A Gravedigger’s Handbook, #4: The Curious Case of Doctor Graves

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.

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Ok, ok, he’s in the starter box, I guess I have to talk about him.

The Morticians Guild Ball lineup is an incredibly deep roster that is “burdened” (I know, I know, first world problems, etc.) with a couple of ostensible must-takes in Silence and Ghast. Ghast certainly comes with an asterisk next to his name—we are blessed with three other excellent Big Guys in Casket, A&G, and Fangtooth, and Ghast’s Unmasking and central positioning does mean he’s a bad choice versus Midas specifically—but at the moment I can think of literally no Morticians roster that should not take Silence. But the rest of the roster is deep, so deep that almost every combination of models you can come up with that does include Silence should have legitimate game against most opponents. There’s one outlier, however, and every Morticians player who isn’t Jamie Perkins seems to agree on this: Graves just isn’t worth much in a competitive setting.

I’d like to use this article to analyze Graves, what he might do that works, what the highlights of good Graves usage might be, and why he still falls so short compared to the rest of our players. I do not think Graves is “unplayable,” in fact I don’t think there’s a model in Guild Ball yet I’d call unplayable. But I do think he is at the bottom of the Morticians barrel, and I think a faction shakeup—in the form of a nerf or, hopefully, a dramatic new synergy—would be required to make him see my tournament 8. Hopefully this article will help readers learn what to look for in players in general, and give insight into team building, faction strengths, and matchup planning.

 

What’s On the Card: Just Short of Brilliant

StatlineStat

Graves has what I would call an excellent statline with one glaring, but not uncommon, flaw. With a 30mm base, 2” reach, and a 5/7 move, he has a native jogging threat of 7” and charge/sprint threat of 9”, putting him at a slightly faster jog threat than Ghast, and an equal charge threat (both of which are slightly outclassed by Cosset and Obulus). His TAC of 6 is above average and always nice to see, adding him to our great TAC 6 roster of Obulus, Ghast, and Rage. 3/6” kick is very exciting honestly, as Graves’s inclusion in a Mortician’s team will likely bring up our average kick stat across the board and help a little bit with controlling the ball, also of course making him a consistent Teamwork Ability user. DEF 4/ARM 1 is a very respectable defensive stat set, one that used to be the average but is slowly becoming above average as more players are added to the game. Those defenses coupled with 14 HP make Graves a resilient, but not impervious, presence on the table that will at least demand a dedicated effort to drop.

The obvious downside is the INF stat of 1/4. Morticians are a faction that both generate a ton of Influence and spend that influence like its going out of style. Obviously I would prefer seeing 2 INF generated from all players, and as we’ll see later, Graves is a very INF-hungry character, so this is a real hit to his effectiveness. Keeping your resource economy flowing is a big part of winning Guild Ball, and Graves’s status as a 30mm winger means he would often be subbed in for models in Morticians who have Furious or generate 2 INF, or both. This INF stat, in my opinion, changes who Graves is competing with for a spot on your roster. We’ll see more of that soon.

Character Traits, Plays, & Playbook

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Impressed with my photoshop skills yet?

 

Graves has 2 very solid character traits. Damaged Target takes Graves up to a situational 11” charge threat, barely beating out Cosset and Obulus and only just coming up short of Minx’s magic 12” threat. This gives Graves a very strong ability to snowball any lead you might have by hovering in the opponent’s side of the pitch, waiting to jump on players that come back on the field from being taken out. Graves threatens a circle of the field with a diameter of 23.1” against damaged targets, which seriously limits the opponent’s ability to bring characters back on the pitch, especially if you can have him play ball to add 4” of threat. Crucial Artery is another nice ability that will either add a delayed 3 damage to Graves’s output or demand a bit of Momentum from the opponent.

Graves’s Character Plays are probably the shiniest things on his actual card. Everybody knows what Scything Blow can do, and Graves has that magic 2” melee to really do work with it. Scything Blow also synergizes nicely with Crucial Artery, allowing him to potentially pass around multiple bleeds in one attack, hopefully creating a strong Momentum swing or turning damage up to 11. The problem I have with conditions as a killing threat is that a target that dies to a condition gives you no Momentum and not a single activation where you have more models on the field (unless of course the enemy opts to keep them off the pitch for a turn), so it is really only good for victory points.

Rapid Animal is, I think, an underutilized ability on every character that has it: -4/-4 move is brilliant against a lot of teams, and while I consider poison the weakest condition, it is still not something I’d ever say “no” to having. Rabid Animal could potentially make Graves into a real threat against other teams’ strikers, severely limiting goal threat if he can get to them early enough in the turn.

