(Metagame Archive) Breaking Ground Omnibus Part 4

By Michael “Big Spooky” Barnes

Calling in the Reserves [Random Punks]  (05/30/07)

Welcome back one and all to the fourth installment of Breaking Ground’s Random Punks edition. I suppose there’s an irony in writing articles about decks without rare cards in a column named after a rare card, but there you have it . . .

The official Random Punks Hobby League tournaments started last week, so many of you had a chance to put your rare-free creations to the test. I’ve really enjoyed the process of preparing for the Random Punks format so far. The intention of the format was to make Vs. System an equal experience for all, and since (theoretically) the cards in highest demand usually have gold lettering, taking those cards out of the format should make it possible for any player to play any deck. In a format where money rares are not an issue, the playing field for all is dramatically leveled and success becomes more reliant on well-developed decks and strong game play than on deep pockets.

In the past, I have been pretty good about lending cards to local players who needed a “hard to find” card to finish a deck. But despite my rather large collection of Vs. System cards (that I have spent way too much money on), I can’t always provide all the cards that my friends need. One recent example was at the City Championships tournament in Mesquite, TX. Another player had asked to borrow some cards to complete his deck. I was able to help him with the commons, the uncommons, and some of the rare cards for the deck, but I wasn’t able to lend him the four copies of Enemy of My Enemy that he needed. You see, I only own four copies of the vaunted search card myself, and they were all in the deck that I was playing!

In the Random Punks format, though, this hasn’t yet been a problem because there aren’t too many cards that are “must haves” for a lot of decks. A card like Flying Kick is bound to be played in a number of decks, but it’s a whole lot easier to find extra copies of it because it’s a common card.*

The New New Brotherhood

One testament to the sentiments expressed above is the current complement of decks in my backpack. Three of these decks you’ve already seen in my previous three articles: Morlocks, Heralds/Fearsome Five, and Checkmate/B.P.R.D. The fourth deck is yet another Random Punks deck that I built up: Reservist New Brotherhood. The amazing thing about these decks is that there is not a single card in common between the four of them. Gone are the days when I had to swap cards between decks if I wanted to change over. Now I simply pull out another deck to play, shuffle up, and I’m good to go!

Anyway, back to The New Brotherhood. This deck is based on the Tommy Ashton creation that Stephen King took to such great success at Pro Circuit L.A. last year. The reservist engine, in combination with the power of The New Brotherhood, makes for a very impressive deck. Its power level is on par with some of the most potent short-curve decks in Vs. System, and it rarely suffers from consistency issues. Because of the power and relative simplicity of the deck, I figured that it would be a great build for one of the newer players in my local play group. There were a few problem spots, though. First, the rare Boot to the Head had to be replaced; I decided that Trial by Fire would make a decent substitute. While Trial by Fire is limited to attacking and doesn’t cycle a resource, it will almost always be good for +4 ATK when it is played.

The second card that needed to be replaced proved a bit more problematic. Any good short-curve deck needs decent low drops, and while the Acolytes have three very good, non-rare 1-drops, they are a bit short on 2-drops. This made me unsure about where to turn when I had to replace Amelia Voght. Since Chrome is the only other Brotherhood reservist 2-drop, I was going to have to look outside the team for an answer. I ended up narrowing down my choices to Spider-Slayer V.X. and Dane Whitman ◊ Black Knight. While Spider-Slayer V.X. was a bit bigger, had flight and range, and had a relevant boost effect, I ended up settling on Black Knight. My rationale was simply that he was better in the long run because he wouldn’t cost me endurance to play. Besides, having him in my resource row could actually make a difference when I wanted to play Call Down the Lightning.

My only concern with playing Black Knight was that he wouldn’t be privy to The New Brotherhood’s bonus. He’s already a pretty decently sized 2-drop, but the +2 ATK from The New Brotherhood was what made the deck so formidable. Fortunately, I soon learned that this was not as big of an issue as I had thought. You see, I hadn’t really considered the effect of Planet X in the deck. For the original build of the deck, Planet X was a +2 ATK pump that cycled a card. But Planet X is also a Team-Up. Since this version of the deck actually had an off-team character, the Team-Up effect from Planet X was actually relevant. All of a sudden, Black Knight could gain the stat boost from The New Brotherhood. Swinging with 5 or even 7 ATK became quite common for the heroic paladin who joined with the evil mutant crew.

Personal Favorites

My limited experience playing the Random Punks variant of reservist New Brotherhood led me to one conclusion: I still don’t like playing rush decks. While the remarkable synergy of the reservist New Brotherhood deck impresses me, it really doesn’t fit my personal play style. My main problem with it is that it has to win consistently in the mid-game to be effective. In most situations, the deck can deal out enough damage to pull off a turn 5 victory, but any deck with effective stall elements will give reservist New Brotherhood trouble. For every turn past 5 that the game goes, the odds of reservist New Brotherhood winning decrease exponentially. Personally, I prefer decks that have the versatility to compete in different stages of the game.

This led me to recall the Avengers / Brotherhood reservist deck that I played at $10K Austin last year. At the time, I was completely exhausted and out of practice after coming off a grueling, busy season in audit. Still, I managed to wrangle a 5-4 record in the tournament. Had I actually played well, I could easily have managed a 7-2 or 8-1 record with the deck. Despite the presence of Modern Age powerhouses like X-Faces, Squadron no hand, and X-Mental, the deck could effectively compete with and beat most of the decks in the metagame.

The deck blended amazingly powerful characters and ATK pumps with an assortment of control elements. The characters were big enough to dish out massive amounts of damage when attacking. On the defensive side, characters like Hawkeye, Clinton Barton; Anne-Marie Cortez; and Wonder Man could prevent the plans of opponents from ever achieving fruition. Beyond all else, though, the deck was an absolute blast to play!

Shortly after my playing experiences with reservist New Brotherhood, I began to reconsider the possibilities for the Avengers / Brotherhood reservist deck in the Random Punks format. Some of the cards that made it effective in Marvel Modern Age, such as Amelia Voght and War of Attrition, would not be playable, but the core of the deck would be the same as it was a year ago. Moreover, the power level of the deck would not significantly change. Finally, some of the cards that I’d recently discovered, such as Planet X, could help to make the deck even better!

Two of the reservist originals are back and badder than ever in the Random Punks format. It’s time that the Avengers and the Brotherhood came back to the forefront to show the Vs. System community that they can still swing a big beatstick.

The Build

We have a lot of characters to look at, so let’s get to work. On turn 1, Rem-Ram makes the rounds. This 1-drop Acolyte may not be much from a combat perspective, but that’s not the reason that we play him. Rem-Ram is essentially a free card for us on turn 1 because he gives us an extra character card in hand once he comes into play. Often, this free character card can fill a critical spot in our curve that we were otherwise lacking. Our other 1-drop is Rick Jones. Again, Rick Jones isn’t really much of a fighter; he’s a reinforcer. With his free recruit cost, Rick Jones is a valuable defensive ally for us. In addition, he can be a great card for helping us deal with aggressive decks should we need an extra attacker.

Our 2-drops may seem a bit surprising. From the Avengers, we have Dane Whitman ◊ Black Knight. This 2-drop is certainly big enough to merit inclusion. Also, if we should need to underdrop in later turns, we can use Black Knight’s effect to make good use of an extra resource point. Our other 2-drop, though, may seem a bit surprising. Chrome is not nearly as acclaimed as any of the other Avengers / Brotherhood reservist 2-drops, but he gives us a decent 3/2 body. More importantly, he’s the only common Brotherhood reservist 2-drop. That is enough to merit his inclusion.

Senyaka seems like a good choice for turn 3. His burn effect gives us an extra source of damage, and he has a boost effect that can make him an absolute monster in later turns. For a single resource point, Senyaka can gain enough ATK to allow him to take down many opposing 5- and 6-drops. Of course, our other 3-drop is often large enough to take down these opposing drops without an extra boost. Before you look at his effect, Black Panther, T’Challa doesn’t appear to be much of a 3-drop at 4/3. In our deck, though, Black Panther will always be quite a bit bigger. On turn 3, we will usually have Black Panther at his maximum potential of 7/6. Apart from a few select 3-drops, Black Panther will usually be much bigger than any character our opponents will be able to play on this turn. In addition, Black Panther is a respectable underdrop on turn 4 or 5.

We have a couple of all-star powerhouses on turn 4. Depending upon the deck that we face, these two can turn otherwise hopeless matchups into winning endeavors for us. First, we have Hawkeye, Clinton Barton. What more can you say about this 4-drop? He’s a one-man weenie demolition unit. If our opponents try to pull any off-curve shenanigans on us, Hawkeye will snipe their low drops before they can think about attacking with them. If our opponent is going for a more established mid- to late-game with a lot of plot twist support, Anne-Marie Cortez is our play. I found out firsthand how devastating this 4-drop can be when I played against her with my Morlocks deck; my opponent locked me out of Shrapnel Blast and Last Stand completely. To say that this effect can be game-breaking is an understatement—Anne-Marie Cortez can flat-out win games.

Past reservist builds have relied on the popular 5-drops She-Hulk, Gamma Bombshell and Sub-Mariner, Namor. We will also play a single copy of Sub-Mariner. If we are unfortunate enough to drop some plot twists into our resource row, we can use Atlantean ruler’s effect to clean things up a bit. Our primary 5-drop, though, is Scanner, a powerful source of resource replacement and deck cycling. Scanner allows us to dictate which cards will be replaced into our resource row, and given the importance of setting up for our 6-drop, this is a very potent effect. More importantly, Scanner boasts great stats and concealed—optional. This will often give us the option to take cracks back at our opponent’s characters on turns where we don’t control the initiative.

Unless you’ve never seen a reservist deck in action, you’ve probably already guessed that our 6-drop is Wonder Man. A 12/12 6-drop with flight and range is already a great starting point, but it’s Wonder Man’s effect that really makes him a force to be reckoned with. If we’ve managed our resource row properly, then Wonder Man should reveal enough reservists to stun an opposing 4-drop. A free stun on a key opposing character is huge. Of course, we will occasionally run into a situation where our opponent won’t have a character small enough to stun, but in that case we are probably already set to win.

If we need a final boost of strength on turn 7, we have a copy of Hercules in reserve (hee hee . . . I made a pun!). Taking the son of Zeus into our opponent’s characters not once but twice will usually be enough to put the wraps on any game.

For our plot twists, we have a whole lot of ATK pumps. We’ve already mentioned that our theme card, Planet X, performs double duty as a Team-Up and an ATK pump. In addition, we have a couple of plot twists that give our characters flight and an ATK boost: Flying Kick and Air Strike. Flying Kick is the standard to which all other ATK pumps are held. By giving a target character +3 ATK and flight, it is excellent without being broken. Air Strike is a bit under Flying Kick at only +2 ATK, but should we need to move some plot twists out of our resource row, Air Strike can give us an additional +2 ATK. More importantly, Air Strike is a key card for our strategy of cycling cards out of our resource row. In this way, Air Strike can be better in the long run than Flying Kick, as it can help us hit our optimal curve.

Since we’re on the subject of cycling cards out of our resource row, let’s take a look at one of my favorite cards in Vs. System, Call Down the Lightning. In any reservist deck, this plot twist will usually be good for +3 ATK and a replaced resource, but in our deck, we will also often be able to get an additional +3 DEF by replacing an Avengers reservist. Thanks to Planet X, all of the character cards in our resource row will have the Avengers affiliation.

Our final pump relies on reservists in the resource row in a different way. Heroes in Reserve is one of those cards that gets better the later we get in the game. Since this plot twist works on either attack or defense, it is the most versatile weapon our deck employs. In the early turns, it will usually give us as much of a boost as any of our other plot twists. In the later turns, however, Heroes in Reserves can be just as potent as Savage Beatdown or Nasty Surprise.

The last card in our deck is Sovereign Superior. In general, we won’t have to worry much about searching for characters because the deck-cycling effects in our build will help us set up our optimal curve. But on those occasions when we haven’t yet drawn into a critical Hawkeye or Anne-Marie Cortez, we can use Sovereign Superior to fetch the tech character of our choice. We are only playing two copies of the Brotherhood search card, but that should be enough for our purposes.

I know . . . this deck may seem like a random assortment of cards. But considering the format, that’s actually a good thing! Let’s take a look-see at how cool it is to be random:

Random Reservists

 

4 Rem-Ram, Acolyte

2 Rick Jones, Hero’s Best Friend

4 Chrome, Acolyte

4 Dane Whitman, Heroic Paladin

4 Black Panther, T’Challa

3 Senyaka, Acolyte

4 Anne-Marie Cortez, Acolyte

4 Hawkeye, Clinton Barton

4 Scanner, Acolyte

1 Sub-Mariner, Namor

4 Wonder Man, Simon Williams

1 Hercules, Son of Zeus

4 Air Strike

4 Call Down the Lightning

3 Flying Kick

4 Heroes in Reserve

4 Planet X, Team-Up

2 Sovereign Superior

While I try to keep most of my decks fairly open-ended on initiative preference, there is no denying that this deck is most effective on odds. With Black Panther and Scanner coming into the hidden area on odd-numbered turns, you would much rather be attacking with them before your opponent gets a chance to swing. More importantly, Hawkeye, Anne-Marie Cortez, and Wonder Man are all more effective when your opponent has the even initiatives because they all excel at limiting an opponent’s options.

With such a large array of characters and cycling effects, you should usually hit your preferred curve. As far as the mulligan goes, I generally look for Rem-Ram or a good opening with a 2- and a 3-drop. Against slower decks, you will want Black Panther on turn 3 if at all possible, but Senyaka can be more effective against early game decks by cutting down on the direct damage and forcing stunbacks.

And with that, we come to a close. Along with many other great decks, the reservists will be sure to represent in the Random Punks format. The question, though, is what else will we see? We have one more deck to go before the highlight on decks in the Random Punks format comes to a close, and in the meantime, head on out to your local Hobby League store and get in on the non-rare action. I’ve given you four decks from which to draw inspiration, and there are surely a great many more possibilities.

* Not to mention that there are three different print versions of Flying Kick: Marvel Origins, Fantastic Four starter, and Hellboy Essential Collection. If there was ever a card that deserved to be in every format, it’s this one!

New Flavors [Random Punks] (06/06/07)

When it comes to food, I tend to enjoy almost anything. I’ve recently noticed, though, that my favorite foods are not fully appreciated by everyone else. For example, I am a big fan of Miss Vickie’s Lime and Black Pepper Potato Chips. Unfortunately, it seems like I am the only person in Dallas who loves these chips. As a result, most of the local sandwich places have stopped carrying them.

Another good example is my fondness for flavored Diet Coke. Originally, I consumed a great deal of Diet Vanilla Coke, but it doesn’t appear that I drank enough because Coca-Cola decided to discontinue it. Instead, they began producing Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke. I didn’t enjoy this beverage nearly as much as the first one, but I am accustomed to change, so I started drinking this variant. Sadly, as soon as I really started to develop a taste for the stuff, Coca-Cola decided to discontinue making that as well! Now I have to try to make due with Vanilla Coke Zero. I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time before that’s discontinued, too . . .

Searching for a Newer Random Flavor

It’s not only my appetite that tends to opt for the extraordinary. When it comes to Vs. System, I rarely play popular decks. Rather, I enjoy trying to develop decks that have some quirk or trick that will catch my opponents totally off guard. This trend is somewhat evident in the decks that I present in my column. Sometimes I will look at a mainstream deck with a different variation on the theme, but more often I try to look at builds that few other players have even considered, let alone played.

When looking at the decks that I’ve built to date for the Random Punks format, I noticed that one deck stood out: my Heralds / Fearsome Five concoction. Where the other decks presented were almost completely combat focused, this deck tried to introduce stall into a format where stall was almost unrealistic. This makes sense, of course—most of the powerful non-combat cards in Vs. System are rare. Thus, trying to find a deck that presents a strategy other than “beat the snot out of your opponent” is a bit of a challenge. I was pleased with this first effort, but not entirely satisfied.

In my playtesting of the deck, I noticed a few major problems. First, the deck had no overwhelming board control effects. Cover Fire and Entangle are great cards, but they tend to be support cards for a strategy rather than enablers for a strategy (in other words, the icing on the cake as opposed to the cake itself). Second, the deck was not adaptive to different situations. In every game, I found that I was playing the same characters on the same turns. While these characters were all good ones, the fact that they were always the same meant that I could not deal with the unexpected. Finally, I had absolutely no answer for off-curve decks. None whatsoever.

With that in mind, I decided to explore other potential stall strategies. You see, I really liked certain aspects of the Heralds / Fearsome Five deck, but I felt that there needed to be a stronger stall engine in place for the deck to work properly. Moreover, I needed to be able to introduce different cards for different situations to deal with the variety of decks that I might encounter.

Back to the Stables . . . er . . . Drawing Board

To analyze stall possibilities effectively, I decided to look at stall decks that had found success in past formats. One of the decks that jumped out at me was the TDC stall deck from Pro Circuit L.A. 2006. While this deck eschewed standard team-based deck-building synergy, it was nevertheless a powerful blend of stall elements that could utterly dominate a game. While a couple of the most potent cards in the deck have since been banned from Vs. System Constructed play (Dr. Light, Master of Holograms and Frankie Raye ◊ Nova, Optimistic Youth), the deck still has some powerful combinations available for the enterprising deck-builder.

One of my favorite interactions in the deck is Puppet Master sitting adjacent to Professor X, Headmaster to give Puppet Master the X-Men affiliation. With Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in play, Puppet Master becomes a two-for-one exhaustion engine. Such a potent synergy is almost unfair, especially when you consider the other control elements that the deck incorporates.

I began to wonder if there was a way to build that same interaction into a Random Punks stall deck. Obviously, the deck would need a replacement for the rare Professor X, but an alternate means of giving Puppet Master the X-Men affiliation would accomplish the same goal. There are cards like Green Lantern Ring and Battleworld that could, with a Team-Up, achieve this end. Still, I thought that something a little more open-ended would be a better fit . . . something like a Team-Up within a Team-Up.  Welcome to 31st Century Metropolis!

I loved this location from the day that I first played it. Not only does it accomplish the traditional Team-Up role of allowing you to crossover two affiliations, but it can also bestow those affiliations upon a character of your choice for a turn. Hmmm . . . weren’t we just talking about giving team affiliations to a character?

Learning to Substitute (No . . . Not the Game Mechanic!)

This gives us the foundation for our build. We still have some work ahead of us, though, if we want to make our budget stall deck work. While our basic engine is sound, we are going to need replacement components for the rest of our machine. Some of the cards that enabled the oh-so-successful TDC stall deck are not available to us: Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose; Straight to the Grave; and the infamous Enemy of My Enemy. In essence, a good deal of our powerful search elements are prohibited in this format.

Fret not, though, for we do have some options. First, Poison Ivy can be suitably replaced by the only character that is better at fetching locations: Ahmed Samsarra. I already went into a lengthy spiel about why this White King is so great in the Random Punks format in a prior article, so enough said there. As far as our search goes, we have to be a bit more creative. With Ahmed in the deck, we can certainly use Brother I Satellite to fill the role of one of our search cards, but the second search card is going to be a bit more . . . unique. A lot of people seem to have forgotten about Vicarious Living, but I have not. While not as versatile as Enemy of My Enemy, Vicarious Living can still be a powerful search card in a well-built deck. More importantly, it can find us our all-important Puppet Master. Let’s see Enemy of My Enemy do that!  We have the basics down, so we’re ready to build. We also have a lot of cards to look at, so let’s get started!

The Build

Starting things off at 1, we have the very useful Archangel, Angel. This version of Archangel gives us a running start in a couple of ways. First, he allows us to search out a location with the version “X-Corp.” One of these particular locations, X-Corp: Amsterdam, is just plain amazing in any deck with Team-Ups. Second, Archangel gives us an early turn X-Men character with which to get our Team-Up with Checkmate up and running early. Speaking of Checkmate, we have another searcher in the form of Connie Webb. I have always believed that Connie Webb is a must in any deck that wants to hit Ahmed Samsarra consistently on turn 3, as she can both find the White King and meet his loyalty—reveal. If we already have Ahmed Samsarra in hand, then Connie Webb can fetch any one of our other Checkmate characters. Finally, we are going to play two copies of Mikado and Mosha. Until Marvel Knights rotated out of Silver Age, the Angels of Destruction were a mainstay in any deck that needed effective, low-cost character control. While there are certainly more effective control cards in Golden Age, most of those cards are rare and thus excluded from this format. We’ll rely on the once-popular weenie-hate card of choice for our weenie-hating purposes.

At 2, we start out strong with four copies of Puppet Master. As was already stated, our primary engine revolves around getting Puppet Master teamed-up with the X-Men so that we can target Puppet Master with Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to use his effect multiple times in a turn. From Checkmate, we have a copy of Black Thorn. As we will see shortly, there are a number of locations that can give us great benefit if we can use them more than once a turn. Xavier’s School, for example, is eminently abuse-able with Black Thorn. Any card that could allow us to use Puppet Master three times in a single turn is worthy of inclusion in our deck. Another good card for keeping our opponent’s characters turned sideways is Shimmer. While this fearsome 2-drop is only useful during our attack step, she is a monster then. With a Team-Up and the initiative, our opponent will almost always have to exhaust his or her entire board to Shimmer’s power. Our last 2-drop is Silver Surfer, Skyrider of the Spaceways. Once we have managed to enforce board control on our opponent, we can drop Silver Surfer to set up our late turns. Not only does he provide us with the cards we need for our late game, but he also give us a character to team-up Heralds of Galactus. With our deck’s finisher coming from that team, this can ensure that we have a way of searching out our coup de grace when the time comes.

Turn 3 has a few surprises. Four copies of Ahmed Samsarra, though, should come as a surprise to no one. This guy is a force to be reckoned with in any format, but in a format where Deadshot, Floyd Lawton; Rose Wilson ◊ Ravager, Daughter of Deathstroke; and Total Anarchy are all prohibited, Ahmed Samsarra is better than just about any other card. Of course, we might find a situation where we have to return the White King to hand to avoid a game loss, but this is why we also have a copy of Shadowcat, Pride of the X-Men at 3. First and foremost, Shadowcat gives us another X-Men character. With a Team-Up, she’s also a great aid to our deck: besides Ahmed Samsarra, there will certainly be occasions where we will want to return certain characters back to our hand to fight another day. The third representative at 3 is Christopher Smith ◊ Peacemaker. Aside from Ahmed, this guy may be the best Checkmate 3-drop in any deck. His stun effect is remarkable because it doesn’t target. This can be quite amazing when faced with effects that make opposing characters untargetable (like Cloak of Nabu or B.P.R.D. Signal Device).

Our final 3-drop gets a paragraph all to himself (because I have a lot of good things to say about him). I’m sure that some of you have figured out by now that a Puppet Master stall strategy is all well and good when facing a curve deck, but that the tactic is far more difficult to pull off against an off-curve deck that can put a lot of characters into play. Bearing this in mind, I’d like to introduce Cardiac. While this 3-drop is a bit more limited in scope than Puppet Master, he is an MVP against off-curve decks. His activated power gives us just the ammunition we need to keep opposing hordes of low-cost characters at bay. Also, because he is a 3-cost character, we can use Xavier’s School to ready him (by using 31st Century Metropolis to give him the X-Men affiliation in the same manner that we did for Puppet Master). With Black Thorn in play, we could use Cardiac to stun three opposing characters in a single turn! But the fun doesn’t end there: one reason that Peacemaker is so good in our deck is that he can combo with Cardiac to take down an entire board of weenies. First, we activate Peacemaker’s effect on Cardiac. Next, we declare an attack with one of our other characters into an opposing 1- or 2-drop. Once the attack becomes legal, we stun the defender with Cardiac to reset the attack. Because Cardiac has just stunned a defender, we can then stun a 3-cost or lower character with Peacemaker’s effect. Then, we simply ready Cardiac with Xavier’s School and repeat. Broken, you say? I guarantee it!

We have one character at 4, and that’s Merlyn, Deadly Archer. Our deck is going to be very location reliant, so Merlyn is another great play for us to gain critical board advantage. Against a curve deck, Merlyn can usually take out the second-largest character in play. This makes him a great play on turn 4, 5, or even 6, as the Deadly Archer can KO characters that Cardiac wouldn’t be able to handle.

We’re going to forego playing any characters at the 5-slot, as we will be under dropping on that turn. We will also usually under drop on turn 6, but we do have one 6-drop just in case we want to curve out on that turn. This notorious 6-drop is Dr. Light, Arthur Light. This version of Dr. Light is an amazing play in just about any stall deck if we can provide enough Team-Ups to make his effect worthwhile. If all goes as planned, we should have a board chock full of characters going into turn 6 along with the means to team-up most of them. This gives Dr. Light the green light to start sniping opposing characters at will. Most of the time, Dr. Light will be a setup guy for our finale on turn 7, but if we do have to go to the late, late turn 8, we can boost out the evil doctor to put an end to any opposing shenanigans once and for all.

Much like the TDC stall deck at PC: L.A., turn 7 is where we plan to go for the win. And just like this deck’s progenitor, we’ll go for the win with Galactus, The Maker. With the initiative, “Big G” can dish out more damage for us that any other card we could play. Assuming that we don’t deal a single point of damage until turn 7, a single activation of Galactus will take 25 endurance from our opponent. If we activate him again, he will devour another 13 endurance. With two activations, out opponent drops from a lofty 50 endurance to 12 endurance. At that point, we should be in a position to deal the remaining points of damage necessary to end the game.

Let’s take a quick look at the plot twists before we move on to our complement of locations. As mentioned earlier, we’re going to rely on Vicarious Living for our search needs. If you look closely at the character lineup above, you’ll notice that the deck boasts ten 1-drops, nine 2-drops, and eight 3-drops. With those quantities, we can effectively use Vicarious Living to find any character at any one of those costs. Considering the wide array of characters that the deck supports, Vicarious Living is going to be quite useful.

One problem that we might encounter with our strategy is an inability to deal with heavily equipped characters. No matter how amazing Cardiac might be, he simply cannot take down Quicksilver, Inhuman by Marriage if the speedster is sporting a stylish Cloak of Nabu. To deal with this possibility, we have three copies of Meltdown. Much like Mikado and Mosha, this was another card from Marvel Knights that made big waves in prior Silver Age formats; Meltdown may simply be the best generic equipment-hate card in Vs. System. If we have to deal with an untimely Fate Artifact or Advanced Hardware, Meltdown will nuke the equipment before it can do too much damage. Of course, the real beauty of Meltdown is that it’s not a dead card even when our opponent doesn’t play equipment. In a pinch, we can use Meltdown to cycle a resource or gain a couple precious points of endurance.

For our last plot twist, we have four copies of Press the Attack. Since our board will usually have a bunch of exhausted characters in play, Press the Attack is almost a no-brainer for us. We can use this infamous plot twist to get more than one activation per turn out of Merlyn, Dr. Light, or even Galactus. In addition, while the 4 threshold cost of Press the Attack is usually a hindrance, it is quite beneficial for us. Since our 2-drop Silver Surfer can only search for cards with a cost of 4 or greater, we can activate our shining searcher to put copies of Press the Attack within easy reach. With Xavier’s School and some additional card drawing, we can even search up more than one copy of Press the Attack each turn.

Forty-one cards down; nineteen more to go . . . and the rest are all locations. Obviously, we’ve already discussed the importance of 31st Century Metropolis to the deck, and we have a couple of copies available for our use. In addition, we mentioned how X-Corp: Amsterdam can aid us in searching out our all-important Team-Up. Finally, we’re going to want four copies of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, as it is the critical third component of our Puppet Master / 31st Century Metropolis / Xavier’s School engine.

Now let’s talk about the locations that we haven’t already discussed in detail. First, we have four copies of Brother I Satellite. This character search card was briefly mentioned in the beginning, and is almost a given in any deck with a substantial Checkmate presence. With a Team-Up, we can lean on Brother I Satellite to aid us in searching out other characters, as well. We also have one more search card to add: Mountain Stronghold. This card is included to find Merlyn, but if we draw into our archer, then we can team-up with League of Assassins and use it as another character searcher.

Of course, there is a bit of a catch to Mountain Stronghold: we have to discard a League of Assassins character card after we search. Since Merlyn is the only League of Assassins character in the deck, that means that we’ll always be discarding him. What’s the deal? The deal is that we’re also going to be playing the triumvirate of recursion locations: Avalon Space Station, Slaughter Swamp, and Soul World. All three perform essentially the same function. Avalon Space Station and Slaughter Swamp are more useful in games against aggressive decks where we don’t have the endurance to spare, while Soul World, on the other hand, is more useful in longer matchups where hand advantage becomes an issue. In any case, we should have plenty of recursion options for those characters that we will invariably pitch to the KO’d pile.

In addition to 31st Century Metropolis, we have a couple of other locations to look at. First, UN Building is another great Team-Up for our deck. At any given time, we could have upward of five different teams in play. While 31st Century Metropolis helps out some, it won’t crossover everyone in play. Fortunately, UN Building can pick up some of the stragglers. We also have a single copy of Checkmate Safe House. In the end game, we might find that we need to team-up one final team (usually Fearsome Five) to sew up the game. Having one more location Team-Up at our disposal to get that final crossover can be critical for victory. Besides, the activated power of Checkmate Safe House is also quite good in those situations where we can’t exhaust our all of our opponent’s characters. Sometimes that additional point of DEF is enough to win games.

Our final location is Birthing Chamber. While we might be able to pull off a victory without any extra card drawing, it would undoubtedly be a huge strain on our hand. This is why Birthing Chamber is such a critical part of our deck. As is the case with any combo deck, the success of the engine relies on having the correct components in place at the correct times. Birthing Chamber starts out by providing extra card drawing, but once we get six characters in play, it improves by cycling through an extra card on each activation. With Black Thorn and five other characters in play, Birthing Chamber begins to get absurd, drawing us an extra four cards a turn! With all of the setup and search elements in the deck, Birthing Chamber should give us everything that we need to lay the framework for a turn 7 victory.

Whew! That certainly did take a while. Variety may be the spice of life, but it also makes for some very long articles. Let’s take a look at our rare-free stall deck:

Diet Stall


4 Archangel, Angel

4 Connie Webb, Knight

2 Mikado and Mosha, AoD

1 Black Thorn, Elizabeth Thorn

4 Puppet Master, Phillip Masters

2 Shimmer, Selinda Flinders

2 Silver Surfer, Skyrider

4 Ahmed Samsarra, White King

2 Cardiac, Elias Wirtham

1 Christopher Smith, OOutlaw

1 Shadowcat, Pride of the X-Men

1 Merlyn, Deadly Archer

1 Dr. Light, Arthur Light

1 Galactus, The Maker

3 Meltdown

4 Press the Attack

4 Vicarious Living

2 31st Century Metropolis

1 Avalon Space Station

2 Birthing Chamber

4 Brother I Satellite

1 Checkmate Safe House

1 Mountain Stronghold

1 Slaughter Swamp

1 Soul World

1 UN Building, Team-Up

1 X-Corp: Amsterdam, X-Corp

4 Xavier’s School FGY

Incidentally, this build features cards from eleven of the thirteen Vs. System sets released to date (no cards from The Avengers or Marvel Team-Up).

With Big G being our preferred finisher, we’re going to shoot for the odd initiatives. We should have enough firepower in the deck to keep our opponents at bay on the even-numbered turns so that they can’t deal a significant amount of damage. Barring out-of-combat stun effects like Hawkeye, Clinton Barton and Gambit, Remy LeBeau, Shimmer should be able to keep our opponent’s board exhausted during the turns that we control the initiative. If we are denied the odd initiatives, then we can still realistically go for the win on turn 8 with Galactus, or even stall out until turn 9 when Dr. Light can bring most of our KO’d characters back into play.

Given the importance of the locations in the deck, your mulligan should be for Ahmed Samsarra or one of the cards that can search him out. The deck only has ten Checkmate characters, but with twelve ways to get Ahmed and a combined eighteen Checkmate characters and character search cards, you should rarely have trouble getting him into play on turn 3. After that, you can set up your board to put the brakes on opposing attacks with a combination of Puppet Master and Cardiac activations.

And so ends the run of Random Punks decks on Breaking Ground. Hopefully, you all had a chance to play and enjoy the format. If you haven’t yet, head on out to your local hobby shop and test your rare-less creation against the other players in your area. In the meantime, I’ll be heading back to the drawing board to bring you some new and interesting deck ideas for casual Constructed play.

Take care!

Alter Ego – Sandman (06/13/07)

The people at UDE are certainly on top of their game right now, having just completed a successful Hobby League series featuring the Random Punks format (no rare cards allowed). I had an absolute blast building and playing decks for a format where some of the more exclusive cards are prohibited. While a lot of old standards saw play, such as Checkmate and Brotherhood, there was certainly a great deal of innovation inspired by a format where success was defined almost solely by personal creativity and play skill.

If the Random Punks format was an exciting time for Vs. System players, the upcoming Marquee Event series promises to take the excitement up another notch. This format is limited exclusively to the Marvel Team-Up set, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For the Marquee Event series, UDE has introduced eight “Alter Ego” character cards. These cards are avatars that represent the player for the duration of the game. Each Alter Ego starts the player out with a different amount of endurance. Some are higher than the standard  50 endurance (like Hulk, who starts out at a massive 75 endurance), and others that start out significantly lower (like Dr. Octopus, at 35 endurance).

Of course, there is a slight catch to these differing endurance totals. You see, each Alter Ego also boasts an effect that affects game play over the duration of the game. While Hulk has a massive amount of endurance, his effect limits a player to attacking with only one character each turn. Dr. Octopus, on the other hand, allows a player to draw an additional card each turn. In general, the effects that these characters boast vary inversely with their starting endurance amounts.

All Invulnerability, All the Time!

Initially, my mind raced with possibilities for each of the different Alter Egos. Venom, who says that opponents play without a support row, seems like a perfect fit for the immensely powerful Sinister Syndicate rush deck. Both Spider-Men work well in unison with the Spider-Friends stall theme. Mephisto, of course, supplements the Underworld recovery theme to a tee.

