Thursday, February 27, 2014

Broken Cards Episode 4: A Madman with a Box

Alright, so this week I might be going out on a limb, but every single CCG playing nerve in my body is telling me this card is broken, and that's an instinct I have been building for 20 years.

The card in question is not really used right now. It's clearly powerful, but it hasn't found it's niche in the meta. In fact, I'm not sure it'll find it's place in the meta for quite a while. Despite this, it's still a fan favorite, and an Ultra-Rare. It has great flavor and serious nerd cred. Of course, I'm talking about Dr. Hooves Unblinking.

Dr. Hooves Unblinking is a weird card. It feels kind of out of place in Ponies and is much more like many obscure combo cards from Magic the Gathering. To say that the card feels like a component to a "technical" combo to it is an understatement.

Let me back up for a moment, for all of you non-magic-players. Cards with similar mechanics have been printed in magic a couple times. They hit the discard and they trigger some effect. This is normally fine, except in cases (like this) where they don't say that it has to be put into the graveyard from play. Cards that can be discarded from your hand to trigger an effect normally end up REALLY overpowered after a combo is discovered.

This has ended up ruining cycles of expansions for Magic when the combo is discovered within a single set. It has also had the effect of coming up years later when a card that combos with it is finally printed.

Dr. Hooves doesn't look like he's too overpowered on his own. He is also a pretty beefy friend, one of the few with 4 power, and can instantly grant you high enough blue power to play anything else. He offers some degree of discard protection, since he will discourage an opponent from making you discard willy-nilly. The threat of being able to get a 4 power pony out for 2 AP is normally enough to make someone think twice about forcing discard. Plus, once he's on the field he's basically immortal, so long as another Dr. Hooves is in your deck. (Get it, immortal, like a Time Lord!)

He really shines, however, when you can combo him out on your first turn. Imagine this scenario:
  • Pink/Blue deck. Pinkie pie is your Main. 
  • You go second and your opponent scored a couple points turn 1, so you gain 3 AP.
  • You Draw a card at start of turn, putting you at 7 cards.
  • Play a 1 cost pink friend, putting you at 6 cards.
  • Play "Let's Get this Party Started", putting you at 8 cards.
  • Pay 1 AP to Draw a card, putting you at 9 cards.
  • End your turn and Discard Dr. Hooves, Search your deck for a Dr. Hooves and put him in play.
  • Voila! You can turn him over on your second turn and you have a 4 power friend SUPER early.
Is this situation a reliable combo? No. Is it a game winning combo? Not necessarily, but it is a good way to accelerate your game. A deck that includes it as a secondary focus could be quite solid, especially considering Blue's cost reduction and movement accelerating cards.

Why is it Broken?


Now, I'm not saying the above described combo makes Dr. Hooves a Broken card. What I do think makes it a broken card is, appropriately for a time traveler, the future! Notice that the rules text does not say that you must search for a Dr Hooves Unblinking, merely a Dr. Hooves friend card. So what happens when a really good Dr. Hooves comes out in a future set that you'd really love to be able to have available turn 2? Bam! Dr. Hooves Unblinking becomes an integral part of an awesome combo.

The fun things about CCGs are the potential that cards can hold to impact future cards. It's also one of the reasons designing cards for them is such a pain in the butt. You always have to wonder how this will interact with potential cards, and you always have to wonder how new cards will interact with old ones.

Projections


The future for this time trotting stallion is a bit murky... It rests entirely on whether or not Enterplay's designers make a "mistake" in the future. Every other Dr. Hooves card they print makes Unblinking better. So, even if they just print one per set, he will keep increasing in play-ability and value. For that reason, I can't really give a good prediction for it's value. If only I had a TARDIS.

Current Price: ~$16

Future Price: ??? (Best guess around $40)

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