UPDATE (11/15/2014): The article has been edited to fix some previously confusing information. Many players, myself included, believed (due to some conflicting information) that in a tournament setting you were required to bring 8 character cards, and 20 dice. However, it is a maximum of 8 characters and a maximum of 20 dice. Thanks to Daniel for helping bring this to my attention in the comments. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments, I’ll answer as quickly as I can!
Marvel Dice Masters is a new collectible card/dice game hybrid that is taking the tabletop and trading card game community by storm. Marvel Dice Masters, or MDM for short, is a game that is generally very easy for Magic: The Gathering or other TCG players to pick up. So, this intro is going to be written with the expectation that you have at least some casual experience with TCG games, and I’ll use certain Magic mechanics as reference points to help simplify MDM’s rules.
The first thing you’ll need is your custom built team of your favorite Marvel characters, made up of up to eight character cards, and using up to 20 character dice . Your character dice are what you actually play with and behave a lot like cards in your typical TCG. You draw dice on your turn, you attack with dice, you block with them, etc…
Character dice have 6 facings, 3 of which are “Character Facings” — giving you a creature — and the other three are mana producing. The mana they will produce is the same that they cost, and 2 of the 3 faces will produce double mana. For example, Green Goblin costs bolt mana to purchase, and will produce bolt mana on his non-character facings. His facings are: 1 face that produces 1 bolt, 2 faces that produce 2 bolts, 1 face that is a 2/2 with no fielding cost (think casting cost), 1 face that is a 3/3 with a 1 mana fielding cost, and 1 face that is a 5/5 with a 1 mana fielding cost. That 1 mana cost may be paid with any mana type.
The character card is used to show the stats that the character’s die will bring to the table. All character cards are laid out for both players to see from the start of the game, meaning you’ll always know what characters your opponent has access to.
Each character’s card has a maximum number of dice that can be brought to the game to represent the character, which is shown in the lower right corner of the card. This is like the “playset” limitation in Magic —where you can only have four of any card in your deck. Most characters have a max limit of 4 dice, though they range between 1-5 depending on their power level. The 20 dice limit across up to 8 character cards mean you can’t bring a full dice set for most of your characters, unless you cut down the size of your team.
It’s also worth noting that the bottom bar on the physical card will show you what each die has on it, and tells you all their possible stats, so there is no guesswork in what facings you could roll. Marvel fans should recognize the Hydra symbol beneath Goblin’s purchase cost; this signifies Gobby’s villain affiliation. This is like a creature type in Magic, and is used for tribal-esque synergy. For instance, Nick Fury causes any unblocked Avenger affiliates to deal double damage; or Magneto gains bonus stats when fighting against X-Men characters.
As part of your 8 character, 20 dice team; you and your opponent each also bring 2 “Action Cards” to the table which give you dice that perform an action related to the card. The 2 Actions you bring with you to the table can also have their dice purchased by your opponent. This means that you shouldn’t bring any actions to the table that will hurt your strategy if your opponents buys them.
The dice for action cards are different from character dice and sidekick dice, and are pictured along the bottom of the card. Above is an example of 2 action cards with unique split art. They are both Promo Actions that you can get by playing at your local card shop or comic book store if they hold events. (Also, look at how good Rally! is with Gobby and Johnny Storm. Move 3 sidekicks to the field means they enter as 1/1s. They’ll set off Johnny’s ability and then let you field Gobby to shoot them in the face.)
Like character cards, the Purchase cost for the dice is pictured in the top left. There are always 3 dice for each action, but these don’t have any bearing on your 20 character dice restriction. On an action die, you have 3 facings that give you 2 generic mana (noted by the 2 in a circle). This is equivalent to “Colorless” mana in Magic, meaning it can’t be used to pay for any specific energy type. It can be used to purchase other actions since no symbol is in the cost for them, and can be used along with a specific energy type to purchase characters. For example, an action die that rolled the colorless 2 can be combined with a bolt to purchase Green Goblin.
The other 3 facings are: 1 with an !; 1 with an !*; and 1 with an !**. The ** on Rally! indicates that rolling the !** facing will give you the indicated bonus to the action. Just rolling a ! or !* will give you the first result. For Teamwork: !, !*, and !** all do the same thing. If you roll an Action with the any of the ! facings up, you save that die and “cast” it before your Attack Step. These behave like “Sorceries” from Magic; you can not use an action die on your opponents turn, because any unused action dice will go to your used pile at the end of your turn, as indicated on the playmat. Action die behave normally in all other regards, and go to your used pile immediately after purchasing. They must be drawn randomly just like characters, so you might not get the right action when you need it if you buy too many.
