Nothing excites wargamers like new models, and the Marvel: Crisis Protocol community is no exception. Late January has seen the re-emergence of the Atomic Mass Games spoiler machine, and X-Force players have finally seen the rules for our most anticipated (and possibly only!) 2024 release: Bishop. But does the reality measure up to the hype?
At this point there have been many straightforward reviews of Bishop’s card- I recommend watching Chewie from the Danger Room break down his abilities on YouTube if enthusiasm and positivity is your bag, or listening to the first section of the recent Strike Better podcast for a more balanced take. Both are really enjoyable.
More like X-Fours, amirite?
Instead I’ll weigh Bishop’s utility against the competition at 4 threat in X-Force specifically, both in faction and splashes. Ultimately that’s how we have to evaluate every character, or tactics card for that matter: playing one means excluding many more, after all.
X-Force is defined by their 5 threat leader and trio of 3 threat killers – Deadpool, Domino and X-23. Most squads with start with Cable and 2 of these 3s. Because of this, there’s less flexibility for 4 threats than in factions with cheaper leaders or less incentive to play multiple 3s. In a normal match I’ll put one or two 4 threats on the table for X-Force, and I need them to carry a large amount of my game plan.
X-Force’s core pieces mainly contribute to the same goal: dealing damage. This is X-Force’s primary plan, so that’s great, but it leaves you leaning hard on your remaining slots for any other requirements. Since the balance update in September 2023, a consensus has emerged online as to what X-Force needs from its 4 threats. This isn’t gospel of course, but it seems sensible that we need:
High Action economy, high damage output. This is what we’re doing anyway and bringing a premier 4 threat in this slot makes sense. It also serves as counter to scenario teams looking to outlast and out-rotate you, like Web Warriors or Hellfire Club. This is so key to our plan that ideally any model in the later categories can also play this role.
Affiliated options: Psylocke, Wolverine
Unaffiliated Option: Logan, the Wolverine
How does Bishop compare?
This role really doesn’t play to Bishop’s strengths. He does have reasonable damage output. His builder gives auto-incinerate, which is excellent, a size 4 throw can be the best form of damage in the game, and his spender will sometimes be back-breaking (although it is expensive). Generally though, Bishop will often have to use an action to move, which all of our premium options in this slot can spend power to avoid in one way or another. They also have access to some mechanics to push their damage over the top against key targets – rerolls, extra dice, pierce, wilds count double. If you’re bringing a 4 just to kill people, Bishop is sadly not your guy.
Models capable of somehow picking up an extract from the midline turn 1 without being at risk of immediate retaliation. X-Force are not, first and foremost, a scoring team. However, totally ignoring extracts on the centre line turn 1 will often lead to an insurmountable points deficit. Equally, the plan is to eventually end up ahead on points. Taking a centre line extract safely can provide a head start, leaving your opponent to chase the game while you use more of your actions round 2 and on to fight, not move.
Affiliated options: Very few! Colossus has some merit here but most players choose to splash
Unaffiliated options: Eyes on the Prize plays (Beta Ray Bill or Hela), Extract carrying Grunt models (Nick Fury Jr, Elektra)
How does Bishop compare:
Again, this isn’t ideal for Bishop. Being a Medium base with a Medium Move gives him some play here – he can reach a Skrull or a Senator in one move, then use his second action to move back (on Skrulls anyway!) or attack. However he really wants to be at 3 power to use his throw as quickly as possible, and interacting turn 1 will set him back there. If your plan is “sit my big guy on the midline to hold the extract and not get dazed” Colossus is a much better choice. And honestly, in a world of Cosmic Ghost Rider, Wolverine charging turn 1 after being powered up by Wong, or Cable using Cat and Mouse to shoot the midline twice, that’s not a good plan! Hela, Beta Ray Bill or a grunts character are better options if Extract play is important to you.
Really, any clustered central scenario will disproportionately advantage certain abilities and attacks. As models group together, there is simply more opportunity to use specific tools. Beam attacks, throws, and abilities with a range “bubble” which give rerolls or another buff or debuff all go up in value when you have more opportunity to use them (or in the case of character throws, add damage from collisions to their displacement). Games on these maps tend to be more attrition focused, so durability is a huge bonus here.
