A Cabal interview

Doug Kropp – known as Sploosh on discord is the other undefeated player in the online league. He’s been having great success with Cabal. We caught up over Skype to talk about his roster. He will be facing off against Nathan Stickney in the final, which is going to streamed (more details coming soon).

Xavier Protocols: What do you think is your best roster is at the minute?

Doug: The core is Red Skull, M.O.D.O.K., and Killmonger. If I can I will play them in every single game. It’s tricky though: there are certain threat totals that don’t quite fit correctly.

XP: If you win priority, which crises are you angling towards?

D: I tend to push towards either the 19 threat Panic Grips [City as Evacuation Efforts Continue] or the Mystic Wakandan Herbs [Fact or Fiction]. The 15 threat Herbs lets you play more the game of killing things because it’s like capture the flag. With the 19 threat, I feel really confident with my list at 19.

XP: What’s your 15 threat build?

D: Red Skull, M.O.D.O.K., Killmonger and then I dance between Black Widow and Rocket Racoon. I feel like Black Widow was my MVP in my round three. She is still good and I don’t think I’ll be taking her out any time soon. I’d be happy if something cooler came out, but I don’t think Nebula replaces her. She is protected by that circle of three [stealth], and some lists want to Winter Soldier you and they can’t. If she needs to hold something I can trust her to hold it – run off and grab something and run back; where I don’t trust Rocket to do that. Rocket is more “kill things” and Widow is more “hold things and run around like a courier”.

XP: What about 19 threat?

D: I basically just add Hela. The prevailing theory with that it that I like to run Hela ‘off the swing’, maybe with Rocket to help her out.

XP: What do you mean by ‘off the swing’?

D: I consider M.O.D.O.K. And Red Skull as locked and they are meat of the entire list: wherever they go is the focus and wherever they are not going is not t he focus. I would have Hela doing ‘alternate things’: that might mean being aggressive, but it might mean protecting my other side of the board. I often don’t choose what I am going to do on turn one: I’ll put stuff in the middle and commit nothing. I will do as much as I can to make the opponent commit to something and then I’ll counter it.

XP: so you play very reactively?

D: Yeah. I refuse to give away information. Let’s say M.O.D.O.K. goes left and the entire fight goes right: that’s real bad. You can’t allow that, and I will do everything I have to to prevent that.

XP: Have you considered what you would do at 20 threat?

D: I’ve played around with different ideas: either adding Hela plus some stuff or something like Red Skull, M.O.D.O.K., and Killmonger plus Rocket for the 15 then adding Baron Zemo and Black Widow as they extra and going nuts with activations. I could see myself cutting Rocket and Widow and just putting Hela in there.

One thing: when I was very new, coming from Legion, activation count is a really big deal: having high activations. I’ve learned that when you are playing Cabal that actually not true: you are trying to be a bully. I read your article about BDT, and how they try to get four damage dealing activations out of Thor all at once and I think that similar to how cabal wants to play. You want to have just enough activations to maintain priority and you are also trying to erase characters. I’ve since been thining out all my rosters, which is why Groot and Crossbones and those kind of characters don’t really fit, even though I truly don’t think Groot or Crossbones are as bad as people say: it just doesn’t fit the design philosophy of what I’m doing. M.O.D.O.K. is just so insanely good. There are just moments where people set up traps where Rocket is next to Groot and some guys can bodyguard, or Venom with the perfect synergy of Lethal Protector plus Groot protection plus Rocket, and I knew he was going to use Deadly Duo. I was staring at the board for a minute and I was like, wait a minute: why am I putting so much thought in to who to shoot at? All I have to do is just use M.O.D.O.K. to just move somebody and I’ll just blow them up! Now I don’t have to worry about Lethal Protector and Groot and people reviving people. Once you see that, you can play completely differently. You don’t have to worry about people’s crazy combos: you just have to not let them happen. You have the complete initiative on that experience. You can just take people apart.

I’ve noticed, too: everybody is playing field dressing. It weird: I actually think the card is a trap. Every single opponent I’ve played against has Thor and Field Dressing in their list. I’ve played against it four times now.

XP: Why do you think Field Dressing is a trap?

