Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Great lesser-known champions!

Okay folks, let's take a look at four great TAV champions that just don't get a lot of press.

First, this little guy! One of only two cards (along with Thought Eater) that was actually depowered from third to fourth edition, Cistern Fiend (3rd edition, 282/400) is immune to all spells - offensive and defensive - and allies cannot be used against it. No Wish, Death Spell, Finger of Death, Mindkiller, or Takhisis's Abyssal Gateway. No Loup-Garou, Thought Eater, or Dreaded Ghost. The Cistern Fiend's low level of 2 means you get to slap down your instant-kill cards, while your opponent is crippled by the Fiend's immunity to cheese. Good champion, but not one you'll see every day around the Spellfire table. More players should consider adding him to their decks.

Next we have Lord Robilar (Ruins & Runes, 32/100). This guy has a bizarre robot horse that gives him the earthwalking ability. O-kay. Robilar is also immune to offensive cleric spells, and the special powers of Avatars. Those two items aren't exactly game-breakers, although being immune to Mindkiller and Mindshatter is nothing to sneeze at. Being resistant to Kiri's vanilla-izing could also be useful in certain situations. Overall, Robilar is a good champion who is right up there when discussing the best heroes in the game.

Ting Ling (4th edition, 354/500)! The very name conjures images of...flying Asian clerics with the blood of kings? This guy is one of the best attacking champions in the game. He can fly over dangerous front lands, bringing his allies with him. He can use blood abilities, allowing him to attach a Divine Wrath or a Melt Bone for a quick win. He's high level, making him an acceptable champion with which to engage in a level-up war. He'd be better with an immunity or two, but even as printed he's a vastly underrated champion, especially as an attacker.                            

Talcon (4th edition, 341/500) is sort of a "mini" Lyr of the Mists. While Lyr can banish any champion in a pool once battle begins, Talcon can only do so when he's been defeated. Though not quite as powerful as Lyr, in a TAV game he can still cause a lot of trouble. Let's say your opponent attacks with this guy. Do you block and try to kill him? If you win, you lose your best champion in the pool. If you lose, your front realm is razed and Talcon gets to try his luck again next turn. These are not good options. Talcon is a solid addition to any Psionicist deck, and he's been in mine from the start.

Next time: My all-female deck!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Top 5 TAV Events

Hey everyone! It's time for a look at the five best events for Spellfire: The Antigonish Variant. I am limiting this list to events that I personally own, because the nature of events dictates a familiarity with them is necessary before an honest evaluation can be made. A card may look excellent on paper, but gameplay might subsequently show it to be not that great (ex: Cold Cup of Calamity). So, without further ado:

Honorable mention - Discovery of Spellfire (3rd edition chase, 401/420) 
There are two kinds of great events. The first kind does something to the opponent (Cataclysm, Slave Revolt) or their champions (Tyranthraxus, Wrath of the Immortals, Wine of Eternity). The second kind does nothing to your opponent, instead it does something for you. Most of the cards on this list are the latter type. However, Discovery of Spellfire is definitely in the former category. The more players in the game, the better this card becomes. In a 4 or 5 player game, the ability to search each opponent's hand and grab one card to be discarded is extremely primo. While any events will most likely be used before they can be grabbed, your enemies will be unable to protect key champions, realms, magic items, and allies. Discovery of Spellfire just missed the number 5 spot on this list.

#5 - Unusually Good Fortune (Forgotten Realms chase, 11/25)
Our number five card is Unusually Good Fortune, a card I have previously written about here. It combines the "do something for you" effect and the "do something against your opponent" effect in one awesome package. Any time an enemy plays an event, you can piggyback off it to a sweet draw of three cards. If the event your opponent played was Good Fortune, then Unusually Good Fortune cancels the enemy's card draw. Instead, you get to draw the five cards, and the opponent gets none! This kind of punishment can shut someone down big time, while you fatten your own hand. The reason UGF is only #5 on the list is the unpredictability of when you will get to use it. Our next card is more straightforward and more regularly usable.

#4 - Good Fortune (4th edition, 120/500)

There's really no need to explain Good Fortune being on this list, is there? You get to draw five cards. Especially in TAV, card advantage is key to winning. The only question was where exactly GF would fall on the list of "best events". What events are better for you than drawing five cards? The answer - not many.

#3 - The Caravan (4th edition, 131/500) 
One of the few abilities that trumps extra cards is an entire extra turn! The Caravan allows you to do this between any two players' turns, so it's even more awesome. Use it just after you've ended your own turn, to get that last spoil and (hopefully) the win. Or use it between the turns of two of your opponents to "sneak" in extra actions or attack an enemy who is dangerously close to six realms. The only downside to this card is that you have to have ended your turn before using it - so if it's canceled, you're done. And the Caravan does attract event-canceling cards like a magnet.

