Marvel Champions: The Mad Titan’s Shadow Review

This does put a smile on my face

A video version of this review can be found on YouTube!

For some players, including myself, Mad Titan’s Shadow is a make it or break it moment for Marvel Champions. Living card games are a money sink, and past releases have been pretty hit or miss. Galaxy’s Most Wanted was great in a lot of ways, but is also rife with design issues that continually plague the game and had a very divisive reception.

There isn’t a lot of room for error in Mad Titan’s Shadow. It’s THE box, the one fans have hoped for since the game’s inception. Thanos himself finally enters the fray with the infinity stones. An underwhelming or flawed entrance could easily snap the game’s popularity in half.

Covering big box expansions is always an exercise for me. Each individual piece could easily have its own review, so let me cut a few things to the quick. Mad Titan’s Shadow isn’t perfectly balanced, as all things should be. But it’s a step up in a great many ways that I’m going to dive into. There’s also a misdirection, a subverting of expectations, and a clever connection to the title of the game.

Thanos is not the star of the show. In fact, he falls into the middle of the pack between the boxes villains. I will put a spoiler alert ahead of one of the villains. This villain isn’t featured on the box and is likely meant to be a surprise. The internet has probably already spoiled you, but on the off chance, it didn’t. I’d prefer to let you remain in the dark.

NOTE: I do not score my reviews anymore, you can find out why here. Marvel Champions’ Expansions will not receive the Who Would Like And Dislike This Game section either, as it would be redundant.

Player Cards

Mad Titan’s Shadow presents a nice split between the two previous cycles. We get an Avenger in the form of Spectrum, and Adam Warlock is added to the Guardians roster. Both heroes bring completely unique playstyles to the table

Both premade decks have an unfortunate number of reprints, but also bring a lot of cool new things to the card pool. Teamwork cards such as Mighty Avengers are a welcome new mechanic that rewards themed decks. While new one-off cards such as the Living Tribunal, The In-Betweener, Eternity, and the Gardener allows you to place cards into the encounter deck for the first time.

Player cards drawn from the encounter deck essentially negate an encounter card and give a bonus effect. You have to put some reliance on luck, but they can at times, swing the game in your favor. It’s a massive relief to see one sitting on top of the encounter deck.

New Key allies such as Captain America, White Tiger, and Power Man are great new additions, and mystics get even more toys with Summoning Spell, Magic Attack, and Zone of Silence. Because Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch totally needed more help, right?

Jokes aside, nearly every new player card is good, or at least interesting enough that you could toy with them when deckbuilding. Some are definitely too strong, such as Blade. You could build entire decks around him, especially in leadership. You would essentially just be playing Blade with your actual hero taking the role of the sidekick instead. Band Together is also an excessive power boost for an aspect that is already too powerful.

The stars have never perfectly aligned in Marvel Champions, and they probably never will. But for the most part, the new additions are fun, interesting, and further expand your options in deck building. As allies continue to be more than worth their weight, I still highly recommend my ally deck-building restriction detailed in my piece on Fixing The Imbalance In Marvel Champions.

Spectrum

Spectrum comes with three special cards that are not shuffled into her deck. Gamma, Photon, and Pulsar. Each one represents a form she can transform into, and she chooses one when swapping from alter-ego.

Spectrum is like Ant-Man and Wasp in that she focuses on switching between forms, but unlike them, she can’t simply do so at will. She has to rely on her kit or swap from alter ego form. In return her forms are incredibly potent, making her a three in a given stat plus a bonus effect when swapping.

Many heroes fall into the role of a jack of all trades, but not to the degree of Spectrum, she can adapt to any role and fit into any aspect with ease. Her balancing factor is the fact that you have to plan her form swaps, rather than doing so at will. This makes her a fun, and surprisingly balanced hero.

Cards like Gamma Blast hit like a truck. Photon Speed is great at keeping the threat in check, and Pulsar Shield lets her defend in a pinch. Swapping and getting stuck in the wrong form at the wrong time can actually cost you the game pretty quickly. Speed of Light is her bread and butter, and it can be tempting to use them as soon as they appear, but it can pay off to hold one back for pivotal moments.

