(Metagame Archive) The Parent’s Guide to Playing Vs. (Or How to Enjoy the Game Despite Your Life Being Over)

By Melody Maysonet

Those who have small children know what I’m talking about when I say, “Having kids changes everything.” Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic with title of this article, but kids certainly put your life on hold, at least for a while. Gone are the carefree days of going out to dinner on Friday nights and sleeping in on Saturdays. And, as I discovered soon after giving birth to my future Vs. player, figuring out how to play Vs. with a baby in the house is a strategy game in and of itself.  

But you don’t have to give up your favorite pastime just because your child rules your life. You just have to learn a few tricks. And, of course, the tricks change as your baby gets older. From one parent to another (and all you single people better listen too, because children are probably in your future), here’s some sensible advice about keeping the Vs. spice in your life.

If Your Baby Is Zero to Three Months Old . . .

No problem! She probably sleeps most of the time anyway, which gives you ample time to play as many Vs. games as you like with very few interruptions. If your bundle of joy wakes up, simply cradle her in your lap with a bottle (not a bottle of vodka, despite the temptation) while you continue playing. You can even stick her in the infant carrier and bring her along to Vs. tournaments. Admittedly, you’ll get some strange looks (I did) from adolescent males who’ve probably never seen a baby up close. But you’ll also get looks of sympathy, either for you or the baby . . . I never figured out which. Anyway, when my little Caleb was this age, I got so accustomed to playing Vs. whenever I felt like it that I wasn’t prepared for the next stage.

Four to Six Months Old

Here’s where things start to get harder. Your cute little blob is becoming an insistent little person who’s no longer content to lie docilely in his playpen while you examine your resource row. Playing in a tournament isn’t an option if the little one’s around, but that’s no reason to stop playing altogether. You can still invite your (understanding) friends over for a game or just play with your spouse. If you’re lucky, you can plop the little imp in his swing and let him wonder what you’re doing as you move pieces of colored cardboard around on the kitchen table. If he’s not the swinging type, try the stroller. You can hold your cards with one hand while you rock the stroller back and forth with the other. And for those times when your opponent is taking a long time to think about his attack, take the little tyke out of the stroller and spend some quality time with him. At this stage, you can also take the baby to a friend’s house for an evening of Vs. System, but this is risky, as Rian Fike (a.k.a. “Stu”) of Metagame.com fame can attest. My husband and I took our baby to Rian’s house on the pretense of playing Vs. with him and his wife. I played one game before Caleb had enough of his infant carrier and I spent the rest of the evening bouncing him on my lap.

Seven to Twelve Months Old

At this age, your baby is curious about everything. My husband and I soon discovered that Caleb liked to look at Vs. cards. (And why not? The worlds of Marvel and DC have introduced plenty of gorgeous characters. I’ve had a crush on Green Arrow since my college days. But I think my little Caleb preferred Dinah Laurel Lance ◊ Black Canary, who looks suspiciously like Madonna.) Since our little whippersnapper was so fascinated by the cards, we gave him a handful of commons to play with while we drafted the latest Vs. set. It seemed like a good idea, and we were actually able to concentrate on beating up each other’s characters for a while. But then we discovered that Caleb liked to chew on the cards, too. (He was partial to Titania, Big Bad Bully, probably because I had recently weaned him from breastfeeding.) Maybe we’re bad parents, but we let him chew on the cards. I mean, we were in the middle of a game, for goodness sake. Then we discovered that the ink comes off the cards when they get good and soggy. Caleb’s chubby cheeks were flecked with shiny ink in a rainbow of colors. That’s when we took the cards away and gave him the plastic sleeves instead. Unfortunately, he wasn’t content for long, so we took turns holding him in our laps while we continued playing, and we let him delight in sliding around our resources and dropping them on the floor. (Hey, the cards don’t actually have to be on the table to play with them.)

Thirteen Months to Age Three

Forget about it. You won’t be able to sit down for a meal, let alone concentrate on a Vs. game. So what is the Vs. parent to do? Wait until the baby’s sleeping, drop her off at Grandma’s, or get a babysitter. Don’t even open a Vs. pack if your little one is in the same room. Otherwise, your cards will be grabbed out of your hand, crumpled, bent, and thrown on the floor.

Age Three to Five

Now that your toddler’s attention span is longer than the average housefly’s, you might be able to sneak in some Vs. games while she’s awake. But count on making stupid mistakes (like forgetting to reinforce) while you listen to non-stop whining about how thirsty she is. And you’ll forget all about that carefully planned strategy you had while you pour her juice, clean up the spilled juice, and help her go potty. Remember not to get upset about being interrupted like this. Toddlers love irking their parents, so if she sees that you’re upset, chances are she’ll want more juice and you’ll start the whole cycle over again.

Age Five and Up

Once your child can read, he can occupy himself by putting your Vs. cards in alphabetical order while you kick some superhero butt. When his still-developing mind can grasp more abstract concepts, teach him to play. And once he starts playing, your worries are over. Now you have a built-in opponent who will never tire of the game.

And thus your life begins anew.

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(Metagame Archive) The Origins of a Card: Straight to the Grave

By Alex Shvartsman

One of the coolest things a true TCG gamer can aspire to is seeing a card printed based on his or her idea. Most of us have gone through this stage at one point or another in our gaming careers. We start out by playing a game, and if we like it enough, we start thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if . . .”—and let the card design begin!

When you have design ideas, it really helps to have friends in the right places! I was hanging out with R&D members and Your Move Games alumni Justin Gary and Danny Mandel one fine day about six months ago, and the conversation happened upon Vs. card design. Marvel Modern Age was all about MK Hounds and MK Underworld at the time, and I could not resist the temptation.

“Wouldn’t it be cool,” I said, “if Underworld had a plot twist that allowed you to search your deck for a character card and put it straight into the KO’d pile?” We discussed the idea for a bit, and my friends agreed that such a card could potentially be viable in a future expansion set.

I now had my pet project. If I were to make this card, how exactly would it work?

First of all, I decided that I needed to ditch a team stamp. If this card were to be made, it would be printed in some future set where Underworld would not be a major team. But removing the team stamp would make this plot twist nearly broken and create plenty of interesting uses for it, which I will discuss below.

My second concern was to make sure this card would not be useless in my favorite format, Booster Draft. A lot of great Constructed cards have no practical use in a Draft format, and I always hate to see them make the rounds of shame and end up in someone’s reject pile.

And so, the following plot twist was born:

          Plot Twist, 3

          Target character gets +1 ATK this turn.

Search your deck for a character card and put it into your KO’d pile.

This might not make it the most exciting pick in a Draft pack, but it would see play most of the time.

I submitted this idea to Justin, Danny, and Matt Hyra. That’s when I lost track of the card for several months. Since I am not an Upper Deck employee, I am not privy to the cards that are being made, or even the teams that are being included in the future sets. So while my friends were cool with considering this card, they could not tell me exactly what ended up happening to it.

The card was not originally meant for JLA, and it was only recently that I found out how it got included. Secret Society and its relationship with the KO’d pile had already been developed, and the designers wanted to give Secret Society a search plot twist that would fit in with that theme. It was then that Danny and Justin remembered our conversation and decided that my idea could serve as a base for this new card.

At the last Pro Circuit, I was chatting with JLA lead designer Matt Hyra, and he tipped me off to the fact that my idea was going to be used in JLA. I was very excited, but I had to wait to find out anything more about it—even its name—until the Sneak Preview weekend.

I was judging the tournament at Kings Games, and at the end of the obligatory speech I gave to the players, I told them, “And by the way, if anyone opens a plot twist that lets you search your deck for a character and then discard it, please let me know!” Almost immediately, someone raised his hand, and I got to see the end result:

While the secondary ability is definitely helpful to the Secret Society in their effort to get ten cards into the discard pile or otherwise fill it up with teammates, it is the original concept that really shines. In combination with Avalon Space Station, this card allows any deck that does not have a good search plot twist to fix its curve.
For example, you might play a couple of copies of Straight to the Grave in your Sentinels deck. Since your biggest concern is making sure that you have Bastion on turn 6 and Magneto, Master of Magnetism (or possibly Juggernaut if you are worried about Betrayal) on 7, you won’t mind using up a Reconstruction Program to get the right character into your hand at the right time.

While Reconstruction Program can work quite well, you’ll find that any deck that already runs Avalon Space Station would greatly welcome the addition of this card. Xavier’s Dream, Big Brotherhood, Kang City, X-Stall, and Gamma Doom are just some of the decks that stand to benefit greatly.

