent on the scenario you’re playing. If you expect your opponent to be making lots of interact actions near Pandora (such as with Deliver a Message, Distract or Cursed object) then Monotony adds yet another Wp duel to punish your opponent for trying to complete their objectives. Using Nullify to make your opponent’s models insignificant appears to run counter to Monotony, but honestly I’ve found that it’s still worthwhile. Admittedly you could also get Nullify in your crew with a Primordial Magic, although the negative is that a Primordial Magic is much easier to kill than Pandy.
The catch is that if you take Fugue State in your Pandora crew, your opponent will almost definitely avoid those interact-heavy schemes. That in itself is actually pretty useful – you’ve effectively narrowed your opponents potential scheme pool and if they’ve taken a crew with the intent of using those interact schemes, they may have a lot of trouble achieving what’s left.
I initially didn’t give much thought to Depression – the Woe-only upgrade. Beyond giving Kade an easier way to get his desired crow for Sweetbreads it seemed kind of average – a take it or leave it upgrade. However after actually giving it a run it might now be an auto-include for future Pandy crews. What Depression does is it grants a 12” range, 1 AP, Wp-based attack to your Woes in the form of Melancholy. What it does is mostly irrelevant (well, unless you’ve got Candy), all it needs to do is allow you to trigger yet more damage with your Misery abilities. For most Woes it’s mostly just a neat trick to have, should they be out of position to do much else. But with no other 1AP Wp-based attack, Sorrows love having Melancholy since it basically grants them an easy way to stck on yet more damage through Misery. This was particularly evident in my last game with them, where some sorrows were able to deal use Melancoly to deal the last few wounds to Mei Feng, a Metal Gamin and a Rail Worker when Pandora just didn’t have the AP spare to finish them off.
Fears Given Form is a great upgrade, since it punishes your opponent even further for getting within Pandora’s 3” melee range. I’ve had fun with it in the past, but the fact that it also affects your own models makes it tricky to use well, especially when Pandy’s accompanied by a team of sorrows. I think it can work, but you either need to resign to using Pandy with minimal support from her crew, or be careful with your activation order, making sure to end Pandora’s activation more than 3” away from any friendly models who have yet to activate themselves.
The Totem that Grew
While the idea of a Ht 3, 50mm Totem is neat (hello Huggy!), I gave to admit it’s a bit of a pain that Wyrd increased the base size of the poltergeist. After all, now I need to replace my existing poltergiest model with something of a more suitable size. My lack of suitably based poltergeist is part the reason I’ve yet to try out the Poltergiest. The other is the fact that whenever I consider taking it, I’m faced with the duel arguments of “why not a sorrow for the same cost?” and “A Primordial Magic is both awesome and cheaper!”.
I do need to try the Poltergiest at some point. If nothing else it should be decent at taking objectives (yes – it’s a non-insignificant totem!) and the negative flip to Wp duels from Distraction is a powerful effect for a crew like Pandora’s. That said, once again, I’ll probably wait until I have a suitably based model to proxy it before I give the Poltergeist an honest run.
I have a tendency to think of Candy as a tiny, adorable henchman version of Pandora, but to be honest that’s doing a disservice to what she actually does. She has Pandora’s Self Loathing attack and her high Df plus Manipulative 12 makes her a bit tricky to target. Other than that, she functions more like a support/synergy piece with her heal action from Goody Basket and most importantly, her Sweets and Sours Abilities. Pandora’s crew can get a lot of ways to control the activation order of her opponent and these two abilities allow you to turn that from an annoying inconvenience to a way to severely punish key models.
It’s taken me a while to warm to this aspect of Candy but once I did, I think I’m going to have a hard time excluding her from future Pandora lists. Thanks to Candy, every Incite attack becomes a potential paralyse, and you can effectively stop your opponent activating his most important model first simply by sticking Candy next to it. That last part alone can give you a massive edge in critical turns – Regardless of whether you win initative you can almost guarantee that you’ll be able to activate before your opponent in a critical combat. Sours also allows for some irresistible damage if you can position Candy next to the last model your opponent activates. It’s not as powerful as Sweets but it does offer some nice synergy with Melancholy to force a certain model to activate last.
Just like clay. Expensive, high maintainence clay.
There’s something about the doppelganger that just doesn’t appeal to me at all. I’ve used it in a few games now and while both Ill Omens (to cheat the initative flip) and Mimic (to copy a non-leader action) are both very good, they’re also somewhat card intensive. You’ll almost always be cheating a high card for Ill Omens and you may need to cheat a 7 to reach the TN for Mimic, with a tome if you want the extra action. I won’t deny that Ill Omens is amazing, especially if you are pairing it with Candy’s Sweets ability to control some key enemy activations. But right now, I feel like I’d prefer something that doesn’t need to burn good cards to do its thing.
I’ve always felt that Pandy’s fixation on Wp-based attacks is also her biggest weakness. Models with an unnaturally high Wp (eg. Zoraida) or an ability like Stubborn tend to shut her down pretty hard, especially if the rest of her crew is centred around supporting Pandy or making Wp-based attacks themselves. Those sorts of models are thankfully less common in M2E, but it still hurts when Pandy’s facing a crew with a Stubborn model or two.