But the Alter Ego that first caught my eye was Sandman. Like Dr. Octopus, Sandman starts at a precarious 35 endurance. This may seem dangerous until you read his effect: “You can’t take stun endurance loss.”

What?

Perpetual invulnerability? That’s huge! In most games, the majority of damage taken is via stun endurance loss. Imagine what would happen if you cut that endurance loss completely out of the equation. Yes . . . it’s quite amazing. With enough reinforcement and DEF pump, you could theoretically take no damage for the entire game!

Of course, there are possibilities beyond that. Against an aggressive deck like Sinister Syndicate, you might find that you’re taking much more direct breakthrough endurance loss than normal. This seems reasonable, as a rush deck can generally put out a lot more characters each turn that are capable of attacking up the curve. So how do you answer this dilemma? With recovery, by Jove! Since your characters are always invulnerable, it is much more beneficial for you to recover them to cut down on opposing attack damage. In standard play, recovering a mid-drop might only save you 3 to 5 points of damage. With no stun endurance loss to worry about, though, your characters will always prevent damage equal to their DEF.

The conclusion that I came up with is that we want to stock our deck with all of the defensive and recovery tricks possible. This seemed to point strongly to two teams: Marvel Defenders and Underworld. Marvel Defenders have some very large characters with some of the best defensive tricks in the set in Defenders Defend and Teleportation Ring. Underworld complements the Defenders with two amazing recovery cards in Strange Love and Dark Bargain. Between these teams and their corresponding cards, we should be able to make the nigh-invulnerable theme a winner for us in this Marquee Event deck.

The Build

Just for security in the purpose of teaming-up, we’ll have a single copy of our lone 1-drop, The Dwarf. While we can only use The Dwarf’s discard effect if we control another Underworld character, he is insurance that we’ll always have a copy of Ritual Sacrifice when we need it.

We have a slew of Marvel Defenders at 2. First, we have a couple of defensive drops in Beast, New Defender and John Walker ◊ U.S. Agent. Beast is a great play in the early turns to pump up our characters’ DEF. Hopefully, this will be too much for even the most aggressive opponents to deal with, but it should at least be enough to keep our early game endurance loss at a minimum. U.S. Agent, on the other hand, pretty much guarantees that we will have one character on our side of the board that our opponents won’t be able to damage, period. With permanent invulnerability, reinforcement becomes a way for us to prevent any and all damage for one attack (or more if we recover the targeted character). Our final 2-drop is more for the late turns when we decide to be aggressive. Tania Belinskya ◊ Red Guardian is a Mega-Blast in character form. With a sizable character in the later turns that can attack a couple of times, we can use Red Guardian to force through some real damage on an unsuspecting opponent.

Turn 3 brings us to Umar, the Sorceress Sublime. Similar to the Checkmate Kings, Umar imposes a hefty penalty on players who are unfortunate enough to see her go to the KO’d pile, but this risk is usually well worth the reward. Umar boasts a very healthy 6 DEF. You can actually count on one hand the number of characters in Marvel Team-Up with a cost of 3 or less that can stun Umar without any pump. Yet this is not her true appeal. Umar also effectively gives us a free card every turn. This effect is actually somewhat better than drawing a card, as she lets us look at the top two cards of the deck and put one in hand and one in the KO’d pile. Stocking our KO’d pile with character cards can be very important for some of our effects that trigger off of cards in the KO’d pile. Of course, if we don’t want to run the risk of losing Umar to the KO’d pile, we can always bring Hawkeye, Loud Mouth into play. Hawkeye is the premiere weenie control card of choice in Marvel Team-Up (and Modern Age in general). Once we’re teamed-up, Hawkeye also lets us stock our KO’d pile with characters (although without the benefit of hand advantage). Still, against an aggressive deck, Hawkeye can often be the difference between victory and defeat.

Our primary drop on turn 4 is Richard Rider ◊ Nova. Since our early turns will primarily be reserved for setting up our late turns, Nova can be a powerful card for ensuring that we don’t fall too far behind in board control. Being able to force a stun on any of our opponent’s characters is awesome no matter when the stun occurs. With Hawkeye and Nova occupying early spots, our opponents will be hard pressed to maintain any kind of board presence. This is, of course, unless they try to swarm us with low drops. In this situation, we might find that Blackheart, Black King is a better play. Some decks place a lot of reliance on low drops. Blackheart ensures that at least one of those drops won’t be around for too long. As long as we can find characters to put back into our deck, our opponent’s low drops will always be at risk of leaving play before they can ever turn sideways. Finally, we have a 4-drop reserved for the late turns. Samantha Parrington ◊ Valkyrie is not much of a fighter on her own, but her activated power allows us to turn one of our characters into the ultimate fighter. After an attack becomes legal, Valkyrie’s backup will ready a targeted attacker. With some of the size that we’ll have in our later turns, this can translate into twice as much mayhem as we could otherwise dish out.

Another Valkyrie joins us at 5 in the form of Brunnhilde ◊ Valkyrie. This Valkyrie is more defensively suited; she gives an exhausted character that we control reinforcement. Her own invulnerability is largely irrelevant, but the reinforcement factor is still good enough to merit her inclusion in our deck because it translates to zero damage for us as long as she remains unstunned. As good as that sounds, I think that our other 5-drop is even better. Hellstorm requires quite an investment to play, as we must meet his dual loyalty condition, but if we can find a way to make this work, then Hellstorm will be an awesome addition to our crew. His 10/10 stats are already impressive, but it is his effect that truly speaks volumes. When Hellstorm exhausts for the first time each turn, we can return any card from our KO’d pile to our hand. Remember how amazing Garth ◊ Tempest was in the Teen Titans decks of old? Hellstorm is bigger, and we don’t have to pay endurance to get a card back. In essence, Hellstorm may actually be better than the 5-drop touted as “the best in Vs. System.”

We already have an imposing lineup from 1 to 5. Our 6-drops do their best to continue this trend of greatness. From the Marvel Defenders, we have Wendell Vaughn ◊ Quasar. Before we even consider his text, we see that Quasar is a 13/12 6-drop with flight and range. This alone is quite good. That being said, his effect seems somewhat paradoxical. Given his size, why would we ever want to exhaust him for just +4/+4? The answer will be made clear when we look at our 7- and 8-drops. For the most part, we will usually want to substitute Quasar in after we have done our dirty work with our primary 6-drop, Madelyne Pryor, Goblyn Queen. The X-Men’s nemesis from the Inferno saga is every bit as nasty in card form as she was in the comics. With characters like Hawkeye and Nova stunning opposing characters all over the place, using Madelyne Pryor’s effect can quite literally be a board-clearing experience. And, as we will see in a moment, our recovery tricks will often give us the ability to recover everyone on our side of the board before we use her effect. The only thing better than KO’ing a bunch of opposing characters is KO’ing a bunch of opposing characters without losing any of our own.

We have a gigantic brute at 7 in Hulk, Strongest One There Is. While this 7-drop doesn’t work well with others, we have an entire team devoted to making Hulk the best that he can be. With Red Guardian, Samantha Parrington ◊ Valkyrie, and Quasar all activating on Hulk, we have a 25/21 goliath that can attack three times in a turn! With that kind of power, who needs other attackers?

Finally, we have our trump card at 8 in the form of Noble Kale. Just as our deck is defensively tilted, we’ll find opposing decks that are similarly built to provide as much resistance as possible. Fortunately, we have an 8-drop that can take shots at our opponent’s endurance directly, bypassing any characters he or she might put out to thwart us. With Samantha Parrington ◊ Valkyrie, we can easily swing twice for a total of 38 direct endurance loss. Even those Alter Egos with really large endurance totals will have a hard time standing up to that.

Our plot twists pretty much follow the themes that we’ve set forth for our entire deck. We have the obligatory Team-Up in Ritual Sacrifice. We can fetch this Underworld Team-Up with our copy of The Dwarf, but that is not our only reason for playing it. You may have noticed that we tend to put a lot of characters into the KO’d pile, and that while there is some recursion available in Marvel Team-Up, we won’t be playing any aside from Hellstorm. Thus, we may need to put certain character cards back into our deck to search them out. With Ritual Sacrifice, we can easily accomplish this and gain some endurance in the process. This is yet another advantage that we can reap to overcome our low starting endurance total.

Both teams have some very powerful search cards available to them. Marvel Defenders sport The “B” Team for their search needs. With the discard of a backup Marvel Defender character card, The “B” Team allows us to search our deck for an affiliated character card of our choice. While the discard requirement is fairly stringent, it provides a tremendous amount of flexibility for finding characters in our deck. Death’s Embrace, on the other hand, is limited only to searching for Underworld characters. Still, it is a very potent search card. We can discard any card to search out an Underworld character card and put a copy of that card in the KO’d pile. While this card is best suited for Underworld characters like Meatmarket and Satana, I think we’ll find that it will work quite nicely for our needs.

Now on to defense and recovery. You may have noticed that a majority of our cards have activated effects. This is not by accident—there are some extremely powerful Marvel Defenders cards that trigger only when our characters are exhausted. The first of these cards is Defenders Defend!. A plot twist that provides +3 DEF is going to be good in any format. Usually, these cards have an associated drawback, like -3 ATK, but Defenders Defend! allows us to maintain our character’s ATK while still boosting its DEF. This way, we can bounce opposing attacks and stun attackers at the same time. With our rather large characters, Defenders Defend! will be a potent card for maintaining board advantage.

Recovery is more of the Underworld’s forte. Strange Love and Dark Bargain are both nothing short of amazing. Strange Love is contingent upon having a Team-Up in play, but once we fulfill that condition, it is arguably the best recovery card in Vs. System. With a simple discard, we recover a character. No exhausting, no KO’ing; just a discard. That’s it. Of course, it could easily be argued that Dark Bargain is even better because we don’t even have to discard to play it. Granted, we do need to have a character card in the KO’d pile with a cost greater than the character that we want to recover, but with all of the effects we’ve seen that allow us to set up our KO’d pile, this should not be too much of an issue.

We have a sole location in Sanctum Sanctorum. Aside from The Dwarf, all of our early drops have activated effects that allow us to turn them sideways. Once we hit turn 5, though, we have two characters that we cannot exhaust unless we reinforce or attack with them. Sanctum Sanctorum gives us another way to do this. Not only does this location allow us to exhaust our characters at critical moments, but it can also give us an extra card in the bargain. Exhausting Hellstorm or Brunnhilde ◊ Valkyrie to this location can often be exactly what we need to get a critical copy of Defenders Defend! or Strange Love into our hand.

Our final card is a defensive trick in equipment form. Teleportation Ring bears the text: “Equipped character gets +2 DEF while exhausted.” In our deck, this reads “Equipped character gets +2 DEF.” Because we have so many effects that can exhaust our own characters, we can give any one of them a permanent boost of +2 DEF. Teleportation Ring is unique, but that extra boost to a critical character can often be enough to stymie the best laid plans of opponents who seek to deal large amounts of damage.

Okay people, it’s time to exit light and enter night. Let’s see what our first Marquee Event concoction looks like.

Enter Sandman [Alter Ego:  Sandman]

 

1 The Dwarf, Soul Broker

3 Beast, New Defender

2 Tania Belinskya, Cold Warrior

3 John Walker ◊ U.S. Agent

2 Hawkeye, Loud Mouth

4 Umar, Sorceress Sublime

3 Richard Rider ◊ Nova, XNC

2 Samantha Parrington, CotS

1 Blackheart, Black King

2 Hellstorm, Son of Satan

2 Brunnhilde ◊ Valkyrie, BNorriss

1 Wendell Vaughn ◊ Quasar

2 Madelyne Pryor, Goblyn Queen

2 Hulk, Strongest One There Is

1 Noble Kale, Lord of Hell

4 Dark Bargain

4 Death’s Embrace

4 Defenders Defend!

4 Ritual Sacrifice

4 Strange Love

2 The “B” Team

4 Sanctum Sanctorum

3 Teleportation Ring, Unique

Part of the mulligan condition will depend upon whether or not you have knowledge of the deck your opponent is playing. Against most decks, Umar or Dark Bargain will be a hard mulligan condition. While the sister of Dormammu is certainly dangerous, she is an amazing source of cycling, draw, and KO’d pile manipulation for Dark Bargain. But if you’re up against a Sinister Syndicate deck (one that features Venom as its Alter Ego), then Bullseye, Assassin for Hire can make your day rather gloomy with his KO effect. In that case, you really want to set up for Hawkeye on turn 3. This isn’t just a mulligan for Hawkeye, mind you. Rather, you can recruit Umar to get the Team-Up active, and then substitute her out for the archer. Since she’ll never have gone to the KO’d pile, you won’t have to worry about discarding your hand.

Initiative preference is also largely dependent on your opponent. Against other late-game decks, you’ll usually want the even initiatives so that you’ll get first crack at swinging directly at your opponent’s head with Noble Kale. But if your opponent’s deck is designed to win in the earlier turns, then the odd initiatives are probably a better choice so that Hulk can finish the game for you.

That does it for this Alter Ego feature article. Be sure to build your own Marvel Defenders creation for a local Marquee Event tournament near you. This event—the latest in a series of exciting and entertaining casual play—promises to provide all sorts of recreation and amusement for fans of Vs. System.

Alter Ego – Mephisto  (06/24/07)

Last week, I showed everyone my take on the Sandman Alter Ego control deck for the Marquee Event series. Personally, I think the permanent invulnerability granted by Sandman’s effect is sorely underestimated. With the right defensive and recovery tricks, your opponent will have a hard time doing any real damage to you.

This week, I’d like to show you my take on a more aggressive deck. Yes . . . I know what you’re thinking: “Michael! The Sinister Syndicate deck with the Venom Alter Ego isn’t original at all!” Hush up, you! I wasn’t talking about Sinister Syndicate or the Venom Alter Ego. No, I’m going to give you all something a bit more . . . eccentric.

We’re Talking Savage Land Without the Brotherhood!

I recall the tales of the X-Men’s exploits in the Savage Land back when I used to read Classic X-Men. Ka-Zar and family helped the mutant team deal with Sauron and his minions during their various visits. Truth be told, I figured that we’d eventually see Zabu, Shanna the She-Devil, and Ka-Zar show up as part of the X-Men team in some future set. Why they came into Vs. System as Spider-Friends I do not know, but I’m sure that someone better acquainted with comic lore could bring me up to date on that one.*

Nevertheless, the first family of the Savage Land is part of the Spider-Friends team in Marvel Team-Up, and boy, are they big! Each character is roughly the size of an average character one spot up the curve. More importantly, they all have concealed. This essentially means that nine times out of ten, they will get a chance to attack back. Granted, these characters do have the drawback of coming into play exhausted if you don’t already control a Spider-Friends character, but barring a bad draw, this shouldn’t be an issue for us past the first turn.

The real issue is how to use these brutes to our advantage. You see, these characters are big and quite capable of swinging a spot or two up the curve with ease. Against most decks, though, they won’t be able to attack laterally without stunning back. Also, there are certainly decks out there where it’s almost impossible to attack safely down the curve (such as Sinister Syndicate). The bottom line is that our deck isn’t going to be anything special without some way for us to take advantage of board parity.

So, we’re going to do what any TCG player would do in this situation: we’re going to make a deal with the devil.

Friends of a Spider and a Father of Lies

The Mephisto Alter Ego has also been touted as one of the better ones in the format. If you recall last week’s column, I raved about how great recovery effects can be. Well, here we have an Alter Ego that recovers a second character of ours for free! Now we don’t have to fret too much about double stuns because we will usually get both characters back. While attacking up the curve still nets us tremendous rewards, our opponent won’t gain much by trying to attain stunbacks when we attack down the curve. Most importantly, we can go aggro on every turn and feel reasonably confident that we’ll still have at least three characters to attack with on the next turn.

We had a Syndicate / Wild Pack gorilla as our Alter Ego of choice for last week’s Marvel Defenders / Underworld deck, so it seems perfectly reasonable to have the head of the Underworld act as the Alter Ego for our Spider-Friends deck. We’re going to see just how good additional recovery can be with an aggressive deck chock full of big, concealed characters.

The Build

Obviously, we’re going to kick our curve off at 1 with four copies of Zabu. This little kitty doesn’t play nice with opposing drops, and our opponents will know that they’re in for a rough time when Zabu wakes up from his cat nap.** Of course, we won’t always have to pass on turn 1 after we recruit Zabu. “What? There’s a way that we could already have a character in play?” you say. Oh yeah, I say, it’s Aunt May, Golden Oldie. I think that Doppelganger is the only character in Marvel Team-Up that Aunt May could take down without any help, but that’s not why we’re playing her. First and foremost, May Parker can find her nephew Peter (a.k.a. The Amazing Spider-Man) when she comes into play. The search effect itself is great, but we will also find that there are situations where having an extra character in play that isn’t attacking will be beneficial for us. More on that in a bit.

At 2, we start with Shanna the She-Devil. The bride of Ka-Zar is, as her flavor text suggests, a very dangerous lady. With stats well above average, Shanna the She-Devil is big enough to take down most of the 2- and 3-drops in Marvel Team-Up without any help. With a bit of pump, this savage woman can take down 4- and 5-drops, too. Our other 2-drop is not quite as aggressive, but formidable nonetheless. Black Cat, Nine Lives is a great card to help us cycle through our deck a bit to obtain the optimal cards for our strategy. While we’ll often need pump to attack effectively with Black Cat, her card-drawing effect is perfect for setting up those pumps for future turns.

Turn 3 sees Lord Kevin Plunder making the rounds. Much like the rest of his Savage Land family, Ka-Zar is a big beater. His 6 ATK means that we will often be able to attack up the curve with a minimal amount of help. His 4 DEF might have been an issue if he didn’t have concealed, but as it stands, most decks won’t have the ability to attack him. As a result, we will usually be free to send Ka-Zar stampeding up the curve on every single turn. Of course, fights are not won with brute force alone; occasionally, we might need to keep our opponent’s board in check. Mattie Franklin, Reserve Webhead is not as big as Ka-Zar, but she brings us a control element that can aid us against other aggressive decks. While she has to sacrifice some attack power, she gives us the chance to prevent reinforcement and later attacks against our characters. We could theoretically net more damage with her effect by exhausting the right character at the right time.

We have a slew of Spider-Men at 4. For our offensive needs, there’s Spider-Man, Spider-Hulk. When we are attacking, there is no better 4-drop that we could play. Spider-Hulk gets so angry that he becomes the size of a 5-drop when he swings. This will usually allow us to swing on other 4-drops without stunning, or even to attack up the curve with relative ease. Of course, we may need some defensive help at times. That’s why we have Spider-Man, The Sensational Spider-Man. As good as Spider-Hulk is offensively, The Sensational Spider-Man is every bit as good defensively. We can count on this version of Spider-Man to keep our opponents’ low drops in check. Additionally, the substitute mechanic allows us to bring The Sensational Spider-Man in on later turns by simply replacing the 4-drop that we have in play. Since we don’t exhaust Spider-Man for his effect, we can replace him after using his effect with another substitute 4-drop. Finally, we have a 4-drop “middle ground,” Spider-Man, Parasitic Host. While not as specifically good offensively or defensively as our other 4-drops, the Parasitic Host gives us the most flexibility of all three versions. He is well suited for attacking or defending, he has an effect that can be nice for keeping key opposing characters from doing damage, and he has concealed. With the power of our deck coming from the fact that we’ll have multiple characters attacking every turn, a concealed 4-drop fits perfectly into our strategy.

Turn 5 is where we start to narrow down our character selections. Often, we will want to go off-curve on turn 5 to dish out more damage. There will also be games, though, where keeping on curve is important. For those fifth turns where we want an aggressive 5-drop, we have Venom, Lethal Protector. Venom may have hesitantly agreed to ally with Spider-Man for a while, but that did not stop him from being vicious. The exhaustion effect from this version of Venom can ruin reinforcement channels for an opponent, giving us the chance to swing in for a good deal of damage with our characters. On the defensive end, we have Michael Collins ◊ Deathlok. Deathlok gives us a little extra defense, and moreover, he can be absolutely invaluable in situations where our opponent attacks him with two smaller characters or we know that we won’t achieve a stunback. It’s not permanent invulnerability like the Sandman Alter Ego provides, but it’s still pretty darn good!

If we were playing defensively, then we might opt for Daredevil, New Kingpin on turn 6. But since we aren’t playing defensively, we’re going to go for all-out aggression. When it comes to aggression, there’s nobody better than Wolverine, Canucklehead. Wolverine already has a good 13 ATK for swinging at opposing characters, and when we throw in the fact that we usually won’t have to worry about stunning back when we attack with Wolvie, it’s quite simply the icing on the cake. We can dish out a ton of damage with our 6-drop and rarely have to worry about our opponents being able to retaliate.

Our final character is going to be one copy of Spider-Man, Stark’s Protege. His inclusion in the deck has little to do with his effect (awesome as it may be). Rather, it has more to do with the fact that he’s a big 7-drop named Spider-Man. Hopefully, we won’t have to recruit him very often, but it’s good to know that when we do recruit him, he’ll usually be enough to win the game for us.

Before we get to the blue cards, let’s look at our small amount of green. Our lone location is going to be Empire State University. Remember how I said that it would be nice to have a character in play that never attacks? Ah-ha! With a character available to exhaust, Empire State University gives us a free card every turn. In fact, it’s a bit better than a standard card draw, since we have the option of choosing from one of two cards. This could be a pain if both cards are good. Still, getting a chance to see two extra cards each turn means that we’ll be that much closer to setting up our optimal hand.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for plot twists. Our character search card comes first in Indebted. Loki shows Spider-Man his gratitude by allowing him to find any Spider-Friends character card in our deck. With nine copies of Spider-Man in our deck, we will often have an extra copy to discard. Conversely, we always have the option of finding Spider-Man at any time with the discard of any card. This is a subtle synergy that will greatly aid us in hitting our optimal beatdown curve.

While this deck is going to be all about aggression, Gift Wrapped is just too good not to include. Much like Mystical Paralysis, Gift Wrapped requires a specific character to play. This character is our deck’s cornerstone, though, so that’s not much of an issue. Gift Wrapped is not quite as strong in that we can only exhaust characters with equal or lesser cost, but it does have the benefit of being able to exhaust multiple characters. Against an aggressive rush deck like Sinister Syndicate, it would not be out of the question to exhaust four 1-drops at one time.

Now, time for some beats! We kick off our pumps with the biggest and baddest beater in the set, Big Leagues. This card boasts amazing art and amazing power. The sole condition to Big Leagues is that it’s only useful if all of our characters share an affiliation. Well, what do you know? They’re all Spider-Friends! We have no reason not to play this powerful pump. It should make swinging up the curve for massive amounts of damage a cinch.

Our remaining pumps aren’t as powerful as Big Leagues, but they provide additional utility to make up for this loss. Justice is Served! is a standard +2 ATK pump absent any other considerations. For the most part, this is enough pump for our characters to be able to swing one spot up the curve rather effectively. But Justice is Served! goes beyond being a simple pump by providing a useful equipment KO effect as well. With five different 0-cost equipment cards in Marvel Team-Up, there’s always a good possibility that Justice is Served! will provide benefits beyond pumping ATK. Using Justice is Served! to KO an equipment card like Teleportation Ring or Alien Symbiote can be potentially game-breaking.

Another dual-utility plot twist is Need a Lift?. This pump is similar to Justice is Served! in that it provides +2 ATK to a target attacker, but it can also be an effective deterrent in a pinch. With cards like What are Friends For? certain to see play in this format, Need a Lift? can prevent problematic stunbacks. In addition, several characters have targeted effects that could cause no end of trouble. With Need a Lift?, you are afforded a good deal more insurance against these unwelcome effects.

Finally, we have a “quad-utility” plot twist in Spider-Signal. This plot twist gives a player the option to boost a Spider-Friends character’s ATK or DEF stats during combat. In essence, Spider-Signal can play the role of an aggressive or a defensive pump. But that’s not all! Spider-Signal also gives us the option to use it on either an attacker or a defender. In essence, Spider-Signal can play any one of four roles:

  1. An ATK pump for an attacker.
  2. An ATK pump for a defender.
  3. A DEF pump for an attacker.
  4. A DEF pump for a defender.

Tada! There you have one of the most versatile cards in the game. Spider-Signal provides us with multiple options on attack or defense. Yes, it’s quite good!

The bruisers are out, and we definitely have some characters ready to do some crushing. Let’s see how cool aggro can be when our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man brings the first family of the Savage Land along for some serious beatdown.

SPIDER SMASH!  [Alter Ego:  Mephisto]


4 Aunt May, Golden Oldie

4 Zabu, Constant Companion

4 Black Cat, Nine Lives

4 Shanna the She-Devil, SOP

4 Ka-Zar, Lord Kevin Plunder

2 Mattie Franklin, RWebhead

4 Spider-Man, Parasitic Host

2 Spider-Man, Spider-Hulk

2 Spider-Man, Sen Spider-Man

1 Michael Collins ◊ Deathlok, SC

1 Venom, Lethal Protector

1 Wolverine, Canucklehead

1 Spider-Man, Stark’s Protg

4 Big Leagues

2 Gift Wrapped

4 Indebted

4 Justice is Served!

4 Need a Lift?

4 Spider-Signal

4 Empire State University

I honestly have no idea what initiative this deck would prefer. With the stall and damage-absorbing effects prevalent in the Marquee Event series, it may be more reasonable to go for a win on turn 6. On the other hand, if you can consistently pull off the turn 1 Aunt May / Zabu combo, then you may want the odd initiatives to lay some early smack down.

The deck naturally leans toward a strong early curve, so your mulligan should be for at least a couple of your early drops. With Indebted having only a 2 threshold cost, you could easily search out a 2- or 3-drop to fill your curve. Finally, with four copies of Indebted and four copies of Aunt May in the deck, you should never miss Spider-Man on turn 4 (or 7 if need be).

That wraps up this edition of Breaking Ground. If you haven’t already, head on out to your local Marquee Event tournament and try Vs. System play with an Alter Ego card. It gives you all the fun of standard Vs. System play with the added wildcard of the various Alter Ego effects. It’s a fun experience to say the least, so make sure that you don’t miss out!

* In fact, this would be the perfect topic for Cliff and Squire to explore in their segment “Where the Card Comes From” on the Realms Radio podcast The Ring Has Chosen. Get to it, fellas!

** It’s a pun on the fact that Zabu will often come into play exhausted. Get it? Aw, never mind . . .

Vs. System Mega-Weekend Preview!  (07/02/07)

You lucky people! I’m feeling so generous this week that I’m giving you four decks for the price of one! If that isn’t value, I don’t know what is.

Master Toby Wachter, editor-in-chief of VsSystem.com and all around bigwig, asked us writers to do a little something special to tell all of you, the devoted Vs. System masses, about the Vs. System Mega-Weekend event taking place in Columbus, Ohio, this weekend. There’s going to be a sweet Team Sealed $10K event featuring World’s Finest as the Limited set of choice. In addition, there will be a slew of World’s Finest Draft tournaments, an Amateur Championship tournament, and even a couple of Pro Circuit Qualifiers for those of you who need to get qualified for the upcoming PC: Indy.

Personally, I am all about the Winner’s Choice Constructed tournaments that will be held over the course of the three days. In the past, we have generally been restricted to whatever the Constructed format was for the current Age from the past Pro Circuit. This weekend, though, there will be Constructed events in four different formats: Golden, Silver, Modern, and “Bring Your Own Set.” To say that I am thrilled would be an understatement. I fully plan on having four different decks built and ready to play for each of these events.

For those of you out there who plan to attend the event in Columbus and don’t already have a deck idea for these formats, never fear . . . BigSpooky is your hookup! I’m not just going to show you a deck for each format; I’m going to show you my deck for each format! That way, you’ll have at least one deck for each format that you can do battle with at the Mega-Weekend event.

Silver Age

The current Silver Age encompasses all of the sets from Green Lantern Corps through Marvel Team-Up. This has been the tournament default format since PC: Sydney back in March. Once World’s Finest becomes tournament legal, it will replace Green Lantern Corps in the format. Until then, Kyle Rayner, Last Green Lantern; Anti-Green Lantern; and No Man Escapes the Manhunters are all Silver Age legal.

The first deck I’d like to show you is my current Silver Age powerhouse. Following PC: Sydney, the Vs. System metagame was defined by the most successful decks from the Pro Circuit. Obviously, Kyle Dembinski’s PC-winning QuickFate deck was considered one of the best in Silver Age. In addition, several Checkmate variants popped up, including designs based on runner-up Erik Cabanero’s Checkmate / JSA deck. Also, Kree put on a full court “press,” teaming with Villains United and Checkmate to swarm the board with a substantial number of powerful characters.

I wanted to build a deck that could compete with anything my opponent threw at me. My research led me to Masami Ibamoto’s X-Mental deck from PC: L.A., which seemed to be adaptable to a variety of different situations. Against aggressive decks, X-Mental could play control. Against control decks, X-Mental could up the tempo to aggro. Basically, it had the ability to deal with whatever was thrown at it.

Although Ibamoto’s deck was Golden Age, I found that the transition to Silver Age was relatively easy. Here’s the end result:

Spooky’s X-Mental (Silver Age)

 

4 Destiny, Freedom Force

4 Sage, Tessa

4 Dr. Doom, Richards’s Rival

1 Hawkeye, Loud Mouth

4 Professor X, Headmaster

4 Emma Frost, Friend or Foe

4 Jean Grey, Red

1 Aquaman, Kot7S

3 Exodus, Acolyte

2 Rachel Summers ◊ Phoenix

4 Against All Odds

4 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Flying Kick

3 Level 12 Intelligence

3 Mutant Massacre

4 Phoenix Rising

2 System Failure

1 The Uni-Power

2 War of Attrition

2 Soul World

Anyone who frequents VsRealms has probably seen this deck before. The only change was the swap of No Man Escapes the Manhunters for The Uni-Power. This is mostly to prep the deck for the Silver Age metagame after World’s Finest becomes legal (after Green Lantern Corps and No Man Escapes the Manhunters rotate out of the format).

I won’t go into too much detail; suffice to say that this deck has answers for all of the current Silver Age powerhouses. Level 12 Intelligence is obviously a great card for dealing with a Fated-up Quicksilver, Inhuman by Marriage. War of Attrition creates numerous problems for Checkmate decks (especially the Checkmate / JSA decks that rely on The Rock of Eternity). Considering that you can flip down War of Attrition with Emma Frost’s effect before it resolves (and allows your opponent to replace it), it is a reusable source of resource row disruption against location-reliant decks. Against Kree, Phoenix Rising keeps the race for board advantage much more even. And if you can pull off a Mutant Massacre on Dr. Minerva, then Kree players will usually scoop up their cards.

Modern Age

And now for something completely different . . .

The Modern Age tournaments at the Mega-Weekend event are going to be a bit different from Pro Circuit Indianapolis. Because World’s Finest is not legal for tournament play, the Modern Age tournaments in Columbus will consist of Infinite Crisis, Heralds of Galactus, Legion of Super Heroes, and Marvel Team-Up. Still, this will be a good chance for Vs. System players to try out different deck ideas for the upcoming Modern Age format and see how they stack up.

Since I went with a control-oriented deck in Silver Age, I decided to go in the opposite direction and try an all-out rush deck for Modern Age. Normally I don’t care for rush decks, but I have to say that the Sinister Syndicate possesses some rush elements that are completely unique to their style of play.

Syndicate Rush (Modern Age)

 

3 Fusion, Markley

4 Lizard, Voracious Predator

3 Slyde, Jalome Beacher

1 Razorfist, SMercenary

2 Vulture, Aerial Stalker

3 Answer, Aaron Nicholson

3 Electro, Shock Jock

1 Spider-Slayer V.X., AHunter

2 Swarm, Fritz von Meyer

2 Black Tarantula, CLaMuerto

2 Trapster, Peter Petruski

4 Bullseye, Assassin for Hire

4 Carnage, Psychopath

4 Flying Kick

3 Justice Is Served!

2 Mobilize

4 Nasty Surprise

4 Planet of the Symbiotes

3 Spider Hunt

3 Hidden Cache

2 Jetpack

1 Power Gem, Infinity Gem

This build is based off the playtesting done by my TAWC teammates, Shane “Wiggy” Wiggans and John “No One Knows Who I Am” Hall. While the basic strategy of a rush deck is fairly straightforward, the nuances to constructing a solid off-curve build are somewhat more involved. Just like my X-Mental deck, I spent a good deal of time discussing the Syndicate rush strategy on VsRealms.

There isn’t much to say about the deck other than that it has a bunch of low-cost, big-ATK characters and a whole lot of ATK pumps. Lizard, Voracious Predator and Mobilize help to smooth out the deck’s draws. With a decent early game, a lack of opposing disruption, and a boosted Carnage, Psychopath, games will end more often than not on turn 4.

Bring Your Own Set

The “Bring Your Own Set” format is a warm-up for the $10K tournament taking place at PC: Indy. In a nutshell, you are allowed to play any character, plot twist, location, or equipment card that isn’t on the current Vs. System banned list. The catch? All the cards in your deck must be from the same set! This creates a very interesting situation in terms of deck building. Certain Golden Age decks are no longer possible, as key cards are from different sets. In essence, the deckbuilding process becomes a lot more complicated because you can’t just splash any card to make the deck work.

This Winner’s Choice tournament is somewhat bittersweet. It takes place at 4 PM on Saturday, so if you’re playing in this tournament, then you’ve probably already busted out of the $10K. Still, it might be worth it considering how cool this event is bound to be.

Even though I fully plan on taking down the entire $10K with my TAWC teammates John Tatta and Dusty Hostutler, I decided to have a single-set deck built . . . just in case. Since the consensus has been that Big Brotherhood, Squadron Supreme, and Good Guys are the best decks in this format, I decided to build something that could deal with these powerhouses.

