Welcome to Organized Play News Announcements. The overall “Organized Play Forums” have existed for some time, but have had only moderate levels of posting, and very few from the OP team to be sure. Simply put, this is an official Upper Deck Entertainment forum. Look for threads started by the OP team. I am personally committed to posting weekly with periodic news updates, and will post more often as you ask more questions. The other fine folks on the OP team will be posting items here and in other forums to be added in the coming days and weeks.
On to the details!
I look forward to seeing many of you later this week at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. It’s an exciting site, walking distance to dining, and a short streetcar trip or bus ride from plenty of other fun. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz from the hall itself–and the scenics inside the hall are coming together nicely, too. There is actually a scene in X-Men–The Last Stand in which you can see the building where we will all play. Hot fun, eh?
Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG now has a feature match area. It’s past due! Now we can more easily increase the pressure on the top-performing players in the biggest Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG tournaments…that’s what it’s all about, after all. There are other new scenics for Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG as well, but I don’t want to spoil all of them at once–you’ll just have to see for yourself. We have a stellar crew of judges coming in to help us judge the US Nationals–possibly the most talented collection of Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG judges ever to assemble in one building. This gives me high hopes that we will have a smooth-as-whipped-butter tournament.
The Pro Circuit will have a dedicated Pro Players area for this show. This is a feature that PC Players have asked for in the past–and that we are happy to be able to provide at this venue. I can’t say that we will always be able to provide the space for this at every show, but as we had a very cool space in which to create an R&R area we took advantage of this chance. For shows like Gen Con Indy it’s not likely we’ll have a dedicated area, as the show is so much tighter for space than a scenario like this one where we have the entire hall to ourselves. Anyway–we hope you enjoy chillin’ in the loft when you are not crushing heads on the floor of the PC.
If you were a prize winner from Pro Circuit Atlanta 2006, we are bringing your prize check with us to Pro Circuit San Francisco 2006. Checks will be disbursed after you have completed and turned in your PCSF paperwork. If you are not attending PCSF, we will send your check by mail.
Thanks for reading.
Organized Play Program Manager
Upper Deck Entertainment
By Doug Tice
If you followed my logic in last week’s article on The Calculator, you might be wondering if I’ve had a chance to try out the deck. Well, I managed to get up an Infinite Crisis draft at my local store this past weekend and I made an attempt to draft it. Unfortunately, it did not materialize quite like I wanted. I’m still working to understand how to value my Infinite Crisis draft picks, and I’m sure the other players at the table were in the same boat. For Sealed Pack, you are much less in control of what cards you will play than you are when you draft your deck, and therefore I feel it is much easier to evaluate options with a Sealed Pack mindset. So, whereas I am confident that I can provide you with a solid foundation for Sealed, I will admit that I am not ready to give many Infinite Crisis–specific drafting tips yet.
I will spare you most of the details of how and why I lost my first round of the draft. One decision made before even a single card was played probably sealed my doom. I kept a hand containing my 4-, 5-, and 6-cost characters and ultimately paid the price for that decision. I managed to recruit absolutely no characters until turn 3, where all I could muster was a 2-drop. Don’t give up hope yet, though—I’ll be sure to touch on The Calculator in a future article if I have the opportunity to play the deck in any of my Sealed Pack experiences. And in case you’re wondering why I did not mulligan that hand, I’m afraid that I have no good explanation. The only excuse that might make sense would be for me to say that by some twist of misfortune, I had only one 4-, 5-, and 6-drop in my deck, but that was not the case.
Moving along, this week I will be taking an in-depth look at the JSA team for Sealed Pack play. The JSA team reminds me of my old high school days; generally speaking, my classmates and I all adhered to the same curriculum, but when the break or lunch bell rang, we all split into our little cliques.
Huntress, Earth 2 – Ranked # 1 in the state in tennis.
Batman, Earth 2 – The star basketball player who has been dunking since junior high.
Wonder Woman, Earth 2 – Holds the school record in the 100-meter breaststroke.
Power Girl, Earth 2 – Captain of both the volleyball and track teams.
Superman, Earth 2 – As the school’s quarterback and captain of the football team, he is seen as the leader of this group.
Of these characters, Batman and Huntress are the weakest, but I like all five of them. Superman and Power Girl have the most potential to outright overpower an opponent. I particularly like the interaction of Huntress and Wonder Woman. Batman’s power will be of value at times, and his stats are certainly fine.
With only five JSA characters sharing the Earth 2 version, it is no surprise to me that few other cards in Infinite Crisis reference this version. With Multiverse Power Battery in play, I can control up to but no more than two copies of each of the different Earth 2 characters. Sorry, but I’m not throwing a ticker-tape parade on account of this card. Lois Lane, Earth 2 and Brainiac, Earth 2 hardly add enough from outside the JSA team to warrant attempting to base a Sealed deck around the Earth 2 version, either.
I won’t go so far as to try to relate every one of the JSA’s characters individually to one of my old high school classmates, but I will continue with the clique comparison for the sake of fun.
The Trendy Clones
Some trendsetter got this gang’s attention. Now they all want to be just like him or her. To know one member of this clique is to know them all. They all share an identity.
Carter Hall ◊ Hawkman, Eternal Champion; Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman, Eternal Hero; and Prince Khufu ◊ Hawkman, Eternal Warrior are all fine character options at each of their slots in the curve. I had hoped that Katar Hol’s power would be easier to exploit, but I’m finding that there just aren’t enough cards referencing a character’s identity to take true advantage.
Chay-Ara ◊ Hawkgirl, Eternal Companion and Kendra Saunders ◊ Hawkgirl, Eternal Heroine’s stories are about the same as their male counterparts. They are quite acceptable characters whose powers provide some mild benefits.
