(Metagame Archive) Breaking Ground Omnibus Part 2

By Michael “Big Spooky” Barnes

Mattie Franklin <> Spider-Woman, Gift of Power (05/02/06)

Well, after a few Infinite Crisis Sneak Preview–filled weeks, we’re back to the norm of janky deck ideas here on Breaking Ground. I have to give UDE credit—they did a phenomenal job with the new set. I would not be at all surprised to see Infinite Crisis have a major impact on the metagame of PC: San Francisco and Silver Age in general.

Zen and the Art of Vs. System Maintenance

One thing that never changes is my constant whining about how difficult it is to come up with new deck ideas week-in and week-out. That is one reason why I feature deck ideas and builds from other players. The fact is that I’m not talented enough to make unique and interesting ideas every single week. Granted, there are times when I have a wealth of ideas just waiting to be explored. Other times, I have to dig pretty deep to find inspiration. I know that I am personally grateful for new set releases because they provide more material for me to work with.

With a card pool of more than two thousand in Vs. System, you wouldn’t think that this would be a problem. However, I have come to accept that certain cards really can’t be broken. For example, Midnight Cravings is one of my favorite cards from an art and flavor perspective, but unless your metagame is rife with G’Lock and little else, it doesn’t really do all that much.

That being said, my job is infinitely easier than that of the folks at Vs. System Research & Development. Whereas I am personally short of deckbuilding talent at times, there is never a shortage of talent there. With some of the best and brightest TCG minds in the business, UDE R&D has consistently managed to produce a high quality product with enough stability for each set to integrate easily into prior sets, yet enough variety for each new set to provide a unique play experience.

One of my favorite aspects of new set releases is the introduction of new mechanics and keywords. These mechanics serve one of two distinct purposes: 1) to clarify and clean up existing game mechanics (such as “loyalty” and “replace”); and 2) to add new dimensions to the game (via keywords such as “concealed” and “willpower”). To wax philosophical for a moment, if we are to assume that our beloved game is a living, breathing thing, then it needs to be able to expand in bold and different directions to keep growing at a healthy pace.* The inception of new mechanics helps to keep our game fresh and interesting.

Two recent mechanics come to mind when I think about today’s theme card. The first is “crossover.” This mechanic falls into the first category mentioned above; the crossover keyword is used to replace the old Team-Up verbiage. Of course, crossover adds more in that it also teams-up character cards in the removed-from-play zone and the resource row. The latter of these additions could make for some interesting decks. Imagine going into turn 6, recruiting a Manhunter Engineer, and then using its effect to bring out . . . Robot Destroyer? There were some similar shenanigans that could have occurred with Underground Sentinel Base, but UDE saw how potentially dangerous it could be to allow players to bring out 5-drop Army characters with it, so they posted an erratum to limit it to Army character cards with the printed Sentinel affiliation.

The second mechanic that I think of is “reservist.” Michael Jacob, Karl Bown, and Vidi Wijaya have all shown how potent the reservist mechanic can be. Sporting victories in major events, their decks all featured a heavy number of reservist characters. The reservist mechanic literally impacted the face of the game, as initial assumptions about deckbuilding were changed to favor the new mechanic. Resource replacement effects went from being potentially tragic to amazingly beneficial, as they effectively allowed you to draw extra cards. And the standard of fifty to fifty-five percent character cards in a deck was thrown out the window for decks that played up to seventy percent character cards with little else besides ATK pumps to support the deck. It was quite the paradigm shift, to say the least.

Not Quite What I Meant by “Having Teammates Over for Dinner” . . .

These new mechanics are cause for personal reflection on one of my earlier Vs. System decks. Shortly after PC: LA 2004 and the dominance of Teen Titans, I started experimenting with a Curve Spider-Friends build to deal with “Those Meddling Kids!” The Spider-Friends team was not nearly as fast as Teen Titans and usually lost miserably to any kind of rush (such as The New Brotherhood), but it had very good matchups against decks with any kind of board-control element. Ricochet and Nice Try! were satisfying answers to the problems that Overload, Reign of Terror, and Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal were for most people.

One big problem with Spider-Friends, however, was its lack of a strong 6-drop. The deck was almost unstoppable if you could get to turn 7 and Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, but such considerations were often naught because the character choices at 6 were woefully underpowered. Even though Iceman, Cool Customer had average stats and a decent effect, he really wasn’t good enough to break the game open for the Spider-Friends.

One character, however, who had tons of potential was Mattie Franklin ◊ Spider-Woman. While she is initially just an 11/11 6-drop with flight and range, her effect has the potential to make her much, much bigger.** In a basic Spider-Friends deck, Mattie Franklin’s effect is usually good for one or two character cards. But in a character-heavy deck, a player could often have five or six character cards in the resource row. Basically, whenever Mattie attacks or defends, she could potentially be 17/17! There isn’t a 6-drop in the game that can attack over that without some help. Of course, if Mattie is team attacked, then her effect triggers for each attacker. Just imagine the possibilities of having a 23/23 6-drop guarding your endurance. Top that, Bastion!

Of course, I eventually ended up setting the deck aside because I couldn’t find a good answer for The New Brotherhood. But since then, the game has changed. We still have weenie rush decks, but we have answers for them now, too. And more importantly, we have the Silver Age. And guess what isn’t in the Silver Age: The New Brotherhood! So out comes Mattie Franklin to play once again.

It’s time to break Mattie Franklin ◊ Spider-Woman, Silver Age style! And in the most ironic of twists, the team of her earlier demise (the Brotherhood) is now going to team-up with her to create a card-cycling machine the likes of which has never before been seen!

The Build

Back to basics: four copies of Mattie Franklin.

Unless I’m missing my guess, the Spider-Friends team doesn’t have any reservist characters. However, our Brotherhood character choices should more than make up for this disparity. At the 1-slot, we have Rem-Ram. While his stats are certainly nothing to write home about, he does provide us with a decent deck-cycling effect and a minor source of hand advantage. In later turns, he basically acts as food for Mattie Franklin or any number of other reservist-cycling effects (as we shall see!).

At the 2-slot, our choices are pretty clear-cut (as there are only two Brotherhood reservists at 2). First, we have Chrome. While not an overwhelming character by any means, he is a respectable 3/2 with an effect that is occasionally relevant. The simple truth is that he’s in here mostly because he’s a Brotherhood reservist. The same cannot be said of our other 2-drop, Amelia Voght. While her stats are unremarkable, she is amazing from a board-control perspective. There are several decks that can recruit 1-drops for free. But Amelia Voght is currently the only playable 2-drop in the game that has an alternate recruit cost (can’t count Mr. Mxyzptlk, sorry!). Against decks like Faces of Evil and G’Lock, which can flood the board with smaller characters, having an extra character of your own can be very helpful indeed.

Speaking of flooding the board, let’s see if those weenies can break through our primary 3-drop, Joanna Cargill. At 6/6, she is easily one of the biggest 3-drops in Vs. System. She can become significantly smaller if we start flipping face-up resources. However, this probably won’t be an issue until later in the game. If Joanna Cargill is still on the board at that time, then we’ll probably already be winning by enough that her effect won’t matter. As a backup to Joanna, we have Senyaka. Senyaka boasts decent stats and an effect that can get us anywhere from 2 to 10 extra endurance loss per game (if we recruit Amelia Voght multiple times). Of course, his boost isn’t bad either, as it will usually gain him an extra +3/+0 to +6/+0 for that turn.

Turn 4 is where we really need to start making choices. Since we are sporting a deck-cycling theme, Spoor is probably a reasonable choice for our deck. Not only does Spoor work into the notion that cycling reservists draws us extra cards, but his effect is a free +3/+0 to any of our characters while attacking. Such an effect can be invaluable should we consider attacking up the curve. Our primary drop at 4, however, is going to be Anne-Marie Cortez. Not only does Anne-Marie Cortez boast above-average stats for a 4-drop, but she also has one of the most disruptive effects in the Vs. System, period! Familiarity with archetypes is a definite benefit, as she can shut down plot twists that can stymie your efforts. Worried about Lanterns in Love bringing back Sinestro, Green Lantern of Korugar? Reveal a 2-cost character. Trying to avoid a stunback from Heroes in Reserve? There’s another good reason to have Rem-Ram in your resource row. With the right characters, Anne-Marie can literally remove any threats that your opponent might have to offer.

Our picks at turn 5 will seem a bit strange, but hopefully, a bit of explanation will make things clear. Our backup here is actually going to be Sabretooth, Savage Killer. Yes, yes, I know that he’s one of the best characters in the game and that he can single-handedly destroy decks that rely on hidden characters. However, he doesn’t fit into our deck-cycling theme nearly as well as our primary 5-drop, Scanner. Scanner seems rather unassuming at first, but her effect actually plays into our deck strategy—she can set up the cards that Mattie Franklin will put into play with her effect. Armed with the knowledge that Mattie will be providing us with an extra ATK pump or two on turn 6, we can usually do a lot more damage on our attack steps. Having a 10/9 5-drop with concealed—optional certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

We will usually want to go for the kill on turn 6 with Mattie Franklin. However, if things don’t go as planned or we are stuck with the odd initiatives, we have a couple of copies of Fabian Cortez for the win on turn 7. His effect is brutal when we attack, effectively doubling the amount of damage we can dish out via stunning our opponent’s characters. But he won’t be of much help defensively. Hopefully, though, that won’t usually be an issue for our deck.

As far as plot twists go, we have a few very easy choices. First and definitely foremost, we need four copies of Planet X. This is one of the Team-Up cards from the X-Men set that makes this crazy concoction possible via the crossover keyword. And, if we draw multiple copies, it also works as an ATK pump in a pinch. However, it is the cornerstone card for our turn 6 strategy, so we should never use it as an ATK pump unless we have extras. Of course, being so critical to the deck, we probably need a way to search out Planet X. This is why we’ll include two copies of Teamwork. Our deck-cycling effects should enable us to get a copy of Planet X in play during most games; Teamwork just provides a little more insurance that we will have the all-important Planet X in play by turn 6.

Of course, it’s also pretty darn important that we have our 6-drop in hand by turn 6. We can hedge our bets a bit by making her our mulligan condition, but even with the most aggressive mulligan, we will occasionally miss her (or possibly put her in the resource row . . . d’oh!). So we have to run two copies of—you guessed it—Enemy of My Enemy. Much like Teamwork, Enemy of My Enemy is in our deck specifically to search out one card. It is possible that, if we get extra copies of Mattie Franklin, we can use Enemy of My Enemy to search out other characters. However, that situation will not arise very often.

So, what about pure ATK pumps? Oh, we have plenty! We’ll be playing four copies of Heroes in Reserve and its functional Brotherhood equivalent, The Acolytes. The versatility of these two cards can certainly not be ignored, as each is usually good for several points of ATK while attacking or defending. We may be in the Silver Age, but who says that we can’t still have Savage Beatdown and Nasty Surprise?

In addition, we’ll be playing three copies of Air Strike. This unassuming card from the Justice League set has a couple of neat synergies with the deck. At the very least, it will be +2/+0 and a free cycle of one of the cards in our resource row. But if we get a problematic plot twist in our resource row that we can’t effectively use (like an Enemy of My Enemy that we don’t need), the Air Strike can cycle that card out of the row and give us an additional +2/+0 (that’s +4/+0 total for the non-math majors out there).

Our final plot twist is a bit more subtle, but effective nonetheless. As an ATK pump, Go Down Fighting is pretty weak. The versatility of +1/+0 on attack or defense might occasionally be useful, but not very often. However, the other effect should be very useful. With a quick reveal of Go Down Fighting, we can move our stunned characters back to our resource row. Not only does that enable us to replace face-up plot twists that might hinder our strategy (and make Joanna Cargill weaker, for that matter), but it also has an absolutely brutal synergy with Amelia Voght. Since we will pretty much always be able to recruit Amelia for free, Go Down Fighting becomes a source of a free recruit for us every turn! If Amelia Voght doesn’t become stunned, then we really haven’t lost any board advantage. But if she does become stunned, then Go Down Fighting will ensure that she comes back for the next turn.

I think that does it. Let’s take a look and see what Mattie Franklin is cooking:

Lunch Reservations


4 Rem-Ram, Acolyte

4 Amelia Voght, Acolyte

4 Chrome, Acolyte

4 Joanna Cargill, Acolyte

3 Senyaka, Acolyte

4 Anne-Marie Cortez, Acolyte

3 Spoor, Acolyte

2 Sabretooth, Savage Killer

4 Scanner, Acolyte

4 Mattie Franklin ◊ SW-GoP

2 Fabian Cortez, Acolyte

3 Air Strike

2 Enemy of My Enemy

3 Go Down Fighting

4 Heroes in Reserve

4 Planet X, Team-Up

2 Teamwork

4 The Acolytes

As mentioned earlier, evens are the preferred initiatives for this deck, as they allow Mattie Franklin to swing away for as much damage as possible. Of course, she should also be effective while defending, so having odd initiatives for a turn 7 kill with Fabian Cortez is probably not outside the realm of possibility.

More importantly, however, is the mulligan. Personally, I wouldn’t ever mulligan any hand with Mattie Franklin in it. But if you have an opening four that sets up your early game (like having Rem-Ram, Chrome, and Amelia Voght), it might be tough to throw that one away. With the deck-cycling effects and Scanner, you should more often than not get Mattie by turn 6. There will probably be times when you drop her in the resource row with Spoor’s or Scanner’s effect, but that is why we play four copies!

That’s all for this week. Assuming that I can find another card to break, I’ll be back in full swing again next week. If you have any thoughts, ideas, suggestions, or whatever else, feel free to send them to me at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com. I may or may not get back to you, but I will certainly read and appreciate anything that you have to say.

Much like Tim Batow at a pool party, I am outta here!***

* Sorry. I’ve been watching too many melodramatic TV shows lately. Curse you, Desperate Housewives!!!

** I recall once reading (I forget the source) a discussion of Mattie Franklin’s effect being akin to a spider wrapping up insects to eat at some point in the future. Hence the reference to “teammates for dinner.” Yeah . . . bad joke, I know.

*** If you are interested in the reference to Tim Batow going for a late night swim, check out Shane Wiggans’s new column on Metagame.com, Theoretically Speaking. Oh yeah . . . there’s some stuff about Vs. System in there, too!

Phantom Zone (05/09/06)

I readily accept that a good number of my ideas will never, ever in a million years see the light of competitive play. After all, some of the decks that I build are entirely for fun—an attempt to exploit some clever trick or tactic that might win one game in ten. While this seems like a ridiculous rationale for building a deck, I can honestly say that I get a great deal more satisfaction from that single, hard-earned victory than I would from winning ten games in a row with Teen Titans or Squadron Supreme.

Other deck ideas that I have may possess some competitive potential. However, my lack of practice time with the decks doesn’t allow me to fine tune them to the degree that I would like. For example, after I posted my decklist for the JLA ally build in my Roll Call! article, I found a few other ideas that I would have liked to have integrated into the deck. I think the JLA ally archetype is one that has tremendous potential to influence Golden Age, Silver Age, and the upcoming DC Modern Age. But, I admit that my build was not optimal.

However, the point to my articles is not to provide you with an exact card-for-card decklist to play endlessly. Rather, it is my hope that my ideas inspire some of you out there to explore them, tweaking them to suit your tastes. One of my best examples of this is a local player named Jayson Cody. Jayson commented to me that he really liked the deck concept I used in my article on Fire (a.k.a., the notorious visit to Nobu). But he decided to go a different route with the deck engine and utilized Wild Pack as his primary “vomit” character. The end result was significantly different from my design, but similarly effective nonetheless. It was a very gratifying experience, to say the least.

“Le singe a disparu!”*

This week’s theme card keeps in line with the general trend of my building crazy decks to have other Vs. System players discover new and interesting ways to utilize the card. If you’ve followed any of my random online ramblings since Pro Circuit New York, then you’ll already know that one of my pet decks is a New Gods / Revenge Squad deck (a.k.a., “The God Squad”). For those of you not in the know, here is the original build:

The God Squad

4 Prankster, Oswald Loomis

2 Encantadora, Lourdes Lucero

2 Mercy, Amazon Bodyguard

2 Vykin, Forever People

2 Silver Banshee, SM

3 Sturmer, War Dog

1 Commander, MLoNG

1 Dominus, Tuoni

2 Izaya ◊ Highfather, TI

1 Brainiac 2.5, Vrill Dox

1 Metron, Time Traveler

1 Scott Free ◊ Mister Miracle, EA

1 Big Barda, Barda Free

1 Eradicator, Dr. David Conner

1 Takion ◊ Highfather, JS

1 General Zod, RoP

1 Doomsday, AC

1 Orion, Dog of War

4 Acrobatic Dodge

4 Royal Decree

4 Savage Beatdown

4 The Exchange

4 Avalon Space Station

4 LexCorp

4 Phantom Zone

4 The Source

The basic premise of the deck is to capitalize on some of the synergies between LexCorp and cards that can replace themselves. If you have a single copy of LexCorp in play, then you can deliberately put character cards in the resource row to hit with its replacement effect. If you get multiple copies of LexCorp, then you can replace a used plot twist with its other effect. With good draws, you could typically cycle through four to ten extra cards in the later turns.

A few additional synergies were present in the deck (such as Sturmer in unison with Avalon Space Station, one of my all-time favorite combos ever!), but the deck was largely non-competitive at that time. It had unfavorable matchups against TNB Blitz, Teen Titans, and Curve Sentinels. Considering that these decks comprised about ninety percent of the competitive metagame at the time, it was not a good choice for the environment. So why, pray tell, did I play such a monstrosity? Simple: it beat one particular deck nearly every time . . .

The Light Show!

You may recall that short period following PC: New York when Dr. Light, Master of Holograms and Rama-Tut utterly dominated Vs. System competitive events. This deck was my answer to that concoction. With a tested win percentage of around ninety-five percent, I thought it might be a neat way to foil the plans of broken combos.

The madness starts with characters like Vykin and Dominus, who can keep particularly troublesome characters from readying on a consistent basis. Prankster lends a hand by placing key cards for the combo (such as Dr. Light and Devil’s Due) into the KO’d pile. And The Source makes sure that any plot twists placed in an opponent’s resource row are kept far out of reach.

Of course, the lynchpin card of the deck (and theme card for this week) is Phantom Zone. This amazing card almost single-handedly ensures that the Light Show combo will never go off. With not just one but two ways of removing cards from play, a Light Show player would need an amazing draw to keep Phantom Zone from removing that key Rama-Tut or Cosmic Radiation. Given the constraints of the combo, the Light Show is pretty much doomed to failure against this deck.

The Promise of Greatness

It first occurred to me how great a card Phantom Zone was when my Team Alternate Win Condition teammate Matt Meyer played his renowned deck, Phantom Phone Booth, at $10K New Jersey a little over a year ago. It has long been a premise of mine that the strongest and most consistent decks are those with the ability to retrieve cards from the KO’d pile. Looking at some of the most dominant decks in Golden Age over the past two years (Big Brotherhood, Teen Titans, and Curve Sentinels), this premise would appear to have some merit. That being the case, a deck that has the ability to counter recursion effects should have a competitive advantage. Matt rode the power of Phantom Zone in a recursion-filled field to a thirteenth place finish at $10K New Jersey—not too bad for a deck featuring a team that many believed to be inferior to most others.

Phantom Zone also made a moderate showing at PC: Indy last year. Amidst the throng of GLEE decks were a brave few players sporting Blue Abuse and Superman Robots builds that used Phantom Zone to counter the abusive Dr. Light. With their method of gaining board advantage effectively negated, many a GLEE deck fell to the Team Superman decks.

Moving on to the Vs. System Silver Age, we find ourselves once again at an impasse. Many of the predicted top decks of the format (G’Lock, Faces of Evil, and Anti-Green Lantern Rush) use interactive tricks with the KO’d pile to maintain effective board superiority. It seems that Phantom Zone would be a very potent card in this environment. The problem? Phantom Zone is restricted to use with only Team Superman and Revenge Squad. And unfortunately, neither team appears to be able cut it with the high-powered decks that currently dominate the environment.

However, there might be another way to approach this predicament. Starting with the Justice League of America set, UDE created character cards with dual team affiliations. This gave newer teams and older teams alike access to the newer, more powerful characters being released. One of the most notorious of these characters is Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist. This utterly disruptive character is dual-stamped with the Injustice Gang and Revenge Squad affiliations.

Lex’s Injustice Gang stamp gives us access to a team that can compete in Silver Age, while his Revenge Squad stamp gives us access to Phantom Zone. So, it looks like we’ve just found a whole new way to mess with our opponents’ KO’d piles!

The Build

Four copies of Phantom Zone . . . obviously!

What other locations should we play? Well, let’s try centering the deck around the same basic engine as the God Squad deck and see what happens. First, we’ll include three copies of Slaughter Swamp. This Avalon Space Station substitute serves quite well as a replacement. However, we won’t need as many copies of this recursion card in this build because our need to recur cards will be somewhat diminished.

Let’s also include three copies of The Source. Long believed to be one of the best cards in the game, The Source’s effectiveness was hindered (much like Phantom Zone’s) by the fact that it was team-stamped to a “less powerful” team. But I don’t think that we’ll have any problem finding a way for the New Gods to dominate in this build!

Finally, we’ll include the full complement of LexCorp. The ability to move dead cards out of our resource row for playable ones is not to be overlooked. While we should be drawing plenty of cards through the Injustice Gang engine, the ability to draw more cards effectively is certainly not a bad thing for us. Besides, LexCorp combos beautifully with the replacement effects of Phantom Zone and The Source.

Our plot twist selections will also very nearly mirror those of the God Squad deck. For our team-up, we’re going to go with Gang-Up. While we could easily use Royal Decree, Gang-Up is a little more effective in that it supports the Injustice Gang’s “big hand” theme. In addition, the Injustice Gang characters will be our primary team for the deck, so it only makes sense to play cards that support them.

For our character searcher, we’ll go with another Injustice Gang card in Secret Files. The ability to search out any affiliated character in our deck cannot be understated. The fact that our opponents also get to search is not a major concern, as it just further supplements their hand size.

For our defensive pump, we’ll upgrade from Acrobatic Dodge and go with Power Siphon. While Acrobatic Dodge was a respectable -3/+3, Power Siphon is usually good for -10/+10 or more! The exhaustion effect of the card means that we won’t be playing more than one, but with +10 DEF, we probably won’t need more than one.

For our offensive pump, we’re going to go with All Too Easy. Just as Power Siphon improves upon Acrobatic Dodge, All Too Easy is usually a marked improvement over Savage Beatdown. Granted, All Too Easy will usually put the attacking character easily within range of System Failure, but with Lex Luthor limiting our opponents to one plot twist per turn, the worry of losing one attack is relatively minor.

Finally, we’re going to stray from the God Squad framework to include four copies of Criminal Mastermind. With the Injustice Gang, drawing extra cards is beneficial for us yet hazardous for our opponents. Criminal Mastermind is the ideal card for us to exploit that disparity. Just one copy in play should significantly accelerate drawing for all players. And with the LexCorp engine giving us access to extra cards in our resource row, we should have no problem getting two or three copies into play.

In general, our character choices will differ from those of the God Squad deck. However, we are still keeping around one of my favorites, Prankster. In any deck, the ability to control what your opponents draw is extremely potent. In a deck that forces them into drawing a lot more cards than usual, this effect is even more brutal. Prankster can dictate which cards our opponents are forced to keep, even to the degree of filling their hands up with plot twists that they cannot play thanks to Lex Luthor. And if our opponents think that they can simply get back cards that Prankster forces them to ditch, Phantom Zone will keep them well educated (since Prankster allows us to flip Phantom Zone before Lex Luthor ever sees play). Also at the 1-slot, we’ll toss in a single copy of Mikado and Mosha to keep off-curve decks under control.

Our choices at the 2-slot are somewhat unorthodox. But given that this deck is unorthodox, we should feel right at home! First, we want four copies of Captain Boomerang, George Harkness. Sure, IQ can be amazing at dishing out tons of burn damage due to card drawing, but Captain Boomerang is just an amazing early-game board control card. He helps to keep problematic early drops, like Joystick and Shocker, off the board so that they cannot create trouble for us. Our other choice at 2 is Kelex. Given the number of locations in the deck, it might not be such a bad idea for us to have some help fetching those key locations. Besides, Kelex is an above average 3/3 character who allows us to flip Phantom Zone.

Turn 3 is all about Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist. We’ve talked about this guy in great detail before, so I won’t say too much. But Lex Luthor is one of the most disruptive cards in Vs. System and quite possibly the most disruptive card in Silver Age. Limiting our opponents’ plot twist play is certainly beneficial for us, especially when we have a gem like The Source to put the serious hurt on those select plot twists that our opponents do play. Our opponents thought being able to play only one copy of Faces of Evil each turn was bad? Just imagine when we remove all four copies from the game! Our other choice at 3 is our old pal Sturmer. Much like Mikado and Mosha, Sturmer is primarily in our deck to fetch our late drops for us. However, in the unlikely event that we do have to play him, he is an effective wall against opposing attackers.

At the 4-slot, we’re going to make Izaya ◊ Highfather our primary choice. At 7/8, our opponents will usually need some help breaking through him. Of course, his recovery effect is certainly nothing to scoff at; it allows us to maintain our board even if multiple characters become stunned. As a backup, we’ll include a copy of The Joker, Headline Stealer. The Joker’s Doom-like effect works well in unison with Lex Luthor, forcing our opponents to play their sole plot twist for the turn in the resource row—a prime target for The Source! Of course, if we miss Izaya, then we probably won’t be able to play The Source . . .

We have a few different picks at 5. To assist with the problems of missing the aforementioned Izaya, we’ll include one copy of Valkyra. Her leader power is all but useless in our deck, but she is a good-sized 10/10 until she becomes stunned. If we are going to play a New Gods 5-drop, however, we should really consider Metron. His ATK is not very impressive, but he’s decently sized on the back end. Besides, he can be just cruel in unison with Lex Luthor. Your opponent chooses to play his or her one plot twist for the turn? Metron negates it; laughter ensues!

Our final 5-drop also doubles as a 6-drop (and will probably play the latter role in most games). He is none other than Scarecrow, Psycho Psychologist. With what is quite possibly the most potent burn effect in the game, Scarecrow is always an unwelcome sight for our opponents. Just as Power Siphon and All Too Easy will usually net us +10/-10 or ATK respectively, Scarecrow will usually net us 10 endurance damage.

Our lone 6-drop (in case we’re forced to play Scarecrow early) is Ocean Master. With enough cards in hand, this titan can trump even the mighty Bastion. We may very well need an outlet for the extra cards that we draw, and Ocean Master is the right guy for the job.

Given the speedy nature of many Silver Age decks, most of our games probably won’t go to turn 7. But if they do, we have The Joker, Permanent Vacation. The newest incarnation of The Joker from the Infinite Crisis set plays amazingly well into the Injustice Gang’s “big hand” strategy. After drawing several cards through Lex Luthor and Criminal Mastermind, The Joker will double our opponent’s hand size. Absent a miracle, one payment of Scarecrow’s effect will usually be enough for us to seal the deal.

That is, of course, unless our opponent is playing an endurance-gaining deck (like G’Lock) that can outrace us. If we reach turn 8, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to do enough damage to win, given the immense size of characters like Guy Gardner, Egomaniac and Mogo, The Living Planet. Hard times like these call for hard solutions. That’s why we have an insurance policy in The Joker, Emperor Joker. Given how quickly The Joker, Permanent Vacation can deplete an opponent’s deck, it seems only natural that we follow up with the alternate win condition of Emperor Joker. If our opponent somehow survives the immense burn of Scarecrow on turn 7, Emperor Joker will make sure that the game doesn’t go past turn 8.

Dare I say that we are finished? It is true; we have completed our deckbuilding for this week. Let’s see what we’ve come up with:

God Squad Gang-Up


1 Mikado and Mosha, AoD

4 Prankster, Oswald Loomis

4 Captain Boomerang, GH

2 Kelex, Faithful Servant

4 Lex Luthor, NP

1 Sturmer, War Dog

4 Izaya ◊ Highfather, TI

1 The Joker, Headline Stealer

1 Metron, Time Traveler

2 Scarecrow, PP

1 Valkyra, VoNG

1 Ocean Master, Son of Atlan

1 The Joker, Permanent Vacation

1 The Joker, Emperor Joker

3 All Too Easy

4 Criminal Mastermind

4 Gang-Up, Team-Up

3 Power Siphon

4 Secret Files

4 LexCorp

4 Phantom Zone

3 Slaughter Swamp

3 The Source

I honestly have no clue what initiative this deck would want. But I can tell you that you absolutely, positively, always want to mulligan for Lex Luthor or a way to get Lex Luthor (for example, Captain Boomerang plus Secret Files). Not only is he the driving disruptive force behind the deck, but he is also the failsafe card for Phantom Zone.

Well, I’ve yammered on enough this week, so I’m going to call it quits. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or notions that you’d like to share, you are always welcome to do so via email at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com.

Take care, and we’ll see you back here next week for another bout with insanity!

* Yeah . . . I’m typing in French. One brownie point to you if you can figure out, without using any translating devices (such as freetranslation.com), what that phrase means. Two brownie points if you can figure out where the reference comes from!**

** All brownie points are redeemable for fabulous gifts and merchandise at your local brownie point redemption shop.

Mary Jane Watson, MJ (05/16/06)

Ah, spring! The time of the year when a young man’s fancy turns to love. Yes, true believers . . . even one as spooky as me is not immune to the wiles of the fairer sex. Besides, I come to realize more and more each day that I am no longer a young man. I occasionally notice a wrinkle that I hadn’t seen before or a more pronounced lack of hair adorning my head.*

Many of you may know that my teammates and friends John Hall and Shane Wiggans are in pretty serious relationships with their respective ladies. In fact, Shane is getting married shortly after Pro Circuit Indy this coming August. And, of course, crazy Dave Spears tied the knot with the love of his life just prior to PC: LA last year. I figure that if those goobers can find their soul mates, it should be a snap for me! So I need to figure out what particular traits I possess that a woman might find appealing.  If I were to write a personal ad, it might go a little something like this:

SWTCGM seeks single female for friendship and perhaps more. I enjoy comic books, card games about comic books, and playing World of Warcraft for hours on end. I am an excellent chef. (I make a mean mac and cheese!) I can recite Pi to the 75th decimal. My apartment isn’t much to look at, but I try to clean it every couple of months. If you’re looking for a special guy who still lives his life as if he were a teenager, then I am definitely your boy . . . er . . . man!

Geez . . . no wonder I’m still single!

“Bonjour, amour!”**

Given the caliber of the ladies who adorn the pages of popular comic books, many comic fans have an unrealistic standard. Why would anyone want to take a chance asking out a girl when they can spend time with the likes of Jean Grey and Wonder Woman without fear of rejection? Moreover, it seems like the ladies in comics are always doing something of interest. Emma Frost and her harrowing mind-blasts are worth watching. But if the White Queen were to make even a hint of a suggestion that her guy spend the afternoon shopping at The Gap with her, then he’d probably go running for the hills. This is all probably an overt attempt by comic book publishers to stick to topics that interest the masses. After all, have you ever seen The Invisible Woman ask Mr. Fantastic to take out the trash?

Must Love Spiders

As far as dream girls go, every comic book geek has his personal favorite. I am certainly no exception to this rule. Sure, those X-gals are great. And it’s obvious why Oliver Queen has such affection for Black Canary. But for my money, there is no woman, real or fictitious, who could ever compare to Mary Jane Watson. Granted, she’s not technically a “super heroine.” But in my mind’s eye, Mary Jane is far and away the most wonderful woman in either comic universe. First and foremost, she’s a redhead. Absent all other considerations, this automatically places her in the upper echelon. Secondly, she’s a glamorous model and actress. Many women dream of being one or the other; very few get to be both! Finally, she uses the word “tiger” . . . a lot! If Mary Jane were ever to say to me, “Face it tiger, you just hit the jackpot,” I would faint dead away.  (Hmmm . . . I’m daydreaming about flirting with a comic book character. That can’t be good!)

It is a measure of my respect for Spider-Man that he’s still one of my favorite superheroes even though he married the girl of my dreams.  (Okay.  Now I’m talking about being jealous of a comic book character. I think I may need some professional help.)  As part of my ongoing therapy, I’m going to get Mary Jane out of my heart and into a deck. It’s time for MJ to show Vs. System players far and wide that even supermodels can be a forceful presence on the Vs. board!

Before we get too carried away with building the deck, we really need to consider what kind of deck to build. Mary Jane Watson has two effects. First, she provides reinforcement for protected defenders. This can be extremely beneficial, as it will usually prevent breakthrough on at least one or two opposing attacks.*** If your opponent is playing a curve deck, it is conceivable to avoid breakthrough damage altogether. Secondly, Mary Jane gives you a free card whenever your team attackers stun a character. Unless you’re playing against an Injustice Gang deck, a free card in not at all a bad thing.

These two effects in unison lead me to believe that our deck should be an off-curve, team attack–focused deck. We could probably put together something akin to the Wild Pack deck that Vincent Greco (among 18 others) played at PC: Amsterdam. However, some of the newer sets have provided interesting opportunities—particularly the Avengers set.

In competitive play, it seems to go without saying that Avengers reservist is the most potent build of any deck playing Avengers characters. Recently, however, the reservist strategy has fallen by the wayside in lieu of faster, more aggressive decks. Maybe a shift to the Avengers team attack strategy will open up new opportunities.

The Build

So, let’s see what the teaming-up of Spider-Friends and Avengers has to offer. At the 1-slot, we’re obviously going to have four copies of Mary Jane Watson. She provides benefits while both attacking and defending. Besides, she’s the deck’s theme card!

Also at 1, we’ll include three copies of Beast, Furry Blue Scientist. The great news for us is that, unlike with traditional reservist builds, Beast actually does have a purpose in this deck besides being a 2/1 Avengers reservist. His ability to search out our Team-Up will definitely be welcome because so many of the effects in our deck rely on our characters having a specific team affiliation. Our other 1-drop is Rick Jones. He may see play in the early turns, but Rick Jones’s primary purpose in the deck is to provide an extra reinforcement option on defense and a free character on offense to bolster our team attacks.

At 2, we have a wealth of interesting choices. On the Spider-Friends side, we’re going to go with three copies of Hornet. While he is somewhat undersized in the current environment, Hornet has a neat burn effect that we can put to good use on our off-initiative turns. The extra 5 or so damage that our opponent will take from his effect could potentially help us end games earlier or win games that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

The remaining 2-drops in our deck are Avengers, and they are all quite good! Three copies of Natasha Romanoff ◊ Black Widow, Super Spy seem like an easy choice, as her effect is tailor-made for a team attack deck. I recall many times in Avengers Draft when my opponent would take out both my 2- and 3-drops with a single team attack including Natasha Romanoff. If we happen to run into another off-curve deck, her effect can be an incredible equalizer. Two copies of Wasp also seems like a good call, as her effect complements an off-curve team attack deck quite nicely. And should we happen to be worried about our opponent clearing our board, we can always recruit her hidden.

Our final 2-drop is not a popular choice. However, I quite like Falcon. He is not much good in a standard reservist deck, as there are usually few to no leaders from which he can gain a boost. However, we should find enough leaders in our deck that Falcon will frequently be at least +2/+2. Besides, his boost can be very beneficial for helping us plug holes in our curve.

At 3, we need the maximum four copies of Quicksilver, Mutant Avenger. In a team attack deck, this guy is just plain amazing! He already boasts respectable stats of 4/5, but with the right support cards, we will be able to attack as many times with Quicksilver as we have characters. Many an Avengers Draft of mine ended with Quicksilver adjacent to Wasp and attacking and stunning every character on my opponent’s side of the board. The prospects of Quicksilver in this deck are just too amazing not to play four copies. Our other 3-drop isn’t as “amazing,” but at least he’s “friendly.” Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man also works well in the team attack theme, as he can enable our characters to swing without fear of stunning back. So, we’ll include three copies of MJ’s main squeeze.

Turn 4 will likely be a spot for us to under-drop. However, we do have a couple of characters to play in case we would like to follow the curve. In the current metagame, off-curve decks are quite prevalent. As such, we would be wise to include at least a single copy of Hawkeye, Clinton Barton. He can keep those rabid Anti-Green Lantern and Squadron Supreme rush decks at bay and allow our weenies to take care of bigger characters. Also at 4, we’ll include a copy of Iron Man, Tony Stark. On his own, Iron Man isn’t much to look at. But hopefully, we’ll have plenty of friends for Iron Man to give a boost. With our deck’s strategy, that extra +1/+1, flight, and range could certainly swing the balance of our matchups.

At 5, we have another couple of tech choices. To support the team attack theme, we’ll play one copy of Monica Rambeau ◊ Captain Marvel. Whether you like her or hate her, you can’t deny that she allows you an extra attack for a very low cost. With our deck, that extra attack can be a key to maintaining board control. Speaking of board control, how about a copy of Firestar, Hot Stuff just for weenie decks? Flame Trap may be gone during the Silver Age, but we still have a character that can handle the task of 1- and 2-drop management. Of course, we do need to be careful that we don’t end up burning ourselves in the bargain!

Our final character is at 6 and none other than Captain America, Super Soldier. Like Iron Man, he is not too impressive on his own. But he gives those characters around him an amazing boost on either attack or defense. While we will be doing a lot of under-dropping with this deck, Captain America can certainly be a nice finisher for us in the later turns.

Moving on to non-character choices, let’s start things off with equipment. Our sole equipment card for the deck is Armored Spider Suit. Now, in pretty much any other deck, Armored Spider Suit would be a 2-cost equipment that gives +2/+2 and reinforcement. In our deck, however, this card will usually be a 0-cost equipment once we get the team-up online. Since we know that we’ll often be recruiting multiple characters a turn, it only makes sense to include four copies of this card, as it becomes a great value. Heck, even if we recruit on curve, we can use the free recruit option of Rick Jones to make our Armored Spider Suits free!

Now, let’s look at our location choices. Without a doubt, we are going to need four copies of Playroom. This card provides no attack or defense support, but the extra damage it can inflict when we attack can be substantial! Assume that we team attack four times in a late turn, stunning an opposing character with all four attacks. Playroom will net us a total of 16 endurance loss! When compared with other burn cards like Surprise Attack and Flamethrower, that is absolutely enormous! With relatively few successful attacks, the combination of the burn from Playroom and the stun damage our opponent takes should be enough to end games in the early turns.

Also, we’ll need three copies of Birthing Chamber. While we will not always have the requisite four characters in play to draw from Birthing Chamber’s effect, the extra cards that we do get will most certainly be welcome. Between Birthing Chamber and Mary Jane, we should have little trouble drawing an extra ten cards a game.

Those extra cards will certainly come in handy for our first plot twist choice, Forbidden Loyalties. Both Spider-Friends and Avengers have team-up cards that we could use for this deck. However, Clone Saga is a bit too restrictive, and Two Worlds is really only good in multiples. Instead, we’re going to play a Team-Up that merges our two teams and confers a benefit (in the form of a +1/+1 counter) on one of our characters. We may have to discard to realize that benefit, but we should have plenty of cards to spare.

Since this is a team attack deck, I suppose that saying we’ll be including four copies of Legendary Battles is a foregone conclusion. There are so many great combinations possible with this card that it would be impossible to play this deck without it! For example, the “infinite” attack Quicksilver becomes much more potent when he gets that extra +1/+0 and can’t be stunned. One of the best combos, though, would be sending all of our 1- and 2-drops at an opposing 1- or 2-drop and activating Firestar’s effect in the middle of the attack. Voila! All of your opponent’s weenies get stunned, while all of yours are free from harm.

