(Metagame Archive) Adjusting to Vs.: Breaking Down the Initiative

By Jason Grabher-Meyer

Welcome back to “Adjusting to Vs.” After last time’s math-intensive number-fest, I’m ready to kick back and never talk about averages again. Ever. For the rest of my days, until I die, a happy, average-less man. Luckily, the topic of today’s fourth instalment is the initiative, and this is one mechanic that is far more concerned with finesse, quick thinking, and the ability to mentally shift gears at the drop of a remainder.

Get this math out of my head . . .

Obviously, if you’ve read this far into the series, you are probably familiar with what the initiative is. Each turn, one player gets to act first in each phase, with the other player performing the same phase immediately after. Next turn, the roles are swapped, and the initiative continues to pass between the two players on a turn-by-turn basis until the game ends. In most game systems, it’s advantageous to go first—you’re usually the first to graduate one card to another, or the first to attack, or you get an extra piece of card advantage before your opponent can get it. However, in the Vs. System, the decision to accept the initiative for the first turn or to pass it to your opponent is a dynamically tactical one, highly dependant on the focus of your deck.

As a general rule, the player holding the initiative will be at an offensive advantage. He or she will be attacking first, and the opponent will only get to attack with whatever is not stunned or exhausted after surviving the clobbering. The player not holding the initiative can look at his or her situation in one of two ways: either being forced onto the defensive, or as being at a defensive advantage. Though both are true, I prefer to focus on the latter, as it’s the one that players sometimes don’t see. A game such as this one is one where knowledge equals power, and since going second means you get to see what your opponent opted to do before deciding what you will do, that’s a definitive advantage right off the bat. There are other defensive advantages as well, but I’ll go into those on a step-by-step basis.

Let’s break down how initiative affects each phase of gameplay by looking at the advantages and disadvantages that each player has.

Draw Phase

The initiative is technically irrelevant in this phase, since both players draw simultaneously. This is the only phase where the initiative does not make a difference. Let’s move on to the . . .

Build Phase

The build phase is where the initiative can make a huge difference for those in the know. It begins with the resource step, in which both players essentially have the same agenda—set whatever is the most helpful in the resource row. For the initiative-holding player, the ideal set is likely going to be something that can give an attack bonus or change a character’s position to give an advantage. On a higher strategic level, certain key cards themed to the deck might be more important. The same is true for the player not holding the initiative, except instead of looking for the ideal attack-boosting card, he or she is probably more interested in a defense-boosting card or a card that recovers a character. The player without the initiative is going to be at a slight cerebral advantage. The player with the initiative will have to set first, and if the player takes a long time deciding what to set, that can speak volumes about both his or her hand and set resource. In contrast, the player without the initiative gets to decide what his or her set will be while the other person is deciding, and thus, the time taken to select what to set will likely be hidden. The player without the initiative will also know something is up if the opponent refuses to set a resource for the turn—this could make a statement about the opponent’s deck (could be running a Brotherhood swarm), or it could make a statement about an opponent’s hand (maybe it’s just too good to throw any of it into the resource row).

The recruit step is the first obvious and major advantage that the non-initiative player has. On the general levels, the advantage that the non-initiative player has is that he or she can see what the opponent recruited and act accordingly. However, in specialized cases, this can be even more useful. For instance, if you are using a low-stat card in the early game such as Franklin Richards or Alicia Masters, it can be a poor idea to play it on the first turn when you have the initiative. However, if your opponent has the initiative and does not have a 1-drop character to play, you know that your Alicia or Franklin will be safe until at least the next turn, whereupon you can stick a front row character between that character and the opponent. Alternatively, if a high-defense character like Destiny or Invisible Woman, Invisible Girl is called for, then you can go ahead and drop a character that can stand on its own on turn 1. The idea remains the same for the rest of the game, increasing in complexity but not straying from this root concept.

Lastly, the formation step continues this theme. If you’re holding the initiative, you generally have the disadvantage in that your formation is probably going to completely telegraph your intentions to your opponent. By the same token, the non-initiative player can react to the opponent’s formation in whatever way is needed: if the opponent set up for an all-out attack, one can create a defensive formation, or if the opponent has turtled due to a perceived disadvantage, you can form up in an attack-oriented formation. Unless you’re Omeed—in that case you just form up in the opposite way you normally would and win the game.

Combat Phase

The combat phase and the attack step mark the realm of advantage for the player who currently has the initiative. When you’re attacking while holding the initiative, you do so with full ranks; when you’re attacking and not holding the initiative, you hope to mount an opportunistic offense with whatever you have left after being ravaged by your opponent. Games are often won just because one player got to attack before the other player did, decimating his or her chances of mustering a greater counterattack to pull out a win via negative-endurance comparison in the recovery phase. It’s for this reason that The Power Cosmic is so prohibitively expensive to use—it not only allows you to go on the full offensive two turns in a row, but it also allows you to claim the right to first blood after the formation step. Your opponent is practically guaranteed to have the wrong formation to handle the crush of pain headed his or her way.

