McCabe is an incredibly versatile master with a slight preference for schemier and spread out games, as a counterpart to Shenlong's bubbly habits. He's fast, everything around him is fast, and he and his crew have a mean bite to boot. He can run with anything, though naturally he has his preferences. A core is roughly going to consist of 3 SS of upgrades, Luna, 2 Guild Hounds and the Shadow Emissary for 5 activations at 23 SS. He doesn't need more than 4 cache and benefits greatly from stuffing any spares above that into improving his crew. Beyond that you can go anywhere.
McCabe will want to be engaged as soon as possible, raising his meager defenses, and maintain range and sight to the models he's loaned his stuff to. His Wk 7, his crew's Nimble and 4" pushes every time he hands out upgrades make his crew ridiculously mobile and great at reaching across the board within even just a turn. He is fairly reliant on his crew to do most of the scheming, with McCabe being the centerpoint they all converge on, though around the end of the fourth turn he's a great option to suddenly send off into the distance to do some last minute scheming of his own.
McCabe's upgrades are key to his playstyle, and he has a large range of to choose from with only 3(4) slots to put them. This tends to be easier than you'd think, seeing as there's a handful you could call auto includes.
The easiest pick because at its core it's a 1 SS upgrade that turns itself into a 2 SS upgrade. Literally no reason not to pick it. It can also turn another McCabe upgrade into any McCabe upgrade, which might be nice if you're caught off guard and don't have a Terracotta Warrior with you, but you're rarely gonna need it for that. Use this turn 1 to transform it into a Glowing Sabre and you're a happy camper.
McCabe likes to hand out upgrades, so giving models with upgrades a to their Ml and Wp is a perfect fit for him. For me it's nearly impossible to pry this from his card.
Whether it's on McCabe or on another model, this card gives you so many options. Your weakest unit can get a respectable damage track that ignores just about everything, McCabe gets a string of nifty new options on every suit... It's just a great upgrade, and the best contender to Terracotta Warrior into getting multiples of.
Badge of Speed
Probably McCabe's most distinct upgrade, and it should start on the Shadow Emissary. It saves you 2 SS, and with that your Shadow Emissary starts a turn with a Nimble walk, tossing this upgrade along with a push onto whatever model, using its Rite of Strength to give that model another push+fast. And beyond Nimbling your crew, it lets you reactivate minions, which is even better. Be it a Charm Warder, Illuminated or Dawn Serpent - if it does something well once it probably won't mind doing it again...
And with those you have your three main upgrades, with Loot Bag into Glowing Sabre and Promises on McCabe and Badge of Speed on your Shadow Emissary. That just leaves us with one slot to fill.
Cloak of Invisibility
For 1 SS you're getting Perfect Camouflage, which helps McCabe with his biggest weakness of being weak against range and Don't Mind Me and Disguised on your crew, which turns any model into a respectable scheme runner. It's my go-to for the types of games I take McCabe.
The biggest rival of Cloak of Invisibility, mainly focused around giving McCabe some resilience. On your crew it hands out a bubble of resilience, which can be great too, but is brought down by being a bit more awkward to use. Overall a great upgrade, but unfortunately one that you'd mostly want to keep on McCabe, which runs a bit counter to how you get the most out of him.
Elixir of Life
The last upgrade I'd call an option, but it's a niche one. A heal is nice, Regenerate is nice, Unimpeded is nice... but it comes at a 2 SS price tag. And while you could use Loot Bag to swap this one in too, even at 1 SS it's facing tough competition in that Cloak of Invisibility and Strangemetal Shirt. It's nice to have the option though, especially with the Terracotta Warriors being able to swap Loot Bags back in.
And you really shouldn't look much further than that. TT's generic upgrades just don't mesh too well with how you'd like to use McCabe.
McCabe can carry any crew and make it better, and in listing the models McCabe can work with you might as well be listing the entire TT catalog, so here's models that stand out with McCabe specifically.