After both players have their teams laid out— including the chosen amount of dice for each character laid out— you’re ready to start. The special dice for each characters do not start in your original “hand”, so each player will receive 8 dice called “Sidekick Dice” which act as both your “deck” and your “mana” in Magic terms. In MDM, your “deck” is going to be built up as you play by purchasing character dice on your turns. You start off with an 8 dice deck, and will end with something like a 15-28 dice deck depending on how long the game goes.
Sidekick Dice have 6 facings, 5 of which are mana producers, called “energy” in MDM, and 1 facing that gives you a “Sidekick”. Sidekicks are essentially 1/1 (1 attack & 1 defense) “creatures” that have a 0 casting cost. 4 of those faces have a specific “energy” symbol, represented by a mask, shield, lightning bolt, or fist. The 5th face has a question mark, meaning it can be whatever symbol you need.
Below this paragraph you’ll find a picture of the standard playmat that comes with every starter deck. I know it may seem overwhelming at first, but it has all of the information you need to understand the different zones of play neatly organized for you.
The “Field Zone” is where you place your characters, similar to the “Battlefield” in Magic; the “Used Pile” is somewhat similar to a traditional discard pile (with one major difference we’ll touch on later). The “Attack Zone” is used to demonstrate clearly which characters are attacking and allows for abilities like removing an attacker from the Attack Zone. The “Reserve Pool” is where you place your rolled dice, and where you will leave any leftover energy.
The area named the “Dicebag”is there to represent the physical bag you place your dice in, (each starter set comes with 2); it’s not an actual zone you’ll use. The “Prep Area” is a bit more complicated and will be explained with context later. The arrows on this graphic are very helpful in understanding how and why dice change zones, and will make sense as you learn the game.
On a regular turn, you’ll shake the bag to mix up the dice and randomly pull out 4 dice as your “hand” in TCG terms. Since you only have 8 sidekick dice on your first turn, you’ll pull and roll them. Each of the characters you picked for your team have a “Purchase cost” located in the top left corner of the card which dictates how much and what type of energy it will cost to buy 1 of those special character dice I mentioned earlier.
Let’s say you have rolled 2 fist symbols, 1 sidekick, and 1 bolt symbol. After placing these dice in the Reserve Pool, you get one chance to reroll as many of those dice as you want immediately after your first roll. So, you have 2 fist, 1 bolt, and 1 sidekick; it’s time to figure out what you’re doing. For our purposes we’ll say your team has Green Goblin and Human Torch:
Any unspecified energy can be paid with any type. So the best move would be to spend your bolt, and your 2 fists to buy a Green Goblin die and then Field your Sidekick. “Fielding” is like casting in Magic, and remember; Sidekicks field for free (indicated by the 0 on the top left corner of the die).
Alternatively, you could’ve rerolled your sidekick to try to get a 4th energy symbol to buy a more expensive Human Torch die, or picked up an action die. Whichever way you went, the character die you bought along with the dice you spent as energy go to your “Used Pile”. When you run out of dice to draw from your dicebag these dice will be shuffled back in to be drawn. Note the arrow showing dice going from your Reserve Pool to the Used Pile below:
Any leftover energy could be used to trigger “Global Abilities” which are like “instant” spells in Magic. They’re abilities found on either character or action cards that are available to both players, regardless of whom owns the card or if any of the character’s dice are in play. Since either player can use these abilities you’ll have to make sure to consider how your opponent might use your abilities (and how you can use theirs). A very popular global is Mr. Fantastic’s ability to force an opposing character to attack you, effectively getting rid of passive defenders like Loki. Loki is a 2/8 at his strongest, and he stops an opponent from casting 1 of their characters. So, using Mr. Fantastic to force Loki to attack, and then taking 2 damage to the face to send Loki to the Used Pile is a really good trade. This plays into what I said at the start of this article about your team and max dice counts. There will be a character or two that you do not use more then 1 or 2 dice for. So, these characters can be situational characters that you wont need every game, or characters that you only assign 1 of your 20 dice to in order to use their Global all game. This sort of accomplishes what “Sideboarding” does in Magic, where you’re allowed to bring 15 cards to use as substitutes in your deck, to avoid being countered or to counter an opponent’s deck. The main difference is that in MDM, you always have access to these situational characters. For instance, I play a Captain America in my team, and I only bring 2 out of the allowed 4 dice. His ability knocks out all opposing Sidekicks, and allows you to gain 1 life for each Sidekick knocked out. I only purchase these Captain America dice in games where my opponent is using Gobby and Johnny Storm, because they need Sidekicks.
After your second turn when there are no dice left to pull you’ll take all the dice from your Used Pile, and shuffle them into your bag. You shake the bag up and then randomly draw 4 dice again, like before, but now have a chance to draw and roll characters as well as sidekick dice.