Teen Titans could potentially use it in conjunction with Garth ◊ Tempest to get Koriand’r ◊ Starfire or a timely Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal too, though I am not sure if you can really find a way to squeeze Straight to the Grave into that particular deck.

Could this be the next big card in Vs. System? Could Straight to the Grave follow Overload straight to the banned list? I doubt that, but I am almost certain that it will see plenty of tournament play. I will definitely be cheering it on when it does.

(Metagame Archive) Two Turns Ahead – Give Thanks!

By Tim Willoughby

This Thanksgiving, as with the 23 before it, I and all of my countrymen will not be recognizing it as a holiday. Don’t let this get you down, though; I’m only doing so in order to maintain my status as “An Englishman.®” The perks of being an Englishman are the ability to drink lots of tea, the license to expound at length at any moment about the glory of the British Empire— which was once the largest in the world—and the virtual immunity to Marmite. The downside? No pumpkin pie.

I am still thankful in my own little way, though. In my unceasing quest for knowledge so that I can eventually take over the world with some nefarious scheme (the ultimate goal of any self-respecting Englishman—just look at any English villain from any film ever), I love it when a new set comes out, because it gives me plenty to think about. As a bookend to last week’s altogether too high-and-mighty musings about the heroes in the JLA, I have been doing some serious pondering about the darker side of the latest Vs. expansion and all the naughtiness in which it allows one to engage.

The Injustice Gang has a great way of making situations appear to be anything but fair. Some of this falls under the umbrella of creating situations whereby opponents have plenty of cards in hand, but very little that they can realistically do with them. I am a big fan of the sense of futility that this can instil in an opponent. Between IQ, Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist, and The Joker, Headline Stealer, the Injustice Gang can set up a very tough position for opponents—the villain gives them a lot to work with (tells them the true nature of his or her plan to take over the world) and leaves them in a trap about to close.

The big deal about these sorts of decks, though, is reinforcing the lock. When you supply your opponent with enough ammunition, it is entirely possible that he or she will shoot you down. Lex Luthor is particularly powerful because his ability triggers at the start of the build phase and sets up a modifier for the turn, so if he gets stunned later, it won’t dramatically increase the options for wily opponents. The same cannot be said for The Joker, though. Should your opponent be able to stun the villainous clown, he or she will immediately have the potential to use all of those cards that were slowly but surely accumulating in hand. For this reason alone, it might be worth loading up on defensive plot twists and (potentially) on characters like Mercy, Amazon Bodyguard to keep those important characters around.

While your opponent (once under the squeeze of the Injustice Gang) will not have a lot of plot twists at his or her disposal, there is every likelihood that he or she will have the optimal character draw. And finding locations and equipment shouldn’t be too tough, either. Until turn 4, you won’t have much in the way of hand-locking components online. Defensive tricks can also help you set your traps by heading off frustrating possibilities (like a KO effect on Lex) that spoil your chance at spoiling somebody else’s day.

Of course, that would be a traditional way to go about things. I have never really been a big one for tradition, especially around major holidays that I don’t celebrate. So, I thought that it might be fun in the spirit of Thanksgiving to take things a little further in terms of making opponents pay. For this, I had to think a little outside the box.

appears to have the greatest potential for putting the squeeze on opponents who are already having trouble with the Injustice Gang’s hand control elements. If we really want to put the squeeze on, we can remove our entire hand from the game just prior to the recovery phase with Bat’s Belfry and stack the triggers such that we get our cards back from the Belfry just after we have caused opponents to lose quite a lot of endurance. Running this plan requires a couple of tweaks to the standard “collection of evil masterminds” build of the Injustice Gang, but not quite as many as you might think. Somehow, you need to engineer it so that you have Manhunter characters and Arkham Inmates in play in your Injustice Gang deck. Conveniently, the Gang has all the tools to achieve this, including cunning search effects and dual affiliation characters.

For the Arkham Inmates concerns, there are those indecisive fools who are naturally part of the Injustice Gang but not in an asylum. Both Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose and The Joker, Headline Stealer were already strong contenders to make the cut, and now that Ivy is fetching Bat’s Belfry in addition to whichever other locations she might have coveted, she is definitely a winner (and a 3 ATK / 3 DEF 2-drop, as well!). To get to the Manhunter cards, things need to be a little sneakier.

The Manhunters have only a single 1-cost Army character, and Manhunter Sniper, even with a relevant ability for our plan to burn our opponents, isn’t quite what we’re looking for. However, his status as a member of the tiny Army collective makes him a valuable tool for this deck. Zazzala ◊ Queen Bee can drop him into play at the start of the recovery phase without wasting a resource point, which is just enough time to flip Millennium. Additionally, Shadow-Thief and Tattooed Man, Living Ink allow for fairly pain-free ways to fetch more little stinkers so that Council of Power’s cost of exhausting characters doesn’t become too burdensome. Each of these will represent backup characters at their respective costs, as the primary concern will always be to ensure that hand-locking elements like Lex Luthor are active. Still, each is perfectly solid in its own right if it does see play. Manhunter Sniper can also significantly slow down the offense of opposing decks by standing in front of more important characters, which makes life tricky with some help from Coast City, a powerful and versatile target for Poison Ivy. Being teamed up with Manhunters also allows for a few more nifty little plot twists. I have an irrational love for Fire Support when being defensive is the plan, and I’m always happy to run Plans Within Plans to recycle whichever powerful effect seems most appropriate.

Ultimately, the win condition of this Injustice Gang Thanksgiving Special is to overcook opposing turkeys with the painful burn effects of Scarecrow, Psycho Psychologist, IQ, and Council of Power. Of course, like all good evil geniuses, you will end up doing a good deal of faffing about in order to get there, but that is all part and parcel of taking over the world. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Bearing that in mind, here’s the list:

Characters

6 Manhunter Sniper

4 Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose

3 IQ

4 Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist

3 Shadow-Thief

4 The Joker, Headline Stealer

2 Circe, Immortal Sorceress

4 Scarecrow, Psycho Psychologist

2 Tattooed Man, Living Ink

Plot Twists

4 Acrobatic Dodge

2 Metropolis

4 Millennium

2 Bat’s Belfry

2 Coast City

4 Council of Power

4 Fire Support

3 Lanterns in Love

3 Narrow Escape

As you eat your turkey this Thanksgiving, remember this: I shall be studiously not eating turkey and making a plan to take over the world. Be thankful that I don’t know where you live . . .

Have fun and be lucky!

Tim “Thanks Taking” Willoughby

timwilloughby@hotmail.com

(Metagame Archive) Deck Clinic: Coalition of Heroes

Jason Hager

Hello again, “True Believers,” and welcome to the second installment of “Jason Hager Makes a Normal Deck Weirder.” But this week, I’ve toned it down a little bit—we are going to look at a solid strategy that just hasn’t seen much tournament success: Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man. Let’s get right to it.

Coalition of Heroes

by Bloodshot

Characters
4 Dagger, Child of Light

4 Scarlet Spider ◊ Spider-Man

4 Ricochet
4 Spider-Man, Peter Parker

4 Daredevil, Matt Murdock

3 Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly

1 Iceman, Cool Customer

1 Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man

4 Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man

2 Spider-Man, Cosmic Spider-Man

Plot Twists
4 Spider Senses
4 Wild Ride
4 No Man Escapes the Manhunters
3 Nice Try!
3 Swan Dive
3 Midnight Sons
3 Savage Beatdown
2 Costume Change


Locations
3 Avalon Space Station

We can all agree that the 7-drop Spider-Man is truly “Amazing.” He has been my favorite non–Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius card since he came out in the Spider-Man starters. I think I own around forty of them. I have four copies of him on me at all times (in my backpack for some reason), and I bought thirty issues of the comic book that has his alternate art in it. There are only a handful of characters who tie up the game in a cloud of exhaustion. This is an especially rare ability on an opponent’s initiative. Vs. System games unfold around the basic driving concept that players take turns attacking. This is why Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man and Shimmer are fair. However, the 7-drop Spider-Man crushes this basic game mechanic. Yeah, I know, it’s obvious. But when you really look at what competition the 7-drop Spider-Man has, there isn’t much. He has all these things going for him:

  • He is on a reasonably exciting team (unlike Glorious Godfrey).
  • He will come down on a turn that typically occurs in tournament play (unlike Imperiex).
  • He is built into a deck that can utilize him during early turns, if necessary, by spreading out power-ups (comparable to the Bastion effect). The Bastion effect is one in which you get to dabble a little in each combat interaction. Let’s say your opponent plays as efficiently as he or she can, spreading the damage evenly and not wasting ATK points. Bastion is able to cause every single attack during that turn to require a combat pump. Decks only draw so many offensive tricks, and the ability to spread the love is the reason that you see Bastion attacked first by good players. This also leads to an environment of “safe” attacks, in which your opponent sacrifices efficiency in exchange for sure things, and it also lends itself to opponents having to play many more attack pumps than would normally be necessary. The Spider-Man power-ups on turn 4, 6, and 7 are comparable here, especially when you equate Spider Senses to Reconstruction Program. This situation also occurs in Kang decks, whether or not they have Lost City active.
  • He’s a decently-sized 7-drop—14ATK/16DEF is respectable.
  • Playing four of this 7-drop has an inherent benefit. When multiples are drawn, they can be used as inexpensive copies of Mystical Paralysis. This allows you to have a better 7-drop and to hit your 7-drop more often. You are inherently less tempted to play fewer than four copies of the card. I love this effect.
  • I’ve seen over a hundred games in which this guy has hit the board and the opponent has never again successfully declared an attack. When you reread that last sentence, it’s pretty obvious that this guy is Amazing.
  • He’s a fan favorite, so he will get more support in the future. Learning how to play with him and build with him now instead of later is to your benefit.

