Category Archives: Save It Saturday

Save-It Saturday: X-Babies Attack!


That is the card that I never imagined would be printed. The final card in the final official expansion set. Here follows the article that inspired its appearance in reality.


Risk Vs. Reward: X-Babies Attack!
By Rian Fike

Marvel Legends fulfills quite a few fanboy desires, not the least of which is a major upgrade in the power level of the X-Men. The new mutants are mighty good, especially the little ones.

Forty long months I have been patiently waiting for Domino in our game. When it comes to the mythological ladies, she is just my type: high contrast, luck based, and nearly impossible to kill. Now we get to turn her sideways Vs. System style, thanks to a 1-drop with a freaky little ability. Big fun comes in small cardboard packages.


Our tiny new Domino packs a large punch with her recovery ability, but you need to be rather odd to use it. Before we talk about where she will take us in the game, let’s see where she came from in the myths.


Neena Thurman plays well with others, but most of the time, she is a freelance mercenary. Domino is an independent artist, and her medium is murder. She was born as a custom-engineered biological killing machine. Project Armageddon created her as a deadly human hybrid. The hideous experiment was an attempt to manufacture the perfect weapon. X genes were exploited with disastrous results.

Neena was one of only two surviving test organisms. Chalk-white skin, awesome black eye-patch, and the uncanny ability to be in exactly the right place at the right time. She was rescued from the nefarious laboratory and placed safely in a nurturing monastery to grow up. Domino eventually emerged into adult life and became a dynamite addition to the X-Force.


As a member of Cable’s Six-Pack, the black-and-white hottie could really save the bacon when necessary. Her mutant abilities kick in subconsciously when she is in a dangerous situation. Domino cannot specifically control her luck powers the same way Longshot can, but when she is around, things always fall into place.

In Vs. System, that means she can keep herself and Cable flipped face-up at the beginning of the recovery phase every turn. There is only one catch. Your deck must have a built-in oddness about it. Check out Domino’s text:

Domino, Neena Thurman

Cost: 1

Team Affiliation: X-Men

Whenever a Cable or Domino you control becomes stunned, reveal the top card of your deck. If its cost is odd, recover that character at the start of the recovery phase this turn.

2 ATK / 1DEF

My personal oddness often revolves around 1-cost Vs. System characters, and now they fulfill Domino’s board-maintaining probability powers. Before we jump into the construction of a deck to showcase this former test-tube baby, let’s look back at a list that caused some serious wailing at Pro Circuit Indianapolis 2007. We can use it as a basic template.


Phou Phommavong

5th place on Day 1, 21st overall

Pro Circuit Indianapolis 2007


14 Kree Soldiers

3 Owen Mercer ◊ Captain Boomerang Jr., Prodigal Son

2 Faust

3 Technocrat

1 Thunder, Anissa Pierce

1 Halo

1 Wylde

4 Kimiyo Hoshi ◊ Dr. Light, Sunburst

Plot Twists

4 Booze Elementals

4 Forged in Crisis

4 Batman and the Outsiders

4 Truth and Justice

4 Recruiting Drive

3 Poker Night


3 Hala

1 New Baxter Building


3 Ego Gem

1 Reality Gem

Phou’s metagame masterpiece took our beloved Kim Hoshi to a place that I was not sure she could go, and it will remain forever as an inspiration to weenie lovers worldwide. It serves up a swarm of 1-cost characters to fuel the blinding glory of the female Dr. Light and her Outsiders tricks. Let’s translate it into baby talk using only Marvel Legends cards.


X-Babies Attack!


12 Multiple Man, Army ◊ Madrox

4 Domino

4 Cable, Nathan Summers

4 Wolverine, Logan

1 Jubilee, Mallrat

1 Shadowcat, Phase Shifter

1 Blink

1 Nightcrawler, Man of the Cloth

1 Bishop, Time Cop

Plot Twists

4 Bodyslide

4 Mobilize

4 Fastball Special

3 Battle Tactics

3 Healing Factor

3 Berserker Rage

3 Sneak Attack

3 Adamantium Claws

2 Overwhelming Force


2 Xavier’s Institute of Higher Learning

Phou’s OutSoldiers deck uses Kree Soldiers as fodder for a team-attacking character advantage. X-Babies are going Madrox. Multiple Man is back with a printed X-Men affiliation, and he loves him some Fastball Special. The OutSoldiers bounce guys back to hand to fill the red card requirements of the focus on swarming. X-Babies will rely on recovery to keep the characters on the table each turn. Phou’s win condition was total board control with Kim Hoshi. Domino is aiming for beatdown and burn with Bodyslide.

Cable is a perfect fit for the X-Babies deck. He appeared as an infant in Cable and Deadpool #7, and he has a sweet little 3-drop that rocks. Here is his heated text:

Cable, Nathan Summers

Cost: 3

Team Affiliation: X-Men

When Cable enters play, target opponent loses 1 endurance for each X-Men character you control.

5ATK / 4 DEF



With a mom like Madelyne Pryor, it was inevitable that Nathan Summers would come out looking good. Cyclops is his father, so you know he is a gifted child. Marvel Legends gives Cable his eagerly anticipated Vs. System debut. Bodyslide makes him an intriguing addition to any deckbuilder’s repertoire.


Plot Twist

Cost: 3

Play only if you control Cable.

Remove target non-stunned character you control from the game. Its owner puts it into play at the start of your next attack step.

That means that Cable, Nathan Summers could swerve out of the game during the draw phase and allow another copy to be recruited. If his playmates have formed a kiddie six-pack to greet him, he will burn for 7. Then the fresh copy can Bodyslide out and return at the beginning of your attack step with its temporal twin. The first copy grabs another 7 opposing endurance, followed by 8 more from its parallel partner. That’s hot stuff.


In the myths, Cable can slip in and out of time. He spends his days trying to save the world by altering history. That is a sticky business, but it allows more costume changes than any comic book character I can think of. Whenever and wherever Cable shows up, he is always sporting a sharp new outfit.

There are only six cards in the X-Babies deck that have an even cost, so Domino will be a near lock to get lucky. The new Battle Tactics that the X-men have been given are like a turbo-charged Combat Protocols, and they cost 2. Overwhelming Force allows the team-attacking toddlers to remain unstunned, also at a cost of 2. The single copy of Bishop, Time Cop is the 4-drop babysitter. If you let Bishop try the Bodyslide, the kids will laugh their way around the table screaming “+4 ATK!” for the whole turn.


No X-Babies deck would be complete without a little Wolverine. The Logan version is back in Marvel Legends, and for a 3-drop, he is a really big boy. Scruffy may actually become the favorite win condition of the deck. He has some major ATK pumps that last an entire turn. The nursery includes toys that keep him from being stunned, recover him when he is, and ready him for a fur-flying finish. A small set of adamantium fingernails are poised to rip big holes in opposing characters and endurance totals. Wolverine’s Berserker Rage is about to arrive as a viable Vs. System strategy, and the X-Babies deck is only the beginning.

I have no idea how well the tiny tikes will hold up against proven classic decks. I can’t tell if there will be equally massive forces to oppose as the other new Marvel Legends creations crawl from the incubator. The only way to find out will be to build the deck and give it a go. I leave the little mutant rug rats with you now so that you can help me test them. We will say goodbye with a quote from Cable himself. When Nathan Summers revived Apocalypse in order to unite the X-Men against a common enemy, everyone called him crazy. His response?

“The risks are worth the rewards.”

Rian Fike is also known as stubarnes and he has a kitchen table in his crib. If you do some testing with the X-Babies in your playpen, send the results to

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Save It Saturday, Vs. System, X-Babies

Save-It Saturday: Celebrated Summer.


(Herewith follows the last article I wrote for Upper Deck. As the school year wraps up and we head into another summer, it still tastes as sweet as ever.)

Rallying Cry: Celebrated Summer

By Rian Fike

This has been quite an eventful summer on many levels.  World-class athletes from all over the world converged in China for the Beijing Olympics.  Political candidates here in America battled intensely in the midst of a thrilling presidential election.  Vs. System crowned a number of new champions, and one of them claimed ultimate victory with Squirrel Girl!


For me, personally, the summer of 2008 included a rather large change of venue.  My career has come full circle.  I began teaching art in 1983 at an elementary school in the inner city of Miami.  After five years, I was recruited to pioneer a Media Arts program in a middle school.  Eight years later, I transferred to an alternative high school for kids that had been excluded from their regular school for various reasons.  I taught there for thirteen years until budget cuts and high-stakes standardized testing eliminated the Art department. 

Now, I am back teaching at an elementary school, and I couldn’t be happier.  Young children are full of the pure inventive energy that is often sorely lacking in older human beings.  They explore new combinations, free of the doubtful cynicism that drags the creative spirit down into doldrums.  They are so very much alive.