Of course, one major problem for this deck would be facing a deck full of characters with concealed. Since we don’t have a way to attack hidden characters, we’ll just have to make them visible with No Man Escapes the Manhunters. This card is just what we need to make concealed-based decks manageable. And, if the deck we face doesn’t have any hidden characters, No Man Escapes the Manhunters doubles as an effective ATK pump.

Most of the cards that we have discussed so far support the offensive team attack theme. It might be nice if we provide a little bit of protection for our characters (while creating some pandemonium for our opponents). This is why we’re going to play three copies of Nice Try!. A year or so back, this card was the ultimate counter to Golden Age terrors like Overload and Finishing Move. In the Silver Age, Nice Try! can be an effective foil to cards like Mikado and Mosha, No Man Escapes the Manhunters, and Mutant Massacre (all cards that could create problems for our deck).

Finally, we need a character searcher for the deck. If we were playing more leader characters, then we could conceivably justify playing Avengers Assemble!. Unfortunately, the five leaders in our build are not a sufficient basis to justify a searcher that uses them exclusively. So, we are relegated to Enemy of My Enemy. If you need any explanation of why this is the search card of choice for this deck, please see pretty much any one of my articles since the X-Men set released for an explanation.

Is that it? Are we really done so soon? It would appear so. Let’s take a look and see what kind of wonder I have prepared for my favorite fictitious redhead:

Mary Jane Watson-Barnes

3 Beast, Furry Blue Scientist

4 Mary Jane Watson, MJ

3 Rick Jones, AHBF

2 Falcon, Sam Wilson

3 Hornet, Eddie McDonough

3 Natasha Romanoff ◊ BW,SS

2 Wasp, Janet Van Dyne-Pym

4 Quicksilver, Mutant Avenger

2 Spider-Man, FNSM

1 Hawkeye, Clinton Barton

1 Iron Man, Tony Stark

1 Firestar, Hot Stuff

1 Monica Rambeau ◊ CM, LoL

1 Captain America, Super Soldier

3 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Forbidden Loyalties, Team-Up

4 Legendary Battles

3 Nice Try!


3 Birthing Chamber

4 Playroom

4 Armored Spider Suit

The preferred initiative will usually be odds, as this allows characters like Black Widow and Hawkeye to be most effective. The initiative management is critical, as you will often be dropping multiple characters on your victory turn to finish off your opponent.

The mulligan condition is somewhat open to debate, as you really want Playroom and Quicksilver to achieve maximum effectiveness. The deck has enough search and cycling effects that you shouldn’t have much trouble finding all of the cards that you need. However, if you fail to get everything up and online by turn 4 or 5, then you could very well have an uphill battle doing enough damage in the later turns.

And that wraps up another thrilling, action packed week of Breaking Ground. But please don’t be sad, as I am never too far away. In fact, if you like, you can even email me at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com. I’ve gotten much better about responding to emails as of late (thanks to the blessed end of my audit rotation), so you will probably hear back from me. But even if I can’t get back to you, I would still love to hear what you have to say.

* Which explains why you will usually see me wearing my festive squirrel hat at most Vs. System events!

** Yeah . . . more French this week. I’m trying my best to reach out to our fellow Vs. System players across the Atlantic!

*** Of course, this also requires careful planning and proper setup in the formation step to get the most out of her effect. For a few good tips on proper approaches to the formation step, check out Shane Wiggans’s inaugural article in his new column on Metagame.com, Theoretically Speaking.

The Rock of Eternity (05/23/06)

Waking up is hard to do.  I’m not misquoting the old Neil Sedaka song. Waking up is really hard to do! I’m a pretty serious sleeper, so I’m not a big fan of mornings in general. As I like to say, “Mornings would be a whole lot better if they came later in the day.” When my alarm goes off at around 7 A.M., I usually hit snooze three or ten times before I finally get up. This, of course, gets my day off to a poor start, as I usually don’t get into the office until 8:30 or 9 A.M. Even after all of that extra sleep, I’m usually still out of it until around noon.  Being tired sucks!

Early Morning Trips to Ardmore

If there is one thing that will get me out of bed, it is a Vs. System event. I recently attended the PCQ in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Despite the wake up time of 6:30 A.M., I was more than ready to rise with the early bird to make the trek to the tournament. Now, while I don’t need any more points to qualify to play at Pro Circuit San Francisco, I do enjoy playing in the competitive atmosphere of PCQs, as it is generally good preparation for other competitive events. Additionally, the entire Oklahoma contingent of TAWC attended the event. Finally, we were going to be playing with the Infinite Crisis set. In my opinion, there’s nothing quite as fun and interesting as playing in a Sealed Pack event with a brand-new set.

While not stellar, my Sealed deck was strong enough to lead me to a 4-2 record, which was good enough to secure me a spot in the Top 8. Unfortunately, the Draft table was a pretty strong group, with all four members of TAWC sitting there. I decided from the get-go that I would try to force whatever team I found the strongest support for in the first few packs. This is normally not a wise strategy, but it was probably my best bet since I was still not familiar with the set.

My first pick out of my first pack was Advance Warning. This card, in my opinion, was a sure sign that I should go with the JSA exhaustion archetype. Sadly for me, though, my good friend and teammate Shane Wiggans was two seats to my right, cutting off all of the good JSA cards. The end result was that I ended up with a decent array of characters, a great equipment card in T-Spheres, and a very poor assortment of plot twists (with the exception of the aforementioned Advance Warning and a copy of Deflection that I picked late in the third pack).

To make a short story even shorter, my teammate John Hall absolutely crushed me in two games with an insane Villains United deck containing no shortage of burn cards. In the first game, he took me from 20 endurance to well below 0 on turn 6, which was my initiative. In the second game, I took him to -18 endurance (to my 6 endurance) after my attacks on turn 7. John then used The Calculator, Crime Broker to attack me for 14 endurance loss, then he burned me for another 12 endurance by discarding six Villains United character cards. Like I said, it was quite a whoopin’!*

“To Sleep, Perchance to Dream . . . Aye, There’s the Rub.”

Of course, this massacre I experienced against John did give me the epiphany for this week’s article. On turn 6, after I brick-walled an attack by John’s Zatanna, Showstopper on my Carter Hall ◊ Hawkman with a timely Advance Warning, John cleverly decided to use Join Us or Die on his Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard to prevent my Hawkman from readying. Given that I had five characters on the board, this was a pretty significant play. However, the light was revealed to me on turn 7. I used Batman, Earth 2 to exhaust Power Girl, Earth 2 to destroy John’s Rann. Then, I exhausted Batman with Jaime Reyes ◊ Blue Beetle to search out my copy of T-Spheres, which I then equipped to Batman. Finally, before John finished his build, I flipped my ace in the hole—The Rock of Eternity! The effect of The Rock of Eternity readied my three biggest characters and exhausted my remaining characters (who were all relatively small).

While I ended up on the losing end of that match, it got me to thinking how potentially powerful a card like The Rock of Eternity could be. The short history of the Vs. System has shown us how potent readying effects are. Characters like Speed Demon, Second-Chance Speedster and Sebastian Shaw are potentially game-breaking in Marvel Modern Age. Cosmic Radiation is an integral component of several successful decks from Golden Age, like Fantastic Fun and Cosmic Cops. Teen Titans, arguably the best deck in the Vs. System, makes an absolute killing off of the interaction between Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Sharpshooter and Press the Attack. Given the immense advantage gained by readying an exhausted character, is it any wonder that most of the Speedster characters with this ability are rare?

To fully appreciate how potent a card like The Rock of Eternity could be in Silver Age, we need look no further than the Green Lantern/Emerald Enemies powerhouse, G’Lock. One of the key plays in this deck is to use Rain of Acorns to exhaust most, if not all, of an opponent’s characters. So, what would happen if those characters were able to ready again at the start of the opponent’s attack step? Simply put, it’s bad news for G’Lock.

However, there is indeed a catch. You see, The Rock of Eternity readies exhausted JSA characters, but it also exhausts ready characters that you control. While The Rock of Eternity may be a great pepper-upper for your tired characters, it’s going to bring those wide awake guys way down! This dilemma had me thinking for quite a while. How can we ensure that our characters will always be exhausted at the start of our attack step? It is somewhat unfortunate that Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Sharpshooter isn’t legal in Silver Age, as his effect would be a wonderful fit for the deck.

It occurs to me that we do have an Arsenal substitute in Man-Bull. This rare from The X-Men is an interesting card, to say the least. He has decent stats at 5/4. However, it is his effect that we are truly concerned with. We can exhaust any character that we control any time to give Man-Bull +1/+0 for the turn. Moreover, he keeps exhausted characters from being stunned or even targeted by opposing plot twists.

Any character? Any time? And I don’t have to worry about No Man Escapes the Manhunters, System Failure, Spectral Slaughter, or any other of a number of plot twists that could foil my plans? Yes, please! Man-Bull and the much-maligned Sinister Syndicate are going to be our ticket to ensuring that our exhausted characters get plenty of rest so that The Rock of Eternity wakes them up, ready and refreshed to lay the smack down on our attack step.

The Build

Since The Rock of Eternity has a threshold cost of 4, we are going to diverge from our normal strategy of playing four copies, and instead, go with three. “Only three copies, Michael? Are you mad?!” Possibly. Regardless, we should still be able to get a copy of The Rock of Eternity in play by turn 4 with only three copies in our deck.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about locations. I’ve heard it said that Birthing Chamber is a good card. Given that we should be able to get four characters in play rather easily, I think we should include at least three copies of this card-drawing engine. In addition, we’ll need a solo copy of Slaughter Swamp. There are many good reasons to have character recursion in a deck, especially if there’s a possibility that you might have to discard a character card that you might want to play later on. Also, we’ll include a copy of Stormfront-1. We have several good choices of location team-ups in Silver Age, but none of them are functionally different than this one. So, Stormfront-1 will serve as well as any of our other choices.

We’re going to hold off on the discussion of our final location for a bit, as it really relates to our character choices. First, let’s look at equipment. In almost any JSA deck, I think T-Spheres would be a powerhouse of a card. From drops 1 through 5, the typical stat average difference between two sequential drops is 2/2. For example, Viper, a 2-drop, has stats of 2/2. Jade, a 3-drop, has stats of 4/4. The stat difference between these two characters is 2/2. Obviously, this difference will vary depending on the characters chosen, but this is the generally expected variance. What this means is that we can equip T-Spheres to one of our characters, and it will usually be able to successfully attack at least one spot up the curve. In many cases (such as the one in our example), our character will be able to attack up the curve and avoid stunning back. T-Spheres effectively becomes a reusable Turnabout for one of our characters on the board. We’d be crazy not to play it!

For plot twists, I’m going to get the obvious four copies of Enemy of My Enemy out of the way. The truth is that, each week, I look for character search cards other than Enemy of My Enemy that might fit into these decks. The simple truth is that it’s one of the best cards ever printed in the Vs. System. Don’t expect to stop seeing it anytime soon.

Moving on, our one team-up card in Stormfront-1 probably won’t cut it. Millennium might be a good choice, as it fits into the exhaustion theme nicely. However, we’re going to go with Allied Against the Dark. While we might miss out on the free card from Millennium, Allied Against the Dark provides a beneficial effect in its own right by giving an ATK boost to our exhausted defenders. Given our deck’s theme, this will pretty much be all of the time.

I’ve already mentioned Advance Warning a few times, but it definitely bears repeating. Given the lack of effective DEF pumps in Silver Age thanks to the loss of Acrobatic Dodge and Cover Fire, Advance Warning is an absolutely amazing card. When played on an exhausted JSA defender, it gives a whopping +4 DEF. This is enough of a boost to offset all but a few of the ATK pumps in Silver Age. Much like T-Spheres, four copies of this card is another no-brainer.

Finally, we should consider adding a good ATK pump for our deck. Thanks to its inclusion in the Fantastic Four starter deck, Flying Kick is available to us. While it’s certainly not the biggest ATK pump in the format, Flying Kick is still a respectable +3/+0. More importantly, it provides a turn-based effect and gives the targeted character flight. As we will soon see, that extra flight may come in handy.

Now we’ll move on to our characters. We’re going to have a wide assortment of 1-drops, so let’s take a look at all of them. Our preferred choice at 1 is none other than Atom Smasher. Atom Smasher has an effect that is simple and straightforward, yet still very potent. Much like Erik Josten ◊ Atlas, Kosmos Convict, Atom Smasher can get very big, very quickly.

Joining Atom Smasher from the JSA team is Terry Sloane ◊ Mr. Terrific. Terry Sloane is a very unassuming character until you get to see him in action. The minor boost of +1/+1 for exhausted JSA characters in combat with characters with greater cost effectively gives all of our characters a permanent +1/+1 boost, as they will always be exhausted. Along with our other stat-boosting tricks, our tiny guys will become huge in no time.  

Our final JSA 1-drop is Jakeem Williams. Jakeem Williams is not much of a fighter, boasting only 1/1 and no way to effectively boost those stats. However, he can be invaluable for making sure that we hit our optimal late curve. In addition, he has a fantastic synergy with one of our later character choices.

Where the JSA 1-drops were more about finesse, the Sinister Syndicate 1-drops are all about power. Our first and foremost choice is Basilisk. It’s a shame that Sinister Syndicate is not considered to be a competitive team, because this guy is insane. Not only is he the size of most 2-drops, but he also boasts an effect that is absolutely debilitating to our opponents. The fact that he comes into play exhausted may be problematic in some decks, but it fits beautifully into the theme of our grand concoction! 

Of course, when you talk about Sinister Syndicate 1-drops, they don’t get much better than Vulture. Vulture is a decent 2/1 with flight. However, the ability to gain back whatever breakthrough he causes can be extremely helpful. If you can pull off even one direct attack with Vulture, then you’ve created a 4-point endurance swing for the price of a single 1-drop attack.

Also playing for team Syndicate is Mendel Stromm. This character is not nearly so potent as the Syndicate 1-drops previously mentioned, but he does boast decent stats as well as an effect that can be situationally useful. For example, if your opponent attempts to set up attacks so that he or she can make an attack on Mendel Stromm free of reinforcement, you can easily KO Mendel Stromm to get him out of harm’s way. The extra +1/+1 counter is just icing on the cake.

For our final Syndicate 1-drop, let’s toss in a copy of Tinkerer. Unless we face off against a board swarming deck like Faces of Evil, we should be able to maintain a board with more non-stunned characters than our opponents. Tinkerer gives us a nice reward for this accomplishment by distributing a free +1/+1 counter to a character of our choice. Can we really say no to something free?

Our final character at 1 is more of an equalizer. Mikado and Mosha is an excellent card for keeping oversized 1-drops (much like our own) in check. While we probably won’t lean on the Angels of Destruction too heavily, the ability to recycle Mikado and Mosha with Slaughter Swamp can help ensure that our opponents don’t overwhelm us with weenies.

Before we move on, let’s talk about our final location, which I skipped over earlier. I have long had an affinity for alternate methods of bringing characters into play. As such, Fisk Towers has been a card that I have long sought a way to abuse. Teamed with Gotham Knights or Doom, Fisk Towers could provide us with a free Alfred Pennyworth or Boris, Personal Servant of Dr. Doom each turn. I could never quite find the correct framework for the card, until now. Not only can Fisk Towers provide us with extra attackers (which, although they are only 1-drops, are nonetheless potent), but it also can ensure we hit our curve from turn 5 onward when used with Jakeem Williams. The procedure is simple: On turn 4, recruit a 4-drop. Use Fisk Towers’s effect to bring out Jakeem Williams for free. Activate Jakeem Williams to search out a 5-drop. Repeat as often as needed in the following turns. Needless to say, Fisk Towers has some definite potential in this deck.

At 2 we have the lovely Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose. While not a member of the Sinister Syndicate, and certainly not up for membership in the JSA anytime soon, Poison Ivy is one of the premiere location search cards in Silver Age. Since we have some powerful locations in our deck, we would like to see them hit play. While Ivy does require a sacrifice of a character to bring a location into play, the cost is well worth the reward of having a much-needed location on our side of the board.

We’ve already discussed the cornerstone character card, Man-Bull, as our 3-drop. Given the synergy between him and The Rock of Eternity, it’s a foregone conclusion that we want to see him in play as soon as possible. Of course, we have enough low drops that we can easily under-drop in later turns. So, let’s also include a single copy of Michael Holt ◊ Mr. Terrific for turn 3. Just like his predecessor, Michael Holt provides a potent bonus to our characters who get into fights with guys bigger than they are. The combination of the two Mr. Terrific identities provides a substantial +3/+3. Add in T-Spheres on top of that, and our characters receive +6/+6 when attacking or defending up the curve.  That, my friends, is a very sizable pump!

Our character count begins to thin out at 4, with just a single copy of each character. First, we have the esteemed Dr. Octopus, Otto Octavius. Doc Octopus has decent stats for a 4-drop. However, his main strength comes while either attacking (when he can exhaust an unprotected character) or defending (when he can reinforce a defender). Of course, the reinforcement effect will certainly be helpful for protecting a board full of exhausted characters. Our JSA representative at 4 is Sand. As we have discussed, our characters will nearly always be exhausted while defending, so, playing a character that effectively recovers for free in our deck is a pretty easy choice.

At 5, we have a tale of two titans. The first is one of the reigning Silver Age kings of search, Thunderbolt. If you haven’t read this card’s text, then click on the hyperlink and check it out. That’s right, Thunderbolt can search out any card in your deck. Also, we just so happen to be playing Jakeem Williams, so the discard for Thunderbolt’s effect is pretty easy. Of course, it also helps that we can use Thunderbolt’s effect and then ready him with The Rock of Eternity to let him do some attacking. Our other titan is going to be our big beater in the deck, Carter Hall ◊ Hawkman. At first glance, Carter Hall is very unassuming. His stats are well below average. He quickly makes up for that as your characters become exhausted. When he is our only exhausted character, he becomes an average 9/8. As more of our characters are exhausted, though, he starts rapidly growing in size. In combination with Fisk Towers, it is certainly possible for us to have five or six exhausted, non-stunned characters in play. At 14/13, Carter Hall quickly goes from being marginal to gargantuan.

Turn 6 is a bit of a dilemma. Jay Garrick ◊ The Flash is very good. Obviously, any character that gets to attack twice in one turn is going to be worth consideration. However, we’re going to go for a little more size on our end. Our choice at 6 is Captain Marvel, Earth’s Mightiest Mortal. It’s true that Captain Marvel is an enormous 14/14 with flight when he has his counter. However, his real purpose in the deck is to provide many opportunities for amusement by yelling “Shazam!” in the middle of a match!

Our final character choice is at 7. Alan Scott ◊ Sentinel, Golden Age Guardian is a fairly obvious choice for our deck. If we can forego the need to play plot twists on this turn, Alan Scott will give our characters an additional +3/+3 while in combat with characters with greater cost. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s a possible +9/+9 boost! While it is unlikely that we will ever pull off having all of these cards in play at the same time, the potential is there nonetheless. **  We’re done. Let’s see what’s “rock”ing over Shazam’s place:

Wacky Wizard Wake-Up Call

4 Atom Smasher, Al Rothstein

3 Basilisk, Basil Elks

2 Jakeem Williams, JJ Thunder

1 Mendel Stromm, Robot Master

1 Mikado and Mosha, AoD

2 Terry Sloane ◊ Mr. Terrific

1 Tinkerer, Phineas Mason

2 Vulture, Adrian Toomes

4 Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose

4 Man-Bull, William Taurens

1 Michael Holt ◊ Mr. Terrific

1 Doctor Octopus, Otto Octavius

1 Sand, Sanderson Hawkins

1 Carter Hall ◊ Hawkman, EC

1 Thunderbolt, Yz

1 Captain Marvel, EMM

1 Alan Scott ◊ Sentinel, GAG

4 Advance Warning

4 Allied Against the Dark

4 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Flying Kick

3 Birthing Chamber

1 Fisk Towers

1 Slaughter Swamp

1 Stormfront-1, Team-Up

3 The Rock of Eternity

4 T-Spheres

The initiative choice is largely inconsequential, as the characters can be effective on either odds or evens. However, success in the mid-game hinges on having The Rock of Eternity, Man-Bull, and a team-up in play. This should be fairly easy to accomplish by turn 4, but taking odd initiatives may be a better choice to allow extra time to set up the combo.

The mulligan will usually be for Man-Bull or a way to get Man-Bull (a.k.a., Enemy of My Enemy). The deck works best with Poison Ivy on turn 2 and Man-Bull on turn 3 to ensure the proper setup on turn 4, so keeping a hand with Poison Ivy isn’t a bad play, either. She’s also not a bad play on a later turn where you need to under-drop.

Above all else, keep Man-Bull in play! When he’s on the board, The Rock of Eternity will be your best friend. Without Man-Bull, The Rock of Eternity will be your worst enemy. If he gets KO’d, then you’d better be able to drop him again on the very next turn. Here’s hoping for a metagame largely void of Removed from Continuity.

That does it for this week, folks. I’ll be back next week with a special “Pro Circuit Preview” edition of Breaking Ground. What does that mean? I have no clue; I haven’t written it yet! In the interim, you can send any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions to me via email at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com. It’s indeed a thrill to get email from Metagame.com readers from around the world.

Ironically enough, I depart now with the intention of heading off to sleep for the night. Here’s hoping that my own personal “Rock of Eternity”—my Bose wave radio—will do an effective job of getting me “ready” for tomorrow morning.

Considering what a sleep-monger I am, though, I somehow doubt it!

* Of course, even if I had pulled out a victory, I would have been demolished by Tim Batow’s god-level Shadowpact deck. This monstrosity had no less than three copies of Abjuration. Either draft skill truly is inversely proportional to height, or we need to learn how to hate draft!

** If any of you out there ever pull off a +9/+9 with this deck (or a similar build), please be sure to let me know!

Dr. Sivana, Thaddeus Bodog Sivana (06/06/06)

Hello one and all, and welcome back to another exciting episode of Breaking Ground. As always, I am your host, and I am ready, willing, and able to lead you through an amazing odyssey of exploratory deckbuilding.

So, how about that Pro Circuit San Francisco? Quite a trip, eh? I’m sure that the amazing Constructed ideas we saw there will shake up the metagame for the next 2 ½ months of Silver Age. It should be a wild and exciting ride!

Um . . . yeah, so . . . I have no idea what happened at the PC. I’m actually writing this article the week before. I’ve talked before about the delay between my submission of an article and the eventual posting of it on Metagame.com. It takes a little over a week for the editors to clean up my article and make sure that my Tim Batow short jokes aren’t overly insulting.

My point is that, if you’re waiting for some witty commentary on the events of the Pro Circuit, you’re going to have to keep waiting until next week. Obviously, there will be certain inevitabilities, such as far too many people playing <insert deck name here>, the finals being Vidi Wijaya against Michael Dalton, and me having to play against my teammate John Hall for the umpteenth time in a premier event. All of that aside, I’m completely in the dark. So, check back next week for my thoughts, commentary, and ridicule of the events at Pro Circuit San Francisco.

Pump Up the Recovery

This week, I am going to take a look at a deck suggested by Ryo Millioud. A few weeks back, Ryo sent me an email suggesting a team-up build between Secret Society and Underworld. The notion greatly intrigued me, as it is very apparent that these two teams have a lot in common. Both teams have quite a few powerful cards that interact well with the KO’d pile. Mephisto, Soulstealer has long been one of my favorite character cards with its game-breaking potential and an ability that can trump any opposing recursion deck. Sorcerer’s Treasure has some definite possibilities with its potential to make each plot twist playable twice in the same game. And Gravesite has multiple beneficial traits. Not only does it serve to fill your KO’d pile, but it also accelerates your draw and forces your opponents to make difficult decisions about what cards they want to keep.

But as great as some of the individual cards for these two teams are, I had some difficulty finding workable combos to build into the deck. Obviously, there are a few minor synergies, but I never really found any overwhelming interaction between the two teams that screamed, “Abuse me!” Fortunately, Ryo’s email shined the light on one combo that I had completely overlooked.

One of the most powerful recovery cards in Vs. System resides with the Underworld team in Club Dead. Having a reusable ability to recover a character (albeit a 3-drop or less) that doesn’t require a discard, the exhaustion of multiple characters, or other exorbitant costs is an astounding effect. Unfortunately, I never really found a character within the Underworld with whom this effect really seemed to matter. The free recovery is great and all, but I would need a very potent 3-drop to bother incorporating such a limited recovery effect into a deck.

The solution to that dilemma came in Ryo’s character suggestion. The Secret Society has a character that just screams, “Recover me!” I discovered the potential of Dr. Sivana while drafting Justice League of America. If I could find a way to keep Dr. Sivana from stunning during a turn, then it really didn’t matter what happened to my remaining characters because Dr. Sivana would recover everyone adjacent to him at the start of the recovery phase. Granted, this didn’t shut down effects like Death Trap and Injustice Gang Satellite, but knowing that I could potentially recover my entire board on any given turn was nothing to scoff at.

So, we have a character that, if unstunned, recovers all adjacent characters. And we have a location that can recover that particular character once per turn. And the two teams that these cards represent have almost identical themes. Sounds like we have the makings of a pretty sweet deck here! It’s time for Dr. Sivana to head out for a night on the town to see what the party is like over at Club Dead.

The Build

Of course, we are going to max out on our theme card, Dr. Sivana. I suppose that it’s also worth mentioning that we’ll be including four copies of the other card that we’ll need for the combo, Club Dead. If we only needed eight cards for a deck, then we’d be done. However, UDE has this rule about sixty-card minimums, so we’d better see what else we want.

I think four copies of the equipment card Quadromobile would be a wise play. Not only is Quadromobile a respectable +2/+0 with flight that is usually a free recruit for us, but it also has an additional effect from which we can probably get some mileage. Obviously, this deck should have little problem getting cards into the KO’d pile. The trick, however, will be getting cards back out of there. If we happen to use one of our numerous effects that fill the KO’d pile to put a character or location card that we desperately need in there, then Quadromobile can easily fetch that card back for us. Of course, we will probably have other cards that can recur cards. However, Quadromobile is a versatile card that can act as either an ATK pump or a recursion card in a pinch.

Speaking of recursion, another premier location for our deck will be Slaughter Swamp. We certainly hope that when a character card of ours hits the KO’d pile, it’s not gone forever. With Slaughter Swamp at our disposal, we can easily ditch our late game character cards to the KO’d pile and then fetch them back when we need them.

Staying with locations, we know that some of the best effects for both teams stem from filling up the KO’d pile. Accordingly, we want to have cards that fill the KO’d pile for us and cards that reap benefits from larger KO’d piles. With Gorilla City, we get a little of both. The activated effect of Gorilla City puts the top card of our deck into the KO’d pile to give one of our attackers a marginal boost of +1/+0. Of course, once we get over ten cards, this ATK boost increases substantially to +3/+0. Any card that helps us cycle cards out of our deck and gives us a reusable ATK pump is certainly worth playing in our deck.

We’ve talked about a location that puts cards into the KO’d pile. We’ve talked about a location that gets cards back from the KO’d pile. Now let’s talk about a card that does both. The cost is steep, but the payoff for Infernal Gateway is well worth the price. In any format, the strength of your deck is determined by the utility of your cards. I have lost many Sealed Pack matches holding numerous unplayable cards in my hand. The lesson is simple: one useful card is much more valuable than three useless ones. That is one reason why I was such a big fan of Infernal Gateway in Marvel Knights Draft. While it did require a pretty significant discard, you were effectively able to turn those aforementioned “three useless cards” into “one useful card.” Infernal Gateway can do the same for our deck. We probably won’t use it often, but those times when we do use it, it should help us tremendously.

Much like Club Dead, Dracula’s Castle can make use of the many, many character cards that we will undoubtedly have in our KO’d pile. Simply by sending one character card from the KO’d pile back to the deck each turn, we can gain 3 endurance each turn. In close games, that extra trickle of endurance can be the difference between a win and a loss. Of course, Dracula’s Castle can double as a DEF pump, albeit a small one. Still, the minor defensive boost is another form of endurance control because the extra DEF will lessen the amount of breakthrough that your characters take and perhaps even keep them from stunning altogether.

Our final location card is the Team-Up Stormfront-1. There are several location Team-Ups that are available to us. It just so happens that this is the one that strikes my fancy. Maybe it’s because I like seagulls so much.

We only have three plot twists to look at, but they are all quite important. First, we have our primary Team-Up in Funky’s Big Rat Code. Since we are certainly going to need a team-up to get our two teams to work together, we might as well play one that also advances our cause of filling up the KO’d pile. For the unprepared, sending three cards from the deck to the KO’d pile could be disastrous. However, we have multiple methods of interacting with the KO’d pile, so Funky’s Big Rat Code is an obvious choice for our deck.

While we’re on the subject of sending cards to the KO’d pile, let’s talk about the four copies of Gravesite that will go into the deck. Most people have a much-defined preference about this card—you either love it or hate it. It is definitely a great card for accelerating our draws, but it also tends to accelerate our opponents’ draws. While we never want to help our opponent, the minor incidental benefit conferred upon the opponent by Gravesite is lesser in comparison to the assistance that it provides us. It serves three very beneficial purposes: it accelerates our draw, gains us endurance, and puts cards in our KO’d pile. For that series of effects, I am willing to let my opponent have a better draw. Besides, as we will later see, forcing our opponents to fill up their KO’d piles can reap rewards for us, as well.

Our final plot twist is our obligatory character searcher. And guess what—it’s not Enemy of My Enemy! I think that we have enough capable recursion in this deck to support Straight to the Grave. While this card is not quite as versatile as Enemy of My Enemy, it is still a very capable searcher. More importantly, it is a much better fit for our deck. Not only can it set us up to hit our curve, but it also has the incidental effect of putting non-character cards into the KO’d pile. If we have Quadromobile or Infernal Gateway available, then Straight to the Grave can also act as an effective “any card” searcher for us. Yeah . . . Magneto and Sebastian Shaw may have an alliance that leads to great searching, but for our deck, the Superman-chucking Gorilla Grodd is where it’s at!

We have quite a few character selections to make, so we’d better get started. Of course, calling our 1-drop a “character” might be a bit of a misnomer, as he is really more of a generic discard for whatever effects we might have. I may not be able to say his name, but Mr. Mxyzptlk, Troublesome Trickster (henceforth referred to as Mr. M) is nonetheless my new favorite card. Back when I played the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG, I had a particular affinity for a card called Sinister Serpent. Having a character that comes back to our hand every turn is nothing to sneeze at. Mr. M decreases the overall cost we have to pay with Infernal Gateway and essentially turns Slaughter Swamp activations into free cards. And if we have multiple copies of Mr. M in the KO’d pile, then he’s a great target for Club Dead or Dracula’s Castle (as we would end up losing him on the next turn anyway). We may not ever want to recruit him, but Mr. M provides a benefit to us that no other card in Vs. System can effectively replicate.

At the 2-slot, we have characters from both teams making an appearance. For the Underworld, we have a couple of 2-drops that can really help us fill up the KO’d pile. Steel Wind is a bit on the weak side offensively, but her 4 DEF means that she will be able to weather the attacks of most 1- and 2-drops, and even a few 3-drops. But her real charm is her ability to move cards from our deck to our KO’d pile. If we want to be a little more aggressive, then Werewolf by Night is the play for us. Although he doesn’t move as many cards to the KO’d pile as Steel Wind does, Werewolf by Night is a whopping 3/3 on our initiative. Of course, the fact that he is hidden may be a problem because he cannot benefit from Dr. Sivana’s effect. Still, he is a solid character whose effect fits nicely into our deck’s theme. Finally, we have our representative from the Secret Society in Deadshot, Dead Aim. While Deadshot is probably better known as one of the “free” characters for the Secret Six, his dual team stamp allows him to be just as effective with the Secret Society. Having an extra character available to us can certainly be beneficial if we need a little extra “oomph!” to take down a large opposing character. In that regard, Deadshot is a great play for us, as he can be brought into play multiple times in a game simply by exhausting a character.

We’ve already discussed our play at the 3-slot in Dr. Sivana. True to my nature, I will not introduce any other 3-drops—he is the only one we want to play in any game.

At 4, I really like Witch Woman. She has very respectable stats at 7/8, meaning that she can often attack other 4-drops without stunning back. In addition, her effect is very intriguing. While it is not as disruptive as Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius or Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist, it is nonetheless effective for putting the hurt on decks that rely heavily on ATK and DEF pump plot twists. In addition, her effect is another good candidate for use with multiple Mr. Ms in the KO’d pile. Our backup at 4 is Poison Ivy, Kiss of Death. Okay, so this version of Miss Isley is my least favorite. Still, none of her versions are bad, and this version is one of the best at messing with off-curve decks. Unless your opponent is able to stun Poison Ivy before any of his or her own characters stun, Poison Ivy can make him or her pay dearly by seducing our opponent’s characters to our side of the board. And if we are in a matchup against a straight curve deck, then Poison Ivy has a KO effect that can be just as debilitating.

Our primary drop at the 5-slot is the awesome Scarecrow, Fearmonger. The bane of Nimrod is just plain big at 10/9. Of course, he holds the amazing potential to get even bigger. A simple stun on an opposing character by Scarecrow will net him a +1/+1 counter. And if our opponents happen to have counters of any type on their characters, then Scarecrow will also snatch those counters to distribute +1/+1 counters to our team. Fear the Scarecrow!

Our backup at 5 may be every bit as fearsome. The 5/8 that  boasts is a little misleading, as he has a very nasty effect. Once Mephisto, Soulstealer hits play, our opponents can say goodbye to any character cards that they might have in the KO’d pile, because Mephisto is taking them and he ain’t giving them back! Thanks to Gravesite, we can be assured that the Lord of the Underworld will have plenty of souls to steal once he makes an appearance.

We have a couple of strong character choices at 6. Against off-curve decks, Blackheart is amazing. It doesn’t matter how big those characters in Faces of Evil decks may get. They won’t be able to stun Blackheart . . . ever. And if they are foolish enough to try, he will crack back on them with a whopping 14 ATK that is sure to create more than just a small amount of pain. Against curve decks, we’re probably more interested in board control. That’s where Charaxes, Killer Moth comes in. By the time turn 6 rolls around, we should have an abundance of characters in our KO’d pile. This makes Charaxes a very dangerous character for our opponents, as he will almost always KO any character he gets into combat with. With a nice 13 ATK, it is possible for Charaxes to attack up the curve for the KO. In a deck that has enough character cards to support him, Charaxes is the ultimate KO card.

No matter what character we play at 7, it’ll be a beating for our opponents. Solomon Grundy, Buried on Sunday may not look like much of a 7-drop, but unless our opponents team attack him, he will grow dramatically in size. The +3/+3 boost that Solomon Grundy gets while defending against a single character makes him a match for any 7-drop and most 8-drops. He also benefits from us cycling through our deck. If we can get through the entire deck, then Solomon Grundy cannot become stunned and cannot leave play. Having a 7-drop that will stick around forever is certainly enticing. Our Underworld representative at 7 is similarly frustrating for our opponents. Varnae can be infuriating for an opponent trying to establish board control. With a simple exhaustion, Varnae can’t be stunned by any attacker. Moreover, he hands out a very large drop in DEF to the attacker, making it almost impossible for any character in the game to attack into Varnae without stunning back. They can’t stun my guy, but he almost always stuns them back—sounds like a winner to me!

Our final character is none other than the devastating Psycho-Pirate. Stat-wise, Psycho-Pirate is kind of a wuss. But it’s not his stats that are important. Since we should have a heap of cards in our KO’d pile by the time turn 8 rolls around, Psycho-Pirate will have plenty of fuel for his effect. Just imagine what happens when you start stealing your opponent’s Sinestro, Green Lantern of Korugar or Wonder Man. Not only will our opponents lose important characters, but we’ll also gain very powerful allies on our side of the board. It certainly is the best of all possible worlds!

Whew! That was a lot of characters. But it paid off, because we finally have a deck. Let’s take a look at what kind of awesome recovery machine Dr. Sivana and Club Dead give us:

The Dancing Doctor


4 Mr. Mxyzptlk, TT

2 Deadshot, Dead Aim

4 Steel Wind, Cyborg Cyclist

2 Werewolf by Night, JR

4 Dr. Sivana, TBS

4 Witch Woman, Linda Littletrees

2 Poison Ivy, Kiss of Death

1 Mephisto, Soulstealer

3 Scarecrow, Fearmonger

1 Blackheart, Son of Mephisto

1 Charaxes, Killer Moth

1 Solomon Grundy, BoaS

1 Varnae, First Vampire

1 Psycho-Pirate, Roger Hayden

4 Funky’s Big Rat Code

4 Gravesite

4 Straight to the Grave

4 Club Dead

1 Dracula’s Castle

2 Gorilla City

1 Infernal Gateway

4 Slaughter Swamp

1 Stormfront-1, Team-Up

4 Quadromobile

What the deck lacks in power, it makes up for in consistency and tenacity. Assuming that we can get the Dr. Sivana / Club Dead combo online early, it will be a difficult prospect for any opposing deck to achieve any kind of board control.

The preferred initiative is probably evens, which lets us make the most of powerful late game cards like Charaxes and Varnae. Tech cards like Mephisto and Blackheart are stellar answers to strong recursion and off-curve decks in the Silver Age metagame. Assuming that we can keep aggressive decks from taking us below 0 in the early turns, we should have little problem staying competitive even with a minimal amount of ATK and DEF pumps.

The mulligan will usually be for Dr. Sivana, as he sets up the core combo of the deck. However, holding on to an opening hand with a copy or two of Gravesite is probably not a bad play either, as we should be able to draw into a copy of Dr. Sivana or Straight to the Grave. If we fail to draw into a copy of Club Dead, then Straight to the Grave can also be used in unison with Quadromobile to get a copy into our hand.

That’s all for another week of Breaking Ground. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for me, please feel free to email me at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com.

Be sure to come back next week for another bout with crazy jank builds. In addition, we’ll be taking a look at the aftermath of Pro Circuit San Francisco and how it may impact the upcoming DC Modern Age format.

Revenge Squad (06/13/06)

Hey all! Welcome back to another week of Breaking Ground. I realize that it has been well over a week since Pro Circuit San Francisco ended, but from my perspective, it’s just been a couple of days. In fact, even though I slept for nearly fourteen hours Monday night following the PC, I am still worn out! Working on about ten hours of sleep over four days can certainly take a lot out of a person.

Nevertheless, I had an absolute blast! I got to hang out with the Florida contingent of TAWC for the first time over the weekend. And, thanks to John Hall’s employee discount, we stayed at an extremely nice hotel, the 4-Star Renaissance Parc 55 in downtown San Francisco. The convention area where the PC was held was great, too, with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Finally, I spent three great days talking with and playing against some of the greatest Vs. System players in the world. For a fanboy like me, it doesn’t get much better than that!

My article this week will be part tournament report and part deckbuilding exercise. I wanted to include a decklist, as that is what everyone comes here to read, but I also thought that a tournament report would be fun, as I have some great stories to tell. So, here’s the tournament report:

Thursday, June 1

I can honestly say that I had never been quite as excited for a PC as I was for this one. I really felt good about the team’s chances and was sure that someone (probably Tim Batow) would grace the team with another Top 8 finish.

My plane landed at the San Francisco airport around 10 AM. I met up with the Tulsa guys Tim, Shane Wiggans, and John Hall, and we headed over to pick up the minivan we had rented for the weekend. Afterward, we headed over to the Delta terminal to pick up John Tatta and Justin Hostutler, who had landed from their flight at around 11 AM. We headed to the hotel to unpack and clean up so that we could head over to the PC site.