Blackbriar Shadowpact (Bring Your Own Set:  Infinite Crisis)

 

4 Madame Xanadu, Cartomancer

4 Blackbriar Thorn, DoCymru

4 Manitou Dawn, Spirit Shaman

4 Detective Chimp, SGumshoe

4 Zatanna, Magical Manipulator

1 Dr. Occult, Richard Occult

1 June Moon, Good Witch

1 June Moon, Bad Witch

1 Shazam, The Sorcerer

4 Phantom Stranger, FAngel

3 Abjuration, Magic

4 Collecting Souls, Magic

2 Divination, Magic

4 Magical Lobotomy, Magic

4 Stepping Between Worlds

4 The Conclave

3 Transmutation

4 Chimp Detective Agency

4 Cloak of Nabu, Fate Artifact

This deck is nearly identical to the Shadowpact deck that Anthony Justice had so much success with at PC: Indy last year. The goal of the deck is to get Blackbriar Thorn in play, and then use the many Magic plot twists in the deck to make him quite large. With a wide assortment of Magic plot twists that can deal with a number of different threats (such as Transmutation to take care of Lost City, and Magical Lobotomy to thwart the power-up base of Good Guys), the Shadowpact player will usually maintain advantage over the board and the game. The trick, though, is to hold onto this advantage without burning yourself out of the game.

Golden Age

Finally, we have the Golden Age event. This tournament allows players to build decks with cards from any and all of the sets in Vs. System that are currently legal for tournament play. As witnessed at PC: L.A. last year, this enables some absolutely incredible deck creations. The various versions of Dr. Doom can all unite during a Crisis On Infinite Earths; The New Brotherhood becomes even shinier and newer with the Acolytes taking reservist-based beats to an opponent; and stall decks are completely re-imagined with Professor X, Headmaster allowing Puppet Master to join the X-Men and activate multiple times per turn thanks to Xavier’s School. With each new set, the realm of possibilities for fun and competitive decks grows.

For me, Golden Age means a chance for me to play my favorite deck in all of Vs. System. Every now and then, I like to tinker with it to see what updates I can make to it to make it more competitive. Still, the core of the deck remains the same. After all, if I changed it too much, it wouldn’t be DDD!

DDD! (Golden Age)

 

4 Manhunter Clone, CoPKirk

4 Orb, Drake Shannon

4 Deadshot, Dead Aim

4 James Jesse ◊ Trickster, GG

4 Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose

4 Lex Luthor, NPhilanthropist

3 Manhunter Giant, Army

1 Mephisto, Soulstealer

1 Ocean Master, Son of Atlan

3 Scandal, Savage Spawn

1 The Joker, Emperor Joker

4 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Funky’s Big Rat Code

4 Last Stand

4 Secret Files

3 Strange Love

2 Strength of the Grave

3 The Fall of Oa

1 Infernal Gateway

2 U.N. Building, Team-Up

1 Reality Gem, Infinity Gem

If you aren’t a consistent follower of my articles, check out the archives to see my discussions on the deck (I’ve written about it more than a few times). Just as before, the deck is entirely focused on decking your opponent by turn 6. One of the recent additions includes the return of The Joker, Emperor Joker. While the deck will generally win on turn 6 or 7 after you’ve decked your opponent, it just wouldn’t be a decking build without Emperor Joker making the rounds. Also, thanks to the evasive nature of Manhunter Clone and James Jesse ◊ Trickster, the deck can support Last Stand. This definitely makes it difficult for your opponents to deal a significant amount of damage in the later turns. Finally, I couldn’t go without playing one of my favorite cards from Marvel Team-Up, Strange Love. This nifty recovery card can help us maintain board presence in the mid-game. Besides, with all of the teams in the deck, there is almost always a Team-Up in play.

I don’t plan on winning a lot of games with this deck, but it is surprisingly competitive and an absolute blast to play!

The Bottom Line

There will be events aplenty to take part in at the Vs. System Mega-Weekend. Whether you plan on playing in the $10K or simply want to play in some casual side events, there is bound to be something that captivates your interest. If, like me, you enjoy matching your personal creations against others in a friendly venue, then you need to build some decks up and check out the Winner’s Choice Constructed tournaments going on all weekend. Who knows? You may just be lucky enough to take on and take down one of my cherished decks. I encourage each and every one of you to do so.

One word of warning, though—I ain’t gonna make it easy for ya!

See you this weekend in Columbus!

The Unjustly Supreme Qwardian Council of Power  (07/11/07)

Hello one and all, and welcome back for another week of Breaking Ground. By the time you read this, the Columbus Vs. System Mega-Weekend will have ended, and everyone should be privy to all the cool new cards that World’s Finest has to offer us. I am writing to all of you from a week back in time, and unfortunately I haven’t seen enough of the new set to bring you deck ideas based on the cards in World’s Finest. Hopefully, I’ll have that for you next week. In the meantime, I hope you’ll humor me as we take a step waaaaay back in time . . .

The More Things Change . . .

I recently received an email from Christopher “gdaybloke” Miller. He told me about a tournament that his local Hobby League was hosting—a “deck swap” tournament. The premise of the tournament was that each player would put his or her deck into a pool. Then, at the beginning of each round, each deck would be randomly assigned to a player. In essence, this prevents players from building a deck that is too over-the-top powerful, since they might have to face the deck that they built. It also stops them from making decks that are too weak, since they might be playing their own. Talk about the best laid plans of mice and men backfiring!

Christopher told me that he was looking to take a deck based on the very first one I presented in Breaking Ground: The Supreme Council of Power. For those of you who haven’t heard of this concoction, here’s the original decklist:

The Supreme Council of Power

 

3 Lana Lang, Manhunter Sleeper

9 Manhunter Sniper, Army

2 Ape X, Xina

2 Doctor Decibel, Anton Decibel

4 Quagmire, Jerome Meyers

2 Lacuna, Media Darling

2 Shape, Malleable Mutant

4 Golden Archer, WMcDonald

3 Albert Gaines ◊ Nuke, AP

3 Skymax, Skrullian Skymaster

2 Power Princess, Last Utopian

4 Council of Power

4 Behavior Modification Device

2 Marvel Team-Up

4 Answer the Call

4 Hibernaculum

4 Clocktower

2 Airskimmer

The basic premise of the deck was to empty your own hand to maximize the potency of Council of Power. Against a deck that held enough cards in hand, you could burn an opponent out of the game rather quickly. It was a very casual-centric deck that provided interesting options for players who were looking for something out of the ordinary.

. . . The More they Stay the Same

In his email, Christopher asked me what changes I would make to the original deck if I were to play it today. This was an interesting question. Vs. System has changed quite a bit since the time I wrote that article; we’ve had six sets released since then, so certain archetypes have become much more viable since late 2005. For example, the deck destruction deck (DDD!) that I take so much pride in couldn’t have existed back then because it relies heavily on deck search effects (such as Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose and Enemy of My Enemy) and the Secret Society / Injustice Gang’s deck depletion and draw acceleration tactics.

Of course, this is a prefect segue into the team of consideration—the Injustice Gang. When this original article was written, Justice League of America had not yet been released. After the set came out, it occurred to me how potent it could be in unison with Council of Power. Here we have a team that forces opponents to draw extra cards and provides effects that prevent opponents from getting rid of these cards. While Squadron Supreme has effects that let us empty our own hand, they don’t have any way of enforcing an opponent’s hand size. The choice to include the Injustice Gang is clear.

This also allows us to expand the deck theme somewhat. Another nifty combo that I was never fully able to exploit was the team-up between Anti-Matter and Injustice Gang to fuel Anti-Matter Universe. Just like Council of Power, Anti-Matter Universe has a four-character exhaustion cost. The payoff can be tremendous, though, since your opponent loses 2 endurance for every card that he or she draws. With Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist in play, that will generally be at least 8 endurance each turn.

The combo is set. We have one card that punishes your opponent for drawing cards, and another card that punishes your opponent for having too many cards. Evil combo, you say? Yes, indeed. The passage of time now allows us to turn The Supreme Council of Power into a burn powerhouse that our opponents will never see coming!

The Build

It is safe to say that this variant of the Council of Power deck will look very little like its predecessor. To start, we’re only going to play three copies of Council of Power. The reasoning for this is twofold: we generally won’t be able to support more than one copy in play, and we’ll actually have a way to search out Council of Power.

Our characters have drastically changed. To start, our only character card from the Squadron Supreme is Haywire, Suicidal Lover. While it wouldn’t be much of a “Supreme Council of Power” deck without someone from Squadron Supreme, this guy is much more than a team representative. Since he’s the only 0-cost character in the game, he gives us options that other characters can’t. When we need another character to exhaust to pay the cost of Council of Power or Anti-Matter Universe, Haywire is there for us. In addition, recruiting Haywire multiple times allows us to keep our hand size small, thus preventing our opponents from gaining too much back from Council of Power.

Our 1-drops kick into high gear with Qwardians. These annoying 1-drops are the perfect early-game play for us. We can use their activated effect to whittle down our opponent’s endurance. Once our opponent is below 30 endurance, we can exhaust the Qwardians to pay the costs of Council of Power and Anti-Matter Universe. We will also need to be careful that an aggressive opponent doesn’t dish out too much damage on one of our visible Qwardians. Still, we can probably relax knowing that our opponents will usually take more damage from our various burn effects that they can effectively deal to us.

Our other 1-drops are both Manhunter representatives. First, we have a couple copies of Lana Lang, Manhunter Sleeper. While her effect can be a nice counter to effects that place cards on top of an opponent’s deck (Dr. Doom, Richards’s Rival; Kindred Spirits; Attilan), her real purpose in the deck is to provide us with a Manhunter 1-drop with concealed. Barring a stun effect like Mikado and Mosha or an effect that allows our opponent to attack hidden characters, Lana Lang will always be available to help us meet the cost of our burn effects. Of course, I personally think that Manhunter Clone is one of the best 1-drops in the game. With evasion and an effect that can make opponents cry, Manhunter Clone is a great foil of many of the top-tier decks in the current metagame.

We start mixing things up a bit on turn 2. First, we have Deadshot, Dead Aim. The Secret Society 2-drop is a great way for us to impose board advantage on an opponent. Not only do we get a free character in play, but he is also usually out of harm’s way in the hidden area. Just like Lana Lang, this gives us a character to exhaust for our deck’s win conditions. Also, we can’t go without mentioning the lovely Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose. We won’t lack for free and low-cost characters in this deck, so we can use Ms. Isely to fetch any number of key locations.

At 3, we have the incomparable Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropist. Having Lex in play gives us fuel for our win conditions and slows down an opponent’s plot twist responses. He is one of the key components of our little combo, so it’s critical that we see him in every game.

We will generally opt to underdrop on turns 4 and 5 to set up Council of Power and Anti-Matter Universe. Still, we may find the need to play on curve at times. This is why we have a single card at each drop. At 4, Mark Shaw is our card of choice. The Manhunter operative has an impressive 8 DEF and an effect that feeds our deck’s theme. If we find that we need to get rid of some cards to make Council of Power more effective, then we can pitch them to Mark Shaw’s effect. Our 5-drop will usually be a win condition if the game goes to turn 6. In a deck that tends to flood an opponent’s hand, Scarecrow, Psycho Psychologist is absolutely brutal. He adds to the already crushing burn effects that we are wielding. Aside from that, he can be a big body in the late turns when we need something to deal with the characters our opponent is throwing at us.

At 6, we have a character that is also a plot twist. Since we are playing Deadshot, it only makes sense to include the ongoing plot twist–fetcher extraordinaire, Scandal. This Secret Six 6-drop gives us a bit of insurance in case we don’t naturally draw into Council of Power. She’s also good for finding Team-Ups or any other ongoing plot twist tech that we might find useful.

We’ve already mentioned Council of Power and Anti-Matter Universe several times. Let’s see what else our blue and green cards hold in store for us. First, we have the requisite Team-Up in Gang-Up. With all of the teams that we’re playing, teaming-up will be fairly important. This card gives us the Team-Up we need and puts an additional card in our opponent’s hand in the bargain.

As far as character search goes, we have Secret Files and Enemy of My Enemy. Secret Files is one of those cards that is sorely underappreciated. Once we get the full hand-flood effect of the Injustice Gang going, we’ll generally find that Secret Files is a free search just for us. Our opponents will usually have so many cards in hand already that they won’t bother fetching an additional character card. As for Enemy of My Enemy, well . . . it’s Enemy of My Enemy.

Although this deck is more of a combo build, we will occasionally find the need to be aggressive. In a deck that attempts to flood an opponent’s hand with cards, there is no better ATK pump than All Too Easy. With enough cards in an opponent’s hand, we can usually rely on having a character attack several spots up the curve with All Too Easy. It is a conditional ATK pump, but it is undoubtedly extraordinary under the right conditions.

Our final plot twist is one of the aforementioned bits of tech. When opponents have a lot of cards in hand, we actively want to discourage them from getting rid of these cards through methods such as powering-up. Since we have Scandal around to find ongoing plot twists, we can play a single copy of Unmasked to deter opposing power-ups. Granted, an opponent can still discard to power-up (with Unmasked preventing the power-up effect from occurring), but removing the attack bonus of the power-up will generally suck the wind out of any opponent’s sails.

As for locations, Slaughter Swamp is an obvious choice for our deck. Even if we don’t need to recur one of our own characters, we can discard for Slaughter Swamp to put a card in our opponent’s hand. This effectively makes Slaughter Swamp a card that burns for 4 endurance each turn (2 for the extra card in your opponent’s hand and another 2 for one less card in your own hand).

Another clever little combo we can do with locations is to play Fifth Dimension. On the surface, Fifth Dimension basically just protects Lex Luthor from opposing aggression. But if we have a good draw devoid of opposing disruption on our critical 3-drop, then we can get outright abusive with Fifth Dimension. After resolving Lex Luthor’s effect at the start of the build phase on turn 4, we can whisk him away to the Fifth Dimension and then recruit another copy of the 3-drop Lex. Once the original Lex comes back into play, our opponents will have two Luthors to deal with. Quite dastardly, if I do say so myself!

Finally, we have a single copy of UN Building to aid us with our team-up needs. Gang-Up will give us a Team-Up for a couple of our deck’s teams, but since we have seven different teams in the deck, we might want a little more versatility in crossing these teams over. Obviously, it’s not necessary for us to team-up all seven teams, but when it comes to reinforcement and team-attacking, we may find that one copy of UN Building for teaming-up can go a long way.

Our deck is set, and our opponents are in for a surprise. Let’s see how The Supreme Council of Power has evolved since we last looked at it:

The Unjustly Supreme Qwardian Council of Power


2 Haywire, Suicidal Lover

2 Lana Lang, Manhunter Sleeper

4 Manhunter Clone, CoPKirk

8 Qwardians, Army

4 Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose

4 Deadshot, Dead Aim

4 Lex Luthor, NPhilanthropist

1 Mark Shaw, Manhunter

1 Scarecrow, PPsychologist

3 Scandal, Savage Spawn

4 All Too Easy

3 Council of Power

4 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Gang-Up, Team-Up

4 Secret Files

1 Unmasked

2 Anti-Matter Universe

2 Fifth Dimension

2 Slaughter Swamp

1 UN Building, Team-Up

Optimally, you would like to take the even initiatives with this deck. This allows you to get Lex Luthor out on turn 3, then set up Poison Ivy and Fifth Dimension on turn 4 to prevent your opponent from taking Lex out of the picture. If you can successfully resolve Council of Power on turn 3 or 4, then you’re left off-initiative on turn 5 to bring out Anti-Matter Universe before the draw. If your opponent can somehow survive this level of madness, then you can finish on turn 6 with a boosted Scarecrow (hopefully with Anti-Matter Universe in play).

The mulligan is usually for a strong early curve with options to find Lex Luthor on turn 3 (Lex, Enemy of My Enemy, or Poison Ivy and Secret Files). With fourteen 1-drops and eight 2-drops, you should rarely have a problem using all of your resource points in the first two turns. After that, you will most likely want to underdrop on turns 4 and 5 to set up Council of Power or Anti-Matter Universe.

That’s all for now. Thanks to Christopher for the suggestion to revisit an oldie but goodie. I’m out, and off to Columbus to win a $10K with my TAWC teammates. I’ll be back next week to tell you all about the festivities in Ohio and the goodness that World’s Finest has to offer.

A Walk On The Side Of Insanity, Part 1 (07/18/07)

By now, most of you have had the chance to experience World’s Finest in all its glory. As I write this article, I am coming off my own World’s Finest experience at the Vs. System Mega-Weekend event in Columbus, OH. Suffice it to say, I had a great time. Not only did my fellow TAWC members John Tatta, Dusty Hostutler, and I land a respectable 12th place finish in the World’s Finest Team Sealed $10K tournament, but I also won the World’s Finest Sealed Pack Winner’s Choice tournament. While I have had my fair share of success in Vs. System, I was especially pleased with my personal performance over the course of the weekend as I have never fancied myself a very good Sealed player.

This article will be the first of two installments: This week will be a tournament report of sorts discussing two different decks that I played over the weekend and my subsequent results. Next week’s article will discuss the decklist that was inspired by my experiences.

That’s the Power of “Draw”

Early on Friday, I participated in the first event to be held over the course of the weekend—the Winner’s Choice Modern Age tournament. True to my word, I played the hyper-aggressive Sinister Syndicate deck that was featured on VsSystem.com a few weeks back.* After winning three matches on the back of the massive Syndicate beats, I lost a couple matches to some well-built control decks (including a complete drubbing against Patrick Yapjoco’s off-the-wall stall build). I was not too disheartened by this, though, as I fully intended to drop out of the tournament at some point to play in the Winner’s Choice World’s Finest Sealed Pack tournament.

Although I had already seen a list with most of the cards in World’s Finest, I had never actually had the opportunity to play with them. Suffice it to say, I was really looking forward to the Sealed Pack tournament. When I opened my packs, I was a bit disappointed to find that I only had six Arkham Inmates characters—not nearly enough to support a decent insanity deck. This was especially disappointing because I’d managed to crack one of the better insanity rares, Pick a Card. Still, my packs did have a nice complement of potent Gotham Knights and Revenge Squad cards. With the exception of a splashed Geo-Force, my entire deck consisted of characters from those two teams.  Here is the final decklist:

Winner’s Choice World’s Finest Sealed Pack Tournament


1 Crispus Allen, Gotham Central

1 Gotham Central S.W.A.T.

1 Huntress, Vicious Vigilante

1 Natasha Irons ◊ Starlight, EP

1 Terra-Man, Toby Manning

1 Barbara Gordon ◊ Oracle, HE

1 Catwoman, Feline Fatale

1 Geo-Force, Brion Markov

1 Renee Montoya, GCentral

1 Batman, Twilight Vigilante

1 Livewire, Leslie Willis

1 Manchester Black, Union Jack

1 The Question, Victor Sage

1 Cassandra Cain, DDaughter

1 Lex Luthor, Master Manipulator

1 Preus, Citizen’s Patrol

1 Bizarro, Bizarro World’s Finest

1 Doomsday, EAdvanced

1 Brainiac 13, B-13

1 Lex Luthor, Sinister Scientist

1 Crackshot

1 Executive Privilege

1 SKREEEEEEE!

1 Spirit of Nabu, Magic

1 The Hook-Up, Team-Up

2 Truth and Justice, Team-Up

1 World’s Worstest, Team-Up

1 Phantom Zone

1 Stryker’s Island

With six different ongoing plot twists, I figured that I would have a decent amount of support for characters like Terra-Man, Preus, and Brainiac 13. In addition, the draw and cycling effects in the deck should aid in hitting my optimal curve. Overall, I thought that the deck was solid, but nothing phenomenal.  Boy . . . was I ever wrong!

With a good draw, I was able to capitalize on some absolutely sick synergies that I hadn’t even planned on when building the deck. The draw power provided by Oracle and Executive Privilege not only helped me to set up my resource row and optimal curve, but it also turned Cassandra Cain, Death’s Daughter from a run-of-the-mill 5-drop to a major force to be reckoned with. Finally, I found that Stryker’s Island may just be one of the best rare cards that you can open in World’s Finest Sealed play. A reusable pump that isn’t team stamped in any way is phenomenal.

In most of my matches, I played an early game of defense, using my visible 2-, 3-, and 4-drops to soak up damage while I prepared for the later turns. On my late off-initiative turns, I usually swapped out any visible characters for the hidden Birds of Prey characters with high ATK values. While I took some damage from direct attacks, I was usually able to swing back effectively with my hidden characters for more damage and board control.

With the exception of my match against Doug Tice (who drew the absolute stone-cold nuts against me with Calendar Man, Cassandra Cain, and The Joker, Crazy for You), I was able to win all my matches in this fashion. In the end, Doug was the only other player with an 8-1 record, so I barely managed to beat him out for first place in the tournament thanks to slightly better tiebreakers.

That evening at the Spaghetti Warehouse with my TAWC teammates and other cohorts, I remarked that I probably couldn’t have hoped for a better set of packs. In my opinion, if John, Dusty, and I were able to open packs of a similar caliber in the $10K the following day, we would probably find a great deal of success.  Prophetic words.

I Remember When I Lost My Mind . . .

Banking on my experiences from the previous day, I told my teammates prior to deck construction that I would be looking to play a decent Revenge Squad build. While I loved the Gotham Knights / Birds of Prey synergies, I figured that the packs would probably hold enough cards to support those two teams by themselves. So, I was looking to play Revenge Squad with whatever splash I needed to fill the character curve.

At the time, I had almost no experience with the Outsiders off-curve theme. When we opened our packs, though, we found enough Outsiders characters and plot twists to play this archetype effectively. Most importantly, our packs boasted two copies of The Insiders, meaning that we could splash drops from other teams that would complement the deck. John Tatta, the off-curve expert of the team, took to this deck with great aplomb. In the first pod, he was able to pull off an impressive 4-1 performance.

True to my expectation, the packs also held enough Gotham Knights and Birds of Prey cards to play them as a second deck with a minimum of off-team splashing. Dusty took it upon himself to play it. While it was probably the weakest of the three decks that we built, Dusty was still able to put up impressive results of 3-2 in the first pod (and his losses to Dan Clark and Kim Caton were remarkably close games).

This left me the Revenge Squad and the Arkham Inmates. Initially, my eyes were drawn to the Arkham Inmates insanity cards in our pool, like Burn Baby Burn, Batzarro, Basil Karlo ◊ Ultimate Clayface, and Beside Myself. After seeing these bomb cards, it was patently obvious that I was going to be wielding an insanity deck, but I didn’t realize how absolutely “insane” my deck was going to be until I saw my Revenge Squad cards. Along with an assortment of amazing ongoing plot twists, I had some nutty pumps like Graveyard of Solitude and Future Shock. This was all overwhelmed by the foil copy of Bizarro Brawl sitting among the cards. While this power rare only works in an insanity deck, it is arguably the best insanity card that you can pull. In effect, it is a free pump on either attack or defense for any Revenge Squad character you control. It will always be good for at least 1 point of ATK, but in a deck with plenty of ongoing plot twists it can often be worth 5. Madness, I say!

After “oohing” and “aahing” over these cards for a good while, I finally completed my insane concoction:

World’s Finest Team Sealed $10K Tournament – Pod 1


1 Calendar Man, JGDay

1 Crime Doctor, Bradford Thorne

1 Terra-Man, Toby Manning

1 The Penguin, CEBird

1 Alexandra Alliston ◊ Parasite

1 Great White, Warren White

1 Mongul, Son of the Tyrant

1 Ultraman, Despot of Kandor

1 Batzarro, WWD

1 Firefly, Burning Desire

1 Livewire, Leslie Willis

1 Metallo, Kryptonite Heart

1 Matt Hagen ◊ Clayface, MPack

1 Mr. Freeze, Cold Shoulder

1 Preus, Citizen’s Patrol

1 Doomsday, EAdvanced

1 Two-Face, Heads or Tails

1 Basil Karlo ◊ Ultimate Clayface

1 Brainiac 13, B-13

1 Batter Up!

1 Battle for Metropolis

1 Beside Myself

1 Bizarro Brawl

1 Burn Baby Burn

1 Dimensional Deal, Team-Up

1 Future Shock

1 Hostile Takeover

1 Never-Ending Battle

1 World’s Worstest, Team-Up

1 Graveyard of Solitude

With the possible inclusion of a copy of The Joker, Crazy for You, I don’t think that my deck could have been much better. I made an offhand remark that I would be surprised if I didn’t go undefeated in my rounds. I wasn’t trying to be cocky or anything; it was just that the deck I was playing was that good!

After three rounds of success with my deck (including a couple victories over $10K Indy champion Chuck Bell and Pro Circuit Sydney champ Kyle Dembinski), I finally fell in the fourth round to a gentleman named Chris Thomas, who had a rather strong Revenge Squad deck of his own. Despite a strong early draw on his part (including a Terra-Man with a couple of ongoing plot twists) and a rather slow draw on mine (missing my 2-drop with the even initiatives), the match was incredibly close. With Chris at 30 endurance on turn 6, the most damage that I could possibly muster was 29. I opted instead to send the game into turn 7, where my 11 ATK / 10 DEF Preus and 15 ATK / 13 DEF Doomsday would be more than a match for his Preus and Crispus Allen.

Unfortunately, after we both dropped copies of Brainiac 13, Chris was able to send his 5-drop up the curve into my 7-drop and still have enough ATK pumps left to stun my 5-drop with his 2-drop. Despite the fact that my 6-drop was able to stun his 7-drop, Chris beat me by a scant 4 points in the end.

While I was a bit disheartened by this loss, my TAWC teammates and I still managed to take a 4-1 record into the second half of the $10K, where we hoped that the Vs. System powers that be would favor us with similarly good packs.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. The second pod saw us playing with decks that weren’t nearly as good as the ones we’d wielded in the first pod. As a result, we were only able to eke out a single win in the second half, netting us a 5-4 record on the day. Bad beats.

Lessons in Insanity

While there was some obvious disappointment in our finish, I still gained quite a bit of perspective from my experiences. First, a bad day playing Vs. System is still always better than a good day working. Second, World’s Finest is the most fun I’ve had in a Sealed format in a very long time. Finally, the insanity mechanic is going to make for some very interesting decks in the very near future.

When the World’s Finest previews came out, UDE representatives described the insanity cards as having a significantly higher power level than your average Vs. System card. This power came at the expense of only being able to play one copy of each card in your deck, though. I really didn’t grasp this notion until I was able to play with an insanity deck myself. Suffice it to say, insanity decks are on a power level above that of Constructed decks.

In Sealed formats, where you are accustomed to playing decks with a diminished number of cards, there is little doubt that the insanity mechanic allows for decks that are much more potent than you would usually see. The question, though, is how well insanity translates to Constructed play. The first thing to consider then is whether a Constructed deck can be competitive if it loses a good deal of consistency.

Considering that most competitive Constructed decks rely on a relatively consistent game plan, a deck with almost no consistency would usually have trouble performing in a competitive environment. Of course, the phenomenal power of these insanity cards could potentially make up for the lost consistency. We won’t know that until we find out for ourselves, though.

To the best of my knowledge, there are sixteen insanity cards in World’s Finest: ten Arkham Inmates–stamped, three Revenge Squad–stamped, and three generic.

Arkham Inmates

Basil Karlo ◊ Ultimate Clayface

Bat-Mite, #1 Fan

Batzarro, WWDetective

The Joker, Crazy for You

Scarecrow, Fear and Loathing

Arkham Asylum, Team-Up

Beside Myself

Burn Baby Burn

Money Talks

Pick a Card

Revenge Squad

Mr. Mxyzptlk, Felonious Fiend

Bizarro Brawl

Obey or Die!

Generic

Batter Up!

Certifiable

Jack-in-the-Box

Because all of these cards are so amazingly powerful, we’re going to play every single one of them!  You may be wondering about the decklist for this insanity deck. Well, this amazing decklist comes in next week’s article. We have 16 of our 60 cards set, so we need to figure out what the other 44 cards for our deck are going to be.

So I’m done for this week, but I will surely be back next week with an insanity deck for Constructed play. In the meantime, I suggest that you all try to build a version of your own; I’ll meet you next week to compare notes on the most optimal of insanity builds.  See you in seven days!

* I did swap out the three equipment cards in the deck with three copies of Big Leagues, though. Once World’s Finest becomes legal, Crackshot will probably go into the deck as well.

A Walk On The Side Of Insanity, Part 2  (07/25/07)

“No we’re never gonna survive . . .  unless we get a little crazy.” – “Crazy” by Seal

Last week, we looked at the beginnings of an Arkham Inmates / Revenge Squad insanity deck (using every card with the insanity keyword in World’s Finest). For those of you who may have missed it, here is a list of all of the insanity cards in the set, sorted by card type and cost (for the character cards):

Insanity List

4-drops (1):  1 Batzarro, World’s Worst Detective

5-drops (1):  1 Scarecrow, Fear and Loathing

6-drops (1):  1 The Joker, Crazy for You

7-drops (1):  1 Basil Karlo ◊ Ultimate Clayface, Mud Pack

8-drops (1):  1 Bat-Mite, #1 Fan

9-drops (1):  1 Mr. Mxyzptlk, Felonious Fiend

Plot Twists (non-ongoing) (7):  1 Burn Baby Burn, 1 Batter Up!, 1 Certifiable, 1 Jack-in-the-Box, 1 Money Talks, 1 Obey or Die!, 1 Pick a Card

Plot Twists (ongoing) (2):  1 Beside Myself, 1 Bizarro Brawl

Locations (1):  1 Arkham Asylum, Team-Up

As I am sure you are all well aware, we can only use insanity in decks that contain no more than a single copy of any card. In essence, insanity requires that we play a Highlander deck. There is a very blatant trade-off here—we lose a bunch of consistency but gain quite a bit of power through the amazing insanity effects.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Despite the immense power of insanity cards, we do want to adhere to certain tenets of deckbuilding when constructing any deck, even an insanity deck. In order to determine which cards would best meet our deck’s needs, we need to determine what themes exist within the insanity cards upon which a deck can be based.

My preliminary analysis revealed two noticeable themes within the insanity cards: 1) discard, random or otherwise (such as The Joker, Scarecrow, and Batter Up!); and 2) ongoing plot twists (such as. Beside Myself and Bizarro Brawl). With these two themes, we have a very strong basis on which to make our other card selections.

Our first task is to go through all of the Arkham Inmates, Revenge Squad, and generic cards that appear to support either of our two defined themes. Using these criteria, I was able to expand upon our original list:

Insanity List (with thematic cards added)


1-drops (1)

1 Mad Hatter, Mad as a Hatter

2-drops (3)

1 The Penguin, CEBird

1 Tally Man, Tax Time

1 Terra-Man, Toby Manning

3-drops (2)

1 The Joker, Out of His Mind

1 Professor Emil Hamilton ◊ Ruin

4-drops (5)

1 Atomic Skull, Cursed

1 Batzarro, WWD

1 Firefly, Burning Desire

1 Metallo, Kryptonite Heart

1 The Riddler, Multiple Choice

5-drops (3)

1 Matt Hagen ◊ Clayface

1 Preus, Citizen’s Patrol

1 Scarecrow, Fear and Loathing

6-drops (3)

1 Brainiac 2.5, Future Intelligence

1 The Joker, Crazy for You

1 Sondra Fuller ◊ Clayface

7-drops (3)

1 Basil Karlo ◊ Ultimate Clayface

1 Brainiac 13, B-13

1 Killer Croc, Cannibal

8-drops (2)

1 Bat-Mite, #1 Fan

1 Solaris, Tyrant Sun

9-drops (1)

1 Mr. Mxyzptlk, Felonious Fiend

Plot Twists (non-ongoing) (11)

1 Batter Up!

1 Batzarro Beatdown

1 Burn Baby Burn

1 Certifiable

1 Future Shock

1 It’s a Hard Life

1 Jack-in-the-Box

1 Money Talks

1 Obey or Die!

1 Pick a Card

1 Usual Suspects

Plot Twists (ongoing) (9)

1 Battle for Metropolis

1 Beside Myself

1 Bizarro Brawl

1 Executive Privilege

1 Hostile Takeover

1 Imprisoned in the Source

1 Knowledge is Power

1 Never-Ending Battle

1 Standoff

Locations (3)

1 Arkham Asylum, Team-Up

1 Blackgate Prison, Max Security

1 Graveyard of Solitude

A Few Screws Loose

These additions make our deckbuilding exercise much easier. We have pretty much fleshed out our locations and non-ongoing plot twists. We also have a pretty solid curve of characters from 6 to 9. Thus, our only remaining selections to be made are our characters from 2 to 5 and our additional ongoing plot twists.

Let’s start off with our characters at 2. We currently only have one Revenge Squad character that made the cut to our second list, so we need to add a couple more characters from that team. This is a rather easy choice, as there are only two other Revenge Squad 2-drops that are legal in Modern Age: Kryptonite Man and Natasha Irons ◊ Starlight.

As for our other 2-drops, we’re going to add a couple more Arkham Inmates characters to the mix. Here we have a few more options, but two characters certainly stand out. First, Calendar Man is an excellent pick in any Arkham Inmates deck. His stats are a bit underwhelming at 1/3, but the card draw that he provides more than makes up for it. Even if we do place him adjacent to a character, he helps us cycle through our deck, which is rather critical in a deck that lacks consistency. Our other 2-drop is the often overlooked The Riddler, Brain Teaser. This Legion of Super Heroes 2-drop didn’t receive much fanfare, as his team wasn’t represented at all in the set—but he has several teammates in World’s Finest to play with. Besides, his effect is so potent as to be almost game breaking.

We also need some help at the 3-drop slot, since Ruin and The Joker aren’t going to cut it by themselves. For the Revenge Squad, we’re going to enlist the services of Satanus, Colin Thornton and Ultraman, Despot of Kandor. Neither character really aids either of our deck’s themes, but both have solid stats and effects that can severely disrupt opposing plans. On the other hand, Mr. Zsasz, Scar Tissue and Two-Face, Jekyll and Hyde are just plain big! Sometimes you just want a wall to block opposing attacks, and the Arkham Inmates baddies can stand up against the most potent of 3-drops and even take on many 4-drops.