   

Okay, so I didn’t have to sell you on how good that 7-drop is. Let’s move on and look at other people who agree with us to the point that they had $10K Top 8 showings with this exciting 7-drop.

 

Steven Rosario

$10K Orlando Top 8

Characters

4 Scarlet Spider ◊ Spider-Man, Successor

2 Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man

4 Ricochet

2 Julia Carpenter ◊ Spider-Woman

4 Spider-Man, Peter Parker

1 Spider-Man, Alien Symbiote

4 White Tiger

3 Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly

1 Ezekiel

4 Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man

2 Spider-Man, Cosmic Spider-Man

2 Nova

Locations

3 Avalon Space Station

Plot Twists

3 Null Time Zone

3 Unmasked

3 Flying Kick

4 No Man Escapes the Manhunters

4 Spider-Tracer

3 Reconstruction Program

4 Costume Change

Not only is this recent, but it’s also comparable to the list we are looking at. Steven went 8-2 in a very diverse field, only to lose to Titans (a very difficult matchup) in the Top 8. There are a lot of differences between his list and the one we are going to clinic today, but the theme is the same. We are working with the controllish Iceman at 6, while Steven was using the very aggressive Nova. His deck is also mono–Spider-Friends, but we are really after a Team-Up version. Speaking of which, here is Jason Scudder’s brainchild.

 

Jason Scudder

Wizard World Chicago $10K Finalist

Characters
4 Alfred Pennyworth
3 Tim Drake ◊ Robin, The Boy Wonder
3 Spoiler, Robin
3 Barbara Gordon ◊ Oracle, Bird of Prey
4 Cassandra Cain ◊ Batgirl, Martial Artist
2 Will ’O The Wisp
1 Batman, Caped Crusader
2 Daredevil, The Man Without Fear
1 Lady Shiva, Sandra Woosan
1 Dick Grayson ◊ Nightwing, Defender of Bludhaven
1 Iceman, Cool Customer
1 Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly
4 Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man
1 Azrael, Knightfall
1 Spider-Man, Cosmic Spider-Man
2 Apocalypse

Plot Twists
4 Bat-Signal
3 Nasty Surprise
3 Detective Work
4 Fizzle
1 Have a Blast!
1 Flame Trap
4 Savage Beatdown
4 Millennium

While Jason doesn’t have our taste for Midnight Sons, he is sporting the Cool Customer, like our list. Jason does have flexibility that our list does not, in the form of that resourceful butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred adds a toolbox element to the deck, but this version is really based on Barbara Gordon ◊ Oracle, Bird of Prey. Her purpose is to net you card advantage in such quantity that when turn 7 finally comes, there is no way your opponent will attack ever again. Scudder also plays a Daredevil at 5, but a different one than ours (Daredevil, The Man without Fear). Now that we have access to the Avengers set, I think we can all agree that White Tiger is probably a better choice than both of those blind lawyers.

There is one similarity between these two successful Spider-Man decks: the ability to prevent plot twists from wrecking you on key turns (likely turn 5 or 6). Scudder uses Fizzle, and Rosario uses Null Time Zone, but the idea is the same: stop the shenanigans and go into turn 7 with enough endurance to feel comfortable.

Okay, now on to what we are going to do. We have Vs. System’s most powerful Team-Up, Midnight Sons. With great Team-Up power comes great responsibility. We can use any affiliated character in the entire game here, a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked. And while we sample the buffet of forbidden pleasures, we also need to make sure we can actually flip the Midnight Sons. Here are the problems I see with the deck that I’d like to fix:

  1. Play Dagger or bust. If you don’t recruit this light child, you are in major trouble. With the current list configuration, the only Marvel Knight without loyalty in the deck is Dagger. But don’t we have Wild Ride to fetch her? Personally, I’d rather be using my Wild Rides to stay on curve and avoid having to under-drop on turn 3, 4, or 5 just to get a Marvel Knights character down. This also means that we need a Marvel Knight at most drops so that a naked Wild Ride can actually accomplish this.
  2. End the game already. Have you ever seen a Cosmic Spider-Man attack initiative fail against Bastion/Magneto? I have. Also, time is precious here, and you can’t exhaust characters with Amazing forever. You’re likely to be in the hole (endurance-wise) by the time turn 7 comes around, and the clock will weigh heavily on your back.

    (On a major strategic side note to those tournament players out there, you need to be ready for rounds to begin. It behooves you to sit down before your opponent. You should always try to sit on the side of the table that gives you an easy view of the round clock, because it helps you know when to relax or speed up. Manage your time effectively. You either need to sit down before your opponent or check how much time is left when your opponent has priority.)

    If the game goes to turn 8, you need to do enough damage on that critical turn to catch up with the difference in endurance totals. Will Cosmic Spider-Man always accomplish this? It’s a strange problem, but it has a “strange” answer.

  3. We need plot twist denial. There are a few cards that are just too good against our strategy. Press the Attack and Teen Titans Go! need to be called the most often, but there will be some more interesting situations where Savage Beatdown and No Man Escapes the Manhunters should be called. (Yep, you heard me right . . . No Man).
  4. We need to figure out exactly what we are doing with our own plot twists. Are we lovers or fighters? Aggressive or defensive twists? The original list has only aggressive twists, while the deck we are playing just wants to survive until turn 7. Will those supposed attacks up the chain be enough to get us there?
  5. Let’s at least consider the Pandora’s Box that Midnight Sons opens.

 

Here is the raw list that I came up with:

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends

by Jason Hager

73 Card Monstrosity


Characters (41)

4 Dagger, Child of Light

3 Micro-Chip

2 Scarlet Spider ◊ Spider-Man, Successor

4 Ricochet

1 Cardiac

1 Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man

1 Brother Voodoo
4 Spider-Man, Peter Parker

1 Cloak, Child of Darkness

4 White Tiger

1 Spider-Man, Alien Symbiote

1 Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff

4 Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly

1 Koriand’r ◊ Starfire

1 Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man

4 Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man

1 Ezekiel

1 Dr. Strange, Stephen Strange

1 Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch

1 Spider-Man, Cosmic Spider-Man

Plot Twists (28)
4 Spider Senses
4 Wild Ride
4 Null Time Zone
2 Nice Try!
2 Spider-Tracer
4 Midnight Sons
4 Savage Beatdown
4 Costume Change


Locations (4)

4 Avalon Space Station

This deck is eerily close to one we tested in our shop a couple of months ago. Heath Baker, friend, faithful playtester, Pro Circuit regular, and resident socialite, is the one who built something very similar. My experience playing against Heath gave me some insight on how this archetype works.

We have shifted the strategy to include some of Rosario’s and some of Scudder’s. Jason Scudder ran Alfred, and Micro-Chip is the closest thing we’ve got. He adds some flexibility to our draws and lets everything fall into place. Rosario played a nearly full Spider-Man package (drops 3–8, excluding 6). We have the luxury of being able to make it the full package, increasing the value of Costume Change significantly.

One major shift in focus is the win condition. No longer do you need to make attacks that may or may not succeed (Kang City anyone?). Dr. Strange gives you the answer you need to make up ground. You get to exhaust what you can, take your lumps, and swing for 40 or so to the opponent’s face. Halfway through testing, we realized this wouldn’t entirely work, because so many decks now play No Man Escapes the Manhunters. When you boost Strange on the opponent’s initiative, you are risking having your own guys moved out and successfully attacked (supposing you can’t web them up with 7-drop Spidey). On your initiative, you are risking having your opponent move out his or her own guys, effectively creating a wall of Magneto, Master of Magnetism that you can’t get through without a ridiculous team-attack (30+ ATK required?) because of Bastion.

