(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.

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