Investigator Spotlight: Silas Marsh

Hi and welcome to the second Investigator Spotlight. In this installment, I’ll be taking a look at an investigator that has been present in the game for a while but just got his official release in The Innsmouth Conspiracy cycle. Today we’ll be talking about everyone’s favorite hunky sailor: Silas Marsh. This article was inspired by recent discussions over the interaction between his ability and a select group of skill cards. Hopefully I can shed some light on that and also present you with some interesting facts and strategy on The Man with No Shirt. If you’re interested in more Silas discussions, Drawn to the Flame has a wonderful Silas focused episode here that I recommend giving a listen to. Let’s dive in!

History

In my last Spotlight, I focused on Carolyn Fern, an investigator who has been present throughout basically the entire history of the Arkham Files universe. In the case of Silas, he is a relatively recent addition, showing up in the 2009 expansion to Arkham Horror (2nd edition), The Innsmouth Horror. Ever since then, he’s been a mainstay in Arkham games, making appearances in Eldritch Horror, Arkham Horror (3rd edition) and now the Living Card Game. In every incarnation Mr. Marsh has maintained a few constants: his love of the sea, his deep ties to Innsmouth, his rugged looks and his unwillingness (or inability) to wear a shirt. Always boasting high health and combat stats, the sailor has established himself as a fighter and in the card game, this is no different.

If you’re familiar with H.P. Lovecraft’s work, you’ll probably guess from his last name that Silas has deep ties to Innsmouth and a complicated family history. His character is at least distantly related to Captain Obed Marsh, a key figure in Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth. There’s some conflicted accounts from earlier in-game appearances, but the newer story snippets tell us Silas was born in Innsmouth and always had a natural affinity for water. Becoming a sailor was not hard and he sailed the world earning a grand reputation for his skills. Silas eventually returned to Innsmouth after being plagued by nightmares that features vast cities and terrifying creatures deep below the sea. These dark dreams are inevitably tied to his mysterious ancestry and possibly even indicative of a deeper secret within Silas.

The Sailor’s story was further developed in his novella, The Deep Gate, where he was initially released. In that tale, we figure out that Silas returns to Arkham after hearing about the death of his parents. There, he’s approached by a desperate Abigail Foreman who has discovered a tome predicting the end of the world. In the pages of that tome are drawings that depict the very creatures in Silas’ dreams. The world-ending event will happen at Devil Reef, in Silas’ hometown of Innsmouth, meaning he must return there to confront this evil once and for all. If you’re interested in learning more about the secrets behind Innsmouth as well as Silas’ dreams and ancestry, I recommend grabbing this novella. At the very least you’ll have access to some very cool replacement signatures.

Design

Slide left and right to see both sides of his investigator card

With his original novella release, Silas was the second skill-focused investigator, after Minh Thi Phan, but also the first to feature deck building focused on a skill-only trait. As I discussed in my analysis of Grisly Totem in my article on multi-class cards, Survivors and Seekers have been established as the classes that can interact more complexly with skill cards. The Sailor not only has access to skills outside his class, his signature ability only works with that type of card, differently than Minh, for example, who adds icons to any committed cards. From his stats, we can also see that he is mostly focused on enemy management, which ties nicely with his roles in previous Arkham Files games. While he can play that role very well, Silas is a very powerful and flexible character.

The Sailor’s deck building is also unique in that he’s the only trait-based investigator to have access to levels 0 to 2 of his additional cards. As I mentioned in my first article on this style of deck building options, Silas and Mark are the only investigators with lower than level 3 access to their traits. Usually, we see access to level 0 to 3 and even Silas’ Practiced counterpart, Amanda Sharpe has those numbers. The most baffling part of this is that there is only one Innate skill above level 2, which is Rise to the Occasion (3), a card that Silas already has access to. This might mean there’s a very powerful innate skill in store that would be too good for our haunted hunk. For now, Silas players can rest easy knowing his trait access actually gives him the entire pool of those cards.

Silas’ main ability is one of the strongest in the game, but to understand that, we need to dive a little deeper into how skills and committing them work in Arkham Horror. For more specific info on the timing of skill tests, consult the Skill Test Timing section of your Rules Reference or on ArkhamDB. The most important part to remember is that revealing chaos tokens is step 3 of performing a skill test. Since determining the performing investigator’s skill value (step 5) is done after revealing and resolving tokens, any skills pulled back to hand will not contribute their icons. A lot of skills, such as Overpower or Eureka! also have effects that are reliant on the skill test succeeding, which is determined at the end of the skill test (step 7). Silas’ ability to return a skill card happens immediately after the chaos token is revealed. This means that cards that are returned to hand will not be present during step 7 to resolve effects that are dependent on success/failure. If you commit Overpower and use Silas’ ability to pull it back, you will not draw the card even if the test is successful.

