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.
The Black Order are interesting in that they haven’t been around that long but they’re widely known by their appearance, if not their name: They’re likely known to Marvel fans who have seen Avengers: Infinity War, but they aren’t referred to as the Black Order in either Infinity War or Endgame. And they also don’t really get named individually at all, except for Thanos himself and Ebony Maw (who Thanos just refers to as “the Maw” and Tony Stark refers to as “Squidward”). And the film leaves off one member and renames another. And they’re total chumps who get their lunch eaten by small groups of heroes and don’t have much of an impact. So maybe they’re not so familiar after all.
Thanos (or Marvel’s Darkseid) has been trying to conquer and/or murder the galaxy since the early 1970s. He was born on Titan, the moon of Saturn (this is also where the Eternals are from so look for some connection in that movie maybe). In the comics his main motivation wasn’t some kind of simplistic Malthusian population control, but rather that he is super hornt for Death. Not just the concept of things dying but the actual anthropomorphic personification of Death. And not even the hot goth one! The skull-and-robes variety. This guy has issues is what I’m saying.
Rob’s Note: There’s a neat reference to this in the post-credits stinger for the first Avengers film where Thanos’ lackeys tell him that to try and conquer Earth would be to “court death” and he smiles. It’s a cool nod but there was never any way that the MCU was going to tackle Thanos wanting to bone death.
To get Death’s attention and prove his worth, the galaxy’s greatest incel decides to gather up the “Infinity Gems” and use them to kill everything. It kind of works out in that he gets the stones and kills lots of stuff but doesn’t work in that Death doesn’t fall for him afterward and then also he’s stopped by the half of the universe he didn’t kill. Despite this initial semi-failure Thanos continues to pop up every now and then with some over-elaborate scheme to murder everything. Seriously, dude, move on. She’s not into you.
At one point a few years back Thanos recruited a group of followers/lieutenants called the Black Order. While the Avengers were all off Earth fighting some cosmic menace, Thanos decided this was a good time to invade. So he sent the Black Order to Earth to look for the Infinity Gems, but as the Avengers came back they got ganked and, much like in the movie, weren’t all that memorable. Marvel has gone on to give them back stories and personalities, so that’s nice.
Thanos Quest (1990, #1-2) and Infinity Gauntlet (1991, #1-6) are both good reads for Thanos. As a character Thanos had been around for a long time already by 1991 but this is the big event that launched him to be a household name (at least in very nerdy households). The story is very familiar: Thanos assembles the Infinity Gems, snaps half of all living things out of existence, a bunch of surviving heroes defeat him and restore everything. The series was done by legendary creators JIm Starlin (writer) and George Perez (artist). If you prefer your comics in hip-hop format, check out “The War for Infinity” by nerdcore rapper Adam WarRock (I’m serious, it’s really good, especially the track “The Silver Age”).
There are a number of sequels to Infinity Gauntlet that involve Thanos being a cosmic-level dick, some are okay, others less so.
Infinity (Avengers, v5 (2013) #14-23, New Avengers, v3 (2013) #8-12, Infinity 1-6) This is the story that sees the introduction of the Black Order. Thanos, Corvus Glaive, and Proxima Midnight go on to be significant in the rest of Jonathan Hickman’s incredible Avengers/New Avengers run.
Thanos Returns (Thanos (2016), #1-6) Thanos isn’t doing so great – dying, powerless, abandoned, imprisoned. But like all great crime boss stories he has to claw his way back to the top of the pile. Rob’s Note: Issues 13-14 are pretty good too, where Thanos is brought to the future by an older version of himself who has wiped out all other life in the universe… except one. DUN DUN DUUUUUUN
The Black Order (2018-2019, #1-5) The Children of Thanos get their own series that fleshes them out a bit more.
The Black Order in Marvel Crisis Protocol
The biggest impediment to playing the Black Order in MCP is that you have to buy Thanos himself, who is sold in a very pricey expansion box. It comes with an awesome throne and rules for an Ultimate Encounter where players team up to try to take down a solo raid boss version of Thanos so that makes the price tag sting a little less. And I suppose complaining about an awesome-looking $65 model that at least comes with some terrain on a predominantly Warhammer site is a little bit silly.
The other drawback is that these characters have no other affiliation so they can’t do double (or triple) duty in a roster like many other characters. If you just plan to run the Order as a block or use the members as add-ons to other affiliations that’s not as much of an issue though.