So, for this turn, lets say you randomly drew a Goblin die, with 3 sidekick dice. Gobby is a pretty aggressive character, and presents you with some strong options. You could go for more energy and buy another Gobby of a Human Torch. However, the perfect scenario for damage would be rolling the 1 cost 5/5 facing, with 2 sidekicks, and 1 energy symbol. This would let you field the 2 sidekicks, then field Gobby with your 1 energy. Gobby’s “when fielded” ability would trigger shooting 3 damage for the sidekicks in play. Characters can attack the turn they’re fielded so, you can go straight to the opponent’s face for 8 more damage, with Green Goblin and the Sidekicks, and this is just turn 3. If Gobby punches your opponent for 5 (unblocked) combat damage, then he goes to your used pile to be rolled again whenever you run out of dice in your bag. This prevents a player from buying cheap character, fielding them early, and just grinding an opponent down quickly. (Below you can see the arrows showing you what happens when blocked and unblocked while in combat).
However, if he is blocked, and lives, he returns to the field for you and damage resets on the following turn like Magic. If he was knocked out (meaning he took fatal damage), then he goes to a pile called the “Knock Out Zone”. At the start of your next turn, characters in the knock out zone are moved to a zone called the Prep Area.
Dice in the Prep Area are rolled with your 4 randomly drawn dice at the start of each turn. So, if Gobby had somehow been knocked out, on your next turn you’d roll 4 random dice + a Goblin die. Blocking and dying isn’t actually a bad thing in many cases, as it allows you to roll extra dice. With Gobby it allows you to repeatedly shoot your opponent for your fielded sidekicks. This makes “enter the battlefield” abilities, to borrow the Magic term, very strong. (You can see the movements as charted above).
Like any great TCG Dice Masters is a simple shell that allows for a lot of strategy and customization. All the skill lies in knowing when to sacrifice a blocker to knockout an enemy, when to block or let someone get used so they can’t be rerolled, and when to utilize globals. Do you need to reroll a character die to try to get a specific facing? Is it worth the risk? Should you save the double energy character face you rolled to buy more expensive character dice, or should you instead try to field characters to block and save your life? These are the complicated questions that will separate the good players from the bad.
Unlike standard TCG’s though, MDM has that random element to it. Did you draw that clutch character? Awesome. Now roll him and feel the burn as he rolls mana for the 3rd time in a row. Another cool element unique to MDM is that each character has multiple variant cards; meaning there are 3 different Green Goblin cards that have different abilities and lend themselves to slightly different play styles. You probably noticed the sub names each character has, and they have new names for each variant. There’s “Human Torch- Johnny Storm” as well as “Human Torch- Matchstick”, among others. You’ll notice below they have different Purchase Costs, but the same dice along the bottom. Each variant uses the dame dice. You can not include more than 1 of any hero or villain in your team (no using all of the Green Goblin variants and just rushing aggro). With multiple variants for each character, combos are pretty varied as well. For example, one War Machine will knock out an enemy when he enters the field if you have an Iron Man in play. Alternately, another War Machine is unblockable while Iron Man is in play. These fun interactions coupled with the fact that the game features some of the most recognizable characters in Western culture separates MDM from other sometimes stale TCG’s.
Like any great TCG, Dice Masters is a simple shell that allows for a lot of strategy and customization. All the skill lies in knowing when to sacrifice a blocker to knockout an enemy, when to block or let someone get used so they can’t be rerolled, and when to utilize globals. Do you need to reroll a character die to try to get a specific facing? Is it worth the risk? Should you save the double energy character face you rolled to buy more expensive character dice, or should you instead try to field characters to block and save your life? These are the complicated questions that will separate the good players from the bad.
Unlike standard TCG’s though, MDM has that random element to it. Did you draw that clutch character? Awesome. Now roll him and feel the burn as he rolls mana for the 3rd time in a row. With multiple variants for each character, combos are pretty varied as well. For example, one War Machine will knock out an enemy when he enters the field if you have an Iron Man in play. Alternately, another War Machine is unblockable while Iron Man is in play. These fun interactions coupled with the fact that he game features some of the most recognizable characters in Western culture separate MDM from other sometimes stale TCG’s.
The new expansion, titled Uncanny X-Men released just last week on October 29. Any players interested can pick up an Uncanny starter set full of new characters and get to team building. Be forewarned: the first set and first starter set sold out rapidly and became price gouged. The 15 dollar MSRP starter set was (and is) selling for 35+; so, if you’re on the fence and find a starter at MSRP, pick it up. Save yourself the money in the long run, I had to pay 34.99 for mine!