D: Because it is so situational. You have to have all these things perfect. You have to have the guy dazed, and have the power to use it, be in the correct position and not have activated and the exact timing window to make it all come together. And then you want to make sure that the person doesn’t get revived at the wrong time because you someone might just through a bench into them and kill them again. You have to have a lot going on.

I have just added the card to my list: I see where it’s good, and I think it’s against low activation lists like BDT so I’m definitely playing around with it, but I’m finding because M.O.D.O.K. is so manipulative and Cabal is so explosive that I can see people trying to play around that card and exploit it. For example, I knew this guy was lining up to revive Venom with Ultron, so I set up all my attack cards like Dark Reign – Dark Reign is my best card because it’s less dice variance and that’s the key to winning. So I just went nuts and I just knocked out Ultron before Venom was needed to be revived. So then I switched back and finished Venom off. I see the timing he trying to create and I target it. Once you are flipped, it’s too late: you can’t fix it now. The card is dead, because that character is now flipped over permanently. I do see the power of the card: it’s actually insanely strong when it works and when it works in the right moment and against the right lineup, but it’s tricky to put all that together. Cabal is not every list: not everybody can just decide to make someone disappear, so not everyone has that work around, but I do see that people playing against me it hasn’t worked out for them once.

XP: You mentioned M.O.D.O.K. Being manipulative: can you talk me through how you use him?

D: I haven’t seen much hype for A.I.M. Lackey, but it’s easily my second favourite card in my list. Dark Reign is easily my first – it doesn’t get enough props over Cosmic Invigoration. I think Cosmic Invigoration is also one of those sometimes a trap card, because it requires because it requires that prefect synergy of power and spacing and not being dead. For me, Dark Reign always feels correct. A.I.M. Lackey is the other one that, to me, is the key to the entire list. The obvious combo for It is with Killmonger, because you can get him in from extreme distance. You can do M move, charge another M and then go nuts. You can stay at a range that is almost beyond range 5. It does that, and that’s amazing, but also love doing the same thing with Rocket: Rocket is doing nothing. No one expects him to contribute and the next thing you know, he’s in range and gets two shots – for two threat.

In my experience I try to keep M.O.D.O.K. power rich. I might do one less Doomsday Chair just to make sure I have a wealth of power which comes from his Psychic Blast. I gained 8 power last night using his Psychic Blast.

XP: And the idea is to fund these expensive team tactics cards?

D: Exactly. You’ve got A.I.M. Lackey and Dark Reign as the two he pays for a lot.

XP: How do you use Red Skull with M.O.D.O.K.?

D: I don’t think I’ve invented any mystic trick here, but turn one a lot of people will delay, activate Red Skull, immediately gain three power and then move M.O.D.O.K. with Master of the Cube. You immediately put M.O.D.O.K. in a position where he can just double shoot someone, or move, shoot someone. Even if just move, shoot – though most games I’ll get two shots with M.O.D.O.K. – even if I only get one that’s still really good because I probably built power up fr that attack. Then next turn I’m ready to drop cards: A.I.M. Lackey or Dark Reign. Maybe I Dark Reign M.O.D.O.K in to getting me a lot more power that then pays for A.I.M. Lackey, because it’s almost impossible to one-shot M.O.D.O.K. So A.I.M. Lackey is almost guaranteed for the next turn. That just gets the offence going. A.I.M. Lackey with Hela is also pretty slick: people don’t see that coming. I really love Hela getting i. There for a Steal Soul which then feeds two more Steal Souls. In general, Cabal’s ability to have mystic attacks is insane. You’ve got Black Panther and Captain America both don’t like the mystic attacks, but also Winter Soldier is super popular right now and he doesn’t do well against mystic. Spider-Man – although he’s not played much – he doesn’t have any effect on mystic. I think mystic is the best attack.

XP: You haven’t mentioned Shuri at all: how do you feel about her in Cabal?

