Foiled!

I love thematic wins like this. This card works with either form. When used in Alter-ego form I can envision Peter Parker secretly taking out a web shooter when the villain isn’t looking.

The lack of a form requirement also means it’s good for both solo and multiplayer.

Ms. Marvel

While Kamala herself tells us that she wants to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated, actually playing as her isn't always simple.

It’s all just so weird at first glance. Morphogenetics is one of the most transformative bits of text in the whole game, in one fell swoop revealing the core of the character’s design and explaining that eyebrow-raising 1-1-1 stat line. “Ohhhhh” the player says, understanding that Ms. Marvel is going to be loading her deck with events, and is not going to be exhausting for basic powers basically ever.

And using those basic powers is probably something you've been taking for granted as you play other heroes. Exhausting to use a basic is a consistent source of decent chunks of damage and thwarting. Spider-Woman's deck is entirely built around boosting her stats and exhausting to use them. It’s a huge part of the game, and Ms. Marvel just ignores it, virtually always exhausting to recur an event instead.

The value of this isn’t necessarily obvious, and so it’s absolutely worth asking whether it is good enough. After all, other heroes with alternative options to exhaust, like Doctor Strange and Hawkeye, are doing so for very potent reasons. So is this event recursion good enough? Can event cards that need to be paid for every time completely take the place of basic powers? Is this concept strong enough to base an entire Hero around?

As it stands in the current game, I believe the answer to these questions is yes. Furthermore, as more cards get released for Champions, her ceiling will only rise higher and higher. Every new event is potentially a reason for Ms. Marvel junkies to get excited- just this month, Clear the Area lit a fire under portions of the playerbase who couldn’t wait to run it with Kamala, and it’s unsurprisingly amazing in her deck.

So yeah, the ID card packs a punch. It is good enough. And this is all before you even get to the Alter-Ego side, which is in the running as the most impactful in the whole game. 5 REC to 10 HP is an incredible ratio, the best available, and Teen Spirit is likewise killer, letting us fetch a Hero card for a functional 7 card hand where the 7th card is pretty much always good. The downside of discarding cards is usually negligible- our most important pieces are almost always going to be Ms. Marvel cards.

So we're already off to a good start for our Alter-Ego side, and if this wasn’t enough reason to flip down, a huge part of how the deck functions rests with her three supports- Aamir Khan, Nakia Bahadir, and Bruno Carrelli. They are all good and you will play all of them every game. Ahmir gives us even more draw and sets up the final hand of our deck into a potential combofest, Nakia gives us consistent discounts on anything we please, and Bruno lets us stash cards or resources that are overly situational at the moment. Or maybe you just use him to draw three cards you tucked away to help pay for a massive turn. These characters would be welcome sights for virtually any Hero, and Kamala is lucky to have them.

Which is so fitting, right? Kamala’s a teenager, still figuring out who she is, very much devoted to her family and friends. The pressure to go to Alter-Ego, to be normal for a minute to utilize these supports is one of the most heartwarming bits of theme in all of Champions. Mechanically, this gigantic pile of utility available in Alter-Ego means that Ms. Marvel wants to flip virtually every turn. This helps her set up brilliantly for big, fat Hero turns- and oh boy, can Ms. Marvel take over the player phase like almost nobody else when she sets herself up properly.

Ms. Marvel is the game’s greatest firefighter. Imagine a situation on a board that’s really bad- a massive minion, a nasty side scheme, a huge influx of threat on the main scheme. Now imagine that whatever the most relevant card in your hand is to deal with that problem, you get to do it twice.

This is why we're here. She offers tremendous burst that can very often be pointed straight at the most threatening thing. Don’t get me wrong, there are occasionally times where you don’t actually have that right answer in your hand, and that can lead to some dead turns or moments where you’re tempted to miss playing somebody more conventional. But there will always be moments where she saves the day, and they are a blast.

Often, the cards that save the day will be her own.

  • Biokinetic Polymer Suit is obviously very much worth it for us, letting us easily trigger the kickers on stuff like Tackle and For Justice! Considering you’ll often want to play some of these big events twice and need spending power, you want it out early.
  • Red Dagger has a great statline and gives us some consistent thwart or damage. His ability is a little situational, and not priced well enough to be worth it every time, but it’s a nice option to have around if you really need something off the board.
  • Ms. Marvel is packing some awesome events of her very own. Big Hands, Sneak By, and Wiggle Room are all great, and naturally help flesh out the aspects that their effects are mimicking (Aggression, Justice, and Defense, respectively)

Those events are amplified considerably by Shrink and Embiggen!, the cards that in many ways are the nucleus that her deck revolves around. They’ll pay for themselves quickly, of course, but their real potency is in the way they tend to help events trigger additional effects. Stealth Strike becomes more reliable, Melee famously gets double-boosted, the previously mentioned Clear the Area gets the draw more often, etc. Any time an event could benefit from additional firepower, Shrink and Embiggen make Ms. Marvel an obvious go-to deck to not just build around it, but to abuse it.

