(Metagame Archive) Peek-a-boo!

By Tim Willoughby

Peek-a-boo!

I have fallen in love with the hidden area. As a small child, I was an avid hide and seek fan. I’m sure my mum had a great time not having to worry about me for hours on end when I was hiding, and she wasn’t taking her duties as a seeker as seriously as I would have liked. Nonetheless, my affinity for hiding places and lying in wait to make people jump remains.

For me the most entertaining element of the hidden area is how you can periodically jump out of it and surprise people with fun effects like Shadow Step. At the Sneak Preview, I had a ball playing lots of concealed characters who would periodically spring into the open, to strongly suggest to my opponent that getting in a fight might not be a great idea. The Underworld have a “monster hiding under your bed” dynamic that I find just delicious.

However, concealed does make formation a little bit more tricky. Unlike the X-Statix team, whose “one man against the world” mentality can make for pretty straightforward formation steps, those shady individuals with black borders can really make formation a bit of a pain.

Firstly I should apologise. I had a beautiful little article on the nuances of formation in general all set to go for Metagame.com. Then concealed happened. My brain did a little backflip (taking my body with it in an unprecedented acrobatic display), and all of a sudden I had a whole new set of demons to deal with when it came to formation.

So here it is. Formulation Redux.

The formation step seems to be a key area where I see a few questionable judgement calls. This is hardly surprising, as it requires you to think forward through a fair amount of the attack step, predicting your opponent’s likely plays.

A phenomenon which I refer to as “the magic pause” seems to have emerged where otherwise great players are playing at a rip-roaring pace up until the fourth turn, and then all of a sudden the pace of the game slows to a crawl. All of a sudden, there are enough characters on the board that formation becomes tricky, lots more plot twists come online, and each combat becomes “interesting” as there is more of a concern with losing increasingly important characters and amounts of endurance.

I can’t reasonably expect to hit everyone’s “play” button such that this pause isn’t a problem, but hopefully here I’ll give you a solid framework of some common situations and the best ways of dealing with them.

At the most basic level, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, the following things should be bouncing around in your brain as regards forming up.

Which characters of my opponent’s are the most important to him or her?

Which characters of mine are the most important to me?

Can all of my characters that want to fight do so?

How can I best keep myself safest?

Concealed makes life a little trickier, but I’ll get onto that in a minute. Firstly, let’s imagine you have the initiative and you are forming up. How do these questions work out for you? As the attacker, you have to form up before your opponent recruits, so there is always the potential for him or her to surprise you with unusual recruits. However, typically you can predict with reasonable accuracy what a deck’s optimal recruit is each turn. Most of these won’t affect your formation, though there are notable exceptions at higher drops (Sub-Mariner, I’m looking at you.) On the attack, I will normally want to deal with my opponent’s highest drop in some fashion, along with as many frustrating lower drops as possible. Your opponent’s highest drop won’t necessarily be the one that you absolutely need to deal with. If it is Puppet Master that gives you fits, then that is cool, too.  

Try to plan out your attacks such that your opponent’s most frustrating characters going forward are dealt with. Terra might be annoying on turn 4, but going forward she becomes less and less of a threat, so ultimately it might be more efficient to get rid of Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Sharpshooter sooner rather than later if one has the chance.

When preparing attacks, I would assume that your opponent has one trick, and save up offensive plot twists to deal with that one trick, unless they serve to allow for some board-decimating play. If playing Black Magic on Suicide allows for a series of saucy down the curve attacks, then go for it.

On many occasions, “frustrating” will actually mean “able to beat up my best character.” If there is an 18 ATK Hulk staring you down, threatening to go to town on your Mr. Fantastic, Stretch, then by all means do something reckless to get rid of him post haste. If your easily attackable characters are pretty expendable, though, he might be best left alone to brood.

The threat of attacks back is unfortunately one that cannot be ignored, especially with hidden characters lying in wait for the initiative to pass. To this end, you must always have a plan of defense, even now in decks that previously would have expected to more or less stun the board on their initiative.

Depending on the number of characters in any given area, trying to get as close to a box formation as possible is a pretty good starting point. Ideally those at the back would have range, and those in the front wouldn’t so none of those little icons would be wasted. Unfortunately, I don’t live in a perfect world*, so this isn’t always an option. Additionally, these box formations don’t necessarily do much more than ensure that you have good reinforcement options. This isn’t what defense is all about.

A good defensive formation should funnel your opponents’ attacks where you want them to go, and generally make their life complicated. Mr Freeze might have range, but he is often a lot more fun sitting front and center next to Scarecrow, making your opponent’s options miserable. Get an idea of which of your characters are important and protect them accordingly. Often you will find yourself with a binary decision of two characters, one big, one small. If both have range then you could easily put either in front of the other. Depending on the situation, either could be correct. Putting big threats at the back behind a tiny but effective human (or, as is increasingly likely, inhuman) shield is often quite a good way of ensuring that they will be able to attack back. On the other hand, having nothing but big walls of muscle in the front row makes any attacks very risky looking.

