(Metagame Archive) The First Champion: Part 2

By Brian Kibler

Fade to black on overly long self-congratulatory introductory sequence.  Scene change.  Setting: bustling convention hall, packed wall to wall with people playing, trading, discussing cards.  Cut to Danger Room.  Cut to Doom’s Throne Room.  Cut to Daily Planet.  Cut to Batmobile.  Still: Bat Signal pans across room.

No matter how much testing time I might have put in, nothing could’ve prepared me for the spectacle of the Pro Circuit itself. I realize I’m the umpteenth person to comment on the tournament setup, but I just can’t go without saying something.  Upper Deck Entertainment really went all out to make the Pro Circuit memorable, and their efforts did not go unnoticed.  From the Batmobile sitting in the entryway, to the ominous mask of Dr. Doom looming over the judge’s station, to the amazing multimedia feature match area, everything contributed to an atmosphere of almost palpable excitement.

I had no time to bask in the site’s glory, however – there was much work to be done.  After registering for the event and filling out the obligatory paperwork (I find it incredibly amusing that I got my UDE membership number at the Pro Circuit itself), it was off to the hotel for the equally obligatory last minute testing and tweaking based on scouting reports.

Scouting before the tournament has even started might seem bizarre, but when you’ve been playing in big TCG events as long as I have, you pick up on a few things.  One of those little tidbits is the knowledge that dealers can provide you with far more than just the last few cards for your deck.  Because you know what?  You’re not the only one who showed up with a stack of proxies on Thursday night.  The hot sellers at the dealer tables tend to be a good indication of what the field will look like the next day.

The dealer report was nothing surprising.  The only real trends of note was Have a Blast! and Longshot selling out everywhere, and Wild Sentinels going for promises of firstborn children.  Good info, but nothing we didn’t know already.  It was common knowledge that most of the Magic pros without Vs. experience were planning on playing Sentinels, so the mechanical menace was already on our must-beat list.  Have a Blast! just meant trouble for decks reliant on team-ups, but again, that only reinforced what we already knew.

Thus, we went into our last minute testing no better off than when we arrived.  Now, if you’ve never been in the room with a group of professional gamers the night before an event, I’m not sure I can quite convey the sheer absurdity of the scene.  Picture a hotel room packed wall to wall with twenty-somethings huddled around decks of cards- on beds, on the floor, on desks; whatever surface might be handy.  Notepads, pens, and sleeves lie strewn about, and the air is thick with discussion, debate, argument, and everything in-between.  Cell phones serve as a bridge between any number of “situation rooms” like this one, as the collective sense of urgency deepens with every passing moment.  The chaos of the whole situation just cries out for an ironic subtitle: “Don’t try this at home, kids.  These men are trained professionals.”

This particular “situation room” featured Gabriel Nassif and Matt Linde smashing Sentinels into Fearsome Five, Billy Jensen and Neil Reeves checking in via cell phone with the contingent at Gabe Walls’ apartment, Dave Williams and I scouring tournament coverage on the internet for decklists, and Eric Froehlich ranting incoherently about who knows what.  Somehow, we managed to reach consensus in the chaos, and that consensus was simple: Listen to Gabe and Neil.  One very important quality to have in TCG tournament play, along with life in general, is the ability to recognize when someone else knows better than you do.  In this case, we all had to concede that Gabe and Neil had a better understanding of the metagame and the matchups, no matter what results we might scrape together at one in the morning.  They said Common Enemy?  Common Enemy it would be.

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(Metagame Archive) Totally Freakin’ Broken: Bounce

By Jason Grabher-Meyer

The term “control,” when used to describe an overall TCG strategy, can mean many different things. There is hand control, which involves both manipulating and decimating your opponent’s hand. There is deck control, where you eliminate cards before your opponent even sees them. There is also resource control, where the destruction of an opponent’s resources allows you to narrow their options so far that you simply out-muscle them.

Frequently, though, “control” refers to board presence¾control that involves taking characters, destroying characters, or removing characters from the board. The last is an interesting group in the current Vs. System environment, so this column will profile such cards. There are many cards that remove your opponent’s characters from the field by returning them to either the deck or the hand. In layman’s terms, these are “bounce” cards.

The cards in this group can return one or more of your opponent’s characters to his or her hand or deck. All in all, there are seven¾five characters and two plot twists.

First, let’s look at the characters. Thing, The Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing is definitely the first bounce card that comes to mind. Since the early days following the release of Marvel Origins, this version of Ol’ Blue Eyes has been a showstopper. You can fetch it with the game’s premier character-search card (Signal Flare), and it boasts rock-solid stats that outdo most others at the 7 slot. Thingis a brick that not only hits hard, but also levels the playing field.

Thing is not primarily a control card¾if you don’t have control of a game by turn 7, it’s unlikely that you’re going to win via a control strategy. Rather, he’s a highly disruptive card that helps facilitate huge comebacks. If you’re seriously outmatched, odds are good that Thing can bounce some attackers. Since Thing can bounce multiple characters at once, he can quickly level a very uneven playing field. The Common Enemy deck now has three hugely powerfully 8-drops at its disposal, but truth to be told, Common Enemy decks win most of their games on turn 7. Thing, The Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing is often the reason. He’s a strong staple in Fantastic Four decks, as well.

Next is Jean Grey, Phoenix Force. Though Jean’s stats are decent for her cost level, her effect reeks of contingency plans. She’s neither aggressive nor strictly controlling, and while she does combo well with certain cards, none of them are X-Men. Unfortunately, her weird pseudo-loyalty makes her difficult to play outside of an X-Men deck.