Her kit is rounded out by resource generation with Energy Duplication and an ally that banks on her main strength with Blue Marvel. I place Spectrum as one of the best-designed heroes in the game. She has an extremely cohesive kit that allows you to play any way you want, but with weaknesses that force you to play smart.

On the other hand, Her premade deck is terrible because it lacks the same cohesion that she boasts. It attempts to play too many strategies at once and often leaves her with no options instead. Moxie and Ready To Rumble are obviously great cards for Spectrum’s form-changing shenanigans but, it also tries to run Mass Attack and Mighty Avengers rather than sticking to a core strength. I was rarely able to pull off one of them in a meaningful way without leaving something dangerously exposed.

Adam Warlock

Adam Breaks the deckbuilding rules in a completely unique way. He uses all four aspects, but must have the same number of each and may only have a single copy of any card that isn’t in his kit. His own cards play off of this dynamic incredibly well and captures the feel of a magic-user every bit as well as Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch. Without being anywhere close to overpowering.

Like Spectrum, Adam feels balanced and is able to fit into most roles. But that comes at the cost of losing personal flexibility. With the current card pool, there isn’t a lot of deckbuilding that you can do with Adam Warlock that will feel meaningful. You can’t count on any single copy of a card to reliably show up. The aspects mostly fuel his own kit. Plus squeezing in basic cards is nearly impossible since it dilutes the deck of the aspects he needs to be effective.

Adam’s core ability is potent, the ability to drop any number of effects by discarding specific aspects allows him to react to nearly anything the villain does. Karmic Blast and Cosmic Awareness can be exceptionally powerful. Mystic Sense can keep Adam Warlock’s action economy from going negative, and Cosmic Ward can give the middle finger to the nastier treacheries.

Adam Warlock does tend to cycle through his deck often, but that also makes Soul World one of the best healing cards in the game, next to Aunt May. His playstyle is undeniably fun, and he can be even more effective if you can quickly and reliably employ a form of card counting, so that you can predict how likely any given aspect card is to show up.

The luck of the draw alongside extra encounter cards from cycling his deck make up his weaknesses, but I found Adam to be a fun and viable hero. The question is, how long will he remain fun? Most heroes feel drastically different depending on their aspect and build. Adam always feels the same, so his mileage is going to vary from player to player.

Regardless, I still appreciate his incredibly unique design. It’s nice to finally have a new mystic hero that doesn’t feel like a cheat code.

Scenarios

Mad Titan’s Shadow comes with five scenarios, and there are three sticking points I want to get out of the way before diving into each one. All five are incredibly unique and honestly really shocked me with how they use the game’s design space. If you found Kang refreshing, these scenarios might not completely match the brilliance of his design, but they all come pretty close.

Second, in contrast to Galaxy’s Most Wanted, none of the scenarios feel broken. Each one is challenging but fair. There are a couple of issues with how some of them scale at different player counts, but nothing glaring like Nebula’s resource tax or Ronan’s Brutality.

Villains and scenarios are arguably the most important aspect of the game’s replayability, and we get new ones far less frequently than we do heroes. It’s always a bummer when they are one stone short of an infinity gauntlet. That simply isn’t the case in Mad Titan’s Shadow.

Ebony Maw

Ebony Maw is a villain that seems like a complete pushover at first. Then you have two or three invocations breathing down your neck and pee a little. Especially when ones such as Rubble Storm or Fireball have no qualms about burning your house down with you in it while you snooze comfortably in alter-ego form.

Ebony Maw is all about invocations, slinging some of that nasty magic back at you that you’ve bullied the other villains with. Each one is a ticking clock ready to ruin your day once the last counter is removed. Especially, when you have more than one ready to go off at the same time. The fact that Invocations have surge means you’re almost always getting a two-for-one disaster.

Even if you think you’re keeping close tabs on them, a simple Channeling Trance will blow it up early, or force you to contend with another one. Outside of invocations, Ebony Maw has cards like Restrained that are particularly nasty. Restrained completely sets back your action economy and will lose you the game if you’re unprepared.