Our 4-drop choices are pretty much all made for us, but we might want one more character to help ensure that we don’t miss our drop on this turn. There are several good choices for characters that we could include here, but we’re going to go with Livewire. She has an effect that complements Preus, Battle for Metropolis, and our Arkham Inmates “non-adjacent” characters quite nicely. That said, she will usually be a 9/7 4-drop for us. That ain’t bad!

Finally, we need one more character at 5. Considering the disruption sub-theme that we have (with The Riddler, Brain Teaser; Imprisoned in the Source; and It’s a Hard Life), Hank Henshaw ◊ Cyborg, Manhunter Grandmaster fills this slot nicely. By turn 5, we should have seen many of the tricks that our opponent has for us. Against an aggressive deck, Cyborg can take out some opposing combat pumps. Against slower decks, Cyborg can remove search cards. Either way, it’s a winning situation. We can take out threats to our livelihood with one simple stun.

We have room for four more cards, and they are all going to be ongoing plot twists. The fist card to include is Spirit of Nabu. While it may not seem like a strong addition, it is deceptively powerful. Essentially, it gives us the chance to disrupt opposing formations without needing a card like Flying Kick. In addition, it allows us a little more freedom with our formations, as it can give range to a character of our choice.

The remainder of our ongoing plot twists are all Team-Ups of some variety. Dimensional Deal and World’s Worstest are both fairly obvious picks. Dimensional Deal gives us a pseudo–Battle for Metropolis effect. World’s Worstest, on the other hand, ensures that our Revenge Squad cards will remain active even if we don’t always have a Revenge Squad character in play.

Our final Team-Up is a little more subtle. Still, The Hook-Up can occasionally be more than just a generic Team-Up for us. With Two-Face and Arkham Asylum in our deck, we can crossover the Gotham Knights with our other teams. This allows us to use The Hook-Up to cycle through our deck and trigger our discard effects (Mad Hatter, Tally Man, and so on). With a deck like this, we want to squeeze every ounce of usefulness out of the card that we possibly can.

That’s it. After a lot of typing, we have a full-fledged insanity deck. Let’s take a look:

Virtual Insanity

 

1 Mad Hatter, Mad as a Hatter

1 Calendar Man, JGDay

1 Kryptonite Man, KRAbernathy

1 Natasha Irons ◊ Starlight, EP

1 The Penguin, CEBird

1 The Riddler, Brain Teaser

1 Tally Man, Tax Time

1 Terra-Man, Toby Manning

1 Mr. Zsasz, Scar Tissue

1 The Joker, Out of His Mind

1 Professor Emil Hamilton ◊ Ruin

1 Satanus, Colin Thornton

1 Two-Face, Jekyll and Hyde

1 Ultraman, Despot of Kandor

1 Atomic Skull, Cursed

1 Batzarro, WWDetective

1 Firefly, Burning Desire

1 Livewire, Leslie Willis

1 Metallo, Kryptonite Heart

1 The Riddler, Multiple Choice

1 Hank Henshaw ◊ Cyborg, MG

1 Matt Hagen ◊ Clayface, MP

1 Preus, Citizen’s Patrol

1 Scarecrow, Fear and Loathing

1 Brainiac 2.5, Future Intelligence

1 The Joker, Crazy for You

1 Sondra Fuller ◊ Clayface, MP

1 Basil Karlo ◊ Ultimate Clayface

1 Brainiac 13, B-13

1 Killer Croc, Cannibal

1 Bat Mite, #1 Fan

1 Solaris, Tyrant Sun

1 Mr. Mxyzptlk, Felonious Fiend

1 Batter Up!

1 Batzarro Beatdown

1 Burn Baby Burn

1 Certifiable

1 Future Shock

1 It’s a Hard Life

1 Jack-in-the-Box

1 Money Talks

1 Obey or Die!

1 Pick a Card

1 Usual Suspects

1 Battle for Metropolis

1 Beside Myself

1 Bizarro Brawl

1 Dimensional Deal, Team-Up

1 Executive Privilege

1 Hostile Takeover

1 Imprisoned in the Source

1 Knowledge is Power

1 Never-Ending Battle

1 Spirit of Nabu, Magic

1 Standoff

1 The Hook-Up, Team-Up

1 World’s Worstest, Team-Up

1 Arkham Asylum, Team-Up

1 Blackgate Prison, Max Security

1 Graveyard of Solitude

The normal rules of game play aren’t going to apply to our deck. Since we can’t count on having a particular character in play at any time, the initiative choice is largely irrelevant. As far as the mulligan condition goes, a strong opening hand with good early game characters is what you are looking for. If you have a 2-, 3-, and 4-drop in your opening four cards, then you should be well on your way to making insanity work for you.

Well, I hope that you all found your inner crazy person. I’ll be back next week with a more normal deck (at least as far as deck construction principles go). In the meantime, head out to your local Vs. venue and unleash insanity upon the world!

World’s Finest (08/01/07)

There are many different ways to approach the Vs. System experience. For some, the joy of playing the game comes from developing new and interesting combo ideas that hadn’t been explored before. For others, the competitive spirit motivates them to find the biggest and best cards in the format to attempt to build a deck that can win the next Pro Circuit.*

Of course, one gameplay style that inspires a few individuals is that of the iconic heroes. I have seen many decks that attempt to bring to life the trials and tribulations of the most popular comic book personalities. I’ve built more than one deck that focused on a core group of heroes. For example, one of my early favorite “flavor” decks consisted of the original Fantastic Four; I tried to get all four into play so that I could use and abuse Four Freedoms Plaza. These deck my not be as competitive or combo-centric as more mainstream decks, but they make up for this by adding a level of uniqueness and fun that is unmatched in competitive game play.

“Separately, They Are the Best. Together, the World’s Finest.”

With the release of World’s Finest came yet another playable iconic archetype, the World’s Finest. Batman and Superman are certainly two of the better-recognized and beloved heroes in the pantheon of comic lore. While both heroes have vivid backgrounds independent of the other, some of the most entertaining stories for both came when the two luminaries worked together in the comic books. Together, Batman and Superman are the world’s finest heroes.

To celebrate the history of these heroes working with one another, UDE added several cards to World’s Finest to support the Batman-Superman collaboration. These cards give amazing bonuses to characters named Superman and Batman that you have in play.

It seems to me that it would be a great waste of perfectly good cards if we didn’t build a deck to use them. So, our exercise this week is going to be building a Modern Age World’s Finest deck. While we may not make the next deck that will win the Pro Circuit, we will hopefully have a fun deck that will allow fans of the super-est of super heroes to bring the World’s Finest to life.

The Build

Our first step is going to be deciding which versions of Batman and Superman we want to include in our World’s Finest deck. Let’s start with the Caped Crusader. Our first version of the Dark Knight is going to be the 3-drop Batman, Problem Solver. The newer versions of the bat have been given concealed, which makes for interesting opportunities in building Gotham Knights decks. This 3-drop may not be much of a defensive threat, but he can stifle opposing combat tricks like no other character in Vs. System. With this version of Batman in play, we can rest assured that our opponents will need extra combat pumps to take down our visible characters.

Our next character named Batman is going to be his 6-drop version, Batman, Cape and Cowl. Much the same way that Batman, Problem Solver puts the kibosh on plot twists, Batman, Cape and Cowl causes a great deal of distress for our opponents’ payment powers. Not only does he limit said payment powers to one use per turn, but he can also selectively negate a payment power of our choice. Imagine the difficulties that our opponents will experience when they can’t use the payment powers of Colonel Yon-Rogg or Air-Walker, Gabriel Lan.

Our final member of the Bat-clan is Batman, Dark Knight Returned. The Dark Knight finally received an 8-drop version, and it is quite good. Essentially, Batman turns our plot twists into free cards because he lets us draw a card for every plot twist that we play. Considering how many plot twists we will have in our deck, we should be drawing a bunch of cards with his effect.

Now let’s take a look at our bevy of Supermen. Our earliest Superman drop is the 4-drop who isn’t a 4-drop, Superman, Last Son of Krypton. While we do have to pay 4 resource points for Superman, he doesn’t actually have a cost. There has already been a good deal of discussion on how amazing this card can be. First, because he doesn’t have a cost, he effectively has invulnerability. This is already a very impressive trait for a character with flight, range, and the stats of an average 4-drop. In addition, Superman cannot be targeted by effects that denote a cost. Want to use Gift Wrapped on Superman? Too bad! Looking to use the vengeance of Dark Superboy to stun Supes? So sad! Trying to team attack with enough characters so that Kimiyo Hoshi ◊ Dr. Light, Sunburst can stun the Man of Steel? Ain’t gonna happen! So many of the combat tricks that will abound in the upcoming Modern Age can’t touch the Last Son of Krypton.

With such a great 4-drop . . . er . . . no-drop, you might think that we’d never want to replace him. Once we get to the later turns, though, we might want a larger character to serve as a deterrent. So I guess it’s a good thing that we’re including three copies of Superman, Deterrent Force. This 7-drop is certainly formidable at 16/16, but it is his activated power that will well and truly give our opponents pause. On turns when we do not control the initiative, Superman can take one of our opponent’s attackers out of action.

Superman also caps our curve at turn 9 with Superman, Bulletproof. While he might be smaller than many other 9-drops, this version of Superman boasts a power that no other 9-drop can claim: he cannot be stunned, period! Once we have Superman, Bulletproof in play, it is almost a foregone conclusion that any and all efforts by our opponents to break through our defenses will falter. They can attack him, target him, and even exhaust him, but they will never stun him.

We also have a smattering of other characters playing supporting roles for our primary heroes. First and foremost, we have Batman’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth. The faithful friend of the Dark Knight is also one of our best friends in a Gotham Knights deck because he is one of the premier search cards in Vs. System. After a brief stint of exhaustion, we can activate Alfred to search out any plot twist or equipment card in our deck. With so many great plot twists in our deck, our butler will certainly be a valuable asset.

We have a couple other 1-drops in Harvey Bullock, Gotham Central and Harvey Bullock, Bishop. The first version of Bullock gains a great deal of value in that he is a 1-drop with concealed. Once we get Alfred into play, we can bring out Bullock to allow us to activate our butler. Moreover, Bullock is a good target for any effects that require the exhaustion of a Gotham Knights character (such as Bat-Signal). Finally, Bullock gives us a method of gathering knowledge about what our opponents have in store for us. Of course, the Bishop version of Harvey Bullock doesn’t give us the flexibility of a concealed character, but he can be a key character for combating decks that rely heavily on low-cost equipment cards. In addition, Harvey Bullock, Bishop can return equipment cards from our own KO’d pile to our hand. While we won’t have a lot of equipment, we will still find Bullock’s effect to be selectively useful.

Moving on, we come to our backup 3-drop. In the late turns, we probably won’t mind sacrificing board advantage to bring out a larger character (namely because our late game characters will be so amazing), but in the early turns it would be unwise of us simply to replace our in-play characters with later drops. Fortunately, we do have an option that gets around that. In World’s Finest, we were given a team with a slew of substitute characters, the Birds of Prey. We can use these lovely ladies for our own purposes because most of the Birds of Prey characters are dual-affiliated with the Gotham Knights. For example, one easy way to make the most of upgrading our 3-drop Batman is to substitute Barbara Gordon ◊ Oracle, Hacker Elite into play. Stat-wise, Oracle is rather small, but she gives our deck a card drawing effect that is second to none. While Oracle is in play, we will get a free card every turn. That’s all there is to it. When we look to replace Batman, Problem Solver with Batman, Cape and Cowl, we can bring out Babs to give us a little extra draw power.

We will also potentially replace our 6-drop Batman with our 8-drop. In this situation, we have Dinah Laurel Lance ◊ Black Canary, Cry in the Dark to hop in for Batman. Black Canary is just plain big at 14/11. With a little help, this Bird of Prey can take down most opposing 7-drops and many 8-drops. This leaves Batman and Superman free to bring the pain to our unsuspecting opponents.

Finally, we have one more Birds of Prey character to mention. Though she does have substitute, she is not in the deck to be replaced. Against curve decks, we will often find ourselves choosing to underdrop on turn 5, perhaps with a 3-drop and a couple of 1-drops. We will also have times, though, when we will want to follow our curve with as big a character as possible. In a deck that boasts plenty of draw power, there are few 5-drops bigger and badder than Cassandra Cain, Death’s Daughter. She starts out as a standard 9/9 5-drop, and with one little discard of a Gotham Knights or Birds of Prey character, she gets +1/+1. A 5-drop 10/10 is respectable, but it doesn’t stop there. For every character card that we discard, Cassandra Cain gets an additional +1/+1 for the turn. Essentially, the size of our 5-drop will only be limited by the size of our hand. With as many cards as we will be drawing, Cassandra Cain will be a force to be reckoned with.

Let’s take a quick look at the equipment in the deck. With so many versions of Batman in our deck, it would be a crime not to play Batarang, Cutting Edge. Cards that allow a player to exhaust an opposing character off initiative are few and far between. This makes Batarang a great play against certain decks. In the later turns, we can choose to underdrop so that we can get Batarang equipped to Batman. This makes Batman a pseudo-Doom, since he can now exhaust any opposing character. Even at a cost of 1, this can be an amazing bargain when we exhaust our 3-drop to exhaust an opposing 7- or 8-drop.

It’s now plot twist time. Let’s get the obvious Team-Up out of the way—The Hook-Up. Is there anything bad about this card? It fills the role of a Team-Up, of course, but The Hook-Up also gives us the opportunity to cycle through our deck. Considering how important draw power is in just about any deck, this is an amazing effect to include in a simple Team-Up.

We have a couple potent character search cards in Bat-Signal and For the Man Who Has Everything. The efficiency and effectiveness of Bat-Signal has been acclaimed since the original release of DC Origins. The inherent card disadvantage that most search cards have disappears with Bat-Signal, since we only have to exhaust a Gotham Knights character to pay its cost. Of course, For the Man Who Has Everything may be even better in our deck. This card is the Team Superman counterpart of Bat-Signal, yet there is no cost whatsoever associated with this search card. Rather, part of the effect dictates that we discard if we don’t control a character that shares a name with the character for which we searched. Considering the deck that we’re playing, we will rarely be discarding a thing!

Looking to combat, we have a couple cards to aid us on both the offensive and defensive end. First, we have a very potent ATK pump in the form of Soaring to New Heights. This plot twist makes for very effective attacks for us. Not only do we get +3 ATK, but because Superman is one of our primary characters, we will often get +3 DEF as well. Soaring to New Heights will allow us to clobber our opponents in a whole new way. On the defensive end, we have Impervious. Since our main theme will be that of making Superman our visible protector, we will usually be able to force our opponents to attack into the Man of Steel on the first attack each turn. With a copy or two of Impervious, we can rest easy that we’ll be able to bounce a few attacks each game.

Finally, we have the plot twists that are stamped solely to the “World’s Finest.” First, At Their Finest is a combat pump of epic proportions. The +2/+2 bonus for the turn makes it a powerful play regardless of whether or not we control the initiative. The true beauty is that we will usually be able to parlay this pump into a bonus for both of our primary characters. This effectively makes At Their Finest a pump good for +4/+4. Only a handful of cards in the game can even come close to that level of power.

Of course, despite our best efforts, we will have to deal with our characters occasionally becoming stunned. Fortunately, it really isn’t too difficult for us to deal with this when we have a card like Brains and Brawn. As long as we control both of the World’s Finest heroes, we can recover either Batman or Superman. We don’t have to discard a card, we don’t have to exhaust any characters, and we don’t have to pay any endurance . . . we simply have to play Brains and Brawn. Such a card is reminiscent of the way the two heroes supported one another in the comics. When one of them went down, the other one jumped in to bring the fallen hero back into action. Now we can do the very same thing!

Finally, we have a clever little plot twist that can foil our opponents’ attack plans. While we do have options for substituting characters at certain points in a game, we might also find it effective to bounce our characters back to our hand. Why? Because the World’s Finest can keep one of our opponent’s characters from attacking by using Best of the Best. By returning either Batman or Superman to our hand, we can freeze-frame an opposing character for a turn. The cost may seem a bit hefty, but it can be a big play in the later turns. Just imagine the frustration on an opponent’s face when he or she sets up Moon Knight, Fist of Khonshu to attack three times in a turn (thanks to Samantha Parrington ◊ Valkyrie), only to have his or her plans thwarted by returning Batman, Problem Solver to our hand. Heck, we could even replay him that turn if we chose to. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

That’s the deck. Let’s see how well we represented the World’s Finest:

World’s Finest


4 Alfred Pennyworth, FFriend

1 Harvey Bullock, Bishop

4 Harvey Bullock, GCentral

2 Barbara Gordon ◊ Oracle, HE

4 Batman, Problem Solver

4 Superman, Last Son of Krypton

1 Cassandra Cain, DDaughter

2 Batman, Cape and Cowl

1 Black Canary, Cry in the Dark

3 Superman, Deterrent Force

2 Batman, Dark Knight Returned

2 Superman, Bulletproof

4 At Their Finest

4 Bat-Signal

2 Best of the Best

4 Brains and Brawn

4 FtMWHEverything

4 The Hook-Up, Team-Up

4 Impervious

3 Soaring to New Heights

1 Batarang, Cutting Edge

With off-initiative tricks like Batarang and Superman, Deterrent Force, we should probably shoot for the odd initiatives in our deck. Against all but the most aggressive decks, we should be able to stall until the late game, when our big guns can take control of the board.

Alfred Pennyworth is always a great early game play and should probably be our mulligan condition. In addition, Harvey Bullock (either version) plus Bat-Signal is also a good choice, as it allows us to search up everyone’s favorite butler.

While the deck probably won’t be able to hold its own against the likes of Kree or Syndicate rush, it is nonetheless a fun deck idea that can make for some very interesting casual play experiences. I highly recommend trying the deck in a cutthroat game, where play naturally tends to progress to the later turns. This will allow you to make the most of your late-game behemoths and show everyone at the table why Batman and Superman are known as the World’s Finest.

* Much the way that I am trying to do now. Currently, I have three different decks that I am considering taking to the big dance in Indianapolis. Once I have decided upon which deck to take to the show, I will be bringing you the other two to aid you in your own competitive deckbuilding efforts.

B.P.R.D./Underworld  (08/22/2007)

By the time you read this, Pro Circuit Indy 2007 will have come and gone. While most of you have already seen the decks that broke the Modern Age format, I thought that I would share with you a deck that I had seriously considered playing at the PC.

There are a lot of potent concoctions in this Modern Age. Obviously, powerful early-game decks like Syndicate rush and Skrull / Inhumans are ever-present. But you can’t forget about mid-game board control decks like Kree and Marvel Defenders. Finally, with Heralds of Galactus and Team Superman around, there are a few late-game stall decks seeing play. If you want a shot at doing well in this format, you’ll need a deck that can answer all of these decks effectively.

The Big Red Machine

I have been fascinated by the Hellboy Essential Collection since it first came out. While I wasn’t ever enthused by the Hellfire Club, I actually took a keen interest in the “single visible character” theme that the B.P.R.D. had to offer. Of course, that may have had something to do with the fact that I love any character that can grow rapidly in size over the course of the game (like Batman, The Dark Knight; Blackbriar Thorn; or Ocean Master).

One of my initial favorite decks was B.P.R.D. / Checkmate. These two teams seemed to have themes that complimented one another nicely. In addition to playing a good number of powerful characters with concealed, Checkmate supplemented the B.P.R.D.’s equipment theme with some very potent equipment cards of their own. Unless opponents had a way of attacking into the hidden area, they would usually take a substantial beating from Hellboy and the Checkmate crew. So powerful was the synergy between these two teams that it landed Paul “The Deranged Bear” Sung a City Championships victory and a spot in the UDE R&D tournament.

With Checkmate rolling out of the Modern Age, I began to see how well the cast of the B.P.R.D would work with other teams in the format. Initially, I tried out a B.P.R.D. / Defenders deck that I felt had a lot of potential. The goal of the deck was to put up a strong defense in the early turns, with Beast, New Defender and Hellcat activating to fortify Hellboy, Anung Un Rama. He would act as a barrier until turn 7, when I would substitute in Samantha Parrington ◊ Valkyrie and Tania Belinskya ◊ Red Guardian and then recruit Hellboy, The Right Hand of Doom. With Valkyrie, Red Guardian, Hellcat, and Wendell Vaughan ◊ Quasar all activating on the ferocious 7-drop, I would have a monstrous 26 ATK / 20 DEF character that stunned a character when he came into play and could attack at least twice. With a copy of Project Ragna Rok in my resource row and a copy of Break Off the Horns in my hand, I could often win the game on turn 7 regardless of whether or not I did lethal damage.

Alas, this idea didn’t play out as well as I had hoped. While the deck worked well against curve decks, it couldn’t handle some of the more aggressive decks in the format. One problematic deck in particular was my TAWC teammate John Hall’s Syndicate rush deck. Not only did I often take a beating in the early turns, but even my massive 4-drop couldn’t hold off the weenie onslaught of the Syndicate. Unless I drew multiple copies of Pancakes, I usually got blown out by turn 5. Even then, Pancakes couldn’t save me against Bullseye, Assassin for Hire. This nasty little 3-drop KO’d my Hellboy more times than I want to remember.

One Demon’s Homecoming

My deck ideas were not without merit, though. Shortly after I scrapped the B.P.R.D. / Defenders idea, my teammates John and Shane “Wiggy” Wiggans tested out a new deck based on the “single visible Hellboy” theme. One of the problems with the Defenders version of the deck was that, save Hellcat, the Defenders don’t have any characters with concealed. One team that has a bunch of characters with concealed, though, is the Underworld. It didn’t take me long to understand why John and Shane were so impressed with this deck. Aside from all the concealed characters, the Underworld had some cards that could abuse the Hellboy / Abe Sapien combo rather thoroughly. Black Rose and Dimensional Rift provided some amazing recursion effects that made it quite easy to power-up Hellboy to enormous proportions.

For the most part, John and Shane’s testing was successful. Against many of the decks in our gauntlet, Hellboy proved to be too much to overcome. Usually, opponents would have to devote a substantial team attack to stun Hellboy (since he could easily become 20 DEF with Abe Sapien’s help). Even then, they couldn’t count on a direct attack, because Strange Love and Pancakes could revive Hellboy quite easily. This rather simple build put up impressive results against Kree and Skrull, too, but it still struggled against Syndicate rush and the ubiquitous Bullseye. In addition, any Heralds-based deck could bring out Red Shift to create problems for the deck. It didn’t matter how big Hellboy could become; Red Shift removed him from play all the same, and took away any equipment or +1 ATK / +1 DEF counters that he might have been hanging onto.

That ended the first chapter in the Modern Age development of Hellboy. But our hellacious hero was not to be silenced completely . . .

Revisionist History

Recently, I took another look at John and Shane’s B.P.R.D. / Underworld deck. Despite its obvious weaknesses, the deck still had enormous potential. Having a 4-drop that would easily bounce attacks of characters several spots up the curve is nothing to scoff at. Moreover, the other characters in the deck are good in their own right.

Still, the deck needed a way to deal with the two problem cards in Modern Age. As far as Red Shift goes, there isn’t a great answer to the annoying cosmic menace. Red Shift is only a threat as long as he retains his cosmic counter, though. Thus, if we can bring him into the visible area, we can stun him and get rid of his annoying removal effect. Fortunately for us, the Underworld has one of the best hidden-hate cards in Modern Age in Baron Mordo. Obviously, we would like to get at the meddlesome Herald before turn 6, but we will certainly take the forefront on turn 6 if we can get it.

As far as Bullseye and the Sinister Syndicate go, the solution to that little problem actually made the deck better. You see, in John and Shane’s original build, they had played various Underworld 3-drops to lock in a team-up on turn 4. While the Underworld has some great 3-drops, none of them really help you against an off-curve deck. Of course, my teammates did have Liz Sherman, Pyrokinesis in the deck as a backup 3-drop. So I began to wonder what would happen if we made Liz the primary drop. Assuming that we mulliganed for an underworld 2-drop, we should still be able to hit our Team-Up by turn 4. With Liz Sherman in play, though, the Syndicate loses a lot of momentum in dealing with Hellboy. Bullseye never has an outright attack against our 4-drop because we’ll use Liz Sherman to stun him before he can. While the remaining Syndicate characters can still go after Hellboy, none of them have the power to stun him.

Hitting Liz Sherman on turn 3 reaps benefits against other decks, as well. Against Kree, she can take out Colonel Yon-Rogg before he ever has a chance to use his stun effect. Against Skrull, she can stun Captain America, Skrull Imposter to make the Skrull attackers susceptible to stunning back. Against Heralds, she can keep Air-Walker from exhausting anyone on our side of the board ever again. The answer is obvious—Liz Sherman is a B.P.R.D. MVP.

Let’s revise our B.P.R.D. / Underworld build. With any luck, we’ll have a deck that will take the Modern Age metagame by storm.

The Build

We’ve already discussed most of the characters in the deck, but we’ll go through them once more in order to place them within the framework in which they all operate. Our 1-drop is The Dwarf. While we won’t usually be recruiting this little guy, he merits inclusion simply because he enables us to find our Team-Up. Much like his predecessors (Dagger, Child of Light and The Calculator, Noah Kuttler), The Dwarf gives us an ability that is both rare and useful.

We have several different 2-drops for consideration. A sole copy of Sidney Leach represents our entire compliment of B.P.R.D. characters at 2. As was previously mentioned, our mulligan will be for an Underworld 2-drop. So we generally won’t want to recruit Sidney Leach. If we miss an Underworld 2-drop, though, it’s nice to know that we have a B.P.R.D. backup with a relevant effect.

Now on to the Underworld. First, we have Shathra. Her primary contribution to the deck is that she is an Underworld 2-drop with concealed. Also, she boasts decent stats, flight, and range. Finally, she has a card-drawing effect that will rarely be detrimental to us (since we can simply use Hellboy’s effect to return her to our hand if she is ever in danger of becoming KO’d). While Shathra is a good play for us, Black Rose is far better. With several effects in the deck that become absolutely amazing with recursion, it is not difficult to see why Black Rose is so strong. She is a source of hand advantage, offensive/defensive pump (in unison with Hellboy and Abe Sapien), and even search (with The Dwarf). Black Rose does everything in our deck, so it isn’t hard to see why she is our preferred 2-drop.

Our 3-drop, Liz Sherman, Pyrokinesis, has already been discussed in detail. We don’t have an Underworld backup because, quite simply, we would rather play Black Rose on 3 than any 3-drop the Underworld has to offer.

Of course, Hellboy, Anung Un Rama is our great wall at 4. Most of the deck is keyed to support this guy, so it’s no wonder why he is our only play on 4.

At 5 is the venerable Abe Sapien, icthyo sapien. He’s got concealed, he’s got great stats, and he’s got an unreal effect. At the very least, our opponents will have to find a way to deal with Abe before they can deal with Hellboy. Considering the tricks that we’ll have in our deck, that won’t be an easy thing to do.

Turn 6 will occasionally consist of dropping out Liz Sherman a couple times to stifle an off-curve deck’s efforts to rally. But we also have the on-curve play of Baron Mordo. He is another great character with concealed, flight, range, and respectable stats. Most importantly, he gives us a way of dealing with opposing hidden characters—permanently.

Our 7-drop is the same as our 4-drop, just a bit bigger. Hellboy, The Right Hand of Doom gives us some additional options for dealing with opposing threats. If we simply want to upgrade out 4-drop, we can bring him out without using his bounce effect. On the other hand, if we have our opponent at a precarious amount of endurance or simply need to take care of a meddlesome mid-game character (such as Red Shift), we can trigger Hellboy’s bounce effect and stun an opposing character costing 6 or less. Not only does that put a kink in opposing plans, but our opponent also still has to deal with a big, mean 7-drop on our side of the board.

Finally, we have a late-game insurance policy in Noble Kale. Hopefully, our games won’t reach turn 8, but if they do, it’s good to know that we have an 8-drop that can hit for 19 endurance loss each turn.

Our plot twist choices are readily apparent. With The Dwarf in the deck, it is little surprise that we’ll be playing Ritual Sacrifice as our Team-Up. This plot twist gives us the crossover that we need for our affiliations and the option to enhance our endurance total as well. When we have a character card in the KO’d pile that we won’t be recurring, we can trigger Ritual Sacrifice to gain a point of endurance. While 1 point may not seem like much, it can certainly add up over the course of a game.

In addition to Black Rose, we have Dimensional Rift to support our recursion theme. The power of this plot twist is extremely subtle. In our deck, though, it may well be the most powerful non-character card. With a couple copies of Hellboy in the KO’d pile, Dimensional Rift gives us the ability to give Hellboy +4/+4 while attacking or defending (assuming Abe Sapien is out). As I said last week about At Their Finest, there are only a few cards in the whole of Vs. System that can match that level of power. While Dimensional Rift may be conditional, it is not a condition that is difficult to fulfill in our deck.

So, what does one normally do with a gigantic Hellboy? Why, attack with him of course. It seems an awful shame to waste a behemoth 4-drop on one attack each turn, though. That’s why we have a full set of Break Off the Horns. Like Dimensional Rift, Break Off the Horns is highly conditional to use, but its condition is simple for our deck to meet. Once we get Hellboy’s stats sufficiently boosted, Break Off the Horns enables us to attack and stun just about any character on our opponent’s side of the board. For us, Break Off the Horns essentially reads “Stun target character.” Who can resist that?

Despite his gruff demeanor, even Hellboy occasionally needs a hug. Fortunately, we’re playing Death’s Embrace in our deck. Okay, all bad jokes aside, this Underworld search card is just plain amazing. At face value, Death’s Embrace allows us to get an Underworld character from our deck into our hand. But it doesn’t stop there. Assuming that we have another character with the same name in our deck (which is true for all but two character cards in our deck), we can put another character card with the same name in our KO’d pile. With a recursion mechanism like Black Rose, this becomes two cards for the price of one. Like my old mum used to say, “One is good . . . but two is twice as nice!”*

Our final plot twists will ensure that our “single visible character” will create a lot of trouble for our opponents. It would probably be foolish for us to believe that we could prevent our opponents from stunning Hellboy at all. Hellboy will get stunned. But if we have our way, Hellboy will not stay stunned. Between them, the B.P.R.D. and Underworld have two amazing recovery cards in Pancakes and Strange Love. Pancakes only works if we have a lone visible character (which will usually be Hellboy). Of course, this is the theme for our deck, so it fits in perfectly. As an added bonus, if we do recover a character named Hellboy with Pancakes, then he has reinforcement for the remainder of the turn. Even if our opponent attacks him with a 1,000,000 ATK character, we will still only take 4 endurance loss.

Unlike Pancakes, Strange Love works for any character that we have in play as long as we control a Team-Up (which we usually will). Remember earlier when I said that our opponent would have to take out Abe Sapien to deal with Hellboy? Well, it just became a whole lot harder. After our opponents expend their resources to stun our hidden 5-drop, we can use Strange Love to recover him. Guess what? We can once again give Hellboy +2 ATK / +2 DEF per power-up. Say goodnight, Gracie!

The sole location in our deck is much, much more than a simple search card. Sure, B.P.R.D. HQ can find any B.P.R.D. character in our deck. But it has another effect that tends to catch opponents completely off guard. Assuming that opponents have a way to attack characters in the hidden area (as many Modern Age decks undoubtedly will), they will often try to add on damage in the attack because they won’t be able to do a great deal of damage to Hellboy. B.P.R.D. HQ makes this a disastrous play, since we can give reinforcement to any one of our hidden characters. From that point, our opponents will have to settle on simple attacking into the hidden area for board control and stun damage, because they won’t be doing any breakthrough!

Finally, we have our all-important equipment. With the single visible character strategy, we want to do our best to ensure that nothing bad happens to our protector. Sadly, there are many targeted effects that can take out our 4-drop. So, the only solution is to find a way to make Hellboy untargetable. For that, we have B.P.R.D. Signal Device. This nifty equipment is an upgraded version of Cloak of Nabu. Just like the Cloak, it gives +1 DEF to the equipped character (making Hellboy an impressive 8/8 before any counters or boosts). We can also pay a paltry 1 point of endurance to make the equipped character untargetable for the turn. Mind you, this effect continues on whether or not the character becomes stunned or the B.P.R.D. Signal Device is KO’d. As long as we pay 1 point, our character is safe from targeted effects for the turn.

And with that, I give you the new and improved Modern Age contender from the minds of TAWC:

Hell’s Bells (Modern)

 

2 The Dwarf, Soul Broker

4 Black Rose, Roxanne Simpson

4 Shathra, Sharon Keller

1 Sidney Leach, HMDetector

4 Liz Sherman, Pyrokinesis

4 Hellboy, Anung Un Rama

2 Abe Sapien, icthyo sapien

2 Baron Mordo, KAMordo

4 Hellboy, Right Hand of Doom

1 Noble Kale, Lord of Hell

4 Break Off the Horns

4 Death’s Embrace

4 Dimensional Rift

4 Pancakes

4 Ritual Sacrifice, Team-Up

4 Strange Love

4 B.P.R.D. HQ

4 B.P.R.D. Signal Device

Just in case you didn’t catch it when I said it earlier, the deck’s mulligan is for an Underworld 2-drop. If you draw into both The Dwarf and a copy of Ritual Sacrifice, then you can recruit the 1-drop to ensure the crossover.

While the deck can operate on either initiative, the even initiatives are generally preferred. This allows for the greatest degree of effectiveness for Liz Sherman on turn 4 and Baron Mordo on turn 6. Also, it makes for some fun times on turn 5 when your opponents try to attack through Hellboy while he’s being supercharged by Abe Sapien.

That concludes this week’s Breaking Ground. Never fear, though—if you didn’t take to this week’s Modern Age deck, I’ll have another one for you next week.  Until then, take care!

* Okay, okay . . . my mother never actually said that. I wanted to attribute something witty to her, but I realize that was a really stupid saying. Sorry mom!

