"What’s a good replacement for Jeff? I don’t have Legion, what can I put in the deck instead?"
These are the questions creators get most, especially from newer players. We’re going to talk about how to figure it out quickly and efficiently! Try this out!
The Common approach is to go and ask whoever made the deck or your favorite streamer. We’re moving beyond that.
Get ready to level up your ability to replace cards on a given list!
Uncommon! Frame break!
Look at the cost, use your favorite card of the same cost.
Can it really be this simple? Honestly, sometimes it is. Don’t have Mirage? Try Maria or Cable. Don’t have a card in a Silver Surfer deck? Put in your favorite 3-cost.
Here is a classic example: Dekkster’s Cerebro 3 list has Jeff, a card you may not own. What can we replace him with? Pick your favorite 2-cost, 3-power (it is a Cerebro deck, after all) card and put it in. Sentinel is an excellent card in this archetype. Scarlet Witch could help with location fixing. Maybe Colossus could be useful for power reduction or destroy locations?
Or how about this fairly standard (pre-OTA) Darkhawk / Stature deck from TeddyNinja? What should you do if you need a replacement for Spider-Ham? Let’s just chuck a 2-cost in there and see how it does. The simplest method is especially good if you’re willing to try a few options and see how they feel.
Scorpion is also a disruptive card, like Spider-Ham. Lizard is really good value and fights for priority (if you actually want to). Mirage, Maria Hill, Luke Cage, and Black Widow are all 2-cost cards that are playable in this list.
How do you go about making these substitution decisions when you don't have a card or the meta changes?
Consider the curve.
The curve refers to how the costs of the cards in your deck are distributed. When building your deck, you probably already intuitively, try to create a deck with a good distribution of energy costs. A deck with all 5- and 6-cost cards would usually not be very good because you wouldn’t have anything to play in the early turns. In general, it’s better to lower a deck’s curve than increase it.
When trying to replace a card in a deck, the easiest way to keep the curve as the deck creator intended is to just use a card of the same cost. But that limits your options. If you look at the deck and consider its curve, you can expand those options. If you need to replace a 4-cost card, you can lower that curve by using a 2-cost or 3-cost card in that spot, and you’ve made the deck more efficient, at least in theory. In contrast, if you replace a lower-cost card like Jeff, for example (a 2-cost card), with Vision (a 5-cost card), you’ve potentially disrupted the curve of the deck in a way that will make the deck function significantly worse.
For an exploration of curve, let’s look at this Standard Destroy list that sees quite a bit of play.
Below each deck on Snap.fan you can check the ‘curve’ of a given deck by looking at the Cost Breakdown section below the decklist. This deck has an average cost of 3.3, and the four 3-cost cards make up the middle of the curve. At the higher end of the curve, there are fewer cards. This is because you have a limited amount of energy to play cards with, and a deck with too many high-cost cards would be unplayable (which is why ‘ramp’ cards like Psylocke and Electro help you ramp higher up into your curve).
Let’s say you wanted to play this list but didn’t grab X-23 out of the recent spotlight caches. If your first instinct is to throw in something like Arnim Zola, a card that undoubtedly has some synergy with other cards in this list, think about how it would affect the curve of the deck. If we’re replacing X-23, it’s probably a safer bet to slot in something with a similar cost to maintain the curve and, therefore, smooth playability, of the deck. We could put in Nova or Bucky Barnes.
Now imagine we have X-23 (her week was a popular one for spotlights) but that you don’t yet have Knull in your collection. In this case Arnim Zola makes a bit more sense. But you could still replace him with lower cost cards, therefore lowering the curve of the deck (therefore increasing the potential to play each of the cards in the deck in a given game). We could still replace Knull with Nova, whereas we wouldn’t probably replace X-23 with Knull because of curve considerations. We can replace Knull with a much wider variety of cards than X-23. We could sub in Absorbing Man, for example, and repeat some of our destroy effects. His cost of 4 still makes sure our curve is being lowered rather than raised.
Look at the function.
In other words, what is the card doing in the deck? Spider-Man moves an opponent’s card. Perhaps Polaris would be a good replacement; she does something similar.
Think about what Iron Lad actually does in the deck you’re trying to play. Is it just to dig deeper into the deck? Jubilee can be a good replacement. Other times, though, Lad is there to attempt to high-roll into multiple versions of a good card like Brood, Iron Man, or Darkhawk. In those instances, Jubilee is a poor replacement. So what would be good in the deck? Maybe just another “good card” that you’d be happy to play out. Maybe, since you can’t go for the crazy high-roll with Iron Lad, replace it with a tech card like Killmonger, Shang-Chi, or Enchantress.
Replacing Zabu with Psylocke is reasonable for a Mr. Negative deck. It’s a different way to ramp towards turn 3, Mr. Negative. Replacing Zabu with Psylocke in a deck that is trying to play multiple 3-cost cards on turn 6 doesn’t work.