Ebony Maw is a lot of fun because it looks like you can bully him, but you quickly realize that beating him is like a game of chess rather than kickboxing. Invocations have almost no direct counter, so carefully calculated moves win the day. It fits Ebony Maw perfectly and serves as a great introduction to Mad Titan’s Shadow.

Corvus Glaive & Proxima Midnight

Tower Defense incorporates two villains at once, which definitely made me groan because The Wrecking Crew also does that, and it’s the most poorly designed scenario in the game.

Thankfully the concept is much more elegant in Mad Titan’s Shadow. Interestingly, fighting two villains at once is only half of the gimmick. You don’t actually lose by letting either main scheme complete, or rather not immediately. Under Siege damages Avenger’s Tower and Armies of Thanos deals encounter cards. You lose by allowing Avenger’s Tower to take too much damage.

While Proxima and Corvus take turns activating, you have to balance keeping yourself alive and the main schemes in check with an unclear time limit. You can mitigate damage to the tower, but it’s impossible to stop it entirely. Cards like Rain Fire ensure that there is a soft time limit.

The duo also use cards like Corvus’s Cunning and Proxima’s Power to boost each other. The scenario is an aggressive one that doesn’t allow you much time to set up if any. It forces you to change how you think about the game, similar to Infiltrate The Museum, though far less annoying.

The scenario feels like a much more refined version of the Wrecking Crew that actually works. The villains pull from the same deck and switch back and forth in an elegant way. It allows you to try and plan for the upcoming turn, based on whether Corvus or Proxima is going to activate. They are very challenging, but manageable and it does a great job of capturing the feel of a siege on Avenger’s Tower.

Thanos

The big purple man himself bears the Infinity Gauntlet against the heroes, but interestingly, the Infinity Gauntlet and stones are an encounter set that can be used with most villains. You could give it to Ronan if you hate yourself, or to Rhino because it’s conceptually hilarious.

The Infinity Deck is required for Thanos, and he specializes in using it. The Infinity Gauntlet boosts a villain’s stats, but also triggers a stone that is in play with a hero or puts one in play if they don’t have one. Each stone has a nasty effect, and the deck is reshuffled when it runs out. Thano’s being who he is gets an extra boost card when that happens. The Mad Titan can certainly hit hard too.

Thanos has stalwart, which is perfectly fitting for the powerhouse that he is. Making Thanos easy would have been a mistake. But they definitely had to strike a balance to not make him as frustratingly hard as Ronan. Stalwart is a fair trade-off, but I actually hate it being a permanent keyword. It certainly gives Thanos a unique edge, but it also completely invalidates a ton of cards in the pool, and I’m simply not a fan of that design.

Nitpicking aside, Thanos is a challenging but fair villain that’s fun to play against. His kit makes extra use of the infinity deck with The Mad Titan and Master of the Stones, ensuring even more Infinity Stones get played.

Thanos is powerful even without the stones. His helmet and armor make him difficult to attack, he gains toughness frequently, and you have to get through his flagship Sanctuary before you can even hope to draw blood.

Thanos ends up being a well-rounded villain that will keep you on your toes the entire fight. My personal qualms with stalwart aside, it does mean he is a villain that can’t be stun locked, nor can you confuse him to catch your breath.

The fun thing is, Thanos is capable of performing the snap. If you allow the Balance the Scales main scheme to complete, he removes half of your deck from the game. A fitting, thematic and devastating move that still allows you to make a comeback. Those comebacks feel very much akin to the later battle scenes in End Game.

Not only does the snap remove your options, it vastly increases the rate that you will be dealt extra encounter cards. It’s challenging, but victory is still possible and ensures that Thanos is every bit as threatening as he deserves to be. Come back victories against Thanos are extremely satisfying.

My biggest complaint is his own kit is somewhat small at just 19 cards. he relies heavily on the Infinity Gauntlet encounter set, but since it can be used with other villains it does take away from his own uniqueness a bit. Regardless, Mad Titan’s Shadow does the character justice in a great way.

Hela

Thanos is not the only supervillain powerhouse in the box. Ebony Maw, Corvus Glaive, and Proxima Midnight formidable though they may be, are still underlings to Thanos. Hela, is in a realm of her own, literally, and she’s pretty much unstoppable in it.