Returning to the freshness of the grammar-school perspective has also brought a shining, glorious glow to Vs. System.  My classroom mantra for the year is “I feel great when I create!”. And I think it’s carried over into the Vs. System TCG, because this game has been flourishing when it comes to brilliant fan-based innovation and originality in competitive deckbuilding.

Obviously, I want to start with Squirrel Girl.  The furry little wonder has been doing some major damage with her cardboard incarnation, including the domination of Gen Con Indianapolis.  Thanks to Robert Rietze and his S.H.I.E.L.D. Simmer concoction, my favorite character in comics is a true champion. 

Let’s learn about the deck from the mad genius that created it, shall we?

The concept is to cook your opponent slowly (hence the word “simmer”) while having reinforcement and disruption.  In the late game you reinforce whenever possible, and when they swing their seven-drop you play Dangerous Liaison and say “Try again later on.”  In fact, Dangerous Liaison is the meat of the deck, and probably my favorite card in Marvel Universe.  If you read this then you deserve a cookie.

Dan Clark was running S.H.I.E.L.D. burn, and he always won on turn 5.  His deck is probably a much better version… but I like jank, so here’s mine with comments.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Simmer

Robert Rietze

2008 Gen Con Indianapolis Champion


10 S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Just ten… I know.
4 Speedball ◊ Penance, Painmonger He’s sexy, no?
1 Blizzard, Frosty Friend Because he wins games, ask anyone.
2 Life Model Decoy Great for dreaming with.
2 Wolverine, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Growl.
2 Squirrel Girl Free guys are good.
1 Hank Pym ◊ Yellowjacket, Initiative Instructor Why not?  He’s a freaking Skrull, and I need at least one Skrull in a modern deck.

And that’s it for characters. 22 in total, which is all you need to simmer properly – since you have all the bouncing effects.

Mulligan condition = one S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent and or Penance.

Plot Twists
4 Origin Story  …amazing card.
3 Mobilize
1 Collect Them All
2 Blinding Rage
4 Savage Beatdown
4 Secret War It bounces and sets up Dangerous Liaison and Thunderbolts Mountain.
3 Dangerous Liaison The greatest card ever made.  It doesn’t target and keeps people from killing me.  Just ask the great Michael Barnes.
3 Invasion Plans Drawing cards is good with the low character count, and the agents kinda don’t do much.
3 Death of the Dream Either draw a card and replace your crap or get rid of Total Anarchy.


ONE SUPERHUMAN REGISTRATION ACT! It wins games, but drawing multiples is bad… so just the one.

4 Birthing Chamber Obv.
3 Thunderbolts Mountain Draw a card, set up Penance, set up Blizzard on turn 3 to guarantee you don’t have to worry about big stuff.
3 S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier It would be four, but I only own three!

RFdangerousliasonWow.  Just wow.  After four and a half years of playing this game, I am still amazed at the crazed creativity and deep deviousness that can be captured in a single sixty-card construction.  I have been over and over that strategy in my head, and it amazes me every time.  Especially when I pinch myself and realize that Squirrel Girl actually swung for the win in the final match.  Don’t believe me?  I have proof.

Mad props go out to Shane “fatalsync” Wendell at www. for the fabulous event coverage, especially the penultimate squirrelly smackdown that claimed the climactic crown.  It was a match for the ages, as the wonder known as John Hall could be seen flinging the wicked monkey madness of Gorilla Grodd and Secret Society.  John actually gained 30 endurance during the match, and recruited Doomsday on turn 7.  How did Squirrel Girl triumph against that?  Head over to the Realms and find out for yourself.


As you can see, the competitive environment has gone completely nuts over Squirrel Girl.  Tree rodents are flying across the tournament halls like white-hot Ping-Pong balls of pure power.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Vs. System has come to life, and the pulse of the creative spirit that pumps the blood can seen on a multitude of maniacal fan-based websites.  Chris Miller’s Lost Hemisphere is perhaps the most vibrant, and the other day he gave a magnificent shout-out to thirteen of this game’s staunch suppliers of inventive genius.  Included in that list is my personal favorite new source of Vs. System verbiage.  It’s called “Vs. Is Not Dead,” and it is the brainchild of Brian “Trader2699” Herman in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Recently, he too had a brush with the undeniable hotness of Squirrel Girl.

I love it when a plan comes together as much as the next person, especially when it comes to Vs. System.  Crafting and planning an intricate decklist/strategy is half the fun, but it’s also incredible to put that strategy into action. Unfortunately for the Injustice Gang handflood/burn deck, my plans went completely awry. I did not like the fact that missing Lex Luthor meant losing the game, and the deck never felt like it was going to “pop.”

So I scrapped it entirely the day before the BYOT tournament, and started over. When I got home from work, there was an unexpectedly early package containing a singles order I had placed earlier in the week. 3 S.H.I.E.L.D.  Helicarriers, encased neatly in sleeves and a top loader. I was so pleased that I decided to throw caution to the wind and play an Army deck for BYOT. The deck went through a couple of iterations, both while in written development and when I finally broke out the little 1-cost burners. What I ended up with was this…


Brian’s decklist, tournament report, and ultimate triumph really got the blood pumping for this game that’s been going strong after all these years.  I applaud his efforts and enthusiastically anticipate many more opportunities to live out future Vs. System glories vicariously on his blog.  This summer has seen a blossoming, and the flowers get funkier every time.

The most heartwarming of these is found back on the continent of the Lost Hemisphere.  It has been the Summer of Love, in more ways than one.   I would like to take a moment to showcase a project that humbles my creative essence with its utter magnificence, while inspiring me to do greater things with my life and our game.  This is our moment, and Chris Miller’s words call us toward cardboard paradise.


There comes a time each year, a special time, after the rebirth of spring, with its bouncing baby bunnies and fragrant blossoms, but before the cool touch of autumn, with its kaleidoscope of leafy color and the gentle promise of snuggling by a warm, cozy fire. Yes, I’m talking about the heady, lazy, crazy days of summer. When a boy’s head turns to thoughts of baseball in vacant lots, swimming holes, and thick slices of watermelon, while young girls slip on their poodle skirts and skip down to the malt shoppe to listen to the juke box… hang on, I’m totally out of era, aren’t I…

One way or another, welcome to…

Lost Hemisphere’s Summer Of Love!

The concept: 32 decks, each a randomly assigned team-up, battle their way through a bracket to determine Vs. System’s happiest couple.

We randomly paired up 64 teams, rolling the dice to see what sort of wild and wacky team combinations we’d end up with. Clearly, we could have just slapped together the decks… but what if it wasn’t us doing most of the deckbuilding? What if it was celebrated deckbuilders and community luminaries?

The invitations went out, the community responded, and the shenanigans are ready to commence!

Behold! A veritable who’s who of dudes who we suckered into making decks for us!

Clifford “Captain_Comet” Parmeter, the most huggable podcast host ever, brings you Mask of Steel (Superman/Doom) and Knights Errant (Gotham Knights/Doom Patrol).

Miguel “CarlosTheDwarf” Rodriquez, the original VS blogger, brings you HK KO (Hellfire/Kree) and Green ’rine (Green Lantern Corps/X-Men).

Sean “BALDMAN” Marinelli, owner of the world’s largest forehead, brings you Crisis Knights (Marvel Knights/Crisis) and Shake ’n Bake (Morlocks/Secret Six).

Adam “Flashback81” Kirkby, the most puzzling man this side of North Haverbrook, brings you Pate de FOES IG-ras (Injustice Gang/Future Foes) and Dark(seid) City (Darkseids Elite/Brotherhood).

Squire “HomerJ” Kershner, jankmaster extreme, brings you ”Hi Everybody!” “Hi, Dr Spectrum!” (Inhumans/Squadron Supreme) and Titans United (Teen Titans/United Front).

Jason “Jaxxin” Hager, who likes yelling at Hulk on foil cards, brings you Stranger Danger (JSA/Nextwave) and Box Full of Evil (BPRD/Legionnaires).

Steve “Kamiza” Garrett, the U.K.’s man with the sexiest eyes, who can also pull off a roundhouse kick, brings you The Claw Society (Secret Society/Weapon X) and Family of One (Fantastic Four/X-Statix).

Brian “Kansashoops” Foley, American Maid’s favorite dork, brings you Adamantium Skrullmate (Checkmate/Skrull) and Psychopathic Reservists (Avengers/Sinister Syndicate).

Patrick “Majestic” Yapjoco, the winningest Yapjoco ever, brings you Crime Watch (Underworld/Crime Lords) and Wolvie Smash! (Warbound/S.H.I.E.L.D.).

Aaron “Onyxweapon” Mead, living the VS Life in the frozen North, brings you Task Force: Revenge (JLI/RevSq) and The Revenge of Tony Danza from His Tap Dance extravaganza (Fearsome 5/Outsiders).

