Whether it is The Dread Dormammu or The Dreaded Stark, there’s no character in the Marvel Crisis Protocol Universe which fails to send a shiver down the spine of their enemies… at least some of the time. Today let’s look at The Dreaded… Hulkbuster!
Hulkbuster bucks the trend of these articles a little in being a character that is really quite popular – and it is easy to see why. Although he’s expensive at six threat, Hulkbuster brings a lot of elements that make him a great problem-solving piece for many affiliations.
With 13 health, a superpowerpower to reduce damage from attacks by 1, and a respectable 4/3/3 defensive statline, Hulkbuster can take a lot of punishment when he hits the field. His medium move on an enormous base makes him very fast, with his Heavy Repulsor Blast pushing regardless of size or whether it deals damage – and ensuring he builds a minimum of 1 power, potentially far more. His Meteor Punch is also a cheap and effective attack that denies the opponent power and can do splash damage on anyone around the target.
Hit and Run also assists Hulkbuster’s mobility and can spread the attacks around targets, and Now I’m Mad gives him a size 4 terrain throw which is always useful.
When he would daze, he instead becomes Iron Man (Hulkbuster) – a very vulnerable piece which can nevertheless continue to push characters of any size –even more than his healthy version as he can get rapid fire – and potentially building 4 power per turn, which makes it very likely the opponent is going to want to take him off the board before he can use his Always Have a Backup power and bring Hulkbuster back.
One important thing to note is that Iron Man (Hulkbuster) is a healthy character, which means that Tony will always contest objectives over injured characters when he brings the Hulkbuster suit into battle.
Obviously with all these points in his favour Hulkbuster has value as a 6-threat character in a lot of places. His ability to guarantee a push on a size 4 character (like, say, Hulk) up to two times in a turn and maintain his distance with Hit and Run is unique, he has great power generation and he can run some very risky extraction plays with relative safety thanks to his deep health pool.
However, there’s also a part of his card which sees less play: his leadership! Hulkbusters means that every time a character suffers collision damage, that damage is reduced by 1. I’d like to have a look at why specifically playing Hulkbuster as a leader is something your opponent should dread. And not just when you are expecting to face a lot of throws in your opponent’s roster.
I primarily think of the leadership as a nice quality of life improvement. Suddenly characters who are left on one health can’t just be thrown into other characters, and that can force the opponent to spend precious actions to finish off characters that would otherwise only cost a superpower to daze or KO. It is rare that an enemy team has no way to throw characters and blunting that damage can be surprisingly relevant even if it only comes up a few times over the course of the game.
Whilst it is very easy to build a roster that can play Hulkbuster as a secondary leader – especially with Sam Wilson or Steve Rogers backing him up – there are reasons to leave these characters at home altogether, or at least intend to run Hulkbuster as the leader most of the time in preference to them.
Sam Wilson is a fantastic 3 threat piece but having terrain thrown at him is one of the better ways to take him off the board, and when he is a leader he will often draw your opponent’s fire, which incentivises playing him conservatively when he can do fantastic work with his charge, shield throw and redwing assault. Having Hulkbuster as a leader who can help shore up his weakness to throws and make offensive plays less risky with him feels great.
Steve Rogers is a fantastic support piece but he doesn’t do a huge amount of damage himself as a general rule, and you generally want to be making use of his leadership ability to maximise his value. That, in turn, means that characters like Ant Man, Wasp and Hawkeye – who benefit less from Steve’s leadership than others – are often not the ones you want to take in those rosters.
With Hulkbuster, though, you can start looking at those Avengers pieces and how those characters might synergise together. I’ve found that the characters who benefit the least from Steve’s leadership have some interesting synergies together.
War Machine, Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel are all characters who can generate huge amounts of power and don’t always have good ways to spend it themselves. Hulkbuster can also find himself generating a lot more power than he needs, and building around this strategy opens up high cost, high impact tactics cards that might otherwise struggle to find a place in the roster. It’s also worth noting that Hulkbuster, Vision and Hawkeye all bring energy attacks which can be increasingly relevant.
Vision and War Machine both also bring beam attacks which can open up a lot of multi-target attacks, and if you are leaning into a heavy focus on fighting, Agent Widow’s ability to steal an extra victory point or two over the course of the game can help mitigate falling behind in the first round or two whilst you put your pieces into position for a punishing series of activations.
Finally, characters with damage reduction powers – like Luke Cage, War Machine, or even out of affiliation characters like Lizard, Black Dwarf and Rogue – get more mileage out of Hulkbuster’s leadership as they reduce the overall damage of collisions by 2, and the leadership does not have a minimum of 1 clause. I am always reluctant to bring in out of affiliation picks though, simply because the utility of a wide Avengers Assemble that moves the entire team can be fantastic.
In terms of other tactics cards, Follow Me is a particular favourite of mine. With a six threat leader it is easy to build a squad that aims to maintain priority, and opening up the round with back to back activations can be highly punishing, especially if you’re on a crisis like Research Station which groups everyone in the centre and you happen to be running War Machine and Vision to lay down a huge number of attacks. You can also combine this with Captain Marvel and War Machine’s ‘The Air Force’ to either take two activations back to back twice over the course of the game, or set up three activations at the top of a turn to double down on that advantage.
Defensively, Field Dressing and Patch Up are both great cards which can help you keep Hulkbuster around longer and if you are taking these characters who generate large amounts of power you should be able to Patch Up for five full health, which can potentially bring Hulkbuster back up to 6 health if the opponent focuses on killing him, giving him almost as much health over the course of the game as Hulk even before he turns into Iron Man (Hulkbuster) – but with his invulnerability making him more difficult to take down with a lot of small attacks. The leadership means that a lack of Brace for Impact is a bit less painful, too.
