Archive for the Uncategorized Category

And the Evolution Keeps Rolling…

Posted in Uncategorized on October 30, 2008 by omnicresence

… away?

I didn’t think it was a legitimate concern the first few times I read about it, but the comment from one of my VS playmates here in the Philippines was that he was getting worried about the power creep in MEV.  Considering that there doesn’t seem to be a DC set on the horizon as of yet and my friends are mostly DC enthusiasts, it’s possible that they’ll buy into MEV, but will the latest set make all the previous sets obsolete?

As of the present, MUN has still kept things fairly sober, partly due to the inherent limitation of supply that would engineer the creation of more frightening decks.  Now that we’ve learned from the MUN experience, we could be ordering MEV in abundance…

… or it may lead to our casting off VS to the level of purely casual gaming, to be replaced eventually by a more accessible hobby.

Hahaha.  There’s not much more to say at the moment with the MEV previews rushing in like tidal waves.  It’s nice to know, at least, that the R&D crew at UDE have yet to run out of fresh ideas.

In Memoriam

Posted in Uncategorized on July 7, 2008 by omnicresence

Haven’t had the time to write anything over the past week, folks, due to my grandfather, Gil L. Angeles, passing away on July 2, 2008 at around 4:11 p.m. He was 87 at the time of his passing.

My grandfather was a World War II veteran and a practicing physician until the age of 80, so he was superheroic in every sense of the word, and more than deserving of the above image.

If they’ve got a Hall of Justice up in Heaven, I’m sure he’s just been offered permanent membership.

The Science of Search, Part 4

Posted in Uncategorized on April 21, 2008 by omnicresence

A Knight to Remember

When the Marvel Knights expansion strode into the scene, players identified Wild Ride as the money card of the set, being the team-stamped search card for the set’s premier team:

As far as team-stamped search cards go, Wild Ride is one of the easiest to use, not requiring the discard of a card or even a Marvel Knights character in play, able to be played on the first turn, and costing the player a relatively manageable amount of endurance which, given the MK theme of endurance-for-benefit, would be something the MK player would take into account anyway.  It would not be the most exciting search card to emerge from MMK, however, which distinction would arguably belong to this contender:

Until MMK, team-up decks were generally much less consistent than mono-team decks, since at least one character of each of the two (or more) different teams in the deck had to be in play, and one usually had to rely on the straight draw of the team-up card to acquire it.  This was no longer the case once Dagger and Midnight Sons became available for play, with 4 Daggers effectively acting as copies 5-8 of Midnight Sons, and Midnight Sons facilitating team-ups with any team in the game for only the requirement of having a MK character in play.  More importantly, a deck running Dagger and Midnight Sons didn’t even need any character cards in it other than those from the MK team to play team-stamped cards for other teams (such as with, say, Teen Titans Go! for the Titans or Spider Senses for the Spider-Friends).  Dagger + Midnight Sons + Wild Ride gave MK the limited ability to toolbox, bringing the game one step closer to the hodgepodge VS archetypes that we see today, for better or worse (though mostly worse, in my opinion).

Quite a number of search cards actually emerged from MMK following the trend of Dagger by searching for specific cards, or card names, rather than a range of card types:

Not exactly groundbreaking as far as search tech went at the time, as cards from previous sets had also referenced particular cards or card names.  The search card that caused something of a stir when it was first previewed, though later on turned out to be a dud, was the uneconomic Weapon of Choice:

The first generic character search card in the game was quite mediocre for the fact that it cost you two additional cards discarded, and that it left the choice of what you got ultimately to your opponent, which is never a good thing.  Moreover, it forced the player to play at least one copy of a character that he may not play in 90% of situations.  Of course this was preferable to a missed drop, but compared to generic search cards that would be introduced in later sets, Weapon of Choice would nonetheless fade into obscurity.

Next:  Chosen by the Ring

The Science of Search, Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized on April 17, 2008 by omnicresence

The Search Continues

The Man of Steel expansion was not kind to the continuing efforts of VS players to improve deck consistency, featuring new twists (of the plot variety) to character search that in practice were far inferior to previous character search cards for their stamped teams.  Doing nothing to redeem itself from being scorned as one of the worst VS sets, DSM provided players with these dubious treasures:

In fairness to Team Superman, Man of Tomorrow was somewhat easier to use than Costume Change, since you did not have to search for a different version of the character you pitched.  However, regretfully, you could only search for a character named Superman.  Given that one of the dominant mechanics of Team Superman was that you could play a Superman each turn from turn 3 onwards, this wasn’t so bad, but it forced a player to play that particular build of he wanted to minimize the luck factor while piloting TS.

The Exchange was a two-for-one deal, since one could search for either a New Gods or a Darkseid’s Elite character, making it the definitive search card for playing either team or a team-up between NG and DE.  The problem was the mathematics involved with pitching cards to fulfill The Exchange’s cost requirement.  The greater the cost of the character, the more likely it was that the player wouldn’t have the right cost of cards to toss.  Even if he did, sometimes it would involve putting more than one card into the KO pile, which made it an expensive search card to play, leading to card disadvantage.  Not a bad card, really, just not as good as the search cards that had come before.

The standout search card of DSM turned out to be the the first plot twist that searched for locations, team stamped to the team then renowned for its location dependence and manipulation – the League of Assassins.

