Fixed lists: Inherently flawed, or essential for learning?

For the umpteenth time this year, I suck at Malifaux. Yep, still sucking away like a vacuum but I enjoy the game and the models that come with it. Some advice given to me about a month ago included choosing a master that I loved using/the background of, etc and make a fixed list under that master. Then, proceed to lose game after game until I know which schemes and strategies I can accomplish; when to activate which models; which models to pick fights with and how good the models I’m currently using are. This advice came from the best chap in my local group who’s practically unbeatable but every game is fully enjoyable. It was surprising to hear that, like me, he started out losing essentially every game until he just kept playing the same list until everything was second nature.

Kinda like this, only I usually get VP...eventually.

Kinda like this, only I usually get VP…eventually.

Once you know what the individual crew members can do, it’s easier to accomplish schemes and strats. So far, I’m getting there though, I just need to figure out what to use the last 6ss on. A trip to one of the faction groups on the Book of Faces for advice soured me a bit. Nevertheless, I’ll think of something. In any case, other advice from my local group included not using a fixed list due to not knowing factions beforehand (really only my henchman who plays multiple factions) and that strats/schemes/terrain will all be different. It’s solid advice, but I need to learn the following: Activation order, deployment, which models excel at <insert role> and scheme selection. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see which schemes I should’ve picked and can see when and how I could’ve gotten at least 2VP from them.

This irks me but at least I can make a note of things to differently in future games. An example of this is selecting ‘Mark for Death’ over ‘Exhaust their forces’ as the former isn’t AP/activation dependent. Mark a model, kill it, score VP. Another game had me select ‘Hunting Party’ and hire only one model that could get the VP for me- Hunting Party gives VP when either a Henchman or Enforcer kills something. I took just a single henchman. My brain is a traitor to the cause.

While I do see the obvious downsides in sticking to one list, I do feel it’s necessary for me to grow better at the game and start the road to winning. Other advice given to me was instead to make a core crew of 30ss and tweak from there. I might do this, as it gives me a decent amount of fixed crew to gain familiarity with.

The proposed core crew:

  • Lilith (4)
    • Beckon Malifaux
    • Wicked Mistress
    • Living blade
  • Angel Eyes (10)
    • Strange alliances
  • Scion of Black Blood (8)
  • Terror Tot (4)
  • Terror Tot (4)
Swords are stabby!

Swords are stabby!

Which is 30ss and gives me 5 activations, A Master, 1 Henchman, 1 Enforcer and 2 minions. If this was used in a 35ss game, I’d probably add in a totem and gain extra stones. As it stands I see I have a bit of ranged support, 2 scheme runners and some condition removal. To me, it feels like a solid enough list, though I need to put that to the test. Unsure if I should replace the tots with bloodwretches and just build the core from the starter set models to have a 35ss core but we’ll see.

Tis a short post, but I’d much rather hear your thoughts on whether or not having a large portion of a crew being fixed is a good learning tool.

-The Warlock

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  • Thuloid

    I don’t know this game, but I’m not sure that matters. Playing a fixed list, even a subpar one, is important to really figuring out how a faction works. Variation should come incrementally from that baseline.

    Until you’ve got that foundation in place, making rapid and radical list changes is just going to confuse you–this seemed to work (for one game), so it’s good, right? Not necessarily. I have to account for luck, for how I use that particular piece, for my opponent ignoring it (or over-focusing on it), for the specific matchup. When you’re relatively new to a game or a specific faction, individual games give you information overload, and you tend to draw too-broad conclusions from flukey events.

    E.g., when I jumped into 8th edition Warhammer Fantasy after 10 years away from it, I put out a Skaven list with a couple blocks of 40 slaves, and promptly saw both of them evaporate in their first round of combat when they failed re-rollable 10s on leadership tests. I then avoided using slave blocks for several months, which was incredibly stupid of me. Slaves are good; I was just very unlucky. I knew the math, so could conclude that I was unlucky, but I had never seen the slaves get a good outcome, so my thinking was still skewed.

    • The Warlock

      That’s where I’m a tad undecided on whether I should do a 30-35ss core crew and use 15-20ss to tweak for strats and schemes (essentially mission parameters) or go whole hog and make a full 50ss fixed list.