Modern Substibuse – PC Indy 2007 (08/28/07)

Hello one and all, and welcome back to Breaking Ground. This week will be special, as I will be talking about the deck I played at Pro Circuit Indianapolis 2007. “What’s so special about that?” you may ask. Well, this article will be presented in two parts. The first part was written about a week before the PC and details my experiences in building the deck for the event. The second part is a short report on the deck and a brief discussion of my experiences with it. Hopefully, it will make for an interesting read since you will get to see my perspective from before and after the Pro Circuit.

Let’s get this train wreck a-rolling!

Pre-PC: Post Reality

If I am somehow lucky enough to have encountered my best-case scenario at PC Indy, then you will have already seen the deck that I played . . . and I’ll have an extra $20,000 and a PC championship to my name. For the purposes of this article, though, I am going to assume that most of you don’t already know about the deck that I chose.

First, here’s a little background. I started seriously prepping for the PC right after the Mega-Weekend event in Columbus. Initially, I developed a testing gauntlet with the decks I felt were the strongest representatives of their archetypes. My primary gauntlet consisted of Syndicate rush, Skrull/Inhumans Beatdown, Kree Press, and Heralds/Spider-Friends Control. My assumption was that any deck that could compete against these four decks would be a good choice for the event.

In addition to the gauntlet, I built two decks for testing against those archetypes. The first was the BPRD/Underworld deck that was featured in my column last week. I went into great detail on that deck last week, so I won’t say too much here. The second was a variant of a deck built by Team Thug Nasty (TTN), a group from The Game Closet in Waco. While none of the players on this team have had any high-level success to speak of, they are all strong players, and they come up with some very cool deck ideas.

The TTN deck in question was a Marvel Defenders/Underworld deck predicated on the combo of Netherworld Gift and Undead Legions. With characters like Umar and Hellstorm, the deck could build up hand advantage to fuel the combo on turns 5 and 6. With defensively large characters; multiple copies of Defenders Defend!; and Blackheart, Black King holding things down at 4, the deck could advance to the later turns to pull off the combo. On turn 6, the deck usually had four or five characters to support Sub-Mariner, Neptune’s Fist. With Samantha Parrington ◊ Valkyrie subbing in for Blackheart, we could often end games with the help of two or three large 5-drops and an 18/17 6-drop who could attack twice.

In testing, both decks performed well. The Hellboy deck handled Skrull and Kree quite easily (thanks to Liz Sherman, Pyrokinesis stunning the central 3-drops on both teams). It also had a decent—though not great—matchup against Syndicate. It still struggled a bit against Heralds/Spider-Friends, though. Even with Baron Mordo, Red Shift was a major pain. In addition, it was rather difficult to cause enough endurance loss to win before turn 9.

The Defenders / Underworld deck also put up good results. The matchups against Syndicate and Kree were strong (unless Syndicate managed to take out Umar with Bullseye, Assassin for Hire). The Heralds / Spider-Friends matchup was also quite good; the stall deck had a rather difficult time holding off the extra characters that came out on turns 6 and 7. Finally, the Skrull matchup was aided by Blackheart’s ability to outright KO Captain America, Skrull Impostor. Even so, the Skrull deck could occasionally cause enough endurance loss with its other characters to win before turn 6.

Despite the impressive results that both decks posted, I did find a few problems with them. I was concerned that the Hellboy deck really didn’t have enough draw/cycling power. While the search power of the deck usually ensured that we hit our optimal curve, there was no real way of assuring that we hit any of our other critical cards. This tended to create lopsided testing results since the variety of non-character cards that we drew was wildly different from game to game. For instance, I might draw three copies of Dimensional Rift in one game, and then completely miss out on the card in the following game. While I generally try to focus on character consistency, I really didn’t feel like there was enough overall consistency in the deck to merit playing it.

The Defenders / Underworld deck was far more reliable. As TTN’s Reid Cox explained to me, it played very much like Checkmate / Villains United. This was an accurate analogy in many respects. The most striking part of this comparison pertains to Umar and her status as the deck’s primary 3-drop. Much like Ahmed Samsarra, Umar boasts great stats and a near-game-breaking effect; however, if she ever goes to the KO’d pile from play, you are hit with a tremendous drawback. Granted, it is not quite as critical as the game loss from the Checkmate “king-text;” but losing your hand is so devastating that a game loss is likely to follow. Moreover, Checkmate / Villains United had a number of effective answers to prevent losing the game from a KO’d Ahmed Samsarra; there are not nearly as many ready answers in this Modern Age. BPRD Signal Device can protect Umar to some extent. Still, because Umar does not have concealed—optional, and because there are no effective Modern Age “protection cards” (like Threat Neutralized and The Science Spire), she is a lot more vulnerable to becoming KO’d than the Checkmate king.

For these reasons, I was a bit wary of playing either deck at the PC; thus, I continued to search for other possibilities among the remainder of Modern Age teams. One of the ideas I looked into was a revised build of a Darkseid’s Elite deck my TAWC teammate Tim Batow developed. The premise of the deck was far different from that of the standard Darkseid’s Elite decks. Instead of playing on the theme of heavy resource row disruption cards like Dark Matter Drain and Reality Gem, the deck integrated disruption and burn with the Mockery substitute characters. With all of the “comes-into-play” effects from the Mockery characters, Tim realized that the deck could play very aggressively with enough search. In addition, the draw effects of Dark Firestorm and Furnace of Apokolips meant that he would usually have plenty of cards in hand.

The lynchpin card of the deck, however, had to be Unravel Reality. This was a card that had flown under most players’ radars—and yet, once you actually play the deck, you find just how absurdly powerful the card can be. Unlike other resource row disruption effects, Unravel Reality has no arbitrary limit in the number of times it can be used. In essence, you can trigger Unravel Reality as many times as you can substitute a character into play. In addition, unlike most other resource disruption cards, Unravel Reality provides an additional burn effect. Considering that the Darkseid substitute deck thrives on bringing several characters into play each turn to trigger multiple “comes-into-play” effects, Unravel Reality is a perfect fit to add extra disruption and endurance loss to the lethal mix.

I recall that I was looking at the decklist one Monday evening, trying to determine if any changes could be made to increase the power of the deck. As is often the case, I was browsing through Dylan “DocX” Northrup’s online search engine to read through the list of cards that Darkseid’s Elite had at its disposal. While passing over Unravel Reality, I noticed something rather odd. The printed text on the card reads as follows:

As an additional cost to play Unravel Reality, discard a substitute card.

Ongoing: Whenever you substitute a Darkseid’s Elite character card into play, you may replace target face-up non-Team-Up resource. That resource’s controller loses endurance equal to its cost.

Per this text, the endurance loss occurs after you replace a target resource. Even though the choice to replace a resource is optional, the endurance loss and resource replacement are related.  However, while I was perusing the card list on DocX’s search engine, I read the following text:

To play, discard a substitute card.

Ongoing: Whenever you substitute a Darkseid’s Elite character into play, the controller of target face-up non-Team-Up resource loses endurance equal to its cost. You may replace that resource.

At this point, I yelled very loud, then passed out.

Allow me to explain. In the original text, the implication was that endurance loss from Unravel Reality did not occur unless the replacement occurred. In the new text, however, it is clear that the endurance loss occurs regardless of whether or not you choose to replace that resource—a simple yet oh-so-incredible difference. Consider the ramifications against a Kree deck. Originally, you would simply replace a card like Hala and burn the Kree player for 3. With the clarified wording, you can substitute a bunch of characters into play and target Hala each time without replacing, dealing 3 endurance loss each time you substitute. If you have two copies of Unravel Reality up, you can burn for 6 endurance with each substitute. I estimated that I was substituting around seven or eight times per game. If I could consistently get two copies of Unravel Reality into play, I could burn an opponent for 28-32 endurance per game with a 2-cost card or 42-48 endurance per game with a 3-cost card. If I was lucky enough to see a card like Attilan or Live Kree . . . or Die! in an opponent’s resource row, I wouldn’t even need to attack to win the game!

After I came to, I started furiously working on a deck idea to abuse this combo. My first few ideas centered on teaming Darkseid’s Elite with other teams whose characters frequently boast the substitute keyword. Initially, I tried the Marvel Defenders. Not only are many of the Marvel Defenders characters larger than average for their drops, but they also often have effects that are quite useful over the course of a game. While this team-up seems like a good idea in theory, it did not pan out as well as I had hoped. One problem was that the Marvel Defenders characters usually need to activate for their effects to work; since only ready characters can be substituted, this put a bit of a kink in my plans. Similar problems were found when I tried to team up with Birds of Prey. Since the Darkseid’s Elite Mockery characters’ effects are all triggered upon coming into play, they are all great candidates for abusing Unravel Reality. On the other hand, while the Birds of Prey characters were all quite powerful, they didn’t possess any effects that made frequent substituting worthwhile.

Thus, my original testing was based upon the assertion that the mono-Darkseid’s Elite build was the most effective. For the most part, this assertion proved true; the build was potent against a diverse array of decks. Against beatdown decks, it was fast enough to compete in an endurance race. Against control decks, it could effectively disrupt the resource row and produce a significant amount of endurance loss.

Still, it often takes a fresher set of eyes to view the total potential of a certain deck idea. Tim Batow also worked on abusing the Unravel Reality combo. Where I had taken the route towards more consistency and disruption, Tim developed a deck that was based more on aggressive tactics, with Unravel Reality as a backup control tactic. In my testing of both decks, I found that the mono-Darkseid deck was stronger against control decks, but that Tim’s was stronger against a great variety of decks. In the end, I decided to trust in the deckbuilding prowess of Aqualad. Here’s the final build of the deck:

Modern Substibuse

 

4 Lady Blackhawk, Zinda Blake

4 Lockjaw, IBF

4 Dark Lantern, Mockery

1 Huntress, Vicious Vigilante

1 San, The Alienated One

1 Tania Belinskya, Red Guardian

4 Barbara Gordon ◊ Oracle, HE

1 Crystal, Elementelle

4 Dark Firestorm, Mockery

2 Dark Thanagarian, Mockery

1 Darkseid, ApokOppressor

4 Samantha Parrington, Valkyrie

1 Vixen, Mary Jiwe McCabe

2 Dark Superboy, Mockery

1 Savant, Brian Durlin

4 Crackshot

4 Flying Kick

4 Joining the Darkseid, Team-Up

4 Titans of Tomorrow

4 Unravel Reality

4 Furnace of Apokolips

1 United Planets HQ, Team-Up

The deck aims to follow a very potent short curve from turns 1 to 5. With a hard mulligan for Lockjaw or Lady Blackhawk, a player is virtually assured to hit his or her curve for those first turns thanks to the deck’s impressive draw and search abilities. Against aggro, the deck aims to play for a turn 4 or 5 kill, with Dark Lantern and Valkyrie enabling a single character to swing twice for big damage. Against control/stall, the deck relies more on winning through a mix of aggressive tactics and burn via Unravel Reality. It is indeed a powerful combination of tactics that can readily adapt to the opposing game plan.

And thus, we have the deck that I will be piloting through the PC. In just a moment, we will see how the PC experience went for me.

Post-PC: Here Comes the Money!

You’ve read about the pre-PC preparations, so let me tell you all about how the deck actually played out.

In my preparation for the big event, I tried to vary my testing to learn how to deal with a wide variety of archetypes. After all, recent PCs have shown that the decks that define the metagame are often not the expected decks, but those that other players develop to deal with the theoretical metagame. In essence, the PC metagame is often the metagame of the expected metagame. Thus, I tried to anticipate as well as possible what decks people might develop to deal with the expected metagame of Kree Press, Skrull Beatdown, and Spider-Friends Stall.

This proved to be a valuable experience, as I faced many different types of decks at the PC. It appears that the enterprising Vs. System Pro Circuit competitors had a lot of great ideas of how to compete in the undefined Modern environment.  Here’s a summary of my matches at the Pro Circuit:

Round 1 – Ryan Ruiz (Skrull / Inhumans)

At the Marvel Legends Draft tournament the day before, I was thoroughly crushed by Ryan and his deck replete with three copies of Turnabout. After such a brutal beating, I was a bit wary of facing Ryan again so soon, but I did know that my deck had a very favorable matchup against the Skrull deck. In addition, Ryan had given me the preferable odd initiatives. Despite only drawing one ATK pump, I was able to attack directly with Savant twice for 14. With Valkyrie in the visible area guarding my endurance somewhat, I quickly chalked up my first win.

On a side note, there was a rather funny moment at the beginning of the first match. Sitting in the other match at my table was PC Champ and VsSystem.com columnist Tommy Ashton. In his article from a few weeks back, he mentioned how Tim Capes predicted that the most-played card at the PC would be Lockjaw, Inhuman’s Best Friend. Sure enough, even though all four players at the table were playing a different deck, the first recruit for each of us was the 1-drop canine. Brownie points for Mr. Capes.

Round 2 – Travis Sullivan (Defenders / Spider-Friends)

One of the trends I noticed at the PC was a definite correlation between the number of times I hit a 1-drop and my number of wins. In this match against Travis, I completely missed both my 1-drop and 2-drop. This is bad news in any match, but especially bad against any Spider-Friends deck. (To be fair, Travis did miss his own 3-drop.) I was able to bring Travis down to 13 endurance by the end of turn 5. If I had drawn enough characters, then I could have taken Travis below 0 on turn 6 with the Unravel Reality I had in play. Since he had a copy of Defenders Defend! face-up in his resource row, five substituted characters would have sealed the deal; however, the characters seemed to be quite content remaining hidden in my deck, so I was only able to manage a measly two substitutes on 6. After Travis brutalized me a bit with his gigantic 5- and 6-drops, I asked him to show me a copy of Spider-Man, Stark’s Protege. When he flashed the vicious 7-drop from his hand, I packed up my cards.

Round 3 – Trent Pitts (Underworld)

I actually faced Trent two years ago in the first round of PC Indy 2005. In that tournament, he smashed me decisively, so I was looking to redeem myself in this one. Fortunately, my deck returned to consistency in this match. Even though Trent used Blackheart, Black King to take down a couple of my key 3-drops, I was able to burn him for nearly 30 points with the repeated use of Unravel Reality on Death’s Embrace. After that, a few basic attacks took Trent below 0 on turn 5.

Round 4 – Nicolas Cuenca (Moloids / Doomed Earth)

This was my one feature match this weekend. It was a real shame that it wasn’t covered on VsSystem.com, because it was an absolutely amazing match. I had an optimal early draw, but Nick was able to capitalize early on his deck’s ability to establish board presence. Although I had an early Unravel Reality that allowed me to keep his Doomed Earth from completely wrecking me, a couple of copies of The Uni-Power quickly decimated my board.

With the scores at 32-23 in Nick’s favor at the start of turn 5, and with my board consisting of Barbara Gordon ◊ Oracle, Hacker Elite; Lady Blackhawk; and Lockjaw, I was hurtin’ for certain. Thus, I took some desperate measures to try to take back the game. I subbed in Dark Lantern for Oracle, targeting himself. My recruit and activation of Valkyrie enabled my 2-drop to swing twice (assuming that Nick didn’t have a KO effect to invalidate the first attack).

In my attack step, I played a Flying Kick on the Lady Blackhawk that I brought into play that turn. With the two copies of Joining the Darkseid I had in play, I was able to stun Nick’s Dr. Doom, Richards’s Rival and dish out 6 points of endurance loss. Next, Dark Lantern swung on Nick’s Mr. Fantastic, Doom’s Adversary. With two Crackshots and a Flying Kick, the 2-drop became a 14 ATK monster, and Mr. Fantastic went down. Then Dark Lantern set his sights on Mole Man, Moloid Master for another 13 endurance loss, bringing Nick down to -1 endurance. My final attack of Lockjaw on Moloids failed when Nick played Unthinkable for +2 DEF. Still, I had managed to come from way behind to a winning position. Had Nick flipped Doomed Earth to KO Mr. Fantastic, then I wouldn’t have been able to take him below 0. Even with that mistake, Nick was not out of it . . .

First, he KO’d Mole Man and Doom to flip Doomed Earth. Then, Divinity crushed Valkyrie for 6 endurance loss to bring me to 15, and Nick’s two remaining Moloids attacked me directly. Another Doomed Earth (KO’ing Mr. Fantastic and Divinity) and another Unthinkable brought the team’s ATK to 16, bringing me to . . . -1 endurance. Nick’s amazing play forced us to a sixth turn.

Unfortunately, after the amazing plays on both sides on 5, the sixth turn was a bit anti-climactic. After Unthinkable KO’d one of his Moloids, Nick was left with only one Moloids in play. He tried to bounce back with Ultron ◊ Ultron 11 and another Moloids, but I had a couple of characters to substitute into play to take out his two Doomed Earths. With the resulting burn from the substituted characters, I took Nick down to -6 endurance before combat began. Nick’s resulting attacks only took away 8 endurance (thanks to Darkseid, Apokoliptian Oppressor protecting my endurance somewhat). When I sent my unstunnable Dark Lantern after Nick’s Moloids, Nick extended the hand. What a game!

Round 5 – Ryan James (Inhumans with Super Quicksilver)

This match went from disaster to success in a big hurry. Ryan hit me extremely hard with Quicksilver, Inhuman by Marriage on turn 2 for a total of 22 endurance. Joining the Darkseid helped my 1-drop take out Quicksilver on turn 3. In addition, Ryan’s own Final Decree burned him for a full 6 endurance on 3. Even though Ryan was up 34-14 at the end of turn 3, it seemed that he was digging for ATK pumps to end the game. Sure enough, my prediction was revealed as true when I bounced Ryan’s attack of Dewoz on my Valkyrie with a timely power-up. On the attacks back, I declared my Dark Thanagarian (who would be attacking twice and was unstunnable) into Dewoz, and Ryan decided to move his 2- and 4-drops to the hidden area to avoid the stuns. This left the door open for me to end the game; two copies each of Crackshot and Flying Kick took my 3-drop to 17 ATK. Rather than wait around for my 3-drop to swing twice, Ryan conceded.

Round 6 – Gabe Willmon (Inhumans / Syndicate)

I knew Gabe by reputation from past discussions I had with The Fallout Shelter hosts Richard Vaughan and Paul Lange. Gabe had posted a 9-1 record on Day 1 of PC San Francisco with the deck of choice for the Colorado players, Squadron Fate. From all I had heard, Gabe was a strong player and deckbuilder, so I figured this match would be a challenge. I was correct in my prediction, as Gabe’s Inhumans / Syndicate deck did quite a number on me for the first three turns. I was able to stabilize somewhat on turn 4 with a couple of Dark Lanterns that cleared out a good number of Gabe’s characters (while I didn’t lose any myself). Thanks to these attacks and a dose of burn from Unravel Reality on Gabe’s face-up The Great Refuge, I had a lead of 16-7 going into turn 5.

And this, my friends, is where things went horribly wrong. Gabe set out a number of recruits on 5 (including a Doppelganger to drop him to 2 endurance). While Gabe had a huge board, I knew that I was in a good position to win, especially since I would be able to substitute in five characters for up to 10 endurance loss with Unravel Reality. Unfortunately, this is the point where I outsmarted myself. Looking at four face-up resources on Gabe’s side of the board and a Dark Superboy in my hand, I went for the foolhardy move of replacing all of Gabe’s resources (except for his Team-Up, of course) in hopes that 1) Quicksilver would not be able to attack twice; and 2) Dark Superboy’s vengeance could take out a potential attacker. The risk was that I might give Gabe the ATK pumps that he needed to win the game.  That, of course, was exactly what happened.

While I burned Gabe for 9 endurance in replacing his resources, I managed to replace them with Flying Kick, Crackshot, and It’s Slobberin’ Time!. After he used his smaller characters to clear out my visible characters, Gabe swung for nearly 30 endurance with Quicksilver, Inhuman by Marriage. Ouch.  The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry.

Round 7 – Sau Hoang (Birds of Prey)

After an excessive bout of headshaking and bad beat storytelling to anyone who’d listen, I headed off to face Sau. I had met Sau at a few different events but never actually played against him. After he took the preferable odd initiatives and recruited Lady Blackhawk, I was afraid that I might be in trouble. Sau, however, was not playing the mirror, but rather an aggressive version of a mono-Birds of Prey deck. This set me more at ease since I knew that my deck could be a bit more adaptive. This proved to be the case, as a pumped-up Dark Thanagarian swung twice on Sau on turn 4 to bring him to a scant 10 endurance. A few more substitutes on 5 dropped Sau to 1 endurance before my attacks, but I had played out all but one of my ATK pumps the prior turn. Sau, on the other hand, had plenty of attack pumps, and he was able to drop me from 22 endurance to -11 endurance with his attacks.

I quickly calculated the math in my head. I had substituted in Lady Blackhawk, Dark Lantern, and Dark Firestorm that turn. In addition, I had Huntress, who could swing twice (thanks to Valkyrie) and was unstunnable (thanks to Dark Lantern). I sent a team attack of Lady Blackhawk and Huntress into his visible Vixen. With a Crackshot on Huntress, their combined ATK became 10 (thanks to Joining the Darkseid giving Lady Blackhawk an extra point of ATK). Lady Blackhawk and Vixen stunned to bring the scores to -3 to -12 in Sau’s favor. Next, Dark Lantern and Huntress attacked Sau’s visible Savant for exactly 11. The scores went to -8 to -14. Finally, Dark Firestorm was able to attack directly for 6 to tie us up at -14 apiece!

After my comeback, Sau was completely out of gas. I recruited Savant in the hidden area and subbed in a new Dark Lantern. That—along with the two characters I subbed in for another 6 endurance loss and the Flying Kick I had drawn—was enough to make Sau pick up his cards.

Round 8 – Adam Fears (Kree / Spider-Friends)

I seem to have this seesaw play pattern with Adam. I won the first game that we ever played back at PC San Francisco. Then he got his revenge by stomping all over me at PC LA last year. I put the score back in my favor at the Mega-Weekend in Columbus when I beat him in the World’s Finest Sealed Pack tournament. Thus, I figured that it was Adam’s turn to even the scores again, and unfortunately, I was right.

The best thing that can be said about this match is that it was never in doubt. After Adam flipped Attilan on turn 4, I went absolutely nuts with my various draw effects in an effort to find Unravel Reality. I had enough characters in my hand to take him all the way from 41 endurance to below 0 solely through substituting. My copies of Unravel Reality did not cooperate with me, though, and Adam sent a slew of characters at me on turn 6 to bring me well into the negatives.

Round 9 – Abacu Miranda (Venom Burn)

If I had complained loudly about not drawing Unravel Reality in my previous match, I was quickly silenced in my match against Abacu. He was running one of the breakout decks of the tournament, Venom Burn. Its premise is very similar to that of the Johnny Blaze ◊ Ghost Rider abuse deck I wrote about back in March. This deck, however, was much more refined to take advantage of the various Modern Age cards that assist combo. Basically, the deck aims for a three-way team-up between Spider-Friends, Marvel Defenders, and Teen Titans. With Lorena Marquez ◊ Aquawoman in play, a player can use The Order to net some free cards from her effect. Then, after three or four Ghost Rider activations on Venom, Lethal Protector, the player evades the 5-drop for massive damage. Born of Blood recovers Venom, and he evades again to the tune of 15-20 points of burn. It’s an ingenious combo that took the PC metagame completely by surprise.

That notwithstanding, I was not to be denied my victory in this round. At the start of turn 5, I was leading 41-33. Abacu had the initiative, and he quickly set up all of the pieces of his combo. Two copies of The Order made it so that I’d burn for 15 endurance whenever Venom stunned. This would have been dire news for me . . . if I didn’t have two copies of Unravel Reality in my resource row and a fistful of substitute characters!  At the end of my build on turn 5, I had dropped Abacu from 33 endurance to -27 . . . and I still had pumps and characters to attack with! Even though he had three copies of Born of Blood, Abacu realized that he wasn’t about to make up the 69-point difference in our score.

Round 10 – Daniel Tomotsugu (Birds of Prey / Gotham Knights)

After the festivities of round 9, I really wasn’t overly concerned if I won or lost in the final round of Day 1. Still, a 7-3 record going into Day 2 would put me in a good position to make money, so I bore down and tried to get another win on the day.

Daniel was playing a deck very similar to Sau’s, but he had added some Gotham Knights characters for additional utility. I was a bit surprised when he won the die roll and took the odd initiatives, but his intent quickly became clear as he took my endurance down alarmingly fast in the first three turns. Worried that he might be able to finish me off on turn 4, I decided to play a couple of visible characters with large DEF numbers. While I did suffer character disadvantage, I survived to the critical turn 5. From there, an 18 ATK Savant swung twice on an empty board. That, combined with six or seven triggers of Unravel Reality on Daniel’s Stryker’s Island (which was eventually replaced), put me too far up on Daniel for him to catch me.

Thus, my deck was able to pull off a record of 7-3 in the most competitive of Vs. System environments. After marching to 27th place after Day 1, I fumbled my way to a 5-4 record on Day 2 to finish 39th.

I hope you enjoyed my before-and-after recount of the testing of my Pro Circuit deck. While it may not be as overtly powerful as Mathieu Brochu’s Doomed Earth deck or Tommy Ashton’s 12-character Inhumans deck, it is nonetheless a contender in the Modern Age, with a wide variety of answers to the decks that will see play in the upcoming tournament season.

I’ll be back again next week with something a bit more on the casual side. In the meantime, take care, and I’ll see you back here in seven days for some more groundbreaking deckbuilding.

Nyssa Raatko, Daughter of the Demon  (09/05/07)

Nyssa Raatko, Daughter of the Demon
Cost:  6  11/14, Range
CONCEALED-OPTIONAL
You are considered to control Ra’s al Ghul.
Exhaust one or more locations you control >>> Recover or KO target stunned character if its cost is less than or equal to the number of locations you exhausted.  Use this power only if you control another League of Assassins character.

This week, I thought it might be fun to share my recent City Championships experience with everyone. During the prior City Championships, I told you about a couple of different decks that I built and played in an effort to get selected for the UDE R&D Tournament (which would have given me the chance to get my face on an upcoming card). This time around, the stakes weren’t nearly as high, but I still felt the inexorable need to explore the creative side of deckbuilding that drives me to play this grand game of ours. For the City Championships, there was one combo in particular that I had not yet had the opportunity to exploit.

The Sisters al-Ghul

One of the more highly publicized events leading up to the release of Legion of Super Heroes was the Fan Card Crossover, in which Vs. System players actually participated in the card creation process. The end result was a doozy of a 6-drop in the form of Nyssa Raatko. At the time of the card’s creation, Checkmate decks were all the rage in Silver Age. Nyssa boasted an ability that seemed to fit quite well in a Checkmate deck, provided that you could get a Team-Up or another League of Assassins character in play with her.

In Ian Vincent’s PC-winning Deep Green deck in San Francisco, the combo of Talia, Daughter of Madness bringing Sarge Steel into play provided important protection and board advantage. Assuming that you can control your discards in the later turns, it is possible to blunt your opponent’s tricks on both offense and defense by setting up Sarge Steel as a protector via Talia’s ability. On offense, you can have Sarge Steel take the stun for your attacker. On defense, you can bring Sarge into play after an attack on an unprotected support row character becomes legal to effectively negate the attack. Against almost any deck in Silver Age, the Talia / Sarge combo could easily shift the balance of board presence in a game.

The introduction of Nyssa Raatko into Vs. System added another element to this brutal combo. Before, you could only rely on Sarge Steel to prevent one opposing countermeasure per turn. With Nyssa Raatko in play, however, the combo becomes far more devastating. With every attack after the first (which Sarge Steel presumably takes the stun for), you can recover Sarge via Nyssa’s effect. Assuming that your opponent is attacking the character that Sarge is protecting, he can constantly act as the fall guy. It’s a vicious little trick that enables you to keep your most important characters out of harm’s way for the remainder of the game.

After testing a few different variations on my revamped Checkmate / Villains United design, I finally settled on the following build:

Mr. Steel and the Ladies

 

1 Harvey Bullock, Bishop

4 Sarge Steel, Knight

4 Talia, Beloved Betrayer

4 Ahmed Samsarra, White King

1 Christopher Smith, OOutlaw

1 Alan Scott, White King

3 Bizarro, ME AM BIZARRO #1

1 Fatality, Flawless Victory

1 Annihilation Protocol ◊ OMAC

4 Talia, Daughter of Madness

1 Huntress, Reluctant Queen

3 Nyssa Raatko, DotDemon

1 Deathstroke, Ultimate Assassin

1 Sasha Bordeaux, APrototype

1 Black Adam, Lord of Kahndaq

4 Enemy of My Enemy

3 Knightmare Scenario

3 Brother Eye

4 Brother I Satellite

4 Checkmate Safe House

1 Seiobo’s Garden

1 Sewer System

2 Slaughter Swamp

2 The Science Spire

1 UN Building, Team-Up

4 Laser Watch

In many respects, the deck resembles a standard Checkmate / Villains United deck, but there are a few choices that I made that need some explanation. First, I tried to improve the overall consistency of the build by removing the standard toolbox tricks that are present in many Checkmate variants. Admittedly, this had the effect of making certain matchups a bit more difficult. For example, without Kang, Kang Cobra in the deck, power-up-based decks like Good Guys would be a bit more difficult to deal with. Still, as my goal with the deck was to play for the “Nyssa lock” in every game, I felt that consistency was more important than tech. I did, however, include a few off-curve control cards such as Christopher Smith ◊ Peacemaker and Fatality, Flawless Victory. I kept a single copy of the Annihilation Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot in for insurance (as well as hand advantage via The Science Spire / Brother Eye). Huntress, Reluctant Queen was more of a plot twist in character form, though she could fill in at 6 if needed.

The Fate Artifacts were taken out of the deck for a couple of reasons. First, decks that play the Artifacts usually have to devote a great deal of deck space to fit the all of the equipment and supporting cards. Second, the Fate Artifacts can create a false sense of security. When a character has +4/+4 and the aversion to being targeted, a player will often play it more aggressively than he otherwise would. This can be disastrous with a character like Ahmed Samsarra. A single Level 12 Intelligence on Cloak of Nabu followed up by Deadshot, Floyd Lawton is a game-ender. Thus, I decided to forego the Artifacts and rely on The Science Spire and careful gameplay to keep my Kings out of harm’s way. In the place of the Artifacts, I played four copies of Laser Watch. In any Checkmate deck, Laser Watch is going to be amazing; not only does it give an equipped character +2 ATK and range, but it also replenishes itself with a draw. It’s almost too good to be true!  In my deck, Laser Watch would also be a way to keep Talia in the support row, yet still enable her to attack.

Sewer System got the nod over Satellite HQ because it is a bit more versatile. While Satellite HQ can potentially give you more attackers, Sewer System won’t be a dead card against decks with no hidden characters. It may only act as a pseudo-Flying Kick, but that is enough to justify it in my deck.

Finally, Seiobo’s Garden is in the deck mostly for the element of fun. One of my favorite things to do in Vs. System is find ways to give my characters +1 / +1 counters. My fascination with this almost borders on obsession. Thus, when I saw that there was a location that could give counters to League of Assassins characters—the very affiliation of the characters comprising my mid-game curve—I felt it only appropriate to play the card. Surprisingly, Seiobo’s Garden was actually quite good in the deck (more on that in a bit).

Onward to the tournament report. I was a bit concerned about playing an untested deck in the City Championships, but I have long said that I play more for the casual thrill than out of any desire to win. I hoped that I wouldn’t go completely winless, though.

Round 1 – Mike (B.P.R.D. / Checkmate)

This round began a steady trend of matches against decks that I felt were less than favorable. The B.P.R.D. / Checkmate deck has long been Mike’s pet project, and I knew that Hellboy, Anung Un Rama equipped with the Fate Artifacts could be trouble for any deck. Still, I had a few tricks of my own. After I searched out Fatality and Sewer System on turn 3, Mike jumped the gun a bit by sending Ahmed Samsarra back to his hand via Hellboy’s effect. This allowed me to play out Bizarro instead, keeping my own Ahmed out of harm’s way. I caused some nice endurance loss by sending my bigger characters into Mike’s smaller hidden characters. At the same time, I kept Hellboy from getting too big by using Sarge Steel to soak up stuns. Since it was Sarge stunning himself rather than Hellboy, Mike’s potentially lethal 4-drop was continually denied +1 / +1 counters. On turn 7, I was able to take down an 18 ATK / 17 DEF Hellboy with Sasha Bordeaux and a Brother Eye activation for 6 ATK, taking Mike into the negatives in the process. Even though Mike had Pancakes to recover his beastly 4-drop, he couldn’t cause enough breakthrough to put me below 0.

Round 2 – Adam (Arkham / Revenge Squad insanity)

This was probably the only match of the evening where I felt like the odds were in my favor. (This belief was emphasized by me winning my only die roll of the entire night.) I had played against Adam’s insanity deck a few times before, and while it could be radically powerful at times, it was also fairly inconsistent (as most insanity decks tend to be). The key play of the match ended up being Adam missing Scarecrow, Fear and Loathing on turn 5; this allowed me to keep Ahmed Samsarra around for the entire game. After I set up the “Nyssa lock” on 6, it was all over.

Round 3 – Polo (Sinister Syndicate)

My remaining matches in the City Championships were all against decks that I would have rather not faced. While I knew that my Checkmate-based deck had very big characters and formidable defensive tricks, I also knew that Polo’s Syndicate deck had enough offensive and defensive tricks to secure stuns on either initiative. After a fairly fast draw by Polo, I was forced to play Ahmed in the visible area to prevent some endurance loss. Because of this, I was a bit wary of playing Fatality. Since I had hit Talia, Beloved Betrayer to ensure a team-up on turn 3, I decided to recruit Alan Scott, White King to add some size to my board. At the very least, I figured that I would be able to make one attack where I didn’t get stunned back. Sadly, I was rudely awakened when a flurry of Nasty Surprises and copies of Planet of the Symbiotes stunned my entire board . . . on my initiative. Fortunately, The Science Spire kept me from taking a King-text loss.