Josh ”Runaway” Trujillo, the bravest blogger ever, brings you New Birds (New Gods/Birds of Prey) and Villain Potpourri (Villains United/Masters of Evil).

Talulah “Soshi Kenpachi” McGillicutty, who didn’t give me his real name in his email, brings you /r/ moar cards (Infinity Watch/Negative Zone) and On Public Urination (JLA/Thunderbolts)

David “CaptainSpud” Tierney, with the power of 10,000 potatoes, brings you Prime Qwardian Real Estate (League of Assassins/Antimatter) and Looney Bin (Arkham Inmates/Alpha Flight).

Rian “Stubarnes” Fike, the most psychedelic player in VS history, brings you Green Weakness (Emerald Enemies/Sentinels) and Hitler’s Wristwatch (Kang Council/Thule Society).

Paul “TheDerangedBear” Sung, renaming days of the week just for fun, brings you Warp Factor 9 (Heralds/SpeedForce) and Wild & Sticky (Spidey/WildPack).

Oh, and Pablo (“Eponymous’) laid claim to The Horse Conjurer  (Shadowpact/Horsemen), while I (“gdaybloke”) couldn’t resist the Rebellion in New Jersey  (Manhunters/Defenders).


As a veteran of Vs. System history and histrionics, I must say that this tournament is unequalled in its sheer life-forced brilliance.  It breathes new hope into team affiliations and crazy combinations.  It gives us a bracket of beatdowns that will be extremely difficult to categorize, yet truly impossible to forget.  It is the Summer of Love indeed, and it will be celebrated forever.

Rian Fike is also known as stubarnes, and he is mad busy teaching little kids how to paint now that the school year has begun.  The celebrated summer lingers, while he marches forward into the future.  You can send him some ideas about how to manage his time and recharge his batteries at

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Save It Saturday, Squirrel Girl, Vs. System

Save-It Cinco De Mayo: GOAL!!!

(This is my favorite Cinco De Mayo article… REMIX!)


Risk Vs. Reward: Some Days are Better than Others

Rian Fike
May 14, 2006

Cinco De Mayo is hot. It started in Mexico with a day of liberation, and it has become one of the spiciest worldwide fiestas of the year. May 5, 2006 was even more special than ever.

In the year 2000, the world was supposed to end on Cinco De Mayo . . . according to one man’s interpretation of the Egyptian pyramids. I am not making that up and it did not come from a comic book. Richard Noone studied the mysterious mathematics of the Great Pyramid and calculated its cosmic calendar. He concluded that the end of history was pinpointed on May 5, 2000, and he correlated the doomsday date to a cataclysmic melting of the polar ice caps.


Richard Noone first published his frightening findings in 1986. The book was not simply an announcement that the end of the world was nigh, but rather a very entertaining and educational study of ancient Egyptian mathematics combined with cutting-edge New Age philosophy. My friends and I found the book during its second printing and new marketing push in 1998.

You know it’s been a good day if you have worked together with a bunch of people and accomplished a common goal. Successful teamwork creates a sense of satisfaction that cannot be found on your own. In this case, since we only had a few years left as a planet to re-harmonize our intentions, we decided to party like it’s 1999 . . . even though it was only 1998. To make a long story short, it worked. We successfully team attacked Armageddon. The world did not end on May 5, 2000, and each new Cinco De Mayo makes me appreciate life that much more.

This year’s five-date fiesta started at school. It was the climactic Friday of Teacher Appreciation Week and we cleared the students out of the building quickly and turned the Salsa up really loud. Working in an educational institution provides another great opportunity for teamwork. Cinco De Mayo 2006 just happened to be the perfect day to celebrate our communal accomplishments. Our school mascot is the White Tiger, and with another successful school year almost complete, we got to frolic in our feline team affiliation properly.

Celebrating with co-workers was fun, but my main focus of the day would be happening later. It was a hockey night in Miami, and that means an even bigger party every time. We absolutely adore watching team sports. Each game gets better when it is cheered by a flock of friends working together to will our side to victory. The target for our fanatical fiesta this year was the Buffalo Sabres. The game was the first of a seven-game series with the Ottawa Senators and it promised to be a beauty. Lindy Ruff has trained his troops to perfection, and this year’s Sabres can team attack like no other squad in the NHL. They were fifth in the league in scoring, yet no individual player reached seventy-five points for the season. That left their leading scorer a full fifty points behind the league leaders. They still won their way into the playoffs and only missed the number one seed in the East by three points.


This year’s Buffalo Sabres fulfill all of the cliches; they work together as one, they are all on the same page, and there is no “I” in team. Cinco De Mayo saw them put on a show that shattered records and vocal cords across the entirety of the hockey-watching world. It was a thrilling see-saw battle that went back and forth so often that it set a new standard for the amount of tying goals in a game. There were three goals scored in the first two minutes and three goals scored in the last two minutes, alternating each time between victory and defeat. The Sabres sent the game to overtime with a spectacular shot in the waning seconds of the third period and won wildly with a Chris Drury miracle only eighteen seconds into overtime. The final score was 7-6! The team never gave up, and together they overcame every obstacle for a sensational start to the series.

The New York Mets also played a fourteen-inning masterpiece on Cinco De Mayo this year, vanquishing the hated rival Atlanta Braves, but I have spent enough time today on non-superhero sports. Let’s talk teamwork in Vs. System.

When I woke on the morning after May 5, I found a treasure in my email inbox. It happened to be from another die-hard hockey fan. Jason Gillespie lives in Montreal, and since his beloved Canadiens had been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, he was busy working on a team of cardboard champions instead. His deck focuses on building a sizable board presence of small characters and then fully abusing the team attack. Check in tomorrow for the list.


Studying all those team attack tricks gets me all excited. Since the early days with my darling Wild Sentinels following their Combat Protocols, I have been a big fan of the combined swing. When I get a particular itch like this I always head straight for Dylan Northrup’s Vs. System search engine. This time, I typed the words “team attack” into the card text box and came up with exactly fifty different cards with which to draw up plays on the chalkboard in the locker room. Here are some of my favorites.

Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man has always been one of the coolest cards in the game. The Spider-Friends team affiliation is one of the eight affiliations that have extended abilities for team attacking. The others are X-Men, Gotham Knights, Avengers, Teen Titans, Injustice Gang, JLI, and Team Superman. The benefits of team attacking are found in multiple ATK pumps, alternate recruitment or search effects, unstunnability, character readying, and KO effects.

Cyclops, Slim is a good example of the big beef that can be brought with a successful team attack deck. Unlike the friendly web-head we mentioned earlier, this little captain does not even need to be involved in an attack to pump up his posse. Slim only works for X-Men, however. If you are looking for a late-game enhancement of your multiple-character swing strategies, don’t forget Kimiyo Hoshi ◊ Dr. Light. That’s a shining ability that needs no Team-Up to illuminate your cooperative ventures. When your weenie wonder-team wants to enjoy some sacrifice for the greater good, try Grandstanding. It’s hard to beat a +7 ATK / +7 DEF spotlight or two.

One Vs. System technique really puts a bee in my bonnet when it comes to the group-mind connection that occurs when a team attack is synchronized in perfect harmony. Yep, you guessed it. Bugs! Insectoid Troopers have a natural taste for teamwork from the day they emerge from the hive, but Hard-Light Storage Tank is the card that really gets me buzzing. With no Longshot, Rebel Freedom Fighter allowed in the next two Pro Circuit events, the Tank might be the ticket to a proper swarm. When I diagram the schemes for that particular creepy crawly concoction, an Infestation of ideas explodes all over the table—kinda like the piñata we busted wide open with a hockey stick when the final goal was scored on Cinco De Mayo.

Some days are better than others.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Save It Saturday, Vs. System

Save-It Saturday: Three Years Later.

Man, I remember this one. Exactly three years ago I wrote this and Upper Deck published it. Good times.


Risk Vs. Reward: Suspended Animation—A Scrapbook
Rian Fike
April 30, 2006

It feels like time is standing still. As I write this, there are only four days left until the Infinite Crisis Sneak Preview tournaments. In less than six weeks, Pro Circuit San Francisco will lift the curtains on the first-ever Silver Age PC. There are only a few weeks left until summer vacation for all us teachers and students. The anxious anticipation is holding me in mid-air like Magneto on Betrayal.


What’s a man to do when such unbearable desire is unable to be quenched? Make a scrapbook. There are so many different funfests going on in the world of Vs. System that I could occupy myself for weeks just thinking about them. Time to share.


We’re Bugs!

The first of our Pleasant Distractions comes straight from the Midwest. Ohio, to be exact. Ohio is just so strange. I had an art professor once who insisted that Ohio should be on interstellar tourist maps as a “must-see” for any alien species that wants to be entertained by the sheer weirdness of the human race. Vs. System’s premier events have uncovered yet another example.

