Malifaux Factions:
Embrace Freedom With The Arcanists

Jun 08, 2015
Malifaux Marcus

In my first article on Malifaux, I made it a point to talk about the sheer variety of flavor and play-styles that are available to try out. There's something for everyone, and as people play the game, they often find they have a favorite faction: one that really captures either a particular way to approach war-games in general, or their thematic backstories resonate with them as a player.

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Fight for freedom the smart way: with twelve foot steel golems!

After three years, the Arcanists of Malifaux are still my go to. Sure, I've flirted with the Guild, with the Neverborn, with the Ten Thunders and Outcasts... but in the end, I always find myself being drawn back to the Arcanists. Let me show you why for me, these underdogs are my favorite faction in this dystopian other-world.

The Arcanists are Diverse in Flavor and Style

It's hard to get bored with these guys, for the simple reason that they are such an eclectic mix of characters. You have magical cults working right next to mechanical constructs; your crew can be smugglers at a burlesque while also having tamed tigers and bears at your side. There's an incredible range of play-styles and model sculpts that are available just inside this one faction, from being reliant on dangerous ranged magic, to the durability of machinery, to simple smoke and mirrors to be in the right place at the right time.


Magic and Metal combine often in this faction

This diversity isn't just in play-style and models to paint, but also in the characters themselves. It's something that you notice when looking across the full range of the game, and I find myself often wondering if this was a willful choice by the designers, or a subconscious byproduct because of the underdog-esque themes that the Arcanists represent. Either way, this faction has the most diverse range of human models in the game. You range from the criminal and very Russian Rasputina, to the immigrant workers that work in the steamfitters union, to characters that are still running from slavery. Like many people, I find myself drawn to the idea of the underdog, of the oppressed trying to free themselves of control by oppressing influences. For this reason, the Arcanists will continue to fascinate me. It's also for that reason that I'm willing to make a controversial claim...

Arcanists are the Good Guys

I know this is going to draw some debate, but it's one I'm willing to take up. In the world of Malifaux, it is very, very hard to assign a faction as truly good or evil: in fact, that's really a hallmark of many war games. It's a way to keep interest, healthy debate, and lots of pretext as to why these organizations would be going to fight each other over and over again. With that being said, the Arcanists are the closest we get to a full faction of good guys, in my opinion.


Some of the most human stories in Malifaux come out of the Arcanists faction

The reason I say this is because of the main thematic wish that they have across the board: freedom. In every Master's backstory, they are pursuing the ability to be who they are, without the control of the government or others weighing them down. While some members of the Guild truly have noble causes (Lady Justice, C. Hoffman), the Guild faction as a whole is one about control and maintaining power. Sure, the Resurectionists and Neverborn are also pursuing freedom, but they also show time and time again that they don't have any regard for a regular human's life, cutting and killing without any pretext.

In general, the Masters and main characters that make up the Arcanists aren't just easy to relate to, but also want freedom for the others around them. Toni Ironsides comes from an oppressed family line where her parents were sold into slavery by the Guild, but the story we have for her so far still has her saving a helpless Guildman's life. Mei Feng in any of her stories comes across as furious, ready to rise up about the working conditions that the immigrants from the Three Kingdoms are being put through. Even very flawed characters like Rasputina have this element: in the cult of December, she actively freed the women from the oppression from the men, who had previously cut out their tongues. She comes across as cruel, but also actively works to keep a terrible Tyrant at bay from re-emerging in Malifaux.


The Cult of December is dark, but fighting against things much darker

I'll fully agree that there's some selfishness in some of the motives, and some of their methods are certainly questionable. In general however, while many are certainly doing jerk things, what they are perusing is freedom and personal happiness, not control and not wholesale murder. That's something that I can get behind, 100%.