I was able to regroup on turn 5 with Talia, Daughter of Madness equipped with a Laser Watch. Polo’s first attack of Carnage, Psychopath into Talia was thwarted when Sarge Steel took the stun. After that, Polo had to expend several pumps to get the stun on the second attack, and I still had Alan Scott ready to crack back. A Brother Eye took my 4-drop King to 14 ATK and cinched the game for me.

Round 4 – Osas (JLA / JSA ally)

Remember that comment that I made earlier about the lack of tech in my deck (particularly against power-up based decks)? Here’s where we see how true that comment really is. Osas (a.k.a., “The Sauce”) was playing his “Great Guys” deck—a very powerful JLA/JSA ally deck that can swing for massive amounts of endurance loss thanks to the power-up bonuses from Connor Hawke ◊ Green Arrow; Kendra Saunders ◊ Hawkgirl; and Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman, Thanagarian Enforcer. My only advantage was that I had played this matchup many times before, so I knew the general strategy for beating the deck.

We both had optimal opening draws—Osas with Connor Hawke and Kendra Saunders, me with Sarge Steel and Ahmed Samsarra (in the hidden area). Since Osas didn’t have The Uni-Power, I was able to retain my board going into turn 4. From there, Bizarro was able to take down Katar Hol, and Ahmed stunned Kendra Saunders with a little help from Brother Eye (yes, Osas did have that many power-ups!). Osas surprised me by getting the stun on Bizarro with Connor Hawke; this left me with only Ahmed Samsarra to Osas’s Katar Hol. Still, I had a hand full of cards, while Osas only had one card left in his hand. This proved to be the key, as Talia was able to absorb the attacks on Osas’s initiative (thanks to Sarge Steel). On turn 6, Nyssa Raatko hit the board. With the “Nyssa-lock” in place, Osas couldn’t get stunbacks on my bigger characters, and I was able to lock up the victory.

Round 5 – Robert (Inhumans / Syndicate)

Sigh . . . another rush deck. While not as powerful defensively as Polo’s Syndicate deck, Robert’s deck hit a lot harder when he attacked. Fortunately, I had a great opening draw, whereas Robert was forced to skip placing a resource on turn 3 to allow Quicksilver, Inhuman by Marriage to ready. A timely Sewer System let Bizarro wreak some havoc on Robert’s hidden area for big endurance loss. On turn 5, Robert went all out, playing several pumps to stun Talia, Daughter of Madness. Naturally, Sarge Steel once again played the role of human meat shield and took the stun for the demon’s daughter. With no more pumps in hand, and facing down three very big characters on my side of the board, Robert scooped.

At 5-0, I was pleased to be #1 going into the semifinals. Unfortunately, the other three decks that made it into the semis were the last three decks that I played (i.e. decks I didn’t want to face). Thus, I slunk quietly off to meet my maker.

Semifinals – Polo (Sinister Syndicate)

Polo had made a few misplays in our first match that may have cost him the victory. I knew that Polo was an able enough player that he probably would not repeat those mistakes.

He had no trouble with me in game 1. While I did draw into Ahmed Samsarra, I didn’t draw into any card that would enable me to meet his loyalty—reveal. Thus, with a sigh, I passed on turn 3 without a play. I regained some ground on 4 with Fatality, but even after I cleared three characters from his side of the board, I was still way behind. A boosted Carnage on turn 5 didn’t help my cause any, and I was quickly down a game.

I finally was able to get my preferred odd initiatives, and I went to town on Polo. With a turn 2 Talia, Beloved Betrayer and turn 3 Ahmed, my team-up was quickly online. I once again opted for size over control on turn 4 with Alan Scott. This didn’t seem to matter, though, as Polo still stunned my entire board. Again, The Science Spire was there to sweep Ahmed back to my hand and keep me safe. In addition, I was able to sneak in an activation of Seiobo’s Garden to give Alan Scott a +1 / +1 counter. Fatality hit the board for me on 5 along with Harvey Bullock, Bishop. The extra character netted a trade for me on Polo’s Lizard, Voracious Predator; but I was unpleasantly surprised when Polo once again stunned my entire board on my initiative with many copies of Nasty Surprise and Planet of the Symbiotes. The only consolation for me was that I got another counter on my now-massive 4-drop. A boosted Carnage on turn 6 added some size to Polo’s board, but I played Nyssa Raatko in the hidden area. With six locations in play, I would be able to recover my mighty 4-drop after Polo sent his first attack in. Carnage brought the beats on Alan Scott with a Blinding Rage and a Crackshot, but after Alan Scott recovered via Nyssa’s effect, Polo was forced to pass on attacks. My 13 ATK Nyssa clobbered Polo’s Doppelganger with a little help from Brother Eye, and I tied the match at one game apiece.

Polo started out strong in game 3 with Lizard and Vermin. I followed the Syndicate play script with Talia and Ahmed. Then, in my third game out of four, I dropped out Alan Scott on turn 4 . . . and, just as in the other two games where my 4-drop King saw play, Polo stunned my entire board. With The Science Spire working overtime in this match, I stumbled into turn 5 with only Alan Scott. Fortunately, Polo missed his preferred finisher in Carnage and was forced to underdrop, while I had a turn 5 Talia, Daughter of Madness for the first time in the match. Polo sent in Vermin with a ton of pump to take out my 5-drop, so I declared a Slaughter Swamp activation to fetch a power-up. My real purpose in activating Slaughter Swamp, though, was to discard Sarge Steel to bring him into play. Vermin and the Sarge stunned, and my 5-drop remained ever ready in the support row. Polo was able to take down my 4-drop in the next attack, but that left him with no more pumps. Talia struck from the support row (thanks to an equipped Laser Watch), and I took the third and deciding game.

Finals – Osas (JLA / JSA ally)

The Sauce and I decided to split the prizes in the finals, with me taking the win and most of the booster packs and him taking the playmat. Still, we decided to have one game for bragging rights. For the sixth time in seven matches, I lost the die roll (rolling snake eyes, no less). I did have my optimal opening once again, with Sarge Steel, Ahmed, and Bizarro. Just like last time, I sent Bizarro (protected by the Sarge) into Katar Hol. As his 4-drop was carrying a little bling in the form of an Amulet of Nabu and Helm of Nabu, Osas thought he might get the stun with a couple of power-ups. A team-up and Brother Eye activation quickly disabused him of this notion, and he was suddenly down one Hawkman. Ahmed then took out Kendra Saunders, and part of Osas’s devastating ally engine was broken up. Osas rallied on turn 5 with John Henry Irons ◊ Steel, Steel-Drivin’ Man. He then made the aggressive play of sending Connor Hawke into Talia with a couple of power-ups. Fortunately for me, Sarge was prepared, and he jumped in to protect his foamy mistress. Katar Hol then ran into Talia for the double stun. Finally, Osas sent Steel after Bizarro. He used Steel’s effect, KO’ing Katar Hol’s Helm of Nabu to get the power-up to avoid stunning. I responded with a natural power-up of my own. Sauce went all out by KO’ing Amulet of Nabu for another power-up. I dropped the Enemy of My Enemy from my hand to find another power-up . . . only to find that there were no more copies of Bizarro in my deck! D’oh! I flipped over my 4-drop and took the stun.

This exchange left Osas ahead on board position and endurance. In addition, thanks to my misplay, my Sarge Steel was in the KO’d pile, so I wouldn’t be able to pull off any shenanigans on turn 6. Still, I was able to clobber a now equipment-free Katar Hol with Nyssa Raatko. Talia then stepped up and took down Superman, Earth 2. Since Osas had exhausted two of his characters to fetch The Phantom Stranger, Wandering Hero, he had no attacks back. Turn 7 saw The Phantom Stranger hit the board for Osas and Deathstroke the Terminator, Ultimate Assassin hit for me. Osas tried to be clever with a copy of The Uni-Power to send Steel into my hidden Ahmed, but I had The Science Spire to retrieve my Checkmate King. In addition, I forced Osas to waste a critical pump. Since Sarge Steel hit the board from the discard from The Science Spire, Osas sent Steel into my 2-drop. I reinforced with Nyssa to avoid losing a bundle of endurance. An attack of The Phantom Stranger was similarly reinforced. This put me at 7 endurance to Osas’s 15. Osas then went for victory by sending Superman after Deathstroke, flipping Magnificent Seven to bring his 6-drop to 15 ATK. I did the unthinkable by playing a plot twist on Deathstroke: Knightmare Scenario! I brickwalled the attack and forced the game into a critical turn 8. The ending was a bit anticlimactic, however; Osas had nothing left, and I had the ridiculous Black Adam, Lord of Kahndaq. A few attacks later, Osas finally admitted defeat.

And so, my Checkmate / League combo deck took down the City Championships. While it may have been built in the style of the Checkmate / Villains United decks that see so much play nowadays, it definitely presents a different take on the Infinite Crisis powerhouse. If you haven’t already discovered the joys of the “Nyssa lock,” I would highly encourage you to try it out. Not only is it a fun and powerful deck, but there is also no feeling in the world like shutting down opposing attacks with simple, well-timed discards.

That does it for this week’s episode of Breaking Ground. Next week, we will begin the foray into building “Legends” decks from the Marvel Legends set. Personally, I can think of no better place to start than with the ol’ Canucklehead himself, Wolverine. Be sure to check in next week as we take a look at what we can do to make “the best there is at what he does” even better.

Build a Legend:  Wolverine (BYOS)  (09/12/07)

This week marks the first of several looks at deckbuilding with the recently released Marvel Legends set. Many Vs. System players had been anxiously awaiting the release of Marvel Legends for a variety of reasons. First, the set brings a return of sorts to the days of Marvel Origins, when deckbuilding was very team-centric and the game itself was not overly complicated by complex powers and keywords. While this did limit the potential of decks that could exist, it allowed more people to build and play competitive decks.

Second, with the return to the “simpler days,” so to speak, comes the reprinting of many old favorites from past sets. If you weren’t able to snag four copies of Sabretooth, Feral Rage; Signal Flare; or even Savage Beatdown during the original release, you now have an opportunity to get the reprinted versions of these cards in Marvel Legends. The reprints span a variety of past Marvel releases, from older sets like Marvel Origins and Marvel Knights to fairly recent sets like The X-Men (Turnabout) and Marvel Team-Up (Marvel Crossover).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Marvel Legends brings a whole new approach to deckbuilding: the “Legends” decks. Many of the cards in Marvel Legends require a player to have a specific character in play in order to use them. These cards reward players who develop decks that focus on one or two specific Legends. While there are certain drawbacks from playing a limited array of characters (due to uniqueness rules, for example), there is a strong trade-off in that these characters and the cards designed to support them are generally on a power level well above that of standard Vs. System cards. Look at Iron Extraction, for example. In the past, a player would have to pay some defined cost (e.g. “exhaust a character you control”) to use a KO effect. In a Magneto Legends deck, however, all you have to do is stun a character with Magneto. After that, you simply play Iron Extraction, and the stunned character goes the way of the dinosaurs.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at various concept decks for Legends deckbuilding. As everyone will discover, each Legends character has a unique flavor that is enhanced by the cards designed to support it. While the issue of uniqueness is present due to playing the same character name at different costs, we should see a clear payoff from playing decks that make the most out of the Legends characters.

The Best There Is at What He Does…

For our first foray into Legends deckbuilding, I could think of no finer candidate than that man/animal himself, Wolverine. I recall when I was first introduced to Wolvie. I was at a summer camp in Waco, TX. My roommate was a very big comic book fan, and he brought several comics with him to tide him over during the two-week outing. I spent a good deal of time reading through his Spider-Man comics (as he was really the only Marvel superhero I had heard of at the time). When reading through these comics, though, I noticed that the same character kept appearing in advertisements all throughout the books. He was a small guy in a brown and beige outfit that had razor-sharp claws protruding from his hands and a perpetual scowl on his face.

Michael (age 14): (referring to the aforementioned individual with the claws) Who’s that guy?

Michael’s Roommate (whose name I have since forgotten): Duh! That’s Wolverine!

My roommate proceeded to tell me all about Wolverine and his exploits with the Uncanny X-Men, and I took some time to read through the comics to learn a bit more about this unlikely superhero.

Since then, the X-Men have become better known through various forms of media. In fact, it’s now shocking if you haven’t heard of Wolverine and the X-Men. With the popularity of the Marvel mutants came a good deal more recognition for Logan and his cohorts. While Wolverine may have only been a favorite to die-hard comic book fans a few decades ago, he now ranks with Batman and Superman in terms of fan appeal among the masses.

Given Mr. Howlett’s enormous popularity, it was fairly obvious that he should be one of the characters featured as a Legend in the Marvel Legends set. Alongside the reprinted Wolverine, Logan (one of the most powerful 3-drops in the history of the game) came two new versions of the Canucklehead as well as three plot twists specifically designed to make the most of Wolverine’s fighting prowess.

Wolverine’s claws are at the ready, and we’re about to sink them deep into the task of Legends deckbuilding. With the amazingly powerful Marvel Legends cards provided to us and the help of some of his X-Men teammates, we’re going to show everyone that Wolverine is a Legend to be reckoned with.

The Build

Let’s get the obvious picks (i.e. everything to do with Wolverine) out of the way. We’ll be playing three different versions of Wolvie at three different costs. At 3, we have the enormous Wolverine, Logan. While Logan’s stats aren’t quite as imposing as they were back in the days of Marvel Origins (when an average 3-drop’s stats were 4/4), he is still one of the biggest and baddest 3-drops in the game. In fact, in nearly four years and fifteen sets released for Vs. System, there have only been four 3-drops with overall stats above Logan’s: Xallarap, Mammoth, Dr. Bedlam, and Linda Danvers ◊ Supergirl. Considering the drawbacks imposed on each of these characters, it’s apparent why Logan is such a great 3-drop.

At 5, we have Wolverine, Bub (no, that wasn’t me calling you “Bub” . . . that’s the 5-drop’s version). Bub starts out with the slightly above average stats of 10/9, but it’s his effect that makes him a force to be reckoned with. Once Bub enters combat, we can discard a character card named Wolverine (which we should have plenty of) to give him +3/+0 for the turn. Mind you, this trigger occurs whenever Bub enters combat, and it lasts for the turn. Thus, if Bub were to enter combat more than once per turn, we could stack these +3/+0 bonuses. Sweet!

Our final version of Wolverine is the 7-drop Wolverine, Bloodlust. Just like the prior versions of Wolverine, Bloodlust is quite big for his cost. On top of that, this 7-drop has an effect that will make it exceedingly difficult for opponents to keep any of their characters from stunning when they enter combat with Wolverine. We can only use this effect if we recruited another Wolverine in the same game, but given the focus of our deck, methinks we won’t have too much trouble fulfilling this condition.

We also have a few select plot twists that we’ll play to support our resident berserker. First, what would Wolverine be without his Adamantium Claws? This card is a perfect example of the kind of power associated with Legends cards. At first glance, this card may not seem all that different from Big Leagues. As with Bub’s effect, though, the attack modifier lasts for the entire turn! In addition, there are no conditions on when the effect must be played or when it is active. Once we play Adamantium Claws, our boy gets an additional +4/+0, period. Because of that, we can use it as a turn-based attack pump, or perhaps even as a pseudo-Nasty Surprise. It’s even possible to use Adamantium Claws to counter payment effects that dictate ATK values (such as those of Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Sharpshooter or Spider-Man, Stark’s Protg). Having a set of razor-sharp Adamantium Claws will definitely make any version of Wolverine a fearsome force.

Between Wolverine, Bub and Adamantium Claws, we have two very potent attack pumps that last for the duration of a turn. Like I said earlier, if we can find a way to allow Wolverine to swing more than once a turn, then we’re going to be able to do some serious damage. Thus, it appears that Berserker Rage is just what the doctor ordered. Much like the 7-drop namesake from Marvel Origins, Berserker Rage allows Wolverine to make multiple attacks in a single turn. Given the size of our various Wolverines, we won’t have to worry too much about stunning back when we attack with him. This makes taking down an entire opposing board (as well as dispensing some significant endurance loss) quite possible.

Our final Wolverine-stamped plot twist may just be the best of the bunch. The one thing that qualifies Wolverine to stand among the mutant ranks of the X-Men is his phenomenal Healing Factor. When dealing with Wolverine, opponents won’t be able to count on a single shot taking him down. With Healing Factor, Wolverine can recover from stuns much more easily than most other characters. In addition, the plot twist effectively returns the endurance loss taken in an attack through its endurance gain effect. Healing Factor is the glue that will make our deck stick together. On defense, we can use it to deter multiple attacks or maintain board presence. On offense, it provides a bit of insurance for those Berserker Rage-enhanced attacks. If our opponent somehow finds a way to stun Wolverine, we can recover him with Healing Factor prior to Berserker Rage resolving. It’s like he never stunned!

One neat little trick involving Berserker Rage and Healing Factor involves Wolverine, Bloodlust defending. If your opponent tries to take down your 7-drop, you can play Berserker Rage on Wolverine, then stun him to his own effect. Before Berserker Rage resolves, you can play Healing Factor to recover Wolverine, then ready him (as he did stun a defender during that attack). End result: For the cost of two cards, you stun one or more opposing attackers.

Whew! The Wolverine activity took us through over a third of the cards in our deck. Of course, one cannot play a deck with Wolverine alone, so we’ll need some allies and support cards to help us abuse the heck out of Wolverine.

Let’s first look at our character cards not named Wolverine. At 1, we have Shadowcat, Phase Shifter. I am generally not a fan of playing 1-drops in curve decks, but Shadowcat is certainly an exception to this predisposition. Why? First, she has concealed, which works very well with some of the other tricks we will be incorporating into our deck. Second, she’s the size of a 3-drop! At 4/3, Shadowcat will almost always be bigger than an opposing 2-drop, and she is even big enough to take down a good number of opposing 3-drops. This makes underdropping a Shadowcat with a 2-drop a strong play, as we will get at least as much ATK power out of our 1- and 2-drops as we would with our 3-drop. Considering that our 3-drop is Wolverine, Logan, that’s saying quite a lot!

Of course, to succeed with our underdropping strategy on turn 3, we need to have a strong array of 2-drops. In this deck, we’re going to play an assortment of 2-drops that will give us draw power, disruption, and flat-out brute strength. Our first 2-drop is Forge, Inventor Extraordinaire. When I first looked at Forge’s effect, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Obviously, such an ability would be unbelievable in an off-curve deck, in which most of the cards will cost 2 or less. Forge is still quite good in a curve deck, though. Considering that there is no penalty for using his effect (such as sending the card to the bottom of the deck), there are very few circumstances where activating him is detrimental. Over time, Forge will become more and more potent; the number of cards that we could potentially draw increases with the number of resources in play. If we can retain tempo and board presence, we can basically count on Forge drawing us a card every turn in the late game.

For disruption, we have the newest version of the X-Men’s resident Cajun: Gambit, Swamp Rat. As far as stats go, he is a bit on the small side, but Gambit fights with finesse rather than brute strength. When we control the initiative, Gambit becomes an automatic stun a full spot up the curve. Anyone who has ever played a deck with non-combat stun effects will tell you how amazing this is. In most decks, stunning up the curve requires one or more ATK pumps to get a stun in combat. Even then, the attacking character will almost always stun back. Gambit bypasses these complications by simply chucking a card at an opposing character. Instead of the need for pumps or the inevitable stunback, we have a stunned opposing character—that’s all.

Finally, we have the beatstick 2-drop of the X-Men in Sunfire, Rising Sun. Much like Forge, Sunfire is relatively weak in the early game but improves dramatically over time. As we accumulate resources, our 2-drop will grow to rival and surpass most 3-drops, and then match many 4-drops. Sometimes, you simply want a big character in play. Sunfire ensures that even if we have to lose Wolverine to uniqueness, we’ll never be lacking for large characters.

Our 4-drop adds a bit of defense to our side of the board, not to mention a bit more draw power. Without looking at her text, you might think that Emma Frost, Ice Queen is a bit on the weak side for a 4-drop. These notions won’t be dissuaded any when you read the first part of her text, which applies the cost of discarding an X-Men character card to recruit Emma. When you finally do get to the second part of Emma’s text, though, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about. Any character that can draw extra cards or give itself additional DEF is going to be good. Emma can do both, and she does both simultaneously! Once we activate the Ice Queen’s effect, she jumps to an impressive 9 DEF for the turn and puts another card in our hand. Considering that we’ll be relying on Wolverine for most of our offensive beating, Emma is a perfect defensive complement.

At 6, we’re going to give ourselves the potential to copy Emma’s payment power—or any payment power in play, for that matter. Mimic, Exile is a bit more evolved from his Web of Spider-Man predecessor. Back then, Mimic could only copy activated powers. Now that he’s hooked up with the X-Men, Mimic can copy non-activated payment powers as well. This can be rough justice for some decks out there that rely on certain characters. Checkmate may take a slap in the face once Mimic starts fetching locations just like Ahmed Samsarra. Maybe Mimic could copy Spider-Man, Stark’s Protg and give the Spider-Friends a taste of their own medicine. And who could resist the possibility of smacking around Quicksilver, Inhuman by Marriage with “MimicFate”? Hee hee hee . . . so many possibilities!

Looking at plot twists, we’ll kick things off with Mobilize. This nifty search card is a godsend in any mono-team deck. Since Mobilize was reprinted in Marvel Legends, it seems like a fitting card for us to include in our deck. As long as we mulligan for our early drops and maintain board presence, we should be able to use Mobilize to hit our optimal curve.

One trend we might notice with this deck is that our opponents will try to avoid losing too much endurance by staying out of Wolverine’s way. While this leaves us free to pound on our opponents with Wolvie, we probably need to consider the use and safety of our other characters. With regard to combat, we can create a great deal of difficulty for our opponents through the judicious use of Turnabout. On attack, characters like Shadowcat and Sunfire can potentially attack several spots up the curve with a single Turnabout. On defense, we can create situations where we bounce opposing attacks and stun back attackers. With the amazing low drops in our deck, Turnabout will undoubtedly be an MVPT (Most Valuable Plot Twist).

Of course, we may not always want to take the fight directly to our opponent. As was mentioned earlier with Gambit, we might want to rely more on non-combat tricks to create board advantage. This is where we’ll call upon the power of another reprint: Fastball Special. Remember when I said that having a hidden 1-drop could be beneficial? Fastball Special is one reason for this. With Fastball Special, we can stun our opponent’s largest drop simply by exhausting our smallest two characters. This leaves our bigger characters free to pound on our opponent’s smaller characters. The combination of combat and non-combat tricks in our deck will make it hard for any opposing deck to maintain board presence.

Our lone location is yet another powerful reprint. With Healing Factor, we have a way of recovering our deck’s Legend, but we might want some help if we wish to keep the rest of our characters on the board. Since Mimic is the only character other than Wolverine that costs more than four, Muir Island could be very good in our deck. On one hand, Muir Island is restricted to use only during the recovery phase; on the other hand, Muir Island is a reusable recovery effect. This gives us a clear advantage in maintaining board parity. We can continually count on recovering two or more characters each turn as long as we have enough cards in hand.

Though it isn’t very pretty, our deck is certainly quite powerful. Let’s see what we’re going to be slicing and dicing our opponents with:

Wolverine (BYOS:  MVL)


4 Shadowcat, Phase Shifter

4 Forge, Inventor Extraordinaire

2 Gambit, Swamp Rat

4 Sunfire, Rising Sun

4 Wolverine, Logan

4 Emma Frost, Ice Queen

4 Wolverine, Bub

3 Mimic, Exile

3 Wolverine, Bloodlust

4 Adamantium Claws

4 Berserker Rage

4 Fastball Special

4 Healing Factor

4 Mobilize

4 Turnabout

4 Muir Island

You’ve probably already realized that you really want to take odd initiatives with this deck. Since all of our versions of Wolverine are odd-costed, taking odds gives us the best chance of having an immediate payoff with our Wolverine-stamped effects. In addition, we can make great use of characters like Forge, Emma Frost, and Mimic (presumably copying Forge or Emma) on the off-initiative even turns to provide us with additional cards. Of course, if we are stuck with even initiatives, it isn’t the end of the world. Since our 3- and 5-drop versions of Wolverine have such tremendous stats, we can usually attack up the curve with them. With a timely copy of Turnabout, we might not even stun back!

Our first real character search effect doesn’t become active until turn 3, so the opening mulligan will generally be for a strong early curve. Having a 1- and 2-drop in the first four will generally be a hand worth keeping (especially since Shadowcat is so friggin’ big!).  On the other hand, don’t be afraid to hold on to an opener that ensures your late curve, since we generally will be playing for a turn 5 or 6 win.

That’s all for this week’s edition of Breaking Ground. Since we spent some time with the heroes of Marvel Legends this week, we’ll take a trip to the dark side next week for some deckbuilding fun with the villains. I have one particular villain in mind to look at. Who is this big baddie? Let’s hear from the man himself:

“Don’t you know who I am?!

Build a Legend:  Juggernaut (BYOS)  (09/19/07)

In case you missed last week’s article, the next few weeks will be devoted to looking at various builds of legends decks. Last week, we saw what Wolverine and his X-Pals could do in a Wolverine-centric deck. This week, we’re going over to the other side of the tracks . . . all the way over to the Brotherhood. Of course, “Brotherhood” is short for “Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.” This is a bit of an irony, as the Brotherhood legend who has our attention today isn’t even a mutant. He is Cain Marko, better known as Juggernaut.

Marko, the stepbrother of X-Men founder Charles Xavier, stumbled across the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak during his tour of duty in the Korean War. Upon the gem was the following inscription: “Whosoever touches this gem shall be granted the power of the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak.” And, upon touching the gem, Marko was indeed transformed into Cyttorak’s champion, Juggernaut.

Bringing Legendary Beats in a Brown Costume

Todd McFadyen, owner of All-In Games in Broken Arrow, OK, and a good friend of mine, recently emailed me regarding the possibilities for a Juggernaut legend deck. Initially, the focus of the deck was a Brotherhood short-curve build. In the tradition of The New Brotherhood decks of old, the Brotherhood cards in Marvel Legends seem to support the four-resources-or-less theme. With powerful low-cost characters like Avalanche, Earthmover and Sabretooth, Feral Rage; a new 4-cost ATK pump in The Next Brotherhood; and a Juggernaut-stamped card in A Human Juggernaut that fit nicely into the theme (not to mention limiting your opponent’s resources as well), the short-curve deck appeared to be the way to go.

There is a major issue, though, with trying to build a legend deck on a minimized resource theme. One of the key problems is that it ignores the amazing late-game potential of the higher cost characters. In particular, Juggernaut, Weapon of Mass Destruction is a win condition against most late-game decks, simply because these decks have no way to combat his effect. Given the potential of such a phenomenal card, it seems like a terrible waste not to include at least a few late-game elements.

Eventually, I found a solution: build a legend deck that is capable of playing the short curve. And if it does happen to go to the later turns, have a contingency plan. With this directive in mind, our mission is simple: it’s time for us to build a Juggernaut legend deck that is worthy of the awesome engine of destruction himself!

The Build

Juggernaut is obviously a good starting point for our deck discussion. The man in brown has three different versions in Marvel Legends, all of which we will be using in our deck. At 3, Juggernaut, Champion of Cyttorak gives us an absolutely massive character for the early turns of the game. We have to be careful how we attack with him, though, because we won’t get to ready him after he attacks. Still, he will usually get us at least one big attack in a game. Besides, he’s mainly in the deck to stymie our opponent until we can recruit the 5-drop Juggernaut, Walking Disaster. This guy is a much more devastating form of offense. Not only is he quite big for his cost, but also his effect makes unreinforced attacks a losing proposition for our opponent. Finally, in the event that we make it to turn 7, we have Juggernaut, Weapon of Mass Destruction to ensure that our opponents will start losing resources at that point. At 17/16, he will usually be the biggest character on either side of the board, especially since Juggernaut’s effect keeps our opponents from recruiting a bigger character.

Unstoppable is the first of our two support cards. The sheer size of our characters, as well as debilitating breakthrough effects like Juggernaut, Walking Disaster, will generally encourage our opponent to form with support row characters reinforcing his or her front row characters. This can still be a winning proposition for us because Unstoppable gives us the opportunity to take out two characters at a time. With Unstoppable potentially creating such extreme board disadvantage for our opponents, they may be inclined just to form all of their characters in the front row. If we are lucky enough to encounter this scenario, then we can drop a copy of Juggernaut’s Helmet onto our favorite behemoth to rack up the damage. While this equipment card only fits one character’s head, it gives our boy a permanent Savage Beatdown / Nasty Surprise. Hmmm . . . an 11 ATK 3-drop; a 15 ATK 5-drop; a 22 ATK 7-drop. Having a card that lets our characters fight two to three spots up the curve seems like a pretty good investment. I suppose the fact that Juggernaut can’t be targeted while he’s wearing his helmet is also a pretty good deal.

Going on to the rest of the characters in our deck, we have a fascinating array of 1-drops. Stat-wise, you can’t do much better than Sauron, Mutant Vampire and Toad, Court Jester. 2/1 1-drops are always valuable, and these two have effects that add to their appeal. Toad has a return-to-hand effect (much like his previous versions) that will help us retain card advantage. Sauron’s effect is a bit more subtle, but it can be nice for preventing attacks back on our initiatives. Our final 1-drop isn’t much of a beater, but Scarlet Witch, Brotherhood Sister is one of those valuable 1-drops that can fill the first-turn curve or double as a plot twist. In this case, Scarlet Witch can act as a pseudo ATK pump in a pinch. Utility in multiple zones of play makes her a great choice for our deck.

Glancing at our choices at 2, we see a couple of different themes to fit different situations. Our primary 2-drop is the impressive Quicksilver, Mercurial Speedster. Something about 2-cost characters named Quicksilver seems to scream “quality,” and this version is no exception. He is above average in size at 3/3. In addition, his effect can create interesting avenues for accumulating damage. We can use Quicksilver to break opposing reinforcement channels on our first attack without having to worry about our opponents reinforcing attacks by our 2-drop. After that, we can use our remaining attackers to dish out additional damage. This is a huge boon for our next 2-drop, since she needs to deal breakthrough to trigger. Nocturne, Talia Wagner is a bit on the small side for a 2-drop, but there is no denying that she is well worth the investment. Once we stun an opposing character, we can attack with Nocturne to recruit that stunned character to our cause. While we lose Nocturne in the process, we gain a potentially much more valuable asset. Finally, we may encounter situations where it is more advantageous for us to under-drop in later turns so that we can have extra attacker in play. This is the role that Avalanche, Earthmover was born to play. While he forces us to lose a resource to play him, he pays major dividends in the end. First, he’s nearly the size of a 4-drop for the cost of 2 resource points. Second, he has an activated power that is actually relevant given the composition of the decks that see play in Vs. System right now. Avalanche will not be a character that we want to recruit in most games, but he will occasionally be just the character we need when we choose to be aggressive.

Even though we don’t have a version of Juggernaut that can fill our 4-cost recruit, we can rest assured that our 4-drop will be quite intimidating. In the Big Brotherhood and The New Brotherhood decks of old, the 4-drop feared by all was the enormous Sabretooth, Feral Rage. Back in the day when the average stats for a 4-drop were 7/7, an 11/7 4-drop was almost broken. Since then, we’ve seen more than a few characters that outpace the curve. Still, Sabretooth is the standard by which all of these other characters are judged. Take an average 4-drop. Now ask yourself, “Self, would I discard a card to give this character +4 ATK for the rest of the game?” Yes. Yes you would. This is effectively what Sabretooth does. For the simple discard of a Brotherhood character, you effectively get a 4-drop with a +4/+0 boost. As big as Juggernaut is, Sabretooth is no slouch when it comes to playing with the big boys.

Rounding out our character curve is our 6-drop, Exodus, Bennet du Paris. As far as stats go, Exodus is relatively unremarkable compared to the rest of the characters in our deck. We’re including Exodus more for his effect, though. Just as Scarlet Witch is great in our deck because she can also play the role of ATK pump, Exodus is a force to be feared because he can turn any card in our hand into a pump. Sure, this pump is minimal at -0/-1, but it still gives all of our cards more utility; there is little risk that they will sit in our hand unused while Exodus is in play.

Now we’re going to take a quick look at our plot twists. Since our entire character compliment is Brotherhood, we can certainly justify playing Mobilize. Brotherhood decks in the past had consistency issues because there were so few viable character search cards for them. Fortunately for us, though, UDE saw fit to reprint one of the best search cards in the game in Marvel Legends. Mobilize not only gives us greater consistency in hitting our drops, but it also allows us to decrease the number of higher-cost characters we run and still reliably hit them. Character search is just plain good all around.

Any good Vs. System player knows that an aggressive deck needs plenty of ATK pumps to dish out enough damage to win consistently. Our deck is no exception. We have three great ATK pumps that will give our characters a boost. First, we have the versatile Eviscerate. This Brotherhood plot twist can act as a pump while we are attacking, allowing us to bypass opposing defensive pumps and attack up the curve. On defense, we can give a character a small boost to get the stuns off initiative. Our second pump is basic but quite effective. Devastating Blow gives us a timely +3 ATK during an attack. Considering that the stat average between mid-game drops is 2–3 points, Devastating Blow will give us enough of a boost to attack a spot up the curve. Of course, if Devastating Blow is that effective, then the granddaddy of all ATK pumps, Savage Beatdown, will be just plain amazing. The +5 ATK from Savage Beatdown is the ultimate insurance that our attacks will succeed. Even if we’re attacking several spots up the curve, we can rest assured that our smaller drops will bring the beats to whatever characters they attack.

Underground Resistance is our deck’s final card and its only location. One of my personal inclinations is to try to include enough draw and search effects in my decks to ensure a satisfactory level of consistency. Underground Resistance does not actually provide card advantage, but it does improve deck cycling remarkably, allowing us to trade character cards in hand for more valuable cards in the later turns. This provides much more consistency in hitting our optimal curve and drawing into our non-character cards. Above and beyond all else, consistency is a key in Vs. System success.

