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Getting Better: Saving the World with the Marvel Super Hero Squad Trading Card Game

This is a column that helps you get better at your favorite games. Whether it's knowing the odds to draw black trains that are left in the deck in Ticket to Ride, or understanding the ramifications of picking a Rocket Courier X-99 early in a game of Ascension, if you're looking to gain an edge over your friends, this is the column for you.

The magic and mayhem of the Marvel Universe has captured the imagination of humanity for over 75 years, and it is stronger than ever today. Now we have the Super Hero Squad, and our heroes have been incarnated into an updated style that is entertaining to the extreme. Thanks to Upper Deck and The Amazing Society, our favorite heroes are throwing down savage TCG beatdowns all over again.

There is a special thrill that only comes from seeing the essential elements of humanity reflected in the pop culture myths of the comic books. We relate to the villainous urge to dominate and destroy. We embrace the eternal courage to face another day in the struggle to save the world in whatever way we can. We laugh and cry and ride along with a cast of characters, acting out our internal experience in the most fictional way possible. We connect with the characters that represent our own quirks and aspirations, and we root against the vile villains who remind us of the nastiness all around us. We dream of flying, and the Marvel Universe gives us wings.

Capturing our modern myths on trading cards is the ultimate expression of their pop cultural value. There is something really special about being able to put such a powerful repository of human experience in your pocket. When those cards become little cardboard puppets that form the pawns in a competitive game to be shared with friends on kitchen tables and tournament halls, the thrill becomes cosmic. Such is the story of the Marvel Super Hero Squad TCG.

This is a game for the ages. It has all the timeless deck archetypes, with a heaping helping of luck factor that makes each match a hoot. At the heart of the Marvel Super Hero Squad Trading Card Game is an incredibly balanced blocking mechanic that gives every player an equal opportunity to dominate whatever heroes or villains they face in battle. Each card has a single color blocker shield. No matter how powerful the incoming attack, no matter how tricky the strategy combination being employed against you, you can foil the most evil plans with a lucky or well-timed block. If fate is on your side, the biggest bruisers will be stopped cold after the first hit.

The basics are very familiar: 40 cards per deck, and a maximum of 4 copies of each card. There are 6 colors called Factors, a resource cost called Power, attack numbers, and text boxes for abilities. In this game, a coin is flipped at the beginning of each turn. The Power for paying card costs increases for both players by one each time the coin lands on heads. Both players draw four cards to begin, and they draw one card at the start of each turn. If your hand size goes over 8 cards and you cannot play a card, you must discard a card to return to 8. You can only play one card to attack each turn, but many card abilities allow additional plays within the attack. The 40 cards in your deck serve as your life points, and when your opponent runs out of cards in their deck and their hand, you win.

Sometimes the coin lands on tails for a bunch of turns at the beginning of a game and the low cost cards are the only thing that can be played. Sometimes the heads keep coming up on coin flips and you can play big Power cards rather quickly. Either way, each game is different. More often than not, the battle will go down to the last few cards. If you block an attack from your hand, damage is stopped. If not, the damage moves to your deck. One card at a time is discarded from your deck into your discard pile until the attack number is reached, unless you get lucky. As soon as the appropriate color block is discarded, the damage stops.

You can pull off major combinations in the Marvel Super Hero Squad Game that will boggle your opponent’s mind and make your grin expand to infinity. The one attack per turn often becomes two. Then three. Then four. There is no end to the crazy combo crushing you can do if your hits get through.

Certain cards are Keepers. If they successfully hit for their Keeper number, they stay in play like a heroic ongoing enchantment. Some cards have multiple color factors and they must be blocked twice, sometimes with two different color blockers. Some cards Heal by returning a card from the bottom of your discard pile to the bottom of your deck. Deckbuilding strategies focus on color balance, team affiliation, power level, hand size, keeper control, and character synergy.

The Marvel Super Hero Squad Trading Card Game is free to play at HeroUp.com and published in physical form by Upper Deck. After playing a few games online with the Wolverine Starter deck, I was awarded enough coins to collect some extra cards. When you play online against live players, you win one extra card if you are victorious. Eventually your virtual collection will contain plenty of weapons for world domination, totally for free. When you get enough virtual coins, you can unlock new challenges that will reward you with more advanced cards. I saw a few killer strategies that caught my eye, and I built a really strong Rogue deck. I call it “Gloves Off.”