It’s for this reason that I always like to make sure I’ve included a “Plan B” – something that’s capable of killing or neutralising my opponent’s models without resorting to Wp-based attacks. The natural, in-theme choice for this role is Pandora’s original odd couple – Baby Kade and Teddy. While they both have some Wp-based abilities that fit well with Pandora’s usual game plan, their main, very damaging attacks are both resisted on Df.
Baby Kade is almost the the epitomy of a Glass Cannon. With only 6 wounds and no damage mitigation he’s not hard to kill for a 7SS model, so he’s relying on his High Df and Manipulative to avoid danger. However his melee damage output is just off the chart! 1/2/4 damage on the carving knife is pretty tame to start with, but with +2Dg and Slow from the Sweetbreads Trigger and another +2Dg if he’s targeting a model that’s already engaged, his damage spread tops out at 5/6/8 with Slow! That alone is enough for me to horde my high crows for when Kade starts attacking things.
Other than that, Lure with Pounce is a handy trick to have although I must admit, I’ve yet to use it. As a (2) action Where’s Teddy has a steep cost attached, but I’ve used in the past to either get Kade out of danger or more rarely, push Teddy closer to a target that he’s well suited to dealing with. It may be a situational action, but Where’s Teddy is useful enough for me to usually take Kade and Teddy as a pair.
Teddy is almost the polar opposite of Kade, with his resliance coming not from his defense stat, but from a high wound count coupled with both regeneration and Impossible to Wound. His Hug attack is brutally simple, and has an auto-trigger that lets him push/follow his target around with each successful hit. I’ve found this to be great for getting around defensive triggers like the Gremlin’s Squeel, since Teddy will simply push back into base contact with the model that just tried to escape his grip. Gobble You Up may be easy to resist but the Push and positive flips make it a spell that your opponent will really want to throw a high card at. This is especially true when you consider Teddy has Flurry, which will potentially give him three attacks with positives to the attack and damage flips!
Teddy’s final trick comes in the shape of Smell Fear, which gives him a free, once per turn melee attack when a nearby model that fails a Wp duel. Teddy doesn’t have to hit the model that failed the Wp duel, so considering Pandy’s plethora of Wp-based attacs it should be easy to get that free attack.
So beyond her Woes, what else works with Pandora? Well for me, there are a few that I’ve tried thus far and I feel can work really well with her.
I’ve mentioned the Primordial Magic before, and for 2SS I feel it’s a great totem for Pandy. Rush of Magic helps to improve your hand each turn and it becomes really useful for any scheme involving interact actions or scheme markers. Its ability to be a scheme marker once per game is very handy for the latter (especially for schemes like Spring the Trap), and turning models insignificant with Nullify can really hamper your opponent’s ability to achieve such schemes.
The Oiran is an amazing support piece for Pandora for one reason – Appealing, which gives a straight +1Wp to friendlies within 6”. This is good for boosting the otherwise average Wp of Pandora’s crew but most importantly, it increases Pandora’s Wp from 7 to a much more intimidating 8. This makes her harder to hit with an opposed duel and it also improves Incite, since that attack uses Pandora’s Wp for the attack.
I think Appealing makes the Oiran almost an auto-include for Pandora, but she also adds some nice defensive abilities and melee attacks as well as the always handy Lure. It may not be as reliable as the Beckoners (since it needs a suit), but I feel it’s enough to negate Pandora’s need for a Beckoner, the inclusion of which would otherwise overload her crew with support pieces.
Bishop has always been a favourite mercenary of mine, and I think he’s got a lot of potential in a Pandora Crew. Not only does he provide her with a powerful and flexible melee piece, but his ability to target Wp or Df with his Chain Wrapped fist attacks gives him both great synergy with Pandy’s Wp abilities, and allows you to use him as your “Plan B”, so to speak. He tends to compete with Teddy for a slot in Pandy’s crew but generally, I feel that he compares very well. As a general rule of thumb, if I’m taking Kade I’d prefer Teddy, but otherwise Bishop tends to be my choice for Plan B.
Finally, every crew needs access to some good objective grabbers and for Pandora, I’ve usually turned to the Terror Tot and Silurid. Neither have any synergy at all with Pandora but both independently fast, one is cheap and the other is VERY hard to catch. I’ve talked about them before in the respective Lilith/Zoraida blog posts so for now, suffice to say that they’re great choices when you need something to plant scheme markers and/or make Interact actions.
And so ends the Neverborn Challenge…
Well with Pandora done, that brings me to the end of the Wave 1 Neverborn Masters and thanks to my laziness, it also brings me to the end of the year! This whole exercise has been quite fun and if nothing else, writing my thoughts down has really helped solidify my understanding of these Masters.
But typically, I’m a man of many plans and with a new year about to dawn it’s time to move on to something else. There’s one particular challenge I’ve been hoping to set myself for some time now, so assuming I can get my act together and write it in time, I’ll be talking about that in my next blog post. ;)