Once upon a time in Ohio, two Pro Circuit players traveled across the river to Kentucky to participate in a Saturday/Sunday PCQ twin tournament road trip. While practicing Justice League of America Draft in the hotel, they began imagining themselves to be actual Insectoid Troopers. Amidst the hijinks that followed, one of them began channeling the spirit of an actual fallen mosquito. The spirit-bug filled his body with insect wisdom and he was given the ancient speech of the Insectoid Troopers.

“We’re bugs!” he said.

The players in question were none other than Loren Nolen and Alec Ruden. Loren was the one who became possessed by an ancestral arthropod. These two had been partners in Pro Circuit success in the past. Now they had a name. Fast-forward the scrapbook a couple months or so, and they also had a second $10K trophy for their clubhouse.


“We’re Bugs, and we win one $10K per year!” became their new motto.

Alec Ruden took home the big check from $10K Minneapolis exactly eleven months after Loren Nolen was crowned champion of $10K Detroit. The best buggy bonus of their latest Insectoid immortality was this: Alec Ruden had to substitute two copies of Secret Origins for two missing Enemy of My Enemys in his High Voltage deck that day in Minnesota. He still played his way to the top of the ant-pile!

We’re Bugs is a team whose wackiness runs deep. They proudly count Keebler Powell as one of their main attractions. They also have a phantom multiplayer madman called “Savage Tofu.” That is legendary in itself. We’re Bugs can boast one thing that most other teams will never admit to—one of their members is their fashion consultant. Scott Cozzolino not only dresses flashier than you would ever want to in your life, but the other day on the forums, he wondered in public: “Should I be called ‘Posh Bug’?” That did it for me; when Spice Girl selection comes up in any conversation, I am like a nuclear laser beam. I claimed the name “Sporty Bug” immediately, if not sooner. I guess that means I should start saying “our” when I talk about We’re Bugs. Watch out for us. We may be jank with a bunch of little legs . . . but we do bite.

Secret Six and Slippery Sanity

Okay, I think I might be starting to recover from my own preview card. Mockingbird madness can slowly be transmuted into a healthy regimen of brain exercise, I think. With so many vistas opening up for risky romps through the card lists, it is imperative that you keep your alternate recruitment fantasies focused. If you can, that is.

Friends like Jason “Korinthe” Steel can sometimes help in situations like this. Sometimes they just make things crazier. Here is his personal wish list for Mockingbird’s alternately recruited uniqueness-bending targets:

· Having two, oh, I dunno . . . Lex Luthor, Nefarious Philanthropists out at the same time seems pretty devastating for a few different reasons.

· Two Harlequins up and running very early will shred an opponent’s hand in no time flat.

· How about two copies of Dr. Light, Master of Holograms out simultaneously? Yes, please.

· Watch your opponent explode in pain as you get out two Ratcatchers in the early game.

· A pair of Pranksters for a The Joker, Emperor Joker deck?

· Double Desaads torturing your opponent, along with Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (since teaming-up is getting easier and easier).

· Getting out more than one Franklin Richards and/or Alicia Masters on a single key turn could easily be “GG.”

· Or how about two copies of Cyclops, Slim for some insane “+4 ATK / +4 DEF while team attacking” action?

All of this is actually possible in a day and age of Vs. System where both teaming-up and searching for toolbox style characters is getting much easier. We have some interesting days ahead.

Yes, Jason, we do. And we are not even done with this little scrapbook.


The Big Bomb Format

I got this note in my mailbox last week:

Hi. I’ve been a reader of your column for a while now, and since you’re always asking for ideas for articles, I was wondering if maybe you’d like to return to something you mentioned a while back—alternate formats for the game. I’m the epitome of the casual player. I’m in the game because I like the characters, so I really don’t mind if I pull three Mageddons in a Sneak Preview (true story). However, I would like to get my money’s worth out of my high drops. I think it would be interesting to explore some other formats that make the higher drops not only viable, but also necessary (more endurance handed out initially, only breakthrough endurance loss counts, and so forth). Sometimes it’s cool to blow up planets with the Anti-Monitor instead of just burning a few points of endurance with a Flamethrower. It’s a topic that sort of opposes your love of weenies, but I figured you might be up to the challenge. Let me know what you think.

—Adam “bendrix” Hall

I already told Adam that I love the idea, and I sent him off to help us develop it further. If anyone else out there can contribute to the creation of an alternate format that assures the ability to play big bombs that cost 8 or more, drop me a line. I will keep us updated in future columns.


The Ladies Like It, Too

All good scrapbooks contain pretty pictures of gorgeous girls, and I saved mine for last. Infinite Crisis has the favorite female in my life smiling like there is no tomorrow.

Sneak Previews are my wife Nina’s favorite time of the year. She loves seeing all the new artwork and abilities that we get to play with next. Both of us are lifelong comic myth addicts, and each new expansion takes us back in time to our favorite characters and situations. Even better, we are introduced to funky obscure names and costumes that we never knew existed. With Infinite Crisis, there is a special brand of excitement in our house; we have always been huge Dr. Fate fans. We get to play the game we love in a fresh way with the good doctor himself, and it feels like Christmas all over again. As soon as the Sneak Preview tournament is over, each of us will pick our favorite new team affiliation, and we will play a seven-game series. Then we’ll switch.

Speaking of switching, I would like to end this article with one of the most intriguing concepts I have ever had the pleasure to discover. The Infinite Crisis storylines in DC Comics’ continuing series are taking us to places I thought we would never go. In Superman/Batman #24, it was revealed that part of the identity mix-up that has everyone giddy and guessing what will come next is—believe it or not—a parallel universe in which our beloved superheroes have their genders reversed. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a female Batman and a female Superman. And, even more thrilling than that, there is a Miss Miracle:


I am not crazy enough to think that we will actually find a Miss Miracle character card in our packs when we bust open our latest toy surprises at the Sneak Preview, but you know I will be dreaming about it. And the fact that it is now actually possible (although highly unlikely) to see a future “Felicia Faust” or a feminine Dr. Light turning sideways on my kitchen table has my mind spinning faster than ever.

I thought this was supposed to calm me down.


Filed under Comic Books, Save It Saturday

Save-It Saturday: Pro Circuit Glory. (With podcast.)


It was the best of times. Pro Circuit Indianapolis 2004. My day in the sun, including the utter domination of the legend who had his face immortalized on the Avalanche Riders card in Magic the Gathering.

After I archive the match report, you can re-live the Pro Circuit with some behind-the-scenes inside dope and listen to the single greatest Vs. System podcast of all time: Paul Sung interviewing Hyrum Savage.

Glory Days. Forever remembered.


Round 3: Darwin Kastle vs. Rian ‘stubarnes’ Fike

Toby Wachter

Darwin Kastle is an old-school TCG veteran, who has earned six figures over his career. He’s a classic example of a tournament powerhouse, who has the experience and finishes to back up his reputation. On the other side of the coin, Rian Fike might be considered your “casual” prototype at first glance. He has been an active member in the online community since the game first started, and frequently posts as “stubarnes” on In fact, he got his invitation to this event via fan voting on the website, as an acknowledgement for his writing and positive contributions to the game community. His contests have been especially popular, challenging players to come up with solutions to Vs. puzzles.

Fike is playing his old standby, Sentinels. Kastle’s deck is centered around an interesting strategy, using Cosmic Radiation, Mr. Fantastic, Stretch, Alfred Pennyworth, and World’s Finest to abuse Advanced Hardware.

Game 1

Kastle opened with Alfred Pennyworth and Fike played Longshot. It was activated on the usual Wild Sentinel and Sentinel Mark IV and Fike got two Wilds and one Mark IV. Longshot missed on turn two and Fike played a pair of Wild Sentinels. Kastle played GCPD Officer, and activated Alfred to get World’s Finest. Alfred was replayed, and Wild Sentinel attacked him for a stun, taking a power-up to survive. The other Sentinel attacked the GCPD Officer, who was KO’d during recovery. Kastle played Mr. Fantastic, Reed Richards and then flipped over World’s Finest to team up Fantastic Four and Gotham Knights. Alfred searched out Bat Signal and Longshot hit on turn three, giving Fike two Wild Sentinels and a Mark IV. He then played two Sentinels, along with Senator Kelly, who was activated to cause four points of endurance loss. A team attack stunned Mr. Fantastic and Alfred was stunned by a Sentinel attack as well. He survived, while Mr. Fantastic was KO’d during recovery.