Thanos is of course the leader of the Black Order. His Leadership ability changes depending on whether he is Healthy or Injured and that may mean you have to flip your playstyle a bit depending on how he’s doing. On the Healthy side, you gain a VP for every character that is KO’d. So beat as much face as you can. KO’ing enemies will also help your squad gain points on objectives, since your opponent will have fewer bodies to contest or interact.
When Thanos flips to Injured his Leadership ability allows his squad to reroll attack dice, but only if the attacking character suffers wounds equal to the number of dice (maximum of 3). Let’s be honest here: I hate this. It may be a good last ditch effort if you really need to pull off an attack but trading wounds for rerolls – not even “change to a hit,” just a reroll which you still have a 50% chance of a die coming up with a whiff – just sucks. It’s starting to make the Guardians’ ability look decent. Grade: C
Blood to Spare is one of those “situationally brilliant” cards that can really save your bacon from time to time. You’ll probably have the Power for it if you just took enough damage to Daze a character and a solid reactive strike can really turn your opponent’s moment of triumph into an agonizing stalemate. I’m not sure the second part, where if you remove damage because of the attack, even works – none of the Black Order have any attacks that work like that. It’s probably future-proofing, but are there even other characters that could be added to this affiliation? Black Swan maybe? Who knows. Grade: B
On the other hand, Mothership will almost always be useful in every game. A teleport with no range limitations? Sounds worth 4 Power to me! Plus it gives me an excuse to sing some Parliament Funkadelic during a game! Grade: A
Thanos teaches his minions the Price of Failure, which lets you sacrifice an Injured character (the target does not have to be Black Order) and everybody else gets 3 Power (also not gated by affiliation). You can only use it on your own turn, but good for when a character gets left on 1 stamina. You can control the timing of it a little better with Thanos’ injured side leadership. Enough to make it into your eight? Maybe. Three power for everybody is pretty sweet. Sacrificing a character is pretty rough though. Grade B
If you have Thanos in your squad, and if you’re playing affiliated you do, he can use Power of the Cosmos to gain a very good area attack. If he has a couple of Infinity Gems on him (of which he can take 2, meaning everybody out to Range 3) it gets even better. Grade: A-
Ebony Maw has Shhh…, a Counterspell against superpowers. Can be incredibly frustrating to an opponent’s plans. The only downside is it’s limited to Ebony Maw. Grade: B-
On the other hand, Corvus Glaive and Proxima Midnight are actually good characters, and you are unlikely to take one without the other, so Execute is almost an auto-include. A 6 or 7 dice attack (up to 10 or 11 if Thanos is nearby!) with no defensive dice can really ruin someone’s day. Use their Wife/Husband superpowers to set up your perfect combo. Beware of Bodyguard powers though, as they will foul your evil schemes. Grade: A
Building Your Roster
The Black Order
Start with Thanos the Mad Titan since you don’t have any other choice. He’s expensive (and not just the cash for the expansion!) but you get a lot for his 6 or more Threat. Seventeen stamina with a bit better than average defenses and he reduces damage taken by 1. But what’s this? It doesn’t say “to a minimum of 1” like Iron Man or other characters. That’s super solid.
Offensively, Thanos has two strong builder attacks, both of which move the target away. He doesn’t have any way to boost his own movement but he can teleport allies (on his Healthy side only), and he can add attack dice to allies’ pools as well (two or four dice depending on whether the ally is Healthy or Injured). Both these abilities work within range 4, so Thanos is going to be moving up the center of the board and squatting on an objective for much of the game. Makes his movement somewhat predictable and probably makes him a target but see above w/r/t his survivability.
Those superpowers cost 2 Power each but Thanos shouldn’t have any problem generating. He can be equipped with up to two Infinity Gems and each of those generates an additional Power during the Power Phase. He’s going to have plenty of Power on hand, even if he’s also boosting his Cosmic Blast.
