The Science of Search

Like any other card game, collectible or otherwise, the most obvious key to victory is having the right cards in your hand at the right time. Whether it’s that pair of Aces in a Hold’ Em tourney or that 3-card Wolverine combo that you needed to deal the winning breakthrough endurance loss to your opponent, possession of those cards at the critical moment is determined in practically all instances by the luck of the draw. In collectible games like VS, however, that luck factor can be substantially minimized by two factors: the inclusion of the maximum allowable number of copies of the card or cards you need in the deck, and the inclusion of search cards. The quality and variety of search cards in VS has improved by leaps and bounds over the course of the game, for better or worse, shaping the tournament and general gameplay environment more than any other type of card that has ever been printed for the game. All the amazing card combinations and excellent characters in the world don’t mean anything if they can’t find their way into play, and search cards did just that, providing tournament decks out there with the one thing they require more than anything – consistency. This series of articles will discuss the impact of search cards in VS in my usual text wall comprehensive style, so brace yourselves if you’re still reading, because I’ve got a lot to write on the subject.

Marvel Origins: The Fundamentals

The inaugural set of VS featured a smattering of search cards, the most important of which were the three cards you see above. Veterans of the game will recognize them as key cards in the Common Enemy team-up deck archetype, and they deserved recognition for ensuring that all the power of the Fantastic Four/Doom alliance came with consistency, as well. Common Enemy would most certainly not be the contender that it was had it not been for those three cards. In particular, Signal Flare deserves mention as the first team-stamped general character search card in the game, granting the team the ability to hit its curve better than any other team for the cost of a Fantastic Four character card discard. The impact of Signal Flare cannot be overemphasized; in a game where characters were indispensable to victory and a player’s most valuable asset, the ability to search for them was priceless. The character search card is a feature by which every team since had been judged, and teams without it typically fell by the wayside unless they had some other method of overcoming the inconsistency that came with the lack of one, such as through sheer redundancy or extensive card sifting properties.

Signal Flare serves three effective purposes, as do all other character search cards. The first is, of course, to make sure that you draw important characters. If there is a FF character you absolutely must play on a given turn, every copy of Signal Flare turns any FF character card in your hand into potentially copies 5-8 of that character. Let’s use Thing, Heavy Hitter as an example. Barring any extra card draw, if you have 4 copies of Thing HH in a typical 60-card deck, your chances of drawing one copy of Thing is about 66.5%. Not bad, I suppose, for a 5-drop, if you’ve got the space to spare for 4 copies of him. Now, with 4 Signal Flares in your deck, your chances improve dramatically to about 89.8%, and those are odds I can work with any day. Sure, there’ll still be that 10% of the time you just won’t pull him when you need him, but 10% is a lot better than 33.5% in a game where a single card drawn at the right time can make all the difference.

The second strength of a character search card is that it allows you to set up a “toolbox” in your deck where you can place a single copy of character that would be a lesser pick in most instances, but that you would want in specific match-ups or situations. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that you’d rather have Mr. Fantastic, Stretch out in this one game, even though you usually want Thing on the field. You only have to put one copy of Stretch in your deck, and though this usually results in only a 23% chance of drawing him by turn 5, Signal Flare boosts those chances to a whopping 75%.

The third use of a character search card, related to the first two, is that it allows you to conserve space in your deck that you’d rather reserve for important plot twists or other integral non-character cards. Using the earlier example with Stretch, 75% odds are still quite admirable for a card that only technically occupies a single slot in your deck.

There is a fourth use for cards of Signal Flare’s ilk, and that is for combat, when a single +1 ATK or +1 DEF, or both, stands between your character stunning an opponent’s character or avoiding the stun/stunback. If you’ve got an extra copy of that card, or even a card with the same name, then you can search for that crucial power-up to swing things in your favor.

That’s a whole lot of utility for a single card, whether it acts as a character finder or a combat trick in a pinch. It’s no surprise, then, that character search cards have normally been money rares, due to their rightly perceived value.

Faces of Doom was a curious search card in the sense that it really only searched for a copy of a character card with the name Dr. Doom, and that it required that you controlled Dr. Doom for you to play it. Still, it served most of the purposes that Signal Flare did, and emphasized the extreme necessity of having Dr. Doom in play since so many effects were generated or became possible with his mere presence. It was also far more playable than it first seemed, because a number of cards in the game gave you the status “considered to control Dr. Doom”.

At this point, before I discuss Boris, it is worthy to note a couple of non-plot twist search cards that appeared in MOR. Boliver Trask searched for army Sentinel character cards, which was decent given the team to which he was aligned, but also somewhat cumbersome (as most searching characters are) because he cost resource points to play and generate his search effect – resource points that would have been better spent recruiting something bigger depending on when he was played. Given the nature of the Sentinels this wasn’t such a concern, but it created an inherent limitation to what you bring down during the build phase.

Character search locations have since become just as important as plot twist character searchers in certain team or archetype builds, but the first true such location wouldn’t arrive until a set later. Yancy Street, when played, was there more to avoid Finishing Moves and the like, and the search was really just a nice triggered side effect when somebody managed to stun Thing.

Plot Twist, Etc. searchers

While character cards are definitely the lynchpins for any deck strategy in VS, the non-character cards are also integral elements for their ability to provide one-shot or continuing effects that enhance your characters and improve their performance, in combat or otherwise. Boris was so highly prized because he fetched any plot twist for his master and friend, Dr. Doom, who would sometimes be one Reign of Terror or Mystical Paralysis short of ruining the opponent’s day. In Common Enemy, Boris further improved the character consistency of the deck since he could also search for Signal Flare. Plot twist search is in some cases more valuable than character search since it provides you with a psychological as well as strategic advantage. Boris on the field was enough to spoil the calculations of many an opponent because now he knew you could get at least one copy of some threatening plot twist from your deck, not counting any copies you had naturally drawn. Moreover, you could slip in one copy of a plot twist that he wasn’t expecting and play it to foil his plans at a critical point in the game. As the only card capable of plot twist search at the time, Boris was duly feared for what he could do.

Forge, Tech Upgrade and the Mr. Fantastic 7-drop all searched for equipment, which wasn’t quite so important then because (a) equipment had to be attached to a character and had no surprise value and (b) equipment could only be played during the build phase and would sometimes cost valuable resource points. Equipment has since become much more useful, but at the time, with the exception of Fantastic Toys/Fun, it was mostly left out of serious decks.

Finally, we come to the Pogo Plane, the first card that searched for locations. As we all know, the right locations are excellent for the most part due to the continuing effects they provide, or effects that can be played again every turn. But when the effect comes from a mediocre piece of equipment that costs a resource point, well, it leaves you wondering. Antarctic Research Base got a lot of mileage with the help of the Pogo Plane (until it got banned, anyway), but on its own, the Plane was, thankfully, not a standard-setting card.

Edit:  Gosh.  How could I have forgotten the search card that recently made waves as one of the cornerstones of the now-defunct Bizarro all-identity deck archtype?  Of course, I’m talking about Four Freedoms Plaza:

It must be mentioned that, unlike most other search cards that require you to reveal the card you searched for to your opponent (naturally, so that your opponent can verify that you searched for that particular card type), Four Freedoms Plaza rewarded players with the element of surprise in addition to the already potent ability to search for any card in their deck, which was certainly adequate compensation for being able to get all four of the Fantastic Four in play at the same time (a difficult feat even today).

Next: The Arkham Conundrum.

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