Thursday, 2 March 2017

Asami: managing the cards

So, I've been having another of my enforced breaks from Malifaux. But a brief ray of sunlight broke through the clouds and I got to have a game against Insidiously Mad.

This year I'm going back to Ten Thunders for a bit to try out some models I've picked up, but not used yet. Top of the list is Asami. The TT summoning master. I'm not going into much detail about the game, except to illustrate my thoughts on Asami and her she can be run. This post is about her and her crew mechanics. Is she a summoning daemon, or should she being a buffing tool box?

I took

Asami: Grasping Strands, Heavenly Design
Sensai Yu: Low River Style
Ohaguro Bettari
Katanaka Sniper
Shadow Effigy
*I had Yokai and Obsidian Oni in the case. Ama No Zaka was at home and I hadn't built the Shadow Emissary or the Jogorumo yet. I didn't have proxies for the Terracotta Warriors or the upgrade deck (it is with a friend!)

I faced
Sensai Yu
Strong Arm Suit
Low River Monk
Terracotta Warrior

I was very excited to run her and some old TT favourites. I haven't read the schemes for 2017, so I decided to build a general crew. The strategy was reckoning and I took Mark for Death and another killy one. 
My initial plan was to use Asami to pull some high value targets into Izamu and back him up with sudden charges from summoned Yokai and Bettari. Long story short, this failed miserably. I'm not going into a whole recital of the battle itself. I am more interested in highlighting some of the things that struck me about Asami and her crew.

Ok, first thing I noticed is how card hungry she is. She has Rush of Magic to draw the extra card. That's a help. Unfortunately she didn't have any other tricks in the build I used. A typical hand has 1 good card, 1 average card, 1 poor card and three useless cards below four and without a useful suit. So playing with Rush of Magic and a Soulstone will get that to 1 good card, 2 average, 1 poor and three useless. This is awkward as you do need those stones for summoning. When I play a summoning master, I count myself lucky to get off three summons in a game. I'm not sure if this is typical, but that was what I experienced with 6 months playing Nicodem, although at least he had a better hand sometimes.

The build I took, really, really didn't emphasise extra card drawing enough. In the next game I absolutely will be looking for better ways to draw a hand. To try to take the pressure off my hand, I will try to get focus a bit more for my crew. 

The build also didn't contain enough Oni. So much of what Asami can do is built around the Oni. Her buffs, her heals, her summons. They all focus on that. 

Izamu was a waste of space as usual. Df4 is a killer and armour 2 is useless in most games so he died easily enough. I've never had a game where I took him and didn't regret it (no matter which master). He is just pointless.

Bettari was also useless. No defensive abilities, no way to kill enemy models. Sure she can bypass defence triggers but that isn't relevant as with MI6, she will be doing min damage on one hit a turn at best. Most models will ignore it, or heal it. That will leave her engaged and dead very quickly. I could perhaps see her as being ok to hunt some 4ss scheme runners, but overall she is totally useless and will stay on the shelf. I can't see the point of her or why she costs 8ss. The ability to ignore LOS to charge stuff is only any good if the model can actually do something. You won't be able to cheat flips with her as the one good card from your hand a turn will be for Asami to summon or try to avoid being killed. 

The Shadow Effigy is always a nice piece in TT. It doesn't seem to have a good fit in the Asami crew due to the desperate need for her to have Oni so I'll be dropping it in future. Shame as it is a hardy little 4ss.

Sensai Yu was also good, but didn't get a chance to shine in this game. Again, I think that him not being an Oni, and with Asami having pushes, pulls and summoning, means he isn't quite as essential to her crew as he is to some TT crews. It is a tough call. He is such a good model, but very pricey. I'm going to try leaving him out and taking Chiaki instead. She can do heal and remove the slow on the summoned models, which is a big thing. I'm torn though. I think perhaps he would be better included with Wandering River Style to push scheme makes for Asami. 

Very quick summary of the battle; My sniper took an opening shot at a peasant but failed to hurt it. A fast Lazarus killed the sniper. Izamu did nothing and was killed with ease by the Strong-arm suit. Sensai Yu did a great job holding up attacks, suffering damage and healing. Bettari did nothing useful. Only the Shadow Effigy actually did well in combat, consistently hitting Shenlong, but of course only doing 1 damage! The summoned Yokai were surprisingly ineffective. Terrain was a disaster for Asami and them, getting in the way of their places and pushes. 

Shenlong 9VP, already won the game on T3, Asami 1VP after a desperate T5 scramble to kill a Low River Monk. We only played T4 & T5 to let me practice with Asami a bit more, but we could have called it on T3.

Ok, this is where things get really tricky. I'm going to talk about my thinking about the Fire and Forget method of summoning. The style of moving up and pinging out disposable models.

