(Metagame Archive) Breaking Ground Omnibus Part 1

By Michael “Big Spooky” Barnes

Neutron, Nat Tryon  (11/01/05)

Although I have recently been transplanted to the great city of Dallas, I am an Oklahoma native.  The drubbing that the Texas Longhorns recently gave to my beloved Oklahoma Sooners notwithstanding, I am proud of my home state and heritage.  In fact, I have made every effort to live my life according to the model of a very famous Oklahoma native, Will Rogers.  As most people know, Will Rogers had a famous saying:  “I never met a man I didn’t like. ”*  Of course, Will Rogers never had the pleasure of meeting Bastion.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Robots!

While I am openly free to hate most Sentinels  (as most of them are robots), Bastion is actually the human fusion of Nimrod and Master Mold  (as evidenced by his flavor text).  If I were to stay true to the sage words of Will, I should like Bastion.  But I don’t.  I hate Bastion with an undying fury!

I can handle the unbridled weenie hate that the Sentinels possess in Search and Destroy, Total Anarchy, and Flame Trap.  I can handle the brokenness of the super-reinforcing and the dual utility of Sentinel Mark V on turns 4 and 5.  I can even accept the “you’re gonna have to attack me again to stun me, fool!” monstrosity that is Nimrod.  If those cards were all that the Sentinels possessed, they would be a very good team.  But throwing Bastion into the mix makes them absolutely nuts.

Anyone who has read some of my Internet ramblings on Vs Realms knows that the reason I believe Bastion is so effective is that he turns otherwise dead cards in hand  (i.e. , character cards) into useful offensive or defensive tools.  For most decks, drawing your 2-drop on turn 6 is a bad thing.  With Curve Sentinels, however, your Hounds of Ahab can easily be converted into a +1/+ pump for any character on the board.

Given the immense power and synergy of Bastion and his Sentinels, most competitive Vs.  System players have resorted to one of the following three strategies to beat the ’bots:

1)  Play Curve Sentinels.  (If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!)

2)  Play a deck that can hold off the Sentinels until later turns when your deck will be more effective than your opponent’s  (Jason Scudder’s Spider Knights and the Hong Kong Cavaliers’ New School decks are examples of this).

3)  Play a deck that will win the game before Bastion can become effective.

This last strategy is of particular interest to me.  But of course I have a particular affinity for this strategy—it’s the method I used at Pro Circuit New York with the Xavier’s Dream deck.  More recently, players like David Leader and Maik Stich have found success with aggressive concealed decks that attempt to win the game on or before turn 5.

One big problem with both of these deck ideas is that if their strategies falter and they allow Bastion to become part of the game, they will usually lose.  Bearing this in mind, how would they fare if they could stop Bastion from ever hitting the board?

The Leader of Operation:  Zero Tolerance has Left the Building

At $10K Detroit, Jason Grabher-Meyer wrote an intriguing deck profile for a Vs.  System player named Rubin Parry.  Rubin’s deck was an amalgamation of several early game board control strategies. ** Danger Room and Madripoor made the already formidable X-Men weenies even more formidable.  Fastball Special allowed the little characters to take down larger opposing characters.  Finally, Surprise Attack and X-Corporation allowed for dramatic shifts in endurance.

The one card in Rubin’s deck that really caught my eye was the underappreciated Fearsome Five-drop, Neutron.  As JGM so eloquently stated in the deck profile, “Ever since his release in DC Origins, Neutron has reeked of two things:  unfulfilled potential and awesomeness. ” Indeed.  Neutron has the potential to create all kinds of problems for decks that rely on late-game dominance.

The Build

In order to break Neutron, we’re going to build a deck that can do two things:  1) establish and control a strong early game  (five or fewer resources), and 2) possess the ability to recover a stunned Neutron during the combat phase  (as his effect won’t go on the chain at the start of the recovery phase if he is stunned).

Obviously, Fearsome Five will need to be one of the teams in our build.  But what other teams should we consider? Let’s take a look at our second requirement.  While there are some generic cards that can recover a character, they all have pretty hefty costs.  There are several teams, though, that have recovery cards with more reasonable costs.  Of course, the foremost on this list  (as Rubin knows) is the Uncanny X-Men.  Children of the Atom is simply the best character recovery card in the game.  Because of this, we will include everybody’s favorite mutant team.

Unlike Rubin, however, we will not stop at two teams.  When we consider our first requirement, we see that there are several characters that can assist in maintaining board presence.  But these characters are spread across a diverse array of teams.  In order to utilize the various characters, we will need a team that can bring them all together.

Enter the Marvel Knights! Most everyone is well aware by now of how the combo of Dagger, Child of Light and Midnight Sons allows decks to incorporate a variety of teams.  Add in the fact that Wild Ride is well-suited for our deck’s purpose  (as it’s full of low-cost characters), and we have a very strong third team with which to support our build.

Let’s go ahead and make a basic list of all of the cards we have already mentioned for inclusion:

4 Dagger, Child of Light

2 Neutron

4 Children of the Atom

4 Midnight Sons

4 Wild Ride

Now let’s consider what additional plot twists we want to include.  Since we will have several teams in the build, it probably wouldn’t hurt us to have some additional Team-Ups for support.  So, we’ll include two copies of Millennium.  Also, character search cards are very nice to have, and we have another viable search card for the Fearsome Five in The Underworld Star.  However, The Underworld Star isn’t quite as effective as Wild Ride, so we’ll only include two.

Of course, having a few attack pumps would not be bad.  While the general consensus is that Savage Beatdown is the strongest attack pump in Vs.  System, we might need cards with more utility  (especially with Null Time Zone popping up in the metagame).  We’ll go ahead and split six spots in the deck between Flying Kick and No Man Escapes the Manhunters.  Both are more useful in this deck than Savage Beatdown because they can be used in earlier turns, have helpful effects other than the ATK increase, and are not limited to being played on an attacking character.

Finally, we should consider a card that will allow us to use our horde of smaller characters to stun well up the curve—Fastball Special.  Since we will  (hopefully) have several characters on the board at any given time, we can use this little gem to stun 4- and 5-drops for the low, low cost of exhausting a couple of small characters.  Three copies.

On the location front, there’s only one card that leaps to mind.  With our horde of weenies and potential discards for CotA, we have a real concern about keeping enough cards in hand.  As we have already concluded, we plan to have several characters on the board.  So, having a copy of Birthing Chamber would make sense.  While it is a nice card to have, we really don’t want to draw into more than one copy.  We’ll limit Birthing Chamber to three copies in our deck.

Let’s move on to character selection.  We have already established a 1-drop and a 5-drop.  We’ll fill out our selections at those drops, and then fill out the cards in the middle.  Looking at the 1-drops, we notice that there are several 1-cost plot twists in the deck.  Recycling these cards is never a bad thing.  Thus, we should consider Micro-Chip.  Let’s include four copies.  Staying with the Marvel Knights 1-drops, Mikado and Mosha can definitely be useful against other troublesome 1-drops.  Let’s include two copies of the Angels of Destruction.

We hope that our games won’t extend much past turn 5—hopefully, no more than two turns beyond.  Still, we’ll need a couple more 5-drops to recruit in the later turns.  Daredevil, Matt Murdock, another solid Marvel Knights character, comes to mind in the 5-cost slot.  He is a very large 5-drop with a very usable effect in a combat deck.  Switching over to the X-Men, we find a similarly large 5-drop in Archangel, Angel of Death. *** Not only does he have a respectable ATK for a 5-drop, but his effect also works very well with Daredevil, Matt Murdock and Flying Kick.  One copy of each of these brutes will go into our build.

This leaves us eighteen spots to fill with our 2-, 3-, and 4-drops.  Let’s allocate seven of the spots to our 2-drops, six spots to our 3-drops, and the remaining five spots to our 5-drops.

At 2, we should probably include at least two copies of Shimmer.  Not only does she fit the need for additional Fearsome Five characters, but she also has a nice board control effect for turns when you control the initiative.  We should also look at some of the X-Men 2-drops, as they are some of the best in the game.  Between Nightcrawler, Kurt Wagner; Bishop; and Cyclops, Slim, we have three very formidable characters.  In fact, it’s difficult to decide which of these three characters is the best of the group.  So, we’ll err on the side of diversity and select one copy of each.  Finally, since the Marvel Knights don’t possess any spectacular 2-drops, we’ll throw in a couple of copies of everyone’s favorite stall artist, Puppet Master.  While Puppet Master is somewhat contrary to our theme of early game aggression, he can be invaluable for limiting our opponent’s options on turns when we don’t control the initiative.

We have a couple of easy choices at the 3-slot.  Of course, we need to include the X-Men’s 3-drop powerhouse Wolverine, Logan.  But we’ll only need a couple copies of him, because we have something more devious in mind for our remaining four spots.  Since we are attempting to control the board with small characters, it would definitely benefit us to have a method of increasing the number of characters we have in play.  Of course, anyone who has played in a DC Modern Age tournament knows the amazing board advantage that Dr. Light, Master of Holograms can provide  (inspired by Ryan Gutierrez, a. k. a.  RyanDG).  Besides, since we can’t include the Fearsome Five’s version of the good doctor, we might as well find a way to incorporate his smaller  (yet no less lethal) version.

Finally, we need to pare down our choices at the 4-drop slot.  First and foremost, in tribute to the TOGIT team and their legendary X-Stall deck, we might want to consider at least one copy of Rogue, Power Absorption.  As I said earlier, one copy of Puppet Master on the board can really be beneficial for turns when we don’t control the initiative.  I would wager that having two copies of Mr. Masters would be even better! Of course, it might be nice if we had some other characters that Rogue could copy.  Since we would probably be wise to protect ourselves against early game rush decks, we’ll also include a copy each of Gambit, Remy Lebeau and Cloak, Child of Darkness.  While neither is much of an offensive threat, they are both strong choices for keeping low drops in check during the turns when we don’t control the initiative.  Finally, Polaris, Lorna Dane has great synergy with Archangel, so we might want to include her as well.  Not only can she give us potentially un-stunnable attackers, but she can also force our opponents to move any characters they want to counterattack with into the front row  (as they would be unable to attack otherwise).  Two copies of the mistress of magnetism.  With that, we have reached the magic number of 60 cards.  So, let’s take a look at our mad creation!

The Neutron Dance

4 Dagger, Child of Light

4 Micro-Chip

2 Mikado and Mosha

1 Bishop

1 Cyclops, Slim

1 Nightcrawler, Kurt Wagner

2 Puppet Master

2 Shimmer

4 Dr.  Light, Master of Holograms

2 Wolverine, Logan

1 Cloak, Child of Darkness

1 Gambit, Remy Lebeau

2 Polaris

1 Rogue, Power Absorption

1 Archangel, Angel of Death

1 Daredevil, Matt Murdock

2 Neutron

4 Children of the Atom

3 Fastball Special

3 Flying Kick

4 Midnight Sons

2 Millennium

3 No Man Escapes the Manhunters

2 The Underworld Star

4 Wild Ride

3 Birthing Chamber

With the number of search cards in the deck, we shouldn’t have much trouble working into our curve as the game progresses.  If we mulligan for Wild Ride and Dagger / Micro-Chip / Midnight Sons, we should have a successful set of early turns.

It might also be possible for us to work some other creative combos into the build.  Another imaginative option  (also inspired by RyanDG) would be to work toward getting Longshot and Malvolio on the board together to improve our card drawing in later turns.

That’s all for this week.  Keep the suggestions for future articles coming.  You can email any suggestions to me at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.

* Of course, something that most people don’t know is that, in general, Oklahomans are taller than the average American.  Fortunately, having Tim Batow in our state keeps us close to the national average.

** Don’t you hate it when writers use big words like “amalgamation?” Well, I don’t! If you don’t understand what I’m saying, go pay a visit to www. dictionary. com.  You might even learn something.  I’ve already doubled my vocabulary reading Tim Willoughby’s articles.

*** Besides, it’s poetic justice that if we include the Angels of Destruction, we also include the Angel of Death.  Of course, I suppose the fact that we’re including both Cloak, Child of Darkness and Dagger, Child of Light is even more poetic!

Clench Virus  (11/08/05)

“Don’t Click on the Link!”

Those were the frantic words of my friend John Hall after I received a hyperlink message from him via AOL Instant Messenger.  Apparently, a worm program had found its way into his computer and had hijacked his instant messenger in an effort to infect other systems.  And my machine became the next target of the worm’s malevolent machinations.  Of course, given my buddy’s warning, I certainly wouldn’t be foolish enough to let my computer get infected.

Unfortunately, I didn’t receive John’s warning until two seconds after I had already clicked the link.

Chaos ensued.  First, the worm dropped about five gigabytes of spyware onto my computer, sending my spy sweeper into shock.  Then, the worm attempted to rewrite my browser and memory settings to host the program on my machine.  While I’m sure my anti-virus software didn’t appreciate this, it really wasn’t up to the task of stopping it.  Finally, the worm sent the aforementioned link to everyone on my AOL buddy list  (which is almost everyone in the online Vs.  community).

That last part worries me the most, as I am sure that my actions ticked off a few people.  My teammate Shane Wiggins made references to my intelligence in terms that I can’t use on a public forum.  Dave Spears hexed me with a voodoo curse.  And someone  (I’m pretty sure it was Team FTN) sent a hit man after me. * Suffice it to say, I’ve been trying to lay low these past couple of weeks.  Is it “Feed a cold, starve a fever”?

If there is any consolation to be had, it’s that the incident gave me a ripe idea for this week’s card.  Following the first Pro Circuit in Indianapolis, Common Enemy was the top deck in the metagame.  Right behind it was the relatively new Teen Titans.  Both decks were formidable and well represented at $10K Texas last November. **

I decided that in order to be competitive, I would need a deck that could consistently beat both of these powerhouses.  After much testing, I eventually settled on My Beloved.  The combination of Gotham Knights and League of Assassins had the size and consistency to match Common Enemy and the disruption necessary to stave off the Titans  (primarily in the form of Tower of Babel).  I found that against either deck, dropping Ra’s Al Ghul, The Demon’s Head on turn 8 usually meant victory for me and my deck.

I spent several weeks playtesting various versions of the deck. *** My eventual build centered around Alfred Pennyworth in unison with several low drops in the first few turns to set up the plot twists that I would need for the remainder of the game.  I then played straight up the curve on turns 4 through 8, eventually reaching the crescendo of Ra’s Al Ghul, The Demon’s Head.  Since I usually had two to three copies of Acrobatic Dodge in hand by that time, and since most Common Enemy decks didn’t play Savage Beatdown, Silver Surfer wasn’t too much of a threat—my opponent couldn’t play It’s Clobberin’ Time! without any team affiliations.


While this was the variant of the deck I eventually settled on, I spent a good deal of time testing alternative strategies.  One of the versions that I really liked  (but could never get to work properly) was the build that utilized Clench Virus.  I think that most players knew how potentially devastating Micro-Sentinels was in Curve.  The key difference between Micro-Sentinels and Clench Virus is that Micro-Sentinels can dole out multiple counters  (depending on how many Sentinels characters you have on the board).  However, Clench Virus has an added advantage in that it can affect any character, not just characters on the board when it’s played.

Our challenge today will be to build a deck that not only gives us access to multiple copies of Clench Virus, but also has sufficient support for the “Plague KO” strategy.

The Build

Before we start shoving cards into the build, we need to determine the most effective way to approach the deck.  As stated earlier, we want as many copies of Clench Virus on the board as possible (because there is no greater joy than KO’ing Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius on turn 5).  On its own, the League of Assassins team does not have reliable access to the copies of Clench Virus in the deck.  While Doom and Gotham Knights may seem like viable counterparts  (thanks to the searching power of Boris and Alfred Pennyworth), we can’t afford to rely on either butler.  In addition, replaying a 1-drop every turn would put us behind quickly, as we would be forced to play off-curve to continue searching for plot twists.

What we really need is a way to bring Clench Virus directly into play.  The one card that currently allows for bringing ongoing plot twists directly into play is Hostage Situation.  Given that Hostage Situation is team-stamped to Revenge Squad, it appears that they would be the best team to join Ghul and Co.  in their nefarious scheme to plague the board.

Given our focus on putting Clench Virus into play and the Revenge Squad’s love for ongoing plot twists, it is only sensible for us to make most of our non-character cards ongoing plot twists.  However, we don’t want so many that we’ll end up with a lot of dead cards in hand; ongoing plot twists that can be played out of hand will be helpful.

First and foremost, we want to include four copies of Clench Virus.  Additionally, we should include four copies of Hostage Situation to assist in fetching Clench Virus.  Of course, Team-Ups are rather important.  While Millennium and its added card draw is tempting as our Team-Up of choice, we’re going to defer to good old Marvel Team-Up.  With Lacuna in play, Marvel Team-Up is another card that can be brought directly onto the board.  However, we will include a couple copies of Millennium as a backup.

Moving on, we need to consider toolbox cards to assist our deck.  Obviously, a deck focusing on ongoing plot twists needs to have a way to protect its resource row.  So, a copy of State of the Union would not be amiss.  While we won’t be able to guarantee its presence in every game with only one copy in the deck, we can use Hostage Situation to search for it in dire circumstances.  Moreover, playing only one copy of State of the Union lessens the likelihood that we will have unplayable cards in hand.

We also need to consider the ramifications of the loss of Mountain Stronghold by forcing our deck into an ongoing plot twist build.  In essence, we might need to find other draw and search options.  Given the deck style, our best choice is probably Revenge Pact.  While it is nice for moving through the deck, it can get expensive if it’s used too much.  Hence, we will limit it to two copies.

Thematically, we should probably note that the deck has a KO flavor to it.  In keeping with that, we’ll toss in four copies of Death of Superman.  Not only is the card a powerful board control tool that has nice synergy with Clench Virus, but it also has the added benefit of being playable from the hand.

Of course, all of our cards so far have either been support for Clench Virus–searching or part of the ongoing plot twist theme.  So, we’ll divert for a second to add in some much needed attack power.  While opinions may vary, it’s hard to argue that Savage Beatdown isn’t the best ATK pump in Vs System.  The time may come when our deck will need a little bit of oomph to push past a wayward power-up or Acrobatic Dodge, so we’ll add four Savage Beatdowns to the build.

Finally, we’re going to toss in something from the Justice League of America set.  My initial intention for this deck was to add a couple of Wheel of Plagues to speed up the distribution of plague counters.  The downside to this idea was that the payments for Wheel of Plagues and Revenge Pact could really add up, even if used only once per turn.  However, the new set brought us a plot twist that can add plague counters for free—Poisoned!.

Talk about a new card that’s tailor-made for this deck! Not only does Poisoned! give us a new and improved method for adding plague counters, but it can also be used as an offensive or defensive weapon in a pinch.  On defense, the -1/-0 can prevent lateral stuns.  On offense, you can use Poisoned! to add additional counters in response to a stunback attempt  (via a card like Nasty Surprise) to KO the defender before the attack concludes.

Let’s take a quick look at our plot twist selections:

4 Clench Virus

4 Hostage Situation

3 Marvel Team-Up

2 Millennium

1 State of the Union

2 Revenge Pact

4 Death of Superman

4 Savage Beatdown

4 Poisoned!

On the character side, we have a small challenge in that we need a decent early game to ensure that we have the characters we need if we have to utilize Hostage Situation.  However, we would also like to have a reasonable curve if the game progresses to later turns.  Throw in the fact that we only have 32 card spaces in the deck to work with, and we have a bit of a task to undertake.

Our options at the 1-drop slot are rather limited.  Since there is a possibility that we might be under-dropping in later turns, we should probably consider some 1-drops that are above the curve.  Fortunately, a pair of such characters exists in Hope and Whisper A’Daire, Serpent-Tongued Seductress.  In addition to above-average ATK, these lovely ladies have great synergy with the build—Hope in her ability to protect the resource row, and Whisper in her stat boost in later turns.

A much more important series of choices comes at the 2-drop.  In addition to considering several playable options, we need enough characters at this drop to ensure our ability to exhaust for Hostage Situation and allow for a Team-Up.  Obviously, we need to include at least one copy of Lacuna to support our plans with Marvel Team-Up.  We should probably also look at characters that can help support our later turns.  A good choice to fill this role is three copies of Talia, Beloved Daughter.  Not only is Talia a much-needed League of Assassins character in an early game filled with Revenge Squad characters, but she also ensures that one incarnation or another of her father will be present for later turns.  One final League of Assassins character we need to include is Assassin Initiate.  While he doesn’t have overly spectacular stats, his effect assists the KO theme of the deck.  One copy should suffice.

On the Revenge Squad side, we’re going to lean more toward effect utility than character stats.  Although this may seem a bit confusing  (especially since I spoke so glowingly about strong ATK and DEF values in the 1-drop section), it will become readily apparent why ATK and DEF values are overrated in some cases.  First, we have two copies of Atomic Skull.  While his stats are absolutely pathetic, he has a positively game-breaking effect.  On your attack step, you’ll essentially get a free stun of  (in all probability) your opponent’s second largest character.  In later turns, this can be game breaking.  In addition, we’ll throw in a couple copies of the Fifth Dimension Imp himself, Mr.  Mxyzptlk.  Not only is he a welcome guest in any team attack  (since he can’t be stunned), but given his recruit effect, he is also great to have around as an extra character to exhaust for various effects.

For our 3-drop, we need look no further than the Commander in Chief, Lex Luthor, President Luthor.  The plethora of ongoing plot twists should get our presidential card-drawing engine up and running rather quickly.  We will also toss in a copy of Kyle Abbot, Wolf in Man’s Clothing.  Not only does Kyle combo well with Whisper A’Daire, Serpent-Tongued Seductress, but his massive boost effect also makes him a great under-drop in later turns.

At the 4-drop position, we are going to include a single copy of Ra’s Al Ghul, Eternal Nemesis.  He is quite the force to be reckoned with on your initiative given his phenomenal KO effect.  We won’t need more than one copy, though, since we can search him out with Talia, Beloved Daughter.  Besides, the real star at the 4-drop position is going to be the JLA set’s new powerhouse, Maxima.  Since we plan to make every card in our resource row an ongoing plot twist, Maxima will be a very formidable attacker when she hits the board.  With a potential 10 ATK on turn 4  (and the very real possibility of getting larger in later turns), Maxima ranks up there with the great 4-drop phenoms in Vs.  System.

Turn 5 represents our shift from primarily Revenge Squad characters to primarily League of Assassins characters.  And there aren’t too many better at 5 than Bane, Ubu.  While Bane has only average stats, he does possess one of the most devastating KO effects in the game.  If we can keep the board clear with Clench Virus and Hostage Situation and keep Bane unstunned, then we can create a near lock on the board.

Turn 6 gives us a fairly straightforward opportunity in the form of three copies of Sensei.  While not nearly as effective in this deck as in a League Bomb build, Sensei can still be very beneficial in helping to clean up any wayward cards that find their way into the resource row.  In addition, there is a nice synergy with Sensei and Atomic Skull if you happen to drop an ongoing plot twist with Sensei’s effect—a free stun of your opponent’s largest character is never a bad thing!

Finally, at 7, we’re going to go with two copies of Ra’s Al Ghul, Undying.  This incarnation of Ghul has a solid 15/15 frame that should be able to deal with almost any threat your opponent presents on turn 7.  In addition, if the game is a rather close one, Ghul’s effect of regaining any stun damage taken can swing the endurance totals in your favor.

With that, we have reached the climax of this grand escapade.  I now proudly present our new creation!

Spooky’s Computer

2 Hope, Amazon Bodyguard

2 Whisper A’Daire, Serpent-Tongued Seductress

1 Assassin Initiate, Army

2 Atomic Skull, Joe Martin

1 Lacuna, Media Darling

2 Mr.  Mxyzptlk, FDI

3 Talia, Beloved Daughter

1 Kyle Abbot, WiMC

4 Lex Luthor, President Luthor

4 Maxima, Empress of Almerac

1 Ra’s Al Ghul, Eternal Nemesis

4 Bane, Ubu

3 Sensei, Martial Arts Master

2 Ra’s Al Ghul, Undying

4 Clench Virus

4 Death of Superman

4 Hostage Situation

3 Marvel Team-Up

2 Millennium

4 Poisoned!

2 Revenge Pact

4 Savage Beatdown

1 State of the Union

The initiative is not a major issue.  However, odds would probably be preferable.  Since there is certainly the potential for you to have three copies of Clench Virus on the board by turn 5, you could KO your opponent’s 4-drop on your turn 5 attack step.  This would leave you open to attack up the curve into your opponent’s 5-drop with Maxima  (who should have at least 10 ATK by then) and have an unstunned Bane, Ubu on the board with which to KO the 5-drop.

Thus concludes another exciting edition of Breaking Ground.  If you have any ideas or suggestions for future articles, feel free to send ’em my way at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com, and I will gladly re9*ad 0th^$em. ?

8Wh@t $th4e??/1? 0h 9nO#t a!Gai=n. . %.  STUP//1d VIr,U5!!1!

* Fortunately, I was able to dissuade the hit man by bribing him with an old Yu-Gi-Oh! trophy, a half-eaten pack of peanut M&Ms, and my Tim Batow–autographed copy of Garth ◊ Aqualad.

** The very same tournament where Curve Sentinels came into prominence.  I vividly recall the beating I took at the hands of Dave Spears.  Maybe it was proactive retribution for the virus.

*** Ironically, I was living and going to school in Norman, OK at the time, so my version of the deck was developed independently of the version that Tim Batow and Michael Dudley built.  That led to some heated arguments between Michael and myself about who the true Oklahoma progenitor of the deck was.  But regardless of who was the first Oklahoman to bring My Beloved to life, I can honestly say that Michael’s build was much better than the version I took to Texas, and not just because Tim won a $10K with it!

Jericho, Joseph Wilson  (11/15/05)

For this, the final Breaking Ground before PC LA, I decided to feature a deck built by one of the best and most well-known players in Vs.  System.  He is my good friend and teammate, Tim Batow.  If there is one thing that I can say about him, it’s that Tim Batow is short.

Okay .  .  .  so I realize that’s rather rude to say about the person who built the deck that I am featuring.  But if you recall, I made a commitment in the first Breaking Ground to denigrate Tim “Aqualad” Batow at least once an article.  So, I decided that I needed to get my verbal jab out of the way early, since pretty much everything I say after this point will be flowery praise of Timmmmay!*

Despite the fact that I give Tim grief about being vertically challenged, the guy is a giant when it comes to playing Vs.  System.  There are plenty of players who are strong players or strong deckbuilders, but precious few have mastered both sides of the Vs.  System equation.  Tim is obviously a very strong player, as evidenced by his appearances in the Top 8 of multiple $10K events.  However, it is certainly worth noting that Tim accomplished this feat with a different deck at each $10K!

You’ve Top 8’d How Many $10K Events???

Tim’s first $10K Top 8 was at Gen Con So Cal last year with his League of Assassins deck in the now famous Marvel/DC split $10K.  Tim tore the DC field apart on his way to a second place finish on the DC side  (which could potentially have been a first place finish had he not left early to catch his flight back to Tulsa!).

His second $10K Top 8 was in Las Vegas, where he won the entire thing with  (a collaborative build with his friend Michael Dudley).  In a field filled with Titans and Sentinels, Tim took the unlikely concoction all the way to the top, beating strong players like Jeremy Borchardt and Adam Prosak in the process.

His third $10K Top 8 was in Chicago with a redux of Team YMG’s Rigged Elections deck.  With the addition of Marvel Knights in the build, Tim was able to drop twenty-five counters before most of his opponents could even blink.

In addition to these Top 8s, Tim also finished in the Top 20 at the last $10K Chicago with a revamped Cosmic Cops build, and he finished 47th at the inaugural PC at Gen Con 2004 with an unlikely GCPD Vomit deck.  Finally, Tim was one of the main collaborators in the Dream Team’s Xavier’s Dream deck that I found success with.

Tim has a real talent for finding the utility of underappreciated cards in the Vs.  System and then finding a way to surround those cards with the proper support to bring out their power.  I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to say that Tim is the best deckbuilder we have seen to date.  But I would emphatically support the notion that Tim is easily one of the five best deckbuilders currently playing the Vs.  System.

Although I don’t live in the same state as Tim any longer, I do manage to stay informed about his shenanigans through my various contacts in Tulsa and occasionally through Mr.  Batow himself.  While working with Tim on potential builds for the upcoming Pro Circuit stop in Los Angeles, I was privileged enough to catch a glimpse of one of his more unique concoctions.

Just for fun, I put the deck together and played it at my local shop here in Dallas.  The results were rather impressive.  Granted, there were some inconsistencies in the deck, but I found it to be fairly competitive and—more importantly—an absolute blast to play!

Since we are looking at a deck built by someone else rather than building a deck from scratch, I’ll show you the build before we go into a card-by-card analysis.  Without further adieu, I present to you the mad genius of Tim Batow!

Tearing Down the Walls

1 Paul Ebersol ◊ Fixer

4 Yellowjacket

1 Dawn Granger ◊ Dove

1 Roy Harper ◊ Speedy, MM

4 Beetle

1 Hank Hall ◊ Hawk

4 Jericho

4 Terra

2 Red Star

3 Thunderball

1 Garth ◊ Tempest

1 The Wrecker

1 Koriand’r ◊ Starfire

2 Raven

1 Ultron ◊ Ultron 5

4 Unfair Advantage

4 Optitron

4 Tamaran

4 USS Argus

4 Titans Tower

4 Metropolis

2 Avalon Space Station

1 Stormfront-1

1 Clocktower

1 Lexcorp

Tiny Tim and the Son of Deathstroke

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Tim’s deck is Jericho abuse! Here are the words of the master himself on how the deck works:

“The general strategy is to take odd initiatives.  Hit any drops you can on turns 1 and 2, hit Jericho on 3, Terra on 4, Thunderball on 5, steal the opponent’s 6-drop on turn 6  (via Unfair Advantage), and play Raven on 7.  By stealing the 6-drop on turn 6, you essentially steal the initiative  (thus having it three turns in a row) and gain enough of an advantage from that to win the game. ”  Let’s take a look at the individual cards in the deck to see how they work within the build and why Tim chose them:

Jericho:  First and foremost is the card around which the deck is centered.  Jericho is a unique character in the Vs.  System.  He poses almost no offensive or defensive threat.  However, his potential to disrupt your opponent’s plans by stealing a key character is formidable.  The major problem with Jericho is that you’re essentially sacrificing your 3-drop and an additional drop on a later turn to steal an opponent’s character that is lower in cost than a character you could have recruited that turn  (since you must pay resource points in excess of the cost of the character of which you want to take control).  But there is an answer to this dilemma .  .  .

Unfair Advantage:  Unfair Advantage is a card with a lot of potential, but it’s held back by the proposition of playing no other plot twists on the turn you play it.  But Tim found a way around that—he doesn’t play any other plot twists! With a location-heavy build, the deck is able to put up a decent fight without the usual assortment of blue.  Plus, Unfair Advantage has a nice synergy with a couple of the other cards in the deck.  Obviously, a free burn with Red Star is never a bad thing.  But the really amazing combo is with Optitron.  As Tim puts it, “Unfair Advantage/Optitron gives you a tutor every turn. ” Assuming a Team-Up is forthcoming, you can almost ensure that you will hit your optimal curve.

The rest of the build is fairly straightforward after that point.  It plays very much like a standard Teen Titans deck, but without the aid of Teen Titans Go! or Press the Attack.  However, there are a few distinct cards of note in the deck:

Thunderball:  It’s almost unfathomable to think that you’d want to play anyone but Garth ◊ Tempest on turn 5.  However, Thunderball is tailor-made for this deck.  According to Tim, assuming that you get the preferred odd initiative and Jericho snags your opponent’s 6-drop, “Thunderball becomes very good on turn 6  (you don’t recruit a character; you steal your opponent’s, so he gets his uber-bonus). ”

Ultron ◊ Ultron 5:  Says Tim, “Ultron is basically there to recur back with and discard to Titans Tower, but having a play for turn 8 is never bad. ” In standard Titans decks, the biggest boost Titans Tower usually gives is +6/+0 for a discarded Koriand’r ◊ Starfire or Connor Kent ◊ Superboy, Tactile Telekinetic.  However, Ultron allows you to swing consistently for 8 ATK every turn.  If you do the math, that would allow you to attack and defend three to four spots up the curve.  With that kind of power, even Jericho could become a beater!

Avalon Space Station:  While the straight Titans deck has the ultimate form of recursion in the form of Garth, Avalon Space Station certainly isn’t a slouch.  In addition to providing the ever-returning Ultron for Titans Tower, Magneto’s orbital base safely allows you to discard higher cost character cards for Optitron, secure in the knowledge that you will get them back.

Clocktower/LexCorp:  I am proud to say that I helped to inspire the addition of this card in the build.  According to the esteemed Mr.  Batow, “The deck is overly reliant on hitting Terra, though there’s not really a problem getting hold of her with USS Argus and Optitron.  But it’s really difficult to keep good locations in the row when you keep nuking them away and replacing them with characters. ”

Enter the resource row rowers.  With Clocktower and LexCorp to mill unwanted cards out of your resource row into your KO’d pile  (where they are easily fetched with Avalon Space Station), you won’t have to worry as much about Terra devastating the resource row with her effect.  Moreover, the combination can be beneficial, as it allows you to acquire potentially playable cards through means other than drawing.

Here are a few final notes on how the deck operates, courtesy of Aqualad:

“Yellowjacket, Hank Hall ◊ Hawk, Dawn Granger ◊ Dove, and Beetle, Armorsmith can all be 1- to 3-drops.  Beetle can search for Roy Harper ◊ Speedy as a turn 3 play, and he can search for Hawk or Dove on turn 2 for the turn 3 play.  If you can’t hit Jericho on 3, he’s still a decent discard to Titans Tower. ”

JLA Considerations  (Other Than Bumblebee, Of Course)

Because I was given this decklist before the release of the JLA set, there are no cards from the new set in the build.  However, I think there is a great deal of potential for some of the Secret Society cards to improve the deck.  One combo that leaps to mind is that of Gorilla Grodd with Jericho.  Take even initiatives, use Jericho and Unfair Advantage to swipe your opponent’s 7-drop, and then use Gorilla Grodd to KO the stolen 7-drop and swipe your opponent’s 6-drop!

The deck falters a bit against weenie rush or control decks  (Jericho and Reign of Terror do not get along).  In addition, Jericho is really only safe as long as your opponent has nothing enabling him or her to attack hidden characters.  But with the prevalence of No Man Escapes the Manhunters in the metagame, it would be a difficult proposition to keep Mr.  Wilson safe in the shadows.

The deck needs a little help before it can become truly competitive.  However, it is still very formidable—I daresay better than any of the jank creations I’ve mustered up so far.  In addition, it is very fun to play.  The abject terror on your opponent’s face when he or she realizes that you’re going to take his or her best character is priceless. **

And that wraps things up for this week.  If you’re in Anaheim for the Pro Circuit this weekend, feel free to stop by and say hello.  I’ll be wearing my trademark squirrel hat for the weekend and I would love to speak with you and get your thoughts and ideas for future columns.  For those of you who can’t make the trek to So Cal, feel free to drop me a line at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com. ***

* There really isn’t a good way to describe how most of us on the Dream Team say Tim’s name.  However, it is a reference to how Timmy from South Park says his own name.  “Livin’ a lie! Livin’ a lie! Timmmmay!”

** As I found out firsthand in a six-person cutthroat game at my local hobby shop, JJK Cards in Richardson.  Because none of the other players wanted to have their characters swiped, they refrained from attacking me out of fear of reprisal.  However, this quickly ended when the owner, Tom Magel, whipped out a Spider-Friends deck and proceeded to pound on me.  Jericho doesn’t like Nice Try!, either!

*** I apologize if you’ve emailed me and I haven’t responded yet.  I do read every email.  But with the way work has been treating me lately, I haven’t had as much time as I would like to respond to them.  However, I promise that I will eventually get to it, even if I have to sacrifice my sanity to do so!

Destiny. Irene Adler  (11/22/05)

Well, PC LA has come and gone, and what a wild time it was! I’m sure that the Vs.  System metagame will resonate for quite a while from the impact of the deck variety we saw in So Cal.  And the decks in the Top 8 were something else, weren’t they? Why, there was that Avengers Reservist deck, and the Squadron Supreme Rush, and .  .  .  ummm .  .  .  the Arkham/Skrull deck that Tim Batow was playing .  .  .

