The Dreaded… Meta

The Dreaded… Meta

Truly the greatest threat in any game…

This is inspired by a recent episode of the Rogue Agents podcast, which is excellent and I would highly recommend. This episode had a long discussion on the generally negative atmosphere within many of the discussion communities in the game right now, the impact of that on the playerbase and what steps might be taken to address it.

I think it is undeniable that the atmosphere within many areas of the community has shifted towards a more negative footing. This has been particularly notable to me since Malekith hit the scene, but even before then I was personally growing somewhat frustrated with the immediate reaction to anything that wasn’t obviously extremely powerful being that the piece in question was ‘trash’ or ‘worthless’.

I will say up front though that I don’t think everything within Marvel Crisis Protocol is perfectly balanced and I think there certainly are pieces which are better and worse at performing specific functions within the game than each other. But that’s always been true. Why has the atmosphere shifted so dramatically?

For a long time the perception within the community was that you could play most affiliations and player skill mattered more than the tools the characters you put on the table gave you.

As Fingerguns says in the episode – if you want to play high level Crisis Protocol you need to make concessions to take account of the ‘meta boogeymen’. You always have! Back in the day it was MODOK, Wakanda Wave and a plethora of turn 1 plays that could secure a strong advantage.

What I think has changed is that the number of those meta boogeymen has now grown. To perform at a high level you now need to have a plan to deal with Malekith, Sam, Thanos, Kingpin, Steve and the wild plays he enables, Hulk and even older things like Black Cat, Doctor Voodoo and Guardians/SLDD reroll spam because if you don’t have the tools to mitigate them, you are likely going to feel like you lost the game in roster construction – again, whether or not that is actually true. It is likely that this isn’t even a comprehensive list, and it will surely only grow as time goes on.

On top of that the majority of old meta boogeymen has also never really gone away. MODOK and Wakanda Wave still exist. Web Warriors still bring an extremely strong point-scoring game. I suspect in the near future we’re going to see a new era of SHIELD/Hydra grunt shenanigans which will also be slotted into the ‘better have a plan to deal with that’ category.

This in turn means that the band of rosters which can answer everything narrows, let alone the band of rosters which can answer everything without being one or more of those things itself. That’s kind of inevitable because there’s now such a massive pool of stuff to choose from and the majority of it simply can’t fall into ‘best in class’.

One of the things I found about playing A-Force, who are very much middle of the pack in my mind, was that I needed to build my roster with the intent of going attrition into teams that could outscore me – like SHIELD, Web Warriors and Kingpin – but also play the scoring game better than teams that wanted to go full attrition.

And I can see why that’s frustrating to a lot of people because they don’t want to play a flexible roster like that; they want to have their gameplan for their objectives regardless of who they are playing into. With A-Force a lot of the advice I got early on was that they are a fantastic attrition team because of all the throws and the high potential damage output of She-Hulk, Medusa and Captain Marvel and the thing I learned very quickly was that whilst they can do that, they aren’t one of the top-tier attrition teams and if you run them like they are into the teams that are top-tier attrition… you’ll most commonly lose.

Being able to play that flexibly also means you can’t go full-tilt into the playstyle you might favour. For instance, I couldn’t have A-Force Assemble in my 10 tactics cards and fit all the cards I wanted to bring for specific counterplay scenarios. Which means that my A-Force roster suffers more on Gamma Wave and Research Station than other A-Force rosters, and therefore means that I don’t bring those crises whilst I know a bunch of A-Force players love those crises and leaning heavily into attrition on them. I think my She-Hulk writeup makes it clear that I favour a more scenario-focused team, but that’s just my playstyle; others really want to play that attrition-focused squad… and they should!

There are therefore ultimately two sources for the discontent to my mind: one being the wide range of ‘best in class’ options, the second being the impact countering those best in class options has on the options it feels viable to bring within your favoured roster.

How do you counter that?

I think there’s three ways.

1) We’re playing MY game.

Firstly, you need to decide whether it is more important to you to play a roster which can achieve the same results regardless of the opponent or whether you want to play reactively.

If you want to play a roster where you can take the same gameplan into almost every team and feel comfortable – you probably do need to be playing those ‘best in class’ options. At that point you can build your roster with minimal concession to the wider field and lean in to maximise your gameplan.

