(Metagame Archive) Arcade

By Danny Mandel

Smells Like Team Spirit

Up till now, every character we’ve looked at has belonged to a team. Team affiliated characters have the advantage of being able to team attack together or reinforce each other, and they can benefit from team-specific modifiers like It’s Clobberin’ Time or Danger Room. Even the Negative Zone boys (who don’t have a whole lot going on . . . yet) can attack together in a pinch.

But there is that other team. And by “team,” I mean “non-team.” What I’m talking about are the unaligned or unaffiliated characters. These are the loners of the Marvel Universe—the mercenaries, cads, and rapscallions. Or sometimes they’re just versions of characters representing them when they weren’t really on teams. For example, Lady Deathstrike was at one point a Reaver, but this set’s version of her is when she’s on her own.

So how do unaffiliated characters fit into the game on the whole?

At first you might say, “Wow, they don’t belong to a team. That means I can splash them into any deck. Yay!”

I don’t mean to curb your enthusiasm, but actually you can put pretty much any character into any deck. There are exceptions like the giant Professor X or Magneto, but for the most part it’s easy, because the Marvel TCG is pretty wide open. Throw a few Storms into a Brotherhood deck, and she’ll function an awful lot like an unaligned character. So if any character can be splashed anywhere, what’s the bonus of putting an actual, for real and for true, unaligned character into a deck?

Actually, there isn’t one. If an off-team card (whether it’s unaligned or just not part of the team your deck’s mostly built around) has enough synergy with what your deck’s trying to do, you run it. That’s all there is too it.  

That said, here’s a little something to think about. Since not having a team affiliation is for the most part a drawback (sure, sure, it’s an advantage against Onslaught or Combat Protocols), unaligned characters are typically packed with more bang for your buck than their hippy, team-spirited counterparts. Let’s take a look at today’s preview card, Arcade.

Killing in Style

As a 3-cost, 4ATK, 4DEF character, Arcade’s no powerhouse like Wolverine, Thing, or even Darkoth. And because he has no team affiliation, you can’t boost him with Savage Land or make a team attack to put his power to good use. Speaking of which, his power’s cool, but if you’re not careful, it’s just as likely to send him packing as it is your opponent’s character. In the right situation, however, Arcade can be a shining star.

That’s right—a shining star.

Arcade is all about board control. In the early parts of the game, characters are pretty safe because of the end of turn free recovery. Usually there are only a few characters in play on either side, and consequently it’s hard to gain a real board presence without a Finishing Move. But Arcade makes combat a bit more lethal. When he takes you down, you stay down. No Children of the Atom’s gonna help you.

Here are some good basic uses for Arcade:

1. Throw some DEF-pumping equipment onto him to keep him around longer. I played in a Sealed Deck tournament at the office a couple weeks ago, and my opponent got out a turn three Arcade with Unstable Molecules on him. I had no characters in play at the time and was left with the unpleasant decision of either playing out a Quicksilver and watching him get KO’d, or not playing a Quicksilver and letting my opponent develop his board unopposed. Frown.

2. Kamikaze him into a larger character with the help of a Flying Kick or Savage Beatdown. Ideally, you’d have already KO’d a 2- or 3-cost character, and it’ll be a two for one and a tempo swing when you take down your opponent’s Sauron or Ghost Rider.
3. Make him a component in a Mojo deck. You see, in some ways, Mojo’s the glue that holds the non-team together. Or is it the other way around? Either way, dropping a few Random Punks into play on the first few turns and then following them up with turn three Arcade and a turn four Mojo is pretty exciting.

That’s all I’ve got about our friend, Arcade. Tune in tomorrow for our final preview.

(Metagame Archive) The Emerging Metagame

By Patrick Sullivan

Hello again, metagame readers. In my last article, I discussed some very basic strategy regarding Sealed Pack building for the upcoming PCQs. This time, I’m going to talk about the Constructed metagame. Although there are currently only 220 cards in the Vs. System card pool, don’t let this mislead you—there is a high amount of variety within the Top 8’s of the first PCQs, with three different archetypes winning the four different PCQs I’ll be looking at.

The four PCQs in question were held in Knoxville, Edison, Brooklyn, and San Diego. To get an understanding of the variety of the metagame, take a look at how the deck types broke down in the four combined Top 8s:

11  Fantastic Four (both beatdown and equipment)
10  Brotherhood Beatdown
5    Dr. Doom
2    Dr. Doom/Fantastic Four Hybrid
1    Wild Sentinels
1    X-Men
1    Brotherhood/Fantastic Four Hybrid

(Note: One of the Top 8 decks from Edison was missing, making a total of 31 decks listed.)

An amazing seven different archetypes earned their way into the Top 8, although Brotherhood and Fantastic Four made up a disproportionate amount of the deck pool. I think part of that can be chalked up to the ease with which a beatdown deck can be played and built during the infant stages of a metagame. A reactive archetype like Dr. Doom is obviously going to require much more testing, metagame awareness, and play skill than a straightforward beatdown deck like Brotherhood. While these numbers might give you an idea of what decks are performing better than others, don’t take these numbers as evidence that Fantastic Four and Brotherhood are much better than the other available options. If nothing else, we’re only looking at four PCQs, which is a fairly small sample size.

The four PCQs were won by three different deck types: two Brotherhood decks, a Fantastic Four deck, and a Dr. Doom deck. While all the Top 8 decks had unique card selections and overall strategies, I’m going to focus on the winning decks themselves, looking at their overall game plans, what cards they decided to play, and which cards their builders elected to exclude.

First up are the Brotherhood decks that took home the Pro Circuit invitations in Edison and San Diego. First, Gabe Walls’s deck, the San Diego PCQ winner:

4 Pyro, St. John Allerdyce
4 Toad, Mortimer Toynbee
4 Quicksilver, Pietro Maximoff
4 Rogue, Anna Raven
4 Blob, Fred Dukes
4 Sabretooth, Feral Rage
2 Magneto, Eric Lehnsherr
4 Quicksilver, Speed Demon
4 Avalon Space Station
3 Genosha
4 Lost City
4 Acrobatic Dodge
4 Flying Kick
3 Not So Fast
4 Savage Beatdown
4 The New Brotherhood

And secondly, Michael Clair’s winning deck from Edison:

4 Destiny, Irene Adler
3 Lorelei, Savage Land Mutate
4 Phantazia, Eileen Harsaw
4 Avalanche, Dominic Petros
4 Toad, Mortimer Toynbee
4 Darkoth, Major Desmund Pitt
4 Quicksilver, Pietro Maximoff
4 Sabretooth, Feral Rage
2 Genosha
4 Savage Land
4 Flying Kick
3 Foiled
4 Ka-Boom!
4 Not So Fast
4 Savage Beatdown
4 The New Brotherhood

Both of these decks have several obvious cards in common, but they diverge greatly in terms of overall strategy. Michael’s deck is a much faster, streamlined beatdown deck that tries to overwhelm its opponent as quickly as possible, a strategy reflected by its very low curve and four copies of Savage Land. With no characters with a cost greater than 4, sacrificing a resource for damage (Darkoth), cards (Genosha), or an opposing location (Ka-Boom!) is generally a positive exchange. Not So Fast helps the deck fight against opposing combat plot twists, such as Flying Kick, Acrobatic Dodge, or the especially painful Overload.

