Top 4 interview: Pat Dunford

Next up in the series of interviews with the top 4 from the second season of the online league, Pat Dunford, a co-host of Across the Bifrost.

Xavier Protocols: What’s your take on Cabal?

Pat: My take is they’re pretty great! I have inadvertently created a bit of a reputation for playing Cabal, partly because I play it a lot – especially at events. It’s the only affiliation I play in Crisis Events or in the TTS League, so it’s I suppose my own doing! Also I talk about it on Across the Bifrost, so I have only myself to blame.

I think they are really good. They have some powerful characters and some strong synergies, but one thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot playing in the recent TTS League is that I think all affiliations are strong, and the difference between the top and the bottom is often overstated. I think Cabal are great, but I’m not going to make some sweeping statement about them being the best.

XP: When you build a Cabal roster, what do are thinking about?

P: I’m thinking about always having Red Skull and M.O.D.O.K. and they are a little unit. Nine times out of ten – maybe more – they will be together, they will synergise with each other, they will cover part of the table, and be great. Then, I’m thinking about how does the rest of my team compliment that and play to the different crises? On the different crises, where are Skull and M.O.D.O.K. best, and which characters do they need, with what abilities to be the most effective on other parts of the table?

XP: Do you have a crisis you prefer to play in to?

P: I prefer Infinity Formula, because I think that is the easiest and most powerful answer to the questions i just asked myself. Infinity Formula is 17 threat, and it means you can take 8 threat aside from M.O.D.O.K. and Skull. The table splits in two so you can just put M.O.D.O.K. and Skull on one points and two powerful four threat characters on the other, and build two characters that synergise toghether, compliment each other or answer omething that you think your opponent is going to do.

XP: What about extracts? DO you prefer going for a fast game with lots of extracts, or do you prefer an attrition game with slow scoring?

P: In the past, I’ve been in favour of fast games, and I’ve been in favour of choosing extracts with Cabal, but over time, I’ve found it’s a bit less important. I think the reason why I’ve found it less important is because, with the exception of Wakandan Herbs, I think the extracts are more close together in terms of scoring speed. Evacuation is 4VPs and you can sometimes get more, Hammer is 4VPs, Spiders is 5VPs, Cosmic Cubes is 5VPs. People don;t tend to play the slow extracts. If you look at the league results, the vast majority of the time it is one of those four crises that is being played. MOst of my opponents have three of those four crises. Becuase of that, picking extracts isn’t as important.

One thing that I do like it for, is that extracts tend to have the higher threat levels: 18-20 are all available through extracts. That is the one time where I would consider it more highly – when I want to choose a higher threat level. In particular, I think Cabal scales really well in to higher threat level, and some teams don’t. I’ve seen a few rosters from my opponents that I;ve looked at and I’ve thought, “If I can pick a 19 threat here, I;m going to have a big edge.” So I’ve gone for extracts to try and get my Evacuation crisis.

XP: Are there any general principles you have for choosing a team from your roster?

P: It’s really thinking about the character matchups. Thinking about what characters are they likely to bring at what threat levels; what affiliation and characters selections have they got for those affiliations; what are they locking themselves in to? Once I’ve quantified what they are locking themselves in to, I can think about what variations they can take outside of that and which ones I prefer to see, and once again which crisis I prefer to play that on. I’m quite happy to fall back in to just doing a team I think is good on the crisis and has internal synergies and not worry about dealing with my opponent’s in particular, but if possible, I’ll do something like throw in Loki if I think he’s going to be really effective against what the opponent is bringing.

XP: How important do you think wresting and maintaining priority is for Cabal?

P: It’s super important. I think it’s incredibly important for everyone, because I think you need to understand the pace of the game you are playing. You need to be doing everything you can to control the pace. In terms of understanding the pace, I think you need to be actively deciding if you want to be having priority or not. If you’d rather have the last activation in the round, or if it’s more important for you to have the first in the following round. Once you’ve made that decision, you need to build for it in your team composition and account for it in the way you play. Although that’s really important in Cabal, I think that’s pretty important for everyone, because it’s a fundamental part of the game, and it’s something that affects both players. If having priority is incredibly important for me, it should be equally important for my opponent to stop me having priority. I think it is something both players should be mindful of and playing towards the whole game. It’s something that massively impacts my decisions when it comes to things like target priority and when I play tactics cards like Cosmic Invigoration or Field Dressing.

