(Metagame Archive) Interview: David Leader

David Spears

Pro Circuit Champion David Leader needs little introduction. Everyone knows that he spearheads a team with multiple Top 8 Pro Circuit and $10K appearances. His team, FTN, probably works harder than any team out there, and that preparation paid off in spades at Indy, where David beat his teammate in the finals with a deck that defined the DC Modern Age format.

I’ve known David for a long while now. He’s beaten me in many other games, so it’s no surprise to see him tearing up the competition at Vs. I sat down with him a few weeks ago and picked his brain about the state of all things Vs. System. This is what he had to say.

What’s it feel like to win a Pro Circuit?

One of the greatest feelings in the world is realizing that all the hard work you put into something has come to fruition. This is no different. It really made me feel great, and the accomplishment has really helped me when trying to achieve all of my other goals. I look forward to continuing to compete on the Pro Circuit and hope that my teammates and I are able to keep the level of success we showed at Indy.

Your team did amazing things in Indy, with three players in the Top 8 and another winning the $10K. To what do you attribute this dominance?

Teamwork and practice. In the Constructed portion of the format, we labored on a huge variety of decks before realizing the dominance of defensive cards in the GLEE mirror. Once Dalton discovered this, we found ourselves extraordinarily advantaged against any Prison GLEE decks, and that led us to exceptional Day 1 records.

Draft has always been one of FTN’s greatest strengths. We practice regularly and give lots of feedback about Draft orders and picks. Every time before a Pro Circuit, I organize a Draft list for our team and we have meetings to discuss where others feel the Draft picks should be. These lists have always worked extremely well for us.

What makes a good pro Vs. player?

An open mind and a lot of practice. If you keep a closed mind, you will not be able to accept others’ ideas and will be stuck testing in a vacuum. To do really well as a Vs. player, you need to explore all avenues and trust your teammates when all of them agree. I’ve seen a number of teams where people allow their personal opinions to weigh more than the majority, and these teams always tend to do poorly.

Beyond that, you need to learn Sealed Pack play. Vs. certainly has the most diverse and complicated Sealed Pack game of any of the TCGs I’ve played. To do well in it, you really have to study and understand the archetypes well and be able to adapt yourself from format to format.

What’s HippoDraft?

“HippoDraft” is the code name for the drafting program FTN uses to do Draft analysis. It’s a browser-based Draft program created by Chuck Bell with options for extensive review. It got its name because the original team name for the Atlanta-based players was the “$40 Hippos.”

What changes would you like to see made to the Pro Circuit?

More formats would always be nice; I’d love to see a “Rotation” format added that would cover the past five or six sets. It would be an excellent compromise between the current Golden Age format and the Modern formats (which tend to limit options perhaps a bit too much). I think it would be a fun format.

I would also like to see a Pro Circuit emphasize Sealed Pack play, with Sealed Pack on Days 1 and 3 and Constructed on Day 2. There are more consistent Sealed Pack players than Constructed players, which would lead me to believe that Sealed Pack is the less luck-based format.

What cards would you like to see made? Characters?

As far as new teams, I’d have to ask for some independent sets at this point. My favorite teams have pretty much all been covered from DC and Marvel, but where are my WILDCATS?

What team would you like to see made stronger?

Well, Arkham would need a total revamp to become stronger, so it would be hard to base on the current card set. As far as other teams, I’d have to rule with Squadron Supreme. Squadron is very, very close to being Constructed worthy, but it isn’t quite there. I’m really hoping that UDE gives them some good legacy support in the X-Men set. Squadron could be a power to be reckoned with in the future.

So, how’d you start playing Vs. System?
 

My friend Trevor Bradly called up Russ (Pippin) and me and told us a new game based on comic books was coming out. He explained that they were going to have a Pro event that would dwarf Magic’s, and it seemed like a really fun game. We played, we tested, and we enjoyed it. Though Trevor dropped out of the game, Russ and I continued to do work on it and built up a team and created the first version of the Common Enemy deck, which qualified us (and our quickly added teammate, Chuck Bell) for the Pro Circuit.

Do you have any interesting Vs. stories?

Ah, too many to count, and most of which involve myself or my opponent making bumbling errors on the Pro Circuit level. At PC Indy, while playing against my teammate Michael Dalton, I played a turn 2 Hector Hammond. He responded by playing Major Disaster. I flipped up Prison Planet and began to declare an attack against Major Disaster. I stopped when I saw Dalton trying his best to keep a straight face. Beside me, Russ just lost it and started laughing. Suffice to say, my Prison Planet left the table and I proceeded to lose that game horribly.

Do you have a Vs. arch-nemesis?

Most people I’ve played have been really great. There are a few jerks here and there, but I haven’t really developed any rivalries yet.

Who do you think is the best Vs. player right now?

Have to go with my teammates Michael Dalton and Jason Dawson. Both have brilliant minds for the game and consistent finishes to show for them. I think a number of my other teammates have a lot of potential, but they simply haven’t realized it yet.

How do you prepare for high-level events?

I practice, make sure I get the perfect deck, get our Draft lists in order, and listen to rumors and details to find out what the metagame is like. Once we get our deck together, we have everyone learn it inside and out and make any final tweaks.

Any advice for aspiring PCQ players?

