[Tim] James approached me with an idea for an article and I thought it sounded good, so here it is! James takes the lead on this one and I only chip in where needed. With that being said, I’ll let him get on with it!
[James] Best of/Top X lists are pretty popular across a wide range of mediums and we thought it would be fun to take a look back at what 2020 brought to Marvel Champions. You would have had to be living under one hell of a rock to miss how chaotic the year was, which unfortunately lead to dry spells and uncertainty content wise. Despite that we still got a good range of new cards and products. Our goal here is to list the top 3 cards of each aspect, and also offer an honourable mention. We are also going to be choosing our favourite new Hero and Scenario too.
How It Works
To qualify for consideration a product had to have been released in the UK during the year 2020, which gives us the following list to choose from:
- The Wrecking Crew
- Black Widow
- Doctor Strange
- The Rise of Red Skull
- The Once and Future Kang
With this list in mind, Tim and I noted down which three cards from each aspect we thought were the most impactful on their aspect as a whole. We then compared our lists and through back and forth discussion reached a consensus on how the top three will look.
We think it’s safe to say that Aggression is the big winner of 2020. Although it may not be the best aspect in the game, it’s certainly the most improved from the Core Set only environment. This is in large part thanks to the trio of allies the Hulk pack introduced.
The aspect has also seen its event, support and upgrade categories all receive notable new additions as well. Aggression had a very minion heavy focus in the Core Set and that remains a huge part of its identity still, which means despite the boost a number of its cards can still feel situational and very scenario dependant. It remains a fun aspect to pilot though, and is one we both enjoy playing in our Showdowns.
Brawn was the first of the new allies released in the Hulk pack. With only 1 ATK he’s better used to ping off tough status cards and chip away at low health minions.
What makes him so good is his ability to remove threat from a scheme every time he attacks, which gives Aggression some consistent trickle threat control that can still deal damage.
Even if you want to chump block with him, and let’s face it you probably do, his high health total means you’ll still get four activations. That, in addition to there being no additional costs or draw backs to using him, is what makes Brawn the best of a very solid group of new allies.
Sentry was also released in the Hulk pack and has the most impressive stateline of any ally in the game to date. That 3 ATK is very nice, but in reality it’ll be his 2 THW you make the most use of. Combined with another high health total he represents a lot of potential threat removal for an aspect that really needed it.
Unlike Brawn he comes with a downside, which is playing him earns you an additional encounter card. This card could range from the utterly trivial to costing you the game, which is a risk that has to be considered whenever you play him. That being said he’s still a very strong addition to Aggression’s ally line up, and is likely going to be a tough act to follow.
Our next pick comes from the Thor pack, and may surprise some.
Jarnbjorn is a 1 cost upgrade that allows you to spend a physical resource every time you attack to deal damage to an enemy.
In the right kind of deck this can serious ramp up your damage output. These “axe decks” have been quite popular in the community since the card first launched, especially with heroes that already care about physical resources (Captain America) or heroes that can potentially trigger multiple attacks in one turn (Black Panther’s Wakanda Forever).
My honourable mention goes to Drop Kick. Until this card released stunlock was almost exclusively a Protection archetype, but now any Hero can run a stunlock list with Aggression as well.
Although on the expensive side, I feel 4 damage, a stun status and a card draw is definitely worth the cost. That being said it does come with a massive caveat, which kept it out the top 3, of requiring all physical resources in order to get the full effect. A justifiable cost but one you definitely have to build/plan your deck around.
[Tim] Mine goes to Mean Swing, a card that I have enjoyed using with Thor, Black Panther, and Hawkeye (amusingly) to dish out the big hits.
The main thing keeping this card from our top 3 of the year is that it requires you to exhaust a weapon, which is easy enough for the aforementioned heroes, but more difficult for others (Jarnbjorn is currently the only non-hero weapon).
The Galaxy’s Most Wanted adds Rocket Raccoon who has a couple of weapons, and I’m sure there’s more going to be added in the near future, making Mean Swing one to watch out for.
[James] Justice remains my favourite aspect to play. It’s always been a reliable way of playing true solo, and is equally as strong at higher player counts thanks to its threat control. The aspect has seen some excellent new releases this year, including a card that knocked For Justice out of most true solo decks (something I did not think was possible), but has fallen short in terms of new allies.
In addition to this, the aspect currently has the least amount of cards of all aspects so feels quite lacking in terms of deck variety. The “good stuff” deck is strong, but for some people the aspect can feel boring due to its fewer options.
#1 Clear The Area
Our first slot goes to Clear The Area, a great thwart event that was released in The Rise of Red Skull as part of Spider-Woman’s deck.