Richard Tyler ◊ Hourman, Man of the Hour is great. I will always be happy to have a copy of this card in my deck. How fitting it is that Rex Tyler ◊ Hourman, Inventor of Miraclo, the rare card among the three Hourmen, would be the strongest. This 3-drop edges out the 4-drop only slightly because so few 3-drops are game-breaking. At higher costs, many more characters have supercharged powers. Hourman III ◊ Hourman, Time Machine is still good but falls a little short in comparison with the other two, simply because 11 ATK does not typically stun a character of one cost greater (a 6-drop, in this case).
Few other cards in this set reference a character’s identity. A Moment of Crisis would help if Katar Hol were already in play, but other than that, its text is nothing more than “Draw a card.” It could be half of a two-part plot-twist combo with Double Play, I guess. The payoff of turning the Double Play would probably be stunning one more of your opponent’s characters than you would without the combo, but I’m going to say that the investment of playing both of those cards in Sealed Pack is too much. Insert similar comments about Heroic Rescue. Taking Up the Mantle does not do enough to warrant its inclusion in a deck. Of course, sometimes you just have to play whatever you get, so at least this card permanently modifies a character’s stats.
Living Legend should be a fine addition to a Sealed Pack deck if you have the Hawkmen and Hourmen. I imagine it will require a critical mass of at least five different characters who share no more than two identities to play Living Legend by itself. In combination with A Moment of Crisis, Living Legend becomes a straight character-search plot twist.
The Likeable Guy(s) Who Can Fit in with More than Just One Clique
I always liked that guy in school. His JSA counterparts are no different. Two JSA characters share the Mr. Terrific identity and both provide significant ATK and DEF bonuses to your characters. Michael Holt ◊ Mr. Terrific, Renaissance Man should make every Sealed Pack deck you build if you’re playing the JSA team. Terry Sloane ◊ Mr. Terrific, Golden Age Gold Medalist won’t always make the cut for my deck because I usually try to play a solid 2-7 curve. I would be happy to include him, though, and certainly would in a more focused Draft deck.
Don’t let their versions fool you; these characters are not restricted only to Golden Age Vs. System gameplay. Terry Sloane manages to be accepted by this crowd, as well. The characters in this group have little in common other than a portion of their version name.
Alan Scott ◊ Sentinel, Golden Age Guardian is rare, so you won’t have too many opportunities to play this card. Nevertheless, his power is a potential game-ender.
Charles McNider ◊ Dr. Mid-Nite, Golden Age Academic is my least favorite of this group. His power doesn’t excite me.
Jay Garrick ◊ The Flash, Golden Age Speedster is yet another rare in this group. His power might not let you stun a 5- or 6-drop without playing an ATK pump, but that’s his only downside, which is not much to worry about at all. Wesley Dodds ◊ The Sandman, Golden Age Gunman would be great if he could exercise his power on a 5-drop or greater. Usually, by turn 5, a 2-drop will not be lingering around, but I have certainly played games where my 2-drop made it that far. It may also sometimes be correct to underdrop on turns, thus making Wesley Dodds a fine character. I also like Ted Grant ◊ Wildcat, Golden Age Pugilist a lot because of his natural ability to stun up the curve.
Within the typical group of loners, you should find a lot of hidden talent spread widely across the group’s members. Of course, the loners don’t want to be acknowledged as a group. It would defeat their purposes. Very few of them interact with the athletes, the intellects, or the trendy clones, but occasionally they do come together to achieve a common goal.
Atom Smasher, Al Rothstein is one of the few 1-drops that I’d consider for Sealed Pack play. Black Adam, Ruthless Hero is fine, as well. Captain Marvel, Earth’s Mightiest Mortal is one of the most fun Vs. cards to play. If you don’t believe me, try it out for yourself. He is that one specific loner that you just can’t help loving no matter how hard he tries to seem distant. Dr. Fate, Lord of Order is very large if equipped with a copy of each of the Fate Artifacts. If you get to turn 8, though, playing any unmatched 8-drop will probably win you the game.
Jakeem Williams, JJ Thunder does not excite me, though I might be more inclined to play the card if I had a copy of the rare Thunderbolt, Yz in my deck. Yz is a little smaller than the 5-drops I prefer to play, but I certainly do like his power, and you should, too.
Kate Spencer ◊ Manhunter, Fearless Renegade; Sand, Sanderson Hawkins; and Stargirl, Courtney Whitmore should always make my deck as more than acceptable filler. If Kate Spencer’s free power were not limited to attacking characters of higher cost, I would like it a lot more. When trying to draft a JSA off-curve deck, I would want cards like Kate Spencer in the 2-drop slot.
The Phantom Stranger, Wandering Hero’s high DEF value, flight, range, and his peculiar way of powering-up any of your characters with the promise of returning to do so again later make him seem to me like the best 7-drop the JSA team has to offer.
Other JSA-Related Plot Twists
I will try to play Advance Warning anytime I get it in Sealed Pack. Defensive tricks are scarce in this set, just as this card is rare. Deflection is not JSA-stamped, but with a number of characters that gain a benefit from being exhausted, it is the other defensive plot twist that I would consider when playing the JSA team in Sealed Pack.
Brothers in Arms is best on turns when your opponent has the initiative and characters are more readily available to exhaust as part of costs. I think Brothers in Arms makes the grade because it is flexible and provides another outlet to exhaust those characters with the built-in bonuses when exhausted.
The solitary equipment card specific to the JSA team, T-Spheres, is very powerful. If you read my Infinite Crisis Sneak Preview article a few weeks ago or if you have played with this card, I’m sure you agree.
During some downtime at Pro Circuit San Francisco, I plan to conduct a little Sealed Pack experiment that I’m sure will provide us all with some valuable insight into Sealed Pack deck construction. Next week, I will introduce you to the experiment before delving into coverage of the Shadowpact team. Be sure to read next week; I anticipate that the experiment will be a fun learning experience for both you and me.
For this week’s Sealed Pack Clinic, I have a generally mundane pool that really doesn’t offer much beyond a single direction. Still, while last week’s pool seemed awful, I found a 3-1 deck within it. This week’s pool only offered me 2-2, but I consider it much more powerful. Perhaps I missed something in making this deck, I am not sure. If anything, trying to build this deck teaches you how to maximize your 37th-40th cards. While I don’t think I did as well as I might have, it pays to evaluate each card individually and not just see them as automatic choices because of a weight in team numbers.
Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman, Eternal Hero
Bizarro, ME AM BIZZARO #1
Fiddler, Isaac Bowen
Looking over the JSA, I found myself fairly happy. I had several excellent 1-drops if I needed them, and I also had my favorite 2-drop in the whole set, Kate Spencer ◊ Manhunter, Fearless Renegade. More importantly I had numerous playable 3s and 4s, as well as a decent 5-drop in Wonder Woman, Earth 2. Power Girl, Earth 2 is one of the better 6-drops in Sealed Pack, as she can break open a late game or even substitute as a 7-drop in a pinch. I also had two other very playable 7-drops, and I had access to the powerful T-Spheres. All in all, the JSA would easily be able to provide the backbone of a strong curve deck, and they even offered off-curve options to boot.
Superficially, the Shadowpact cards seem fine. However, by this stage of the Sneak Preview, I had really gone cold on Shadowpact. I was far from dismissing the affiliation as useless (that is an almost ignorant thing to do), but cards like Manitou Dawn, Spirit Shaman, Rose Psychic, Ghost Detective, Dr. Occult, Richard Occult, and Zatanna, Showstopper didn’t really impress me as Sealed cards. I could see them being powerful in Draft with some focus in a deck, but overall they didn’t really do much unless the themes of the team, such as being under 25 endurance (which is already risky), were firing. Generally I think the Blue Devils are quite good in Sealed, where size is paramount, but overall I just wasn’t hot on Shadowpact. This is something of a shame because their plot twists tend to be very good, with game-winners in Abjuration and Mystical Binding. Still, I wasn’t going to touch Shadowpact unless the other teams I had fell short of the mark.
Fortunately, Checkmate held a few options. I don’t mind Retrieval Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army at all, finding that the potential of such abilities often acts as enough of a deterrent that you often effectively have a 3 ATK / 3 DEF to begin with. If you only ever have to pitch one card, he seems fine, as in curve decks where you often have a few cards lying around (the choice of what to discard is much easier later in the game when you are drawing dead drops). Double Sasha Bordeaux, Knight is very good. The 3-drops are ok. Even if I am loathe to play 4 ATK / 5 DEF characters at that slot, Graziella Reza, Knight looks as though she might be able to make it to 5 ATK / 5 DEF in this deck. While Harry Stein, King in Check is a bit of a risky proposition, Valentina Vostok ◊ Negative Woman, Bishop is excellent, with an ability that directly counteracts the cost of exhausting a 4-drop. Annihilation Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army is a powerful Sealed card, though I am distinctly unimpressed by Sasha Bordeaux, Autonomous Prototype. In the non-character department, things don’t really get much better than Brother I Satellite. If we have a good chance of having a Checkmate character at most of the early drops, which it looks like we do, this card single-handedly will double the chances of us playing this affiliation in an on-curve deck, as it effectively gives us an extra character at each drop. If we are going to be heavily Checkmate, Secret Checkmate HQ seems ok.
The Villains United pickings look pretty slim. Utility 1-drops are not really my style, as I feel that you only get a very small window in which to draw them (i.e., the first six cards) before they become dead cards. Dr. Polaris, Force of Nature, Talia, Daughter of Madness, and The Calculator, Crime Broker are also cards I don’t think stand up to four rounds of tussling on the curve. Considering we only have a few cards left, the Villains United plot twists seem like a waste of time, although it is something of a shame to let Systematic Torture go. Bizarro and Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard are good enough characters to make any deck that needs some help at those slots, but that is about it for Villains United.
Generally, the members of the non-core teams are decent. After having two bad experiences with Kilowog, Drill Sergeant, the guys I thought playable were Catman, Thomas Blake, Animal Man, Buddy Baker, Ragdoll, Resilient Rogue, Scandal, Savage Spawn, and Harbinger, Multiverse Messenger. Ragdoll is the only character who is at a level good enough where you might think about displacing a guy in one of your major teams, but the others could serve as fine filler if need be. My generic plot twists, equipment, and locations seemed a bit dry, but I was very grateful to have two generic Team-Ups this time around in Checkmate Safe House and Forbidden Loyalties, Team-Up. Laser Watch and I Still Hate Magic! are automatic inclusions in any deck, and for a curve deck, Revitalize can be very good at blunting an opposing initiative or simply maintaining a character advantage. I am a fan of Relentless Pursuit in this format, even if it seems a bit underpowered. Burning Gaze and Return Fire! are both generally average cards, but they could make the final cut if I couldn’t find anything better.
There doesn’t seem to be any reason to go anyway else besides a Checkmate/JSA curve deck. There are several appealing things about a Checkmate/JSA build to me, such as a character search card in Brother I Satellite, decent characters early on that are in-team, and access to cards that can break the late-game open like Power Girl, Earth 2 and Alan Scott ◊ Sentinel, Golden Age Guardian. Here is the skeleton of the deck:
Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman, Eternal Hero
This build already seems pretty good, though it is patchy in places. Fortunately, we do have several guys on the bench who can easily make it onto the team. Specifically, it looks like we need two extra 4-drops, an extra 5-drop, and an extra 6-drop. The spare 4-drops are so good that I think I may have gone a little crazy here. Now while Bizarro, ME AM BIZARRO #1 is definitely in the deck, being able to cover the 4- and 5-slot (as well as easily swinging up the curve when I hit him as my turn 4), Animal Man, Buddy Baker and Ragdoll, Resilient Rogue are also very good. In the end, I made a decision to go with the biggest fliers I could, so I put in Animal Man and Bizarro at the expense of the in-team Batman, Earth 2. I felt that with so much flexibility, I would rather have the largest characters who could take advantage of a multitude of board positions than play a guy with a fairly weak ability and no access to the back row. Ragdoll was left out for similar reasons, as I wanted to take the game by the scruff of the neck early, and not just hang on. The extra 5-drop was a pretty easy choice in Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard, and I wasn’t too concerned about having to run Scandal, Savage Spawn, as my only other option was Zatanna, Showstopper, who I cannot abide.
