Crystal Games: First Impressions – Troublemakers, Problems, and Conclusion

Get the third and final part of my Crystal Games review below.

Troublemakers

Biff (Crystal Games-156 R)
Troublemaker; 2, 4
Mane Characters can’t be involved in Troublemaker faceoffs involving this card. <P> Main Phase: Retire this card and pay [2 actions] to turn an opponent’s Mane Character to its Start side.

This card is a neat, well-thought-out, interesting first ability marred by a second ability that’s an absolutely wretched case of kicking someone when they’re down.  (Which, come to think of it, also seems to be a Crystal Games theme.)

The first ability is neat!  It’s great against Maud, and generally game-changing enough to lead to cool gameplay.

The second ability…sigh.  First of all, a 2 AT opt-out clause on giving up a troublemaker’s victory points is quite attractive on its own.  Played intelligently, Biff is likely to cost the opponent at least a turn of confronting, and then you can just get rid of him when they bring sufficient friends to bear to threaten him.  That alone undermines a lot of the tension in troublemakers.

But the big problem is what the thing actually does.  Flipping a main character to the start side varies wildly in power level based on how easy or hard it is for the opponent to fix.  For a main like Maud, it barely matters.  Unless you’re aggressively targeting their resources or friends, she’ll almost certainly just flip back at the end of their main phase for free, so worst case they can’t face a troublemaker for a turn and lose access to their full orange for a turn.  Ditto DJ: worst case, she gets flipped back for AT, costing the opponent 1 fewer than you paid for Biff + the ability, and they get cards for their AT.  So against those mains, the ability is useless.

Against mains that are difficult to flip, it’s a disaster.  For something mid-range, like Luna, Princess of the Night, it costs them at least the two AT plus probably more to arrange the situation to allow it again, leaving you probably up resources.  Against one of the truly difficult ones, like any of the non-Ultra-Rare Crystal Games mains, there’s effectively no chance they’ll manage it a second time in the game.

In other words: this card’s second ability is brutal against cards that already suck.  Of course, that might just mean no one plays Biff, leaving those cards content to suck at merely their normal background level.  But the first ability is actually pretty decent against Maud decks, and the part where you can retire him to avoid giving away the VP makes him a potential consideration for any deck interested in non-villain troublemakers, so it’s quite possible he sees enough play to ruin any small chances those mains had at success, and to prove infuriatingly frustrating to anyone new or optimistic enough to try playing them.

Cerberus (Crystal Games-157 R)
Troublemaker; 2, 5
When this card is uncovered, pay [2 action] or dismiss it.<P>At the start of each player’s Main Phase, that player frightens one of their Friends.

If you plan to defend troublemakers and control literally no friends at the start of your main phase, this is probably the card for you.  I’m pretty sure, though, that if anyone had that plan it’d be me, and I don’t.

Green Dragon (Crystal Games-163 C)
Troublemaker; 2, 4
Faceoff: Pay [1 action] to give this card +2 power until the end of the faceoff.

If you are able to afford to just sit on AT, this thing will probably never lose a faceoff.  Of course, there are a million things that might make you unable to just sit on AT, or that can get rid of this without involving a faceoff.  I think probably not good enough in constructed, though it’s a royal pain in sealed.

Windigo, (Crystal Games-166 R)
Troublemaker; 1, 3
At the end of your Troublemaker Phase, put a Unity counter on this card. <p> This card can only be challenged by a number of characters up to the number of Unity counters on this card.

A rules point that isn’t immediately obvious from reading the card: if you can’t challenge this with all your characters at a problem, you can’t challenge it at all.  So if the opponent has more characters here than the number of counters, they aren’t getting through.

This is obviously pretty hard to kill for a few turns, especially if you can drop it on an enemy concentration of force.  This led me to completely blow my opponent out with it in a sealed game this weekend.  In constructed play, though, I think there’s just too much that can go wrong.  4+ power single friends are in pretty good supply these days, Maud will wipe it out herself pretty easily, and it’s just a trick or unlucky flip away from falling prey to just some random 3 power friend.  It’s also much easier for a lot of constructed decks to move people home randomly, or of course just clear it out with something that doesn’t need to confront it.  It’s a neat card, but I think you can do better in your constructed deck.

King Sombra (Crystal Games-205 UR)
Troublemaker – Epic; 2, 5
Villain <P> When this card is uncovered, you may pay [2 actions]. If you do, dismiss each Friend here with cost 2 or less.

Sad though it is that we have another chase ultra rare villain, I think this guy is very solid as villains go.  He’s easier to farm yourself than Chrissy, at least for most decks, and he puts fewer points on the table than either her or Nightmare Moon if you’re in the business of trying to defend troublemakers with send-homes or otherwise denying them the ability to challenge at all.  Unlike the otherwise similar Ahuizotl, you can camp Lady Justice or other cards that make the opponent’s life harder out at his problem, too.  And he interacts well with Monstrous Manual since you can potentially flat-out remove whatever’s there whenever you flip him.