This card removes two threat from a scheme for a cost of 1, and more importantly if this removes the last threat from a scheme you can draw a card. Clear The Area might not be able to remove as much threat as For Justice, which obviously will affect which one you take into higher player count games, but it’s still an effective means of threat control that can help you maintain tempo.
#2 Agent Coulson
The second slot goes to Agent Coulson, which was released in the Black Widow pack. Justice’s lack of allies is an unfortunate fact but this was a great addition to the line up. 2 THW combined with 3 health results in a nice amount of threat removal, even if you do chump block with him.
The real draw though is the ability to search for and add a preparation card to your hand. Even heroes that don’t rely upon them can still benefit from Counterintelligence to keep them safe during an Alter-Ego flip, or Target Acquired to protect them from a nasty boost effect. It’s also an effect that is only going to get better in time as more preparation cards are released.
#3 Skilled Investigator
Our third slot goes to Skilled Investigator that was released in The Rise of Red Skull. This virtually free card draw engine is good in true solo, although a little scenario dependant, and only gets better at higher player counts.
After a side scheme is defeated, which is not terribly difficult to do with Justice cards, you can exhaust it to draw a card. It rewards Justice players for doing what the aspect does best, and gives them the tempo they need to keep the board state under control. More importantly it can be played under other player’s control, but does not require the controlling player to be the one who defeats the side scheme.
Stealth Strike gets my honourable mention for Justice. Moving from the Core Set through to the Black Widow pack Justice was really suffering from a lack of damage dealing options, particularly in regards to minion control. Stealth Strike fills that void nicely dealing a respectable amount of damage and still being able to clear a little threat if you defeat the enemy you attack. Obviously that’s not just limited to minions, as you can remove threat if you defeat the current stage of the villain too, but I’ve found it to be its primary use.
Although I’m happy with the damage it deals, it cannot finish off bigger minions by itself, and because Justice’s whole thing at the moment is controlling threat sometimes you can defeat an enemy but not have threat to remove because you have it under control.
[Tim] Being a primarily true solo player so far, Under Surveillance has been a fantastic card for me. However, it missed out on the top 3 because of its diminishing value as the player count is increased. It’s still good at higher player counts, just not as amazing as it is in true solo.
[James] Nobody can realistically claim that Leadership was not the best aspect out of the Core Set, and it has only gotten better this year with some very strong new releases.
You might enjoy other aspects more, like we do, but Leadership is by far the strongest and that’s not something that is going to change anytime soon. The aspect did see a new archetype emerge this year in the form of “voltron” or “thick allies” (whichever term you prefer), which players are excited by even if its just for the sake of having something different to try.
#1 Rapid Response
In a move that should surprise no one, our first spot goes to Rapid Response. What is there even left to say about this card?
It caused quite a stir when it was first revealed, and upon its release in the Black Widow pack it went on to live up to the hype. Ally spam was, and remains, the best performing deck in the game and this card pushed that deck to new heights.
#2 Team Training
Our next spot goes to another ally boosting card. Team Training was released in The Rise of Red Skull as part of Hawkeye’s deck, and it’s another strong Leadership card that some in the community consider to be “broken”.
By increasing the health of all your allies it enables you to squeeze out extra value from what was already the best card type in the game. This works particularly well for allies you’ve stacked with upgrades in the new “voltron” style of deck, or cards like Goliath and Vision that offer high burst damage through their abilities.
#3 Ant-Man (Hank Pym)
Our third slot goes to the Ant-Man (Hank Pym) ally that was released in the Ant-Man pack. 2020 saw Leadership receive a number of great ally cards, but this one stands out due to it’s variable cost. A 2 ATK 2 THW body that you can pay what you want for adds versatility to what was already a great card type.
Some allies, such as Hawkeye (Clint Barton) or Maria Hill, can have their effectiveness dictated by the scenario or player count, but Ant-Man is an ally I expect to see in every Leadership deck moving forward because of how good it is regardless of the context.
My honourable mention for Leadership has to go to Goliath. The aspect has seen a lot of new allies over the year, and although this one did not quite make the cut I still think it’s a very good card. Two thwart is always nice to have on an ally, especially in an aspect that has access to so many ready effects, but the main draw here is just how crazy Goliath’s burst damage can get if you can set it up properly. Even without the Magical Christmas Land combo, being able to thwart for six and then attack for five is definitely worth the cost.
[Tim] My honourable mention goes to Stinger, an ally that I have started including in every Leadership deck that I can. In fact, it was the card that pushed me to try and get Hulk to work in true solo, as she provides another cheap ally to get the most out of Strength In Numbers or Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (it didn’t go too bad and you can read about it here).
