Greetings, or should I say привет, my fellow Slavic enthusiasts to some first thoughts on Marvel Crisis Protocol’s Winter Guard. Below you will find some of my humble opinions on the Winter Guard before their official release. One of the big changes that could severely alter the direction of the Winter Guard are the rest of their affiliated tactic cards which we have not yet seen. Before we think about this Slavic wonder group’s performance on the table, let’s take a moment to catch up on who the heck the Winter Guard are
The Winter Guard were originally lovingly known as the “Soviets response to the Avengers.” During the height of the Cold War, several characters that would later make up the Winter Guard would be reoccurring villains in both Iron Man and Captain America comics. After the fall of the real-life Soviet Union in 1991 Marvel began to shift its understanding of these Russian themed heroes. In Iron Man Volume 3 Issue #9 we saw the first appearance of the Winter Guard. In this portrayal we see the Winter Guard with members like Darkstar, Vanguard, Vostok, and others defend a Russian village and share their commitment to defend the Russian people. Thus, Marvel began the shift of Cold War era Russian themed villains into heroic themed Russian defenders.
Membership of the Winter Guard would shift from time to time almost in mirror of the Avengers throughout the years with the most modern team being led by Crimson Dynamo alongside Ursa Major, Darkstar, Red Guardian, Perun, Chernobog, Vostok, and the Red Widow. Let us now take a few moments to take a look at each of the soon to be released Winter Guard.
First, we have the leader of the affiliation Crimson Dynamo. Right out of the gate we can start to see an overarching theme for the Winter Guard affiliation. Crimson brings to the field 6 stamina on both healthy and injured sides. On top of a beefy 12 stamina pool Crimson’s defense is a 4 physical- 3 energy- 4 mystical. Now what if I told you that this stud can also reduce damage by 1! Well, he certainly does with his Carborundum Matrix Alloy passive superpower. Without going into too much detail, I am convinced that Crimson will be a wonderful, beefy tank in the center of the fight. He won’t be putting out a bunch of damage with his attacks but with his Disruption Field reactive superpower I am convinced that he can mitigate a ton of damage. Crimson’s leadership ability reinforces this play style- as you activate your characters you can remove one special condition, so say goodbye to that evil stagger condition (eat your heart out Blade)! To make things even sweeter, while contesting a Secure objective you can roll one die and on a crit, wild, or defense you cannot be pushed. It’s a great additional ability to the leadership, however the math says it will happen 37.5% of the time.
Next, we have one of my favorites of the Winter Guard, Red Guardian. Sadly for the MCU fans, this is not the same Red Guardian from the Black Widow movie but rather a later version of Red Guardian named Nikolai Krylenko- a mutant formerly known as Vanguard. There have already been some murmurs that Red Guardian is just a 3 threat worse version of Captain America Steve Rodgers. While there are definitely some similarities, completely intentional by AMG, I am convinced Red Guardian fits well as their main 3 threat. Red Guardian will be gaining power extremely well this his “gainer” attack Shield Throw that, on a wild, will ricochet to another target within range 3 gaining Red Guardian another power. Alongside his Shield Throw Red Guardian’s Strike attack, while gaining him 1 power, will auto push size 3 or less characters. Allow me to briefly explain how good guaranteed size 3 pushes are. On release of the Winter Guard there will be a total of 120 characters in the game (not including ones that change form like Hood, Ant-man, ect.). Of those 120 characters, 19 are size 3, 93 are size 2, 1 size 1 (silly Rocket Racoon) for a total of 113 pushable characters. There are only 7 characters that Red Guardian cannot just auto push. Isn’t math fun!? Well to top off his auto push Red Guardian’s “spender” attack has an auto throw for size 3 or less….see math above on why that’s a good thing! Anytime a character can simply gain extra bonus effects without having to have a certain die rolled is a wonderful thing. Lastly, on par with the Winter Guard’s toughness motif, he will be able to count blanks as successes against physical or energy attacks by spending 2 power for Focused Repulsion Field. Of course, Red Guardian is a bit sad that he can’t “Do this All Day” like his red, white and blue friend but hey we’ll take what we can get.