After all those changes, I was left with this:
Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman, Eternal Hero
It was pretty easy to fill in the rest of the non-character slots. All I had to do was decide whether or not Secret Checkmate HQ was worth my time. In the end, I decided that it wasn’t, as I wasn’t sure I could always team-up Checkmate with the right team considering the splash I had made in the middle of the deck. I wasn’t prepared to give those characters up for an effect I think greatly overrated (i.e., insurance on stunning back). That left me with the filler plot twists mentioned earlier. It may surprise some of you that I went with Return Fire! over something like Secret Checkmate HQ. I am a big fan of surprise burn, even awkward-to-use burn like a non-Villains United use of Return Fire!, as many Sealed games end with players being ultra-conservative to ensure victory. Often a 6-point endurance loss is enough to push the game just that little bit you need to win.
So, the final deck:
Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman, Eternal Hero
I thought this deck was fairly strong, and definitely capable of going undefeated. Unfortunately, I was unlucky in my last game. All in all, I was very disappointed since the other games were more deliciously destructive than a knife doing what it does best with hot butter.
All of the 2s were good, as I had suspected. Even Retrieval Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army turned out to do exactly what I had planned, and it even pumped my 5-drop Robot once (though I still lost!). Sasha Bordeaux, Knight is probably the best 2-drop in the set for Sealed Pack.
Graziella Reza, Knight was disappointing, as I didn’t have a location at the time, nor did I draw one before I had to KO her and leave my opponent’s 3-drop on the table. Otherwise at 3 I only ever recruited Kendra Saunders ◊ Hawkgirl, Eternal Heroine, who is always at least adequate for my tastes. I have heard good things about Christopher Smith ◊ Peacemaker, Obsessed Outlaw, but I was never able to recruit him.
I never regretted Animal Man, Buddy Baker or Bizarro, ME AM BIZARRO #1, though I missed my 4-drop in one game. Both characters are strong enough in straight curve decks that every deck should be interested in them, as Animal Man is pretty much an 8 ATK / 8 DEF with flight that you probably can’t reinforce or team attack with (which is still very good), and Bizarro is the definition of board advantage. The other game I had Valentina Vostok ◊ Negative Woman, Bishop, who wasn’t bad, but my lack of a 2-drop in that game made her look a bit silly.
Wonder Woman, Earth 2 is average. Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard is obviously awesome, even without being affiliated with other characters around him, and Annihilation Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army is another excellent choice at 5. I might have picked up that the Robot could be another 7-drop, but in hindsight, I didn’t have the options at 5 to want to play fewer 7s and an extra 5, which is usually done in formats where winning on evens is common.
As for my late game, Power Girl, Earth 2 was the only character who held her own. The one time I wanted to use Alan Scott ◊ Sentinel, Golden Age Guardian for his text, I needed plot twists too much to be able to do so. Black Adam, Ruthless Hero was very difficult to use when defending, even with Return Fire! floating around in my deck. As you might have guessed, Scandal could stun back, but that was about it.
Brother I Satellite was as good as it seemed, and it will surely be a big card in Draft. The Team-Ups were obviously excellent, particularly as I had so many teams in my deck beyond the usual two. Traitor to the Cause was difficult to get going, as I only drew it in terrible positions, though when I did get it off it was good times and mildly shocking to my opponent. The other plot twists, with the exception of the undeniably good I Still Hate Magic!, were mediocre at best for me. I didn’t really have many other options, but perhaps I should have gone with the Secret Checkmate HQ, although it wouldn’t have saved me in the games I lost.
Tune in next week, when I will look at some methods to test for Booster Draft when you can’t get eight people together. After that, I will get into some more Draft walkthroughs.
By Shane Wiggans
Pro Circuit season is upon us. You can smell it in the air. If you throw a stone in the various online Vs. communities, you are bound to hit a topic that pertains to the Pro Circuit. Thus, I decided to give you a topic that I feel could really come into play when you are sitting across from your opponent. That topic is, of course, hand advantage.
The Old Wives’ Tale . . .
When I informed my candidate for player of the year, Tim Batow, of my decision to write on this topic, he laughed at me. He said, “Hand advantage isn’t important in this game.” I respectfully disagree. No, your ears did not deceive you—I actually sided against Tim Batow. I am still waiting for the lightning to strike. He later informed me I would be jinxing myself for PC San Francisco if I went against his wisdom, but in an attempt to impart my own wisdom to you, I took the chance. (So, if I am doing coverage on Day 2, I surely hope those who read this article will share in their winnings.)
Hand Advantage and . . . Seinfeld?
One thing you should know about me is that I am a rabid Seinfeld fan. If I am not giving you Tim Batow stories, the stories will invariably come from Seinfeld. I know that other Seinfeldians (I know, I just coined a new word . . . hurrah for me!) will get this reference. If you are unfamiliar with the show, it essentially follows Jerry, George (Jerry’s best friend), Kramer (Jerry’s neighbor), and Elaine (Jerry’s ex) through all their relationships and the quirky things that happen to them. Throughout one episode, George talks about something called “hand.” When he has “hand,” he is in control of the relationship he is in. By the end of the show, he loses “hand.” Essentially, he is referring to having the upper hand in any given situation. This can translate to Vs. System very well.
What is Hand Advantage, and Why is it Important?
Let’s hit the very basics first, shall we? Drawing cards is a good thing. A really good thing. The more cards you see, the more opportunities and options you have. There is a reason that the draw step comes before the resource and recruit steps. Okay, I know you think that it’s ridiculous for me to even say this. However, I want to start very basic and build from there, because not every card that lets you draw a card necessarily impacts your hand advantage.