Okay .  .  .  truth be told, I have no clue what happened at the Pro Circuit.  Don’t get me wrong—I was there.  However, because Toby Wachter and his crew at Metagame. com need time to edit my work, I have to submit all articles a full week before they are seen on the website.  In essence, Pro Circuit Los Angeles may have already come and gone for you; for me, however, PC LA is still several days away.

Never fear! The readers of Metagame. com want Pro Circuit coverage, and I shall provide it! Granted, most of my coverage will probably be horribly wrong, but being wrong has certainly never deterred me before.

All Hail the Two-Headed Champ!

The metagame at PC LA was by far the most diverse we have seen to date.  Not only were the Vs.  System standards present—Curve Sentinels, Teen Titans, TNB Blitz, and so forth—but also some new and innovative decks spawned from the Avengers set, such as Avengers Reservist and Squadron Supreme Rush.

In the end, it was the much beloved Tim “Quit Making Jokes about My Hair” Willoughby who took home the title of PC champ.  While it was nice to see my favorite Brit back in action, I have to say that I was surprised to see his choice of deck.  Who knew that GLEE/Crime Lords could be so potent?* Of course, Tim’s real bit of genius was grafting Jason “I Make Jokes about Tim’s Hair” Grabher-Meyer’s head onto his shoulders.  It’s been said that two heads are better than one.  One PC championship serves as proof of that proverb.

Of course, it was not an easy road for the solo duo.  They .  .  .  er .  .  .  “he” had to survive a difficult Day 1.  Going into the final round, Tim-Jason sat on top of a 5-4 record.  He  (they?) looked doomed in that matchup.  Fortunately, his opponent couldn’t handle Tim’s accent.  On turn 6, his opponent finally snapped and ran out of the hall, alternating between tearing his hair out in chunks and trying to trade unsuspecting gamers for an extended art Garth ◊ Aqualad.  So, thanks to a forfeit by his newly insane opponent, Tim-Jason made Day 2.

Day 2 was a great triumph for the double-domed player.  At first, I didn’t see the wisdom in drafting only legacy cards.  To tell the truth, I still don’t see the wisdom in drafting only legacy teams.  But Tim-Jason made it work, cruising to a 9-0 record on the strength of Mortician and Bringing Down The House.  As Tim-Jason’s last round opponent, Vidianto Wijaya, put it, “I had no clue what was going on! Of course, that could be because Tim-Jason had two heads!”

Day 3 was a bit of a trial, as there seemed to be a lot of infighting between Tim and Jason.  (I imagine being attached to Tim Willoughby for too long would do that to anyone. ) The finals were particularly poignant, as Tim-Jason was given a game loss for sucker punching himself.  However, he managed to pull it together and win three in a row in the finals to become the new PC champion.

Of course, there was that nasty little argument over who would get the extended art Savage Beatdown.  Fortunately, the paramedics were on hand to remove Jason’s head before it bit Tim’s ear off.

Yeah .  .  .  I stink at predicting the future.  Fortunately, I know someone who has a much better knack for it than I do, and she just happens to be the theme card for this week’s article!

Date with Destiny

In my very first article for Metagame. com, I mentioned that one of my pet decks from the early days of the Vs.  System was Mutant Nation Burn.  One of the key combos for that deck was Gambit and Destiny, Irene Adler.  With Destiny predicting the demise of a 3-drop  (or lower), Gambit could ensure that Destiny’s dastardly forecast would come to fruition.

Of course, Destiny is not really a jank card, since she has always been an integral part of many decks using The New Brotherhood.  However, Destiny usually sits in the back while the big beaters like Sabretooth, Feral Rage and Magneto, Eric Lehnsherr do the dirty work.  Well, not anymore! We’re going to bring our blind soothsayer to the forefront and build a deck that will make our opponents pay for her ominous insights.

The Build

Obviously, we’re going to want to feature our star quite prominently in our deck.  So, we’ll have four copies of Destiny ready for abuse.  One neat trick I learned with Destiny is recruiting multiple copies in later turns to put some serious hurt on your opponent.  Since every activation potentially equals 4 endurance loss to your opponent, recruiting several copies in a turn can really add up.

Speaking of adding up, let’s consider the potential of Destiny.  Assuming that you have her in play and use her ability from turns 2 through 5, she should net you 16 endurance loss through her effect alone.  This prospect is certainly not bad in itself.  However, if we were given the possibility of doubling that loss, we would no doubt jump at the chance.

This is where our next card choice comes in—Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.  With a simple readying effect, one copy of Destiny can now burn for 8 endurance loss every turn! Throw in the damage that your opponent will normally take through stun damage, and there is the serious potential to end your games on turn 5 using little else but Destiny.

With the inclusion of Xavier’s School, we have committed to a Mutant Nation framework for our build.  At this point, I could just flake out and post my original Mutant Nation Burn deck and bid you adieu.  However, I’m going to take the high road and explore some new combos that will highlight our visually impaired prognosticator.

First and foremost, we’re going to take a page out of the book known as The Tao of the Hong Kong Cavaliers.  I believe you’ll find the following passage on page two:

“With regard to Team-Up decks, when in doubt, play Marvel Knights. ”

Since Anthony, Heath, Jason, and Matt are all much smarter than I am, I’ll take their advice.  Into our deck go the following Marvel Knights cards:  4 Dagger, Child of Light, 4 Micro-Chip, Linus Lieberman, 2 Mikado and Mosha, Angels of Destruction, 4 Midnight Sons, 4 Wild Ride

This should give us a nice foundation for our build.  This “New School” set-up makes for convenient tutoring of characters from different teams.  However, even the Marvel Knights cards won’t completely enable us to access the entire gamut of characters we’re going to want.  So, we’re going to have to get a little bit more devious and enable a method whereby we can get access to any character in our deck, regardless of affiliation.

To do this, we’ll call upon one of the new stars from the JLA set, Vicarious Living.  While we can’t always rely on having the specific character we need on a certain turn, Vicarious Living allows us to trade a character of the same cost for the character we need.  In addition, it combos decently with Wild Ride; you can search for a copy of a Marvel Knights character of the cost you need, then use that character card to fuel Vicarious Living.  We’ll include four copies of this new searcher.

Of course, Team-Ups are still nice to have  (especially when it comes to avoiding a wayward Betrayal).  With the variety of characters we’ll be playing, the four copies of Midnight Sons probably won’t be enough.  So, we’ll include two copies of Marvel Team-Up as well.

Now let’s look at a couple of specialty plot twists.  While we’ll be stockpiling our deck with characters that have stun effects, we won’t always be able to rely on those characters to get the job done.  So, we need to look at cards to assist in this endeavor, especially on turns when our opponent controls the initiative.  The generic answer for this dilemma is to include Nasty Surprise.  However, Nasty Surprise is already dramatically overplayed.  So, we’re going to look at another variant of the defensive ATK pump.  Given that the theme of the deck is essentially “stun-burn,” Heat Vision would probably be right at home.  Granted, it isn’t as strong as Nasty Surprise and it requires an exhaust, but it should still be very effective in this deck, because we can ready a character with Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to pay the exhaustion cost of Heat Vision.  In addition, one of our later character choices will effectively turn Heat Vision into Nasty Surprise.  (I promise he’s coming up shortly!)

Our final plot twist choice is very original.  To my knowledge, this plot twist hasn’t ever been effectively utilized.  One thing I discovered when playing my original Mutant Nation burn deck was that once players got wise to my tactics with Gambit and Destiny, they would stop recovering their characters with cost of 3 or less.  Without targets to stun, my deck lost a great deal of its power.  Fortunately, a solution to this dilemma came in the Green Lantern Corps set in the form of Jailbird.  Now, you can do your opponent a favor by recovering one of his or her characters.  Of course, you won’t have to worry about that character attacking during the next turn, because it won’t be ready.  But now you will have a viable target for Destiny on the following turn.

Now we can move on to our character selections.  In this build, we will need significantly more characters than plot twists or locations, due to the need for consistency and characters to discard for effects.  However, many of our characters actually thrive on being discarded from hand  (as is the case for Dagger, Child of Light and Mikado and Mosha).

We already have a pretty strong complement of characters at the 1-drop position.  In fact, we will probably play two 1-drops instead of a 2-drop on turn 2 more often than not.  But there is still a need for a couple of specialists at 2.  First, we have to include a couple copies of Lacuna to assist with latent Team-Up issues. ** Next, we’ll add a couple of copies of Pyro to assist with the burn theme.  In unison with our predicted 8 damage per turn through Destiny, Irene Adler’s effect, Pyro can make a game very short without ever throwing a single punch.

At 3, we need a copy of Daredevil, Protector of Hell’s Kitchen.  While Daredevil’s ability to pump his own ATK or DEF is definitely beneficial in our deck, he’s mainly there as the aforementioned fuel for Vicarious Living.  Our preferred 3-drop is Cardiac.  As far as stats go, Cardiac is certainly on the low end of the spectrum.  However, his ability to recover a smaller character  (assuming a Team-Up) or stun a smaller character can be invaluable in this deck.  Moreover, a quick team-up with X-Men can allow Cardiac and Xavier’s School to sow an absolute cataclysm on weenie decks.  Hank Hall ◊ Hawk and Dawn Granger ◊ Dove will know the true terror of a beta-particle generator!

Turn 4 looks much like turn 3.  We have a strong character from the Marvel Knights team in the form of Moon Knight.  On the turns when you control the initiative, he can be a very forceful presence.  In addition, he can substitute as a 6-drop in a pinch.  However, our real plans at 4 include two of the best at clobbering weenies.  Hawkeye, Clinton Barton will make a single appearance in the deck for the simple fact that he can snipe a 2-drop or two 1-drops with a single shot.  Of course, ask any Vs.  System player, and he or she will tell you that the card is mightier than the arrow.  That’s why we have four spots reserved for the ragin’ Cajun himself, Gambit.  I think this article has sufficiently documented the effectiveness of the combo between Destiny and Gambit; as such, it would be foolish to leave him out of the mix.

Our final trio of characters comes at the 5-drop slot.  In the unlikely circumstance that we miss Gambit on turn 4, we’ll have a copy of Sunfire on 5 to take up where the Cajun left off.  Of course, if you run into a weenie rush or a vomit deck, you might just want to recruit both characters! A board with Cardiac, Gambit, and Sunfire could quickly turn Faces of Evil into Faces of “D’oh!” Next, we’ll toss in one copy Daredevil, Matt Murdock.  His large ATK, combined with his ability to hide in the hidden area and strike back at opponents after they have attacked, could certainly be beneficial for Destiny’s effect.  But of course, he’s mostly just in there to discard for another 5-drop.

Our VIP at 5 is the man, the myth, the legend .  .  .  wait a minute, did I say “man?” Okay .  .  .  that was a mistake, because he isn’t really a man in the strictest sense of the word—he’s a Martian! He is none other that Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz. *** One of the big problems this deck will have in later turns is surviving the damage that bigger characters can do.  J’onn solves that problem by giving adjacent characters reinforcement.  In addition, those adjacent characters also get +2/+0 while defending.  Combo Martian Manhunter’s effect with a Heat Vision and you get +5/+0!

(See, I told you so!)

The real beauty of Mr.  J’onzz is the fact that it is nearly impossible for your opponent to get an attack on him.  Martian Manhunter laughs at No Man Escapes The Manhunters!**** Unless your opponent has something that enables him or her to attack hidden characters, or a random exhaustion effect such as Justice, Like Lightning, J’onzz will get a chance to swing back at the character that Destiny predicted would take a dirt nap.  Here’s the final build:

Ill Omens

4 Destiny, Irene Adler

4 Dagger, Child of Light

4 Micro-Chip, Linus Lieberman

2 Mikado and Mosha, AoD

2 Lacuna, Media Darling

2 Pyro, St.  John Allerdyce

1 Daredevil, PoHK

4 Cardiac, Elias Wirtham

1 Moon Knight, Mark Spector

1 Hawkeye, Clinton Barton

4 Gambit, Remy Lebeau

1 Sunfire, Shiro Yoshida

1 Daredevil, Matt Murdock

3 Martian Manhunter, JJ


4 Midnight Sons

4 Wild Ride

4 Vicarious Living

2 Marvel Team-Up

4 Heat Vision

4 Jailbird

It looks like a bit of a nightmare, but it is surprisingly consistent.  The mulligan condition is usually Wild Ride.  I suppose you might consider keeping a hand with a decent curve and Xavier’s School.  However, I found that hitting the curve  (with the exception of turn 2) is the key to success with the deck.  If you manage to do that, then Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is almost a “win more” condition.

The initiative is not much of an issue.  However, you want to keep Destiny, Irene Adler around as long as possible.  The deck pretty much demolishes any weenie rush deck.  I found that with the right combination of cards, you can usually have any off-curve deck below 10 endurance by turn 4.  This leaves Martian Manhunter free to deliver the coup de grace on turn 5.

Well, that does it for this week’s edition of Breaking Ground.  If you have any suggestions or comments or just wish to make witty remarks about my squirrel hat, feel free to send them to BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.  I may not immediately reply  (mostly because my bosses make sure that I have as little free time as possible), but I’ll eventually get back to you.

Take care, and I’ll see everyone in So Cal.  No, wait! I already saw everyone in So Cal.  So .  .  .  um .  .  .  it was great seeing everyone at the PC .  .  .  AAARGH! I’m so confused!

* Actually, this is only partially a joke.  At the hobby shop I frequent  (JJK Cards in Richardson), a couple of the players built a GLEE Lords deck that completely demolished Sentinels.  Unfortunately, it lost badly to early-game rush decks, so they didn’t end up taking it to So Cal as they had planned.  Don’t worry, though—I’ll have a build of it available for curious deckbuilders in a future article.

** I actually do try to avoid overusing Lacuna.  But her effect is just so amazing in Team-Up decks! While I promise to cut back on her appearances, she will be a frequent visitor to Breaking Ground.  Besides, she’s a friggin’ media darling—of course you’re going to see her all over the place!

*** In case you hadn’t guessed from my avatar on Vs Realms. com, I am a huge Martian Manhunter fan! I’m not sure why he holds such appeal for me, but I am very glad that both versions of him in the JLA set are highly playable cards.  Now, if only Midnight Cravings were just a little better.  There’s a card I need to find a way to break!

**** Ooh! Irony!

Political Pressure  (11/29/05)

“A second flood; a simple famine; plagues of locusts everywhere;

Or a cataclysmic earthquake I’d accept with some despair.

But no .  .  .  you sent us Congress.  Good God, sir, was that fair?”

– 1776:  The Musical

By now, I’m sure that most avid Metagame. com readers  (at least the Vs.  System players) are aware of the fact that we have a world record holder actively playing on the Pro Circuit.  Alex Jebailey, who I hung out with a bit in So Cal and who is a pretty decent fellow, apparently survived thirteen hours of shaking his groove thang while playing some game called “Dance Dance Fever” .  .  .  or something to that effect. *

Not to be outdone, I would now like to share my own personal achievement which, to my knowledge, has not been replicated by another active Pro Circuit competitor.  Yours truly, Michael V.  Barnes Jr. , is the only Vs.  System pro ever to have sat in the hot seat across from Regis Philbin on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Now, while I hope everyone is duly impressed  (and not saying, “Of course he had to find something to brag about after his poor showing in So Cal”), I’m guessing that more than a few of you are wondering why I have not shared this fact with everyone before now.  The simple truth is that I don’t like to talk about it.  It doesn’t have anything to with modesty or such.  It actually has more to do with the fact that .  .  .  um .  .  . .  .  .  ionlywononethousanddollars.

A History Lesson

If you missed that last part, don’t worry about going back and rereading it—it isn’t important.  What’s that? What was the question that I missed? Sigh.  Alright .  .  .  if you must know:

Who was the first President of the United States to be inaugurated under his nickname?

A)  Abe Lincoln

B)  Teddy Roosevelt

C)  Jimmy Carter

D)  Bill Clinton

Well, if you answered B) Teddy Roosevelt, then you answered the same way I did—WRONG!!! The correct answer is C) Jimmy Carter.  So now you know my sad story and my failed quest to become a millionaire.

Oh? You think you could have done better? Well, time to put your money where your mouth is! Here is one of my favorite trivia questions:

Which individual did not sign the Declaration of Independence?

A)  Benjamin Franklin

B)  George Washington

C)  John Adams

D)  Thomas Jefferson

Hey! No fair searching for the answer on Google! Make your choice, then read on for the answer.

By far, the most popular answer choice to the question is A) Benjamin Franklin.  Any moderately educated American will know that the other three men were U. S. Presidents  (our first three, as a matter of fact) and will thereby assume that Franklin is the odd man out.  Well, that stream of logic is well thought out, but wrong nonetheless.  Franklin was one of the three delegates from Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress.

The next most popular answer is C) John Adams, mostly because a good number of people have no idea who he is! Second President of the United States, people! Anyhow, that choice is also wrong.  John Adams was the sole delegate from Massachusetts and probably the main adherent for the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.  However, he was obnoxious and disliked .  .  .  but I’ll get to that in a moment.

There are a handful of people who answer D) Thomas Jefferson to this question.  Hello?!? He wrote the Declaration of Independence! I suppose the Continental Congress could have said something like, “Thanks for writing this up, Tom .  .  .  now get lost!” But they did in fact let Jefferson, one of two delegates from Virginia, sign the Declaration of Independence.

The choice that almost no one answers is B) George Washington, which is in fact the correct answer.  I’m certain that most people recognize him as the first President of the U. S. , so they assume he must have been involved with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.  However, General Washington was actually a bit busy at the time leading the bedraggled American troops in the Revolutionary War.  He was involved in the drafting of the Constitution, but that wasn’t what I asked!

Well, I hope you have been sufficiently chastened.  Let that be a lesson to you not to lock horns with BigSpooky when it comes to trivia!

Vs.  System and the Lights of Broadway

To be fair, I would have answered this question incorrectly had I been asked five years ago.  But I attended an event in 2000 that gave me a lot more insight into the history of the Continental Congress.

First, a little background.  In addition to trivia, one of my great passions is music—specifically musical theatre.  I realize that’s not a popular interest for those in the TCG crowd.  However, from the first time I heard Phantom of the Opera in high school, I was hooked.  Since then, I have immersed myself in hundreds of musicals, from classics such as West Side Story, to modern classics such as Les Miserables, and even to dark underground musicals such as Sweeney Todd:  The Demon Barber of Fleet Street  (which is a musical that a lot of Vs.  System players would thoroughly enjoy).  Needless to say, I have an affluent knowledge of Broadway theatre.

In 2000, I attended a performance of 1776:  The Musical and instantly became hooked.  The show is a retelling of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.  Unlike the watered-down version of events that you read in your history books in elementary school, 1776:  The Musical depicts the difficulties the Continental Congress faced in agreeing upon the direction of the country.  The aggressive move for independence by the liberals  (led by John Adams) came into direct  (and often violent) conflict with the conservative stance of unity with Great Britain.  The fact that Adams was so difficult to get along with  (“obnoxious and disliked”) didn’t help the liberals’ cause. **

The show is so full of great quotes and sentiments that I could probably write an entire article just about my amusement with them.  However, I know that you didn’t come here for a history lesson.  So I’ll get to the point of the musical that relates to our deck today.

One thing many people didn’t know about the original drafting of the Declaration of Independence was that Jefferson included a clause that mandated the abolition of slavery.  Of course, there was considerable uproar about this, since the entire economy of the southern colonies was based on slavery.  As a result, the southern colonies refused to adopt the Declaration of Independence until the abolition clause was removed.  This unfortunate decision led to another reprehensible century of slavery, as well as to the Civil War—one of the darkest times in this nation’s history, indeed.

I do not mean in any way, shape, or form to make light of the Continental Congress’ decisions regarding slavery.  The point I would like to make is that, when it comes to politics, even men of good conscience must make unfortunate sacrifices to achieve their ends.  From a skeptic’s standpoint, you might say that even the grandest of plans become difficult to accomplish when you throw politics in the mix.  This theme is very much in line with that of our featured card, Political Pressure.

Political Pressure is a card from Marvel Origins that has not received nearly as much play as it probably deserves.  While it is not strong against every deck, it can be absolutely devastating to decks that rely on playing several characters on certain turns  (such as Evil Medical School or Teen Titans).  Moreover, Political Pressure can effectively end a game when a player is able to “lock” the board with a control card like Hounds of Ahab.

Our challenge today is to develop a deck that can utilize Political Pressure to its fullest advantage.

Doom and Luthor – Double the Terror, Double the Fun!

Without a doubt, the team I look forward to abusing the most from the new JLA set is the Injustice Gang.  While the wisdom of filling your opponent’s hand with cards may seem questionable, the team seems to have answers for every conceivable problem that could arise.  Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist shuts down opponents’ plot twist use to one per turn.  Floronic Man, Alien Hybrid makes sure that your opponent can’t abuse his or her locations.  Finally, Abra Kadabra can prevent any discard effects that might cause problems for you  (such as .  .  .  I dunno .  .  .  maybe Bastion!).  Toss Unmasked in the mix, and your opponent will have virtually no way to pare his or her hand down.

Of course, your opponent could conceivably drop several characters in a turn.  To combat this trick, we’re going to incorporate Political Pressure into the build.  We could probably find a way to search for the card.  However, we always want to have at least one copy in play, so we’ll need to put in four copies.  While that may seem a bit excessive, having extra copies of Political Pressure can be beneficial in eliminating some of the endurance payments required to reuse a single copy.

We could prepare a fairly formidable build using only characters from the Injustice Gang.  But what fun would that be? Besides, we might be able to create an even stronger synergy by combining the opponent draw strategy of the Injustice Gang with another team that has some strong disruption techniques.  Does such a team exist? Okay, I’m going to cut out the cheap jokes—we’re going to team up with Doom.

Doom opens up a very strong combo with our strategy.  Since our primary goals are to stockpile our opponent’s hand and control the board, Reign of Terror becomes an extremely potent weapon.  If we can clear our opponent’s board on turn 4, then Political Pressure will ensure that we don’t see more than one recruited character per turn.

The Build

So, let’s make a quick checklist of the basic plot twists we’ll need for our concoction.  Obviously, we’ll need the four copies each of the aforementioned Political Pressure and Reign of Terror.  In addition, the Team-Up Gang Up is tailor made for our strategy, as it nets you a card and increases your opponent’s hand size.  To protect against problematic power-up decks  (such as Big Brotherhood), we’ll also include a single copy of Unmasked.

From a defensive perspective, it doesn’t get much better than Mystical Paralysis.  We’re hoping and planning to keep the field isolated to a single character per turn.  So, we’ll probably only need to use Mystical Paralysis once or twice in any given game.  Since we’ll have some accelerated card drawing and plot twist searching, three copies should be sufficient.  On offense, the Injustice Gang has an absolutely ferocious ATK pump in All Too Easy.  At five cards in your opponent’s hand, All Too Easy is the functional equivalent of Savage Beatdown.  However, as anyone who has played Injustice Gang will tell you, your opponent will quite often have ten or more cards in hand during later turns.  Any ATK pump that can potentially allow one of your characters to attack five spots up the curve must be worth playing.

Our final plot twists assist in the character search department.  One thing we will find when we look at our characters is that there is a very specific set of characters we want to play on each turn.  To assist in this endeavor, we will need strong character searchers.  Fortunately, Secret Files enables us to search out any affiliated character.  The downside is that our opponent will be able to do the same.  But, given our strategy, this is not much of an issue.  Of course, we can’t always rely on having Secret Files at our disposal.  Since we can’t play more than four copies of any non-Army character, we’ll undoubtedly have backup characters at most of our drops.  Running Vicarious Living, however, can turn our backup characters into our primary drops.  In addition, Vicarious Living can search out unaffiliated characters and affiliated characters .  .  .  which might be relevant for one of our late character choices.

There’s really only one location we need to look at for this deck—Injustice Gang Satellite.  With our opponent limited to one character on the board and holding quite a few cards in hand, Injustice Gang Satellite essentially reads, “Activate, discard an Injustice Gang character card >>> Win the game. ”

Our character selections will be the backbone of the deck, as playing the correct character on each turn should enable us to create our “Satellite Lock. ” At 1, we have the power of Doom’s butler.  Boris, Personal Servant of Dr.  Doom can search out any plot twist in our deck that we need to establish board presence.  Of course, we can’t use him until we control Dr. Doom, and we aren’t playing Doomstadt.  So, it is not absolutely imperative that we play him on turn 1  (though it would probably be nice to be able to do so).

Turn 2 is important from a search perspective.  While we really don’t need to have a character until our all-important 3-drop, we will need to have an Injustice Gang character on the field to use Secret Files.  One no-brainer at 2 is IQ.  His effect is formidable without accelerated card drawing.  If you add two or three extra cards drawn by your opponent each turn, then he could do around 20 points of damage per game through his effect alone! As a backup, we’ll include three copies of Captain Boomerang, George Harkness.  While not nearly as strong in this deck as IQ, Captain Boomerang can be effective against decks that lean heavily on specific low drops  (such as Squadron Supreme rush and Teen Titans).

Turns 3 and 4 are devoted to two specific characters—Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist and Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius.  Whatever happens on any other turn, we would like to hit these two characters every game.  Lex Luthor puts a significant lockdown on opposing plot twist use, and Dr. Doom ensures that opponents won’t be able to dump plot twists from hand prior to Lex’s effect triggering during the build phase.  Because of the high importance of having these characters in play, we want to mulligan for a hand that will enable us to have a copy of each at the right time.

Our backup characters at 3 and 4 are mostly formality.  The Shark, Karshon has flight, range, and pretty good size for a 3-drop  (assuming your opponent has at least six cards in hand).  However, his most significant uses in the deck will come either as a discard for Vicarious Living to search Lex Luthor or as an under-drop in later turns.  Along those same lines, The Joker, Headline Stealer is a sizable character at 4 with a pseudo-Doom effect.  He will never be a preferred play on turn 4, but he is not a bad under-drop on turn 5 if we need to recruit Boris to search out a card.

Turn 5 has some important toolbox characters with which to deal with specific threats.  Decks like Big Brotherhood and League of Assassins are not overly threatened by plot twist disruption, thanks to the powerful locations they wield.  So, we will need a card to deal with locations.  Fortunately, such a character exists within the Injustice Gang in the form of Floronic Man, Alien Hybrid.  He takes a potentially threatening location out of play for a turn by sending it back to your opponent’s hand, and prevents further locations from emerging.

Another type of threat we must consider are decks with discard effects.  Filling up an opponent’s hand is a bad idea if your opponent can use a character like Bastion or Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man to dump those cards for powerful effects.  So, we need to include of copy of Abra Kadabra to prevent those discard effects from crippling us.  Bastion is not much of a threat if he is unable to get rid of all those lovely character cards in hand!

Our primary drop at 5, however, is one of the latest incarnations of Dr. Jonathan Crane, Scarecrow, Psycho Psychologist.  There are several characters in the game that can burn your opponent for several points of endurance loss each turn.  However, most of these characters have activated effects.  Scarecrow, on the other hand, has an extremely potent burn effect  (particularly in this build) that does not involve exhausting him.  In essence, you can burn your opponent for several points of endurance loss with a character and then attack him or her with that same character.  What a deal! If you toss in the fact that Scarecrow can substitute as a 6-drop in a pinch, then he borders on absolutely broken!

Our final characters rest at our 6-drop position.  Anyone who has drafted Injustice Gang knows that they have an unaffiliated ally in the form of Dr. Destiny.  While he is not a part of the team, his effect fits very nicely into the deck strategy.  Since he can be searched out using Vicarious Living, we’ll only need a single copy.  Of course, we won’t always have an extra copy of Vicarious Living at our disposal.  So, we need to consider a backup to Dr. Destiny.  While there really aren’t any Doom or Injustice Gang 6-drops that fit the burn strategy of the deck, the Injustice Gang does have a potent late drop in The General.  If you have to play defensively, The General very nearly ensures that your opponent will have to attack twice to keep him stunned—not an easy prospect if you manage to keep your opponent limited to one character on the field! On offense, his 13 ATK is high enough to take down pretty much any 6-drop in the game.  While you may get stunned back, his effect will make sure that he doesn’t stay stunned for long.

That does it for the build.  Let’s take a look at what we have created.

DIG:  Vote Luthor/Von Doom 2008!

4 Boris, PSoDD

4 IQ, Ira Quimby

3 Captain Boomerang, GH

4 Lex Luthor, NP

2 The Shark, Karshon

4 Dr.  Doom, Diabolic Genius

1 The Joker, Headline Stealer

1 Abra Kadabra, Citizen Abra

1 Floronic Man, Alien Hybrid

3 Scarecrow, PP

1 Dr.  Destiny, John Dee

1 The General, Wade Eiling

4 All Too Easy

4 Gang Up

3 Mystical Paralysis

4 Political Pressure

4 Reign of Terror

4 Secret Files

1 Unmasked

3 Vicarious Living

4 Injustice Gang Satellite

The general strategy of the deck is to take even initiatives so that you can use a couple of copies of Reign of Terror to clear your opponent’s board on turn 4  (especially helpful against Teen Titans, since they can’t recruit Terra).  If you have Political Pressure and Injustice Gang Satellite up and running, then it should be feasible to clear the board every turn.

With the combination of board control and burn, your games shouldn’t often last past turn 6.  However, if you feel the need to have a 7-drop available, there are some excellent ones that fit the deck theme well.  Power Princess, The Last Utopian is another character that punishes your opponent for having a large number of cards in hand.  [Genis Vell ◊ Captain Marvel] is absolutely enormous at 19/18.  Many players don’t play him because his effect is a bit of a drawback.  However, in a deck that wants your opponent to have extra cards in hand, he could be a great choice.

Well, I’ve rambled on long enough.  I’m out of here for this week.  If you have any questions, comments, or fashion tips, feel free to send them my way at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.  Until next week, I am Michael Barnes—not at all obnoxious and liked by many, many people.

* Yes .  .  .  I know that the name of the game is “Dance Dance Revolution. ” I was just trying to give Alex a little bit of grief.  It doesn’t always have to be short jokes about Tim Batow!

** There are several lines in the show where Adams is referred to as “obnoxious and disliked. ” One of my favorites is, “Mr.  Adams .  .  .  you are obnoxious and disliked.  That cannot be denied. ” I suppose the primary reason for enjoying this line so much is that my little brother  (who is also an insufferable liberal) changed his name during college from Mitch Barnes to Mitch Adams.  He claims that he was going for a more respectable name for his acting career.  I figure that any man who would change his birth name deserves any comments he gets about it.  The fact that he really is obnoxious and disliked only sweetens the deal.

Harley Quinn, Dr. Harleen Quinzel  (12/06/05)

I have always been interested in the background of superheroes—mainly in how each hero came to be an iconic figure.  Superman is probably one of the most compelling; he was an alien raised by humans who came to represent all that was good about the human race.  Spider-Man, on the other hand, is a more tragic tale.  His youthful negligence led to the death of his beloved uncle Ben, which in turn led him to shoulder the responsibility of his phenomenal powers  (if mostly out of guilt).  In contrast to that, Batman’s story is equally tragic, but his was borne from the helpless victimization of a child.  That led Bruce Wayne to adopt a mantle to protect the vulnerable and innocent from those who would do them harm.

Superheroes have a variety of backgrounds.  As such, there isn’t a limited set of circumstances that we can expect to explain the origin of a hero.

Super villains, however, are relatively simple to identify .  .  .  it’s all about the name!

Granted, this is not a universal standard, but it is pretty darn close.  One of my favorite memories from the most recent PC was the Win-a-Box Sealed event on Sunday, where I caused Matt Meyer no end of grief.  I was in a goofy mood, so every other minute or so, I tormented him with my inane babble about villain names.  If you were anywhere in the vicinity, you probably heard me saying things like:

“Hey, Matt! Did you notice that William Zard is The Wizard? If you take the ‘lliam’ out of his first name, you get ‘Wizard!’ Isn’t that weird?”

“Ooh! Look at this, Matt! ‘T.  O.  Morrow!’ If you spell his name out, you get ‘Tomorrow!’ Pretty cool, eh?”

“Oh, wow! IQ is ‘Ira Quimby. ’ Not only does that imply that he’s some sort of evil genius, but those are also his initials.  Um, Matt .  .  .  what are you doing with that sledgehammer?”

Needless to say, I don’t remember much after that.

I’m Sorry .  .  .  Did You Say Von Doom?!?

I have to wonder how some of these villainous names came about.  I suppose that creating new villains for the heroes to fight can be a repetitive process, since every hero needs several villains to battle.  I guess the question is whether or not the comic writers were legitimately trying to be creative or if they just ran out of ideas.

Some villain names are truly creative.  Whoever thought of the name The Riddler, Edward Nygma was ingenious  (though I have not ever met or heard of anyone with the last name of “Nygma. ”) On the other hand, there are some villain names that are just plain weak.  I would have loved to have seen the brainstorming session behind the Basilisk character.

Writer:  Okay, we have a new villain for Spider-Man.  He can turn people to stone with his eye beams.  We call him “Basilisk!”

Editor:  Great! What should his real name be?

Writer:  Um .  .  .  how about, “Basil .  .  .  Elks?”

Of course, some villains are only sort of defined by their real names.  It may only be a little intentional that the botanical baddie Floronic Man, Jason Woodrue has the word “wood” in his name.  And it might be a stretch to say that Poison Ivy, Pamela Isely is odd because her real name and moniker share the same initials.

When attempting to identify potential super villains by their birth names, keep these three simple rules in mind:

1)  If the individual in question has the name of an aggressive animal or weapon anywhere in his or her name, that person is probably going to turn out rotten.  Example:  David Spears ◊ Captain Javelin, Piercing PC Player

2)  If a person has a name that could relate to some sort of bizarre scientific procedure that could give that individual extraordinary abilities, then beware!  Example:  Nick Little ◊ Shrinking Man, Miniscule Menace

3)  If a person has the words “Doom,” “Evil,” or “Leader” anywhere in his or her name, run!  Example:  David Leader ◊ Evil Dave, Enslaver of Gamers*

What if Her Name had been Joan Smith?

Our featured card this week is another character that suffers from VNS  (Villainous Name Syndrome).  Dr.  Harleen Quinzel was once a brilliant criminal psychologist.  However, she was also young and overly ambitious.  Thus, when she started working with The Joker, she was adversely affected by the Clown Prince of Crime’s crazed mentality.  Her resulting mental collapse and reformation led to Dr.  Quinzel adopting a new name:  Harley Quinn.  Harley Quinn became the sinister Gal Friday for The Joker, carrying out all kinds of nefarious tasks for her beloved master.

I have to wonder why the administrators at Arkham Asylum didn’t see this one coming.  Harleen Quinzel? What kind of a name is that? I’m sure the conversation went something like this:

Arkham Administrator #1:  So, who are we going to assign to do the psychoanalysis on The Joker?

Arkham Administrator #2:  How about Dr.  Quinzel? She’s a young go-getter.

AA1:  Hmm .  .  .  do you think she can handle a maniac like him?

AA2:  Oh, what could possibly go wrong? Hey! I just noticed that Dr.  Quinzel’s name sounds a lot like “Harlequin. ” Pretty strange, eh?

AA1:  That is bizarre! Okay then .  .  .  now that we’re done with that, we can go play golf!

And the rest is comic book lore, I suppose.

In the comics, Harley Quinn almost always played a supporting role.  She usually assisted The Joker in his latest plot to create havoc for Batman.  However, she occasionally worked with other super villains.  But whatever thug she teamed with, the song was usually the same—Harley Quinn played second fiddle.

In the Vs.  System, Harley Quinn plays much the same role that she does in the comics.  She is all but useless by herself.  However, she has two very potent effects that support other Arkham Inmates characters quite nicely.  When she’s on the board, she can reinforce any Arkham Inmate defender, regardless of its position relative to her.  When she’s in hand, she can power-up an Arkham Inmates character.

It’s that second effect that I’d like to consider.  The new ally mechanic from the JLA set created incentives for powering-up characters.  Obviously, a character like Harley Quinn could be very potent in an ally environment.  However, I would really like to consider her synergy with one of the older, more established cards of the Vs.  System, Lost City.  Obviously, teaming up the Brotherhood and the Arkham Inmates could be very fruitful—the combo of Harley Quinn and Lost City would enable a player to give a +3/+3 bonus to any character on the board!