We went over to the tournament site to check out the festivities and get registered for the PC. I played in a quick four-man draft where I pounded on Tim and John Hall. By the time the beatings had ceased, everyone was pretty worn out, so we went back to the hotel to relax.

After I went to the airport to pick up Jayson Cody (a friend of mine and a local player from Dallas), we ate over at the hotel restaurant. Much like the hotel, it was quite upscale. Fortunately, Shane used his PC winnings from Atlanta to cover the bill. Everyone enjoyed living the high life for at least one night.

Around midnight, I made the trek to pick up Jeremy Blair and his buddy John Viola. Their flight had been rerouted to Dallas and they had arrived three hours late. Still, they had made it to San Francisco, so everyone was happy.

Friday, June 2

Our trip to the tournament site was an event, as the minivan was designed to seat seven people, and we had nine . . . and most of us are quite large! We actually made the trek by sticking Batow in the trunk (no joke!) and Tatta on the coffee holder. Quite an unpleasant trip for both, I would imagine.

The first two rounds of the PC went well, as I managed to beat Ian Kasoff’s Anti-Green Lantern deck and Michael Jacob’s Killing Joke deck without too much of a problem. However, I scored my first loss against Chris Jilot’s Squadron Fate deck when I forgot to activate Slaughter Swamp to counter his Panacea Potion.

I got back to winning ways in rounds 4 and 5, taking down Chris Turnage and Jonas Skali, both of whom were wielding Good Guys decks. While Good Guys is possibly the strongest deck in the format, it tends to wilt when Kang, Kang Cobra is in play. Unfortunately, Kang decided not to make an appearance during my sixth round loss to Eric Hunter’s Good Guys deck. Where is Enemy of My Enemy when you need it?

My results were far more favorable in my round 7 feature match against Chuck Bell. Chuck had me on the ropes early with FTN’s Mexican Hardware Store. However, my draw of four copies of Knightmare Scenario turned my board into a defensive barrier through which none of Chuck’s attacks could pass. I wish I could say the same for my eighth round match against Dean Sohnle’s Deep Green deck. Unfortunately, my deck didn’t cough up a character for the first three turns. Still, I somehow managed to make it a nail biter, losing by a final score of 2 to -1.

In round 9, I faced my fourth $10K winner of the day in Quang Nguyen. Unfortunately for Quang, his JSA / Checkmate deck coughed up a hairball (much like mine did in round 8) as he missed his 4- and 5-drops. So I strolled into round 10 at 6-3 and proceeded to lose to Paolo Fisicaro’s G’Lock deck. While I was able to dominate most of the game, two copies of Revitalize on turn 6 kept Paolo’s board intact. He then proceeded to gain 15 endurance on turn 8 for the alternate win with Captain Marvel, Champion of Magic.

After the tournament, the entire team (along with Jayson, John Viola, and Martin Weis) headed out to see X-Men III. We followed that escapade up with, fittingly enough, a draft of The X-Men. In two words, my draft was really bad. I knew that I would have to step it up to have a shot at money on Day 2.

Saturday, June 3

My preferred Draft strategy for The X-Men is usually Morlocks. However, I knew that it would probably be over-drafted, so I decided to try my hand at X-Men Energy for the first draft. The result was an absolutely amazing concoction that probably should have led me to a 3-0 performance. However, I ran afoul of Neil Reeves in the first round. Despite the fact that I managed to Drain Essence on his 3- and 4-drops, Neil was able to stay in the game with four copies of Army of One. He ended up taking the game on turn 8 by 1 point of endurance.*

After a bye in round 12, I managed to draw the nuts against Justin Desai en route to a 33-0 win on turn 6. Justin is a great player and a great guy, but a full curve supported by multiple copies of Drain Essence and The Evil Eye was too much for him to handle.

My second draft nearly went south in a hurry, as I first-picked a Shrapnel Blast and then got little else to support it. After the first pack, I had two copies of Image Inducer, two copies of Kill or Be Killed, and an assortment of little characters from every team except the X-Men. So, I decided to try to make a non-Blackbird Blue off-curve deck work. The result was actually pretty decent, as nine of my eleven non-character cards were pumps of some type (including two copies of Planet X). It put up winning performances against Shaun Hayward and Robert Swarowski but faltered against Michael Dalton’s Neutralized and Drain Essence on turns 3 and 4, respectively.

My final draft was (at least initially in my mind) my worst draft of the day. While I had a few great Morlocks cards, I had to patch the holes with Physical characters from other teams. However, I managed to pull off an insane X-Corp: Paris / District X / Beef combo in my first match against Arnaud Vilain that scored me the win. And while I didn’t get the combo in my next match against Adam Fears, Beef and multiple copies of Kill or Be Killed still scored me a huge win. But my final round opponent, Adam Prosak, trumped my combo in the final round by KO’ing my entire board on turn 3. While Beef can be a monster, he does work better with the support of a team.

So, I finished the PC at 12-7, which was good enough for a 35th place finish and $1,900. Of course, the big news was that our very own Tim Batow would be vying for the $40,000 first prize on Day 3. So we headed back to the hotel for food and rest before the final day.

Sunday, June 4

The final day of the PC did not start out optimally for me, as I went 0-2 drop in the Sealed PCQ with a truly horrendous set of packs. I then managed to lose my first round match to Mike French in an eight-man booster draft, and then followed that up with a loss to Ryan Jones in a side game. After that, Mike Rosenberg laid a whoopin’ on me with his Qward deck. I figured that I had used up all of my luck during the PC. Of course, my losing streak was relatively minor compared to the loss that Tim was handed in the PC quarterfinals by eventual winner Ian Vincent. While I am happy for Ian and his victory (as Ian is a great player and all-around nice guy), I was understandably sad that my little buddy Tim didn’t make it farther.

My high note of the day was an invitation by Anand Khare and Ben Seck to take part in an Infinite Crisis draft for fun. The participants were a truly dazzling array of players, including Anand, Ben, Eugene Harvey, Gabby Izsac, Luke Bartter, Stephen Silverman, and Tommy Ashton. With that powerhouse group, I expected to get crushed badly. Imagine my surprise when I drafted what was, without a doubt, my strongest Infinite Crisis Draft deck ever. With the exception of a single copy of Kilowog, Drill Sergeant, my deck was a pure Checkmate powerhouse. I was able to beat Anand handily by over 30 points on turn 5. Of course, it was his first Infinite Crisis draft, and he did pay 20 endurance to put Nightmaster, Demon Slayer into play on turn 5. But in my mind, it was a gratifying victory nonetheless.

After taking my Florida teammates to the airport and heading back to the PC site to watch my buddy John Hall finish the Constructed PCQ with an undefeated record, I headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe to have dinner with John, Tim, Shane, and our new barn Josh Wiitanen. At the restaurant, we met up with Joe Corbett, Keebler Powell, and some of their buddies.** Afterward, we headed back to the hotel to get some rest before the flight out on Monday.

PC Aftermath – What’s the Best Deck in the Format?

The Pro Circuit in San Francisco brought us some truly phenomenal decks. Foremost in many people’s minds is the amazing Killing Joke deck that was sported by The Donkey Club and sent fifteen of its eighteen members to Day 2. Of course, FTN’s Mexican Hardware Store boasted similarly impressive results, with ten of eleven players making the cut to Saturday. There were also a few other decks that had impressive showings on Day 1, such as Checkmate Toolbox, Fate Artifacts variants, and Good Guys. And stalwart powerhouses like G’Lock and Squadron Supreme remained moderately successful even amidst all the new deck tech.

So, with all of these great decks, and Justice League of Arkham banned, which one will dominate Silver Age? The answer, my friends, is quite simple: it’s Revenge Squad.  Quote the entire Vs. System public, “Revenge Squad?!”

Okay . . . before you close your browser and toss your monitor out the window in disgust, let me explain. The simple truth is that Revenge Squad or, perhaps more appropriately, Revenge Squad with some help from the Injustice Gang is the deck that can deal with all of these new powerhouses. If you looked around the PC, you no doubt saw several decks sporting Revenge Squad tech. Hope and Phantom Zone were key components to TDC’s Killing Joke deck. Metallo made an appearance in Ian Vincent’s winning Deep Green build. Heck, my team had Bizarro, ME AM BIZARRO #1 in our build to allow for access to his namesake Bizarro World. Revenge Squad is so hot in the Silver Age!

With all of this great tech, it serves to reason that a deck that could successfully incorporate all of it would control the Silver Age metagame. So we’re going to do just that. Maybe the Squad has gotten the shaft in the past, but with the help of their pals from the Injustice Gang, they are about to lay a hurting on every other deck in Silver Age!

The Build

You will notice that this deck bears a striking resemblance to several of my other Silver Age builds. So, instead of doing a card-by-card analysis of the deck, I’m going to give you the decklist and then discuss the key cards in each matchup for the deck.

The Kings of the Silver Age


2 Mikado and Mosha, AoD

1 Mr. Mxyzptlk, TT

4 Infernal Minions, Army

1 Deadshot, Dead Aim

1 Mr. Mxyzptlk, FDI

4 Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose

1 Lex Luthor, CotCM

4 Lex Luthor, NP

4 Metallo, John Corben

1 The Joker, Headline Stealer

1 Abra Kadabra, Citizen Abra

2 Scarecrow, PP

1 Eradicator, DDC

1 Ocean Master, Son of Atlan

1 The Joker, Permanent Vacation

1 The Joker, Emperor Joker

3 All Too Easy

4 Criminal Mastermind

4 Gang-Up, Team-Up

2 Hostage Situation

4 Power Siphon

4 Secret Files

1 State of the Union

2 Straight to the Grave

1 Unmasked

1 Bizarro World

1 Fifth Dimension

1 Injustice Gang Satellite

1 Phantom Zone

1 Slaughter Swamp

Mexican Hardware Store:  Key cards: Mikado and Mosha; Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist; Metallo; Criminal Mastermind; Gang-Up; Power Siphon; Slaughter Swamp

Okay, so this deck isn’t really a Squadron Supreme no-hand deck, per se. However, it does boast several characters that benefit from having few to no cards in hand (Joystick, Shape, and Golden Archer, for example). As such, the Injustice Gang strategy of many, many cards in hand can effectively turn these characters into dead cards. In addition, the multitude of equipment cards in the deck makes Metallo a monster.

Checkmate Toolbox:  Key cards: Metallo; Abra Kadabra; Eradicator, Doctor David Connor; All Too Easy; Fifth Dimension; Injustice Gang Satellite; Phantom Zone

The key to beating this deck is to provide enough disruption to disable it. The characters are naturally large and have very potent effects. More importantly, the deck allows a player to dump cards from hand rather easily (hence the need for Abra Kadabra). However, the deck is certainly not fast, so it is relatively easy to get to turns 6 and 7. If you can launch a single successful attack with Eradicator, then the Checkmate deck will probably be crippled beyond repair. Metallo also provides some effective offense against Knight Armor, which can be an effective damage deterrent for the Checkmate deck.

Fate Artifacts:  Key cards: Metallo, Power Siphon

Characters equipped with the Fate Artifacts can get really big! But the problem with this strategy is that Metallo just destroys them. If you get off one successful attack with Metallo against a character equipped with the Fate Artifacts, then you can pretty much call it game, because the Fate Artifacts deck usually can’t handle losing three equipment cards and +4/+4 worth of pump. In a format full of power equipment, Metallo is an MVP!

Good Guys:  Key cards: Mikado and Mosha, Metallo, Abra Kadabra, Hostage Situation, Unmasked, Injustice Gang Satellite, Phantom Zone

I was surprised that so many of the Good Guys decks in San Francisco had cards to deal with Kang, Kang Cobra but didn’t really have anything to deal with Unmasked. To be fair, there really are only a few teams with cards that can search out Unmasked. Thankfully, Revenge Squad is one of them. With a couple of copies of Hostage Situation in the deck, there are effectively three copies of Unmasked at a player’s disposal, but the deck only plays a single copy. Metallo is great in this matchup as well, since Nth Metals can scrap just as easily as Fate Artifacts from Metallo’s golden touch.

G’Lock:  Key cards: Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose; Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist; The Joker, Headline Stealer; Scarecrow, Psycho Psychologist; The Joker, Permanent Vacation; The Joker, Emperor Joker; Hostage Situation; State of the Union; Bizarro World; Phantom Zone

While it may no longer rule the roost, G’Lock is still a force to be reckoned with. The power recursion of Dr. Light, Master of Holograms combined with the defensive power and endurance gain of Malvolio and Katma Tui make for a tough match for most any deck. Add in that the G’Lock deck has a new win condition with Captain Marvel, Champion of Magic, and the deck can hold its own in even the toughest of fields. Fortunately for us, the Revenge Squad has some neat tools to stymie the G’Lock efforts. While the steady burn of Scarecrow won’t normally be an issue for G’Lock thanks to its ability to gain back endurance, Bizarro World makes G’Lock’s task much more difficult. And if the G’Lock player tries to get feisty with a Breaking Ground on your Bizarro World, you can show them what for with State of the Union. Unless there’s a “Major Disaster,” you should be safe and sound.***

Squadron Supreme:  Key cards: Mikado and Mosha; Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist; Metallo; Criminal Mastermind; Gang-Up; Power Siphon; Slaughter Swamp

Not much to say here. Squadron’s “no hand” strategy loses pretty badly to Lex Luthor and crew.

There are a few other cards that require some explanation. Infernal Minions is really only in the deck to facilitate having a drop on the first turn. It can be nice for activating early copies of Criminal Mastermind and Secret Files but will usually be sacrificed for Poison Ivy’s effect.

Deadshot, Dead Aim and Mr. Mxyzptlk, Fifth Dimension Imp are perfect enablers for Poison Ivy. Deadshot turns any 3-drop or higher into a pseudo Dr. Light, Master of Holograms, and Mr. Mxyzptlk will usually come out for free every turn after you have an active team-up. Once they are in play, you can KO either one to fetch a location and then repeat again on the next turn.

Lex Luthor, Champion of the Common Man and Ocean Master are primarily in the deck for the mirror. The newest 3-drop Lex is the biggest of the 3-drop versions that we’ve seen so far. With the accelerated draw created by Injustice Gang decks, he also has a relevant effect, turning any plot twist into an ATK pump. And Ocean Master is just plain amazing with an effect that rivals Bastion in terms of sheer power.

The preferred initiative is probably evens. Your plan is to get Poison Ivy and Lex Luthor into play on turns 2 and 3, respectively. Obviously, you’d like to have a copy of Infernal Minions in play on turn 1, as well. But don’t hesitate to play Mikado and Mosha or Mr. Mxyzptlk, Troublesome Trickster so that Ivy will have some kind of fuel for her effect. Even if you miss one, you can bring Deadshot or Mr. Mxyzptlk, Fifth Dimension Imp into play for free in later turns as fodder for her effect.

With a decent draw, the deck certainly has enough power to win on turn 5 or 6. However, against more defensive or stall-oriented decks, you might be better off going for the turn 8 win with The Joker, Emperor Joker. Not only is it quite viable in this build, but it’s also a lot of fun to see your opponent’s face when you beat him or her with Emperor Joker!

Well, that wraps up this week’s discussion. I’m off for some much-needed rest. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or the like to share with me, send me an email at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com. I admit to being very bad about returning emails, but I am very good about reading them. Whether I get back to you or not, please know that I would love to hear what you have to say.

Take care, and we’ll see you back here next week. Same Spooky-time, same Spooky-channel.

* You can read all about Neil’s victory with Piper in Ben Seck’s PC Day 2 blog at Metagame.com. Even though I lost, I still think it’s pretty funny stuff!

** While I was at the Hard Rock Cafe, I came up with a game that I am positive will become the most popular side event at future Pro Circuits and $10Ks: “Rub the Head of the Keeb.” The object is simply to rub Keebler Powell’s head for an extended duration of time. While there are no prizes for accomplishing this feat, it will give you a great deal of personal satisfaction. And for you Vs. System players in the Ohio area, you are more than welcome to play in this side event whenever “The Keeb” is around.

*** Hee hee! I made a pun!

Hellfire/Checkmate Kings (06/20/06)

Behold the king . . . the king of kings!  On your knees, dog!  —“King of Kings” by Motörhead

I, like pretty much every other competitive Vs. System player, have a keen desire to one day win a Pro Circuit. I suppose many would say that I should be thankful for the success I have already had . . . and I am. I came within one match of achieving every Vs. System player’s dream—a Pro Circuit championship. Given the small percentage of players who will ever achieve that kind of success, I am both proud and humbled.

However, beyond the riches of a $40,000 payday, I have another, sillier reason for wanting to become a PC champ. You see, I would like (for one day, at least) to be able to change my pseudonym from “BigSpooky” to “King Spooky.” Call it whimsy; call it stupidity; call it what you will. I just think it would be cool to hear someone say, “All hail King Spooky, Pro Circuit Champion!”

It’s Good to Be King

Stepping away from my depraved dreams of grandeur, I pondered what exactly I wanted to write about this week. I have a couple of ideas for future articles, but I still haven’t solidified the framework in which I would like to represent the featured cards. Besides, my mindset from the Pro Circuit is still so attuned to testing the TAWC Checkmate / Villains United deck that I haven’t been able to expand my thoughts much beyond the Silver Age metagame.

Anyway, I was up late on Saturday night (or, more appropriately, early Sunday morning) when I saw a late night / early morning rebroadcast of WWE Raw from the previous Monday. Despite my affinity for pro wrestling, I haven’t been keeping up much with all of the recent happenings within the WWE. So I put down the remote and watched the broadcast.

All in all, the show was rather mediocre. There were a couple of good matches, but nothing that really justified my staying awake into the wee hours of the morning. Near the end of the broadcast, though, WWE superstar Triple H made an appearance. When his entrance music hit, I expected to hear the familiar chords from Motörhead’s “The Game” (as that is Triple H’s nickname). Much to my surprise, Triple H’s entrance music had changed to a different Motörhead song, “King of Kings.” Now, as much as I liked Triple H’s old entrance music, I found myself liking this song even more. Apparently, this sentiment was echoed by the fans in the arena, as many of them were screaming in unison with the music, “Bow down to the . . . bow down to the king!”

Five Kings—Let’s See a Royal Flush Beat That!

The word “king” has very powerful implications whenever it is used. According to Dictionary.com, “king” is defined as “One that is supreme or preeminent in a particular group, category, or sphere.” In casual conversation, many people use the word “king” to exemplify something or someone as the best.

It’s probably no wonder then that Vs. System cards with references to the word “king” are such potent cards. One of the original Marvel Origins cards, Blastaar, King of Baluur, had a very nasty stun effect (albeit often at the expense of a player’s hand). Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas is one of the most powerful recursion cards in the game, with an effect rivaling Garth ◊ Tempest for sheer effectiveness. And Black Panther, King of Wakanda is one of the lynchpin cards in both Shaun Heyward’s monstrous High Voltage deck and FTN’s very potent Mexican Hardware Store build that found so much success at Pro Circuit San Francisco.

Of course, there is an entire subset of cards that refers to the term “king” as it relates to chess. In chess, the king is the single most important piece for either player. In the Vs. System, these King cards are all-important in their own right. For the Hellfire Club, Shinobi Shaw, White King and Sebastian Shaw, Black King are characters that can determine the success (or lack thereof) of the “one visible character” theme. For Checkmate, Ahmed Samsarra, White King; Harry Stein, King in Check; and Maxwell Lord, Black King are all characters with stats above the average for their cost and absolutely game-breaking effects. Of course, this power comes with a cost, as losing any one of these characters to the KO’d pile results in an immediate game loss.

Listening to Triple H’s new entrance music and thinking about the “Kings of the Vs. System,” I recalled a post on the TAWC forums by my teammate John Tatta. In the post, he discussed the possibilities for a Checkmate / Hellfire Club deck that uses Ahmed Samsarra to search for the all-important locations for the Hellfire Club strategy. We eventually gave up on the idea, as we had already invested a great deal of time and energy into working on the Checkmate / Villains United deck that we all played in San Francisco. Still, the notion greatly intrigued me. Aside from having a wide assortment of Kings, the merging of Checkmate and the Hellfire Club could very well yield a very powerful deck for the Silver Age.

So, we’re going to bring the Hellfire Club Kings and Checkmate Kings together into one royal build and see what we can come up with. With such a powerful collection of monarchs, we should have no problem bringing any opposing Silver Age deck to its knees!

The Build

The 1-drop position is a bit too early for us to be considering Kings. However, we can include a nifty search cards for a few of our Kings. Connie Webb is not much to look at stat-wise, but she does fit the necessary requirement of being a 1-drop with utility beyond the first turn. If we are fortunate enough to have her in play on the first turn, then she can single-handedly fill any holes that we might encounter for our drops on turns 2, 3, and 4. Of course, given the character-cycling power of the Checkmate team, she is an easy discard for payments in later turns, as well.

Our other 1-drops will be two of the alternate recruit cost characters for our teams, Jacob Lee and Hellfire Club Initiate. Unlike Connie Webb, we will probably never play these characters on the first turn. However, these characters can be indispensable in later turns for improving our board presence without having to sacrifice precious resource points. In addition, they provide optimal use for any dead location or character cards that we might be holding.

At 2, we absolutely must include a copy of Sarge Steel. I can’t say enough good things about this card. He is a very capable 3/3 2-drop with range and a useful boost effect. However, it is his primary effect that makes him shine. When you set Sarge Steel in front of a character, he becomes a protective menace. While we are defending, our opponents will be forced to attack through Sarge Steel to get at any character that he may be protecting. While we are attacking, we can use Sarge Steel as cannon fodder to take the stun for one of our attackers to prevent our bigger characters from getting stunned back.* He may only be a 2-drop, but he is certainly a monster for his size!

Our main 2-drop is going to be Friedrich Von Roehm. On our off-initiative turns, Friedrich Von Roehm is not all that impressive. With decent 2/3 stats, he is good but not great. But oh my, how he improves when we control the initiative, leaping to a mammoth 5/3. This is, of course, contingent upon the fact that Friedrich is visible. But as we will see, we will usually want to play our next few drops in the hidden area.

Our 3-drop is also our first King of the deck, Ahmed Samsarra. This character is indeed a double-edged sword. His 6/6 puts him in the upper echelon of 3-drops as far as stats go, and he has an absolutely unreal effect that allows a player to put any location in his or her deck directly into the resource row. However, all of this power comes with a price, as Ahmed bears the infamous King text:  When Ahmed Samsarra is put into a KO’d pile from play, you lose the game.

To borrow from my good friend Rian Fike, this is one of the grandest examples of risk vs. reward. Compared to pretty much every other 3-drop, Ahmed borders on completely broken. But if he is sent to the KO’d pile from play in any way, we lose the game, period. While he will certainly be beneficial to our deck, we need to be cognizant of his very critical loss condition and do everything in our power to make sure that it isn’t ever an issue.

At 4, we will include our second King, Harry Stein. In most people’s opinions,  is not nearly as powerful (or playable) as the other characters with the King text. However, Harry is still a very formidable 8/8 4-drop with an effect that can help several of our characters become bigger. And with the amount of defensive power that we will be packing into this deck, it will be quite difficult for our opponents to stun Harry Stein, anyway.

Our primary 4-drop, though, is not a King. Rather, she is the powerful rook, Madelyne Pryor. As far as stats go, she doesn’t come close to Harry Stein. But her effect more than makes up for her weak stats, as she can bestow flight and range on our characters and a devastating -0/-2 on our opponent’s characters for the minor cost of KO’ing a character that we control. Just don’t KO Harry Stein with her effect!

Our fifth turn presents a couple of Kings for us to play. Our Checkmate King is Maxwell Lord, Black King. Much like his predecessors, Maxwell Lord has the nasty King text. But he also has above average stats and a nuclear effect that can rob one of our opponent’s characters of team affiliation and payment powers for the turn. Let’s see how powerful Speed Demon, Second Chance Speedster is when we remove his ability to ready . . . heh heh!

Of course, as good as Maxwell Lord is, Shinobi Shaw may be even better. He is already on par with Maxwell stat-wise. And, assuming that we can get him alone in the visible area, he will only get bigger! Every attack by or on Shinobi Shaw awards him a +1/+1 counter. After just a couple of attacks, our 5-drop will be the size of a 6-drop. And Shinobi Shaw doesn’t possess the annoying King text, so we don’t have to fret about losing the game if we lose him.

With all the Kings in the deck, it’s only fair that we have at least one queen. In this case, it is Huntress, Reluctant Queen. Huntress is a decent 13/12 6-drop. But her presence on the board is not our reason for playing her. Rather, she fills a dual role of being able to negate annoying plot twists that might cause problems for us. Is your opponent trying to use No Man Escapes the Manhunters to bring Ahmed into the visible area? Negate it with Huntress. Are bad times in store against an opponent who wants to play Systematic Torture on your stunned Maxwell Lord? Negate it with Huntress. Huntress fits beautifully into the Checkmate team with her ability to nerf opposing plot twists directed at your characters.

Our other 6-drop is the dynamic Donald Pierce. Staring down most average 6-drops is a hefty task, and staring down a potential 14/14 6-drop is a very hefty task. Throw in Shaw Industries, and Donald Pierce becomes a gigantic 16/16—bigger than most 7-drops! He is the perfect foil for our opponent’s attack plans in the later turns; he becomes an absolute wall through which very few attacks can pass.

Our final character is none other than the Black King of the Hellfire Club, Sebastian Shaw. Where Donald Pierce displays defensive fortitude, Sebastian Shaw provides the offensive power. Already a massive 16/16 (and usually bigger thanks to The Hellfire Club), Sebastian Shaw can absolutely decimate an opponent’s board with two attacks in a turn. It is indeed good to be the king!

Our plot twist selections will be fairly basic. With the abundance of Checkmate Kings in the deck, Threat Neutralized is an obvious first choice. We would like to avoid losing any of our Kings if we can help it. However, Threat Neutralized ensures that even if one of them becomes KO’d, we will still live on to fight another turn. The +1/+1 bonus it provides to one of our characters for the turn is just gravy.

On the character search front, we’ll include three copies of Join the Club. Our deck has a character with concealed at every drop. As such, it only makes sense for us to include the Hellfire Club searcher that can fetch pretty much any of our preferred drops. The Hellfire Club character discard may be problematic early on, but it shouldn’t be an issue once we get a Team-Up online.

While we’re discussing searching, let’s talk about the two copies of Power and Wealth that we’ll have in the deck. While we probably won’t need much help searching out locations thanks to our good friend Ahmed Samsarra, we may find it necessary to look for a plot twist from time to time, such as the aforementioned Join the Club and (especially) Threat Neutralized. With a couple of copies of Power and Wealth, we can rest a little easier knowing that our elusive plot twists will be around when we need them.

In fact, one prime target for Power and Wealth will probably be our single copy of Power Play. Having the initiative in the late turns with any deck cannot be overstated. Of course, having the initiative two times in a row is even better! With such huge characters at our disposal, Power Play can allow us to clear our opponent’s board on turn 6, then take advantage of those efforts by dishing out an insane amount of punishment on turn 7. Big characters + initiative two turns in a row = good game!

Our final plot twist choices are the near doppelgangers Army of One and Knightmare Scenario. Assuming that we have teamed-up, these cards both grant a +2/+2 boost to one of our attacking or defending characters. Army of One requires that we control a single visible character, while Knightmare Scenario mandates the exhaustion of a location. In both cases, they are amazing cards. With the versatility of playability while attacking or defending, it will be very difficult for our opponents to make headway against the giants on our side of the board.

Finally, we have the all-important locations. Our first and probably most obvious choice is four copies of Checkmate Safe House. I love this card! Defensive pumps in any deck are always at a premium. But having a reusable defensive pump that also acts as a Team-Up is just plain . . . wow . . . I don’t have the adjective to describe it! Think back to our 16/16 Donald Pierce. Now imagine putting him in the support row with a couple of copies of Checkmate Safe House in play. Now he’s at 18 DEF. It would take two average 5-drops to take down our single 6-drop . . . and that’s assuming that we don’t have any more DEF pumps!**

Another location that we want four copies of is Brother I Satellite. This card is very reminiscent of Mountain Stronghold for the League of Assassins. But whereas Mountain Stronghold required an eventual discard of a League of Assassins character card, Brother I Satellite can use any character card to fulfill its discard requirement. This can be very helpful when you start out with a character-light draw.

Now, since we’ve already said that we’re going to be incorporating the Hellfire Club’s “one visible character” strategy into the deck, we will definitely need a couple of copies of Shaw Industries and The Hellfire Club. Both cards are critical to the deck theme and provide benefits. Shaw Industries turns our single visible character into an absolute tank. The Hellfire Club moves our characters so as to keep Shaw Industries active and provides a marginal ATK bonus to our hidden characters.

Of course, you may have noticed that we do have a few characters that don’t have concealed, so they can’t be moved by The Hellfire Club. Well, since we’re already including some rooks in the deck, we might as well toss in a copy of Rook Control. This card effectively acts a reusable location version of Deadly Game. We now have a way of hiding Harry Stein and Maxwell Lord to keep them out of the path of attacks. Once we have a Team-Up online, we can move the character with concealed that they traded places with back into the hidden area with The Hellfire Club.

One thing that the Hellfire Club lacks is a location that acts as an effective ATK pump. Luckily, Checkmate has what may be the best one in the game in Brother Eye. Checkmate has all the tools to fill our resource row with locations, and Brother Eye can turn those locations into a source of potent offensive power. Who needs Savage Beatdown or Blinding Rage when we have a reusable location that can do the same job?

Massachusetts Academy can be devastating to us if we use it on one of our Kings without a Threat Neutralized in play, but it is such a powerful card that it’s worth that risk. With the ability to turn a stunned character that we would lose to a KO effect or the wrap-up of the recovery phase into a marginal ATK boost and an extra card, it is a definite one-of inclusion. While it will probably never be game-breaking, it is certainly a solid card with an effect that can help us make the most of our board.

Finally, we might want to have some occasional character recursion (especially in the case of Huntress). So, one copy of Slaughter Swamp goes into the mix. With the ability to fetch back our character cards from the KO’d pile, we needn’t fear the discard costs of our character searchers nearly so much. In addition, it can turn redundant cards in hand into extra power-ups, or in the case of Huntress, reusable plot twist negation.

The Kings have spoken; we are done. Let’s see how well the royalty has assembled:

Bow Down to the Kings!


4 Connie Webb, Knight

1 Hellfire Club Initiate, Army

1 Jacob Lee, Knight

4 Friedrich Von Roehm, BRook

1 Sarge Steel, Knight

4 Ahmed Samsarra, White King

1 Harry Stein, King in Check

4 Madelyne Pryor, Black Rook

1 Maxwell Lord, Black King

2 Shinobi Shaw, White King

1 Donald Pierce, White Bishop

2 Huntress, Reluctant Queen

1 Sebastian Shaw, Black King

3 Army of One

3 Join the Club

4 Knightmare Scenario

2 Power and Wealth

1 Power Play

4 Threat Neutralized

4 Brother I Satellite

1 Brother Eye

4 Checkmate Safe House

1 Massachusetts Academy

1 Rook Control

2 Shaw Industries

1 Slaughter Swamp

2 The Hellfire Club

The preferred initiative is probably evens, as a timely Power Play on turn 7 will enable you to have two attacks in a row. More importantly, the deck has enough power in the locations and immense size of the characters that you probably won’t need any plot twists after that point anyway.

Much like any Checkmate engine, your mulligan needs to be for Ahmed Samsarra or a way to get him (Connie Webb, Brother I Satellite, or Join the Club). Ideally, you’d like to have the Team-Up online by turn 3 or 4 so that you can use Ahmed Samsarra to search out extra copies of Brother I Satellite to fetch whatever character you need at a particular drop. The play after turn 5 is much the same as the standard Hellfire Club strategy. However, you also have Knightmare Scenario and Brother Eye at your disposal to supplement your attacks.

And that wraps up another week here on Breaking Ground. If you have any insights that you would like to share with me, please send me an email at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com. As I have repeatedly said, I am the worst person in the world about returning emails. Nevertheless, I would love to hear what you have to say.

Take care, and we’ll see you back here next week for another “regal” look at all of the possibilities the Vs. System has to offer.  All hail . . . all hail the kings!

* In fact, I personally feel that the combo built into Ian Vincent’s PC-winning deck of Sarge Steel; Talia, Daughter of Madness; and Science Spire is one of the greatest Vs. System combos in the game to date. The ability to use Sarge Steel to absorb up to two attacks in a single turn is just amazing.

** Yeah, yeah . . . I know someone out there is saying, “But if Donald Pierce is in the support row, he can’t attack!” Oh, how quickly we forget about Madelyne Pryor . . .

The Science Spire (06/27/06)

Many of you may have noticed that my writing style for Metagame.com entails my drawing on personal interests and experiences to derive ideas for cards and decks to discuss. I am fortunate in that I am quite . . . um . . . whimsical in nature (I believe the current buzzword is “A.D.D.”). While this aspect of my personality makes it difficult for me to focus on things that don’t interest me (can anyone say “audit”?), it does drive me to try to experience as much as life has to offer.

“I’m Standing On One Foot!”

One of the random interests I have is with a website called HomestarRunner.com. I am sure many of you are familiar with this wonderful website. But for those of you who aren’t, I will give you a quick rundown of the site.

HomestarRunner.com (HSR) is owned and operated by brothers Matt and Mike Chapman. The website is composed of literally thousands of flash-animation cartoons detailing the exploits of a character called Homestar Runner, who is an athletic, lovable, and not-so-intelligent guy. Homestar has a marked inability to pronounce the letter “R,” instead slurring it into a “W” (making his name sound like “Homestaw Wunnew” when he tries to say it). And, apparently, Homestar’s arms are not visible to the naked eye.

Like any hero, Homestar does have an eternal nemesis. This nemesis comes in the form of one Strong Bad. Strong Bad is an angry little man who is perpetually dressed in a “lucha libre” style wrestling outfit with (for some unknown reason) boxing gloves. If you were present at Pro Circuit Los Angeles last year, or if you read any of the event coverage, then you probably saw Matthew Tatar wearing a shirt sporting Strong Bad’s visage. Despite Homestar being the “hero” of the cartoon, Strong Bad is by far the more popular of the two with fans of the website.

Although there are a good variety of different cartoons and characters on the website, such as Teen Girl Squad and Tim Willoughby’s favorite, Trogdor: The Burninator, most of the cartoons deal with the eternal struggle between Homestar Runner and Strong Bad. Despite the fact that Strong Bad is stronger, more handsome, and a lot smarter than Homestar Runner, Homestar generally gets the best of poor old Strong Bad. It’s quite reminiscent of the relationship between Tim Batow and me.*

“The Grumblecakes Will Be Mine!”

If you were (un)fortunate enough to have witnessed any of my matches at Pro Circuit San Francisco, you may have heard me shouting out “Science!” occasionally.** This was a reference to one of my favorite Strong Bad emails, “Stupid Stuff.” In the email, Strong Bad takes a pseudo-bet where he tries to get Homestar Runner to say something “intelligent.” After dressing Homestar up in full lab gear, test tube and all, the only intelligent thing that Homestar can think to say is “Science!” When prompted by Strong Bad to say something else intelligent, Homestar responds with “Science again! I said ‘science’ again!”

This series of quotes has always been very funny to me. Imagine, however, the unfettered joy I had when I started playing TAWC’s Checkmate / Villains United deck, which was built with a copy of The Science Spire. I’m sure my continuous quoting of Homestar Runner every time I activated The Science Spire in a game (“Science!”) became really old really quickly to my teammates. Of course, if I activated it a second time in a game, it got even worse (“Science again! I said ‘science’ again!”).

My absolute stupidity to beat these quotes into the ground drove me to examine The Science Spire more closely. While it was often a game saver in the Checkmate / Villains United deck, it was not a card that saw play in every game. Personally, I think it is such an amazing card that it could very well support an entire archetype.

Enter team X-Statix. There were off-and-on rumblings of a possible X-Statix / Villains United deck making a splash in Silver Age. However, to my knowledge, the deck did not make an appearance at PC: San Francisco. This is a true shame, because the “return to hand” theme of the Villains United team could work very well with the mono-character theme of X-Statix.

Homestar Runner may not be all that bright, but his one inkling of intelligence could make for quite the formidable deck. It’s time to bring X-Statix and Villains United together in the name of “Science!”

The Build

Yes indeed . . . we need four copies of The Science Spire. We want to play the maximum so we can get our card cycling engine online as soon as possible. In addition, it might be nice to have a few extra copies available so that we have a backup in case one gets replace from the resource row.

Another location that we want to be sure to play is X-Statix Cafe. There is no denying that an extra +2/+2 is impressive; it effectively moves our characters another spot up the curve. Given than many of our characters are already pretty big to begin with, this bonus could make them almost impossible to attack through.

Finally, we should probably play a couple of copies of Slaughter Swamp. While The Science Spire is wonderful for cycling dead cards out of our hand, we will all too often be shipping character cards that we won’t need until later into the KO’d pile with its effect. With Slaughter Swamp, we can change the KO’d pile from a deep abyss from which character cards can never return to a convenient holding place for our late game drops.

As far as plot twists go, we definitely want to play four copies of Coercion. While this card may not be quite as flexible as Midnight Sons, it is still very effective to say the least. With a single Villains United character in play, we can use character cards in hand to enable team-ups. This can be extremely beneficial to us for enabling reveal costs (like that of Orphan, Guy Smith) and conditional triggers (like Vivisector, Myles Alfred) when we don’t have another X-Statix character already in hand or in play.

Of course, this deck does center on the X-Statix lone character theme. So we will definitely want to include the standard suite of plot twists to support this theme. Probably the foremost of these is four copies of Spin Doctoring. It will already be difficult for our opponents to bust through the enormous characters protecting our side of the board. But Spin Doctoring ensures that even if they do bust through, they probably won’t get a chance to attack directly. In fact, that gargantuan character that they had so much trouble stunning initially will undoubtedly be swinging back on them!

Of course, what good is a defensive deck without some impressive defense? It doesn’t get much more impressive than Dead Weight. Sure, Dead Weight will KO all of your other characters and keep you from attacking for the turn, but since we probably won’t have any other characters in play and we won’t be doing much attacking, this is not a major detriment at all.

To round out the X-Statix suite, we have our grand ongoing guardians Star of the Show and Mutant of the Year. If we are forced to face off against a board control deck, a burn deck, or even a deck that packs a significant amount of disruption, then these two gems will keep us safe from adverse effects. Star of the Show will protect our individual character in play from effects that might do it harm, such as exhaustion effects (Rain Of Acorns), KO effects (Injustice Gang Satellite or Merlyn, Deadly Archer), and even stat modifiers (No Man Escapes the Manhunters). Mutant of the Year, on the other hand, keeps us safe from detrimental “target player” effects, primarily burn effects like Flamethrower and Golden Archer. Taken together, our opponents will have little option other than to attack!

One problem that we might run into with this deck is that our attacks won’t often amount to much. While we will have size on our side, our opponents will likely have numbers, meaning that they can easily reinforce against our attacks. So, we need to consider some disruption options of our own. This is why we’re going to include three copies of No Hope. The purpose of this card is actually twofold. First, it provides an avenue for us to pull off some attacks on smaller characters for massive amounts of breakthrough damage. Second, it also provides us an outlet for unused resource points (which we will occasionally have). Turning our excess resource points into direct endurance damage is certainly not a bad thing. And even though the payment effect of No Hope is limited to one activation per turn, multiple copies in the resource row can add up very quickly!

Our final plot twist is our standard character searcher. Obviously, The Science Spire has amazing synergy with the X-Statix theme. But the Villains United character searcher Baddest of the Bad has just as potent a synergy. Since we will be clearing our board of characters early every turn anyway, we might as well get some benefit out of it. And Baddest of the Bad allows us to search our deck for any affiliated character card! With a single copy, we can get our team-up online even if we are unable to draw into an X-Statix character card.