There are plenty of events across all the aspects that Ms. Marvel can elevate substantially. Leadership, however, offers a notable exception. It's not that she's bad in Leadership (hardly any hero is, really- at the time of this writing, the power level of Leadership is actually mildly problematic...), it's just that she's not really bringing much to the table in terms of synergies. Ms. Marvel Leadership is one of the few bum aspect pairings in the game, and while a few more excellent blue events might change that, for the moment it's the aspect we see her playing the least.

There’s a lot of strength on tap here, but for a lot of players that won’t be main draw. A huge part of the appeal is that Ms. Marvel's ID card is distinctive, holding the honor of being the first Champions hero that plainly cannot be expected to play remotely like any of the others. Piloting Kamala is a unique experience, and while some players will be drawn to it, in my experience this is also the Hero most likely to have a player not even want to try her. This isn’t helped much by the fact that she’s not yet the kind of household name that many other early heroes enjoyed being, despite having one of the most well-regarded comic runs in Marvel’s recent output.

And while every player is going to have favorites, this reluctance to give her a spin is a shame, and not only because Kamala is a wonderful character. In a universe full of iconic heroes that Champions has given tabletop life to, Ms. Marvel stands out. There’s something truly special about this intersection of card design and character. Expect to routinely see Ms. Marvel decks shoot to the front page of this website as new cards give deck builders cause to figure out new ways to stretch her to the limits of what our little card game can offer.

Iron Man

For those of us who genuinely love the Marvel characters and the stories that are told about them, theme is obviously a pretty large draw to Marvel Champions. I think one of the most exceptional elements of the game is just how well the Heroes jump off the board when you play them, evoking the best aspects of the character in their synergies and card interactions.

Almost a year in, this game has yet to see a true miss in terms of how the printed Heroes fulfill the fantasy of feeling like them- and yet, even in the context of superb theming game-wide, Iron Man is on another level.

In the comics and films, Tony Stark is more than just a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist. He's also utterly himself at all times, with everything he touches becoming about Tony whether anyone else likes it or not. How deeply, deeply fitting it is then that his Champions iteration is surely the most dominant Hero deck of them all in terms of how much attention it demands of the player. One of the things that makes his design so thematic is that no matter what other cards you're running, you're always going to be focused on Iron Man's core.

This is in no small part because the player actively has to put in work to turn Iron Man's Hero side text box into a benefit instead of a hindrance. Captain Marvel players can ignore Captain Marvel's Helmet if it's not conducive to their gameplan. Certain Thor builds ignore Asgard, Captain America doesn't always have to pack his deck with allies, etc. But the Iron Man player's deck is loaded down with tech, and not playing it as fast as possible means your Hero side will never become functional. Trying to actually play the game with Iron Man's base hand size has never been suggested by anybody because it is, of course, not ever going to work.

It will eventually pay off. Having a fully built suit offers a 7 card natural hand size, the highest potential of any Hero. Furthermore, Stark Tower and Pepper Potts can make building the suit a lot easier, enabling discard pile manipulation that, in tandem with Tony's Futurist ability, is both highly effective and very entertaining to certain kinds of Champions players. It's very much it's own thing and there is a chance you will be very, very into it. Through all of this, what's important to realize is that building up your suit isn't optional, and understanding that principle is key to understanding Iron Man. The gameplan of any Iron Man deck is always going to be about the suit.

And this is why it's probably good that a fully suited Iron Man is insane.

  • Each piece of the suit is important to the puzzle, but none more so than Arc Reactor. As the first persistent readying effect in the game, it naturally received a lot of attention back in the core set days, and rightfully so. Arc Reactor is the reason Tony's stat line is so conservative, with only THW sitting at a worthwhile value before boosts. The potential to run Iron Man Justice and use Heroic Intuition and Arc Reactor to remove a 6 threat a turn without breaking a sweat was the first deck concept I personally remember hearing somebody call "OP". It's telling that this single idea is still incredibly potent. It probably always will be- Arc Reactor is going to multiply the potency of any effect that makes Iron Man better, and that's why it's such an important card.

