A disclaimer: thanks to some great feedback on my article about Malifaux's Neverborn, I got a personal request to talk about my main squeeze, Jacob Lynch. The finer points of playing Lynch are a little implicit, so I outlined his general strengths and weaknesses. If you're not familiar with Malifaux, you might want to come back when you're more familiar with the core rules. If you want to learn more about being an effective jerk to others in a miniatures game, read on.
I started playing Malifaux just at the tail end of the last edition. Jakob Lynch was my first master. I was drawn in by the detailed, horrific designs of the bestial Illuminated and the prospect of chopping the Hungering Darkness into something that looked less like a worm you'd find under a rock. I played about two games with the original Lynch crew, and I thought he was just the tops. He had a skill that let you get free victory points if you had a five card straight in your hand. Moving into second edition, his flavor is still really great, and his mechanics support that. Even more so in M2E, dealing out Brilliance feels like a death sentence. Unfortunately you can't just seal the game on turn one by getting lucky, but you never need luck if you just cheat as hard as Lynch does.
Lynch is focused on card manipulation, and his models are really solid, if a little expensive. Overall, I think Lynch and his crew make for really a good entry-level set. The mechanics aren't incredibly complicated, but he's still all-around powerful enough to take on most any crew and do well. I feel that the majority of schemes and strategies are achievable with clever play using the Dark Debts crew.
The man himself. With a wound count of 10 and lower-than-average stats across the board, Lynch is not terribly exciting on paper. His power lies not in his stats, though, but in the effect that he has on the game when his card manipulation skills come into play. The two most important skills in my opinion are his Ace in the Hole passive and his (0) act Mulligan . Ace in the Hole allows you to pick up any aces that are sent to the discard pile during another friendly model's activation. That includes anything you cheat with or flip during attacks and spells. This doesn't include anything he does during his own turn, or cards flipped on your opponent's activation. Mulligan lets you discard up to three cards and then draw that many cards. With those two abilities you can have Lynch activate near the end of your turn and massage your hand to set up a powerful hand of above-average cards for the next turn. I'm fairly certain that because of his ability to constantly have a really, really great hand of high cards Wyrd decided to give him only a single piddly soulstone in his cache. Any more would make his control over the game just too good.
Ace in the Hole has other implicit benefits. You can discard any ace to abilities such as Flurry and Defensive stance then pick them right back up again. This means that you are getting benefits without the cost that the other player has to pay. How does it feel to be the one percent?
His defensive trigger Hold 'em is just a nice bonus for when Lynch is getting attacked, which is hopefully not often.
Infiltration is usually a very helpful ability, but in Lynch's case I find it rather useless. The only dual faction Darkened are Mr. Tannen, Mr. Graves, and the Illuminated, and as far as I can tell every single other Darkened model is in Neverborn. If you're in Neverborn, the Infiltration is useless, and if you're playing him in Ten Thunders (which is a good idea, and I'll explain it more below.) then you can only pick four of his models to bring along from Neverborn.
None For Me , while having a really lame name, is more of a flavor thing as far as I can tell. It also prevents the Hungering Darkness from hitting him with Consume Brilliance. Not really exciting.On the other side of his card we have Lynch's Hold Out Pistol. With a short range and a middling Sh, this attack is mostly a dump for any aces you have to ensure the triggers you want. The damage track is mediocre but not terrible, so you're mostly doing it for the triggers, if you use it at all. The triggers are all rather self-explanatory.
Play for Blood is his second most useful ability after Mulligan. with an incredible Ca of 8, and the built in trigger to stick your opponent with brilliance, this is a VERY easy way to ping someone for two damage. I can only think of one time that I've ever actually lost a PfB duel, and that was off a Red Joker flip. Having a surefire way of tagging an enemy with brilliance is absolutely critical to this crew, and I think PfB is much more reliable than his Hold Out Pistol with the Coated Bullet Trigger.
His last (0) act is Pay Up , which is utterly inferior to Mulligan in every way unless you have zero cards when you activate Lynch, I guess? If that's the situation you're in, though, you have way bigger problems to worry about.
The Rising Sun
This upgrade lets the Hungering Darkness revive after being killed! Considering how important ol' Huggy D is, I consider this upgrade very powerful, expecially against factions that can bypass his main defensive tricks, like the Guild or the Arcanists, and to a lesser extent the Resurectionists. It requires Lynch to be near an enemy model with Brilliance when it dies, which isn't so hard if you bring Woke Up With a Hand.
