A Gravedigger’s Handbook, #2: How to Win Turns and Knock People Down
by Alex Botts ·
This articles series is meant to provide tips and tricks for intermediate Guild Ball Morticians players who have a grasp on the basics of their faction but want to take their play to a higher level.
In my last article I discussed how to use Rigor Mortis to play the Mortician’s strong Momentum game and take control of initiative consistently throughout a game of Guild Ball. The natural follow-up question to that article’s topic is, of course, “Ok, I have initiative; what do I do with it?”
Though I am not an experienced player in any guild other than Morts, I am of the general opinion that the first activation in the turn should be used to generally set up the strengths of the guild you’re playing, to make sure you have the gamestate poised to give you an opportunity to win. This is very general, but effectively: with first activation, Fishermen should be scoring or grabbing the ball more easily than usual, Butchers should be putting up buffs or getting a free kill, and Brewers should be knocking down and displacing enemies. With that in mind, what do Morticians need to do? Morticians are the control faction, so of course they should be taking control. Rigor Mortis and Momentum in general are crucial components to a Mortician player’s strategy because of the powerful control a canny Morts team can leverage over the enemy when given the chance to move first. Below, I’ve covered two common opening options I use when I win initiative for a new turn, one using Silence, and one using Ghast, both of which I consider core members of the Morts lineup who should be in every tournament 8 roster. Note that these are written on the assumption that this is for Turn 2 onwards; The first turn of a game of Guild Ball is drastically different, and is worth its own article (stay tuned!).
Silence is an oft-discussed and contentious player of the Morticians roster. There’s a great overview of the player over at Ozball that I’d definitely recommend any Morticians player read, and I don’t want to repeat everything Dan Cam wrote. I think Silence is brilliant, and when I see players talk or write about how he just stands around being an Influence battery most turns I get very confused and sad. That said, Silence’s power dramatically dips if you’re not able to use him as the first activation in a mid-game turn, I think, and there certainly are occasional turns where I allocate him little to nothing. But when I do win initiative, this is my favorite opener, and Silence gets 3-4 Influence, and most often it feels like a great investment.
“The Situation” Dan Cam talks about is the basic gist of what we want to recreate with a Silence opening. Basically: Silence goes first, hits somebody for momentum, then puts up Tucked and Shutout (with one or both Bonus Time’d, depending on how much Momentum you got), completely limiting the opposing team’s ability to do what they want to do that turn. The trick, of course, is target selection. Silence should not be spending Influence to Sprint (though against super easy targets, like Stave or Boar, he could charge, getting a wrap and therefore generating 2 Momentum), so let’s assume he’s moving 5″ to hit somebody, then has 8″ range on both Tucked and Shutout, allowing him to choose any targets within the 17.1″ bubble he has around his 30mm base. That should be MOST of the team, and you should be keeping Silence generally central-midfield to give him the largest selection of targets when he gets to open a turn up for you. With that in mind, look for these targets:
- Captains. Shutout on a Captain with an important Legendary Play or Character Play is brutal. Tapper is a great example: setting up Commanding Aura is a huge deal for Brewers, and forcing Tapper to go last is a huge problem. Put on top of that Tapper’s easy knockdowns and his usual buddy-cop system with Hooper, and Shutout on Tapper makes for a sad Brewers player.
- Players with low Defense. The more consistent this play is, the better. Against a 4+ defense player, a Bonus Time’d Shutout/Tucked has a 75% of landing, which is definitely solid. 3+ defense is even better, of course, and 2+ defense on key players is delicious. Tapper… remains a good example, as he has a sad 3+ defense. Poor guy. Corsair, Blackheart, Honour, Flint, Stave, Boar, Kraken, Ballista, and anyone already KD’d from a previous turn are other excellent targets for either play.
- Players allocated a LOT of Influence or NO Influence. Stopping stacked players from activating right away, or forcing empty players to act immediately, can give you a huge early-turn advantage, where all of your key players are activating, doing work, and frustrating the key players on the other team, before they even get a chance to activate, and their “dead” players (players with no influence) are forced to eat up those crucial early activations without doing anything for their team.
