So, WizKids announced recently that they will be rotating (read: RETIRING) a whole chunk of recent sets from being Modern Age eligible. Why? For starters, they do it to promote the idea that we who play Heroclix need to keep buying new Clix products to compete in Modern Age games (although getting us to buy new Clix hasn’t been much of an issue so far, I’d wager…), and two, they need to keep new pieces away from unintended and possibly Meta-breaking interactions with older figures. Okay, there’s waaaay more reasons than that, but those are two big ones. Two other reasons, however, are a little bit more subtle.
Before we get into the meat of this article (the figure comparisons), we need some context, so we’re going to look at game design for just a few paragraphs here. Now, every time a game like Heroclix releases new products, it evolves just a little bit. And it does so in two interesting ways. First, collectible games of all types–if they stick around long enough–all go through phases where they deal with “Power Creep,” where each successive set release brings with it elements which, on average, are slightly more powerful than those released in the previous set or expansion, which in turn was just a little more powerful than its predecessor, and so on. For example, you can compare almost any Modern Age figure with a similar figure from Infinity Challenge, the first ever set, and see that things have changed drastically. Back then, an Attack Value of 8 was a fairly common top dial stat. Now, 8 AV’s are reserved for the deep end of cheap support figure dials. And so on and so on.
Power Creep is just a natural by-product of game designers trying new and different things with the intention of making their game better with each release. The very much missed WoW TCG from Cryptozoic was constantly dealing with Power Creep, and at one point they actively made it known that they were consciously lowering the power of Quests (a card type that’s kinda like Lands in Magic) in future sets because that particular card type had crept to absurdly powerful levels at that point in the game’s life cycle.
Sometimes, the opposite can also be true. Occasionally, the designers look back at some of the early cards/figures/whatever and realize that they drastically under costed certain tropes in the past. They may like a certain mechanic or effect of a particular piece, but there not about to reprint it as is, since they now know its effects to cost ratio is to high as is. To solve this, the designers basically create a new version of that element that contains almost the exact same effect yet costs slightly more to play. I call this “Cost Correction.” Magic: The Gathering is constantly doing this.
One of the famous early examples of Cost Correction in gaming was when Magic’s R&D department took a look at many of the staples from the early Alpha/Beta/Unlimited/Revised era as they started preparing a rotating block of “Core” sets from which players could draw familiar cards to combine with the current expansion set inventory to create Type II (read “Modern Age”) decks. The folks in charge of balancing the game quickly decided that a card like Lightning Bolt, for example, was too powerful (3 Red Damage for 1 Red Mana) to stay in the Type II environment, so it was replaced with the Ice Age common Incinerate (3 Damage and the prevention of Regeneration for 1 Red Mana and 1 Colorless Mana) by the time Magic published its “Fifth Edition.”
This was awesome, because it allowed the folks in charge of Magic to fix an under costed staple (quick Red damage dealing) with something that would still effectively to the job for a little more cost. Incinerate was still a great card and was widely adopted. Problem solved (well, until it was deemed that Incinerate was too good, and it was replaced with a different staple, and so it goes).
The savvy tournament players in Magic weren’t just the players who came up with “killer combos” by exploiting certain card interactions; they were actually usually the ones who could spot both the Power Creep cards AND the Cost Correction cards that were still extremely efficient for their cost. See, a lot of times, players can smell Cost Correction pieces a mile away, and they don’t want any part of them. Incinerate wasn’t universally accepted when Fifth Edition rolled around.
Sometimes they’re right; but sometimes, the Cost Correction version of something is still really powerful and should still be used regardless of the cost.
Okay! Enough amateur game theory lecture! Let’s apply our discussion to Heroclix! We’re going to be looking at some of the retiring staples and theorize about which–if any–Modern Age piece can take the place of the retiring figure. Then after we review the replacement candidate, we’ll decide if the new figure is better than its forebear (Power Creep), worse (Cost Correction) or about the same (uh… Static?).
