In this series for newer or casual players we introduce the various Affiliations in Marvel Crisis Protocol, dip into their comic book history, and talk about building a roster around them. This week we’re covering the Defenders!
That lovable group of misfits, the Defenders. A group defined by how weird their lineup is, and handling threats that nobody else can (or wants to) deal with.
There are two different strains of Defenders, and the MCP Affiliation blends both together. Which is fine because the group was always a kind of “heavenly hash” of membership. Even more than the Avengers, and they accepted Starfox!
The original Defenders started off in 1969-1970 with Doctor Strange, The Hulk, The Sub-Mariner, and the Silver Surfer coming together to fight some cosmic horror or other. Maybe the biggest enemy the group faced was their own towering egos, and they insisted they were “not a team,” much like those friends of yours who insist they’re not a “thruple.” The not-team had a number of wacky adventures but the Surfer and Namor left fairly early on. Then Valkyrie joined up. Then, um, Nighthawk. And eventually they had this whole “Defender for a Day” gimmick which, come on folks you’re just boosting your numbers and everybody knows it. Eventually they’re letting in folks like Gargoyle and Hank McCoy, and then really how much lower can you go?
But the ‘70s Defenders were weird not just in how random their membership was at any given time. There was a running B-Plot where, well, here, it’s easier if I just show you.
The Elf with a Gun showed up three or four times, killed people, and then left. He never crossed paths with the Defenders, never had a major story arc. Eventually he just gets hit by a truck. The End. No moral.
The other flavor of Defenders is the street-level heroes popularized by the Netflix series. Nobody was using the name anyway, and it works for what they do, so I don’t think anybody minded.
The Avengers-Defenders War (Avengers volume 1 (1963) #116-119, Defenders volume 1 (1972) #9-11). Yes, a good old “the heroes meet, have a misunderstanding, and FIGHT!” This will give you the sense of the early lineup and how much of an “outsiders” vibe they had going.
Marvel Masterworks: The Defenders volumes 3 & 4 or Essential Defenders volume 3 either one of these will give you most of the Steve Gerber run, the weirdest part of the ‘70s Defenders.
The Defenders (volume 4 (2011), #1-12) Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson take a crack at a modern revival of the team. Dr Strange, Namor, Silver Surfer, Red She-Hulk, Iron Fist. It’s got a highly weird bent and feels like Fraction doing his best Hickman/Morrison “hidden weird history of the Marvel universe and giant cosmic implications” impression. It also has Dr Strange as a super creep, which I’m glad nobody followed up on.
Fearless Defenders (2013, #1-12) Valkyrie and Misty Knight lead a team of women warriors against evil valkyries and the daughter of Morgan le Fey. A strong series cancelled too soon. Give us Misty, AMG!!
The Defenders in Marvel Crisis Protocol
The Defenders have reasonably large roster with a lot of very strong characters. As the history of the team (extremely Janet voice: not a team) has proven it’s kind of a mishmash of characters but here in MCP that’s a good thing.
Doctor Strange is the only Leader in the affiliation so far. And he brings a great Leadership Ability to the table – once per turn any character can spend 1 Power to choose the attack type, and thus which defensive stat is used against it. Now most of the time it won’t matter a huge amount, since so many characters are just 3-3-3 or very close to that. But against someone like Black Bolt where one stat is two or more lower, or against someone Captain America who has a special defense against specific attack types this is very good. It won’t work against Ebony Maw or Magneto who get to use a defensive stat of their choice sadly, although it will force them to burn Power to activate that ability so not terrible I guess. It would just be more impressive if there was more variance in the defensive stat line.
The leadership also gives the target the Hex special condition if the attack does damage, which prevents crits from generating extra. Super frustrating! It also used to prevent the target from modifying blanks, but that got errataed out so don’t let anybody pull a fast one on you. Grade: B+
Pentagram of Farallah allows Dr Strange or Wong (when in Defenders affiliation) to set up teleport portals that can be Range 5+1 apart from each other. The caveat to keep in mind here is that either side can use these portals, not just your squad. Which honestly is kind of hilarious. It can certainly help you get up the board quickly, but be careful not to leave an express lane to your backfield secure objective. Grade: B+
Seven Suns of Cinnibus is a special attack for Dr Strange that costs 3 Power for a Strength 8 Beam 5 that gives the Incinerate special condition. Holy cow, that’s potent. You need to position two other allies near Strange but that should be manageable. Grade: A-
Dr Strange’s third Team Tactics card is Vapors of Valtorr. Like the Seven Suns you need to have two allies near Strange, and this gives an ally a 1 in 3 chance of being able to force an attacker to reroll. Pretty chancy for a defensive ability, and it only lasts one round. Grade: C+
Deal with the Devil brings Ghost Rider back into the game from being KO’d and potentially even flips him back to Healthy. And then it gives nearby allies the Incinerate special condition. Very nasty piece of work. Grade: A-
Highway to Hell allows Ghost Rider to drag an enemy along with him while he moves. Very useful to moving someone off an objective or out of a key position, although they’re going to be mad and Ghost Rider is right there next to them so maybe use it on someone who has already activated. Grade: B
Weapon X Program lets Wolverine throw himself Short for 3 Power and not take collision damage. So it’s Black Panther’s Pounce, but it costs more and you can only use it once? Not great. Grade: C
Agents of S.M.A.S.H. is, I think, the only Size 5 throw in the game, and you get to throw it Long. The downside is you need both Hulk and She-Hulk to use it, and that’s a lot of threat tied up in one great and one not so much character. But if you ever really wanted to throw Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum at somebody, take this card and go nuts. Grade: D
Gamma Launch is Hulk’s Fastball Special, and it’s stock has gone up significantly since Drop Off was put on the Banned list. If for some reason you’re taking Hulk, you should have this card. Grade: B+
Building Your Roster
The Defenders have a deep bench so it’s not difficult to find ones who will fit your playstyle and be adaptable to many different crises. The main difficulty being that the leader, Doctor Strange, is 5 or 6 Threat so you’ll want to be very cautious about adding in other high cost characters.