Longshot gave Fike two Mark IV’s and a Wild Sentinel and on turn four he opted to play more Wild Sentinels, then used Reconstruction Program to bring back Senator Kelly. Kastle played GCPD Officer and Fike targeted it with Search and Destroy. In response, Kastle activated Alfred to get Signal Flare, which was added to the chain. This searched out Invisible Woman, The Invisible Girl, and Bat Signal got Mr. Fantastic, Reed Richards. He then played both of them and Search and Destroy resolved. Kastle flipped over A Child Named Valeria, holding some of the aggression back. Kastle played Human Torch, and Fike’s Longshot missed, so he played a second one right after that. It activated, but hit four Wild Sentinels. Fike played a Mark IV from his hand and flipped over Underground Sentinel Base to bring out another one from his resource row.

Kastle flipped over another copy of A Child Named Valeria, and sent his team after the Sentinels to KO as many as possible. Human Torch, Hotshot went after a Mark IV, but was stunned during the attack thanks to Fike’s power-up. During the recovery, Fike lost two Wild Sentinels. He took his turn, and this time Longshot delivered, providing three Wild Sentinels and a Mark IV. Senator Kelly caused seven endurance loss, and was followed by a second, causing Kastle to concede.

Darwin Kastle 0, Rian Fike 1

Game 2

Kastle had a first turn Invisible Woman, The Invisible Girl and, by turn 2, all Fike had was two Wild Sentinels. Two GCPD Officers and Mr. Fantastic, Reed Richards came out soon after, while Fike found Longshot. The first activation missed and Fike had no other plays on turn three. Needless to say, when Sentinels stalls this much, the rest is going to be an uphill battle. Longshot found two Wild Sentinels and a Mark IV and played the Mark IV as the lone Sentinel on the table (the others had been KO’d due to Kastle’s attacks and the need to recover Longshot). Advanced Hardware went on Invisible Woman and she got to work with her special ability.

At this moment, Fike started to mount a comeback, thanks in large part to Longshot. An army of Sentinels hit play, along with the Senator and a pair of Mark IVs. Kastle played Mr. Fantastic, Stretch, and Fike sent a Mark IV after him, powering up three times for a stun. The other Mark IV attacked Invisible Woman and her counter was removed to nullify the attack. A turn later, thanks to Underground Sentinel Base, the board was filled with Wild Sentinels and their Mark IV counterparts, and Fike was able to win the match.

Darwin Kastle 0, Rian Fike 2


(Click right here for the podcast history of Vs. System from the inside out.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Save It Saturday, Vs. System

The only person ever to play Chaos Magic on the Pro Circuit.


The only person twisted enough to actually include Chaos Magic in a constructed deck on the Pro Circuit? That would be me. It was exactly three years ago, and it remains one of my most glorious achievements.

Vs. System history is chock full of deliciously trivial tales like that. This one is especially sweet. Sneaking in a Save-It Saturday a day late, hoping your personal paradises are preserved just as well.

chaoscard chaoscard

Risk Vs. Reward: Postcards from Pro Circuit Paradise

Rian Fike
View all articles by this author

Many heavenly stories begin in Hell, and this one is no different. I boarded a plane at Miami International Airport and started worrying about the black clouds on the horizon. I don’t mean a foreboding sense of upcoming humiliation for my Multiple Man deck, but a real thunderstorm—twenty miles wide. We sat on the runway for four hours waiting for the bad weather to pass. Five tornadoes were spawned across South Florida as I goldfished myself sick, trapped inside a long metal box.

When our flight was finally released to head north toward Atlanta, the turbulence we experienced in the air exponentially exceeded any roller coaster I have ever ridden. Our thrill ride lasted at least twenty minutes. My brain was shaken, not stirred. It was one of the most terrifying nights of my life.

As if my normal mental confusion were not enough, the delay and the intense trip through the sky started my Pro Circuit adventure on a distinctly discombobulated note. It got worse on the red ground of the Peach State. No one knew where the convention center was, including the police officers at the airport. The building was two miles away, and I could not find one person to direct me properly toward it. I bought a ticket for a shuttle when the girl at the window said it would take me to the Pro Circuit venue. I ended up downtown instead. I was dropped off twenty miles further away from the Promised Land. The driver told me I needed to get on the train and go back, since he was not returning. I actually enjoyed the return trip to the airport, but by then the convention center was closed, so I made my way to the hotel for some last-minute testing with friends.

As soon as I stepped out of my final cab of the evening, my fortunes began to improve drastically. I was rooming with three excellent Vs. System strategists: Cameron “gator7870” Robinson, Irving “dragoonxix” Diaz, and Curtis “tchalla” Brown. They provided the playtesting experience that I was lacking. Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox finally did the proper exercise to prepare him for the Pro Circuit. With three outstanding flesh-and-blood opponents to practice against, my goldfish was given some well-needed rest.

While I was stranded on the plane, I swayed between the ridiculous Multiple Man deck and an actually competitive Avengers reservist build that TJ Holman had given me. When our jet finally settled in the sky, I realized that any day could be my last. If I have to go out, I want to go out playing janky 1-cost Army decks. My final decision was made. Multiple Man was going to the Pro Circuit.

All three of my card-flipping brethren had experience with the Avengers team-attack tricks that I was trying to teach my Madrox. We tweaked and we tuned and we ended up with this by morning:

“Multiple Disasters”

by Rian Fike

200th place, Pro Circuit Atlanta


14 Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox

3 Captain America, Steve Rogers

2 Carol Danvers ◊ Warbird

1 Hank Pym ◊ Ant Man

1 Hawkeye, Leader by Example

1 Iron Man, Tony Stark

1 Jolt

1 Joystick

1 Melissa Gold ◊ Songbird, Sonic Carapace

4 Natasha Romanoff ◊ Black Widow

3 Quicksilver, Mutant Avenger

2 Speed Demon

1 Sub-Mariner, Namor

2 Wasp

Plot Twists

3 Chaos Magic

4 Enemy of My Enemy

4 Flying Kick

4 Legendary Battles

4 Mutant Massacre


4 Playroom

This deck never won more than 30% of its matchups in extended testing. It does have Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox, however, and that was enough for me. If it hits the following board, it performs very well. Realistically, however, it does not provide this sequence consistently.

Turn 1

Resource: Mutant Massacre or Playroom

Recruit: Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox

Turn 2

Resource: Same as turn 1.

Recruit: Natasha Romanoff is the first choice and the mulligan condition for the deck. Melissa is very strong when followed with Cap on 3, but her drawback can be quick death against many different decks. Wasp can fill the early curve and provide some board advantage, and the Ant Man can allow the Madrox team attack, but two more Multiple Men without support from an affiliated character in this spot are basically useless.

Turn 3

Resource: Mutant Massacre or Enemy of My Enemy

Recruit: Captain America, Steve Rogers

Since we took the team-ups out of the deck, Cap is pretty important for an ultimate swarm later in the game. This is the turn that Enemy of My Enemy becomes playable, so the patriotic wonder can be recruited almost every time. With Natasha and a ready Madrox, you should be able to remove the opponent’s 3-drop from the game. If your draw has you loaded with multiple Legendary Battles, Quicksilver can also be pretty good here.

Turn 4

Resource: Legendary Battles

Recruit: Carol Danvers or Quicksilver and a 1-drop

The deck has game on either initiative, but evens give it some extra power with the Warbird. If you played a Mutant Massacre earlier and Carol can return the opposing 4-drop, you are on your way.

Turn 5

From here on out, you’re on your own. With Enemy of My Enemy and Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox working together, you may fetch at will. There are two different 5-drops and two different Speedsters. If the Legendary Battles has not made an appearance, Wasp becomes a nice cream filling for a Quicksilver sandwich. If you have survived this late with a decent board presence, you’ll have a veritable paradise of team-attack tricks to pull off.

You may have noticed that the deck does not actually key on Multiple Man ◊ Jamie Madrox and his duplication powers. Our little 1-cost Army hero’s team-up ability and his status as a Mutant are enough to warrant his inclusion here. The chance to use Chaos Magic against Wonder Man or Shocker makes Madrox shine, since you can sometimes get a surprise weenie-twinning in response to a direct stun.

So, how did it work? What was it like to be the only fool playing Multiple Man at Pro Circuit Atlanta? Check this out.

In the first round, I faced Brian “unifiedshoe” Garber. My Pro Circuit adventure could not have had a better start. Brian was one of the online friends that I had been dying to meet, and since I survived my hellish flight, I got the chance. My deck performed like a choir of angels against his Squadron Supreme rush. I removed with Massacre. I fetched with Enemy. I bounced with Carol. Turn 6 saw the most glorious board of my Pro Circuit career, and I had the initiative. With a front row of Speed Demon, Captain America, Steve Rogers, Carol Danvers ◊ Warbird, Wasp, and Quicksilver, Mutant Avenger, I was sure I had found Shangri-La.

