When I first put Team Yellow together there was only three maelstroms available, so there was no choices to make beyond choosing to take all maelstrom champions. Now we have six to pick from, and it makes for an interesting dilemma. That's more than both Shapers and Guardians and equal with Slayers, and looking at the team icons on the top left of the ultimate card, there's only the "cave" team that is yet to gain a maelstrom.
Let's start by having a look at what each champion brings, then have a think about list composition.
The Original Gangsta of maelstrom champions, playing Blackjaw is how I fell in love with the maelstrom class, and what led me to even contemplate putting together Team Yellow. As the only Maelstrom from the early-access days, he needed to define the class, and even with five other options available, still see him as the daddy of the class.
With 3/2 move and access to a move boon, he's fast. At 3/2/8 defensive stats he's a bit of a target, but with enough HP to soak up plenty of attention. However, it's his skills in the clash phase that really make Blackjaw stand out. Kick is a solid option against the tougher followers, and Fiery Axe and Fireball are decent at killing weaker followers in large numbers, as does his ultimate, but a bit unreliable against tougher followers. His extra action if he kills a follower also means that you can fairly reliably get at least two attacks a turn, three if you don't have to move.
Clash Phase Blackjaw
Blackjaw has massive potential damage output, and the Unburnt Reavers' Fearsome ability is great at giving your opponent a difficult choice to make. I tend to like using an advance and Hot Foot in the plot phase to set him up with 3 move in the clash so that he can adapt to different situations get to where he needs to be to use his skills and crush banners if necessary. Of all the maelstrom champions, he's one of the toughest, so you can be a bit more fast and loose throwing him forward than you might want to with other yellow champions.
With the Unburnt Reavers I tend to run them as a gang of 3 then two solos, so that I can cover the board with Fearsome, yet still have a nice 5/6 (or 6/6 if I can use War Cry) threat to worry your opponent's champions with.
The downside to Blackjaw is his unreliability. His main skills being 4/5 and 5/4 means that they're not reliably getting damage through on lots of followers in the game. As soon as a model gets to a 6-point defensive total, these attacks become quite unreliable. You do roll those dice plenty of times, though, so the chance of dice spiking once or twice in your favour is what you're looking for most of the time. Even his ultimate can whiff from time to time. In a game I played against (Steamforged senior developer) Jamie Perkins where we both played Blackjaw, the sum total impact of our combined ultimates, both of which were able to target 5 followers, was 1 kill! I've also had turns where I've thought I'd use a kick as a reliable way to kill off a minion and trigger his free action, and that has missed or failed to wound an armour 4 model, leaving his turn a complete wash-out.
IIRC Titus was one of the first new champions released for playtest during the early access, and as an inclusion in the better of the two starter sets, he's probably now most people's introduction to the class. However, Titus is, in a few subtle ways, a little bit of an unusual Maelstrom. Let's have a look at his card to see why...
With 3/3/5 defensive stats, Titus has decent defence, but is lacking HP compared to most other Maelstroms. However, at 3 dodge, he's no better at avoiding hit effects than the others. However, his +1/+1 against followers really helps him against a lot of the things that might want to attack him.
At 2/2 move, he's also on the slow side, which is partially made up for by the Glory Seekers' Call of Battle, but you have to keep them together, and not have a better target for it in one of your other champions. His ultimate does give him a one-off big movement advantage, so make sure you're getting good mileage out of it.
His attacks are decent, too. at 6/5 and 5/6 they're much more reliable than Blackjaw's, but they're also limited to 2 targets each, so much less spectacular when you roll well. I'll Kill You All is a great ability, too, especially if you're going second in the plot phase to set yourself up nicely and potentially force your opponent into a sub-optimal first activation of the clash phase.
However, the real secret to Titus, I think, is in his Glory Seekers (or Glory Hole Seekers as Will Pintar dubbed them for their almost sex-pest level of annoyance). If you can set up a perfect Surround Pound, that's an 8/7 attack! If you can set it up in the plot phase then trigger it in the clash, you can Hack to reduce their armour by 1, which is basically adding a damage to your roll. That's better than most slayers can manage!