Recovery Phase

Last up is the recovery phase, yet another segment of the turn where the player not holding the initiative is going to have the advantage. It’s just a case of information, similar to the build phase, only more pronounced: it’s one thing to decide which character you will recover blindly, but it’s another issue entirely to choose who to recover after you’ve seen your opponent’s choice. And . . . uhh . . . the fact that the player without the initiative will probably have a wider range of choice in the matter than the player with the initiative is sort of a blood-stained silver lining as well.

Those are the general viewpoints of each player when it comes to turn phases with and without the initiative. Remember that the strategy of your deck will determine which turns you want to have the initiative on: if you tend to have statistically weak 1-cost characters, and especially strong characters that become recruitable on turns 2, 4, 6, and 8, then not beginning the game with the initiative is probably the best decision. Alternatively, if you have strong 1-drop characters and find your best characters are those that become playable on turns 3,5,7, and 9, then going first on turn 1 is going to be highly advantageous.

Prioritize the middle turns in this respect: if your deck is strong on turn 3 and turn 4, remember that the stat numbers get substantially bigger as the game goes on (and that turn 4 in particular is a strong turn, followed by the weaker fifth turn, as covered in part three of this series), and also keep in mind that you have a better chance of getting to turns 4, 5 and 6, than you do of getting to turns 7, 8, and 9. Playtest the initiative very carefully—the best decks are going to be the ones that do well regardless of when they have the initiative, but can really go into high gear on either the even numbered or odd numbered turns. This way, when you win the die roll and get to choose initiative, you’ll have a potential lead in the game before the first cards are even drawn.

That’s it for now! Hopefully I’ve once again helped to break down the more mystifying and intricate qualities of the Vs. System into Ant Man–sized pieces. As always, comments and questions can be sent to Jason@metagame.com.

Thanks for reading!

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(Metagame Archive) Gamer for Life: PC: Indianapolis and Deck Styles

By The Ben Seck

As I write this article, I’ve just finished an exhausting weekend at the very first Pro Circuit event at Gen Con Indy. For those who weren’t there, I definitely recommend going to the next one in Anaheim, because if it was anything like the first, you will definitely “Have a Blast!” (insert laughter here). From the amazing feature match area, which looked like a combination of Doc Ock’s lab and something from the Teen Titans Tower, to the Doom’s Throne Room judge station, just playing in the tournament area was an incredible experience. What made it more enjoyable was that despite it being a Professional event, there was definitely an emphasis on capital “F” Fun. The only issue I had was that Jeff Donais’s stand-up comedy routine requires a little work . . . but I’d better stop before I put my foot in my mouth! I was lucky enough to finish in the money (seventeenth place), but a few crucial errors meant that my run for Top 8 ended up one match short. Many people have written to me and asked me why I didn’t go with the Cops and Robots plan I outlined in my previous article. Let’s just say that my better gaming angels got the best of me and forced me to play a more mainstream deck (Fantastic Four Beatdown, or as I like to call it, Things in Cars). Rest assured, I will be constantly working on new and even more exciting strategies!

Seeing the incredible diversity in the decks that were present at the Pro Circuit was very satisfying. Those who are claiming that the format comes down to a few decks should examine the metagame breakdown from the event coverage. Decks of all sorts of affiliations were present, but more importantly, all sorts of deck styles were present as well. One thing that I have learned from my years as a TCG player is that it is important for a player to understand different styles of play. It’s vital to realize what your deck and your opponents’ decks want to achieve, and to keep that in mind throughout the match. Many people would say that this is obvious, but it is very easy to get lost in the intricacies of combat and forget what your overall game plan is. Your plan of attack will vary according to what you are playing and how your opponent is intending on winning the game. For those who are unfamiliar with the various deck styles, I’ll break down the most common archetypes.

Aggressive, or Aggro, decks, such as The New Brotherhood, dispatch the opponent quickly by the most direct and speedy means available. This sort of deck requires plenty of skill but not much finesse. Most of these decks lack a significant late game strategy. They need to put themselves so far ahead in the early game (turns 1 through 4) to make sure that any comeback is next to impossible. The best way to beat this sort of deck is to play a very conservative, defensive game and make low risk attacks that will reduce the amount of future damage rather than trying to keep up the damage race. Most other decks will be able to pull it through in the late game as long as you survive the early game without losing too much endurance.

