Ultimate Combat! – Scott’s Analysis, Part II

April 25, 2010

In Part I, I comment on his top ten technique list. In Part II, we get into the more interesting stuff – all cards.

Best cards UC! 1st Set
#1

Pros: The best card in the game, great at any point in the game really great in your 1st hand one generic power point that gives you 3 power points of anything you want. Helps to get big cards out quick a must have in every deck!!!
Cons: none

ICL: Yeah, easily the best card in the game. For Magic players, it’s like a Dark Ritual that costs one generic mana, because it wasn’t like Dark Ritual was broken or anything. Should also be mentioned that it fixes power types. I’m extremely happy to use one to have a first turn of: foundation, gi patch, Mantra, gi patch.

#2

Pros: the best card in your 1st hand a great setup of any kind, helps to get bigger cards out quick and its cost is 0 always a plus
Cons: It’s restricted to one per deck, and it dies in 5 turns

ICL: I don’t even know where to look for my top ten list. I think it’s on a piece of paper somewhere. I should make some token effort, but the day is passing. I do recall that my #2 for both sets was Psychic Delay even though I don’t actually play it that often as so many heinous things can happen to you from a psychic action card … and Mantra of Power is a psychic action card. I don’t recall what my #2 was for just the initial set. Anyway, I don’t really have an argument against Elixir of the Gods. It’s funny how it was one of the first two gold belt cards I opened, I didn’t think much of it for a long time, then realized just how explosive openings can be when on a first turn you can: foundation, gi patch, Elixir, Mantra, Yamashita’s Belt, Bear’s Jaw, gi patch, … opponent concedes to your overwhelming power advantage.

#3

Pros: A great card at the start of the game, good in the middle of the game & great at the end of the game those 5 hit point can save your game. Helps to get bigger cards out quick
Cons: None other then it’s restricted

ICL: Some of the cards in the game have an extra story to them. This is one, though I’m not the best person to give the backstory on it. This card was super in demand when the game was new. I tend to view Elixir as more important if I can only play one because of rarity limitations. In the best tournament I ever played in, the only game I won involved my being purely defensive with my aggro deck due to too slow a start, blowing my Bear’s Jaw to survive my opponent’s last attack, and then hitting him for 26 with my first attack of the game.

#4

Pros: It lets you play any attack from any place in the game (deck, discard, hand) for the cost of 5. If you set your deck up for it you can play big attack cards quick. You can even play cards out of suit that you do not have the right foundations for. Oh and theirs what the card was made to do, it lets you keep an attack out in play after it is used.
Think focus+ instant replay+ Relentless all in one card but better.
Cons: It’s the only card to become restricted after the game was made but it’s less of a restriction. For it’s based off of your deck’s belt color (white 1 per deck brown 2 per deck black 3 per deck). The 3 counters that are placed on the attack before it can be used again is a bit much

ICL: Really broken card for reasons I talk about in here. Even more broken in limited play where the smart player will stall the game until repeatedly using one’s best technique proves decisive. The main cost I see is that it’s often too slow for an aggro deck. For a white belt deck, it’s costly as it requires an additional fat technique, but, then, white belt decks against non-white belt decks should be going aggro.

#5

Pros: It’s all in the wording; psychic read does pretty much the same thing as its brown belt counter part Morale boost. At 1st they seem about the same they both cost 3 power points to put out and they both add +2 to all your attacks which makes them an awesome combo with the cards combination (0,1,2, and X). Then you see that psychic read also adds +2 on defenses as well, is that it… No there’s more and it’s all in the wording. #1 psychic read works on weapons #2 psychic read also stays in play until you make an attack or until your oppent has an effective attack on you so it also doubles as armor, and cheap costing armor at that. You don’t see armor that cheap until the second set. #3 it doesn’t count as armor.
Cons: No in game cons just that it’s a rare card to get your hands on!!!