So, what does hand advantage impact other than play choices? It influences what your opponent does. I know I touched on this in my previous articles, but consider those tidbits just small previews of what I am now focusing on. For example, if I have six cards in my hand, my opponent will have to engage in some critical thinking to determine what I may hold. If I am playing a deck that has defensive tricks, what are the odds I have one of those tricks in my hand? If it is my attack step, will I have any attack tricks that will hurt my opponent? Again, we are still in relatively shallow water, but this is what hand advantage is all about:
- What options and opportunities are available to you?
- What information about your options and opportunities does your hand advantage give to your opponents?
Test Tube Baby: Life After Birthing Chamber
Let’s start with the obvious card-drawing engine that is present for Silver Age. Birthing Chamber single-handedly enables many decks to function. Cards like this that allow you to draw cards have multiple functions in a deck: Birthing Chamber allows deck thinning (by drawing a card) and cycling through your deck (by ditching a card you don’t want) if you have the requisite six characters in play. Drawing one or two more cards than your opponent each turn is a huge advantage no matter how you cut it.
What you must consider now, as a budding deck builder and up-and-comer in the Vs. community, is how to maximize a hand advantage engine. It is my prediction (I have a swami hat on as I say this, so you know I am serious) that the various Faces and G’Lock builds will be running this wonder card. Okay, I took off my swami hat. In all seriousness, Birthing Chamber will be present in these decks, and I want to take just a few seconds to recognize what sort of impact a card can have on two very different archetypes.
First, let’s examine Faces. For those who do not know of Faces, it’s a deck that focuses on getting as many copies of Faces of Evil out as possible while maximizing the card’s benefit by playing only characters with a cost of 3 or less. It’s not hard to imagine that if you are laying several cheap characters a turn, your hand will run out rather fast. Birthing Chamber allows a Faces player the opportunity to rebuild his hand and helps dig for search cards and utility cards like Yellowjacket, Hard Sound Construct, and Beetle, Armorsmith. Drawing even one of these cards can turn into several cards given the right game state. Without Birthing Chamber, I do not think this deck could function nearly as competitively as it does.
Next, we get the extreme pleasure of looking at how Birthing Chamber operates in a deck that, instead of pumping out characters, tries to stall to a late victory. The deck that utilizes this plan is called G’Lock and is the brainchild of Patrick Yapjoco. This deck abuses Dr. Light, Master of Holograms to pump out extra characters each turn, as well as utilizing recovery techniques like Lanterns in Love and defensive pumps like Helping Hand. All three of these cards in concert, along with a cast of characters whose DEF values are above the curve significantly (Malvolio and Katma Tui, for example), make it likely that the player piloting this stall deck will have the opportunity to abuse a card like Birthing Chamber.
While I’ve spent significant time discussing how Birthing Chamber can create hand advantage, there are significantly more cards that create a hand disadvantage—or at least an information disadvantage—to any given player. I’m talking about effects that require a player to discard a card in order to gain an effect or ability. Since there are so many cards that create disadvantages, let me run down several that may be present in the upcoming Silver Age format, as well as a few thoughts on them.
Blue Beetle, Ted Kord: This guy is a lynchpin of any JLA/JLI build. His ability to keep you on curve by fetching his pal Booster Gold or getting you that equipment card is surely valuable, even though his cost can sometimes be high.
Latverian Embassy: This card is a staple. I love this card. Unfortunately, it is by and large unplayable in the dominant decks of the format. The discard can be randomly really painful, as its effect isn’t necessary to further your path to victory but can severely hinder your opponents. If you subscribe to the concept of “if your opponent isn’t winning, then you aren’t losing,” you may value this card more than others.
The Ring Has Chosen: This card is unique. It can create negative hand advantage, as it requires a discard, but a lot of the time, the card that is searched out is the one that is discarded. This is because the player who does this normally plans to utilize Dr. Light, Master of Holograms or Slaughter Swamp to get the character back. Obviously, if the card is put in your resource row, it is just a swap. More on this to come.
Last, but certainly not least . . .
Enemy of My Enemy: This will be the most-played card at PC San Francisco. If it isn’t, it should be. UDE went a little bonkers when they printed this card and made all of my (and obviously, Spooky Michael Barnes’s) dreams come true. This card single-handedly enables decks to be viable. With the cost of a discard, you can get any character you want, and that makes it a-okay in my book.
One for One . . . Is it Not That Simple?
I know that you may look at a couple of the cards I listed above and say, “Well, Shane, that’s not hand disadvantage. You are discarding one card, but getting another that is arguably better.” If you thought this to yourself, you are absolutely right. However, let’s take this in context of the upcoming Silver Age format. There are no defined decks. There are archetypes that are expected to show up, and many players may be able to guess within a few cards in any given build. But what happens when you run up against a player who has Revenge Squad craziness? That one little discard will open up a world of opportunity to you. When you are going into a format and hit a deck that you know nothing about, every little piece of information could be game-breaking. What if, on turn 3, your opponent ditches a 6-drop to Enemy of My Enemy? All of a sudden, you have a clue as to what your opponent’s game plan is for later in the game. Honestly, I think this is a huge part of the game that can be the difference between a moderately successful player and a very successful one.
Enemy of My Enemy . . . Part Two?
When the Marvel Knights set hit the shelves, many gamers were floored by a two-card combo. Dagger, Child of Light could be discarded to search for a copy of Midnight Sons. What made this so unbelievable was that there was never before a way to search your deck for a team-up card so effectively. Now, I want you to think about that for just a moment and then think about my next statement.
It is my belief that Mr. Mxyzptlk, Troublesome Trickster will reach that level of combo goodness that is Dagger/Midnight Sons. This card essentially changes the text of many effects that require a discard, barring any KO’d pile removal effects. For example, Slaughter Swamp now can return a card to your hand with no cost other than a temporary parting of you and your favorite imp. Don’t get me started on how good he is in conjunction with Enemy of My Enemy. All of a sudden, we could see Secret Society being the most splashed team in the world.