Round 2 felt like I was reunited with a long-lost cousin. Carl Perlas plays Vs. System the way it should be played: full of style and dedicated to fun. Having him back on the Pro Circuit was like a party in Nirvana. My deck missed all its Massacres, and Carl’s “Braces of Evil” deck brought down the Stonewall to yank my Madrox from the clouds. I was totally blissed for the rest of the day despite the loss. Two dear friends had themselves an enchanted Jank Festival the likes of which the PC Feature Match Area may never see again.

The third round brought an international flavor to my Pro Circuit Paradise. Jonas Skali is part of the fabulous Team Zissou from Bonn, Germany. I love playing against non-English cards, especially when they are flipped by such an excellent competitor. His signature red hat was the cherry on top of my Chaos Magic sundae. I faced off against Wonder Man and pulled off my dream move on the biggest stage in the game! Instead of stunning my Carol, Jonas watched in wonder as my Madrox multiplied magically before his eyes. It was an intense and fascinating contest. Jonas needed to under-drop and fill in his curve with Dane Whitman twice. There was plenty of turbulence in the match, and we were both forced to make thrilling decisions that do not usually arise. When it was over, I had lost—but could I not stop grinning.

My fourth round opponent, Eman Spaulding, knows the meaning of “free lunch.” He recruited Amelia Voght twice during our match, without ever needing to pick up the tab. My team attacks got a few removal abilities off, but I ended up one Playroom away from victory. Manuel Peelen took my day into the firmament of fantasy with a hybrid deck that combined Squadron Supreme with Avengers Reservist. We each had good draws, each combat phase was full of delicious dilemma, and we both reached negative endurance. When the match reached its heavenly conclusion, my Madrox had defeated one of the funky red hats from Bonn.

Richard Vaughan was my sixth round opponent, and the one player at Pro Circuit Atlanta who made me want to move out of Miami. I wish I lived in Colorado so we could laugh together more often. Richard produces a spectacular Vs. System podcast known as “The Fallout Shelter.” He would later interview me for one of their shows, and we would become even better friends than ever, but during the match, he was my enemy. Richard was running Morlocks evasion, and I thank the almighty that he didn’t see his Backs Against the Wall the whole game. This match was an absolute Wonderland. On turn 5, I decided to make sure I avoided the triple Shrapnel Blast. I sent in what would have been the winning swing for extra assurance on my team attack. It cost me the win, but it gave me an empyrean memory that will last into the afterlife.

Curtis Brown is obsessed. His screen name is “tchalla.” He has the Black Panther action figure with the working claws. He owns the most beautiful playmat I have ever seen: an original Ariel Olivetti sketch of his Number One character. He is also an amazing Vs. System strategist. He refuses to conform to “competitive wisdom,” yet he focuses on solid victory tactics and builds decks that can win every time. It was great to meet him, room with him, and get eliminated from Day 2 contention by him in the seventh round. I couldn’t have been knocked out by a better guy.

I got to play Chaos Magic against Josh Nye in the next round, this time deflecting his Wonder Man stun onto my 5-drop Hawkeye, Leader by Example and netting him nothing. It was glorious to behold, although it was not enough to assure the win.

The final opponent for my adventure through the pearly gates of Pro Circuit Atlanta was another of my favorite online pals. Ryeland “techn0range” Barnard is one of the most valuable and vital competitors in my Barn Door Challenges on He is infamous for his orange Hawaiian shirts, orange card sleeves, and orange dice. His hair is so cool that it makes me rue the day I went bald on top. Ryeland is also very good at this game. He schooled me like an orange bus with his bizarre multi-team Blackbird Blue deck. It was Heaven on Earth for both of us. I can’t wait to play him again at the next Orlando $10K.

I can’t wait to tell you more about the paradise that was Pro Circuit Atlanta. I think I could tell stories for three months about the everlasting fun we had in three days. Tune in next week, and I’ll explain why the kids are alright.


Rian Fike is also known as stubarnes, and he is trying to earn his wings with every article. If you have any shortcuts to Heaven, or secret escape routes from Hell, send them to

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Save It Saturday, Vs. System

Save-It Saturday: Sadu-Hem.

tentacles1 sadu-hem

This Weekend In Heaven will be spent with the Thule Society and its creepy cardboard characters, playing the Hellboy Essential Collection until our eyeballs  fall out and sprout Ancient Godlings. While we turn Mike Mignola’s terrific translations of the Old Ones sideways on our kitchen table, you can wallow in an article almost exactly two years old today. How big can it be?

Risk Vs. Reward: Major Mythological Figures

Rian Fike
View all articles by this author

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but that doesn’t stop the artist from trying. With modern creative technology blurring the distinction so drastically, who’s counting anyway? Hellboy, that’s who.

The Hellboy Essential Collection has brought an entirely new level of realistic interaction to a fictional mythos that was already a huge part of many people’s lives. This comic book character has a rabid following. His dedicated devotees constantly strive to make him as tangible as they possibly can. They create authentic B.P.R.D. identification badges and hand out Lobster Johnson calling cards that simply say “Fiction?” These people are real freaks, and I like it.

Hellboy has also been captured on powerful cardboard and is now ready to turn sideways on the kitchen table. As I wax poetic about the powers and interactions of our newest Vs. System playing pieces, we will also be treated to a symphony of sculpture from the community of die-hard Hellboy fans around the globe. There are some very serious artists who have a very serious crush on Mike Mignola’s baby. Their skills with clay take the myth and stretch it into taffy. Get ready for a visual treat. Your eyes will be exhausted when we are done.

I got the call from the local gaming store and tried to keep my heart from beating out of my chest. It was here. The first set of full-sized, pre-fabricated Vs. System Constructed decks had arrived in Miami. Gravity slowed me down a bit, but within a few blinks, my Mini Cooper was sitting in front of the shop and the treasure was gripped firmly in my hands.

I drove straight home to my wife. We ripped off the outer covering and shuffled up. As soon as Liz Sherman’s uncontrollable power hit the board, I knew the match was destined to become a classic. Nina’s Baba Yaga welcomed the squirming mass of Sadu-Hem to her side of the board, and we settled in for a turn 8 of epic proportions. It was a beautiful thing.

The 7-drop Liz isn’t the only thing that stokes the home fires to new temperature thresholds in our house. Each sixty-card deck contains two different, satisfying strategies. The characters, equipment, plot twists, and locations are fascinating in both theme and function. The Pancakes are especially delicious.

Constantly vigilant against the forces of metaphysical evil, the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense has all kinds of tricks up their collective sleeves. They can cover the ground with support troops in the form of U.S. Army Rangers. They have been blessed with some of the best equipment tricks in the game, starting with Sidney Leach’s human metal-detecting abilities. Thomas Manning makes sure all his boys get a big bonus when they are packing toys. Both Ben Daimio and Lobster Johnson get gigantic grins when they have a gray card attached. The Weapons Lab allows them double the pleasure and double the fun.

But wait! That’s not the only way that the B.P.R.D. can mash the monsters on the other side of the Vs. System equation. When the big red dude enters the picture, things change. Hellboy works best by himself and he doesn’t mind telling his friends to get lost. This team affiliation follows his lead for their second theme, giving major advantage to any character willing to fight alone. Sometimes they like to have a hidden force, as well. As long as you only show the face of one visible character, the B.P.R.D. becomes as formidable as any group the game has ever seen.

I have spoken of this before, and it is my favorite part of the Hellboy Essential Collection. Three of Mike Mignola’s myths are being developed more fully than ever before thanks to our beloved game. Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, Abe Sapien, and Liz Sherman are swelling with expanded power in their Vs. System incarnations. It fills my heart with joy and covers my kitchen table with some really hot fish.

I have a confession to make. Mulletman is not going to like it. The Thule Society has introduced a truly classic version name that now tops my list of all Vs. System cards ever printed. Hecate has been dubbed a “Major Mythological Figure.” That is even cooler than being a “Rebel Freedom Fighter” in my book. She is also even hotter than Abe Sapien (for a fish), and she was specifically designed to destroy his plans. Hecate has been around for nearly 3,000 years in the human imagination, and now she is pulling characters out of the hidden area left and right. Her power is not limited to opposing threats, either. She is strong stuff for an environment dependant on concealment. Getting the black-bordered cards into the visible area where you can gain advantage with them can often set the stage for some late-game Cthulhu-style madness, with the Sadu-Hem sucking the life right out of your horrified opponent and transmuting it into a boost of endurance for the win.

Grigori Rasputin and the gang have been given an alternate win condition in the form of Project Ragna Rok, but that party doesn’t float my boat. I am drawn to the Damn Nazis and their squirrel-like nature. Especially since the 1-cost Army lovers of the world can now unleash a Plague of Frogs for some massive weenie beats.

