The Black Widow Hero Pack is an expansion for Marvel Champions, a living card game. You can find Marvel Champions Products at Fantasy Flight Games. If you enjoy this content consider checking out my Kofi page
The Patient Spider
Black Widow is all about preparing a web of counters to the villains’ plots. Both her Alter Ego and Hero form trigger from the use of preparation cards. A new subtype of cards introduced in Black Widow’s hero pack.
Preparation cards are played and then lie in wait to be triggered by the villain’s actions and encounter cards. Widows Bite is excellent at either dispatching small minions or slowing down beefier ones. Grappling Hook makes turns any treachery card into a dud while Attacrobatics reflects boost icons back onto the villain.
Outside of preparation cards, Black Widow has a pretty well-rounded kit. Dance of Death is gloriously versatile, allowing her to deal 6 damage to a single foe or spread it out. While Covert Ops wipes a whopping 4 threat from a scheme AND confuses the villain.
She is supported by The Winter Soldier, who has great stats. His high cost can be offset by having several preparation cards present on the board. Black Widow herself is no slouch either. She has 2 in Thwart, Attack, and Defend, which is further enhanced by her Synth Suits ability to ready her when a preparation card is triggered.
Her weakness is her defense, she only has 9 hitpoints and no good defense options in her hero kit. This also makes her vulnerable to minion swarms as they can pick away at her low health. Her reliance on preparation cards means she can stop a villain in their tracks, but she can have some issues dealing with problems that make it to the board.
She works well in all aspects. Leadership grants her allies to divert attention and target whatever she can’t clear. Aggression can deal with minion swarms while Justice can guarantee that she doesn’t need to concern herself with threat. I personally favor Protection, as it covers up her major weakness and buys Black Widow time to unleash those preparation cards.
The main problem is her reliance on preparation cards that shoehorns your deck building. There are not many of them, yet. Her pack comes with one in each aspect except for Justice and Basic that each receives 2. This means no matter what you are doing, you are probably going to include most if not all preparation cards into your deck.
This issue can be addressed as more preparation cards enter the pool. Yet as I am writing this, Doctor Strange and The Hulk have both released after Black Widow, and neither pack included any preparation cards.
The execution of the preparation concept is a lot of fun. You have to decide which ones to play to counter different aspects of a villain, and you choose when to burn them. None of the cards have the forced interrupt or response keyword, so you have complete agency about when to trigger them.
Black Widow’s preset deck is justice but also includes some new basic cards. Counter Intelligence can help you prepare for a big scheme from the villain, and Stealth Strike is fantastic. A Justice Card that can kill a 4 or lower health minion AND wipe some threat for doing so? Yes, please!
I am a little underwhelmed by the ally cards. Agent Coulson feels like his only place is with Black Widow, and Quake could work in some specific builds, but if I’m letting a minion scheme I’m probably in bad shape. That could make her a decent clutch card, but a lot of minions in the game have at least 3 health which lowers her usefulness.
Quincarrier is pretty much an auto-include in any hero deck that is an Avenger. Every currently released hero is an Avenger aside from Ms. Marvel so, it’s in good shape. I think most preparation cards will primarily be used with Black Widow, but I feel like Target Acquired can see use with other heroes. Boost effects are really common and often nasty.
Espionage and Spy Craft almost trigger my pet peeve about cards that can only be used with one hero. Both require that you control a Spy character. There is only one Spy hero and, you guessed it, it’s Black Widow. But you can also use it in conjunction with Nick Fury, Mocking Bird, The Black Widow ally, and Agent Coulson, giving the cards some other viability.
Each other aspect also gets a preparation card. Oddly enough I feel like Counter Attack would be a terrible card for Black Widow, but a very good card on some other characters. The recently released Hulk for example. Leadership gets a nifty Rapid Response card and Protection gets Defensive Stance; both are a solid addition to their aspects.
Taskmaster is Black Widow’s nemesis, and he is one of my favorite Marvel Villains. This makes his lackluster inclusion cut me a little deep (He is coming as an actual villain in the Rise of the Red Skull box).
Taskmasters design is kind of neat. The villain himself has photographic reflexes and can learn and mimic the precise movements of his foes. This is cleverly represented by the fact that he +1 Scheme and Attack for each upgrade you control, but he has a pitiful 4 health so he won’t see play for long.