If you haven’t maintained an overall board presence advantage, Jean can make for an optimal play on turn 8 that allows you to regain lost footing in the resource point department. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all she does. The moment something bad happens, you can pull the plug and end the problem before you can say “I know kung fu.” However, that’s not what I want my 8-drops doing. Any 8-drop I play should recklessly explode buildings and set fire to innocent bystanders! For 8 resource points, I want someone who’s completely crazy, dangerous, and deadly. I want someone mean. Puppy-killing mean. I’m pretty sure Jean Grey does not kill puppies.

Ok, fine. Jean Grey isn’t some axe-swinging beast or silver-surfing initiative thief. She is useful, however, as more than a big, gold-scarfed reset button. On turn 8, she can end the game by earning you your last Xavier’s Dream token. If you don’t get that last token by turn 8, you’re probably only a Reconstruction Program away from pulling the same trick for the win the next turn with the same copy of Jean Grey, Phoenix Force. In short, once Jean hits the field, your opponent has to stun, KO, or bounce her before his or her recruit step is over and Jean sends everyone to a happier place¾and that’s only if you held the initiative. If you don’t have the initi…

(Metagame Archive) Dropping In On Friends

By Brian-David Marshall

Heh.

Two weeks in, and already we’re wrapping up our team-by-team assessment of Web of Spider-Man in Sealed Pack play.

Sort of. Next week we’re going to look at how you can successfully shuffle the two main affiliations together, and which of the random X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Sentinels might make it into your deck. In the meantime, let’s get to the new set’s namesake and his pals.

If you recall last week’s column, I raved about the Sinister Syndicate’s early game, with the dizzying trifecta opening of Vulture, Hammerhead, and Rhino. The Spider-Friends don’t have any openings that are nearly as exciting. Not unlike a comic-book storyline, the villains may often make the heroes look foolish in the opening act, but the good guys triumph as the story progresses.

If you are drafting dedicated Spider-Friends, your best cards come from the 3 slot forward (whereas I feel it’s the 3 slot backward for the bad guys), but you still need to pay attention to your early curve or you can get run over by an aggressive Syndicate draw. If you don’t make a play until the third turn, you will find yourself in a deep, dark hole. Thanks to endurance gain from the old man (Vulture), I have seen endurance differentials of almost 30 points by the time turn 4 rolls around.

One-Drops

Unlike when you’re drafting the bad guys, you don’t need to spend much energy on your 1- and 2-drops. Wild Pack is really the best you have at this slot, and it is not something you need to worry about until the pack makes its second go around the table. Wild Pack is not terribly exciting, but he is a party animal compared to Prowler and Rocket Racer. If you get enough Wild Packs, you can create an explosive draft deck that rivals the Syndicate’s 1-2-3 punch. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t end up with a 1-drop, but if you get the initiative against a Syndicate deck, it is nice to be able to stun Vulture on that first turn.

Two-Drops…

(Metagame Archive) The Casual-Competitive Conundrum

By Ben Kalman

Over the past two weeks, I’ve asked a group of eleven people twelve questions about both the casual and competitive game and their place within the Vs. System community. The group included professional players, shop owners, purely casual players, online personalities, judges, and UDE employees. The object of this questionnaire was to get an idea of how the Vs. System community felt about the split between competitive and casual players, and how they felt about being involved in a game that clearly had more than one side to it. I’m going to go over the questions and look at some of the players’ responses.

Are you primarily a casual or a competitive player?

“Casual play is my Primary Directive.”—Rian “stubarnes” Fike

Casual (5)
Competitive (3)
Both (2)
N/A (2)

The important aspect of this question is how to define a casual or a competitive player. Some people I asked felt that every player is a casual player first. Some felt that they could be both at the same time. Can someone be a casual player even in a competitive arena?

Rian Fike thinks so. He told me that he has set goals for himself, but that he doesn’t take the game as seriously as many other players on the Pro Circuit. Money is nice, and winning is nice, but his main goal in this game is to enjoy himself even when thousands of dollars are on the line. Perhaps this is why he’s so hard on himself when he allows himself to feel pressure. He has said in the past that while playing on Day 2 at PC Indy he faced an opponent who tried to stall and trick him into a loss. He ended up losing because of his inability to remain calm and to react properly to the situation. Rian is working to ensure that in future tournaments he will be focused on what is important—the game—and not worry about his opponent or his opponent’s attitude.

I feel that there’s no such thing as a purely casual or purely competitive player. In my mind, there are only players, and “casual” or “competitive” are merely labels that allow people to categorize you in terms of how serious a player you are. For me, seriousness is situational, and a player can be stone-faced in one situation and rambunctious in another. Attitude and callousness are not necessary for a competitive player. Competitive players can have fun, and casual players can be serious. It’s all part of the game.

Do you play on both sides of the fence?

“I’m a tweener . . . I can beat casual players but get owned by competitive ones.”  —Erick Reyes

Yes (8)
No (3)
Only when necessary (1)

The “only when necessary” response is from Dave Spears. He only enters the casual world when he is teaching new players how to play the game. The “No” responses were split between competitive and casual players. As above, I think that most players who play competitively also play casually. As a couple of respondents mentioned, every player begins as a casual player. Most players also enjoy fun games to test out subpar decks or to just unwind after a bout of crazy testing. I think it’s more common to see casual players who aren’t interested in playing competitively—whether they don’t like tournaments or are isolated and have trouble finding good tournament spots—than vice versa.

Why did you start playing Vs. System? What attracted you to it?