XP: How do those cards in particular affect priority?

P: Cosmic Invigoration means you are activating one character twice, so that tends to move you behind in priority – giving priority to your opponent. Same thing with Field Dressing – you are activating a character that otherwise wouldn’t. Both of those things won’t always flip priority,but they have a strong chance to. Usually when I play them, it will either be because I am so far behind that I won’t lose priority getting a whole extra activation and these cards are a way for me ot catch up in a big way which is really valuable, or it will be that I am so far ahead that I’m going to lose priority anyway, and these cards are a way for me to push even further ahead. I will try not to use either card when the game is close and a single activation will lose me priority and I don’t want it to.

XP: You used to have Follow Me as well, but that’s not in your roster at the minute: how do you feel about it?

P: I love Follow Me. It’s great. It compliments these cards really well because you can play them in tandem over the course of a round, where Follow Me pushes you ahead in priority; it can help you get ahead of other teams, which I’ve found is really good against things like Asgard who also tend to play low model count. Asgard tends to have the same number of characters as you, and they have Thor who is able to stagger somebody. If Thor goes first, it can be very bad for you. A classic Asgard play is: activate Thor; For Asgard and stagger M.O.D.O.K. If I can have Follow Me and play that early to switch priority, so that I can take out Thor, before he can get that stagger off. That can be a bog deal.

But what I’ve found is that, although that is great, there’s a lot of other situations where it’s just not a necessary card. There are enough crises that force you to spread out in such a way that you can’t always make the most of it. I really like it in Gamma Wave, but I don’t have Gamma Wave in my secures. If I’m not planning to play that crisis, I can’t really justify having a team tactics card that is primarily going to be taken there. Especially as there are just so many good team tactics cards – I feel like I’m already giving up a lot of good options to get the eight I want and Follow Me is an example of one I’ve had to grudgingly cut, at least for the time being.

XP: Who are the unaffiliated characters you are thinking about with Cabal?

There are so many I love. Over the course of the league, I;ve played a huge number of different unaffiliated characters. At one point or another I’ve had every affiliated character in my roster; even Crossbones. In Cabal, you don;t have a threat option, so at least one is good. My current favourite is Rocket, because he is a cheap option that can sit back on a crisis and score it and can go on any part of the table you need and do something relevant. But there are plenty of great 2 threat options and I wouldn;t fault you for picking any of them. I personally don’t take a second 2 threat option in particular because I have no affiliated 2 threat. I donn’t think you are ever going to be in a situation where you are making a team and taking two unaffiliated cahracters that cost 2 threat: it would be a bit bizarre.

After him, it’s about different models that have different synergies and which ones I want to leverage. In my top 4 roster for example, I’m taking Corvus Glaive and Proxima Midnight together. That’s taking up two of my slots. I especially like that combo because Proxima herself is a really good independent 3 threat option that I can use without Corvusand give flexibility for lower threat value games.

I’m taking Venom who is a favourite of mine. His ability to make a large number of attacks synergises well with Red Skull’s leadership; he can always use the extra power he generates. He is resilient and he pairs really well with Ultron and Drop Off: both of whom are in my Roster.

Thor is a character who is always good. I think he’s actually not especially good in Cabal: generating power is nice, but the thing is you want the power before he activates in order to For Asgard. He is much better off saving one power with Captain America and using For Asgard than generating two power with Red Skull but not being able to use For Asgard. Thor for me is ‘fine’. The reason I like him is that he’s a 5 threat character. I want to be able to control priority, so I want to have the option to take two 5 threat characters in my list, so that at 18 threat I can go: Red Skull, M.O.D.O.K., Thor and a 4 cost affiliated character, like Loki, Killmonger or Ultron – all fine options. It’s actually for his threat value: now that the Reality Gem is legal, I would consider replacing him with the Reality Gem if I;m still planning to run Corvus, so he becomes that 5 threat option instead. I don;t know if it’s correct, because I think Thor has other synergies that Corvus doesn’t. He can drop off. Throwing out shock hammers in Cabal is pretty good: they pay for themselves. If I’m taking Loki, I will sometimes take Sibling Rivalry, though it’s not currently in my cards – I do think Sibling Rivalry Drop Off with Thor and Loki is Superb. I don’t think it’s automatically a replacement, but I think that if you are taking Corvus and Proxima, then you could justify replacing Thor with the Reality Gem.

