Home » Standard and Expert Sets Explained – Marvel Champions

Standard and Expert Sets Explained – Marvel Champions

Standard and Expert Set Explained- Marvel Champions Article

When you first start out, the Standard and Expert encounter sets for Marvel Champions are relatively simple to understand, but the addition of Standard II, Expert II, and Standard III makes for a much more confusing set of options. These sets are vitally important as they’ll form the core of every villain deck you’ll ever build, but they often don’t get enough time in the spotlight.

In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive at how these modular sets work, a few cards to pay close attention to, and discuss which sets you should be using in your games.

Standard & Expert

The Marvel Champions Core Set box* comes with the Standard and Expert encounter sets. The idea is simple – every encounter deck contains the Standard encounter set, and if you want to bump the difficulty up, you simply add Expert as well.

Standard contains 7 cards:

  • 4 that have 0 boost icons
  • 2 that have 1 boost icon
  • 1 that has 2 boost icons
  • 0 cards that Surge
  • 5 cards that cause the villain to activate again
Shadow of the Past - Marvel Champions
© Fantasy Flight Games & Marvel

The 2-boost card is the notorious Shadow of the Past, which will occasionally pop up to bring in your nemesis minion and encounter set. Standard is an interesting set in that the bulk of the set makes the villain activate more often (3 additional attack cards, and 2 additional scheme cards), but will overall generally make villain activations weaker – you have significant odds of hitting a 0-boost card, making those extra attacks hit like tissue paper… until they don’t.

However, those activations make villains with activation triggers a lot more challenging. Ultron is an example of this, with his ability to create drones when he attacks, and a high base scheme value. But a villain like Klaw is made weaker by the inclusion of the Standard set. In general, the basic Standard set is by far the easiest set, but it can get surprisingly nasty on villains that respond to their basic attack and scheming powers.

Expert, on the other hand, only contains 3 cards:

  • 2 cards with 2 boost icons
  • 1 card that has 3 boost icons
  • 2 cards that Surge

Each of those cards is extremely dangerous – Surge can be one of the most lethal things you’ll find on a card (we’ll talk more about that momentarily), and the effects on the cards themselves can be devastating, bringing in side schemes when you wanted them the least, discarding your upgrades, and exhausting your identity when you really needed to recover or defend. Each card in the Expert set is worthy of respect, and can be one of the worst things to see at any given time.

The upside is Expert is only 3 cards. That means your odds of hitting any of them as encounters are extremely low in most villain decks, making the difficulty added by Expert pretty erratic. You can go entire games without hitting an Expert card, or you can turn over all three in a single villain phase.

When should you use Standard and Expert?

The original Standard and Expert sets are a good baseline, introductory set to include, but they are honestly a little too forgiving for later content. 0-boost cards can basically make it feel like the villain has skipped their attack, giving you an insurmountable lead. We would only recommend the Standard set if you’re playing with new players, find the boost mechanic frustrating, or just want an easier game.

That being said, the power of Standard scales with the strength of the villain, which is an extremely clever design – essentially if the villain’s activations are less dangerous, Standard is weaker, but if the villain you’re facing loves activating like Ultron, Standard suddenly becomes very much more dangerous, potentially more than any other option. So if you want to make those villains easier, switch out Standard for one of the other Standard sets.

Expert on the other hand, is unfortunately just your best option for playing Expert difficulty at the time of writing, as Expert III doesn’t exist yet, and Expert II… let’s talk about that.

Standard II & Expert II

Coming in with The Hood’s villain pack*, the Standard II and Expert II encounter sets were met with… extreme disappointment and annoyance by most players.

I’m not going to dance around it – these sets were a pretty big miss. They’re heavily random, punishing, and don’t add difficulty as much as they add unfairness. Difficulty is posing a challenge that you can overcome through tactical decision-making, but these sets don’t do that as much as they just occasionally remove your agency as a player and make you lose.

Standard II contains 8 cards:

  • 1 setup card that permanently makes the villain Steady
  • 4 cards with 1 boost icons
  • 3 cards with 2 boost icons
  • 5 cards with boost abilities
  • 2 cards with Surge
  • 5 cards that give the villain additional activations

In general, Standard II is just a straight increase to the difficulty of the core Standard set. It nerfs conditions passively by making every villain Steady (requiring two condition cards to be affected) due to Formidable Foe, and it makes every part of Standard’s difficulty harder. Oh, and Shadow of the Past is still there. Waiting.

The easiest way to illustrate this difference is to look at two cards from the two sets. Assault is from Standard I. If it’s your boost card, you’re happy, because it does literally nothing. If it’s your encounter card, it’s either an extra attack, or it’s a surge.

Total Annihilation is the Standard II equivalent. In comparison to Assault:

  • As a boost card, it adds a boost icon and a boost ability, giving the attack overkill out of nowhere, potentially killing you through a defending ally
  • As an encounter it always surges, giving the possibility that the villain might attack you 3+ times in a single turn (Regular attack, Total Annihilation into another bonus activation, potentially even another Total Annihilation)

There are very few times when you want to see Total Annihilation flipped over on the table, except when it’s being discarded.

Interestingly, Expert II bucks the trend of being “core set but punishing”, with 4 cards:

  • 1 with no boost icons (but it’s not OK)
  • 1 with 1 boost icon (and a facedown encounter card)
  • 1 with 3 boost icons
  • 1 with 4(!) boost icons
  • 4 cards with Peril (literally every card)
  • 2 cards with Surge

Expert II is just… insane. Those numbers don’t quite reflect it, and each card does something very different from the original Expert set. While Standard II is basically “what if every Standard card in the core set was like an Expert difficulty card”, Expert II seems to purely exist due to Arkham Horror* players complaining that Marvel Champions was too lenient.