Gabe’s deck, on the other hand, is a much more mid-range offering of the archetype. Electing to play none of the 1-drops and much more expensive, powerful characters, Gabe’s deck takes more of a long game approach. This approach helps maximize the Avalon Space StationLost City combination, which is devastating against other beatdown decks if given time to set up. A full four copies of Blob and Acrobatic Dodge help give the deck the time it needs against other aggressive decks.

Which version is better? That depends on what you expect to play against. Michael’s deck is much better against control decks, since it can amass a critical amount of pressure in a very short amount of time. However, this deck could run into problems against another aggressive deck that can come up with reasonably fast answers to threats and then produce superior characters in the late game, such as Gabe’s. Gabe’s deck is clearly metagamed against an aggro field, with a plan of keeping pace in the early game and then overwhelming later on with superior threats (the 5-cost Magneto and Quicksilver) and the backbreaking Avalon Space StationLost City combo. However, it is much harder for Gabe’s deck to come out of the gates fast, with no 1-drops and a total lack of Savage Land. In testing Gabe’s deck against a Dr. Doom deck, I found it very difficult to mount enough pressure before the Doom deck started playing vastly superior cards and putting its overpowering late-game strategy into effect. To sum this up neatly, I would suggest Gabe’s deck against a field expected to be mostly beatdown, and Michael’s deck against a more controlling field.

Next up is Jason Rubenfeld’s winning Fantastic Four deck from the PCQ held in Brooklyn:

3 Invisible Woman, The Invisible Girl
4 Human Torch, Johnny Storm
4 She-Thing, Sharon Ventura
3 She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters
4 Thing, Ben Grimm
3 Wolverine, New Fantastic Four
2 Ghost Rider, New Fantastic Four
3 Thing, Heavy Hitter
4 Hulk, New Fantastic Four
2 Thing, The Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing
4 Burn Rubber
2 Flame Trap
4 Flying Kick
2 Foiled
4 It’s Clobberin’ Time!
4 Overload
4 Savage Beatdown
4 Signal Flare

The Fantasic Four decks are generally broken down into two sub-types: a straightforward characters-and-plot-twists sort of deck, and decks built around either utilizing or abusing equipment. This deck is very much of the former, with no locations or equipment cards. Jason’s deck touches all the bases along the curve, starting at 1 and capping it out at 7, with drops everywhere in between. Signal Flare helps the deck make drops on every turn, allowing the deck to search for a character if there is a gap in what’s drawn. The eight basic beatdown plot twists (Flying Kick and Savage Beatdown) are accompanied by the powerful It’s Clobberin’ Time!

The question that begs answering with this deck is, what is the advantage of playing this over a Brotherhood deck? The most compelling reason is that the characters are simply better on their own than the Brotherhood characters are. With the exception of Sabretooth, Feral Rage, all the Fantastic Four characters out-perform their Brotherhood counterparts. Compare Thing, Ben Grimm to Rogue, Anna Raven, or Quicksilver, Speed Demon to Thing, Heavy Hitter and you start to get the idea. Plus, the Fantastic Four deck has access to It’s Clobberin’ Time!, which is a Lost City with no questions asked. 

So why not just play the Fantastic Four? Without Savage Land and The New Brotherhood, the early plays this deck makes simply become invalidated as the game drags on, making it very important to make a 4-drop on turn 4, a 5-drop on turn 5, and so on. Four Signal Flares obviously help this problem, but sometimes draws will occur where you run out of gas as the game wears on. The flip side of this problem is that you can draw all the expensive characters early in the game, meaning that you get curved out by the aggressive decks or are unable to mount the amount of damage needed early on to beat a control deck. Secondly, Jason’s deck seems very heavily metagamed, with Burn Rubber, Flame Trap, and Overload all making the cut. These cards help the problem of getting curved out by an aggressive deck, but they’re near-worthless against control decks.

Jason’s deck seems like a real nightmare matchup for a very aggressive deck, but he made a number of concessions against control decks to make it that way. However, Jason’s metagaming clearly paid off, as he won an invitation to the Pro Circuit. If your metagame appears to be filled with low-curve beatdown decks, such as Michael’s Brotherhood deck, a deck of this sort may be the call.

Lastly, Knoxville PCQ winner Matt Oldaker and his Dr. Doom deck:

4 Boris, Personal Servant of Dr. Doom
3 Kristoff Von Doom, The Boy Who Would Be Doom
3 Robot Sentry, Army
5 Doom-Bot, Army
4 Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius
4 Robot Destroyer, Army
1 Dr. Doom, Victor Von Doom
1 Dr. Doom, Lord of Latveria
4 Sub-Mariner, Ally of Doom
4 Doomstadt
4 Acrobatic Dodge
1 Backfire
2 Burn Rubber
4 Faces of Doom
4 Finishing Move
1 Flame Trap
4 Mystical Paralysis
1 Reconstruction Program
4 Reign of Terror
1 Relocation
1 The Power Cosmic

The Dr. Doom deck, in my opinion, is by far the hardest deck in Marvel to put together. A Doom deckbuilder has a wealth of options afforded to him or her. How many copies of the three different Dr. Dooms should be played? Should you even bother with the 8-cost Doom? Which copies of the plot twists should be one-ofs? Should you play Beast to reduce the cost of plot twists? Should you play any other late game characters besides Sub-Mariner? These and other questions are both important and difficult to answer while constructing a deck, and the answers revolve highly on what the anticipated matchups are. On top of being difficult to build, the complicated and reactive nature of the archetype makes it easily the most difficult deck to play well, which might explain its low numbers among the Top 8’s early on.

However, the upside to Dr. Doom is well worth the work. The Doom army characters, such as Robot Sentry and Robot Destroyer, help contain early aggressive plays while your Doctor Dooms and plot twists set up a nearly unbeatable board position. Facing down a horde of cheap characters? Need to find that Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius on your fourth turn? Boris ensures that you find the plot twist you need for any of these situations, be it a Flame Trap, a Reign of Terror, or a Faces of Doom. As the game drags on, your opponent will generally be unable to breach your defenses, allowing Sub-Mariner to sweep up what remains. On top of all of this, the Dr. Doom deck is very difficult to play against. Since the 4-cost Doom denies an opponent his or her plot twists in hand, and the 6-cost Doom forbids him or her to play plot twists from the resource row, playing plot twists correctly against Doom is very difficult, and a wrong decision will often lose the game on the spot. Furthermore, the varied nature of the plot twists in the deck makes them very difficult to play around; your opponent will frequently be reduced to a guessing game as to what you may have.

Unfortunately, there are two major weaknesses to this deck. First, it has a hard time establishing a strong defense early on. Robot Sentry helps with this problem to some degree, but it won’t compensate on it’s own for a lightning quick start from a Brotherhood or Fantastic Four deck. As such, sometimes you get overwhelmed before getting your game plan rolling. Secondly, it is very important for this deck to actually have Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius on turn 4 and Dr. Doom, Victor Von Doom on turn 6. Although the deck has Faces of Doom to accomplish this, missing a step is often too disruptive for this deck to overcome. On top of all of this, as stated earlier, this deck is extremely difficult to play well and requires a lot of testing and tweaking.

