(Metagame Archive) One Step Beyond: The Quest

Steve Garrett

I’m sitting here reluctantly in front of my keyboard. I have something I really want to do instead of writing this article—I have almost finished reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower. Some of you may be familiar with this series, but for those who aren’t, it’s an epic tale that the famous author first began in 1967. The story spans seven books and is just short of 4,000 pages of gripping action and compelling characters. The adventure centers on a character named Roland Deschain—a sort of cowboy/samurai/knight hybrid—and his quest to reach the fabled Dark Tower. His quest is truly epic and consumes him wholly. I am reading the seventh and last book in the series, and there are but 120 pages left. I placed my bookmark and left Roland at a point where he realizes that his quest is drawing to an end. The Dark Tower is within reach and stands just a few miles away. Something he has wanted for as long as he can remember is nearly upon him.

If you know the story, you can perhaps understand why I sit here, bashing away at the keys, eager to return to the book. I want to see how the story ends, yet this feverish state of anticipation is what’s inspiring this article. Like Roland, I think I am nearing the end of an epic quest of my own. The Emperor Joker deck is very nearly playable!

If you’ve read anything I’ve written before now, you know that I am a huge supporter of the casual side of the game. I love anything that dares to do things differently. Tier 1 decks are fine and have their place, but if I want to have a real blast playing the game, I have to look elsewhere for my Weapon of Choice.

The Superman, Man of Steel set produced one of my favorite cards. I have been trying to make The Joker, Emperor Joker work for a long time. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about pet decks, and this is certainly one of mine. The deck has always been beset with problems; the builds I have come up with either couldn’t last until turn 8, or went the distance but failed to deck out the opposition (make my opponent draw his or her entire deck).

The Joker’s Evolution

The first time I really started putting some time into the deck was after the release of the Marvel Knights set. This is one of the early builds I used.

Janky Joker


4 Prankster

4 Shimmer

4 Madame Web

1 Black Cat, Felicia Hardy

4 Rogue, Power Absorption

4 Killer Croc

4 Mr. Freeze, Dr. Victor Fries

3 Magneto, Master of Magnetism

3 The Joker, Emperor Joker

Plot Twists

4 Gravesite

4 Clone Saga

4 Overpowered

3 Pleasant Distraction

3 Nasty Surprise

3 Savage Beatdown

4 Overload

3 Acrobatic Dodge


2 Metropolis

Prankster is a great card, especially if you know the metagame. At the time I was testing this, Dean Sohnle’s Fantastic Fun deck was running rampant and being net-decked left, right, and center. Prankster really destroyed that deck. The choices for his ability were simple. Very often, choosing 1 meant that you could net a result of two to four cards. Other than that, calling 3 could mean snagging that pesky A Child Named Valeria. Prankster is definitely a fun card to use and a bloody annoying card to face.

Shimmer was used to try to stall for the later turns, and Madame Web not only helped to deck my opponent, but also provided a nice little endurance boost. Rogue was there to copy whatever activated ability she could, and then the remainder of the curve was all about fighting my way until turn 8. Killer Croc has awesome offensive capability, and DC Origin’s Mr. Freeze could also help slow down my opponent’s attacking options. Gravesite was included for obvious reasons, and in the days when Overload was tournament legal, Overpowered was far easier to make work. Ultimately, the deck did not work too well. In hindsight, the character curve was poor. I took too much damage early on and nearly always found myself behind in character count. Sure, I got the odd win here or there, but it was nothing to write home about. When you play with a rogue or jank deck, you accept that you are going to lose some games, but the win ratio with this deck was just too poor to continue.

So, I shelved The Joker for a little while. It turns out that the deck did not even have time to gather dust, for as soon as the next set was released, I was back on the trail. Green Lantern Corps had a major impact on the game. The GLEE deck became perhaps the most dominant one we have yet seen in any format. But it wasn’t the Lanterns that interested me, it was the Manhunters. Here we have the team with probably the best decking abilities around. Marrying Arkham Inmates and the Manhunters seemed like a logical choice.

Joker Hunter


4 Lana Lang, Manhunter Sleeper

5 Manhunter Protector

5 Manhunter Guardsman

4 Pan

4 Manhunter Giant

3 Mr. Freeze, Dr. Victor Fries

3 Two-Face, Split Personality

2 The Joker, Emperor Joker

Plot Twists

4 Gravesite

4 The Fall of Oa

4 Overpowered

3 Fire Support

3 Acrobatic Dodge

3 Have a Blast!

3 Plans Within Plans

3 Pleasant Distraction

3 No Man Escapes the Manhunters

The deck started off with a distinctive Manhunter flavor. Lana Lang would hide in the shadows, knocking off the top card of my opponent’s deck each turn. The Protector and Guardsman were there to try to slow down any early offense. A bit of early defensive muscle was something that was dearly lacking in the first build, so I was keen to make sure I corrected that this time around. Pan is awesome . . . when he works. And Manhunter Giant is perhaps one of the most key elements to the plan.