XP: I notice you are also playing the Rocket Boots?! Drop Off combo: how have you found that?

P: I found it’s fine. I don’t love it, because taking up two tactics card is a really high cost – the tactics cards are so good. Having to spend two for one effect is a big ask. I’ve found it’s good. It makes counterplay to Proxima and Corvus quite hard. It makes it quite possible for Corvus to just reach out and touch anybody on round two, and it makes it so that he and Proxima threaten anyone coming forwards on round one. The problem with that though in Cabal – and this is sounding like one of those first world problems: it’s not really a problem – it’s the bad kind of redundancy. I’ve got Red Skull teleporting M.O.D.O.K. and that means I’ve this character that threatens to go last and kill anyone that comes in to the middle of the table. So I don’t also need Corvus and Proxima to threaten the same thing on round one. I’ve found that Drop Off plan is a bit less good in Cabal than it might be in other teams who don’t already have that option: you can’t have everyone go last, and you have to send some people forwards. It’s still useful to have them go forwards round one and claim objectives and threaten it on round two, but there are certainly game situations where that is just not necessary. I have had games where I haven’t used it on round one, and then I’ve sat with both these cards doing nothing the entire game, which makes me feel even worse about the fact that I have paid two cards to have this option.

XP: What have you found are the most effective ways people deal with your M.O.D.O.K.?

P: Controlling him is effective. Let me start by saying nothing is perfectly effective, because he is resilient enough and well supported enough – at least in my list and I think in most Cabal lists – that I don’t think you can completely shut him down easily, and I don’t think you can shut him down for less threat value than he is worth.

Things that I think are good against him? I think things like Shuri’s pushes are good, where Shuri inconveniences him a lot for a relatively low threat whilst still using her whole kit: she can push him around and still hand out Upgrades to other people on her team. I like that kind of chep control that inconveniences him and trades well in threat – even if it isn’t completely shutting him down. I like the damage dealers that have some way of overcoming his immunity to wilds: there’s quite a few of them. Loki and Corvus both have ways to count blanks for their damage for example. Then you’ve got characters that pseudo-mitigate it, like Valkyrie’s Warrior of Legend sort of mitigates it as does Gamora’s Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy and Zemo’s rerolls. Any number of these characters that do good physical damage and have ways to overcome his defense are threats to him. The problem with all of them is he is also a threat to them, and he is usually a bigger threat ti them than they are to him. In order to make them work, you tend to have to have a big plan. Loki on his own is never really going to take out M.O.D.O.K. Maybe your plan is to Drop him Off with Thor and then Sibling Rivalry: that is a good plan, but then you are spending 9 threat of characters to neutralise 5. There’s things you can do against him and there’s things he needs to be wary of, but I think it’s hard to deal with him really effectively.

What I will say, though, is having these countermeasures will force him back. M.O.D.O.K. can’t really afford to play in the middle of the table, because then he is too vulnerable to all this kind of stuff and he will them fall really quickly. As soon as he does get dazed, it’s just disaster: his injured side is just awful. He is basically going to die to any character’s activation the following turn, when he’s injured. If you play him safely and back, he’s hard to neutralise, but I suppose the counterpoint there is you can play to that: if you know that M.O.D.O.K. can’t come too far forward then you can take advantage of that and leverage it. You are asserting some amount of control over the M.O.D.O.K. player with those threats.

XP: Are there any crises you particularly don’t want to see as Cabal?

P: As I play with them more and more, I have to say my answer is no. Recently, I’ve started to change my mind a bit about how I see the crises. I really like your articles about crises, and how you advocate for specific crises for specific teams; I think by and large you are correct. I also think that the more I play, the more I feel like that’s a factor, but it’s not a deciding factor. The game has so many decisions and so many pivotal dice rolls that what happens on the table and what the players decide is much more important. Having a team that is purely Cabal, which I didn’t for the first half of the league – I had Asgard-Cabal; for the second half and for the finals I have pure Cabal – having ten character slots and eight tactics card/s to adjust your plan: right now I feel I can adjust my plan to any crisis and any team. Is it perfect? Maybe not, but I don’t feel that there is any game that I can’t play with that many options.

XP: How important do you feel dice mitigation effects are for Cabal?

