The Science of Search, Part 8

Exploring the Galaxy

The Heralds of Galactus expansion, trumpeting the long-awaited arrival of the purple world-eater, has long proven itself as perhaps the best VS expansion due to the vast number of powerful archetypes that it introduced and the flavorful diversity of its teams, all somehow miraculously compressed in a regular-sized set of 220 cards.  Representing a sort of culmination of previous VS design efforts and a crystallizing of attributes that made teams competitive and distinct at the same time, it should be no surprise that the search tech in MHG wasn’t all that revolutionary.

Which is not to say that the search available wasn’t formidable.  The Heralds team, for example, received the first character search card that searched for up to two character cards, with the drawback of having to place them on top of your deck instead of actually placing them in your hand.  Silver Surfer also had quite a useful search effect tempered by the fact that it was, like Kindred Spirits, more card draw arrangement.  This was not so bad for the Heralds, of course, considering that card drawing was one of the team’s themes.  Creation of a Herald was either the most powerful search card in the game or a little worse than DSM’s The Exchange, depending on whether you had a Galactus in hand to pitch.

The other MHG teams received search tech appropriate to their theme – the Inhumans had a location search card that keyed off the number of face-up resources the player had, Doom’s search was based on KOing one’s own characters, the Kree required that characters return to the player’s hand, the Infinity Watch needed the player to reveal one of the coveted Infinity Gems, and the Skrulls had an easy way to pull out their primary team-up card.  Nothing game-breaking by the standards of VS at the time, but all solid options that helped support each team’s main victory strategy.

It is worth noting that, in a field where the Fate Artifacts had raised the importance of equipment to a whole new competitive level, the MHG card Cannibal Tech provided yet another easy search option for the assembling of the artifacts, particularly for teams that weren’t inherently search-savvy.

The follow-up to MHG, the Legion of Super-Heroes expansion for DC, was by contrast a towering disappointment.  Stricken by the same affliction that apparently plagued the DSM set, seemingly novel team themes turned out to be severely underpowered, leaving the Legion and its ilk trampled into the space dust by the overwhelming might of the Galactus-fueled sector of the galaxy.  In fact, the set may have turned out to be a complete waste of cardboard had it not been for the redeeming quality of the Darkseid’s Elite relaunch, and the generic mono-team search card we had been waiting for since DC Origins:

Mobilize immediately drew comparisons with Enemy of my Enemy for power and utility, becoming the must-have-4-of for mono-team decks, simple and reliable in practically all situations where character search was required by such a deck, with the one drawback that you had to have a character in play to be able to Mobilize another into your hand.  This would result in some skewing of the numbers for character cards of each cost in decks that used Mobilize, which would now be heavier on 1 and 2-drops so that Mobilize could assist with the acquisition of later drops.

There is no doubt that Mobilize is powerful and useful, and stands out as one of the best search cards in the game, arguably the second best.  The reason why Mobilize bridesmaids out to Enemy of my Enemy is that Mobilize, while improving consistency substantially, still requires a player to stay on-team, and deal with all of that team’s strengths and weaknesses.  It will make a champion affiliation much better, but it won’t plug the holes in a lousy affiliation.  EoME, on the other hand, opens up a wealth of toolbox strategies and silver bullets for certain match-ups, and allows a player to compensate for deficiencies in his curve with the appropriate complementary guest star.

Nonetheless, I will be happy to see EoME leave the tournament scene (except for Golden Age and BYOS, anyway) if only because the departure of EoME, which conversely leads to the ascension of Mobilize, means that people will start playing mono-teams or tight team-ups again, and I feel that this is part of the true essence of a card game that features larger-than-life comic book characters and the partnerships and enmities between them.

Before I wrap up this article, I must point out one curious DLS entity that was predicted to make a huge splash in the tournament scene, but turned out to be a dud because the rest of his team stank:

In a tournament field where toolboxing and engine decks ran rampant, Time Trapper should have been a gamma bomb.  Since most search tech required card discard in the first place, the additional discard spelled massive card disadvantage for the opponent.  Ahmed Samsarra forcing a discard every time he went off to acquire a location, for example, would give a Checkmate player palpitations.  Regretfully, the Future Foe discard theme was so weak that on his own, Time Trapper didn’t have quite such an impact, and he soon faded into obscurity, much like his team.

At this juncture in the history of VS, search tech had pretty much reached its zenith as far as character search was concerned, and was already quite developed in the search for non-character cards.  Was there anywhere left to go from here?

Next: Legendary Aspirations


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