Overall, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Troublesome Trickster enables any card that requires a discard to gain a tremendous amount of consideration when building a deck. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that utilizing this little imp’s ability will greatly impact your hand advantage.
So, what have we learned from our little foray into the hand advantage arena? Well, we’ve learned that keeping cards in hand can be difficult, and cards that enable you to maintain your hand are really good. Also, we learned that sometimes effects that create hand disadvantage aren’t worth the juice.* But then again, at other times, they can be absolutely deck defining. Overall, I hope (as I normally do) that I have challenged you, my faithful readers, to think a little bit more about how you manage your hand and game, and encouraged you all to learn a little bit more about this game we all know and love.
* This is a little something that my teammates and I say regarding whether a card’s cost justifies the result it gives. Oh yeah, and it’s also a line in a classic movie, The Girl Next Door.
As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be happy to say hello and answer your questions. Oh, I will continue to reply to emails faster than Michael Barnes as well, but that is pretty much a given at this point!
By Anand Khare
The Pro Circuit is here! In three short days, the Silver Age format will finally be unleashed upon the world. Months of dedicated preparation from hundreds of professionals and amateurs alike will finally be put to the test this weekend. What can we expect? Well, if the recent $10K Brisbane (more on that later) is any indication, there should be a smattering of G’Lock, Avengers, and a large array of multi-team aggro and control decks. It’s also been suggested by numerous sources that each of the teams from Infinite Crisis has a viable deck behind it. Shadowpact had its first taste of success this past weekend, but you can be sure that we’ll see representatives of Villains United, Checkmate, and JSA in contention for a place at the top tables. Beyond that, there’s not really much more I can say about this weekend’s big event. The major testing teams (including mine) are on information lockdown—there are sure to be surprises in store for everyone. Getting back to the business at hand, though, let’s talk about the week in review.
Rian Fike, as he is wont to do, began the week with a new installment of Risk Vs. Reward. Just like everyone else, Rian is brimming with excitement over the upcoming PC. He discussed the recent rules changes that will help shape San Francisco for the better and offered his own speculation as to what the metagame might have to offer.
On Tuesday, Steve Garrett returned with a focus that’s about as far away from the PC as it can be: a deck built around The Joker, Emperor Joker. Well, perhaps that’s not entirely accurate. Along with detailing the deck’s evolution from its janky Golden Age origins to its current almost-playable masterpiece, Steve also provides a reasonable Silver Age build of the deck. Somehow, though, I think that a new instant-win 8-drop (by the name of Captain Marvel) will be a little more likely to make an appearance at San Francisco than this guy. But hey, the original “you lose” character is biding his time. Maybe next year!
Also on Tuesday, Infinite Crisis lead designer Justin Gary returned with the third installment of his Creating a Crisis series. This week, Justin’s focus is on card cycles. You may have noticed that there are several well-defined card cycles in Crisis. Justin points them out and discusses both the impetus and implementation concerns for this particular design tool.
On Wednesday, Shane Wiggans came back with a little discussion about teams. Why are teams important, especially now? Well, simply put, everyone’s on a team. Each and every professional player—me, Shane, Vidi, and just about everyone else—is on a team. Chances are that you are on one, too, even if you don’t realize it. You know that friend that you test decks with who you trust to help make your deck better and not share details about it with anyone else? That guy’s your team. Anyway, Shane discusses team dynamics and the good and the bad aspects of being on a testing team. This is certainly a good read for anyone who’s trying to improve the way their team works, or even for someone who’s simply curious about how big teams function.
Also on Wednesday, Michael Barnes attempted to do what a lot of teams have tried (and failed) to accomplish—break The Rock of Eternity. At first glance, this location seems to be exceptionally powerful. Ready all of your characters? All of them? Every turn? That’s downright absurd. In practice, though, the Rock is a little more difficult to use than you might expect. Michael does an admirable job of making good use of the Rock, combining it with none other than Man-Bull. The deck he comes up with is, as always, innovative and interesting. And if you think the Rock has more potential than this . . . hey, you try to break it.
On Thursday, our Sealed Pack duo arrived for another stab at Crisis. As a side note, has anyone out there ever seen the television show Perfect Strangers? Whenever I read Alex and Doug’s articles, the theme song from that show starts running through my head. My point is . . . actually, I have no point whatsoever. Except that Doug would make a good Balki. Anyway, Alex and Doug came back with differing approaches to Crisis Sealed Pack. Alex, as he has been doing, presented us with a Sealed card pool for analysis. He presented his own opinions on its construction, and since you have the pool to work with, you can play along at home! Doug, on the other hand, continued his very methodical team-by-team review of Crisis. This week, the team in the spotlight was Villains United. Doug is particularly enamored with The Calculator, but he provides a great deal of insight on how to work with the rest of the team as well. Both approaches have their merit, and reading both articles will give you a great leg up on the format.
The week came to an early end on Friday with another installment of Tim Willoughby’s Two Turns Ahead. Like everyone else in the Vs. community, Tim’s got the PC on his mind. He tried to squeeze in a little discussion of other matters as well, though, by delving into the topic of resource management. Tim’s a big fan of the Shadowpact team and its new concept of endurance loss as a positive effect. Whether or not the team will live up to the hype is a matter that will be decided in a few short days.
There was one other minor item before the week came to a complete close. This past weekend was $10K Brisbane! The Australians are absolutely phenomenal at coming up with innovative new decks, and this tournament didn’t disappoint in the slightest. The trophy was taken home by seventeen-year-old Alex Antonios, one of the youngest players ever to achieve such a high degree of success in the game. Amazingly, this was only Alex’s third $10K event and the second in a row in which he posted a Top 8 finish. We can be sure to see more from Alex in events to come.
Even more astounding than the winner, though, were the decks that made Top 8. Eight distinct archetypes battled it out on Sunday, including several that flew in under the radar. Only one copy each of the much-hyped High Voltage and TDC Stall decks made the cut, and neither of them walked away with the trophy. That honor went to Alex’s “Migga City” deck, a truly unique Brotherhood / Arkham creation. Yes, I said Arkham. They’re viable. Let the masses rejoice! Migga City isn’t the only new kid on the block, though. Infinite Crisis made its first big splash with a Shadowpact control deck and a G’Lock deck that made use of several important Crisis cards.