Arcanists are Sneaky Jerks

Now, that being said, the other reason why I love the Arcanists is because they come at you sideways. They don't always have the raw firepower that the Guild has, they don't have the durability of the Resurectionists, and they certainly don't have the numbers that the Gremlins can throw at you. Their models can excel in a particular field, but as my friend put it, they always seem to cost a little extra because of that.


You'll have to work to make certain abilities and skills work effectively, but when they go off, it's worth it!

The Arcanists are specialists, plain and simple, and because of that, you need to play their crews in a particular fashion, mostly patterned after the Master you choose. Picking the right models to build synergy is a requirement here, because you often can't win outright fights. Support pieces are king, helping grease the wheels, re-positioning models that normally wouldn't be worth their point cost without the dynamics between Arcanist models.

For people I teach Malifaux to, I usually give this advice when playing against the Arcanists: if you let them play the game they want, if you let them set up and organize, you are going to lose. These rebels thrive when they tilt the battlefield to play by their own internal logic. If you start to let Marcus turn your models into beasts, or give Mei Feng time to drop scheme markers to teleport to, they've now got things solidly in their favor.

With all of that already on the table, let's move on to individual looks at the Masters of the Arcanists. Keep that high reliance on internal synergy in mind, because each crew has their own method of getting things moving in their favor.

Victor Ramos, The Mechanical Mastermind

Victor Ramos is the leader of the Miners and Steamfitters Union, and is the closest thing that the Arcanists have to a leader. He's probably the most ambitious as well; he wants to take power away from the Guild's monopoly on soulstones and mining operations, and set up a little bit of his own industry in it's place. Of course, he certainly wants the freedom to practice magic his own way, that of machinery and metal.


We lovingly call him 'Science Wizard Grandpa' in my gaming store

Ramos has an affinity for constructs, and so his crews are almost entirely mechanical creations of his own design. He certainly loves the spider design, which can be seen from his devastating human/machine hybrid Howard Langston, to the small arachnids he can actually summon during the battle, three at a time. Through and through, Ramos is a support master, one that builds steam through the destruction of his own constructs through combat, which both heals him and lets him often summon more and more spiders to take their place. This lets him overwhelm objectives, and also keep enemies slowed down in waves of smaller spiders, which also reduce their defense. He can then use lightning from range to pick people off since he can fire into combat, or send in his large lethal models in to clean up.


If you enjoy explosions, you'll enjoy this model!

He's a great master, and his style can be quick to grasp. Also, his crew relies on armor for survivability, so he would be a good starter crew for anyone looking at this faction. The only caveat is the need to buy another set of spiders to really get the most use out of him, and one of my favorite models in the game, the Electrical Creation. If you are playing him right, he'll often get stronger as the fight goes on, as you let your army of small metal spiders overwhelm and bog down your opponent.

Rasputina, The Ice Witch

This poor woman came to Malifaux for freedom, but ended up in way over her head. Rasputina was a criminal who the Tyrant December chose as their own personal avatar. Suddenly given decimating magic and a rather intimidating cult to run, Rasputina chose the hard way: both running the cult, and also resisting December's push back into the material realm. You know what they say about what comes with great power...

Fortunately, Rasputina has power, in spades. She is often what people refer to as the classic glass cannon style crew in Malifaux, which isn't entirely wrong. With only four defense and a measly three inch walk, she's slow and fragile, lacking the armor of her icy constructs. This is where her particular synergy kicks into play to make up for this issue: using a trick called Ice Mirror, she can bounce spells off other figures that are considered to be part of the cult, both giving her a much more dangerous reach and keeping her out of direct line of sight as well.


The models in the base box are phenomenal sculpts, and offer such a different look to other Arcanist crews

Something that many Arcanist groups can do well is layer on blast damage, meaning their attacks echo to hit more than one model at a time. When Rasputina manages a cascading hit from 20 inches away, it's...well, just watch your opponent's faces. Learn how to use the movement support abilities of these characters well (like the Ice Golem actually throwing smaller models towards your enemies!), and this is a solid crew. It's a great box for beginners, having most of what you need to bring winter already.