Our last non-character choice is the equipment card Force Field Belt. As mentioned earlier, we will often have extra resource points at our disposal. As such, it certainly behooves us to have a few ways to utilize those points. Force Field Belt is a great way to keep our characters in play “ahead of the curve,” so to speak. On a character like Orphan, Guy Smith, a couple of extra +1/+1 counters can easily make him the size of a 4- or even 5-drop.

Onward and upward to our characters. Our 1-drop is fairly obvious: The Calculator, Noah Kuttler. This car is everything that I look for in a 1-drop. Not only is he a playable Villains United character that allows us to get The Science Spire, Baddest of the Bad, and Coercion online early, but he can also be discarded to search out Coercion. 1-drops that can be effective in later turns as well are always good in the book of Spooky.***

Our primary 2-drop choice may be a little controversial. In a metagame where 3/3 2-drops run rampant, Ishmael Gregor ◊ Sabbac is on the small end of the scale. However, Sabbac’s stats are a bit deceptive given his utility in this deck. Since his Vengeance effect requires him to become stunned to trigger, his small stats are actually beneficial for us. In the case of most 1-drops and many 2-drops, attacking into Sabbac will result in 4 to 5 points of damage each attack (3 for Sabbac’s effect and 1 or 2 for the stun). And since we probably only want to keep Sabbac around for a couple of turns at the most due to the mono-character deck theme, his small stats will not be an issue for us in the later turns.

Our backup 2-drop is really not a 2-drop at all. Rather, Vivisector, Myles Alfred is more of an alternate burn card for our deck in the mid to late turns. With a boost of 1 resource point, Vivisector creates a slow but effective burn for our deck that can steadily chip away at our opponent’s endurance total. Better yet, this boost effect has tremendous synergy with Baddest of the Bad and The Science Spire. Since the resolution of the boost effect will put Vivisector back in our hand anyway, adding Baddest of the Bad or The Science Spire to the chain is an easy way for us to get something for nothing. Simply play either card in response to Vivisector’s boost. Vivisector will go back to the hand and enable the effect of the particular card to resolve. Then, even though Vivisector has already returned to our hand, his boost effect will still resolve to burn our opponent for 5 endurance. Combo!

At 3, we have quite possibly the most powerful character in the deck. All alone, Orphan, Guy Smith will start out as a 6/6 on turn 3. If we have no other play on turn 4, then he improves to a respectable 7/6. But this is where the magic of the X-Statix deck comes into play. With the X-Statix Cafe in play, Orphan jumps to a 9/8 on turn 4. Additionally, if we use the effect of Force Field Belt to give him a couple of +1/+1 counters, he leaps to an 11/11 on turn 4 (assuming that the Force Field Belt remains equipped). Consequently, Orphan can become 14/13 on turn 5, 17/15 on turn 6, and a colossal 20/17 on turn 7. Even if we don’t drop another character for the remainder of the game, we will still have a behemoth presence on our side of the board ready to take on pretty much anything our opponent throws at us . . . and he’s a friggin’ 3-drop!

Also at 3, we have another character that doesn’t really represent his cost. In Marvel Knights Draft, Plazm, Protoplasmic Protagonist was nothing short of extraordinary when it came to stunning Blackheart. While Plazm may not be doing much 6-drop stunning in Silver Age, he is still a nice tech card for dealing with opposing threats. With only a few notable exceptions, Plazm can stun almost any 5-drop with his boost effect. Just the board presence alone facilitated by that effect is enough to merit a copy. Besides, Plazm has the same effective synergy with Baddest of the Bad and The Science Spire that Vivisector has.

At 4, we have the lovely and devastating Fatality, Flawless Victory. A deck that only has a single character in play probably doesn’t need to worry too much about an effect that KO’s all characters with a cost of 3 or less. However, most opposing decks will have to worry about this. With the proliferation of Checkmate decks sporting Ahmed Samsarra, any effect that can put this King into the KO’d pile will be cause for major concern. More importantly, Fatality’s effect will give the X-Statix something that they didn’t have much of before: board control. Now we can snipe off our opponent’s smaller characters, forcing our opponents to deal with out characters with only their larger characters. With a severely diminished board, most decks won’t be able to keep up.

Also at 4, we’re going to be extremely cruel and toss in a single copy of Metallo, John Corben. With the newfound popularity of decks featuring the Fate Artifacts, equipment KO effects have renewed significance. Metallo has probably the best equipment KO effect in Silver Age, immediately KO’ing all equipment on a character that he attacks or defends against. So what happens when we make Metallo our only character in play? He’ll be too big for non-equipped characters to attack through and impossible for equipped characters to attack into without losing all of their precious artifacts. It’s pandemonium, my friends, pandemonium!

The best choice for our character at 5 may be a point of some contention. Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard is definitely a consideration with his 10 DEF. However, his effect probably won’t do much for us, as he will rarely get stunned while attacking, and his effect isn’t all that helpful when he becomes stunned while defending. Instead, we’re going to try to make do with Black Adam, Teth-Adam. With only 8 DEF, it is highly likely that Black Adam will become stunned. But this is actually a good thing for us, as it places a crippling -3/-3 counter on an opposing character of our choice. This can be a beautiful setup on turn 6 as we send Black Adam into an opposing 5-drop, which in all probability will lead to a stun on Black Adam. We can then use Black Adam’s effect to weaken our opponent’s 6-drop, send Black Adam back to our hand with a variety of effects, and then crush our opponent’s significantly weakened 6-drop with a 14/14 monster.

Our 6-drops of choice fill a variety of roles. Our backup at 6 is Dr. Psycho, Twisted Telepath. While he may not be much of an offensive or defensive threat, his effect certainly deserves a second look. Considering that we will usually have only one or two characters in play tops, Dr. Psycho’s effect will probably only hurt us for 3 to 6 points of endurance in any given turn. However, our opponents will often have many more characters in play. Against a deck like G’Lock, Dr. Psycho could conceivably burn for upward of 15 endurance. Any character that can generate that level of damage without any associated payment is certainly worth playing at least a single copy of.

Of course, our main man at 6 will obviously be Zeitgeist, Axel Cluney. The ability to stun any character in play is absolutely amazing. While Zeitgeist does have a stringent set of requirements that he must meet to make this happen, he can literally change the tide of the game with a timely activation. Zeitgeist is one of the best reasons we have to play the one-man X-Statix strategy. He is a game winner!

Quite often on 7, we may find ourselves using The Science Spire to return Zeitgeist to our hand and simply recruiting him again. He makes a good drop for pretty much every turn after 6. But if we find that we’d rather dish out some damage instead of replenishing Zeitgeist’s cosmic counter, then we can play The Calculator, Crime Broker. With The Science Spire offering continuous replenishment, it is a near certainty that we will have plenty of character cards in our hand by the time turn 7 rolls around. The Calculator turns these cards into effective burn cards, dishing out a couple of points of endurance loss for every character card we discard. If we save up ten character cards by turn 7, then The Calculator will unleash 20 endurance damage on our unsuspecting opponent. With that kind of burn, we could feasibly not do any damage until turn 7 and still pull off a victory.

Finally, we have the one and only Doop, Ultimate Weapon at 8. Without mincing any words, Doop is just plain big! That 25 ATK on his front end can lead to some serious pain for our opponents (especially in unison with No Hope!). Granted, Doop will stun pretty much every time when he attacks an opposing character. But our green friend has that handy invulnerability to prevent the loss of any of our endurance. Moreover, his ability to become stunned easily leads to a keen combo with Spin Doctoring. Just use Doop to unleash a whooping on an opposing character, then recover and ready him via Spin Doctoring to repeat. With multiple copies of Spin Doctoring, Doop can become a one man . . . er . . . alien board clearer!

And once again, we have reached the conclusion of our joint building venture. Let’s see if our endeavors paid any dividends:

She Blinded Me with Science!

4 The Calculator, Noah Kuttler

4 Ishmael Gregor ◊ Sabbac, MM

2 Vivisector, Myles Alfred

4 Orphan, Guy Smith

1 Plazm, PProtagonist

4 Fatality, Flawless Victory

1 Metallo, John Corben

2 Black Adam, Teth-Adam

1 Dr. Psycho, Twisted Telepath

2 Zeitgeist, Axel Cluney

1 The Calculator, Crime Broker

1 Doop, Ultimate Weapon

3 Baddest of the Bad

4 Coercion, Team-Up

4 Dead Weight

2 Mutant of the Year

3 No Hope

4 Spin Doctoring

2 Star of the Show

2 Slaughter Swamp

4 The Science Spire

3 X-Statix Cafe

2 Force Field Belt

The mulligan is for The Science Spire, pure and simple. If you can get it up and running early, then you should hit every other card that you need within the course of the game. Don’t worry about under-dropping or even missing drops. As long as you have a character in play, you should have little trouble staying in the game.

Initiative preference with the deck probably depends on what type of deck you are facing. In all probability, odds would be the preferred initiative, enabling you to activate Zeitgeist on your off-initiative on turn 6 and then swing with him and The Calculator on turn 7 (hopefully for some decent damage with No Hope). Of course, if you’re up against a slower deck (like G’Lock), then you might want to wait for a turn 8 win with Doop. You also have to keep opposing endurance gain in check to avoid losing to Captain Marvel, Champion of Magic. Fortunately, The Calculator and other burn cards in the deck should help with that task.

Thus ends another week of Breaking Ground. Of course, if you feel the need to share any thoughts, ideas, or humorous HSR quotes with me, you can send me an email at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com.

I’m off now to enjoy some delicious Grumblecakes. Take care, and I’ll see you again next week!

* Though comparing Tim Batow to Strong Bad is probably not all that accurate. From the size perspective at least, he looks a lot more like The Cheat.

** One or two of the people who heard me bellowing “Science!” thought that I was making a reference to Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science!” Hence the name of the deck.

*** Which is undoubtedly a pop-up book.

Colossus, Steadfast Protector (07/04/06)

Synergy is all over the place; you just have to know where to look for it!

The creation process has many different twists and turns. Often, I will look at an individual card or set of cards and see how they interact with other teams and archetypes within the Vs. System. This is the best route to take, as it generally creates the strongest interactions between cards.

However, I occasionally drift away from this pattern to look at different approaches to deckbuilding. One approach that I occasionally use is to look at individual cards and see how their effects might benefit other teams. This is usually not a preferable method, as it focuses on a single interaction within a deck as opposed to how the deck operates as a whole. Still, it is a viable method for deckbuilding, as new synergies can be discovered between cards and teams that no one has ever before considered.

The Forecast for Today Calls for Precipitous Drops in Endurance . . .*

Let’s take a look at Shadowpact. The Shadowpact team has an overarching theme of operating at low endurance totals to enable very powerful character effects. To facilitate this theme, Shadowpact has several strong plot twists and locations that deplete the Shadowpact player’s endurance. While this theme can be difficult to keep intact against highly aggressive early game decks (e.g., “Mexican Hardware Store”), it is still a very solid foundation for a deck concept.

It intrigued me that the only reasonably successful Shadowpact decks that I had seen were mono-team. This makes some sense, as there really hasn’t been another team in the Vs. System that had a focus on low endurance operation prior to Shadowpact. So I started looking at some of the older cards in the Vs. System to see if there were any cards or teams that could fit into the deck theme.

Marvel Knights is the first obvious choice. They are already a great choice for teaming-up given their powerhouse team-up card, Midnight Sons. The Marvel Knights have a lot more to offer the Shadowpact team, with several cards that drain endurance for beneficial effects. Punisher’s Armory is a reusable ATK pump that can provide as much pump as you will ever need if you are willing to sacrifice the endurance points. In our match at Pro Circuit New York, Alex Shvartsman showed me how Bring the Pain does exactly that to both the controller and his opponent. We can’t forget one of the strongest character searchers in the game, Wild Ride, which allows a player to sacrifice his own endurance for a character card from his or her deck.

Another possibility for team Shadowpact is Ghost Rider, New Fantastic Four. Since the goal endurance threshold for Shadowpact is 25, Ghost Rider will generally have his +4/+0 bonus when he hits play. Having a 5-drop that can naturally stun almost every 6-drop in the game is certainly worth consideration.

The Other “Man of Steel”

One of my personal favorites, however, is the potential interaction of Shadowpact with Colossus, Steadfast Protector. For anyone not in the know, this version of Colossus comes from the recent X-Men starter deck. As a 5-drop, he sports a very impressive 10/10 frame. Considering that he’s part of the X-Men, a team that has a reputation in the Vs. System for weaker 5-drops, he’s certainly worth a second look.

Apart from the fact that Colossus has long been one of my favorite comic book characters, his effect intrigues me. When the player controlling Colossus is below 25 endurance, Colossus has reinforcement. Given Colossus’s size, this may not be a consideration early on. However, as the game progresses, this can be a huge asset. When the game advances to later turns, you can rest assured that even if you leave no other reinforcement options for the giant metal Russian, you will usually only take stun damage whenever he becomes stunned.

While my consideration of this interaction was fun, I didn’t consider it all that promising. Even though Colossus worked well with the Shadowpact theme, I couldn’t see any other X-Men cards that fit into the strategy.

Then I took a closer look at the Shadowpact and X-Men teams together. Obviously, if you play a team-up deck, you need to have a way to team-up your characters. The X-Men team has one of the best team-up searchers in the game with X-Corp: Amsterdam. Also, Shadowpact has a bit of a sub-theme with the inclusion of the Fate Artifacts in many builds. Obviously, then, a way to search out equipment cards would be nice to have, and the X-Men have a very good equipment searcher in the form of Beast, Feline Geneticist. If we can keep Beast from stunning for one or two turns, then he can easily fetch any Fate Artifacts that we may need.

Of course, the primary theme of Shadowpact is endurance management. In order for the deck to function properly, the Shadowpact player needs to lose endurance early. However, once a player gets below 25 endurance, he or she would like to stay in that area if at all possible. Shadowpact has some good cards for maintaining endurance, like Witchfire and The Oblivion Bar, but I think that the X-Men may have better cards for maintaining endurance, like Rogue, Anna Marie and the awesome Eye of the Storm.

It looks like we may have the makings of a collaboration beyond that of the simple Colossus/Shadowpact synergy. Let’s mix the mutants and magicians together and see what kind of chaos we can create!

The Build

As is often the case, we’re going to start off with four copies of our theme card, Colossus, Steadfast Protector. He’s the inspiration for the deck, so we’re going to try to make sure that we see him on turn 5 in every game we play.

Our 1-drops are fairly apparent. As I have said before, I like 1-drops to have utility beyond simply being playable on the first turn to attack. In order to be strong candidates, they either need to be useful in some capacity in the hand or deck, like Dagger, Child of Light and Mikado and Mosha, or have the capability to search your deck for useful cards, like Alfred Pennyworth and Ape X.

Our first 1-drop falls into the former category. Jaime Reyes ◊ Blue Beetle is the Silver Age’s answer to Tech Upgrade. While he could be a respectable beater on the first turn with 2 ATK, he is probably more useful in later turns to search out the aforementioned Fate Artifacts.

Our other choices at 1 fall into the latter category. Representing Shadowpact, we have Madame Xanadu. Given that our deck will probably hold a good number of Magic plot twists, we can use this mistress of tarot to search up some plot twists to advance our strategy. If we are lucky enough to get her in play on the first turn, we can use her effect before the second turn to search out a Magic plot twist and then recruit her again on the second turn. For the X-Men, we have Archangel, Angel. Mr. Worthington is quite adept at searching out X-Corp locations. In this case, we’ll need him to find a copy of X-Corp: Amsterdam for us so that we can ensure a timely team-up. It would be great if we could draw into a team-up without his help, but Archangel gives us a little insurance that we’ll have our teams working together when the time comes.

We’re going to pass on 2-drops. Like I said earlier, we will probably be recruiting Madame Xanadu again on turn 2 (hopefully to be joined by Archangel). In addition, we will later find that extra 2-drops that stay in play could be detrimental to our strategy, so we’re going to leave them alone.

At 3, we have a few selections. Our primary player is Beast, Feline Geneticist. Not only is he an equipment searcher of the highest order, but his 5/5 is quite impressive. He will often be able to weather the attacks of opposing 3-drops, leaving us free to get a Fate Artifact in the recovery phase. One of our backup 3-drops is Detective Chimp, Shoeless Gumshoe. While Detective Chimp has decent stats, the real reason for his inclusion in the deck is to fill the role of character searcher in later turns. As we have mentioned numerous times, we will be trying to maintain our endurance at right around 25, so Detective Chimp should be able to search out the help we need in our later turns.

Our final 3-drop also leads us into our backup 4-drop. Rose Psychic and Dr. Occult make quite the tandem. While Rose Psychic can be helpful to our deck for gaining endurance, she is not overly formidable otherwise. Conversely, Dr. Occult has the potential to be very formidable in later turns, growing to the size of a 5-drop and bigger when our endurance totals are down. While either character is a decent drop for us on their respective turns, they truly shine as a pair of underdrops on turn 6. Each one has a boost that can bring the other into play for a combined total of six resource points. Regardless of how bad your math may be, seven resource points worth of characters for six points is quite a deal.

Our primary play on turn 4 is going to be June Moon ◊ Enchantress, Good Witch. I probably don’t need to go into too much detail here. Suffice it to say that effects that can stun characters outside of combat are some of the most powerful in the game. June Moon has one of the best, with no other costs and the only true restriction being that we have less than 25 endurance, lest we lose her to our opponent. Given the nature of the deck, however, this restriction shouldn’t be too problematic.

On turn 5, we have Colossus. Also as a 5-drop, we have Nightmaster, Demon Slayer. Nightmaster is in our deck for one purpose and one alone—to make our opponent pay if they aren’t aggressive in the early turns. Against an aggressive deck like Mexican Hardware Store or Fate Squadron, we will need all of the endurance that we can find. Against slower decks, however, we will probably have plenty of endurance going into the later turns. Nightmaster can turn that extra endurance into a stronger board presence for us, potentially giving us two 5-drops on turn 5 and hopefully putting our endurance into our target range of 25.

Turn 6 will help us make the most of our Fate Artifacts. Dr. Fate, Hector Hall is an average 12/12 6-drop. However, his effect turns the Fate Artifacts into a global source of pump for our characters. With all three Artifacts equipped to Dr. Fate, all of our other characters in play gain an additional +3/+0. With a gigantic 16/16 Dr. Fate in play as well, we have basically made all of our characters one drop bigger. Beast becomes an 8/5; June Moon grows to a 10/7; and Colossus becomes a massive 13/10. Those numbers should be enough to take almost any game.

Our final characters are a pair of 7-drops that serve different purposes for our deck. If we are in a close game, or even perhaps playing against another Shadowpact deck, then Rogue, Anna Marie is our choice on turn 7. She is a good-sized 7-drop with flight. More importantly, she possesses a pseudo-invulnerability that will keep our endurance from dropping too quickly. In a close match, that can make all the difference. However, if we get into a situation where the game is out of reach for us, and we’re facing a huge deficit in endurance, then Shazam is our man. While the restriction of not being able to play plot twists may be a small issue, the potential to cripple our opponent’s endurance is no small effect. Besides, we should hopefully have all of the pump we need from Dr. Fate and his Artifacts.

Turning to plot twists, let’s first run down the list of Magic plot twists that we want to play. An obvious inclusion is four copies of Abjuration. Man-o-man, this card is good! The +0/+3  is already good to begin with. While the cost of 5 endurance may seem steep, it actually aids our deck. In many cases, we will get that 5 endurance back at opportune moments in the late game, thanks to Abjuration’s second effect. In some instances, we will get more endurance back than we originally paid.

Another Magic plot twist that we need for the deck is The Conclave. Fizzle was a very powerful card for decks featuring the Gotham Knights. So it follows that The Conclave would be just as effective for the Shadowpact. Speaking of effective reprints, Spectral Slaughter is the Shadowpact take on Flame Trap. While it is restricted to the Shadowpact player’s attack step, it is no less devastating than the standard for all weenie hate. Rounding out our Origins reprints, we have the Press the Attack clone, Fate Has Spoken. While these two cards admittedly have a different set of conditions under which they can be played, they are still both powerful plot twists that can ready a character for an additional attack. Considering that the character we will usually ready with Fate Has Spoken will have all of the Fate Artifacts equipped, the second attack will undoubtedly be quite massive.

Some of you may be wondering why Conjuration was not included in the build. While I will readily admit that getting out characters a full turn ahead of their intended drop is powerful, Conjuration may be too hefty a price for us to pay. We already have many cards in the deck that will take a toll on our endurance. In addition, if we find that we need to drop our endurance by a significant amount, we can play Nightmaster on turn 5. Finally, our characters are all pretty sizable for their cost, so we should rarely find the need to try to advance our recruitment of them. All in all, Conjuration is a fine card, but not all that useful in this build.

Of course, we’ve already mentioned the amazing Eye of the Storm as a natural inclusion in the deck. Any card that helps us regulate our endurance deserves a look at inclusion in our build, and Eye of the Storm is one of the best out there. While it does impose the restriction that we play it when we have no stunned characters, it will almost always net us an extra 4 endurance.

Our Team-Up of choice in this deck will be the always impressive X-Men United. This card of course serves the purpose of teaming-up our two clans so that they can more effectively share the field of battle. However, X-Men United also has a secondary replacement effect that can help us out in situations where reinforcement is not readily available. A Team-Up that can double as Burn Rubber is certainly going to be handy to have around.

Our final plot twist . . . it’s really not important. It’s a character searcher of no particular consequence, so we’ll just pass it and move along, okay? What? You really want to know what it is? Well . . . it’s . . . Enemy of My Enemy. So, moving on . . .

I had to put Enemy of My Enemy in this deck as it really is the best choice for the role of character searcher. I’ve given you all a few weeks off of my “Enemy kick,” but I couldn’t come up with a good replacement this time. If you like, you can play spare copies of Secret Origins in its place and see what happens. The simple truth is that Enemy of My Enemy is a great card, and it makes this deck a lot more consistent. ’Nuff said!

We have a couple of locations to consider for our build. Our first is the previously mentioned X-Corp: Amsterdam. Since we have a way of searching this card out and we will rarely need more than one Team-Up, we only need one copy of X-Corp: Amsterdam. Our other location is fairly obvious, given the numerous mentions of the Fate Artifacts. Dr. Fate’s Tower not only allows us to search out an Artifact of our choice, but it allows us to transfer the Artifacts from character to character. This can be invaluable in later turns, as we want to have the Fate Artifacts on Dr. Fate on turn 6 if at all possible.

Finally, the Fate Artifacts themselves take up the remaining six spots in the deck. We will play two copies each of the Amulet of Nabu, Cloak of Nabu, and Helm of Nabu. Quite a bit of Vs. System press has been devoted to these cards already, so I won’t waste your time going into significant detail about how these cards operate. They do represent a large amount of the offensive strength of the deck. While it is certainly possible to win without them, it is much easier to win with them!  Strike up the band, the work is over. Let’s take a look at our chaotic creation:

Magical Mutants


4 Archangel, Angel

2 Jaime Reyes ◊ Blue Beetle

4 Madame Xanadu, Cartomancer

4 Beast, Feline Geneticist

2 Detective Chimp, SG

1 Rose Psychic, Ghost Detective

1 Dr. Occult, Richard Occult

4 June Moon ◊ Enchantress, GW

4 Colossus, Steadfast Protector

1 Nightmaster, Demon Slayer

1 Dr. Fate, Hector Hall

1 Rogue, Anna Marie

1 Shazam, The Sorcerer

4 Abjuration, Magic

4 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Eye of the Storm

1 Fate Has Spoken, Magic

1 Spectral Slaughter, Magic

1 The Conclave, Magic

4 X-Men United, Team-Up

4 Dr. Fate’s Tower

1 X-Corp: Amsterdam, X-Corp

2 Amulet Of Nabu, Fate Artifact

2 Cloak Of Nabu, Fate Artifact

2 Helm Of Nabu, Fate Artifact

Preferred initiative for the deck is usually odds, though that can change based upon the deck our opponent plays. While it is certainly possible to win games earlier than turn 7, this is generally the turn the deck strives to win on or before.

The mulligan will generally be for Madame Xanadu. Given the power of the Magic plot twists, she is a formidable engine for searching out cards that we will use in our later turns. With 4 copies of Enemy of My Enemy and multiple redundant drops from turns 3 through 5, we should have little trouble hitting our curve.

Alas, I must take my leave for this week. Parting is such sweet sorrow. Fear thee not; I shall return in half a fortnight hence (i.e., one week) to speak to one and all of tales of heroes and villains and how we can break ’em! In the interim, if you would like to shoot me a message, you can do so at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com.

* . . . and few to no footnotes, except for the customary “Tim Batow is short” joke.

Captain America, Super Soldier  (07/11/06)

The American Dream

A few months ago, Mark MacSween sent me an email discussing the possibility of breaking heroic comic icons. This notion particularly intrigued me, as it opened the potential for building a more flavor-oriented deck.

One aspect of Vs. System that I have always enjoyed is that the abilities of certain characters emulate their comic personas. For example, Superman has always embodied the ultimate guardian. Though he is one of the most powerful beings in the universe, he has always used his incredible powers to protect others. Accordingly, his various versions in Vs. System usually have some sort of defensive characteristic (such as Superman, Clark Kent redirecting attacks toward himself and Superman, Kal-El providing reinforcement and invulnerability to those he is protecting).

Spider-Man, on the other hand, is not the powerful protector that Superman is. While still a defender of innocents, he uses his agility and athleticism to trip up his adversaries. This trait is apparent in Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man and Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, both of whom are premier character cards for shutting down your opponents’ attacks.

For this (belated) Independence Day, I wanted to look at Captain America—particularly, Captain America, Super Soldier. Since the release of the Avengers set, the leader mechanic has been somewhat underplayed. However, from a flavor perspective, the leader mechanic is quite appropriate for Captain America. On his own, Captain America is not really all that imposing. Sure, he can take on your ordinary hoods and thugs without too much difficulty. But put Cap up against a baddie like Magneto, and he’s not quite in the same league.

What Captain America does excel at, though, is improving the coordination and skills of those that he works with. He is a clever and skilled tactician, so it only makes sense that other characters become better when he’s nearby. This is, in effect, what Captain America, Super Soldier is all about.

In honor of our super soldiers serving abroad, we’re going to put Vs. System’s resident Super Soldier in action. Captain America is going to show players far and wide what it truly means to be a leader and an American!

The Build

Our feature card, Captain America, Super Soldier is only going to receive three spots in today’s deck. This primarily has to do with the fact that Cap is a 6-drop, so we have several turns in which to draw into him or a way to search for him. In all truthfulness, we could probably get away with playing only two copies, but Cap’s leader status can come in handy for some of our discard effects, too.

At 1, we’re going to play four copies of Beast, Furry Blue Scientist. Unlike his role in reservist builds in the past, Beast actually has a purpose beyond that of going into our resource row. We will be exploring the leader mechanic in this deck, so we’ll be using two teams from the Vs. System that are heavy in leader characters: the Avengers and Thunderbolts. Moreover, the Team-Up card for these two teams, Justice for All, is phenomenal for making the most of our leader characters. So Beast is a great choice for us to get our Team-Up into play early.

Of course, what would any Avengers deck be without Rick Jones? He meets two of my primary conditions for truly great 1-drops: an alternate recruit cost and a relevant effect. For the price of a simple character card discard, Rick Jones becomes a reusable source of reinforcement for our characters. He is an amazing card and certainly worth inclusion in our build.

At 2, we begin the team splitting. For the Thunderbolts, we have our primary drop in the form of Erik Josten <> Atlas, Kosmos Convict. As far as 2-drops go, Atlas starts out below the norm. However, he starts to become more and more impressive as time passes, gaining a +1/+1 counter at the beginning of turns 3 and 4. If your opponent doesn’t have a way to keep Atlas in check, then he gets truly huge in the later turns, gaining two +1/+1 counters at the start of each turn. You thought Shape and Melissa Gold <> Songbird, Sonic Carapace were big? Just wait until your opponent is staring down your 10/10 Atlas!

Our backup drops come from the Avengers. First, we have Wasp, Janet Van Dyne-Pym. She is a decent 2-drop at 2/3 with flight and range. In addition, she has an effect that will occasionally be relevant if we feel the need to team attack with a couple of adjacent attackers. Finally, she is a leader, so she supports the deck theme nicely. Our other 2-drop can also work as a backup 3-drop. Falcon, Sam Wilson gets very little play outside of Avengers Draft. Yet he has the potential to become the most potent of the Avengers 2-drops. He starts out as a mediocre 2/2 with flight. However, he jumps to a 4/4 when positioned adjacent to a leader. Any 2-drop that can take down an average 3-drop is a decent play. And considering that Falcon has a boost effect that facilitates getting leader characters into play, he’s an easy choice for our deck.

At 3, we’re going to play four copies of Beetle <> Mach 2. This version of Beetle is somewhat bittersweet for us. On the downside, Mach 2 doesn’t have a relevant early-game effect, and his 3 DEF means that he can be taken down by many 2-drops. However, if we are able to weather the early attacks, then our 3-drop leaps in size to that of a 5-drop on turn 6. Such a powerful effect forces our opponent to take an aggressive slant against our deck or suffer the consequences of getting thoroughly beaten in the later turns.

You may have noticed a trend with this deck to play characters that can contend with higher-cost characters in later turns. Our primary drop at 4 also fits this trend. He is the mighty Iron Man <> Cobalt Man. While Cobalt Man has a tremendous set of recruit restrictions, he is certainly well worth playing. Not only does he boast scale-tipping 11/7 as a 4-drop, but he also gains invulnerability when he attacks. Cobalt Man is only capable of being played in one particular deck, but that happens to be the deck we’re playing . . . so we’re going to play him!

Of course, we may run into situations where we can’t recruit Cobalt Man due to his loyalty restrictions. Thus, we’ll also include a copy of Iron Man, Tony Stark. While not as formidable as his Thunderbolt persona, Iron Man is still a respectable 7/7 4-drop with flight and range. He also boosts the stats of those around him and gives them flight and range, as well. Finally, those unusable copies of Iron Man <> Cobalt Man become nifty power-ups for this version of Iron Man.

At 5, we have one of the best leader cards in the game in Hawkeye, Leader by Example. Hawkeye boasts an enormous 11 ATK, which is enough to stun almost every 4- and 5-drop in the game naturally (and quite a few 6-drops, as well!). But his leader ability is what is key here. This is where our large low drops will really start to pay off for us, as our characters will be able to swing up the curve without stunning back. Barring any significant defensive tricks, Cobalt Man will be able to take out any 5-drop our opponent plays, and Mach 2 and Atlas will usually be more than a match for any opposing 4-drop. This leaves Hawkeye free to deliver a beating on an opposing character much smaller than himself. Needless to say, Hawkeye can be a source of substantial board advantage.

Of course, Captain America, Super Soldier is our 6-drop. He makes our other characters more than amazing both while attacking and defending.

At 7, we have a couple of options. If we find ourselves with limited board presence, then Hulk, Gamma Rage is our man. Hulk is very particular about who he will play with. But we do have the tools in this deck to make him work. Coming in at a massive 17/17, Hulk is bigger than all but a few 7-drops and a decent match for many 8-drops. And if we still have endurance to spare, Hulk will become even more of a pain for our opponents, as we can pay 7 endurance and exhaust Hulk rather than stun him . . . and he gets bigger! Combine all of that with the added bonus of Captain America, giving Hulk +2/+2 while defending, and we have a nigh-impenetrable wall through which most players will not dare attack.

If we find ourselves with a substantial board presence on turn 7, then Beetle <> Mach 4 should probably be our play. Granted, uniqueness would force us to KO Mach 2 if we bring Mach 4 into play, but Mach 4 would still be a powerful play because he can allow Atlas, Falcon, and Cobalt Man to swing way up the curve! Our characters will usually be big enough to swing one or two spots up the curve before Mach 4 ever sees play, but Mach 4’s +4/+4 bonus makes it possible for our characters to jump another one to two spots up. Imagine Atlas and Cobalt Man taking down your opponents’ 6- and 7-drops. It is not only possible but very likely if Mach 4 sees play.

At 8, we have the perfect finisher in Thor, God of Thunder. Already weighing in at 20/20, Thor also provides a huge boost to adjacent characters, giving them additional ATK equal to their cost. Mogo, The Living Planet may be big, but our 23 ATK Mach 4 is more than a match for him. Can Onslaught survive the onslaught when we send a 24 ATK Hulk after him? And imagine the sheer look of amazement when we send a 19 ATK Cobalt Man (aided by both Mach 4 and Thor) after Apocalypse! Barring a catastrophe, Thor will usually signal the end for our opponents.

Looking at plot twists, we’ll start with our Team-Up, Justice for All. I really can’t stress how powerful this is in this deck. One typical problem with playing multiple leader characters is that their effectiveness is limited to how characters can be formed. Justice for All alleviates this problem to a great extent by making your leaders capable of moving to where they are needed. For example, imagine that we have Captain America, Hulk, and Thor all in play. Our natural formation would be to have Hulk protecting Captain America and Thor flanking Hulk in the front row. This gives Hulk the benefit of both Captain America and Thor’s effect. However, this formation does not allow Captain America to benefit from Thor’s effect, or vice-versa. But with Justice for All in play, we can move either leader as necessary to allow them to confer their benefits to one another. On our attack, we can swing with Hulk, then move either of our leaders adjacent to the other to activate their leader abilities. On defense, Justice for All provides for some clever combos after attacks have become legal, as well as a variety of reinforcement options. It is the card that holds our deck together.

Another card that we may well find use for is New Identity. While our deck will not contain a standard set of ATK or DEF pumps, it will contain firepower of different varieties that make it competitive. New Identity is a stellar example of this, as it provides a +1/+1 counter to one of our characters at the end of each turn. This is obviously going to have some utility for us, even in small amounts, as an extra +1/+1 can be the difference between stunning and not stunning. However, New Identity can become absolutely absurd in multiples or if we get it into play early enough on a character like Atlas. Just imagine going into turn 5 with two copies of New Identity on Atlas from turn 2—that’s a total of ten counters! Our 2-drop would be 12/12!

Obviously, we should think about playing character searchers. We’ll want to play four copies each of Avengers Assemble! and Enemy of My Enemy. Avengers Assemble! continues to feed into our leader theme, giving us an effective search card and a small stat boost that supplements cards like Atlas and New Identity quite nicely. While we aren’t playing a lot of leader characters, we should have enough to support Avengers Assemble! when we need to. Regarding Enemy of My Enemy . . . yeah, it’s a great searcher for any Team-Up deck. You probably know that by now!

Our final plot twist is going to stray a bit from the beaten path. As we discussed earlier, the leader mechanic works by supporting adjacent characters. Obviously, then, we want to keep those characters around if possible. So, we’re going to play four copies of Revitalize. This card can be absolutely amazing in unison with the leader theme. Imagine that we have Hawkeye and Captain America in play, with Hawkeye protecting Cap. Our opponent already has to attack through a 13/11 Hawkeye to get at Captain America. Without any additional pump, this will be tough for most 4- and 5-drops to accomplish, and even most 6-drops will stun back when attacking into Hawkeye. Assuming that our opponent does get through Hawkeye, however, a timely Revitalize will ensure that he or she will have to go through the gauntlet again to get a shot at Cap. Even the most powerful decks will have a tough time breaking through that blockade.

But I’m sure a few of you are wondering how I could be so brazen as to say that our opponents will have to attack through Hawkeye when they could simply fly over and attack Cap. The answer, friends, comes in the form of our first location, Coast City. Personally, I have never been a big fan of this card. But I do recognize its strength in a leader-based deck. Since the key to success with our leaders is to use them to boost other characters, we want to force our opponents to attack into our leader-boosted characters. With Coast City in play, this is exactly what will transpire. Our opponent may have characters with flight across the board, four copies of Flying Kick, and even a copy of Sewer System in play. But with a single copy of Coast City, our opponent has no choice but to attack into our 19/19 Hulk that is protecting Captain America. Good game!

Finally, we need to put four copies of Slaughter Swamp in the deck. With only ten leader character cards, they will definitely be at premium for use with Avengers Assemble! and Hulk. Therefore, it only makes sense to have a source of recursion available to us so that a single leader can fill multiple functions. In addition, Slaughter Swamp can be randomly useful as a power-up in times of need. And we won’t have to worry about discarding late game character cards because we can fetch them back with our recursion location!

Cap and crew are a group of staunch defenders. It’s time to see what kind of power they bring to the board:

Justice for All

4 Beast, Furry Blue Scientist

2 Rick Jones, AHBF

4 Erik Josten <> Atlas, KC

2 Falcon, Sam Wilson

2 Wasp, Janet Van Dyne-Pym

4 Beetle <> Mach 2, MD

4 Iron Man <> Cobalt Man, AiD

1 Iron Man, Tony Stark

3 Hawkeye, Leader by Example

3 Captain America, Super Soldier

1 Hulk, Gamma Rage

1 Beetle <> Mach 4, NTL

1 Thor, God of Thunder

4 Avengers Assemble!

4 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Justice for All, Team-Up

4 New Identity

4 Revitalize

4 Coast City

4 Slaughter Swamp

The mulligan should probably be for either Erik Josten <> Atlas, Kosmos Convict or Beetle <> Mach 2 so that you can cinch Iron Man <> Cobalt Man for turn 4. While you could feasibly hold on to an early curve with other characters, it is much easier to focus on these two, as they are your only opportunity to get a Thunderbolts character into play before turn 4. The Avengers, on the other hand, have potential drops on turns 1, 2, and 3; more character searchers; and the ubiquitous Rick Jones (who can be recruited for free on turn 4 if you need the Avengers character in play).

Initiative is probably not much of an issue, as the deck can operate on either initiative. Against faster decks, you may want to go with odds to make the most of Iron Man <> Cobalt Man and Hawkeye, Leader by Example on turn 5. Against slower decks, Hulk, Gamma Rage and Thor, God of Thunder can be quite a beating on turn 8, so evens might be preferable.

That’s all for this week. If you have any questions, thoughts, ideas, or comments that you wish to share with me, send me an email at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com.

Mr. Fear, Zoltan Drago  (07/18/06)

Well, it certainly has been quite the eventful week for me. I finally received the word from on high (i.e., Lord Toby Wachter) that I would be part of the Metagame.com coverage team for the next Pro Circuit. While that does mean that I won’t be engaging in any of the intense Vs. System play over the three days of PC: Indy or the $10K, I will get plenty of time in the Feature Match Area nonetheless! Looks like I’ll need to sharpen my typing skills if I plan to keep up with all of the action.

This recruitment to the Metagame.com coverage team is definitely a blessing given the other news that I received. My employer is about to engage in a rather large project in Alabama, and they will be drawing associates from all over the world to work on it. I was fortunate enough to get recruited to work on the project through the next six months. By the time you read this, I will be hard at work in the home state of smilin’ Dave Spears. Sure . . . the excessive travel stinks, but it is far better than being forced back onto the audit rotation for another six months!

However, being away from home every weekday for the next six months will make it difficult for me to put in the requisite practice time for the upcoming Pro Circuits. While I do enjoy playing in the PCs, I tend to enjoy them a lot more when I am actually prepared. So, being a part of the coverage team is the best of both worlds for me: I get to go to the Pro Circuit and Gen Con Indy, but I don’t have to worry about finding time to test the DC Modern format or learn how to draft Infinite Crisis.

Never fear! Though I may be many, many miles away, I will still be around breaking cards for some time to come. Who knows? Maybe my jaunt into Donkey Club territory will inspire some new and innovative creations.