#2 - Caer Allison (Forgotten Realms, 3/100) 
I've already written about Caer Allison here. It is the cheesiest event there is in Spellfire. Toss it down for your 6th realm for the instant win. Or use it to save champions after your last realm has been nuked by a Cataclysm. When played for the victory, there are only a handful of cards that can save your opponents. The Caer Allison has to be canceled, or it's game over. For its awesome ability to end Spellfire games, the floating castle gets the #2 spot on this list.

#1 - Enter Darkness Together (Dungeons chase, 10/25) 
I've also written about this awesome card here. EDT is the most powerful event in Spellfire and deserves its spot atop this list. Its ability to cancel any event or spell - and its immunity from being countered - makes it a cornerstone of any deck. Seriously, if you own one, it's going to be in your best deck. If I had 10 of them, they'd all be in decks. There's absolutely no reason to not have an EDT in every Spellfire deck you own. Standard or TAV, it makes no difference. Also, it should be noted that, if your opponent actually rips up his or her card to avoid the effects of Enter Darkness Together...well you've just been witness to an epic Spellfire moment. The entertainment value alone will outweigh the fact that your EDT didn't work. Playing this card is a win-win proposal! :)

Next time: Lesser-known awesome champions.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Heroes Deck

Today let's take a look at my heroes deck.

Realms (13): Perrenland, Avanil, the Scarlett Brotherhood, Kingdom of Furyondy, Village of Orlane, Village of Nulb, Border Post, Duchy of Tenh, Quasqueton, Slave Realm of Tunek, Irongate, Castle Arborgate, The Horned Society.

Holdings (2): Not So Fast, Ancient Arms of the Shield Lands.

Champions (12): Young Strahd, Dagrande, Hettman Tsurin, Helm, The Builder, The Fair Princess, Lord Robilar, Mayor Charles Oliver O'Kane, Agis, Big Chief Bagoomba, The King of the Elves, Oogly the Half-Orc.

Avatar: Bahgtru

Magic Items (3): Hero's Chalice, Rod of Lordly Might, Chest of Many Things.

Unarmed Combat Cards (12): Flying Kick, Watahh, Uppercut, Whirling Dervish, Knockdown, Headlock, Concussing Blow, Stunning Fist, Haymaker, Roundhouse, Bear Hug, Trip.

Allies (6): Knights of Neraka, Map to a Mercenary Army, Noble Djinni, Mercenary Gold, Master Illithid, Lurker in the Earth.

Events (5): Dodge, Pit Trap, Ancient Curse, Kamikaze, Treasure Fleet.

Dungeon: Field of the Battle Lord.

Rule Card: The Golden Age.

Total: 55 cards + 1 dungeon.

Notes: This deck works fairly well. It's one of my newest Spellfire decks, about three years old. It wins and loses based on its unarmed combat cards. If I draw the rule card and the dungeon, and they stay out, the deck can hold its own with any TAV deck I've seen.

Tell me what you think in the comments.

Next time: The 5 best events for TAV.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

5 Best Unarmed Combat Cards

Unarmed combat cards! These difficult-to-counter hero-specific cards made their first appearance in the landmark Runes & Ruins set in 1996. Like Blood Abilities and Thief skills, they are still a bit controversial to old-time Spellfire purists. Not that we TAV players care what *they* think! 

So without further ado, let's go into my list of the five best unarmed combat cards for Spellfire: The Antigonish Variant!     

#5 - Watahh! (Chaos, 27/72)
From the Chaos sticker set comes our number five card. Watahh (think Bruce Lee). This awesome card can only be used in combat, but it can devastate an opponent in the right situation. Watahh allows you to remove any two cards attached to the opposing champion, or reflect the special power of any just-played card - even an event - back at the opposing player before it activates. Opponent has a Divine Wrath attached? A Spell Gem of Martek - Clear Crystal? A part (or two) of The Rod of Seven Parts? No problem. Bang! They're gone. Or what about a pesky Ambush or Ancient Curse, thrown down in the heat of battle? Now it affects your enemy instead of you. This card is pure primo. The fact that it's this low on the list shows you the awesome power of unarmed combat.                                              

#4 - Whirling Dervish (Millennium, 99/99)
They say "speed kills". Well, in the Antigonish variant of Spellfire, cheese kills! Whirling Dervish is one of the best ways in the game to cut the cheese. When your opponent slaps down an instant-kill card - like Intellect Devourer, Loup-Garou, or Melt Bone - you cackle with glee as Whirling Dervish comes spinning out of your hand. You ignore the instant-defeat conditions of your enemy's card (for example, you don't have to play an ally to satisfy the Melt Bone). Even better, the effect lasts until the end of the combat and makes your champion invincible except in a level-up war. If your opponent has no way to match your level, he's not winning with gimmicks. Chew on that, Living Wall!