“It was an excuse to get out of real work at the office.” —Alex “The Chark” Charsky

“I first demoed it at Gen Con So Cal 2003 . . . I’m not sure if it was the game that got me hooked or the way that Danny [Mandel] did the demo. I always say the former because we don’t want Danny’s Sentinel-sized head to get bigger.” —Erick Reyes

Comic fanatic (4)
Disillusioned with HeroClix (2)
GenCon SoCal 2003 demo (1)
Magic’s mana issues (1)
Player of new games (2)
N/A (2)

The answers are always the same. Comic fans were disillusioned with HeroClix or other comic-themed games. Old-school Wildstorms fans were just waiting for this kind of game to come. Magic players were sick of being manascrewed. I fall into these categories myself—a comic fanatic who was also a Wildstorms fan and was starting to get tired of the constant HeroClix rules changes. I needed a change of pace and had been waiting for a strong superhero card game for six years. Andrew Yip agreed. “I’ve always looked for an excuse to get back into the world of comics and superheroes. Especially with the stale card game market, Vs. was the right game at the right time.”

Most people cite the same reasons for loving Vs. System—the balance of the game, the resource system, UDE’s dedication to the game and the players, and the vibrant Vs. System community. Robert “Bizarro #98” McSantos says it best. “What I love about Vs. is the fact that Upper Deck not only has the devotion to make Vs. characters into clever takes on their comic counterparts, but also the foresight to make sure that this would be a good, balanced, well-made game, even without its license, and that’s what’s going to keep Vs. alive for years to come.”

Do you think that competitive players are too serious and don’t respect the health of the game, and why or why not?

They can be (6)
No (5)
Unsure (1)

Do you think that casual players aren’t serious enough and are too focused on the non-competitive game, and why or why not?

Disagree (12)

“I decided to combine these questions because the answer is the same for both. Casual and competitive Vs. are two completely different games. There’s only a problem when the two of them inadvertently interact with each other. When a player with a casual deck and a player with a competitive deck play each other, and the casual player gets slaughtered, did either of them get anything out of the experience? Why should they even play against each other?” —Robert “Bizarro #98” McSantos

When I asked Jeff Donais these questions, he said, “Occasionally there are bad apples in competitive play or casual play, and it’s up to us to deal with them. I think we’ve established that sportsmanship is a huge part of our game.” And there it is, in a nutshell—the community and the game thrive on sportsmanship, and Vs. System has a lot of it to go around. If anything, our community has proven that we can all just get along, and that those that are too serious or create discord are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Alex Charsky knows the competitive tournament scene better than most, being the Head Judge to end all Head Judges. He said, “I think competitive players occasionally take the game too far. I completely understand their reasons for doing it, though. At a high level of play there is usually quite a bit of money on the line, so players will do everything legally possible to win that money. I think a solid application of common sense by the judge staff takes care of most of the issues . . . there have been occasions when I had to tell one player that ‘The rules enforcement you’re suggesting is ridiculous, even at the Pro Circuit level,’ and, ‘Hey buddy, you’re at the Pro Circuit, act accordingly,’ to another player.”

Robert McSantos finished up his comment on these two questions with, “Make sure you know what your opponent’s motives are before you play him or her, and if they conflict with yours, don’t play that opponent.” I tend to agree with him. The community will always be healthy as long as we respect each other and each other’s inherent goals within the game and the community. If yours are in conflict with someone else’s, simply smile, shake his or her hand and move on. This is the best way for casual and competitive players to coexist happily together within the same community.

Should casual players have a say in policy that would affect tournament play?

“It seems to me the whole reason for the Pro Circuit is that it’s a marketing tool to get new players into the game. You want every new player to at least consider that they could make it on the Pro Circuit some day.” —Shane “fatalsync” Wendel
 
“People who don’t play in tournaments probably shouldn’t have a say in the policy, but most people do end up playing in tournaments sooner or later, so that’s a very small percentage of people.” —Jeff Donais

Yes (5)
No (3)
Depends (4)

I think that Carl Perlas said it best when he told me, “One party should not have power over the other.” As long as a casual player is entering tournaments on any level from Hobby League to Pro Circuit, he or she should have a say in the policy of tournament play. Patrick Yapjoco disagreed, saying, “Only those who compete at high levels should have a say in high level tournaments, since this affects them more than the casual non-tournament player.” He points out that casual players in other sports don’t have a say in the policy of those sports.

While this is a good point, I think that the policies of those sports don’t have as much of a direct impact on the casual players as they do in Vs. System. Granted, low-level tournaments can have house rules or change the policies to suit their needs, but having a policy that benefits everyone at once is more consistent and makes the community healthier.

Should there be cards designed specifically for casual play?

No (4)
Yes (8)

Should there be cards designed specifically for alternate format or multiplayer play?

No (6)
Yes (4)
Maybe (1)
Abstain (1)

“If it means more cards like J. Jonah Jameson, then heck no! I don’t know if you can really make cards specifically for casual play unless you have some plot twist that says if you make a bodily function noise, draw a card.” —Erick Reyes

“What, you mean J. Jonah Jameson? I love him. Everyone I know loves him. He’s the perfect example of how a casual card should be done.” —Robert “Bizarro #98” McSantos

“ I love J. Jonah Jameson. I don’t think there should be more than one [card like him] every set or two, but I love that there are some.” —Dylan “docx” Northrup

Jeff Donais said that a lot of the cards are designed for casual play and that they’ll keep coming. Carl Perlas said that every card is designed for casual play. I tend to agree with them. I also find it amusing that Erick Reyes, the ultimate casual player and champion of all things casual, is against the idea of cards like this.