The comparatively narrow field of extract and secure types means that you can learn to pilot such a roster with a gameplan for, broadly:

Single extracts (Alien Ship, Mutant Extremists, Skrulls)
Even extracts (Hammers)
Uneven extracts (Montesi, Spiders, Cubes, Legacy Virus)
Brawling extracts (Research Station)

Flip secures (Deadly Meteors, SWORD Base, Spider Portals, Mutant Madman)
Wide secures (Cosmic Invasion, Infinity Formula, Extremis Consoles, Super-Powered Scoundrels)
Brawling secures (Gamma, Demons, Intrusions)
Flank secures (Mayor Fisk, Terrigen Mists)

Having a definite gameplan for every combination of extract and secure is impossible – but it’s also overkill. You’ll be controlling one half of the possibilities in every game you run into. If your roster is one of the ‘best in class’ options you can build it to maximise the advantage of your half of the crisis and just have a general idea for how the half your opponent controls might change your approach.

2) I’m playing THE game.

The alternative to the approach which says “I’m here to play MY game” is to take an approach which says “I’m here to play THE game”. I should clarify that neither one of these is inherently better than the other; a big part of miniatures games like Marvel Crisis Protocol is trying to force your opponent to play the game you want them to rather than the game they wish they were playing. But you can build a roster to try and account for as many variables as possible.

I think the majority of rosters in the game probably want to be taking this approach. This requires building a roster with mitigation in mind. More importantly, it also requires being willing to change your gameplan up depending on what you’re seeing in front of you. Just bringing Luke Cage and Escort to Safety into your Malekith-loving opponent will help… but if you’re still trying to out-attrition him you’re probably still playing the game he wants to play. The weakness in a Malekith roster is that it has 7 threat dedicated to killing which has few other elements. You probably want to bring a way to steal any extract he might get his hands on and play with the intent of outscoring him from rounds 2 onwards when he has committed himself to his plan.

Similarly with Kingpin; you can try to outscore him but he is going to have an advantage there and you are going to be playing the game he wants you to play if you try. You need to have the ability to flex into heavy hitters who can punch through the chunky defensive pieces he is going to bring, preferably with tools for dice mitigation to smooth variance in your favour as much as possible.

This can be frustrating because the tools you bring all take up roster space. You might have to make concessions and not bring particular characters or cards you would like to bring in favour of ones which are particularly strong into the matchups you are most worried about. It is also a balancing act, because if you focus your roster too heavily on dealing with specific matchups and then never run into them you may well have weakened yourself into the general field.

You also can’t forget that you are still bringing half of the game to the table. You still want to have a general plan for each of your crises into a general opponent, which is more work on top!

However, there’s a big advantage to this style of play – which is that it is less susceptible to shakeups within the wider meta. If you are broadly comfortable looking at a team and saying “this team will be better than me at violence, I will choose scenario” or vica versa the specifics of how that team are better than you in the area are less important. If you’re used to playing one particular playstyle come what may, it can be very jarring when something new enters the playspace which means you are no longer the top dog in that area.

3) Broken or Trash” vs “Situational

Lastly I’d suggest a shift away from thinking of things as ‘broken’ or ‘trash’.

Instead I think it is better to consider new elements of the game in terms of their specificity; how generally useful they are going to be in the gameplan you are intending to play and what particular situation they require to excel as pieces.

Innovation within the game generally comes from finding ways to put these pieces in their optimal scenarios. It’s difficult to get a feel for what those are likely to be before you’ve put the piece on the table in a wide range of crises and into a wide range of opponents. More than any other game I’ve played, Crisis Protocol has proven to be the most resilient to ‘hot takes’ because so much of the game comes from the nexus of positioning, crisis, leadership, tactics cards, character and opponent. That’s seven key variables which will change every game!

There are characters which excel in a broad range of situations and will almost always be useful. There are also characters who need a more specific situation to shine (most of the characters I’ve written articles on fall into this latter category!) but manipulating the game state so that your pieces have that moment to shine is a big part of the game! And the payoff for bringing those more niche pieces and forcing that situation into being can be greater than sticking to the generalist pieces that are easier for your opponent to predict and have a counter ready for.

So in conclusion:

  • There ARE a lot of characters now who feel like they are at the top of their particular tree.
  • You generally want to be trying to force your opponent to play to your strengths and their weaknesses.
  • It is more productive to look at what situations characters and cards excel in and struggle in rather than trying to apply a blanket ‘good’ or ‘bad’ status to them.
  • Those situations will vary heavily depending on the specifics of the game you are playing!

Hopefully this has been a useful article to explain where I see some of the negativity in the community stemming from as well as my thought process on how to counter the root causes of that negativity.

It should always go without saying but I am also just some rando player of the game; the most important part of this hobby, as always, is to find the parts of it that bring you joy and maximise those. For me, it’s writing extremely long articles pontificating about random characters and parts of the game I enjoy. Sometimes I even play the game! But you should always focus on the bits that get you excited rather than feeling obligated to chase victory alone at all costs.

Unless victory is the thing that gets you excited about playing the game, but I suspect that’s not really the case for most people.

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