A fairly typical tactics card selection for me has often been Field Dressing, Patch Up, Follow Me, Avengers Assemble and then a character specific card.
Helios Laser Bombardment is also a great pick for Hulkbuster. Although it isn’t necessarily power efficient, if you are running a squad that has a lot of extra power, it can be used with Hulkbuster to allow him to Hit and Run at range 5, bringing him back across the table after he has been displaced to smash back into the opponent after dropping a big wave of damage on the table. Helios Laser Bombardment will also often deal 1 damage to everyone around the initial target, and if you have the power, Hulkbuster being able to follow that up with a Meteor Punch into a second target for a throw and more splash damage can be a big swing turn. Whilst it can be tempting to blow a ton of power on a huge orbital beam to detonate a big target like Dormammu, Thanos or Hulk (and that can feel great and thematic), I really can’t stress the impact of that ability to keep Hulkbuster attacking and repositioning with Hit and Run when he’s been controlled out of range 3, or wants to attack twice and be in position for another tactics card like a timely Follow Me, Patch Up or Field Dressing.
Helios is definitely the most common pick, but if I think the crisis is going to force characters to be so spread out that Follow Me may have less utility there’s plenty of other cards which can make good replacements.
Professionals can be a fun one to use in a world where extract stealing is highly relevant and people often don’t expect to see it on a team that doesn’t involve Black Cat or Enchantress.
Pym Particles should also not be underestimated; a size 3 terrain throw, at range 3, for 2 power can be a real surprise for your opponent, and both Ant-Man and Wasp have the mobility to get into range to enable it very easily.
With No More Mutants and the Hulkbuster leadership, the team can blunt Magneto’s Brotherhood quite significantly, and even turning off Glaive’s Edge or Death’s Decree can help with the Black Order matchup. Whims of Chaos can also help with Hulkbuster as one of the most common ways to deal with him is to load him up with conditions that mitigate his impact on the game.
Whilst my preference is to play this more fighting-focused team with Hulkbuster, it is worth noting that Hulkbuster himself is a great control piece and Avengers can double down on that with characters like Vision and Beast who bring cheap throws, Black Panther who brings more guaranteed pushes, and Doctor Voodoo, who is just an incredible piece. A 17 point team of Hulkbuster, Voodoo, Black Panther and Beast will generate a lot of power and be capable of both high levels of control and damage.
Alongside conditions, Hulkbuster does need to be aware of various movement effects which can keep him out of the fight. Although his attacks are all very good, they are also at range 3 and you ideally want to be making two attacks every round past the first to maximise the impact of your six threat character. As a size 4 character, he’s resilient to many throws – but he can still be advanced or placed with effects. And the throws that do target him can really hurt the rest of the team. Whilst I like Field Dressing and Patch Up to keep him around longer, there’s a strong argument for Brace for Impact and Indomitable, especially in a world where Juggernaut is letting everyone know Who He Is.
Hulkbuster also particularly hates Loki and the Root condition – even worse if your opponent is bringing both. Taken together, these increase the cost of his Built to Take It power to 3 per 1 point of damage prevented, and you have to spend before you know whether you are taking the damage at all. That can feel really bad.
It can also be difficult for him to have a strong impact on extremely spread-out crises; the new Super-Powered Scoundrels crisis can be particularly awkward as he can reliably secure one point per round but is a heavy commitment to that area. He can mitigate this to some extent with strong extract play as once he has a high-value extract on him (like an Alien Core or Skrull) it can be very difficult to get them off, but it is worth noting that his Built to Take It power does not allow him to prevent the damage caused by Cubes and his health is quite valuable as his Iron Man side is very easy to take out of the game completely.
This is also why Demons Downtown is not a favourite crisis for him in my opinion; whilst it can clump people up, an Incinerated Hulkbuster will go down surprisingly quickly to the combined fire of your opponent, where a Hulkbuster who can displace two models a turn at range and be difficult to displace when he Hit and Runs onto it on other objectives is far more valuable. Ideally, you want to make use of Hulkbuster’s mobility to make people place him whilst forcing them out of position. Sometimes that can mean duelling a big piece like an opposing Hulk, and other times it can mean knocking two smaller targets off an objective at the end of the round and moving on to it, but in situations where that isn’t likely he can have a much more difficult time.
In conclusion, your opponent should dread Hulkbuster if:
- You want to be able to play an aggressive, attrition-focused strategy without fear of easily losing your leader.
- You are bringing characters which generate a lot of power to support a high-cost tactics card strategy.
- They are bringing a large target who wants to hold a point reliably every turn (Hulk, Juggernaut, Dormammu).
- They are bringing a lot of throws.
- The crisis will favour tight matchups where Helios Laser and Meteor Punch can shine.
But perhaps Hulkbuster should dread if:
- The opposing team or crisis will give out a lot of conditions.
- The crisis is widely spread out.
- The enemy team has a high number of ways to displace Hulkbuster.
- Loki and/or Root are likely to stick to Hulkbuster.
So that’s Hulkbuster as a leader in the Avengers! A style of play that moves heavily away from power hungry characters with strong superpowers and from wide teams that try to maximise Sam’s leadership, and instead emphasises pieces which generate large amounts of power to fuel strong tactics cards and can dish out significant damage or play a control-based game depending on the needs of the matchup. Do you have a character you’d like to understand why your opponents should dread? Please feel free to send an email over to ADreadedGoose@gmail.com and perhaps I can help!