I think that most players understand that the casual player is the driving force behind any game. Adding 1 card out of 165 that is useless in the competitive environment but a great addition to the casual environment is a great shout-out to the casual player. I’m not a huge fan of J. Jonah Jameson,especially after I pulled two (one foil and one non-foil) in a Booster Draft a couple of weeks ago, but I respect the inclusion of him in the set. Without a hint of irony, however, I will say that if the reverse happened, say a card that could only benefit competitive players with no usefulness in a casual deck, I would be one hundred percent against it.

The same goes for the multiplayer and alternate format question. Robert McSantos added, “Upper Deck already makes good cards for multiplayer and alternate formats. They’re just subtle about it.” Think about that for a bit, then go through the sets and look at cards like Dark Phoenix and Overpowered. You’ll see that the multiplayer game hasn’t been ignored, and alternate formats can get very interesting with some of these cards on the table.

Does it bother you that that the design/development team thinks of the casual player and casual metagame when designing sets?

No (11)
Not sure it’s true (1)

Does it bother you that packs are specifically collated to help with Limited play?

Yes and no (1)
No (9)
Don’t notice either way (2)

“Casual players are the bread and Miracle Whip. Tournament players are the ham and cheese. Without both, you don’t get the sandwich of goodness that is the Vs. community.” —Dylan “docx” Northrup

Dylan hit this nail on the head, and he summed up my entire argument in a great way. Just as the community needs both casual and competitive players to survive, the game also needs to be designed around both halves of the community in order to flourish. With the Design/Development team working in the way that they do, we can be assured that Limited play, tournament play, and the metagame will all benefit from the system and from the individual sets.

Robert McSantos made an interesting argument when he said, “I don’t really agree that there is a casual metagame. It’s just a metagame . . .casual players have fun with it, competitive players analyze it, study it, try to predict it, and try to defeat it.” Perhaps he’s correct. Maybe there is one all-encompassing metagame, rather than two separate entities. Perhaps there are merely separate casual and competitive influences on one overall metagame. Shane Wendel believes that, “it’s the casual players who really drive the metagame . . .[they] put the cards together that don’t seem to have synergy and find that broken combo that the competitive players then turn into a top tier deck.” Shane is correct that the casual players have an important influence on the metagame, although I don’t think he gives enough credit to the competitive players in that regard.

All in all, I think that the casual players provide the clay and the tools, and the competitive players shape and mold that clay into a metagame statue. The Design/Development team’s consideration of the casual metagame and the Limited collation of packs are merely steps towards ensuring that the status quo remains this way. However, Andrew Yip thinks that the collation isn’t enough. “Vs. is a very difficult game to design for Limited play across sets because of the nature of teams and expansions, but it’s still a problem that should be resolved with the cards, not the collation.”

Can a community flourish with casual and competitive players on separate sides, and why or why not?

Yes (11)
Don’t Know (1)

Can a competitive player also be casual and vice versa, and why or why not?

Yes (12)

For these final questions, I will let the respondents have the final word(s).

“Any game needs a healthy mix of casual and competitive players for the player base to continue to grow.” —Alex Charsky

“Most people are hybrids of casual and competitive. Even hardcore players sometimes just want something low key. There is not a black and white distinction.” —Jeff Donais

“They don’t have to agree on everything to play in their little corner of the universe.” —Dave “En-Kur” Spears

“This whole competitive vs. casual issue is weird, because does ‘casual’ mean a good player who has fun or a bad player who can’t play competitively? And does ‘competitive’ mean a good player with a bad attitude or a bad player that wins a lot?” —Erick Reyes

“[Erick Reyes] is the epitome of the casual player. He doesn’t care about winning or losing, as long as he gets to play or see his favorite characters in battle. But, if you get him in a tournament, he can be every bit as competitive. It’s just a matter of the situation. Since he owns a store, he doesn’t care about winning, as long as he gets people coming back because they had a good time.” —Patrick “Majestic” Yapjoco

“I found that I didn’t need to take the game too seriously to win serious money. I will always live in a world of grins and giggles, but when Vs. System was first announced I set a tangible goal for the first time in my life and I will continue to work diligently to make it come true. Yes, I study the game constantly. No, I do not practice as much as most competitive players. Maybe it’s possible to be both.” —Rian ‘stubarnes’ Fike

“Picture if you would, a man who is devoted to a particular team, so much so that it’s the only team he allows himself to play, either casually or competitively. However, he feels that this team’s representation in Vs. is subpar, and attempts to compete by taking advantage of an unintentional synergy with an associate of his favorite team’s mortal enemy (who happens to have a bad haircut). Is this person casual or competitive? I’ve been stewing over this for some time.” —Robert “Bizarro #98” McSantos

“One could imagine a player so good that he learned everything he needed to learn playing with his eight-year-old sister every third Sunday of the month. I see no reason why a player of moderate intelligence can’t play casually and still compete. Most of us don’t have the time to brute-force our way to good play habits” —Andrew “liquidroyl” Yip

“All players are casual players first, whether they play casually or not. Competitive players are a subset of casual players.” —Tony ‘Typhon’ Burian

“No one stays a competitive player one hundred percent of the time and vice versa. There are plenty of players who cross both sides, maybe not now or not tomorrow for some, but they eventually do and most people will have experience on both sides. And this is what keeps balance within this issue.” —“Cap’nCarl” Perlas

“I want to say ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ here, and leave it at that. The truth is that the debate between the two ‘factions’ is ultimately healthy. UDE must be greatly encouraged that the game inspires so much passion.” —Shane “fatalsync” Wendel

(Metagame Archive) Design Vs. Evasion

By Danny Mandel

My job is pretty cool. I get to make up cards for my favorite super heroes and villains, I get to travel to all the major comic and gaming conventions, and I get to buy comic books on the company’s tab. But not everything’s all peaches and cream. Occasionally I have to do things I’m not super-happy about (checking and re-checking and re-checking the grid sheets of a new set of cards comes to mind). Alas, today I have to do something worse than anything I’ve ever done before. Yes, even worse than this.

