Thanks in large part to the excellent WandaVision series that’s currently airing on Disney+, I’ve been thinking about Marvel comics a lot over the last week or so. There’s a ton of great Marvel content out there in pretty much every medium–the comics themselves, film and television series, novels, video games, and more. One of my personal favorite pieces of the Marvel universe is the card game Marvel Champions, as I’ve discussed before. The fantastic thing about this game is how well it captures the essence of the iconic characters it features, adapting them into fun and unique decks. I want to dissect some of these decks, talking a little bit about how they work mechanically, the pros and cons of playing them, and how well they capture the hero in question.
As you’ll know if you’ve played the game (or read my review, linked in the last paragraph), a character’s unique cards are only part of a full deck–it’s up to the player to construct the rest from the game’s Aspect cards. I’ll admit, I’m not an expert deckbuilder or strategist, so don’t expect any groundbreaking tips on how to build out these characters with the Aspect card pools–these profiles will focus only on the character-specific cards.
Since it’s the first time I’m writing up one of these breakdowns, I feel like it’s only appropriate to start with a character from the core set. That box features five heroes: Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, She-Hulk, and Black Panther. Of those, my favorite to play as is Iron Man, so let’s profile him first!
First and foremost, we’ll look at Iron Man himself, and his alter-ego Tony Stark. Iron Man is on on the lower end of the health point spectrum, with only 9 HP–although this, like most aspects of the character, can be improved through suit upgrades. Since you start the game in alter-ego mode, let’s talk about Tony: a respectable 3 Recovery allows him to heal efficiently on his turns, and he’s got the standard 6-card hand size. Nothing unusual there! His ability, Futurist, allows him to look at the top three cards of his deck and add one to his hand, discarding the others. This ability might sound risky at first blush, but it’s actually fantastic and ties in really well with some of his supports; if you have the right cards out, tossing stuff into your discard pile can make a huge difference for your turn.
Flipping over to the hero side, Iron Man has 2 Thwart, 1 Attack, and 1 Defense–not amazing, all things considered. What’s really rough, though, is a devastatingly low hand size of 1. Yikes! Thankfully, Iron Man’s ability increases his hand size by +1 for every Tech upgrade he controls (to a maximum hand size of 7). As one might imagine, there are quite a few of those in this deck; by the time you’ve got the full Iron Man suit on the field, you’ll have more than enough to reach the ability’s cap. In the early game, though, having such a tiny hand in hero mode means you’ll be spending a lot of time as Stark, trying to draw your Tech upgrades (another reason that Futurist is so useful–you want to be drawing as much as possible).
This balance between dealing damage/thwarting as Iron Man and trying to build a better suit as Tony is one of the more interesting character mechanics in the core box. It makes Iron Man a little more complicated to play compared to some of the other heroes, but that only makes it all the more satisfying when you’ve built up a respectable board of upgrades and can pull off wild turns in the late game.
Clearly, upgrades are a huge part of Iron Man’s playstyle, and they form roughly half of his deck. There are seven Tech upgrades in here, all of which are parts of that classic Iron Man suit and have awesome effects. First off, you’ve got two Powered Gauntlet cards (one for each hand). These can be exhausted to deal 1 damage to an enemy, or 2 damage if you’ve got the Aerial trait (more on that in a moment). These are wonderfully versatile little upgrades that help make up for Iron Man’s low base attack–if you have both of them out, you’re essentially working with 3 Attack per turn instead of 1. What’s handy, though, is that that damage is split between three different interactions (basic attack with Iron Man, exhaust a Powered Gauntlet, exhaust the other Powered Gauntlet), meaning you can divide the damage as you like between different targets. Pretty good for a 2-cost upgrade!
Similarly, Iron Man has two Rocket Boots (one for each foot): a 1-cost upgrade that grants +1 HP and allows the player to gain the Aerial trait until the end of the phase by exhausting a Rocket Boot and spending a Science resource. The need for a specific resource type hampers the usability of this upgrade somewhat, but I suppose it would be a little overpowered if you could just go Aerial all the time and therefore be dealing extra damage from your Powered Gauntlets every round. Besides, the card is cheap and it gives you more health, so I can’t really complain.
Speaking of cheap cards, there’s another 1-cost upgrade in the form of the Mark V Helmet, which you can exhaust to remove 1 threat from a scheme–or 1 threat from every scheme in play if you’re Aerial! If you’re dealing with a villain who pumps out lots of side schemes (or even main schemes–looking at you, Wrecking Crew), this card is invaluable.
We’ve also got the Mark V Armor, Iron Man’s most expensive upgrade with a cost of 3. It gives a whopping +6 HP, so it’s well worth the price; combined with the Rocket Boots, this gets Iron Man to a healthy 17 HP total.
Last but certainly not least is the Arc Reactor, a 2-cost upgrade with my favorite ability of them all: exhaust the Arc Reactor to ready Iron Man. I adore getting to ready up again after using a hero’s basic ability; it makes your turn feel so productive!
While getting all these supports out can be a bit of a hassle, you really feel unstoppable once the full suit is built: a hand size of 7 in hero mode, 17 health, and the potential to do insane damage or thwarting (especially if you can go Aerial). There’s something intensely satisfying about a big Iron Man turn where you can fire off your Gauntlets, thwart multiple schemes at once, and even use your basics multiple times to clean up whatever else needs doing.
Allies & Supports
While the suit is undoubtedly the star of the show in the Iron Man deck, he also has some very impressive supports. His iconic ally is, naturally, War Machine. I’ll admit that I don’t normally get the chance to field the guy, since he costs 4 resources in a deck that needs to spend a lot on upgrades instead of allies. However, if you can get him on the field, he has a respectable 4 HP, with 1 Thwart and 2 Attack. You can also exhaust him and deal a damage to him to deal 1 damage to every enemy currently in play, which can be devastating against minion-heavy villains like Ultron.