Here’s the bad news: Graves’s playbook. I hope you didn’t want to actually effectively use any of the cool stuff we just covered, because in my opinion Graves’s playbook is an even worse detriment to his power than his INF stat, and really limits his use. 6-column playbook with no knockdowns, a single push with no damage attached, no dodges, and only a single momentous damage result (not even his highest damage). We know, of course, that Morticians do not generate Momentum in straightforward, conventional ways, but this is really just a pain to utilize. This playbook offers very little flexibility, and is brutal in that neither his useful Tackle on column 1 nor his Scything Blow are momentous. He also suffers from a maximum 3 damage on a single non-wrapped attack, which without much utility outside of Rapid Animal (on column 6…) makes for a very unimpressive damage threat for all the resources you need to pump into him. To really show why this playbook is disappointing, we need to now talk about his possible roles in a team, and where he falls short against the people he wants to replace.

 

What’s Not on the Card: Worst of Both Worlds

The way I see it, Graves can take 2 general roles on a Morticians roster: the hard damage threat (normally filled by Rage, Cosset, or to a lesser extent Minx), or the midfield brawler (normally filled by Ghast, Fangtooth, Casket, or 2 of the above at once). He does not fill The Silence Slot, and he is obviously not a striker, so we’ll ignore those possible roles.

The Damage ThreatGraves

When compared to Rage, Cosset, and Minx, Graves needs 2 more influence to do the same amount of actions in every case where they can charge, which should be the objective for all of them anyway (the first three should always be charging because it is free, Graves should always be charging because his threat range is a huge plus and he needs lots of dice to hit 5 and 6 successes for his great Character Plays). So he already has a lot of ground to cover to compete. He brings a bit more control than his competitors with his 1-success Tackle and his 2” melee, but he loses to Rage in particular in the Parting Blow category since Rage has a fairly reliable knockdown at 3 successes, and Graves has no knockdowns. He also can spread damage better across multiple targets at least on a charge, and multiple applications of bleed is easier for him than it is for Rage, who usually hits the same target over and over rather than multiple targets. Finally, he has a similar ability to Minx and Cosset’s Screeching Banshee in Rabid Animal, making them all effectively the same at slowing down a target. Cosset can trigger it a bit more reliably if she’s Crazy, but Graves has 2” melee, so I give the edge to him on a charge.

But that’s about where the plusses for Graves stop. Graves will generate dramatically less Momentum than Rage on a standard activation, and somewhat less than Cosset. He will also do this while spending 1-3 more INF. He also has completely horrible damage output compared to Rage and Cosset. I’d estimate both of those two at about 7-10 damage on a charge turn, with Rage making it happen more efficiently, but Cosset reaching farther and benefiting from things like Confidence. Graves will probably cap at 6 damage, 7 or 8 if you load him up and Confidence him. Also, a lot of his traits are counterintuitive and don’t lend themselves to common situations. About half of his card (Rabid Animal, Damaged Target) wants him to chase around strikers, mascots, and support pieces, keeping them from being effective and bleeding them out till they die with their lower HP stats. This mediocre set of skills wants him to play like Cosset and Minx, but he’s less efficient and takes longer to do what they do. In addition, even on a charge his character plays are hard to make happen without backup adding dice, and a wrap is the only way to get poison and bleed on a target in a single attack. On the other hand, Scything Blow, 2” melee, and Crucial Artery want him running into the scrum, but his difficulty in generating Momentum (especially when choosing Scything Blow) means that anybody he doesn’t take-out can likely use him to generate more Momentum than what he made, neutralizing any lead you might gain and possibly healing the targets he’s torn up. Even a 4/1 defensive combo falls apart against a mass of foes or a well-placed knockdown, and the time delay between application of bleed and the maintenance phase gives the opponent plenty of opportunity to respond. Delayed damage and high-playbook wraps can’t be relied on for a damage dealer, but those are the things that make Graves’s output at all comparable to his colleagues, and they aren’t even momentous when they happen.

The Midfield Brawler

In a Midfield Brawler role, standing in for Ghast or (more likely) a second brawler like Fangtooth, Graves’s INF stat doesn’t really hurt him initially, but his actual effectiveness at control does. Though all three bring 1 influence to the table, Fangtooth and Ghast are much more impactful on resources in the long run, since both have tools to make the enemy waste resources. Gluttonous Mass is at minimum a 1-INF penalty to the enemy before they can start hitting Fangtooth, and also gives him an opportunity for a crushing counterattack. Ghast’s Fear is a literal 1 INF penalty, and his Rising Anger means that hurting Ghast keeps you in the race. Did I mention Fangtooth has a rough ground aura?

