(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.

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