SM001R Superman – 150 Points – Common: Supes was a Meta staple waaaay back in the Dark Ages of 2011, because his base stats and mix of powers were so great. Flight, 9 Movement with Hypersonic, 11 Attack with Super Strength, 17 Defense with Impervious and 4 Damage with Outwit. One of the all-time great top clicks, especially for a Common 150 piece! Superman Team Ability means he can see through Stealth, too. Bonus! His keywords are quite pedestrian by today’s standards (no JLA?), but there was a time when Scientist teams were a thing!
IIM001AE Iron Man – 150 Points – Common: Hmmm, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Flight, 9 Movement, 11 Attack, 17 Defense and 4 Damage with Outwit! His move-and-attack ability is Running Shot where Supes had Hypersonic; I’ll actually take Iron Man’s Precision Strike over Supes’s Super Strength, but whatever. You’re mileage may vary. Finally, Iron Man has Invuln where Supes has Impervious. But Iron Man can see through Hindering Terrain AND Blocking Terrain; Supes’s X-Ray vision doesn’t work on walls like Tony’s Thermal Imaging Array does, so Mr. Stark can get up to all sorts of see-through shenanigans. Kind of a bummer for Superman. Iron Man also has much better keywords (Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D., Scientist, Armor and Stark Industries are all great) and he has the S.H.I.E.L.D. TA, so he can help your support guys do damage in a pinch as well. With resources and Entities, Iron Man here gets pretty filthy pretty fast….
The Verdict: A Static replacement that features just a tiny touch of Power Creep. The Meta has become much more sophisticated since Supes was a major player, but Iron Man 001 is just as good; maybe even a lil’ better!
SM035 Magog – 172 Points – Rare: A close combat beatstick who turns into a mid-dial mid-range sniper and a back dial healer (how’s that for a powers mix?), Magog left team builders enough points to still be an effective Primary Attacker; his lack of Willpower wasn’t great, but his Trait (EXCESSIVE FORCE: Once per turn, when Magog KO’s an opposing character, after actions resolve Magog may take one action as a free action.) meant that his teams were very tough to out-action, particularly if opposing teams ran several small support figures or Bystander tokens that Magog could snipe in one shot.
DP057 Tiamat – 255 Points – Super Rare: Tiamat cannot be stopped. He cannot be reasoned with. He’s a double-based son of a gun whose extra-action Trait (CHAMPION AND STEED: Once per turn, when an opposing character has taken damage from his attack, give Tiamat any action as a free action. When you do, after action resolve, remove an action token from Tiamat.) is as good as any they’ve ever made. With Power Cosmic, he’s all but impossible to Outwit, too, so the opposition will have to chew through his 4 clicks of Invincible–if they’re able to hit his 18 Defense!
The Verdict: Even with the dramatic increase in cost, there’s still some Power Creep going on with Tiamat. His Trait is just sick. Like Magog though, this is still more of a fringe Meta piece. But he’s a lot of fun to field.
SM054E Black Adam – 200 Points – Super Rare: An out and out beast, Black Adam was nigh unstoppable. He had no Range, but he made up for that with a ridiculous Charge Special that let him move up to 10 spaces for a close combat attack, and when he lost that, he gained Hypersonic Speed! Not a bad backup plan! 18 Defense with a Special that lets him reduce 3 damage with his Imperious instead of 2 and an end 0f dial Regeneration that does 1 Penetrating damage to adjacent opposing figures!
IIM041BE Hyperion – 200 Points – Prime Super Rare: Top dial Hypersonic, same Attack (11) as Black Adam only with Precision Strike, 18 Defense with merely Invuln and 4 Damage instead of Black Adam’s 5. Also his keywords are fine (Avengers is very useful, Squadron Supreme is useless, as the only other Modern Ager with that keyword is also Prime), but Black Adam’s are great. Having said all that, Hyperion has two things going for him that Black Adam doesn’t. Power Cosmic TA and 8 Range! Also, Hyperion picks up almost every good Improved Targeting ability in the game on his second click, which actually makes the Marvel man more versatile than the heavy duty dude who sometimes runs with Captain Marvel.