Another new member to the roster was the 7-drop Two-Face, Split Personality. This guy is probably one of the best 7-drops in the game and a true boost to the deck. His exhaustion ability really helped to ensure that the deck hit the win turn. The Fall of Oa and Plans Within Plans were two new cards from the Manhunter arsenal, and they both proved very valuable. The deck lacked a natural character search card, but Plans Within Plans gave me a decent alternative to find what I needed when I needed it.

This deck was far more reliable, and I actually won some games on merit, rather than because my opponent’s deck imploded. The win generally came through using The Fall of Oa in conjunction with Manhunter Giant to reduce my opponent’s deck down to nothing (or at least the bare minimum of cards). This was the first time I really felt happy with the deck. Although it didn’t compete against the tier 1 decks, it did pretty well in the casual environment I enjoy so much.

A little further down the set release calendar, we were introduced to the Justice League of America set. This gave us two new teams that contributed to the deck quite a bit. The Secret Society has a deck depletion theme that traditionally targets the Secret Society player him or herself, and the Injustice Gang has a strong strategy based around players drawing extra cards. Combining these teams with Arkham Inmates might make the strongest Emperor Joker build to date.

Michael Barnes penned an excellent article on the subject back in December 2005—he steals all my best ideas! Actually, Michael’s build was almost card for card the same as my own, but I have to say that his was better. It also provided the blueprint for what I believe could become the first tournament viable Emperor Joker deck. Unfortunately, I was on holiday for a couple of weeks during spoiler season for Infinite Crisis, and on the Sneak Preview weekend, I was busy being best man for my father’s wedding. By the time the haze cleared from my head, all the events had passed me by. I had missed one of the most exciting periods on the Vs. System calendar.

I popped into my local store (Final Fantasy Gaming in Luton—pop in and say hi sometime!) and Jason (the owner) began filling me in on some of the latest cards. As soon as he mentioned The Joker, Permanent Vacation, my jaw actually dropped. Oh. My. God. While Two-Face may be one of the best 7-drops in the game, I dropped him like a hot potato as soon as I read the ability of the new Joker. I’m part of a playtest team called Team Betty (named after the genius villain from Kung Paw: Enter the Fist) and we, like most teams, have been looking at Silver Age, so I put together a Silver Age–compliant decklist that goes a little something like this:

Silver-Plated Joker


4 Captain Boomerang, George Harkness

2 James Jesse ◊ Trickster, Giovanni Giuseppe

2 Captain Cold, Leonard Snart

4 Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist

2 Poison Ivy, Kiss of Death

4 The Joker, Headline Stealer

5 Manhunter Giant

4 Scarecrow, Psycho Psychologist

3 The Joker, Permanent Vacation

2 The Joker, Emperor Joker

Plot Twists

4 Criminal Mastermind

4 Gravesite

4 Funky’s Big Rat Code, Team-Up

2 Gang-Up, Team-Up

4 Power Siphon

4 Secret Files

3 Pleasant Distraction

3 All Too Easy

Captain Boomerang is very important for an early activation of Criminal Mastermind, and also as a defensive measure against a strong rush deck. Lex Luthor is vital; he not only provides the draw acceleration we need, but he also controls our opponents’ plot twist use. Scarecrow is played as a boosted 6-drop instead of as a natural 5-drop. I find that Manhunter Giant is more important on turn 5 than the Psychologist. Having double Jokers on turns 7 and 8 is not a worry. Chances are that you can win on turn 7 through Scarecrow burn, but should it go to turn 8, you get to use The Joker, Permanent Vacation’s ability a second time before either KO’ing him to Manhunter Giant (if he’s still around) or just replacing him with the 8-drop version. Power Siphon and Pleasant Distraction provide you with the means to tough it out until the later turns. All Too Easy is a completely insane ATK pump that allows your smaller drops to attack way up the curve, thus leaving your larger characters safe and sound.

The viability of this deck really depends on what the metagame looks like. If stall decks like G’Lock are quite prevalent, the Emperor Joker deck will do well. If the trend is toward weenie rush decks like Anti-Green Lantern rush, things may not work too well.

I’m sitting here, looking back on the journey I have taken with The Joker, Emperor Joker. He has not been a great travel companion; he was often frustratingly unreliable. Now I look to the future and I see that his potential may in fact be realized. My quest, like Roland Deschain’s, is nearly over. How will the story end? I guess I’ll just have to read on for a few more pages.

Steve Garrett



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