Aggro-Control decks, like Big Brotherhood and Common Enemy, seek to create an environment in which they dictate the terms of combat while remaining the aggressor. The characters in these decks typically have excellent ATK/DEF ratios for their recruit costs, but what is more important than the characters in these decks are the plot twists and locations. While Aggro decks have very aggressive effects, you will typically see that decks such as these have defensive plot twists and locations, or feature plot twists and locations that can be used in a defensive fashion. These decks need extreme redundancy in their character curves, meaning that they are very consistent at dropping characters with similar costs during all turns of the game. Current Aggro-Control decks can achieve this with the Lost City/Avalon Space Station combo, meaning that you can play more characters than the average deck and thus fill out the curve better. Additionally, consistency can also be achieved by using Signal Flare and Faces of Doom, which means that you can fill out the curve by searching for what drop you need. The best way to combat these decks is to disrupt their consistency with resource denial, like Ka-Boom! and Have a Blast!, or put up a very effective offensive that can win combat consistently, such as Fantastic Four Cars.

Control decks, such as most Doom variants, seek to extend the game as long as possible so that no other deck can compete, and then win with one single, overwhelming threat. Usually, in the case of Doom decks, this threat is either Apocalypse or Dr. Doom, Lord of Latveria. They use a number of stalling mechanisms, like characters such as Puppet Master and Robot Sentry, and plot twists like Mystical Paralysis, Reign of Terror, Overload, and Flame Trap to ensure that they aren’t completely overwhelmed in the early game, and mid-range larger characters to measure up against what’s left. The key weakness with this deck is a high reliance on single characters and getting the right answer at the right time. Most of these decks have fairly low redundancy, so it is very possible that a single threat slipping through the cracks will be fatal for the control player. High-efficiency Aggro-Control decks should be good against this strategy, but if you miss any character drops, you will probably not have enough pressure to overwhelm the Control deck. Also, if you let a deck like this get to the late game, it will probably win, because few decks have significant threats at that stage of the game.

Finally, the final piece to the metagame puzzle comes in the form of Combo decks. Largely unexplored and unsuccessful until this weekend, this style of deck attempts to win through unusual means and take advantage of the lack of answers in most decks. With most decks attempting to win through combat, Combo decks, such as Rigged Elections or any Cosmic Radiation–based combo deck, leave a lot of their opponents’ cards useless. However, these decks definitely suffer from inconsistent draws, since many of their key cards do not work well independently. Decks that pack a lot of answers, such as multiple copies of Have a Blast! and Fizzle, have a good shot, as well as Control decks, since they can use silver-bullet answers to most situations. With only one real successful Combo deck so far, this is a largely unexplored area of Vs. System.

Now that you are armed with this knowledge, what will you do with it? It’s important to understand a deck’s strengths and weaknesses, so you can know your strategy on different turns of the game. For example, if you are playing an Aggro-Control deck against a Control deck, you may realize that you have to make more aggressive attack choices to maximize damage because the Control deck’s late game is so effective at nullifying any late game threat that you present. In simpler terms, you may need to attempt to end a game a few turns earlier by taking a few risks rather than just keeping up the pace.

For those who were hoping for a follow-up to the Cops and Robots deck, don’t fret! I’m going to have a look at it as well as the successful rogue decks of PC Indy next week. Also, if there is an aspect of the game that you want me to take a specific look at, drop me an email at tbsmetagame@hotmail.com.

‘Till next week, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel . . .
Good Gaming!

TBS
tbsmetagame@hotmail.com

(Metagame Archive) Design Vs. Development: I Never Metagame I Didn’t Like

By Danny Mandel

Who’s the best X-Men 1-drop?
Is Onslaught too slow?
Are the Skrulls playable?
What beats the The New Brotherhood deck?

These are the kinds of topic headings you’ll see if you cruise down the forums at the various fan sites. I love questions like these because they make for great debates.

The best X-Men 1-drop? Longshot‘s the most aggressive, but Moira keeps your team healthy. Forge fetches The Blackbird, but Dazzler can tie up your opponent. And man, Shadowcat‘s really pretty. I guess it all depends on what you want for your deck.

Onslaught too slow? Not in the Doom mirror match.

The Skrulls playable? Depends on what deck you’re playing against. I’m pretty sure they dominate the 60 Sentinel Mk I matchup.

And what beats The New Brotherhood? Shhh, that’s a secret.

The reason these questions make for great debates is that they’re all contingent on the Vs. metagame. Yeah, the metagame. You know, as in “metagame.com”? There’s a lot of talk about the metagame these days—which decks beat which, what are the staple cards, which characters are overrated or underrated—these are all metagame questions. But what exactly is the metagame?

In very loose terms one could define the metagame as “the game outside the game.” Metagaming could be defined as “using information external to the game to make a decision within or about the game.”

Roleplaying gamers consider it metagaming if a player uses knowledge of the RPG’s game engine to influence his or her character’s actions, even if it means acting out of character. Predictably, this practice is often frowned upon, but there are different types of metagaming. In a TCG like Marvel, metagaming is not only par for the course, it’s an invaluable tool. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The metagame is an integral part of the Vs. System experience. The next few articles in this column will take a look at what makes a metagame, how design and development affect a metagame, and, more importantly, how a metagame affects design and development. Today’s article is mainly an introduction to the metagame (which may or may not have a little contest at the end).