And now . . . back to the Golden Age

Meet Travis McFadden:  Travis is your average, everyday, fourteen-year-old kid. He enjoys Vs. System, his X-Box 360, and messing with the minds of local players — pretty much the norm for any guy his age.

Travis also happens to be one of the most talented deckbuilders that I have ever met. This is indeed saying something, considering the concentration of innovative deckbuilders in the Dallas area. Travis rarely plays any mainstream decks, instead opting to find new and imaginative ways to exploit team combinations. In fact, Travis independently built a Villains United / X-Statix deck that was only four cards different from the one I presented in my column a couple of weeks ago. Great minds do think alike . . . it’s true, it’s true!

But my all-time favorite creation of Travis’s is his “GLEE Lords” deck. This deck was, in fact, the inspiration for my JLI / Crime Lords build featuring Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz. Prior to that, some of you may recall my passing mention of this deck from a previous article. Had the Green Lantern Corps been legal for play at PC: New York last year, this deck could very well have had its way with the Curve Sentinel—infested field. GLEE Lords demolished Sentinels in a way that was just wrong!

The premise of the deck is similar to G’Lock initially. The early game engine uses Kyle Rayner, Last Green Lantern and Dr. Light, Master of Holograms to establish board control and set up your hand. Malvolio is the preferred 4-drop, as his enormous 10 DEF is difficult for even the biggest 4- and 5-drops to pierce.

Turn 5 is where the deck gets goofy. Instead of leaning on the endurance gain ability of Katma Tui, the deck steps in a different direction by putting Mr. Fear into play. While certainly small as 5-drops go, Mr. Fear’s effect essentially dictates that an opponent won’t be able to attack Mr. Fear unless you want him or her to.

Turn 6 is where the deck becomes brutal and brilliant. Assuming that the GLEE Lords player can keep his or her board somewhat intact, Sinestro, Green Lantern of Korugar hits play to really mess with the game. Now, not only can you redirect attacks from Mr. Fear, but you can also start stunning your opponents’ attackers nearly every attack. If your opponent attacks with a smaller character, then you redirect to one of your larger defenders, like Malvolio or Sinestro. But if an opponent attacks with one of his or her larger characters, then you simply direct the attack to a smaller character on your side of the board (hopefully reinforced by Catcher’s Mitt). It can get pretty nasty when Bastion is forced to take a stunback from Roscoe Sweeny!

Of course, PC: LA brought us the advent of much stronger early-game decks, like Squadron Supreme and Avengers reservists. Even with an assortment of clever defensive tricks, the GLEE Lords deck had a hard time competing with these aggressive powerhouses. Thus, it was set on the proverbial playtesting shelf.

Fast forward to April 2006 at the $10K in Austin, TX. Travis took part in the Scholarship Tournament that was held at the tournament site. In a field full of Doom variants, Squadron, Anti-Green Lantern rush, and traditional G’Lock, Travis managed to snag first place for his age group with his unconventional GLEE Lords deck. While the build evolved somewhat to incorporate cards from newer sets, the same basic premise was there: use Mr. Fear to redirect attacks to preferred targets. It worked and served well enough to net him a cool $1,000 scholarship.

While this deck may not become the next big thing, it is both clever and fun — two traits that make it a success in my book. So, we’re going to take a look at how Mr. Fear, in unison with the usual GLEE suspects, can make you giggle with delight and your opponents weep with frustration.

The Build

As has become the norm when featuring the decks of other players, I will present the deck first, then discuss some of the choices afterward.

GLEE Lords – by Travis McFadden

2 G’Nort, GL of G’Newt

1 Roscoe Sweeny, Fixer

1 Roy Harper <> Speedy, MM

2 Salakk, GL of Slyggia

2 Doctor Sun, CoPM

4 Kyle Rayner, Last GL

4 Dr. Light, Master of Holograms

4 Malvolio, LotGF

1 Oliver Queen <> GA, EA

4 Mr. Fear, Zoltan Drago

2 Sinestro, GL of Korugar

1 Magneto, Master of Magnetism

1 Mogo, The Living Planet

4 Cover Fire

2 Drive-by Shooting

2 Emerald Dawn

2 Enemy of My Enemy

2 Face the Master

1 Millennium

3 No Evil Shall Escape Our Sight

1 Political Pressure

1 Rain of Acorns

2 Rough House

2 The Ring Has Chosen

3 Coast City

4 Armed Escort

2 Catcher’s Mitt, Construct

If you have ever piloted a G’Lock deck, then many of these cards will be familiar to you. Obviously, your choices at 1 provide you with a basis for developing your board engine as early as possible. G’Nort has been a fixture in GLEE decks since the archetype was spawned. Giving a +1/+1 pump to most or all of your characters in play really can’t be overstated. Of course, Salakk is the 1-drop preferred by most G’Lock players. While he has no printed effect, his willpower 2 is indispensable in the early going, as it facilitates searches with The Ring Has Chosen on turns 2 and 3 for Kyle Rayner, Last Green Lantern and Dr. Light, Master of Holograms. The remaining 1-drops, Roy Harper <> Speedy and Roscoe Sweeny, are really more targets for Dr. Light activations in later turns. Speedy can take care of pesky opposing 1-drops, while Roscoe Sweeny is a reusable search engine once team-ups between all three of the major teams have been established.

Kyle Rayner and Dr. Light need very little explanation at 2 and 3, respectively. However, Doctor Sun is a nifty little treat that this deck features. While the price of a KO and 2 endurance may be onerous in other decks, the Dr. Light recursion engine effectively turns Doctor Sun into an attack negation every turn for the low, low price of 2 endurance. Since we will usually have reinforcement online in later turns by way of Catcher’s Mitt, Doctor Sun will usually have few impediments stopping him from removing opposing attackers.

Malvolio usually serves as a defensive barrier for opposing attacks at 4. In addition, Oliver Queen <> Green Arrow, Emerald Archer is teched into the deck to assist Speedy in case your opponent tries to overwhelm you with 1-drops.

The combination of Mr. Fear and Sinestro, Green Lantern of Korugar was detailed above. While it is possible to navigate the deck without these characters, they represent the heart and soul of the deck. As such, they are the characters that you would like to see on the board in every game at their respective turns.

The game-enders are Magneto, Master of Magnetism and Mogo, The Living Planet. Magneto turns your opponent’s stunned characters into board losses, preventing any kind of recovery from happening. And Mogo is . . . well . . . big! Your opponents will usually be forced to devote multiple characters and resources to stunning Mogo. With Sinestro still in play, your opponent will generally be forced to stun every character that he or she attacks with.

The plot twists cover the traditional Golden Age G’Lock suite, including Cover Fire and Rain of Acorns. The plot twists also splash some of the Crime Lords defensive cards, like Rough House and Face the Master. While these defensive pumps are vulnerable to reinforcement-removing effects, such as Other-Earth and No Hope, they are quite effective in unison with Catcher’s Mitt.

Political Pressure is a personal favorite of mine and a nifty tool for keeping rush and combo decks in check. Finally, No Evil Shall Escape Our Sight and Millennium round out the plot twists as much needed Team-Ups for a deck that requires multiple Team-Ups in play to be effective.

As I mentioned last week, Coast City has never been a personal favorite of mine. However, it does have its uses. In a deck that attempts to control where your opponent attacks, Coast City can force your opponents to attack into the characters that you choose to place in the front row. Mr. Fear in front of Sinestro can become quite problematic with Coast City in play, as your opponent will usually have no safe avenues where he or she can attack without suffering a stunback.

Last but not least, we have the equipment. Catcher’s Mitt is a phenomenal enabler for reinforcement-based DEF pumps like Face The Master. However, the real star of this show is Armed Escort. If your opponent thought that the Mr. Fear / Sinestro combo was annoying before, just wait until you start dropping Armed Escorts into play. Now all equipped characters can redirect attacks toward themselves. This can get particularly crazy in the late turns when a huge team attack on Mogo is redirected toward an Armed Escort—equipped Roscoe Sweeny. Not only will your opponent’s aggression on Mogo fail, but also all of your opponent’s attackers will generally stun back thanks to Sinestro. Once again, Roscoe lays the smack down!

I have watched Travis pilot this deck many times, and I am consistently impressed by its resiliency. However, there do appear to be some consistency issues that stem from a limited amount of character searchers and none of the willpower-based deck cyclers. Given the Silver Age shift to curve, the deck could very easily find a home in the new metagame. Cover Fire would obviously be lost, but this could also free up some space for more copies of The Ring Has Chosen and Enemy of My Enemy. But whether you choose to adapt the deck for competitive purposes or not, it is fun and interesting to say the very least.

The mulligan will generally be for Dr. Light, as he allows for a strong degree of board control and hand advantage. Once you can get your early game engine online, along with enough Team-Ups to support it, then you can recur Roscoe Sweeny with Dr. Light whenever needed to ensure that you hit your curve.

Given the pitfall that Mr. Fear and Sinestro represent for your opponents, you generally want to get the odd initiatives to allow for the maximum amount of pandemonium on turn 6. If you can get to that turn with Dr. Light, Mr. Fear, and Sinestro in play (as well as any character brought into play by Dr. Light), then you should be able to stymie your opponent sufficiently to prevent him or her from doing any serious damage to your board from that point forward. This leaves Magneto and Mogo free to wreak havoc on your opponent in the later turns.

And with that, we wrap up another week of Breaking Ground. Many thanks to Travis McFadden for this week’s contribution. If you have any comments to make about Travis’s deck or any other deck idea, go ahead and send them my way at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com.

Take care, and I’ll see you again next week!

Anti-Life Equation  (07/25/06)

Ah, travel . . . it does make one weary.  As I am typing this, I am sitting at the airport in Birmingham, Alabama (my weekday “home” for the rest of the year) waiting for my flight back to Dallas. While I love vacation, I am not a fan of travel in the least, especially when it involves five or more hours of travel on a Friday night!

But there is certainly a silver lining to every cloud. In this case, I have the rare opportunity to spend more of my weekends traveling the country (particularly the East Coast), as my employer will subsidize my weekend trips. I am already looking at the possibility of attending the $10K in New York this coming September and the $10K in Orlando in December (hopefully with several of my Florida TAWC teammates). In addition, there are several prominent Vs. System stores and players near where I am working. So, I may very well be taking a road trip to Atlanta to visit Dylan Northrup’s new shop, or even up to Florence to bother Dave Spears for a weekend.

Travel may not be any fun, but congregating with the Vs. masses is always a good time!

Paradox? Oxymoron? Paradoxymoron?

This new situation of mine is somewhat enigmatic. On one hand, I have been given a grand opportunity to visit new and different Vs. System venues across the country. While I love my home stores in Dallas and Tulsa, I really enjoy meeting and playing against Vs. System players from all over the world. However, the counterpoint to this is that my new situation doesn’t afford me the opportunity to be as involved in Vs. System as I once was. My travel arrangements provide me little to no Internet access, and I don’t really have the time to play Vs. System during the week. Where I had been playing the game three to five nights a week, I am now relegated to playing only one or two times a week. For an addict like me, that’s a pretty severe cutback.

Thinking on this caused me to pause and reflect on why I play Vs. System. Since the beginning of the game almost two-and-a-half years ago, there has been on-and-off discussion about the merits of playing professionally versus playing casually. The simple truth is that I am a very competitive person, and I want to be as good at this game as I possibly can. In fact, during my torment in audit several months back, I had seriously considered quitting my job and trying to play Vs. System at a more competitive level. I figured that if I could have the respectable amount of success that I have had with minimal competitive play and testing time, then I had the potential to do very well if I devoted myself to it.

Well, as you can tell, I did not quit my job to become a fully devoted Vs. System player. This is not because I didn’t want to play Vs. System full time; I still dream about becoming a high-caliber pro the likes of Vidi Wijaya or Michael Dalton. But I realized that the happy medium I currently enjoy suits me well. I still try to play Vs. System at a competitive level. But I also participate in more relaxed formats just to enjoy the game and all of the opportunities it presents.

Competitive success is fine, and extra money is great, but having fun with the game is what my Vs. System experience is all about!

Attack Me . . . I DARE YOU!!

You may recall from my article on Last Stand that I am a big fan of multiplayer formats. While they don’t necessarily test play skill, multiplayer formats do allow for dimensions of gameplay that aren’t normally possible in head-to-head action. More importantly, deck concepts that don’t work very well in one-on-one play can find new life in multiplayer games.

My favorite casual format is “Cutthroat” (a.k.a., “Every man for himself!”). My approach to Cutthroat is somewhat different from that of my peers, as they simply tend to play their one-on-one decks in Cutthroat games. I actually prefer to develop decks that are designed to interact with the Cutthroat environment, as they tend to find more success in the format than standard one-on-one decks do. Of course, if your deck is too effective at achieving its strategy, you may find that the other players at the table gang up on you!*

Still, impacting the table with your Cutthroat deck is far more fun than actually winning a game, because you can truly enjoy frustrating the plans and actions of your fellow players. My Cutthroat deck of choice for a good while was a modified version of the Revenge Squad / Injustice Gang deck that I featured shortly after Pro Circuit San Francisco. Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist is just plain annoying in multiplayer games. And with Fifth Dimension to keep him out of harm’s way, I made sure that Lex stayed annoying for as long as he possibly could.

However, I began to notice that a lot more than my fair share of attacks and effects started coming my way whenever I played that deck.** So, much to the relief of my fellow players, I promised to build a different Cutthroat deck to play.

I thought about my choices for a long while. While pretty much any deck is playable in Cutthroat, I prefer to play decks that have some heavily disruptive theme that tends to “mess with the game.” This got me back to thinking about one of my favorite Cutthroat cards, Anti-Life Equation. I don’t think that this card is very strong in one-on-one action, but in a Cutthroat game, it can dominate like no other. The traditional view of Vs. System holds that characters usually become stunned through combat. Thus, effects that can stun opposing characters out of combat are some of the most powerful in the game. One only needs to suffer the wrath of Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Sharpshooter to understand this concept.

Anti-Life Equation, then, is a veritable treasure trove of goodness if one can learn how to utilize it properly. In singles matches, this is not a simple task, as your opponent has the leverage to negotiate how much Anti-Life Equation will affect him or her. For example, if an opponent doesn’t have a stunned character, or has a character in play that he or she wouldn’t mind stunning or even can’t be stunned (think Mr. Mxyzptlk, Fifth Dimension Imp or A Child Named Valeria), then the opponent will almost always call a number that is lower than yours to gain endurance. On the other hand, if the opponent has a few particularly critical characters in play and Anti-Life Equation would cause him or her to lose one of those characters, then he or she has the flexibility to call a number higher than the one that you call. The basic premise is that, in singles play, Anti-Life Equation normally cannot create enough leverage to put your opponents in difficult positions.

This situation drastically begins to change, however, when more players enter the game. As only one player will successfully be able to avoid stunning a character, the competition gets fierce to call a number high enough. Conversely, when a board is already pretty much decimated and players simply want to try to gain as much endurance as possible, Anti-Life Equation makes it possible for you, the controller, to gain quite a bit of endurance while other players fight for the remaining numbers below yours.***

As many of you might have surmised, however, there is a small problem with this tactic. While you might stand to gain some endurance from Anti-Life Equation, you will also be forced to stun a character. For most deck strategies, even those designed for multiplayer games, this is not a prospect that holds much potential. Thus, it is important to design your deck with this situation in mind. In my early builds featuring Anti-Life Equation, I tried to feature Gole as much as possible. Gole is a rare breed of character that you actually want to see stunned. Considering that Anti-Life Equation features prominently, Gole is the perfect character to have in play when Anti-Life Equation triggers.

Gole was, for a long time, one of very few characters who actually thrived on being face down on the board. However, Infinite Crisis brought us a new mechanic that actually creates favorable conditions when your characters become stunned: vengeance! This new mechanic is one of the major themes of the Villains United team. Now we have the perfect team to join Darkseid’s Elite and the Anti-Life Equation. While our opponents are grudgingly forced to stun their prized characters, we will be flipping our guys over happily, gaining massive amounts of endurance, and triggering all kinds of ferocious effects.

It’s time to team up these DC baddies and bring a little mathematical madness to our local Cutthroat games!

The Build

As per usual, we will be playing four copies of Anti-Life Equation. One copy is usually enough to cause our opponents fits. But getting multiple copies of Anti-Life Equation into play can create the kind of pandemonium that will make your Cutthroat games forever memorable.

Our character complement is pretty straightforward. At 1, we have four copies of the aforementioned Gole (a.k.a., “The guy who had vengeance before vengeance was even cool . . . or existed, for that matter”). Also, we’re going to add some versatile search in the form of Alexander Luthor, Duplicitous Doppelganger. Despite the fact that he sits on the top of our deck and shortens our draw, Alexander Luthor is really quite good. He essentially trades the next card that we will draw for a character of our choice, provided that the character has vengeance (which pretty much all of the characters in our deck will). Finally, we’ll include four copies of The Calculator, Noah Kuttler to search out our all-important Team-Up. The Calculator won’t do much for us from a board control perspective, but he finds copies of Coercion, and he can be used to fuel return-to-hand effects like Baddest of the Bad.

Our turn 2 plays are largely optional, as we could easily play more 1-drops. However, the 2-drops can be effective for maintaining our early board, so we’ll include a few. Our first choice is two copies of Dr. Psycho, Mental Giant. In singles play, this guy is great for dealing with annoying 1-drops. In Cutthroat, however, he is an absolute pain for our opponents, as he can potentially stun any 1-drop in play. In big multiplayer games, that is usually bad news for someone at the table! Our other 2-drop is Ishmael Gregor ◊ Sabbac. Since we are playing more of a reactive deck in Cutthroat as opposed to a proactive deck, we want to play effects that deter opposing attacks. While Sabbac is a meager 2/2, he is much like Gole in that most of our opponents will avoid attacking him out of fear of taking the subsequent endurance loss from his effect.

Our 3-drop is the most recent incarnation of the Master of Holograms, Dr. Light, Furious Flashpoint. Yes . . . Dr. Light’s stats are pitiful. But we are playing the good doctor for his effect. With a copy of Alexander Luthor in hand, Dr. Light almost single-handedly fills our curve. Just wait for the good . . . er . . . bad doctor to become stunned, play Alexander with his effect, and then activate to find any drops that you may be missing. If you pretty much already have your curve filled, then Dr. Light can be used to replay your 2-drop nuisances to great effect. While Dr. Light will probably only stay on the board for a few turns, he can have a great impact during those turns when he does see play.

Our backup 4-drop is Deathstroke the Terminator, Lethal Weapon. Much like Sabbac, Deathstroke is a defensive barrier because no one wants to attack into him and suffer the resulting endurance damage. Add in the fact that most 4-drops attacking into Deathstroke will stun back, and you have the potential to deal 8 endurance loss on any given attack. While this is not a major issue one-on-one, it can be a big deal in a multiplayer game. Speaking of multiple players, our primary drop at 4, Sinestro, Villain Reborn, is a major pain in a game with several people. Typically, players focus on attacking characters like Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius and The Joker, Headline Stealer because they disrupt plot twist play when they’re non-stunned. Sinestro, however, has the opposite effect, shutting off all plot twists when he hits the dirt. While there may be a few brave souls willing to attack Sinestro, most players will want to keep their plot twists available.

Turn 5 is all about the awesome Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard. Now we are creating very difficult attacks for our opponents. Not only is Mr. Freeze tough to stun at 10 DEF, but he can also keep almost any opposing character from readying during the turn. This limitation is not quite as potent for us in multiplayer as it is in singles play. Still, it is a restriction that most opponents will not want to take on. Moreover, it can be very powerful in unison with other cards in our deck.

At 6, we’ll momentarily diverge from our vengeance theme to play a couple copies of Darkseid, Uxas. Since we don’t have any real strong characters with vengeance at 6, we’ll instead try out a character that has a nice synergy with Anti-Life Equation. Assuming that we get Darkseid to the recovery phase unharmed, we can use his effect to clear the board of any characters that get stunned by Anti-Life Equation. Of course, there is always the chance that Darkseid will get attacked prior to the recovery phase, in which case we’ll just have to remove his cosmic counter early. But given Darkseid’s respectable stats (particularly his 13 DEF), there’s a very good possibility that we’ll get the opportunity to unleash the Omega Effect on the board!

Turn 7 features one of Darkseid’s occasional mercenaries, Deathstroke the Terminator, Ultimate Assassin. If you thought that your opponents would be wary of attacking into the 4-drop Deathstroke, you ain’t seen nothing yet! With the potential to KO any character in play, our opponents will have to tread carefully around Mr. Wilson. Of course, if no one attacks Deathstroke, then Anti-Life Equation may just take care of the trouble of stunning him so that we can use his effect anyway!

Finally, at 8, we have a copy of The Spectre, Soulless. Thanks to his vengeance, he is searchable via Alexander Luthor. And unless things have gone horribly wrong and someone has managed to win the game via Captain Marvel, Champion of Magic, The Specter will usually mean the end of your opponents because his stunning causes the subsequent stunning of all characters in play.

Our single location choice should be a familiar one: four copies of The Science Spire.**** Since the continuous triggering of Anti-Life Equation will probably only leave us with one or two characters in play each turn, we would undoubtedly benefit from playing a card that enables us to recycle characters that would otherwise become KO’d. The Science Spire not only returns these characters to our hand, but it also allows us to cycle through our deck at a much faster pace. By seeing several extra cards every turn, we help to fill our curve and improve our chances of achieving the dream of four copies of Anti-Life Equation in play at once!

Of course, utilizing characters in play doesn’t have to be limited to activated effects of locations. That’s why we have four copies of our first plot twist, Baddest of the Bad. Where The Science Spire turns excess characters into extra deck cycling power, Baddest of the Bad turns these extra characters in play into character cards to fill our curve. The great thing about Baddest of the Bad is that it enables us to search out any affiliated character. So, if we need to get a copy of Darkseid into our hand for a later turn, then Baddest of the Bad can search him out for us as easily as it can search out a Villains United character. Versatility rules!

We might want to have a way to make use of all of these extra characters in our hand. That’s why we have two copies of The Exchange as a backup character search card. The Exchange is somewhat more limited than Baddest of the Bad in that it can only search out Darkseid’s Elite characters. However, it can still be handy for getting an early copy of Gole or Darkseid for us. And if we manage to get our Team-Up in play early, it will search out any of our characters (with the exception of The Spectre).

We’ve already mentioned that our Team-Up will be Coercion. This Team-Up is particularly useful in that it allows us to limit the number of Darkseid’s Elite characters (none of whom have vengeance) that we play in our deck, yet still effectively enables an early Team-Up (thanks to a preponderance of character searchers). We will only need two copies, as it is really only a catalyst to get Anti-Life Equation up and running. Even if our opponents later manage to get rid of our Team-Up, Anti-Life Equation will still be face up and in play to cause problems for our adversaries. They’d be better served by getting rid of Anti-Life Equation!

Now we come to our three “deterrent” plot twists. The first of these is Systematic Torture. In any format, KO effects are quite powerful. The Villains United team has one of the best in Systematic Torture, as it not only KO’s a character, but also tacks on a little bit of burn in the bargain.

Our next deterrent is Return Fire!. This nasty little burn card only gets better as the game progresses. By simply exhausting one of our characters, we can burn a player of our choice for endurance equal to the cost of his or her attacker. While we could be mean and do this even if we aren’t the player being attacked, Return Fire! is more effective as a punishment for aggressive opponents. Along with the other various effects in our deck, Return Fire! is yet another penalty assessed on opposing players who are brazen enough to attack us.

Finally, we come to my favorite deterrent card, Join Us or Die. This card has a wide array of uses in this deck. From a defensive standpoint, it is amazing whenever an opponent attacks Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard with a 5-drop or less. Once the attack becomes legal, play Join Us or Die on Mr. Freeze, targeting the attacker with Mr. Freeze’s effect. Because Mr. Freeze became stunned during the attack, there is no longer a defender. In most cases, the attacker would ready. However, since Mr. Freeze’s effect prevents an opposing character from readying during that turn, the character that was attacking simply remains exhausted. Don’t mess with the Brutal Blizzard!

Join Us or Die also combos well with Sinestro, Villain Reborn. If you want to shut out opposing plot twists completely for a turn, use Join Us or Die on Sinestro during the draw phase. Your opponents will be forced to respond at that moment. After that, they will be unable to play plot twists for the remainder of the turn. Also, because the stun and following recovery are both part of the effect of Join Us or Die, you don’t have to worry about people responding to it with KO effects. Of course, that also assumes that the character you play Join Us or Die on is a Villains United character. In the case of The Spectre, Soulless, he would remain stunned if targeted by Join Us or Die. But it would probably still be worth it, as you could stun every character on the board by playing a single plot twist. I told you that Join Us or Die was fun!

So that does it. Let’s see if these two villainous teams produced a viable algorithm:


4 Alexander Luthor, Dd

4 Gole, Deep Six

4 The Calculator, Noah Kuttler

2 Dr. Psycho, Mental Giant

2 Ishmael Gregor ◊ Sabbac, Mm

4 Dr. Light, Furious Flashpoint

1 Deathstroke Terminator, Lw

4 Sinestro, Villain Reborn

3 Mr. Freeze, Brutal Blizzard

2 Darkseid, Uxas

1 Deathstroke Terminator, UA

1 The Spectre, Soulless

4 Anti-Life Equation

4 Baddest of the Bad

2 Coercion, Team-Up

4 Join Us or Die

4 Return Fire!

4 Systematic Torture

2 The Exchange

4 The Science Spire

In a multiplayer game, initiative choice is largely a non-issue. Consequently, there really isn’t a preference, as the deck is largely reactive and defensive and does little attacking. Still, if given the choice of when you would like the initiative, turn 8 is probably your goal. That way, even if you don’t have a copy of Join Us or Die with which to stun The Spectre, you can attack with him into an opposing 8-drop to achieve the stun.

The mulligan is easy: keep any hand with Alexander Luthor, Duplicitous Doppelganger. His effect is pretty much self-perpetuating, as you can get Dr. Light, Furious Flashpoint with him and then replay Alexander Luthor with Dr. Light’s effect. This should easily allow you to hit your optimal curve for the rest of the game. Of course, there is enough search and cycling in the deck that you can easily hit your curve even without Alexander Luthor. Still, he is certainly a keeper!

One word of advice. If you do play this deck or any deck featuring Anti-Life Equation in a casual multiplayer game, you might want to add the following house rule: no players may call a number larger than the greater of their total endurance, the cost of the largest character they control, or the number of people playing the game. This rule will allow for a wide variety of choices for Anti-Life Equation but prevent abuse from players about to lose the game. In one recent game, Travis McFadden (the same guy featured in last week’s column) decided to leave the game with a bang by calling one million. While I managed to talk him down to one hundred, he still significantly altered the dynamics of the game for everyone else. With over half of the players at the table at over one hundred endurance at the beginning of turn 7, everyone kind of lost interest in the game. Such is the peril of playing with the Anti-Life Equation!

And that wraps up another week of Breaking Ground. I’ll be back next week, hopefully with an interesting DC Modern deck for everyone to view. In the meantime, feel free to shoot me a message at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com.

So long, and remember: reading may be fundamental, but math is power!

* Ummm . . . not that this has ever happened to me or anything.

** Though, to be fair, I deserved every single one of them. Lex really is quite unfair in Cutthroat!

*** The simple procedure for calling endurance-optimizing numbers with Anti-Life Equation is to call [n-2], where n is the number of players in a particular game. This will give you the largest possible return on the tightest distribution. For example, assume that eight players are in a game. You would call 6, as this is your endurance-optimizing amount. The remaining seven players must fight for the values 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7. These numbers can get larger if someone deliberately calls a high number to try to keep a character from stunning. In any case, there will always be someone who is forced to call a number higher than the one that you have called, meaning that you will always gain endurance off Anti-Life Equation (prior to stunning your character, of course).

**** “Science again! I said ‘science’ again!”

Secret Six Victorious  (08/02/06)

We’re on the verge of another Pro Circuit, and this one brings the Vs. System back to Indianapolis. In a little over a week, Vs. System players from around the world will head to Gen Con Indy to compete for the title of Pro Circuit Champion and an Extended Art Savage Beatdown. I suppose the $40,000 payday for first place doesn’t hurt, either!

This Pro Circuit’s Constructed format will be DC Modern Age and will use the Justice League of America and Infinite Crisis sets. I’m particularly excited about this PC, as it promises to be one of the most diverse Modern Age formats ever. This Modern Age boasts two of the strongest Vs. System sets released to date, and as a result, we have decks that span the breadth of archetypes. There are powerful representatives from each of the combat-based archetypes: curve (Secret Society and Checkmate), off-curve (Injustice Gang Army and JSA), and short-curve (Villains United and Good Guys). Disruption and control decks also hold potential with Shadowpact and the Injustice Gang hand flood strategy. Of course, there’s the proverbial “800-pound gorilla” in the Fate Artifacts. And the potential for alternate victories exists, thanks to Captain Marvel, Champion of Magic and Secret Six Victorious.

“I love the smell of Vs. System in the morning. It smells like . . . VICTORY!”

When I was considering what deck to write about for DC Modern Age, I decided that I wanted to look at one of the less notable archetypes. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a simple proposition, as pretty much every archetype that I’ve mentioned is viable. Ultimately, it came down to personal preference. I decided to take a cue from my team and look at the alternate win conditions. Captain Marvel has already been thoroughly explored and abused in Silver Age with teched G’Lock decks, so that left me with one of my pet projects, Secret Six Victorious.

Anyone who knows me even moderately well knows that I have an affinity for alternate deck strategies. This isn’t necessarily limited to alternate win conditions, as I like to play non-combat burn and late game stall decks almost as much. Still, I find alternate win condition decks to be the most interesting, as they tend to incorporate deckbuilding and playing concepts that run against the norm.

Secret Six Victorious may be the most interesting alternate win condition card to date in Vs. System. In the past, alternate win conditions incorporated cards that weren’t really designed with such strategies in mind. For example, I doubt that Upper Deck ever foresaw how Cosmic Radiation would enable victory with Rigged Elections. Still, some clever innovators have managed to meld disparate teams into working synergies to enable these alternate win conditions. The Secret Six team, however, is a horse of a different color, as the entire basis of the team is support for the victory condition of Secret Six Victorious.

One would think that developing a viable build to support Secret Six Victorious would be a simple matter. In some respects, the deck builds itself. Any reasonably intelligent player will incorporate the Secret Six characters into his or her build, as well as some of the impressive support cards like Dodge the Bullet. With a decent draw where you manage to hit Catman on turn 3 and Ragdoll on turn 4, pulling off the win condition of six characters with the printed Secret Six affiliation in play by turn 5 or 6 is possible.

However, my testing revealed that there is one major issue with the deck: drop consistency. Without a dedicated character searcher, the chances of consistently getting your characters into play when you want them are somewhat remote. While Help Wanted isn’t bad at cycling through the deck, and generic searchers like Secret Origins can abate your character search woes a little, the fact remains that Secret Six probably won’t be “victorious” on its own.

Aren’t they the last team with which we’d want to merge the Secret Six?

Teaming-up brings on a new set of issues. While there are certainly several teams in the Vs. System that could assist the Secret Six in its win condition, there is a major issue with space. In any Secret Six deck, you will want to play all eight of the Secret Six characters in some capacity. Characters like Fiddler and Deadshot, Dead Aim certainly merit four copies, while Cheshire and Scandal could be limited to two or three. Still, this requirement creates deck space issues because the Secret Six characters will generally occupy at least twenty card spaces in the deck. This limits the number of characters that we can include from other teams. Moreover, as having characters from other teams in play doesn’t advance the deck’s victory condition (remember: printed Secret Six affiliation), we really don’t want characters from other teams in play during the later turns.

My playtesting with Villains United revealed that they would probably be a very capable team to join up with the Secret Six. Yeah . . . I know this is a blatant slap in the face for DC fans out there, as the sole purpose for the formation of Secret Six was to oppose Villains United. Still, the synergy between the two teams is undeniable. Villains United has strong early drops that facilitate early team-ups. And Baddest of the Bad works remarkably well with characters like Fiddler and Deadshot.

While teaming-up Secret Six and Villains United may be blasphemous from a comic book perspective, it has great potential in Vs. System. It’s time for these two teams to quit fighting and work together to achieve an alternate victory!

The Build

While Secret Six Victorious is our deck’s ultimate win condition, we won’t need to have it in play until turn 5 at the earliest. In addition, we’ll incorporate a card that can search out Secret Six Victorious. So, we will limit our build to three copies of our alternate win condition.

As for our other plot twists, we will certainly need a Team-Up. Villains United has one of the best Team-Ups in the game in Coercion. This cool little plot twist spurns the traditional notion of having to put characters from both teams into play to create a team-up. Instead, Coercion allows a simple reveal from the hand to create a team-up between Villains United and the team of whatever character card we reveal. And, just like Secret Six Victorious, Coercion is easily searchable by a couple different cards in our deck. So, we will include only three copies. With no cards in DC Modern Age that can replace or remove ongoing plot twist Team-Ups, we can rest assured that once we team-up, we’ll stay teamed-up.

Character searchers will be paramount to the deck’s success. So, we’re going to include four copies each of a couple of search cards. First, we have Baddest of the Bad. As mentioned earlier, Baddest of the Bad combos nicely with Fiddler and Deadshot because both can be brought into play without having to expend resource points. Also, we can use Baddest of the Bad to bounce our early game Villains United characters to set up our late game. Our other searcher will be Straight to the Grave. This is another card that combos nicely with Fiddler and Deadshot. Deadshot thrives in the KO’d pile, so we can use Straight to the Grave to put him there, and then exhaust a 3-drop to bring him directly into play. As for Fiddler, he is the one character in our deck capable of retrieving the character cards that we search out with Straight to the Grave. Suffice it to say, the synergies are impressive.

Now let’s look at some of the cards that will help us achieve our win condition. First and foremost, we have Dodge the Bullet. I love this card! As the deck’s focus is centered on maintaining a board of six characters to achieve a win, any card that can keep our characters out of harm’s way will be at a premium. It’s a sure bet that board controlling effects like Removed from Continuity; Annihilation Protocol <> OMAC Robot; and Deadshot, Floyd Lawton will see plenty of play in DC Modern Age. Dodge the Bullet keeps your precious characters safe from these devastating effects by whisking away a character you control, then bringing it back at the start of the next draw phase. Dodge the Bullet can even be useful if you run into a situation where you will be forced to KO a character during the recovery phase wrap-up. Simply remove the character from play with Dodge the Bullet so that the stunned character isn’t around for the wrap-up effects. You see? Circumventing the system can be fun!

I tested It’s Not Over Yet for a good period of time and came to the following conclusion: it’s not as effective in the deck as I would like it to be. While the effect is indeed awesome, the limitation to use only during the recovery phase restricts its effectiveness. More importantly, the discard can become somewhat onerous, as it is generally important to utilize every card to full effectiveness. Thus, we are going to play Revitalize instead. This card is a bit of a better fit for our deck strategy, especially since we won’t be doing a lot of attacking. In addition, it’s a very nice counter to one of the powerhouses of DC Modern Age, Removed from Continuity. While Catman will generally protect our characters from most board control effects, he’s useless against Removed from Continuity. So, we have a contingency card in Revitalize to prevent our opponents from crippling us with Removed from Continuity or other board control effects.

On the location front, we will supplement the character card recursion theme that Fiddler began with four copies of Slaughter Swamp. In order to rely on Straight to the Grave as a viable character searcher, we’ll probably want multiple methods of retrieving our character cards from the KO’d pile. In addition, Slaughter Swamp works very well with any copies of Deadshot that we might have wasting away in our hand. Simply discard Deadshot to get back a character card in the KO’d pile, and then exhaust a 3-drop to bring him into play. Yes, it’s just that easy!

Looking at our characters, we’ve already said enough about our 1- and 2-drop representatives from the Secret Six, Fiddler, Issac Bowin and Deadshot, Dead Aim. So, not much else needs to be said except that we will (obviously) be playing four copies of each in our deck.

As far as our other early drops go, we will stockpile our 1-drop slot with several strong Villains United characters. Our first choice is The Calculator, Noah Kuttler. This guy must be good, since he’s been a “four-of” in two of the last three decks that I’ve featured. Still, he is a necessity, given the importance of teaming-up characters in this deck.

Also at 1 is Alexander Luthor, Duplicitous Doppelganger. Granted, Alexander Luthor is far more effective in a deck stocked with multiple characters with vengeance. Still, he is capable of searching out both The Calculator and Ragdoll, which makes him a strong first turn play. Bonus: if we do manage to get him into play on the first turn, we can use his effect to search out The Calculator, and then recruit Alexander Luthor again on turn 2 to put the requisite Villains United character in play for a team-up with Coercion.

Finally at 1, we’ll splash three copies of Count Vertigo, Werner Vertigo. The Count is not as strong a first turn play as Alexander Luthor. Still, Count Vertigo is a Villains United 1-drop with a relevant effect, so he merits inclusion.

At the 3-slot, we want to have the maximum four copies of Catman, Thomas Blake. In a format with so few cards that can impact the hidden area, having a 3-drop with concealed that prevents your characters from becoming KO’d is a big advantage. While we still must be vigilant about maintaining our board and avoid losing characters during the wrap-up, Catman takes some of the pressure off by keeping cards like Systematic Torture and Fatality, Flawless Victory from clearing our board.*

Also at 3, we’re going to play a single copy of Parademon, Apokoliptian Ally. You might be saying that Parademon should merit more copies in the deck. While I don’t disagree, I have found that Parademon is difficult to play effectively, as bringing him into play after one of your characters stuns means that he’ll be exposed and vulnerable to counterattacks. There are, of course, ways to mitigate this threat. But to do so, we really need to be in control of the game already. In essence, Parademon will usually be a good play for us only when we’re already winning. As such, he’ll only be occasionally useful. Hence the single copy of our Apokoliptian Ally.

At the 4-slot, we have three copies of Ragdoll, Resilient Rogue. It’s hard to argue the effectiveness of this guy, as an essentially free recovery is never bad . . . especially in a deck that lives or dies on its ability to maintain its board. Of course, Ragdoll’s vengeance effect is only slightly more important than the fact that he has vengeance, since that makes him searchable by Alexander Luthor. With the four copies of Alexander Luthor, we should be able to hit Ragdoll in almost every game, even without the maximum four copies.

Our choice at 5 deserves a bit of explaining. Some of you may be under the impression that this deck wants to win at the start of turn 5. However, if you do the math, you will find that a turn five victory is extremely difficult. In order to win, we need to have six Secret Six characters in play. We will also need to have five cards in our resource row, which brings our card requirements to eleven. Now, with a standard draw, we will draw fourteen cards by turn 5. This only leaves us three extra cards to work with. Of course, cards like Baddest of the Bad and Deadshot can help us somewhat. Still, it would take a near perfect draw to get six characters in play by the start of the recruit step on turn 5. So, it behooves us to have a plan for turn 5; we’ll include three copies of Cheshire, Jade, a nice addition with her above-average 11 DEF. While this isn’t insurmountable, it does mean that most 5-drops will need some sort of pump to attack and stun her. A strong defensive play for us on 5 is certainly not a bad idea.

We have already spoken a fair bit about Scandal, Savage Spawn and what she adds to the deck. So, it goes without saying that we’re going to include a couple copies of Vandal Savage’s little girl. Not only does she give us access to a Secret Six 6-drop in the unlikely circumstance that we need one to recruit in a later turn, but she’s also a search card for our win condition. Dual utility like that is what wins games, folks!