Expect to see more of Crisis this weekend at San Francisco. If you can’t manage to get to the tournament, you can always check out our live coverage, which will be continuously updated all weekend! Look for me there, or, as always, contact me at email@example.com. Good luck to everyone participating in the Pro Circuit! Until next week . . .
This is a design article that I have been waiting a long time to write. Magic is my favorite mechanic in this set, though it was by far the hardest to design and develop. We knew from the beginning that an important task for Infinite Crisis was to define how magic would work in the Vs. universe. This article will explore the process we went through and the many different ideas that we considered for how to bring some magic into our lives.
Magic is a very tricky thing to represent mechanically. Because magic can do pretty much anything, it is very hard to define by any one particular output. This meant that we had to define magic by its inputs. In other words, the Magic mechanic had to be related to costs and not effects.
The first and most obvious plan for magic was to use willpower. When willpower was originally conceived by the talented yet short Danny Mandel, it was thematically intended to encompass psychics, mystics, and magic users in addition to those with Green Lantern rings. Willpower was always considered a reasonable “fallback” position for magic, but several major issues made it somewhat undesirable. First of all, as I mentioned in my first design article, I was looking to design a set with primarily non-linear mechanics, and willpower is about as linear as it gets. A second concern with using willpower as the magic mechanic is that willpower has been explored very thoroughly in the context of the Green Lanterns. It would be difficult to create magic willpower effects that didn’t just feel like other kinds of willpower effects. Another major issue is that willpower decks are already very powerful in Silver Age. It would be challenging to design cards that were powerful enough to be interesting but not so powerful as to push the willpower decks over the top. Willpower will almost certainly be making a comeback to the Vs. System, but in the end, we decided that this was not the place for it.
A second and more radical plan for magic was to create a new resource system for it. In this system, your resources would be exhausted to pay the costs of magic effects. This system was designed in part to answer one of the limitations in Vs. System—that plot twists have no costs. Because there are no resources spent on plot twists, we are very restricted in how powerful we can make them. Plot twists already have an inherent advantage over characters because they are valuable on multiple turns of the game, whereas most characters are only at their best when they’re played on a specific turn. Add to this the fact that you can play multiple plot twists in a turn without it costing you anything extra, and you can begin to see how constrained we are.
But by adding an exhaust cost to magic plot twists, we could create a limited resource that players would have to ration out as they saw fit. This has a couple of really cool effects on gameplay. First, it encourages you to use plot twists earlier than usual. If I have two Savage Beatdowns in my hand, I will be much more inclined to use one on turn 4 and another on turn 6 if I have to exhaust resources to play them. The second cool thing about this mechanic is that it gives players more information about what their opponent can do. If you know that Cover Fire requires your opponent to exhaust two resources to play it, you can prepare for it or wait for an opening when your opponent has all of his or her resources exhausted.
I was a huge fan of this mechanic, but in the end, it failed because of one critical flaw—it wasn’t the way Vs. is played. By simply making Magic plot twists require an exhaustion of resources, you can’t really get the advantages described above. As long as players had access to all of the old plot twists, Magic plot twists would make at most a small impact on gameplay. In R&D, our playtesters would typically run a few powerful Magic plot twists along with their normal suite of blue. This meant that no real mechanical change occurred, and without changing the vast majority of powerful plot twists into Magic plot twists, we decided that this radical new system couldn’t work.
The exploration of the “exhaust resources” Magic system took a lot of time, and it was unfortunate that it didn’t work out, but this is a normal part of the design and development process. We regularly try out mechanics that seem cool at first but just don’t quite work in the end. Fortunately, we learn a lot from these experiments, and they often lead us to even better mechanics—in this case, paying endurance.
The problem with the “exhaust resources” Magic mechanic was that it used a resource that no one cared about. It was created solely for the purpose of using this mechanic, and thus, it didn’t mesh very well with the rest of Vs. System. But what if we used a resource that everybody cared about? By choosing endurance payments for the Magic mechanic, we were able to create a very interesting tension between powerful effects and prohibitive costs. We found that with proper incentives, players could use magic to hover on the brink of death for several turns before claiming victory. This was an exciting play pattern that achieved my initial goal of finding a cost that would allow us to make more powerful plot twist effects. Hopefully, you are all enjoying the result.
That’s the story of the origins of the Magic mechanic. This week, I am off to San Francisco to watch the Pro Circuit and the $10K. Since these events will be the major tournament debut for Infinite Crisis, I am very excited. Within days, we can find out which new strategies from Crisis are viable and which cards will become staples in the exciting new Silver Age. I’ll be back in two weeks with my report from the event and with more on the design and development of Infinite Crisis. As always, send questions, comments, or ideas for article topics to Justin_Gary@upperdeck.com. And don’t forget to check in with Metagame this weekend for up-to-the-minute coverage of Pro Circuit San Francisco!
“If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.”
I’ve used this quote many times in my life. Why? Simply because it is one of the most relevant truths I have ever read. This quote is from Bruce Lee’s book, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, and like many martial art philosophies, it is has relevance in other areas of life. In fact, it was this passage that helped me change from the geek-basher I used to be. Having an open mind and being prepared to approach things a little differently can be extremely worthwhile and rewarding. If you are flexible in your approach to any task, you are more likely to get the maximum benefit from what you undertake. This is the approach I take to Vs. System. There are defined and established tournament-viable decks that have done consistently well on the tournament scene. Although the teams, builds, and characters may change from month to month, one thing holds true for the vast majority of them—they all win by reducing your opponent’s endurance to 0.
Today, I want to take you on a guided tour of some of the other ways in which you can win a match. The alternate win condition is an incredibly fun goal.