Hela can’t be beaten through conventional means. You need Odin’s help, and she has him held captive. Hela’s scenario is one of survival and fighting through harsh challenges. Going head to head with the goddess of death is required, but only to slow her down and buy you time.

Reducing her to 0 HP simply wounds her, lowering her ability to hurt you. She comes back to full strength whenever a side scheme enters the victory display and actually gains strength for each one there. The catch is, that’s the only way to free Odin. Each of her side schemes is a region, and those regions have guardians that must be defeated before you can tackle the side scheme.

You have to fight through three such gauntlets to rescue Odin, which will allow you to defeat Hela for good. Hela is another villain that turns the game’s normal conventions upside down and forces you to rethink how to play the game. You can’t race her, at least traditionally.

She also has a fantastic interaction with the attachments in her kit. Her Crown, Cloak, and Nightsword are potent and can’t be removed at all unless you wound her. The way the scenario manages to force the players to split their attention is brilliant. You can’t simply ignore Hela until you free Odin, her attachments will make sure of that.

I’m also a big fan of cards like Hela’s Domain that doubles as a boost card that punishes you for chump blocking with allies, we need more of that in the game. Hela is simply a brilliant villain that requires a two-pronged approach to win and ramps up in power as you get closer to victory. Battles with her end in a crescendo that all villains should strive for.

The Shadow Of The Mad Titan (Spoiler Villain)

As part of the review, I have to evaluate a villain that’s meant to be kept secret. This is your final warning.

The true big bad of the box was never Thanos, it was his shadow all along. A mischievous, and cunning trickster who needed to take the stones for himself. It’s none other than Loki, God of Mischief

Click To See Spoiler Images

Like Thanos, Loki uses the Infinity deck, but where Thanos is power, Loki is treacherous, and he even managed to bend the game’s difficulty settings in new ways. There are no expert versions. Instead, the difficulty you choose to play sets the number of Loki’s that you must defeat. Each time you defeat a Loki, it wasn’t the “real” Loki, come on! You know how many variants he has right?

Sometimes he will just swap Loki’s mid-fight by using The Trickster. Each version of Loki has different strengths. One has Stalwart, one is invincible while a side scheme is in play, another hits hard while the other schemes hard.

Loki’s unpredictable nature makes him difficult to pin down, and he constantly toys with the infinity stones while swapping around with side schemes such as Madness in Midgard and Open the Bifrost in addition to their other effects.

Click to See Spoiler Images

Where Thanos would pummel you into dust while you contend with the stones. Loki constantly alters the game state, changing how you interact with him and your priorities. He uses the stones much more liberally than Thanos with cards like Infinite Mischief. A few games against Loki, and you might just start to feel bad for the TVA.

Loki manages to be a traditional villain in the sense that you fight him in a standard way, as opposed to others such as Hela. But he alters the fight in such a way that it feels different. Right down to the fundamental differences in how his difficulty settings work.

Click To See Spoiler Images

He is well designed, fun, and once again captures the character nearly to perfection. It feels like you’re fighting Loki, and everything that such a fight would bring. It is a bit of a bummer that both Loki and Thanos make such heavy use of the Infinity deck, as that does borrow some of the innovation from each other. But it’s not enough to truly tarnish his design and he fits perfectly with the rest of the box.

Encounter Sets of Mad Titan’s Shadow

Encounter sets are one of the most important aspects of Marvel Champion’s gameplay variety. Mad Titan’s Shadow comes with a whopping 7 that can be mixed and matched with other villains.

The Black Order is threatening as both Black Dwarf, and Super Giant are brutal minions, but at just 4 cards it can be underwhelming. The Black Order Side scheme means it pairs well with any encounter set or villain that has Black Order Minions. I’d pair it with a second encounter set even against villains that traditionally only get one.

Armies of Titan is a fairly standard and generic minion rush set that pairs great with the aforementioned Black Order. The minions are fairly basic but, the Outriders reveal effect is brutal, especially on four-card hand heroes. I do wish the set was bigger, I really think two more outriders would have made it more memorable.

The Children of Thanos is another small set at five cards but has a larger presence as it places several other of the Mad Titan’s Shadow Villians into minion form. I’m a sucker for encounter sets with named minions, and I’d like to see more of it. Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight, and Corvus Glaive as minions give the set much more personality than some of the others.