The Verdict: Again, a fairly Static replacement with a hint of Power Creep. What you lose in top end damage, you more than make up for with the 8 Range and Power Cosmic TA. The Improved Targeting shenanigans are where the Power Creep creeps in.
IH102 Major Glenn Talbot – 33 Points – LE: The good Major here powered up Soldier teams for the last couple of years. His top dial Enhancement for only 33 Points was a bigger deal pre-Fear Itself (Splitlip now gives you top dial Enhancement for a measly 20 #$#@ing points), but even post-FI, if you wanted to play a Soldier Theme Team and you wanted a top dial Enhancer, he was still your best option. The S.H.I.E.L.D. TA he carries also has proven to be quite useful in a pinch, and if you play him on the right team, his Mastermind top dial will keep him around for a while longer than he should.
DP204 Secret Empire Number 9 – 35 Points – Common (Gravity Feed): Stop laughing! This robed menace is the real deal, and one of the best figs in the Deadpool Gravity Feed assortment. Everyone so far has focused on the fact that he has the Secret Empire keyword, and how useless that is. Well, they’re right. You can’t do much with that. But look at his SECOND KEYWORD–that’s right, it’s “Soldier!” Which means you have your Soldier Theme Team support figure back–and he can even do some damage of him own if you get into trouble. A 9 Attack isn’t great, but Penetrating/Psychic Blast means that his two damage will get through. And while he has no S.H.I.E.L.D. TA, he does have the Hydra TA, which is almost as useful for ranged attacks.
The Verdict: Even at three more points, I’m still gonna classify SE#9 as a Power Creeper! He just gives you more bang for your buck, and you still have the one keyword you need to keep it Theme!
GG026 Mole Man – 47 Points – Uncommon: Now, you want to talk about a Meta staple? Here is a Meta STAPLE!! Hans Moleman here was the engine that powered the Shuma-Gorath monstrosities that ruled the ROC for awhile at the end of last year and early this year. How important was his souped-up, I-can-Mind-Control-a-friendly-Monster Special Power? So important that everyone’s predicting the end of Shuma as a viable Meta piece, simply because Mole Man’s going Golden Age, which would imply that Mole Man was doing the heavy lifting all along. The fact that he was a top dial Outwitter and had some close combat applications down dial was just icing on the cake.
DP043 Black Talon – 60 Points – Rare: There really wasn’t a replacement candidate until Deadpool was released. Black Talon allows you to Mind Control a friendly character from up to 8 squares away, and he also lets you Mind Control opposing figures that have already been KO’d! Still… his keywords are incongruent with most of the teams with which you’d like to play him. I mean, Masters of Evil is okay, and Mystical has slipped a lil’ bit but is certainly still viable, but that’s it for useful keywords, unless you’re looking to dominate the Meta with a Lethal Legion team. And hey, if you are, good luck to you. Here’s the last guy to try that at a big tournament:
The Verdict: This is a Cost Correction piece. But it’s a First Generation Cost Correction piece; you could argue that WizKids still is not valuing the ability to Mind Control your own characters highly enough (in one of the early episodes of The Quarry, one high level player who was an early Mole Man/Shuma adopter said that after playtesting those two together with his friends, they all came to the conclusion that the ability to Mind Control friendly characters–even with a keyword restriction–should not appear on pieces less than, like, 100 or 125 Points. Thus, Black Talon is still extremely good and he’s definitely Meta-worthy. He’s just not as balls to the wall insane as Mole Man. Jumping from 47 to 60 may not seem like much, but that 13 Point hike could possibly cost you the space you need for a resource or the exact right support piece. That’s another reason it was so key for Mole Man to be under 50 Points. He left you plenty of room to get creative–or to run a full Booklip, if you didn’t care about Theme. Black Talon, not so much…
“Go ahead. Try and look this good in purple. I dare you.”