Clash Phase Titus
Clash Phase Glory Seekers
Titus tends to be the champion I use most to plant a banner. I'm not entirely convinced by Challenge as smart opponents give you a move blight and then you can really find yourself struggling to get anywhere. Hence, if you don't need to both move and shuffle some enemy followers around, planting a banner is usually a no-brainer. In a Team Yellow list, his higher defensive stats and perceived lower damage output than other champions in your list tends to mean that your opponent focuses their attacks against others, leaving him pretty free to do what he wants.
In the clash phase his attacks are solid and reliable, and as Sweeping Slash can target two champions, you can usually get some mileage out of one if not both of your attacks. At 5/6 and 6/5 both of his attacks are worth a punt against pretty much any set of followers in the game, so you don't need to worry too much about who you're going to target.
During turn 1 he tends to be just getting into position, especially if you're player 1, so make sure you can get him into position. If I'm playing Grimgut he's usually the one who gets a move boon from the Retchlings to help move him up so that he's relevant turn 2.
The Glory Seekers need to stick together so that they can set themselves up to surround pound, and as they want to be right in the thick of the action to target enemy champions, they're probably going to stay pretty close to Titus, too - which is important for recruit actions, as that extra 2 move can really help adding an extra dice to a surround pound.
I try to save his ultimate for a turn where the extra movement can produce a banner crush the opponent wasn't expecting that will swing the turn back in your favour.
Overall he offers a good mix of reliable step scoring, control and the best champion threat in Team Yellow.
Grimgut is probably the most unusual champion in the game. I've noticed that when people put together tier lists, he tends to be either high up or low down; rarely in the middle. I think it's probably that he's a high skill ceiling character, so you need to really understand how to play him to get the most out of him. Lets have a look why...
With 2/2/9 defensive stats, Grimgut is - in both senses of the word - the biggest target in the game, having both the worst dodge and armour combo, alongside the most HP. This has two major effects: firstly your opponent's eyes will likely light up at how easy he is to hit and damage, but that they will then spend more attacks than they probably expected trying to bring him down.
At 1/1 move, at first look he is painfully slow, however, the Slip and Slide means that he has very easy access to a movement buff, and Roll makes him deceptively fast in the clash phase. The fact that it's in a straight line can make it difficult to wrap your head around just where he might be able to get to.
Unlike most Maelstroms he only has one attack skill, and it only attacks a single model. That said, at 7/7 it's great against the increasing number of large followers in the game - Grimgut loves hot wings (i.e. eating dragons.. sorry).
The real strength of Grimgut, however, is in New Spew (which he can do both phases) and the threat his Retchlings represent. The ability to throw up a screening wall of followers that don't give up steps on the battle ladder is an amazing ability, and can really help lock down objectives in the banner game. It's particularly useful if you're going first in the plot phase to completely prevent your opponent from planting their banners.
Grimgut Clash Phase
Retchlings Clash Phase
However, the biggest and most surprising thing I tend to find about them, is their attack skill... They are basically Blackjaw! Lumped in a 2 and a 3 you can throw out a 4/5 and a 5/5 to range 2 that hits everything in the hex. Okay you don't score as many points, but as mentioned in part 1, that's not the only benefit to clearing our enemy followers.
Grimgut tends to play the roll of Shaper/Guardian in a Team Yellow list. He soaks up enemy attacks, blocks access to objective hexes and can actually do surprisingly well at crushing banners if you can position the Roll. It's almost as if his attack is secondary.
Speaking of his attack, I like to put him up against large followers to get the most out of Non Nom Nom, and if I can hit two large followers with a Buffet I'll take that over three small followers. He's also great against the really tough-to-kill followers like the Sneaky Stabbers with their dodge 5 that even a 6 dice attack misses a decent amount of the time.
The real skill to using Grimgut, however, is in getting the most out of his Retchlings. Knowing when to spew, when to string them out in a long wall, or when to cluster them in a 2 and a 3 for best attacks is really the key to playing him well. Opponents really tend to underestimate them, and avoid wasting attacks on killing them, so use that to your advantage. Their ability to screen your champions from slayers is particularly nice, but be careful you don't end up blocking your own routes. Another key tip to playing
Grimgut is to make sure you activate the Retchlings before the big guy. If you don't there's a chance your opponent might just decide to go after them (especially if they have a maelstrom that can score some points from them) - if Grimgut's still got his activation he can spew them all back out again, but if he's already gone you're left with a fairly limp Retchling activation.