The Demon’s Head was a very welcome addition to the struggling League of Assassins, since their strength really lay in their locations and a method of searching for them would be a necessary element of augmenting their playability and power.  Moreover, since their primary character search card was also a location, The Demon’s Head indirectly worked as a character searcher as well.  It was fantastic flexibility for the cost of a card and a character exhaust, with the added bonus of dumping the searched location in your resource row so that it could be used immediately.  Great card that was balanced for what it did.  Had this ability existed on, say, a character, it would have been ridiculously overpowered.

Next:  A Knight to Remember

The Science of Search, Part 2

Posted in Uncategorized on April 17, 2008 by omnicresence

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

Warbound Previews

Posted in Uncategorized on April 14, 2008 by omnicresence

Hulk Trap.Hulkus Maximus.

Beside every Hulk stands a good woman.

And thus, we enter the second week of Marvel Universe previews, featuring that ever-lovin’ Green Goliath, the Hulk, in his most recent incarnation following the events of the epic Planet Hulk. If you’ve never read this collection before, I strongly recommend that you pick up the hardcover (available as of this time) and set aside an afternoon or so to relish one of comicdom’s most satisfying reads. I wasn’t much of a Hulk fan prior to this storyline, but Planet Hulk turned me into a believer.

The Planet Hulk storyline was both a convenient plot twist to remove Hulk from the Civil War conflict (as he would most probably have mucked that one up even more) and provide him with an entirely new story environment within which to stomp around and made his mark. In a nutshell, some of the great heroes of the Marvel Universe, namely Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange and Black Bolt, perceived the Hulk’s continued presence on Earth as a constant threat, and decided to launch him into space without any hope of returning. He ended up on the planet Sakaar, became a gladiator for an oppressive empire, and with the help of his fellow gladiators and a few other allies, overthrew the emperor and became king. It’s a fantastic story with plenty of twists and emotional moments, as well as good old-fashioned beatdowns with the Hulk leading the charge, and I don’t want to spoil anything for those folks who haven’t had the privilege of guzzling the heady draught that is Planet Hulk.

Anyway, let’s head over to the first previews for this week for VS System, the card game that is my primary addiction. All images were lifted from the Facebook fan website maintained by “The” Ben Seck, copyright Marvel Entertainment Inc. and Upper Deck Entertainment Inc. (just so we’re clear from an intellectual property perspective).

The Hulk’s VS team, the Warbound, revisits an old favorite strategy that hasn’t seen much action in a while, that of the X-Statix and their lone-character theme. In a curious but tremendously fun and successful reversal of the conventional wisdom that “more is better”, a single character on the board could attack multiple times, avoid becoming the target of many effects, and stun or exhaust opposing characters outside of combat, usually with the help of other characters that generated effects by leaving the field. This is a strategy that, from a flavor standpoint, suits the Hulk perfectly, since he has never typically worked well with others, and has had few real friends.

The latest VS incarnations of the Hulk emphasize this loner aspect, as well as the tremendous might that the Hulk brings to the fore. Both the 4-drop and the 5-drop stun characters out of combat, and both are slightly above average in stat size.

Green Scar is the most recent card to sport the “flame trap” effect of stunning all characters with a cost of 2 or less, although it is quite a bit harder to trigger due to the requirement that Hulk get stunned, so opponents can play around it when it’s not your initiative. Also, it only triggers once unless there’s a way to replace that gamma counter, but typically you’d probably only need it that one time. We all suspect a Spin Doctoring effect plot twist is in the MUN set somewhere for the Warbound, and perhaps specifically for the Hulk without a discard cost.

Gladiator Hulk is more straightforward, and even if you don’t get to use his boost he’s a very respectable 10/10 without Loyalty or some other restriction, which makes him a sweet pick for Limited. Of course, the Boost is where his maximum potential is unleashed, and ideally you’d have the 4-drop Hulk down so that you can stun the opposing 4-drop, and then run over the 5-drop who probably won’t be as large as the Hulk. Too bad Pathetic Attempt and 4-drop Wonder Woman are fairly popular right about now, but perhaps there’s a Warbound card that prevents opponents from negating or redirecting your effects?

Lastly, we have the Hulk’s latest flame and once-rival, the formidable Caiera Oldstrong, who is a decent-sized 6-drop but is really there to give Hulk the potential to attack twice every turn from that point in the game. As TBS pointed out, this effect lasts for the rest of the game, so any Hulks in play or that come into play after Caiera bows out gain the ability to smash a second time. We shall expect to see the other allies of the Hulk (hoping that Silver Surfer has a Warbound version, fingers crossed) provide the Hulk with similar game-lasting bonuses, though how this will mesh with TBS’ statement that there will be a Hulk version from drop 3 to drop 8 remains to be seen. In theory, unless most of these effects are on 1 or 2-drop characters, players will be forced to play a delicate balance between the effects they want the Hulk to have and the versions of the Hulk they would want to see in play.

This early on, a chink in the green gladiator’s armor can be seen: Hulk and his Warbound ilk may need to stun or get stunned to be able to trigger their monstrous effects. Against, say, Captain America and his exhaust tech, or (shudder) Spider-Man, or even some clever combat tricks that avoid stunning altogether, the Warbound may face some significant obstacles on their path to freedom and redemption.

Well, that’s all I have to say for now, other than that the MUN previews are certainly fueling my anticipation for what looks to be a very keen set. We’ll be expecting a few more Warbound cards this week, and I shall do my best to provide them with adequate coverage (which isn’t to say that they aren’t already going to be generating enough publicity elsewhere).