ICL: Hey, I disagree. The cost is annoying. Sure, it can stick around on defense, maybe, before giving a +2 on attacks. But, as soon as one attack deals any damage, which is 90%+ of the attacks that people care about, it’s gone. +2 is not minor, but it’s not major either. It’s stackable (as is Morale Boost). So, yes, there are defensive decks that can try to load these up with other defenses and create a wall of invulnerability, but the cost makes it hard to get enough out in play fast enough to not take any damage. To me, it’s just a niche card for a Knowledge/Experience decking deck or counter deck. Combination decks can beat far faster and with far less power headaches with just technique, movement, and Speed/Strength.

#6

Pros: think of this as a copy of any and every card in your deck for the cost of 3
Cons: None other then it’s restricted

ICL: Awkward power cost for a lot of my decks. It does make building the Adrenaline monster attack easier, assuming you have six power and a Mantra or seven power available. I do probably way underplay it. I think Scott correctly evaluated it higher than I did. On another note, a surprise is not having Instant Recall on this list. Tutoring up a card is generally a more broken mechanic in CCGs, but getting back any card is utterly broken as well.

#7

Pros: A talisman that adds any foundation that is not restricted and it adds two at that!!!
Cons: it cost four so it’s bad in the 1st hand and is really only good in the middle of the game. By the end of the game you should have all the foundation you need.

ICL: I definitely want it in the opening hand as it hopefully comes down no later than turn two with a Mantra. Pretty much required for any deck I play except certain white belt decks and hyperaggro decks. Will play multiples as well, even though only one can be in play on one’s board at a time, just because power generation is so crucial.

#8

Pros: It lets you play a big attack again or for the 1st time from the discard pile. For only 4
Cons: bad card to have in your 1st hand you also have to get an attack to the discard before you can play this card.

ICL: For the cons mentioned, I see this being a niche card. Could just have played another big technique instead. More importantly, it doesn’t help decks that don’t play big technique, which are common, it’s outclassed by Favorite Technique, and it’s outclassed by Favorite Technique.

#9

Pros: Dragons fire looks like the same type of card as its Experience costing speed boosting talisman counter part Amulet of Kwai Chang. And, it is, but its ability to fit into a theme deck with its Dragons fire / Amulet of Kwai Chang combo with one-time use counterpart Adrenaline makes for a quick game winning combo.
Cons: none other then it’s pointless unless you have strength advantage cards in your deck

ICL: See above about doing 26 damage with my first attack of the game for how I used these three cards together. How many Strength cards to play? I’m not much of a fan of the brown belt Speed/Strength cards as they are just expensive enough to produce curve issues or to have enough power left on an opponent’s turn to throw out some defense. Multiplication is broken, but I think there are more broken things in the game. Is this more broken than multiplying power generation? Actually, my real issue is that Dragon’s Fire and Amulet of Kwai Chang both tend to be “win more” cards rather than “I win” cards (like Adrenaline); awesome cards, but decisive enough?

#10

Pros: The best in delay…at a cost of 2 you can open up a can of whoop ass and you don’t have to fear being left open for attack Or you can let your self get attacked to allow for a set up on your next turn
Cons: none

ICL: In a game where a single turn of attacks if often decisive, I don’t rate this. It’s a bit too much of a random annoyance.

Third on my list, I think, was Instant Recall, but somewhere in the top 5 was Mental Domination. No game effect is nearly as broken as playing your opponent’s turn for obvious reasons. Cost a crazy amount? Sure. But, that’s not why I’d downgrade it if I were going to redo a list, methinks. I never noticed that it caused games to end when played, which is what you would expect. That’s certainly a good thing for game balance, but that someone can survive through a turn of this game where your opponent does whatever desired is fascinating. I’ve even hit someone with two, with Instant Recall, and still lost.

Speaking of extremely expensive action cards that hate Psychic Delay, Shake Up is just a beating, possibly as bad a one as Mental Dom. My ubercontrol deck these days is Shake Up based.

Healing Mantra is a control deck’s superobnoxious friend, also insanely annoying in limited play. But, I can’t make a big argument for it in the top 10.

I can make an argument for Speed I and Strength I. These are ubiquitous and I probably underplay them. The ultimate support on offense and defense, probably more important on defense as defending is harder.

Collectively, gi patches are essential. Everyone will play the ones in their foundation type, but will they play multiples like I often do? Ones they don’t have the foundation type for, like I might do? For Magic players, they are close to being Moxes … common Moxes.