D: Based on what I’ve described, she wouldn’t fit! She’s not really killing and when I’ve played against Shuri I just eat her. I’m trying to picture what she’s doing for me. Red Skull is already giving me power, doing manipulation and giving me good cards. And he’s affiliated. M.O.D.O.K. and Killmonger are doing their job and I don’t ever want to not play them: so what’s the point of Shuri at this point? I like having Hela, who can be that flex slot. I do t see what Shuri is doing for me there. Hela and Killmonger are best friends because the just love killing: both of they both get tokens for things dying. I’m pretty liberal with using the soul tokens and I’m daring the person to go after Hela. Currently I’m waiting for Promixa Midnight and Corvus Glaive to come out. I feel like they are going to help as well. The ability to attack together and keep the activation control is exactly what you want. Having a group of characters doing something away from M.O.D.O.K. Is very effective: they can just bully people. With A.I.M. Lackey I see them moving really quickly, just pouring on people. A.I.M. Lackey has no range restriction and the timing is exactly the way you want it.

XP: How do you feel about Usurp the Throne?

D: It wins games. It’s won me a few games. It’s a card I play in pretty much every game. Sometimes the games can get a little grindy: getting a 2VP lead puts a lot of pressure on someone. Thor is disgustingly popular right now, so Killmonger is pretty happy to see that. Worst case scenario, they kill Killmonger, which happened in my last game, but then M.O.D.O.K. lived to the end of the game and then killed everyone.

XP: What is your typical route to victory?

D: Alpha, but not traditional Red aggro card game alpha – send everything at somebody and then they die – that’s not the kind of aggro I’m talking about. It’s more tactical: wait for them to do something not correct and then pounce on it, immediately erase it, and pounce on the advantage. Usually it’s based on Dark Reign, because it will give me that hyper-efficiency. Even if the character doesn’t die from, let’s say, M.O.D.O.K., Dark Reign is still active for the other characters. If I have some horrible rolls, or they have really incredible defense dice, I still have more characters that are coming, so usually the character will die. Usually you can ride that snowball: once you are up, you are up.

XP: If your opponent forces you to choose Secures, which do you favour?

D: I don’t mind Origin Bombs, and infinity formula is not too bad either.

XP: Where do you stand on Crossbones?

D: He’s still in my roster, but he’s probably leaving. I feel bad about it: his damage negation is really strong – I would argue better than Iron Man, because you can take zero damage – and his speed is over drawn because you could just use Red Skull as a free move; you might have A.I.M. Lackeys; and obviously people will want to shoot him and then he can “teleport”. It’s tough – he just doesn’t fit. I don’t think he’s bad, but then I’m not playing him – it’s hard to answer. I wish he had an M move – that would make him really good! I do t think that would make him overpowered either.

XP: Where do you rank Cabal compared to other affiliations?

D: I’ve heard people claim that Cabal is bad because you have to roll dice well. I think that’s super inaccurate because M.O.D.O.K. has rerolls. I heard people also claim that Doomsday Chair is better than Psychic Blast, which I also disagree with. They are obviously different and there are still times when I use the Doomsday Chair, but you can use all the power you are gaining from the Psychic Blast to reroll. You roll 6 dice. Even if you get two hit and a skull, let’s say, and then you reroll 3 dice – you just rolled 9 dice. 9 dice seems pretty good to me. Then you gain power based on whatever you get as damage, so spending the power on rerolls barely costs anything as you are probably going to get it back anyway.

XP: So you don’t value the second attack you get from Doomsday Chair?

D: I’m not saying I don’t, I am just saying people overvalue the second attack a lot. A lot of people have better physical defense as well. There are often these awkward moments where if I do Psychic Blast you only get two or three dice, whereas if with Doomsday Chair you are at four or five: Vision for example with 5 dice. Now I’m really relying on variance more. There is more variance with the chair instead I choose more rerolls. Less variance vs more physical dice on defense.

XP: What don’t you want to see across the table from you?

D: I don’t like bodyguard, because it messes with Usurp the Throne and Dark Reign. Even A.I.M. Lackey – if I’m charging you and you are changing what I’m hitting you are reducing focus fire. If you are playing a list that is trying to erase something, you are bragging that damage or redirecting it then I am not erasing anything. Thor is scary. If Thor goes off and rolls well, that’s just horrible. I’ve played a tonne of Thors and I’ve beaten them and I’ve definitely had Thor roll really well a few times: I’ve had a Thor throw a hammer and do 5 damage to Red Skull with one attack.