Here is the deck breakdown:

1-Drops

Your 1-drops are Dagger, Child of Light and Micro-Chip. While playing four Daggers makes total sense here, because we have lots of things to team-up if we get the chance, the Chips are what I’d like to talk about. We have three targets here—Spider-Tracer, Null Time Zone (or the NuTZ, as it’s now being called), and of course, Wild Ride. In the games where you naturally draw Chip on an early turn along with a copy of Wild Ride, you have effectively drawn two Wild Rides. You are sacrificing either your first or second turn (the turns during which you are most likely to recruit him) to ensure that you hit an additional drop on curve. His presence also most likely allows you to have the required Marvel Knights character in play to flip Midnight Sons on an early turn, allowing you to curve out with Spider-Friends at your convenience.

While some people may not like playing three to four copies of Micro-Chip in a deck like this, you would be nuts not to include at least one. Not including one copy (like the original decklist) denies you the opportunity to play a turn 1 Ride for Chip and start the Midnight Sons engine without using up your precious Wild Ride. Consider the alternative: You have an opening hand of Midnight Sons, Wild Ride, Avalon Space Station, and the 7-drop Spider-Man, but no Micro-Chip in your deck. Are you going to Wild Ride on turn 1 for Dagger? Use her on turn 2 to start teaming up? This draw in the original decklist forces you to Wild Ride for Dagger. Who else are you going to Ride for? Daredevil? The man with loyalty? Now that you’ve used Wild Ride to fetch Dagger, what is Wild Ride really netting you here? You’ve just used your flexible search card to enable the rest of your deck, instead of using it to curve out nicely. A single copy of Linus Lieberman will solve this frequent problem. When you aren’t sure what you should Ride for in the early game (turns 1 to 3) because your hand hasn’t developed over the course of many draw steps, don’t worry—Micro-Chip will let you “go into the tank” a turn or two longer as you contemplate your most effective search options. Plus, there are situations in which you should under-drop to get an additional use out of your Spider-Tracer or Null Time Zone.

2-Drops

Your 2-drop is really only there to enable Costume Change and because he is naturally larger than Hounds of Ahab. If you are heavy on search cards but not endurance, you can always Wild Ride for one copy and then Costume Change it away, saving 4 endurance. This isn’t advised, as the real reason I included it in the deck is to have a fifth and sixth Scarlet Spider to draw. I don’t plan on winning early combat fights, and the pure aggressive powerhouse that is Scarlet Spider, Successor isn’t going to help me out in that endeavor. His ability is crappy; the only reason he’s in the deck is because of his name. That being said, these two teams don’t really offer any better option for this drop. Shang Chi? Dusk? The interaction with Costume Change is what I’m going with.

3-Drops

Ricochet can’t be Terra’d. That’s enough for me—next? Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man isn’t fully represented, because your desired 4-drop is also Spider-Man, and you may not have your copy of Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly yet. Brother Voodoo is next on the chopping block. He functions as the on-curve Marvel Knights character that will enable Midnight Sons without being too awful.

The options we have are Daredevil, Protector of Hell’s Kitchen; Elektra, Elektra Natchios; and Stick. Brother Voodoo at least gives you the chance to turn an awful draw into a mediocre draw. The other 3-drop I’m including right now is Cardiac, Elias Wirtham. While Cardiac isn’t great in curve matchups, he more than pays his bus fare in the off-curve matches. He stuns Hank Hall ◊ Hawk perpetually. He also gets Tom Thumb and his equipment out of your business. I generally like characters that can easily and freely deal with characters a single drop below them on defense, and Cardiac is no exception. Against decks that don’t have flight, like Kang City, you may even see Cardiac recovering characters (likely Dagger or Chip) at the cost of a small amount of breakthrough. This is true especially when people think you’re just going to bounce Dagger or use Chip. Put them in the front row in front of Cardiac. Your opponent will announce an attack on your 1-drop, hoping to get you to bounce. Because of this, you won’t see any aggressive pumps. Just let your drop stun. Next, your opponent may go after Cardiac, and you can reinforce the attack and recover the 1-drop, losing no one on the turn. Many people forget that Cardiac does more than just stun Hounds. Cardiac also deals with Shimmer.

4-Drops

Spider-Man, Peter Parker is the gentleman that really makes Costume Change shine. He is the other Spider-Man drop that is worth including four of. He single-handedly beats Xavier’s Dream into the ground, gets you out of Hounds lock, stops Finishing Move shenanigans, and powers-up easily when attacked down by Garth or Nimrod to force a mutual stun (or a counter removal).

Remember that he has evasion and that Ricochet will help protect him. This is especially true for those turns where you Null Time Zone and name Savage Beatdown and Ricochet prevents Peter from being targeted by No Man Escapes the Manhunters.

The alternative drop here is Cloak, Child of Darkness, and he may be a controversial one. Getting away from the chance that your opponent under-drops on turn 4 and you are able to create an exhausted/drop equilibrium, he is still an impressive off-initiative play on turn 4. He allows Roy Harper, Arsenal not to enter attack steps unless your opponent bends over backward with Press the Attack. He is weak against No Man Escapes the Manhunters, but since he negates a drop lower than him, your opponents aren’t going to have many other great attack-up-the-chain options at their disposal. Sure, you don’t have a 4-drop wall on the field (like Peter Parker can be), but the extra damage you prevent by exhausting an opposing 3-drop is comparable to the extra damage you take because you have a concealed 4-drop. This is especially efficient if you are willing to evade either your 3- or 4-drop on your opponent’s turn 4 initiative. You really need to try Cloak out to warm up to him; he is still a point of contention in the ranks at our card shop, and not everyone agrees with his usefulness. However, I like him, so I’m adding him.

5-Drops

Cloak Makes White Tiger a lot better, preventing 3-drop/4-drop safe team-attacks. White Tiger will have invulnerability pretty often. This won’t seem like a big deal during the mid-game, but when time is called, you will be very appreciative. The Tiger is naturally larger than Garth and Nimrod (his major competition), but watch out for power-ups. White Tiger fights are some of the most effective fights on which to use Spider Senses. This is especially true if you’ve Null Time Zoned Savage Beatdown for the turn. Spider-Man, Alien Symbiote again fulfills the Costume Change curve. He is another good defensive character to play Spider Senses on, since you can sometimes also power-up out of the attack (in the form of +1 ATK / +1 DEF counters).

Now, on to a weird choice: Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff. She does a couple of things. First, she is your only defense against combo decks. Granted, she doesn’t do that very well, but she’s a big body that is easy to search for if necessary and may catch your opponent off guard. Second, and more importantly, she is a Brotherhood character, and we are playing four Avalon Space Stations. If you happen to draw her early, you can net cards for all of your various discard outlets this way. Also, one of your Midnight Sons almost always ends up calling Brotherhood, so she’s effectively already on the team. Besides, I forgive her for the House of M stuff—it was Pietro’s fault.

6-Drops

Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, check. Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly, check. Koriand’r ◊ Starfire, check? I don’t suggest her for everyone, but she may just surprise you. Let’s be honest . . . some of us players get no respect from across the table, and that makes us dangerous. Imagine it’s turn 6, and your opponent leaves Bastion in the back row. Play Midnight Sons naming Titans, and your opponent will be left filling out the match slip. However, Starfire’s not easy to play. You have to have enough characters in your yard (which Dagger will help with), the initiative has to be just right, your opponent has to get stuck in a rhythm of formation (which is incredibly easy to do), and your opponent has to underestimate you. On offense, she’s just about as good as any other option you have on turn 6, and you can always just ditch her to Avalon Space Station if your opponent figures out your plans.

We have tested out Koriand’r in a lot of decks at our shop, and in order to use her effectively, we have to keep her secret from our opponent before she’s used. Even then, she will only be a surprise in the very first game of testing, but she is perfectly suited for a tournament environment of one-game matches. Be careful when you shuffle your deck—always keep the face of your cards hidden from your opponent’s eyes. When your opponent shuffles your deck, watch his or her eyes carefully (insist on eye-to-eye contact the entire time with a friendly conversational stare). Why do you think the higher level tournament players who play Titans run Koriand’r? It isn’t for her good looks. Even in top level play, players forget. She will win you games you have no business winning.

