(Metagame Archive) The Light of Play: Fight to the Finish

By Jason Grabher-Meyer

When you’re looking for high-quality jank, there are many places to search. Some like to look at characters traditionally considered “alternate drops.” Others prefer to search DC Origins, cards 64 to 85. But often, the best place to find the Vs. System’s un-pearled grains of sand are at the end of the set. You know, that sweet spot that’s in every expansion—the one filled with unaffiliated cards, each with untold positive and negative potential.

So that’s what I did as I pondered what I’d write about today. I went to my Marvel Origins binder, and like an old friend who owed me money but didn’t have any, MOR sadly left me high and dry. As much as I tried, I just didn’t think that readers would appreciate the subtle beauty of cards like Fall Back!, Last Stand, and Reconnaissance. In fact, I was pretty sure that I didn’t appreciate those cards, either. I lovingly added each of them to my list of “Cards that Should Have Had a Scratch-n-Sniff Panel” and moved on.

However, I found just what I needed in Web of Spider-Man. As is so often the case, the genius here isn’t mine, as I only stumbled across a card I’d seen Eric Bess* abusing a while back. But with luck, he’ll be somewhere in Argentina right now, not reading about my intellectual thievery.

Today we’re looking at Fight to the Finish. For those of you who haven’t drafted a lot of Web, it’s a plot twist with threshold 1 that asks you to choose an attacker an opponent controls and one of your defenders. Then, when any of the selected characters is stunned by another chosen character during that attack, the stunned character is KO’d. At first blush, it looks like one of those cards that in essence gives the same effect to both players. It stands out from effects like Carnage and Gravesite because not only does it apply the condition to both players (theoretically bad), it’s also narrow: you can only activate it when you’re defending. But, like cards in this undervalued little group, it has one big thing going for it.

The opponent never sees it coming.**

In reality, Fight to the Finish is highly playable in a few cases and quite decent in several others. In general terms, you want to be using it in situations where you’re stunning back and doing so up the curve. If you’re just doing an even trade (like, say, a 3-drop for a 3-drop), you might be getting something out of the deal, but you won’t really be pushing its mathematical potential. On a more micro level, sometimes an even exchange numbers-wise can end up being in your favor, but such situations are conditional enough that I’m not really going to argue them here (though it’s always nice to take out Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal before he can see the mid-game). If you’re going to be spending a card on Fight to the Finish, you’ll want to see some pretty big number advantages.

Sinister Syndicate is a great deck for this card. There’s been some debate lately as to how viable Syndicate Rush will be in the Marvel Modern Age format, and naysayers seem to think that the deck will lose some power without the DC-bred A Death in the Family. Well, here’s your replacement. What you may lose in board presence, you instead make up for in maintained endurance, and there are several cases where the trade-off is beyond beneficial—who really wants to pay for Tombstone, anyway? If you play carefully, the result is essentially a more resilient Syndicate build that can take some lumps while still dishing out its signature amounts of board control. Goblin Glider, Tinkerer, and No Fear all capitalize on this card, and they’re all legal in the new format. There’s no guesswork here. You’ll either play Fight to the Finish, or you won’t play Syndicate. With no Overload or Not So Fast to ruin your plans, the card is just begging to be played.

Even in Golden Age the Syndicate can put Fight to good use, but here they are of course overshadowed by The New Brotherhood variants. While Nasty Surprise and No Fear aren’t anywhere close to being staples for these decks, a pair of The New Brotherhoods means almost any of your 1-drops could be taking out 3-drops on the opponent’s side. That means fewer options for reinforcement or even prevention of direct attack, which both standard TNB and Blitz obviously adore.

The moral of this part of the story is that anything using defensive ATK pumps loves this card. Nasty Surprise and No Fear see significant amounts of play, but the current environment is still locked in the mindset of the tempo that Vs. seeks to dictate: do your damage when you have the initiative, steal it when you can, and defend when you don’t have it. Progressive players like Maik Stich (whose defensive Brotherhood deck with nothing smaller than a 4-drop took ninth at the Hannover $10K) are beginning to explore antithetical approaches to this convention and are finding a lot of success. Fight to the Finish could be a big part of that in the future. It’s the epitome of rogue play, an offbase idea made even more effective by the fact that no one has really seen it yet.

But wait, there’s more. Fight to the Finish works well in other Golden Age archetypes, too. By the time you read this article, you’ll probably know the following fact: Hans Joachim Hoeh just won his second $10K in Bologna. He did it with Curve Sentinels, and he was running the four Nasty Surprise/four Overload combo that has been seeing so much success in the archetype. Fight fits nicely in Curve Sentinels for a few reasons, some of which might surprise you.

First up, Nasty Surprise aids stun back, and so do early-game power-ups. And, as previously mentioned, Fight to the Finish likes that. But yeah, moving right along, Nimrod loves this card. Note that Fight requires the character who will potentially get KO’d to actually be stunned, so if a 5-drop swings into Nimrod and he still has his counter, you can play Fight once the attack becomes legal and watch the opponent begin to weep. Some players will first swing with a smaller character armed with ATK pumps to remove the counter and then attack with a 5-drop, but if you don’t take Fight into account, this is a far riskier play. I leaves you without recourse if the low-drop is Overloaded, and if the Sntinel player has a defensive modifier,you probably just wasted a one-shot ATK pump. In this situation, Fight to the Finish punishes a player for making the right decision and attacking with the 5-drop first.

On top of that, once you reach turn 6 and Bastion hits the field, all your characters essentially become stun-back machines, a trend which continues as long as Bastion remains vertical. Granted, you likely won’t need Fight to the Finish once Magneto enters play, but it can really set you up to capitalize on his arrival.

At the same, time the card can work well in Titans if you can find the room. Tamaran fuels stun-backs, Hawk provides an easy way to stun up the curve on defense, and Garth can allow you to run a pair of Fights and use them effectively. Looking at the Leander-esque model, Fight doesn’t really fit, but if you’re playing a wider spread of low-drops augmented by Ka-Boom!, Foiled, and Twin Firearms then it can really work in your favor. Unlike with Finishing Move, you don’t need to have a ready character to use Fight to the Finish, so it won’t be a move that’s easily anticipated. In addition, you can get that extra attack in or give Roy an additional 2 ATK and still maintain your ability to KO a character. It’s a bit riskier, because Fight is less proactive than attacking and then using Finishing Move—you give up some of your control over the situation. But the rewards can be exceedingly worthwhile.

Fight to the Finish has the potential to be a play-worthy card in both of its legal Constructed formats. In Golden Age, it could be an important part in a slide away from conventionally-accepted tempo. In Marvel Modern Age, it’s going to be an integral part of Sinister Syndicate and it could be a great match for Crime Lords. Though it’s seen virtually no play thus far, it’s definitely worth a look, and it’s only going to get more important as time goes on.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

Questions? Comments? Want to suggest a card that deserves some time out of the dusty pages in your trade binder? Email me at Jason@metagame.com.

*Head of OP for Everything South of Texas.

**Unless he’s running Reconnaissance . . .

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