Defenders are a really good and popular affiliation, but one of their affiliated cards is not getting the love it should – Pentagrams of Farallah. I’m going to show some uses of it: some powerful, some more janky.
Pentagrams creates a two sided portal that anyone – friend or foe – can use. That can be a double edged sword. Initially I saw a lot of people using it to connect two secures to allow easy transition between them. The trouble with that is you opponent can use it to their advantage too. That’s unusual in tactics cards: you don’t normally get anything out of the cards your opponent plays. That may have caused some people to move away from it, but there is another way to use the portals.
Drop Off has been added to the banned list – a reliable turn one reposition of a powerful piece is a serious threat. But what if you could do it to your whole team? Pentagrams of Farallah is played in the power phase – any power phase, including round one. Now to play it you need two power on Doctor Strange. Currently the only way to get that is to take the Soul Gem on him. That’s a significant concession both in terms of list and roster building, but some of the plays it opens up are really powerful.
One of the most compelling uses of this tactic is on Demons Downtown or Gamma Wave – as I have seen, having had it used against me by WarGamingDad.
The narrowness of the scenario allows you to bunch up in the centre. It looks a little odd deploying like this, but you want as many of your characters to be within range 1 of the portal placed close to Strange. For a single power (the same as would have cost for Drop Off) you can now jump to the centre, without using an action. Now the down side is that you may be putting yourself in range for repraisals. Luckily Defenders have some tools for that.
Hawkeye with his Range 5 attacks that can target the lower of physical or energy defense innately – even without the power to pay for the Defender’s leadership – is a great person to activate earlier on in the round. With two attacks, he has an 81% chance of doing at least 2 damage against a vanilla 3 defense – higher if there’s a 2 physical or energy he can target. That then allows him to pay for a hook shot back to relative safety:
With Hawkeye safely back, your opponent may thing its safe to move up on their closest Demon/Gamma Shelter. If you have a powerful ranged attacker around though, they really aren’t:
The kind of distance you get with M.O.D.O.K. is something Red Skull can only dream of. Even against conservative positioning, his threat range is truly impressive. Ideally you want to save him until late in the round to protect him from repraisals. The portals can help there too, though. A really nice play is to activate him early in round 2, gain a bunch of power (he’s great at that), play All You’ve Got on him to get another set of big attacks, before portalling back before he gets dazed, ready to be Field Dressinged by someone who has gained a lot of power – Hawkeye can often fill that roll.
Another Defenders staple can be employed if your opponent tries to contest the central Demon/Shelter:
If you position your portal right, you will have the option of either being out of contesting range or in it, depending on what you need. Valkyrie just got to charge more than range 5 for one power. Seems pretty okay. If a strike gains her one power, her throw is online.
Getting other good ranged characters to the middle of the field round one is something to explore. Rocket, Shuri, Vision or Punisher to name just few. For truly ridiculous threat ranges, you could even have Proxima Midnight portal up, then Spear Throw and place next to the target.
Doctor Strange himself can use the portals, but he’s spent all his power creating them. There are a couple of work arounds that can get him the power he needs: Advanced R&D and Wong. Again, there is a significant cost in terms of team and roster construction there.
The positioning of the other portal is sufficiently far off to the side that anyone in range of the central portal could move to contest the secure objective closest to you anyway, and if they portal they’d have to move to contest, greatly reducing the risk, particularly in Gamma Shelters where that could be worth 3VP to your opponent.
The advantage of this strategy is your characters get to attack twice on round one. Your opponent by contrast is likely to either not get attacks with the characters activating early, have to spend an action moving before attacking, or they get to attack twice, but end up sitting on the edge of their deployment zone, away from secures. The activation advantage you can generate with this is play is significant.
Alien Skrull Ship
This play is highly finicky – the margins for error are really small, but it can maximise your odds. There is nothing stopping you interacting with multiple Skrulls or Alien Ship rubbles in the same turn, so long as you can get there and have the power. Corvus with a reality gem stands the best chance of finding the hidden extract, and if you can get him to a second interact, it goes from 44% to 69%. But if he does find it, he can in danger of being pulled around by Ghost Spider and beaten up by anyone that can get to him. If only he could get to two decoys and still have a move left…
Now to pull this off, it needs really tight positioning accuracy. It only just fits, and you have to use the full length of the M move, positioning him touching the tip of one side. The positioning of the portal isn’t as vital, but where Corvus gets placed is. Also terrain can ruin this, but luckily you should have two side to choose from. Again, you can choose your portal location to make them largely irrelevant from the rest of the game: on infinity formula, for example, putting the portal in the middle of board means it just won’t feature in the rest of the game.
You do need three power on Corvus though: one for the portal, one for each interact. Advanced R&D is probably my preferred method of doing it. If you happen to find the skrull/core on the first interact, you don’t need to play it. That’s the best case scenario, especially in Alien Ship, as you are limited to one move after you get the Core. But if needed, R&D provides the power to have a second go. If its skrulls, Corvus can then move away to safety, although admittedly only S.
On crises like Cubes, Spider infected or Evacuees, taking extracts your opponent feels are ‘theirs’ can lead to great early game advantage. The risk that normally comes with it is getting dazed early. It’s typically a high risk-high reward play. But with Pentagrams it becomes a lot safer:
Valkyrie is a great option: she starts with two power, but on either of these the distance to the extract is just a shade too far to allow her to grab it and move away twice. She could, however, move away once, making her much safer. This can also come as big surprise for your opponent: normally she wouldn’t be able to reach it at all, let alone move away once.
Another option could be Hela. With the two starting power, but a 50mm base, she can get there with two actions to spare. Moving back towards a secure means she is not only safe, but contributing to your VP track.
But there is one play I really like. Hulk jank is best jank.
Hulk naturally has three power every turn, so no power shenanigans needed here. One to go through the portal, one to grab a cube, move S, and spend another to grab the centre cube. With one action left, Hulk can move where you need him. An S move from the middle can bring him to relative safety of your half of the board, or advance him to a position to really let rip in round 2, starting with 5 power. I’m quietly suspicious that this is actually really good.
Edit – it is really good. Especially with Advanced R&D to grab a third cube. Add in Okoye to protect Hulk, Valk to R&D a power off and grab the fourth close cube on the other side of the board, and you’re at a really neat 17. Maybe Iron Fist could do Valk’s job, and threaten activated token on the Hulk-hunters?
This probably falls in to the more cute than good category. Strange can put a portal in range of the altar from his deployment before going of to do other things in the game.
It can help facilitate a turn 2 herb score, with an L mover or 50mm M mover, and there is a bit of wriggle room when it comes to positioning. But its still a big deployment of resources for something that is relatively easy to disrupt.
Is it worth it?
That’s the big question. Strange with a Soul gem is a big commitment, and roster spots are always tight. It dictates a lot of your team construction to do it, but there are some of these plays that I think are potentially game winning, and given that the rest of the team around it is relatively standard Defenders choices, I can see this making more high level Defenders rosters once its had a bit of testing. I don think it’s worth considering, and should probably be featuring more in the future.