So, why side with the Doctor? Given the amount of success aggressive decks have had early on, the metagame is very warped towards beating these decks. Check out Jason’s Fantastic Four deck—ten total copies of Burn Rubber, Overload, and Flame Trap. While these cards are all well and good against beatdown decks, they amount to dead cards against Doom. Secondly, no deck punishes your opponent for poor play like the Doom deck. One bad attack or one misplaced plot twist will often be the end of the game, something less likely to happen when you are playing an aggressive deck. Lastly, the flexible nature of the deck means that while core cards need to be played, the deck’s situational plot twists can be mixed and matched to compensate for a changing metagame.

With all that I’ve gone over, it’s hard for me to believe that I’ve only covered four different decks and three of the seven successful archetypes. What this says is that Marvel has an amazing and varied metagame for only one set of cards, and that even within each deck type, there are several different ways of approaching deckbuilding. Even with a beatdown archetype like Brotherhood, just looking at Gabe’s and Michael’s decks in detail shows that each deck takes a totally different approach to play. This means that success at the Constructed PCQs will revolve around strong metagaming and even stronger play and understanding of the format. Although many players will be content to simply copy the decklist of the last PCQ winner and play it, the successful players will constantly adapt and evolve their decks in response to what won in the weeks previous. So to everyone reading—grab your favorite affiliation or affiliations and go play in a PCQ. This is a wonderful and varied metagame to play in.

Any questions or comments can be sent to patrickonmetagame@yahoo.com.

(Metagame Archive) I, Robot

By Danny Mandel

Domo Arigato

I love robots. I love’em. I love their little metal arms, and I especially love how they write flavor text in binary. Up till now, most of my articles have had some sort of point. You know, here’s how the metagame affects development, here’s how top-down design works, and so on . . . but today I just want to talk about robots. Nothing specific. Just a few thoughts or tidbits about the robots of Marvel Origins. And, as an added treat (or punishment), I’ve titled each section of this article after a quote from or about a famous (or not so famous) robot or other sort of robot-like being. I figure it’s worth about 74 points if you get all the references. Good luck.

Malfunction. Need Input.

(or, Why some robots are smarter than others.)

Nimrod, Master Mold, Bastion. The big boys. Any one of them could anchor a Sentinel deck. All these guys are robo-powerhouses. But I don’t really want to talk about them. I want to talk about the little guys. When I think robot, I think more of the mindless “affirmative” or “roger, roger” type robots that follow orders or directives and not much else. The big three robots above are all leaders, or at least come off as pretty sentient. They’re more like regular people with big robot bodies. I realize I may be playing a little fast and loose with the rules of being a robot here, but they just don’t feel roboty enough for me. What I’m trying to say is, bring on the army characters.

Danger, Will Robinson!
(or, Why the army mechanic is difficult to develop.)

Okay, maybe I lied about this article not having a purpose. I actually want to take a quick look at why the army mechanic is tough to develop before delving into the robots themselves.

There are two parts to the army mechanic:

One, army characters are not unique, which means you can have more than one army character with the same name in play. Often when building a non-army deck, players are tempted to diversify their characters all along the drop points on the curve. The question is, is it worth increasing your potential to draw a certain character by maximizing the number of copies of that character in your deck (usually four copies), when doing so also increases your chances of drawing a second copy of that character that is essentially un-recruitable and only useful as a power-up? But with army characters, you don’t have to worry about future copies being un-recruitable. Put as many Wild Sentinels as you want into play. It’s no surprise that many Sentinel decks are built to swarm opponents. 

Two, army characters ignore the four-of rule in deck construction. This means a player can pack as many Tibetan Monks or Robot Destroyers as he or she wants. In fact, if you have a bunch of those oversized promo cards, you could throw together a giant deck made out of nothing but Sentinel Mark IVs. I mean, it’s not tournament legal or anything, and you’re probably going to have to play without sleeves, but it’s still pretty cool.

The non-unique aspect of army characters isn’t that hard to develop. We just have to be careful that an army character’s powers aren’t abusive when there are multiples of the character in play. For example, powers like Beast’s or Mr. Fantastic: Stretch’s could get nuts if those characters weren’t unique.

However, the unlimited-copies-in-your-deck mechanic is much more dangerous. The reason is consistency. In the Vs. System, the minimum number of cards you can put in your deck is 60. There is no upper maximum; you can bring a 1,000-card deck to a tournament if you want (or even an oversized promo 1,000-card deck). However, the reason to keep your deck size small (closer to 60 cards) is to encourage relatively similar draws from game to game. If you were to play a 1,000-card deck, your draws would be so different each game that it would feel like you were playing different decks. Consequently, it would be hard for your deck to consistently enact its game plan.

On a side note, there has been some talk on the boards that 60 cards it too many for a minimum deck size, and that perhaps 40 cards would be better. Again, the reason is consistency. Just as an overlarge deck size diminishes draw consistency, a deck that’s too small will lead to draws that are too much alike. Look at the logical extension of a small deck. Let’s say everyone were to play six-card decks. Yes, on turn 1 you would have your entire deck in your hand. The game (and your draw) would play out exactly the same every time. The ideal play experience is for draws to have the right level of randomness from game to game. If they’re too random, you’re deck has no sense of purpose, and that can be frustrating. If they’re not random enough, the game plays out too similarly every time, and that can get boring. To those of you who think that 60-card decks are still too large, keep in mind that it’s easy to print cards that boost a deck’s consistency, while it’s very difficult to print cards that make draws more random.

Back to the army mechanic.

The character curve is extremely important in the Vs. System. It’s usually in a deck’s best interest to drop one or more characters every turn, maximizing resource point efficiency. An unspent resource point is a wasted resource point. But decks can be fickle, often denying you a crucial character drop until it’s too late. How many times, when playing your X-Men Beatdown deck, have you been unable to recruit on turn 2, only to draw Nightcrawler: Kurt Wagner on turn 3? (At times like that, I like to cry, “Why deck? Why? Why do you forsake me?” But then again, I don’t have a lot of friends.)

Fortunately there are ways to fight curve hiccups. Almost every team has at least one card to smooth character draws. The X-Men have Cerebro, the Fantastic Four have Signal Flare, Doom has Faces of Doom, and the Sentinels have Boliver Trask. And, more importantly, the Sentinels have the lion’s share of the game’s army characters. (Sure, Doom has a bunch of army characters, but the Sentinels are pretty much all army.)

In some ways, the army mechanic is the best way to ensure character drops. Let’s say you’re playing Brotherhood Rush and you want eight 4-drops. You probably run four Sabretooths and four Blobs (poor Sauron gets no love in this hypothetical deck). But what if Sabretooth were an army character? You’d run eight, right? That’s the point. If a Sentinel deck wants to run eight Mark IVs, it can. And that’s what’s dangerous. Imagine how much better the Brotherhood deck might be if it could run eight (or more) Sabretooths. The bottom line is that development has to look at army characters real hard to make sure the potential consistency they provide doesn’t knock the environment out of whack.