      Luck is a huge part of it too, given how probability works for cards. It’s why I’d rather the fixed list as I want to learn rather than mindlessly picking the best tools and going to town. Winning isn’t important, it’s the learning process that enables me to get towards a win.

      What got on my nerve when I asked the faction group on FB I received a lot of “take this model” and “I notice the doppelganger is absent from your list” rather than actual advice. I’d like to write a post on why recommending certain models time and time again can be detrimental to overall list building. Surely if I took the advice from the faction group on FB, then my list would be changed to the same cookie cutter Lilith list that people use in tournaments. Additionally, how does it benefit me in my aim to improve skill if I turn up with a powerful list and go to town?

      • Thuloid

        Not only that, but there’s very little advantage in such an environment to playing exactly what everyone else is. Unless the game is very badly balanced (one right way to build each faction, and not even much rock-paper-scissors), you’re just conceding that matches are all essentially mirror matches.

        The crowd often undervalues things with a steeper learning curve. Take your time and really learn what’s available, and you’ll find things that work for you that not everybody knows how to do.

  • nurglitch

    I think fixed lists are necessary for competition, but not for learning. Pre-set scenarios would be helpful for learning, like how Chess problems are presented.

    • The Warlock

      I agree, though it’s difficult to do with Malifaux as set schemes and strategies would skew crew construction too much. It’ll also come down to who can negate the other crew’s ability to score VP more than anything else.

  • Cedric Ballbusch

    I know nothing of Malifaux other than that I have to copy + paste the name into comments in order to avoid checking the spelling three times.

    Fixed lists are more or less a feature of most historical games. So, I’m used to very limited options for variance. But, overall practicing your tool kit is better than trying to find new tools.

    That said, I like the element of surprise, so I tend to select armies that few people have ever seen before. It puts your opponent off balance if he doesn’t know what you can do. Pick something super exotic and stick to learning that.

    • The Warlock

      Super exotic at this point is Titania, Queen of the Fae and her crew. This is because they’re new models and the Wave 4 book has just been released and her crew won’t be out for general release until June next year.

      Other exotic things includes the “I’ve never had X model work for me” or “you should drop Y from your list”. Reiterating what I said to Thuloid, I’m not a huge fan of certain models being recommended as the ‘be all, end all’ solution to lists. Malifaux is pretty balanced, granted outliers do exist but overall lists are pretty varied. That said, I do see the same models being recommended over and over, which can’t be good for the game.

      • Thuloid

        Right, as I said above, a lot of this is about difficulty of learning something. The obvious and straightforward will be preferred over the more subtle by most players.

        • The Warlock

          Sadly that’s probably how 40k gets that mono-build to be viable line of thought. Sure there’s balance issues across the board, but Eldar are good across the board yet it’s some combination of Wraithknights, Scatterbikes and Warp Spiders that see the field

      • Cedric Ballbusch

        I have no idea how many lists are available in the game or the frequency with which they are played. So, rare or exotic might not be an option. I have just found that in my limited experience that dropping something rarely seen on the table–FoW Romanians, WHFB Chaos Dwarfs, 40K anything from Chapter Approved (RIP), DBA Uighur Empire, etc.–can put an experience on his back foot and even the playing field if you’re not totally sure what you’re doing.

        Obviously if the game doesn’t have piles of ignored lists hiding in the back of old supplements this is less possible.

  • David Sell

    I am very much a Malifaux player, and I can honestly say that I would pick a 50SS list, and run with it. Keep running with it, and ignore all of those people who tell you that Master X/Model Y can’t achieve Scheme/Strategy Z. Just use what you have. Eventually, you will have enough experience to see that “for this role, I could use a different model to more effect” but until you have the familiarity, its harder. For example, everyone knows that terror tots are amongst the best scheme runners. Except I don’t use them, because I have other models that fit my playstyle better. Ignore the received wisdom, play a fixed list until you have it down, and THEN switch out and try some of the models for the community favourites.

  • Von

    The forces with which I have done best, over the years, are those which I picked based on my own instinct for synergies, checked against the currently advocated Internet nonsense, and not changed until ten games in, win or lose. I know myself – too many actors make my brain melt, I like to introduce chaos into the play and capitalise on the situation which means my troops need to be reliable and able to open multiple vectors of attack, and there’s very little point in me playing anything but undead or I won’t care enough to try. With that knowledge I should be able to build a list and sodding stick with it.