Our challenge is to create a deck that can consistently utilize the combination of Harley Quinn and Lost City.  Given the support for the Arkham Inmates in the JLA set, that should not be a difficult task.

The Build

Let’s get the basics out of the way first.  We certainly need four copies of  for maximum abuse potential.  Of course, Harley Quinn would only be one-third as good without Lost City, so we’ll need four copies of that, too.  Finally, we’ll want the requisite four copies of Avalon Space Station.

Now let’s work on our character curve to support our build.  Obviously, we need a good complement of both Arkham Inmates and Brotherhood characters.  Since we already have four copies of an Arkham Inmate at the 1-slot with Harley Quinn, let’s offset that with four copies of Brotherhood characters.  I brought up my fondness for Destiny in one of my earlier articles; while she isn’t much of an attacker, her burn effect merits at least two copies in this deck.  The other two spots belong to a potent attacker.  Thornn is a great choice for the deck, not only because she is a Brotherhood character, but also because she has an effect that can utilize excess cards in hand.  Finally, we’re going to toss in a single copy of Mikado and Mosha.  Since most of our power won’t come online until later turns, it might be beneficial to have a card that can fend off oversized weenies in the earlier turns.

At the 2-slot, we have a couple of prime choices.  Toad has long been a staple in Big Brotherhood decks for his ability to “leap” back to your hand when stunned.  However, our real star at 2 is one of the newest incarnations of the lovely Ms. Isely, Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose.  Since any Lost City variant relies heavily on having Lost City and Avalon Space Station in play, having a strong 2-drop that can bring these locations directly into play is certainly beneficial.  The character KO requirement might seem a little steep, but she does have the potential for some nifty little combos with that KO effect.  For example:  It’s turn 3 and Poison Ivy is already in play.  Recruit Destiny.  Activate Destiny and then KO her with Poison Ivy’s effect, fetching Avalon Space Station.  Use Avalon Space Station to return Destiny to hand, and then recruit her again!

Needless to say, there are some interesting possibilities for abuse with Poison Ivy.  Best of all, the character she KO’s doesn’t have to be non-stunned.  So, you could KO a character that is going to be KO’d at the end of the turn anyway to fetch a free location.

We don’t need a lot of help at 3 because we will probably be under-dropping on that turn to use Poison Ivy’s effect.  However, it might be beneficial to have at least one character available, just in case we draw into all of our needed locations.  Since we are playing a Team-Up deck, having a character that can fetch Team-Ups might be handy.  Moonglow is just the gal we need for the task.  As you will soon see, all of the Team-Ups we’ll be playing have the Team-Up version, so she’ll be able to fetch any of them.  And thanks to her other effect, she can fit in with either the Inmates or the mutants with equal aplomb.

At 4, we’re going for all the power we can muster—and 4-drops just don’t get any bigger than Sabretooth, Feral Rage.  While we need to ensure that we have a Brotherhood character available for his discard cost, his natural ability to attack as many as two spots up the curve is a force to be reckoned with.  Of course, the Arkham Inmates have a pretty good 4-drop of their own in The Joker, Headline Stealer.  He may not be as beefy as Sabretooth, but he has a nice disruption effect to back his stats.  Besides, what would a Harley Quinn deck be without at least one version of Mr.  J in the mix?

Turn 5 continues our trend of big bruisers.  One of the cards everyone has been raving about from the JLA set, Scarecrow, Fearmonger, is sure to make the cut in our deck.  It’s really hard to argue which of the Arkham Inmates 5-drops is the best  (as they have some really good ones).  But given his ability to grow bigger and his utility against the much-despised Nimrod, I think that Scarecrow is our top pick.  Of course, we probably should consider a backup 5-drop that has a little more finesse—something to deal with those decks that like to swarm the board.  Having the double-attacking goodness of Quicksilver, Speed Demon can be just the ticket for gaining back lost board presence.

Turns 6 and 7 are where we really plan to dish out some hurt with the Arkham bruisers.  If we have to play defensively, then there’s none better in Vs.  System than Mr. Freeze.  A hefty 13 DEF, bolstered by an effect that makes Titans players cry, makes Mr. Freeze a great play when you want to shut down any pesky readying effects.  However, you’ll usually want to be the one laying the smack down in the later turns, in which case, Charaxes, Killer Moth is a very strong play.  Since we will undoubtedly have several characters in the KO’d pile by the time turn 6 rolls around, Charaxes can ensure that your opponent’s big guys won’t stay on the board for too long.  And since his effect works on either offense or defense, he’s not a bad off-initiative play, either.

Turn 7 presents a tough choice for us.  Obviously, the Brotherhood has one of the best 7-drops in the game in Magneto, Master of Magnetism.  Not only does Magneto possess impressive stats, but he also has an effect that is absolutely devastating to your opponents.  However, Arkham has a 7-drop that is just as big and might even be better than the leader of the evil mutants.  I am, of course, speaking of Two-Face, Split Personality.  He doesn’t have the flight that Magneto has, but his exhaustion effect can be absolutely amazing for disrupting reinforcement and activated effects.  In addition, his mulligan effect can be handy when we don’t feel like tossing all of the cards in our opening hand.

Finally, we’re going to place a lone 8-drop in the deck to deal with any late game threats.  Martian Manhunter, Manhunter from Mars has a card drawing effect that can be really good.  Unfortunately, it’s absolutely useless in this deck.  But we’re bringing him on board for his other effect .  .  .  you know, the “discard a card to power-up a character” effect.  Given the deck’s theme, it might be slightly useful.

As far as plot twists go, our additions are relatively simple.  Our first pick in the plot twist department is a viable character tutor.  The Brotherhood has Rise to Power, but it is only helpful in the late game.  What we need is a character tutor that can give us access to either Brotherhood or Arkham Inmates characters without the necessity of a Team-Up.  That’s where Straight to the Grave comes in.  With Avalon Space Station in play  (a simple proposition with Poison Ivy on the board), the brainchild of Alex Shvartsman is a simply phenomenal character searcher.  Not only does it give you access to any character, but the card advantage of Avalon Space Station essentially makes the search free.

Of course, we mustn’t forget about our Team-Up cards.  Fortunately, the new JLA set presented us with a neat new Team-Up for the Inmates in Justice League of Arkham.  While the Team-Up lacks the draw effect that is so popular in most Team-Up cards, it does have a nifty discard effect that can make your opponent’s early turns difficult  (especially if he or she has no way to get back cards from the KO’d pile).  Since we’re on the subject of Team-Ups, we’re also going to include a single copy of Stormfront-1.  Without the Thunderbolts team in the deck, this card essentially performs the same function as Metropolis.  However, since we’re only playing a single copy, we don’t have to worry about uniqueness issues.  In addition, having the Team-Up version means that it can be searched out by either Poison Ivy or Moonglow and that it is not susceptible to replacement by cards like Foxfire and Quakemaster.

Our next plot twist is a personal favorite of mine.  If you haven’t listened to Dylan “DocX” Northrup’s “Tech Upgrade” interview with Gary Wise on Vs Realms, then stop reading this article, go listen to it, and come back when you’re done; you’ll thank me for it. ** If you have listened to it, then you’re aware that Gary Wise called Kidnapping one of the most backbreaking cards in the Vs.  System.  Its full potential has been held back by the fact that it is stamped to a less popular team.  Well, not any longer! Imagine the fun you’ll have when your opponent is forced to under-drop on turn 4 with a couple of 2-drops because you sent his or her Hank Hall ◊ Hawk back to the top of the deck with Kidnapping.  I’ve done it before; it’s dastardly, but in a good way!

Our final plot twist choices are a couple of cards we need to include to prevent certain specialty cards from pummeling us.  Obviously, a deck that relies heavily on Lost City and Avalon Space Station is very vulnerable to cards like Unmasked and Global Domination.  In addition, having a power-up war with another Lost City deck can be a tricky proposition.  Fortunately, these are all cards that we can remove from the board with a well-timed Have a Blast!.  Most of the threats to our deck will be sitting in our opponent’s resource row, so we might as well pack a weapon to deal with that.

Finally, with the recent popularity of rush decks like Squadron Supreme and GLEEvil, we could use a card that punishes our opponent for attacking up the curve.  It’s a good thing, then, that the Brotherhood has one of the best off-curve punishment tools in Insignificant Threat.  For the simple cost of an exhaustion, we can bludgeon those weenies who get a little too big for their britches.  And if we get lucky enough to catch our opponent in an ill-timed team attack, we could potentially stun two weenies without taking a stunback ourselves.

That’s it.  Ship the loonies off! It’s time to see what happens when the Inmates are allowed to take over the Brotherhood stronghold.

Arkham City

2 Destiny, Irene Adler

4 Harley Quinn, DHQ

1 Mikado and Mosha, AoD

2 Thornn, Feral Hunter

4 Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose

2 Toad, Mortimer Toynbee

1 Moonglow, Melissa Hanover

4 Sabretooth, Feral Rage

2 The Joker, Headline Stealer

2 Quicksilver, Speed Demon

3 Scarecrow, Fearmonger

2 Charaxes, Killer Moth

1 Mr. Freeze, Dr.  Victor Fries

2 Two-Face, Split Personality

1 Martian Manhunter, MFM

3 Have a Blast!

3 Insignificant Threat

4 Justice League of Arkham

4 Kidnapping

4 Straight to the Grave

4 Avalon Space Station

4 Lost City

1 Stormfront-1

If you’ve ever played Big Brotherhood  (as I am sure most players have at least once), then you’ll find the build relatively straightforward.  The preferred initiative is odds because Quicksilver and Two-Face are far more effective when you have the initiative.  However, the initiative is not a major issue.  Once you can build your hand with Avalon Space Station and gain board control with Kidnapping and Charaxes, you should have no problem putting your opponent away.

So ends another week of Breaking Ground.  If you have any comments, suggestions, or therapy advice, you can send them my way at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.  I admit to being very bad about responding to email  (primarily because my employer is making every effort to make my work-week hours reach triple digits).  However, I do read every email and appreciate the feedback that you give me.

And one day, I hope to respond to each and every one of your wonderful messages!

— Michael Barnes ◊ BigSpooky, E-Mail Procrastinator Extraordinaire

* Fortunately, we also have Vs.  System heroes to protect us from those who would do us harm:  Tim Batow ◊ Aqualad, Defender of TCG’er Freedom.

** This is not a shameless plug! I am a big fan of Dylan’s audio interviews and want to promote them as much as possible so that people will listen in and he’ll continue to do them. ***

*** Listening to “Tech Upgrade” is the one bit of joy I get in an otherwise bleak work week.  That, and I one day hope that he’ll interview me.  That is a shameless plug!

Fortress of Solitude  (12/13/05)

While there are a good number of Vs.  System players who get involved in the game over the allure of generous prizes, most Vs.  players—especially the casual ones—derive their interest from their love of comics and superheroes.  I fall into that latter category.  Sure, I enjoy winning cash while playing the game just as much as anyone.  But I spent a great deal of my childhood and teenage years surrounded by comic books and superhero paraphernalia, so I would undoubtedly be playing the game even without monetary incentive.

One of the reasons I love playing this game is that it gives you the opportunity to take your favorite comic book characters into battle.  While I try to play an assortment of decks, I find that the builds I enjoy the most are the ones that feature my favorite superheroes.  Despite the fact that it has a very tough time beating rush decks, I play my Spider-Friends deck quite frequently.  In three out of the four PCs that I attended, I played a deck that featured the Gotham Knights.  And it’s no coincidence that two of my most recent articles had Martian Manhunter somewhere in the decklist.  Here’s hoping that the upcoming X-Men set has new versions of Bishop and Colossus.  If it does, I think I could die a happy man!

Sadly, the march of time did eventually catch me in its steps, and the comic enthusiast grew into a boring accountant.  It seems these days that the only books I get into are my clients’ financial records, but I recently made an effort to get back into the comics groove by purchasing some graphic novels.  I just finished reading the “Hush” compilation from the Batman comics, and I am moving on to the “Ezekiel” comics from The Amazing Spider-Man.  Unfortunately, I no longer have the time or energy to maintain a constant interest in the world of comics.

Somebody Save Me!

The one consistent tie I have kept with the superhero realm is my interest in the television show Smallville.  Yes . . . I know what you’re thinking:  “How can you watch that meaningless drivel? It’s so bad!” Okay, I will grant you that the first season of the show was little more than Dawson’s Creek with some Kryptonite mixed in.  But the writers seem to have made a more concerted effort in later seasons to draw from the mythos of the Superman comics.  The end result is a show that panders not just to the WB teen faithful, but also to old-school Superman comics fans.

I just finished watching the fourth season of Smallville on DVD.  With the exception of a couple of episodes, the show fit the comic book story mold of developing an in-depth plot line throughout the season.  For those of you who don’t watch the show, the fourth season was centered around all of the main characters searching for three “stones of power. ” Lana Lang was possessed by the spirit of a 400-year-old witch; Lex Luthor was in a constant struggle with both his father and a rival family; and, of course, Clark Kent was trying to find the stones while keeping his family and friends safe.

After much trial and tribulation, Clark did eventually manage to gather the stones together.  They fused into a crystal  (not so ironically shaped like the “S” shield on the chest of Superman’s uniform).  In true homage to the original Superman movie  (and in one of the best season finales I have ever seen), the combined power of the stones transported Clark to the Arctic Circle, where he tossed the crystal deep into the snows.  The end result of that is also the theme card of this week’s article .  .  .  .  .  the Fortress of Solitude!

When I originally saw Fortress of Solitude at the Man of Steel Sneak Preview, I thought it was the kind of card that would force a player into playing Team Superman in Sealed or Draft formats.  Granted, my assessment of the card may have been a little extreme at the time, but I still believe it’s formidable .  .  .  at least in the correct deck.

Now, the first effect of Fortress of Solitude is certainly not bad—a +1/+1 bonus for all defenders protecting other characters.  Combined with some of the “protective” characters from Team Superman, such as Scorn and Superman, Kal-El, you could have a very formidable defensive deck.  However, I am more interested in Fortress of Solitude’s second effect.  A +2/+2 bonus for a defending character essentially means that any character receiving it will be defending at an ATK/DEF level that’s a whole cost higher than its printed cost.  In essence, your 3-drops will defend as 4-drops, your 4-drops will defend as 5-drops, and so on.

Of course, the restriction on this generous bounty is that it only applies if the character is alone on the board.  Hmmm .  .  .  lessee .  .  .  is there a team out there that thrives on having only a single character on the board?

Superman, Man of .  .  .  Statix?

“Solitude” is the perfect word to describe the solo X-Statix strategy.  The team has some of the most powerful tools in the game for making a single character on the board a force to be reckoned with.  It makes sense, then, that Fortress of Solitude fits perfectly into the X-Statix theme.  Our challenge today is to find a way to fuse Team Superman and X-Statix so that Fortress of Solitude and other single character–enhancing cards can make a solo superhero into a defensive dynamo.

Since we want to feature Fortress of Solitude prominently in the deck, we should put four copies in our build.  While we’re at it, we might as well toss in some of the other locations that are key to the mono X-Statix build.  So, four copies each of X-Statix Cafe and X-Statix HQ go into the deck as well.

Keeping with the locations, we might find the need to return character cards from the KO’d pile in the late game.  So, we’ll toss in three copies of Avalon Space Station’s new doppelganger, Slaughter Swamp.  Granted, there is no functional difference between the two cards in this build, but it might be nice to try out a new card for a change.  Having Slaughter Swamp in our build will allow us not only to fetch characters back from the grave, but also to utilize any redundant location cards we might have sitting in hand.

Finally, we need a team-up card for the deck.  Since we’re looking at a very heavy location build, we might as well make Metropolis the team-up of choice for the deck.  Besides, it’s only fitting that last son of Krypton should do battle in the city where he resides.

Whew! That’s a lot of locations! Fortunately for us, our first character choice is perfect for a deck that plays a lot of locations.  Kelex is Superman’s robot housekeeper at the Fortress of Solitude.  That alone should qualify him for inclusion in the deck.  However, if you add in that he can actually fetch locations for you, then he is an early game MVP and no doubt a mulligan condition in our deck.

We’ll include a backup at 2 in Vivisector, Myles Alfred.  Of course, we really want Kelex at 2, but Vivisector has added utility because his boost effect makes him decent in later turns.  And if we fail to hit an X-Statix 3-drop to get the team-up up and running, Vivisector can fill in that role, as well.

At 3, we’re going to include a single copy of Superman, Red so that we have a character to search for with Man of Tomorrow.  However, our priority will be to follow up Kelex at 2 with a strong X-Statix character at 3 to activate our team-up.  Orphan, Guy Smith is certainly big, and he could be invaluable if we miss our 4-drop.  However, his character-reveal cost could hurt us if we somehow miss having another X-Statix character in hand.  So, we’re going to go with Sluk as our primary 3-drop.  He’s average sized for a 3-drop, but he can substitute as a 4-drop in a pinch and his effect works well when it comes to making single characters defensive powerhouses.  As a backup at 3, we’ll have Plasm for the same reason that we included Vivisector—his additional utility in later turns.

Thanks to Sluk’s boost, we are not overly concerned about having that many characters at 4.  We’ll include the requisite copy of Superman, Clark Kent.  While his effect probably won’t be overly helpful in our deck, it could be fairly effective in unison with Sluk.  Just divert the attack to Superman and KO Sluk to prevent the stun.  Of course, we will probably want the even initiatives, so we might want to consider a more offensively minded 4-drop.  Alpha Centurion fits that role nicely.  With Alpha Centurion’s effect, we usually have to set up our attack sequence so that he is the last one to attack.  However, with only one character on the board, he will almost always be the last  (and only) attacker.  That makes exhausting all of the characters on your side of the board rather easy.

At 5, there is only one character that we ever want to have—Superman, Returned.  I got giddy just thinking about the possibilities with this character here.  On turns when your opponent has the initiative, you can activate his effect to target himself.  If your opponent does manage to stun him  (not an easy task with Fortress of Solitude and X-Statix Cafe complicating matters), you won’t take the stun damage.  Then, you can do a little Spin Doctoring to recover and ready Superman and do a little attacking back.  Even if your opponent manages to stun Superman a second time, you still won’t take the stun damage.  What a deal!

At 6, we’re back to our single Supes arrangement with Superman, Kal-El.  He’s essentially just a last resort precaution, as his effect is absolutely useless in this deck  (though I suppose you could pay endurance to move him around the board for fun if you like).  Our best plays at 6 will be either to boost Plasm or Vivisector, or to bring out the king of off-initiative stuns, Zeitgeist.  Anyone who has used a mono X-Statix deck  (or ever played against one) will tell you exactly how crippling Zeitgeist can be.  If you have a solitary character on the board, then your opponent can pretty much bid farewell to his or her largest character for the turn.  With enough defense, opponents may find it nearly impossible to attack through Zeitgeist with their lower-cost characters.

Our only character at 7 is a single copy of Superman, Avatar of Peace.  Much like his 6-drop version, Superman, Avatar of Peace’s effect is all but useless in our deck.  Given his immense size, however, he can be a forceful presence on offense or defense.

Finally, we wrap up at 8 with a couple of key character selections.  We’ll have our requisite Kryptonian backup in Superman, Man of Steel.  His effect could potentially be helpful for preventing defensive damage, and he is certainly a big boy at 20/20.  However, I think I know a character that might be even bigger.  Since we are playing a defensive deck, we probably won’t focus heavily on board control.  Assuming that our opponent hits his or her curve and we don’t take out more than a few opposing characters, the opponent will probably have anywhere from three to five characters on the board.  With those numbers, Amazo would be a nice pick for “most likely to lay some heavy smackdown on the opponent.”  Granted, Amazo cannot receive the bonuses conferred by Fortress of Solitude and X-Statix Cafe, but given his potential to reach the upper 20s in both ATK and DEF even without our helper locations, I think he’ll still be a force to be reckoned with.

Finally, we need to make a few key plot twist selections.  We’ve already mentioned two of our choices in Man of Tomorrow and Spin Doctoring.  Since we’ve stocked our deck with at least one copy of a character named Superman at every drop between 3 and 8, Man of Tomorrow helps to ensure that we maintain our curve through those crucial turns.  Spin Doctoring, on the other hand, helps us make the most of the character that we do have on the board by allowing it to take stuns easily and still dish out more punishment.

Our last plot twist choice is quite simply one of the best defensive plot twists in Vs System.  Dead Weight is a very poor choice if we plan to keep several characters on the board.  However, since we are wholly adopting the single-character theme and trying to focus on defense, Dead Weight is a no-brainer for this deck.

Now that the building is done, let’s take a look at what Superman and his mutant buddies have come up with.

Mr. Lonely

4 Kelex, Faithful Servant

3 Vivisector, Myles Alfred

2 Plasm, PP

4 Sluk, Byron Spencer

1 Superman, Red

2 Alpha Centurion, Marcus Aelius

1 Superman, Clark Kent

4 Superman, Returned

1 Superman, Kal-El

3 Zeitgeist, Axel Cluney

1 Superman, Avatar of Peace

2 Amazo, Ivo’s Android

1 Superman, Man of Steel

4 Dead Weight

4 Man of Tomorrow

4 Spin Doctoring

4 Fortress of Solitude

4 Metropolis

3 Slaughter Swamp

4 X-Statix Cafe

4 X-Statix HQ

As stated earlier, we should probably aim for even initiatives with the deck because the activated effect of Superman, Returned is such a powerful play on turn 5.  However, we could also be served well by odd initiatives via the combo of Sluk and Superman, Clark Kent.  In either case, our primary goal is to play defensively until the later turns, when Zeitgeist and Amazo can dish out a great deal of pain.

In my playtesting of the deck, I noted that it actually had a really good matchup against weenie decks.  However, it tended to falter in the later turns when dealing with big drops like Silver Surfer and Mogo, The Living Planet.  While Amazo is great, playing a board-clearing character like Onslaught or Imperiex might be better for later turns.  And given the deck’s tendency to replace its drop each turn, Look-Alike Squad might also work.

That’s enough for this week’s edition of Breaking Ground. * If you have any suggestions, comments, or lucrative job offers, they will always have a home at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.  I apologize if I don’t immediately respond—it’s nothing personal.  I’m hoping that I will have a chance to catch up on my email over Christmas break.  However, I live in abject terror that my boss will find me over the holidays to work what little life remains out of my bedraggled self.

Maybe I’ll go hide out in the Arctic Circle .  .  .  build myself a big complex made out of ice and crystals.  You know .  .  .  a place to get away from it all.

* It occurs to me that I have not made my token insult about Tim Batow this week.  Truth be told, watching him do handstand pushups at PC LA kind of sucked all of the wind out of my sails, as I know that’s a feat I’ll never be able to replicate.  Besides, I’ve made so many short jokes about him that I’m starting to run out of material.  Maybe I should reassess my goals for this column and try to make fun of a larger variety of people.  I’ll think about it .  .  .  maybe that’ll be my New Year’s resolution. **

** Hmmm .  .  .  all this talking about Tim has gotten me to thinking about building a deck that abuses Ant Man.  I wonder why?

The Joker, Emperor Joker  (12/20/05)

This is it—the Breaking Ground that you’ve all been waiting for.  Since this will be my last article of 2005, I thought I’d finish on a high note.  So, I’ll dispense with the lengthy introduction and get right to the topic at hand .  .  .  It’s Emperor Joker time!

A Brief History of the Vs.  System

The basic strategy of the Vs.  System is to deplete your opponent’s endurance to less than 0 before your own endurance drops below 0.  Several decks have found success in this endeavor through a variety of methods.  The New Brotherhood and Squadron Supreme rush decks utilize powerful, low cost cards in an attempt to dominate the early game.  Common Enemy and Curve Sentinels, on the other hand, rely on more control elements in the early turns to help them take the game to the later turns where their big characters can dominate.  X-Stall and New School use powerful activated abilities to stall the game until the very late turns, relying on cards like Onslaught and Dr.  Light, Arthur Light to take control of the board.  Fantastic Fun takes a different route by using equipment and character effects to “burn” opponents out of the game.  Finally, decks like Teen Titans and Avengers Reservist use a combination of those tactics to win games.

Decks that attempt to drop an opponent’s endurance to 0 are pretty much the standard.  However, there are a few cards out there that offer alternate win conditions.  The Prophecy Fulfilled is a sort of “scorched earth” card that essentially turns the exercise of dropping below 0 endurance into a losing deal for your opponent, since he or she will lose the game regardless of what your endurance is.  Mephisto, Father of Lies takes this same principle to a further extreme, as you cannot even lose the game while he is on the board.  And Sinestro, Enemy of the Corps can actually end a game before your opponent drops below 0, provided that you have the required amount of willpower on the board.

However, there are really only three cards in Vs.  System that enable a player to achieve victory independent of endurance considerations. * The first of these cards to find prominence was featured in a deck built by one of the powerhouse teams of all trading card games, Your Move Games.  The card was Rigged Elections.  The deck itself was a brilliant synergy of Gotham Knights search effects and Fantastic Four readying and defensive tricks.  Once these teams combined with the Arkham Inmates, it was only a matter of time before the ballot counters fell into place.  In a metagame mostly void of disruption, this was a brilliant and powerful deck.

The second alternate win condition card to find success was built by a slightly less prominent group from Oklahoma.  Before they found success, they had no real team name.  After PC NY, though, they started going by “The Dream Team” in honor of their namesake card, Xavier’s Dream.  This deck found a niche in the Curve Sentinels–dominated metagame by bypassing the devastating effects of Micro-Sentinels  (a card that absolutely destroyed most off-curve decks).  With Total Anarchy keeping stunned characters off of the board and a few defensive tricks, Xavier’s Dream usually lost only to decks that could win before turn 6 or stun their own characters  (neither of which was a strong suit of Curve Sentinels).

The final alternate win condition card has not found any notable tournament success .  .  .  yet.  It is, of course, this week’s topic of discussion.  I give you The Joker, Emperor Joker.

“Finally, the world will have a sense of humor. ”

Emperor Joker explores a play strategy that is not very popular—deck destruction.  In other card games, deck destruction is a viable theme because the number of cards in an average deck is usually significantly less and there are several cards that supplement this strategy.  In Vs.  System, however, deck destruction is rather difficult because there’s a 60-card minimum in every Constructed deck and only a few notable cards that contribute to the strategy  (such as Overpowered and The Fall of Oa).  Moreover, deck destruction techniques do almost nothing to enhance a player’s hand or board position, so they are largely ineffective in Vs.  System.

There are a couple of significant strategic differences between Emperor Joker and other alternate win condition cards.  First and foremost is the fact that the earliest that Emperor Joker’s win condition can trigger is turn 8.  Granted, you could accelerate this with a card effect like Takion ◊ Highfather, but in most cases, you won’t even be able to consider winning with Emperor Joker until you’ve hit turn 8.  This is a stark contrast to Rigged Elections, which usually wins on turn 5, and Xavier’s Dream, which tries to end the game on turn 6.  Those few extra turns of required survival may not seem like they should matter much, but given the facts that the character power curve accelerates rapidly on turns 6 and 7 and that most decks are designed to win on or before turn 7, playing for a turn 8 victory is a difficult proposition.

Another difficulty with Emperor Joker is that the card is not well aligned to achieve its win condition.  This notion is a bit confusing, so I’ll explain in greater detail.  The YMG Rigged Elections build had a nice, integrated synergy with the use of the Fantastic Four; A Child Named Valeria protected the deck’s low cost characters, then Cosmic Radiation continuously readied the characters to place ballot counters on Rigged Elections.  With Alfred thrown into the mix, the deck had a way to ready the butler several times in a turn to search out the requisite number of Cosmic Radiations.

Xavier’s Dream was enabled via Total Anarchy keeping the board clear of stunned, low cost characters and via Beast, Dr.  Henry McCoy allowing the activation of Xavier’s Dream to happen a full turn early.  Theoretically, you could win with only a single copy of each of the aforementioned cards if you had a way to return Beast to your hand from the KO’d pile  (such as Avalon Space Station or Reconstruction Program).

Emperor Joker, unfortunately, doesn’t have the same capable support cards.  In order to reach turn 8, defensive cards are certainly necessary.  However, Mr.  J’s win condition is predicated upon deck destruction, so playing cards that thin out your opponent’s deck is also necessary.  The problem is that those two necessities don’t go well with one another.  Overpowered may be a very useful tool for achieving Emperor Joker’s win condition, but it is a pointless card if you can’t reach turn 8 to recruit The Joker for the win.

I discussed this dilemma with a few individuals who have had some experience with Emperor Joker builds in the past.  Julian “IceReaper93” Martin, my good friend and gaming cohort at JJK Cards in Richardson, has consistently toyed around with a deck disruption build that incorporates several Manhunter elements.  Between The Fall of Oa and Manhunter Giant, he can usually eliminate an opponent’s deck without too much difficulty.  While his is one of the more consistent builds I’ve seen, it often suffers from the same defensive issues that I mentioned earlier.

Steve Garrett has a similar tilt on his deck variant with the Manhunter team.  However, he also includes two Fearsome Five characters  (Shimmer and Dr.  Light, Arthur Light) to effect some extra stall elements.  The deck sacrifices some deck destruction in the process, but it is more capable than a traditional build of reaching the later turns.

What we should really consider is integrating Emperor Joker into a deck that could utilize deck destruction cards as a means of defense.  Does such a build exist? Well, that is the challenge we’ll explore this week.

The Build

After many lengthy discussions on the topic, my teammate John “scarletspider” Hall and I decided that we should consider some of the teams from the JLA set.  One obvious choice is the Secret Society.  While the primary effect of many of their cards is to move cards from your deck to your KO’d pile, several of those cards can be used on either player.  Moreover, several Secret Society characters carry the Arkham Inmates as a second team stamp.  This versatility certainly warrants consideration in our build. **

However, the Secret Society doesn’t really offer the stall or defensive elements that we need to make our idea work.  For this, we need to think a little more outside the box.  We usually think of deck destruction as sending cards from an opponent’s deck directly to the KO’d pile.  But our plan could also work if we’re able to increase the number of cards our opponent draws.  This strategy sounds like a perfect fit for the Injustice Gang.  Giving our opponent more cards is usually a bad idea, but the Injustice Gang has several disruptive and defensive elements that thrive on an opponent having several cards in hand.

Since our deck is centered on the use of Emperor Joker as a win condition, we’ll include a couple of copies.  Of course, we need to consider the cards that we’ll use to make it to turn 8, where Emperor Joker can win the game for us.

For starters, we’ll be playing three teams in our deck—Arkham Inmates, Secret Society, and Injustice Gang.  So, we’ll need plenty of Team-Ups to support our deck.  The primary Team-Up that leaps to mind is Funky’s Big Rat Code.  In addition to filling the Team-Up role, it also acts as a pseudo-Overpowered.  With dual-functionality, we’ll definitely want four copies in our deck.  Of course, we might want some backup.  So, we’ll also throw in a couple of copies of Gang-Up.  It doesn’t assist in our deck destruction theme as well as Funky’s Big Rat Code does, but it’s still not a bad play in our deck.

We should consider the aspect of draw acceleration that the Injustice Gang gives us.  While we want to fill our opponent’s hand, accelerating our own draw is certainly helpful.  Just like Gang-Up, Criminal Mastermind will serve a dual purpose by filling both players’ hands.  Unfortunately, accelerating our drawing probably won’t be enough to ensure that we hit our curve, so we’ll need to consider a character tutor.  Fortunately, the Injustice Gang has one of the best in Secret Files.  Granted, it also allows your opponent to search out a character card, but that’s not such a drawback in a deck that wants to get rid of all cards in an opponent’s deck.

Now let’s consider our defensive cards.  With the extra cards we’ll be drawing, discarding won’t be much of an issue.  So, we’re going to put in four copies of Entangle.  It’s not as effective as a card like Mystical Paralysis for exhausting characters, but it will definitely restrict the number of attacks our opponent can make.  On turns when we have the initiative, we would like to avoid any reciprocal attacks, so we’re also going to include four copies of Pleasant Distraction.  Having cards to control the turns during which we control the initiative means that we really only need to worry about off-initiative turns.

Our final defensive choice is one of the Injustice Gang specialties.  One of my earlier articles discussed how amazing All Too Easy is on attack.  Its defensive counterpart, Power Siphon, is equally amazing on defense.  For the simple cost of an exhausted character, Power Siphon virtually ensures that the targeted character won’t be stunned on that attack, provided that we manage to achieve our goal of filling our opponent’s hand.

Of course, there are several drawbacks with putting cards in an opponent’s hand.  A major threat is the possibility that our opponent will use extra character cards to power-up his or her characters on the board.  While doing so won’t actually detract from depleting our opponent’s deck, giving our opponent an avenue to empty his or her hand is probably a bad idea.  As such, we’re going to include two copies of Unmasked in our deck.  Not only will Unmasked stop those wayward power-ups, but it will give our build a much better chance against decks that rely on powering-up to win games.

Finally, we need to consider a bit of board control for our deck to deal with characters, such as Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius, that could disrupt our plans.  Injustice Gang Satellite seems like a great choice for our build.  In a deck that tries to win the game in earlier turns, Injustice Gang Satellite is largely ineffective because of its 4 threshold cost.  However, since we are trying to stall until turn 8, Injustice Gang Satellite has several turns to be effective against an opponent’s board.

And now let’s move on to the characters.  We probably don’t need any characters at 1, but Manhunter Clone is too good to pass up.  With his evasion, he can pretty much ensure that our opponent loses at least one card every turn.  Moreover, if we need to under-drop in later turns, his non-uniqueness will enable us to put multiple copies into play.

At 2, we’ll include a couple copies of James Jesse ◊ Trickster.  He’s another character that helps us to “mill” our opponent’s deck more quickly.  And if we are lucky enough to get him into play alongside Manhunter Clone, we can force three cards out of our opponent’s deck each turn.  In addition to Trickster, we’ll put four copies of Captain Boomerang, George Harkness into the build.  Captain Boomerang doesn’t assist with deck destruction, but he can be invaluable for board control because he can potentially stun a 1-drop and then send a 2-drop back to our opponent’s hand.

At 3, we absolutely must without a doubt have Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist.  He contributes immensely to our strategy by increasing our opponent’s card drawing and providing a very potent disruption effect.  Of course, the greatness of Lex Luthor is well documented; our backup 3-drop is a little less renowned.  Captain Cold has an above-average ATK and DEF with his counter.  And his counter can be even more helpful in later turns when we have the initiative by giving us a free exhaustion of an opposing character.

Turn 4 doesn’t present us with an abundance of options from the deck destruction perspective, but we can still include some characters that will assist us from a defensive perspective.  The Joker, Headline Stealer has a pseudo-Doom disruption effect that can assist Lex Luthor in shutting down plot twists.  We’ve featured quite a few Injustice Gang characters in the early turns, so let’s include four copies of one of the Secret Society’s best and brightest, Poison Ivy, Kiss Of Death.  Her built-in Finishing Move effect is undoubtedly a valuable addition.  In combination with Injustice Gang Satellite, we can very nearly ensure that our opponent will have no characters to work with.  And since both characters have the Arkham Inmates team stamp, we can hit a second Team-Up on turn 4 if we have it.

Our choice of 5-drops will be a bit goofy, but that’s okay considering that we’re building a very goofy deck! First, we’re going to include a copy of Abra Kadabra as a Bastion precaution.  In addition, we’re going to include a single copy of Sinestro, Corrupted by the Ring.  Sinestro not only has the potential to be fairly big, but he also makes a great off-curve play in later turns  (assuming that your opponent has 6 or more resources).  Having the ability to play a sizable 5-drop and a useful 3-drop on turn 6 can help tremendously if we somehow lose board control.

Our final 5-drop is not a character that we’ll usually want to play on turn 5.  Rather, Scarecrow, Psycho Psychologist is more valuable with his boost because it will force our opponent to draw three extra cards.  But, why would we want to play a character with a burn effect when we aren’t concerned about our opponent’s endurance? Well, if we can keep Scarecrow on the board long enough to see turn 8, he could work really well in unison with Emperor Joker.  First, pay 1 endurance for Emperor Joker’s effect.  Second, pay 3 endurance for Scarecrow’s effect.  Finally, watch your opponent’s deck disappear!

