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Fixing Marvel Champions Part 3

Fixing Marvel Champions Part 3

Overview

Marvel Champions is a great game, but, it’s not always the most balanced game. While it has improved as time goes on, some issues still exist. In part 1 of Fixing the Imbalance, I went over the basic philosophy behind the game’s issues and suggested simple tweaks for some of the weaker characters. In addition, I recommended a deck-building restriction to keep allies from overwhelming decks.

This link leads directly to the Hero Ally Restriction list for reference: Ally Restriction Per Hero

This link leads directly to Gideon’s Master Difficulty Module for reference: Gideon’s Master Module List

You can find a video version of this article on my YouTube Channel

However, the tweaks I made for The Hulk and Doctor Strange were band-aid solutions. In this article, I’m going to suggest more permanent fixes for them both and tweak Drax. I will rebalance a new difficulty level by messing with the Standard 2 and Expert 2 modular sets. In addition, I’m going to talk a bit about my original ally restriction.

If you haven’t read any of my previous articles on fixing the game, here is a shortlist of key points.

  1. Most of the game’s imbalance usually stems from a mismatched action economy.
  2. The fixes I suggest try to remain on the simple side without requiring anyone to print out custom content.
  3. I do all my testing with the ally deckbuilding restriction I propose in Fixing the Imbalance. This means I limit non-signature allies to 3 per deck, or 5 if I’m playing Leadership.
  4. I primarily play the game at 1 or 2 players.
  5. Video games get patched. It’s not as simple with board games, so homebrewing should never be shunned or shamed as taboo. Fun is the goal after all.

As with Fixing Galaxy’s Most Wanted, most of my testing was done while playing Expert Mode.

The Problem with Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange and Invocations

Doctor Strange is by far the most overpowered hero in the game. His ability to gain tempo and action advantage over the villain is unparalleled thanks to his powerful invocations that are disconnected from the rest of the game.

Without factoring in any sort of deckbuilding, Doctor Strange has the ability to draw an insane number of cards built right into his kit by combining Master of the Mystic Arts with Winds of Watoomb.

With his action advantage and potent invocations, he can control the board alone by answering anything the villain might throw at him with ease.

In Fixing the Imbalance I suggested dealing yourself an encounter card when you reshuffle his Invocation deck. That does help the villain keep pace to some degree. However, it’s largely not enough to bring the good doctor down to a reasonable level. We are going to KEEP that tweak, but we’re also going to add another one.

Mytsic Arts and Winds of Watoomb cards

I always like my fixes to make some degree of thematic sense. While theory crafting on how to tweak Doctor Strange further, my eyes fell upon his obligation card. Physical Toll. The obligation is fairly generic, but it’s the theme behind it that caught my attention.

Such blatant and unrestrained use of magic could take a toll on his body. What’s more, Doctor Strange is entirely arrogant enough in his own capabilities to throw caution to the wind when it comes to using magic. It just so happens there is a perfect set of cards for this situation. They even feature Doctor Strange in the artwork.

Fixing Doctor Strange

Physical Toll and Medical Emergancy cards

In Rise of Red Skull, there is a set of campaign obligation cards called Medical Emergency. In the campaign, if you draw one you must play it right away. Medical Emergency causes you to take damage at the end of your turn if you’re in hero form. To get rid of it you must spend a physical resource while in alter ego, and it discards five cards from your deck. Mechanically and thematically, it’s perfect.

We are going to add three Medical Emergency to Doctor Strange’s deck. They do not count toward the number of cards in your deck when deck building. When you draw a Medical Emergency, you must put it into play as soon as you draw it. But you also draw a card to replace it. We want to balance Doctor Strange, not over nerf him.

This tweaks several factors of his character. It punishes relying on excessive card draw to control the game, as you risk putting multiple copies of the card in play at once. It continually drains away at his HP if you leave it in play, and requires him to cool off and rest in order to get rid of it.

Finally, it makes your deck run out of cards quicker. Resulting in more encounter cards that help the villain keep pace with Strange. It also adds a dimension of nuance to factor in about pushing your luck and planning to mitigate straining yourself too hard through the threads of magic.

