By: John Tatta
In the traditional sense, aggro (or aggressive deck strategies) aim to kill the opponent as quickly as possible. Your deck is tailor made to efficiently and effectively reduce your opponent’s life total to zero in as little time as possible with no regard to your own life total or resources. This is a timeless strategy in every card game that I personally have ever played (dozens upon dozens of time); however in VS 2PCG the traditional form of aggro doesn’t exactly work. VS 2PCG is unique in that players don’t have “life totals” but rather start the game with a character that has a specific Health threshold and is eliminated when that threshold reaches zero. The catch is that you can only reduce that number by 1 each turn without the help of a special ability that adds extra wounds like Thanos or Lady Deathstrike. To further complicate matters, the health of main characters range from 5-7 meaning that when opposing a 7 health main character, you can’t win the game before turn 7 (give or take, barring resource ramping effects).
So what is “aggro” in VS 2PCG? I’d like to think that original VS and WoW TCG maestro Tim Batow was the first to answer that question when designing Michael Barnes’ Gencon 2015 2nd place deck, Storm. What Tim figured out before anyone else was that because of the absence of life totals, you had to effectively stun the opposing main character every turn on the game starting on turn 1. To do this, you didn’t want to necessarily load your deck with 40 low-cost characters and go to town, you wanted to pick a main character with an aggressive level 1 super power and you wanted to play several aggressive attack pumping plot twists. Your supporting characters didn’t need to necessarily be on team but they had to have a lot of synergy with your main character and advance your strategy.
A mistake I see all the time in aggressive VS 2PCG strategies is the blatant lack of plot twists. The deck is full of cost efficient characters that work well together but misses out on stunning the opposing MC every turn, usually the first few turns. Instead they turn into midrange decks without the power cards that put midrange decks over the top and instead a bunch of 2-drops and 3-drops that don’t really do a ton other than look flashy and have neat abilities. The best aggro decks are the ones that not only take advantage of the characters afforded to them but also the effective use of plot twists available. So what is the true definition of an aggro deck in VS 2PCG? A deck that can stun the opposing MC every turn until they’re dead.
With the release of Defenders and A-Force we’ve come to a crossroads with aggro decks. The addition of Luke Cage and Dark Phoenix to the main character pool that already included Thanos makes it extremely difficult for the VS 2PCG style of aggro to thrive. Stunning the MC every turn is good and all but what happens when the opposing MC doesn’t take a wound (Luke Cage), or takes seven to actually finish them off (Dark Phoenix)? You get buried under better cards is what normally happens. It is still yet to be seen which main characters the Aliens set will bring us but the addition of CMO Clemens makes it even more difficult to finish off opponents. Now that we have figured out what aggro is in VS 2PCG, we next have to decide which main characters are best at it.
Captain Marvel – Ms. Marvel is unique because she can grow to large proportions on her own and also because of the presence of flight (and range to a lesser extent). Flight is the absolute best ability for a character to have in an aggressive deck. You need to be able to get to hidden main characters. Captain Marvel utilizes cheap, effective characters with flight and range and is able to leverage characters such as Dagger and Moonstone despite being off-team due their synergy with the main character level 1 ability. When the game gets to the later turns and the opponent is on the verge of death and hiding, Moonstone swoops in and makes sure that the opposing Miss America can’t do anything but watch. I still think that Captain Marvel decks should be doing more to try for first turn stuns, but her results so far have been solid.
Deadpool – Deadpool hasn’t quite made the splash yet that I expected him to post-A Force but I also think that most people haven’t really given him a shot lately. What Deadpool can do that is so unique to the game is provide the player with an alternate win condition – attacking the physical player directly. Besides being one of the best designed cards in the game, Deadpool is actually really good. He has the unfortunate drawback of being an X-Men main character but does gain easy access to Squad Tactics and X-Factor, two of the better plot twists for an aggressive strategy. While it’s still too early to make such a bold statement but I think that Deadpool has the most to gain from the swarm of Xenomorphs coming in the Aliens expansion. Another Aliens specific card that will benefit Deadpool is Bishop, a Company supporting character. Deadpool relies on having a board full of characters at the ready to do battle and soon we’re going to have a consistent way to assemble the swarm. His Lethal super power shouldn’t be overlooked either as that is one of the best ways to handle threats such as Miss America and the cheap, multi-health characters that have been previewed from Aliens.
Gamora – Gamorra is a lot more difficult to setup than Deadpool but also provides the player with an alternate win condition for the steep cost of two green locations. Unlike Deadpool, Gamora doesn’t care about the size of the board, she just cares about herself and how big she can get stat wise. Only having 2 attack at level 1 makes it difficult to level her but recent addition Main Strength helps that issue quite a bit. Furthermore she can team attack with fellow Guardians of the Galaxy characters to really ramp her up. I don’t think Gamora is very good at the moment but as more generic attack pumps are released you’ll want to remember Gamora exists. The double green is still a big problem, as is the fact that the attack can be repelled after the Gamora player uses her super power, but it’s nothing to scoff at. I’m always terrified to play a competent Gamora player and that’s just going to get worse as the card pool grows.
Enchantress – Where Enchantress shines is being able to provide extra attacks on her level 2 side. She also has the ability to make your weenie swarm formidable with her level 1 ability. Also of note is that being Femme Fatale team based gives the player access to Cat Fight, the best attack pump plot twist in the game which means starting from turn 1 the opposing main character is under pressure. I think Enchantress is really underrated at the moment but expect that to change soon.
Storm – This was the first premier aggro deck in VS 2PCG and the deck that was most hurt by Luke Cage and Dark Phoenix existing. The old Storm decks didn’t play X-Factor but the new style Storm decks absolutely need to. Moonstone was also an addition for Storm that improved her stock. Storm suffers from heavily relying on her locations, blue locations in particular, but when leveled becomes a big wrecking ball.
Mystique – Probably the worst of the bunch (along with Gamora) but still viable in the right meta. Mystique is kind of a trap main character. She looks really good on paper because she can grow to insane numbers statistically but doesn’t have any way of generating extra attacks or have flight like most of the other characters on the list. Again, having access to Cat Fight makes her a wrecking ball early but the lack of flight really stumps her potential later in the game.
The Alien effect
Soon (less than a month for the general public) we will have access to the Aliens set. From the previews thus far we’re led to believe that aggro has a lot to benefit from the set. The addition of equipment should make characters like Storm a lot better (more super powers to use) and Xenomorph strategies should really benefit Deadpool quite a bit. Furthermore, Bishop is a welcome addition to any aggressive deck as a “free” 4 attack character that will stick around for a while. Call is also a welcome addition to many decks as she acts as a character that will stick around as well as a “plot twist” for a +1/+1 counter on any character on your side.
Alternatively, CMO Clemens, the Dragon, and the Newborn are all nuisances for the aggro play and they must find ways to deal with them, this alongside previously mentioned Call and Bishop as potential “walls” makes Deadpool very appealing. At any rate, I hope that this helped players understand more clearly what aggro is in VS 2PCG and why it’s a unique experience to most other TCGs. Until next time!