02 March 2005

Review: Vs. System: Marvel Knights, Part II

In part one of this two-part article, I chronicled my discovery of the Vs. System trading card game. After getting hooked, I decided to enter a local Sneak Preview Tournament to play-test the latest edition to the series, Marvel Knights, not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. Part two follows my journey into what is, in essence, the first step into the world of tournament play.

The pain of waking up at 8 am on a Saturday, and driving from Miami to Margate was dulled once I walked into Comic Connection. They had some issues that were sold out at my local shops so, at this point, the trip was already a success. After speaking with the owner Jim Cantwell, he pointed out where the tournament was being held. Across the parking lot from his shop, groups of people were gathered outside in front of a store. At first I thought I'd made a mistake, but when I walked inside, I realized it was no mistake. I had arrived 15 minutes after the doors officially opened, but the place was already buzzing.

To my right, a table of eight people were feverishly building decks. Up ahead, twelve more people were ripping open brand new Marvel Knights booster packs. Past them, at the back of the room, was where the two judges were stationed. For the next 15 minutes I talked with Feroze Ramcharan and Franklin Debrito, the Upper Deck Entertainment (U.D.E.) judges assigned to this tournament. During that time I picked their brains, and tried to get as many questions answered as possible.

At the end of those 15 minutes I felt confident that I shouldn't be here, but I hadn't driven fifty minutes to just turn around and leave.

The format for the tournament required decks to be built from the booster packs provided at registration. The registration fee was $25, and included 5 booster packs. All decks must have 30 cards, and cannot violate standard deck guidelines. The event is U.D.E. sanctioned, so only members can participate. All that was needed was for me to fill out a small questionnaire to become a member and I was promptly presented an official U.D.E. Membership Card. Awesome! After handing over my membership card, Franklin says to hang tight and wait for the flight to be filled.

Now the million-dollar question is, what the hell is a flight?!?!

Flights are groups of eight people that battle each other. Each person in a flight battles four times, and a computer randomly pairs up people for each battle. After a few minutes of waiting my flight was filled and ready to begin. At this point we were handed our five booster packs, and the clock started. Players have 30 minutes to open packs, assess their cards, and build a deck. Here is where it got really tricky.

Factor in my inexperience with tournament play, and multiply that by the fact that I have no idea how these cards work together. The result was 30 minutes feeling like five. I was tearing those packs open like the children going through the candy bars in Willy Wonka! The problem was, there was no golden ticket for me. All I had was a 70-card puzzle that needed to be whittled into a 30-card deck. The best part is I only had twenty minutes left. I took a look at the players around me, with the hope that I'd be able to pick up a tactic or two on building my deck.

I saw that most players had their cards laid out on the table like a game of solitaire. I then realized they were sorting them by Recruit Cost. Recruit Cost is the number on the upper left hand side of the card which indicates how many Resources you must have in play to recruit that card. You can only put into play one Resource per turn, so if you construct your deck with cards that have a Recruit Cost of 4 or higher, you wouldn't be able to recruit any cards until the fourth turn. I'm no expert, but giving your opponent an opportunity for three free shots at you is clearly not a winning strategy.

After sorting the cards by Recruit Cost I began to build my deck. I used the battle-tested tactic of picking the cards that looked the coolest. By the time I sorted my cards, looked them over, and judged their usefulness I had about 5 minutes left, so I quickly built a deck mixing the likes of Daredevil, Moon Knight, Morbius, and a slew of Crime Lord-affiliated characters.

Two hours later it was all over, and my record was 1-3. My first match was over before it began. I could tell by my opponent's body language he was very, very good. I was amazed by the speed at which he played. Vs. System incorporates elements of chess into the game play, so thinking ahead is the way to win. At my level of experience, though, I'm playing on a turn-by-turn basis while my opponent was working on another level. By round 4, I was severely outmanned and on the verge of defeat. I was getting bombarded by attacks from Concealed Character and had no answer for it. Booster Pack Tournaments keep the playing field level, to a degree, since no one knows what cards they're going to get, but experience and deck-building skills can tip the scales heavily in your favor. Cleary in this round I was outmatched on both levels.

My second match went into round 8, and was more to my liking. I don't want to mislead as I lost definitively, but it was a well-played match. Third time must be a charm, because it was in match 3 that I found victory. It was a very close match, but one card made the difference. In round 6 I was able to recruit Spider-Man: The Spectacular Spider-Man, and by using his Activated Power, I was able to exhaust all my opponents' characters in play. That included two Concealed Characters that I had no way of attacking. After the turn was over my opponents' endurance was below zero and I won. I ended up playing him again in my fourth and final match and this time around, I was slaughtered. I just wasn't drawing any cards of value. The match was over within 10 minutes.

Entering the tournament was a great experience. I found an unexpected mix of people there, ranging from talkative teenagers to slightly weird 50-year olds. There was even an attractive woman in her late-20s/early-30s in attendance. That was a shocker! All things considered, the only thing I'd do different next time would be to play more matches before entering a tournament.

Vs. System gets my seal of approval, and I encourage anyone into caped crusaders and/or card games to give it a shot.

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