Like Grimgut, Luella is an unusual champion with some finesse required to play her well.
With 2/3/7 defensive stats, Luella looks a bit of a liability, but through her followers she has pretty easy access to an armour boon, so I tend to think of her as a 2/4/7 champion, which is pretty solid. With her movement she's pretty decent at getting herself out of trouble, too.
Taking about movement, at 1/2 base she looks slow, but her ability to get +1 for going in a straight line and easy access to a move boon makes her deceptively fast, and when she moves 3 or more she gets a bonus action, so it's well worth investing in those boons. The fact that Blackjaw, the Glory Seekers and the Retchlings can potentially add to her movement in this list is also really nice.
Her skills are really focused on dealing with high dodge targets. In the plot phase she can pass out a dodge blight, and both her main attack, Arc Lightning, and ultimate use this 3 damage roll mechanic that completely avoids the need to be hit, but ain't gonna cut through much more than armour 1.
Luella took me a bit of time to wrap my head around her movement, but with a bit of practice I got my eye in for looking for the channels she'll need, and making sure I keep them clear myself. It's important to use your other maelstroms to clear the way for her if your opponent chucks some followers in the way. I also find that her free action in the plot phase is much more useful than the one she gets in the clash phase. If I'm using her to target the high dodge followers, it's likely that a 4/5 attack will just miss.
She's also really good at crushing banners. Her ultimate and bonus movement mean that she can surprise people with where she can get to. She can also switch across the board pretty quickly, too. The real challenge, though, is keeping her followers with her to keep her stocked up with armour boons. This is key to getting the most out of her, by persuading your opponent that there are better targets in your list.
Her followers will likely be spending most of their actions just keeping up with her, but at times their Cleave
I'm going to cut to the chase with a potentially controversial opinion - I don't like Jeen. Let's see why...
At 3/3/5 defensive stat line she's Titus, but without the added protection against followers. The added boon she gets after taking damage is nice, but not as good as Titus. At 3/1 movement she's great in the plot phase, but struggles to contribute to crushing banners in the clash phase. Fine if you're going second, but otherwise a potential problem. She gets a bit of extra movement from Blade Storm but this is again plot phase only.
Then we come to her attacks. Aside from the potential benefit you get from them going off in the plot phase rather than the clash phase, which is the goblin style introduced with Sneaky Peet, they are really sub-par. At 5/5, Bladestorm is decent, but Rapid Strike might as well not be on the card - I've never have that do anything - and Polearm Sweep is so under powered at 4/4, and the need to target 2 adjacent hexes can limit it noticeably, especially in the late game where the enemy followers are more spread out. Whenever I've played her I tend to find I get one or two kills from Blade Storm if I can target a hex with 3 followers in it but everything else whiffs.
I also think her ultimate is severely overrated. People look at it and think it's the same as Raith Marid's (arguably the best ultimate in the game), but in reality it often fails to do what you need it to do. With Raith's ability you use it to spread out the enemy so that they can't reach your banners and to push them towards your maelstroms and slayers so that they can do their business. With Overrun, however, you would probably want to bring your forces in from being wide spread, but I tend to find that if they're at range 2 of where I use this ultimate, they're probably in the right place anyway.
Jeen Plot Phase
Finally, her followers attack skill is little likely to achieve much other than kill a high dodge small follower if you keep them as a 3 - 3/5 might hit a 2/4 follower but is unlikely to get past it's armour, 5/4 is unlikely to hit a high dodge follower or damage a high armour one (see Blackjaw above), and whilst 7/3 will kill a follower easily enough, it'll do little to bother a champion. Compared to what the followers of other yellow champions bring, I'm not sold.
Perhaps I have jumped to an early conclusion, but I don't like Jeen, so have no tips on playing her other than to pick another maelstrom. It's a real shame, because I like the quirkiness and challenge of playing Peet, but Jeen just leaves me persistently frustrated.
The new kid on the block is a real contender! let's see what she's got to offer...
