(Metagame Archive) The Light of Play: Sucker Punch

By Jason Grabher-Meyer

The word “uppercut” denotes an upward swinging punch, usually to the face, that hits from below. A boxing term, it was adopted by various hip hop celebrities in the early 90’s—a celebrated symbol of the underdog and his struggle against his personal Goliaths. The uppercut is now a modern day icon, a slang term for any courageous move made against a system by “the little guy.” It’s a noble term, romanticized through the music of artists like Tupac Shakur.

A sucker punch, on the other hand, is any shot you take on someone who doesn’t see it coming. It’s usually followed by scampering in the opposite direction from the victim. It’s not noble, it’s not a slang term, and it isn’t a cultural icon, but its raw efficiency and the whole “scampering off without being hurt” thing makes it a term worth noting anyways.

Especially in Vs.

Sucker Punch is one of the conditional cards from Web of Spider-Man. Web of Spider-Man included a lot of very specific and narrow cards that were tricky to use, and as a result, many players overlooked a lot of the set’s gems, writing them off before the environment ripened them for use. If Sucker Punch was once a sour grape, rest assured that it is about to make its leap to the status of “delicious sun-ripened raisin.”

As much as I’m attached to my horrible analogy, I don’t feel it really expresses the dangerous potential Sucker Punch possesses. So think of a hard, three-pound raisin with sharp edges or something . . . There you go.

Sucker Punch accomplishes a few neat things on a basic gameplay level. First, if you don’t possess the initiative, then your opponent essentially gets a double use out of his or her turn-drop. That character will usually attack down the curve, score a stun, and leave the confrontation unscathed. Then, no matter what you try to attack it back with during your portion of the combat phase, you’ll probably take a stun back. In short, that stinks. Your opponent is forcing one of four situations:

1. You attack your turn-drop into your opponent’s turn-drop, and your character gets stunned back.

2. You avoid attacking your opponent’s turn-drop, and you focus on smaller, less important characters.

3. You use an ATK modifier on a smaller character to attempt to take out your opponent’s turn-drop. You invest an expendable advantage just to break even, and you are still left at your opponent’s mercy, since he or she can then choose to respond with defensive effects.

4. You don’t attack at all because that turn-drop is acting as a wall. Ouch.

Sucker Punch essentially eliminates all four of these scenarios on the turn it is played. Because you can just swing into the exhausted opposing turn-drop character with your own drop, you aren’t forced to make decisions you wouldn’t make if you had the initiative, and control really shifts to you in a lot of subtle ways.

So, that’s what Sucker Punch can do for any deck: it steals some of the thunder from the opponent’s initiative. That’s nice, but Sucker Punch’s real strengths lie in more specific uses.

First up, it helps swarm decks greatly. If you’re playing a deck where your characters will routinely be smaller than the opponent’s, you’re almost guaranteed two things: you’ll be taking stuns when the opponent is attacking, and you’ll probably be taking more when you team attack. Sucker Punch solves both of these problems as long as you don’t control the initiative. This is highly relevant for Crime Lords decks in both Golden Age play and Marvel Modern Age, but it’s even more important for Sinister Syndicate.

Why? Because Sinister Syndicate also has several characters that provide proactive exhaustion. Shocker; Electro; and Dr. Octopus, Otto Octavius all become valuable once Sucker Punch is introduced to the deck. The result is a Syndicate Rush build that can last further into the mid-game than its contemporaries. It doesn’t start killing itself off as soon as you hit the fourth or fifth turn, so if you didn’t draw into your ideal turn 1 and turn 2 plays, you’ll still have a game going. Essentially, the Punch adds longevity to any swarm deck by removing its tendency to lose characters on the counterattack. In addition, when used in a deck with proactive exhaustion, Punch can allow the deck to play more aggressively.

While I’d love to say that the benefits it gives decks that exhaust proactively are substantial enough to make Sucker Punch see play in X-Stall, I don’t honestly think it fits there. A modern build of the deck is so packed with tech at this point that it has very little room for multiple copies of another plot twist, and it generally uses most of its exhaustions and attacks just to control the board. It doesn’t really have a need for Sucker Punch, since attacking into the characters you just exhausted would often leave you open to attacks from the characters that you should have stunned down the curve.

By the same token, I wouldn’t play this in Arkham either. While I’ve seen it get some rave reviews, I don’t think it fits with the deck’s desired tempo, and I don’t believe it’s particularly needed. So, consider Sucker Punch to be great in true Rush decks, and even better in Rush decks packing proactive exhaustion. But don’t toss it into any deck that happens to be running Puppet Master.

Where I’m really eager to see Sucker Punch is in decks with lots of characters with concealed. There are a lot of characters with concealed that have great ATK but low DEF that can pick on characters of their own size and no longer fear returned stuns if Sucker Punch hits the field—think Elektra, Elektra Natchios and Yelena Belova ◊ Black Widow. There are also a lot of prime characters with concealed that have enough ATK to stun up the curve but not enough DEF to avoid the inevitable slap-back—a hidden Daredevil, Matt Murdock and Elektra, Assassin immediately come to mind, but there are a lot of powerful characters in this category.

I actually think that with careful play and some tech, an all-concealed deck would be possible if you can consistently find Sucker Punch in the mid-game. Sure, you lose a lot of endurance on turns 3 and 4, but if you can make even a single series of counterattacks backed by Sucker Punch in the mid-game, then you’ve basically won—you could take out your opponent’s whole board. Since some of the must-have characters for such a deck are Marvel Knights, it becomes easy to knock out the opponent’s highest drop with Judge, Jury, and Executioner, and that control could be such a deck’s biggest strength.

Sucker Punch takes a lot of the guesswork out of running characters with concealed. While their strength is their ability to attack no matter what, they’re not that useful if they’re constantly getting themselves stunned. Attacking with them is often incredibly mathematically complicated, and they can be difficult to use if you’re running them at a lot of different drops. The Punch allows you to do whatever you want with them, though. Watch for it to be big in the somewhat distant future of Golden Age, but don’t be surprised if it makes a big splash in Marvel Modern Age. A great play for Sinister Syndicate, nice tech against X-Statix single-character decks, and an empowering card for several offbeat ideas, Sucker Punch is a lot better than it’s often given credit for.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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