Stinger didn’t quite make the top 3 cut because of her Avenger-only restriction. At the moment, it’s not an issue, as so far only Ms. Marvel doesn’t have the Avenger trait (and you could include Honorary Avenger to get around that, I suppose), but The Galaxy’s Most Wanted is going to herald the release of many non-Avengers going forwards. You never know, we may even get the X-Men one day!
[James] Protection felt lacking out of the Core Set and despite a couple of good cards being released since then it still feels bottom of the barrel to us. To Protection’s credit it has remained ahead of Justice in terms of new ally releases, with one of them ranking amongst the best allies in the game, and has two different archetypes to choose from when building your deck. The aspect’s biggest problem at the moment is it feels very hero dependent, and is generally just not fun to play in true solo*.
#1 Iron Fist
Released in the Doctor Strange pack this ally has become the reason to even play Protection. Although expensive it deals six or eight damage (depending on if you chump block) and can stun the villain twice, which more than justifies the cost. Additionally, because his ability is in fact an interrupt it can be used to ping off the villain’s tough status card allowing you to still do two damage with the attack activation. It’s Tackle that enables Protection to run the stunlock deck, and Iron Fist just makes it so much better.
#2 The Night Nurse
The Night Nurse, also released in the Doctor Strange pack, gives the aspect some additional healing. More importantly it enables you to remove annoying confused and stunned status conditions from a hero. Just be careful not to use it if the only status card you have is tough…
That aside, the negative conditions can be severe tempo hits, so being able to remove them cheaply is a huge quality of life boon for Protection.
Our third pick is Unflappable, which once again comes from the Doctor Strange pack. Protection’s second archetype that emerged this year was the “defence/no damage” build and this card is pretty much the reason to run it.
Card draw in any card game is king, especially when it is so cheap. Building your deck around such a cheap card draw engine provides good tempo and enables you to generate the resources you need to close out the game with your big attack events. This approach is very hero dependent, but Black Widow, Captain America and Spider-Man have all been quite popular in this role so there is still some variety at least.
Protection was a tough one because it’s an aspect that as a true solo player I just do not enjoy outside of two specific decks.
The “defence/no damage” build in particular is one I don’t get on with, but it’s one I know others in the community do enjoy so Desperate Defense gets my honourable mention. Not a card I like but it seems crucial to the build, and I’m glad it exists for those that do like it.
[Tim] She didn’t make the top 3 cut, but she’s one of my favourite cards in Protection.
A great chump blocker, she gets shuffled back in the deck as soon as she is defeated, meaning that you’ll see her again even quicker than you’d see any other ally. Since most people (myself included) use their allies as convenient meat shields, she does that job well.
[James] *We’ve most likely come across as being very negative about Protection in this section, which I’m sure has ruffled a few feathers. Just to reiterate, most of this comes from a position of predominately playing true solo. This is not something we have talked about openly yet but we will, at least temporarily, be switching to a two handed solo format in our Showdown series at some point during this year, and playing in a format in which Protection’s most supported archetype does better is likely to change our perception of it.
Heroes and Scenarios
Here instead of trying to rank every new hero and scenario we received in 2020 we are going to take a different approach and simply talk a little about our own favourites in each category.
[Tim] My favourite hero released in 2020 was Thor! I know that he’s not the best in true solo, but he can perform well with Justice and I think that some of the cards released in the Wasp pack will now also make Aggression effective as well.
During the times that I’ve used him in multiplayer he has excelled at minion control, which is something that I enjoy a lot.
My favourite scenario would probably be Red Skull, although Zola was close.
Red Skull has his own side scheme DECK, which is a great way of altering the default gameplay. This is a relentless wave of schemes which can easily overwhelm you if you cannot keep on top of them.
There are also some brutal cards in his encounter set, as well as the harsh minion, The Sleeper. Overall, it’s a great scenario in my opinion!
[James] In regards to Heroes my favourite this year was Spider-Woman. Deckbuilding in Marvel Champions still remains relatively straight forward, and given the nature of the game I think that will likely always be the case.
Her unique rules shake that formula up, at least a little bit, and allows for limited cross aspect experimentation.
Despite my appalling record against him, Zola is my favourite scenario released this year. He pushes the difficulty of the game to another level without having to rely on gimmicks like heroic mode, and has given me a target of self improvement to work towards.
He’s also the scenario that really pushed me towards adopting two handed solo as my primary method of play as well, so kudos I guess.
Marvel Champions has been one of the few things to keep me sane throughout 2020, and having a fairly steady supply of new cards to analyse and incorporate into my decks only makes the game better. We’ve enjoyed compiling this summary of our thoughts on the new cards, but it has to be said that any kind of ranking is going to feature a certain amount of subjectivity, so obviously there will be those amongst you that disagree with some, or even all, of this article. We encourage feedback though and look forward to discussing this topic with you.
Hopefully this has been an enjoyable read.
James & Tim