Furthermore, the rest of the Nemesis deck is incredibly plain. It includes Hydra Mercenary’s, the same ones that can be found in Rhino’s deck. The scheme, Killer for Hire is just a plain old acceleration icon, and Deadly Shot is neat, but can’t carry the set.
I’ve said it in past reviews, but Nemesis cards rarely come out, they only see play if you pull Shadows of the Past. For this reason, Nemesis cards should always bring a meaningful challenge to the game. Taskmaster comes out even less because Grappling Hook is always in Black Widows kit and can counter Shadows of the Past. Given Taskmaster’s in-universe abilities, it would have been neat if he found a way to make it to the board more often.
Fantasy Flight Games is expertly skilled at melding theme with mechanics, yet I think they may have fallen off the horse a bit with Black Widow. Most of her core kit fits. Her Synth Suit is protective, her Gauntlets are a resource. Widows Bite is like a taser. Her Attacrobatics uses a foes momentum against them, and Covert Ops is great. She’s a spy and thwarts a plan while confounding the villain.
Yet the preparation concept as a whole would be far more suited to an intellectually planning character. Not that Black Widow isn’t smart, but she plays how I would imagine Batman or Sherlock Holmes to play, not Black Widow. (Neither are Marvel characters I know.)
Also, how does a grappling hook counter a wide array of treachery? Obviously, some suspension of disbelief is needed. Yet other cards that can do something similar are more thematic. Spider-Man’s Enhanced Spider-Sense for example, or Doctor Strange’s Protective Ward (It’s Magic!) But a grappling hook?
On the flipside, some of the aspect cards have a great theme. Yes, I’m shilling Stealth Strike again. You sneak up on a baddie and take them down and learn something from them, boom plan thwarted. Spy Craft works in a similar manner to Grappling Hook but makes more sense, you spied on the plan ahead of time to avoid or stop it.
This is a bummer. All of the heroes I have reviewed so far invoke the feeling of that hero, including the ones in the core set. Pieces of Black Widow’s kit fit thematically, but others don’t.
Out of the Box
Black Widow’s preset deck is solid simply because a lot of her current options are baked in, you need preparation cards, and the preset deck has them. The deck is focused heavily on simply countering anything and everything the villain does. It’s fun and is a great way to learn how Black Widow plays.
It’s also a great way to learn her weaknesses as the preset deck exposes them to the world. She has very little defense options. Most of her prep cards don’t stop a villain from attacking her, and she has poor health. This means she must spend a lot of time defending which can limit your ability to target threats on the board.
Once something gets pass your preparation cards and gains a solid footing, it can be hard to remove it unless you get a lucky draw. These weaknesses can be covered by thoughtful deck building though. For these reasons I find her preset deck to be lacking in Solo play.
It works great in multiplayer however, as teammates can help you out when needed while your prep cards stop the villains’ nastiest surprises.
Black Widows playstyle is not only unique compared to other heroes, she’s a lot of fun. It reminds me of a lot of playing blue mana decks in Magic The Gathering. Where you simply sit back and say no to everything the villain does.
This makes Black Widows a slow but thoughtful hero, she is a welcome addition to the pool. Gameplay-wise, most of her problems stem from there being not many preparation cards in the current pool. The limited number really hampers deck building. Hopefully, we see more in the future.
Her nemesis deck is kinda lame and I think theme takes a serious back seat with her design. But she is a solid well-balanced hero with a new and interesting playstyle. New cards outside of her kit, like Stealth Strike and Quinn Carrier, are great new additions for many other decks. Overall she’s a solid addition to the ongoing growth of Marvel Champions, even if this super-spy misses the mark in a few places.
You may also want to check out my review of the Marvel Champions Core Set.
- Interesting new style and card type centered around preparing in advance
- Well rounded hero with solid strengths and clear weaknesses
- New cards such as Quinn Carrier and Stealth Strike are great additions to the card pool
- The theme is a little weak
- Reliance on a small pool of preparation card hampers deck building
- Nemesis set is really boring and doesn’t do Taskmaster justice
- Several cards likely won’t see much play outside of Black Widow (Yet)