Our final character choice is fairly apparent.  If we can get the odd initiatives, Two-Face, Split Personality can almost single-handedly ensure that we reach turn 8.  He provides a large board presence and an exhaustion effect that is almost unmatched.  And if we are unable to hit a Team-Up for Arkham in our earlier turns, having Two-Face on the board will allow us to meet Emperor Joker’s loyalty requirement.

Close the book—we’re done building here.  Let’s take a long look at our grand creation:

The Amazing Disappearing Deck

4 Manhunter Clone, CoPK

4 Captain Boomerang, GH

2 James Jesse ◊ Trickster, GG

2 Captain Cold, Leonard Snart

4 Lex Luthor, NP

4 Poison Ivy, Kiss Of Death

1 The Joker, Headline Stealer

1 Abra Kadabra, Citizen Abra

3 Scarecrow, PP

1 Sinestro, Corrupted by the Ring

2 Two-Face, Split Personality

2 The Joker, Emperor Joker

4 Criminal Mastermind

4 Entangle

4 Funky’s Big Rat Code

2 Gang-Up, Team-Up

4 Pleasant Distraction

4 Power Siphon

4 Secret Files

2 Unmasked

2 Injustice Gang Satellite

We obviously want to take odd initiatives if at all possible.  If we can swing odds, then we should only have to worry about posting a strong defense on turns 4 and 6.  Lex Luthor is one of our key cards for maintaining control of the game, so he should almost always be our recovery choice.  And if he somehow gets KO’d prematurely, we seriously need to consider recruiting him again.

One card that didn’t make the cut in our build was World War III.  It may not fit our strategy, but if we can gain early board control, then we could conceivably KO our smaller characters to keep our opponent’s board clear.

Okay, that’s all for a while.  I’ll be back in a few weeks to bring you some new jank builds that will hopefully let us shake up the standard in this great game of ours.  In the meantime, feel free to correspond by sending your thoughts my way at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.  Here’s hoping that I clear my email backlog over the holidays!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or enjoy whatever traditional December holiday you celebrate.  I’ll see you in ’06!

*Okay, so technically there are four cards if you count Mageddon.  However, having a 10-drop with an alternate win condition basically makes the effect a “win more” condition, since you’ll probably win the game anyway after getting a monstrous 10-drop on the board!

**It is, however, a shame that we’re not building a deck that utilizes the Secret Society’s forte.  I’ve been dying to find a deck in which I could feature Tim Batow ◊ Aqualad .  .  .  er .  .  .  Garth ◊ Aqualad.

Other-Earth  (01/10/2006)

Welcome back one and all! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday break.  Mine was especially nice, as I actually had some free time away from work to play Vs.  System.  When you’re working sixty to seventy hours a week, having a few uninterrupted days of playing time is a welcome blessing.

One question I have been asked on several occasions is if I dislike my job so much, why do I continue to do it? The truth is that I love my job! For those of you who don’t know, I’m a forensic accountant.  I suspect that 99. 9% of you out there have no idea what that means.  As Geordie Tait once quoted me in an interview from PC New York, it’s a bit “like CSI .  .  .  but with numbers!” Maybe that’s too glamorous a description, so I’ll redefine it a bit.  In essence, I do investigative work for companies that are attempting to install white-collar crime prevention measures or detect potentially fraudulent activity.  Bottom line:  forensic accounting = anti-fraud  (e.g., stopping bad guys like Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, etc .  .  . ).

So, why am I constantly complaining about it? Well, one sacrifice that I made for my job was a “voluntary” assignment to a six-month rotation in another department. * It is this assignment that I am constantly carping about.  And what on Earth could turn the affable BigSpooky into BigGrumpy?  One word:  audit.

In my opinion, auditing is the most hateful, cruel, debilitating occupation that any human being could ever have.  Sure, some people may say that there are far worse jobs  (working at McDonald’s, shoveling raw sewage, etc. ).  But after only a few hours of performing a typical “audit drone” task  (like erasing hundreds of pages of notations and redoing them with a red pencil), any one of you would agree that one must truly be mad to want to be an auditor!

I am getting better about handling the inane world that is auditing.  Granted, the pointless tasks and eighty-hour workweeks suck, but I can cope with them.  One of the great tragedies of working in audit, however, is that the busy season  (i.e. , the period of time during which I have absolutely no prayer of taking a vacation) runs through March 31—exactly one week after Pro Circuit Atlanta.

If you just put two and two together, you came up with no PC Atlanta for Spooky.

On more than one occasion, I have considered leaving this job.  In addition to getting away from something that consistently makes me crazy, I would actually get the chance to attend PC Atlanta.  Both are powerful incentives to move me toward abandoning audit madness.

However, the logical side of me realizes that leaving would be a very bad idea.  Sure .  .  .  I could talk about how working in audit helps me to obtain valuable job skills and develop a strong work ethic and such.  However, there is one paramount reason why I stay—money!

I won’t go so far as to say that my job has made me rich.  However, it has been a welcome change from the destitution that was my college days.  For example, I drove a Geo Metro all throughout college because it was one of the few cars that I could afford.  As it was, I spent five years paying it off  (and had to borrow money from members of my family on a couple of occasions to make my payments).  Today, I have enough money in savings to purchase a Metro outright.  There has definitely been a shift in my standard of living.

One major problem with this lifestyle change is that I am wholly unaccustomed to it.  When you grow up in “gamer” fashion  (i.e. , broke), you learn to engage in activities that are relatively inexpensive.  For example, typical meals usually involved some type of pasta.  Occasionally, though, I got to splurge at Quiznos or Subway—a real treat!**

I thought it might be fun to contrast these experiences with my dining experiences on December 16, 2005.  By the grace of my employer, I was able to visit a couple of the finest restaurants in Dallas.

For lunch, one of the partners on the engagement to which I was assigned took us out to eat at Nobu.  If you have ever watched Iron Chef, you might recognize Nobu as the restaurant where Chef Masaharu Morimoto made his name.  The restaurant in Dallas is partially owned by Robert DeNiro and is widely acclaimed as the best place for Japanese cuisine in the city.  While I don’t consider myself a big fan of sushi, I must admit that I enjoyed most of the dishes I tried.

For dinner, another partner treated a group of us to a very nice meal at Bob’s Steak and Chop House.  As different as this meal was from my lunch, the quality was every bit as high  (as the bill no doubt proved).  There was a nice assortment of side dishes and appetizers.  However, it was definitely the filet mignon that made the meal.  As I told my friends after the dinner, it was the best steak I had ever tasted, bar none!

Well, I’m sure that you’ve had enough of my writing about all of the great restaurants in Dallas I’ve been to. *** My point is that my recent transition from college card gamer to upper-class accountant has resulted in a complete shift in typical experiences.  I guess you might say I’m living in a whole new world .  .  .  or at least some Other-Earth!

I realize that Other-Earth is not exactly a jank card, since it was one of the integral cards in the Squadron Rush decks that took PC LA by storm.  However, I also think that there are some opportunities for the card outside of Squadron Rush.  One definite possibility for Other-Earth is in a deck focused around the characters in Squadron Supreme that tout breakthrough replacement effects.

The breakthrough replacement strategy has been downplayed by many pros because it fails to deal a sufficient amount of damage.  One aspect of this strategy that has been overlooked, though, is its overwhelming board control.  Characters like Haywire and Arcanna may not deal much endurance loss, but they make up for it with effects that consistently dominate an opponent’s board.

Our challenge is to develop a working strategy using the Squadron Supreme breakthrough replacement effect characters and Other-Earth.

The Build

If we look back to the Breaking Ground article from a few months ago that featured Jericho, we can see that playing a card like Unfair Advantage severely restricts the number of plot twists we can play in the deck.  In the case of Unfair Advantage, it turned out to be the only plot twist we played.  Other-Earth is primarily an offensive card, though, so we can open up our plot twist selection a bit.  However, to use Other-Earth consistently, we will need to lean pretty heavily on locations for support.  Fortunately, Vs System does have a team that touts locations as its forte—the League of Assassins.  Given the location-heavy requirement of the deck, the League would seem to be a perfect companion team.  Besides, there are also a couple of cool combos that the League can add to our build.

First and foremost, we want four copies of Other-Earth.  Since it’s our theme card, we want as many opportunities to abuse it as possible.  As far as other plot twists go, we need to keep our selections limited to cards we can play on off-initiative turns.  One very good option is the League of Assassins’ disruption card of choice, Tower of Babel.  Tower of Babel can be absolutely invaluable against off-curve decks that rely on team attacks to take down larger characters.  Without team affiliations, our opponents can’t team attack.  Moreover, several currently popular attack pumps  (such as The Wrecking Crew) are nullified by Tower of Babel.

Our final plot twist choice is the League’s expediter of locations, The Demon’s Head.  Since we have already stated that we are planning to use locations to support our deck, it only makes sense that we play the best location searcher in the game.  More importantly, The Demon’s Head is a card that we will usually play only on turns where we don’t control the initiative.  As such, it won’t conflict with our use of Other-Earth.

As far as locations go, we have a few apparent choices.  Of course, we will need our standard set of team-ups, so we’ll include three copies of Metropolis.  We’re also going to toss in a solo copy of Stormfront-1.  Having a backup card with the version “Team-Up” can be helpful against cards like Quakemaster that can cause problems for Metropolis.

Of course, character search is reasonably important, so we’ll also include four copies of Mountain Stronghold.  Not only does Mountain Stronghold give us a character search card in location form, but it also has the additional bonus of reinforcing any character named Ra’s Al Ghul we might have on the board.

Both Squadron and the League have some location ATK pumps available.  Squadron Supreme has Squadron City, which is phenomenal when used on a character with a breakthrough replacement effect.  Of course, it’s not bad when used on other characters either, since we won’t typically need a character to be ready on our off-initiative turns anyway.  On the League side, they possess one of the best in Flying Fortress.  This card, which I have dubbed a reusable Flying Kick, also fits really well in our build.  While we may not need too much pump thanks to Other-Earth, these locations can be very helpful if we decide to go aggressive and execute some attacks up the curve.  We’ll include two copies of each.

Let’s look a bit at some board control cards that might be useful to us.  Obviously, having a board control deck that can’t maintain board control is a bad thing, so we’ll include some locations that are suited to this task.  First, we’ll need a couple copies of Lazarus Pit.  This card is a brutal counter to any KO effects that our opponent might toss at us.  In addition, it can serve as a recovery tool in a pinch  (assuming that you’re willing to sacrifice the resource).  Of course, Lazarus Pit really shines when used in unison with our next card choice, Murderworld.  Giving all characters on the board the ability to KO affiliated characters might seem questionable, but since we have a way of protecting our characters through Lazarus Pit, the exchange will be fairly one-sided.  Finally, we’ll include a single copy of a card that makes great use of our protected and stunned characters—Pit of Madness.  With a stunned character or two on the board, Pit of Madness can be invaluable for bouncing an opponent’s attack or ensuring a stunback.

Our final location choice is mostly a recursion enabler.  Since we will be playing high-cost character cards that will be useless in the early turns, it only makes sense that we use these cards for our discard effects  (such as Mountain Stronghold and Murderworld).  Of course, we may want these cards back in the later turns, so a single copy of Slaughter Swamp would not be a bad idea.  Since we can search it out with The Demon’s Head, we can feel free to discard our high drops with relative abandon.

On to the characters.  We shouldn’t need any 1-drops in the deck, as there aren’t really any characters at that cost that suit our strategy.  We’ll start our build at 2.  Our primary choice here will be Haywire.  While this might seem like a questionable play since Haywire will stun pretty much every time he attacks, his effect can be a strong board control tool in the early turns because he can prevent an opposing character from attacking on the following turn.  In addition to Haywire, we’ll include two copies of Foxfire at the 2-slot.  While using her effect too many times can be costly, she is a nice for disrupting decks that rely on specific cards in the resource row  (such as Lost City and Midnight Sons).  Our final choice at 2 is the League’s off-curve punishment card of preference, Assassin Initiate.  Against a Child lock or a Masters of Evil swarm deck, the Assassin Initiate can snipe out the 1-drops that are central to the deck’s success.

At the 3-slot, we’ll continue our trend of board control with Hook.  Assuming that we were able to keep an opponent’s 2-drop from readying on turn 2 thanks to Haywire’s effect, Hook should at worst trade with our opponent’s 3-drop.  However, if we get lucky enough that our opponent trades his or her 3-drop into Haywire, then Hook will be rested and ready to KO the 3-drop at the start of the recovery phase  (giving us a very nice early board advantage).  As our backup at 3, we’ll include three copies of Moonglow.  Not only is she a respectable 4/5, but she also enables us to search out a Team-Up if we haven’t already hit one.

Turn 4 is where we should take complete control of the board and thereby the game.  Our ace at 4 is none other than Ra’s Al Ghul, Eternal Nemesis.  Ra’s Al Ghul has an absolutely brutal synergy with Other-Earth that we’ll take full advantage of.  If we can get all of the necessary pieces in place, we should easily be able to KO our opponent’s 4-drop with Ra’s Al Ghul’s effect.  Then, if our opponent has a remaining 2- or 3-drop, we can send our 2-drop at it, leaving Hook free to KO it with his effect.  If we can successfully pull off such a maneuver, we’ll have an absolutely dominant lock on the board that our opponent probably won’t be able to escape.  As a backup at 4, we’ll need two copies of Amphibian.  I honestly can’t think of any scenarios where we might want Amphibian over Ra’s Al Ghul, but he can be a respectable under-drop on turn 5 or 6.  Moreover, his effect can be nice for retrieving copies of Other-Earth from the KO’d pile.

There can be only one character at the 5-slot—Bane, Ubu.  Bane probably hasn’t received his fair share of attention because the dominant 5-drop to come out of DC Origins was Garth ◊ Tempest.  While Bane might not be quite as good as Garth, he is awfully close.  And in a board control deck like ours, he can be the metaphorical nail in the coffin.  We’ll want four copies of Ra’s Al Ghul’s bodyguard.

Turn 6 presents some interesting possibilities.  Hopefully, our flurry of early-game board control will have pretty much sealed the game for us.  If, however, our opponent is somehow still breathing on turn 6, we can take away that breath with Doctor Spectrum.  Against some decks, losing your hand isn’t much of an issue.  Against most curve decks and several combo decks, however, Doctor Spectrum’s effect is game ending.  Imagine the anguish Fantastic Fun will feel as all of the cards stockpiled in hand by Antarctic Research Base are suddenly forced into the KO’d pile.  Of course, Doctor Spectrum’s loyalty can be an issue if we miss our early team-ups.  So as a precaution, we’ll include a copy of Sensei.  At 13 ATK, Sensei can effectively deal with most opposing 6-drops.  In addition, his effect can be very helpful for cleaning up our resource row.

Turn 7 has another clear-cut choice for us.  As mentioned earlier, Arcanna is an obvious choice because of her impressive board control effect.  On defense, her 17 DEF will be difficult for most opposing players to overcome.  Hopefully, though, we’ll get the opportunity to take Arcanna on the offensive.  With Other-Earth, Arcanna pretty much becomes a guaranteed “double stunner. ” If we have managed to maintain board control, this will leave the remainder of our characters free to swing directly at our opponent.

Finally, at 8 we have our insurance trump card in Ra’s Al Ghul, The Demon’s Head.  Unless your opponent has a very large 8-drop of his or her own to deal with Ra’s Al Ghul, the Demon’s Head will usually end the game.

Our deck is finished.  Let’s take a look at our “breakthrough”: ****

New Year, New World

4 Haywire, Harold Danforth

2 Foxfire, Olivia Underwood

2 Assassin Initiate, Army

4 Hook, Hired Killer

3 Moonglow, Melissa Hanover

4 Ra’s Al Ghul, Eternal Nemesis

2 Amphibian, Kingsley Rice

4 Bane, Ubu

2 Doctor Spectrum, Joe Ledger

1 Sensei, Martial Arts Master

2 Arcanna, Arcanna Jones

1 Ra’s Al Ghul, TDH

4 Other-Earth

4 The Demon’s Head

4 Tower of Babel

1 Slaughter Swamp

2 Flying Fortress

2 Lazarus Pit

3 Metropolis

4 Mountain Stronghold

1 Murderworld

1 Pit of Madness

2 Squadron City

1 Stormfront-1, Team-Up

Initiative choice is really a matter of preference in this deck.  Obviously, the scenarios I described above work around the premise that we take even initiatives, but there are several arguments for odd initiatives.  If you can get Ra’s Al Ghul, Eternal Nemesis and Bane on the board with a Squadron Supreme team-up, having the initiative on turn 5 can be very advantageous; Other-Earth can enable Ra’s Al Ghul to KO the opposing 5-drop, and then Bane can safely attack down the curve on the opposing 4-drop and KO it during the recovery phase.

That’s all for now.  I’ll be back again next week, though.  If you have any comments or suggestions for me, please feel free to send them to BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.  I apologize if I don’t respond to your email, but my employer is threatening to cut off appendages if I spend time on anything but auditing during the busy season.

* “Voluntary” meaning, “You don’t have to do this, Michael, but we strongly suggest that you do. ”

** I have found, though, that even though I can now afford to eat almost anywhere I wish, I still eat a good deal of pasta.  I believe that the Barenaked Ladies expressed this sentiment best in their song “If I Had $1,000,000. ”

“If I Had $1,000,000

We wouldn’t have to eat Kraft Dinner.

But we would eat Kraft Dinner.

Of course we would, we’d just eat more.

And buy really expensive ketchup with it.

That’s right, all the fanciest Dijon Ketchup.


*** Of course, I guess I should tell you that my visits to Nobu and Bob’s will actually be my topics for discussion in the next two issues of Breaking Ground.  I guess you’d better grab a snack before you read!

**** Sorry .  .  .  bad pun.

Fire, Beatriz DaCosta  (01/17/06)

Last week, I regaled you with tales of my dining experiences in the great city of Dallas.  This week, I would like to go a little more in-depth into one of those experiences and lead to how it inspired this week’s featured card.

If you’ll recall from my last article, I had the “pleasure” of dining at the Nobu restaurant for lunch on December 16, 2005.  Nobu is an extremely upscale Japanese restaurant in the heart of one of the more affluent areas of downtown Dallas.  Needless to say, it is not a typical venue for lunch at my accounting firm.  However, one of the partners in charge of the engagement I was on had promised one of my fellow associates that he would take the group out to lunch wherever she chose if she passed the Certified Public Accounting  (CPA) examination. * And, as you can probably guess, she passed the exam and chose to go to lunch at Nobu.

While I like to consider myself a fairly cultured individual, I must confess that I haven’t had much opportunity to sample Japanese cuisine  (coming from Oklahoma and all, where it is state law that all restaurants must serve a side of gravy with every dish).  So, I was simultaneously repulsed and intrigued at the notion of sushi.  On the one hand, I have always been a big fan of seafood, and getting the opportunity to sample different variations on my favorite foods could be a real treat.  On the other hand, it’s friggin’ raw fish!

On the trip to the restaurant, I confessed my lack of experience with Japanese food to my colleagues.  One of my fellow associates informed me that I should enjoy everything as long as I didn’t overdo it on the wasabi.  I had heard about wasabi from watching various shows on the Food Network, so I confidently replied that he needn’t worry, because I was well-equipped to handle spicy dishes.  After all, my father is quite the Tex-Mex gourmet.  His only real downfall is that he tends to be a little heavy-handed on the spices occasionally.  As such, I have built up quite the tolerance for spicy food.

My fellow associate, however, informed me that the spiciness of wasabi was “a different kind of heat. ” Now, to my knowledge, there were really only two kinds of heat that food could generate—either spiciness or a literal “burn the roof of your mouth” heat.  So, in my blissful ignorance, I shook my head and ignored his advice.  Big mistake!

I pretty much followed the suit of my colleagues and ordered a dish that contained a wide variety of items.  When the meal arrived, I noticed a small glob of a green, paste-like substance that looked like guacamole.  I was informed that this substance was wasabi and that I should be conservative in my use of it.  I then proceeded to watch as my fellow associates barely dabbed their chopsticks in the wasabi, yielding a portion approximately as large as Tim Batow’s upper torso, and scraped it onto a saucer.  They then diluted the wasabi with a very generous portion of soy sauce.

Of course, I paid absolutely no heed to this exercise and placed almost the entire chunk of wasabi in the saucer.  After diluting it a little with some soy sauce, I dipped my first piece of sushi and tried out this so-called “different kind of heat. ” Much to my surprise and mild disappointment, I found that the wasabi wasn’t really as hot as I had anticipated.  I proceeded to dip my sushi into the wasabi with fervor and pose triumphantly for my coworkers  (“Wimps!”).

Unbeknownst to me, the chefs at Nobu prepare each type of sushi differently.  Some of the fish has a very pleasant natural aroma and flavor, so little additional treatment is necessary.  Other types of sushi, however, need some help to “unlock” their flavor.  Accordingly, the chefs treat the sushi by placing generous helpings of wasabi on top of the rice with which the sushi is served.  Of course, if you aren’t aware of this fact  (as I was not), then you won’t notice this great glob of green goo, since it is obscured by the fish on top of the rice.  It was at about this time that I ran across one of the aforementioned pieces of sushi that had been treated with wasabi.  After dipping the sushi in my saucer filled with even more wasabi, I placed the concoction in my mouth.

The sensation I then experienced was unlike anything I can describe.  I was pretty sure that my sinuses were all going to melt.  However, I couldn’t concern myself with it at the time, since I couldn’t breathe.  When I was finally able to inhale, it felt as if someone had replaced my precious oxygen with gasoline.  And I’m pretty sure that my coworkers would have been disgusted by the sight of every fluid in by body pouring out of my nose .  .  .  if they hadn’t already been doubled over laughing at the sight of my face  (which I was told resembled Large Marge from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure).

The experience of my wasabi overdose reminded me of two things in the Vs.  System.  The first one that leapt to mind was the character card Fire  (for obvious reasons).  Her power-up burn effect is one that I don’t feel has been effectively utilized.  Granted, she is a monster in Sealed Pack, but I have yet to see a Constructed deck that abuses the potential of—in my humble opinion—one of the best burn cards in the game.

The second thing that came to mind  (for similarly obvious if not somewhat more disgusting reasons) were the Sentinel Vomit decks of old.  This build was the deck of choice for TCG pros and hippie hockey fans alike due to the ease of play and the potential to dish out incredible amounts of damage.  Of course, probably the best-recognized build of Wild Vomit was that of Metagame. com’s very own Rian Fike.  One of the unique aspects of Rian’s build that personally appealed to me was the addition of Senator Kelly.  With the substitution of this die-hard politician, Rian added a burn element to a Vomit deck that many other players found too unreliable.  But the last laugh was Rian’s as he and Senator Kelly burned their way to $1,900!  Wild Vomit may not be the most popular archetype anymore, but it certainly can lay the foundation for new ideas.  In our case, we’re going to utilize the deck’s framework to build our own burn build, Fire Vomit!**


The Build

As always, we’ll need to include multiple copies of our featured card, so in goes four copies of Fire.  So much for the easy part.  Now we need to decide upon a strategy for the deck.  Obviously, we want to develop a build that has simple access to multiple power-ups.  Unfortunately, we are limited in the number of copies of Fire we can include.  Similarly, we can’t rely on cards like Reform the League or Tamaran, as they only trigger once per turn.  What we really need is a card that can effectively yield several power-ups a turn.  Fortunately, such a card exists in Centurious.  This lynchpin of Jose Maria Aramburu’s “Brotherhood of Mephisto” deck is perfect for turning small character cards in hand into potent support cards for characters on the board.  More importantly, he sets the stage for the “Vomit” part of our build.

Now that we have a way of turning multiple small drops in hand into burn-boosted power-ups, we need to develop our Vomit engine.  Obviously, we’ll need the master of Vomit himself, Longshot! As one of the integral parts of any good Vomit build, Longshot can help to ensure that we have plenty of cards in hand to discard for power-ups.  Moreover, we have an advantage that the Wild Vomit players of old didn’t have—we have a couple of new ways to search out the Mullet Man.

As far as the selection of our 1-drop Army characters goes, we need to think a little out of the ordinary.  I originally envisioned playing multiple copies of New Blood because they would work in unison with Centurious without requiring a team-up.  However, I ran into a small problem with consistency in the later parts of the game  (I had no way of getting Centurious and Fire into my hand).  So, I decided to switch things up a bit and swap New Blood out for Infernal Minions.  These little pests aren’t as big as the Underworld baddies, but they have a very potent effect that can make your late drops very large.  Moreover, they will enable one of the best character search cards in the game.

Our second 1-drop Army character card is none other than the other star of Wild Vomit, Wild Sentinel.  While adding characters from yet another team may seem a bit problematic, putting Wild Sentinel into our deck gives us some size and protection in the early turns that Infernal Minions can’t provide.  Besides, what would a Vomit deck be without Wild Sentinels?

With fourteen copies of each of our Army cards, I think we’re set on our character selection.  So, let’s consider our plot twist choices.  Obviously, with five different teams represented, we’ll need plenty of team-ups.  Our first and most obvious choice is Millennium.  Since we want to get as many cards in hand as possible, Millennium is the perfect card for our deck  (as we probably won’t be doing a lot of attacking with our Infernal Minions, anyway).  Unfortunately, we are limited to four copies of Millennium, so we’ll need to consider some other team-ups, as well.  Our next choice is Justice League Task Force.  This Team-Up is not quite as effective, because it doesn’t assist our hand-building endeavor.  However, it does have the “Team-Up” version, so cards like Foxfire and Elongated Man can’t mess with it.  Moreover, it can be helpful in later turns when your little guys need an added boost to take down an opposing character.  Finally, we’ll include two copies of UN Building.  With five teams in the deck, we shouldn’t have too much of a problem finding three teams to bring together.

Next, we’re going to consider our character search options.  As I mentioned earlier, playing Infernal Minions enables us to play one of the best character searchers in the game, Secret Files.  Secret Files does have the drawback of allowing your opponents to search their decks as well.  But given the deck’s focus on victory in early turns, that shouldn’t be too much of a drawback.  Also, we might want an alternate method of searching out Longshot should we fail to draw him in the early turns.  So, we’re going to try a couple of copies of Vicarious Living.  Vicarious Living does have the drawback of not being playable before turn 3  (barring Beast, Hank McCoy or the like).  But as the sage stubarnes himself once said, “A Mullet Man on turn 3 is better than no Mullet Man at all. ”***

Our final card today is one that I decided was a must in this deck, as a single copy represented a potential 9 points of additional damage.  Any avid Sentinel player knows how potent Reconstruction Program can be at making Bastion even more annoying.  In our deck, however, Reconstruction Program represents three additional +1/+1 pumps and another 6 points of burn damage—not too bad for a bunch of ’bots made with spare parts!

We’re done.  Let us now marvel at our magnificent new creation!

Spewing Flames


14 Infernal Minions, Army

14 Wild Sentinel, Army

4 Longshot, RFF

4 Centurious, The Soulless Man

4 Fire, Beatriz DaCosta

4 Justice League Task Force

4 Millennium

4 Reconstruction Program

4 Secret Files

2 UN Building, Team-Up

2 Vicarious Living

Much like Wild Vomit, this deck is simple in premise, yet remarkably potent.  Optimally, we would like to have Longshot on the board on turn 1 to start filling our hand.  Of course, the team-ups play an integral role in the deck  (although the only “necessary” team-ups are Sentinels, Underworld, and Injustice Gang).  If you can somehow swing the odd initiatives with the deck, then you can use Centurious to clear the way against a smaller character on turn 5, and then swing with a massive number of power-ups on Fire for as much burn damage as possible  (and, hopefully, a lot of breakthrough endurance loss as well).  Of course, if you manage to power-up a character twenty-five times while Fire is on the board, you’re probably going to win regardless of how much breakthrough you do.  Heh heh!

Okay then, that’s all for this week.  But I promise to return next week to conclude our dining trilogy.  In the meantime, if you’d like to drop me a line at , I’d love to read what you have to say.  Granted, I cannot guarantee that I will write back  (as “free time” does not have a translation in the language of audit).  However, I promise that I will read and treasure anything that you send me.

That is, of course, unless you send me wasabi.  Should you be foolish enough do so, I will undoubtedly send Large Marge after you.

* This is the standardized exam that all public accounting professionals must take and pass before being able to work in higher capacities in accounting firms.  I was fortunate enough to pass it a few years ago, hence my AOL Instant Messenger signature “BigSpookyCPA. ”

** Yes, yes, I know.  That was a very tasteless remark.  But apt nonetheless.

*** Or something to that effect.

Mystic Chain  (01/24/06)

It’s time for the final installment of the “Spooky Goes Out To Eat” trilogy.  When we last saw our fearless culinary adventurer, he was being restrained by his coworkers from cutting off his own head to put out the eternal fire burning in his nostrils—a fire largely due to a generous dose of wasabi.  This time around, our hero is on his way to sample some steaks at a local eatery.  Okay .  .  .  I’ll cut out the spaghetti western narrative now.

After my experience at Nobu, I was eagerly anticipating a meal that contained foods I was familiar with.  The dinner was taking place as part of a “partner community event. ” In essence, a partner at my company  (person who makes a lot more money than I do) was assigned a group of individuals within the organization to mentor.  As part of this mentoring process, the partner sponsors events for the individuals.  In this case, my partner was sponsoring a swank dinner.

Now, while I love steak as much as the next guy, I was a bit concerned about the duration of the dinner.  You see, I was already riding the tail end of a 60-hour workweek, and my boss had informed me that we would be putting in some time over the weekend, as well.  As someone who really enjoys his free time  (maybe even more so than steak), this was very bitter news for me.  Accordingly, while I was looking forward to a fantastic dinner, I was not looking forward to spending three hours dining with a group of people that I barely knew.

Yeah .  .  .  I know what you’re thinking.  “Three hours for dinner? Is the meal served in bite-sized courses?” Those were my thoughts as well.  The dinner was scheduled from 6: 00 to 9: 00 that evening, but I honestly did not anticipate that it would take that long.  I mean, come on! Who spends three whole hours eating a single meal?

I was in for a very rude awakening!

Dining:  A Timeline

6: 00 P. M.  I arrived at Bob’s Steakhouse in uptown Dallas.  The restaurant was somewhat deceptive from the outside, as it looked like a ramshackle storefront.  I could tell from the aroma wafting from inside, though, that I had found the right place.  I met up with my group at the bar  (which was a challenge in itself, as I am not good at mingling with people I don’t know).  Everyone tried to make polite conversation  (what colleges they attended, what kind of cars they drove, whether they thought Tim Batow should wear an Aqualad costume at the next PC, etc. ).  Unfortunately, auditing was about the only thing that everyone had in common, so the conversation inevitably drifted back to that.

6: 30 P. M.  After half an hour of uncomfortable mingling and an encounter with a not-so-subtle bartender over my beverage of choice, one of the hostesses led our party to our table. * We had twelve people in our party, so I assumed that we would be seated at a large rectangular table with the partner at the head.  Imagine my surprise when they sat all of us at a giant round table.  It appeared as if the restaurant was well-suited to serve large parties, as there were several of these tables scattered across the dining room.

7: 00 P. M.  I quickly tired of counting the giant round tables in the restaurant.  I was still waiting for the Diet Coke that I had ordered about half an hour earlier.  I attempted to engage some of my coworkers in small talk.  However, as I am an accountant and a trading card gamer, I am quite horrid at small talk.  Moreover, many of the guests at the dinner were wholeheartedly engaged in a discussion of various reality television shows.  As I fully believe reality TV to be one of the signs of the Apocalypse, I do not spend a great deal of time following them.  As such, I was left almost completely out of any table discussion.

7: 30 P. M.  My beverage did eventually arrive.  However, I was a bit wary about consuming too much of it, as it would probably take another full hour to refill it.  The server also brought appetizers for the table.  The buffalo wings were quite tasty, but the sauteed mushrooms left something to be desired.  Perhaps it was because the mushrooms were sauteed whole rather than sliced—but I digress.  When the server came to take our entree orders, I was a bit unsure about what I should have.  I decided upon the most logical course of action:  I simply ordered the same thing as the guy next to me.  In this case, it was the twelve-ounce filet mignon.

8: 00 P. M.  We were still waiting on the main course.  The polite conversation had actually shifted to me, since I was a Forensics oddity in this group of auditors.  Many of the auditors were curious about what exactly I did in the Forensics group.  Of course, the partner followed this up with, “Don’t worry .  .  .  before we’re done, we’ll convince Michael that audit is the way to go!” Thinking this was a joke, I started laughing out loud.  It struck me a few seconds later that no one else at the table found the comment to be a source of humor.

8: 30 P. M.  After having already spent in excess of two hours in the restaurant, our food finally arrived.  I remember thinking that for this dinner to be even somewhat worthwhile, the steak would have to be the best I’d ever eaten .  .  .  and it was! After taking my first bite of the delicious, juicy, and tender beef, I forgot all about everything else that had troubled me earlier in the evening.  I was so focused on the steak that I almost missed the scalloped potatoes  (which were excellent) and asparagus  (which was not as good as the steak, but good nonetheless).  The one thing that I distinctly remember about the meal is that once I had finished my steak, I wished that I had ordered the sixteen-ounce filet mignon!

9: 00 P. M.  After a fully satisfying meal, I was ready to bid my farewells and head home to get some sleep before my busy working weekend.  But wait—no one at the table seemed to be making any overt movements toward the exit.  In fact, everyone  (except me, of course) seemed to be firmly planted in their seats, enjoying an exciting Friday evening of .  .  .  um .  .  .  sitting. ** Our server came around with the dessert menu, but all I could think about was whether or not I would be getting out of the restaurant at a reasonable hour.

9: 30 P. M.  Everyone else seemed to be having a grand time enjoying their desserts and laughing as if they didn’t have a care in the world.  I, on the other hand, remained sulking in my chair as I frequently checked my watch to see just how much longer I had been stranded at Bob’s.  My conversation was limited to a barely audible series of grunts, which earned me a few questioning looks when people at the table tried to speak with me.  This did not, however, prevent the partner from ordering another bottle of wine!

10: 00 P. M.  As the fifth hour of my visit to Bob’s Steakhouse began, I started frantically thinking of ways to escape this prolonged agony.  Whenever I caught the eye of one of the guests at the table, I pointed to my watch and screamed, “It’s ten o’clock! Ten o’clock!! You’re going to miss your Seinfeld reruns!!!” Unfortunately, my mad expostulations were drowned out by the hearty guffaws of one of the other guests at the table who, by this time, had surely consumed enough wine to poison a mastodon.  Despite my frantic efforts, everyone else at the table roared into the late night with no other thought than to eat, drink, and deprive Michael of sleep.

10: 30 P. M.  By this time, I had lost all sense of feeling in my backside.  I was sure that my body was settling into a state of rigor mortis and that the wait staff would be preparing me for embalming any moment now.  I cursed the fact that I hadn’t drafted a last will and testament, for now my Tim Batow–autographed copy of Aqualad would undoubtedly be lost forever.  As my motionless body dragged nearer and nearer to demise, I prayed to God that my internal organs  (at least, the ones that still worked) would be donated to somebody in true need.

11: 00 P. M.  A fate worse than death.  The aforementioned fellow, who had been imbibing at an alarming pace, began attempting to sing “Louie, Louie. ” Having decided to proverbially gnaw off my leg to escape the trap, I stood up and thanked the partner for a wonderful meal.  Everyone at the table looked at me quizzically, undoubtedly thinking, “He surely can’t be leaving this early!” I attempted to clarify, stating that I had to go into work early the next morning.  This, of course, was met by more vacant stares.  Flummoxed, I shook my head and departed the restaurant.  As I walked out of the door, I was positive that I heard someone drunkenly singing “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. ”

Okay .  .  .  so maybe the evening wasn’t quite that arduous.  But it was close.

The Chains That Bind

The feeling of being trapped by “invisible chains,” so to speak, is difficult to describe in accurate detail.  I know that everyone has had that feeling at one time or another, whether it’s shopping with a girlfriend, being trapped in a movie or a play that you don’t like, or even being stuck at work for hours on end.  You can see, hear, feel, and taste freedom.  Inevitably, though, it is just beyond your grasp.