Medical emergancy

This tweak alongside the previous tweak regarding the invocation deck finally brings Doctor Strange down to a level on par with the average hero. You will initially feel extreme whiplash as this fix knocks him down several pegs. There will be an adjustment period where he feels over nerfed. That will pass over time as you learn to adjust to the new playstyle.

However, if after several tries you feel it is too much, feel free to knock the number of Medical Emergencies down to 2. On the other hand, I have an eye for design and mechanics, but that doesn’t mean I’m a pro at the game. If you still find Doctor Strange to be too strong, add the fourth Medical Emergency to the deck.

On a personal level, this is one of my favorite tweaks that I’ve made because Doctor Strange is my favorite Marvel Superhero and for over two years I’ve rarely played him because of how he trivialized the game. Now I finally get to play the Sorceror Supreme the way I’ve always wanted to.

The Problem with Hulk

The four-card hand is a mistake in any hero. The mathematics of the game simply disagree with it, but Hulk’s design makes the issue so much worse. The Hulk was made to be a simple hero that kids could pick up and smash things with, he is pretty much designed to play one card a turn.

That simply does not work in Marvel Champions from a design standpoint, and it’s, well, not fun from a gameplay standpoint. In Fixing the Imbalance, I proposed playing the Hulk with a five-card hand in hero form. That certainly helps, and we are going to KEEP that tweak.

Hulk and Limitless Strength cards

However, The Hulk’s issues run too deep for that to fix him completely. His kit is very costly. At times you may get lucky with a limitless strength in your hand but it’s inconsistent. Furthermore, not only does Hulk lack a general ability in his hero form, he has a weakness instead by forcing you to discard your hand every turn. This prevents you from being able to combo cards outside of the luck of the draw.

There’s not much I can do to tweak his kit or hero card. His kit is actually potent when he is capable of using it, but I had to think pretty hard on a viable solution. I wanted to give Hulk more options, and lean into his survivability since his high HP is a defining feature compared to most heroes.

The MCU only slightly leaned into it, but there are actually many incarnations of the Hulk, from Professor Hulk, Worldbreaker, Maestro, and more. When you sit down to build a Hulk deck, who’s to say which version you plan on playing? With the following tweak, I’m going to try and capture the spirit of that idea.

Fixing The Hulk

The Hulk being so vastly underpowered does have a slight advantage. It allowed me to dig into a fix that completely breaks any other hero. Once again we’re going to turn to the Rise of Red Skull for help.

Improved attack and Thwart Upgrades

When you go to build a deck for Hulk, pull out the following campaign upgrade cards from Red Skull: Improved Thwart, Improved Attack, Improved Defense, and Improved Recovery. Choose ONE of them to give Hulk. It has the setup keyword and starts in play. These address several issues with the Hulk.

They lean into his Hulkiness by increasing his HP. They sub in an actual ability for him that he otherwise lacks outside of discarding your hand. That ability helps his economy by letting him draw a card, but it requires a direct action to trigger depending on which one you chose.

It also breaks open deck-building possibilities. For example, adding 1 thwart to Hulk might not seem like much, but opens up new possible combos with cards that require a basic thwart action. Extending his survivability with an increase to HP gives Hulk more time to act. Addtionally the extra draw ability combined with a five-card hand really helps bring Hulk up to a reasonable level.

Improved Defense and Recovery upgrades

You can come up with some awesome builds too. A Protection Hulk can get five defense with an armored vest. While an aggressive Hulk can attain really high levels of attack damage. But the thing is, it rarely breaks him because leaning into either one leaves gaps to be exploited. Alternatively, you can give up those extremes to cover his weaknesses and that also comes out balanced.

There are certain builds that can break him like this, but that’s true of most heroes. The key point is in the vast majority of decks, it’s simply going to bring the Hulk on par with the average hero and more importantly, make him fun to play.

The Problem with Drax and How to Fix it

Drax is the strongest of the four card hand heroes. Much like Thor he is close to being great and can actually excel in certain builds as is. The problem is that a hero that’s weaker than the rest outside of a few specific builds is still an underpowered hero. Drax can be strong, and he can snowball, especially at higher player counts where he can rely on teammates. But it takes Drax several rounds to meet the same level most heroes start the game at.

