(Metagame Archive) Sealed Pack 101: Checkmate

By Doug Tice

This article is the first of a multi-part review of the Infinite Crisis set, looking at the teams strictly in terms of playing these cards in Sealed Pack and Draft events. During these next few weeks, you will have the chance to read the opinions of a number of other Internet writers about these cards, so why would you want to spend the time to read my opinion? The simple answer is, because I am smarter than everyone else out there.

Okay, that was intended to be a joke. If you want to consider me the most smarterest Vs. System writer out there, then by all means, please do. Truthfully, though, I hope that by showing you a new way to categorize the cards of a team—particularly its characters—you’ll learn a new means of analyzing and evaluating your Sealed Pack card pool and Draft picks that will aid you well into your Vs. System career.

Basically, I separate each team’s cards—first by type, then by group, and then by subgroup. Then, within each subgroup, I try to determine which cards are the best at what they do. The simplest grouping or sub-grouping is to compare all of the characters of one team that share a cost. What I like to do is look for any common ground that the cards have. Sometimes, cost is the most effective platform for comparison. Other times, similarly themed card text warrants a subgroup. Most often, though, I see subgroups within subgroups within groups within a team affiliation. I could ramble on more about this, but I fear that in doing so, you will lose any interest in reading the rest of my article that I have generated thus far.

So, let’s get down to business. My first major group within the Checkmate team is the visible characters. Within this category, many other subgroups exist, and I sort each of them by cost.  The Visible Characters  The Fixer Wannabes 
No, I’m not referring to Paul Ebersol ◊ Fixer, Problem Solver. I’m talking about the real fixer, Roscoe Sweeny, Fixer. Roscoe was a wonderful character to have in Draft or Sealed Pack. Play him on turn 1, and things start looking good right away. Play him on turn 1 when your opponent plays no character, and well, it’s pretty hard to control your grin. Infinite Crisis has a 1-drop for each of the major teams in the set, and they all remind me a little bit of Roscoe Sweeny.

Connie Webb, Knight is my least favorite of the four, but since my intent is to cover the Checkmate team thoroughly, I thought I’d touch on her first. Cards like Connie Webb, Jakeem Williams, JJ Thunder, and Alexander Luthor, Duplicitous Doppelganger are very playable in Sealed Pack, but they should not automatically be included. I look at these characters as being usable only once during a match. Turn 1 is really the only time I would ever want to play one of these guys, and I don’t like that they make you miss half of your next draw. Still, cards like these do slightly improve the consistency of your draws even at the cost of losing a new card on the following turn.

Madame Xanadu, Cartomancer falls into this grouping also, but she does not fix your character curve. Instead she searches for cards with the Magic version. It seems to me that most of the Shadowpact team’s best plot twists share the Magic version, so I think Madame Xanadu rises to a tier above her three cousins. I’ll touch more on her when I cover the Shadowpact team—Infinite Crisis’s most difficult team to draft, build, and play in a limited capacity.

The OMAC Robots

 

Retrieval Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army doesn’t excite me too much for Sealed Pack play. With so few characters having the OMAC Robot identity, you would be lucky to have more than one in play during any of your games of Sealed. In Draft, however, I think you should be able to get the 2-, 3-, and 4-cost OMAC Robots during your later picks. With two or more different OMAC Robots in play, the Retrieval Protocol’s value really starts to show. As a 2-drop in an OMAC-light deck, this card is a dud.

Neutralization Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army is one of those tricky cards. So few cards exist that empower you to recruit characters of a higher cost than you have resources in play that I have to think Neutralization Protocol will come in quite handy.

I think I like Elimination Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army’s boosted effect. To really make the most of both of this card’s powers, boosting on turn 6—or possibly turn 5 with the help of Neutralization Protocol—is the optimal play.

Annihilation Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army is the best of all of the OMAC Robots. Consequently, you will not be awarded one as a pick as late as seventh or eighth. Annihilation Protocol’s boost effect will serve you well no matter how many OMAC Robots you control. Unfortunately for the OMAC Robot–heavy draft decks, no synergy exists between all of those Army characters and Annihilation Protocol’s true strength. The reason you will probably not get a chance to draft this character in the later rounds is because he gives players a “Finishing Move on a stick.” Still, the boost gives this card flexibility. You also might be able to recruit this guy a turn earlier than normal if you can keep a Neutralization Protocol and any other character around at the end of turn 3.