What cards make a good replacement for Spider-Ham? Spider-Ham does two things: it disrupts your opponent while also giving you information about their deck. There are quite a few cards that can fill a similar (but not exact) role, including Ice-Man, Mirage, and Scorpion.
Another great example is looking at a card like Master Mold. He is a niche card that you’re likely only going to find (typically) in a Ronan deck. Its function in the deck is pretty clear: it powers up your Ronan and can occasionally cost your opponent a draw.
Baron Mordo and Crystal have vaguely similar functions to Master Mold, except with massive downsides.
Snowguard is another niche card. If you see someone playing a deck with her, they’re probably just trying to get her to work on something, and you can probably happily replace her. But think about her function first. She’s there to mitigate location randomness. Try Scarlet Witch, Quake, Rhino, or Legion if you’d like to keep the functionality of Snowguard rather than just swapping in a different 1-cost card.
Legendary! Shiny logo!
Think in terms of synergies.
Synergy is the way your deck works together. One of the most common questions this season has been, “What can I replace Silk with?” Think about how Silk synergizes with other cards. It’s a great way to buff Angela and then get out of the way so she can be buffed again. She also Synergizes with Kraven by buffing him up multiple times. She synergizes well with 1-cost cards because she can be played along with them to immediately cause her to move rather than waiting for the next turn. The reason you may so often get the answer “there’s no good replacement for X card” is because you’re looking at a highly synergistic deck with a variety of interwoven interactions. But if you think in these terms, you can actually adapt a decklist you see and still have a quality, winning deck.
Thinking in terms of little synergistic packages also works well. Maybe you can’t replace Silk, but you may be able to replace the whole Angela/Kraven/Silk/Kitty Pryde package. In a deck that includes Kitty, Angela, Kraven, Jeff, Silk, Spider-Man, Miles Morales, Captain Marvel, and Vision, well, that’s more than a little package, and you might not be able to play it if you’re missing Silk AND Jeff. Stature/Black Bolt has been a two-card package that had been popular for a few seasons now. Korg, Darkhawk, and Rockslide are three-card packages that can be put into a variety of decks and paired with other packages. Learn to identify packages and think in terms of synergies.
First, let’s look again at our Standard Destroy list from above.
We decided, when only looking at cost and curve, that Nova or Bucky Barnes could replace X-23. But when we take a closer look at how the cards work together, it becomes a bit more complex. If you play Hulkbuster onto X-23 (or Wolverine) you’re going to keep that 3-energy 5-power play on the board. Hulkbuster has some synergy with Taskmaster too. Hulkbuster is best onto Deadpool, but you don’t draw perfectly every game. Quite often you’ll want to put it onto something else. If played onto X-23 or Wolverine, you're still getting value. If played onto Nova or Bucky Barnes, it would be a massive waste. Forge doesn’t work particularly well with Nova or Bucky either.
So when taking out X-23 we’re disrupting synergies in other places. If taking out X-23, it may also make sense to replace other cards as well. A straightforward destroy list without X-23 may look more like this:
Start thinking less about individual cards and start thinking about synergistic packages. Black Bolt / Stature, Storm / Jessica Jones, Hit Monkey / Mysterio, Korg / Rockslide / Darkhawk, and Sunspot / Infinaut are some of the most commonly used packages, but there are many more.
Another example of a great ‘package’ is the Forge / Brood / Absorbing Man package. It has took the meta by storm and you may want to get some games in with it.
It’s first home is in Patriot
You can plug it into Silver Surfer
It can be smothering with Doom and Wave
But just like other powerful packages before it, it can be plugged into a lot of decks and you should feel free to be creative with how you use it. This mixing and matching of good, synergistic packages, is often how the ‘next top meta decks’ end up being found. The combination of the Blackbolt / Stature and Darkhawk packages is a prime example of this. They don’t have specific synergy together, but they are strong together.
A great example of a highly synergistic deck is Discard.
It's more difficult to replace cards in a deck like this because there is a relatively limited pool of cards with a discard effect and each one is unique. It's not possible to swap cards like Lady Sif or Colleen Wing because they have no equivalent cards and the deck is playing them to do a specific job. Nebula can be replaced with Sunspot or your favorite 1-cost card and Daken is probably the most flexible spot (Storm was often played in that slot before his release as Storm into Dracula or Storm on a Nebula lane is quite strong). But if you don’t have M.O.D.O.K. you probably won’t be able to play a very strong discard deck. This can actually help inform how to spend your free series 3 choice and Collector’s Tokens and Spotlight Caches as well. When you notice that a card is central to several decks that look like you’d enjoy, those are the cards to target for acquisition.
Another deck that is highly reliant on synergy is the Small Movers deck.
Popularized by OwlGod, Revis, and Lambyseries, this deck relies in being able to buff Angela and Kraven multiple times while dodging Shang-Chi and winning closed off locations with ease.
"Is Silk replaceable here?" It's important to be able to use her to buff Angela and then move out of that lane. She can buff Kraven multiple times. The play pattern of Kitty, then Silk allows her to move quickly and early. Kitty makes it so she is always easily controlled. She makes Miles Morales much more consistent.