All right, that’s enough about design and development for today. Now for the fun part.
There are two main army factions in the Marvel Origins set. Dr. Doom has a force of disposable robots at his, uh, disposal. And of course, there’s the Sentinel faction. Let’s start with Doom.

All Right! I Bought His Brain!

The Doom team has seven army characters, but two of them are Tibetan Monks and Doom Guards. Barring a weird Marvel Team-Up between Doom and the Sentinels that leads to an Underground Sentinel Base mass producing monks, I wouldn’t really consider those guys robots.

Unlike the Sentinel robots, which make up the core of that deck, the Doom robots really just flesh things out in Doom decks. Here’s a rundown on them.

0.68 Seconds, Sir. For an Android, That is Nearly an Eternity.
(or, Why some robots will wait a long time.)

Robot Sentry
This guy comes out early and (as long as another Doom character is around to tell him what to do) slows your opponent’s early game to a halt. Combine him with Puppet Master for a whole lot of exhausted characters. At a recruit cost of 2, he fights with Kristoff for playing time. However, he gets a nice little stat boost out of his fleshier teammate, so you may want to run both. Robot Sentry’s value varies greatly depending on your metagame. If there are a lot of rush decks in your field, the Sentry’s a good call. If your area favors slower, controlling decks, this guy just kind of sits there.

Dead or Alive, You’re Coming With Me
(or, Why some robots are confused.)

Robot Seeker
Single White Robot seeks companion for walks on the beach, long talks, and fighting. Looking for friendship or something more.

Ah, the tricky Robot Seeker. A quick glance at its stats makes it look awful, but after you read the card, it seems pretty exciting. And then, after you’ve played with it a bit, you realize it’s actually a lot harder to use than you thought. And by “you,” I mean “I.”

A 3ATK/4DEF is pretty small, getting crunched by almost every other 4-drop, and barely trading with low defense characters like Banshee or Mystique, Raven Darkholme. (It owns Volcana, though! Yeah!) But against the chosen character (the character it’s seeking), its ATK grows to Wolverine-esque brutality. Here’s the problem, though. If you have the initiative on turn 3, your opponent hasn’t recruited his or her character(s) yet. So when the Seeker comes into play, you’re forced to either name a character your opponent already has in play (which means while your Seeker gets to pound on a smaller character, it remains vulnerable to your opponent’s 3-drop), or you can guess which character your opponent is going to recruit (which means there’s a chance you’ll miss and your Seeker will be even sadder than it is on Saturday nights when it plays Scrabble by itself).

All in all, Robot Seeker’s role is pretty weird. It wants to be aggro (given that its power only really matters while it’s attacking), but it’s part of a team that excels on defense. Maybe someday there will be a Dr. Doom that fosters a more aggressive, perhaps army-centric strategy, but until that day, the Seeker will suffer an identity crisis. 

Life, Loathe It or Ignore It, You Can’t Like It
(or, Why some robots are very depressed.)

Robot Enforcer
Poor Robot Enforcer. It’s bad enough that this guy’s stat-retarded, but it also shares a drop cost with one of the best 4-cost characters in the game, Dr. Doom. If you’re running a Doom deck, and on turn 4 you spend your points on Robot Enforcer, something’s probably gone horribly wrong. All right, maybe I should cut it some slack. It’s not its fault it’s so . . . not Dr. Doom.

So what do we get for a cool 4 resource points? Its 6ATK/6DEF is pretty weak, but if you’ve got Kristoff, at least the Enforcer’s respectable. Its discard power requires you to control another army Doom character—you know, to order it around—but if you’ve got two Enforcers, they’ll tell each other what to do.

Discard is one of Doom’s minor themes. Unfortunately, there’s no real synergy between Robot Enforcer and Doom Triumphant. Unlike the X-Men discard components that try to hammer a player’s hand size, a successful Doom Triumphant strips a player’s hand completely, which makes any earlier hits with the Enforcer seem like a waste of time.

While some day there might be a Dr. Doom that costs 5 (and is therefore a better curve fit with the Enforcer), currently there’s probably not a good home for this sad little robot. (In the spirit of being proven wrong, I promise to send anyone who finishes in the Top 8 of a PCQ packing five or more Robot Enforcers, um, more Robot Enforcers.)

Hey, Baby, Wanna Kill All Humans?
(or, Why some robots are very angry.)

Robot Destroyer
This guy has a lot of competition for the starting job at the 5 slot. Victor Von Doom II can be really fun, and with lots of good Fantastic Four decks out there, it seems like Dragon Man’s got job security. However, Robot Destroyer—or as I like to call him, “Mister Robot Destroyer”—has a lot going on.

While you have the initiative, Dragon Man’s usually the better choice due to his 9 DEF, flight, and his bonus against the FF. However, Dragon Man’s got nothing on defense. He just stands there. Coach is like, “Get your hands up! We need a stop here!” But Dragon Man’s like, “Waah! I’m too tired! I hate defense! Waah!” Whereas Mister Robot Destroyer has the heart of a tiger: He’s the total package, slashing with his 9ATK on offense and selflessly throwing his body in front of Sabretooths and Wolverines (the FF one, silly). This guy does it day in and day out, night after night . . . he’s like a machine!

I Am Putting Myself to the Fullest Possible Use, Which is All I Think That Any Conscious Entity can Ever Hope to Do

(or, Why some robots have an inflated ego.)

If there’s one character Doom-Bot hates, it’s gotta be . . . Jean Grey, Phoenix Force. Don’t ask me why; it’s a mystery. But if there’s another character Doom-Bot hates, it’s probably Darkoth. I mean, when Darkoth isn’t moonlighting in the Brotherhood deck, he’s usually hanging out at the 3-drop slot of Doom decks with his hands in his pockets acting all tough and stat advanced. Sometimes Doom-Bot goes up to him.

Doom-Bot’s like: “Get-out-of-here-Dark-oth.”
Darkoth’s like: “Whadya want, Doom-Bot?”
Doom-Bot’s like: “I-hate-you-Dark-oth-I-hope-you-get-stunned.”
Darkoth’s like: “Oh, yeah? What you got, Doom-Bot? Huh? You got nothing? That’s what you got!”
Doo-Bot’s like: “I’m-not-af-raid-of-you-Dark-oth.”
Darkoth’s like: “Well, you should be. My ATK goes up to 11. 11! That’s one louder!”

There’s no question Darkoth’s body holds the ground better than Doom-Bot’s. But you can’t discount their powers. Darkoth’s is next to useless in a Doom deck that wants to grow its resource row. However, Doom-Bot’s can be very timely when a Flying Kick enhanced Dr. Doom is coming over for the KO.

Again, I think it comes down to the metagame. If you’re planning on winning the game through powerful attacks with Sub-Mariner and Doom, run Doom-Bot. If you’re just trying to stall until you go into Gamma Bomb recursion, run Darkoth. Or, if you’re feeling really kooky, I guess you could throw Robot Seeker a bone . . .

Resistance is Futile
(or, Why some robots are mean.)