The Infinity Gauntlet set is as much a star of the show as any of the real villains and it includes a gauntlet attachment and all 6 stones. The neat thing about the set is you can safely add it to any villain without giving up another encounter set, and without diluting the deck. Since it’s all kept separate from the encounter deck.

The Infinity Gauntlet set should really be considered another difficulty setting on any villain who doesn’t normally use it. It’s a great way to raise the bar on any of them. The scaling is a bit off in solo play though, as the stones are normally dispersed between players. When playing alone you have to deal with them all.

Legions of Hel is a weird one. It’s a great set that comes with a cool mechanic of turning your own allies against you. But its reliance on Undead minions means it doesn’t really have a lot of synergy with other sets and villains right now.

Frost Giants comes with some reprints but is a very threatening set that uses cards like Frozen to really set you back. Laufey is a formidable minion and Unnatural Storm shuts down a lot of heroes that rely on ready effects.

Enchantress takes things a step further from Legions of Hel and will seduce your own allies against you with Beguiled. The Enchantress herself is a bit of a pushover, but the fact that she also pulls a Seduced with her when she’s revealed makes up for it. I’m a fan of any set that takes allies down a notch, and Enchantress does that and more.

All of the encounter sets are fairly solid. But the Children of Thanos, Enchantress, and Infinity Gauntlet really stand out as great additions, while the rest are filler, good filler, but filler nonetheless.

Campaign

The campaign in Mad Titan’s Shadow is toned down compared to the other big box expansions. There is no market this time. Instead, each scenario has a few special campaign cards, and future battles within the campaign are slightly altered based on your actions in previous fights.

For example, if you clear a side scheme called Secure The Landing Pad, Cosmo will join you in the battle against Thanos. If you complete a side scheme called Save The Shawarma Place, each hero will add a Shawarma to their deck.

The campaign cards have far more soul and theme to them compared to the ones found in Galaxy’s Most Wanted, and they fit each battle decently well. That said, I’ve never been a fan of the campaigns, they lack the variety and replay value that the rest of Marvel Champions boasts, and the campaign cards could have been replaced with more meaningful content.

Verdict

The Mad Titan’s Shadow is easily the strongest big box expansion so far. It managed to not only do Thanos justice, but nearly everything contained in the box is a solid offering. Both heroes are unique, balanced, and interesting, and all the scenarios bring a new experience to the table.

My faith in the game wobbles back and forth. Many mistakes continue to be repeated instead of rectified. But Mad Titan’s Shadow really does take the best of the previous two big-box expansions while shaving off rotten bits. It’s clearly a must-have for Marvel Champions fans, and hopefully, future releases shadow the Mad Titan’s large footsteps

My Perspective

To be completely honest, I was considering dropping the game after this cycle. Marvel Champions has some deep-seated issues, some that I addressed in my piece on Fixing The Imbalance. I never made a part 2 because Galaxy’s Most Wanted and Drax heavily shook my faith in the game to the point that I didn’t feel like putting in additional effort to address its failures.

Mad Titan’s Shadow is competent enough to earn a second chance from me. Its heroes manage to grab me. In spite of the fact that I had no previous interest in them, and every single scenario is an excellent addition to the game. The box has a few minor issues, and I still dislike the campaign cards. But I’m extremely happy with it overall.

So, for now, at least, I’ll be sticking with Marvel Champions and watching the next several releases closely to see if the game can earn my trust enough to go beyond this cycle. In the meantime, I absolutely recommend Mad Titan’s Shadow.

You might also enjoy my review of the Nebula Hero Pack.

Pros

  • Two great heroes with unique playstyles
  • Five excellent villain scenarios
  • Plenty of new solid aspect cards
  • Seven good modular encounter sets, three of which are truly great.
  • The box is a massive improvement over Galaxy’s Most Wanted
  • Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet are awesome

Cons

  • The campaign is an improvement, but still a waste of space
  • There are a large number of reprints
  • Thanos having permanent stalwart invalidates tons of strategies
  • Adam Warlocks deckbuilding potential is limited
  • Blade is overpowered