The second ability is less important than all that, I think.  Since he only dismisses 2 and 1 drops, he’s most often only going to hit things the opponent was unlikely to bother to unfrighten in any case.  But you can ruin fixing from time to time, and Cloudchaser and a few other cards might be worth hitting.  And since you aren’t required to pay like you are for Sunset Shimmer, you can always just use him for his quite good base stats.

Bottom Line, Troublemakers: We have Biff, a dumb card I wish didn’t exist, some things that you’re unlikely to actually play, and Sombra, another ultra-rare villain that’s pretty powerful and likely to gatekeep a lot of players out of some interesting decks.  Both Biff and Sombra are likely to be relevant to the environment, though both in problematic ways.

Problems

Rockslide (Crystal Games-184 U)
Problem; [2 orange] + [1 not-orange], [4 wild] Orange, 1
Starting Problem <P> During faceoffs here, the player with the most [earth] characters here flips an additional card.

This is a starting problem that’s near or at the level of Social Obligations, wow.  It’s technically symmetrical, but outside mirror matches you’re very likely to have no trouble keeping the bonus on lockdown.  It applies even in troublemaker faceoffs, making even a single earth pony here dangerous to decks interested in control, and facing off into it is a very uncomfortable proposition.  It also plays well with the new showdowns, though most of them including the orange one aren’t very good, so it won’t come up often.

Deep Dark Forest (Crystal Games-172 U)
Problem; [2 pink] + [1 not-pink], [4 wild] Pink, 1
Starting Problem <P> Troublemakers can’t be played here.

Pink was short role-player starting problems, but this one provides one quite nicely.  Unless you’re into troublemakers yourself, or want only two point problems in your deck, you’ll want this somewhere in the ten.  Troublemaker decks don’t automatically lose to it or anything like that, since worst-case they just lock down the other one and clear this one out by facing off with you at it, but that represents several points for you and they certainly can’t just let it sit there.

Right now, the biggest issue is going to be knowing which decks to start it against.  You probably always want it against lunatics running purple mains, but if they start DJ, who knows.  I suggest getting a team and scouting well.

Dark Magic Surge (Crystal Games-171 U)
Problem; [2 purple] + [1 not-purple], [4 wild] Purple, 1
Starting Problem <P> During faceoffs here, the player with the most [unicorn] characters here pays -[1 actions] to play Events.

This card is sweet.  Dunno how good it is, but it’s sweet.  I am definitely going to make the unicorn battle squad deck and report back.

Accessorize the Crystal Ponies (Crystal Games-167 C)
Problem; [2 white] + [2 not-white], [5 wild] White, 1
When a player confronts this Problem with characters that have at least 3 different colors among them, that player may exhaust their Mane Character here to score an additional point.

This is clearly the best of the crystal pony problems, though pink’s and purple’s are also just fine.  With all of them, they suffer from not being starting problems, because they’re some of the best reasons to play three colors, but you won’t reliably have them (or especially this one) quickly enough to base a strategy around them.  It also doesn’t help that pink/purple/white doesn’t sound like a particularly great combo to me, though at least it involves pink so you can probably get the fixing to work, thanks to DJ, and you can start Goof Off to help you dig to the good problems if you like.  It’s possible there’s something there.

The Show Must Go On (Crystal Games-188 R)
Problem; [5 wild], [5 wild] , 1
Starting Problem <P> When a player confronts this Problem, that player may banish a card from their hand to beneath one of their Friends with Pumped.

This is an incredibly sweet design: a totally symmetrical neutral problem that interacts with Pumped, a mechanic that didn’t really get that much support in its own set.  When I first saw it, I thought it might be my favorite card in the set.

Unfortunately, there’s one big thing that makes me really worry about it: Nurse Redheart.  Like Dre, many have forgotten about her since yellow faded from favor with the advent of Rock and Rave, but once she gets going she’s one of the most brutally unpleasant cards in the game to play against, and this card can power her every turn starting on turn 3 quite easily.  (Fluttershy FTA can confront a 5 wild requirement on turn 2 basically in her sleep.)  Some decks care more than others about getting their best friend returned to their hand on every single one of their score phases, but of decks I can think of only One Pace can ignore it, and I have trouble believing any deck that’s interesting or fun to play with or against could do so.

We’ve got some better removal now, and Snips and Snails can see the problem off in a hurry, but I really don’t relish the idea of this being a thing one can do.  It’s a real pity because, as I said, all the other interactions with this card seemed like fun ways to make not-so-good cards better.

Bottom Line, Problems: We got a bunch of neat new starting problems that seem balanced, a possible set of good rewards for a three color deck in the interesting crystal pony problems, and a potential either sweet card or real headache in the form of The Show Must Go On (depending on how insufferable the Nurse Redheart interaction ends up being).

Final Thoughts

This article is approaching 40% of a November Novel (eek!) so I’m going to try to be brief here.

Going in to Crystal Games, I hoped but didn’t expect mains that might compete with DJ.  In that regard, I got what I expected – we have a few potentially interesting new mains (though I’m sad we have so few of them) but none of them seem to me to be in any position to challenge DJ as the clearly most powerful main character in the game.

