“I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run” – Soundgarden
I would like to first and foremost thank everyone that read the articles posted for the kickoff contest on this website. I am appreciative to all that voted and am especially honored to be one of selected winners along with John Tatta and Ian Vincent. I ask that you keep visiting the site and help it grow along with this game we all enjoy so much. Now to the main event…
We left off with the tournament I detailed in my first article. Joe, Adam, and I had put in weeks of testing to develop what we believed to be an optimal deck at that time. We learned much during this process and we all enjoyed finally getting some VS in tournament form although it was a small event. The tournament also introduced us to Michael Maness; another local player that could test with us. With our fourth horseman and not much of a defined metagame, we now had six weeks to prepare for Origins.
Before brainstorming wild new decks, our first task was to establish a testing gauntlet. We knew there were definite MCs that would be popular for play – Thanos, Dark Phoenix, Luke Cage, Captain Marvel, and Starlord immediately came to mind. So we built basic decks for each of these, taking turns playing them and trying to tweak them to their best versions. Then we would start branching out to different or new MCs that we each wanted to test. Each homebrew would get thrown up against the primary decks as well as each other to find out their strengths and weaknesses.
Many playable MCs were tested, including the likes of Deadpool, Enchantress, Black Cat, Iron Man, and Hulk. We had our share of pet decks along the way as well. Michael had builds of Dr. Strange and Sister Grimm that were very interesting. Adam developed a strong Storm deck that could compete and also punished any deck that stumbled. I played a Mystique deck that could level quickly, but could just have a hard time finishing games. Joe was the mad scientist who brought all kinds of brews to the table including some Professor X and Rocket.
A side note on deck testing – it may be tempting to only concentrate on the decks that you or your group think are the “best”. However, if you fall into the rut of playing these same decks over and over you will warp your perceptions of the game itself and stifle your innovation to just the decks that you are playing. If you see something you would like to try with a character, it is worth trying to explore it. You may come across different interactions or strategies that you would not have previously. Sometimes it is just a good break for your mind to play something different and fun (gasp!).
As we went through our testing, the “big four” emerged as the strongest contenders. Each of these decks had strong MCs and solid gameplans. Any deck that was talked about or put together was always compared against these decks to assess their viability:
There’s not much I can say about this guy that already hasn’t been said. He’s been at the top of the mountain since day 1. His 2nd level ability is the best in the game, and most decks can consistently pull it off (some versions can hit multiple activations). Our testing primarily centered around two versions: the combo-type version and a curve based build primarily backed up by Femme Fatale SCs and plot twists. Thanos was already great, but Goblin Queen has pushed him over the top.
One of the new kids on the block, Dark Phoenix has the best resource acceleration ability in the game and allows you to drop heavy hitters early and often. There are typically two versions of her deck – one that is based around the ramp ability, and one that runs the Pixie/Singularity combo (which also benefits from the ramp). The combo version is more explosive, but can be inconsistent. Either way, you will need to suppress her ability via a protected Cosmo and be able to counter large characters several turns earlier than you would typically see them.
Also a newcomer, this MC lends itself to being a very fast hitting aggro deck. The best versions of the deck maximize the use of range SCs to get her size out of hand quickly. Her A-force support helps this strategy with You Won’t Like Her When She’s Angry and synergistic SCs such as Meggan. Your opponent needs cards like Dr. Strange, Black Cat, and Even the Odds against Captain Marvel as a way to drop her back down to a manageable size.
Luke is one of the most resilient MCs, and for that we believed he would see quite a bit of play. His ability to stave off wounds and to search up a character that can stun other characters no matter their size is crucial. There were many different versions of this deck as well, but most try to capitalize on leveling the MC up as soon as possible and picking up with SCs from turn 4 on. One particular version really strives to abuse Luke’s Impervious Skin ability with A Force support, using Build a Better World to keep renewing Fortress resources. Your key to victory is to get wounds on Luke when you can, and try to stick a Cosmo and protect it to shut his ability down.
We also knew that we were likely to see several Pixie/Singularity combo decks.
Obviously, some MC’s are better than others at abusing this combo. Although many different MCs can be used, the basic premise of the deck and the interactions between those cards are the same. The combo brings in large characters and keeps them on the board, while also protecting characters and abusing appear abilities. We had seen this in decks with MCs such as Loki, Hulk, Professor X, etc.
As the tournament approached we were still split on which deck to run. Everyone respected Thanos but nobody really wanted to play it. Joe was a big advocate of the Luke Cage build and put a lot of time into tweaking it. We all loved its overall game against a gamut of decks. The Cosmo ruling change leading up to the tournament definitely turned us off of Dark Phoenix. So three of us (Joe, Adam, and I) ran the Cage list while Michael went in on Captain Marvel.