"Is Jeff replaceable here?" He plays a similar role with Angela. We can move him on 5 to ensure a turn 6 1-cost Miles if we need to. He battles against lockdown decks better than any card in our deck.
If you pull on one thread in this deck, it tends to unravel. If you need to replace both Jeff and Silk, you should probably just play a different deck. When the synergies in a deck are so highly interwoven, the answer, sadly, is that some cards just aren't replaceable. You can't replace Cerebro in a Cerebro deck or Hela in a Hela deck. The key is identifying the level of synergy in a deck to decide for yourself if a card is replaceable in the first place.
Ultra! Animated Frame!
What problem is this card solving for this deck?
This can be a difficult level, but it’s really the most useful when trying to replace a card or even improve a decklist. Think not just about what a card’s function is in a given deck but also about what the card is actually doing for the deck. What problem is this card solving for this deck? What are this deck’s bad matchups, and how is this card helping to improve those matchups? What kinds of matches does this deck struggle in? Is this card helping with those struggles? Is a given card the only way for this deck to reach into closed-off locations? Then that is the problem the card is solving for this deck, and potentially why the card was included in the first place.
This approach requires a bit more experience. The more you keep up with the metagame (the game beyond the game, what people are playing, why cards are being played, and what decks and cards you’re likely to face) and are knowledgeable about the cardbase and locations in the game, the better you will get at this. Beyond mastering the Snap and Retreat mechanics, becoming more knowledgeable about the metagame is probably the most important thing you can do to improve in Snap.
Honestly, by thinking this way, you will not only get better at replacing a card in a deck you see, but you may even be able to improve a deck you find. Legion is a really great card. But honestly? He’s so good that people are just throwing him into anything, even if he’s not actually changing anything for the better in the deck. The same goes for Jeff!
This line of thinking about what a card’s role in a deck is can be especially useful for swapping out the most newly released cards in the game (the ones the streamers have but you don’t!). They are very often cards that are put into a list to fix problems a previously existing deck had. They are also cards that are thrown into already great lists to see if they make it better. Also, some of the very best cards in the game are not synergistic with the rest of your deck, they exist to help that synergistic core or packages shine! Examples of cards that occasionally just solve problems rather than simply synergize with a deck are Shang Chi, Iron Man (hey, free cards you already have!), Legion, Magik, Psylocke, Invisible Woman, Doctor Doom, Jeff!, and many more.
How did Iron Man come to be in the bounce deck that dominated last season? Lambyseries, KMBest, and other players identified the ways the deck could lose (getting point slammed by High Evolutionary, greedy combo decks, or in a mirror match) and simply added a card that solved those problems. What happens when Patriot starts wrecking a meta? People start playing Super Skrull and Rogue as a solution.
As we saw above, it is important to identify the core synergies in a deck to decide if a card can even be replaced. The move package in Small Movers is a good example of a deck with very few replaceable cards.
But let's look at Legion in that deck. It's not part of the main move package. So why is he there? What is Legion actually doing for that deck?
Legion is an excellent card for mitigating the negative impact of location variance while also harnessing that variance to create blowout conditions for yourself. It's also partially responsible for pushing lockdown decks further down the meta pecking order and combats Magik effectively. Well, the Small Movers deck doesn't really struggle with closed locations much; in fact, it thrives in those games. Legion is not helping with some especially bad matchups (with the possible exception of She-Naut decks, you could play Scarlet Witch if that's your concern). So Legion is really just being played in this deck because it's simply a really good card in a generic sense.
That makes him definitely replaceable while still feeling like you're playing the same deck.
We can put in other cards that can solve different problems. Tech cards are incredibly powerful problem solvers in Snap. We could easily swap Legion for Enchantress or Killmonger. Shadow King is a consideration, but he doesn't play well with Angela and Kraven. Cosmo could help us shut down greedy On Reveal decks. Armor could let us play loose with priority and combat Destroy decks.
We could put in more move cards. Ghost-Spider is good for some surprises, and Polaris is quite good in the deck. We could control our opponent with Jean Grey. She has excellent synergy with the move package, and we can play around her far more easily than our opponent. If we're looking to replace the raw power that Legion brings, while still avoiding Shang-Chi, Spider-Woman does really well here. Gamora is great on turn 6 with Kitty.
What did we learn here? First, try a card of the same cost and be willing to spend some time play-testing. Consider the curve and try to keep it efficient. Think about what the card is doing in the deck and what it synergizes with. Think about what the card changes for the deck and what issues it is solving.
Oh, and also, definitely ask streamers and content creators what you can swap a card for! What?! Really?! Back to the beginning?
Ok, so if you’re going to ask someone (in addition to using the above methods), you’ll get better results with the following questions rather than spamming “Jeff replacement????” into Twitch chat.
“Would X be a good replacement if I don’t have Y?”
“What’s the reasoning behind X in this deck?”
“What is X doing for this deck? Are there any other cards that could do that nearly as well or better?”