In contrast to this, some cards like the new Innsmouth skill Unrelenting have effects that resolve before you can pull them back. When you commit Unrelenting or Signum Crucis, for example, the effect resolves fully after you commit but before pulling tokens. If you return one of them to hand, you’ll already have reaped the benefits, meaning you’re mostly losing out on the card’s icons. This also works for a card like Defiance since the effect begins before your ability kicks in and lasts for the whole test. It’s clear with the level 0 version as it states “Before revealing chaos tokens for this test, choose…”. Knowing how these skills work with The Sailor’s reaction ability will be important for understanding a powerful strategy of playing him which I’ll explain in the next section.

One important case of the above interaction is with Daring. There are two important sentences on that card, the first is “That enemy gains retaliate and alert for the duration of this skill test.” This effect happens as soon as card is committed and has an established duration which means it will still be active if the skill is returned to hand. The second relevant sentence here is “After this test ends, draw 1 card.” and its implications are more subtle. Since cards are discarded after the test ends, for Daring’s effect to fire, it would need to work without the card being present. If the effect works, without the card being present, pulling it back to hand with Silas’ ability would also not prevent it from happening. This concept can be extended to any future cards that feature “after this test ends” effects and also for the card Butterfly Effect. This level 1 survivor event has a mode that is equivalent to a single use of Silas’ ability. If you’re playing Patrice Hathaway, you might have that card along with Prescient in your deck. Similarly with Daring, Prescient will still activate even if returned to hand, as long as the named token type was revealed.

As with Carolyn, Silas has two sets of signature cards. His main set comes with two item assets that work in similar, yet complimentary ways. The first is Sea Change Harpoon, a weapon that allows The Sailor to fight with a boost to his combat and also deal extra damage if skills are committed. The second is Silas’s Net, a tool that lets its eponymous character to evade an enemy, or two if he has committed any skill cards. Both cards give you a bonus effect if you’ve committed cards and also can return to hand to pull back every skill you’re thrown at that test. You’re already wanting to commit skill cards as Silas and being able to go all-in on one test, returning all your skills to hand regardless of success or failure can be very strong. The net is more circumstantial than the harpoon since you won’t always have two enemies to evade, but the cheaper cost means you can play it more easily after returning to hand. Along with these two assets, you’ll also get Siren Call, a weakness that can make committing cards like Inquiring Mind and Rise to the Occasion very hard. As a Survivor, Silas might be relying on low resource builds, especially if he’s used a lot of them to replay the net and harpoon. Despite all that, It’s straight forward to get rid of using two actions. Just be careful if you’re managing enemies since attacks of opportunity from activating that ability can hurt. Overall, this set is very strong with two signatures and a weakness that can be tough but is mostly on par with other ones in the game.

Silas’ novella signatures are unique in that they are both skill cards. Nautical Prowess is an absurdly strong skill that gives Silas at least two icons in both stats where he lags behind. In addition to this, it can also give you two more icons or a card draw which happens even if you decide to pull this skill back. This is because “if” effects happen as soon as the specified condition is met and Silas’ reaction happens after the chaos token is revealed. This makes Nautical Prowess an incredible pick for consistent card draw, treachery mitigation or just a big boost on any test. With it comes the black icons on Dreams of the Deep. This card hinders you pretty heavily in any skill test by two subtracting icons. Worse, if you don’t pass a test with it committed, there’s 2 damage waiting for you at end of turn. The good news is that with his focus on skills, Silas has plenty of ways to make (mostly) sure he can pass a test with this, especially in his higher stats. You can also commit Dreams of the Deep to a skill test with difficulty zero, such as from Old Keyring or Flashlight to all but guarantee your success. This set of signatures is also very strong, but provides an angle that’s entirely different from his main assets. Having both the skill and the asset can be a powerful combination, making Silas one of the few investigators where I’d strongly consider playing both sets of signatures.

Strategy

Sea Change Harpoon by Robert Laskey

Given how strong his ability is with skills, adding them to your deck seems like a given with Silas. Once again, I’ll refer to Andy Cotgreave’s tool for seeing how many of each card type are in a deck. As of the writing of this article, most decks feature between 12 and 20 total skills with the most common amount being 18. That’s over half your deck with skills, which sheds some light on how important this card type is to The Sailor. Maybe don’t play all skill cards, with no Survivor ones, though.

There are two main strategies you can use to make the most use of Silas’ ability. The first is to respond to the specific token revealed, giving yourself a “second chance” at using a skill if you would fail or return a skill to hand if its icons are unnecessary. This can be very important for cards like True Understanding, Resourceful or Quick Thinking to make sure you can get the extra effects or even with something like Take Heart in case you would succeed. You can also pull back cards like Inquiring Mind and Steadfast in case you don’t need them committed, saving all those valuable icons for later. The second strategy would be to take advantage of skills that have effects that happen regardless of being pulled back or not. As I mentioned in the previous section, this was already present with cards like Defiance and his replacement signature Nautical Prowess. With the release of Innsmouth, we saw two very powerful additions to this suite with Unrelenting and Signum Crucis. The former provides consistent card draw at the low cost of temporarily sealing good tokens while being able to seal the worst tokens, which can be a very clutch effect in certain campaigns or higher difficulties.