There are only four army sentinels, but unlike Doom’s crew, these guys are a whole team by themselves. The Sentinel heavies—Nimrod, Master Mold and Bastion—are really just gravy.

I’ll Be Back
(or, Why some robots are more disposable than others.)

Wild Sentinel
I’ll let you in on a little secret: these guys used to be 2ATK/1DEF. Yeah, that meant the turn they came into play they’d have had 3 ATK.
I’ll let you in on another secret: There was a period during development when the Sentinels were easily the best team. It was scary. Remember what I said earlier about consistency. Well, for a while there, we were considering changing the army mechanic. Every game, every time, these guys would shred defenders and attack for a lot.

Ultimately, we took the nerf bat to the team and got them to the point where they’re good, but not dominant. And nobody got hit harder than the Wild bunch. It’s amazing how much difference changing a single point of ATK or DEF can make, especially when a character’s stats are small to begin with. That said, these guys are still the core of the Sentinel rush decks. I’ve seen decks run nothing but Wilds and Mark IVs. With South American Sentinel Base and Reconstruction Program, they never die. It’s only fitting, considering Wild Sentinels are made from recycled Sentinel parts in the first place.

We Seem to Be Made to Suffer. It’s Our Lot in Life.
(or, Why other robots are very depressed.)

Sentinel Mark I
Remember when I said that nobody got hit harder than the Wild Sentinels? I guess I forgot about these little fellas. You see, for a while they could stun 2-drops. That’s right. Stun my 2-drop to stun your 2-drop. Bam! Not really that fair if you ask me. Especially when it’s up to me to do it if and when I want to. Where’s that nerf bat?

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when you really want to trade your 2-drop for their 1-drop. I mean, there have to be, right? Eh . . .

I wish I had something more to say about these guys, but it seems most players would rather pack their decks with more Wilds and just drop two of them on turn 2 instead of this guy. Poor, forgotten Mark I. (Okay, anyone who finishes in the Top 8 of a PCQ with five or more Robot Enforcers and five or more Sentinel Mark Is gets something special in the mail.)

Um . . . Okay, Adam Sandler is in Love With This Girl . . . And She’s Like, a Golden Retriever . . . or Something
(or, Why some robots are awesome.)

Sentinel Mark II
This guy’s pretty cool—4ATK/3DEF with flight and range is already not too shabby. His power is reactive, but it’s useful. Even if there’s not a card you really want to part with, your opponent won’t know that, so he or she will be loath to have one of his or her character’s powers negated. And best of all, as usual, if you like him, you can run as many as you want. He’s my favorite army Sentinel to run in Sealed or Draft. He’s also my favorite army Sentinel to take out to dinner parties, but that’s neither here nor there.

Suspect? How Can It Not Know What It Is?
(or, Why some robots remain to be seen.)

Sentinel Mark III

I Perform Over 20 Megachecks Per Second! You’re Both Naughty For Disregarding Each Others’ Feelings.
(or, Why some robots really like other robots.)

Sentinel Mark IV

Okay, remember when I said that nobody got hit harder than the Wild Sentinels? And then a little while after that, I said that Sentinel Mark I got hit pretty hard, too? Well, the Mark IV got nerfed so hard that he’s, uh, weaker now than he used to be. The old Mark IVs used to have bigger stats and got their bonus off of all Sentinels, stunned or not. What a beating! It wasn’t pretty. This team had an army character that was better than virtually every other 4-coster in the game. But we changed all that, yes we did. Heh heh heh . . . our master plan to make the Sentinels awful has come to fruition. For years, we’ve been trying to create a faction that is just plain terrible. And we’ve done it! HAHAHAHA!

What Are You Doing, Dave?
(or, Why some designers are misunderstood. That, or incomprehensible.)

Okay. I thought I’d take a moment to address something that happened a month ago.
I was participating in a chat log at a fansite with Alex Charsky (Vs. Tournament Commissoner) and Dave Humpherys (Vs. Lead Developer). I was asked the following question:

“How well do you think army cards work in the current card set?”

To which I answered, “We’re pretty happy with how the army mechanic is working out. While we don’t want to see tier one decks made out of 60 Sentinels, we think army decks can and will be an important part of the metagame.”

But there were two problems. First of all, I should have said “made out of 60 of the same Sentinels,” which is what I meant. Unfortunately, some players may have misinterpreted what I meant and instead thought I didn’t want to see decks made out of 60 Sentinels total, regardless of which ones.

To make matters worse, when the chat log was first posted, the “60” was removed from the sentence, so it read like this:

“While we don’t want to see tier one decks made out of Sentinels . . .”


The horror! Players would think we intended the team itself to be relegated to tier two status. That’s not it at all! We love the Sentinels! I mean, they’re robots—what’s not to love? Robots are cool. I mean, I could write a whole article about robots.

So, yeah, there’s no conspiracy. We love the Sentinels and wish them all the best.

That’s it for today. How many did you get? (To see where the quotes came from, keep scrolling down.)

Please send questions or comments to dmandel@metagame.com.

“Domo Arigato” —Mr. Robato

“Malfunction. Need input.” —Short Circuit

“Danger, Will Robinson!” —Lost in Space

“All right! I bought his brain!” —The Tick

“0.68 seconds, sir. For an android, that is nearly an eternity.” —Star Trek: First Contact

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me” —Robocop

“Life, loathe it or ignore it, you can’t like it.” —The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“Hey, baby, wanna kill all humans?” —Futurama

“I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.” —2001

“Resistance is futile.” —Star Trek: The Next Generation

“I’ll be back.” —Terminator

“We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.” —Star Wars

“Um . . . okay, Adam Sandler is in love with this girl . . . and she’s like, a golden retriever . . . or something.” —South Park

“Suspect? How can it not know what it is? ” —Blade Runner

“I perform over 20 megachecks per second! You’re both naughty for disregarding each others’ feelings.” —Futurama

“What are you doing, Dave?” —2001

(Metagame Archive) Adjusting to Vs.: Understanding Costing

By Jason Grabher-Meyer

Virtually everything has a cost. Whether it’s in life or in a card game, very rarely is anything truly free. “Free” is a term thrown around in relation to TCGs a lot—something is “free to play” if it doesn’t have a discard cost, threshold cost, or cost from a finite pool of resources (like a recruit cost). In reality, we all understand that virtually all cards in any TCG come with costs inherent to game structure. In order to use a card, you need to include it in your deck, which means possibly foregoing other choices. You’re also giving up hand advantage in the case of using most cards (drawing cards like Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s Pot of Greed, or cards that replace themselves in the hand, such as Gather Your Mind, being obvious exceptions). But since these are basically given factors for any card in any TCG, they’re discounted when considering whether or not a card is “costed” by players in most cases.

Writing an article series comes with a cost, too. The series has a finite length, and when the end is reached, its writer needs to come up with fresh ideas. With this, the sixth instalment of “Adjusting to Vs.,” I reach that point. After this, you’ll see me doing a regular weekly column here on Metagame.com, but for today, we’re going to examine the ways in which cards are costed thus far in the Vs. System‘s first release, Marvel Origins.