Interestingly, there are multiple cards that either do say or essentially say “take an extra turn” and they don’t seem that out of line, even at half the cost of Mental Dom. I wonder why that is.

No time today, but in Part III, we look at the other side of the coin, cards that suck.

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Ultimate Combat! – Scott’s Analysis, Part I

April 25, 2010

Scott sent me three files of his analysis after learning of my interest in UC! from this blog. Part I is looking at his list of the top ten technique (I believe out of the initial set).

BEST Technique
#1 Black Belt Shoulder Throw

Pros: the only card that gives you 3 above costs and it’s a throw mixed with cards from the second set (coach Long, Professor Uchida, Kama Chigi, and Grip of steel) throws become more powerful
Cons: none

ICL: Could say a con is that throws are trivially less desirable out of the initial set. As a reminder, UC! is often a game where deck construction is limited by rarity. With that in mind, this is just so below the cost curve, even though there is a 6/6 for 5. Also, not like anyone is likely to remember, but this is the key to my Instant Replay- Shoulder Throw decks; besides being the most undercosted technique per the system the game uses, the cost exactly matches Instant Replay, meaning that a deck typically has eight 6/5’s for CE2 (Conditioning, Experience, two generic).

#2 Black Belt Inner Thigh Throw

Pros: 2 above cost that happens to be a big attack most 2 above cost are small attacks and it’s a throw, so mixed with the cards of the second set throws become more powerful
Cons: none

ICL: Speaking of which …

#3’s

Pros: all the same but suit, all 2 above cost great in your 1st hand
Cons: Poor defenses

ICL: The con to me is that they are only likely to see play in certain decks. First, due to rarity, we are talking about black belt and up decks. At those levels, it’s easier to build control decks; or, maybe, it’s better to say at lower levels, it’s harder to build control decks. I play these in an extremely aggro combination deck, but I usually play either more control oriented technique or the 2/2’s for one below as speed bumps while I bring online bigger beats.

#4’s

Pros: the same but suit, both 2 above cost great in your 1st hand good attack and defenses and they are both brown belts which is a plus
Cons: not as good for attacks

ICL: The grading curve in this game is that black and gold cards need to have points deducted, unless you always play gold belt decks which is counter to every group I’ve ever seen. These two technique are the most commonly played in the game by far because rarity doesn’t factor and because they have so much synergy with each other and with Adrenaline.

#5’s

Pros: the same but suit, both 2 above cost great in your 1st hand good attack and defenses
Cons: not as good for attacks and they are both black belts unlike their counter parts from other suits (see #4)

ICL: As mentioned above, I am apt to use these as chump blockers in controllish decks. Where I might be concerned to some degree with movement direction with the 3/1’s, I’m not likely to be running movement in decks using these, so I’ll just pick based on predominant foundation type.

#6 Black Belt Barrel Roll

Pros: 2 above cost good attack it’s a throw, so mixed with the second set throws become more powerful
Cons: Poor defenses

ICL: I think I overplay the 4/2’s for two in my higher belt aggro decks. The tight foundation requirements are often annoying and I hate to waste Mantras of Power to fix my foundation to get them out. Anyway, I actually play the 4/2 kicks far more often as I’m not concerned with comboing with throw cards as much as not wanting to run into random anti-throw stuff. Then, there’s some theory to diversity of ranges in attacks when not playing with Close the Gap or Keep the Distance to avoid being unduly affected by decks that do run them.

#7’s

Pros: all the same but suit, all 2 above cost
Cons: Poor defenses

#8 Black Belt Lifting Sleeve Throw

Pros: 1 above cost for attack & it’s a throw, so mixed with the second set throws become more powerful it’s also a mono suited big attack… most are made up of two suits ex the 4 big attacks that each suit has all which are 8/4 (they are the biggest attacks in the game but don’t make the list for poor defenses at a cost of 7 making them 2 under cost)
Cons: none

ICL: I play the 5/5 with the same cost more often because it’s a brown belt card.