Perhaps this notion of being trapped is what led me to find this week’s deck so appealing.  During my Christmas break  (a gloriously audit-free vacation back in Oklahoma), I was introduced to the new pet deck of my good friend Johnson Bailey.  Johnson has about everything an aspiring Vs.  System pro could want—a keen love and talent for the game, an attractive wife  (who also has a keen love and talent for the game), and  (most importantly) me for a teammate!

Johnson told me about his project deck that abused the card Mystic Chain.  I had always been fascinated by the card, but I was never able to find the right deck to utilize it.  Johnson, however, had a great deal of success with it in a very aggressive swarm build.  Recalling the intangible chains that held me to that brutally long meal, I decided that this would be too good of an analogy to pass up!  As I did before when featuring another individual’s decklist, I’ll provide the build, then go into detail about it afterward.

The Chain Gang  by Johnson Bailey

4 Ape X, Xina

4 Bart Allen ◊ Impulse, HA

2 Dawn Granger ◊ Dove, AoO

1 Doctor Decibel, Anton Decibel

2 Joystick, Janice Yanizesh

1 Nathan Garrett ◊ Black Knight

1 Pantha, Subject X-24

1 Paul Ebersol ◊ Fixer, PS

1 Phantazia, Eileen Harshaw

1 Roy Harper ◊ Speedy, MM

2 Soldiers Of New Genesis, Army

2 Sue Dibny, CC

1 Ted Kord ◊ Blue Beetle

1 The Shark, T.  S.  Smith

2 Thermite, Sam Yurimoto

2 Yellowjacket, Rita DeMara

1 Booster Gold, MJC

1 Hank Hall ◊ Hawk, AoC

1 Speed Demon, SCS

1 Vic Stone ◊ Cyborg, HM

4 Savage Beatdown

4 Flying Kick

4 Forced Allegiance

4 Mega-Blast

4 No Fear

4 Birthing Chamber

4 Mystic Chain

The Build

The inspired brilliance of this deck is difficult to describe.  I am not a big fan of swarm decks in general, but this build has the potential for enormous successes where others have failed.  One major downfall of swarm decks is that they drain the hand too quickly.  Mystic Chain, however, solves this dilemma by turning the swarm strategy into a source of massive card advantage.  Not only can we start drawing extra cards as early as the second turn, but we can also make our opponent’s life very difficult by forcing him or her to discard cards from hand in the early turns.

Of course, the card-drawing engine of the swarm build is further supplemented by the presence of Birthing Chamber.  Since we will usually have four characters on the board by turn 3, Birthing Chamber will further enable us to maintain a sufficient hand size.  This is very important when we are recruiting multiple characters every turn.

Of course, every swarm deck needs enough attack pumps to take down larger characters.  This deck has plenty of pump, toting sixteen attack pump plot twists.  Flying Kick and Mega-Blast are potent all-purpose attack pumps that can give attackers turn-based bonuses as early as the first turn.  No Fear is great because it can be used as either an offensive or defensive weapon  (especially since we will usually be attacking and defending up the curve).  Finally, Savage Beatdown is .  .  .  well .  .  .  it’s Savage Beatdown!

As far as teaming-up goes, you might have noticed that the deck plays a very wide variety of teams.  To deal with this issue, we could play a card like Mosaic World to enable these characters to interact with one another.  However, there are a few characters that have potent benefits conferred upon them from having other characters of the same team on the board with them  (Bart Allen ◊ Impulse, for example).  As such, we will rely on Forced Allegiance to team-up our weenies.  Forced Allegiance will effectively meld all of our characters on the board without disrupting characters’ hand and deck effects  (like Yellowjacket and Sue Dibny).

Let’s now take a quick look at character selection.

Ape X:  Squadron Rush players know all about Xina’s equipment-fetching goodness.  In the case of this deck  (which leans pretty heavily on Mystic Chain), having a character on the board and a card that fetches your win condition all in one is a definite benefit.  As such, Ape X is one of the two most important characters in the deck and a four-of.

Bart Allen ◊ Impulse:  The second of the two most important characters, Impulse is dramatically different from Ape X in that it’s never been effectively utilized in a competitive deck.  However, Impulse can be a major player in this deck with the proper setup.  According to Bailey, an optimal series of drops on the first two turns would be Ape X, Impulse, and any other 1-drop  (we’ll say Thermite).  Assuming that the opposing player has only one visible character, Thermite attacks up the curve to stun the 2-drop  (with the help of an attack pump if necessary).  Then Impulse  (equipped with a Mystic Chain) attacks directly to score a card.  Finally, Forced Allegiance is flipped up to make every character Teen Titans.  Ape X is exhausted for Impulse’s effect, and Impulse attacks again directly to score another card.  Granted, there are several cards that have to come together to make that combo work, but when it does go off, it is a thing of beauty!

Yellowjacket, Rita DeMara, Sue Dibny, Dawn Granger ◊ Dove, Hank Hall ◊ Hawk:  While not as critical as our lynchpin characters, these cards fill a major role in that they serve as character searchers for our deck.  While having the ability to search out characters is important, these cards have an added benefit in that they actually net us card advantage when they are played.  Sue Dibny allows for an immediate search of Booster Gold when she is played.  Yellowjacket requires a boost of one resource point, but you can search out any Masters of Evil 1- or 2-drop—and you get the resource point back! Finally, Hawk and Dove are well-known for their escapades in standard Teen Titans builds.  They are no less formidable here, giving you what are essentially a free character search effect and both a 2- and 3-drop, all for the price of three resource points.

Joystick, Pantha, Soldiers Of New Genesis, The Shark, T. S. Smith:  Since we will be doing a lot of attacking up the curve  (as most of our characters are 1-drops), it would probably be wise for us to have some strong attackers in the 1-drop position.  Of course, they don’t get much bigger than Joystick, who is effectively a 3-drop when you have few cards in hand.  While she can be a liability in later turns  (assuming our deck’s strategy comes to fruition and we fill our hand), she can be very potent in early turns when we are dropping several cards each turn.  Pantha is an offensive monster that can easily attack up into 2- and 3-drops.  Soldiers Of New Genesis are just plain big.  Finally, The Shark keeps getting bigger as we flip up resources  (which we will hopefully be doing often).

Doctor Decibel, Phantazia, Nathan Garrett ◊ Black Knight, Roy Harper ◊ Speedy:  Of course, size isn’t everything, so Bailey included a few “finesse” 1-drops to balance out the deck.  Doctor Decibel and Phantazia are great at keeping opposing defenders at manageable DEF levels.  Black Knight has a nice Blind Sided–type effect that can enable a character equipped with Mystic Chain to force through breakthrough endurance loss.  Finally, Speedy is quite simply the best there is at eliminating problematic 1-drops.  Child-lock players will have a tough time making A Child Named Valeria effective when Speedy keeps Invisible Woman, The Invisible Girl out of play.

Paul Ebersol ◊ Fixer, Thermite:  Of course, any good deck always has a couple of good tech choices.  Having a deck chock-full of 1- and 2-drops can be problematic if our opponent is playing Flame Trap.  Thus, Fixer is a natural choice, as it forces our opponent to deal with him before he can torch our board.  In addition, we can easily search out Fixer with Yellowjacket.  Thermite, on the other hand, is not quite so obvious a choice.  However, any 1-drop with a decent ATK that can force hand control on our opponent is worth consideration.  As such, Thermite should be a card that we utilize  (if sparingly) to keep our opponent’s hand in check.

Ted Kord ◊ Blue Beetle, Booster Gold:  Blue Beetle and Booster Gold are recent imports from the JLA set.  Blue Beetle has quite a bit of utility in the deck in that he can search out either Mystic Chain or Booster Gold with his effect.  While his effect is not as helpful from a hand advantage perspective since it requires a discard, it does have the advantage of being reusable.  Thus, we can feasibly cycle “dead” cards out of hand for extra copies of cards that we can effectively utilize.  Booster Gold, in later turns, is simply a 1-drop disguised as a 2-drop.  Since we will get two of the three resource points that we pay to recruit Booster Gold  (assuming that we boost him), we’ll get a 3/2 with flight and range for the low, low price of one resource point!

Speed Demon, Second Chance Speedster:  We have a couple of key choices for characters outside of 1- and 2-drops.  Of course, we should naturally give consideration to the awesome Speed Demon.  As my good friend John Hall once stated, “Speed Demon is the best 5-drop in the game!” Of course, he was referring to the fact that, barring interference from Terra, Gambit, and the like, Speed Demon is an extremely effective under-drop in later turns.  For the cost of a single endurance point, you will almost always net two attacks with Speed Demon.  With a Flying Kick or Mega-Blast thrown in the mix, you can easily take down a 4-drop and 5-drop with a single 3-drop.  To say that Speed Demon is awesome is a massive understatement.

Vic Stone ◊ Cyborg:  Finally, we have a much-maligned Teen Titans character.  Cyborg gets a lot of flak for being significantly weaker than other Teen Titans characters.  However, he does fill a useful role in our deck with his ability to search out Mystic Chain for free.  While his stats are a bit less impressive than the average 4-drop, the prevalence of attack pumps should be more than enough to make up for this disparity.

Potential Considerations

While Bailey stands behind the potency and effectiveness of the build, he admits that there is probably room for improvement on the design.  One character that he mentioned wanting to find room for is Punisher, Jury.  Additionally, there are several low-cost characters that might assist in the deck’s swarm utility, such as Dr.  Light, Master Of Holograms, Beetle, Armorsmith, and Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose.  Having a wider array of search and recruiting effects in the deck could add to the board and hand advantage that the deck emphasizes.

One card I would like to find a space for is Justice League Of Arkham.  This card breaks the mold of most prior discard effects in that it is effective outside of the combat phase.  In essence, if you can draw into a couple of copies, it is possible to force your opponent to completely miss playing a resource and/or a character on later turns.  However, this strategy would require playing Arkham Inmates characters  (which might be an additional incentive for playing Poison Ivy).

That wraps up this week’s Breaking Ground.  You are always more than welcome to shoot any thoughts or ideas my way at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.  If I fail to get back to you, please don’t take it personally.  I am probably just trapped at a partner dinner with no hope of immediate escape.

*I don’t drink alcohol much anymore, but this guy was bound and determined to get me sauced.  Every time I said “Diet Coke,” he repeated back “Rum and Coke?” I am hoping that it was just a matter of him trying to get me to pay more for my drink so that he’d get a bigger tip.  However, I still find myself occasionally looking over my shoulder in fear.

**It occurs to me, though, that this is a bit of a hypocritical criticism, as I am prone to spend my Friday evenings sitting around playing Vs.  System.  I guess it all depends on your point of view, eh?

Roll Call!  (2/14/06)

I’m a somewhat private person.  Unlike many of my accounting brethren, who seem to believe that you can’t have R&R unless you’re sitting in a smoke-filled club with an alcoholic beverage in hand, I like to spend my free time in my apartment reading books, watching TV, or playing on the computer.  Reclusive? Certainly.  Pathetic? Maybe.  Does it make me happy? Definitely!

My one exception to this is the time I spend playing cards at the local card shop.  I have a pretty stalwart group of gaming buddies over at JJK Cards in Richardson that I can always count on for a few hours of intense Vs.  System competition.  One good thing about playing at JJK is that most of the players there, while respecting my play skill, do not impose on me for favors based upon my high profile in the Vs.  System community.  For the most part, I am simply just another Vs.  System player in a group of highly talented players.

Recently, however, one of the regulars caught me off-guard.  Skyler “Skittles” Thomas asked if I would feature one of his decks in an article.  Now, anyone who has followed my articles for the past five months probably knows that I have only featured two decks built by other players.  One was the outrageous Mystic Chain deck built by Johnson Bailey.  Aside from building a deck that was nothing short of brilliant, Johnson also has a strong gaming record to his name, including a Top 8 finish at $10K Chicago in April 2005.  The other deck was the inspired Jericho abuse build by none other than Tim “Aqualad” Batow.  Tim’s build was one of the most fun decks that I’d ever had the pleasure of playing, and his accomplishments speak of his immense skill, so I won’t go into detail. *

While Skittles is basically a good kid and a decent player, he doesn’t have any Vs.  System accomplishments to speak of, and to my knowledge, he hasn’t built any extraordinary decks.  So I asked Skittles what deck of his he’d like me to feature.  He suggested  (in order) a Gotham Knights curve deck, a Curve Sentinels deck, and a Common Enemy build.  Granted, all of these decks are playable, but they aren’t what I would call “revolutionary. ”

Standing In The Spotlight

This week’s installment of Breaking Ground is not about anything that Skittles has built—despite his persistence, I politely declined to feature any of his decks.  However, his request made me realize that even though most of my gaming friends avoid asking me for “shout-outs” in my Metagame. com articles, all of them would probably appreciate it if I occasionally threw a little recognition toward them.  Let’s get to it:

  • First and foremost, I must give a shout-out to my new team, Team Alternate Win Condition  (TAWC).  The original members of the Dream Team decided to join forces with some of the scrubs from Florida  (you know .  .  .  because we felt sorry for ’em!), and the result has been a unique mix of skills, personalities, and  (most importantly) jank!
  • Next, I’d like to say “Hey!” to my regular playtest posse at JJK Cards in Richardson, Texas:  Tom, Julian, Tee, Mark, Travis, Polo, Gene, Johnny, and The Sauce. ** Of course, there are others who occasionally show up  (Chuck and Alexander, Cody and crew, Miller and his merry men, and lately, Jason and Phil), but the aforementioned nine are pretty much the regulars.
  • Of course, I’ve gotta shout-out to my buddy Joe Corbett up in Kansas.  One of the nicest people I know, hanging out with Joe is always a blast.  Now if we could just get him to stop being a vegetarian .  .  .
  • I’d like to take a second to mention one of my new favorite podcast programs, The Fallout Shelter.  Richard and Paul do a great job with their weekly  (sometimes bi-weekly) podcast, which discusses a diverse array of topics in the Vs.  System.  Along with Dylan Northrup’s Tech Upgrade, The Fallout Shelter brings some Internet-audio happiness to my weary workdays. ***  (I’m listening to it right now! – TW)
  • Dave Spears, because he gave me some mad props on Vs Realms. com a few weeks back.  (And because he’s friggin’ Dave Spears!)
  • Team Online never seems to get any mention when it comes to competitive Vs.  System teams, but they’ve made consistent showings in each of the Vs Realms online tournaments.  While they haven’t found the level of success of many Vs.  System teams, they make up for it in enthusiasm, love of the game, and some of the most innovative deck ideas the game has seen.  I’m a sucker for jank, and they do it almost as well as anyone.  Props to the TO crew!
  • And, of course, a shout-out to Skittles.  Hi, Skittles!

I apologize to anyone I missed  (though I have no doubt that you’ll let me know about it).  Now that we’re done with our little roll call, we can get to our card of the day .  .  .  Roll Call!

Hail! Hail! The Gang’s All Here!

My most important shout-out of the article goes out to Gillie “Gilford The Lightning” Younger.  Gillie is one of my former playtest buddies back in Oklahoma.  While he wasn’t a part of our regular group of playtesters, he still spent a good deal of time interacting with our group.  One of the great things about Gillie was the flashes of deckbuilding brilliance he possessed.  Granted, Gillie usually stuck with established builds, like GLEE or The Brave and The Bold.  However, he occasionally managed to concoct a build from some unestablished set of cards or teams  (like the New Gods) that was competitive in a way we never thought possible.

My favorite “flash of brilliance” of Gillie’s came this past November.  I was testing Doom/Injustice Gang at the time, and I met up with Gillie on a visit back to Tulsa for some playtesting.  Gillie’s deck of choice at the time was a JLA ally deck.  Gillie is still in his teens, so he doesn’t have the level of disposable income of many Vs.  System players.  As a result, he was missing several key cards that you would think are important in a JLA ally build  (most notably, Hero’s Welcome).  Still, he managed to win about half of the games that we played on the strength of the JLA characters.

Of course, I realized that my Doom/Injustice Gang deck  (which tends to put a lot of cards into my opponent’s hand) probably had a bad matchup against a deck that could utilize those cards.  So I switched to X-Statix.  In retrospect, this was a massive mistake, as Gillie used Elongated Man to keep my key locations out of play.  With the power of his big beaters, Gillie crushed me rather thoroughly in nearly every game we played.

The sole exception to this was the one game when Gillie got a little carried away with Firestorm.  While I marveled at the incredible synergy Firestorm had with the deck  (as even an empty hand usually got refilled on turn 5 through his effect), the accumulated cost of his effect became rather onerous.  It got me wondering if it would be possible to construct a JLA ally deck that could abuse Firestorm while maintaining a sufficient amount of endurance.

This is, of course, where Roll Call! fits in.  With three JLA characters on the board, each copy of Roll Call! will repay one use of Firestorm’s effect.  Moreover, the secondary effect of Roll Call! will help cycle through the deck more quickly while ridding the hand of “dead cards. ”

We’re going to build our own JLA ally deck that can use Roll Call! to its fullest extent.  That way, we can get as carried away with Firestorm as we like!

The Build

Surprise, surprise .  .  .  four copies of Roll Call!!  What else in the way of plot twists? Well, we know that this is going to be a JLA ally deck, so some of the cards designed specifically for that deck type might be in order.  First, we’ll need four copies of Hero’s Welcome.  Character search can be beneficial in pretty much any deck, but Hero’s Welcome interacts with a JLA ally deck on a level beyond that of other teams’ search cards.  Not only does Hero’s Welcome allow us to discard any two cards, but it also puts an extra copy of the character we search out into our hand—not a bad deal for a deck centered on powering-up! Poor Gillie might not have the resources to acquire four copies, but here in the world of the hypothetical, we can have any number we like—any number four or less, that is!

Now, let’s take some of the power-up plot twists from the JLA set into consideration.  Magnificent Seven seems like an obvious choice.  In your first four turns, it’s a power-up for any character you control and a free card.  On turns 5 and up, it’s a power-up for any character you control and a free card  (assuming you control Firestorm).  Any card that can give you a generic power-up is well worth playing in an ally deck, especially when you take into account the beneficial effect wrought by JLA’s ally mechanics.  The fact that you will almost always draw a card when you play Magnificent Seven just sweetens the deal.

Of course, four copies of Magnificent Seven probably aren’t enough support for the deck, so we’ll also run with four copies of Reform the League.  This ongoing plot twist made JLA ally an absolute monster in Sealed Pack formats, especially if you could team up with JLI to abuse Fire.  While it is not quite as game-breaking in Constructed, since Reform the League is limited to one use per turn, it is still potent nonetheless.

As a side note, we are going to refrain from using Reform the League’s companion card, Disband the League.  If we were going to aim to have several characters on the board  (like a swarm strategy), then Disband the League would be a strong choice if only from the perspective of hand advantage.  However, as we will see when we get into our character selections, we will probably be better off building along the curve.  Assuming that we achieve this build goal, we shouldn’t have more than a few characters in play at any given time.  We might get a couple of uses out of Disband the League, but it would probably not be a heavily used card.  In addition, Firestorm should help ensure that we have plenty of cards in hand.  As such, Disband the League is probably not as potent a card in this framework.

Moving on, let’s look at some tech for our deck.  Obviously, our curve deck will need some help combating the tricks of off-curve decks, so we need to consider some “weenie hate” for our build.  We’re going to go with three copies of Flame Trap.  There may be some newer cards, like H’ronmeer’s Curse and Avengers Disassembled, that are vying for the title of “off-curve control card of choice,” but for my money, there’s still nothing better than the original “weenie killa!” Besides, we should be drawing enough cards that the discard cost won’t be a problem.

Our final plot twist is playing the dual role of attack pump and tech.  Our ally deck has two cards that can absolutely wreck it.  The first of these cards is Kang, Kang Cobra.  One problem with Kang Cobra is that he tends to sit comfortably in the hidden area of our opponent’s board where we can’t normally reach him.  Seeing as how this little monster has the potential to remove the entire power-up focus of our deck, we need to have an answer for him  (i.e. , a way to move him out of the hidden area).  With this in mind, we’re going to forego the ever-popular Savage Beatdown to include four copies of No Man Escapes the Manhunters.  While it doesn’t have the sheer power of Savage Beatdown, No Man Escapes the Manhunters possesses plenty of “oomph!” in its own right, while providing the finesse that our deck so desperately needs to deal with cards like Kang Cobra.

Our location choices will help us deal with the other card that could potentially wreck our deck.  Unmasked has become a popular tech card in control decks for its ability to shut down Lost City variants.  If we don’t have a suitable response, then Unmasked could similarly shut down our deck.  Fortunately, the R&D guys at UDE had the foresight to plan for this and gave us an answer in the form of Monitor Womb Station.  This JLA-specific location is limited in its uses, but it does what we need it to do here.

In essence, Monitor Womb Station will ensure that Unmasked will not trouble you on future turns.  In addition, if you are reasonably certain that your opponent isn’t playing Unmasked, Monitor Womb Station can shut down other problematic plot twists that your opponent might throw at you.  It can stop AGL rush from having one of your characters Banished to the Anti-Matter Universe.  Squadron rush isn’t nearly so fearsome if they can’t drop Mega-Blast, Flying Kick, and Surprise Attack out of the hand.  G’Lock isn’t quite the stalling machine it’s made out to be without the help of Rain of Acorns and Helping Hand.  Finally, let’s see how well New School hits its drops when we lock out Bat-Signal and Wild Ride!

Our final non-character choices are equipment, and I think that it will be a shock to no one that we’re going to play four copies of Nth Metal.  I don’t think that I should have to spell this out for anyone .  .  .  but just in case: 

Nth Metal + Deck based on powering-up = SWEET COMBO!

If you read into my not-so-subtle segue in the previous paragraph, you probably realize that we are now going to look at characters.  At 1 we have .  .  .  nothing! The truth is that the JLA has several 1-drops that could be potent in our build, including Gypsy, Snapper Carr, and Ray Palmer ◊ The Atom.  However, if we happen to miss one of these characters on the first two turns  (as we will a good amount of the time), then the only utility they’ll have is for use with Reform the League or as a discard for Hero’s Welcome or Flame Trap. **** Given that these characters won’t usually provide a great deal of utility, we’re going to refrain from playing any of them.

At 2, we have a couple of strong choices.  From a pure attack perspective, Connor Hawke ◊ Green Arrow is a good choice in our deck.  Discounting any effects, he’s a formidable 3/2 with range.  Of course, his ally ability to tack on an additional +1/+0 for each power-up means that our opponents will have a tough time sending anything our way in the early game without stunning back.  Our other choice at 2 is more of a disruptive tool.  Elongated Man isn’t as powerful as Connor Hawke  (at least, from the perspective of his ally ability), but his presence on the board represents a threat to almost every control/combo deck in the game.  Imagine setting up your board for a win with Rigged Elections or Xavier’s Dream, only to have it decimated by a single power-up.  Team-up cards from the first six sets aren’t any safer, as Elongated Man will pop them off with equal fervor.  Let’s see how New School operates in the late turns with all of its copies of Midnight Sons in the KO’d pile!

We’re going to look at our 3- and 4-drops together, since our choices there will be somewhat unorthodox.  In a standard curve deck, you want anywhere from six to eight characters available to play on both turns 3 and 4.  However, our deck has two characters that are without peer at these drops.  As such, we are going to play four copies of each, and these will be our only characters at these costs.  At 3, Shayera Thal ◊ Hawkwoman is impressive to say the least.  Much like Connor Hawke, Hawkwoman boasts some impressive stats along with flight and range.  But our real reason for using her is that she is one of the strongest enablers we have at our disposal.  For the cost of a power-up and a discard, Hawkwoman can fetch either a precious Nth Metal or a copy of our 4-drop of choice, Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman.  Anyone who has played JLA Sealed knows that a single copy of Hawkman equipped with an Nth Metal can turn the entire tide of a game.  Not only is an equipped Hawkman significantly larger than the average 4-drop  (enabling him to attack laterally without stunning in many cases), but his ally ability is also completely nuts.  It is pretty standard that an aggressive deck needs to be able to attack up the curve to be successful.  However, Hawkman’s ability allows our characters to both attack and defend up the curve! When your opponent can’t safely attack any of your characters without stunning back  (think Sinestro, Green Lantern of Korugar), then you know that you’re in a good position to dominate the game.

Turn 5 presents us with a couple of options.  Obviously, we’ll want to include four copies of Firestorm, as our inclusion of Roll Call! is essentially an answer to the cost of Firestorm’s effect.  However, against decks that will enable us to draw plenty of cards without Firestorm  (such as Injustice Gang), we might opt for a more control-oriented card.  In this case, Oliver Queen ◊ Green Arrow, Hard-Traveling Hero is our best bet.  Having characters that can help us control our opponents’ boards on off-initiative turns is never a bad thing.  Ollie’s ability to exhaust in response to a power-up and stun a 3-drop could definitely be beneficial against certain decks.  Besides, there’s a subtle irony in the fact that Ollie can help out our matchup against Teen Titans so much given his ability to stun his protege, Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal.  While Ollie is basically a tech card, we’ll include two copies of him.  If we do have to use Hero’s Welcome to search him out, it will be nice to have the extra copy for powering-up purposes.

Our choice at 6 is an unorthodox one.  Nevertheless, Batman, Avatar of Justice is the best pick to fill this slot.  One thing that is apparent about JLA ally builds is that the characters that make up the mid- to late game are generally bigger than the opponent’s characters, even without power ups.  As such, your opponents will generally have to rely on attack and defense pumps to compete with your characters from turns 4 to 6.  Enter Batman.  Having a character that lets you select which plot twists your opponent can use is an extraordinary benefit.  Is your opponent trying to dodge your attack with a Cover Fire? Power-up and negate it! How about your opponent’s 4-drop that’s trying to attack up the curve into your 6-drop with the help of a Savage Beatdown? Power-up and negate it! Batman may only be effective during attacks, but having a built-in Fizzle effect, even in a limited capacity, can be game-breaking.

Turn 7 needs some explanation.  Originally, I was going to opt for Superman, Avatar of Peace.  However, my testing revealed that even with his potent ally ability, he just didn’t do enough to assist the deck.  This is when I swapped out for Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas.  While he’s not an ally character, his ability to fish cards back from the watery depths is indispensable.  More importantly, Aquaman essentially doubles the effectiveness of Roll Call!.  Assume that we have managed to keep our entire board from turn 4 onward intact.  We can play a couple of copies of Roll Call! from our hand to gain 8 endurance.  At the start of the combat phase, Aquaman can retrieve those copies of Roll Call! we just played.  Once again, we play two copies of Roll Call! to gain 8 more endurance.  After playing Roll Call! four times, we will probably cycle through enough cards that we hit at least one more.  If we play one more copy, we will gain a grand total of 20 endurance! While there are several decks out there that can easily best that, most of those decks are predicated on stall tactics or some sort of late game combo.  Having an effective way to gain endurance in an aggressive deck can be a tremendous advantage.

Finally, we need one copy of Martian Manhunter, Manhunter from Mars.  While we shouldn’t plan on too many games that go to turn 8, it is probably not a bad idea to have a card that will put us over the top should we reach the late game.  I suppose that it goes without saying that having a character on the board that can turn any card in our hand into a power-up is a good thing.  In addition, Mars has decent synergy with Aquaman and Oliver Queen.  And if we do happen to draw our single copy of Mars early, we can simply pitch him for Reform the League, then use Aquaman to fetch him back from the briny deep.

Strike up the band! We’re done with our analysis.  Let’s see what happens when the JLA crew shows up for the game.

Justice League Mouseketeer Roll Call!

4 Connor Hawke ◊ Green Arrow

4 Elongated Man

4 Shayera Thal ◊ Hawkwoman

4 Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman

4 Firestorm

2 Oliver Queen ◊ GA, HTH

4 Batman, Avatar of Justice

3 Aquaman, KotSS

1 Martian Manhunter, MFM

3 Flame Trap

4 Hero’s Welcome

4 Magnificent Seven


4 Reform the League

4 Roll Call!

3 Monitor Womb Station

4 Nth Metal

Since Hawkwoman can fetch either Nth Metal or Hawkman with her effect, she is our mulligan condition  (or at least Hero’s Welcome so that we can fetch her on turn 3 if need be).  If we are fortunate enough to get a copy of Hawkwoman equipped with Nth Metal in play on turn 3, then we shouldn’t have too much trouble hitting our curve for the remainder of the game.

Given that power-ups are, for the most part, equally effective on offense and defense, the choice of initiative for the deck is largely irrelevant.  There might be some matchups where the initiative choices are important, such as preventing Teen Titans from getting the preferred odd initiative or allowing any Doom variant to control the even initiative.  In general, however, we should find that our deck operates effectively with either initiative choice.

Well, I think we’ve dissected JLA enough for one week.  I’m outta here .  .  .  and, in all probability, back to yet another 70-hour work week.  (I hate the busy season!) If you feel like dropping me a line to bring my audit-dampened spirits up, please send me a message at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.  As always, I make the disclaimer that I may not respond to your email.  This, of course, is not because I don’t want to respond, but because my employer has leeched the life out of me to the extent that I can no longer move my fingers to type.

Maybe you could send me an email with a YES/NO checklist.  I might be able to handle that.  Just point ’n click .  .  .  point ’n click .  .  .  point ’n click .  .  .

*Suffice it to say that Tim is still short.

**Johnny and The Sauce—to be sung to the tune of Benny and the Jets by Elton John.

***You can check out The Fallout Shelter at www. falloutcards. com.  Even though the podcasts don’t have file type suffixes, they are still playable through Windows Media Player.

****That said, I would personally like to see more low drops like Rick Jones with team-specific alternate recruit costs.  If Ray Palmer ◊ The Atom had an alternate recruit condition similar to Rick Jones’s, he would go from being a card that’s playable in limited situations to being absolutely amazing!

Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters  (02/21/06)

Now that we’ve all had a chance to see what the new X-Men set has to offer, I’m sure we all have thoughts percolating in our heads about what new decks we want to build—especially in Modern Age.  I know from personal experience that my team, Team Alternate Win Condition  (TAWC), has started furiously playtesting with the cards from the new set in preparation for PC Atlanta.  I should probably warn the Vs.  System community at large to beware of TAWC.  They may be short one BigSpooky in Atlanta, but they’ll make up for it with plenty of cool combos to devastate the competition.

Combos and Synergy:  The Keys To Vs.  System Domination

Speaking of combos, this week’s article focuses on a combo idea I’ve been toying around with for the past few months.  Shortly after PC New York, I wrote an article discussing the concept of synergy.  Synergy, as defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is “a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct elements. ” In layman’s terms, synergy means that the combination of two or more items is worth more than the individual values of those items put together.  In other words, a combo is greater than the sum of its parts.

Synergistic combos are replete in the Vs.  System.  Perhaps one of the most well-known combos is Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal and Press the Attack.  One card enables you to exhaust characters you control to a beneficial effect.  The other allows you to ready a character if you control four or more exhausted characters.  Individually, these cards are both strong.  However, the combination of these two cards in a Teen Titans deck makes the value of both increase significantly.

The most popular and effective combos in the Vs.  System are those that are limited to two or three cards.  I recall a discussion that I had with Patrick Yapjoco on Vs Realms after the Man of Steel release about the potential of Barbara Gordon ◊ Batgirl.  I claimed that with a little tweaking, The Brave and the Bold decks could be amazing.  Using the protection of Dynamic Duo, Batgirl and two other equipped characters armed with Utility Belts could attack a character.  Once the character stunned, you’d draw three cards from her effect.  Hopefully, the character also KO’d because GCPD Headquarters was on the board.  In any case, you then played Teen Titans Go! to ready all of your characters and attack again.

While I took some personal pride in this idea, Patrick dubbed it a “non-bo. ” His point was that it required too many cards to be in play at the same time to work effectively.  Of course, I scoffed at the idea and built the deck anyway.  And, after extensive playtesting, I found that Patrick was absolutely right.  Just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many cards spoil the combo.  Patrick “Majestic” Yapjoco – 1  Michael “BigSpooky” Barnes – 0

“It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!”*

Armed with the knowledge that we need to keep our combos small and simple, we’re going to explore our combo-enabling card of the day—Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters  (Activate >>> Ready target X-Men character you control with a cost of 3 or less.  That character cannot attack this turn. ).  Back in the heyday of Marvel Origins, I took part in a fairly successful draft where I picked X-Men almost exclusively.  This success was in large part to a couple of Surprise Attacks I snagged and a vicious little combo involving Xavier’s School and Advanced Hardware.  On turn 2, I was usually under-dropping with Shadowcat, Kitty Pryde so I could equip her with Advanced Hardware.  With Xavier’s School in play, Shadowcat guaranteed at least 6 points of endurance loss every turn.  By turn 6, that little three-card combo had usually resulted in 30 endurance loss to my opponent.  If I was able to muster any kind of an offense, then I had little trouble dispatching my opponent.

Since then, I have seen Xavier’s School used in a number of different capacities.  Some of the combos were fairly basic, such as using Xavier’s School to ready an attacking character to exhaust for Finishing Move or Fastball Special.  A few of these ideas were truly ingenious, like Justin “Latuki Joe” Brady’s turn 3 kill combo deck using Xavier’s School and Team Tactics.  Finally, one or two ideas were so brilliant that they had the potential to define a new archetype.  My former teammate Mark Hunt had a Teen Titans/X-Men deck that abused Arsenal and Xavier’s School to an extent that I have never before seen.  At the end of most games, he would usually only have one or two resources in play.  However, his opponent usually didn’t have any characters in play, so it was a more than fair exchange.  I lost many a game to that brutal combo.

Recently, it occurred to me that a combination of a couple of these ideas might make for an interesting deck.  Dr.  Light, Master of Holograms is obviously a strong card in a combo deck since he gives you extra character cards on the board for free.  Using this effect once per turn is impressive enough, but being able to use Dr.  Light’s effect multiple times in a turn would be absolutely absurd.  This is the premise of our deck today:  Dr.  Light + Xavier’s School = Swarm of characters beyond our wildest dreams!

The Build

As we most often do, we are going to start out with four copies of our theme card, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.  In addition, we will want to have four copies of Dr.  Light, Master of Holograms at our disposal.  Our immediate goal will always be to have Dr.  Light on the board with Xavier’s School so we can pump out as many extra characters on the board as possible.  Of course, to do that we will need to get the Emerald Enemies teamed-up with the X-Men.  We have a multitude of team-up cards that we could use for this task.  However, we’re going to try out X-Men United from the new set.  While it doesn’t give us the ability to draw a card like Millennium does, it has a potentially beneficial effect for the late game.  Moreover, the Team-Up version gives us a little more versatility.

In addition, we will include a single copy of UN Building.  As we will see shortly, our deck will boast a wide enough variety of teams that we should have no problem meeting the three team requirement of this Team-Up card.

Since the entire purpose of our deck is to abuse Dr.  Light and Xavier’s School, we will want to include a wide assortment of low-cost characters.  Fortunately, the X-Men have some of the best at 2 and below.  The key to success with the deck, however, will be to maximize our efficiency with these characters.  Let’s take a look at our selections:

Archangel, Angel:  The newest version of Archangel boasts an impressive ATK along with a searching ability that we might find beneficial.  In whichever manner he enters play, he will give us access to any one of the new X-Corp cards from the X-Men set.  As we will find, this could come in handy for us.

Bishop, Lucas Bishop:  While only a vanilla 2/2 character in some cases, Bishop becomes a whopping 5/5 against characters with range.  Given the popularity of Teen Titans, AGL Rush, and G’Lock, we should include at least one copy of the man from the future.

Cannonball and Nightcrawler, Kurt Wagner:  For a very long time, I believed that the 2-drop Nightcrawler was the best 2-drop in the game.  The only thing better than having Nightcrawler in our deck is having him and Cannonball—a character that has the exact same ability! Having two characters on the board that can’t be stunned while attacking is certainly not a bad thing, so we’ll include two copies each of Nightcrawler and his doppelganger.

Changeling:  Dr.  Light enables us to establish board presence through effectively free recruits.  Changeling, on the other hand, will help us maintain board presence by allowing us to replace him with a fresh character.  Then, on the next turn, we can simply use Dr.  Light’s effect to bring back Changeling for another go ‘round.

Cyclops, Slim:  Assuming we do achieve board control, there’s a good chance that, on our initiatives, we will have a few characters on the board that can attack directly.  Cyclops turns a direct team attack by a few small characters into a crippling blow to our opponent.  Assuming that we can pull off a direct team attack with three characters, we’ll get a bonus of 6 extra ATK.  With the potential for that kind of attack power in the early turns, Cyclops certainly deserves a slot in the deck.