Listen to what everyone has to say. Arrogance is the best way to ruin your game. If everyone tells you a certain way to do something is the right way to do it, they are probably right and you are probably wrong.

Beyond that, anyone who seriously wants to compete should form a team of sorts. Having a group of teammates you can trust is paramount to becoming a good player. A person testing in a vacuum is going to do far worse than a group of open-minded individuals discussing the flaws and merits of a strategy.

Finally, learn to respect when it’s time to get serious. Playing your fun deck at a league or a store is one thing; playing it at the Pro Circuit is entirely different. If you want to get better, you need to accept that if you can’t build something to beat the metagame, you will have to do some tweaks to a net deck and run with it.

Tell us a little about you personally. What is life like outside of playing TCGs professionally?

Dave is a gamer through and through. I love games of all sorts, including
video games, poker, and role-playing.

Outside of gaming, I also am a huge movie and anime buff, and I work out fairly regularly. I also have my job as webmaster of XINNIX, the mortgage training academy.

How often do you play the game?

Play Vs. System? Maybe ten hours a week—three sets of the week’s Draft, plus I have Draft club on Thursday, and I usually try to get some Constructed in here and there.

What’s your favorite part of playing Vs. System?

I love the strategy. Everything is so complex and there are so many things to think about. The game is a lot more skill-intensive than most of the other card games I have played—especially the Sealed Pack environment.

(Metagame Archive) Taking the Next Step: The Organized Play Guide for the Stay-at-Home Vs. Player

By Melody Maysonet

For someone who regularly attends Vs. System tournaments, it’s hard to imagine why a Vs. player wouldn’t be chomping at the bit for a chance to compete in some incredible Vs. events. Sure, it’s fun to play Vs. at home with friends and family, but organized play opens up a whole world of opportunities and takes the game to the next level. Organized Play events allow you to meet new friends, trade your Vs. cards, show off your collection, get free stuff, win prizes . . . and they also provide an opportunity to polish your playing skills by learning from players outside your circle.

Organized Play involves playing in a structured environment—one that is organized and endorsed by Upper Deck Entertainment (the makers of Vs. System). Organized Play also means standardized Tournament Policy, so players can expect a very similar tournament experience anywhere in the world. Regardless of how big or small the competition is, the event is run by officials who have been certified by UDE. And certified judges are present to answer rules questions and settle any disputes between players.

But maybe you don’t know what kinds of Organized Play events are out there. Or maybe you know they exist but don’t know what to expect, and you think you might not enjoy yourself. Never fear! Underdog is . . . (Never mind . . . wrong comic book world.)

Here’s the lowdown on UDE’s Organized Play.  

 

Hobby Leagues are ongoing competitions at your local hobby store. Each event lasts one month, and during that month, all the players who joined the league play each other in scheduled league sessions. The Hobby League organizer will usually poll the potential players to see if they prefer Constructed, Sealed Pack, or Booster Draft for the league format.

The winner of each match receives three points, but you receive one point even if you lose, just as a reward for participating. In other words, the more games you play, the more points you receive. At the end of the month, the four players who have the most points receive collectible Vs. cards with extended art (the frame around the picture is larger, allowing you to see more of the original painting). In addition, the first place winner gets a Vs. System t-shirt. Also, some Hobby Leagues hand out prizes if you participate in three sessions each month, or they may award prizes at the end of each week instead of at the end of the month.

The competition in Hobby Leagues can be fierce or moderate depending on the skill level of the participants, but either way, they’re great venues for getting regular practice and polishing your own Vs. skills. They’re also a fantastic way to meet and form lasting relationships with other Vs. players.  

  

There’s something deliciously sweet about tearing open a booster pack of a brand-new Vs. set. And what if you could open those never-before-seen cards weeks before you’re able to buy them in stores? Even better, what if you could play with these spanking-new cards in a tournament with a chance to win some awesome Vs. prizes?

Actually, everyone who registers for a Sneak Preview tournament is a winner, regardless of how you perform in the tournament. Not only do you get to keep the new cards, but you also receive a foil extended art promo card. Door prizes of exclusive Vs. deck boxes and playmats are often given out at Sneak Preview tournaments, and of course, the top finishers in the tournament win prizes, too. Moreover, Sneak Previews are an excellent way to get your feet wet for the more competitive $10,000 Championship events, Pro Circuit Qualifiers, and—if you qualify—the Pro Circuit.

For the Sneak Preview tournament, players are given five booster packs of the new set from which to make decks of thirty or more cards. Building a deck with all new cards is a definite rush, but even more exciting is the feeding frenzy of flying paper as contestants rip away the foil wrapping and examine their cards. Some players may have heard buzz about the new cards from Metagame.com, but many players will be seeing these cards for the first time. Whatever the case, the room is charged with excitement as players chatter about what they opened to anyone sitting nearby (and sometimes to anyone seated across the room).

For me, Sneak Preview tournaments are the most fun of all the Organized Play events, mainly because they’re all about the excitement of the cards and the joy of playing. Sneak Previews are held all over the country, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding an event near you. (The most recent Sneak Preview tournament, which was for the Justice League of America set, took place on October 29–30.) Because different “flights” are held throughout the day, you can play in multiple tournaments. Playing in multiple tournaments means that you get the extended art foil promo card each time you register (as long as supplies last), and at the same time, you get as many cards from the new set as possible. You can’t buy the new cards before their release date, even at the Sneak Preview tournaments, so the only way to get them is to play. Throughout the day, you can also play in Booster Draft side tournaments using the new cards.  