Time to see how our Juggernaut legend deck turned out. Let’s see if Mr. Marko has made all of his fans proud:

Juggernaut (BYOS:  MVL)


4 Sauron, Mutant Vampire

4 Scarlet Witch, BSister

4 Toad, Court Jester

1 Avalanche, Earthmover

4 Quicksilver, MSpeedster

2 Nocturne, Talia Wagner

4 Juggernaut, CoCyttorak

4 Sabretooth, Feral Rage

4 Juggernaut, Walking Disaster

2 Exodus, Bennet du Paris

1 Juggernaut, WMD

2 Devastating Blow

4 Eviscerate

4 Mobilize

4 Savage Beatdown

4 Unstoppable

4 Underground Resistance

4 Juggernaut’s Helmet

Basically, this deck looks to create difficult formation decisions for your opponents. If they set up to reinforce attacks from the support row, Unstoppable can create two-for-one trades (or even two-for-none trades). On the other hand, if your opponents set all of their characters in the front or support row, then you can generally create situations where Juggernaut (often equipped with Juggernaut’s Helmet for +5/+0) can get an unreinforced attack for major damage.

Initiative preference largely depends on the matchup. If you’re facing off against a rush deck, then there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to race for the turn 5 win. Against mid-game or short curve decks, you’ll have a better chance of pulling off an attack up the curve with Juggernaut, Walking Disaster and then following up with a big attack by Exodus. So, the even initiatives will generally be preferable. Against stall decks, initiative choice is pretty much irrelevant, since Juggernaut, Weapon of Mass Destruction absolutely devastates late-game decks.

This deck has some potent draw and cycling effects, so your mulligan can be fairly open-ended. I would look for a couple of strong early drops to gain board presence. However, many decks will be significantly slowed once you drop Juggernaut, Champion of Cyttorak. Something about a 6/6 3-drop slows so many decks down. So, looking for a way to get your monster 3-drop into play might not be a bad idea, either.

Competitive and casual players alike should enjoy playing with the Juggernaut legend deck. According to my partner in crime, Todd, the deck is just plain fun! While it won’t win every game, it is quite powerful nonetheless. In addition, these victories are usually attained by sending Juggernaut in for various shenanigans on your opponent’s board. The entire point of the legends characters in Marvel Legends is giving players the chance to enjoy playing and winning with their favorite comic book characters. Though he may be a “bad guy,” Juggernaut is definitely a good guy as far as having fun with a legend deck is concerned!

Having said that, we’ve reached the end of another installment of Breaking Ground. Many thanks to Todd McFadyen for inspiring me to look at a Juggernaut legend deck. Of course, I’ll have another legend deck next week for your amusement. In the meantime, enjoy razing opponents with this unstoppable force. I’ll see you again in seven short days!

Build a Legend:  Fantastic Four (BYOS)  (09/26/07)

Welcome back to Breaking Ground for another week of legend deck building. This week, we’ll be looking at not one but four legendary characters. Specifically, we’ll be building a Fantastic Four legend deck.

The Fantastic Four team certainly isn’t a stranger to the Vs. System spotlight. Alongside Dr. Doom, they helped Brian Kibler take down the championship at the first-ever Pro Circuit. Across the table, Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman aided Craig Edwards in a second place finish with Rigged Elections. Further down the line, Dean Sohnle terrorized the European Vs. System scene with three $10K victories and a second place finish at PC: L.A. 2005 playing Fantastic Fun. Aside from that, numerous other fantastic concoctions have found their way to tournament success both locally and abroad.

Ah, Memories

One of my favorite memories of the Fantastic Four in Vs. System comes from the very first Pro Circuit Qualifier that I attended. Back then, the only real exposure I’d had to the game came from my local card shop. Accordingly, I was really only familiar with the decks piloted by the local players. For the most part, our local metagame consisted of The New Brotherhood, Big Brotherhood, and Gamma Doom. For the most part, I had never played against a Fantastic Four beatdown deck.

I sat down to play against my first round opponent, Thomas Nelson. Despite my strong early start of Destiny, Irene Adler and Pyro, St. John Allerdyce with a copy of The New Brotherhood, Thomas looked supremely unconcerned. He lost early endurance as my characters traded with his, but he was quickly building a formidable board of She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters and Invisible Woman, Sue Storm. On turn 5, he played out Mr. Fantastic, Stretch. I was momentarily puzzled about why he would drop such a small character, but my curiosity was quickly answered when he followed it up with two copies of Fantasticar and a Personal Force Field. Suddenly, his board went from being formidable to being gargantuan. My 13 ATK Sabretooth could no longer compete with his 15 DEF Mr. Fantastic, and while my army of weenies wasn’t small, it was no match for the forces on Thomas’s side of the board. After he recruited Thing, The Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing on turn 7 to bounce four-fifths of my board, I realized that I was woefully unprepared for the might of the Fantastic Four.

After that, I became quickly enamored with the Fantastic Four beatdown deck. While it did not have the sheer explosive power of the Brotherhood variants or the dominating control elements of Doom, it did have a very straightforward symmetry and strategy. The character curve had good-sized characters at each drop. Plot twists like It’s Clobberin’ Time! supported the overall strategy of playing big beatdown characters. Finally, Fantastic Four had the very first open-ended character search card in Vs. System, Signal Flare. This by itself was a huge benefit because it added a great deal of security when it came to hitting your preferred character curve.

Of course, I quickly realized that the true strength of the deck was that it put your opponents on a timer. The longer the game went, the more potent your board became. Given the immense size of the Fantastic Four characters, this usually meant that you would have a much stronger mid- to late game than your opponent would.

The original Fantastic Four beatdown deck was, for me (like many other players), a starting point to learning Vs. System strategy. Once I mastered the basic mechanics on which the deck focused, I was able to look further outside of the box to more creative and innovative strategies; while eccentric deck ideas can be fun and powerful, they still are based in the same combat principles. Thus, an innate understanding of the ins and outs of combat is critical to playing any deck, whether it’s a combat or combo deck.

With the release of Marvel Legends comes the re-release of many of the old Fantastic Four favorites from Marvel Origins. Some of the tactics have changed. For example, the Fantastic Four cards printed in Marvel Legends favor decks that focus on playing the original members of the vaunted quartet. Just like all of the other legend characters in the set, each of the core four members has cards that supplement his or her various character strengths.

The flavor of the original Fantastic Four beatdown deck still exists, though. Just as I learned from the amazing Marvel Origins build, many new Vs. System players will have the opportunity to learn the game with the Fantastic beats of the family of four.

While most of the decks on Breaking Ground tend to be more exotic and combo-focused, it’s occasionally good to go back to the basics. This week, we’re going to revisit the Fantastic Four beatdown deck of old and design an updated version using the cards from Marvel Legends. In addition, we’re going to exalt the quartet as the legends they truly are by building a deck that features only Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Mr. Fantastic, and Thing—the original Fantastic Four!

The Build

Our character complement is going to be very straightforward—we’re playing four characters! Our only task is to figure out which character versions will be played at each cost.

Invisible Woman is the only one of the four with a 1-drop version, so she will obviously be our pick at 1. While Invisible Woman, Walking on Air doesn’t have any printed text, her stats more than make up for this deficiency. At 1/3, Invisible Woman is big enough to bounce the attacks of all but one 1-drop in Marvel Legends, and a significant number of 2-drops. With stats like that, Invisible Woman doesn’t need an effect.

At 2, we have Mr. Fantastic, Stringbean. Mr. Fantastic gives us the option of following up Invisible Woman with a large, defensive character with 4 DEF or of marching into battle with an impressive 4 ATK. Our primary 2-drop, though, is Human Torch, Matchstick. Unlike Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch isn’t all that big for his cost, but his effect will often be strong enough that he can easily achieve stuns up the curve. This will prevent opponents from using ATK pumps to attack up the curve in hopes of safely attacking down the curve, which allows us to maintain board parity.

Much like at the 2-slot, we have a variety of extremes for turn 3. Invisible Woman, First Lady of the Fantastic Four gives us an absolutely amazing effect. Granted, she is somewhat smaller than the average 3-drop, but considering the deck that we are building, her effect will be quite helpful in supporting our other characters. We’re really going to want to “muscle up” on turn 3, though, so our primary drop will be Thing, Idol o’ Millions. With the average stat sum of a 3-drop being 9 (for example, 5 ATK + 4 DEF), our 6/5 rockhead is a permanent power-up that’s bigger and badder than average. That extra point of ATK and DEF is often enough to shut down opposing threats while simultaneously allowing for the possibility of easy attacks up the curve.

Human Torch and Mr. Fantastic make repeat appearances in the 4-slot. This time, though, the roles are reversed. Human Torch, Nova Blast is just plain amazing whenever we need an answer for off-curve and rush decks. In a deck designed to make the most of his power (such as my good buddy Joe Corbett’s “Nova Blast Abuse” deck), Human Torch can be the star of the show all on his own. Our deck’s primary play on turn 4, though, will be Mr. Fantastic, Critical Thinker. Mr. Fantastic is the epitome of what our deck is designed to accomplish. At 5 ATK, he isn’t going to be much of a beatstick, but his 9 DEF will usually ensure that our opponents will need some type of pump or a team attack to stun our 4-drop. In this way, we slow down our opponents’ offensive momentum. In addition, Mr. Fantastic has an amazing activated power that will help us set up our optimal late game plays.

We have another big version of Thing on turn 5 with Thing, Heavy Hitter. There are not many bad things that can be said about a 5-drop that is effectively the size of a 6-drop, but because we put our stock Thing’s size back in the 3-slot, we’re going to opt for a bit more finesse at the 5-slot and run Invisible Woman, Sight Unseen. If all has gone well for us, then we will have managed to shut down any early game aggression from our opponents with our low drops. On turn 5, we can use Invisible Woman to hide these low drops from the bigger threats of the late game. Also, assuming that we can use powerful defensive characters like Mr. Fantastic and Thing to keep our opponent from hitting us for too much damage directly, we can use Invisible Woman and our other hidden characters to swing back on off-initiative turns to gain substantial board presence.

While we do have Mr. Fantastic, Dimensional Explorer available on turn 6, he won’t do much good in our deck because we won’t be playing any equipment cards. Instead, we’re going to put our stock in Human Torch, Flame On!, who gives us a win condition other than dominating an opponent in combat. At 13 ATK, we’re already getting better than a two-for-one trade when we use his effect (since we take 6 stun endurance loss). Of course, Human Torch is also adept at combat, since he’s a 6-drop that can attack to and from anywhere on the board. Basically, Human Torch allows us to deal damage to our opponent regardless of who controls the initiative.

Our final characters are our 7-drops. As you have probably already guessed, our deck will crescendo with the original “off-curve killa” himself, Thing, The Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing. Many opponents will fight to maintain board presence against our curve by underdropping in later turns; Thing turns this play into folly by bouncing every character that costs 3 or less. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a Thing recruit, then you know exactly how devastating this can be. Of course, our opponents won’t always underdrop in the late turns. Occasionally, they might just try to match our curve with a strong curve of their own. In this case, we can counter with Invisible Woman, Shield of the Four. Invisible Woman is a defensive marvel, effectively giving all of our characters an Acrobatic Dodge-like effect. We also have to deal with the issue of our opponents getting this benefit, but as we will shortly see, our array of ATK pumps will usually give us enough power to overcome most defensive tricks.

Before we look at the blue cards, though, let’s take a gander at the green. Our deck’s lone location is another Marvel Origins reprint that is tailor made for our deck. Optimally, we would like to have a character curve with all four of the Fantastic Four in play at once. In games where we do accomplish this feat, Four Freedoms Plaza will be the icing on the proverbial cake. The use of this location is highly conditional, but when we can use it, it is search on steroids. First and foremost, it finds any card in our deck. Secondly, there is no cost associated with it other than exhausting Four Freedoms Plaza. Finally, we can use it anytime we have all four of the Fantastic Four in play. Such an amazing card, and it’s going to be unbelievable in our deck!

Finally, we have the plot twists. As one might expect in a beatdown deck, we have a very wide array of ATK pumps to make the savage beast even more savage. But we initially need to concern ourselves with getting the beast into play. So, we’ll definitely be packing four copies of Signal Flare. Like I said earlier, Signal Flare is the original open-ended character search card, and it is still the standard to which other cards are held.

Every other plot twist in our deck is going to be an attack pump of some sort. Obviously, we would be ill advised to head into battle without two of the best attack pumps in the game, Savage Beatdown and It’s Clobberin’ Time! What Signal Flare is to character search cards, Savage Beatdown and It’s Clobberin’ Time! are to ATK pumps. You can’t do much better than the +5/+0 from Savage Beatdown—sometimes you just can’t beat an original. It’s Clobberin’ Time!, on the other hand, doesn’t give us as much ATK on the front end, but it more than makes up for it by adding a very potent DEF bonus. Its +3/+3 will often be enough to ensure that we’ll secure a stun without stunning back when we attack along the curve or even a spot up it.

Naturally, with the evolution of the game comes a change in the way we play it. In addition to reviving some of the old favorites from Marvel Origins, we’re bringing in some of the newer combat tricks in Marvel Legends. Two tricks that compare very favorably to the ATK pumps that we’ve already mentioned are Family of Four and Assorted Aliases. While our Marvel Origins pumps are only effective when attacking, these nifty new pumps can do double duty and offer their services to a character on the attack or on defense. Family of Four is a perfect fit for our “core four” strategy. Against most decks, it will usually be good for at least +3/+3. Often, we will even be able to parlay +4/+4. Assorted Aliases is another card that suits our deck’s strategy: each of our characters has multiple versions in our deck, which means that finding a discard for Assorted Aliases to ensure a +3/+3 boost won’t be too tough.

Our final card in the deck is one of my personal favorites. Compared to the rest of our combat tricks, Torch and Thing isn’t nearly as fearsome, but as we have seen with many of the characters in our deck, we don’t always need big stats to take the upper hand. Torch and Thing provides answers for two specific situations that we will encounter. The first one is when we just need a small boost to attack a slightly larger character successfully or overcome an unexpected DEF pump. The +2 ATK isn’t much, but it’s usually enough to get the job done (without using one of the more powerful pumps). The second situation will arise when we play opponents who try to maintain board parity with DEF pumps like Nasty Surprise. In this situation, we aren’t as concerned with securing a stun as we are with avoiding getting our character stunned. A timely copy of Torch and Thing can nullify opposing stunback schemes. It may not seem as glamorous as some of the other massive pumps that we play, but a well timed Torch and Thing can swing the game in ways that Savage Beatdown never could.

Our team has all the weapons that it needs to head into battle. Let’s see what the Fantastic Four will be bringing to the table:

Fantastic Four (BYOS:  MVL)


4 Invisible Woman, WoAir

4 Human Torch, Matchstick

3 Mr. Fantastic, Stringbean

4 Thing, Idol o’ Millions

2 Invisible Woman, FLotF4

1 Human Torch, Nova Blast

4 Mr. Fantastic, Critical Thinker

1 Thing, Heavy Hitter

4 Invisible Woman, Sight Unseen

3 Human Torch, Flame On!

2 Thing, ELBET

1 Invisible Woman, Sot4

3 Assorted Aliases

4 Family of Four

4 It’s Clobberin’ Time!

4 Savage Beatdown

4 Signal Flare

4 Torch and Thing

4 Four Freedoms Plaza

Our deck certainly has the potential to win on turn 5 or 6, but we will generally look to take over and win on turn 7 when the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing bounces all of our opponent’s smaller characters. Thus, we should look to take the even initiatives so that we can have the final recruit on turn 7. Without their smaller characters, our opponents will generally be forced to fight a one-on-one battle at best. Considering that the Fantastic Four characters are usually going to be as big as or bigger than our opponents’ characters, we should be in a prime position to win games.

While Four Freedoms Plaza is a tempting target for our mulligan, it will generally be more advantageous for us to look for a good early curve. Signal Flare will help us with our mid-game turns. Once we have our board established, then we can look to the amazing Four Freedoms Plaza to give us whatever cards we need to win.

With that, we have concluded our walk back in Vs. System history. The Fantastic Four is back in full swing with Marvel Legends, and it is a great deck for new players to build to learn the nuances of the game. For the rest of us, the Fantastic Four has many new and exciting cards in Marvel Legends that we can use to build new and innovative decks or supplement our existing favorites.

Next week, we’ll take a look at a legend deck from the last of Marvel Legends’ four main teams, the Marvel Knights. Just like Nick Cage rode on the wheels of vengeance to the top of the box office, we will be revving up to build a deck featuring next week’s legend, Ghost Rider.

Build a Legend:  Ghost Rider (BYOS)  (10/03/07)

Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at three different decks that were built with a specific legend in mind. While the concept of legend decks is unique to the release of Marvel Legends, the basic strategy of building these decks has been relatively straightforward, and for the most part, there were previous decks to be used as templates. While the compositions of these decks may have changed from those of their predecessors, the basic aims have pretty much stayed the same.

This week, though, I feel like I’m venturing into unfamiliar territory. As I mentioned last week, this week’s legend of honor is the spirit of vengeance himself, Ghost Rider. While each legendary character has a flavor all its own, Ghost Rider is definitely on the extreme end. Wolverine’s legend cards tended to enhance his aggression and resilience. Juggernaut, on the other hand, simply laid a heavy hurting on characters and players who got in his way. Finally, the Fantastic Four had a very intricate theme of garnering benefits when they were all in play together. So, what exactly do the Ghost Rider legend cards do?

They show you just how ticked off Mr. Flaming Skull gets when you stun his teammates!

“Don’t Make Me Angry. You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry”

In some regards, this theme is not altogether unfamiliar. Infinite Crisis had Villains United—an entire team devoted to the concept of getting back at your opponents when they stunned your characters. This is the closest equivalent that I could find to the deck exercise that we’ll be undertaking this week. You see, while the Villains United characters aimed to get retribution whenever they became stunned, it was not really necessary to stun them for you to win a game. Rather, the Villains United team put your opponent in a no-win situation:

VU Player: “If you don’t take down my characters, you’re going to suffer.”

Other Player: “What happens if I do take down your characters?”

VU Player: “You’re still going to suffer.”

Contrast this to the strategy of Ghost Rider and his support cards in Marvel Legends. Instead of assuming that opponents might just lay off you given the fear of reprisal, Ghost Rider assumes that your opponents will do their worst. So, instead of threatening vengeance on an unsuspecting victim, Ghost Rider simply skips the negotiation phase and demands penance from unsuspecting opponents. In fact, Ghost Rider assumes that your opponents will try to take the advantage, so the majority of his support focuses on “leveling the playing field,” so to speak. In essence, the stronger your opponent’s board position becomes, the more vicious Ghost Rider’s vengeance will be.

Building a deck that is designed to work best from a losing position may seem like folly. But Ghost Rider gives us the ability to turn any game around, no matter how perilous the situation. It’s time for us to hop on board with Ghost Rider and see just how good revenge can be.

The Build

For the most part, all of our previous legend decks had at least three versions of our featured legends. As we will find with this deck, though, we can’t really justify playing a late-game version of a character in a deck that tries to end the game fairly early. So our pal Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch is out. Still, we have a very potent finisher in Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance. Assuming that we reach turn 6, our 6-drop Ghost Rider will turn stuns on our side of the board into equal trades with our opponent. Breakthrough endurance loss notwithstanding, we’ll generally end up with the better end of the bargain because our opponents will be forced to take endurance loss from our characters and their characters. In the early game, we’ll be relying a lot on Ghost Rider, The Devil’s Rider. This 3-drop illustrates the vengeance concept that I discussed earlier. With no stunned characters in play, our 3-drop is a vanilla 5/3. But as combat commences and both players start to take casualties, Ghost Rider becomes a much more potent force. With only two stunned characters in play, Ghost Rider jumps to 7 ATK—enough to take down an average 4-drop. Two more stunned characters earn Ghost Rider 2 more points of ATK. At this point, our 3-drop is a threat to 5- and 6-drops with a little pump. Yet another good reason why you don’t want to tick off Ghost Rider!

Our legend support cards are all pretty amazing, as well. We have a couple of nasty little plot twists that will almost guarantee board parity. First, Anguish of the Innocent makes off-curve strategies a losing proposition. When an opponent threatens to get more characters in play than us, we can exhaust Ghost Rider to cut down the number of characters that opponent controls by one. This can be brutal against pretty much any deck that isn’t prepared for it (and most decks aren’t). Of course, off-curve tactics aren’t the only way that an opponent can gain board presence. Sometimes, we might be forced to allow our opponents to attack our smaller characters with their larger ones. In these situations, we usually won’t be able to get a stunback—not in combat, at least. With Chain of Vengeance, we can ensure that any attack where our opponent successfully stuns one of our characters will get the stunback for our team as well. Safe attacks are a thing of the past for our opponents!

Our final legend card is one that will tilt the damage advantage significantly in our favor. Wheels of Vengeance gives us a number of different effects that allow us to manipulate endurance loss. On defense, we can move Ghost Rider into the visible area to absorb big attacks from our opponent. Since Wheels of Vengeance gives Ghost Rider reinforcement, the only damage we’ll end up taking will be stun damage from our legend. Of course, the goodness doesn’t end there. Offensively, we can use Wheels of Vengeance to push through huge amounts of damage from our attacking legend. Moreover, if we are in an advantageous endurance position, we can move Ghost Rider into the hidden area so that we can attack back on turns where we don’t control the initiative.

Our character choices will support the theme that the Ghost Rider legend cards have already established for us. To start, we have Dagger, Lightbringer at 1, a great example of what good curve decks look for in a 1-drop. In the early turns, Dagger can help us to develop board presence and maintain tempo, and in unison with Chain of Vengeance, Dagger can be a threat to any opposing character. In the late turns, however, Dagger won’t sit in our hand uselessly. After all, we can pitch our 1-drop for some timely burn on our opponent. Black Widow, Femme Fatale, on the other hand, is in our deck to give us a few more options against off-curve decks. While most curve decks don’t utilize 1-drops in any active capacity, these drops can be key to the successful defeat of many off-curve decks. Using Black Widow to KO a character like Lizard, Voracious Predator or Owen Mercer ◊ Captain Boomerang Jr., Prodigal Son can completely ruin the strategy of an off-curve deck.

At 2, we have a couple of big plays. In the hidden area, Daredevil, Fearless Survivor will reign supreme. While Daredevil is less than amazing when attacking along or down the curve, he is a beast when we use him to attack up the curve. Before any pumps, Daredevil will be 5 ATK when attacking a 3-drop or higher. Against all but the hardiest 3-drops, this is usually enough to secure a stun, and with a bit of pump, Daredevil can challenge 4- and 5-drops. If they can’t take care of our hidden attacker, Daredevil can cause a lot of trouble for opposing defenders. In the visible area, we have another 2/2 2-drop in White Tiger, Angela Del Toro. Much like Daredevil, White Tiger has a few tricks up her sleeves to make her more than her vanilla stats would indicate. If we pay 3 paltry endurance, White Tiger doubles in size for one attack each turn. At 4/4, White Tiger can create difficult attack options for our opponents. If they attack with a small character, she might just bounce the attack. If they attack with a larger character, White Tiger can potentially get a stunback. Unfavorable trades for our opponents are never bad for us.

For turn 3, we have the unassuming yet formidable Echo, Masterless Samurai along with Ghost Rider, The Devil’s Rider. There is no denying that Echo’s stats are awful, but this 3-drop can be a curve deck’s worst nightmare. Where we might once have needed ATK pumps to force stuns on opposing characters, Echo simply allows us to pay 3 endurance to guarantee a stun. Remember Sinestro, Green Lantern of Korugar? His effect was completely devastating, and it only worked for characters that were defending. Echo’s works on either attack or defense. Imagine how heartbreaking it would be for an opponent to recruit a wall like Blob, Immovable Object to bounce our attacks, only to have Blob taken down by Echo. While she may require a bit of an endurance investment, Echo will rarely fail to get a stun on any opposing character.

If you haven’t been able to tell by now, a good part of our deck is focused on maintaining tempo on our side of the board. One way to do that is to use effects to pare down any advantages our opponents might try to take. We can also keep our momentum by playing characters that our opponents will have trouble getting rid of. Deadgirl, Dead Again is the perfect example of a character that can thwart opposing board control schemes. While she may already be deceased, Deadgirl doesn’t really enjoy sitting in the KO’d pile. This is very fortunate for us, because we can pay endurance to keep our 4-drop in play. Finishing Move is no threat to her because Deadgirl will return without fail, regardless of why she was KO’d.

We also have a backup play on turn 4 in Wolverine, Covert Predator. While he usually spends his time with the X-Men, Wolverine occasionally moonlights as a member of the Marvel Knights. He gives us a strong answer to decks that rely on concealed characters. With his keen senses, Wolverine can hunt down those hidden characters so that we can deal with them in our own fashion.

Our final character is the sometime adversary of Ghost Rider, Vengeance, Spirit of Vengeance. Like some of our earlier drops in this deck, Vengeance is a bit small for his cost. He makes up for his lack of size, though, with an effect that can put a steady hurt on our opponents’ endurance. Vengeance is the perfect tag-team partner for our 6-drop Ghost Rider. A single attack by our 5-drop will produce 10 endurance damage before any consideration of opposing character stun damage and breakthrough. That kind of damage potential is hard to ignore no matter how small our 5-drop may be.

We have a pretty interesting assortment of plot twists to look at. Obviously, we need a wide array of ATK pumps and burn effects to maximize the damage potential of our deck. Before we look at any of that, though, we need to have a way to get our characters. Our search cards of choice for this deck are two mighty reprints, Mobilize and Wild Ride. Mobilize has already been featured a few times over the past few weeks, so you’re probably already familiar with its searching goodness. Wild Ride differs a bit in that it is more in tune with the overall theme of the Marvel Knights. Wild Ride can find any character in our deck, and there are no onerous discards to consider. Rather, we trade our endurance to find our character of choice. In the early turns, finding a character like Dagger or Daredevil won’t hurt us too much. In the late game, though, we might have to pay a heavy price to find our late drops. Yeah, Wild Ride can hurt, but it’s usually worth the pain.

While it isn’t exactly a legend card, Penance Stare is just too good to exclude from our deck. From a strategy perspective, Penance Stare gives us another means of causing our opponents to lose endurance. In the late turns, when we might only need an additional 4 or 5 points of damage to win the game, we can KO one of our stunned characters with Penance Stare to secure the win. Of course, from a flavor perspective, it would be almost criminal not to give Ghost Rider the means to execute his famed Penance Stare.

Finally, we have the ATK pumps. Our first pick keeps it strong yet simple: Devastating Blow. This plot twist is a basic +3/+0 for one of our attackers. There’s nothing fancy about it, but it is effective nonetheless. If we want to get a bit fancier, we can look to Bring the Pain. Like Wild Ride and many of our characters’ powers, Bring the Pain allows us to trade our own endurance for a beneficial effect. In this case, we can gain ATK while attacking or defending. This versatility makes Bring the Pain worth playing, though we do have to regulate how aggressively we play it. Our last pump is as tricky as Devastating Blow is simple. Played correctly, RAT-TAT-TAT can be an extremely potent pump in our deck. If we’re able to manage the cards we have in hand, then we can use RAT-TAT-TAT to give multiple opposing characters -3 DEF. Since RAT-TAT-TAT is a turn-based effect, this works while attacking or defending. The key to such a powerful card, though, is ensuring that we have the appropriate cards to discard for its effect.

It’s high time that our opponents know the wrath of Ghost Rider. Let’s take a look at the tool of vengeance that we’ll be wielding:

Ghost Rider (BYOS:  MVL)


2 Black Widow, Femme Fatale

4 Dagger, Lightbringer

4 Daredevil, Fearless Survivor

4 White Tiger, Angela Del Toro

2 Echo, Masterless Samurai

4 Ghost Rider, The Devil’s Rider

4 Deadgirl, Dead Again?

1 Wolverine, Covert Predator

3 Vengeance, SoVengeance

2 Ghost Rider, SoVengeance

3 Anguish of the Innocent

4 Bring the Pain

4 Chain of Vengeance

4 Devastating Blow

2 Mobilize

3 Penance Stare

3 RAT-TAT-TAT

4 Wild Ride

3 Wheels of Vengeance

Like any good legend deck, ours is predicated on getting our particular legend into play. In this case, we need to make sure that we have Ghost Rider, The Devil’s Rider or Wild Ride in our opening hand. Mobilize can also be a mulligan condition, but only if we have another character card in hand that we can put into play before turn 3.

We certainly have the damage potential to win by turn 5, but we will usually be trying for a turn 6 win with Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance. If we can get the even initiatives, our 6-drop can create a great deal of pandemonium in the ensuing attacks. If we stun Deadgirl and Vengeance, then our opponents will lose a total of 14 endurance before applying the stun damage they’ll take from their own characters. Add some pumps and a copy or two of Penance Stare, and the concluding attack by Ghost Rider should be enough for us to put the game away.

And that, as they say, is a wrap. This concludes the first look at decks based on legends from the Marvel Legends set. We’re not done looking at legends altogether, though. These last four weeks have been spent looking at legend decks using only cards from Marvel Legends; the next round of decks will show how we can incorporate our legends into other teams in Silver and Modern Age. If you thought the Marvel Legends legend decks were cool on their own, just wait until we mix it up with the additional firepower that other teams have to offer!

Build a Legend:  Jean Grey (MA)  (10/10/07)

As I said last week, we’re going to move into a new phase of legend deckbuilding. Over the past month, we’ve looked at legend decks that were limited to individual teams and cards in the Marvel Legends set. From this point forward, though, we’re going to expand our look at these legends. Indeed, we’ll find that our legends can be far more formidable when paired with teams that can enhance their unique skills.

This week, we’ll be looking at one of my favorite legends from the new set, Jean Grey. As I have said several times before, I have a penchant for redheads, and Jean Grey is one of the first and finest heroines to sport those scarlet locks. She has been the object of affection for teammates and rivals Cyclops and Wolverine, not to mention numerous others enamored of her, such as Mastermind and even Professor X. Indeed, Jean Grey has wrung more male hearts than Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears combined.

Most importantly, Jean Grey was the host for the original incarnation of one of the most iconic deities in the Marvel universe, Phoenix. The “Phoenix Saga” and subsequent “Dark Phoenix Saga” are two of the more acclaimed storylines in the Marvel comics pantheon, and are so well known that the third X-Men movie was loosely based on them.

Speaking of storylines, another X-Men plotline comes to mind when we consider our deck for today, “Inferno.”

I Get By with a Little Help from My Clones . . .

Following Jean Grey’s “demise” at the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga, a grieving Cyclops found solace in the arms of Madelyne Pryor, a lady who bore a remarkable resemblance to his lost love. What Cyclops didn’t know was that Madelyne Pryor was actually a clone of Jean Grey created by his nemesis, Mr. Sinister, to prey on Cyclops’s emotions.

Once Jean Grey came back from her catatonic resting place beneath the ocean, Cyclops naturally left his Jean doppelganger to return to the original. This did not sit well with Madelyne Pryor. In her rage, Madelyne unknowingly channeled a portion of the Phoenix Force—she was, after all, essentially Jean Grey, so the Phoenix Force was a kindred spirit. But under the influence of the demonic S’ym and N’astirh, and the manipulative Mr. Sinister, the Phoenix-imbued Madelyne Pryor literally brought Hell on Earth.

Given the prospect of Cyclops’s wife bringing an end to all human life, the members of X-Factor and the X-Men teamed up to take the Goblyn Queen down (after resolving a few in-team disputes, of course). Central to this story was the struggle between Jean Grey and Madelyne Pryor. After all the pandemonium that had ensued, Madelyne became quite distraught and trapped herself and Jean Grey in a telekinetic bubble with the intent of destroying both of them. But Jean was able to reclaim the aspects of her personality that had been absorbed by the Phoenix Force and Madelyne Pryor, allowing her to overcome the Goblyn Queen’s trap. After another brief struggle during which Cyclops blasted Mr. Sinister to pieces with his optic beam, the combined X-teams departed to take a well-deserved rest.

Okay . . . Jean Grey might be a little hesitant to work with Madelyne Pryor and the rest of her Underworld cronies after the events of Inferno, but there are a few things that the Underworld team has to offer our legendary heroine. First, the Underworld excels at filling the KO’d pile with cards. Given the absolutely amazing power of Jean Grey, Phoenix Rising, such a trait can provide us with a very sizable 5-drop. Second, the Underworld has some of the best recovery tricks in Vs. System with cards like Strange Love and Undead Legions. When paired with a card like X-Men Assemble!, these recovery tricks can go from formidable to nearly broken.

Why can’t we all just get along? Despite the fact that the Goblyn Queen tried to take away Jean Grey’s man and kill off her friends and teammates, Jean is going to try to mend relations with her clone. Madelyne Pryor and the Underworld have the tools to help Red and the X-Men become a fearsome force in the Modern Age.

The Build

As we have done with all of the legends that we’ve looked at to date, we’re going to kick off with the cards to support today’s heroine. Fortunately for us, Jean Grey has an excellent curve of characters in Marvel Legends, with drops at 2, 5, and 8. Her 2-drop version, Jean Grey, Teen Telepath, is just the kind of character that we need to kick off our curve. Our 2-drop has respectable stats at 2/3, and range to boot. But it’s her effect that makes her a great early game play: when Jean Grey comes into play we get to draw a card, and as we will soon see, drawing and cycling cards is a critical part of the strategy in our deck. While our 2-drop’s effect is subtle, it is the kind of momentum builder that we can definitely use in our early game.

Once we hit turn 5, we’re looking to take over completely with Jean Grey, Phoenix Rising. Apart from the fact that this card is an excellent example of character flavor in an effect, our 5-drop has the potential to completely dominate the board. Paired with the Underworld’s ability to fill the KO’d pile, Jean Grey will often enter play with four or five +1/+1 counters. When you have a 5-drop that can best most 6-drops in the game, that’s something you can build a deck around.