Dazzler, Alison Blaire:  While we won’t be doing a lot of stalling with a swarm deck, Dazzler can be an unexpected surprise on the opponent’s initiative.  If your opponent leaves a large character in the support row, Dazzler can take that character out of action for the turn.  Against most decks, this can be a major problem for them and a major help for us!

Jubilee:  Okay .  .  .  so she’s not much of an offensive threat.  However, Jubilee’s burn effect can be amazing in close matchups.  On our initiatives, we should be able to protect her to ensure the burn during the recovery phase.  On our opponent’s initiative, Jubilee forces our opponent to deal with her or suffer her effect as a result.  From a strategic standpoint, it’s helpful to know where our opponent must attack.

Lockheed:  If we have any trouble getting characters into the KO’d pile for Dr.  Light’s effect, Lockheed can be an effective way of discarding extra Energy characters.  Add in that he’s a 2/1 1-drop with flight and the potential for +2/+0, and he certainly merits consideration.

Longshot, Hero of Mojoworld:  He has range, solid stats, and a deck-cycling ability that can help us set up our hand for the later turns.

Shadowcat, Katya:  Just like Lockheed, Shadowcat can help us get cards in the KO’d pile for Dr.  Light.  Of course, her 3/3 body certainly doesn’t hurt!

In addition to the X-Men characters, we have several small Emerald Enemies characters that can be useful in the deck:

Fatality, Emerald Assassin:  The major threat to any rush deck is the possibility that it will run afoul of an untimely Flame Trap or the like.  Fatality helps us deal with these threats with a built-in negation effect.  Granted, her cost of KO’ing a resource is pretty steep, but seeing as how we won’t be playing any characters that cost more than 3, it’s well worth the price.

Hector Hammond, Super-Futuristic Mind:  While we hope to end our games in the early turns with an onslaught of weenies, we need to consider the possibility that we’ll have to play for a turn 6 or 7 win.  Hector Hammond helps in this endeavor by providing a huge 6/6 body in the late turns.

Major Disaster:  Having another disruption tool at our disposal to deal with cards like Lost City is probably not a bad idea.  Major Disaster won’t be a card we use a lot, but it’s nice to have him available.

The Shark, T. S.  Smith:  Assuming that we don’t clutter our resource row with useless cards, The Shark will be a growing menace for our opponent, literally.  The later the game goes, the easier it gets for this guy to attack up the curve.

Finally, let’s take a look at the characters from the other teams that we will need to include:

Beetle, Armorsmith:  Simply awesome.  The ability to search out almost any character in our deck is one we can’t go without.  Four copies of this guy don’t seem like enough.  Unfortunately, that is what we are limited to.

Paul Ebersol ◊ Fixer:  Much like Fatality, Fixer is in our deck to prevent weenie-hating plot twists from decimating our board.  Hopefully, the single copy we’ll be including will suffice for this task.

Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose:  Though it may cost us a character, we can’t deny the power of bringing a location from our deck directly into play.  Besides, Dr.  Light will usually allow us to bring the KO’d character right back into play.  Hmmm .  .  .  Dr.  Light + Poison Ivy + Beetle = COMBO!**

Viper:  As a final piece of tech, we’ll include Viper from the Hellfire Club.  If we get her into the KO’d pile, she could easily become a free +1/+0 for all of our characters.  I think it would be hard to argue that a free +1/+0 is a bad thing.

Whew! That’s a lot of different characters.  Now, let’s take a look at the locations and plot twists we’ll use to support our gang.  We have already discussed that we will be using Archangel to fetch X-Corp locations for us.  The two that come to mind as most helpful for our deck are X-Corp:  Amsterdam and X-Corp:  Hong Kong.  X-Corp:  Amsterdam has a decent defensive pump effect.  However, the reason for its inclusion is really to have the Team-Up search for our deck.  With the versatility of being useful whether or not we have a Team-Up in play, it’s a good card for our build.  In addition, X-Corp:  Hong Kong seems to be tailor-made for the deck.  Our eventual goal is to have a bunch of small characters on the board.  Presumably, we should have several that share the same cost, so X-Corp:  Hong Kong hands out a free +1/+0 for all of those characters.  Between that and Viper, our weenies are starting to grow at an alarming rate!

Speaking of having a bunch of characters on the board, Birthing Chamber seems like a good choice for our deck.  Given the tendency of rush decks to run out of cards in the later turns of a game, having a location in play that can replenish our hand and potentially move cards into the KO’d pile would definitely assist our efforts.

Looking at our plot twists, we need to consider how our deck is designed to operate.  The bottom line is that we must have Dr.  Light in play for maximum effectiveness.  That said, we’re going to include a search card that can allow us to get the good doctor in our hand should we fail to draw him in the first three turns.  It is somewhat fitting that our choice for a searcher is the big card from the X-Men set—Enemy of My Enemy.  Since we probably won’t lack for X-Men characters in hand, Enemy of My Enemy will allow us to discard an X-Men character to fetch Dr.  Light from the deck.  Once we get him into play, we can simply activate him to get the discarded X-Men character on the board.  What a deal!

As a backup searcher, we’ll include a couple of copies of Time Breach.  Presumably, we should be able to rely on Enemy of My Enemy and Beetle, Armorsmith to do most of our searching.  However, having a card that can provide us with a couple of extra low drops is not a bad idea.  Plus, the resolution of the effect allows us to discard a card.  More targets for Dr.  Light!

Of course, we can’t count on our undersized army to take on anyone without a little help in the form of attack pumps.  Fortunately for us, the new X-Men set provides us with two incredible pumps.  First, we’ll include two copies of Turnabout.  Some players may recall how influential Trial by Sword was in the FTN deck that took PC Indy by storm.  Well, this card is even better! Considering that we will be attacking and defending up the curve most of the time, Turnabout can potentially make our characters large enough to stun larger characters without getting stunned back.  It is an awesome card to say the least.

The other attack pump we’ll look at is SNIKT!.  Just one point off of Savage Beatdown, this card is sure to have a major impact in the Modern Age.  While the discard may be troublesome for some decks, it actually fits right into our deck’s theme.  Moreover, SNIKT! virtually ensures that our opponents will not be safe on attack or defense. ***

Our final plot twist is just for fun  (and a tribute to the aforementioned Justin Brady).  We’ll include a single copy of Team Tactics.  While it won’t be feasible for our characters to do an insane amount of damage with one attacking character  (à la Thunderbolts Tactics and the like), Team Tactics does make it possible for a smaller character to take on a substantially larger one with the help of Xavier’s School.  The look on your opponent’s face when you take down his or her 7-drop with your 1-drop makes playing a single copy worthwhile.

All rise! All rise! Court is now in session.  Let’s see what the final verdict is on our swarming concoction:

Old Meets New

1 Archangel, Angel

4 Beetle, Armorsmith

1 Bishop, Lucas Bishop

2 Cannonball, Blast Field

2 Changeling, Kevin Sidney

1 Cyclops, Slim

1 Dazzler, Alison Blaire

2 Fatality, Emerald Assassin

1 Hector Hammond, SFM

1 Jubilee, Jubilation Lee

1 Lockheed, Saurian Sidekick

1 Longshot, Hero of Mojoworld

1 Major Disaster, Paul Booker

2 Nightcrawler, Kurt Wagner

1 Paul Ebersol ◊ Fixer, PS

2 Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose

1 Shadowcat, Katya

1 The Shark, T. S.  Smith

1 Viper, White Warrior Princess

4 Dr.  Light, Master of Holograms

4 Enemy of My Enemy


1 Team Tactics

2 Time Breach

4 Turnabout

4 X-Men United

3 Birthing Chamber

1 UN Building, Team-Up


1 X-Corp:  Amsterdam

1 X-Corp:  Hong Kong

As we’ve already discussed, our mulligan is for Dr.  Light or Enemy of My Enemy—no more and no less.  From there we should be able to achieve a satisfactory setup where we can get a Team-Up and Xavier’s School on the board  (with the help of Poison Ivy if need be).  Initiative choice is probably odds.  However, against a deck that has some sort of disruption or weenie hate, evens is probably a better choice since that allows us to get Fatality or Fixer into play first on turn 4  (the first turn that cards like Reign of Terror and Flame Trap can come into play).

I am on my way to a very short amount of sleep before I go back to a nightmare work week.  But don’t fret .  .  .  by the time you read this, I shall be done with 70-hour workweeks .  .  .  and back to 60-hour to 65-hour workweeks, tops.  Feel free to send any thoughts, suggestions, or words of encouragement my way at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.  While I promise to read and treasure each and every email, I make no such guarantees about responding or maintaining my sanity during the audit busy season.

* Yes, that’s a Family Guy reference.  I thought it was fitting since peanut butter and jelly are the greatest combo ever.

** I keep saying “combo” so much that I feel like I am playing the fighting game Killer Instinct.  Every time I type in the word, I keep hearing the voice from the video game saying, “COMBO!!!” Uh oh .  .  .  voices in my head.  That can’t be good.

*** I had this premonition that, after Bamf!, UDE would release SNIKT! to continue the theme of onomatopoeia-named cards for the X-Men.  Don’t be surprised if we eventually see cards for the Gotham Knights called “Biff!,” “Pow,” and “Batow!” Okay, so that last one wasn’t really onomatopoeia .  .  .  but it really should be!

Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz  (02/28/06)

While the interests of Vs.  System players run the gamut from art, politics, and death metal, there are certain interests that you can be sure will have a devoted following among Vs.  System players  (other than Vs.  System, of course).  One interest that has an immense following is professional wrestling.  What’s not to love about wrestling? Everyone in the wrestling business has a big ego, not unlike some TCG pros.  In essence, pro wrestling is a soap opera.

Finally, BigSpooky Has Come Back To Metagame. com!

I have no shame in admitting that I’m a wrestling fan from way back.  I used to watch wrestling every Monday night before the WWF changed their name to the WWE.  Heck, I used to watch it even before Monday night wrestling was called “Monday Night Raw. ” I have been, in order, a Hulkamaniac, part of the Warrior Nation, a Little Stinger, a Nature Boy wannabe, a Hulkamaniac again, and a dedicated Goldberg follower.  I have watched every Wrestlemania to date, even if only on video.  Finally, I even went to go see “No Holds Barred” the day it came out in movie theaters.

Of course, my favorite thing about wrestling has to be the catch phrases.  For me, the Hulkster started it all off with, “What are you gonna do when Hulkamania and the largest arms in the world destroy you?” Not long after that, I found myself quoting the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair constantly, saying, “To be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man!” And I think everyone loves it when The Rock says, “If you smell what The Rock is cooking!”

In more recent years, catch phrases have become an even stronger tool for wrestlers to capture the minds and hearts of the fans.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who mimicked Kurt Angle by saying, “It’s true! It’s true!” The Undertaker, of course, imparts the theme of his persona with, “You will rest in peace. ” Even lesser-known wrestlers nowadays have idioms attributed to them, such as Gene Snitsky saying, “It’s not my fault!”

Probably the most well-known expression currently being used by a pro wrestler is John Cena’s.  To be fair, when I first saw him wrestle, I really never thought all that highly of Cena’s talent or wrestling skill.  Add in the fact that the WWE decided to make him an Eminem wannabe, and he just naturally became a target for ridicule.  However, Cena found a way to captivate the imagination of wrestling fans through his antics.  His rebellious, never-say-die attitude was ever-present in the matches he fought and the interviews he gave, but nowhere is this point of view more apparent than in his catch phrase:  “You can’t see me!”

Chain Gang Soldier or Intangible Alien?  You Be the Judge

While John Cena’s “You can’t see me” catch phrase is actually a metaphor for people who don’t understand him, we’re going to take his saying literally in our selection for this week’s theme card.  A while back, I made a joke on the Vs Realms. com message board that if John Cena were in the Vs.  System, he’d have to have concealed  (because of his catch phrase .  .  .  get it?).  Recently, this got me thinking about a character that can literally wave his hand in front of his face and disappear.  Enter Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz.

Martian Manhunter  (a. k. a. , Mars) has an effect that is highly regarded as one of the best in the game.  His ability to give adjacent characters reinforcement and +2/+0 while defending is excellent, to say the least.  However, where Mars really shines is his ability to move back and forth from the hidden area.  For an investment of 2 endurance points, you can make sure that Mars won’t be a target for an opponent’s attack, barring a card like High-Tech Flare Gun or Sabretooth, Savage Killer.  But as good as Mars is, most players consider him to be a strong support character rather than the focal point of a deck.

It occurs to me, however, that the ability to reinforce any character is just what a team like the Crime Lords needs.  While I played around a lot with a Marvel Knights/Crime Lords deck during the first Marvel Modern Age, I never saw much potential for the Crime Lords to have any kind of significant impact on the metagame.  Of course, the main problem was that there were so few viable effects that could provide reinforcement for the characters, other than exhausting an adjacent character.

Martian Manhunter changes all of that.  We’re going to turn the Justice League’s favorite shapeshifter/telepath/cookie monger/ethereal alien into a defensive dynamo for the Crime Lords!

The Build

As you probably guessed, we’re going to start off with four copies of Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz.  This begs the question—what else should we include? For starters, we’ll put in one of the game’s best character searchers, Roscoe Sweeny.  While Roscoe Sweeny may be fragile with 0/1, there’s no denying his effectiveness when it comes to hitting our drops.  If we have him in play at the start of the turn, we are almost guaranteed to have a character on curve for that turn.  Granted, he can only fetch his Crime Lords teammates, but a quick team-up with JLI should enable us to search out a much broader range of characters.

Speaking of team-ups, we’re going to need a copy of Lacuna in our deck.  I’ve tried not to overuse her in recent weeks, but given the importance of teaming-up in our deck, and because she can easily be fetched with Roscoe Sweeny, it would be a “crime” not to put a copy of the Media Darling in our deck.  In addition, we’ll also need one copy of Cobra.  He’s not much to look at on his own, but combined with his literal partner in crime, Mr.  Hyde, Calvin Zabo, he becomes a substantial force to be reckoned with.

Our preferred drop at 2 is going to be Maxwell Lord.  If we can swing the one-two punch of Roscoe Sweeny and Maxwell Lord, we can pretty much ensure a turn 3 team-up for our deck, assuming that we can keep both of our guys around.  That will definitely be good for business, as we can then use Roscoe to search out characters from either team.

Our first character on turn 3 is the aforementioned Mr.  Hyde.  While he has a nice effect in tandem with Cobra, they really don’t do a lot to help our deck, so we’ll limit him to one copy.  Another “one-of” at 3 is going to be Rocket Red #4.  Given that our deck’s focus is making it tough for our opponent to pull off attacks on our characters, Rocket is a great addition, since his effect will usually ensure either a bounce  (by pumping DEF) or a stun back  (by pumping ATK).

But our star at 3 must be Kingpin, Wilson Fisk.  His stats aren’t much to look at, but the Kingpin has one of the best defensive effects in the game, as he can offer an extra +0/+2 for your Crime Lords characters with reinforcement.  Since we have Mars around just to give our characters reinforcement, Kingpin will usually be a guaranteed +0/+2 from turn 5 on.

Our 4-drop of choice works very nicely in unison with our 3-drop.  Where Kingpin gives our defenders extra DEF, Saracen does the same for ATK.  If we are able to pull off the combo of Kingpin and Saracen on the board at the same time, we will usually get +2/+2 for all of our characters while defending, which is certainly not a bad thing.  As a backup, we’ll include one copy of Kimiyo Hoshi ◊ Dr.  Light.  While this card doesn’t really aid us defensively  (aside from having a decent 8 DEF), she can be useful in later turns if we need some extra firepower while attacking.

We’re going to be daring and make Martian Manhunter our only character at 5.  At 6, though, we have a couple of good choices.  Our first one is the master assassin himself, Kirigi.  Kirigi’s effect to enable us to attack hidden characters could be useful in the unlikely event of a mirror match, I suppose, but it is his other effect that makes him shine.  Playing any attack pump on Kirigi effectively makes that pump +2/+0 more.  Wouldn’t you love the ability to turn your Flying Kick into Savage Beatdown? My man Kirigi can make that happen!

Our other choice at 6 is Power Girl.  Simply by protecting another character, Power Girl becomes 14/14.  If you have Kingpin and Saracen on the board, she becomes 16/16 while defending with a little reinforcement.  If Martian Manhunter is the one giving the reinforcement, Power Girl becomes an 18/16 6-drop! I could go on, but I think you get the general idea.  Suffice it to say, Power Girl can get really big!

At 7, we need a couple of copies of Bullseye, Master of Murder.  If we build our deck properly, we should be able to ensure that our opponent can’t attack into any of our characters without stunning back.  Bullseye will make sure that our opponents will pay a hefty price should they decide to attack into us.  Once our opponent starts losing characters from Bullseye’s effect, we’ll gain a substantial amount of board advantage.

Our final character is none other than Dr.  Fate.  Assuming that we reach turn 8, we will be in a prime position to finish our opponent off thanks to Dr.  Fate.  On offense or defense, we can rest assured that we probably won’t take any damage whatsoever thanks to Mars giving our characters reinforcement and Dr.  Fate giving them invulnerability.  It’s hard to beat a deal like that!

Onward and upward to the plot twists.  We have 29 spots left open in our deck, so we need to make them count! Our first priority is to team-up, as many of our effects will not work without a team-up, so let’s include four copies of Justice League Task Force.  With this Team-Up, we get the added benefit of boosting our team attacks by at least 2 points  (assuming two attackers).  If we can get a couple of these cards face up with Dr.  Light on the board, we could feasibly swing a 1- and 2-drop into a 6-drop! It’s pretty sick when Roscoe Sweeny is laying down the beats! As an additional precaution, we’ll insert a copy of Marvel Team-Up for Lacuna to fetch if the need arises.

Of course, we can’t always rely on drawing into all of the characters we need to team-up.  That’s why we’re also going to play four copies of the X-Men set’s money rare, Enemy of My Enemy.  You may have noticed that, with the exception of 5, 7, and 8, we have a character from both teams at every drop.  With Enemy of My Enemy at our disposal, we should be able to effectively hit most of our drops on the curve even if we never see Roscoe Sweeny or a Team-Up. *

Now let’s take a look at the defensive tricks that we’re going to include in our build.  Obviously, the Crime Lords plot twists that give defensive bonuses based on reinforcement will be valuable, since our deck is centered on a character that gives reinforcement.  So we’ll be playing four copies each of Rough House and Face the Master.  Rough House is a very versatile card in our deck because it doesn’t require that we be teamed-up to be effective.  It only requires that we control a Crime Lords character.  Face the Master, on the other hand, does require the target character to be Crime Lords, but what it lacks in versatility in ease of use, it makes up for in the versatility of its options.  If we think we can avoid a stun, we can opt for the +0/+3.  If we want to ensure a stun back, we can go for the +5/+0.  In either case, it’s a win-win situation for us!

The next choice is not a card that has received a lot of acclaim.  However, I really like Marked for Death.  I have dubbed it “a reusable Nasty Surprise. ” While Marked for Death isn’t quite as effective from an “element of surprise” standpoint, it makes up for this shortcoming in other ways.  In addition to being reusable, it can’t be countered by a lot of the cards that could potentially nullify Nasty Surprise, like Fizzle, Null Time Zone, or BWA HA HA HA HA!.  If we consider the effect of Marked for Death with just the +2/+0 each from Saracen and Martian Manhunter, we are effectively giving one of our defenders +9/+0! Just those effects alone will enable our characters to stun back attackers four to five spots up the curve.  If we toss in Face the Master or one more Marked for Death, many 7-drops won’t be able to attack into Roscoe Sweeny without stunning back! Roscoe lays down the beats again!

Our last defensive trick goes in a different direction from the others.  Sometimes, when you can’t out-pump your opponents, or if they remove the possibility of a stun back with a card like Bamf!, you just want to stop the attack.  This is a very real possibility with our deck when we include four copies of Running Interference.  This attack squelcher has a natural combo with Martian Manhunter:

Step 1:  Move all of your characters other than Martian Manhunter  (who is happily Concealed) to the support row;

Step 2:  Allow an attack on any character to become legal;

Step 3:  Move Mars in front of the character being attacked;

Step 4:  Exhaust a non-defending JLI character  (Mars if need be);

Step 5:  Negate the aforementioned attack;

Step 6:  Lather, rinse, and repeat.

Yes, it’s true, my friends.  For the low, low price of 2 endurance points and a couple of exhausted characters, you too can negate any attack!

Finally, we need some ATK pumps, so let’s give Call to Arms a try.  Since we should usually be teamed-up by turn 3, Call to Arms will almost always be +4/+0 for our attackers.  Of course, Martian Manhunter will get the +4/+0 even if there is no team-up on the board, since he’s dual team–stamped and all. **

We’re done building, so it’s time for battling! Let’s take a look at our newest deck.

“You Can’t See Me!”

4 Roscoe Sweeny, Fixer

1 Lacuna, Media Darling

1 Cobra, Klaus Vorhees

4 Maxwell Lord, Financier

4 Kingpin, Wilson Fisk

1 Mr.  Hyde, Calvin Zabo

1 Rocket Red #4, Dmitri Pushkin

4 Saracen, Muzzafar Lambert

1 Kimiyo Hoshi ◊ Dr.  Light, SS

4 Martian Manhunter, JJ

1 Kirigi, Master Assassin

2 Power Girl, Karen Starr

2 Bullseye, Master of Murder

1 Dr.  Fate, Kent Nelson

4 Call to Arms

4 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Face the Master

4 Justice League Task Force, TU

4 Marked for Death

1 Marvel Team-Up

4 Rough House

4 Running Interference

(Almost unintentionally, this deck has no cards from the first two sets.  More to the point, it would be legal in Silver Age!)

Even initiatives are probably preferable, as that will give Martian Manhunter and Bullseye the best chance to be effective.  The mulligan is relatively straightforward:  keep any hand with Roscoe Sweeny in it! It’s not the end of the world if Roscoe doesn’t see play, but it makes things a lot easier.  If you are somehow fortunate enough to get Roscoe and Maxwell Lord in your opening four, do not mulligan .  .  .  not even if your other two cards are on fire!

With four copies each of Martian Manhunter and Enemy of My Enemy, you should have no trouble hitting Mars on 5.  Be careful that you don’t burn your copies of Enemy of My Enemy too early, though.  If you miss Mars on 5, then you will suffer greatly.

And with that, I am finished with another week of jank.  Surely, though, I will have something new concocted for everyone next week.  In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.  I would love to hear any thoughts, ideas, or just general comments that you have for me about my column or the Vs.  System in general.  But no short jokes about Tim Batow—that honor is reserved for me, and me alone.

And that’s the bottom line—because BigSpooky said so!

* This is also why you will probably see Enemy of My Enemy featured prominently in many of my articles from now on.  Since most of the decks I feature have two or more teams, having a search card that can virtually lock in your ability to team-up is an enormous asset.  If you enjoy playing decks that have multiple teams in them, I highly recommend that you acquire four copies of Enemy of My Enemy.  It’s that good!

** Martian Manhunter > Chuck Norris

Sticky Situation  (03/07/06)

I have a big mouth, and it gets me into trouble—a lot!  The truth is that I am quite the joker, and it usually bodes well for me.  After all, most people would rather be around a person who likes to have fun rather than someone who is always serious.  However, there are times when it’s important to tone down one’s goofy behavior.  Unfortunately, I am not always able to make that distinction.

A recent example of this is a joke that I played on my little brother.  Now that I live in Dallas, I have access to a variety of things that he doesn’t, since he lives in Tulsa.  One of these things is Paciugo gelato.  Paciugo is an Italian ice cream  (a. k. a. , gelato) store that has several locations in the Dallas area.  One of his favorite gelato flavors there is mint chocolate chip, and it pains my brother greatly to not have ready access to Paciugo mint chocolate chip gelato.  Being the caring and sensitive older brother that I am, I try to make up for his withdrawal by visiting Paciugo at every possible opportunity, then telling my brother about the experience.  He really seems to appreciate it.

Anyway, to help celebrate my recent birthday, my parents paid me a visit in Dallas.  Of course, we had to visit Paciugo while they were here.  And I had to have the mint chocolate chip gelato while we were there.  And I had to have my mother take a picture with my camera phone of me consuming the gelato.  And I just had to send the picture to my little brother.  After all, what are big brothers for?

Later that day, my little brother called me in a near-livid fury.  As it happened, one of his managers at the restaurant he works at had up and quit that very day, so he was going to be forced to work from open to close in the restaurant that day, and then come in to open the store the next morning.  Compound these long workdays with his recent sleep deprivation due to his roommate’s dog, and my little prank did little to help his mood.  While I enjoy a little harmless ribbing, it appears that my efforts at humor backfired in this situation.  Do you ever wish that your life had a rewind button?

It’s the Same Old Situation

Fortunately for us, the Vs.  System does have a rewind button .  .  .  er .  .  .  card, and it belongs to the Spider-Friends.  I didn’t see the potential for this card until I attended a PCQ in Austin, Texas, last summer.  I felt pretty good about my chances against the Curve Sentinel–filled field with my variant of Force.  Although I won each of my matches against the robots rather handily, I had a much tougher time with Michael Wilkes’s Spider-Friends deck.  I was already having a rough go of it, as I was missing every activation with Longshot, Rebel Freedom Fighter, but I was still feeling fairly good about my chances since I had hit my team-up and first three drops.  On turn 4, I sent Wolverine, Logan into Michael’s Will O’ The Wisp.  After a war of Lost City power-ups and Spider Senses, Michael threw me for a complete loop by busting out his mad tech  (and our theme card for the day), Sticky Situation!

Sticky Situation, in my opinion, is a deceivingly potent card.  When compared side-by-side with a card like Heroic Sacrifice, it is considered inferior, as it doesn’t actually negate an attack—it only resets it.  However, if you look at it from a more open perspective, you might find that the card is better than you think.  It essentially reads, “Negate one or more non– turn-based attack pumps this attack. ” If you’re dealing with a deck that relies heavily on attacking up the curve, such a card can be invaluable for protecting your characters.

However, it recently occurred to me that there are even more possibilities for Sticky Situation than simply negating an attack pump.  What if you could negate an attack altogether? Originally, my thinking on this was limited to character cards like Mr.  Freeze, which prevented an opposing character from readying for that turn, but further investigation revealed that the Spider-Friends and Sticky Situation have a natural ally in the Masters of Evil.  With cards like Adhesive X and Sonic Disruption, we could create combos where our opponents’ most devastating attacks are doomed to fail.  Our challenge today is to create such a Sticky Situation for our opponents’ attackers so that they can conceivably fail to complete their attacks altogether.

The Build

Of course, we’re going to start off with four copies of Sticky Situation.  In addition, we mentioned how well Sticky Situation combos with Adhesive X and Sonic Disruption, so we’ll include four copies each of those as well.  Wow! One-fifth of our cards already?!? This is too easy!!!

Now we need to give some serious consideration to our team-ups.  On one hand, we could conceivably attempt to use Clone Saga to make everyone Spider-Friends.  This, of course, would make using Sticky Situation on any of our characters a snap.  However, to achieve the utility brought to the deck by Adhesive X and Sonic Disruption, we will also need our characters to have the Masters of Evil affiliation.  Unfortunately, Clone Saga can’t do that, so we’re instead required to play several team-ups to accommodate the variety of characters that we would like to play.  Our first and obvious choice is Millennium.  Drawing a card is usually good  (unless you’re playing against Injustice Gang), and since we’ll be playing a defensive deck, we shouldn’t have any trouble finding a character to exhaust.  Our backup team-up will be three copies of Two Worlds.  We have several choices of generic team-ups with the “Team-Up” version, so we will just go with the first one to be released.

Speaking of defensive decks, let’s also play four copies of Spider Senses.  No matter how badly we might want to, we won’t always be able to use Sticky Situation to save our characters, so we’ll need another good defensive card to help us out.

Our final plot twist choice will not be a big surprise to anyone who has read my column over the past few weeks.  We tend to build a lot of multiple-team decks on Breaking Ground, and there are few cards better for multiple-team decks than Enemy of My Enemy.  I fear that I may be wearing the card out, but it is even more suited for this deck than any of our prior creations since we will be playing a wide variety of teams in this concoction. *

As far as locations go, a little recursion never hurt anyone.  Let’s include one copy each of Avalon Space Station and Slaughter Swamp.  We may not need to fetch any characters back from our KO’d pile, but having a couple of cards that can enable us to do so certainly wouldn’t hurt matters.

Now, on to the character selections.  Even though we have a good search card in Enemy of My Enemy, one of our choice teams for the deck, Masters of Evil, has two choice character-searchers built into characters.  And, oh boy, are we going to use them! First, we want four copies of Yellowjacket, Rita DeMara.  She’s not much good to us on turn 1, but after that, we can boost her out to fetch any 1- or 2-drop Masters of Evil character, and we even get the resource point back! In addition, we need four copies of Beetle, Armorsmith.  If Yellowjacket is the queen of weenie searchers, then Beetle is definitely the king, allowing us to search out any affiliated 1- or 2-drop.  Did you say, “That’s insane”? Well, you are correct!

In addition to these characters, we have a few other inclusions to our build.  One of our choices will be a copy of Rocket Racer.  While cheap reinforcement is handy to have, Rocket Racer serves a dual purpose in this deck.  In the past, I have noticed that players will invariably attack Rocket Racer with one of their big characters in an effort to get him to evade, preventing him from reinforcing other characters.  Imagine your opponent’s surprise when the following happens:

1)  Opponent attacks our poor, defenseless Rocket Racer with big, nasty Xallarap;

2)  We accept the attack;

3)  We play Adhesive X/Sonic Disruption, targeting Xallarap  (Rocket Racer is teamed-up with MoE, of course)

4)  Rocket Racer evades!

5)  Xallarap is left scratching his head, wondering where that little twerp went.  Unfortunately, he’s too exhausted to attack again!

Yes, it’s true, ladies and gentlemen—we can effectively shut down attacks with Adhesive X and Sonic Disruption without having to play Sticky Situation! It’s just that easy!

Our other choices at 1 and 2 deal with the control side of the equation.  While our defensive countermeasures should be enough to stop any pure attack deck dead in its tracks, we might have some trouble with weenie hate like Flame Trap or Reign of Terror.  Luckily, both Masters of Evil and Spider-Friends have characters that can assist us in the disruption of these disruptive cards.  On the Masters of Evil side, we have Paul Ebersol ◊ Fixer.  He is certainly a “problem solver” when it comes to stopping plot twists that might stun our characters.  When he’s on the board, they can’t stun us! As a companion to Fixer, we’ll toss in a couple of copies of Black Cat, Master Thief.  If Fixer fails to make an appearance, then Black Cat should hold off our opponents’ plans well enough on her own.

Given our build thus far, we probably won’t be playing a 3-drop on turn 3 too often.  Rather, we’ll usually reserve that spot for Yellowjacket or Beetle to help us build some board advantage with our smaller characters.  However, the time might arise when we’d rather have a 3-drop on the board.  In that situation, we’ll have a single copy of Moonglow for backup.  Not only does Moonglow have decent stats, but she can also be really great for helping us find those extra team-ups that we may need in later turns.

At 4, we’ll put in a single copy of Spider-Man, Peter Parker.  If we run afoul of a deck that puts heavy emphasis on board control  (which could be bad news for us, indeed, given our deck’s theme), then he can bail us out by preventing our characters from departing play too soon.  However, he will not be our primary choice at 4.  Rather, we would really like to see one of our four copies of Medusa, Medusalith Amaquelin.  She is the first of two characters in our deck to combo directly with Sticky Situation.  As long as she has the Spider-Friends affiliation, any attack on Medusa can be effectively negated with a single copy of our theme card.

Turn 5 gives us a chance to branch out.  We’re going to try out a single copy of Klaw at 5.  Not only does his 9/10 frame mean that he will often be able to attack laterally without stunning, but he also has a neat little KO effect that works in unison with his size.  Our other choice is his Spider-Friends brother in stats, White Tiger.  When our characters start getting up in size, evading with them becomes a costly proposition.  With White Tiger, however, we have the possibility of pulling off the aforementioned Rocket Racer combo when our opponent’s character won’t ready, then evading at no cost to us  (assuming that he’s being attacked by a single character).  We’ll use three copies of Siegfried and Roy’s favorite card.

Turn 6 is here, and it’s getting mighty chilly! That’s because turn 6 is the turn when our cold-blooded buddy Mr.  Freeze comes out to play.  Much like Medusa, Mr.  Freeze combos directly with our theme card to effectively negate attacks.  However, Mr.  Freeze is also rather effective on offense as well, since he can prevent a defending character from readying for the next turn.  As many people who have played against my Arkham City deck will attest, losing a potential attacker during your initiative can be game-breaking.

At 7, we hold a spot for none other than Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man.  While there may be bigger 6-drops out there, there are few that are more effective.  As I just said, losing a potential attacker during your initiative can be game-breaking  (exact words and all!).  Well, Spider-Man can make your opponent lose every attacker.  He is one of the best board control cards in the game, and a perfect choice for our deck.

Finally, we’re going to partake in some goofiness on 8 and give Mikhail Rasputin a go.  While we may have used one of the best board control cards in the game at 7 with Spider-Man, Spidey’s only effective as long as we have cards in our hand.  Mikhail Rasputin, on the other hand, can accomplish the same basic task utilizing our characters on the board.  If we have characters with evasion, then we can simply evade, exhausting an opponent’s character.  Otherwise, we can attack into our opponent’s characters without worrying too much about stunning back, since we’ll get certain benefits out of our characters stunning.  Of course, Mikhail’s massive 20/20 stats don’t hurt, either!

Well, that’s enough building.  Time to see what kind of mess we have created this week:

Life’s Little Rewind Button

1 Paul Ebersol ◊ Fixer, PS

1 Rocket Racer, Robert Farrell

4 Yellowjacket, Rita DeMara

4 Beetle, Armorsmith

2 Black Cat, Master Thief

1 Moonglow, Melissa Hanover

4 Medusa, Medusalith Amaquelin

1 Spider-Man, Peter Parker

1 Klaw, Ulysses Klaw

3 White Tiger, Hector Ayala

4 Mr.  Freeze, Dr.  Victor Fries

4 Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man

1 Mikhail Rasputin, MM

4 Adhesive X

3 Two Worlds, Team-Up

4 Enemy Of My Enemy

4 Millennium

4 Sonic Disruption

4 Spider Senses

4 Sticky Situation

1 Avalon Space Station

1 Slaughter Swamp

With Spider-Man at 7, this deck screams even initiatives.  Your mulligan will generally be for a copy of Beetle or Yellowjacket, as either one can get the character search up and running.

We didn’t manage to fit any attack pumps into the deck, which could hurt its effectiveness, and it’s possible that we may have a little overkill with Adhesive X and Sonic Disruption.  A little playtesting should reveal if we can find any cards to cut so that we can toss in a Flying Kick or two  (since there is very little flight in the deck!).

And thus concludes another episode of Breaking Ground, everyone’s favorite resource for jank craziness and Aqualad humor! Please feel free to send me your thoughts, suggestions, and links to cool eBay auctions at BigSpooky1@hotmail. com.  I’ve received a bunch of great letters from a bunch of great readers, and I appreciate everything that you have to contribute.

Until next week, here’s hoping that you don’t find the need for your own “rewind button!”

* I hereby promise that I will not use Enemy of My Enemy in my deck for next week’s column.  I love the card, but I understand that seeing it too often can be a bit of a bore.  Besides, next week’s deck is another mono-team deck, so it would be somewhat pointless!

Last Stand  (03/14/06)

I am currently a happy resident of the great state of Texas. It took me a while to reach the “happy” point, since I will always consider Oklahoma my home, but I’m becoming more comfortable with life in the Lone Star State as time goes by. I’m sure I could attribute part of that feeling to my job, which stinks at times, but it pays me more money than I ever realistically thought I would earn. Another part of it probably has to do with the fact that there are a lot of fun things to do in Dallas (which gives me plenty of opportunity to blow all of that hard-earned cash). But I would have to say that one of the foremost factors behind the reason why I love Texas is that I’ve found a Vs. community here that I’m happy to be a part of.