7-Drops

Well, 7-drop Spidey, obv. Ezekiel is the alternate 7-drop here, but he is significantly better on turn 8 when it’s your opponent’s initiative. This will give you a chance to play Micro-Chip (or Dagger) and Ezekiel, drawing you between four and six cards and fueling another full turn of 7-drop Spidey web splatters. The worst case scenario is that you just discard Ezekiel to exhaust 7-drop Magneto.

Dr. Strange, Stephen Strange is the major addition to the deck, but he can be considered almost exclusively the deck’s 8- or 9-drop. However, on the turn you boost Dr. Strange, you really need to Null Time Zone and name No Man Escapes the Manhunters to prevent unwieldy road blocks from cropping up in your path to direct-breakthrough-endurance-loss-ville.

8-Drops

Spider-Man, Cosmic Spider-Man fills in the Costume Change slot, provides a win condition with an obscenely large character with a useful effect, and also gives Spidey-7 a way to exhaust 8-drops. One copy, I’m sold. Now, I’m just getting cute with Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch here, but he doesn’t seem too bad. If you get to turn 8 against Titans, he’s insane. Against Sentinels, it’s similar—you are only left with Mags and Bastion to exhaust. While I’m not entirely sold on Ghost Rider, he may be worth testing. Is he just “game over” against a ton of decks? I imagine so.

Some Thoughts on the Characters

 

This deck is interesting and focused. It feels like we are trying to get to turn 7, and that’s my goal. We are trying to accomplish two things: to present a decklist where you almost always win if you can get to turn 7, and to present a decklist that can safely get you to turn 7 without compromising the power of the late game. This is easier than it sounds. One big problem is the combination of Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal and Red Star’s burn. The crux of the matter, then, is that our first six turns are semi-aggressive but don’t actually have to win the game. We need to put up a mediocre offense to remove a few guys from the field and safely reinforce along the way. It’s tempting to add a lot of weird teams to this deck for toolbox characters like Glorious Godfrey, Sunfire, and Nimrod. I’m doing my best to resist in an attempt to keep the deck from being spread too thin.

In this type of deck, there should be more character cards that non-character cards, but it’s currently lopsided. We’ll need to make several cuts here.

Plot Twists

4 Spider Senses

These are to be used efficiently on turns 4 through 6. Hoard these. One is nice, but two will fail attacks. This is especially true when someone decides to attack up the curve with a Savage Beatdown and you have the Senses ready. Then the opponent either has to blow another Beatdown, or the attack fails and costs the opponent a stun, a character, and a Beatdown. You should avoid using Senses when a Beatdown or a No Man will simply counter it, but sometimes that is precisely what you will want to do so that the opponent doesn’t get to use that same Beatdown on a follow-up attack. You will have to use your discretion—listen to your gut. Try to feel out how many offensive pumps your opponent has. Lastly, use this card to save endurance. You are trying to get to turn 7, and after that point, your plan is not to need more DEF pumps.

4 Wild Ride

Obv. Be careful of the endurance loss, though. This card is very versatile, but it stings in the late game. Having this card as your go-to search strategy is one of the major reasons you need to play so conservatively in the early game.

4 Null Time Zone  

You need to deny people plot twists. You need to stop No Man when you boost Dr. Strange, and you need to stop Titans Go any time your opponent has the initiative. Also, it’s a good way to start a turn 7+ against Titans. You have two great options to name, supposing your opponent just lets it resolve, which he or she will often be forced to do: Press the Attack or Heroic Sacrifice. Be aware of the current metagame and look for signals. If your opponent is playing A Child Named Valeria and Alfred Pennyworth, you may want to call Cosmic Radiation. If he or she is playing Thunderbolts, you may want to name Team Tactics or Blind Sided. And if your opponent is playing Gotham Knights and you have a few search cards you have to force through, you may want to name Fizzle. Lastly, I’m a fan of naming offensive and defensive pumps. Naming Savage Beatdown on the same turn where you have two Spider Senses in your row can equal very bad times for your opponent. If he or she is playing all characters with range and a Cover Fire would wreck you, look out for that. And if you sit down in front of me anytime, you may want to name Reign of Terror on turn 4 before I recruit, supposing of course that you have a non-Ricochet 3-drop worth Reigning. Practice this card—it’s one of the bigger finesse cards you will ever find in a card game. Remember that you can Micro-Chip this, so play it from your resource row when you can. In a pinch, you can even name Kang Council with a Midnight Sons and replace a couple copies of Null Time Zone. I mean, I’d do it.

2 Nice Try!

I love the effect, but I’m only playing two of them. I like being able to counter a Roy Harper activation, especially if a Null Time Zone naming Press the Attack has already gone off, but I am scared of choking on these. Choking on a card, for those of you not familiar with the term, is when you draw too many copies of the same card and are constantly in a situation where you can’t play any of them. Nice Try! is the type of card that you can choke on, but it’s also the type of card that wins you the game when you least expect it. Remember that Nice Try! can negate No Man Escapes the Manhunters (3 endurance is 3 endurance).

2 Spider-Tracer

I haven’t used Spider-Tracer very much myself, but I figure Rosario can’t be too far off base with this card. It is good for many of the same reasons that Null Time Zone and Nice Try! are good, just in a different way. Remember that you can Micro-Chip this. This is an especially good reason to get into a Roy Harper exhaustion war during the build phase. I fear that this card can also choke you, which is why I’m only including two. I think it’s a little too situational for any more copies.

4 Midnight Sons

Here are the Team-Ups in the (most likely) correct order: The first one will name Spider-Friends, the second one will name Brotherhood, the third one will name Titans, and the fourth one will name Kang Council. But don’t use these like they are going out of style. Only flip the Titans and Kang team-up if necessary, because you may have to fight against Have a Blast! or War of Attrition and you will need backup Spider-Friends team-ups.

4 Savage Beatdown

How predictable. We need offense, huh? How about Beatdown? This deck does occasionally need to enter the Red Zone and fight, and the best bang for our buck is the good ol’ Hulk Smashing Abomination card. I feel dirty playing a deck that actively promotes declaring attacks, but I’ll swallow my inhibitions for this article.

4 Costume Change

This gets you the Spider-Man you need when you need him. It can also get Scarlet Spider now and then, but don’t rely on that. Remember, if you already have your drops planned out, you can use this card to get more Spider-Men into your Avalon Space Station rotation. This is especially handy for power-ups. I like playing eight search cards. It makes me warm inside.

Some Thoughts on the Plot Twists

 

I’m excited. This looks like a pretty good selection we have going. The absence of Reconstruction Program may be apparent, but unlike Rosario’s list, we have access to the Brotherhood team-up with Avalon to net cards.

Locations

4 Avalon Space Station

Use this card constantly. You want to use this card proactively to fight a lot of fights. Remember, this card makes every card you draw a potential character exhaustion from turn 7 on, or a power-up during the turns prior. Before you go crazy fighting power-up wars against Curve Sentinels, remember that. Most of the cards you draw are just generic slots waiting for Avalon to give them a purpose. Also, you should team-up with Brotherhood early and use Avalon to get all your Midnight Sons out of your deck pronto. Sometimes it will even be correct to discard a Midnight Sons to get back a Dagger, mostly in cases where you don’t expect to need all the possible team-ups this deck can provide. Don’t be scared on a later turn to flip up a second Avalon, KO’ing the first one. Sometimes it’s your best play, but be aware of whether or not it will give you a major advantage. This is especially true when Brotherhood is teamed up. Avalon is also like the 7-drop Spider-Man—you aren’t penalized for playing four copies of it. You can avoid choking on the extra copies simply by discarding extra copies to itself.

Okay, now that we know what we are trying to do, let’s make the cuts! It’s everyone’s favorite part of the show, where I take cards that I have just said are great and tell you that they aren’t really worth it.

The Cuts

We need to remove thirteen cards, most of which will be characters.

-1 Micro-Chip

We want to have the chance to draw him naturally, but he’s not mandatory. He’s more of a breath-mint for when we go into battle—it’s nice to have, but not crucial.

-1 Scarlet Spider

This way, we are playing five copies of Scarlet Spider, whereas the original list ran seven—not too big of a difference. I think we can concede the second turn play most of the time, as it will not get us enough traction to get out of whatever mud-hole our opponent pushes us into.

-2 Ricochet

I like variety here, and I think it’s a very important drop to hit. This is where your legitimate curve should start. We were playing seven 3-drops, and the original list had a few less that mostly required natural drawing. There should be around five or six.

-1 Scarlet Witch

She is a pipe dream, and her ability doesn’t do quite enough against the problems that may arise, especially from Dr. Light, Arthur Light–based decks that will just choose to stun her before moving forward. In those situations, I’d rather have the Alien Symbiote and Ricochet protecting him. Besides, she deserves to be cut for what she did in House of M—totally her fault.