Drax like Thor walks a tight rope between power levels. You can’t simply give him a five-card hand. If you did, he would become broken once he obtained his vengeance counters and Diwi Theet Mastery. Just like Thor, I found the solution to be the same.

Drax and Diwi Theet mastery

My suggested fix for Thor was to give Asgard the setup keyword. My suggested fix for Drax is to give Diwi Theet Mastery the setup keyword. It’s a small tweak that doesn’t break Drax, but helps level him out without needing to survive multiple turns first. It’s a situational five-card hand that can be targeted by the villain’s encounter cards.

Drax won’t always get five cards since it requires him to attack, but that’s a bit of nuance you have to factor in. It works out because of how well Drax is designed in the first place. He was on the cusp of being a balanced hero and just need a little pinch on the bottom to get him the rest of the way there. Hopefully, we don’t see another Hero with a four-card hand in the future.

The Difficulty Dilemma

Since the game was released, hardcore players have needed a difficulty beyond Expert. The designers attempted a band-aid fix with the Heroic mode, but it’s terrible because it breaks the game’s internal mathematics and action economy. A second attempt was made with The Hood pack, as it includes new optional standard and expert 2 sets.

Marvel Champions Difficulty Modular sets

Sadly, they largely fall into the same mathematical issue as heroic mode, but with extra steps. I go into detail about this in my review of The Hood Scenario Pack. Basically, the reliance on surge pushes it over the edge. All of it is disproportionally punishing at lower player counts.

The two sets did offer me a framework to make a set of my own by using existing cards that gives the game a difficulty above expert. It’s challenging but better balanced.

One look at the name of my site will reveal to you that I’m terrible at naming conventions, so I just call it Master difficulty. To play Master difficulty you will play against stages 2 and 3 of the villain and add the following cards as the Master module, replacing the standard and experts sets.

Master List

  • 1x Formidable Foe Standard Side (with 3 or more players only)
  • 1x Ruination
  • 1x Seek and Destroy
  • 1x Masterplan
  • 1x Caught Off Guard
  • 1x Overwhelming Force
  • 2x Advance
  • 2x Shadows of the past
  • 2x Total Annihilation

This provides a high degree of challenge that actually targets many of the player’s stronger points without simply piling as many cards on them at once. I’ll explain the reasons behind the choice of cards.

Gideon’s Master Difficulty

Gideon's Master Difficulty Module

First of all the Steady keyword is more punishing at lower player counts, but less so at higher ones since more players can pile on the status cards. Higher levels of Marvel Champions already place a high emphasis on thwarting. So I think the acceleration icon on the expert side is overkill given the rest of the Master set. So we will use Formidable foe, but only with three or more players, and only on the standard side.

Ruination and Masterplan both serve to add pressure using side schemes without over piling encounter cards on the players. Both can potentially thin the villain’s deck leading to an acceleration icon or enhance the side schemes in play. I also like Ruination’s four boost icons as it’s rather unique, scary, and can be turned against the villain with certain cards.

At the same time neither are overly destructive. They are something you need to keep in mind but won’t dogpile you when they come out.

Shadows of the Past and Seek and Destroy Cards

Nemesis sets are underutilized. They rarely come out, and plenty of heroes have nemesis sets that are far too weak for how little they hit the table. By adding two Shadows of the Past and Seek and Destroy we are making the threat of their appearance a constant. It makes it more likely that more than one will see a play at higher player counts.

This brings more of a hero’s uniqueness to the forefront where your choice of hero actively influences the villain’s potential on a more consistent level. The fact that many Nemesis sets aren’t super threatening matters less when they have a much higher chance of appearing during the game. Plus, Shadows of the Past surges if your nemesis minion already entered play, so having two of them in the deck isn’t a dead draw.

Caught off Guard and Overwhelming Force both directly target a player’s engine. Some heroes can snowball heavily once set up, and these cards slow that down. It’s another factor to keep in mind as you play your supports, upgrades, and allies rather than simply firing and forgetting.

Caught Off Guard and Overwhelming Force cards

Advance is one of the scariest cards in the game, especially at lower player counts. The tension of an unexpected Scheme is needed in the game, especially for villains that typically advance threat slowly. However, the counterpart of advance, Dark Dealings is way too far. +1 Scheme and the boost effect is overly brutal, especially at lower player counts, so we’re going to stick with Advance.