The Core Visible Checkmates: Queens, Knights, and an Autonomous Prototype

Sasha Bordeaux, Knight and Sarge Steel, Knight are both top-notch 2-drops. The Checkmate team has a strong theme of both locations and equipment. With any equipment card attached to Sasha, she will out-size some pretty adequate 3-drops. Sarge Steel has a boost effect that helps make up for under-dropping on turn 3, and his power effectively makes him Tomar Tu, Green Lantern of Xudar.

The next group includes characters whose powers might just win you the game—or whose powers may not be a factor in the game at all. They all share the “exhaust a location you control” mechanic. Graziella Reza, Knight is far better in Draft than in Sealed. The more locations you can draft to support her, the better. Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Knight will probably not be activated nearly as often in Sealed as he will in Draft, but his ATK can be boosted at a low cost, so I don’t expect him to be a disappointment often. Huntress, Reluctant Queen’s discard power is like having a full-coverage insurance policy. She will foot the bill as a fine 6-drop, but she can also help ensure that bad things don’t happen to good characters.

Sasha Bordeaux, Autonomous Prototype is in a category by herself. This power seems like it should be quite the game-breaker, but I’m not so sure it will be. I think the determining factor will be the number of opportunities you have to maximize the value of your plot twists in the early to mid-game. If you are trying to win the game on turn 7 with this card as your big finish, you will live to regret not being able to play your plot twists on your last turn.

The Kings

Ahmed Samsarra, White King, Harry Stein, King in Check, and  all share the “lose the game” clause, or as I like to call it, “the checkmate drawback.” Here is the quick and narrow: do not play Harry Stein, King in Check or Maxwell Lord, Black King unless you feel that you have no other options in your Sealed card pool. In Draft, there are viable ways to offset this drawback, but in Sealed these cards are too risky. The only one of these three that you will see me playing is Ahmed Samsarra, White King. Samsarra’s sheer size—combined with his optional concealment and a power that lends itself quite well to the rest of his team—makes playing him more than worth the risk of losing the game. Ahmed Samsarra should never be recruited into the visible area, though, so I shall press on into the second major grouping of the Checkmate team: the characters with concealed.
The Hidden Characters

You will notice that within this major grouping, the characters are sub-grouped only once, this time by cost.

I always like a set’s strongest 1-drops. Infinite Crisis gave the Checkmate team three of them. Aspiring Pawn, Army is my favorite. If Aspiring Pawn grows to the size that can stun a 3-drop, the game should be pretty lopsided in your favor. Surveillance Pawn, Army’s backup power will serve you well, and Jacob Lee, Knight’s alternate recruit cost will occasionally swing the balance of a game to your favor. These three 1-drops are very playable in both Sealed and Draft.

Black Thorn, Elizabeth Thorne’s loyalty makes her a less-desirable 2-drop. Her backup power does not seem to be intended for Sealed use. As long as her loyalty is not an issue (meaning you have depth in the Checkmate team), she is adequate filler.

Christopher Smith ◊ Peacemaker, Obsessed Outlaw is one of the best characters the Checkmate team has to offer. You should always play Peacemaker regardless of the teams you are playing. Cards like this help you establish a character advantage in the middle turns of the game and will prevent a last-ditch catch-up under-dropping strategy from developing. I have already touched on Ahmed Samsarra, White King, the other strong 3-drop Checkmate character in this group, leaving only Arthur Kendrick, Knight for comment. I’d almost rather say, “No comment.” Kendrick is nothing special. Consider him to be “not the worst filler you can find.”

The Checkmate team has another group of impressive options among its 4-drops. Adrian Chase ◊ Vigilante, Street Justice is one of only two rare Checkmate characters. (Maxwell Lord, Black King is the other.) Vigilante is a character that really outshines others when you have only one visible low-cost character in play and it is your opponent’s initiative. Having only one visible low-drop is easy enough for the Checkmate team to set up. However, one of the biggest benefits of having a number of high-ATK concealed characters is that they get to attack back even on your opponent’s initiative. Still, I think that Vigilante is a cut above most 4-drops.