Marcus, The Beastmancer

Marcus is an enigma, even in Malifaux. In the progressive, industrial push of the last century, mages are working towards blending metal and science, or simply discovering ways to harness the elements directly as more options open to them. Going against the grain, Marcus has chosen a different path: stepping away from society and into the terrifying wilds of Malifaux to master something else entirely. He wants to control life itself, to be able to change and sculpt it over time as he sees fit. I could go on about his backstory for way too long, so if you like the lore of Malifaux, I would certainly suggest reading up on the previous stories with him in it.


On paper, Marcus doesn't seem to work: his models can hit hard, but go down easy as well as being very expensive. However, don't let this dissuade you, because Marcus is a support Master that just so happens to have a toolkit too large to wrap your head around. His own damage profile looks weak, until you realize that he has upgrades that can let him practically double those numbers, move quicker, or even just charge as single actions: it's mutable as he sculpts himself as he sees fit, either to become more durable, faster to manipulate the battlefield, or launching himself forward for one good hit-and-run attack.

The real abilities in this crew come from the fact that he's not so much a Beastmaster, but someone that sculpts primal life force onto those around him. He can give enemies the beast characteristic, then take direct control of any model that's listed as a beast. He can also simply weaken those changed enemies to where they can't resist his attacks or mind control. Add this onto his ability to hire any beast in the game, even outside his own faction, and Marcus becomes a very intimidating person to see on the field, since you don't know what toolbox he's bringing with him. He's certainly not a starting Master, but he's worth your time to look at.

Mei Feng, The Revolutionary

Mei Feng is angry; it's not an emotion, more of a fact of life. Every story that references her has her pissed as hell about the conditions of the average worker on the rail lines of Malifaux. The only duel-faction Master in the Arcanists, Mei Feng is a mixture of the Arcanists ability to make constructs and carry armor, while her Ten Thunder influences play up hard hitting finesse that they are known for.


She's fun to play, just because she's brings Bruce Lee style action against the undead and other terrible monsters

She's a really fun hybrid that I honestly need to play more of in second edition to feel out all of her options. I typically play her with an Arcanist set of models, which are all meant to play off durability and staying power. Her signature style is how many triggers she has off her attacks, and how many of those triggers let her keep dropping attacks while also re-positioning herself. Consider this with her Railwalker ability, which allows her to teleport to nearby friendly constructs or scheme markers, and you have a really fun crew. Your durable models hold down the fort, while Mei Feng leaps in to play clean up, being able to quickly be in several places at once.

Toni Ironsides, The Brawler

Dana and I have a running joke that Mei Feng and Ironsides are essentially Street Fighter characters, and it isn't exactly a bad way to start talking about either one. Both are professionals at melee combat, but while Mei Feng is the agile martial artist, Ironsides is that person in any action movie that only seems to get stronger the more you hit them.

Armed with brass knuckles, Ironsides wades in with a whopping 14 health and her own personal mechanic called Adrenaline. Every round if she has any, it fades away and heals her little by little, but she would much rather use up stored stacks of it to bludgeon you to death. Let's think about the melee powerhouse, the Guild's Lady Justice whose regular attacks can easily double Ironsides' paltry regular knuckles attack. However, with adrenaline stacked several times, Toni can punch, spend some to lead into an uppercut (which deals as much damage as a great-sword, plus gives out slow), and then do it again, getting four attacks with two action points.


The most hilarious thing about her might be her defensive trick, where if you damage her, she automatically gets to punch you back without an attack flip. Even better, she has a lure ability, which forces the enemy to attack her at the end of a charge for free. It seems ridiculous - and it is - but in the best possible way. I've lured snipers into range... and then walloped them senseless when they couldn't attack me with anything but a rifle butt.

