(Metagame Archive) Deck Clinic: Zero

By Andrew Yip

I received a lot of new deck ideas ranging from traditional Doom decks to completely off-kilter Longshot Army stall decks. On an infinite timeline, I’d be able to cover each and every one of those decks. But given the true length of my day, I can only review decks so quickly. Decks are chosen based on a wide range of criteria, so don’t fret if yours is not touched upon immediately. If the deck idea is novel, if the build is especially contentious, or if it’s just a blast to play with Annihilus, I’ll get to it at some point.

After SinCity, several of my coworkers commented on my seemingly recent infatuation with Millennium and Home Surgery. To debunk that theory, this week I’ve decided to critique a deck that plays more traditionally. Even so, the team and the archetype have been regularly debated since the team’s release in The Avengers. In the deck clinic thread on VsRealms alone, there were three very different builds, all purporting to carry the same name. (Nods to MadTitanFan, Keleko, and Dinodoc for this week’s decks.) I speak of the Squadron Supreme “No Hand” deck. The name “No Hand” is accurate but by no means inspirational. Hopefully, if the deck finds any amount of success in the future, the wielder will endow it with a name more true to the times; Smashing Pumpkin’s “Zero” comes to mind, although that may just show my age more than anything these days.

The idea of Zero is simple enough­: play like a traditional curve beatdown deck until you reach a point where you can safely or easily discard the remaining cards in your hand to turn on several effects, including Whizzer, Nuke, and Panacea Potion. But the common consensus pretty much ends there. Looking at the three example decks, there are many construction considerations.

DinoDoc’s Build 

Characters (32)

4 Foxfire

2 Haywire

4 Inertia

3 Lamprey

2 Power Princess, Zarda

4 Amphibian

4 Redstone

1 Albert Gaines ◊ Nuke

4 Doctor Spectrum

3 Arcanna

1 Hyperion

Locations (6)

4 Squadron City

2 GothCorp

Plot Twists (22)

2 Break You

3 AIDA

3 Eldritch Power

3 Panacea Potion

3 Reconstruction Program

2 Fast Getaway

3 Answer the Call

3 Blind Sided

Keleko’s BuildCharacters (32)

3 Shape

4 Foxfire

3 Inertia

3 Lady Lark

4 Blue Eagle

3 Golden Archer

4 Albert Gaines ◊ Nuke

1 Whizzer

3 Skymax

1 Doctor Spectrum

2 Arcanna

1 Hyperion
Locations (9)

3 Muir Island

3 Squadron City

3 Rocket Central
Plot Twists (19)

4 Null Time Zone

4 Answer the Call

3 AIDA

2 Other-Earth

3 Hibernaculum

3 Panacea Potion

MadTitanFan’s BuildCharacters (29)

4 Foxfire

4 Moonglow

3 Inertia

4 Blue Eagle

1 Golden Archer

4 Albert Gaines ◊ Nuke

1 Nighthawk

3 Doctor Spectrum

1 Skymax

3 Arcanna

1 Hyperion

Locations (6)

3 Rocket Central

3 Avalon Space Station
Plot Twists (25)

4 Break You

3 AIDA

4 Panacea Potion

4 Supply Line

3 Answer the Call

3 Null Time Zone

3 Other-Earth

1 Behavior Modification Device

 

Clearly, some amount of balancing is in order. One of the most important comparisons with this archetype is the quality of the rewards versus the costs. This involves weighing the cards that enable you to reach the desired state (discard costs and plot twists that can be played from hand) against the cards that turn on once you’ve reached zero cards in hand (hereby known as zero effects to further confuse the discussion). Between the three decks, the most common zero effects are Nuke, Hyperion, AIDA, Answer the Call, and Panacea Potion. Assuming these are the best of the zero effects (recover a character, cannot be stunned while attacking, +3 ATK/+3 DEF, cannot be targeted), each of them can be valued about the same as a plot twist—good, but not game-winning. This is a consideration during both deck construction and play; blowing a three card Break You against a reinforced character just so you can recover your 3-drop probably isn’t going to be worth it. From another perspective, the deck cannot afford to have mediocre effects just because they have discard costs. Discard-costed cards have to be independently playable. Going light on the discard-costed cards and relying more on judicious play of plot twists from hand will provide a more powerful, if slightly more difficult to play, build.

Without actually playing every build, it is difficult to assess the ease with which each can enable zero. This “ease of use” includes the situations in which you can most often play out your hand (who has the initiative, which character is attacking), as well as the situations in which it is most profitable to do so. Effects that last for the entire turn or that can be played at any time, like Behavior Modification Device, ease your ability to reach zero, while cards like Break You require a character to be involved in combat. The more time-sensitive your discard costs are, the more planning you need to set up for zero. Breaking it down by initiative, it is defensively easiest to reach zero with cards like Eldritch Power and Break You. Offensively, ATK pumps and power-ups will get you to zero at any point of your choosing.