#9 Black Belt Cyclone Elbow Smash

Pros: 1 above cost for attack it’s also a mono suited big attack… most are made up of two suits
Cons: it’s not a throw

#10 Black Belt Jump Crescent Kick

Pros: 1 above cost for attack
Cons: not as good as the other attacks on this list

*Other cards to Note*

Pros: Ok so they didn’t make my top 10 but these 3 are also good cards the 1st two being some of the best defenses cards and the last one an at cost mono suited brown belt throw nice not great but nice.

ICL: I’d much rather play a Drunken technique than the Charging Front Kick, but even without the Ancient Fighting Arts expansion, it’s just too expensive to be a blocker, where any of the ()/5 technique above would be far better. Right Cross is more interesting because of other Knowledge and/or Experience technique that are reasonable for defense, like the 3/3 for three at white belt. Sweeping Leg Throw is the sort of solid, midrange plays that can make a difference in limited play, but outside of mono-foundation decks (generally not a good idea), I don’t see squeezing these sorts of cards in.

For constructed play, across belt levels, I expect to mostly see one cost technique, three cost technique of one foundation type, or undercosted beatsticks, or something massive for Favorite Technique or Instant Replay. There’s one more type that I’m increasingly believing in. I used to disdain 2/1’s for two as it was so easy to upgrade at the three cost level, but for aggro decks at lower belt levels, (power) curving and foundation cost simplicity is more important than a +1. A 3/2 for XY1 can’t be Mantra of Powered out with one available power, another consideration in this tempocentric game.

As an aside on limited play, the interesting thing that limited play teaches is that even bad technique may be important. While starters have too much technique in them, including often ludicrously overcosted junk, there’s only so much you can do about your power curve and you need to be putting numbers on the table. That being said, the limited player who puts two technique in play every turn to the opponent who puts one in play should crush.


I Hate Permanents

April 19, 2010

I could have come up with a different title, but they’d all be pretentious.

I think I actually do generally disdain the concept of winning off of permanents in CCGs. What is a permanent? Any card that will continue to have a game effect while it remains in play and which will remain in play for a significant period of time unless removed by some other effect; exceptions in terms of what I’m complaining about could be made for cards that you need to have in play to play the game, such as land in Magic, foundation in Ultimate Combat!, minions in Vampire, etc. Let me muse over some CCGs.

Magic, The Gathering

Oddly, I disdain creatures because of how easily they are removed. However, close to my central complaint with Magic is that permanents have way too much game impact. I’d much rather get hit with a Fireball for 11 and three Lightning Bolts than be hit with the same 4/4 five times. While I can understand those players who consider such things as discard, land destruction, and counterspells being far greater problems, consider how much more annoying all of those are when they come from a permanent.

Magic has tons and tons of removal, especially for creatures, yet what’s typically frustrating for me in my games is single cards that I can’t get rid of. I especially hate equipment. Of course, I never really played tournament constructed where other problems with the game might be much greater. Still, as a sometime limited/casual player, I grew very tired of games coming down to single cards. … but, wait, I like single cards turning the tide – it’s dramatic. That’s the thing about permanents, they aren’t dramatic. I like having to guess at what I have to deal with, not see that the table says I lose. While the best decks for me to play might be things like Sligh, Red Deck Wins, Fires, and the like, when I think of Magic decks I want to be known for, it’s usually something along the lines of creatureless counterburn.

Ultimate Combat!

As much as I consider UC! the most balanced and fun CCG I’ve played, there are two types of permanents that I can see be concerned with. Power generating talismans can greatly throw out the balance of games and, in my modern thinking, are essential to every deck. While they won’t directly decide a game, a significant imbalance in how many players get out should be decisive. Then, there’s Favorite Technique. The beauty of UC! to someone like myself who hates losing to a single creature is that technique go away when they are used, except of course for one’s Favorite Technique(s). Well, there’s weapons, but weapons have the silly breakage rule and making them unbreakable involves building a very, very specific deck that I may have only seen once from an opponent. While I must admit I enjoy creating UC! prison-style decks which rely on Favorite Technique, it’s only because this sort of control deck is so rare. When I think about what it’s actually like to play against a deck that you can’t get through because three or four Favorite Technique including a Drunken are cycling through, I start thinking about what it’s like to play Magic.