Finally, we have the leader of the Secret Six, Lex Luthor <> Mockingbird, at 7. Much like Scandal, Mockingbird provides us dual utility. First, Mockingbird can get an extra character into play at an opportune time to give us some help at achieving our win condition. Second, Mockingbird makes do as a respectable 7-drop in a pinch. Of course, if we end up going to turn 7 with this deck, we’re probably in a situation where having a 7-drop won’t really matter.

Now, let’s give our alternate win experiment a spin:

Secret Six Victorious


4 Alexander Luthor, DD

3 Count Vertigo, Werner Vertigo

4 Fiddler, Isaac Bowin

4 The Calculator, Noah Kuttler

4 Deadshot, Dead Aim

4 Catman, Thomas Blake

1 Parademon, Apokoliptian Ally

3 Ragdoll, Resilient Rogue

3 Cheshire, Jade

2 Scandal, Savage Spawn

2 Lex Luthor <> Mockingbird

4 Baddest of the Bad

3 Coercion, Team-Up

4 Dodge the Bullet

4 Revitalize

3 Secret Six Victorious

4 Straight to the Grave

4 Slaughter Swamp

The deck generally wants the odd initiatives so that it can create a favorable board position on turn 5 that will facilitate a win on turn 6. The mulligan, unfortunately, is not quite so straightforward, as there are several factors that need to be taken into account. Your goal is to get Catman and Ragdoll into play on turns 3 and 4, respectively. From there, getting Fiddler, Deadshot, and Parademon on the board is certainly doable. This leaves you to get only a single extra character into play with Lex Luthor’s effect. Of course, if the turn 4 setup fails to come to fruition, you can recruit Cheshire on 5 to go for the turn 6 win.

Given that long list of requirements, holding onto an opening hand with Alexander Luthor isn’t a bad way to go, as he can search out The Calculator (for the team-up) and Ragdoll. This only leaves Catman for you to find. With four copies of him, as well as eight viable search cards, you should have little trouble finding him by turn 3. Barring a poor draw, the remaining components should fall into place for you by turn 6 at the very latest.

And that wraps up our DC Modern Age experiment for this week. Hopefully, you all found it interesting and entertaining. If you have any thoughts or comments that you would like to share, feel free to drop me a line at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com.

We’ll see you back here next week for the last issue of Breaking Ground before Pro Circuit Indy and the Heralds of Galactus previews. Just as I did for the Silver Age PC in San Francisco, I’ll be giving you a detailed breakdown of “The Top Twenty-Five Cards that You Should be Playing in the DC Modern Age!”

* Unless, of course, our opponents have ways of sending Fatality into the hidden area to attack Catman. That is bad news, to say the very least.

The Deckbuilding Process  (08/29/06)

Welcome back to Breaking Ground! I hope everyone had a chance to attend a Heralds of Galactus Sneak Preview this weekend. In an interview with Dylan Northup on VsRealms.com, Ben Seck said that the Heralds of Galactus set would have a profound impact on Vs. System as we know it. Given all that we have seen from the set, I don’t think UDE disappointed us.

We’re going to do something a little different from the norm this week. I have received several emails from Vs. System players around the world asking about the deckbuilding process. You see, I have stated on prior occasions that most of the decks I develop for this column receive little to no playtesting. This is not because I’m trying to deceive readers about the viability of certain decks and ideas. Rather, my schedule really doesn’t allow me the time to thoroughly test every single deck that I build. Essentially, my builds are frameworks for other players to develop their own decks and ideas.

While this is all well and good from a casual standpoint, it doesn’t really help players who wish to learn about competitive deck design. I am a big advocate of players trying out all sorts of different deck types to enhance their Vs. System experience, but there’s a difference between taking your pet deck to your local Hobby League or PCQ and trying to win with that same deck at a $10K or Pro Circuit event. If you want to have any hope of doing well at a premier event, you really need to spend a good deal of time testing your deck against other decks that you will see in that environment. One very admirable quality of my teammates in TAWC is that they are all quite conscientious about practicing with the decks we develop so they can perform at the highest level when they attend competitive events. This trait certainly shows in the success that my team has enjoyed in recent months.

To better acclimate aspiring deckbuilders with the creative process, I thought I would share a recent experience of mine. It is not a completely accurate portrayal, as the testing timeframe was fairly compressed. Nevertheless, it will give some insight as to how a deck idea moves from inception to completion.


While I did not attend Pro Circuit Indianapolis, I did do a fair amount of Constructed playtesting for the event with my teammates and local players. TAWC had a reasonably strong Good Guys (JLA / JLI) build it was using for testing for the PC. I really wasn’t too worried about my teammates being prepared. However, several players at my local shop, JJK Cards in Richardson, were also planning on attending. While I have great respect for the skills of these players, they tend to be a lot less regimented in their preparation process. Since I consider this group to be my “second team,” I took on the role of tackling dummy to help them playtest their decks.

While I had built variants of Checkmate / Villains United and Injustice Gang Army (two of the decks I figured would be well represented at the PC), most of my testing involved playing TAWC’s Good Guys deck against the various decks of the JJK players. The results were far more discouraging than encouraging, as Good Guys won a substantial majority of the matches. Considering that the most popular deck at the Pro Circuit would most likely be Good Guys, this was dire news indeed.

The one ray of hope that shone out from our testing was Jayson Cody’s Secret Society deck. While not as overtly powerful as Good Guys, the Secret Society team has some characters that really cause problems for Good Guys. Deadshot, Floyd Lawton can keep Shayera Thal ◊ Hawkwoman from fetching a single card. And Gorilla Grodd almost seems to be custom-made for snatching opposing copies of Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman, Thanagarian Enforcer. But the lady that really impressed me was Crystal Frost ◊ Killer Frost. Not only did she boast very impressive stats at 8/11, but she also had an effect that could literally lock down your opponent’s board.

The Saturday before the PC, I attended a show at the Dallas Fair Park Music Hall. Because the musical wasn’t all that interesting, my mind kept wandering back to the problem of Good Guys. There really wasn’t a deck in DC Modern Age that could compete with Good Guys in the mid-game, and there wasn’t a team that was aggressive enough to put Good Guys in a hole in the early game. This left the late game. Unfortunately, it seemed like the immense size of the Good Guys mid-game characters would prevent opposing decks from ever reaching the later turns.

Then I had an epiphany. Crystal Frost ◊ Killer Frost could very easily keep the Good Guys characters at bay if you could exhaust them during the turns when you controlled the initiative. But this usually required an effect like Glass Jaw or an outright stun to get the Good Guys characters exhausted in the first place. Given how big the characters tend to get, this was not a simple proposition . . . unless you had an effect that could independently exhaust the opposing characters.

Enter Dinah Laurel Lance ◊ Black Canary, “Pretty Bird”. I had never been a personal fan of Black Canary in ally decks, opting instead for the more aggressive Hawkman, but it occurred to me right then that she was the answer to my dilemma. Black Canary can exhaust characters; Killer Frost can keep them from readying. The beautiful part of this whole deal is that both effects can trigger off a single power-up! Simply put Killer Frost’s ally effect on the chain first, and then follow it with Black Canary’s. Black Canary’s effect will resolve first, exhausting the character; then Killer Frost’s effect will resolve, preventing that character from readying. It almost seemed too good to be true!

I woke up early on Sunday morning and put together a preliminary build of my idea. Here is the initial build:

The Original Build (08/06/06)

4 Mr. Mxyzptlk, TTrickster

4 James Jesse ◊ Trickster, GG

2 Deadshot, Floyd Lawton

1 Adam Strange, Co Rann

4 Hawkwoman, TEnforcer

4 Black Canary, “Pretty Bird”

1 Hawkman, Eternal Hero

1 Green Arrow, Emerald Archer

4 Crystal Frost ◊ Killer Frost

2 Gorilla Grodd, SMastermind

2 Aquaman, Kot7S

1 Psycho-Pirate, Roger Hayden

2 Forbidden Loyalties, Team-Up

4 Funky’s Big Rat Code

3 Hero’s Welcome

3 Revitalize

4 Roll Call!

4 Straight to the Grave

4 Slaughter Swamp

4 Nth Metal

2 Quadromobile

The testing proved to be very insightful; I lost only a single match throughout the entire day of testing. The gauntlet of decks I tested against included Good Guys, JLA / JSA (“Better Guys?”), Checkmate / Villains United, Injustice Gang Army, and Shadowpact. While many of the matches were close, JLA / Secret Society prevailed via mid-game board lockdown followed by late game dominance with characters like Gorilla Grodd, Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas, and Psycho-Pirate.

So impressive was the performance of the deck that Tom Magel, owner of JJK Cards, asked if he could play it at the PC. While this was encouraging news, I was a bit concerned that the deck still had a lot of room for improvement. So, I decided to spend the next couple of days refining.

Following work the next day, I sat down with the deck and attempted to refine some of the rough spots I had encountered the day before. The second build of the deck was as follows:

The Intermediate Build (08/07/06)

4 Fiddler, Isaac Bowin

4 Mr. Mxyzptlk, TTrickster

4 Deadshot, Floyd Lawton

2 Deadshot, Dead Aim

4 Hawkwoman, TEnforcer

4 Black Canary, “Pretty Bird”

1 Green Arrow, Emerald Archer

4 Crystal Frost ◊ Killer Frost

2 Gorilla Grodd, SMastermind

2 Aquaman, Kot7S

1 Psycho-Pirate, Roger Hayden

4 Dodge the Bullet

4 Funky’s Big Rat Code

3 Hero’s Welcome

4 Roll Call!

4 Straight to the Grave

4 Slaughter Swamp

2 UN Building, Team-Up

2 Nth Metal

1 Quadromobile

There are some very noticeable changes in this decklist. First and foremost was the addition of the Secret Six cards. One major problem that I encountered with the deck was that it struggled on the even initiatives. Since the entire deck engine relied on having Dinah Laurel Lance ◊ Black Canary, “Pretty Bird” and Crystal Frost ◊ Killer Frost, Cold-Hearted Killer in play, trying to keep them both on the board when an opponent had the initiative on turn 5 was a very difficult prospect. Even with Killer Frost’s impressive DEF and multiple power-ups, she usually couldn’t bounce the attacks of Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman, Thanagarian Enforcer. To address this issue, I tested out Revitalize. While it was a good answer, it was never great. The major problem was that even if I could avoid BWA HA HA HA HA!, it was possible for my opponents to stun my board even after I recovered a character with Revitalize.

This is where Dodge the Bullet comes in. I had already decided that I wanted to try out Fiddler, as he could be invaluable for fetching power-ups and character cards sent to the KO’d pile via Straight to the Grave. Deadshot, Dead Aim was also a natural addition because he has the Secret Society team stamp and can be used to power-up Deadshot, Floyd Lawton. So, the notion of trying to use Dodge the Bullet was certainly within the realm of possibility. If I could move Black Canary or Killer Frost out of harm’s way on turn 5, then they should both be present to perform some lockdown shenanigans on turn 7.

The concern I had, though, was that removing one of my defenders from play would probably leave me vulnerable to enough direct breakthrough endurance loss that I would never see the later turns. But then I realized that Dodge the Bullet in unison with Killer Frost would actually reduce the overall amount of damage that I would take. Say, for example, my opponent attacks Killer Frost. Once the attack becomes legal, I simply power-up Killer Frost and use her effect, targeting the attacker. Then, I play Dodge the Bullet on Killer Frost, removing her from the attack. Normally, the attacker would ready. But thanks to Killer Frost’s effect, the attacker remains exhausted and the damage the attacker would have caused is averted.

Granted, Dodge the Bullet is still vulnerable to BWA HA HA HA HA! But four copies would hopefully give the deck a fighting chance in the unfortunate circumstance that it has to operate on the even initiatives.

One of the other major changes included dropping Mr. Mxyzptlk, Troublesome Trickster  for more copies of Deadshot, Floyd Lawton. My rationale for this decision is detailed in an excerpt from an email to Tom:

At 2, I didn’t feel like Trickster did enough for the deck. His evasion was nice, and his ability to send cards from the top of the deck into the KO’d pile was marginally helpful. However, he didn’t really do anything for board control. I debated for a while about whether to include Captain Boomerang, George Harkness. He has a great effect from a board control standpoint. However, it occurred to me that Deadshot, Floyd Lawton was a lot more versatile. He can take out a 2- or 3-drop on either player’s initiative, so he’s a lot more versatile than Captain Boomerang. Of course, you have to get ten cards into the KO’d pile. But with enough copies of Straight to the Grave, Hero’s Welcome, Roll Call, and Funky’s Big Rat Code, ten cards in the KO’d pile should be possible by turn 3.

Also, I tried to trim the fat (so to speak) by removing tech cards that weren’t really working. Adam Strange wasn’t a bad idea, but I found that I was only ever playing him when I drew into him because I never wanted to waste a search card on him. While he was nice in the Injustice Gang Army matchup, he didn’t do much for any of the other matchups. Besides, Deadshot, Floyd Lawton and Oliver Queen ◊ Green Arrow, Emerald Archer tended to give that deck enough trouble by themselves.

Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman, Eternal Hero was put into the deck so that I could always have a search option on turn 4 with Hawkwoman. But I found that if I missed Black Canary in any of my games (except the Injustice Gang Army matchup, where I always wanted Green Arrow), I was probably going to lose anyway. So, the logical conclusion was that putting Hawkman in the deck was a waste of deck space.

Finally, the Nth Metal count was cut back to two. Unlike in Good Guys, where you want to play as many copies of Nth Metal as possible, I really only wanted one copy of Nth Metal in any given game. More importantly, the recursion and character search available in the deck meant that I never really needed Nth Metal. So, the number of copies dropped significantly to accommodate other cards that were more critical to the smooth flow of the deck.

This version of the deck ran much more smoothly than the first. I found that the change in 2-drops generally led to me taking more early game damage, but the endurance sacrifice resulted in much more effective early game board control. (Deadshot is da bomb!) Still, there was some room for improvement.

From the prior deck testing, I was able to fine-tune the deck a bit more. The third build was pretty close to what would end up being the final build. In addition, in honor of Killer Frost, I settled on a deck name of “Cool Chicks.” Given that it was designed to beat Good Guys, I thought that was appropriate.  Here’s what the end result of the testing looked like:

The “Final” Build (08/08/06)

4 Fiddler, Isaac Bowin

3 Mr. Mxyzptlk, TTrickster

4 Deadshot, Floyd Lawton

1 Deadshot, Dead Aim

3 Floronic Man, Jason Woodrue

2 Hawkwoman, TEnforcer

4 Black Canary, “Pretty Bird”

1 Green Arrow, Emerald Archer

4 Crystal Frost ◊ Killer Frost

2 Gorilla Grodd, SMastermind

2 Aquaman, Kot7S

1 Psycho-Pirate, Roger Hayden

4 Dodge the Bullet

4 Funky’s Big Rat Code

4 Hero’s Welcome

4 Roll Call!

4 Straight to the Grave

4 Slaughter Swamp

1 UN Building, Team-Up

3 Quadromobile

1 Nth Metal

The major change to the build came at the 3-drop slot. As much as I like Hawkwoman, I didn’t find her nearly as useful in this deck now that the number of Nth Metals had been cut to one. True, she was useful for searching out Quadromobile (which I had come to love dearly), but that wasn’t really enough of a reason to play a dedicated 3-drop. In addition, I found that my 3-drop was generally KO’d by the end of turn 4 anyway. So, I decided to try out a character that would provide some utility beyond the two turns it saw play. Many people feel that Floronic Man, Jason Woodrue is a very bad character. After all, you are wasting precious resource points to get a single card back from the KO’d pile. In this deck, however, he turned out to be phenomenal. Like I said, I generally wasn’t able to keep my 3-drop around past turn 4, so Floronic Man became a much stronger play than Hawkwoman because he could fetch cards back from the KO’d pile to help me set up for my all-important late game turns.

“So,” you ask, “if Floronic Man is so great, why is Hawkwoman still in the deck?” The answer is that I had originally taken her out of the deck altogether. But after a few games, I noticed that I was missing my 3-drop a lot more than I did before I dropped Hawkwoman. I came to realize that Hero’s Welcome was a good part of the reason that I was consistently hitting my drops. That being said, it made sense to keep Hawkwoman around in a diminished capacity (since she was still good at fetching Quadromobile and Nth Metal) but also to try to make Floronic Man the primary 3-drop. So, two copies of Hawkwoman and three copies of Floronic Man made the cut for the deck.

And thus ended the testing. The deck was set and ready to try to take PC: Indy by storm!


While I would love to tell you that Tom went to the PC and destroyed all comers, that isn’t at all what happened. Both Tom and Jayson Cody (who was running a modified version of the build) ended up barely missing the cut for Day 2. But that wasn’t necessarily an indication that the build was bad. In fact, after speaking with Tom and Jayson, I found that the main reasons for their difficulties were missed drops in the late game and mistakes made while playing the deck. Tom did say that he actually won two matches against Good Guys when he had the even initiative, which indicates that the deck was performing well at a very basic level.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. After seeing the amazing deck that won the PC (Anthony Calabrese’s Secret Society Fate deck), I realized that there were some definite improvements that could be made to this deck. First, his early ­­game engine to acquire the Fate Artifacts was probably much stronger than what I currently had built in. Second, as nice as Fiddler and Dodge the Bullet were, they probably weren’t necessary to the success of the deck; just having a strong basis for the deck (i.e. the Fate Artifacts) would probably be enough to sustain its strength. Finally, 3-drops may have been sorely overrated!

All that being said, here’s how the build looks post-PC: Indy (borrowing a lot from the PC-winning build):

Cool Chicks

4 Ted Kord ◊ Blue Beetle, HotS

2 Mr. Mxyzptlk, TTrickster

4 Deadshot, Floyd Lawton

4 Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose

4 Black Canary, “Pretty Bird”

1 Fatality, Flawless Victory

4 Crystal Frost ◊ Killer Frost

2 Gorilla Grodd, SMastermind

2 Aquaman, Kot7S

1 Psycho-Pirate, Roger Hayden

4 Funky’s Big Rat Code

3 Hero’s Welcome

4 Roll Call!

4 Straight to the Grave

2 Dr. Fate’s Tower

1 Satellite HQ

4 Slaughter Swamp

1 UN Building, Team-Up

2 Amulet of Nabu

2 Cloak of Nabu

4 Helm of Nabu

1 Quadromobile

The changes incorporated give the deck a power level along the lines of Calabrese’s build while still allowing for the Black Canary / Killer Frost interaction devised in my original concept. The overall power of this build isn’t as high as the PC-winning deck, but it does incorporate a lot more disruption and defensive elements that should (in theory) make it more competitive against decks like Good Guys and Shadowpact without hurting the Checkmate matchup significantly.

I certainly hope that this discussion has been insightful for a few of you out there. If you would like to share with me any of your personal playtesting insights, I am always available at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com.

So, until I see you again on Breaking Ground, have a great week! I’ll be back here next Wednesday to look at a Golden Age deck idea from the Heralds of Galactus set.

Moondragon, Protector of the Mind Gem  (09/05/06)

Well, it’s official; another member of TAWC has tied the knot. Shortly after Pro Circuit San Francisco, Jeremy Blair wed his sweetheart, Molly. While I wasn’t present for the Kingpin’s big day, I didn’t miss out on the ceremonies at the end of August when Metagame.com writer (and my friend and teammate) Shane Wiggans got hitched to his fiancee, Amanda. Shane’s wedding weekend was full of all kinds of hijinks as Shane, Tim Batow, John Hall, and I made the trek down to Lake Jackson, TX (just south of Houston).  I’ll save the storytelling for Shane, as I am sure he will regale you with tales aplenty about the events of the weekend, including but not limited to:

  • The literal hours of discussion regarding deck ideas for PC: Los Angeles.
  • John’s joke of the weekend, expressing his hope that Shane didn’t change his mind about the wedding at the last minute (much the way Shane did about his deck at PC: Indy).
  • Never-ending Aqualad abuse.


Hungering for Heralds of Galactus

Despite the fact that I left Lake Jackson without scoring any bridesmaid phone numbers, the weekend was quite fun. Of course, the only thing better than a wedding weekend with your Vs. System buddies is a wedding followed by a Heralds of Galactus Sneak Preview weekend with your Vs. System buddies!

After fulfilling our groomsmen duties, Tim, John, and I drove up to Waco, TX to attend the Heralds of Galactus Sneak Preview at The Game Closet. We all had a chance to glimpse the card list thanks to Dylan Northrup’s Vs. System card search engine, but still we were largely unprepared for what the new set had to offer.

In prior Vs. System sets, Sealed Pack strategy was relatively straightforward. Although different cards, teams, and archetypes had different means of achieving victory, the same basic patterns of stat enhancement and board control were present. In essence, the most popular and powerful strategies utilized ATK pumps, DEF pumps, and KO effects. Other effects (like search and deck cycling effects) might be present but usually acted as support for the pumps and board control effects.

Heralds of Galactus turned previous standards on their ear by promoting strategies that weren’t fully utilized when drafting previous sets. The Heralds of Galactus team supports curve-stall strategy (in a way that hadn’t fully been explored before) by using a clever combination of board control and endurance-gain effects to reach later turns. They are opposed in that respect by the Kree, who have a viable off-curve strategy that manifests itself in an unconventional bounce theme. The Inhumans excel at resource row and cosmic counter exploitation, providing tremendous bonuses to players and characters that can maintain these fragile conditions. Doom presents a flavorful take with its “ally sacrifice” bonuses; obviously, Dr. Doom has no problem whatsoever with KO’ing his own troops if it will benefit him. And the Skrull team is unique, giving huge stat boosts based on the number of teams a player controls. I’d expect that massive amalgamations of teams with several Team-Ups to abuse these Skrull characters will be a popular strategy in Heralds of Galactus Sealed Pack play.

Draw . . . FTW!

If you read my preview of The Infinity Gauntlet, then you probably already know that the team I was most interested in was the Infinity Watch. This team is reminiscent of the Arkham Inmates from DC Origins. Even though the team has some very strong characters, they don’t really share any cohesive theme. I suppose this is fitting, as the only thing that the members of the Infinity Watch had in common was that they all possessed one of the Infinity Gems. I would expect that the Infinity Watch will take a role similar to that of the Fearsome Five: not at all popular as a mono-team deck, but viable when combined with other teams.

This week, I would like to explore this aspect. You see, every Vs. System player has a particular aspect of the game toward which he or she gravitates. Many younger players tend to drift toward early game rush decks, as the opportunity to end the game in the first few turns is appealing and simple. Players with more experience in strategy and combat games often prefer control and stall decks. While these archetypes are more difficult to operate, they provide the benefit of greater influence on the state of the game with the ability to control the actions of opposing characters and players.

Personally, I am a huge fan of decks that draw massive amounts of cards. It has been said that Vs. System is one of the least draw-dependent trading card games. This makes sense, as holding four cards in hand that are immediately usable is much more beneficial than holding forty cards in hand that you cannot use at all. One only needs to look to one of the most popular competitive archetypes of the past year, Squadron Supreme no-hand, to see that in Vs. System, the power to draw cards is not a requirement for a strong deck.

Still, I am of the school of thought that more cards means more knowledge and more options. One of my favorite cards is Batman, The Dark Knight. While many other players dismiss him as unplayable, I have spent a great deal of time and energy building decks around him and his potential to become an absolute monster. In addition, I have long praised the role of Longshot, Rebel Freedom Fighter in decks like Wild Vomit and Force for his ability to reap massive hand advantage. And recently, Zatanna, Showstopper has been the object of my card-drawing affection in my variant on John Clemens’s and Jeremy Mulldune’s “Fiddler on the Roof” deck. Drawing your entire deck is so much fun!

This is where my experience at the Heralds of Galactus Sneak Preview comes into play. After reading Alex Brown’s preview for Moondragon, I got really excited about the prospect of a character that could potentially double the number of cards a player could draw at once. When I cracked open my packs at the Sneak Preview, I was elated to see a copy of Moondragon. In addition, I was able to supplement her effect with cards like Frankie Raye ◊ Nova, Soul Searcher; Relentless Onslaught; and Intergalactic Summit. In most of my games, I was able to draw through at least twenty-five of the thirty cards in my deck. That’s some powerful draw right there, folks!

As many respected Vs. System players have said in the past, strength in Sealed Pack play often equates to strength in Constructed play. So, we’re going to have a go with Moondragon to see if we can’t turn her amazing card drawing ability into a potent Constructed deck.

The Build

We’re going to use my Sealed deck from the Sneak Preview as the base; it incorporated characters and cards from the Heralds of Galactus and Inhumans teams to supplement Moondragon. The Heralds of Galactus team is invaluable for providing card drawing and search support, while the Inhumans have several nice ways of replenishing those very important cosmic counters.

Our character curve runs all the way from 1 to 9, so we’d better get a move on! At 1, we have the devoted hound Lockjaw, Inhuman’s Best Friend. In our early game, we will be sporting several playable Inhumans characters. This beast can “fetch” a copy of any one of these characters for play in a later turn. If we get Lockjaw early, he can be invaluable for helping us fill holes in our curve.

We have representatives from both the Heralds and Inhumans at 2. Our Herald at 2 is the much lauded Silver Surfer, Skyrider of the Spaceways. This guy has been touted as one of the better cards in the set, with an activated ability that can help us set up our hand for the later turns. Of course, his effect is only relevant if he has a cosmic counter. With the various methods of replenishing counters available to us, however, we should have little trouble getting multiple uses out of him. Our Inhumans character at 2 is Franklin Richards, Creator of Counter-Earth. As any reasonably experienced Vs. System player will tell you, cosmic characters lose their cosmic counter when they become stunned. Thus, it behooves us to have a way to move our cosmic characters out of harm’s way by shipping them into the hidden area. Franklin Richards should have little problem acquiring a cosmic counter by waiting in the hidden area for his cosmic—surge to trigger. Then we can use him in later turns to move our valuable cosmic characters out of the visible area.

Turn 3 is where the greater part of our strategy commences. We have a single copy of Crystal, Elementelle available to us, which our canine friend Lockjaw can fetch if we fail to hit our preferred 3-drop. Crystal’s ability to search out a Team-Up can certainly be useful since we will need multiple Team-Ups and one of our Team-Ups replenishes cosmic counters. However, we would probably much rather have Frankie Raye ◊ Nova, Soul Searcher at 3. This Herald is a great compliment to Moondragon, allowing us to accelerate our card drawing each turn. And at 4/5 with flight and range, she can be effective on offense and defense.

We have four copies of Moondragon, Protector of the Mind Gem at 4. While we might initially want to consider playing a backup Heralds or Inhumans character at 4, the simple fact is that Moondragon is the engine of the deck. As such, we really don’t want to play any other character on this turn. Fortunately, we should have enough search and draw effects that finding a copy of her by turn 4 won’t be a problem. At the very least, we can use Silver Surfer to put her on top of our deck!

At 5, we have a single copy of Air-Walker, Harbinger of Despair. His effect is marginally useful. However, it is his 11 DEF in which we’re really interested. Since we will occasionally be shipping our normally visible characters to the hidden area with Franklin Richards’s effect, we will need some potent defense to protect our endurance. Of course, we won’t always have Franklin Richards, Creator of Counter-Earth around to move Moondragon to the hidden area, so we might want to have some other means of protection for our card-drawing psychic. That’s the reason we also have two copies of Alaris, The Outgoing One. At 10 DEF, he’s not nearly the defensive dynamo that Air-Walker is. Still, our opponents will have to get through Alaris if they want a shot at Moondragon.

If everything has gone horribly wrong up until turn 6 and we still don’t have Moondragon in a safe place, then we can recruit our last hope in Dinu, Face of Terror. This Inhuman serves the double duty of moving a vulnerable character of ours to the hidden area or sending a troublesome opposing character out of the way so that we can attack more freely. However, we’d like to hope that things will have gone much better up to this point so that we can bring out The Fallen One, The Forgotten. Not only is this guy great for restoring cosmic counters, but his effect is also absolutely unreal in this deck. With Moondragon filling our hand with all kinds of good cards, it’s a sure bet that we’ll have more characters than our opponents will. Thus, The Fallen One will almost always be able to bounce a character back to an opponent’s hand. That’s board control at its finest.

Turn 7 is where the set’s namesake comes into play. Galactus, The Maker has decent stats, flight and range, and an effect that can occasionally be useful against other late-game decks. However, the main reason that we are playing four copies of this 7-drop is because he fuels a great number of effects in our deck. Since many of our plot twists and locations require a reveal or discard of a Heralds of Galactus character card or even Galactus himself, it would be nice to have a spare copy or two of The Maker at our disposal.

Our single character at 8 is the first non-rare 8-drop ever printed, Tyrant, The Original Herald. This Herald is imposing enough at 19/19 with flight and range, but he also has a relevant effect. With strong enough board control in the late game, we should be able to use Tyrant’s effect to force our opponent to KO a significant character on his or her side of the board. This paves the way for our impressive late-drops to clean house on our opponent’s remaining characters.

Finally, we have none other than Galactus, Devourer of Worlds at 9. Bottom line: if the game goes to turn 9, the Devourer of Worlds will put your opponent in a hole that he or she will never be able to get out of, period!

Our plot twists are varied but support the deck’s theme nicely. First and foremost, we need Team-Ups to bring our three teams together. One copy of The Herald Ordeal would probably not be amiss, as we can use the secondary effect to turn extra cards in hand into endurance gain. Probably even more precious to us, though, are the cosmic counters that fuel our characters’ amazing effects. This is why we want to play the full four copies of Extended Family. Any Team-Up that supports our characters in such a great capacity merits inclusion in our build.

Speaking of cosmic counters, Terragenesis is almost a no-brainer in our deck. Obviously, our build will have two notable characteristics: we will have a lot of characters with cosmic and we will have a lot of cards in hand. Thus, any card that can turn our spare cards in hand into spare cosmic counters should find a way into our deck as well.

Although we will be drawing cards like mad, a little extra card search probably wouldn’t hurt. Our first search card is Kindred Spirits. With the exception of the 4-slot, we have a Heralds of Galactus character at every drop in our deck. While Kindred Spirits doesn’t actually let us put a character card in our hand, it does stack the deck in our favor for up to two future turns without even requiring a discard. In that regard, it is almost better than a standard character search card in its efficiency. In this deck it is certainly better, because the drawback of interrupting the normal draw by putting cards on top of the deck is nullified by our accelerated draw.

Our other search card can be a global search with the aid of Galactus. Creation of a Herald is good as a simple character search, but if we chuck a copy of Galactus (which shouldn’t be too hard with five copies in the deck), then we get whatever card we want. That kind of search power is just too hard to ignore.

Our last plot twist will give us a bit of aid on the defensive front. Because we will be drawing so many cards, Absorba Shield is a fine defensive card for our deck. Obviously, the +0/+2 it provides is decent, but if we discard a large character card like Galactus, then we will be almost guaranteed an additional +0/+2 (for an impressive +0/+4 total). Against a deck like Good Guys or Squadron Supreme, which  rarely plays any cards that cost more than 5 or 6, a discarded Galactus is a definitive bonus for Absorba Shield.

We have one very obvious pick for one of our locations. Since our deck is without a shadow of a doubt focused on drawing cards, we want to play a full four copies of Elemental Converters. With a quick discard, we will be drawing an extra card every turn . . . no, an extra two cards every turn thanks to the combo between Moondragon and Elemental Converters. More cards! Bring me more cards!

We might find ourselves in a situation where we would like to fetch back a discarded card or two. In this situation, Soul World is an effective solution. This location emulates Avalon Space Station and Slaughter Swamp in function. However, instead of requiring discards, Soul World uses endurance payments to retrieve character cards. Normally, this cost would be 4 endurance, but our card-drawing superstar, Moondragon, helps to defray this cost by 2 endurance after teaming-up with our other affiliated characters.

Another tech location we’re going to include is Worldeater Apparatus. Since our deck’s ultimate goal is to stall out until later turns, we certainly could benefit from a little extra endurance gain. On turns where we control the initiative, we can use our larger, more powerful characters to control the board through effective attacks. On off-initiative turns, we can exhaust our defending characters to activate Worldeater Apparatus. It won’t be as effective at endurance gain as some cards in Vs. System, but the extra 10 to 20 endurance that we could gain via its effect can keep us in the game until the later turns.

Our final location is designed to help us with a deck deficiency. Our superior characters should allow us to compete easily with other curve decks, but rush and combo decks could be more problematic because they tend to put out several smaller characters that aim to attack up the curve. In this situation, we’ll want to find our copy of Worldship to maintain a little board control. While our opponents will still be able to recruit large numbers of small characters, they won’t be capable of effectively keeping these characters in play because a single stun will force a character back to an opponent’s hand. After that, the accompanying endurance gain and larger characters of our curve deck will allow us to take control of the board and the game.

Our final card selection is one of the equipment cards from the new set. Since we are focusing our deck on the protector of the Mind Gem, it only makes sense that we include Mind Gem in our deck. Apart from the flavor of this choice, Mind Gem actually works quite well in unison with Moondragon’s effect, turning a rote deck cycle of one card into a Birthing Chamber effect . . . without needing six characters in play! Also, Mind Gem gives us a card drawing effect for the build phase, meaning that we could potentially draw extra cards in each of our four phases via Moondragon’s effect (if we include Frankie Raye and Elemental Converters). An extra seven cards every turn (on top of the two that we would normally draw) is nothing to scoff at.

Once more into the breach, dear friends! We are ready to see how our Heralds of Galactus concoction looks and plays with our nifty Moondragon tech:



4 Lockjaw, IBF

4 Franklin Richards, CoCE

4 Silver Surfer, SotS

1 Crystal, Elementelle

4 Frankie Raye ◊ Nova, SS

4 Moondragon, Pot Mind Gem

1 Air-Walker, HoDespair

2 Alaris, The Outgoing One

1 Dinu, Face of Terror

1 The Fallen One, The Forgotten

4 Galactus, The Maker

1 Tyrant, The Original Herald

1 Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

4 Absorba Shield

4 Creation of a Herald

4 Extended Family, Team-Up

4 Kindred Spirits

2 Terragenesis

1 The Herald Ordeal, Team-Up

4 Elemental Converters

1 Soul World

1 Worldeater Apparatus

1 Worldship

2 Mind Gem, Infinity Gem

The deck is completely void of offensive pump, so the play strategy is largely defensive; attempt to hold off until the later turns when the larger characters can take over. If you know that you are going against a more aggressive deck, then the even initiatives are probably preferable so as to allow Alaris and The Fallen One to be fully effective. However, odd initiatives would work better against late game decks so that Galactus, The Maker can keep an opponent’s endurance in check to prevent wins with Captain Marvel, Champion of Magic and the like.

The mulligan is somewhat open-ended. It would be hard to mulligan a hand with either Lockjaw, Inhuman’s Best Friend or Kindred Spirits in it. However, it’s important to remember that recruiting Moondragon is the ultimate goal. Lockjaw is certainly a keeper if you have a copy of Moondragon or Creation of a Herald along with him. And Kindred Spirits is a definite keeper because you can search for Silver Surfer, Skyrider of the Spaceways with it, then use his effect to put Moondragon on top of the deck.

Well, that concludes yet another exciting week of Breaking Ground. As always, if you have questions, I have answers at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com.

Take care, and I’ll see you back here next Wednesday for another look at Vs. System cards gone wild!

Crisis on Infinite Earths  (09/12/06)


If you’re a fanatical video gamer, then this word is reminiscent of one of the most groundbreaking first person shooter video games of all time.  If you’re an old school professional wrestling fan, this word reminds you of the NWA tag team comprised of Butch Reed and Ron Simmons back in the late 1980s.  If you’re like me, Doom stands for one thing in particular: the most powerful control force in Vs. System.

And You Thought Vidi Wijaya was on a Roll . . .

There can be little argument that Dr. Doom is one of the most influential characters in competitive Vs. System play. In all four Pro Circuits in which Marvel Origins has been legal, Dr. Doom has seen play in at least one deck in the Top 8. And in two of these Pro Circuits, PC: Indy 2004 and PC: Los Angeles 2005, a deck that featured Doom won the whole thing. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Doom was the centerpiece character for three different decks that have seen Day 3 success in Golden Age PCs: Mono Doom, Common Enemy, and New School. Suffice to say, no other character has played such a pivotal role as an engine for powerful Vs. System decks as successfully as the Lord of Latveria has.

The recent release of the Heralds of Galactus set has opened a whole new floodgate of possibilities for team Doom. As I am sure that most of you are aware, Doom is one of the prominently featured teams in the new set, from which it received a lot of powerful new cards to supplement Dr. Doom, who is once again the core figure of the team. While Dr. Doom was always the central player of the team cards from Marvel Origins, many of the cards worked to use characters in unison to supplement his power. But there was always the understanding that, beyond all else, Doom was the man.

The cards from Heralds of Galactus take this concept in an even more extreme direction, cultivating an entirely new theme focused on Dr. Doom sacrificing other characters in play to enhance his own power base. From a flavor perspective, this is very apt, as Dr. Doom has never been shy about killing his own troops and allies to increase his stature. While KO’ing your own characters may seem somewhat counterproductive, Doom reaps tremendous benefits from doing so, including stat bonuses, character and plot twist search, and reuse of vital effects. If a ruler is willing to sacrifice his troops, then he can find many avenues to personal power.

Aggro vs. Control . . . You be the Judge

One thing in minor dispute is whether team Doom’s new inductees will shift the team from a control force to a more aggressive group. There are certainly arguments to fit the latter theory; cards like Doomstadt, Castle Doom; Doom Only Needs Doom; and Doomed Earth provide enormous ATK support for the team’s aggressive KO theme. Still, it seems that the control element of Doom was favored equally with cards like Astral Suppression, Expendable Ally, and Time Thief. In the end, it really is a matter of preference.

My personal preference leans toward the control side of the equation. You see, there are many teams in Vs. System that can play aggro as effectively as (if not more so than) Doom. Yet there are very few (if any) teams that can control the pace of play as well as Doom. X-Stall seemed to incorporate elements of Doom stall strategy to great success, and G’Lock utilized an additional element of endurance gain that helped players reach later turns. Ultimately, though, cards like Reign of Terror and Mystical Paralysis are just too awesome to ignore and make Doom the most powerful and versatile team in terms of controlling the pace of a game.


Even prior to the release of Heralds of Galactus, there had been much discussion on the prospect of using Crisis on Infinite Earths to make different versions of Dr. Doom non-unique to one another. After all, if one Dr. Doom was good, two or three should be even better. One consideration, though, was that Dr. Doom’s most potent effects stemmed from having Doom team characters in play with him. Take Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius, for example. While his ability to allow a player to “recycle” a plot twist is indeed awesome, his notoriety stems from his ability to prevent opponents from playing plot twists from their hand. In order to make multiple Dooms truly effective, a player would need a way to move Crisis on Infinite Earths in and out of play at will to keep the Doom team affiliation in play while still avoiding uniqueness issues. Sadly, there really wasn’t an effective method of accomplishing this . . . until now.

The new versions of Dr. Doom not only allow for more drops of Doom along the standard curve, but they also boast effects that allow players to manipulate activity in the resource row far more effectively than before. Where we might have had to rely on Have a Blast! or other replacement effects to support a multi-Doom strategy with Crisis on Infinite Earths before, we can now use the resource row control abilities to manipulate the use of the Team-Up. In essence, the goal of having multiple copies of Dr. Doom in play is more achievable than ever.

It’s time. We’re going to merge the cards from Marvel Origins Doom with the cards from Heralds of Galactus Doom to create a super Doom team with copies of Dr. Doom at multiple drops. With the help of Crisis on Infinite Earths, we should be able to flood the board with more copies of Dr. Doom than any opponent can possibly handle!