Save the Environment

In the Vs. System, the “environment” is the set of available cards from which a player can build decks as well as the potential decks that can be built therein. Right now, the Vs. environment consists exclusively of Marvel Origins‘s 220 cards. When DC Origins comes out, the Vs. environment will grow to 385 cards. However, some players may just want to play pure DC. For them, the DC environment will just contain its Origins set. Some players may want to play pure Marvel, which means just the current card pool on its own. (That is, until the Spider-Man set hits the shelves.) Some players might want to mix Marvel and DC, but only play with or against team-pure decks. What if some players only want to play with or against decks made up of mutants? Or only Army characters? Or only cards that start with the letter “N”? The point is that there are many possible environments, some official and some home-brewed, and each and every one of them has its own metagame. (Next week, I’ll discuss how design and development shape an environment. For simplicity’s sake, for the remainder of this article when I refer to the metagame, I’m referencing the standard Vs. Constructed environment.)


B.Y.O.D.

TCGs differ from more standard games in that players don’t start off a match on equal footing. In a game of chess or checkers, one player is probably more skilled than the other, but both players start with the exact same pieces. It’s a rare thing when two Vs. decks facing off are a perfectly even match. But that’s the real charm, isn’t it? Unlike chess, you don’t start with the same pieces. Whether you’re a mad scientist putting together weird and wacky combinations of cards or you’re a cutthroat tourney hound whipping up the most efficient killing machine you can, you get to bring your own deck. For better or worse, your deck is your own. Which brings me to the next point.

Decks are not good or bad in a vacuum.

A deck is only good or bad when compared to another deck. And even then it might just be good or bad in that particular matchup. Maybe the X-Men stall deck crushes Sentinel rush, but gets destroyed by Doom control, which in turn can’t hold back the Fantastic Four beatdown deck. Maybe X-Men weenie versus FF equipment is an even contest that comes down to pure play skill. It’s matchup comparisons like these that comprise the metagame.

Sort of.

In reality, there is no universal metagame. The metagame isn’t which deck beats which, or what cards belong in a particular archetype. The metagame is more relative than that. It is simply which decks are getting played a lot in the environment. It doesn’t matter what the “best” deck is if no one’s playing it. Let’s say there’s this amazing 30 Skrull deck that can win any matchup like clockwork on turn 4. (Don’t worry, there isn’t one. At least, I don’t think there is.) If no one’s playing the Skrull deck, then it’s not part of the metagame. It doesn’t matter how good it might be, if no one gives it a try.

Conversely, the most popular deck in the environment might actually be horrible against almost any other deck, but if enough people are running it, then it will dominate the metagame. The silly stuff is when the “bad deck” starts winning tournaments based solely on the sheer volume of participants playing it. Hey, even the worst deck imaginable wins the mirror match 50 percent of the time. And if the deck starts winning tournaments, it will get even more press, which will lead to still more players trying it out. Then, of course, savvy players will start tuning their decks to perform better against this (horrible) tournament-winning deck. This is called metagaming.

Survey Says . . .

In a lot of ways, metagaming is like playing Family Feud. On that game show, it doesn’t matter what you think the answer is. All that matters is what you think other people think the answer is. For example, you might know in your heart of hearts that Sentinel rush is the best deck in the format, but if all the players at your local store are running X-Men weenie decks, perhaps you should run a deck that has a full complement of Flame Traps. (Grumble grumble Stupid Matt Hyra grumble grumble . . .)

There are a couple of basic ways to metagame. First, you can choose the deck in the metagame that performs the best against the other decks in the metagame. Think of it as an extended game of rock-paper-scissors, except that rock only beats scissors 80 percent of the time, but only loses to paper 60 percent of the time. Pick the deck you believe has the best win percentage and run it.

Another, more creative way to go is to come up with a new design that’s not yet in the metagame, but happens to perform well against the popular decks. Maybe each of the three decks getting all the press has a significant weakness. Perhaps you can build a deck specifically designed to exploit those weaknesses. The deck might be terrible against everything else, but against the three big decks, it’s a monster. Of course, if your deck does well, it will become a known quantity, and you can expect other people to be playing it at the next tourney.

A Word from the Fun Police

Let me take a moment to be clear on something. In general, metagaming is a useful tool you can use to improve your chances to win whether you’re playing in a Constructed tournament or five-way grand melee. But you do not have to metagame. I said before that a deck is not good or bad in a vacuum, that it’s only good or bad when compared to another deck. But this does not mean you can’t build your deck in a vacuum. If there’s something awesome you want to put together, who cares how well it performs in a given matchup? The whole point is to have fun—just shuffle up and play.

Macro-Metagames

Local metagames can be vastly different from each other. Maybe players in your area prefer the Fantastic Four, while the players near me favor the X-Men. (Actually, the guys at UDE seem to be on more of a Batman kick these days.) The fun really starts when you show up at a convention tournament or attend one of the stops on the Pro Circuit. It’s at the big events that huge changes happen in the metagame. For example, right now The New Brotherhood decks seem very popular, with Sabretooths and Savage Beatdowns going for a lot of money.