Gloves Off
4 Inferno Missile
2 Goodnight Kiss
4 Seeing With New Eyes
4 Anti-Metal Claws 2 I’ll Take That
2 Hulk Practice
4 Vampire Hero
2 Brain Drain
2 Rogue’s Gallery
2 Focused Totality
2 Group Hug
2 Mystic Fire
2 Blademaster
2 Strongest One There is
2 Weather Prediction? Pain.
2 Incoming!

This deck is fairly straight forward. It swings with an aggressive strategy that hits very hard, very fast. The card I wanted to feature is Seeing With New Eyes. It can be played at nearly any time, as soon as the resource Power had reached 2. It attacks for as much damage as the top card of your discard pile. Since you discard a card on the opponent’s turn if you can block with it, you can set up your pile fairly easily to make Rogue swell to epic proportions. For example, if you opponent attacks with a green card you can block it with Incoming! This means you can be swinging with a huge Rogue as early as the second turn.

Some games get stuck on 1 power for a few turns, so 1-cost attackers are often at a premium. Since I wanted to set up the Incoming Eyes combo, I was going to build with mostly purple and silver cards. The perfect addition, therefore, was Iron Man’s Inferno Missile. This card crushes opponents right off the bat, and the deck is built to give it a great chance to reveal one of its key colors.

It is important to make sure your blocker colors are evenly distributed across the factor spectrum, since each opponent will have a different favorite flavor. Attack colors, however, can be loaded toward whatever ends of the spectrum your strategy demands. Forcing one or two factors can provide a big advantage, since a constant barrage of one color quickly rids your opponent of that kind of block. It is important to pay attention to the discards on the other side of the table in the early stages of a game, since this can give you an idea of which factor you will need to block with in the later turns when the game is on the line.

The online version of the game contains a brilliant deckbuilding tool that gives you a visual analysis of your creation. As you can see, the Gloves deck has a nicely distributed spread of blocking colors and a heavy emphasis on silver and purple attacks. This allows the necessary protection against nearly every opposing strategy, while providing to potential to decimate any player who cannot stop its key colors. The power levels are pretty well curved out with one glaring exception: this deck contains no 6 drops at all. That’s where the Rogue’s Gallery comes in.


By the time the Power reaches 5, you will already have a good sense of what strategies and factors the other squad is using. By drawing two cards and discarding one, you will be able to put yourself in position to seal the deal and avoid defeat. Rogue has all sorts of tricks to soak up enough energy to destroy her opponents. This is one of the strongest, and it is worth a play in the 6 drop spot. Getting to 7 or 8 power will allow you to swing with a variety of large attackers, who double as set-up cards for Seeing With New Eyes. Add the ability of Inferno Missile to do major damage at any time, and you have a deck with massive finishing beats.

Whether you are ripping open foil packs in your local game shop or throwing virtual haymakers on the interwebs, there are a wide variety of ways to win the Marvel Super Hero Squad Trading Card Game. Some players load up on Keepers. These provide a lasting presence that can boost your squad to epic proportions or ping the life away from your opponent. Some squads blanket the board with low-cost characters that can all be played in a cascading chain of weenie madness. The mythic couples of the Marvel Universe give extra strength to their partners with a built-in boost amongst the legendary love stories of Rogue and Gambit, Storm and Black Panther, and Elektra and Daredevil. It’s a beautiful thing.

The flavor of the Marvel mythos is in full force here, with each character and team displaying signature moves and abilities. Spider-Man gets slick with the little people. Hulk smashes. And smashes. And smashes. Iron Man brings the pain with weapons like you have never seen. Thor hits hard with a lightning coated hammer. Wolverine slices, and dices, and makes wisecracks as he walks away. No matter who your favorites are, you will have mad fun playing with them on this level.

Whatever characters and strategies float you boat, there are a few constants that lead to winning play. Make sure your deck has blocks of each color factor, distributed as evenly as possible. With 40 cards and 6 factors, you cannot make the ratio exact but it helps to have at least 6 blocks of every color you might need. When the match begins, pay attention to the discards and attacks that your opponent is playing. Save your key blocks until later in the game, unless you still need a particular card that has not appeared in your hand yet. There is a delicate decision point in choosing whether to block from hand or not, practice as often as you can.

There is a vibrant gaming community that is already wallowing in this wonderful game, and they have documented their results. On the forums at Comic Book Resources, there is a tournament series underway. You can follow along at home and study the strategies for yourself. On the Super Hero Squad Online Wiki, you can see each card in living color and get the inside information about the online game. At SquadCards.com, you can participate in monthly contests and get the most updated news about the game. Best of all, you can create your own squad at HeroUp.com and start playing right now.

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