  • Mark V Helmet offers further threat control. If you use one of your Rocket Boots to go aerial, it even limitlessly scales up to the number of side schemes in play. Speaking of that- because the second copy of Rocket Boots is only offering a single hit point in terms of benefits, and you want Mark V Armor down ASAP to cover that for you, Boot #2 is the least important suit piece. As a fun party trick you can use Stark Tower to endlessly loop Boot #2 to always have a mental resource available to go aerial with on Boot #1.

  • And oh boy, do you want to be aerial. Tony is impacted the most by this keyword of any Hero so far, and having mental resources around to be able to take to the skies is an important consideration to his deck building. When playing multiplayer, this is definitely a good enough reason to let the Iron Man player run Quincarrier. As mentioned before, Helmet scales up once you're airborne, but aerial also makes Powered Gauntlets into 2-damage-a-piece minion controlling, "Tough" popping workhorses.

Aerial also doubles the damage of Supersonic Punch, singlehandedly transforming it from a perfectly fine card to one of the most efficient attacks in all of Champions. Supersonic Punching something while aerial is very good and very cost effective, and so it is a little nuts that it's arguably the second most effective attack at Iron Man's disposal.

Building with an abundance of energy resources gives Repulsor Blast the potential to hit big. Obviously, getting lucky and paying 1 resource for like 11 damage is incredible. But what's truly special about Repulsor Blast is that if you get one single energy resource in the flip, making the card 1 for 3 damage, that math is good enough to be worth it. Anything else is straight fire. The card is not without drawbacks- the inability to plan for the total damage amount makes it a risky choice for a crucial attack that must do a certain amount of damage, and discarding five cards off your deck before some of your important pieces are in place could definitely backfire. But at the end of the day, there's no denying that the card is amazing, and Iron Man players can find easy benefits in stacking their deck with energy.

That's Iron Man's whole kit- save War Machine, of course, holding it down as the only truly subpar card in the package. We have better ways to do damage, better ways to spend resources, and if your board state is bad enough to where his area damage ability is a good idea, you've probably got very large problems. Maybe one of those problems is that you spent 4 resources on War Machine...oh well. At least he's got a wild resource!

Every aspect is viable here. Leadership is about using allies to buy time while you build the suit. Justice is about leaning in to energy resources and your potent threat management- a "more is more" type of deal. Protection gives us additional tech in the form of Energy Barrier and Electrostatic Armor, keeping us alive while getting us to passable Hero hand size very rapidly indeed. Aggression? You're already going to be dealing ridiculous damage, might as well pile it on. Plus the cards are red and dang it, that's not nothing.

There is no question that Iron Man decks are strong. In my opinion, there is also no question that his Champions incarnation is a triumph of design. They really nailed this one.

What is less certain is whether or not you will enjoy playing him. As I alluded to at the beginning of this review, Iron Man decks tend to all have the same gameplan, and often the games themselves have the same arc. You find the suit, you build the suit, you destroy everything. The process of doing this almost always involves some interesting decisions, and potentially some brain-burning discard manipulation, but it doesn't change all that much. It has singular appeal, and if you're not the kind of player who enjoys this kind of thing, chances are good that somebody in your playgroup is going to be.

And when the harder scenarios come knocking ("Earth is closed today"), you'll be glad that player is around. Fittingly for such an iconic character, Iron Man is set up to be a cornerstone of Marvel Champions for years to come.

Hawkeye

With the arrival of Rise of Red Skull, Marvel Champions sees its biggest influx of new content since the core set, including two sparkling new heroes in Spider-Woman and Hawkeye. Frankly, in the few days since the set became available for testing, I haven’t taken much of a look at Jessica Drew. She’s a deep, deep well, and I think we’ll be mining the intricacies of deck building for her for a long time.

Hawkeye, by contrast, slowly came into focus card by card after his initial spoilers and ended up becoming one of the most straightforward heroes in the whole game, with each new card we saw serving to crystalize his playstyle. If you’ll pardon some flippancy, allow me to summarize his 15 card Hero deck:

  • His bow (to shoot the arrows)
  • His quiver (to find the arrows)
  • His skills as an archer (to pay for arrows)
  • Arrows

Are you getting the picture? The only card that breaks even momentary focus from our hail of projectiles is Mockingbird, and really if you think about it she’s there to protect you while you shoot the arrows.

Hawkeye is relentlessly, obscenely focused. By sleeving him up, you’ve tuned into the Arrow Network, where up next we have an all new episode of “Arrows”. Tune in tomorrow at the same time for another riveting installment of “More Arrows”.