“Thoolish Mortals”


12 Damn Nazis

4 Hellboy, Little Boy

6 Huge, Annoying Tentacles

4 Karl Ruprecht Kroenen

4 Klaus Werner von Krupt

1 Hecate

1 Black Flame

Plot Twists

4 Plague of Frogs

4 Nasty Surprise

4 Flying Kick

4 Wake the Devil

4 Accept Your Destiny

4 Something is Coming


4 Cavendish Hall

That is my deck of choice for any tournaments or kitchen tables that will be using only the cards from the Hellboy Essential Collection. It is fairly simple in operation, underdropping a swarm of occult minions that receive major mythological pumps from a trio of plot twists and an evil project leader. Klaus Werner von Krupt often hands out +3 ATK to three different attackers in order to stun the opposing board and wipe it clean with Accept Your Destiny. Karl Ruprecht Kroenen has eighteen possible lucky revelations for topdecking, and they are cheap enough to recruit a few per turn. Hecate whips hidden threats out into the open with her tail so that Black Flame can start boosting like Bastion—if the match goes that far and demands a more curvy combination.

The tastiest trick that Thoolish Mortals can create begins when you realize that Something Is Coming immediately after you recruit Hellboy, Little Boy. When you flip Cavendish Hall, that baby gets really big. On turn 5 (with a Plague of Frogs or two), he can easily reach +20 ATK if all goes well. Sounds like my kind of fun.

Whether the Thoolish Mortals are good enough to win the upcoming City Championships remains to be seen. They will need to duke it out with Olympic Weenie Glory and get covered in War Paint first. Whichever one of my pet decks barks loudest during testing will be let off the chain to sink its teeth into the Miami metagame. Skating major mythological figure eights on the Vs. System battleground has never been sweeter, thanks to Hellboy and the Thule Society that he opposes.


Filed under Comic Books, Save It Saturday, Vs. System, Weekend in Heaven

Save-It Saturday: Huge, Annoying Tentacles.

Here at Full Body Transplant we have been getting some sightseers surfing for squid. Watchmen squid, to be precise, but squid nonetheless. So, Save-It Saturday is serving historical calamari this morning as the next recipe in our archival soup.

The photograph at the top of this post is one of the crowning achievements of our time at Metagame. My magnificent Met-loving managing editor actually allowed me to photoshop myself and Matt Hyra into the halls of hysterical fake history. And we lived happily ever after.

So yeah. It’s not the Watchmen squid, it’s the huge, annoying tentacles from Hellboy. It’s copying over to the blog with bad spacing, and eventually the source links from the original will shut down and the images won’t load. It is delicious while it lasts, and there is nothing like squid for breakfast – or Save-It Saturday on a Sunday morning.

Bon appetit!


Hellboy Preview: Huge, Annoying Tentacles and Karl Ruprecht Kroenen

Rian Fike
View all articles by this author

What are you afraid of?

If you are Selma Blair, the answer is simple: Huge, Annoying Tentacles. When she was creating Liz Sherman on film for Guillermo del Toro’s version of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, Selma had to face her deepest, darkest phobia. This is what the brilliant actress had to say about her experience with Vs. System’s latest Army characters:

They actually scared me. Tentacles are the one thing I have problems with. In person, those tentacles were so terrifying, moving on their own and going everywhere. They really made me sick. I was repulsed, and you didn’t see them as much in the final cut because of it. Yeah, I don’t like them. I don’t like slugs or tentacles or calamari or anything. Tentacles made me turn into a vegetarian in high school. I’m not any more, but in high school, we were dissecting squid.

Huge, Annoying Tentacles scared the pants off the former winner of MTV’s Best Movie Kiss of the Year. Now they are going to be mad fun to play with on the kitchen table and in the tournament hall. They are non-unique Army characters and they are a near-perfect representation of the timeless fear that is unleashed and celebrated in the Hellboy Essential Collection. Let’s find out where these creepy crawlers came from.

When Mike Mignola first penned the legend of Hellboy, he drew upon the most hideous and horrible source material that humanity has ever known. Some of his inspiration was non-fiction, but that will need to wait until the second half of the article. Right now, we need to look toward H.P. Lovecraft.

Widely acknowledged as a master of modern horror, H.P. Lovecraft gave us Cthulhu. No single being carries as much weight when it comes to terrifying its audience. Cthulhu is one of the Old Ones, sometimes described as of the sum total of all human fear. Huge, Annoying Tentacles are its signature move. If you are having trouble pronouncing the name, don’t worry. Cthulhu cannot be spoken. Lovecraft himself explained it like this:

The actual sound—as nearly as human organs could imitate it or human letters record it—may be taken as something like Khlul’-hloo, with the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The best approximation one can make is to grunt, bark, or cough the imperfectly formed syllables Cluh-Luh with the tip of the tongue firmly affixed to the roof of the mouth. That is, if one is a human being. Directions for other entities are naturally different.

Mike Mignola created the Ogdru Jahad as homage to Cthulhu and the Old Ones. Like its predecessor, this indescribable evil is an ageless being from the beginning of time. It continuously strives to destroy the world completely and throw us all into a state of utter chaos and madness. When Guillermo del Toro interpreted the Ogdru Jahad for his feature film, it had one resounding characteristic: it had Huge, Annoying Tentacles.

Luckily for us, Hellboy and the B.P.R.D eventually thwarted the Thule Society and their attempt to awaken the Ogdru Jahad. The world did not end, and we get to live on for many more games of Vs. System. For better or worse, there will now be Huge, Annoying Tentacles involved, and they will take some getting used to. Playing against these suckers can be exhausting.

The fear caused by this card turns any lower-cost Thule Society character into Rogue, Anna Raven. Aside from the upgrade in looks, why is that good? What is the benefit in attacking an exhausted character unless it is She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters? I hope you are ready, because there are some amazing powers that can answer those questions.

  1. Exhausted defenders are not able to attack back on your initiative turns. Huge, Annoying Tentacles will form the basis for some suicidal stall strategies. Since it gives its power to any smallish characters that it can team-up with, it has me dusting off the Armies of Qward and preparing a new world order for Army swarms.
  2. Whether or not you stun the defender that you turned sideways, you can stick it to the board for the next turn with Adhesive X or Nahrees.
  3. There are some amazing pumps that key off exhausted defenders. The Arkham Inmates are singing “Let’s Go Crazy” as we speak. Every character in the game is practicing their Sucker Punch for a Crushing Blow thanks to Huge, Annoying Tentacles.
  4. Two words: Golden Death.
  5. Some of the darkest, scariest characters that I know just got a whole lot better. Check out Charaxes, Drury Walker; Yelena Belova ◊ Black Widow; and Mystique, Villainous Shapeshifter. Huge, Annoying Tentacles will bring them out of the binder and turn them into the KO machines they were born to be.

As frightening as Huge, Annoying Tentacles are, there is another card in the Hellboy Essential Collection that takes even more of my breath away. Karl Ruprecht Kroenen will chill you to the bone. He is a character that Mike Mignola invented to personify the coldness and cruelty into which the human mind can condense when its sights are set on true evil. This is what happens when the warmth of the human heart is completely extinguished. The pulp version of Kroenen actually froze himself for years, waiting until the proper time for his apocalyptic agenda to be completed.

Over the course of their translation from comic book to feature film, both Liz Sherman and Karl Ruprecht Kroenen received a major upgrade and an expanded presence in the Hellboy mythos. Guillermo del Toro fleshed them out thoroughly, allowing Liz to love and Kroenen to kill. In the director’s hands, they became a yin/yang supernova of opposite power and symbolism. Their migration to Vs. System in the Hellboy Essential Collection captures these content extensions intact, and our cardboard contests are going to get wicked because of it.

Karl Ruprecht Kroenen is one of the most disturbing villains ever created. The skin-crawling evil that his character distills is nearly non-fiction. The Thule Society team affiliation that he represents is based on tragic historical fact. The bizarre and unsettling psychosis of surgical addiction that he unveils in the cinema is an all-too-real example of abnormal human behavior. This character is a true horror.

He is also nearly impossible to kill. This is neatly represented by his evasion ability. You can be assured of his presence for multiple turns, and at the beginning of each combat phase, he will be prepared to employ one of his twisted toys. If the top card of your deck is an Army character that has been brainwashed to follow the orders of the Thule Society as they continue their mission to ritualistically destroy the entire world, then Karl Ruprecht Kroenen will add it to your arsenal. He may find a natural minion with Huge, Annoying Tentacles, or he may expand his troops with a Team-Up. Either way, he brings a terrible beauty to the tortured eyes of Vs. System Army lovers everywhere.

What are you afraid of?

