When I first began to explore the Marvel Universe in my teens, Doctor Strange was one of the more onerous properties among the back catalogue. His stories were steeped in mysticism and magic and he was less a superhero and more of an enigma to me. However Stephen Strange is clearly a popular character, even more so since Benedict Cumberbatch took over the role as one of the most pompous characters in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so his inclusion into Marvel Champions seemed inevitable.
How does the Sorcerer Supreme play? How does magic fit into a world of gamma infused superbeings and space age killer robots? I’m glad you asked. Today we’ll be looking at Doctor Strange in his base Protection build.
Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange
Unlike almost every other hero to date Stephen Strange has almost no abilities while in Alter Ego mode, with the exception of being able to discard the top card of the Invocation deck, we’ll get to that in a moment. He has a hand size of 6 and an above average, for a mere human, 10 hit points and a recover of 4.
On his flip side Strange has less than stellar stats, 2 Thwart, 1 Attack and 2 Defence. His hand size in hero mode is the standard 5, although he always has access to the top card of the invocation deck so it is essentially six. He can also acquire the title of sorcerer supreme for a hand size bump.
Strange also has a unique set up. Unlike other heroes he has an additional deck of 5 cards called the Invocation Deck. This is a deck of 5 spells that Strange can cast by exhausting and paying the cost of the card. Each card tackles one of the main aspects of the game, Card Draw, Attack, Defence, Thwart and lastly denying the villain activations. These spells more than make up for Strange’s lackluster stats and if you can get the Cloak of Levitation into play you can trigger two of these spells each round.
Beyond Strange’s Invocation deck he also has many additional spells in his deck to give him an edge. Magic Blast deals 5 damage plus potentially other effects, all of which are positive. Astral Projection removes 3 threat from a scheme and can remove more, while also giving you a glimpse at the top card of the villain deck. And Protective Ward adds a nice way to cancel treachery cards like Shadows of the Past to keep you from experiencing some of the nastier things the encounter deck has to offer.
As for Upgrades, Strange can add the Eye of Agamotto for an additional Wild Resource per turn. The Cloak of Levitation allowing him to ready and Sorcerer Supreme for increased hand size in Hero form.
While in Alter Ego form you can use the Sanctum Sanctorum to recycle spent spell cards into your deck and draw a card. While the signature ally in this set, Wong, can be used to heal damage or to cycle the Invocation Deck meaning you never need to flip to Alter Ego.
And if all that wasn’t enough, Master of the Mystic Arts is almost game breakingly strong. The Invocations, all of which are incredibly powerful in their own right, have the cost of exhausting Doctor Strange. Master of the Mystic Arts allows you to, not only, cast the invocation without exhausting Strange, but to also return it to the top of the deck so you can use it again!
Crimson Bands of Cyttorak deals 7 damage to an enemy and stun and it is not an attack so it neatly avoids guard or retaliate. Images of Ikonn confuses the villain and removes 4 threat from any scheme. Seven Rings of Raggadorr grants any three characters a tough status. Vapors of Valtorr allows you to swap any in play status effect to a different status effect and Winds of Watoomb draws you three cards… for free!
In the Protection cards we have three new allies, Clea and Brother Voodoo, I’ve used both but I’ll rarely play them if I have better options. The other ally though is Iron Fist and he’s awesome. He’s pricey at a cost of 4 but he can deal 3 damage and stun, twice, and still attack once more for just 2 damage before leaving play. Desperate Defence is nice for a single resource to gain +2 Defence and ready if you take no damage and pairs nicely with Unflappable which draws you a card when you take no damage. I like Momentum Shift too, you get to heal 2 and deal 2 damage, which can help clear pesky minions that Strange is typically unable to deal with in other ways. The Night Nurse is a good addition and one I’d probably play over a Medical Team, only costing 1 and able to heal damage and clear status effects.
Warning is a zero cost card that blocks a single incoming damage. I have certainly made use of this card but I don’t think I’d add it to my deck over other cards. It can however be useful for several of the Protection cards in Strange’s build that stipulate “if you take no damage.” Sorcerer Supreme can be played on any Mystic hero to grant +1 hand size while in hero form, this one I absolutely get into play every time I can. I’ll be interested to see how many other Mystics can make use of this going forward.
Doctor Strange is good at almost everything even in a Protection role as he is in this build. His Invocation deck gives him access to abilities that are easily more powerful than any other card of that cost. For example Crimson Bands of Cyttorak deals 7 damage and stun for 2 resources. In an Aggression deck Upper Cut would cost 3 resources, only dealing 5 damage and not causing stun.
This makes Strange capable of dealing with any situation as long as he can manipulate the Invocation deck so that the right card is on top at any given moment. Strange himself is rather weak, but his deck is incredibly strong, meaning that you almost never use Strange for his own innate abilities, with the possible exception of Defence and then only when you have Desperate Defence in hand and a big attack incoming. This perhaps is thematic, after all Doctor Strange is not particularly remarkable without his powers but it does make him feel rather inconsequential and incredibly weak when you have a bad hand.
Against Norman Osborn, as Dr Strange I was able to permanently stun and confuse lock him to the point where he never attacked or schemed for the entire game, with the exception of once via a treachery card. Strange’s deck is not particularly equipped to deal with the hordes of minions in the Green Goblin scenario, however as Crimson Bands does not count as an attack you can neatly avoid the Guard keyword that makes those minions tricky for other heroes and go straight after Goblin, stunning him in the process.
I beat every scenario on the first attempt, with the exception of Rhino but I’m chalking that up to a learning experience as it was my first time with the deck. Strange can churn through his deck like no other hero, especially with Wong in play who allows you to spam the Invocation deck looking for the cards you want. With the ability to consistently and dependably stun or confuse lock the enemies along with ready access to 7 damage from either Crimson Bands or Magic Blast, Doctor Strange is a powerful ally to have on any team and in solo he can face off against any enemy from the core box and first two expansions and come out on top.
It’s worth noting that Doctor Strange is particularly powerful in Solo play (which is currently my only method of play ala Lockdown). In multiplayer he would still be powerful, but unable for example to permanently stun lock a villain as I have described above.
There is certainly a learning curve to Doctor Strange, knowing what invocations and spells you have access to and which upgrades you need in play to get him to function may take you a game or two, but after that you’ll have mastered the mystic arts and be in control of perhaps the most powerful hero in Marvel Champions to date.
Doctor Strange is all about denying your enemies the ability to attack or thwart until you are ready to face them. If you like the idea of a hero that can delay the fighting and then come out swinging Doctor Strange might be for you.
Doctor Strange definitely offers a more complex play experience as the designers at FFG continue to demonstrate the versatility of character design in Marvel Champions, however in solo his power level is much higher than other heroes so you might want to try playing on Expert mode to keep things challenging.