(Metagame Archive) The Light of Play: Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters

By Jason Grabher-Meyer

Isn’t it about time the X-Men got some love?

Avengers has barely hit the streets and is only beginning to make the big waves it seems likely to generate, but savvy Vs. fans can already feel an X-Men surge looming on the horizon. Hopeful fanboys and nostalgia-prone Vs. vets alike all hope that upcoming releases will breathe new life into everybody’s favorite band of muties, and, well, the future is bright.

In the meantime, the X-Men have some cool effects that have long been overlooked. While Team TOGIT’s initial build of X-Stall took advantage of Professor X, Charles Xavier and Emma Frost for hand control, both were shunted from later versions of the archetype. As for Psylocke and Professor Xavier’s Mansion, I have friends who can’t even recite what those cards do. The X-Men have more hand disruption at their disposal than any other team, but their capacity to sap an opponent’s options has gone virtually unused in serious competition. It’s just one example of the unexplored potential that has become the team’s hallmark.

While the X-crew has a lot of thrillingly janktastic tools at their fingertips, my favorite by far is Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Packed with awesome flavor, the School is a location that can be activated to ready target X-Men character with a cost of 3 or less while forbidding it from attacking. It literally supports the “younger” members of the team by letting them use their powers repeatedly. Though it wasn’t an earth shattering (or even very useful) card at the time of its release in Marvel Origins, it provided a very basic and powerful effect; readying a smaller character each turn was bound to become useful at some point. Six expansions and several promos and starter sets later, we might finally have enough characters to make Xavier’s School really shine.

First up, let’s take a look at the elementary uses for the card. It can ready an exhausted character to allow it to reinforce, permitting two reinforcements in a single turn from a single source. Considering virtually all formations on and beyond turn 4 are variations on the classic L, this is incredibly useful on defense. It’s obvious, but still worthy of mention. Similarly, it can be used to pay exhaustion costs attached to cards like Finishing Move.

Second, it can be used to “turn on” effects that require a character to be ready. For instance, She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters can become very large in the midst of combat thanks to her effect and a sudden refresher course at the School.

Third and most significant is its ability to let you use the effect of a character twice in a single turn. This is where most of my discussion will be focused, and while Xavier’s School might not see much play in high level competition, it is this use that allowed the card its one breakthrough performance; most builds of Force use it to get two activations out of Longshot each turn. It was a trick that took Michael Jacob all the way to a first place finish at $10K Chicago, and it’s the focus of my interests for this article.

While the X-Men themselves don’t have many effects worth reusing via the School, teaming up with another group makes the possibilities virtually limitless. I’d like to focus on half a dozen teams that really show off the School’s potential. It’s an easy way to demonstrate deck ideas and key synergies that illustrate how useful the School can be.

Gotham Knights: Batman’s allies clock in with six activated character effects that I feel are worthy of double usage. Both versions of Barbara Gordon ◊ Oracle can provide you with an extra two cards per turn if she sets up shop in the School. Each Tim Drake ◊ Robin that carries the Gotham Knights affiliation can provide a double combat pump each turn (+6 ATK total from Protege and a variable amount from The Boy Wonder version), and Spoiler ◊ Robin does the same. The underrated Dinah Laurel Lance ◊ Black Canary also becomes far better when she can exhaust two characters per turn instead of one. Virtually any exhaustion effect that can be used twice via the School is worthy of mention, but while Sonar can tire out heroes with the best of them, he just doesn’t have the synergistic companions with whom Canary keeps company. Combined with the reuse of a single Utility Belt, the Knights can really abuse Xavier’s teachings.

Teen Titans: The Titans don’t have much to use with the School, but Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal is enough to land them on the list, anyway. With a host of recovery effects to keep the more fragile components of Titan synergy around and Bamf! to mix with Teen Titans Go!, the X-Men actually have several good reasons to join forces with DC’s sidekicks-turned-headliners. The Blackbird beefs up your swarm, and the end result is Roy Harper Schooling as many characters as is required on a turn-by-turn basis. Apparently, the School has a clock tower not pictured in the card’s illustration.

Marvel Knights: The Knights have two characters that I really consider to be prime combo material with the School. Caretaker can give two characters a +4 ATK bonus each turn if you’re teamed up and use Xavier’s School, or he can dish out a whopping 8 additional ATK to a single teammate. Considering the fact that Caretaker can do this regardless of whether his compatriot is attacking or defending, his effect is incredibly powerful. Combine that synergy with Hannibal King’s ability and you have a deadly early game. Hannibal can force an opponent to eat an additional 10 endurance loss when the unfortunate soul he marked for death hits the dirt. Heck, you can even use Punisher, Judge to drop the hammer and KO your target while gaining the option of controlling the early game via a double KO. Ouch.

Thunderbolts: The Thunderbolts have a single representative from the three major categories of double-use effects that we’ve been building. Blizzard can exhaust two characters a turn when backed by Xavier’s tutelage; Dallas Riordan, Mayoral Aide lets you draw up to two extra cards per turn; and Ogre gives combat bonuses. The thing that sets the T-Bolt’s apart, though? The fact that, as of turn 4, Ogre is generating pairs of permanent +1 ATK/+1 DEF counters every turn. While Ogre is a 1-drop and can be difficult to keep around, the X-Men’s various recovery effects help to ensure that he stays in action. Once turn 4 hits, you’re jumping the curve at virtually every opportunity, and that kind of raw power wins games.

The Brotherhood: Destiny; Pyro; Quicksilver, Pietro Maximoff; and Phantazia are all worthy of consideration for use with the School. Heck, even Unus becomes super-Unus when Prof X gives him some TLC. The definite standout is Destiny, who can easily shunt out 8 points of burn as early as turn 2 and continue to do so until she gets taken down. When she does get sent to the KO’d pile, you’ll still have other options available, and both Quicksilver and Pyro can keep the burn coming as long as your turn 2 play was an X-Men character. Though Force has been able pull off double-burns for quite a while, the main reason for Xavier’s School’s presence in the deck is Longshot. A more burn-oriented Mutant Nation build could be promising.

New Gods: Like the Teen Titans, New Gods only have one early game character whose effect I would really want to reuse. It’s a doozy, though, as Mark Moonrider can burn away 10 endurance every turn once he hits the table. Since Rogue, Power Absorption can mimic Moonrider’s effect, you can singe an opponent for 10 endurance on turn 3 and 15 more on turn 4. That’s 25 endurance loss from burn alone before turn 5! Toss in an aggressive early game, some defensive tricks to preserve Mark’s cosmic glow, and a few copies of Surprise Attack, and you’ve got a winning team-up deck.

While none of the above ideas are currently tier 1 concepts, nothing says that they aren’t capable of putting up a fight. A deck based on each, especially the X-Men/New Gods team-up, seems to be backed by solid theory. If you’ve been looking for a way to get yourself some X-Men action and aren’t quite willing to wait for the next expansion, exploiting some of the impressive combos facilitated by Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters will let you achieve that goal successfully in competitive environments!

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

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