The first and most obvious form of costing are the basic costs—recruit cost and threshold cost. This is the first level of distinction between a low power and high power card. It’s obvious and very straightforward—low-power cards get low costs, high-power cards get higher costs.

Almost as obvious in the costing of characters are stats, ATK and DEF. A character with high stats for its placement on the cost curve, like Thing: Heavy Hitter or Wolverine: Logan will have high stats but will generally have a drawback as an additional cost. In contrast, if a card has a particularly great effect, it will probably have at best average stats. Mr. Fantastic: Scientific Genius and Invisible Woman: Sue Richards both immediately come to mind as cards that have the lowest stats possible for their segment on the curve, but that have exceedingly beneficial effects (capturing, of course, the flavour of the FF comic books, in which the team tends to use planning and cleverness to make up for their lack of brute force). Odds are good that if a card is very low in ATK and DEF, one of the two following statements is true:

a) The card just happens to be bad.

b) The card has an effect that makes working around its low stats worthwhile and potentially in the best interest of players.

These two methods of costing—literal cost under the core mechanics of the game, and printed statistics compensating for an effect—are staples of any good TCG. If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably seen them before, and you’re probably waiting for me to get the specifics. Well, luckily for you, Marvel Origins has about twelve additional consistent trends in costing that go beyond those already addressed, and here we find the interesting meat of this discourse.

Required board presence of other cards is one of the first specific systems of costing a player might see in the game. Looking through spoilers for the first time, or cracking your first few packs, the mechanic of “cards that need other cards to be in play before they can be played” emerges. Magneto: Master of Magnetism, Thing: Heavy Hitter, and Professor X: World’s Most Powerful Telepath are all examples of cards that have the line “Recruit [this card] only if you control another [team affiliation] character” as part of their effect text. The result is that a player has to consider and choose at least one of several different ways to meet the team-affiliation requirement of these cards if he or she wishes to play them. Obviously, one could take the obvious way out, running Magneto in an all-Brotherhood deck, Thing in an all-Fantastic Four deck, and Professor X in an all-X-Men deck. But really, that’s only one answer to costing of this type. You can run Doomstadt to use cards that require you to control Dr. Doom. You can use Mutant Nation and a splash of Brotherhood to make your X-Men count as Brotherhood, and thus recruit Magneto: Master of Magnetism requirement long after your splashed Brotherhood character bites the dust. You can do the same in reverse to use Professor X: World’s Most Powerful Telepath in a Brotherhood deck. The possible end product? X-Men swarm decks that can use War on Humanity, The Mutant Menace, and Mutant Supremacy to deal out amounts of early-game and mid-game pressure that would be impossible otherwise, and that can use Magneto: Master of Magnetism in the late game where the deck would normally have to call it quits. So a required board presence of another card for recruitment of a character is one form of costing, but it can be dealt with in several different ways which each present their own costs as well.

Many cards are also pseudo-costed in similar ways. Cards like Professor X: Charles Xavier and Robot Enforcer are passable on their own but need a maintained source of field presence establishing a team affiliation to use their full effects. Again, you could just run Charles in an X-Men deck and Robot Enforcer in a Doom deck, but you could also address the pseudo-cost with the plot twist Unlikely Allies, running Charles and Robot Enforcer with other X-Men like Psylocke: Betsy Braddock to give more hand control, and cheap Doom-affiliation characters to provide reinforcement and damage on team attacks. The result would be an X-Men hand control deck with the added oomph of hand disruption in the form of the Enforcer. The Enforcers and other Doom characters could also have all the benefits of X-Men specific cards, like Children of the Atom and Fastball Special.

Another form of costing to recruit or activate a card is the discard of cards in the hand, either determined by the player, or specific. For instance, Children of the Atom requires an X-Men card to be discarded from your hand in order to be activated, while Sabretooth: Feral Rage requires the discard of a Brotherhood character from your hand to be recruited. Negative Zone requires a discard of any card of your choice from your hand to be flipped. This cost is also used for pseudo-costing. For instance, Super Skrull: Engineered Super-Soldier is an alright six-drop with 10 ATK and 10 DEF—not shabby, but not great. However, if you discard a card from your hand when he attacks, you get a whopping series of extra effects: +3 ATK/+3 DEF, readying of all front-row Skrulls you control, and direct endurance loss in the amount of 3 points to each opponent—very cool.

Moving back to an obvious cost, activation is one of the most basic costs in the set. It requires an exhaustion, and thus in most cases, you relegate the character that you are activating to the sidelines for any offensive maneuvers you might want to engage in for this turn. You also commit to the one-time usage of their effects then and there at the time of activation, barring intervention via a card like Cosmic Radiation later in the turn.

Of course, to take the idea of exhaustion for a turn as an option and extend it to an extreme, some cards are costed by the fact that they’re virtually useless the turn they come into play. For instance, Havok: Alex Summers has decent stats for his place on the curve, but gains a +4 ATK when he makes an attack. This is a great effect, and would be potentially broken, save for the fact that he comes into play exhausted. This delay evens out the playing field quite a bit, and makes a player think twice about managing initiative in a deck fielding Havok.

Lastly along this line, some cards impose more precise restrictions than exhaustion. Cards like Cosmic Radiation prevent an exact action, in this case attacking, as part of the cost of using them. Such cards require a strategic commitment both in deck building and in play style, and because they are so specifically constructed, they’re often evidence of alot of careful playtesting of a card. Similarly, certain cards have restrictions on when they can be used. For instance, Professor X: Charles Xavier’s effect is so powerful that it has to be limited to the combat phase, so as to not be useable during the build phase when it could effectively lock down an opponent entirely. I’d personally watch for this cost to see an influx in future releases as the game becomes more and more complicated.

In addition to discarding from the hand, the resource row can also be used as payment for costed cards. Foiled, Ka-Boom!, Underground Sentinel Base, and The Power Cosmic all require at least one of the cards in your resource row to be removed to another zone of play. In the case of Foiled and Ka-Boom!, the cards knock themselves out. The Power Cosmic is a bit more dramatic, in that it knocks out every card in your resource row. Underground Sentinel Base plucks a Sentinel character from your resource row and puts it into play. Other cards remove cards from the resource row, only to immediately replace them, such as Relocation, and Jean Grey: Marvel Girl. It’s worth it to note that Avalanche: Dominic Petros doesn’t fit into this category because though he replaces a resource, his effect is an offense-centric one, and he does the replacing on the opponent’s side of the field. Keeping up with the curve is hugely important in the Vs. System, so any card that requires you to remove cards from the resource row, regardless of where they go once removed, is likely going to have a very noteworthy effect.

Getting back to some of the more unorthodox costing systems, the KOd pile itself is explored briefly as a source of a numerical threshold in Marvel Origins. Both Colossus: Peter Rasputin and Jean Grey: Phoenix Force have effect text that utilizes this interesting idea. Colossus is only pseudo-costed—he’s ok for a six-drop, but gains +5 ATK when there are five or more X-Men characters in your KO’d pile. Jean Grey: Phoenix Force is costed fully, not being recruitable until at least one Jean Grey has already bitten the dust. While Colossus: Peter Rasputin shares his status as a character pseudo-costed by the KO’d pile threshold with Spiral: Ricochet Rita, Jean Grey: Phoenix Force bears the interesting distinction as the only character that currently has a KO’d pile requirement to be recruited. I’m sure with how often characters come back from the dead in comic books, this is a costing mechanic we’re probably going to see more of in the future.

