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The Critical Angle: Do card abilities in Marvel Legendary really trend by class?

And if so, will ‘World War Hulk’ continue those trends?

With the Marvel Legendary deckbuilding game’s World War Hulk expansion releasing tomorrow, fans are excited to see what the new content will bring. As one of those fans, I’m hoping to see more Strength cards with abilities that draw cards and KO. These are arguably the two most important abilities in the game, and I certainly think they’ve been under-represented in the Strength class.

I’ve thought of Tech and Instinct as being all about drawing, Covert as being the dominant class for KOing cards, with Ranged and Strength being more heavy-hitter types. After a discussion on the BoardGameGeek message forum, however, I decided to do a little exercise and see how true these impressions really were.

I started going through the base game and all the expansions, counting examples of cards with different sorts of abilities within each card class. By the time I got to Fear Itself, I’d convinced myself I was onto something interesting, and continued in blocks representing around a year of expansions each, so I could see how trends in card abilities had changed over time.

Here’s a few notes on my methods before I get into the results

I counted unique Hero cards, meaning I counted each one once regardless of whether it was common, uncommon or rare. I thought about counting the actual number of cards, but I figured this way was okay because the less common cards tend to have more of an impact on the game, or have better versions of the abilities.

The categories I came up with were not mutually exclusive, so if a card fit multiple categories, it got counted multiple times. Same goes for dual-class cards, though for Divided cards I only counted the class on the side the ability was on.

My counting was always based on what the ability does, regardless of how it was triggered (e.g. a Covert card with an Instinct trigger to draw a card would be counted as a Covert card with card draw). Further notes on what I counted within each category are presented with the results below.

KO abilities

These are powerful because they weed the weak cards out of your deck, so you see your stronger cards more often. Here I counted anything that  KOs cards, e.g. KO a card from your hand or discard pile, look at the top card of your deck and KO if it is 0-cost, etc. I did not include cards that only KO Wounds.

Initially led by Covert cards, Instinct KO cards caught up in Secret Wars, and these two now lead the pack with Strength in third place, and Tech and Ranged trailing. The gap is widening, suggesting that this trend has continued through the expansions. Strength was not the weakest of the bunch in this category, and Tech cards were not as good as I had thought.

Draw Cards

Here I counted anything that lets you draw more cards from your deck, even if that was only when you draw a new hand, or if the top card of your deck has particular characteristics (like being cost 2).

Tech was slightly in the lead in the initial expansions, but it really overtook the other classes in later ones. Strength and Ranged are currently in last place, but they haven’t always been, and Strength was in second place by Captain America 75th Anniversary.

Fixed Attack Boosts

Anything that can give you a fixed additional amount of Attack (including Versatile). Ranged has always dominated this category, followed by Strength.

Variable Attack Boosts

Similar to above, but including cards that give an uncertain amount of extra Attack depending on game conditions (e.g. how many of another card type you’ve played, how many Bystanders you have or extra Attack whenever something happens; includes Berserk and Danger Sense).

Strength and Covert have been the dominant classes in this category with Ranged now trailing. Tech has caught up in the most recent expansions, perhaps because it had quite a few Berserk and Danger Sense cards.

Fixed Recruit Boosts

Anything that can give you a fixed additional amount of Recruit (including Versatile, but also Size-Changing).

Instinct was initially leading this group, but Size-Changing pushed Strength and Tech into the lead in the later expansions.

Variable Recruit Boosts

Similar to above but the Recruit boost is variable.

One of the least common ability types I looked at, there are actually no Tech cards with this kind of ability. Strength has been leading here since the Secret Wars era, but Covert has recently caught up.

Manipulation of deck/hand

This loose category includes anything that changes the state of your deck, hand or next hand (aside from simply drawing extra cards). Heroes that look at the top card of your deck but don’t move it (other than by drawing it) are not included. Keywords like Dodge, Wall-Crawl, Teleport, Phasing, Investigate, Soaring Flight, Cheering Crowds and Berserk are all included here.

Clear and consistent division here between Instinct and Covert vs. everything else. That suggests there was an initial difference, but subsequent expansions have added these abilities evenly across all classes.

Rescuing Bystanders

Anything that helps you rescue Bystanders, even if that means giving them to a Villain first (I’m looking at you, Deadpool!).

Tech has lead this category across all expansions, but the ranking of the other classes has shifted around quite a bit over time. Throughout, though, Strength has been consistently weak at this.

Downside

Anything with a possible downside for the player. Discards are only counted if the card doesn’t draw at least as many as are discarded (e.g. Cyclops commons would be counted here, while Rocket’s “Gritty Scavenger” would be under manipulation of hand/deck and draws cards). Removing cards from your Victory Pile is included here, too. Berserk and Cheering Crowds are both included.

Strength and Ranged are leading quite strongly in this category.

How does this compare to what I expected?

The classes ended up ranking differently in some categories than I’d expected.

I thought Tech would have been better at KOing, and Strength would have been worse. Maybe that’s because I could easily think of a couple characters who strongly identified with Tech and had KO abilities (Punisher, Dr. Punisher), but I found it harder to think of a Strength Hero who could KO cards (Groot being the only one that sprang to mind). Similarly, Strength was not as weak as I thought in card draw, but I did notice that a lot of  Strength draw cards were the only Strength card a Hero had, and it was often an uncommon or rare.

I suspect some of my impressions of which Classes do what are strongly driven by the abilities of Heroes who are clearly dominated by a particular class (e.g. Wolverine for Instinct, Hulk for Strength, Forge for Tech, etc.), and I don’t consider the abilities of Heroes who have a diverse range of Classes (like Spider-Man or Captain America).

Did the designers plan it this way?

Hard to say. The strongest evidence for that would be an initial difference that gets wider over time, much like we see for Covert’s KO abilities, Tech’s dominance of card draw, and the Fixed Attack Boosts of Ranged. Such a pattern is what you’d expect if the designers were continuing a deliberate trend. Where a difference remains steady over time (like for Deck/Hand Manipulation), that means cards with those abilities are being added in equal measure across all classes.

If a difference narrows or reverses (like we saw for Fixed Recruit Boosts), then cards with that ability are being added disproportionately to non-dominant classes. If class had no relationship with ability type (i.e. there is no conscious or unconscious design element linking class and ability type), then you’d expect differences to disappear over time — random variation would eventually result in an even mix across all classes (a phenomenon known as regression to the mean).

Thus, steady and especially reversing trends could just be unintentional variation, especially where abilities are less common, as it takes fewer cards added to disrupt the trend.

So what should we expect in the new World War Hulk expansion?

I think many of the trends may continue, e.g. we’ve already seen an example of a Tech draw card for Amadeus Cho, and the existing pattern would suggest that is intentional. However, we’ve also seen that Gladiator Hulk has a Strength common which draws a card.

I’ve noticed that one of the things that can most disrupt a trend in ability types is the introduction of a new keyword, like when Size-Changing pushed Strength and Tech into the lead for Recruit boosts. We know this expansion is bringing the new keywords Outwit, Transform, Wounded Fury and Smash.

The previews of Smash have shown it on a pretty diverse range of classes, including Instinct and Covert, as well as Strength. This ability would count in the Downside and Fixed Attack Boosts categories, so it’s possible this expansion will change the current trends in those categories.

The Critical Angle is a recurring feature that uses critical thinking and skepticism to analyze pop culture phenomena. Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. Rather than repeating the same old assertions, we put them to the test.

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