In addition to having a powerful main ability, Silas’ elder sign is also one of the strongest in the game. Not only does he get to commit a card in his discard pile to the test, you also get that card back after the test ends. This effect along with Resourceful will always net two cards and if you add Eucatastrophe to your deck, then the recursion shenanigans can being. This loop can also be performed by one William Yorick with only Eucatastrophe, but at the cost of only getting the one card back. “Infinite” loop aside, Silas’ elder sign is just plain powerful, allowing you to repeat effects of skills you committed at least two times. You can sweep up clues with Sharp Vision, fly around the map with Nimble or just pull back that Nautical Prowess you had to let go a few rounds ago.

Silas’ stats give the impression of an enemy manager and he can play that role very effectively in a multiplayer group. Having two ways of dealing with enemies makes him very consistent and flexible. His main signatures and the release of new survivor weapons like Chainsaw make him capable of dealing more damage. Don’t be fooled by the stat-line though, Silas has more than enough power to make up for his low stats and excel in true solo play. Combining cards like Old Keyring, “Look what I found!” and even Belly of the Beast allows Silas to circumvent his low intellect. Alternatively, you can even power through with Sharp Vision or Inquiring Mind. Resourceful is a key piece that ties this all together, giving Silas a lot of consistency. If we take a look at Andy’s tool for seeing who most uses a card, we can see 78% of Silas decks include Resourceful as of the writing of this article. Other ubiquitous cards for this investigator are Peter Sylvestre with over 82% combining both versions and Fire Axe, present in 77% of decks.

There are a few solid lists out there, just be careful when searching on ArkhamDB since it seems to differentiate the novella version and Innsmouth one without being able to search for both. One of the first interesting lists I saw was Truly Understanding Silas Marsh by hotelfoxtrox, making use its namesake card to find clues without investigating. One strategy that seemed to be present in the early days of Silas decks was to use Defiance to prevent the skull token from breaking Baseball Bat, like in Call of the Sea by Trilkin. Unfortunately, this does not work because Defiance only cancels effects coming from the token itself, not anything that triggers off the token being revealed, which it still is. The awesomely named Studcake Silas featured this strategy with Old Hunting Rifle and even though it doesn’t work, there’s still a great write up by chirubime, so I recommend checking it out!

Newer lists with his main signatures have also popped up like the punny Silas Mar(sh)-ching to glory by mihnea13 or Silas Marsh’s Deadliest Catch by ramensgood, both showcasing pretty traditional builds that take advantage of a lot of the available off-class cards. Lastly, I want to shout out Silas Dreams of Beating the Chaos Bag for an excellent write-up as well as the use of Mariner’s Compass, a card that is very flavorful for our eye-patched sailor. One strategy that I’m sure will pop up soon with the release of A Watchful Peace (AKA shirt) is a bless focused deck taking advantage of Signum Crucis and Drawing Thin to fill the bag.

So what are the shirtless seaman’s main weaknesses? Looking at his stats, we know that he’ll have trouble with nasty treacheries having only 2 willpower and 5 sanity. Cards like Inquiring Mind and Steadfast can make up for this, but they’re few and mostly conditional. Peter Sylvestre is the real all-star here, especially at level 2, giving a boost to willpower. Silas can also take both versions of Guts if he’s really worried about those tests. Low intellect can also be a hindrance, but as I mentioned above, the Survivor can make up for this. Another flaw you can run into with The Sailor is the lack of high damage options. Until the release of Chainsaw , Silas didn’t have a way to consistently output more than 2 damage per attack. Even so, that card costs 4 XP and has a limited number of charges. If you wind up facing a big boss with large, scaling health values, you might need some help from your teammates or maybe from the old favorite, Timeworn Brand. Depending on what campaign you’re playing, Waylay can be a good option to get rid of those pesky 5 health baddies that pop up occasionally.

That’s all I have today on Silas Marsh, The Sailor. Hopefully I was able to shed some light on how he works and any weird interactions. If you have any Silas decks or stories that I might enjoy, please let me know! Otherwise, if you have any comments, questions or general thoughts, leave a comment below or find me on Facebook, Discord or Nightgaunt Mail. See you next time!

Once again, thanks to Ryan for reviewing this article, to Antimarkovnikov for providing links to some of the images printed here and to Andy Cotgreave for providing some awesome data analysis tools over on Deciphered Reality.

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