   

The $10,000 Championship events offer a more serious level of play, mainly because there’s more at stake (like fame and fortune). The Top 10 players receive invites to the exclusive Pro Circuit. (Actually, they receive ten Pro Circuit credits. Credits can be earned in other ways, but you have to cash in ten PC credits to qualify for a Pro Circuit Championship.) Moreover, the champion is awarded $2,500, twenty-four booster packs of the latest set, a beautiful championship trophy, and a spot in the UDE Hall of Fame. Players who finish in the Top 24 win cash, and players who finish in the Top 12 win cash and booster packs. Everyone in the Top 64 wins a collectible metal deck box, a Vs. System t-shirt, and an extended art foil promo card. In addition, the Top 4 ranked players who have nine or fewer PC credits win $250.

Anyone can compete in a $10,000 Championship event, regardless of skill level. The $10,000 Championship events are held over two days, so come ready to play! Even if you don’t do well in the main tournament, there are tons of side events (like Booster Drafts) in which you can get involved. Retailers set up booths and players everywhere trade cards, so if you’re looking to fill a hole in your collection, this is the place to be.

Many players get a hotel room and stay the entire weekend, playing in as many tournaments as possible. The main tournament starts in the morning and goes into the evening, so if you do well, plan to eat your lunch and dinner between matches. (But don’t worry—there are usually food vendors, or your buddies can make a fast food run for you.)  

 

Like $10K events, Pro Circuit Qualifiers offer a more serious level of play. Players get to choose whether they want to play Sealed Pack or Constructed, and the winner of each format wins $250, a collectible Vs. System metal deck box, and of course, an invitation to the Pro Circuit Championship of his or her choice (ten PC credits). The Top 8 players of each format also win a foil extended art promo card.

Unlike $10K events, Pro Circuit Qualifiers last only one day. The tournament starts in the morning and usually ends in the late evening. As with all Vs. System tournaments, you need to register an hour before the tournament begins.

Let’s say you don’t do well in the Qualifier and drop out after round 3. There’s a good chance you can enter the alternate PCQ format, since the Cosntructed and Sealed tournaments in the PCQ usually follow each other. Aside from that, you can still have Vs. fun by participating in side events. And if you’re really disappointed that you missed your shot at qualifying, don’t give up. Qualifiers are held often enough (every weekend at various locations around the world) that you can compete in multiple tournaments to increase your chances of qualifying. You might do poorly at the Qualifier in Orlando, for example, only to drive to Tampa the following weekend and win.  

 


 

They don’t call it the Pro Circuit for nothing. These tournaments, held in various locations around the world, award $1,000,000 a year, and the people who compete in them are among the best players in the world. The events last three days, with the top tier of players duking it out on the second day, and the Top 8 on the third day. If you manage to qualify (either by earning ten PC credits or by having a high enough UDE rating to automatically qualify you), you’re in for long days of tough competition. But you’re also in for a treat.

There’s a lot of glamour involved with the Pro Circuit. Colossal displays of Vs. characters frame the play area, and the Bat-Signal makes a continuous sweep over the vicinity. Photographers and reporters walk around shooting pictures and interviewing players for various print and online publications. Websites such as Metagame.com have regular updates of the event, including some in blog format. The reports, player spotlights, and commentary elevate the game to another level, and make players into suprstars.
Each round of the Pro Circuit presents a “feature match” in which two players (usually big-name players or players who are doing particularly well in the tournament) sit in a special section where spectators can view their game from an elevated area. The players’ mug shots are put up on a viewing screen so that everyone near and far can see who is being featured. Most feature matches are covered by Metagame.com reporters.

Even if you’re not playing in the event (or if you get knocked out early), you’ll find plenty to do, and you can even win door prizes just for showing up. The Pro Circuit Championships are usually held in a convention center or similar type of building, so there’s ample room for a variety of food vendors, and of course, card and hobby store vendors. You’ll also find a continuous stream of side events, such as Booster Draft and Sealed Pack tournaments. Pro Circuit Championships are where Vs. players from all over the world gather to compete, trade cards, talk shop, make friends, and immerse themselves in the culture of a truly great game.  

 

Scholarship Tournaments are like scaled-down versions of the Pro Circuit Championships and are aimed at encouraging younger players to (a) play Vs. and (b) focus on getting a good education. Instead of giving out large cash prizes like at the Pro Circuit, the Scholarship Tournaments award $1,000 to be used toward college or private school tuition. Only players age eighteen or younger can compete, and players are divided into two age groups so that an eighteen-year-old won’t be playing a ten-year-old. The Scholarship Tournaments are a series of events that take place all year long at locations around the world. Every year, Upper Deck awards $1,000,000 in scholarship money, but players can also win extended art promo cards, metal deck boxes, and leather deck cases.

It’s a Vs. System Universe

 

Of course, you can also participate in Upper Deck–endorsed tournaments at your local hobby or game store. Even these smaller tournaments are a great way to meet new friends, refine your Vs. skills, trade cards, and just have fun playing. See my article “Playing in Your First Vs. Tournament” in the Metagame.com archives for more information about what to expect at tournaments and how to find tournaments near you. And for more information on all of Upper Deck’s Organized Play events (and to find out when and where events will be held), go to ude.com/events.