-1 Ezekiel

I’m cutting Ezekiel for pacing purposes. The film was just moving too slowly with him in it. He will be featured on the bonus-filled DVD that will be released just in time for the holiday season. You should try him and see how you feel about him, but he is often just a “win more” type of card, in my opinion.

-1 Ghost Rider

He is being cut for the same reason as Ezekiel. I think he’s a novel idea, but there isn’t room to support every pipe dream. You either need to have faith in Dr. Strange or faith in Ghost Rider. I chose the one that isn’t just a skeletal biker with fire for hair. Dr. Strange is mystical, and that tickles me.

-1 Null Time Zone

While this card is incredible, you’ll be able to reuse it with Micro-Chip at least once in a game if you are willing to under-drop. Also, Null Time Zone can whiff if you aren’t careful. This card takes a lot of practice, and unless you are willing to focus on every possible outcome of every possible turn, limiting yourself to just three of them for the really crucial turns may be okay. You don’t want to be in a situation where you are choking on them and just play one and name whatever because it might do something. Those are the worst Null Time Zones. They are mostly for later turns anyway, so we can safely cut one here.

-4 Savage Beatdown

Let’s be honest . . . can we do that? I really don’t think this deck is clamoring for Beatdowns to begin with. Not every deck that plans on turning characters sideways should put in four Beatdowns, so we should be fine without them. The point of the deck isn’t to run over your opponent. Without Beatdown, you just have to watch for potential Acrobatic Dodges and make safe team-attacks. Just get yourself to turn 7 and let the web-slinger work his magic from there on.

-1 Avalon Space Station

Something has to go, and the frequency of drawing it while playing three as compared to the necessity of drawing one isn’t too big of a tradeoff for us. You can win games when you don’t draw any Avalons. That is acceptable.

So, what did we end up with? I kept Koriand’r in the list . . . I can’t believe she survived the cuts! Playing her on an unsuspecting opponent has always been a dream of mine, and this is the type of deck where it may actually work. We are playing a deck that lacks flight, so your opponent hiding big characters in the back row makes sense, and turn 6 is the most pivotal turn that we have. Stunning Bastion, removing a Nimrod counter, or stunning Garth or Red Star is not out of the question with her. Let’s see how you like a taste of your own medicine, Titans!

Here’s our final decklist:

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends

by Jason Hager

60 Cards


Characters (34)

4 Dagger, Child of Light

2 Micro-Chip

1 Scarlet Spider ◊ Spider-Man

2 Ricochet

1 Cardiac

1 Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man

1 Brother Voodoo
4 Spider-Man, Peter Parker

1 Cloak

4 White Tiger

1 Spider-Man, Alien Symbiote

4 Scarlet Spider, Ben Reilly

1 Koriand’r ◊ Starfire

1 Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man

4 Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man

1 Dr. Strange, Stephen Strange

1 Spider-Man, Cosmic Spider-Man

Plot Twists (23)
4 Spider Senses
4 Wild Ride
3 Null Time Zone
2 Nice Try!
2 Spider-Tracer
4 Midnight Sons
4 Costume Change


Locations (3)

3 Avalon Space Station

Here are some matchup situations to look out for.

Avengers Reservist

Your attacks are not safe! This is the type of matchup where you need to hit 3-drop Spider-Man and go very carefully. The good news is that once you reach turn 7, you win the game. Your opponent can do very little to resist your punishing late game. Just be careful—this deck has so many Nasty Surprise–like cards that you will be happy to get Peter Parker’s DEF bonus while attacking. That being said, don’t stop attacking down, especially when it will require your opponent to flip a hidden Avenger’s Mansion and have a Heroes in Reserve. But remember that this deck can’t fight in combat in terms of defense, so you can make even-drop attacks all day long and they will all succeed. Get your opponent’s heavy hitters off the board and turtle up and reinforce when you don’t have the initiative.

Curve Sentinels

This is the matchup you built the deck for. It is far from a gimme, but it’s just about as good as you are going to get. Curve’s real magic usually takes place on turn 7 when Genosha goes large, and by that time, you should be able to start turning your opponent’s side of the table sideways. Don’t make any risky attack on turns 4 through 6. Team attack where necessary and don’t get ruined just because your opponent drew five copies of Sentinel Mark V and a Reconstruction Program. You aren’t trying to win the race early—just try to remove a few robots from the board while eliminating attacks back.

Teen Titans

You are going to get your 7-drop Roy Harper’d. It will happen. Be careful. You will have to fight tooth and nail to make sure he doesn’t get those ATK bonuses by exhausting the team in a very deliberate order. Start off by exhausting a non-Roy character. Your opponent will put a Roy pump on the chain, you will add to the chain with another character exhaust, your opponent will pump Roy, and you will exhaust another. Keep going, and finally, with all the pumps still on the chain, you will exhaust Roy. He will often pump himself, and then your opponent will Press the Attack him.

There are a few options for you in these situations. You can sometimes just exhaust Roy. See who your opponent is willing to exhaust in response to give him ATK bonuses. This is especially true when your hand isn’t huge to begin with and you need your opponent to exhaust his or her own guys (remember always to act as though you can exhaust every character your opponent ever plays, even if in reality you cannot). Against Titans, you need to attack during the mid-game and attack well. You desperately need to remove characters from the board. You can’t allow Titans to have out six or more characters on turn 7 for very long. Nice Try! will be ridiculous in this matchup, and if you are really scared of Titans, I would add more of them. Null Time Zoning at the beginning of the turn in the late game will be very good for you, especially if you have a Nice Try! to back it up. You may want to Spider-Tracer Red Star once and a while, and remember that it’s made for Roy. Naming Teen Titans Go! in the mid-game with Null Time Zone is the correct call.

Well, there you have it. I took out Iceman, Cool Customer and put in Koriand’r ◊ Starfire. Playing with Starfire is pretty close to playing with Firestar, and it reminds me of the old Firestar, Iceman, and Spider-Man cartoon from the ’80’s. (I saw it recently—it sucks. All your favorite cartoons from when you were a kid suck. It’s depressing.) Anyway, I hope maybe I said something you hadn’t thought about, and I hope I read all the cards correctly.

Keep sending me your decklists for review, please. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to mull over the JLA set and eventually clinic some decks that contain JLA cards.

Jason “I Can’t Believe I Lost to Koriand’r in LA after Writing This Article” Hager

(Metagame Archive) Deck Clinic: Coalition of Heroes

(Metagame Archive) Forcing in Avengers Draft

By Jason Grabher-Meyer

For those who might have missed the coverage back in August, Dave Spears and Michael Jacob dominated $10K Toronto, one of Vs. System’s few Sealed Pack $10Ks. Early on the Saturday of the event, TO local Donald Grant remarked, “This format is all about archetypes. If you can’t draft one, you probably don’t stand a chance.” It was a comment that held true through the weekend.

Now, with Pro Circuit: Los Angeles coming up this weekend, the all-Avengers draft format again rears its head. Due to the short time between the PC and the release of Justice League of America, the powers that be made the wise decision to not include JLA in Day 2’s Draft format competition, meaning that instead a day split between two different sets, competitors that successfully win their way to Day 2 will draft nothing but Avengers, back to back to back.

While we here at Metagame.com have run many articles on drafting tips and guidelines, we’ve rarely touched on the technique that permitted Spears and Jacob to dominate so fully in Toronto: forcing. Nate Price spoke out on the subject in the final installment of his Manual series, but he focused on the pitfalls of forcing rather than the benefits. The points he made about the technique’s various weaknesses are legitimate in most cases, but it just so happens that the Avengers set is something of a rarity. As Grant stated, the Avengers draft format demands deck designs that take advantage of the inherent themes within the expansion, a fact that favors forcing.

To digress for a moment, you may have noticed that virtually every Vs. System expansion has a different flavor when drafted. Man of Steel set the standard with its relatively straightforward mix of teams. The result was a set where drafting plot twists over characters was important, because the teams themselves were fairly interchangeable and most of the significant plot twists were not team stamped. As such, all eight drafters were often competing for the same plot twists, and drafting hard into blue early on was a necessity.

Sets like Green Lantern Corps eased away from this trend. Good plot twists were definitely important, but character synergy was powerful to the point that prioritizing your picks between plot twists and characters was no longer so cut and dry.

Each set drafts somewhat differently, and while forcing might have been a risky idea with relatively low payoff in previous sets, it’s almost a necessity for Avengers. Unless you’ve played other TCGs or been active in online communities lately, you may not know what forcing is, so let’s define it briefly.