Vampire: The Eternal Struggle

Cards in V:TES tend to have much weaker effects than cards in other CCGs. Even what I consider the best weapon in the game, .44 Magnum (Ivory Bow may be more annoying to play against, but it’s far less flexible), doesn’t bother me so much. Yet, I do find that permanents often irritate me. There aren’t many cards that by themselves are unfair or overly annoying. No Secrets From the Magaji comes to mind as one of a few that might qualify. It’s when a deck can assemble enough permanents in combination that you can’t do anything anymore that I just want games to time out. Imbued are the worst offenders in that Conviction are essentially permanents and Imbued decks don’t have much recourse for plays besides permanents.

The thing about decks that tool up is that any drama gets snuffed out of the game. If they succeed, then their plan for victory is to be unassailable, which is boring. If they fail, they often fail early, which wasn’t interesting either. Not that I advocate more or better removal, as I often find removal unfair. I don’t think much can be done since there are other problems in the game which are more important and counter issues with decks achieving unoustable positions.

Babylon 5

Not at first, but eventually the card ideas I pushed the most for were cards that gave temporary power and/or influence. When the game was young, there was drama from the cheese agenda even if everyone knew they existed. A Centauri or Narn player at 14 power might win that turn. Over time, a lot of drama was removed because sudden victory was either difficult or was incredibly annoying, e.g. Secret Strike a We Are Not Impressed conflict. While B5 had a general problem with predictability as all of the agenda were known to all of the experienced players and one could accurately determine whether a player could win this turn or not almost all of the time, besides avoiding further attempts to make it difficult to gain power off of agenda, I really badly wanted to see “bid for victory” cards.

I proposed a number of cards, mostly aftermaths, with varying requirements, that would give one turn changes to power (whether through influence or just power), to try to attack the predictability in the game. Now, you don’t want games to be so unpredictable that you never know whether someone can win in a turn or not as that makes good play impossible, but what was exciting in B5 and what’s exciting in all games is when everyone makes a bid for victory that has a limited window rather than someone just grinding out victory or everyone ganging up on the leader until so many resources are expended that the third or fourth leader can’t be stopped.

As another example, and one more relevant to my topic, of how my interests are reflected in deck design, my B5 decks tended to be very high in events, reflecting how I preferred cards from hand deciding things rather than cards in play.


Paying Taxes

April 18, 2010

Quite the hiatus from posting.  So, taxes were due not long ago in the US, which got me to thinking about “taxing” in V:TES.

The concept of taxing is simple enough – making things more costly than they normally are.  Such cards have been around a long time.  The one I usually think of from the game’s early days is Bureaucratic Overload.

Bureaucratic Overload is actually a pretty good example of a typical level of usefulness of a tax card.  While mildly annoying, Bureaucratic Overload is like many of these cards in that it should have zero game impact.  Other masters that show up with a cursory scan include Chanjelin Ward, The Damned, Mundane, Regarhagan’s Hold, Burden the Mind, Centralized Background Check, etc.

Among other card types, there are the other Holds, Condemnation: Betrayed, Greater Curse, Seeds of Corruption, Shadowed Eyes, Crocodile’s Tongue, Safe Passage, Kuta, Masquerade Enforcement, Extortion, Terror Frenzy, Kduva’s Mask, Orb of Ulain, San Nicholas de los Servitas, Narrow Minds, The Slow Withering, and so on and so forth.

Leandro is the best known tax vampire among veteran players.  Pariah (and the likes of Walks-With-Might) and, of course, infernal minions tax yourself.

Besides cards that tax as a side effect of doing something useful, such as Kduva’s Mask, there’s little reason to play most of these cards.  It doesn’t really help to cause someone to pay one more to bleed you if you still get bled for 5.  Blood denial as a strategy is so much less effective than other strategies at winning tables that I have a hard time imagine metagaming against it.

There are a few plays that make sense:

Leandro – The tax is probably not going to be as important as the 4 votes, 3 bleed, and disciplines.