There’s a good chance the first big money tournaments will have lots of Savage Lands and The New Brotherhoods, but I’ll bet that many clever players will have counted on that, and consequently will have built and tuned their decks accordingly. Then, after a few archetypes or builds show up that perform well against the ‘Hood, the metagame will shift.

The information gathered at major events or from tournament reports through a qualifying season (and proliferated by the Internet) creates an overarching or macro-metagame. Suddenly, everyone knows what beats what. But remember, the macro-metagame is only relevant in so much as it affects your local metagame. Who cares if the Internet community thinks the OnslaughtFrankie Raye deck is horrible? As long as your local games average ten turns, you’ll do just fine with it.

Micro-Metagames

Part of the fun of metagaming is that deck preferences and deck content are constantly shifting. You might find that a certain deck can turn an unwinnable matchup into a favorable one by swapping out a few cards. My X-Men discard deck pretty much got run over by the faster Brotherhood decks every time until I added four Gambits to the mix. Now it only gets run over almost every time.

Sometimes micro-metagames spring up centered on a few specific card interactions. For a stall deck, Burn Rubber makes an excellent weapon against the hard-hitting rush decks. But if all the stall decks start playing Burn Rubber, the rush decks will probably start running Blind Sided. But if the rush decks are all running Blind Sided, the stall decks might stop running Burn Rubber. But if the stall decks stop running Burn Rubbers, the rush decks can stop running Blind Sided, and so on and so forth.


A Metagame Game

Okay, that’s all for today. But before I go, here’s a little contest. Send me your best Marvel stories that involve metagaming, and I’ll post some of them next week. And of course, the winners get no-prizes.

Send your stories, questions, and comments to dmandel@metagame.com, and come back next week for a closer look at how environments get created and one or two UDE secrets.

(Metagame Archive) Adjusting to Vs.: The Curve Dissected

By Jason Grabher-Meyer

Welcome to part three of “Adjusting to Vs.,“the series with the noble goal of helping the new player and the TCG veteran get a grasp on the Vs. System as quickly as possible.

The curve. If you encountered Vs. for the first time at a convention or had it demoed for you at your local store by a UDE demo team member or judge, you probably heard about “The Curve.” Ominous, mysterious, and vague, but apparently very important. Comments along the lines of “Stuff starts off small, and then with each turn, there’s bigger hits, more powers, and more risk!” or “It’s sick! Characters are tiny on the first few turns and then they start getting waaay more powerful!”

I had experiences like this. My immediate reaction, being the opportunistic fellow that I am, was something like, “Whoah, sounds cool . . .,” and then the inevitable, “How much more powerful?”

There would be a brief pause.

“Like . . . really powerful!”

“Umm, alright.” At this point I’d always try to rephrase the question to get a straight answer, while still exuding politeness and gratitude. “Is there, like, a percentage or something, maybe, that you could give me? To help me get an idea?”

There’d always be another brief pause.

“Like . . . really powerful!”

At that point, I tended to black out. I don’t know what would happen after that—whatever sort of rampage I went on didn’t have a habit of leaving survivors.

So, here it is, the breakdown of the curve. If you like math, strap in and get ready for a mathy good time. If you’re like me, and can’t stand math but want to continue reading because you know how darn important this is, I promise that I understand your pain, and I’ll keep this as entertaining as possible. Trust me, I just spent a few hours crunching out these numbers, so I’m ready to cut loose. If I could write this article while riding a log flume, I probably would.

I’m going to focus on representing the recruitment cost curve for characters only. Plot twists and locations are virtually impossible to quantify, equipment cards aren’t much better, and really, when people express confusion about the curve and get that lost look on their faces (which I can recognize strictly because I own a mirror), they generally mean character cards. Effects of characters are equally difficult to quantify, so, I’m taking the easy wa—er, the logical way out, and dealing in hard statistics: ATK and DEF.

If we’re going to dissect the curve and extrapolate answers from it, we first need to set the groundwork. There are 120 character cards in Marvel Origins, and their recruit costs range from 1 to 10. The minimum ATK value is 0, while the maximum is 25. The minimum DEF value is 1, while the maximum is 25. The maximum numbers are going to be important later on in this breakdown, but for now, they’re not all that important—just something to keep in mind. Now hold your breath, because we’re about to dive into some serious numbers!

Let’s start with a breakdown of the recruit cost 1 characters. There are 21 recruit cost 1 characters in Marvel Origins. Out of them, three have 0 ATK, fifteen have 1 ATK, and three have 2 ATK (Ant Man, Longshot, and Random Punks). Nineteen have 1 DEF, and two have 2 DEF (Destiny and Forge). The median ATK and DEF values are both 1. The average ATK is 1, and the DEF average is 1.095. This might be a good time to point out that all these calculations have been done to the third decimal. I figured that was thorough without being geeky. Sadly, I was wrong—it’s actually terribly geeky, but it has given accurate results.

