Emergents TCG: The Art of Wildcarding

Zvi Mowshowitz

As we discussed last time, The Emergents TCG requires its players to play a card each turn in order to build resources. You learn by doing. If you want to master the art of sculpting, sculpt. If you want to learn how to tinker, tinker. If you want to learn how to not stop, I suggest not stopping. Strong arms and acolytes beget strong arms and acolytes. 

If you do not play a card, you do not build. Period. If a game goes long and you skip your build on turn fifteen, this might not matter much, but for the first five turns of the game, failing to play a card would usually be catastrophically bad. The game assumes players will be building a resource each turn.

If the problem is that your only option is an action, we’ve got you covered, because you can play the action now and then use it later. We’ll talk about that next time. 

But on the first turn, you’ll only have one resource, over which you will have little control. It might be the wrong faction for your one-cost card (your ‘one drop’). Or you might not have a one drop at all. Most cards cost more than one generic resource. What to do? A card must still be played.

That is where the most unique mechanic in Emergents comes in: Wildcarding.

So You’re Saying There’s a Chance

No resources? No problem! Play the card anyway. It might work.

It probably won’t work. Not at first. But it might. Under our current rules, 10% of the time, you’ll get to play the card completely for free. 90% of the time, you won’t, and the card will hit the gutter. That is usually not what you were hoping for, but you get two important consolation prizes. 

The most important prize is that even a failed wildcard attempt counts for the purposes of building. If you don’t have anything you can play, wildcarding keeps you in the resource building business. If you can’t find a way to get that key first resource for one of your factions, wildcarding is your way into that. 

The other benefit is that if at first you don’t succeed, you can try, try again. Your second attempt will have a 20% chance of success. It will keep going up by 10% until it works, at which point your chances reset. It doesn’t take that many shots before the chance at a free card gets mighty tempting in its own right. Even if it fails, that means your chances on your next attempt get even better. 

It’s So Crazy It Just Might Work

This leads to at least five distinct wildcard strategies.

The most common strategy is to wildcard your weakest card, or the weakest card of the appropriate faction, in order to ensure early resource development. With only a 10% or 20% chance of success, this strategy gives up the large upside of landing the perfect wildcard, in order to preserve the best cards for later on. The best cards to lose are cards that would already be ‘too late to the party’ by the time you could play them. You are sad you didn’t have the right resources to play them instead of wildcard them, but worse things often happen. You still get the increased future Wildcard percentage. The downside of this approach is that you lose out on the upside of landing a haymaker.

The flip side of that strategy is to try for a haymaker on the first turn. You only have a 10% chance, but if it works, think of the potential. If you can land Shimmerstorm or Professor Helios on the first turn, they need an answer, and they need it now. More wildcarding could be the order of the day.

We designed all the biggest characters knowing they might come out on the first turn, and ensuring that the game would continue, but when this works your rival is still in terrible shape. Cards like Billy Stopless and Professor Helios dominate games when you have lots of resources. But if you can’t afford to activate Professor Helios, the cards he gives you are impossible to use. If you can’t afford to replay Billy Stopless, he effectively trades with almost every other character. 

When building your deck, you can choose to build it with an eye towards having cards that cost one so you can play them on the first turn, and with plenty of cheap cards that you can toss away if you don’t have anything you can play. Or you can put in a lot more expensive cards, perhaps with no cards that cost one or even two resources, and take your shot. Would you rather aim to play a one-drop or wildcard The Abyss?

You could even go extreme and use the third strategy. The third approach is to wildcard more than once per turn early in the game! If you try four times, you’ll have a 70% chance that at least one of those four attempts succeeds. Make that five times and it goes up to 85%. You can all but guarantee a first turn play, if you are willing to sacrifice most of your hand to make that happen. Suddenly landing The Abyss seems a lot more likely.

It will be a key goal of our Alpha and Beta testing to balance this strategy. We consider this a fun approach that we want some players to take, but we do not want it to be the primary way people play the game. If it proves too strong, we will need to change the rules and/or create cards that punish players who get too feisty too quickly. If it proves not strong enough, we can take the gloves off and make cards that are more powerful when they are successfully wildcarded. 

The fourth strategy is to use cards that reward you for wildcard attempts. Tinkerers love the idea of trying stuff and seeing what happens. Even in failure, there’s always something to salvage. In our current version of the initial card pool,we have two cards that use the condition “When your wildcard attempt fails.” Later in the game, it is common for such strategies to be rooting for their wildcard attempts to fail, because the cards they are giving up are not as powerful as the triggers they’d get from failing.

We also have plans to do all sorts of additional cool things with wildcarding. There will be cards that are easier or harder to wildcard. Cards that have completely different effects when used as wildcards, or whose wildcard effects scale over time. Cards that mess with your success chances for other cards. Cards that care about the rival’s wildcard attempts, in both directions. And so on. There’s tons of design space out there.

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

The fifth strategy is that of the desperado and the opportunist. Every true game player knows that the path that could possibly win is always better than the path that always loses. Whether or not the game looks close at the end is not our concern. Most strategic games are usually all but over several turns before they officially end, because one player has too big an advantage to overcome. Many games of Magic or Hearthstone end with one player holding a hand full of cards that they have no time to play, with no plausible way to overcome the tempo advantage of the other player.

When that happens in Emergents, it’s time to start rolling those wildcard dice. There are problems that a free five or six cost card won’t fix, but there are a lot of problems that are more accomodating. Even if you need multiple successful wildcards, that is no reason to not try. Sometimes it even makes sense to first try cards that won’t help, in order to boost your chances for the key card that has to work. You get a big boost by getting to 30% before trying, and if only one card matters you want to try and get to at least 40% (since you still have 10%+ as a fallback if you accidentally succeed first). 

Players who are ahead also need to think about using this to press their advantage. If there is a card that won’t do any good in your hand, but would speed up your attack if it were in play, perhaps a 20% chance of having it now is better than a 100% chance of having a useless asset later. 

Even if you currently have the rival dead, you have to think about what they might pull out of their hand. Unless you win outright on your own turn with an action, which is rare, every card in their hand is potentially a free and powerful action you have to worry about. In theory they could draw a card, wildcard with it, use that effect to draw multiple additional cards, and then keep going. 

Together with unknown face-down cards, which we’ll discuss next time, this dynamic keeps more games interesting. You may think you have things all wrapped up. Probably. But they always draw one last card before your attack kills them. You can never be sure. 

Dealer’s Choice

One of our favorite parts of the game has been watching different players encounter wildcarding. Some deeply experienced card players are loath to give up resources, and almost never attempt a wildcard except to fix their resource development or to take advantage of triggers from failed attempts. Others think the deal is great and go for it early in the game by default. As the card pool expands, and different decks and approaches emerge, these differences will only get highlighted even more. 

Wildcarding also opens the door for the less experienced player. When you know you are outmatched, or are facing a nightmare matchup, do not be afraid to embrace the variance! You may or may not force your rival to follow suit. Either way, anything could happen.