(Metagame Archive) UDE Comes to BlizzCon!

By Brandon Male 

World of Warcraft enthusiasts gathered together with thousands of other Blizzard Entertainment fans this weekend in Anaheim, California, for BlizzCon, a convention that showcased Blizzard’s various video games and other gaming products. Those who braved the long entry lines were greeted by a dark hall where strategically positioned television monitors lit the way to dramatic displays of Blizzard’s creativity. The creativity of the community was also apparent in the wild costumes that many people wore to the event.

Upper Deck attended BlizzCon to preview the World of Warcraft TCG and demo the Vs. System. The much-anticipated World of Warcraft TCG, which is inspired by the popular Warcraft universe, is still in development. Upper Deck artists Dave Dorman and Andrew Robinson entertained Warcraft fans by creating two painted figures from the World of Warcraft universe right on the convention floor.

Convention attendees were able to get a first-hand look at some of Blizzard’s upcoming attractions. The long-anticipated World of Warcraft expansion, The Burning Legion, was revealed at last. Gamers were given the opportunity to try out the expansion at one of the many Blizzard-provided computers, and many braved the long lines to experience even a short time playing the role of one of the game’s two new races, the blood elves.

Many attendees viewed the battleground tournament as the centerpiece of the convention. Players took their places on opposing teams to wage war against their opponents. After each combat, the victors remained and the defeated team yielded to new challengers. In the end, the remaining team faced-off against the Blizzard developers in a player vs. player battle!

The convention also offered a further glimpse of Starcraft: Ghost, as well as live panels by Blizzard developers and other creators of note in the gaming industry. The more daring attendees scaled a climbing wall straight from Blackrock or clashed with other participants in the jousting area.

All in all, BlizzCon vividly displayed Blizzard’s products, especially the highly anticipated World of Warcraft expansion. Keep checking back at Metagame.com for more news and developments about Upper Deck’s upcoming World of Warcraft TCG!

(Metagame Archive) Justice League of America Preview: Wonder Woman, Avatar of Truth

By Patrick Sullivan

Vs. System is a game of both complete and incomplete information. In one sense, the information is complete—if you’re playing Constructed, you usually have a pretty good idea of what your opponent has in his or her deck and at what stages of the game the opponent can play those cards. For example, if you’re playing against Curve Sentinels, you can assume that your opponent has some ATK pumps, maybe some Acrobatic Dodges, perhaps some Finishing Moves, and so on. Of course, not every deck is as well-known as Curve Sentinels, but even against a less prevalent team, you can generally make good assumptions about what they can and would like to do. Even in Sealed Pack, where the individual cards in each deck vary tremendously, anyone experienced in a format can at least make reasonable assumptions about the types of cards that his or her opponent has access to, if not know the specific cards themselves.

While an experienced player usually has complete (or close to complete) information in one sense, in another sense Vs. System is a game of very incomplete information. Your opponent usually has a bunch of face-down resources and a number of cards in hand. While you can generally narrow down the types of effects your opponent has access to, the exact cards are a completely different matter. This lack of information often results in players making plays that they would never make if they could see their opponents’ hands and resource rows, and it happens all the time.

For example, let’s say it’s the third turn of the game. Your opponent has the odd initiative and has recruited a 5 ATK/5 DEF character to go along with his 3 ATK/2 DEF 2-drop. (Just assume, for simplicity’s sake, that these characters have no other text.) You’ve recruited your first drop of the game, a 5 ATK/4 DEF character. Your opponent attacks his 3-drop into yours. Now, you’ve got an Acrobatic Dodge down, and you know your opponent has Finishing Move in his deck. Regardless of whether your opponent has the Finishing Move or not, he is always going to make this attack. The two characters stun each other and then your opponent gets to swing in with his 2-drop. What makes this a tricky situation for you is the threat of Finishing Move from your opponent and how that relates to your use of the Dodge. If your opponent has the Move, it’s in your best interest to use the Dodge, as it could potentially prevent your opponent from KO’ing your only drop. However, if your opponent doesn’t have the Finishing Move, using the Dodge isn’t optimal, since all you’d do is save some endurance loss at the cost of a great defensive plot twist. Obviously, even in an example this simple, there are other considerations to factor in, but the point is that the lack of knowledge of an opponent’s options hinders a player’s ability to play optimally.

 

A new card from the JLA set, Wonder Woman, Avatar of Truth, changes this common dynamic dramatically. For starters, she’s an 8 ATK/7 DEF 4-drop with flight, which makes her above the norm as far as stats go. She also has willpower 3, which can often be a pretty significant boost, as the previous DC Modern Age format demonstrated. Those enticing aspects aside, what makes this card interesting and powerful is her ability to restrict a player only to one specific plot twist during the combat phase. The positive effects of this card are twofold. The obvious benefit is that your opponent can only play one type of plot twist. If your opponent was relying on multiple plot twists to achieve a goal (for example, using a Savage Beatdown to stun your largest drop, then using a Finishing Move to KO it), that play would no longer work. If your opponent was planning to use a rarely seen plot twist to surprise you during combat, the cat’s out of the bag. If your opponent has access to multiple different combat pumps (for instance, the GLEE decks at PC Indy had a variety of defensive pumps, offensive pumps, and KO effects), his or her options are cut off dramatically, and your opponent will often have to guess which effect grants more utility based on (here we go again) incomplete information.

