(Metagame Archive) Twists and Turns

By Brian-David Marshall

Web of Spider-Man has hit the stores and will be featured both in the Limited portions of PCQs and in drafts at your local stores. Traditionally, this column takes the new set and dissects it, team affiliation by team affiliation. For Web of Spider-Man, that would actually end up being bisection, since there are only two major team affiliations to work with. There’s no rush for us to get into that right away, as we’ll have plenty of time to cover both sides of that issue before it’s time to move on to Superman, Man of Steel in November (pencil in that Sneak Preview Weekend right now—November 13 and 14).

The first subset of cards I wanted to look at in the new set is actually the plot twists. Most players agree that your first pick in a draft should almost always be a combat-oriented plot twist. When you ask someone what went wrong in the Sealed Pack portion of a PCQ, he or she will almost invariably lament not having enough blue cards.

As the theory of Vs. System starts to develop, there is one thing that is clear. You need to stun multiple creatures on your opponent’s side of the table each turn if you want to win. The player who can accomplish this invariably has good plot twists and knows how to use them. Let’s face it—most of the characters you will both play each turn will generally have similar stats. If you are going to win the resulting fight, you need to have an edge. Sometimes that edge comes from locations, and occasionally from a power-up, but more often than not it’s a combat-oriented plot twist that changes the outcome of the game. Ideally, your smaller character can use a trick to take down the freshly played character on your opponent’s team, while your larger character goes to work on his or her smaller character.

Sometimes you get this advantage with an ATK-boosting plot twist, but in Limited it is often DEF-boosting plot twists that rule the day, because they will let you “steal the initiative” from your opponent. The best example of this is Acrobatic Dodge, which is almost always a first pick in Marvel Origins draft. Your opponent has the initiative and sends a character in to attack your largest character. Maybe he or she team-attacks or uses a pair of power-ups; either way, he or she overextends and you save your defender with the Acrobatic Dodge. Now your opponent has not stunned the key character on your side of the table and is probably out of gas. It’s usually a devastating play that leaves your best character ready and able to start destroying the other team.

If you don’t have good plot twists, it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to win in Limited. It reminds me of the line from the Untouchables about bringing a knife to a gunfight. If all you have are the same somewhat predictable drops along the character curve, you will not survive battle with a well-armed opponent and his or her magazine full of blue bullets. What are the plot twists in Web of Spider-Man that you should be looking for in Limited?

There are only eight common plot twists in Web of Spider-Man, and you should make sure you know which ones are worth picking early. Last week, we talked about a draft pack where it was clear that the first pick was No Fear. No Fear is a perfect example of a card that lets you get across an asymmetrical attack on your opponent’s board. Last turn’s has-been character can suddenly make a bold attack and take down your opponent’s character on the current turn, clearing the way for your most recent recruit to push around a smaller character on the other side of the table. What’s especially nice about No Fear is that it’s effective both offensively and defensively. It’s definitely the top dog among the commons.

Alley-Oop! can only be used on a defending character, but +1 ATK and +2 DEF is nothing to sneeze at. This is one of the cards that can “steal the initiative,” because it not only saves your character, but it can also boost your character’s ATK to the point where it stuns an attacker. The characters’ stats can be so close in Limited that 1 point in any direction can mean the difference between stunning and not stunning a character. There is the additional limitation of having to use Alley-Oop! on a support row defender, which can diminish its surprise value after the first time. I think this is the second best common plot twist in the set, largely on the potential to swing the initiative around to you.

It’s a close finish between second and third (although there’s a sharp drop after third place) as we get a common It’s Clobberin’ Time! in this set. There is no team affiliation restriction on Crushing Blow, but there are situational restrictions, since it does nothing when attacking a readied character. However, the bonus is so large that you can easily find a way to work around that drawback—if you have Shocker or anything else that exhausts a character, it becomes much easier to see the value of Crushing Blow. Even without that, it allows you to send your smaller character back at a larger character who has already swung into your team’s bigger character, or to smash a character who has reinforced a front row character. Often players will tuck their better character in the back row when they don’t have initiative and force you to beat up on their front row characters first. Crushing Blow will punish that strategy. It should always be a solid pick and should always make it into your deck.

Those three are the only common plot twists that I would take very highly. The bonuses that the other combat-oriented plot twists provide are either minimal or situational. Hired Goons is the next best pick if you are playing Sinister Syndicate, as it will give your drop for the turn + 2 ATK. It does last for the entire turn, which is better than most plot twists. If you look at it as a +2 ATK boost for one character, then it is a fine card that you can pick up in the middle of the pack. It can also help you out on turns where you miss your drop and play out two characters instead. The extra +2 ATK to each character can help you get through the turn in the face of your opponent’s larger drop that showed up on the appropriate turn.

Surrounded is an okay filler plot twist that I expect you can pick up later in the pack. Usually it won’t offer more than a bonus of +1 ATK and +1 DEF, but that is effectively the same as a power-up. Imagine that you played a Spider-Man as a face-down resource and could flip him up as a power-up for your resource row. If you are getting more than a power-up from this card, something has gone wrong with your curve, and this is not going to fix that problem. This is definitely one of the cards that will give you an edge when 6-drop characters collide, but isn’t on the power level of the big three commons in my pick order.

Grounded is another card that you should be able to pick up mid-pack, but not something you will complain about missing. Don’t get me wrong—you should squeeze every plot twist that significantly affects combat into your deck. -1 ATK to an opponent’s character is almost as good as +1 ATK to yours. Limiting your opponent’s options by literally grounding a character is never a bad thing, but I would not pick this over a solid character in a key spot along my curve.

Crowd Control does nothing to change the outcome of combat other than save you a ton of pain in the late game for the low price of one extra card. If this finds its way into your pile, you will find it occasionally useful and it might even save your life. I don’t see this card being picked very highly, so you can take your time. It may warrant being picked higher than the second tier combat-oriented plot twists, but currently I have it down near the bottom, since I have never found myself wishing I had one.

I’m not impressed with Big Bully, as it is something of a “win more” card. If I’m attacking a smaller character, I’m probably already winning the game. This does little to alter combat other than piling on the damage—and not in very large piles. The differential between characters in the later turns is very small, as most of the 1- and 2-drops somehow don’t get recovered. I’ve played with it and even used it to squeak out a win, but it was hard to use and I’d rather have any of the other plot twists already discussed in its place.

One of the biggest mistakes that new players make when drafting is not putting a high enough priority on plot twists. Next week, I’ll keep them in focus as we look at the uncommons. With only two primary teams to work with, we will look at more than just combat oriented twists. There are a few team-ups floating around in the uncommon slot, but they are not your normal team-up cards.

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