Ironheart follows a playstyle similar to Ironman of building up a badass suit. Where Tony Stark assembles his suit piece by piece. Ironheart’s suit is fully functional, but she needs to upgrade it as the game progresses.
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Ironheart is an interesting character because she simultaneously occupies the weak and strong side of the hero spectrum. She has a rough start early in the game, meets the average power level with her second version of the suit, and then becomes straight-up overpowered by her third iteration.
If Ironheart’s versions were taken in a vacuum. I would heavily criticize her design for being too weak or too powerful. But there’s a near-perfect pace of progression that rewards you for taking those early game lumps by being a monster in the late game.
It completely falls apart in some situations, but Ironheart is a unique case where I’ll take the trade. I’d rather have new heroes pursue the risky side of innovation than follow a safe generic standard in order to be balanced in every situation. Ironheart is a great example of why I feel that way.
Ironheart’s power scales dramatically between her forms, and her first form is quite weak, despite her solid stats. This is because many of her cards scale in power directly with her version number. But also the fact that she has a four-card hand.
If you have been with me for long, you will know my absolute disdain for four-card hands. Every single hero who has one has problematic issues due to the game’s internal math. And I’ve personally tweaked them myself to become more viable.
I won’t have to do that with Ironheart, and it’s not because the four-card hand isn’t as debilitating on her. It absolutely is. But because her design explicitly expects you to start weak and eventually progress straight over the line into being brokenly powerful.
When playing Ironheart, your first focus is to level up to version 2 as fast as possible. This will likely mean switching to alter ego frequently as Riri Williams can place a progress counter with a science resource.
Additionally, Ironheart has other cards that add progress counters. Flyover and Photon Beam remove threat and deal damage respectively, and add 1 to 2 progress counters if timed well. Stroke of Genius is also a fantastic resource card that grants a progress counter and draws a card simply for spending it.
Once Ironheart reaches version 2, she can begin carrying her own weight. Her cards receive a modest boost in power, her stats are further improved, and she has a five-card hand. Better still, If she can manage to get to version 3, the villain will be the one on the back foot.
The sheer power of an upgraded Ironheart isn’t obvious at first glance because there are several factors that contribute to it. Even in version 1, her stats aren’t bad, and 3 defense is important to keep her alive while she attempts to accumulate progress counters. At version 2, her basic stats are better than nearly every other hero as she becomes a 2, 2, and 3. She also gains aerial, which opens up combo potential.
In version 3 she stands above other heroes at 3, 2, and 3. But her stats are only a small part of her power. The rest comes from her core version 3 ability and the way her cards interact with her version number. As a hero action, with no limit. You may remove a progression counter to deal two damage to an enemy.
Photon Beam now becomes a two-drop card with the potential to deal 8 total damage spread out thanks to progression counters. Flyover is a two-drop card that removes 3 threat and offers up to four damage. Stroke of Genius now deals 2 damage and nets you a card just for spending it. All thanks to the progression counters.
Any time you switch to alter ego form, You can build up damage while gaining any other benefit for switching. It gets even more intense with Ironheart’s other cards. Photon Blasters and Propulsion Jets both add +2 HP and deal damage or remove threat when they exaust respectively. The amount is equal to Ironheart’s version number!
New and Improved grants you the choice of a tough status card, searching for an Ironheart card, or you can ready Ironheart. You can choose one for each version number, in her third form, you get all three!
Sector Scan is an expensive event, but do not underestimate its power. You need to understand that you can look at the top card of the encounter deck, at any time, for the rest of the round. This means you can look after every deal, boost or draw in the villain phase and make decisions based on that. It borders the line of being broken but is offset by its cost. However, a version 3 Ironheart plays it for free!
Once the ball gets rolling, Ironheart can deal a ton of damage each round spread out pretty much wherever she wants it. She can Thwart a large amount of threat and defend if needed. She can even make moves based on what encounter cards are coming. All with a large 6-card hand that version 3 provides. A version 2 Ironheart is formidable, but a version 3 Ironheart is overpowered.
If that weren’t enough, both Ronnie Willaims and Tony Starks AI can help you get there, and open up your options once you’re there. While Brawn can help you generate those needed science resources while he is exhausted. This is all without any playstyle support from aspect cards, of which the possibilities are massive.
Why It Works
The problem with most heroes who have four-card hands is it takes several turns of preparation for them to just meet the power level that every other hero starts the game with. If Ironheart ended at version 2, she would still be marginally better, since she would have a permanent five-card hand, but would face the same issue. However, she doesn’t stop there.
In version 3 she surpasses most heroes in the roster completely. She is able to cover multiple angles with ease which can be further enhanced with aspect cards.
That takes away all the sting and frustration from playing a weaker character. Since the reward for suffering through it isn’t just being an okay hero, it’s being an incredibly powerful hero. At the same time, where someone like Doctor Strange is broken from turn 1, Ironheart has to struggle for it, and that makes her entertaining to play.
You don’t simply stroll into power, you earn it. In fact, Ironheart cant stand against many villains at all without help from her team. Some villains accelerate too quickly to spend two or three turns leveling to version 2 and several more to version 3. In solo play, she will struggle against even the easiest villains.
This places Ironheart in a unique position on the roster. She is flexible enough to be built in any aspect, yet without teamwork, she will struggle to do much of anything. However, if other players can help buy you the time you need by carrying your burden of the weight. You will pay back that debt with interest later on.