To aid our 5-drop’s growth potential and give us a bit of late-game insurance, we round off our legend curve with Jean Grey, Phoenix Force. Like so many of the great cards released in Marvel Legends, this version of Jean Grey is a throwback to Marvel Origins. Any opponent who has dreams of grandeur in the late game will have to contend with our 8-drop. She is not as big as most 8-drops, but she makes up for it with an effect that quite literally clears boards. It will be difficult for any of our opponents to maintain board control when the Phoenix Force sends their characters right back into their hands.

While our red-headed legend has some very cool support cards, our deck only has need of one of them. As I have said more than once already, the key to our deck’s success hinges on card drawing and cycling power. Thus, a card like Splintering Consciousness is too good to pass up. While it is conditional, Splintering Consciousness is amazing nonetheless. Since it will always continue to act as a resource after we play it, Splintering Consciousness is effectively two free cards for us. If that ain’t a great deal, I don’t know Vs. System!

Now let’s take a gander at Jean’s supporting cast. At 1, we have a couple copies of The Dwarf, Soul Broker. Granted, our 1-drop is mostly in the deck for search reasons, but he can be useful if we ever find the need to get an Underworld character into play to get an early Team-Up going.

At 2, we have the amazingly recursive Black Rose, Roxanne Simpson. Whenever we feel the need to return a character card from the KO’d pile, we can activate this 2-drop for some free recursion. Recursion is really only important to us in the late game, though. For the early game, our primary 2-drops are Jean Grey and her teammate, Bishop, Age of Apocalypse. Since we want to put as many copies of X-Men Assemble! into play, what better way to start our engine than with a 2-drop that can search for this Age of Apocalypse plot twist. Bishop’s not big, but with X-Men Assemble! in play, he can get big if we can recover him a few times.

It’s time to get a little bit daring! We’re going to throw caution to the wind and play Umar, Sorceress Sublime on turn 3. There can be no argument that Dormammu’s little sis is amazing! Her incredible power does come with a price, though. If we are unfortunate enough to see Umar hit the KO’d pile from play, then our hand will soon follow her. The good news is that with our board control tricks, we should be able to avoid stun-KO effects like Finishing Move. In addition, we’ll have a few other options to deal with cards that can KO 3-drops outright.

One of these KO threats will be playing for the home team on turn 4. Blackheart, Black King will eat the soul of any low drop that tries to get too fancy. Of course, Blackheart is not an option to which we’d like to resort, since he tends to eat the cards in our KO’d pile as well. So, our primary Underworld character on turn 4 is Modred the Mystic, Servant of Chthon. Modred is the ultimate protection for our stunned characters. As long as he’s face up on our side of the board, our stunned characters cannot be KO’d, period! Modred ensures that even if we don’t have a recovery trick in hand right away, we’ll still have a chance to use it on a character later in the game.

Finally, we’re bringing the X-Men in for turn 4 as well with Rogue, Power Absorption. Tell me, what’s better than having one copy of Umar in play? Having two copies of Umar in play! Rogue gives us a copy of any of the activated effects on the board. This will almost always be useful if we have Umar in play. If our opponent boasts some powerful activated effects, then we can use Rogue to copy those as well.

In addition to Jean Grey for turn 5, we also have Illyana Rasputin ◊ Magik. Magik has a couple of traits that make her great in our deck. First, she’s dual-affiliated to both of the teams in our deck. Second, her effect relates to recovery. While it does give our opponents a recovery benefit as well, we will usually gain a lot more from recovering additional characters. Finally, she’s a great choice to bring into play on turn 6 with a Netherworld Gift / Undead Legions combo. That way, even though she’s the same cost as our critical 5-drop, we have a way to make use of her formidable attributes. Colossus, Peter Rasputin would be so proud!

Obviously, we have to play at least one copy of Madelyne Pryor, Goblyn Queen for turn 6. Given all of the prior hubbub about having her work with Jean Grey, it would be a real crime not to live up to the hype. Besides, Maddie has an absolutely amazing power. When paired with our recovery effects and Modred the Mystic, we can often ensure that her effect will only hurt our opponent.

Also at 6, we have some potent hidden hate in the form of Baron Mordo, Karl Amadeus Mordo. Opposing characters hiding away in the dark will have to face the light of judgment when Baron Mordo’s effect triggers. This can be a great help when we need to get at a problematic hidden character, or when we just want to move one of our own characters into the visible area to fortify our defenses.

Our final character is Shuma-Gorath. When our 7-drop wakes up and hits the board, he wakes another character up with him. At the very least, we can recover a character that Modred the Mystic has been keeping around with his effect. With Netherworld Gift, we can potentially bring an extra 5- or 6-drop into play. From what I’ve heard, having more characters around is never a bad thing.

We have one equipment card that we need to look at really quickly. With Umar playing a major role in our deck, we need a way to keep our 3-drop out of harm’s way. Specifically, we need something that will prevent her from being the target of adverse KO effects. Thus, we’ll be playing three copies of B.P.R.D. Signal Device. Along with a nice little defensive boost, B.P.R.D. Signal Device gives us the ability to keep Umar from being the target of opposing effects. Since our opponents generally won’t be able to KO Umar without some sort of targeted effect, we can be somewhat assured that she won’t be taking an early trip to the KO’d pile.

We’ve already discussed a number of our plot twist choices for the deck. Obviously, X-Men Assemble! is amazing. With one copy in play, our characters will steadily grow in size over the course of the game. With the drawing and cycling power in our deck, it won’t be unheard of to have two or three copies in play. With multiple copies of the ongoing plot twist in play, our characters eventually won’t be able to benefit from X-Men Assemble! simply because they’ll be too big for our opponents to stun.

Along with Splintering Consciousness and X-Men Assemble!, we have Ritual Sacrifice to put in our resource row. This is a nifty little Team-Up that can double as a timely endurance gain card. With enough character cards in the KO’d pile, we can send a few back to the deck to boost our endurance. In some games, these few points of endurance will be enough to earn us the win.

Given our deck’s focus on keeping our characters alive, it’s somewhat ironic how much the characters benefit from Death’s Embrace. Obviously, it’s a phenomenal search card for our deck’s aims, giving us a character in hand as well as another character card in the KO’d pile. Direct search cards are good to have in any deck, and Death’s Embrace is one of the best character search cards in Vs. System.

Another little irony in our deck is the historical enmity between Jean Grey and Madelyne Pryor. To have the two of them working together is indeed Strange Love. I have long thought that this recovery card was sorely underappreciated. Though it is team stamped to Underworld and requires a Team-Up to use, it may be the best recovery card in the game. With a simple discard—any card, mind you—we get to recover any one of our characters at any time we choose. Compared to recovery standards like Revitalize and Lanterns in Love, this card far exceeds the norm.

Our final plot twists form the “recover and ready” tag-team that we looked at earlier. With a mitt full of cards in hand (not hard with Umar and Splintering Consciousness in our deck), we can really abuse the combo of Netherworld Gift and Undead Legions. Netherworld Gift puts a character from our KO’d pile into play; then Undead Legions can recover and ready that character. If we have multiple copies of Netherworld Gift, then Undead Legions can recover and ready more than one character. The effectiveness of this little combo hinges on our ability to maintain a decent hand size. In addition, these cards can be quite useful on their own: Netherworld Gift was tailor-made for use with Shuma-Gorath, and Undead Legions can help us restore a stunned board that Modred the Mystic has kept in play with his effect. One last thing: this two-card combo also gets the benefit from X-Men Assemble!

With an end to fighting and a commencement to Underworld / mutant cooperation, we have a deck to rule all decks. Let’s see what Jean Grey and her twin have to offer:

Inferno

 

2 The Dwarf, Soul Broker

4 Bishop, Age of Apocalypse

1 Black Rose, Roxanne Simpson

4 Jean Grey, Teen Telepath

4 Umar, Sorceress Sublime

1 Blackheart, Black King

2 Modred the Mystic, SoChthon

2 Rogue, Power Absorption

1 Illyana Rasputin ◊ Magik

4 Jean Grey, Phoenix Rising

1 Baron Mordo, Karl AMordo

1 Madelyne Pryor, Goblyn Queen

2 Shuma-Gorath, HWSBSA

2 Jean Grey, Phoenix Force

4 Death’s Embrace

4 Netherworld Gift

3 Ritual Sacrifice, Team-Up

4 Splintering Consciousness

4 Strange Love

3 Undead Legions

4 X-Men Assemble!, AoA

3 B.P.R.D. Signal Device

With the recovery engine in the deck keying so heavily on X-Men Assemble!, the general mulligan will be a copy of Bishop or X-Men Assemble! with a 2-drop. Our deck has quite a bit of search and cycling power, so we should have little trouble hitting a strong curve.

With Jean Grey holding down the fort on turn 5, we will usually want the odd initiatives. On turn 6, we can use Netherworld Gift to bring Magik out to preserve our hard-fought board position. On turn 7, Shuma-Gorath can add to our board position so that we can move in for the kill. With a few copies of X-Men Assemble! in play and some of our powerful recovery tricks, no amount of pump will be able to match our counter-enhanced army.

Inferno has come to an end, and so has this edition of Breaking Ground. Our X-Men / Underworld concoction will set the Modern Age aflame, so I suppose it’s only fitting that we go ahead and set the Silver Age aflame as well. Next week, I’ll be back with another legendary team-up. With a little help from the Revenge Squad, we’ll build a hot little number for the Silver Age.

Flame on!

Build a Legend:  Human Torch (SA) (10/16/07)

This week’s deck steps back into the Breaking Ground groove. Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at various decks featuring legend characters from Marvel Legends. The amazing support cards that each of these legends wields puts them on a whole new level of power.

Yet none of those decks to date really looked to exploit any hidden synergies. After all, it doesn’t take a genius deckbuilder like Tim “Hasn’t Had a Joke Made at His Expense in a Very Long Time” Batow to see how cards like Iron Extraction and Metallic Assault work well with the stun effects that the various versions of Magneto boast.

For this week’s deck, we’re going to step a bit outside the box. Okay . . . that’s not completely accurate. We’re going to step way outside the box. Not only will we be looking at cards from sets other than Marvel Legends, but we’ll also be building with cards from non-Marvel sets.

Specifically, our journey begins with DC’s Justice League of America and the Revenge Squad.

“I’ll Take ‘Cards that Everyone Has Forgotten About’ for $200, Alex.”

With the release of DC Legends, Justice League of America will rotate out of the Silver Age format. While I look forward to what the new set will bring to our game, I will certainly miss the JLA, JLI, Injustice Gang, and Secret Society in Silver Age. The cards and strategies in Justice League of America made for some unique and powerful decks.

With all of the well-known cards in the set, it may come as a surprise that a relatively obscure card caught my attention for this week’s legend deck. Bizarro Ray is typical of those legacy cards in every set that often go overlooked because they are stamped to teams from sets long past. In the case of Bizarro Ray, Revenge Squad had never seen much play. Because the team was from a set released a year prior and wasn’t very popular, Bizarro Ray pretty much came and went without making any kind of impact.

Since then, though, two very significant things have happened. First, the Revenge Squad was re-featured in World’s Finest. The new Revenge Squad cards gave the team a significant power boost and caused quite a few Vs. System players to take a look at the once-maligned team.

Second, the release of Marvel Legends brought us a legendary character, Human Torch, that put Bizarro Ray on the brink of viability. In the past, Torch had a very general theme of burning endurance points to some effect. In the case of Human Torch, Hotshot, this burn came at the expense of your opponents. Human Torch, Super Nova, on the other hand, burned his controller’s endurance for an extra power boost. With the release of Marvel Legends, Torch became adept at burning other things away—specifically, DEF.

If you followed the coverage of the UDE R&D tournament, then you probably remember a deck built by Patrick Yapjoco that affectionately went by the name of “Qwaffles.” This deck showed just how potent non-combat stuns can be. With an array of DEF-dropping cards paired with the awesome Kiman, opponents were rarely able to conduct safe attacks.

One of the big drawbacks of a deck like Qwaffles was that it usually needed an opponent to attack to work effectively. While Kiman was amazing against attacking characters, he was simply a small 4-drop when forced to attack. While this was usually not a problem because most decks had to attack to do damage, it could lead to occasional issues against decks that could compete without attacking.

This is where we stand right now. With Bizarro Ray combined with the DEF-eating support cards of Human Torch, we can theoretically achieve stuns while attacking and defending. All that’s left is to build a deck with cards that compliment our DEF destruction theme.

The Build

Let’s go through our suite of legend cards first. We have a couple versions of Human Torch to grace our deck. Human Torch, Matchstick gives us some early DEF hate. Many decks will attempt to gain board advantage by using an ATK pump to send a low drop up the curve, and then attack safely down the curve with a larger character; Matchstick’s effect will often prevent safe attacks down the curve. As good as Matchstick is, though, there can be little doubt that Human Torch, Nova Blast is our bread and butter. In the past, activated stun effects have usually been dependent on an opposing character’s cost. Nova Blast takes an evolutionary step forward with an effect that is stat dependent. This means that we can stun virtually any character provided that we can drop its DEF low enough.

One way that we can drop the DEF of opposing characters is to play Firewall. Let’s compare the power of this card to one of the most powerful pumps in the game, Savage Beatdown, which nets us a +5 ATK bonus while attacking. While Firewall is not as potent against a single character, it will achieve a higher cumulative benefit when our opponent has three or more characters in play. Moreover, the effect of Firewall lasts for the entire turn, and it works whether we are attacking or defending. One copy of this legend card is formidable. In multiples, it can be lethal. Why? Because if we can lower opposing characters’ DEF enough, then we can stun all of them with a copy of Heat Wave. Sure, this plot twist does require that we stun Human Torch. But with all the DEF hate we’ll have, we can usually force a many-for-one trade with Heat Wave. With enough tricks, we could stun an entire opposing board and then swing directly with the rest of our characters . . . on our opponent’s initiative!

Of course, our deck does not live on Human Torch alone. We have a neat array of plot twists and characters to aid our legend. At 2, we have the very formidable Luke Cage, Steel-Hard Skin. While we will have plenty of search in our deck, we’ll still need some drawing and cycling effects to help us move through our cards, and Luke Cage turns aggression into a source of card draw. While he will usually only be effective in the early turns, Luke Cage can net us the few extra cards that we might need to pull off our strategy.

At 3, we go full circle from the Fantastic Four to the Revenge Squad. The two 3-drops we have are quite potent in a deck that focuses on dropping opposing characters’ DEF. Ultraman, Despot of Kandor is effectively a miniature version of Heat Wave that stays effective as long as he retains his cosmic counter. Ultraman can drop many 2- and 3-drops’ DEF enough for them to be stunned by Nova Blast. Our other 3-drop is Lex Luthor, Champion of the Common Man. The most aggressive decks in Vs. System play almost nothing but ATK pumps, and Lex Luthor gives us the ability to play any plot twist we wish with the comfort of knowing that we can turn it into a timely pump if need be. Extra copies of ongoing plot twists that we can’t fit into our row can be used to chip away at opposing characters’ stats, perhaps enough to secure a timely stun with Nova Blast or Bizarro Ray.

Our 5-drop allows us to turn up the heat by recurring a plot twist of our choice. Sub-Mariner, Uncertain Ally isn’t much to look at stat-wise, but his recursion can effectively double the effectiveness of any one of our plot twists. For example, a recurred copy of Firewall will give our opponent’s characters -4 DEF for the turn. With just a little help, we can drop any character’s DEF low enough for Human Torch to take care of.

Turn 6 forces our opponents into an unpleasant position. Once we drop Brainiac 12 into play, our opponents can either move their characters into the front row to avoid losing DEF (though they face the prospect of our ensuing attacks) or place characters in the support row and risk us taking them out with our various stun effects.

Finally, we have an insurance 7-drop. While we aren’t playing ongoing plot twists exclusively, we do have enough in the deck to make good use of Brainiac 13. Just like Lex Luthor turns extra plot twists into pumps, Brainiac 13 lets us use a character card as a pump. By turn 7, we can usually count on Brainiac 13’s effect to give an opposing character -3 or -4 DEF.

We’ve seen what the characters have to offer, so now let’s look at the plot twists. Bizarro Ray has already been mentioned a few times. In addition, we have a few other Revenge Squad–stamped ongoing plot twists. Never-Ending Battle gives us the plot twist version of Lex Luthor’s effect. Now we don’t have to worry about getting the 3-drop into play because this plot twist can give us the same benefit when we discard a plot twist. Another nifty ongoing plot twist effect that Revenge Squad has is Hostile Takeover. This card allows us to sacrifice our excess characters to drop opposing characters’ DEF. In many cases, we will be forced to lose a character at the end of the turn anyway, so we might as well put that character to a grander (if somewhat morbid) use.

Our final Revenge Squad–stamped plot twist gives us dual utility. Dimensional Deal starts off as a Team-Up, pure and simple. But it’s also a neat defensive trick for our deck. With all the DEF hate in our deck, the ATK bonus from Dimensional Deal can be enough to secure timely stunbacks.

Before we move on, let’s take a quick look at one more DEF-hating plot twist. You might remember RAT-TAT-TAT from a couple weeks back. As good as it is with Ghost Rider, RAT-TAT-TAT is just plain mean when used with Human Torch. While one copy can substantially deplete our hand, RAT-TAT-TAT gives us the option of affecting multiple characters at once. Of course, if our opponent has multiple characters of the same cost, we can get numerous bonuses from a single card.

We have a couple strong search cards to aid us in hitting our character curve. Since we are playing a team-up deck, Enemy of My Enemy is pretty much a foregone conclusion. The loftiest of the lofty Vs. System search cards is perfect for any deck with multiple team affiliations (like ours). Of course, we can rarely have too much search in a deck, so we’re going to throw in a couple copies of Signal Flare. With a Team-Up, Signal Flare can effectively search out any character in our deck. This gives it a bit more utility than Enemy of My Enemy after we team-up. Before we team-up, though, we can only count on Signal Flare to find Fantastic Four characters (and then only if we have a Fantastic Four character in hand).

Our final plot twist is a necessity for dealing with problematic equipment cards. Because most of our stun effects target opposing characters, equipment cards like Cloak of Nabu and B.P.R.D. Signal Device can stymie our efforts. So, we need to pack a few copies of A Proud Zinco Product to deal with these threats. Obviously, A Proud Zinco Product can deal with any equipment card costing 1 or less, and if we find that our opponent isn’t packing any equipment, then we can always pitch Zinco as a pump for Lex Luthor or Never-Ending Battle.

Flame on! We didn’t start the fire, but we’re certainly going to stoke the flames of DEF hate. Let’s see what Johnny Storm and his newfound allies in the Revenge Squad have to offer us:

Flames of Wrath

 

4 Human Torch, Matchstick

4 Luke Cage, Steel-Hard Skin

4 Lex Luthor, CotCommon Man

4 Ultraman, Despot of Kandor

4 Human Torch, Nova Blast

4 Sub-Mariner, Uncertain Ally

2 Brainiac 12, Upgrade Complete

1 Brainiac 13, B-13

3 A Proud Zinco Product

4 Bizarro Ray

4 Dimensional Deal, Team-Up

4 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Firewall

3 Heat Wave

2 Hostile Takeover

4 Never-Ending Battle

3 RAT-TAT-TAT

2 Signal Flare

There really isn’t a standard mulligan condition for the deck. Luke Cage is certainly a good start (assuming that you can get a stun or two while attacking with him). There’s enough search in the deck that you probably won’t have to worry about hitting your curve, but given the low number of characters, you might be forced to pitch a high drop or two for one of those search cards. Still, this shouldn’t be a major issue because you will generally be able to control the board more effectively than your opponent can. Thus, you can underdrop in later turns and still maintain board advantage.

Although Human Torch, Nova Blast is great while defending, we will usually want the even initiatives. Because we can effectively recycle cards with Sub-Mariner, we will occasionally be able to play three copies of Firewall on turn 5. With a little help from some of our other plot twists, we could feasibly stun our opponent’s entire board with a Human Torch activation and a single copy of Heat Wave.

It’s time to cool off for a bit. Next week, I will present the final deck in my series of legend character features. Like this week’s deck, next week’s will feature a Silver Age DC team paired with one of our legendary characters. All that I can say is that it may well be the most powerful deck in Silver Age, period.

Come back next week to see what I mean.

Build A Legend:  Punisher (SA)  (10/24/07)

When it comes to deckbuilding in Vs. System, there are a few universal truths. First, always look to exploit obvious (and not so obvious) synergies between cards. Second, don’t try to get too fancy. If you build a deck designed to do everything, it will ultimately do nothing well. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s hard to go wrong with Checkmate.  It is this last truth that I would like to discuss.

Infinite Crisis Presents the Infinity Gauntlet

My local hobby shop has re-instituted its weekly Vs. System theme tournaments that I love so dearly. These tournaments are exercises in deckbuilding and playing that challenge traditional Vs. System roles. Specifically, these tournaments institute a specific condition that all participating decks must meet. Here are a few examples of recent theme tournaments:

Clone Wars: All of the characters in a player’s deck must have the same name. However, uniqueness rules do not apply.

Odds or Evens: All of the cards in a player’s deck must have either an odd or even cost.

Femme Fatale: All of the characters in a player’s deck must be female.

Single Blue:  Decks may only play a single copy of any plot twist (INSANITY is prohibited)

With these restrictions placed on deckbuilding, traditional builds are no longer playable. Instead, players must wrack their brains to find ways to compete within the specified format.

One of my favorites is the Single Blue format. While this format doesn’t seem like a major restriction, it’s surprising how tough it can be to build a consistent deck when you’re limited on the plot twists that you can play.

For this format, I had two very potent decks ready. My first deck was a revised build of JM Erlendson’s Team Superman / Thunderbolts deck that I featured in my column last November. With the new Team Superman cards in World’s Finest, this deck went from being formidable to absolutely silly. There are few decks that can compete with a turn 5 board of a 7/7 Krypto, Guard Dog of El; an 8/7 Speed Demon, Second Chance Speedster, and a 12/10 Beetle ◊ Mach II (thanks to Katrina Luisa Van Horne ◊ Amazon and Kandor).

However, I eventually decided to go with the fun and original choice of Checkmate. I know, I know, you’re all asking, “What’s so original about Checkmate?” Well, Checkmate can be quite original when you add in The Infinity Gauntlet. This deck was somewhat similar to Jason Hager’s renowned City Championships deck, but there were a couple of key differences. First, my theme deck abandoned the Fate Artifacts completely. Rather, I decided to focus entirely on getting The Infinity Gauntlet into play by turn 4 or 5. Second, the deck played no plot twists whatsoever—not a one!

After steering this deck to victory in the tournament (with the help of a very potent driving glove), I came to a very clear realization about team Checkmate: it may be the best team in the game around which to base an equipment-heavy deck.

Infinitely Legendary Deckbuilding

One of the combinations that has Vs. System players worldwide buzzing is the Fate Artifacts in the hands of Punisher, Guns Blazing. Not only do you get a formidable 4-drop with flight and range, but he also KO’s any character that he stuns. Yeah . . . it’s easy to see why this deck is on so many people’s radar.

But I think that it might be fun to see what Punisher could do with a few Infinity Gems. Obviously, The Infinity Gauntlet is the most powerful equipment card in Vs. System. But the Infinity Gems are also quite powerful on their own. With a character that can wield two of these equipment cards, we could create all kinds of chaos. Imagine Punisher toting Power Gem for +3 ATK and backing that up with Time Gem to prevent any opposing shenanigans. ’Tis a consummation to be wished for devoutly.

What happens when we combine a legendary character with a legendary Vs. System team, seven legendary jewels, and a legendary glove? To say that it would be the stuff of legends would be too easy, but it’s sure to be really interesting!

The Build

Let’s get the obvious cards out of the way:  Ego Gem, Mind Gem, Power Gem, Reality Gem, Soul Gem, Space Gem, Time Gem, The Infinity Gauntlet!

Hmm . . . A starting lineup like that is going to be hard to follow. We will venture forth bravely, though, with our lineup of legend cards to support the most vaunted of handwear. At 2, we have Punisher, Suicide Run. This version of Punisher has a power that works very well in a legend deck. His 3/2 is formidable enough to hold down the early turns, and after that, we can KO him to remove an opposing stunned character. With some of the big 3-drops that Checkmate boasts, we will often be able to get rid of a larger character with Punisher’s effect.

We’ve already talked about the amazing 4-drop Punisher, Guns Blazing. Over a quarter of our deck will be equipment cards, so we should have little trouble finding a way to get two equipment cards onto our MVP. With that, our legend should be able to KO a slew of opposing baddies. And if our 4-drop isn’t able to put the game away before turn 7, we have a copy of Punisher, Angel of Death to seal the deal. With The Infinity Gauntlet and Angel of Death in play, our opponents will have few to no safe attacks after turn 7. The combination of these two powerhouses is quite literally a win-win situation for us.

A couple of Punisher-stamped equipment cards will also find their way into our deck. First, we have some M60s for Punisher to brandish. At +4/+0, M60s are at the upper end of power for 0-cost equipment. While these big guns aren’t quite as versatile as the Infinity Gems (which we can return to our hand), they still pack quite a punch. Of course, if our opponent tries to go off-curve on us, we may need a bit more “finesse.” That’s why we also have a copy of Scattergun for our legend to wield. While we don’t get a direct attack bonus from Scattergun, it’s hard to argue that stunning two characters in one attack isn’t amazing.

Whew! We’re through a third of our deck already. Still, we have plenty more to look at, starting with a bunch of 1-drops. Our first pick is going to be Connie Webb, Knight. In a deck with plenty of character search, we wouldn’t need the Checkmate 1-drop to find our key characters. But since we’re going to be “roughing it” (that is, not playing any plot twists), we could really benefit from Connie Webb’s power. Harvey Bullock, Bishop is another Checkmate character with a useful activated power: Harvey can retrieve any lost equipment cards from our KO’d pile for us. With a Team-Up, he can also get rid of problematic equipment cards on our opponent’s side of the board. Jacob Lee, Knight doesn’t have an activated power, but a free character is great no matter how you look at it. Jacob Lee can give us enough late game offense to finish close games. Finally, we have a plot twist in character form in Jaime Reyes ◊ Blue Beetle. When we have to pick and choose specific equipment cards in our deck, we can use Jaime Reyes to find the ones that we are looking for.

We have a couple of 2-drop Checkmate characters to join Punisher, Suicide Run. Sarge Steel, Knight ranks as one of the best 2-drops in the game, and for good reason. When this knight is in play, our opponents must deal with him before they can take on our other characters. At 3/3, Sarge can hold his own against most 2-drops and a lot of 3-drops. Of course, Black Thorn is no slouch either. She is generally going to be more useful to us, though, by letting us reuse a location each turn. With some of the great locations in our deck, this can be an enormous benefit.

At 3, we have Ahmed Samsarra.  What? What more do you need when you have Ahmed in the deck? Oh, fine. We also have Christopher Smith ◊ Peacemaker. With our high-powered arsenal, we generally won’t have any trouble stunning an opposing defender. With that, we can get an additional stun from Peacemaker’s effect. Imagine if we use Peacemaker in unison with a Scattergun-equipped Punisher. Three stuns in one attack . . . it’s awesome, baby!

While Punisher will usually be our 4-drop of choice, we have a backup Checkmate 4-drop in Amanda Waller. With all of our strong low-cost characters, we can make great use of a boosted Amanda Waller on turn 5 or 6. Resource points are precious in any deck, and Amanda Waller gives us even more points to play with in the later turns.

We’ll be foregoing our 5-drop because we’ll be usually be putting our resource points to other uses on that turn. At 6, though, we have to have a copy of Huntress, Reluctant Queen. Much like Jaime Reyes, our 6-drop is really a plot twist in character form. Huntress can negate so many plot twist effects that would do us harm that she is almost a necessity in any Checkmate deck.

Finally, we have a backup 7-drop in Sasha Bordeaux, Autonomous Prototype. Let’s see . . . we aren’t playing any plot twists, and Sasha gives our Checkmate characters a +2/+2 bonus on turns when we don’t play plot twists. Using the transitive property, we can see that Sasha will give us a +2/+2 boost each turn. To say that Sasha is a perfect fit in our deck would be an accurate assessment.

Before we look at our locations, let’s get our final equipment cards out of the way. To give our King a bit of extra protection, we have a copy of B.P.R.D. Signal Device. Personally, I love this card! The versatility that this little equipment card affords is considerable. When opponents can’t target your key characters, they are often thrown off their game plans enough for you to take advantage. Of course, Laser Watch takes us in the opposite direction. I really can’t say enough good things about an equipment card that gives +2/+0 and range, can be equipped on either hidden or visible characters, and can replace itself with a draw. It is a no-brainer in any equipment-based Checkmate deck.

Let’s wrap up our deck analysis by looking at our locations. With Checkmate playing the role of primary team, there are a few cards that are obvious picks for us. First and quite possibly foremost, we have Brother I Satellite. This card fits Checkmate’s location-focused theme to a tee, providing effective and efficient search for our characters. Any search card that we can find straight away with Ahmed is a must for us. Of course, it’s a foregone conclusion that we also need the evolved version of Brother I: Brother Eye. The benefit of playing a location ATK pump is that we get reusable offensive pump. In addition, Brother Eye will usually become more potent as the game goes on because we can put more locations into our resource row. Finally, in any Checkmate deck that looks to team-up eventually, we should be playing Checkmate Safe House. This location is arguably the best Team-Up in the game. With any Team-Up, we want to achieve a crossover at the bare minimum. Checkmate Safe House accomplishes this goal and more—a lot more! When we form our characters in the support row, we can give all of them +1 DEF while defending. That’s a field stat boost that doesn’t cost us a thing! If we weren’t including this awesome Team-Up, we probably should be shot.

Our final Checkmate-stamped location isn’t as widely played as our aforementioned selections, but it is a perfect choice for us. With Checkmate Armory, we can spend resource points to search our deck for much-needed equipment cards. After we’re able to put those equipment cards into play, Checkmate Armory continues to help us out by giving our equipped characters +1/+0. Much like the +0/+1 from Checkmate Safe House, this +1/+0 may not seem like much. Consider, though, that this boost turns Laser Watch into +3/+0 and M60s into a massive +5/+0! Yeah . . . the numbers tell you how awesome Checkmate Armory can be.

We should aim to try to recruit an equipment card on every turn, starting on turn 2. However, dropping so many cards from our hand can drain our hand size. New Baxter Building can offset this hand disadvantage by giving us a free card each turn. With equipment like Laser Watch and Ego Gem, we can actually use New Baxter Building to achieve card advantage. Considering that we hope eventually to discard six equipment cards to recruit The Infinity Gauntlet, we’ll need all of the hand advantage that we can get.

Finally, we have another source of potential hand advantage in the recursion from Soul World. Unlike its predecessors Avalon Space Station and Slaughter Swamp, Soul World doesn’t mandate a discard to return a card from your KO’d pile. Soul World can become somewhat expensive in the endurance department, though. As long as we regulate our use of it, we can rest reasonably assured that Soul World will benefit us more than it costs us.

Giving a rogue vigilante like Punisher access to the most powerful artifact in the universe may be a bad idea. But hey, we’ve already built the deck! Let’s see what Mr. Castle can do when given the power of Infinity:

Both Gauntlets Blazing

 

4 Connie Webb, Knight

1 Harvey Bullock, Bishop

1 Jacob Lee, Knight

4 Jaime Reyes ◊ Blue Beetle

1 Black Thorn, Elizabeth Thorn

4 Punisher, Suicide Run

1 Sarge Steel, Knight

4 Ahmed Samsarra, White King

1 Christopher Smith, OOutlaw

1 Amanda Waller, Queen

4 Punisher, Guns Blazing

1 Huntress, Reluctant Queen

1 Punisher, Angel of Death

1 Sasha Bordeaux, APrototype

4 Brother I Satellite

2 Brother Eye

2 Checkmate Armory

4 Checkmate Safe House

2 New Baxter Building

1 Soul World

1 Ego Gem, Infinity Gem

1 Mind Gem, Infinity Gem

1 Power Gem, Infinity Gem

1 Reality Gem, Infinity Gem

1 Soul Gem, Infinity Gem

1 Space Gem, Infinity Gem

1 Time Gem, Infinity Gem

1 The Infinity Gauntlet

1 B.P.R.D. Signal Device

4 Laser Watch

2 M60s

1 Scattergun

In my limited experience with the deck, I’ve found that you can usually get six Infinity Gems and The Infinity Gauntlet in hand by turn 5; we will try for the even initiatives because we can get a free stun with The Infinity Gauntlet on turn 5. Granted, we will probably be drastically underdropping on turn 5 so that we can use Checkmate Armory to get whatever equipment cards we need in hand to recruit The Infinity Gauntlet for free.

With eight copies of Punisher available to us in the first four turns, we can usually count on drawing into a copy without too much trouble. Thus, we will go for the standard mulligan for the deck’s main facilitator, Ahmed Samsarra. With the White King setting up our resource row, we can get whatever location we might need.

And Now for Something Completely Different . . .

As many of you already know, I am a forensic accountant by trade. It is a job that I dearly love, and one at which I have spent the past two years trying to excel. My efforts recently paid off in the form of a promotion and a very nice pay raise. More money often means more responsibility, though. This has certainly been the case for me, as my new title has led to a much greater workload. While I am not complaining by any means (because I really do enjoy my job), this new workload has limited my recreational time quite a bit.

Two years ago, I told my boss-in-chief at UDE, Toby Wachter, that my job would always be my first priority. He has graciously obliged me many times in this regard, dealing with my work obligations with poise. Recently, though, my work demands have become more onerous, making it much more difficult for me to find the time to devote to quality article writing.

With all of that being said, I have decided to take a break from writing for a while. It was not an easy decision to come to, but I feel that it is the right one for now. As my responsibilities at my job increase, the time that I can spend producing quality articles for the devoted readers of VsSystem.com decreases. Personally, I feel that you all deserve better than a half-hearted effort from me. So I’ve decided to take a sabbatical.

Don’t worry, though; I’m sure that I’ll be dropping in for an occasional guest article from time to time. In the meantime, I hope that you will all join me next week for a “farewell” article of sorts, where I will recall some of my favorite excerpts from Breaking Ground articles past.

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