MC Luke Cage
The first 3 turns with this deck are leveling up Luke and playing whatever 1-drop you need the most. Luke can stun many opposing MCs so you want to get in there early and often. These guys are your utility answers for so many problems presented by opponents. Everyone knows how good they are so I’ll save my typing…
Miss America 4
Turns 4 and 5 are incredibly important to this deck since that’s when we really start to build our board. We need SCs that can come in an affect the game immediately, and that is what this package does. The dynamic duo of She-Hulk and Miss America is amazing. Miss America trades for 2-3 opposing characters and gets the benefit of She-Hulk’s any combat ability. They can team attack with the pump for 15, and you choose who takes the strike back. Punisher is fantastic for clearing the board and getting rid of troublesome multi-wound characters. Sabretooth was originally in the build, but it morphed into Modok leading up to the tournament. Modok was a good fit (like Punisher) to attack from the back row while we protected him and got the draws we needed with his ability.
Iron Man 2
Adam Warlock 3
Iron Fist 1
These guys made up the to end of our curve, minus Iron Fist. But he still belongs here with the heavy hitters. His ability is negated by Shock to the System, but he is reoccurring. He can help you get through that huge wall your opponent has or can knock a rolled-up Captain Marvel or Thanos back down to regular size. Drax plays solid offense and defense in this deck, as he does in most. Iron Man helps us rerun our resources for Luke Cage, or it sets up a timely for Fortress for when Adam Warlock hits the next turn. Warlock is our big finisher, combating opposing Thanos SCs by arriving a turn sooner to wreak havoc.
Super Senses 4
Shock To The System 4
Even The Odds 3
Hidden Weapons 4
Super Senses is an auto-include, as we have to protect Luke and our key SCs. Shock is just flat-out the best defensive plot twist in our mind so it also joins the party (the top dog used to be Think Again, but Avengers are just a relatively weak team). The Even the Odds were also a natural fit since we were already heavy with Guardians characters. The shining tech of the deck, however, was Hidden Weapons. There were so many times this card could cause blowouts because our opponents simply did not expect it. We were on it early in testing and saw so many benefits. It could allow us to strike back at ranged attacks on our characters and many times survive due to the pump. It could allow us to give Luke range and 5 power to strike an opposing MC like Thanos without a stun back, putting us up a wound on turn 1. Luke could also team up with Punisher to range attack for 14 points of Lethal damage.
Training Grounds 4
Sanctum Santorium 4
This deck is not too heavy on the resources. Most everything revolves around Luke Cage and a few utility abilities. Of course, Fortress is your best friend so you must be aware of when to hold them and when to use them. Joe and I played this same list. Adam differed in that he played an extra Knowhere and cut a Hidden Weapons.
The deck plays pretty aggressive in its nature. Luke is good at getting stuns in early on your opponent’s characters while leveling up. Your 1-drops help to limit your opponent’s game plan during the first turns, and you can also search up Iron Fist after leveling on turn 3 to help with your board state. You can then start dropping some heavy hitters on turn 4. The extra 4-drops and 1-drops also allow you to play off-curve on turn 5, maximizing your options on these crucial turns. The ideal plan is to have 3-4 wounds on the opposing MC by the time Drax and Adam Warlock start hitting the table, and they can help to push you over the top.
Although there are an abundance of defensive plot twists, this deck was never designed to be a stall deck. Sure, if you get into a long drawn out game against some control deck like Professor X or Dr. Strange, you may benefit from outlasting your opponent on the wound count tiebreaker. But that is not this deck’s strategy; it would rather win as fast a possible. The defensive twists are there to so that you can efficiently attack to stun your opponent’s characters while protecting your key characters from their attacks.
I did not do as well as my teammates but I would still go with the same list given the opportunity. I ran into some bad matchups/draws that I just couldn’t overcome. I took some early wounds against a Storm deck, but eventually stabilized and was able to hide Luke behind a Miss America and Drax. However, my opponent proceeded to rip a Ghost Rider and stun Luke out-of-combat for the final wound. I also played a Thanos deck that gauntleted me on turn 4 (on the play, no less) and that was game over. I also had an epic game against a Star Lord opponent where we battled back and forth before he was able to stick a Thanos and double stun Luke a couple of times while I drew no Warlocks.
Adam and Joe both made Top 8 with the deck, finishing 2nd and 7th respectively. Michael piloted the Captain Marvel deck to an 8th place finish. Of course I was disappointed to not Top 8 as well, but I’m proud of them and was there to cheer them along as they battled. We obviously can feel good about our testing and it was great validation for the hard work we put into it. We are now shifting our focus to GenCon. We already have big plans in the works, but I guess you will just have to join us in Indy to find out!
On a final note, I cannot express how great the atmosphere was at the Origins event. Everyone I met was so friendly and genuinely excited to be playing VS. There was also a high level of sportsmanship and class exhibited too. I can’t remember the last time I had such a positive experience at an event and many others said the same. I also have to say thank you to Mark Shaunessy, Chad Daniel, and the staff of judges for promoting and running a smooth event.
The only negative I have is that we did not fill out the entire tournament. We thought for sure that the 96 available slots would be full. I know everyone has busy lives and work schedules, but if you really want to help the game please try to attend these events so that Upper Deck is encouraged to run more events. Overall, I think we would all like to help the game grow. I look forward to seeing everyone at GenCon!