This could have been problematic or even boring, but huzzah, the arrows are fascinating cards, diverse in their utility and second only to Doctor Strange's Invocation deck in terms of raw efficiency. They’re also a lot like Invocations in that they’re a strategy unto themselves. Slinging one or two arrows a turn and pointing them at the right places is often all it takes to set the player on a steady path to victory, but unlike the ineffable Doctor, Agent Barton does come with a significant weakness.

Hawkeye’s fragility is obvious when we look at his kit. He shares his friend Black Widow’s 9 hit points, the lowest in the game. She, however, has one more Defense and a robust defensive suite that includes Synth-Suit and lots of villain-disrupting preparations. Hawkeye has precisely none of that. He does have a great recurring ally in Mockingbird, but while Bobbi provides good cover, she is only one card out of 40.

So to put it mildly, Hawkeye has an issue with survivability, but so far in my testing it’s not proven to be insurmountable. In fact, it’s kind of fun to try to keep a hero this absurdly squishy alive turn after turn. I think there are going to be great Hawkeye decks in all aspects, but staying alive is a problem that's going to have to be addressed in any deck Hawkeye chooses to field.

Here’s some general tips I’ve gathered while piloting Hawkeye.

  • Allies are very useful to block attacks and keep the arrows flying. As you use them in preparation for their noble sacrifices, prioritize thwarting. Cable Arrow is a fantastic card, but it’s all you’ve got and your 3 ATK will prove far too tantalizing to pass up, so use the allies to stay ahead on the threat game at every possible opportunity. If a villain turn comes to pass that throws out tons of threat at once, you may not be able to deal with it if you were behind already. Be overly conservative, keep the threat down.
  • Clint Barton is officially the most boring Alter-Ego in the game. Assuming Criminal Past never catches you in an awkward moment, you’ll use Weapon of Choice exactly one time, or potentially even zero if you draw the bow in your opening hand naturally. With no Alter-Ego actions to speak of, you want to be in Hero the whole game if you can stand it. In solo play, Sonic Arrow’s ability to confuse does make the single extra card potentially worth the flip to force the villain to skip their activation.
  • Hawkeye's Quiver joins Arc Reactor, Cloak of Levitation, and Asgard in the realm of Hero cards that are utterly essential. It is worth a hard-mulligan. Dig for it until it’s on the table, and don’t forget to take advantage of the sneak peek it gives of your next turn (or the rest of your turn, if you have Old St. Nick Fury in your hand)
  • Expert Marksman is likewise crucial, and luckily they’re very easy to get down at just 1 cost. This card is easily underestimated but pays dividends fast. These resources, in tandem with Quiver, very consistently give Hawkeye the kinds of dreamy turns most heroes can only dream of. They make it possible to shoot arrows with virtually no impact on your current hand. Why is that so strong?
  • Because every single arrow is very, very good. Prioritize shooting them. They are priced well below curve, and the contingency damage on Electric Arrow and Sonic Arrow in the event that the target is already incapacitated are especially nice touches to ensure that their costs are always worth it. More than any other hero, your whole deck is built around a single concept. That concept is arrows, and good Hawkeye play is about using them as intelligently as you can.

The damage from the arrows adds up so fast. So far, I’d say Hawkeye is second only to Hulk in terms of raw, consistent damage output, and the variety of effects the arrows bring to the table (along with Hawkeye’s much more palatable hand sizes) are going to make him much smoother to play.

Hawkeye surprised me. For me, his design nails the fantasy of a trick-arrow slinging battlefield master. I hope over the coming weeks less obvious paths to rounding out his weaknesses emerge from the less obvious aspect pairings. His straight ahead playstyle is going to find fans from all over the Champions playerbase.

Hawkeye's Quiver

One really cool thing about this card is that unlike Jessica Drew's Apartment, it doesn't make you shuffle your deck afterwards. Once Hawkeye has this in play, he'll always know what he's getting from Avengers Mansion or Press the Advantage, which can be a big help in turn planning, and he'll also have a good deal of information about his upcoming hand.

This potentially makes it much easier for Hawkeye to take advantage of the various events that are meant to be played during the villain phase. Foiled! is an incredibly efficient card if you happen to be in alter-ego when you draw it, but sometimes it's too risky to flip to your alter-ego if you don't know whether you'll draw it. If you stay hero and do draw it, then holding it in your hand for an extra turn effectively doubles its cost. Fortunately, with Hawkeye's Quiver you can stay in hero form until you know you're about to draw Foiled!, and time your flips accordingly.

OrionJA · 4