Today I have to give Dave Humpherys a compliment. You see, there’s this hot new mechanic in the Web of Spider-Man set called evasion, and, well, I have to admit . . . it was Hump’s idea.

In an effort to forestall going into all the glorious details of how Humpherys came up with evasion, I need to discuss something else. Usually when I use the word “design”, I’m speaking specifically about designing cards, but there are actually lots of different types of design. There’s engine design, team design, and set design, to name a few. Of course there’s top down and bottom up design as well (though those are more methods of design than actual design tasks). I thought it’d be fun to give a rough sketch of some of the other types of designing we do. Don’t worry¾as always, it’ll all come back to Humpherys.

 

 

Get Your Motor Running: Engine Design

Usually, my articles are about how we made up a particular card or how we decided what each team would be good at. Way before any of that fun stuff happens, though, we first have to design the game’s engine (the core of the game itself that exists behind the cards). Rather than go into details on how we did that, I’m just going to mention a few of the questions you might find yourself asking when you set out to make a new game.

What’s the game’s high-concept? (Is it a super-hero smash ’em game? Is it a political intrigue game? Is it a racing game?)

How does the resource system work? (Do you build one resource a turn? Do you spend blood points? Do you generate force?)

How do you divide the cards into factions? (Are there different super-hero teams? Are there Corp and Runner cards? Are there different colors of spells?)

What are the basics of the combat system? (Do your characters attack each other? Do your armies attack provinces? Does your crew fire cannons at your opponent’s?)

How do you resolve combat? (Do you compare ATK to DEF? Do you roll a d20? Do you play a hand of poker?)

What are the victory conditions? (Do you have to reduce everyone else to 0 endurance? Do you have to run through your opponent’s stockpile of cards? Do you need five feng shui sites?)

Of course, after you’ve set-up the core aspects of the game, you have to focus on the details. What are the timing rules? How many cards does a player draw each turn? What are the different classes of cards (like character, plot twist, location, and equipment)? And of course, what word do you use to represent a card turning on its side?

Engine design can be extremely difficult, as components integral to the game can shift on a weekly (or daily) basis. What you see before you is the finished product, but while we were working on the Vs. engine, nothing was set in stone. For example, stuff you guys might take for granted¾like drawing two cards a turn or the “free” recovery¾were hotly debated issues.

Also, in order to test the engine, you have to make up what are essentially placeholder cards (cards deigned specifically to test the basics of the game). This can skew the process because an unbalanced card might mask a hole in the engine, or might make you think there’s a hole when there really isn’t one.

The moral of the story is that there’s a whole design process that occurs before individual sets get created and fine-tuned¾a process that can (and often does) take several months. The bad news is that the engine is the foundation of your game, and without a solid one, the game is doomed to crumble. The good news is that once your engine is completed (with the exception of fitting in new mechanics that might alter some of the engine), you can concentrate on the fun stuff. For example . . .

Shirts and Skins: Picking Teams and Rosters of a New Set

 

Aside #1: From the beginning, we’ve had in mind a general layout for the first several sets of the Vs. System. While we knew we wanted to touch on all of the major iconic characters and teams of both the DC and Marvel universes, the question was how best to go about it. We started off with “Origins” sets, where we chose a couple of major heroic teams and their accompanying villains. We then moved to a couple of sets that focused on a major character (Spider-Man and Superman). As for the future, let’s just say we’ve got a lot of extremely cool ideas coming down the pike.

Aside #2: There’s a lot of debate, both on the forums and in-house, as to which characters have robust enough casts of supporting characters and enemies to warrant their own teams. For example, we felt that Spider-Man and Superman were two characters qualified enough to have entire sets devoted to them. I’m interested in hearing which major characters you think deserve their own teams.

Okay, back to design. Once we’ve decided on the thematic basis for the set, we then determine which and how many teams to include. For the Spidey set, we felt that introducing the Spider-Friends and Sinister Syndicate was plenty, especially given how much content the older teams were getting. For the Superman set, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

Once we know the major teams of the set, we have to decide on their respective rosters. We generally try to hit all the appropriate tier one heroes and villains, as well as lots of the secondary and more obscure ones, though sometimes we hold off on a cult favorite or two for a set down the line. We also need to figure out which characters are cool enough (or have had different incarnations) to get multiple versions. (I can’t tell you how many people wrote in to say that Sandman should have gotten another version. Okay, it was one . . . it was one person.)

To keep you apprised of where we currently are, we’ve just finalized the teams and rosters of the sixth Vs. set (code-named “Vs. Set 6”) and have begun working on the team breakdowns for the seventh set (code-named “Vs. Set 7”).