There’s also one card that looks like it might be designed to allow other mains to keep up with DJ (Pile of Presents) but I’m skeptical it’ll really prove to narrow the gap enough, and the general uneven quality of players doesn’t help here: Pile of Presents is very bad against non-DJ decks, so if a fair number of people don’t realize or don’t care that she’s really good, you might be significantly punished for running it even if DJ is the main for all the best decks.  Furthermore, non-DJ decks are more punished for running it than DJ decks are since cards are a scarcer resource for them.  So I expect DJ’s reign to continue.

I also hoped for some new interesting archetypes to play around with, and in that I was pleasantly surprised.  I’m not interested in the mail or crystal stuff, but several of the tribal themes seem like they might be fun tier 2 decks, even if I prove right that DJ will be at the helm of all the very best ones.  I’m excited about deckbuilding again, even if I’ll be doing a lot of it more on our Sunday tournament level than theoretical-Champs level.  (Don’t worry, though, I’ll be doing some of that too.)

I also hoped that current decks would be at least a little shaken up, and I got that too.  Of mine, Tower, if it still exists, will be quite different after this set, which is great.  Dream Quest might or might not be, but there are some good cards against it here, which is also great, because I’m pretty sure it was the best deck in the format before Crystal Games, or at least the best one I’d seen.  Popular online decks seem similarly to have some juicy new toys and interesting challenges both, though I’m less familiar with them.

I’d also hoped for more competitively costed fixer creatures, and sadly that hope was mostly dashed.  There are a few in the set, but most of them are for colors that didn’t really need them (pink and purple).  Orange got one, which I’m happy about, but yellow didn’t really (Mailmare seems non-great to me) and blue got basically none.  The keys are a nice bonus that I didn’t expect, and giving all colors access to some of those effects is something I adore, but they’re not as reliably going to enable specific two-color strategies as more 2 cost, 0 req, 2 power friends would.  I’m still sad the crystal ponies weren’t more efficiently costed.

I also hoped but didn’t expect that we’d see the definitive death of One Pace.  The jury’s still out on that one.  Pile of Presents is certainly worse for the deck than I expected any individual card to be, and is colorless to boot, but it also got several potentially useful tools, and the core engine is powerful and non-interactive enough that I’m not willing to call it dead in the absence of very hard evidence.  But I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll all someday be able to stop having to have some obscure plan for every top-level viable deck for some dumb thing it can do to avoid losing to someone who’d rather be playing solitaire but was inexplicably allowed in the MLP tournament despite that.

(Lest you should take offense, I’ve not actually got anything against One Pace players or designers.  People should play what they think will win at competitive events.  I wish Enterplay would take a stronger stance in favor of making sure decks play something that looks like what you’d expect from the game, but that’s not the fault of any player that chooses to play any individual deck.  I’d gladly run Dream Quest at a Champs re-run, and also think that deck shouldn’t exist.)

Anyway, in very final conclusion: overall I give this set an enthusiastic 8/10.  It’s got some very neat cards, and some pushed variants on a lot of interactive effects that the game was sorely missing.  All the colors got some neat stuff, including some synergy-based cards that are pushed enough that we might have a critical mass to enable some decks that don’t simply try to play the most individually powerful cards that fit their general strategy.  Some individual designs are also quite brilliant, and the keys bring some very welcome expensive access to useful off-color effects.

On the bad side, Crystal Games syndrome is annoying, especially coupled with the inexplicable inefficiency of most of the fixing friends, and I wish the bad cards were less just obviously and deeply wretched.  Most of the new mains are also too weak, and not just compared to the DJ: their flipped sides are simply not powerful enough to justify the kind of time it takes to flip them.  I love the quest aspect of mains and think the easiest flip ones are easier than they should be, but this is a reaction too far in the opposite direction.  Cadance especially, but all of them just feel like they’ll either never actually flip, or like they aren’t worth the effort to try to flip, which is a real shame.

The other major fears I still have are mostly related to cards that linger from earlier sets.  DJ main, One Pace’s component engine, and Rarity, Truly Outrageous continue to be highly problematic, but none of that’s Crystal Games’s fault, and creating cards that powerful in this set might just cause even further problems down the line.  I do hope that if. by the time the next big set of tournaments rolls around, those cards still seem to be oppressive, Enterplay will consider banning some or all of them.

Thanks for reading, as always.  I hope you found some useful things to think about here, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  Take care and have fun!

4 thoughts on “Crystal Games: First Impressions – Troublemakers, Problems, and Conclusion”

  1. Very nice summary, I won my promo by wrecking face with the Derpy/Mailbox combo and a Premiere Twilight Mane, not sure how well it would work in constructed though.

  2. Fantastic guide. Really like this site, well laid out and good articles.
    Blue seems to have been screwed with Crystal Games, but then again, everything is screwed with DJ in the game. I think that until a reliable counter to S&S: destroyers of the Universe comes along (Destiny Drain being a good start) pure control remains dead at a tier 1 level

    1. I think Cutie Pox Scare might well be that solution. It’s one of those cards that looked good, and then I started playing with it, and it got even better. Sure it doesn’t save the troublemaker, but I usually plenty of those, and it stops the whole score phase. It was only really a huge problem for older control decks when combined with RTO runs and so forth, and CPS just shuts all of that down.

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