Welcome to the first installment of Rampant Speculation, a new article series where I look for patterns in previous releases and try to use what I see there to predict what’s coming. I plan to examine parts of the game that appear to indicate development patterns, then try to bring it all together, like strings on a corkboard. My predictions might not turn out to be accurate, but they’re fun to think about anyway. With that out of the way, we’ve got a lot to get through, so let’s begin with today’s topic. I promise there’s a bombshell of a prediction at the end that I think you’ll agree is at least plausible.
So, what are set symbols, anyway?
Set symbols are the little symbol you see in the bottom-right corner of many cards in this game; tactics, crisis cards, and gems all have a set symbol. How do we know they’re called that? Well, it says so in the rulebook:
Unfortunately, that’s all they’ve defined about them in official rulebooks. We don’t know what a “set” is, or even what the sets currently being produced are called. But we can learn a bit more, by looking at some patterns.
We have seen 3 set symbols so far in released products:
The earliest ones had a Spider-Man face. After that came the X-Men X. Third came a symbol that appears to depict 3 little buildings. Since these sets don’t have names listed anywhere, I’ll simply refer to them as the first set, second set, and third set, respectively.
Within a given box, all of the cards that have a set symbol have the same one. Additionally, for boxes where the cards have the second set symbol, there is also an “X-Men” logo on the front of the box:
Therefore, I think it’s reasonable to assume that an entire box set always belongs to a single set, even though the set symbol doesn’t appear on every card in that box (most notably, the character cards do not have a set symbol.)
The final piece of information we know is that set 1 was released almost entirely before either of the other two appeared, at least in the US. As of October 2020, every box released in the US was part of set 1. In November, the first four X-Men boxes became the first boxes with a new set symbol (set 2). Then the January and February boxes were the last of set 1. Everything released since then has been part of either set 2 or 3. Set 2 appears to have a very strong theme; every character in set 2 is either a mutant, or is closely tied to one or more mutants in some way as a villain or ally (such as Bob being tied to Deadpool or Mr. Sinister being tied to the X-Men). The themes for sets 1 and 3 seem to be much looser, if there is a theme at all.
With all that information out of the way, I have a few interesting theories based on set symbols. Everything from this point on is my own speculation about what set symbols mean, and should not be taken as facts. It’s all just theories.
Sets might indicate design order
The designers have stressed a number of times that this game has a long lead time on development. In particular, they have indicated several times that the releases targeted for the first year of release were all designed before the public even knew Marvel: Crisis Protocol existed. They talked about this a lot with the stat card redesigns.
We know that the original planned release schedule for this game is not what we got; Asmodee stopped doing new releases when COVID first hit the states, and there were no US releases for April or May of 2020. There were probably some other release schedule changes tied into that, but almost for sure, this explains the last two months of set 1 releases (She-Hulk, Angela and Enchantress, Black Bolt and Medusa, and Crystal and Lockjaw) coming after the first wave of set 2 releases. They talked during the big X-Men announcement about how they wanted X-Men to be a celebration of the game’s one year anniversary. So it makes perfect sense that if all the set 1 releases got pushed back by approximately 2 months, but the first wave of set 2 kept the same November 2020 release date it was originally planned for, that they still had 2 months worth of set 1 to drop afterwards.
With that in mind, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that set 1 was intended to be the first year of releases, and was all designed before the game ever hit stores. This is additionally supported by the fact that only cards from set 1 received updates in their big card revision they released recently, which they stated multiple times applied only to the first batch of characters they designed, all before the game was public knowledge.
What’s interesting is that sets 2 and 3 have been very interspersed. As previously mentioned, the November 2020 releases were all set 2. There were no December releases, and January and February was finishing up set 1. There was another 2-month gap (March and April). Then May, June, and July each had some releases from set 2 and some from set 3 in a roughly 50/50 split. The rest of this year that had releases (August, November, and December) were all from set 3.
This leads me to a big question. Were they designed at the same time, or were they designed separately? I think there is at least some indication that they were designed separately. As many have noted, the designs in set 2 often feel a little underwhelming and more similar to set 1 than the exciting things we’ve been getting in set 3. Two out of the three affiliations that are exclusive to set 2 (X-Men and X-Force) are often considered two of the weakest affiliations overall, especially after the set 1 revisions fixed some of the other underperforming affiliations like Spider Foes and Guardians of the Galaxy. This indicates to me that set 3 might have benefited from more designer experience than set 2. Every single box in set 3 has at least one character that people love… Sin, Iron Fist, Captain America (Sam Wilson), Lizard, Amazing Spider-Man, Black Cat, Carnage, Blade, Dormammu, etc. It’s just winner after winner, while set 2 is much more hit-or-miss. I think this is a pretty strong indicator that they were designed separately.
Does that mean they were originally intended to be released separately? That part is impossible to say. It does make some amount of sense to design them separately (just to keep synergistic models together in design) but release them together (to break up an entire year of nothing but mutant-related releases). Whatever the case, this was likely more of a marketing decision than a design decision, so it doesn’t interest me as much.
If sets are designed separately from each-other, they might work independently
The only set we have all of right now (set 1) obviously works by itself, since it had to; it was first. However, there are some indications that the other sets could be played alone as well, once all the characters from those sets are released. This would make some amount of sense, especially if they were designed separately; if you design a big block of 50ish characters all at once, it’s easier to test them against each-other, rather than try to test them together with all the previous characters. I’m sure they do at least some interspersed testing, but in-set testing makes sense.