When I first came down to Dallas in the summer of 2004 for an internship with my current employer, I was a bit concerned that I might not be able to find a card shop that supported the Vs. System. After all, the Vs. System was still relatively new, so there weren’t many places that held tournaments or had an active community of players. And considering that this was right about the time that I started to really get into the game, I was genuinely worried that I might spend the summer quite Vs.-deprived.

Then, I ran across JJK Cards in Richardson. While the core group of players at JJK was not as competitively strong as the group I had played with in Oklahoma, they made up for this through an intense love and interest in the game. Also, they were not afraid to experiment. Prior to coming to Dallas, I had only played one-on-one games in the Vs. System, but my stay in Dallas quickly changed that, as the players there were quite fond of alternative formats—especially multi-player cutthroat!

Every Man for Himself!

The Vs. System rulebook provided with every starter deck gives the basic synopsis of how multiplayer games work. However, I will give those of you who have never played a cutthroat game a quick rundown of how it plays. The determination of initiative is the same as in one-on-one. However, in cutthroat, the initiative moves clockwise around the table rather than back and forth from player to player. Each player has the same phases to complete his or her actions. When effects are triggered, there is a determination of whether or not there is a target (i.e., target character, target opponent, etc.). For effects with a target, the controller of the effect must choose the target for that effect. For all other effects, the entire group of players will be affected. For example, a player activating Puppet Master will have to choose which opponent he wants to target with Puppet Master’s effect. On the other hand, if that same player uses the exhaustion effect of Two Face, Split Personality, it will affect all characters on the board with an odd or even cost, depending on what was called. Each player starts with 50 endurance and standard rules apply for determining a winner.

Cutthroat is a much different animal in Vs. System play from one-on-one. One major factor in competitive deckbuilding success is the ability to anticipate how your deck will fare against anything a single opponent will be able to throw at you. Cutthroat changes this completely, as you have to consider the actions of multiple opponents. While this seems like a very basic change, it alters the dynamics of the game dramatically! Cards that are normally looked down upon, such as Trok and Amazo, become unbelievable behemoths when you have several opponents to draw attack power from. On the other hand, Vs. System standards like Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius and Sinestro, Green Lantern of Korugar become liabilities, as every other player in the game suddenly wants to take your character out of play. Attack pumps generally become less useful, as you will usually only have 1 or 2 turns with the initiative in any given game. And standard deck themes in one-on-one play, like rush, control, and stall, become almost unplayable, as your deck’s strategy isn’t viable against several opponents. But probably the most important thing to remember in cutthroat is that no deck will be able to win with any consistency.

Bearing all of that in mind, I have found that there are two basic directions that you can take with respect to effective deck design for cutthroat games. First, you can take the “non-threatening defensive” posture. While it is true that defensive decks are generally the best types of decks in cutthroat, there are some defensive strategies that just won’t work. For example, G’Lock is doomed to fail in cutthroat because your opponents will become very quickly threatened by the number of characters on your board. Accordingly, you can probably count on all of your small characters getting picked off by your opponents, making those Helping Hands and Cover Fires useless. In order to stay relatively free from opposing aggression, you need to limit your board to one or two strong characters. This way, you can keep your endurance total safe, but your opponents won’t be worried that you will wipe them out. For this reason, I have found mono-character X-Statix to be a very potent deck in cutthroat.

The second deck direction you can take (and probably the more fun of the two) is that of “disruptive annoyance.” Be warned that you probably have no shot at winning if you play a deck of this type, but it is exceedingly fun! The premise behind this type of deck is that you want to create as many waves as possible for opposing players. One of the more popular variants on this theme being played at my store lately is the Injustice Gang card draw machine. Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist is a major pest in one-on-one, but when four or five people at the table are drawing two or three extra cards, the impact on the game can be profound. If there is more than one person playing Injustice Gang, then the hand sizes can get completely absurd. (“I’ll play All Too Easy for +30/+0!”)

Another team that is particularly effective from an annoyance standpoint in cutthroat is Darkseid’s Elite. While the crew from Apokolips is relatively unappreciated in standard Vs. System play, they can take cutthroat games to a whole new level. An opening play of Gole elicits groans from everyone in my home game, as they know they will probably get burned for a bundle. Many players try to flip their resources as soon as possible to keep Gole’s effect from burning them too badly, but I tend to counteract that with Darkseid Undenied. For ongoing plot twists and locations, I also pack several copies of Have a Blast! and the very nasty Shaligo/Concrete Jungle combo. For the coup de grace, Anti-Life Equation keeps the entire board under control. You have never seen true hilarity until you’ve seen eight different players try to figure out what they need to call to keep their characters from stunning!*

One warning about playing disruptive annoyance in cutthroat: You will, in all probability, become the target of every player’s wrath . . . but it is very much worth it!

“Defensive Annoyance?”

My current preferred deck in cutthroat combines elements of both “non-threatening defense” and “disruptive annoyance.” While it hasn’t won every game of cutthroat that I’ve played, it has a win percentage much higher than that of any other deck that I have played. You see, I discovered that there was an inherent paradox in cutthroat that prevented the pure defensive strategy from being completely successful. Most of the potent defensive cards in the game right now, such as Acrobatic Dodge and Cover Fire, are effective for only one attack. While this may be fine for one-on-one play, it doesn’t do much in multiplayer, as you will never have enough copies of these defensive cards to bounce the attacks of multiple opponents. But during a recent cutthroat game, I witnessed the effectiveness of Unstable Molecules. While the effect of KO’ing this equipment card is only good for an extra +3 DEF, the fact that the effect lasts for the turn makes a huge difference. With +0/+3 on a character, most opponents will no longer be able to attack laterally to achieve a stun (at least, without a pump). In this particular game, the player using Unstable Molecules managed to thwart almost all aggression from the other players through the first seven turns simply riding on the strength of the +3 DEF.

It occurred to me that if +0/+3 had that much of an impact, then +0/+10 should be almost unstoppable! Of course, I am referring to this week’s theme card, Last Stand. When this card was released with the Marvel Origins set, I heard many players dub it as unplayable. After all, the requirement of having three stunned characters in play to use Last Stand was extremely difficult to accomplish. If you were playing a curve deck, then it was rare that you would have four characters on the board, much less three stunned characters. And if you were playing an off-curve deck, it was generally more important for you to play attack pumps over often ineffective defensive cards.

This standard changed with the release of Web of Spider-Man. The core mechanic of the Spider-Friends team, evasion, provided a good deal of potential for a curve deck to retain multiple characters by proactively stunning them to avoid attacks. Finally, there seemed to be a strategy tailor-made for a card like Last Stand. However, the strategy of most Spider-Friends builds was to build to the late game to play out the team’s MVP, Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man. As a result, the decks rarely played 1-drops and often missed their 2-drops. Assuming that the deck followed the curve after that point, then Last Stand wasn’t even potentially playable until turn 5 or 6. Playing a card that would probably be useful only on one or two turns of any game didn’t seem like an effective deckbuilding decision. As such, it continued to go largely unplayed.

We might never have seen a potent deck highlight Last Stand if it weren’t for the X-Men set. As part of the new set, we revisited the evasion mechanic with the Morlocks team. The Morlocks take evasion to a whole new level. Not only do the Morlocks have an abundance of great low-drops with evasion, but most of these characters also have strong effects that key off of becoming stunned. This sounds like the perfect framework to utilize our featured card! We’re going to build the ultimate Last Stand deck with the sewer-dwelling mutants—a deck that will no doubt cause fits for all of our opponents in those cutthroat games!

The Build

I suppose that it goes without saying that we’re going to put in four copies of Last Stand, but I’ll say it anyway. In addition, we’re going to include four copies of the Morlock variant on Last Stand, Shrapnel Blast. Shrapnel Blast isn’t as defensively strong as Last Stand, but it makes up for that by being an effective pump while attacking or defending, and it would be foolish of us to ignore that kind of versatility. At the end of our list of offensive/defensive pumps is Retribution. While this card doesn’t do anything for our characters’ DEF, it is useful while either attacking or defending. I think it would be a mistake for us to ignore any card that can easily play the dual role of Nasty Surprise and Savage Beatdown.

Continuing with our plot twist selections, we need to consider possible character searchers. Since our deck is going to be chock full of Morlocks characters with evasion, then four copies of Bloodhound is a no-brainer. If there were ever a search card that was meant to be in this deck, this is the one. The only shame is that we are limited to four copies. Why? Because experience has shown that missing a drop in a cutthroat game can be disastrous. Since this is the case, we need to include a couple more search cards. A great choice in this case would be Secret Origins. Since we will only have the initiative once or twice in any cutthroat game, there will usually be one opponent each turn who matches the cost of the drop we want on that turn. It may not be as potent in one-on-one play, but Secret Origins is a solid search card nonetheless.

Our final plot twist explores a couple of beneficial effects. One problem with powerful attack pumps is that our effects can potentially be blunted by wayward reinforcement effects. Since we might have one or two attacks per game that we would like to push through damage, we’re going to look at another Morlocks variant of a Marvel Origins card. No one will argue that Blind Sided is a devastating answer to reinforcement effects. Well, Morlock Justice is all of that and more. Not only does Morlock Justice remove and prevent further reinforcement (a la Blind Sided), but it also tosses in a neat burn effect to boot. In later turns, Morlock Justice can easily burn an opponent for 5 to 6 endurance. Justice indeed!

We have a few locations that will be welcome in the deck. First and foremost, we should consider one of the major problems with evasion-based decks: KO effects. If we want to maintain our board, we need to make sure that our strategically stunned characters won’t become prematurely removed. Our best bet to maintain our board is The Alley. An activation of The Alley prior to the combat phase will ensure that our stunned characters won’t be KO’d by opponents’ effects during the combat phase (not even by Total Anarchy!). Granted, our characters are still vulnerable outside of the combat phase, but The Alley is still an effective KO-prevention card. Another benefit of The Alley is that its other effect will result in a decent amount of direct endurance loss for our opponents. Much like Morlock Justice, the burn effect of The Alley can be a very useful tool for our deck in later turns.

A less critical but still potent location for our deck is The Hill. We should find that our deck’s strategy often results in having one non-stunned character in play. The +1/+1 bonus that The Hill provides in this scenario is certainly beneficial. Of course, the second effect is probably the more functional of the two. Since the recovery of characters who evaded during a turn occurs during the recovery phase, there is a point after these characters recover when we can activate The Hill to draw a card. Assuming that we can maintain our board, this will almost always result in an extra card every turn from turn 4 onwards, and free cards are rarely bad.

As far as characters go, we have a bunch of really great character choices for our deck. At 1, there are three characters that jump out. Electric Eve and Artie are emblematic of the earlier mention of stun-based effects. Electric Eve makes sure that any time she stuns, an opponent will usually take damage in return. Artie, on the other hand, can effectively remove a point of damage by removing a point of ATK from an opposing character. In either case, our 1-drops are great enablers for our third 1-drop, Tommy. If you recall from my article on Roll Call!, I mentioned that I am a big fan of characters with alternate recruit costs. Tommy fits the bill very nicely with the ability to enter play for free when we have a stunned character on the board, which won’t be difficult in the least with our deck.

Our 2-drops continue the trend of useful stun-based effects. Tar Baby has impressive size for a 2-drop, sporting a 3/3 frame. With one copy of Shrapnel Blast, Tar Baby should easily stun an opposing 4-drop. Tar Baby’s effect is also nice. Certain abusive recursion cards like Dr. Light, Master of Holograms and Garth, Tempest become absolutely useless when Tar Baby is on the board. Of course, our second 2-drop might be even better. Leech isn’t as big as Tar Baby, but he makes up for that with a built-in Utility Belt effect. Most competitive players would tell you that a card that effectively reads, “Pay 2 endurance and discard a card to negate target character payment effect,” is very valuable.** With the plethora of powerful character payment effects in the Vs. System, Leech becomes an absolutely incredible control card for our deck.

Our character choices onward will seem to be a bit bizarre. We loaded up on our early drops because we’re only going to have four or fewer copies of a single character from 3 onwards. While this may seem crazy, we should have enough search cards to ensure that we hit our characters at each drop. At 3, there can be no other than Healer. His payment effect will rarely come into play for our build, but he’s a sizable defender at 3 with a wonderful endurance-gaining effect. One trick to understand with Healer is that evasion recoveries use the chain just like other effects. So, in order to get as much out of Healer as possible, we will always want to put his recovery from evasion on the chain last. Since the last effect on a chain resolves first, Healer will be our first character to recover. Then, after he’s recovered, his effect will trigger for each of our other characters that recovers, even those characters that were stunned as a result of combat (though Healer’s effect won’t actually trigger until the start of the next turn, since no effects can trigger during the wrap-up).

Turn 4 is a gut-wrenching choice for us. We would really like to play Hump on this turn. Given his immense size and ability to get bigger, he could be a real problem for our opponents to effectively deal with. However, Hump’s discard requirement can randomly be problematic, as only about half of our other characters will have the Physical trait. In our deck, we’re going to try finesse over size. This means that Storm, Leader of the Morlocks gets the nod. While she is nowhere near as large as Hump, she has a leader effect that will save us a bunch of endurance. Assuming that we hit our 1-, 2-, and 3-drops (a valid assumption), we would normally be losing 6 endurance each turn to evade with these characters. Even though Healer can help us regain some of this endurance, we’ll still be losing out on a substantial amount of endurance in the long run. Storm will defray these losses, making our powerful stun-based effects cost absolutely nothing, and turning Healer’s effect into a source of free endurance gain.

We make up for our loss of a massive character at 4 with our choice at 5. Barring unforeseen board control or a very poor draw for us, Marrow will be a giant for us on 5. We should reasonably have three to five characters in play on turn 5. Depending on how many characters we evade with, Marrow can easily become the size of a small 7-drop. With the support of Last Stand and Shrapnel Blast, there won’t be a 5-drop in the Vs. System who can tangle with her. Take that, Albert Gaines ◊ Nuke!

Turn 6 is a bit of a letdown after 5, since Marrow is nothing short of amazing, but Callisto is still a solid character. She boasts an above-average 14 ATK, meaning that she can often attack up the curve into 7-drop. Her effect is also useful in the late turns, as she can turn those little characters that are doing little past evading every turn into +1/+1 counters for our bigger characters (though we’ll usually just want to leave those characters in play to boost Marrow).

Finally, at 7, we have one of my new favorite characters. Ape is decent as a 7-drop in terms of his stats, with 16/14. However, his effect is absolutely amazing. Assuming that our opponents can’t stun Ape through combat, since his size and the fact that he has evasion makes stunning him difficult, Ape basically changes the win condition for our opponents, requiring them to stay in positive numbers while dropping us into the negative during wrap-up. Ape combines very well with several of the cards in our deck. For example:

  • Use Callisto’s effect to gain a +1/+1 counter by sending one of our smaller Energy characters back to our hand, then discard the Energy card for Ape’s effect;
  • Evade several characters, burn an opponent with Morlock Justice for enough to put that opponent below 0 endurance, then discard for Ape’s effect;
  • If we are below 0 against an opponent who’s close to 0, evade with Ape. During the recovery phase, recover as many characters as possible (including Ape) to trigger The Alley, then discard for Ape’s effect prior to wrap-up to win before the endurance totals are checked.

There may be more combos possible, but I think we’ve sufficiently covered the basics.

Finally, we are at the end of deckbuilding. Here’s the glorious cutthroat monster we have summoned:

Spooky’s Last Stand


3 Artie, Arthur Maddicks

3 Electric Eve, Live Wire

2 Tommy, Runaway

4 Leech, Inhibitor

4 Tar Baby, Adhesive Ally

4 Healer, Life Giver

4 Storm, Leader of the Morlocks

4 Marrow, Gene Nation

3 Callisto, Morlock Queen

2 Ape, Metamorph

4 Bloodhound

4 Last Stand

3 Morlock Justice

4 Retribution

2 Secret Origins

4 Shrapnel Blast

4 The Alley

2 The Hill

Our mulligan is generally going to be for two or three character cards that fill our mid- to late game (i.e., turns 3 through 7). Since we have sixteen characters costing 2 or less, we should hit our early drops a majority of the time even if we are forced to mulligan a few of them. After that, our search cards should help us fill our remaining drops. If, however, we miss one or two of our early to mid-game characters, we can easily drop multiple characters on turn 6 instead of playing Callisto.

While this deck is designed for cutthroat, it can be converted fairly easily to one-on-one. A card that might merit consideration for one-on-one play is Backs Against the Wall. While Last Stand is a mighty defensive weapon, it’s hard to argue with any card that can remove all attackers from an attack altogether. The preferred initiative would probably be odds so as to effectively utilize Marrow and Ape.

We have reached the end of our janky journey for this week. As always, I am happy to hear from you folks out there, so drop me a line at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com. I’ve been receiving some great emails from readers over the past couple of weeks, and I sincerely appreciate everything that you’ve had to say.

Take care, everyone! If you’re not too deep into testing for PC Atlanta, get some friends together to play some cutthroat, and you can give the Morlocks a go. We’ll see you next week with another issue of Breaking Ground!

* To date, the greatest number of copies of Anti-Life Equation that I have managed to have in play at one time in a cutthroat game is three. On those rare occasions, there were stunned characters beyond that of anything you can ever imagine. I had hoped to one day reach four copies in play simultaneously, but everyone has been packing copies of Have a Blast! and War of Attrition lately. Apparently, they don’t find “Anti-Life Insanity” nearly as humorous as I do!

** As I mentioned earlier, Injustice Gang is a very popular deck in our cutthroat games. The beauty of a character like Leech is that a single copy in play forces your opponent to look at other players when considering a target for Scarecrow, Psycho Psychologist. When you’re holding twenty or more cards in hand, Leech veritably becomes your deck’s MVP!

Xorn, Shen Xorn (03/21/06)

Well, we are just a few days away from Pro Circuit Atlanta and the next Marvel Modern Age. If you are planning on making the trek to Georgia for the PC, you have no doubt been heavily testing the possible decks that you may encounter. Even though I can’t make it to Atlanta, I have spent a great deal of time discussing the Avengers and X-Men sets with my team, Team Alternate Win Condition (TAWC), to try to help those members who are going to Atlanta. I feel more and more each day that our team will do well there, and that we’ll finally take home something other than Tim Batow’s customary “Shortest Competitor Award.”

Recently, one of the regulars at the card shop where I play made a comment regarding the decks I posted in my past few articles. His notion was that they were modified versions of Marvel Modern Age decks that we would probably see. The Xavier’s School/Dr. Light, Master of Holograms deck could easily substitute Masters of Evil and Hard Sound Construct for Emerald Enemies. The Sticky Situation deck was based on the same premise as the “Masters of Evasion” deck (Morlocks/Masters of Evil) that certain teams are supposedly bringing to Atlanta. And the Last Stand deck featuring the Morlock evasion theme is very similar to . . . um . . . the Morlock evasion deck.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t given much credence to many of the decks that might pop up in the next Marvel Modern Age. Everyone knows that Squadron rush and reservist decks will be present in large numbers at the Pro Circuit. But what else could we possibly see? Will the Hellfire Club be ready to play a big game of chess with its opponents? Can Mutant trait decks put up a fight against the powerful teams from the Avengers set? Will Kang Council prove to be the “Doom substitute” of MMA?  Personally, I have just one big question—will the X-Men be there?

On more than one occasion, I have mentioned my love for the X-Men team from Marvel Origins. In a metagame dominated by The New Brotherhood, X-Men board control was unsurpassed at keeping the Brotherhood weenies in check. Sure, TNB Blitz had the potential to get its characters’ ATKs quite high. However, when cards like Finishing Move and Gambit, Remy LeBeau limit the Brotherhood decks to one or two attacks on their initiative, and Children of the Atom and Muir Island keep your guys around perpetually, the fear of large attackers goes away quickly.

Ultimately, though, the downfall of my X-Men deck came from a different Brotherhood threat: Lost City. The large ATK values for characters in The New Brotherhood decks weren’t tough to deal with, but the ability of Big Brotherhood decks to pump their characters’ DEF values gave me fits! Even with a wide array of attack pumps, I couldn’t consistently stun the larger characters. The ability to control the board was fine, but it was useless if my opponents’ characters never got stunned!

The situation in Marvel Modern Age got me thinking about my old X-Men deck. The key to my success with that deck was its built-in ability to maintain my board with control and recovery effects while simultaneously keeping my opponent’s board in check with various KO effects. Against aggressive decks, it worked beautifully. While my opponent’s characters could stun up the curve fairly easily, they had very few defensive tricks. I believe the environment for Marvel Modern Age will be very similar. The defining decks of the format—Squadron rush and reservist—have VERY big characters. However, aside from the potential to stun back characters, they are fairly limited when it comes to providing effective defense. The Squadron decks rely on gaining enough advantage in the early turns to let Golden Archer and Albert Gaines ◊ Nuke win the game on turn 5. Reservist decks, on the other hand, have the potential to carry the late game with several attack tricks. But aside from some formidable stun effects (i.e., Hawkeye, Clinton Barton and Wonder Man), the reservist decks have little to actually counter opposing attacks.

It occurs to me that the X-Men could have a home in Marvel Modern Age. The team continued with the recovery theme in the new set with cards like Angel of Mercy and Phoenix Rising. However, there’s a gleam in my eye for one recovery-related card in particular: Xorn! In the past, the ability to recover stunned characters was usually attached to a substantial cost (discard an X-Men character card, exhaust two characters, recite the Pledge of Allegiance backwards while standing on your head, etc). Xorn bypasses all of that, effectively saying, “If I’m non-stunned at any point in the recovery phase, I’ll give you a free recovery.” 

I hear your words, Xorn, and I am ready. It’s time for us to break Xorn and to break into the Marvel Modern environment with a new age of X-Men recovery!

The Build

Xorn is an obvious four-of, since he will be our deck’s focus. However, making sure that we have our non-stunned 3-drop in the recovery phase may be difficult given the proliferation of attack pumps that are likely to appear in Marvel Modern. Thus, we’ll also need four copies of Angel of Mercy. This card is included almost exclusively for use with Xorn, to make sure he’ll be ready to work his recovery magic. Of course, Angel of Mercy only works during the recovery phase. This means that we run the risk of losing our theme card to a well-played Stolen Power or Drain Essence, so we’ll also throw in four copies of Phoenix Rising. The updated version of Children of the Atom can put cards in our KO’d pile to good use and help ensure that our characters stick around to battle in later turns.

If we’re going to play Phoenix Rising, we need to have some reliable methods of getting characters into the KO’d pile. In order to accomplish this, look for cards that not only put cards in the KO’d pile, but also yield benefits by doing so.

First and foremost, let’s consider the aspect of deck-cycling. It would certainly behoove us to have a way of moving through our deck so that we’re not just relying on the two cards that we draw each turn to give us what we need. Prior to the X-Men set, we used Cerebro for this. In Marvel Modern, we have Worthington Industries, which is similar to Cerebro in that it allows us to look at more cards to find the characters we need. It also improves upon Cerebro in that it lets us look at three cards as opposed to two. However, we are limited to selecting only one of those three cards, and—just like Cerebro—it ships any non-character cards to the bottom of our deck. This is unfortunate, but worth the sacrifice, since it helps us move through the deck and discard cards to the KO’d pile.

Even with an aggressive mulligan and a couple of early activations of Worthington Industries, we still can’t be sure that we’ll see Xorn by turn 3, so we’re going to hedge our bets a bit and include two copies of Time Breach. While not a great search card, it is up to the task of searching out our deck’s MVP. In addition, it can search out other character cards for various purposes—namely, hitting that all-important 2-drop or getting a character for a discard effect. If we find that we don’t need those extra copies, then it can go to the KO’d pile for the discard requirement of Angel of Mercy or Worthington Industries just as easily as any other card in the deck.

Our attack pumps for the deck are relatively obvious. Flying Kick has to go in, as it is the best attack pump available in Marvel Modern Age. It was not an easy call to include it over Turnabout, but this deck will follow a fairly strict curve, so the opportunities to use Turnabout will be fairly limited. On the other hand, there are no restrictions on the use of SNIKT!. This card effectively gives the X-Men a Savage Beatdown and Nasty Surprise rolled into one card. Some might argue that the discard cost to play SNIKT! hurts the card’s utility, but since we actually need cards in the KO’d pile for Phoenix Rising, SNIKT! can be a great enabler for our recovery theme.

We have plenty of cards to keep our board intact. Now let’s see if we can’t wreck our opponent’s board a bit. My personal card of choice for this task is Mutant Massacre. The benefits of this card above and beyond simple board control are plenty. Against Masters of Evil, you can keep Beetle, Armorsmith and Yellowjacket, Rita DeMara from making repeat trips to the board. Against Morlocks, you can bypass the anti-KO effect of The Alley altogether. Finally, against Anti-Green Lantern rush, you can negate Felix Faust’s effect AND keep it out of play for good. (Okay, I realize that AGL rush isn’t a part of Marvel Modern Age, but it’s still a pretty cool counter!)

Our character selections are designed to make the most of our mega-recovery theme. At 1, we’re going to try to up the odds on getting Worthington Industries into play early by putting in four copies of Archangel, Angel. Having characters that can search for needed cards is always good. Archangel’s flight and decent stats just make our reason for including it all the more obvious. For backup, we’ll throw in a couple of copies of Jubilee. Is it a major beater? No, but it has a decent effect that, after a few turns of use, can change the outcome of close games.

At 2, we are pretty much required to include four copies of Cannonball. The only thing better than free recovery is avoiding the need to recover altogether by attacking with a character that cannot be stunned while attacking. Nightcrawler, Kurt Wagner was a 2-drop giant in Golden Age, and Cannonball is cut from the same cloth. In addition, we’re going with four copies of Longshot, Hero of Mojoworld. Since we want to have most of our characters recovered during the recovery phase, Longshot can really improve our deck cycling by allowing us to look at four more cards each turn (and selectively exclude two of those cards). While not nearly as abusive as its Marvel Origins progenitor, it still has quite a bit of utility in our deck.

At 3 . . . Xorn. That’s it. ‘Nuff said!

Turn 4 is where our deck should really start taking control of the game. Four copies of Havok, Critical Mass should be effective to this end. Not only is it a very respectable 8/7 card, but its effect works beautifully in unison with Xorn. Since we can add effects to the chain during the recovery phase, we can use Xorn to recover Havok prior to wrap-up, then use Havok to stun an opposing character with a cost of 5 or less. If Havok hasn’t been stunned going into the recovery phase, then we can use its effect once to stun an opposing character, recover it with Xorn, then use its effect again to stun another character. Toss in a Phoenix Rising to recover Havok, and the hit could conceivably keep on coming into infinity—or at least until we run out of characters to stun! Also at 4, we’ll toss in a couple of copies of Professor X, Headmaster. While its effect doesn’t have nearly the “Wow!” factor of Havok’s, it has solid stats and an ability that also works well with Xorn’s effect. Besides, we can’t put too many copies of the good Professor in the deck since we might be seeing another version of him in the later turns.

It may not be very pretty, but we want Wolverine, The Best at What He Does for turn 5. Many players are critical of Wolverine for having a low DEF and thus being an easy target for attacks up the curve. However, several considerations really make this criticism a non-issue. First, stunning up the curve will be commonplace in MMA, so the two points of DEF that Wolverine loses compared to the average 5-drop are not going to be a major issue. Of course, it is also highly unlikely that a character with a cost of 4 or less will be able to attack into Wolverine without stunning back. In this case, we are effectively trading a stun on an opposing character for a few points of endurance (since Wolverine will recover for free).

Second, since the deck wants the odd initiative, we will usually only have to worry about attacks up the curve on turn 6 or later since we will be doing all of the attacking on turn 5. Finally, if we achieve our goal of gaining board control on turn 4, then our opponent will usually have only two good attacks going into turn 5 (assuming that we don’t control the initiative). If our opponent wastes his attack with his low drop on Wolverine, then he will net no board advantage. If we have a SNIKT! handy, then our opponent could actually lose board advantage on his initiative. Despite his low DEF, playing Wolverine is a win-win situation.

Turn 6 is a tough call for us. While Colossus, Organic Steel is a very big character and can work well in unison with Xorn, its effect will usually only be useful once per game (if at all). So we’re going to go with someone even bigger that can make more of a difference if we have to go to turn 7: Iceman, Deep Freeze. This 13/13 6-drop is a monster on either initiative. Presumably, we’d like to end the game by turn 6. To that end, Iceman presents a lot of problems for our opponents, as many 6-drops in Marvel Modern can’t stun Iceman without help. Of course, if we do go into turn 7, then we have the security of knowing that any characters that try to take on Iceman will probably stay exhausted going into the next turn. Finally, Iceman’s discard cost shouldn’t be too much of an issue since nearly a quarter of our deck is Energy characters; Iceman is just another good way to get characters into the KO’d pile!

Finally, at 7, we’re going to depart from conventional wisdom (and MXM 7-drops) to try out two copies of Professor X, Friend of Mutants. While this X-Men Starter Deck rare is smaller than most 7-drops, it makes up for it with an effect that gives all of our X-Men characters a substantial boost. If we have the initiative, then putting our X-Men characters in the front row will increase our characters’ ATK values by 2, meaning that almost all of our characters can attack one spot up the curve without any other attack pumps. On the other hand, if we put all of our characters in the support row, then our opponents will have to work to stun our characters, since each character’s DEF increases by 2.*  Effects that boost all characters we control are formidable, and Professor X has one of the best.

We’re wrapping up our Modern Age build now. Let’s look at the final product:

You’re Never Going to Keep Me Down!


4 Archangel, Angel

2 Jubilee, Jubilation Lee

4 Cannonball, Blast Field

4 Longshot, Hero of Mojoworld

4 Xorn, Shen Xorn

4 Havok, Critical Mass

2 Professor X, Headmaster

4 Wolverine, TBAWHD

4 Iceman, Deep Freeze

2 Professor X, Friend of Mutants

4 Angel of Mercy

4 Flying Kick

4 Mutant Massacre

4 Phoenix Rising


2 Time Breach

4 Worthington Industries, X-Corp

As I mentioned earlier, this deck wants odd initiatives. While it is still possible for it to win on evens, the best chance for the deck to take control of the board is the turn that Wolverine, The Best at What He Does comes out. Assuming that we keep Xorn healthy, Wolverine will easily take out any opposing 5-drops, Havok, Critical Mass will dispatch the 4-drop, and any remaining drops can be taken down by Xorn and Cannonball.

Against Squadron Supreme, your preliminary goal is to survive the early turns and take over the late turns with your characters. If your opponent is playing AIDA, then Havok and Mutant Massacre are essentially worthless to you. However, if you can avoid AIDA somehow, then try to keep a character ready to counter Panacea Potion with Mutant Massacre, and use Wolverine and Havok to take Albert Gaines ◊ Nuke to school.

Against reservist decks, try to get out Cannonball (since it laughs at Heroes in Reserve and The Acolytes). Don’t even bother to make safe attacks down the curve, since they can easily stun most of your guys back. Hold on to SNIKT! for your defensive turns, and use your superior board control cards to keep their characters out of action. If you can get off a Mutant Massacre on She-Hulk, Gamma Bombshell, then you’ll probably win.

For those attending the Pro Circuit, good luck and have fun in Atlanta! I’ll be enviously keeping tabs on the action via the Metagame.com coverage, wishing that I could trade places with any one of you. For those of you who, like me, can’t make the festivities down South, feel free to send me an email at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com. Those of you attending the Pro Circuit are also welcome to drop me a line . . . though I’ll probably just tell you how incredibly jealous I am!

* And magically, just like that, Wolverine, The Best at What He Does jumps to 9 DEF!

Human Torch, Friendly Rival (3/28/06)

Pro Circuit Atlanta has come and gone, and a fun time was had by all. It had its ups and downs, decisive victories and major upsets, and competitive efforts that should be the talk of Vs. System fans for a long time to come.

Many of you may not be aware of this, but there is actually another big sporting event that occurs in the month of March. Up until this year, it was this event (not Vs. System) that consumed my life for nearly three weeks. It too had its ups and downs, decisive victories and major upsets, and notable competitive efforts. What is this other event of which I speak?  IT’S MARCH MADNESS, BABY!!!

The Final Fantastic Four

While I am not a major sports nut, I love the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Before I had a steady job and worked an insane number of hours, I made it a point to do nothing for the first weekend of the tournament except watch basketball. There’s just something about the tournament that is so compelling. Maybe it was filling out your tournament brackets, then cheering like mad for teams that you had never heard of before to upset the favorites so that you could win the office pool. Whatever the case may be, it’s hard to beat March Madness and the race to the Final Four.

Speaking of the Final Four, I recall a misstatement from a few years ago where one of the commentators referred to the Final Four as the “Fantastic Four.” Being of a whimsical and goofy nature, I got to wondering who would win a basketball tournament between the members of the Fantastic Four. I’m no basketball guru, but I know someone who is . . . so, to break down the brackets of the Final Fantastic Four is none other than the man himself, Dick Vitale.*

Michael Barnes: So, Mr. Vitale, in the match between Mr. Fantastic and Thing, who would be the victor?

Dick Vitale: It’s the rubber man versus the rock man, baby! Thing can dominate the inside like no other big man, and he has a defense that’s hard to beat, since he’s made out of stone. But he’s just not fast or flexible enough to stop the guy who bounces around even more than the basketball. When you’ve got a player who can slam dunk from half-court without his feet ever leaving the ground, you can’t bet against him. Thing may be the one covered in rocks, but it’s Mr. Fantastic in a landslide, baby!

MB: Fair enough. Who do you see taking the game between Invisible Woman and the Human Torch?

DV: It’s sibling rivalry to the max! The Invisible Woman has the fanciest footwork in the game. You can’t ever tell which way she’ll move, since you can’t see her. But the way that the Human Torch literally flies across the court, I’ve got to think that he’ll be the one controlling the tempo of this matchup. Sue Storm may have the stealthy moves, but they won’t help her guard against Johnny Storm draining buckets from fifteen feet in the air. Torch takes the “W”!

MB: So, it’s Mr. Fantastic against Human Torch in the finals. Who do you see becoming the champion?

DV: It’s hard to beat Mr. Fantastic. He’s got the moves. He’s got the range. He’s got the technical know-how to make it all come together. But it just isn’t enough to stop a guy who can burn through your defenses . . . literally! Unless Reed Richards has an asbestos body suit, the Human Torch takes home the trophy. It’s Torch Madness, baby!!!

MB: You sure do like saying “baby” a lot.

DV: I sure do! I call everything “baby” except for an actual baby!

So, there we have it. Our Final Fantastic Four champ (and theme card for this week) is none other than the Human Torch—specifically, Human Torch, Friendly Rival.

Raging Hot Flames and Stone Cold Stunners

I realize that Human Torch, Friendly Rival is the only version that isn’t part of the Fantastic Four team. However, pretty much all of the Fantastic Four versions are already well-regarded as tier 1 deck mainstays. Besides, Human Torch, Friendly Rival provides an interesting solution that I recently found with my Morlocks deck.

You see, one major issue I have with Morlocks evasion-based decks is that they lack any real early turn attack boosts. Cards like Bum’s Rush and Marrow are amazing, but only if you have enough stunned characters to support them. At the start of your attack step, choosing which characters to attack with becomes difficult since your main attack pumps are either fairly weak (like Retribution) or completely useless in the early game (like Shrapnel Blast).

Of course, a Morlock team-up with Spider-Friends seems like a natural fit, since both decks have characters that live and die off of the evasion mechanic. Adding the Human Torch to the mix makes for an even sweeter deal. While he doesn’t have evasion, he is tailor-made for attacking first since his effect gives him a bonus based on how many non-stunned Spider-Friends characters you control. With the Human Torch to clear out our opponent’s largest character first, and the remaining characters to clear the way in the later part of our attack step, we may have achieved a perfect balance for the anticipated Spider-Friends/Morlocks team-up.

The Build

Our obligatory four copies of Human Torch, Friendly Rival will be accompanied by four copies of Marrow. The key play for the deck will be dropping Human Torch on turn 6 (hopefully with us controlling the even initiatives) and having him do the dirty work, then having Marrow come in for the kill at the end of the turn. With two characters attacking for as much as 15 ATK apiece before adding any attack pumps, we should be able to easily dispatch our opponents on that critical turn.