Peril on every card means that you’re getting no help from your team – for solo play that’s obviously irrelevant, but that can be devastating at times in multiplayer, and means your odds of stopping any of these cards resolving are slim at best.

Seek and Destroy is also worth calling out, as much as the other two cards are also brutal, as it means your encounter deck now has 2 copies of cards that can bring in your nemesis minion if you’re also playing with Standard or Standard II, and it can just keep bringing them back to life. If you’ve got a devastating nemesis minion like Dark Phoenix… run.

Cruel Intentions is truly one of the cruellest cards you can encounter, as not only does it Surge, but it effectively Mega-Surges (yes I just made that keyword up, please don’t print it). By dealing an encounter card while you’re still resolving encounter cards, you’ll be forced to continue resolving encounter cards. So you’ll resolve Cruel Intentions, Surge, and then have to resolve the encounter card Cruel Intentions just dealt you. If you’re the first player, it means everyone else is going to get an additional encounter this turn 2, and if you’re playing a villain or modular set that is already Surge-heavy, this can mean your odds of Surging into Surges go up significantly.

When should you use Standard II and Expert II?

Honestly, I never want to play with these encounter sets. I’m not the kind of masochist that enjoys playing for 2 hours, only to be suddenly devastated by repeated Surge effects that I have no control over. Sorry.

That being said, if you want to challenge a villain who you know is extremely easy for your group, and you want a challenge, adding Standard II will make for a much higher baseline experience. It’ll effectively power up any villain you face, taking even the lowly Rhino or Absorbing Man to a credible threat. In putting this article together, I realised that actually I’d have no issue with playing Standard II without an Expert set against phase 2 and 3 of most villains, and I’d regard that as a more consistently “expert” difficulty than including the Expert set. 3 cards is just not enough to provide that sort of challenge.

If you like Arkham Horror’s random “you just lose now” playstyle, you’ll probably like Expert II, but honestly I think that’s the only use-case for it (apart from proving a point to smug friends about the customisable difficulty…). Try it once, and see how it feels. It might be that your preferences don’t match ours, after all.

Standard III

Standard III was shipped by itself in the Age of Apocalypse expansion*, probably because Fantasy Flight didn’t want to create a campaign box that could be played at all difficulties without the base set, and it’s honestly not bad at all.

Standard III contains 8 cards:

  • 1 Permanent Setup card (we’ll talk about it shortly, it’s the whole point of the set)
  • 3 cards with 0 boost icons, but with instead boost abilities
  • 2 cards with 1 boost icon
  • 1 card with 2 boost icons

The Standard III encounter set is built entirely around a single mechanic – Pursued by the Past. Unlike the other Standard sets, Shadow of the Past makes no appearance here. Instead every other card in the set cares about the number of counters on Pursued by the Past.

Standard III effectively fixes a crucial issue that the base game has – you are almost guaranteed to put at least one nemesis minion into play in every game that you play Standard III. But the surprising part is this doesn’t necessarily increase your odds of losing the game.

Let me explain what I mean by this – in the regular Standard set, you have a single copy of Shadow of the Past. If you set up Standard Rhino as written with Bomb Scare with two heroes, your encounter deck will weigh in at 32 cards, one of which is Shadow of the Past. This means your odds of hitting Shadow of the Past are actually pretty low (your first encounter card effectively has a roughly 3% chance to be Shadow, assuming 2 encounter cards dealt as boost card) – you can’t reliably account for it coming out, and you’ll have plenty of games where it never happens. This can easily make you complacent, and when we first started we lost many games to a nemesis minion coming out of nowhere with a steel chair.

There’s a not-zero chance of hitting your nemesis minion turn 1, and that’s when you’re at your most vulnerable. You can almost immediately lose the game due to an unlucky Shadow of the Past, and it just never feels good.

Standard III, however, makes your nemesis predictable. You’re never going to have one of those games where you just coast through, never having to deal with your nemesis, but equally you’ll never get a turn 1 nemesis. It’s mathematically impossible. You can see when the counters have stacked up, and you can be pretty sure that your nemesis is coming. This allows you to strategize and plan accordingly. This is effectively what I was talking about earlier – Standard III will increase the difficulty, but makes the game more predictable, posing a problem that can be solved by strategy.

When should you use Standard III?

If you’ve played through the base game with regular Standard, and picked up Age of Apocalypse as your second or third expansion, I honestly believe that you can and probably should just switch to using Standard III full-time. It adds a fun tactical aspect to every game, and it ensures that you’ll always get to see at least one person’s nemesis minion each game, which is honestly just more fun.

Hopefully when Expert III is released I’ll be able to update this with a similarly glowing review, but for now, we hope this helps you decide what sets to use when you play! Our favourite setup is absolutely Standard III with core Expert, offering a consistent baseline experience with some nasty surprises, but you can absolutely use Standard II if you want a hard experience that revolves entirely around the villain, rather than your nemesis minion, particularly if your hero has a nemesis who just isn’t fun (looking at you, Stryfe).

If you found this useful, we’d appreciate it if you could share our content with other people in the community and support us as best you’re able. We’re a couple of hobbyists, not some massive outlet or corporation, and hosting doesn’t pay itself! For now, though, good luck with whatever challenge you choose! Just… maybe consider if Expert II is really for you.

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