Just Another Pretty Face?
If you’ve been playing this game for more than a few weeks, particularly in any kind of organised play setting, the chances are that you’ve come across Black Widow. The only character so far to appear in the distinct energy types, Black Widow is an inescapable part of the game.
Whilst it involves jumping a little out-of-order, I think it’s necessary to start by talking about one version of Black Widow, Tsarina.
I was fortunate enough to pull a Tsarina in booster pack one evening, but others have been less fortunate. AvX remains the hardest set to get hold of, and as a Super-Rare from that set, the cash price for a single copy remains sky-high.
I’m going to say at this point, that I think Tsarina is probably the only card in the game which is bad for the game, if not flat-out broken. At 2 purchase-cost and a total fielding cost of 1, she is easy to get out very early on, and even though her combat stats are low, she still has a high level of efficiency. Add to that the fact that her ability punishes opponents who don’t have high-level characters fielded, and the early-game devastation can be severe.
In a perfect scenario, you could buy all 4 Black Widows turns 1 and 2, draw them all on turn 3, and field each at level 2. They would then attack for 8, and deal an additional 8 damage if your opponent has no-one to spin down.
There are, of course, counters to Black Widow. My personal favourite is Beast: Genetic Expert early on, and the OP Marvel Girl mid-late game. Given that you will often want to let a Tsarina attack go undefended, to get her out of the field, along with the fact that she is quite fragile in defence, Cerebro is another option for slowing down her re-fielding, but that does involve devoting a significant amount of your team to handling a single character.
I’d also want to make it clear that I’m not saying that Tsarina is necessarily the most powerful rush card out there. I think you can make a good case for Guy Gardner being just as deadly. However, the crucial difference is that Guy Gardner is a starter character, which means that anyone who can get hold of a War of Light starter set can field him, whereas Tsarina is a super-rare. Equally, if you look at the approach Wizkids have taken to other powerful cards – such as the recent Errata on the Uncommon Vulture, they don’t seem to be afraid of Nerfing other cards which are less immediately destructive.
Amongst the other Super-Rares in the game, there is typically more of a trade-off: typically a higher purchase cost, or simply a less devastating ability – some kind of drawback which keeps the game in balance.
The future of Avengers vs X-Men seems to be in flux. In the last few months, I’ve heard that it’s getting reprinted, that it’s getting retired from being legal for OP, and indeed that both are being done at once. Whilst the future of the set remains up in the air, Tsarina will continue to be a major element.
Avengers vs X-Men
Putting Tsarina aside for a moment, Black Widow in the AvX set was a fist-energy character. As noted above, her stats were low all-around: cheap to buy and to field, but never hitting for more than 3.
Her common version allowed you to spin-down opposing characters engaged with her at the end of the attack step. However, to do this, you had to find a non-sidekick character that would neither KO nor be KO-ed by Black Widow whilst at level 2 or 3 – I’ve never seen it pulled off successfully.
The Rare had a bit more potential, being a “when fielded” effect that could spin a target character down to level 1. This is a solid ability, but it inevitably got pushed out by the Russian Monarch in the room
Age of Ultron
There was no Black Widow in the Uncanny X-Men set but, fittingly for the female face of the MCU, she returned for the Age of Ultron set last summer. Reimagined as a Mask character, her overall stat level was remarkably similar to before, with slightly less attack. Given how small the numbers we’re dealing with are though, the 2 3-cost versions of the character come out with noticeably lower efficiency than the AvX dice.
Natasha – At 2 cost, and a starter set character, it seemed like Natasha might be the answer to the Tsarina problem. This version could be fielded just as quickly and easily, and still cause headaches for the opponent without a character to spin down, whilst levelling the playing field to take the advantage away from those Ebay-ing singles.
The trouble is, that with no attack above 2, 4 unblocked Natasha’s do an absolute maximum of 8 damage (without globals). As noted above, that’s the same damage as a Tsarina, but it doesn’t have anything to compare with her 4 lots of spin-down damage.
Blocking continued to be a theme for the Age of Ultron Black Widows. “Spy” couldn’t be blocked by a single character if you had fielded another Avenger that turn, Cold Warrior could only be blocked by sidekicks, and Oktober had a “when fielded” to prevent a single character from blocking.
Given how poor Black Widow’s combat stats are once divorced from an ability, having to only block with sidekicks, or even simply letting her through unblocked just wasn’t that big a deal. Oktober looks the most promising option, as it prevents a character from blocking anyone, not just Black Widow – stopping Super-Rare Jocasta from blocking might be the difference between squashing your opponent with a big-hitter, and having to hold back for fear of that damage rebounding.
It’s also worth noting, just as an aside, that the Age of Ultron art for Black Widow seems to come from the same shot as the art for Spider-Woman
In Amazing Spider-Man, Black Widow became the first character to be shown in 3 of the 4 energy types. This version is shield energy and has similar stats to the earlier iteration – all 1s, 2s and 3s. In fact, the only difference stat-wise between these and the AvX dice is an extra point of attack at level 2, balanced out by an increased field-cost.
Once again, all 3 dice are Avengers and most interestingly, they all feature Aftershock abilities. For any who’s forgotten, it’s worth remembering that 1.) Aftershock abilities trigger when the character leaves play due to your opponent’s activity and 2.) They are not optional – this last element is important to keep in mind, as it means you need to be on the look-out for Aftershocks which could backfire on you.
Stinger – a 2-cost common, is perhaps the simplest and safest of the dice from the Spider-Man set: it offers the best efficiency, and allows you to do 1 damage to your opponent (or to a character if you want).
Stealthy – the uncommon is a bit more expensive at 3, but has the advantage that the Aftershock KOs upto 2 sidekicks, so if your opponent doesn’t have any sidekicks fielded, you don’t have to take out your own.
Professional – The most complex of the Black Widow cards in the set is the rare: Professional. This card is a 3-cost again, making for low efficiency, but has some interesting abilities which might help make up for that. First of all, her Aftershock ability draws you a dice, which helps you set up for a big turn, and seems like a guaranteed positive.
More tricky is what happens when you first draw the dice- you roll it and, if it’s an energy face, you lose a life and return Black Widow to the field – nice to have the character back, but the enforced damage could come back to bite you.
In many respects this functions in a similar way to “regenerate” which is definitely a key-word keeping an eye on if you need to build a wall against an onslaught (Guy Gardner again?) – if you like to gamble, the added dice-draw to go with your potential regeneration, but for me, this potential cost of rolling energy is too high to risk.
On stats alone, Black Widow is never going to be a power-house: in 3 versions, we’ve yet to see a single stat above 3, but she offers plenty of good low-cost options. In draft, both the uncommon and common versions from ASM are worth keeping an eye out for, whilst Natasha is definitely worth considering for a commons and starters only team. Ultimately though, for as long as Tsarina is available and legal for tournament play, she is going to be the reigning Black Widow, and we might as well get used to it.