P: Red Skull, who you have to take, has very powerful abilities and very bad dice mitigation. Things like Unleash the Cube is awesome, but wishes that he had access to rerolls. It needs to do damage and get a wild, so it’s very dicey to have its optimal effect. But then you’ve got M.O.D.O.K. who basically couldn’t care less about dice mitigation because he has incredible dice mitigation built in. Cabal’s arguably third most popular affiliated character – Baron Zemo – is the same. He has built in rerolls and an active power that give him more rerolls. He is probably the character in the game that has the most reroll options already, and he just doesn’t need more, because rerolls get just a little bit worse every time you stack them on top. It’s already quite common with Baron Zemo to use Master Swordsman and you often find you don’t need Strategic Genius because you have rerolled all the dice you can. Dice mitigation on him is a bit wasted and I feel the same for M.O.D.O.K.

But when you go deeper in to the roster and look at other options, at that point it starts to become more important again. Being able to guarantee to do a point of damage with Cabal is really helpful for triggering Red Skull’s leadership. The question is, how necessary is it? If you imagine I’ve got Zemo and M.O.D.O.K. in these hypothetical lists and neither of them want it. Red Skull is with M.O.D.O.K.: probably I’m not putting someone like Shuri with them. Am I just taking a dice mitigation character to help just one other person? Because you have these two characters who are so good in Cabal and affiliated, you don’t need it. It’s not as important as you might think from looking at Red Skull’s abilities and leadership. On top of that, can throw in Dark Reign to have dice mitigation in the form of a tactics card. I really like Dark Reign. Once again, I can’t get it in to my current 8 because I took Drop Off and Rocket Boots?!. I think it might come in instead of Rocket Boots?! in future iterations. Dice mitigation is obviously good, but I find I usually can’t fit it in when I’m playing Cabal – I just make do with M.O.D.O.K. and Zemo.

XP: How much do you play Killmonger, and when you do, do you use Usurp the Throne?

P: I do use Usurp when I play Killmonger – I think it’s fantastic. I’m not currently running Killmonger, and it’s just because there are so many good 4 threat options, and you get to this point where you have to look at your roster and say, “I don’t need five 4 threat characters!” – I;m never going to play them all. I just have to make a tough decision before the league: which of these options do I not get to play with this season. This season that cool ption is Killmonger. It was due a bit to wanting to try out Corvus and Rocket Boots?!. It was another 4 threat character in my roster, and it was another tactics card that I needed to make space for. Killmonger was the natural fit to remove to make room for this new stuff and give it a go.

XP: Do you see Killmonger coming back in to your roster in the future?

P: Yes. I really like him. I like his ability to catch you up or push ahead on victory points – the extra two is huge. I like his synergy with both Red Skull’s movement and with AIM Lackeys from M.O.D.O.K. I could definitely see myself including him again, but he problem is it’s only going to get harder to include characters over time. On the podcast we talk about roster building a lot, and I feel like we are now at the point – eight months in to Marvel: Crisis Protocol – where I take a single affiliation roster and I can’t take everything I want. When we were first weighing it up we were thinking you could take single affiliation, but do you need all those slots? Maybe you take dual affiliation and have more options. Now I feel like I am losing good options by taking single affiliation. It’s pushing me further away from dual affiliation in a lot of builds.

Killmonger is a good example. I would love to have Killmonger and Usurp in my roster, but I’m probably going to start having multiple Cabal rosters. One of them will have AIM Lackeys, Usurp the Throne, M.O.D.O.K. and Killmonger. Another one will probably have two different tactics cards and maybe Loki instead of Killmonger. They will play very differently and they are both good choices, but you just can’t fit everything you want in. You just have to make a tough call about which you want to play with.

XP: You don’t have a huge amount of throws in your roster.