The Build

If you’ve ever played any sort of Doom control variant, then you’ll see that many of our choices will be intuitive. After all, what would Dr. Doom do without his man Boris, Personal Servant of Dr. Doom? Dr. Doom has some of the best plot twists in the game by far. With Boris by his side, the evil doctor can work his mischief by having his personal servant fetch the plot twists while he schemes.

Also at 1, we have the heir to the throne, Valeria Von Doom. Is there anything bad about this card in this deck? I could talk for a while about how good Valeria Von Doom is, but I will keep my discussion limited to a few distinct points. First, when Valeria is in play, you are considered to control Dr. Doom. Anyone who knows anything about playing Doom knows how valuable this can be; cards like Boris and Faces of Doom can only be used if a player controls Dr. Doom. Secondly, she has a relevant ability. While it is not card drawing per se, her effect still allows us to cycle through our deck for additional cards that might be useful to us. Finally, she is a free recruit. Any character that has an alternate recruit cost is one that should find play in at least a few decks. In this deck, having a character that can be recruited for free is particularly relevant, as several effects stem from KO’ing characters that we control. With Valeria’s free recruit, we can bring out a character to KO without having to lose board position. Granted, it does seem a little morbid that Dr. Doom would be knocking off his own daughter to achieve his dark ends, but then again, he is Dr. Doom.

At 2, we have one of the Doom deck mainstays in Puppet Master. No . . . Puppet Master is not team stamped to the Doom team. But he might as well be, as his effect supports the Doom stall theme so well that he has long been an automatic inclusion in late-game Doom decks. It is somewhat ironic that our other 2-drop, Rama-Tut, has seen less play in Doom decks than Puppet Master despite the fact that Rama-Tut is a Doom character. Still, this incarnation of Kang has an effect that is particularly relevant to our build, as we will be using and reusing several different plot twists. So powerful is this effect that we will not only consider under-dropping for Rama-Tut, but we will actually plan on doing so at one point in the curve.

Turn 3 is where Dr. Doom takes over. Dr. Doom, Richards’s Rival is a welcome addition to the Doom clan with an effect that facilitates the use of premium plot twists by the Doom team. The 3-drop Doom excels at setting us up for powerful turn 4 plot twists like Reign of Terror by putting them on top of the deck for easy access on the next draw. Of course, if we need immediate access to a plot twist or simply want to move a character like Puppet Master or Rama-Tut out of harm’s way, then we can KO a character to replace a resource with the plot twist that we set up there. This can be a great play with cards like Mystical Paralysis, Flame Trap, and Crisis on Infinite Earths. But I would highly advise against replacing with Reign of Terror!

It is probably no surprise that our turn 4 play is Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius. This unassuming 7/6 4-drop is still one of the best 4-drops in the game. We discussed his effects a bit earlier in the article. What’s important to note is that this is where our interaction with Crisis on Infinite Earths comes into play. To avoid uniqueness with our 3-drop, we must have Crisis on Infinite Earths face-up in play before we recruit our 4-drop. In fact, it would probably behoove us to have a couple of copies in our row to prevent any opposing shenanigans with replacement effects. Once we have successfully recruited Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius, we can use either Dooms’ effect to deal with Crisis on Infinite Earths. The 4-drop could easily flip it down so that we can reuse it in later turns with our late-game Dr. Doom recruits. But if we find that we need to recycle a different plot twist, then we can simply replace Crisis on Infinite Earths with the effect of Dr. Doom, Richard’s Rival. Either way, we have created a situation where we have bypassed Dr. Doom’s uniqueness while allowing the Doom team affiliation to find play.

At 5, we have no version of Dr. Doom to fill the slot. While we could include a non–Dr. Doom 5-drop, it would probably serve us better to do our aforementioned under-dropping here. After establishing board presence on turn 4 with Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius, we can recruit Boris and Rama-Tut to fetch additional plot twist for us and bring Puppet Master into play to keep our opponent’s board in check.

Turn 6 has a couple of options for us. In most cases, we should consider recruiting Dr. Doom, Victor Von Doom. Against Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius, our opponent’s only recourse is to play plot twists from the resource row. If we can get the Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius and Dr. Doom, Victor Von Doom in play together, then our opponents will be locked out of plot twists entirely! This, of course, assumes that we have a way of dealing with Crisis on Infinite Earths. But with the 3-drop Dr. Doom and our under-drops on turn 5, that shouldn’t be much of an issue.

But let’s consider the effectiveness of Dr. Doom, Victor Von Doom against a team like League of Assassins or Checkmate. What good is a character that prevents playing plot twists from the resource row when a team plays primarily locations? The answer: none! He is effectively a 6-drop with blank text. In this situation, Dr. Doom, Sorcerous Savant is our play. His stats are identical to Dr. Doom, Victor Von Doom’s, but he has an effect that would actually be relevant in the location-based matchups. In addition, Dr. Doom, Sorcerous Savant’s effect is a built-in answer for dealing with Crisis on Infinite Earths.

We have another version of Doom at 7 in Dr. Doom, Scientific Sorcerer. His primary appeal is that he shares the name of Dr. Doom with the rest of our characters, but his effect is not particularly relevant to our deck, as we are more stall focused. More importantly, his play on turn 7 would require us to consider additional action with Crisis on Infinite Earths. This is why we have a preferred 7-drop not named Dr. Doom in the form of Molecule Man, Owen Reece. At the very least, Molecule Man is a vanilla 15/15 7-drop with range. But his reason for inclusion is his effect, which is insane! As we have already discussed, many of the Doom plot twists are extremely powerful. Imagine now if you could play any one of those plot twists and get a free copy. Perhaps more importantly, Molecule Man’s effect doesn’t require a player to pay the costs of the plot twist’s effect. What does this mean? It means that you can use a card like Mystical Paralysis twice but only have to exhaust a single copy of Dr. Doom. Even though his effect is only a one-time deal for us, it is powerful enough to include Molecule Man within the ranks of the multi-Dooms.

Our final character is the amazing Dr. Doom, Lord of Latveria. Just like all of our other versions of Dr. Doom, we will have to monitor our use of Crisis on Infinite Earths carefully to ensure that Dr. Doom, Lord of Latveria will not create uniqueness issues. Still, we would like to get as much out of our 8-drop as possible. In order to do so, we need a method of flipping down or replacing Crisis on Infinite Earths in response to the 8-drop Doom’s triggered effect. If we have Dr. Doom, Richards’s Rival or Dr. Doom, Sorcerous Savant in play, this is a relatively simple matter. In other situations, we may have to rely on Have a Blast! to replace our own Team-Up. In any case, once we have the 8-drop Doom in play with his smaller versions, we can commence the late game beatings.

Before we go to our plot twists, let’s talk about our sole location. What’s better than giving a single character +3 DEF all of the time? Giving all of our characters +3 DEF all of the time! This deck is the one that Doomstadt was made for. With an additional +3 DEF added to each of our major drops, opponents will usually be unable to make successful lateral attacks for a stun. In some cases, we can even eliminate attacks down the curve via the massive DEF bonus that Doomstadt provides. If you thought that Doomstadt was awesome before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Now on to the all-important plot twists. We have discussed Crisis on Infinite Earths in great detail already, so it should be no surprise that we’ll be playing four copies of the Team-Up. Of course, because Crisis on Infinite Earths facilitates our entire deck, we should probably have some insurance to make sure that we hit our all-important enabler. Thus, we’ll also play a couple of copies of Teamwork. This nifty ongoing plot twist will allow us to search out copies of our critical Team-Up and prevent opponents from using replacement plot twists like Breaking Ground and War of Attrition to remove our Team-Up.

Now on to the plot twists that are affectionately referred to as the “Doom Suite.” Two plot twists in particular—Mystical Paralysis and Reign of Terror—are usually present in every deck that features Dr. Doom. Our build is certainly no different. We will be recruiting Dr. Doom several times in every game, so Reign of Terror could potentially be effective many times in any given game. And since we will usually have several characters named Dr. Doom in play, we should have no trouble exhausting multiple opposing characters with Mystical Paralysis.

Another card that isn’t as popular in the Doom Suite but is still occasionally present is Faces of Doom. In general, character search cards are placed at a premium. Faces of Doom is definitely a good call for our deck, as we have characters named Dr. Doom seeing play at several spots in the curve. Having a card that can fetch our 3-, 4-, 6-, 7-, and 8-drops with no requirements other than that we control Dr. Doom (which should be exceedingly simple for our deck) is going to be a very good play for us.

Now it’s time to discuss one of my favorite new cards from the Heralds of Galactus set, Expendable Ally. I can’t count the number of times that I have used Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Sharpshooter to neutralize an opposing Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius. With the release of Heralds of Galactus, though, Arsenal is not nearly the threat that he once was. Not only does this card act as a Nice Try! for your characters named Dr. Doom (which we have plenty of in our deck), but it actually increases the threat of that character by giving him an additional +5/+0. Let’s see . . . a card that makes our characters immune to opponents’ effects and gives us a permanent Savage Beatdown in the bargain? Yes, please! With the number of cards in Vs. System that target opposing characters, this card will be an MVP in our deck!

Finally, what would any Doom deck be without the plot twist tech cards that make it so versatile? One of the main reasons that Doom has been so successful on so many levels is that it has the ability to adapt to beat other decks. Here are the tech plot twists that we’ll include in our deck:

  • Flame Trap: Reign of Terror can certainly stifle any off-curve deck. Still, against a deck like Faces of Evil that puts out so many small characters that even Reign of Terror can’t keep up, we might want a global board control card. Flame Trap is one of the most powerful off-curve control cards in Vs. System. The ability to stun all characters in play with a cost of 2 or less at any time is certainly a potent effect that merits inclusion in our control build.
  • Have a Blast!: As we mentioned earlier, Have a Blast! can be our last resort for dealing with Crisis on Infinite Earths, should we find it necessary. But it is far more effective as a tool for disrupting strategies that rely on cards in the resource row. Combo decks like Rigged Elections and Xavier’s Dream are naturally vulnerable to replacement effects. And decks that rely on Team-Ups to operate effectively can be disrupted by replacing those Team-Ups. Finally, Have a Blast! provides us with a way to deal with problematic locations like Lost City that might otherwise overwhelm us.
  • Meltdown: The tendency to lean toward equipment to boost character stats has recently become far more prevalent. Aggressive decks like Squadron Supreme and High Voltage use powerful equipment cards to boost characters stats and cause direct endurance damage. Perhaps even more importantly, some equipment cards that have appeared in recent sets can neutralize disruption effects (like Cloak of Nabu and Time Gem). Since our deck lives and dies on control and disruption effects, we should include a card to deal with these plot twists. Certainly, Meltdown is the perfect solution. If we run afoul of problematic equipment cards, it can dispatch them with ease. Otherwise, it can double as a makeshift endurance gain card or resource row replacement effect.
  • Press the Attack: This card is not so much a tech card as an end-game enabler. New School showed the Vs. System public how potent the combo of Dr. Doom, Lord of Latveria and Press the Attack can be. If your opponent doesn’t have a way to bounce or stun the 8-drop Doom, then he can easily attack into infinity. While this combo is not as easily facilitated in our deck, it is still viable, so it’s worth including one copy of the infamous readying card.
  • Time Thief: Consider bad matchups for any Doom stall deck. They usually involve playing more effective late game cards than the Doom deck. Without a doubt, G’Lock plying for a win with Captain Marvel, Champion of Magic is a difficult matchup for any Doom deck. So, how do you beat it? Just remove Captain Marvel from your opponent’s deck via Time Thief. This amazing card turns decks that rely on limited copies of a win condition into potential disasters. And with the reuse of plot twists available to the Doom deck, it is feasible to remove multiple copies of any card. So, unless your opponent is playing four copies of the Champion of Magic, he or she won’t be able to win via his effect!

Doom has arrived, and he’s multiplying. Let’s take a look at our effort at a multi-Doom deck:

For The Love Of DOOM

4 Boris, PSoDD

4 Valeria Von Doom, HtL

4 Puppet Master, Phillip Masters

4 Rama-Tut, Pft30C

4 Dr. Doom, Richard’s Rival

4 Dr. Doom, Diabolic Genius

1 Dr. Doom, Sorcerous Savant

1 Dr. Doom, Victor Von Doom

1 Dr. Doom, Scientific Sorcerer

1 Molecule Man, Owen Reece

1 Dr. Doom, Lord of Latveria

4 Crisis on Infinite Earths

4 Expendable Ally

4 Faces of Doom

1 Flame Trap

1 Have a Blast!

1 Meltdown

4 Mystical Paralysis

1 Press the Attack

4 Reign of Terror

2 Teamwork

1 Time Thief

4 Doomstadt

For maximum control potential, we should try for the even initiatives. This will allow us to use Reign of Terror at our discretion. With a mediocre draw, we should be able to get rid of at least a few characters. With a good draw, we could feasibly clear our opponent’s entire board.

The mulligan condition is pretty much always going to be Dr. Doom, Richards’s Rival or a way to fetch the 3-drop (like Faces of Doom or Boris, Personal Servant of Dr. Doom). At the very least, we can use the 3-drop to put Faces of Doom on top of our deck so that we can fetch the all-important 4-drop. If we happen to miss Crisis on Infinite Earths, we shouldn’t suffer too much, as it is really only critical for later turns.

That about wraps it up for this week of Breaking Ground. Take care, and we’ll see you next week for another foray into the weird and wacky world of Vs. System deckbuilding!

Michael Barnes (a.k.a. BigSpooky) is an avid Vs. System player who is a founding member of Team Alternate Win Condition (TAWC). When he isn’t concocting crazy deck ideas that no sane person would think of, he occupies his spare time working as an accountant in Dallas, TX. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or diabolical plans for world domination that you might have for Michael can be sent to him at BigSpooky1@hotmail.com.

Wolverine, Skrunucklehead  (09/19/06)

Did You Hear the One about the Vs. System Player?

A lawyer—we’ll call him Shane—walked into a bar. Behind Shane followed a rather large, smelly, disgusting pig on a leash. Upon seeing the two, the bartender yelled, “Hey! You can’t bring that filthy animal in here!” Shane responded, “Don’t talk that way about my pig!” The bartender said, “I was talking to the pig.”

Um . . . not funny, eh? Well, give me another shot:

A rather diminutive young man—we’ll call him Tim—sat down in a posh urban restaurant and ordered a rather sizable meal. Despite Tim’s minute size, he managed to finish every bite of his dinner. After the vast repast, the waiter brought Tim the bill. Upon seeing the price, a look of chagrin passed over Tim’s face. “Is there a problem, sir?” asked the waiter. Tim replied, “I may not have the money to pay the bill . . . I think I’m a little short.”

Hmm . . . that doesn’t work either. Okay . . . let me have one last chance:

Three guys—we’ll call them Anthony, Heath, and Jason—were sitting down to eat lunch. Before opening their lunchboxes, Anthony says, “I hate tuna salad! If I got tuna salad for lunch again, I’m going to jump off a cliff.” Heath then stated, “I hate pastrami! If I got pastrami for lunch, I’ll jump off a cliff.” Jason then said, “I hate peanut butter! If there’s a peanut butter sandwich in my lunchbox, I’m jumping off that cliff.” Sure enough, the hated foods were present in all three lunchboxes. And, sure enough, all three jumped off the cliff.

At the funeral for the three young men, their mothers said a few words to the congregation. Anthony’s mother said, “If only I hadn’t made tuna salad for Anthony’s lunch!” Heath’s mom followed with, “Why did I make pastrami for Heath’s lunch?” Jason’s mother concluded with, “I never should have let Jason make his own lunch!”

Yeah, so, I failed miserably at my attempts at humor here. You see, I was merely trying to develop a new cosmic joke for Vs. System, since the reigning cosmic joke ended its time in power with the release of the Heralds of Galactus set.

I am, of course, referring to the Skrulls.

The Changing Face of Vs. System . . . Literally!

You all know the drill. Before every Pro Circuit or Constructed $10K, someone invariably asks which team(s) everyone thinks will dominate the tournament. In every case, there is always someone who jokes that Skrulls will win the whole thing. Heck, I even remember joking at many drafts that I would be forcing Skrulls . . . and I wasn’t even drafting Marvel Origins!

The Skrull team has been the butt of everyone’s jokes for a very long time! Given the fact that the entire team consisted of three characters, only one of which was even remotely playable in a competitive deck, there was little chance that this “cosmic joke” would ever go away.

Ironically, it was the new cosmic set, Heralds of Galactus, that gave the Skrulls the potential to rise. While the team did not receive nearly as much support as the four major teams in the set (Heralds of Galactus, Kree, Inhumans, and Doom), the cards that they did receive were quite good. Unlike other minor teams, such as the Fearsome Five and Secret Six, the Skrulls were actually designed with Team-Ups in mind. In fact, they actually thrive from teaming-up!

I am constantly amazed at how UDE R&D captures comic flavor so well in the cards that they make. In the case of the Skrulls, the notion to make them a team-up-centered deck was brilliant! After all, the Skrulls are a race of shapeshifters, and they use this talent to infiltrate and become a part of other races and groups. While there is little doubt that the Skrull spies in the comics are not nearly as interested in being part of a team as they are in undermining one, the notion of Skrull characters being part of many teams in Vs. System captures their adaptive capabilities rather nicely.

“I’m the Best there is at Teaming-Up . . .”

Just for fun, I thought it might be interesting to take the “New Age” Skrulls for a spin. There are some interesting possibilities for creating massive numbers of teams for these Skrulls. Perhaps the first idea that leapt to mind was the combination of the Marvel Knights with the Skrulls. The Marvel Knights have a reputation for being an expediter for Team-Ups. Look at some of the successful decks from about a year and a half ago: Rigged Elections (the Tim Batow variety from $10K Chicago), Brotherhood of Mephisto (which Jose Maria Aramburu piloted to victory at $10K Madrid), and New School (the brainchild of the Hong Kong Cavaliers and the deck that Karl Horn piloted to victory at Pro Circuit Los Angeles 2005). Each of these decks thrived off the Marvel Knights’ amazing ability to team-up with any team without even needing that team to be present.

Since then, Vs. System has become a lot friendlier to Team-Up decks. Search cards like The Ring Has Chosen and Enemy of My Enemy allowed for search options for several different teams as opposed to a singular one. Team-Up cards like Faces of Evil and Checkmate Safe House not only combined the forces of two teams, but also provided additional continuous benefits to players who used them. And many, many cards were released that could expedite Team-Up searches, like Teamwork and X-Corp: Amsterdam.

The Marvel Knights have retained a lot of potential, so they deserve inclusion in a Team-Up frenzy deck. But while planning out this deck, another combo came to mind. I remember speaking with Dean Sohnle about his crazy Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox deck at PC: Indy. I won’t go into the details of the deck, as I doubt that Dean wants me handing out his tech,* but one combo stuck out that was just too good not to use. Dean showed me how Mutopia could be used in unison with Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox to team-up everyone. Since Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox gets the team affiliations of every team you control and is a Mutant, you can play Mutopia to team-up everyone!

Now, before you get too excited, let me just say that we do not have Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox in this deck. Actually, we have someone better: Wolverine, Skrunucklehead! Just like Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox, Wolverine is a Mutant. However, where Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox stops at taking the team affiliations of characters you control, Wolverine gets the team affiliations of every character in play! The possibilities for teaming-up in this situation become truly staggering, as it is quite conceivable to have upward of ten teams in play.

Wolverine, Skrunucklehead may say that he isn’t the best, but he is certainly the best choice for our deck today. We’re going to use the team-absorbing ability of the Skrull Wolvie-doppelganger to make for some intense team-ups!

The Build

Considering the strength of the standard Marvel Knights framework, we are going to start with the basic combination of cards and characters that comprise most Marvel Knights Team-Up builds. This means four copies of the following cards: Dagger, Child of Light; Micro-Chip; Midnight Sons; and Wild Ride. Micro-Chip is not quite as versatile in this deck as he is in other builds because we won’t be playing many 1-cost plot twists. Still, he is a Marvel Knights 1-drop and he can recycle Wild Ride. Those factors merit his inclusion in the deck.

Also at 1, we’re going to play a couple copies of Mikado and Mosha. These ladies are renowned for their ability to suppress wayward 1-drops. And since we’re already in Marvel Knights as a team, we might as well have a couple of copies of the Angels of Destruction handy. In addition, we’re going to enable recursion of our 1-drop-hating ladies with four copies of Fiddler. This might seem to be an odd choice, but Fiddler’s free recruit combined with his recursion effect make him valuable in virtually any deck. Besides, we will find later that we certainly want Secret Six to be one of the teams in our conglomeration.

Finally, we’re going to try out a copy of Chameleon at 1. This Sinister Syndicate spy has fallen somewhat out of favor since the release of Detective Chimp, Bobo T. Chimpanzee. However, we’re going to give him a shot in this deck because he has the advantage of not having a LOYALTY-REVEAL restriction. Of course, we will need another Sinister Syndicate character to get his effect online, but once we have Wolverine, Skrunucklehead in play this requirement will be no issue whatsoever.

Speaking of Wolverine, Skrunucklehead, he is our representative at 3. If at all possible, we want to have him and a copy of Mutopia out on turn 3 or 4 so that we can do an impressive amount of teaming-up.

Following Wolverine at 4 is Ethan Edwards. This character is a prime example of the kind of power we can anticipate from controlling multiple teams. Let’s assume that, prior to recruiting Ethan Edwards, our opponent controls characters from two different teams. In addition, we control a minimal four teams (Marvel Knights, Secret Six, X-Men, and Skrull). When we recruit Ethan Edwards, we add a fifth team (Spider-Friends). At this point, if we flip Mutopia, we can team-up seven different teams thanks to Wolverine. This means that Ethan Edwards leaps to an insane 14 ATK on turn 4. And that is assuming that we don’t add any other teams to the mix with Midnight Sons or Chameleon. It would be well within the realm of possibility for Ethan Edwards to be at 17 or 18 ATK. Of course, when he loses his cosmic counter, he reverts to a vanilla 7/7. But, as we will see, we have a trick for that, too.

As good as Ethan Edwards is, he might not be effective against off-curve decks. So, we’ll splash a copy of Fatality, Flawless Victory. She doesn’t have the power that our Skrull 4-drop boasts, but she does have an effect that will help keep rush decks at bay.

Our 5-drops act primarily as support for the power plays that we made on turns 3 and 4. The inclusion of Paibok in the deck should be relatively apparent. Unless we face the mirror (not very likely!), our characters will always have more team affiliations than our opponent’s will. Thus, the decision to include Paibok is pretty straightforward, as a global +2/+0 to all of our characters is certainly not a bad thing!

Our other 5-drop is really in the deck to see play as a boosted 6-drop. If we can keep all of our characters around until turn 6, Paibok’s effect should make them considerably large even if they don’t have cosmic counters. But what if we could give cosmic counters to our characters? This is the reason for including Cir-El ◊ Supergirl. While her stats appear to be a bit suspect, her boost effect is unbelievable for a deck that relies on cosmic counters (as ours does). That single resource point for her boost can nearly double the combined ATK power of our characters in play. Including Paibok’s boost, Wolverine jumps to a whopping 12 ATK with his cosmic counter, and Ethan Edwards leaps to the range of 20 ATK. When you have a 3-drop that can stun 6-drops and a 4-drop that can stun almost anything, you are in pretty good shape to win the game!

Ironically, just as one of our 5-drops was only in the deck to act as a 6-drop, one of our 6-drops isn’t even in the deck to be recruited. Scandal has decent stats at 13/11, but the reason for her addition is to provide an expedient way to search out Mutopia. We could reasonably have added a Team-Up searcher like X-Corp: Amsterdam to perform this task, but there are some other ongoing plot twists that we will want to include as tech for other decks as well. It only makes sense to play four copies of the best ongoing plot twist search card in Vs. System.

Our multi-team engine gives us the ability to play any character in Vs. System, so we’re going to include a single copy of one of my all-time favorite weenie hate characters, Blackheart. His 10 DEF may not be all that impressive, but when you consider that many popular decks in the current Vs. System metagame don’t play any characters costing more than 5, he becomes an off-curve control powerhouse. An off-curve opponent’s only hope at taking us out when Blackheart is in play is to send their 5-drop into him frantically to get him out of the way. Even then, it may still be hard for those low-cost characters to find a way through the Son of Mephisto.

If all goes well, our characters should be sufficiently huge on turn 6 for us to win at that time. If, however, we are forced into a later turn, then we have the ultimate Skrullian stopper in the form of Titannus. As amazing as Ethan Edwards is for us on turn 4, Titannus is doubly amazing, as he gets a stat boost for ATK and DEF. At the Heralds of Galactus Sneak Preview, I was easily able to get Titannus up to 19/19 in every game that I played him. In this deck, Titannus should, at a bare minimum, be 25/25 (or 27 ATK thanks to Paibok). When you have a 7-drop in play that’s pushing 30/30, that’s when you know you have the game well in hand.

We have already discussed several of the plot twists that we will be utilizing in our deck. Our Team-Ups consist of four copies each of Midnight Sons and Mutopia. If you didn’t catch the rationale for playing these cards, scroll back up and reread the characters discussion.

Additionally, we have already mentioned Wild Ride. Certainly, Wild Ride is one of the best character search cards in the game. With a copy of Midnight Sons in the resource row and a Marvel Knights character in play, Wild Ride can find any character in our deck. Granted, it does cost a bit of endurance to use Wild Ride, so we’d rather draw into our preferred curve. Just in case we happen to miss a critical component, though, we have Wild Ride available to search out our drop for the turn.

Now, considering that we’re planning to play characters that will dole out some serious beats on our opponents, we should consider some effective ATK pumps for our build. One of the first and obvious choices for us is Interstellar Offensive. At +2/+0, this plot twist is not at all impressive, but Interstellar Offensive also provides an additional bonus of +3/+0 to an attacker with the Skrull affiliation and more team affiliations than the defender. Considering the nature of our build, Interstellar Offensive should be good for +5/+0 every time we play it. Bonus: Interstellar Offensive has a threshold cost of 1, so it can be recycled via Micro-Chip’s effect.

Our second plot twist is very simply an answer to problematic hidden characters. No Man Escapes the Manhunters is not the strongest pump in Vs. System, but it is certainly one of the most beneficial. At the very least, it is effectively a +3/+0 pump, but the real reason for playing No Man Escapes the Manhunters is to have a way to deal with hidden characters that we would otherwise not be able to attack. Not only does No Man Escapes the Manhunters give us a route to attack these characters, but it also keeps these characters in the visible area for further abuse. It is certainly one of the better toolbox cards in any Constructed format.

Our final pump merits only one copy, but it can be an absolute game-breaker against many decks. After seeing the power of TDC’s X-Faces deck in the last Marvel Modern Age, many Vs. System players became very respectful of how powerful a card like Mob Mentality can be. At its base, it’s another +3/+0 for one of our attacking characters during the turn that it’s played. It also provides additional protection to our Physical Mutants. The only Physical Mutant in our deck is Wolverine, but given that he is a major catalyst for the deck, it is worthwhile to protect him. Characters like Terra and June Moon ◊ Enchantress, Good Witch could put a heavy hurt on our 3-drop, so we are well served by having a dual-purpose pump that also protects our Skrunucklehead. But probably the most important item of note regarding Mob Mentality is that it is an ongoing plot twist. This has many implications for our deck, not the least of which is that Scandal can search for it. Should we find ourselves in a time of crisis where we just need a little boost to stun an opposing defender, we have the means to search out the lone Mob Mentality in our deck. It is exceedingly versatile and useful in our deck, especially considering that it only occupies one spot!

Now we need to look at a different variety of combat tricks. One thing that we would certainly like to accomplish is to maintain our board for the kill on turn 6. Unless our opponent plays really small characters or misses a lot of his or her drops, this will be easier said than done. Wolverine’s X-Men team affiliation opens up interesting possibilities for accomplishing this with Children of the Atom. When Marvel Origins was first released, this card was dubbed the best recovery card in the game; in the two-and-a-half-year life of Vs. System, not much has changed. Children of the Atom offers a degree of recovery flexibility not available to most teams. Even the most popular recovery cards in the game, such as Lanterns in Love and JLI Embassy, have costs and restrictions that make the recovery effects unusable at times. Not so with Children of the Atom. With a single discard, we will be able to recover any X-Men character. No muss, no fuss.

Our final card remains one of my favorite tech cards in Vs. System. With powerhouses in the metagame like Big Brotherhood and Good Guys, Unmasked is quite literally a game-breaker. Power-ups are a basic mechanic of Vs. System, and some of the best decks in the game quite literally make a trade on powering-up. With this one card, we can shut those power-up decks down completely. In the past, most decks could not reliably run a single copy of Unmasked without playing a plot twist tutor like Alfred Pennyworth or Boris, Personal Servant of Dr. Doom. But Scandal takes plot twist searching to a new level, giving every deck the potential to play tech cards strategically for certain matchups. I love this lady!

Alrighty then! Our joke has been written. It’s time to publish this gem:

Cosmic Joke

1 Chameleon, Dmitri Smerdyakov

4 Dagger, Child of Light

4 Fiddler, Isaac Bowin

4 Micro-Chip, Linus Lieberman

2 Mikado and Mosha, AoD

4 Wolverine, Skrunucklehead

4 Ethan Edwards, VFAW

1 Fatality, Flawless Victory

3 Paibok, The Power Skrull

2 Cir-El ◊ Supergirl, DoT

4 Scandal, Savage Spawn

1 Blackheart, Son of Mephisto

1 Titannus, Alien Conqueror

4 Children of the Atom

4 Interstellar Offensive

4 Midnight Sons

1 Mob Mentality

4 Mutopia, Team-Up


1 Unmasked

4 Wild Ride

I seem to have an affinity for decks that prefer the even initiatives. The case for this deck is no different, as evens give you the best chance for victory. You should have little problem getting control of the board with Wolverine and Ethan Edwards on turn 4. This leaves you vulnerable to a double stun on turn 5, but Children of the Atom should allow you to keep your board intact for turn 6. This sets up the boost with Cir-El to replenish counters on all four characters. Since your smallest character at this point will likely be Paibok (with a “lowly” 11 ATK), you should have little problem dealing enough damage to finish the game on turn 6.

The standard mulligan for decks within the Marvel Knights framework is usually for Wild Ride. This allows you to get early copies of Midnight Sons online with solid search potential. But don’t be afraid to keep any hand that has a Marvel Knights character and Midnight Sons or Dagger. With the deck’s strong character curve, you should have little trouble hitting your curve from turn 3 onward.

That’s it for this week. I hope that you enjoyed my rendition of the “cosmic joke.” Be sure to come back next week for even more possibilities with Golden Age decks following the release of Heralds of Galactus.

* Of course, Dean is a pretty nice guy. So if you give him a call or send him an email, he may very well tell you all about the deck. Trust me . . . it is really cool!

The Infinity Gauntlet  (09/26/06)

A couple of months ago, I did a column highlighting The Science Spire where I discussed my fascination with Homestarrunner.com. I won’t go too much into the website again—you can go visit the site if you want to know more—but I would like to share my particular affinity for one of the characters from the site: Stinkoman.

My fascination with Stinkoman has nothing to do with personal hygiene habits (despite what my teammates may imply . . .). Actually, my interest in this character has more to do with his fighting spirit. You see, Stinkoman is essentially the anime version of Strong Bad. Accordingly, he has a lot of the stereotypical traits of animated Japanese fighter characters. This aspect of his personality is typified by his catch phrase, “Are you asking for a challenge?”

Of course, I am always looking for a challenge. I guess that’s why I like Stinkoman so much!

Throwing Down the Gauntlet . . . Literally!

My competitive fire was recently stoked by the challenge of Todd McFadyen. Todd is the proprietor of All In Games in Broken Arrow, OK and a big advocate of Vs. System in the Tulsa area. Whenever I visit Oklahoma, I always stop by Todd’s shop to get in some playtime against the locals. And considering that the locals include my teammates Tim Batow and Shane Wiggans, it’s usually quite a challenge!

Oh yeah . . . getting back to challenges. Todd sent me an email a few days ago regarding a pet project of his. Here’s what his message said:

I want to play something that you’d have to be nuts to play. I want to play a deck featuring The Infinity Gauntlet. I understand it may not be tier 1.

I was hoping I could get your help. I read your article on Moondragon, and I think that a lot of the same concepts would apply to The Infinity Gauntlet deck. If you are willing to assist, here are my rules:

1. The deck must be Silver Age legal.

2. I would like the deck to be a Heralds of Galactus / Infinity Watch team-up.

3. Rares are not a concern. I already have most of the rares I think I would need, including four copies of Creation of a Herald.

Are you up to my challenge? I sure hope so.

A challenge? Like I said, I am always up for a challenge. Let’s see if we can get the Heralds of Galactus to assist the Infinity Watch in their quest to assemble all six of the Infinity Gems and bring out the most powerful equipment card in Vs. System, The Infinity Gauntlet!

The Build

Despite the fact that it’s our feature card, we should only need a single copy of The Infinity Gauntlet. We probably won’t be able to find any decks that could support multiple recruits of The Infinity Gauntlet, so we are going to limit our recruit of the Gauntlet to one per game. Of course, we will need at least one copy of each of the Infinity Gems. The question now becomes which of the Infinity Gems we would like to play in multiples. Let’s take a look at each of them.

Mind Gem: If you’ve had a chance to play this card in Sealed Pack, you should be well aware of its cycling power. More importantly, this is one Gem that actually has a potent synergy with its protector, Moondragon. Given how important card drawing and cycling will be in our deck, it only makes sense that we’d want to play a couple copies of this card. At the very least, this will prevent equipment KO effects like Meltdown from completely ruining our strategy if we decide to put a copy of Mind Gem into play.

Power Gem: Much like Mind Gem, Power Gem is awesome in Sealed Pack formats—a reusable +3 ATK pump is never a bad thing. Unfortunately, Power Gem is probably not nearly as effective in Constructed. The main reason for this is that any Heralds of Galactus–based deck will be playing more for the late game. ATK pumps are not usually necessary for this strategy, though we might find occasional need of the +3 ATK. In general, we should be fine with one copy of Power Gem.

Reality Gem: If you recall from the deck specifications, Todd said that this deck would be designed for play in Silver Age. While the Heralds of Galactus set may change the face of Silver Age with its release, we can generally derive what decks we can expect to see. Two of the more potent decks currently in Silver Age are X-Statix / Villains United and Checkmate toolbox. These two powerful decks have one very important feature in common: they both rely heavily on strong support locations and ongoing plot twists. It then stands to reason that if we cripple the support cards for these decks, the decks themselves will falter. One copy of Reality Gem could be enough to cause some pandemonium for our opponents. However, if we run afoul of any equipment hate, we could lose our chance to recruit The Infinity Gauntlet. Since Reality Gem will probably be quite useful for us, we will go ahead and play two copies.

Soul Gem: This card can actually be quite useful in deterring attacks up the curve. Many curve matchups attempt to make an advantageous trade by attacking up the curve with one character, then following that with a presumably safe attack down the curve, forcing an opponent to lose a smaller character. Soul Gem stymies this type of trade by forcing a character attacking up the curve to bounce back to its controller’s hand. In essence, a player gains nothing on the trade. Still, this effect is really only occasionally useful, so we will keep the count for Soul Gem at one.

Space Gem: Having an equipment card that emulates the effect of Swift Escape could certainly have its merits. Space Gem helps with card advantage by allowing us to bounce characters back to our hand that we probably would otherwise have lost to the KO’d pile. Hand advantage will be a vital part of our strategy, but not so much that we need a way to bounce characters that we control. One copy.

Time Gem: Now we come to a card that possesses an extraordinary amount of potential for good, but an equal amount of potential for disaster. Time Gem will negate the next plot twist played, but it doesn’t specify a player. So, Time Gem will negate the very next non-ongoing plot twist . . . even if it’s ours! In a deck based more on locations or equipment, Time Gem could be amazing. But since we have several plot twists upon which we will be depending, we probably won’t want to play Time Gem too often. So, we’ll keep Time Gem to one copy in our deck.

Now that we have the equipment sorted out, let’s consider our character cards. Our 1-drops are really going to be more like plot twists in function. Still, they serve very important purposes. One copy of Mikado and Mosha is necessary to keep annoying opposing 1-drops like Joystick under control. We probably won’t need the Angels of Destruction against curve decks, but one copy can be a lifesaver in off- and short-curve matchups, especially if we have a way to recur Mikado and Mosha (which we do!). Our other 1-drop is Jaime Reyes ◊ Blue Beetle. Since our deck is heavily dependent on equipment cards, we would probably benefit from having an equipment searcher. Jaime Reyes is one of the best in Silver Age, requiring only a simple exhaustion of one of our characters to find an equipment card.

Turn 2 is where we will probably start with our curve. Our primary 2-drop is going to be Pip the Troll. While Pip may not be as potent as Ape X or Ted Kord ◊ Blue Beetle at searching for equipment cards, his effect is respectable nonetheless. More importantly, though, Pip sports a pretty nice 3/3 frame. It will certainly be nice to have a large character to protect our endurance in the early turns. Our other 2-drop, Silver Surfer, Skyrider of the Spaceways, isn’t as big as Pip, but he excels at setting up our hand for later turns. With a simple activation, we can prepare our late curve, find a copy of Elemental Converters to improve our draw, or even fetch The Infinity Gauntlet. After his involvement with the original The Infinity Gauntlet storyline, I suppose it’s only fitting that Silver Surfer would be able to find the vaunted glove for us.

At 3, we will start setting up our stall elements. We’ll have our standard backup character in the form of Gamora. She isn’t bad by any means, with the potential to hit 6/6 while she has her cosmic counter, but we really want more of a stall-based character. Air-Walker, Gabriel Lan is more suited for this task. Not only does he sport a very nice 6 DEF (which is generally enough to fend off the attacks by other 3-drops), but he also has a very relevant ability. Anyone who’s ever faced down a Gamma Doom or X-Stall deck can tell you how powerful Puppet Master is in a stall strategy. Air-Walker is very similar in function, but sports respectable stats as well. Having a Puppet Master that’s difficult to stun is a dream come true for us.

At 4, we have some stall and draw acceleration choices. Human Torch, The Invisible Man is obviously amazing. Not only does he give reinforcement to all of our characters (when teamed-up of course), but he also actually has an effect that can facilitate our late-game theme. We probably won’t ever try to do massive amounts of breakthrough on our attacks, but even a few points here and there can be enough to move us one or two turns past where we might have otherwise finished. Still, our primary concern early on is not hitting the later turns, but getting enough cards in hand to get The Infinity Gauntlet out. So, we’re going to make Moondragon our primary 4-drop. If you read my article featuring Moondragon, then you already know why I love this lady. Considering that our ultimate goal is to discard six cards at once to enable us to play a seventh card, we will need to have enough cards to meet this need. Moondragon certainly aids the cause with the ability to draw an extra card each phase. With our normal draw, Mind Gem, and various other draw effects, we should have more than enough cards to support our eventual goal.

Speaking of drawing cards, our 5-drop is Frankie Raye ◊ Nova, Harbinger of Death. Frankie Raye doesn’t so much accelerate our draw as recover our hand. You see, we are going to set a soft goal to recruit The Infinity Gauntlet on turn 5 or 6. Even with our draw aided by Moondragon, we will probably have very few cards left in hand after we recruit The Infinity Gauntlet. To that end, Frankie Raye helps us get back the cards that we had to pitch. This prevents the onerous discard for The Infinity Gauntlet from becoming a burden for us in later turns.