 

Rotten to the Core (Except not Rotten, Fresh!): Team Dynamics and the Core of a New Set

Once we’ve figured out which teams and characters are going into a new set, we have to figure out exactly how they’ll fit in with the older teams. Because the Vs. System is constantly expanding with new blood, it’s important that we give each new team its own identity. For example, the Spider-Friends are the best team at evasion and the Syndicate is the best at “cloning” (Jackal, Fisk Towers, and Mysterio all allow you to put characters directly into play, getting around the uniqueness rule). Of course, many types of powers or themes will bleed across teams, though often in different ways or at different power levels. Like the X-Men, the Syndicate has excellent low drops, but while the X-Men excel at keeping their characters alive, the Syndicate is more concerned with smashing face. Another thing the X-Men and Syndicate have in common is discard, but while the X-Men have a lot of efficient ways to attack an opponent’s hand, the Syndicate just got a taste of that ability.

After settling on the basics of what a team should or shouldn’t be able to do, we then lay the groundwork of the set as a whole. Often the overall theme of the set is tied into what the teams within are all about. We felt that both the Spider-Friends and Syndicate should have solid weenies, so it was a short jump to making small characters a focus of the set. Of course this also meant putting counter-measures to the set’s strong suite, which is why it includes cards such as Firestar and Sunfire*. Sometimes a set’s focus is built around a new element we want to introduce into the game, though filtered through how the teams in that set relate to that element. (Of course you haven’t seen a set like that. Yet . . .) Sometimes there is no over-arching theme to a set, as was the case with the two Origins sets whose primary focus was to introduce players to the game.

 

Here’s Where I Don’t Talk About Designing Specific Cards

 

Pretty much because that’s what I usually do. I’m also not going to talk about the differences between top down and bottom up design, but I will point you to the article where that was the subject, using this cute emoticon as the link J

What I will talk about is . . .

Monkeys Banging on Typewriters: When Developers Design Cards

Usually we (the designers) try to hand over a fairly complete file of cards to the developers so they can start testing things and getting a sense of what the set’s all about: its parameters and themes and how its teams are broken down. But often, new cards are designed and added to the file throughout the entire development process. Sometimes this is because we think of some cool new way to do something in the set. Sometimes it’s because we have to fill holes left by cards that got cut. And sometimes, every once in a while, it’s because . . . shudder . . .

. . . A developer designs a card.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy . . . horrifying . . . The idea of a developer, that brutish, foul-smelling breed of game-maker entering the precious—nay, sacred!—world of design . . . Well, it turns my stomach, too, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. In fact, though I’m ashamed to admit it, sometimes it’s for the best.

You’re probably wondering how it all goes down. Well, near as I can tell (and I try not to get too close), developers claim to have ideas about what would be “good for the game”. Hanging out near their pen, I’ve heard phrases like “a card like that will strengthen [insert archetype name here] decks” or “a card like that will help keep a check on the format”. I don’t know, I’m sure it makes sense to them . . .

Without fail, a developer-designed card will be created bottom-up. (That is, mechanics first, without much if any thought given to the thematics behind the card.) This is because developers are stupid and boring. Take Humpherys, for example. I mean, he’s so stupid and boring, he once did something really stupid and everyone got bored. Also, he throws feces.

But enough about Humpherys. Let’s talk about Humpherys!

Even a Stopped Clock is Right Twice a Day: How Humpherys Designed Evasion

He started off by rolling a d10 and consulting his tables. No wait, that’s Hyra . . .

First of all, here’s the definition of evasion, from rule 707.6 of the comprehensive rules:

Evasion is a keyword that represents a payment power on a character that has the text “Stun this character >>> At the start of the recovery phase this turn, recover this character.”

Okay, rather than trying to explain Humpherys’s thought process, I think it would make sense to turn things over to the man himself:

Hi, everyone. My name’s Dave Humpherys. I’m a developer at UDE. I work on the Vs. System and I write a weekly column about development. No, really I do. Just because nobody reads it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Anyway, before I tell you about how I came up with evasion, I first wanted to mention that Danny is awesome and that everything he says is true. For example, I am boring and stupid.

A lot of the time, combat in the Vs. System is pretty lopsided. Sure, the player without initiative gets to set up his or her formation in order to best soak up the opponent’s attacks, but other than some defensive plot twists, board position often simply comes down to how effectively the initiative player can take down opposing characters.

I decided I wanted to shake things up a bit. I thought it would be cool to come up with a power that allowed a player to trade endurance for board presence. The idea would be to have a character jump out of the way of an attack, forcing the attacker to take on somebody else. This effect would be nice for several reasons:

  1. It protects characters from auto-stun effects, especially Flame Trap.

 

  1. It allows a player to “hide” a smaller character if it becomes a juicy target during the endgame.

 

  1. It lets a player “funnel” his or her opponent’s attacks into the defenders you really want in combat (usually the bigger ones).

 

4.   It combats breakthrough silliness¾a player would be less likely to throw a bunch of Savage Beatdowns into a combat where the defender would just disappear(essentially resetting the attacker).

At its heart, evasion allows a player to trade endurance for board presence. As you can tell, evasion is often at its most powerful on smaller characters. Not only is the endurance toll lower when you stun one of your little guys, you often need your bigger guys to suck up some of the harder attacks your opponent’s characters are going to send your way.

Here are a few interesting tidbits about evasion:

Evasion’s Twin Sister

 

When I first came up with evasion, I also had another mechanic in mind. The team liked the other one so much it went on to become the core mechanic of the fifth Vs. set. I hope Danny lets me guest-write in his article again when that set comes out. Danny is so awesome!

Templating Fun

 

The templating for evasion actually went through a lot of changes from conception to final product. For example, at one point the design team wanted it to work like this:

 

Pay endurance equal to this character’s cost >>> Put this character in the stunned position. At the start of the recovery phase this turn, recover this character.