P: No I don’t. It’s partly because I’m not taking Valkyrie because I’ve got Proxima. This is the whole Corvus Proxima thing. I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices to get them in my roster, and one of them is I don’t have a three cost character with a throw. Proxima would otherwise probably be someone like Valkyrie, or another three cost with a throw perhaps. I do have some good terrain throws with Ultron and M.O.D.O.K., but it is unfortunate that both those affiliated Cabal characters can’t throw enemy characters. The only throws you have in Cabal affiliated are throws that trigger on damage from attacks: Red Skull’s UNleash the Cube and Crossbones’ Overpower. Cabal in general is just not good at throwing characters. I suppose it’s not surprising to say you are playing solo Cabal, you don’t have a lot of throws. Of course, I don’t need a lot of unaffiliated options to have throws. I’ve got Thor, who is arguably the best thrower in the game. I’ve got Venom, who has got a throw and a pull. I’ve got two unaffiliated characters that are superb at throwing. How many unaffiliated characters am I going to take in a list? Probably only one or two. So I’ve patched up as best I can, but I think it’s an unavoidable problem with Cabal. A key thing for my roster is that M.O.D.O.K. has the ability to move enemy characters. I do that probably an average of twice a round, so I’m certainly getting a lot of control in, even if it’s not from throws.

Sometimes you get weird game situations where people charge four characters at M.O.D.O.K., with the idea of, “You can’t take them all down and we are going to overwhelm you and daze M.O.D.O.K. early in the game and then roll over the rest of your team.” You end up in these really interesting situations where at the start of the round, M.O.D.O.K. has taken a bunch of damage; he’s surrounded by four enemies; he activates – move all four of them away, moves himself backwards and heals himself. You’ve basically wasted the round of the entire enemy team.

XP: You said you feel like you;ve been pigeon-holed as a Cabal player. If you weren’t playing Cabal, what would you be playing?

P: I could play anything. I think all the affiliations are superb and they all have really awesome combos in characters and effects that I want to play more of. I’ve been playing a bit of Wakanda, and Wakanda is so much fun! Shuri plus Black Panther plus Wakanda Forever is a mini-game of what do I do with my pushes every turn? How do I make the most of these characters? What nonsense can I achieve with my out-of-activation pushes? Similarly, I’ve found that playing Asgard in dual affiliation roster with Cabal at the start of the season was great. I had massive success with Asgard in a couple of my games: they were superb.

I was incredibly impressed by my opponent Artdieart’s Avengers list in the European FInal, where he had a really wonderful Avengers team that was incredibly hard to deal with. Guardians of the Galaxy are a new hotness to me. I think that having a lot of guardians ina roster – going for 6 characters – is potentially really powerful and something that is a bit unexplored in the competitive brackets of the league.

I suppose what I’m saying is I am excited to play all of the affiliations: the only problem is I won’t have enough time to delve deep in to all of them. I have no idea what I’m going to choose next, especially with two more on the horizon. I haven’t even mentioned Black Order! There’s just so much to try and I’m excited to play all of it.

XP: Which new characters are you keen to bring in to your Cabal roster?

P: I’m interested to try Thanos. One of the reasons M.O.D.O.K. is such a ‘must have’ for me in Cabal is that I feel like he makes Red Skull shine. He gets so much use out of Cosmic Invigoration and being teleported by the cube, and you have to take Red Skull. M.O.D.O.K. plus Red Skull mulptiply each other. For that reason I feel like I can’t go without M.O.D.O.K., but if feel Thanos is the exception there. Thanos is a new super-powerful character that can benefit from those two rules from Red Skull equally well. I like the idea of having Thanos as an option to surprise people and not take M.O.D.O.K. and play a much more aggressive game. If people are expecting a lot of mysitc damage, ignoring wilds and playing very far back on the table, then instead I go, “No, I’m taking Thanos!”, I’m charging him forwards and smashing your face. He’s on the objective fighting in teh middle of the table. Characters that are good at dealing M.O.D.O.K. may not be able to deal with Thanos. That could be very interesting.

Apart from that, I have my eye on the Web Warriors. They are not very good at generating power, but they have very strong effects. Of course Cabal is good at generating power, so they may find that they are good choice in those rosters. Both Miles and Gwen have quite long attacks: Miles has a range 3 Strike and Gwen has a range 4 Impact Webbing – although it’s only 4 strength so it’s not super reliable to generate that extra power, but at least you can start trying to generate power early to get those cahracter sreally singing earlier that you otherwise would.

XP: Is there anything you wanted to add?

P: If people are interested in what I have to say and aren’t already aware, I do the Across the Bifrost podcast with Tseung Tsu. We spam, the Facebook channels and the Discord with information of how to find us, or look here. I say plenty on that. I’ve talked in detail about the TTS league: we’ve had two episodes already, and we will certainly do a third episode talking about my experience in the final stages. I’d recommend that anyone who wants to know more about that stuff should tune in.

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