While the negative effects Wonder Woman has on your opponent are fairly obvious, the benefits Wonder Woman gives you as the controller are slightly more subtle (though possibly more devastating). Rewind back to the first example I gave at the start of the article, except put Wonder Woman in place of your drop with no text. If, at the start of combat, your opponent names Finishing Move, your play with Acrobatic Dodge is now great. Not only do you know your opponent’s intent (to use a Finishing Move on your character), but you can also safely use your Dodge without fear of your opponent using a combat pump to stun your character anyway. If your opponent names Savage Beatdown, you can just suck up the damage, knowing that your Wonder Woman is safe from a KO effect. And with a sprinkle of effects in the JLA team that allow characters to regain cosmic counters, Wonder Woman’s utility can wreak havoc on your opponent for multiple turns in a row, cutting off opposing options while providing you with tremendous information.

An interesting aspect of Wonder Woman from the opposing side of the fence is that it can allow a player to bluff plot twists that he or she doesn’t even have. While such a situation may appear infrequently, it does create an interesting opportunity that no other card in Vs. System can really imitate. For example, in one test game involving this card, Brian Kibler controlled Wonder Woman, and I knew there was a location in his deck that I couldn’t afford to have him flip during combat that turn. I didn’t actually have a relevant plot twist for combat, so I named Ka-Boom! While this example is pretty extreme, the types of plays and mental maneuvering this card can generate are unique in Vs. System.

I expect Wonder Woman to impact Constructed significantly. With her better-than-average stats, flight, willpower, cosmic, and a tremendous ability, she has the skill set to find a home in a variety of decks. While her power might not jump out as the strongest ability ever to grace a Vs. System character, the restrictions it puts on your opponent and the information it provides you give Wonder Woman the potential to make a big splash in both Constructed and Sealed Pack. Vs. System is a game of both complete and incomplete information. In one sense, the information is complete—if you’re playing Constructed, you usually have a pretty good idea of what your opponent has in his or her deck and at what stages of the game the opponent can play those cards. For example, if you’re playing against Curve Sentinels, you can assume that your opponent has some ATK pumps, maybe some Acrobatic Dodges, perhaps some Finishing Moves, and so on. Of course, not every deck is as well-known as Curve Sentinels, but even against a less prevalent team, you can generally make good assumptions about what they can and would like to do. Even in Sealed Pack, where the individual cards in each deck vary tremendously, anyone experienced in a format can at least make reasonable assumptions about the types of cards that his or her opponent has access to, if not know the specific cards themselves.

 

While an experienced player usually has complete (or close to complete) information in one sense, in another sense Vs. System is a game of very incomplete information. Your opponent usually has a bunch of face-down resources and a number of cards in hand. While you can generally narrow down the types of effects your opponent has access to, the exact cards are a completely different matter. This lack of information often results in players making plays that they would never make if they could see their opponents’ hands and resource rows, and it happens all the time.

 

For example, let’s say it’s the third turn of the game. Your opponent has the odd initiative and has recruited a 5 ATK/5 DEF character to go along with his 3 ATK/2 DEF 2-drop. (Just assume, for simplicity’s sake, that these characters have no other text.) You’ve recruited your first drop of the game, a 5 ATK/4 DEF character. Your opponent attacks his 3-drop into yours. Now, you’ve got an Acrobatic Dodge down, and you know your opponent has Finishing Move in his deck. Regardless of whether your opponent has the Finishing Move or not, he is always going to make this attack. The two characters stun each other and then your opponent gets to swing in with his 2-drop. What makes this a tricky situation for you is the threat of Finishing Move from your opponent and how that relates to your use of the Dodge. If your opponent has the Move, it’s in your best interest to use the Dodge, as it could potentially prevent your opponent from KO’ing your only drop. However, if your opponent doesn’t have the Finishing Move, using the Dodge isn’t optimal, since all you’d do is save some endurance loss at the cost of a great defensive plot twist. Obviously, even in an example this simple, there are other considerations to factor in, but the point is that the lack of knowledge of an opponent’s options hinders a player’s ability to play optimally.


 

A new card from the JLA set, Wonder Woman, Avatar of Truth, changes this common dynamic dramatically. For starters, she’s an 8 ATK/7 DEF 4-drop with flight, which makes her above the norm as far as stats go. She also has willpower 3, which can often be a pretty significant boost, as the previous DC Modern Age format demonstrated. Those enticing aspects aside, what makes this card interesting and powerful is her ability to restrict a player only to one specific plot twist during the combat phase. The positive effects of this card are twofold. The obvious benefit is that your opponent can only play one type of plot twist. If your opponent was relying on multiple plot twists to achieve a goal (for example, using a Savage Beatdown to stun your largest drop, then using a Finishing Move to KO it), that play would no longer work. If your opponent was planning to use a rarely seen plot twist to surprise you during combat, the cat’s out of the bag. If your opponent has access to multiple different combat pumps (for instance, the GLEE decks at PC Indy had a variety of defensive pumps, offensive pumps, and KO effects), his or her options are cut off dramatically, and your opponent will often have to guess which effect grants more utility based on (here we go again) incomplete information.