XP: What’s your strategy when you see a Thor?

D: Normally the plan is kill Thor, and then people try to revive him, so it gets a little awkward because you have to play the ranged game a lot. There is no “do this and then you win”, because it’s a lot of bait and switch, where you hope people activate in an awkward way or they do something you can jump on or they overcommit with Thor and you just murder him with Killmonger or M.O.D.O.K.

Sometimes you just roll really well and Thor is hurt so much ahead of schedule that it makes it an easy game. When people are playing “I have Thor and some way to revive Thor” it’s very cookie cutter: it’s very predictable what they are trying to do. The only thing that could make that awkward is the bodyguard aspect, but luckily I haven’t seen that too much. Thor really wants to get in there, and Captain America might not be able to keep up with him.

Mostly it’s just trying to get the timing down, so you keep Thor wounded or you kill him because he overcommitted, or you deal with his friend that is trying to revive him and then you kill Thor: and you always try to do that with priority in mind.

XP: Are you always trying to keep priority?

D: I try, but it’s really hard when people die.

XP: That leads us nicely on to including Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive.

D: I think they are going to be huge. Proxima Midnight has that shoot someone and then teleport, so her movement is solid. Then you have Corvus Glaive, who is much slower, but I feel like with A.I.M. Lackey you could compensate for that with good timing. The fact that they can activate together: it almost creates this situation where you have M.O.D.O.K. bullying one side and then bullying another side and you can activate them at the same time so you can reliably erase a character. You are going to get situations where somebody has priority over me, and they have to decide who lives and who dies. Because if they activate someone on the left, that means someone on the right will die, and vice versa. Either way, I win: they just have to decide who lives. Maybe I get lucky and no one dies on my side. They do that even better than what I’m doing now, so I’m excited for that.

XP: Can you see yourself Cosmic Invgorationing one of them to act three times in a row?

D: I think that’s highly unlikely, because most likely, they won’t be anywhere near Red Skull. Most often people try to do something in the left and something on the right. Very rarely do people do some kind of ‘super deathball’, because then you get punished by having nothing else around. That’s just not usually how people play. In theory, if someone tried to anti-death all me, I’m pretty confident in having Corvus because of what I just said: all that offence and the fact that Corvus and Proxima can activate together increases you chance of having priority and also that you are going to get profit out of one of those characters before one of them gets knocked out. Any time you are playing a list dedicated to killing, that’s the stuff it cares about. You care about having priority. If you are killing two characters in a round, you are losing priority – that’s the way it works. But that doesn’t mean you give up priority for free, either. It’s going to be hard on an opponent when you are activating two characters at once to get priority back. If Proxima kills someone, that doesn’t mean you can’t activate Corvus. He can activate next and kill someone else.

XP: Have you got any final thoughts on Cabal?

D: The only problem is what if Cabal never changes, since release day. It’s Cabal. I’m not bored yet, but when X-men shows up, maybe I’ll chan free my mind. I’m having a lot of fun with Cabal: the way their cards work; the way they reduce variance; and the way they play is fun for me. I know it’s not fun for everyone to just shoot at stuff, but for me it’s fun.

I would definitely say that Dark Reign, A.I.M. Lackey, Usurp the Throne and probably Cosmic Invigoration as a fuzzy four are stapled to this list, which doesn’t give you a lot of flexibility for other things to do. Oh – I never don’t play Brace for Impact. If I played against someone who doesn’t throw: but I’ve never met that person. I think Brace for impact is definitely better than Patch Up: not to say Patch Up is bad – I’m actually not sure if Patch Up should be in my list. I’m fighting with that. Brace for impact is being done for a very cheap cost. It’s tempo: usually it costs your opponent something to throw so you are either breaking even or getting a profit off of their power useage. It’s hard to imagine not playing that card. Also M.O.D.O.K. Is a giant football that people want to kick around. Thor wants to throw M.O.D.O.K. The idea of someone using M.O.D.O.K. to kill another one of my characters is so terrible that I can’t imagine allowing that to happen. Luckily, it’s never happened because of Brace for Impact.

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