(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!
(or, WE MUST OBEY DOOM)

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.)

Doom-Bot
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
CLASSIFIED

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 . . .”

AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!

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

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