Defining Forcing

Traditional draft philosophy dictates that reactivity is the key to success—recognize the trends going on at the table, figure out who’s playing what, and then adapt to what is sent your way to create the best deck possible. It’s a passive technique that, when employed correctly, leaves you with a solid card pool unhindered by the choices of those around you. It’s essentially a defensive strategy that prevents other players from purposely or inadvertently screwing you over. After all, no one can build a good deck with terrible cards.

Forcing is the exact opposite. Instead of being a reactive technique, it’s a proactive one, attempting to set trends, rather than adapting to them. Ideally, you tailor your picks to prevent other players from going after the cards you want, and thus the other drafters give you exactly what you need. In Avengers draft, this would give you a complete archetypal deck, because no one else around you was taking your necessary cards.

So, how do you get your opponents to hand you card after perfect card? Forcing operates on two levels: the theoretical and the practical. The theory of forcing is the same regardless of what expansion, or even what game system, you happen to be playing. The technique itself is static. The practical side, which is more dynamic, is concerned with understanding the set you’re working with, on both the individual card level as well as a deck-by-deck basis. Let’s look at the theoretical process first.

The Theoretical

The first step in forcing is to decide what deck to play. You can do this after you see your first pick from pack one, or you can sit down at the table with a clear goal in your mind before you even crack a single booster. The trick is to pick a strategy and stick with it. For better or for worse, you are locked in to the decision you make.

From here, your goal is to cut off other players from making the same decision as early as possible. Once the competition has committed itself to themes different from yours, they’ll be passing the cards you need. You set this up by identifying the cards essential to your strategy and then taking them so that other players will be deterred from the deck you’re drafting due to the lack of necessary cards. It’s actually a more effective technique against veteran players, as the vets can recognize a lost cause more quickly and give up on drafting it. That leaves all the more for you . . . at least in theory.

If everything goes as planned, it’s basically a two-step process:

1. Decide what you will force

2. Dedicate your picks to that strategy, getting yourself cards you need while denying them to others and thus keeping them off your turf

It’s a little bit more complicated than that, though, so I enlisted some help to enrich my perspective on the issue. I went to Michael Jacob himself, since he’s a three-time $10K champion, an advocate of the technique, and frankly, a lot smarter than I am . . .

He brought up a third step to the theoretical process that really can’t be ignored.

“Forcing is very risky if you don’t know what you are doing. Even if you force an archetype, there are gonna be some packs that hold nothing for you. This means you need to know what to prune to make sure that the rest of the packs fall favorably.” The packs that don’t contain something of immediate use to your deck are just as important as the ones that do. Jacob continued, “To force in drafting, you have to have a very good understanding of the archetype you want to draft and those you want to pass. There is no reason for you to be forcing an archetype and pass one that beats you at the 2-0 table.” While you’re attempting to stock up on your own cards to the extent that others will have to abandon aspirations toward your theme, you also have to stay aware of your strategy’s place within the environment that you’re competing in and act accordingly. The resulting balancing act is one of the finer points of forcing, and it takes skill and practice to get right. Just sitting down at a table and deciding, “I’m gonna build me a killer Faces of Evil deck!” isn’t enough to guarantee a good performance.

Believe me on that one . . . I’ve tried.

The Practical

Emphasizing the importance of hate drafting leads us into the second set of skills and processes needed to force successfully: the practical side of the technique. As much as the concept of forcing remains the same from set to set, the actual information and understanding that you need in order to force effectively changes depending on the card pool.

The first thing you need to know are the enabling cards for your targeted archetype—what cards will allow you to run the deck and will, in their absence, deter opponents from pursuing it themselves. In fact, you should know the top archetypes and the most important enabling cards for each. For practical information I again turned to Jacob, whose experience is possibly the best in the format. He was happy to rattle off some lists for me in an “off the top of my head” fashion, naming key cards for major Avengers archetypes:

Reservist: Heroes in Reserve, Black Panther, Amenhotep, Call Down the Lightning, and Hawkeye, Clinton Barton

Kang: Kang, Rama Tut; Kang, Ultimate Kang; Kang, Lord of Limbo; Time Keepers; and Psyche-Globe

Rush*: Captain America, Steve Rogers; The Wrecking Crew; Speed Demon, Second Chance Speedster; Faces of Evil; and Windstorm

He emphasized that these were off-the-cuff picks, but had the following to say, “You will definitely be successful if you see these key cards in the first seven picks, but you can still hope for pack two. No one on that side of the table will be drafting what you are.”

He went on to detail some hate-picks for each of the three archetypes he identified. “Rush wants to hate Hawkeye; Radioactive Man, Reformed Renegade; and Avengers Disassembled. Reservist wants to hate Stolen Power, and Kang wants to hate Blizzard, Thunder Jet, Justice Like Lightning . . . anything that makes Ultimate Kang any worse than the best 5-drop.”

Jacob emphasized the importance of discipline to the forcing technique. “You have to abandon your strategy of reactive drafting before you start forcing. If you open 6-drop Captain America, take Repulsor Ray over it. You’ll reap the benefits pack two and three.” One of the things that makes forcing a nail-biting process to participate in is that it’s not until the second pack that you’ll start to see enough benefits from your efforts to judge whether or not you were successful. If you were, though, you’ll know it when you start getting handed sweet pick after sweet pick.

Sidenotes and Conclusions

Actually deciding what to force is an underrated part of the process, and it can frequently be key. Very few competitors at $10K Toronto were even considering rush strategies during the Sealed Pack rounds and much of the draft. The focus of many players rested on Avengers curve, Avengers team attack, and Squadron no-hand. Jacob’s choice gave him an inherent advantage right off the bat, as few players were even looking to draft what he was so viciously snapping up. Dave Spears did the same thing by focusing on Kang—he didn’t exactly have to fight a cage match for the cards he wanted.

At the same time, every novice now recognizes the threat of rush decks in the Avengers Sealed Pack environment. Few people are going to be passing you copies of The Wrecking Crew and Faces of Evil, and low-drop characters now look far more threatening. The field is better educated, and the skills needed for successful forcing are even more important now than they were before.

To recap, those skills are as follows:

1. Understand the environment in which you’re playing. You need to know the possible archetypes for the format, the enabling cards for each, tech, and which matchups go in which deck’s favor.

2. Intimately understand the archetype you’re drafting. What are its top picks, and what cards do you want to keep your opponents from having?

3. Be disciplined. It’s not forcing if you change what deck you’re playing in the middle of pack two. It’s also probably not going to help you win. Once you understand your own priorities, you need to stick to them, or risk failing to manipulate the other competitors and suffering the penalties down the line.

4. Make a good initial decision. That first decision you make needs to be an educated one. There are more than three archetypes in the format, and you need to be aware of options like team attack and no-hand even if you deem them technically inferior. Your initial decision will make or break your forcing experience.

Master the above four skills, and you’ll probably do well, whether you’re playing at your local card store or sitting at a table at Day 2 in LA. Forcing is not always a sound concept, but the Avengers-only draft format presents perfect conditions. Give it a shot, and if you stick with it, you’ll have a deadly new weapon in your drafting arsenal.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

*Notice that Jacob doesn’t tag team names onto the strategies he considers archetypal. It’s important to remember that it’s the themes themselves that are important for this set, more than actual character affiliations. Common threads of synergy weave between many of the teams, and understanding that will prevent you from limiting your own options, or worse yet, forgetting to cut off an opponent’s.

(Metagame Archives) The Australians are Coming!

By Scott Hunstad

A year ago, I did a bit for Metagame.com about the Australian players who would be coming over to the second Vs. System PC in Southern California. It was an embryonic time for the game—it had been launched earlier that year and had taken up in Australia six or eight months prior. The support UDE had shown for the game in Australia and New Zealand was phenomenal and spurred on what would be the largest Australian attendance at an overseas professional level event to date. Last year, ten Australians came across to test their mettle against the best Vs. players in the world.

This year, we’re bringing twelve. And a few Kiwis, as well.
As Australians, we are fortunate that Vs. System was supported since the beginning. Australia has had no shortage of $10K events. In the last year, we’ve had four here and one more in New Zealand. We’ve been the guinea pigs on a number of occasions, too—we had the first $10K with one-game matches, the first Sealed Pack $10K, and recently, the first large scale team event.

