Lethal Weapons Part 2: The Magic Numbers

(I apologize for not updating this as much as I should have last week – a wedding and a wake occupied a significant portion of my spare time.)

As we are all aware, VS is ultimately a game of numbers.  Strip away the flashy card art, epic flavor text and colorful characters and you’ll see that the combat actually ensues between conflicting values and variables influenced by the players.  The most consistent gradient expression of this value system is the character curve, where character resource costs determine to a large extent the size of the character and his or her consequent effectiveness in combat.  The difference between VS and other games that utilize a form of resource system (be it gold, mana or influence) is that a single resource point matters a whole lot more.  The average ATK and DEF between drops differs by a factor of 2 to 3 points from drop 2 upwards.  In Magic, a 6-cost 7/7 Dragon would be considered overpowered; in VS, that same dragon would be splattered under the soles of the 12/12 Batman’s boots.

The relatively wide disparity between characters based on cost ratios creates an “effectiveness filter” through which all combat augmentations must pass, given the constraints of the standard 60-card deck.  Offensive ATK pumps of less than +3 ATK are almost always discarded as wastes of deck space.  3 was the first magic number, the minimum ATK bonus (or DEF reduction) that was considered acceptable, due to a number of reasons:

Beating the Averages. The average is really just that, and more often we usually see characters with a DEF of one above or an ATK one below that number, making even combat between characters of the same cost a risky proposition at times.  A +1 or even a +2 on ATK can be deflected by a power-up with uneven stats.  A bonus of 3 on ATK gives just enough of an excess to require the opponent to play a combat trick of his own to avoid the stun.

Attacking Up the Curve. A lower cost character attacking a higher cost character successfully is always desirable, since it allows the player to now use his bigger characters to deal more breakthrough against defending smaller characters with less fear of being stunned back.  Since the difference in stats between character costs rounds out to about a 3 ATK deficiency on the smaller character, +3 ATK would be the minimum offensive pump that would remain useful throughout the game for attacking up the curve.

+3 DEF pumps. Back in the days of Marvel Origins, Acrobatic Dodge was quite the popular generic defensive DEF pump, and it didn’t matter that the defending character lost -3 ATK as long as the attack was successfully brickwalled.  These days, with the existence of Against All Odds and (hahaha) Steely Resolve, using an ATK pump to effectively negate a DEF pump is still standard tech.

VS has seen a vast selection of +3 ATK/-3 DEF offensive combat effects, of both the generic and team-stamped variety.  Often the combat augmentation will be accompanied by some minor bonus effect, such as giving range to the character (Crack Shot) or allowing the character to move to a different position (Combat Reflexes).  The king of the hill, though, has always been Flying Kick.

It’s no secret that Flying Kick is one of the most used and powerful offensive ATK pumps of all time, because of all the strength and utility packed into that one plot twist.  It met the 3 ATK threshold, and in addition, it gave the attacking character flight, which was extremely valuable for causing maximum damage because it allowed a character to bypass a protecting front row character and possibly break up an otherwise tight defensive combat formation.  Most often, a valuable or more vulnerable character would be protected to minimize its chances of being stunned, and Flying Kick nullified that defensive advantage.  Flying Kick also lasted for the turn, which, while not that significant in general, turned out to be lethal on characters that could attack more than once per turn.  Lastly, Flying Kick only had a threshold of 1, so it could be played in early turns, which was critical to decks that needed to end the game quickly before running out of steam.

As such, 3 was the rule of thumb that all combat-oriented decks observed when making calculations.

Which is why Savage Beatdown was, and still is, the most devastating generic combat pump in the game’s existence.  It’s technically two ATK plot twist effects for the price of one, with the one drawback being that the card can only be played at the four resource mark or later, which is where a lot of the deadly combat occurs anyway, Quicksilvers be damned (Bring back Overload!!!!!!!!).  It also allowed a character to attack way up the curve, destroying all fair and equitable calculations that might have been had in a typical combat sequence.  It’s not a utility card like Flying Kick.  If Flying Kick is the fine blade that you use to pierce a crucial pressure point, Savage Beatdown is the spiked club that you use to pound the opponent into the dirt.  Nothing makes an opponent panic for countermeasures like a +5 ATK pump.  Larger ATK bonuses have since arrived, but they either have some narrow restrictive use (Hulk Smash can only give that +8 ATK to an attacking Hulk) or are useful too late to have much effect on the game (Armageddon’s 6 threshold).

More recently, a new class of combat pumps has emerged, or rather, been re-launched, as the heftier alternative to the +3 ATK pumps, since one can only have four Savage Beatdowns in a deck.  Yep, the +4 ATK bonuses, namely, Blinding Rage and Big Leagues, with Mega-Blast as their predecessor if we’re looking back into Golden Age.  Mega-Blast is still utilized efficiently in our casual games back here, and makes a decent alternative for those who can’t afford the price tags on the other 4 ATK pumps and the Beatdowns.  Now, +4 has quickly become the more viable alternative in an increasingly stat-heavy environment, where characters typically have a DEF one higher (at least) than the average of a couple of years ago.  I am inclined to believe that the stat power creep has gone as far as it will by this point, but 3-drop 7/7s could be just around the corner, and combat plot twists will have to be boosted in turn.

Next:  Building Bricks

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One Response to “Lethal Weapons Part 2: The Magic Numbers”

  1. Damn, that’s a great way to get back into the swing. Get it? The “swing”.

    I have been gone for a bit too, and it feels great to return to quality stuff like this.

    Thanks.

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