 

While the negative effects Wonder Woman has on your opponent are fairly obvious, the benefits Wonder Woman gives you as the controller are slightly more subtle (though possibly more devastating). Rewind back to the first example I gave at the start of the article, except put Wonder Woman in place of your drop with no text. If, at the start of combat, your opponent names Finishing Move, your play with Acrobatic Dodge is now great. Not only do you know your opponent’s intent (to use a Finishing Move on your character), but you can also safely use your Dodge without fear of your opponent using a combat pump to stun your character anyway. If your opponent names Savage Beatdown, you can just suck up the damage, knowing that your Wonder Woman is safe from a KO effect. And with a sprinkle of effects in the JLA team that allow characters to regain cosmic counters, Wonder Woman’s utility can wreak havoc on your opponent for multiple turns in a row, cutting off opposing options while providing you with tremendous information.

 

An interesting aspect of Wonder Woman from the opposing side of the fence is that it can allow a player to bluff plot twists that he or she doesn’t even have. While such a situation may appear infrequently, it does create an interesting opportunity that no other card in Vs. System can really imitate. For example, in one test game involving this card, Brian Kibler controlled Wonder Woman, and I knew there was a location in his deck that I couldn’t afford to have him flip during combat that turn. I didn’t actually have a relevant plot twist for combat, so I named Ka-Boom! While this example is pretty extreme, the types of plays and mental maneuvering this card can generate are unique in Vs. System.

 

I expect Wonder Woman to impact Constructed significantly. With her better-than-average stats, flight, willpower, cosmic, and a tremendous ability, she has the skill set to find a home in a variety of decks. While her power might not jump out as the strongest ability ever to grace a Vs. System character, the restrictions it puts on your opponent and the information it provides you give Wonder Woman the potential to make a big splash in both Constructed and Sealed Pack.

(Metagame Archive) Justice League of America Preview: Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz

By Melody Maysonet

If Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz is any indication, Justice League of America will significantly enhance the Vs. metagame. Just like in the DC universe, Martian Manhunter’s abilities make him a leader of superheroes. The DC character helped to co-found the Justice League of America (that’s one of Martian Manhunter’s team affiliations), and after JLA was disbanded, he co-founded Justice League International (that’s his other affiliation) and became the organization’s leader (thus his leader ability). In the world of DC, Martian Manhunter is a mentor to many of the younger, undisciplined heroes (he gives +2 ATK to adjacent defenders). And as a Martian, he can fly and become invisible (he flies and can become concealed).

That’s all very interesting, but you’re wondering how Martian Manhunter stacks up in the Vs. game. Let’s start with his basic stats. As a 9 ATK/9 DEF with flight and range, Martian Manhunter is a solid 5-drop. But he also has two team affiliations, so he’s useful in both Justice League of America and Justice League International decks—two of the four teams introduced in JLA. If you’re playing a JLA/JLI deck, there’s no need to team him up. Heck, you don’t even need a second character to play the typical Team-Up card. Just choose Martian Manhunter’s two team affiliations, and all your future characters of either affiliation will have both.

Also, Martian Manhunter has willpower 4. That may not seem that important, but I suspect that JLA will feature lots of cards that play on willpower, which will make his willpower score a big deal. Even if JLA proves weak in the willpower department, there are several plot twists in Green Lantern that should rock in a deck with Martian Manhunter (such as The Ring Has Chosen and Helping Hand, both of which gained notoriety in GLEE decks).

As with some other concealed characters, you get to choose whether to play Martian Manhunter in the visible or hidden area. And that’s an important choice to have; concealed characters can be weak when you’re on the defensive and need a buffer character to absorb breakthrough. But since you have a choice . . . If you have the initiative on turn 5, it might make sense to play Martian Manhunter in your hidden area so your opponent can’t reach him on the counter-attack. If you don’t have the initiative, you may want him as a defender to absorb breakthrough, so it probably would make more sense to bring him into the visible area.

Better still, you can move Martian Manhunter back and forth between the visible and hidden areas by paying 2 endurance. This means that he can run to the hidden area at any time to protect himself or move himself to a more strategic location in either area.

But that’s just the beginning. Martian Manhunter’s fancy footwork and leadership are sure to encourage some crafty plays. His leader ability gives reinforcement and +2 ATK to all defenders adjacent to him. That’s reinforcement and +2 ATK regardless of team affiliation. And he can move any number of times in a single turn as long as you have the endurance to pay the cost of moving him. That means that unless your opponent can attack concealed characters, you can keep Martian Manhunter in play to gain a significant advantage. Martian Manhunter also discourages your opponent from attacking down the curve because the +2 ATK to defenders may be enough to cause a return stun. That +2 ATK may even be enough to persuade your opponent to choose a less advantageous target. If you don’t think that these are phenomenal abilities, try this scenario:

Martian Manhunter is in your hidden area. In your visible area, you have the 7 ATK/7 DEF Abin Sur protecting the 2 ATK/2 DEF Kyle Rayner, Last Green Lantern. Your opponent, a guy named Caleb, has the initiative and declares that he will fly over with his 4 ATK/4 DEF Jade to attack Kyle Rayner.

“Fine,” you say. “The attack is legal.”

