Next step in our Heroic mode series...Ultron. We take on this villain with his recommended encounter set, Under Attack. Friday's are Marvel Champions night, so pop into our live stream over at twitch.tv/homebasegames!
Heroic mode is definitely the masochistic version of Marvel Champions, and Heroic Ultron is the epitome of this emotional pain and suffering – he's just a jerk... Heroic Ultron is very difficult to defeat, and you're always in danger of getting absolutely wrecked by a really bad ordering or combination of encounter cards during the Villain phase.
I can't even tell you the number of times we've lost to Heroic 1 Ultron... Back in the Spring when we were trying to beat him for the first time, we must have tried a dozen different Hero combinations and even more deck changes before we finally took him down. We got there with Iron Man Justice and Black Panther Leadership.
At a high level, we found that we needed Iron Man's incredible thwarting powers to help keep Ultron's threat in check, particularly with Side Schemes, and his ability to dish out big chucks of damage after his suit is assembled with Supersonic Punch and Repulsor Blast. We needed Black Panther to play lots of Allies to absorb damage, and then slowly set up his own suit to eventually Wakanda Forever and wreck some Drones!
Here are some of the key lessons we had to learn (the hard way) to be able to beat Heroic Ultron...
Stay on the first main scheme as long as possible
Sounds easy (and obvious)...but it will be hard to do. The first main scheme – The Crimson Cowl – only has a threshold of 3 threat per person, which is very low. All Ultron has to do is scheme once with a boost of 2 or 3 and it's gone. Since Tony Stark usually needs to stay on his Alter-Ego side the first turn to draw more cards and trigger his Futurist ability to dig for tech, that means Ultron will scheme...and the odds are pretty good he'll hit a 2+ boost.
To deal with this, we included a few cards in both our decks to help mitigate Ultron's threat. Under Surveillance (aka "The Van") is definitely an MVP for this situation. Increasing the threat threshold from 6 to 10 is a big deal because it guarantees you won't lose The Crimson Cowl without a second scheming trigger, so it gives you some much needed breathing room. Emergency is another helpful card in this situation to get you through that first turn; we typically include 2 copies in each player's deck. Honestly, if we didn't have "The Van" or at least 1 copy of Emergency in our opening hands (after a Futurist trigger), we would scoop and try again...it was that big of a deal.
Play lots of Allies
Playing Allies to act as "meat shields" for your Heroes is super important. Ultron dishes out a lot of damage, between himself, the Drone minions he puts into play, plus a number of his encounter cards that deal more damage – Rage of Ultron x2, Swarm Attack x2, and Concussive Blast x2 are his cards that can hit you again, and that's in addition to the Standard encounter set cards that trigger another attack (Assault x2 and Gang Up x1). And speaking of Concussive Blast...make sure your Hero stays above 2 health while both copies are still in the Villain deck because it hits "characters", meaning you can still get damaged while on your Alter-Ego side...we've lost games to double Concussive Blast killing a character on Alter-Ego more than once.
Ideally, you'll want an Ally to absorb each of Ultron's attacks, and then have your Heroes only take damage from the Drone minions. So play Allies, use them once, and then let them die from defending. It will be hard to keep your Allies around anyways because of Concussive Blast, so you might as well have them mitigate some damage. The best Allies are definitely Hawkeye to hit any minions that come into play and Squirrel Girl to wipe out the board of 1/1 Drones. Use Make the Call to bring those 2 back as often as you can.
Get the Iron Man "thwart train" set up ASAP
Thwarting is paramount in this match, which is why we ended up with Iron Man Justice. Like we said before, you want to stay on the first main scheme as long as you can. The reason is the second main scheme – Assault on NORAD – can force you to put more Drone minions into play, and cause you to get swarmed very quickly if you aren't careful.
Building up what we call the Iron Man "thwart train" of the Arc Reactor, Heroic Intuition, plus the Mark V Helmet to thwart away 7+ threat most turns gives you the flexibility to put fewer Drones into play from Assault on NORAD. Believe me...you will be making lots of Drones in this match, so any reasonable opportunity to cut that down is a good thing. Keep in mind, you may not be able to get all these pieces together right away, since there's a chance these cards could get turned into "facedown Drone minions", so you may need to try and cycle through your deck faster to get them back.