Affiliated options: Collosus and Wolverine have some benefits here but can’t really be called specialists
Unaffiliated options: Crimson Dynamo is the King of this role, but Invincible Iron Man and Vision are defensible options as well.
How does Bishop compare here?
He’s potentially quite good! Being Incinerate immune means he can sit on an objective on Demons Downtown with impunity, and a size 4 throw means he can double move and clear any point, assuming he has the power. Throwing Hulk in to his team remains a great play, and handing out Incinerate on maps where the compressed area of play means more attacks can be made overall is great. He has a very powerful area attack, which is most relevant on narrow scenarios. And his Mutant Energy Absorption, while basically equivalent to an additional defense dice in terms of raw stats, adds the possibility of defense rolls spikes, particularly in combination with Cable’s Telekinetic Shields. On a map where a lot of attack are happening, that could make a big difference.
That said, Crimson Dynamo remains the premium choice here. He brings an excellent beam, with such long range he can generally hit several characters at once on a D map. This lets him generate enough power to use his reposition, setting himself up for further strong attacks, and to keep power for Disruption Field, rerolling enemy attack dice and making the most of the Shock conditions handed out by his beam to neuter opposing threats. Add to that his damage reduction and his utility on tight scenarios becomes unchallenged.
Dynamo is a bucket of defensive synergies limited (supposedly) by a short move (not relevant on Es) and a lackluster spender (which he never needs to use). Bishop simply can’t compete here. However, Bishop is a more well rounded character in general. His throw remains useful on any map, and his medium base/move combination opens up the same move/move/throw play pattern on spread scenarios that Beta Ray Bill players are so familiar with (unfortunately with less reliable power generation). His throw and immunity to Stun make him useful on Mayor Fisk, and he supports the general plan of X-Force more than Dynamo, handing out Incinerate and throwing terrain around.
Is Bishop worth taking on his own merits?
As a specific role player, Bishop doesn’t have what it takes to push the top meta models out of consideration. However, it’s possible he can carve out his own role in his affiliations. In Uncanny X-Men, Bishop can provide a safe Extract grab in the same way as Beast turn one using To Me My X-Men. His Medium base is helpful for Storm’s leadership hop, and auto-incinerate seems like a good fit for Cyclops led teams. In X-Force, to run a 4 threat at 17 you want a 2 (to run 5/4/3/3/2) or two affiliated 4s (to run 5/4/4/4). This is a good fit for Bishop. He can provide specialist support on E maps but play a more general role at 17, allowing you to also take Logan, Hela or another premium 4 threat.
Overall I think Bishop is a good release. The sculp looks great and captures the energy of the character. His rules are thematic and have enough strong points that he won’t seem out of place on the table. I’m not a fan of his Overload drawback – it provides a negative he doesn’t needs to have – but otherwise he’s interesting and he may work his way into his affiliations’ plans over time. At the end of 12 months of releases that have brought us powerful 4 threat options like Logan the Wolverine, Beta Ray Bill, Spider-Woman and Rhino though, he doesn’t stand out as a premium model and I’d be surprised to see him at a lot of top tables in the near future.
So that’s a rundown of Bishop according to the orthodox view of X-Force right now. The thing is, we play a game with a small player base, and X-Force are an lesser used Affiliation within that game. We really just aren’t playing all that many games. There’s *lots* of room for the orthodox view to be wrong!
The recent strong finish of Aleksander Ornaf at the LVO invitational is a great example of this.
Spectacular Spiderman, Dr Strange Sorcerer Supreme and Invincible Iron Man were viewed as really niche choices for X-Force, but here’s this great player going 5-1 at probably the most competitive tournament in the world with them.
With that in mind I’ve got another 4 I’d like to go over
Hairy, Lairy, Quite Contrary.
Sabretooth is an affiliated X-Force 4 threat with a long move and healing factor 1. He’s got the same builder as X-23 and Wolverine. That’s not a bad start right? But people say he’s bad, or unplayable, or posed like a ballet dancer, or has his arms up like he’s doing the funky chicken or whatever.