Total Annihilation is the only surge concession I’ll make because it brings much-needed ally hate to the game. Chump blocking is dispositionally strong, and overkill is a direct counter to it. I especially like that it adds overkill as a boost effect. Total Annihilation must be treated with the same fear as Advance because being unprepared for it will lose you the game. It will also shake some players out of their comfort zone when it comes to playstyles as chump blocking can’t be relied on the entire time

I didn’t include Assault, because Total Annihilation directly replaces it, and I didn’t include Dark Dealings for reasons already mentioned. Most other cards from the Standard 2 and Expert 2 set were cut due to the surge keyword. Piling on encounter cards on top of another effect is a poor way to raise the difficulty. Total Annihilation is a special case, but one I built the entire set around.

I didn’t include Gang Up because Total Annihilation is more than enough aggression. Surging from Total Annihilation into Gang Up feels awful. I excluded Exhaustion because there are plenty of effects that exhaust the player in most villain decks and modulars, and it has the surge keyword. Underfire is literally just Double Surge, so it got the boot too. Mob Mentality doesn’t have Surge but it’s a more brutal version of Gang Up which already didn’t make the cut for reasons I’ve already gone over.

Master Plan and Ruination cards

The end result is a mode that’s a step beyond Expert that forces you to account for threats you usually don’t have to worry about except with specific villains. You do need to be aware of overkill with Total Annihilation, the fact that your supports and upgrades are more likely to be targeted. Side schemes will be more prevalent and your nemesis is going to barge at any moment. But it won’t force you to adopt specific deck builds and playstyles, only mindfulness when it comes to both.

On that note, if you use my ally deckbuilding restriction that I suggested in Fixing the Imbalance. I have adjusted it when playing on Master. You may include one additional ally. In most decks, this would mean 4 not including signature allies. In Leadership decks, it means the limit is 6 not including signature allies.

However, we should talk about allies a bit more.

Alienated Allies

Basic allies

I’ve slightly altered my ally restriction to account for heroes that do not have a signature ally. Normally the limit is 3 allies per deck not including signature allies and 5 for leadership not including signature allies. However, any hero without a signature ally may include 1 additional hero to make up the difference.

I stand by my ally restriction. As a whole, it brings the value of allies down to better match other card types and leads to more unique deck-building than simply throwing in as many as you can afford.

But it’s not perfect. One of my YouTube viewers commented that it disproportionately affects certain heroes and that it doesn’t make sense to give Leadership more of the strongest card types when it’s the strongest aspect. Both points are absolutely correct, and I knew that from the time I made the restriction.

Realistically speaking, there is a limit to what I can do. It’s not my game, and I’m not the designer. Short of remaking the game myself, there’s only so much I can change. I think my ally restriction is the simplest fix that addresses the most issues regarding allies on a wide scale. It has holes, but honestly, no fix I propose will be perfect. They aren’t meant to be, they are just meant to make the game feel better, and more fun.

Leadership allies

However, I will propose an alternative to my ally restriction, with the caveat that I’m openly admitting that this one will not be perfect either. I’ve devised a hero-specific ally limit, regardless of aspect or difficulty. These limits never include signature allies.

I’ve devised these numbers through a combination of theme, and game mechanics. I will update this list as I dig into more heroes as they release, and you can always find an updated document of my Marvel Champions fixes through my Patreon. Enjoy.

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Ally Restriction Per Hero

  • Adam Warlock: 8
  • Ant-Man: 3
  • Black Panther: 4
  • Black Widow: 4
  • Captain America: 5
  • Captain Marvel: 3
  • Doctor Strange: 3
  • Drax: 4
  • Gamora: 3
  • Groot: 4
  • Hawkeye: 5
  • Hulk: 4
  • Iron-Man: 4
  • Ms. Marvel: 4
  • Nebula: 4
  • Quicksilver: 3
  • Rocket: 4
  • Scarlet Witch: 3
  • She-Hulk: 4
  • Spectrum: 3
  • Spider-Man: 4
  • Spider-Woman: 3
  • Star-Lord: 5
  • Thor: 4
  • Valkyrie: 5
  • Venom: 4
  • Vision: 4
  • War-Machine: 3
  • Wasp: 4