The whole process is incredibly fun, and Ironheart is easily one of my favorite heroes to release. She nails the joy of being a powerhouse without feeling like a cheat code, because while you’re busy pushing the buttons, the villains gonna be kicking you in the ribs.
Just like Nova who was released at the same time, Ironheart comes with a bunch of powerful new aspect and basic cards. This time with a focus on Leadership. Cloud 9 is a fantastic addition to aerial decks and is able to buff the thwart of a player’s whole squadron. It’s only fitting that the pack includes some potent aerial allies such as Vivian, who can shut down the effects of a nasty card long enough for you to deal with it.
Falcon can help you ready key champions, and Snowguard is one of the most flexible allies released so far. Whatever you need, Snowguard can provide it. Patriot further enhances champion characters, and with the release of Nova and Ironheart, the champion keyword has really started to see some potential.
To hammer the point home, Go For Champions is one of the most potent cards in the game if played in a champions-focused multiplayer game. Nothing like making the whole squad invincible for the entire round. Ingenuity is a great resource generator for the Genius trait, and that’s awesome.
Interestingly, some of the most powerful Leadership cards aren’t allies. Both, Go All Out and Push Ahead perplex me. Why? They shouldn’t be leadership cards.
Letting you use your entire set of stats to either thwart or attack is awesome, but it’s further cementing that Leadership can do what all the other aspects do just as well as they can. I feel like they should have been justice and aggression cards. Even with years of additions, Leadership is still the strongest aspect, and design decisions like this leave me scratching my head.
Ironheart also has a pretty solid premade deck. The included allies combo well with her, and Morale Boost plays on her high stats. Both, Push Ahead and Go All Out work great with her powerful version 2 and 3 statistics as well.
There is a bit of weirdness though. There’s a reprint of Agent 13 which only combos with Helicarrier and R&D Facility. I get what they went for here, but it’s too inconsistent to shine.
The deck doesn’t actually include reprints of the basic energy cards, and while that’s nice because I have a binder full of them, they definitely needed to be in her deck because of her starting four-card hand. Swap out Agent 13 for a champion or aerial ally and R&D facility for a copy of each basic energy, and you have a very strong deck.
Ironheart’s nemesis set feels like an encounter module. Where I recently praised Nova’s Nemesis for countering him directly, Ironheart’s has very little interaction with her mechanically. This is probably for the best, as a direct counter to Ironheart would make an unlucky Shadow of the Past devastating in the early game. As it stands, her Obligation, a Minor Setback, is aptly named, as it’s likely to set Ironheart back an entire turn from leveling up.
Taking the nemesis set where it stands, it’s fairly interesting. Lucia Von Bardas gets buffed when she has a tough status, and also gains one when the villain phase ends. This means 90% of the time she is entering the game with toughness. Rule by Force changes based on whether or not she’s in play, Cyborg Tech is a nasty attachment, and Political Retribution has multiple effects based on the board state.
It’s a decently challenging nemesis set that just feels disconnected from the Ironheart character. I understand why it’s disconnected but I feel like there was some potential design space to create a set that might have worked differently from the norm. In the same way that Ironheart defies standard hero conventions.
Zzzax Encounter Module
Alongside Nova, Ironheart is one of the first heroes to come with an encounter module. Zzzax is a unique one in that it revolves around lightning resources that a player controls. Zzzax gets stronger, his side scheme gains more threat, and both, Air Static and Zzzap will hurt you for having them. If that weren’t enough Haywire will convert all your resources to lightning, which can stall out quite a few characters and builds in addition to making Zzzax’s cards more potent.
Its design is solid all around, and you feel its presence when it’s included in the encounter deck. However, I also feel like it’s fairly forgettable. I appreciate the Armadillo module that came with Nova because it was so distinct. Zzzax interacts with lightning resources in a unique way, but it really isn’t that memorable in the way that many modules are.
We’re losing aspect cards in order to have these modules, so I really want to see more from them to make the trade worthwhile. Zzzax just doesn’t have that kind of spark.
Every hero in the Marvel Universe is a fount of potential when introduced to the game. Unfortunately, I feel like some of them can end up feeling generic, samey, or underutilized. With Ironman and Warmachine already available, the space for Ironheart certainly felt limited, but this time. They really managed to knock it out of the park.
Ironheart shares the suit building with Ironman, but in a radically different way, and she pushes the boundaries of where a hero can sit on the scales of balance. They finally managed to make me accept a four-card hand hero, albeit the hand is temporary. But I wouldn’t have said that was possible prior to playing her.
Ironheart has some issues, she’s not very viable in solo play, but it’s less a flaw and more of a consequence of the intent behind her design. It’s still an important issue for me to point out, however. Additionally, the new aspect and basic cards are difficult to pass up. There’s plenty of value in the pack.
I have a soft spot for tech-suit heroes. Ironman is my second favorite hero in the Marvel universe, and Warmachine is pretty up there, so I’ll admit some bias may be at play here. But Ironheart is definitely one of my favorite Marvel Champions heroes to be released so far. That alone is more than enough for me to recommend the pack.
- A great twist on the slow build playstyle
- Ironheart’s progression from weakling to powerhouse is a ton of fun
- Great new aspect and basic cards, including more support for existing keywords
- The premade deck is solid
- A hero that feels unique
- The Zzzax encounter module feels fairly standard
- Ironheart’s Nemesis set feels like an encounter module with no personal connection
- Push Ahead and Go All Out feel misplaced in Leadership
- Ironheart struggles in solo play