So Caleb exhausts Jade and passes to you. You pay 2 endurance and position Martian Manhunter beside Kyle Rayner. Suddenly, thanks to Martian Manhunter’s leader ability, Kyle Rayner has reinforcement and +2 ATK, which is enough to stun Jade in return. (Plus, you don’t take the 1 breakthrough.)

 

Hmm, Caleb thinks. That was unexpected.

Yet there’s more to come. It’s the same turn, and now Caleb realizes what a pain in the neck Martian Manhunter is and declares an attack on him with his 9 ATK/9 DEF Hal Jordan, Green Lantern of Sector 2814. But you respond by moving Martian Manhunter to your hidden area, which makes the attack illegal.

“Curses!” Caleb says. “Foiled again!”

Now the only character that Hal Jordan can attack is Abin Sur. The attack is legal, but you respond by moving Martian Manhunter beside Abin Sur. Now, not only does Abin Sur have reinforcement, but he also has +2 ATK and is able to stun Hal Jordan in return.

“Okay, this is getting ridiculous!” says Caleb.

Now all of Caleb’s characters are stunned and it’s your attack. Time for Martian Manhunter to saunter in for 9 breakthrough.

There’s only one word to describe what Caleb is feeling now . . .

“Y’OUCH!”

(Metagame Archive) Justice League of America Preview: IQ/Criminal Mastermind

By Andrew Yip

Only one person gets the enviable position of following TBS’s preview article during each new release. Fortunately, the cards I’m previewing provide more than enough ammo to make TBS’s preview pale in comparison. Today’s preview cards belong to none other than the Lex Luthor–led Injustice Gang. The Injustice Gang is all about providing you and your opponents with good effects, much like Thunderbolts characters such as Dallas Riordan ◊ Vantage. But the similarities end there. Unlike the Thunderbolts, the Injustice Gang’s other half punishes opponents for having the very same bonuses that you just gave them. Criminal Mastermind and IQ are excellent examples of this style of play.

Criminal Mastermind is a mutually beneficial effect for an initial exhaust cost. If Green Lantern started the trend of card drawing effects to promote off-curve strategies, Criminal Mastermind is the mutated next generation. Not only will an off-curve strategy naturally make good use of additional characters in hand, but it will also have the best chance of hitting the early drop to exhaust for Mastermind. Any discard-heavy deck can also be sated with Mastermind in play. Criminal Mastermind is more a card for a strategy that requires raw card quantity than it is for a combo deck, as pure search effects tend to enable combos more consistently. Though nothing’s stopping you from playing both, giving your opponent additional cards is particularly dangerous for a combo deck. Regardless of deck type, providing each player with an extra card every turn is sure to lead to an overly explosive game.

As a designer, one of the constant battles with card design is providing novel cards that address classic problems with the game engine. In Vs. System, that means promoting consistency and options, and card drawing and search effects are the traditional answers for that. Criminal Mastermind takes that philosophy and wraps it neatly into a team’s theme. With the apparent flood of cards in a game involving the Injustice Gang, one might ask where the “Injustice” part comes in. An unprepared opponent may not have a deck built to make use of the excess characters in hand, but in the traditional Vs. way, the most direct path tends to be the best . . .

  

Generally as productive as Pyro if played on turn 2, IQ is another card that you want to play as early as possible. In concert with Mastermind, he does 3 endurance loss each turn past the first one that he’s in play (and he does more in an off-curve deck where he is recovered turn after turn). That’s a reasonable clock that gets sped up with additional copies of Criminal Mastermind or card draw effects.

But the Injustice doesn’t end there; while some decks may not be able to use characters in hand profitably, other more popular decks can empty their hands on a whim. The final bit of injustice that the Injustice Gang serves spells doom for many popular play strategies by restricting how often and how easily your opponent can play cards in hand.

(Metagame Archive) Justice League of America Preview: Dinah Laurel Lance Black Canary

By Brian Kibler

One of the biggest challenges of every new Vs. System set is finding a way to make new teams feel different from old ones. It would be very easy for Vs. to degenerate into a game of nothing but numbers, with players dropping one resource and one character every turn and smashing them into each other. While the curve deck is a fundamental part of the Vs. System game, having every team in every set focus on a curve strategy would be downright boring. Don’t get me wrong; I certainly have a soft spot for Common Enemy, but one of my goals when I came to Upper Deck was to increase the viability of off-curve strategies . . . and different ones, at that.

The first steps toward that goal can be seen in The Avengers, although to be fair, most of my work on off-curve decks in that set involved nerfing them repeatedly. Imagine if Melissa Gold ◊ Screaming Mimi cost 1 resource point, Shocker also cost 1 and his ability didn’t require activation, Wrecking Crew affected all of your characters of the same cost, Mystic Summons could get any character . . . the list goes on. I literally spent a week playing our first Faces of Evil deck without losing, so we had to make a few changes, to say the least.

But this article isn’t about Faces of Evil, nor is it about the Avengers set at all, except by comparison. While I certainly felt that our attempt to improve the viability of off-curve strategies was a success in The Avengers (and little did I know at the time how successful it had already been in Green Lantern), I was disappointed that the best deck to come out of it was more or less just a rush strategy. The resource payment powers of the Masters of Evil characters were generally the icing on the cake rather than the driving force of the deck.