Before I get forever sucked into explaining things people already know, here is my build:

Characters (34)

4 Foxfire

4 Shape

4 Moonglow

3 Inertia

4 Blue Eagle

3 Golden Archer

2 Albert Gaines ◊ Nuke

4 Whizzer

4 Skymax

2 Arcanna

Locations (3)

3 Squadron City

Plot Twists (23)

4 Eldritch Power

4 Flying Kick

4 Panacea Potion

3 Hibernaculum

3 Flame Trap

3 AIDA

1 Break You

1 Behavior Modification Device

The largest difference between the builds is the increase in characters and the choice of discard-costed effects. The deck at its core is a curve deck. However, the higher cost characters on Squadron cannot compete against some of the usual suspects. While Skymax and Arcanna are splashy on your attack, their natural stats, combined with the deck’s lack of defense and its relative lack of tricks on later turns, mean that you want to close the game on turn 6 or 7 rather than trying to get to turn 8. This implies a more aggressive strategy that is supported by a consistent early curve and Golden Archer/Nasty Surprise effects that drop the endurance totals whenever possible. Your board with this play pattern will rarely have more than two characters (unless you’ve used a Potion), which will make you vulnerable to off-curve strategies and Finishing Moves.

Some of the more interesting card choices include:

Shape over Haywire – While a 4 ATK/1 DEF for 2 is usually a pretty good deal, in a world where fifty percent of all decks play a 1-drop that tutors for Hounds, Haywire gets naturally stunned and KO’d on turn 2 no matter who has the initiative. Shape’s 3 DEF on turn 2 is Hounds-proof and helps ensure that you’ll have three characters on the board for turn 4. There are several reasons why low drops are so valuable in this deck. For one, playing characters is a natural way to reduce your hand size. But more importantly, attacking up the curve with characters by expending plot twists is usually the most efficient way to play out your hand, as you’ll rarely be able to force breakthrough with a curve deck with little flight.

Moonglow over Lady Lark/LampreyMoonglow is perhaps the most important drop to hit in the deck, because she guarantees Behavior Modification Device for your off-initiative turn 3 or 4. Additionally, her 5 DEF successfully defends against most of the 3-drops that see play these days, once again helping you to maintain a reasonable early board position.

Golden Archer/Whizzer – As a curve deck attempting to end the game on turn 6 or 7, Whizzer attacking twice is one of the few ways to get opponents’ endurance totals low enough so early in the game, and Golden Archer played off-initiative on turn 5 is consistently good for the full amount.

Skymax over Doctor Spectrum – Against off-curve decks, Doctor Spectrum does nothing. Against Sentinels, Doctor Spectrum does even less. On the other hand, “cannot be stunned while attacking” is one of the best character-based zero effects, and Skymax allows for an easy discard decision in early turns.

Behavior Modification Device – As noted already, BMD is a critical part of the deck. It gives you a consistent way to empty your hand and rid yourself of excess copies of Flame Trap or AIDA or a “double character no power-ups” hand. BMD’s role as both a curve smoother and a safety net for hitting zero greatly increases the overall consistency of a curve deck with no good early-game tutor. For a single card slot, BMD gives the deck more reliability than any other card in the deck.

Hibernaculum over Answer the Call – Traditionally, tutors are early- to mid-game ways of hitting a missed character drop. But since the no-hand deck traditionally doesn’t zero until turn 5.5 or 6, Answer the Call will rarely fetch anything but a 7-drop. If that were a concern for the deck, the deck would just run more 7-drops. It’s very similar to the Rise to Power problem; you rarely run so many high cost characters that you need additional effects to guarantee that you hit them. Hibernaculum is a poor man’s Twist of Fate that has utility through all stages of the game.

Eldritch Power – As a combat pump that can be used outside of combat, Eldritch Power shines because you can play it so easily and the drawback is rarely an issue. Against an always reinforced Mark V while defending, or against a Roy Harper activation, Eldritch Power is always good. Similar to Squadron City, Eldritch Power is a powerful card that you have access to by playing Squadron. Just because it doesn’t have a discard cost doesn’t mean it should be disregarded.  

All in all, my build shaped up to be somewhat more aggressive than the others, sacrificing power for increased consistency and effects that aid it against off-curve decks. Some of the other discard-costed cards that looked shiny but could not be supported included Quick Kill and more copies of Break You. The nature of Squadron’s characters supports the aggressiveness of the build; perhaps one day, Squadron will have 6- and 7-drops that can go head-to-head against the other heavy hitters of the game, and then a more defensive build will be the way to go. If that day comes, the omitted cards like Supply Line, Doctor Spectrum, and Hyperion, Sun God may make their return.

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