Narrow Minds – I think this card is way overplayed and a terrible idea as bounce is what makes this game playable; if I were going to tax something involving bleeding, it would be increasing the cost of cards that increase bleeds.  However, it’s the most common tax I see these days as people see little drawback to throwing it into decks that don’t bounce.

Centralized Background Check – If you really, really want to stop decks from playing Concealed Weapon + .44 Magnum, then it begins to sound less sketchy.

The Slow Withering – Part of the event package of Blood Weakens, The Slow Withering, and Veil of Darkness that can disrupt many common decks greatly.

Getting past cards that are good for other reasons and cards with global effects that have enough impact to justify a single card slot, are there strategies around taxing that are remotely of interest?

To answer that question involves another question:  how much time do you have in your environment?  By time, not talking about minutes but, rather, turns.  Taxes hurt more the more often someone has to pay them.  A fundamental problem with a card like Condemnation: Betrayed and now with Greater Curse is that infernalism wants you to do the opposite – shorten the number of turns the game goes – as the infernal tax keeps hitting you.  An environment with mostly fast decks is going to see the taxer being overrun by somebody.

So, you have a slower environment.  What’s the advantage over playing even something like combat (which will remove counters faster and more consistently)?  Subtlety?  I don’t think so, in actual play.  People don’t like feeling like they are being screwed with even if it’s trivial.

Really, the only reason I can see for tax strategies is the same reason for playing a lot of unusual strategies – they are unusual.  Whether it’s the challenge of attritting or the need for variety, someone will find a reason.  Speaking of someone, so I need to build my Shadowed Eyes deck.

Deck Name:   100314  Shadowed Eyes
Created By:  Matthew Romans

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 22, Max: 38, Avg: 7.66)
———————————————-
  2  Allanyan Serata                    ani AUS CEL OBT PRE9  Toreador
  2  Andrew Emory                       aus dom pot OBT5  Lasombra
  2  Anton de Concepcion                aus ANI DOM OBT POT9  Lasombra
  2  Bruce de Guy                       AUS DOM FOR OBT10 Ventrue Antitribu
  2  Matthew Romans                     pot AUS OBF OBT7  Pander
  2  Onaedo                             aus pot DOM OBT6  Lasombra

Library: (75 cards)
——————-
Master (17 cards)
  2  Auspex
  5  Blood Doll
  1  Elysian Fields
  1  Giant`s Blood
  1  Heidelberg Castle, Germany
  2  Information Highway
  2  Perfectionist
  3  Wider View

Action (6 cards)
  6  Shadowed Eyes

Action Modifier (4 cards)
  2  Shroud of Night
  2  Tenebrous Form

Reaction (26 cards)
  2  Eyes of Argus
  5  Eyes of the Night
  3  Forced Awakening
  4  On the Qui Vive
  2  Precognition
  2  Spirit`s Touch
  5  Telepathic Misdirection
  3  Wake with Evening`s Freshness

Combat (12 cards)
  7  Arms of the Abyss
  3  Entombment
  1  Shadow Body
  1  Shadow Parasite

Ally (4 cards)
  1  Carlton Van Wyk (Hunter)
  1  Mylan Horseed (Goblin)
  1  Ossian
  1  Young Bloods

Equipment (5 cards)
  2  .44 Magnum
  1  Bowl of Convergence
  1  Camera Phone
  1  Ivory Bow

Combo (1 cards)
  1  Fae Contortion

As with many of my decks, inane or not, there’s no real plan for ousting here.  Also, I’m not entirely sure why Gregory Winter isn’t in here … or some Villeins.  This very well may fail my test of “making a good faith effort to build a real deck”, which is why I might not ever actually pull the cards for it.  On the other hand, until I see the card in action, it’s hard to judge what I should do instead.

p.s.  After I wrote this, I realized that by mentioning a card like Crocodile’s Tongue I open up some confusion on whether cards like Aching Beauty, Dominion, Archon, and Donal O’Conner are tax cards.  I can see an argument that the effects are the same.  There is a line that seems to exist between taxing and punishing, and I tend to view these cards as punishment cards, but whatever.  These sorts of cards are generally better.  In particular, as a strategy, Aching Beauty can be functional.