I consider this the more aggressive of the two limited upgrades for Lynch. Having an extra AP on Huggy is actually really powerful, considering that his main attack and pseudo-Obey are both Ca. Having a better Terrifying is also helpful, and I would consider bringing this against a Resser player packing zombies and non-spell damage output.
Woke Up With a Hand
Personally, I always take this card. Going last with Lynch may feel restrictive, but I don't really think he does anything particularly useful going earlier unless you needed to mulligan because your entire hand is just six Black Jokers. Frankly, getting to draw two entire cards each turn on a 2 SS upgrade by itself would be worth it, just because it feeds so well into his Mulligan-for-next-turn plan. On top of that they added one of the most powerful damage output spells in the game, so thanks Wyrd, I enjoy one-shotting most things that don't have Hard to Kill. Final Debt has been erratad to only be useable once a turn, which is probably good. Once I used it to kill a full health Seamus in a single activation by using it three times in a row and that's all the evidence you need for it to be overpowered. Final Debt, combined with Play for Blood is almost a guaranteed 5-7 damage that ignores Hard to Wound and Incorporeal. It's so reliable that I consider this an always-include in every game, because he doesn't need any other units in order to pull off this combo.
I don't know about this upgrade. I've played with it and it really is fun, but the mind games you need to be able to pull off just don't make it reliable enough. Cheating an ace on your activation to make your opponent cheat down a high card feels good though, but I don't consider it worth the slot.
Wanna See a Trick
Why would you discard aces for damage when you can turn those into high cards and get a similar amount of damage to Final Debt? Granted, it doesn't require any AP, but it also kind of doesn't do as much as Woke Up With a Hand.
I consider this an upgrade for Hungering Darkness. Granting + flips for (usually) all of your minions is pretty powerful, and since your guys get bonuses for laying out Brilliance anyway, this is just another nail in the coffin. It works in addition to all of the other good stuff that your minions are doing anyway, and it's only a single point. I consider this a must-bring. Something to note is that the wording allows your Darkened models to get positives flips to ANY Brilliant model. When you use Beckoners to lure your Illuminated forward you get that bonus to the cast flip! That means more cards flipped to grab Aces, and you're less likely to have to cheat to get the self-lure to stick.
Lynch is one of the least important pieces in his crew, really. He doesn't enable the Brilliance tricks quite as well as the Hungering Darkness, his damage output and threat range can't match the Illuminated, and he doesn't have as much battlefield control as the Beckoners. Apart from enabling the card manipulation that makes the rest of his crew so reliable, and maybe shotgunning some random schmuck to death with a well timed Final Debt, I usually use his to walk around and drop scheme markers. It's not glamorous or exciting, and there are other ways to play him more upfront and aggressive, but you win the game by playing for victory points, not style points.
This is the real leader of the crew, both in fluff and how you play the game. Huggy D is a damage dealing beast. He's free, so there's literally no reason not to bring him all the time forever. He's a Henchman too, and that ability to burn soulstones is really critical because he has Df of 3, which is damn embarrassing. With 7 Wd, he's not too tough. He has Terrifying (Living) and Incorporeal, which aren't really enough to cover his pitiful defense. If someone goes to attack Huggy, they WILL hit him.
His real defense is his unholy amount of self healing. Between his Cg of 6, reach of 3, and the incorporeal ability combined with his Ht 3 to see over obstacles, he can charge through a wall and really deliver some hurt unexpectedly. He has a built in 2 wound heal on his Tendrils attack, and with a 6 Ca you can usually stick the attack. Finally, his Envelop trigger just hits like a giant truck full of meth. Even with all his self healing, I usually try to go into a game with 5 to 7 soulstones in cache to keep H.D. well covered in prevention flips. Keeping the big ugly bastard alive is a top priority. Winning without him on the table is significantly tougher.
Heed My Voice
Heed My Voice is a pseudo-Obey that only works on enemy units, but sometimes you can pull off some mean stuff with it, like making an enemy remove their own scheme marker or making someone throw themselves off a building. Usually it's better to just charge in, tentacles swinging, and go all hentai on the other team.
