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From the Deck: Alternative Art

Alternate Art cards (AA) have been a part of TCGs for as long as I can remember. They are incredibly rudimentary: the exact same effect on a card with a different piece of art. Functionally it does nothing to improve your deck, but there is some advantage (and some possible disadvantage) to playing with AAs, which I will go over in detail.

Alternate Art cards were introduced to Hex as part of the 2013 Kickstarter. Several reward tiers promised AA card variants of PVP rare cards, such as Replicator’s Gambit, Princess Victoria, and Extinction. While most tiers gave the backer 2 of their promised reward AAs, the Collector’s Tier went and gave an extra, for 3 of each AA.

The first set of AAs in Hex, awarded to various levels of Kickstarter backer.

The first set of AAs in Hex, awarded to various levels of Kickstarter backer.

During the Kickstarter this wasn’t really seen as a big boon. I mean, collectors were definitely interested but—as many can attest—the Pro Player tier was where all the value was at with its free draft per week for life. It wasn’t until the game went into Closed Beta and the AA cards were delivered did people start to see them as more than just re-skins, but as status symbols.

Yes, that’s right, I called them status symbols. You see, having a playset of AAs meant that you either backed multiple tiers or you purchased the extras from the auction house. While in the early days of beta, it was pretty common to see AA Extinctions being played, that was only because most of the players were there due to the Kickstarter to begin with. Now we live in an era of Hex where the non-Kickstarters grossly outnumber the Kickstarter players. Having AAs in your deck now shows a level of effort you put into making your deck visually impressive. There’s a psychological game going on here. When your opponent sees your Kickstarter deck sleeve, and then you flop down an AA card they haven’t seen, there is some level of intimidation going on. It’s a silent way of putting your opponent off-balance, make them think that this guy has been around for a while and probably knows the game better than they do.

Is any of that true? Can you psych out your opponent with a different piece of art on the card? It all depends on the opponent. Some will be susceptible to seeing AAs hit the field in that way, and some might actually get angry or “on tilt”. They might see their opponent as a rich d-bag who spent all their money to have all the best things and since they themselves are scraping by on Arena runs to fuel their card collections they feel they are at an incredible disadvantage to begin with. When open beta began, I would occasionally see opponents snap concede when I would play an AA card and I can only think that this was the case.

It wasn’t until late last year that AAs were being handed out as promotions and tournament prizes, as well as the Collector Kickstarter tier getting their promised “6 per year”. This both expanded AAs to non-Kickstarter players with things like Darkspire Punishers and Adamanthian Scriveners, but also featured some extremely prestigious AAs like the Cerulean Mirror Knight. CMK was a staple to several Tier 1 and Tier 2 decks, and it came as kind of a shock to many that they would get an AA treatment, much to the delight of Collector tier owners everywhere.

However if you only had a single Collector Tier you only got two of each exclusive AA. Now you could sell these for Platinum on the Auction House (and just selling the 2 CMK AAs already gets you over half your original $250 investment back), or you could go through the effort of acquiring 2 more for a playset.

Or you could play the two you have, and supplement with 2 normal CMKs for your deck. While 95% of the time, this won’t make a difference, I want to point out that a game like Hex can have games rely on information, and having two distinct versions of the same card in your deck can give your opponent information that you don’t want them to have.

How is this possible? Well let’s run through a scenario. It’s late in the game and your hand consists of a single AA CMK. Your opponent surfaces a Subterranean Spy and you know he knows what your hand consists of. You then draw a normal, plain, boring CMK off the top of your deck and attack with your current board. He blocks with his own Darkspire Punisher and it dies. You now randomly discard the normal CMK. Your opponent didn’t know this existed, so now he has the information that you still have the AA CMK, and might hold a Countermagic for it. If they were both the same art (normal or AA), then your opponent would likely have assumed that the card he spied was the one that got discarded. I admit this is some next-level thinking and playing in casual games in the Proving Grounds it often doesn’t really matter.

Now a couple months ago, Hex introduced a gold-sink in the form of AA Commons from each of the shards plus one artifact. These are purchasable in the in-game store for 25,000g each. Of course, you will want a full playset of these so 100,000g each times six cards puts your investment at 600,000 gold—which is to say, a LOT of gold. When these are removed from the store, a couple of these will definitely have a premium value on the secondary market (Buccaneer, Murder, Burn, and Sapper’s Charge are the most playable in constructed formats).

The run of AAs currently available for gold in the card shop.

If you are a free player, do yourself a favor and invest in your future and pick up as many of these as you can. We’ve been given an “early warning” that they will be leaving the store soon, and will get a week’s warning prior to their proper exit. But don’t hesitate: gold is already exchanging very favorably for Platinum as Plat-rich players are trying to just buy them outright, and that will only get more lopsided during that final week. When these exit the store and the game adds new players, expect these to rise in price on the Auction House as those players try and pick up their own status symbols to set their decks apart from the others.

There are some great resources out there to learn about which AAs exist and how to get them. Hex’s own DataDragon has also graciously given us some numbers on how many of specific AAs exist in the community. While this information is great, remember that the rule of supply and demand will determine the price on the Auction House for these AAs. Princess Victoria might be just as rare as Extinction, but she’s found in far fewer decks so she will never demand as high a price.

When it comes to PVE, I have to admit the AI likely doesn’t care that your deck is 40% AA cards. Although come to think about it, it would be hilarious if one of the unique playstyles for a PVE Champion was that he made more mistakes when you played AA cards, as your intimidation-through-Alternate-Art worked on him.

If you want a chance to acquire AA cards and you don’t want to shell out the Platinum for them, I suggest following many of the streamers on Twitch.tv. I know that Infam0usNe0 and Cirouss (among others) are constantly giving away AA cards that get donated to them and some from their personal collections. Sure, it’s a random giveaway, but it’s better than nothing.

Matt Miller, known as DeckOfManyThings in-game, is a professional MMO designer by day, and a Hex Kickstarter backer by night. He's been playing TCG's since being taught by Peter Adkinson how to play Magic: the Gathering with Alpha cards, and is now devoting a lion's share of his free time to playing and improving his skills at Hex. Find him at @ManyThingsDeck on twitter or /u/ManyThingsDeck on reddit.

3 Comments on From the Deck: Alternative Art

  1. That is really interesting. I have to say that in all honesty, I generally prefer to run 2/2 unless i really don’t like the art of one type or the other. However the possibility that it may inform my opponent is something I never took the time to consider. I will have to keep that in mind going forward. Thanks for the write up. =)

  2. I love collecting the AAs for the very reason you detailed: they are “status symbols”. You are looking for every advantage you can get in a TCG, and even a small psychological edge like playing expensive AAs can be the difference between the proper play and a mental lapse of an opponent.

  3. I don’t think your idea on art is as hurtful as you think, I enjoy card games, and have been playing since the beginning of Magic, and what they have as art has never, ever mattered.

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