Yeesh. Ugly, huh? Their reasoning was that a character stunning itself sure didn’t feel like it was “evading”. Also, this templating wouldn’t trigger things that looked to see if the character got stunned (like Destiny or Total Anarchy).

Fortunately, the rules team (which at the time consisted of Alex Charsky) convinced them that having “put this character in the stunned position” be functionally different that “stun this character” would add too much confusion. In the end, the shorter templating prevailed. Though a character does have to stun itself in order to evade, it bounces right back, so it’s not too much of a suspension of thematics. Then again, I’m just a developer¾what do I know about that stuff?

Rules Stuff

 

Speaking of the rules team, it would probably be a good idea to go over the interaction between an attacker and an evading defender.

If a defender evades during an attack, it will remove itself from the attack (a stunned character cannot be a defender.) Since there is no longer a defender when the attack resolves, all attackers ready.

The above holds true for any case where there is no defender when an attack resolves. It’s just that with evasion, is happens a lot more than usual.

Okay, that’s all I have to say about evasion. Remember, my name’s Dave Humpherys, and I throw feces.

Hi guys. I hope you enjoyed today’s little jaunt through the various types of design we do, and the glimpse inside Humpherys’s sick mind. (Thank goodness no one reads his articles . . . ) Tune in next week for a closer look at some of the cards in the Web of Spider-Man expansion.

Send bran muffins topped with whipped cream to dmandel@metagame.com.

*I can’t wait until we do Firestorm¾then we’ll have Firestorm, Firestar, Starfire, Sunfire, and Blackfire. I’m throwing down the gauntlet, DC and Marvel; we need a character named Stormfire. And maybe one named Firesun . . . or Fireblack . . .

(Metagame Archives) We’re Coming: A Look at Vs. Down Under

By Scott Hunstad

The Australian Vs. System scene is growing. Fast. Upper Deck is doing a bang-up job promoting the game in Australia, and the results are promising. More and more of our hardcore gamers are joining the Vs. System ranks every day. Most of the major cities hold regular events and some, like Sydney, host multiple drafts/tournaments each week. Last month saw the first of what promises to be many $10k events in Australia/New Zealand, and at 81 players, the turnout was better than expected. People travelled from all over Australia and New Zealand to participate.

We’re keen. Very, very keen.

As a quick introduction, I’m Scott Hunstad, from Sydney, Australia, previously from Chicago, Illinois. I’ve been involved with the TCG scene for about ten years, and have recently launched the Australian/NZ Vs. System site VsParadise.com. From this position, I’m perhaps uniquely able to view a cross-section of both the Australian Vs. community and the individual players.

Barring the $10k Sydney event coverage, Australians are fairly unknown in the world of Vs. System. In fact, Australia has traditionally been neglected on the world-scale of TCG markets. We’re far away from “everywhere”, except perhaps Japan, and for us, travelling to high level events requires so much time and expense that it’s rarely done. That is, until now. We’re coming to PC Anaheim in (relative) force. At the moment we have nine confirmed players coming across, and with a few more PCQs taking place before the big event, that number could increase. At the first PC in Indianapolis, when Vs. was still a fledgling game in Australia, we only had a single competitor! This was the always-present-and-usually-welcome “The” Ben Seck, who fared well with a seventeenth-place finish. His performance inspired us to do better. In fact, I’ll make a call and say that I’d be quite surprised if there isn’t at least one Australian in the Top 8 of the PC. There’d better be—it costs a hell of a lot to get there!

The Sydney Scene

Sydney is currently the hotbed of Vs. play in Australia. Who gets the most players for events is a toss up between Sydney and Melbourne, but the Sydney players definitely take the game more seriously than any other city in the country.

Sydney is on the receiving end of many a PCQ. You’ll see below that some of the players coming over to the PC have four or five PCQ Top 8s to their name. The allure of the PCQ check has definitely swayed some of the more prominent Magic: The Gathering players in our community to take the plunge into Vs. with no regrets.

In Sydney, we have always had a big Sealed Pack community. We draft a lot. I began drafting DC Origins just one week after the set was released. By then, some of our guys had already drafted the set over a dozen times. With most of the serious players here having over a hundred drafts under their belts, we’re looking for positive results in the Sealed Pack portion of the PC. Four of the Top 30 Sealed Pack players in the world call Sydney home.

So, what can you expect from us? From a Constructed standpoint, we are generally not originators of decks. We net deck with the best of them, though, making modifications to support our local metagames. From the Sealed Pack side, we read the coverage of the first PC with glee as we critiqued draft picks and card valuations. Optimistic? Perhaps. The cards will be on the table at PC Anaheim and we will stand or fall accordingly.

The Players

The people below are those who have confirmed they’ll be attending the PC in December. For some of them, this will be their first overseas TCG experience, while others have been to various Magic Pro Tours.

Scott Smith – Sydney

Rankings:

Sealed Pack—1st World, 1st Oceania

Constructed—234th World, 9th Oceania

Scott was one of the earliest Magic: The Gathering converts when Vs. first came to Australia. Known for his boisterous behaviour and inability to hold his tongue, Scott is one of our most prolific drafters. And he wins, as evidenced by his current World #1 rating in Sealed Pack. This will be Scott’s first overseas trip to a TCG event, and in fact his first time on an airplane. Piloting a Common Enemy deck to 27th at the Sydney $10k, Scott has 2 PCQ wins and numerous Top 8’s on his record.