Rigged Elections was the first alternate win card to gain any kind of serious recognition. A young fellow by the name of Craig Edwards piloted the deck to an awesome runner-up position in the inaugural Pro Circuit event at Gen Con Indy in August 2004.
Craig Edwards, Second Place, PC: Gen Con Indy 2004
1 Ant Man
For those who are a little new to the scene, the idea of the deck is to achieve the required twenty-five ballot counters by using Alfred to fetch and carry Cosmic Radiation for you. You exhaust your board to feed the ballot box, play Alfred, and irradiate your characters. The butler will then scuttle off to find you another copy of that oh-so-handy Cosmic Radiation. The process is then repeated as many times as possible. At the time, the deck would win consistently on turn 5 . . . as long as it wasn’t facing the popular Common Enemy deck. With the amount of Child Lock decks that have been floating about recently, I’m surprised that no one has had any success with an updated version. Perhaps the current tournament environment is too aggressive for this to be viable?
The next big showing for an alternate win deck was at Pro Circuit New York in May 2005. Metagame.com’s very own Michael Barnes (of Team Alternate Win Condition) piloted a very dreamy deck into the Top 4 of the big show.
Michael Barnes, Top 4, PC: NY 2005
12 GCPD Officer
4 Longshot, Rebel Freedom Fighter
4 Beast, Dr. Henry McCoy
This deck really caused a stir when it turned up at PC: NY. Not only was not widely regarded as tournament viable, but the way this deck was constructed was also just . . . crazy. Basically, Total Anarchy was used to KO one’s own characters, thus satisfying the condition of Xavier’s Dream in a rather alarming fashion (“face-to-foot” style Vs., as it will now be called). The likes of GCPD Officer and Dazzler kept endurance loss to a minimum, while Longshot and Alfred were used to find the necessary pieces of the puzzle. Brilliant—that is truly thinking outside the box! The recent X-Men set rekindled a personal interest in this deck. Can the likes of Xorn and the new recovery tricks available to the X-Men help to re-establish this deck?
Since then, alternate win condition success has dried up on the tournament scene. Recent times have seen a shift toward super-aggressive decks like Avengers reservist, Squadron Supreme, and Faces of Evil / X-Faces. But does this mean the end of the risky strategy? Far from it. Last week, I spoke about The Joker, Emperor Joker, so I won’t linger too much on him, but the potential is there. If you goldfish the Emperor Joker deck (a one-person exercise where you draw through the deck as if you were playing an actual game), you’ll find that (in theory) you will deck out your opponent almost every game. This, of course, means nothing in a competitive environment. Your deck not only has to function well, but it also has to be able to beat other decks that are likely to be played. If everyone plays Anti-Green Lantern rush, then you will have a struggle on your hands. My personal hope is that the current metagame will move away from rush decks for a little while. If the flavor of the month hangs around for too long, you soon get tired of the taste.
One curve / stall deck that has done well in recent months (in spite of the overwhelming number of rush decks) is G’Lock. Here are the basics: The name is short for Green Lantern lock, and the deck aims to survive until turn 8 or even 9, at which point it has several ways to secure victory. The builds vary considerably and I’ve seen many different characters employed as the finisher—Mogo, The Living Planet; Apocalypse; Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch; and Professor X, Mental Master, to name but a few. There have been quite a few discussions surrounding the viability of using Captain Marvel, Champion of Magic as the win condition. This obviously fits in very nicely with our theme for today.
G’Lock tends to have more than enough endurance to go around thanks to the antics of Katma Tui, so paying 25 endurance is not as big a problem as it would normally be. The main obstacle is Captain Marvel’s loyalty restriction. I’ve been thinking about the deck myself, and the best way around it (in my humble and probably misinformed opinion) is to throw a couple of useful Shadowpact characters into the later turns of the build. Zatanna, Showstopper is a nice inclusion because she has willpower 5, she feeds Katma Tui, and card drawing is never to be scoffed at. I wouldn’t feel comfortable just adding in a 6-drop, though. Any time I’m looking to play an 8-drop with loyalty, I have a personal rule that the 7-drop in the deck must share a team affiliation. That means choosing between The Phantom Stranger, Fallen Angel and Shazam, The Sorcerer. Neither of their abilities are particularly relevant to the strategy of the deck. Shazam’s could come in handy in a pinch, but nine times out of ten, if we get this far, we’ll be ahead on endurance anyway. Shazam’s loyalty—reveal troubles me a bit. I think I’m going to play this one safe and go with The Phantom Stranger.
The thing I like about this deck is that if you get to turn 8 in a mirror match, you’re going to have to work pretty hard to lose the game. The matchup with Emperor Joker would be interesting, and the win would probably be dependent on who has the even initiatives, because both win conditions can (and would) occur within the recruit step.
There are other alternate win conditions out there. I was on the receiving end of Ape, Metamorph’s annoying ability at a City Championship event. In the finals, I was up against a Morlock evasion deck and I was sporting my team’s Kung Pow reservist deck (Avengers / Brotherhood). On turn 7, I had the initiative and a very healthy board. I had enough firepower to beat my opponent on endurance, but as soon as I dropped below 0, he used Ape’s ability. I had more than enough left in the tank to take him well below my endurance total, but the alternate win condition came around to bite me in the bum.
Another alternate win card that debuted in the most recent set was . I was lucky enough to write the preview article for this card over at VsRealms.com. At the time, little else was known of the team setup. Now that I’ve seen the rest of the team, I feel that there is definitely some potential to make this card work, but I am yet to hit upon a decklist that I think is worth printing in this column. (If anyone wants to share a viable list, feel free to email me.)
Hopefully, the forthcoming Silver Age format will allow for some alternate success. I can’t wait to see what comes out of Pro Circuit San Francisco. My heart is itching for something new to take the spotlight, although my head says not to get my hopes up. If you’re attending the PC, take a moment to meditate on Bruce Lee’s words. Do not be controlled by what has gone before. Open your mind to the potential of playing something different; be mindful of what you will face, but not fearful of it.