This is the #1 autoinclude model for me, above even the Guild Hounds. Its effect with McCabe might not spring out as particularly spectacular, but with the ability to take a free upgrade the Shadow Emissary becomes, for all intents and purposes, an 8 SS model. And a darn good one at that. Its Rite of Strength's push+fast action that is usually restricted to Enforcers and Henchmen with upgrades now works on any NonCabe crewmember. Take This allows it to hand out a second 4" push if it's holding any of McCabe's upgrades. The Explorer's Call even allows you to hold 4 of McCabe's upgrades. It's just such a solid model you're getting a discount on and so synergetic with McCabe's playstyle that it completely vanquishes its competition in this price range (looking at yu, Yu).
Now these guys are half the reason you're taking McCabe in the first place. They're TT's best source of cheap activations, only matched by Shenlong's Peasants. And unlike the peasants, they're much more than some free focus and an activation. They're fast, tiny and independent, and with that amazing scheme runners. While the Wonder Weasel would be great with McCabe, the usefulness of the extra activations the Guild Hounds give completely overshadows it. The only question you need to ask yourself is "How Many?" (to which the answer is 2 or 3).
We shouldn't be surprised here, since these buggers seem to find themselves in just about every TT list to start with. With McCabe's light preference for upgrades and Minions however, these guys shine. Mold Of The Other works on Minions and Enforcers, which cover 99% of McCabe's lists, which is nifty. Now Ancient Treasure is where they get nasty. McCabe's upgrades are his toolbox - you use whatever you think might come in handy at the start of the match and have to leave the rest behind. With these, you don't, and can swap in whatever you want whenever you need. What's more, as long as an upgrade with the same name isn't attached to McCabe, you can even sneak in doubles of McCabe's upgrades. Do we really need three Glowing Sabres or four Badges of Speed? I don't know. But I know I want the option. You can even use them to give your Enforcers and Henchmen extra Recalled Trainings if you're ever feeling you won't be needing McCabe's upgrades anymore.
TT's very own angry pony. Now McCabe doesn't do too much with this guy that other masters can't, but he does it all just a bit better. 8" pushes+fast+nimble vs 10" pushes+fast, 3~4 activations for 10~13 SS to offset the 12/13 SS price tag vs some Peasants/free Huggy, and a penchant for taking strong minions and Glowing Sabre, both loving Yasunori's Kodoku. Just an amazing model who McCabe can take while maintaining a decent amount of activations.
These models won't be found in a lot of lists, but with McCabe they're suddenly given new life. Being able to reactivate a 9 or 10 SS minion tends to have some devastating effects on top of that extra activation. Now personally I tend to go for the Dawn Serpent on account of it having Ml and Sh 7 vs the Jorogumo's pitiful Ml5, though the Jorogumo gets a 0 attack on top of that and Eat Your Fill for 1 SS less. You won't see them in every list but anything big and minionny will benefit greatly from McCabe's shenanigans.
As an alternative to the Dawn Serpent or Jorogumo, with Gwyneth Maddox and an Illuminated McCabe gives you a reactivating 4/6/7 damage track. That is a lot. Focus it all on one unit, spread it out between two - it's all up to you. By themselves a GwynIllu pair gives you one activation of set-up and one activation of high damage, which isn't exactly worth the 15 SS, but with McCabe's Black Flash you suddenly double your attacks, and with fast you're even giving a fifth attack at that 4/6/7. This is fairly combo-oriented however. An Illuminated is hardly a bad purchase so you can live without Gwyneth, but without the Illuminated she veers towards being dead weight/an expensive scheme runner.
Beyond that there's some smaller synergies found across his hiring pool, which can give both overlooked and staple units a new purpose.
Wastrels and Wardens can both add 's to their duel totals, giving the Glowing Sabre a 3/5/6 damage track on these cheap minions. Ten Thunder Brothers can increase the range of their Glowing Sabre up to 4", with its damage track complimenting the sturdiness of the TTB turning them into formidable beatsticks.
The Obsidian Oni's heal is normally restricted to models with upgrades, which McCabe turns into a heal on any model. Torakage and Rail Workers can get a to their attack and damage flips, which suddenly gets a lot more significant on a Glowing Sabre attack.