Rian Fike is also known as stubarnes and he is not afraid of anything that he can eat with hot sauce. He wishes that he really could meet Selma Blair, with or without Matt Hyra. If you wish to speak with him about some fears of your own, make an appointment at


Filed under Comic Books, Save It Saturday, The Interwebs Rock!, Vs. System

Save-It Saturday: Shuma-Gorath.


shumashuma shumashuma

Shuma-Gorath has commanded my attention since he first appeared in the Capcom video game called Marvel Super Heroes in 1995. He has a large, single eye and huge, annoying tentacles. His abstract essence embodies the purity of desire, free from the detailed annoyance of politics and petty squabble. In the video game, his special move is called “Chaos Dimension,” and when he beats a hero into a pathetic pulp, he taunts the vanquished in a funky voice, calling him or her a “waste of flesh.” When I am looking for a crazy character to become visually enamored with, it doesn’t get any better than that—unless, of course, it includes a fishbowl for a head.

Today we are featuring Jim Nelson’s Shuma-Gorath in the inaugural sailing of the Save It Saturday ship. I will be transplanting one of my old Metagame articles over here as an archive each week while I watch Wacky Races and Banana Splits on Boomerang Channel.

Eventually the links won’t work and the images will not appear, but at least we will have the text for posterity. Enjoy.

Risk Vs. Reward: Aesthetic Obsessions

Rian Fike
View all articles by this author

“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”


When we first lay eyes upon a brand new set of Vs. System cards, we automatically begin to connect with it through the artwork it contains. We are visual creatures; the organs we use for sight have gained a commanding influence over our entire being. Even when we try to deny their power, we are still tight on the leash.

Since the eyes have it, the soul is guided and formed by whatever personal optical preferences have developed within the individual. You like what you like, and I like what I like—it makes us who we are. As an art teacher, I could spend this entire article explaining in intricate detail the reasons for the success of certain images . . . but you will still like what you like. Certain colors, characters, and compositions will always command your aesthetic allegiance. Some pictures just grab you and never let go.

My life is dedicated to the visual arts. I am aesthetically obsessed. Four objects of my deepest devotion showed up last Saturday at our local Marvel Team-Up Sneak Preview tournament. My eyes are still burning.

I really like Thanos, Shuma-Gorath, Mysterio, and Linda Blair. Let’s take them in that order. Thanos embodies the deepest contrasts in the human experience. His palette is made of complimentary colors, which are actually opposites. Purple is the antithesis of yellow, and Thanos is the most hateful lover of all time. His heart is undyingly loyal to Death. He courts her with an obsession that is unmatched in all of romantic fiction, and he looks really cool while he does it.

Thanos is also a collector. His stash of Infinity Gems is now complete, thanks to the Marvel Team-Up set. Ego Gem is here, and the game may never be the same. The ability to draw extra cards in order to feed whatever risky strategy your aesthetics demand has never been this sparkly. Our new 0-cost jewel of an equipment card looks like fabulous fertilizer for fanciful freaks around the globe. It’s a beautiful thing.

Shuma-Gorath has commanded my attention since he first appeared in the Capcom video game called Marvel Super Heroes in 1995. He has a large, single eye and huge, annoying tentacles. His abstract essence embodies the purity of desire, free from the detailed annoyance of politics and petty squabble. In the video game, his special move is called “Chaos Dimension,” and when he beats a hero into a pathetic pulp, he taunts the vanquished in a funky voice, calling him or her a “waste of flesh.” When I am looking for a crazy character to become visually enamored with, it doesn’t get any better than that—unless, of course, it includes a fishbowl for a head.

How do I love Mysterio? Let me count the ways. Pink and green is my favorite two-color combo of all time. He has a cape, an awesome set of wrist sculptures, and lots of smoke. Best of all, he has a big, round glass globe to cover his visage. That is too cool. I think it’s the sense of abstract art coming to life that sucks me in, but it also makes his facial features pretty easy to draw.

Mysterio is always creating elaborate performance pieces to confound his enemies. When Francis Klum took over the fishbowl mantle as the third incarnation, his work was more impressive than ever. Peter Parker was employed as a teacher at Midtown High School when Mysterio’s latest evil illusions transformed the whole building into the most intense and realistic haunted house—right in the middle of the school day!

I didn’t get to play with Francis Klum ◊ Mysterio in my Sneak Preview deck, and no one played him against me all day. The fun was fully fleshed in spite of that, especially since I had a tiny touchstone to one of the most attractive public figures I have ever seen.

Linda Blair was possessed in The Exorcist, and she scared us all silly in the process. Then she came back all grown up in Exorcist 2: The Heretic. She has owned my soul ever since. My choice for Most Beautiful Actress in Film History now has a very tenuous connection to Vs. System thanks to Frank Drake. The Nightstalker is also devoted to our demonic diva—after all, he named his gun after her.

Frank Drake is more than just a great painting. His power is strong, non-team-stamped stuff if you can drop him on turn 1. I packed his firepower in my 30-card gallery for the Sneak Preview, but I never did draw him in time.

When the clock struck twelve to start the tournament, I busted my five packs and instantly turned into a Sleepwalker. I received two copies of the fancy flipper, and one of them was foil. I also had a risky finisher; Elektra, Leader of the Hand was ready to laugh maniacally if she ever got to fall into a truly hilarious fit of somnambulating beats. The meat of my deck was diabolical. I adore the Underworld, especially since I pulled myself into Death’s Embrace. It was a Strange Love indeed.

The first round was a treat that I had been anticipating for a long while. Gerren Clarke is one of my favorite local players, mostly because of a sick little Constructed deck that he has tuned to perfection. Let me tease you with the basics:

4 Longshot, Rebel Freedom Fighter

12 GCPD Officer

12 Shadow Creatures

4 Kiman

1 Starro the Conqueror

1 Anti-Monitor

4 Qward

Gerren told me about his JSA experiments with the deck, adding Terry Sloane ◊ Mr. Terrific, Allied Against the Dark, and The Rock of Eternity to make the police brutality more vicious than ever. I will never get tired of talking about strategies like that.

Eventually we had to play the match. Gerren jumped out to an early advantage, hitting his full curve from 1 to 5. I was catching up slowly, with Luke Cage, Neighborhood Watch becoming Underworld-friendly, followed by N’astirh with a Teleportation Ring. That paved the way for a furious Hellstorm of recurring plot twists and a mad Mephisto, Mephistopheles. Gerren missed his turn 6 recruit completely, and Elektra mopped up with initiative on turn 7 even though she didn’t get to go sleepwalking.

In the second round, I sat down against another local player, this time the central hub of our Miami Hobby League community. Dennison Fonseca makes sure we order the kits and keep the home fires burning. Now that we have the City Championships looming on the horizon, the house is going up in smoke. In case you haven’t heard, one Vs. System player will soon be immortalized on an official superhero trading card. Personally, that is the best reward I can imagine. Life is about to imitate art, and vice versa.

The match came down to one tiny endurance point, as Dennison swung his Spider-Man, The Amazing Bag-Man for just barely enough on turn 6. We were so excited by the upcoming City Championship that we hardly noticed who had won. Hobby League will never be the same, no matter what our records were at the Sneak Preview.

With one loss, I moved on to the next round against one of my Draft Party buddies. Mike Lovett is getting better and better at this game, and he displayed his skills on this day. I got frisky with Dweller-in-Darkness and Captain America, Heroic Paragon, trying desperately to stave off the final attack from Spider-Man, Stark’s Protege. Alas, it was not enough. At least we had Pro Circuit Indianapolis 2007 practice plans to make when it was over.

The final match of the day was against the classiest man in town. Rob Escalante is the kind of player that you would like your son to grow up to be. I will never forget watching him remind his unaware opponent that the defender recovers after a Validus stun. (This was with a PCQ Top 8 on the line!) Rob would rather lose with honor than win in a suspect manner. We should all strive to have his integrity.

Rob is also a mainstay of our Hobby League, and we spent time dreaming of City Championships and the opportunity to get one of our faces on a card. Then the match began and he had to underdrop on every turn after 2. We laughed for ten minutes as he was forced to turn his Beast, New Defender into a real beast when it was Banished to the Abyss while wearing a Teleportation Ring. A 2-drop with 1 ATK / 9 DEF is nothing to sneeze at, but it sure will make you chuckle. For some reason his deck just wouldn’t wake up, and my Sleepwalker trick was finally able to take flight. Elektra, Leader of the Hand soaked up a whole lotta love, and then flipped the script for the win.

My eyes have seen the glory of Marvel Team-Up, and it has made a definite impression. I’m sure you also have some new paintings that you can’t stop thinking about. Visual pleasure is increased, and our lives are that much better for it. Just think how intense the fixation will get when the City Championships crown one of our own in the halls of trading card game history. The optical endearment may last forever.

Rian Fike is also known as stubarnes and he only has eyes for you. Send a rundown of your favorite paintings to If you include a full decklist, he will research the myths that go along with it and publish your personal aesthetic obsession in a future article.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Greatest Hits, Magick, Save It Saturday, Vs. System