Our 6-drop is going to be our lone source of cosmic counter replenishment. The Fallen One may have become an enemy of the Heralds of Galactus in the comics, but in our deck, he is a valuable ally. Not only can he strategically restore cosmic counters, but he can also bounce problematic opposing characters back to hand. With the amount of draw power that our deck sports, his cosmic effect will usually come into play. Few decks will be able to match the draw power of ours, even with us discarding for The Infinity Gauntlet!

Our deck wouldn’t be much of a Heralds of Galactus deck if we didn’t include a copy of Galactus, The Maker. He is definitely a strong play at 7, but the real allure of Galactus is that he enables so many effects for powerful cards. More on that in a moment. Our other 7-drop is our answer to off-curve decks. Sure, we will be pressed to survive to later turns against aggressive decks. If we do get to the seventh turn, however, Adam Warlock pretty much ensures that opposing weenies won’t be a factor any longer. Maybe our opponents won’t take any damage from Adam Warlock’s effect, but they also won’t have any characters costing 3 or less to attack with. Against off-curve decks, this pretty much seals victory for the home team.

We’ll conclude our characters with single 8- and 9-drops. Tyrant is an absolute monster at 8, with massive stats and an effect that forces an opponent to lose a character. Given that The Fallen One and The Infinity Gauntlet will already be giving opposing characters fits, our opponents probably won’t have many characters left to KO. Finally, at 9 we have Galactus, Devourer of Worlds. Just like his 7-drop version, Galactus aids many effects for our deck, but the main thing to remember about Galactus, Devourer of Worlds is that he wins games . . . period!

As far as locations go, we have two that will be important to the consistency of our deck. We’ve already discussed in depth how Elemental Converters can work well in unison with Silver Surfer and Moondragon. While this location is very nice to have in play, it is not a requirement for victory. Thus, we only need a single copy. Even limiting ourselves to a lone copy of Elemental Converters, we should find it in play quite often due to the number of ways we will have available to search for it.

Our other location is a more subtle form of card advantage. I have long lauded the power of Avalon Space Station and Slaughter Swamp. In our deck, Soul World provides the same effect, albeit using endurance as the cost rather than a discard. The endurance payment for Soul World shouldn’t be overly problematic for us, however, because we will have several Infinity Watch characters around to defer a portion of the cost. Besides, imagine the joy of reusing the same copy of Galactus multiple times for various effects!

The framework for our deck has set up a fairly straightforward framework for our plot twist selections. The most obvious starting point for our plot twists is our Team-Up selection. While we might be well served to play a Team-Up like Millennium that allows us to draw a card, we are actually going to move in the opposite direction and play a Team-Up that facilitates discards. The Herald Ordeal might seem to fly in the face of the theme that we are trying to establish, but the key thing to remember here is that we will usually want to use Soul World to retrieve specific character cards (i.e. Galactus). This means that the remainder of our character cards in hand could go for naught, especially if we draw copies of our low drops in later turns. The Herald Ordeal gives us an outlet to offset endurance loss by discarding character cards that are no longer needed. We won’t want to use The Herald Ordeal too often in the preliminary turns, but just like Human Torch, the slight endurance gain from The Herald Ordeal can greatly aid us in later turns.

Now let’s consider our search options. Obviously, we want cards that can search out equipment as well as characters. Any searchers that can find other cards will be icing on the cake. We already have Jaime Reyes and Pip the Troll for our equipment search. These two will not be enough by themselves, though, so we’ll play four copies of Cannibal Tech. While we might not always have a character available to exhaust for Jaime Reyes’s effect, we should always have a card in hand to discard for Cannibal Tech. This particular plot twist is a stellar addition to our deck, since we will undoubtedly need a lot of help finding those Infinity Gems.

Speaking of Infinity Gems, Gathering the Watch seems like a perfect choice as a character searcher for our deck. From an efficiency standpoint, Gathering the Watch is probably the best character searcher in Vs. System. Most other character searchers have a discard or endurance payment effect associated with them; Gathering the Watch requires nothing but revealing an Infinity Gem. The drawback to this, of course, is that most decks won’t play any of the Infinity Gems or Infinity Watch characters. Since our deck plays a bunch of both, Gathering the Watch is the perfect searcher for our needs.

One last search card that we will undoubtedly want to play is Creation of a Herald. In a deck with several Heralds of Galactus characters, Creation of a Herald is unequivocally better than any other character search card in the game. At the basest level, Creation of a Herald can search for any character card (even unaffiliated) as long as the character card discarded is higher in cost. Considering that the Heralds of Galactus team favors high cost characters, this is usually not an issue. If Creation of a Herald stopped there, it would still be a great card, but the fact that you can discard a character card named Galactus to search your deck for any card puts Creation of a Herald way over the top! Now we have another way to find Elemental Converters, or a needed Team-Up in The Herald Ordeal, or even that wayward Infinity Gem—Creation of a Herald is awesome!

Our final plot twist choice may seem a bit anticlimactic. Still, Meltdown is a very strong tech card for dealing with equipment-based decks. If we are going to recruit The Infinity Gauntlet, we want to make sure that a random copy of Cloak of Nabu won’t get in the way. This in itself is reason enough for Meltdown’s inclusion, but equipment hate can also serve us well against aggressive decks like Good Guys and Fate Squadron that rely heavily on bonuses from equipment cards. A well-timed copy of Meltdown can turn potentially devastating attacks into one-sided stuns against opposing characters.

We’ve gathered the Watch and brought the Heralds together for our challenge. Now let’s see how the two cosmic crews come together in the end:

Are You Asking For a Challenge?

2 Jaime Reyes ◊ Blue Beetle

1 Mikado and Mosha, AoD

4 Pip the Troll, Pro Space Gem

3 Silver Surfer, Skyrider

4 Air-Walker, Gabriel Lan

1 Gamora, Pro Time Gem

1 Human Torch, Invisible Man

4 Moondragon, Pro Mind Gem

3 Frankie Raye ◊ Nova, HoD

2 The Fallen One, The Forgotten

1 Adam Warlock, Pro Soul Gem

1 Galactus, The Maker

1 Tyrant, The Original Herald

1 Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

4 Cannibal Tech

4 Creation of a Herald

4 Gathering the Watch

2 Meltdown

4 The Herald Ordeal

1 Elemental Converters

3 Soul World

2 Mind Gem, Infinity Gem

1 Power Gem, Infinity Gem

2 Reality Gem, Infinity Gem

1 Soul Gem, Infinity Gem

1 Space Gem, Infinity Gem

1 Time Gem, Infinity Gem

1 The Infinity Gauntlet

The mulligan is exceedingly simple for the deck: get a 2-drop! Not only does this help stave off attacks from aggressive early game decks, but it also gives you one of two cards that improve your card drawing and cycling. If you get Pip the Troll, then you can find Mind Gem to help cycle your deck. If you get Silver Surfer, then you can fetch Elemental Converters to speed up your draw. Both cards become twice as effective once Moondragon hits play. After turn 2, the search cards in the deck should allow you to hit the remainder of your optimal curve.

As stated earlier, the optimal play for the deck is to recruit The Infinity Gauntlet on turn 5 or 6. If you can consistently get it out on turn 5, then you probably want to take the even initiatives, as recruiting The Infinity Gauntlet is likely a superior off-initiative play to anything your opponent can play. If you aren’t getting The Infinity Gauntlet out until turn 6, then odds is a preferable play for the same reason. Moondragon is probably the best target for recruiting The Infinity Gauntlet, as she won’t be doing a large amount of attacking with only 6 ATK. Still, her 8 DEF means that she will usually be big enough to protect against attacks from smaller characters.

And so ends the challenge for this week. I’d like to thank Todd McFadyen for the idea for this week’s deck. Hopefully, we’ve made some progress on a Silver Age deck featuring The Infinity Gauntlet that will stand up to the competition. I’ll be back again next week for more challenges in Vs. System deckbuilding.

Karla Sofen <> Meteorite, Celestial Power  (10/03/06)

 “The promise of greatness

 I’m a helluva guy!

 They gave me a roadmap; I looked at the wheel

 And said ‘Wow . . . I don’t think I wanna drive!’”

-Three Guys . . .

The above quote is from the opening song of a favorite musical of mine. In the song, the performer comically laments that despite his enormous potential, he did not live up to his promise. I think it’s a theme that pretty much any grown-up can relate to—and something that kids and teens would be smart to avoid.

“Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me, When I’m 34?”

It often surprises people when I inform them that I am 34 years old. I certainly don’t look or act 34, and my situation—having recently graduated college and just starting out in the business world—belies someone ten years younger. Personally, I don’t really feel like I’m anywhere close to my calendar age . . . except maybe on those occasional mornings when I wake up after sleeping wrong and my muscles remind me that I do actually have a 34-year-old back. The sands of time don’t lie—I am well into my fourth decade on this planet.

Without going too in-depth, my story is basically that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life for a very long time. This caused me to shirk my tasks and responsibilities under the presumption that one day I would have an interest in doing them. At the time, this was great fun, as sleeping and playing computer games in lieu of working and going to school was far more entertaining. Over time, though, I noticed that my contemporaries were moving on to bigger and better things: high-paying jobs, spouses, and even families. By the time I realized that this was what I wanted for my life, a good chunk of time had passed. Thus, I am just now realizing the fruits of the labor that I should have performed years ago.

Don’t get me wrong—I love my life right now. I have a good job and great friends, and I am part of a TCG community devoted to a game that I thoroughly enjoy. In many regards, this is more than I ever wanted for myself. However, there are certainly occasions when I look back to “What Might Have Been.” I often wonder how different my life might have been if I had followed the more standard path of my peers.

However, I am pragmatic enough to know that it’s no good to cry over spilt milk (though you might think differently if you’ve ever heard any of my “bad beat” stories). My life, just like everyone else’s, is moving inexorably forward, and there’s nothing I can do to change what has happened. I can only hope to make the most of my tomorrows and leave my yesterdays where they belong: in the past.

Redemption, Like Lightning

Given my past experiences, I tend to feel a special kinship towards the Thunderbolts. While their story is perhaps a bit more extreme than my own, there are nevertheless some interesting parallels. Originally, a good chunk of the Thunderbolts’ members were villains of some variety. In Vs. System, this is exemplified by many of the Thunderbolts characters having different versions on the Masters of Evil team. Following the Onslaught saga and the supposed death of most of the Earth’s mainstream super heroes, Helmut Zemo organized the Masters of Evil into the faux-superhero team called the Thunderbolts. Zemo’s intention was for the Thunderbolts to gain the support and trust of Earth’s populace by acting as their protectors. Once the Thunderbolts had free rein, Zemo would use that privilege to grasp ultimate power. Now that’s evil!

Fortunately for the Earth, Zemo ran into a small problem: Most of the Thunderbolts preferred being super heroes to being super villains. This made it hard for Zemo to pull off his nefarious plan, as most of his teammates no longer had an interest in being nefarious. The long and short of it was that Zemo got the boot, and the former renegades became super heroes proper.

I came to the conclusion earlier this week that I really wanted to go for a deck theme involving the face-up strategy of the Inhumans. While the Inhumans team probably has enough power to make the deck work without outside help, I decided to look for any other cards or teams that might support this theme. I did a quick search on Dylan “DocX” Northrup’s Vs. System card search engine, searching for cards with the word “face-up” in their text. About three-quarters of the way through the search, I came across a card that jumped right out at me: Karla Sofen ◊ Meteorite, Celestial Power.

Now here was a card that I could really relate to. First and foremost, she’s on the Thunderbolts. For reasons previously discussed, this in itself had special meaning to me.* But beyond that, Meteorite is a character that never quite seemed to live up to her potential. One big hurdle was that the Thunderbolts characters only found a significant amount of play in two particular deck types: Faces of Evil and Thunderbolts Tactics. Because Faces of Evil relied so heavily on playing characters costing 3 or less (so as to gain the attack boost from Faces of Evil), the 4-drop Meteorite was too big to find a place in the deck. Thunderbolts Tactics, on the other hand, revolved around characters that had some sort of readying effect or attribute. Meteorite, while potentially very big, has no additional effect relating to her status as ready or exhausted. The simple truth is that Meteorite would really only ever have a chance to thrive in a deck devoted to having all of its resources face-up.

Now, what was I saying before? Oh yeah . . . I wanted to build a deck that thrived on having all of its resources face-up. Great Scott! The Inhumans have cards that facilitate having face-up resources, and Meteorite gets bigger for every face-up resource we control! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! Meteorite is getting a chance to live up to her promise of greatness. We’re going to build an Inhumans deck focused on the “face-up resource” theme, and our star of the show will be none other than the Thunderbolt heroine, Meteorite.

The Build

Of course, we want to start things off with four copies of our featured card, Karla Sofen ◊ Meteorite, Celestial Power. Obviously, we are also going to have a strong complement of Inhumans characters to support our “face-up resource row” theme. However, considering that we have to have another Thunderbolts character card to reveal when we recruit Meteorite, we will need to have some representation from that team as well. The question is: Who do we want at certain drops?

For 1-drops, we’ll want four copies of Dallas Riordan, Mayoral Aide. Meteorite is obviously the deck’s lynchpin. However, Dallas Riordan also fits in nicely with the Inhumans in a couple of ways. First, she has concealed, which works well with Inhumans cards like Himalayan Enclave. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Dallas Riordan’s activated effect improves the cycling power of the deck and gives us another way to make cards like The Substructure effective. Given all that she adds to the flow of the deck and the fact that she is a much-needed Thunderbolts character, she is an obvious inclusion to the deck.

For 2-drops, we’re going all Inhumans. Our plays at this turn range from passive to aggressive. On the passive side, San, The Alienated One is another great card for setting up our resource row. With a copy of The Substructure already in play, we can effectively use San to search out whatever location we want for later turns and put it into play immediately. Considering some of the powerful locations that we will have at our disposal, this will certainly be a powerful effect. Of course, if we don’t already have a copy of The Substructure available, San can search that out for our draw on turn 3. On the aggro front, Quicksilver, Inhuman by Marriage is a pretty easy choice for our deck. At an impressive 3/3, Quicksilver can attack most 1- and 2-drops without fear of stunning back. If we fall behind early in the race for board control, Quicksilver’s ability to attack twice in a turn can even the odds in a hurry.

We have some toolbox choices for our deck in the 3-drop slot. Our Inhumans representative here is Quicksilver’s wife, Crystal, Elementelle. She is certainly respectable at 5/4 with range and concealed. However, much like San, her inclusion has to do with her ability to set up our resource row. Having the nifty ability to bring a team-up directly into play will come in handy on turn 4 when Meteorite comes out. This also saves our other search and cycling cards for other uses. Another 3-drop we’re going to play is a copy of Wolverine, Skrunucklehead. The logic for his inclusion is twofold. First, he is a viable search target on turn 3 when we aren’t able to search for an Inhumans character with Enemy of My Enemy. While he isn’t actually stamped with the printed Inhumans team affiliation, he still gets all of the Inhumans character benefits when he is in play. Secondly, his cosmic effect allows him to swing way up the curve. You might be concerned that since it is a cosmic—surge effect, he won’t ever get the chance to utilize that ability. If we take into account that the Inhumans team-up card Extended Family allows us to restore cosmic counters, however, then the chances of Wolverine becoming a 10 ATK beatstick become much greater! Finally, we have our obligatory tech card, the 3-drop Kang, Kang Cobra. It’s certainly nice that Kang has concealed to fit in the pseudo-hidden theme that we are incorporating into the deck, but the real reason for his addition is to keep power-up-based decks like Big Brotherhood and Good Guys from completely destroying us.

Turn 4 needs little explanation, as it features our theme card, Meteorite.

Turn 5 has a couple of neat characters for our perusal. On the more aggressive front, we have Hawkeye, Leader by Example. In unison with Meteorite, this guy can be absolutely nuts. Considering that Meteorite will usually be big enough on turn 5 to swing up the curve and easily stun our opponent’s 5-drop, Hawkeye makes this attack quite favorable because Meteorite won’t even stun in the attack. This leaves our gigantic 11/9 5-drop free to swing back down the curve at our opponent’s smaller characters. Of course, we aren’t always looking for sheer size at this point in the game. That’s why we also have Karnak, The Shatterer at 5. Inasmuch as Hawkeye is powerful, Karnak is equally as subtle. Once he gains a cosmic counter, Karnak ensures that our smallest character in play will be capable of taking down our opponent’s largest character. Dallas Riordan may not look like much of a beater, but Karnak makes her 1 ATK more than a match for an opposing 6-drop’s 0 DEF!

Two 14 ATK characters comprise our selections at 6. For the Thunderbolts, we have the formidable Genis-Vell ◊ Photon. Sizable stats, flight, and range make Photon a pretty package already, but he also provides some utility for us in the early turns, giving us a moderate defense boost for our smaller characters. Being able to attack with Quicksilver and Wolverine without having to worry about them stunning back can reap benefits for us in later turns. A Thunderbolts 6-drop who doubles as a useful defensive pump—what’s not to love? Also at 6, we have the potentially game-ending Maximus the Mad. Where we might have once had to worry about problematic formations disrupting our attacks and creating reinforcement avenues, Maximus eases our concerns by forcing our opponents to move all of their characters to the front row. Without any help from the support row, we are free to send our sizable characters after our opponent’s incapacitated board. Madness you say? Methinks not!

I’m sure there’s some joke that I could make about our 7-drop, Invisible Woman, Flame On!, being the “hottest” version of Invisible Woman to date. Still, we are not concerned with any of Invisible Woman’s attributes other than those that relate to her effectiveness in our build. Fortunately, Invisible Woman fits the bill perfectly here, as her effect will generally be good for at least 7 endurance loss. If we have the initiative on turn 7, the Invisible Woman can make the situation for our opponents quite uncomfortable to say the least.

Our final character—an 8-drop—is our last resort. If we run afoul of a late-game deck that prevents us from dealing significant damage in the early turns, then we at least have the comfort of knowing that Black Bolt, Devastating Decree will rend our opponent’s board asunder. Considering that we will almost always have a fully face-up resource row, Black Bolt turns a simple stun into a board-clearing event. One single attack can eliminate all but the hardiest characters on turn 8. Maybe it’s overkill, but I really like our chances for victory with the mighty mouth of Black Bolt in the endgame.

Let’s move on to our locations now. Some of the locations we have already discussed in some detail. First and foremost are four copies of The Substructure. This card is reminiscent of cycling locations like Clocktower and Lexcorp. However, The Substructure also benefits us by allowing us to cycle Inhumans character cards out of our resource row without having to worry about losing them forever to the KO’d pile. If we want them back, we can simply pitch a card to return our Inhumans characters to our hand.

On its own, The Substructure would be a fine card for our deck. However, The Substructure becomes absolutely phenomenal when we use it in unison with Attilan. Consider the following: Attilan has the potential to put any card from our deck on top of the deck, and The Substructure has the ability to put a card from the top of our deck into our resource row. If we merge those together, we realize that the combo of Attilan and The Substructure can put any card into our resource row. Considering the ease of setting up such a combo for our deck, this is absolutely phenomenal. If we decide that we need access to a certain location or plot twist, we can use our combo to get it into play immediately. If we need to search out a character card, we can put it into our resource row then move the character into our hand using a terraform location (or recruit it if it is a reservist). Suffice to say, Attilan is amazing . . . if we can keep it working effectively!

Since we’re on the topic of terraform locations, let’s discuss a few that we’d like for the deck. One very apparent choice is Blue Area of the Moon. While maybe not very powerful as an attack pump, Blue Area of the Moon is quite subtle because it allows for at least one attack per turn where our attacker won’t become stunned. This can be very useful with our hidden characters, especially Maximus the Mad, who has an inordinately low DEF for his cost. With Blue Area of the Moon, Maximus can swing away without having to worry about the repercussions of stunbacks.

Since we’ll have several hidden Inhumans characters in our deck, it would probably make sense to have a copy of Himalayan Enclave in our build. If we encounter an opponent who tries to bring our hidden characters to the visible area with an effect like No Man Escapes the Manhunters, we can counter the effect by using Himalayan Enclave to return our character to the hidden area. Granted, this ability won’t stop effects that allow opposing characters to attack into the hidden area; but Himalayan Enclave helps out in some small capacity there as well by giving all of our hidden characters +1 DEF. It’s not much, but it can certainly make a difference in a close game.

Our final terraform location is Soul World. To be fair, a location like Slaughter Swamp or Avalon Space Station would probably be better suited to the deck, as we should have little problem maintaining our hand. However, the terraform mechanic makes Soul World a better choice overall for our deck, as we can also use it to repair our resource row. We will probably find that we won’t want to use Soul World more than once or twice in any game, as the endurance payments can become pretty steep. Still, we may occasionally find it necessary to recur a key character card in the later turns. In that regard, Soul World is a logical choice for our deck’s recursion location.

Our last location is a backup team-up in the form of Stormfront-1. We will rarely want to make this location our preferred team-up, as Extended Family is far more useful. However, we will sometimes find that we won’t want or be able to recruit Crystal, Elementelle on turn 3 to find our team-up. In these rare situations, we may actually want to use San on the prior turn to find Stormfront-1 for our team-up. At the very least, it fills the role of bringing our two primary teams together. The extra card that we draw from the effect of Stormfront-1 is just a bonus!

We’ve already discussed some of our plot twist choices. Let’s quickly reiterate the key plot twists: Our primary team-up is, of course, Extended Family. It certainly fills the role of team-up for the deck. It also accounts for something more in our deck, as the effect of adding a cosmic counter can immediately make characters like Wolverine and Karnak extraordinary. Even if we are already teamed-up, there’s a high likelihood that we will want to hoard extra copies of Extended Family if we have any of our powerful cosmic characters in play.

Another card that we mentioned earlier is Enemy of My Enemy. To be fair, there are several choices that we could make for the deck’s character searcher. The Great Refuge fits very nicely into the theme, and Marvel’s Most Wanted could search for any card in the deck. However, given that there would probably already be competition for space in the resource row, and that discarding multiple characters can be a strain on hand size, Enemy of My Enemy was chosen simply because it was the most versatile at filling the role for this particular build. Of course, opinions on this matter may vary.

Let’s consider the issue of attack pumps. We already have a nifty combat trick in the form of Blue Area of the Moon, but this location won’t actually help us with boosting the ATK values of our characters. The good news is that most of our characters already have ATK values much higher than the average characters at their costs. Moreover, characters like Meteorite and Wolverine have the ability to naturally attack up the curve. Thus, our attack pumps need not be excessive; rather, they can provide reasonable stat boosts that enhance other aspects of our characters’ attacks. One such card is It’s Slobberin’ Time!. This pump is not quite as friendly as its namesake (It’s Clobberin’ Time!), but considering that our entire theme revolves around having a face-up resource row, we should almost always be able to gain the additional +3 ATK from the plot twist. In essence, It’s Slobberin’ Time is functionally the same +3/+3 as its Fantastic Four counterpart.

Another useful pump we’ll play is The Royal Guard. As far as pure attack power goes, The Royal Guard is a far cry from Savage Beatdown or Armageddon, but it serves its purpose well enough in our deck. First, it is a turn-based pump, meaning that the target character gets the boost from the plot twist anytime it attacks that turn. For characters like Quicksilver who can attack multiple times in a turn, such a pump is worth far more than a single attack boost. Secondly, The Royal Guard gives a balanced boost to both ATK and DEF. This not only enables attacking up the curve, but it can also prevent stunning back in many situations. Given the numerous cards that we have included to facilitate attacks without stunning back, this would seem to fit the theme of the build quite nicely.

Now let’s consider a medium to utilize our attack tricks. We just discussed how the ability to attack more than once in a turn is quite powerful. With the Inhumans team, we are given a way to make this happen for any of our characters with Exploiting the Flaw. Our big beaters can take down most opposing drops without having to suffer stunbacks thanks to our combat tricks. This leaves our smaller hidden characters like Dallas Riordan, Mayoral Aide and San free to declare attacks on our opponent’s other characters. We can then use Exploiting the Flaw to transfer the attack to one of our bigger non-stunned characters like Meteorite or Hawkeye. The result is that our big characters get to effectively attack multiple times in a turn. Against any deck, this can be a powerful tool for gaining massive board advantage.

Our final card for the deck is our “recharge” card, so to speak. We will usually find that our resource row is stocked with locations and ongoing plot twists that are constantly useful to us. However, we may occasionally find that a wayward non-ongoing plot twist or character card has made its way into our all-important resource row. In such a situation, a quick terraform or activation of The Substructure may not be enough, so we’re going to play a single copy of Final Decree. This card is not to be used lightly, as it can potentially wreck our resource row. On the other hand, it can be very nice for replacing non-ongoing plot twists (that are sitting otherwise dead in the row) with cards that we can make use of in later turns. It is a risk, as replacing too many resources could put us in a position that we cannot recover from.

We’re done! The Inhumans and Thunderbolts have done their darnedest to give us a face-up resource row. Let’s take a look at the build so we can evaluate their efforts:

The Promise of Greatness


4 Dallas Riordan, Mayoral Aide

4 Quicksilver, IbM

4 San, The Alienated One

4 Crystal, Elementelle

1 Kang, Kang Cobra

1 Wolverine, Skrunucklehead

4 Karla Sofen ◊ Meteorite, CP

1 Hawkeye, Leader by Example

1 Karnak, the Shatterer

2 Genis-Vell ◊ Photon

1 Maximus the Mad, MM

1 Invisible Woman, Flame On!

1 Black Bolt, Devastating Decree

4 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Exploiting the Flaw

4 Extended Family, Team-Up

1 Final Decree

2 It’s Slobberin’ Time!

4 The Royal Guard

3 Attilan

2 Blue Area of the Moon

1 Himalayan Enclave

1 Soul World

1 Stormfront-1, Team-Up

4 The Substructure

I daresay that the deck’s mulligan should be for The Substructure or San (who can fetch The Substructure). Aside from the interaction with Attilan discussed above, The Substructure is a powerful enabler just in the fact that it helps us cycle through an extra card each turn. With several terraform locations in the deck, we can afford to be a bit reckless with our activations of The Substructure. Even if we drop nothing but characters into our resource row, we should still have little problem getting Attilan online by turn 4 and making Meteorite a massive 9/8.

Against an off-curve or press deck, even initiatives are usually preferable, as Maximus the Mad can set the stage for several massive unreinforceable attacks on turn 6. On the other hand, slower decks might require odd initiatives to allow for the extra damage available through Invisible Woman. In any situation, reaching turn 8 with Black Bolt in play will usually be a board-clearing experience.

And that does it for us, folks. Take care, and we’ll see you back here next week!

*Though I seem to remember someone telling me that she went back to being a villain after her stint on the Thunderbolts. Well, at least she tried.

Circle Defense (10/11/06)

I’ve been writing articles for Metagame.com for little over a year now. For the most part, the feedback I get on those articles is positive . . . even praising. The decks that I come up with may not win any Pro Circuits, but they are usually fun, interesting, and unique.

Unique . . . well, that’s not always true. I do occasionally get feedback where a reader thinks that one of my deck ideas has already received its fair share of attention. For example, my Doom article from a few weeks back was admittedly a spin on an already existing idea to use Crisis on Infinite Earths to make the different versions of the good doctor non-unique. For the most part, it was a teched-out update to incorporate the newer versions of Doom in the Heralds of Galactus set.

While I try to be innovative with my ideas—building decks with themes that have not been effectively explored—I do occasionally trip over the lines that other people have drawn. Still, considering that I’ve built over 40 different decks now, I must say that I think I’ve done a decent job featuring different deck ideas and themes.

This was true, at least, until this week. This week, I had no idea whatsoever what to write about!

The Creative Process (revised)

While I have a few deck ideas sitting on the back burner, I really had no idea what to write about this week. I’ve featured almost every team from the Heralds of Galactus set (with the notable exception of the Kree, who you should see next week). After I’ve explored the deck possibilities with teams from the newer sets, I usually start to run low on inspiration for article material, but it has never been quite as bad as this time around.

After several hours of indecision, I decided to take a different approach to my selection process and try a little random selection. I created a couple of random number generators in Microsoft Excel. The first was 1 through 11, representing the sets that have been released for Vs. System to date. This yielded a 2: DC Origins. The next random number was for 1 through 165, representing the number of cards in DC Origins. This number was 55. This is how I came up with DOR-55: Circle Defense.

Circle Defense? I don’t even remember what that does! Let’s see . . . 3-cost plot twist . . . target defender gets +3 DEF for each non-defending Teen Titans character you exhaust . . .

Holy cow! +3 DEF? I seem to remember that people thought Deflection was a pretty good defensive card at +1 DEF for each character exhausted. This is literally three times better! Granted, it’s team-stamped to the Titans, but how did I miss this?

Oh yeah . . . I know how. Standard Teen Titans builds are more slanted towards aggressive initiatives and using combat tricks like Terra and Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Sharpshooter on off-initiative turns. Thus, defensive pumps are not very common in Titans builds, as most people would rather exhaust their characters to give Arsenal +2 ATK than for Circle Defense. That’s a real shame, too, as Circle Defense seems like a really good card otherwise.

There must be a way that we can make the most out of such a potent defensive pump. Wasn’t there a team in Infinite Crisis that had some sort of exhaustion theme going on? Oh, yeah—it was JSA! In fact, I did an article on The Rock of Eternity a few months back. I even said that Arsenal would be a great card to facilitate the JSA exhaustion theme in the deck. Well, it certainly seems like this might be a viable fit for Circle Defense.

Like I said earlier, I may not be building the next PC-winning deck. Still, I think that we could have a lot of fun abusing the exhaustion synergies between the Teen Titans and JSA. And the featured card will be none other than the totally random Circle Defense!

The Build

Four copies of the featured card, Circle Defense, seems like a good way to start off the build. Of course, we will need to have a way to team-up our two DC teams. Given the overarching exhaustion theme that we’re shooting for here, Allied Against the Dark seems like a strong choice for our build. We already know that we’ll be exhausting characters to give them a healthy DEF boost, so we might as well throw in a Team-Up that assists their ATK. Of course, we need to keep in mind that four copies of our Team-Up may not be enough to ensure that we find it in a timely fashion. Considering that the most powerful cards for both teams are heavily team-stamped, we need a little more assurance that we’ll hit our all-important Team-Up, so we’ll also include two copies of Teamwork. In addition to finding our Team-Up card for us, Teamwork also helps to protect our valuable Team-Ups from nasty, opposing plot twist effects.

Of course, what would any Teen Titans deck be without four copies of the infamous Press the Attack? Indeed, having effects that can exhaust your own characters can be quite helpful, especially if you have a powerful plot twist like Press the Attack that requires having four exhausted characters in play. Press the Attack can give us another attack with a large character, or possibly another activation of Arsenal to stun yet another opposing character. With the exhaustion methods available to us, Press the Attack will be a valuable aid in making the most of our characters in play.

While our deck does feature a potentially powerful plot twist, there will definitely be times where we won’t be able to get a key character large enough to bounce an attack. In this case, we might be forced to have one of our smaller characters “take one for the team.” Thus, a couple of copies of Heroic Sacrifice will find their way into our build. It’s always a shame when we’re forced to stun our characters, but it’s almost always better to lose a small character than one of our more important, large characters.

Our final plot twist is our character searcher. We might be able to use Optitron, much the way that standard Titans decks do, to provide for our character search needs. The resource point payment requirement, however,  is really only useful in early turns lest we be forced to underdrop on critical turns. Thus, we will go with our standby of Enemy of My Enemy for searching out our key characters.

Location choice will be critical for our deck, as much of the power will come from these locations. First up is the aforementioned The Rock of Eternity. This location does have the potential to wreck our plans, as we could be forced to exhaust all of our characters before we could ever attack with them. In the right deck, however, we can reap the benefits of exhausting our characters for various effects, then have them ready once again to lay the beats on our opponent. Indeed, effects that ready characters are still among the most powerful in the game.

As great as readying characters can be, though, we still need something in the way of raw attack power. Fortunately, the Teen Titans have one of the best ATK boosting locations in Titans Tower. I still recall my embarrassment as Neil Reeves asked me why I passed a copy of Titans Tower in the first draft pod at the very first Pro Circuit. Indeed, the power to give a character extra ATK while attacking or defending is quite potent. With Circle Defense in the mix, it would certainly be possible for us to bounce an opposing attack, then boost our character’s ATK to force the stun on our opponent’s attacker. The bottom line is that any reusable ATK boost is definitely one that we want for our deck.

Our last location is a Teen Titans standard for cycling through decks. USS Argus appears to be a bad trade, forcing us to skip our draw phase. However, the ability to view four extra cards each turn (and consequently keep one of those cards) is one that gives us an edge. Granted, we may lose out on hand advantage, as the trade-off of two cards for one can whittle our hand down quickly. But the tactical advantage achieved is considerable enough for us to want to play USS Argus. Besides, with resource removal effects like Terra and Arsenal, we may not end up skipping too many draw phases anyway.

Some of our character choices may be rather apparent. Others, like the deceptively powerful 1-drop Roy Harper ◊ Speedy, may be a bit less obvious. In most games, our Mercurial Marksman will not see play. Against off-curve and combo decks, though, Speedy is more powerful than the largest drops in the deck. The ability to KO 1-drops can be very important when we need to break through a Child Lock. Speedy may be tech, but he’s a part of the best tech in the game.

Our other 1-drop rolls us into our 2-drop. Ironically, we probably won’t play either Dawn Granger ◊ Dove or Hank Hall ◊ Hawk before turn 3. Still, the amazing boost effect of Hawk and Dove allows either one to find his or her counterpart from anywhere in the deck and bring that character into play. More importantly, Dove and Hawk give each other a notable stat boost when they are in play together. Getting a 1- and 2-drop in play that are the size of 2- and 3-drops, respectively, is quite a good deal.

Still, we must have 2-drops on occasion to help us through the early turns before we recruit Dove and Hawk. This, of course, is why we need at least a couple of copies of Tim Drake ◊ Robin, The Boy Wonder. Robin has dual utility in our deck. He is a fine play early because he can redirect stuns on our team attacks to our less vital characters. Of course, Robin can be an even better play in later turns, when his boost gives our characters the ability to attack without fear of stunning back. However, Robin is our backup at 2; who we’d really like to have is Kate Spencer ◊ Manhunter. Manhunter is a beast in off-curve combat, giving a bonus to all of our characters attacking up the curve. In addition, Manhunter can wreck the best-laid plans of opposing hidden characters, as she can enable a character to attack a larger character in the hidden area. We usually won’t have any problem finding enough attack pumps to enable our smaller characters to swing up the curve. Characters with concealed beware: Manhunter will find you. I guess no man does escape the Manhunters!

Our 3-drops kick off with the mighty, mighty Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Sharpshooter. I don’t really need to go into much detail as to why Arsenal is such a powerful card. If you have any knowledge or understanding of Teen Titans characters, you’ll already know that Arsenal can absolutely dominate a game. In a deck where we prefer to exhaust our characters before we move into our attack step, Arsenal could be even more devastating. Who’d have thought it possible? Another 3-drop with the potential to control games is Michael Holt ◊ Mr. Terrific. Mr. Terrific gives a bonus to all of our characters who are exhausted and in combat with larger characters. Will our characters be exhausted a great deal of the time? Yes. Thus, our opponents will be given the difficult choice of attacking laterally along the curve—and in all probability, suffering a stunback—or attacking down the curve and, in all probability, suffering a stunback. The bonus while we are attacking almost seems understated, as Titans have always excelled at attacking successfully up the curve. Still, an extra +2/+2 never hurts.

Turn 4 is going to seem a bit bizarre to many people. Still, the choices should be well-understood after a bit of explanation. Contrary to what you may have guessed, Terra is our backup 4-drop. Yes, she is great at stunning 3-drops, and her synergy with USS Argus is undeniable. Still, she is fairly small by current standards. At the very least, we’d like to have an average-sized character with a relevant ability. Sand meets those criteria to a “T”. He has an extra point of ATK to make sure that he is usually able to stun opposing 4-drops, but it’s his effect that we’re really interested in. Considering that we’ll have a great deal of control over whether or not our characters are exhausted, we can arrange our turns so that Sand only becomes stunned while we have no ready characters. Unless our opponent has a KO effect like Finishing Move, we can almost ensure that Sand will never leave play. Now that is a powerful board control tool!

If there were ever a more obvious pick on turn 5, I don’t know what it is. Both teams have some awesome 5-drops, but Garth ◊ Tempest is where it’s at. Recursion is a powerful effect, and there simply isn’t a better recursion effect than the one Tempest boasts. If we are forced to discard a character that we would like to play in later turns, Tempest can get it back. If we need to retrieve a copy of USS Argus from the KO’d pile for the next turn, Tempest can get it back. If we’d like to reuse a copy of a combat trick like Press the Attack that is currently sitting in the KO’d pile, Tempest can get it back. Sorry Hulk Hogan, but the simple truth is that Garth rules!

Usually on turn 6, we would prefer to underdrop for a game-ending onslaught with our small, powerful characters. However, we may occasionally want to follow the curve. In this situation, we have a copy of Connor Kent ◊ Superboy, Tactile Telekinetic. There is nothing that isn’t good about Superboy in our deck. He possesses yet another effect that facilitates the exhaustion theme. In addition, he can be a trump card when dealing with decks that lean heavily on equipment cards. (I hear that the Fate Artifacts are popular nowadays.) Even if we never recruit Superboy, he makes a decent discard for Titans Tower. Put simply, Superboy is a fine fit for the deck.

Finally, at 7, we have The Phantom Stranger, Wandering Hero. In most games, we won’t ever want to recruit our 7-drop—so why are we playing two copies? Because he’s amazing! We discussed earlier how powerful recursion is in Vs. System. Here we have a card that not only has a very impressive recursion effect, but also facilitates our exhaustion theme. Given this, we might tend to overlook the fact that The Phantom Stranger has a relevant power-up effect that we can utilize. However, we might want to look past that and consider that The Phantom Stranger could be absolutely amazing when used in unison with Titans Tower. With The Phantom Stranger’s recursion effect, Titans Tower really is a reusable +7 ATK boost.

Whew! I’m worn out!* Let’s take a look at what our random sampling has yielded.

Random Exhaustion (Titans/JSA)

2 Dawn Granger ◊ Dove, AoO

1 Roy Harper ◊ Speedy, MM

4 Kate Spencer ◊ Manhunter, FR

2 Tim Drake ◊ Robin, BWonder

2 Hank Hall ◊ Hawk, AoC

2 Michael Holt ◊ Mr. Terrific

4 Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, SS

4 Sand, Sanderson Hawkins

1 Terra, Tara Markov

4 Garth ◊ Tempest, ASorcerer

1 Connor Kent ◊ Superboy, TT

2 Phantom Stranger, WHero

4 Allied Against the Dark

4 Circle Defense

4 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Press the Attack

2 Teamwork

2 Heroic Sacrifice

4 The Rock of Eternity

4 Titans Tower

3 USS Argus

It’s kind of hard to say what the mulligan in the deck is, as Teen Titans decks historically have a tendency to right themselves rather quickly. It would be difficult to mulligan any hand with The Rock of Eternity, but it is much more important for the deck to hit its drops. Basically, you should look for a solid early curve, with cards like Enemy of My Enemy and USS Argus to help you hit your later drops.

The initiative preference may be a bit different than a standard Titans deck, as Sand is your primary 4-drop. The deck certainly has the power to kill on turn 5 or 6, so the initiative choice may be largely inconsequential. Evens may be a better call, as turn 1 you usually won’t have a 1-drop, and turn 6 is a great point to underdrop smaller characters like Arsenal and Michael Holt for a game-ending assault.

And that’s all. It’s good to see that this experiment in complete and total randomness yielded something that is actually playable. Be sure to check back next week on Breaking Ground as we take a look at the possibilities for the Kree resource disruption theme—something a bit more planned, to say the least . . . heh heh!

*Get it? An exhaustion joke!!!


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