Let us produce a little example to see if we can make things clearer.

It’s turn 5, you have the initiative, and you are playing Teen Titans against Doom. Despite what everyone says about Titans being amazing (which it is), you are still in a matchup where your opponent has lots of room to make scary plays. After your recruit you have the following characters

Hank Hall ◊ Hawk, Agent of Chaos

Dawn Granger ◊ Dove, Agent of Order

Terra

Garth ◊ Tempest, Atlantean Sorcerer

You have Teen Titans Go! in hand, along with another copy of Garth, but other than that, things are looking a little thin on the ground combat-trick wise. You have a nice little pair of Foileds in your resource row, a Heroic Sacrifice, and an additional Hank, alongside an Optitron which is looking increasingly like Terra fodder. Your opponent flipped an Acrobatic Dodge face down last turn with Doom’s effect and has the following characters in play at the moment.

Dr Doom, Diabolic Genius

Puppet Master

Doom-Bot

Dr. Hauptmann, Diabolic Inventor

He has cards in hand and four face-down resources (including the aforementioned Dodge).

So what should be going through your head?

Firstly, you want to have a think about potential recruits that your opponent is about to make. Most likely you are about to be on the receiving end of a Robot Destroyer. Given the presence of Puppet Master on the field, it looks a little unlikely that your opponent is playing any surprising team-ups. Dr Hauptmann is also looking very conspicuous as a 1-drop that doesn’t normally see a lot of play. He would definitely suggest that there are a full complement of Army characters in the deck somewhere. There is an outside chance, though, that your opponent might do something sneaky like recruiting a new Doom and doing something clever with him and that extra resource point, like recruiting Boris and fetching a Reign of Terror—something that you were mercifully spared last turn (where it would have completely wrecked your board position).

If your opponent does go with Robot Destroyer then he’ll have a very convenient character to monkey about with any Roy Harper plans you might have been fostering. If he recruits Doom, there is no indication that he has any hot plot twists to flip face down in his recruit step, so he would have to be doing it with Boris/Reign in mind. Either is a little annoying, so we will plan for both.

First off, the Robot plan. If the big bad Robot comes to town, then he will be very much a target for us to deal with. The other primary target in my opinion would be Doom himself. If these two both get stunned, then your opponent is left with a reasonably interesting choice of who to recover. In this seemingly vanilla Doom deck, it is entirely possible he is setting up for Dr. Doom, Victor Von Doom on turn 6, but forcing the issue is still pretty good for us, as the Diabolic Genius makes our best plans of using Garth a lot more complicated.

The most difficult formation for us if Robot Destroyer is coming to play is the following.

Back row

Dr Doom     –      Puppet Master   –   Doom-Bot

Front Row

Dr Hauptmann –  Robot Destroyer

Here, it requires three sets of attacks to naturally stun the two most important characters on the board, and with both Puppet Master and Robot Destroyer making that math a little harder, it is very hard for us to do much. Garth is the best person to be fighting Doom, as he can pound his way through an Acrobatic Dodge. Teen Titans Go! is probably necessary to get the most out of attacks this turn here, and it will require getting rid of Doom first. Attacking Doom as soon as possible is a good plan, too, as it will take Robot Destroyer’s ability offline.

When planning attacks, firstly we need to pretty much discount Dawn. With Puppet Master about, she is very much looking like exhaustion bait. Oh well . . . we’d best make the remaining attacks count.

If we are ever going to get to Doom and then use TTG, then a team attack on Dr Hauptmann with Terra and Hank is the only way to go. If Robot Destroyer decides to destroy one in response to the attack, then the TTG won’t be needed anyway, and if it doesn’t (as it shouldn’t), then we can ready people as necessary later. Destroyer on Terra followed by that Dodge would be a pretty saucy play there, but it is so risky that it seems a little unlikely. Assuming this attack works, Garth can have a pop at Doom, which has a so-so chance of success, at which point TTG comes online and Terra/Hank can go to town on pretty much everyone.

So we know our rough plan of attack, and who our priorities are—how do we best form for this? Conveniently, we can hide our two range characters in the back row, with Hawk and Dove out front. Who is best in front of who? Well, if things start going wrong, the agents of order and chaos are pretty much the same level of goodness, as we can fetch back whichever we have lost with everyone’s favourite Atlantean Sorcerer. Personally I would put Dawn in front of Garth, as this means that you are creating columns where all the strongest characters in a row aren’t in the same column (which forces the most possible irrelevant attacks from your opponent).