Lastly, there are a few minor costing effects that are very interesting and could see use in later sets. I’ve talked about discarding cards from the hand, but the lighter version of that same theme, sacrificing hand count, is giving away information about your hand to the opponent. Wolverine: Logan is at the height of its level on the curve, with a 6 ATK/6 DEF for a mere 3 points, however, in order to recruit him you must reveal an X-Men character from your hand. The cost is two-fold. Not only are you giving away what might be next for your opponent, you’re also required to have the specific team affiliation in hand, which means you’re probably going to need to be packing a decent number of X-Men to play Logan.

Position of resources is also a form of costing, as represented by Hulk: New Fantastic Four and Volcana: Marsha Rosenberg. So far we’ve only had a taste of this mechanic—Hulk and Volcana are only pseudo-costed. But think of the possibilities: decks that require restraint in the resource row to work or offer acceleration benefits to those who exercise that restraint (as seen with The New Brotherhood). Or alternatively, decks that reward aggression in the resource row and focus on never missing a valid resource row drop of a plot twist or location, so that all of them can be face up as often as possible, and thus activate specialized effects or allow for the recruiting of specialized characters. Very cool possibilities with alot of interesting promise.

Lastly, some cards require a player to take an endurance loss to activate their effect. There are no purely-costed characters yet that require an endurance loss to be recruited (Random Punks can maybe be seen in this light) but there are many effects in Marvel Origins that require payment in the form of endurance. Iceman, Nightcrawler: Fuzzy Elf, Storm: Ororo Munroe, the Super Nova and Johnny Storm versions of Human Torch, Invisible Woman: Sue Richards, Mr. Sinister, Mr. Fantastic: Stretch, and Sabretooth: Victor Creed all have effects that are at the least interesting, and are sometimes flat out superb, which require an endurance loss as part of their activation. Political Pressure and Salvage can be reused each turn if you pay an endurance cost. As an interesting counter-balance to these costs, Ghost Rider: New Fantastic Four gets an ATK bonus when his controller is at or below twenty-five endurance, an interesting way to use the endurance total as a costing threshold, instead of a finite pool (much like how the resource row generates both recruit points for characters and equipment, as well as threshold for plot twists and locations).

So, now you’ve seen the rundown of the various costs in Marvel Origins. What’s next? Well, I’m not on the design team, so I don’t know. However, I’d imagine we can look forward to lots of new costs, groupable into three different categories of thought.

First, reversed costs. We’ve seen discarding cards, and paying life points, but how about giving the opponent cards, or giving the opponent life points? A lot of the systems of costing in Marvel Origins are easily reversed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see costing systems that are polar opposites of what we’ve seen before.

Next, further exploration of established costs. So Hulk likes his resource row face down, and Volcana likes it face up. Ghost Rider likes it when you’re half-dead. I could see alot of future costs being seen as “new” by most players, actually being explorations of minor cost systems that have only begun to be explored in Origins. How would you play against a deck that is full of Ghost Rider-esque cards? One that took a big of a pounding in the early game, but then ripped you apart to claim its revenge after it hit that magic 25 endurance total? How would you build a deck that ideally intended never to flip over its resource row, thus gaining ATK and DEF bonuses, special effects, and access to characters that could only be recruited if you didn’t have any face up locations or plot twists? I really think there are some cool mechanics that have only been touched upon in Marvel Origins, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a return in future releases.

Finally, stuff totally out of left field. The Vs. team has come up with some really crazy stuff. The Power Cosmic, KO’ing all your resources for one huge push when it’s not expected? The Brotherhood frantically trying not to develop their curve to take advantage of The New Brotherhood? Those are weird, powerful cards that really stretch the limits of the Vs. System, and I don’t think the team will start there. We have Dual Sidearms—what about 0 recruit-cost characters? How about plot twists that give you the option to play them normally or as ongoing, and that do different things depending on which decision you make? And who’s to say that threshold costs will always be for plot twists and locations, and that recruit costs will only ever be printed on characters and equipment? These ideas might be a bit extreme, but I’m sure future sets are going to press the limits of the Vs. System, as well as surprise players.

So now you know pretty well about the costs that are, and you probably have gears turning as to what might be. If you’ve read the full series, and you’ve been playing, you’re probably quite good at the game by now, and if you’re like me, you’re drooling with anticipation to see what comes out next. You’re ready to go, you’re armed with experience and knowledge, and for lack of a better cliché, it’s clobberin’ time!

Thanks for reading! Any questions or comments can be sent to Jason@metagame.com.

(Metagame Archive) Adjusting to Vs.: Power of Teamwork

By Jason Grabher-Meyer

Ok, so I admittedly stole the title . . . ten points if you can name the UDE game and card that initially bore that line of text.

Teams have always been staples of comic books. Though the genre first took hold with a run of silver-age solo artists fighting one-on-one against evildoers, the bad guys quickly found equally-evil compadres that exceeded the expectations of mere henchmen. Sidekicks became a huge fad, and even the superheroes that didn’t seem to need or want them suddenly had someone with the first half of their names, and “boy” or “girl” attached to it, just as these new characters were attached to their mentors’ hips. Eventually the trend became entire teams of superheroes: the Justice League, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the Green Lantern Corps, and the X-Men immediately come to mind.

This idea of teamwork is a staple theme in comic books. To this day, comic books are written about groups of heroes that each have their own unique strengths—strong on their own, but nigh-unstoppable as a team. Not only is it a popular concept that is worth writing stories about, it’s also a stylistic approach that lends itself very well to the comic book format: each character can be given a distinct personality, and thus the writer can play with the characters’ set roles to accomplish the dramatic effects he desires. Teams are not just a staple of the comic book approach to story, they’re a staple of everything involved in the medium.

And of course, that is the case in Marvel Vs.! (Ha! Bet you thought I’d keep rambling about comic books!)

Many other games have teams, or groups of cards or pieces that can be used together to a greater effect. Perhaps one of your cards gives all of your elves an offensive bonus, or another card lets you draw when you recruit a dwarf. Teams, clans, races, houses, and other group-types are often strategically important in other trading card games. However, you usually see one of two scenarios:

1. You can only use a set number of affiliations. You play one or two houses, or clans, or colors, and you’d better like it.

2. You make the choice to use cards that have synergies that happen to be based on a shared keyword creating an identity. You don’t have to, and the mechanics aren’t built into the core game, but are instead dependant upon you not getting terrible draws, as well as your skill as a deck builder and decision-maker. Half the time, you get smoked by some guy who’s just running max-utility power cards instead of attempting themed synergy anyways.

The Vs. System is unique in this regard. You aren’t forced to play a single team affiliation, though it can help a lot to stick to one or two. By the same token, the synergetic rewards are not just based on the singular effects of individual cards—the system is designed from the get-go to encourage teams that make sense in relation to the comic books, and the core game includes key mechanics designed towards this end.

