The Science of Search, Part 2

The Arkham Conundrum

When DC Origins hit the scene, it appeared at first that the Gotham Knights would be the dominant team to emerge from the set. After all, they had the following cards:

Behold, a card that seemed to surpass Boris in terms of utility! Everyone’s favorite sarcastic butler (sorry, Jarvis) searches for a plot twist OR equipment! And he returns to your hand so you can play him again without having to search for him in your deck! And what about that Bat-Signal, able to be played on turn 1, without costing you a character card! Card advantage on a search card, hooray!

We all know now, of course, that the hype was rather overblown. Alfred and Bat-Signal are awesome cards in their own right, certainly, but search alone does not a victorious team make. GK’s troops and tricks were underpowered in general, with no exciting combat tricks to speak of, and the vaunted card drawing power that they were supposed to possess was actually a lot of trouble to exploit in actual practice.

Intriguingly, what happened next was that players decided that access to these search cards was so integral that it was worth teaming up with GK just to be able to play them. A fair number of deck archetypes out there, including the infamous Rigged Elections and the Big Bat machine, would not have been possible without these critical puzzle pieces. Before, players had to look towards the Signal Flare of FF and Boris of Doom to achieve similar results, which is why the Common Enemy archetype could not be duplicated with any other team-up. Now, suddenly, both components were available as soon as a team-up with GK was achieved. Alfred and Bat-Signal made the combo or engine deck possible for the first time in VS, and their innovative contribution to the game remains etched in the memories of VS veterans everywhere.

This is not to say that the other teams represented in DOR did not receive a search card of their own to exploit.

The first character search cards that were locations appeared in DOR for the Teen Titans and the League of Assassins, respectively, albeit in different forms. The Titans received a reusable effect, reminiscent of locations in general, that was balanced out by the need to pay a resource point to utilize the effect. Since the Titans were comfortable enough playing off-curve, this wasn’t such a drawback to them, and in the worst case scenario, it could be used effectively on the first two turns to set up the rest of the game. The League, on the other hand, got the first non-unique location that produced a one-shot search effect, so it basically played like a plot twist search card except with the added reinforcement bonus for Ra’s Al Ghul and the fact of it being a location, which meant it could only be played from the resource row. The Underworld Star was essentially Signal Flare for the Fearsome Five with a lesser threshold cost.

Which brings us to the Arkham Inmates, and their deprivation of any form of search card. Why did the designers of DOR see fit to exclude the AI from the blessing of character search that they so liberally provided to every other team? At the time, it was speculated that Arkham ran a pretty nasty curve that could KO your opponent’s characters every turn, and they were granted all these nifty effects (like Kidnapping, which is horrific and makes Finishing Move seem beneficial by comparison), so it was a method of balancing them out. Or perhaps it was to emphasize the chaotic nature of the denizens of Arkham, that it would be out of flavor to give them something as consistency-defining as a search card. Well, neither explanation is as satisfying as that the designers just plum forgot, needlessly crippling the AI before they could really strut their stuff.

This disturbing trend of leaving teams without search cards and forcing them to play copious amounts of character cards to offset the random draw factor continued with the Web of Spider-Man. The Spider-Friends had all the elements necessary to combat the most fearsome decks of the time — Nice Try to negate effects like Mystical Paralysis and Roy Harper’s/Terra’s direct stuns, Spider Senses to give a nice +3 DEF boost without any ATK loss, and the Amazing 7-drop Spiderman, who exhausted your opponent’s characters easily to steal the initiative and give you the clear combat advantage. When it came to searching for your characters, however, the Spider-Friends got this:

Now, this isn’t exactly garbage-worthy, and functioned decently enough if you were playing a Spider-clones archetype, but is extremely limited in its search capability and does not provide access to the rest of the Spider-Friends roster, who were excellent in their own right. I still submit today that if the MXM Spider-Friends had something along the lines of Signal Flare or Bat-Signal, they would have been contenders in the VS environment of the time.

The Sinister Syndicate of MSM were trash, and even less playable without a search card of any sort.

Oh, let’s not forget this little gem from MSM, a legacy search card for the Brotherhood:

Threshold is a bit high since ideally you shouldn’t need the character you can search for until turn 6 anyway, but overall a search card with very narrow utility, which was useless in the New Brotherhood builds and was only marginally playable in Big Brotherhood.

Next up: The Search Continues

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