So the rest of his card must really suck for him to be as bad as all that right?
Well, look. 3 physical defense and 6 health on each side is pretty squishy for a 4, even one with access to X-Ceptional Healing. But the rest of his kit can really make an impact.
Aggressive and a two power counterattack make him a nightmare to hit with small attacks. In X-Force that gets more annoying as Sabertooth gets to use his leadership reroll with each counterattack. And big attacks would probably daze a character with 4 defense as well! The scariest attack around is Cosmic Penance Stare, CGR’s spender. It’s 49% to one shot Sabertooth. But it’s 42% to one shot Logan, and that 7% is to me, not a particularly relevant factor.
Hey Big Spender
Sabretooth’s other notable feature is his capacity to roll an absolutely massive bucket of dice at anything nearby once powered up. In my last tournament, we played the lesser seen OG Sabertooth mirror in the final round. My Cable toasted his Sabertooth R1. I was feeling pretty good about that, although, damn, Sabertooth did get to do a couple damage. Sabertooth activates first with Prio, spenders Cable, Dazes him. Hits the trigger for the follow up, dazes Zemo. Then builders Deadpool, and guess what? Dazes him too.
Obviously all characters can spike. But not all characters can throw 4 attacks with 22 dice and 7 rerolls between the end of their first activation and the end of their second. My Sabertooth also put in work in this game, dazing Deadpool and Scarlet Witch and generally being a massive pain for my opponent.
My point isn’t exactly that Sabretooth is a meta-breaker, or that he’s better than Bishop or whatever. It’s more that having an affiliated character with a specialised kit can be really helpful even if, in a vacuum, the character has some obvious issues
I think this is good news for Bishop fans, because Bishop definitely brings things that other options don’t.
What X-actly have I been playing?
After my last post I had a suggestion that I should post my roster in each blog and talk about what I’ll change. What I took to my most recent tournament was:
* Cable (5)
Luke Cage (3)
Baron Zemo (3)
Hela, Queen of Hel (4)
Team Tactics (10)
Eyes on the Prize
Weapon X Program
Brace for Impact (R)
Cat and Mouse
Heroes for Hire
No Matter the Cost
Deadly Meteors Mutate Civilians (I, 17)
S.W.O.R.D. Establishes Base on Moon‘s Blue Area (G, 15)
Infinity Formula Goes Missing! (B, 17)
Alien Ship Crashes In Downtown! (C, 17)
Deadly Legacy Virus Cured? (C, 19)
Mutant Extremists Target U.S. Senators! (L, 19)
I took Sabertooth mainly because of just painted him and was really happy with how he looked. He performed though, so for now he stays. Toad I’ve only played once, and it was on Virus which isn’t a fair reflection – he threatens to score the Virus and that warps the game, so until I have to take him on something like Paranoia or Hammers I’m not really sure what to think.
Hela I love, but I don’t love taking Eyes on the Prize. If I can get that Extract safety without taking that card, I think I’d prefer that. So as fun as she is, and as good as she is, I think Nick Fury Jr has to replace her.
Everything else stays for now I think. I’d like to run Marked for Death, but Scottish players seem allergic to Web Warriors (as well as sunshine, ha) so it’s not really needed in our meta. I’d love to cut Luke Cage but currently he’s my CGR plan, so until I figure out another way to compete there, he stays.
It’s not the destination, it’s the journey
The point of this blog in theory is to track my progress and think more deeply about the game. That should translate into better play and better performances. It makes sense then to check in on how play is going then pretty regularly.
I’ve been happy with my start of the year, and I think I’ve been playing well. I understand a lot more about squad construction, threat level and how to play each crisis in my roster, which is great. What I’ve noticed though is the emergence of sloppy mistakes in my play at pressure moments.
This is something that really got to me when I played Magic: the Gathering, and I’m happy to say it’s not quite been bothering me as much in MCP. That said I really want to improve on this, so I’ll be researching how I might go about that.
That’s for a future post though. For now, thanks for reading, let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to cover on the future, and as always, be x-cellent to each other.