This crew is absolutely fun, but there's a lot of risk/reward that takes some time to get used to. Ironsides is protected by auras that her minions, the Oxford mages, bring with them, so playing with the ranges on those, as well as keeping your squishy sidekicks safe, is another factor that makes this a really fun second crew, but maybe not a first.

Anasalea Kaeris, The Arsonist

Who doesn't like fire? This is the one question you have to ask yourself before you purchase this crew. It's also something you should taunt your foes with as you reach for the matches when playing a game as Kaeris. It's hard for me to talk rationally about this crew at the moment, because quite honestly, it's my favorite crew to throw on the table right now.


One of my greatest things to do with this crew is watch models twice your size fall due to stacked burning conditions

Kaeris will always look really weak on paper the first time you see her. Her entire base crew has low wound counts, and both her and her henchman's primary attacks only stack the burning condition, an effect that causes damage at the end of a turn. Look around though, and you start to see the possibilities: the fire gamin that come in this box always drop burning, and there are so many wonderful Arcanist models that stack burning tokens on top of damage too. Hell, her base crew models come with the defensive trigger Smoldering Heart, which means that if you miss an attack against them, there's a good chance you'll just burst into flame because they're angry with you. It feels really, really good when a turn ends, and you watch your opponent's eyes go wide as you casually call out that three of his models are taking 4-5 damage, just because.

That isn't just all she can do though: the gunsmiths are really fun models that don't give out much burning themselves, but get added bonuses to attacking anyone already on fire, making it easier to take out targets you already started bruising. In some of the more interesting upgrades to Kaeris, you can actually light your own models on fire to heal them, or give them temporary flight and the chance to put down free scheme markers. While the crew certainly is offensively minded, with a little trickery you can become very skilled at objective grabbing, just like any other Arcanist crew. Kaeris is a winner, and I will always recommend her because she's just simply fun to play.

Colette Du Bois, The Trickster

I think every faction has that one Master that makes people groan when they hit the table. It's often the one that doesn't play by the rules, who gains a reputation for being able to sucker punch or manipulate the game board in crazy, infuriating ways. It's a safe assumption to say that Colette is certainly one of these, which is a hilarious twist on how in the story, she's the one portrayed as being trapped in the whims of the more powerful groups around her.


Dancing mannequins with giant blade arms: what can go wrong?

Colette Du Bois manages the most famous and luxurious burlesque and variety show troupe in Malifaux, and her girls blend illusion and true magic to put on a performance to astound and amaze. With the help of the mechanical mannequins that are part of her show, Colette both keeps suspicious eyes off the rest of the Steamfitters Union, and helps smuggle supplies as needed. To show this, a lot of her abilities and skills are based around scheme markers being dropped, more frequently and easily than even other Arcanist models.

These guys can be great at winning at schemes, but they are also capable of bursts of extreme violence. The Coryphee Duet is a model that legitimately scares people when it's dropped on the board: it only has 7 health, and costs 14 soulstones to bring, but once it's warmed up, no one ever wants to tangle with it thanks to the set of attacks and bonuses it can use. The scheme markers that are dropped earlier can be used by many models to improve attacks and also dance around the battlefield. These guys are tough to learn, but like many crews in the game, the pay off can certainly be worth it.

Rebels With A Cause


So there you have it: all seven of the Masters, and their very varied and fun styles. If you are looking at miniatures and Malifaux for the first time, I would certainly recommend playing as Arcanists, just because you will never be bored with the options at your fingertips. If you are someone that already plays the game, why not pick up that one crew that really speaks to you? There's something here for everyone, and that mixed with some honestly compelling flavor behind their reasons to fight the Guild, the Neverborn, and anyone that gets in their way...well I'm not sure why everyone wants to play my favorite faction. I guess that's the fun of disagreeing though: giving you a constant excuse to put your crews to the test against each other.

Now, if you excuse me, I have to go back to figuring out different ways to light Dana's armies on fire. Happy gaming!

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Wyatt Krause

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