Answering a call of nature

Hi folks,
This week I have a blog post which was actually requested*! I know! someone out there actually thought “this Dave bloke knows his stuff, I’d like to know his thoughts on something”. Well they were wrong. I don’t know my stuff, I just make it up as I go along, and try to sound like I know what I’m talking about.
Anyway, the topic which was requested was a bit of chat about Marcus’ “Alpha” ability. The general consensus on twitter (… consensus of 3 people…. but that’s still a consensus) was that Alpha is one of those abilities where you can kind of see what it might be useful for, but in practice it often seems better just to use those 2AP to do something with Marcus (which isn’t a bad thing, Marcus can do lots with 2AP).
Well, I use alpha a lot….like A LOT, so I suppose I’d better try to qualify why I do it. Or maybe I’m just playing Marcus really badly. We’ll see.


What is Alpha?
Alpha is one of Marcus’ attack actions. It costs 2AP to cast, needs the target to have the beast characteristic, and needs at least an 8 and a suit to cast. It’s resisted on willpower.
Alpha allows you to activate the target model for a full activation, which happens immediately after Marcus’ activation. The Alpha activation does not count as the target model’s activation for the turn (so it can activate as normal before/after it has been alpha’d.
In slightly more exciting terms, Marcus rocks up to a model, calls on its primal self, bends its will to his, and makes it go charging off to do his bidding. If we consider Marcus as representing the wild places of Malifaux, then the target is answering a call of nature… so to speak**.
In game terms, you’re essentially swapping 2 of Marcus’ AP for (probably) 2AP and a possible (0) action. However, as there are no restrictions on who you can cast Alpha on, you could cast it on a master (thus getting 3AP and a (0) action) or a model with a bonus AP (eg melee expert) to get the maximum cost:benefit.

As with anything, there are a series of hurdles you have to jump over to get from “I want to do this…”, to “I have successfully done this…”.
In Alpha’s case, hurdle 1 is that the target must have the beast characteristic. If the target has the beast characteristic, it’s easy… just cast it. However, there’s lots of stuff which (to its shame) is not a beast. Well Marcus can turn stuff into beasts, using either a trigger on his attack, or his Feral (0) action (if he has the feral instincts upgrade… which I like to use). So you can turn non-beasts into beasts. I generally take the feral approach, which needs a low card to cast on friendly models (no need for the resist flip). Conversely, if you’re casting it on an enemy model, you need a high card to make sure they get beasted (generally I try and make sure my Ca + a card in my hand = their willpower +13).
Right, now we need to cast Alpha.
You need a mask for it, not too big a problem, either use one from your hand if you have one which is high enough (more on “what’s high enough?” in a minute), or use a soulstone to get you the mask, and then you can use any suit.
If you’re casting it on a friendly model, you need an 8, no big deal. If you’re casting it on an enemy model, you need more thought. I usually treat it as if the target number of the spell is their willpower +14 (the highest possible value they can get to, you need to tie with that). They do not want you controlling their model, and will do a lot to prevent it. Conversely, you don’t want to be throwing 2AP at a spell which doesn’t work, and then leaving Marcus potentially vulnerable.
If you don’t have a high enough card to get to their willpower +14 (or at the very least, their willpower +13) then you probably shouldn’t be casting Alpha in the first place. There’s so much more Marcus can do, go and do some of that.


So to summarise this bit, the cost of Alpha ranges from 2AP and an 8 of masks, all the way to 2AP, two 13s, and a soulstone (or a 13 and a red joker).
Now this seems to be where a lot of people come unstuck. I’ve heard of quite a few cases of “oooh, I can control your model” syndrome, which can be hugely costly, and in the end might all come to nothing. If I’m doing one of those mega “take control of enemy master” Alphas, I need to know that the alpha will either directly gain me a good chunk of VPs (or deny the opponent an equivalent amount), or will get rid of (not hurt, KILL) one or two of the opponent’s key models (which probably means you need a few severe cards in your hand AFTER you’ve done all of the Alpha casting). If it isn’t going to do that, then the price is probably too high.


Alpha tricks

Right, on to the stuff I think the twitter folks were actually after. “Alpha, huh, yeah. What is it good for?….”.
First off, I’ll cover the rare cases. They’re generally unlikely to come up, but if you see an opportunity, you can go for it.

  1. If you have set the trap, plant explosives, other positiony things, you can walk enemy models to where they’ll score you points (again, scoring big points = worth doing big alpha).
  2. Stopping the enemy getting points. Do they have outflank with models in all the right places? Well then, for your last activation, take control of one of them, and just walk it away.
  3. Novelty killing. Does an enemy model have a “sacrifice this model, do something” ability? Then do that. Ronin and Myranda are the two obvious options for this. You can do a full activation with them (hitting things, removing scheme markers, whatever), and then make them kill themselves (if your opponent is using Myranda, she’s a traitor to the cause, and deserves to turn herself into a jackalope).
  4. Much less rare than the others, this is deliver the message. Deliver the message is difficult because most of the models which can do it (non-master, non-peon) only have 2AP, so have to survive a while next to the enemy master before they can deliver the message. Alpha makes it easy though. Just walk up in the model’s normal activation, and then alpha them to deliver the message. Boom, 3VP, cost you 2AP and an 8 of masks. Indeed that tends to be the way I do deliver the message these days (though generally I don’t take deliver the message). Doubly effective on models which can move for a (0) action (silurids and cerberus, and to a lesser extent, molemen).