Valentina Vostok ◊ Negative Woman, Bishop is the “poor man’s Vigilante.” Her power will achieve the same effect as Vigilante’s about half of the time. Her power also can help your lower-cost characters achieve up-the-curve stuns. I’m fairly certain that Vigilante is still the better of the two. And finally, Amanda Waller, Queen caps off the top end of the Checkmate team’s concealed character curve with a super-charged Booster Gold, Michael John Carter type of boost that gives you a good opportunity to under-drop with a bit of “oomph” in the later turns. I really like every option the Checkmate team presents at the 4-drop slot.
The Locations

As I mentioned earlier, the Checkmate team has a strong theme surrounding locations and equipment. It looks to me like all of the Checkmate locations are reasonably strong, but I don’t like Rook Control as much. While it provides another protective measure to ensure that your Kings don’t get stunned, I just don’t think it’s exceptional. I will pass it to you in a draft most of the time.

Brother Eye is an awesome card. By itself it has very little value, but in Draft especially, where you could end up with a Checkmate deck playing four or more locations, I really like Brother Eye. Brother I Satellite is also incredible. Almost exactly the same card as Mountain Stronghold, the Satellite does not require the character you discard to have the Checkmate affiliation.

Because of the concealed nature of the Checkmate team, Secret Checkmate HQ can affect many attackers if you are willing to offer up one visible defender as bait to start the fun. If flipping the HQ lets you achieve a mutual stun between the attacker and your defender on top of the added ATK bonus your concealed characters gain, then you will have gained significantly in your quest for victory. I also like that this location replaces itself at the start of combat. You will be able to exhaust it for payment powers during the build phase before it goes away. Then, hopefully, you will replace into more powerful locations.

Checkmate Safe House is just a solid Team-Up card. The added +1 DEF will not factor into as many games as it would when playing a team consisting of mostly visible characters. In Sealed Pack you will often end up with mostly visible characters, so once you flip the Safe House to team-up, you will then be able to take advantage of the defensive bonus. Just being a location and a team-up is enough to warrant the inclusion of this card in your Sealed deck, but if that little defensive trick essentially “brick walls” one of your opponent’s attacks, you will be plenty glad that you played Checkmate Safe House.

 

As is the case with Brother Eye, Checkmate Armory is really more of a Draft card. It would take having two strong equipment cards at a minimum for me to want to play the Armory. I would steer clear of the Checkmate Armory for most of my Sealed Pack builds, but I would at least consider the interaction of Checkmate characters, locations, and equipment while evaluating my Draft picks.
The Equipment

The following three equipment cards work best with the Checkmate characters and their powerful locations: Knight Armor, Laser Watch, and Tricked-Out Sports Car. I really like that the Laser Watch is concealed—optional. Add to it that it’s free to recruit onto any character and can net you a card as you equip it to a Checkmate character, and you have one heck of a card. The Knight Armor and Tricked-Out Sports Car do not fall far short from the Laser Watch. All three equipment cards are highly playable in a Checkmate-heavy deck.
The Plot Twists

Did I mention that the Checkmate team’s location and equipment themes are deeply rooted? Well, this strength comes at the cost of powerful plot twists. Check and Mate! is my first example. You cannot play this card until turn 6. On turn 6, you can prevent your opponent and yourself from recruiting a character of 6 cost. Is that worth it, really? I highly doubt it. Knights’ Gambit also seems that it is best suited for a narrow Constructed metagame. I don’t recommend playing this rare in a limited card pool environment.

Knightmare Scenario and Target Acquired are two of this team’s stronger plot twists. As you will notice, even these cards get better when combined with locations. Playing either of these cards without a location in play would be fine, but their real strength lies in the added bonuses that can be gained from the locations.

Traitor to the Cause also makes sense because you have so many good options for low-cost characters with concealed. In my opinion, if you are not playing the low-cost concealed characters in your deck, this card is unplayable.

And finally, we have Threat Neutralized—which is so-so—and Pawn of the Black King—which I don’t think does much in Sealed or Draft. Threat Neutralized is another card designed to make the Kings more enticing, but its playability lies more in that you can give one of your characters +1 ATK / +1 DEF outside of combat. Pawn of the Black King must have a Constructed deck connotation in its design.
The Exodus

And there you have the Checkmate team as seen through my eyes. So far, this is my favorite team to try to play in both Infinite Crisis Sealed Pack events and Drafts. As always, I hope to have pointed out at least some new perspective on the team, and I hope to have kept you at least mildly entertained. Please check back next week to read more about the team to come back with a vengeance, the Villains United.

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