Doctor Strange is a given as the affiliation’s only Leader, and that’s not a bad thing at all. He has a large toolbox to handle lots of situations. A good builder, a great spender that Staggers regardless of whether damage was dealt, a 2 Power cost superpower to give allies extra defense dice, and maybe most importantly a heal! The good doctor is a great support piece. He has a superpower that may give him one additional Power on each roll, but he may still run a little short given all his good stuff. It might not be terrible to give him the Soul Gem if you find his tank on empty a lot. Even at 6 Threat he’s still pretty good. Grade: B+
I’ll admit it, I’ve been a big fan of Daredevil since I was in short pants. But DD in MCP leaves me a little cold. Daredevil has the usual 3-3-3 defensive statline, and can include blanks as successes for defense so he’s tougher than he would seem. His Baton Hook builder attack ignores LOS and the benefits of cover, so you can hide him behind terrain and still smack somebody, but without any way of boosting his attack pool that and his Strike don’t have a lot of oomph behind them. But his spender, Devil’s Deliverance, is the one that has the potential to get really bonkers. It’s an AoE2 and adds 2 dice for every non-Dazed enemy in range. I’ve seen reports of people getting 70-80 total dice attacks out of that (5-6 enemies in the bubble. Thank you Gamma Shelters!). I don’t expect that would happen often in the wild, but a boy can dream.
Daredevil has one difference from his Healthy to his Injured side – his Man Without Fear counterstrike superpower swaps out for Devil of Hell’s Kitchen which gives him an extra Strike attack which doesn’t cost an action. Which again is okay but he doesn’t hit very hard. Overall Daredevil is solid but doesn’t have anything exciting to bring to the table. Grade: B
Ghost Rider on the other hand, I’ve never really been into as a character. He’s all about movement, with a Medium move for his 65mm base plus an extra Long move. Ghost Rider has some interesting offensive abilities, wth a good strength 5 Beam3 and Penance Stare doing extra damage based on how much Power the target has and then taking away Power instead of granting it for damage. Harsh. Wicked’s Judgment also punishes enemies for attacking Ghost Rider’s nearby allies. Many of Ghost Rider’s abilities can be countered with good positioning but seeing how mobile he is that may be harder than it sounds. Overall, for 5 Threat I don’t think he’s on par with M.O.D.O.K. or Angela or even Doctor Strange. Grade: B-
Hawkeye is a glass cannon without a lot of bells and whistles. He shoots things from Range 5, maybe puts a special condition. Being able to choose whether the attack is physical or energy is sometimes a help but if he’s played in Defenders he can do that anyway for 1 Power (and also choose mystic AND possibly inflict Hex). Hawkeye’s Hook Arrow lets him be placed within Range 3, even behind terrain, and his Trick Shot means he can shoot you through that terrain. Other than a ranged counterstrike that might hopefully dissuade attacks he doesn’t have any defensive abilities and a 4-2-2 defense stat line with only 9 Stamina is why I say the “glass” part of glass cannon. Keep him secret, keep him safe! Grade: A-
I don’t think we talked about Hulk before – the Avengers had too many folks on the roster to go into detail about each one. Even with 20 Stamina, Hulk needs more than 2-2-3 defenses to keep him on the table for long. Granted, the more damaged he is the more damage he does so taking hits isn’t all bad, you just need to have him in that window where he stays effective without getting KO’d. Maybe Doctor Strange can help with that. The biggest problem is that She-Hulk and even maybe Black Dwarf are better Hulks than Hulk. And 6 Threat is a lot to pay for “meh.” Grade: C
Iron Fist is a strong offensive character costing only 3 Threat. What’s not to love? He only has average defenses but he counts blanks as successes and I’m sure some math person would tell you that’s really good. The Flying Kick attack gives Danny some great mobility, basically giving him a Range 4 teleport. He gets an extra Power each round, which he’ll need if he ever wants to fire off his The Iron Fist attack, and yeah, you’re going to want him to use that if at all possible. Strength 9 is great, auto splash damage to range 3 is amazing, giving the target an Activated token if they haven’t gone yet? Find a way to get 8 Power onto this guy. Probably easier in some other affiliations like A-Force, but in Defenders he gets to choose the type of attack, which is just brutal. Grade A-