As far as Gems go, Mind, Reality, and Time are the main contenders. Thanos doesn’t really need the extra Power from Power or Soul and he already can do the Space Gem ability but better. Reality makes him even more lethal and maybe lets you grab some VP from his Healthy side Leadership ability. Reality and Time and he becomes brain breakingly rude in combat, but that’s 9 Threat tied up in one character. The Mind Gem on top of the pushes from his attacks really let him control where people end up, Mind and Time even moreso. You do not want to play Gamma Shelters against that Thanos. There are a lot of good options and you probably should always give him at least one Gem, but his squads are likely to only be three or four characters – be sure your roster has some 2 Threat folks to round out the points depending on the Crisis. Grade: B+
Black Dwarf is a straight up tank. He’s only slightly less survivable than Thanos – 14 stamina, better physical defense, and he has the “reduce damage by 1” but it has the “to a minimum of 1” clause. He also has an interesting variant of Bodyguard that depends on Black Dwarf being close to the attacker rather than close to the target. Makes sense since he doesn’t have any long range attacks, so he’s going to be up in the enemy’s face. He may have some trouble getting there with a Short move on his 65mm base and no other movement shenanigans but fortunately Thanos can help him out there.
With a very solid spender attack and three great superpowers, Black Dwarf may find himself short on Power so be mindful of whether you want him to be tanking for an ally or beating face. Trying to do too much with him is a tempting trap. Grade: B+
Corvus Glaive is fantastic at attacking but not much else. He can take the Time and Reality Gems, so see the discussion above on Thanos for how stupid good that combo can be, and it applies here too. If forced to choose Reality might be slightly better, especially when using Glaive’s Edge to add blanks as successes, but it might be overkill especially if Thanos is nearby using Death’s Decree. Or maybe it’s just the right amount of kill. Grade: B
But, like many of us, Corvus’ best ability is who he’s married to. Because when this Wife Guy finishes his activation he can then tag Proxima Midnight to activate immediately (or he can go after her). Two back to back activations can be clutch – or three if you also use Follow Me. Proxima fills much of the same role as Corvus, killin’ stuff. Her spender attack also lets her drop Bleed, Poison, and Stun conditions on the target if it does damage, no Wild result even needed! Have fun with that!
Proxima is moderately squishy unless she’s attacked from within Range 2, and then she has the equivalent of 5 dice in all defenses. So keep in mind your opponent is definitely going to try to shoot her from outside Range 2 when positioning her and any bodyguards. She has a Long move and her Spear Throw can teleport her up closer to her target, which is all great, but don’t get her too far out on her own or she’ll get picked off. Grade: B+ (with Corvus and Proxima together, both rise to A-)
Last and definitely Least is Ebony Maw. Okay, he has a bunch of solid pieces to him, but they just don’t add up to 5 Threat (plus Gems). His builder attack can advance the target on a Wild, which gives you a lot more flexibility than a push or a throw, but it’s not guaranteed to trigger. He has a great throw that can move Size 4 characters Long but between that, his 8 Strength spender, and his defensive superpower Ebony Maw is going to be tapped out on Power more often than not, even with the extra that he generates. You could choose to give him the Mind Gem to increase his control abilities but then you’re paying even more Threat and spending even more Power. And I just don’t see anything here that really excites me, especially compared to what else you could get in the game. For 5 Threat you can get Loki with the Mind Gem, and he’s actually not terrible. Grade: C
To get your Leadership ability, such as it is, and to be able to use Mothership or Blood to Spare you’re going to need Thanos and two other characters. So that’s Corvus and Proxima. Depending on Gems you’re probably around 15 Threat already. Oof. Or go Thanos/Black Dwarf/Taskmaster but even then you’re already at 14. Or you could split up Corvus and Proxima, but if you do that I will cut you. Accept the inevitability that if you want to play Black Order you’re only going to have four characters, maybe five for very high Threat crises, so your out-of-affiliation characters are probably not going to be more than 3 Threat . You are going to have loads of damage output so you can either lean into that and add in characters that deal even more damage (like Valkyrie or maybe Rocket Raccoon) or you can try to fill in the gaps with Okoye (for Bodyguard) or Toad (for board control).
So Are They Any Good?
The Black Order is very good at what they do – beating down opponents. If that’s your style of play and you also like playing a smaller, elite force then you’ll probably enjoy the Black Order and maybe even do well. It’s an affiliation that lends itself to aggressive play and needs to be very aware of its limitations.
You’re also going to be somewhat clustered up to make use of Thanos’ excellent Range 4 superpowers, so you should have a backup plan for any B, C or D map crises which is unfortunately a LOT of them. Grab what objectives you can and murder anybody who gets close enough, or maybe consider a second affiliation in your roster.
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