Max Soulstones: 44 (The 6 main models, max soulstones, max upgrades)
Strengths: Undead Buffs, Resilience
Weaknesses: Ranged Game, Speed
The key to the Open Graves crew is buffing up your models to create super zombies to chew through everything your opponent sends against them. While the box comes with some melee zombies, it really shines when you have a chance to expand it with a selection of other undead. This doesn’t mean it can’t hold it’s own in crew box style games though, you just have to focus on buffing your guys and using Nicodem’s summoning abilities to bring back punk zombies when they die.
First up: the buffs! Both of Nicodem’s attack actions can be used to hinder the opponent, but they also do double duty when cast on your own undead. Rigor Mortis can make you own guys Fast, and Decay heals friendly undead when it hits them, with the possibility of healing them to full on a trigger with a corpse. Death’sWhip is on both Nicodem and his totem, which makes nearby friendly undead immune to slow. A minor buff that plays very effectively into his summoning, as undead summoned nearby thus get their full activation that turn. Corpse Conductoris the big one: nearby friendly undead get + flips to melee attacks and defense flips. Upgrade-wise, you can add in Necrotic Crowning to take an action in order to give + flips to the damage and cast actions as well, making all your undead incredibly deadly.
The crew is also exceptionally hard to destroy. Baseline abilities include Regeneration on Mortimer, Hard to Wound and Hard to Kill on the Punk Zombies, and the fantastic Impossible to Wound on Nicodem (basically Hard to Wound, but damage can never be cheated against him). There’s also healing in abundance. Chime of Sorrow is a 0 action that lets Nicodem turn corpses into health and cards for himself, as well as the aforementioned Decayattack. On upgrades, Welcoming Painturns poison into healing (Mortimer can pass out poison), and Patchwork lets you use additional corpses when summoning to heal the damage dealt to summoned minions. Reaper Grin is an important upgrade for some crews, as it gives Nicodem a trigger to sacrifice an undead to negate damage against him, as well as an action to put up an aura of soft cover. Just be careful with the Vulture, it’s incredibly squishy.
The Reanimatorability deserves special mention, as it’s one of Nicodem’s claims to fame. With it, he can summon any undead minion in the faction with the use of a corpse counter. It requires a lot of high crows/high cards with soulstones, but the ability to summon up whatever you need (any even some fairly costly stuff…the hanged can be summoned with a 13, and that’s a 9 point minion) is incredibly powerful. Upgrades can add healing onto the summon (summoned dead come into play at half health), and add a trigger to Decaythat lets you follow up killing someone with a cast of Reanimator at +2 Cast. Limited use in a starter box style game (just resummoning dead Punks if you have no other models/don’t proxy), but incredibly fun if you’re willing to expand heavily into the faction. If there aren’t enough corpses in play, Mortimer can attempt to dig up a corpse counter for use as well, though it costs 2 AP (his Casting Expert upgrade can be very helpful there).
The first weakness of the box is the ranged game. Nicodem himself has some decent attacks at quite long range, but in order to best use his auras he has to be in the thick of things with the rest of your crew. On the plus side, the Vulture can use a 1 action to serve as the focal point for Nicodem’s spells, so you can get some fantastic range out of that. After that though, Mortimer can fling Poison at people and that’s it. The Punk Zombies have no ranged attacks whatsoever.
The second weakness would be the speed of everything (except the Vulture. The bird’s crazy fast). Mortimer and the zombies have a pretty sad speed 4, while Nicodem has a 5. The main movement effect in the box is pretty strong though. Mortimer can fling some meat at a model, which will cause your undead models to push up to their walk towards the target.
Overcoming the weaknesses is nowhere near impossible. You can take your first action to run up a model, and then use Mortimer to fling meat at it so everyone else walks. Keep an aura of fog up with Nicodem if you fear shooting. Rely on the natural toughness and Nicodem’s healing to get your crew up there and wreck face. Of course, if you have a couple of pretty high cards and your opponent has some low health living models, you could fly the Vulture close, and then Decay the model to death and get the trigger to cast Reanimatorimmediately, popping something incredibly nasty up right in the middle of the opponent’s crew. Don’t expect it to survive long unsupported, but while the opponent is busy with that your guys can close the distance.
Expanding Your Crew
The best way to expand your crew is to realize the toolbox potential of being able to summon any undead minion in the faction as an action. Therefore, the best bet would be to pick up as many of them as possible. The University of Transmortis box gives you three different summons tailored to kill (and terrify) specific enemies: undead, construct, or living. Crooligans or Necropunks give you cheap (and thus easier to summon) highly mobile pieces to grab objectives with. It won’t be an option every game, but being able to summon up the Hanged with a 13 of crows (or a 13 and a soulstone/red joker) can be very swingy. A tank or two can be good choices to help hold objectives, Flesh Constructs have very high health and are hard to kill, while Crooked Men are highly resistant to ranged attacks. Finally, Rotten Belles are a must have: their amazing lure helps bring models to you to help negate your speed/ranged issues, as well as help out with positioning for schemes.
As a note, the rising corpse that Nicodem comes with as base dressing would make an excellent Mindless Zombie. The box doesn’t come with the card or another base, but the model is the same as the card art, and if you’re running a Mindless Zombie summoning ability you might want a lot of them, but there’s currently only three unique sculpts. Not sure how well this use would stand in official tournaments, but it definitely seems fine in casual, especially if you weren’t going to have space on that base anyway because of other basing stuff.