#3 - Haymaker (Runes & Ruins, 92/100)
It was a close battle for #3 and #2 on this list, but Haymaker slipped down to the bronze position because with it you can never be *sure* your opponent is about to croak (except if they have pushed a Living Scroll or Crawling Claws into battle). It might be likely you'll win, but its not set in stone. Haymaker does have that awesome "draw and discard a card" mechanic, where you make your enemy throw one of his cards into the discard pile. What if it's his Cold Cup or his Caer Allison? Ouch, that hurts. Anyway, once the card has been drawn and discarded, we check the last digit of its card number. If it's equal to or greater than the champion's base level, the champion is instantly killed, unless he is one of the undead. But if you're using Haymaker against an undead champion, it's a good bet that things aren't going well. The Haymaker also provides a robust +7 level bonus, but its not often used to win a level-up war. It's used to end combat, in a hurry.

#2 - Stunning Fist (Millennium, 98/99)
Yes, I was present when this awesome photo was snapped. No, I didn't snap it. Stunning Fist features an image of my pal Chris (a great Spellfire TAV player), destroying the jaw of the one, the only, Hayden William Courtland, co-creator of this whole Antigonish variant thing. And what was captured by my pal Matt and his awesome camera skills on that hot July day was pure unarmed combat gold. Would you like a card that you absolutely, positively *know* is going to give you the victory? Then play this baby. So long as your current level plus 10 puts you 8 levels or more above your enemy, he is instantly killed. Unless your opponent has a Dodge or some other sneaky event (not likely), he's going down. Even if you're not 8 levels above after slapping this down, its massive +10 bonus will put you well on your way to victory in the ongoing level-up war. Haymaker might give you the win, but with Stunning Fist, it's amost a sure thing! 

#1 - Fighting Dirty (Dungeons chase, 3/25)
I've already written about this awesome card here. It forces your opponent to waste a card, like Haymaker. It potentially gives you a giant level-up bonus, like Stunning Fist. And it empties your enemy's hand even better than Cold Cup of Calamity. One of the most powerful Spellfire cards ever printed, Fighting Dirty can end the game for all intents and purposes - it's that primo. Think about it: you are losing by a few levels. You slap down the Fighting Dirty card. Your opponent draws and discards an Ancient Curse. There's a good event gone uselessly to the discard pile. Furthermore, because the last digit of the card number of Ancient Curse is a 9, you get a +9 level bonus. Lastly, your opponent discards 9 cards immediately from his or her hand. If I have to explain to you why this is the best unarmed combat card in Spellfire, maybe you should stick to Magic: The Gathering! :)

Next Time: My heroes deck revealed! 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fan-created Cards

Fan-created cards have been part of the game since before Spellfire was canceled by Wizards of the Coast. The final four expansions - Milennium, Inquisition, Chaos, and Conquest - were partially fan-created, and all were made available for fan download and printing on sticker paper.

There were also fan-created cards printed at several GenCon conventions throughout the 90s. Again, these had a whiff of "officiality" about them, because the people actually taking the pictures and printing the cards were employees of TSR or Wizards of the Coast.

Other fan sets, like "Greenland", were totally unofficial, with no tie to TSR, Wizards, the Spellfire Triumverate or Council, or anyone else. They are pure fan creations, emerging out of a love for the game and a longing for new cards.

Although in TAV, sticker-set cards from Milennium, Inquistion, Chaos, and Conquest (hereafter referred to as MICC) are tournament-legal, these other fan sets are not. Why? Well, I suppose the answer is twofold: access and quality.

It's important that everyone who plays Spellfire has access to the same card pool. And while the MICC cards are still availble for download at Spellfire.net, other fan-created cards are not. They are either offline altogether, or stored in dark corners of the web like Geocities and Angelfire. Obscure websites that many don't know about and can't find.

The second reason I have banned fan-created cards from TAV is that the quality varies. Some sets are excellent, with fun, balanced cards and powers. Others are totally unbalanced or add strange and unnecessary mechanincs or abilities to the game. Some have poorly-designed layouts, non-standard fonts and symbols, and/or amateurish writing. Without some oversight, the door is wide open to excess and abuse.

Not that "expert" players can't flub up when designing a set. Take a look at this famous example of an awful misstep by some smart people: 

It's an intruiging idea - create the Ravenloft chase card set that never was. A lot of dedication and creativity went into those cards, and obviously the people involved love Spellfire a lot and tried to make an interesting and fun set. But they failed, rather spectacularly.

1) The cards don't look right. No getting around it, they are "off" somehow. Not sure if the creators thought they were actually improving on the appearance of the standard Spellfire cards or not, but they weren't.