Consume Brilliance is Huggy's only (0) act, and it will affect your own units, so be careful. Sometimes paralyzing your own units to keep H.D. alive is worth it, and it does have the upside of potentially shutting down an enemy unit or two. Usually though, this ability is an "oh-shit" button for when Huggy is about to go down.
Huggy is the glass cannon in the crew; if you send him after some of the medium-to-large targets he can take them apart handily, especially if you can give them Brilliance beforehand. I like to soften up the enemy by sending in some Illuminated to tank a few activations' worth of attacks with their superior defenses before bringing in Huggy to take advantage.
Oh boy. These guys are in the running for "best minion in Malifaux" next to the Rotten Belles. They have really great stats, a ridiculous charge of 8, Armor, Regeneration, and Terrifying. At a pricey 7 stones, though, you aren't going to be fielding more than two of them. I've found that two is enough to get the job done though: I usually like to activate these guys after they've taken a bit of damage so that their healing comes into play. If they go first, it becomes easier for the enemy to focus them down. The Illuminated excel in extended fights when their healing can keep them out of the red zone.
Once I have the Illuminated in a scrap I like to lay out Brilliance with the Beckoners or Huggy. While his melee damage track does get +2 damage when the target has Brilliance, it should be worth noting that you can often perform a single focus boosted attack to try and get the moderate damage, or perhaps trigger flay and cheat in something for more whomping power. If it looks like your crackhead is going to get killed, and you have the opportunity to pull him out of the fight with a Beckoner, you should take it. A seven stone model isn't worth sacrificing unless it will win you the game. I've seen a Punk Zombie kill a full health Illuminated in one turn with a Flurry and some good flips.
The only trick I have for these guys is to always use Brillshaper . Even on the first turn when you are just walking forward, flipping an extra card or two is really important because it increases your chance of seeing an ace for Lynch. From a statistical standpoint there's no reason not to flip as many cards as you can, because you can't predict what's going to be coming up with any kind of certainty anyway. Sure, flipping the Red Joker during a healing flip at full wounds feels bad, but it's equally as likely to be the Black. A lot of Lynch's models flip cards aggressively, so that feeds into his plan of grabbing aces. That could be the difference between drawing the extra card off Mulligan, or not.
Before the release of the Oiran, Lynch had the dubious honor of having the only living hookers in the game. Luckily, these ladies of the evening are in much better shape than Rotten Belles, and have one of the best Lures in the game. The front of their card shows their anemic defenses: 7 Wd and 4 Df, with no real defensive tricks to speak of. Do not engage in close range unless it will win you the game. Her attack doesn't have a melee range, so she can't even perform disengaging strikes. Don't Bite the Hand and The Party Never Ends are nice, but I can count the number of times those have actually gone off on one hand.
Laying out Brilliance, the condition that makes it easier to murder your foes, in 2.0 Lynch is much, much harder than it was in the first edition. However, usually any enemy model that gets Brilliance dies within that turn, and that works just fine for me. Something to keep in mind is that The Sweetest Fare triggers off your own Brilliant models dying, so don't pass up the free healing. Beckoners need all the help they can get.
Her Lure is her bread and butter, and make up for all of her downsides. A respectable Ca 6 means a blind flip has a better than 50% of firing. The best thing is her built in trigger Not that Kind of Girl , which gives you unparalleled lure shenanigans and unit placement control. I usually end up using both AP on my Beckoners in the first turn by using Lure on my own models. If you hit the TN you can choose to have your own models tie, which means the Lure goes off. Even better, the trigger lets you push your Beckoner around as well, giving you two moves for the price of one! Don't forget the positive flip if you brought along Addict, either! Although it doesn't work on Lynch or Huggy it works on the Illuminated and Stitched, who need the extra boost forward.
Her only damage ability, Despicable Promises , is pretty mediocre for damage. With a weak of 1, you know that the Beckoner is a control piece and not a ranged damage dealer. I only rely on it to be a way to hand out crack at range with the built in trigger. I haven't ever used A Pleasant Distraction , because I've never been in a situation where more than one model has brilliance, is in a position to make interact actions, and isn't in melee combat with a bunch of my dudes. In theory it could be used to stop an opponent from doing some relevant actions, so don't forget that it's on her card.