There are nineteen recruit cost 2 characters in the game. One has 0 ATK, one has 1 ATK, twelve have 2 ATK, and five have 3 ATK. Fifteen have 2 DEF, and four have 3 DEF. The median ATK and define values are both 2. The average ATK is 2.105, and the average DEF is 2.210.

Noticing a pattern yet? Yup. The average DEF for each cost level is generally slightly higher than the average ATK. This will continue to be a pretty consistent theme through the levels.

There are nineteen recruit cost 3 characters in Origins. Eight have 3 ATK, nine have 4 ATK, one has 5 ATK (Thing, Ben Grimm), and one has 6 ATK (Wolverine, Logan). Four have 3 DEF, a dozen have 4 DEF, two have 5 DEF (Thing, Ben Grimm and Darkoth, Major Desmond Pitt), and one has 6 DEF (Wolverine, Logan). The median ATK and DEF values are both 4, the average ATK is 3.736, and the average DEF is 4. Already, you can compare numbers and see just how much of a standout Logan and Ben Grimm are.

There are eighteen recruit cost 4 characters available. Out of those eighteen, two have 5 ATK, six have 6 ATK, eight have 7 ATK, one has 8 ATK (Wolverine, New Fantastic Four), and one has an outstanding 11 ATK (Sabretooth, Feral Rage). One has 5 DEF, eight have 6 DEF, five have 7 DEF, three have 8 DEF, and one has 9 DEF (Blob). The median ATK is 7, and the median DEF is a split of 6 and 7. The averages for both stats are 6.722

The field starts narrowing as we hit recruit cost 5—only fifteen characters this time around. One has only 7 ATK (Mr. Fantastic, Stretch), seven have 8 ATK, six have 9 ATK, and one has 11 ATK (Thing, Heavy Hitter). Seven have 8 DEF, five have 9 DEF, two have 10 DEF (Mr. Fantastic, Stretch and Scarlet Witch), and one has 11 DEF (Thing, Heavy Hitter . . . again). The median ATK is 8, and the median DEF is 9. The average ATK is 8.533, and the average DEF is 8.8.

There are twelve recruit cost six characters. Two have 10 ATK, three have 11 ATK, five have 12 ATK, and two have 13 ATK (Sabretooth, Victor Creed and Dr. Doom, Victor Von Doom). Two have 10 DEF, two have 11 DEF, seven have 12 DEF, and one has 14 DEF (Master Mold). The median ATK and DEF values are both 12, while the ATK average is 11.583 and the DEF average is 11.666.

There are nine recruit cost 7 characters. One has 14 ATK, three have 15 ATK, four have 16 ATK, and one has 17 ATK (Juggernaut). One has 13 DEF, two have 14 DEF, one has 15 DEF, four have 16 DEF, and Juggernaut has 17 DEF. The median ATK and DEF values are both 16, while the average ATK and DEF values have really shot up, at 15.555 and 15.222 respectively.

There are only five recruit cost 8 Characters available for the time being. One has 16 ATK, one has 17 ATK, two have 18 ATK, and the mighty Apocalypse has 19 ATK. One has 17 DEF, two have 18 DEF, and Dr. Doom, Lord of Latveria shares the highest DEF (19) with Apocalypse. The ATK and DEF medians are both 18. The average ATK is 17.6, while the average DEF is 18.2.

There only is one recruit cost 9 character: Onslaught. His ATK and DEF are both 21.

Lastly, at a whopping recruit cost of 10, Dark Phoenix, Cosmic Entity clocks in at 25 ATK and 25 DEF.

So, what do the numbers mean? Well, let’s simplify them a bit to make them a bit more compact and a bit more relevant. Let’s look at how much the average ATK and average DEF grows between each level of recruit cost.

Difference between recruit cost 2 and recruit cost 1:
Increase in ATK average: 1.105
Increase in DEF average: 1.115

Difference between recruit cost 3 and recruit cost 2:
Increase in ATK average: 1.631
Increase in DEF average: 1.79

Difference between recruit cost 4 and recruit cost 3:
Increase in ATK average: 2.986
Increase in DEF average: 2.722

Difference between recruit cost 5 and recruit cost 4:
Increase in ATK average: 1.811
Increase in DEF average: 2.078

Difference between recruit cost 6 and recruit cost 5:
Increase in ATK average: 3.05
Increase in DEF average: 2.866

Difference between recruit cost 7 and recruit cost 6:
Increase in ATK average: 3.972
Increase in DEF average: 3.556

Difference between recruit cost 8 and recruit cost 7:
Increase in ATK average: 2.1
Increase in DEF average: 2.978

Difference between recruit cost 9 and recruit cost 8:
Increase in ATK average: 3.4
Increase in DEF average: 2.8

Difference between recruit cost 10 and recruit cost 9:
Increase in ATK average: 4
Increase in DEF average: 4

Notice that although the curve does tend to increase, it has two major dips—the growth in stats in the jump between recruit cost 4 and recruit cost 5 is less than the growth between recruit costs 3 and 4, by more than a full point in ATK, and almost a full point in DEF. Note the similar stumble between costs 7 and 8.