2) The creators of that set made one of the cardinal errors in game design - attempting to introduce new powers (and new champion types!) in the middle of a set. Shoe-horning into Ravenloft both "Darklord" and "Nemesis" is awkward and clumsy. There's a reason no chase card set ever introduced a new champion type or power.

3) No balance, no synergy with the rest of the Ravenloft set. Combine the original cards with these chase cards and the new chases would stick out like a sore thumb. They don't seem to "gel" with the older Ravenloft cards like, say, the 4th edition Ravenloft cards do.

There are similar flaws with most other fan-created cards. No oversight, no editorial control, little or no playtesting and revision. That's why (at least for now) TAV excludes these sorts of cards.

P.S. When printing MICC or fan-created cards onto sticker paper for application to first edition "blanks", please don't make a common mistake that even seasoned pros, eBay sellers, and others seem to fall into: printing your cards too small.

Once applied, you should not be able to see the old card art underneath - at all. Not around the edges, not at the corners. A well-crafted sticker card will cover the old card to which it is applied completely. If it doesn't, adjust your size on MS Word or whatever program you are using, and print them again and again until you get it right. At worst, you will have to round the corners a bit with a sharp pair of scissors. Seeing the old art underneath a new sticker card makes it look cheap and unprofessional.

Next time: The 5 best unarmed combat cards ever printed.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

5 Best Thief Skills

Here we go with my list of the five best thief skills for Spellfire: The Antigonish Variant.      

#5 - Use Poison (Night Stalkers, 63/100) 

Pure, instant-kill cheese! I always enjoy making my opponent "draw and discard a card". It could be their Menzoberranzan or their Good Fortune. Even better, with Use Poison if the last digit of said card is a 3, 2, 1, or 0, their champion is instantly defeated (and in TAV a realm is razed). Lastly, the poison sticks around if not successful the first time, allowing you to use it again next battle - if your champion manages to survive despite the failure of the poison. This is a great thief skill, that even gives you a +3 level-up just in case. The fact that it is only #5 on this list is sort of surprising, until you read the four cards below.

#4 - Broad Jump (Dungeons, 85/100)

Even better than a chance to kill an enemy champion in combat and raze a realm, here's a card that offers to let you skip that pesky "combat" thing. Just toss down this baby after defender has been chosen, and if it's a wizard, cleric, or psionicist, you slip around him and instantly raze a realm, earning yourself a juicy spoils in the process, while your opponent's defender stands around, wondering where that sneaky thief went. This card also gives you a +4 level up, but if you are using this against anything but a wizard, cleric, or psionicist, things probably aren't going very well for you.

#3 - Hijacking (Dungeons, 86/100)

Because it's so difficult to counter thief skills, cards like this one are uber-powerful. Let's say your opponent tosses out a Cold Cup of Calamity or a Good Fortune. Not only do you get the cards as well, but your opponent has to immediately discard his. Talk about card advantage! You simultaneously grant yourself a fat hand, while stripping up to five valuable cards from your enemy's deck and putting them straight into his discard pile. Even better, use Hijacking on a Treasure Fleet. All players draw three? Yup, except you get six, and the guy who played the Treasure Fleet gets none, after his three are discarded. Bam.

#2 - Framed (Conquest, 16/81)

Here come the sticker-set cards! Continuing the theme that these sets contain some truly primo cards is Framed. I'm choosing to go with the Brazilian version of the art since it's not stupid. Anyway, framed is a must in any deck containing thieves. As soon as any of your champions is targeted - by anything - this baby lets you redirect the spell, psionic power, blood ability, or whatever to any champion you want, regardless of immunities. For example, let's say one of your enemies tries to Ancient Curse your Bigby, who has the Star Gem of Martek: Clear Crystal attached. But you happen to have Julio, Master Thief, in your pool. Julio casts Framed, and the Ancient Curse is retargeted to your opponent's Gib Irod, who has The Throne of the Gods attached. But wait! Isn't Gib Irod immune to events? Not this event. She dies horribly, as your opponent chokes on his own bile.

Framed is truly primo, but it's only #2 on this list.

#1 - Assassination (Conquest, 14/81)

With Assassination, you don't have to wait for your opponent to target one of your champions. During phase 3, take a long look at your opponent's pool and pick the champion you'd least like to battle. Let's say a big, honking Gib Lhadsemlo. But he's immune to thief skills, right? Not this one. He goes off to the discard pile, and you attack with confidence knowing that big oaf isn't going to be available to your opponent. For pure champion removal, you can't beat this card. Plus there's what, two cards in the entire game that can cancel it? Primo. The small (very small) downside is that you have to discard the thief casting it. How will I ever get by without my Phostrek or Jamlin? :)

There's your best thief skill of all time.

Next time: The top 5 unarmed combat cards!