Meanwhile, you have Graves, who is more defensible than either, but statically gives you 1 INF, helps you with neither Momentum nor influence penalties, and has an “OK” counterattack that is totally overshadowed by Ghast and Fangtooth’s incredible counters. Then we have the big plays: Unmasking and Scything Blow. They do the same damage, and Graves is about as likely to pop it as either of the other 2 players. But Unmasking reaches farther, both of their Unmaskings generate Momentum where Scything Blow does not, and my god is the trade-off between a 4” push and bleed unfair to the bleed. A 4” push on multiple models is unbelievably good, and trading that away for a bleed feels like trading the family cow for some “magic” beans. Ghast and Fangtooth control a whole battlefield from 1 central location and a decent die roll. Graves spends his whole stack to do the same amount of damage, generate no Momentum, and control nobody who has a dodge available. My favorite lineup is currently Silence/Fangtooth/Ghast/Mist, and I occasionally toy with the idea of swapping Fangtooth out for Graves, but that trade loses so much and gains nothing but a “special snowflake” badge on your battle report.

 

Deadly, but saving, grace
Deadly, but saving, grace

A Brighter Future

I really feel that Graves suffers from a split personality issue. He can’t quite make it in either place I want to put him, and while his ability to do a bit of both might be useful, I’d rather rely on players who can deliver at what they want to do.

Now, with all that complaining out of my system, I do have one thing in mind for Graves. Based on the spoilers we’ve received thus far for Scalpel’s plays and traits, as soon as I get my cold, dead hands on Scalpel I will be trying out the following roster:

Scalpel, Dirge, Silence, Graves, Mist, Bonesaw

This is, in my opinion, likely the best team to field Graves we will see in the next few months. It is designed as a scoring threat team that counters other scoring teams, particularly Shark-led Fishermen, Pin Vice-led Engineers, Esters-led Brewers, and (I think, because we haven’t seen all of Smoke yet) Smoke-led Alchemists. In a situation where the enemy team has plenty of dodges and a smaller-than-average damage threat, Graves would take the place I would otherwise give to Ghast. Where Ghast has trouble with speed, and can’t effectively control the enemy strikers due to their common dodges and repositions, Graves comes in to better control the ball from the midfield with his 3/6” kick. From there, he puts Rabid Animal up on basically whoever he can hit, and hopefully pushes the action unavoidably into the far backside of the enemy’s side of the pitch. I’m picturing an ideal situation where Graves, Silence, and Scalpel keep possession of the ball and put their team on-tempo for one goal per turn, and by the time the 4th or 5th turn rolls around, Graves has seriously crippled a goal threat, and either he and Scalpel can walk in two take-outs or a third goal can happen without much trouble. Second Wind on either striker makes them a bit more self-sufficient on the survival side, whereas Graves could potentially use it to reposition after a take-out and threaten any returning players.

The fun thing about this list is that I’m fairly confident it will work well even without seeing Scalpel’s final stats; unless her kick stat is something like 1/6”, a mediocre statline can’t really hurt the game plan too much, and with her theme I’m expecting a fast, hard-hitting winger, which would fit perfectly. The problem of Graves’s INF will, of course, remain, but Ghast would be a 1/3 in the same place, so I can’t complain too much, and I’m hoping that I can give Mist a reduced load after turn 1 or 2, with excess INF (and, ideally, goal INF) going to Graves.

Like I said, I’ll be trying this team as soon as I can, and happily reporting back to you on the results. I still don’t expect Graves to consistently be in “top 6” category with either Obulus or Scalpel, but with a little luck (or a lot of Fish in a tournament spread), he might consistently be sitting in Scalpel’s 8.

Nobody is unplayable, but one list (even if it ends up being a great list) is hardly a strong argument for the efficacy of a player. But maybe I’m wrong! Perhaps as Season 2 expands and the overall metagame shifts for all teams, Graves will find more and more of a berth in the Mortician squad. This analysis was not meant to stop you from playing Graves, but ideally just to shortcut you to the way you want to think about him. Constant experimentation is necessary, especially in a faction like Morticians. That’s the price of playing the Best Faction in the Game™, but you didn’t pick up the Dustmen for plug-and-play, I hope!

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