At 3/2/7 she's a little lighter than Balckjaw, and I found her the champion that dies most often, but with her movement and free brutal charge, a KO isn't too big a problem for her. At 4/4 movement, Powerful Leap and Thundering Hooves, she's by far the fastest champion in the game, and can help move others up with her. At 4/6 and 5/6, with easy access to boons, her attacks are better at dealing with high armour followers, which is very much needed as few of the other champions have to tools to do so. That said, she's not throwing out multiple hits like many of the other maelstroms, but given that high armour followers tend to come in small numbers, I think she's fine.
The elephant in the room when talking about Kailinn, however, is that she can't enter objective hexes. Whilst she probably has the raw speed not to worry about going the long way around at any point, this does mean that your other two maelstroms are going to have to do all the work crushing banners.
Her followers are strong, too, with 3/2/4 defensive stats they're as survivable as most large followers and have the added bonus of doubling up their skills. this lets you put two boons on Kailinn, move two friendly followers up with you, and they can each attack in the clash phase, which at a likely 5/5 is pretty solid at either taking down a follower or two, or chipping away at a champion.
Her ultimate is brilliant for killing off large followers, but I wouldn't shy from using it against a follower that would be otherwise difficult to shift. It's interaction with Centaur is nice, too.
Kailinn is very much the new hotness, it seems, with lots of people at the event last week talking about her and how she impacted on their games. Having played her 3 games during the tournament as well as a few proxied practice games, I think I can offer some useful tips.
Firstly, she can very easily get a lot of boons from her followers, an for a time I gave her dodge and amour boons, but I think I might give her offensive buffs in future and try to tempt my opponent into focusing their attacks against her, as it really didn't bother me when she went down, unlike other champions. A damage boon would really help cut through the high armour targets.
She's also decent as a pseudo-slayer in the list, as her attacks don't need to target followers, and indeed don't receive any benefit for doing so.
I didn't find her lack of ability to crush banners to much of a problem, as I tended to cover that with the other champions.
The most powerful of her abilities I found was her Centaur rule that allows her to end her move in a hex of small followers and move them to any adjacent hex she likes. This is great for both setting up other maelstroms and clearing paths for Grimgut and Luella. The fact that her ultimate allows you to do this twice in an activation is pretty nice, too.
So, how did I break this down into a tournament roster of 4 champions? As you can probably tell from my comments above, Jeen was the first of the six to be cut from the list, but then I had some hard choices to make.
Titus was the first name to go on my list as he's just a solid, reliable champion, and the glory seekers' ability to act as a pseudo-slayer cannot be underestimated.
Next I put down Luella and Kailinn, with the idea that I would use them as a flex pick depending on whether I was likely to face a lot of high armour or high dodge minions.
That left me with a choice between Blackjaw and Grimgut. This was a choice I didn't resolve until I was in teh car on teh way to the event. Elliot and I were discussing our lists, and he told me that he thought I played Grimgut really well, and that he would be more worried about facing hi than Blackjaw. Given we play together a lot, this was just the sort of honest appraisal I needed to make my decision.
In hindsight it was definitely the correct one. Not that Blackjaw is bad, but in any list you need balance, and Grimgut's weird shaper/guardian aspects are just what the list needed to round it out.
So they were my 4: Titus, Grimgut, Luella and Kailinn. I played Titus and Grimgut in every game (although I might have considered dropping Grimgut if I saw Morrigan across the table, but fortunately she's not well liked and I don't think anyone at the event even had her in their rosters.
It's a list with lots of synergies, particularly around movement, with Kailinn, the Retchlings, Virtues and Glory Seekers all able help move others around. I didn't miss Blackjaw's output as with three maelstroms you tend to have that covered anyway.
Other Maelstrom lists
As a quick closing, I thought I might consider some other maelstrom list tips...
Firstly, if you're only going to play one maelstrom, I think Blackjaw is probably still the best to go with. His output when firing is great, and the control from Fearsome helps out in lots of other ways.
If you're going for two maelstroms in a list, I quite like the list Jamie Perkins was playing at the event with Luella and Kailinn, they're both super fast, and you've got a toolbox of tricks for both high armour and high dodge targets. I'm not sure if they'd work together in a full Team Yellow list, but I think they are my two favourite so I might just give it a go.