Oogie Boogie himself. These little guys are an odd duck in the Lynch Family. They don't give a lot of control, and their abilities are unreliable. They can't hand out Brilliance and they have a pitiful range. So why do I always bring one? First off, I can only think of one time when I've actually failed a Gamble Your Life flip with a Stitched in Lynch (Black Joker. Big surprise.). Because of Lynch's incredible card manipulation, you'll always be able to cheat higher than your opponent. Stitched also benefit from the addict upgrade, so your attack flip against a Brillant model with get that juicy positive, even if the damage flip won't. The Hard to Kill and Eternal Nightmare are basically impossible for Lynch to get any additional mileage out of, unlike Dreamer or Collodi, but it's still super nice to dumpster someone with a second pair of Gambles. However, since everyone in Lynch's crew is Living the Rotten Contents can actually backfire. Once I brought a Stitched and Mr. Graves, who has Black Blood, in the same crew, and I had a terrible run of luck where the Black Blood triggered the Rotten Contents and back and forth until it killed Graves, the Stitched, and another one of my units that was nearby. Moral of the Story: Keep the stitched 2.01 inches from all your other models at all times.
Considering the lack of shooting ability that all of the Neverborn suffer from I find it very helpful to have a single Stitched that will cover my Beckoners from ranged assault using Creepy Fog as they advance up the table.
Other Notable Includes
If you are running Lynch as Ten Thunders I find bringing one or two Thunder Archers to be incredibly helpful. The Lynch crew looks basically the same in either faction, usually two Beckoners and two Illuminated with some flex stones depending, so backing them up with the incredible firepower of the Archers is a welcome addition. They can shoot into melee without randomizing, and Huggy and the Illuminated are basically always in melee with something.
At 4 stones a pop, the Depleted are incredible units. They are Hard to Kill and Hard to Wound, with eight wounds on their own. They also have a pathetic DF of 3, but it's going to take anyone short of the Viktorias a lot of AP to take down such an annoying model. They don't hit very hard but they get a positive flip to disengaging strikes so your opponents will have a tough time walking away. These guys are tarpits, plain and simple. They will grab onto an enemy unit and waste so much time that the rest of your crew can move around and get things done. They are insignificant, but really shine when you want to reconnoiter since they are minions, not peons. It's usually hard for me to find the points for these guys in smaller games, but you might want to toss down a couple if you're using more than 40 soulstones in game size.
Sometimes with Lynch's crew, I feel like having four or five expensive models might not be the best strategy. Scheme running is hard for the Illuminated and Beckoners. Luckily, Terror Tots are cheap, and if you happen to have the Ace of Masks in your hand you can always trigger the second dash on Sprint, giving the 4 stone monsters some serious speed.
Rail Workers out of Ten Thunders can use their (0) Implacable Assault for a serious damage boost, but frankly, 5 stones for a model as mediocre as the Workers isn't worth it, in my opinion. If you have the Ace of Tomes, you can cheat it in to reliably get the Metal on Metal trigger, effectively giving them armor 3, but for two more stones I'd rather just bring an Illuminated for more damage and survivability.
If you want shooting in Neverborn, there's no one quite like Hans. By luring his slow ass around with a Beckoner you can get him in position faster, and Lynch's hidden card quality passive means you can hit your mark. Also, you can discard any aces you find to his Reference the Field Guide to more reliably hit the trigger you want in any given moment.
Mr. Graves and Mr. Tannen
Mr. Graves and Mr. Tannen are models that I haven't had the chance to play with too much, since I find that two Beckoners and two Illuminated with Huggy and Lynch are usually enough to get the job done. If you guys have found any great ways to use them, I'd love to hear it.
Fundamentally, Lynch does something that no one else in the game can do: he manipulates the underlying fabric of the game by ensuring that he has a higher card quality and quantity than your opponent. I've often looked up from my hand of five cards near the end of my turn to see my opponent sitting on a single four of Crows. Lynch has the tools to manipulate the control hand in a way that basically no one except maybe Som'er Teeth Jones can compare with. Resource management is a critical skill in Malifaux, and Lynch can twist that game in your favor, ensuring that you don't need to rely on luck. Cheating fate controls the game, and Lynch controls fate.
I won't say "good luck." You don't need it. Have fun winning.
If you think this analysis of Lynch and his friends was helpful, tell me @Dkjolner on Twitter! If you hated my analysis and think I suck, tell me @Dkjolner on Twitter! Feel free to comment and I'll do my best to answer any specific questions about Lynch for you. Want me to cover another Master of Malifaux? Let me know!