The first hint I found that sets might be designed to function independently was in one of the earliest event kits they put out, the Crisis Event. The rules for this event can still be found in the organized play section of their website. It is no longer in more recent event kits (I just checked Separation Anxiety and Domain of the Dread Dormammu, neither one mentions it) but that first event kit had this section:
It has now been two years, and their website was never updated with a list of allowed packs. To me, this indicates either (a) The concept of Timeline vs Unlimited events was scrapped or (b) they have not released enough packs yet to feel the need to limit which ones can be used in Timeline events. Whichever is the case, it was clearly part of the plan when the game first came out.
My assumption (and again, this is only an assumption) is that Timeline events would be based in some way on sets. Looking at how big set 1 is, if all sets are that large, imagine when the game has 3 or more complete sets. It would be perfectly reasonable to exclude one or more of them from play for a given event. Now, don’t panic; this does not mean your older packs will “age out” or “rotate” or anything like that. They said right there that even if Timeline events exist, Unlimited events will also exist, and in an Unlimited event, everything is allowed. We also have no idea whether or not they still plan to implement the Timeline format.
That said, when looking for an easy way to separate out some packs from others, sets seem like an obvious way to do it. If the Timeline format was designed to use one or more sets without using all of them, it would make sense for sets to function as a stand-alone block of characters. I recently decided to reorganize my miniatures; previously I had them simply sorted by affiliation (with some judgment calls for characters belonging to more than one) but decided to break them down by set first, and affiliation second. This led me to an interesting discovery. Here are my observations:
- Set 1 obviously has a lot of leaders, and every character who has an affiliation at all has at least one leader in that set. What’s more, every affiliation with a leader in set 1 also has at least 4 total members (with Wakanda and Spider Foes both being exactly 4). There is definitely a “clean break” where it seems like you can play every affiliation in set 1 without using things from the other sets.
- Set 2 currently contains 5 leaders; 2 for X-Men, 2 for Brotherhood, and 1 for X-Force. There are only 4 characters in set 2 that don’t belong to one of those three affiliations: Bob, Cassandra Nova, Mister Sinister, and Omega Red. All four of these characters are affiliated with Cabal.
- Set 3 currently contains leaders for Dark Dimension, Web Warriors, Avengers, Midnight Sons, and Cabal. It also has a leadership card for Convocation. Out of the characters in set 3, all of them belong to at least one of those affiliations except, again, 4 characters: Kraven, Lizard, Mysterio, and Carnage. All four of which are affiliated with Spider Foes.
If we assume that the sets are designed to be able to stand alone, this lets us make some predictions about future releases. It seems like, with the exception of weird affiliations like Dark Dimension and Convocation, an affiliation that is supported in a given set should have at least 4 members, one of which is a leader. Set 3 is pretty easy; it looks like we’ll get at least one more Web Warriors character (currently they have Amazing Spider-Man, Black Cat, and Moon Knight) and we’ll get a new Spider Foes leader. There are numerous options for Web Warriors characters; Spider-Woman, Spider-Man 2099, and Spider-Ham have all appeared on tactics card artwork, but anything is possible. So I predict we’ll get someone from that affiliation before set 3 is done. For Spider Foes, Doctor Octopus has led a team of Spider-Man villains numerous times (way more often than Green Goblin, actually), so giving him a second miniature with a leadership ability (like they did with Peter) would make a ton of sense. It would also have a very nice symmetry if both of the characters in the core box that weren’t part of the core box affiliations got a new miniature with a leadership ability in set 3. So I’m predicting a new Doc Ock as a leader of the Spider Foes, again, before set 3 is done.
Set 2 is a lot more interesting. The three affiliations with leaders currently all have plenty of members, with more coming. However, the 4 characters with no in-set leader all belong to Cabal, and otherwise have no other affiliations in common. To me, this predicts one of two things: (A) a new affiliation that all four of them belong to, or (B) a new Cabal leader. Idea A seems like a stretch; it’s weird enough to squeeze characters like Bob and Cassandra Nova into the same affiliation to start with (have they ever even been in the same comic issue?) and only really works with Cabal because it’s such a catch-all affiliation, representing both Hydra and also a team-up of mastermind supervillains. Idea B makes more sense to me. But remember, set 2 has a very specific theme; every character is either a mutant or a close ally/villain to mutants. Both of the Cabal leaders we have now are Hydra leaders, but that obviously wouldn’t work for this; Hydra is not tied very closely with mutants or mutant groups at all, as far as I’m aware. Instead, it would need to be a leader that represents the other side of the Cabal affiliation, the team-up of mastermind supervillains like Ultron, MODOK, and the other non-Hydra Cabal members. So who fits the bill, while also being a mutant (or tied closely to them)?
Well, it’s a bit of a stretch, and we’re obviously several assumptions deep at this point, but I have an idea. This is my wild prediction of 2021, and I think the chances of it being correct are pretty small, but if it is, I’ll be super proud of it. My prediction is Sebastian Shaw will be a Cabal leader, and his leadership ability will be called Hellfire Club.
Think about it; they’ve already taken two teams that are “close enough” and merged them together, naming a leadership ability after one of them. Mystique’s “Freedom Force” ability is the most obvious example. Hellfire Club certainly fits the look and feel of the Cabal; high-class supervillain masterminds trying to manipulate things to their benefit. And there aren’t that many Hellfire Club affiliated characters that are popular enough to put in the game at all; aside from Shaw, you have Emma Frost, Phoenix, and maybe Mastermind? That’s enough to make an affiliation out of, just barely, but I think it would serve the game better to roll it into Cabal. Again, because at that point, you would be able to play a Cabal list using only models from set 2, giving characters like Bob and Omega Red a home, even though they wouldn’t really work together in the comics without some very strange circumstances.
Thanks for reading! I certainly don’t expect all of my predictions to come true, but if nothing else, I hope you find this an interesting way of looking at the game. See you next time!