I’m sure there are other little tricks, but I won’t let you into all my secrets. Anyway, on to the key thing which I use Alpha for (I’d say at least 90% of my Alphas are this).
The 1-2 punch/bite/chop/shoot.
I really over-use this aspect of Alpha, to the extent that when I’m using Ramos I find Joss and Howard are very slow and fairly ineffective. The basis of this is simple. Normally a model can get into position, then charge next turn. With Alpha, a model can get into position, survive 1 (maximum 2) enemy activation, and then charge this turn. That’s big. That’s an awful lot bigger than it sounds. Ok, it comes at the cost of Marcus not doing much, but essentially, it means Marcus can impact the game without having to put himself anywhere near harm’s way.
Ok, so you aren’t convinced. Then let’s add in some of Marcus’ (0) actions, and see what happens.
I’ll take the example of Howard langston to start with. Picture the scene, I’ve managed to out-activate my opponent by 1 (so Marcus hasn’t yet activated, but my opponent has activated everything). As usual (for me) Marcus has trail of the gods, feral instincts (so can cast 2 (0) actions), and the hunger cry. Howard is in a position that he could charge, or be charged next turn. Marcus walks (8″ due to trail of the gods) to get into position, he casts feral on Howard (Howard is a beast), he then casts Darzhee’s chaunt on Howard (+ve attack and damage flips, –ve defense flips… but that doesn’t matter, as there’s nothing to fight back). Now he casts Alpha on Howard (needs an 8 of masks). Now Howard activates, charges off (or maybe walks and flurries), and is Ml7, 4/5/6 damage (I think) with positive to attack and damage flips. Something is not long for this world.
Example 2 is slightly different in that we have a beast on our side, let’s say an RSR. This time though, I’m not necessarily out-activating my opponent. So up walks Marcus (8″) and casts feral on an enemy model to turn them into a beast (making sure I have a high-ish card ready, unless I’m bluffing the move to try and draw a card out of their hand at the cost of a (0) action which I otherwise wouldn’t have used anyway). He succeeds, and follows by using domesticate as his second (0) action, so now the newly beastified enemy beast is on negative flips for all duels. Marcus then casts alpha on the RSR (which doesn’t need to be beastified, as it’s already a beast), and the RSR charges in. Now as the enemy model is on negative flips, either it’s a master/henchman, in which case it might use soulstones (in which case “fine, burn through soulstones, see if I care”), or it’s not, in which case it shouldn’t be too difficult for RSR to get up to a straight flip on damage, and that delicious severe damage mark. This also has the bonus, that the enemy model trying to strike back at RSR is still on negative flips (as long as it has LoS to Marcus), so will struggle to hit RSR, or run away. At best it will have to waste an AP moving around the RSR to block LoS to Marcus… but in my experience, stuff doesn’t tend to survive that long…
Other handy attacking things to do with Alpha is the old “Acolyte firing 4 shots per turn” job. The potential (if your opponent is very weirdly placed) to give 4 models slow and force them to discard 4 cards. That’s always handy.
The other obvious trick for Alpha is positioning. Marcus tends to be pretty strong on positioning himself, but maybe he just can’t get there, or maybe you need someone else there. Whack out Alpha and job’s a good’un. How about running away? Enemy got make them suffer? You only have a moleman left? Well that moleman could (theoretically) run away 32″ in 1 turn.
What about the Myranda healing barrage?
And finally, a great little example of Alpha used well. You’re playing turf war. You have Breakthrough and Entourage. Marcus can walk 8″ towards the enemy deployment zone down a flank for the first 3 turns, while still casting Alpha on something in the centre, giving him awesome force projection in the centre where it counts, but he is actually always moving towards his personal goal of being in the enemy deployment zone with 2 scheme markers.
I think generally, my use of Alpha can be summarised as giving models which are harder hitting than Marcus, or in a better position, more attacks, without needing to put Marcus at risk, or while Marcus is doing other things. It’s one of those things which I never consciously thought “I wonder if Alpha will work here”. There’re just some situations where it seems the logical approach, particularly with Howard, Joss, Cerberus and (I imagine) the rail golem.

ok, so maybe that post hasn’t actually told you anything about how and when I use Alpha, because I just don’t know! I guess just look at where Marcus is, and think to yourself whether you could get more use out of someone else activating again….?

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my little foray into the wonderful world of Alpha. Don’t worry if you aren’t a Marcus fan, I won’t be doing this for every action out there, this one just seems to stump a lot of people, and be dead straightforward for others.
Next time I’ll be talking about… something else. Oh, and new Marcus crew update: I’ve basecoated the bases, and the cerberus now has 3 heads (ie it’s going very slowly).
Until next time
*by “requested” I mean “I gave a bunch of possible posts, and a few people said this one was marginally less awful than the others”
** Yes, I realise Lilith is thematically the representative of “nature” in Malifaux, Marcus is more about primal instincts and the raw power of the wild, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to make the title of the post a hilarious toilet joke.


4 responses to “Answering a call of nature

  1. RSR and/or Myranda engages enemy (master). Marcus Alpha’s enemy……..enemy disengages and suffers Wicked disengaging strikes.

    • Indeed, that’s a handy way to get rid of enemies who have strong defensive triggers (because you just choose not to use the trigger). It’s very “severe intensive” though. I’m still not quite sure if they can damage prevent either. It looks like as the Marcus player is controlling the model, he decides whether to damage prevent.

      Anyway, I tend to avoid doing that, as I find it somewhat ungentlemanly. Exceptions however, include “if my opponent wants a highly competitive game”, and “if my opponent is using Jacob Lynch” (because Lynch deserves every last scrap of filth from the bottom of the barrel).

      It’s worth knowing about, but not something I’d tend to use.

      • Note: second last question on page 1 of the Nov 2013 FAQ answers my damage prevention question. The Marcus player would control damage prevention… Now that IS filthy

  2. Thanks for giving me a lot to think about. In my first game with Marcus (my only game so far) I pretty much discounted using Alpha at all. Now I will definitely reconsider…

    So many damn synergies to remember!

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