We reckon we can play with the best in the game, and our PC performances support that; in every PC that an Australian has attended, we’ve had at least one person in the Top 20. We expect So Cal this year to be no different.
The Sydney Scene

 

Australia is a fair bit different than the US in terms of population centers. Here, we basically have five major cities of 1,000,000 people or more—one in each of the major states. After that, it drops off considerably to very small towns. What this means is that most of the gaming done in Australia is done in one of five or six places. For Vs. System, Sydney is the competition hotbed. Some of the more serious players attend two or three different Hobby Leagues each week in addition to weekend and PCQ tournaments. The focus for Sydney-siders has always been Sealed Pack. In the lead up to the last year’s PC So Cal, the boys drafted Web of Spider-Man and Man of Steel dozens of times. This time with Avengers, it’s no different. I’ve personally done about thirty Avengers Drafts, and I’m certainly not the most prolific. We’ve also had two Sealed Pack $10K events in Australia and New Zealand this year. With five Australians in the Top 20 world Sealed Pack rankings and four of those five making the trip, we expect some pretty good results on Day 2.

In fact, last year on Day 2 at So Cal, I was waiting for the pairings to be posted when I overheard two guys talking at the next table. It went something like this:

Guy 1: “How’d your draft go?”

Guy 2: “Yeah, I thought it went pretty good, but there was an Australian at our table, and they’re really good at Draft.”

Not sure if the guy ended up playing the Australian (Luke Barter, incidentally), but Luke did end up winning that pod.

Who Are We?

This year, there are some familiar faces in our ranks, as for many of us, this will be our second or third PC. Los Angeles is perhaps the ideal location for a US-based PC for us because it is only a thirteen hour flight. Win or lose, we’ll be heading to Vegas afterward to see where our luck takes us!

So, which Australians are coming across? You’ll find out below. I’ve listed their ratings (if in the Top 200 in the world) and accomplishments. I’ve also listed their various Vs. forum names, as you may know them that way. If you’ve never met us before, make sure you come and say hi at the event, and if you see anyone trying to get a pickup Draft together, that’s probably one of us.

Luke Barter – “Like”

 

Sealed Pack: 11th World, 3rd Oceania

Constructed: 159th World, 7th Oceania

Results: PC So Cal Top 32, PC Amsterdam Top 32, three $10K Top 8s

Luke was quite successful at both of his previous PC appearances, finishing in the 20-somethings at each event after solid performances in both Constructed and Draft. With another three $10K Top 8s under his belt, he is definitely one of the most successful Australian Vs. players. Luke has a very methodical play style and a love for all things Brotherhood, both of which have served him quite well on a variety of occasions. Never without a joke, Luke is the clown of the group.

Alex Brown – “Uly”

 

Sealed Pack: 6th World, 1st Oceania

Constructed: 215th World, 11th Oceania

Results: PC Indianapolis 14th, Auckland Sealed Pack $10K winner, four additional $10K Top 8s      

Alex’s thoughts about Vs. System are available at multiple Vs. sites around the globe. As prolific with his results as he is with his words, Alex is perhaps Australia’s best known player. His $10K results are second to none with a first, three second, and one third place finish across both Constructed and Sealed Pack events. Alex revels in the minutiae of deck construction and theory and will happily discuss or debate a single card change for hours. He’s looking to build on his recent success at PC Indianapolis.

Scott Hunstad – “ssteven”

 

Sealed Pack: 8th World, 2nd Oceania

Constructed: 81st World, 2nd Oceania

Results: PC Amsterdam 4th, three $10K Top 8s

This would be me. After a depressing 76th place finish at PC So Cal last year (for those unaware, money goes down to 75th), I bounced back with a Top 8 at Amsterdam and a few sprinkled $10K Top 8 first-round exits. Between playing and co-running Vs.Paradise, I spend a fairly significant amount of time on this game, as my wife can surely attest.  

James Kong – “Kongy”

Sealed Pack: 55th World, 9th Oceania

Constructed: 185th World, 9th Oceania

Results: Four $10K Top 8s

This will be James’s second PC experience, and he anticipates better things this time around. James is a very solid performer with four consecutive $10K Top 8s under his belt, each with a different deck! (Okay, so one was Sealed Pack . . .) James came to Vs. from the HeroClix/Comics realm and Vs. is his first TCG, which makes his results all the more impressive.

Paul Van der Werk – “vanwolfgang”

Sealed Pack: 169th World, 24th Oceania

Results: Two $10K Top 8s

Paul is known locally for a number of things, including co-owning Vs.Paradise with myself, his love of the X-men, and dropping from the Brisbane $10K Top 8. This will be Paul’s second PC this year; he narrowly missed Day 2 in Amsterdam. Paul has run the gaming gambit with a varied past that started with miniatures and board games and progressed on to TCGs. You can judge Paul’s level of commitment to the game by the fact that he had a Vs. Draft at his bachelor party. We didn’t even let him win.

Andrew Corney – “cornstar”

Sealed Pack: 17th World, 4th Oceania

Results: Two $10K Top 8s

Andrew is a seasoned TCG player and probably the only person on the list besides me who has been playing cards for more than ten years. Having forsaken other games to follow Vs. System religiously, Andrew will be making his first PC appearance at So Cal. In the last $10K in Australia, Andrew managed an 8-0 performance on Day 1, and he has since been eagerly testing a variety of Constructed theories.

Randall Hughes – “TheDarkKnightReturns”

Sealed Pack: 73rd World, 14th Oceania

Constructed: 190th World, 10th Oceania

Results: $10K Sydney Top 8      

Randall, Randall, Randall. Randall Hughes is perhaps the most locally-traveled Australian Vs. player; he makes frequent trips to other cities to compete in PCQs. But not for the Pro Circuit Credits, as he is sitting comfortably on 50. Randall is very meticulous in his approach to Vs. System, and his commitment to the game has been paying off.

Anthony Macali – “migga anthony”

Sealed Pack: 146th World, 21st Oceania

Results: $10K Brisbane Top 8      

Anthony is coming to represent the Melbourne Vs. scene. He’s the only player coming over to PC LA who made the jump to Vs. from Yu-Gi-Oh, and he is looking to prove that such a venture can be done successfully. One of the most successful Sealed Pack players in Melbourne, the twenty-year-old Anthony is also the youngest of those making the trip. As the legal drinking age in Australia is eighteen and he won’t be twenty-one until a month after the PC, he’ll be woefully restrained during our post-PC Vegas trip.

Kieren Otten – “honest”

Sealed Pack: Classified

Constructed: Classified      

Kieren is one of the owners of the Sydney Games Center in Sydney. He is perhaps the most vocal supporter of the Arkham Inmates that this game has now, or in fact ever will have. Earlier this year, he piloted his AI deck to a 6-4 result at $10K LA, narrowly missing out on the money, and he will be bringing the Loonies to the PC this time in an effort to prove to the world, Joker-style, that Arkham will dominate the emerging metagame.

Ross Schaffer – “Raider”

Ross is the lone Canberran representative attending this PC. He made his first appearance at So Cal last year and has been itching to go again to improve on his performance. Ross has a fairly extensive TCG history and has brought that experience with him to Vs. System.

Sam “The Hammer” Kassis – “Sam K”      

Even though Sam isn’t even close to being the oldest in the group, he’s definitely taken on the role of the father figure and kept everyone else in line. Sam is a consummate gamer—TCGs, RPGs, LARPs . . . you name it. This will be his first PC appearance.

Paul Ross – “MPM”  

Last but certainly not least, a nod must go out to Paul Ross. Well known for his Cerebro column here on Metagame.com, Paul has attended every PC since last year’s So Cal as a judge and has done a fine job representing Australia in that capacity. He’ll be looking to do so again this year. Make sure you ask him what MPM stands for!

And then there are a few guys who are not coming who you may be familiar with:

Scott Smith – “Cool Zero”

Scott is in the process of finishing up his degree in teaching and therefore will not be able to attend. Scott was the highest placing Australian finisher at last year’s PC So Cal (20th) and spent a considerable amount of time ranked number 1 in the world in Sealed Pack.

Danesh Jogia – “djogs”

Danesh had a woeful start at PC Amsterdam. He went with the X-Statix gambit when the rest of us played MK concealed. After a 2-5 start, he managed to win thirteen of his next fourteen rounds to go from narrowly making Day 2 to finishing in the Top 32. Danesh is quite busy pursuing his Mathematics PhD with a side of WoW, and therefore won’t be attending.

Ben Seck – “TBS”
Ben has had a big year with respect to Vs. System and now spends his time in San Diego working for the company that makes this fine game. He’ll certainly be around this year, but obviously in a different capacity. That’s okay, as he was never really much good at the game anyway.

So there you have it—the ins and outs of the Australian Vs. community. We’re looking forward to having some good games this weekend!