For a slightly more readable demonstration of this curve and its shape, we can look at the average ATK and DEF values in terms of the percentages they represent when compared to the maximum value possible. In this case, the maximum ATK and DEF values of 25 are possessed by Dark Phoenix, Cosmic Entity. If we let 25 in each category stand for a card’s maximum potential, we can consider this number to be 100% on a scale. From there, we can look at how much of the potential ATK and DEF each recruit cost level represents.

Cost 1:
ATK: 4%
DEF: 4.38%

Cost 2:
ATK: 8.42%
DEF: 8.84%

Cost 3:
ATK: 14.944%
DEF: 16%

Cost 4:
ATK: 26.88%
DEF: 26.88%

Cost 5:
ATK: 34.132%
DEF: 35.2%

Cost 6:
ATK: 46.332%
DEF: 46.664%

Cost 7:
ATK: 62.22%
DEF: 60.888%

Cost 8:
ATK: 70.4%
DEF: 72.8%

Cost 9:
ATK: 84%
DEF: 84%

And of course, Dark Phoenix sits comfortably at the top, with 100% in both statistics.

The growth pattern hopefully looks alot more evident now that you have the above two lists of numbers to compare, instead of a pile of 120 character cards. The drop-off between cost 4 and cost 5 is of particular interest. It’s highly relevant to gameplay because if the growth between two levels takes a dip, it means that the level with decreased growth (which are, for the record, 5 and 8) is less important from a strategic sense. You’re more likely to seriously hurt yourself missing a recruit cost 4 drop on turn 4, than you are missing a recruit cost 5 drop on turn 5, and the same goes for turns 7 and 8. You want to minimize the odds of this happening on the more important turns, so though it was vaguely evident before reading this article that you need more low recruit cost characters than high ones, you now know the specific recruit costs that are the most important (the ones that offer the most growth between levels) and the ones that you can probably afford not to prioritize as much. As a result, it’s statistically important for your deck not to be weighted towards recruit cost 5 and 8 characters, since skimping on these to assure full-cost drops on the other turns is going to give you needed reliability.

As a side note, this can be completely taken advantage of and abused with the Brotherhood team. The ongoing plot twist called The New Brotherhood, which I mentioned in my previous article, gives a bonus of 2 points to the ATK of all Brotherhood team members you control. However, it only works if you have four or fewer resources. Still, looking at the ATK average increases between the earlier levels, you can see that having this card in play can be like increasing your development by an entire level entirely!

Even better than that, you can use the plot twists Ka-Boom! and Foiled to KO your opponent’s resources. When you lose either of those plot twists as part of its effect, you not only reign in your opponent, but you keep yourself within the limit imposed by The New Brotherhood. A Brotherhood deck skewed heavily towards the first four turns of development, with plenty of copies of Ka-Boom! and Foiled, will be able to lock its opponent in the early turns, rendering any cards in their hand with costs higher than 4 or 5 completely useless and unplayable. As an added bonus, compare the ATK average and DEF average of recruit cost four characters (6.722 for both DEF and ATK) to the high-end characters at that cost, and look what we have—Blob at 6 ATK and 9 DEF! Sauron at 7 ATK and 6 DEF! And Sabretooth at a whopping 11 ATK and 7 DEF!

This is just one of the interesting tidbits you can use the above information to divine. Marvel Origins was designed and developed with extreme care, and examples like the Brotherhood swarm strategy I just outlined are testament to this fact.

Now that you’ve had an in-depth explanation of the development curve and how it relates to ATK and DEF stats, remember that effects are the wildcards in the equation. Don’t assume that just because a card is on the losing end of the stat balance for its recruit cost, it’s automatically a bad card: giving a card lower-than-average stats is often a method of balancing a particularly superb effect, so sometimes knowing which characters possess these lower-than-average stats can point us in the direction of prime effects. Sure, sometimes it might be that the card just isn’t very good, but it can provide insight into the opinions of the development team and their testing results.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for sitting through all the numbers! Next time, we look at the initiative, both in terms of what it means for gameplay and how best to use it to your advantage. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at Jason@metagame.com.

(Metagame Archive) A Call to Arms: Marvel Faction War

By Alex Shvartsman

Calling all judges, demo team members, store owners, and rabid fans.

The Marvel Trading Card Game (TCG) is either available at a store near you now, or will be within the next few days. You and many of your friends are probably excited about the game, but you may need an extra push to get into the game and buy your first cards.

Even though there’s no official prerelease tournament for the Marvel game, a small event to celebrate the new game is a great way for players to get their first taste of it. Chances are good that many players already have some experience with the decks available in the Starter Set. Faction War is the perfect format for them.

