Lethal Weapons Part 3: Building Bricks

Before I begin, I would like to offer my heartiest thanks to the awesome folks over at the Lost Hemisphere – the prize package for their caption contest just arrived! A playset of I’m Back Poozers, a couple of Mikhail Rasputins and a Roshambo, all of which are darn near impossible to get over in the Philippines. Much rep and gratitude, gentlemen. Lamentations to UDE, we have no support whatsoever for this incredible game, but we’re such fanatics that we will continue to play it anyway, and it’s fine people like the Lost Hemisphere operators who make our Survivor-esque VS experience a little less excruciating.

Today, we take a trip down strategy lane and the diminution of usage of defensive combat effects in the world of VS. Just so we’re clear, defensive combat effects are those that a) attempt to increase a defender’s DEF or decrease an attacker’s ATK or b) nullify the attack somehow without readying the attacker/s. Exhaustion and other out-of-combat effects do not count because while they complement a stall or control strategy, which is inherently defensive, they are not strictly defensive effects.

We all know that generic offensive combat effects have always been staples of the game and the tournament scene. In contrast, defensive combat effects are used much less frequently, to the point of being limited to specialized strategies or deck themes. The simple reason for this is that most of the progress made by players towards winning occurs during through combat, and while offensive effects help to pound out what you need for your characters to successfully take down opposing characters, or simply allow you to dole out more endurance loss, defensive effects are reactive in nature and don’t directly harm your opponent or his characters. In fact, some defensive effects actually help to keep your opponent’s characters alive, such as Acrobatic Dodge and its cousin Against All Odds, by reducing the ATK of their targets.

More importantly, due to the prevalence of aggressive combat pumps and combat-oriented abilities in the current environment, standard stat-changing defensive effects (i.e. changes enemy ATK or friendly DEF in favor of the defender) are easily nullified or surpassed by the attacker’s pumps.  At present, most defensive DEF effects only provide a +2 or +3 DEF increase, which falls to the wayside in an environment full of +4 and +5 ATK pumps.  As such, instead of including DEF augmentation cards in the hopes of rendering an attack unsuccessful, the most that defenders hope for nowadays is to stun the attacking character back and hit hard in either the counterattack or the next turn’s opportunity.

Clearly wary of the whole concept of “stealing the initiative” by stopping attacks, the game designers saw fit to impose significant penalties on DEF enhancing defensive cards to keep them from being used prevalently.  Steely Resolve illustrates this trend perfectly, when compared to an ATK pump with the same high threshold.  Armageddon never sees play due to its high threshold cost, making it virtually useless until late game, where most aggressive decks try not to tread.  However, what you do get is a generic pump that gives a curve-smashing 6 ATK bonus to the character that uses it.  By comparison, at that nosebleed threshold, all you get for defensive tactics is a measly 3 DEF, which is easily bypassed by ATK pumps with the lowest of thresholds.

Last Stand is another example of a great DEF advantage that comes at a high price.  Under normal circumstances, having three or more stunned characters means you’re losing badly that turn, and while the 10 DEF augmentation for the turn is the largest in the game, chances are smart opponents will have already stunned your biggest characters, leaving the runt to stay alive (and probably not do much else).  This mentality of course changed with the inclusion of Evasion to the game mechanics, and in Golden Age, the Morlocks love this card to pieces.  Of course, this means that only the Spider-Friends and the Morlocks can practically get any mileage from Last Stand.

Lately, even stall or control decks steer away from DEF enhancement as an ineffective method of getting into the late game, and rely instead on exhaustion tech or attack negation to shut down opponents during their attack steps.

It seems that DEF-enhancing defensive effects have generally been relegated to the land of the obsolete or highly specialized.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the tempo of VS has always leaned towards total aggression on your initiative followed by sucking up endurance loss and hoping you survive attacks off-initiative.

The second type of defensive effect, much more team or character-specific, is the attack removal or negation effect, which normally has the side symptom of exhausting the defender to maintain initiative parity.  By way of exception, we have Invisible Woman’s mighty Force Field Projection, an amped version of the Teen Titans’ frustrating Heroic Sacrifice.  The fact that it allows the defender to escape the attack unscathed makes it ridiculously powerful, and is largely the reason for the rise to glory of the Fantastic Four in the current tourney environment.  FF Beats in Origins didn’t have off-initiative solutions other than their oversized characters.  Force Field Projection singlehandedly removes that weakness, and with the hefty Family of Four all-around combat pump at their disposal as well, the new FF are armed with all the tools they need to achieve victory.

Indestructible provides a similar function for the vaunted World’s Finest deck, and although it only comes into play from turn 5 up, it is a winning tactic whenever it resolves.  Sure, Superman can no longer slap an opponent around that turn, but the fact of a brickwalled attack and the likely prospect that he will stun the attacker turn the tables big time for the unwary opposing player.

Consistent with the VS designer principle of maintaining combat flow towards a constant exchange of initiative, these effects are restricted only to particular characters and teams, which enhances the overall flavor of the game.  Tricks of this magnitude are definitely not for everyone.  If you want to play Force Field Projection or Indestructible (and you can afford to or were lucky enough to pull them from packs), then you’ll have to align yourself to the Fantastic Four (I know Sue’s got other affiliations, but she kicks the most butt with FFP on her home team) or Superman’s teams to do so.

It is interesting to note that good offensive tricks are freely granted to all teams, while the best defensive tricks are highly specialized and team-centric.  In other words, anyone can dish it out, but it takes a real hero to roll with the punches.

Next: Rise of the Machines

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