Luke Bartter – Sydney

Rankings:

Sealed Pack—56th World, 5th Oceania

Constructed—512th World, 21st Oceania

Luke started his TCG career playing the Star Wars TCG, way back when. Ironically enough, though his past is littered with dead TCGs, Luke is perhaps the only player on this list who has never touched a Magic card. Luke piloted the lone Big Brotherhood deck in the Top 8 of the Sydney $10k, and has three or four PCQ Top 8s to go with it. Luke is the glue that holds the Sydney players together, and along with Scott Smith, has taught more people how to play the game than everyone else in Sydney combined. He’s truly an ambassador for the game.

Alex Brown – Sydney

Rankings:

Sealed Pack—975th World, 48th in Oceania

Constructed—352nd World, 11th Oceania

Alex’s rating belies his ability, simply because he doesn’t play in many sanctioned events. He prefers to spend his time play testing, reading, writing, and thinking Vs. System. Alex placed second at the $10k tournament in Sydney and has been one of the most vocal proponents of the one-game match system. Alex excels at the minutia of deck building and testing, so look to him to preform well in the Constructed portion of the PC.

Ray Isais – Sydney

Rankings:

Sealed Pack—56th World, 5th Oceania

Constructed—76th World, 1st Oceania

Ray is Australia’s highest ranked Constructed player, with much success piloting his Big Brotherhood build. A poor call for the metagame of the Sydney $10k ended with a 48th place finish. Ray has playtested a variety of decks and will undoubtedly be a force for the Constructed portion of the PC. His past lives include a stint as Territorial Champion for Lord of the Rings TCG. Ray has also made the Top 8 in four or five PCQs.

Chris Foggin – Sydney

Rankings: Unknown

Chris “Foggo” Foggin is one of the proprietors of the Sydney Games Centre (SGC), which is also known as the “local” to more than a few of the players on this list. Chris is well known for his Mojo and straight Fearsome Five decks, and thus tends to take part in the lighter side of the Vs. realm. Ever the character, Chris is also looking to compete at the U.S. WarCry Championships while at Gen Con.

Scott Hunstad – Sydney

Rankings:

Sealed Pack—29th World, 4th Oceania

Constructed—180th World, 4th Oceania

Me. I tend to fit into the Sydney vein by focussing on the Sealed Pack side of the game. Best results include 24th at the Sydney $10k, one PCQ win, and four other PCQ Top 8’s.

Ben Seck – Melbourne (soon to be Sydney)

Rankings:

Sealed Pack—21st World, 3rd Oceania

Constructed—190th World, 5th Oceania

Ben is a well-known personality on the TCG circuit. The only player from Australia to compete at the first PC, Ben did remarkably well, with a seventeenth place finish. Ben currently works at a game shop in Melbourne, giving him ample time to refine his game, but will be moving back to Sydney soon. He’s known for his hit-and-miss deck construction tech and his love for all things gaming.

 

Ross Schaffer – Brisbane

Rankings: Unknown

Ross is the first of two Brisbane players that will be attending, both of whom are relatively unknown to the author. Ross won the Sealed Pack portion of the first PCQ to be held in Brisbane. He is an avid Magic player in addition to Vs. System, and is relatively new to the Upper Deck game.

Matthew Lawler – Brisbane

Matthew is currently unqualified for PC Anaheim, but he’s already booked his ticket. He will try to qualify prior to the event, and if not, he’ll attend the last chance qualifiers at Anaheim. No pressure there!

Paul Ross – Sydney

Paul is coming to the event via Judge Sponsorship. Paul was Australia’s first Level 2 judge, with a nearly perfect 99 percent on his examination. Enthusiastic in his position, we’re proud to have him along.

Maybe?

James Kong – Sydney

James made Top 8 at the Sydney $10k with Fantastic Four Burn, using, of all things, Focused Blast to force through extra damage. James is undecided about making the trip

Those Staying Behind

As much as they’d like to, not everyone has the time and/or the means to travel so far for the event. The following people could easily have been on the above list, were their circumstances slightly different.

Ben Kreis – Ben took the Sydney $10k by storm with his GK/Fearsome Five deck (a.k.a. Fearsome Knights, a.k.a. KnightLight). In a Top 8 filled with seven Sydney players and Ben (Brisbane), he played some incredible Vs., showing that he had an excellent grasp of his deck and what it could do.

David Xu – David is another Sydney Vs. player, currently ranked sixth in the world in Sealed Pack. David has shown some remarkable Sealed Pack prowess, taking decks that “seem” bad to 3-0 wins repeatedly.

Tim He – Tim is, at 16 years old, the Australian National Magic: The Gathering Champion. Tim made the Top 8 of the Sydney $10k after playing Vs. for only two months! His recent trip to the USA for Magic Worlds makes travelling overseas again so soon unviable.

Howard Mak – Howard finished unlucky ninth on resistance at the Sydney $10k, using his pet favourite, Fantastic Four beats.

Egidio DeGois – Egidio is the biggest Spider-Man fan I know. Egg is qualified via PCQ performances, but his upcoming wedding makes him unable to attend.

Paul Van Der Werk – Paul is co-owner of VsParadise.com (along with myself) and is also getting married the month prior to the event, in his words, “if I still want to be married.” He’ll have to give this PC a miss.

These guys are great players who will undoubtedly make their marks on the world Vs. System scene in the future.

And there you have itthe ins and outs of the Australian Vs. community. We will be the unknown factor at the upcoming PC, but we’re serious about this game, and we hope to post some results to prove it!

For more on Australian Vs. and some great articles about the game, visit Scott’s website, VsParadise.com.