If Iron Man is struggling to get set up, use your Allies to thwart and prioritize playing the Justice Allies, in particular Daredevil to thwart and kill a 1/1 Drone minion, Jessica Jones to get rid of side schemes, and Agent Coulson who can get you a copy of Counterintelligence.
Don't let Ultron's upgrades sit in play the whole game
Between his Villain deck and the Under Attack cards, Ultron has 4 different Upgrade Attachments that can be really annoying – Program Transmitter has +1 SCH and adds threat to side schemes as well, Vibranium Armor gives him Tough status after he takes damage, Concussion Blasters adds +1 ATK and gives him Retaliate 1, and Upgraded Drones makes all the "facedown Drone minions" stronger. While it's possible, and sometimes necessary, to play around these for a time...eventually you have to deal with them.
There are 3 reasons why these attachments are a huge pain, outside of whatever game effect they apply. One, they require a Hero Action to discard them, so you can't be on your Alter-Ego side. You'd be surprised how often you have an opportunity to get rid of one of these, but can't because you already flipped over. Two, you have to spend specific resources to get rid of them, which can be difficult. Three, for all but the Upgraded Drones you have to exhaust your Hero to discard the attachment.
So basically, while on your Hero side you have to spend pretty much your entire turn getting rid of just one of these upgrades. Later in the game Iron Man can sometimes get rid of two if he happens to draw some of his double resource cards because Arc Reactor let's him ready. But honestly, Black Panther is the best in the game at removing these because his Vibranium resource card counts as 2 resources of any color.
You can't always make the optimal play
Sounds awful...I know, but to beat Heroic Ultron you often have to play it safe and not optimal. Each turn you need to evaluate where you're "weak", and try to plug the gap. Do you have Allies to block for each of you at least once? Are you killing minions? Are you keeping the board clear of side schemes and upgrade attachments? Is the threat on the main scheme low enough that it shouldn't hit its threshold this turn? Prioritizing any one of these things is far more important than playing out each card in your hand perfectly.
If you ever watch our streams or replays, you'll hear us strategizing and coordinating just about every single turn to be sure we're accounting for all this and sometimes more. There's been quite a few times where we've literally said "This seems awful, but I think I have to do it so we don't die to <fill in the blank>..." Again, playing it safe and making sure you limit the chances of encounter cards wrecking you is often the best way to go.
With Heroic Ultron, you're usually just trying to keep up with everything he's throwing at you until you can get fully set up with both Heroes. Then, you'll burst him down quickly at the end with Supersonic Punch, Repulsor Blast, and Wakanda Forever like I mentioned at the top of this article.
Before you push through to Ultron III, clear up the board
By the time you've dealt Ultron II enough damage to push him to his third stage, you're at the tipping point where you could win pretty quickly or you could die to damage...it's usually one or the other. But be careful not to get to that third stage too early – you need to do some board cleanup first.
It's important to kill all the Drone minions before Ultron III comes out for two reasons. One, you can't deal Ultron III damage while there are Drones in play. Two, Drones get a permanent boost to their attack and health, so they hit harder and are tougher to kill. It's also noteworthy that Ultron III will "spawn" 2 Drone minions when he's revealed via Ultron's Imperative. If you let yourselves get swarmed by Drones at this point in the game, you will very likely die to damage.
The best play you can make before flipping to Ultron III is to kill all the Drones currently in play and get Hawkeye on the board to shoot the ones that spawn. Ideally, you'll want to Make the Call to get Hawkeye back as often as possible in this last stage to kill all the Drone minions that get put into play with encounter cards so the Heroes can focus on dealing as much damage as possible directly to Ultron.
Well...if you decide to torture yourself with Heroic Ultron, hopefully all this helps you beat him! The decklists we use in each of our streams are timestamped in our videos on YouTube, so feel free to use what's worked for us or come up with your own decks! Let us know what's worked for you in the comments below!