If I were on defense, I would be very tempted to hide Dove behind Garth, as she would likely be being exhausted by Puppet Master anyway, and it would hopefully force more potential mutual stuns. Garth is always a target, and in this instance, acknowledging it is worthwhile. You have a spare copy in hand if your opponent does somehow get rid of him.

With the current plan of attack, it’s quickly worth bearing in mind attacks back and which characters you stand to lose. If things go pear shaped, they could very quickly turn very bad for you. A Flame Trap this turn would be horrible. All of a sudden, Terra would be getting exhausted by the Puppet Master, and Garth would be all alone in the world, probably forced to go for Robot Destroyer and hope that power-ups do their thing, with nothing more than the Dodge about to make you sad. There isn’t much you could do about this, so it isn’t worth dwelling on unless you have some sort of tell on your opponent. The other option you have is to start thinking about setting up some sort of a defensive wall, going only for the “sure thing” attacks and playing defensively to set up for a better turn for carnage.

If you did this, then the Heroic Sacrifice becomes a lot hotter this turn. With it and Terra, you have a fair set of defenses against anything ridiculous. Conveniently, the square formation you are using with Garth and Terra in the back is quite reasonable on defense too. All in all, it seems like the sensible formation for you here.

So what of the “other” turn 5? The slightly sub-optimal looking Doom/Boris/Reign of Terror turn. If you set up the same way, what will you do? There isn’t a whole lot you can reasonably do about this. If it happens, then Hank and Dawn will have to sit out and watch this one, while Terra will be getting exhausted. If Mystical Paralysis hits, then you conveniently don’t need to make any decisions at all. If not, then you should probably consider attacking whichever character you can do the most breakthrough on with Garth. Seeing as your opponent will be recovering whoever gets stunned this turn, you might as well put him or her on a clock.

As you get more and more characters, life can get trickier and trickier with formations and attack planning. One would think therefore that the hidden area would make things easier. There are fewer characters to attack, so formations and so on must be really straightforward, right?

If only it were so. All of a sudden, if you are the player with hidden characters, you have to start making formations without enough people out in the open to reasonably protect each other, and if you are up against them, then you can’t just plan out sets of attacks that stun everyone, rendering defensive decisions unnecessary.

The way to think about this is just to imagine that it’s formation like normal, only it’s formation as if the game is going really badly for you. All of a sudden, on your initiative, it is all the more important to be defending your important characters that could otherwise be merrily frolicking wherever they would like. Anyone who is out in the open should act very scared. They all have targets on their foreheads (like Bullseye), so I would tend to set up much more defensively with them, as hidden characters can often make up for whatever attacking deficiencies they might have.

There are some characters that shine in this role. Those crazy kooks the Arkham Inmates can make it a really unappealing proposition to attack. Imagine Scarecrow and Mr. Freeze smiling from the visible area while Nightmare and Reaper hang out watching the fun. It feels somewhat appropriate that Scarecrow should associate with Underworld. Make the most of the more defensive position of visible characters now by picking the characters that even the beasts of the shadows would rather avoid.

Formation and the attack step is a colossal area that I’m sure I’ll be dealing with again (probably at length). If anyone has any comments, questions or suggestions please feel free to email me at the address below.

Until the next time

Tim “hide and seek champion 1982 à present” Willoughby

timwilloughby [at] hotmail [dot] com

* Still no closer to being married to Britney. Sighs.

Bonus Section!

The Suicide Gambit

There will sometimes reach a point in a game where you can only play around tricks so much to be able to survive. Such a situation came up for me in the finals of the Sneak Preview I played for Marvel Knights. I had a pretty nifty Underworld deck, sporting such platinum hits as double Black Magic and triple Day of the Dead. My opponent had a cheeky little X-Statix number replete with fun little effects (though rather lacking in a certain versatile power-enhancing plot twist, tee hee).

On turn 8, my opponent had just a Mysterious Fan Boy in play, while I was sporting merely Asmodeus, Duke of Hell, who had been merrily chomping on resources for a while. Without a recruit, I had to assume that my pointy-headed fiend would be able to happily Day of the Dead into the boy, netting me a win on very close endurance totals. Any other play would have lost me the game, so I just had to cross my fingers. Unfortunately for me, in this case, a second copy of Spin Doctoring left me high and dry, but on occasion, going “all in” will be the play, regardless of how unlikely it seems.

If Overload will beat you, but at the same time, you are losing anyway, then take the risk on playing that big double Savage Beatdown attack for a cheeky win. In recent weeks, I have heard a lot of players bemoaning the fact that they cannot punish their opponents with timely Overloads—take the shots when you get them. They don’t come all the time.

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