Models summoned in get 1 Flicker and Slow and can't Interact on the turn that they are summoned. That probably makes them useful for one turn. Amanjaku can boost Flicker by 1 on a model as a 1(AP) action. That seems useful and will get the model to the next turn without evaporating. On the downside, that means he has to be carefully positioned to be in range of the summoned model at the right time. That's not possible for everything you summon. Some models therefore are going to disappear at the end of a turn. The whole key to Asami seems to be to get her to be near where you want a summon, able to drag an enemy close, summon a model, have it charge and then accept it disappears at the end of the turn. That requires a high card and a stone to summon the model. The model can charge for (1)AP. That's fine. Yokai especially like this with their frenzied charge. The huge problem is what happens next. You have used your good card and a stone. You might have been able to give the charging model focus to help, but that's not likely as Asami will probably have used all her AP by then Move, Grasping Tendrils, Summon. So you have been left with a  charge that doesn't have any positives or any cards in your hand of three remaining cards that will help. Mostly likely outcome is min damage from a  Yokai with no cards that you can use to cheat the negative damage flip with if you are lucky enough to get the Flay trigger on Masks. Min damage 2, usually reduced, ignored or healed. If you burn a flicker you can use the inbuilt trigger to up your damage flips, but since you have a poor hand and will have flipped a low to average card on your attack, it is pretty irrelevant. 

Having done 2 damage your Yokai will be exposed, leaving Asami out in the open. Your opponent will have a model that can push, gain fast and do a 3/4/5 spread minimum ready for a counter attack. Asami will therefore be wounded badly and lose around 2 soulstones. 

This leaves you on T3/4 with a near guarantee she will be dead. 

I can't see a way to avoid such a fragile master being killed with ease if she goes with the fire and forget summoning style only. She isn't as good as it as Molly or Kirai. She has no real defences, and relies solely on positional play to avoid death. That can be ok, but with so many high walk, high MI models that can be pushed and have fast and focus before they actually use an AP, she will mostly be facing something that has pushed to within charge range and will have at least 3 AP, has MI 6 or 7 with a double or triple positive attack, a nasty trigger, with three high cards in hand. Usually your opponent will have at least one of these models, probably two. I just can't see Asami being a survive the whole game master. I think that if she is alive on T4, unless you have hid her, you have been very lucky. As her crew crumbles without her, I think that she has to score and impact the game on T2 &3. 

That changes I think if you don't go into the fire and forget only trap. 

I think that the way forward is probably to build a more Oni focused crew from the beginning, and then use Asami to buff it, only summoning once/twice a game opportunistically. Models like the Terracotta Warrior, Jogorumo and Ama No Zaka seem like essential hires for her. Trying to summon a Jogorumo is pretty pointless, even in the extremely unlikely event you have a 13 and a soulstone in the right place at the right time, it will only disappear at the end of the turn without doing more than a couple of wounds. I could totally see hiring one though.

Being able to heal herself on a (0) using An Insatiable Hunger at the cost of a scheme marker is awesome. Especially as it is scheme markers within 2, not just friendly scheme markers. The downside is it needs a 6 so you will be using the average card to cheat the flip. That means if you have already summoned, you now are probably left holding a 4, a 2 and a couple of 1s.  

Card management
Some people have said I'm overly pessimistic about my hands (this is people who have never played me). People who have played me instead suggest I get a new deck, someone else to flip my cards, or switch to dice or running Lynch to use the aces. I'm very used to playing with what is effectively a two card hand every turn.  My typical hand spread will be 10 or 11 (good card), 6 (average), 5 (poor), 3 (useless), and two 2s (useless). I don't usually succeed on flips off the deck. I don't know what difference a more "average" hand would make to playing Asami, so I can't really do an analysis on these. It is always easy for opponents who have played me to know when I've used my one good cheat of the turn so my regular group know exactly when I've shot my bolt.

I will assume players with better hands could perhaps do more than one summons or an above minimum damage attack. To put it in perspective, it took me using both Bettari and Asami to kill a Low River Monk that had not gone defensive. 

So, how to shift the odds a bit? Well Rush of Magic is a help, and of course if you ease off the summoning you can use the stones for extra card drawing. I love card drawing and cycling. It is up there with AP management as being a pillar of the game. When I switched to Pandora last year, a lot of people thought that I did so much better with her because of her evil shennanigans. That slightly misunderstands what is good about Pandora. What makes her really powerful is being able to draw a huge hand if she has the Primordial Magic and Wings of Darkness, and putting immense pressure on an opponents hand through sheer volume of flips. She is brilliant at hand manipulation and hand dictation. 

Asami as a summoner and buffer really needs to get her card management right. I think she will need to have the Equality upgrade in her crew as my opponent will always score at least 1 VP a turn.  Nefarious Pact seems to be an essential upgrade too to get the card at end of activation. I'll also be looking to get focus on models a lot more so that more cards are flipped on attacks, easing pressure on my natural hand. If I can get some better cards in hand, draw more and perhaps put the Fate of Mortals on something then I might actually get a bit of card mojo going. This isn't up there with Molly and Philip & the Nanny but still, maybe it will make things a bit easier. 

I'm very excited for my next game as I will have a Jogorumo assembled and ready to play, along with the Shadow Emissary. It should be fun seeing how a more Oni focused crew actually performs on the table. 

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