While I do love Rhodey, it’s Stark’s two support cards that steal the show: Pepper Potts and Stark Tower. Stark Tower in particular is integral to using Tony’s Futurist ability optimally. A 2-cost card that can only be used while in alter-ego mode, exhausting Stark Tower allows a player of your choice to return the topmost Tech upgrade in the discard pile to their hand. If you have this thing on the field and use Futurist, you can safely discard your normally vital suit upgrades and take one of the other cards you draw instead, then use Stark Tower to grab the discarded upgrade, too! It’s also handy for when you need to play something but would have to discard upgrades to generate enough resources. Essentially, Stark Tower turns Tech upgrades into free resources for you, since you can get them back as soon as you discard them.
Pepper Potts also adds value to your discard pile. You can exhaust the 3-cost Pepper to generate the resources of the top card on your discard pile. This means you pretty much always have an extra resource, and if you’re lucky and recently discarded something like Genius or Energy, you’ll have two! Considering how much you’ll need to spend to get all your upgrades out, this added resource generation is a huge boon.
Iron Man only has two event cards, Repulsor Blast and Supersonic Punch. Repulsor Blast is a risky kind of card that I’m not a big fan of, personally. It deals 1 damage to an enemy and forces you to discard the top five cards of your deck, dealing an extra 2 damage for each printed Energy resource discarded. There’s potential for huge damage there (particularly if Energy is among the cards discarded), and Tony’s supports mitigate how harmful discarding can be, but still, I don’t find this card particularly worth the risk unless the villain is already pretty close to defeat. At least it only costs 1 resource! Supersonic Punch, meanwhile, costs 2 resources but has a more straightforward ability: deal 4 damage to an enemy, or 8 damage instead if you’re Aerial. Solid!
Nemesis & Obligation
Every hero in Marvel Champions has a unique Nemesis and Obligation that can cause trouble; Iron Man has to deal with Whiplash and Business Problems, respectively. Let’s take a peek at the Obligation first, since it’s quick to resolve: it forces you to either exhaust yourself in alter-ego mode to remove it from the game, or exhaust every upgrade you control to discard it. I almost always exhaust my alter-ego when Obligations present the option (most of them do), since that gets rid of it entirely instead of putting it in the discard pile and possibly getting shuffled back into the encounter deck to cause more trouble later. In this instance, it seems like a clear choice; if you’ve got many upgrades out at all, it doesn’t really matter if Tony is exhausted–on your next turn you can just flip back over to Iron Man and kick butt with your Powered Gauntlets and Mark V Helmet anyway. The Obligation barely slows you down. I suppose if the only upgrade you have out is, like, the Mark V Armor, it might be the better choice to exhaust that and discard this… but overall, I can’t see a good argument for not just getting rid Business Problems altogether, even if it means being relatively useless for a turn.
As for Whiplash, he’s a nasty little minion with 4 health, 2 Scheme, and 3 Attack. He also has Retaliate 1, making him a little more dangerous to take down. His side scheme, Imminent Overload, is nothing special; it just adds a boost icon to the main scheme, and can be defeated by clearing Threat equal to 3 plus the number players from it, which shouldn’t be hard. The real danger in this Nemesis deck, however, are the two types of Treachery cards it contains: Electric Whip Attack and Electromagnetic Backlash. Electric Whip Attack (what an uncreative name!) offers a choice: it either deals 1 damage, plus an extra damage for each upgrade you control, or it forces you to discard an upgrade of your choice. If you’re in the mid- to late-game, with lots of upgrades out, you’re looking at either a lot of damage or saying goodbye to one of your upgrades. Of course, that latter option isn’t necessarily a big deal–you might be able to just discard something small like a Rocket Boot and get it back next turn with Stark Tower. If the card is drawn as a boost while the villain is making an undefended attack, it forces you to discard an upgrade, which could be pretty frustrating (especially if it’s early and you don’t have the means to pull that upgrade back into your hand).
Electromagnetic Backlash is a bit more devastating, forcing each player to discard the top five cards of their deck and take 1 damage for each printed Energy resource discarded that way. While you aren’t necessarily likely to take a lot of damage from that, the fact that it hits every single player and forces a huge discard is certainly unpleasant.
That covers everything in Iron Man’s unique deck, so all that’s left is for the player to choose Aspect cards! Aspect-wise, Iron Man is versatile enough to work with nearly anything, but I prefer to pair him with Justice. Between his base 2 Thwart (which he can use twice per turn once Arc Reactor is in play) and the Mark V Helmet’s ability to tear into multiple schemes at once, he’s a Threat-demolishing machine, and Justice cards only make him better at it.
I love playing as Iron Man because he has a really satisfying progression over the course of every game, from scrambling to draw the right cards at the start to pulling off crazy, complex turns utilizing tons of upgrades and supports by the end. The theming here is truly excellent, as well: Tony himself isn’t anything special, hence his weak base stats, but the more you work on his suit, the better he becomes, eventually standing toe-to-toe with the best fighters in the game thanks to his bevy of upgrades. Even Tony’s wealth is taken into account in the deck’s mechanics–Stark Industries is represented through the Stark Tower and Pepper Potts cards, which ensure that Tony always has the resources and gear that he needs. It’s a deck that works on every level, thematically, and is one of the best examples of how this game can make you truly feel like the character you’re playing.
Iron Man is definitely my favorite hero in the core box, but that’s not to say the other heroes are bad–on the contrary! I’m looking forward to digging into those decks at a later date, so check back for more Marvel Champions content in the coming weeks!