May 10, 2008

WoW TCG Servants of the Betrayer Review

ServantsOfBetrayerBoosterBox.jpgThe Servants of the Betrayer [Amazon, Funagain] release marks 5th set of the solidified World of Warcraft trading card game. No longer the new kid on the block, Upper Deck now has a foundation of cards and mechanics to work with, and as the middle set release in the Outland series (between March of the Legion and The Hunt for Illidan coming later this year) the Servants of the Betrayer has the potential to both solidify the style of the game, the set, and steer the entire franchise in new directions at the same time.

But does it pull it off?

The Setting
MarksmanGlous.jpgThis set release includes a standard lot of heroes, each sports new flip powers, specialization the works -- as is the norm. But Upper Deck found the story of Outland - the shattered and floating home world of the orcs that the current detailed focus is the World of Warcraft MMORPG - needed an extra oomph beyond the stock set of heroes.

Outland is ruled over by a particular bitchy demon named Illidan Stormrage who's nicknamed The Betrayer, hence the name of this expansion release. Outland's story is saturated with backstabbers, traitors, and unsavories, and Upper Deck aimed to bring that feeling home in the WoW TCG version of this setting.

The Traitors
LadyKatranaPrestor.jpgEnter the traitor heroes - each sport alternate storylines and reciprocal 'atttitudes' in more aggressive flip powers compared to their standard hero counterparts. Take the horde hero #26 Vor'na the Disciplined for instance, who possesses the pretty straight forward frost-mage flip abillity: 3 -> Allies Can't Attack this Turn. Compare the flip ability to to her far more destructive Traitor counterpart #35 Vor'na the Wretched: 3-> At the end of this turn, the player whose turn it is destroys each ally in his party that neither attacked nor entered play this turn. You can see how that's a bit more of a game changer. There are also class specific traitor-hero=only ability cards, which are quite powerful for their cost, and some traitor only allies to boot. It's a regular cornucopia or treacherous destruction.

So what's the drawback? Well Traitor heroes can't play any specialization cards, because their specialization is - in fact - "Traitor". That means Vor'na the Wretched can't play any Fire Specialization Hero Required, nor Frost, nor Arcane. But considering the low cost traitor-only abilities, this isn't such a bad deal. And for this set only - at least - it might be worth deconstructing some of your older decks and taking the Traitor plunge. They're fun, evil, and a breathe of fresh air.

But Upper Deck has also turned the sands of time against these new mechanics. From what we understand, the Servants of the Betrayer expansion will be the only release that supports Traitor cards. With the innumerable onslaught of future ability cards tied to the standard three specializations of heroes, the Traitor heores will become more and more obsolete. We'll surely give this portion of our collection a sarcastic smirk in a few years, and feel like we've been slightly gypped.

You can read more about the design philosophies of the Traitor heroes in the WoW TCG Upper Deck Feature Preview "Servants of the Betrayer Previews: Acts of Betrayal"

The Aldor and Scryer Save the Day
MyriamStarcaller.jpgThanfkully the Inspire and Sabotage mechanics of this cycle (March of the Legion, Servants of the Betrayer and The Hunt for Illidan) get a nice boost from the Betrayer set release. The set includes a lot of tap powers to aid the growing fleet of powerful Aldor Inspire cards (who untap particular types of cards at the begining of every turn), and it's in this area where toying with game mechanics is really starting to shine in the budding WoW TCG franchise.

Meanwhile the Scryer Sabotage cards (which tap or destroyer enemy abilities, armor, or allies instead of fighting them in combat) click the deviousness notch up to 11. Aside from being a more diverse collection, in Betrayer some of the rare / epic cards Scryer cards start messing with new areas of the game, like Spymaster Thalodien's ability to sabotage a player's deck. And if you're lucky enough to get Magistrix Larynna into play near the end game, then it'll make your the Aldor Inspire knuckleheads seem like Disney characters.