When we started work on JLA, I vowed to create an off-curve strategy with a different feel. When lead designer Matt Hyra broke down the teams by flavor, I knew that the JLI would be the perfect fit. While the JLA is the home of all the big name superheroes, the JLI is a collection of lesser-known, less powerful heroes whose strength lies in their teamwork and networking. What better team to take up the off-curve mantle?

Dinah Laurel Lance ◊ Black Canary looks like an incredibly powerful card at first glance. At 12 ATK / 10 DEF, she’s bigger than pretty much every other 5-drop in the game and rivals Thing, Heavy Hitter for sheer size. Her thuggishness comes with a catch, however—she’s only that big while you have four or less resources in play. And she’s a 5-drop . . . huh?

We decided to represent the JLI’s lack of superhero star power as resource restriction. While the other teams keep playing resources and bigger and bigger guys, the JLI doesn’t have the big guns. They reach a certain power level and then just have to fight against the odds. They can do it, too—JLI decks were some of our most powerful builds in both Sealed Pack and Constructed formats because of cards like Dinah.

That should come as no surprise, really, as resource restriction is nothing new, at least as far as Vs. design goes. Back in the stone age of Vs. System, when Marvel Origins was the only set on the shelves, the most feared deck in the game was The New Brotherhood. TNB revolved around the very same restriction as Dinah and her JLI cohorts. The similarity is certainly not coincidental; the four-resource threshold is a crucial one, as is the ability to “cheat” and temporarily go up to five resources with cards like Genosha.

Interestingly, and again not coincidentally, Dinah has a built-in “cheat” to that system. Since she is a reservist, you can play her face down in your resource row as your fifth resource and then recruit her immediately. Replacing a reservist you recruited from your resource row is optional, so you can play Dinah as a 12 ATK / 10 DEF on the fifth turn without any extra work. It does come at the cost of future resources, though, which is a decision you’ll have to make. That’s what playing the JLI is about—a careful balancing act between your resources and the cards that need them. One of the biggest challenges of every new Vs. System set is finding a way to make new teams feel different from old ones. It would be very easy for Vs. to degenerate into a game of nothing but numbers, with players dropping one resource and one character every turn and smashing them into each other. While the curve deck is a fundamental part of the Vs. System game, having every team in every set focus on a curve strategy would be downright boring. Don’t get me wrong; I certainly have a soft spot for Common Enemy, but one of my goals when I came to Upper Deck was to increase the viability of off-curve strategies . . . and different ones, at that.

 

The first steps toward that goal can be seen in The Avengers, although to be fair, most of my work on off-curve decks in that set involved nerfing them repeatedly. Imagine if Melissa Gold ◊ Screaming Mimi cost 1 resource point, Shocker also cost 1 and his ability didn’t require activation, Wrecking Crew affected all of your characters of the same cost, Mystic Summons could get any character . . . the list goes on. I literally spent a week playing our first Faces of Evil deck without losing, so we had to make a few changes, to say the least.

 

But this article isn’t about Faces of Evil, nor is it about the Avengers set at all, except by comparison. While I certainly felt that our attempt to improve the viability of off-curve strategies was a success in The Avengers (and little did I know at the time how successful it had already been in Green Lantern), I was disappointed that the best deck to come out of it was more or less just a rush strategy. The resource payment powers of the Masters of Evil characters were generally the icing on the cake rather than the driving force of the deck.

 

When we started work on JLA, I vowed to create an off-curve strategy with a different feel. When lead designer Matt Hyra broke down the teams by flavor, I knew that the JLI would be the perfect fit. While the JLA is the home of all the big name superheroes, the JLI is a collection of lesser-known, less powerful heroes whose strength lies in their teamwork and networking. What better team to take up the off-curve mantle?

 

 

Dinah Laurel Lance ◊ Black Canary looks like an incredibly powerful card at first glance. At 12 ATK / 10 DEF, she’s bigger than pretty much every other 5-drop in the game and rivals Thing, Heavy Hitter for sheer size. Her thuggishness comes with a catch, however—she’s only that big while you have four or less resources in play. And she’s a 5-drop . . . huh?

 

We decided to represent the JLI’s lack of superhero star power as resource restriction. While the other teams keep playing resources and bigger and bigger guys, the JLI doesn’t have the big guns. They reach a certain power level and then just have to fight against the odds. They can do it, too—JLI decks were some of our most powerful builds in both Sealed Pack and Constructed formats because of cards like Dinah.

 

That should come as no surprise, really, as resource restriction is nothing new, at least as far as Vs. design goes. Back in the stone age of Vs. System, when Marvel Origins was the only set on the shelves, the most feared deck in the game was The New Brotherhood. TNB revolved around the very same restriction as Dinah and her JLI cohorts. The similarity is certainly not coincidental; the four-resource threshold is a crucial one, as is the ability to “cheat” and temporarily go up to five resources with cards like Genosha.

 

Interestingly, and again not coincidentally, Dinah has a built-in “cheat” to that system. Since she is a reservist, you can play her face down in your resource row as your fifth resource and then recruit her immediately. Replacing a reservist you recruited from your resource row is optional, so you can play Dinah as a 12 ATK / 10 DEF on the fifth turn without any extra work. It does come at the cost of future resources, though, which is a decision you’ll have to make. That’s what playing the JLI is about—a careful balancing act between your resources and the cards that need them.