- Players that are poorly positioned. If a player is too far away from their desired target, or from the ball, and are clearly meant to wait until later in the turn where they are repositioned or buffed by allies, or the gamestate has changed, Tucked them. Boom! That beautiful slow-burn plan is totally wasted. This is actually a single example where Silence might want to use Tucked in the first turn of the game. Let’s say the opposing Union team kicked off to you with Blackheart, then loaded him up on Influence. He’s clearly meant to wait until near the end of the turn, where both teams have advanced midfield, and unload on somebody, gaining momentum for the Turn 2 initiative roll. Tucked Blackheart from 8″ away (ideally having Momentum for Bonus Time from passing). Now he probably only has Silence as a target, and charging Silence would be a huge over-commitment and likely a dead Blackheart, but if he doesn’t charge, he’s sitting on 6 Influence he can’t use other than to put up Commanding Aura for… nobody to benefit from. This is a specific example, but situations like this will arise more often than you’d expect, once you’re looking for them.
In general, take a minute to figure out what the enemy is intending to do, based on their Influence allocation, and do your best to make that impossible to do. For instance, against Masons: Let’s say Mallet is holding on to the ball, and Flint has a stack of Influence. An easy first activation would be to grab the ball from Mallet with Obulus, and if your positioning is good, run off and score. But then Flint gets the kick-off and scores himself, and it’s a wash. Instead, Silence goes, gets momentum, Tucked on Flint, Shutout on Mallet. Now Flint is forced to run around doing little-to-nothing with that lovely stack of Influence, Honour would have to Superior Strategy him to get him ready to score properly, and Mallet is politely holding the ball for Obulus, waiting for when Obulus can score without fear of reprisal from Flint. Much better!
This strategy does have problems in some cases, though. When most targets available are 5+ Defense, or he can’t get to a good target to build up Momentum first, this play gets a lot more dicey, and suddenly you’ve wasted 2-4 Influence and first activation. In addition, players who are expecting Silence to do this might spread their Influence more evenly, not focusing on a single player and instead being prepared to use any player to “ok” effect. It takes practice and a careful considering of board and ball positioning to know exactly when Silence will start printing money for you, but it’s worth it when it works. When it won’t work, though, we happen to have another player who loves to open up a turn…
The good news is, when you just need to get in their face and can’t quite tell which opponent should go when, Ghast is your man. Opening with Ghast is much simpler: Jog or charge him in range of 2+ enemies, ideally with 1″ reach, and knock each one down. If Ghast can knock down 2 targets with 1″ melee, that’s effectively 2 casts of Shutout: Those 2 players can’t activate properly until Momentum is generated from the rest of their team, since they’ll need to sacrifice movement to stand up and then can’t walk in range to hit Ghast. This use of Ghast is also in line with Ghast’s overall play goals of getting up in everyone’s grill and making them worse at fighting, so you’re not wasting Ghast by any means. Bonus points, of course, when you can charge or jog and get Unmaskings off! Early, unavoidable damage to several targets is good no matter what faction you’re playing, and while I try not to plan for Unmaskings unless I’m hitting a 2+ DEF model, when I get them I take them.
Compared to the Silence opening, though, there are a few downsides to Ghast’s control. First of all, I would call Ghast’s knockdown-based control “soft”– players with abilities like Shadow-Like and Quick Time aren’t actually bothered by it all that much, so even among models with 1″ reach it is not quite as good as Shutout. Furthermore, he simply has less reach than Silence, as his 5.6″ bubble of melee range is embarrassing compared to Silence’s sphere of control. Finally, you might occasionally get into situations where you feel you’ve rendered a player useless, only to have what the opponent thinks of as “desperation play” come back to bite you: Against Ox, for example, a KD’d Ox might stand up, Legendary, and then toss around Tough Hide, Butchery, and They Ain’t Tough, all without having to move and while being engaged by Ghast. Sure, it’s not attacks, but in a team like Butchers, that’s still plenty set-up for the ensuing carnage, and you’ve forfeited your chance to push Ox away from Ghast with Unmasking. This is why I consider a Ghast opening “Plan B” and Silence “Plan A.” A good Ghast first activation feels very strong, but I’ve often had it become weaker as the opponent compromises well. With Silence, if you feel in control after his activation, you probably are.
This may go without saying, but just to be clear, a stacked Obulus opening can be great to, and if you need 2 Victory Points to happen, I’d vote Obulus any day of the week. The above advice is for getting yourself to the point where Obulus can wrap up the match. Often I see an interesting or exciting way to do a ton of damage in the first activation, or get the ball onto Mist, or what have you, but with Morticians, the first activation is all about discipline: Take control now, and the smashy, shooty bits will come soon, and be all the sweeter for the wait (and the look on your opponent’s face)!
Alex Botts is a tabletop gaming enthusiast who mostly plays Guild Ball (Morticians) and Warmachine/Hordes (Protectorate). He likes miniatures, strategy games, and long campaigns on the beach. He's also Head Editor for Chicago Megagames and would love to talk to you about any of the above!
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