CW039 Hawkeye – 98 Points – Rare: This is one of the most discussed pieces in the history of Critical Missives (NINWASHUI NOTE: Iron Pharaoh would beg to differ.), but we’re gonna have to talk about him at least one more time! His top dial 12 Attack with an INSANE 9 Range w/ 3 Bolts, Sharpshooter, Wildcard TA (and Thunderbolts keyword, which means that between the two you can give him almost any TA in the game), Stealth and Running Shot and 3 Damage with Leadership. If this dial cost 130 Points, it’d be worth it. He costs 98!! Insane. Great keywords (Thunderbolts, Avengers, and S.H.I.E.L.D. with GLA just thrown in for fun). Just stupidly good.
DP036 Bullseye – 110 Points – Rare: Right down to rarity, Bullseye is almost a clone of that silly Hawkeye piece. Running Shot with 8 Range and 3 Bolts, 12 Attack with Precision Strike instead of Sharpshooter, 17 Defense with Combat Reflexes instead of Willpower, 3 Damage with Probability Control instead of Leadership (I’ll take that deal everyday!) and some okay keywords (Thunderbolts, Assassin) mean Bullseye is gonna show up in the Meta SOONER RATHER THAN LATER!! Oh, and his Improved Targeting: The Phone Book makes it really hard to hide from him…
The Verdict: Even with all the goodness on Bullseye’s dial, this is a Cost Correction dial. Just 12 Points more than Hawkeye, but you also lose the Avengers keyword, the Spidey (Wildcard) TA and 1 Range. I think WizKids knows that they undervalued that Hawkeye by a significant amount. Bullseye they only underestimated by a less significant amount. Which, as always, means you should play Bullseye as much as you can.
FAST FORCES: CHAOS WAR:
FFCW006R Scarlet Witch – 50 Points – Fast Forces (Fixed Rarity): You know what she does; Mystics TA, Pen/Psy, Barrier, Perplex and Prob Control with an 8 Range. With Avengers and Mystical keywords (among others). One of the most used figures in ROC history, I’m sure.
FFDP006R Mercy – 50 Points – Fast Forces (Fixed Rarity): 7 Range, Wing Symbol (so she can Carry!) with Phasing, TK, Barrier and Prob top dial with Support on her second click. Her lone keyword (Thunderbolts) is also where she’ll see the most play–on a Thunderbolts team.
The Verdict: Another Cost Correction piece. We won’t see the like of FFCW Scarlet Witch again, methinks. Mercy is missing the Mystics TA AND the Mystical keyword, but she is still very playable. Thunderbolts is probably the keyword that gained the most from this set, so if you’re fielding such a squad, pick up a Mercy for some support in a bottle!
There were also several other figures you could use in this role, but none of them were as good as Mercy (Sister Sercy, I’m looking at you with your 66 Point Cost and your measly lone keyword: Blue Lantern Corps. But hey, at least her name RHYMES with Mercy’s!).
Before we finish, one final note about keywords in general. We’re coming out of an era where Avengers, GCPD and S.H.I.E.L.D. were some of the dominant named keywords, and Mystical, Armor and Monster fueled some of the best generic keyworded teams. Those keywords still offer a lot of options, but Chaos War (an EXTREMELY Avengers-heavy set) rotating out does hurt Avengers teams a little bit. New keywords that have recently become a lot stronger include Thunderbolts, Heroes for Hire and Sinestro Corps. (with Guardians of the Galaxy about to get a double boost from the movie set that just dropped and the upcoming 5-figure booster full set in due in August!). Mystical and Armor are still great generics, but Martial Artist has gotten a big boost between AvX, Days of Future Past and Deadpool, and Cosmic is set to explode with the 4 Entities that have been released in War of Light already (with 4 more to come) and, again, the Guardians of the Galaxy set that’s just around the corner (and the Collector from the GotG Target Exclusive set already offers some intriguing possibilities for Cosmic teams with his unique win condition–but more about that set later this week!)!
So there ya go! What important retired figures do YOU think WizKids has already published replacements for? Sound of in the Comments section below!