Over all we're very please with where the Aldor and Scryer factions have gone in this set, so much so that we actually think of the Traitor heroes as a sideshow. We can't wait to see whats in store for these factions when the Hunt for Illidan brings it altogether.

The Supporting Cast
BarousTheStormBaron.jpgWhile the warring Scryer and Aldor certainly have a place in our decks, the standard Horde and Alliance allies still form the major ranks. It also seemed like allies have continued to band togheter around common damage types, at least for the casters. March of the legion had the fiery Hoxie Mettlemelt, and this set continues with:

  • Barous the Storm Baron: Nature allies in your party have [tap] -> This ally deals nature damage equal to its ATK, divided as you choose, to any number of target allies."
  • Lunen the Moon Baron: Arcane allies in your party have [tap]->Draw a card
  • Roke the Ice Baron: Elusive; Frost allies in your party have " Target ally can't attack this turn.
  • Lifemistress Tanagra: Nature allies in your party have +1 ATK for each other Nature ally in your party.

We love this sort of stuff. There have been few reason to make themed decks, other than the fact that attacking someone with legions of gnomes can be good fun. Finally Upper Deck gives us good-reason to start throwing in hordes of fiery, arcane, or naturalist bad boys who rally behind particular captains. Sure, they're rare, but they can make deck building far more entertaining after having slugged it out against decks usually defined by the class of hero than anything else.

Some Complaints
Unbalance.jpgAside from the Traitors being a one-trick pony, we do have a major complaint about the game. It doesn't stem from the art, or balance, or any other weakness of content. One could even label our complaint as bickering.

To us the problem apparently stems from straightforward laziness of Upper Deck's editing staff. The words on the cards are far too confusing for their own good in some cases, and the rules are so vague that sometimes it feels as though they want your own group to play with their own creative interpretation of the rules. Unfortunately, considering that the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game is a tournament game, this is simply not the case.

No, Upper Deck just doesn't try enough to iron stuff out. And it's inexecusable at this stage in the game's lifespan. Take Unbalance's description, for instance:

Unbalance: Exhaust all opposing heroes and allies. If you have an equipment, each of them can't ready during its controller's next ready step.

IllidanStormrage.jpgTurning a critical eye to this, the word "them" in the second sentence refers to the subject of that sentence, which is the "equipment". In a strict interpretation of this card, the rogue's weapons would remain tapped instead of readied. But the intention was that the allies do not untap, but the Upper Deck rules team was out having beers instead of cleaning up their rhetoric.

Likewise, Titan's Grip doesn't mention that you can have a one-handed and two-handed weapon - which you can according to the FAQ. In fact, the card's wording is specific in the details on offhanded item, but since two handed + one handed isn't mentioned at all, the card's lazy wording implies that it's illegal.

Another needlessly confusing card description includes the minimalist Anchorite Fareena, where only valid attachments can be brought over (ie: you can't transfer a weapon attachment to Anchorite Fareena). Simply-put - there's gobs more room on that card to be a bit more detailed, but Upper Deck wanted to take longer lunches.

ThumbsUp.jpgServants of the Betrayer is a solid release. It's full of nice cards that yet again adds to the game without making too many older cards and mechanics obsolete. And it does this over 8 well-balanced classes, which is definitely nothing to sneeze at. The cards of this set also rejuvenate many other have been gathering dust in the back of your collection; playing well in new combos and enhancements that we're there before.

While the Traitors might not be long lived, they're a fun addition of focused aggressive tactics for a nice change of pace. We can't wait for the final cap to be put into place on this set later this year to see how everything rounds out.

We had some substantial questions on the direction that the WoW TCG was going. It seemed like the title might stagnate. But that was before the March of the Legion release, and more importantly the Servants of the Betrayer release. Now we have high hopes once again.

Read More in: Our Game Reviews | World of Warcraft TCG

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Posted by Critical Gamers Staff at May 10, 2008 8:01 AM

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