In a Faction War, each player receives either the X-Men or Brotherhood deck that comes in the Starter Set and two additional Origins boosters. The cards in the boosters are used to enhance the original decks and replace some of the cards that were in them initially. The end result needs to be a deck of exactly 45 cards. Players will then compete in a tournament to determine which faction is the strongest, with prizes going to the winner of the tournament and the top finisher from the opposing faction.

This format is great for several reasons. First, it will allow players to compete using solid, well-balanced decks. It will also give less-experienced fans an introduction to deck building and tournament play. Finally, it will give those players who have only used the Starter decks before a chance to experience the true strategic depth of the game by exploring the many strategies not featured in the Starter product.

My own store, Kings Games, will be hosting a Faction War tournament this Sunday at 5 p.m. If you are a Marvel fan in the New York area, I hope you can make it here. You can find directions and details at http://web.archive.org/web/20070424191532/http://www.kingsgames.com/.

Questions or comments about this article?  Please feel free to e-mail me directly, ashv at kingsgames dot com.

(Metagame Archive) Something is Happening!

By Omeed Dariani

The first time Thing smashes Dr. Doom’s face in, you get a rush. It’s so cool to see that happen. “Where are you evil master plans now, you friggin’ Diabolical Genius? Take 9!”

My favorite thing about Marvel is how excited people get when they see it. People say things like “Oh, another Marvel game . . . grumble, grumble,” but when they sit down and play it for the first time, you can actually see them change their minds. I remember showing a friend of mine the cards. He said, “Blob is broken. Do you realize how insane Blob is? He protects all your other guys. That’s amazing. First thing I do when I get the cards, I’m going to build the Blob deck. Then you’ll see.” I smiled, anticipating the time when that would happen.

Now it’s time. Marvel Origins has released and is debuting in hobby stores nationwide. It’s out there, and we’re all building our first decks with real cards. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve seen in a long time.

As of today, Metagame.com steps out of “preview mode” and into full coverage of the Vs. System. That said, I am, if nothing else, aware of the irony of presenting you with this “preview” of what’s to come. Let’s just call today a transition period and leave it at that.

As you know, the Marvel TCG is the first game ever to launch with a $1,000,000 Pro Circuit. With that kind of money up for grabs, it’s important for us to take this game seriously-only good players will have a shot at winning the cash. Metagame.com’s goal is to provide you with the best strategy advice available to help you win that money. The game’s designers have been looking at individual cards and concepts, teaching the game as they showed it off. They did some great work. Now, we’re ready to move along and start talking about the metagame.

This is where things get exciting for us. We know that the average Marvel player is smart, good at TCGs, and raring to go. So, instead of doing “the basics of everything,” we’re just going to throw you in the deep end. I’m betting that you can swim just fine.

Starting tomorrow, expect to see content from the some of the best writers in the industry on a wide variety of topics. Here are just a few of the things you can expect to see from us in the coming weeks:

Danny Mandel giving you an insider’s look at Upper Deck Research & Development. What goes on in the R&D room-with-a-top-secret-codename? What happens in the Danger Room and the Batcave? How do cards go from being Flying Leaps to Flying Kicks? Mandel’s the man.

A full card list for DC Origins, with playtest notes.

Dave Humpherys, one of the finest TCG players in the world, explaining the hows and whys of Marvel Limited, including Sealed Pack and Draft. Should you draft Finishing Move as a first pick? Thinking about splashing Negative Zone? Dave has a little advice for you. Listen up, because the man knows what he’s talking about—he has a PhD!

Jason Grabher-Meyer, one of Yu-Gi-Oh!’s finest writers, waxing poetic on all sorts of topics. Jason is one of my three favorite Canadians, and that’s saying a lot, because I know a lot of really cool folks from the Great White North.

Matt Hyra is Wicked Clever. In his series, Matt talks about getting the most out of your cards—and maximizing your life, in general. Matt is also the evil genius behind the Marvel Mulligan, which is known in some circles as the Hyra Mulligan.

We’re talking high-level strategy with more than one mystery guest. We’ve got some of the most famous writers in the industry on tap. We expect big things from these guys—and they’ve promised to deliver.

Occasionally, just every once in awhile, a little something from me. I play this Marvel game from time to time.

All right, one of those is probably an April Fool’s joke . . . but which one? If you ask me, it’s probably the last one; I probably couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag.

Tune in tomorrow for Danny’s first article. He says it’s going to have an anecdote in it, but he won’t tell me what it is. I’m pro-anecdote in general, so I’m excited but, at the same time, frightened.

If you need to get in touch with me, drop a line to http://web.archive.org/web/20070814075032/http://www.metagame.com/mailteditor@metagame.com. If you ask nicely, I may even tell you about a secret joke that’s hidden in the first set’s flavor text. The game’s designers don’t even know about it!

Take care.