That said, the Marvel Origins set gives the player a challenging choice. One can take a first glance through the rulebook, see the core mechanics, and understand that matching team affiliations are important. However, anyone can look through a spoiler, see cards like Arcade and Juggernaut, and see that the game is intended to also give the strong option of complementing a full team with accenting characters, sometimes even splitting a deck between two major factions, as well as incongruous characters added for flavour and synergetic effects and costs.

As usual with Vs., the theory at this point becomes a swirling morass, and the actual specifics are quite difficult to come to terms with. That said, I’m going to break down exactly how team affiliations currently affect the game. Some things are obvious, and others are not.

First off, the two obvious advantages a deck with congruous team members is going to possess are the two core mechanics described in the Vs. rulebook: team attacks and reinforcement. Though it’s easy to look at team attacks and underestimate the value of them at first glance, anyone who’s played a few games understands how integral they can often be. Team attacks can solve several problematic situations. If you’ve missed a drop or two and are behind your opponent’s curve, a team attack is going to allow you the opportunity to catch up and even the playing field by taking out their biggest hitter, with a follow-up Finishing Move completing the equation quite nicely. By the same token, if one character is buffed with equipment, a commitment of resource and opportunity to a team attack can provide a counter to your opponent’s carefully laid plans (or dumb luck). And hey, sometimes you can see what’s coming, and a team attack can nicely destroy your opponent’s strategic groundwork. Nothing like a bit of disruption.

Taking the idea to an extreme, in Limited play this concept becomes even more important. With a slightly less rigid and focused curve, and less consistency in availability of strategic bonuses (I’d like to see someone try to draft three or four The New Brotherhoods so they could get them reliably in the early game), team attacks suddenly become a blessedly reliable source of damage output. Their worth as one of the easiest and most accessible synergetic actions in the game is far more appreciated in Limited than it is in Constructed, requiring relatively little set-up with a great deal of potential payoff in the short and long runs.

By the same token, reinforcing is highly important. In Constructed play, reinforcing allows late-game decks to get to that part of the game. Brotherhood swarm decks can quickly make mincemeat out of most other decks in the current environment, pinging away with breakthrough damage in the first four turns, and limiting resources to lock the game at that stage. In that situation, surviving to turn 6 and beyond can often mean game, and reinforcing is a key way to accomplish that. Reinforcement gives mid- and late-game worth to even the smallest of 1-drop characters and is highly important when deckbuilding: prioritizing balances of different recruit cost characters is often thought of in terms of the curve and opening draw, but overall cohesiveness of a team as it impacts team mechanics, especially reinforcement, is something definitely worth considering. It’s often tempting to run very few 1-drop characters, rationalizing that after turn 2 or 3, most of them won’t be of use. However, it’s terribly important to remember that these characters become fast and highly-accessible reinforcement fodder in the late game, provided they have the proper team affiliation. Being smashed upside the head by Annihilus, Thing: The Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing, or Apocalypse can sting a lot less if the big thug is incapable of dealing breakthrough.

Reinforcing is particularly important in Limited play. Though team attacks and offensive buffs take center stage in Constructed, there’s a swing when the change of format is made to Draft or Sealed. Suddenly, defensive cards and mechanics become even more important than they were in Constructed—decks can’t be fine-tuned for character recruit cost balances to be as reliable as they can be in Constructed, and as is true in any Limited format for any game, the emphasis on tactics is heightened. Because of the somewhat unpredictable nature of Marvel Origins Limited play, reinforcement is highly valuable. Cards like Common Enemy, Marvel Team-Up, Unlikely Allies, Heroes United, and Mutant Nation are so good in Limited play that they seem essentially designed for it—the ability to reinforce reliably with a deck that isn’t necessarily as consistent team-wise as it could be is a huge advantage.

Ok, ok . . . You might be thinking, “Duh, I knew about those, they were in the rulebook. I hate you, Jason . . .” There are many more factors that can make team affiliations important—we’ve only scratched the surface thus far. Team affiliation requirements are used as a form of costing in several different ways throughout Marvel Origins, and will no doubt continue to be an integral form of costing throughout all Vs. System games in the future.

First up, just like in other games, there are cards that give sizeable bonuses only to specific teams. Savage Land, Danger Room, and Fantasticar all give bonuses to specific teams, and all are currently quite integral to serious competitive decks featuring their respective teams. Running a focused deck with a single team affiliation allows for maximization of utility with these cards, at various costs. Pretty simple, but important to establish.

Moving along, team affiliations can sometimes allow you to play cards you couldn’t otherwise play. Cards like Professor Xavier: World’s Most Powerful Telepath, and Thing: Heavy Hitter are examples of cards with the following text: “Recruit [this card] only if you control a [team affiliation] character.” Both are also examples of cards that are outstanding at their respective cost levels. In this case, the recruit cost and ATK/DEF were only part of costing the card. The additional cost of requiring a certain balance of team affiliation-bearing characters in the deck was also employed. Recognizing this as a form of costing is important, because it not only tells you that these characters are potentially very strong, but it also gives you another reason to prioritize certain elements in a deck using these characters. It’s important to calculate the odds relevant to this fact when building a deck. If you intend to use a card that is costed in this way, how many of the matching team affiliation characters will you run? How many of the costed card will you run?

Some plot twists are costed in the same manner. Fastball Special, which is quickly distinguishing itself as a staple card for X-Men decks, requires two front-row X-men characters you control to be exhausted in order to use its powerful effect (stunning any character regardless of control or formation).

On the other hand, some cards can be played in any deck, but work better with certain team affiliations. Muir Island’s recovery effect can be very worthwhile in virtually any deck, requiring a discard of two cards from the hand. However, if one is playing X-Men, Muir Island allows its controller to discard one X-Men character card instead of two other cards to activate it. Very nice.

Similarly, the Brotherhood direct-damage plot twists (War on Humanity, The Mutant Menace, and Mutant Supremacy) become increasingly deadly with every Brotherhood character that hits the board; the more Brotherhood characters in your deck, the higher the potential damage output will be from any one of these cards.

Magneto: Eric Lehnsherr is yet another example. On his own, Eric is a 5-drop character with average stats and the advantage of both Range and Flight. However, he also allows you to exhaust a target character with a cost of 4 or less if you have another Brotherhood character in play. It’s quite the bonus, and it’s definitely worth keeping in mind while judging and rebalancing builds of a Brotherhood deck.

Lastly, some cards can actually be handicapped if your opponent is using a deck focused on a single team affiliation. Betrayal targets a player and then stuns one character controlled by that player, unless he or she controls characters of one single team affiliation. In this way, team affiliation management can be seen in yet another valuable defensive light, one that will likely continue to be seen in future sets of Vs. System games.
The above are the current elements that give importance to team affiliations, and are the incentive for careful management of such. Hopefully this article has helped you adjust from the more conventional concepts of group-identifying keywords, and has prepared you to understand the different values behind team affiliations in the current environment: team attacks, reinforcement, the use of affiliation-costed characters and plot twits, expanded offensive utility, and expanded defensive utility, of specific cards.

Thanks for reading! Please send any questions or comments to Jason@metagame.com.