Luke Cage’s job is going to be to get up in your opponent’s face, tanking attacks, and simply not dying. He has the same Bodyguard variant as Black Dwarf that works off nearby enemies rather than nearby allies, and between his wound-reducing Unbreakable Skin and his slightly better than average Physical defense he can probably take a fair amount of abuse. With Doctor Strange nearby to use Hoggoth’s Hoary Wisdom and heal him up now and then he’s going to be unbeatable, although it’s going to cost Strange a fair amount of Power. Cage can dish out damage fairly well, and his appropriately named Sweet Christmas spender will toss around Slow and Stun conditions. He may need some help getting into position but again Dr Strange can help with that too. Grade: B (in Defenders A-)
Spider-Man (the original flavor. Don’t know yet if Amazing will be included) is, like Hulk, meh. It hurts me to type those words but again, his cost is just too darn high for what you get. He has very good board control abilities that allow him to move enemies around the board fairly easily (although it’s costly to do so), and his Spider-Sense may help keep him alive but overall that’s about it. Compare his card to Daredevil above and Peter just comes up short, a victim of being early in the design process. Even AMG recognizes this with a second Spider-Man coming out very soon. Sorry tiger, you don’t hit the jackpot. Grade: C+
I’ve spoken about how good Valkyrie is in the Asgard spotlight and honestly the only thing different here is she gets better with Dr Strange’s Leadership ability. She might need some protection (or healing) to keep her on her feet without Thor’s Leadership but it’s a solid trade-off to be able to stab someone in the psyche. Grade: A
Wolverine claims to be the best there is at what he does, and that may be right. He’s essentially a budget Hulk – his Healing Factor gives him effectively more Stamina, and he may spike to higher damage output when factoring in his Pierce effect, his Wild Rage, and the titular The Best At What I Do superpower. Wolverine is going to get up in the mix and wreck people. He and Valkyrie share a similar role but he’s definitely more survivable. His only real drawback is that Wild Rage prevents him from doing anything with objectives when Wolverine is on his injured side, which could be a real problem on a low model count team where you need all hands on deck. Grade: A-
Okay, so lastly here’s the thing with Wong: if he’s making an attack you’ve made a terrible mistake somewhere and should reconsider your life choices. His Strike is not great and only gives you 1 Power. If he’s near Dr Strange his defensive stats aren’t bad, but really Wong needs to be tucked somewhere safe doing the thing that he is the best at what he…does…best. Anyway, Wong is an Power battery and healbot. He can hand out 1 Power to an ally within Range 3, or as an Action he can heal an ally or remove a status effect. But while Wong has a superpower that lets him generate 1 Power for an Action, without also gaining Power from making (and taking) attacks I’m not sure he gets to a position where he’s not running on fumes. You can’t really use his support abilities as aggressively as you might want to. Still, he’s a 2 Threat character so you can’t ask for everything. Grade: B+
You’ve already got some very strong support characters and attackers -both short and long range – in affiliation. You could always use someone who is good at squatting on objectives (despite everything comics in the 90s and 00s taught us, Wolverine can’t be everywhere at once). Taskmaster might be a good candidate for that job, or, and this is a Steaming Hot Take here, Captain America. Hoggoth’s Hoary Wisdom and Vibranium Shield (and later I Can Do This All Day) can really make Cap much tankier than he has any right to be.
You may also want to look at someone to help with board control, since you’re probably not taking Spider-Man. Maybe some other Spider-Friends, like Miles Morales or Spider-Gwen can help out here. Gwen can offer a degree of protection with Life Saver as well, and that’s never bad. Enchantress will be a maddening board control and objective-stealing machine.
And hey look, I made it through without mentioning Shuri or Okoye!
Are they any good?
The Defenders are a solid, well rounded affiliation with very strong support characters. Just be careful not to load up on too much support and not have anybody left to do stuff. Strange with Wolverine and Valkyrie are 12 Threat of terrifying unkillable staby action, and you can lean hard in that direction. Or go Strange/Valkyrie/Hawkeye/Miles/Taskmaster as an all-comers squad. There’s a lot of flexibility and the ability to cover whatever crises your opponent brings.
Unfortunately, given their history as loners and misfits, there’s not a lot of overlap that brings good synergy with a second affiliation in a roster. Maybe Hawkeye and Wolverine to double up with Avengers? Or use Daredevil to pivot into Web Warriors to cover the crises that want more mobility.