We get to one of the more interesting characters of the Winter Guard now with Darkstar. There have been a few Darkstars that were members of the Winter Guard but Laynia Petrovna is by far the most popular. Laynia is the mutant twin sister of Nikolai. Both Laynia and Nikolai were taken at a young age to serve in the Soviet Super Soldier program. From the very beginning, Laynia served as the group’s moral compass and has helped several members be the very best person they could be as she struggled to control her own powers. This is portrayed very well in my opinion through her superpowers Dimensional Portal and Darkforce Barrier. Darkstar is not unique in having a superpower such as Dimensional Portal (Clea, Lockjaw, Heimdall, etc.) which allows her to target an allied character with range 3 of herself and place them within range 3 of their current position for 3 power. This will greatly help the slow-movers Crimson Dynamo and Red Guardian who won’t have to use actions to get into attack positions. Darkforce Barrier is another wonderful superpower which allows her to spend 3 power to give an allied character within range 3 of herself 2 additional defense dice against physical or energy attacks. As an additional bonus to the dice, characters cannot be pushed, advanced, or placed by effects of that attack. You may have caught on to the theme that the Winter Guard can really get stuck in and be difficult to move around. Unfortunately, I am not completely convinced Darkstar is a great fit for the schemes that I personally have planned for the Winter Guard. Darkstar is on par with some other 3 threat characters that have similar abilities as she has 5 stamina on both sides of her card. With little ways to generate extra power or protect herself well without spending a ton of precious power, I think she will go down without contributing to the game very much. It is also a significant red flag for me that her range 4 attack is a “gainer” and not the normal “builder” that gains power equal to damage dealt. I am also convinced that if Darkstar has to use her “spender” attack Rending Force, something has gone horribly wrong for Darkstar.
We have saved the best for last and by far my favorite of the bunch, Ursa Major. Major Mikhail Uriokovitch Ursus is another mutant who was forced into the Soviet Super Solider program at a young age. Mikhail’s mutant ability is to well…change into a big strong bear while keeping his vast intellect. After several hours in bear form, Mikhail can become more feral and lose control of himself which has challenged his identity for many years. Mikhail (who I will refer to as Ursa for the rest of this) is one that excites me for the possibilities. On par with the majority of the Winter Guard, Ursa has a large stamina count for a 4 threat with a total of 14, 7 on both sides. As you would expect, a big bear like Ursa moves a bit slow but can get quite angry. Whenever an attack that deals him damage resolves, he can move short toward the attacking character with his Aggressive superpower. If you make him even more angry, he can use Ursine Temper and throw size 3 terrain within range 2 of him. This is a medium throw at people for 3 power so you better hide your picnic baskets! Lastly, I absolutely love that he has charge, which allows him to move short and then attack. This will allow Ursa to better control his action economy and not have to waste moves to get into position. The news I can’t bear (see what I did there?) anymore to tell you is that Ursa’s “spender” attack is absolutely amazing. For 3 power Ursa can use Bear-Armed Brawler to attack with 7 dice, auto stagger, AND throw size 4 or less characters short. Hey remember when I said its reallllly good to be able to push or throw 113 characters because they were size 3 or less? Well, with his spender Ursa can throw 119 of the 120 characters that will be out when he is released. Sadly, Dormammu is just too thick and needs to go on a Dark Dimension Diet. I cannot explain enough how good auto throwing and staggering someone is. If the attack does not daze or KO the character it will generally put someone out of position and be in need to move to attack back. That’s where the stagger comes in, forcing your opponent to lose actions in a game that has at most 6 turns with close to 12 actions per character (if everything goes perfectly for them) means your opponent will have to make some very difficult choices. Do they move to get back into position? Do they just slap that bear back for being a big ole jerk? Or do they just walk back home in fear of the mighty Slavic awesomeness you are fielding. I tend to think the third option will happen the most.
There is some play for all of these cards but it is going to be difficult to see all three taken each game
To date we have a few of the Winter Guard specific tactic cards. To no surprise Darkstar’s Dark Aura Manifestation does not wow me. It is nice to reduce opponents defense dice, especially energy defense which is statistically the lowest in the game. Sadly, this card will also lower YOUR energy defense as well, aside from Darkstar, so timing and situation will super matter for when you play this card. Crimson Dynamo’s card Fusion Caster is neat but it is just Warmachine’s “Empty the Clip” attack but an energy beam. The attack can be extremely deadly with 7 dice and crits giving you double dice. The down side is that for each crit you roll you will also take 1 damage. It is important to know that each damage is a separate damage so his Carborundum Matrix Alloy passive superpower will not trigger and if Crimson is dazed during this attack (either from hurting himself or other outside effects) the rest of the beam attacks will not happen. I love the potential for high damage but I worry this card is not worth the coveted 5 tactic card slots during a game. Then we arrive to the Winter Rush card. Wow am I super excited for this card. For 6 power collectively from any Winter Guard, the card allows all Winter Guard for the rest of the round to move short anytime an allied character takes damage from an effect. I am completely convinced this will be a staple for all Winter Guard teams in the future.
Overall, I think the Winter Guard will be super fun to play. I do not believe they will be the best affiliation out there and by no means shake up the top meta of the game. None of the above characters super wow me as big splash characters besides Crimson Dynamo in Avengers but then again who doesn’t love being in the Avengers? I hope to see you all supporting #TeamSlav and going out there and being a stubborn, hairy, and possibly drunk bear!