The question now is how we want to set up our characters in the early turns to prepare for our sixth turn aggression. Obviously, our goal should be to keep as many characters on the board as possible while keeping our endurance intact until the sixth turn. One good way to save on endurance is to have cheap, reusable reinforcement. The Spider-Friends have a great 1-drop in this department in the form of Rocket Racer. By sending him to assist any of our front row characters, we can get effective reinforcement at the low cost of 1 endurance. We just need to make sure that we don’t overdo it with the endurance payments.

Another good way to cut down on endurance loss is to drop the ATK values of our opponent’s characters, so we’ll need a couple of copies of Artie. Although Artie will probably be evading a lot, he will make up for it by effectively reducing endurance loss by dropping an opposing character’s ATK. Finally, we can make up for missing out on early game drops by having characters that can be recruited for free in later turns. To this end, three copies of Tommy will also be welcome in the deck. Not only can she make up for a missed 1- or 2-drop fairly effectively, but she can also be a source of character advantage in the early turns.

On turn 2, we’re going to continue with the theme of potent defense characters. Of course, having a character that gives all of our characters an extra point of DEF would be pretty nice. That’s why we’ll be including two copies of Dusk, which is a strong drop on turn 2 and can even be a backup drop on turn 5 if things don’t go as planned (though we hope that they do, of course). Another great character at 2 is Leech, whose greatness I have already praised in my article on Last Stand. While we should have enough defense in this deck to shut down most potent attackers, we don’t have as effective an answer for burn decks. Leech can take away some of that sting by effectively rendering characters like Golden Archer and Scarecrow, Psycho Psychologist useless. Of course, sometimes you just want a big character on the board. Tar Baby is certainly no slouch when it comes to stats, since both his ATK and DEF are above average. In addition, he has an effect that can certainly be useful in later turns against decks with any kind of recursion theme.

Turn 3 presents a tough choice for us, because we have two exceptional characters. Healer is wonderful in any evasion-based deck due to his endurance-gaining ability. That alone merits at least one copy, since he can mean the difference between winning and losing in matchups against aggressive rush decks. However, we should also be concerned with keeping opposing plot twist and payment effects from waylaying our characters. After all, trying to maintain a decent board can be difficult if cards like Reign of Terror or Roy Harper, Speedy start picking off our smaller characters. This is the primary reason that we want four copies of Ricochet in our build. Where Leech can shut down a single payment power, Ricochet can nullify a wide array of opposing effects that might cause problems for us.

Speaking of maintaining our board, we need to consider the ramifications of KO effects. While The Alley is great, it’s only effective during the combat phase. Moreover, cards like Mutant Massacre can bypass its effects since they don’t actually KO the character. What we’d really like is a global effect that prevents our stunned characters from being targeted. This is why we have Spider-Man, Peter Parker at 4. With Ricochet protecting our non-stunned characters and Spider-Man protecting the stunned ones, we should have very little problem keeping our characters in play no matter what our opponents may throw at us. In addition, Spider-Man’s ongoing effect, which provides boosts to characters with evasion, is also nice, since all of our characters (with the exception of Human Torch) have evasion.

Moving to the subject of plot twists, we have some easy choices and some not-so-easy choices. As far as the easy ones go, we need team-up cards desperately, since most of our important effects hinge on having a specific team affiliation. This makes our choice to include four copies of The Forsaken somewhat obvious. Not only will this card provide the needed team-up for our deck, but it also is useful as a marginal DEF boost if we draw multiples. The only problem is that four copies of a card probably aren’t enough to ensure that we hit it consistently, so we’ll also throw in two copies of Teamwork. Not only does this card sport art to make lonely TCG’ers around the world drool, but it also acts as both a searcher and protector for our team-up cards. Thank you, Upper Deck. Thank you.

Now let’s talk about search cards. We need to avoid missing any drops if at all possible. Of course, with only seven characters at 1, we will inevitably miss drops there (though the inclusion of Tommy can easily make up for that). However, we want to hit every drop from 2 onward if at all possible, so four copies of Bloodhound are a good call. This search card is wonderful for our deck because it doesn’t just limit us to searching for Morlocks characters (though it does require the discard of a Morlocks character to play). Since we are playing sixteen Morlocks characters, finding one to discard shouldn’t be difficult. Of course, Bloodhound can’t search out our theme card since he doesn’t have evasion. Thus, we should probably consider an alternate search card for backup. I know that you’re probably thinking to yourself, “He’s going to say Enemy of My Enemy.” Well . . . you are right. We’ll include two copies of “the most overused card on Breaking Ground.”

So what about attack and defensive tricks? Well, I personally love Spider Senses, but I just don’t think it works well in this build. Given the leanings of the current metagame decks to play a wide array of attack pumps, Spider Senses would probably be more of a speed bump than anything. Instead, we’ll just shut down attacks completely. With a decent early curve filled with characters possessing evasion, that won’t be hard thanks to Backs Against the Wall. Three copies should ensure that we can negate at least one big attack every game simply by evading a couple of small characters. As far as pumps go, the more versatile they are, the better. The Morlocks have two great pumps that are effective on either attack or defense. Retribution isn’t much for stopping attacks, but it is phenomenal for stunning up the curve whether a character is attacking or defending. Of course, as good as Retribution is, Shrapnel Blast is even better! With a gigantic boost of +4/+4 on either attack or defense, it could single-handedly make the Morlocks team tier 1. The only requirement for Shrapnel Blast to be effective is that we have three stunned characters. With the amount of evasion this deck possesses, that won’t be difficult at all.

Finally, let’s consider a couple of other combat tricks for the deck. While Ricochet is certainly adept at keeping our characters out of harm’s way, even he can’t stop a wayward System Failure or Mind Control against Human Torch. Since we can’t always rely on the character effects to get the job done, we’ll need a few copies of Nice Try! for backup. The eternal nemesis of Roy Harper, Arsenal, Nice Try! is a potent negation card that aids in our endeavor of protecting our characters from ill effects. Finally, we should consider the potential for damage on our “kill turn” (presumably turn 6). With his flight and range, we’d like to see Human Torch break up formations to allow our remaining characters to attack for a good deal of damage. However, it would be nice if we could create a decent amount of breakthrough endurance loss with Human Torch as well. This is why we’ll want three copies of Morlock Justice, though to be fair, we are really just interested in it for the effect of removing reinforcement. However, if we manage to draw multiple copies of it, then it is also a nice tool for dropping some extra direct endurance loss on our opponent at the end of the turn.

That’s it! Halftime is over, and the visiting team is heading back to the court. Let’s see what they’ll be facing in the second half:

Torch Madness, Baby!

2 Artie, Arthur Maddicks

2 Rocket Racer, Robert Farrell

3 Tommy, Runaway

2 Dusk, Cassie St. Commons

3 Leech, Inhibitor

3 Tar Baby, Adhesive Ally

1 Healer, Life Giver

4 Ricochet, Johnny Gallo

4 Spider-Man, Peter Parker

4 Human Torch, Friendly Rival

4 Marrow, Gene Nation

3 Backs Against the Wall

4 Bloodhound

2 Enemy of My Enemy

3 Morlock Justice

2 Nice Try!

4 Retribution

4 Shrapnel Blast

2 Teamwork

4 The Forsaken, Team-Up

As stated earlier in the article, this deck prefers even initiatives. The goal is to absorb as much damage as possible in the early turns while maintaining your board. On turn 5, drop Marrow to hold off the onslaught of opposing attacks, then drop Human Torch and a 1-drop on turn 6 to go for the kill. If we have to lose a character or two in the first four turns to prevent direct attacks, so be it. However, we will probably need at least five to six characters on the board on turn 6 to effectively end the game.

If you have any thoughts, insights, questions, or picks for the NCAA tournament championship that you’d like to share with me, please send them to BigSpooky1@hotmail.com. I apologize that I have been remiss in answering emails over the past few months. However, I have received some great emails from several of you out there. I always read every email sent to me, and I appreciate everything that you have to say.

Barring any unforeseen work disasters, I should be in Austin this weekend for the Vs. System $10K. If you are attending, please feel free to stop by and chat with me for a moment. I’ll be the big guy wearing the squirrel hat and harassing Tim Batow.

Take care, and I’ll see you next week. Until then, keep in mind the immortal words of our good friend, Dick Vitale:  “The Vs. System . . . IT’S AWESOME, BABY!!!”

*Okay . . . so it’s not REALLY Dick Vitale. But I’d like to think that if I ever got a chance to ask Dickie V. these questions, this is how he would answer.

**With a few notable exceptions, I will be making a genuine effort to build decks that are playable in the Silver Age. Hopefully that will inspire some jank creativity that will encourage a few of you to play something other than AGL Rush/Squadron Rush/Faces of Evil Rush.

Project Liberator (04/04/06)

To quote William Wallace (the Mel Gibson version, at least):  FREEEEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!

Yes, true believers . . . yours truly is finally free from audit tyranny. There is much joy and celebration in the Barnes household as I finally get to return to the job in Forensics (which I love dearly) and reasonable workweeks. Between my release from accounting captivity, my main man Shane Wiggans’s second place finish at PC Atlanta, and Tim Batow’s new pair of platform shoes, things are looking up in a big way.

Liberation . . . Liberation . . . It’s Time for Liberation!

My original plan was to feature Prison Break as this week’s theme card (for obvious reasons). Unfortunately, aside from the nifty combo with Bat’s Belfry, I couldn’t think of any grand uses for Prison Break. But I really wanted to feature the Arkham Inmates (they have always been one of my favorite teams to play), so I decided to brainstorm on cards that might help the team while still tying in with my own personal “Prison Break.”

One major problem with the Inmates is that they are very vulnerable to disruption. Sure, they have some of the best board control cards in the game: against most aggro curve decks, the Arkham characters will dominate the board because they can KO opposing characters with great efficiency. However, the Inmates run into major problems when paired against characters that possess off-initiative tricks. Decks like Common Enemy and Teen Titans just abuse them horribly because they can go aggressive on their initiative, and then completely shut down any attacks by the Arkham characters on off-initiative turns.

Recent sets have brought us answers for a lot of these tricks with cards like BWA HA HA HA HA! and Fatality, Emerald Assassin. However, as nifty as they are, they don’t really assist the Arkham Inmates much because they’re either team-stamped or suited for strategies that can’t be incorporated into Arkham board control . . . with the possible exception of Project Liberator.

Project Liberator is technically team-stamped to the Thunderbolts. However, much like Null Time Zone, its effect is not strictly limited to its team stamp. As such, Project Liberator ensures that your characters cannot be targeted by any plot twist or payment effects this turn (regardless of which team they are on). Of course, that also refers to your plot twists and payment effects as well as your opponents’. You may not have to fear Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, but neither can you Press the Attack. Finishing Move is no good. Lanterns in Love won’t bring any of your guys back. And System Failure may be useless against you, but it’s kind of a moot point since Savage Beatdown won’t work, either. Suffice to say, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.

So, if Project Liberator is such a drawback, why am I interested in putting it in an Arkham Inmates deck? Quite simply, the benefits outweigh the costs. It’s worth losing the ability to target my own characters if I can give the Inmates a fighting chance against decks that would normally crush them horribly. Besides, as we will find, there are several cards that can support our cause without targeting our characters. Follow me as we help the lovable loonies of Arkham Asylum break Project Liberator.

The Build

As per usual, we’ll start out with our four requisite copies of our theme card.* Of course, Project Liberator is going to restrict our options somewhat, since we can’t target our own characters on the turns we play it. As such, we need to develop an offensive strategy that can work around the limitation. One great solution is to play plot twists that don’t attempt to boost our characters’ ATK, but instead lower an opposing character’s DEF. An example that immediately leaps to mind is No Man Escapes the Manhunters. This card—which will no doubt become a fixture in many Silver Age decks—has the benefit of targeting opposing characters. In addition, it provides a turn-based effect, meaning that it can be played at any time and still apply the effect to the targeted character. This can be invaluable for responding to cards like AIDA, which would normally prevent No Man Escapes the Manhunters from working its mojo. Finally, the ability to move a character out of the hidden area can be invaluable when dealing with decks whose characters live and die in the hidden area (such as AGL Rush).

Of course, as good as No Man Escapes the Manhunters will be for our deck, Glass Jaw will be even better. I recall my early JLA Sealed Pack tournaments playing this card. The consensus of most of the players was that Glass Jaw could be amazing in an Arkham KO deck. Given the tendency of Arkham Inmates characters to do cruel things to opposing defenders when they are exhausted, Glass Jaw is a veritable torture device to our opponents’ characters. And, much like No Man Escapes the Manhunters, its effect is also turn-based.

Finally, we can bypass targeting limitations by playing cards that confer bonuses to all of our characters. One card that falls squarely into this category is Fear and Confusion, which, along with Glass Jaw, helps ensure that none of our opponents’ characters will be ready during turns where we control the initiative. Given the tricks we have in store for our opponents’ exhausted characters, they might not even have a character on the board by the time we are done.

Of course, every good board control deck needs some board control cards. Our first and best choice is Kidnapping, which is simply the best board removal effect in the game (though certainly not the most viable). Much like Finishing Move, Kidnapping clears the board of a stunned character . . . and of course, our opponent will usually end up drawing that character again on the next turn, which can severely impede the progress of his or her draw, since he or she will miss out on a card that otherwise would have been drawn. Throw in the fact that we get to draw a card for our opponent’s trouble, and Kidnapping becomes absolutely amazing. Of course, the Inmates have another winner of a board control card in Smiles, Everyone!. As I mentioned earlier, the Arkham Inmates have a plethora of vicious effects that hinge upon an opponent’s exhausted characters. Smiles, Everyone! is one of the nastiest of the group, building in a KO effect whenever an exhausted character becomes stunned. Cruel? Certainly. But tons of fun for the Arkham player!

Next, let’s look at character search. One of the problems with the mono-Arkham deck is that it has a severe lack of credible search or deck-cycling cards. While the JLA set certainly upped the caliber of the character cards, it did little to improve the search or cycling situation. We really don’t have any good answers for this problem. However, we do have some generic search cards that can fill in. Since this is essentially a single-team deck, my beloved Enemy of My Enemy card won’t work here. So we’ll rely on our backup of Secret Origins, which, to be fair, is really only effective on turns when you don’t control the initiative. And against decks that don’t play on curve, it can be downright useless. However, it is a suitable search card, and ensures that we can get at least some level of character representation each turn (even if it isn’t the drop that we’d like). Hopefully, we won’t have to rely on Secret Origins too much, since having multiple drops for each turn and the extra draw power of Kidnapping will help us to hit our curve throughout the game.

Our final plot twist choice requires a bit of explanation, since it sort of flies in the face of our deck strategy. Our primary reason for playing Project Liberator is to protect our characters on our initiatives from effects that could hamper our attacks. On the off-initiative turns, however, we probably won’t be playing Project Liberator very often. This leaves us free to add some defensive tricks to our deck. One of the best, in my opinion, is Nasty Surprise. Its effect speaks for itself, but it’s worth noting how potent the card can be in this deck, since it combos very well with many of the characters and plot twists. There is nothing more heartbreaking for our opponent than to attempt a “safe” attack down the curve, only to be thwarted by a Nasty Surprise, and then have his or her character sent packing with Kidnapping.

As far as the characters go, we have the usual assortment of lovable lunatics. On turn 1, we have a former Breaking Ground theme card, Harley Quinn. While not quite as strong as she was in unison with Lost City, she still possesses a reinforcement effect that helps us get through the early turns relatively unscathed. And if we don’t manage to draw her until the later turns, she can still be useful from the hand as a power-up in a time of need.

On turn 2, we have a couple of characters to introduce. Our preferred 2-drop is the infamous Puppet Master. While not an Arkham Inmate, he’s still a pretty nasty guy and all-around exhausting villain. If we can get him on the board in the early turns, he can dramatically cut down the number of opportunities that our opponents have to attack. And if we manage to achieve board control, then it is very possible that we could eliminate opposing attacks altogether (assuming that our opponent stays on curve). Our backup 2-drop, Mr. Zsasz, is a little less well-known, but still has some definite possibilities. With an aggressive deck like ours, Mr. Zsasz can quickly grow in size. In addition, he subs as a marginal 3-drop with his boost effect, which can be really good against decks that have potent 1-drop characters, like Squadron No Hand or AGL Rush.

On turn 3, we would like to see Charaxes, Drury Walker every single game. One of the saving graces of the Arkham Inmates team is that they have some absolutely brutal exhaustion combos that allow Charaxes to become a KO machine. With Fear and Confusion and Glass Jaw at our disposal, Charaxes should be capable of dispatching opposing 4- and 5-drops with ease. Giving up breakthrough for the ability to demolish our opponent’s board is a trade that I’ll take any day of the week.

Turn 4 is another treasure trove of disruptive characters for us. As far as exhaustion-based effects go, it’s hard to go wrong with Hush. His payment power can ensure that we’ll either be able to KO the defender with the help of Smiles, Everyone!, or that an already exhausted defender (thanks to Glass Jaw or Fear and Confusion) won’t be ready to dish out any attacks on the following turn. However, as good as Hush is, he’s really our second choice at this drop.

Gentlemen may prefer blondes, but I’ve always fancied redheads. That’s why our primary 4-drop is Poison Ivy, Pamela Isley. Poison Ivy recently had a couple of new versions added to the Vs. System, but it really is hard to beat the original. Although she boasts sub-par stats, her effect is absolutely insane! If she manages to stun an opposing character while either attacking or defending, then the stunned character will not recover that turn, period! Children of the Atom and Lanterns in Love become completely useless in the face of her seductive charms. And if our opponent wants to keep around the character that Ivy stuns, he or she will have to live with the fact that the character will still be face down going into the next turn. Poison Ivy certainly gives a new context to the term “stunning beauty”!

Turn 5 is when we want to bring our big men out to play. Up until the release of the JLA set, the biggest and best Arkham Inmates 5-drop was undoubtedly Killer Croc, Waylon Jones. Although he’s not much to look at defensively, he can take down pretty much every 5- and 6-drop in the game when he’s attacking. However, the JLA set brought us a character that is almost as big offensively as Killer Croc and much bigger defensively. There is little doubt that Scarecrow, Fearmonger (a.k.a., “The Original Nimrod Killa”) is one of the best 5-drops in the entire Vs. System. Not only is Scarecrow above the curve stat-wise with an impressive 10 ATK, but he also keeps getting bigger! If we are fortunate enough to play against a deck that has a character with a counter or two (or possibly if we still have our own Mr. Zsasz on the board), then Scarecrow (or another character that we control) can get a quick +1/+1 boost at the start of the combat phase. With a stun on turn 5, our Fearmonger quickly grows to the size of a 6-drop before we ever reach the sixth turn!

Since we’re on the subject of 6-drops, let’s look at our own choices here. Another one of the “coolest” characters in the game is Mr. Freeze. On offense, he can effectively replicate Hush’s effect of taking the character that he attacks out of play for the next turn. On defense, he’s a wall, pure and simple. With an impressive 13 DEF, most other 6-drops won’t be able to go through him without some help. Of course, Mr. Freeze is also great against those annoying effects that ready attackers (yes, I’m talking to you, Teen Titans Go!). Our backup at 6 is the big man himself, Bane, The Man Who Broke the Bat. While not the preferred play on 6, Bane has a little extra utility in this deck since he can act as either a 6-drop or a small 7-drop in a pinch (like when we control the initiative on 7 and have to use Secret Origins to hit our drop). But Bane does have a very nice KO effect that can net us some impressive board advantage if our smaller characters are able to attack up the curve . . . and that shouldn’t be too difficult when our “smaller characters,” like Scarecrow and Killer Croc, have the ATK power of 6-drops!

Heads or tails, our character at 7 will always be a winner for us.  Two-Face, Split Personality is one of the most highly regarded 7-drops in the game. He fits exceptionally well into the exhaustion theme of our deck, since he will usually be able to exhaust at least half of the characters on our opponent’s side of the board during our initiative. And the 16/16 stats don’t hurt, either. But the bottom line is that Two-Face acts as the cleanup hitter to a veritable Murderer’s Row of characters from turns 3 through 7. And since our opponents won’t be able to rely on Mystical Paralysis or Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal to restrain our lunatics, it could get very ugly on those turns where we are able to attack and wreck our opponents’ boards.

Well, we are finally free from our deckbuilding exercise. Let’s set the Inmates loose on the Vs. System and see what kind of havoc they can wreak.

Liberated Lunatics


4 Harley Quinn, DHQ

4 Puppet Master

3 Mr. Zsasz, Victor Zsasz

4 Charaxes, Drury Walker

4 Poison Ivy, Pamela Isley

2 Hush, Mystery Man

4 Scarecrow, Fearmonger

1 Killer Croc, Waylon Jones

3 Mr. Freeze, Dr. Victor Fries

1 Bane, TMWBTB

3 Two-Face, Split Personality

3 Fear and Confusion

4 Glass Jaw

4 Kidnapping

4 Nasty Surprise


4 Project Liberator

2 Secret Origins

2 Smiles, Everyone!

The choice of initiatives really depends on the deck that you face. Against a deck like Teen Titans, you would probably prefer the even initiatives so that Charaxes, Drury Walker can take down Terra before she can start dropping locations on him every turn. And if your opponent takes a stun by attacking with Garth ◊ Tempest against Poison Ivy, Pamela Isley backed up by a Nasty Surprise, then you can pretty much call it game. Against more aggressive decks, odd initiatives are preferred because such decks tend to win on the fifth turn. If you can neutralize most of the opposing board with KO and board control effects without taking too much stun damage, then you should be able to let Mr. Freeze and Two-Face, Split Personality take control in the later turns.

The mulligan is almost always for Charaxes, since he is the card that really gets your strategy going. Also, don’t forget about Two-Face’s mulligan effect (like I always do!).

That’s all, folks! I’m off to enjoy my sweet, relaxing, audit-free life. But I’ll be back again for another go next week. In the meantime, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for me, feel free to send me an email at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com. I am currently in the process of clearing out a backlog of about a hundred emails that accumulated during the audit busy season. However, I look forward to talking tech with all of you now that I am free. Accounting is all well and good, but having the time to play some serious Vs. System now and then is where it’s at. And now it’s time to start prepping seriously for Silver Age and Pro Circuit San Francisco!

* To date, I think the only theme card that we haven’t played four copies of is The Joker, Emperor Joker. Isn’t it ironic that this fact would occur to me while featuring an Arkham deck?

Lady Shiva, Master Assassin (04/11/06)

Welcome back to Breaking Ground. This week is another volume in the adventures of Skyler “Skittles” Thomas. Many of you may recall my mention of him in my article on Roll Call!. Well, Skittles went with me to the recent $10K tournament in Austin. Despite missing Bevatron in six out of the nine games he played with my Energy burn deck (a variant of Jesse Hill’s notable Pro Circuit Atlanta build), he finished a respectable 4-5 and found his way into the Top 64 to score some sweet swag.

The Legend of Skittles the Great

After the tournament, Skittles joined me and some of my Alternate Win Condition (TAWC) teammates at Red Robin for some food. Although he didn’t know any of my teammates, he fit in quite well. He even went so far as to put the moves on a gal named Carrie, who is the best friend of Shane Wiggans’s fiancee. My teammates admired his fortitude so much that they dubbed Skittles the official TAWC mascot.

On Sunday, Skittles participated in the Scholarship Tournament. While he didn’t win the $1,000 in scholarship money, he did manage to snag a few more items to add to his growing collection of cool Vs. System stuff.* In addition, he was the recipient of nearly an entire box of cards from the X-Men set. You see, I managed to split in the finals of the Sealed Pack PCQ with Tim “I’m Too Sexy to be Tall” Batow. Though we were splitting the prize down the middle, I had recently completed my X-Men collection and didn’t need any of the cards. So, I decided that rather than letting them gather dust in my closet, I’d let Skittles put them to good use. He appreciated the gesture so much that he gave me the Extended Art Bastion that he had received in the Scholarship Tournament. It was a good deal for everyone involved.

But this article is not about my philanthropy or Skittles’s renowned flirting skills. Rather, it’s about a discussion that Skittles and I had during the trip back to Dallas. Skittles asked me how I manage to come up with ideas for my decks week after week. I explained to him that I look at cards that I think have unfulfilled potential and then try to find the best framework in which to fit those possibilities. For example, Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz is amazing because he can provide cheap reinforcement to adjacent characters that is almost impossible for an opponent to prevent. Obviously, his potential is best fulfilled in combination with cards that work in conjunction with reinforcement. Hence, matching him with the Crime Lords is a logical conclusion.

I then asked Skittles to mention a card that he thought had potential to be tapped. He threw out a few ideas that I quickly ix-nayed because they had either already seen play in competitive decks or had no potential synergy with other deck concepts. But then Skittles piqued my interest with Lady Shiva, Master Assassin (Recruit Lady Shiva only if you control Ra’s al Ghul.  Activate >>> KO target character. Use this power only during your attack step.). I have been a longtime fan of the League of Assassins, and Lady Shiva is simply an amazing card. However, her stats and limited use during her controller’s attack step serve to restrict her effectiveness. This was the problem that I put before Skittles. Since odds is generally the preferred initiative for most decks, trying to find a way to utilize Lady Shiva effectively would be problematic. I asked him if he could think of a way to bypass this limitation. His response was wholly unexpected:

“We could use Power Play.”

The moment the words came out of his mouth, my brain started percolating with thoughts of how to make a League of Assassins / Hellfire Club deck work. Skittles and I started exchanging ideas, and over the course of the three hour trip back to Dallas, we worked out exactly what cards we’d fit into the deck.

You wanted the limelight, Skittles, and now you have it. Skyler Thomas has a way with the ladies, and he and I are going to show you just how to make Lady Shiva, Master Assassin do your bidding . . . with a little assistance from the Hellfire Club.

The Build

Our obvious starting point is Lady Shiva, Master Assassin. Since we will have several deck cycling and search cards at our disposal, we will probably only need two copies. From here, we’ll take the route that Skittles and I did and work backwards through the drops to decide who we want at each turn.

On turn 6, we’re going to need a copy of Ra’s al Ghul, Master Swordsman. To be fair, he is not a preferred drop on this turn in any shape or fashion. However, Lady Shiva’s recruit condition requires that we control Ra’s al Ghul. Since UDE has not yet seen fit to give us a card like Doomstadt for the leader of the League of Assassins, we must rely on having a character with his name in play.** Our best opportunity for this will be at the 4-slot, where we have multiple versions of Ra’s al Ghul at our disposal. However, we will not always be able to rely on drawing the 4-drop or on still having him in play on turn 7, so we must play one copy of the 6-drop version to ensure compliance with Lady Shiva’s cost. Our primary 6-drop is going to be Magneto, Black Lord. The way Skittles described the combo was impressive to say the least: ship Lady Shiva to the hidden area (using Deadly Game or the like), use her effect to KO our opponent’s 7-drop, and then stun Lady Shiva with Magneto’s effect to stun our opponent’s 6-drop. Magneto and our remaining characters will be free to ravage our opponent’s significantly weakened board. Out of the mouths of babes and all!

Turn 5 is relatively straightforward. Shinobi Shaw is an absolute beast in this deck, as it can be very difficult for opposing characters to take him down. If we manage make him the only visible character with a face-up Shaw Industries and a couple of other Hellfire Club characters in the hidden area, then our opponent will have a 13/12 5-drop to deal with, barring no other pumps. And he just gets bigger! As a backup, we want one of the best 5-drops in the game (and the best League of Assassins 5-drop), Bane, Ubu. Bane boasts only average stats, but his ability to KO a stunned character is incredible. If we can find a way to get him into the hidden area, we can almost ensure that his effect will trigger every turn (barring a copy of No Man Escapes the Manhunters to foil our plans). In addition, Bane will ensure that we can meet the loyalty requirement of Ra’s al Ghul, Master Swordsman if we need to play him on turn 6.

Turn 4 is going to be our team-up turn. This is when we would like to see Ra’s al Ghul, Eternal Nemesis in every game. He is our best choice for a version of Ra’s al Ghul, as he hits the board fairly early in the game and he doesn’t have loyalty. In addition, his breakthrough effect can be phenomenal for keeping our opponent’s board under control. Assuming that we can get him into the hidden area, he and Bane could potentially KO two of our opponent’s characters each turn. Our backup at the 4-slot is Madelyne Pryor. The truth is that we don’t really ever want to play her if we have the option of playing Ra’s al Ghul instead. But she is still a solid 4-drop with a decent effect. In addition, she is an easy discard for the effect of Sage, Tessa.

Turn 3 will be entirely up to the Hellfire Club. Our primary drop is Mastermind, Dark Dreamer. He has decent stats and boasts the Mutant–Mental trait (more Sage fuel!). Also, he can do a neat little swap out with hidden characters to prevent direct attacks on our endurance points. Also at the 3-slot we have Harry Leland. Bottom line: Harry Leland is a wall. With a great effect that emulates Acrobatic Dodge, Harry Leland can put our multiple Mental characters to good use.

At turn 2, we have the already mentioned Sage, Tessa. The simple truth is that Sage is a phenomenal card for cycling through the deck. Add in the fact that we’re building for Golden Age (which means that we have access to recursion cards like Slaughter Swamp), and we can pretty much ensure that we’ll get to use her effect every turn. Also at the 2-drop slot, we have a couple of copies of Talia, Beloved Daughter. This version of the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul is perfect for our deck, as she gives us ready access to our preferred 4-drop.

At the 1-drop slot, we have . . . nothing! But we are going to backtrack and look at turn 8. Skittles and I discussed this turn for a while. I was personally all for Ra’s al Ghul, The Demon’s Head; with Shaw Industries in play, the 8-drop Ghul would be a respectable 19/19 that can’t be team attacked. Skittles, however, being the ladies’ man that he is, cast his lot for Dark Phoenix, Alien Life Force. She may be alone on the board after she’s played, but it’s hard to argue that she won’t be formidable at 22/22 (with Shaw Industries in play) . . . especially since our opponent will be taking double stun damage and we’ll be gaining endurance.

Locations will be very critical to the play of this deck, especially since we will occasionally be using Power Play and locking out our plot twists. At the top of the location agenda are three copies of Shaw Industries. The stat boost from this location will be invaluable for our deck strategy, as it will invariably force our opponent to waste pumps and/or team attacks to break through our one visible character’s DEF. Of course, Shaw Industries isn’t nearly as effective without its counterpart, The Hellfire Club. The namesake location for one of our teams is invaluable because it allows for clever maneuvering of our characters, and to boot, it gives the hidden characters a small boost. Finally, a single copy of Massachusetts Academy will benefit our deck. In a situation where we have multiple stunned characters at the end of the turn, Massachusetts Academy can turn a character that we would inevitably lose anyway at wrap-up into an extra card and a stat boost for one of our other characters.

Of course, the fun continues on the League of Assassins side with Mountain Stronghold. Having a location that can search out a character is certainly beneficial (especially if our plot twists get locked out). Add in the fact that it gives Ra’s al Ghul reinforcement, and it is certainly worth running a couple of copies in our deck. Of course, Mountain Stronghold does require a discard of a League of Assassins character card after the fact. If we run into the problem of not having a League of Assassins character card in hand, we can always ditch the character card we search out and then fetch it back with a copy of Slaughter Swamp. Recursion is a theme that was sorely missing from the Marvel Modern Age (with the notable exception of the Faces of Evil variants with Hard Sound Construct); we should take the opportunity to play at least one copy of one of the best KO’d pile interaction cards in the Vs. System.

Our final location is one of the premier Team-Up locations. Where Metropolis is good, Stormfront-1 is just plain better. If we planned to play multiple copies of this card, then we might want to defer to Metropolis. However, a single copy of Stormfront-1 should satisfy our needs.

Let’s move on to plot twists. We have already mentioned that Power Play will be a key card for ensuring that we get to use Lady Shiva’s effect every game, so we need a copy of that in our deck. Of course, we will absolutely need a way to search out Power Play. Luckily, the Hellfire Club has one of the game’s best search cards in Power and Wealth. For the simple cost of exhausting two Hellfire Club characters, we can fetch any plot twist or location from our deck. Along these same lines, the League of Assassins has its own search card in the form of The Demon’s Head. This card limits us to searching out locations, but what it loses in versatility it makes up for in the element of surprise. By placing a location directly into our resource row, The Demon’s Head enables us to catch our opponents off-guard by getting a timely Shaw Industries or The Hellfire Club in play. Three copies of each team searcher should suffice.

Since we do have two teams in our deck, we will need to include some Team-Up cards above and beyond the single copy of Stormfront-1. Since Sage, Tessa is our primary 2-drop, it might be nice to make all of our characters Mutant–Mental for her effect. So, we’ll go with three copies of Brave New World. Not only does this card unify our two different villainous teams, but it also gives the League of Assassins characters a taste of what it is like to be Homo Sapiens Superior (i.e., muties!).

The next plot twist is one that you all knew was coming. We have two good character searchers in our copies of Mountain Stronghold. But we really need something with a bit more versatility for the early turns. Join the Club! is far too limited, as it will never be able to search out any of our League of Assassins characters. So, we will play two copies of . . . wait for it . . . Enemy of My Enemy. Overused by BigSpooky? Probably. Exceedingly effective? Definitely!

As far as ATK and DEF pumps go, we aren’t going to dwell too heavily on them because our locations will provide constant bonuses to our characters. Besides, the unifying theme of the deck dwells more heavily on control tricks than it does on beatdown tactics. Still, we will occasionally find the need for a timely pump. So, we will include three copies of Army of One. Our characters will generally be large enough to handle most attacks head-on, but we might occasionally run into a situation where that extra +2/+2 boost will put us over the top while attacking or defending.

Our four remaining slots are arguably the most important in the deck. The Hellfire Club team has several cards that can move characters with concealed in and out of the hidden area. However, the movement of regular characters in and out of the hidden area is a bit more problematic. Our best bet is to stock our deck with plenty of copies of Deadly Game. With this tricky Hellfire Club rare, we can pull off clever moves with our League of Assassins characters that allow us to get the single visible character we want every turn. And, as I mentioned earlier, the potential of characters like Bane and Lady Shiva being hidden definitely gives us pause for thought.

Skittles, you done good. We have built ourselves a very imaginative deck utilizing the strengths of two very potent teams. Here’s the finished product:

Skittles, The Inner Circle, and The Master Assassin


4 Sage, Tessa

3 Talia, Beloved Daughter

3 Harry Leland, Black Bishop

4 Mastermind, Dark Dreamer

2 Madelyne Pryor, Black Rook

4 Ra’s al Ghul, Eternal Nemesis

1 Bane, Ubu

3 Shinobi Shaw, White King

2 Magneto, Black Lord

1 Ra’s al Ghul, Mstr Swordsman

2 Lady Shiva, Master Assassin

1 Dark Phoenix, Alien Life Form

3 Army of One

3 Brave New World, Team-Up

4 Deadly Game

2 Enemy of My Enemy

3 Power and Wealth

1 Power Play

3 The Demon’s Head

1 Massachusetts Academy

2 Mountain Stronghold

3 Shaw Industries

1 Slaughter Swamp

1 Stormfront-1, Team-Up

3 The Hellfire Club

The general rule is that we would like to have the odd initiatives, as being forced to use Power Play on turn 7 can definitely limit our options. The mulligan will usually be for Sage. However, seeing Talia or Ra’s al Ghul, Eternal Nemesis with a decent set of support cards is probably a keeper, as well. The basic strategy is to try to stave off damage until turn 7 and then let Lady Shiva, Magneto, and the remainder of our crew crush our opponent.

That’s all for this week, folks. Here’s hoping that you all enjoyed it. If you have any thoughts, good or bad, to share with me, then please email me at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com. I am mercifully out of the audit rotation and back into blessed forty (or so) hour workweeks, so I will be making a genuine effort to respond to anything that you have to say.

And for any of you ladies out there who are dying to talk to Mac Daddy Skittles, please let me know and I’ll get you in touch with him. As my little buddy would no doubt say, “Once you’ve had Skittles, M&Ms just don’t ever taste the same.”***

* It does bear mentioning, however, that the person who won the scholarship money from Skittles’s age group was none other than Travis McFadden. McFadden is another young, up-and-coming player at JJK Cards. The truly impressive feat, however, is that he won the tournament playing his revamped GLEE Lords build. It is an absolutely amazing deck and one that I hope to feature in my column in the near future.

** “Ghulstadt.” How cool would that be?!

*** Credit goes to John Hall for that witty “Skittlism.”


One Response

  1. Nice article dude! loving reading from ya.

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