Far too often...
We find ourselves cruising along through the turns of a Marvel Snap match only for turn six to hit, and we realize we’ve been pushed out of any viable win conditions.
Looking back, we can see how poor card placement on turns two or three doomed us. By breaking a standard match down into phases, you can see how each turn is crucial to the way a game ultimately resolves. For this guide, we’ll label turns one through three as the early phase. Turns four and five will be the middle phases. Finally, turns six and seven will be known as the end phase.
Let’s look at the early phase and how it can be most effectively leveraged to create favorable conditions in the middle and end phases.
The Early Phase – Turns 1-3
Turn one is the moment in the match when we have the least amount of available information. Before any cards are played, we have our opening hand and one revealed space for information. How you want to approach this moment depends greatly on the type of deck you have built, but essentially, you can choose between playing on curve, starting combo play, or beginning funneling. Let’s look at the possible impact of each approach.
Playing on Curve
In general, playing on-curve means getting your cards out in line with the amount of energy you have available. For example, on turn one, you would play your Nightcrawler or Iceman, rather than saving it for a later turn. On turn two, you would play a two cost card or two one cost cards, using up your energy as best you can each turn. Turn three would follow that pattern if possible.
Playing on-curve is a very straightforward way of playing, but it does have an impact. Playing on-curve is usually a way to earn and keep priority, and it ensures that you won’t fill up your hand and can always draw new cards each turn. Another advantage of playing on-curve is that you can get ahead of any possible lockdown moves by your opponent.
Playing on-curve does have its drawbacks, however. Simply playing on-curve will reduce your ability to react to your opponents later, and you will expose a lot of information about your deck quickly. While some decks are designed with a very specific curve in mind (Mister Negative, Zabu/Darkhawk, etc.), playing on-curve is usually best reserved for times when your hand doesn’t favor other types of strategic play.
Setting Up Combo Play
Many cards in Marvel Snap are stronger or more effective when they’re part of a combo play.
Squirrel Girl on her own spreads a bit of power, but it’s far more effective when the squirrels are used as fodder for a Destroy deck or powered up with Patriot and Blue Marvel. When setting up combos, you need to see multiple turns ahead and factor in how the cards you play on turns one through three can enable or limit combo play with your other cards. Are you looking to set up a big combo with Wong and Mystique? Then take care not to spread your early cards out too much, or you may limit your options due to space restrictions.
Combo plays are certainly powerful, and they can win games in dramatic fashion. Many combos are baked into the card designs, and they will follow on-curve play patterns, such as with Deadpool on turn one and Carnage on turn two. Other combos are a bit more complex and require you to save lower-cost cards for play later in the game, such as using Forge on turn four or five rather than on-curve on turn two.
While powerful, combo plays are very susceptible to disruption. For this reason, you don’t want to tip your hand too early. Putting Deadpool out on turn one with Bucky Barnes on turn two at the same location is simply begging for Armor or Cosmo to get dropped on top of them before you can finally execute your destroy move. If you’re going to set up combos using turns one and two, make sure you can go into turn three with priority on your side or have a reliable backup plan if you get countered.
Funneling is a more advanced way of setting up the middle and late phases of the game. It takes a lot of looking ahead, right from turn one. Funneling is when you play cards that influence or force where cards will be played later in the game. Funneling can have a one way impact or it can impact both players similarly. You always have to be careful not to paint yourself into a corner while attempting to push your opponent down specific paths.
Some classic examples of funnel cards include Cosmo, Goose, and Storm. You can use Cosmo to dissuade your opponent from playing On Reveal cards in a specific location or to force them to set up their combos differently than they planned. Obviously, Cosmo has an equal impact on your On Reveal cards. Goose has a similar two-way impact, not allowing either player to put cards down with a cost of four or higher in their lane, but if your deck runs cost reduction (Zabu or Sera), you can sneak some more expensive cards in under Goose where your opponent may not be able to. Finally, a card like Echo has an entirely one-way impact. Putting Echo in a lane will prevent your opponent from playing any Ongoing cards into that lane while you’re free to do so.
Funneling is extremely powerful in Marvel Snap, especially if you can make one lane particularly unfavorable for your opponent or make their play patterns more predictable for you. Let’s take a look at some examples of effective funneling.
On turn one, you play Echo on the left lane while dropping Goose onto the middle lane on turn two. Unless countered, these two cards will have your opponent experiencing some disadvantages. The left lane is going to be a dead zone for Ongoing decks, making Devil Dino, Darkhawk, Wong, or Iron Man need to be played elsewhere. None of these cards, however, can be played over the middle lane either, so essentially one lane is open to those cards. Unless your Goose and/or Echo can be countered, you have established predictable play routes.
In another example, you skip turn one without an impactful card and choose to see how they play. Your opponent plays Yondu on turn one, and you suspect Destroy. On turn two, you play an Armor in the middle lane while they play Deadpool in the same space as the Yondu. At this point, you know they intend to destroy Deadpool, which they will either need to do with a destroy card in that same lane or with a Killmonger in the right or middle lane. At this point, you can choose to drop Cosmo to block a direct destroy card (Carnage, Venom, or Deathlok), or you can drop it in the right lane and close that off from On Reveal effects going into the middle and late game.
In one last example, if you play Nebula left on turn one to make them feel pressured to play left as well, they pass. On turn two, you drop Kitty Pryde down on the left lane, and they drop Zabu onto the left lane. On turn three, you play Jean Grey in the right lane as they drop Rock Slide into the left lane. At this point, you have a strong funnel in place. Until your opponent fills the Jean Grey lane, you know where their cards will be coming down (aside from Jeff). You can put down an Echo to counter a possible incoming Darkhawk, or you can put Cosmo down behind Jean to disrupt any On Reveal. Your Kitty Pryde gives you a cheap first card to play with Jean, allowing you to work on other lanes as well. If you get Jean Grey down in a lane where they haven’t played yet, filling that lane takes a lot of their attention and effort.
The reasons for funneling are many. You can funnel your opponent to set them up for a late counter or tech card. In the Goose/Echo example, an end-game Enchantress or Shang-Chi on the third lane could devastate the opponent by countering their previous plays. On the other hand, you can funnel your opponent to set up safe places to play a cost-reduced Darkhawk via Zabu without fear of a Shang-Chi or Enchantress coming in late (assuming they don’t have their own cost reduction).
In the Jean Grey example, you have your opponent on a soft lockdown at the end of turn three, but it’s important that you have cards in hand to avoid locking yourself up. Kitty Pryde gives you a cheap card to satisfy Jean’s requirement, while Jeff and Nightcrawler allow you to fill the lane quickly without clogging it up permanently.
Putting it all Together
When building your decks, try to keep in mind the importance of the early phase. The best decks allow for some adaptability to a variety of locations and opponent deck styles. No matter if you prefer combo-driven decks, funneling decks, or a more straightforward on curve style, how you set yourself and the board up from turn one through three will ultimately determine how effective your middle and end phases can be in securing a win.
When playing your early cards, always consider for a moment not only how they will affect your opponent but also how they will affect you for the remaining turns of the game. It hurts to lose against strong play, but it hurts far more to lose due to your own lack of planning.